Older Dates

Now here’s an odd one. Reports say that a 2,000 year-old date seed recovered from the famous archaeological site of Masada in Israel has successfully germinated. This breaks the old record for an old germinating seed previously held by a 700 year-old lotus seed recovered in China.

I have heard apocryphal stories of corn or beans recovered from Anasazi sites (probably about the age of the Chinese lotus seed) that have germinated, but haven’t seen seen anything firm on it. There’s certainly a lot of it around in cliff dwellings and dry caves.

Grease Rustlers

A couple of weeks ago, a post of mine mentioned in passing that demand for biofuels seems to be driving an increase in thefts of used kitchen grease in New York. Today’s Denver Post notes the same phenomenon occurring here in Colorado.

In 2000, used fryer oil was trading for 7.6 cents per pound. Recently its price was about 33 cents a pound, or almost $2.50 a gallon.


A liberal university prof, female, decides to find out about guns and is both sane and fair, though some friends are predictably horrified. This is the fifth in a series and all are worth reading, as I suspect future installments will be, as is her regular non- gun blog, particularly good on reading and writing, here.

I particularly liked this. Professor Amitai Etzioni, who is anti- gun, alleges that the Second Amendment probably means what it says and thatwe shouldn’t talk about it.

She replies, wryly: “UD finds Etzioni’s analogies — an individual in possession of a gun is a deadly virus, a nerve gas — as well as his aristocratic conviction that the possibly correct reading of one of our nation’s more important documents ought to be kept from ordinary American citizens, pretty stunning. But she’s grateful he wrote what he did, because he’s playing a role she wants to cast in this series — the typical college professor — with verve and candor.”

HT Chas.

Once again: meat is good for you! HT Michael Blowhard.

Brilliant post by LabRat at Nerds that links up- to- date evo theory, optimum group size, envy, and what this says about Big State and taxes. Probably a PRINT and RTWT.

Dr H links to Reid’s Pigeon Day post below with pics.

Amazing parasitoids affect behavior even more than we know (read Zimmer’s Parasite Rex, linked to on the site.)

More Zimmer: what is a species?, “When it comes to wolves and coyotes, it is hard to say quite where one species stops and another starts. “We like to call it Canis soup,” says Bradley White of Trent University in Ontario.” And he hasn’t even gotten to bacteria yet…

Rebecca on biophilia and lizard bites.

A frog that apparently breaks its own bones to use as weapons. Glad that didn’t come out on April first…

One very cool wine label. HT Sari Mantila.

HSUS Targets Tiny Non-research Universities in Pushover Campaign

At least, that’s the idea.

Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the Humane Society of the United States has shifted the focus of its ongoing campaign to eliminate the use of animals in the nation’s research institutions by encouraging smaller, teaching-based universities to sign pledges “not to subject any research animals to ‘severe’ unrelieved pain or distress.”

So far, about a dozen have done so.

The Chronicle story by Jeffery Brainard includes the following quote:

“I said to myself, How could I not sign this and have a conscience?” says John
M. Carfora, director of sponsored research at Amherst. He said he hoped his
signature might influence researchers elsewhere to reflect anew on the necessity
of unrelieved pain in their laboratory animals.

With fewer than 1,700 students, the Amherst College research endeavor is probably not going to suffer much for Carfora’s pledge. And that’s precisely the point:

“…that is just what the advocacy group is counting on: a wave of no-fuss pledge signings that will put pressure on larger universities, which do conduct animal research, to follow suit.”

“It’s a place to start,” says Kathleen M. Conlee, director of program management for animal-research issues at the group. “We will, over time, go up the ladder to those institutions in a different category.”

Fair warning. Of course, HSUS and other groups have tried to reach that higher category before and been deterred. Turns out the major research institutions don’t like being slandered or firebombed and rather quickly circle the wagons against these tactics.

This new approach, however, building a small-time ‘coalition of the willing’ with sweet talk and reasonable-sounding pledges, should fool no one. HSUS is still on its game: Extortion.

“The [HSUS pledge] attempts to strike a collegial approach—for example, the society offers to discuss with signatory institutions any instances of noncompliance it learns about and not to publicize them. That’s a different approach from the picketing and vandalism that more-extreme activist groups have carried on at the University of California at Los Angeles and other campuses in a bid to end all animal testing (The Chronicle, April 18).”

