Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Rain Has Brought Mushrooms.

1000-x Microscope Camera Hooks to Cell Phone

This seems like a fun thing that should give me hours of fun photohraphing fleas, ticks, beetle mandibles, butterfly wings, mushroom gills, ants, and the wee wee things all around us in the natural world. Just $40, today only (normal price is $130), and it works off your cell phone.

What Do You Know of Life, Death, Birth or Killing?

Author and fell sheep man James Rebanks writes that it's time the BBC and other television networks dropped the "Wind in the Willows" descriptions of the countryside and presented a little more of the blood, guts, death, and dirt of real rural existence.

Two generations ago, everyone killed at least some of the things they ate, or saw them killed at close hand. Think of Seamus Heaney’s poem about the killing of a pig when he was young – animals being slaughtered in public was considered normal, and still is over much of the globe. But in many parts of the western world we have become ashamed of death. In this strange imaginary countryside, farmers have become the worst version of us, the people with bloody hands who do our dirty work.

In an ideal world, everyone would have some domesticated animals and cultivation near where they live – not just because that is the most efficient way to produce food but because it is good for us to see, feel and experience what others do to produce our food.

We may not want to look upon the killing in food production but doing so would force us to ask questions that are central to being human. Do you, or do you not, accept this reality you have created by existing and eating? Will you kill the animals you eat? If you won’t, should you really expect someone else to do it for you? Will you kill the pests that prey upon your salad? And, if not, are you really prepared to starve to prove your point?

When visitors see the moles on my fence, they often ask: “Are they hung there to scare the other moles?” In fact, I explain, they are hung on the fences because the mole-catcher gets paid per animal (£5 per body is the going rate), and they are displayed out in the open to avoid anyone cheating their way to a higher fee.

I have given this explanation to dozens of people and if no one has been unduly troubled, it’s because people can handle reality if they understand how it works. The dead moles on my barbed wire will stay.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Bloodiest Day in U.S. History.

Antietam, Maryland on this day in 1862.

22,000 dead.

Hurricanes Bring Out the Best and the Worst

Rescued six dogs in Leland, NC, after the owner LEFT THEM locked in an outdoor cage that filled with flood water that was rapidly rising.

An Honest Prayer

Over on Twitter, Bradley Whitford (the actor who played Josh Lyman on The West Wing) posted a prayer his mother wrote, noting that she hated organized religion (“a bunch of men in funny clothes pretending they know the will of God - if there was one, She’d be insulted”) but she believed in love. Amen.

Amish Fertility Rates and Economics

A note from Donald McCaig got me into looking at Amish fertility rates and economics here in the U.S.

Let's start with fertility rates: they are very, very high.

Fertility is ...extremely high among Pennsylvania Dutch speakers, and especially high among those with no phone. We’re talking average TFRs [total fertility rates] from 2001–2015 of about 6 or 7 births per woman. That’s genuinely remarkable, and that doesn’t include twinning. That’s just delivery count.

Wow. That means the U.S. Amish have one of the highest fertility rates in the world.

Of course, not everyone born into an Amish family stays in the Order; about half seem to leave to lead more normal lives. That said, every Amish family benefits from an enormous amount of child and young-adult labor.

The Amish do not believe their kids need education beyond 8th grade in order to participate in the Amish world, and almost no Amish go to high school or college. Though all other children are required to attend school until age 16, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) that Amish children could end formal education at age 14.

As one web site put it:

An Amish education consists of eight years in a one room schoolhouse being taught by a teacher with an eighth grade education....

Amish highly distrust what the outside world calls “education”. Public education is designed as a springboard toward individual advancement, independence, power, and disdain for the simple life.

All these ideas are contrary to fundamental Amish beliefs.

The purpose of Amish education is not to promote individuality and critical thinking. The goal is teach children the worth of hard work, ethical living, and how to be a valuable member of the Amish community. Amish education does not seek to create artists, scientists, musicians, or actors.

What about Amish economics?

For one thing, they do not pay into Social Security
, though they pay other taxes, including federal and state income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and public school taxes, even though most Amish send their children to privately run schools (which they also fund).

How did the Amish get "free" of Social Security? The answer is a religious exemption: the Amish consider Social Security to be an insurance program which contradicts Amish beliefs against participating in commercial insurance. Without Social Security, Amish communities must care for their old and infirm -- one reason to have very large families.

Without Social Security, the Amish typically save up to 20% of their income, as compared to about 6% for the average American.

The Amish try to avoid debt of all kinds, recycle, repair, and repurpose as much as they can, and frequent thrift stores and garage sales for goods they need.

Along with farming, many Amish often run other cash-making businesses or "side-hustles" from breeding dogs to selling flowers and produce, from building sheds and furniture to custom leather work and butter, cheese, and egg production.

Though Amish are loathe to shoulder debt, they are very good credit risks and rarely default, meaning banks are eager to lend them money for land purchases.  Up until about 1990, the Amish absorbed most of their population growth on long-established communities, but as populations have boomed, more and more Amish are moving west to acquire cheaper land.

