Monday, December 31, 2007

Electrocuting Whales & Machine Gunning Seals

The above jaw-dropping article is from a 1931 edition of Modern Mechanics magazine.

Click on the picture to enlarge it, and be sure to read the whole thing

It seems some Norwegian fellow figured out a way to electrocute whales with a generator and a harpoon.

What could possibly go wrong with this idea?

One hundred thousand pounds of angry whale, a gasoline-powered generator putting out enough amps to kill five circus elephants, a lot of wire coiled in the bow, foaming swells breaking over the gunwales, straining oars, and a fellow standing up?

Sounds perfect!

Check out the last few sentences in the above article too, as well as the drawing at the bottom.

It seems a couple of intrepid Americans decided machine-gunning sea lions was a perfect solution to declining salmon fisheries on the West Coast. Never mind all those brand-new mile-long gill nets. The declining salmon population must be due to those pesky sea lions!

But, of course, nothing much changes, does it?

The last buffalo hunt is going on right now in our oceans and seas. Cod has been nearly wiped out in the North Atlantic, Swordfish has been pushed to the edge, Sharks have been decimated by long liners, and Tuna prices are shooting through the roof as catch numbers are plummeting into the basement.

Meanwhile, whales are still paying the price for human stupidity more than 100 years ago.

This summer, Inupiat whale hunters in Alaska found the business-end of a 115-year old harpoon buried in the body of a 50-ton Bowhead Whale caught off Alaska.

The harpoon was part of an exploding lance made between 1885 and 1895 on the Southeast Coast of Massachusetts, where supplies were quickly used up. The lance company went out of business, as whaling populations crashed.

And they have not recovered quickly, have they?

Today, there are only about 9,000 Bowhead Whales left in the world -- less than 20 percent of their former numbers.

Crosby, Stills & Nash: "To the Last Whale"

Sunday, December 30, 2007

No So Long Ago, Not So Far Away

This is an almost-perfectly preserved baby Mammoth
which was recently found near Siberia's Yuribei River by a reindeer herder.

The animal, preserved in the permafrost, is believed to be about 10,000 years old and seems to be in nearly perfect condition, with fur, trunk, skin and internal organs intact. Only the ears have been lost. The frozen baby Mammoth is in Japan now for study and display.

For more thoughts on Mammoths and time, see "The Mammoth in the Hedge" on this blog.

Unintended Consequences: It's the Law!

From today's Yorkshire Post comes this article by Bill Carmichael:

"THE law of unintended consequences is the curse of well-meaning lawmakers around the globe.

You set out with high ideals of achieving some lofty goal – and end up doing precisely the opposite.

So it is with the banning of hunting with dogs. Almost three years after the ban was imposed in 2005, the sport of fox hunting has never been healthier.

This Boxing Day more than 250,000 hunt supporters gathered at over 300 meets around the UK – the numbers apparently swollen by people who previously had no interest in hunting, but who now turn out in protest at what they see as an illiberal and nanny-statist law.

So those people who set out to destroy fox hunting have succeeded only in invigorating it. Those who wanted to save foxes from the hounds have engineered a situation where more of them are killed than ever before.

You'd need a heart of stone not to laugh."


Another Year of Failure

Once again a year has gone by, and I did not get an Oscar or a Nobel Prize despite having put together a couple of really excellent PowerPoint presentations.

Damn Al Gore!

I was not voted Sexiest Man Alive despite the fact that I lost 30 pounds.

Damn Matt Damon!

I was overlooked for the Pritzker Prize despite having designed -- and even constructed -- a very novel and successful housing for my new trail-cam.

I did not win a MacArthur "Genius" grant award despite the fact that, by my calculation, I won every argument I got into.

The Pulitzer Prize committee managed to overlook my work again, saying they really did not have a category for "a series of random quotes gleaned from newspapers and magazines." Well yes, but I was quoted in those damn articles. A freaking Dictaphone can do what a reporter does. Oats are not improved having been run through the horse. The Pulitzer people disagreed, of course, and asked me, via restraining order, to stop calling their offices to argue the matter.

I did not win an Emmy, a Tony, or a SAG award despite some truly magnificent performances feigning interest in repeated stories told by others, which really were not that interesting the first time they were told.

The Country Music Association took no notice of my fine work singing backup in the truck with Lyle Lovett on the CD player.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame chose not to honor my excellent Led Zeppelin air guitar solos.

I did not win the Archon X-Prize for Genomics despite my deep thinking about canine devolution within a closed registry system.

I was not considered for the Templeton Prize despite having founded the First Church of Field and Stream.

"The People" did not chose me for a People's Choice Award. I was similarly passed over for a Golden Globe.

Now, to tell the truth, this last one is fine with me because I would not accept a Golden Globe even if one were offered.

I have standards. And the Golden Globes -- given by the foreign press -- is beneath those standards.

"He's big in France," is the unkindest cut of all.

So to sum it up, this year has not been a banner year.

On the upside, by Mr. Soichiro Honda's calculation, I am about halfway to success. Another 50 of these kinds of years, and I may be ready for a Darwin Award. And really, isn't that the award with the very best name? I think so!


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bill Boatman's Online Catalogue

Bill Boatman's is the semi-legendary catalogue
of stuff for the raccoon hunter, houndsman, beagler, and bird dog trainer, and it is now available on line (as a PDF).

Boatman's is a one-of-a kind business and if you are looking for a roll age, scent, or "coon tongs," this is the place to go!
. .

First Global Warning on Global Warming

This little squib comes from the July 1932 edition of Popular Mechanics magazine.

This little squib comes from the August 1953 edition of Popular Mechanics magazine. It seems to me that the rise-in-temperature numbers to 2080 that are quoted here might be about right.

Of course, in neither one of these articles, no one even mentions population growth, do they?

And they still don't, as I noted in an earlier post about Al Gore's very own "Inconvenient Truth."

For the record, it took from the dawn of time to 1830 for the first billion people to be added to the population of the earth, but the second billion were added by 1930, two years before the top article was written.