In other words, “You sign our pledge and we’ll look the other way when you break it. No smear campaigns, we promise. No harassment. No unfortunate accidents. But refuse to sign the pledge, and, well, who knows what might happen?”

Book Reviews

A Childhood by Harry Crews (also re-read: Florida Frenzy.)

Harry Crews is probably in his seventies, a professor of writing in Florida, and grew up among the rural poor of north Florida and southern Georgia.A Childhood is his memoir of that. Somebody in the NYTBR said that it is “..about a part of America that has rarely, except among books like this, been properly discovered.” I am tempted to say “by NYT readers”, but although hog butcherings, to give an instance, are not alien to me, Crew’s world is just enough removed in space and time from us to have a mythic quality. It is a world of stoicism and bleak poetry, where one can be hexed by spitting birds or witness a suicide by knife.Crews’ world does not have the nightmarish hillbilly Gothic and Biblical cadences of early Cormac McCarthy– his is a simpler, harder prose. I like both, but I never said of McCarthy “this is how it was.”

Florida Frenzy is a collection of essays by Crews, many published in Esquire in the seventies, and a few excerpts, including one from The Hawk is Dying, a movie recently made into a film. Most haven’t made the cut in previous collections, not because of any lack of quality but because they depict such activities as running fox with hounds, ‘gator poaching, cockfighting, and even dogfighting, in unflinching prose. He doesn’t so much defend them as to portray them as parts of the culture he belongs (belonged?) to, now fading but still worthy of a moment’s attention. Who would ever have known that a fighting bull wags its tail?

And who would ever publish such today? ESQUIRE??

(Thanks to Matt.)

Wolves at our Door by J. P. S. Brown.

Wolves takes up the stories of Jim Kane and Aidan Martinillo, old Brown protagonists (Aidan of my favorite Brown book, Forests of the Night, on which I have blogged before) as they get caught up in the border wars of the early 21st century. This a is both a subtle and a violent book; Joe Brown is the most knowledgeable chronicler of the borderlands alive today, having ranched in both Arizona and the Sierra Madre, and he has little patience with easy slogans– neither “Minutemen” nor WSJ free- traders will find much comfort in his portrait of an old, permeable border with a distinct culture of its own, under fire from a violent Sierra Madrean society warped in recent times by drugs and even terrorism. It would make a great movie (with heroic parts for old men– the best Jim Kanes are dead but I’d take Sam Neill)– but it is probably far too un- PC.

(Apropos of nothing– Joe, who is in his eighties, used to smuggle cattle across the border with an old Magdalenian rancher whom I knew slightly. Joe told me a yarn about Fred’s refusing to remove his boots in a bordello down there. When I read the book I asked his great granddaughter, who tends bar at the Spur, if this sounded right, and she said “That was Fred!”)

Thanks to MDMNM of Sometimes Far Afield— don’t know at this point if you got me this one or his memoir The World in Pancho’s Eye but I’ll get to that one soon!

SF/ Alternate worlds: S. M Stirling’s The Sunrise Lands. My favorite in the “Change” series (where advanced technology ceases to work) so far. But you must at least read Dies The Fire, the first novel in the first trilogy– this is the first in a second– to understand it. Libby is doing so and says it works. Actually all are varying degrees of good if you have the time, as is Stirling generally. I have one from another series on my wish list.

Natural History. First, Mean and Lowly Things by Kate Jackson, a book about doing herpetology amidst physically and culturally difficult conditions in the Congo. Isaac, who sent it, was not enamored of the book- I think her account of difficulties, including those inevitable ones that come of working with another culture, put him off. I liked it better, as I tend to do with such stuff. Though I am more prone to freezing than sweating, I have been there so to speak, one reason “difficulties” play such a large part in my own Eagle Dreams— they inevitably DO. The old narratives passed them over for the most part, except for occasional breakouts like William Beebe’s aside, in a caption about “The Shooter of Poison Arrows” in Pheasant Jungles, that he had shot and killed the Burmese crossbowman pictured a few nights later, for shooting into Beebe’s camp with bad intent! Better the warts- and- all tales like this and — soon– Jamie James’ Snake Charmer, in which our blog friend Chris Wemmer plays a small part, mediating between the egos of the protagonist, the late Joe Slowinski, and mammalogist Alan Rabinowitz, who apparently thinks he owns Burma’s wildlife.

