Monday, September 18, 2017

The Old In and Out

News From the Isle of Skye

Sette Repair

I try to repair the settes I dig. The way I do it, it's more than a matter of simply filling in the hole with dirt, which effectively collapses the den pipe. Instead, I try to find branches, bark, brush, rocks and other detritus to "roof over" the hole. I then pile fill dirt on top.  The end result is that the den pipe itself is preserved so long as the wood or other material on top remains solid. Much of the roofing wood is half-rotten timber, but I still think it helps keep the passage open for a year or so, during which time the collapse is a bit slowed, and a groundhog can work to open it back up.

The Inside of a Deben Locator Box

The too rarely seen inside of an old Deben locator box. Not many of these still in action, I think.

I change out the 9 volt battery every year at this time. Notice that I tape the battery to the side of the box to prevent a loose battery from smashing things inside. I also tape the seams of the box to keep out water and dust.

Notice the splint of black plastic at the top edge of the box -- that's a repair I made after I left the box overnight in the field by accident, and a coyote came by and bit the box before carting away the old groundhog I had left out for it. The coyote also left a big turd on top of the box!

Deben boxes are basically FM pocket radios circa 1965. The electronics design is American, I believe. See here for more information.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Digging on the Dogs

Out with the wee dogs. Bolted one and dug one. The weather was perfect and the ground was soft. Could not ask for more.

"Pure Positive Vs. Self-Rewarding Behavior

For even a very young Malinois puppy, biting is a deeply self-rewarding behavior, and food is not a higher calling.

How do you stop a deeply self-rewarding behavior if you have no higher reward, and are not willing to use the P-word? Too many have no idea. They can prattle on about clickers and rewards (all good) but too many have never really paid attention to what a Skinner box looks like, nor are they aware of the limits of what Skinner did in terms of type of animal and location.

If the only trick you have in your box is a clicker and a food bag, you can do a great deal of dog training, but you are not going to be a dog trainer.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

End of a Day

My Mulch Moving Supervisors

This is five cubic yards of hardwood shredded much, delivered from the County. A cubic yard is 27 cubic feet, so this is 135 cubic feet of mulch, which doesn't sound like much until you have to move it into a wheelbarrow, ramp it up and down the yard, and then spread it out. Suspiciously like work.

Last Remains

I found a complete and clean young raccoon skeleton in the hedge last weekend. I soaked it, and these bits are fresh out of the water-and-bleach bath.

I have no idea why I collect bones and antlers, but I have a nice array in my study in two enormous glass jars and scattered over the top of a few cases.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Most Dangerous Game

My Garage Door

Mechanical Raspberry & Blueberry Harvesting

Nuts, oranges, blue berries, asparagus, eggs.... the large modern farm is increasingly mechanized. The need to import low-wage farm workers and treat them like slaves with no benefits and shady living conditions is almost behind us.

What's a Truffle?

From The Robb Report comes a very nice article about a Tennessee elephant trainer who is now training dogs to find truffles which are valued as high as $1,000 a pound.

First, he creates what he calls “scent tubes.” These 2-inch pieces of PVC pipe are filled with cotton balls and injected with truffle oil through holes drilled into the pipe. From there, it’s a three-step process. Step one involves imprinting the truffle scent. Sanford presents the tube to the lagotto romagnolo; when the dog smells it, Sanford immediately puts a treat in its mouth. This teaches the dog that this particular scent will earn it a reward. The next step involves having the dog wait inside while Sanford hides scent tubes under piles of leaves outside. Once the dog is let outside and smells the tubes under the leaves, Sanford again rewards it.

The final step is the most critical. Because truffles are buried underground, “I need the dog to give me an overt signal that says what you’re looking for is right there.” To that end, Sanford buries the scent tubes underneath the ground near a tree because that’s where truffles are always located. When the dog acknowledges it, Sanford doesn’t reward it. Instead, he points to the ground, asking, “Where is it?” Eventually, the dog learns to paw the ground at the location where the tube is buried. Then, Sanford moves the dog away and carefully digs up the tube (and in real-world scenarios, the actual truffle). Only after Sanford has extracted the truffle does the dog receive a treat.

Fish on Friday

Too Many Humans Is the Problem

Not the Stupidest Thing Ever Sold

It may not be the stupidest thing ever sold... but it's close.

A Life With Dogs

My son, Austin, has been around dogs his whole life, and now he's trying his hand at the dog walking business, offering traditional walks as well as rollerblading and electric long-boarding. No dog could be in better hands.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Just Say NO to Trifexis; It Kills

Golly Gurl lived a terrific, well-loved, and fully actualized life.

