Monday, October 31, 2005


Larissa has won a well- deserved notice from my blogfather Michael Blowhard.

I (ahem) predicted to Mattew and Reid that Michael would find, and be entranced by, Larissa's blog.

In other blogfamily developments, Peculiar has posted more pictures of his wedding at Odious and Peculiar, as well as a lot of other good stuff. But I found the knitted intestines separately!

LPK Open for Business

There's a joke among my friends, persistent but no longer very funny after fifteen years, that I'll eat in only one New Orleans restaurant. It's not true---I'll eat anywhere, especially in New Orleans. But if you know The Pizza Kitchen, the one in the Quarter between the old federal mint and the French Market, you might believe it.

Is it the food? Yes and no. The food is good: wood-oven baked, thin crust gourmet pizzas; an award-winning Caesar salad; surprising pasta dishes; all with a generous dollop of local ingredients, like andouille sausage and crawfish (and even once, briefly, nutra-rat!) The menu is wide and diverse, and most entrees slide in under $11.00 in a town where it's possible to pay any price for a plate of food.

But for all that, LPK is a local franchise. We have one here in Baton Rouge, and there are several in New Orleans. I've sampled a number of locations and found them consistently good. What makes the French Quarter location special is, well, the French Quarter.

Well-settled into it's corner spot, this one always seems wide open and inviting. Tall, shuttered windows let light and air flow on pleasant afternoons (there are many, but none in summer), and from the short line that forms after 8PM, one can see past diners to the vendors of the French Market packing up their baubles.

Despite proximity to busy tourist paths, the clientele most nights is a local mix. Families with small children feel welcome as do drag queens, musicians, service industry employees and sometimes falconers. My friend Jenn kicks her husband's shins whenever he comments on the local color, which he always does and always with deep appreciation. Another old joke between us: We are all about equally strange.

So what prompts this note? Reid spotted this story by LA Times staff writer Thomas S. Mulligan. I knew my favorite New Orleans eatery had reopened, but I was pleased to see someone else noticed. I hope this doesn't mean I'll have to wait now for a table!

Spiders and Cladistics

This New York Times science story on a spider taxonomist is of particular interest because it does a good job explaining the matter of cladistics. Hoew do we know who is related to whom?

"His logic is simple: find characteristics of spiders' shapes that independently select the same exact group of organisms. "There are about 1.75 million species on this planet," Dr. Platnick explained. "Select from these all the organisms with abdominal spinnerets to produce silk - about 38,000 species. Repeat this process and select all organisms with modified male pedipalps for copulation. You end up with the same 38,000."

"This congruence of characteristics unites spiders uniquely from all others, he said. Apply the concept with higher degrees of specificity, and species' characteristics emerge.

" "You start with the null hypothesis that they are all the same. It doesn't take long to see that they are not," he said. "Then you divide them into groups of specimens more closely related to each other." "

It is now accepted that, unlike what was previously thought, cladistics can actually demonstrate both relationships and their degrees of closeness.

Doom and Gloom-- 3?

Another in the continuing series.

"I think that a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley off the tracks. That in some deep and fundamental way things have broken down and can't be fixed, or won't be fixed any time soon. That our pollsters are preoccupied with "right track" and "wrong track" but missing the number of people who think the answer to "How are things going in America?" is "Off the tracks and hurtling forward, toward an unknown destination.....

"It's beyond, "The president is overwhelmed." The presidency is overwhelmed. The whole government is. And people sense when an institution is overwhelmed. Citizens know. If we had a major terrorist event tomorrow half the country--more than half--would not trust the federal government to do what it has to do, would not trust it to tell the truth, would not trust it, period....

"Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they're living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they're going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley's off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it."

Much more there. From WSJ.

Apples and Genetic Diversity

Ever since reading Michael Pollans's wonderful The Botany of Desire I have been fascinated by Kazakhstan's wild apple groves, the "Eden of Apples". There might have been, at least until recently, more genetic diversity in a Kazakh grove than in all of North America.

Such groves are threatened by the suburban sprawl around Almaty. Following Pollan's references at the request of a friend, I found an American source for Kazakh seed. The director, Phil Forsline, is quoted by Pollan as saying: "I'll send seeds to anybody who asks, just so long as they promise to plant them, tend to the trees, and then report back someday". Pollan adds: "The wild apples had found their Johnny Appleseed."

You can also see a grove, and other good stuff here, at Virtual Almaty, though the (I think) ethnic Russian author thinks that Russians brought apples there. Not true! Though it was a Russian scientist named Nikolai Vavilov who discovered in 1929 that the Almaty area was "Apple Eden". (He was later eliminated by Stalin for not following the Lysenkoist party line on genetics).

Genetic diversity and its potential loss is an important and interesting subject. I will have more...

Most Unlikely Career Path

Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, the brilliant guitarist who gave the pre-jazz version of Steely Dan (still in all incarnations my favorite Seventies band) its edge, is now a sought- after analyst on terrorism and defense. And he is self- taught!

...and the Bad

They have some for- real heavy duty capital- F Fascists. The Moscow Times (link may have expired or need registration) reports on one:

"Last week the ultra-nationalist newspaper Zavtra ran an interview with Vladimir Kvachkov, who has been charged in the attempted murder of Unified Energy Systems CEO Anatoly Chubais. In the interview Kvachkov, a retired special forces colonel, basically made the case for the necessity of a military coup in Russia. While Kvachkov didn't come out and admit his guilt, he asserted that the attempt on Chubais' life was "the first case of armed action in a war of national liberation" which every officer and soldier was duty bound to fight. Kvachkov seriously believes -- or at least pretends to believe -- that traitors and hirelings of the West have established a "regime of occupation" in Russia to please the "world Judaic conspiracy." He deploys a worn-out cliche as if it were an adequate description of reality. This enables the colonel to call the military to arms in a war of "national liberation" -- in other words, a coup d'etat -- and to present himself not as an accused criminal but as a valiant officer captured by the enemy."


"... these people have believed all their lives that foreign enemies are lying in wait. They therefore view the indifference of top officials as evidence of a plan to destroy the armed forces. Their sterile view of the world makes them susceptible to extremist political programs. If we assume that quite a few officers share Kvachkov's views, and that they are probably officers with perfect service records who enjoy authority in the ranks, this situation is flat-out dangerous. The rejection of military reform in the face of the country's relative prosperity has left the officer corps feeling alienated from the regime and has allowed extremists to exert ever-greater influence on the army. Kvachkov's interview should serve as a wake-up call."

The Good In Russia

We forget sometimes that Russia, though not "like us" is not the Russia of the cold war. In The Corner (you'll have to go into the archives for the whole post but I'll put most of it here) Iain Murray writes:

"My friend Paul Robinson attended the reburial ceremony for White Russian heroes Ivan Alexandrovich Il'in and Anton Denikin recently and writes about it in the new Spectator. In the new Russia this represents, apparently the Russian press, Putin and all, compares favorably to, say, the New York Times:

" "My journalist friend laughs at the suggestion that Putin has suppressed all independent political thought. He should know; he has twice been sacked from newspapers for writing pro-Putin articles. The problem, he tells me, is that Westerners listen too much to the likes of the former oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Incidentally, he adds, Berezovsky still owns a newspaper in Russia — so much for there being no anti-Putin voices. In fact, my friend suggests, there may even be more freedom of expression in Russia than in the West, because there are fewer social and legal constraints on ‘politically incorrect’ and extremist points of view. If you want to be racist, sexist or anything else-ist, you’ll find it easier to get a publisher in Moscow than in London or New York".

Ridiculous but Wonderful

A knitted, anatomically detailed, digestive system.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Chumash, Swordfish, and Rock Art

The swordfish (Xiphias gladius) occupied a prominent role in the religion of the prehistoric Chumash, a coastal and island people of Southern California. I have posted about the Chumash before here a few times. Living near the Pacific as they did, the Chumash believed that the ocean and the land were complementary worlds and that each had corresponding equivalent plants and animals. For example, they believed that sardines were the "lizards" of the ocean, and that lobsters were the "jerusalem crickets" of the ocean. Swordfish were given the ultimate accolade of being the "humans" of the ocean. This didn't keep the Chumash from fishing for them, but they were seen as possessing great power.

