Why We Blog

Darren Naish pricked us with the latest self-replicating blogger bug: Why blog? So I’ll start our reply (a brief one in my case) and let Reid and Steve follow up.

First, this question is worthy of a real essay. Mary’s was wonderful from a few months back, though I couldn’t find it to link (Mary?). So are others I’ve read around the blogroll. Many have given this some good thought.

My own reasons are obvious and unflattering and best kept short.

I blog to make comment in a public space, albeit one generally tolerant of my views.

I blog to be in company with two very smart guys I admire.

I blog to clear my head and my arguments, using the imagined reaction of you readers to help trim the fat.

I blog for the elusive feeling of having said what I meant to say, at least once in the course of my day.

The larger value of blogging to me is the community of interesting, often brilliant and surprising people who come to share our orbit. Knowing that with a click or two I can get as much of the culture, biology, politics, instruction, humor, paranoia and poetry I’m likely to need on my coffee break is a great comfort. And a great extender of coffee breaks.


Decline and Fall of….Fairfax, Co., VA?

During my father’s tour of duty at the Pentagon, a two-plus year rotation in which we lived in civilian housing and I attended public school, I got a rare taste of American pie. Prior to this, and afterwards until Dad retired, I knew only the cloistered and comfortable life of a military brat on bases stateside and overseas.

Dad commuted into D.C. from our Fairfax County suburban neighborhood. I walked to school often, just a few blocks away to King’s Glen Elementary. Along the route I passed the long, sloping power cut on which my friends and I spent winter afternoons sledding and summer days building forts. I saw the spot recently on Google Earth and was happy to find it still a kid-friendly no-man’s land and bordered on all sides by the woods I remember.

Not much has changed? Maybe not from the perspective of a satellite.

On the ground, Fairfax County seems to have moved well into the 21st Century. See this story (“watch the whole thing,” I guess we’d say) from CNN about one Fairfax County school that has taken the trend away from “rough play” in schools to its ultimate conclusion: A strict ‘no touching’ policy.

That’s right: No shaking hands. No hugs. No bumps, backrubs, pokes, tickles, chivalrous taking of arms or good natured pats on the head. “Even high fives can get out of hand,” says the spokesperson for the School Board. The rest of her statement, describing just how such a thing could go terribly, terribly wrong had me laughing… almost.

It is really terrifying. With justifications including potential injury, gang activity, multi-cultural insensitivity and general anarchy in an overcrowded school, the leaders of this community have decided that punishing every observed instance of human contact is the only possible solution.

In the middle of the fray is young Hal Beaulieu, an honors student sent to detention for briefly putting an arm around his girlfriend in the lunchroom. Watch and wonder…

St. Mary’s Glacier

On Father’s Day I was given the opportunity to pick what I wanted to do for the day, so I picked a hike in the mountains. We decided to go to St. Mary’s Glacier in Clear Creek County near the community of Alice. It’s not a tough trail, only 1-1/2 to 2 miles round trip. The trail head is at about 10,300 ft and the foot of the snow field is at about 11,000 ft. You can see specks (I hope) in the snow field in this picture which are people playing in the snow.

Melt water from the snow field runs off to the south in a small creek that has been dammed to make St. Mary’s Lake. Slopes on the west side of the lake still carry some snow that looks nice as it reaches the lake.

Here’s the view south across the lake.

As it is direct snow melt, believe me, that water is cold. Maggie put her front feet in once while getting a drink and after that would have none of getting in the lake.

People wandered in the snow field, many tourists drawn by the novelty of snow in June.

Also saw this skier. I was hoping he would stop and strap on his skiis so I could catch him coming downhill. But he just kept trudging on up the whole time we were there.

Sadie and Maggie found the snow refreshing. It was a warm day.

Here’s Connie and Sadie on our way back down the hill. Nice way to spend Father’s Day.


