Sunday, July 31, 2005

Baby Otters

A little blogrolling here.

Some Travel Writing

The Brits-- and those who have totally embraced their internal (imperial?) Brit-- have a certain sardonic yet deadpan style I admire. First, the late great master Norman Lewis, from his 1951 A Dragon Apparent, about a totally- vanished Indochina:

"These Chams were aboriginal Malayo- Polynesians, the only group of that race to have accepted the civilization of Indian colonizers in the remote past. They made a great impression on Marco Polo, but judging from the account of the Dominican, Gilbert de San Antonio, who visited them in the sixteenth century, there was a nightmarish element in their civilization.It was brilliant but psychopathic, like that of the Aztecs... Stone age beliefs, like grim Easter- Island faces, were always there in the background. On certain days, San Antonio says, they sacrificed over six thousand people, and their gall was collected and sent to the king, who bathed in it to gain immortality.

"...The metaphysical appetite of South- East Asia is insatiable and its tolerance absolute. The modern Chams find no difficulty worshipping the Hindu Trinity,the linga, the bull of Siva, a pythoness, Allah-- who is believed to have been an eleventh century Cham king-- plus Mohammed and a number of uncomprehended words taken from the Muslim invocations and regarded as the names of deities, each with its special function.They are inclined to give their children such names as Dog, Cat, Rat to distract them from the attentions of evil spirits. For this reason there were several Cham kings named excrement".

Next, American Paul Theroux, who has read the masters.

"I bought four oranges at the station, made a note of a sign advertising horoscopes that read MARRY YOUR DAUGHTERS BY SPENDING RS. 12 ONLY, shouted at a little man who was bullying a beggar, and read my handbook's entry for Nagpur (so called because it is on the River Nag:

"Among the inhabitants are many aborigines known as Gonds. Of these hill tribes [sic] have black skins, flat noses and thick lips. A cloth around their waist is their chief garment The religious belief varies from village to village. Nearly all worship the cholera and smallpox deities, and there are traces of serpent worship"

This passage was so reminiscent of Norman Lewis (except for, possibly, the shouting) that I searched for it in his A Goddess in the Stones before finding it pasted into my commonplace book for 11 June '98, apparently from a (?) NYTBR.

(If you are intrigued enough to check out Lewis I suggest you start with this volume, which contains his early Indochina volume mentioned above, his recent Indian "Goddess", and a book about Burma. They are my favorites, though he wrote MANY others on subjects and locations from Spain to Sicily. Come to think of it, better read the Sicilian ones too, at least...)

Doom and Gloom

Here's a good one for falconers, hound- hunters, and, well, everyone:

"Des chiens, d'oyseaux, d'armes, d'amours,

Pour une joye, cent doleurs".

Gace de la Vigne

("In hounds, hawks, arms, and love, for every joy a hundred sorrows")

Are all non- native species bad?

Ron Bailey doesn't think they necessarily are. He also deplores the fact that you aren't supposed to talk about it.

" "That kind of information is dangerous," scolded Jodi Cassell. Cassell, who works with the California Sea Grant Extension program, was speaking at a symposium on "Alien Species in Coastal Waters: What Are the Real Ecological and Social Costs?" at the February American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, D.C. She wasn't alone in her alarm. "We have members of the press here," warned a member of the audience. "I am very concerned that they might think that his view is the dominant view."

"The target of this shushing was Mark Sagoff, a philosopher from the University of Maryland who has worked with Maryland's Sea Grant program to determine how the Chesapeake Bay's unique ecology defines a sense of place. Sagoff's sin? He'd had the temerity to point out the benefits that the much-loathed zebra mussels had brought to the Great Lakes.

" "There has been a striking difference in water clarity improving dramatically in Lake Erie, sometimes six to four times what it was before the arrival of the zebra mussels," according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. "With this increase in water clarity, more light is able to penetrate deeper allowing for an increase in macrophytes (aquatic plants). Some of these macrophyte beds have not been seen for many decades due to changing conditions of the lake mostly due to pollution. The macrophyte beds that have returned are providing cover and acting as nurseries for some species of fish." What's more, zebra mussels provide food and habitat for all sorts of native fish and ducks".

Bailey is provocative, though he hardly has the last word. For a more detailed examination of the state of the art, check out Out of Eden by Alan Burdick, a good and even- handed book about the ecology of biological invasions. (On the cover is an unquestionably bad invader, the brown tree snake that wiped out Guam's birds).

The Limits of Reason

Steve Sailer has an interesting post on the limits of reason, or why some intelligent people can embrace both Darwin AND religion, contra the brilliant but smug Richard Dawkins.

Writing Life 2: "Long Tails"

Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading has an examination of the publishing world's current obsession with what we might call Big Safe Books, and why it is not the best or only business model.

"I suppose that all this reflects the dominant business-model in commercial publishing right now: Put all your eggs in one basket. Publishers seem to prefer to have one megaseller that saves them from 10 bad investments instead of 10 modest-sellers and 1 bad invesement that doesn't hurt that much. This strikes me as bad business sense, a system that produces books and marketing that are out of whack with what most readers want".

Read. The. Whole. Thing!

Writing Life #1

It has been a rough week-- we lost Libby's father Ken (see "Ken Adam" below) and a good friend, Bill Smiley, this week, so blogging has taken a back seat. But we are home now and things are returning to as close to normal as they ever get here at Casa Querencia.

In that spirit: first, Annie Davidson sends word that the results on this year's Bulwer-Lytton contest-- the one in which writers attempt to construct first sentences of imaginary novels at least as bad as those of the legendary author of The Last Days of Pompeii-- "It was a dark and stormy night"-- are up. She also sent this relevant entry separately:

"Inside his cardboard box, Greg heated a dented can of Spaghetti-O's over a small fire made from discarded newspapers, then cracked open his last can of shoplifted generic beer to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his embarkation on a career as a freelance writer".

(Lawrence Person,
Austin, TX)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Ken Adam R.I.P.-- and a few thoughts on Yosemite

Ken Adam, my father- in- law, died yesterday at 87, at home, surrounded by his loving family. He had a long and adventurous life. Among his achievements were many pioneering climbs in Yosemite.

To quote from Steve Roper's A Climber's Guide to Yosemite: " Although as long ago as 1886 Hutchings, in reporting the relatively easy ascent of Grizzly Peak, claimed that the last `unclimbed summit' of Yosemite had been ascended, nevertheless the Cathedral Spires, the Church Spires, the Church Tower, the Arrowhead, Split Pinnacle, Pulpit Rock, Watkins Pinnacles, and the Lost Arrow still stood forth without even an attempt ever having been recorded against them. In addition to these summits, there was a field, practically unexplored, of route finding on faces, aretes, gullies, and chimneys. Among these may be mentioned Washington Column, Royal Arches, Panorama Cliff, Glacier Point, Yosemite Point Couloir, Cathedral Chimney, and the arete of the Lower Brother. Ropes, pitons, and trained experience in their use were the keys to these ascents, which were later to become so popular. Climbers, profiting by the achievements of their predecessors, added still more ascents to the growing list of Yosemite Routes . . . "

Roper continues:

"During the eight years between the 1933 trip and the entry of this country into World War II, about forty first ascents were made. The most active climbers of this period were Kenneth Adam, David Brower, Jules Eichorn, Morgan Harris Richard Leonard, L. Bruce Meyer, and Harvey Voge.

