On Winged Feet

June 29, 2006 at 8:53 am | Posted in C. brachyotis, C. sphinx, Cynopterus, fertilize, flying fox, fruit bat, Jamaican Cherry Tree, multi-use species, Muntingia calabura, pteropodidae | Leave a comment

Every night, before hitting the sack, we have the unique pleasure of standing near a Jamaican Cherry tree and watching the fruit bats up close. Fantastic aerial acrobats they wheel and swoop on the abundant sweet fruit that that one small tree provides.

These are of the genus Cynopterus and belong to the family pteropodidae (in Greek literally “winged feet”). We have two species that feed here, the Lesser Short Nosed (C. brachyotis) and the Short Nosed (C. sphinx).

Fruit bats include the giants known commonly as flying foxes and they are all endangered. Much misunderstood, they have been branded as farmers’ enemies and in India are even classified as vermin – which means that they can be hunted and killed at will. So, all the fruit bats are endangered, not only due to habitat loss but also because of hunting!

In actual fact, orchard owners have nothing to fear from these shy, exquisitely beautiful creatures. When they feed on fruit it is always the overripe fruit that they eat. In fact, without the activity of the fruit bats, pollination and seed dispersal would both be terribly compromised, leading to further loss of forest trees and fruit trees. By simply planting a few select trees, like the Jamaican Cherry (Muntingia calabura L.).
farmers could encourage the fruit bats and have even fewer problems with fruit damage. Arguably, the droppings of fruit bats are very mineral rich and will serve to fetilize the soil in the orchards, reducing costs and increasing yields for the farmers.

Muntingia itself adds value to any farm as it is a multi-use species producing edible fruit, useful fibre and attractively grained wood besides being fast growing. The tree does well in poor soils – could it be precisely because it is visited by myriads of fruit bats every night?

Please don’t encourage the destruction of these beautiful and useful creatures:

AND whenever you do plant a tree, try to keep the no-longer-ubiquitous fruit bat in mind…

For a nice library of pics that shows the diversity and beauty of pteropods check out U Mich’s Animal Diversity Website at



June 27, 2006 at 10:36 am | Posted in 1st Amendment, 9-11, First Amendment, freedom of speech, human rights, Richard Oxman, Ward Churchill | Leave a comment

Living in India I am shocked at how little the West believes in/understands the simple concept of “freedom of speech”.

To take just one recent example, an essayist named Ward Churchill has just been told to quit his teaching post at a university in the U.S. because he published an article on the 9-11 attack on the WTC – saying something to the effect that “America should have been expecting an attack like this to happen given their horrendous activities across the world for the last several decades.”

He went even further while trying to place the actions of the 9-11 attackers in the context of language used by Americans during the 1991 Gulf War.

Left leaning – Yes.

Controversial – Yes.

But does that mean that a person should be blacklisted and hounded out of a teaching job, not allowed to participate in public speaking and called a terrorist? Of course, calling someone a terrorist in the West now is the equivalent of saying that this person does not have and does not deserve any human rights; certainly not the right to free speech!.

A sorry few voices have been raised in protest. One is “The Sounds of Bigots”
By RICHARD OXMAN and can be read at http://www.counterpunch.org. And one awaits the details on the “plagiarism” charge that has been bandied about regarding the essayist.

On the whole, my impression is that free speech in America is tolerated if it is fascist in nature (e.g. Coulter) but free speech takes on a different definition for proponents of civil liberties and justice.

How Utterly Sad

Religious Disinterest

June 26, 2006 at 12:54 pm | Posted in Christian, Hindu, intolerance, Muslim, religion | 2 Comments

As a youth I used to think that everyone was interested in religion. I mean this very generally – all around my friends, classmates, acquaintances had to be involved in some religious activity at least once a week.
Hindu’s would do pooja,
Muslims would pray facing Mecca, and visit the mosque,
Christians would go to church
and in the villages,
people would consult the spiritist/healer/soothsayer.

It took a while for me to realise that these activities had little (if anything) to do with how people behaved towards one another.

It took very much longer for me to admit to myself that how i practiced “religion” did not help me to become a ‘better sort of person’.

In fact my denial of this fact continued for a number of years.

I had to come back to India, where our billion people and mountainous problems of daily life finally brought home to me the fact that what I had thought to be true religion was in fact nothing but.

My friend’s father helped to crystalise this truth for me very simply when one day he casually remarked that “the great religions are supposed to be pointing us towards God. But all they do is to grab a hold of us and point us towards religion”.

If my religion can’t make me a more loving person then it is pointless. Perhaps the fault lies not with religion but with my failure to become a more loving person regardless…

Seashore Mangrove Forests

June 20, 2006 at 5:01 am | Posted in birds, black mangrove, boatmen, corral harvesting, corral reef, dynamite, ecotourism, ecotourist, heron, mangrove, marine life, pichavaram, pichavarram, red mangrove | Leave a comment

Recently took a small group of ecotourists to the mangrove forest at Pichavarram on the East Coast of India. This is my first visit after the Tsunami. I had taken a group there in early December of 2005 and we had planned on being back there for that Christmas – guess one could call that a close one!
Anyhow, this mangrove forest, though not large, is an absolute gem. Some years ago an overambitious idiot researcher had tunnelled out a whole bunch of canals through the forest, probably destroying a good 15% of the original mangrove.

Still the mangrove is reclaiming it’s territory and it was heartening to see that the Tsunami also had not wiped it out.

There are around fifty boatmen who make a livelihood carting ecotourists around the mangrove. Each of them is amazing. They have no ‘formal education’ but know each species of plant, the birds and all the marine life by heart. I have been amazed to hear them give the scientific names, uses, medicinal properties…of these creatures that are unique to the mangrove.

We float through dark tunnels of mangrove, silent except for the gentle swish of the paddle, dappled sunlight speckles the water. The red and black mangroves form dense jungles and the narrowly arched boating tunnels are lined with veritable sculptures of cobwebs. The lone heron contemplates the rich marine life visible only to her eye…

There is a lovely beach on the other side of the mangrove. It was disheartening to see that a large commercial prawn fishery had been quietly set up on one of the nearby islands and even sadder to see the chunks of blasted coral that litter the beach – a sure indication that the corral reefs are being blasted with dynamite for commercial purposes.

Still, I am heartened to see that this present generation of our youth are more conscious of the value of nature and the need to preserve and protect our fast vanishing wilderness. I believe that they are our only hope, for my generation has miserably failed…

Our world is losing 7% to 10% of its mangroves each year. Let us all pray that today’s young people will do better!


June 10, 2006 at 5:52 pm | Posted in health insurance, health plans, Peter Kuper, private healthcare | Leave a comment
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Oxford Health Plans told hundreds of doctors and thousands of its subscribers that it would no longer pay for medical care at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, and gave them a month to make new arrangements.

© Peter Kuper

In 2004 Oxford agreed to a new contract that increased the rates it paid the hospital, then continued to pay the old rates for more than a year after MediSys and Oxford negotiated new contracts to set the rates the insurer would pay to two MediSys hospitals, Flushing Hospital Medical Center and Jamaica.
Oxford drafted the contracts, and MediSys signed them and returned them to Oxford. But after a few months, MediSys realized that Oxford was still paying the old, lower rates, and it complained to the insurer.
At that point, Oxford raised a new and unexpected subject: the anesthesiologists at Flushing Hospital. The anesthesiology group does not have an agreement with Oxford to be part of its network of doctors. When Oxford members have surgery at Flushing, the anesthesiologists bill the insurance company for their full fees, not the lower rates Oxford would negotiate with in-network doctors, Oxford responded by asking the hospitals to pressure the Flushing anesthesiologists to join Oxford’s network. MediSys rebuffed that request, saying it was up to the anesthesia group to make its own insurance arrangements.
When repeated protests produced nothing, Jamaica officials raised the possibility this year of canceling the contract, but Oxford talked them out of it.
Then, doctors and patients received letters from Oxford informing them that as of May 2, Jamaica would no longer be an Oxford provider. Doctors who had admitting privileges at other hospitals were told that they would have to take their patients elsewhere. Doctors who had privileges only at Jamaica were told that they would no longer be paid to treat Oxford members, and their patients were told to find new doctors.
“These are mostly elderly people who have heart disease and diabetes and arthritis, people who see a lot of different specialists, and they were panicked,” “And all of a sudden, they’re told they can’t go to all those docs at Jamaica”. They scrambled to make arrangements at other hospitals. Doctors said they were inundated by calls from patients requesting their medical records so they could change doctors.
Many were like the woman in her 60’s with chronic hepatitis C, “She came in one day hysterically crying, completely distraught, saying she got this letter from Oxford that I could no longer be her doctor,” Dr. Basello said. “Later, she missed appointments because she didn’t think she could keep coming to me”.
Jamaica and the state say, Oxford has not made any retroactive payments and because of the lag in billing, they do not know yet whether Oxford is paying the new rates.
Calls to Oxford were referred to its parent company, UnitedHealth Group, which bought Oxford in 2004. Jamaica officials noted that the Oxford moves they object to happened after the July 2004 takeover by UnitedHealth, one of the nation’s largest and most profitable health insurers.
Excerpts; read the whole artcle at : http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/30/nyregion/30jamaica.html and special thanks to Peter Kuper for the artwork

The NEW "Chimpy" Troupe in D.C.

June 7, 2006 at 9:25 am | Posted in alpha male, bonobo, CheneyMeToARiceBush, chimpanzee, chimpy, Dickied Rice Bush, extinction, George Dick and Rummy, Jane Goodall, maximus, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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America’s sense of humour is making a comeback, and in honour of that one of our local (Indian) zoos, which hosts a bunch of chimps, has nicknamed the three leaders : George, Dick and Rummy !

But seriously this is such an insult to the real chimps. Endangered in the wild due to habitat loss and hunting, with far too many in captivity and used for anything from food and medical research to house pets, the chimpanzee is fast following the bonobo’s road to extinction.

Hardly lovable creatures, adult chimps can be very dangerous and have been known to prey on human infants too if given a chance. Perhaps that’s why the alpha male in that zoo has been dubbed Rummy!

Chimps are also capable of deep thought and of course are very intelligent. I would request my American friends to find a new nickname for your own current alpha male – chimpy is just not acceptable to chimp lovers! Perhaps “maximus” alone will do?

The fellow blogggers that set this off are:
huffingtonpost.com: I-know-a-secret-that-george_b_doesn’t and http://tribes.tribe.net/chimpy (Chimpy McFlightsuit)

And for more on REAL CHIMPS, check out these links:
NatGeo article
and especially this one for more on Jane Goodall’s work:

I Wonder

June 1, 2006 at 3:49 pm | Posted in Everest abandonment, Haditha, hard of heart, man's inhumanity to man, selfish | 2 Comments
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I wonder whether man has fundamentally changed over the last couple of decades? Recent incidents like the abandonment of a living fellow climber near the peak of Mt. Everest, the emerging story on the Haditha tragedy, not to mention the shooting of a pregnant Iraqi woman really make me wonder.

Is it humankind, that is becoming less kind or is it nurture – a change in culture – that is making us more selfish and harder of heart?

Tragedy, war, stress, none of these are new to human experience. Or, could it be that the past was just as bad but that I tend to romanticize it?

I don’t know.
I just don’t know.

But, I do wonder…

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