A friend just lost a very good dog, Golly Gurl, the love of his life, to the flea and tick medication Trifexis. Back in 2014, I wrote of the alarmingly high deaths and adverse reactions from this particular flea and tick preventative:

A huge chunk of veterinary pharmacology is dedicated to getting you to NOT use cheap, over-the-counter flea, tick and heart worm treatments like simple pyrethrin-based shampoos (pyrethrin is so safe it is FDA-approved for food plants) and low-cost ivermectin.

To be clear, I am OK with folks using whatever they want, but I always advise caution with newer branded medications, whether for humans or for dogs. Cox-2 drugs like Vioxx have not proven more effective than Cox-1 drugs like aspirin, but they did leave over 20,000 Americans dead. Whoops!

The latest heads up in the world of dogs is Trifexis, a two-year old flea and heart worm preventative that is already linked to 7,000 dog deaths and an estimated 30,000 illnesses. Do these numbers mean Trifexis is the culprit, or that Trifexis is going to harm your dog? No. Remember that all animals present with a wide variety of reactions to everything, and as a consequence honey bees kill more people in this country than terrorists. That said, is Trifexis a medication I would stay away from for now? It is.

Please spread the word that Trifexis is VERY BAD NEWS.

The Continuing Crisis

to story in The Guardian.

A Staffordshire bull terrier that killed its owner by crushing his larynx in its jaws in front of a BBC documentary crew had probably taken crack cocaine, an inquest has heard.

The dog’s owner, Mario Perivoitos, died at his home in Wood Green, north London, in an incident in March that was seen but not filmed by BBC journalists making a programme about drugs.

An inquest at North London coroner’s court heard that the behaviour of the dog, called Major, could have been triggered by crack cocaine.

Welcome to Gotham City

From Atlas Obscura:

[I]n the 13th century, King John of England announced his intentions to build a hunting lodge near the village [of Gotham]. Such royal patronage may have inspired joyful celebrations from many loyal subjects, but not so with the people of Gotham. Any road used by the king automatically became a King’s Road, and as such, attracted a hefty tax burden for the locals who also used it. This extra tax could be ill-afforded in a poor rural backwater such as Gotham. Determined to do anything they could to prevent King John from ever setting foot in the place, the so-called “Wise Men of Gotham” hatched an ingenious plan.

At the time, madness was thought to be infectious, so, legend has it the entire village pretended to be insane by staging surreal acts of folly whenever a king’s representative was present. The villagers tried to build a hedge around a bush which contained a migratory Cuckoo, a symbol of summer, to prevent the onset of winter. They tried to drown an eel. They sheltered wood from the sun and rolled cheese down a hill, expecting it to go to market in Nottingham of it’s own accord.

The ruse worked. The King supposedly never set foot in Gotham and the village became a byword for madness, slipping quickly into folk legend. Tales and nursery rhymes have been published since the 15th century about the antics of the villagers.

Ending Slave Labor Was the Start of a Good Thing

Tomato harvesting machines like this have been around for several decades.  This particular machine has a harvesting capacity of 40 to 80 tons per hectar depending on machine size and field production.

Tomato picking machines are not for back yard plots, but for large commercial canning, ketchup, and sauce farms located in places like the central valley of California, where over twenty-eight billion pounds of tomatoes will be harvested this year (14.23 million tons).

What drove the mechanization of the American tomato harvest?

The short story is that when America ended the importation of unfree foreign "Bracero" labor to compete with American workers paid near-slave wages, farmers had to decided whether they were going to raise wages and improve working conditions, or mechanize field planting and harvest. The University of California at Davis plant science department explains.

When plant breeder Jack Hanna and engineer Coby Lorenzen, two scientists at the University of California, Davis, teamed up in the mid-1950s to invent a machine that could mechanically harvest tomatoes, no one thought they could do it. The laughingstock of the Davis Plant Science department for more than a decade, the two made countless prototypes that failed — tomatoes split and turned to juice in the field, and the machine broke down after hitting clods of dirt.

Plus, when they started, it was cheap and efficient to pay farm laborers, many of whom were brought into the country from Mexico through the Bracero program. These guest workers harvested tomatoes by hand in much the same way that workers in places pick fresh tomatoes today: very gently.

By 1963, rumors started to circulate that the Bracero program was coming to an end and the tomato industry broke into a cold sweat over the prospect of losing 80 percent of the cheap labor force they used for tomato picking. In a dramatic tale of perseverance and ingenuity, Hanna and Lorenzen achieved the break-through they’d been waiting for. The industry quickly pinned their hopes on the rickety machine and the new, tough, easily de-stemmed tomato hybrid affectionately named “vf-145” that scientists were developing alongside it, in hopes that it would withstand a mechanical harvester.

