Monday, February 27, 2006

The Evolution of -- Blondes!

NOT a joke, but a sober article at the Times of London on blondeness in women as an evolutionary stategy in Paleolithic Europe.

" ....Frost attributes the rapid evolution to how they gathered food. In Africa there was less dependence on animals and women were able to collect fruit for themselves. In Europe, by contrast, food gathering was almost exclusively a male hunter’s preserve. The retreating ice sheets left behind a landscape of fertile soil with plenty of grass and moss for herbivorous animals to eat, but few plants edible for humans. Women therefore took on jobs such as building shelters and making clothes while the men went on hunting trips, where the death rate was high.

"The increase in competition for males led to rapid change as women struggled to evolve the most alluring qualities. Frost believes his theory is supported by studies which show blonde hair is an indicator for high oestrogen levels in women."

From Steve Sailer (scroll down) who also has some theories why blondeness could be a disadvantage for male big game hunters, especially in sunny climes.

For what it's worth

Having traveled in Moslem societies benign and... not so benign, I enjoyed this Indepundit post on the pleasures of Dubai (which include pork barbecue, beer, and Christmas).

Money quote: "If Americans can’t learn the difference between Dubai and Damascus, we don’t stand a snowball’s chance in the desert of defeating Islamic terrorism."

Contrast it with this Saudi woman's experience at The Religious Policeman.

The STUPIDEST..

.. new (proposed) law I have ever heard about.

Tom McIntyre sent me a link to this column.

"David Paterson is trying to ram legislation through the Senate that would require New York cops to shoot to wound. He would make it the law that when a police officer fires at someone, he has to aim for an arm or a leg.

"An officer who failed to do so, and fatally wounded someone, would be hit with a new cops-only charge of second-degree manslaughter.

"Did I mention that David Paterson is the Democratic leader in the New York state Senate? Did I mention that he’s been in office for 20 years and that he is the darling of the New York City elites?

(snip)

"Specifically, it would require every officer who fires his gun to be able to match the fantasy shooting of Hollywood movies. In the real world, it is not possible to specifically shoot someone in an arm or a leg. Handguns are just not that accurate and the conditions under which officers fire their guns simply do not allow for carefully aimed shots.

"When a cop has to fire his weapon, there is a life on the line. The life of either a cop or an innocent civilian. When a cop has to fire his weapon, he has to do it right now. Because if he doesn’t, the great likelihood is that the bad guy is going to fire his gun and somebody is going to die.

(Snip)

"The reason police shoot people is to try to immediately stop a threat to the life of the officer or a third party. You don’t shoot people to catch them, you shoot people to keep them from killing someone.

"And to do that, you have to incapacitate them immediately. You must deliver a wound that turns them off. A shot to the arm or leg is not likely to do that. It is merely apt to make the bad guy angrier and more resolved to continue his dangerous behavior. When the cops shoot somebody, that somebody has to go down, hard, or the threat to innocent life continues.

(Snip)

"The most fundamental weakness of David Paterson’s legislation continues to be its practical impossibility. It is simply not possible to reliably hit an arm or leg with a pistol. In close-quarters handgun fights, 80 percent of the shots fired don’t even hit the person they’re aimed at. Just 20 percent of shots fired hit their target.

"And by “target” we mean person, not body part.

"That’s why police officers and members of the military are taught to aim at “center mass.” That means aim at the biggest part of the target that presents itself. Typically that is the torso.

"Even then accuracy is very low."

I thought that , well, this must be an exaggeration, so Googled "Paterson Law".

It's not.

Chronic Wasting Disease

Every hunter of deer and elk in the central Rockies is aware of CWD, a "mad cow'' - type prion disease that is spreading there. Ted Kerasote sent this disturbing link to a study that indicates muscle meat may be infective.

However, this week he sent a clarification by the dean of hoofed mammal studies, Valerius Geist, who wrote:

"The discovery that CWD prions are in meat, comes at no surprise. The fact that transgenic mice - made genetically susceptible to CWD will develop CWD when fed muscle tissue, is also no surprise. There is also an old study, in vitro (test tube) that shows that CWD prions convert human prions to the malignant state at about 7% infectivity (CJD prions, under the same in vitro conditions, convert health pre-pirons at 100% into malignant one). That's in vitro, not in vivo. Something appears to prevent in vivo infections in humans.

"That's the conclusion today, meaning that CWD infected meat is safe to eat. Except, we suspect, for some unknown human genotype that might not enjoy such genetic protection. So far, such a human has not been found. Also, if BSE converts preprions in transgenic mice (with implanted genes producing human pre-prions in these mice) into classical CJD, then there is a real likelihood that CJD cases triggered by CWD prions cannot be traced to such! CWD may infect humans, but there is no smoking gun!"

Hmmm. I think I'll still not shoot a staggering deer...

Science News

A Jurassic mammal, far more advanced than we usually think such beings were, has been discovered in China. Though apparently unrelated to living lines, it had the tail of a beaver and, apparently, a lifestyle something like an otter or platypus.

We often think that because we have a few fossils we have some idea of what the ecological and evolutionary web was in "Deep Time". We do not.

Aso here is an article on "ice worms", fascinating little creatures that live on glaciers in the Pacific Northwest and die and turn to mush at even moderate temps. Go here for photos and more detailed info. "On Suiattle Glacier, ... on the south side of Glacier Peak, the recorded mean density was ~2600 ice worms per square meter in 2002.  With an area of  2.7 square kilometers, this represents somewhat over 7 BILLION ice worms on this glacier!   This is more than the earth's entire human population on just one glacier".

Crunchy

I have just finished Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons, and I am delighted to say that it exceeds all expectations. Dreher, formerly of National Review and now a reporter at the Dallas Morning News, is a young conservative who argues for a new-- read, "older"-- kind of conservatism, one that values land, nature, family, tradition, locality, and "smallness" more than unrestrained greed and the market. He quotes agrarian Wendell Berry at length and with approval, as well as leftish James Howard Kunstler and Buddhist economist E. F. Schumacher. He advocates bridge building instead of division (this alone may make his ideas threatening to card- carrying Republicans).

At first I was taken aback by the sometimes vitriolic response in the blog world to him, his ideas, and his friends. One idiot actually wrote in to call him a hippie, told him to "go back to his commune", and bragged about his McMansion and his long commute, saying it let him spend more time away from his wife and children. Poor wife and children! (Or as Dreher noted, maybe they were better off with him away).

But then I realized what I suspect is going on: these guys are feeling guilty. Because, if you take Dreher's ideas seriously and you are living a life of serial consumption, you have to change your life. They want to kill the messenger.

Constant themes in the book are eating well, consciously, and locally; living if possible close to your work; reducing your dependence on such things as TV; thinking about home- schooling your children; caring for the environment and practicing good stewardship; and realizing that beauty is real and important, not just a luxury. He and his family live by those rules, at some sacrifice, and have found them rewarding. On a "meta" level, he also decries our dependence on oil, and know it cannot last (yes, he believes global warming exists).

The other great point he makes is the importance of religion in his and many other "Crunchy Cons"" lives. He is a Catholic in an Eastern Rite parish, but he mentions and interviews Evangelicals, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, and even a few self- desribed "secular humanists" who conform to his ideas. What he does insist on is that, whether one follows a particular path or not, that some sort of ".. active religious imagination-- an ability to see the material world in spiritual terms"-- is "key".
I suspect he would say that it is much easier to make difficult choices if you do so from within a tradition. As one who has somewhat fallen away from my Catholic tradition but who is respectful of and intensely interested in (and convinced of the human importance of) religion, I think-- hope-- I qualify. Some of my best and most thoughtful conversations lately have been with my son's Eastern Orthodox pastor.

One small thing I was worried about was that Dreher's respect for (vegetarian) writer Matthew Scully might mean that he was uncomfortable with hunting and carnivory. I should have realized that a boy who grew up in rural southern Louisiana would have no such prejudices. Dreher is an enthusiastic meat eater-- he only asks that animals be treated with respect and fed naturally. He explicitly endorses thoughtful hunting.

This book is "aimed" at conservatives, but I wonder if it might not resonate just as much (more?) with a lot of liberals disillusioned with trash culture and "Big Gummint". I know I will get several loaner copies and spread them around-- and I (a small "c" conservative if such labels mean a thing today) know that almost everyone I think will like it is nominally on the (non- moonbat) "left".

One thing though Rod, if I may be permitted a bit of irreverence: lose the cover when you go-- as you will-- to paperback. A rusting VW microbus with a kayak (if that's what it is) on top and a Republican elephant on the front, with a suited arm waving out the window, plays to the dumbest stereotypes of left and right. Your book is about breaking them among other things.

Related note: I am now reading James Howard Kunstler's book The Long Emergency, about the impending crash of the fossil fuel economy, a subject that is ominously linked to Dreher's. I may also get Richard Manning's Against the Grain, about agriculture's effects on humanity. Stay tuned.

