Thursday, June 30, 2005


Matt Mullenix, who talked me into having a website, designed it, and got me going, has a new blog, Waypoints . His last became one of the most original and literate falconry books around-- I'll tell you about it as soon as it is out. The new one is more free- form and he is asking for feedback. Matt is an original mind. What can you say about a (still young, Matt!) writer whose favorites are Hemingway, Wendell Berry, C S Lewis, and (gulp!) me?

Decadent--or just unclear on the concept?

I have no doubt that eating at El Bulli in Spain could be a fantastic experience, but I'm not sure about the cookbook . A $350 cookbook that is too beautiful to bring into the kitchen? And, to quote Jessica's Biscuit: "The first book catalogues his work though full-color photos, and you can only find the recipes on the CD".

THAT'S practical. Never had to deal with sauce on the EMac before...

I don't take all Amazon reviews too seriously, especially those that can't spell,but this one raised my eyebrows too: "The recipies are not meant to be for the home cook, but anyone interested in new techniques, this book explains it all. Most of the food isn't very appealing for the Western pallate [sic]". And this is a five- star review!

I wonder what John Thorne thinks of all this. Maybe I'll ask....

Kennewick: free at last!

A team of scientists are finally going to be allowed to study the 9000- plus year old remains of "Kennewick Man", despite the coalition of tribes that objected under what any rational person must think is (at least) an overly- broad interpretation of NAGPRA.

Too bad the government colluded with the tribes to rebury and cement over the rest of the find. It will make it very hard to do a true "taphonomic" study...

If remains as old as this are surrendered to the tribes I believe I am going to get together with a few friends of Italian Alpine descent and lay claim to the Ice Man. We have a better claim to genetic ancestry any day than the four tribes who claim the Kennewick bones do....

And here is the scariest part to me:
"Legislation remains under consideration in Congress that would allow federally recognized tribes to claim ancient remains even if they cannot prove a link to a current tribe".

Uhhh... why?

Poison Mammals

A venomous mammal has been found in fossil beds from 60 million years ago in Alberta. The interesting part is that it had fangs like a snake, or rather a Gila monster: "The fossilized remains of two curved canines, found in the Canadian province of Alberta, shows a groove from which the creature, Bisonalveus browni, probably shot venom into its prey".

Now I don't know about "shot"-- Gila monsters drip and chew. But specialized venom teeth in a mammal are still news.

It may be that venom was much more common then, though. In addition to the solenodon mentioned in the article, and the platypus's heel spurs, many shrews have enough venom to give a nasty toxic bite (experience speaking: Blarina brevicauda in Massachusetts, if I remember right). All these are very old families.

Thanks to David at Cronaca, which everyone should read.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Effective Warning

My friend Gloria works extensively with big cats. This sign graces her front door:


I am currently doing some research (on parasites of digger bees-- whole 'nother story) in the vast almost roadless Sevilleta Wildlife reservation north of here, where no one is allowed save researchers. And I am seeing the first SMALL box turtles I have ever seen, east or west-- often. Seems the exclusion of most cars, signs reminding you to watch for turtles crossing, and maybe all- natural grazing have done them a favor. Here is a rather small-- see scale to wallet-- individual. But he is already big enough to survive coyotes-- look at those tooth scars!

The End of Oil?

VERY scary piece from the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal: could Saudi Arabia be lying to the world about the extent of its oil reserves? If so, civilization is about to hit a serious speed bump...

Friday, June 24, 2005

Book Reviews

Lots of new reviews, from suspense to science, up at Good Books on the website...

And who thought this was a good idea?

The Alpha Environmentalist, knowing of my interest in China issues, just alerted me to this op- ed piece from the Arizona Daily Star on the Chinese government's bid to buy the California based oil company Unocal (don't know how long the link will be up).

Exactly who-- other than, say, the Peoples' Liberation Army-- thinks this is a good idea? Assuming the most benign motives possible, it will doubtless divert oil from us in the future. As the Star states:".....if the point of this purchase is to increase China's oil sources, it seems only a matter of time before pressures would build to divert U.S. supplies to China's domestic use".

But, worse, what will happen if, down the road, China chooses to confront us over Taiwan, or... well, I can hadly begin to list the possibilities. To quote the Star-- quite a liberal paper by the way-- again: "There is a contradiction between the communist repression we don't see and the economic surge we do. It is easy for us to forget that the People's Republic of China is a repressive, totalitarian government."