Now the climbers of Yosemite, Ken's heirs, are under seige. In the crowded park, they receive no special privileges, and cannot spend more than seven days there in the summer. But they have some excellent arguments against the park's one- size- fits- all rules.

“Seven nights are barely enough for climbers to get their bearings in Yosemite, much less to climb the big routes that draw them here in the first place. Although climbing conditions can be good in April and in the early fall, the weather is less predictable than in the summer; witness the deaths of two climbers -- and the rescue of five others -- on El Capitan last October. So playing by the seven-night rule is a little like an Olympic athlete agreeing to experiment with his chosen event only seven times a year. So nobody does, which makes things difficult for the rangers”.

Aaron Young, a climber, staes the wishes of the climbers succinctly: "We're trying to say we should be grandfathered in," Young says. "We've been here this many years; we should be allowed to stay all summer. Even people in the Ahwahnee Hotel have a one-week limit, but what is a tourist going to do for more than a week? There's only so many waterfalls, so many stores to go in, but climbers have a 7-mile stretch on either side of just solid rock."

We have strange ideas of privilege in this society. Too often we grant it to those who haven't earned it, and deny it to those who have. I think I know whose side Ken would be on.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Oh all right...

... something cool. This is a photo of two aboriginal hunters with matchlock rifles and a Laika dog in the Tunguskaya region of Siberia in 1926, part of a great archive compilied by Russian census takers in 1926 (you can "back" into the larger archive). As my friend Vladimir Beregovoy, who sent this to me, wrote:" These pictures were taken at a very last time of relatively free life in Russia, 1926- 27. Communist government was just about to start turning life upside down there. They conducted population census in the North and Siberia. Members of the crew had a keen interest beyond their government's duty and took a lot of pictures, the last pictures from Communist- free Siberia".

"Spleen" by Beaudelaire

I’m like the King of some damp, rainy clime,
Grown impotent and old before my time,
Who scorns the bows and scrapings of his teachers
And bores himself with hounds and all such creatures.
Naught can amuse him, falcon, steed or chase:
No, not the mortal plight of his whole race
Dying before his balcony. The tune,
Sung to this tyrant by his pet buffoon,
Irks him. His couch seems far more like a grave.
Even the girls, for whom all kings seem brave,
Can think no toilet up, nor shameless rig,
To draw a smirk from this funereal prig.
The sage who makes him gold, could never find
The baser element that rots his mind.
Even those blood-baths the old Romans knew
And later thugs have imitated too,
Can’t warm this skeleton to deeds of slaughter,
Whose only blood is Lethe’s cold, green water.

—Charles Baudelaire (translated by Roy Campbell)

Human Nature

I promise to snap out of this mood sooner than later, but I believe in celebrating the bracing effects of gloom as well as the good things. In that spirit, a quote from Rose Nunez at No Credentials: "What history really teaches is that people are indeed nasty; that Hobbes was righter than Rousseau, and the William Golding's vision of childhood is truer than Dr. Spock's".

China in Zimbabwe

An article in the NYT on the new bonds being forged with China by Zimbabwe's megalomaniacal dictator Robert Mugabe contains many things to give us pause. Remember those farms confiscated from white farmers that were supposed to go to the "people"? Well, "...China won a contract last year to farm 386 square miles of land seized from white commercial farmers during the land-confiscation program begun by Mr. Mugabe in 2000"

And even better: " Atop the list is a plan for China to train Zimbabweans in managing prisons.

"They have a fairly advanced prison system," Zimbabwe's justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, told reporters. "We would also want to tap into that expertise."

Sunday, July 24, 2005


From the Oxford Companion to Food, a bit of doggerel from Horticulture. It helps to know that Alfred Russell Wallace was extremely fond of the stinking fruit.

The durian--neither Wallace or Darwin agreed on it.

Darwin said 'may your worst enemies be forced to feed on it'.

Wallace cried 'it's delicious'.

Darwin replied 'I'm suspicious,

For the flavor is scented

Like papaya fermented

After a fruit- eating bat has pee'd on it'.


Frankly, if this were any lesser journal than Nature I'd be VERY skeptical. But....

"In a recent paper in Geology, Marc-Andre Gutscher of the European Institute for Marine Studies in Plouzané gives details of one candidate for the lost city: the submerged island of Spartel, west of the Straits of Gibraltar.

"The top of this isle lies some 60 metres beneath the surface in the Gulf of Cadiz, having plunged beneath the waves at the end of the most recent ice age as melting glaciers caused the sea level to rise.

"Geological evidence has shown that a large earthquake and a tsunami hit this island some 12,000 years ago, at roughly the location and time indicated in Plato's writings".

Rich Writers?

And while we are on doom and gloom-- where does the idea that writers are rich come from? 2Blowhards sent me to Conversational Reading's post on Writing and Money that has some true and funny things to say on the subject.

"They had their names on the cover of a book, thus they were wealthy.

"Even more strangely, this idea persists right up to this day, when I know much better than to expect that even 1% of all published authors can scrape together any kind of a living off their work. Of course, as Dan Green points out, the idea of the wealthy novelist is complete bunk. In fact, poverty is such a fact of a writer's life that it's hardly even worth noting".

For any readers who do not know me: in the current state of writing, I make so little I could not exist in a more expensive environment than Magdalena, and even here, we need Libby's job and drive vehicles more than ten years old (one is almost 20).

And it's universal. I know all of TWO rich writers who weren't born that way.

Pessimism and gloom

The indispensible Derbyshire found this quote from Macaulay on Dr. Johnson that perfectly describes the pessimistic cast of mind, which I think he and I (often) share, and cheerfully offers it up for our inspection:

"A deep melancholy took possession of him, and gave a dark tinge to all his views of human nature and of human destiny. Such wretchedness as he endured has driven many men to shoot themselves or drown themselves. But he was under no temptation to commit suicide. He was sick of life; but he was afraid of death; and he shuddered at every sight or sound which reminded him of the inevitable hour. In religion he found but little comfort during his long and frequent fits of dejection, for his religion partook of his own character. The light from heaven shone on him indeed, but not in a direct line, or with its own pure splendour. The rays had to struggle through a disturbing medium; they reached him refracted, dulled and discoloured by the thick gloom which had settled on his soul, and, though they might be sufficiently clear to guide him, were too dim to cheer him."

Killer 'Pillar

A caterpillar from the forests of Hawaii that eats land snails. Libby wishes we had some in our garden, where the escargots have run rampant this year.

Hawaii is full of strange and unique creatures-- see here. One can only wonder it was like before humans came-- and no, the aboriginal Hawaiians were no better than the rest of us, and killed off more species than the Europeans.

Mongolian Freedom

More from the always thoughtful Nabetz at New Mongols. I have made extensive excerpts, but as the Professor says you should Read The Whole Thing. (Actually you should read the whole blog). I really like Nabetz' undogmatic take on private property-- perhaps a Mongolian heritage. I know I have seldom felt as free as when riding on the plains there-- it makes even my wide- open home seem closed in by comparison.

"One of the singular impressions I have of Mongolia is the ability to simply walk anywhere and everywhere and not encounter that most ubiquitous of American institutions, the fence. This creates a number of interesting scenes: cows meandering through Erdenet's downtown streets being one of the most distinctive. But more than that, it creates a very open society charactarized by community, liberality, and shared effort.

