Monday, December 28, 2009

Most readers of this blog have probably already seen the Bodios' dog disaster that happened yesterday. It really was a freak accident. I hadn't even left the car, was still messing with a camera lens, when I heard Irbis yelping. It was the most gruesome injury I've ever seen, and I've seen quantities of blood and broken long bones before. I'm extremely glad that we were there to help, and that it happened so close to the car; it would have been even more of an epic if we'd had to carry him a mile.

How would you splint a dog's rear leg, anyway? Human limbs have the advantage of being able to go straight; I'd never thought about it before, but that's really convenient for us wilderness medicine types. My best thought for the dog was that if necessary we could sort of sling-and-swath the back leg up against the torso, basically wrap his whole rear half in padding. But he crawled with much yelping from the far back of our 4-Runner into the back seat. Libby got in with him, and he seemed relatively comfortable wedged between her and a box that happened to be there. Since he was fairly calm, it seemed best to let him be and get driving, rather than agitate, hurt and terrify him with temporary first aid.

Anyway, the outpouring of generosity in response to Steve's bleg has been really wonderful and touching. They have more or less enough now to collect him after the surgery tomorrow. No one has taken up my print offer from the comments, as everyone has proved too altruistic (or I was damn slow with this post); but some people will certainly be getting gifts.

My silver lining from this weekend is this shot from near Magdalena Saturday evening. Coming right at the end, it's one of my favorites of the year. Enlarge!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to all!

Detail from Nativity icon, 11th century, Tokalı Kilise, Cappadocia, Turkey.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Courtesy of Odious, a real oddity: the Kennedy assassination given the epic treatment by a croatian guslar. The actual singing starts at about 1:45.
Do you wonder what English sounds like to foreigners (non-Anglophone foreigners, that is)? Well, some Italian professor did his best to show you, in the form of a rock video (definitely a product of its time). The experiment seems pretty successful; indeed, if I heard it as background music, I'm not sure I'd notice anything amiss (though rock lyrics can often be a little opaque to me). It's a similar sensation that overcomes me when I listen to Swedish singing, or to Dutch, as though if I just listen a bit harder I'll be able to understand.

On the same subject, I've always been intrigued by the following passage from Patrick O'Brian (The Nutmeg of Consolation, Ch. 1):

Stephen said, "The Captain does not understand Malay, so you will forgive me if I speak to him in English."

"Nothing would give us greater pleasure than to hear the English language," said the young woman. "I am told it is very like that of birds."

Given O'Brian's general erudition, I expect that he had some precedent for this passage. I'd love to learn what it might be. Though I can imagine how English might sound rather delicate and flitty to an ear accustomed to tonal, nasal speech.

HT: Rod Dreher.

Tail end of fall in the Manzano mountains:

Finally getting caught up on chores in the digital world. I hope to post some Turkey material soon, with intelligent commentary, but feel free to take the unguided tour now.

Friday, December 18, 2009

There have been some really interesting musical oddities on the last couple episodes of Performance Today. There's really not much music out there that will literally drop my jaw. But such was the case yesterday when I heard a fairly typical orchestral opening of an 18th Century concerto, waited for the soloist to come in, and heard a jaw hap. Really! The composer's name is Albrechtsberger, he wrote seven of these (really!) and you'll find the excerpt a ways into the first hour here, at about 14:15. (Performance Today, alas, doesn't allow linking of specific pieces; probably copyright/record company issues.) The whole thing may be had here, and if any reader would like to donate a copy for review, feel free!

Not much can follow a concerto for jaw harp and orchestra, but the next day's show included a very, very alla Turca piece by one Dmitri Kantemiroğlu, or Cantemir, a Moldovan who spent quite some time at the Ottoman court in the late 1600s (at 9:43 in the first hour). Later, we get a fiddle and orchestra number that contains a Nathaniel Gow composition (at 45:45, also in the first hour). It's actually one of my favorite numbers from the Gow collection, Three Good Fellows Down in Yon Glen. My edition notes that it was "a favourite of Neil Gow," so I wonder if Nathaniel was the actual composer, though a piece by his son may perfectly well have become a favorite.

Update: A complete finale movement from a jaw harp concerto is now to be had.

"In additional to the intellectual stimulation, you get more cream cheese, because there is slightly more surface area."

How to cut a bagel into linked halves.

Edit: Also, "Mobius Lox" would be a great name for a band.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thought in the car: the difference between snowmen and snow angels is totally thomistic. Wait. No it isn't. Never mind.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The rendezvous was at the famous Milan race track of San Siro. We were to fight in the paddock. Arriving there shortly after dawn with my seconds, I remembered that only a few weeks before the place had cost me money. This time something else was involved.

The first thing you forget "on the ground" is your fencing superiority. Your sensibilities increase tremendously. As soon as you are stripped to the waist, the chilly morning makes you think: "Even if I come out of this in good shape, it wouldn't be a bit funny to die of pneumonia."

A few yards away, you notice that your adversary talks leisurely with his seconds.
Aldo Nadi, On Fencing, here recounting his (only) duel, in 1923. A worthwhile read, particularly for his willingness to both support tradition: "It would be utterly ridiculous for anyone to ignore or change traditions which are centuries old" and to break with it: "If you hear tell of eight foil parry positions, from prime to octave, just say it isn't so. Do not lose your time: the overwhelming majority of the world's fencers, including the best, have never used more than six."

UPDATE: I should mention that while reading On Fencing, I came across mention of a fencing treatise by Descartes, and immediately thought, "Why haven't I read this?!" Oh--it's lost. Even with my suspicion that it wasn't very good (Descartes soldiering never struck me as wholehearted): melancholia.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009




"No! No!"

