Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Balanced Trainer for Unbalanced Dogs

Asking me my thoughts about dog training is a bit like asking a rodeo clown to bring in the herd: I might know my way around a cow, but I might not be quite what you need for this job.

And so, it was with some confusion that I got a call from my mother asking me what I thought of the article on Cesar Millan (the so-called "Dog Whisperer") in this morning's New York Times.

I had not see it.

A bit later, I got an email from Reid Farmer asking, "Who's gonna jump on this one?"

Well hell, I guess I will. If deep knowledge and expertise are required to type, there would not be too many typing classes.

So here goes. What does this New York Times piece criticizing Cesar Millan and "The Dog Whisperer" TV show actually say?

Here's the meat of it:

"Essentially, National Geographic and Cesar Millan have cleverly repackaged and promoted a simplistic view of the dog's social structure and constructed around it a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach to dog training. In Mr. Millan's world, dog behavioral problems result from a failure of the human to be the pack leader, to dominate the dog (a wolf by any other name) completely.

"While Mr. Millan rejects hitting and yelling at dogs during training, his confrontational methods include physical and psychological intimidation, like finger jabs, choke collars, extended sessions on a treadmill and what is called flooding, or overwhelming the animal with the thing it fears. Compared with some training devices still in use whips and cattle prods, for example these are mild, but combined with a lack of positive reinforcement or rewards, they place Mr. Millan firmly in a long tradition of punitive dog trainers."

Aha! Now I get it. Millan is a "bad and backward" punitive dog trainer! The author of The New York Times piece slyly manages to work in whips and cattle prods to suggest Millan is one of those types of trainers.

But wait a minute! What Mr. Millan actually does is simply use an ordinary choke chain as it should be used, a firm voice and a firm hand to get a dogs attention. There are no beatings of dogs here. This is the National Geographic Channel, for God's sake!

The over-educated yuppies who watch this channel do not have a problem being too coercive. Their problem is that they think of their dogs as human children and they are willing to have themselves and their children bitten rather than try to communicate with the dog as a dog.

Whatever a dog is, it is NOT a human child.

But, of course, this is news to a lot of folks that watch the National Geographic channel, Animal Planet, and public television. These are nice people who love their pets. Most of them have sat on the couch so long watching nature shows they think real-life lion kills in the Serengeti are narrated, sotto voce, by the same voice that announces par scores on the Golfing Channel.

But no matter how nice or over-educated you are, a dog is not a child. This is a particularly uncomfortable and threatening truth for women who have managed to displace their maternal instincts to the family pet. This is a point Millan does not address directly (please, not too much honesty Millan!) but he does suggest women often have a harder time asserting dominance over their "fur babies." He is right. Why does saying this obvious thing send Mark Derr clucking away like a hen? Anyone who works with dogs has seen the maternal displacement problem in action, and anyone who has seen the "Dog Whisperer" TV show has seen the problem repeated out again and again. The Daisy Fuentes episode was particularly memorable for some reason ....

The simple but harsh truth is that the psycho-demographic watching the National Geographic channel tend to be people with two types of common "dog problems": They think their dog is their child, and their dog is over-fed and fat.

The dog is, quite simply, being "loved to death."

Cesar has antidotes for both problems. He is the right wrench for this nut.

If Mark Derr, the author of the New York Times editorial, wants to put together a TV show about dog training his way, he is free to do it. But it will not be a show that makes it on air unless it is entertaining. And dramatic. And has a charistmatic human figure as the lead.

Can Mr. Derr supply that? I doubt it. Cesar Millan can.

What National Geographic has done, as far as I can tell, is nothing more than film a charismatic and smart dog trainer at work and then cut up the tape so that it makes for good television. What's wrong with that? Was the boring stuff left on the cutting room floor? Of course. Who wants to see two hours of click-and-treat? Not me!

Derr seems to take issue with Cesar Millan's admonition that dogs do best with "exercise, discipline, and affection," and he seems to disagree with Mr. Millan's definition of discipline as meaning "rules, boundaries, and limitations."

Derr is being stupid. No serious dog man would argue with Millan on these points. The only thing you should say after Milan's statements on these issues is "Of course." Or perhaps, if you are being a bit chatty, "It is also true for children."

Next point.

Derr goes on to criticize Millan because Millan talks of dogs as being primarily pack animals with an innate desire to have a leader. Derr says wolves are not what Millan says they are because he read a study once that says differently.

Hmmm. . . .

I would agree that a dog is not a wolf (I say exactly that in my own book on working terriers -- see Chapter One), but I would NOT say a dog is not a pack animal.

A dog IS a pack animal.

On this matter, I speak from experience -- experience that Mr. Derr may not have. You see, I have been attacked by a pack of feral dogs. I assure you it is not something you forget.

At the time I was attacked I had been walking solo in the woods for eight weeks. I smelled rank, and with a 60-pound pack on my back, and a rain fly over my pack, I am not sure the mixed pack of large farms dogs recognized me as a human.

I smelled wild, and these were deer-killing dogs that had decided to put me on the menu. I was lucky to "sort it out" the way I did. My pants were ripped through at the crotch by an attacking dog who managed (by miracle) to only find wool before he was batted off into a ditch. Yes, one dog died. There are no regrets here.

So when Derr says dogs are not pack animals he can take a hike (pun intended). I know better, and what I know I did not read in a book.

Derr correctly notes that some aggressive dogs have underlying genetic problems predisposing them to being aggressive.

Yes, that is true. But guess what? So too do humans. We lock up a lot of humans, but we assimilate, educate and train most of them to "do the right thing". A genetic load for a little aggression is not necessarily destiny. It should be a lot easier to deal with dogs than humans. Dogs do not have beer, whiskey and PCP to warp their minds.

Huge numbers of dogs are written off, not because the dog is a genetic failure, but because the owner is ignorant (and sometimes stupid) and has done a poor job of socializing, training and leading a perfectly fine animal as it needs to be lead.

Is there a place for Prozac in your dog's food? There is according to Mr. Derr. I would disagree. Most dogs need training. If a dog is so unremittingly aggressive that it needs to be medicated, it needs to be put down. There are too many fine dogs being put to sleep every day for want of a good home to waste food and space on keeping a genetic wreck alive and medicated with chemical clutches. Dogs are not humans! We are not talking about YOU. Get over it. The only REAL question is whether the dog is actually the problem. Cesar Millan says it is more likely the owner -- and he is probably right.

Mr. Derr's shock and dismay at mild coercion during dog training suggests he is a dog training fadist. We see these people in the world of dogs just as we see them in the world of food and fashion.

Some of the most extreme fadists are the "clicker training" folks. For a cult-like subset of this group, Karen Pryor's book, Don't Shoot the Dog is a virtual Bible, and clicker training their sole religion.

I am not against clicker training (quite the opposite!) and I am all for positive reinforcement. I will bet Cesar Millan is not against positive reinforcement either.

That said, pure positive reinforcement is NOT how dogs communicate to each other, is it?