By 1953, when the second article was written, world population was approaching 3 billion.

Today, world population is over 6.7 billion people and growing rapidly. See the population counter in the far right margin of this blog to watch world population growth in real time.

As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us!"



Friday, December 28, 2007

The Very Early History of Fox Hunting

From the web site and whimsical gallery of Mark Burckhardt, a Texas artist. For another bit of nice dinosaur art from Mr. Burckhardt, click here.

For the real history of fox hunting in general, and terrier work in particular, read Chapter 1 of American Working Terriers.

The Blue Ribbon and Gold Card Alliance

In his book "Dog Wars," Donald McCaig comes to the conclusion that the Kennel Club is like a religion, founded on faith, and based on evidence unseen in the real world.

"Throughout the fight [with the Kennel Club], I kept stumbling over a simple truth without quite seeing it: dog fanciers and their creature, the AKC, really do believe that what is most valuable about any dog can be judged in the show ring, that the show ring is the sole legitimate purpose and reward for all dog breeding. They even believe, against all evidence, that the show ring 'improves' breeds."

I was reminded of this passage while reading a recent article in The Canadian Veterinary Journal in which Koharik Arman recommends several Kennel Club reforms she thinks should be undertaken in order to save dogs from the 19th Century eugenics theories upon which the Kennel Club's current system is now based.

Arman's suggested reforms include:

  • Opening breed registries to allow an increase in genetic variation;

  • Setting minimum numbers for foundation stock during breed establishment;

  • Redefining breed standards to include health, vigor, and temperament, in addition to typology;

  • Monitoring heterozygosity within breeds, presumably by looking at Coefficients of Inbreeding.

I chuckled a bit at reading the list. It's not that Ms. Arman's reforms are not good ones. It's just that Ms. Arman is naive to think the Kennel Club will ever embrace them.

I looked carefully through Ms. Arman's thesis and found her mistake -- the sunken rock upon which every discussion of Kennel Club reform eventually wrecks. Ms. Arman writes:

"The purpose of cynological associations is to facilitate the work of dog breeders, rather than impede it. "


The purpose of cynological associations is to give out ribbons. Dogs are simply a mechanism for the humans to get the ribbons.

Take away the ribbons and awards, and no one would go to a dog show at all. To do what? To pay money to stand around all day, to have your dog looked at for 5 seconds by someone who does not own or work the breed? Forget it.

In fact, it's entirely possible to be in the "sport" of dog showing without even showing up at a dog show at all! Unbelievably, it's done all the time.

At the Westminster Dog Show, the winning dog may not have been bred by the owner, may not have been raised by the owner, may not have been trained by the owner, and may not be handled by the owner in the ring. At these top shows, the "sport" of dog showing is too often reduced to the "sport" of writing checks.

As for reform, I hate to pour cold water on the idea but I am an unflinching realist, and it is not going to happen, at least not soon.

After all, the obstacle to Kennel Club reform is not ignorance about the scope of the problem, is it?

Anyone who knows anything about dogs or genetics knows there are serious problems withhin the Kennel Club.

Working dogs drawn into the Kennel Club lose their working abilities within 50 years or so -- i.e. as fast as their working abilities can be washed out of the gene pool by a breeding program that places no value on those abilities.

Even as the working abilities of Kennel Club dogs evaporate, gene-based health problems tend to rise up due to concerted programs of inbreeding and the overuse of championship sires, which results in a "doubling down" on negative recessive genes.

Add in to the equation the fact that some breeds are specifically bred for their genetic defects -- short faces that result in serious breathing problems, dwarfism that results in heart and joint problems, and coat color patterns that are tied to the genes for deafness -- and you have all the health issues that prompt Mr Arman to suggest Kennel Club reform.

So why do I think Kennel Club reform is impossible? Simple: The Kennel Club is an economic system with economic assets. Change the rules of the game, and billions of dollars of canine breeding stock will be worth a great deal less overnight.

If that happens, a lot of people will quit the Kennel Club in rapid order, others will join any one of several dozen class-action lawsuits that are certain to be filed, while still others will run off to join free-standing non-affiliated breed clubs or competing kennel club registries.

Put it altogether, and you can see how major changes could easily result in the Kennel Club being pushed past the economic tipping point.

And don't think the folks at the Kennel Club haven't thought about this. You do not have to be a Wharton Business School graduate to know there are dangers in economic, social and institutional transitions.

Look at IBM, for example. The world's largest and most powerful computer and business machine company in 1978 found it could not transition to the new world of personal computers while maintaining their old mainframe computer business.

Microsoft and Dell only had to build forward, and did not have to protect or service a back-end economic model or product. IBM did.

As a consequence, Michael Dell and Bill Gates are among the richest people in the world today, while no one I know owns an IBM computer of any type. IBM still exists, of course, but they are doing more and more "business consulting." After all, in a world of 20 gigabyte laptops, who needs a mainframe?

The Kennel Club is in the same position as IBM, with the dangers of transition to a "new economy" almost beyond calculation.

In fact, the transition from a 19th Century closed-registry eugenics system of breeding dogs, to an open-registry performance-based system is actually going to be much tougher for the Kennel Club to achieve than anything IBM ever tried to do.

When push-comes-to-shove, after all, IBM was simply selling inanimate machines. Getting people to change how they evaluate and breed living animals that are connected to their all-important ego is going to be a much tougher sell.

In fact, the process of transitioning from the old paradigm to a new one is likely to kill off the Kennel Club entirely.

So long as the Kennel Club cranks out a lot of ribbons, breeders will continue to proselytize the false gospel that ribbons and Kennel Club registry papers are some sign of quality.

Change the deal, however, and the economic value of those millions of Kennel Club registry papers will evaporate, and breeders will no longer be good Kennel Club missionaries.

Kennel Club officials know this, and as a consequence they have been strongly resistant to all reform efforts.

As far as they are concerned, their first duty is not to preserve a particular breed, or even the health of dogs in general, but to preserve the Kennel Club.

