Friday, March 30, 2012

Invasion of the Body Snatchers



This 15-foot 3-inch Burmese Python was caught and killed March 21, 2012 in Picayune State Forest, Florida.

Fish On Fridays



This is a rotating global map of ocean currents done by NASA.

It's worth taking just a second to think of this amazing, pulsating world.

The ground itself literally boils with activity as worms, groundhogs, moles, fox, and all sorts of insects large and small turn the soil.

The winds sweeps down from the mountains, over the ridges, across the plains, and out into the oceans, pushing waves, large and small, on rivers, ponds, lakes and oceans.

Cold fronts slam into warm fronts, and the energy of a thousand atom bombs is released as rain.

Wildlife migrates over the land, with elephants, wildebeests, zebra, bear, caribou, elk and pronghorn traveling from feeding ground to calving ground, and back again.

In the oceans, a million tons of squid rise and fall with every rise and fall of the moon and the sun, while vast numbers of anchovies, herring, shark, tuna and tarpon circle our ocean basins. Seal, walrus, turtles, whales and even penguins migrate through these water as well.

In the sky, vast flocks of birds fly north to south, with some literally journeying right around the world, summering with polar bears and wintering with lions.

The world boils with life.
.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Earl Scruggs Stands for Peace



This was Earl in Washington, D.C. excercising his freedom to protest a war without end, for a purpose that was never made clear.

Earl Scruggs was never afraid. He was never afraid of the long-haired hippies, or the electric guitars, or standing quietly for common sense and decency. Let's remember that Earl.

.

UKC Gets on the Breed Health Bandwagon

The UK Kennel Club is very slowly getting on the bandwagon for breed health, and now the United Kennel Club (UKC) is following the "better health" push and will change some breed standards and stress health as a judging requirement.

As the UKC notes on a post on its web site this morning:

The United Kennel Club, Inc., is first and foremost a worldwide registry of purebred dogs, but we feel our moral duty to the canine world goes beyond maintaining data. We are alarmed by the paths of exaggeration that many breeds have taken, all of which directly affect the health, function and performance of those breeds. It is an elemental fact that these breed changes have developed unchecked as a result of fads and fancies, as well as a lack of accountability on the part of breeders, owners and judges.

UKC feels something must be done to address this problem, and we are willing to do our part, hoping the canine world will follow suit. Toward that end, we have decided to revise all of our breed standards to reflect that goal. Breed standards are viewed as a blueprint to which dogs are to be bred. UKC believes that breed standards are more than that, and we will be including directives to breeders, judges and owners.

All of our breed standards will now include the following introductory statement: “The goals and purposes of this breed standard include: to furnish guidelines for breeders who wish to maintain the quality of their breed and to improve it; to advance this breed to a state of similarity throughout the world; and to act as a guide for judges. Breeders and judges have the responsibility to avoid any conditions or exaggerations that are detrimental to the health, welfare and soundness of this breed, and must take the responsibility to see that these are not perpetuated. Any departure from the following should be considered a fault, and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog and on the dog’s ability to perform its traditional work.”

In addition, each breed standard will be updated to include problems specific to that breed in order to clarify the direction to be taken when they are encountered.

The UKC, of course, is the second largest dog registry in the US -- about half the size of the AKC, and centered on honest working dogs such as coonhhounds and field dogs, but it also runs its own dog shows and has all breeds, including such notable wrecks disappointments as the English Bulldog. 

The UKC is owned and managed by Wayne Cavanaugh, who used to work for the American Kennel Club and who owns an aged Border Terrier.  Oddly enough, the Border Terrier is the same breed owned by former UK Kennel Club Chairman  Ronnie Irving  and current UK Kennel Club chairman Steve Dean, and a breed I myself owned for 30 years (and which I also worked).   Almost one year ago now, I posted a brief history of the UKC asking whether the UKC would lead the charge for better health in the world of dogs:

The UKC is certainly better poised to lead in the world of dogs than the AKC is -- they are not quite as encumbered with the yoke of sniffing social pretensions as the AKC, and their members are more likely to value the work of dogs, and not just the ribbons. That said, leadership starts with action.

The good news is that the decision to engage in action sits squarely on the shoulders of one person, Wayne Cavanaugh, who owns the UKC (a for-profit company) outright. Cavanaugh is a former AKC Vice President and is said to be smart and charming. But he is also, without a doubt, a pretty good businessman. Would dropping English Bulldogs from the registry or promoting performance cross-breeds be a good business decision? Would deviating in any substantive way from AKC and Kennel Club breed standards and closed-registry tradition mean a steep and marked decline in UKC dual-registered dogs? You see, things are not simple and straight if you are running a business -- and all canine registries, whether they are for-profit or are "non-profit" are businesses.

So will the UKC lead? Time will tell, and we shall see.

And time has told. A first step is being taken. Let us all applaud, even as we note the enormous difference in response between the UKC and the AKC.   For the AKC's response see:  Dennis Sprung is Baghdad Bob of the AKC.
.

Pups Not Payola


A hat tip to Mark B. for sending this one!
.

