Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Lost City of DeMille - Continued

I was up in the area last week and took this picture of what the "Lost City" looks like today from the entry road.
This shot shows a little better the scatter of boards, rusted nails and plaster of paris fragments that are the surface manifestation of the site. The area is closed both to keep vandals away and to protect nesting areas of an endangered species, the Western Snowy Plover.

The plovers cause lots of seasonal beach closures in this area. Every year, the city of Santa Barbara has a large Fourth of July fireworks show at West Beach. This time last year, the city was panicked because a pair of plovers nested right in the middle of the fireworks area. They had plans to cancel the show. They were saved when a raven came and ate the two eggs.

The Lost City of DeMille

In 1923, the silent movie classic "The Ten Commandments" was filmed by Cecil B. DeMille in the Guadalupe Dunes area of northern Santa Barbara County. It had the largest production budget of any movie made up to that time, with huge costs incurred building the massive sets (see the above still) and hiring and supporting a cast of hundreds of extras.

Look at this crowd scene, with all of those sphinxes. What appear to be great stone statues were really plaster of paris put on wooden forms. What looks like large stone buildings were really painted canvas, tacked to wooden frames. In addition to the sets, DeMille and his producers built a massive tent camp to house and feed the actors, extras and crew.

At the conclusion of filming, DeMille faced the decision of what to do with the sets. He and his financial backers opted to have them knocked down and bulldozed into the sands. Locals scavenged a lot of usable lumber, but eventually the buried movie set was forgotten.

Until 1983, when documentary filmmaker Peter Brosnan came across a cryptic reference to the fate of the set in DeMille's autobiography. He eventually tracked down the location, and in association with a local archaeologist, John Parker, conducted test excavations to prove what he had. You can read an account of their story here.
Here is a picture of one of their finds that I borrowed from a website established by Brosnan and others to raise funds for the preservation of the site. They have started referring to it as "The Lost City of DeMille." This was a real dig and the location has been recorded as an historic archaeological site with the designation CA-SBA-2392H. The archaeologists conducted a ground-penetrating radar survey and estimate that two-thirds of the set material is still buried in the dunes. They also mapped a dozen large targets that they believe are sphinxes.

I really wouldn't have known about this except that the Dunes are located in a county park, and three years ago Connie and I worked on an archaeological survey for a new entry road and parking lot for the park. The "Lost City" turned up in our file search, and our survey actually located more material associated with the movie set that had not been previously mapped.

I have apparently run out of capacity for images in this post (Thanks, Blogger) and will continue in another to show you some more.

Matt's Ten Birds Part 1

Kudos to Darren and Steve for sparking this neat thread. I’ll add my own ten in turn, putting a Louisiana spin on the list and ratcheting it down even further with birds commonly seen on my way to work. Common they may be, but these Louisiana natives meet the Ten Bird theme being both beautiful and interesting, at least to me.

Some of the text here will come from parts of In Season, Waypoints blog posts and various old articles, which is at once shamelessly self-promoting, lazy and quite proper, since I first wrote about these birds because I love them all.

First up, two kites and two blackbirds…

The Mississippi Kite [Ictina mississippiensis]

Photo from:

Several pair of Mississippi Kites nest along the boulevard a block behind our house. The neighborhood’s mature trees (oaks, pines and pecans) end there, making of our section an artificial clearing perfect for the aerial foraging of these buoyant birds. Kites are easily our most conspicuous raptors during summertime---from dawn to dusk you’ll see at least two overhead, usually more---but they completely vanish by mid-September, moving almost at once to Central and South America.

From In Season, the August 28/03 entry: “The next signal of changing season is the vanishing of Mississippi kites from above the parade ground. Only one remained this morning, a sort of blue-gray ghost falcon skimming the wet grass to power up beneath an early dragonfly. They are quietly spectacular, these kites—proof that what makes our more familiar falcons and hawks special is not the size of their prey but the style of its pursuit. In this, the Mississippi kite has no betters.”

The kites are largely insectivorous and first on their menu are dragonflies. But to watch the birds stoop vertically from hundreds of feet above our roof, making perfect peregrines of themselves, is to see an insect swatted in high style. They’ve been known to turn this terrible stoop toward chimney swifts, too; and just this morning I saw a kite being mobbed by an angry swift, and I wondered.

Kites will hunt in the canopy, particular early in the morning, catching cicadas when available but also small vertebrates like anoles and baby birds. One special afternoon, while entertaining falconer friends in the backyard and watching kites, we took in a rare spectacle: an adult burst through the canopy a couple dozen feet above us carrying a fledgling Blue Jay, clearly visible. Behind her in pursuit flew two of her young; all three passed over at top speed. How’s that for entertainment?

Swallow-tailed Kite [Elanoides forficatus]

Photo from:

The Swallow-tailed Kite is a magical bird, plain and simple. It must have been unknown to the people who first named paper kites after the real thing, but this one puts any child’s toy to shame. They are larger in span than a Mississippi, but about the same in weight. Most of the extra surface area comes from that wonderful train, split, well, like a swallows’ tail but so much more dramatic. A Swallow-tailed’s diet is similar to its cousin’s but with the curious addition of paper wasps’ nests, from which the larvae are gently plucked. Both kite species will forage together over pastures full of grasshoppers; the resulting spectacle is like viewing a live mobile, all wheeling, spinning, dipping and eating on the wing.

This is a picture of one in hand trapped for a cross-continent radio tracking effort by my friend Dr. Jennifer Coulson.

The Boat-tailed Grackle [Quiscalus major]

Photo from:,%20grackel,Cowbird/Boat-Tailed-Grackle.jpg

Darren and Helen will know another sort of blackbird on their side of the Atlantic. This one is an Icterid, from a group including fan favorites like the orioles. Some in the family are brightly-hued, but ours are mostly dark brown or flat black. The adult male Boat-tail takes black one step further with a glossy sheen around his nape, gleaming like polished blue metal but without pigment: a bioengineering feat called “structural color.”

These birds are tough. From a piece on local falconry I placed in International Falconer Magazine: “There are seven species of blackbird native to Louisiana, and all are considered “crop depredators” with no closed season or bag limit. They range in size from the Brown-headed Cowbird [Molothrus ater], about the weight of a large sparrow, to the Boat-tailed Grackle, a glossy, coastal bully the size of a small crow. The latter can be formidable quarry for the smallest trained hawks, but the tiercel Harris’ deals with them easily.”

You find Boat-tails here in wet places; mostly along the drainage ditches and canals that keep the rest of us dry. When they aren’t poking through the reeds for invertebrates and small aquatic animals (the smaller Common Grackle eats sparrows!), they’re playing King of The Hill. With backs arched, big heads up and tails fanned, males posture at one another, strutting and calling with loud clicks and whirrs like Geiger counters gone mad. I call it the cackle of the grackle. The sound makes my hawks’ heads spin.

The Eastern Meadowlark [Sturnella magna]

Photo from:

Another blackbird: not that you would guess it. The meadowlark is Icteridae’s answer to a quail. There are two forms in the US, Eastern and Western (a third, and maybe others south of the border) separated by their calls and somewhat by habits and habitat but mostly along a wide, slanted line from Southeastern Arizona to the Great Lakes. Here they are birds of fallow pasture, sometimes foraging in mowed grass but never more than a short flight away from better cover.

They are gorgeous all around. Bright yellow in front and patterned finely as a game bird on the back. You have to hold one to get the full effect, and that’s usually illegal, but whatever.

This is a bird I see along the road to work only if I take the route beside the Mississippi River. Below the levee are still a few pastures for cows and horses and in them the meadlowlarks still sing. I know there are a few good places left when I hear one. And when I see one flush, straight-away and fast like a Scaled quail, I lock up---instinctively on point. I feel much farther than half a mile from home.

The Curse of the Ten Bird Meme

A little note of explanation: Steve spent considerable effort scanning images and compiling the text for his three posts below. But due to the strange and improbable machinations of the Web, Steve is unable to post pics from home; Reid and I do the honors, which is (almost) never a problem. This time neither of us could get in for days, or Blogger refused to accept, or whatnot. Finally, with an end run around Blogger all together, we figured a way to post the pics and did.

But then I put the dang posts in the wrong order. And under the wrong name.

So apologies from the highly competent Q. technical staff. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"Ten Birds" Part 3

The Roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus, is everyone's sentimental favorite Southwestern mascot. Of course, they are not much like the cartoon version-- I think they are the most dinosaur- like of the non- avian dinosaurs that I know. They eat EVERYTHING-- lizards, snakes, small birds like House finches. When I try to imagine how a Deinonychus moves, I think of a Roadrunner. Paleontologist and wonderful novelist John McLoughlin, who has dinosaurian characters in this and other novels, thinks so too. He used to shoot diseased sparrows off his bird feeder with an air rifle and the ground cuckoos would run off with them. He once sent me this postcard:

The Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor)is not a hawk, of course-- it is a "goatsucker" or nightjar, a bird that flies through the night engulfing insects with its great maw like, as Libby says, a whale cruising through plankton.