Historic and ethnographic accounts tell us that a swordfish dancer played a prominent role in a number of Chumash ceremonies. The swordfish head-dress pictured above, was found by archaeologist David Banks Rogers in 1926 in a site at Winchester Canyon, about three miles west of where I sit writing this. This was found in a burial: a male buried in fetal position lying on his left side was wearing this on his head. The swordfish eye was rendered as was a cape with iridescent Haliotis (abalone) shell plaques. This was obviously the sort of head-dress worn by those dancers.

One of the powers of the swordfish, and one of the reasons that the Chumash venerated them was that they were believed to drive whales ashore. The beached whales provided the Chumash with lots of food. Whales (and beached whales!) are fairly common here as both gray and humpback whales migrate through the area near shore.

Swordfish also appear in Chumash rock art. The example below comes from Swordfish Cave, a rock shelter at Vandenberg Air Force Base, that Connie and I visited last May.

This pictograph is hard for some people to pick out in a photograph. It is a black fish on a red background - the tail is to the right and the fish's bill is to the left.

On the same rock face, about four feet below the painting of the swordfish, appropriately enough is this pictograph of a whale.

I will leave you with question that many have asked and that no one quite knows how to answer. Look closely at the pictograph of the swordfish. The dorsal fin is at the bottom of the image. Why is the swordfish upside down?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

More On "Daddy Kills..."

This reply from Roseann Hanson of the Alpha Environmentalist sheds some more light in a dark corner:

Since Matt wrote that he hadn't verified the comic book and the website - and, like him, I was hoping it was fake - I went to the site that's listed on the cover of the comic. Lo and behold, there was the "comic book." The site is pretty amazing and almost a parody of whacko animal-rightists, so I checked out the registry of the website and it indeed is owned by PETA, registered through their corporate HQ in Virginia.

And yes, they really did distribute those comic books to little kids – targeting families out fishing together, specifically. Can you imagine what you’d do if some PETA-whacko approached you and your kids and handed them this comic book? Here's a quote from PETA's own site about the content of the comic:

Children will read: ‘Imagine that a man dangles a piece of candy in front of you. ... As you grab the candy, a huge metal hook stabs through your hand and you’re ripped off the ground. You fight to get away, but it doesn’t do any good... That would be an awful trick to play on someone, wouldn’t it?’

I knew PETA was bad, but I guess I really didn't realize how bad - I guess I'm sheltered! The sites on PETA's own links page (Other PETA Sites) are so awful that I had a hard time believing they weren't spoofs....sad to say they are not. Here's the link, but it's not worksafe unless you work at home, because you'll be ranting and raving for sure:

If you choose to browse any of the sites you will note with interest that each and every one, prominently displayed amidst the hysterical posturing, are DONATE TO PETA NOW! buttons.

But of course. Like the Humane Society of the United States which raises millions of dollars fighting hunting worldwide, their “work” is big business (by the way, HSUS has just successfully pressured President Kibaki in Kenya to kill an extremely important bill that would have allowed local farmers to receive fair compensation for crop damage and loss of life – as in people stomped to death by elephants or hippos – mind you, interferring with democracy in another country which sorely needs it, only because the bill MIGHT have opened the door to reinstate culling in a country that actually needs it). Ultimately it’s not about animals, it’s about money and power.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Roseann Hanson

Friday, October 28, 2005

Waiting for Condor

Steve and I chuckled over the LA Times article that appeared with this beautiful photograph. The entire piece is centered around a field trip by a group of birders to see condors - which never show up - giving the whole thing sort of a "Waiting for Godot" quality. Generally it does give a pretty good run-down on where to go to see condors here in California, though it does have an error Steve caught - calling The World Center for Birds of Prey the "The Wild Birds of Prey Center in Boise, Idaho." See our earlier snarks on reporters and editors here.

To be fair, there aren't many condors and not that many people get to see them. My son Travis and I were fortunate to see one while hiking near Tehachapi when he was 10 years old. Travis had always been interested in condors and turkey vultures and we had gone over the differences in identifying them in our field guide. His eyes are much sharper than mine, and he spotted it soaring over us right away. It was a proud day for me as a father - he was more excited about seeing that bird than at his first base hit in Little League.

Message from the Frontier

Every phone call from New Orleans is of interest. Andrea, first introduced in this post, surprised me yesterday with a call from the Garden District where she now lives and plans to stay for a couple years at least. It's not the same place she remembers, says Andrea, having moved to the city just weeks before Hurricane Katrina forced her to leave it. Fortunately for New Orleans, she came back.

Reid Farmer sent this story of the struggle to build a workforce in a city with plenty service outlets intact but few places to live. Most employers are still trying to make first contact with evacuated employees and to make do with whomever happens to show up. Those who do, like Andrea, represent a slightly different demographic (younger, single, mobile), people able and willing to live with less stuff in what amounts to America's newest frontier city. For her and others like her, it must be an exciting and certainly a memorable experience.

On the other side of the equation are my friends Tom and Jenn, lifelong Arabi residents (St. Bernard Parish, 10 minutes from the Quarter) who relocated this week to their new home in Pearl River, a small town about thirty minutes up I-59 from the site of their former, now ruined neighborhood. Everything about the North Shore is different. Taking a tour of the property, Tom and I walked behind a row of pines and scrubby oaks into the thin grass of an open field. There in the sandy soil grew a little pod of pitcher plants, unknown from the south side of Lake Pontchartrain and all of Tom's childhood. We stopped and stared, seeing these slender, alien beings as symbols of great change.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


This is my formal review of a wonderful film. Joseph Spaid, the filmmaker, sent me a pre- release copy. Folks, this is the real thing. See it if you can.

A Very Different Kind of Bird Film
By Stephen Bodio

“Kiran” is the Kazakh word for “golden.” It is also the adjective that the eagle trainers of western Mongolia use to describe the qualities that make the best hunting birds, an untranslatable combination of “noble” and something less definable.

Kiran Over Mongolia is a visually stunning documentary that tells an almost mythic tale. Kuma, a young Kazakh from Ulaaanbaatar (vividly rendered with all its bright lights, bustle, and grime, complete with Simpsons -style cooling stacks) travels hundreds of miles to Mongolia’s wild western mountains. There, he seeks a master who will help him pursue his unlikely dream: to catch and train a hunting eagle, the way his people have done for millennia.

The Kazakhs, an ancient Turkic – speaking people closely related to the Kirghiz, now inhabit Kazakhstan, parts of the northern part of Chinese- occupied Turkestan (Xinjiang), and the far west of Mongolia, where that country, Siberia, Kazakhstan, and China come together. Oddly, the Kazakhs in Mongolia may preserve the “purest” Kazakh culture. The Altai mountains on those remote borders were a refuge for people, both wandering herders and villagers, who fled Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture in Kazakhstan and escaped the Chinese invasion of “Turkestan”. More eagle hunters live in this small area than in all the expanse of Kazakhstan, as I found when I traveled there in 1998 and 2000.

The film’s first scenes contrast young Kuma’s discussions with his octogenarian grandfather, a former “eagler”, with the sights and sounds of the city. They sit on a hillside above the town and discuss his obligations, with the traditionalist grandfather urging filial obedience upon Kuma while he worries in a voice- over about marrying a Mongolian girl. But mostly, his mind is on eagles. Soon, he and his father leave and begin to drive west through the daunting spaces of central Mongolia. They grind endlessly over stony plains and through bare hills, raising plumes of dust from the rutted dirt roads, staying at crude rest stops and hospitable yurts. Often the only scenery consists of a few camels drifting across the track. The hundreds of miles between the capital and Olgii seem to be a journey back in time as much as one through space.

The travelers arrive in Bayaan Olgii just in time for the Eagle Hunters’ Festival, which only confirms that impression. In September, hundreds of eaglers descend on Olgii to display their birds and compete in games of skill and craft. The sudden sight of a horde of horsemen trotting straight at you, heads topped with caps of fox fur and lynx fur, red silk and owl plumes, hooded eagles on their heavy gloves, transports you instantly to the time of Kubilai or Jenghiz.