Thank You Earl Scruggs



Earl Scruggs has died at age 88. Here is is, stage center, the man who invented American banjo music, a God to those of us who loved bluegrass. Jerry Douglas is on Dobro (the greatest Dobro player that has ever lived) and Steve Martin (a top professional-quality banjo player in his own right) joins along with Vince Gill and Albert Lee on electric, Marty Stewart on mando, and Leon Russell on organ. Goodbye Earl, and thanks for the tunes and showing two generations of bluegrass, newgrass and stainedgrass musicians how to do it with style and humility.
.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When "Death Squads for Cattle" Saved America



So how did the Dust Bowl end?

Three words: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

When FDR ran for president, he seemed an unlikely savior: a rich dilettante with a funny accent, a withered body, and cigarettes he smoked from a holder.

But Roosevelt had a message and a cause: the "forgotten man" — the broken farmer in the West, the apple vendor hawking his wares for a nickle in in Manhattan, the Chicago and St. Louis factory worker now hitting the rails looking for work.

Roosevelt knew what had broken America: unfettered greed and a herd mentality that made prices too low for farmers to make a living.

Unregulated banking had left depositors banging on doors to empty buildings. Flashy brochures had sold both deserts and swamps as perfect locations for homes and the result was that both lives and land had been ruined in the process. It was time for a cool head, and a little rational government organization and intervention.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt said he was the man for that job.

In November of 1932, FDR carried all but six states, and those he failed to carry were mostly small New England states that were not too hard hit by the Depression.

When FDR came through the door to the Oval Office, he faced a mountain of problems:  an economy in ruins, Mother Nature in full riot, and a government that seemed to be without rudder or clue.  Herbert Hoover, the Republican President who had fiddled while the Great Plains blew away, the stock market collapsed, jobs withered on the vine, banks collapsed, and home equity disappeared said, on his last day in office, "We have done all that we can do. There is nothing more to be done."

But of course, America was not defeated.  All the U.S. needed was a little common sense and a little clear-eyed governing.  Into the fray rolled a decisive Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a man with bold ideas, clear plans, and a mandate to put them in motion.

First up was the Emergency Banking Bill which was signed into law just eight hours after it was introduced.  By the end of Roosevelt's first week in office, bank deposits exceeded withdrawals. A few months later, this bill was further strengthened by adding provisions that insured individual deposits up to ten thousand dollars.

Next up was saving the farm.  To do that, farming had to be profitable again.  As Roosevelt never tired of pointing out, America knew how to grow food.  In fact, American farmers were so damn good at it, that while farmers were producing record crops, they also saw an 80% decline in income due to over-production. What was needed was a stabilizing force on farm prices said Roosevelt. Just as a horse pulling a plow needed a bridle, so too did the Heavy Horse of capitalism. With a little restrain and a little guidance, that which could easily kill a farmer could be harnessed and made to serve him.

In the second year of FDR's first term, he sent government-sanctioned death squads to the Great Plains with a plan to buy and kill as many farm animals as possible.

The simple fact of the matter was that stock eradication was the only way forward for both farmer and animal.  Most of the cows and horses on the Great Plains could not be sold as they were now in such poor condition that no one on earth would buy then.

Overproduction of wheat, as well as too many cows and horses, had left the ground eroded and broken.  The wretched-looking cattle that still dotted the prairie were little more than bags of skin and bones outlined in ribs.  The horses were scabby with sores, their teeth shattered and their lips bleeding from gnawing on fence posts.  Cattle and horses alike had lungs that were packed with dust.

A bullet to the brain was not animal cruelty; it was blessed relief for animals that had no other hope.

Over the next year the U.S. Government bought eight million cattle and many horses in an effort to bring up stock prices so that farmers could feed their families.

The cattle the Government did buy up were often worthless. Nearly one in three were shot and tipped into a ditch to rot, their bodies too thin for even the starving locals to bone out for a single steak.

Land that had rippled with grass and run riot with millions of wild bison just 50 year earlier, was now broken and blowing away, much of it devoid of all vegetation and unable to support even a single domestic cow.

Along with payments to reduce farm stock, the Roosevelt Administration began making payments to get people to move to move out of really hard-hit areas.

Just as the Government and the railroads had once subsidized immigration to the U.S. and colonization of the Great Plains, they now paid for people to move away from Texas panhandle, eastern Colorado, Oklahoma and western Kansas. This was not land for potato farmers and get-rich-quick men. There was an over-shoot of people said the Government, and the way back to economic and land health was to reduce the number of humans as well as the number of cattle.

All of this was a massive help to turning things around, but the single greatest long-term force in ending the Dust Bowl and reshaping American agriculture came in the person of Hugh Bennett, someone most Americans have never heard of.

Hugh Bennett was an American original -- a big, friendly man who could shoe a horse, paint a barn, and fix a tractor, even as he spoke clearly and simply about his new theory to turn the land around.

What was wrong, said Bennett, was what we had done to the land, especially in the Plains.  The land had been fine for 2 million years as a cover of native grass for migrating buffalo, but we had got it ruined it in less than 50 by turning the grass "wrong side up" and putting too many domestic cattle out to graze in permanent pasture. 