Many Amish are cash poor due to the large number of children they have and the sustenance economics by which they make a living. While their land may be valuable, a significant portion of the land may be in hay and feed for livestock, while direct competition with larger farms tends to keep commodity prices low.  When you find an Amish millionaire, it's usually money made in a business other than farming.

The Amish are starting to make some allowances for the modern world, especially when it comes to cell phones and computers which are very useful for selling goods (credit card purchases and mail order are OK with the Amish), keeping track of weather, and pricing commodities.

Electricity on rural properties may come from on-site power generators or solar panels, while propane-powered refrigerators are fairly common. The rule is that the Amish cannot be connected to "the grid," not that they cannot use electricity, air pressure, or hydraulics.

When a car or truck is needed for a long haul, “Amish taxi” services run by non-Amish people provide a way to get around without violating the rule against owning a car.

At Amish furniture and shed factories, expect to see the same computer-guided power tools you would see anywhere else. What's banned at the house is not necessarily banned at work.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Giant Snakes in the Garden of Eden

Columnist Fred Grimm writes in The Florida Sun-Sentinel:

Imagine an industrial mishap that utterly decimated the native wildlife in a beloved national park.

Imagine if a product peddled by certain business pursuits had caused 99.3 percent of the park’s raccoons to vanish, along with 98.9 percent of the opossums and 87.5 percent of the bobcats. And imagine if the park’s rabbits and foxes had become so scarce that wildlife biologists conducting a years-long survey could hardly find any to count

Imagine the public reaction. Surely, hell would be raised. The din of angry politicians would echo through the corridors of government.

Not so much.

A biological catastrophe has indeed devastated the small mammal population in Everglades National Park, along with 94 percent of the white-tailed deer. A seven-year study published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences documented “severe declines” among the 1.5 million-acre park’s native mammals. And that was in 2012. Since, the outlook has only become more dismal.

South Florida is suffering a full-blown ecological disaster created by commercial interests that import, breed and sell Burmese pythons – creatures with no utilitarian value other than to amuse fellows who imagine giant snakes lend them that elusive cool factor.

...[T]he pet industry has been spared much blame and criticism. Sugar cane growers, who are currently catching hell for Florida’s toxic algae blooms, must wonder how reptile importers managed to escape rebuke despite fostering a biological calamity that appears to be irreversible. At least the algae will be gone by winter. The python invasion might not go away until rising seas turn the Everglades into a fond memory.

Robert Mueller Ropes His Own Bulls

Smaller Than New York City

U.S. states with a smaller population than New York City

Coffee and Provocation

Open carry coffee.

An Unlikely No Kill Nation
In Germany, it is illegal to kill any animal that is a vertebrate “without proper reason” like the animal being ill or a danger to humans. Because of this, all German animal shelters are "no-kill".

Easy to Edit Pigeons?
Pigeons are being bred specifically for easier DNA editing. Why? So that CRISPR technlogy can resurrect the Passenger Pigeon.

Elephants and Elephant Birds
Whenever humans show up, death and extinction tend to follow.

The Unblinking Eye
Dog thefts in the UK might go down now that wireless security cameras that run up to 2 years on a battery, and capture 1080p video whenever they detect motion, are available. They’re also waterproof and work in the dark. Unlike some competitors, there’s no subscription fee. Just $130.

Let There Be (Cheap Low Energy) Light
A 24-pack of LED light bulbs now cost $28, or less than the old incandescent. Each bulb has a total lifespan of up to 11,000 hours and uses just 10 watts of energy to produce 800 lumens. A 16 pack of incandescents costs $23, with each bulb pulling 60 watts of energy to produce 800 lumens, and lasting just 1,000 hours before burning out.

Hybrid Rail?
No, not a train, but a bird. Fertile King Rail and a Clapper Rail hybrids have been found in Virginia.

A 50,000 Year-old Wolf
Yukon Gold miners discovered a 50,000 year-old mummified wolf pup and caribou that were kept intact by the permafrost.

Those Brazilians Are Nuts
Brazil nuts depend on rodents for their existence. The trees "only bear fruit in nearly pristine, undisturbed forest—and when they do, their seeds are trapped, encased in the ourico, a spherical, coconut-like shell so tough that it requires the force of a machete to break open." So what's the secret? How's it work? The short answer is the agouti.

Misery Compared to What?
The suicide rate at Foxconn factories in China, where the iPhone is made, is 5.4 suicides per 100,000 people, which is substantially lower than the suicide rate in all 50 U.S. states (11.1 people per 100,000 people).

The Mayans Raised Captive Big Cats
Long before Columbus, the Mayans raised jaguars and mountain lions in captivity as well as deer and parrots.

The River Below My House, 1861

This picture was taken by George N. Barnard in 1861 and shows Union soldiers on Mason's Island (now Theodore Roosevelt Island) in Arlington, Virginia, 1861. Behind them is the Potomac Aqueduct Bridge whose ruins are now on the upstream side of the Potomac Boat Club (DC side) where I rowed crew in High School. Georgetown University, where I went to graduate school, is on top of the hill. A much larger version of this picture can be found here.