After making inquiries of several eaglers, Kuma is accepted by Khairatkhan, an amiable middle-aged Kazakh with a stern, fiercely weathered face that is as likely to crack into a sudden grin as an eagle- like frown.. Khairatkhan takes Kuma on a journey of understanding, from his first innocent disappointment when Khairatkhan’s eagle misses a hare (actually, he explains, a more difficult quarry than the traditional fox because it is quicker and more “dodgy”) to his eventual accomplishment.

The narrative and visual skills of filmmaker Joseph Spaid, who spent six months with the eaglers, make the whole process as clear to the viewer as to young Kuma. Kuma learns to carry and hood the temperamental birds and how to make them comfortable. He learns to feed them without giving them too much, despite their rapacious tendency to gobble and grab. In a memorable sequence, he calls the eagle to him from a distance, and stands without ducking when the flying dragon hits his arm and nearly knocks him down. Their training culminates in the bird’s killing a fox, a scene done skillfully and cleanly, with neither flinching nor horror.

To this reviewer, perhaps the most fascinating moment in the training sequence comes earlier, with the trapping of Kuma’s own first eagle. Khairatkhan sets a circle of netting, “like a yurt” as he says to Kuma, around a dead hare, then tethers a live crow nearby to make the eagle jealous. After a long wait, the eagle appears, cruising horizontally. Suddenly, she falls out of the sky like a cruise missile and slams into the net. The two hunters are momentarily nearly hysterical at their good luck, and cannot stop laughing, though they do remember to give the poor crow his freedom (he flaps away toward a frozen lake without a backward look.)

The film's visuals are unique. The vivid black- and- golden eagles and their capped and booted handlers glow in the brilliant light against a lunar background of bare mountains shaped like frozen waves, plains like a sea of rippling stone. To most urban humans, they inhabit a world as far from any modern time and space as another planet.

A mention should be made of the wonderful soundtrack. Kazakh ballads, unlike much Asian music, are extremely accessible to western ears, reminding me a bit of Celtic folk songs, though using an instrument, the dombra, with only two strings. Some sound martial, with a rhythm like galloping horses; others are obviously love songs. (Actually, in my own travels in the region, all were described to me as “about boy and girl” or “about love.”)

These last horsemen still ride through Kiran in a timeless moment, eagles on their fists, plumed fox hats on their heads. Will their ways survive our time? We can be grateful that this record exists, and hope that the ambitions of young men like Kuma will keep the tradition alive.

Daddy Kills Animals

My friend Russ (a local attorney, falconer and father of two) sent this interesting image from PETA, Inc. ...For the sake of this post, I'll give PETA credit for the art but admit I didn't check for independent verification.

In its continuing battle for the next generation of paid subscribers, this well-recognized (but poorly known) corporation adds a new anti-family twist to its list of pet peeves. You see, your daddy kills animals, and "your doggies and kitties...could be next!" (direct quote from reverse side)

As a daddy who both kills animals and loves his children, I am fascinated by this approach. Let's assume for a minute that this PETA campaign is not a form of hate speech that with slight change of illustration could rival any propaganda distributed by the Ku Klux Klan. Let's say this is a legitimate message suitable for children and supported in part by your tax dollars (the latter is true!).

Do I, as the bogeyman in this message, feel threatened by it?

A little bit, yes. I would feel equally (which is to say, rather vaguely) threatened to see an analogous image demonizing my Jewish wife or my Christian parents. It is disturbing to see one's self so grossly and meanly misrepresented.

But do I believe that this or similar messages could turn my twin daughters away from me in fear and disgust (as PETA seems to wish)? No. They both know very well that Daddy kills and butchers animals (they've helped, and then eaten them!) . More to the point, even my pair of sheltered, suburbanite girls (just under five years of age) would be able to see the ridiculous misrepresentation in every element of this image.

If that is so, then what sort of kid would swallow this crap? Perhaps one who doesn't know (or doesn't particularly like) his father. Or one who has never seen a carcass she recognized as an animal.

Question Two: If it's legitimate to thrust a wedge between father and child, could the mother/child bond be far from the sights of PETA cartoonists? After all, it is she who usually buys (and cooks! and SERVES!) the cruel products of the chicken farmers and the cattle growers.

Once the children are amply estranged from their parents, who shall be left to guide them?

Oh wait: I think I know the answer to that one.

Very Old Rock Art Revisited

The image above from Utah may look familiar to you as I blogged about it here a couple of months ago as one of the very few possible images of Pleistocene megafauna (a proboscidean) from North American rock art. After posting this I sent copies of this image to two nationally-recognized, heck, internationally-recognized rock art experts and asked their opinion. Both of them are established PhDs, have many articles in peer-reviewed journals, and have published well-received books.

One said that he was familiar with the image and it looked like a good mammoth or mastodon to him. He also said that sometime in the 1950s, some Boy Scouts had "cleaned up" the rock around the petroglyph, scrubbing the desert varnish to make the image look clearer. Unfortunately, that destroyed any possibility of ever getting a good date on when the thing was made, so we will never know if it is of Pleistocene age.

The other expert also was familiar with the image. It was his understanding that it was associated with some historic Ute petroglyphs, and was likely done in the late 19th century after a circus with elephants had come to the area.

Well, as I was telling Steve and one of his good friends recently, part of the joy (and frustration) of rock art studies is the ambiguity of the figures and the difficulty (usually impossibility) of dating them. Lots of archaeology is very open to interpretation and rock art tends to that extreme in the profession.

That said, here is another controversial image of a possible proboscidean from Renegade Canyon in the Coso Range, Inyo County, California. This fellow has a spear sticking out of his back and there are human figures (hunters?) in the foreground that look appropriately scaled. I didn't ask my experts about this one. How does it look to you?

The Coso Range where this petroglyph is found is one of the most intensive rock art areas in North America both in terms of quantity and quality of images. It has also been happily accidentally perserved because it is located on the China Lake Naval Weapons Center near a bombing range and virtually no one is allowed out there. Luckily, I will be able to tour the area in a couple of weeks in conjunction with a professional society meeting and hopefully will bring back some good pictures for you.

I am in the midst of reading Paul Martin's Twilight of the Mammoths that Steve and I have both mentioned in other contexts here. Martin's take on the lack of Pleistocene megafauna rock art (he even mentions the Utah petroglyph above) is that the die-off of the animals was so fast that there was not time to establish the knowledge of their behavior and morphology needed to produce the art. I don't know if I agree with that yet, but it is an interesting question as to why we don't see the rock art in the Americas with these extinct animals that we see in Europe.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cupules and Geophagy

A common form of prehistoric rock-art here in California is the cupule. These are shallow round depressions ground into a rock face, usually in no particular pattern. Here is a picture of my colleague Bryon Bass next to a rock covered with cupules.

This location is in Kern County in the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains – the extreme southern boundary of the Central Valley. Historically this was a boundary area between tribes, shared by the Southern Valley Yokuts, the Castac Chumash, and the Kitanemuk. Here is another example from the same general area.

Cupules should not be confused with another extremely common archaeological feature found here, the bedrock mortar. A picture of some typical BRMs is here.

Mortars are functional – they served as facilities to crush acorns and other seeds for food processing. As such they are usually found on horizontal surfaces and are quite large and deep. Cupules have been interpreted as non-functional – they are shallow and usually found on vertical or slanted surfaces and there is no evidence that anything was ground in them. You can see this in the pictures above.

They are somewhat enigmatic. It’s hard to think of them as “art” as they don’t seem to represent anything and usually are placed randomly. Ethnographic accounts of the Yokuts describe these as markers commemorating the completion of a “coming of age” ceremony for young women. Each girl ground a cupule at the completion of the rite and families had their own special rock faces where this was done. Data from other tribes here links cupules to other fertility rites.

Kevin Callahan, an archaeologist from Minnesota, presented a paper at the Society for American Archaeology meetings a few years ago that tied California cupules to a world-wide phenomenon that apparently has great time depth. That is geophagy – the eating of earth.

In this view some cupules were “functional” in the sense that they were made to grind and obtain rock powder. This powder was eaten as part of ceremonies to ensure fertility. Callahan cites ethnographic data to back this up.