Now there's dissoluto punito for you! Blame to the Palm Beach Opera (who have some equally trashy, bodice-ripping illustrations for Otello and Carmen); credit to Jack.

Incidentally, if you happen to need an online opera libretto, this is the place.

Oh good, someone has done it. I'm pleased, even if they did steal my idea. But better them than me, I suppose; I have no shortage of distractions as is.

Patrick O'Brian on Google Earth

See also: The Patrick O'brian Mapping Project (currently 37% complete).

And also see also: Voyage of the Beagle on Google Earth.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Frivolous, timewasting nonsense, but rather excellent.

The Nietzsche Family Circus: a randomized Family Circus cartoon with a randomized Friedrich Nietzsche quote. Always perverse, occasionally uncanny.

Similarly, check out (if you're not already aware of it) Garfield Minus Garfield, "a journey deep into the mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness and depression [and I believe the synopsis originally added meth addiction, which seems apt] in a quiet American suburb."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The highlight of my perusal thus far is certaily the clown communion. I'd heard about the clowns. I had not heard that horned helmets were also involved.

And if you were wondering, yes, the Orthodox do put in an appearance. Justification is found in the comments, possibly.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Slate has a rather fun article about the problem of communicating the dangers of nuclear waste far, far into the future. There are substantial and interesting linguistic issues, of course, but the crux of the question is how any warning system can possibly avoid being the equivalent of a giant, red, "Do Not Push" button. But the think tanks working on the problem really seem to be enjoying the opportunity to unleash their sci-fi nerditude, and who can blame them? Proposals seem to range from Neal Stephenson's Anathem on one end to H.P. Lovecraft on the other:
...the report proposes a system of redundancy—a fancy way of saying throw everything at the wall and hope that something sticks. Giant, jagged earthwork berms should surround the area. Dozens of granite message walls or kiosks, each 25 feet high, might present graphic images of human faces contorted with horror, terror, or pain (the inspiration here is Edvard Munch's Scream) as well as text in English, Spanish, Russian, French, Chinese, Arabic, and Navajo explaining what's buried. This variety of languages, as Charles Piller remarked in a 2006 Los Angeles Times story, turns the monoliths into quasi-Rosetta stones. Three rooms—one off-site but nearby, one centrally located, and one underground—would serve as information centers with more detailed explanations of nuclear waste and its hazards, maps showing the location of similar sites around the world, and star charts to help intruders calculate the year the site was sealed....

Proposals for the "earthworks" component demonstrate that the whole project of communicating with the future is really a creative assignment, more dependent on the imagination than on expertise. What'll really scare off 210th-century tomb raiders? The report proposes a "Landscape of Thorns" with giant obelisklike stones sticking out of the earth at odd angles. "Menacing Earthworks" has lightning-shaped mounds radiating out of a square. In "Forbidding Blocks," a Lego city gone terribly wrong, black, irregular stones "are set in a grid, defining a square, with 5-foot wide 'streets' running both ways. You can even get 'in' it, but the streets lead nowhere, and they are too narrow to live in, farm in, or even meet in."

I have to admire their restraint in avoiding the words cyclopean and squamous. Navajo, eh? Well, it is New Mexico we're talking about here, so Athabascans really ought to figure into any dystopian scenario under consideration.

Returning to the Anathem angle, I've heard the "nuclear priesthood" idea floated in the past as well. Given the documented history of religious institutions, this strikes me as not being the solution, to say the least (and my concommunicants get no exception here). Besides, can you imagine the types who would volunteer for ordination?

Thinking about such matters on a government salary: nice work if you can get it! Were any of these scenarios actually to come to fruition, they could be a major tourist draw in this century. The Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce ought to be lobbying like mad for the more lurid options.

Many of you have probably seen this already, as it seems to have gone rather viral. But that's good news for once, and I'm happy to aid and abet:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book Review: Encyclopedia Brown: Sundown in Adaville

American letters can boast few geniuses. Skillful craftsman and observers, yes, but the flash of insight which leaves everything you read afterwards changed, I can think of only two writers, both stylistically inferior. One is Poe, and the other is Hammett.

Let me make myself clear. I'm not claiming that Hammett is superior to (say) Faulkner as a writer, but that his writing irreversibly changed literature itself. The noir novel, and the noir hero, the detective, are instantly recognizable, and that is evidence of the force of Hammett's perception. Which brings us to Sundown.

Encyclopedia Brown, boy detective, is a well-worn figure. Solving cases before dessert thanks to the trivia he has absorbed, he fulfills every nerdy, obsessive pre-teen's dream of power and acclaim. Despite his enemies' physical prowess, he invariably triumphs, saving the downtrodden, punishing the wicked, and outpacing the adults. All at 25¢ a day, plus expenses.

The shock of Sunset, then, is to begin with Encyclopedia running. He knows his pursuers are faster, and as he tries to escape, his planning is constantly interrupted by a flow of now useless information:
The blindworm is neither blind nor a worm.
There are no penguins at the North Pole.
Turtles have exceptional night vision.
--I've got to get away from them--
Nathan Samuels began the United Federation of Planets.
And instead of Encyclopedia regnant, we see him the victim of an appalling crime. His life does not improve through the rest of the book.

The plot, which would be criminal to reveal, centers on the revelation that Adaville is, with the willing aid of the police chief, a Sundown town. As outside forces begin to expose the Adaville elite, the illegitimate powers within struggle to maintain their positions. Alliances are made, broken, and remade. Battlelines are drawn. Men and women die. And slowly but inexorably Encyclopedia Brown is stripped of each ally in turn.