Virginia's Ugly History

Liberated former slaves at Foller's Farm in Cumberland Landing, Virginia in May of 1862, top, with Union liberators, below. Both photos by James F. Gibson. The top picture has been colorized. Both photos were originally stereographs.

The Price and Birch Slave Auction Pen at 283 Duke Street in Alexandria, Virginia operated right up the start of the Civil War. In the picture, below, it is occupied by Union troops in 1865.

Alexandria, Virginia was the largest slave selling location outside of New Orleans and, to the great shame of the town, there is still a Civil War rebel statue in the center of the street in Old Town.

The "Birch" in Price and Birch is the same "Burch" who snatched Solomon Northup off the streets of Washington in Twelve Years a Slave.

As for the building, it is now... wait for it... the home of the Northern Virginia Urban League.

Another Amazing E-Bike in Development

The Mate X is a foldable electric bike that features a 250W or a 750W motor that lets you go up to 20 mph, a battery that lasts up to 80 miles per charge, hydraulic brakes and suspension, and fat tires to take you over any terrain.

Price? $799 to $999 if you buy it in development (Indiegogo from folks that have previously deliveredMate Bikes to more than 7000 backers around the world).

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Darwin Never Mentioned the Finches?

On this day in 1835, a 26-year-old Charles Darwin, reached the Galápagos Islands on board the HMS Beagle.

A bit of trivia: the finches of the Galápagos Islands are not mentioned at all in On the Origin of Species, and Darwin had no idea from which island the various species and subspecies of finch had been collected.

The story of Darwin's finches is mostly credited to their popularization by ornithologist David Lack in his book Darwin's Finches, published in 1947.

Mounting a Wolf, 1947

From the archives of The American Museum of Natural History

Bones and skin were once kept from the same animal, with the bones articulated and "fleshed" with plaster or clay from which a paper mache form was made, over which the skin was stretched. 

Today, foam forms are generally used and shaved down or (occasionally) bulked up

There's Nothing Wrong With Your Kid

There's nothing wrong with your kid
that I can't fix with an e-collar.

He Must Have Been a Lunatic

Folding Bike on the C & O Canal

Friday, September 14, 2018

Snakes In the Yard

The little Brown Snake, above, was saved from the hedge trimmer and released.

The Copperhead, below, was also in the thick miscanthus grass, but got cut by the hedge-trimmer before I knew he was even there. Too bad; I like snakes, even the venomous ones.

I set this fellow out where he will be found by our evening fox.

Man, Mule, Mutt, and Machine

Plowing with mules and horses is so hard, expensive, and inefficient that when the first motorized vehicles came along. America's farmers leaped at the chance to boost production and ease their work load.

Even the smallest tractor from the 1890s outperformed a mule, and unlike a mule, tractors got bigger and better every year, with new attachments made to drive threshers, log-splitters, saws, and conveyor belts.  Electric light could even be added!

With an explosion of farm tractors and trucks in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, a glut of old farm horses and mules appeared on the market.  The horse and the mule, once an essential means of production, was now a nearly-useless vestige of another area consuming too much pasture, money, and time.    

The solution? Canned dog food.

Canned dog food was heavily promoted in newspapers and magazines, and the television sets now cropping up in upper-middle class living rooms.

Horse and mule meat was touted as a pure and obviously good food or dogs -- real meat for real dogs.  If people were now eating everything out of cans, surely dogs should too?

Meanwhile, tractors got bigger and too did American farms.

Young adults who had left for war and war production factories never returned to the farm. What might have been a critical shortage of farm labor was in-filled with mechanical labor.  Where it used to take one man to work 20 acres, it now took only one man to work 200 acres or more.

Along with bigger tractors came bigger trucks, plows, discs, winnowers, balers, threshers, separators,  and cultivators.

Tractors not only spurred an increase in the size of American farms, it also increased our agricultural muscle and made the U.S. an essential trade partner the world over. When Russian wheat harvests failed, America stepped in. When Europe went to war, it was the American farmer on his American tractor that not only fed American troops, but much of the populations of Britain and France.

Today, the transition from mule to machine is complete and there are no longer vast herds of redundant horses and mules waiting to be sold for dog food. Sure, there are scores of thousands of wild horses out west that the U.S. government does not know what to do with and which are degrading public lands, but their numbers are not enough to drive a return to canned dog food, even if slaughtering those horses for that purpose were allowed.

Instead, the protein and fat needs of America's dogs are mostly met with grains, vegetables, chicken, and a wide variety of other scrap meat trimmings left over from beef, hog, and other human food production.

The Farm Woman's Dream

It's not just tractors that change rural life. As running water, electricity, washing machines, and other modern appliances and conveniences spread, time spent on housework plummeted and women became free to learn, think, and become themselves.