This is the perfect Nighthawk image-- the graceful bird swooping through an urban summer night as crowds pass obliviously below. Nighthawks are the only native birds to connect my youth in urban New England with my life in rural New Mexico. When I was young we would sit on apartment roofs in Cambridge and the Back Bay, drinking horrible cheap Greek wine and smoking even cheaper nastier Mexican weed and watching the Nighthawks courting overhead. They would flap erratically through the dusk, uttering occasional "peents" not unlike a woodcock's, then dive at the rooftops to pullout at incredible angles, making a loud humming boom with stressed primaries. Wing song!

Now they come, not in spring but in the monsoon rains of summer (we're waiting!) to make the same flights over the desert town. There they nested on rooftops; here, they can nest on the ground. The wine is better and I don't smoke any more, but the birds are exactly the same.

Last for now: two birds really, because I can't decide between them: the Temminck's and Satyr Tragopans, Tragopan temmincki and Tragopan satyra. These are increasingly rare "primitive" pheasants from the increasingly deforested deciduous slopes of the Hymalayas. You can take your Birds of Paradise and your hummingbirds-- I consider these two species the most beautiful birds in the world. I have only seen them in captivity, but they top my "most wanted to see" list for the wild.

The images below are from an advance brochure for William Beebe's magisterial 1920's Pheasants of the World. I had to go with the Temminck's for the color-- the only Satyr image is in the actual book, and I wont risk breaking the binding. But look at the display "bibs" they can inflate, even in black and white! (The actual markings are red on blue).

I hope you have enjoyed these. Eventually I would also like to do ten songbirds. And ten pigeon breeds. Boring? Complain to Darwin!

Oh and: tag! to Pluvialis, Rebecca, Jonathan and Matt?

"Ten Birds" Part 2

You didn't think they wouldn't have a section to themselves?

The Barbary Falcon, Falco pelegrinoides. Also known in the eastern part of its immense range (North Africa to Mongolia, though only in deserts), where it is larger, as the Red- Naped Shahin-- or, a name fans of my dogs would know-- "Lashyn". This photo is from the "Shunkar" breeding aviary south of Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Once considered conspecific with the Peregrine, they now can be seen to breed sympatrically, separated by habitat preferences. They are birds of dry lands, adapted to harsh climate, predators of pigeons and doves, long- distance dispersers. Probably they diverged from the Peregrine during the Pleistocene glaciations, just as the Gyrfalcon did from the Saker.

See the breadth of her shoulders, the short tail? Barbaries are faster than true Peregrines but have heavier wing loading-- they flap more and soar less. They burn an amazing amount of food compared to a "typical" Peregrine of similar weight.

I have a particular fondness for this species that goes beyond having flown a couple (they are delightful birds, as sweet- natured as tazi dogs, though because of their tendency to disperse distressingly easy to lose in their first year). One of my favorite texts, and my gateway to understanding the birds of Central Asia, is the English translation of Dement'ev's Birds of the Soviet Union (1951). He mentions that they nest in the Mongolian Altai in the "basin of Hobdo- gol River, west of Lake Orog- Nur". Driving down that west shore under those cliffs in the winter of '98, I saw hawk chalk and falcon nests and remembered that passage. I hope I can see those nests in spring someday.

Eleanora's falcon, Falco eleanorae.

I have only seen one of this lovely bird, a falconer's "pet" rather than a true hunting bird-- I include it for more or less "Darren" reasons, because it has evolved remarkable nesting and feeding habits. Eleanora's lives on islands in the Mediterranean and winters in Madagascar. For most of the year it lives on insects, but between August and October, when it breeds, it feeds on migrant songbirds coming south over the ocean to winter in Africa. The reason that that perfectly tame bird I mentioned was a "pet" is that she couldn't be induced to hunt FOR anyone. Eleanoras often feed on the wing; she would go aloft, eat insects in the air, and return when she wanted. Look at the length of those wings compared to a Peregrine's-- a falcon's attempt to evolve toward a swallow or swift.

Ferruginous hawk, Buteo regalis. Can't beat this image by my friend Herb Wells, taken in California while out coursing...

Ferrugs are huge birds that some compare to eagles-- the females overlap in weight with male Golden eagles. Look at those long wings! They are a signature bird of arid prairies and steppes, including my own. Once they were thought to be clumsy (mostly by city- bound ornithologists who never watched them). Now they are known to be among the most agile of Buteos in the air. While they do live mostly on various ground squirrels when breeding (and can swallow small ones whole-- see that wide gape?) they are also can take the largest hares and such New- World bustard equivalents as Sage grouse.

Though some compare them to the smaller booted eagles (and others deride their relation to the also "booted" Rough- legged hawk, Buteo lagopus, which Carel Brest van Kempen compares to a kite!) both are likely Buteos. In Central Asia, such species as the Long- legged buzzard (Buteo rufinus) and the huge Upland buzzard, (Buteo hemilasius, which is alleged to kill lambs) provide a bewildering series of intermediate types. Trying to sort Buteos on the Kazakh steppes in September is like trying to do the same with fall warblers in North America. Although the raptors are easier to see, each warbler doesn't come in a half dozen intergrading morphs!

My friend Dave Dixon, who bred my falcon Tuuli,is now teaching a young male to accompany him while paragliding.

Last among the birds of prey: the Lammergeier, Gypaetus barbatus. Andrey whispered THAT name to me the same day we saw the Ibisbills, higher up in the Tian Shan, when one rose for a moment over a ridge still higher above us... the one to the right in this photo of Oleg Belyalov, Libby, and him in the Tian Shan:

We also saw Altai snowcocks (Tetraogallus altaicus) running up the same ridge, and a Cinereous vulture ( Aegypius monachus) soon followed the Lammergeier into the sky above it.

And the meadow was full of marmots.

My favorite Lammergeier image may be this one from a tapestry stitched by Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen himself.

Meinertzhagen had this to say about a personal encounter with the species.

"I had a most unpleasant experience with a lammergeier in Baluchistan near Quetta. I was crossing a moving scree when it commenced to crawl; I traveled down the slope, eventually fetching up against a juniper stump to which I clung with boulders tearing downhill all around me. In this position a Lammergeier came so close to me I could see his red eye; three times he passed me within a few feet, aware I was in difficulties, but after I threw rocks at him he made off".

If embroidery and adventure and conspiracy are not enough evidence for you to consider "M" unique, here is the cover of the book from which the image and the quote were taken.

And here is a bit of a poem by Pluvialis (as Helen Macdonald) about the bird.

"single beads and microhistories & the tracts all equally torn
above the lozenged tail of the pseudo-phoenix the lambslayer’s

water and golden eye, his breast feathers rusted from long contact
with oxides and bone & his long remiges conformable with pure air"....

Three more birds to come!

"Ten Birds" Part 1

NOTE: These posts are listed under my name but written by Steve. We had a hell of a time getting them posted....technical difficulties! MATT

Recently Darren introduced me to the meme "Ten Beautifully Interesting Birds". I was challenged!

Being as I am a hard- core Bird Guy, there is no way I can pick only ten birds-- I could probably pick ten lists of ten! But I am going to initially pick ten non- passerines and later may do ten songbirds, or ten of some other classification, or just Ten More.

We each change the reasons for picking our choices a bit, and this list will be no exception. I am attempting to choose birds that are both meaningful to me-- I have seen every one, mostly in the wild-- and that are intrinsically interesting as well. I will split them into three groups as Darren did, so as not to give poor Blogger fits.

( credit Nate Johnson)

First, the Sandhill crane, Grus canadensis. From my book Querencia:

"And suddenly the air was full of wings and trumpet shrieks as the dogs ran in maddened circles beneath fifty rising sandhill cranes. They curved back over my head in the wind, almost low enough to touch, flying crucifixes as tall as men. I had never seen them so close; the storm had made them feel that the open field close to the house was safer than the coyote-haunted groves beside the big river. I felt like New Mexico was giving me a good-bye present, an offering to insure my return"

I like it that the cranes inhabit some of my favorite places. They breed from 1000 miles inside Siberia all the way to Idaho, winter from Nebraska and New Mexico to Chihuahua. They traverse the Bering Straits. Their rolling call, produced in a French horn concealed in their breastbones, rains down from winter skies and haunts my dreams.

The Ibisbill (Ibidorhyncha struthersi), of the high mountain valleys of Central Asia, is probably the rarest bird I have ever seen, but my friends in Kazakhstan walked me straight to it.