It may come as a shock to some people to learn that Karen Pryor did not invent clicker training. It was invented by the late wife of legendary animal trainer Bob Bailey. Bailey was on an animal training list-serv that I was on. Both of us were quiet lurkers, but one day Bailey popped up to set one "pure positive" person right on his ass. Mr. Bailey wanted it known to the list that he himself was not a "clicker trainer." He used clickers, sure, but he also felt there was a place for mild coercion. He even thought there was a right time and place to "shoot the dog" when dealing with extremely dangerous animals. Not a peep was heard after that.

Back to Cesar Millan. One of Millan's core points is that people with dogs are confused about what they have at the other end of the leash.

Yes, a dog is not a wolf (even if both animals DO organize themselves on a pack model), but a dog is also not a CHILD.

A dog is a dog.

Millan's core training message is that we must communicate with dogs on their level and with their values, and not our own.

Yes, dogs value food and affection.

But dogs also understands teeth, power and dominance.

Mr. Millan's point is NOT that dogs need to be bitten or beaten to get them to behave. Mr. Millan is a very civilized trainer and not a violent man. His point is simply this: almost every dog has within it the capacity to be submissive to a true leader.

Puppies are submissive to larger dogs, and smaller dogs are submissive to larger dogs. In a pack, there is only one Alpha dog and one Beta dog, and there is a "pecking order" all the way down to the Omega.

This is NOT news to anyone with a few free-range dogs. The order I release my own dogs in the morning is determined by pack order. If I do it wrong, the dogs squabble. If I do it right, all is harmony. The same is true for feeding.

Is dominance and coercion the way you train a "sit-stay"? Well, actually, yes and no. It's not quite that simple. Click-and-reward is the core method of training a dog to do a trick, but a dog that has been over-fed is not very attentive is it? A dog that has been caged or crated and not given much excercise is a bit too bouncy to focus on you, isn't it? And if a dog is going to learn anything it needs a calm, assertive and not-too-verbal person who consistently does the same thing over and over again. In fact, this is exactly what Cesar Millan offers and when he teaches -- along with a good dose of "Your dog is not your child," and "this is a choke chain -- learn how to use it."

And so I come back to a question I had after reading Mr. Derr's piece. What was Mr. Derr's intention? Did he have a point?

In fact, I think he did. I think his point is that he hopes New York Times readers will read his own book. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is not a good reason to slap someone around with poor thoughts and thin facts. I do not know much about Mark Derr, but he does not seem to know much about dog training. Even less than me, and I am a basket case.

And, for the record, I have read Mark Derr's book. It is a canine history book, and what I remember is that it was not terrible, but not great. The most memorable bit of information I got out of it is that Lewis and Clark ate a lot of dog meat on their expedition, and one of them (I can't remember which one) actually preferred dog flesh to elk or deer.

Interesting, but not quite as useful as knowing how to put a choke collar on a dog properly. Barbara Woodhouse taught that useful lesson to a generation of public televisions viewers some 30 years ago. Cesar Milan is now teaching it to a similar psycho-demographic on The National Geographic Channel. Some things will always be needed.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Shitzhund Work at the AKC

A properly built dog has real drive and power.

In May the AKC decided there was money to be made in Schutzhund, and so they launched a program they are calling "Working Dog Sport."

Without a hint of irony or self-reflection, the AKC writes:

"In keeping with its long standing tradition and history AKC is now proposing the establishment of a 'Working Dog Sport' designed to demonstrate the development and advancement of the skills instincts and teamwork so necessary for use in defending the country and in reacting to threats and attacks against it."

Defending the country? If this country needs AKC dogs for protection, we might as well raise the white flag.

In fact, the Secret Service has abandoned American-bred German Shepherds entirely, moving to import Belgian Malinois from Holland, as the supply of American-bred dogs has been deemed too poor and inconsistent to stomach.

The Dog Scoop Blog thinks it knows why the AKC has moved to embrace Schutzhund work:

"Now, AKC's mutant versions of Dobermans and GSD's can get bite work titles too, in a comfortable, non-competitive environment, to prove the crippled softies really are solid, sound and all-around superior specimens."

If those sound like strong words, then you may be unaware of what the AKC show ring has done to the German Shepherd.

A pictorial history of the German Shepherd in America tells a powerful story in few words:

A core problem is that the AKC will register any dog regardless of health or working ability. German registration requires the sire and dam to have their hips x-rayed. and working titles are noted on the registration papers. Only German Shepherds that have passed a Schutzhund test or a herding test are allowed to have their pups registered.

Even in Germany, however, the division street between working dog and show dogs is wide, and I am told that true working German Shepherds are rarely crossed over show stock, no matter that the show dog has a Schutzhund title.

That is not surprising to me. You will almost never see a racing Greyhound, pulling dog or working border collie crossed with an AKC dog, and the same is true in the world of working terriers.

A core problem in the AKC is that the breed clubs are populated by people that have no idea of what their dogs are supposed to do.

That is not been changed by the weak performance trials that the AKC has cobbled together. These trials serve as little more than window dressing to help preserve the fantasy that a show dog can actually "do the job" if given a chance.

In fact, most of them cannot do the job, which is why the AKC has cobbled together "dumbed down" performance tests.

True working retrievers and pointers are being hunted for birds, not ribbons. True working terriers are going to earth in tight natural earths on live quarry that bites back, not sliding down smooth-sided wooden tunnels after caged rats.

"If you want to know if you have a working dog," notes one of my friends with battered boots, "you don't go to an earthdog trial, you go to a hedgerow. It's just not that hard to do."

No, it's not. But unfortunately, the dog cannot drive itself, and not every dog will do.

This is what a German Shepherd looked like in 1959, the year I was born. Note the straight back and relatively strong rear end.

This is a German Shepherd today. Note the roached back and the weak rear end devoid of true drive power.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Expanding Out the Veterinary Kit

I have a small veterinary kit that comes in handy. Some items that I use fairly frequently include:

  • Vet Bond veterinary glue to close small gashes. This is really not much better than SuperGlue, and quite a bit more expensive. I recently used SuperGlue to close a fairly sizeable muzzle rip on one of my terriers,and noticed no real difference to VetBond other than a lower cost. And yes, I use SuperGlue on myself, not VetBond.

  • Antibiotics. I have both veterinary Amoxycillin, Clavamox and Baytril, but I generally use Fish-Flex cephelaxin which can be gotten without a prescription and is really the best stuff for flesh wounds. It also works great on ear infections and urinary tract infections for the dogs. Most groundhog wounds do fine just being washed out and having betadine squirted into them.

  • Mycitracin eye ointment to help prevent infection in case of a corneal rip. If a cornea is ripped, apply eye ointment and also dose the dog with cephelaxin and keep the dog crated and/or quiet indoors and away from the other dogs. Time and antibiotics are the only real options for cornea rips .

  • Lots of distilled water to wash out eyes and wounds. Distilled water put in a squirt bottle can do a lot of good! I generally have several small flip-top eye wash bottles with me in the field.

Some things I have added to my kit, or that I no longer leave at the house:

  • Veterinary stapler to close wounds if needed. I hope I never need it, but they are simple to use and work well. A dose of VetBond over the top of the staple further prevents movement and infection. A staple remover is required to get out surgical staples.

  • Rectal thermometer to test for falling temperature for shock. After the Black Widow spider bite, this is no longer in the cabinet at the house but in the vet kit where it should have always been.