We don't have time today to go into the Chinese record on the environment (air quality, the Yangtze Dam, animals in traditional medicine, and more). But over the next weeks I will be writing a lot more on China-- on John Derbyshire's novel trilogy, on Mark Elvin's Retreat of the Elephants (China environmental history) and more.

Oh and-- China also wants to acquire IBM's computer division. Makes me glad I drive a Mac.

Didn't Lenin say that the last capitalist would sell his executioner the rope with which to hang him?

UPDATE 6 July:
Both conservatives (National Review Online) and liberals (The New Yorker) have now defended the Unocal sale, mostly on the grounds of free trade and the nature of the oill market. The New Yorker adds for the record that we should NOT sell off defense companies like Lockheed Martin. They make some rational points, but I keep seeing that rope...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

"My name is Steve and I am a bookaholic".

Check this hilarious post from Dymphna at Gates of Vienna.

She pefectly captures our mutual addiction: "Read-a-holics cannot resist the printed word: It starts with cereal boxes at the breakfast table or newspapers abandoned in the restaurant booth by whomever ate there before you and continues into reading your high school English lit books the day you get them. This is not virtue. A therapist once posed the question: “so when did you discover that books were a neurotic escape?”"

"Motto: never leave home without a book. You never know when you might be trapped somewhere with nothing to read. Horrors".

Read the whole thing, as the man says.

Libby insists I take at least two books to go to the Post Office where she works (two miles away). I take about five on our biweekly two- hour trip to Albuquerque... you never know.

My favorite New Mexico book dealer, Jerry Lane of the Book Stop, once whirled on me as I entered and said to a customer: "THERE is the perfect example of a man who needs a book muzzle!"

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"I Am Not Worthy!"

"Michael Blowhard" of 2Blowhwards-- see my blogroll-- has just written a touching link and description of my site. Michael was the first person to admit me to a blog, with a guest post on the writer's life, several years ago. I guess that makes him my "blogfather". I am honored. Please, check out Blowhards-- it is one of the most original and diverse sites on the web.

Below is a generous quote on my writing. But understand, there is a LOT more on Blowhards than I have yet dreamed of putting up here, including but not limited to art criticism, movies, architecture, nude modeling, car design, evo- bio, and as my old friend Elaine used to say approvingly. "more and worse".

"Stephen Bodio is a beyond-excellent nature writer who manages the distinctive -- and too-rare -- feat of fusing the lyrical and rhapsodic with the harshly down-to-earth. (I especially loved his collection of essays "On the Edge of the Wild: Passions and Pleasures of a Naturalist.") Based in New Mexico, he's accessible yet sophisticated, full of curiosity and interests, and has a good sense of rueful humor about the ultimate absurdity (and beauty) Of It All. He also has a special affinity for raptor birds".

Slow Food?

The moas of New Zealand were the largest true birds that ever lived. They were preyed upon by an eagle that was itself so large it probaby ate the first human settlers, the Maori, as well-- they have legends saying so, and pictured it on rocks. As in so many places, humans probably put an end to the big birds and its predator-- aboriginal humans are as efficient as any others at that practice. Aussie zoologist Tim Flannery calls it the "Black Hole Theory" of extinction, said hole being the human digestive system...

A new story from Yahoo News Service suggests why moas were so vulnerable (other than being huge and slow):

" did a small Maori population, armed only with close-range wooden weapons and traps, wipe out such a plentiful species in such a large country?

The answer, according to the new research, may be found in growth rings in the bones of these extinct giants.

These marks are common in many animal species and are caused by differing growth rates in changing seasons. But bird species do not have these rings as in most cases their growth phase is confined to less than a year.

The moa, though, was the exception.

Examination of rings in stored bones suggest that the two moa species, luxuriating in the safety of New Zealand's unique eco-system, may have taken several years to reach reproductive maturity and up to a decade to attain skeletal maturity.

That made them "extremely vulnerable" to hunting. If too many adult moa were caught too quickly there would have been no chance of replenishment, and the species, dominated by unreproductive birds, would have been placed under severe pressure."

This is bigger scientifically than it seems. It makes moas more like mammals-- or dinosaurs. Virtually every bird attains full size in a year, and only a few longer- lived groups take longer than that to attain sexual maturity. And they usually do it in that order...

Got Mud?

