A parting shot…

I want to leave you with an image or two. Luckily, although all my stuff is still tied up in the EMac, more comes in all the time. Here is a photo that Andrey Kovalenko, breeder of one of my tazis and owner of the father of another, took while on an extended ornithological trip to the drying Aral Sea and the Syr Daria delta (he works for the government of Kazakhstan). Pictured is a Turkmenian falconer and his dog, not unlike the ones we will be looking for further west– but even more like two of my own dogs.

And here is Andrey:

I’ll trust Reid and Matt to keep you informed and amused. Please check in, refresh often, buy my books, and keep Libby entertained with comments. I’m just traveling–fleas, cold, at worst bandits. She has to work, to ride herd on the beasts, to organize car repairs and computer ditto, and to supervise the building of two buttresses so our east wall doesn’t fall down!! Why she puts up with me I’ll never know.


Michael Blowhard shares his ideas about narrative in this long andwonderful post. I am inclined to agree with him, especially as I start work on two (!) for- lack- of- a – better- word- thrillers. “Narrative” has always been hard for me, at least beyond the level of anecdote, while “writing”– images, wordplay– has been easy. Structure is harder, which is why memoirs like Querencia, or travel books like Eagle Dreams, where the “plot” is already there, have been easier for me to write.

But story gets no respect. Michael:

“Before the conversation rockets off in one predictable direction: I’m fond of a lot of fancy nonnarrative (and semi-narrative) fiction, theater, and movies. I was throughly marinated in modernism, I have a grad degree in this point of view, and I have many years’ experience behind me as an appreciator of this kind of work. So puh-leeze: no lectures on my closed mind, or on my ignorance, or on how awful it is that I’m trying to be a dictator. Writers can (and will) do as they please. Of course, readers can (and will) read to please themselves too.

“At the same time, I am asserting two things:

“The ability to invent, construct, and tell a galvanizing, moving, suspenseful, or amusing story is much undervalued by the litchat class.[Emphasis mine– SB] And


“The trimmings artists pile on top of the main fictional course might fascinate and delight. But these are still, for most people and in the long run, trimmings.”

Read the whole thing; and by the way, Matt, I stole that phrase from Glenn Reynolds–can’t take credit!


Hereis a conservative if quirky blogger who shares some of my doubts expessed below about conservatives who want to remake the world. Money quote:

“The designs of the neocons are so appallingly far fetched because they are infected with the same Rousseauvian fantasy of the worst leftist excess. Strip away the layers of socialization they say, and you’ll find a human as gentle as a lamb and as pliable as clay, and no two so different of ability that one can’t be substituted for the other provided the environment is controlled for. Reality refutes this notion daily, at home and abroad. The defenders of this pernicious fantasy grow shriller and more emphatic the more evident reality becomes. Courage is needed more than ever.
What we need are some old fashioned liberals and not-so-neoconservatives, with their quaint patrician values of respect for the limits of good intentions. Not every well intended idea, regardless of how noble it sounds, has a basis in reality.

“Nearly every sensible person at this point recognizes the folly of Marxism. Now it’s time to stop gloating over that failure and apply its lesson to ourselves. Because in the end it’s not really the ideology, but the human heart which leads us into disaster.”

(Generally, by the way, I object to the “Neocon” label– it means too many different things to too many people. But the point he makes stands, for me).

“One of the Most Popular Things Our Government Has Done”

Ontario has banned pit bulls and their relatives, and says all puppies must be destroyed or sent to research labs. The above quote is from one Dalton McGuinty, the premier ofOntario, who goes on to add: “…just so you know where the majority of the public stands on this issue”.

Says Dog Politics: ” We beg to differ. The majority do not support this ban. Every major animal welfare organization throughout Canada, the United States  AND in the U.K. has vehemently opposed the Ontario ban”.

Canada is an ailing country– at least Eastern Canada is (see this for an example or two). Somehow I can’t see my friends from the west going for laws like this….

Mount St. Helens is Erupting

I certainly didn’t know it until I read this piece in the New York Times a couple of days ago. It has been erupting quietly for the past 15 months. A column of hardened but still hot lava is being pushed up the main tube into the crater at the rate of a cubic yard per second. This has resulted in a dome that is building there.

I visited Mount St. Helens for the first time in July while returning from a trip to the Seattle area, and took the picture I posted above. If you look closely you can see the dome inside the crater and the steam coming off of it. While there, I didn’t see anything that referred to the current eruption, though to be fair we weren’t there long enough to go into the main visitor’s center. During the violent eruption of this volcano in 1980, we lived in Boulder, CO and I vividly remember the ash fall from it on my car.

Though born a flatlander, I have lived in or around mountains (Rockies and Sierra Nevada) for half my life. Seeing Mount St. Helens was unique in that it was the first time I have ever had a strong emotional reaction to a mountain. It seemed brooding and monstrous to me.

Dec 1 Doom, Gloom, Derb, & China News

John Derbyshire’s November Diary has plenty of China- themed worries for your delectation. Will a war break out in northeast Asia? Would we have the will to face it? Do Russia, Korea, Japan think we do?