Gloom and doom about the growth of nanny-state policies in Great Britain has been an ongoing theme here as regular readers know. Here is one more installment in our continuing series that comes from The Times. Gerard Baker uses the refusal of the British Advertising Standards Authority to allow some egg commercials to run on TV (after all, eggs are bad for you!) as his hook to expound on the vicious circle of expanding state power and increasing individual dependency. I was struck by this quote:

“Leviathan is now so large that, outside London, half the population is dependent – either through public sector jobs or benefits – on taxes. Its power is so large that it has bent us all into submission. It has produced a culture in which no one needs to take responsibility for anything because someone else is always there to back us up.”

As they say, RTWT

Not Buying It

Steve got worked up over this piece in yesterday’s NY Times on Freegans, a movement I had not heard of. As he is very busy, he asked one of us to take it on. From the article:

“The site, which provides information and listings for the small but growing subculture of anticonsumerists who call themselves freegans — the term derives from vegans, the vegetarians who forsake all animal products, as many freegans also do — is the closest thing their movement has to an official voice. And for those like Ms. Elia and Ms. Kalish, it serves as a guide to negotiating life, and making a home, in a world they see as hostile to their values.

Freegans are scavengers of the developed world, living off consumer waste in an effort to minimize their support of corporations and their impact on the planet, and to distance themselves from what they see as out-of-control consumerism. They forage through supermarket trash and eat the slightly bruised produce or just-expired canned goods that are routinely thrown out, and negotiate gifts of surplus food from sympathetic stores and restaurants.

They dress in castoff clothes and furnish their homes with items found on the street; at freecycle.org, where users post unwanted items; and at so-called freemeets, flea markets where no money is exchanged. Some claim to hold themselves to rigorous standards. “If a person chooses to live an ethical lifestyle it’s not enough to be vegan, they need to absent themselves from capitalism,” said Adam Weissman, 29, who started freegan.info four years ago and is the movement’s de facto spokesman.”

I guess I am as skeptical of mindless consumerism as anyone, but each of us has our own definition of what “mindless” is, don’t we? I’ll quote from the article on the nature of the internal contradictions in freeganism that drove Steve crazy:

“Not buying any new manufactured products while living in the United States is, of course, basically impossible, as is avoiding everything that requires natural resources to create, distribute or operate. Don’t freegans use gas or electricity to cook, for example, or commercial products to brush their teeth?”


“These contradictions and others have led some people to suggest that freegans are hypocritical, making use of the capitalist system even as they rail against it. And even Mr. Weissman, who is often doctrinaire about the movement, acknowledges when pushed that absolute freeganism is an impossible dream.”

If you want to make your living by dumpster diving, that’s fine – please spare us the holier than thou moralizing.

Earliest Gunshot Victim in the New World

The NY Times and LA Times both carried pieces on a gunshot wound found in an Incan burial near Lima, Peru that dates to the 1530s, the period of the Spanish conquest. According to them, it is the earliest documented gunshot wound found in the New World, likely administered by one of the conquistadores.

These are both very interesting pieces about an interesting find and I urge you to read them, but the “earliest gunshot wound” aspect of the stories is really a public relations ploy, in this case presumably by the National Geographic Society. I’m sure finding the earliest gunshot wound hasn’t been a research goal of any archaeologist working in Peru. Also, this most assuredly isn’t the earliest gunshot wound in the New World. Francisco Pizzaro conquered Peru in 1531 – 1536, twenty years after Hernan Cortes conquered Mexico in 1519 – 1521. I would imagine that if some Mexican archaeologists were motivated to review their late Aztec collections they could likely find an earlier example. If they can’t, it’s probably just a matter of time before they do. And that doesn’t even take into account people Columbus or others might have shot prior to the conquest of Mexico.

In one of my early archaeology jobs, I worked on the excavation of the King Site in northwest Georgia. It is a proto-historic Creek village, now generally believed to be one of the villages visited by Hernando de Soto, a veteran of the conquest of Peru, during his entrada in the Southeast in 1539 – 1542. We were excavating burials that showed pretty clear evidence of cut and stab wounds by steel edged weapons – physical anthropologist Robert Blakely described them in an article in American Antiquity in 1990. Alas, we had no gunshot wounds. But I don’t think it would have occurred to Dave Hally and Pat Garrow, who were running the project, to go to the papers to claim they had the “earliest metal edged weapons wounds” in North America. I guess we lacked the publicity gene.