From England via Cox News Service: fake mud for your four wheel drive vehicle:

" Maybe your rugged SUV never goes anywhere wilder than the mall, but you can look like a wilderness adventurer with Spray-On Mud.
For owners who don't want it to look like they're driving an unnecessary gas-guzzler, a little splash signals that the vehicle spends time tackling the back country.
The product is the brainchild of Colin Dowse, a businessman from Shropshire, England, a village close to the Welsh border.
"Spray-On Mud is an urban camouflage designed to give the impression that you are a serious off-roader," he said.
Dowse, a Web designer, came up with the idea about a year ago while sharing a few pints with friends at a local pub.
It's genuine local dirt - strained to remove stones and other debris - mixed with water and a secret ingredient that Dowse says helps it stick to a vehicle's bodywork."

Thanks to Bruce douglas. I have a feeling I am going to hear from my hard- core Land Cruiser friends on this....

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Great Quote

Physicist Wolfgang Pauli’s comment on a paper submitted by a colleague: “This isn’t right. This isn’t even wrong.”

(Shamelessly stolen from Cathy Siepp).

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Frederick Turner on dubious judgement

Frederick Turner, classicist, poet, teacher, and polymath, is one of our most important and unfortunately least known intellectuals and philosophers. His remarkable body of work transcends genres and easy political categories. He is a biologically and scientifically literate humanist and a poet who writes epics and metered lyrics. A quick view of his work can be seen at the invaluable 2Blowhards here, and his own website is here.

His best prose may be in The Culture of Hope, linked to in the Blowhards site. But my favorite of all his books is Genesis, a novel in the form of an epic poem, in various meters, about the colonization of Mars. There is nothing like it, and everyone I have ever given it to loves it, even if they dislike science fiction.

Recently Fred wrote a post in Tech Central Station on what he believes was a severe lapse in judgement, to say the very least, in the New York Times: "A recent article by Scott Shane, Stephen Grey and Margot Williams in the New York Times revealed the use of aircraft charter companies by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, together with specific aircraft markings, bases, routes, and other information helpful to identification of such flights."

One doesn't have to believe in the Iraq war to think that this is just plain wrong (for the record, I am comfortable with the Afghan invasion, and think Iraq was at least partly the result of faulty intelligence, though not malice. But I don't know that the best way to deal with the insurgents is to cut and run immediately --a LOT too much to go into here!

Fred says it well: "A fourth motivation could be that the patriotic authors believed that the US is making a huge mistake in the current war, and any hindrance to its use of secret intelligence and covert action will help prevent the continuance of this mistake. Two problems present themselves here. The first is that if this were the motivation, their proper role would be to say so in an opinion piece, in which citation of specific secrets would be unnecessary, since America already accepts and has voted for covert services that employ private companies."

He, like so many of us, knows someone well who is being deployed there: "If my friend dies in his tour of duty I shall be thinking very specifically about Mr. Scott, Mr. Grey, and Ms. Williams. Quite likely they would have had nothing particularly to do with this misfortune. However, human nature being what it is, I know that I would not be able to exclude them from my meditations. If the authors were just publishing their article to get a chance at a Pulitzer, I really have no moral quarrel with them at all, any more than I would have with a crocodile that eats a child or a raccoon that raids my larder. However, if they do have a moral identity as human beings, they should know that, if a certain civilian plane comes down over an unnamed Middle Eastern country, and all the US personnel aboard are killed, there is one compatriot who will regard them as murderers. "

Amen. Could you have imagined such harebrained idiocy in WW II?

I bet they didn't do it in chadors...

Two Iranian women make it to the top of Everest.

Monday, June 13, 2005

"Think Like a Neanderthal"

Dr. Ana Pinto did just that and found a Spanish cave that was inhabited for 60,000 years, and more. This New York Times interview covers carnivorous cave bears, even more carnivorous Neanderthals, and the possibility that H. sapiens greater omnivory might have given us a competitive advantage.

Via Cronaca.

Africa's Pol Pot?

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has begun to burn the houses of thousands of urban poor people and drive them into the already-starving countryside. One of Africa's rare food exporters has been turned into something resembling a subtropical North Korea.

I was in Zimbabwe shortly before the current troubles began and fell in love with it. Even then, the eerie "Big Brother" porteaits of Mugabe in every public room struck an ominous note. I wonder if I could ever go back knowing what we do now. A village council elder in a southwestern village we visited to see their (then) excellent "Campfire" conservation program has since been beheaded. I believe I shook his hand.

From Winds of Change the whole story, which has made at least one Canadian rethink his position on the right to bear arms.

Thanks to Chas of Nature Blog.

Am I in the wrong trade?

Jonathan Hanson of Alpha Environmentalist and I have a long history of trying to one- up each other with the worst and always hilarious excesses of postmodern academic-- i. e., art school-- "art". This is not actually the worst, but will do as a contender.