This spectacular wader is the only species in its genus, and lives only in stony stream beds in such places as the Himalayas and the Tian Shan, where I saw it south of Almaty.

Andrey Kovalenko, who also bred my dog Kyran, is an ornithologist. He and photographer- climber Oleg Belyalov intended to show us the bird, but we didn't know. When I saw the habitat we were entering at about 9000 feet I thought, "This looks like the background of every photo of an Ibisbill I have ever seen". So when Andrey set up his spotting scope and then whispered "Eebeesbeel!" (the only English words he uttered that day) I won't say I was shocked-- just delighted. Here I am studying the bird through Andrey's scope:

American Woodcock, Scolopax minor. (Here are two flushing in a nice drypoint by the old New England artist A. Lassell Ripley, exactly as I remember them).

I love their mating wing "song", I love hunting them, I love eating them. I love it that their huge eyes are behind their ears, and that they can open the very tip of their bills underground to grasp worms. In the spring in New England, we would sit in little damp openings in the second- growth woods amidst the buzz of early mosquitos and the chirps of late spring peepers listening for the "Peent!" of a male Woodcock on the ground. If you imitated it (say the word in a high- pitched voice while holding your nose) they would approach closely, on foot. Finally a male would take to the air and circle above, wings whistling, then dive to the ground while making a cascade of liquid notes, improbably not with its vocal chords but with its primary flight feathers.

On my last extended New England visit (1986)I shot and froze several limits of Woodcock and cooked a dinner for me and Jesuit scholar- scientist- big game hunter Anderson Bakewell in Santa Fe. I adapted the recipe from Angus Cameron's L.L. Bean Game & Fish Cookbook (curiously, currently listed in Amazon under the name of co- author Judith Jones, though Angus was the chief author).

Bear in mind, rather than using the liver from the Woodcock, a hard- core Woodcock eater (like me) might use chicken livers for the paste and NOT GUT THE COCK. 'Cock and Snipe void as they fly and are therefore clean, and are cooked intact but for plucking, heads on (tucked back) and all. Angus in fact did so, though not here! Also, the recipe-- adapted perhaps from one for the huge Old- world species-- recommends cooking for a half an hour. I have NEVER cooked a Woodcock or Snipe for more than 15 minutes! If you do, to paraphrase fellow Woodock aficionado Guy de la Valdene, why not just boil them in Pepto Bismol overnight?


Saute 4 chicken livers (for four Woodcock) in a couple of tablespoons of butter until just cooked-- pink in the middle. Mash coarsely with (fresh if you have it ) tarragon and salt, moistening with a bit of red wine. Set aside, covered.

Take a thick slice of white French or Italian bread for each bird, spread with butter or even bacon fat, and toast in the oven. Remove and keep warm.

In a saucepan, warm 3/4 cup sour cream mixed with 1/2 cup sweet cream with a tablespoon of butter. Stir until smooth.

Heat oven to 425 F. Put in the birds, salted, for no more than 15 minutes. Remove. Spread the toasts with the liver paste, and put a bird on top. Serve the cream sauce from a sauceboat on the side, to be poured over to one's taste.

To be continued!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Nojoqui Falls

Over the weekend, I finally got to visit Nojoqui Falls, located in a Santa Barbara County Park, off of Highway 101, just north of Gaviota. It's one of those places I've driven past a hundred times and finally took the time to stop and look.

The falls are not only pretty, but interesting geologically. They are are located at the contact point between two uplifted lithological units, the Jalama Shale and the Jalama Sandstone. The creek has eroded its way back through the soft shale, so that the cliff face is all sandstone. The Jalama Sandstone is highly cemented with calcium carbonate. Stream water dissolves the calcium carbonate upstream and then redeposits it on the face of the cliff as travertine. The travertine is actually building the cliff face outward, as you can see in this photo.

The falls are pretty, even in this picture taken during low summer creek flow. I promise to go back in the winter after some rains and take a comparison picture.

Fire Season

It has started here. I don't know if you can see clearly, but the white specks on the window and trim of my car are wood ash. Last week we awoke one morning to find our cars covered with ash that had blown in overnight from a fire about 40 miles north of us near the town of New Cuyama. By the weekend, it had burned over 17,500 acres. We could smell the smoke and had some spectacular sunsets through the haze. You have to keep one ear open to the news about them.

Other signs of fire season are the appearance of trucks full of Hot Shot teams on the highways. On a mountain road over the weekend, I had to back down to a turnout to let one come by. People coming downhill have the right of way. Also, I work across the street from the airport and get to see the increased flights of water bombers and spotter planes with their distinctive white and orange paint.

It's just a seasonal fact of life here and down in New Mexico where Steve lives. Like tracking hurricanes down on the Gulf Coast where Matt lives. Or tornadoes in the Upper South where I grew up.

The LA Times tells us that California and most of the Southwest is in for a tough year. A multi-year drought has the whole area at risk.

Pray for rain.

"Sunbirds and Cashmere Spheres"

Pluvialis has another superb essay up.

Here, she is describing Bearded "tits" (which are not tits):

"Those pictures fail to show how glamorous these small birds are. They look like they're made of cashmere. Very very expensive cashmere. And are wearing long, black velvet evening gloves. Their tiny waxen beaks resemble the heads of all-weather matches, and set in the thumb-smear of sooty kohl are strange, pale eyes that catch the light oddly as they clamber among the reeds.

"And they clamber in fantastic ways. They're built for a world of verticals. Their legs are long, and black and glint like obsidian — and their feet are huge. Huge, cartoon bird feet. I'm watching these little cashmere balls bounce up and down in the reeds, and see that quite often, a bird hops from one reed stem to two, grabbing one stalk in each foot, and sit there happily doing the splits while it picks insects from a reedstem."

Why is she not in the New Yorker?

More bird stuff from me soon...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Little Food Blogging for the Weekend

Prairie Mary sent a review of Bill Buford's excellent new book Heat, which describes how a fancy New York editor (The New Yorker, Granta) decides to learn to be a Tuscan butcher under the influence of Mario Battali.

Italians and others from Catholic cultures (Battali blurbed the hilarious Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living, which features a roadkill recipe alongside saint's days) seem to be utterly free of neo- puritan food prejudices. At Crunchy Con, Rod Dreher mentioned a wonderful- sounding Cuban beef dish, and I wrote for details, promising a trade. He replied in a recipe post:

"Steve Bodio asked me in the weekend cooking thread below to post the recipe for the Cuban fried beef I prepared last night. Happy to oblige. As Julie and I ate it last night, I said to her, "Is there any other dish that provides so much pure pleasure with so little effort?" The answer is, yes, there is: ripe tomatoes with kosher salt and a drizzling of olive oil (which I also had this weekend, thanks to my kind neighbor Laura bringing over tomatoes fresh from her garden). Still, you should make this; it's insanely delicious. I think the only reason Castro still rules Cuba is that a well-made vaca frita is the opiate of the people. I'm still pie-eyed from last night.

"What you do is the day before you're planning to eat the vaca frita, take 2 1/2 lbs. of flank steak, and let it simmer in a pot of salted water with a bay leaf or two for 90 minutes. When it's done, take it out and let the meat cool. Then, tear it into strips with your fingers. That done, you'll want to put the meat into a non-reactive bowl, and over that pour the juice of six limes and three lemons (at least), as well as three diced garlic cloves. Mix this together, and put it in the fridge to marinate overnight.

"The next day, cut an onion in half and slice the entire thing into thin strips. Then, remove the marinated beef from the bowl, and squeeze out all the marinade. Set the meat aside. In a deep saute pan or black-iron skillet, heat a half-cup of olive oil until fragrant, then put the beef in. Let it sizzle cheerfully for about eight minutes, stirring attentively, then put the onions in. Mix the meat and the onions well, and stir for about 10 to 15 more minutes, until the beef is crispy brown.

"Salt and pepper to taste, and squeeze a couple of lime wedges over the top before serving, if you like. The thing to serve with vaca frita is white rice. The thing to drink with it is cold lager. The thing to listen to while eating it is Jesus Alemany."

It is as good as he says. I replied with this:

"One of our favorites is Macedonian lamb stew, adapted froom Paula Wolfert. A few hours before you start cooking, put 3 cups of plain yogurt (real yogurt, not the kind with gelatin added to it) in a colander or seive that has been lined with three layers of cheesecloth. Sprinkle it with a few teaspoons of kosher salt and leave it to drain for a few hours -- it will become quite thick as the water drains out. Once it has thickened, add a few (or more as we do) tbsp. of finely chopped garlic and let it sit until you eat.

"Wash and dry 1-1/2 pounds of fresh spinach. Place it in a colander and sprinkle it with 1 tbsp kosher salt, making sure that the salt is dispersed throughout. let the spinach sit at room temperature for at least an hour. Salting it beforehand enables the spinach to maintain its bright green color when you later add it to the stew.

