September 29, 2006

A Beacon of Liberty? Not anymore...

Yesterday Congress gave Lady Liberty a double-fisted punch to the gut with the passage of two of the most disgusting examples of neo-conservative Constitutional shredding I have ever seen. Say goodbye to the freedoms this nation was founded on! Once the moron-in-chief signs this bill our illustrious government can arrest anyone they suspect of aiding terrorists, detain them FOREVER, NEVER charge them with any crime, and TORTURE them. And if that were not enough, here are some other highlights from this pile of stinking feces Congress saw fit to pass:
  • Notes the president has the authority to interpret "the meaning and application" of the Geneva Conventions-- Oh, yes, let's give the authority to define and interpret the single-most important human rights document in history to a single person, not to mention one who has yet to figure out how to pronounce the word "nuclear". That's a great idea!

  • Allows hearsay evidence-- hmmm...let's see what Mr. Webster has to say about this: "hear-say adj. an item of idle or unverified information or gossip; rumor." Now, is it just me, or is allowing this as evidence in a trial somewhat, shall we say, unethical? Illegal? Unjust? What's next? Hey, FBI, my uncle's girlfriend's brother's best-friend's coworker said that this other person thought that maybe that guy over there looks like a terrorist! Go arrest him!

  • Allows coerced testimony if the statement was acquired before a 2005 ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and a judge finds it to be reliable-- because everyone knows that stuff people say while being tortured is completely reliable.

  • Bars individuals from protesting violations of Geneva Conventions standards in court-- Not only will we strip these individuals of every human right imaginable, we'll make it impossible for them to protest the fact that the American government is treating them like animals. You can bet this is going to rally the world to our cause! Boy, I feel safer already.
Chalk this one up as a victory for the terrorists, folks. And it was handed to them on a silver platter wrapped in an American flag.

And if you thought Congress hadn't shit on the Constitution quite enough yet for your taste, there's more! The House of Representatives ALSO voted to approve a bill making Bush's illegal warrantless wiretaps LEGAL! Here's what the House majority leader had to say about it after a vote that occurred pretty much along party lines:

"The Democrats' irrational opposition to strong national security policies that help keep our nation secure should be of great concern to the American people." -- Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio

I'm going to have to strongly, and rather rationally, disagree with Mr. Boehner. Heh...his name is Boehner. Our Constitution was established to protect the rights of the American people. These rights are inalienable, as defined by such distinguished people as Thomas Jefferson, et. al., and as such, are not subject to change or repudiation (I like that word). I would like to bring to Mr. Boehner's (heh...) attention a little quote I found from a rather interesting document, aptly named "The Bill of Rights":

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Now, can anyone find for me in that sentence anything that might suggest allowing the President to authorize wiretaps of Americans without a warrant is even remotely permissable? I didn't think so. And it's not like it takes three months to get a warrant nowadays, either. If the idiot in the White House thinks there's someone whose phone calls should be listened to, all it requires is a 30-second phone conversation with a federal judge who can then issue an immediate emergency warrant authorizing the wiretap. This is what we call CHECKS AND FREAKING BALANCES! This is why we have three branches of government, who are each subject to the other two!

If Congress wants to prop Dubya up as the reigning Monarch-in-Chief, why beat around the bush (no pun intended)? Hell, let's just make a paper crown out of the Constitution and make it official. Give him the authority to do whatever the hell he wants for whatever made up excuse he can imagine. Wouldn't be much different than what we've got going on right now. And at least they'd be able to make their real intentions public.

Not that I have any opinions either way on these subjects, of course. On a less cantankorous note, I have had two interviews so far, and they both went well. But still no news from any of the potential employers. I'll post here as soon as I hear anything, of course.

September 22, 2006

White and Nerdy

It has been an eventful week in Paul-Land. Let's break it down event by eventful event:

Tilden Award: This was covered in detail with my last post, so I won't elaborate anymore.

Mount Rushmore: Twenty minutes after I returned from the meeting where the award was announced I get a phone call from a friend at Mt. Rushmore. We chat for a little while about random stuff, then he starts asking me questions. It wasn't until the third question that I thought to myself, "Holy crap! This is my job interview!" So I should find out tomorrow whether or not they'll be offering me a job.

