Here we go again - "Blame Canada!"

I was all set to write a brief little ditty about those sexy new PETA postage stamps ("Pamela Anderson AND Bob Barker? Consider my Holidaze shopping done, baby). Then I unfolded my clutch of daily dead tree to see a serious looking banner headline. "Canada Kept Salmon Threat Secret" For those just now checking in, I got hooked by that story breakthrough last month while looking at other viruses attacking specific agribusinesses with similarly devastating effects. The prospect of this salmon-targeting disease (named Infectious Salmon Anemia or "ISA") packed the added punch of possibly making the leap from farmed salmon populations to the much more valuable and previously safe-seeming wild salmon populations. Today's headline alludes to the fact that Canadian researchers have actually known about ISA being in wild salmon for a decade. One pesky research fellow found it present in tested fish back in 2002. The good news is that it may be a harmless natural variation of ISA that's always been out there. Where the story gets sexy is when the push to publish the findings maybe encountered the faint possibility that Canada's regulatory bureaucracy kept it hidden. This small tempest must nonetheless be swirling around the fishing taverns and coffeeshops today. Yarrr! For me, the takeaway jibes with my experience that emerging viral threats to an agribusiness leave those farmers feeling almost totally powerless. The teachable moment being that if researchers and bureaucrats dink around with that research because of some unseen benefit for keeping things silent...well, that's just a disservice to everyone.

Thinking about Newt? Ow, that hurts.

Newt Gingrich has me thinking about my ancestry. The stepping off point for that bit of randomness was his performance in last week's GOP debate on CNN. I watched it while in Wisconsin, where my family's roots were firmly set over 130 years ago thanks to the Homestead Act. All those people who live perfectly good lives without ever manifesting the troubling signs of political obsessive disorder surely missed it. Specifically, I'm pointing at when Newt waded into unusual waters for a GOP candidate by responding to a question about immigration with a measured embrace of amnesty for non-citizens. For my almost entirely Scandinavian family, it brought up something I now find fascinating that I'd never given much thought. I'm now aware that one of my grandmothers never became a citizen. It just wasn't that big of a deal way back when - especially since women couldn't vote prior to 1920. To up the ante of weirdness, I'm now focused upon the fact that the trippy little country she came from in Scandinavia ceased to exist in the late 1930s. Blame the Soviets, I think. Her husband naturalized, which was the norm to afford the benefits of citizenship to the whole family. Her kids were all born here. She lived into her 90s, and died in the 1980s surrounded by family and property. But in terms of our modern view of citizenship, she was effectively a woman without a country for most of her life. I'm still sussing this all out. I can't even find the country she came from listed anywhere to make sense of what citizenship she might have been able to claim. Say what you will about Newt. Loudly. I, for one, have never been a fan. Even though he married a former small-town girl from Sconnie on his third try at, um, lifelong party affiliation. But the guy's politics inspired me to take a new look at my own past. Now if you'll excuse me, I think my irony bladder just exploded.

Thanksgiving in Sconnie, post scriptum

I'm back home after a weeklong visit to the land of deer hunting and Packer loving. The things I saw in - or, rather, near - the woods opened the memory gates in ways grand and teeny tiny. One of my everyday urban activities that I brought with me was to go out running in the mornings, before the sun had risen. One time along my daily route, I saw a bald eagle perched in the highest branches of a tree right next to the prevailing county highway in my childhood neighborhood. Old Glorious swiveled her head to look down at me, passing a brief judgment before returning to all things otherwise more interesting far above the forest line. Another day, what could have only been a bat flew directly into me, striking the iPod earbud anchored in my right ear. As of now I see no need for rabies shots since not a mark was made on anything other than my previous sense of species superiority. My last morning conjured a memory like a lightning strike of the first season I was counted among the ranks of official hunterdom. I passed by the spot where I'd seen a truly majestic buck three decades ago. I told that story of the deer's nonplussed and safe run across an open field to my daughter as we drove back to the Twin Cities on our way out of the Northwoods. There were copious other lessons learned or at least hinted at during the past week - some for this book, others just for the sake of what might be humility. For example, I struggled with how to best cook a surprisingly decent hunk of fresh bear loin given to us by a family friend to add to our Thanksgiving bounty. No, it tasted nothing like chicken. The whole visit went something like that. Amidst nearly constant reminders to grasp anew things I've long since forgotten. Being reminded of that is one of the things I'm humbly thankful for this year.

Back in the hunt. But only vicariously.