  • Percocet 5, which is enough to treat ten 10-pound dogs. This can be given orally (diluted and squirt down the throat) or rectally or subqutaneous in fluid. I also have a dose of rimadyl, a drug I do not much like.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Intertwined Roots: Rosettes and Animal Rights

This piece is recycled from an from April 4, 2004 post to this Blog

A book some might find of interest is "The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age" by Harriet Ritvo [Harvard University Press, 1989]

Ritvo points out that the Dog Show crowd and the Animal Rights crowd spring from the same root-stock of sentiment, and in both cases the animals are the side-show, not the main event.

Ritvo writes that in the Victorian era and into the 20th Century dog show folks "elevated standards that had no basis in nature or aesthetics but reflected the ignorant, self-interested caprices of fanciers who wished to boost the prestige of their own stock in order to associate themselves with people of good breeding." And, of course, it paid, with show winners being sold for cash -- a quick way for people of low rank to buy themselves up the social ladder. If one had a dog that was "best of breed," then surely the owner must be of similar worth, right??

Ritvo notes that terriers were particularly singled out for attention by the show ring preeners and pretenders, and that "'The Fox Terrier Chronicle, the only 19th Century periodical devoted to a single breed of dogs, covered the terrier elite the way that newspapers and other periodicals covered human high society."

Ritvo notes that dog fanciers projected "an obsessively detailed vision of a stratified order, which sorted animals and, by implication, people into snug and appropriate niches" with dog shows offering "a dizzying range of classes and then abstracted from them a carefully calibrated hierarchy of animals, ranging from those who did not place even in their sub-breed category to the best in show."

In short, the attraction of dog shows was that people, who themselves were as common as a turnip top. could now fancy that they were among the social elite. They did not have to have real knowledge of animals, or have an important job or title or large estate -- they just had to purchase a dog from a "reputable" show breeder and put on airs.

As one Victorian periodical noted, "nobody now who is anybody can afford to be followed about by a mongrel dog."

Ritvo notes that "Specialist clubs were supposed to defend their breeds against the vicissitudes of fashion, but they had few other guides in their attempts to establish standards for breeds and judges."

Even in the Victorian era, almost no one walking into the ring with a "working" breed actually worked their dogs. After almost half a century of formal shows, the author of a manual for dog owners noted that "the sportsman will as a rule have nothing to do with the fancier's production."

All of the above is from the Second chapter of Ritvo's book. The Third chapter is about the rise of the Animal Rights movement, and here we see the same class issues popping up that we did in the previous chapter. Just as honest working dogs were labeled "mongrels best for the dustbin," so too were the people that owned them. The analogies made were simple and direct: Coarse people had coarse dogs and engaged in coarse behavior. Show people had "pedigree" dogs and they did not engage in coarse behavior.

Of course, not everything was quite as simple as this in the real world. No matter -- the goal of the RSPCA was not entirely about animals anyway -- it was in no small part all about putting down the poor and the rural and castigating them for having "undisciplined" values.

Towards this end, Ritvo notes that the tracts of the RSPCA "implicitly identified the lower classes as the source of brutality," even as this same organization gave "the big wink" to fox hunting and grouse hunting which were common pastimes of the rich and landed.

Today, of course, the people you see at a PETA rally and the folks that you see trotting their dogs around a show ring are not all that different demographically.

In his book "In Defense of Hunting," James A. Swan notes that the Animal Rights crowd is dominated by people that are "white, urban, predominantly female, nicely dressed" and that many of them are "people who have gone through painful divorces or have had traumatic childhoods or have otherwise been hurt by the norms of society."

Food for thought .... make of it what you will.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hunting Season Starts Soon: Be Careful Out There

Regular hunting seasons start soon, so groundhog hunters who have been in happy oblivion all Spring and Summer need to remember that they could have company on some of the farms they hunt.

A few Maryland hunting season dates are appended below for general reference -- check your own Department of Natural Resources web site for hunting seasons in your area.

I note that the limits on deer in Maryland and Virginia are quite a bit different. Basically, Virginia limits hunters to 4 or 5 deer (depending on your section of the state) unless you have a special ticket (which is very easy to get), but Maryland has, for all practical purposes, removed all real limits on deer hunting in Region B (almost all of the state) in an effort to knock deer populations to a manageable level.

By my count, if you hunt blackpowder, bow and regular long gun (rifle/shotgun), you can shoot 36 deer -- more if you want to bow hunt the rural Baltimore-Washington suburbs. The catch: you are restricted on antlered deer, and must shoot at least two does before you can take your second buck. In Maryland Region A (a tiny region consisting of just two counties) deer hunting is restricted to one buck and one doe due to overharvesting in past years.

It's worth remembering that both Maryland and Virginia had effectively killed off all their deer by 1900, and the state of Virginia was still importing deer into some parts of the state as late as the mid 1960s. What a difference a few decades can make!

Maryland's deer population in 2004-2005 was estimated to be about 250,000, and that year hunters killed 93,868 deer. Of this total, 19,193 were taken by bowhunters and 23,130 were taken by blackpowder hunters. The rest (about half of all the deer taken) were taken with rifle and shotgun.

Deer populations remain pretty steady across the state of Maryland, but in the Baltimore-Washington corridor the number of deer in the rural suburbs is so thick that unlimited bow hunting is permitted.

In 2004, there were 4,297 reported fatal deer-vehicle strikes in Maryland. Since the average deer-car strike results in $2,800 in damage, we can figure a state-wide deer-lreated car repair loss of over $12,000,000.

Hunting is estimated to generate over $82 million in retail sales of deer hunting equipment and supplies in Maryland every year -- a number that does not factor in other economic engines to the states, such as travel, gasoline, veterinary care for hunting dogs, etc.

In 2004 Maryland deer hunters donated over 60 tons of venison to the needy through the nonprofit organization Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry.

OK, enough trivia. Some Maryland hunting season start dates, by critter:

  • The early resident goose season is Sept. 1-22. The early season carries a generous five-per day limit. In short -- "knock yourself out" -- a pretty far remove from 50 years ago when the Canada Goose was virtually extinct.

  • Deer bow season starts Sept. 15 and runs off and on through the end of January, depending on your location. The limit here is pretty generous if you are meat hunting: 10 antlerless and 2 antlered. Two antlerless deer must be taken before a second antlered deer can be taken. Bow hunters may take an unlimited number of antlerless deer within the suburban counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince GeorgeƂ’s counties -- an indication of how big the deer problem is in the Maryland suburbs.

  • Deer firearms season starts Nov 11 for juniors and Nov 25th for adults and runs off and on until Jan 6th. The limit here is pretty generous if you are meat hunting: 10 antlerless and 2 antlered. Two antlerless deer must be taken before a second antlered deer can be taken.

  • Deer black powder season starts October 18 and runs to the end of December. The limit here is pretty generous if you are meat hunting: 10 antlerless and 2 antlered. Two antlerless deer must be taken before a second antlered deer can be taken.

  • Dove and squirrel seasons open Sept. 2. The dove season is a three-way split: Sept. 2-23; Oct. 7-Nov. 4 and Dec. 28-Jan. 15.

