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From Tech Central Station: is your mind stuck in 1968? I try to be open to ideas, whether they come from left or right– have linked to TCS, Orion, 2Blowhards, Sailer, Derbyshire, the NY andLA Times(es), and more. But I often find conservatives (of a certain kind anyway) and libertarians more open to heretical ideas than liberals…

A hilarious Instance of Doom & Gloom, sent by a reader to the Doom & Gloom master himself, John Derbyshire— from the works of P G Wodehouse!

” “I hope you don’t disapprove of weddings, Ferris?’
“Yes, sir.”
“They seem to me melancholy occasions, sir.”
“Are you married, Ferris?”
“A widower, sir.”
“Well, weren’t you happy when you got married?”
“No, sir.”
“Was Mrs. Ferris?”
“She appeared to take a certain girlish pleasure in the ceremony, sir, but it soon blew over.”
“How do you account for that?”
“I could not say, sir.”
“I’m sorry weddings depress you, Ferris. Surely when two people love each other and mean to go on loving each other … “
“Marriage is not a process for prolonging the live of love, sir. It merely mummifies its corpse.”
“But, Ferris, if there were no marriages, what would become of posterity?”
“I see no necessity for posterity, sir.”
“You disapprove of it?”
“Yes, sir.”
“George walked pensively out on to the drive in front of the house. He was conscious of a diminution of the exuberant happiness which had led him to engage the butler in conversation. He saw clearly now that, Ferris’s conversation being what it was, a bridegroom who engaged him in it on his wedding-day was making a blunder. A suitable, even an ideal, companion for a funeral, Ferris seemed out of harmony when the joy-bells were ringing. “

Derb adds that his “…diligent reader may have tracked the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement back to its source…”

Check out wonderful new blog “Birding Babylon”, by a former soldier stationed in Iraq. It even has falconry! (He links to this First Science post that Reid or Matt may have mentioned before– not entirely convincing but interesting nevertheless). He also has a general natural history blog here. Both are full of good things. Hat tip to O & P.

And a final food post (for now): “The Scottish Executive wants to prevent primary schoolchildren from eating haggis more than once a week. Has the world gone mad?” (From Arthur’s Seat).

A Winter Braise

(First Published in Three Martini Lunch).

Sometimes a phrase will inspire you. I was reading a really bad issue of Esquire, including incompetent food writing (apparently their restaurant critic thinks that gizzards are “chicken assholes” and that kidneys are inedible) when I came upon a simple recipe for braised lamb shanks. The phrase was “use ten times as many vegetables . . .”

Hmmm. I didn’t have any shanks, nor were the fennel bulbs asked for available in Magdalena, but what else could I find for a snowy day long- cooked meal?

It was noon. I found eight carrots and a parsnip that needed using. Went to Trail’s End and found a nice beef arm roast— not too lean, not too tender— perfect. Added a white onion , a red one, and some mushrooms.

At home, I coated the roast with a mix of flour, paprika, salt, and pepper, and browned it in a Dutch oven in olive oil and butter. Removed it, and put the onions, chopped, half the carrots ditto, and about four chopped garlic cloves in, and cooked it all until it was translucent. Deglazed with a LITTLE red wine— maybe a small wineglass, scraped, cooked down until it was syrupy. Put the roast back in, and added a bit more than a cup of chicken stock. Added a whole head of garlic, cloves separated but not “skinned”.

I had put the oven on to 275 degrees. Into the oven with the Dutch oven, with the lid on, and just forget about it.

Some time between 5 and 6, I opened it up. Removed the now- tender roast. Strained the vegetables through a sieve, and returned the liquid to the Dutch oven.

Now: put the remaining four carrots and the parsnips, cut up, and the roast, back in. In half an hour, add however many chopped and peeled potatoes you want. Sweat the mushrooms in olive oil and butter and add them. When the potatoes are done, remove all meat and vegetables to a warm covered platter and reduce the liquid to a thick cup or less. Pour over the roast and serve. It will warm you.

Oh, and— this is infinitely variable— turnips or leeks or fennel can be added or subtracted, etc . . .


I have been recipe- blogging at Roseann’s Three Martini Lunch. I will always post these things there first, but will eventually move them here. First, a response to Matt Miller’s request for a jackrabbit– read “hare”– recipe:

“We eat lots of hare, as the dogs allow.