Tsuba

My friend Bodie, martial artist and Japanese sword collector, has been flying my hawk because of my lack of a working car and his of a bird. Yesterday he gave me an incredible object: a "tsuba" or Samurai sword guard dating from somewhere between 1645 and 1700. It bears the image of a stylized goshawk, the choice of Japanese falconers from at least the Tokugawa shogunate until the present.


Though he didn't know it, I have wanted a hawk tsuba since I first saw one at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, in their incredible Asian art collection, fifty years ago. Here is one there in a recent exhibit, courtesy of Walter Hingley:


I'd rather be poor with wonderful possessions like this than rich. Thanks, Bodie.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Kennewick Man Study Released

Since the anthropologists won their lawsuit in 2004 and obtained the right to study Kennewick Man's remains, I have been waiting for the studies to come out. In today's press release it appears that Doug Owsley of the Smithsonian is first out of the gate. Here's a quick run-down of some findings.

This was an intentional burial. He was placed 2-3 feet below the original ground surface, and the burial was what we call "extended" or laid straight-out on his back. He was buried parallel to the river, head pointed upstream.

It was previously reported that a projectile point was imbedded in his hip and it was provisionally identified as a Cascade point. These are lanceolate points that are pointed at each end. A CT scan showed that it was not a Cascade, but some other type of stemmed point. That wouldn't be unusual to see at this time period (9300 BP) either. Also interesting is that the point didn't kill him - it was a healed wound! Owsley couldn't find a cause of death in the skeleton, but did see evidence of lots of injuries. As Owsley said, "...this guy was tough as nails."

One question that occurs to me is if they have been able to obtain any DNA from the remains. It's possible - I saw a recent study that obtained some from a burial in Alaska a thousand years older than Kennewick Man. We'll see.

Also I have not heard if there is any move to try to work at the original find site. The Corps of Engineers covered it with tons of rock, hopefully it sealed it in and didn't destroy it. It would be good to know if this was an isolated burial or part of a larger site.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

French Design: Shotguns

Recently, in the incomparable 2Blowhards * , Donald Pittenger was carblogging. He described how the French carmaker Panhard, in the Thirties, made an attempt to make cars with the steering in the middle, and with curved windows on the sides.



He explains plausibly why this was not a success, though I would rate the car's esthetics a bit higher than he does.

But it got me to wondering why the French always seem to make things that look different, in cars (Panhard, Citroen) and in other things. One object that I am more than familiar with is the French shotgun. There have been many odd French gun designs, some as weird as the Panhard, but one that persists, even if it does not conquer, is the Darne. It has been in continuous production since the 1890's because it is GOOD!

Most double shotguns, like this old American Parker, "break" on a hinge between the barrels and the action. The barrels drop down when you move a lever on the top, or, less commonly these days on the bottom, sideways.



This is the near- universal standard in guns these days, from Russian and Brazilian models worth a couple of hundred dollars to English "Bests" like Purdeys that now go for over $100,000. For many reasons-- for instance, you can see at a glance if it is loaded or not, and so can your companions (yeah, though it didn't help the Veep's buddy)-- it will doubtless continue to be.

But the design has a few inherent problems. All that flexing eventually makes for wear, and even a Purdey must someday go in for repair.

And that interrupted topline isn't as sleek as that on, well, this pair:





The dark one is my little 28 gauge quail gun; the silvery one is my big "ball and shot" twelve, the one shotgun so far I have ever had made for me. See those little tabs behind the action? When you pull them up , the breech block slides open, backwards, while the barrels remain in place.


The frame is as rigid as a muzzleloader's. Darnes never wear out-- they just get smoother. And in the old days, they built elephant caliber guns on the same frames, with no extra reinforcement.

Some think they are weird. I love their looks and function.

And they cost a hell of a lot less than Purdeys.

(* Recently Michael Blowhard paid us a touching compliment, saying that "Querencia gets my vote in the category of Best (and Broadest) Range of Interests ..." Thanks, Michael, but I can't accept that-- without a doubt, it is true only of 2Blowhards.)

Rick Brookhiser on Books

He thinks reports of their demise are premature. For one thing they are optimally user- friendly:

"Books have already found the optimal size. “You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket,” John Adams told one of his sons—and that was two centuries ago, long before paperbacks. Big books push the limit; some readers of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy razored the tome into eight or 10 more portable sections. But one reason the book has had such a long run is that most books fit the hand.
 
"Books also optimize the user’s experience. Computers allow us to mix and match the musical tracks we like, bringing us all into the paradise envisioned by wacky Glenn Gould, holed up in his studio, playing with his recorded takes and sampling a few bars of this and a few of that to create the perfect performance. Now anyone can do the same to his version of the Goldberg Variations, playing only the even-numbered pieces, or playing the whole thing backward. But books have always allowed readers to do this; their technological breakthrough, centuries before computing or even electricity, was the page. The page allows you to read over and over, to skip ahead or flip back, with no more effort than the flick of a finger. Even a Dark Ages chieftain might have felt awkward asking his bard to stop and recite the bit about Grendel’s mother again, but readers have been making comparable choices for ages."

More Doom from the Doom- Master

... John Derbyshire, of course. This time he is worried about our culture's new- found reluctance to DO all the old physical things:

"I remember being a ten-year-old myself, spending hours watching my next-door neighbor, a butcher by trade but an amateur cabinet-maker by inclination, manipulating his saws, planes, chisels, and spokeshaves. My kids won’t even know what a spokeshave is, and won’t care. My neighbor was a keen gardener, too, and also a war veteran. There was nothing much unusual in 1955 about an ordinary working man of little education knowing the arts of soldiering, gardening, butchering, and cabinet-making. I suppose this man’s grandchildren occupy themselves with watching TV, day trading on their computers, and working out their income taxes. I suppose my kids will do likewise. Perhaps they will be happy, but it looks to me like lotus eating — a flight from humanity, from the basics of human existence.

(Snip)

".... Probably there are ineluctable forces at work here. Perhaps, as proponents of the “singularity” hypothesis, argue, human nature is about to be transformed by us human beings ourselves on a scale vastly greater than anything that stumbling, bumbling old Ma Nature has been able to accomplish this past 50,000 years, so that worries about us losing touch with our humanity will soon come to seem quaint, or perhaps just incomprehensible. Probably all that one can say about these developments is that one likes them, or not. All right. Put me down as a “not.” "

Good long essay, with more than I have touched on here. I am almost John's age, with similar memories. We are affected less by it in my village-- but even here, it's coming.

Alpha on Cheney

The usual strong stuff from the Alpha Environmentalist on the quail kerfuffle:

"Was Cheney reluctant to publicize it? You bet! Heck, if I wounded a hunting partner, I’d be so mortified I’d probably reload and finish the job, then kill all the other members of my party, then tell the police they had slaughtered each other in some gruesome Hmong-esque orgy of hunting blood lust."

And then gets to the REAL point:

"Cheney, a member of an administration presently moving to sell off public land to offset short-term budget woes: . . . was hunting on a private, 50,000-acre ranch. Good for him, but I don’t own a 50,000-acre ranch, I don’t know anyone who does, and I doubt anyone reading this does either. We all rely on public lands for our access to hiking, hunting, and fishing."

(Snip)

"Second, when such land is sold off, guess what? You and I don’t buy it. Corporations involved in extractive industries do. The morning after the sale of, say, a bunch of virgin timberland, here’s what happens at the board meeting: “Gentlemen, we now own 100,000 acres of old-growth timber. We can manage this timber sustainably for all eternity, and provide each of us with a comfortable salary for life. Or, we can clear-cut it tomorrow and each of us can collect a check for ten million bucks the day after.”

"I’m attracted to much of the Libertarian philosophy, but their ideas about selling off public land are scary. I, for one, will not give up what I believe to be my heritage as an American: the right to roam across open, free landscapes."

Read The Whole Thing, please.

Against Pandas?

In the spirit of our penguin - bashing (see "Favorites") here is a rant about pandas by brilliant anthro- blogger John Hawks:

"....I am so tired of having to hear about it every time a panda ovulates in this country!

"Count me out of this number:

[V]isitors flock to see them, and when they cannot make it through the gates, self-described pandaholics blog with doe-eyed ardor about the bears.

"Give me a break! "Doe-eyed ardor" for pandas? Personally, I find red pandas much more interesting than giants, and there are a lot of species I would rather see.

"Now, I don't have any ill will toward the pandas -- protecting their habitat is really vital, and they are good mascots for conservation. But this panda madness is insane.

"First of all, they're just not that smart -- other kinds of bears are much more entertaining.

[That's what you get for being vegetarian, says I-- SB]

'Second, they don't respond well to captivity. If it didn't screw up their behavior so much, they wouldn't have so much trouble breeding. I say, leave the poor animals in the wild, and give them some more room to live.