  • Squirrel hunting season is Sept. 2-Jan. 31.

  • Rail hunting is Sept. 8-Nov. 16.

  • There is a special early Teal (duck) season open Sept. 16-25, with a four-daily limit. Other waterfowl dates will be set soon.

  • Wild Turkey fall season starts Oct 28 and runs to Nov 4

  • Black bear in Maryland has two short season at the end of October and the beginning of December.

  • Woodcock season is Nov. 4-18 and Dec. 23-Jan. 6. The limit is three.

  • Rabbit season starts Nov. 4 and runs through mid-February with a 4-per day bag limit.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Beagles Update -- New Homes Await

I called over to the local Animal Shelter this morning, and the three beagles I found running loose in the road 10 days ago have still not been claimed.

They tracked down the name and phone number on the tag to a woman who said she did not own the dogs, had no room for dogs, and was very busy. She then hung up the phone.

Odd behavior. The shelter folks think that this woman is actually the original owner of the dogs, and that she simply dumped them or released them to the road.

The good news is that the animal shelter says that it has "loads" of "really great applications" for these gentle and happy dogs, and they are all going to be adopted out very quickly. "These dogs have a waiting list," I was told. Excellent!

It's a tesimony to the effectiveness of spay-neuter laws and the hard worlk of breed-specific rescues that fewer "good" dogs are being euthenized today.

During the last 30 years shelter intakes and euthanasias have decreased by 60-80 percent in many cities, particularly those located on the East and West coasts of the U.S. In a county like Arlington, where loose dogs are unheard of, unemployment is low, and social consciousness is pretty high (we are sometimes called the "People's Republic of Northern Virginia"), the local animal shelter has more requests for beagle-sized dogs than it can accomodate.

All's well that ends well. I will call again in a few weeks when the dogs are placed. The delay in placement is solely due to the fact that there is a case of Parvo in the kennel, and so all the dogs are in "lockdown" until that is cleared up.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Lawyer Ad Spoof

Finally a lawyer ad that I actually like >> HERE. It's the perfect pitch of manic, screaming, self-righteousness that you find in so many lawyer ads, right down to the canned shots and sounds effects, testimonials from trailer-park types, and the brother/associate tacked on at the end.

This is nice social commentary of the old-fashioned school, where you simply take what you see every day and amp it up to the point of absurdity. That's not hard to do with a lawyer ad. The reason I have it highlighted here (and why it was sent to me) is that this ad is about a "dog lawyer".

Moxie in the Hole

Went out with Chris on Sunday for a short day in the field.

Lots of blank holes with no one home, until we spied this large sette in the middle of a soybean field. A little of the eat-out around the sette can be seen -- one reason farmers hate groundhogs.

This groundhog was worked to a stop end, and it was a very shallow dig. Moxie took a few hard hits before we got the 'hog tailed out and dispatched. This was a nice pot-bellied groundhog which tipped the scale at a little past 13 pounds.

We scouted around a bit more, and then Chris had to call it day. Mountain, of course, got lost in the forest on the way back, and I turned around short of the car to see if I can find her, thinking she had gone to ground. Meanwhile, while I was out looking for Mountain, Chris found her at the truck and walked her back to stake her next to the pile of tools I had dropped on the path.

A nice deep hedgerow sette showing wear at the spoil pile.

Sailor and I headed back down to where we had last seen Mountain and, as luck would have it, Sailor found in a nice hedgerow sette. I stayed with her long enough to make sure it was not a skunk, and then left her while I went back for the tools (and Mountain).

When I got back to the hole, Sailor was still hayin hup a storm, and the box said 7 feet down so I sat on a root and let her move it around some more. No way was I going to solo dig a 7 foot hole unless Sailor got into trouble, which seemed unlikely at this point. After another half hour Sailor came out, saw me, slipped back in, and bolted it out in short order. She no doubt had it bottled in a stop end. When she came off of it to look for me, it no doubt moved out to a bolting position.

All good, and as hoped. Only a mad man wants to solo dig a 7-foot hole when the temperature is 90 degrees!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Possum Politics (With Bonus Recipie)

  • Possums Are Playing Upide-Down Role In Florida Elections
    Panhandle Marsupial Event Is Vital Campaign Stop;Jeb Bush Was a Regular

    By Theo Francis, Wall Street Journal, August 11, 2006; Page A1

    WAUSAU, Fla. -- Katherine Harris, the Florida congresswoman, U.S. Senate candidate and controversial former secretary of state, dangled a live possum by its tail. Other candidates waited their turns.

    "Keep shaking!" auctioneer David Corbin admonished the candidates. "Don't let it crawl up your arm and bite!"

    Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Rod Smith gave his possum a quick shake, and it went limp.

    In most states, political candidates march in parades and kiss babies. In Florida, they also handle possums. In years past, Gov. Jeb Bush did it, and all but one of his serious would-be successors in this year's election have tried their hand at it. Other handlers of possums or observers of possum-handling this summer include two U.S. Senate hopefuls and at least three would-be state judges, along with candidates for agriculture secretary, state chief financial officer and a slew of local and county positions.

    The ritual is recommended for any candidate hoping to win votes in the northwest panhandle, some 90 miles west of Tallahassee. In this region, the place to reach crowds is Wausau's annual Fun Day and Possum Festival, which is in its 37th year. Here, candidates shake hands with potential constituents, cheer the Little Miss Fun Day contestants and place bids on possums to raise funds for local charities -- scoring points with potential voters. Then they hold up their writhing winnings for the obligatory possum photograph.

    At least once in their career, most sample a plate of possum, this year cooked with peppers and onions and served up with sweet potatoes, greens and corn pone. "It's kind of greasy," says Ms. Harris.

    "You know that part where they say it tastes like chicken?" says Mr. Smith, a north Florida state senator seeking the Democratic nod for governor. "That's a bad chicken."

    Rep. Katherine Harris holds up a possum she purchased at the Wausau Possum Festival, on Aug. 5, in Wausau, Fla. Ms. Harris is a candidate for the U.S. Senate.
    Standing nearby, Mr. Smith's 19-year-old son Dylan looks at his father in surprise. "You don't like possum? You like squirrel," Dylan Smith says.

    "I like squirrel," Mr. Smith says. "I don't like possum or raccoon."

    Wausau has one blinking yellow light and 411 residents, but an abundance of possums in the surrounding woods of loblolly and slash pine. Possums are credited with keeping a lot of people alive hereabouts during the Depression. "I was raised on it," says Robert Taylor, 64, an exterminator and lifelong resident of Panama City, about 35 miles south.

    Mr. Taylor says possum is tasty fried or barbecued, but he no longer indulges. "I watch my cholesterol now, and that guy's loaded with cholesterol." At 220 calories for a 100-gram serving, roast possum supplies 128 milligrams of cholesterol, or 43% of an adult's daily recommended intake, along with 10 grams of fat, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

    The festival dates back to 1970 when a highway engineer named Dalton Carter was asked to start a fund-raiser for local civic groups. "I prayed on it, and Fun Day came to mind," Mr. Carter, 74, recalls.

