Friday, December 19, 2008

I've finally gotten far enough with my Chinese to attempt a (very poor) translation of some easy poetry. Of necessity, this is a loose paraphrase, since the literal translation would be ungrammatical, lacking poetry, and incomprehensible.

This is the saddest thing to me:
Not waking to find you gone,
After a night spent
Composing poems on these walls,
But there on the table to see
Your wine cup, still half-full.

--Xia Zhou Yu, c. 900?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I'm a sucker for kemence and bagpipes, so imagine my delight to stumble upon this very interesting post by Dumneazu on Laz ethnorock and the Pontic music scene generally. Plenty of interest here. I particularly like that these folks aren't running afoul of Turkish language laws because Lazuri is not written:
Laz literature, in fact, seems to have skipped the "written literature" phase altogether and gone straight to the "hit CD" level.
And speaking of YouTube, Dumneazu has the best apologie for Internet video I've yet seen:
Youtube lets you peek in on private after dinner parties where a bunch of greek speaking turkish muslims drink raki/ouzo and just let it all hang out.
Indeed. Based on a quick look at the archives, Dumneazu's mission in life seems to be to jaunt about Eastern Europe and the Levant in search of drunken musicians and sausages. Nice work! There are a lot pork products in those archives, as well as this gem:

Pig Seppuku

Two YouTubes in a row: apologies. But some things cannot be passed up:



Thank you, Rigor Vitae!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

John Derbyshire has had better things to do than follow politics of late. Politics' loss is very much our gain. He and Odious seem to court the same muse.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thursday last, Mrs. P's employer treated us to attendance at an event in that notorious naval of northern New Mexico, Taos. As a native of the state, I must say I'd greatly prefer the world to associate us with Los Alamos and atomic weapons than with the far more pernicious, if metaphorical, energy that radiates from Taos. Remember the scene in Easy Rider when Fonda and Hopper wind up in the New Mexico commune? Dirty, filthy hippies grovel about, awkward looks are exchanged, Fonda and Hopper get the Hell out. Well, that place was purchased and given a makeover by filthy-rich Texans, and Taos is what remains.

Don't believe me? We were put up at one of the town's highly prestigious resorts: to protect the guilty I'll call it the Monte Chingado. The place encapsulated what I'm talking about. Antlers and turquoise, that's the Taotian spirit:


Presiding over our room:


Ooh, can we brand the dressers?


Yay, a turquoise pillow! Thing weighs about twenty-five pounds: you could smother a spouse with no hands. Our armadillo likes it, though:


Oh, good: art. Zombie horse seeking delicious brains, above our mini-bar:


Really, this place is where both virtuous Texans and sinful New Mexicans go when they die. It wasn't all trashy. There were actually some very nice touches in the conference rooms, dining areas and other classier sections. The water feature was pretty good. The bar had an enormous snake effigy over it. But everything was just wrong, wrong, wrong. This was amply demonstrated when we came back to our room and found on our pillow not a chocolate truffle or other such welcome offering, but a rose quartz. With a pamphlet expounding its vibrational effects on our circulatory, mental and reproductive systems. But I must observe that a lodging that offers healing crystals in a room full of antlers and cowhide is unclear on basic New-Agery.

Again, that's Taos for you.The next morning at a coffee shop, Mrs. P found a notice which pretty well encapsulates the whole town:

Will trade therapeutic body work for firewood.

One more illustration? How about some more art? Also from our room:


The inscription at the bottom:


Details not provided.

Life Imitates Art, Art Imitates Jokes at its Expense

Curators of modern art have such complicated problems, the poor things. Give me a good rousing performance of 4'33" any day.

Speaking of the Alps, here is some historic Alpine poetry:
To the Matterhorn

Thirty-two years since, up against the sun,
Seven shapes, thin atomies to lower sight,
Labouringly leapt and gained thy gabled height,
And four lives paid for what the seven had won.

They were the first by whom the deed was done,
And when I look at thee, my mind takes flight
To that day's tragic feat of manly might,
As though, till then, of history thou hadst none.

Yet ages ere men topped thee, late and soon
Thou didst behold the planets lift and lower;
Saw'st, maybe, Joshua's pausing sun and moon,
And the betokening sky when Caesar's power
Approached its bloody end; yea, even that Noon
When darkness filled the earth till the ninth hour.

--Thomas Hardy

Hardy likes these grim, elliptical finishes that set you down with a hollow thud. I'm still debating whether this one does anything for me. But mountaineering poems aren't that common, particularly if you don't count free verse in the Telluride Mountain Gazette as legitimately belonging to the genre. (Yes, I know, the lines seldom reach the right edge of the page. Nevertheless...) The four and seven refer to Edward Whymper's first ascent of the peak in 1865, with its four fatalities on the way down. As the saying goes, "The summit is optional, but descent is mandatory."

From John Derbyshire's Readings page, always worthwhile if you crave a spot of verse.

Update: Here's some mighty fine Matterhorn for you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A well illustrated and pretty readable account of the first ascent of Kang Nachugo in Nepal this September. I like the notion of "the 'Fairbanks Belay' – if you fall off one side, I’ll jump off the other." And the scale of the snow fluting and cornices on these giant mountains always blows my mind.

In other news, we alpinism nerds can look forward to Nordwand. Someone on SummitPost claims it's slated for U.S. release in December; I hope that's correct. I'm not aware of any other mountaineering movies that depict a substantially earlier era of climbing. Hob-nailed boots, wool, rope around the waist: I also hope to see some English-language articles about the making of this one.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Goodness, I've been gone long. I've been immersed in the winding path of modern tax law, et il y a une anguille sous toutes roches, as they say. Possibly.

Peculiar and jack were good enough to remember me with Stephenson's Anathem, and since I have yet to comment on the last book they gave me (Sayings of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Short version: I find your concern for the relations between goats and men disturbing), I thought I would jot down a few thoughts on this latest.

It's not his best. At the center of all his better books is a giant idea--often an idea in the Kantian sense, as something too big really to get a hold of. At this center of this book is a lot of philosophastering. To be fair, the main character and most of the others are all the sort of people who do have conversations about deep philosophical issues and then try to answer their questions with explosives, but there's only so many paraphrases of the Meno you can read before you want to shake the author and say, "I get it."

This is true. Unkind, but true.

And the science is... not good. The basics are acceptable, but his grasp of larger issues in physics seems comfused.

In its favor is the fact that even Stephenson's lesser stuff is more intelligent and engaging than just about anyone else out there. The book also offers the only convincing portrait of an active Temple of Reason I've read.

Anathem also drives home just how rare the ability to follow an argument is, and how much training it requires. The sense of when a point has been proven is a rare one, and needs much cultivation before a taste for truth (which is above all an acquired taste) is identifiable.

Finally: worth one's time, absolutely, but no Diamond Age. Which is praising with faint damns, of course.
A man eager to climb famous mountains must have the patience to follow a winding path. A man eager to eat bear's paw must have the patience to simmer it slowly. A man eager to watch the moonlight must have the patience to wait until darkness falls. A man eager to see a beautiful woman must have the patience to let her finish her toilette. Reading requires this patience also.