From where they sit, if the Kennel Club fails to exist, then nothing else matters.

After all, many of the dog breeds that exist today only exist for Kennel Club show ring purposes. Get rid of the narrow selection criteria that fences in contrived breeds, and jettison the "market maker" that is the dog show, and many breeds will merge back together or disappear altogether. Imagine the horror of that!

The Kennel Club will tell you, that "Yes," a large number of dogs are burdened by genetic maladies, but that's the risk folks take when they get a pure-bred dog.

The data is out there for anyone to find and read about. Caveat emptor.

If your dog is deaf, or has ataxia, or is dysplastic, or has poor liver function, well then it's a good bet that you did not do your homework when purchasing a dog.

Besides, you can always put down your defective dog and simply buy another one. Most breeders have a lot of puppies they are willing to sell. Try again!

And it's not as if all those crossbred dogs down at the pound are all free of genetic disorder, is it?

This is the Kennel Club way of thinking. This is their defense.

And, to tell the truth, it has a kind of internal logic to it. If your goal is not improving the genetic health of dogs in general, and you are not concerned about preserving the working qualities of specific breeds of working dogs, then there is not much wrong with the Kennel Club way of doing business.

Yes, the Kennel Club dogs don't work. And yes, Kennel Club dogs may be sicker than they might otherwise be under a different breeding regime. But so what?

After all, you can still find a Dalmatian that is not deaf if you look carefully. And if you really want a Dalmatian, isn't that the best and easiest course of action?

Of course it is! There's no reason to look for macro solutions when a micro solution is so close at hand. Thump all the melons, and try to avoid the rotten ones! Go to a "good" breeder, and not a "backyard" breeder, and never mind that all the "good breeders" are actually hobby breeders with a lot of dogs in the backyard. All we need is a pejorative term to describe anyone we don't like -- there's no reason to actually change the Kennel Club structure itself. After all, they're "just a registry."

Of course, Ms. Arman does not seem to be buy into that line of thinking, and neither do I.

Even if it's not illegal to embrace a flawed evaluation system that results in a rising number of defective products, it is certainly immoral.

And when that defective product is an animal that will live a shortened life in pain, it is positively evil.

But of course one man's floor is another man's ceiling. Where you stand may depend on where you sit.

Defective dogs with expensive ailments are not all bad for everyone, are they? If you are a veterinarian, for example, such animals may be your bread-and-butter.

And don't think veterinarians don't know this! They certainly do.

Yes, some vets may privately tut-tut about the high rate of inbreeding, but are their trade associations going to launch a campaign to push for reform within the Kennel Club, as Ms. Arman suggests they should?

Heck no! Why would they do that? Dogs with serious long-term gene-based physical disabilities are a core part of any veterinary practice. Why would the veterinary trade associations launch a campaign to cut off their nose in order to spit their face? They wouldn't. And they haven't.

Besides, if the veterinary trade associations fired off at the Kennel Club, the Kennel Club might fire back.

Suppose the Kennel Club blew the whistle on all the price-gouging, up-coding and bogus billing going on in the veterinary trades?

Suppose the Kennel Club started telling folks how to worm their own dogs and how to give vaccines? Suppose the Kennel Club started educating folks about the nonsense called canine teeth cleaning? Where would the veterinary trades be then?

So no, the veterinarians are not going to lead the charge to reform the Kennel Club.

Instead, the veterinarians and the Kennel Club are going to start doing business with each other.

This is called cross-marketing.

The Kennel Club now promotes Kennel Club-friendly veterinarians to help vets generate new business.

For their part, veterinarians never warn prospetive clients off of a breed, not do they mention that there are entire canine web sites organized around breeds-by-disease.

And, of course, both sides love pet insurance. What a great product that is! It means veterinarians can charge their customers more without guilt, while the economic pressure to reform defective Kennel Club breeding practices will be lifted a little bit.

Plus, the pet insurance companies will pay kickbacks for referrals!

And so the Kennel Club "religion," which is based on the failed eugenics theories of the 19th Century, continues unreformed.

And have no illusion: If reform ever does come, it will not come easily. What religious reformation ever has?

But, of course, do you really trust any religion that remains unreformed?

"Mrs Shortley looked at the priest and was reminded that these people did not have an advanced religion. There was no telling what all they believed since none of the foolishness had been reformed out of it."
. . . .- Flannery O'Connor, "The Diplaced Person"


_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

A HAT TIP to Pat Nolan over at his dog training blog for pointing me to The Canadian Veterinary Journal article that this post bounces off of.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Those Clever Humane Societies!

The November 1937 issue of Popular Science featured this upbeat article about how the clever folks at the humane society in Washington, D.C. had managed to invent a kill room on wheels. Now those pesky dogs did not even have to go back to the shelter at all -- the dog catcher could just kill them on the way to the dump. And they talk about German engineering!

Increasing the speed and efficiency of dog killing is still a core part of the business plan of the American "humane movement. To read more, see >> Beyond the Blue Solution of Dog Shelter Death

Just before Christmas, the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control and department Director Marcia Mayeda were sued by the No Kill Advocacy Center which alleges the LA animal shelter:

4Kills healthy and treatable animals before their state mandated holding period;
4Kills lost animals without making reasonable attempts to find the animal's owners;
4Fails to provide adequate veterinary care to impounded animals, and;
4Fails to provide adequate nutrition, shelter and exercise to animals.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Ricky Scaggs & James Taylor: New Star Shining

'New Star Shining' is sung here by the James Taylor and Ricky Scaggs.

A bit of trivial pursuit: this song was written by John Hall, who was a co-founder of the band Orleans, but is now a Democratic Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Writing for Reading

This web site supposedly tells you the "reading level" of your blog.

Reading level is not quite what it would seem. If you are writing too fancy, a lot of folks will not understand what you are saying.

In addition, a lot of folks with very little to say dress up their deficiencies by using big worlds and writing long sentences and long paragraphs.

On the other end of the scale, if your prose gets too simple and stilted, it may read as boring and juvenile as a Dick-and-Jane book.