    The possum auction was added the following year, and now it is the highlight of the festival. This year, several hundred people packed into Wausau's 8,000-square-foot sheet-metal Possum Palace pavilion in sweltering heat to see how much bidders would offer for possums. The largest amount paid this year was $700. Ms. Harris, the Senate candidate, paid $400 for hers.

    During the bidding, political tensions are mostly muted, though in 1998 Ms. Harris dubbed the baby possum she won for $100 "Sandra" after her opponent for secretary of state, Sandra Mortham. This year, Republican and Democrat candidates stood together as the auction approached, eyeing the nearby cage of possums, including a big, one-eyed male that the handlers called "fierce."

    Most winners hand back their possums, to be set free. But one exception was former Gov. Bob Martinez, who kept his $750 prize in a cage at campaign headquarters until Election Day at the urging of younger staff members, who named it after country singer Waylon Jennings. Then Mr. Martinez gave Waylon to a zoo in Tampa. "He had got to be a pretty big guy," the former governor says. "They're ugly, but cute."

    Nocturnal omnivores and North America's only native marsupial, Didelphis virginiana, or opossum, is found throughout the Eastern U.S. and is probably best known for "playing possum," or facing danger by pretending to be dead. Its other notable feature is its prehensile tail, which can cling to trees or human hands.

    Possums cause little nuisance, other than eating pet food left outside or rooting around in household trash bins or gardens and nesting in attics, says Andy Andreasen, the University of Florida Extension Service agent for Washington County.
    One candidate this year saw more than a photo-op in the event. Max Linn, running a long-shot campaign for governor under the Reform Party banner, saw an analogy. "There's a direct correlation between possums and politicians," Mr. Linn said. "They get into office and they play possum -- then every election, they go out and pretend to be something else."

    20 boiled, deboned possums (best caught in winter when plump), 3 lbs onions chopped, 2-3 large green Bell peppers, chopped garlic, salt, red-pepper flakes, black pepper

    Carefully check boiled meat for bones and remove. Sautee onions and green peppers, then add to possum meat. Add salt, pepper and red-pepper flakes to taste, mixing thoroughly. Double-wrap in tin-foil and refrigerate overnight. Place seasoned meat in heavy foil containers in barbecue smoker, stirring periodically for 45 minutes until thoroughly heated. Serve with sweet potatoes, greens and corn pone. Serves as many as will eat possum.

Random Pictures from Sunday Scouting

Sunflower head and fields. This is Pittman-Robertson land and this location will be open for dove hunting in about three weeks. Along with plenty of doves, small flocks of American goldfinches were busting out all over as I walked down a wide row.

Fallow field, just a little way down from the sunflowers. This land looked like ideal habitat, but small signs at the forest edge told me the water table was high and the ground was often soaked.

A Marsh or Swamp Mallow. This plant is normally found on fairly wet ground, and is a type of hibiscus.

Soybeans planted in a tree-lined alley.

Butterflies on ironweed. Along with several tiger swallowtails, there was a monarch butterful, several spicebush swallowtails, and a blue skipper. Iron weed is normally found on ground that is quite wet at least part of the year.

A large marsh with water lillies. Ideal duck habitat.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Traitors, Spies and Beagles


It was a simple plan: Get out early in order to dig on the dogs before the heat of August crushed me. My goal was to be digging by 8 am.

I packed up the tools and gassed up the truck. I loaded a milk jug with water and froze it so the cooler would have ice. I packed Mountain Dews and water. I charged the cell phone and the camera batteries.

In the driveway, I paused. Did I have everything? Shovel, bar, collars, batteries, dogs? Gloves, camera, hat, sunscreen, cooler, veterinary box, posthole digger, Bertha? Check, check, check.

I drove the vehicle all of six blocks before getting derailed. Sometimes our plans make God laugh. This was one of those days.

Zipping down Military Road a beagle ran right in front of the car. I missed it, but just barely, and a car in the other lane screeched to a halt, just missing a second beagle darting across the road. A third beagle sniffed a lawn 10 yards up on my side of the road.

The lady in the other car pulled over, and I did too. She was surprised I had three leashes and three choke chains in the car with me. I am always full of surprises.

We spent a few minutes rounding up the dogs. They were not too skittish, thank goodness.

These were very nice looking beagles; not fat, very clean and quite friendly.

Now who did they belong to?

One dog had no collar at all, another had a collar on but no tag, and the third dog had on both a collar and a tag, but the tag had only a name and phone number -- there was no street address.

I called the phone number on the tag and got a mechanical voice that said there was no one to take my call. This was a phone service -- there was no message machine at all. The service message was cryptic; the phone might have been disconnected.

With the help of a neighbor in a nearby house, we got a street address that corresponded to the last name on the dog tag. It was an uncommon German name, and lucky for me there was only one other person with that name in the County. That house was only a couple of blocks away -- another good sign. Though the house had the same 3-digit phone exchange as the telephone number on the dog collar, the last 4-digits of the phone number were different.

It was a lead, and I would take what I could get. I loaded all three beagles into my Explorer, and went to the address. It turned out to be Aldrich Ames' old house.

Aldrich Ames was the CIA-spy turned traitor that fingered over 100 agents to the Russians. At least 10 of those agents were later executed. Untold intelligence operations were compromised and important secrets were given away. It was, without a doubt, the greatest act of treachery and treason in the history of the CIA. Ames went to jail (he should have been executed) and his wife left to go back to her home country of Colombia. The house was sold and Ames's other assets were seized. Ames had collected over $4.5 million from the Soviets -- real blood money. This was in 1994.

Going up the short driveway to Ames' old house, it was quickly apparent that something was again off-kilter at this residence. Though everything looked fine on the surface (mowed lawn, trimmed bushes, good paint on the house, cars in the driveway, no newspapers stacked up), a large "Do Not Move" sticker was on a car in the driveway, notifying anyone that cared to look that the vehicle was being seized by the County over a tax dispute. That was odd.

The house looked empty and there was a lot of stuff in the garage. The backyard had a short fence, and wire mesh ran around the base. Perhaps this backyard had held these beagles, but there was no way to be sure. The fence looked too short -- just four feet. With no one home, and some signs of financial distress at the house, I was not leaving them in a yard I was pretty sure was not dog secure.

I happened to know a family five doors down, and I rang the door bell there. Everyone was asleep (it was early Sunday morning) except their young daughter who is now age 9 or 10. No, she did not know if anyone up the street had beagles.
In the end, there was no alternative but to take the dogs to the County animal shelter. I did not feel guilty doing it -- it is a very clean, well-lighted and antiseptic place and the dogs would be well treated. If a dog is not violent and healthy, it will be adopted out of this shelter within a day or two of being made available -- especially if it is a small to medium-size and gentle dog, as these beagles certainly were.

These really were nice and well-behaved dogs, and they were in the pink of health. I imagine they will be retrieved by their owner soon enough. If not, I am willing to bet they will be adopted into a life of luxury. If you are going to be a stray dog, this is not a bad County to live in.

The Arlington County Animal Shelter could be an up-scale veterinarian's office. It has nice art on the walls, and dog toys and dog collars for sale. The people that work there are a little odd, however. Based on visual evidence alone, it seems you have to have several parts of your face pierced to qualify for employment. One girl had 10 studs going up around one ear, and a friendly young man had long metal studs (at least two inches!) going through both ears and through both his top and bottom lips. How could he eat like that?