Geophagy, however, is a much wider phenomenon than the example above, linked to dietary deficiencies and medicinal uses. Every time you take Kaopectate, you are swallowing an elixir of water and kaolinite clay. While searching in vain for a link to Callahan’s paper, I did find this interesting article by Suzanne Ubick in California Wild that discusses his work and has lots of other fun facts about eating dirt.

.. and Wolf Eagles

Here is Manai, with his eagle....

...and a wolf pelt, taken by this eagle, hanging on his winter house.

Eagles do not take wolves in the wild as a rule, though a biologist friend has seen one kill a coyote here, and they regularly take pronghorn here (see American Pronghorn : Social Adaptations and the Ghosts of Predators Past and Survival By Hunting: Prehistoric Human Predators and Animal Prey ) and saiga there. Wise Manai has a dictum he does not always follow: "If you want to keep your eagle ten years (the length of time Kazakhs keep their birds before releasing them back to the wild to breed) do not hunt wolves!"

A Ghost of Evolution

A fascinating book that Steve introduced me to is Connie Barlow’s Ghosts of Evolution. The essential biological truth that forms the book's basis is that many plant species evolve in concert with “partner” animal species that serve as agents to disperse the plants’ seeds. The evolutionary strategy is that the plants evolve fruits that appeal to specific animals, who eat the fruit and drop the seeds in their feces in areas away from the parent plant.

Barlow uses the pathfinding work of Dan Janzen and Paul Martin (cited multiple times on this blog!) who have pointed out that there are a number of plants here in the Americas (and elsewhere) that no longer have animals that eat their fruit. The breakthrough concept here by Janzen and Martin was that the animal “partners” for these plants are extinct and that most of them were Pleistocene megafauna. Their term for these plants is "ecological anachronisms". They are the “ghosts of evolution” of Barlow’s title.

While back in Arkansas recently, I saw one of these “ghosts”, the osage orange (Maclura pomifera) shown in the picture below.

The tree’s range at European contact was the Red River Region where Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas come together. The tree was prized for its wood by Native Americans, who used it to make bows. This is reflected in the name that French explorers gave the tree, bois d’arc, that survives in the name of a river in the area.

You can see the tree’s fruit at the base of the tree in the picture above and in the close-up below.

It is green, rock-hard, and orange-sized. The inside oozes a nasty sticky latex. No native animals eat them. They don’t taste very good to humans – Barlow tells of her experiments in that arena, “…more like air freshener than food.” As you can see the fruit falls to the base of the tree, sits there, and rots. No dispersal agent – that fruit isn’t going anywhere.

Actually, its dispersal agent in the last 200 years has been humans. Farmers in the eastern US planted the tree in thickets to make hedgerows before barbed-wire was invented and thereby expanded its range. Also, come to think of it, when I was a little boy growing up in that area my friends and I would run around the neighborhood throwing the “oranges” at each other. So I guess little boys are an important dispersal agent these days.

Barlow reaches the conclusion that the fruit evolved to be eaten whole by mammoths or mastodons and that these are the missing “partners”. Some experiments she made feeding the fruit to zoo elephants were inconclusive. She does give some anecdotal evidence that horses eat them. Actually, the common name for them I remember in Arkansas was “horse apples”.

Of course, if this is true you have to remember that the horse is also an extinct Pleistocene megafauna, missing from North America from 14,000 years ago until the arrival of the Spanish.

Eagle Huggers

You've all heard of tree huggers. But some of my best friends have been eagle huggers.

Golden eagles are long- lived, life- bonded, top- of- the- food- chain predators. This can make them very hard to train, but if they are bonded they are REALLY bonded. They are intelligent and playful-- I know Konrad Lorenz, usually smart about such things, thought not, but he tried to fly a poor zoo veteran in Vienna.

They can also be jealous, and dangerous over food. As I once said to an American photographer in Mongolia who wanted to tie a rabbit to his head and have a Kazakh throw his eagle at him: don't mess with anything that can kill wolves, and flies.

But they have a softer side. Here, courtesy of PrairieMary, her late ex- husband, sculptor Robert Scriver, and his "Eegie".

And here, my friend Manai, who lives near Bayaan Olgii in western Mongolia. One of the eagles he is hugging does catch wolves.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Iola Reid, RIP

My maternal grandmother, Iola Wilkinson Reid, died on October 1, in Jonesboro, Arkansas. She was 97 and had been in a nursing home, mentally lost and physically declining for the last five years. She really had been miserable and suffering in the home and though I was very close to her and miss her, I am glad that her suffering is over. I spent the first couple of weeks of the month back there for the funeral and to handle details of her will.

My grandfather died in 1979. My mother was an only child and died in 1984. Iola's older sister, Doreen died twelve years ago, so my Dad (her son-in-law) and my sister Carol and I were really all she had left for family. Luckily my Dad and sister were there in Jonesboro to help her. She was able to be independent staying in her home, playing bridge twice a week, and doing gardening for exercise until she was 92.

We should all be so lucky. Iola lived virtually her entire life in Jonesboro, which is in northeast Arkansas about 60 miles from Memphis. She really had a good long run and a full life, and though she had some hard times when young, she was able to see and do much more than was typical of her time, class and region. As L.P. Hartley said, “The past is another country” and my grandmother was a window into that country for me. Lots and lots of stories were passed on to me. It occurred to me after her death that Theodore Roosevelt was president when she was born in 1908. What a different world that was, what great events she witnessed and lived through.

This picture was taken at a camp meeting in Ravenden Springs, Arkansas in 1912. My grandmother is the blond moppet sitting on the ground on the right side of the photo. Her sister Doreen is the little girl in the middle with her hands crossed over her knee, and my great-grandmother Maude Sullins Wilkinson is the woman immediately to the left of Doreen facing the camera. Camp meetings were a Southern cultural thing - religious revival meetings where extended families and friends would camp out and listen to sermons without the distractions of work-a-day life. It’s striking how 19th century everything in this view appears. The image of Iola is blurred because she moved while the picture was being taken. It's interesting to know that she couldn't keep still at age 4 any more than she could when I knew her!

Some subtle things can tell you a lot about that “other country” of the past. For example Sullins wasn’t really Maude’s maiden name. Sullins was an anglicized form of O’Sullivan – an attempt to evade the anti-Irish prejudice of the day.

My great-grandfather Alvah Wilkinson was a telegrapher for the Cotton Belt Railroad – one of those obsolete jobs like buggy-whip manufacturing. But the telegraph was the information superhighway of the day and in November, 1918, via the telegraph he was the first person in Jonesboro to learn that WW I had ended. He left the depot and went running up and down Main Street, telling everyone the good news. But he almost lost his job for leaving his post. I mean trains could have collided!

My great-grandfather died of cancer in 1922 and shortly after that Maude was diagnosed with tuberculosis. It was the killer disease of the period that we rarely think about any more, that eventually took her and another of my great-grandparents, Augustus Reid. Doreen and Iola took their mother on the train to Colorado and placed her in a sanatorium in Aurora. Though still teens, they lived in a boarding house in Denver, got jobs and went to night school to try to finish high school. They took the trolley out to Aurora on the week-ends to see their mother. They were orphaned in 1925 when Maude succumbed to the disease. In Denver, Doreen had met a Wyoming rancher, Bob Bryant. She married him and stayed out west. Iola took their mother back to Arkansas for burial.

When Iola returned to Jonesboro alone, she wanted to finish high school and found a family that would take her in for the year that she needed to graduate. I have been struck at the improvisational nature of such arrangements that government functions would do today. Today Child Protective Services would have placed her in a foster home. Back then she and Doreen had to figure out on their own how to take care of their mother and how to finish school.

This picture of Iola was taken in 1927, about the time she won the Miss Jonesboro Beauty Contest. The big prize was a trip to Hollywood and a screen test at one of the studios. She never used it as she decided to marry my grandfather Travis Reid that year and help him run his drug store. For their honeymoon, they drove to New Orleans in their Model-T. It took them nearly three days - what today is about a 7 hour drive on I-55. They were nearly arrested in New Orleans for driving the wrong way on a one-way street. They were so "country" they had never heard of a one-way street.