"Third, they are sucking the oxygen out of conserving every other kind of animal. The article gives the total value of the contracts to the Chinese government as $80 million. Think about the protection that might provide to other species."

The last point-- that and the fact that I doubt the Chinese are using all that money for conservation-- seem to be the most important things here, kidding aside.

For good info on the Chinese and the environment see Tigers in Red Weather by Ruth Padel (also the best tiger book current, period-- you will see how the Russians, for instance, are doing a lot better-- by a poet who is a descendant of Darwin); and The Retreat of the Elephants by Mark Elvin.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Art of Fine Printing and The Duck Creek Martini

My wife asked as I cleared the table last night: "Aren't you going to a thing?"

I'd forgotten. And having pulled on a t-shirt and sweatpants almost immediately after work, I said, "I'm already in my jammies," and walked the dishes to the sink.

But I stared at those dishes just a moment before changing my mind.

Occasionally our Special Collections library invites writers, publishers, archivists, conservators, collectors and other expert bibliophiles to lecture in the large, renovated conference room downstairs. Last night, the fine press printer Peter Koch spoke and later walked us through a display of some of his work. Koch lectured on the purpose of fine printing, the nature of the book as art, the history of the letterpress, on Greek philosophy, San Francisco artisans, the meaning of "is" and the established fact that in Montana, there are only two kinds of people: Rugged Individualists and Spineless Communists . . . As a child of the second world war, Koch and his friends used to hike up to the butte above town and pretend to defend it from Chinese invaders.

So the lecture ranged widely. That fine printing (Koch dislikes the new term, "Artist's Books") can be a perfect vehicle for the fusion of such wide ranging interests was obvious and exciting to see. Much of the work Koch brought with him was recognizable as fine art (some of my favorite pieces: here and here). But on his website I found a few other things to share. You'll have to check out the Duck Creek Martini recipe and see if you're up to it.


Monday, February 20, 2006

The Book of Mormon, DNA, Native Americans, and Archaeology

This story in last week's LA Times chronicles another collision between science and religion, a type of story much in the news these days.

The story deals with one of the basic tenets of the Mormon Church - Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints - or LDS as they often refer to themselves. Native Americans play a critical role in the faith in that the Book of Mormon says that they are decended from a tribe of Jews who sailed from Israel to the New World around 600 BC. They split into two warring factions, the Nephites and Lamanites. The Nephites were pure and light-skinned and remained true to Hebraic and Christian faiths. The Lamanites fell into idolatry and were dark-skinned. The Lamanites won a great war between the factions and wiped the Nephites out. This explains the fact that Native Americans weren't aware of the Hebrew or Christian faiths when Europeans first arrived. It also also gives Native Americans a special place in LDS prosletyzing in that the decendants of Lamanites can convert to the faith and become Nephites.

Recent use of DNA testing however, has shown pretty conclusively that Native Americans are all of Asian descent and show no evidence of origins in the Middle East. This seems to undermine LDS scripture and opponents of the church have used it against them. Native Americans quoted in this article say they are disheartened or believe they have been lied to. LDS members say that the studies are being twisted to attack their beliefs. You can read the arguments yourself.

In the long run, I don't think that this will do much to undermine the faith of those who chose to believe in the Book of Mormon. After all, we have 150 years or so of historical research and archaeological studies that don't prove the Christian bible to be literally true in every sense, and Christianity seems to be toddling along just fine.

The LDS community has funded a great deal of archaeological research in the New World, much of it through Brigham Young University. Most of this is focused on the high civilizations of Central and South America to prove on the ground the descriptions of conditions described in the Book of Mormon. A sample of some publications from BYU research is shown here. For example some prehistoric Native American motifs in ceramics and architecture make use of a cross. This is seized upon as proof of the Nephite connection.

One rumor that I first heard nearly 30 years ago, deals with another Native American connection with the origins of the LDS faith. According to the founding story of the religion, the angel Moroni visited Joseph Smith, a young man living in southwestern New York state in the 1820s. Moroni eventually told Smith of the location of buried golden tablets with "heiroglyphic" writing on them telling the story of the Nephites and Lamanites that was compiled by the prophet Mormon. Smith dug these up and with them found a breastplate, a brass tablet with writing, and two stone tablets whose heiroglyphs helped Smith translate the golden tablets.

Smith worked with friends to translate the tablets and he dictated his translation to them. A number of people saw the tablets and there are many sworn affidavits testifying to their existence. Today the LDS claim not to have them, saying that they were returned to divine care.
The rumor I have heard in archaeological circles, and this is just a rumor, is that the tablets may have been prehistoric artifacts from Woodland period cultures (very roughly 1000 BC - AD 500) known from the upper Midwest to include the area where Smith lived. There are stone and ceramic "tablets" with decorative designs on them that look like this:

And this:
Some manifestations also worked in copper. Nuggets of pure native copper are found in the Great Lakes area, and were cold-hammered by the Native Americans into breastplates (!) and plaques that look like this:

If you were an unsophisticated farmer from upstate New York in 1830 and a fellow showed you piles of obviously ancient artifacts that look like these and said they were heiroglyphic tablets, what would you say?

As I said, this is just speculation, but its plausibility has always intrigued me.

Friday, February 17, 2006

.600 Nitro

This video (requires Windows Media) , sent to me by an outdoor writer friend, is pretty funny but may need a little explanation.

The .600 Nitro cartridge was the last and biggest of what might be thought of as the Edwardian elephant cartridges. It was exceeded in size only by the shotgun "Bore" rifles-- ten and eight-- and these were obsolete by its time. It held its position until the '70's or '80's, when London gunmaker Holland and Holland decided to make a .700 with the sole motive of making something bigger-- to do it as a stunt so to speak, as the market was not exactly calling for such a cartridge by then. The .600 and its "little" brother, the .577, were primarily the guns used by professional elephant hunters (and a few ivory poachers) rather than, even, guides. Their primary purpose was to deliver stunning blows to elephants at close quarters or in cover. While the power of their recoil has been exaggerated-- they would not be likely to "break your collarbone or shoulder" as one commentator has suggested, because they weighed up to 16 pounds in a double rifle-- they were specialist's weapons to say the least. A hunter who used one had best have a reliable gunbearer to spare him the weight of the rifle until the "moment of truth". And the recoil is formidable, about 9.4 times that of a garden- variety .30- 06.

That's the back story; here is the story. A gunsmith apparently built a PISTOL on a common single- shot break- action frame, the Thompson Center, in .600 nitro. (A pistol in the common .30-30 Winchester rifle cartridge, shown with the .600 and a chapstick below for scale-- ignore the octopus-- recoils hard in a similar pistol, more than the "powerful" .44 Magnum does) .

The pistol was built , I think, on the same principle as was Holland's .700 mentioned above-- as a display piece for the gunsmith's talents. I'm not sure he ever intended for anyone to shoot it. Here is what happened when someone did. Further comment would be superfuous...

Thursday, February 16, 2006

England's Decline and Fall, Continued..

Ted Dalrymple has another installment, in the Times of London, ready made. A few samples:

"I have lived under a Latin American military dictatorship where daily life was freer than in Britain today. Of course, you couldn’t go out into the street and shout “Down with SeƱor Presidente”, at least not without dire consequences; on the other hand, you were considerably less surveyed, supervised and harried as you went about your business than you are in contemporary Britain.

"The average Briton, we are told, is filmed 300 times a day once he steps out of his door. His home is hardly his castle, either. If he doesn’t have a television he receives repeated menaces from the licensing authority, which may send an officer to inspect his house. [ To see if he has an illegal unlicensed TV-- SB ] And the form granting him the inestimable democratic right to vote comes with the threat of a £1,000 fine if he doesn’t fill it (and he’ll go to prison if he doesn’t pay the fine).

(Snip)

"The State is increasingly concerning itself with the individual’s private habits, instituting a reign of virtue, chief among which is healthiness (we are approaching the situation of Samuel Butler’s satire, Erewhon, a country where illness is a crime). Though not a single smoker is unaware of the dangers of smoking, and hasn’t been for 30 years or more, he is now to be prevented from smoking in public, even when he is among other smokers only.

"The pettiness of this official persecution of smokers (who are not prevented from paying a lot of tax) can hardly be exaggerated. The hospital in which I used to work instituted a no-smoking policy, so that smokers had to leave the building to smoke. To do this, one orthopaedic patient needed a wheelchair, but to hire a wheelchair he had to pay a £60 deposit, which he did not have. He grew so angry that he needed sedation."

There is much more.Go there-- you know the drill...

Has Evolution...

... made it hard for us to understand evolution?

Matt's post below on toads put me in mind of this provocative essay by Razib at Gene Expression.

