Human Nature

I promise to snap out of this mood sooner than later, but I believe in celebrating the bracing effects of gloom as well as the good things. In that spirit, a quote from Rose Nunez at No Credentials: “What history really teaches is that people are indeed nasty; that Hobbes was righter than Rousseau, and the William Golding’s vision of childhood is truer than Dr. Spock’s”.

China in Zimbabwe

An article in the NYT on the new bonds being forged with China by Zimbabwe’s megalomaniacal dictator Robert Mugabe contains many things to give us pause. Remember those farms confiscated from white farmers that were supposed to go to the “people”? Well, “…China won a contract last year to farm 386 square miles of land seized from white commercial farmers during the land-confiscation program begun by Mr. Mugabe in 2000”

And even better: ” Atop the list is a plan for China to train Zimbabweans in managing prisons.

“They have a fairly advanced prison system,” Zimbabwe’s justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, told reporters. “We would also want to tap into that expertise.”


From the Oxford Companion to Food, a bit of doggerel from Horticulture. It helps to know that Alfred Russell Wallace was extremely fond of the stinking fruit.

The durian–neither Wallace or Darwin agreed on it.

Darwin said ‘may your worst enemies be forced to feed on it’.

Wallace cried ‘it’s delicious’.

Darwin replied ‘I’m suspicious,

For the flavor is scented

Like papaya fermented

After a fruit- eating bat has pee’d on it’.


Frankly, if this were any lesser journal than Nature I’d be VERY skeptical. But….

“In a recent paper in Geology, Marc-Andre Gutscher of the European Institute for Marine Studies in Plouzané gives details of one candidate for the lost city: the submerged island of Spartel, west of the Straits of Gibraltar.

“The top of this isle lies some 60 metres beneath the surface in the Gulf of Cadiz, having plunged beneath the waves at the end of the most recent ice age as melting glaciers caused the sea level to rise.

“Geological evidence has shown that a large earthquake and a tsunami hit this island some 12,000 years ago, at roughly the location and time indicated in Plato’s writings”.

Rich Writers?

And while we are on doom and gloom– where does the idea that writers are rich come from? 2Blowhards sent me to Conversational Reading’s post on Writing and Money that has some true and funny things to say on the subject.

“They had their names on the cover of a book, thus they were wealthy.

“Even more strangely, this idea persists right up to this day, when I know much better than to expect that even 1% of all published authors can scrape together any kind of a living off their work. Of course, as Dan Green points out, the idea of the wealthy novelist is complete bunk. In fact, poverty is such a fact of a writer’s life that it’s hardly even worth noting”.

For any readers who do not know me: in the current state of writing, I make so little I could not exist in a more expensive environment than Magdalena, and even here, we need Libby’s job and drive vehicles more than ten years old (one is almost 20).

And it’s universal. I know all of TWO rich writers who weren’t born that way.

Pessimism and gloom

The indispensible Derbyshire found this quote from Macaulay on Dr. Johnson that perfectly describes the pessimistic cast of mind, which I think he and I (often) share, and cheerfully offers it up for our inspection:

“A deep melancholy took possession of him, and gave a dark tinge to all his views of human nature and of human destiny. Such wretchedness as he endured has driven many men to shoot themselves or drown themselves. But he was under no temptation to commit suicide. He was sick of life; but he was afraid of death; and he shuddered at every sight or sound which reminded him of the inevitable hour. In religion he found but little comfort during his long and frequent fits of dejection, for his religion partook of his own character. The light from heaven shone on him indeed, but not in a direct line, or with its own pure splendour. The rays had to struggle through a disturbing medium; they reached him refracted, dulled and discoloured by the thick gloom which had settled on his soul, and, though they might be sufficiently clear to guide him, were too dim to cheer him.”

Mongolian Freedom

More from the always thoughtful Nabetz at New Mongols. I have made extensive excerpts, but as the Professor says you should Read The Whole Thing. (Actually you should read the whole blog). I really like Nabetz’ undogmatic take on private property– perhaps a Mongolian heritage. I know I have seldom felt as free as when riding on the plains there– it makes even my wide- open home seem closed in by comparison.

“One of the singular impressions I have of Mongolia is the ability to simply walk anywhere and everywhere and not encounter that most ubiquitous of American institutions, the fence. This creates a number of interesting scenes: cows meandering through Erdenet’s downtown streets being one of the most distinctive. But more than that, it creates a very open society charactarized by community, liberality, and shared effort.

