Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Have you read that?

Via the amazingly prolific and popular postings of Instapundit, a link to an article on bookshelf etiquette. Per the author, Scott McLemee, a blogger for Time magazine opined that you should not display a book in a public space if you haven't read it, where Ezra Klein wrote in the American Prospect that the books on your shelves should indicate the sort of person you want to be. The author of the piece is sensible "Likewise for bookshelves. Many items there are staples. Others are ingredients that, like salt, are only good in combination with something else. Some things you keep around are healthy, if not very tasty, while a few might count as junk food. (A couple of scholarly presses are indeed known for their Pop-Tarts.) And it’s hardly a decent pantry if you don’t have a few impulse purchases you later regret, or gourmandizing experiments that didn’t quite pan out."

Looking around, most of the books on my shelves are things I have read, but have decided to keep around. Some things are showy, I spent a while (pre-Internet) haunting my local used book stores to pick up Robert Ruark's various novels in hardback. Just recently I came across a 1963 hardback of John Graves' "Goodbye to a River" and bought it, even though there is a nice trade paperback on the shelf. The couple of dollars for the nice hardback were worth it, as I'll read or lend that book again. On the other hand, the shelf nearest me is a hodgepodge of read and un-read books- paperbacks stashed for the next plane trip, the fruits of my last book-browsing, others that I'll keep for a while or perhaps forever. Unlike a couple of other shelves in the front of the house, only a few things on this one have an assured place.

I'd guess the real question if one were concerned with bookshelf etiquette is where to put the books you started but couldn't finish.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Unlike (or like) some of the other folks on the blogroll, I live in the big (well, biggest for a couple of hundred miles in any direction) city. Even so, just two and a half miles from my house the foothills of the mountain behind town start up. Those foothills are public land and provide a nice, if generally well-peopled, quick walk in a less urban environment.

This afternoon the dog and I took advantage of warm-ish temperatures and a break in the weather to walk up until our (my) legs got tired then fell back off the hill to return to Sunday chores. Apart from some likely ringtail, or possibly fox, scat, scenery is mostly what we came across. No surprise given the popularity of the area and the early-afternoon hour we were out.

Here, you can see all the way to Querencia country, the peak in the distance on the right side of the frame is Ladron and those are the Magdalenas to the left and behind it.

One thing about the Southwest, you come to take your hundred mile views for granted. My first thought was "the light's not great and there's a lot of humidity (23%!), I wonder if the photo will come out?"

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Joy of a Large Carbon Footprint

For the past half dozen years or so I've had a few friends over at some point around the end of duck season for a pot of gumbo and another of red beans. This is one of my favorite social events, as it is perfect for a lazy host. I open a couple of bottles of wine, chill some beer and soda, then have the pot of gumbo and the pot of red beans, along with another of rice, ready to go. A few sliced baguettes and some good butter and dinner is done. Guests are directed to fill their own glasses and bowls, sit where they please, eat what they please, drink what they please, and the host does the same.

The gumbo for this event is based upon ducks and comes from The Plantation Cookbook. You start the day before by simmering three large or five small (wild) ducks with various aromats to make the stock. This doesn't look like much, but the stock pot holds 20 quarts:

Further evidence that this is a meal for the lazy host- the recipe specifies skinned ducks. No tedious plucking! No singeing!

The next day, after the stock has cooled, you skim off the fat, strain, remove the veggies, then bone the ducks and return the meat to the stock and heat it up gently.

Meanwhile, you chop lots of veggies- first the holy trinity of onion, celery, and bell pepper, then about half a head of garlic and a bunch of parsley.

Next, you make a roux.

Get it nice and dark, about the color of an old penny.

Next, add the veggies, along with a healthy shot of cayenne and black pepper (the small dish on the side of the veggie picture).

Cook and stir until it gets glossy and very dark, a little darker than this:

You stir the roux into the simmering stock by the spoonful, then set it to just simmer. Next, okra, only available frozen at this time of year.

Saute the okra until the ropiness is gone, then add it to the gumbo and do something else for the next few hours, stirring every so often.

Check the seasoning. Once your guests have arrived, bump up the heat so that the gumbo is simmering pretty well. Add shrimp (frozen again) and then oysters.

I go for fresh oysters, I think they make a difference in the flavor of the gumbo. This year, all I could find some thousand miles from saltwater were oysters still in the shell. Even then I ended up with a dozen Alabama and a dozen Pacific oysters.

The Alabama oysters are the big tan ones up on top.

The Chessie was very interested in the shucking process. He sat facing me as near as he could get and drooled uncontrollably. Somewhere in that dog's past I think he had an oyster or two. Unfortunately for him, these were reserved for company. Heck, I didn't even try one myself.

Regionally speaking, this gumbo ought to be enjoyed along the Gulf Coast somewhere, but it is awfully nice to be able to indulge in some of those flavors here in the high desert. The ducks were collected locally and it seems only courtesy to the birds to honor them by making them the base of a favorite and seldom indulged extravagance.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

(not quite) Dead Horse

I apologize for the dearth of posting. I had another version of this particular post just about completed a few days ago when I somehow managed to delete most of the text and then Blogger did the automatic save thing before I realized the error and could restore it. Drat and blast. Discouraged, it took me a while to get back to this thing.