Annie the Cat: Holy crap, it's been an interesting week. So, last wednesday she stops eating starts throwing up. It's still happening on Saturday, so we bring her to the vet to try to find out what's going on. They take some x-rays to see if she ate something that's blocking her intestines (like string, batteries, etc) and draw some blood to see if that tells us anything. Nadda. So they send her home with us with instructions to monitor her, try to get her to eat and give some meds to calm her stomach. Doesn't work. Sunday we bring her back, very worried now, and decide that the only way to know for sure whether or not something is blocking her digestive tract is to do exploratory surgery. So, Sunday night she goes in. They don't find anything wrong! But, they take a biopsy of various tissues and send them off for analysis.

In the meanwhile, I've already left for Idaho and Sonja stays three days in Anchorage to be with Annie while she recovers from surgery. Tuesday afternoon they go back home and by Wednesday, Annie begins to eat again. Today, she even hopped up on the counter and started eating on her own. And she hasn't thrown up since Tuesday. We got the biopsy results back, as well, and find out that the only thing they could detect were some possible changes to the cells of her small intestines consistent with Irritable Bowel Disease or a food allergy. It was just a really severe reaction to some rather crappy food we had been feeding her the week prior to this whole thing happening. Well, at least we now know what NOT to feed her.

Masters Defense: It's over! It's officially OVER! My defense went well, considering the oral exam immediately following my presentation was rather brutal. But, they voted and I passed. You may all start calling me "Master" now.

So, it's been an interesting week. And tomorrow I should find out about the first of the jobs I've applied for.

And now we get to the part of this post that will make the title make sense. I just watched a new video by Wierd Al that had me rolling on the floor, and I'm going to try to embed the file here so you don't have to click away to watch it. Ok, now I've never actually tried embedding a movie file in my blog, but I figure if my brother can figure it out it must not be all that difficult to do.

September 15, 2006


The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.
Freeman Tilden

Today has been eventful, surprising, and most definitely surreal. Growing up, I can remember going to campfire programs and ranger-led walks all the time. And I remember that there was something about those experiences that always stayed with me...memories, ideas, revelations. For most of my life I never really questioned why these experiences were so meaningful. It wasn't until I began learning about interpretation, and reading the work of that funny-looking guy to the right, that I began to understand the why. That guy's name is Freeman Tilden. He was an author, a naturalist, and a dedicated defender of our national park system. His book, Interpreting Our Heritage, is considered the seminal piece which has defined the role of interpretive park rangers for the National Park Service for almost fifty years. These park rangers, naturalists and guides who led those memorable walks and campfire programs so many years ago had undoubtedly read it over and over. They were providing so much more than mere information during their programs. They were provoking me to think, to make my own meanings for those places. They were interpreters, translating the natural world into a language that was not only understandable but personally relevant and inspiring.

Having worked and studied as an interpreter for several years now I can say that what they accomplished was not easy. In fact, it's damn hard to do...and requires not only an extensive knowledge of subject matter but an ability to present it in a way that is thematic, organized, relevant and enjoyable. Accomplishes this not only provides the audience with new information about the place, resource, people, or thing the program centers around, but also provides them with an opportunity for them to make it personally meaningful to their own lives. That is interpretation. That is what I try to accomplish not only with the programs I give, but also in the way I train others to do the same.

Which is why I was completely floored today to learn, in front of nearly the entire staff of Kenai Fjords National Park, that I have been selected as the Alaska region's recipient of the 2006 Freeman Tilden Award. Every year each region in the park service (there are seven of them) presents one Freeman Tilden Award to an interpreter working in a park in that region. The regional recipients then become the nominees for the national Freeman Tilden Award, the highest honor bestowed on a National Park Service interpreter. I was stunned. Floored. Humbled. Constipated. You'd be amazed how quickly your sphincter slams shut when something like this happens. You know, that might be the very first time in my life I have typed the word "sphincter." A milestone, I tell ya.

