Arachnophobia

I took this picture of this large gray fellow on the ledge next to my front door last weekend. I don’t know much about spider species but I’m sure you can help me out.

Good thing I got his picture on Saturday, as I spent Sunday dodging tornadoes. Another great picture here. Alas, I didn’t see the funnel clouds, but as near as I can tell two of them straddled us. We came through fine, just a little hail on the deck.

Dog News– Good

No links, but AB 1634, the California Mandatory Spay- Neuter Bill, has been roundly defeated, at least for now.

Also just breaking: the AKC will allow basenji breeders to bring in new unregistered stock from its native regions–Northern Congo, Southern Benin, Southwestern Cameroon, and Central Congo, from 2009 to 2013. This is a GOOD precedent for genetic diversity, though just a beginning. Only basenjis and salukis even have a process for bringing in new genes, and both may be too restrictive– a topic for another time.

On the topic of closed studbooks, Luisa has what may be the best post yet. “Consider one of the people featured in the AKC Gazette’s annual breeding issue a while ago: she described her efforts to get a live pup from a bitch [a Peke, IIRC] that couldn’t carry a fetus to term, let alone whelp, without round-the-clock supervision and intervention. The pregnant bitch was the lone offspring of a dam that had suffered from the same problems. You may be thinking, “They call this a good breeder?” Ah, but both dogs were Champions. It reminds me of the breeder in Dog World who noted a photo of an early Peke — one capable of breeding normally — and remarked, “That was before we perfected the head.” I kid you not.”

Please RTWT!

Links & Opinions: Miscellany

I am working on two chapters for a new book, but have been searching out new links for your delight or dismay in my off time. Let’s see…

Before the usual, congratulations to Rebecca, who is moving with her menagerie to Northern California to take up a high position in Ducks Unlimited. If anyone has ideas on housing in the Sacramento area please contact her through her blog or mine.

Serious first: Registan gives a balanced and temperate view of events in Georgia. As anyone who knows me can tell you, I am FAR from a pacifist, but it always amazes me when people who couldn’t find Georgia on a map if their lives depended on it are vigorously ready to go to war over its fate. Putin is not Stalin and deservedly or not is the most popular leader Russia has ever had. In these times we need Machiavelli more than we need… certain candidates, whether naive or belligerent.

OK, enough politics, which I tend to avoid (Georgia, more Asian than European, makes it in by virtue of that, and as a plug for Registan which any student of Central Asia should bookmark). Let’s stay in the Russo- Asian area for a bit. Here is a tour of Baikonur Cosmsodrome in Kazakhstan, oldest and biggest spaceport in the world. I don’t know but I find the desert spacepunk esthetic of working rockets, cosmic trash piles, and camels irresistible, and hope to go there someday.

And here is a gallery of American license plates made to spell out phrases in Cyrillic, often with no connection to English. I find it interesting that so many are on luxury cars– are Russians natural entrepreneurs or are these the vehicles of.. let’s say, people in shadowy trades?

Somewhat linked in subject: New Mexico SF writer Walter Jon Williams takes a tour of Cheyenne Mountain, which used to be the place from which a nuclear war would be fought (he brought back a Teddy Bear). You should also read his new novel Implied Spaces, which is a post- Singularity tale that is technically dazzling, utterly original, and often funny.

Vegans are now debating the morality of honey. ” The bees are forced to construct their honeycombs in racks of removable trays, according to a design that standardizes the size of each hexagonal chamber… keepers control the animals by pumping their hives full of smoke, which masks the scent of their alarm pheromones and keeps them from defending their honey stores. And some say the bees aren’t making the honey for us, so its removal from the hive could be construed as a form of theft…any vegan who eats honey but avoids milk is making the tacit assumption that the pain experienced by a bee counts for something less than the pain experienced by a cow. It’s exactly the sort of compromise that so appalled Watson and the early vegans. Once you’ve allowed yourself to equivocate on animal suffering, how do you handle all the other borderline cases of insect exploitation? What about silkworms and cochineal bugs.”