“…there are legitimate objections to land-privatization in Mongolia (or anywhere else) . To wit, there are (to simplify grossly) three: First, it goes against traditional Mongolian notions of land use. Second, it would create instability in the livelihoods the well over half of Mongolia’s population that derives its subsistance from nomadic herding. Third, it would go a long way toward destroying an ancient, thriving, and irreplacable culture.

“Let’s face it. It’s easy to be dogmatic when facing such issues. But when you have a tie to the land, it’s anything but philosophical. It’s intensely visceral. For a man’s land is inseperable from his land, his soil, his hearth. And for the Mongolian nomad, that land, that soil, that hearth, is the entire steppe as it billows and rolls under the the eternal blue sky.

“The beauty of blogging is that it’s always a work in process. Just like my view on land-privatization in Mongolia. What makes Mongolia so beautiful in many regards is the fact that the land is for all intents and purposes communal (where the word communal carries no political baggage). Quite literally, it’s possible to walk or ride from one end of Mongolia to the other without a fence getting in one’s way. The kind of life and view on life that this creates (or was created by it) is breathtakingly unique. The only thing I can think of to parallel this phenomenon in my own experience is that of the American Indian or the cowboys and cattle-drivers in bygone American epochs (I grew up in Montana). I suppose there are snatches of such open space in other places throughout the earth–northern Canada, Alaska, Siberia, both poles. But there’s no place quite like Mongolia where the wide open steppe and taiga and desert is so tied up with a living and widespread culture. The world, not least the Mongolians, would lose something of incalculable worth–their very historic identity–were their country to go the way of all flesh and chop its land into little parcels and hedge them about with barbed wire fences.

“In the final analysis, an ownership society and with it land-privatization is apparently the only way forward for Mongolia. But at the cost of the culture? Of the land? Of this generation of Mongolians? They know and we know that there is a choice to be made. Unfortunately, there’s no easy decision. We can only hope for the best as Mongolia plots its course for the future”.

Naadam Wussies

In the spring, on the steppes outside Ulaan Bataar in Mongolia, thousands of people gather to witness a wild 20- mile childrens’ horse race.

Now U.N. bureaucrats want to force the kids to wear helmets. Nabetz of New Mongols, a Mongolian- American blogger (?– he grew up in Montana, but has relatives in Mongolia) so good he goes instantly to the blogroll, has many pungent things to say, and I’ll quote him at length:

“Naadam, one of the world’s oldest games festivals, recently ended for this year. One western journalist, Oliver August of The Times (London), finds something to complain about. The children jockeys don’t wear helmets. Here’s a bit from his article, “It’s the world’s longest race, and child welfare is last – as always” (um, by the way, why is this article called “news”; shouldn’t it be “opinion”):

“…. Unicef, the international children’s agency, has now called on the Mongolian Government to make helmets mandatory. “We have strong reservations with regards to the racing because it poses a threat to the health of the children,” a spokesman said”.

(Nabetz):” “There’s a lot I could say. But has this guy ever been on a horse? Does he know that nomad kids start riding before they can walk? They’re practically born on horses. But Oliver August knows better than they. And so do does UNICEF. They want helmets for the racers. This is only a 20 miles race and lasts only a few minutes–but a infinitesimal fraction of the time and miles that the kids have and will spend on horseback as part of the family livelihood. Does UNICEF want kids to wear helmets when they’re herding the family sheep, too? When they’re riding out on the steppe to visit friends? What about the kids who ride camels? They might fall further, no? Should they have to wear a safety harness, too?”

[ I might add: how do they think the kids GOT there?–SB]

(Nabetz): “This is the way it should be. The Mongolians just recently got out from under a system in which people’s lives were controlled down to what you did, what you read, what you thought, how long you lived. It was a system called communism. It’s over now, and now the Mongolians are living freely and easily as they did since time out of memory. If this horse-mounted culture wants to start wearing helmets, it’s up to them. It’s their country.

“The story ends with what must be a sad ending for the meddling “child welfare” people, but it’s a beautiful ending for the proud Mongolians and freedom loving people everywhere:

“The thought of government intervention is anathema to most nomads. Property rights are unknown on the grasslands, as are fences or signs on the few roads. The Government is absent from their lives and always has been” “.

New World Founding Fathers (and Mothers)

This highly technical genetic paper, from the excellent Public Library of Science online, seems to suggest that the entire “native” population of the New World may decend from only seventy or eighty people!

Of course that doesnt mean that there weren’t others who may have left no descendants, as Matt Mullenix has suggested…

I’d be curious what Reid Farmer (or any other archaeologists out there ) think.