John also comments on this story of an environmental disaster, which they are handling the way they did SARS: incompetence followed by denial.

And then there is the bird flu panic. Scott Weidensaul, an excellent writer–see here for some of his books– takes note of the hysteria here. He tells you who (NOT wild birds) is responsible. But guess who wants to cull the birds now?

Matt says, savagely: “If I’m for drilling ANWR, I’m all over this. Let’s drain the “big swamp” of Arctic waterfowl breeding grounds and rid ourselves of disease-ridden birds and mosquitoes in one swoop. The world is clearly warming, which is a great thing and means millions of acres of under-developed real estate are about to open up. Let’s get a jump on this and turn tundra
wasteland into productive farms and cities and oil refineries. It’s only the patriotic thing to do, even
if we have to invade Canada to do it.”

Getting Ready..

Things are getting close– I leave, if all goes well, for Turkish Kurdistan (can’t call it Kurdistan over there but I guess I can here) early Tuesday morning. I am going to put a whole lot of stuff in today, but may not be able to do much more before I leave. Doubtless will have PLENTY of tales to tell when I return. No magazines have bitten yet– is it them, or me?

The plot: I have been asked by two women my own age (relevant– one correspondent said the if we were all twenty- something hardbodies we would already have an article sold) to be the token male and “bodyguard”on an expedition to the mountains of southeast Turkey to find new tazi/ saluki pups– new genetic material– in an area where one of them, an anthropologist, got her foundation female twenty years ago. Both their local guide and their husbands wanted me to go!

Hardly a life- or – death mission, but it’s still old PPK guerilla territory and has been closed off in the past. There have been bombs going off near Batman (great name for a town!) but we don’t intend to go that far east (near Iraq). On the other hand, we do intend to go near Syria. We have been told not to travel at night (PPK bandits) and to be very polite to trigger- happy Turkish patrols.Yes sir.

And– how to put this delicately?–I am NOT a spy ! A couple of years ago, my friend Richard Miniter–click here for his latest book–mentioned my Asian travels to Samizdata’s Brian Micklethwait. Brian had a creative take on my birdwatching in faraway places:he thought I was a spook!

“People who habitually watch birds in countries other than their own are as likely as not spooks of some kind, in my opinion. After all, what better way is there to spy on metal birds and their habitats, and such like, than to pretend to be looking only at regular ones? And this bird man is also a gun man. Add the fact that one of Richard’s forthcoming books is about Bill Clinton’s (mis)handling of al-Qaeda and is apparently full of juicy revelations, and you get the picture. These guys may not have spook ranks and spook serial numbers, but they definitely have good friends who do.”

Honestly–much as I admire Richard Meinertzhagen, I am just a writer. Turkish police with computers, take note.

Read The Whole Thing

Steve’s funny catchphrase makes a good title for this one.

Reid, trawling the LA Times again for good tidbits, pulled up this story by Naomi S. Baron, professor of linguistics at American University in Washington. She begins:

“A FEW YEARS BACK, I asked my undergraduates to read Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone. The class was discussing the effects of the Internet on social interaction, and Putnam’s carefully documented analysis of the breakdown of Americans’ connections to one another offered a good frame of reference. The students balked.Was I aware that the book was 541 pages long? Didn’t I know Putnam had written a précis of his argument a couple of years earlier, which they easily found on the Web? Why did they have to slog through so many examples of the same point?”

I work for the libraries of a state university, so have frequent opportunity to see students and books in the same room. It should surprise no one that these groups don’t often mingle. As Baron points out, “Many of this generation are aliterate — they know how to read but don’t choose to.”

Yet opinions as to the import (or portent, or danger) of this trend differ, even among the library staff. I’m not a librarian—I manage websites (as do many who work in libraries today, regardless of their training or position). And this constant contact with the Web, and the digital world generally, complicates an issue for we who would otherwise make the reading habits of students a frequent gripe. In fact, most of us do most of our reading (and writing!) on the Web; it’s so easy.

Baron again:

“Much as automobiles discourage walking, with undeniable consequences for our health and girth, textual snippets-on-demand threaten our need for the larger works from which they are extracted. Why read Bowling Alone — or even the shorter article upon which it builds — when you can lift a page that contains some key words?”

Yes, I’m toggling back and forth between open browser windows, cutting and pasting right now.

But I think the issue here is broader than the Internet’s ease of use. The refusal to read full length texts—whole books—indicates our whole lives are different. It takes another kind of lifestyle to read “the whole thing.” Today you have to choose to read in analog; you even have to call it “analog” for the sake of this discussion. That reading in this way is a learned skill might have previously have been overlooked, since it was a necessary skill: Even I finished college without access to the Internet. Now that reading books (for pleasure or otherwise) is an “option,” most seem not to be learning the necessary skills.

Baron’s point is maybe a bit narrow, but good: “Reading successive pages and chapters teaches us how to follow a sustained line of reasoning.” One has to assume, in defense of books, that some authors still provide one. Thankfully, many do.