More Doom from the Doom- Master

… John Derbyshire, of course. This time he is worried about our culture’s new- found reluctance to DO all the old physical things:

“I remember being a ten-year-old myself, spending hours watching my next-door neighbor, a butcher by trade but an amateur cabinet-maker by inclination, manipulating his saws, planes, chisels, and spokeshaves. My kids won’t even know what a spokeshave is, and won’t care. My neighbor was a keen gardener, too, and also a war veteran. There was nothing much unusual in 1955 about an ordinary working man of little education knowing the arts of soldiering, gardening, butchering, and cabinet-making. I suppose this man’s grandchildren occupy themselves with watching TV, day trading on their computers, and working out their income taxes. I suppose my kids will do likewise. Perhaps they will be happy, but it looks to me like lotus eating — a flight from humanity, from the basics of human existence.

(Snip)

“…. Probably there are ineluctable forces at work here. Perhaps, as proponents of the “singularity” hypothesis, argue, human nature is about to be transformed by us human beings ourselves on a scale vastly greater than anything that stumbling, bumbling old Ma Nature has been able to accomplish this past 50,000 years, so that worries about us losing touch with our humanity will soon come to seem quaint, or perhaps just incomprehensible. Probably all that one can say about these developments is that one likes them, or not. All right. Put me down as a “not.” “

Good long essay, with more than I have touched on here. I am almost John’s age, with similar memories. We are affected less by it in my village– but even here, it’s coming.

Alpha on Cheney

The usual strong stuff from the Alpha Environmentalist on the quail kerfuffle:

“Was Cheney reluctant to publicize it? You bet! Heck, if I wounded a hunting partner, I’d be so mortified I’d probably reload and finish the job, then kill all the other members of my party, then tell the police they had slaughtered each other in some gruesome Hmong-esque orgy of hunting blood lust.”

And then gets to the REAL point:

“Cheney, a member of an administration presently moving to sell off public land to offset short-term budget woes: . . . was hunting on a private, 50,000-acre ranch. Good for him, but I don’t own a 50,000-acre ranch, I don’t know anyone who does, and I doubt anyone reading this does either. We all rely on public lands for our access to hiking, hunting, and fishing.”

(Snip)

“Second, when such land is sold off, guess what? You and I don’t buy it. Corporations involved in extractive industries do. The morning after the sale of, say, a bunch of virgin timberland, here’s what happens at the board meeting: “Gentlemen, we now own 100,000 acres of old-growth timber. We can manage this timber sustainably for all eternity, and provide each of us with a comfortable salary for life. Or, we can clear-cut it tomorrow and each of us can collect a check for ten million bucks the day after.”

“I’m attracted to much of the Libertarian philosophy, but their ideas about selling off public land are scary. I, for one, will not give up what I believe to be my heritage as an American: the right to roam across open, free landscapes.”

Read The Whole Thing, please.

Against Pandas?

In the spirit of our penguin – bashing (see “Favorites”) here is a rant about pandas by brilliant anthro- blogger John Hawks:

“….I am so tired of having to hear about it every time a panda ovulates in this country!

“Count me out of this number:

[V]isitors flock to see them, and when they cannot make it through the gates, self-described pandaholics blog with doe-eyed ardor about the bears.

“Give me a break! “Doe-eyed ardor” for pandas? Personally, I find red pandas much more interesting than giants, and there are a lot of species I would rather see.

“Now, I don’t have any ill will toward the pandas — protecting their habitat is really vital, and they are good mascots for conservation. But this panda madness is insane.

“First of all, they’re just not that smart — other kinds of bears are much more entertaining.

[That’s what you get for being vegetarian, says I– SB]

‘Second, they don’t respond well to captivity. If it didn’t screw up their behavior so much, they wouldn’t have so much trouble breeding. I say, leave the poor animals in the wild, and give them some more room to live.

