Insurgents, Sectarian Violence and….Camel Spiders?

My friend and neighbor Tyler Williamson (introductory posts here and here) has been serving in Iraq for about a year. During that time he has been shelled and shot at, sunburned and sand-blinded, overworked, underpaid and much too far from home. But he’s the kind of guy who can handle this sort of thing.

For my benefit (and his, I’m sure) Tyler has been sending occasional pictures of the Iraqi wildlife he encounters, from magpie-like Pied Crows, to bronzed river carp to a long-legged kind of native fox. Today he sent this, which evidently caused quite a stir at headquarters.

The troops call them “camel spiders” and give them due respect. They are in fact spider-relatives, solpugids (the Solifugae), a gruesome lot combining all the “best” features of spiders, scorpions and bedtime closet monsters.

A face only a mother could love?

“The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good”

The headline in the Albuquerque Journal for Thursday, July 27, says: “Falcons set for Return to Wild”. But the subtitle adds “Lack of Protection Angers Activists”.

As many as 150 individual Aplomado falcons will be released this year in NM under a hack program not unlike the one that restored the Peregrine. But because they will be designated an experimental population (which is what they ARE) ranchers will be allowed to go on ranching and mineral exploration will continue. This upsets such “conservation” groups as the Forest Guardians and five other organizations (modern reporting– no others are named though I’d guess one of the others is the notorious Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, far more devoted to social engineering than conservation, by even their own statements), who are– you can’t make this up– suing to stop the reintroduction.

This is madness. Every time there is a chance at compromise in the land use wars of the West, idiots like these attempt to torpedo it. They would rather attempt to bring down the “western paradigm”– I’m just quoting other SWCBD spokesmen here– than allow ranchers and falcons to co-exist.

Oh and– another note to the reporter–it is by no means clear or even likely that “pesticides” had any effect on the Aplomado. Although you beat the Arizona Star reporter, who thinks pesticides made the eggs “hatch too early”.

Is there an alternative? Well, yes. Check out these people. And then give them some money if you can.

Rifles: Of Roosevelt and Russians…

Winchester recently closed its doors, an event that some slightly overwrought gunwriters have likened to the end of our civilization. I am not quite that depressed, but I am glad I own one of their more obscure products: a Model 1895 rifle in .405 Winchester:

Introduced in (of course) 1895, it was the first lever rifle designed for hot “modern” loads, and its box magazine allowed cartridges with pointed bullets to be loaded, unlike earlier models with tubular magazines that might let the point of one bullet detonate the primer of the one ahead under recoil. The ’95 was soon chambered in .303 British, .30- 40 Krag, .30- 03 (the brief precursor of the .30- 06) and .30- 06 “Government”.

Winchester also introduced its proprietary load, the .405 Winchester, which until the factory chambering of .375 H & H in the Model 70 in the late 30’s was the most powerful American cartridge available. It accompanied American expeditions to Asia and Africa, most notably Teddy Roosevelt’s great African safari. He called it his “Medicine Gun” and used it on all his lions. It is still rather popular with bear guides and handloaders.

My modern version had at some point been drilled and tapped for a complicated peep sight. I went in search of the right one and came upon it here.

Any reader of this blog will know that I am not likely to be able to come up with $225 for a mere sight; besides, the ones already on the gun work. But I did wonder “Why Ukrainian?” And I think I have come up with an answer.

Winchester made less than 133,000 guns in all for the commercial market, including all calibers mentioned above, from .30- 40 Krag to .405. But in 1925- 1916 the Imperial Russian Army ordered 293,816 rifles in musket (barrel- banded) configuration! All were chambered in 7.62 X 54 “Russian” or Mosin Nagant, still a useful caliber available in sturdy Russian surplus rifles,like the one being shot by Chas here:

I suspect many are still in use; “gun control’, even in Soviet Russia, is and was a myth away from the cities. Winchesters are good enough. So why not keep making sights?

Guns in a Crisis

A little disclosure before I post this gun note: I’m a registered Democrat. I consider myself liberal (tho that’s lowercase, viewing the word from the root) . More germane to this post, I know almost nothing about the two heirloom firearms I own and will admit to real discomfort around guns.