I suppose a dog does not mind the pierced look, but it's an odd thing to see at an animal shelter. These young people would cringe at the idea of hunting or fishing ("You kill animals?"), but here they were mutilating their own bodies and working at a shelter that occasionally euthanized perfectly fine pit bulls.

Without a doubt, humans are odd creatures. They make loons look like smart birds.

Free of the beagles, I headed out with my own dogs. It was now too late in the day (and too hot) to start digging solo. No matter. I went out anyway, and scouted new farm land with Sailor.

Though this new land looked terrific (soybeans, corn, fallow fields, wooded and brushy hedgerows, small patches of woods, many acres of sunflowers), I did not find any dens. Not a one.

I am not sure why, but I have an idea. There are some vegetative signs that suggest this area has a very high water table. Without a doubt some areas flood in early spring. If the entire area gets super-saturated in the spring and winter, that might account for the lack of den pipes. Things that den in the ground value dryness above all things. A dry house is more important than food.

A winter walk will no doubt reveal more, and I will return in the Fall as well, as some of the overgrown fields may be cut down by then, perhaps revealing some settes unseen. With hundreds of acres to explore, I am sure something will turn up, as there have to be a few bone-dry ridges and high spots.

As for the beagles, I will check up on them on Tuesday.

I think they will be picked up, but it would be nice to know for sure. I have called both the tag number and the Aldrich Ames-house number several times, but have yet to get anyone to pick up -- not even a machine on which to leave a message.

Some things are destined to be a mystery.

Paving Paradise for Parking Lots

Jonathan Hanson wrote a nice piece on the value of roadless areas in The Arizona Republic a few weeks ago. His blog -- The Alpha Environmentalist -- has a permanent link on the far right (scroll down and look around).

It's nice to hear Republicans talking ahout environmental protection. Once upon a time it was quite common. It is not an accident that conservation and conservatism have the same entymological root.

Hunting Greens ought to be the largest tribe in this nation, but the lunatic fringe on the Far Left and the Far Right want to divide us, and they have largely succeeded at their mission.

If you hunt and fish in the United States today, you already know a lot about habitat loss. Joni Mitchell predicted it all: We have paved over paradise and put up a parking lot. My friend Diego writes that sediment from logging roads is killing his trout streams in Idaho, while Matt Mullenix writes about losing his hawking fields to Wallmart parking lots. The rise of more and more plastic houses in farm country means more posted land, and the decline of the rifle everywhere east of the Mississippi.

Meanwhile, we have the Democrat party talking about reaching out to hunters and anglers even as their consultants rent direct mail lists from the Humane Society of the United States and Handgun Control Inc.

On the other side of the coin, we have wingtip-wearing corporate Republicans posing with borrowed shotguns even as they vote to encourage sprawl, widen roads, clearcut forests and strip mine the mountains.

In the middle are the Green Conservatives and the Hunting Liberals. We remain a tribe looking for a candidate. The fakery now being tried by both parties ("We're your friend -- vote for us."). is transparent to serious hunters and anglers who are used to spoting crap on game trails, and shadows moving through dark waters.

The right candidate, when he or she comes, will know which way to go when it comes to roadless forest protection.

This is not about left or right, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. It's about protecting an essential part of the American Experience so we can pass it on to our children and grandchildren to come. Nothing is more liberal -- or conservative -- than that.

The Arizona Republic, July 10, 2006

Hunters, Anglers Should Back Roadless Wild Areas by Jonathan Hanson

As a Republican, 4x4 owner and hunter, I don't fit the current paradigm of an "environmentalist." But just like my mainstream environmentalist friends, I pay close attention to the management of our public lands, the birthright of all Americans.

The nation's national forests provide vital habitat for wildlife, protection for pure water sources and abundant hunting and fishing opportunities. The parts of those forests that remain roadless also offer the knowledge that even in the 21st century we can explore country that is similar to what the first pioneers experienced.

One endangered management policy - the Roadless Area Conservation Rule - ensures that future generations can share that experience. Roads and illegal off-road vehicle routes already crisscross many formerly pristine hunting grounds, reducing the quality of habitat for deer, elk and other species.

It's up to us to save what's left.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department is hosting a series of public meetings so hunters, anglers and others who care about wildlife can weigh in on this issue. The Phoenix meeting is today, and the Mesa meeting is Tuesday. For other places and times and to submit comments, sign on to

The original Roadless Area Conservation Rule was adopted in 2001 after a two-year process involving more than 600 public meetings. The Forest Service received 4 million comments on the proposal - more than for any other issue in its history.

Polls indicated that more than 80 percent of hunters and anglers supported the plan. The Outdoor Industry Association, which represents 4,000 companies involved in the $20 billion outdoor industry, supported it. Even the corporate headquarters of KB Homes sent a letter of endorsement.
But a recent Bush administration policy change means we must vote once again to maintain those protections.

The Roadless Rule prohibits new road building on only a third of all national forest land. The rest is still open to logging and other resource extraction, as well as motorized recreation, along 386,000 miles of existing Forest Service roads - enough to circle the earth 15 times.

Some say we need more roads for fire crews to fight wildfires. But according to the Forest Service, destructive fires occur much more frequently in roaded and logged areas than in roadless areas, and human-caused fires are almost five times more likely to start near a road. The Roadless Rule allows firefighters motorized access to fight wildfires within roadless areas.

Some hunters say roadless areas make hunting more difficult. But as true conservationist hunters, we should consider the health of the game first, our own convenience second. Several studies have shown that roadless areas make the best wildlife habitat. And I'm happy to work hard to enjoy a quality hunting experience in wild country unspoiled by the noise of vehicles.

America needs lumber and minerals and oil. We also need space for fans of motorized recreation. That's why most national forest land remains open for such activities - and existing motorized trails will remain open if the 2001 protections are reinstated.

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule is supported by a solid majority of Americans (and Arizonans) and is backed by sound science. Hunters and anglers in Arizona must support protection for our remaining roadless areas and show support for Gov. Janet Napolitano's view of the issue. The writer is an author and correspondent for Outside magazine, and a founding member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He lives in Tucson.The writer is an author and correspondent for Outside magazine, and a founding member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He lives in Tucson.


The writer is an author and correspondent for Outside magazine, and a founding member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He lives in Tucson.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ten Items Off the Nightstand

I hated writing book reports when I was a kid, and I'm not too fond of them now.

When I do write a book note or two now, they tend to be very short and to the point -- a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" kind of thing.

My opinions are just that -- one man's opinion -- and nothing more. In my defense, I at least buy the books and read them carefully.

You would be surprised how many people do not do that. They buy nothing and read even less, gleaning everything they know from idle chatter on bulletin boards or idle talk at dog shows or feed stores.

I would not want to know that little, and so I read quite a lot, field test what I am told, and look hard for serious books about things I am actually interested in.

There are different ways to judge a book: as entertainement and as information. A book is truely defective if it fails at both elements, and yet a surprising number of books do fail on both scores.