With help from a local machinist named Ernest Blackwelder, and an eager network of financiers and UC Cooperative Extension agents, the California processing tomato industry mechanized almost overnight. Within five years, 99.9 percent of the industry was using the mechanical harvesters, and most farmers were planting the comparatively tasteless hybrid tomatoes built to withstand them. And processing facilities retooled their systems to receive the mechanically harvested fruit, reversing the practice of paying premiums for hand-harvested tomatoes.

Twenty years later, nearly all of the tomatoes grown in the U.S. for tomato sauce, paste, ketchup, juice, and other processed foods are harvested by Hanna and Lorenzen’s once-scorned machine.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Never Bet Against the Rabbit

The Smithsonian-Roosevelt Expedition of 1909-1910

In 1909, ex-President Teddy Roosevelt went on safari with his son to eastern Africa in order to stock the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. In his 1910 book, African Game Trails; An Account of the African Wanderings of an American Hunter-Naturalist, Roosevelt presents the 512-animal tally for himself and his son, Kermit.

Kermit and I kept about a dozen trophies for ourselves; otherwise we shot nothing that was not used either as a museum specimen or for meat—usually for both purposes. We were in hunting grounds practically as good as any that have ever existed, but we did not kill a tenth, nor a hundredth part of what we might have killed had we been willing. The mere size of the bag indicates little as to a man’s prowess as a hunter, and almost nothing as to the interest or value of his achievement.


  • Lion: TR, 9; Kermit, 8
  • Leopard: TR, 0; Kermit, 3
  • Cheetah: TR, 0; Kermit, 7
  • Hyena: TR, 5; Kermit, 4
  • Elephant: TR, 8; Kermit, 3
  • Square-mouthed (white) rhinoceros: TR, 5; Kermit, 4
  • Hook-lipped (black) rhinoceros: TR, 8; Kermit, 3
  • Hippopotamus: TR, 7; Kermit, 1
  • Warthog: TR, 8; Kermit, 4
  • Common zebra: TR, 15; Kermit, 4
  • Big or Gr√©vy’s zebra: TR, 5; Kermit, 5
  • Giraffe: TR, 7; Kermit, 2
  • Buffalo: TR, 6; Kermit, 4
  • Giant eland: TR, 1; Kermit, 2
  • Common eland: TR, 5; Kermit, 2
  • Bongo: TR, 0; Kermit, 2
  • Kudu: TR, 0; Kermit, 2
  • Situtunga: TR, 0; Kermit, 1
  • Bushbuck (East African): TR, 2; Kermit, 4
  • Bushbuck (Uganda harnessed): TR, 1; Kermit, 2
  • Bushbuck (Nile harnessed): TR, 3; Kermit, 3
  • Sable: TR, 0; Kermit, 3
  • Roan: TR, 4; Kermit, 5
  • Oryx: TR, 10; Kermit, 3
  • Wildebeest: TR, 5; Kermit, 2
  • Neuman’s hartebeest: TR, 0; Kermit, 3
  • Coke’s hartebeest: TR, 10; Kermit, 3
  • Big hartebeest (Jackson): TR, 14; Kermit, 7
  • Big hartebeest (Uganda): TR, 1; Kermit, 3
  • Big hartebeest (Nilotic): TR, 8; Kermit, 4
  • Topi: TR, 12; Kermit, 4
  • Common waterbuck: TR, 5; Kermit, 3
  • Singsing waterbuck: TR, 6; Kermit, 6
  • Common kob: TR, 10; Kermit, 6
  • Vaughn’s kob: TR, 1; Kermit, 2
  • White-eared kob: TR, 3; Kermit, 2
  • Saddle-backed lechwe: TR, 3; Kermit, 1
  • Bohor reedbuck: TR, 10; Kermit, 4
  • Chanler’s buck: TR, 3; Kermit, 4
  • Impalla: TR, 7; Kermit, 5
  • Big gazelle (Granti): TR, 5; Kermit, 3
  • Big gazelle (Robertsi): TR, 4; Kermit, 6
  • Big gazelle (Notata): TR, 8; Kermit, 1
  • Thomson’s gazelle: TR, 11; Kermit, 9
  • Gerenuk: TR, 3; Kermit, 2
  • Klipspringer: TR, 1; Kermit, 3
  • Oribi: TR, 18; Kermit, 8
  • Duiker: TR, 3; Kermit, 2
  • Steinbuck: TR, 4; Kermit, 2
  • Dikdik: TR, 1; Kermit, 1
  • Baboon: TR, 0; Kermit, 3
  • Red ground monkey: TR, 1; Kermit, 0
  • Green monkey: TR, 0; Kermit, 1
  • Black and white monkey: TR, 5; Kermit, 4
  • Serval: TR, 0; Kermit, 1
  • Jackal: TR, 0; Kermit, 1
  • Aardwolf: TR, 0; Kermit, 1
  • Rattel: TR, 0; Kermit, 1
  • Porcupine: TR, 0; Kermit, 1
  • Ostrich: TR, 2; Kermit, 0
  • Great bustard: TR, 4 (1 on the wing); Kermit, 3 (1 on the wing)
  • Lesser bustard: TR, 1; Kermit, 1
  • Kavirondo crane: TR, 2 (on the wing); Kermit, 1 (on the wing)
  • Flamingo: TR, 0; Kermit, 4
  • Whale-headed stork: TR, 1; Kermit, 1 (on the wing)
  • Marabou: TR, 1; Kermit, 1
  • Saddle-billed stork: TR, 1 (on the wing); Kermit, 0
  • Ibis stork: TR, 2 (1 on the wing); Kermit, 0
  • Pelican: TR, 1; Kermit, 0
  • Guinea-fowl: TR, 5; Kermit, 5
  • Francolin: TR, 1; Kermit, 2
  • Fish eagle: TR, 0; Kermit, 1
  • Vulture: TR, 0; Kermit, 2
  • Crocodile: TR, 1; Kermit, 3
  • Monitor: TR, 0; Kermit, 1
  • Python: TR, 3; Kermit, 1

