Some semi-random thoughts/impressions after finishing 1491:

  • Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel might be better titled Germs, Germs, Germs and Some Other Ancillary Stuff – at least as far as the New World is concerned. If 1491 is accurate in it’s depiction of the depopulation of the Americas as a result of smallpox and friends, the technological advantage enjoyed by Europeans is almost beside the point. One also wonders how a full-strength local population would have held up against a tiny force (the conquistadors) with superior firepower, but incredibly long and tenuous supply lines. Logistics, logistics, logistics.
  • Still with the Diamond comparo – 1491 gives a much different impression when it comes to food crops. If grains are the only thing compared, then the Old World wins big time – wheat, barley, rice, oats, rye vs. corn (maize) and quinoa. It would be interesting (I’m sure someone has already done it) to compare the caloric and protein output of milpas, medieval European farms, Andean potato plots, etc. and see if Diamond’s suggested European advantage exists.
  • Passenger pigeons. I’m leaving this as a teaser – fascinating… (Or you can click here – a post from before a personal 1492: my discovery of Querencia. In fact, searching Q for ‘1491’ – not a bad idea.)

My two biggest takeaways from the book are, first, how deeply rooted and deeply wrong the popular image of the Indian – and pre-Columbian America – is and, second, how much permaculture went on in the Americas, especially in the Amazon basin. If you haven’t read it – highly recommended.

Random photoblogging

Some pictures taken during the last week or so…

My office spider, a male Lasiodora parahybana. He has a small fan club led by a middle-school girl (her curiosity and fearlessness rock).


A couple dart frog pictures taken when I dropped by a fellow frogger’s place to pick up a D. fantasticus. An E. bassleri Black in an ?Aechmea?:


And a Phyllobates terriblis – the really toxic one – looking tough.


Shifting gears a bit – a couple awful pictures of a killer vehicle. Spotted in Portsmouth on a misty evening, a Swedish Unimog. It looks like it’s set up for pumper duty – man, I love these trucks!


Wordly Wise

Two good new (to me) turns of speech:

  • onageristic analysis – an onager, as many of you already know, is a wild ass (and a type of siege engine – stop trying for extra points!). Analyses go hand in hand with predictions. What we have here is a dress-up name for a SWAG. Via an Aruba Networks training session.
  • Lex Murphiae. Anything this ancient and constant should be rendered in Latin. Via Geoffrey Chaucer.

More Moore

Win! Hooray for serendipity. I started at Bruce Sterling’s and followed his link to a post on Amazon’s new Kindle (wisdom of crowds says, “Fail!” – also, read this). Speedbird – the blog with the Kindling post – looked interesting; I read a bit. Down a ways mention is made of a new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen title – The Black Dossier. Great news – and news it is. Though I love me some graphic novels, I’m out of the loop – there is much in the comic book world that I’m not particularly interested in, and I haven’t figured out where to find my kind of stuff (I read FLOG, but that’s just one – great – publisher). The only decent comic book store in the area having gone out of business and Million Year Picnic being too far to drive for one book (although I do want to get down to Cambridge soon – visit friends and the HMNH), off I go – virtually – to Amazon.

For those of you who know the League only via the movie – as is often the case – the books are far superior. I need to rent V for Vendetta and make that comparo sometime soon…

Alan Moore

and Art Spiegelman and Daniell Cllowes appeared on last nights episode of the Simpsons. As fun as that was – and as groovy as the Tintin embedded short was – what nearly made me fall out of my chair was the poster behind the animated Moore in the book-signing scene. It was for the Lost Girls – I guess that’s what critics call transgressive (or not – I’ve never been able to figure that out word litcrit-wise). I’m sure the poster reference is all over the interwebs by now – though a quick google didn’t turn anything up – just wanted to put down a marker. I noticed!

Update – It’ll probably be mere minutes before Youtube pulls the clip down, but in this brief window of opportunity, the scene in question:

Vote Robot Overlord!

Vote Robot Overlord

They’ll Know If You Didn’t


Once again Kung Fu Monkey nails it.

