Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dust in the Desert

I listened to this piece on NPR this morning while driving in to work. It says we have a dust problem in arid areas of the western states because the biologically produced crusts on the soils there are being disturbed. Off-road vehicles and cattle-ranchers are blamed, "...dust storms are the result of tires and hooves." The problem will get worse because we are heading into a drought period.

I would love to hear other people's opinions on this but I was struck by the lack of historical perspective in the piece. Are there more cattle on the range today than there were megafauna on the range earlier in the Holocene? If these folks are concerned about dust now, can you imagine how they would have felt 10,000 years ago. Vast areas of the west are covered with loess deposits - wind deposited silt carried from the margins of retreating continental ice sheets - in some cases 100 ft thick. Can you imagine what those dust storms must have been like?

And there's a typo as well - it's the Mancos Shale. Do I sound cranky this morning?

Matchmaker Lawsuit

Only in California could you pay a matchmaker $125,000 to introduce you to men to date and later sue and win $2.1 million when you don't meet one you like. I hope Overlawyered sees this.

A Contract Written in Blood

That used to be a figure of speech, but the LA Times tells us of a real one that is the center of a lawsuit in Orange County. It's an IOU for $170,000 written in blood on a cocktail napkin. The dead-tree edition has a picture of it - sorry they didn't post it on line.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Reading Leigh Fermor

I'm glad Steve posted on Patrick Leigh Fermor who he and Robert D. Kaplan introduced me to recently. Kaplan tells of a memorable luncheon he had with Sir PLF at the conclusion of his excellent book Mediterranean Winter. After reading "A Time of Gifts" and "Between the Woods and the Water" he is rapidly becoming one of my favorites, too.

In a burst of enthusiasm after reading the Lane profile, I ordered several more of Leigh Fermor's books. The first to come, which I read over the weekend, was Three Letters from the Andes. By most accounts it is his worst book, though I found it entertaining. It tells the story of a trip he made to Peru in 1971 accompanying some friends who were expert climbers on their quest to scale a couple of Andean peaks. PLF is no climber and says his duties were to stay in base camp and "tend the primus stove."

With the climbing portion of their trip done, PLF and his friends take a trip to Lake Titicaca. While there, they visit the Uru, a group of lake-dwelling Indians. The Uru live on acre-sized artificial islands that they make of woven reeds and straw that are anchored in shallow parts of the lake. PLF is particularly intrigued by the Uru, as one of his guidebooks says that "they claim to be subhuman." Leigh Fermor immediately states, "This unique boast gains in substance when one meets them."

PLF's dry wit and pyrotechnic prose are on display as he describes Uru living conditions and objets d'art they offer for sale.

"Here the happy analphabetics live hugger-mugger among the waving reeds on an acrid and waterlogged humus of trodden straw and mud and fish-scales and droppings, rather like colonies of gannets. In exchange for boxes of matches and bread-rolls they offered us artless and unpretentious embroideries: rags of canvas on which pink, crimson and green golliwogs with their arms projecting like twigs had been unambitiously stitched in thick wool, as though by three-year-old Miros. I wish I'd bought one."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Quote du jour

"I can't die yet: I have too many people left to kill!"


"Particular Spaces"

Pluvialis has just posted a nothing less than brilliant piece that starts at the Oxford animal labs, roams through various "AR " issue such as the invisibilty of slaughter and the "squeam" factor, and ends with a ringing phone. Her notion of the different spaces that our culture is beginning to make for animals and humans gets to the essence of everything I have been trying to say on the subject for months. Make sure you read the comments too.

Pluvialis needs to do a book of essays.

Another Hero..

.. of mine, anyway, is my friend Bill Wise. He is a writer, sportsman, hunter, and shooter, and a former surfer. He has flown in gliders, dived, and saied with Hobie Alter. He has shot more than a few whitetails,and he has drunk beer and eaten green chile at the famous Owl Bar in San Antonio New Mexico. He has driven to visit me in Maine and New Mexico. He has done all of this but surf since a surfing accident on August 10,1965, left him a quadruplegic with a bit of use of his arms. That was 41 years ago. And now, as you can see above, he has taken up shooting clays again.

Here are a couple of pics of his New Mexico visit back in '87. We had told him years before about the "Honey Wagon" and when he saw it he ran it down in his wheelchair for a pic.

Yes, it does say "Your Shit is my Bread and Butter".

In the Owl. I have aged worse than he, I fear:


Prairie Mary found this nice paragraph in Cook's Illustrated:

"Home is an overused term but still a powerful idea....The concept of home even applies to horses. In Argentina, gauchos refer to the region where a horse is born as the querencia. (Querer means "to love.") In the days before fences, a horse would always try to return to its querencia because it was home, the place a horse knew by the quality of light in the early morning, the taste of the grass, and the look of the hills -- all things that a horse never forgets."


The other New Yorker profile is on the man who, if my arm were twisted, I might claim as my favorite writer of the 20th century. Patrick Leigh Fermor's life reads like slightly improbable fiction. In his teens he walked from Holland to Istanbul, eventually reulting in two of the best travel books ever written, A Time of Gifts and my personal favorite of all his works, Between the Woods and the Water. In WW II, he lived in caves with the Cretan partisans for several years and captured a German general.(They would quote Horatian odes to each other in Latin). He then traveled with his wife Joan through the Caribbean and eventually settled in Greece, where he built the house where he lives today, occasionally generating one of his perfect books, masterpieces of erudition, wit, adventure and elegance. At 91, if a pic Reid sent me is good, he looks not much older than I do! (Actually, he is only 89 in the photo).

The New Yorker piece, by Anthony Lane, is perfect. Lane knows and understands the old pirate, and is-- properly I think-- a bit in awe. He is a perfect match-- what other New Yorker writer would say this?(Of one of PLF's Greek friends):

"Psychoundakis celebrated by going outside and firing a German rifle which he had purloined a half century before. That is my idea of a book launch".

Another good piece on Leigh- Fermor can be found here.

And for Lane, see also his review of the Da Vinci code-- same issue as Meinertzhagen-- which was so funny I almost choked on the ice in my drink. "A dead Frenchman is found laid out on the floor of the Louvre. His final act was to carve a number of bloody markings in his own flesh, indicating, to the expert eye, that he was preparing to roll in fresh herbs and sear himself in olive oil for three minutes on each side". The female lead is "a dab hand at reversing down Paris streets in a car the size of a pissoir". And: "We get a flashback to the council in question, and I must say, though I have recited the Nicene Creed throughout my adult life, I never realized that it was originally formulated in the middle of a Beastie Boys concert".

Heroes and Villains

I let my sub lapse for two weeks and the New Yorker publishes articles on two of the most fascinating characters of the 20th century-- Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen and Patrick Leigh Fermor.

I'll take "M" first. As an excellent bio by Mark Cocker has it, he was a "soldier, scientist, and spy". For some reason he is little known today despite his flamboyance. A good movie features a trick he played on the Turks in WW I, when he allowed a cache of deceptive documents to be stolen, but I can't remember its name correctly! ( I keep coming up with "The Light Horse" but it's wrong-- can anyone help?)

He was a complex character who discovered one of the last large mammals (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni, the African giant forest hog), fought in wars large and small, collected hundreds of birds, intrigued in public and private life, and wrote four fascinating books based on his diaries as well as several books of ornithology. The last are splendidly- illustrated as well, sometimes eccentric in opinion, and like the diaries bring ridiculous prices today .I am lucky enough to have acquired two ornithologies and two diaries long ago. Maybe the current controversies will convince someone to re- publish at least the diaries.

The New Yorker article concentrates on the indubitable fact that he stole many of his bird study skins, a practice that has played hell with correctly establishing the ranges of many bird species in the Indian subcontinent. The author, John Seabrook, interviewed Pamela Rasmussen, co- author of the magisterial new Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide, who was involved in the nightmarish task of having to sort out which specimens were "good" and which ones stolen or hoaxed. Seabrook also accuses M of having murdered his second wife, a theory apparently espoused by the guy who made the movie "Death Wish", who is writing a book about it.

Two friends wrote for my opinion, knowing that I am a bit of an amateur historian of Meinertzhagen and other adventurer- scholars. The following is mostly composed of my replies to them. The first part was written before I saw the article.

"As to hoaxing: Meinertzhagen did some, but most of it seemed to be in the nature of pranks, not self - aggrandizement. He had a very strange and dark and superior sense of humor, as can be ascertained by even a casual reading of any of his diaries (I have most of them, picked up thank God years ago before they became expensive).