Bennett thought it might be possible to turn things around, but it was going to be tough to pull it out of dive when things were going down so fast, and we were already so close to the ditch.

Bennett's radical plan was for the government to buy a million acres of land in the worst-hit sections of the of prairie states so that the land could be "haired over" with tough grass seeds imported from Africa.  A new grassland had to be made (or restored), and it had to be done at a scale that had never been done before. It might be too late, of course, but the only way forward was to try, and once it was accomplished, to let the land rest for perhaps decades... or even longer.

In places where the land was a little less ruined, Hugh Bennett thought better farm practices might be enough to turn things around:  contour plowing, winter ground cover, cover strips to hold the soil in place.

Bennett found a friend and believer in FDR. Roosevelt felt if the Plains could be saved, then Hugh Bennett was the man to do it.
.
Black Sunday, 1935.

On April 14, 1935, the biggest dust storm in U.S. history hit the prairie states, pushing a tower of dirt more than two miles into the air, and moving 300,000 tons of topsoil towards the east coast. 

This was "Black Sunday" -- the day the wind moved more dirt in a single afternoon than was dug by an army of machines toiling for over seven years to build the Panama Canal.

On April 19, 1935, five days after Black Sunday, Hugh Bennett was in Room 333 of the Russell Senate Office Building (then simply called the Senate Office Building) pushing for land conservation. 

As Timothy Egan notes in The Worst Hard Time:

He began with the charts, the maps, the stories of what soil conservation could do, and a report on Black Sunday. The senators listened, expressions of boredom on the faces of some. An aide whispered into Big Hugh's ear. "It's coming."

Bennett told how he learned about terracing at an early age, about how the old ground on his daddy's place in North Carolina was held in place by a simple method that most country farmers learned when they were young. And did he mention—yes, again—that an inch of topsoil can blow away in an hour, but it takes a thousand years to restore it? Think about that equation. A senator who had been gazing out the window interrupted Bennett. "It's getting dark outside."

The senators went to the window. Early afternoon in mid-April, and it was getting dark. The sun over the Senate Office Building vanished. The air took on a copper hue as light filtered through the flurry of dust. For the second time in two years, soil from the southern plains fell on the capital. This time it seemed to take its cue from Hugh Bennett. The weather bureau said it had originated in No Man's Land. "This, gentlemen, is what I'm talking about," said Bennett. "There goes Oklahoma." Within a day, Bennett had his money and a permanent agency to restore and sustain the health of the soil. When Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act, it marked the first time any nation had created such a unit.

To force prices up enough for farmers to make a living, Roosevelt had the government buy surplus corn, beans, and flour, and distribute it to the needy.

Over six million pigs were slaughtered, and the meat given to relief organizations.

Crops were plowed into the ground — like slitting your wrist, to some farmers. In the South, when horses were first directed to the fields to rip out cotton, they balked. Next year, the government would ask cattlemen and wheat growers to reduce supply in return for cash. Hoover had been leery of meddling with the mechanics of the free market. Under Roosevelt, the government was the market. The Agricultural Adjustment Act created the framework, and the Civilian Conservation Corps drummed up the foot soldiers. They would try to stitch the land back together. Build dams, bridges. Restore forests. Keep water from running away. Build trails in the mountains, roads on the prairie, lakes and ponds.

In May, Roosevelt signed a bill giving two hundred million dollars to help farmers facing foreclosure. Now, before some nester's land could be taken to satisfy a bank loan, there was a place of last resort.

That summer, FDR launched the Second Hundred Days, signing into law the Social Security Act so that the crushing cycle of old age poverty that had bedeviled mankind since the beginning, might end.

Next up was the Works Progress Administration to fund the building of roads, schools, bridges and parks, and the National Labor Relations Act, which enshrined union rights in the workplace even as it outlawed wildcat strikes that could cripple the economy.

And what was the result?

Things turned around. Farm economies began to improve with incomes 50 percent higher, and crop prices up 66 percent since Herbert Hoover's last day in office.

Money flowed back into the banks. People slowly returned to work.

Roosevelt took credit, and the American people gave him credit, but the Supreme Court disagreed, stepping in to say that government control of the American farm economy was unconstitutional. The government could not be the market.

Sound familiar?

Of course, today we do have price supports and market-making for all kinds of agricultural products.

The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers every year to leave over 30 million acres fallow -- land that supports fox, deer, quail, pheasant, sage grouse, and turkey, as well as scores of millions of song birds.

Social Security is the primary source of income for most Americans in retirement. If you are lucky enough to have gone to college, it's probably because your parents had a little money set aside now that they no longer had to provide economic sustenance to their parents (your grandparents) in old age.

The over one million acres of Dust Bowl land that the government bought from broken farmers in 1935 for $2.75 an acre, is now almost four million acres located in 20 publicly-owned National Grassland parks administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

And in the end, even the Republicans admitted it was all due to the good sense and steady hand of FDR.

When Kansas Governor Alf Landon, who had run against Roosevelt in 1936 saying he had no idea how to fix the Great Plains, was asked about the New Deal and its lasting effect on the country, he said it "saved our society."