Chris also turned me on to the delightful The Soul of the Rhino by Hemanta Mishry, an account of the history of the conservation of the Indian rhino, especially in the Terai of Nepal, by a Nepali conservation biologist. It is subtitled “A Nepali Adventure with Kings and Elephant Drivers, Billionaires and Bureaucrats, Samans and Scientists, and the Indian Rhinoceros”, which about sums it up. Most is fascinating, funny (often rudely), and gradually hopeful, but murder and politics intervene and the book ends on a dark note. Will the Maoists in power NOT do what Maoists have always done? I get the feeling Mishra is whistling in the dark a bit. Libby doesn’t want to go back, and she loved no place better.

Dog Man by Martha Sherrill is a Zen Buddhist dog book (if one buys Gary Snyder’s assertion that Buddha forbids nothing to the good hunter). It is the story of Morie Sawataishi, an old man who lives in the snowy mountains of Hokkaido and who is responsible for saving the old working type of Akita through the deprivations of that hard countryside through the war and after. It reminds me of Asian poetry and ink calligraphy and the photos that Life magazine ran of hawking in the snow there in the sixties. It is also a favorite of the Atomic Nerds, who know their way around Akitas.

Though David Zincavage may not be a Dino man he knows I am, and sent Feathered Dragons: Studies in the Transition from Dinosaurs to birds. Lots of good Dino- wonk stuff– think Tet Zoo but by more contributors. My favorites were a paper hypothesizing that flight feathers may have evolved as features for brooding, illustrated by many photos of modern birds and diagrams of such fossils as Oviraptor, and a paper by the too -elusive Robert Bakker improbably titled “Dinosaur Crime Scene Evaluations: Theropod Behavior at Como Bluff, Wyoming, and the Evolution of Birdness”, complete with his inimitable illos. More Bakker please!

More to come…


… for non- existent bloggage. I have been busy, ill, overextended, and probably depressed, though too much A, B, and C to take notice. I am involved in a lawsuit over last year’s work (if it is ever resolved it will be a splendid tale for Michael Blowhard’s critiques of modern publishing); am trying to get over a 6- month persistent antibiotic- resistant sinus infection, going to physical therapy for my arthritis in my hip and back when I can. I am trying to write the new book and convince my agent that a book combining travel, dogs, and science is viable. I am dealing with a difficult hawk (Gos) and a demanding but delightful one (baby, “Shunkar”.) All this and not sleeping much. Though this is not a self – baring blog (or maybe I am not a person comfortable with such?) I feel a bit of explanation is in order!

I need to get working here, though. I have reviews, links, and photos that need exposition. There are so many reviews they may not be long but I will try to at least convey essence. Then maybe later ones will get back to length again…

The Atlantic: Is Google Making Us Stoopid?

This article by Nicholas Carr in the current Atlantic Monthly has been engendering a fair amount of discussion around the web, mostly centering on the following passages:

“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle. “


“For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon.”

I flit about the internets about as much as anyone, but I can’t personally say that I have experienced the phenomenon that Carr describes. I read as many books as I ever have and still keep a large number of books going at the same time. This is a habit Steve and I share that we have discussed here a number of times and something I’ve done since I learned to read. I’ve also always been a fast reader. In high school, I dropped out of a speed-reading class when I found my own “system” already had me reading at speeds they were trying to teach.

The only change I can really see in my reading habits is that I have an increasing tendency to read non-fiction in a non-linear fashion. I read lots of history and find I often jump into sections of books that I find most interesting and then will back-track to fill in context if I need it. Sometimes I find I have read almost an entire book with the chapters in reverse order.

I have been seeing this as something positive and feeling that I am reading more efficiently – digging out data I want more quickly than plodding from pages 1 to n. It hadn’t occurred to me that this might be an “internet effect” if indeed it is.

I’ve been wondering how the people who hang out here at the Querencia blog feel about this. Do you believe the internet is changing the way you read and “remapping” your circuitry?