It is long, and I can't seem to "capture" any paragraphs from it, but let me quote one bit for the flavor:

"Science is hard,science is abnormal, and beware the bewitchment of "common sense". Quasars and quarks, random genetic drift and DNA, such things are difficult to grasp with common sense precisely because their sensory reality is excluded from our universe; not only do we not have direct experience as individuals-- our species minds have never been shaped by the patterns and rules which emerge out of their interlocking dance with the rest of the reality. Evolution is the father of this situation, it has equipped us to recognize faces, to keep track of social relationships and to fall forward in a controlled fashion without thought. But, evolution could not shape us to understand itself, because it works over millenia, and there is no fitness advantage in conceiving of possibilities deep in the future when the concerns of the present loom large"

Do "Read The Whole Thing" (what a useful meme that is!)

Crunchy

I am eagerly awaiting Rod Dreher's new book on small- "c" conservatism and green issues. I was pleased to see this post on the issues by blogger Mark Shea. He says:

" Rod Dreher noted that the air in Dallas is filthy and that there's no particular reason conservatives (whose name is, after all, related to the word "conservation") couldn't make this an issue. He's got an asthmatic kid, and like most normal people, doesn't buy the notion that "What's good for General Concrete and Cement is what's good for the country."

'It was a modest point really. One that would have been perfectly intelligible to Teddy Roosevelt, J.R.R. Tolkien, or C.S. Lewis.

'Result: a curious sort of pile on from the Cornerites, all of whom treated Rod as a) ridiculous, b) not One of the Tribe, and c) simply dismissible.

(Snip)

"What struck me about it was, again, the curious notion that some things simply render putative members of the Conservative Tribe ritually impure. Not keed on filthy air, Rod? You've been hanging around those Tree Huggers too long. There's nothing to discuss. Instead, let's make fun of you. Note, for instance, Podhoretz's nasty reference to Dreher's "new friends". Tribalism, pure and simple"

Read The Whole Thing!.

Quailgate

I think gunblogger Tam just about nails it, with one caveat:

"Yes, we know that Ted Kennedy (aka "The Evel Kneivel of Chappaquidick") is a pusillanimous toad who killed a woman with his total lack of backbone, and that his car has killed more women than Dick's pansy little 28 gauge shotgun has

"Yes, we know that wandering downrange during a quail hunt isn't the brightest thing one can do while upland bird hunting.

"The fact remains that Cheney committed an egregious Rule Four violation.By all accounts, he's been a mensch about it, but it still happened.

"Stating as much does not imply a desire to run out and join Al Qaeda..."

But Tamara, I love that "pansy little 28 gauge"! When I lived in New England 25 years ago I killed more grouse and woodcock with it than any other gauge. These days I hunt Mearn's quail in the New Mexico mountains near my home using a five- pound 28. I will go from 6500 feet to 8000 and back several times in a day, and weight counts....


Yeah, it's French. But it came from a Texas importer...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Leaping To Conclusions

As reported by Reuters today, scientists claim, "Cane toads in Australia have developed longer legs to enable them to invade more territory."

That's quite a leap. I am always interested to see this line of reasoning suggested in the findings of biological studies: Animals evolved Trait X in order to achieve Goal Y.

I don't believe it, and neither (I don't think) do biologists. So why are we always implying upward mobility and goal orientation explains evidence of natural selection?

I am not a scientist. But I did sort-of act like one for several years after college. And I think I can offer a better explanation for the lengthening of toad's legs: (A) Leg length varies in populations of mobile toads; (b) longer legs=faster toads; which explains (C) toads with longer legs arrived in new territory first; therefore (D) longer-legged toads bred with each other first and produced (as like begets like) a higher percentage of longer-legged toads in said new territory.

Funny thing is that when quoted, the biologists don't speculate beyond their evidence:

"We find that toads with longer legs can not only move faster and are the first to arrive in new areas, but also that those at the front have longer legs than toads in older populations," Shine said in a report in the journal Nature.

The researchers studied toads leading the invasion about 60 km (37 miles) east of the northern city of Darwin. They discovered that the first toads to arrive in new areas had longer hind legs than those that came later.

But as soon as the reporter attempts to sum this up for us, we get more Yuppie Toad Theory: "The scientists believe the toads evolved longer legs to conquer new territory to get to better food supplies."

That's some damn fine toad thinking, not to mention advanced toad Eugenics!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Something Completely Silly

Pluvialis found it first.: a site in which you can portray yourself a la South Park.



Looks rather like her, complete with Camel (cigarette not mammal).

Then Peculiar picked it up from her. How appropriate: an angry Crusader with a Tuareg (or is it Ninja?) turban and a chainsaw:



So of course I had to do it. They have allowed me a big shotgun, a bigger book, and a mountain landscape. Mrs. Q. says the expression resembles mine when I hear about the latest A. R. offense. Beware, Peahtah! My powder is dry and my info sources impeccable....



More soon: Matt, and if we can convince him to do it, Reid.


Here's Matt (approximately), with his twins on t-shirt, old jeans, ancient jacket and shades scratched from being stuffed into hawking bag. Could be morning or evening depending on which cup I'm drinking from.

Mammoth Tracks

I got my January issue of American Antiquity in today's mail and it has a very interesting article entitled "Late Pleistocene Horse Hunting at the Wally's Beach Site (DhPg-8), Canada." It's written by B. Kooyman, L.V. Hills, P. NcNeil and S. Tolman and describes a Clovis age (11,300 - 11,000 BP) site on a riverbank in Alberta that gives direct evidence of Pleistocene horse (Equus conversidens) hunting and butchering. This is a very interesting development as we have many Clovis kill sites for bison, mammoth and mastodon but I believe this may be the first horse kill site.

I intend to post more on this once I've had a chance to read and understand it better, but I did want to share this cool "bonus" photo of mammoth tracks that accompanied it. Apparently the site is located in a river access point where Pleistocene mammals came down to water. In addition to the mammoth tracks they also saw those of camel, caribou, and bison.

Nice to think of camels in Alberta isn't it?

"Carnigan"?

That's what NM falconer and longdog man calls attendees at a feast where all the dishes are meat. This atricle from the Christian Scence Monitor suggests that most Argentinians deserve the label.

"Half an hour later, he lays on the small intestine (chinchulin), and later the sweet breads (molleja), maybe a kidney. These are the achuras, or organ meats. They include the large intestine (tripa gorda) and the udder of the cow (ubre), neither of which our family favors.

"Two kinds of sausage go on: chorizos and morcillas, black blood sausage.The costilleta are on the grill almost from the start, and possibly another cut, such as the sobreasado (which runs along the top of the cow's ribs).

"The meat is never marinated, never sauced, and only occasionally given a dash of mild seasoning during cooking.

"The food comes off the grill and is eaten in ritual order: chorizos, morcillas, achuras (a little for each person; too much is cloying). The asador cuts and distributes it himself, first one, then the other, to all the seated guests.

"The costilletas - the heart of the asado - are usually the last received. After the first bite, many people applaud."

I would ask why more Americans don't eat organ meats, but in a day when an Esquire food editor says that kidneys are "inedible" and that gizzards are (sorry, but he said it) "chicken assholes", I think I know why....

Great Bear

Walter Hingley has sent in links here (good background) and here to the new (and new kind of ) national park in British Columbia which will contain an incredible quarter of the world's last remaining temperate rain forests and an estimated 20% of the wild Pacific salmon. Everyone gave a little, everyone gained. Now let's see the same procedures applied to the boreal forests further north...

Real Dogs

Prairie Mary sent us to this good Times article by Ted Kerasote on overbred dogs. I only wish he hadn't given even accidental credence to H$U$ on the way, but I expect his book, due out next year, will be well worth reading. Mary says: "l like this article very much. I'm hearing something similar about horses: that one of the values of the wild horses everyone either idolizes or complains about is that their genes are weeded by nature so that they constitute a pool of healthy, functioning genes we may need to dip into now and then. I wonder if there is a parallel in humans? Where are the wild humans?"

This is why primitive sighthounds forom aboriginal populations, like mine, are valuable, as are my friend Vladimir Beregovoy's Laikas. And I have been crossing free flying, hawk- evading ferals into my homing pigeon flock, as have friends in hawk- abundant Saskatchewan and BC, perhaps in part to keep our pigeons like becoming too much like Mr. Bennion's below, however fascinating they may be to the artist and geneticist...

Mary added in a later note: "Even at animal control in the Seventies, most of us hated fancy dogs. Partly because they had no sense. Partly because the dog shows always hired us for security and the people were goony."

Bennion's Birds

I have been too busy and not all with good things-- have been devoting entirely too much time to the coursing crisis--see below-- while attempting not to become obsessed with it. But I have also been reviewing books (for money, hooray!), writing about fine Victorian guns (ditto) and chatting with Pluvialis about bird art, about which I hope she will post soon. Which reminded me of this gallery of surreal but only slightly exaggerated and utterly recognizable portraits of domestic birds by Robert Bennion (hat tip Graeme Boyd).