"Now you're ready to start cooking.

"Cut a lamb leg or shoulder into strips about 1" wide and 3" long, maybe 3/4" thick. Brown them in a large dutch oven or braising pan, and then cover with chicken broth. Simmer gently until tender. In another pan, saute 16-20 scallions cut into 3" lengths in a few tbsp of olive oil until they wilt; add a tbsp of paprika and some resh ground pepper and add this to the meat along with 1 tbsp or so of tomato paste. Let it simmer another ten minutes, then add the spinach. Cook until the spinach has collapsed.

"Serve this with the garlic yogurt on top, which really pulls the whole dish together!"

Usually we cook this in winter but this is making me hungry..

Care to reply, Roseann? Tag!

Update: Roseann responds here.

Friday, June 23, 2006

"Entering Human Lives "

A friend, a serious writer and reader of this blog, is now working on some tales of her life as an Animal Control Officer ("dogcatcher") in a big city. Here is a tale of life at the sharp end. Take it away....

The early complaints about this case were about noise from barking dogs, a kind of complaint so common and so related to the state of the complainant (sad, angry, lonesome people are hypersensitive) that they tend to result in not much more than a door-hanger for the dog owner. This one was about a big old house along Powell in a place where the street was going to be rebuilt and widened. The houses would be torn down soon, so no one was maintaining them. This one appeared to be empty. I heard and saw no dogs. No one answered the door.

The complaints kept coming until one old man called up to say that there was a pack of chihuahuas running the streets at night and if we didn’t do something about them, he was going to start shooting them. A pack of chihuahuas sounded pretty ridiculous, but when people say they will begin to shoot, it’s past time for intervention. Actually, later I talked to an old Mexican guy who said that packs of chihuahuas were like land piranhas and could bring down a cow by taking bites out of its ankles until they severed the tendons so it fell over. Then, untroubled by any need to kill it, they ate it.

But I was so convinced that the designated house was empty that I couldn’t believe it was the source of the dogs. Finally I just went door-to-door looking for information but people were reluctant. A block away was a kind of hippie co-op food store and they finally told me that an old woman they called “the goat woman,” because she smelled so totally horrible, would sometimes come in and ask to use their phone. She carried with her a shopping bag full of restaurant scraps which she claimed was dog food. They pointed out that same decrepit abandoned house. I went back, and then went back again, and finally noticed that there was mail being delivered and letters put out for pickup. One is never supposed to touch mailboxes (a federal offense) but I got her name off the letters anyway. Helen. Then I wrote her a letter myself and put it in the box. (Also illegal if it doesn’t have a stamp on it.)

Next time I went back and knocked, the piece of cardboard covering the place where there had been a glass window in the door was pulled aside and there she was: the Goat Woman, wearing a bright red wig with a sweater tied over it by the arms and about six layers of clothes, most obviously a big nightgown. Behind her, ranged around a gloomy room six inches deep in dog shit, were the glittering eyes of the chihuahuas, dozens and dozens of them. All of them were named for politicians, which tells you something about Helen.

She said her life had been perfectly normal in this house until she had to have an operation for cancer. In those days there were only three chihuahuas and a friend promised to take care of them while she was in the hospital, but didn’t quite keep up with the messes. When Helen came back, she thought she’d just let it go a little longer until she felt better, and as the months dragged on, she got used to it. But as there began to be more and more dogs, she had worried about feeding them until she resourcefully hit on the idea of restaurant scraps. She was resistant to the idea of any new plan. She had a welfare worker and gave me the name. She claimed she had permission to live there.

I also went to the records to find out who owned the house and called that person, who turned out to be a widow on vacation in the Caribbean. Her lawyer was not pleasant. Helen had been given several eviction notices. Her welfare worker was a young man who hadn’t seen her for a long time. She regularly called in and told him she was doing fine. I told him what I saw and asked for his supervisor, whom I told my next call would be to a television station. Then back to Helen to pressure her to give up the dogs.

At last she handed them out the hole in the door, telling me the name of each. She claimed that one was named for a popular sports caster and that the dog would sit on the couch and watch when he came on the TV, which miraculously worked even though coated with what appeared to be cow patties, the kind out in a field where bugs have been making little holes in them. I doubted this practice on the part of the dog since the couch had rotted through until it was only springs.

The dogs all had diarrhea and all were wild, unsocialized. Most of them bit me and all of them shat on me. By now the police had been attracted and were sitting in their squad car laughing their heads off as I juggled dogs and tried to wrap them in my big tough law enforcement jacket to keep them from biting me. I was tempted to chuck one through their patrol car window.

My truck was filling up, so I called for a second truck. It was Renee and one whiff of the waves of head-clearing ammonia coming from the house was enough for her. “Do you know what diseases might be in there?” She said she’d hold the door of her truck for me while I brought the piranhas out. In the end there were 67 of them. More or less. Back in the shelter kennels they piled on top of each other, glassy-eyed with terror, so it was hard to count them.

Helen was crying and begged for just one dog to keep so she wouldn’t have to stay in the house all alone. But I went back to welfare and insisted they get her out of there TODAY, not tomorrow. The young man whined, “Well, if she’s lived in that mess this long, one more day isn’t going to kill her.” I pointed out that now she would be all alone, but he didn’t get it. Finally he found a place for her in an emergency shelter for abused women.

Somehow she got my phone number. Maybe I was rash enough to give it to her. Anyway, at ten o’clock she called me at home, frantic over money in her house, now unguarded. She hated the shelter (“These women are nuts!”) and was so hysterical (what a manipulator!) that I agreed to go. It was raining. It’s ALWAYS raining in Portland at night. I called the precinct and asked for cover -- “for WHAT?” they asked incredulously -- and packed up a hammer, nails, and my biggest flashlight. This was completely out of line -- I was in a very gray area indeed.

The young male officer refused to go into the house. “I’ll stand here and shine my light on you,” he generously offered from the doorway. I followed the instructions Helen had given me. There was a big pile of old purses in one corner downstairs. (in fact, there were boxes of old clothes everywhere.) In them, in no particular order were handfuls of envelopes, some with corners of checks sticking out: it was the mail she’d been receiving. I suspect it was some sort of maiI-order scam she was using to augment her welfare. Putting all the envelopes into one handbag, I went upstairs to get what she said were two mayonnaise jars of quarters.

The electricity, which had worked when she was there though there was dog excrement on the lightbulbs (how?), was now off so it was hard to tell what I walking on as I went up the stairs. I could hear water trickling someplace and scuttling -- either I’d missed a dog or two or there were rats. One bedroom door was hooked. Inside, as she had explained, was an ordinary clean room. On the bureau were the two mayonnaise jars of quarters.

The officer nicely held my swag while I nailed the door shut. He was trying to compose his report when I left to take Helen’s money to her. She was waiting for me and not particularly grateful. I was a little worried that she would accuse me of taking some of the money. Months later I saw her at a bus stop wearing a blue suit and a nice lady hat, all cleaned up and looking normal. I didn’t stop to visit.

The dogs were a different story. The shelter vet shook his head over them, but by now the media was onto the story and the politicians wanted a good face on the event. He picked out two animals that seemed healthy and we adopted them out to a lady in the country. Next day she brought them back by the scruff of their necks: they had killed every chicken she had. By this time we had realized that the dogs were so inbred that they were mostly blind and their innards were so deranged by their irregular food that they didn’t digest dog food. Euthanasia was the answer.

The point of this story is that animal control, like every other emergency responder and social regulator, is connected to every aspect of the households that are visited in response to complaints. Usually there are several factors in operation, assigned to different governmental bodies who may or may not be in sympathy with animal control. To be an effective agent in society, it’s as important to be a networker as to be a specialist.

It takes resources to RESIST pets. Dogs and cats know how to insert themselves into human households -- have known since the houses in question were caves. And once the family has major problems, animals are way down the list.

One complaint arrived in the form of a three-page single-spaced letter that itemized social offenses that ranged from letting kids run naked in the street to parking cars at the curb facing the wrong way. It was this last offense that the complainant really could not tolerate. When I went to the house, the teenager’s probation officer was just leaving, and when I left the public health nurse was just arriving. The fire department had been there the night before because of a mattress on fire -- now in the backyard, having been pushed out the window, and proving to have enough bounce left for bare-butted kids to enjoy. The fire was from a nodding drug addict, not her husband, the lady of the house was glad to announce. (The husband was in prison for something.) Her damned brother. This exhausted woman, the only responsible person in the house, stood in the doorway with a baby on her hip, hugely pregnant. They were hippies, they believed in the free life (their broken VW van, complete with daisies, was in pieces in the driveway), but somehow it had escaped control. Dogs and cats lolled here and there -- all mellow, none licensed or confined.