--Feng Zhenluan, Commentaries on the Strange Tales.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

"Doc, we're losin' him! He started out playing Irish, slipped into bluegrass, and now it's sounding like Nashville!"

Man plays banjo during brain surgery.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Speaking of reading offline, we've probably all heard of the phenomenon in which bookworms report that reading Internet material shortens their attention spans for hard-copy literature. I'm happy to report that I've been experiencing the opposite effect. My attention span for long Internet articles is pretty limited, but give me horizontality and a chunk of dead tree in my hands and I'll go for hours.

Perhaps this is why I havn't been following Prairie Mary lately (there's certainly no other good reason). So if you're like me, get yourself a hard copy of Twelve Blackfeet Stories and dig in. That deserves Superior Scribbler status in the non-blog division.

Oh, to Hell with work! I've just stared into space for half an hour with thoughts roaming great distances from the task at hand: it's time to crack a beer and glean the teeming brain, which in my case means catching up on a little blogging.

Steve has passed along to us the status of Superior Scribblers. Well, it's only nepotism towards one of us, strictly speaking. And I'd say that scrabbling is more what we do of late. Our glory days are somewhat fled what with Odious' sarariman lifestyle (complete with landscape of cherry blossoms and a symmetrical volcano), and my creative energies mostly funneled into photography. But they may return, so the blog lives on. For a sampling of our better times, see myself on The Illinois River, Karluk, Alaska and Richard Wagner: Eco-Feminist; and sample Odious' rediscovery of the Prawne family and at his very best.

I rather dislike the chain-letter nature of these blog awardy things, so nobody ought to feel himself "tagged." But I always enjoy offering credit where it's well due, and I never mind an excuse for some links. So, here:

  • Leaping instantly to mind: Larissa. She posts seldom, but it's worth the wait. My favourite ought not to be read by anyone whose involuntary laughter will perturb co-workers.

  • For a different kind of scribbling, I always enjoy Kambodia Hotel.

  • To step beyond our self-referential little corner of the blogosphere to include someone who has no idea I exist, I really like Utah photographer Frenchman Guy Tal. His writings on photography are honest, sensible, intelligent and offer inspiration to improve one's photography in ways that don't involve four-figure expenditure. His Six Silver Bullets essay is an obvious example. People who like this sort of thing will also enjoy this podcast interview.

  • In the same vein, Suprada Urval is doing some excellent photoblogging, the highlight being many terrific interviews with some amazing landscape, travel and wildlife shooters. Fellow herpetophiles will especially enjoy this.

  • I'll save some space for Odious, if he likes. Did I mention that most of my reading is offline these days (more on that to come, I hope)? Besides, Steve took Chas and Pluvialis, and the LosAlamotians started the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A vast, high and entirely unexplored mountain range: the only catch is that it's buried under 2.5 miles of ice.
An Antarctic mountain range that rivals the Alps in elevation will be probed this month by an expedition of scientists using airborne radar and other Information Age tools to virtually "peel away" more than 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) of ice covering the peaks.

One of the mysteries of the mountain range is that current evidence suggests that it "shouldn't be there" at all.

The researchers hope to find answers there to some basic questions about the nature of the southernmost continent, including the massive East Antarctic Ice Sheet. For instance, it is unclear how Antarctica came to be ice-covered in the first place and whether that process began millions of years ago in the enigmatic Gamburtsev Mountain range...

The scientists will eventually create a coordinated mosaic of images of the shallowest layers in the ice sheet to regions hundreds of kilometers beneath the hidden mountains, in effect creating a 3-D map of the vast and unexplored region...

Mountains of Madness, anyone? It's mindblowing just how thick the Antarctic ice sheets are: the South Pole lies at over 9,000 feet, but bedrock is thought to be near sea level.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

And for those who missed it, take a look at Jack's blog. Wow, indeed. Hang in there till at least the third verse.

(Odious and Peculiar assume no responsibility for ill effects resulting from this link, including but not limited to insanity, impotence, glossolalia and Arianism.)
Odious, you managed a restaurant for how long, and never managed to implement this?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Yup, New Mexico's a stinkin' desert. Nothing to see here folks, just saguaros and buzzards. Take dawn this morning, for instance:


Nothing to see... (click for better)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

William Dalrymple meets with Patrick Leigh Fermor. A collection of correspondence between Leigh Fermor and Debo, Duchess of Devonshire and the youngest of the Mitfords, is just out in England.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I'm glad someone out there can follow through on a great idea for a hoax, viz. a fifth branch of the Mabinogion. Also includes the splendid vocabulary word teichoscopia,
teichoscopia, a topos of heroic narratives throughout the Indo-European world, in which the heroes of an opposing army are pointed out one by one from the walls or ramparts of a besieged city. Examples occur in the Irish Táin Bó Cúailnge, the Iliad, and the Ramayana

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Today I saw a small child with a t-shirt that read, "Charismatic Megafauna".

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Speaking of art: on the other hand, there's this.

Odious' birthday is coming up!

If you're among our northern New Mexico readers and enjoy landscape art, you really ought to stop by the Gerald Peters gallery in Santa Fe and check out the exhibition of Tony Foster paintings. I'm generally a bit lukewarm on most landscape painting, but Foster's stuff gives me the same "I've got to go there" emotional response I normally seek in photographs. He paints on location, often at very obscure and remote locations indeed, sometimes working for a week on a six-foot piece at 15,000 feet and that sort of thing. I love his use of white space, especially in his Himalayan work. And there are some nuances that you can only see in the original, such as a Himalayan snowstorm painting where he actually scraped streaks across the finished work to achieve the effect of a violent flurry.

He's also done a lot of painting in central Idaho, particularly on the Salmon, which made it pretty much inevitable that I own his book (thanks to Mrs. P's sweetness and generosity).

Definitely worth a stop if you're in town. Runs through November 15.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

To Hell with energy prices: they were pretty predictable and might eventually drive some real innovation. My issue is one which the candidates seem shamefully unwilling to address: the outrageous, skyrocketing price of beer.

Hops independence now! Brew, baby, brew!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I the unlikely event any of our readers wishes to hear my thoughts on the election, well, Chas pretty much nails it. Read his link: the questions posed therein have far more bearing on my own life than anything I've heard a candidate mention.

I really don't hope for much these days in terms of taxation, liberty, shrewd foreign policy, immigration, &c. About the acme of my fondest hopes for the next administration is a Forest Service with a reasonable budget and some BLM personnel with detectable humanity. I do think Palin has a certain amount of appeal, but the crowds chanting "Drill, baby drill!" last night were decidedly a turn-off. Likewise, while I can be sympathetic to her environmental record in the context of a vast, utilitarian, Federally-owned state like Alaska, I fear her sensibilities may be less agreeable in a West with exploding population densities. I'm definitely not anti-drilling per se, but I invite anyone pondering the putative environmentally-friendly next-generation extraction technologies to drive some BLM roads near, say, Vernal, Utah and report back. And please report back from Vernal itself, recently a quiet, medium-small Mormon agricultural town, now covered in billboards advertising meth addiction hotlines and pre-employment drug testing, full of tattooed punks ranting to themselves, property taxes soaring. If we're going to drill, could we please see some long-term benefit to the drilling communities instead of rapid degeneracy and bust?

