Thursday, September 28, 2006

Time for a little break from Grand Canyon photos: A big, early storm blew through Colorado last weekend, and even brought snow down here, at the southernmost tip of the Rockies. Santa Fe Baldy, Saturday 9.23.06:

  Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Added without hesitation to our Netflix list: L'Upupa und der Tiumph der Sohnesliebe, an opera by Henze. One of its roles: Al Radshi, Grand Vizier of Manda, the Island of the Black Baboons (baritone). Can't wait!

Upupa, if you're not already aware, refers to the possessor of the best scientific name ever: Upupa epops.

Yes indeed, we've posted on those! I'm very glad to be reminded of them though, and my productivity at work is likely to sink to truly dismal depths. The following is a small taste of what awaits the intrepid reader:
On the Nature of the Gorgonia; That It is a Real Marine Animal, and Not of a Mixed Nature, between Animal and Vegetable

An Account of Falkland Islands

An Account of the Romansh Language

An Account of Some Attempts to Imitate the Effects of the Torpedo by Electricity

Extraordinary Electricity of the Atmosphere Observed at Islington on the Month of October, 1775

Proposals for the Recovery of People Apparently Drowned

Of the Tides in the South Seas. By Captain James Cook, F.R.S.

An Account of a Very Extraordinary Effect of Lightning on a Bullock, at Swanborow, in the Parish of Iford Near Lewes, in Sussex

A New and General Method of Finding Simple and Quickly-Converging Series; By Which the Proportion of the Diameter of a Circle to Its Circumference May Easily be Computed to a Great Number of Places of Figures

An Account of Some Poisonous Fish in The South Seas

An Account of a Suppression of Urine Cured by a Puncture Made in the Bladder through the Anus

And much, much more! The above are merely a selection from the 1776 volume. I've never heard of anything nearly so interesting happening in 1776. If more enticement is necessary:
An Account of a very odd Monstrous Calf. by Robert Boyle

By the same Noble person was lately communicated to the Royal Society an Account of a very Odd Monstrous Birth, produced at Limmington in Hampshire, where a Butcher, having caused a Cow (which cast her Calf the year before) to be covered, that she might the sooner be fatted, killed her when fat, and opening the Womb, which he found heavy to admiration, saw in it a Calf, which had begun to have hair, whose hinder Leggs had no Joynts, and whos Tongue was, Cerberus-like, triple, to each side of his Mouth one, and one in the midst: Between the Fore-leggs and the Hinder-leggs was a great Stone, on which the Calf rid: The Sternum, or that part of the Breast, where the Ribs lye, was also perfect stone; and the Stone, on which it rid, weighed twenty pounds and a half; the outside of the Stone was of Grenish colour, but some small parts being broken off, it appeared a perfect Free-stone. The Stone, according to the Letter of Mr. David Thomas, who sent this Account to Mr. Boyle, is with Dr. Haughteyn of Salisbury, to whom he also referreth for further Information.

Have we posted on these? It seems like we've posted on these. Bouncing about the web today, I learned that the journals of the Royal Society are available to be read. I can't remember what led me there; apologies. And everybody is reading the Athanaius Kircher Society page, right? Recent headlines: The Girl Who Won't Grow Up Gallery of Scale Model Cities The Dinner Table Railroad of Gaston Menier Uncommon Cloud Formations The Iceland Phallological Museum Finger Stretcher for the Aspiring Pianist

Monday, September 25, 2006

Anyone who gives a damn about dogs should read Patrick Burns' recent posts, here and here, on the American Kennel Club's recent contract with a puppy mill distributor. As Mr. Burns points out repeatedly, this is not really a new development, just an explicit clarification of the AKC's longstanding ethical position. Some of the most cutting excerpts:
As for the AKC, their longterm business plan is not much of a secret. The AKC has teamed up with the Humane Society of the United States and PETA to push for legislation mandating the microchipping of all pets. This is a great idea as far as the AKC is concerned, as they happen to own one of the most popular microchip products around. PAWS legislation would, in effect, be a multi-million dollar subsidy for the AKC...