Despite all this, I am not an idiot.

I support gun ownership and shooting people when necessary to protect life and property. It follows I should believe some people pose real threats to lives and property I care about. This is true even in the best of times (mainly because for some, it is always the worst of times; and desperation abounds). But during large scale natural disasters, everyone with something to protect ought to have a gun. Or two.

This notion, repeatedly called “insane” by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y, strikes Louisiana Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) as just plain common sense. Jindal, an exceptionally bright, young public servant and upwardly mobile politician (he lost a close race for La. Governor in our last election) saw legally-owned firearms seized by law enforcement in the wake of hurricane Katrina—when an entire US region, including large communities across five states, descended into pre-historic anarchy.

The state of affairs in post-Katrina New Orleans infamously contained a kind of open warfare or jungle law that one normally associates with third-world tribal conflicts, only less well-organized. Police control of the violence or protection of innocents was not an option—as Jindal notes, “It was literally impossible to pick up a phone and call 911.” Today the situation in New Orleans is hardly better in many neighborhoods, and we’ve called in the National Guard to patrol the streets… Again.

That this can happen in the world’s tamest, wealthiest countries testifies to citizens’ need of personal (as opposed to civil or military) protection. I count among such means of protection big dogs, booby-traps, neighborhood militia and guns in the home and on the hip.

A Jindal-sponsored bill to prevent the seizure of legally owned firearms in future disasters and times of emergency passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Toulouse- Lautrec and Falconry

Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec’s father was a falconer and sportsman, and though he painted everything from ladies of the night to horses, many do not know that he also painted hawks. Here is his portrait of his father, Count Alphonse de Toulouse- Lautrec, painted by Henri in 1881 when he was just seventeen (the color seems a bit off):

From Paul Domski: this dedication to his son that Count Henri penned in his son’s copy of the “Small Handbook on Falconry” (1876):

“Remember, my son, that the only healthy way to live is out in the open
air and daylight, that everything deprived of freedom loses its
identity soon and dies. This little book on falconry will teach you to
appreciate the life of the open fields; and should you one day
experience the bitterness of life, first horses, then hounds and
falcons will be precious companions and help you forget things a

And here is a Sparrowhawk he did at 16:

Motorcycle Nomads

Roseann sent this insightful piece on the use of motorcycles by nomads in Tibet. I have seen the same thing in Mongolia.

It got us to musing on some westerners’ desires for “purity” in the Third World, which often translates into “stay romantic for OUR sake”. Says Roseann:

“I loved that photo – over the years I’ve totally changed my view of other cultures’ need/desire to be modern like us. So many of us only have Western eyes that only want to see “quaint” and “indigenous” and “noble” cultures – I have to think, 20,000 years ago (or whenever the horses showed up when man was schlepping around the steppes) and they were walking nomads and they saw horses and said, “Cool! Gotta get me one of those!” – were there cultures looking at them from afar saying “Oh no! You can’t get HORSES you’re WALKING nomads – we like you the way you are!” I picture some yoga-precious types with “Free Tibet” bumper stickers heading over there for a spiritual experience and meeting these guys who greet them: “Dude! Can I have your Ray Bans? What’s your email?”

“Why do first world modern cultures cling so tightly to their romantic view of primitive life?

“Perhaps the answer – or yet another riddle – lies in the recent Sundance catalog, filled with all manner of overpriced goods to satisfy the yuppie consumer’s need to go retro and “primitive.” It makes sense that a Tibetan nomad would want a motorcycle. But does it make sense that a multi-degreed, six-figure-income WASP would want an $1800 pre-distressed used-looking “distillery table” with um, “matching” unmatched chairs described as, I quote, “thrift store chairs” for $595 a pair – because god forbid they wouldn’t just drive down to the south end of town and buy 6 for $75 at the Salvation Army. Who’s the stupider or more backwards culture?”

Latest AR Atrocities

I do believe somewhere deep down they really hate animals.

From The Lady With The Black Dogs:

“I’ve just learned that the City of Denver, under the direction of their city court, and their Animal Control officer, has seized and euthanized 38 Pit Bulls.