The noir hero, of course, always stands alone. His moral code is uniquely his, and he follows it without compromise in a world in which morality and hypocrisy are equivalent. What makes Sunset work so well is watching Encyclopedia manipulate those around him, from his best friend and his father to his worst enemy (Bugs Meany, as abominable as ever) while trying to stay his own course.

Our distance from the detective is greater in Sunset than in previous books. We aren't given the insight into his motivations we might like, and certain chapters are heavily elliptical. This is a book which rewards re-reading. We do learn to see his relentless absorption of trivia as a method of imposing order on a chaotic, meaningless universe: god may be dead, but the melting point of platinum is constant.

The book wraps up in destruction, naturally. The noir hero, dedicated to truth, must destroy or be destroyed by the lies of the rest of the world once he comes into contact with it ("takes the case"). In all, a satisfactory addition to the genre, and an excellent addition to Encyclopedia Brown canon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Heard moments ago on New Mexico public radio:
"It's a whole box full of Pandoras."
Almost as good as an Aubreyism.
Landscapes of Mars
Since 2006, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been orbiting Mars, currently circling approximately 300 km (187 mi) above the Martian surface. On board the MRO is HiRISE, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera, which has been photographing the planet for several years now at resolutions as fine as mere inches per pixel. Collected here is a group of images from HiRISE over the past few years, in either false color or grayscale, showing intricate details of landscapes both familiar and alien, from the surface of our neighboring planet, Mars. I invite you to take your time looking through these, imagining the settings - very cold, dry and distant, yet real.
Bit slow to load, but well worth the wait!
And in Herodotus-related news:
The remains of a mighty Persian army said to have drowned in the sands of the western Egyptian desert 2,500 years ago might have been finally located, solving one of archaeology's biggest outstanding mysteries, according to Italian researchers.
Also via Megan McArdle.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Origins of the Japanese people and language by Jared Diamond. Interesting, and a nice summary. I didn't realize that linguists were classifying Japanese and Korean as far outliers of Altaic.

Via Megan McArdle.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Last weekend: helping to peel 1,500 pounds of green chile for our friend's New Mexican restaurant in Alaska. Nice way to spend a weekend:

Today: Larissa's visiting! Took her out to be intrepid in Bandelier during a break in the snowstorm:

This weekend: Magdalena.

Friday, October 23, 2009

If I win the lottery*, I now know what to get Steve for a present: parahawking! Perhaps a trifle silly, but damn! it looks fun.

Hat tip: Terrierman.

*Seriously unlikely, unless I start playing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tamarisk removal 101 "If brute force doesn't work, you're not using enough."

(See previous post for context)

The manual technique: Find the taproot. Begins with clipping and sawing, generally ends in a hole ten feet over and seven feet down from where you thought the tree was. This is not feasible on a large scale. At the end of the day, your volunteers will require quantities of beer hard to provide in a wilderness setting, even with raft support.

Cut stump treatment is another possibility, which involves sawing off the limbs and painting an herbicidal glue onto the stumps. A lot easier than digging them out, but it leaves a lot of pointy sticks around and is still not feasible on the scale of canyon country. The Bosque del Apache refuge in New Mexico bulldozed, burned and poisoned cyclically for years before they finally got the bastards under control, and they had road access. You see why beetles start to look more appealing.

A spawning bed for native fish, mercifully pristine. But Tamara and her volunteers cleaned out the lower end of it this June. And the tamarisk are lurking not far away.

Tamarisk Beetles Found in Grand Canyon:

Researchers previously thought that this species of the tamarisk leaf beetle would restrict its range to above the 38th parallel, which is near the upper end of Lake Powell. The beetles were not approved for release within 200 miles of southwestern willow flycatcher habitat, an endangered species which is known to nest in tamarisk - a dominant species in the Colorado River corridor. Tamarisk leaf beetles are now causing defoliation of tamarisk trees further south than originally anticipated. According to Dr. Dan Bean of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the small population of beetles recently documented in Grand Canyon National Park is unlikely to overwinter successfully. However, it appears likely that as beetle numbers increase a viable reproducing population will be established in Grand Canyon within the next several years.
Good news or bad? I'd come down tentatively on the side of good. After all, the whole point of the beetle program is to get them out there eating tammies, and if they're able to do it down south it could be very good for a lot of places I love. But it was somewhat comforting to think that they had geographic limitations.

Reporting on the beetle program is generally rather confused; I never seem to read the same details twice. Tamara Naumann, the park botanist for Dinosaur National Monument and a major driving force behind the beetles, told me this summer that there are actually two species in the mix: the northern-adapted one that was released in Dinosaur, and a more southerly version released (if I remember correctly, which I may not) by the state of Colorado. She also said that there are apparently beetle poachers who are collecting some from release sites and taking them elsewhere.

It's been nice during the last couple seasons in Dinosaur to see some decidedly ratty tamarisk stands. It apparently takes three or four good defoliations to kill the damn trees, so with any luck we'll start seeing real death in the next year or two. Of course, being a biologic control, the beetles are not expected to eliminate tamarisk completely, and then go rampaging about for other things to devour. The best case scenario is that the tammy populations will crash, followed by a beetle crash, followed by a tamarisk rebound, etc. The hope is not that the trees will be eliminated, but that the beetles will bring them under sufficient control that native plants can start competing again and other removal methods will become feasible at select sites. Virtually the only Achilles heel of tamarisk is that it doesn't like shade; there's a hope that if box elders and other natives can get saplings establishes, they may be able to shade out the tammies in places.

If you've just tuned in to this story, I should mention that the decision to use biologic controls was not made lightly. The people behind it, believe it or not, are aware of the risks, disastrous historical precedents, and probably even the relevant Simpsons episode. The decision to release follows over twenty years of lab study, the most intensive study on a biologic control ever. The beetles are very tamarisk specific. Tamarisk has no North American relatives at the genus level, and its only relative in the same family lives in very different (i.e. non-riparian) habitat. The risk is there, but it's low, as low risk as a biologic control can ever be.