Supposedly, the rule of thumb is to strive for about a sixth to eighth grade reading level.

In short, I appear to be hitting the mark. Not that I was trying. I just believe in declarative sentences like "Call me Ismael."

A few random bits and bobs on literacy in America:

  • The 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey of the National Center for Education Statistics found that "Nearly 50% of the Americans surveyed cannot read well enough to find a single piece of information in a short publication, nor can they make low level inferences based on what they read."

  • About one in every four Americans (25%) is a high school dropout.

  • About half (45%) have gone to college for some period of time, but fewer than one in six (15%) have a college degree
Below, we have the pretty, talented, and not-well-educated Kellie Pickler summarizing it all for us on the television show "Are you smarter than a Fifth Grader?"


"A" is for appalachia, and "B" is for blonde.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Captain Kangaroo and Dolly Parton

The late Bob Keeshan, aka "Captain Kangaroo" was also a great lover of Jack Russell Terriers, and (I am told) a member of the JRTCA.

This poor-quality video shows Bob introducing another national treasure, Dolly Parton, who sings "Cracker Jack." Knowing Keeshan's love of dogs, it would not surprise me to find that Dolly picked this song out of her repertoire just for him. The fact that it would appeal to kids too, probably did not hurt. Come to think of it, "Cracker" is not too bad a name for a white Jack Russell.

Captain Kangaroo debuted on CBS television in 1955 and ran for 30 years before moving to public television for six more. Bob Keeshan died in 2004 at the age of 76.

A bit of trivial pursuit: Before playing Captain Kangaroo, Bob played the original "Clarabell the Clown" on the Howdy Doody television program from 1948-1952

Michael Vick Finds God (and is HE pissed)

Faith of our (Founding) Fathers

This country is ripe for a good old fashioned religious war, and thanks to the GOP, which has spent the last few years demanding that political candidates wear their religious beliefs on their sleeve, we may yet get it. What a wonderful Christmas present.

"Live by Anne Coulter, die by Anne Coulter," that's what I say.

The first volley might have been fired on the New York subway the other day when a man was physically attacked for replying "Happy Hanukkah" when someone else wished him "Merry Christmas."

Happy Hanukkah?

Those are fighting words!

Or at least they are if you are an idiot, and get all your news from Bill O'Reilly.

And so the nice Christian Boys threw down and started beating up the Jew until a Muslim fellow from Bangladesh stepped in to come to the Jewish fellow's rescue!

A Muslim guy stepped in to end the fight? Unbelievable sounding, but true.

In this twisted world, the ultimate irony is that the only "good Christian" left on a New York City train was a Muslim.

Go figure.

Meanwhile Mike Huckabee is standing firm in his disbelief in evolution.

Science? Science is for the Godless heathens -- you know, those damn foreigners who make all that stuff we like to buy at WalMart.

And never forget, says Huckabee, that life starts at conception.

Does that mean he's opposed to birth control? That's the rumor. But who knows?

Just imagine a tidal wave of Jamie Lynn Spears' trying to home-school their kids based on a fundamentalist educational doctrine that says evolution does not occur. Woooeee. I see no problems for the nation there!

And maybe that will not happen under Huckabee. He seems more rational than that. More to be revealed, no doubt.

Not crazy to be concerned, though, is it?

And then you have Mitt Romney, who took to the airwaves to pay homage to the "faith of his father," which resulted in the over-caffeinated and under-medicated Lawrence O'Donnell (one of the star's of HBO's TV series Big Love) ripping a hole in the studied civility (cough, cough) of The McLaughlin Group.

My favorite part is when the slightly-dim Eleanor Clift tries to smooth things over by noting that the long history of Mormon biggotry is no big deal.

Never mind, suggests Eleanor through omission, that we would never even consider a candidate that was a member of a country club that excluded blacks and women. A church is (somehow) different.

So what if Romney is a card-carrying member of a religion that kept out blacks until Romney himself was well past the age of 30?

The always-liberal Eleanor Clift is so terrified of calling a spade a spade that she tries to rationalize away true racism in the Mormon church for fear of offending anyone, noting that "every religion has had its scandals."

To which the former Catholic priest John McLaughlin asks "is that a crack about the Inquisition?" To which Eleanor Clift notes that the Catholic Church has had more recent scandals than that (i.e. a reference to pedophile priests).

Whoooeee. You cannot make this kind of stuff up.

Fight, fight, fight!

Of course, no one is even mentioning the abortion-defending, wife-cheating philanderer Rudy Giuiliani.

There's no question he's Godless enough for the most die-hard lefty Granola-eating-pagan-dope-smoker. And he's a gun-grabber too, God bless him. Perfect!

Then to take it across the aisle, you have Hillary Clinton, a Methodist who seems to carry a pair of heavy hands with her in the political ring, and who is only too happy to have surrogates (including husband Bill) run down the opposition, especially Barrack Obama.

And don't think folks haven't noticed.

Yesterday, nationally acclaimed documentary film maker Ken Burns (of The Civil War fame) endorsed Barack Obama for President after watching Hillary in action.

Ken, who had planned to stay neutral in the race, said that the Clinton campaign's attacks on Barack Obama prompted him to declare his support for Obama.

Ken says he thinks Barack is the only candidate in the race who can put an end to the "slash-and-burn character attacks" that have prevented progress on the challenges we face as a nation.

Noting Obama's judgment and courage, Burns said we need "a leader who calls upon each and every one of us to heed the 'better angels of our nature' and not our basest fears. Barack Obama will be that kind of president. It is time for a real change."

So there it is. Ken Burns thinks Obama is the only real Christian running. And I'm not saying he's wrong, either.

Ken may very well be right.

After all, Obama is not just a regular church-goer, he's also living the word. As the conservative blogger Mark Finkelstein notes:

"When David Gregory grilled Hillary Clinton on Today on December 17th, the challenges to her came from his own mouth. Not once was a statement by Barack Obama used to confront Clinton.

