Thursday, March 30, 2006

Canine Forensics

The Society for California Archaeology is holding their annual meeting in Ventura this week. In conjunction with that, Connie and I attended a presentation last night from the Institute for Canine Forensics. This group trains and promotes the use of dogs to locate dead humans both of recent and long-buried vintage. It is an outgrowth of the use of dogs by search-and-rescue teams.

Two members of the Institute and their dogs (both Border collies) gave a talk and demonstration of how the dogs are trained, the types of projects they have done, and their potential to help archaeologists in their research. It was interesting and entertaining. At the beginning of the talk, the dogs were taken out of the room, and some "targets" set around the seating area: human teeth, dirt fill from around a human burial, lumps of cement, and pig teeth.

The dogs are trained to "signal" by taking a down or sit position when they encounter the scent they are trained for. After the talk, the dogs were allowed to search the room and signalled at the human teeth, ignoring the pig teeth and cement. They hesitated at the fill dirt that was sitting in an open bag on the floor. The handlers said that when the dogs get a visual with the scent, they sometimes doubt themselves, as though they are thinking "This is too easy to be real."

The handlers freely admit that the dogs have problems picking up scent in hot and dry conditions or when areas are waterlogged. They also have trouble in heavy clay soils or when burials are very deep. But it appears they can be of value. Please look at their website for descriptions of projects they have worked on.

One interesting project they discussed was the excavation of the Donner Party Camp at Alder Creek here in California. You may recall that I posted on this controversial project in January. The archaeologists who conducted the excavation there reported that though they recovered large amounts of bone they found no direct evidence of cannibalism, something surprising to most who know the history of the Donner Party.

The handlers from the Institute were invited by the archaeologists to visit the Alder Creek site while it was under investigation. In the talk last night, they said that their dogs signalled all over the meadow where the site is located. They said the dogs' reactions seemed to indicate that the scent was scattered and diffuse, not concentrated as they get over a burial. The dogs reacted most strongly to the hearth areas that were excavated.

I found this very interesting. Perhaps cannibalism did take place at Alder Creek, and the bone was smashed into such small pieces that the archaeologists couldn't identify it. The ladies from the Institute seemed quite unaware that their dogs' reactions contradict the archaeologists' conclusions.

Designer Grits

Just so we can be ethnically diverse here, I have to put up this companion post to Steve's on risotto from earlier this week. He gets to honor his Italian heritage - I get to honor my Southern redneck Scots-Irish heritage. This LA Times article says that grits are starting to move into high-end cuisine to take their rightful place alongside potates, polenta and risotto. But not your everyday off-the-shelf grits: special old-school stone-ground varieties that take two hours to cook.

Though I say I celebrate my Southern heritage by talking about grits, it is of course truly an inheritance from our Native American antecedents along with its first cousin, hominy. Hominy is another wonderful over-looked food waiting for its day in the sun. People who say they don't like hominy have likely never tried that delicious Southwestern hominy-based stew, posole, one that I know Steve and I both like.

Grits were a staple in my family when I was growing up in Arkansas and Tennessee. We still eat them a lot and one of my great accomplishments as a parent has been passing on the love of grits to our kids.

Aussie Speak

A young lady who works in my office is Australian, a transfer from our Melbourne office. She is a geologist; very bright, capable and funny. It is interesting to talk to her about her impressions of this strange country she finds herself in. Of course, the fact that her experiences here are mostly in California ups the "strange" quotient, but that can't be helped.

Last week she was sitting in our break room leafing through an office furniture catalog.

"What are you looking for in that 'wish-book'?" I asked her.

She looked at me quizzically, "A wish-book?"

"It's a Southern slang name for a catalog. You page through the catalog, point at things, and say, 'I wish I had that.'"

"Oh. Well, where I grew up we always called them 'dogalogs' - I never knew why."

Then her eyes widened, "Oh! Dogalog - catalog! Of course!"

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

How To Interest A Big Publisher

Society is not breaking down. Society is broken.

I caught this bit at Yahoo news, about a college student who spent his spring break in Wal-Mart (or should we spell that, W@L-M*RT?). Skyler Bartels haunted the fluorescent interior for 41 hours in a row, watching movies, playing video games, eating from the snack bar and stealing naps in the garden department. He planned to write an article about his experience but decided against that when he failed to meet his goal of a full-week's stay. The greeters were getting wise to him, and Bartels had to leave before he was thrown out.

But was the project really a failure? Read on:

The Des Moines Register...called to ask him about the experience. Once the story ran, TV networks began calling.

[Bartels] also talked with a book agent, has been contacted by New Line Cinema about a movie concept and did a radio interview with National Public Radio.

Bartels told The Associated Press he has decided the stunt wasn't such a failure after all.

"I'm incredibly happy with the press coverage," he said. "It would be kind of silly not to accept it with open arms."

In a spasm of sheer meanness, I sent this story to Steve. I told him he was going about this writer-thing all wrong. No need to actually WRITE. All you have to do is hang out a few days at Wally World. Steve comes back, "You blog it, Matt. If I have to do it I'll shoot myself."

Maybe we should file this under Doom and Gloom.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Girls With Guns

The incomparable Tam, queen of snark and Mistress of Coal Creek Armory, deconstructs a breathless and idiotic piece on female shooters.

"Why is it that when some bright spark in the marketing department at Apple, Cannondale, or Pontiac notices that slightly more than 50% of the planet's population is setters rather than pointers, it gets two column inches on page 24 of the WSJ, but when their counterpart at Remington or Smith & Wesson does likewise, it calls for a panting TeeWee news spot from ABC? Build a Saturn that has room to stow a purse in the front passenger compartment, and nobody notices. Make a SIG small enough to fit in that purse, and shoulders get dislocated in newsrooms across America as folks reach for dusty tomes by Freud. Weird."


Update: the link doesn't seem to be working. Go to View From the Porch and scroll down...

Risotto and Rice Fetishism

Reid sent this LAT food column on risotto (which I still call "risott' " in the mountain dialect of my grandparents) for my comment. What did I think?

Well, you'd certainly get a good dish if you followed the cook's advice. But he sure takes it solemnly (not at all the same as seriously).

I never knew there were separate names for every step, like adding butter, and I have been making it for almost 50 years....

I think I said the same thing in an essay in here using fewer words.

He needed a special inspiration to think of making it?! (Maybe because he seems to see it as such a ... BIG THING?) We make some variety two or three times a week.

And finally, drop the rice fetishism and the rare- rice mystique. Arborio is nice, but you can make it with any of the shorter high- starch rices from supermarket medium- grain to (even) sushi- type--- just avoid long- grain types like Basmati. My grandparents used ordinary medium- grain and it worked then, as it does now.

Cooking technique is important, but there is a difference between the kitchen and Church-- or even an art gallery. I prefer Bourdain's playful, even raunchy attitude to food to hushed worship...

Scarier than Flu..

I share Pluvialis's mixture of dread and fascination with various high- tech military innovations. Here is uber- blogger Glenn Reynolds over at TCS with some terrifying new info on biowar bugs.

And, on a slightly (perhaps) lighter note: insect cyborgs.

Flu Update

It seems most scientists are a lot less panicked by Bird Flu than the press or, worse, European governments are. Here is the latest by the NYT's invaluable Nicholas Wade on why the number of mutations needed for H5 to become pandemic is less than likely to occurr.

Most likely we'll eventually be attacked by some OTHER flu.

"Foodies" vs AR?

I don't particularly like the pop term "foodies", but when a phenomenon involves New York and Berkeley, I am tempted...

Even as the coursing battle heats up, no fewer than three books defending hunting and "scavenging" (to use the author's own term) in the strongest terms are being published, virtually simultaneously.

Pehaps the wildest of the three-- and the only one I have yet read in its entirety -- is Steven Rinella's The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine, in which the author, a twenty - something writer from Michigan who grew up hunting and fishing, finds a copy of Escoffier's Guide Culinaire. Rather than thinking it a musty curiosity, he sees it as a challenge, and decides to plan a year's hunting and gathering inspired by its recipes, culminating in a three-day feast at his home in Miles City, Montana.