"...there are legitimate objections to land-privatization in Mongolia (or anywhere else) . To wit, there are (to simplify grossly) three: First, it goes against traditional Mongolian notions of land use. Second, it would create instability in the livelihoods the well over half of Mongolia's population that derives its subsistance from nomadic herding. Third, it would go a long way toward destroying an ancient, thriving, and irreplacable culture.

"Let's face it. It's easy to be dogmatic when facing such issues. But when you have a tie to the land, it's anything but philosophical. It's intensely visceral. For a man's land is inseperable from his land, his soil, his hearth. And for the Mongolian nomad, that land, that soil, that hearth, is the entire steppe as it billows and rolls under the the eternal blue sky.

"The beauty of blogging is that it's always a work in process. Just like my view on land-privatization in Mongolia. What makes Mongolia so beautiful in many regards is the fact that the land is for all intents and purposes communal (where the word communal carries no political baggage). Quite literally, it's possible to walk or ride from one end of Mongolia to the other without a fence getting in one's way. The kind of life and view on life that this creates (or was created by it) is breathtakingly unique. The only thing I can think of to parallel this phenomenon in my own experience is that of the American Indian or the cowboys and cattle-drivers in bygone American epochs (I grew up in Montana). I suppose there are snatches of such open space in other places throughout the earth--northern Canada, Alaska, Siberia, both poles. But there's no place quite like Mongolia where the wide open steppe and taiga and desert is so tied up with a living and widespread culture. The world, not least the Mongolians, would lose something of incalculable worth--their very historic identity--were their country to go the way of all flesh and chop its land into little parcels and hedge them about with barbed wire fences.

"In the final analysis, an ownership society and with it land-privatization is apparently the only way forward for Mongolia. But at the cost of the culture? Of the land? Of this generation of Mongolians? They know and we know that there is a choice to be made. Unfortunately, there's no easy decision. We can only hope for the best as Mongolia plots its course for the future".

Naadam Wussies

In the spring, on the steppes outside Ulaan Bataar in Mongolia, thousands of people gather to witness a wild 20- mile childrens' horse race.

Now U.N. bureaucrats want to force the kids to wear helmets. Nabetz of New Mongols, a Mongolian- American blogger (?-- he grew up in Montana, but has relatives in Mongolia) so good he goes instantly to the blogroll, has many pungent things to say, and I'll quote him at length:

"Naadam, one of the world's oldest games festivals, recently ended for this year. One western journalist, Oliver August of The Times (London), finds something to complain about. The children jockeys don't wear helmets. Here's a bit from his article, "It's the world's longest race, and child welfare is last - as always" (um, by the way, why is this article called "news"; shouldn't it be "opinion"):

".... Unicef, the international children’s agency, has now called on the Mongolian Government to make helmets mandatory. “We have strong reservations with regards to the racing because it poses a threat to the health of the children,” a spokesman said".

(Nabetz):" "There's a lot I could say. But has this guy ever been on a horse? Does he know that nomad kids start riding before they can walk? They're practically born on horses. But Oliver August knows better than they. And so do does UNICEF. They want helmets for the racers. This is only a 20 miles race and lasts only a few minutes--but a infinitesimal fraction of the time and miles that the kids have and will spend on horseback as part of the family livelihood. Does UNICEF want kids to wear helmets when they're herding the family sheep, too? When they're riding out on the steppe to visit friends? What about the kids who ride camels? They might fall further, no? Should they have to wear a safety harness, too?"

[ I might add: how do they think the kids GOT there?--SB]

(Nabetz): "This is the way it should be. The Mongolians just recently got out from under a system in which people's lives were controlled down to what you did, what you read, what you thought, how long you lived. It was a system called communism. It's over now, and now the Mongolians are living freely and easily as they did since time out of memory. If this horse-mounted culture wants to start wearing helmets, it's up to them. It's their country.

"The story ends with what must be a sad ending for the meddling "child welfare" people, but it's a beautiful ending for the proud Mongolians and freedom loving people everywhere:

"The thought of government intervention is anathema to most nomads. Property rights are unknown on the grasslands, as are fences or signs on the few roads. The Government is absent from their lives and always has been" ".

Saturday, July 23, 2005

New World Founding Fathers (and Mothers)

This highly technical genetic paper, from the excellent Public Library of Science online, seems to suggest that the entire "native" population of the New World may decend from only seventy or eighty people!

Of course that doesnt mean that there weren't others who may have left no descendants, as Matt Mullenix has suggested...

I'd be curious what Reid Farmer (or any other archaeologists out there ) think.

"Because of the morals of the maids"...

Davidson's book also sent me to my battered copy of David Arora's Mushrooms Demystified -- the one book you must have if you want to hunt mushrooms-- for this anecdote by the Victorian memoirist Gwen Raverat about the smelly, phallic, stinkhorn mushroom. ("Aunt Etty" was Darwin's daughter!)

"In our native woods there grows a kind of a toadstool, called in the vernacular The Stinkhorn, though in Latin it bears a grosser name [Phallus-- SB]. This name is justified, for the fungus can be hunted by scent alone; and this was Aunt Etty's greatest invention: armed with a basket and a pointed stick, and wearing special hunting cloak and gloves, she would sniff her way around the wood, pausing here and there, her nostrils twitching, when she caught a whiff of her prey; then at last, with a deadly pounce, she would fall upon her victim, and then poke his putrid carcass into her basket. At the end of the day's sport, the catch was brought back and burnt in the deepest secrecy on the drawing room fire, with the door locked, because of the morals of the maids".

Don't know if it's as catchy as Derbyshire's (and Nabokov's) favorite H. G. Wells quote "On account of the flies", but I like it...


I have been slowly reading Alan Davidson's The Oxford Companion to Food, a delightful, encyclopedic, opinionated, (and sometimes wrongheaded) book, and came across what I believe is the single weirdest food I have ever heard about. To quote Davidson:

".....the only English name for fungi of the genus Cordyceps. These grow, oddly, on live insects or worms.One of them, C. robertsi, is eaten in China and Tibet, where it has mysterious names such as the Chinese tung chong ha cho, meaning 'winter worm summer grass' (sometimes shortened to tung chong cho, which translates even more puzzlingly as 'winter worm grass').

"The explanation of these names is that during the winter the fungus grows only inside its host. In the summer, however, it produces an exterior growth. So what appeared to be, and was, a live worm or larval insect can change into something which looks like and is a kind of plant.Tibetans believe that this is a real metamorphosis, and that the 'insect- plant' can move around as they hunt for it; but what has happened is that the fungus first consumes the nutrients provided by its host and only then, having thus killed it, sends up the brown stalk which is what can be seen above ground....

"The dried stalks, because they are hard to find, are expensive. In China they have a reputation as a restorative and aphrodisiac, and it is therefore customary to eat them in a rich chicken broth in the late evening".

Friday, July 22, 2005


Enough doom and gloom! I'll try to get some book and bio- blogging up this weekend, circumstances permitting-- but meanwhile, here is a cheerful excerpt from Peculiar on the production of Turandot at the Santa Fe Opera (though come to think of it, it is also about scary Chinese).