The thing to remember is that they are HARES, not rabbits. Unlike those little white-meat creatures, they have about the darkest, richest meat in North America (with the possible exception of woodcock), and they are runners, so it is not initially tender. Most people in the US, if they eat it at all, pressure- cook it and use it for taco fillers or in chile. I think that is a waste of one of our most delicious and unusual meats, not to mention sporting (if you run them with hounds and/ or hawks) quarries! But if you don’t like game, you won’t like hare.

The recipes are all there, in European cookbooks, marked, well, “Hare”- jugged hare, civet du lievre, hasenpfeffer.

First, I usually remove the fillets from the saddle—the area behind the ribs along the backbone and before the hindquarters. To quote from Nicola Cox on Game Cookery, “Bone out the saddle of hare, removing all the bluish membrane and tendons.” She continues, “Place the fillets and both tiny fillets mignon from under the saddle in a glass or china bowl and pour the marinate ingredients over them . . .” You can do this but I prefer to dust them with a dry rub— some good chile powder maybe, and/ or ground Szechuan peppercorns, a bit of salt etc— and then saute them in a hot skillet for less than 5 minutes, then turn them over and turn the heat off, and take them out of the pan and serve them in about 2 or 3 minutes. Perfect!

Then you want to cook the fore and especially hindquarters, which really do need marinating and long cookery (the ribcage etc. are best just used for stock— too fiddly). Nicola Cox has some good recipes— here is an adaptation of an Italian one we like.

3tbs olive oil
3 tbs lighter cooking oil
1 chopped onion
2- 4 cloves chopped garlic
Sprigs rosemary, thyme, fresh sage
3- 4 tbs balsamic vinegar

Front and hind quarters of hare
Dried porcini (cepe) mushrooms
Olive oil
I diced carrot
I diced stick of celery
Several cloves of garlic
1 oz flour
2-3 tbs balsamic vinegar
Cup white wine
1 tbs tomato puree
Cup or more good stock
Enough butter to cook:
1/2 lb fresh assorted mushrooms

Marinate in fridge for 2- 4 days. Drain and pat dry.

Soak the dry mushrooms in hot water, ten simmer until the liquid is reduced. Reserve.

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or other roomy heavy pot. Add diced vegetables, and cook over moderate heat until soft. Then turn up heat and hare pieces, salt, pepper, and flour. Turn until “sealed” and add wine and vinegar. Reduce again. Add tomato puree and dried mushrooms and their liquid. Add some stock.

At this point you should cover and simmer for 2 1/2 hours— so they say. Maybe it’s true at sea level (we are at 6500 feet), but I have never seen one done that fast— try at least 4 hours, and some older hares take longer. Personally I like to put it in the oven, covered, at a very low heat for about 4 hours, then check it out. If you are cooking for a group and need a “deadline” it is often better to do it up to this point the day before and then finish it— the flavors actually improve.

Finally, reduce the hare liquid on the stove top over brisk heat until it is sauce- like. Cut up and sautee those fresh mushrooms in butter, and combine. Cook for 20 minutes or so, at a lower heat. The meat should be falling off the bones. A squeeze of lemon or a bit of nutmeg can’t hurt. Serve over polenta or pasta. (You could also take it off the bones and make it into a very rich pasta sauce).”

Catchup: Blogwatch and Newswatch

One of the things I do when I am busy (I am currently revising a novel, starting another, cutting a lot of firewood, and continuing to help translate an 1865 book from Siberia– apologies to correspondents as well) is just pile up interesting references that I find in the evening. So bear with me as I give you a linkfest rather than an essay. More to come!

Here are two links for the price of one: Steve Sailer on a fascinating and counterintuitive study implying that the frontal lobes of humans in England have increased since Medieval times– quick human evolution! — and his link to a fine NYT essay by Charles Siebert on animal minds and personalities that Reid recommended. Newsflash to those who are still amazed by the fact of animal personality: they are individuals! I have ordered this book by Siebert on country and city life, a subject that always interests me (I am generally thought of as a countryman, which is true enough, but I have lived my life either on dirt roads or in big city apartments!)– will report.