But when Barack Obama made back-to-back appearances this morning on Today and Morning Joe, again and again tough questions were posed not in the first person but as coming from Hillary Clinton or her surrogates."

In short, there is little or no video of Obama talking evil about others, and no shortage of those clips coming from Hillary.

Bottom line: Pay attention, and people will tell you who they are.

Pay attention to what people do, and you will know a great deal about them.

By watching, you can sometimes learn more than by listening.

Or, as Thomas Jefferson of Virginia so eloquently put it:

“Say nothing of my religion. It is known to God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life: if it has been honest and dutiful to society, the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one.”


Let us put our faith in that.

Let us watch how people have acted in their life.

Let us judge their faith on action, because faith without action is no faith at all. It is merely rhetoric.

And God knows, we have had our fill of that!.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

One More Promise to Keep

Trooper is getting old.

His teeth are like broken piano keys, pushed to destruction in part by his propensity to chew on rocks when he was younger, and his penchant in old age for chewing on cedar mulch and hickory sticks. He gets a rawhide chew every day, but it only takes him a minute or two to wolf that down, and then he is back to his sticks and mulch. There is no stopping him.

Trooper has always been a big Border Terrier -- a 15-inch tall dog with an 18-inch chest when he was in working condition -- bigger now. His sire and half-brother were the #1 Border Terriers in America in their day, but I do not think either one of them saw a single day of honest work underground in the field.

Trooper saw more than a little though, didn't he?

His claim to fame is not that he was led around on a string at the Westminster Dog Show, but that he has worked every kind of critter found to ground in our area.

Trooper has always been too big, but he made up for it with a fire called desire. And despite all, he did got in some pretty tight holes in his day.

But, of course, he also did not get in a lot of holes too. He was just too big. He had to be rescued at times when he got stuck underground.

Such are the trials and tribulations of an over-large working terrier.

Troopers' last day in the field was almost his last day on earth. I do not talk about that injury very much, because such injuries are rare and as a general rule they should be kept private.

But I have been asked about Trooper in an email, and so I will respond here, because there is no shame in the story, only deep regret.

For the record, it was a serious injury -- the kind of thing that happens so rarely as to be a freak occurrence.

But, of course freak occurrences occur all the time to dogs, don't they? Ask any vet who has treated a dog impaled on a steel picket while trying to jump a fence.

Ask any vet how many balls, socks, and Christmas ornaments he or she has had to surgically remove from canine stomachs.

Bad things happen to good dogs all the time -- dogs that never left the couch but once to run out the door to be struck by a car.

Only one bad thing ever happened to Trooper. And, for the record, it happened while he was doing something he loved.

The problem with Trooper, to be honest, has always been Trooper.

If you forgive him his size, he is a wonderful dog in so many ways: gentle, kind, obedience, loyal, mellow and smart.

Yet, Trooper is also as hard as a cut nail.

I have seen a fair number of terriers at work in the field, but I have never seen a dog harder than Trooper.

This is said as a regret. If you have a really hard dog, regret is always a cloud looming on the horizon.

I myself do not value a hard dog. I know some who do, and each to his own. I have had a very hard dog, and I do not want another.

Of course, hard is as hard does. I always said Sailor was a soft dog, and as a consequence some folks expressed genuine surprise to see her ever go teeth-in to quarry. In their mind, a hard dog was any dog that used its teeth, and a "soft dog" would only bay.

Such is the world of theory. In the real world, dogs are not quite so easily divided, are they?

Most working terriers learn to mix it up and to differentiate butt from breath. A really hard dog, however, does not.

That is what I call a hard dog. It is a dog that is always dead-silent and teeth-on from the beginning to the end.

Trooper was such a dog.

A truly hard dog is like a boxer who only knows how to hit. Feint? Weave? Back up? Duck? Use psychology? The hitter knows none of that. He thinks boxing is all about hitting, and so all he does is hit, and he has a very short career in the ring as a consequence.

The same is true, in my experience, for a really hard dog. These dogs have no reverse. If they meet a tough and toothy thing in a hole, they do not care.

It is well positioned behind a rock? So what? It can slash and rip with impunity? No matter.

The hard dog simply pushes forward, and tries to make the impossible turn in the pipe in order to bite harder -- never mind the incredible punishment it is going to take for all its futile efforts.

A hard dog is not necessarily stupid.

Trooper is hard, and brilliant. He is a very biddable dog. He is smarter than most of the people I know.

But Trooper is a hard dog.

A hard dog can be an asset in some situations, but in truth not nearly as often as its owner might wish.

A shovel and a pole snare do better work at the end of a dig than any hard dog, and they are a lot cheaper to feed and maintain as well.

A hard dog does fine in some situations, but in hard soil and small earths with formidable well-placed quarry, the odds swing in the other direction.

The odds swing, but the dog cannot swing with them. The hard dog has no change-up to throw in this ball game. He only knows how to double down with a losing hand.

And so that is what he does, and tragedy is too often the result.

Of course, some people tell a different story. Like the boxing promoter who says "this new hitter is so hard and fast he cannot be matched or damaged," they will say their dog is the exception. Their dog will not get seriously damaged.

And perhaps it won't. If a hard dog is only worked in soft ground, and a truly bad location never presents itself, it may escape a wreck.

Similarly, if a dog is not worked too often, it may win the roll of the dice and come out hand-high every time. A hitter can win ever fight if he does not box too often, or too long.

Whatever. Each to his own. Perhaps others can get by with a hard dog. I could not.

Of course, my beliefs are shaped by my experience, and my experience is shaped by the land and the wildlife on it.

I dig in the Eastern U.S. where our pipes are tight, our ground is often very hard, and our quarry is so common as to be available year-round and without interruption.

Put all that together, and then go out 20 or 30 times a year digging on three or four critters an outing, and a hard dog's odds begin to slip south over time.

The most damage my dogs have ever taken has not come from fox or raccoon, but from the lowly groundhog. Part of this is a function of numbers; lots of groundhogs. Part of the equation is a matter of demeanor; a groundhog will stand back in silence, and the dog does not always know where it is. A well-placed groundhog can open up a lip faster than it takes to say it.