And, of course he was right and the American people knew it. Alf Landon lost every state in 1936 except Maine and Vermont, winning the Electoral College by the largest margin ever, 523 to 8,

As for Hugh Bennett, the Big Man that Saved the Plains, he died in 1960 at the age of seventy-nine, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery just two miles from my house. On Saturday I may bike over to lay a flower on his grave; a great American not enough of us have ever been told about.
.

Hugh Bennett at the first soil erosion research station in Guthrie, Oklahoma.
.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

American Snow Dogs


This is not the American Kennel Club.  These are real American dogs of merit running long distances on real snow.

This is not fantasy.  This is Alaska.  See more large, beautiful pictures from the race here.
.

Time Magazine Puts a Bird Dog on the Cover


Since I've been writing a little about land and wildlife management on the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl, I thought folks might enjoy seeing this cover from the March 3, 1930 cover of Time magazine.

The article, which I got tipped to from a post over at Living with Birddogs

When Jack Rabbits Became Scapegoats

Jack Rabbit Hunt, Mead, Kansas, about 1919


After killing off the bison in the 1860s and 70s, importing immigrants to take over the land, and then plowing up the land to feed the armies of World War I Europe, grain production soared for a few wet years, producing a crop glut so severe that by 1925 three years worth of bounty sat rotting on the ground in some areas. The grain storehouses were full and no one wanted any more wheat at any price. Only so much could be turned into booze -- the rest was left to rot.

What to do? Why plant more land of course! If the price of wheat fell from $2 to $1 a bushel, then the only way to make the same amount of money as last year was to plant twice as much land. And so that's what people did, ripping up all the sod and all the land they could in the prairie states.  Life was hard, but there was still an export market for wheat to Europe.

Then in the summer of 1929, the Russian wheat embargo to Europe, which had started with World War I, and which had driven the export wheat economy in the United States, was lifted, further glutting the international market. At about the same time, the land speculation boom in Florida collapsed, and so too did the U.S. Stock market on October 29.

Over the course of the next three weeks in November of 1929, the stock market lost 40 percent of its value; more than thirty-five billion dollars in shareholder equity, a sum 11 times larger than the federal budget at that time.

What followed next was a general fiscal panic that quickly grew worse. It turned out that in thousands of local banks across the country, absent any regulation at all, local businessmen had taken people's savings and invested it in stocks or speculative local land deals. When panicked people came knocking for their money, there was no money to be had, and so banks closed overnight. Without federal regulation or bank insurance, what could anyone do?

The price of oil crashed soon after, falling from $1.30 a barrel to twenty cents and eventually to a dime. Across the entire nation, the bubble burst and the price of everything -- real estate in Florida, oil in Texas, wheat in Kansas, and stocks on Wall Street -- took a dive to the basement. The economy was in shambles.

Then, when the rain stopped, and the winds started blowing, large parts of the Great Plains that had been ripped open for wheat production, turned into massive dust clouds instead. Dust settled over everything, killing cattle and horses, burying fence posts and blowing east as far as New York City and Washington, and as far north as Chicago.

Both nature and the economy were now wildly out of swing. A plague of grasshoppers came out of Utah and Colorado, destroying crops.  Spiders and centipedes seemed to followed the dust.

With the ground dry and blowing, the economy in shreds, and people dead broke, unemployed and starting to go hungry, someone noticed the large numbers of Jack Rabbits about and decided they were too much competition for the few horses and cattle that remained. What to do? Why round them up and club them to death, of course.

And so jack rabbit roundups, which has begun in California in the 1890s, moved to places like Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas.  Massive funnel-shaped pens were created, and hundreds of men, women and children drove the rabbits across the prairie to their death.


Rabbits had the run of the land, crowding fields, yards, streets. They were an easy source of food, but they also took away food, gnawing en masse in places where some farmers still hoped to raise a crop. People saw the rabbits as a scourge, a perpetual motion of mastication, indifferent to the human alterations that were blowing away.

Rabbit drive in the Antelope Valley, California, 1910.

"BIG RABBIT DRIVE SUNDAY—BRING CLUBS"


 
In the pages of the Texan, John McCarty thought it was time to get rid of the big-eared menaces. People gathered in a fenced field at the edge of Dalhart, about two thousand folks armed with baseball bats and clubs. The atmosphere was festive, many people drinking corn whiskey from jugs. At last, they were about to do something, striking a blow against this run of freakish nature. They spread to the edge of the fenced section, forming a perimeter, then moved toward the center, herding rabbits inward to a staked enclosure.

As the human noose tightened, rabbits hopped around madly, sniffing the air, stumbling over each other. The clubs smashed heads. The bats crushed rib cages. Blood splattered, teeth were knocked out, hair was matted and reddened. The rabbits panicked, screamed. It took most of an afternoon to crush several thousand rabbits. Their bodies were left in a bloodied heap at the center of the field. Somebody strung up a few hundred of them and took a picture.


 
The rabbit drives caught on and became a weekly event in some places. In a single square mile section, people could kill up to six thousand rabbits in an afternoon. It seemed a shame to let all those dead rabbits go to waste when so many people were hungry in the cities. After one drive, in Hooker, Oklahoma, people shipped off two thousand rabbits as surplus meat. But it was hard to keep the meat from spoiling, and the logistics of butchering them proved too much. The rabbits were left to buzzards and insects or shoveled into pits and buried.

