Flights of Fancy

Western Tanagers & Bullock’s Orioles Galore!


Bullock’s oriole, © Glenn Bartley


This spring we have seen more Western Tanagers and Bullock’s orioles than ever — and longer than ever. According to local specialists this had to do with the weather north of us. Apparently these birds (as well as the large numbers of hummingbirds hanging around) subscribe to cable TV and keenly watch The Weather Channel. The cold spell northward and the heavy winds here had these birds stacked up in northern New Mexico much like jets circling an aviation control tower: they were just awaiting the word that conditions had improved so they could resume their remarkable journeys.

The trick to keeping the hummers happy is nectar. The secret for Bullock’s and Scott’s orioles is nectar in an appropriate feeder. They are also inordinately fond of oranges and grape jelly. I think most of us know about the set-ups for hummers. What many may not know is how to set up nectar for the orioles. If you take one of those hummingbird feeders with a flaring red plastic base and pop out the yellow fake florets surrounding the feeding holes this will allow the oriole’s larger bill to access the nectar. The Tanagers like suet and the gelatin binder in those solid seed columns. They also seem fond of cranberries. A birdbath, of course, is just the ticket for these and the numerous grosbeaks, lazuli buntings, sparrows and other songbirds coming your way if you live in the inter-mountain west.

A few Bullock’s, perhaps late comers, seem to have stayed this year. Alas, I can’t actually see any nests as they build up near the tippy-tops of tall trees. But, they are still coming to the re-purposed nectar feeder as I write this!

In the future I will write about some of the seventeen species of hummers that either pass thru or spend the summers here.


Late morning addition: “Scores of twitchers flocked to the Outer Hebrides to see a bird that has been recorded just eight times previously in the UK in nearly 170 years – only to see it slain by a wind turbine.”

I Wanna See That!

New York City PBS 13 Out-Realities “Real” TV

A great series of five advertising posters are appearing in the New York City Subway system during the month of June. Entertainment Weekly carried a quote from a press release by Jeff Anderson, Executive Creative Director at CHI & Partners NY (the ad agency that created the campaign), “It’s pretty scary when you look out there and see what’s on television these days… If New Yorkers want an inspiring and educational option, they need to get behind a network that we sometimes take for granted.”



Three of the five spoof TV show posters appearing in the NYC Subway system until June 30.

New Mexico Wines

Part 1: The First Vines

Grapes were first grown in the New World near the middle Rio Grande River of New Mexico. Initially, Franciscan monks’ only access to sacramental and drinking wine was from casks shipped from their home country, Spain. And, it had to enter through the ports in Mexico and thenceforth northward to Nuevo Mexico – a journey of several months. As wine exports provided one fourth of Spain’s foreign revenue, a 1595 law forbade export of vines to the New World. Around 1629, the Franciscan padres, tired of the logistics and expense, smuggled vines from Spain to New Mexico, a classic example of our New Mexican do-for-self ingenuity. A Franciscan and a Capuchin planted those first vines near what is now the city of Socorro. Appropriately, the variety was the Mission grape, a vitas vinifera and it is still going strong in the state.

There are now twenty plus wineries in New Mexico producing about 350,000 gallons of quality wine on 1200 acres (circa 5 square kilometers.) While substantial, this is still less than was produced during the heyday of New Mexican wine making. Production rose from 16,000 gallons in 1870 to 908,000 gallons in 1880 with twice the acreage of the vineyards in present-day New York state. Alas, floods, then Prohibition, then more floods put paid to the industry. The historic 1943 flood kicked the final leg from under the state’s wine makers. It is only in the last score of years that wine-making has enjoyed a renaissance, especially with cold-hardy French-Hybrid varieties pushed by European investors.

We frequently have out-of-state visitors, as does almost everyone who is fortunate enough to live near Santa Fe, and one of the things we always try to do is visit the vineyard nearest us: Estrella del Norte Vineyard owned and worked by Richard and Eileen Reinders. They have a beautiful tasting room and host parties and neighborhood pot-lucks where their wines are available. Richard’s wines, along with many other New Mexican wines, have won numerous awards. Here in the Land of Enchantment wineries feel free to break the bounds of tradition and experiment. Probably the best-selling wine in our northern part of the state is a merlot laced with chocolate. Although I am more of a traditionalist in my wine enthusiasms, it’s not bad and I suspect will introduce many non-drinkers to the gift of the grape.
Article © 2013 Wilbur Norman


Photograph © Estrella Del Norte Vineyard
Photograph © Estrella Del Norte Vineyard

Justice Scalia Wants it Both Ways // 6 of the States Under Title 4 Impose a Voter ID Law in the Last 24 Hours

What’s good for the goose is NOT good for the gander?
Rapid Response Teams in Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Virginia

This yesterday from U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia in United States v. Windsor, … [DOMA]:

“We have no power to decide this case and even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation. The Court’s errors on both points spring forth from the same diseased root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America… It is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress and the Executive….”