Mechanical Pea Harvesting

We don't live in the age of schooners and candles anymore, and that's as true on the farm as it is on the docks or in your kitchen. 

Mike Murphy: Not Soft on Marmots

Former Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle lost his election, some years back, because he was soft on marmots. That's a mistake this young man did not make. Back when it was still considered a "thing" to tell the truth and disclose one's finances so folks knew you were not money-laundering for foreign dictators and organized crime or under the influence of bribe-paying corporations, 12-year old Mike Murphy came clean. Running for the position of secretary of the student body at Madison high school in Phoenix, AZ, his 1952 financial disclosure statement let the world know he earned a dollar a week in allowance and was penalized a dime for every infraction, which meant he was generally broke. He earned a dollar for every gopher he caught in the yard, but he had cleaned them all out and was recently informed by his parents that gophers caught in neighbors' yards didn't count.  Needless to say, he won the election.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Late Great Barney

I rescued this dog off the street -- a dump in a small college town in Ohio.

Barney was with me for 15 years.  Always loved, never forgotten.

Moxie is a Wee Dog

How Did Cleopatra's Needle Get to London?

In 1819, Pasha Mohammad Ali, leader of Egypt and Sudan, presented the UK with a carved Egyptian Obelisk in honour of Britan's success in the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Alexandria. Great. But how to get the massive stone, which stood 21 meters high and weighed 224 tons, to England?

In 1877, Sir William James Erasmus Wilson agreed to pay for the obelisk to be brought to the UK. He had it encased in an iron tube, rolled it to the water, and then fitted it with a rudder, a stern, and masts. The iron tube vessel built around the obelisk was called "Cleopatra" and it was to be towed to England by the tug Olga.

Cleopatra, and all of her crew and cargo, almost perished in a storm in the Bay of Biscay (6 crewmen died in a lifeboat), and the Cleopatra was cut loose from the Olga to prevent it from stoving in the tug. It was thought Cleopatra was lost, but a Spanish trawler came across it and towed it into port for repairs. There, it was reclaimed by England, and it continued its tow to London.

Cleopatra’s Needle” was finally erected on this day, September 12th, in 1878 near Westminster on the Victoria Embankment of the Thames.

A Wolf Hunts in Waziristan

A Gray Wolf hunts an Ibex in Afghanistan.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Badger Culling Gets Green Light in England

From the BBC comes news that badger culling has gotten the go ahead in 11 new areas of England. Badger are now more common that red fox and they are said to be responsible for the spread of bovine TB. The new licences have been granted by Natural England, and are part of the government's 25-year strategy to eradicate TB in cows. The government's chief vet Nigel Gibbens says that "Proactive badger control is currently the best available option and the licensing of further areas is necessary to realize disease-control benefits across the high risk area of England, rather than at local levels." Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, said 32,247 badgers could be killed under the new licences in the next six weeks, but that's highly unlikely as the badgers are being culled by free range shooting and trapping, neither of which is very efficient.

Remembering, and Learning, From 9-11

Back in 2001, I worked at the National Audubon Society, about a block from the White House, and across the street from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

On a coffee run down the hall, I came into the kitchen and about 10 folks were in there watching the news on TV. Someone said an airplane had hit the World Trade Center. Assuming it was a small two-seater propeller airplane, I said the same thing had occurred to the Empire State Building back in 1945.

"Was it a 747?" one of my coworkers asked?

"Was it TWO 747's?" asked another.

"My God," I replied, "that's terrorism."

That was the moment I found out.

The head of Audubon's DC office said everyone should bunker in place and continue to work, but the staff uniformly rejected that idea and everyone cut and ran, which was the right thing to do in this particular situation. We did not yet know about the third airplane targeted for the White House a block away.

