Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Out the Back Window: Survival 101

We go for walks several times a week. There are often interesting things to note along the way. Sometimes we bring the camera. This time, we are glad we did. Nature is always showing scenes of the struggle for survival. The most fit or adapted will usually succeed. Here are a few examples of this principle.


We had to study this scene up close for a minute before we really grasped what we saw. The half-mouse was strange enough to see. But, the Brown Harvestman feeding on it was an odd sight. It looks like it has eaten half a mouse. Something had killed the mouse and eaten the front half. The Harvestman was an opportunist in the right place at the right time. It was getting some nourishment. By the way, the Brown Harvestman is not a spider and does not have very deadly venom.

I want to see more of this story of survival.

Our Promises…

This week had important news impacting many people regarding our promises to each other.

First concerned the SCOTUS ruling striking down an important provision of the voting rights bill. The citizens of this country rely on the right to vote promised by our constitution. Protection of that right has been needed many times, and still is. We can’t allow the promise to be broken for certain groups in our population. Diligence is needed.

Second concerned the affirmation of the promises two loving people make to each other in the bond of marriage. The two SCOTUS rulings are welcome. Last evening, we watched our favorite show as it highlighted the marriage in CA of two plaintiffs in the case, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier. That was followed by the live broadcast of the marriage of the other two plaintiffs, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo. Tears welled up in our eyes. The promises we make privately, and those we make publicly, are essential threads in the fabric of our societies around the world. Many devoted and loving people are going to become parts of that colorful fabric in CA soon. Many more in other states should follow. It is important.

Third concerned the promise exchanged between our military and those who serve for our protection. The military leaders expressed support for removing DOMA prior to the ruling this week. They understood the difficulties and contradictions faced when certain groups within their ranks were treated unequally. They knew the importance to our peace and future security also rests in the equal treatment of all of our citizens, especially those who promise to defend and support with their lives if needed. They felt in an untenable situation. They appear to be leaders in this just cause.

The progress this week was positive movement overall. We need to continue. We promise to help make that happen and gladly join our friends here and elsewhere, neighbors, families, and leaders to that end.

Jim and Melanie

Out the Back Window: Finders Keepers

One more entry in the Back Window series. Nothing political here. Just some notes about events we see in nature.

Enjoy… Jim and Melanie


As we sat down to dinner, Melanie remarked about seeing two Blue Jays rise simultaneously from the yard below the window. They rose up gracefully to perch in the trees. They sat for a few moments and soon flew off to see what mischief they could cause. We always have a pair of Blue Jays in the back yard. They are nicely appointed in their uniforms as they patrol the woods out our back window.


Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt

Blue Jays are common year round residents in the eastern 2/3 of the US. They like forest edge habitats. They have a favorite food of acorns, and are often found near oaks, in forests, woodlots, towns, cities, and parks.

Several interesting facts about them are here at All About Birds.

Three I liked are…

  • The pigment in Blue Jay feathers is melanin, which is brown. The blue color is caused by scattering light through modified cells on the surface of the feather barbs.
  • The black bridle across the face, nape, and throat varies extensively and may help Blue Jays recognize one another.
  • The oldest known wild, banded Blue Jay lived to be at least 17.5 years old

After a few minutes of our meal, I looked again to see if the Blue Jays were still there. As I looked out the window, one flew down and landed in the grass. It had a peanut in its bill. This picture illustrates how it looked.

Julie Gidwitz

It took a minute or so to look around and poke into the grass. After a couple of tries, it succeeded in pushing the peanut deep enough into the grass. Then, it picked up a leaf and dropped it onto the spot. It repeated that with two more leaves.

During that hiding process, two Tufted Titmice sat in a bush nearby watching closely. As soon as the jay flew away, they were down on the grass looking for the nut. It was an obvious effort on their part. They were determined to get that peanut. Sadly for them, they couldn’t find it and flew away.

A squirrel came by a few minutes later. It stopped to sniff the air as if it smelled something. It took only a few seconds for the squirrel to locate the peanut. It sat for a while as if boasting to the Blue Jays about how cool it was to have found the hidden treasure. The squirrel then scurried up the nearby tree, sat on a limb, and enjoyed the snack.

Glyn Edmunds


Update: It was a lovely event last evening. There will be another. Watch the news. Thanks for viewing.

