Obligatory Pigeon Material

Every so often non- pigeon readers have to put up with a pigeon post- pun intended. These ones are relatively painless, and the second is also of interest to dino- philes, evo- bio- types, and even competitive pigeon show fanciers…(Ava, birds soon- we got the boxes, but one pair is still feeding. You are getting the Bagdads below, avery productive pair, among others)

First, photos: one by Daniel of a pair of pouters he got from me a while back, and one by Stefan Wachs, who photo’d for the forthcoming (this spring) article about me in NM Magazine by John Muller, of my Carriers.

Here are a couple of future pigeon breeds from the ever inventive Deviant Art site, courtesy of Arthur. The Dinosaurian tailed breed may be genetically possible today, according to Jack Horner.

Saladin’s pigeon post, from Keith:

From Saladin by John Man. The casual reader of ancient history is often puzzled by the seemingly impossible speed of communication in certain civilizations. For example, an outlying city like Aleppo will be under siege by an enemy and yet will somehow be in communication with a major city such as Baghdad or Cairo. It turns out that by the twelfth century CE, the time of Saladin, the Muslim world had developed an elaborate communication system using carrier pigeons:

“[In the twelfth century CE,] Turks, Arabs and Europeans were enemies and rivals, but also allies, trading partners and friends, often all these things in quick succession.

“Information flew between them, literally, because all major cities were linked by pigeon-post. This gets only passing mention in Arab sources, possibly because it was so routine as to be unworthy of comment. It would have started a long, unrecorded time — perhaps centuries — before, with pigeons being kept for food, as we keep chickens. Over the years, people noticed that they were able to find their way home from very far away (modern fanciers race their pigeons for up to 1,600 kilometres). Pigeons can fly for up to twelve hours at 100 kilometres per hour, for three days, resting at night. All leaders, civilian and military, would have kept pigeons ready to send to distant cities or take into battle.

“The historian al-Maqrizi recorded one very non-routine use of homing pigeons. In the late tenth century, the fifth Fatimid caliph al-Aziz loved the cherries of Baalbek. As a treat, his vizier — in effect, prime minister — arranged for 600 homing pigeons to be sent off from Baalbek to Cairo, each carrying a silk bag attached to either leg, with a single cherry inside each bag. The pigeons had 600 kilometres to fly. If they left in the morning, al-Aziz could have had fresh cherries for dessert that evening, with enough left over for his many guests.

“Others took note, and were impressed. Sir John Mandeville mentions pigeons in his fourteenth-century book of Travels … :

In that country and other countries beyond they have a custom, when they shall use war, and when men hold siege about city or castle, and they within dare not send out messengers with letter from lord to lord for to ask succor, they make their letters and bind them to the neck of a culver [an obsolete word for a pigeon, perhaps from the Latin columba], and let the culver flee. And the culvers be so taught, that they flee with those letters to the very place that men would send them co. For the culvers be nourished in those places where they be sent to.

“Consider: for this system to work at all, every major town must have trained its teams of pigeons, which would have been divided among every other major town. How many towns the size of Baalbek or larger would have been part of the pigeon-postal system? Shall we say twenty? The 600 cherry-carriers were raised and trained in Cairo, their home base, then transferred by horse or camel to Baalbek, along with (say) a few dozen more which would have been kept for offi­cial business. But Baalbek would have had pigeons delivered from all the other nineteen cities as well, and constantly redelivered after each mission. And as breeders know today, you need redundancy. Not all pigeons are equally talented: the good ones lead the bad. Nor is there a guarantee that any one pigeon will survive severe weather or predators. Over 160 kilometres, 95 per cent survive; but over several hundred kilometres you expect to lose about 50-80 per cent of them. Of al-Aziz’s 600 cherry-carriers, perhaps only 300 made it. To be sure of a message getting through long distance, you had to copy the same message three or more times and attach it to that many different birds. There must have been a whole specialist industry of dovecote builders, breeders, trainers, transporters and supervisors — hundreds of people to look after tens of thousands of pigeons.”

They would have been Bagdad types, ancestral Carriers, like these:

Jean Louis’ Idols?

Jean- Louis Lassez, just back to the Muleshoe Ranch from his art show in Florence, says:
“There is this game on facebook where you put images of three people who represent your soul.
As I have a more complex personnality than your average facebook user (I think), I decided on 4 instead of 3.
The first three, Rasputin, Davy Crockett and Commodore Peary were quite honored that I picked them up.
The fourth one was less impressed 🙂

He forgot Yosemite Sam:

Secret Agent Man

I’ll resume blogging with a bit of humor; I for one could used it…

When JP Parker reviewed Hounds of Heaven for Amazon (an almost embarrassingly good review), he stated:”Everyone and everything has to be quickly and easily pigeonholed in our Age of Single-Minded Experts: if you’re an artist, you can’t possibly be a scientist; if you’re a naturalist, you most certainly cannot write fiction; if you’re a cynologist, what the hell can you be expected to know about paleontology? When obvious exceptions such as Peter Matthiessen do arise, they are explained away as anomalies: Well, after all, how can you expect anything else from someone like Matthiessen when he was really a CIA agent all along? But Steve Bodio is a genuine polymath without being a CIA agent. As far as I know.”

Well, “I am not and never have been..” But deniability is difficult. Back in 2002, Brian Micklethwaite, a writer for the often original online Brit libertarian online mag Samizdata (a site which had often been friendly to Q), decided I was a secret agent, and “outed” me. He called his essay “Watching the Bird Watchers”

“I met up with Tim and Helen Evans yesterday. After several years at the Independent Healthcare Association, Tim is now the President of the Centre for the New Europe, which is pro-free-market but neutral about whether the EU as such is a good thing, which, when Britain is finally and irrevocably swallowed up by what Freedom and Whisky calls the Holy Belgian Empire, is what I will probably end up being. Tim is now connecting with lots of excellent European libertarians, including a lot of well placed academics. How come continental Europe’s libertarians are so excellent? Simple. They have to be.

