Exotic Feline Rescue Center

We finally visited the Exotic Feline Rescue Center after 8 years in Southern Indiana, an excellent post-Thanksgiving day trip.

It’s a couple miles off 46 East on the way to Terre Haute.  The entrance has a vague resemblance to an autobody parts store or some such.  You pay your entrance fee, and one of the volunteers/employees explains the rules/guidelines (if you touch a cat you will be asked to leave; if a cat turns its rear end towards you, it may be planning to spray you; move quickly to the side) and takes you on a tour.

It’s an amazing place!  They have about 200 big cats.  A lot of tigers, some lions, and also leopards, bobcats, servals, cougars, and ocelots.  Most of them were rescued from abusive/neglectful situations: breeders, pet owners in over their heads, drug dealers, other shady characters who like the idea of having a lion in their backyard.  They do not breed animals and they don’t place them elsewhere; it’s a permanent retirement home.  They say that for every animal they can adopt, they have to turn down about 40.

The animals definitely seemed to pay special attention to the girls and another young boy with our group.

The animals tended to be fairly interested and would come up to check us out.  You’re not supposed to come within an arm’s reach of the cages, which at some points means you kind of have to squeeze through a relatively narrow passageway with giant cats sitting or pacing on either side.  It all seems very well run, but on the other hand, it’s just normal fences and padlocks between you and the animals, no high-tech zoo moats or walls.  At one point Iris got scared and didn’t want to come into one area; she eventually braved it by riding on my shoulders.

A few minutes into our tour the lions started roaring back and forth, a very eerie sound.  We saw one of the big lions chewing on a leg of some sort — the lady said that local farmers will often donate a cow or horse that dies.  The center goes through 3000 pounds of meat a day.

They’re definitely doing good work here.  Sad to think of so many of these creatures kept as pets.  There are no national laws governing exotic pet ownership so it’s a state by state patchwork; in Indiana (surprisingly) it’s fairly stringently regulated but in Ohio there are virtually no rules, anyone can buy a tiger cub, stick it in the back of the pickup truck and take it home.

This was a cute guy rubbing his head against the fence.

As we were leaving we noticed a little tabby cat walking around the entrance area.  She looked ridiculously tiny.  I guess she must know to stay out of the cages.

Creepy Farmers’ Market Simulacrum

Sarah snapped these pics of this extremely creepy Farmers Market simulacrum on display in the entrance to the Kroger’s near us.

“Hey, people seem to really like these ‘farmers’ markets.’  Let’s arrange our sterile fruits and veggies imported from South America, Australia, etc and present it all as the produce raised by a disturbing robot/Cylon ‘farmer’!  All we need are some wrap-around shades, overalls, and a flannel shirt.”

fake farmers market

fake farmers market 2

Bon Iver “The Wolves (Act I & II)”

I initially resisted this guy — he came to town a while ago and I decided not to go because he struck me as a bit too affected in the Devendra Banhart mode: solo folkie strumming acoustic guitar, but “weird” in ways that seemed predictable. But the album grew on me, especially this song. I guess the deal is that the record was recorded while he spent the winter in his father’s cabin in Northern Wisconsin, where there may actually be some wolves around (? coyotes for sure), getting over a breakup. Think an Upper-Midwestern Nick Drake, maybe. This song is pretty intense and haunting, especially when the falsetto vocals start to tweak like Justin Timberlake and the percussion loops pile up. “Don’t bother me, don’t bother me” seems an appropriate refrain under the circumstances. I also like “Stacks” a lot.

Perpetual Garage Sales in Elkhart, Indiana

Sad NY Times article about hard times in Elkhart, Indiana:

To understand just how grim things have gotten in this northern Indiana town, consider a new law passed last month by the City Council that limits residents to one garage sale a month.

It seems the perpetual garage sales — which for scores of people in this town are a sole source of income, and for others the only source of clothing — were annoying some residents. The restrictions will make the financial pinch that much tighter.

“I have no other option,” said Todd Baker, 34, who lost his factory job in July right before his wife gave birth to their third child. Friday was his last permissible day to sell old children’s clothing, muffin tins, a fake white Christmas tree, stereo speakers and dozens of household doodads out of his garage…

Elkhart, near the Michigan border in an area known as Michiana, is the white-hot center of the meltdown of the American economy. Its main industries, the manufacturing of recreational vehicles and motor homes, have fallen apart over the last year because of high gasoline prices. That has taken down ancillary businesses like R.V. parts suppliers and storage warehouses.

The jobless rate in Elkhart has increased more than in any metropolitan area in the country; it rose over 4.8 percentage points from August 2007 to August 2008.