The book is by turns hilarious, dead- serious, and touchingly innocent (Steve, the "swallow" of Escoffier's bird's nest soup is an Asian swift which makes its nests from saliva-- it is no wonder that boiling a Cliff swallow's nest yielded you nothing but warm mud!) But it is an intrepid account, and as good a defense of real eating and acceptance of mortality and killing as I have seen in a lifetime of interest in the subject. Rinella hunts for crayfish and frogs and snapping turtle in his native Michigan, big game in Montana and Alaska, eels in New York, and lingcod and octopus on the Alaska coast. He has an almost incomprehensibly hard time getting street pigeon squabs, and then being allowed to kill them by various sentimental friends-- perhaps the funniest running subplot.

I think the book's three highest points are his encounter with Ron Leighton, a Tshimian indian who has honed the perfect subsistence lifestyle in coastal southeast Alaska; an elk hunt in Montana; and the culminating feast. The elk hunt is particularly remarkable because it made me realize how little space even the best "hook & bullet" writers-- Tom McIntyre, John Barsness-- are given by publishers these days to tell their tales. Rinella, not constrained by magazine word length restrictions, gives a wonderful account of the glory and the drudgery, the boredom and the exaltation, and finally the sheer slog of getting a big animal out of the back country.

As for the feast, he brings it off. The only spoiler was the last minute attendance of-- I am not making this up-- a militant Vegan chain- smoking "health nut" girl invited without permission by a guest, who spent three days making scathing remarks about the food and people. I feel old. Not only would I have asked her to leave-- I don't think her friend would have received another invitation either.

See Steve's site for more.

The other books are by writers my readers may know. Michael Pollan, author of among other books the wonderful Botany of Desire, has a new volume coming out that I have already pre- ordered: The Omnivore's Dilemma. An excerpt, on his hunting wild pig with California chefs, appeared here today in the New York Times. It too starts funny, but to serious purpose. He beginds with an itense description of how alive and aware he feels when hunting; backs off, says that he always considered such things "hunter's pr0n* "; then admits what he never knew: they ARE true, and a hunter cannot be ironic about them; but you can only know them from the inside. Read The Whole Thing, and get the book.

Finally, Querencia fave Anthony Bourdain also has a new one coming: The Nasty Bits, which looks to be still another choice batch of hard core food- writing. Its particular relevance here is that it begins with what one reviewer calls "..the horrifying opening passages, where he joins an Arctic family in devouring a freshly slaughtered seal", and includes such things as " restaurants that still serve stomach-turning if palate-pleasing dishes, such as New York's Pierre au Tunnel (now closed), which offered tĂȘte de veau, essentially "calf's face, rolled up and tied with its tongue and thymus gland." " Just sounds like real food to me..

Which brings us 'round again to Anamall Rites*. The exact relevance of these books to our struggle over "small issues" like coursing is that there is obviously an intelligent audience of eaters out there who WANT real, tasty, ecologically sound food, from Bay Area chefs like Paul Bertolli (who hunts) to the "Crunchy Con" crowd, from me in rural New Mexico to Rinella in rural Montana. They strive to understand hunting and to make personal connections with the land and animals. The AR people, sometimes in an unholy alliance with Big Ag (see the NoNais site for one example) want to shut us down, whether we are hunters or small farmers or backyard growers, using everything from propaganda to lies about "food safety" to bird flu paranoia.

Remember these Wayne Pacelle quotes, collected by Borzoi breeder Rey McGehee:

"If we could shut down all sport hunting in a moment, we would..."

"Our goal is to get sport hunting in the same category as cockfighting and dog fighting..."

"We are going to use the ballot box and the democratic process to stop all hunting in the United States ... We will take it species by species until all hunting is stopped in California. Then we will take it state by state..."

First they came for the coursers...

* These are deliberate misspellings to confuse spam and unwanted ads-- I hate seeing ads for "Pee- tah" pop up in the sidebar...


I know my posting has been patchy of late. Part of the problem is that I have been very involved in the approaching showdown over California coursing ban.

I am also spinning my wheels trying to get a novel started. But part of the problem is simply this: it is spring, after one of my toughest winters in years.

Those of my readers who know me personally know that we have not had a working vehicle since late August, when both of our ancient ('87, '90) engines blew. Shortly thereafter, the east wall of our 120 year old stone house started toppling outwards, showering us with rocks and chunks of mortar while we slept. Obviously, the most important thing we had to do was to buttress the walls, so we diverted our money there.

No car meant, for the first time since I was 17( I'm 56) virtually no hunting. I got my hounds out a few times but I did no falconry or shooting whatsoever. Luckily my friend Bodie took up my hawk Tuuli who has, with the assistance of his older lurcher and one of our pups, taken thirteen hares at last count. But not only have I been suffering from what amounts to house arrest or at least extreme cabin fever (and less wild meat than we are used to)-- my creative processes seem to have ground to a halt. I can't seem to write without regular walks, and not just within the village's confines either. (And the village's edges, where I have always hunted, are being replaced by subdivisions-- a later rant). As Bruce Chatwin's elegant borrowing from St. Jerome says, "Solvitur ambulando".

The engine on the Jeep should be ready "soon". When it is, I have hawks' nests to search for in canyon and wood, bees' colonies to reconnoiter, places to explore. So forgive me if I may blog less. It may be that I actually write more-- walking, as I said above, seems to unblock my head.

Also in spring-- time for the garden, pigeon raising, and more. This is an apology, but it is not a complaint...

Friday, March 24, 2006

Sixteenth Century Spanish Ship in Florida

The Navy has found what appears to be a Spanish colonial ship that could date as early as the mid 1500s. It is very interesting as it is located somewhat inland covered by 75 feet of sand. The Navy is moving its construction project to avoid the wreck.

The King of Baby Carrots

Robert Grimm, president of Grimmway Farms, who did more than anyone else to popularize baby carrots, has died of a heart attack in Bakersfield. I had no idea how big a business carrots are until I lived in Kern County, where Grimmway is the largest private employer. It also came as a shock to me to learn that baby carrots aren't really baby carrots. They are full-size mature carrots cut to 2-inch lengths and turned on abrading lathes to give them the right shape.

Lost Airman Laid to Rest

The WWII airman found frozen in a Sierra Nevada glacier last October is being buried in his hometown in Minnesota today. I posted on this several times, most recently when his identity was announced last month. The New York Times has an interesting piece with much detail on how the DoD forensics lab solved the mystery of Leo Mustonen's identity.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Sadie Discovers the Pacific

Dogs love the beach. Mine have been telling me that for years. So after we got our new Australian Shepherd, Sadie, we knew we had to take her down and introduce her. It was great for her to go with our Lab, Maggie, who could show her the joys of the rotting kelp, stinking crab bodies, etc. But at some point she needed to learn about the water.

She's giving Connie a "you've got to be kidding" look when Connie urges her toward the water. It was a good day with little surf.

"Not too sure about this. It's very strange how it keeps moving!" At this point Maggie dashed full speed past her directly into the waves. That was enough for Sadie, who went tearing after her.
The first wave knocked her over and drenched her and she came tearing right back. "You didn't tell me it was wet and cold!"

Do the words "drowned rat" come to mind?

Actually her discomfiture was very short-lived and she had lots more fun running around and getting plastered with sand.

Our Minds are in the Pleistocene II

Jackson Kuhl attempts to take on his fellow TCS Daily contributor Max Border's assertion that humans have an instinct for egalitarianism due to our long period of evolution in band societies, something that I posted on here. Kuhl does us a service by pointing out a quote from one of my favorite archaeologists, Kent Flannery (and his wife collaborator, Joyce Marcus)

" ..."egalitarian," as used by ethnologists, describes a society in which prestige is achieved or earned, not inherited.
In other words, it matters what you do, not what your mom or dad did.
They continue:
"Individuals in egalitarian societies can acquire prestige through advanced age, personal accomplishment, or the accumulation of valued goods. ...
"Unfortunately, many archaeologists have taken 'egalitarian' to mean 'homogenous.' They assume that people in such societies are as alike as coins made at the same mint, and when — as inevitably happens — they find evidence for heterogeneity, they wrongly conclude that they have discovered a 'chiefdom.' Which is to say, a culture stratified by lineage-based classes."

This is exactly right. In egalitarian band societies there are leaders and followers, people who are (relatively) rich or poor, and people who are admired or despised. In these societies with few numbers of individuals, everyone knows everyone and all about them. The "egalitarian impulse" that Borders speaks of comes about because there is consensus in band societies that people who have prestige have earned it. In modern society we all know of many people with prestige who haven't earned it, and Borders believes the rage and envy many of us feel towards these undeserving winners are hard-wired into us.