1927 was also the year of the great Mississippi Flood – the greatest natural disaster to hit the South between the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811 and this year’s hurricanes. She told me stories of the flood and we had home movies of evacuees in tent cities on Crowley’s Ridge near Jonesboro.

So many stories of their life. They shook hands with Franklin Roosevelt at a political rally in Little Rock in 1932, and he did his campaign baby-kissing routine on my infant mother. They worked in the political campaigns of a family friend, Hattie Caraway, the first woman elected to the US Senate, that same year and in 1936. They met Huey Long, who came up from Louisiana to help Caraway campaign. They struggled through the Depression with the rest of the country. My grandfather carried people on his drug store account books for years. As he said, “I couldn’t tell sick people they couldn’t have medicine even if they were broke.” Local farmers dropped by hams and chickens to help carry their accounts and they got by.
I’ll close with this picture taken in 1988 of Iola with my wife Connie and our children at Mammoth Spring, Missouri. I’m glad that Lauren and Travis got to know their great-grandmother and learn from her as I did. We all miss her.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Landscape blogging

Just for fun. We had our (late) first hard frost last night. Usually we have gotten our first snow by about now. Here are a morning and evening shot of our town on a snowy day, looking south from near our house on our (still dirt except for its bottom end) main street, for those who think that the Southwest is all saguaro and blazing heat.



In which two of my interests meet

That is, the evolution of disease organisms and the new drive to control all animals.

I have been watching the progress of bird flu with attention if not exactly alarm. Being I hope a prudent sort, and one who believes in self- sufficiency, I have laid in a supply of Tamiflu and have Relenza on order. But this story is becoming the hysteria of the week, replacing even hurricanes. Does anyone even remember West Nile hysteria? SARS?

The worst aspect may be that it strengthens the hands of the ever- eager and rather strange new coalition of animal rights activists, big ag, and ambitious congressmen (see here for a gushing article on Rick Santorum, the "conservative" presidential hopeful in bed with PETA) who want the iron hand of government to clamp down on pet keepers, breeders of small creatures, hunting dog owners, and practicioners of small- scale sustainable farming.

First, go here for a good biological and above all evolutionary perspective on why H5N1 flu is unlikely to be another 1918 pandemic. The author knows what she is talking about.

Dog Politics has good coverage of the Santorum and PAWS business.

I belong to a discussion group of ten people who talk about pigeons (originally) but also dogs, hunting, art, and science. Some of the best thinking I have heard recently on these issues has come from them. (Most of us are scientists or artists). I will keep them anonymous unless or until they ask otherwise.

From a Canadian member:

"Yes if things keep ramping up on the bird flu issue we may well have to hide some birds.There is talk in this country of making all outdoor poultry flocks illegal. Pigeons it is being said are suspect because they free fly thus making it more likely that they can contact infected wild birds and then spread the disease far and wide.

"What the hell is next I don't know exterminate all wild waterfowl to keep the dam factory farm chickens safe.

"Evidence from Asia suggests humans mostly get the virus from contact with the excretions of infected birds. And those, of course, include blood. Several countries have acted on the assumption that hunters run an increased risk: Saudi Arabia has halted falconry, and Turkey, Moldova, Serbia and Montenegro have all suspended shooting."

From another artist AND scientist, in the US:

"Good article. I was just about to point out a quote from AberdeenUniversity microbiologist and bird flu expert Professor Hugh Pennington"

" "The bird flu has being doing the rounds of the Far East for about 10 yearsand it hasn't mutated yet into the form that we really fear - the form that could infect people on any scale at all - and it may never do that."

"The problem is that people love drama and the media will tend to feed into this. The factory poultry farms WILL use this to their advantage. This is what will lead to birds becoming illegal. I'm not too worried. There is plenty of land with thick as hell laurel understory here where no humans will ever find a bird. Hopefully this whole thing will go away at some point when the media finds something else to hype (how often do you
hear about SARS? It's still around, yet no one cares because the media isno longer hyping it.)"

Another zoologist (and falconer and saluki breeder):

"That would suit the factory farmers very well. It would rid them ofcompetition from "sustainable" folks like Joel Salatin's operation, wherethe chickens are confined outdoors in rolling pens and moved daily to fresh
ground .."


"That is what I understand as well. I think most of the hype, in this country at least, is that the government got caught with their pants down on Katrina and suddenly decided to look "active" on any potential (even if that potential is minor) threat to "security". Of course this plays neatly into the whole tracking of all animals bit. What a bizarre situation and could be a real blow the the sustainable etc. movement just as it gets going ...

"Mass media is *NOT* designed to keep people informed, it's designed to keep them coming back for more and being sensational (bus load of nuns flattens sports car carrying disabled children after high speed chase) or fear- mongering works like a charm.

" Of course if one were enterprising, you could take this info (packed, crowded conditions spawn intense strains of bird flu) and argue that factory farms are a threat to "national security" and small, healthy,
sustainable farms are much safer. Even add in the fact that most factory farms, because they are so
unhealthy, require mass use of antibiotics and, therefore, are responsible for creating resistant bacterial strains and you're really rolling -- what a health threat they are -- too bad no one can stand up with that one."

For a GREAT Joel Salatin essay go here.

For more on the subject of animal control on this blog go here.

Cascade effects in Yellowstone

This fascinating NYT article on the cascade effect of the Yellowstone wolf introduction may prepare our imaginations in just a small way for the effects if "ReWilding" starts. The change in the plant ecology and species composition of the Plains and Southwest alone is going to be amazing.

"Where willows and cottonwoods have returned, they stabilize the banks of streams and provide shade, which lowers the water temperature and makes the habitat better for trout, resulting in more and bigger fish. Songbirds like the yellow warbler and Lincoln sparrow have increased where new vegetation stands are thriving.

"Willow and aspen, food for beaver, have brought them back to the streams and rivers on the northern range. In 1996, there was one beaver dam on the northern range; now there are 10.

"The number of wolves has also greatly increased the amount of meat on the ground to the benefit of other species.

Grizzlies and coyotes rarely kill adult elk, but each pack of wolves kills an elk every two or three days. After they eat their fill, other carnivores take over the carcass. Opportunistic scavengers like magpies and ravens make a living on the carcasses.

"The number of coyotes, on the other hand, has fallen by half. Numbers of their prey - voles, mice and other rodents - have grown. And that, in turn bolsters the populations of red foxes and the raptors."

I have ordered Paul Martin's new book Twilight of the Mammoths, on the ReWilding project, and will review it here soon.

Jackson's Wedding Pics

As promised. This isn't exactly a "diary" blog, but these people aren't just family-- they are fellow bloggers. Besides, what could possibly look more magnificent than an Eastern Orthodox ceremony?

The linked flower crowns in the Orthodox ceremony will be hung on the wall above the couple's bed.

Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Jackson Frishman-- or to the blog world, Mr. and Mrs. Peculiar.

Here are Odious and Peculiar in the flesh, looking a bit exhausted as they contemplate cleaning up the rehearsal cookout.

The groom's parents-- Mr. and Mrs. Querencia?

And Larissa of Writhing in Apathy vamping for the bride at the cookout.

Church photos by Jonathan and Roseann Hanson. Outdoor ones by me.

Doom and Gloom

Another in the continuing series.

"Of course, the end of the world has been promised by Jews, Christians, Muslims and assorted crazies with sandwich boards for as long as there has been a human world to end. But those doomsdays were the product of faith; reason always used to say the world will continue. The point about the new apocalypse is that this situation has reversed. Now faith tells us we will be able to solve our problems; reason says we have no answers now and none are likely in the future. Perhaps we can't cure cancer because the problem is simply beyond our intellects. Perhaps we haven't flown to the stars because our biology and God's physics mean we never can. Perhaps we are close to the limit and the time of plenty is over."

No Ray Kurzweil, he.

More on modern writers, editors...

...and fact checkers. Reid had seen an article on Mongolia in which the reporter referred to a statue of Jengiz as being of "Khan". He snapped: " I love how the idiot reporter refers to the statue of "Khan" as if it's Genghis Khan's last name. Where do they hire these people?"

I commiserated-- and remembered something that happened to me a few years ago. I responded to my co- bloggers:

"That's what you get today-- and if you correct them, they'll think YOU are wrong.