The woman was intelligent. I rather liked her. “Don’t you feel kinda like the soldiers in the fort being circled by Indians?” I asked her.


I never could solve the problems. The household eventually just left.

But it wasn’t always the complainants who were the problem. In a very nice neighborhood I got a complaint about barking dogs. The family was Asian. “We don’t want trouble. We get rid of dog.”

I explained that it wasn’t necessary and made suggestions about how to keep the dog from barking. It wasn’t barking at me and seemed like a normal happy dog. The kids were very attached to it and held onto it tightly, crying, but the mother said, “We no want trouble. Dog goes.”

A few weeks later I got another complaint about the other end of the block, also about barking dogs. This time the owner was a woman who was defiant. “These are purebred collies, show dogs, and I will not be intimidated by that Nazi! My dogs are not the problem -- HE is the problem.” I talked to the people in the house on the other side of the collies and they agreed that the dogs were not a problem.

Complainants are always harder to deal with than offenders, maybe because they feel they are on the side of virtue. This man was Scandinaavian, not German as his neighbors thought, and he was a big tough guy who began a tirade as soon as he opened the door. In the middle of it his wife came halfway down the stairs in a blouse and slip, holding her skirt, desperate to stop him.

It was quite a story. She had divorced this man because of his unreasonable temper. She was a nursing supervisor. He was an artist -- I was invited in and looked at his work. Wonderful paintings of sailing ships, almost other-worldly in their suggestion of freedom and peace. Then he developed terminal cancer and she let him come back to the house so he could paint until he died. He was refusing pain killers so he could be clear-headed. But his wretched temper had turned on all the neighborhood dogs and kids. “I’m glad the dogs are being killed -- the kids should go next.”

“You don’t mean that,” I said.

“He does,” said his wife. And to him, “I should throw you out. I have to live here after you’re dead, you know.”

We talked quite a while. I doubt we reached any conclusion. She was late to work. But he must have turned his temper on something else because there were no more complaints about barking and I didn’t go back. From our point of view, the problem was solved.

I had no business trying to counsel these people. I could have gotten sucked into all kinds of accusations, to say nothing of being attacked on the scene. I should never even have gone into their house, but how can one keep from trying to offer human sympathy? Even if you are only the dog catcher.

One case comes back to my mind often. It was like a TV show. A woman had a big St. Bernard named Brandy that attacked people. She refused to tie it up. She said “they” would kill her if she had to tie it up. We insisted and threatened to impound the dog. So she tied it up and she was right: “they” killed her. Never did find out who “they” were.

In hospitals, I discovered years later when I did a chaplaincy as part of training for the ministry, there are “case conferences” where all the professionals involved in a specific patient’s care meet and try to get the big picture of what’s going on. The same is sometimes done with juvenile delinquents. The idea that one kind of agency can bring to bear a comprehensive approach that will resolve neighborhood problems is outmoded. In fact, I’d like to see some kind of neighborhood board that could address these problems of multiple anguish and aggravation. Some places have tried them with considerable success. But the simple machinery of getting people to meetings, compiling information, and enforcing recommendation is a huge burden on a community if there are more than a few dilemmas like these.

On the other hand, such a process can at least get people to realize what’s going on in their streets. Over and over I dealt with many wild events that no one even on the back of the block knew about. Probably one of the most memorable was a case of Wheeler’s. We picked up animals even in houses when the occupants were dead or arrested without anyone immediately available to care for them. When Wheeler got a 10-? on the radio, that’s what he expected. The police and coroner sometimes called us to help with bodies, even if no animal were involved, because our uniforms were wash-and-wear, but theirs were wool that had to be dry-cleaned.

In fact, the man of the household had freaked on drugs and gone berzerk with an axe. The woman and a couple of kids had escaped but the madman had chopped up a pekinese dog and a blonde toddler. Wheeler’s job was to help the coroner sort out and bag which little bits were child and which were dog. The child must have been holding the dog, maybe to protect it and maybe in hopes it could protect him.

Sometimes there are police cases that are too shocking to be put in the newspaper and that was the case this time. People who faced or adjoined the house knew something had happened, but not what. People on the back of the block never had a hint. All emergency responders see things that no one else realizes ever happen. Wheeler’s response was to be tough -- he was a survivor himself and a lively cynic.

My own response began to push me towards a wish to intervene or at least understand. I had a wicked appetite for knowing just what it was going through that insane man’s head, the toddler’s mind -- even what the dog was thinking. I couldn’t help wondering who “they,” the murderers of Brandy’s owner, really were. And I had a vivid fantasy of a pack of 69 Chihuahuas running in the moonlight through the night streets of Portland. I really wish I’d seen that just once.

Working Like a Dog

A new trend in officedom seems to be bringing your pet to work. According to Ellen Wulfhorst of Reuters, several thousand US companies (possibly one in five) allow employees to keep animals at the office and/or telecommute in order to spend more time with their critters.

Call it a quirky, dot-com startup kind of idea, but I like it! And it's not just for unsupervised, overpaid whizkids... For a couple years at (highly supervised, cash-poor) Florida Game and Fish, there were no fewer than five active falconers on staff, and the sound of screaming eyas hawks and ringing bells could be heard on any of several floors at headquarters. How cool was it to bring my hawk to work, park her on a screen perch next to my boss's hawk, then head straight to the field at quitting time? Pretty cool.

My suspicion is that this happy, pet-to-work story suggests a great peril for the likes of Wayne Pacelle and the psycho-pet-castration set: Most of the people who support "humane" causes with hard-earned cash love their pets and like to spend time with them. Why is that a perilous thing for the AR movement? Because (as is so easily demonstrated) the movement's leaders have no special love of domesticated animals and can't even bring themselves to say the P-word in public. They want our pets to be "companion animals," but only until systematic spaying and neutering eliminate them from the planet.

My love for Rina, our slightly manic but sweet-natured whippet, is seen through AR-colored glasses as the patronizing love of a master for his favorite slave. How sad! How ignorant. How utterly incorrect.

The animal rightists and welfarists (increasingly indistinguishable) will only be able to conceal their goals from their chief supporters---normal, pet-loving Americans---for so long. It would be best for them to have fewer pet owners to contend with at that time, and so toward that end they toil tremendously now.

Friends, resist! Love your pets. And if you can, take them with you to work!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bull Market

This was too cool a photo-opportunity to pass up. Think they could get a job on Wall Street?

An Artist on "Hands- On"

Blogger and wildlife artist Carel Brest van Kempen had alot to say in this old post about his attitudes to "hands- on" interaction with the biosphere (see Matt's post below).

"A spoiled child of the west, I grew up in an area as sparsely populated as any in the temperate zone. Fences were few and easy to climb. As a boy, I could get on a horse and ride for days in any direction save one without running into other humans. Like many of the kids in my home town, I was an avid naturalist. If a species interested me, I'd capture a young one and raise it as a pet. We took foxes, coyotes, squirrels, woodrats, and scores of bird and reptile species, and in the process learned more about those animals than any college course could have taught us. Many of us practiced falconry, and a number of us have continued that sport into adulthood. Through our hands-on wildlife studies, we gained insights into the natural world that are the privilege of few in the industrialized world. To this day, I'm as likely to try to catch a wild animal, or climb to its nest as to sit silently and study its behavior."

Another RTWT. And watch for a real review of his book. Right now suffice to say that it is a brilliantly- done collection that is the artistic equivalent of Darren Naish's blog, but with some invertebrates added. Carel is less interested in conventionally charismatic megafauna than he is in the lesser known inhabitants of earth and their interactions, from Aplomado falcons picking insects out of the air over a burning cane field to horseshoe bats scooping minnows from a brilliantly- reflected, inverted tropical sky, to a nighthawk hunting over a thoroughly urban summer night scene to...

Well, buy the book-- I did, even though I could not afford it. You might even learn how to get drunk on live palm grubs...


Father Georges Lemaitre, mathematician, physicist, and diocesan Roman Catholic priest, is generally considered to be the father of the cosmic "Big Bang "theory. This informative TCS article suggests that he had admirably sane attitudes about the relations between science and religion too-- sometimes ones unexpected by his colleagues.

"Back in the early 1930s, the Nobel Laureate Paul Michael Dirac had a chance to discuss the expanding universe with Lemaître. Dirac was an atheist, and yet later he recalled, "When I was talking with Lemaître about this subject and feeling stimulated by the grandeur of the picture that he has given us, I told him that I thought cosmology was the branch of science that lies closest to religion. However Lemaître did not agree with me. After thinking it over he suggested psychology as lying closest to religion."

"This is fascinating, not because Dirac was an atheist and feeling mystical stirrings when he contemplated the cosmos, but because Lemaitre was a priest -- and he did not."