“.. some of these dogs were nursing puppies when they were seized.
The owner had just moved to Denver from Texas, and was not aware that
there was a ban on PBTs in Denver. They charged him with 38 counts of
animal cruelty because he didn’t have water in front of each individual
dog … a charge which carried a year in jail on each count, plus 1K in
fines. Obviously they pressured him to surrender the dogs.

“What I want to know is, what kind of City, what kind of people- – aside
from the ones who work in the back of Ingrid Newkirks P**A van, can sit
and kill dog, after dog, after dog, until they’ve killed 38 of them”.

Libby wrote back to her:

“Marty Chavez, the mayor of ABQ [the one resoponsible for the new so- called HEART law, the most restrictive animal bill in the nation–SB] , was on TV last night bragging about how they had lured someone into ABQ to sell his fighting chickens for $100 each, which they busted him for and killed the chickens. The only place in NM where cock fighting is illegal is ABQ”.

To which I added:

“Can’t add much to Libby’s eloquent screed. The poor chicken guy sold TWO roosters and was entrapped– the undercover cops apparently told him they were unable to come to the city and to PLEASE drive the birds in! Same newscast showed a gang- banger (with a prior record) being released on bond after chasing two women he didn’t know through the streets of Albuquerque, shooting at them– the judge said she was “reluctant” to set him free, and told him to stay away from the victim- witnesses, using their names. Has our society gone insane?”

One doesnt have to be a supporter of cockfighting to find this a bit deranged.


A few interesting things from here and there.

Lucky Pluvialis, having just been to the shore, is going to Central Asia. I have been warning her in the comments section about correct drinking habits.

Looks like the magnetic poles are due to flip again. Many are worried about migrating animals. I am too, I guess, but I am even more puzzled. They have survived many such flips– how? Might they have multiple, redundant systems?

The Russian fox researchers who have shed so much light on domestication have also been working with rats. Their experiments may shed light on human evo as well. EVERYONE sent this in– thanks!

Alan Gates at Eagle Falconer has added many galleries of photos and information on Asian hawking– he has been to Mongolia, Kyrgizstan, and China. He also has material on longdogs, cormorants, and shrikes. Nobody else ranges so far, or has spent so much time with Asian masters in cultures where intimate conact with hunting animals is still the norm. A “must- visit”.

Carel Brest Van Kempen veers from his usual musings on science and art to celebrate his neighbors’ history. It’s not every day you’ll catch an evolutionary biologist- artist writing on Mormons!

Here is a photo gallery of thoroughly strange food. Probably not for the squeamish, if any such read this site.

At Orion, a contrarian lesson about the mites currently infesting and damaging honey bees. Let the bees evolve!

Derb finds a splendid “Doom and Gloom” from a fellow master, the late Kingsley Amis.

More shortly!


The pups are maturing swiftly and moving out slowly. Soon I may actually have the time (and the sleep) to write. Last weekend Paul, Nate, Nan, and Monica came to take or visit pups. Paul’s Zoltar and Nate and Nan’s Maty left. A good time was had by all– here are a few photos.

Parents in the background.

Dad still thinks he is a lap dog. No wonder his home name is “PuppY”.

And here is Maty with her “big sister”, the lurcher Pearl.

Local Landscapes

Continuing our occasional series on landscape, I thought I’d share a few images from near home.

A cool front (the first in weeks) promised some relief from the heat and humid air but stalled out last night and gave us only clouds and light rain. But we could not have hoped for better. Not here. Not in July.

I picked up my friend Ida between showers and we made a quick tour of the Mississippi levee, starting near the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, where they’ve built a rather grand access to the levee top. We worked our way south along River Road, back and forth as the river goes, past my house and much new construction and by all appearances back in time the farther we drove from Baton Rouge. We stopped somewhere in the 1950s (St. Gabriel) and took a left back to Highway 30 and home. Here’s a little of what we saw…

The new on-ramp to the levee walk

The view toward downtown

A working river

Back below the river and heading south

Classical FEMA Architecture in one of my old hawking fields

A crepe myrtle for Reid

A ruin from plantation days

A ruin from farming days

Cattle and cattle egrets

Some great faces!

Sugar cane: The region’s King Crop

A new road through the cane, outlining a new housing tract