People who know me know I'm cheap, and yet I consider time more precious than money. Occassionally I will re-read a book, but just as often I will thrown one out.

In any case, here are 9 books and one video that have come on to my nightstand and moved off of it and onto a shelf in the library.

  1. "The Goshawk" by T.H. White. White is a great writer, but I found re-reading The Goshawk quite unsatisfying. The book is an uneven piece by White who did not have very much to say other than the fact that he, himself, is an idiot. Better writing and more knowledge can be had (for free!) at Rebecca O'Conner's blog.

  2. "An Outside Chance: Classic and New Essays on Sport" by Thomas McGuane. An Outside Chance has a truely great piece in it about elk hunting which I first read in a collection of stories assembled by David Peterson. I ordered two of McGuane's books on the strength of that story, but the books I selected did not sustain the strength of that original piece. I will sample a little more Tom McGuane in the future -- I sense there is better stuff on his lengthy menu of written work.

  3. "Querencia" by Stephen Bodio. I was told this book was literature, and by God it was. It is a book not just about a place, but about several places, and the voyage of the mind that goes on between. It is a love story about several things, not least of which is Bodio's late wife who was quite a character in her own right. Nothing loved is ever lost, and in this book Bodio has memorialized quite a lot -- hawks, dogs, neighbors, landscape and a special woman. I was a little "verklempt" at the end. Buy the book -- no caveats to this recommendation.

  4. "On the Edge of the Wild: Passions and Pleasures of a Naturalist" by Stephen Bodio. This book is a collection of essays, and it reads well -- most essay collections do not. Bodio's description of how some easterners look at large landowners and working ranch hands is deadly accurate. Not quite as good as Querencia (see above), but then not too much is.

  5. "The Longest Silence: A Life in Fishing" by Thomas McGuane. McGuane writes well, but I have to say that this book did not do it for me. I am interested in fish as biology and fishing as sport, but I am not all that interested in fishing stories that do not have a larger message or point. A book to lend and not want back.

  6. "Aloft: A Meditation on Pigeons & Pigeon-Flying" by Stephen Bodio. I like all common birds with histories behind them. This book was a bit on the thin side (I wanted to read more), but it was well written and very interesting and has a very nice and simple narrative form. Now I want to read a longer book about pigeons (history, genetics, science, etc.) and another about chickens too. If this book was food, it would be a crisp springroll.

  7. "Madame Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature" by Barash. This book has a great title, but the concept is bit tortured. I do not read literature this way, and the "Darwinian" stuff was not new to me. If you like Freudian interpretations of Iago, you might like this one, but otherwise this is a book to skim in the store and not buy.

  8. "The Insightful Sportsman: Thoughts on Fish, Wildlife and What Ails the Earth" by Ted Williams. Williams is a pretty good writer and very smart when it comes to wildlife and politics, but his magazine articles (always excellent) do not quite hold together as a book. This is a common problem with collected essays and articles. That said, if I lent this book out, I would want it back.

  9. "Sport with Terriers" by Patricia Adams Lent. This is a short book without too much practical advice. A re-read of this publication is a reminder of how thin the shelf is when it comes to American terrier work. An important book in terms of history, but otherwise forgettable.

  10. Rabbit Snaring DVD by Woodga. American cottontail rabbits are entirely different from those found in the UK, but I am always interested in practical stuff by masters of their art, and Woodga certainly qualifies when it comes to snaring. The sound on this DVD can be a bit dodgey at times (due to wind), and Woodga has a pretty thick accent for American ears (Will someone please teach the British how to speak English?), but this DVD is the real deal and not a second of time is wasted on idle prattle. After watching this video you will know more than a few things about spinning brass wire, bending tealers and placing snares at the right height. As with all things, practice makes perfect, but Woodga's video is clearly the fast ramp to success. I think the hoop snare technique would work well with groundhogs -- something to remember if a farmer has a problem where terriers and digging are not an option.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Red Tasmanian Devils

From Discovery Channel News:

Aug. 4, 2006 — Australia's island state of Tasmania risks losing its status as a "Noah's Ark" for rare species with the discovery that foxes have probably begun breeding there, environmentalists have warned.

The leader of the Australian Greens party, Senator Bob Brown, said the discovery of a fox carcass on a road in the pristine state Tuesday signaled an environmental emergency.

Tasmania was believed to be fox-free until a government-funded report confirmed their presence in June.

Scientists believe the age and location of the carcass indicate that the fox was likely born on the island, wildlife biologist Nick Mooney told national radio.

Foxes have been blamed for devastating native species on the Australian mainland, in some cases leading to extinction.

"It is a national environmental emergency. Tasmania is a virtual Noah's Ark of rare and endangered species, many of which are extinct or nearing extinction on mainland Australia," Brown said.

"These include the bettong, barred bandicoot, eastern quoll and ground parrot.

"There should also be no stone left unturned finding and imprisoning the criminals who are responsible for foxes being brought into Tasmania."

A population explosion of species introduced to Australia since European settlement began more than 200 years ago is a growing threat to agriculture and native wildlife.

The Department of the Environment lists animals posing a significant threat as including feral camels, horses, donkeys, pigs, cane toads, European wild rabbits and European red foxes.

Some of the animals were introduced as beasts of burden and others as food sources, while foxes were brought in for recreational hunting.

Federal Conservation Minister Eric Abetz called on the Tasmanian government to increase funding for its efforts to keep the island free of foxes.

"If foxes become established in Tasmania as they are on mainland Australia, it is estimated the damage to our natural ecosystems and to our agricultural production would be in excess of 100 million dollars ($75 million US)," he said.

Friday, August 04, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

A nice man, a lovely family, and an inconvenient truth.

Over the weekend I went to see "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's global warming documentary. I found the movie extremely well done and not boring. This is a recommended movie, and it is certainly better than most of the pap offered up on the Silver Screen.

Having just given the movie "two thumbs up," however, let me say that there are a few "inconvenient truths" that Al Gore has left out of his documentary.

At the beginning of the movie, Al Gore tells us he has been following global warming issues since he was in college. Me too, and oddly enough for the same reason.

Al Gore was a student of Roger Revelle's at Harvard. It was Revelle who designed some of the first experiments and theories underpinning the nascent science of global climate change.

It so happens that my father was head of the climatology program for the American Association for the Advancement of Science back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and worked closely with Revelle. In fact, I think my father may have written the first New York Times editorial ever written on global warming.

When Al Gore first met Roger Revelle back in 1966, Revelle was Director of the Center for Population Studies at Harvard -- a position he held from 1964 to 1976.

Gore manages to tell us quite a bit about Roger Revelle and his own youthful conversion to environmental causes without ever mentioning Revelle's demographic concerns, or the size of the Gore nuclear family.

In fact, I would argue this is not an accident. Population growth is an "inconvenient truth" -- the one that underpins global warming, and one that is particularly inconvenient for Al Gore as he tells us his global warming jeremiad.

You see, Al Gore has four children. Think about that for a minute.

If the average woman in the world followed Al Gore's lead, the population of the world would double every 25 years -- FOREVER.

Al and Tipper Gore chose to have more children than the average woman is having today in India, China, Zimbabwe, South Africa, El Salvador, Jamaica, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam or the Philippines -- to randomly pick from a few of the less developed countries from around the globe.