"Chas says he is accused in the article of shooting his second wife, VERY doubtful. To me it looks like she killed herself and they tried to say it was an accident. I have not seen the article but if he shot a wife I'd think it would have been his first who he hated for years rather than his second whom he was devoted to!

"His enemies were legion even before PC. He was a Zionist when the Brit Foreign Office was Arabist (still is) and a champion of Israel who was called "The Jew" behind his back. He liked war. He -- actually I think humorously-- treated the great Indian ornithologist Salim Ali like a "wog" (Ali, a sane man who considered M. a friend, found it funnier than not in his autobiography). When he was sent to Germany by Churchill to see if he could get any Jews out, he was ushered into the presence of Hitler, whom everybody "heiled". Meinertzhagen clicked his heels, saluted, and snapped "Heil Meinertzhagen!" When first introduced to T E Lawrence, who became a friend-- Lawrence was wearing spotless Bedouin robes-- he was alleged to have asked "Whose little dancing- girl are you?" (His own diary says he only asked "Boy or girl?)

"He was a spy and a warrior. In Seven Pillars Lawrence wrote of him: "He was logical, an idealist of the deepest and so possessed by his convictions that he was willing to harness evil to the chariot of good. He was a strategist, a geographer, and a silent, laughing, masterful man; who took as blithe a pleasure in deceiving his enemy (or his friend) in some unscrupulous jest, as in spattering the brains of a cornered mob of Germans one by one with his African knob- kerri".

"Not a New Yorker kind of guy..

"One more. In his eighties he was seated next to a woman who did not approve of shooting. "Colonel Meinertzhagen, I suppose you are still shooting those poor little birds-- boom, boom!"

"He fixed her with a steely eye. "No, madam. Boom." "

Now, post- reading:

"Since then I have read the NYRKR thing and think I could have done a better job (!) For one thing the guy has no context for Victorian ornithology. He has not done his homework, either. I doubt he has read rather than skimmed the good bio, Cocker's-- the others are one solely concerned with his military career and one utterly idiotic one by Peter Hathaway Capstick-- 'nuff said. Nor M's Diaries-- I have two of the four volumes.

"For example, he insinuates that M shot his (beloved) 2nd wife for money. But any perusal of his background would show that he was fabulously rich in his own right-- family money-- and that he was never in need of any kind. (Never mind that he endured a marriage to a wife he detested for years without shooting her!) But there are little annoyances too-- as when he insinuates that M invented the cane gun-- an extremely common naturalist's tool from Victorian times to WW II-- to poach.

"It also slights his enormous contributions to ornithology. Rasmussen, in the Ripley guide, doesn't at all. She is exasperated, but makes it clear that he gave as much as he concealed. She says so a lot more clearly than Seabrook does.

"The hoaxing and stealing is stark raving nuts of course. I think he had a real case of collector's mania and obsession, like some of those well- documented rare book freaks, and the opportunity to indulge it. Seabrook leaves out Rasmussen's interesting observation in the Ripley guide that M. tended to "improve" specimens he considered poorly prepared-- a purely esthetic touch, and pretty damn weird!"

The New Yorker piece does make one serious point."If fraud was pandemic, it might damage the collection at a time when some scientists were beginning to debate the value of keeping large collections.In the same way that card catalogues in libraries were disposed of once their contents were digitally rendered so, perhaps, could specimens be removed form museums, once they had been digitally sampled and photographed--- freeing up valuable space for revenue generating attaractions like planetariums".

And for what, exactly, would the "revenue" be generated?

For more on digital vs. "real" see Matt's recent post. Or go to the Pitt- Rivers Museum.

I don't have much to add but for a note for gun nuts. Double Gun Journal for Summer 2000 had a piece on his bird- collecting gun. It is a Holland and Holland Royal sidelock in 28 bore. What's more, it is made up like a miniature big- game double rifle, with the long upper tang extending to the comb of the stock, and was originally made for "ball and shot", with rifled chokes! Unfortunately it has since been bored smooth, but still, if I had an extra 50 or $60,000 around I'd be pestering the current owner...

Next, "Paddy" Leigh Fermor...

Update: The movie is Lighthorsemen (yes, spelled that odd way). Thanks to Jonathan.

AR Updates

Mercifully, short ones!

Loni Hancock, author of the failed bil to ban coursing in California, has this to say:

"There was controversy created by people who wouldn't acknowledge that (field coursing) has nothing to with traditional hunting."

That's right: A Berkely councilwoman knows what is hunting and what is not, better than all the non- sighthound hunters who came out against her bill. I'm sure she approves of traditional hunting. With guns.

Besides, as one hound scholar noted, "I guess that upstart, the gun, has now become "traditional"."

And in Albuquerque, there is a petition circulating to recall the councilwoman who authored the new dog regs.

An interesting quote buried there:

"Mayor Martin Chavez has pledged to sign the bill despite his belief that much of it is unenforceable."


Friday, May 26, 2006

Win Some...

I am delighted to report that the California anti- coursing bill, AB 2110 , did not make it out of committee and is dead, at least for this year. Thanks to many California dog people and sportsmens' associations, and especially to Margory Cohen and John Burchard. This was a victory for more than Californians.

But keep your powder dry!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Blogs, Eagles, Synchronicity

Eagles suddenly seem to be ganging up on me in some kind of Jungian synchronicity..

First, reading this Odious and Peculiar post this morning, I was directed to an amazing blog by an English evo- bio scientist. It is the best zoological blog out there, period. Try Peculiar's links for a sample-- the wonders of snapping turtles, the weirdness of rabbits-- I had no idea! (By the way, why are the younger English science people, like Darren and Pluvialis so much more literate and historically- minded than their American counterparts?-- I exempt Peculiar who in any case is not a science pro any more than I am).

One of Peculiar's links to Darren was on Spectacular Eagle Predation, or as Darren has it, "When Eagles Go Bad". I commented there at somme length, and he replied asking me for some photos. When I went back to the rest of my e-mail I found this image waiting, courtesy of Anne Pearse Hocker via Matt:

A Golden eagle attacking what appears to be-- I thought a young coyote but (re Mary's comment below) may be a large fox.

It seemed a worthy compliment to this pic of my friend Manai, seen here with his eagle and (hanging on his house in Mongolia) a skin from a wolf killed by her.

I had a long correspondence unsuccesfully trying to convince ancient shooting guru Jeff Cooper (whom the Alpha Environmentalist mutters should have perished in the Cretaceous Extinction Event) that eagles can kill wolves.

But they can.

Think flying Velociraptors...

Great Quote

Another in the continuing series. This one is from Derb, whose excellent new book on algebra I am reading now.

"English persons, therefore, of humanitarian and reformist disposition constantly went out to the Balkan Peninsula to see who was in fact ill-treating whom, and, being by the very nature of their perfectionist faith unable to accept the horrid hypothesis that everybody was ill-treating everybody else, all came back with a pet Balkan people established in their hearts as suffering and innocent, eternally the massacree and never the massacrer."

Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, 1943

Which is a great book but at 1200 pages a long one.

Good News for a Change

The title says it all: "Federal Law Negates D.C.'s Suit Against Gunmakers, Judge Rules".

Washington DC has never figured out that heavy gun control means that only criminals have guns.

So they acted sort of like the Bozeman lawmakers in my dog post below, figuring the popular law against making it impossible to sue gunmakers for the crimes of others didn't exist, or didn't really mean what it clearly said, or do what it was meant to do. Or something.

Judge Brooke Hedge plainly did not agree.

""The Court is faced with a classic tension between two elected branches of different governments, two equally clear legislative judgments, but each enforcing opposite policies," Hedge wrote.

" "At bottom," she said, the federal law was enacted "to prohibit the very types of lawsuits the Strict Liability Act allows."

"And unless she was persuaded that the federal law was unconstitutional -- which she was not -- the federal law would prevail, she wrote."

The lawmakers in DC are acting JUST like the Bozemanites.

"The D.C. attorney general's office and Wilmer Hale, the firm that is the lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said yesterday that they are weighing whether to appeal the ruling to the D.C. Court of Appeals."

Wonder what that will cost the taxpayers?

Bad News for Wilderness

Reid just sent me a link to this LAT story about energy "corridors" being proposed in the West. It is nothing less than appalling.

It begins:

"Under orders from Congress to move quickly, the Department of Energy and Bureau of Land Management will approve thousands of miles of new power line and pipeline corridors on federal lands across the West in the next 14 months. The energy easements are likely to cross national parks, forests and military bases as well as other public land.

"Environmentalists and land managers worry about the risk of pipeline explosions and permanent scarring of habitat and scenery from pylons and trenches. Military officials have expressed concern that the installations could interfere with training.

