A little More from John Burchard

One of the wisest naturalists I know, Dr John Burchard, on the subjects below and more:

I firmly support the right to keep “exotics” in captivity and/or partial or complete liberty (our wolf lived free in the desert on weekends, and our coatis mostly lived free in our very normal residential neighborhood, for example). Much of my professional life has been devoted to the study of animal behavior (and its relevance to human behavior). One of my principal mentors in that work was the famous Austrian zoologist Konrad Z. Lorenz (best known to Americans perhaps for his charming books King Solomon’s Ring and Man meets Dog).

I worked with Konrad in his Institute in Germany for seven years, during which
time he shared a Nobel Prize for his work. None of that work would have been possible at all without being able to keep all sorts of “exotic” creatures under quasi-natural conditions and often at partial or complete liberty.

My own entry into that field would also have been impossible without similar childhood
experiences – some of them, even then, probably already illegal under U.S. law. As a schoolboy I had all sorts of free flying, tame (because hand-reared) wild birds flying around outside our house. (Read King Solomon’s Ring to get an idea of what is possible, and indeed necessary, in that direction). My own childhood, thanks to exceptionally tolerant parents, was somewhat similar, though my most special interest was snakes. I gave my first public lecture – on snakes, of course – to the Rotary Club of
Newport, VT – at the age of 7– 73 years ago next month. One of the snakes escaped, and slithered under the piano, during the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner” at the end. Highest marks for patriotic heroism of the lady piano player, who persevered wide-eyed but without a quiver while I rounded up the wayward reptile.

Watching animals on TV is not an adequate substitute for actually living with them. We now have wonderful, amazing natural history shows on TV. They are almost too good. And they are not the same as lying in a very small tent beside a remote Swedish lake, watching a moose pass within three feet of our noses on his way down to the lake to eat water plants. It’s not the same as walking through the forest with a tame Goshawk on your glove, learning (by watching the bird) how it constructs its world by
remembering successes (a rabbit from *this* branch, at 4:17 pm) and failures (an empty field *here*, at 3:22 pm). You learn to see the world as they do.

Without that, you understand nothing.

You can’t really do any of that watching animals from a distance (as Wayne Pacelle would like… actually, I think he would like animals to go away altogether, but he doesn’t dare say so out loud. Unfortunately, I have sat across the legislative-hearing witness table from that man – twice. ‘Nuf said.

Involvement is everything. Remember Mowgli? “We be of one blood … ” Kipling understood. Modern humans are in great danger of becoming totally disconnected from the natural world – with dire results for us as well as for “wildlife”. Keeping “exotics” – and using them to teach – is one way of fighting against that trend.

Bad news for houndsmen…

.. and all hunters. David Zincavage reports, furiously, here.

From an unremarkable story, earlier:

“California Fish and Game commissioner Dan W. Richards travelled deep into the wicked terrain of Idaho’s Flying B Ranch to fulfill a long-held goal. “It was the most physically exhausting hunt of my lifetime. Eight hours of cold weather hiking in very difficult terrain. I told the guides I appreciated the hard work. They were unbelievably professional, first class all the way,” he said. Richards said he took the big cat over iron sights using a Winchester Centennial lever action .45 carbine. Asked about California’s mountain lion moratorium, Richards didn’t hesitate. “I’m glad it’s legal in Idaho.”

And now he is ousted from office:

“Although the kill was legal in Idaho, California has outlawed the hunting of mountain lions for decades. More than 40 state legislators called for Richards to resign in March, saying he showed poor judgment in killing the cougar when the practice is opposed by most Californians…[Michael] Sutton, an executive with the Audubon Society [who was at the same time elected Vice President of the Fish and Game Commission], said later that the killing of the lion and Richards’ comments defending it were factors in his decision to vote to replace Richards.”

Zincavage: “The president of the State Fish & Game Commission is supposed, in California, to be out of line when he uses his office to speak in favor of hunting.”