Rod Dreher, who seriously likes the Alaskan, has some intelligent things to say as well.

But I'm told that it really comes down to a culture war. As the saying goes, it's a damn shame both sides can't lose.

Ugh, that was unpleasant. Cheer up! Here's a heron eating a bunny!

Top Ten Endangered Languages, selected by a linguist. Yes, top ten lists for this sort of thing are silly, but there are some wonderful tidbits in here which it's going to be a damn shame for humanity to lose. For instance:
[Jeru] is generally believed that Andamanese languages might be the last surviving languages whose history goes back to pre-Neolithic times in Southeast Asia and possibly the first settlement of the region by modern humans moving out of Africa.

The closest relative of Nu is !Xóõ (also called Ta'a and spoken by about 4,000 people) which has the most sounds of any language on earth: 74 consonants, 31 vowels, and four tones (voice pitches).

Yuchi nouns have 10 genders, indicated by word endings: six for Yuchi people (depending on kinship relations to the person speaking), one for non-Yuchis and animals, and three for inanimate objects (horizontal, vertical, and round).

Guugu Yimidhirr (like some other Aboriginal languages) is remarkable for having a special way of speaking to certain family members (like a man's father-in-law or brother-in-law) in which everyday words are replaced by completely different special vocabulary.

Oro Win is one of only five languages known to make regular use of a sound that linguists call "a voiceless dental bilabially trilled affricate". In rather plainer language, this means it's produced with the tip of the tongue placed between the lips which are then vibrated (in a similar way to the brrr sound we make in English to signal that the weather is cold).

Of course, who are we to judge? Maybe there are reasons these folks prefer to speak to their children in relatively sane and reasonable Indo-European languages. Perhaps the Oro Win found that blowing raspberries was just not as desirable a means of communication as Portuguese.

Via Languagehat.

Friday, August 29, 2008

I've just added a gallery to my photo site from my backpacking trip last week in Colorado's South San Juans. Check it out.
A pretty good food meme: The Omnivore's 100, that is, 100 foods a self-respecting omnivore should try before he dies. Not all of them are commendable, which is as it should be.

I come in at a respectable 67%. But I agree with Rod Dreher that the real fun is to add five of your own picks to the list, especially as the original list is adventurous only in a rather predictable vein. My additions:

Odious? Querencia folk?

Update: Hmphhh... just realized that the list already has black pudding, which is essentially synonymous with morcilla. So strike that. Instead, let's go with morels.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lake Mead: Silt, Superposition & Whitewater

One of the most interesting parts of my recent Grand Canyon trip was floating past the usual takeout at Diamond Creek and continuing all the way to Lake Mead. I'd never seen this lower stretch before, and it was certainly very beautiful and pretty fascinating. I do not, however, recommend it in August: our daily highs were somewhere in the neighbourhood of 115 F.

The water level in Lake Mead is currently very, very low. Note the bathtub ring in the photo to the left (click photos for larger, better versions). This was well out within the theoretical perimiter of the so-called lake, and the ring represents the old average pool. This location is also at least 20 miles dowstream of where my map informed me was current's end at the Lake's historic low. Clearly, we've been breaking records for years and years! To add to the general amusement of the place, there were feral bulls wandering about on the river bank.


Unsurprisingly, the name of the game in the Lake is silt. At the Lake's historic high backwater, still well within the Grand Canyon proper, we began seeing banks of silt covering the river's true banks, and as we continued downstream they grew higher and more extensive. Not infrequently, a section would collapse in our view, avalanching dirt into the river and kicking up prodigious clouds of dust.




Once you come out of the Canyon into the flats, the silt really spreads out, into a vast plain covered in tamarisk and willow, corresponding of course to the shape of the former reservoir. The old takeout at Lake Mead was Pierce Ferry; the Pierce Ferry boat ramp is now over two miles from the river. Thankfully, things are livened up around here by a new rapid which has been forming and changing frequently for the past couple seasons. In addition to providing amusement, the Pierce Ferry rapid also provides a near perfect, small-scale illustration of the principle of canyon cutting by superposition (for a full account, read about the formation of Lodore Canyon here).


What's going on here is that, as the Lake level has dropped, the river was not left with its former basin, but rather with the new expanse of flat silt. Unconstrained by its old banks, which are now deep beneath dirt somewhere, the Colorado could meander over the plain rather freely. In many areas, the river of 2008 is far from its old channel. Of course, the current quickly began cutting down and eroding its silty bed, thus fixing its new course somewhat. But in a couple spots, such as Pierce Ferry Rapid, it hit bedrock outcrops a short ways beneath the surface. In the adjacent photo, the silt plain is clearly visible to the right; the bedrock is forming the boulder in the middle and the pourover and whitewater to the sides where the river flows over it. It's probably being eroded very fast; I'm told the rapid is seldom quite the same from one week to the next. The rapid is also much bigger than it looks in this rather dismal snapshot: for instance, the center boulder is easily 25 feet wide, and the whitewater is plenty capable of flipping a loaded boat.


One of our party running the right channel.


Definitely enlarge this one!


If you imagine a much bigger plain and a lot more bedrock in the picture, it's easy to see how a river becomes entrenched in its own course and incises its meandering path deep into stone.

Also interesting is where the river finally ends. Current's end is not a gradual process at all; it's almost as abrupt as if someone snapped a chalkline across the water. Upstream, the water is brown and cold; five feet downstream, it's green and warm. The silt is still coming, still settling in. You have to see it to appreciate fully the extent of the siltation problems facing Lakes Powell and Mead.

The Colorado comes to a halt.

A true savant in action: this guy draws most of Rome from memory after one helicopter flight.

Via Mountain Photographer.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Forgive another easy, cheap-thrills sort of post, but giant ocean sunfish are damn cool!

Update Mrs. P, who's been in a very Lovecraftian mood of late, reports the excellent line from Call of Cthulhu:

There was a bursting as of an exploding bladder, a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish...

Friday, August 15, 2008

All right, naturalists: can anyone tell me what this is? Found in our bathroom a few evenings back.




It wasn't large:


Of course it exists: Mountain unicycling.

Update: the mountain unicycling big leagues.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I'm back. With any luck I'll muster some mildly coherent verbiage in a couple days. Grand Canyon was great, as always. Above is our camp just below Phantom Ranch, Zoroaster Temple presiding (as always, click for a larger, better version).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Meatpaper is a print magazine of art and ideas about meat. We like metaphors more than marinating tips. We are your journal of meat culture.