"Turandot last night was awesome! It helped that we arrived in leisurely and luxuriant fashion, enjoying a tailgate meal of rice and squid and ginger beer beneath the aforementioned Miltonian atmosphere. Jack wore her lovely chinoiserie gown, with green and purple eye makeup that made her look like a sorceress in a Kung-Fu movie, or possibly a cuttlefish (I find both attractive): an apt outfit for an odd, out-of-control opera production. Most newspapers who have reviewed this Turandot have done nothing but complain and whine about the lurid staging, but they just don't want to have fun. One does not go to Turandot for subtle, understated realism; lurid is the whole essence of both plot and music.

"The first act staging must have been a real joy for the props guys: there were six or seven severed heads on stakes around the stage, each with individual facial features and clearly in several stages of decomposition. The costumes were pretty far out, in eye-watering colors, a sort of Manchurian tyranny cum space barbarian aesthetic. It all made me think of John Derbyshire's description of a Brittany Spears concert: "The sort of entertainment provided by the gaudier kind of Oriental despot for the enjoyment of the coarser kind of barbarian conqueror."

"Hallucinatory though it was, the production did achieve a real creepiness, an undeniable and horrifying sense of just how twisted Peking had become through Turandot's murderous virginity. Timur, Calaf and Liu seemed very isolated and far from home in their subtler, more elegant costumes: unnerved strangers speaking sense (well, Timur and Liu anyway) amidst a hideous culture obsessed with ritual torture. "We'll embroider your skin with our knives."

"The Chinese aren't all bad, of course. Ping, Pang and Pong were really excellent, singing with vim and wearing hats with long feathers that I will covet for the rest of my life. Their numbers added genuine comic relief while adding a measure of creepiness at the same time: "Well, let's go enjoy another torture." Their nostalgia for pre-Turandot China was serendipitously present in the vocally lethargic Emperor, who came across as though he very much wished he were emperor of absolutely anywhere else. I couldn't help but imagine him thinking, "Beheading my daughter's suitors sounded like a corking idea when she brought it up, and the first eight or ten were sure a lot of fun, but they keep coming, the heads are taking over the palace, they sing in the night... Whatever's to be done?!"

"It was a loony production, but Jack and I loved it, and Odious would have too. The two leads were excellent singers, really belting out the Wagnerian bits; Liu's voice was tender and lovely and sympathetic and really made Calaf look like an ass; Timur was perfect. My only gripe was the somewhat ponderous choreography, which often required Calaf to belt out his money notes facing 180 degrees away from the character he was addressing. But overall, well, the opera's wonderfully bonkers to begin with, and I am not at all disappointed to have seen an equally bonkers production".

More China

The Max Boot piece in the LA Times I refer to below has a lot more to say about China's current doctrine. He quotes from a Chinese study on "Unresticted Warfare" published by the Peoples' Liberation Army in 1998.

" "Unrestricted Warfare" recognizes that it is practically impossible to challenge the U.S. on its own terms. No one else can afford to build mega-expensive weapons systems like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which will cost more than $200 billion to develop. "The way to extricate oneself from this predicament," the authors write, "is to develop a different approach."

"Their different approaches include financial warfare (subverting banking systems and stock markets), drug warfare (attacking the fabric of society by flooding it with illicit drugs), psychological and media warfare (manipulating perceptions to break down enemy will), international law warfare (blocking enemy actions using multinational organizations), resource warfare (seizing control of vital natural resources), even ecological warfare (creating man-made earthquakes or other natural disasters).
Cols. Qiao and Wang write approvingly of Al Qaeda, Colombian drug lords and computer hackers who operate outside the "bandwidths understood by the American military." They envision a scenario in which a "network attack against the enemy" — clearly a red, white and blue enemy — would be carried out "so that the civilian electricity network, traffic dispatching network, financial transaction network, telephone communications network and mass media network are completely paralyzed," leading to "social panic, street riots and a political crisis." Only then would conventional military force be deployed "until the enemy is forced to sign a dishonorable peace treaty." "

I feel a bit like Cassandra, or Cato shouting "Cartago delenda est", but, like the people I have traveled among in Asia, I fear the dragon the most; as does Boot, I see connections, and I don't think I am merely paranoid.

"The bid by the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Co., to acquire Unocal? Resource warfare. Attempts by China's spy apparatus to infiltrate U.S. high-tech firms and defense contractors? Technological warfare. China siding against the U.S. in the U.N. Security Council over the invasion of Iraq? International law warfare. Gen. Zhu's threat to nuke the U.S.? Media warfare".

In light of this, I have to find the Cato institute's Jerry Taylor and his approach a bit-- Pollyanna- ish? "Economic liberalization has had a lot to do with that - the emergence of capitalism and free trade has eroded the government's power and is likely to continue to do so in the future. Encouraging wealth creation and engagement in world markets will do more to encourage civil society in China than economic isolation, stagnation, and saber-rattling".

Yeah, right. Rope.

Update: also see this John Derbyshire essay. He has lived in China, speaks Chinese, and is married to a woman who grew up there.

Unocal 2

I seem to be a lonely voice of doubt on the Unocal deal (for those who haven't seen my earlier post, the attempt by China to buy one of our big oil companies, supported by the Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, the Cato Institute, and just about everyone else.

Maybe now that a major Chinese general has threatened to nuke us hundreds of times in a first strike (and gotten less press for it than Tancredo got for his ill- considered remarks on nuking Mecca in retaliation) people will reconsider, but somehow I doubt it.

Meanwhile Cynthia Anderson, an alert reader of the Albuquerque Journal, brings up a point in a letter dated 16 July that I have been unable to find mention of anywhere else.

"Currently China's mines produce over half the world supply of rare earth elements (65 percent) with the US (Molycorp [a subsidiary of Unocal-- SB]) being second (24 percent).

"If the Chinese purchase of Unocal goes through and includes Molycorp, then it appears that China will have control of nearly 90 percent of the rare earth supplies in the world".

The defense and high tech implications alone are scary.

Selling the rope...

Eagles 2

Blogging time has been limited-- illness in the family-- but I'll try to get some stuff up, with a little commentary at least-- my "hold" box is full of material.

Reid Farmer, who I hope will be doing some guest blogging on pre- Columbian archaeology, sent this LA Times story on eagles. Now NON- Indians want rights to feathers, and are suing to have them. Actually, they may even have a point, though as things stand they are simply putting more pressure on a bird already threatened by Indian poachers. One non- Indian defendant, Raymond Hardman, actually tried to get a legal permit, and was refused because of his origins.

"Hardman is angry at being prosecuted because, he said, some Native Americans trap, trade and sell eagle feathers. They don't get caught, he said, because police never check permits".

And why is this? "Hardman said police should check Native Americans' permits, but Native American practitioners consider that idea offensive.

"It's the same as having to have a permit to carry a cross," said Ron Rader, a powwow dancer in Sacramento whose regalia includes the wings and wing feathers of several golden eagles."

(Actually, it's not. Hell, I'm of Catholic backgound, but I don't have a legal right to have a cross made of, say, ivory billed woodpecker bones...)