“Third, they are sucking the oxygen out of conserving every other kind of animal. The article gives the total value of the contracts to the Chinese government as $80 million. Think about the protection that might provide to other species.”

The last point– that and the fact that I doubt the Chinese are using all that money for conservation– seem to be the most important things here, kidding aside.

For good info on the Chinese and the environment see Tigers in Red Weather by Ruth Padel (also the best tiger book current, period– you will see how the Russians, for instance, are doing a lot better– by a poet who is a descendant of Darwin); and The Retreat of the Elephants by Mark Elvin.

Art of Fine Printing and The Duck Creek Martini

My wife asked as I cleared the table last night: “Aren’t you going to a thing?

I’d forgotten. And having pulled on a t-shirt and sweatpants almost immediately after work, I said, “I’m already in my jammies,” and walked the dishes to the sink.

But I stared at those dishes just a moment before changing my mind.

Occasionally our Special Collections library invites writers, publishers, archivists, conservators, collectors and other expert bibliophiles to lecture in the large, renovated conference room downstairs. Last night, the fine press printer Peter Koch spoke and later walked us through a display of some of his work. Koch lectured on the purpose of fine printing, the nature of the book as art, the history of the letterpress, on Greek philosophy, San Francisco artisans, the meaning of “is” and the established fact that in Montana, there are only two kinds of people: Rugged Individualists and Spineless Communists . . . As a child of the second world war, Koch and his friends used to hike up to the butte above town and pretend to defend it from Chinese invaders.

So the lecture ranged widely. That fine printing (Koch dislikes the new term, “Artist’s Books”) can be a perfect vehicle for the fusion of such wide ranging interests was obvious and exciting to see. Much of the work Koch brought with him was recognizable as fine art (some of my favorite pieces: here and here). But on his website I found a few other things to share. You’ll have to check out the Duck Creek Martini recipe and see if you’re up to it.


The Book of Mormon, DNA, Native Americans, and Archaeology

This story in last week’s LA Times chronicles another collision between science and religion, a type of story much in the news these days.

The story deals with one of the basic tenets of the Mormon Church – Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints – or LDS as they often refer to themselves. Native Americans play a critical role in the faith in that the Book of Mormon says that they are decended from a tribe of Jews who sailed from Israel to the New World around 600 BC. They split into two warring factions, the Nephites and Lamanites. The Nephites were pure and light-skinned and remained true to Hebraic and Christian faiths. The Lamanites fell into idolatry and were dark-skinned. The Lamanites won a great war between the factions and wiped the Nephites out. This explains the fact that Native Americans weren’t aware of the Hebrew or Christian faiths when Europeans first arrived. It also also gives Native Americans a special place in LDS prosletyzing in that the decendants of Lamanites can convert to the faith and become Nephites.

Recent use of DNA testing however, has shown pretty conclusively that Native Americans are all of Asian descent and show no evidence of origins in the Middle East. This seems to undermine LDS scripture and opponents of the church have used it against them. Native Americans quoted in this article say they are disheartened or believe they have been lied to. LDS members say that the studies are being twisted to attack their beliefs. You can read the arguments yourself.

In the long run, I don’t think that this will do much to undermine the faith of those who chose to believe in the Book of Mormon. After all, we have 150 years or so of historical research and archaeological studies that don’t prove the Christian bible to be literally true in every sense, and Christianity seems to be toddling along just fine.

The LDS community has funded a great deal of archaeological research in the New World, much of it through Brigham Young University. Most of this is focused on the high civilizations of Central and South America to prove on the ground the descriptions of conditions described in the Book of Mormon. A sample of some publications from BYU research is shown here. For example some prehistoric Native American motifs in ceramics and architecture make use of a cross. This is seized upon as proof of the Nephite connection.