LA Weekly, though reporting that some comments against Richards were “pretty terroristy”, is flat- out exultant:

“Needless to say, he was immediately attacked by every shade of the left — from animal-rights crazies to some of the Legislature’s most mainstream Democrats… [really?!]… although Fish and Game commissioners haven’t explained specifically why they decided to vote Richards down from his throne today, it was clearly a symbolic move to kill the human who killed the beast… Let this be a lesson for all trigger-happy Republicans who dare to dream of swimming against California’s blue tide: We’ll eat your grin for dinner.”

Several churning thoughts: is hunting in Cal really that partisan an issue, or just in a few big cities? What do some of my friends who are Democrats and hunters say, in and out of Cal? What does this bode for the politics of hunting, and the nation?

For certain, it is a black day for the hounds. I wonder who they will call when a lion next stalks, or eats, a runner. Will they let them use hounds?… even end up begging for them, when nothing else works? I wouldn’t let my dogs step foot in California, where a coursing ban is on the agenda, and mandatory spay- neuter waits in the wings…

Q o’ D

(On racing and boxing, grumpy):

“Riding horses to exhaustion and punching each other in the face under agreed rules are worthwhile and manly pastimes, far better pedigreed and infinitely more exciting than hitting balls with sticks, tossing leather bags across a field, or chasing a puck around on ice.”

John Derbyshire

More Doom

Birmingham, once one of the greatest gun centers in the world, has renamed its gun quarter.

“One of Britain’s oldest industrial areas has been renamed after council leaders claimed local people no longer wanted to be associated with the weapons of war.

“Opponents of the name change say the Gun Quarter has been sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.

“But the move has been approved by council cabinet member for regeneration, Tim Huxtable, who said he was simply responding to public opinion.

“The council received a petition signed by just 50 people objecting to the name…

“Evidence produced by the council to back the move included a report from the Newtown Neighbourhood Forum claiming that “it is not wise” to retain the Gun Quarter because the area has suffered from gun crime and the name is also associated with the arms trade.” (Arms trade? Well, of sorts– see below).

The two parties did not line up as you might expect:

“The decision resulted in Coun Huxtable, a Conservative, being accused of political correctness by Sir Albert Bore, leader of the opposition Labour group.

Sir Albert (Lab Ladywood) said: “What kind of nonsense is it when we replace the Gun Quarter with St George and St Chad?

“Like it or not, and I am not into the arms trade myself, the Gun Quarter has a historical connection with this city. This is just political correctness.

“The decision was described as “a terrible shame” by the owner of Birmingham’s best known surviving gun maker, Westley Richards & Co.” (“International arms traders”– makers of six figure bespoke doubles!)

The locals seem generally unhappy. “Pauline Luke, who worked for 30 years in a company in the Gun Quarter, said the re-naming was “ridiculous”.

“Making guns is part of our heritage and something we should be proud of, not ashamed of,” she said.

“Her boyfriend, John Dangerfield, said: “Calling it after St Chad Cathedral makes sense but not St George – wasn’t he all about slaying and killing people?””

Uh, yeah. “RTWT”.

HT Vic Venters. And full disclosure: I own a Birmingham gun.

One more thought re Brit pop culture: not all that long ago, when Tom Baker was Dr Who, he could evoke knowing grins as he took a punt gun into the sewers of Victorian London to use against Weng Chiang’s giant rat, “made of good Birmingham steel”. Of course he also mentioned a fish dinner with the venerable Bede in the same episode…

Clinton Loses It?

It is late at night but I don’t THINK this is a hoax.

“President Bill Clinton has been named PETA’s 2010 Person of the Year, the animal rights organization announced Monday.

“Though he was famously a fan of Big Macs while in office, Clinton turned to a vegan diet this year for health reasons in advance of his daughter Chelsea’s wedding in July and has continued to forgo meat and dairy ever since, PETA’s Campaigns Assistant Media Manager, Amanda Schinke, told POLITICO via e-mail.