But that is a side issue-- everyone should be treated the same. And maybe if they gave out more falconry permits, subject of course to careful observation of populations, you would have a renewable source of feathers lasting over the eagles' thirty- year- plus lifespan (eagles molt their feathers every year) for both Indian and "Neo- Indian" practicioners alike.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Are Libby and I the only people in the world who read Pibgorn? It is a comic, or perhaps more properly a series of graphic novels in daily installments , about the adventures of its eponymous heroine, a fairy; her friend and rival Drusilla, a succubus; and the half- willing object of their affections, Geoff, an Episcopalian. What may sound silly is perhaps the best daily comic I have ever seen, swooping from humor to whimsy to theological speculation to sheer terror in moments. It is beautifully and adventurously drawn, hyper- literate, extremely sexy (rather too strong for a newspaper I suspect) and occasionally profound.

I am hoping that artist Brooke McEldowney is eventually able to publish these stories as books, so I can once again have access to my favorite yet-- the one with the haunted piano, the Regency vampires, Drusilla recapping the Marlene Deitrich Blue Angel role in a MIG, and the scariest scene I have ever seen in a comic.

McEldowney fans may also want to check out his (slightly) more conventional comic 9 Chickweed Lane, which currently deals with the life and adventures of a young dancer in New York, her true love, her other suitors, and her flamboyantly gay but large dancing partner and protector. It is as inventive in black and white as Pibgorn is in color.

Raptor Education Foundation

The REF is a delightfully politically INcorrect conservation foundation based in Denver and dedicated to the birds of prey we all love, founded by artist, entrepreneur, and raptorphile Peter (Petro Aleksandrovich) Reshetniak. I am currently working with them on several projects-- click on their link to the book Fidget's Freedom to see the illustrations by our friend Vadim Gorbatov, and to see photos of us all after a raptor- themed show at the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe featuring Tony Angell, Lars Jonsson, and Tom Quinn.

There are an abundance of other delights at REF too. Especially cool are the T- Shirts featuring bald eagles (see Graphic blogs) with slogans defending our borders and attacking targets as various as Senator Byrd, Ward Churchill (read Peter's hilarious letter to the chancellor at Boulder), AND Creationism. Not what you expect from your average enviro site...

Disturbing Situation

Should Indian tribes be allowed to do as they wish with eagles? Ted Williams gives many reasons why not. Their justifications are religious; their reasons sometimes financial, their methods crude to say the least. "In New Mexico one member of the Jemez Pueblo claimed that he and his fellow tribal members had killed 60 to 90 eagles during the winter of 1995-96 and that he had caught six at once by setting traps around a dead cow. He explained that the best way to dispatch a trapped eagle is to sit on it, get it to bite a stick, then ram your thumb down its throat so it can't breathe. They jump around for 10 or 15 minutes, he said".

What, you think all Indians hold beliefs like the ones in that Chief Seattle speech? Sorry, that's a fake too-- the creation of a TV screenwriter.

Falconers, who revere eagles without strangling them, can only take one from the wild with special federal permission, and then only in areas where they are preying on livestock.

I was sent to this story by my friends at the Raptor Education Foundation, about which more above.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Good Quote #2

Marcus Aurelius, from Rick Brookhiser at NRO: "Either an all-seeing Providence, or iron destiny, or an uncontrollable storm. Whichever it is, why should you do anything other than what is right?"

Revolting "Meat"

I was afraid something like this was going to happen...

The University of Maryland reports that "meat" will soon be growing in a lab near you. "In a paper in the June 29 issue of Tissue Engineering, a team of scientists, including University of Maryland doctoral student Jason Matheny, propose two new techniques of tissue engineering that may one day lead to affordable production of in vitro - lab grown -- meat for human consumption. It is the first peer-reviewed discussion of the prospects for industrial production of cultured meat." They go on to tout its health benefits and other perceived advantages, then describe the processes : " Matheny's team developed ideas for two techniques that have potential for large scale meat production. One is to grow the cells in large flat sheets on thin membranes. The sheets of meat would be grown and stretched, then removed from the membranes and stacked on top of one another to increase thickness. The other method would be to grow the muscle cells on small three-dimensional beads that stretch with small changes in temperature. The mature cells could then be harvested and turned into a processed meat, like nuggets or hamburgers. "The challenge is getting the texture right," says Matheny. "We have to figure out how to 'exercise' the muscle cells. For the right texture, you have to stretch the tissue, like a live animal would." "


I don't know where to begin. The esthetics are of course utterly revolting; the likelihood of achieving anything as unimportant as, say, good taste seems vanishingly unlikely. What might be called the spiritual effects-- especially to those of us who treasure such primitivisms as hunting and locally- based, small- scale, healthy agriculture-- are even worse. If such practices become common and cheap the last remaining connections between us and our ecosystem will be severed.

But of course, such sentiments are barbaric. The inventors are already appealing to people who are afraid of food AND the animal rights lobby: "...cultured meat could appeal to people concerned about food safety, the environment, and animal welfare.."

Yeah, that's just what the the world needs more of -- food weenie PETA ninnies.


A fascinating NYT article describes the ongoing experiments conducted by economist Keith Chen, who has taught monkeys to use marshmallows as money.

Many kinds of "economic" behavior soon appeared, including, amazingly, prostitution (and a pragmatic followup) : "During the chaos in the monkey cage, Chen saw something out of the corner of his eye that he would later try to play down but in his heart of hearts he knew to be true. What he witnessed was probably the first observed exchange of money for sex in the history of monkeykind. (Further proof that the monkeys truly understood money: the monkey who was paid for sex immediately traded the token in for a grape.)"

Uzbek Wedding Costume

While we are in a Central Asian mood (when are we not, says my editor) here is a fine Uzbek wedding costume sent to me by my son. He and his bride plan to wear something similar to their wedding reception this fall, which will also feature a groom's cake in the form of a sheep's head. We are all a little peculiar around here.

Babelfishing for Taigans

Are you familiar with the translation program Babel Fish ? It may work sometimes, but usually the effect is surreal.

Background: a friend in Finland informed me that I was being accused on a site in Kirgyzstan of trying to take taigans out of the country illegally-- maybe a confusion with my actual ongoing tazi project in nearby Kazakhstan. Wanting to see what was going on, and with inadequate Russian, I "Babelfished" the forum entry. What came up was this:

"To husbands Bodio urgently is required...

"Itself Of kurmankulov, is created impression, no longer rad of this popularity by dilute and with great care guarded by it species. Only in the recent three months in its office were saved about two thousand (!) letters from the most different corners of planet. We obtain at random one. "dear mister almaz..." this family couple from THE USA on the surname Bodio places in the reputation of our compatriot about the fact that the in summer present years of miss and mister will arrive to Bishkek "for the purpose to acquire one tayganchika".

"Otherwise as triumphal the procession of kyrgyzskoy borzoi in the countries peace you will not name. According to the chapter of public fund, even now confirmed their arrival for the acquaintance tayganom as by species representatives 34 (!) the states of Europe and South America, CIS, and also USA. Accretion is planned to the autumn, when in Bishkek THE III national canine exhibition starts. But the thus far American and German specialized publications excitedly issue form into a snuff article and historical information about our taygane.

"Control, if you please, the binding".

I actually do know Almaz Kurmankulov, but as to the rest....??!!