"But industry lobbyists and congressional policymakers said expedited approvals for new corridors were vital to ensuring that adequate power from coal beds, oil fields and wind farms in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho reached the booming population centers of the Southwest."


"ExxonMobil, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric and others have proposed corridors in the state across Death Valley, Joshua Tree and Lassen Volcanic national parks as well as the Mojave National Preserve, several military bases, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and seven national forests.

"Elsewhere, routes near Moab, Utah, the Cascades and Rocky Mountains have been proposed, some up to five miles wide and 2,000 miles long.


""We don't want to confuse the public," said David Meyer of the department's Office of Electricity Deliverability and Energy Reliability."

Yeah, the public, those idiots...

"Acting at the behest of the nation's largest utilities, Congress in its 2005 Energy Policy Act gave federal agencies until August 2007 to review and adopt major energy corridors across 11 states.


"The legislation was designed to fast-track construction by requiring a single, overarching environmental review of the effect of dozens of energy corridors across federal land. The aim is to avoid time-consuming project-by-project reviews. Federal energy regulators were also given authority to designate power lines in the "national interest," which would allow them to overrule federal agencies or states or counties that withheld approval for segments of projects.

" "They've taken away our sovereignty," said John Geesman, who sits on the California Energy Commission. "We're looking down the barrel of a gun." "

There is much more, and worse. RTWT!

Is there anyone left to vote for? These idiots have managed to offend both environmentalists and the military! With Republicans doing things like this, and Democrats virtually all hopeless on such things as defense, who is left?

AR Win in Albuquerque

I hate to keep harping on this boring but ominous issue-- I'd much prefer to link to weird biology or pontificate on poetry.

But. To once again use that Trotsky quote, substituting "AR" for "war", you may not be interested in AR, but it is interested in you.

This morning, The Lady With the Funny Black Dogs sent this to our Tazi Group:

"[Albuquerque] City Councilor Sally Mayer is again proposing sweeping changes that
would drastically limit fanciers' ability to breed and own dogs, while doing little to address the city's problems with irresponsible ownership. The proposal is currently set for a vote at the May 1st city council meeting. Fanciers are encouraged to attend the meeting, which will be held in the Council Chambers on the basement level of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Government Center building at One Civic Plaza NW, Albuquerque. The meeting beings at 5pm.

"The proposal, known as the HEART ordinance (Humane and Ethical Animal Regulations and Treatment), contains draconian regulations, oppressive fees, and allows the government unfettered access to animal owner's homes and personal information. Worse, the measure was put forth based on "findings" that were established without any studies being conducted and without any input from responsible dog owners and breeders.

"The measure's restrictive provisions include:

* An annual $150 permit for each unaltered dog or cat over six
months old.

* A $150 litter permit, which expires six months after the date
ofissue. Breeders would be limited to four litters per year.

* A limit of four dogs and two cats per household (or six cats)
unless residents purchase a $50 multiple companion animal site

* Allows one adjoining property owner to petition for the
revocation of a multiple companion animal site permit.

(I will come back to this one)

* Prohibits anyone with an intact animal permit from having a
multiple companion animal site permit.

* Requirements that owners microchip or tattoo their dogs and

* Prohibiting crating of dogs outdoors and tethering for more
than 1 hour per day.

* Mandates owners provide "environmental enrichment" defined
as "toys and other safe products.that will stimulate mental, physical and
grooming activities."

* Requires any animal that is picked up by animal control to be
spayed/neutered, even if the owner has an intact animal permit and
immediately reclaims the animal.

"In applying for any permit, dog owners would be forced to comply with
a long list of provisions, including submitting to property and
record-keeping inspections.

"The proposal would also put severe restrictions on animal service
businesses such as dog groomers and doggie daycares. Of interest to
all dog owners, these businesses would be required to provide a list of all
their clients and their contact information to the city. Generally the
government must get a subpoena from a judge for client lists and company

"It is critical that local fanciers immediately contact Albuquerque's
city officials and convey their strong opposition to this ordinance. Area
purebred dog owners, including members of the Rio Grande Kennel Club,
are working to oppose the ordinance and to support fair and reasonable
animal control legislation that does not penalize responsible owners
and breeders. However, more help is urgently needed!

"What You Can Do:
AKC encourages dog owners to contact their city council member and
express your opposition. To find out who represents you on the
Albuquerque City Council It is
extremely important that council members hear from their constituents!

"For more information, contact:

Patte Klecan
Rio Grande Kennel Club"


Anyone who is interested should contact the people above, as the fight is not over.

And why do I care so much?

I met Libby in Montana, and in her last year there, as she prepared Patagonia Mail Order to move to Reno, I spent most of my time there.

What happened is best explained in my reply to the Tazis.

"* Allows one adjoining property owner to petition for the
revocation of a multiple companion animal site permit.

This one is in effect in Bozeman Montana and drove Libby to sell out there (too?) quickly, as we had one fervently dog- hating neighbor. (We won a lawsuit against the city-- a lawyer friend represented us pro bono, and the town spent $27,000 trying to prevail, even sending the case BACK to the Montana Supreme court, who rebuked them!)

So did we win? Not really. A councilman came up to me and said “We lost on the dogs. Next we’re going after the hawk. If we don’t get it we’ll get your pigeons”.

They then made them both illegal in Bozeman by name of species, and also cougars and otters, because a photographer who had one of each also beat them. Then, they made it possible for one adjoining neighbor to block your ownership of any pet. The worst councilwoman suggested having children volunteer to spy on pet owners, and for the maximum of four allowed pets to include individual GOLDFISH.

It is now illegal to bring your dog downtown in Bozeman, or walk your dog off- lead (outside of your own property) anywhere in Gallatin county.

We won’t even go into how the local paper had to print a retraction of a piece they wrote that made Libby seemed deranged, written by the best friend of the neighbor who started the trouble. (The writer also alleged that we had dead animal parts strewn around our property- value- lowering yard-- particularly silly because Libby had won an award for most beautiful yard the year before! That one brought a whole page of outraged letters, some from people we didn’t even know, defending the beauty of her property).

Then there was the cop who couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t just put down one of our dogs...

And the feed store owner who said to me “This USED to be Montana...”

It occurs that some people on the list wonder why I am so vehement about these issues-- that is the story."

They never quit. Be VERY afraid. Oppose them constantly at every level.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Anti- Dog Dog Laws

From the Sportsman's and Animal Owners Voting Alliance, the latest on the LA dog ordinance:

"Los Angeles County has passed an ordinance that requires all dogs to be sterilized and microchipped, effective June 3, 2006. It applies only to those dogs kept in unincorporated areas, but cities such as Los Angeles are being urged to enact similar requirements. Should the cities follow suit, 10 million people will be soon be so regulated, more than the population in *forty-four* states. Dogs may be exempt from this requirement if they are registered with an approved registry and are either titled, entered in an approved competition annually, or owned by an individual belonging to a dog club with *enforced breeding restrictions*. Animal rightists are currently fighting to further tighten these exemptions' details. Required intact licenses for breedable dogs cost $60 per year; altered ones cost $20. Litters must be reported to the county, as must every puppy buyer's identity. Additional requirements and penalties of this sterilize and track program may be found at LA County says it's hiring additional animal control officers to go door to door to enforce this anti-breeder ordinance.

As I wrote to Matt:

"It is sobering to think that my "genetic gold" tazis, the only ones in North America, are not in an approved registry and would not be exempt. Even if they were dual registered as salukis the other regs would not apply.

"And of course they also offend by being working hunting coursing dogs!"

Eagles vs. Indians

Some imp of perversity makes me think that it is a bit funny when two darlings of political correctitude seem to go up against each other.

And anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I am a "science guy" who is respectful of religion.

But this is just stupid. If Indians can kill eagles without limit-- or kill anything else whenever and however they wish-- why have game and conservation laws at all?

"The Northern Arapaho Tribe and a man accused of shooting a bald eagle on the Wind River Indian Reservation say the federal government should make it easier for American Indians to apply to kill bald eagles for use in religious ceremonies.

"The tribe has filed a "friend of the court" brief in the case of Winslow
Friday, who allegedly shot the eagle without a permit in March 2005. U.S.
District Judge William Downes was scheduled to consider the tribe's
arguments at a hearing Monday."


"...there was no evidence that Friday was selected to hunt an eagle or that he had purified himself before shooting the eagle, which is
necessary for ceremonies.

"Also, [prosecutor] Healy pointed out that besides providing permits for tribal members to kill eagles, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a repository in Denver of eagles shot illegally or killed by cars or power lines."

