Survival of the Scrawny?

Annie H sent this Newsweek item about how hunters are trashing the evolution of prey species. I call agenda- driven cherry- picking bullshit. The thesis seems to be that trophy hunting removes all good males and big individuals from the gene pool. This might well be possible in some individual populations especially if it were the ONLY driver of selection.

But: in many areas, from Texas to Scotland and Germany, herds are managed for BIGGER trophies, in the last two for centuries.

In some areas I believe sheep are now manipulated, by seasons and tags, for the same thing. No place in North America (and none in Asia that I know) has open unlimited sheep seasons– it is hard to get any permit unless you live in Yukon or Alaska, and hard to hunt there.

More hunters are meat than head hunters by far.

There are more trophy elk and mule deer, in the southwest at least, than ever. I have seen more than one record head in the last few years here, and what may be the biggest elk ever was taken on a friend’s ranch last year. In most trophy states– Colorado’s “open public” hunt may be an exception– there is more demand for tags than tags, and elk are expanding in range and huge. Game departments aren’t that susceptible to hunter pressure at least in states like NM and Montana that base their take on science.

Kangaroo poachers? Most Australian states list them as vermin or commercial quarry and have no limits– which may well be bad but has nothing to do with trophy hunting.

There is very little trophy elephant hunting today and most of it is to manage populations. Elephants are victims of an ongoing tragedy based on conflict with human populations but legal hunting is the least of their problems.

Writers’ Woes

Christina Nealson sends this grim item from salon about the state of mainstream publishing.

“…On Dec. 3, now known as “Black Wednesday,” several major American publishers were dramatically downsized, leaving many celebrated editors and their colleagues jobless. The bad news stretches from the unemployment line to bookstores to literature itself.

“It’s going to be very hard for the next few years across the board in literary fiction,” says veteran agent Ira Silverberg. “A lot of good writers will be losing their editors, and loyalty is very important in this field.”

“One of the most visible victims was Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher of Philip Roth, Margaret Drabble, Richard Dawkins and J.R.R. Tolkien, among many others. Just before Thanksgiving, the publisher (actually two venerable houses, Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt, which were bought and merged by an Irish company over the past two years) had announced an unprecedented buying freeze on new manuscripts. On Dec. 3, they laid off what former executive editor Ann Patty described as “a lot” of employees (the industry trade publication Publishers Weekly confirmed at least eight), among them the distinguished editor Drenka Willen, whose list of authors included Günter Grass, Octavio Paz and José Saramago.”

This is depressing news I’ll grant you– not least since I had a book being considered at H- M. ! But some of us have been outside looking in for years, and know — or suspect we know– why.

” “There were hedge fund guys with no background in publishing buying up publishing houses,” says André Schiffrin, founder of the New Press and author of “The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read.” He explains that corporate owners of major publishing houses expected impossible 15 to 20 percent profit margins in an industry with traditional margins of 3 to 4 percent. “They were part of that whole feeling that you could make money by buying and selling companies, rather than by selling books. At some point it comes to a dead end.” “

And if you are a writer and want to write, you have to reject despair. I have been struggling with depression and frustration with publishing for two years now, and it won’t get me back to Kazakhstan. There is a lot of potentially creative anger out there.

“Rumors of publishing’s demise are probably overstated, but the future of publishing may depend on what those laid-off editors, publicists and industry leaders do next. The morning after Black Wednesday, a publishing blogger and e-book aficionado named Mike Cane stirred up his readers with a bite-size manifesto on Twitter: “If the FIRED NY pubstaff are such hot fucking shit, let them coalesce and form an EBOOK-ONLY IMPRINT to crush their fmr employers.” However callous this Twitter-versy seemed at the time, it posed an interesting challenge: Can the publishing world channel all of this collective anger, bewilderment and fear into industry-altering strategies?

” “If the last five or 10 years have shown us anything, it’s this: content will get out,” Lexcycle’s Choksi says. “With social networking and blogs, if you have something to say, it will get heard. It just might not look like the traditional publishing model you are used to.” “

Readers’ ideas encouraged. If I don’t get an advance (elsewhere in the article they spoke of “modest” advances under $100,000–HAH!– how can I get to Asia and finish my next project?

Related stuff: “Writer Bailout” (NOOOO!); and should we buy cheap books? . (Conflicted answer: I have to read!– and since people sell MY books cheaper than I can…)

Interesting times…

Jurassic Males?

Carl Zimmer has a fascinating item on the ever- more- blurry line between birds and non- avian Dinosaurs. It seems the Paleognathes– the bird group commonly known as ratites, composed of the big flightless birds like Ostriches and the odd related but flying South American group known as Tinamous– have retained the brooding habits of such “true” Dinosaurs as Oviraptors and Troodonts. In all these groups, the MALES brood. As you can see by looking at the cladogram, Paleognathes are separate from all other extant birds and retain this archaic trait from a long while back. Read it all.

Food links and catching up…

A few catchup things before New Year’s blogging commences…

First, a food manifesto I can get behind, at least as an ideal.

But foraging can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing– if you are not conscientious or at least CONSCIOUS. Here is a harrowing first- person account by someone who ate toxic Amanitas. I winced as I read these words:

“You know that feeling you have when you are young and feel invincible? Well, as I walked out of the wooded area I was in, I found some young mushrooms. Their caps were hanging down like closed umbrellas. I mistook them for inky caps (Coprinus spp.) even though I spotted an Amanita nearby–its cap was fully open, and not hanging down. Thinking back, I should have been more suspicious as mushrooms do grow in colonies.”

Do. Not. Ever. Do. This. You know the cliche about old pilots, bold pilots, and that there are no old bold pilots? Count it double for mycologists.