Anyway, yeah. It's been a crazy, crazy day. And now I get to be all stressed out about going to the National Association of Interpretation conference in Albuquerque in November, which is where they will be announcing the national award winner. But at least that means I get a free trip to the Land of Enchantment, and all the green chiles I can stuff into my face. We'll have to pay for Sonja's trip, but we were planning on heading over to LA around the same time for a friend's wedding anyway.

Crazy. Kind of makes the $947 we have to pay to get our car fixed almost not a big deal. Well, sort of. I'll leave you with a picture of a monkey. Cuz everyone likes pictures of monkeys.

And this one kind of reminds me of Freeman Tilden. Not to imply he looked like a monkey, of course. Just that....oh nevermind.

The Wandering Tattler

You all may have noticed a slight change to my blog today. I have decided to officially change the title to "The Wandering Tattler." For those of you who don't know, a Wandering Tattler is a small, gregarious and vocal shorebird that spends its summers up in Alaska and winters along the west coast of California and Mexico. It's actually one of our favorite birds to see along alpine streams across the interior of Alaska.The address of this site will remain the same, but I feel this new name speaks not only to my meandering and opinionated ways, but also more adequately recognizes my love for birds and birding.

So there you go. You may want to make any necessary adjustments to your lifestyle or personal philosophy in order to accomodate this change. Hopefully, you will all be able to recover.

September 14, 2006

Compare and Contrast

Sonja's day started off great with an early morning jog with Luna and a beautiful sunrise over the Kenai Mountains across the bay. Sonja was happy...Luna was happy...even Harvey was happy cuz he got to go along on the "cool-down" walk and freak out over some local feral rabbits.

A little different than what I experienced this morning...

My morning began with a car that refused to drive back up the hill after dropping Sonja off at work, followed by a twenty-minute conversation with an auto mechanic and a three hour wait for a tow-truck. I'm just glad this happened a block and a half from home, rather than 80 miles from the nearest garage.

September 13, 2006

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Regardless of how desperately we want out of Seward, I've got to admit that it is a pretty darn spectacular place. Especially on a day like today. Not a cloud in the sky, temps in the 60's, a light wind to cool things off. Add to that the autumn colors blooming on the side of Mount Alice across the bay and it makes today rather postcard-like. I think this weather calls for a nice walk to the beach with the dogs this evening.

The thing occupying most of our time over the last couple of weeks is obviously my search for a new NPS job. New openings are appearing on almost a weekly basis now that the end of the fiscal year is approaching. Which means I am getting very good at filling out NPS applications. Although it does get tedious answering the same questions with minor variations over and over again.

To date, I've sent official applications to the following parks:

  • Eugene O'Neil National Historic Site (San Fransisco)
  • Joshua Tree National Park (California)
  • Zion National Park (Utah)
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota)
  • Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Minnesota)
  • Montezuma's Castle National Monument (Arizona)

    Added to the list within the past two days are:
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)
  • Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

    And, in the next week, applications will be sent to the following locations:
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Hawaii...duh)
  • George Washington Memorial Parkway (Washington, DC)
  • Oregon Caves National Park (Oregon)
  • Moores Creek National Battlefield (North Carolina)
  • Everglades National Park (Florida...blech, ok this one's a maybe)

    Because the federal hiring process SUCKS ASS, it takes months to get these things processed. So, I have officially heard from only one of these parks...the aforementioned interview I will be doing in a couple weeks. It seems like they're the only ones that are on the ball. Although, considering I applied for that job in July, I guess they're not any more efficient than the others are.

    The other exciting happening is my upcoming Masters project defense next week. It's actually a week from today. I have to fly back down to Idaho for three days to jump through this last hoop before finally getting my degree. When that happens, you may all officially start calling me Master.

  • I'll finish with what might just be the most surreal menu ever published...

    The choices! They all sound so delicious. I don't know how anyone could pass up a Fatty Cow in the United States. Although I've heard the breeze ball is good, too.