In the print version was an analysis of the rules of animal cannibalism in children's books, as when Richard Scarry's pig enjoy bacon for breakfast.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Here is the chapter I believe Peculiar mentioned in his previous post. Couldn't find a translation online, so you'll have to put up with my unpracticed French.
...the aged Utmiutsol is simple, natural, unified--overly unified, sometimes, which is his fault. The young Uremifasolasiututut is singular, brilliant, composed, clever--sometimes too clever, which is perhaps his listener's fault. One has but one overture, beautiful to be sure, but repeated at the beginning of each work; the other more overtures than works, and each might pass for a masterpiece.

Nature led Utmiutsol in Melody's ways; study and experience discovered for Uremifasolasiututut the source of Harmony. Who knew declamation, and who recitative, as the elder did? and who made for us such sprightly ariettas, such voluptuous airs, and symphonies of such character as the youth? Utmiutsol alone understood dialogue. Before Uremifasolasiututut, no one had distinguished the delicate nuances which separate the tender from the voluptuous, the voluptuous from the impassioned, the impassioned from the lascivious....

Monday, July 14, 2008

Major Flash Flooding in Santa Fe!


This was just a couple hours ago, right off the main drag in Santa Fe (St. Francis and E. Alameda, for those keeping score).


You could hear boulders rolling over in the flood and feel the bridge shaking. The SF River was going pretty good, but it was child's play compared to the arroyo (above) draining in from the north, which was easily running 1,000 cfs.



Well, I'm off to run the Grand Canyon for 18 days, and the Colorado won't look much different from the Santa Fe tonight. Hold down the fort, Odious! In the meantime, if you're bored enough, you can entertain yourselves at my photo website. Enjoy!

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Few Tidbits

Three things of fascination from Temperament by Stuart Isacoff:

The era opened with a new musical rage captivating the royal courts: Pantaleon Hebenstreit and his amazing giant hammered dulcimers. An itinerant musician and onetime dancing master, Hebenstreit's career had been going nowhere until he hit on the idea of building his nine-foot instruments with two hundred strings stretched over two sound boards, and of mastering a virtuoso technique for playing htem with two sticks. The effect had audiences spellbound.... When Hebestreit ended a long, contented life in 1750 at the court of Dresden, his salary was almost double that of Johann Sebastian Bach. His fame was so great that the early parlor piano became known as a "pantalon."
Someone really needs to revive those.

Next:

Diderot described Rameau in his wild romp of a novel, The Indiscreet Jewels (in which a magical ring compels the private parts of various women to reveal their secret histories).
Has this been translated? Odious? Feel like brushing up our French?

Finally:

Technology and art continued to progress hand in hand. By the end of the eighteenth century, German scientist Johann Heinrich Lambert would propose an instrument by which people could enjoy music through their teeth, so as not to awake others who are sleeping.
Words fail.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Also irresistible: Rod Dreher on What turns a crunchy housewife on.

Hmmm.... sounds familiar. Though Mrs. P only wishes she were a housewife, alas.

Via John Derbyshire, the irresistable Cantos XIV-XVII of Byron's Don Juan:
The Russians now were ready to attack:
But oh, ye goddesses of war and glory!
How shall I spell the name of each Cossacque
Who were immortal, could one tell their story?
Alas! what to their memory can lack?
Achilles' self was not more grim and gory
Than thousands of this new and polish'd nation,
Whose names want nothing but — pronunciation.

Still I'll record a few, if but to increase
Our euphony: there was Strongenoff, and Strokonoff,
Meknop, Serge Lwow, Arséniew of modern Greece,
And Tschitsshakoff, and Roguenoff, and Chokenoff,
And others of twelve consonants apiece;
And more might be found out, if I could poke enough
Into gazettes; but Fame (capricious strumpet),
It seems, has got an ear as well as trumpet,

And cannot tune those discords of narration,
Which may be names at Moscow, into rhyme;
Yet there were several worth commemoration,
As e'er was virgin of a nuptial chime;
Soft words, too, fitted for the peroration
Of Londonderry drawling against time,
Ending in "ischskin," "ousckin," "iffskchy," "ouski":
Of whom we can insert but Rousamouski,

Scherematoff and Chrematoff, Koklophti,
Koclobski, Kourakin, and Mouskin Pouskin,
All proper men of weapons, as e'er scoff'd high
Against a foe, or ran a sabre through skin:
Little cared they for Mahomet or Mufti,
Unless to make their kettle-drums a new skin
Out of their hides, if parchment had grown dear,
And no more handy substitute been near.
I hope and assume that most of our readers are already aware of this, but it's Sea Monster Week at Tetrapod Zoology. Not to be missed!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I speak in fluent pigeonese
and charm the birds right off the trees.

There are certainly things to love about living in Santa Fe. For instance, one can spend the afternoon here, at Nambe Lake in the Pecos Wilderness,


and a couple hours later be enjoying this:


"And just what the **** is that?" Well may you ask, reader! That, in our case, was the U.S. premier, no less, of Kenneth Branagh's film adaption of Mozart's Magic Flute. (Well, strictly speaking it was the other U.S. screening, immediately after the true premier, the true premier being aimed at an audience more easily parted with large sums of money than your host.) The thing's been out in Europe since late 2006, but we New Worlders have hitherto been denied its charms. Pity, because it's quite something. See for yourself: the following highlights reel gives a pretty good taste, though it may be a little spoiler-fraught.


If spoilers don't bother you at all, you can see the opera's climax here, as well as much more on YouTube. Or you can visit the official site (Warning: sound. Lots of sound), which has a ton of ridiculously entertaining Zauberflötery and affiliated nonsense, if you have a fast connection and lots of patience with Flash animation.

It should be evident by now that Branagh did not bowdlerize the opera's sheer harebrained looniness, not in the least. Indeed, he positively delights in it, and puts the might of modern film technique, with quite a bit of CGI, behind driving that looniness. This is the Magic Flute that you imagine when you put on a good recording immediately after seven shots of tequila. (Er, yes, I have taken part in experiments along those lines; indeed my first exposure to the opera, via the Bergman film, was very much in that vein.) Often the effect is wonderful; sometimes it's more than a little obnoxious. But it's a remarkable achievement to have filmed a watchable, English language Zauberflöte while leaving the score whole, entire and in its traditional sequence. Large applause is due to writer Stephen Fry, who adapted the libretto into wonderfully successful, natural and fun English doggerel. That adaptation also included enough cuts and streamlining of the spoken dialogue to tame the piece's running time and allow the musical numbers to flow with uninterrupted momentum.

