Archive for June, 2010

Must-Read: Author on the demise of the last wild food

June 27, 2010

Author Paul Greenberg thinks like I do. His Times Magazine article, “Tuna’s End,” is a must-read on the last days of the warm-blooded, seven-foot-plus “seafood.”

While I was in law school, I spent a year compiling salmon research and environmental protection jurisprudence. I quickly became a vegetarian and an opponent of farmed salmon. The evidence is unreal, if you take the time to read it. It also helped that most weekends were spent out in the Olympic Mountains or the Puget Sound. Just a little time in the “wild,” watching bears, orcas, eagles, sea lions, mountain goats and salmon keeping it real with each other made me want to keep it real myself. Or at least try.

As I wrote that, I just heard the Bon Appetit judge on Iron Chef say, through stuffed maw, “This is why wahoo was created.” Wahoo is a large fish. And if this is a world where wahoo are born in order to provide nourishment to that guy’s weird Scott Stapp coif, then count me out.


Anyway, back to the point: We are making a big mistake. You can eat fish–I don’t judge. But whether you care or not, salmon and tuna are incredible animals and major links in their ecosystems. For years, we killed whales with no more guilt than we now have killing tuna. Until it’s “cool” to want to save tuna and wild salmon, they and the animals that need them are screwed. If you disagree with me, read Greenberg’s article. Here’s an excerpt of the excerpt:

But the main damage that took place that day was indisputably to the bluefin. After the encounter, the fishermen aboard the Jean-Marie Christian VI transferred the fish alive into a holding cage and slowly towed them away. Soon those tuna would be brought to feeding pens where they will spend at least several months putting on weight. Afterward, they will be slaughtered and sent to Japan, where 80 percent of the world’s Atlantic bluefin tuna are eaten with oblivion.

THERE ARE TWOreasons that a mere fish should have inspired such a high-strung confrontation reminiscent of Greenpeace’s early days as a defender of whales. The first stems from fish enthusiasts who have for many years recognized the particular qualities of bluefin tuna — qualities that were they land-based creatures would establish them indisputably as “wildlife” and not just another “seafood” we eat without remorse. Not only is the bluefin’s dense, distinctly beefy musculature supremely appropriate for traversing the ocean’s breadth, but the animal also has attributes that make its evolutionary appearance seem almost deus ex machina, or rather machina ex deo — a machine from God. How else could a fish develop a sextantlike “pineal window” in the top of its head that scientists say enables it to navigate over thousands of miles? How else could a fish develop a propulsion system whereby a whip-thin crescent tail vibrates at fantastic speeds, shooting the bluefin forward at speeds that can reach 40 miles an hour? And how else would a fish appear within a mostly coldblooded phylum that can use its metabolic heat to raise its body temperature far above that of the surrounding water, allowing it to traverse the frigid seas of the subarctic?

Yes, bluefin tuna are warmblooded.

That bluefin can be huge — 10 feet and more than a thousand pounds — is a side note. For those of us who have seen their football silhouettes arise and vanish in less than a blink of an eye or held them alive, their hard-shell skins barely containing the surging muscle tissue within, they are something bigger than the space they occupy. All fish change color when they die. But with tuna the death shift feels more profound. Fresh from the water, their backs pulsing neon blue, their bellies gleaming silver-pink iridescence, they seem like the ocean itself.

And in a way they are, which explains the second reason bluefin have come to possess such totemic power. For bluefin tuna and all species of tuna are the living representation of the very limits of the ocean. Their global decline is a warning that we just might destroy our last wild food.

An Exiled “pre-approval” of Mark Twain’s upcoming autobiography

June 23, 2010

It’s already been a century since Samuel Clemens moved on. He left us a foul-mouthed present that is just now ready to be released. Mark H. Twain told the U. of California to wait 100 years after his passing before publishing his 5000-page autobiography. Rather than focus on what’s in it (hint, in his later days he was not so charmed by our faulty nature), The Exiled’s Eileen Jones unleashes a diatribe on our generation’s common lack of greatness. It’s pretty entertaining.

It seems like only yesterday when we were an embiggened nation and had some great people among us. They weren’t the majority, of course, but the ones we had were prime. Especially that fierce Civil War era crop. Besides Twain there was, lessee, off the top of my head, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass, and Ulysses S. Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman, and John Brown, and Harriet Tubman, and Ambrose Bierce and…That’s not so many, you say. Oh yeah? Try naming eight great Americans living right now. G’head. Try it. Okay, try naming three. I remind you that Johnny Cash already kicked the bucket and Hunter S. Thompson shot himself. But Muhammad Ali’s still alive, so that’s one. Oh, and Cesar Milan became an American citizen, didn’t he? So that’s two. In the unlikely event that you can think of a third candidate, please forward your bright idea to

Jones also scornes us for being surprised that Twain’s last words would be vitriol, given the ample evidence left in even his most light-hearted work.

When the publication of the Twain autobiography was announced, the press tended to focus on certain eye-popping details the tome reveals about the author’s old age. The electric sex toy bought for him by his secretary/mistress, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, for starters, and the colorfully insulting language he used to describe her after the affair ended. Apparently it isn’t generally known that Mark Twain was an old rip.

Which means people aren’t reading Twain anymore, or anyway, they aren’t reading him with any real attention to detail. Even the milder stuff assigned in high school English classes is ripe, blasphemous, hilarious, and heartening. Sure, they don’t assign you Twain’s “Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism”. But The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is plenty lively, with exhilarating stuff on every page. Here, for instance, is Huck’s first-person description of his father, the malevolent town drunk:

He was most fifty, and he looked it. His hair was long and tangled and greasy, and hung down, and you could see his eyes shining through like he was behind vines. It was all black, no grey; so was his long mixed-up whiskers. There warn’t no color in his face, where his face showed; it was white; not like another man’s white, but a white to make a body sick, a white to make a body’s flesh crawl—a tree-toad white, a fishbelly white. As for his clothes—just rags, that was all.

This is why kids should study literature. It does a child good to read a frank, straightforward assessment of a parental figure like that. It means you don’t have to lie to yourself, see; you can acknowledge, in your own mind, what you’re experiencing, even if you have to disavow it aloud in order to get along in society.

She also advocates giving the Coen Bros a crack at a Huck Finn adaptation. That sounds like a great idea.

Elsewhere, I’ve read talk about Twain’s “ego” in assuming we’d care about him 100 years later. First, it’s not ego to know you are famous. Second, and more importantly, this autobiography apparently trashes people he knew, and will probably paint a different picture of the older Twain in much the same way later-day Tolstoy was completely different from the gambling, carousing younger Leo. To think Twain was not aware of that is to underestimate one of the sharpest minds our country has seen. He let the dust settle on his legacy before he let loose with one last bilious rant. And how fun would it be to know you were going to communicate directly with your country (it is his country) years into the future, and, hell, maybe even improve it a bit with your words. His generation’s loss is our gain.


June 23, 2010

Technically, I’m not at day 44… yet.