The problem with leaving the office was that traffic was locked up solid with other people having the same idea, and the subway system has been overrun and shut down simultaneously.

I ended up walking to Georgetown to meet my wife who walked there from D.C. Superior Court, and we walked together, over Key Bridge, home.

At the time we assumed over 50,000 people were dead, as that was how many people were supposed to work in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. I had no idea that people did not go to work on time in New York City.

In any case, two colonels who were friends of ours were in the Pentagon when the plane hit about a mile and a half from our house. They let us know that they were fine, but they were command-and-control first responders and could their son have a sleep over at our house for the next day or two? Of course! No problem!

Work closed for about 10 days, as things were crazy around the White House, with armored personnel carriers and Humvees on every corner. Nervous troops fingered their automatic weapons. No one knew if, or when, another shoe was going to drop.

The collapse of the Twin Towers cut through all the fiber optic cables that ran out of lower Manhattan, so the main office of Audubon was without telephone or Internet, a situation that persisted for months.

On the home front, we tried to keep calm. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to take Sailor out hunting to a small farm near Tyson's Corner.

When I got out into the field, however, I realized I was in no mood to kill anything. At best, it was going to be a bolt day. Maybe just a walk-in-the-fields day.

I crossed through a small fenced orchard, and through a hole in a hedge. Sailor entered a nice sette, and bolted one of the largest groundhogs I have ever see. Perfect! Well done!

I picked up Sailor, still covered in dust and dirt, and I was still examining her when I crossed back through the hole in the hedge and into the orchard. As I looked up, a herd of Hell Hounds charged at me. It was Hell Hounds I tell you, or at least it was for a split second. I leaped straight up, my heart racing, and then the Hell Hounds dashed left and right. It was just a small herd of deer, several with nice antlers. They had entered the orchard unnoticed, and we had spooked each other as I entered from where I had once exited. They deer had charged the only exit, just as I was entering that same gap. I stepped aside and the deer ran past me and were gone, but I was pretty shaken. In fact, my heat was racing. Clearly, things were not right inside my head. The events of the last three days had shaken me deeply.

Now, 16 years later, I have no deeper thoughts about 9-11 other than the realization that we were not facing a master criminal mind. Osama Bin Laden was not Lex Luthor, and the "big weapon" used was actually a box cutter, not even a gun, a bomb, or a gallon of gasoline. The folks behind all of this were living in caves. Yes, the attacks were coordinated and ingenious, but they were not high-tech, and they succeeded, in large part, only due to luck and surprise.

What followed was an act of criminally poor leadership on the part of Bush Administration, which bungled things in Afghanistan to the point that Osama Bin Laden stayed alive and on the run for the next decade, while hundreds of billions of dollars and scores of thousands of lives were wasted supporting violence without logic or end.

The invasion of Iraq made as much sense as the U.S. invading Uruguay after Pearl Harbor.

The notion that the Middle East is ripe for democracy of any kind -- or that the Muslim people of the Middle East and North Africa are comfortable with anything under than authoritarian rule by kleptocrat dictators -- has proven to be a failed idea.

Democracy in Europe and most of the rest of the world was preceded by 600- or 700-years of feudal monarchy and authoritarian rule coated with a religious glaze and rationalization. Who is to say the same history is not the natural course for the Middle East and North Africa as well?

When people want to be free, there is nothing that can be done to stop them, and when they do not want to be free, there is nothing that can be done to help them. I'm not sure that's the take-away message of 9-11, but it's the take-away message of all that has transpired since.

Fresh Groundhog on a Fresh Bale

While I was digging on the dogs just inside the woods, the farmer put up several round bales in the field next to the creek. Perfect height for a picture.

Working an Old Fence Line

Groundhogs love old fence lines because the fence slows hawks, coyotes, fox, bobcats, and dogs.

Winkling One Out of a Root Fortress

Two holes blocked with shovel and post hole digger, with pole snare in place, and terrier behind the groundhog driving it to a bolt.

This groundhog was in a solid bunker under this tree, but Moxie was... persuasive.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

A Dog to Cuddle

Do you want a dog to cuddle but you don't want to walk and feed it? Vet bills too much? No fenced yard? PROBLEM SOLVED!

Friday, September 08, 2017

Fish on Friday

Fish stuck in a fence as the flood waters caused by Hurricane Ike recede from West Orange, Texas, on September 15, 2008.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Coffee and Provocation

Compared to What?
Hurricane Irma feels Biblical and punitive, but monsoon floods in India have devastated 34 million people, with over 1,000 already dead. We need to remember that as Americans we generally have options in a world where many millions of others do not.

Deep Legal Vetting I
Closer to home, here in Virginia, Donald Trump's legal team continues to be a complete and utter shit show. The latest is that the 53-year old wife of Donald Trump's ethics attorney was arrested for having sex in the backseat of a car with a 23-year old inmate who was a trustee at the Faquier County detention center. The car was in the detention center's parking lot.