Very strange birds. Darwin was always fascinated...


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Assassin Spiders and Science Writers

In a story dovetailing with recent collecting expeditions into New Guinea and into caves closer to home, biologists report the discovery of nine new species of assassin spiders from Madagascar. Unfortunately no photos are provided in the story, but journalist Alicia Chang (AP Science Writer!) offers some colorful descriptions of the spiders, as, variously, "grotesque-looking," "bizarre-looking," and "bugs."

How are these "bugs" different from other spiders? Chang reports they "are notorious for stabbing helpless spiders with their sharp, venom-filled fangs attached to their super-sized jaws."

I guess that sets them widely apart from other spiders, who are cuddly, inoffensive, fangless and vegetarian.

Friday, February 10, 2006

People Watching Orcas


I've given up trying to link to the Santa Barbara News Press, but I have borrowed these pictures from them that accompanied a short report on a pod of five orcas sighted in the Santa Barbara Channel earlier this week. The sightings were made and these pictures taken on a local whale-watching tour boat, the Condor Express.

As I posted last week lots of whales migrate through the Channel: grays, blues, and humpbacks predominate. Like them, orcas are not permanent residents here, but small numbers of them migrate through following the grays, as the captain of the Condor Express says, "kind of like the lions following the wildebeest." The number of orcas is so small that their sightings here are always newsworthy.

This pod apparently put on quite a show, playing "ping-pong" with the carcass of a harbor seal they had killed. The dead-tree version of the paper had a wonderful picture of one of them "spy-hopping" or tailing to keep his head and upper body above the water, so he could get a good look at the boat. The captain said he stayed up for about two minutes. I imagine some of the passengers may have looked appetizing.

Mushroom Rustlers

The LA Times reports that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff has made three arrests in connection to a ring of high-tech mushroom thieves from the Pacific Northwest who have been slipping into local ranches and stealing chanterelle mushrooms. These prized mushrooms grow wild in the oak woods in the north part of our county.

This has apparently been going on for almost ten years, and deputies have finally caught up with them. The thieves have used GPS units to record the locations of the most productive colonies of chanterelles and slip in at night during harvesting season to collect them. Then they were sold to gourmet restaurants.

One of the gentlemen was caught in the act as the report says, "with 28 to 30 pounds of chanterelles in the car. He was booked into Santa Barbara County Jail on suspicion of trespassing and grand theft. Although the street value of the mushrooms was about $300, any theft of produce worth more than $100 is a felony in California."

I love how they refer to the "street value" of the mushrooms. His partner was arrested in a Lompoc motel, where he had several thousand dollars worth of mushrooms in his room.

What is this world coming to? Next time you order chanterelles in a restaurant, you better ask where they came from.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Good Press!

Just when I thought to expect the worst from press coverage of our strange and wonderful old sports, Anne Hocker sends this good story from outdoor writer Joe Doggett of the Houston Chronicle. Here's a sample:

"Peregrines are intelligent yet easily 'manned' to accept proximity to people. Regardless of raptor, manning is perhaps the most amazing aspect of falconry. The predator flies free, yet, through trust, returns time and again from the wild. There is something significant, almost magical, about that bond."

Doggett's story features my friends, the very accomplished falconer Jim Ince and his apprentice Chuck Redding. Ince flies a mature tiercel (male) peregrine successfully at snipe, dove and quail, some of the toughest quarries any trained falcon catches. Redding is enjoying a good season and his first bragging rights catching cottontails with a red-tailed hawk.

Though we couldn't get the dates together for this year, Jim and I and a few Houston friends usually end the season together with a final hunt and game diner---lots of tender little pieces of meat, left over from the hawks' meals and fried lightly in olive oil. (Falconers served heavily marinated.)

Intact Tomb in the Valley of the Kings


Egyptian Antiquities authorities announced yesterday that a team of American archaeologists from the University of Memphis (how appropriate!) have discovered an intact tomb in the famed Valley of the Kings. It dates to the 18th Dynasty (1500-1300 BC) and is the first intact tomb found there since the discovery of Tutankhamen tomb in 1922.

It does not appear to be a pharaoh's tomb. It has a single chamber and contains five mummies in intact sarcophagi with colored funerary masks along with more than 20 large storage jars that still have intact seals. Apparently they aren't sure who the tomb belongs to yet. It is located 15 feet from Tutankhamen tomb.

With world-wide curiosity about Egyptian archaeology as intense as it is, I'm sure we will be learning much more about this soon. Very cool!

UPDATE
The New York Times has a much more informative article on this subject today. The archaeologists have yet to enter the tomb, but expect to do so before the end of their field season in May.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Urfa and the Clash of Civilizations

We based in Urfa when we went toTurkey in December-- please see archives. Despite some odd moments, I think Turkey, and even more, the "Stans" to the northeast, are the best hope for Islam to make it sanely through the next century.



Therefore, Im not sure how to feel about some of the factors in the murder of an Italian priest in Turkey this week. He loved Urfa, annd I found it warmly hospitable (if a bit too alcoholically "dry"-- only soft drinks in the mini- bar, unlike in Ankara and points west). It is a Kurdish town, and thus rather pro- American to start with. Father Santoro loved Urfa, and I could see why .



"Urfa, he said, is every day’s “beginning”. Urfa is God who with an intelligence, power and love greater than our own expressed his plans to us, asking us to be at his service. Urfa is the power of the boundless blessing, joy and fruitfulness that God guarantees. Urfa is the root and compass to know where to go in Turkey and the Middle East."

He was hardly a bigot: "He wanted to open a window that would allow Western and Eastern Churches to exchange gifts, rediscover the sap that flows from the Jewish roots into the Christian tree, encourage a genuine and respectful dialogue between Christianity and Islam, and enable him to bear witness through his life and feelings."

And some fundamentalist teen- aged gang- banger killed him-- not in Urfa, ill grant, but in Trabzon, which was actually more of a Christian city, as far as Turkey goes...

A Curious Double Standard

Here is a link that contrasts the difference betweeen the treatment of protestors defending the right to hunt foxes and those defending the right to behead infidels.

"A demonstration against the fox hunting Bill, outside Parliament:

"Instantly, the police responded with a flail of truncheons. For a moment, they resembled beaters driving birds towards guns. ...

"In a flurry of violence, people were hurt by the impact of truncheons and by the crush of people pushing forward to join the pre-planned sitdown. Archie Norman, the Conservative MP, who had come out to watch the mayhem, was almost hit by a bottle that smashed beside him. Mr Jukes condemned the behaviour of the police officers. "I can't believe it happened - there was no reason for it at all," he said.

"There was a bit of a surge and they only needed to say, 'Steady on lads', but instead they started hitting everyone. "I even saw old men with their heads split open. "There were all these young policemen having fun with their truncheons, waving them over their heads before flashing them down on ours." One of the older protesters injured in the melee was Simon Harrap, the Master of the Hampshire, who said: "It was incredibly heavy-handed."

"We're decent, respectable people and we don't deserve the riot squad treatment," David Jukes, 45, the Master of the Zetland Hunt in North Yorkshire, said as he mopped a bloodied brow.

"Standing beneath the stern gaze of the statue of Oliver Cromwell, William Hudson, 27, from Hampshire, had blood from a head wound all over his green T-shirt.

"I saw them hitting the person behind me, they did not seem concerned whether people were trying to go forward or back, everyone was getting crushed, it was very frightening. There is no point hitting people on the head. Why could they not hit our bodies?"

(Snip)

"Now fast forward to 3 February 2006:

"Yesterday, more than 1,000 demonstrators staged a second protest outside the embassy. The only arrests made were of two men found carrying cartoons of Mohammed. Police said they had been detained "to prevent a breach of the peace". A man dressed as a suicide bomber, however, was left unhindered, while the police sought to prevent photographers taking pictures."

Apparently, it is now more PC to call for the killing of Jews than rabbits-- see below. What profiles in courage our newspapers are-- the NYT (yes, I love your science pages) publishing images of the Virgin Mary made out of elephant dung while refusing to print ones of Mohammed out of respect-- which I do have-- for Islam. Pathetic.

For the "controversial" images of Mohammed go go here.

For more respectful ones-- that prove that the current hysteria is a- historical nonsense-- go here.

Update: Reid sent this link to an essay by Thomas Lifson on self- censorship. Some snips:

"The new norm seems to be that although we have the Constitution and laws protecting free speech, in practice we need to be sensitive to the hurt we inflict on the deeply-held beliefs of others. Who are we to impose our parochial Euro-centric standards on other cultures and belief systems?

"With the sole exceptions of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Riverside Press-Enterprise, and New York Sun, no significant American newspaper has dared to publish the 12 cartoons at the root of the protests, embassy burnings and deaths roiling the Islamic world. Despite intense public interest in this major story, Americans who do not view their news on the internet have almost no chance to actually see these key images. Such remarkable restraint is a rather new phenomenon in American journalism.