Kuhl stumbles a bit when he uses the examples of radical heirarchies in Tewa and Chimbu societies as a contradiction of Border's thesis. As Elman Service shows in Primitive Social Organization, societies come in four levels of increasing social complexity: bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states. Border's stresses that we have spent 95% of our time as a species in the lowest level of bands. The Tewa and Chimbu have already climbed to advanced tribal level and are an inaccurate point of comparison.

Overhunting in Prehistoric California

I want to thank Chas Clifton at Natureblog for reminding me of this story with his post. Jack Broughton, an archaeologist at the University of Utah, has conducted a detailed analysis of faunal remains from the Emeryville Shellmound. This was a significant prehistoric site in the San Francisco Bay area. The turn of the century photograph above shows the thick cultural deposit being scooped out with a steam shovel. Luckily archaeologists got to excavate a large sample before the site was destroyed.

Broughton's recent study of bird remains tells the story that the prehistoric Indians hunted many species to the brink of extinction. This is a companion piece to his study of mammal remains published here, that shows they did much the same thing with deer in that area. As Chas points out, it's one more nail in the coffin of the myth of Native Americans living in harmony with nature.

It also points up the fact, documented in many other regions by Charles Mann in 1491, that the large populations of game and fish reported by European explorers were a result of Indian demographic crash due to disease. Animal populations boomed when hunting pressure from Indians was removed. Our popular and scientific perception of what American "Wilderness" is like is hopelessly skewed as a result.

It just occurred to me to mention that the recorder of the Emeryville Shellmound and one of its early excavators was Nels C. Nelson (1875-1964). Nelson was a Danish immigrant educated at the University of California - Berkley and was a pioneering scientific archaeologist in California and the Southwest. I have always had a special affection for Nelson. First as he worked near Mesa Verde National Park. I remember seeing his monogram (NCN) scratched into the wall of a cliff dwelling (right below Richard Wetherill's autograph) in Mancos Canyon where I did my thesis research. Also, Nelson was the archaeologist who accompanied Roy Chapman Andrews on his Gobi Desert expedition of 1925. The juvenile books that Andrews wrote on that expedition and other topics were a tremendous influence on me as a boy. That has always biased me towards Nelson. The recent biography of Andrews, Dragon Hunter, was a joy for me on that score.

Clive's Tortoise

News comes from India that a tortoise believed to be 250 years old has died in a zoo in Kolkata. A good "paper trail" exists to document this long life span as the animal was the pet of Robert Clive (1725-1774) British military commander and founder of the British Empire in India. We know that many turtles and tortoises have very long life spans, but it is rare that one is as well documented as this or that links to significant historical figures such as Clive of India.

I have heard apocryphal stories for years about snapping turtles in the Southeastern US that have been found to have flint arrowheads or musket balls embedded in their shells. I have never seen them documented, but frankly it could probably happen. This story also reminded me of one of my favorite books when I was a child, Minn of the Mississippi. Minn is a snapping turtle born in Minnesota, who in the course of a very long lifetime travels the entire length of the Mississippi River. The story of her life on this journey is used to explain the natural history of the river and the significant historical events that have happened there. It is still in print and a beautifully illustrated children's book. I bought it for my kids. I always carry in my memory the wonderful illustration of a moss-backed Minn underwater perched on top of a pile of pirate treasure.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Not Much Time

Stop the California coursing ban!

Pigeons of the Middle East..

.. and North Africa. Janet Jones, the archaeologist who was one of my companions on my Turkish Kurdistan trip in December, has been in Egypt, where she photographed these adobe dovecotes.

The dovecotes are the "beehives" on the roofs.

The birds I saw in Turkey, especially in and around the city of Urfa, fascinated me so much that I got back some descendants of a popular Middle Eastern breed, the "Msawwad" (black) dewlap, that I had years ago. (Mine were from Lebanon). These handsome birds fly for hours above eastern cities from Egypt to Kurdistan-- I saw them there-- and then dive vertically to their home lofts like falcons. I never quite got the knack of training them but I am going to try again.


A roundup of bloggish news, brief but I hope interesting.

"Wild Play": Alpha Enviros don't grow in front of computer screens.

When John Craighead and Jane Goodall are on the same page, maybe we'd best listen.

(John must be ninety now-- we should all be that tough).

Go to Matt's blog for an important post on the attempt to separate "sport" from "subsistence" hunting:

"A successful lobbyist, columnist and fundraiser, the media-friendly Pacelle knows this war is one best fought with words. No weapon is more useful, malleable, portable or cost-effective than a carefully chosen phrase. So when the US Fish and Wildlife Service—a supporter of hunting and thus an agent of the enemy—chooses of its own accord to single out “sport hunting” for a special review, Wayne Pacelle could not be more pleased.

"He grins and gives his neutered cat an extra scratch behind the ears, careful of that tender spot above the microchip...."

Read. The. Whole. Thing.

Kazakh eaglers have become a tourist draw. I don't particularly like the bagged fox deal, though. The tourist who compared that to bullfighting may be closer than he realizes.

Pack Pics

The one above shows the pack's canine condo in the background.


We have been missing in action for a week-- cooking, cooking, eating, eating, and (though I rather hate its use as a verb) "partying".

To quote from a letter I sent to the Alpha Enviro:

"We have spent most of the week cooking for the two day end- of- the- season hunt and party of the Juan Tomas Hounds, a local group who hunt after coyotes in full British regalia.

"Didn't leave us much time for anything else, though I enjoyed it thoroughly (the Master of Fox Hounds, Jim Nance, and his wife Beth, as well as their sons, are friends and our kind of folks). Son James, among other things -- he too is an MFH, Kipling fan, student of The Great Game-- likes to announce that "Steve and I are the only two people in Soccoro County who have been published in the Atlantic! " (Poetry, in his case). They are all ranchers and readers, and environmentally and scientifically literate".

Cooking what? In a comment to Tam, in response to her sardonic take on the witless vegan celebration "Meatout", I said:

"Among other things we cooked feijoada-- black beans cooked with pounds of beef, fatback, and pigs' feet; two full- sized briskets cooked with garlic and chile until they could be shredded for burritos; eight chickens ditto; a green chile sauce made with stock from the above; and who knows how many sausages. Good desserts too. Our friends loved it but it was a vegan's version of hell-- fifty two mounted hunters, fifty hounds, and lots of MEAT!"

Will post some pics of hounds and such when I catch up with other things, and maybe send a recipe or two to Three Martini Lunch.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Random Beach Art

I think a lot of art-oriented people live around here. While walking at the beach where we sighted the infamous driftwoodman, we saw some new installations the other day.

This one was rectilinear.

This one incorporated several holes. The dogs were convinced there were gophers down in them and I had to shoo them away to get this shot.

This yin/yang symbol was actually pretty well done. The gray stones have eroded from the silicious shale that outcrops at the beach. The black stones are actually gray ones that have been coated with asphaltum. For all of our natural beauty here in Santa Barbara, we live in the middle of an oil field. Asphaltum seeps out naturally around here and you always have to check your feet for tar when you come home from the beach.

Reading Bourdain

I'm reading Anthony Bourdain as suggested in this post by Steve. Herein Bourdain, a classically trained chef with an eclectic, hair-raising resume, recounts an insider's life in his trade. In this sense, Kitchen Confidential is like The Hungry Ocean by swordboat captain Linda Greenlaw. Or The Undertaking by---yes, undertaker---Thomas Lynch. Like Lynch and Greenlaw both, Bourdain is a trade professional who can really write... This book is better than well done.

Another thing joins these three authors, and that's having learned and lived their crafts long before writing about them. The writing is necessary, probably, for all of them. Writers are funny like that. But these writers have the distinction of full careers separate from their books and bigger than mere day jobs.

Bourdain, from his Preface: "I'm asked a lot what the best thing about cooking for a living is. And it's this: to be part of a subculture. To be part of a historical continuum, a secret society with its own language and customs. To enjoy the instant gratification of making something good with one's hands---using all one's senses. It can be, at times, the purest and most unselfish way of giving pleasure (though oral sex has to be a close second)."

You get a sense here of the holistic nature of Bourdain's book. It's about a life, every facet of it, as experienced through the form of one's trade.