Fly Rod and Reel columnist Ted Williams will write about the story here. I don't always agree with Ted but I suspect we will on this!

Another story here.

Thanks to Anne Pearse Hocker for various links.

Are we competent today?

Rod Dreher wonders.

"It occurred to me last evening that when my father, who is 71, dies, an entire body of knowledge will die with him. He grew up in the rural South during the Great Depression. He can do any practical thing. He knows how to grow anything, how to kill and skin wild game, how to fix engines, how to fix plumbing, how to repair things around the house, how to maintain cars and power machinery, how to find water underground ... I could go on. He was the first in his family to go to college, and worked in a civil servant's job for his first career, and after retiring from that taught himself computer mapping, and will later this year retire from his second career as a creator of map databases. He is very far from a simple farmer. He believed that any self-respecting man should know how to be as self-reliant as possible; he never believed that having an advanced education excused one from knowing how to do practical things. He thinks it is degrading for men to be utterly dependent on others with specialized knowledge unless one had no choice."

I can do a lot of these things, though if I could fix cars we wouldn't have had the problems that have kept us close to home for months...

On the other hand, I am 56....

Serious Pig

(To quote John Thorne, whom you should definitely read...)

The New Yorker has put up Bill Buford's essay on learning how to be a Tuscan- style butcher (he used to be the editor of Granta, but this is a long way from haut- lit).

It will be part of this book, which I have already ordered.

If you are a cook of any real experience you can cook things from the essay, though there are no recipes!

Dog Whisperer

Apparently I am the last person on the planet NOT to have heard of this guy.

Apparently AR people don't like him, which might incline me in his favor if it were not for all the @#$%^&* CELEBRITIES who endorse him.

But-- what's all this about being out in front of your dog? It may work in Hollywood. But how in all that is holy can you not let a pointing dog-- or a sighthound like mine-- not go ahead of you? How would you ever find your quarry? What advantage would you lose for the sake of ego?

Dubious ethology methinks...

Decreasing Speciation?

Reid sent me this article by science writer Carl Zimmer (he's good-- Darren quotes his book on primitive whales and whale evo elsewhere). It is an interesting article, but I have some reservations. I wrote to Reid:

"Interesting, and I like Zimmer, but I have my doubts. Not that the effect mentioned by Zimmer doesn't exist, and there are more examples-- Ruddy and White- headed ducks in Europe, where the American Ruddy is mixing with the native, Black ducks and Mallards in the US, where humans have cancelled the Pleistocene glacial separation...


"(1) I think humans may also SPLIT populations-- by making "islands"..

"(2) Some sympatric speciation has been determined to exist -- speciation in the same habitat, without regard for humans.

"In the long run, I'd suspect that these factors might cancel each other out-- though somebody would have to do some awfully fuzzy math, with little existing data!"


Re- filling the Sea

Kazakhstan is, succesfully, beginning to re- fill their portion of the Aral Sea.

"Now, thanks to a new 8-mile-wide dam and other projects by the Kazakh government and the World Bank, the northern part of the Aral is filling again with fresh water. That in turn is restoring hope and a modest degree of prosperity to a region devastated by the double whammy of a disappearing sea and the Soviet collapse.

"Fat carp flop wildly as fishermen pull nets tight around them, and salted fish hang to dry in the semidesert region's processing plants.

" "I'm happy. The sea is coming near my village. I had a son born yesterday. And along with the sea, the fish come to the nets," Zhanarbek Kelmaganbetov, 30, said as he paused from hauling in 2-foot carp near the new dam."

Interestingly, as greener and more liberal Kazakhstan does this, the grim dictatorship in Uzbekistan does nothing good with their (luckily separate) section:

"The southern sea, which lies mostly in Uzbekistan, continues to shrink and is too salty to sustain even ocean fish. Instead of trying to reverse the environmental damage there, Uzbekistan's government is seeking to find and develop gas and oil deposits in the dry seabed."

I have several scientist friends in Kazakhstan whom I will ask about this. One, ornithologist Andrey Kovalenko, is near the sea for the summer, studying birds there.

One more passage reminds me almost nostalgically of Kazakhstan:

""The water was right here," he said, motioning to the slope at his feet. "Starting from 1961, it started to go away. At that time, it was a very beautiful place. There was a beer bar. My brothers and uncles would drink beer, and we were fishing here.""

Moslems. Who fish. And drink LOTS of beer (and vodka). Those are Kazakhs as I remember them.


Chas has survived a rattler bite. He got it in the territory of the alpha Enviro-- not here, where he also visited, though our five species make us a slightly lesser province of Crotalia...

Good News for Scavengers

Via Pluvialis: India has banned the chemical that was more than decimating its vultures and making the Towers of Silence very nasty and even more silent.

I wrote about the problem here in The Atlantic a few years ago...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Botox Injections Lighten Depression

A preliminary study shows that botox injections to erase "frown lines" may actually alleviate depression. If there was ever a city newspaper appropriate to carry this story it is the LA Times. A study of ten women had positive results and researchers are calling for full protocol clinical trials. I really liked the subtitle in the dead-tree version: If you can't frown, are you happier?

All I can say is, if this turns out to be true, a woman Connie and I saw at a party Friday night must be a candidate for least-depressed person in Santa Barbara. That is unless collagen injections in your lips counteract the effect.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Posse of Scientists

The LA Times has an interesting piece on how the police in Mammoth Lakes, California have enlisted some physical anthropologists using cutting edge analysis techniques to try to solve a murder. I was particularly intrigued by the study of trace elements in the teeth to figure out diet, and the use of oxygen isotopes to figure out the latitude that the victim came from.

Phil Walker who is featured in this article is working with me on one of my archaeology projects. Brilliant man.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Brazilian Stonehenge

A 2000 year-old site in the northern Amazon Basin in Brazil has large stone structures that seem to follow astronomical alignments. In the shorthand way that news organizations have it is now the Brazilian Stonehenge.

Amazonian archaeology is in the midst of revolution that is well described in Charles Mann's 1491. The earliest European explorers to penetrate the area found a relatively small population of swidden agriculturalists, who moved their villages every few years as the soil around them was depleted. Most were at a tribal level of social organization. Archaeologists projected this settlement model into prehistory.

Recent work has shown that Precolumbian settlement was quite different. There was a dense population that lived in large permanent villages placed atop artifical mounds to raise them above the floodplain. They were more advanced politically and socially than the historically known people. The rainforest environment was managed and manipulated by them to allow for this settlement model. The cultures seen by the explorers were the mere remnant of their ancestors after their devastation by European diseases.

This stone alignment is an achievement of those earlier people.

Those Aggressive Brits

The BBC tells us that a study of skeletons recovered from Neolithic sites in Britain shows that 5% of them display evidence of blunt force trauma to the cranium. I theorize that the advent of agriculture during the Neolithic allowed the brewing of beer which led to this sad situation. It seems the roots of football hooliganism are sunk deep in British prehistory.

Interpretations of Flores Fossil Questioned

The famous "Hobbit" fossil from the Indonesian island of Flores, was a sensation when it was announced last year. This 18,000 year old specimen was thought to represent a subspecies (or possibly separate species) of humans of diminutive size. Now some scientists believe that this may represent only a single microcephalic individual coming from a population of normal sized people.

Not being a physical anthropologist I can't comment adequately on this, but I will refer you to John Hawks expert commentary on the subject. He seems to lean toward supporting the critics.

Another "Living Fossil"

French scientists working in the Coral Sea have discovered another "living fossil" - a species of crustacean thought to have gone extinct 60 million years ago. There's always something else to find if you just keep looking!

Poles Will Wander II

A recent study has shown that the planet's magnetic field has weakened almost 40% over the last 2500 years or so. The rate of decline has increased over the last 250 years after a relatively stable period for the 250 years before that. You may recall that I posted on polar reversals back in December. Periodically, about every 300,000 years or so, the magnetic field of Earth reverses so that the north and south magnetic poles switch positions. The "north" end of a compass needle would then point south.

Some scientists believe that this decay may signal the beginning of the next polar reversal. We are overdue as the last one was almost 800,000 years ago. What would this mean to our electronic technology? Would it still work? Would electric motors and generators function? No one knows - this has never happened while we have been a species. A scientist quoted in the article seems to assume that the reversal would happen over a period of centuries, but I'm not sure we even know that.

Sounds like the basis for a good science fiction novel to me.