Al Gore had a choice to make when it came to having a family. He could have had no children. Or one child. He could have chosen to stop at two. He could have built his family through adoption or stopped at three kids. Instead, Al and Tipper Gore chose to double the human load they put on this planet.

It's not like Al and Tipper did not have access to health care and a diverse array of family planning options. Al and Tipper had more information about, and better access to, contraception than almost anyone else on the planet.

It's not like Al and Tipper Gore did not know better. Al and Tipper were married in 1970, at a time when Paul Ehrlich's book "The Population Bomb" was a national best seller, and when the speed of both world and U.S. population growth were core messages of the first Earth Day.

And yet Al Gore ignored it all. Al and Tipper had their first child in 1973, their second in 1977, their third in 1979, their fourth in 1982.

Let's put this story in numerical context. When Al Gore was listening to Roger Revelle at Harvard in 1966, the population of the world was 3 billion. Today it is over 6.2 billion people, and it will be over 12 billion by 2033 if the world follows the Gore model for family planning.

Gore's discussion of global warming shies away from causation. It is an odd but true fact that this very smart man has made an entire movie about global warming and greenhouse gases without once saying where those gases come from.

There's a reason for that. The inconvenient truth is that the world is NOT producing more greenhouse gases per person than it did in 1830 when the world had 1 billion people. Nor is it producing more greenhouses gases per capita than it did in 1930 when the world had 2 billion people.

The inconvenient truth is that the world is producing about the same or less greenhouses gases per person today that it did 50 or 100 years ago. People forget that horses produced serious amounts of greenhouse gases (methane) and so too did homes heated with wood and coal.

Table 1, page 19 from "Per Capita Carbon Dioxide Emissions Convergence or Divergence?" by Joseph E. Aldy, 2005 published by Resources for the Future (PDF)

The simple fact is that while the atmospheric level of CO2 has increased 30 percent since 1860, world population has more than quadrupled since then. Per capita CO2 emissions in the industrialized world are actually in decline, and have been for quite some time. When we look at all CO2 production, we find that global population growth and CO2 emissions track almost perfectly.

The problem is not that we are driving cars or cooling our beer in refrigerators -- it's that there are too many people. Too many people necessarily results in too many cars, too many refrigerators, and too many coal-fired electrical plants.

There are too damn many of us!

Population growth, energy use and CO2 emissions track perfectly. The causal agent here is human population growth -- an "inconvenient truth" largely glossed over in Al Gore's otherwise excellent movie. Figure 2 is from "Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide as a proxy for growth of the human population? ," 1995, University of Washington

Al Gore is willing to talk about rebuilding power plants,
building nuclear reactors, knocking down or retro-fitting every building on the planet. He is willing to discuss what's wrong with Ford and Chevy, but he is not willing to talk too long or too loudly about population growth for fear his audience might look over his shoulder to see how many people are sitting in his own family room.

Like most people, Al Gore is more comfortable talking about CO2 emissions than he is about IUD's. He would rather talk about the need for a new type of internal combustion engine than about the need for internal self-restraint, birth control pills, and vasectomies. He would rather count carbon molecules than count human noses.

In this sense, Gore (like most politicians) is part of the problem.

A politician is always willing to invest a few billion dollars to subsidize energy research at the local university, or pump a few billion dollars into a program to subsidize new car designs by General Motors. But talk about cutting back on immigration (which is driving nearly 100 percent of U.S. population growth), or pumping a billion dollars a year into Third World contraception programs and .... well, there are a thousand and one excuses to do little or nothing. To be fair, those excuses come from both sides of the political aisle. While people may be the source of greenhouse gas emissions, they are also the fuel of politicians, political parties and corporate sponsors.

And so, in the end, we have a movie about global warming that does not really talk about what causes global warming. How ironic is that?

Al Gore's global warming movie concludes by telling us to turn down the thermostat and to send more letters to Congress. It tells us to ride bicycles and use public transportation. It tells us to use more energy-efficient light bulbs and bring more people to the Al Gore movie.

But it does not tell us to have fewer children.

It does not remind us that an open-border immigration policy in this country has global resource consequences in the form of more greenhouse gases, more energy use, and more pollution.

Al Gore's slide show does not suggest contraception, immigration law enforcement, and communitarian self-restraint, nor does it point out that the science of reproduction is widely understood and that improved access to contraception is extremely popular across all cultures and religions. (Did you know that Catholic countries have the lowest fertility rates in the world? The abortion is legal in Italy? That Iran has below-replacement fertility? Did you know that the U.S. has the fastest population growth rate in the developed world?)

The end result is that Al Gore's movie on global warming offers us little more than hot-air solutions.

The inconvenient truth is that immigration-fueled population growth in the United States is negating every single energy conservation effort we are making in this nation today, and that population growth across the globe is negating every single energy conservation effort being made in the world today.

That's a message you won't hear at the local Multiplex. It's a message that's still a little too "inconvenient."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Fox in the Hen Harrier House

A hen harrier and chick nesting on the moor.

From the Renfrewshire Paisely Daily Express of August 1, 2006:

Sky-dancing Hen Harrier Is a Truly Spectacular Sight

AS ONE whose work as a countryside ranger involved guarding rare birds of prey at their nests, I was disappointed to read that a family of hen harriers were wiped out by a killer fox at Muirshiel country park.

It’s the second consecutive year that a savage fox has caused carnage among hen harrier chicks at moorland nests among the heather.

Altogether, seven out of eight chicks perished - five mauled and the other two frozen to death when their mothers fled from the fanged forager.

I have happy memories of fast-flying peregrine falcons incubating their eggs on cliff-ledge nests on rocky crags at Muirshiel.

Seeing small swift-like merlins feed their young in tree-top nests on bracken-covered hillsides was a special delight.

But watching hen harriers at their moorland breeding grounds was the highlights of an ornithological odyssey.

The slate-grey male flew high among the clouds and summoned the female, which is chocolate-brown in colour, with a harsh, chattering cry.

As she flew upwards from the nest, the male dropped a morsel of food – usually a mouse, vole, shrew or lizard – and she caught it in mid-air in her sharp talons.

This bird-bonding act – the celebrated ‘food pass’ of the sky-dancing hen harrier – is one of the most amazing spectacles in the natural world, especially when seen from the Misty Law as the sun rose at dawn above the heather-gilded north-eastern horizon.

There are only about 550 breeding pairs of hen harriers in Britain, including the Muirshiel family.

Persecution by gamekeepers on grouse moors – and the loss of their heather habitats to forestry plantations and sheep-farming – resulted in a massive population decrease during the last century.

Now, because of the killer fox which returned on three successive nights to raid the nest, Renfrewshire's hen harrier breeding population – already at a low level – has been further depleted but the night-time vulpine slaughter.
A few years ago the local foxhounds could have been called out to deal with the killer fox. But urban-based MSPs, who know little about the countryside, banned hunting with hounds.

Now, unless conservationists install anti-fox measures like repellent chemicals, electric wire, netting or strategically-placed lanterns around the nests, the blood-thirsty fox will return to kill hen harrier chicks next year – and the years after that.

-- Derek Parker