Jack Rabbit Hunt Near Hoxie, Kansas, ~1910. Click to enlarge and read sign.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Enter Immigrants, Cattle, Wheat and Dust

Oklahoma sod house of the type my grandfather was born in, 1900.

The U.S. Government and the railroads, having systematically wiped out the buffalo in order to decimate and weaken the Native American populations on the Great Plains, now moved to import people from Europe, especially Germans living on the Russian steppes who were used to the kind of flat, arid lands that the Plains offered.

As Timothy Egan notes in his excellent book, The Worst Hard Time The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl:

Without them [the German Russians], it is possible that wheat never would have been planted on the dry side of the plains. For when they boarded ships for America, the Germans from Russia carried with them seeds of turkey red -- a hard winter wheat -- and incidental thistle sewn into the pockets of their vests. It meant survival, an heirloom packet worth more than currency.

.. Turkey red, short-stemmed and resistant to cold and drought, took so well to the land beyond the ninety-eighth meridian that agronomists were forced to rethink the predominant view that the Great American Desert was unsuited for agriculture. In Russia, it was the crop that allowed the Germans to move out of the valleys and onto the higher, drier farming ground of the steppe. The thistle came by accident, but it grew so fast it soon owned the West. In the Old World, thistle was called perekati-pole, which meant "roll-across-the-field." In America, it was known as tumbleweed.

... [N]o group of people took a more dramatic leap in lifestyle or prosperity, in such a short time, than wheat farmers on the Great Plains. In less than ten years, they went from subsistence living to small business-class wealth, from working a few hard acres with horses and hand tools to being masters of wheat estates, directing harvests with wondrous new machines, at a profit margin in some cases that was ten times the cost of production.

In 1910, the price of wheat stood at eighty cents a bushel, good enough for anyone who had outwitted a few dry years to make enough money to get through another year and even put something away. Five years later, with world grain supplies pinched by the Great War, the price had more than doubled.

Mules pull a combine, 1920 American plains.

Farmers increased production by 50 percent. When the Turkish navy blocked the Dardenelles, they did a favor for dryland wheat farmers that no one could have imagined. Europe had relied on Russia for export grain. With Russian shipments blocked, the United States stepped in, and issued a proclamation to the plains: plant more wheat to win the war. And for the first time, the government guaranteed the price, at two dollars a bushel, through the war, backed by the wartime food administrator, a multimillionaire public servant named Herbert Hoover. Wheat was no longer a staple of a small family farmer but a commodity with a price guarantee and a global market.

In 1917, about forty-five million acres of wheat were harvested nationwide. In 1919, over seventy-five million acres were put into production — up nearly 70 percent.


When the native sod of the Great Plains was in place, it did not matter if people looked twice at a piece of ground. Wind blew twenty, thirty, forty miles an hour, as always. Droughts came and went. Prairie fires, many of them started deliberately by Indians or cowboys trying to scare nesters off, took a great gulp of grass in a few days. Hailstorms pounded the land. Blue northers froze it so hard it was like broken glass to walk on.

Through all of the seasonal tempests, man was inconsequential. As long as the weave of grass was stitched to the land, the prairie would flourish in dry years and wet. The grass could look brown and dead, but beneath the surface, the roots held the soil in place; it was alive and dormant. The short grass, buffalo and blue grama, had evolved as the perfect fit for the sandy loam of the arid zone. It could hold moisture a foot or more below ground level even during summer droughts, when hot winds robbed the surface of all water-bearing life. In turn, the grass nurtured pin-tailed grouse, prairie chickens, cranes, jackrabbits, snakes, and other creatures that got their water from foraging on the native turf.

Through the driest years, the web of life held. When a farmer tore out the sod and then walked away, leaving the land naked, however, that barren patch posed a threat to neighbors. It could not revert to grass, because the roots were gone. It was empty, dead, and transient.

Texas Duststorm, 1935.
.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Killing Bison to Kill Off the Native Population


When the story is told of the death of the North American buffalo, the subtext is often eliminated, with the story often reduced to a tale of unbridled "market hunting" as if poor regulation alone was at work (Full disclosure:  I have been guilty of "shorting the true tale" myself).

In fact, what was going on in the American West (both in the U.S. and Canada) was something far more sinister and planned: the systematic annihilation and extermination of the indigenous population of Native Americans.

As Timothy Egan notes in his excellent book, The Worst Hard Time The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl:

"For the sake of a lasting peace," General Sheridan told the Texas Legislature in 1875, the Anglos should "kill, skin and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairie can be covered with speckled cattle and the festive cowboy ... forerunner of an advanced civilization."

... Within a few years of the signing [of the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867], Anglo hunters invaded the treaty land. They killed bison by the millions, stockpiling hides and horns for a lucrative trade back east. Seven million pounds of bison tongues were shipped out of Dodge City, Kansas, in a single two-year period, 1872–1873, a time when one government agent estimated the killing at twenty-five million. Bones, bleaching in the sun in great piles at railroad terminals, were used for fertilizer, selling for up to ten dollars a ton. Among the gluttons for killing was a professional buffalo hunter named Tom Nixon, who said he had once killed 120 animals in forty minutes.