Peruvian Mummy

Another interesting find from Peru. The mummy of a high-status woman from the Moche culture (ca. AD 450) was buried with weaving tools and needles, but also war clubs and atlatls. Like Xena the Warrior Princess, maybe.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Business vs. Academic Models (or, Books and Libraries vs. Google)

This paper by librarian Thomas Mann, Ph.D., is circulating now among the library staff at my institution (and others, I'm sure):

A Critical Review

Mann provides a number of goods simultaneously: a succinct defense of libraries and books in the face of presumed competition from Google, et al; a refutation of that competition; a definition of scholarship as opposed to "information seeking;" some spunky humor, good quotes and a few classical Greek references.

I think this paper deserves a wider viewing than it's likely to get on the library listserves. If you have some time to read it, you may agree.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Preclassic Maya Finds

These two pictures come from the NY Times today telling of exciting new finds from Guatemala. Opinions of the Maya Preclassic Period are being revised based on this new information which is showing that people of this era were much more developed and sophisticated than thought. The origins of Maya glyph writing are being pushed back in time. A column of 10 glyphs painted on a whitewashed wall has been dated to between 300 and 200 BC. So far they are untranslatable.

Interesting stuff.

Coursing Update

Courtesy of Margory Cohen, a couple of more or less "mainstream" articles defending open- field coursing here and here-- though in the second I think the writer is a bit hard on the noble hare!

But I just belatedly found a comment on one of my earlier posts that is frankly deranged and thought I would give its eloquent writer a little free publicity. After raving through the usual blather about hares being torn apart alive, WHICH NEVER HAPPENS, and how much we enjoy it, this civilized gent goes on to say:

"If I had it my way we would gather you all up and, in the name of sport of course, drop you in a tank full of sharks so they could rip you to pieces as you writhe and scream in pain. Only then would you ignorant bastards realize how much pain and suffering you have caused in the name of sport and nature. After reading some of the pro-coursing posts I can't help but think that supporters of coursing lack the capacity to conceptualize and comprehend 'nature.' Here's an idea, instead of spending your time in a field figuring out the best ways to destroy wild animals why dont you spend some time in library learning about them.
(posted by Dr. Robert P. Simpson : Thursday, 02 March, 2006)"

Charming, gentle, life- affirming folks, our opponents. Anybody know anything about this guy?

Please circulate, including to the California legislature.

Knocking Around

In Standing by Words, Wendell Berry writes of "poet watchers," whose sport it is to find out what makes poets tick. It's clear this annoys him; he'd rather them want to know what makes the poems tick. I get it. It's another iteration of Berry's emphasis on work and his impatience with infatuations for their own sake. But I'm guilty of it, too---although moreso for wanting to know what makes all writers tick.

I've been bugging Rebecca for clues lately, and I've pretty much exhausted Steve with the same request. I've got shelves full of writers' memoirs and instruction, titles all variations of So-and-so On Writing. I eat this stuff up. Obviously, I'm hoping to find myself in there somewhere.

Being the junior (i.e., least wizened) member of this blog helps make clear why I might want to relax a bit. There's an ingredient of good writing that comes no other way except by knocking around; and the more of it you do, the better.

Berry sums it up well in this good quote:

"Not so long ago it was generally thought that in order to be a writer a person needed extraordinary knowledge or experience. This, of course, frequently led to some willful absurdity in the life of a young writer. But it also suggested a connection--even a responsible connection--between art and experience and art and the world. What we have too frequently the notion that what distinguishes a writer from a nonwriter is, first and last, a gift and a love of language. Writers, that is, are not distinguished by their knowledge or character or vision or inspiration or the stories they have to tell; they are distinguished by their specialties. This is a difference not of degree but of kind. And the resulting absurdities are greater than before, and more dangerous. The power of such notions among the college-bred is suggested by a statement of Mr. John W. Dean III: 'I would like to be a writer. Maybe I will write a book. I love to play with words and twist phrases. I always play Scrabble.'"

Monday, May 15, 2006

African Truffles

The LA Times tells us (on the front page!) that truffles are a common delicacy in Namibia. Who knew?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

What Matt is Reading

Well, if Reid can do it...

First thing: I read one book at a time. This amounts to a fair stack by the end of a season, but it's a serial adventure. The simultaneous readers---Steve, Reid, everyone else in my family---surround and amaze me. Yet I remain, tragically, monobiblic.

So a "list" of books I am reading is something of a misnomer. But here's what I finished today and what I've started.

Just finished: Helen Macdonald's Falcon. Let this be your final warning if you haven't yet bought it. Steve and Hiedi have already read it, and like me, loved it. It will be hard to drum up more superlatives for a review in the August Hawk Chalk, but I'll give it my best shot... In short, this book is unique---not in topic; in fact, the first book ever was a falcon book---but in perspective, arrangement, scholarship, wit, class and sheer cool. I have read a lot of books on hawks and hawking. Nothing like this.

Just started: Wendell Berry's Standing by Words. A collection of essays and a critique, I gather, mostly of poets and poetry. A few pages in and Berry is, predictably, quotable. Here's one for Helen:

[In the opening essay, Berry coins the concept "poet watchers" to describe at least a subset the art's modern audience---people convinced the poet is more worthy of study than her work and always "hoping the poets will reveal themselves as the strange creatures they really are."]

"...poet watchers have a limitation in common with bird watchers. Some essential things will not be revealed to them, because their interest is too direct, too imbued with excitement of a special occasion. They are too much agog. If to an attentiveness appropriately critical and calm the words of a poet reveal something extraordinary, then an extraordinary response is certainly in order. But it is better to be agape afterwards than agog beforehand."

What Reid is Reading

Well, if Steve can do it I can do it...

The Fencing Master by Arturo Perez-Reverte (I'm a sucker for good historical novels. Don't miss his Captain Alatriste)

The Nature of Paleolithic Art by Dale Guthrie (Steve loves this one, too)

Fish on Friday by Brian Fagan (Fagan writes so much so well on archaeology, culture & history it is almost discouraging. And he's just across town. See also Writing Archaeology)

Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain by Joseph O'Callaghan (IMO the most understudied topic of European history is the Spanish Reconquista - and the resultant effect of Islamic cultures on Spanish language and culture)

Gaudi by Maria Antonietta Crippa (I guess I'm on an Iberian jag!)

The Shaping of America Vol. 1 - Atlantic America 1492-1800 by D.W. Meinig (An oldy but new to me. Takes you out of your preconceived "map views" of early European entrance to the New World)

Puppy and a Sunset

I've had several inquiries as to the progress our new Aussie puppy Sadie, is making so I thought I would put up a few pictures we took on a beach walk a week ago Friday.

She really is growing. She weighed 10 pounds when we picked her up in early February and now she is pushing 35 pounds. You can see some comparison pictures here to see how she has grown. Sadie is also teething, and though the chewing is somewhat under control, we have lost a pair of Connie's reading glasses, a couple of plastic ballpoint pens, and the wooden handle of a spatula to her depredations.

We took her to an obedience school ("The Perfect Puppy Academy" I'm embarrassed to say) a first for us. But we did learn some good techniques so it was time well spent. She is an intelligent girl and learns quickly.

Connie and Sadie are now attending puppy training sessions for agility competition. Dogs of her breed are very good at those competitions, and it will take her obedience and coordination work to a new level.

So all in all Sadie is doing very well - and it's always fun at the beach.

And here is the promised sunset.

Tulane Commencement

My alma mater, Tulane University in New Orleans, has just held its first commencement since the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina last year so damaged the school's physical plant that classes were suspended for the fall semester. Two ex-Presidents, Bush and Clinton, delivered a joint commencement address. Not too shabby - but I'm not so sure about the Ellen DeGeneres talk though.

Tulane has struggled but seems to be coming through this okay. To cut costs it has cut some academic programs, faculty and staff, and some athletic teams. But most pre-hurricane students have returned and the incoming freshman class is the size and quality of last years.

I recently read an interesting piece in Slate that says of all the cultural institutions in New Orleans, the universities (Tulane, Loyola, Dillard, Xavier, UNO) seem to be making the fastest return to normalcy. As the authors say:

"So why have the universities done so much better than the city as a whole? First, the universities were never wracked by extreme corruption and bad governance. They have continued to pursue success and avoided getting snarled up in questions about who is really in charge. New Orleans must deal with politically divided federal, state, and local governments, but the universities have clear administrative chains of command, starting with their boards and presidents."

It would be great if the city could follow the universities' example.

Oldest Observatory in the New World

The LA Times reports the discovery of the oldest celestial observatory yet found in the New World, at the 4200 year-old Buena Vista site, north of Lima, Peru. This "frowning face" marks one of the solstice alignments that have been documented by Bob Benfer of the University of Missouri, atop a pyramid located at the site.

