Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Watching the news and the birds

Over the last few days, I spent a lot of time reading the news. We have surprisingly easy access to the media here. The army provides us with a free newspaper called “Stars and Stripes” is a surprisingly objective and well-edited newspaper, which even runs most of my favorite comic strips. I also get the daily Sitka Sentinel in the mail. As for weeklies, I have a subscription to “The Economist,” and we’ll get the Army Times most weeks. The only drawback here is that I don’t have quite as easy access to the internet, which means I haven’t been reading the news in Spanish. And finally, there are televisions in the chow halls that are set to CNN and Fox News. I have been very disappointed by both channels, since they have very little news coverage. A few days ago, Fox News distinguished itself by cutting off mid-sentence a presidential speech about Iraq, to interview the editor of a tabloid about Anna Nicole Smith’s baby! A less obvious Fox News strategy to avoid covering the real news is to instead run long specials on how the New York Times and rival TV channel pundits are biased, unreliable and incompetent. They also have long “news” specials about the show “American Idol,” which is of course produced by Fox. As for CNN, the European version we get here is very much a “rich white businessman’s channel,” with long analyses of golf competitions, interviews of fashion world personalities, advertisements for investment funds and expensive vacations, etc… If I sit for lunch in front of the CNN television, my odds of getting to watch the news are pretty low, but my odds of being told about mergers and advertised luxury products are pretty high.

As for my little ongoing adventure in Kuwait, I ran my first 5 kilometer race in over a month (in 18:01, which is good for me running on gravel), and I saw two birds that I hadn’t ever seen before: a barred warbler Sylvia nisoria (it is the grey bird at the beginning of the paragraph, with grey underside striation much like on a sparrowhawk), and a great reed warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus. The great reed warbler was so large that when I first saw it I didn’t recognize it as a warbler. It landed next to the male rock thrush in the photograph at the end of this paragraph, and I thought: “weird, I didn’t know that the female rock thrush was plain brown.” Then I realized it was in fact a gigantic reed warbler and I snapped a picture of it. Had I not taken the picture, I wouldn’t have been able to eliminate the possibility of a clamorous reed warbler. I guess the main field identification difference between the two species is the length of the projection of the primary flight feathers, which is fortunately just barely visible enough on my photograph.

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