Well, it’s that time again for the Supermoon. This little diary is for those who will have clear skies tonight and want to see the Moon closer than normal. Any time there is a full moon, it is a nice thing to see.

First, a little sciency stuff. For much more about this phenomenon see OBSERVING BLOG by Shari Balouchi in Sky and Telescope magazine.

  • The Moon takes about a month to orbit Earth.
  • The Moon does not orbit in a circle.
  • During the closest part of the orbit it is called Perigee.
  • When things are closer they look bigger. The Moon will look a few 14% bigger than at Apogee.
  • The Moon will be closest and biggest at 6:32 AM CDT Sunday, below the horizon in the US.

You can still see it. Go outside and face East after 8 PM CDT or SW before 3 AM CDT. It will appear almost as large as at 6:32 AM. I hope you get to see it.


Happy viewing…Jim

Will Global Warming Affect Crop Yields?

A recent study raised the question of whether global warming trends will affect crops during their reproductive time and hence the yields of four major food sources for the world. They are maize (corn), rice, wheat, and soy. The study by Stanford’s Sharon Gourdji states that “Crop breeders need to think carefully about how to incorporate heat tolerance, particularly during the flowering period, into wheat, maize and rice.” She succinctly presents the issue and the potential impacts in this short video.


The warming climate affects crop production in several ways. Photosynthesis is speeded up due to higher temperatures and CO2 levels. Rainfall patterns are changed leading to changes in farming due to reduced or enhanced precipitation. Gourdji’s teammate David Lobell and others showed that crop production growth worldwide has been negatively impacted by these climate changes in the last 30 years.

I want to see more about this study.

New Horizons Update: Pluto and Beyond

The New Horizons Mission to Pluto

What is the atmosphere of Pluto made of, and how does it behave? What does the surface of Pluto look like? What causes those colors? Are there interesting and unique geological features? How do particles in the solar wind interact with Pluto’s atmosphere? These are but some of the questions NASA scientists hope to answer during the coming flyby in 2015.

On January 19, 2006, NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft for a dramatic flight past icy dwarf planet Pluto and its moons two years from now in July 2015. After a 10 year and more than 3 billion mile journey, New Horizons will reveal information about worlds on the edge of the solar system. Plans for the mission include flybys of one or two Kuiper Belt Objects. These icy bodies are found orbiting the Sun in a zone beyond the orbit of Pluto. They range from about 25 to 55 miles (40 to 90 kilometers) in diameter.

The objects in the Kuiper Belt are presumed to be remnants from the formation of the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago. The Kuiper Belt probably contains hundreds of thousands of icy bodies larger than 100 km (62 miles) across and a trillion or more comets. Some of these pass near Earth. One will pass very near the Sun in late 2013. It is hoped that it will give us an exceptional show.

I would like to know more.

Melting Permafrost & Links to Greenhouse Gases

Permafrost covers 24% of exposed land of the Northern Hemisphere.

From a NASA press release of 6-10-2013

Permafrost (perennially frozen) soils underlie much of the Arctic. Each summer, the top layers of these soils thaw. The thawed layer varies in depth from about 4 inches (10 cm) in the coldest tundra regions to several yards, or meters, in the southern boreal forests. This active soil layer at the surface provides the precarious foothold on which Arctic vegetation survives. The Arctic’s extremely cold, wet conditions prevent dead plants and animals from decomposing, so each year another layer gets added to the reservoirs of organic carbon sequestered just beneath the topsoil.

Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon – an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That’s about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth’s soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850. Most of this carbon is located in thaw-vulnerable topsoils within 10 feet (3 meters) of the surface.

For an interactive book  about the frozen parts of Earth, follow this link to the publication.

Arctic air temperatures rose 1.5 – 2.5˚C in the past 30 yrs, faster than those of other regions of the globe. The permafrost layer temperatures have risen even faster at rates of 2.7 – 4.5˚C in 30 yrs. The released heat into the permafrost is likely to cause increased releases of carbon in the forms of CO2 and methane. The fear is this will alter the carbon balance of the Arctic and worsen global warming.

Scientists want to know how much of the carbon in permafrost is likely to be released and how fast. Current climate models do not account for this accurately. They need additional data to see how increased releases may affect larger regions and the globe as a whole. With this new data, the existing climate models can be modified and they may better predict the future behavior. To that end, teams from twelve institutions have joined NASA to fly low altitude missions in the Arctic. Their goal is to measure the exchanges of carbon taking place between Earth’s surface and atmosphere. The project is called CARVE – Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment.