Ms. Naumann is humble regarding the introduction, and aware that "future generations may curse my name." She has also worked against other biological control projects where the outlook was more dubious. But she likes to point out that doing nothing was a choice as well, a choice whose consequences were predictable and disastrous, given the high value of the riparian habitat that tammies invade. Of particular concern in Dinosaur are the tammies moving up the Yampa canyon to invade some of the very last cobble bars where the highly-endangered native fish spawn. Introducing the beetles was a calculated risk ; leaving things be was guaranteed to be lousy.

Click here for dystopian tamarisk sci-fi, by a Paonia, CO author.

As kingfishers catch fire...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Greetings from Istanbul! It's a wonderful, if draining place; very easy to get around, though. But it's a horrible place to try and practice Turkish, as every time you try, you get a sympathetic chuckle followed by pretty fluent English. We're catching our flight to Erzurum today. Aya Sofya and all that sort of thing are wonderful, but we're already glad to be getting off the tourist track, hoping perhaps to interact with some Turks who aren't selling something.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A roundtable discussion of Xenophon's Anabasis. As long as we're shouting, "Thalassa!" (ht)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Can't really blog now: leaving for Istanbul in the morning. Mrs. Peculiar and I are bound ultimately for northeastern Turkey, Erzurum and historic Georgia. One major destination is likely to be Gümüşhane: as Odious will appreciate, this is near where, after a grueling march across Anatolia to the crest of the Black Sea Range, Xenophon's exhausted troops exclaimed, "Thalassa! Thalassa!"

If anyone wondered what (besides sloth) was consuming my blogging output lately, here's your answer: researching Turkey, making the agonizing decision as to just where to go: the place is just crawling with worthy destinations. It's as big as Texas, but oh! so much more fascinating. And I've been studying Turkish,a very laudable tongue, barbaric and yet refined in its intricacy. I really enjoy non-Indo_European languages. The lack of grammatical gender alone makes them greatly superior, and what bliss is Turkish or Finnish regularity, where rules apply consistently enough to be worth remembering.

With any luck, I'll be much more interesting in a couple weeks. Here's a shot from the Selway this summer to tide you over:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A newly-unearthed hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold: discoveries don't get better than this.

Via Cronaca, who has lots of good stuff right now.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Unfortunately, along with all its good effects, the web brings together people who should be isolated, and gives a voice to those who really should remain voiceless."
S.M. Stirling, interviewed by Glenn Reynolds. Looking forward to his forthcoming depiction of contemporary Santa Fe.
The Lovecraft Collection. Scents inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. Iä! Iä!

My favourite (I leave identification of this scent's name as an exercise for the reader):

A small, furry, sharp-toothed scent that will nuzzle you curiously in the black hours before dawn: dusty white sandalwood and orris root, dry coconut husk, creeping musk, and the residue of ceremonial incense.
Courtesy of Derb, who I hadn't realized was a Lovecraftian.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Music composed by birds. Sort of. I once heard a lecturer* on modern classical music describe an analogous experiment in which a stripper cast her garments onto wires and musicians interpreted the results. I imagine the birds have done better.

*A really oddly stilted fellow, the lecturer: he would cast octogenarian-style aspersions on the "Grateful Stones" then go right on to describe a piano concerto performed with the composer inside the piano, scraping a piece of chalk on anything that would make a noise.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Also an opera.

[Singing to the accompaniment of a harp]

. . . Wild as the white waves
Rushing and roaring, Heaving the wrack
High up the headland; Hoarse as the howling
Winds of the winter, When the lean wolves
Harry the hindmost, Horseman and horse
Toppled and tumbled; So at the town gate,
Stroke upon stroke, Sledging and slaying,
Swashes the sword, Shivers the shield
Of foeman and kinsman: Such was the fight!
But lustless and lank By the bower of the Lady,
Quenchèd forever, Quellèd and cold,
Cynewulf the King!
There... there don't seem to be any recordings of it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Just discovered that when Edna St. V. M. was a young thing in New York, it was fashionable to write poems using her name as the final line, e.g.
Laurel is green for a season and love is sweet for a day
But love grows bitter with treason and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Dear Master--
Dreamt last night--this little one was in
Philadelphia--brotherly love indeed--I have leant my Beard to the hyssop this season and doubt to see it again--and kneeling opon the road saw the tread tread tread of your black boots your Little One knows so well--sha'nt we have a grand time when you have given back the Seal of the King and bound our Circuit? Too much happiness for this Rescinded Budd I can tell you. You hav'nt a Bayonet's Worth of Contrition, have you? for I hav'nt and sha'nt even in the Kingdom if they let my in their Kitchen door like Maggie bundling up her Calicoes.


If only I could find a way to make a living* writing fake correspondence for Emily Dickinson. My life would be greatly simplified.

*I thought of that, but her handwriting's too neat for me.
Fenestrella's bars close
At eight puncitilio.
We're lucky, in a way;
It's a dry county.

A quick clench of Teneriffe then
Down with dog and elk,
Carrying transubsantial Kool-Aid.
We're lucky, in a way;
It's a dry county.

Dacia trouser-roles him in herself,
Ariadne, buckles
Down the straw bales with the old
We're lucky, in a way;
It's a dry county.