The biggest stumbling block in any Magic Flute production is, of course, what the heck to do about all the Freemasonry stuff. For all the film's surreality and goofiness, Branagh and company actually hit on a pretty good solution by putting the drama into a World War I-ish setting. Whereas in most productions the Realm of Night seems like a pretty genial sort of fairy kingdom, Tamino finds himself in a bizarre, dark, upside-down and dangerous wartime world (and we get the Queen of the Night in a leather trench coat, moonlit, riding a Mark IV tank: much to like there!). In contrast, Sarastro and his guys are running a hospital for the wounded and shell-shocked and a refuge for the displaced. René Pape gives an excellent performance as Sarastro, portraying him not as the usual moralizing patriarch full of blowhardish occult wisdom, but as a younger and more charming man who learned wisdom from charitable service, who's still capable of playing a joke and flashing a wink. His dedication to "peace and the brotherhood of man" and all that rot therefore comes across as being a lot more practical and honest than we get from most Sarastros. Tamino and Pamina's trials are not just hoops of abstruse symbolism through which they must jump, but are intended to actually achieve some good for a world at war. The result is still plenty hokey, but it's a lot easier to take it seriously and rejoice in the lovers' triumph than it is to respect the cult initiation the is the finale of traditional productions.

For all its virtues, the film does partake of the vices of early 21st Century cinema. For all the possible imaginations that CGI can bring to life, it does have a tendency to take over the show, an inmate in charge of the asylum. Branagh yields to the temptation towards gimcrackery just a little to often, thereby trivializing some passages that needn't be trivial, even in such a bagatelle of a plot. In particular, his treatment of all the Queen of the Night's coloratura passages leaves a lot of inspiration to be desired. But there are some brilliant shots in here too, for instance the passage with the Armed Men in the Act II finale: as the tenors and basses intone their creepy, marmoreal parallel octaves, we see first blackness, then a slow zoom out divulging a human iris spread across the screen. The iris grows to an eye, then two, then three, then many with chanting mouths interspersed, everything else shrouded in sackcloth, until the screen is full of singing anthropomorphic sandbags forming the wall of a trench.

Why do we like The Magic Flute? Seriously, why? It's not an easy liking to justify, particularly to someone who doesn't agree. The plot is sprawling and incoherent, it's undeniably silly, it has genuine continuity problems, and it's loaded to the gills with hideous symbolism which may well have no internal consistency, and even if it does, who cares? The thing's a mess for critics. And yet it endures, eternally popular in a repertoire which has cast off many weightier works, consistently numbered among the four great operas of one of humanity's three or four greatest composers. Why?

Well, because it's a heck of a lot of fun, and that's a justification that not many opera's can make without qualifications. That and the music, and these things of course go hand in hand. The Magic Flute is a brilliant composer at the very top of his game, a man for whom the barrier between artistic imagination and technical execution has all but dissolved. The music sparkles and flows and leaps and dances from scene to scene, always at the right pace, almost always leaving us craving more (not praise which can be lavished freely on the da Ponte operas). It's Mozart's least repetitive opera, and many of it's finest moments are gone as soon as we begin to feel them. It has the most ensemble singing, always great fun in Mozart's hands. I'd say it's his most rhythmically vigorous opera, probably because it was in German; it has a Teutonic delight and vim that even his best Italian works don't quite match. And above all, it doesn't force us to take it too seriously. I have always maintained that Papageno is the opera's true main character, and Mozart's ability to impart upon a contemptible, petty, trivial buffoon of a birdcatcher music of such good humour, honest humanity and ultimately tenderness and redemption is the great mark of his unique genius. In Mozart, even the most trifling bagatelles are lit with divine sparks.

What truly makes Branagh's movie worthwhile is that he usual stays out of the way of all these virtues of the opera. He keeps the weight of each scene balanced in its correct proportion. He doesn't shy away from the silliness, which would be well-nigh impossible and would destroy the work if it were achieved. He doesn't bother to explain the many (probably unexplainable) inconsistencies in the libretto, but like Mozart he lets them stand because they're beside the point. Like a good stage production, the film doesn't try to wholly redefine the work through some contrivance, but instead gives it a venue in which to shine. I can enjoy the movie without it infecting my imagination of the opera; I will not, God be praised, be imagining tanks and sandbags every time I put on my recording. It adds to my imagination of the piece without subverting it, and that's an achievement in any performance of opera.

Here's hoping it will be available on U.S.-playable DVD soon!

Monday, July 07, 2008

...and some vaguely related good news: interest in backyard chickens is soaring. In Austin, at least. Once again, Mrs. P and I are riding the snout of culture.
Rod Dreher interviews Michael Pollan

I passage I like, which goes well with my last post:

...given the preciousness of arable land, I think we have to take a look at the rules governing the conversion of farmland in the same way that if you want to build on wetlands, you have to meet a very high burden. I know that’s not a conservative idea, but if we reach a population of 10 billion, we will really regret all the houses we are putting up on some of the finest land in the world.
And something I didn't know:
We can only grow animals in this kind of confinement with antibiotics, but when we start using them in these amounts, we’re suddenly breeding lethal microbes. Look at the staph infection that killed 19,000 Americans two years ago—more than died from AIDS that year. That microbe has been traced to pig farms in Europe and Canada. We haven’t traced it to pig farms here because the industry won’t let us study it, but presumably it’s happening here as well because we swap pigs with Canada all the time.
19,000 people?! Seriously? A quick Google search does find that number elsewhere. Where's the media hype over this one? I'm glad we're still working on our Delta, Colorado pig.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Environmentalists, to their surprise, found that timber and mining were easier on the countryside.

"Now that Plum Creek is getting out of the timber business, we're kind of missing the loggers," said Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit that studies land management in the West. "A clear-cut will grow back, but a subdivision of trophy homes, that's going to be that way forever."

Link. Nice to see that some environmentalists are finally noticing. Perhaps tourist economies are not in fact the answer to everything. Who could have guessed?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Sorry for the lack of posts, but this is where I've been for the past month: boating in Dinosaur National Monument. I've got lots of pictures to work on, and only a couple weeks in town before I head to the Grand Canyon, so don't expect much.

It was a great season to spend time in Dinosaur, which is truly the great undiscovered gem of the National Park system, as well as a spectacular and highly underused corner of Utah and Colorado. Perhaps the fact that most of the Monument is accessible only by river has something to do with it; that and the misleading name. Most of Dinosaur's strata are too old to bear any Dinosaurs. The Yampa and Green River canyons and their geology are the reason to go. And after a humdinger winter and a late, cold spring in the West the place was greener and more full of wildflowers than I've ever seen it in over a decade of boating. As Steve mentioned, we did get snowed on, at ~5,000 feet in mid-June! The snow that got us at river level was heavy, sopping, camera-killing stuff, but here's a picture of the first dusting on the rims at 6:30 that morning:


More to come, I hope!

Oh, fine, here are a couple more. The previous two were of Lodore Canyon on the Green; the Yampa deserves at least as much attention. Stormy weather at Harding Hole:


The (somewhat) famous Tiger Wall:

Sunday, June 08, 2008

All Lancets.
This site is dedicated to compiling information about the collecting of antique Phlebotomy instruments. The site is growing daily as I begin the process of photographing items from my collection and adding information on the identification and understanding of this unique set of collectibles.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Common courtesy. Having fed and watered the animals, I'm headed back to the house when a certain need makes itself known. Mindful of Ed Abbey's maxim, I wander over to a friendly tree, and am well into the matter when up the driveway I see a pickup coming. Behind the wheel is a teenage boy with that particular stretched look that sets in around eighteen, and sitting next to him is a very pretty, and at the moment very red, seventeen year-old girl.