This obviously shows why/how Indiana is in play for Obama.  There are probably a lot of desperate people in Elkhart and elsewhere in the state whose natural instincts would, in normal circumstances, lead them without question to the white P.O.W. air force fighter pilot over the black Hawiian/Kenyan former Chicago community organizer… but these aren’t ordinary times.

I taught Dickens’ Hard Times last week and kept thinking about resonances between the novel and our moment.  This article made me think about the role of entertainment and “amusement” (to use Dickens’s term) in our economy.  Hard Times puts a traveling circus at the heart of its imagery as a symbol of the need for imagination, play, and entertainment in everyday life.  Part of what I found sad about this article is the way the fate of this town has been linked to the manufacture of Recreational Vehicles.  Of course the 7 m.p.g. R/V is as good a symbol as any of the arrogant recklessness of the U.S. over the past several decades in terms of energy use.  But if you can bracket that, you can also see the R/V as an embodiment of American optimism and the middle-class promise of a retirement filled with travel and modest adventure/exploration.  That promise is now basically lost in such a dramatic way that people aren’t simply selling their R/Vs at bargain-basement rates, but the whole industry is disappearing into an economic black hole of “perpetual garage sales.”

Maybe that’s a subject for a different post, but until a year ago we lived in a slightly more modest neighborhood in town where there was a bit of the perpetual garage sale phenomenon.  For a while our neighbor across the street, a U.S. mailwoman we were friends with, had one every weekend — or she let some friend or cousin or something who lived in the country outside of town use her driveway for one.  It drove me a little crazy, this weekly sale with something of the quality of a Dollar Store — a lot of random cheap stuff (“muffin tins, a fake white Christmas tree,” etc.) some of it presumably purchased to sell here.  It’s a big class divide: the yard sale as a fun, very occasional family ritual, on the one hand — a chance for the kids to sell some of their old toys and clear out the basement — and on the other, as a serious opportunity to eke out an additional $100 or whatever for the week.

Going canvassing again this afternoon…

Reflections on World Music

Let’s face it, World Music is a dubious category that can have an annoying/patronizing side: oh, those festive native costumes and delicious exotic polyrhythms.  At its worst, World Music can be dull global pop that would seem completely middle-of-the-road minus the foreign language/accent and colorful outfits.  Our town has this annual Fall world music festival that includes the potentially irritating sight of swarms of aging white Midwestern yuppies/new-agey types dancing badly to imported exotics playing African drums.

And yet…. in fact and notwithstanding the built-in ironies and problems, I love the Lotus Festival.  You pay your $33 and get to wander in and out of eight different venues all within a few blocks of one another (churches, night clubs, tents); we usually end up catching 6 or 7 acts in the four hours or so.  It almost always seems to be a gorgeous evening and the music tends to be about 50% interesting and worth checking out, 25% a bit disappointing, and 25% completely great.  The problem with the cynical take on World Music is that it kind of presumes as a norm the extreme homogeneity of pop music.  So in fact, what from one perspective can seem like exoticizing can also be understood just as a different take on modern popular music that does not give priority to the one tiny slice of traditions that we normally experience (e.g. the Western rock/pop mode).  My fond memories of Lotus festivals in the past include some truly amazing and unexpected music like the “Tuvan throat singing punk rock” of Yat-Kha, who did a Black Sabbath cover; the Gangbe Brass Band from Benin — it seems there’s been more than one really awesome brass band over the years; the Boban Markovic Orchestra from Serbia; the Peruvian chanteuse Susana Baca; the Be Good Tanyas.

So, this year these were my favorites:

Etran Finatawa from Niger, who combine “Wodaabe chants,” “a blend of choral polyphony and high tenor solos,” with a kind of blues-derived electric guitar drone.  It’s a lot like the great Tinariwen (not quite as great: if you want to try one semi-recent World Music album, check out their Aman Iman).  They wear “traditional long embroidered tunics, leather hose and turbans with ostrich feathers” and “adorn their faces with yellow spots and stripes,” so yes, the scene in the tent with the 95% white audience could be seen as having a diversity sideshow aspect, but the music was mesmerizing, the costumes looked great against the dimming blue sky behind the stage, and why should musicians have to wear jeans?  (I did imagine to myself these guys before the show saying, “Time to get folkloric, guys, where’d you put the can of yellow paint?”)

Pistolera, three women with tattoos and one guy, they seemed very Austin but I guess are from Brooklyn, sort of a fusion of trad Mexican ranchera music (with accordian) with a kind of indie rock sensibility.  They did a cover of Bob Marley’s “War” (“Guerra”).  Lots of fun.