"True story: a few years ago I was asked by the National Geographic to fact- check a short photo story by Dave Edwards on the eagle hunters-- I had been recommended by both Dave and the archivist at the World Center for Birds of Prey. They had two questions: did Mongolia have a modern road system (Dave and I said no-- only 400 km of pavement in a country 1800 miles wide, and that in such bad repair that most drivers prefer the dirt tracks or open steppe) and did eagles scream for food (both of us said yes--- mostly they are imprints, and call constantly for food and attention.)

"They then looked at an atlas, saw the Soviet era network of "roads-- ie, dirt camel tracks passing for highways; asked a birder about eagles---

"And rejected the statements of the two people who had been there."

I should add that a few magazines still retain their standards. When I wrote for The Atlantic I had to be ready with a stack of books and an hour or more free when it was time for the fact- checker to call.

Shadow from the Fourth Dimension

This one is for Odious and Peculiar, because they like this kind of thing: a three dimensional metal sculpture representing the "shadow" of a four- dimensional object.

The Golden Hoard

Here is an incredible story of an archaeological find far better than one by any Indiana Jones; its concealment by heroes under the Taliban; and its restoration, with the original Russian archaeologist in attendance.

See also this page for some photos.

Thanks to Debbie on our Tazilist.

Why we need more publishers in the West-- and why real writers are better editors

Chas sent me this observation that Prairiemary made to a discussion group on the ethics of "Creative Nonfiction" (I guess that's what I write, mostly). It is so good that I will reproduce it whole (though I have put a particular sore point in bold- face).

"Another factor to consider in this discussion is editors, particularly when one is writing about the West. At the recent Montana Festival of the Book, an author recounted bitterly how he had had events actually
changed by his back east female editor. He was NOT a romantic type guy putting in airs and graces. He had reported that he and his buddies had had a good day hunting and then sat around the campfire to
eat coq au vin and wild rice they had brought along. The editor INSISTED that he had to change that because no real "macho" men would eat that way. She wanted them to put grouse -- that they had killed
while hunting -- on a spit and roast them over the fire. In vain did the author, a very literal minded engineer, say, "But we ARE macho and that's what we really DID eat!"

"Her reply was, "Look, you signed a contract and this is OUR writing now."

"Others reported similar incidents. We seem to have a lot of editors out there who are frustrated writers. When they don't even know the subject matter, it's a disaster. Which is why we need Western presses."

I might also mention that some of the best editors I have had, like Jim Babb at the "new" Gray's, Ed Gray at the old one, Nick Lyons, and Tom McIntyre, have been real writers with no frustrations to make them rewrite my copy-- only interesting suggestions.

Prairiemary and I have also been having an interesting conversation on keeping wild animals. When it develops it too may lead to a post.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Lost Airman - Modern Iceman

The LA Times carried pieces yesterday and today telling the intriguing story of a body found last Sunday in a glacier in Kings Canyon National Park here in California. The location is on the slopes of Mt. Mendel, a 13,710 foot peak located southwest of Bishop.

It is believed to be the body of a World War II airman, killed in a training flight that crashed in the area in 1942. The body has an unopened parachute strapped to its back, and the cover is stenciled with the word "Army". In 1947 in this area, a hiker found wreckage from an Army Air Forces AT-7 training aircraft and four other bodies. It was established that the plane crashed five years earlier and this body may represent another body associated with that crash.

The AT-7 was an aircraft seating five that was used to train navigators during the war.

The body was removed by helicopter in a 400 pound block of ice and taken to the Fresno County Coroner's Office for processing and identification. This effort will be supported by the Pentagon's POW/Missing Personnel Office. According to this office there were many such training crashes in California during WWII as there were many military airfields located in the Central Valley. It is rare to find bodies associated with them here these days, though some from WWII are still being found in such places as New Guinea, Greenland, and China.

After seeing this article, Steve's wife Libby, who grew up in California, wrote, "When I was a kid we went on long trips into the Sierras -- when small we had a mule packer take us in and we set up a basecamp -- one of the most memorable was in Colby Meadows in Evolution Valley which is near were this plane was located. I remember coming across plane wrecks several times, and one was most definitely a military one. They always creeped me out a bit, especially the one by which we found a snake which had half-swallowed a frog whose legs were still kicking. The things that stick in your mind from childhood!"

I checked a map, and Colby Meadows is 1.5-2 miles west of the glacier where the body was found. I had the map because my son Travis and I had gone on a back-packing trip in an area just east of the glacier in 1999. We didn't see any plane wrecks, but that is very wild and rugged country, and I can tell you it is not surprising that this could have stayed lost for 63 years.

"Aircraft archaeology" is a thriving activity, in the US, the UK, and in Europe, with lots of amateur enthusiasts. With the thousands of aircraft downed in Europe and the UK during WWII, there are still plenty of them to find in lesser traveled areas.

This week's find reminded me of the last most famous body preserved in a glacier, Otzi the Iceman, who died (was murdered, actually!) 5300 years ago in the Alps.

Ramen - Now and Then

This article in the LA Times discusses the booming sales of instant ramen noodles in Mexico. Traditionalists are horrified that ramen is displacing the consumption of beans and rice, the historic food of the poor in Mexico. I have always been fascinated by cultural change as shown in food consumption "tipping points" such as the one years ago when coffee consumption passed tea consumption in Great Britain or when salsa sales passed ketchup sales in this country. My guess is that it will be a while before ramen passes arroz y frijoles, but I would certainly back the effort mentioned in the piece to have Mexican food recognized as "a patrimony of humanity!"

Interesting synchronicity in this story as it appears just after archaeologists in China announce that they have found the oldest oriental noodles ever, 4000 years old, in a neolithic site in Northwestern China. It's hard to think of them being preserved after all that time, but they were trapped under an overturned bowl.
Dry caves are well-known for preserving perishable items, but it is astonishing sometimes, as in this case, what can be preserved even in open archaeological sites. In Anasazi sites in southwestern Colorado, we would commonly find pieces of turkey eggshell and feathers that were a thousand years old or more.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Anasazi Kiva Abandonment

Steve and Chas Clifton at nature blog posted here and here about a fascinating article in the High Country News that discussed a snake skeleton found on the floor of a kiva in the Mesa Verde area, apparently part of a ritual performed at the time the structure was abandoned. It was really a very well-done article and I would suggest you link back and read it if you didn't catch it the first time around.

That article and subject took me back to an aspect of my master's thesis that I hadn't thought about for years. My thesis at the University of Colorado dealt with the excavation of four Anasazi sites in Mancos Canyon, Colorado within 30 miles or so of the site mentioned in High Country News. We found patterns of animal sacrifice which we assumed were associated with kiva abandonment - as in the case of the snake. To give some context to the descriptions, I will show you a diagram of a "typical" kiva here

courtesy of the National Park Service. Kivas were subterranean ceremonial chambers that were covered with a roof of cribbed logs. To keep a fire burning and the smoke moving, a ventilator shaft was excavated outside of the kiva walls that connected to an opening near the floor of the kiva.

Most of the kivas I excavated had dogs and/or turkeys purposely sacrificed and placed on the floor, in the firepit or in the ventilator opening. None of these appeared to be circumstances where the animals could have accidently fallen in and died. The skeletons were all placed on the living surface and were articulated. This picture shows a dog burial from the ventilator opening at a kiva at site 5MTUMR2559.

This kiva also had a dog placed in the firepit with a large slab placed on top of it. One of my colleagues, Bill Gillespie, excavated a site nearby (5MTUMR2347) that had a kiva containing five dogs and eleven turkeys! All of the kivas at these sites dated from the mid AD 900s into the early AD 1000s. The Anasazi were apparently sacrificing the only domesticated animals they had, dogs and turkeys.

But never any wild animals and definitely never any snakes. That is different and interesting.

The HCN article alludes to the issues of warfare and cannibalism among the Anasazi that I discussed in this earlier post. None of my thesis sites had evidence of cannibalism, but one did have a somewhat spooky example of treatment of human dead, as seen in this photograph.

