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How Did I Miss That? What a Bear Does in the Woods; Found Smallpox

The Journal of Animal Ecology published a study showing that since wolf populations have returned to Yellowstone National Park, the average proportion of fruit in grizzly bear scat has risen substantially. This is because the wolves prey on elk, which had been winning the competition for the berries. My cousin Ray Sixkiller said that when he regrets running out of money before he could go to graduate school, he remembers that graduate students get to do things like traipse around the woods picking up bear droppings.

Samuel Friedman published an analysis of the recent US Supreme Court cases at the intersection of religion and government that suggests the relevant dividing line is not politics or gender, but religion. All justices are, for the first time, either Jewish or Catholic. The Jewish justices form a solid bloc against entanglement of church and state. The crude reasoning is that Christians often use government to hammer non-Christians, who are often Jewish. Cousin Ray pointed out that Sonia Sotomayor, a Catholic, also votes against letting Christians run things. “Must be her Indian blood,” he speculated, “since we have a history with what happens when Christians run things, too.”

R.I.P. Nadine Gordimer, who walked on at age 90, leaving South Africa better than she found it, and having won a Nobel Prize for literature while having three of her novels banned in her home country: A World of Strangers, The Late Bourgeois World, and Burger’s Daughter. Gordimer always claimed to be disinterested in politics, but forced to write the world as she found it. If I had a buck for every American Indian writer who said the same thing….

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland) is trying to block the government of the District of Columbia, where African-Americans are 50 percent of the population and 90 percent of the pot arrests, from making possession of up to one ounce of marijuana punishable by a fine of $25. Cousin Ray and I both wondered if $25 is a little steep.

Diane Francis published an op-ed in Canada’s Financial Post admitting “(t)he problem is not Keystone XL, other pipelines, President Obama or Al Gore. It’s oil sands emissions and other environmental challenges.” Cousin Ray commented, “Duh. What were the First Nations saying from the get-go?” Francis went on to suggest that the environmental problems could be fixed, but did not say how people would believe that after all the years of denial.

This is written in Utah, where all the media are buzzing about the arrest of two ex-attorneys general on very colorful corruption charges in involving large sums of money, Italian sports cars, and California spas. The Deseret News reported that former AG John Swallow used a Ferrari and a houseboat belonging to a businessman currently facing an 86-count federal fraud indictment. The friend of Mr. Swallow is a high enough roller that one of his houseboats has a helo pad. “You never can tell,” Cousin Ray reminded me, “when you might need to hop in your helicopter and leave your houseboat for some location that can only be reached in time with your Ferrari.”

Late last month, workers at the National Institute of Health found six apparently forgotten vials of smallpox virus when moving a lab. Naturally, they immediately contacted the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Subsequent testing showed the smallpox virus was viable. Then this month, the CDC made separate safety errors involving a particularly deadly strain of bird flu and anthrax. Cousin Ray asked, “Now, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters?” The CDC is responsible for enforcing federal safety protocols at other labs.

In other bureaucracy news, the Associated Press reported that the Selective Service System sent 14,000 threatening letters to potential draftees in Pennsylvania warning them of “possible fine and imprisonment.” The recipients were born between 1893 and 1897. The error was compounded when families who actually got the notices because they still lived at the same addresses tried to call their local draft board and the understaffed organization put them on forever hold and then dropped their calls. Some grandchildren of the men named in the notices said they hadn’t had so much fun since they tried to use the first month it was supposed to be up.

Jochen Bittner, political editor of Die Zeit, published an op-ed in The New York Times about the recent embarrassments of the CIA getting caught recruiting German double agents and the NSA getting caught tapping Angela Merkel’s cell phone. After listing some of the dirt that the CIA has done since WWII and pointing out that the Germans have learned better, Bittner asserted “sharing intelligence with the Germans must be like being on a pub crawl with a member of a temperance society.” Cousin Ray understood, and proved it by observing that the Germans sharing intelligence with the CIA would be like serving booze at an AA meeting.

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Bishop Mark Harrison wrote to Kate Kelly, explaining why she was being excommunicated from the Mormon Church for apostasy: “You are entitled to your views, but you are not entitled to promote them and proselyte others to them…” The view that got her kicked out is that women should be allowed in the priesthood. Cousin Ray told me I should pipe down about this, because Bishop Harrison’s letter gives me something to say every time one of those Mormon missionaries knocks on my door.

Kelly’s excommunication comes shortly after the Church of England voted to allow women to serve as bishops, having ordained women as priests since 1992. Cousin Ray could not resist pointing out that Henry VIII started the Church of England to legitimize his multiple wives, usually changed out by cutting the head off the incumbent. The Mormons just stacked up the wives. “A rational woman would want to serve either church why?”

Hillary Clinton’s book, Hard Choices, has been bumped off the bestseller list by a fact-challenged farrago of nonsense of which even Rush Limbaugh is skeptical, Blood Feud. The author of Blood Feud, Edward Klein, posits nasty skullduggery between the Clintons and the Obamas that has somehow escaped the notice of real reporters all these years. His book certainly contains more sex and violence than Hard Choices, so Cousin Ray was considering a bid for the movie rights.

WFAA reported that the landlord of the Johnson Family Mortuary in Ft. Worth, Texas went to his property about two weeks after giving the mortuary notice to vacate for nonpayment of rent. He found no employees but what he did find disturbed him enough to call the police, who got a search warrant and discovered “eight bodies, aged from infant to adult…in varying stages of decomposition, some quite advanced." The building had no refrigeration.

Foreign Policy noted that because of crises going on in Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel, the boy dictator of North Korea’s latest tantrum—launching two missiles from Kaesong, barely twelve miles from the South Korean border—has failed to move the media needle. What would normally have been front page news in all major newspapers was relegated to about six column inches on the inside of USA Today. Cousin Ray speculated that Kim Jong-un might get more ink by changing his hairstyle or making Dennis Rodman a general. “You know, something significant?”

In a development tribal governments had better notice, The New York Times reported that four of the 12 casinos in Atlantic City have gone bust this year. In Las Vegas, gambling now accounts for only about a third of casino revenues, the other two thirds coming from restaurants, entertainment, and retail stores.

The same Congress that has failed so far to pass the bipartisan Veterans Affairs fix put together after it came out that veterans have died waiting for medical care has come up with a new cash infusion for Israel’s Iron Dome missile shield. The interceptors—which the Israelis try not to use unless the incoming rocket is likely to hit people, about 27 per cent of the time---cost $20,000 each. The rockets they intercept cost about $800.

Earlier in the conflict, Chris Hayes reported on the irony that Hamas explicitly targets non-combatants in open violation of international law, while Israel goes so far as to have teams whose only duty is to notify Palestinian civilians of impending air strikes. In spite of this, the Palestinians, who lack the shelter system the Israelis have, have suffered many more civilian dead.

Livescience reported that excavations from the Four Corners area of the Southwest show that Natives experienced a “precolonial baby boom,” when birth rates appeared to show each woman bearing approximately six children. This rapid growth lasted hundreds of years and collapsed around 1300 after severe regional droughts. Anthropologists attributed the baby boom to a shift from nomadic to sedentary living and the success Natives had in selective breeding maize to produce plumper kernels and more of them. This would be the same process for improving crops that Europeans attribute to Gregor Mendel, who would live from 1822 to 1884.