Understandably, Bourdain credits this life with teaching all the important lessons. Here's one that caught my eye this morning. He describes in several places and with much personal experience the process of a restaurant's failure: all the red flags, the sense of doom and contagion, and the jumping ship of the rats:

"What I learned at Tom's was a sad lesson that has served me well in decades since: I learned to recognize failure. I saw, for the first time, how two beloved, funny and popular guys can end up less beloved, not so funny and much less popular after trying to do nothing more than what their friends told them they were good at. Friendships, I'm sure, were destroyed. Loyal pals stopped coming, causing real hard feelings of betrayal and embitterment. In the end, I guess, we all let them down. I found a job in the Post and jumped ship at the first opportunity."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Dancing Neanderthals

This study is a very different approach to understanding early human (and pre-human) social behavior. It stresses the valuable role that dancing and singing would have played in enhancing group solidarity and communication in hominid bands during the Pleistocene. These researchers feel it was so important that it left genetic markers.

A sample of contemporary creative dancers (according to this study) share two specific genes that are associated with a predisposition for being good social communicators. The researchers believe that this dancing behavior may go back 1.5 million years, which would put it back in the Homo erectus era.

Anyone who has seen me dance knows that I was behind the door when those genes got handed out.

Spring Poppies

These California poppies (Eschschalzia californica) are in bloom where we've planted them under our mail box. It is the state flower and a sign of what passes for spring here in Southern California. Our climate is so temperate that spring isn't so much a sign of warmer temperatures as it is a change from a wet to a dry moisture regime.

The heart of their range is northeast of here in the Tehachapi Mountains and the Antelope Valley where State Parks owns the California Poppy Reserve. Up there the flowers are so thick that hillsides turn bright orange at the height of the bloom in late March and early April.

Crash - Not the Movie

Two nights ago my dog Sadie and I were driving to Petco to shop for dog supplies. I had just gotten off of the 101 Freeway and was driving through a green-lighted intersection when a young lady driving the opposite direction ignored the red left-turn arrow and turned in front of me. I couldn't stop in time and we collided. Luckily no one was hurt. You can see the damage on my truck. The other car was a new Scion sedan. Those cars are mostly plastic and the front end exploded into shards. It must have been a slow night, as three ambulances, three police cars and a fire truck all made the call.

As I said, luckily no one was injured. No airbags deployed. The two ladies in the other car were okay. My seat belt held me fine. My pickup has a bench seat. There were some papers and magazines on it and I put an old bath towel on top of them for Sadie to sit on. When we had our sudden stop that slid right off and Sadie "surfed" it to the floor escaping harm.

Sadie seemed more excited than anything about the crash itself. She actually enjoyed the post-wreck activity as she got to flirt with all the EMTs, firemen, and policemen who had to pet her and tell her how cute she was. One of the EMTs said he knew dog first-aid from working with search-and-rescue dogs and he checked Sadie out to make sure she was okay.

The fender was pushed in hard against the tire so I couldn't pull out of the intersection. When the wrecker came he was able to pull the fender out, so I was actually able to drive home.

So now we just have the hassles of dealing with insurance. This truck has been a dependable friend for almost 197,000 miles of hunting and camping trips and pulling our horse trailer. Our first real accident in all that time.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Not a Tomb After All

The new tomb discovered in Eqypt's Valley of the Kings, anounced last month turns out not to be a tomb, but a mummification room. The original announcement was made prior to their entering the area and analyzing the remains. Still a cool find.

Hunted by Giant Hyenas?

Christy Turner, the eminent anthropologist who is famous (or infamous) for demonstrating conclusively that the Anasazi practiced cannibalism, has been working for years now in the Altai mountains of a bigger "Four Corners", where Siberia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Xinjiang come together. He has been looking for the answer to a riddle: why did humans "hang up" for as long as 40 or 50 thousand years before they entered Siberia and the land bridge of Beringia to the new world? In this ABC Science post, he suggests an answer: he thinks that humans there were preyed on by packs of huge hyenas-- and that the domestication of the dog may have tipped the scales in favor of the dog- human partnership.

"Part of the evidence comes from a remarkable cave that was occupied solely by hyenas for about 40,000 years. Turner, who is also a dental anthropologist, examined bones found in the cave and concluded that all of the animals in the cave were dragged there by hyenas.

"Most animals gnaw at a bone, or rip it open with slicing molars, but a hyena just crushes it. Even a bear can't do that. The bones found in the cave, Turner says, were clearly there because of the hyenas.

" "But one set of bones especially intrigues Turner.

" "We found a true dog skull," he says. "We've dated the skull to about 14,000 years ago, and it's a domesticated dog," so much smaller than a wolf that it would not have survived if it had not been domesticated. The dog, he adds, was dragged into the cave, where it was devoured by hyenas.

"It's the oldest dog ever found in Siberia, Turner says, and it was domesticated just before humans started their migration north, leading them eventually to the Americas.

" "The coincidence is so remarkable," he says. "Once we get the dog, then we get people in the new world almost immediately."

I actually corresponded with Turner on this matter a few years ago-- as you may know, I am endlessly researching the idea that Central Asia is the wintry Eden of domestication, and especially of dog domestication (of course I am also interested in the "First Americans" question, and this links both!) Nothing proven yet, and DNA tends to support dates earlier than 14,000 YA for dog- wolf DNA separation, but those very first dogs may have been camp followers only. Maybe when they became more useful, the humans could begin to trek again...

Hat tip to Chas, whose take is wittier than mine.

Dog Stuff

Much good material up, some in response to my coursing screed, some not. Here, the Alpha Environmentalist registers his always pungent opinions on the coursing controversy-- I particularly like "pooping pompoms". A friend of Matt's who breeds whippets adds via email:

"The possible mindset of some of the greyhound adoption groups, those supporting passage of AB 2110, is simply baffling to me. Greyhound adoption groups - greyhound owners - actively supporting what is essentially the first legal attempts of classification of their very own breed as "bloodthirsty killers"? Greyhound owners actively supporting what is essentially the first "breed specific, sighthound specific" anti-dog legislation in the country - aimed against their very own breed?

"Greyhound owners actively supporting the very people saying that should their dogs act exactly as nature designed dogs to be for thousands of years - carnivores - it should be cause to hold their owners legally liable and responsible for this normal animal behaviour, with the potential for a prison term?

"I can't believe I am seeing dog owners handing the anti-dog forces, not only the bullets to kill them with, but the gun to do it, too!

"What in the world are they thinking?"

Meanwhile, Dog Politics examines the politically- correct agenda of "guardianship" language, and why it is a stalking horse for the AR agenda. "My friend is an animal lover who genuinely cares and wants to make a difference - she is a jewel amongst thorns. My friend - and other animal lovers like her - also fits the target demographic profile of animal rights group. She's just been marketed to - quite effectively, by people in the animal rights movement - with a message that guardianship is kinder than ownership. She has been sold sold a bill of goods on guardianship by those that have an agenda - and considering PETA's 90% kill rate - that agenda doesn't quite match what my friend has in mind. "

More commentary on the AR mindset by Dr. John: "AR leaders, the activists, achieve their power and influence by manipulating people's feelings, but I'm not so sure how much they themselves participate in those feelings. They look to me like so many other puritanical fascists, on a power trip, with the cold passion of the committed ideologue."

And from Vladimir Beregovoy, scientist and laika breeder: "Their actual goal is not animals. It is people. They want to change people, and the world."

Finally, a libertarian defence of the economics of hunting vs. that of AR groups: who helps animals more? Thanks to Julia Holder and Steve Kaeppler.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Coursing Redux

Yes, I AM beating you over the head with this. As (I think) Trotsky said of war, you may not be interested in the California coursing controversy, but if you are a hunter or a champion of or user of working animals, it is interested in you.

An op- ed by one Eileen Mitchell in favor of the bill against coursing has just apppeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. I am going to print the whole thing and attempt to argue the opposite side.

"I hear the same thing whenever I walk Elvis, my ex-racer greyhound.

"Aren't greyhounds high strung?" "I'll bet he walks you to death." "How manytimes a day does that horse need to exercise?"

"All of which makes me laugh. Because the only time Elvis willingly sprints is when he hears the creak of the lid to the cookie jar. Should I dangle his leash, I'm usually rewarded with a look that says, "You go on ahead. Oh, and grab me a Scooby Snack on your way back." So much for hyperactive."

(SB) All very cute. Most sighthounds DO have a real resting side, and are much less hyper than, say, Border collies. We will soon get to whether this is a proper life for as creature that has been bred to chase for 6000 years. But grant her that her couch potato enjoys life. So do the humans the term was coined for. Is it an admirable life?