Deep Legal Vetting II
Donald Trump's other lawyer, Ty Cobb, has tweeted to some random noodle-shop owner that he is "the adult in the room" when he meets with Trump. This statement was offered up in answer to the noodle-shop owner's trolling tweets about the lawyer being engaged in felatio with Trump (no I am not making this up). Trump's lawyer also tweeted: "I am on’t be here for long but will be I my piece against bullshit Russian bullshit."  We have no idea what this means, but it appears to have been translated out of the Russian.

Airlines Tell Us Who They Are
Jet Blue (remember that name fondly) dropped airline ticket prices for Miami hurricane evacuees, while other airlines price-gouged as much as $3,400 a ticket.  At least some airlines would not allow dogs on an airplane without a carrier, even though there were no carriers to be had. Result: people were forced to choose between staying to face a life-threatening storm or abandoning their pets.

The Blitz of London Started On This Day in 1940
The Brits were tough and brave. Recognizing that, America fed and armed Britain. We then went to Britain in order to stage the liberation of France and the rest of Europe. A headline from 77 years ago is appended below.

Hurricane Dogs and Rescue Dilemmas

Here's a story I wrote in 2011 about the current Attorney General of Florida, a "rescue" St. Bernard from 2005 Hurricane Katrina, and the court case that followed.

Tell It True Now, How Did We Win the War?

Sir Douglas Bader died September 5, 1982. He was a Royal Air Force (RAF) flying ace during World War II, and is credited with 22 aerial victories, four shared victories, six probables, one shared probable, and 11 enemy aircraft damaged.

Shine on You Crazy Diamond

Activist Dion Diamond sitting on a counter stool during a civil rights sit-in, Arlington, 1960. To be an "activist" in 1960, all you had to do was sit on the wrong stool; trouble and fools would come looking for you.

In the summer of 1960, Dion Diamond and fellow activists would go on not only to integrate People’s Drug Store and Drug Fair, but other businesses in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. Helping the cause was their opposition, in the form of George Lincoln Rockwell and the American Nazi Party, which was headquartered where the Java Shack is now located.

A terrific Dion Diamond story is told by Stokely Carmichael (aka Kwame Ture):

I had a lot of experience in jails since this time. But this one? Whoa, it was unforgettable. This one was very, very strange.

We’re in the cell, unable to get to sleep. About two o’clock in the morning we hear footsteps approaching. I turn over to see a young white cop staring at us. He’s holding a pump-action shotgun, which he loads. As he does this, he’s staring at us and cursing. Dion and I exchange glances. Now what?

“So you the two _____ ______ _____ little sons of bitches who started this, huh? Wal, tonight you some dead niggers. I’ma kill yore black _____ _____ _____.”

He cocks the gun, cursing all the while. His eyes are bloodshot and staring as he moves the gun back and forth. First on me, then on Dion.

We are frozen. Dion in one corner of the cell, me in the other. The gun swings from one to the other. The cop is ranting and cussing. I’m stiff as a board trying to watch the guy’s eyes, his trigger finger, and the yawning muzzle of the shotgun at the same time. I watch as it swings away and back over to Dion. Then I hear Dion’s mouth, I cannot believe my ears.

“Come on, you cracker so-and-so, shoot. Pull the damn trigger. Ain’t nobody scared of you. Shoot. I’m ready to die if you bad enough. Shoot, white man. Do it.”

Dion just goes off, and as I see from the corner of my eyes, he’s steadily advancing on the gun. A veritable torrent of language flowing out of his mouth, defiant, challenging, non-stop language. Talk about putting me through some changes.

One minute I’m sure I’m dead, the next I’m absolutely certain that I’ve gone out of my mind. I can’t believe Dion. I remember thinking, “F” God’s sake, Dion, shut up. Please. This man is drunk. He’s crazy. You fixing to get us killed, Dion.”

The cop stares at Dion, begins to tremble, and swings the gun back over to my corner. What could I do? Having no choice, I start up too.

“Yeah, cracker, go ahead. Pull the _____ trigger. We ready to die. Are you? Pull the trigger.”

The policeman really started to shake then. Which was, if anything, worse. Now two voices are coming at him. Silently he lowers the weapon, turns, and walks away. I sink down on my bunk, listening to the footsteps recede.

I can’t describe the range of emotions. Fear. Anger. Disbelief. Relief, then exultation, then anger again. At Dion. I will not repeat exactly what my first words to him were—in effect, Dion, you crazed so-and-so….that’s my life you messing with. You understand that your crazy self damn near got us killed?