Self- Pollination

Self pollination is not all that rare, but this newly discovered Chinese orchid appears to be an extreme case.

"The orchid produces no scent or nectar, and the researchers did not see a single instance of pollination by an insect or by wind.

"Instead, the pollen-bearing anther uncovers itself and rotates into a suitable position to insert into the stigma cavity, where fertilization takes place.

"This sexual relationship is so exclusive that flowers do not even transfer pollen to other flowers on the same plant, researchers found."

Kazakhs in Space

I often say "Kazakhstan is a player". More eveidence can be found here at the Moscow Times: "Kazakhs Put First Satellite In Space"-- may be behind a firewall but it is an AP report and you might Google it. In case not, some snips:

"Kazakhstan sent its first satellite into space Sunday in the country's first step toward fulfilling its ambitions to join the club of space-exploring nations.

"The KazSat 1 satellite, mounted on a Russian-built Proton-K rocket, soared into the pre-dawn skies above Baikonur Cosmodrome in the middle of the harsh Kazakh steppe, watched by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and President Vladimir Putin."


"Kazakhstan had long ago leased the cosmodrome to Russia, but now Nazarbayev wants his nation to build its own space industry, the government's ambitions fueled by its economic success, pumped up by oil-dollars.

"Kazakhstan is planning space-exploration missions and has reached an agreement with Russia to be part of all its projects involving Baikonur, said Serik Turzhanov, who heads the country's space agency, Kazkosmos."


"Kazkosmos also intends to build a control center in the capital, Astana, to monitor launches from Baikonur and another center at the Sary Shagan missile test site that would monitor satellites that fly over Kazakh territory.

"The Kazakhs are also forming their own squad of cosmonauts, who have been training for a few years at Russia's cosmonaut-training center."

Kazakhstan is nobody's "satellite" (ouch!) As it is the freest , least Islamic, and most economically powerful Central Asian state, it is always interesting to watch its maneuvers...

Condors and Lead

This NYT article tells of the (recurrent) problems with California condors acqiuring lead poisoning from carcasses.

"Wildlife officials laid traps for California condors to test for lead poisoning after many were spotted feeding on squirrels that had been shot."

"Even microscopic lead traces from ammunition can paralyze digestive systems in the endangered species and cause the birds to starve to death, park officials said."

I am sure this is a real problem, and I am also sure that some groups will immediately call for a ban on all hunting in southern California and Arizona-- and also that certain recalcitrant "hunters" will say, in effect, "Who needs the condor?"

At least one biologist on the case, Denise Louie, is more sensible: "We don't know who shot the rodents or why," Louie said. "If rodents have to be shot, maybe their carcasses can be buried to protect not only condors but other carrion eaters and raptors."

I can resolve the problem right here, for free. First, if you are hunting birds in Condor country, use non- toxic shot.

If there is really a problem with big- game bullets-- it is not clear to me-- there are now even non- toxic alternatives there. It might also be nice if Americans were allowed dogs to track wounded deer too, as in Eastern Europe and France, but I am not holding my breath about either hidebound Game departments or AR- ists getting behind that program!

If you MUST shoot varmints, a category that does not exist in my worldview (I hunt some "varmint" SPECIES, but consider them as valuable as all others); and won't eat them or feed them to other animals or otherwise use them respectfully, at least have enough courtesy to the other inhabitants of the wild to dispose of them harmlessly by burying them. If you don't want to put out a little effort perhaps you should stay home and watch TV.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Stolen Petroglyphs

USA Today brings us the sad news that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out the convictions of a Reno man and a co-defendant who stole this beautiful petroglyph from the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Government prosecutors proved that the men took the boulders containing the petroglyph from USFS land, but the 9th Circuit threw out the Antiquities Act violation saying that the prosecutors failed to prove that the defendants knew or should have known that they were stealing something of archaeological value.

RTWT. As one of the commenters from the government said, this is an impossible standard of proof. "Essentially the government must prove the defendant knew this was an archaeological resource and knew the actual scientific benefit — which essentially says only archaeological scientists could be convicted in such a case."

The bedrock of protection for archaeological resources on public land in this country is the Antiquities Act of 1906 as amended by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA). The ARPA definition of resources is:

The term "archaeological resource" means any material remains of past human life or activities which are of archaeological interest, as determined under the uniform regulations promulgated pursuant to this Act. Such regulations containing such determination shall include, but not be limited to: pottery, basketry, bottles, weapons, weapon projectiles, tools, structures or portions of structures, pit houses, rock paintings, rock carvings, intaglios, graves, human skeletal materials, or any portion or piece of any of the foregoing items.

That sounds pretty plain to me, but often common sense and the law don't seem to intersect. The 9th Circuit is known for goofy rulings, after all, it's in California, but this is nonsense.

The only saving thing in this case is that the fellows are still guilty of stealing government property.

Kudos for Steve and the Q. Community

A nice note today from Patrick on his finding the Querencia blog. I think all of us can relate:

"For the longest time I have felt a little like a polar bear at a road-side zoo -- pretty sure there must be others like me, but without much evidence of that reality. Now I see there are others out there with a similar bend in the brain -- not a lot of us, but more than one, and that's a pretty thrilling thing on this end.

"I know some professional environmental types, but I have to say most seem to know almost nothing about critters -- it's either an academic excercise or a romantic thing, or a legal construct (lots of lawyers!) or else it's just the fear-mongering tribe they chose out of college. For whatever reason, there is often not much real connection to things that snap or go squish under foot, or that fly up or bite back in the hedge. A dissapointment."

Finding this blog prompted Patrick to order a few Bodio titles, the first of which (On The Edge of The Wild) arrived recently. The "first nine pages" earn this praise:

"It's depressing to find smart sons of bitches who can really write and actually have something to say, 'cause basically you know you will never be able to keep up or say it half as well. On the other hand, it's exhilirating too -- new ideas and turns of the phrase that just pop in your brain. I feel like an apartment dog taking his first long walk though a zoo. Pretty grand this place!

"...It's more than the fact that Steve says it all very well (smooth, smooth); it's that he has something to say that really needs to be said and (as far as I know) has not been said before. I think it must help to be from the East and have gone West and stayed and really paid attention -- it is an expatriant journey every bit as clarifying as what deToqueville did (and certainly just as far geographically). It is an old observation that to write best about Somewhere it helps to be from Elsewhere -- Hemingway in Idaho and Florida writing about Paris, etc.

"Anyway, it is at some level depressing and inspiring to read something this well put together . Writing this good reminds me that done properly writing is more than typing -- it is craft."

More "Kids These Days"

A recent story from Yahoo news: Tech Creates Bubble for Kids

The jist:

To baby boomers and other adults of a certain age, young people may seem rude, disrespectful and generally clueless about established social mores.

But to social scientists, the phenomenon is more complicated. Raised by parents who stressed individualism and informality, these young people grew up in a society that is more open and offers more choices than in their parents' youth, says child and adolescent psychologist Dave Verhaagen of Charlotte.

Unlike their parents, they have never known anything but a world dominated by technology. Even their social lives revolve around the Web, iPods and cellphones. So they dress down, talk loose and reveal their innermost thoughts online. "Put that all together and you've got a generation that doesn't have the same concept of privacy and personal boundaries as generations before," Verhaagen says.

Privacy and personal boundaries are important, nonetheless. Abandoning these values, a trend maybe in evidence now and perhaps to worsen, would affect everything in American life. Or maybe that sounds too much like Elvis's dad? I don't know. But I'm worried.

I gave a public falconry talk to a group in Ascension Parish last night. Forty-eight people showed up, about a third of them kids under the age of 15. It was wonderful to see.

I had already decided to revise my usual schpiel and speak mostly to the growing fact of raising kids without access to wild places and pet "critters." I told them about my great, patient parents and all those little animals I stashed under the bed---about being turned loose to walk in the woods after school; read what I wanted; get dirty.

And I admitted then that my own kids get precious little of that treatment and that mostly I keep them locked in the backyard for fear for their lives. I got a lot of sad nods, even here in the Sportsman's Paradise.

I made a point to let every kid mash on the hawk's feathers for a bit, despite the Danger of Natural Oils From Human Hands! and the risk (more real) of devastating personal lawsuit.

I met two great kids in particular, both girls: One about 12 years of age who keeps "two dogs, a cat, a turtle and some chickens my dad gave me" and had a wild bird feather collection---any of which could prompt prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (I told her to keep collecting).

The other young lady came to me after the presentation, a very slim six or seven year old with Coke-bottle glasses and an earnest face. Her mother hovered in the background, hands clasped. I said, "Hi there. What can I do for you honey?"