There has been a boom in research in Andean archaeology since the end of the Sendero Luminoso rebellion in Peru and each year brings more exciting discoveries like this one. This site is Preceramic and is one of many that is demonstrating that state-level social organization probably occurred along the Pacific Coast of South America earlier than anywhere else in the New World.

The rich fishery off this coast provided a stable source of food from very early times and allowed permanent occupation of villages much earlier than the advent of agriculture. In fact, it is now theorized that agriculture began in this part of the world with the cultivation of cotton to be spun into twine for use in fishnets. Cultivation of food crops came later.

Look for more discoveries like this soon. Dates for state-level organization will be pushed back and back.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Stop Me Before I Blog Again!

.... but I am just sitting around waithing for Chas and Mary and I keep finding cool things like this interview with Bill Buford, who recently wrote of his experiences learning to be an Italian butcher in the New Yorker:

"One night Dario and I and my wife and his wife at the time went to a restaurant not far from Dario’s house. He looked at the menu and saw air-dried goose. He threw the menu down, he screamed, he shouted at the owner of the restaurant, he humiliated him in front of a party—a birthday party for some geriatrics who were up on the stage doing the Beach Boys in Italian. He just went berserk. To the restaurant proprietor, Filippo, he said, “Filippo, you have a beautiful panoramic view”—the restaurant was on top of a mountain—“of all of Tuscany. When in your life have you ever seen a goddam goose in that sky, ever?” And then he threw the menu down. “Cazzo! Cazzo!”

"In Italy, what you’re really learning is centuries of a culture of producing food in a particular region. As Mario Batali has said, these guys have been doing it pretty well for seven, eight, ten centuries—who’s to think you’re so smart that you can do it better? Here in America, it’s not so codified. One of the things that baffles the Italians who taught Mario is how Mario can be so successful when he does things like put raw eggs on top of his spaghetti carbonara. They were really perplexed. One of them said, “I’ve seen it! I’ve seen it with my own eyes—the eggs were raw! The eggs were raw!” "


"In the book, you make some observations about food and American culture."

"Utterly banal, obvious observations that the mass-marketing of food is killing it. What makes our food so plentiful has ruined what makes it interesting. Basically, if you can refrigerate it and ship it, then it’s ruined. What I learned from all these people in Italy—they’re all extreme in their traditionalism—is how to make food with your hands, and how the kind of food that you can make with your hands is going to be idiosyncratic, expressive, and unique to the place where you are. You’re trying to make food that’s unique to the place it comes from. That’s what it comes down to, in a nutshell. The closer the food is to the place, the more intense the flavors—more vibrant, more alive, more of the earth."

The book sounds good too--(the review is by Anthony Bourdain). It has been on my wish list for a week, and if the excerpt is anything to go by it is good enough that a resonably experienced cook can cook from it.

Hat tip Michael Blowhard.

One More!

A friend sent me this NYT link to the so-called "Best novels of the past 25 years". I was underwhelmed to say the least! It was full of Roth and DeLillo and had almost nobody from off the East coast.

I wrote back to the group:

"Huh. I'm a bit out of the mainstream of course . Of what is here I like all of McCarthy and J K Toole's Confederacy, and am oddly fond of if equally exasperated by Rush's Mating (forgot he wasn't English). Don't like most of the rest.

"Didn't Walker Percy publish in the last 25? And I am sure there are others, even "mainstream " others, I like better...."

A thoughtful (western) writer, editor, and professor friend wrote back:

"I saw all this hoo-haw, too, since -- parked on a campus now, apparently until I die -- these kinds of things cause the ivy to tremble and buzz. Whitman College, with a new president, is currently on a Diversity rampage, so the coronation of Beloved arrives as a reaffirmation on this campus, which still tends to feel insecure about its comparison of itself to Williams, Swarthmore, et al. -- a self-comparison announced from the middle of a wheat field. What caught my attention more, however, was what A.O. Scott confirmed in his essay about this particular award: by and large, the East loves the East. I couldn't help but notice that Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping (like Stegner's Angle of Repose) had never been reviewed by the
NYT. When westerners and southerners write, it's called "regional literature" (except for books like Beloved); when eastern seaboarders write, it's called "American literature" (with no apologies to Mexicans, Chileans, Brazilians....). This, too, shall not pass. It is our country's oldest literary cliché."

I wrote back:

"I did forget Robinson -- why isn't she taken as seriously as the (to put it more politely than I feel ) overrated Morrison?

"I am inordinately fond of the southerners from Faulkner and Caroline Gordon and Penn Warren and Welty to O'Connor and Percy, including "minor" rednecks like Harry Crews. (And of course Cormac McCarthy was a southern writer before he was a western one).

"And of the Catholics, who link up with the southerners. (Maybe how a Boston- born Catholic boy got interested in the South though I doubt it is that simple!)

"In the "old days" Eastern writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald (of course neither came from the East and EH never even lived there but they were accepted there) could stand as US writers. The easterners on THAT list are provincials!"

I really don't give a hoot about the Brazilians et al, but the allocation of good American writers to mere "regional" status burns my ass! Not to mention that the books on the approved list are mostly dull as dust....

What I Am Reading

The latest in a very occasional series...


Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade

Odalisque by Neal Stephenson

The Egg and Sperm Race by Matthew Cobb (The English title not the American one, a sort of non- fiction version of the Baroque Cycle only for biologists)

Tamerlane by Justin Marozzi

Not so new:

East of the Sun by Benson Bobrick (a history of Siberia)

The Face of Battle by John Keegan

Deer of the World by Valerius Geist

All keepers I'd say.

I have also just finished The Hundredth Meridian by my friend Chilton Williamson-- available here. It is the best book of essays on the American west and its people and places I have read in years, worthy of keeping company with the books of his late friend Ed Abbey. Chilton is the kind of American original that our current simple- minded divisions attempt to deny exists-- a small g "green", a small c "conservative" of the paleo persuasion, a Westerner and a Traditionalist (earning those capitals); not to mention a critic, a novelist, an editor of real ability (only writers know how rare that is), and a guy who once worked on the oil rigs who can both pack an elk out of the back country and discourse on the relative merits of the recordings of Maria Callas. Buy his book!

I may be absent from blogging for a bit-- I have just finished several projects, including one I have been working on for years, and want to devote myself to the outdoors and the new novel. I hope Reid's work load eases, and that he and Matt will be able to take up some slack. I may weigh in soon or later or ?? But NO PROMISES, at least for a while!


After hearing me rant about the proliferation of 5- acre "ranchette" subdivisions surrounding Magdalena, Mary Zeiss Stange sent me a wonderful essay she had published on the subject (in USA Today!).

"Call it Homesteading 2004: You move to the country to escape the urban rat race, and a coyote eats your cat. On days when your neighbor's Angus cattle aren't grazing in your front yard, they're milling around the road blocking access to town and kicking up enough dust to make a Bedouin wheeze.


"According to the University of Colorado's Center of the American West, the population in the Rocky Mountain/High Plains states has been growing steadily, thanks primarily to retirees and urban refugees. This trend is expected to continue at least through 2050."


"In the 19th century, the original settlers fought to preserve the open range, where their cattle could roam as freely as wildlife. A hundred years later, many of their descendants were selling off that open land for subdivisions for a variety of reasons: They could get more for it from developers; they had no
choice in the face of mounting farm debt; their children had moved away and didn't want it. Those ranchers who have hung on, many by a thread, are living with an increasingly dim set of expectations and harboring their own nostalgia for a West that no longer exists."


"The environmental stakes are high. Those ranches that newcomers resent for being dirty, smelly and inconvenient represent the only sizable tracts of largely unfenced land in private hands and, as such, are of massive ecological importance. Yet too few ranchers are adopting environmentally friendly practices. Meanwhile, their new neighbors are accelerating the drain on limited water resources, disrupting wildlife migration corridors and increasing the costs and inefficiency of fire control."

What she said-- RTWT!

And yes, I am a "newcomer", 26 years ago. I never tried to change a thing, which is why my friends tend to be "old- timers". As my friends from the South might say, best to "hide & watch" for a while rather than make an IMMEDIATE fool of yourself.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Just Desserts

Paul Domski sends this link to a story about the sentencing of some AR terrorists in England:

"The family of brothers Chris and John Hall, who ran the business at Darley Oaks farm in rural Staffordshire, and their staff, were subject to firebomb attacks, had paint-stripper poured over their cars and bricks thrown through their windows.

"Other incidents saw a golf course used by John Hall damaged; newsagents that supplied papers to the family were threatened and letters were sent to neighbours of the owner of a firm providing fuel oil to the farm, falsely claiming he was a paedophile.