“Me,” said Dion. “Me crazy? Negro, we alive, aint’t we? Did he pull the trigger? Boy, you should be kissing my feet for saving yo’ shiftless life. Best you never forget this, Negro. When in doubt, jes’ follow me. Always follow the kid.”

For some reason, I found myself laughing. “You de man, bro, I’ma follow you. I’ma follow you.”

Crazy-assed Dion Diamond.

Ypres, 1917

Loading up the big shells. During the first and second battles at Ypres, Belgium in 1914 and 1915, more than 200,000 people were killed. During the third battle of Ypres, in 1917, between 400,000 and 800,000 more people were killed. Another 200,000 people died in the fourth battle of Ypres in 1918.

"Soldat und Tod" (Soldier and Death), painted by Hans Larwin in 1917

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Did Dyslexia Cause the Chinese to Worship Dog?

Did dyslexia cause these Chinese to worship dog?

That was the idle (or is it idol?) thought that flitted through my brain as I flipped through this article:

Dog dressed in human clothes sits on throne at Chinese worshipping festival

A world ruled by dogs may seem like an impracticable utopia for canine lovers, but in China they have turned that doggy dream into a reality.

It’s called Dog Carrying Day, an annual event which involves worshipping a dog dressed up in human clothes (yes, you did just read that).

Miao people carry one lucky dog in a sedan chair on dog carrying day, a traditional local festival, in Jianhe in China's southwestern Guizhou province.

A Seed is Planted in Eastern Kentucky

My father was born in Pineville, Kentucky in 1928, the son of the town drunk, in the poorest town in Eastern Kentucky, which is to say the poorest town in the United States.

Pineville is still dirt poor, with a median household income of $12,435, as compared to $17,270 for the rich folks in Harlan, or the truly rich of Middlesboro ($19,565).  For comparison's sake, I live in a zip code where the median household income is $163,000.

During the 1930s, unemployment in Appalachia was as high as 40%, the roads were muddy and often impassable, and over 30% of eastern Kentucky was illiterate.

To try to turn things around, the Work Projects Administration, part of FDR's New Deal, created the Pack Horse Library Initiative which hired local women to ride horses or mules up into the mountains to deliver books to people living "up in the hollers".

Carriers rode out at least twice a month on long routes of 100 to 120 miles. Nan Milan, who carried books in a daily eight-mile loop around the Pine Mountain Settlement School, a boarding school for mountain children whose families were too poor to raise them (and where my father was once ensconced), joked that the horses she rode had shorter legs on one side than the other so that they wouldn't slide off of the steep mountain paths. Riders earned $28 a month — around $495 in inflation-adjusted dollars.

From Smithsonian magazine comes this window into that world:

In 1936, packhorse librarians served 50,000 families, and, by 1937, 155 public schools. Children loved the program; many mountain schools didn't have libraries, and since they were so far from public libraries, most students had never checked out a book. "'Bring me a book to read,' is the cry of every child as he runs to meet the librarian with whom he has become acquainted," wrote one Pack Horse Library supervisor. "Not a certain book, but any kind of book. The child has read none of them."

"The mountain people loved Mark Twain," says Kathi Appelt, who co-wrote a middle-grade book about the librarians with Schmitzer, in a 2002 radio interview. "One of the most popular books…was Robinson Crusoe.” Since so many adults could not read, she noted, illustrated books were among the most beloved. Illiterate adults relied on their literate children to help decipher them.

My father ran away from home at 14, never graduated from high school, enrolled in the Air Force, got his GED, attended Princeton University, married my mom, joined the U.S. foreign service, taught himself two languages (French and Arabic) and several instruments (trombone, piano, and bass), and traveled the world, living at various times in Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Mali, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. He built a custom house and several apartments on Dupont Circle, taught himself to sail, and owned and drove a 1937 Bentley through Europe and North Africa. He ran the American Association for the Advancement of Science's climate project back when no one was talking about global warming.

In short, he rolled a long way from Pineville, Kentucky, and books were what made the journey possible. Without books my father would have never known there was a world beyond the crushing poverty of the mountains.

Books shaped by mother's life too. She was the daughter of a refinery worker in a small town in Kansas who feasted on the romantic travels of Richard Halliburton.  Oh to see Turkey and the Nile, Paris, and Khyber Pass! And, of course, she saw all that and much more, from Japan to the Amazon, from Alaska to Petra, from Tikal to the Fjords of Norway.

It all started with a few books, a little imagination, and a lot of drive.  Plant a seed and see what it might grow into.  FDR and Andrew Carnegie did that, and the world is forever changed as a result.

Coffee and Provocation

The Ancient Corkscrew Burrows of Nebraska
The ancient burrows of Palaeocastor, a kind of ancient nutria, are still being dug up today.

The Continuing Crisis
In an effort to crack down on texting while biking, the Dutch Traffic Safety Association and a national telecom company created a bike lock and mobile phone app that blocks cellular service while the lock is open.