These three bodies were dumped into the ventilator shaft outside of a kiva. A 45-50 year-old male and a 15-17 year-old female were dropped head-first into the shaft and a 5-7 year-old of indeterminable sex was dropped feet-first. All at the same time. Realize that Anasazi burials of this time period were careful affairs with bodies flexed just so and many grave goods. These three people were not so much buried as disposed of. Christine Robinson analyzed these burials as part of her master's thesis and could find no probable cause of death from the skeletal evidence. Were these ritual executions? We'll never know.

I have a couple of friends, Mike and Kathy Gear , who are archaeologists turned novelists. As I mentioned to Steve, this is the sort of thing they could use in one of their "prehistorical" novels. They have set some of their novels in Anasazi prehistory, in fact their latest, People of the Moon, is placed at a Chacoan outlier site, Chimney Rock, located east of Durango, Colorado. Their books are novels, but Mike and Kathy work very hard at researching the time periods and areas they use as settings, so they can represent the current state of archaeological knowledge in their work.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Robot Camel Jockeys

Not a joke: Qatar has developed a lightweight robot jockey for camel racing, to replace the children who were preferred before.

Unfortunately this version does not have the photo from the original dead- tree WSJ version of October 3.

Karma Light?

One used to go to the BBC and such papers as The Herald Tribune for information. But according to this hilarious item by Canadian columnist Michael Higgins, you might best avoid it. Maybe it's my age or upbringing, but even moderately educated non- Catholics used to know that "Carmelites" were nuns, and that LATIN was the "foreign language" of certain Church rituals.

"British journalist Libby Purves got it quite right when she observed recently and humourously in her column in The Tablet:

"'On 4 April an old convent school friend speechlessly thrust a copy of the International Herald Tribune into my hand and pointed to the paragraph about the catafalque:

"The 84-year-old [Pope] Jean Paul [sic] was laid out in Clementine Hall, dressed in white and red vestments... tucked under his left arm was the silver staff, called the crow's ear, that he had carried in public.

"So the crozier has become the crow's ear. But it doesn't stop here. Purves continues:

"'The BBC subtitle service was quite rich in moments of epic religious illiteracy, providing a troop of Karma Light nuns [Carmelite]. It also gave up entirely on the 'Oremus' by subtitling it 'Chanting in a foreign language.' "

Hat tip to Kathy Shaidle at Relapsed Catholic.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Zuni Rock Art Blogging 2

For your enjoyment, I'm back with some more prehistoric petroglyphs from Zuni Pueblo in west central New Mexico. As I mentioned in this post there are some beautiful examples of rock art from an area near the northern edge of the reservation. I have always liked this cliff face

which has a variety of geometrics, anthropomorphs, some deer, and you can even see one of the classic humpback flute players (Kokopelli) on the right side of the panel. The desert varnish has left a fine dark field for the artists to peck through and show the lighter sandstone beneath.

A detail of one section shows this fairly realistic deer

which incorporates aspects of the rock in defining the animal's stomach. He is emphatically male and his antlers are rendered more realistically than in most other prehistoric deer petroglyphs in the region.

Another favorite of mine from this panel is this horned frog

who has a nice symmetry, though the artist didn't think it necessary to do much on representing the head. Perhaps the wide, spiny body and squat legs were the essence of the horned frog for him.

Islamic Indians??!!

At the wedding last Sunday, my brother- in- law, an anthropologist who has worked for more than 30 years with the Chamula Mayas of Chiapas, told me bemusedly that the latest fad for these VERY religiously syncretic people-- they have incorporated their own Paganism, Catholicism, Presbyterianism, some sort of Evangelicism, and alchoholism with little effort. They have a complicated cosmology and incredible art-- I'll try to photograph some when I am up in Santa Fe again.

I was a bit taken aback. I am by no means as convinced of the incompatibility of (some kinds of) Islam and the West as my friends at Gates of Vienna. I have seen the layered- over- Animism, Sufi- saints- and- shrines, women- on- horseback- drinking- vodka version in Central Asia. My friends in Kazakhstan tell me of ancient warrior queens who hunted. My Mongolian Kazakh friend Canat, former Soviet commando, then dissident, then eco- entrepreneur (go with him if you want to ride with the eagle hunters) once told me "I love Allah, but I do not love mullahs. After the Change, they came and tried to build us a mosque. They wanted us not to drink, and to cover our women. We sent them back to Arabia".

But a Moslem presence in an already anti- American part of Mexico? (Commandante Marcos ground). South of our ever- permeable border? Just what kind of Moslems were they?

I Googled around and found this Houston Chronicle article via Freerepublic. It is a fair and complex piece. Good-- they are more or less Sufi- based sect, and so NOT Wahabbi, which hold Sufism to be just another heresy. Bad-- they are allegedly anti- Semitic.

Of course, if they act like the Chamula always have -- or the Central Asians-- they will incorporate drink into their rituals, and mellow out.

Two more thoughts: there are serious IslamIST-- no joke-- groups throughout Central and South America, especially in Paraguay -- not native but imported, and actively encouraged by such as Hugo Chavez (who has just blamed the Pakistan earthquake on international capitalism-- you can't make this stuff up.)

Last, another quote from Canat, dated September 12, 2001; I keep it on the wall next to my desk:

"Hello, my friends,

"I present my condolences to your family and all your friends. I can't believe now what is happened in USA. Of course, this is big lost of World. This is not just American's, it is all world tragedy.

"Take care yourself, my friends. My family and my Kazakh people are with you."

They don't, by any means, all hate us.

Microchip everything!

Eveyone interested in keeping domestic animals should read this post on animal control and the "PAWS" bill. The odd alliance of the AKC, the HSUS, and the worst of all, PETA, are lining up with the support of "conservative" presidential hopeful Rick Santorum in a bid to control all domestic cat and dog breeding and eventually, apparently, microchip EVERYTHING. If you have any interest in backyard breeding, closeness to animals, limited government, the preservation of small old non- commercial gene lines, or just plain freedom, write your congresscritter NOW. The link was sent to me by the ultra- respectable SAOVA (Sportsmen's and Animal Owners' Voting Alliance) and is the best treatment yet I have seen of this proposed law.

"Dog Politics" says:

"Do you think the AKC and PETA and the HSUS  have now found a common cause - are they now sharing the love?   Do they love Rick Santorum.  Does he love them back?

"I'll tell you what kind of love they'll be sharing - the green kind. It's called money. 

"Fuggetaboutit - there's ONLY ONE question that truly matters:

"Will the PAWS bill further endanger our freedom, our privacy, our constitutional rights?"

...and he goes on to show us how it will. I confess I can be dubious about money ALWAYS being the cause of political alliances, but he makes quite a case.

For more of my posts on animal control go here and here (microchipping livestock) and here.

Beluga Caviar

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has banned importation of Beluga Caviar from the Caspian.

Something had to be done. My only concern with a total ban is that, as always (and as in ivory before it) it equally penalizes those countries with real conservation, and those where poaching and corruption are rampant.

Ironically, Iran seems to have a better conservation program than other Caspian nations. But then, It Is A Well Known Fact (see G. L. Herter, below) that Mussolini made the trains run on time.

History's Ironies 2

In Nigeria, white farmers driven from their land in Zimbabwe, and their modern methods, are being welcomed with open arms. One can only hope it will stay that way.

History's Ironies 1

Chinese colonists in Xinjiang, patriotic Communists when young, are being dispossed by the new Chinese capitalist economy, and have nowhere to go. It is sad, but probably neither Uyghurs or Tibetans are shedding any tears.

Moving Photo

This photo of Condoleeza Rice and a Kyrgiz eagle falconer is amazing, and should move anyone but the most hardened ideologue. When I was born, her family was living under Jim Crow, and he was a Soviet "minority" forbiden to roam with his herds, as his ancestors had always done, or even fly eagles, by direct order of Stalin.

She is now one of the most powerful women in the world, a multilingual PhD who studied the Soviet system before its fall.

And the old practices of Central Asia are legal again-- eaglers and houndsmen hunt in the field, eagles fly on flags, and appear on national stamps.

I am no great believer in progress, but sometimes...

And of old things new again...

Extremely Cool Beetles.. this Cornell site. The carbon dust illustrations here are particularly nice.

Thanks to Will Brown of Blue Ridge Biological.

I could be wrong...