"Another common observation about greyhounds is that they have an inherent urge to chase small prey. Now this one happens to have an element of truth behind it. Greyhounds are sighthounds, a categorization that also includes deerhounds, pharaoah hounds, basenjis, Afghans, salukis, borzois, whippets and Irish wolfhounds. Sighthounds are so called for their speed, keen vision and ability to keep sight of, follow and pursue small animals. For centuries, sighthounds have been bred to chase game and this instinct remains strong, which is why, more for their own safety than anything else, sighthounds must remain leashed in open areas and especially around traffic. Although to be honest, most times Elvis pays no heed to any of the geese, squirrels, gophers or birds that surround us while we take our daily strolls. I suspect he's too busy wondering when we can get this walking business over with so he can return to his La-Z-Dog recliner. "

(SB) "Element of truth"? And a refutation is that her couch potato doesn't (much) seem to want to chase anything? I should take your intuition over the effects of millions of years of carnivory, 50,000 or more of being "dogs", and 6000 as sighthounds? Because you feel this way? I am unconvinced.

Note that "own safety", to which we will return.

"My dog's relaxed and mellow personality is in sharp contrast to the image of greyhounds portrayed on a recent ABC7 I-Team investigation. The February report exposed a blood sport called open-field coursing, which, while open to all sighthounds, featured greyhounds in this profile. Open-field coursing, a legal form of hunting, according to the California Department of Fish and Game, entails setting pet dogs loose in a field to flush out, chase and kill wild jackrabbits. Competitive points are earned for how aggressively the dog pursues the animal lure, how many times the dog can make its prey twist and turn, and, ultimately, for catching the rabbit and killing it, often in a tug-of-war death."

(SB) This is so loaded that it needs deconstruction by a member of the Berkeley English faculty. Where to start?

"Blood sport". Is Ms. Mitchell aware that term means "hunting"? Is she a member of the HSUS, which has famously promised to end all hunting in ten years? Please let us know.

"Pet dogs". Yes, they are. That's what makes some of the charges we will explore below so absurd. To my knowledge, no coursing dog has EVER mauled a child. As any ethologist will tell you, "prey drive" is entirely different from aggression, and sighthounds, including ones who hunt, are among the gentlest breeds alive.

"Animal lure". It's not coursers who objectify the prey! The most sensitive hare portraits I know are done by an old saluki man in southern California-- just shots of peaceful jacks. He makes calendars of them, and we buy them. It's a cliche', but most hunters (and all good ones) love their prey. And though the point is not raised here, it was elsewhere : most of us love to EAT our prey-- see the recipe here for one of mine.

Points made by "turning" the animal count more than a kill, which happens less frequently than an escape. Escaped hares do NOT die of myopathy-- that happens to ungulates. Hares have less body mass, and evolved to radiate off heat-- see those ears? They can often be flushed from the same spot where you found them yesterday, to run again just as well. And again..

"Often in a tug of war death". This is one of the antis biggest points, and it is nothing less than a lie. First, the hare that the dogs are tugging on, in the judgement of several courser- scientists, is already dead, despite the on- the- air claims of Wayne Pacelle. Second, it was NOT dismembered. Third, in twenty- five years of hunting with sighthounds, I have never seen a messy death or a single dismemberment. In a pack that hunts together, like mine, there is a social order and no tugging whatsoever, only a clean retrieve. Why would we want shredded meat? This is propaganda plain and simple.

"Learning about this gruesome activity has enraged animal-loving Californians, animal rights activists, and, in particular, the greyhound adoption activists. These groups work hard to dispel misconceptions about the lanky hounds and go to great lengths to rescue racers that might otherwise be put to death upon retirement. They practice meticulous screening procedures to ensure each dog is matched with the right guardian and placed in a safe, loving and humane environment."

(SB) Deconstruction: let's pass over the fact that people who have loved and worked intimately with these breeds, as they have existed for millenia, are not considered "animal lovers", but engage with some of the other language.

"Animal rights activists". At least that is honest. Let me remind you all once again what the head of HSUS, Wayne Pacelle, said on the record a few years ago: "We have no ethical obligation to preserve the different breeds of livestock produced through selective breeding. One generation and out. We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding." NO MORE DOGS.

"Greyhound adoption activists": People who want to end greyhound racing but meanwhile want to take its products and neuter them and never let them chase anything again, which is all they have ever done.

"Misconceptions about the lanky hounds": that they love to chase things, ie the truth.

"Safe, loving and humane environment": that is, it is better for a dog to be euthanized than placed with a hunter (actual policy of many shelters).

"Michele Czaja is vice president of the Greyhound Welfare Foundation. In a letter to state Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, she wrote, "The use of greyhounds as coursing dogs in no way fits this [above mentioned] criterion. Open-field coursing is not only deadly to jackrabbits; it is also extremely dangerous for the dogs that participate in the hunts. ... Although GWF's primary focus is greyhound welfare, our organization is strongly committed to the humane treatment of all animals." Czaja's comments were in response to a bill recently introduced by Hancock that would ban open-field coursing and make it a misdemeanor in California. Punishment would include up to six months in jail and/or fines not to exceed $1,000. The sport is already illegal in several states and countries."

(SB) I have had one of my five dogs cut, twice, on barbed wire-- he still runs happily at seven years of age. I have, in twenty five years, NEVER seen a lethal or crippling accident. They do happen. They will happen if you restrict sport to lure coursing. They will happen if your dog slips its lead in traffic. Calfornia and the current government of the UK are in the lead of the west's trying to ban death, injury, history, tragedy, and hurt feelings. Not only will it never happen; lives human and animal, and traditions and practices hundreds and more years old, are being destroyed by those ignorant of everything from biology to history. Loni Hancock by her own admission never heard of coursing until a few weeks ago, and her exposure consists of one short video with misleading commentary. Can she stand up and tell me that she knows more about my hounds than I do, or loves them better? You would put me in JAIL, and kill my dogs, because I do this?

"I'm a person who loves animals," Hancock said. "Seeing this video of greyhounds tearing apart a living rabbit seemed unnecessarily cruel and not like a sport at all. I was appalled to find out that, although this sport has been banned in England, it's still taking place in our own backyard." Since introducing the bill on Feb. 17, she said her office has been inundated with hundreds of letters and e-mails, almost all in support of the proposed ban. The bill is expected to be heard before the Public Safety Committee within the next six weeks."

(SB) Most matters here covered above. Do any of the vocal ban proponents know anything about the matter, or do they just "feel"? Are not feelings unsupported by reason the path to totalitarianism? Are these people being manipulated by HSUS? If not, why has Wayne Pacelle taken the campaign nation- wide? And by the way, coursing was not banned by name in England; "hunting with dogs" was. So far, this means hunting with hounds, sighthounds, and terriers rather than with bird dogs or retrievers...

"Advocates for open-field coursing argue that these hunts help with rabbit overpopulation. California jackrabbits are considered a pest species and cause millions of dollars in damage to crops each year. But overpopulation isn't the issue here. Even were it so, Stu Homer opines that there are more humane ways in which to address overpopulation than to allow dogs to chase, terrorize and tear into defenseless hares. Because all creatures experience fear and pain. Just like humans."

(SB) Oddly, I'll grant half a point to one statement here. I have always argued that pure economic arguments in defence of hunting carry little weight. They may be true, but sway no one; that's not why people, and dogs, hunt. Besides, if that were the issue, mass trapping and poisoning, neither "humane", would be more efficient.

No, I would argue, with most ethologists, that coursing is MORE humane. Every hare, every day, evades predators. Hares have evolved in different directions than humans-- one of the most pernicious fallacies of animal rights is that because animals feel and in some way think that they are just deformed humans (a horrible idea actually stated by Matt Cartmill). Hares are splendid at being hares, and likely don't dwell for a moment on the horrors of the chase. If a human were chased every day, he would become neurotic, fearful, crazy. Hares, if chased every day, still enjoy life. How could they not, and still be around, be hares?
They are used to being prey.

" "This activity also teaches dogs to chase small animals, which can make them very unsocial," says Homer, president of Golden State Greyhound Adoption."

(SB) Nonsense on stilts.

"In addition, live prey can be sick and pass that onto the dog."

(SB) All prey is cooked, even for dogs, for exactly that reason. Anyway, we worm our dogs just like normal pet owners.

"Live coursing is animal abuse and must be banned." Homer adds that seeing greyhounds engaged in such a brutal activity gives a gross misconception of the breed, like other breeds that are maligned due to overbreeding, poor socialization or irresponsible owners. "Humans are the ones that create and place their dogs in bad situations. The result is that an entire breed suffers through a negative image."

