Tag Archives: california condors

Thanksgiving: Good News Tendrils Stretching in All Directions

color-corrected image of galaxies, taken by the Webb telescope


Debbie says:

Since we started this blog almost two decades ago, Laurie and I have always done a Thanksgiving good news post. This year, Laurie isn’t available (she’s fine) and I have a brand-new resource for good news. Earlier this year, my friend Lizzy turned me on to Jessica Craven, a dauntless and clever political activist who spends her weeks encouraging her subscribers to work for political change through her newsletter: Chop Wood, Carry Water. She also spends her weekends creating lists of good things that happened during the week to encourage and energize the work she promotes.

During the run-up to the midterms, she made those weekly good news posts, which she calls “Extra! Extra!” free to everyone. They aren’t archived separately from the daily feed of her newsletter (linked above),  but you can find them all by scrolling down the link. As fits her interests, these are mostly US and mostly political, with a lot of climate news and a lot of racial and LGBT+ justice. I’ve cherrypicked a handful from through the year that I think are especially important, and leavened them with some international and other good news just for Laurie’s and my readers.

I’ll assume you know that the Democrats were not in disarray, that no election deniers were elected as Secretary of State anywhere, and that the November 8 midterms were full of good small and large wins, despite the barrage of negative news leading up to the election. (And my progressive friend George Syrop will be the youngest ever member of the Hayward, California City Council. I’m just sayin’)

This is the best year for labor since 2005 (which happens to be the year Laurie and I started Body Impolitic. Craven pointed us to the Amazon victory in April, which Amazon tried to block, but they lost, creating the first union inside Amazon. Meanwhile, Starbucks has thrown a huge amount of money and some high-end anti-labor lawyers at their problems, and still over 200 Starbucks’ stores have unionized this year. And the link at the top of this paragraph shows you just how well labor is doing overall.

The first California condors since 1892 (!) have been seen in the wild. They were raised in captivity and released in partnership with the Yurok Tribe. And that just makes me want to mention the Monarch butterfly resurgence.  Also, Atlantic puffins.

And just this month, a clam previously known only from fossils (!) was discovered alive in California.

In one of my special areas of interest–wrongful convictions and the “justice” system, it’s exciting to note that a lead Innocence Project lawyer is now a federal district judge in New York. (And Adnan Syed, whose case first got me and millions of others interested in wrongful convictions, is a free man.)

Sometimes (not often enough!) land is returned to its rightful BIPOC owners.  Black victory in Manhattan Beach, CA;  indigenous victories in Virginia and California (and there are more.

In India, where cricket is an extremely popular sport, women cricketers will be paid the same amount as men.

60 U.S. high schools will be offering advance placement courses in African-American history.  And the unbelievably offensive statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the Museum of Natural History in New York City is gone–which would make this a good year all by itself.

Climate change victories are under-reported, and there are many small ones (as well as some bigger ones). Two that have caught my eye are 100,000 kg removed from the great plastic patch and the shrinking hole in the ozone layer.

There’s lots more. There are defeated fascists around the globe, including Javier Bolsonaro in Brazil, who is still contesting his loss. There are new LGBT+ people in Congress and the state houses and governors’ mansions. Abortion rights won wherever they were on the ballot–including Tennessee.

And images from the ground-breaking (space-breaking?) James Webb Space Telescope started being published in July. One lovely one is above, and there are hundreds more.

As Jessica Craven frequently says, what we focus on gets stronger. So while it’s important to keep one eye on all the threats and dangers (and there are so many!), we also thrive by knowing that those stories are not the whole story.

Happy Thanksgiving, however you observe it, and a happy day if you don’t. Me, I’ll be grateful to be eating with a few close friends, on stolen Ohlone land, which we will acknowledge before we begin the meal.


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Condor Reproduction: The Splendid Capacity of Bodies

California condor in flight

Laurie and Debbie say:

We usually write about human bodies, but we were both fascinated by the news about condor babies born without fathers. We saw articles about this in many places, inckluding Sarah Zhang’s article in The Atlantic: “After Thirty Years of Breeding Condors, a Secret Comes Out.

California condors have been one of the most endangered species on the planet; their endangered species goes back to long before the current mass extinction pattern. Condor endangerment is entirely attributable to humans hunting these magnificent birds as trophies. In 1983, the condor population was down to 22 (!) individuals (it is now believed to be more than 300, still a pathetic number, many of them flying wild).

Because of the extreme situation of the condor, Zhang writes, “biologists have been carefully breeding the birds in captivity. They kept track of who mated with whom, how many offspring they had, and when those offspring were released into the wild. All of this is logged in the official California-condor ‘studbook.'”

It’s from these records that we now know that

scientists conducting DNA tests as part of routine research found two condors with unexpected paternity. These two birds—known by their studbook numbers as SB260 and SB517—were not related to the fathers recorded in the studbook. Actually, they had no fathers at all. A full 100 percent of their DNA had come from their respective mothers.

This single-parent reproduction is called parthenogenesis, and it has been known for a long time to be possible in various birds, including turkeys, though it hadn’t been documented before in condors. Most babies born this way (known as “parthenotes” are somewhat genetically deformed, including both identified condors: however, they both were born live and lived to early maturity. In other vertebrate species. Zhang says, “In boas and pythons, [University of Tulsa biologist Warren] Booth has been able to get female parthenotes to breed with males and have viable offspring. In the wild, parthenogenesis could help these reptiles recover from severe population loss. ​”

For us, that’s the exciting part. Mass extinction threats and severe population loss are happening to thousands of species all over the world–not all of them will be able to reproduce parthenogenetically (apparently, mammals can’t). And we certainly can’t take this as a reason not to fight climate chaos and protect biodiversity. Nonetheless, the possibility is a stunning testament to nature’s endless creativity and unpredictability. What other life-saving surprises could be lurking in the genes and proteins of living things?


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