However, the day before, he voted with the majority (Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General, in invalidating Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act that had been passed by both houses of the U.S. legislature (reauthorized three times, most recently in 2006 with voting 390 – 33 in the House and 98 – 0 in the Senate.) Section 4 contains the formula used by Congress to determine which states and local governments must receive federal pre-approval before changing their voting laws. The majority opinion argued that progress in voter registrations and turnout erased the need for Section 4, with Chief Justice Roberts, long a foe of the Act, referring specifically to gains in minority voting in the U.S. southern states

It would appear that Scalia is saying, “We, the conservative members of the Court, can overturn democratically adopted legislation if it goes against our principles and we can find a spurious reason, but we don’t believe the liberals on the Court ought to be able to do the same thing.”


Interestingly, 6 of the states that Title 4 was enacted for have, in the last 24 hours, enacted new Voter ID laws. Talk about quick reaction time! One, Arizona, had just had it’s previous law struck down by the Supreme Court (7 to 2) LAST WEEK! The state of Texas took only a few hours to pass a law REQUIRING a U.S. passport in hand as well as proof of state residency to vote.

In answer to these states reasoning that this will stop voter fraud (when the real reason for these laws is to hinder minority voting, and now, with Texas and its passport requirement, the elderly) several studies have found “that voter fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is nearly non-existent and much of the problems associated with alleged fraud in elections relates to unintentional mistakes by voters or election administrators.” – Brennan Center for Justice study ( What has happened, in much more substantial numbers of cases, is election officials ‘misplacing’ ballots, voting machine irregularities, and other such incidents.


Supreme Court invalidates Voting Rights Act, Title 4, above.
Supreme Court invalidates Voting Rights Act, Title 4, above.


Supreme Court strikes down DOMA.
Supreme Court strikes down DOMA.

Cell on Ice

A mobile mojito.

A mobile mojito.

Snowden shaken, but has not stirred.

I read somewhere last week that Edward Snowden, the flighty ex-NSA contractor, asked visitors to his Hong Kong apartment to put their mobile phones in his refrigerator. He was attempting to block the GPS signature of their devices in case they were being monitored to determine his whereabouts. What he was trying to do, in effect, was use his fridge as a Faraday cage*.

As is my nature, I was skeptical whether this would actually work. A fridge, it seemed to me, could just as easily be an enhancer of cell signals – a giant antenna what with all that metal and significant gaps for the rubber gaskets. So, being of a scientific bent of mind I tried an experiment. I placed my Samsung mobile in a large Samsung metal-clad refrigerator and dialed it. Voila! The in-coming ring could heard, connecting quicker than it normally does! So much for the rocket-science of a former NSA guy. (Could there be communication channels between all Samsung products? I’ll test another fridge when I get a chance.)

Not content to stop there I then put my mobile in the microwave. This common household appliance is manufactured with one of its express purposes being the blocking of … yes, yes, you’re getting warmer: microwaves! Try as I might, I could not receive a cell signal in this most useful of modern fixtures.

As an addenda, if you are the James Bond type, I have heard that an all-steel martini shaker works to block signals, too. My phone is too large to fit in the shaker at hand to test this hypothesis. And besides, it’s filled with mojitos!


* A Faraday cage, or shield, is named for the English scientist Michael Faraday (1791 -1867). It is a solid or mesh enclosure that blocks most external electro-magnetic fields. Mesh will work as long as its openings are smaller than the radiating wavelength.

Where’s Waldo?

Edward Snowden flies to Moscow (probably) but not beyond (yet).

About 30 journalists rushed to book seats this morning, 24 June 2013, on the daily 12 hour Aeroflot #SU150 / CU6150 Moscow to Havana flight in anticipation of interviewing recently fired U.S. National Security Agency technical contractor Edward Joseph Snowden (b. 21 June 1983). Unfortunately, he was not on the flight, at least in the Business (34 seats) or Economy classes (207 seats). (No one sprung for the First Class!)