Any reader of this blog knows I am wary about China. So when I read an essay called "The Chinese are our Friends" in the November Esquire (not available online) I had to read it.

It was not as weak a case as I supposed, and the author, Thomas P. M. Barnett, was neither a Wall Street Pollyanna nor a leftist, though he failed to mention such things as a Chinese general's threatening to nuke all our cities if we defended Taiwan on the grounds, startlingly Maoist, that they could afford to lose the population. And he, as I do, likes India and (though it is often difficult) Russia.

So, in the spirit of Derb's "can we predict ANYTHING?" (see below) I give you a link to Barnett's new book, Blueprint for Action, which I have not read, will probably read and disagree with, but will probably be stimulated by, as I was by his essay.

The 1918 Flu Pandemic...

...was a bird flu that jumped, just like H5N1.

Author Gina Kolata also wrote Flu, THE book on the pandemic. Get your Tamiflu-- its coming, sooner or later.

Carnival of Derbs

John Derbyshire has written many quotable and irascible things lately. In this essay he suggests a rough but possibly realistic exit strategy in Iraq-- arm the Kurds, our only friends; give guarantees to the Turks; screw the rest. (Sorry, John, for a rather blunt but I think accurate summary). Who knows but that, with the struggle continuing and support eroding and nobody agreeing on what is happening, we could do worse.

Or maybe we could. In THIS one, he opines, brilliantly, that no pundit or commentator on world affairs, including him-- even on China-- really has any idea what is likely to happen.

The past, seen even through nostalgia, is at least a bit more reliable. Here, in an obituary note on a good friend in Hong Kong, he also reminds us that it is also a different country. "Chan grew up in the 1930s in the household of a grandee in the Foshan distict of Guangdong Province. It was a wild and woolly time, with warlords, bandits, the Japanese, and rapacious government agents stomping around. Noticing that Chan seemed to know a lot about handguns, I once asked him: "Did your father have guns?" Chan: "My father had his own private army." "

George Leonard Herter

In this post at his NatureBlog, Chas evokes the eccentric ghost of George Leonard Herter, pioneer in outdoor catalogs, inspiration to our youth, author of both The Bull Cook and George the Housewife, and holder of ... odd opinions. Those quoted in NatureBlog are relatively conventional.

George the Housewife can be described as a male Heloise for the barking mad-- and Im not sure that Heloise doesn't approach that point herself. But Bull Cook and Historical Recipes is worth owning both to read aloud at any table where the wine flows, and because some of the recipes-- Chas and I both make "Doves Wyatt Earp", for instance-- are pretty good..

But the history is why you buy the book. My favorite line in all the Herter ouvre is "The Virgin Mary was very fond of spinach", closely followed by "It is a well known fact [ a favorite Herter locution ] that Beethoven was fond of Spam." Other quotes from a good Amazon review, which save me a trip to my library, are: "Sauerbraten was invented by Charlemagne...Henry the VIII actually never amounted to anything and would not have made a good ditchdigger...In 1212 St. Francis went to the Holy Land. When he came back he taught his followers a simple way to poach eggs...Pate De Foie Gras was first made for Joan of Arc by one of her army cooks ..."

His African book The Truth About Hunting in Today's Africa (1963), which features photos of dead birds being thrown upside down to recreate the author's shots, also has at least one immortal line: "Most people don't realize that being eaten by a hyena doesn't hurt very much".

It is well worth getting any of the above, and reading them aloud to friends and family. I hope it didn't warp all those young bloggers mentioned below...

Alternate Histories

I have been having some interesting conversations with Chas on novels of alternate history-- you know, the ones where a slight change in events results in, eventually, a very different world. He sent me this link to an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying discussion (do read it, perhaps skipping the Hegel, Walter Benjamin, Freud et al-- it IS a bunch of academics-- for some interesting book leads). But I think they find alternate history "right wing" because it is not progressive.

I replied to Chas:

"[The post] Started good, but degenerated-- Walter Benjamin, Hegel, academicism generally, and this priceless line: "Ugh - this is degenerating the same way things always do around here." I probably still will blog it. It has some good notes of books that are forgotten but wonderful, like Keith Roberts' Pavane (gee, I always thought that was rather Catholic [ and can't believe it's still in print!]) and some I haven't heard of but want to see, like the one with the Stooges and Zero Mostel and Peter Lorre working for Brecht...

"Does one consider Steve Stirling "right wing"? He is AFAIK a moderate Democrat, but in the Draka trilogy (easiest to get as The Domination and its sequel) he imagined a society of fascist posthumans so well that a writer who appears to be a Nietzchean neo- fascist insists Stirling is an advocate! Milton & Satan? Stirling ... tempts... those of us with discomforts with industrial civilization. He also shows the possible costs of building a post- human one, in slavery and waste. I don't think I'd like his "fan", though he gives a perversely intelligent analysis..."

Chas replied:

"I thought he reminded me of Heinlein, the one book I read (Conquistador), and Heinlein definitely had romantic-fascist tendencies, if not the full economic policy... I don't think Heinlein is Mussolini, but he likes uniforms (Aphrodite likes Mars) and exults a romantic individualism that some lefties read as quasi-fascist".

Granting that I am more conservative than Chas, at least nominally, I think Stirling tries on different faces. I think Conquistador is a conscious tribute to Heinlein and people like Poul Anderson (he says either in or somewhere about the book how different the attitudes and values of those who fought WW II were from those of us who came after). His semi- fantasy- catastrophist last two novels ( Dies the Fire (excellent) and its sequel that I haven't read yet) show more how the post- WW II generations would react to the loss of our civilization.

The way to approach the Draka stuff is to read the inexpensive pb Drakon first, in which a magnificent female of the master race falls through an artificial wormhole into our world (or one close enough-- Stirling is tricky) and decides to take it over and bring her kind through. ("Something wicked this way comes", as a reviewer said). He really makes anybody with an ecological conscience think "maybe this wouldn't be so bad", despite the overtones. And it is actually funny in places.

Then read the big HB Domination (link above) that collects Marching through Georgia, Under the Yoke, and The Stone Dogs, to see just how hideous the process that resulted in the re- greening of Earth was-- and why it is necessary to oppose-- I don't know, "hard transhumanism"? (For a good treatment of the same meme from the nominal left, try Ken MacLeod's The Cassini Division). "Order the guns and kill!", as Kipling said.

One of the heroes of the second volume of Domination is a martyred Catholic nun.

Also re Stirling-- if , as I am, you are a sucker for anything to do with the Raj and the Great Game, try Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers, a rousing one- off set in still ANOTHER timeline with many knowing winks to fans of the literature of that time and place...

Talibanning pigeons, 1996

In my continuing series on banning various animals, we come to one of the most notorious (though if our high- tech society decides to do it the results may be even worse). In December of 1996, under the presidency of Amir Bin Maluf, the Taliban issued 16 edicts. Most were the usual ones that made headlines in the West: "To prevent sedition and female uncovers" (yes, that's ONE edict); "To prevent music"; "To prevent beard shaving and its cutting"; "To prevent kite flying" (I cite this because it is often mentioned); "To prevent idolatry" (ie, all pictures of anything)"; "To prevent sorcery". But one is particularly interesting, Edict number 4: "To prevent keeping pigeons and playing with birds. Within ten days this should be monitored and the pigeons and any other playing birds [Afghanis also kept falcons and fighting partridges] should be killed".

I have asked around. Some thought the reason for the ban was because pigeon flyers and partridge fighters gambled on birds ( but what of falconers?); others said that the Taliban considered playing with birds "un- Islamic" because it was frivolous and took away time from important things like prayer, beating women, and harassing others' innocent amusements. I should add that MOST Moslem societies love pigeons, and they keep some of the oldest breeds , especially in hard- drinking, Sufi, all- the- women-can- ride north- Central Asia, where "we love Allah, we do not love mullahs" (more on that later).

I am not the one who said that persecuting pigeons is of equal importance to persecuting women, artists, and musicians-- they were.

They did better at that particular crusade than at any but the one against the Bamiyan Buddhas. There are now more Afghan highflyers in the US than in Afghanistan. I'll try to find a pic.

The above edicts from Ahmed Rashid's excellent Taliban.