Permafrost is not only in the exposed land areas. It is also common in the continental shelves of the Arctic Ocean as subsea permafrost. It was formed during the last glacial period. Sea levels were much lower then. These shelves endured very harsh conditions and accumulated large stores of organic undecayed carbon. Subsea permafrost is slowly thawing at many locations. Their extent and how they will impact global climate is lesser known.

Take me to the rest of this story.

When You Die…

During our walks, Melanie and I often enjoy some good discussions. Recently, I told her I was thinking about who I would like to visit after I died. (No. I’m not ill, dying, or anything of the sort.) Besides loved ones, I immediately thought of a few people that I would love to ask some questions. Melanie did the same. We decided it would be interesting to share who a few of those were and the questions we would ask them.

We are not advocating for any after-life beliefs you may or may not hold. That isn’t the point. We are merely interested in knowing who you would talk to if you could. What would you ask them? The religious, or after-life questions, are for another post.

Pull up a chair and sit for a spell.

Jim’s Choices

Thomas Jefferson – Is the United States living up to your vision of what you wanted this nation to become?

Abraham Lincoln – We have a black man for president for the first time. What are your thoughts?

Carl Sagan – Is S.E.T.I a waste of time for earthlings?

Marie Curie – You won two Nobel Prizes, sharing one with your husband Pierre. Your daughter also won. What would you say to people today about their fears of radioactivity and whether they are well-founded? Are we over-reacting?

Leonardo Da Vinci – You were a master of so many things. What fields of study would you pursue today?

Melanie’s Choices

Anna Williams, African American quilter from New Orleans – I’d like to talk to her about her creative process and inspirations, and about how, technically, she took her creative vision to reality.

Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady and pioneer for social justice – On a personal level, I’d ask her about successes and disappointments in her life, and her view on changes in American society in the 20th century.

Louisa May Alcott, author – How did the nation change over your lifetime, and what was the impact of war and reconstruction at the household level?

Mary Lou Williams, jazz composer, pianist, and arranger – What was it like being a woman in a “man’s” field of music? Add on that being African-American during segregation, how difficult was it to tour and to get recognition for your own talents? How did the music industry and the jazz genre change over your career?

Our Moral Foundations and Decisions

I was very involved in the 2012 Obama campaign as a local volunteer and neighborhood team leader. As such, issues constantly came up that forced me to question why I supported or opposed them. Is it right? Is it wrong? Doesn’t it depend on a lot of other things? I needed to feel I understood them internally. Only then, could I use them as talking points to potential voters in my neighborhoods.

I constantly asked myself how the conservative right could be so diametrically opposed to what I believed. I don’t consider myself to be unusually liberal. In fact, I’m very conservative is some things. How could conservatives feel so absolute and certain that they held the high ground morally? It was frustrating. I couldn’t think that way.

I pondered the possible reasons. Some insight came after listening to a Bill Moyers program with Jonathan Haidt. Here is the link to the full 56 min. program on Vimeo. It is worth the time to view it. The main content of this diary does not require it.

In it…

Bill and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt talk about the psychological underpinnings of our contentious culture, why we can’t trust our own opinions, and the demonizing of our adversaries. Compromise becomes a dirty word.

At last some insight. Social psychology is not my area of expertise. I am a teacher and scientist. Logic and clear thinking are a big deal for me. I saw none in the way our political system was behaving. Haidt pointed out how people are basically very similar when it comes to which guideposts they use as foundations for moral judgement and behavior. But, they differ significantly on which of those foundations are held in highest importance to them. It is testable and measurable.

Granted, this information is not new. Haidt has spoken about it on TED, among other places, since 2008. Do a search with Haidt and you find several instances of his work and talks. I would like to share what I found in looking into this issue of moral foundations. It was very revealing and explained a great deal about the differences in liberals vs conservatives.

I’m with you. Show me more.

Fun With Food

Part 1 of this premier episode of Fun With Food shows how to use that odd peeler tool in the back of the kitchen drawer. You know, the one with the sharp hook at one end and the curved flat thing at the other end. It lets you peel an orange in two perfect hemispheres. Impress your friends. They will be amazed at your talent and skill.

I’m hungry for more. Show me Part 2.