"But it was the attack in October 2004 on the grave of Hammond, Chris Hall's mother-in-law who had died seven years earlier, that grabbed national attention."

The Hall's crime? THEY RAISED GUINEA PIGS, for medical research.

"The gang, three of whom had criminal convictions dating back to 1987, were leading members of the Save The Newchurch Guinea Pigs (SNGP) campaign, police said."

So, did the good guys win? Not exactly:

"To that end, the group can claim success. In January, exhausted by the relentless intimidation, the Halls quit breeding.

"This victory is a dramatic blow to an industry which can and will be defeated by kind-hearted activists," the SNGP said on its Web site at the time." [Emphasis mine]

And the implications?

"In January 2004, Cambridge University gave up plans for a 32 million pound primate research center over fears it would not be safe from militants.

"The government reacted by introducing tough measures to clamp down on the activists, but only this week GlaxoSmithKline, Europe's biggest pharmaceuticals manufacturer, said shareholders had received letters warning them to sell their stock or risk having their names posted on the Internet."

Just can't wait until they get here...

Epidemic Updates...

The good: Bird Flu has not returned to europe on the wings of the returning migrants, contrary to doomsday scenarios.

And the.. weird: Morgellan's Disease, which sounds like bad science fiction-- little fibers extending from the victims' skin, pain, crawling sensations, psychological disturbances, with no known cause and no cure in sight. This appears to be real-- here is a site devoted to it. Hat tip Prairie Mary, who shares an interest in such things with me...


Here is a good piece reviewing the movie "Flock of Dodos" that was made by a biologist turned filmmaker who tries to show that "Inteligent" design is wrong, but that pompous smugness may not be the best way to combat it.

"Olson illustrates (and perhaps exaggerates) the evolutionists’ difficulties. In one of the film’s more amusing scenes, several Harvard biologists huddle around a poker table and get progressively drunker as they banter and bicker and bemoan the rise of the ID movement. Their conversation is intelligent and entertaining, but it’s also annoyingly haughty and dense."


"..The fundamental problem with teaching Intelligent Design in science classes is that it just isn’t science. By definition, scientific inquiry is limited in scope to providing natural explanations of the physical world. The hypothesis that human life was created by a supernatural intelligence might be true or false, but it isn’t empirically testable, so it simply fails to reach the level of a scientific hypothesis. For this reason, ID cannot sensibly be included in science classes: The pure methodology of establishing physical facts through empirical verification is essential for the continued integrity of science, because it encapsulates scientists’ specialized, time-tested, and uniquely powerful way of advancing human knowledge. Science as an enterprise would suffer great harm if it allowed supernaturalism to creep into its operations, just as religion would diminish itself if it began demanding empirical evidence to back up its tenets of faith."

RTWT of course...

Helen's Poems

Pluvialis, who should be well- known to readers of this blog, may be better known to the world as Helen Macdonald, lecturer at Cambridge, falconer, author of this good book, and poet. I have been spending a lot of time with her poetry lately as an anecdote to some difficult work and to charge (recharge?) my batteries for a new big slightly scary project.

I wrote in a letter: "I have been immersing myself in the poems-- I find them both difficult and exhilarating. I sit with one for a while, fighting for larger meaning, and suddenly something comes into sharp focus like a wild bird in a thicket through binoculars."

Here is an example, one dedicated to the late falconer- naturalist Bill Girden:


for Bill Girden

Death, about which we are all thinking, death, I believe
is the only solution to this problem of how to be able to fly
--Paul Nash, Aerial Flowers, 1945

To state the discovery of a country
& be in a time without rage, keeping wings
nearyourself, as barred as buried in the day, crossly.
Some present results; a tree, a quail, a rock, a hawk
rousing one's mind from safety and tameable illness
to beautiful comprehension in the form of a hunch
as patience directs

the finishing line is a trail of feathers to brush.
You might resist the pall of earthly wings
wicker thrumming with sand and hysteria
no longer a word, no use, knocking at wind
or poise as it flows up along the face, an edge
clipped with rock and lifting, a movement

as if one were about to launch into speech of faith
at least a hoped conviction, spite of coincidence.
'This is hardly a flaw; it simply is' you say, then drop
like a lark in abeyance of song to mitigte sward.
My pen crumples into a swan, it is singing
inauthenticate myth, and not of future spendour

I am glad. some evidence of a hymn without light. Fracas.
History. The building of a condominium.
It is tru I had never met.
There was a strike on the glass; it was a bird.
I have never been to the desert.

And here is a bit of one more favorite, "Lammergeier", about the Bonebreaker, the great bearded vulture of the wastes of Eurasia:

Today is what either history truth maybe the civilisation of work
grandeur and its all allies spread upon the long steppe

blood on their faces from the setted sun & the formes of music
chased with woodsmoke the apparel the magenta turf

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

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

Enough for now-- I hope these snippets have given you a taste. She has a book of poems published, Shaler's Fish, but it seems to be out of print despite its presence in English Amazon. If you find one, let me know!

Here is a review of Shaler's Fish-- scroll down. Some poems here and here. (I confess I find the second one baffling!) She is also the youngest poet included in the Oxford anthology of Twentieth-century British and Irish Poetry , a huge volume that starts with Hopkins and contains every canonical (Yeats, Auden, Hughes, Larkin) and also NON- canonical good poet you can think of-- !

I will add my International Falconer review of "Falcon" when the current issue is replaced by the next one .

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Zebra Mussels and Natural Selection

Just a note: It seems a contractor has successfully eradicated invasive zebra mussels from a quarry in Virginia using massive doses of potasium chloride---toxic to mussels (not so good for death row inmates, either). After the evident die-off, live mussels were sent down in a sack to serve as aquatic canaries, and they promptly died too. Divers went down to confirm, gave the all-clear.

Killing all the unwanted organisms in an isolated environment is one thing. But something about this next bit rings a bell. I wonder what happens to a pregnant mussel that doesn't happen to be so sensitive to KCl?
There has been at least one other attempt to eliminate zebra mussels from a body of water. In 1999, researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute began manually pulling the unwelcome mollusks from Lake George in New York. Since then, the population has declined dramatically, but has not been completely eradicated, said Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, a professor at Rensselaer who directs the zebra mussel removal efforts.

"You're not going to necessarily get every single last one," she said. "But our goal was initially to go in and to remove the bulk of them. And we did that."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Geronimo's Bones

An article in the Hartford Courant suggests that the Yale secret society Skull and Bones at least THINKS it has Geronimo's bones.

" A journalist has uncovered evidence that members of Yale's secretive Skull and Bones society may have robbed Geronimo's grave during World War I and brought the Apache warrior's skull and other remains back to New Haven.

"The plundering of Geronimo's grave in Fort Sill, Okla., has long been rumored, but now a 1918 letter, found deep in Yale University's archives, suggests there may be some validity to the story.


"Marc Wortman, a writer in New Haven, discovered the letter last fall while researching a book about pioneering World War I aviators from Yale. He immediately shared his find with the Yale Alumni Magazine where he had been an editor. The new details are published in the magazine's May/June issue.

"In the letter, Skull and Bones member Winter Mead wrote that Geronimo's skull had been unearthed and spirited away to their brownstone clubhouse on High Street in New Haven nicknamed "The Tomb." Mead's report was addressed to his fellow "Bonesman" F. Trubee Davison, who helped select new followers during the war. Charles Haffner, a new initiate, or "knight," was among a small group of military officers who allegedly joined the Fort Sill raid.

" "The skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible, exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill by your club & the K-t [Knight] Haffner, is now safe inside the T-[Tomb] together with his well worn femurs [,] bit & saddle horn," Mead wrote to Davison."

The article casts some doubt on whether the remains are actually Geronimo's. But what a strange... activity... for America's so- called elite (three generations of Bushes plus John Kerry belong to the society).


Steve Sailer has a fascinating post on Kurds, Turkey, Iran, the breakup of Iraq, and strange alliances. Here is a quote from his correspondent:

"The Turks I know socially are all non-typical (educated, secular, military families) and they think that the Islamists in Ankara have been living on borrowed time. A secular Turkish military regime might go ahead and work to negotiate a permanent Kurdish settlement. Sort of an "only Nixon could go to China" deal. If that is the case, I would expect something similar with Armenia. That would make the Turks look very good, despite the EU membership being torpedoed by the military coup. It would also settle some old issues with very bitter neighbors.