The last bison were killed within five years after the Comanche Nation was routed and moved off the Llano Estacado.

Just a few years earlier, there had been bison herds that covered fifty square miles. Bison were the Indians' commissary, and the remnants of the great southern herd had been run off the ground, every one of them, as a way to ensure that no Indian would ever wander the Texas Panhandle

Wyoming, Bison and Elk

Saskatchewan, Canada

Saskatcheewan, Canada

And what was America going to do with the plains? Why, plough it up and turn it into farms and catttle ranches of course!

What could go wrong?

.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Expensive Gas? Compared to what?

\

From The Wall Street Journal comes this note about gas prices, buried in an article about the world's longest cab ride:

So far, Turkey has had the highest prices at the pumps, charging upward of $12 a gallon, he adds, while prices in the U.S. are the lowest.

"Americans don't know how good they have it," he says of gas prices here.
.

Coffee and Provocation



Pedigree Dogs Exposed is coming to Canada Monday, March 26, 10:00 pm on CBC News Network and Sunday April 1 at 8 pm ET on CBC News Network.

The world's largest wildlife park has been formed.  The unified park will sprawl over 170,000 square miles park in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.  The Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, or KAZA, will be roughly the size of Sweden and allow a place for elephants, rhino and other large megafauna to survive and hopefully flourish.

Is birth control for mosquitoes a good idea?  The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District is talking about holding possible trials involving the release of genetically modified male mosquitoes into the delicate ecosystem of the Florida Keys. But even if we could get rid of mosquitoes, and even if no small amphibian life would miss them, would it be good for Mother Nature writ large, since mosquitoes are what actually keep people out of so many fragile tropical areas

Do We Still Need Publishers?  People will disagree, but if they're asking the question then the church bell is tolling.  In this analysis, this is my favorite line:  "Meanwhile, across the river, I have my adult publisher, Orion – and they also have problems with me. Relations between us have been strained ever since they published my Sherlock Holmes novel, The Mouse of Slick, with no fewer than 35 proof-reading errors. Their proof-reader tried to kill herself. She shot herself with a gnu."

The world's most expensive cup of coffee is from a bean that has been run through the asshole of a civet.  Not to be denied, a company is now selling the most expensive cup of tea which has been fertilized with Panda poo.  And yes, it's all hype -- panda poo does not improve the taste of tea.  Now a civet asshole, is another thing entirely...

For those who remember the instruction guide to cooking rats provided on this web site some years back, we now have the tale of the Chinese restaurant that specializes in mice, complete with a nice picture of the catches of the day.  Be sure to try the curried mouse bacon!

Are the Kennel Clubs and the breed clubs improving dogs?  Not generally. And not specifically.

Good News, Bad News in the Coffee Wars:  Big Print:  Coffee can help you lose as much weight as that hour at the gym.  Small print:  "[You] would need to consume a caffeine equivalent of about 50 cups [of coffee] per day, almost close to a lethal dose". Source.

If you dogs don't hump your leg, does that mean they don't love you?  While you ponder that question, consider why so many animals evolved to masturbate

If you want a dog, then don't get a puppy -- get a rescue dog.  If you won't consider an adult rescue dog, then you don't want a dog, you want a puppy, and you need a cat and probably deserve a goldfish.

The Franklin Tree is a living fossil, and has a strange history too.

If you don't read Thomas Friedman, you probably should.  Here's a starter article on capitalism's future.

The greatest brain to come out of the Clinton era is Robert Reich, the former Secretary of labor who gives this rock-solid assessment of election year moralizing by condom-fearing Republicans who want to invade your bedroom where there is actually no trouble, even as they give the big wink to all the lying, stealing and cheating going on in American board rooms.

Amazon just acquired Kiva Systems robotics for $775 million to automate its warehouses.  In the world of the future, the Chinese will not be able to compete with our robots.

Why the future may be better than you think.  A note of optimism.

When is Mammoth hunting season?  Mad scientists Researchers in Russia and South Korea are going to move forward with a plan to resurrect the Ice Age woolly mammoth by taking the nuclei of mammoth somatic cells (taken from a frozen mammoth) and implanting the nuclei into donor Indian elephant eggs which will be implanted in an elephant womb, where they will gestate for 22 months.

.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dog on Roof Story Gives Romney a Boost


In case you wondered, the "dog on the roof" story is not doing Mitten Romney any harm. According to Public Policy Polling:

Seven percent of the American public say the dog-on-car-roof story makes them more likely to vote for Mr. Romney, and a stunning 14 percent say this is a “humane” way to transport a dog.

Yes, that's what they said.

When asked who would be better for dogs, however, President Obama beat Romney 37 percent to 21 percent. The rest aren’t sure.
.

Dry Land Retrievers and Timid Terriers



A retriever that will not go into the water is, no doubt, the product of an owner that will not go into the field with a gun.

