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 France is to be taken to the European Court of Justice for failing to protect the Alsace hamster, a cuddly rodent threatened with extension in its native eastern France.

The European Commission had long warned France it could face a multi-million pound fine if it failed to do more to save its hamsters from extinction.

But French authorities refused all attempts by the commission to protect the diminutive mammal, also known as the European hamster, according to an official linked to the proceedings.

 According to the EU’s executive body, the rodent requires around 600,000 acres of protected land to thrive, but now has less than 8,500 acres in eastern France in which to roam and feed.

Once considered vermin, the Alsace hamster (Cricetus cricetus) has been all but wiped out by rat poison, traps and farmers flooding its burrows.

According to the Commission, its numbers in Alsace plummeted from 1,167 in 2001 to 161 in 2007, and have continued to decline over the past two years.

The population needs to reach 1,500 to remain stable.

The hamster, which has distinctive beige fur, white stripes and a black belly, hibernates for six months and its staple is cabbage, onions and beetroot. However, farmers in Alsace have for years mainly grown maize, which is not ripe when it awakens in March.

Just imagine if the EC had been around in 1940.  Hitler wouldn’t have dared to launch a Blitzkrieg through the Ardenne had he been warned about the Alsace hamsters.  (And I’ll bet they’d have held the Maginot Line better, too.)

The local classickal station has been featuring an “American Musick” theme this month which it intends to run all the way through the July 4 weekend.

On the one hand, this has been beneficial in that I’ve been able to sample pieces by composers I’ve never heard of before.

On the other hand, well, it turns out there’s a pretty good reason why I’ve never heard of them.  Once one gets past Barber (whom I dislike), Copeland (whom I find tedious) and Gershwin (whose “Rhapsody in Blue” has been beaten to death), the bench turns out to be awefully shallow.   Frankly, I think the station over-reached somewhat.

I don’t believe this is a particular bad reflection on America per se.  Rayther, I think it’s just a result of unfortunate timing.  America being such a young nation, the Arts in this country were just starting to come up when classickal musick as a whole was starting to come off the rails.  Most recognized American composers are from the 20th Century and, well, that just isn’t a very good place to be in terms of serious musick.

By way of comparison and to prove my point, I would also note that the 20th Century was a good place to be in terms of more popular kinds of musick.  Think swing and big band.  Think Broadway musicals.  There it’s arguable that American talent in fact dominated.   And the truth of the matter is that I’d much rayther listen to Rodgers and Hart or Cole Porter than, say, Howard Hanson.

The blueberries at the port-swiller residence are ripening fast this week.  (We have half a dozen bushes.  Granted, they’re high-bush, which I know is downright heretical to some people, but they’re very yummy nonetheless.)

Last weekend, before we drove off to camp, the eldest gel and I were out grazing on the earliest arrivals.  I remarked that it was a shame she was going to be gone for the two weeks of prime berry time, and that I guessed I would have no choice but to eat all of them without her.

“Isn’t that a shame,” I said.

Daaaaaaaad!” she replied, and poked me heavily in the rib cage.

I laughed.

She laughed.

A simple tale of father/daughter bonding based on a little gentle teasing, no?  And yet, I’ve told this story to half a dozen people this week and received not a smile or a laugh, but a look of “How could you be so mean?” incredulity.  Granted, the people I’ve told have tended either to be childless or else to have only babies or toddlers, and all of them are much more Liberal than I am, but nonetheless I find their reaction worrisome. 

I’d have thought – well, I do think – that teasing among family members, so long as it is good natured and not designed to be ugly, is an extremely healthy thing.   It teaches the kiddies not to be thin-skinned and it acts as a harmless escape valve to blow off pressure between the grown-ups that might otherwise build to an explosive level if they spent their lives tip-toeing around one another.  Is this no longer acceptable among the Enlightened?

I would estimate that between our internal systems at work and all the courts across the country where I file documents electronically, I have to use at least a dozen different passwords and user names, several of which must be changed periodically.  On top of that, there are all the electronic accounts we keep at home – banking, on-line shopping and the like.  And, of course, there are the keys to this place as well as Llama Central.

Because I had to go round and get checked in for a new security badge yesterday, something suddenly occured to me:  Sooner or later, those Big Guv’mint types who have been yearning for citizen identity cards and a centralized national database are going to make the pitch that such a system would allow us to do away with all these pesky different ID’s and passwords, thereby eliminating the need to keep track of all of them and the headache of losing them.  Indeed, I can even see the argument that a subcutanious microchip implant with a unique identifier, coupled with a universal scanner attached to all electronic devices, would eliminate the need for remembering any user ID or password.

And we, rayther than rising up in wrathful defense of our civil liberties, are instead going to be grateful for the convenience and will go along quite cheerfully.

See if we don’t.

SouthparkKitty Regular port-swillers will know that I’m baching it this week, Mrs. R having gone up to Connecticut to visit family and the gels being away at camp.  Said regulars will also be aware both that two cats reside at the port-swiller residence and that I am not overly fond of cats.

For all the years I’ve had to endure feline company, we’ve fed the little brutes dry food.  Unfortunately, within the past month or two Mrs. R became convinced that we should introduce some wet food into their diets as well.  “Oh,” she said, “It’s just a supplement now and again.”

Uh, huh.

Gradually but speedily, the cats decided that wet food was all they cared about.  Dry, in a word, just wasn’t good enough anymore.

And so we came to this week’s diaspora.  I’ve had nothing to do with the wet food up until now, and I made abundantly clear to Mrs. R that I would not do so going forward, the stuff being thoroughly disgusting to the smell and also a great ant magnet.

Mrs. R just shrugged when I threw down.  The cats? That’s a different matter.  Earlier this week it was nothing but meaningful looks.  After a few days, their concern became verbal, manifesting itself in a loud yowling every time I went anywhere near the kitchen.  My refusal to capitulate in the face of such protest has now been challenged by Bella, the younger and more active of the pair, who showed her displeasure today by raiding the kitchen garbage, something she’s never done before.

Well.  As the Lord said to Job, thus far and no farther.  I’ll be damned if I let a pair of those little bastards bully me around.  I actually found myself this evening staring at them and stirring up their bowl of dry, saying in my sternest tone, “This. Is. It.”

The look they shot back at me was as much as to say, “Dry? We don’t need no stinkin’ dry!”

Thank Heaven they aren’t heavily-armed banditos, or I’d be in a world of hurt.


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June 2009