The time has come for another return to my actual and figurative homeland - northern Wisconsin. As so often happens this time of year, the visit is measured in the number of Green Bay Packer games I'll be there to watch in their natural environment (two - Sunday's Battle of the Bays AND the more awesome TurkeyDaze game versus the slumping but still worrisome Lions). However, the other significant measure of this time of year for so many native Wisconsinites is (gun) deer hunting season. I don't hunt. But I grew up doing so. That season starts tomorrow. While it only goes on for nine days, I argue that it is the cultural epicenter of each Fall heading toward Winter in Wisconsin. Aside from any given gameday at Lambeau Field in Green Bay or at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. In terms of hunting, I would argue that the act itself is actually secondary. Where the lessons are re-learned annually is clustered around the hunting cabins and country bars, where awareness of full-on winter's arrival and the concept of putting away some venison for that season drives so many into the woods. Plenty of folks (who unlike me) still hunt every year might tweak my sentimental analysis. That's certainly their right. Still, I grew up in it. And I'll call it as I see it. Bear in mind, I went through the DNR's hunter safety course in 7th Grade like almost all of the other boys in the area who couldn't wait to get out in the woods with their families. I walked those woods every year until I went off to college. At it's best, that was the time to reorient with the woods that would otherwise be largely unseen throughout the seasons. I was born into a fortunate group of hunters. We had land to hunt on. And no matter what people feel they know about the hunting, I understand the enduring appeal of going back to that land whenever possible. It will be vicariously interesting to be back there at this time - my first Thanksgiving week visit to the Northwoods in what seems like a decade. Almost everyone I know who's still back there will be hunting. While the emergence of a growing wolf population (and even a few rumored cougars) has scared off much of the deer population, I look forward to the inevitable gossip and speculation about how the woods look and how the hunt is going. I'll still get out there in the early mornings, wearing a blaze orange vest when I go running. Along many of those same country roads that we would disembark from back in the days of my own full-fledged participation in the culture. Wish me luck. Don't worry. It's safe out there. And fascinating.

Next up, PETA uncovers the oppressive code hidden in "Pitfall"

PETA consistently surprises me with the absurd angles they take on animal rights issues. I'll be the first to say that their sense of the ridiculous is often clever. Even if they consistently perpetuate completely false claims. Their latest PR assault comes from a direction few could have seen coming. This time out, PETA takes on Nintendo. Whether or not anyone who grew up playing Super Mario realizes it, there's an opportunity for activism hidden in that there code. Specifically, the obscure, magic Tanooki cloak that showed up in Super Mario 3. Admittedly, I'm not well versed in the game. I'll date myself by admitting that I'm more Atari 2600 than Nintendo. Still, PETA's produced an especially lame, not at all timely web-based game to play on their website. Spoiler alert - Tanooki tries to turn the tables on Mario. I've played it. Gamers surely won't. Maybe if they go old school and stand up for the rights of those misunderstood Invaders from Space, I'll see past wrongs worth being righted. But I'm not holding my breath on that one.

High-speed trains and Buicks - more alike than we realize.

Two stories regarding China once again caught my eye. Funny how that happens after a visit when you fall under the spell of a place, isn't it?

First up, the high speed rail system between Beijing and Shanghai is supposedly all good to go once again. Whether or not anything has been re-engineered following the collision that killed 43 people back in July is an open question. For a nation that plans to build thousands of miles of new high-speed track by 2015, getting that system back on track has to be a nerve-wracking story for a whole lot of people.

Secondly, the explosion in car sales in China is unavoidable if you just look around the streets there. Oops, maybe that's a crude word choice to follow up a train crash story. Still, the Chinese love their cars. And they also apparently love to categorize those newly-coveted cars. A Mercedes, apparently, equals an old fart. An Audi means "bureaucrat", so just get the hell out of the way if you see one. I'm sure there are others - the handful of ridiculous Lotuses and Lambourghinis I saw speeding around the cities certainly indicate a very particular kind dickish customer. But where I was surprised in this piece was in the news that one of the hottest luxury car lines in China is actually the Buick - the oldest American car maker, and one that's recently even been dissed by GM's execs. Nevermind that Buick is also partly the namesake (derived from a favorite Midwestern cliche') of my prior blog. Buick's back, baby. At least on the streets of Beijing. I don't know why, but that makes me happy.

Updates and innovations - Ai Weiwei, DRCs, and a Kindle "eureka!" moment

Expect more check-backs like this from time to time:

- I've written about my interest in the case of Ai Weiwei in China. I'm certainly not alone. Enough donations have flooded in (nearly $1.4M) that an appeal of his ridiculous, intimidating tax bill ($2.4M) should be possible. Not surprisingly, the complexity of Chinese bureaucracy makes things far from transparent and new roadblocks have emerged. I'm still fascinated by this artist and the emerging showdown between his hilariously named design firm (Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd.) and the Government. If you don't see it elsewhere, please expect that I will keep you posted when things catch my eye as the plot continues to thicken.
- I've gotten my first digital review copy (DRC) for a book coming out in January. Big shout out to Edelweiss (a preview and catalog service operated by Above the Treeline) for seeing fit to tag me as...I don't know what. A book reviewer? Book blogger, maybe. Writer with way too many distractions? All of the above, in fits and starts. Regardless, my first effort in this realm of read/absorb/review will wrap back around (at least somewhat) on the larger canvas I'm working on. I promise.
-As an important aside, my Kindle has just knocked my proverbial socks off. The struggle for a coexistence between the digital and the dead tree in publishing is a well-worn, expanding trope. But when these tools aid in the access to books that can then benefit both sides of that divide, the results are pretty darn nifty.