Two Short Pieces of Dowel for $12.64
Amazon thinks you might want to buy a processed stick for your dog.

Volkswagen Has Made an Epic Camper Van
As someone who spent a few weeks car camping across Europe as part of a family of four in 1970, I can tell you that this thing is a giant leap forward.  Wow!

Too Many Americans are Beyond Overweight
We're getting fatter fast. In 2016, 25 states had obesity rates above 30 percent. In 2000, no state had a rate above 25 percent.

Do You Believe in Magic?
Next year, California will vote on a measure to become the first US state to legalize magic mushrooms.

The Check Is Not In the Mail

Donald Trump promised $5 million for President Obama's birth certificate, but only $1 million to help Texas hurricane victims. Note that he has not made good on either promise.

Money is the Root of All Evil, and Osteen Removes Evil
Joel Osteen’s church passed around collection plates during a service with Hurricane Harvey victims.

We Can't Grow On Like This
The US population tripled between the 1900 Census and the 1980 Census. World population is now 7.8 billion.

Still Standing
A 1,000-year-old oak tree survived Hurricane Harvey.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Is This the End, My Friends?

Houston and the Texas coastal areas of Beaumont and Port Arthur are bailing themselves out after as much as 52 inches of rain fell on them over the four days of Hurricane Harvey.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma is building over Puerto Rico and may hit Florida as a Category Four hurricane, bouncing up the east coast of Florida from Miami to North Carolina.  It's early yet, and the storm could veer west or peter out, but if it doesn't, it will hit sometime Sunday and wreck havoc. Florida roads mostly run north and south (the path of the hurricane) and there is not much to go "inland" towards, as it's all small roads and alligator swamps in central Florida, and these will see their own rising flood waters.

Neil Frank, the former director of the National Hurricane Center, spent his entire career fretting about what would happen if a Category Four hurricane came in at Miami and walked its way up the Florida coast. A core problem is that much of the beach development here consists of long rows of high-rise condominium towers and beach houses and hotels built on sand. The towers near Boca Raton are like dominoes, and if one falls due to storm surge scouring out its foundation, the building could tip over and bring with it the condo tower next door.

Meanwhile, out West, 77 large fires are burning across 1.4 million acres in eight western U.S. states. That’s an area more than three times the size of Houston, and the smoke is so thick you can see it from outer space (see link).

And did we mention that Congress is coming back to town and has a dozen bills to pass in 12 days, and that North Korea has both an H-Bomb and a missile to put it on?

And standing over it all is Donald Trump, an Alzheimer's patient let loose, an aggrieved and child-like emotional cripple who lives in a fantasy infused by right-wing paranoid conspiracy theories, racist fear-mongering, and a sense of impending doom. The folks in the Special Prosecutors Office, the New York Attorney General's office, and reporters from The New York Times and The Washington Post are closing in on the billion dollar real estate Ponzi scheme that Donald Trump built to launder money from Russian oligarchs. Trump's world is about to crumble, and the video tapes (they exist) are not even out yet (look for those to drop in October). Trump's  generals are in open revolt, the Congressional leadership is in open revolt, Trump's crackpot friends and hangers-on are being tossed out of the White House at record speed, the Vice President and Trump's son-in-law are now implicated in the corruption, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may soon bolt from a still-unstaffed State Department, and everyone is lawyering up, flipping, and leaking faster than the Titanic two hours after impact.

Bottom line:  When it all becomes too much, be sure to take the dogs for a good long walk.

Whatever Happened to West Nile Fever?

I found this dead crow in the hedge this weekend, which reminded me of West Nile Fever which, for a time, devastated the crow population on the East Coast. Whatever happened to West Nile Fever?

The bottom line is that the mosquito-borne illness is still out there 18 years later, and it still kills millions of birds a year, and not all of them crows. Warbling vireos (Vireo gilvus), Swainson’s thrush (Catharus ustulatus), purple finches (Carpodacus purpureus), tufted titmouses (Baeolophus bicolor), and wrentits (Chamaea fasciata) have been decimated. People too are not entirely immune. A woman died from West Nile in South Carolina last week and it (apparently) can turn up in chickens as well as wild birds.

The good news is that the infection is mostly asymptomatic and most infected people and birds recover without even knowing they had it.  The crow population, which was particularly hard-hit 15 years ago (nearly 100 percent mortality), seems to have slowly developed a partial immunity as more resistant-birds have survived and propagated. Darwin lives!

What about this particular crow?  There is no telling what got him. It could be West Nile (probably), a respiratory infection, internal parasites, mites, old age, battery from the previous night's storm, or a run in with the red-tail hawk that I could hear keening in the background.  Life is often fairly short for birds, which is why they are such phenomenal reproducers.