Well. There are, in this situation, two primary sets of vectors. First, there are the physical ones: hydrodynamic pressure is a bit much for any sort of hiatus. Wind velocity is at present to my back, aiding flow. I'd sort of like to keep it that way, since I like these pants, but the second set of vectors (societal) kicks in its share of torque, and I perform a quick volte-face and finish up before they're out of the truck. It's the little thoughtful details that make the host.

It turns out they're the son and daughter of friends of ours, here to get the co-op order which we picked up last night. The boy is Tom, the girl somethingsomethingmumbleVal (blush). I introduce myself, after a moment's thought about becoming our neighbor Bob Du Pont, as [Odious]. Nobody offers to shake hands.

Boxes loaded, they drive off with a wave from Tom. I can see Val's shoulders shaking before they're halfway down the driveway, but she's polite enough to wait until they're out of earshot to start really giggling.

"Honey," I say to my wife once I'm back inside, "we're living too close to town."

Friday, May 23, 2008

More algae economy, again with the 10% of New Mexico idea. I'm not categorically against this idea, in fact I think it's really worth pursuing. But my concerns about water remain unanswered. This is not the first energy magic bullet I have seen whose advocates blithely neglect hydrological considerations. The oil shale everyone's so fired up about in Utah and Colorado requires substantial amounts of water for processing. Those happy Canadians have a great, big, mostly unallocated river to work with; Utah and Colorado have literally zero water to spare. And one must also consider the water needs of everyone who will move to the area to work on such a project. Perhaps the algae technology can be rigged to conserve its water; but it's an engineering issue which seriously needs to be addressed.

Update: As Jack comments below, apparently the system can work entirely on brackish water. Popular Mechanics lists freshwater usage for the process as zero. Excellent!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Signs you're in Northern New Mexico:

Terry Teachout visits Santa Fe in preparation for the 2009 premier of his opera (well, his libretto). The Letter will be composed by Paul Moravec and is based on a short story by Somerset Maugham. Says Teachout:
If you don't know the plot in any of its various manifestations, take it from me, it's the stuff operas are made of. Lust, betrayal, murder, blackmail...what's not to like? I feel like singing already. Paul and I are shaping it into a very tight structure (ninety minutes, no intermission) that we hope will have the feel of a film noir and the punch of a verismo opera. Think Tosca or Carmen directed by Jacques Tourneur and you'll get the idea.
It's rather gratifying that Moravec refers to Santa Fe as an American Bayreuth. Ongoing progress reports are listed on the right sidebar of Mr. Teachout's web site. This one has a lot of potential. Get tickets early! In fact, 2009 would be a great season to indulge in subscription seats. Besides The Letter, they're doing Gluck's Alceste (more Gluck, please!), Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, Don Giovanni and La Traviata with Natalie Dessay: stellar, and all new productions except the Mozart.
Pretty clever for an online quiz:



I am the sonnet, never quickly thrilled;
Not prone to overstated gushing praise
Nor yet to seething rants and anger, filled
With overstretched opinions to rephrase;
But on the other hand, not fond of fools,
And thus, not fond of people, on the whole;
And holding to the sound and useful rules,
Not those that seek unjustified control.
I'm balanced, measured, sensible (at least,
I think I am, and usually I'm right);
And when more ostentatious types have ceased,
I'm still around, and doing, still, alright.
In short, I'm calm and rational and stable -
Or, well, I am, as much as I am able.
What Poetry Form Are You?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Things you don't see every day

Since I took the trouble to rant the other day about the spectacular absence of water from New Mexico, of course I immediately go out and find counter examples. Here's a waterfall I visited yesterday, not huge but plenty festive, near El Rito. As good as the waterfall, but much harder to photograph, was the enormous quartzite outcrop that formed the gorge.


But this was decidedly small potatoes compared to the next drainage over. The Rio Ojo Caliente flows southward out of the Tusas range. A southern outrigger of Colorado's San Juan mountains, the Tusas are consistently the snowiest part of New Mexico, and their snowpack this year was off the charts. The gracery store and a church in Chama actually caved in this winter. But warm weather is here, and the Ojo Caliente, normally a modest creek, is going big.

The river is charging like this for miles. These falls were the beginning of a fantastic gorge, full of continuous Class III-IV whitewater, pushy and very fast.

A big rapid. Those two V-waves are much bigger than they look in the photo.

Spring wildflowers on a river bench.

This is not an everyday sight in New Mexico. I have heard native New Mexican children exclaim in great excitement, "Look! The water's almost four inches deep!" This has been a very good year for the north.
Incidentally, the headwaters of this river host a truly classic New Mexican village. As I drove in, six cows were crossing Main Street (about eight feet wide) to ransack a garden. I was chased by dogs all the way through town. Splendid place!

The river canyon had no trail and as I was crossing one of many talus slopes a boulder rolled under my feet. After scrabbling a second trying to regain balance, I keeled over onto my right hand, which emitted a very audible snap, like a popsicle stick breaking. I lifted up my hand to see my ring finger pointing a good sixty degrees right of normal, clearly dislocated at the proximal joint. Thankfully, the pain was much less than I would have expected. But the "Holy Shit" factor was high, seeing a body part so far from its wonted environs, and the fight-or-flight response was very strong. I wanted to move, now, to be somewhere else right away. Also, since I wasn't thinking too clearly, I was not quite sure whether the thing was just dislocated or actually snapped through. An initial attempt to pull some traction and put it back in line was not satisfactory. Can I hike out like this? Bad idea. Fortunately, the cerebrum engaged: "You've got to deal with this now, before the adrenaline wears off." All right, brain. I staggered to stabler ground.

It's just dislocated, or it would hurt a lot more, right? Right. I hooked the finger through a loop on my camera bag to achieve a solider purchase, and pulled. Traction in line, then move it smoothly back into position, just like the WFR instructors say. Second time worked like a charm. Next step: extract first aid kit, swallow ten ibuprofen, splint it to the neighboring digit. It's nice to see wilderness medicine theory work in practice, gives you some confidence that they don't just make it all up so your rescuers have something to do while you die, like CPR in the field.

My one regret, a serious regret, is that I didn't stop to take a gruesome picture. At the time I was worried that it would be frivolous and irresponsible; now I feel differently, with posterity to consider. But it looked very much like this, except on the ring finger:


For more New Mexico whitewater, check out the first raft descent of Rio Embudo, just a couple weeks ago. Who says New Mexico has no decent boating?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Who is buried in Friedrich Schiller's tomb?

Lots of people other than Schiller.

Seems like a situation of which he would have approved.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sketch of
The Analytical Engine

Invented by Charles Babbage
By L. F. MENABREA
of Turin, Officer of the Military Engineers
from the Bibliothèque Universelle de Genève, October, 1842, No. 82

With notes upon the Memoir by the Translator
ADA AUGUSTA, COUNTESS OF LOVELACE
...is well worth your time, if you are the sort of person who said to themselves, 'Ooo! Analytical engine!' when you read that. (ht)
"...we could grow all the fuel the United States needs using 1/10th of the land space of New Mexico..."