Apparently some members of the ornithological establishment aren’t comfortable with the rediscovery of the Ivory- billed woodpecker, calling it “faith- based ornithology”. I admit a bias– one of the rediscoverers. Tim Gallagher, is a friend. But because I know him, I respect his field skills; the photos look clear enough to me; and I have seen this kind of sad turf- guarding by professionals and academics before. Tim is an editor, photographer, and writer, not a PhD. As I wrote to Reid, “Some of these guys won’t be satisfied until a PhD shoots one”.

Evolution is not always as “contingent” as the late Stephen Gould believed; certain patterns tend to evolve again and again, not randomly. This NYT article is about a”new” fossil discovered in the already- excavated Triassic “Ghost Ranch” treasure trove from Northern New Mexico. It is a crocodle relative that resembles the (much later) birdlike predator Velociraptor, even down to certain small skeletal details and probable ecological niche. The same kind of creature would evolve a third time after the dinosaurs’ extinction, in the form of the “Terror crane” Dyatrima.

Matt Mullenix has started a new blog about, and defending, working animals. To quote from his opening statement:

“To some no human use of animals can be more than predatory or exploitive. But human and animal partnerships are easily and widely demonstrated facts, not to mention long necessary and mutually beneficial. They are so obviously a part of the human experience, it seems ludicrous to attempt this defense of them. And yet, every year it is needed more.

“As we become less directly and personally dependent on natural systems (a dangerous illusion), we afford ourselves a dangerous conceit: that we are alone, we are self-sufficient, and we are liberated. If this conceit leads some to seek “liberation” and self determination for other animals, it is maybe understandable. But it is wrong.

“Human beings need animals. We need them not only in the abstract but in the actual and physical ways we have always needed them. We raise and protect them, hunt and eat them, train and learn from them. We share their space, and they share ours. By virtue of our greater foresight and insight, we are finally responsible for every other animal. By virtue of their greater strength, loyalty, speed, endurance and awareness, they were always responsible for us.”

Amen to that! I will put the link on our blogroll, and I hope to contribute. Please consider doing so yourself.

And finally– I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about this one. That reactionary curmudgeon Fred (do NOT bother linking to him if you have any lingering political correctitude!) has just written an essay titled “A Colony Again” in reaction to a WaPo piece on, well, graduate students who can’t read. I wish I could say it’s unbelievable…

Longer stuff to come, recipes, and more…

Quest for an Aussie

My wife and I have been on a search the last few weeks. Our favorite breed of dog is Australian Shepherd. We have had two as pets and they were both wonderful – very intelligent and very socialized to people.

Osa (1983-1999) was a blue-merle female we bought for $10 at a ranch near Bailey, Colorado. She was the dog of a lifetime. She knew us all by name, knew the vehicles, knew parts of the house. When the kids were toddlers she would herd them. Every evening at bed-time she would go around and “count” us all, to make sure we were in the sheep fold. She had a wonderful long run, but it hit us hard when we lost her.

Here’s our daughter Lauren and Osa when they were both pups.
Here’s me and the kids with Osa when she was full-grown. We’re on an outing to St. Mary’s Glacier in Colorado.One of my favorite Osa stories happened when we were in Tehachapi and she was getting on in years. One evening she came up to me and gave me the “Dad, it’s suppertime, feed me!” look. I had already told Travis to feed the dogs, so I said to her (sorta jokingly) “Travis is going to feed you. I think he’s in the bathroom.” She immediately turned and left the living room, walked across the entry hall, then the length of the family room to the bathroom where she sat down and gave Travis the same look. Like she understood every word.

Kate (1995-2004) was a tri-color female we got for $50 from some folks in Tehachapi. Another smart, sweet dog we lost to a cancerous mass in her abdomen. She was the dog who had a leg broken in the coyote attack I talked about here.

Here’s Kate on a beach walk here in Santa Barbara with Connie and Maggie our Lab.

We saw a tri-color pup while walking the beach a few weeks ago and she inspired us to start looking for another aussie.

It’s always intrigued me how the breed got its name. The ultimate origin of the breed isn’t in Australia at all but in the Pyrenees of France and Spain, where they were bred by Basque shepherds. In the last quarter of the 19th century, improved breeds of sheep were brought to the western US from Australia. These were often accompanied by Basque shepherds who had earlier emigrated in search of work to the sheep-pen the British made of Australia. The Basques brought with them what contemporary observers called their “little blue dogs.” As they got off the ship with the Australian sheep the misnomer began.