"Imposing current day politically correct standards on historic figures is all the rage these days, when the names of slaveholders Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are deemed unfit to grace the names of schools in some circles.

"It is physical intimidation which is at the heart of the media’s new-found principle of tender sensitivity to the feelings of certain religious believers. The assassination of Theo Van Gogh sent a message loud and clear to everyone contemplating a critical look at Islam or Muhammad. For all their brave talk of speaking truth to power, most people in the media with established careers, families, and lives will sacrifice principle to save themselves from possible harm or death.

"They are thus establishing a very clear set of guidelines for those who seek to govern the media portrayal of topics and people of keen sensitivity. Threaten to shoot, stab, burn, and terrorize those who displease you, and then back up the threat with actual violence, and you, too, can control the images the broad public sees. You can even constrain the asking of awkward questions about your cherished beliefs.

"This is also known as handing power to the thugs among us. The Constitution may establish the rule of law and various rights to free expression. But in practice we will return to the state of nature, where brute force sets the actual terms under which we live our lives, discuss ideas, gather data and make decisions."

Target: Coursing

As many regular readers will know, I hunt with coursing dogs-- in my case, Asian tazis from Kazakhstan. Being a primitive who lives deep in the boonies, not to mention an enthusiastic carnivore, I am a hunter plain and simple. We go out, we chase, we sometimes catch, we eat (a hare recipe was recently provided).


Organized Open Field Coursing is not some arena sport-- it is the same thing with rules. Out in a wild place, a "field" of people walks with their dogs on leashes. When a hare flushes, two are slipped. The dogs are then scored at their ability-- how many times the hare can be "turned", for instance. It is common that a good hare that evades the dogs is cheered. But of course if there is anyone like me there the dead hare is also prized-- and if not, they also can be cooked for dog food (cooked because of intestinal worms).



Two days ago a well known, long- time courser sent me an email.

"The [show on coursing] aired on ABC-TV last night. Investigative reporters discovered a blood sport flourishing in the Bay Area. They have already found a legislator to sponsor a bill prohibiting coursing. They have also publicly
announced the date of the Grand Course, obviously in the hope of getting a demonstration going."

As I wrote to an English hawker and dog man today: "What happened is that some IDIOTS in California invited a "friendly" film crew to a coursing meet, not knowing they had ties to the most radical Animal rights groups! The footage was aired on TV in the San Francisco Bay Area. They set up a "poll" asking whether "hunting rabbits with dogs should be banned". Amazingly, we actually won it!-- I will take some credit because my "tree" of networks is extensive and we got hundreds of fox people and hawkers to vote as well as the poor longdog folks. But ABC is planning a follow- up and I heard they were discouraging any pro - coursing commentators. Meanwhile the AR thugs have published the phone numbers and even addresses of people on the coursing list, including several over 70, one over 80 who is recovering from open heart surgery, and a woman our age recovering from cancer, and are encouraging their membership to call them through the night, go to their houses, even implying they should take their dogs."

Do I exaggerate? Here is an actual excerpt from one of their mailings, names excised to protect my friends.

"this is off craiglist
Please do forward to those who should see this but are not on this list
I am using my usual editting thing

"C**rsing Bl**d Sport - We Need Action!!!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Reply to: see below
Date: 2006-02-05, 11:07PM PST

"Look, all I know is the big yearly event takes place Feb 18-20th. It's too late
to try and get any laws passed before this event happens, so why not get as many
protesters there to either make enough commotion before the event to scare away
any wild rabbits, or just bust in and set free any caged ones they plan to use
for the "sport"?? Letter writing and petition signing isn't going to be enough
to save these rabbits in 2 weeks!!!
We must be able to snoop and find out where this thing is held.
The site's been taken down, but this link should work (found it on the abc.com
site)
***********

"Here's some email addresses of people part of this horrible event:

***********

[ Long list of dog people-- no, not me-- never been gladder I am not a "joiner", though they may ultimately be sorry they have several New Mexicans-- as I said to my English friend: "One of the guys they published the address for, over 60 years in age, jumps on feral pigs that his dogs have bayed and ties them up (and then brings them home to fatten). ]

"Some more names and wheeee! PHONE NUMBERS!!! Let's bombard these barbarians! I
am sure they're up all hours of the night, no? They should be...)"

Barbarians? I think people who destroy the peace of mind of others who are doing something perfectly legal and natural have a better claim to that title. I wonder if ABC, in the interest of "fairness", will also report on these threats....

Related thoughts here "Who wants to own your dogs" . (I may come back to this later). Hat tip SAOVA.

Let my friend have the -- very temporary-- penultimate word here:

"For many of these people, the ARs already have the physical address information. For the others they can easily get it, using the phone number. They are trying to mobilize people to harass us and get rid of the "killer dogs" ... the
hysteria is unbelievable. I didn't need telling that the ARs are vicious swine, but this is beyond belief."

And the last word?

I think this may be a bit like those cartoons of Mohammed, for all hunters. They just don't know it yet.

Tickticktickticktick.....

To be continued.

Many updates. Harassment goes national-- PETA publishes my friends' names and urges on their fanatic legions.

The blog of the Bay Area TV station defends itself for the piece. Not only is their defense at best disingenuous and at worst wilfully ignorant-- the reporter says he has a greyhound but didn't know they chase things??-- but they use photos by my friend Herb Wells, who is recovering from open heart surgery and on the anti's published hit list! Rey McGehee tells me this is legal under "Fair Use". But so is telling these people what you think of their ethics. Please let them know-- there is a box provided. No obscenity please, even if they deserve it-- we don't want our side to stoop to their tactics.

Finally, Sir Terence Clark sends some sanity from Ireland in the form of a letter to the Telegraph by a courser from Antrim:

"Everyone is entitled to their view regarding coursing but it was disappointing to see a Belfast Telegraph Viewpoint (February 4) based on a rather subjective and emotive stance which echoes the views of the League Against Cruel Sports but failed to take on board the merits of coursing, not only to the Irish economy but also in maintaining the best of traditions of field sports.

"How can anyone state with certainty that the hare is distressed when chased by greyhounds when what happens is part of the tussle between natural adversaries? If it was unduly stressed, surely the hare would not do what comes naturally, portraying all its craft and skill in avoiding the pursuer.
Hares are ideally equipped to deal with two greyhounds and the fact that so few are injured, mortally or otherwise, speaks for itself. Indeed, it is more often than not the greyhounds that end up distressed through exhaustion if having to undergo a longer-than-expected course as the hare leads them a merry dance.

"Coursing clubs have done more - and will continue to do more - than the antis have ever done in conserving and enhancing the numbers of Lepus Timidus Hibernicus as an endemic species on this island.

"Few care more about the welfare of the hare than coursing clubs. Can the same be said of modern farming which has continually destroyed habitats and left the hare vulnerable to predation? "

California Wildfire: ABC News "Discovers" Coursing

In defense of all good things old-fashioned, we present this recent story by ABC News: a pitifully slanted piece of writing that "exposes" open field coursing (in this case, rabbit hunting with sighthounds) in California and---tiresomely, predictably, maddeningly---its presumed "cruelty" to animals.

At least one state legislator, having seen video of rabbits killed by sighthounds, now seeks to ban the sport. The anti-hunting and animal rights groups, for their part, are calling for direct action---harassment and worse---against individual hunt participants. They've distributed the names, home addresses and phone numbers of dozens of coursing enthusiasts over the Internet. Naturally, the California legislator's righteous indignation is featured in the story while the calls for vigilante violence go unmentioned.

Coursing is an old hunting sport, different from falconry in many ways but plenty enough alike that its detractors need see no difference. In both, one animal pursues and catches another while people watch, partisan and unapologetic for the outcome. It is a hunt, after all: the purposeful killing of animals. Ultimately, that is what's abhorrent to those who now seek to ban coursing and punish those who enjoy it.

If you are any kind of hunter---if you ever eat meat---take note of this.

I don't know and fear to imagine the direction this story might take. But we could ask: Will America go the way of Great Britain, utterly tamed by misguided anti-cruelty sentiment?

Steve plans a series of posts about the unfolding (unraveling) situation in California and related topics. There is a lot of ground to cover here, all of it (so far as I've seen) upsets me.

The Wonderful World of Leeches

"Lost worlds" right beside us-- Carl Zimmer on leech scientist Mark Siddall.

A sample:

".... scientists need to find leeches with big bacteria-housing organs to dissect. It turns out that some of the biggest are in a species that lives just on the rear end of the hippopotamus. So Dr. Siddall has traveled to South Africa in recent years to wade into crocodile-infested waters to look for them.

" 'Obviously, we didn't wrestle hippos to the ground,' Dr. Siddall said. Instead, he hoped to attract a few leeches that had dropped off the hippos. He failed to find any.