At the same time that all this is going on, the Humane Society, PETA and other lunatic fringe "animal rights" groups have been successfully pushing legislation that would require all non-show dogs to be neutered or spayed. These laws are ostensibly designed to reduce the number of "unwanted" puppies in America, and mandatory spay-netuer laws have already been embraced in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and are under consideration in places as diverse as Sacramento, New Jersey, and Virginia.

Is it just a coinicidence that these mandatory spay-neuter laws will have a very positive benefit for the AKC? After all, if enough of these laws are passed, the end result will be that almost every dog in America will come from a show breeder (most of whom will be affiliated with the AKC) or a commerical breeder (with whom the AKC will have a licensing contract). How perfect is that?

The AKC is a prime example of people claiming to have animals' best interests at heart, while their actions inflict drastic harm on untold numbers of animals. Read the whole thing!

Update: Patrick has a third post up on the subject. Also, I neglected earlier to mention the video he links to of the living conditions for puppies at Petland (not a political video, it was taken taken by some audibly vacuous pop-tarts). The AKC approves of this! Leaving aside the issues of bad genetics, these are not healthy, happy dogs.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Intelligent commentary on the Pope's recent imbroglio has been scarce. If you are in search of some, take a look at Cronaca's posts here and here (he also provides a link to the complete text of the Pope's address, another remarkably scarce item). But if, like me, you find yourself most intrigued by Twenty-six Dialogues with a Persian by Manuel II Paleologus, I have been unable to find it online. Indeed, I'm uncertain whether it has ben completely translated into English, though there seems to be a German translation. If anyone knows something I don't, I'd be glad to hear it.
The dwarf planet formerly referred to as Xena has, thankfully, been officially named Eris. Xena fans need not riot in indignation however: the powers that be came up with a very elegant tip of the hat to the warrior princess. Eris' moon (formerly Gabrielle) has been named after Eris' daughter, Dysnomia. Dysnomia, for our few readers whose Greek has gone to pot, means lawlessness.

Thanks to Tenser, said the Tensor.

Friday, September 15, 2006

  Posted by Picasa

The entrance to North Canyon Rapid. The viewer will observe the emerald clarity of the water, not colorado at all; the water is also quite cold, in the mid-40s. This is the effect of Glen Canyon Dam. Historically, the Colorado ran warm and thick red, coloured by the vast erosional forces of its upstream basin. Glen Canyon Dam was built largely as a silt trap for Lake Mead, and itsreservoir (Lake Powell) is filling with silt far, far faster than was hoped. The clear, green water is beautiful, even I can't deny it. Fortunately, we are frequently allowed to see what the river looked like pre-dam, thanks to the common flash flooding of the numerous side canyons. Pictures to come! Posted by Picasa


A rather busy abstract of a reflecting pool in North Canyon. Tadpoles abounded. Posted by Picasa

Steve Irwin

I have read numerous worthy tributes of late to Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter, who was killed suddenly last week by a blow from a stingray. The amount of broadcast television I have viewed in the past several years is very, very close to zero, and I have never dwelt anywhere that was so technologically advanced as to receive the Animal Planet channel. Nonetheless, I did catch a number of Crocodile Hunter episodes over the years, at motels and friends' homes, and I don't hesitate to declare that I liked Mr. Irwin and his approach. His love of animals was straightforward, exuberant, not at all shy, but full of a vigour which too few men dare to reveal in public in our times. His Aussie farm-boy aspect allowed him to get away with much that the world would frown upon in an American. (Contemplate his U.S. foil, the insipid Jeff Corwin, who, though he is undoubtedly a good snake handler, clearly feels some deep discomfort with his calling, causing him to veil his endeavours in constant sarcasm, apologetics and irony.)

Sadly, hard on the heels of Mr. Irwin's death, plenty of folk began to frown. I particularly note the respectful censures of Austin Bay, a blogger whom I enjoy and respect:

In the komodo dragon show I thought Irwin crossed the line from skilled showmanship to inexcuseable thrill-seeking – wagered mortality is tantalizing, but adds a queasy, dark twist to a family program. I told my wife “I wonder if this guy (Irwin) has a death wish?”...

A violent, unnecessary death.

Irwin was idiosyncratic, personable, enthusiastic, informed, and physically courageous. That’s a lot to admire. But what drove him to get too close one too many times?