A groundhog may not look like much, but it is not a soft target. Groundhog skulls are as thick as a skillet, and the animal has no neck at all. And, as impossible as it sounds, even a 10-pound groundhog cannot be pulled from a tight pipe in hard earth by a very strong 15-pound terrier. I am 200 pounds, and not all lard, and it is no easy thing for me to tail out a groundhog. They do not "go gentle into that good night."

As for teeth, a groundhog's are like wood chisels. And though the jaw is not deep, the bite is powerful and crushing. If a groundhog gets situated in the right location, head out, a dog's only smart strategy is to stand back and bay.

Which is what most terriers do -- one reason serious damage to working terriers is not all that common. Most of the time my dogs come away unscathed, and the more experience they have in the field, the less likely they are to see damage.

The occasional small lip rip still occurs, of course, but those tend to heal up in a few weeks. They are expected -- part of the bump and grind of terrier work.

Trooper's wreck was something altogether different.

Oddly, Trooper's last groundhog was not a large one; only 10 pounds I think.

In fact, the relatively small size of this fellow -- coupled with Trooper's oversized frame -- was probably what contributed to the situation.

Trooper had hammered himself into a too tight pipe following this groundhog, and he could not move forward or backwards. In the end, while both Trooper and the groundhog could both bite each other, the groundhog could move around a bit, while Trooper was pinned in the earth like a bug on a board.

Before he died, the groundhog managed to work his curved chisel-like teeth up under Trooper's lip where he carved upward, cutting away gum and connecting tissue that lay underneath. Somehow, the groundhog managed to go around the muzzle like a paring knife loosening a grapefruit skin. The end result was not dramatic from a quick glance at the outside, but it was devastating on the inside.

When I finally dug down to them, the groundhog was stone dead, but Trooper could not stand up to get up out of the hole. He appeared to be in shock. I could tell Trooper was in a world of hurt, and I did not waste time examining him too much. Instead, I loading him up and sped him to the vet. There, it was quickly apparent what the problem was -- Trooper's maxilla could be lifted up entirely off his face like the bonnet of a car. The skin on his muzzle lifted up from a hinge just below his eye. This was a devastating injury -- far worse than it looked from the outside -- and in the end it cost me $3,000 to get Trooper's face sewn back on.

Trooper and I were fortunate in that one of the top five maxilla surgeons in the United States was nearby, and he came in -- on a holiday -- just to work on Trooper.

Three days after his surgery, I took Trooper home. I had to feed him through a tube in his neck for the next two weeks.

Trooper recovered pretty quickly both spiritually and emotionally. Physically, however, he has never been quite the same old dog.

The surgeon sewed Trooper's face back on slightly crooked, and one tooth peaks out from under his front lip if you look at him straight on.

Trooper's nose is still there, but it's as hard as an olive pit, and as wrinkled as a prune.

More seriously, the groundhog's bite crushed one of Trooper's sinus cavities, and as a result Trooper snorts. In winter he is prone to colds because things don't drain quite right. He sneezes a lot.

And yet, Trooper is a happy dog.

If health is to be judged by a wag of the tail and the full-on charge to the food bowl, Trooper is in fine fettle.

He is the first dog at the door to greet me in the evening, and he is the loudest barker in the pack if a stranger comes up the driveway.

And Trooper's basic good nature has not changed. He is still as loyal and obedient as any dog I have owned, and he will give you an honest grin even when you don't have a bit of food to share.

But, though Trooper is more than willing, I have never hunted him again. Not after the wreck.

Trooper does not quite understand why the other dogs get to hunt, but he does not. He sniffs at the other dogs when they return from the field, and he can smell the story on them: dirt and vine, groundhog and skunk, raccoon and possum, fox and deer.

He knows.

He knows what he is missing, but I am in charge of things, and it's been my job to balance his longevity against his biggest joy in life.

Perhaps now, however, in Trooper's old age, it is time to reassess that balance.

After all, Trooper is old now.

He does not have too much time left.

Over the course of the last 7 years, I have allowed him to get a little fatter than I did when he worked. I do not strip him out as much.

He does not have the muscle on him he once did, but he is still very mobile, and his eyes are still clear.

His heart is still willing, and I think his body is able.

His rear section is not as strong as it was. That is true.

And this winter his sinuses seem to be having a particularly hard time staying clear.

Trooper has several lipomas as well -- flat fatty tumors -- on his stomach. They are doing him no harm, but they are not a good sign either. There is nothing to be done about them, but they are more evidence that the clock is ticking and the sand is running out of the glass. I know it, and I think Trooper does too.

There is an arc to a life, and you do not need to be a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows. Even a dog knows when his clock starts to wind down.

And so I think it is nearly time to pay off my promise to Trooper.

You see, back when I took Trooper out of the field after his wreck, I promised him once last hunt. I do not know if Trooper will be here next year, or whether he will be able to work.

"Maybe" is my answer to the first question. "I doubt it" is my answer to the second.

And so, if Trooper has one hunt left in him, this winter is his time.

And it will be fox.

One last flash of red fur on white snow. One last taste of life as God intended. There is, after all, more to life than longevity. The dogs have taught me that, if they have taught me nothing else.

So I will let this old dog -- my old friend -- have one last taste of his youth before time hunts him down. He will go to earth one last time, of course, but before that fateful day he deserves to have one more day in the field as the hero of his own story.

That was the promise. And that is the promise I will keep.


Earth Dog - Running Dog Magazine

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why There are So Few Yellow Dog Republicans

Have you ever noticed that there are "Yellow Dog Democrats" and "Blue Dog Democrats", but no Republican dogs of any kind?

It turns out that may not be a coincidence!

The article below is from today's edition of The New York Times:

It’s No Longer a Dog’s World
By Marc Santora

There is a tired line that if a politician wants a friend in Washington, he should get a dog.

That advice may need some rethinking, (especially for the dog), what with the bizarre stories that continue to surface about the Republican candidates and their troubled relations with the canine community.