    September 08, 2006

    Hunting for a New Job

    Well, weeks of waiting after having sent over a dozen different applications are finally starting to pay off. I got my first request for an interview today. The uncertainty of where we will be living next has been trying, lately. It doesn't help that the federal application process always takes weeks, if not months, longer than you'd think it needs to. But now that Labor Day has passed us by I think that employers are finally able to catch their breath and start thinking about these job openings.

    I've been struggling with whether or not to even think about the various parks I've applied to work at, let alone try to rate my top choices. But, I think it's safe to say that the interview I've got lined up is at a place that we wouldn't mind moving to. Now, many of you who know me may be surprised to learn that the park in question is not located in a mountainous region of the country. In fact, it's probably as far from any official mountain range as you can get. However, it does hold a special sort of significance for Sonja and I, not the least of which because it is located in a city named for one of the most ruggedly handsome park rangers every to wear a flat hat.

    That's right, I'll be interviewing for a job with the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, whose headquarters is located in St. Paul, Minnesota. My interview isn't for another two weeks, but at least it's been scheduled. It's just an interview, though, so nothing has been decided. We'll see in a couple weeks if it goes anywhere.

    September 07, 2006

    Zombie Sheep are Way Cool

    Autumn in Denali National Park is something everyone should experience. It's by far the best time of year to visit. No bugs. Clear days. Fewer people. The wildlife is everywhere. Sonja and I decided to camp out in our favorite national park one last time before we leave Alaska, and lucked out with some amazing weather while we were there.

    The fall colors were probably just past their peak, but it was still beautiful. The dwarf birch, willow and blueberry bushes were just bursting with oranges and reds.

    We got on the bus Monday morning after a hard frost the night before. It was a little chilly in the tent, but the crisp, clear air made for perfect wildlife and scenery viewing. It also provided a great shot of some early morning moose breath.

    The caribou weren't as abundant as we've seen in the past, but they were there. Including this cool bull with his full rack hanging out just off the road.

    We also got a chance to watch the aftermath of a wolf-kill. While we were waiting at one of the rest areas we got word from a ranger that the Toklat pack had just taken down a dall sheep within 100 feet of the highway four miles down the road. Although we missed the high drama, we did get a good look at a couple wolves catching their breath in the afternoon sun. Unfortunately, the carcass was behind some bushes, otherwise I'd have gotten some nice gory sheep gut pictures. Oh well...

    Speaking of sheep carcasses, we also saw some non-dead versions running around on the mountains. I almost called them "undead" sheep, but changed it at the last minute to avoid any confusion. Come to think, though, it would have been neat to see some zombie sheep while we were there. Zombie sheep are way cool (the image below is actually a movie, so be sure to click on it).

    It was just a great trip. It was almost like the mountain came out to say "see ya." We even took a quick trip up to Fairbanks to see some old friends and check out some of our favorite haunts. It was nice to be back there, even if it was just for an afternoon.

    And I've got to hand it to the old guy and his accomplisseses for one-upping me on the mentos challenge. Although, I think using an alternative carbonated beverage may actually disqualify his entry. I did explicitly state that one needed to use Diet Pepsi, and not Diet Coke, to compete. But I guess I could overlook that little technicality due to the onset of senility.

    September 02, 2006

    Mentos and a Whale Not So Fresh and Full of Life

    Ok, a lot of you have been wondering what's new with that whole dead whale on a cruise ship thing from last week. Most guesses are that it was a fin whale, like this one:

    Although it didn't look like that when it came into Seward last week. It looked more like this:

    and this:

    But there hasn't been any announcement about what actually caused it's death. Sonja knows, but she won't let me tell anyone else without some sort of major bribe. Suffice to say, it wasn't alive when they un-impaled it from the front of the ship.

    Finally, I am sending out a challenge to any of you who happen to read this blog. It's a challenge on an old internet fad that I am now just getting around to trying myself. All you need is a packet of Mentos and a 2-Liter bottle of Diet Pepsi. Here are my results:

    As you can see, I didn't set the bar very high. So it's in your court now. See if you can get your fountain of carbonated goodness any higher than my pathetic three and a half feet.