(SB) "Bad situations": that created the breed.

"Negative image": that you and your friends just created.

"For those who insist on maintaining the sport of coursing, there is an alternative -- lure coursing. This popular activity was invented in the early '70s and still entails the physical rigors of open-field coursing, but in a more controlled environment. Lure coursing stimulates the hound's natural instincts for coursing by use of an artificial lure, like plastic strips or a white garbage bag. Attached to a motorized pulley designed specifically for this purpose, the "lure" travels around an irregular course that is patterned after the route a wild rabbit might run in an open field.'

(SB) Sigh. I could write a book..

Basically, lure coursing is less interesting for dogs, and least interesting for the best and brightest dogs, who soon come to be bored when they realize the quarry is made of plastic. Even open- field coursing tests the dogs' senses less than free hunting.

"Not that lure coursing is completely without peril. If not trained and at a proper weight, out-of-shape dogs can get injured, just as human athletes can. Speeding dogs can become entangled and if the terrain is not closely inspected, break legs. But according to Pat Fraggasi, secretary of the Basenji Club of Northern California, precautionary steps ensure that accidents are almost nonexistent. "Designers carefully check the field as they lay the course," she said. "Judges also have to walk the course before the trial starts, plus they run a test dog to ensure the turns aren't too sharp and the course is safe." These safety measures help make supervised lure coursing a fun and exciting option. Not to mention a humane one."

(SB)Translation: We'd like to ban this too, but maybe we can regulate it to the point where it becomes too difficult to follow.

"Sharp turns". Ever hear of nature?

"When the ABC7 reporter observed that open-field coursing was a tough way for a rabbit to die, a participant couldn't help but concur. "Well, I wouldn't want to die that way myself."

(SB) Just how do you think jackrabbits die? Every single one probably dies by predation ("like that") or disease (a common cause of death for hares here in New Mexico is Yersinia pestis-- Plague; you know, the Black Death?

"And from the warm folds of his La-Z-Dog recliner, I'm sure Elvis would agree."

Yes, he doubtless has a better life than this dog.

Or these.

I would like to remind all my readers that if this mindset prevails, many vital and ancient partnerships, some dating back to the Paleolithic, will be lost, not just this one. Statements made above could be made for all hunting dogs (Labradors in cold water?) but also for working stock dogs, sled dogs, working or trail horses-- make your own list.

Two quotes from the late and much- mourned Vicki Hearne, from her indispensible (I'd put the whole book here if I could) Bandit:

"Spaying and neutering and euthanasia, all of which hurt and diminish animals, are done in the name of kindness to animals, and sometimes in the name of animal rights."

And: "To call the courage and heart of a dog viciousness,and to oppose it with images of sweet, fluffy innocent animals--- to do this is not only to trample on language, but to attempt do deny the world."

Spread the word.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

"The New World" and Reconstructed Languages

This article in the New York Times is an interesting read on efforts made to reconstruct the extinct Algonquian language spoken by the Indians who interacted with the English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. This work was funded to support the filming of Terrence Malick's movie, "The New World", that portrays the John Smith and Pocahontas story one more time. Malick wanted to have some of the Indian characters speak in as close to an authentic language as was possible.

However, one thing in here is emblematic of a larger misconception I have to correct. John Noble Wilford says, "In the new movie about Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, founded in 1607, the paramount Indian chief Powhatan asks Capt. John Smith where his people came from. The sky?"

Do we really think Powhatan had no idea where the English came from? It is a popular misconception - obviously carried forward in this movie - that the failed Roanoke colony of the 1580s, the Jamestown colony and its later sister colony at Plymouth (1621) were settled in a land of "surprised" Native Americans who had not seen Europeans before. Nothing could be further from the truth. A useful corrective is provided by David Weber in his excellent book, The Spanish Frontier in North America.

In 1497, John Cabot landed in Labrador, the first European landing (we think) in North America since the Vikings. Hard on his heels were fleets of fishermen and whalers exploiting the Grand Banks and other fishing grounds off New England. Some believe they may actually have preceded Cabot and kept the secret of the rich fishing grounds to themselves, as told in this book. The first recorded shipment to Europe of Newfoundland cod dates from 1502. A nearly permanent European presence on the north Atlantic coast of North America dates from then.

Ponce de Leon explored the Atlantic coast of Florida in 1513, claiming it for Spain. Spanish slavers sailed up and down the Atlantic coast starting then, attempting to kidnap Indians for labor in the Caribbean islands where the native populations were dying off fast. From then on there was a nearly permanent European presence from Florida north to Chesapeake Bay. The de Soto expedition of 1539 - 1543 is well known. Others followed.

A colony of French Huegenots established Ft. Caroline on the St. Johns River in Florida in 1564. It was later destroyed by the Spanish. Permanent Spanish bases were founded at St. Augustine in 1565 and Santa Elena in South Carolina in 1566. An abortive attempt was made to plant a Spanish settlement in Chesapeake Bay at this time.

In 1570, a small group of Spanish Jesuit missionaries landed on the James River, five miles from the future site of Jamestown. They crossed the peninsula to the York River, where they established a small mission they called Ajacan. They were accompanied by a remarkable Native American who served as their translator. I'll let Weber pick up the story.

"The Jesuits employed an Indian whom Spaniards had captured on the Chesapeake some years before. This young Algonquian, the son of a chief and apparently the brother of the Powhatan whom the British would come to know, had been taken to Spain on two occasions. He had also lived for a time in Mexico City, where he had acquired the name Luis de Velasco after his patron and godfather, the viceroy of Mexico. The native Luis de Velasco had accompanied the abortive 1566 expedition to the Chesapeake, nearly becoming reunited with his people; in 1570 he inspired Father Segura to take him home to his people."

Almost immediately, Luis de Velasco defected from the Spanish and went back to his family. He took the name Opechancanough, "he whose soul is white." In 1571 he led a group of natives that killed all the Jesuits. His familiarity with Europeans made him a leader in dealing with them. Later he led attacks against the Jamestown colony that nearly destroyed it in 1622. At an advanced age he was murdered in Jamestown, shot in the back by a colonist in 1644.

Powhatan thought the English came from the sky? Native Americans along the Atlantic coast had been interacting with Europeans for a hundred years by the time Jamestown was founded. I think I might skip this movie.

More Pleistocene Hunting

I am in the midst of reading what I am coming to believe is an extraordinary book, The Nature of Paleolithic Art by R. Dale Guthrie. It is not just an "art" book - it uses art as a window to look back into the Pleistocene to learn about extinct animals, human social systems, religion, and lots more during that period. Steve is reading it, too, and I believe you will be hearing more about it from both of us in the future.

One of the things that is extraordinary about this book is that it is the first scientific work (Guthrie is a paleobiologist/anthropologist) I have seen in a while where the author has felt free enough to insert original poems at points in the text. Matt's description of how hunting with his friends feels "right" put me in mind of this poem of Guthrie's. He placed it at the end of a chapter where he uses hunting scenes engraved on bone and antler artifacts to interpret ancient hunting techniques.

Can we divine these old souls from bony refuse and incised line?
Borne on the roll of chase-driven lust and comradeship of the pack, foray after
foray, hunting with risk, chance, risk, success. Grilled heart and liver
at the kill, not so much feast as toast. Packing back to camp dry-crusted
magenta bounty, sustaining noisy kids and warm bonds. Hanging in the
tents, fat and meat fueling a new elegance. Resting, drawing lines of
animal beauty, watching them spread on the smooth antler surface like magic
reincarnation - yes, incised lines from the

Banned in Britain

What will Britain ban next?

Yes, I know there are some serious issues, but I still think it's incremental frog- boiling-- or has that metaphor been debunked?

And-- camels? They're DOMESTIC.


It's almost too easy to make fun of English language menus in foreign countries. From Ken Tynan in Bull Fever ("Anahogs in a Seamanlike Manner" in Spain in the fifties*) to, well, my own Eagle Dreams ( "fillet of beer" and "chicken FANTASY" in Ulaan Bataar in the nineties), these felicities have been one of the minor disreputable joys of travel writing.