By covering that 10% into fancy algae incubators. It might not be the worst use for a tenth of New Mexico, provided it's the right tenth. I'd definitely nominate Roswell, Artesia and environs, which have no discernible charm to lose by being converted into algae. I'm sure the stuff also smells better than Artesia does currently.

Seriously, though, I assume the chappy in the link was using New Mexico largely just as a land-area comparison. While southwestern states possess certain recommendations for such a project, viz. lots of sunlight and available open space, they have one major negative: there's no water. None. It's all spoken for. One commenter to the linked post asks, "I wonder what portion of the total area of the state of New Mexico is currently dedicated to growing corn for ethanol. 50%? 75%? 100%? More?" Actually, the state's entire harvested cropland represents only about 1.1% of New Mexico's acreage; irrigated cropland about 0.8% (figures from 2002; these numbers are trending significantly downward, I expect because agricultural water rights are being diverted to residential development). These aren't typos, easterners; we are not Iowa. People from other parts of the country really can't imagine how little water we have around here. The video doesn't address whether the water in these algae tanks can be conserved and reused, but if not, that's a deal-breaker in most of the West. Lots of brilliant ideas for using our open spaces and unexplored resources seem not to consider this inconvenient reality.

Some nights ago I was indulging in a nip of red wine and a bite or two of chocolate, when I heard a small voice. "Ahem. I contain ze sulfites." Turned my head, looked around. Assessed the level of the bottle.

"I beg your pardon?" I asked.

"I contain ze sulfites," said the wine. "You should be aware of zis."

"And why is that, o bottle?"

"Well, I am sure I do not know. But if you did need to know, I 'ave done my duty."

"Ah." I poured another glass. The wine muttered a long phrase sotto voce. "What was that?" I said sharply.

"I said," it replied with exaggerated care, "zat I should not be consumed by ze women who are or may be pregnant."

"What?"

"Ze Surgeons General thought it was important. Zey are smart fellows, you should listen to zem."

Giving up for the moment on the wine, I turned to the chocolate. "Do you have anything to say for yourself?" I asked.

"I'm chock full of antioxidants!" it chirruped. "Ask me about my health benefits!"

"You two," I said, "are getting worse than my breakfast cereal."

"Unfair!" said the wine.

"True," I said, considering. "Nobody is worse than the breakfast cereal. Just sitting there on the table, mumbling to itself like Rain Man. 'Vitamin A 25%. Vitamin C 2%, Riboflavin, definitely 35%.' You know, it's talk like this that makes my work a living hell. People are so flipped out about eating well that they're avoiding things for no reason. I had one person--neither coeliac nor intolerant--ask me if it was okay to eat gluten. She didn't even know what it was, and she was worried about it."

"I'm gluten-free!" said the chocolate, before the wine and I shushed it.

"And what is ze gluten?"

"It is an," I enunciated, "ergastic amorphous protein."

"Ah."

"Quite. Real food doesn't even have ingredients! It's just, 'bacon'. Or 'milk'. Or 'bread'. Maybe 'bread with things in it'. But look at you. They've got you spouting off about sulfites and birth defects. O tempora, o vino."

I looked to the bottle, but as it was empty, it had nothing left to say.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Camel demand soars in India...

...in response to high gas prices, apparently. Once again, your genial host Peculiar proves to be on the cutting edge of history: I've been demanding a camel for quite a while. No dromedaries, please. I need a big, shaggy two-humper that can deal with deep snow. A pair would be ideal.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nobody thinks clearly, no matter what they pretend. Thinking's a dizzy business, a matter of catching as many of those foggy glimpses as you can and fitting them together the best you can. That's why people hang on so tight to their beliefs and opinions; because, compared to the haphazard way in which they're arrived at, even the goofiest opinion seems wonderfully clear, sane, and self-evident. And if you let it get away from you, then you've got to dive back into that foggy muddle to wangle yourself another to take its place.
--the Dain Curse, Dashiell Hammett

Friday, April 18, 2008



We visited this ruin last weekend, in a very out-of-the-way corner of northern New Mexico. People live around here their entire lives and never pass through this area. The cliff house above was located about 800 feet up the side of a heavily forested canyon. There was running water in the bottom, but it had just snowed the night before, so I don't know whether the stream is perennial. Here's the ruin with a little more context:



It's a pretty lush spot by New Mexican standards: in addition to the usual ponderosa, Doug fir and scrub oak, there were also spruce and true firs.
We only found one little pictograph panel, but I like it:


Detail:


Despite their enthusiasm for painting birds, these people, the Gallina, were not a culture you wanted to be part of:

...scarcely more than a hundred Gallina remains have ever been found, said Tony Largaespada, an archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service who made the discovery in 2005.

"Almost all of [the Gallina ever found] were murdered," he said. "[Someone] was just killing them, case after case, every single time."

..........

"Why these [victims] were outside the house is kind of a mystery," Largaespada said. "Usually [attackers] threw [Gallina victims] in their houses and burned the houses on top of them. That's the case with 90 percent of them.

"But in this particular case they were thrown in a pile outside the house. … More than likely there are others [nearby]."

More, with photos, here.
Like the six other bodies found at the site—all members of a now vanished culture called the Gallina—Stargazer met a brutal end. Her neck had been broken, with her head snapped back so far that her skull rested between her shoulder blades.

"Her head was forced back so hard that it pushed a piece of [a] vertebra into the back of her skull," Largaespada said. "That was a pretty violent death."

..........

The murder scene is grimly consistent with the few other Gallina sites that have previously been excavated, Nelson added.

"[In] most of what we're finding, someone came through and killed them," he said. "If you find a Gallina site and there's skeletons in it, they were killed."

Also interesting: '"Probably the most famous thing about the Gallina is the towers they made," said Tony Largaespada, a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist. "[People] call them Gallina towers, and they almost looked like medieval European castles."'

Though there were no such towers at the location we visited, the site's defensive aspects were pretty unmistakable, with two separate structures set away from the main alcove, commanding views of the canyon. Here's a rather lousy photo of the upper one:


It also seems noteworthy that no modern Puebloans claim any ancestral connections with the Gallina. The Jemez, for instance, seem remarkably vehement on the subject.