"In May, at the annual spring auction at Christie's in New York City, Massachusetts artist Tom Friedman managed to sell a piece consisting of an ink squiggle on a 12-by-18-inch piece of white paper (described in the Christie's catalog as "starting an old dry pen on a piece of paper"). It was sold for $26,400, according to a Washington Post report. Friedman was less successful in offering a 2-foot white cube that contained, on one surface, a tiny speck of his own feces, for which he expected an opening bid of $45,000, but got no takers."

Imagine how many trips to Kazakhstan, fine shotguns etc. those prices would soon buy me. I mean, it's pretty easy to be prolific...

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Fashion Week in Almaty

Sometimes it is very hard to convey the realities of Central Asia. People can just about get the idea of what remote parts of Mongolia are like-- they like the idea of "primitive".

But what about Almaty? It is a huge modern city with tree- lined boulevards and excellent restaurants and cyber- cafes, situated in the green foothills beween 14,000 foot peaks and steppes like the plains of Wyoming. It is inhabited by Kazakhs and Russians living in enviable harmony (and often intermarrying), Germans, Moslems, Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Jews. What's more, as a Russian friend says, "you can take public transport to snow leopards".

And the town is inhabited, thronged, by incredibly beautiful and stylish women. Everyone in the US seems to think Central Asian women look like East German Athletes or Stalinist WW II vets-- it ain't so! Renato Sala, an irreverent Italian archaeologist based in Almaty, once said to us through clouds of Gauloise smoke that " Kazakhstan has the MOST beautiful women-- Stalin or Chingizz or somebody must have killed all the ugly ones!" Only an Italian.

Dress is interesting too. Libby thought to bring "Cover Up" clothes in deference to both what we thought were local mores and to the season, but it was still hot (early September) and the local women were dressed in bare midriffs and slit skirts and very high heels.

So, catching up on the usually serious Registan, I was delighted to see this hilarious post from Nathan last month. I think that the one that he describes as owing something to pre- teen D & D players-- the one with the tall covered headress and the less modest "body"-- might owe something to the Golden "Man". (Doctor Jeannine Davis- Kimball says he is a she).

Sorry for the image quality of the G. M.--- the only photo available wouldn't load, and this one is a Kazakh kid's drawing.

Nasyma Raybayevna
(Above image: Our friend Nasyma Raybayevna, who is studying business in Almaty and has lived in London, with a berkut. Photo by Wolfgang Regar-- or, as he is known in Almaty, "Regarbayev".)

Parrot Reality Check

Parrot trainer, falconer, and writer Rebecca O'Connor of Operation Desert Dove gently rebukes me for the "crap" implied in the bbc article below: "Please please remind all to refrain from calling what parrots do language. They are excellent labelers, excelling at using learned noises at appropriate moments. They cannot however, understand the abstract concepts involved in language. This is one of the very things that gets so many parrot owners in trouble. They think of their speaking parrots as two year old children (Like Dr. Irene Pepperberg, the premier grey parrot researcher advices us.) Children they are NOT! Like you said, Steve their brain works entirely differently. They are incredibly intelligent but deserve to have their behaviors translated through the lens of what a wild parrots would do naturally."

She suggests this article as a corrective.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Bird Brains?

I have always been fairly unimpessed with the "linguistic" exploits of our closest genetic relatives, the great apes-- the communications chasm seems wider than that between us and our dogs, despite their having been trained to manipulate some symbols.

Which is why recent developments in bird speech and cognition are so mind-boggling, especially as the avian brain is physically extremely different in
its structure. There is a lot of info out there, but check out this BBC
story for a good example of the most talented talking bird, the African gray

Thursday, June 09, 2005


A good line from contrarian blogger- evolutionist- film critic Steve Sailer: "One conservative element I like about "Lord of the Rings" is Tolkien's arch-Tory / proto-hippie conservationism. Here in the U.S., conservatives tend to assume that the essence of conservatism is to bulldoze a forest and build a Costco. Tolkien would have shuddered."

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Panther Purity

A cougar, probably of the so- called "Florida panther" race, was hit and killed by a car in northern Florida, far from the usual southern haunts of the subspecies. A story in the St Augustine Record by Peter Guinta-- it requires registration so I'll just quote-- records the good news that the cat's range is expanding but flirts with an odd obsession with genetic purity that crops up in many places, from genetics- obsessed dog standards to the sneers at the restored eastern peregrine as "Cornell chickens".