But I have NEVER encountered a menu like this , one that made first me, then Libby laugh until tears ran down our cheeks. Starting with "Burns the Spring Chicken", and proceeding through the metaphorical "Rurality salad" to such masterpieces of incomprehensibility as "Wood flower picks sea cucumber hoof", "Szechwan fragrant celery type fries cow silk", "West celery fries the tripe", "Big bowl fresh immerse miscellaneous germ", "A west bean pays the fish a soup", "1 article pot: home town", and "Red date silk tube- shaped container steams frog". You might add a side of "saues", like "Block pepper sauce retchup". And you can end with the masterpieces: "Cowboy leg beautiful pole" (a Brokeback tribute perhaps?), "Carbon burns black bowel" (yum!), "J&J living the bowel", "Benumbed hot vegetable fries fuck silk" (WHAT?) and my absolute favorite "Fuck the salt (beautiful pole) duck chin".

* Can't resist a bit more Tynan from this neglected masterpiece-- what happens when a great drama critic does bullfighting, which is to say, eclipses Hemingway. But here he is just having fun: "I never discovered what these were, and did not dare to ask, lest they should be brought (or led) snarling and clanking and hornpiping to the table. I carry at the back of my mind an image of an anahog, feral and shipshape, which comes saluting into my dreams, disrupting every banquet my subconscious prepares for me".

Modern Primitives

In an email exchange with Steve and me, Reid mentioned an essay he plans to write expanding on some of the themes from his good posts below. He may draw some comparisons between traditional hunting & gathering bands and today's street gangs. It will be a good essay and we've already put in for an advance read!

Whether modern street gangs truly mirror prehistoric hunting bands, I hope never to learn first hand! But I sent Reid a coarse description of an activity I have long thought to contain myriad natural elements to which (at least some) humans are clearly well-adapted: Group hunting with Harris hawks.

Briefly for the non-falconers: Harris hawks [Parabuteo unicinctus] are among the most popular species flown in falconry today. They are slightly larger than crows, generally dark-feathered but with ochre shoulder patches and a striking white tail band. They are superb hunters of just about any prey animal up to the size of a jackrabbit, and uniquely (to falconry birds, anyway), they are social. Wild Harris hawks often live and hunt in bands of 5-15 birds, all sharing in the work and spoils of the hunt. This behavior transfers naturally and quickly to group-hunting with willing human beings, dogs and whatever else might want to join in.

I set the scene a bit for Reid:

There are usually 4-5 of us hunting together, sometimes as many as 15. We are generally in mixed mature woodland abutting a cleared or transitional zone (because that's where the bunnies are, here). Above us, following and leading are the Harris hawks, about 7 or 8 of them, all related to one another and friendly. These birds are of course new to falconry, but in effect, they could easily be a pack of dogs weaving in and out between us and waiting for the group to flush something.

We proceed basically in a big circle, the group flowing loosely along the wood edge, more or less staying together, but occasionally sending out sentinels (bird or human) to briefly explore a fallen log or thick bush before returning to the group. Once a rabbit or squirrel is flushed, everyone converges, and the excitement level jumps about 5,000%.

The group dynamic is also characterized by our differing ages (among our friends, usually mid-20s to late-50s), both sexes, plus various ages of the hawks (a mix of this year's "babies" plus their older sibs, aunts, uncles, etc). It feels like a family group on forage. A weird family, yes, but even so....

As we roam along through briar and palmetto, we all get little cuts and scratches, but they are minor and remarkably, they tend to miss the eyes in such a way that you instantly know why people (and hawks) have brow ridges!

Our eyes and ears are well-tuned to pick out movement and other clues to game; our legs are just right for jumping logs; our hands surprisingly adept at killing rabbits and squirrels. We all remember the routes and places we've already been and searched. Everything just WORKS right. Plus, there are some interesting gender differences, with Jennifer's uncanny ability to recognize each hawk by its face (they are all nearly identical black birds) at a distance, and the rest of us better at identifying them in flight. Some of us spot hiding game better than others, and some of us are better at taking clues from the hawks. At one point or another in a group hunt, everyone's particular skills and experience will be employed and appreciated.

I don't know how a street gang might move through its territory, but I know very well how a small hunter-band moves through cover. It's a wonderful, natural experience.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Volcanic Disruptions

Most of us know the story of Pompeii, the Roman city destroyed but astonishingly preserved by the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in AD 79. A new study now documents similar astonishing finds resulting from an earlier eruption of Vesuvius in 1780 BC. The damage caused by this eruption was less than in AD 79 because the Bronze Age population of the area was lower, but the eruption covered a larger area than the one that buried Pompeii. The study says this does not bode well for contemporary Italians.

Archaeological sites that have been buried and preserved like this are examples of "moments frozen in time" that we archaeologists love and that I have talked about in a number of previous posts. Another report released last week, tells of a similar situation in Indonesia, where an eruption on the island of Sumbawa in 1815 buried and preserved the remains of local villages. "Guided by ground-penetrating radar, U.S. and Indonesian researchers recently dug in a gully where locals had found ceramics and bones. They unearthed the remains of a thatch house, pottery, bronze and the carbonized bones of two people, all in a layer of sediment dating to the eruption." One news report called this the "Pompeii of the East."

There is another example of this - the "New World Pompeii" - that has gotten surprising little popular coverage. The Ceren Site in El Salvador is a Mayan farming hamlet buried and preserved by an eruption in AD 580. Work at this site has been led since the mid-70s by Payson Sheets of the University of Colorado - a member of my thesis committee. Finds from the Ceren Site have given unparalleled insights into the perishable aspects of Mayan material culture - stuff that is never preserved in sites in the humid tropics. It has the only preserved example of a common Mayan house with wattle and daub walls and thatched roof. Carbonized preserved standing corn plants from a field outside of one of the structures allowed for an estimation of the seasonality of the eruption.

This is all very interesting stuff - check out the web site I linked above. Yet I have seen virtually nothing about it in the popular press.

Why Blokes Barbecue

This article from The Sydney Morning Herald (in its Aussie way) echoes the theme I expressed in my previous post. Archaeologist Mark Horton believes men enjoy cooking outdoors over open fires as an evolutionary holdover from our hunter-gatherer past.

Our Minds are in the Pleistocene

This article by Max Borders is a good reminder of a maxim I always use in evaluating human behavior - the bodies and minds of our species evolved under the conditions of the Pleistocene, conditions very different from today. A quote Borders captures says it:

"The environment that humans -- and, therefore, human minds -- evolved in
was very different from our modern environment. Our ancestors spent well over 99
percent of our species' evolutionary history living in hunter-gatherer
societies. That means that our forebears lived in small, nomadic bands of a few
dozen individuals who got all of their food each day by gathering plants or by
hunting animals. Each of our ancestors was, in effect, on a camping trip that
lasted an entire lifetime, and this way of life endured for most of the last 10
million years."

Borders says that this shows in a fundamental human urge toward egalitarianism - something that has been seen in ethnographic hunter-gatherer societies. He also says that this shows in the "magic number 150" observed in Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point. This number appears to be the cut-off point for simpler forms of human organization. Informally organized groups larger than that tend to break down. That is also about the size limit of macro-bands observed in ethnographic hunter-gatherers. One of the best descriptions of societies at this scale is provided by Elman Service in his classic Primitive Social Organization.

Another factor I like to point out in understanding Pleistocene societies is that of foreshortened demographics. Imagine a society where the very few oldest members are probably in their late-30s to early-40s. The majority of the mature members of the society (by mature I mean able to reproduce) are going to be teen-agers to early-20s. Anyone who remembers their teen years or that has has raised teens knows the tremendous urge to conformity and need for peer acceptance that they have. In my opinion this urge is so strong that it must be hard-wired. So imagine a small society whose entire tone is shaped by this urge. It would be like a contemporary high-school clique - you are either one of the "cool kids" or you are expelled. And being expelled from a primitive society is a death sentence so you will do anything to fit in.

Borders points out the stresses and strains that predispositions like this cause in modern society. Humans have hard-wired emotional responses to unequal life status: guilt, envy, and indignation. Borders calls these the Stone Age Trinity.


.. that humans have not stopped evolving since "Out of Africa", in this story by Nicholas Wade in the NYT. He is the best science reporter in the mainstream.

But Sailer was on the paper weeks ago, which I missed.

Extreme Kite Flying...

... in Pakistan.

Actually many Asian countries from Pakistan to Indonesia practice hard- core kite competition, with such substances as ground glass on the strings to cut your rival's kite off. Libby was once warned away from picking up a fallen kite in Nepal for that reason.

But two things to note here. First, the government warns that if you kill someone with a kite it might be considered terrorism. Fair enough I guess-- but how do you kill someone with a kite?!

Second, the Islamists want it stopped because it is un- Islamic, because it is violent.