One rumor that I first heard nearly 30 years ago, deals with another Native American connection with the origins of the LDS faith. According to the founding story of the religion, the angel Moroni visited Joseph Smith, a young man living in southwestern New York state in the 1820s. Moroni eventually told Smith of the location of buried golden tablets with “heiroglyphic” writing on them telling the story of the Nephites and Lamanites that was compiled by the prophet Mormon. Smith dug these up and with them found a breastplate, a brass tablet with writing, and two stone tablets whose heiroglyphs helped Smith translate the golden tablets.

Smith worked with friends to translate the tablets and he dictated his translation to them. A number of people saw the tablets and there are many sworn affidavits testifying to their existence. Today the LDS claim not to have them, saying that they were returned to divine care.
The rumor I have heard in archaeological circles, and this is just a rumor, is that the tablets may have been prehistoric artifacts from Woodland period cultures (very roughly 1000 BC – AD 500) known from the upper Midwest to include the area where Smith lived. There are stone and ceramic “tablets” with decorative designs on them that look like this:

And this:
Some manifestations also worked in copper. Nuggets of pure native copper are found in the Great Lakes area, and were cold-hammered by the Native Americans into breastplates (!) and plaques that look like this: If you were an unsophisticated farmer from upstate New York in 1830 and a fellow showed you piles of obviously ancient artifacts that look like these and said they were heiroglyphic tablets, what would you say?

As I said, this is just speculation, but its plausibility has always intrigued me.

.600 Nitro

This video (requires Windows Media) , sent to me by an outdoor writer friend, is pretty funny but may need a little explanation.

The .600 Nitro cartridge was the last and biggest of what might be thought of as the Edwardian elephant cartridges. It was exceeded in size only by the shotgun “Bore” rifles– ten and eight– and these were obsolete by its time. It held its position until the ’70’s or ’80’s, when London gunmaker Holland and Holland decided to make a .700 with the sole motive of making something bigger– to do it as a stunt so to speak, as the market was not exactly calling for such a cartridge by then. The .600 and its “little” brother, the .577, were primarily the guns used by professional elephant hunters (and a few ivory poachers) rather than, even, guides. Their primary purpose was to deliver stunning blows to elephants at close quarters or in cover. While the power of their recoil has been exaggerated– they would not be likely to “break your collarbone or shoulder” as one commentator has suggested, because they weighed up to 16 pounds in a double rifle– they were specialist’s weapons to say the least. A hunter who used one had best have a reliable gunbearer to spare him the weight of the rifle until the “moment of truth”. And the recoil is formidable, about 9.4 times that of a garden- variety .30- 06.

That’s the back story; here is the story. A gunsmith apparently built a PISTOL on a common single- shot break- action frame, the Thompson Center, in .600 nitro. (A pistol in the common .30-30 Winchester rifle cartridge, shown with the .600 and a chapstick below for scale– ignore the octopus– recoils hard in a similar pistol, more than the “powerful” .44 Magnum does) .

The pistol was built , I think, on the same principle as was Holland’s .700 mentioned above– as a display piece for the gunsmith’s talents. I’m not sure he ever intended for anyone to shoot it. Here is what happened when someone did. Further comment would be superfuous…

England’s Decline and Fall, Continued..

Ted Dalrymple has another installment, in the Times of London, ready made. A few samples:

“I have lived under a Latin American military dictatorship where daily life was freer than in Britain today. Of course, you couldn’t go out into the street and shout “Down with Señor Presidente”, at least not without dire consequences; on the other hand, you were considerably less surveyed, supervised and harried as you went about your business than you are in contemporary Britain.

“The average Briton, we are told, is filmed 300 times a day once he steps out of his door. His home is hardly his castle, either. If he doesn’t have a television he receives repeated menaces from the licensing authority, which may send an officer to inspect his house. [ To see if he has an illegal unlicensed TV– SB ] And the form granting him the inestimable democratic right to vote comes with the threat of a £1,000 fine if he doesn’t fill it (and he’ll go to prison if he doesn’t pay the fine).