To add one final, even more Lovecraftian touch, the site contained several deep holes that reached horizontally back into the sandstone. The largest was remarkably deep, perhaps 25 feet. It seemed as though it extended even further, but was blocked with a large stone that looked for all the world like it was deliberately placed. Another such crevice was similarly blocked. For all the progress in Southwestern archaeology, there's still a lot of room for play of imagination.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A short film of some very old school rockclimbing. Today's climbers will find it pretty primitive, but even I learned to climb with a bowline around the waist and belaying around the body. However, this is one of those occasions in which progress really does represent improvement. I must say, these folks' technique looks dubious even by 1938 standards. Also, clearly television's catering to the idiots in the audience is no recent phenomenon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A new one for the sidebar: Nature Lyrics, the blog of a very fine wildlife and macro photographer in India. For a quick taste, check out his vultures and snakes. Browse the galleries too; among much else there are some excellent sloth bears to be had.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A victory for the anti-mining faction in Crested Butte. Some background here. As I said in the earlier post, I have mixed feelings about this; however, I can't say I'm unhappy about the news.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Masai warriors will run the London Marathon. I cannot tell you how much joy this gives me. (ht)
It's Christopher Smart's birthday! Or it was, yesterday, when I meant to post this. Most people know For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry, which is excellent. I will confess that always closest to my heart is the following couplet:

Of all Spring's blossoms I like best
My sunlit wife, herself sun-dressed.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

England's thatching crisis.

It sounds truly aggravating: a combination of perverse agricultural policies combining with drastically over-zealous preservation efforts to kill an ancient tradition.

Via Cronaca.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Almost missed this one: John Derbyshire reviews a collection of nature writing, and gives a very nice tip of the hat to Steve, who is not included:
The [political] Left survives and flourishes because, as well as there being plenty of people whose satisfaction in life is to boss others around, there are even more who are willing to be bossed. Those who are not so willing — persons of a prickly-libertarian temperament — often head out to the wild places, to end up as lovers of the raw creation. There is, too, that aspect of the conservative temperament that abhors sentimentality and wishful thinking, and greets with happy recognition the cycles of death and mayhem that comprise most of the natural world's activity. I am thinking here, in both cases, of the Western writer Stephen J. Bodio, whose 1998 memoir On the Edge of the Wild offers an eloquent hunter's perspective on nature.

The Left undoubtedly has the best of it, though. They certainly have the best of this volume, which contains nothing of Stephen Bodio's at all — nothing at all sympathetic to hunting, except as carried out by American Indians.
The review finishes, unexpectedly, as a positive one. I note with amusement and approval that he prefers unknown writers, "writers I had never heard of, but whom I am glad to have encountered," among whom he numbers Ed Abbey. And though I agree with his assessment of two samples which he rightly mocks as purple prose, I disagree about his Eliot Porter quote:
In the winding canyon dark and light reflections replace one another in slow succession. The gentle wake of the boat breaks these images into undulating spots and patches, each wave for a moment holding a fragment of sky mixed with golden globules of sunlit rock.
I suppose Mr. Porter may be justly accused here of having failed to convey the moment to a distant audience, but the moments here described are a very large part of why I squandered years of time and set myself far behind my peers financially working as a ne'er-do-well river guide. Sunny canyon reflections on shaded water, broken by concentric ripples from my quietly dripping oars: it was worth everything for that alone.

Also worth noting is Mr. Derbyshire's mention of the decline in outdoor recreation:

While reading America's Earth I came upon a report just issued by the Nature Conservancy, telling us that people are spending less time in the Great Outdoors than ever before. Activity in this zone has been declining for twenty years, the researchers tell us. The annual per capita rates of decline have been from one percent to one and a quarter, depending on the type of activity measured — camping, backpacking, fishing, hiking, hunting, or trips to national and state parks and forests.
I hear this a lot, and it's probably true, but it's often hard to believe. It seems to be an instance of Yogi Berra's "No one goes there anymore. It's too crowded." So many places are positively infested with recreationists (as Mr. Derbyshire may recall from his hike to Inspiration Point in Grand Teton, where he missed the Peculiars by only a couple days). Even Nevada is becoming a destination, while REI, EMS and their ilk seemingly continue to flourish. I know people (assholes, I might add) who use Delicate Arch as a Frisbee golf hole. I suppose it's true though. Outdoor activities are now dominated by gearheads and destination vacationists, while locals who use their public land backyards on a regular basis do seem to be on the wane. The economic demographics of outdoor recreation are also unencouraging. My river company, which is actually a non-profit organization ostensibly dedicated to exposing the voting public to wilderness, recently raised prices on trips because people seemed to assume that our low cost reflected low quality. Bookings went up and honest working clientele continue to decline.

Still, though many places are overrun, a great many aren't. They can have Grand Teton and the Maroon Bells. There are areas right next door where I can still be confident of not seeing a soul.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

More Tibet

...without (much) commentary from me. It all gets increasingly convulted; judge for yourself.

Here's an interesting perspective from a mountaineer who's been in Lhasa (scroll down to post by Corax towards bottom). The poster is a serious Swedish climber, and his observations are not to be lightly dismissed. To be fair, though, I had not had the impression from the international media that the Tibet protests were peaceful or harmless.

Meanwhile, here's another assessment of the state of Chinese and international media. Here's an account of alleged Chinese cyber attacks on Tibet activists, Uighurs and Falun Gong. And here's a report that China may ban live broadcasts from Tiananmen square during the Olympics.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Today is the birthday of Benito Pablo Juárez García, about whom I'm ashamed to admit I knew nothing. On a whim, I looked him up on Wikipedia, and found him to be, at least on the surface, an admirable fellow.
Juárez was born in the small village of San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca, located in the mountain range now known as the "Sierra Juárez." His parents, Marcelino Juárez and Brígida García were peasants who died when he was three years old. He described his parents as "Amerindians of the primitive race of the country." He worked in the corn fields and as a shepherd until the age of 12. On December 17, 1818, he walked to the city of Oaxaca looking to educate himself and find a better life. At the time he was illiterate and could not speak Spanish, only Zapotec.

In the city he had a sister who worked as a cook and there, he took a job as a domestic servant and eagerly made up for his lack of education. A lay Franciscan, Antonio Salanueva, was impressed with young Benito's intelligence and thirst for learning, and arranged for his placement at the city's seminary. He studied there but decided to pursue law rather than the priesthood. He graduated from the seminary in 1827 and went on to gain a degree in law.
Aside from seizing Church properties, he seemed to have been industrious, honorable, and dedicated.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chas found it first and the Atomic Nerds personalized it, so in the interest of continuing Barbie ethnography, I'll offer some more easily overlooked specimens. Santa Fe has any number of them, of course, but particularly noteably to this blog's readership is
St. John's College [Santa Fe] Barbie: Available in a wide variety of hairstyles and body types, this Barbie's accessories include a bong and hardcover copies of Plato's Republic and the Fagles Iliad. Optional conversion kit to Eastern Orthodoxy available.


Española Barbie, Alternative Model: Includes long flowing robes and turban. Most commonly used with Santa Fe Whole Foods Market playset. Ken includes a dagger and a security business.


Truchas Barbie: Commonly mistaken for Española Barbie, Trucheña Barbie's accessories include an elk rifle, several yard appliances, stray livestock, and a kit to sabotage Santa Fe and Taos Barbies' vehicles when parked at local trailheads.

Steve is hereby challenged to offer up Catron County Barbie. Anyone else? I'd say glaring omissions include Tierra Amarilla, Roswell and Gallup Barbies.