Of course we see the same thing in the world of terriers, and we even have the chorus of a song about it:

Now at Cruft's famous show down in London,
They have Lakelands that aren't worth the name,
If you showed em a fox or an otter
They would fly for their lives without shame.
They're not built to creep or do battle,
But to sit on a chair in the house,
And they do say that one recent champion
Was chased down the road by a mouse!
.

Using Wild Black Walnuts to Get Fishing Worms



Isaac the falconer was down my way the weekend before last, and we went out digging on the dogs. The dogs found twice, but the soil was soft and the roots thick, and we never did account for quarry. While we were walking around, however, I showed him Osage Oranges on the ground and explained that the fruits developed their thick defensive pulp as a defense against Columbian Mammoth predation.

Isaac found a black walnut, and I showed him a few that were still encased in their shells, and told him about how you can use the walnut pulp to noodle earthworms out of the ground. Here's a video of that I found on Youtube for those that want to make their springtime fishing a little easier!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Digging on the Dogs


The three rocks at the front are stones moved out by a groundhog building a new sette. I am always a bit amazed at how much stone groundhogs can move considering they have no tools and only small paws. These stones had to be excavated and rolled up and out and around corners and up inclines. A truly impressive task!
.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Isle Royale Wolves on Thin Ice


In an earlier post entitled Islands of Wolves, Rats, Lions and Dogs, I detailed the different social-demographic-and genetic loads and problems that occur when different species occupy islands or otherwise suffer from extremely isolated (and therefore inbred) populations. 

As I noted, what species an animal is, where it feeds on the pyramid, and how it lives and loves are very important issues so far as genetic health and long-term population viability are concerned.

To illuminate that point I compared the extreme genetic isolation of the Isle Royale Wolves in Michigan to what has occurred when rats, and lions have found themselves on similar sized islands.

Now comes word that scientists are worried that the Isle Royale Wolves may go extinct

Isle Royale National Park's gray wolves, one of the world's most closely monitored predator populations, are at their lowest ebb in more than a half-century and could die out within a few years, scientists said Friday.

Only nine wolves still wander the wilderness island chain in western Lake Superior and just one is known to be a female, raising doubts they'll bounce back from a recent free-fall unless people lend a hand... There were 24 wolves — roughly their long-term average number — as recently as 2009.... The only intact pack had six members. One wolf wandered alone, while a couple — including the only known female — staked out territory and apparently mated.

Should the Isle Royale Wolves be allowed to go extinct?

If that happens, what will happen to the moose population, and what will that mean for the island's vegetation?

To be clear here, there is no great decision to be made here. 

We have many thousands of wild wolves all over the lower-48 now, and extremely healthy wolf populations  exist all over Canada and Alaska as well.  The wolf is an animal that is not only off the Endangered Species List, but is allowed to be hunted in a few states. 

The fate of a dozen wolves on Isle Royale, then is largely a philosophical debate, and not necessarily one of great import or permanence.  After all, wolves did not exist on Isle Royale at all just 70 years ago.  Even if all the wolves on the island died out this year (a very unlikely scenario), a hard freeze over Lake Superior next winter might return a new population from the mainland soon enough.
.

When You Put Your Dog on Display


Apparently, the folks who put dogs on display at dog shows are a little unclear that their dogs are on display (hence the word "dog show") and can be photographed by others at these shows, and that those photographs are then the property of the people who took the photos, not of the dog's owner.

What this means is that if you breed and show dogs that look like miserable wrecks, don't be too shocked if photos of them appear on the Internet as examples of morphological dysfunction.

Now, I consider it bad form to single out the owners of these dogs by name, and I generally do not name the dog itself, as it's always best to focus on principles rather than personalities. That said, when a dog wins at a show, the animal's name and the owner's name are trotted out all over, so if a dog is a monument to dysfunction, perhaps it should also work the other way around? I can see the point, though I myself chose not to observe it.

The dog here, of course, is a Dogue de Bordeaux with pinched nostrils (I do not think the term "stenotic nares" does much to illuminate the issue with the public) who will be in some form of respiratory distress almost every moment of its life.  Other breeds that frequently have the same problem include the English Bulldog, the Boston Terrier, and the Pug, to name just three. 

What's it feel like to be this dog? Basically, every moment of your life would feel like you were being "water boarded" or nearly suffocated.

But don't take my word for it; go ahead and pinch your own nostrils almost shut, and then try to breathe like that for just 10 minutes on the watch.

How's that working for you?

Yet the Kennel Clubs have whistled past the graveyard with this problem for decade after decade. 

And no, the term "graveyard" is not a metaphor.  The average Dogue de Bordeaux is dead at just  5 and half years of age.

Let's be clear that intentionally breeding dogs like this is institutionalized animal abuse.

No wonder the Kennel Club is now terrified of cameras at dog shows, and no wonder that owners of dogs like this don't want to be identified.

Who wants to me associated with keeping dogs in permanent misery?

Who wants to be associated with breeding defective dogs that will require expensive surgery to not be in permanent misery?

Of course, the solution is simple: Stop breeding dogs like this, and start disqualifying dogs that look like this from participating in shows.