The Airbus A330/200 departed Sheremetyevo International at 14:23 hours (UTC +4:00), 18 minutes late, and is scheduled to arrive at Havana’s Jose Marti International at 18:45 local time. (UTC -4:00)

To add insult to injury, this flight does not serve ANY alcohol, a state of emergency for the Fourth Estate!

Photo of Snowden's empty, paid for/assigned seat on today's Moscow to Havana flight.
Photo of Snowden’s empty, paid for/assigned seat on today’s Moscow to Havana flight.
Photo, above, of car from the Ecuadorian Embassy at the curb of Moscow's International Airport about the time of Snowden's (supposed) arrival from Hong Kong. (photo by Dmitry Rozhkov)
Photo, above, of car from the Ecuadorian Embassy at the curb of Moscow’s International Airport about the time of Snowden’s (supposed) arrival from Hong Kong. (photo by Dmitry Rozhkov)

Edward Snowden, although he never completed high school, worked most recently for Booz Allen Hamilton as an IT contractor in a National Security Agency (NSA) office in Hawaii. He is accused, based on his own admission, of leaking to the press details of top-secret American and British government mass surveillance including the interception of U.S. and European telephone metadata and the PRISM and Tempora internet surveillance programs.

Matthew M. Aid, an intelligence historian in Washington, said disclosures linked to Snowden have “confirmed longstanding suspicions that NSA’s surveillance in this country is far more intrusive than we knew.” U.S. federal prosecutors made public their sealed charges against Snowden on June 21st, his 30th birthday.

Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) employ’s around 25,000 people of whom about half possess a “Top Secret” clearance. Three-quarters of its employees have government clearances at various levels. 99% of BAH’s $5.76 billion 2013 revenue is derived from government contracts. “About 70 percent of the 2013 U.S. intelligence budget is contracted out, according to a Bloomberg Industries analysis….” (Bennett and Riley, “Booz Allen, the World’s Most Profitable Spy Organization”, Business Week magazine, 20 June 2013.)

Alpinists on Mt. Nanga Parbat Murdered

Ten dead at 15,000 foot camp in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan.


Nanga Parbat from Base Camp. Photo taken November 30, 2005.
Nanga Parbat from Base Camp. Photo taken November 30, 2005.

Back in my younger days I was a mountain climber. I still have all the stuff: the insulated boots; parkas; big-wall hardware; ice axes, hammers and screws; tents; down bags; metal-edged telemark skis, etc. But, as my life became more sedentary, with most days spent in front of the computer or at my gallery, I got soft. Now I just read about climbing.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. I came of age, as they say, in a time when I could trek almost anywhere and get out of most any trouble by flashing that all-important U.S. passport. There were hardly any mountains off limits except the Tibetan side of the Himalayas and some of the Soviet peaks. Sometimes even these were available for the right money.

The days of unfettered access have long been gone and highlighting this was today’s Taliban attack on an international climbing camp on Nanga Parbat, Pakistan’s second and the world’s ninth highest mountain. Locals call the mountain Diamir: “King of the Mountains”. It is located in Pakistan’s northwest Gilgit-Baltistan region and has resisted all attempts at a winter ascent. The area has had a lot of violence directed at the Shia minority but none toward foreigners as has occurred in more accessible regions. (The base camp, at a mountain elevation of 4200 feet, is roadless and difficult of access, requiring a two-day hike-in. The camp itself sits at 15,000 feet above sea level.)

“Spokesperson for the proscribed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Ehsanullah Ehsan, talking to from an undisclosed location claimed that the Janud-e-Hafsa faction of the [Taliban] had carried out the attack… dressed as Gilgit Scouts, a paramilitary police unit.” (The Muslim News, Middlesex, UK.) The reason given for the murders was to avenge recent U.S. drone attacks that killed the Taliban’s deputy leader on May 29.

The scene of the massacre at the Gilgit-Baltistan base camp - The Muslim News, UK.
The scene of the massacre at the Gilgit-Baltistan base camp – The Muslim News, UK.

One Chinese climber was wounded and escaped. The dead include an American of Chinese origin, the Pakistani guide, two Chinese, a Nepalese, two Slovakians, a Lithuanian and two Ukranians.


meandering & idle speculations on nothing & everything                                          

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