In a very quiet voice she asked me, "Are Mississippi Kites more closely related to hawks or to falcons?"


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Whole Foods in Hot Water

It's somewhat chic now to trash retail grocer Whole Foods. Whether it's about price or pretension, almost everyone I know has a gripe. Michael Pollan shared his beef in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, prompting this response from company execs. I've got a bone to pick with them, too, having lost to their expansionism the last good cottontail habitat inside my city limits.

But the truth is I trade there. The food is pricey and the atmosphere high falutin, but the quality is good as advertised. For several years, the quirky little outlet on Esplanade in New Orleans was a regular stop on my way home, Sunday mornings. Squeezed into existing space between giant live oaks and hundred-year old homes, the Eslpanade Whole Foods catered to a local crowd. The location had none of the brushed-steel-and-mahogany-veneer chic of the new super stores. It was clean, but plain; staffed by funky, pierced, granola munchers who smiled with good teeth and always got your change right. The coffee was excellent---probably shade grown by Costa Rican grad students---and surprisingly cheap.

Whole Foods closed that location when it opened a megastore in another neighborhood. Something had shifted. A sea change. The new outlet that sits on my bunny spot in Baton Rouge is a flagship-class giant, a bustling, upscale venue. A place to be seen.

The first time I entered the new store I thought, "Baton Rouge has people like this?" I hadn't seen that distinctive style of person since my last visit to downtown Houston: Shoppers with money, shoulder to shoulder. People who shop in heels.

You'd be challenged now to find a dredlock, or an easy-going kid behind the counter. The new workers are driven and clean cut, pushing the chanterelles and the mango smoothies at high volume. The pace of commerce is amazing. You can see five cash registers from any spot on the floor, all of them busy swiping cards.

So why do I think Whole Foods is in trouble? Because last week they stopped selling live lobsters and softshell crabs.

The move made the national news. You've probably heard about it, and if so you'll know the reason: After more than two years of study, Whole Foods concluded it is "not yet sufficiently satisfied that the process of selling live lobsters is in line with our commitment to humane treatment and quality of life for animals."

The task force helping Whole Foods determine what "humane treatment" and "quality of life" mean to lobsters includes some familiar names: Humane Society of the United States, PETA, Animal Welfare Institute, VIVA, Animal Rights International, and others. According to John Mackey, Whole Foods Co-founder and CEO, humane treatment "is an integral component of our standards for every species we sell, and lobster cannot be any different."

But what Mackey seems not to know is that pleasing the likes of HSUS will not end with kindness for crustaceans. Wayne Pacelle doesn't work that way. He starts small and with an obvious target---in this case, still-live animals awaiting a death by boiling in saltwater. Live lobsters have another trait that recommends them for action: They're considered a luxury food; lobsters are expensive to buy and messy to cook, an item easily dispensed from the American family menu.

Perhaps Whole Foods feels it has appeased the necessary demigods with this decision. It's a small price to pay---call it protection money---and a high-maintenance item that probably wasn't selling well anyway. Curiously, Whole Foods still offers "select raw and cooked frozen lobster products," which, presumably suffer the same fate they would otherwise in your kitchen, or worse: How else might one sell raw lobster meat without first chopping up a live lobster? I wonder when Pacelle, et al, will tie up that loose end?

To know Whole Foods as it was on Esplanade is to marvel that it sold meat at all. The clientele and staff could have passed for anyone's image of conscientious vegetarians. Somehow, seeing good meat carefully butchered and proudly displayed gave the place depth and substance---Whole Foods had hutzpah! Take away the meat, and all that's left is processed soy.

A note from me to John Mackey: When PETA is finally happy with your butcher shop, you'll be out of business.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day with Guns and Puppies

"The kids", Peculiar and Mrs. Peculiar, came down from Santa Fe for Father's Day.

They played with puppies.

And shot targets, and played with more puppies.

Nikki shot for the first time-- a shotgun, a .22 rifle, and two decidedly non- wimpy handguns-- a Smith Mountain gun in .44, a Kimber .45 auto on a Commander- sized frame. She shot well and was not the slightest bit intimidated ("What recoil?")

We had fun.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

More Terrierman

Patrick Burns, whose exceptional blog we noted earlier and added to the Q. 'roll, has recently added us. We...are...pleased.

Burns has been "playing in the gutter" (that's old school lingo for updating his nav-bar), and his blog now offers a good post archive. I spent some time browsing this morning and see, to my amazement, he pretty much covers it all: A(nimal Rightists)-Z(ealots)

You can browse for natural history, terrier lore, hunters' ethics, and much else, but here's a sampler for the more humane among us:

The End of the Game?

Nannying Idiots Continue to Ignore Real Problems

The Red Flag of Lunacy

The Dysfunctional Terrier World

The Last Rat Pit in New York

Friday, June 16, 2006

Prairiemary, Blackfeet and Fossil Legends

Mary Scriver e-mailed me a couple of weeks ago, telling me of a large and powerful mythic creature from Blackfoot legend known as a "water bull." Mary suggested that it might have its origins in tribal memories of mammoths from the Pleistocene and asked what I thought. I replied that was possible, but also to remember that extinct Pleistocene bison were much larger than the modern species and that could be a possibility, too.

I was able to refer Mary to an interesting book, Adrienne Mayor's Fossil Legends of the First Americans. I e-mailed her a reference from the book to baculites, marine cephalopod fossils, with surface fractal patterns. When these erode, the small pieces resemble four legged animals, and the Blackfeet (among others) invested them with the ability to summon bison herds. They are called iniskim, or buffalo calling stones. That immediately clicked with Mary, who has an immense fund of knowledge about iniskim, and has previously written a tourist brochure about them.

Mary has gotten a copy of Mayor's book, and has an initial post up about it at Prairiemary. She has such a depth and breadth of knowledge of Blackfeet culture, I know she will take Mayor's starting points on the interplay of fossils and Blackfeet religion and history and vastly expand them. I look forward to reading more about Mary's research.

Coso Rock Art Blogging

As I posted on here and here, the prehistoric people at Coso, up in Inyo County, were obsessed with big-horn sheep. I like this image of sheep in the rain.

Bird Rock Art Blogging

A prehistoric Chumash pictograph of a hummingbird. From CA-SBA-550 at Honda Ridge on Vandenberg AFB here in Santa Barbara County.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Close Call

This post has it's origins in an e-mail I sent to Steve, Libby, and Matt last Monday night. I have updated it, added some pictures that I took Tuesday evening, and included Libby's reply that tells a similar story.

I had a close call yesterday. In the afternoon I took the dogs hiking on the Jesusita Trail - the one I blogged about a few days ago. The dogs were off-leash which isn't an issue usually on this trail. There's no requirement for it and have never had a problem.

Early on the trail there is a stretch that is very narrow, cuts into the side of the hill, and has a vertical drop to the creek on the other side. When we got there we met a fellow coming down the trail who had the biggest male black lab I have ever seen, on leash. He said, "I'll hold him and you go on by."

So we did. Maggie is usually very aggressive towards other dogs. She weighs almost 80 herself and was dwarfed by this guy. She wanted nothing to do with him, shot right by and Sadie followed. Then Sadie turned around and went back to the big lab. I turned to call her back and saw as the lab threatened her and she panicked, lost her footing and went over the side. [She went over about where the stump is in the lower left area of the picture]

I know it's a cliche, but she did look like she was falling in slow motion, falling on her side and spinning as her legs were still working frantically. It seemed to take forever for her to land. With the undercut of the bank I couldn't see her hit clearly.

I ran frantically down the trail to get to a point where the bank was low enough that I could scramble down to the creek bottom. Maggie ran ahead of me, every bit as traumatized as I was. I found later she scraped her legs sliding down the bank with me. There was a bend in the creek and I still couldn't see Sadie. I splashed up the creek, the last bit through a pool that was almost waist deep. When I got there I could hear her cry, but it wasn't a pain yelp, and sounded more like fear.

When I got to her she was huddled on the small beach at the base of the bank, which was made of crumbled pieces of shale. She was obviously terrified and wet but I couldn't tell if she was injured. I grabbed her, hugged her and started feeling her legs. They seemed all right, and I started feeling along her ribs. No obvious problems, no yelps of pain. I looked up and could tell she had fallen at least ten, maybe twelve feet. [After revisiting the scene, it's really more like 18 - 20 feet]

I picked her up, and carried her back through the deep pool, to the shallows where Maggie was anxiously waiting. She had been too afraid to go in the deep water - she's not a good swimmer. Sadie seemed to calm some more when she saw Maggie. When I put her down, it didn't take her more than a minute to collect herself and start prancing around and looking at me with that, "Aren't we going back to the trail?" look.