Dogs shows, after all, are supposed to be improving dogs.

It's hard to see how anyone can say that is actually being done when breed after breed is selected for such obvious defects as smashed in faces, wrecked backs, dysfunctional coats, dwarfism, excess skin, coat colors associated with eye and ear dysfunction, and even baldness, to say nothing of the requirement that these dogs then be inbred within laughably small closed gene pools in order to preserve the painful and misery-causing mutations and dysfunctions.

Breeding better dogs?

Better for WHAT?

Not for health, which is afforded ZERO points.

Not for temperament, which is afforded ZERO points.

Not for work, which is afforded ZERO points.

If dog owners and the Kennel Club are proud of these creations, then they should not fear the camera, OR the veterinary evidence.

The fact that they are NOT proud, however, tells you quite a lot -- it shows a certain level of mens rea or scienter -- the kind of thing a court might consider if animal abuse charges ever were filed against the Kennel Club or a dog breeder.
.

No Fish On Fridays



Thursday, March 15, 2012

Talented Jack Russells



Uggie, the talented Jack Russell canine movie star of The Artist has retired from film at age 10, but his brother Dash is now ready to jump in and fill the gap rather seamlessly.

And what do Uggie and Dash eat? Purina, of course!
.

Hedge Craft: Good Things from the Hedge



As I have noted before, you cannot really understand the history of dogs until you understand the Enclosure Movement in the U.K., which brought with it hedges, stone walls, sheep, and sire selection.

From the Enclosure Movement came the breed improvements of Robert Bakewell, the writings of Erasmus Darwin and his grandson Charles Darwin, the rise of the sheep economy, fox hunting, the shoots, terrierwork and the cacophony of dog breeds we see today.

I have written a bit about the destruction of hedges in the U.K. and the very different nature of hedges in the U.S. where massive amounts of land and barbed wire left us with a slightly different set of history.

That said, whether in the U.S. or the U.K, hedge craft is a dying art and few people today know what a froe is, or how to construct a simple wattle fence, or even how to find and cut a decent walking stick, to say nothing of the various other kind of sticks that used to exist for specific purposes.

The good news is that some of the old knowledge is preserved on film, and thanks to the miracle of Youtube it can be passed forward to those that are interested, Enjoy!

.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hey Kennel Club: The Terrierists Are Winning!


Just sayin'....

You Can't Put a Windmill on Top of a Car


You can't put a windmill on top of a car... where would you put the dog?
.

Man Versus Truth: More Fakery from the U.K.



This is a repost on the occassion of "Bear" Grylls being fired from the Discovery channel. 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


I have previously lampooned National Geographic's "A Man Among Wolves" featuring the laughable Shaun Ellis in a piece of clap-trap created in the U.K. where no wild wolves exist (and precious little wild, it should be said). Read about that here and here.

The latest bit of nonsense from the U.K. is the howler called "Man Vs Wild" on the Discovery Channel.

Anyone who has seen this show and spent a few months in the woods or has a decent knowledge of field craft is going to laugh out loud. It shows "Bear" Grylls (his real name is Edward) doing such nonsensical things as making a raft to go down a creek, and stopping to make a needle and thread from a Yucca plant.

Excuse me, but if you are lost, you are not supposed to be wasting time and energy on construction projects, nor are you supposed to be risking head injury running rafts down rapids, nor are you supposed to be stopping to sew up bit and pieces of your trousers, nor are you supposed to be risking dysentery by eating beetle grubs.

You are supposed to be figuring out how to get out to a road, or to signal where you are (or have gone), and you should be focused on water and shelter, and water and shelter alone. Get the hell out is all you need. Screw food -- you can go for days and days without food.

But of course that's a simple message you can convey in one show, eh?

It seems the producers at the BBC wanted a whole TV series. And so all kinds of clap- trap was cocked up for show, most of it not only stupid, but downright dangerous.

Some of it, of course, is simply funny. Like putting a guy in a really bad bear outfit.

Yes, you read that right. It turns out that the show faked a "Grizzly bear attack" with a fellow in bear suit that looks like it was made from brown beach towels. Pictures and the rest of the story here.

And be advised that this pathetic bit is not the only bit of fakery on this ghastly television show: Grylls is shown cooking a dead badger, but it's actually a steak inside a badger skin, and he is shown freeing himself from a parachute tangled in a tree, but he was actually pulled into that tree by a safety harness he wore the whole time. As for the stick he throws to "kill" a rabbit, look carefully at the tape -- he misses. My bet is that the rabbit he is shown eating in a quick cut away is actually a store-bought $2-a-pound bunny recently unfrozen and unwrapped from Saran Wrap.

Adding more wood to the fire, it turns out that "Bear" Grylls does not even sleep in the woods! He goes to hotels every night! Hard life!

If there is any television show out there that will actually pay a guy a decent salary to walk solo in the woods anywhere in the world for three or four months at a time, please email me care of this site. I am no super hero, but if you want someone who knows how to walk and camp, I can do that well enough and I will do it anywhere. And we won't have to go to a hotel every night, I assure you.

And yes, you (or your Sherpas) will be carrying the camera equipment.
.