Reelroad, “Russian post-folk.”  This was our fave actually, maybe partly because seeing them in a little club (rather than one of the big outdoor tents) felt more intimate.  They play “folk songs from northern and central Russia and Siberia” with a kind of punkish approach and style.  Eight people on the stage at times, four men and four women, the women cute, the men all slightly grouchy-seeming with some significant facial hair, they obviously were having a blast and reminded me a bit of a Siberian Pogues.  Towards the end these frat boys and sorority gals starting coming in the club for (it became clear) a dance party scheduled after Reelroad.  The girls were all wearing variations of the same Britney Spears skimpy dress; our friend Leah remarked “I think those boys are gonna get lucky tonight.”  They were sort of milling around, shouting and dancing in front in what I assumed was an ironic or mocking way, the girls teetering on their heels, although we got the feeling that some of them couldn’t help but actually get into it.  The dudes had a slight edge of menace to them, you felt that it wouldn’t take much to provoke them to knock some tables over or something.

Caught a few other bands too.  I was disappointed by Marta Gomez who I guess I’d hoped would be like Susan Baca or something but was, for my liking, too tasteful and soft-jazz in approach.  The setting of the big bland convention hall probably did not benefit her.  Vieux Farka Toure, son of the great Ali Farka, was pretty good but had a slightly wanky guitar-blues element.

The next day Sarah took the girls to the afternoon free concert in the park, but I was busy at my all-day departmental retreat in a big convention room lined, like Kurtz’s cabin, with human skulls (replicas I think; it’s an archaeology institute).

Canvassing for Obama

The whole family went canvassing Saturday on a semi-rural stretch south of town.  Sarah had been assigned this cluster of 30 or so residences in this area and handed a google map with the addresses highlighted.  These were people whom the campaign had reason to suspect of being undecided or wavering or persuadable.  We parked the minivan in the Laminated Tops store parking lot (closed on Sat.) and hauled the girls on the wagon.  We’d brought along coloring books and markers, and had stopped at Kroeger’s on the way for a bag of Tootsie Roll pops to dole out to the girls for good behavior bribe the girls.

Our first pass was in a little mini… not sure what to call it, a tiny subdivision?  Basically just a big driveway off the main road with 5 or 6 multifamily apartments.  My guess is that these places might rent for $500-600 a month, I’m not really sure.  Not fancy at all, with a touch of trailer-park feeling, but in a way, nice; one good thing about living here, if you want to go this way, is that you can have this kind of rural existence with a forest off your back yard and still be a 10-15 drive to town.

Anyway, the first name on our list turned out to have a big POW-MIA poster in the window, so we weren’t hopeful, and he didn’t really want to talk.  Wasn’t rude, but did not want to tell us anything about his political views (part of the task here is to mark down whether the person is leaning toward Obama or McCain, and what political issues matter most to them).

The next guy was a sleepy-faced 22 year old, maybe, with no shirt on.  He was friendly, especially when he saw Celie and Iris — he mentioned that he was a twin too.  He told us that he was probably leaning toward Obama because his sense was that Obama is “probably more for the working man.”  He is a construction worker and a member of the union; he sort of apologized for his appearance and mentioned that he had a shoulder injury and had slept in late because of the medication. He did not seem to know much about the election; when I said something about Biden, I wasn’t sure if he knew who I meant.  I mentioned a factoid about McCain planning to give the top 1% wealthiest members of the population an over $100,000 tax cut, and that seemed to make an impression.  Overall, talking to this guy felt useful if only to associate some friendly local faces with the Obama campaign (Celie and Iris probably helped).  Also, we left him with two voter registration forms which he seemed happy to have.

There was one other encounter like that – a nice mom type whose very friendly 3-year-old daughter was eager to invite Celie and Iris in to play in her bedroom.  I missed this conversation, but S. says that the woman explained that her husband is McCain all the way, much of her own family are Obama supporters, and she’s kind of wavering or in between.  We were excited to hear that she said she was turned off by the bitterness and rancor of the RNC.  Sarah’s strategy was to stress what Obama will do for the middle class and on economic issues and to point people towards the campaign website.  She commented that it suddenly felt very useful to self-identify as a Middle-Class Mom (probably better than an oil painter and hugelkultur practitioner, for this purpose).

We found it kind of surprising to witness how many people are truly undecided.  We talked with a friendly man who explained that he and his wife generally wait until the last week or so to decide.  I wasn’t sure if this indicated a basically personality-based approach to the decision — deciding which candidate they feel most personally comfortable about — or whether it was more a sign of a set of political beliefs that is truly squarely in the center, whatever that means.  Sarah was struck by how determining family seemed to be; many of the people we spoke to immediately made reference to what their husband or wife or siblings thought, and that really seemed to be the most important single factor.

A lot of people were not home and I can’t imagine this little stint was hugely meaningful, but it felt good to have put a bit of sweat equity into the campaign (dragging that wagon is hard work!)