Plenty of other folks seem also to be tut-tutting at the late Mr. Irwin for being an irresponsible daredevil. But they are thereby betraying an unfortunate ignorance of what, I maintain, drives such individuals to pursue strange and risky callings.

I have all my life participated in two sports widely considered risky, eccentric and often irresponsible: white water boating and climbing mountains. The media loves to portray these sports as high-G, non-stop screaming thrill rides, and their enthusiasts as underclass adrenaline addicts with nothing to lose. (Almost always, such portrayals look toward the ultimate goal of selling products with little if any bearing on the activities depicted.) Unfortunately, most of the public doesn't question these images. The truth, I maintain, is very often quite different. I am not seeking adrenaline in my climbing and boating, and I only seldom find it. And perhaps surprisingly, this is true even when I am performing at my best (though I make no claims to be anywhere near the top end if these sports). On the contrary, at my best moments I find a calm, a clarity, an easy focus (concentration implies too much effort). I lose the self-examination which is otherwise a mental constant; I focus on my task without focusing on my focus. This is what I seek, and I would never think to apply the word thrill to it. The adrenaline comes only when I slip and start watching myself again. I believe musicians, especially singers, will recognize what I am describing.

Furthermore, the common notion that these activities cannot be intellectual is grossly unfair. Intellect, I grant, is not an absolutely necessary prerequisite, but it does greatly enrich the affair. Mountaineers and boaters commonly make study of geography, geology, biology, meteorology, history, anthropology and even literature. Such knowledge is often practically useful, and may in some circumstances be mixed up with life and death. But it also, especially when combined with experience and increasing local familiarity, reveals a web of interconnection and meaning spread across a landscape whose beauty is eternally frustrating to express to others.

Again, a musical parallel may be helpful. A top-notch violinist playing a top-notch piece is confronted first with the physical, technical challenge of manipulating her fingers and bow through the necessary motions. Secondly, there is the challenge of willpower, of concentrating the mind as necessary without falling into harmful self-observation, which leads either to fear and indecision or pride and grandstanding. Finally, there is the intellectual challenge, much of which occurred outside the actual performance: study of the composer, his style and influences; of the piece, its history and structure; of the instrument, its mannerisms and possibilities. Again, the concert can generally go on with little or none of this intellectual study; but the intellect can greatly enhance the performance's quality and the performer's calling. I submit that the true thrills (as opposed to cheaper, ancillary thrills that may be part of the lifestyle) of mountaineering, boating, hunting and surely many other pastimes that thus blend physical and mental skill, have a closer kinship to the sublimity of classical music than to the gross visceral lurch of simply falling from a height. Mountaineers could save piles of money if roller-coaster rides were an acceptable substitute. When people assert that "adrenaline sports" are not worth the risk, they wrongly assume that an adrenaline rush is their ultimate payoff. The rewards are much higher, and many intelligent, thoughtful people, people with plenty to lose, decide that they are well worth the risk.

Steve Irwin did not wrestle crocs and pester pythons simply to get a twitch of adrenaline every time some reptile snapped its teeth at his privates. Darren Naish aptly describes how his style ran deeper than the TV producers chose to show:

There is... no doubt whatsoever that his knowledge and experience of wildlife was considerable, and he knew the herpetofauna of Australia and other countries down to the subspecies level. He published at least some technical articles and could easily turn his hand to the dissemination of academic information: he wasn't only a populariser. Sure, he was a character, but then that's pretty much the only way of making a name for yourself on TV today it seems.
The man loved reptiles and animals generally, loved getting to know them on a level that can only come with actual interaction, not with chaste contemplation from the distance. It's not easy to make a living pursuing an eccentric calling, and an affable wildlife biologist with a telegenic personality can hardly be blamed for accepting his own television show. Again, the TV producers always turn these kind of things into a sideshow, putting high-altitude mountaineering and herp collecting alongside the Jackass movie. Studying scale patterns on snake snouts or gasping for breath while humping gear above basecamp don't seem to sell advertising spots, to the detriment of all of us.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Evening of our first day. Posted by Picasa


Grand Canyon, first night: Mrs. Peculiar negotiates a challenging stretch of what she was assured was a mellow pre-dinner stroll down the river. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A long-standing question answered:

By a simple Google search of course. Sigh. Anyway, I and many like me have inevitably wondered whether and how Greek is written in cursive. It seems an obvious thing to do, but the textbooks coyly refrain from mentioning the issue. My first Russian textbook presented the cursive script in chapter one, so I've long been aware that even such Easternmost of Westerners are capable of and amenable to cursive writing. At last, a chatroom thread provides some answers:

As so many Greek students must have reflected, the whole affair just does not seem suited to cursive: much more awkward than the Russian, and many Russian authors have let us know at great length just how hard it is to outdo a Russian in awkwardness (Peculiar is currently reading Dostoevsky's The Gambler). Look at pi, lambda and kappa: ugh! how on earth does one tell pi from omega in practice? By being a Greek, I suppose. Co-religionists or no, I'd just as soon be a bloodthirsty Turk. I'm rather pleased with psi, though.

Lingua Mongolia is a wonderful online resource for the Mongol language. Though one can certainly think of plenty that might be added, it is straightforward, helpful, and easily the best online tool I've seen for learning to write Mongolian in the Uighur script.

Hat tip: Jabal al-Lughat.

I'm generally not one to participate in Stöckchen, as the Germans know them, from the Internet (how did a rather abstruse notion, whose name was coined by Richard Dawkins, come to mean a silly parlour game spread about online? Memology at work, of course!), but this one, courtesy of Languagehat, was a little too apropos of me and my kith to pass up: Ten books I have bought but haven't read. Narrowing it down to ten is much easier in that most of my books languish in storage; I shall confine myself to those currently on the shelf.
Three Icelandic Outlaw Sagas: The Saga of Gisli/the Saga of Grettir/the Saga of Hord Why, why have I not yet read this?

Rebecca West, The Birds Fall Down It sits right beside the marvellous Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, in which I have made a respectable dent but have yet to finish.

Libby: The Sketches, Letters & Journal of Libby Beaman, Recorded in the Pribilof Islands 1879-1880What is it about women named Libby?

Mormon America: The Power and the Promise Dirty blond, attractive, but with too prominent a forehead, too prominent a chin: the selfsame teeneage girl, genetically speaking, works the counter of every filling station in southern Utah. Proclus and Odious did not believe, until they witnessed. Surreal, somehow endlessly fascinating. My perverse curiosity may one day drive me to see The Book of Mormon Movie.

St. Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks It was recommended to me on the basis of its having really, remarkably horrible queens. I look forward.

Memoirs of Hector Berlioz : From 1803 to 1865, Comprising His Travels in Germany, Italy, Russia, and England The man was a splendid writer. His Evenings With the Orchestra is one of the most witty, wonderful, bizarre things I've ever read: it contains, among much else, a 19th Century science fiction story about a utopian city founded on musical principles, complete with zeppelin transport; and a lurid romantic tale about an English sailor falling for a Maori cannibal princess. He wrote memoirs because Benvenuto Cellini did.

Jack Turner, Teewinot: Climbing and Contemplating the Teton Range Near and dear to my heart, the author and the subject.

G.K. Chesterton, The Flying Inn I have no idea what to expect.

Jennifer Brennan, Curries & Bugles: A Memoir & Cookbook of the British Raj Not just born in the wrong century, but hungry to boot. Grrrr.

Isaac Dinesen, Anecdotes of Destiny Do you know that other Stöckchen in which you are asked with what person, living or dead, you would chose to take lunch? My answer is easy: Karen Blixen.

Anyone with ten interesting, unread books on his shelf may consider himself tagged.

(This Stöckchen probably does not apply to Odious, Kate or Steve, all of whom seem successfully to have supplicated occult powers to grant them the ability to consume a book with infernal swiftness.)

Reid Farmer, one of the co-denizens of the Querencia blog, came through on Monday, and we shared an excellent meal and equally excellent conversation. Per the latter, my favourite rock art panel:

  Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 10, 2006

  Posted by Picasa

The entrance to the Grand Canyon Posted by Picasa


Yes, I'm still here. I've got an increasingly large stack of pictures I'd like to post, but Blogger has been very uncooperative of late. The photograph is Lees Ferry, the launching point for Grand Canyon river trips. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 07, 2006