To be continued, if I ever unravel it-- I have some friends who speak good Russian on the case. meanwhile, control that binding!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

"Refugees with Laptops"

... is the phrase Chas at Nature Blog used when he e-mailed me that he and Mary (and their dogs, cat, etc.) had been evacuated from their house by the Forest Service at the approach of the Mason Fire. It is already VERY close-- they could lose their house. Chas is fireblogging, with pics, but it's no joke. Send good thoughts, prayers, support, & encouragement.

Update-- Chas is back blogging, and all-- humans, dogs, cat, and house-- are well. Go to Nature Blog for the whole story and an amazing shot of the fire's aftermath.

Forgive my language but..

.. or, Good Things from Britain #5. Andrew Stuttaford of NRO sent me to this hilarious and touching site with these words: "Here’s one American’s gesture in the wake of the horror in London. It’s oddly moving, very nostalgic, rather nice, and a terrific read, but, not for people troubled by the f word".

You've got that right. But it is a fascinating digest of all that is English, high and low. Warning: in adition to the F word, it has over 900 comments, and is irresistible.

My additions:

Captain Sir Richard Francis and Isabel Burton FUCK YEAH!
Flashman FUCK YEAH!
The Two Fat Ladies, ESPECIALLY Clarissa who defends such unpopular traditional British liberties as fox hunting and coursing-- may they rise again! FUCK YEAH!
Coursing FUCK YEAH!
T H White and The Sword in the Stone FUCK YEAH!
John Buchan FUCK YEAH!
Best London shotguns-- Purdey, Boss, Holland and Holland, Evans-- FUCK YEAH!
The Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford FUCK YEAH!
The Sladmore Galley FUCK YEAH!
Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin (I know they have been done) and Roy Campbell who hasn't FUCK YEAH!
The Mitfords FUCK YEAH!
Evelyn Waugh FUCK YEAH!
Mallory and Irvine FUCK YEAH!
Shipton and Tilman FUCK YEAH!
English lurchers, especially ones bred by David Hancock FUCK YEAH
D. Brian Plummer FUCK YEAH!
Jack Russell terriers FUCK YEAH!
Twitchers FUCK YEAH!
Darwin's heirs: Matt Ridley, Richard Dawkins, William Hamilton, Jonathan Kingdon FUCK YEAH!
Reginald Farrer and all the other plant explorers FUCK YEAH!
Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen FUCK YEAH!
Shackleton FUCK YEAH!
Bruce Chatwin and Redmond O'Hanlon FUCK YEAH!

That'll do until I think of more...

Friday, July 08, 2005

Good Things from Britain 4

The Alpha Environmentalist couldn't make the comment link work, which is just as well,as he gets his own guest post.

He says: "I couldn't make your "comments" link work, but:

. . . the best beer. Sorry, Germany, but England's breadth of
choices makes her the top beer country. Not to mention having (still)
the best places to drink it. I remember the owner of the White Dog
Pub outside Hastings apologizing to us as he descibed the building:
"Unfortunately it's not all original. The west room burnt down in the
sixteenth century and had to be rebuilt."

"Others: While England's major auto manufacturing industry entered its
La Brea stage two decades ago, the little cottage makers--TVR,
Morgan, Ariel, etc.--seem to thrive, and produce some of the most
interesting vehicles on the planet.

"Bespoke clothing, lurchers, Harrier jets . . . all is not lost".

The lurcher 'Plummer,' Relaxed

Steve's lurcher 'Plummer,' relaxed...

Honor in Animals

From Shelley on Tazi List comes this fascinating Time article on play and fairness in dogs and other social animals. "...Thanks to Bekoff and other researchers, ethologists are also starting to accept the once radical idea that some animals--primarily the social ones such as dogs, chimps, hyenas, monkeys, dolphins, birds and even rats--possess not just raw emotions but also subtler and more sophisticated mental states, including envy, empathy, altruism and a sense of fairness. "They have the ingredients we use for morality," says Frans de Waal, a professor of primate behavior at Emory University in Atlanta, referring to the monkeys and chimps he studies".

"Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
Pull down thy vanity..."

(Which is also one of the very few late Ezra Pound lines worth quoting).

Welcome Back!

Peculiar has returned from a long hiatus with a feast of new bloggage.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Footprints 2

A considerably more detailed piece from the Independent.

Via Cronaca.

Striking Image

From Chas Clifton's OTHER blog, Letter from Hardscrabble Creek, comes via two other links this striking image and message of a strong black woman with a gun: "Free People Own Guns"

Hardscrabble Creek is another example of how simple categories tend to break down these days-- it's Chas and his opinions on academia, contemporary paganism, and the Right To Bear Arms.

I have added it to my blogroll. Though now, despite Miss Mary's teasing [see Hardscrabble or Nature Blog for her] I just might have to balance it with a good punk conservative Catholic intellectual like Eve Tushnet.


Michael Blowhard has posted on his experience of finally yielding to getting a cellphone, and his experiences are an eerie parrallel to mine. Most young people seem to use them without effort, resistance, or inhibition, but we both have some trouble. Is it generational?

For instance: both of us were more or less convinced by our wives to get them because we no longer used the landline except for an answering service.

Both of us are uncomfortable with the sound quality of the cell as opposed to the landline-- I can't always tell if anyone is there-- and tend to save long rambling (rare) conversations for the non- mobile.

If either of us have to talk outside we find a doorway (Michael fears he looks like a bum pissing in a doorway).

We only give our number to our wives and in my case a VERY limited amount of friends, mostly without computers, who would otherwise never get us.

Good Things from Britain #3

And of course they still make the most beautiful shotguns in the world (go to the photo galleries).

Good Things from Britain #2: Great Drunks

This morning while reading James Lileks daily Bleat, I came upon this wonderful throwaway line. He was talking about Peter O'Toole, who apparently appears in "Troy" with Brad Pitt. (We here at Casa Querencia don't see many movies because the nearest theater is 26 miles away, and the nearest good one closer to 100). The line was "Peter O’Toole showed up, although you weren’t sure it was really him – didn’t he die of advanced O’Toole Syndrome fifteen years ago? No? So you don’t need a liver or lungs to live, then. Rockin’ good news".

Now it happens that O'Toole, no mean boozer himself, played the absolute king of excess, Jeffrey Bernard, in a one- man show called "Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell", which opens with the hero waking up under a table in a bar. If ever there was a man whose writing made always honest and usually hilarious art out of his life, written in installments that he called a "suicide note in weekly installments" (though he lived to be 74) it was Bernard, who is virtually unknown in the US. There are three (I think) collections of his Spectator "Low Life" columns, but the best place to start is probably with Just The One , his biography, which includes both hundreds of stories about him and plenty of quotes from his writing (the title refers to having just one drink,which I doubt he ever did in his life).

A quote from one of the UK Amazon reviewers gets it right.
"This is one of the funniest books around, certainly one of the funniest I have read. Bernard staggers through life, vodka glass in hand, writing brilliantly funny little columns on racing, gambling, drinking, all the while dying slowly of self-inflicted smoking and drinking (a doctor wrote him off thirty years before he actually died).

"Bernard is wonderful at a distance, but I have to say I would not want him as a relative, friend, neighbour or even stranger propping up the same bar (he had a tendency to tell people to **** off!). Who else but Bernard could vomit on the Queen Mother, throw away his wives like chaff and have his hand held out for baksheesh for half a century?"