First, it was discovered that Mitt Romney once strapped the family pooch, Seamus, on top of his car on a family trip, a scene that calls to mind Chevy Chase’s carelessness in the movie “Vacation.”

And then there was the revelation that Rudolph W. Giuliani’s wife, Judith, once worked for a company that killed puppies in the testing of medical equipment.

Now, Newsweek reports that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s son David, at 17, was kicked out of a Boy Scout camp in Hatfield, Ark. after allegations surfaced that he was involved in the hanging of a dog, killing it.

The magazine article raises questions about whether Mr. Huckabee improperly used his office to squash calls for a police investigation, which the candidate’s campaign disputed. Mr. Huckabee told Newsweek that “his son did not engage in ‘intentional torture.’ ”

“There was a dog that apparently had mange and was absolutely, I guess, emaciated,” he told the magazine. The article also quotes a campaign official as saying David Huckabee “regrets” what happened but points out that he later made Eagle Scout.

Eagle Scout, eh? So that knot really held, huh?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Coffee and Provocation

Real Dog Armour:
Mountain would look so cool in this. And yes, it can be ordered! I want. Or at least the dogs do. For barn work. Cut collars are so girly in comparison. Thanks to Steve Bodio at Querencia for this one! For $100 or so, Mountain could get a backplate. I'm just saying ...

D*ckless Wonders:
"D*ckless wonders" is not an editorial comment -- that's simply a statement of fact. A couple of folks sent this to me, and then it appeared on Querencia too. It's still too good not to blog again here. The quotes below come from The Daily Mail:

"The proud motto of northern Europe’s crack rapid-reaction force is ad omnia paratus. Prepared for everything, everywhere. But the heraldic lion above the Latin tag now sends a less plucky message – he has just been digitally emasculated and, though technically still a lion rampant, he does not seem to be ready for anything, anywhere.

The change was implemented after a group of women Swedish soldiers protested that they could not identify with such an ostentatiously male lion on their army crest. A complaint of sex discrimination was then lodged with the European Court of Justice.

'We were forced to cut the lion’s willy off with the aid of a computer,' Christian Braunstein, from the Tradition Commission of the Swedish Army, said. Now the Nordic Battlegroup, a force of 2,400 soldiers, is looking deeply embarrassed. For sceptics who already consider the Nordic Battlegroup to be something of an oxymoron – it is led by the Swedes, who were last in battle in 1809 – the operation on the lion is not an auspicious omen.

'A castrated lion – the perfect symbol for European defence policy,' an American military blogger sneered."

Kentucky's Elk Herd at Over 7,000:
Kentucky's elk herd is at over 7,300 animals, and 400 hunting permits are being offered this year, up from 300 last year. Before the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation brought them east, the last elk has been shot out of Kentucky in 1850. They were first introduced to Kentucky back in December of 1997 and subsequent introductions have come from Kansas, Utah, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon and Arizona. Kentukcy counties in the elk restoration zone are Bell, Breathitt, Clay, Floyd, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, McCreary, Perry, Pike and Whitley. So when is this good idea going to come to Virginia?

World Record Rat and World's Smallest Possum:
In the past, this blog has noted that Science Needs More Terriermen to help discover rare and endangered species. A case in point: news comes out of Indonesia that biologists there have discovered the world's largest rat - five times the size of a typical city rat - as well as a tiny possum that may be the smallest marsupial in the world. If they would send a terrierman, perhaps these things could be found so much earlier!


Super Cool


Front Yard Wildlife

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Coffee and Provocation

Worst Messaging on Global Warming:
An email from John Robert F. Kennedy Jr. sent to me by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee begins: "Where I live in upstate New York, I've recently seen robins and bluebirds show up in the middle of winter. And this past January, a friend of mine ate asparagus he harvested in the Catskills, which are normally frozen this time of year. Global warming is no longer a distant threat." Robins, bluebirds and edible asparagus are a threat? I've always thought of them as a benefit. And yes, that was the entire case statement of the problem: the rest was a pitch to send money.

The First Church of Global Warming:
The Daily Mail reports, without a hint of irony, that Pope Benedict XVI has "launched an attack on climate change prophets of doom, warning them that any solutions to global warming must be based on firm evidence and not on dubious ideology." The Mail goes on to note that the Pope says it is vital that the international community "base its policies on science rather than dogma." Ri-iiight. A lecture on science not dogma from the Pope? Thanks for sharing Benny!

Remind Me to Never Drink from a Glass in a Hotel Room:
I am hardly a finicky person, but this one makes me shudder just a little bit. And what about the sheets?

Live in Paris for Under $100,000:
The wife and I keep turning over the idea of selling out, simplifying, and settling down. Or as we like to put it: "Life is short, let's enjoy it." Towards that end, I spend a little time every week looking at "real-estate porn" just to see what's out there. My last great find was a huge lovely brick mansion with a lovely yard a spectacular inside (all designed by Walt Disney's father) in Missouri for about $270,000. This week, I found a place in Paris that had a pretty unbelievable price attached to it. Paris, eh? Now there's a place the Misses and I could kick back in. Might even sing a song about it.

Meanwhile the Rapacious Stalk the Earth:
The greedy bastards ruining this country know no boundaries or shame. Across America, more than 2 million people are expected to end up in foreclosure because of subprime mortgage shenanigans abetted in part by by Goldman Sachs, which simultaneously flogged subprime mortgages as great investments even as their hedge funds shorted them. The payoff for Goldman Sachs: over $19 billion in profits, and an average end-of-year bonus of $600,000 for each of their 30,000 employees.

Debasing the Currency:
Good news of sorts: strippers have finally found a use for $2 bills.

The Golden Brass Compass:
A cool little web site selling brass compasses, sextants, telescopes, pirate glasses, microscopes, etc. Check it out.