It’s obvious looking at contemporary aussies that they also have significant genetic contributions from Border Collies, Rough Collies, and German Koolies. The bottom line has been that these dogs were a working breed selected for endurance, intelligence, herding skill, and affinity for humans. It makes me sad that the AKC has recognized them. Now you can see people breeding for appearance and not behavior. Aussies are having problems with their eyes and hip dysplasia. The AKC has ruined more breeds.
The internet has made searching for the dog you want a much different process than I have been used to. We could cast our net pretty wide. We made visits to see dogs in the Santa Ynez Valley and last week-end I drove all the way down to Riverside County where I found this female pupShe won’t be ready to leave her mother until the end of the month when we will go down and pick her up. I was very impressed at how intelligent and socialized all of the dogs were at this breeder’s house in contrast to other places we had been. This was especially true of this puppy’s father and mother
I will keep you posted after our new friend comes home.

Horses and Weeds: To Blame or Not to Blame

I saw this interesting but ultimately frustrating piece in the LA Times a few days ago. For years horses have been blamed as part of the problem for the spread of non-native plants and noxious weeds into National Parks and Wilderness Areas in this part of the world. The reasoning goes that horses eat these plants and deposit the seeds in their manure where they later sprout in new locations. Apparently the NPS has required horsepackers operating in their parks to use certified weed-free feeds based on this.

Recently the NPS hired a university researcher to do a complete literature search on the subject of horse-spread weeds. The results of this showed that no empirical studies of the subject had been conducted. Everyone assumed that horses were an agent but no experiments had ever been done to actually prove it.

So the NPS paid these guys to develop a protocol for sampling manure, putting it in pots, watering it and seeing what sprouted. Sounds like a good idea to me. The preliminary results of the experiments reported here show a few non-native plants and no noxious weeds have sprouted and the article uses this for its headline: “Who Spreads the Weeds? Don’t Bet on the Horse.” The reporter asserts that this means the notion that horses spread weeds, “…looks like a myth.” Later you see that this lack of weeds in the samples is attributed to – use of weed-free feeds.

So what good are the studies if you don’t control for what the horses are eating? I’m sure Senator Proxmire is at least twitching in his grave. It’s also scary that the reporter doesn’t seem to realize his copy doesn’t support his headline. This is an issue that really does need to be studied, but we’re sure wasting time and money running in circles with this approach.


Michael Blowhard tells a moving story of being free from cancer after surviving cancer for five years. Read, please, and raise a glass.

Also on 2Blowhards, Friedrich posts on the innate sadism and nastiness of the Classical Romans. I never did quite understand why the culture that gave us the Colosseum is held up as a model of republican virtue. Quoting Rodney Stark : ” [The Roman aristocrat and writer] Seneca regarded the drowning of children at birth as both reasonable and commonplace. [The Roman historian] Tacitus charged that the Jewish teaching that is “a deadly sin to kill an unwanted child” was but another of their “sinister and revolting” practices…”

Some Critics’ Movie Columns

I have been following the noise over Brokeback Mountain with some amusement, knowing whatwever they say it will all make Annie Proulx money. Suffice to say that I owe her many things, not least that by teaching me to TEACH writing she also taught me much about analyzing writing and so made mine better.

I probably shouldn’t be writing this because, living where I do, I haven’t even seen the movie yet– it most likely won’t come to Socorro County (not as much because of the gay content as because only the biggest box- office moneymakers– think Star Wars– or kids’ films do); so we will have to travel the hundred miles to Albuquerque or wait until DVD. But I know the story well, I know Annie was at least pleased enough with the screenplay to collaborate on a book about it, and I suspect that I can tell if reviewers understand what is going on or not. Oh, and I like Ang Lee!

I think the most perceptive (and very favorable) review I have yet read is the one by Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News, who is– perhaps a surprise for some coastal readers– young, Catholic, conservative, and southern, here. (He also has a book coming out attempting to reconcile “green” values and conservative ones, which should at least be interesting, and which has the first subtitle I have ever seen too long to fit on Amazon).