Good things from Britain #1-- Adventure Novels

I often express my disappointment in modern great Britain, but only because I so admire her past. So today, in solidarity, some odd things I love about Britain. First, a great 20th Century adventure novelist, John Buchan. His combination of high- Tory romanticism, democratic common sense, and happily- expressed prejudice would never see publication today. Everyone should read his better- known books-- The Thirty- Nine Steps, Greenmantle, John MacNab, Prester John. But there are many delights in his more obscure titles too, and Amazon (US!) has 341 titles of his in print.

I was reading one of these, The Courts of the Morning, recently, and came across this passage, which hilariously reflects my own prejudices. Anyone who knows or reads me knows how much I love Asia, Russia, Africa; I would also instantly take a free trip to Oceania or Australia. Somehow though, South America ("South America/ Stole our name"-- Randy Newman) holds less interest. So I must say I cracked up when I came upon this passage, written in 1929, and spoken by perennial Buchan hero Sandy Arbuthnot-- it is almost worthy of early Evelyn Waugh: "I've never been there, and I never want to go. It's too big and badly put together, like a child's mud castle. There's every kind of noxious insect, and it's the happy home of poisons, and the people are as ugly as sin. The land isn't built according to our human scale,and I have no taste for nightmares."


Matt Mullenix sends news of some possible pre- Clovis footprints preserved in volcanic rock in Mexico. Most authorities are skeptical, but express openness to seeing the new evidence. Pre- Clovis Americans, if they existed, seem to have left little BUT footprints so far. Maybe Matt has the answer: "Hmmmmm. makes you wonder if the first large mammal species slaughtered into extinction by human immigrants from Asia earlier human immigrant from Asia".

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


I have updated my post on the Unocal deal (scroll down). The unlikely coalition of The New Yorker and National Review Online are defending it. I remain skeptical...

The Eastern Wolf

The canid predators of the northeast have increased during my lifetime. When I was young and they were rare everyone called them "coydogs", assuming that they were dog- coyote hybrids. This was biologically unlikely for several reasons-- their uniformity, the difficulty of pups produced from a one- estrus parent (the coyote) and a two- estrus one (dog) surviving winter birth in a harsh land. Later everyone just called them "coyotes", though they were almost twice the size of a western coyote, had much more robust skulls (until recently I had skulls of both) and had handsome, heavy, dark coats marked around the face like wolves. I remember seeing them when I was in western Massachusetts in the mid- seventies, and they didn't just eat mice, either. I lived near Quabbin Reservoir, basically a huge wild lake with no habitation on its shores, with bald eagles, goshawks, fishers, bears,and many big "coyotes". On many occasions in winter I saw them feeding on dead deer on the Quabbin ice, and once I saw them drive a doe out onto the ice and kill it.

Now Sari Mantila of Finland, web- godess and founder of Tazi List, sends this link to a story from the Caledonian Record in St Johnsbury Vermont. It seems like what some of us have always suspected is true: they aren't just coyotes. The article quotes Fish and Wildlife biologist Thomas Decker: "It's smaller than a wolf, and larger than a coyote," Decker said. "It's a hybrid... between a large, eastern coyote and a wolf."

Of course, this thesis immediately gets hit by political implications. Some want to introduce regular "timber" wolves (Canis lupus) to the northeast. Some think the current "wolves" are just a humanly- influenced "mutt".

But not so fast. What WERE the original wolves of the northeast? "The scant evidence, according to Jakubas, suggests they were not "timber wolves," or gray wolves (Canis lupus), as northern and western wolves now are called. Rather, he said they appear to have been similar to the red wolves (Canis rufus) found in Canada's Algonquin Provincial Park north of Toronto".

The article goes on to say that most believe that when the wolves were hunted out they were then replaced by coyotes from the west that in turn hybridized with returning timber wolves. What none of them seem to realize is that the southern "red wolf" is already a natural hybrid of coyote and timber wolf! Using Occam's razor, wouldn't it be easier to believe that the northeast's canid retreated briefly (if at all) into Canada and then returned?

One more thought. The red wolf is another post- glacial phenomenon, as C. lupus came over the Bering Bridge with Clovis man to mingle its genes with the "native" (doubtless, like the dire wolf, product of one of the Bridge's earlier emergences) coyote. I guess they hadn't diverged too far...

Au Contraire on Zebras

In Grayal Farr's piece on St. Vincent Island he wondered if anyone ever hunted zebras. I knew they were sometimes used as lion bait but hadn't really thought about the matter much. Reader (and writer you should read) Tom McIntyre writes: "Curiously, I just completed a feature story on this very topic, which will appear in Sports Afield".

You'll have to wait for the magazine to read the whole thing, but he writes an eloquent tribute to the beauty and toughness of these wild equids, reminding us our ancestors revered such animals as quarry. "Why does the most recognizable African big-game animal also happen to be the one that seems to earn the least respect from the hunters who pursue it on safari? It is certainly no fault of the animal’s. There is probably none other as visually arresting; and when it comes to stamina and sheer toughness, few equals exist...I find nothing trivial or ad hoc about hunting them. Zebras are never an afterthought on a safari for me, but a deliberate goal".

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Soviet Childrens' Animal Books

Whatever my feelings about the late and monstrous Soviet Union's government, anyone who knows me also knows of my (sometimes infuriated) love for Russia.

And one of the things I love is a certain strain of Russian art that ran beside and under the godawful "Socialist Realist" style, and has survived the Soviet Union (I hope to write soon and at length on my friend VadimGorbatov, Russia's finest wildlife artist). A style of drawing and painting that mixes classical skills of drawing and painting with bold graphic innovation, demands the mastery of technique, and that seems dead or dormant in the US and the rest of the west, still exists there.

It seems it always has-- Russians, despite the environmental horrors of places like Norilsk , are a nation of nature lovers, hunters, mushroomers, nature artists and poets. So I was delighted when Jonathan Hanson sent me links to this site featuring the art of early Soviet childrens' books..

The best images are in In the Animal World and in The Soviet North .

Despite the propaganda in many (though apparently many were created by artists already unwilling to work in the propaganda machine) what beautiful images!

Decline and Fall 2

Second in a continuing series, a watch on the decline and fall of no- longer- Great Britain.

In John Derbyshire's ever- entertaining monthly Diary for July, he tells of how perfectly normal young and middle aged Brits are abandoning the land of overwhelming PC and daunting costs for the Mediterranean, Australia, the US,and in the case of his nephew, Turkey!

He ruminates:"So, what? — Britain's just going to...empty out?"

And recounts this story: " Jay Nordlinger likes to tell of a conversation he had in London once with David Pryce-Jones, about some constitutional outrage the British government was perpetrating. Jay: "Why do the British people put up with it, with that great tradition of liberty they have?" P-J: "Jay, the British people don't live here any more." "

"Looks like this may soon be literally true!"

New Post

I have a new post at Nature Blog, where I tend to put my "Southern Rockies" pieces. Chas is always a good read too.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Ill Wind Power

Odious at Odious and Peculiar has a post on why wind is hardly a major energy contributor, and why it most likely won't be:

"Distressingly little of the country is suitable for this type of power generation.

"Moreover, you really want to find a place where, to start with, no one lives, no one cares about the view, and no birds sing. Whether it is necessary for the sedge to have withered, I leave to committee. But wind turbines tend to chew up birds and spit them out, much in the manner of the comical antics of Warner Bros.' Tasmanian devil.

