Decline and Fall 2

Second in a continuing series, a watch on the decline and fall of no- longer- Great Britain.

In John Derbyshire’s ever- entertaining monthly Diary for July, he tells of how perfectly normal young and middle aged Brits are abandoning the land of overwhelming PC and daunting costs for the Mediterranean, Australia, the US,and in the case of his nephew, Turkey!

He ruminates:”So, what? — Britain’s just going to…empty out?”

And recounts this story: ” Jay Nordlinger likes to tell of a conversation he had in London once with David Pryce-Jones, about some constitutional outrage the British government was perpetrating. Jay: “Why do the British people put up with it, with that great tradition of liberty they have?” P-J: “Jay, the British people don’t live here any more.” “

“Looks like this may soon be literally true!”

Ill Wind Power

Odious at Odious and Peculiar has a post on why wind is hardly a major energy contributor, and why it most likely won’t be:

“Distressingly little of the country is suitable for this type of power generation.

“Moreover, you really want to find a place where, to start with, no one lives, no one cares about the view, and no birds sing. Whether it is necessary for the sedge to have withered, I leave to committee. But wind turbines tend to chew up birds and spit them out, much in the manner of the comical antics of Warner Bros.’ Tasmanian devil.

“I am all for “alternative” energy sources, by which I mean “not coal”. I believe in man’s influence on global warming. I like things that are free–wind, sun, water. But, leaving aside the fact that they aren’t really free, they don’t scale. It is difficult to tell the wind that, come five o’clock, we need a quick boost in power production. Add to that the ugliness of a turbine field, and the potential loss of, say, a California condor, and I find myself thinking nuclear thoughts.”

Many more good things there, on everything from Sappho to the Supreme Court. Odious has been productive.

Grayal on St. Vincent Island, Florida

Guest poster Grayal Farr on an alien that does no harm (also an occasion for a good Kipling quote. But then again, what isn’t?)

“St. Vincent Island NWR is one of the bigger remaining chunks of near-pristine Florida. Visitors are allowed over every day, but no motorized transportation is allowed except for refuge staff and volunteers. The island is almost ten miles long, and except after a lot of rain, the roads and beaches are deep soft sand, so bikes aren’t that good an option either. Public access, except for the nights before a couple of primitive weapons hunts, is dawn to dusk.

For decades it was the private hunting preserve of rich Yankees. They imported exotics, Zebras (Why, I don’t know. Who ever hunted zebras?), Blackbuck, and Sambar Deer. The zebras and Blackbuck were hopeless, and came into the hunting camp on the eastern end of the island for feed from the very beginning. The Sambar, on the other hand, seem to have discovered that rare thing, an unoccupied ecological niche. They just sort of looked around, glanced meaningfully at each other – and disappeared into the marshes. They continue to flourish. When FWS took over the place they immediately got rid of the freeloading zebras and Blackbuck. The Sambar were another matter. A decision was made to let them be, partly (though never explicitly acknowledged) because of local sentiment. Anyway, they’re still there, giving me an opportunity to experience some of Kipling’s genius for description…

As the dawn was breaking the Sambhur belled –
Once, twice, and again!
And a doe leaped up and a doe leaped up
From the pond in the wood where the wild deer sup.
This, I, scouting alone beheld,
Once, twice, and again!

It does get you. They crash off like Elk in heavy cover. Nothing like it in Florida.”

Oh and– they have red wolves, too. That poem is, for non- Kiplingites (shame!) narrated by a wolf.

NAGPRA alert!

From Grayal Farr, naturalist, archaeologist, and retired Special Forces Major, comes a warning, in the form of a letter to his senator. If you heed it, remember to fax– emails are often discounted, and Grayal says that mail takes three weeks to actaully get to your senator.

“I am writing to urge that you vote to delete Amendment 108 from Senate Bill 536, sponsored by Senator McCain.

As a retired veteran I greatly respect Senator McCain and support his principled stands on many issues. However I am also a graduate student in Archaeology. I’m aware of the stifling effect the amendment would have on our ability to investigate how the western hemisphere was first explored and settled.

The constitution provides for the Senate to advise and consent in matters pertaining to “the Indian tribes.” Amendment 108 would push back definition of Native Americans far past any ability of science or even oral history to trace tribal affiliation and allow Indians to claim as tribal ancestors the remains of people who may actually have arrived from Europe. In fact, the amendment represents an attempt by modern tribes to preclude discovery of further evidence that there were such people.