Dreher has so many good things to say that you should definitely read his whole essay, but here are a few quotes:

“What gets lost in the culture-war blitzkrieg over homosexuality are the complex and ambiguous truths that real people live and struggle with. Art that reduces messy humanity to slogans and arguments is not art at all, but sentimentality, kitsch, anti-art – in a word, propaganda. “

“Intrigued, I found on the Internet a link to the Annie Proulx short story on which the movie is based and was shocked by how good it was, especially at embodying the “concrete details of life that make actual the mystery of our position here on earth” – Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor’s description of what true artistry does. Though director Ang Lee’s tranquil style fails to capture the daemonic wildness of Ms. Proulx’s version, I came away from the film thinking, this is not for everybody, but it really is a work of art. “

“It is impossible to watch this movie and think that all would be well with Jack and Ennis if only we’d legalize gay marriage. It is also impossible to watch this movie and not grieve for them in their suffering, even while raging over the suffering that these poor country kids who grew up unloved cause for their families. As the film grapples with Ennis’ pain, confusion and cruelty, different levels of meaning unspool – social, moral, spiritual and erotic. I In the end, Brokeback Mountain is not about the need to normalize homosexuality , or “about” anything other than the tragic human condition. “

“To the frustration of ideologues, artists like Annie Proulx and Ang Lee undertake a journey to those depths and return to tell the truth about what they’ve seen – which is not necessarily what any of us wants to hear. As Ms. O’Connor taught, “Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction.” “

“Or read it. Or watch it. “

Cant add a thing to that. Most favorable reviews, like this intelligent one by Lee Harris on the libertarian site Tech central, seem to think that its theme is that it’s all society’s fault, for one reason or another. Such views deny the innate complexity and tragedy of human relations; though Harris does have some interesting things to say, I don’t buy the “homosexuality is a construct” deal from either the left or the right.

Finally, I cant resist quoting this absolutely hilarious if unfair review, titled “So long, but thanks for all the sheep” . How can you resist an essay with these lines:

“It is worth mentioning that Jack marries a woman who doesn’t so much age over the next twenty years as start wearing a succession of ever larger poodles on her head. In the circumstances can one blame him for driving to Mexico in order to pick up male prostitutes? Much can be forgiven a man whose wife has poodles instead of a coiffeur, and whose ability in bed can (and is) summed up in the phrase,”She’s great at selling combine harvesters”.”

Zoomorphic Art, Plus

(Which is a term I more or less made up just now). I love art, especially sculpture, that includes or references natural objects without exactly mimicking them. Our friend the zoologist and artist Jonathan Kingdon . has done some such work; another friend, local artist Yvonne Magener– I’ll try to get some of hers up soon– does combinations of skulls and metal that are elegant and fascinating.

By synchronicity, friends have just found or revealed two more. The more whimsical was found by Roseann, in the form of this rather creepy (but still whimsical!) “statue” made from an old pet’s bones and metal. But if you go to their site you will find that sculptor Jessica Joslin and her painter husband Jared have constructed some wonderful objects.

And from Pluvialis at Fretmarks comes a recommendation for the mysterious and elegant work of Steve Dilworth. Take a look at “Woodcock”

which apparently is in part a coffin for said bird, or “Cuckoo”.

I want one!

While you are at Fretmarks, take a look at the post below (previous to) the Dilworth, “Envy”. I LOVE this exchange, between Pluvialis and a friend re a popular novelist known by both :

“And when the envy reaches heights as high as it did this morning, when I leafed bitterly through her four-page feature illustrated with photos of herself on beaches and in spas, all I need to do is remember my dear friend B telling me why he’d bought The Novelist’s first novel. “I’d heard it was kind of autobiographical” he explained, “and I knew her quite well at college, and I was looking forward to seeing how she’d based all the characters in the book on people we knew.”

“Cool!” I said. “Who was in it?”

There was a pause. “I got halfway through” he said, mournfully, “before I realised there weren’t any other characters in it at all”.

A Random Twig…

… on Tree of Life. Though delicious, the monkfish may not look like you think it does. And remember, the left half is HEAD, and the creature may be three feet long…

One of the best ways to entertain yourself exploring this ambitious phylogenetic site is to just let it pick a species at random.