“Tim also reminded me of an email I received a few weeks back from his CNE colleague Richard Miniter, following a plug I put here for two forthcoming books by him. Apparently a long lost friend of Richard’s saw my mention of him and got back in touch, much to Richard’s delight. I asked Richard if I could mention this also – Samizdata brings people together again, etc., etc. – and he said yes fine. After all, if you’re someone like Richard, getting your books plugged is easy enough. Keeping in touch with all your cool friends is harder, and he was genuinely grateful. But then I forgot about this. Meeting Tim again is my excuse to mention this touching reunion now. Said Rich:

“The friend, Steve Bodio, wrote a excellent piece for the Atlantic Monthly last year entitled “The eagle hunters of Mongolia.” He spent some time with those fiercely independent steppe riders and watched them bring home dinner with their trained eagles. He is also a gun expert and genuine authority on birds. And, of course, he loves freedom and despises ‘priggish authority’ in all its forms.

“People who habitually watch birds in countries other than their own are as likely as not spooks of some kind, in my opinion. After all, what better way is there to spy on metal birds and their habitats, and such like, than to pretend to be looking only at regular ones? And this bird man is also a gun man. Add the fact that one of Richard’s forthcoming books is about Bill Clinton’s (mis)handling of al-Qaeda and is apparently full of juicy revelations, and you get the picture. These guys may not have spook ranks and spook serial numbers, but they definitely have good friends who do.

“Some libertarians say that we should never make any friends among the spooks, even the part-time ones, all of whom are the statist spawn of Satan. What tripe. For starters, not all of these people advertise themselves as flamboyantly as some of them do, so how can we know who to avoid? And more seriously, they (or their for-real friends and contacts) work at the darkest heart of the state and spy on the rest of it, and they know how it really works, and doesn’t work. They know that the state is an anarchy, and they are mostly individualist anarchists themselves, in their everyday working lives if not in their beliefs. So if we’re right about what the state is really like – and we are right, right? – then the spooks should be moving our way. The question the spooks mostly ask me is not: Are you sure that the state is really that crazy? It’s: How could a totally free market in spookery actually be made to work, given that it’s such a nice idea? (I’m working on it.)

“Think what would happen to the course of history if all the spooks and semi-spooks (or even a decent percentage of them) did become hard-core libertarians.”

I wrote semi- hysterically and half- humorously to Jonathan Hanson: “Micklethwaite thinks I’m Meinertzhagen!”(He wrote back in the persona of Younghusband,a good joke). But I had ZERO deniability. For one thing, one of my sources on the first expedition was Colonel Richard Wilhelm, the Special forces warrior- scholar who spoke Mongolian, rode with the Mongols, was a friend of the Mongolian air force colonel who was Canat’s cousin, and who was the subject of a Robert Kaplan article in the Atlantic, which I was writing for. For another, I saw a MIG fly into an underground hangar, something Canat had told me about and which even Wilhelm doubted at first, and reported upon that. (Canat, who had flown for years on planes that were parked in such hangars when he was Spetsnaz, was completely casual:”Look, Stev [my Kazakh name– see Eagle Dreams]– here comes a plane to land underground.” He didn’t even want to stop the jeep!)

Many years before,I was on the other end of the rope– after our hack falcons, the first ones on Mount Tom near Holyoke Mass, flew off prematurely, we were investigated by undercover federal wildlife agents, who were sure we had stolen them and sold them to the “Arabs”. For reasons that will become clear, I won’t give TOO much detail, but they plied us together and separately with legal and illegal intoxicants to get us to inform on each other. The whole affair came to an end when we nearly convinced them we were innocent, then out- macho’d them in a tequila- and- pot fueled race down the “Alpine slides” to the bar below. John and I had all summer to practice, and still bear the scars to show it. We could put the sleds up on wheels so there was no friction, steer by leaning, never touch the brakes, and could actually go 90 mph or more if were feeling immortal. John, a red= headed former Vietnam medic and falconer who got his masters from UMass the next year, and retired from a career as a Massachusetts Game warden a couple of years ago, is usually a serious man, but at a mention of this tale, he will show the arm where he burned off 18 inches of his fair Irish PEI freckles — another cousin– when he slid fifty feet on the twisting mile- long fiberglass chute. Incremental damage was the editing process that taught us how to go fast, and by the end of the season wed we would accelerate right up to the last hundred (straight, level) feet. We dumped both Wally and “Cubo”(“Conduct UnBecoming anOfficer”) in the granite boulders of the turns at a half a mile, and they limped in to shake our hands, admit their defeat, and buy us all more tequila. I remember Bill (Cubo) handing me his rare- unique?– 3 inch barrelled Smith and Wesson .41 magnum revolver, which he kept in an ankle holster, at the bar. I don’t think they were used to losing. At least they didn’t get copperheads in their laps, as John and I each did once.The gentle little snakes (or maybe they were just cold in the AM) never offered to strike, not the case with our one new England timber rattler…

Years later, I saw a newspaper article tacked up in a New Orleans shop that sold ivory, citing the owner’s help of Walter in a dangerous undercover sting operation in Alaska, involving native bikers and walrus ivory; the bad guys reminded me of the Aleut assassin in Snow Crash. And years after THAT, in New Mexico, I got these two photos in the mail: Walter, reading Querencia, on his sailboat Querencia.

And here are the successful Mt Tom falcons today. They do look more “tundrius” than anatum…