Actually, as Konrad Lorenz knew and Ingrid Newkirk doesn’t, there ARE differences in suffering between such extremes. Anyway, it doesn’t bother me much if they all try to photosynthesize, and die…

Speaking of diets: efforts to make Komodo dragons eat “naturally” have turned them into maneaters. HT David Zincavage.

Pythons may not take over the southern half of the US. Though the part of me that loves monsters is just a bit disappointed, I never quite bought the idea– the arid parts of southern Texas and New Mexico seem too barren for a reptile from southeast Asia.

Carl Zimmer discusses bizarre rearing strategies in Penduline tits, and why they make evolutionary sense. Pluvi, this one is for you!

For lack of a better word. society: Michael Blowhard discusses why suburbs may be something new in human history.

Chas wonders why crime fiction writers can’t get guns right, (especially since the characters they write about WOULD). I suggest that honorable exceptions are Michael Gruber and Steve Hunter.

Finally, art: Lord Whimsy pauses in his perusal of flowers and arthropods to look at a maker of classic decoys.

A Humane Society

For a guy who claims not to value television, I watch a fair amount of it. It’s a reward and sometime pacifier for my kids and helps my wife wind down after her long days. I frankly enjoy cooking shows, home repair and sci fi. The television is a part of our household and a regular feature of our lives. (I say “the television”—in fact, we have three of them.)

Often it’s not the shows that interest me, but the juxtapositions made possible by channel surfing. Last night I came back from a bike ride to find my wife and kids watching an Animal Planet program about the Houston ASPCA. In the segment I saw, a tearful immigrant woman was being prosecuted for having neglected her dog to the extent that its collar had grown into the flesh around its neck, requiring surgical removal. Evidently a neighbor’s call had prompted the visit from Animal Control.

By the end of the segment, the dog was returned to health and happily romping with a middle-class white family who clearly loved her. According to the narrator, this dog was one of twelve thousand neglected animals given new homes each year in the Houston area.

After we put the kids to bed, my wife and I watched a bit of the Democratic National Convention. We enjoyed the highly-polished retrospective feature on the life and times of Ted Kennedy (truly well done) then watched a bit of his live speech. It was either in that speech or in the prepared file footage that we saw Kennedy espouse healthcare coverage as a right for all Americans, not just for the privileged few. Something like that.

For all the talk of universal health care, I have to admit I’ve never given it much critical thought.

I was raised a dependent of the US Army, with access to all the free medical and dental care (and education) I needed as a child. Department of Defense doctors saved my life at least twice, free of charge: once from double pneumonia as an infant, and again from leptospirosis as a teen. Doubtless my immunizations and regular check-ups prevented other medical catastrophes.

I enjoyed this privileged care (arguably the best in the world) until leaving home as a young adult. Since then, I’ve worked for various state agencies and enjoyed similar benefits, almost magically provided by automatic deductions from my monthly paycheck.

Is this what universal healthcare is all about? If so, I am hardly in any position to begrudge my fellow Americans (heck, anyone anywhere) such a luxury. I would literally be dead without it.

Which brings me to the Houston ASPCA and the DNC and our increasingly humane society.

Considering the possible connections, I’m moved to wonder, How responsible to one another are we? How responsible are we to ourselves? How much of my own wellbeing can I be entrusted with? Should I have any choice?

The notion that bad outcomes can be managed, perhaps eliminated, is terribly compelling. It is so attractive we’re willing to give up almost everything to pursue it. If choices can have negative consequences, then maybe limiting choice is the answer: Simply limit our choices to those that have only positive outcomes. Banish the rest.

Inescapably, this seems the goal of humane society.

But that goal has a flaw, and we are it. The whole world, if not the universe, is that flaw. We are creatures of a universe in which positive and negative outcomes (good and bad choices) are intertwined and interdependent. It is probably not the one we would have created for ourselves. But I’m frankly glad we didn’t get the chance.