--Wallace Shawe

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sony is contemplating a possible movie about Mallory and Irvine. Fine by me; but when do we get to see Nordwand in this hemisphere?
Sometimes you get the b'ar, and sometimes, well.... Never ends well for the b'ar these days though. Hard to muster much sympathy for such pig-headed human stupidity.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

You've almost certainly heard about this week's newly-discovered works by Mozart. You can hear the works themselves on Performance Today. I don't think I'll be rushing out to buy the CD, but this sort of thing is always interesting.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

This one's especially for Odious: Kant and Kierkegaard attack ads.

Outdoors: A situation very reminescent of Into the Wild resolves unhappily in Colorado. So many people view these situations asking, "Was he an uncompromising idealist or was he mentally ill?" as if it were an either/or question. I have a fair store of sympathy for these folks, and mental illness does not mean that they're idiots, devoid of self-awareness or free will. But these stories are very sad however you look at them.

Food: Michael Pollan is still worth reading, and you can read a lot of him here, on the paradoxical popularity of cooking shows and unpopularity of actual cooking.

Opera: La Traviata was excellent, hardly a surprise. Natalie Dessay is every bit as good as one could hope, and I also quited liked her husband Laurent Naouri's performance as Germont, a roll which can easily drag. Staging and costuming were interesting and creative without being at all extravagent or distracting. We may see if we can find standing room tickets for another round.

But I'm really looking forward to The Letter this Friday. Librettist Terry Teachout's latest take:

...the pressure is off. It seems clear--gratifyingly, gloriously clear--that
Paul and I have succeeded in writing a modern opera that goes over with
audiences in a big way, which is what we set out to do. From here on, I'm going
to sit back and enjoy myself.

Me too. That one sentence feat in the preceeding paragraph is no small achievement, not by a long shot. Everything I've heard about the piece sounds wonderful, and I can't wait. Here is more on how it feels to create a good opera.

Photography: I've emoted to this effect before, but I do love living somewhere when 24 hours after watching Natalie Dessay as Violetta, I can spend the night here, in the Chama River headwaters (Mrs. Peculiar providing scale):

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Larissa has a book out! Check it out online. Fashion isn't exactly my thing (to understate the case vastly, vastly), but seeing as many of Masha Archer's creations would not be the least out of place amongst Chinese minorities or inside an Egyptian tomb, I want a copy.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I'm back from Idaho and boating the Selway. The Selway river canyon is very pretty, though not sublime; but the water and banks of the river itself are stunning, second to none. More to come...

Monday, July 13, 2009

It occurs to me that perhaps not everyone has met Kate Beaton.

Oh Anne. If only someone had travelled back in time and given you and your sisters giant mecha.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

And further semi-nosferatic news: the horseshoe bat's nose, explained.
Much like a flashlight with an adjuster that can create an intense but small beam of light, the bat's nose can create a small but intense sonar beam. Mueller and his team used computer animation to compare varying sizes of bat noses, from small noses on other bats to the large nose of the paradoxolophus bat. In what Mueller calls a perfect mark of evolution, he says his computer modeling shows the length of the paradoxolophus bat's nose stops at the exact point the sonar beam's focal point would become ineffective.
Man, math's great when it works.
Buffy stakes Edward. The End.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Water controversies on the Yampa make it to NPR. I just took the Mr. Tierney quoted in the story down the river last week. There's much that I could write on the subject given time, but it will have to wait at least until I'm done running the Selway. For better visual aids to Dinosaur's river than NPR provides, click here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Having failed miserably to supply content in Peculiar's absence, I shall send at least one charming discover our readers' way: Anne Carson's An Oresteia. Aeschylus' Oresteia is the only complete trilogy of plays we have from the Greeks, and so it takes a certain amount of sand to translate only his Agamemnon, and follow it up with Sophocles' Elektra and Euripedes' Orestes. She really only hits her stride with Sophocles, but all three plays are solidly done, and all have moments of brilliance. Her Cassandra I found moving; and the end of it all, Euripedes' mad tragi-comic wrap of an impossible mess, was perfectly toned.

She does tend towards simplicity in language, even when the original is deliberately vague. But this is less a fault if we imagine her plays performed--and they are clearly written with that in mind. For sheer dramatic potential, I'll take her translation over any other I've encountered.
Brandon is right.
Any version of the conflict thesis that is seriously put forward will have to deal with this fact, that virtually every major historical advance in the field has shown itself problematic for the conflict thesis: this or that particular religious doctrine understood this or that particular way may conflict with this or that particular scientific conclusion at this or that particular stage of scientific inquiry, but the historical evidence that one proves to be a serious obstacle to the other has steadily grown weaker over time. The evidence suggests the rather weaker conclusion that people can force a conflict when they want to, and here and there can back themselves into corners they can't see a way out of, but that's the whole of the conflict. There is no monolith Religion opposed to a monolith Science, however much we may reify them.
I also want to point out one of the most pleasing mixed metaphors I've encountered: " if we had magically hit on the natural classification, and carved nature perfectly at the joints, our first time at bat". There's a sport for me--Butcherball.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Going boating for a while. Keep 'em coming, Odious! I'll see you gentle readers in time for opera season in late July.

Pet strollers. Saw one in downtown Santa Fe tonight, containing a very unhappy ginger cat.

Harden the **** up!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Friday, May 08, 2009

New ideas regarding the Tunguska event. A comet skipping of the atmosphere is quite a thought.
Aficionados of far-flung music won't want to miss this bravura lyre solo, interpreting the alleged oldest extant written melody, a Hurrian hymn to the moon goddess Nikkal from c. 1400 B.C. More information is here, though I find myself still very unclear how the Cuneiform is taken to be signifying melodic notation. It's good stuff, though, and if you browse around the performer's Youtube channel, you'll find all kinds of delights, from a quite nice rendition of the Song of Seikilos to lost Hungarian klezmer and "Jewgrass."

Hat tip to Never Yet Melted, via Steve.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Zebra finches and the language of God.
Biologists have discovered that zebra finches raised in isolation will, over several generations, produce a song similar to that sung by the species in the wild. The experiment provides new insights into how genetic background, learning abilities and environmental variation might influence how birds evolve "song culture" -- and provides some pointers to how human languages may evolve.

The study confirms that zebra finches raised in complete isolation do not sing the same song as they would if raised normally, i.e., among other members of their species. It breaks new ground in showing that progeny of these "odd birds," within several generations, will introduce improvisations that bring their song into conformity with those of "wild-type" zebra finches, i.e., those raised under normal cultural conditions.
The article blandly states, "[s]uch an experiment is not practical to conduct in humans". Hey, tell it to Frederick the Second.
I don't type this often, but, oh, hells yes: it's free Met Player weekend. (ht)
Streakery peekery
Emily Dickinson
Flounced through the vestibule
Nude as a lord.

Asked of her rationale
Shrugged and replied that, "My
Master was bored."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

As you may have guessed from the Thucydides a little ways down, I'm revisiting my greek history. I had attempted to read some moderns in the hopes of learning a bit about the archeological side of things, but I quickly grew disgusted with the common attitude of disdain it seemed they hold for the ancients. Particularly in their dismissal of the virtue of physical courage, they strike me as--well, let another tell it:
Jurgen went with distaste among the broad-browed and great-limbed monarchs of Pseudopolis, for they reminded him of things that he had long ago put aside, and they made him feel unpleasantly ignoble and insignificant. That was his real reason for avoiding the city.

Now he passed between unlighted and silent palaces, walking in deserted streets where the moon made ominous shadows. Here was the house of Ajax Telamon who reigned in sea-girt Salamis, here that of god-like Philoctetes: much-counselling Odysseus dwelt just across the way, and the corner residence was fair-haired Agamemnon's: in the moonlight Jurgen easily made out these names engraved upon the bronze shield that hung beside each doorway. To every side of him slept the heroes of old song while Jurgen skulked under their windows.

He remembered how incuriously--not even scornfully--these people had overlooked him on that disastrous afternoon when he had ventured into Pseudopolis by daylight. And a spiteful little gust of rage possessed him, and Jurgen shook his fist at the big silent palaces.

"Yah!" he snarled: for he did not know at all what it was that he desired to say to those great stupid heroes who did not care what he said, but he knew that he hated them. Then Jurgen became aware of himself growling there like a kicked cur who is afraid to bite, and he began to laugh at this Jurgen.

"Your pardon, gentlemen of Greece," says he, with a wide ceremonious bow, "and I think the information I wished to convey was that I am a monstrous clever fellow."
Indeed you are, gentlemen historians, but, as Jurgen himself discovers, cleverness is not everything.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I was sitting at the breakfast table, contemplating the terrible absence of Tussie-Mussies in my life, when I realized that the reason no one sends them anymore is that the language of flowers is as obsolete as Volapük. We no longer need to express romantic love with a bouquet; that is why Facebook was invented. But, contrarian that I am, I felt uneasy relegating such a charming technology to the compost bin of history. What is needed, I thought, is an updated floriography, in which more modern sentiments might be conveyed. For example:

old: hopeless love
new: I am sorry about your 401(k)

old: haughtiness or respect
new: let us eliminate trans-fats from our diet

Red Roses
old: true love
new: later I should like to remove your taffeta

And so forth.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Men now coolly ventured on what they had formerly done in a corner, and not just as they pleased, seeing the rapid transitions produced by persons in prosperity suddenly dying and those who before had nothing succeeding to their property. So they resolved to spend quickly and enjoy themselves, regarding their lives and riches as alike things of a day. Perseverance in what men called honour was popular with none, it was so uncertain whether they would be spared to attain the object; but it was settled that present enjoyment, and all that contributed to it, was both honourable and useful. Fear of gods or law of man there was none to restrain them. As for the first, they judged it to be just the same whether they worshipped them or not, as they saw all alike perishing; and for the last, no one expected to live to be brought to trial for his offences, but each felt that a far severer sentence had been already passed upon them all and hung ever over their heads, and before this fell it was only reasonable to enjoy life a little.
--Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
For our Johnny readership (and anyone else with good taste in music), Eilen Jewell has just released a new CD. Buy it! And buy her others while you're at it.

My previous eulogy of Eilen Jewell is here. And here's some new material:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Has the mystery of the disappearance of Everett Ruess been solved? National Geographic Adventure has a teaser.

Hat tip to the very worthwhile Guy Tal Photography.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Very well, here: Euclid 1.47, the musical version, in Swedish.

Mrs. P comments, "Oh, so that's how you seduce an old, Swedish mathemetician." Yup. Myself, I'd give substantial quantities of alcohol for a witty, singable translation.

Courtesy of John Derbyshire.

Also, in the spirit of the season: Pascha explained. Apologies in advance; blame this guy.

Apologies for the month of silence. But you haven't missed much, readers. A promising storm system in early March took me on a photo expedition to the great Socorro/Catron County outback of western New Mexico. Here's dawn from Hell's Mesa, some 20 miles north of Magdalena:

It's a bit of a New Mexico cliche, but who can pass up the VLA in good light?

The photo is quite dated now, but again, who can pass up tazi puppies?

Our big excitement was when Mr. and Mrs. Odious returned to New Mexico for the first time in several years. An excellent time was had by all, and Odious was given an airing in a landscape as little like western Oregon as possible:

We also had a very good visit to Dallas, of all places, for Mrs. P's sister's wedding. Bonuses included a very good time staying with Proclus (who really ought to blog a little now that he has some spare time) and his delightful new dog, an afghan/poodle cross, a mix we feel certainly qualifies as a lurcher; much good food; camels and bluebonnets on the drive; and a visit to the excellent if overpriced King Tut exhibition.

With any luck at all, we'll become interesting again soon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ever wonder how polarizing materials were invented? Of course you have. But you probably never would have guessed this:
[Herapathite was discovered by] William Bird Herapath, a physician in Bristol, England, whose pupil, a Mr. Phelps, had found that when he dropped iodine into the urine of a dog that had been fed quinine, little scintillating green crystals formed in the reaction liquid. Phelps went to his teacher, and Herapath then did something which I think was curious under the circumstances; he looked at the crystals under a microscope and noticed that in some places they were light where they overlapped and in some places they were dark. He was shrewd enough to recognize that here was a remarkable phenomenon, a new polarizing material.
Source (PDF). Emphasis mine. Apparently, the modern manufacturing technique came about due to quinine shortages in WWII, though I'm unclear if dogs were still handling the processing at that point.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Brandon on Arguments from Evil and from Design.
...The two types of arguments make use of the same basic processes of reasoning and similar views of design as relatively obvious to spot if it's there; they just reach different conclusions because one says that this or that is obviously good enough that it has to be designed, and the other says that that or this is obviously bad enough that it couldn't possibly be designed. And both tend to be locked into the view that it is design or nothing.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Almost missed this one: bison reintroduced to the Book Cliffs. It's not what you generally think of as bison country, but neither are the Henry Mountains and they do all right there.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

T.W.I.A.I.L.W.: Rusty Kanokogi.
Kanokogi learned judo from a man on Flatbush Avenue who had picked it up in the military, but her real fight started in 1959, when she went to Utica, N.Y., for the Y.M.C.A. championships. She was Rusty Glickman, nicknamed for a local stray dog, and because women were not explicitly barred from the Y.M.C.A. championships, she figured it was worth a shot.

Used to changing in broom closets and using the bathroom at a nearby diner, she knew that she would still have to blend in. “It’s not like I walked in like a flower,” she said.

Kanokogi, with her hair cut short, competed with her breasts taped down. Her coach put her in the final bout and she won, although she said her team would have won anyway.
As she puts it, "Can I still clobber somebody if I have to? Absolutely."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

We here at O&P have yet to acknowledge Darwin's birthday. That puts us in good company with Darwin in 1834, who seemed more concerned with baffling winds and Fuegians.
NPR had a rather good piece this week on the Shahnameh in contemporary Iran.
Find the acclaimed English translation by Dick Davis, open it at random, and you are as likely as not to find a sentence such as this: "When spring's new growth gave the plains the appearance of silk, the Turks prepared for battle."
Of course they did. The Shahnameh (like the Icelandic sagas) is one of those works that looks intimidating from a distance, but is a real page-turner once you get going. There are plenty of convenient excerpts available: I would recommend starting with the Legend of Seyavash or Sohrab and Rostam (either are readable in one or two sittings). But diving off the deep end is good too.

Update: Those so inclined may also examine the graphic novel, about whose quality I make no claims.

Well, turns out the stimulus is working for me:
For necessary and unnecessary expenses related to the Wireless and Broadband Deployment Grant Programs established by section 6002 of division B of this Act, $2,825,000,000, of which $1,000,000,000 shall be for Wireless Deployment Grants and $1,825,000,000 shall be for Broadband Deployment Grants: Provided, That an additional $250,000,060 shall be paid directly to Beelzebufo in the form of subsidized loans that do not require repayment. Provided Further, That the funds be used by Beelzebufo to Construct toad sanctuaries in rural New Mexico or for whatever. Provided Even Further, That Beelzebufo will receive free Natalie Dessay tickets for life. [Score!] Provided Even Further Still, That Beelzebufo shall be treated as a cabinet-level appointment for the purpose of income tax reporting, and therefore no taxes shall be paid on any of the aformentioned benefits. And one more thing: Harry Reid is hereby expelled from Congress, effective immediately upon enactment.
Request your stimulation here. And remember the toads!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

And while we're in this vein:
The oldest known human hairs could be the strands discovered in fossil hyena poop found in a South African cave, a new study hints.
But we're all aware, are we not, that being eaten by hyenas is not as bad as it sounds?
Titanoboa is getting all the attention, but where's the love for Beelzebufo?
Evans, lead author of a new paper detailing the find, describes the 70-million-year-old frog as a rather intimidating animal the size of a beach ball, 16 inches (41 centimeters) high and weighing about 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms).

Like its closest modern-day relatives—a group of big-mouthed frogs in South America called ceratophyrines—the devil frog also probably had a very aggressive temperament....

"They're sometimes called Pac-Man frogs," she added, "and even the little ones will go for you. It's a frog with attitude, even today.

"And at two or three times the size of the largest living ceratophyrines, Beelzebufo would have had quite a lot more attitude."

The animal sported a protective shield and powerful jaws that may have enabled it to kill hatchling dinosaurs.
Emphasis mine. Now that's a batrachian for the ages!

Leaving aside the cheap thrills for a moment, Beelzebufo has some interesting biogeographic implications:

[Scientists] suggest that specimens like Beelzebufo provide proof of a later physical link between South America and Madagascar, most likely through a connection with Antarctica...

"In dinosaurs, crocodiles, birds, and mammals we've been seeing over and over again a close evolutionary relationship between animals in Madagascar and animals in South America," said Kristi Curry Rogers, a paleontologist at Macalester College in Saint Paul...

"Based on the modern and fossil distributions of this group of big frogs, it's not a pan-Gondwanan group," said Macalester's Curry Rogers.

"So far they haven't been recovered from the fossil record in India and Africa. They are in South America and Madagascar, and that's really interesting."

Found via this roundup of giant critters.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Prehistoric Pueblo Parrots

Reid Farmer has a post up at Querencia regarding Mesoamerican imports to the Southwest. Inasmuch as he mentions macaws and parrots specifically, I thought I'd share a frame from a panel very near Santa Fe which I've been visiting lately:

I'm no rock art expert, but they sure look like parrots to me. Reid?

While I'm at it, might as well post a few more. Some things never change around here apparently; why did Kokopelli become an icon but not horned serpents?

Evidence of Romanovs in pre-Entrada New Mexico:

Lots of good animals in this panel:

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Wild Southwest

Between holidays, illness, boring weather, a funeral and general laziness, it's been a slow season photographically. But Mrs. P and I finally got out for some exploring yesterday, and a fine day it was:

This is out in the boonies in Sandoval County, a land of eroding badlands, big volcanic necks, and little else. Though I doubt the horses were wild, they didn't seem very sociable either. The white one was borderline aggressive when we had to pass close to them. Strange critters seem to like it out there. Last time I was in the neighborhood, I saw a mountain lion just walking down the side of the road, looking unwell.

For a wider view of the area, click here.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Fossilized remains of world's largest snake:
Titanoboa was 13m (42ft) long - about the length of a bus - and lived in the rainforest of north-east Colombia 58-60 million years ago....

The team of researchers led by Jason Head, from the University of Toronto at Mississauga, Canada, used a known mathematical relationship between the size of vertebrae and the length of the body in living snakes to estimate the size of the ancient animal.

Named Titanoboa cerrejonensis by its discoverers, the beast's 13m-long body and 1,140kg (2,500lb) weight make it the largest snake on record.

"At its greatest width, the snake would have come up to about your hips. The size is pretty amazing," said co-author P David Polly, from Indiana University in Bloomington, US.

Be sure to read the article and see the photo of this thing's vertebra next to one from an anaconda. Damn!

Cronaca beat me to it.

Update: Via Tet Zoo, an excellent post on Titanoboa, including this observation:

Large population surveys of reticulated pythons have failed to find individuals longer than 6 metres. By contrast, Head's team analysed vertebrae from eight different specimens of Titanoboa and found that all of them were roughly the same size. A length of 13 metres was fairly ordinary for this extraordinary serpent.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Today is Felix Mendelssohn's 200th birthday. He was a fairly late discovery for me, but despite his reputation for much of the 20th Centuryas Victorian wallpaper, he was a first-rate composer. You can tune into a fine celebration of his bicentennial at Performance Today.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

As Cactus Ed said, a drink a day keeps the shrink away. And the doctor. And also the collection agent, apparently.
The data show that average income rises with alcohol consumption up to a point and then falls off as one moves into the range of heavy drinking. Income peaks at 2.6 drinks per day for men and 1.5 per women.
This also comes as no surprise:
In 2008, 89% of people who drank two drinks per day or less reported giving charitably. Compare this with 84% of teetotalers

Monday, January 19, 2009

Odious and Peculiar do not typically go in for the political agitation line. But on occasion even we are distracted from our Chinese poetry, geomorphology and cephalopod attacks. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act is certainly such a distraction. Best case scenario seems to be that it will spell the end of any cottage industry producing children's products. Worst case, it may spell serious trouble for children's clothes in thrift stores and even children's books in libraries*. Hysteria over toxins in plastic crap from China may soon make plastic crap from China the only legal game in town. Read more here and, if you see fit, importune your humble servants in Washington.

*Note the absurdity of the devil's advocate statement in the Forbes piece: "Defenders of the law point out, for example, that item-by-item enforcement at thrift shops is unlikely to be an enforcement priority any time soon for the Consumer Product Safety Commission's 100 field investigators." Lord willing; but if it's not intended to be enforced, change the damn law! If it is law, it will eventually be enforced somewhere, whether such was intended or no.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Painting the Polar Landscape: a collection of Arctic and Antarctic paintings from the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

To see the 21st Century holding its own, check out Tony Foster's work (more, scroll down).

Friday, January 09, 2009

This video is allegedly famous, but it's news to me. Morals of the story?
  1. Africa is one hell of a tough neighborhood.
  2. Do not screw with cape buffalo.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Mountaineers measure lowest human blood oxygen levels on record.
The expedition found the average arterial oxygen level to be 3.28 kilopascals or kPa (with the lowest value being 2.55 kPa); the normal value in humans is 12-14 kPa and patients with a level below 8 kPa are considered critically ill.

Also, a landslide the size of the U.S., though it disappointingly happens to be on Mars.

Hat tips for both to The Adventure Blog.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Colorado Winter Weirdness:

Ever imagine what would happen if you went off the road on Red Mountain Pass? Why the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team would be along in five minutes, of course, on their way to make some turns.

When you go skiing, be polite to the lifties. Why? Because bad lift karma will leave you upside down and pantless. As former lifties, Odious and Peculiar make no apologies for their schadenfreude.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Happy New Year! As you've no doubt heard, Yellowstone is doing some very entertaining things lately. I must say, it's rather tempting to head up that way: there might be some splendid spectacle to be had, and in the worse case scenario it would be one of the less unpleasant places to be. What would you give to be a fly on the wall of the Church Universal and Triumphant right now?

If you're the type who would enjoy them, Fresh Bilge is posting frequent Yellowstone updates. We're also in his sidebar: rather generous of him, I'd say. I guess he liked my Manzano Mountains post a couple years back. Thanks! Our site meter has been non-functional and ignored for quite a while now, so I have no idea who may have been linking us. Linkers, feel free to say hi in the comments if you like.