Treatment of our tribal populations by the United States, whether governmental abrogation of solemn treaties or anthropological violation of tribal burials and traditions, is a historical blot on our conduct as a nation. Congress in recent decades has moved in many ways to correct those historical wrongs. The Native American American Graves Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was and is an appropriate measure to redress some of the harm done by anthropologists in the name of museums and academic institutions. I fully support NAGPRA as written.

However, federal court decisions have affirmed and reaffirmed that NAGPRA does not apply to human remains so old that no tribal affiliation can be ascertained. The proposed amendment would codify concepts such as the belief of many native groups that “we have always been here.” We should no more codify such concepts as United States law than we should pass a law affirming that the earth is flat because some well-meaning citizens sincerely believe it.


MAJ (U. S. Army Special Forces, retired) Grayal E. Farr

Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford

Sir Terence Clark, a fellow tazi-saluki fanatic, just sent me a link to an exhibition of photographs by the late explorer Wilfred Thesiger. He wanted me to see this photo of a peregrine in the Emirates before World War II. The whole gallery is worth exploring, offering glimpses into not just one byt many lost worlds — for instance, that of the Marsh Arabs , destroyed by Saddam in an act of ecological and cultural genocide.

But even better, the entrance to Thesiger’s exhibit led through the virtual portals of one of my favorite museums on earth, the Pitt Rivers at Oxford in England.

General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers (1827-1900) was an English soldier from an old family who became interested in what we now now as archaeology and anthropology just as they were becoming (relatively) scientific disciplines. He was also interested in the evolution of tools. To quote John Greenway: “Living in the first excitement of evolution, Pitt-Rivers noted that the inorganic rifle was evolving as inexorably as Darwin’s finches or Mendel’s garden peas. With this astonishing discovery he turned his interest to weapons of primitive cultures and saw the same invisible process at work.”

He left his extensive collections as the nucleus for the Pitt Rivers Museum.It is the repository of artifacts from every culture imaginable sent in from the entire British Empire and everywhere else Britain’s soldiers and diplomats might reach. If you can think of it, they have it, from fish spears to musical instruments to pigeon flutes. As they say in an online “brochure”: “The Pitt Rivers still retains its Victorian atmosphere. The cluttered cases, the original small handwritten labels and the absence of intrusive text-panels all contribute to the special experience it offers.

We visited the Pitt Rivers on a rainy day in 1994, when we were in Oxford visiting artist-zoologist Jonathan Kingdon (no links, but I’m working on it.) We could have spent six months and never been bored. The collections are in wood-and-glass, cabinets, some vertical, some horizontal, grouped by function rather than geography, around a central atrium. We were looking down from the third floor when I said to Libby: “I wonder if they have Chinese pigeon flutes ?”

A professorial, white-bearded gent examining a nearby case cleared his throat. “Sir…if you’d look down one floor below to your left, you’ll see a tall vertical case…yes, that one. I believe you’ll find a satisfactory collection there.”

We did.

Invasive”fire steppe” in Arizona?

Re the recent discussions on change, invasives et al, the Alpha Environmentalist sends this link from the Arizona Daily Star on how non- native, fire resistant species have created a dangerous environment for such natives as the green- barked paloverde and the iconic saguaro cactus. Neither can survive burning, while the non- native steppe plants can. And a lot of birds, reptiles, bats and more depend on the plants of this unique “xeric forest”.

Not mentioned in the article are the thousands of trophy houses going up in this unsuitable ecosystem, and how a “permanent burn” steppe might affect their real estate values. Ill winds… may be blowing.

China- Russia

Click here for much good discussion on the new alliances betweeen China and Russia. One of the saddest things, mentioned somewhere in the comments, is that Russia will probably suffer for it. China– my Kazakh friends call her “The Dragon”– is a dangerous “ally”, and swamps the countries on its edges, especially Asian Siberia, with cheap goods and immigrants, legal and illegal. Putin would doubtless do better making durable connections to the US, but his authoritarian style and the distrust of many elements in his government and military of all things western– a distrust that predates the Russian revolution– may preclude this. It may also cost him eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East, and all their riches, in a generation.