" "In recent years their numbers have been increasing, and now we've just
lost one," she [ Sarah Owen of the Florida Wildlife Federation]said. "But we're not going to get too excited until we find
out through DNA testing where it's from."

Cunningham said the same thing -- a DNA test is required because there was an experiment in North Florida three years ago that involved releasing
sterilized Texas cougars to find out if a second population of Florida
panthers could survive there. Some of the vasectomies given to those cats
were not effective and they began breeding, he said.

"I couldn't tell the difference at necropsy," he said. "This one did not
have some of the characteristics of the pure, inbred Florida panthers. I
still think it was a Florida panther, but I don't want to rule out that
this could be connected to that project.""

Don't get me wrong-- having the locally- adapted type would always be better-- unless there were none, or the population was dwn to where the remaining animals had problems. But Florida's panthers were in exactly that kind of shape.

"In 1989, data collected from 29 radio-collared panthers indicated that the
population was losing genetic diversity at a rate of three to sevenpercent
yearly. Researchers believed that the gene pool would continue to erode
even if the population stabilized, leading to extinction within 40 years.
Three years later, with the health of the population continuing to
decline, biologists made a controversial decision. In an effort to increase genetic
diversity, wildlife managers introduced several female Texas cougars --
the closest remaining cougar population that had historically shared Florida
panther range -- into the Florida panther population in 1995. Several
hybrid litters have since been produced, and the introduction seems to
have corrected some of the problems experts generally attribute to inbreeding.
Experts are still debating the role of the Texas cougars in panther recovery."

Debating? Why on earth, other than purely pohilosophically? Is it better to lose the panther entirely? Most likely, the environment will shape it back eventually in the direction of the Florida "type"-- though some think that the defining characters of that type may have been signs of inbreeding pathology!

Other questions raised: if the environment is different, does a reintroduced species take on different characteristics? The old eastern anatum peregrine was bigger than its replacement. But if it was because its prey was the big, swift, and abundant passenger pigeon, will the new peregrine ever get as large? Species and ecosystems are fluid entities...

Also: what does this tell us about closed dog studbooks? Hint: nothing good.

I'll soon have some stuff on the passenger pigeon ecosystem up in "Other Works".

Thanks for the tip to Grayal Farr.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Decline and Fall

I have a feeling that the decline and fall of Britain may end up a constant theme here. This just in from Jonathan Hanson-- emphasis mine: "Official guidelines issued in May by Britain's Joint Council on Qualifications, directed to agencies that administer high school and junior high standardized tests, call for students to receive extra points on the test if they have experienced pre-exam stress due to selected circumstances: death of a parent or close relative (up to 5 percent extra), death of other relative (up to 4 percent), death of pet (2 percent if on exam day, 1 percent if the day before), WITNESSING A DISTRESSING EVENT ON EXAM DAY (up to 3 percent), just-broken arm or leg (up to 3 percent), headache (1 percent).

Sunday, June 05, 2005

First post...

First mistake! The url for the cave bear DNA is

At Last!

After long planning and infinite patience from web designer Matt Mullenix, my website and blog are up and running. Please look around and, I hope, enjoy. Eventually-- like perhaps later this week-- I will post longer and even coherent posts, but it has been a long weekend. For now, let me give you a few links that have been sent to me in recent days, which may give you an idea of what kind of subject matter you may expect to encounter here. Also, please check out my blogroll, which starts with friends but will expand. There are also MANY links in the website.

From Jonathan and Roseann Hanson of Alpha Environmentalist ( : the further decline and fall of the publishing biz. Chain bookstores are demanding fees for displaying books:

From Roseann: Private land conservation:

From Chas Clifton of NatureBlog( Wimpy parents are making it impossible for children to connect with nature (I have also written on this for Chas):

And for sheer fun, also from Chas: Cave Bear DNA. Does this mean that we can clone bears from the Ural cave bear hand given me by Peculiar of Odious and Peculiar? ( Or the cave bear TOOTH and mammoth hair I got from his mother last Christmas? Sadly, science isn't there yet, but it would be a great boon to Pleistocene Park ( Hunting mammoths in Siberia while great cats wait silently nearby-- sounds like fun to me. Mammoth steaks.... mmmmmm.

More soon. Meanwhile, does anyone know anything about St. Tryphon, falconer to Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovitch in the 17th Century and patron saint of falconry in the Eastern Orthodox church? I know he is depicted on his ikon with the gyrfalcon that he lost and miraculously found....