“The former POTUS has publicly expounded the virtues of veganism and has said he’s lost 24 pounds on his plant-based diet.

” “Bill Clinton won not only because he’s the most prominent person to go vegan this year but also because he used his platform to articulate the reasons why a plant-based diet is the most healthy diet,” said PETA Senior Vice President Dan Mathews. “And of course, it doesn’t hurt that he has Chelsea’s lead to follow. She went vegan at 10, though her motivation was simply not wanting to support cruelty to animals.”

In today’s philosophical climate he is a “moderate”.


Commonplace Book: Old School

A conversation between the late Jack Mavrogordato, old school English falconer (he knew T H White, who described him as “a charming man, approximately five inches tall…”), and the more ancient Major Allen, about the still more ancient E B Michell, past master of the merlin, ca. 1976, as recorded in the English Falconer:

M: He was an amateur boxer, wasn’t he?

A: Light, middle, and heavyweight boxer of England: he boxed all three weights. He used to despise gloves, he said it was like cockfighting without using spurs. He was extraordinary.

M: How we’ve changed from those days.

A: He was a Senior Classic, he was a very clever man. He’d eaten rats at the Siege of Paris, he codified the laws of Siam, he wrote a book on curries.

M: He was a lawyer wasn’t he?

A: Barrister.

M: I never knew that.

A: And of course his brother was one of the famous masters of Rugby and was murdered.

Vance Bourjaily RIP

Just got the news from Chad at Mallard of Discontent that novelist Vance Bourjaily is dead at 87.

Bourjaily was considered one of the best of the postwar novelists and then just faded from popularity– I don’t know why, as I considered his best as good as any and better than most. He was unapologetically interested in bird hunting but was also an academic and teacher; perhaps his interests and characters were from too broad a range of classes, professions, and non- coastal places to appeal to mega- publishing conglomerates. He continued to teach, but the publishers stopped buying.

Chad quoted the Post obit and added some pungent observations of his own:

“Now that’s a scene I would have loved to see: Vance Bourjaily with Kurt Vonnegut (one of my all-time favorite authors but a man who despised firearms) smoking his ever-present Pall Malls while sitting in a duck blind or roaming the Iowa fields in search of pheasants. I’d love to hear those conversations…

“It’s not surprising that Bourjaily – whose son Phil is the shotguns editors at Field & Stream and a damn good writer himself – is best known for his novels. He was a fairly major literary figure back in the day when that meant something more than a bunch of semi-clever assholes tweeting their way to pop-schlock book deals.

“But he was also a wonderful writer on hunting – bird hunting, mostly – and I think it’s a shame the obit didn’t mention his book on the subject, The Unnatural Enemy: Essays On Hunting. It was first published in 1963 (I think) and re-published in 1984 with a new forward by Edward Abbey. Yep, that Edward Abbey”.

I will repeat what I said in the comments as a sort of very minimal primer:

“The greatest uncelebrated novelist left. For sports people: the Unnatural Enemy absolutely. Plus the opening scene of Brill Among the Ruins where the protagonist shoots a duck with a 28 gauge Model 21 and nearly drowns.

“And for everyone the bawdy innovative sprawl of Now Playing at Canterbury, about staging an opera in Iowa, with many voices and a horror story about cats and a Purdey hidden in an insurance scam…

“Then all the others. All on Amazon cheap, still. I’m lifting a drink to him tonight.

“I believe Philip wrote recently about him in the early 60’s, flying with a Beretta in a case under his seat, wearing a tie, showing the “stewardess” his gun, not getting arrested…”

My condolences to Philip, who blogs with Dave Petzal at Gun Nut Blog.

Update: Matt reminds me that the introductory chapter has a funny falconry scene, and that the same chapter (I think) features shooting barn pigeons with a Darne shotgun–!