"But fortunately for him, a game warden remembered him when a hippo was shot after raiding backyards. He sent Dr. Siddall a leech from the hippo's hindquarters.

" 'It turned out to harbor a completely unique lineage of bacteria,' Dr. Siddall said."

I find leeches fascinating, but Libby, who has experienced them in bloodsucking hordes in the Nepal Terai, is less enthusiastic...

Lost World!

Reid, Walter Hingley, and others have been sending me news of the wonderful "Lost World" found by ornithologist Bruce Beehler and his colleagues in New Guinea-- go here and here and here for reports.

Matt says: " "He [ Beehler ] added, 'The fact that scientists can still findnew species means there are still wild areas out there with things we do not yet understand.' "

"He could be writing about all our backyards, just as easily.... as if there is a whole lot we understand about anything!"

I am also reminded of some lines from Peculiar's obit for Heinrich Harrer, which you should read in its entirety. He says:

"...the remaining wildernesses are places we venture, but do not remain; our interaction with them is always artificial and temporary. As we lose Harrer and the last few like him, we are losing the knowledge of how it feels to enter a forbidden kingdom, discover a lost tribe, find a means of life in an empty land, venture beyond the edge of all our maps. I fear already young people are unmoved by tales of discovery because they cannot imagine how it would feel to truly discover a thing by themselves. There are many for whom a photo essay or a documentary film is a perfectly acceptable substitute for a physical journey. The wonder of beholding living creation is being replaced by the wonder of fantasy. Fantasy wonders are not bad things in themselves, but are they enough to make people step outside themselves and feel the world, their fellow men and the divine? Explorers' writings need to be read, and hard paths need to be traveled. Otherwise, life is only a game with nothing at stake."

..and some fascinating additions to the post below

...by Jeff Lockwood:

" In particular there were three intriguing elements that you draw out from the various sources (including mine, for which I am deeply appreciative).

"First, we worry about fossil fuels when, at least in principle, these natural resources are fungible (we could conceivably shift to wind, solar, nuclear or whatever). On the other hand, we seem unconcerned about our fossil water (aquifers and glaciers) when this natural resource is NOT fungible -- there is no replacement for water. And, as you point out, the rate of renewal is far slower than the rate of consumption.

"Second, I admit that the locust-human "lessons" are something of a stretch, except that I am so very much sympathetic to the perceptions of William Blake (is being a mystic scientist an oxymoron?). I truly believe that we can see the world in a grain of sand (or the human condition in a locust). For this reason, I am not wholly averse to specialization -- when one truly looks deeply into any particular thing or process, one eventually finds the world opening up (I have the image of an hourglass -- we pass through a narrow constriction only to find ourselves dumped into a universe as wide as that from which we came). Most scientists, however, don't push deeply enough because they glimpse where their inquiry is taking them (into the realm of ethics, metaphysics, meaning, beauty, and spirit). So they become cowardly specialists, backing away from the amazement of seeing a heaven in a wildflower.

"Third, you are absolutely on the mark with your notions of environmental boundaries. We act as if we are not the makers of these barriers, as if there was an objective ecological truth to the matter (which is not to embrace an anything-goes relativism but to admit that we are world-makers in a way that is quite analogous to a woodworker crafting a chair). Environmentalists seem to have this notion when it comes to pollution, as evidenced by their concept that we have so filled the world with humans that there is no longer an "away" into which we might throw our garbage. But the other side of the coin is somehow lacking. That is, if it is nonsensical to think that we can throw trash "away" then how can it be plausible that there is a "here" in which we might contain our creatures and beauty? All of this reminds me of one of my favorite passages from Wendell Berry: "Conservationists can't conserve everything that needs conserving without joining the effort to use well the agricultural lands, the forests, and the waters that we must use. To enlarge the areas protected from use without at the same time enlarging the areas of good use is a mistake."

Prairie Mary Guest Post

My reading has been giving me some sharp jolts and new thoughts lately.

One came from a random remark on 2blowhards.com that at the time the United States were uniting and declaring independence, the people of India -- then under British rule -- were dying by the millions because of famine brought on by mismanagement. The suggestion was that this would have motivated our founding fathers to get out from under such systems.

Another came from the Schultheis book, “The Hidden West,” which hit the reader with the realization that this whole continent is ecologically dependent on the water left from the melting of the glaciers, which is nearly exhausted. It is the last remnants of the glaciers in the mountains and the great underwater storage aquifers from that historical water source that we are using up right now. When they are gone, there is no source of renewal. Burning switchgrass will do us no good.

And the third comes from “Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped the American Frontier,” by Jeffrey A. Lockwood, now being remaindered for $5 at Hamilton Books and other sources. In the 19th century great clouds of the insect descended as a Biblical plague on the Great Plains, eating even the clothes on people’s backs and plunging huge numbers into desperate poverty. This coincided with the Prairie Clearances that plagued the Native Americans. Whatever resources a struggling nation had -- and they were small -- went to homesteading people in dry country, which partly explains why commodities and relief supplies meant for the Indians never got to them. Little enough got to the homesteaders. In typical “blame the victim” fashion, the politicians hinted that the starving were just improvident and incompetent, much the way they did during the Dust Bowl.

Lockwood starts his book quietly in a “history of science” way, introducing those who studied the locusts, their devastating periodic recurrence, and ways to get rid of them. Some of these early locust experts were oddballs, some were demogogues, and some were truly scientific. Lockwood hopes to prove that he’s among the latter but by now the problem is -- ironically -- lack of locusts to study. But there is some idea that a few of the big swarms have landed on glaciers to be entombed in ice for decades. Off he goes with hardy helpers. They are both “explorers” and “naturalists.” Adventure ensues.

The way one proves one has a true locust is by taking a look at their penis sheaths, which are internal but uniquely shaped so they will only plug into the proper type of female. (Is this an advance or a fall-back position?) Mandible shapes also help. So after a lot of mountain climbing in dangerous icy but melting terrain, the scientists must collect some mushy specimens and then carefully dissect them to see what they’ve got. Kind of a paradigm for scientists.

A major goal is to discover why all the locusts just disappeared, seemingly without human intervention. For decades the farmers poisoned, plowed, flooded, dug trenches and ran stock into areas where locust egg beds were found. Evidently the farmers themselves occupied all the places the locusts would lay eggs, in the loamy bottoms along water courses, ideal for crops. Alfalfa put paid to locusts, partly because of the plowing and partly because alfalfa is not a good food for baby locusts.

Then Lockwood turns to meditation on the meaning of sanctuary, which is what those riverbottom meadows meant to the species of locust, and -- this is going to be a stretch for some -- the meaning of loss and suffering, even if it’s only a bunch of bugs dying out. He steps from the secular cause-and-effect of science, to the larger philosophical problem of what it all means, what lessons can we learn, where it’s all going. Like, are we extinguishing our own sanctuaries by converting all the oil to global warming exhausts? Are we creating, even now and with all innocence, the key to our own extinction? Maybe the chemical in Teflon pan linings? Maybe a food additive? Maybe a prion in a cow or a virus in a chicken?

Scary stuff. It begins to be a religious question -- the kind of religious question that people in the West, including the first ancient guy to boat-hop his way along the California coast and decide to start a village, have asked all along. The West has always answered the question by suggesting a sanctuary: a new untouched place where we can hide ourselves or at least protect the grizzlies and bison.

What’s new is understanding that this is global -- life is a steady flow of molecular information constantly in motion over the globe and appearing as plants and animals. It is that FLOW of molecules that evolves, not the beaks or branches of living things. The molecules are exquisitely sensitive to the chemicals of the macro-environment -- circum-global atmosphere, oceanic contents, the dusts that blow from Africa to North America, from North America to China, and back the other way again.

Ted Turner can fence his property and stock it with buffalo, Yellowstone Park can haze the buffs back inside “boundaries” arbitrarily established, people can establish little commonses and enclaves where buffs are not shot. But if the right bit of DNA (virus) shows up, there is no way to protect them.

The much-admired trout of the West, also icons of skill, beauty and freedom, which people dry-fly with great pride in their skill and their lifestyle, have been afflicted by whirling disease and are now developing some tiny snail imported from another part of the planet -- probably on the hipboots of the fly-fishermen. Pogo warned us and so did Guthrie.

As I interact a bit with prominent conservators and environmentalists, I begin to realize that they don’t know this. They still think they can buy a piece of land, put a fence around it, and control what happens inside -- which will make them better people. They think the enemy is hunters or a corporation-dominated legal system. But that’s not it. They need to follow Lockwood’s example and look for “it.”

There is always famine on the globe somewhere. We’re told it’s not lack of food, but a problem with attitude and awareness. Management, like India in 1776. Famine starts wars, secessions, plagues, destruction, contamination. So now what?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Airman in the Glacier Identified

Last fall I posted a couple of times on the body of a WWII era airman that was found preserved in a glacier in the central Sierra Nevadas. Today the LA Times reports that the Department of Defense's forensics lab in Hawaii has identified it as Leo Mustonen of Brainerd, Minnesota. Mustonen was 22 when was killed in this air crash in November, 1942. He will be buried near his parents in Minnesota.