Finally, I found it interesting that the LA Times piece goes off into some conquistador bashing:

” The records maintain that a few hundred conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizarro, used their superior weaponry and their horses to repel an attack by tens of thousands of Incas led by Manco Yupanqui. After breaking the siege, the Spaniards tracked down and killed many of the Incas who had attacked, including the group at Puruchuco.

But the evidence casts the conquistadors in a less heroic light, Cock found. The archeological evidence makes it clear that the Spaniards were accompanied by a large group of Indians who were fighting the Incas to escape subjugation.

Although as many as three of the Inca warriors were clearly shot and others had injuries apparently made by the Spaniards’ metallic weapons, most of the 72 victims apparently were bludgeoned with more primitive stone weapons wielded by other Indians.”

Anyone with more than a nodding acquaintance with the history of the Mexican and Peruvian conquests knows that these were really rebellions of subject peoples of the Aztec and Incan empires, led by small numbers of Spanish troops. For example, when Cortes attacked the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in 1521, his army consisted of 900 Spaniards and 50,000 Indians. And the Spanish accounts make this very clear.

California Looms

The New West Net, an online news service dedicated to coverage of the Rocky Mountain states, recently had an opinion piece by Christian Probasco on the effect that nanny-state legislation in California may have on neighboring states in the West. What concerns the author is that California is a trendsetter. From the article:

“California is a trendsetter state. Much like the weather, every Californian fad eventually makes its way over the Sierras and diffuses into the intermountain West. That’s wonderful, and it’s frightening, because there are some pretty disturbing things going on in the Golden State right now.

O.K., I’ll admit: disturbing to people who take their civil liberties seriously. But I’m one of them.”

He provides a list of some pending legislation, some of which we have previously discussed here:

“…..there’s a few nanny-state laws lately considered by the State Legislature, as related by San Diegan Adam Summers an economist and policy analyst for the Reason Foundation:

• AB 722—Would “phase out” the sale of incandescent light bulbs in favor of more energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs (despite the fact that harmful levels of mercury from fluorescent bulbs can add up in landfills, contaminating the soil and making their way into the food supply). This bill has been amended so that now, instead of banning bulbs outright, it would have the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission set a minimum energy efficiency for bulbs. A nice P.R. move that would, in practice, essentially ban incandescent bulbs.

• SB 7—Would ban smoking in a vehicle–moving or stationary–in which there is a minor.

• AB 86/AB 90/AB 97/SB 490—Would restrict the use of trans fats in restaurants and school cafeterias.

• SB 120/SB 180—Would require caloric, trans fat, saturated fat, and sodium content information to be printed on restaurant menus.

• AB 1634—Would require dog and cat owners to spay or neuter their animals by four months of age.”

Probasoco asks, “What happened to California?”

“Nothing,” says Ron Getty, “Other than year-round politicians who feel that to look good they have to show how tough they are on (fill in the blank) or show how caring they are on behalf of (fill in the blank). The majority of (the nanny laws were) introduced in basic essence by legislators who are at heart control freaks.”



My old friend John McLoughlin, zoologist, evolutionist, novelist, and artist, came down to visit from his hideout in the northern mountains to visit Magdalena (always referred to as “Down Among the Wild Men”) for the first time in 23 years. He brought his three daughters and his grandson, and a fine time was had by all.

Some of his splendid books can be found here. Among my favorites are Archosauria, The Canine Clan, and the novels Toolmaker Koan and The Helix and the Sword.

We posed for nostalgia’s and history’s sake with copies of our first books, my Rage for Falcons and his The Animals Among Us.

We plan further zoological and geological expeditions later this year. As he says: