Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Today's random uselessness:

Nineteen states have official state soils. Oregon and Washington have legislation in the works.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ralph Vaughn Williams on Sibelius, 1950:
It has been well said that the most original genius is the most indebted man. Sibelius has followed the direction pointed out by the great masters of the past. He is the heir of all the ages. It is for this very reason that he gives us, with a new voice, a message that has never been heard before. And his voice will remain new, through all the changes and chances of freak and fashion. The English, like the Athenians, are too fond of spending time either in telling or hearing some new thing. But we have found by bitter experience that these "new things", which at first we thought so rare and refreshing, are like the Dead Sea fruit, and turn to ashes in the mouth. Let us then shun all pernicious and enervating drugs, and turn to the pure water of Sibelius' art.
Self-conscious modernism, as I have argued before, did the world of music no favors and is not holding up. But put on some Sibelius next time someone tells you that tonality and symphonic form were dead by 1900 and had no original sounds left to utter. Try Sibelius’ 3rd with its perfect and never overbearing orchestra, clarity of argument, memorable but never obvious melodies; or the limpid, lovely otherworldliness of the 6th; or the dramatic transmutation of sonata form in the 5th culminating in final chords whose dramatic simplicity you will never forget. Great symphonic works, like most great artistry, each create their own perfect, self-contained, inimitable world, unlike any other, even unlike others from the same composer’s hand. Sibelius produced many.
Much as I approve of Bishop's Castle, the industrious Mr. Bishop has been bested by a Spaniard.
Modern-day Ptolomaicists: it's so rare to capture one alive. I'm actually very fond of Ptolomy, and harbor a romantic delight in the intricate elegance of his cosmology. (I like the elegant intricacy of the Finnish language too, but it's not a winning horse when it comes to productive discourse.) Sigh... judge for yourself. Advice to those who would overthrow modern scientific hegemony: claims regarding the deception of "occult mathematics" might be best countered by some math of your own, not vague assertions about the influence of the Kabbala. Why on earth are so many Old Testament literalists so paranoid about taints of Judaism? Also, the math behind a lot of it, say stellar parallax, is far from occult, high school trig rather. Many of this blog's readers have worked over Ptolomy in detail, and encountered far more convolutions.

This morning's fear and pity is courtesy of Neal Boortz.

Giant toad!

As usual in such matters, comment would be superfluous. The toad speaks for himself.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Do yourself a favor and read this article about high-altitude cloak and dagger operations in India in the 1960s.
In 1965, Schaller was part of an American spy team that tried to place a nuclear-powered surveillance device on top of Nanda Devi, one of the highest mountains in the world.

That mission was a spectacular failure. The device and its nuclear core vanished along with, or so the CIA hoped, any news about it.

The specifics of the loss of the plutonium-powered surveillance device are worthy of Homer Simpson:
The generator, which weighed about 40 pounds, held at least a half-dozen cells -- each about the size of a cigar -- containing an alloy of plutonium 238 and plutonium 239.

It was the potent combination of the two that made the device both hardy and heat-generating, so warm that the Sherpas would cozy up to it at night, Schaller said.

Just as the team reached Camp 1V, the last camp before the peak, however, a blizzard blew up and forced them to abandon the summit ascent. With no choice but to turn back, Kohli made a fateful decision -- to lash the contraption to a ledge of rocks and leave it behind to avoid having to carry it a second time up the mountain.

The plan was to return in the spring climbing season to finish the job, Schaller said.

Throughout his training, Schaller had tried not to think about potential radiation damage in personal terms, though handling the warm cells made him nervous. With the equipment now at the mercy of the mountain, he remembers having qualms on a larger scale.

"I was very much against leaving the device," he said.


But if the fuel cells burned their way to bedrock, could the massive tonnage of the glacier, grinding away for decades, or centuries, destroy the core and release the plutonium to the environment?

No one can say.

This month, however, a potential clue emerged. In 2005, Takeda took a sample of sediment from waters in the Sanctuary. Recent tests on that coarse sample show the likely presence of plutonium 239, an isotope that does not occur in nature.
Very interesting stuff. The article also has a worthwhile photo gallery, and links to remarkably many published books on Himalayan espionage.

Item: A robot controlled by slime mold (thanks, Chas).

Item: Snake-hunting terriers on Guam.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

And finally, a couple shots from this evening, of alpenglow on Santa Fe Baldy and Lake Peak:

Some rather more inspiring pictures: we had a brief but delightful visit to Magdalena this weekend. After a hideously dry March, we've finally had rain in the last few days, and snow higher up. Here is the village of Magdalena at the foot of its eponymous mountains on Saturday morning (click to enlarge):

And here's the view to the north:

Even the normally rather dreary drive up I-25 was beautiful in this weather. With some snow and clouds, Sandia Peak above Albuquerque is absolutely spectacular:

Update: Due to Blogger's size constraints, I have replaced the top panorama of Magdalena with a tighter crop. It should look much better. I'm definitely still on the steep end of the learning curve when it comes to image editing.

Update update: Really ought to point out that the bottom shot of Sandia is Mrs. Peculiar's.

Ah, the government! It's appalling enough that our bureaucratic overlords deemed it necessary to create the following poster, instructing postal workers how to look in a bag. What's even more appalling is that both reliable sources and personal experience indicate that many employees do not study the instructions with sufficient attention!

Three steps! Of course different learning styles must be respected, so if the Elbow and Eyeball Method just isn't working out, the Postal Service offers an alternative:

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Time-lapse of the stage set-up for the Flying Dutchman.

I should mention, if only to bring up old posts, that the Magic Flute will be here soon, and the set is that of Maurice Sendak, that Peculiar mentioned some time back. At least, so much of it as has survived Hurricane Wilma.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Speaking of ice worms, everyone here knows the Robert Service poem, right? Finding it on the USGS Water Resources is a nice discovery of some lingering humour amongst government entities.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Everybody is paying attention, right?

This is probably not the place to reveal that for a decent stretch of my adolescence ('92-'94, for those of you keeping score at home) I had dreams of moving to Japan and joining a sumo stable. This is definitely not the place to reveal the new name I had all picked out.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dross and Gold

One runs across peculiar stuff in one's storage locker, and for me this truism is probably truer than for most, as Mrs. Peculiar will doubtless attest. Recent highlights include a rather natty old taxidermied pigeon and a pouch full of pheasant feet on strings (fine, grouse feet too, you nitpickers). There are certainly some worthy nuggets buried in the tailings, however:

Yes indeed, it's an unpublished illustrated manuscript by a young and quite talented Moro Rogers, about a tiercel goshawk and his run-in with a dragon:

My favourite passage of text:

"Hmm. Maybe you could bribe the dragon. Or you could challenge the dragon to a flying contest and say if you win he has to let you go."

"Would the dragon agree to that?"


"Would I win?"

"I doubt it. Maybe you should go with the bribe idea. Do you have any possessions a dragon would want?"

"I have a dead crow."

"You're in for it."

I liked Balingard when I first saw it a decade ago and I still like it now; much more gold than dross here, and I'd love to see it reworked. This is exactly why I don't douse my storage unit in gasoline and toss in a match.
Telemann's Gulliver Suite for Two Violins:
Some of Telemann's musical allusions to the stories are more visible on the page than audible in the music. The Chaconne, a noble dance in 3/4 time, is here performed by the diminutive Lilliputians in 3/32 time in which 128th notes abound. Similarly, the giants of Brobdingnag dance a sprightly Gigue not in 12/8 time but in 24/1 where the sortest value is a whole note.
Regrettably, the first sentence of the quote above happens to be true: you'd never guess from listening (audio samples can be had on the Amazon page). What an odd way for a composer to divert himself. Telemann, whom I often find enormously boring, could occasionally be a pretty odd duck, though. His opera Orpheus is one of the damnedest baroque operas I've come across. It's numbers jump around between German, French and Italian language more or less at random, and there are some really unusual percussion passages in the last act when Orpheus falls afoul of the Bacchantes.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

And in the same vein, here are some shots of Colorado's San Luis Valley from last Sunday (click to enlarge).

The Crestone Group, part of the Sangre de Cristo Range, from the west:

For views of the interior of these peaks, see here.

Sandhill cranes at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge (one of many likely to be on the budgetary chopping block):

The San Luis Valley is a bottleneck in the cranes' migration route between New Mexico and the Northern Rockies.

Also, if you ever get the chance, Bishop Castle west of Pueblo, Colorado is well worth your time. (Sorry we couldn't stop by, Chas.)

I've been idle for a while, so I suppose it's time for some photoblogging. Here are three shots from a snowshoe climb of Santa Fe Baldy in late February:

As always, click to enlarge, especially the bottom pano.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The anatomy of a modern idealism:

1. Assertion that all experience is inevitably mediated (where's Hegel when you need him?)? Check.
Most of these comprehensive theories are no more than stories that fail to take into account one crucial factor: we are creating them. It is the biological creature that makes observations, names what it observes, and creates stories. Science has not succeeded in confronting the element of existence that is at once most familiar and most mysterious—conscious experience. As Emerson wrote in “Experience,” an essay that confronted the facile positivism of his age: “We have learned that we do not see directly, but mediately, and that we have no means of correcting these colored and distorting lenses which we are or of computing the amount of their errors. Perhaps these subjectlenses have a creative power; perhaps there are no objects.”
2. Invocation of philosophers without concern for their agreement with one's position? Check. And bonus points for ending the list with "to name a few"!
Ever since the remotest of times philosophers have acknowledged the primacy of consciousness—that all truths and principles of being must begin with the individual mind and self. Thus Descartes’s adage: “Cogito, ergo sum.” (I think, therefore I am.) In addition to Descartes, who brought philosophy into its modern era, there were many other philosophers who argued along these lines: Kant, Leibniz, Bishop Berkeley, Schopenhauer, and Henri Bergson, to name a few.
3. Refusal to acknowledge the Anthropic Principle (with which I disagree, too, but it ought to be addressed beyond a brief mention towards the end of one's work)? Check.
Modern science cannot explain why the laws of physics are exactly balanced for animal life to exist. For example, if the big bang had been one-part-in-a billion more powerful, it would have rushed out too fast for the galaxies to form and for life to begin. If the strong nuclear force were decreased by two percent, atomic nuclei wouldn’t hold together. Hydrogen would be the only atom in the universe. If the gravitational force were decreased, stars (including the sun) would not ignite. These are just three of more than 200 physical parameters within the solar system and universe so exact that they cannot be random. Indeed, the lack of a scientific explanation has allowed these facts to be hijacked as a defense of intelligent design.
4. Use of Kantian terms inaccurately and without attribution? Check plus!
All of this makes sense from a biocentric perspective: time is the inner form of animal sense that animates events—the still frames—of the spatial world. The mind animates the world like the motor and gears of a projector. Each weaves a series of still pictures into an order, into the “current” of life. Motion is created in our minds by running “film cells” together. Remember that everything you perceive, even this page, is being reconstructed inside your head. It’s happening to you right now. All of experience is an organized whirl of information in your brain.
5. Quantum physics? Indeed.
Science has been grappling with the implications of the wave-particle duality ever since its discovery in the first half of the 20th century. But few people accept this principle at face value. The Copenhagen interpretation, put in place by Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, and Born in the 1920s, set out to do just that. But it was too unsettling a shift in worldview to accept in full. At present, the implications of these experiments are conveniently ignored by limiting the notion of quantum behavior to the microscopic world. But doing this has no basis in reason, and it is being challenged in laboratories around the world. New experiments carried out with huge molecules called buckyballs show that quantum reality extends into the macroscopic world as well. Experiments make it clear that another weird quantum phenomenon known as entanglement, which is usually associated with the micro world, is also relevant on macro scales. An exciting experiment, recently proposed (so-called scaled-up superposition), would furnish the most powerful evidence to date that the biocentric view of the world is correct at the level of living organisms.
6. Hindoo myths? Check.
What I would question, with respect to solipsism, is the assumption that our individual separateness is an absolute reality. Bell’s experiment implies the existence of linkages that transcend our ordinary way of thinking. An old Hindu poem says, “Know in thyself and all one self-same soul; banish the dream that sunders part from whole.” If time is only a stubbornly persistent illusion, as we have seen, then the same can be said about space. The distinction between here and there is also not an absolute reality. Without consciousness, we can take any person as our new frame of reference. It is not my consciousness or yours alone, but ours.
7. The old "are you awake or asleep" pseudo-conundrum? Please.
You may question whether the brain can really create physical reality. However, remember that dreams and schizophrenia (consider the movie A Beautiful Mind) prove the capacity of the mind to construct a spatial-temporal reality as real as the one you are experiencing now. The visions and sounds schizophrenic patients see and hear are just as real to them as this page or the chair you’re sitting on.
In truth, I would love to see more of this sort of thing, if only to get the occasional alternative to materialism that seems to be the popular order of the day. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that idealism, and dualism too (and things less easily classified) are live theories; each with its problems, but none wholly disproven. I just wish it were done better.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I am generally pretty relaxed about this sort of thing, but this is beyond the pale.
The movie has fabricated the history with depicting a war between Iran and Greece, whereas, no Greek king dared to stand up to the Persian Empire or the Emperor Xerxes.

Though Sparta's King Leonidas cherished such a dream, but, he lost his head and Iranian fighters threw his head before Emperor Xerxes's feet and told him that he had attempted a suicide attack to Persian Army.
The bastards will be denying the Anabasis next. Via Joanne Jacobs.

Monday, March 12, 2007

For those who find it interesting, I have another Summitpost page up, dedicated to Otowi Peak, an interesting volcanic cone west of Santa Fe. Check it out!

It's been a while since I posted any Grand Canyon pictures. By the fourth day or so on the water, you're getting into the Grand Canyon proper, the deep part that is commonly seen on calendars and such.

About fifty miles in is the confluence with the Little Colorado. The L.C. has an enormous drainage area, stretching all the way into western New Mexico. It is a very dry drainage, however, and for most of its length the L.C. has water only by way of flash flood, usually during the summer rains. But four miles upstream from the confluence is a place called Blue Springs, which produce a very respectable volume of water. The water is milk warm and cloudy blue due to high amounts of travertine, i.e. calcium carbonate, i.e. disolved limestone. The travertine builds up into extensive Baroque terraces and ledges. It's an idyllic place when the water is running clean and blue; but ater mid-July it is common to find it flowing thick chocolate brown due to flooding somewhere upstream.

When we arrived, the L.C. was blue, but a bit milkier than normal. We spent forty-five minutes or so swimming in the warm water, a welcome change from the 45 degrees of the main Colorado, floating through small rapids. We soon noticed the canyon of the Little Colorado filling with dense blue-gray thunderheads. Heavy desert summer raindrops began falling as we hightailed it back to the boats.

Mrs. Peculiar swims a Little Colorado rapid

The area around the L.C. confluence is of prime cosmological importance to the Hopi. A few miles up the L.C. near Blue Springs is the sipapu, a travertine formation that the Hopi believe is the hole of egress whence man and animals emerged from the lower world into this one. This sipapu is symbolically represented by a small hole in the floor of every kiva, both Hopi and Anasazi.

In the miles below the conflunce are numerous deposits where salt leaches from the canyon walls. The Hopi still make annual pilgrimages to gather their salt for the year here. They leave feathers and other offerings, which are considered to have crossed over to the Kachinas' world once they are completely encrusted in salt.

Floating past the Hopi salt mines on a stormy afternoon


Sunday, March 11, 2007

From Wikipedia:
Emmer wheat is mentioned in ancient rabbinic literature (as one of the five grains forbidden to Jews during Passover). It is often incorrectly translated as spelt in English translations of the rabbinic literature but spelt did not grow in ancient Israel and emmer was a significant crop until the end of the Iron Age. Likewise, references to emmer in Greek and Latin texts are traditionally translated as "spelt," even though spelt was not common in the Classical world until very late in its history.
Take that, Ezekiel 4:9.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Everything you've been dying to learn about soft-shelled turtles, including a testudine Lady of the Lake.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Endless entertainment: the Archive of Turkish Oral Narrative (thanks Languagehat!). Excellent stuff, particularly if you enjoy folk tales containing lines such as:
Upon this the fox asked the farmer, "Will you give me one of your testicles to eat if I save you from the bear?"
There's lots of music, too! What is it with Turks, foxes and testicles, anyway?
An exchange with the estimable Chas inspired me to elaborate on the previous post. I would certainly not have our readers cherish an image of me as clicking my tongue at a daredevil going to needless risk for the sake of cheap thrills. Frankly, I approve of most people who do that. It's the publicity that makes me sceptical, and the fact that he's doing his under-dressed climb on Everest, a mountain inextricable from publicity. If he were climbing Khan Tengri naked, I'd be behind him 100% as an excellent specimen worthy of much indulgence. (In fairness, high altitude mountaineering is ungodly expensive, even unclad, and many admirable loonies have to submit to some publicity to procure funding for their follies.)

No indeed, I'm all for pursuing dangerous stunts that leave the world's dreary naysayers tsking and shuffling. Take for instance the story of Spence Campbell, who swam from Orofino, Idaho to the Pacific Ocean in 1962 (hat tip: the GOAT). Capital work, capital! Or take Bill Beer and John Daggett, who got drunk one night, boasted that they were going to swim the Grand Canyon, and made good on their boast shortly thereafter (1952, if memory serves). Their publicity was pretty much involuntary and negative, and when they hiked out from Phantom Ranch to inform their familes of their life and well-being, they argued their way out of arrest thus: "We've made it this far, we're all over the papers, and if you stop us every daredevil in America will be jumping in the Colorado next week!" Fortunately, the presiding ranger saw the wisdom of the argument. That's how it's done! Raise a glass!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

I was recently expounding to Mrs. Peculiar regarding why cutting-edge mountaineers are not interested in Everest. "You'd have to climb the damn thing naked to make any splash these days!" said I.

It turns out I am not the only one to have this thought.