More Thoughts on Prof. McMahan’s Essay

Reading yesterday’s NYT (online) essay, The Meat Eaters, by Rutgers University professor of philosophy Jeff McMahan (forwarded by reader Daniela and shared below by Steve), I’m almost more puzzled by my own need to comment on the piece than I am amazed by it.

It’s tempting to lump this man’s essay in with the tiresome mass of animal rights propaganda, but I think it’s only superficially similar. This goes deeper, is arguably crazier, and may belong to another tradition entirely.

Professor McMahan’s work is principally atheist, by my reading, secondarily misanthropic, and only for the sake of example concerned with the welfare of animals.

His ignorance of animals and “nature” is obvious (Does he know some deer eat baby birds? Does he know ducks rape and kill each other?) and his ignorance of the human animal (his own animal self!) can be inferred. But I think the misanthropic bent of his argument hints that maybe he knows just enough about himself to be scared and disgusted by what he sees.

This is a very old theme, indeed. Man’s fear and loathing of himself long predates any “animal rights” movement (though it certainly seems to inform it.)

I can’t help but, as a parent of two children, recognize in this line of thinking a child’s deep-seated (and profoundly self-centered) sense of injustice.

Faced with the world’s certain measures of pain, bewilderment and abandonment, reasonable children seek comfort—and if denied that comfort, predictably lash out in self defense. They give hell to their parents, to their siblings, teachers, and tragically often to themselves.

To such a child, it is better to be alone than in the company of fellow sufferers. It is better, some will conclude, even to be dead.

For all the professor’s elaborate argument and educated language, he writes essentially from the perspective of a hurt child, ironically selfish in his lashing out against the “cruelty” of others.

This argument has been taken farther than the professor has yet come. Every religion and entire civilizations (spawning literatures and philosophies he must certainly know) have been created in the attempt to see past the problem of pain.

Although we still argue (obviously) and wonder about this problem, there is at least a shared understanding that the problem is sewn into the system and somehow essential to it.

Whether you chose to see this as life in a Fallen world or simply acknowledge, in the secular sense, that we’re all fucked, every adult must advance from that basic understanding to whatever conclusions can be drawn.

Only a child will chose to sit in a corner, hungry and hurt, while everyone sits at the table and eats what’s given.

Update: Chas’s thoughts here.

Modern Fears

From Schneier on Security: the winning entry in contest he suggested, a litany of modern fears, in the style of the late great Edward Gorey:

The Gashlycrumb Terrors, by Laura

A is for anthrax, so deadly and white.
B is for burglars who break in at night.
C is for cars that, with minds of their own,
accelerate suddenly in a school zone.
D is for dynamite lit with a fuse.
E is for everything we have to lose.
F is for foreigners, different and strange.
G is for gangs and the crimes they arrange.
H is for hand lotion, more than three ounces;
pray some brave agent sees it and pounces.
I is for ingenious criminal plans.
J is for jury-rigged pipe-bombs in vans.
K is for kids who would recklessly play
in playgrounds and parks with their friends every day.
L is for lead in our toys and our food.
M is for Mom’s cavalier attitude.
N is for neighbors — you never can tell:
is that a book club or terrorist cell?
O is for ostrich, with head in the sand.
P is for plots to blow up Disneyland.
Q is for those who would question authorities.
R is for radical sects and minorities.
S is for Satanists, who have been seen
giving kids razor blades on Halloween.
T is for terrorists, by definition.
U is for uncensored acts of sedition.
V is for vigilance, our leaders’ tool,
keeping us safe, both at home and at school.
W is for warnings with colors and levels.
X is for x-raying bags at all revels.
Y is for *you*, my dear daughter or son
Z is for Zero! No tolerance! None!

Don’t ignore the (prolific) original writer- artist either; here is a link to one appropriate work, The Gashlycrumb Tinies: “B is for Basil, eaten by bears”. Betsy, Libby, and I were all separately Gorey fans, and I still have some first editions from Betsy. Peculiar grew up on these as well as outdoor adventure, but I don’t think our odd ideas about children’s lit warped him too much…