"A lot of interests are lining up between some very unlikely parties to try to cleanly carve up Iraq (if an Armenian-Turkish-Kurdish-Azeri-Georgian unofficial military alliance in support of a secular Middle East isn't a platypus of realism, I don't know what would be) and let the Sunni and Shiite Arab parts burn out their religious fervor in the rest of Iraq, ideally bankrupting the Syrians and the Iranians. I see nothing similar on the other side (like, our side) trying to stop this from taking place."

Well-- I hope this is happening. Though my intuition is that Turks outside of the Westernized elite (which includes the military) are not all that eager to compromise with anyone; nor are the less sophisticated Kurds.

A westernized (Turkish) Kurd said to me, not all that long ago, "We wouldn't have any problems if it weren't for the Greeks, Jews, and Armenians".

Yeah, those Armenians sure do have a lot of influence.

One of the sadder ironies is that the Kurds helped the Turks ethnically cleanse the Armenians-- only to be treated in a not dissimilar way themselves, later.

"Those to whom evil is done/ Do evil in return..."

The Black Hole...

... is what Australian naturalist Tim Flannery calls the mouth of Paleolithic man, down which the megafauna may well have disappeared.

Matt just sent me this article about recent studies by Paleontologist Dale Guthrie (whose recent book The Nature of Paleolithic Art is one of the best I have read this year) that seems to contradict the Overkill Hypothesis-- its title is "Climate change, not Humans, Killed Large Beasts".

Were two of my heros, Professors Guthrie and Martin, in conflict?

Well, not really, as the article was about something a lot less specific than the deadliness of Paleolithic hunters.

"Dale Guthrie of the University of Alaska has added 600 radiocarbon-dated fossils to the established collection, and his examination reveals that mammoths and wild horses were in serious decline before humans arrived on the scene in Alaska and the Yukon Territory.

But the article goes on to state:

"David Steadman, a researcher at the University of Florida who believes humans drove the giant sloth to extinction, agrees that encroaching boreal forest may have been the end for large mammals in the North. But what about across the rest of the continent?

"It's a great piece of evidence—I don't doubt it; I trust his data," Steadman told LiveScience. "What happened in Alaska and the Yukon is swell, but why did these things die out in Texas and Mexico and Arizona and Florida?"

"Like many researchers in the field, Steadman attributes a combination of factors to the extinction of these beasts. But he believes humans, and not climate, played the leading role throughout the New World.

" "There are so many things going on, and to me it's illogical to think that warming up and getting rid of ice sheets at 40 degrees latitude is a bad thing for large mammals," Steadman said. "They went through 20 glacial cycles in the last million years, and got through every one except for the last one. It has a certain odor to it, and that odor is of humans." "

Then Matt sent me still another article. Its title? "Giant Creatures Wiped Out by Hunters, Not Climate ".

Monday, May 08, 2006

"I was working, really!"

... says Roseann.

A likely story!

"A Kind of Paganism"

.... is how the pope's astronomer thinks of creationism.

"Not that there's anything wrong with that... " (Hi Chas).

Pitbulls in Indiana

A correspondent from Indiana who will be be known hereafter as "the lady with the funny black dogs" has checked in with some news about how the plain folks of that state are reacting to the AR agenda.

"The Pit Bull hearing in Anderson was very interesting ... It was quite clear that WWIII was going to break out in that town if the designer- coiffed city attorney even continued to entertain any idea about banning or
otherwise controlling those dogs ... and I am speaking in terms of armed dog owners.

"Indiana cities have an interesting history ... all the of towns within certain geographic areas were "factory towns" mostly inhabited by displaced farmers and bootleggers from Kentucky and Tennessee who migrated north during the 20s and 30s to find work ... I wouldn't want to walk into the wrong neighborhood and try to take away anything "they" don't want to give up.

"If we were talking face to face, I'd tell you exactly what I saw going on in that meeting ... there were lots of signals exchanged there ... very interesting. The proposed bill was finally withdrawn (a county sheriff and a high ranking police officer both testifed for the "Pit Bull" owners) ... the message I got was - we're going to let you clean your own houses. If there is a drug dealer or a gang member in your neighborhood who is misusing a pit bull, you should help to educate him.

"I don't believe they meant the offender should be met with printed literature from the APBT [ American Pit Bull Terrier--SB] club.

"Law North of the Ohio River.

"More on the HSUS, the ag community and whatever else comes to my mind ... they may have a corner on Ric
Santorum's office on the East Coast, and the Hollywood fly-by-nights on the West Coast, but I think they're in big trouble when they try to move "inland" ..."

What she said. I will have more of her insights later.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Great Quote..

.. from Wendell Berry on livestock breeds-- hat tip Matt:

"The great diversity of livestock breeds, along with the great diversity of domestic plant varieties, can be thought of as a sort of vocabulary with which we may make appropriate responses to the demands of a great diversity of landscapes. (Emphasis mine).

I hope to return to this, with pictures.


Tim Gallagher sent me this thoughtful story on the continuing controversy over the rediscovery of the Ivorybilled woodpecker , a story in which he is a major player.

The writer focuses on the inherent ambiguities of the sightings; he MAY even have seen one himself:

"The ivory-billed woodpecker is, essentially, Schrödinger's cat, the famous physics paradox in which a cat in a box is neither dead nor alive until you open the box. By keeping my mouth shut (about as rare an experience as an ivory-bill sighting), the bird is both extinct from the planet and nesting in the swamps of Arkansas.

"But this is not one of those crummy stories that ends with some annoying riff about "ambiguity." Birding is not philosophy. Birding is storytelling, and ivory-bill birding is the most exquisitely nuanced yarn of them all. It requires that you consider the different facets of the ivory-billed woodpecker from every angle. (My experience with Bill Tippit and this philosophical mumbo jumbo are but two.) There are, with some editing, 13 ways of looking at the ivory-billed woodpecker, and there is an answer to the burning question Did I see the damn bird or not? Here's the thing — I'm not able to give the answer. It's a birding story. Only you can."
RTWT, of course. Just two observations:

(1)Tim Gallagher continues to be a class act.

(2) The word is "transect", " To dissect transversely", or the noun deriving from that word; not "transept", used TWICE fer chrissake: "the transverse part of a cruciform church" [both OED]. Shouldn't a "senior writer" at the NYT or at least his editors know this?

Great Game redux: Kazakhstan

This story indicates once again that the Great Game never dies. But this time it is not only Russia and the west (and China, and Islam): one of the "pawns" is a major player as well.

"A day after chastising Moscow for its use of oil and natural gas as "tools for intimidation and blackmail," Vice President Dick Cheney visited Kazakhstan on Friday to promote export routes that bypass Russia and directly supply the West.

"With his comments, Mr. Cheney waded into a messy geopolitical struggle for energy and influence in the countries of the former Soviet Union, rapidly becoming one of the world's largest-producing regions."


"Kazakhstan is the largest and, many say, most stable country in the Caspian Sea region. The entire basin contains roughly 10 billion barrels of oil, much of it in Kazakhstan territory. Kazakhstan is second only to Russia in oil reserves among the countries once part of the Soviet Union."

All this needs caveats, analyis, and deconstruction, but it is very interesting. The third paragraph is basically true, despite occasional disturbing incidents like this one reported by Gates of Vienna. (Though Dymphna fears Islamism I suspect it is more lingering authoritarianism and conformity that has lead to the harrassment of the Hare Krishnas; Kazakhstan is without a doubt THE most secular "Moslem" society-- if it can be called one at all-- that I have ever seen, and friendly to Orthodox Chritians, Orthodox Jews, and secular scientists, all of whom I have seen or known there).

"The Kazakh president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, won a third six-year term in December 2005, with 91 percent of the vote in an election that international observers said was flawed. Two opposition politicians have been murdered in six months, raising the specter of instability."

Abslutely true-- though the same observers admit he might have gotten 70 % legitimately! And in a region where free speech of any kind is circumscribed, I find it amusing that Nazarbaev's daughter, who many regard as the President- in Waiting, has argued publicly that the satirical, moronic Kazakh chracter developed by "Ali G" ( the comedian Sascha Baron Cohen) was FUNNY rather than a threat to the state.

"On Thursday, Kazakhstan's energy minister cheered the United States and Europe by saying he was interested in building a gas pipeline westward to Azerbaijan and then to Turkey, bypassing Russia and loosening Gazprom's lock on this trade. But that same day, Kazakhstan's national pipeline operator issued a guarantee to Russia to ship Russian oil to China through its new Atasu-Alashankou oil pipeline."

Which is why I consider Kazakhstan to be a player, not a pawn.

One more thing: without exception, all Russians and Mongolians and Central Asians I know operate on a basis of wariness bordering on fear of the Han Empire, aka the People's Republic of China. While we continue to ignore the dragon in the living room...

To be continued...