John: Robot overlords. You are “pro-robot overlords”.
Tyrone: They bring world peace, universal health care —
John: At the cost of our freedoms!
Tyrone: MY POINT EXACTLY. We’re already giving up our freedoms — our right to privacy, gone.

And follows up with an embedded video of filthy anti-robot-overlprotector agitprop. I found this great graphic via kfmonkey comments – thanks flynngrrl.


Back in the irrational world, Dear Leader announced steps to reduce airline delays during the holiday travel season by opening some restricted military airspace. When I heard about it, something didn’t ring true – I thought the biggest problems occurred at the endpoints – airport congestion. In fact, I’ve heard a couple stories recently about how competition for good time slots (everyone wants to leave between 7 and 9 AM for example) is driving some of the mess. I waited for the media to shed a little light – nothing. I must have been wrong; certainly, if it were a BS political stunt, someone would say so (some sarcasm there).

Via James Fallows and Get the Flick – maybe it’s BS after all – who woulda thunk it?

If you can’t figure out how adding two “express lanes” into the mall parking lot on the day after Thanksgiving is going to help you find a (nonexistent) parking space…you aren’t the only one. I guess knowing you are in the express lane will somehow make the wait seem better than if you were waiting in the regular lane.

Oh well. I guess I should be used to all this by now. Just so my non-controller readers will know…

The military airspace referred to — according to the controllers that work it — has always been opened to civilian traffic during the holidays. If there is a thunderstorm (not likely in late November) over the land routes the airspace will come in handy. Otherwise, the only thing it will be good for is extra holding patterns. *

Air traffic via Making Light.

For P and M

This picture was sent to me today by a co-worker. It was taken yesterday in her yard, less then a quarter mile from my office. I knew there was at least one adult gos in the area and suspected there was a pair. I’m feeling a lot more confident – now that the leaves are off the trees, I believe I’ll take a stroll and see if I can’t find a nest.

immature goshawk

Arms and Armor

A couple bits of linky goodness…

Via comments on the always great BibliOdyssey, George Goodall’s Facetation blog. Per peacay, Mr. Goodall is “writing up his PhD thesis on technology and machine manuals of the Renaissance”. Recent post title: The Lure of Antiquity, the Cult of the Machine, and the Kunstkammer. Yes, please.

Via the Danger Room, helmet designs of WWI.

When the U.S. jumped into World War I, they brought Bashford Dean on to work on new helmet designs. Dean was the curator of the arms and armament department at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. So it’s probably no surprise that many of his 16 experimental models looks like they’re straight out of the Middle Ages, or the Renaissance. *


Thanksgiving turkey advice

Brine it. Use this recipe. Do not deviate*. That is all.

*Unless you really know what you are doing, in which case my advice is superfluous.

Later – implicit assumption is that you will not be cooking a factory bird (Butterball, et al.) – my understanding is that they are already well manipulated/water injected/etc. by the time they get to you.

Estaba la Madre

I heard this story on the radio while driving to work today. Estaba la Madre, an opera set in Argentina during the Dirty War, certainly has all the ingredients of a riveting, gut wrenching piece – the mothers of los desaperecidos, the military and the Catholic Church (yet another of it’s not-finest-hours). There are no new stories under the sun – women suffering while their children are tortured and killed by the state? Archetypal – yet every single occurrence is a separate tragedy that scars those that survive.


Estela Carlotto, whose own daughter disappeared and was later executed, says clergymen demanded money when she sought their help. Carlotto was instrumental in bringing Estaba La Madre to Argentina, an opera that captures experiences like hers. Carlotto recalls the night police summoned her to retrieve her daughter’s disfigured body.

“My husband identified her. He didn’t want me [to] see her. Her face had been totally destroyed,” Carlotto says. “I wanted an autopsy, but no doctor would perform one out of fear. That injustice and that pain transformed me into a fighting woman.”

And we in the US have an Attorney General who can’t bring himself to say that waterboarding is torture. I hope there’s a young genius out there who will make art to help us confront what we’ve done (and at this point, are doing).