"I am all for "alternative" energy sources, by which I mean "not coal". I believe in man's influence on global warming. I like things that are free--wind, sun, water. But, leaving aside the fact that they aren't really free, they don't scale. It is difficult to tell the wind that, come five o'clock, we need a quick boost in power production. Add to that the ugliness of a turbine field, and the potential loss of, say, a California condor, and I find myself thinking nuclear thoughts."

Many more good things there, on everything from Sappho to the Supreme Court. Odious has been productive.

Grayal on St. Vincent Island, Florida

Guest poster Grayal Farr on an alien that does no harm (also an occasion for a good Kipling quote. But then again, what isn't?)

"St. Vincent Island NWR is one of the bigger remaining chunks of near-pristine Florida. Visitors are allowed over every day, but no motorized transportation is allowed except for refuge staff and volunteers. The island is almost ten miles long, and except after a lot of rain, the roads and beaches are deep soft sand, so bikes aren't that good an option either. Public access, except for the nights before a couple of primitive weapons hunts, is dawn to dusk.

For decades it was the private hunting preserve of rich Yankees. They imported exotics, Zebras (Why, I don't know. Who ever hunted zebras?), Blackbuck, and Sambar Deer. The zebras and Blackbuck were hopeless, and came into the hunting camp on the eastern end of the island for feed from the very beginning. The Sambar, on the other hand, seem to have discovered that rare thing, an unoccupied ecological niche. They just sort of looked around, glanced meaningfully at each other - and disappeared into the marshes. They continue to flourish. When FWS took over the place they immediately got rid of the freeloading zebras and Blackbuck. The Sambar were another matter. A decision was made to let them be, partly (though never explicitly acknowledged) because of local sentiment. Anyway, they're still there, giving me an opportunity to experience some of Kipling's genius for description...

As the dawn was breaking the Sambhur belled -
Once, twice, and again!
And a doe leaped up and a doe leaped up
From the pond in the wood where the wild deer sup.
This, I, scouting alone beheld,
Once, twice, and again!

It does get you. They crash off like Elk in heavy cover. Nothing like it in Florida."

Oh and-- they have red wolves, too. That poem is, for non- Kiplingites (shame!) narrated by a wolf.

NAGPRA alert!

From Grayal Farr, naturalist, archaeologist, and retired Special Forces Major, comes a warning, in the form of a letter to his senator. If you heed it, remember to fax-- emails are often discounted, and Grayal says that mail takes three weeks to actaully get to your senator.

"I am writing to urge that you vote to delete Amendment 108 from Senate Bill 536, sponsored by Senator McCain.

As a retired veteran I greatly respect Senator McCain and support his principled stands on many issues. However I am also a graduate student in Archaeology. I’m aware of the stifling effect the amendment would have on our ability to investigate how the western hemisphere was first explored and settled.

The constitution provides for the Senate to advise and consent in matters pertaining to “the Indian tribes.” Amendment 108 would push back definition of Native Americans far past any ability of science or even oral history to trace tribal affiliation and allow Indians to claim as tribal ancestors the remains of people who may actually have arrived from Europe. In fact, the amendment represents an attempt by modern tribes to preclude discovery of further evidence that there were such people.

Treatment of our tribal populations by the United States, whether governmental abrogation of solemn treaties or anthropological violation of tribal burials and traditions, is a historical blot on our conduct as a nation. Congress in recent decades has moved in many ways to correct those historical wrongs. The Native American American Graves Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was and is an appropriate measure to redress some of the harm done by anthropologists in the name of museums and academic institutions. I fully support NAGPRA as written.

However, federal court decisions have affirmed and reaffirmed that NAGPRA does not apply to human remains so old that no tribal affiliation can be ascertained. The proposed amendment would codify concepts such as the belief of many native groups that “we have always been here.” We should no more codify such concepts as United States law than we should pass a law affirming that the earth is flat because some well-meaning citizens sincerely believe it.


MAJ (U. S. Army Special Forces, retired) Grayal E. Farr

Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford

Sir Terence Clark, a fellow tazi-saluki fanatic, just sent me a link to an exhibition of photographs by the late explorer Wilfred Thesiger. He wanted me to see this photo of a peregrine in the Emirates before World War II. The whole gallery is worth exploring, offering glimpses into not just one byt many lost worlds -- for instance, that of the Marsh Arabs , destroyed by Saddam in an act of ecological and cultural genocide.

But even better, the entrance to Thesiger's exhibit led through the virtual portals of one of my favorite museums on earth, the Pitt Rivers at Oxford in England.

General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers (1827-1900) was an English soldier from an old family who became interested in what we now now as archaeology and anthropology just as they were becoming (relatively) scientific disciplines. He was also interested in the evolution of tools. To quote John Greenway: "Living in the first excitement of evolution, Pitt-Rivers noted that the inorganic rifle was evolving as inexorably as Darwin's finches or Mendel's garden peas. With this astonishing discovery he turned his interest to weapons of primitive cultures and saw the same invisible process at work."

He left his extensive collections as the nucleus for the Pitt Rivers Museum.It is the repository of artifacts from every culture imaginable sent in from the entire British Empire and everywhere else Britain's soldiers and diplomats might reach. If you can think of it, they have it, from fish spears to musical instruments to pigeon flutes. As they say in an online "brochure": "The Pitt Rivers still retains its Victorian atmosphere. The cluttered cases, the original small handwritten labels and the absence of intrusive text-panels all contribute to the special experience it offers.

We visited the Pitt Rivers on a rainy day in 1994, when we were in Oxford visiting artist-zoologist Jonathan Kingdon (no links, but I'm working on it.) We could have spent six months and never been bored. The collections are in wood-and-glass, cabinets, some vertical, some horizontal, grouped by function rather than geography, around a central atrium. We were looking down from the third floor when I said to Libby: "I wonder if they have Chinese pigeon flutes ?"

A professorial, white-bearded gent examining a nearby case cleared his throat. "Sir...if you'd look down one floor below to your left, you'll see a tall vertical case...yes, that one. I believe you'll find a satisfactory collection there."

We did.

Invasive"fire steppe" in Arizona?

Re the recent discussions on change, invasives et al, the Alpha Environmentalist sends this link from the Arizona Daily Star on how non- native, fire resistant species have created a dangerous environment for such natives as the green- barked paloverde and the iconic saguaro cactus. Neither can survive burning, while the non- native steppe plants can. And a lot of birds, reptiles, bats and more depend on the plants of this unique "xeric forest".

Not mentioned in the article are the thousands of trophy houses going up in this unsuitable ecosystem, and how a "permanent burn" steppe might affect their real estate values. Ill winds... may be blowing.

China- Russia

Click here for much good discussion on the new alliances betweeen China and Russia. One of the saddest things, mentioned somewhere in the comments, is that Russia will probably suffer for it. China-- my Kazakh friends call her "The Dragon"-- is a dangerous "ally", and swamps the countries on its edges, especially Asian Siberia, with cheap goods and immigrants, legal and illegal. Putin would doubtless do better making durable connections to the US, but his authoritarian style and the distrust of many elements in his government and military of all things western-- a distrust that predates the Russian revolution-- may preclude this. It may also cost him eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East, and all their riches, in a generation.