Why I listen to public radio, part 3

bison on Catalina

Yesterday morning I learned from Morning Edition on NPR that there are buffalo off the coast of California.


Of course they didn’t swim to Santa Catalina Island on their own. These buffalo were left behind from a movie shoot back in 1924, and the movie never even got made. But what started out as 14 bison grew to 600 by the 80s. You know the story—a non-native gets introduced to a habitat where it has no natural predators and thrives. Sort of like cane toads, but a lot bigger.

A conservancy group managed to bring the numbers down somewhat through hunting, but was mostly relying on shipping them off to South Dakota. And that’s more than a few forever stamps.

Biologist Julie King is in charge of the wild bison that currently roam the island. That is, they’re her responsibility, but they are not an easy bunch to manage.

“I’m guessing they thought bison were a lot like cattle, that you could turn them loose and herd them fairly easily,” King said.

bison birth controlBut that is not the case, and shipping is costly. So for the past three years they’ve been trying something new—a birth control vaccine injected by dart guns. (I suppose that’s easier than trying to apply condoms.)

Now the herd is at a manageable 150, and they’ve become somewhat popular as a tourist attraction for people who want to see bison but don’t want to go to South Dakota to do it.

To listen to the full story, go to http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=211440302&m=211585110.


Wine words cover a lot of territory

wine glass clip artHave you ever been at a wine tasting and found yourself lacking in fresh and original ways to describe the stuff in your wine glass? This post is for you. I recently worked on a wine book in which the author, a renowned wine expert, had to think of distinctive ways to describe burgundies. After all, a wine can’t just be good or bad—it is described in specific terms, such as forward, stemmy, spicy, or balanced. All the words in italics are pulled directly from the guide book for your personal use.

First, be sure to swirl that swill in your glass a bit, stick your nose in it, and take a drink. Then nod your head slowly as if you’re contemplating and say, “It has impressive fruit, a cool intensity, and a lovely finish.”

Now you give it a try. The following phrases are guaranteed to make you sound like a connoisseur even though many seemed to me to have nothing to do with wine:

good follow-through

a little ungainly at present


positive at the end

Some sound suspiciously like backhanded compliments: will still improve, good for what it is, plenty of personality, attractive if unpretentious, funky but unstylish, and quite chunky but no lack of elegance.

(I personally hope I never drink a wine that’s considered chunky unless it’s sangria with some fresh fruit floating in it.)

Although one could usually distinguish the positive from the negative, it was not always clear what these terms really meant. I mean, what does austere taste like? And do I want to drink something that is getting hollow, quite firm, or slightly raw?nose clip art

The nose itself was described in a number of ways: soft nose, stylish nose, faded nose, unforthcoming, and really quite shitty on the nose. Okay, I think I can assume that the last one is probably not a keeper.

A few could have been describing articles of clothing—loose-knit, unformed, and an absence of velvet.

My favorites? Seductive, quite evolved, long & luxurious, exotic on the palate, elegant, harmonious, gloriously profound, having plenty of depth and class, showing energy and distinction, and hinting at richness underneath. Come to think of it, those words also describe the perfect man…

Then there were those that sounded more like someone describing an ex-boyfriend or a bad date: backward, unexciting, a bit aggressive, not much backbone, a little one-dimensional, better at the end than on the attack, flat, a touch sweaty, or loose at the end.

Which begs the question: would you rather drink a sweaty wine or have a dinner with a sweaty dinner companion?

Dancing in Jaffa an emotional experience


Last night I saw a documentary as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival about Pierre Dulaine, whose family was forced to leave Jaffa when he was a child. A champion ballroom dancer, he returns there 60 years later to teach ballroom dancing to children, but not just any children—he teaches Palestinian and Jewish kids from five different schools and then brings them together.

We get to see Dulaine arrive in Israel eager to show his students that they can trust each other through the medium of dance. He brings his dancing partner of thirty-five years, Miss Yvonne, out from New York to help him show the kids what real ballroom dancing looks like. When he tries to show her his childhood home, they have to leave in a hurry because the current occupants have guns and threaten to use them.

But the real stars of the film are the kids. At first there are some who are unwilling to dance with the opposite sex let alone people they view as the enemy. You see several of them pull their sleeves down to cover their hands so that they don’t have to touch. Some refuse to dance with kids they don’t know. One Jewish girl who does dance with an Arab boy makes the comment that her dad would kill her if he saw them dancing together.

But Mr. Pierre sticks with it and insists that the boys ask their partners politely to dance and the girls must respond, “With pleasure.” Gradually they learn the steps, get over their initial shyness, and compete for the golden cup. Mostly we see budding adolescents that could be from anywhere on earth, asking Mr. Pierre if he and Miss Yvonne are married and giggling with each other outside class when discussing who fancies whom on the dance floor.

We meet Noor, a girl who recently lost her father and has a lot of anger. At the beginning of the film, she’s gotten in trouble for hitting a classmate, and we see her cry openly and kiss her father’s gravestone. By the end of the film she is dancing, smiling, and making friends. Her teacher describes her as “a flower that’s opened up.”

Dancing_In_Jaffa_2Alaa is beyond adorable and brightens any room with his smile. Poorer than some of the other children, he lives in a tiny but happy home. His dance partner, Lois, is a mature girl who positively glows with self-confidence. Her mother worries that Alaa will bring down their performance and is rather consumed with the idea of her daughter winning, to which Lois responds, “It’s not all about winning, Mom.” I have great faith in Lois even if her mom is not the ideal role model.

I have to say I shed more than a few tears watching this amazing documentary. But during the first third of the film, it was because it seemed so hopeless. By the end of the film, they were tears of hope.