She was exhausted and obviously a little sore last night, but seems to be okay. All I can figure is that the rotten shale beach had a lot of give, plus it was sloping at an angle from the base of the bank. So she hit an angled surface with a lot of give and then rolled into the water.

The fellow with the big lab, to give him credit, tied his dog to a tree and came splashing up the creek to help. He was upset, too. It wasn't his fault, or his dog's. My fault I didn't grab my dogs and let him come by us.

I woke at 2:30 this morning and couldn't get back to sleep, brooding about it. I got up and got Sadie out of her crate where she sleeps in the kitchen. We sat on the couch and she slept with her head in my lap for the rest of the night.

Sadie wasn't her usual energetic self this morning, but did seem okay other than that. I called our vet and tried to get her in for an exam today, but the soonest they would see her is tomorrow afternoon. I went by the house at lunch and she was her usual run and try to jump up on me (bad dog!) self. Connie thinks she's doing well enough that we don't need to take her to the vet.

Here's Libby's reply.

Hi Reid --
I would take her into the vet anyway, just for your peace of mind to make
sure she is only bruised and rattled which is probably the case if she is
doing as well as she is. And go out and buy a big bottle of gin or whatever
for yourself.

One time when we were leading an Outward Bound course in the Escalante area,
we had a nightmare similar to yours. I think you know the area, at least a
bit. We started down Hall's Creek with the intention of crossing over the
Waterpocket Fold into the top of Stevens Canyon, and then coming out Coyote
Gulch. We had 18 students and four instructors, one of whom had a wonderful
dog named Shana. AS we entered Steve's Canyon from the top, we started
encountering a series of cliffs that required rappeling...some weren't too
high -- 50 - 75 feet; the problem was how to get Shana down. So we put her
into a nylon sleeping bag liner and lowered her down by rope, her owner Wick
at the bottom. We did that for three rappels and everything went fine, and
Shana, though a bit dubious, was co-operating. Finally we came to a cliff
that was slanted, not overhanging, but about 125 feet. We put Shana into the
bag liner and started lowering her...when she got about half way down, we
saw the knot starting to come undone, and Shana fell, in the liner, the rest
of the way, landing on a sand slope at the bottom. We were sure she was
dead. Wick got her out of the bag and she was hardly moving. We made camp
then and there, and got her as comfortable as we could -- she drank, but
didn't really want to eat. We nervously got up in the morning, and Shana
actually stood up and walked around. We rested another half day, and then
Wick alternately carried her and let her walk to the next camp. That night
she ate. The next day she was stiff but walked by herself most of the day,
and ate a good dinner. She lived another 6 years. We had to put her in the
bag again when we reached the Escalante River, which was in full flood -- we
were caught in the worst series of storms in 100 years on that trip, and we
had to do a Tyrolean Traverse across the river with all the students and
gear. Shana actually got into the bag liner again, shaking like a leaf --
before she got in she tried to swim the river but figured out that it would
be too much, so came back up and let us put her in the bag.
Our dogs make our hair turn white...


I did take Sadie to the vet and he gave her a clean bill of health. She's back to her normal energetic self.

Brown Eyes and a Taste for Steak

Heritability of food preference in children is the subject of a new study (in press with the Journal of Physiology & Behavior) by researchers with University College and Kings College, London.

Wire service reports can be found here and here and the original article by Fiona M. Breena, Robert Plominb and Jane Wardle can be viewed here.

The study is based on analysis of 214 food-preference questionnaires administered to mothers of twins (103 identical and 111 fraternal, all aged 4 or 5 years), the largest sample in comparable studies to date. Researchers grouped 77 distinct food items within four categories (meat and fish, vegetables, fruits, and deserts), and determined the extent of children's preferences for each. Comparing data on identical and fraternal twins allows researchers to tease apart the effects of genetics and environment; the purely genetic factors are statistically more likely to be shared by identical twins.

According to these findings, a child's taste for animal protein (meat and fish) is strongly inherited from his parents, while his particular taste for dessert (tho also somewhat inherited) is due more to environment. Liking of vegetables and fruits falls in between, with a taste for vegetables statistically more "hard-wired" than for fruits.

From the Discussion:

"...Using this approach, we found modest heritability estimates for liking for dessert foods, moderate heritability for fruits and vegetables, and high heritability for liking of protein foods (meat and fish)....Shared environment effects were strong for dessert foods, fruits and vegetables. This is consistent with evidence that in children, food acceptance is affected by what they see other people eating, what foods they are offered, and how parents control food intake in the home..."

Matt (a parent of twin 5-year olds) observes: So meat-loving parents are most likely to pass on this trait to their kids, whatever else they might big feet. But how kids like their fruits and veggies is less pre-determined; and whether or not they will gorge on their father's Peanut M&Ms might depend most on whether or not they can reach them.

I'm kinda liking this train of thought. Here my kids' unpredictable performance at their greens is explained, and my hiding and hoarding of sweets is fully justified! And there's an added bonus in the notion that my own taste for meat---the flesh of once-living animals---is likely sewn into my genome and indivisible. It certainly feels that way.

Interestingly, my fraternal-twin daughters are notably different from each other in their taste for meat. One loves all kinds and generally cleans the meat first off her plate. The other is indifferent or worse about most meats and generally eats her salad first. This difference seems to be supported in the study findings, as my wife is also indifferent to most meats and eats little even of her favorite kinds.

What puzzles me most is that my Young Vegan is the one who loves to hunt.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Corporate-Sponsored, Televised, "Non-Fatal Hunting Tour" for Points, Cash Money and Valuable Prizes

"For far too long, hunters have looked forward to the day when we would eventually get our own professional sports league. Well, that time has arrived and we are extremely excited."
---Brett Hankins, a WHA Tour hunter

It's hard to choose which target to shoot first. Call it a bass tourney with guns, or paint-ball with live animals, or maybe The Bachelor in Realtree (tm) cammo, but what we've got here is your basic competitive deer darting.

I kid you not. David Farbman, a Michigan real estate developer and "Commissioner and CEO of The World Hunting Association," announced on Monday the inaugural season of "a new professional competitive world tour designed by hunters, for hunters."

According to the website, here's what we can expect to see:
The WHA will feature a series of major tournament events, oversight on a series of smaller events, and a highly interactive and informative website for members. WHA events will be broadcast through many outlets including Internet, television, Pay-per-view, On Demand, and others. WHA plans to become the standard for professional hunting competition and to grow and enhance the industry's image and presence.

During WHA Tour events, highly skilled hunters from around the world will compete, utilizing the WHA's patent-pending, respectful non-fatal tranquilizing technique that will allow for a thrilling tournament experience. This technique will expand the hunting fan base beyond passionate hunters to a broad-based mainstream audience, which will resonate well with the country's leading companies and brands.

You have to see the website's introductory "trailer" to enjoy the full effect----complete with square-jawed, commando-esque hunters menaced by fat, farm-reared deer; the lure of shiny convertibles; NFL cheerleader-grade spokesmodels and plenty of product placement.

But what is "non-fatal" hunting? Details promised soon, but until then:

"...for purposes of broadening viewership, the competition will be based on 'non-fatal' hunting...The WHA competition will focus on many of the same skills required in harvest hunting, including scents, positioning, scent elimination, stand strategies, gauging and playing the wind, and many other practices...The scoring system will reward competitors for their hunting skill. While the animals will not die, the hunt itself will be challenging and intense....To preserve ecology, the animals will be given certain vaccinations and will have blood work completed immediately by a licensed veterinarian; animals will be marked and not shot twice in a competition."

Sporting! But lest you think this is merely an ill-conceived and value-free ploy to sell ads to "prestigious hunting industry inaugural sponsors" and canned hunts to industry execs, note that the WHA stands "committed to supporting hunting-related charitable organizations worldwide."

Farbman, with subtle irony, outlines the need for this innovative new program: "Let's face it: our sport could use a 'shot in the arm.' The number of licensed hunters has been declining for years and many people view hunters and hunting in an inaccurate and unflattering way. It's time to improve that image and show the world the complexity, skill, and strategy that is the core of hunting."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Three quick links

I am writing two articles today (and one is for free, proving me a fool by Dr. Johnson's dictum), so time is limited. But I am taking a break, and you must see these.

First, as I said Larissa is going to London. Here is her account of her trip to set things up, which contains among other elegant and funny observations a perfect account of how the English use the adjective "brilliant".

Still in England, Darren tells us how the greater noctule bat
flies down migrant songbirds at night like a miniature falcon!
I wonder if our own hoary and red bats (Lasiurus) do the same, as they are "big" migrants with narrow wings like noctules.

Finally, at 2Blowhards, Montana novelist Richard Wheeler pokes some holes in the (post?) modern literary novel and its pretensions, showing how, as raymond Chandler said, there are no genres, only good and bad writing.

Read The Whole Thing(s)!