I'm betting they want to ban it because it is fun-- it was banned inTaliban times in Afghanistan, as was flying pigeons-- see "Talibanning Pigeons, left.

And now for something completely different...

A hairy lobster.

Tory Food?

Or just real food? (Certainly not "Health Nazi" food). On the Crunchy Con Blog, Iain Murray gives us a rant by wild cook Anthony Bourdain.

Libby and Bourdain

Bourdain is hardly a Tory -- see "Ho Chi Minh" below--but he does know what food is, as does Murray. An excerpt:

"The real enemy of good food these days is the health establishment, as Mark Steyn says and Rod admits. There are genuine threats to human health from food, and they must be eradicated in a caring world, but for the most part they have gone far too far. A couple of years ago, I wrote about this on my old blog, citing food superstar Tony Bourdain, in particular in his encomium to the fine London restaurant St. John:

"These are dire times to be a chef who specializes in pork and offal. The EU has its eye on unpasteurized cheese, artisanal cheese, artisanal everything, shellfish, meat, anything that carries the slightest, most infinitesimal possibility of risk - or the slightest potential for pleasure. There is talk of banning unaged cheese, stock bones, soft-boiled or raw eggs. In the States, legislation has been suggested, mandating a written warning when a customer requests eggs over easy or a Caesar salad. ('Warning! Fork - if placed in eye - may cause injury!') A woman in the States won a lawsuit, claiming her coffee was too hot, scalding her as she stomped on the accelerator exiting the McDonald's parking lot. ('Warning! Deep-fried Mars bar - if stuffed down pants - may cause genital scarring!') The result of this unrestrained fear mongering, this mad rush to legislate new extremes of shrink-wrapped germ-free safety? .... the absorption of small independents into giant factory farms and slaughter domes. Try and eat an American chicken and you will see what looms: bloodless, flavorless, colorless, and riddled with salmonella - a by-product of letting the little guys go under and the big conglomerates run things their way."

"It's war. On one side, a growing army of hugely talented young British, Scottish, Irish, and Australian chefs, rediscovering their own enviable indigenous resources and marrying them with either new or brash concepts or old and neglected classics. On the other? A soul-destroying tsunami of bad, fake reproductions of what was already bad, fake New York 'Mexican' food. Gluey, horrible nachos, microwaved, never-fried 'refried' beans, fabric softener margaritas. Limp, soggy, watery, and thoroughly dickless 'enchiladas' and catsupy salsas. Clueless 'Pan-Asian' watering holes where every callow youth with a can of coconut milk and some curry powder thinks he's Ho Chi Minh. (Forget it. Ho could cook.) Sushi is almost nowhere to be found - in spite of the fact that the seafood in the UK is magnificent. You get more heart, soul, and flavor at an East End pie shop than at any of the rotten, fake, dumbed- down 'Italian,' 'Japanese fusion,' or theme purgatories. Even the cod - the basic ingredient of fish and chips - is disappearing. (I raised that subject with a Portuguese cod importer. 'The damned seals eat them,' was his answer. 'Kill more seals,' he suggested.")

"Fortunately, Fergus and other like-minded souls are on the front lines, and they're unlikely to abandon their positions. Sitting at St. John, I ordered what I think is the best thing I have ever put in my mouth: Fergus's roasted bone marrow with parsley and caper salad, croutons, and sea salt.

"Oh God, is it good. How something so simple can be so ... so ... absolutely luxurious. A few Flintstone-sized lengths of veal shank, a lightly dressed salad ... Lord ... to tunnel into those bones, smear that soft gray-pink-and-white marrow onto a slab of toasted bread, sprinkle with some sel de gris ... take a bite ... Angels sing, celestial trumpets ... six generations of one's ancestors smile down from heaven. It's butter from God."


Before we get off dogs (if we ever do), two dog poems for your entertainment. (The first was sent to me by Peculiar).


After the kill, there is the feast.
And toward the end, when the dancing subsides
and the young have sneaked off somewhere,
the hounds, drunk on the blood of the hares,
begin to talk of how soft
were their pelts, how graceful their leaps,
how lovely their scared, gentle eyes.
(Lisel Mueller)

And another:


At the foot of the stairs
my black dog sits;
in his body,
out of his wits.

On the other side
of the shut front door
there's a female dog
he's nervous for.

She's the whole size
of his mind-- immense.
Hope ruling him
past sense.
(William Dickey)

I must admit I was moved to blog poetry today by Pluvialis. Just go read the whole blog-- where else can you get Frank O'Hara, falconry, and flying saucers-- er, make that "rods"?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Our New Friend

You may recall I posted in January about the search the Connie and I made for an Australian Shepherd puppy. With Matt's discussion about the whippet puppy that his family is getting, I thought I would bring you up to date.

On February 4, we brought the female puppy home that I pictured in the post. After much discussion and after trying out some other names, we decided to name her Sadie.

In Aussie parlance, Sadie is officially a blue merle, though she doesn't have nearly as much gray in her coat as most do.

Sadie is very much a mama's girl and has formed a special bond with Connie. She is proving to be a very intelligent and affectionate dog. The flip side of her intelligence is that she is somewhat of a "willful child" but she is training well and finding a place in our family.

She is also forming a bond with our seven year-old Lab, Maggie. Maggie ignored Sadie for the first four days after she arrived, then I guess decided she wasn't going away and started playing with her. So Maggie is now teaching her things.

Like that tug of war is a fun game.

The little guy gets to get on top and yank on an ear sometimes.

Communal naps when you're worn out from playing are a good thing.

Of course, Maggie also taught Sadie how to dig - but I guess a dog's got to be a dog.

Camels (and Other Beasts of Burden)

I am a big fan of camels-- have ridden them in Central Asia, drunk their milk and fermented milk (shubat) and heated with wood they brought to the apartment.

With that in mind may I recommend this site, a celebration of all things camel.

I certainly prefer them to a mechanical mule.

As James Howard Kunstler says : "Unlike machines, horses can reproduce themselves".

And live off the land, not petroleum...

When The Dog Bites

Steve warned of more to come. And here is more:

A story like this one has "pending legislation" written all over it: Postpone Family Dog Until Kids Are School-Age: Experts:

[Kathleen Doheny, HealthDay Reporter] Kids and dogs may seem like a perfect match, but a new study finds the family pooch is best introduced after children reach the age of 5.

The reason is simple: Toddlers are much more likely than older children to unknowingly aggravate dogs, who may then react as dogs do -- by biting.

"Our study showed that the number of attacks on children decreases with age and is highest at 1 year of age," said Dr. Johannes Schalamon, a co-author of the study and a physician in the department of pediatric surgery at the Medical University of Graz in Austria.

And here's the kicker:

"Therefore I would recommend to supervise younger children more closely when they are in contact with a dog and postpone the purchase of a dog until children are of school age," Schalamon said.
Now that an "expert" has weighed in, there is almost no chance that this recommendation will not be used to justify the establishment (somewhere close, sometime soon) of a legal age of dog ownership. I am so certain of this, I hesitated to blog on it for fear of helping spread a bad idea.

My question is: Do you need an expert (or a law!) to make sure you "supervise children closely when they are in contact with a dog"?

Supervising your children is also known as parenting. I do it every day. There are dogs in our neighborhood, some of them at roam and some of them big enough even to give me pause. I have no faith in the good nature of strange dogs. I step between them and my kids whenever they come trotting over.

And yet, getting bitten by a dog is part of growing up. It is thoroughly the common experience. I remember several bites of my own, one of them a dandy leaving four neat holes at the four corners of my face. My own dog (sleeping at the time) bit my own child last year when she gave him a hug. I can only guess how many times I've told my kids, directly and even forcefully: "Do not touch a sleeping dog." Do not chase a dog. Do not run from a dog. Be the boss of the dog. Dogs love you, and they will still bite you.

Every kid with a loving parent hears the same, but evidently it takes a nip or two to drive the message home.

To do more than sensibly acknowledge the possibility of a biting dog is to misunderstand the dog completely. No useful, good and powerful thing I know comes without some potential to do harm. Aren't the very traits that make a thing good or useful or powerful generally the same ones that can make them dangerous? Surely this is true of a dog.

It's been five months since our old Meng died. Even Briana, who bears his fading mark on her cheek, misses him and wants another one. I know I do. So we're getting a new whippet this weekend, a pretty black female, six months old and slightly shy. Chances are she'll bite everyone in my family at least once in her lifetime. We're going to risk it.