Every cultural good I can think of comes at the risk of bad consequences. Strong marriage. Bright kids. Fine art. Useful domesticated animals. Interesting, wholesome foods. Health. They all come, arguably, because of bad consequences and the choices we make to avoid them. None would spring up automatically on their own. None have ever been produced by official decree.

The ultimate strategy for eliminating neglected dogs (knows the HSUS) is to eliminate dogs. The ultimate healthcare strategy is to ensure that no child ever leaves his yard, no man takes a drink of alcohol or a bite of bacon, no one drives a car or smokes a cigarette. And yet by banishing these bad choices we are not magically transported into a world in which no bad thing can happen.

That’s the kicker. We haven’t left the Earth. We will still die. Even dogs will reinvent themselves, sulking around the piles of waste we will always make regardless how many laws prevent it.

Natural Cycles

What happens to water after we’re done with it? Is it wasted?

My kids want to know because I keep yelling at them to turn off that tap while they brush.

But actually, I came to terms with this question a while back, finally deciding that if a hydrological cycle was good for anything, it must somehow be replacing the water we lose in the sink and flush down the john.

I’m aware we burn fossil fuel to make electricity to clean our water and pump it all back uphill to the big tank; but basically, it’s the same water living beings have been filtering and pumping for a couple billion years. Right?

Earth’s ecology is a closed system. We get a few occasional elements from space and lose a bit from time to time (we recently shipped some metal to Mars, for example), but isn’t the whole concept of ecology based on the notion that all life’s essential components are recycled?

Reid found an article today that suggests this view doesn’t tell the whole picture.

“…The vast amounts of food lost to spoilage and insects in poor countries, and simply tossed in rich ones, also represent an enormous stream of wasted water, according to a new report that calls for big improvements in a world heading toward 9 billion hungry, thirsty mouths.
“The report, ‘Saving Water: From Field to Fork — Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain,’ was issued on Thursday by the Stockholm International Water Institute, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the International Water Management Institute (report pdf here). It outlines ways that governments could halve the amount of food lost between field and plate by 2025.
“The amounts of waste are staggering. In the United States, nearly one-third of the food that is produced each year, worth about $48 billion, is discarded. The water it took to grow and process that wasted food amounts to about 10 trillion gallons, according to the analysis. Many European countries have similar losses, proportional to their size.”

Despite the fact that all this water is not vanishing straight into space, the energy we use to move it around surely could be better spent.
Speaking of waste, the Mullenix Household started composting a few weeks ago. It has been a fun and interesting experiment, one which I hope will bear fruit (literally) in next spring’s garden.
We might even have some compost in time to feed a winter crop? The tomato plants are out now and the bed waiting for something else.

Here’s the new composter. It’s Canadian.

Here’s the little pail we’ve been dropping our kitchen waste into.

Here’s where the garbage goes.


A few turns of the spade (can you see them?) reveal a little shop of horrors: Many hundreds of plump, fleshy maggots, writhing in the darkening mess. Mother Nature is hard at work in our bin of Canadian plastic.

Exposed

John Burchard, Sir Terence Clark, some coursing salukis, and a falcon were filmed in a chase by the BBC for the show “Pedigree Dogs Exposed”, showing healthy alternatives to most purebred dogs. Most of their footage (all but a half minute I’m told) ended up cut, but what is left is more than valuable. Patrick Burns has it in six video links here. You should also read his pungent commentary on the issues here and here.

Update: impressive and depressing– the level of denial among show people is astonishing. The salukis, sadly, are only on for about five seconds as the announcer says something to the effect that “some breeders try to breed sound dogs but often they are penalized..” Well, yeah– currently my Asian tazis cannot be dual- registered as salukis, though it would be better for both “breeds'” genetic diversity, because of such imagined and prejudiced ideas that brindles are mongrels…

Closed genetic lines = genetic death.