I’d urge everyone to consider doing some canvassing.  Remember, there are people in your neighborhoods (or nearby) who may barely know who the candidates are, or know little beyond what their spouse told them, and people who will not bother registering if someone doesn’t physically hand them a form.  Just call the Obama campaign and say you can do some Neighbor-to-Neighbor canvassing.


Barney Smith

I surged with Hoosier pride watching Barney Smith’s little speech.  Here’s a short piece about Barney, a former lifelong Republican who was fired from a t.v. tube factory in Marion, Indiana (to the Northeast of Indianapolis).

He was awesome! And such a Hoosier, totally authentic.  His wife worked at a high school cafeteria; cafeterias are a major part of Indiana culture, e.g. the cult favorite Gray’s Cafeteria on the way towards Bloomington from the airport (long lines of retirees, great fried chicken, totally sweet waitresses who call you honey).

Those “real people” speeches were a stroke of brilliant stagecraft.  Also especially loved the woman from North Carolina who’s voted for every Republican since Nixon but can’t take any more.  Part of the subliminal political “framing” here was clearly to get some chubby white people (Applebee’s riblets consumers, to cite my own recent post on Indiana obesity) up there as counterweight to the beautiful slim, fit leanness of the Obamas, which was starting to become a liability.

I will be very disillusioned if it turns out they came from central casting in L.A.  No doubt Republican operatives are delving into their personal histories as we speak and some nude photos will turn up in someone’s past (not Barney’s, though, I pray).

Hoosiers, Craveables, & Riblets

Two recent news stories. First, Report ranks Indiana 11th fattest among states:

Indiana is still getting fatter, just not as much as some other states.

In an annual report released Tuesday by the Trust for America’s Health, obesity in Indiana continued to climb as a percentage of adults but once again dropped in its ranking among all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The new report found 27.5 percent of Hoosier adults are obese, up from 26.8 percent in last year’s report. The Indiana rates were 26.2 percent in the 2006 report and 25.2 percent in 2005.

Indiana was one of 37 states that showed a higher rate of obesity in the past year — no state saw a decrease — but Indiana’s ranking improved from a tie for ninth-worst to a tie for 11th.

Yes, Indiana is getting even fatter, but some other states are getting even fatter even faster. This is the sort of depressing/pathetic part:

“There is reason to have some encouragement here,” Monroe said. “There’s a little bit of portions of a percentage change, but we’ve really kind of plateaued the curve that we were on. Our ranking improved because we held the line better than other states.

“For the first time, we’re not in the top 10, which I’m very excited about,” she said….

But it won’t be a quick fix, she said.

“The national experts believe it will take time to turn it,” Monroe said. “It’s like turning a barge. That’s why I’m excited we have plateaued … because the first thing you have to do is stop it, and then you begin to turn it.”

Basically, the big cause for celebration here is that Arkansas and Oklahoma increased their obesity rate this year more than we did. Somehow that image about trying to turn a giant barge seems like the wrong note to strike in this context.

Anyway, I thought of that story when I read this one about the new chief executive of Applebee’s:

In her business, people use phrases like “drink equity” and “healthy indulgence rebranding.” Everyone is on the hunt for the next “craveable,” an item like a whole deep-fried onion, a potato skin stuffed with bacon or, in Applebee’s case, the riblet [the riblet is the meaty piece with flat bones left over when racks of ribs are trimmed into uniform rectangles. It is a classic menu item at Applebee’s Grill and Bar.]…

You don’t come up with a quesadilla burger by catering to dieters. Applebee’s flags some menu items that have been approved by Weight Watchers, but the company is not exactly cutting a path through the calorie jungle.

That’s because what people say they want and what they eat are often different, she said as she sat in a booth at the IHOP. Nearby, a family of four was pouring different flavors of syrup over stacks of pancakes. “That’s what people want,” she said.

Among the dozen dishes on her table that day was the Georgia praline peach streusel pancake, a dish so sweet it made a Butterfinger bar seem like a refreshing palate cleanser. …

“We can’t seem to make things sweet enough for people,” said Patrick Lenow, the director of public relations for the company.

So, what’s the next craveable? A deep-fried riblet stuffed with bacon and drenched with strawberry syrup? A whole deep-fried streusel pancake? Any ideas?


Amazing flooding here in Bloomington!!! I had to take my shoes off to wade across Third Street — the water was up to my knees, splashing up in the wake of a bus against the window of the coffee shop, and I chatted with a guy whose bike had been swept away downstream in Jordan River! Read in the paper that an SUV floated away for a half block or so on Kirkwood. Craziness.

IDS slideshow: note all the shots of IU students leaping into garbage-and-debris-choked waters; a bit disconcerting one week after the kid died from swimming in the quarry.

more photos.

p.s.  A day afterwards, there were hardly any signs of the flood, it was as if it had never happened.  5 inches of rain in an hour, or something, and then it disappeared.