(Snip)

“The State is increasingly concerning itself with the individual’s private habits, instituting a reign of virtue, chief among which is healthiness (we are approaching the situation of Samuel Butler’s satire, Erewhon, a country where illness is a crime). Though not a single smoker is unaware of the dangers of smoking, and hasn’t been for 30 years or more, he is now to be prevented from smoking in public, even when he is among other smokers only.

“The pettiness of this official persecution of smokers (who are not prevented from paying a lot of tax) can hardly be exaggerated. The hospital in which I used to work instituted a no-smoking policy, so that smokers had to leave the building to smoke. To do this, one orthopaedic patient needed a wheelchair, but to hire a wheelchair he had to pay a £60 deposit, which he did not have. He grew so angry that he needed sedation.”

There is much more.Go there– you know the drill…

Has Evolution…

… made it hard for us to understand evolution?

Matt’s post below on toads put me in mind of this provocative essay by Razib at Gene Expression.

It is long, and I can’t seem to “capture” any paragraphs from it, but let me quote one bit for the flavor:

“Science is hard,science is abnormal, and beware the bewitchment of “common sense”. Quasars and quarks, random genetic drift and DNA, such things are difficult to grasp with common sense precisely because their sensory reality is excluded from our universe; not only do we not have direct experience as individuals– our species minds have never been shaped by the patterns and rules which emerge out of their interlocking dance with the rest of the reality. Evolution is the father of this situation, it has equipped us to recognize faces, to keep track of social relationships and to fall forward in a controlled fashion without thought. But, evolution could not shape us to understand itself, because it works over millenia, and there is no fitness advantage in conceiving of possibilities deep in the future when the concerns of the present loom large”

Do “Read The Whole Thing” (what a useful meme that is!)

Crunchy

I am eagerly awaiting Rod Dreher’s new book on small- “c” conservatism and green issues. I was pleased to see this post on the issues by blogger Mark Shea. He says:

” Rod Dreher noted that the air in Dallas is filthy and that there’s no particular reason conservatives (whose name is, after all, related to the word “conservation”) couldn’t make this an issue. He’s got an asthmatic kid, and like most normal people, doesn’t buy the notion that “What’s good for General Concrete and Cement is what’s good for the country.”

‘It was a modest point really. One that would have been perfectly intelligible to Teddy Roosevelt, J.R.R. Tolkien, or C.S. Lewis.

‘Result: a curious sort of pile on from the Cornerites, all of whom treated Rod as a) ridiculous, b) not One of the Tribe, and c) simply dismissible.

(Snip)

“What struck me about it was, again, the curious notion that some things simply render putative members of the Conservative Tribe ritually impure. Not keed on filthy air, Rod? You’ve been hanging around those Tree Huggers too long. There’s nothing to discuss. Instead, let’s make fun of you. Note, for instance, Podhoretz’s nasty reference to Dreher’s “new friends”. Tribalism, pure and simple”

Read The Whole Thing!.

Quailgate

I think gunblogger Tam just about nails it, with one caveat:

“Yes, we know that Ted Kennedy (aka “The Evel Kneivel of Chappaquidick”) is a pusillanimous toad who killed a woman with his total lack of backbone, and that his car has killed more women than Dick’s pansy little 28 gauge shotgun has

“Yes, we know that wandering downrange during a quail hunt isn’t the brightest thing one can do while upland bird hunting.

“The fact remains that Cheney committed an egregious Rule Four violation.By all accounts, he’s been a mensch about it, but it still happened.

“Stating as much does not imply a desire to run out and join Al Qaeda…”

But Tamara, I love that “pansy little 28 gauge”! When I lived in New England 25 years ago I killed more grouse and woodcock with it than any other gauge. These days I hunt Mearn’s quail in the New Mexico mountains near my home using a five- pound 28. I will go from 6500 feet to 8000 and back several times in a day, and weight counts….


Yeah, it’s French. But it came from a Texas importer…