Rebecca Webb Carranza, RIP

Ms. Webb died in a hospice in Phoenix on January 19 at age 98. We are all in her debt, as her El Zarape Tortilla Factory pioneered the commercial manufacture and sale of tortilla chips.

New Orleans Musicians

One easy way to know if you've found a place with culture---an un-manufactured place, breathing on its own---is to listen for its music. There has been a lot of music played in New Orleans, some of it entirely the product of the place and found in its true form nowhere else. The rauccus neighborhood brass bands, for example, existing for decades with ever-changing membership, could not have come from any place but New Orleans.

Many will think of jazz and blues, even Afro-Caribbean music as emplematic of New Orleans. Zydeco can be heard blaring from the too-bright tourist shops in the French Quarter, although Cajun country is far to the west of New Orleans and its native music relatively new to the city. But I never knew, until I knew some locals of a certain age, that much of our 50s and 60s rock-and-roll and soul music had its roots in the Crescent City. My favorite example, still living and playing, and a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, is the Fat Man himself---Fats Domino---who until a few months ago lived in a big, pink, wood-sided house in the Ninth Ward.

I had the great pleasure a few years back to share a po-boy with Fats.

Well, OK: Technically we were both eating po-boys at Steve Favalora's deli in Arabi one day. My friend Tom hit me in the shoulder and nodded to the bar where Domino was holding court over his shrimp sandwich. I saw a surprisingly small fellow (not so fat these days, Fats) in a dapper black cap and leather jacket. A few barflies where chatting him up and he, graciously, engaging them. Tom asked, smiling, "You know who that is?"

I'll admit to you, but only you, that I did not. But now I know, and so...

Back to the music. A fact only slightly less made-up than my sharing lunch with Fats Domino is that I was once a New Orleans musician, too. If you're a baseball fan, a serious backlot duffer, and you ever had a chance to throw out a pitch in a Minor League game, you know what kind of New Orleans musician I have been. I'm lucky to know and even call friends a couple of long-time players and the various characters who make up their entourage. I have been in that entourage myself, dancing and drinking with the crowd of a Saturday night, and for a few shining moments making a very minor hero of myself. Maybe some of you know what it means, to hear (in New Orleans), "Hey, is Matt in the house? Come on up and play on this one."

There was a long time I wouldn't travel to the city without at least one blues harp, just in case.

Now, literally in the wake of a devistating flood, New Orleans is struggling to maintain so vibrant a music scene that even hacks like me might hope to sit in for a song or two. In this story by Billboard's Todd Martens, we see a kind of charity that might represent the best possible return for anyone's dollar there ever was. Bethany Bultman, able to leave her city behind but unwilling to, writes checks to New Orleans muscians as needed. And they are needed.

"Bultman inscribes upwards of 70 per week, each for $100, each given to a New Orleans musician. To date, her efforts have been funded largely by donations from Pearl Jam and nonprofit organization Jazz Aspen Snowmass; she recently was promised $250,000 from MusiCares, the Recording Academy's charitable arm.

"The checks Bultman writes are allocated only to those who work, which these days in New Orleans can mean performing at a club in front of a handful of Federal
Emergency Management Agency
workers.

"On many nights, money from the door is minimal or nonexistent. Bultman hopes her $100 subsidy is enough to dissuade someone from taking a gig in another city. If instruments and artifacts from the city's musical heritage were washed away, then New Orleans' soul -- the musicians who define it -- must stay."

Two weekends ago, my friends and I made another trip to the city of a Saturday night. Along Frenchman Street, at an edge of the Quarter the tourists rarely reach, we saw some of the old gang. We drank a bit and ate well and left large tips for the band.

Monday, February 06, 2006

More on the Donner Party

Some of you will remember a post I put up last month on the Donner Party and Alferd Packer, that was occasioned by a report that excavations at one of the Donner Party camps had provided no evidence of cannibalism. Well, yesterday the LA Times had an op-ed by Ethan Rarick entitled "Cannibals with Courage" that hit the subject again. Rarick goes on about the evidence (or lack of) that the archaeologists uncovered:

"Much of the current befuddlement stems from the limited nature of the archeological dig along the banks of Alder Creek, not far from Truckee. This was the campsite of the two Donner families, including that of George Donner, whose election as captain lent the party its name. For the first time, archeologists located the families' cooking hearth, allowing them to search for charred fragments of human bone. They found none, although there was plenty of evidence that the Donners ate game.

But this was one site among many in the story of the Donner Party, which included dozens of other people as well as the Donner families. When the early winter snow trapped the wagons, most members were several miles ahead of the Donner families, at what is today Donner Lake.

No one disputes that cannibalism occurred at Donner Lake or at other sites involved in the story. Even at Alder Creek, the new finding does not disprove the practice of cannibalism. There may be no evidence to find. Uncooked human bones would long ago have disintegrated, and the literature of survival cannibalism is replete with cases in which desperate survivors sliced the flesh from cadavers and cooked only this gruesome 'meat.'"

Rarick seems to be busy demolishing a strawman, as he pronounces as "corrections" re-statements of the archaeologists' original caveats: this was only one camp of several and that this should not be regarded as proof that cannibalism did not occur. His statement that "human bones would long ago have disintegrated" is just wrong, as the Alder Creek site had 16,000 pieces of preserved animal bone. I'm not sure who Rarick thinks is befuddled.

Also his pronouncements on the archaeologists' attaching moral weight to their findings seems a bit much:

"But unfortunately, and perhaps unintentionally, the researchers have
occasionally fallen into the trap of attaching a moral weight to the issue of
whether the Donners were cannibals. Acknowledging that the lack of bones doesn't
disprove the possibility of cannibalism, one researcher said, 'no body doesn't
necessarily mean no crime.'"

All that is apparent here is that Rarick has fallen into the trap of not understanding a metaphor.

I'm not sure what purpose this op-ed was supposed to serve. Rarick is apparently in the middle of writing a new history of the Donner Party. Maybe someone at the Times owed him a favor.

African Slaves in Colonial Mexico

Last week the NY Times had this article on colonial era burials excavated in Campeche, Mexico. Researchers were able to identify some of the individuals as African slaves brought to Mexico by the Spanish as their teeth had been filed, showing evidence of an African cultural pattern. Also high levels of the trace element strontium in the tooth enamel indicate that those people grew up in West Africa.

Documentary evidence exists that African slaves were brought in soon after the conquest of the Aztecs. As this cemetery dates to the middle of the 16th century, this is the earliest physical evidence we have of those slaves.

This is interesting and innovative work, but I was struck by the fact that apparently no DNA analysis was conducted. That would have been another easy and independent line of confirmation for the study.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Dr. John B. on Coursing

Occasional contributor John Burchard sent me an ominous note on new threats to coursing, which I will report on as they develop. Meanwhile, he has a few other typically wise thoughts on the subject to share.

"Here's a para from something I wrote earlier today, in answer to an obnoxious troll on one of the Greyhound lists (this guy is constantly denigrating U.S. coursing, insisting that only the British version, now banned, is fair and
sportsmanlike).

****
"Once again: it is disingenuous and dishonest to pretend that coursing is not a form of hunting. The piously stated intentions of the participants really have nothing to do with the case. As Julia wrote, when you slip hounds at a hare, you accept the chance that the hare will be taken. You may manipulate that chance, or try to, but it is still there. Arrian also understood that perfectly well, as is clear if you read his entire text, and not just the one paragraph everyone is fond of quoting. The meat of the matter is what Arrian called the "contest" between the hound(s) and the hare. We may, since it is no longer a matter of survival (or even, too often, of dinner), rejoice when the hare escapes, and we may try to arrange things so that happens more often than not. We may - and it is here, actually, that we venture onto ethically questionable
ground - shift the emphasis toward the "competition" between hounds - a competition which exists more in the minds of the human participants than in those of the hounds, who are bent on catching the quarry - and use that "competition" as a vehicle for betting (as in Britain, and almost certainly also among the Celts who were Arrian's mentors) or for the accumulation of trophies and ribbons. That brings us perilously close to the domain of hunting as a "sport" which is, to put it bluntly, IMO a trivialization of something much too serious to be trivialized in that way. Tennis is a sport. Baseball is a sport. Hunting is not, and should not be. Hunting was the primary basis of human survival during 95% of the time our species has existed on earth. It is in our genes. There's nothing wrong with that (after all, love is also in our genes, along with the works of Darwin and Einstein, and of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven) but please, let us not degrade it to a "sport" - or repudiate it altogether, as the Animail Rites [see below for spelling justification-- SB] contingent wants us to do".