In the Market for a New Car?
It's that time of year for some folks. Lots to consider, but the Honda Element got top paws over at

Barney Cam 2007:
Since two of the current occupants of the WhiteHouse are terriers, I have kept rather close watch on the "Barney Cam" videos put out at Christmas time, and I have noted that bad things happen to those who appear in them. Anyone remember Gonzalez? Gone and under investigation. How about Harriet Miers? Gone and under investigation. This year the theme is "Our National Parks." You remember our National Parks -- the ones the Bush Administration has paid so little attention to up to now, and which have an $8 billion repair backlog that remains unaddressed. President Bush begins by telling Barney and Miss Beazely they can be Junior Park Rangers. Well, actually, that might be a problem. You see, dogs are actually prohibited from most National Parks. And another thing. Showing videos of a dog playing with a Christmas tree ornaments is not a great idea unless you get free veterinary surgery? Bush's dogs have free vet care? Oh then, never mind. Carry on!


Friday, December 14, 2007

A Mobile Phone Saleman? Beautiful!

A reminder that not all that is gold glitters. Watch the judges on this one. Wales is done proud! Thanks to Teddy M. for this one.

His winning perfomance on Britain's Got Talent, can be seen here.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why Do You Think They Call It a Chow?

Coffee and Provocation

Web Sites I Bookmarked:
Strange Maps is Very Cool. Check out the cultural map of the world, the map showing how well evolution is taught in U.S. schools, the European map of blondes, the map of the world 25 million years into the future, or the Tory map of the world, the beautiful map of the shifting river bed of the Mississippi River, the bizarro tourist map of the U.S. made in Japan, or the United States of Baseball. Lots and lots more. Check it out.
4 Post Secrets is a strangely unsettling art project in which people anonymously mail their inner-most secrets on a postcard to an address in Maryland. Check it out. A hat tip to Emily K. S. for this one.
4 Found magazine is a web site/publication celebrating found stuff. A hat tip to Emily K. S. for this one too.

The Five Best Dog Books?
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Stanley Coren (author of Why Does My Dog Act That Way?) says the five best dog books are: 1) For the Love of a Dog by Patricia B. McConnell; 2) If Only They Could Speak by Nicholas H. Dodman; 3) If Dogs Could Talk by Vilmos Csányi; 4) Bones Would Rain From the Sky by Suzanne Clothier, and; 5) Always Faithful by William Putney. Others will disagree, of course. Feel free to add your recommendations in the "comments" section.
See Amazon or AbeBooks to order

Nutria are Coming to New Jersey:
Actually, they are already there. Now the push is on to wipe them out before they get a foothold. Good luck with that!

Corruption and the Endangered Species Act:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finally admitted that "sound science" has been routinely ignored when making decisions about wildlife protection under the Endangered Species Act, and it has said it will now reverse or re-examine seven decisions involving the White-tailed Prairie Dog, the Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse, the Canada Lynx, the Hawaiian Picture-wing Fly, the Arroyo Toad, the California Red-legged Frog, and the Sacramento Splittail fish. The Fish and Wildlife Service's reversal comes hard on the heels of an investigation of Julie MacDonald, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary overseeing the Fish and Wildlife Service. Ms. MacDonald was a civil engineer who routinely pressured scientists to alter their findings in order to curry favor with developers. Congressman Nicky Rahall of West Virginia, who is Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, says MacDonald "should never have been allowed near the endangered species program." Francesca Grifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists says the seven admitted instances of wrongdoing "do not begin to plumb the depths of what's wrong" at the wildlife agency and its implementation of the Endangered Species Act. A hat tip to Chris for pointing to the ESA reversal article. The U.S. Department of Interior, for the record, is a cess-pit of corruption. Look at oil and gas leases at the Minerals Management Service if you want to see billions of dollars lost from corruption and incompetence.

The Wall of Death?
John Wegner, the chief environmental officer of Emory University, has labeled the facade of the math building at his school "The Wall of Death" because 60 birds a year are killed while flying into it. Sixty birds over the course of a year is a "Wall of Death?" Please, let's not debase the language (or the cause) by flashing into hyperbole too quickly, eh? So what's Mr. Wegner's solution to the crisis? Believe it or not, it's draping mesh off the side of the Math Building for three months a year. In my opinion, this makes a horrible environmental statement, suggesting that a huge cock-a-mamie production is required to do even minimal environmental good. Don't get me wrong: I am not opposed to saving birds -- all for it in fact. But bird impacts on buildings are not a new problem and it's not one to panic about. Bird populations -- especially passerines -- rise and fall, and tend to balance themselves out. Yes, let's try to reduce bird impacts, but it's generally a good idea to innovate rather than hyperventilate. David Sibley is trying to do that. He has posted a nice couple of pieces about his experiments with low-cost bird-proofing which is based on the theory that birds can see UV wavelengths pretty well. He's clearly got an idea here, and since Emory is a University, how about throwing that building-drapery money towards a couple of Chemistry Department geeks who can be detailed to coming up with a spray-on UV-bright window coating? A hat tip to Marie E. for sending me the Emory article.

North Carolina to Allow Sunday Falconry/Hawking:
It look like North Carolina is going to allow Sunday falconry. Under "Justification" for the rule change, the North Carolina Wildlife Commission notes: "The Commission has the legal authority to allow falconry on Sundays, and there is no biological reason to maintain the current prohibition. " To which I would only add: "Damn straight, and let's get it on." The propensity to legislate without a reason is the Mother of the Devil. How many falconers are there in North Carolina? About as many working terrier enthusiasts, I would venture. They can do no harm to anything. In fact, artisan hunters of all kinds (bow and arrow hunters included) should be encouraged and dropping all restrictions on Sunday hunting (where they still exist) is a good first step. A hat tip to Moose Droppings
for this one.

Exactly What Does the Windows Key Do?
It's down there on the left side of your keyboard -- the one you ignore. Is it just branding? No, actually. Press it and it opens up the "Start Menu." Press it and "E" at the same time, and you get Windows Explorer. Press it and "F" at the same time, and your computer will start the search menu for files on your computer. Press is and "L" and your computer will log you off. Now you know. Thus endeth this useless lesson.