Recently, in a discussion with friends, one of them made a brief and to me very interesting case that the Second Amendment is a perfect bit of Constitution to employ and examine the limitation of original intent analysis.

"Original intent" is a method of Constitutional and statutory analysis which looks to the purpose of the Framers of the Constitution or statute to determine the application of the words today. "Originalism", more generally, seeks to determine the common understanding of the meaning of the law or provision in order to apply it today. The terms are frequently conflated.

So, looking at the time the Second Amendment (text: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.") was ratified, a citizen could and in some cases was obligated to procure the most current military technology available. For example, the second Militia Act of 1792 directed "That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective states, resident therein, who is or shall be of the age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia . . . . That every citizen so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball: or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder. . . ."

Around that time and for a good while thereafter, people could buy the arms the could afford. For example, there was no problem with a ship captain buying cannon to place upon his merchant vessel to defend it, or with private individuals buying cannon, mortars, and whatever advanced small arms were available.

If that understanding had continued, once the Fourteenth Amendment passed then local prohibitions on the purchase and most restrictions on carry of various weapons, including about all small arms, should have been struck down. Under the original rubric, the current restriction on the manufacture and sale (to civilians) of automatic weapons and grenades would, and should, require a Constitutional Amendment, as those would be just the weapons the people should arm themselves with to secure the freedom of the state.

That argument doesn't really do us any good now, as history developed otherwise, but it is an interesting thought and shows clearly the great difference we would see in our regulatory landscape if our courts had been strongly wedded to original intent from the time of Marbury v. Madison forward. I'm not that strong an originalist, in part because of things like the fact that it took until 1963 for the Supreme Court to realize that the right to counsel enshrined in the Sixth Amendment means that the government is required to provide a defense attorney at state expense if you can't afford one when facing serious criminal charges. The law had long before become so complex that a pro se criminal defendant was at a serious disadvantage in trying to mount a defense. I don't think the Framers considered that a problem, and perhaps an amendment should have been required to the Sixth as well, but I can't say that the decision had a bad result. Of course, a lot of folks would say that about various gun control statutes and lower court decisions upholding them, too.

I post these thoughts because the meaning and effect of the Second Amendment is coming up for Supreme Court review for the first time since the 1939 Miller case. Miller didn't really say anything useful and is a pretty wretched piece of judicial reasoning, but it was the last word from the Supremes. However, at some point in this term the Court will decide District of Columbia v. Heller, which is an appeal from a decision by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit holding that the Second Amendment preserves an individual right incompatible with the District's prohibition on the ownership of handguns (brought into the District since 1977) and extremely restrictive limitations on the possession of long arms and overturning the District statute. The principle briefs and various amicus briefs for each side have been filed and make the best reading on the ins-and-outs of the debate on the Second Amendment that I'm aware of. Go to The Volokh Conspiracy for links to the various briefs and discussion of them. Fun, chewy stuff by conlaw standards, with lots of references to common law, Revolutionary War era writing, philosophy, and various social policy arguments. Even if you don't feel like wading through Supreme Court briefs (and I mean, come on, who doesn't read legal briefs for amusement in their spare time? After all, amicus briefs can only be 9,000 words) you might want to go through the Conspiracy postings on the subjects, just to get a gist of the arguments and note the various groups chiming in on either side of the issue. I'm waiting with some trepidation to read what the Court will come up with regarding the characterization of the right guaranteed by the Second Amendment and to see if they address what level of regulation is permissible before the right of the people to keep and bear arms is infringed.

A last note on the Second Amendment, just in case anyone who stumbles on this is on the wrong (that is to say, not my) side of the gun control issue:
Much of the debate around the Second springs from the first clause, describing a well regulated militia. First, that section is a dependent clause, describing or justifying the independent clause. Unique in the Bill of Rights, it explains why the right to keep and bear arms is important but does not as a matter of either grammar or logic limit that right. Even if it did, as discussed many places "well regulated" in the common usage of the day did not mean "subject to regulation" (although the militia was) but rather "well ordered" or, even, "efficient". Also, contemporaneous statutes (the Militia Act of 1792, in the text reproduced above), defined the militia as every free and able-bodied white male between sixteen and forty-five. Updating that definition a bit in light of the end of slavery and extension of full citizenship to all races and women, you end up with a militia of all able bodied people, just about. In fact, the Virginia Declaration of Rights from 1776 characterized the militia as "composed of the body of the people". The current Militia Act, enacted in 1956, isn't quite as inclusive as the original version, but no one who has read much history can credibly argue that militia=National Guard. As noted, even if militia did equate to National Guard, it still would not limit the right of the people to keep and bear arms. This is, in part, why the idea that the Second Amendment preserves a collective right (which is to say, a right of the state or the people as a whole) is incorrect.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

another old elk hunt

So, back a few years ago, I drew an elk permit for a unit in New Mexico that has an area that borders, in significant part, a couple of large chunks of private property. I had learned about this piece of public land from my father and had first hunted it some twenty years before. Dad had learned of it from a guy at the gun club that had a son who worked for the BLM some and who'd seen a survey that showed a bunch of elk up there. Both the guy and my father had hunted it before I ever got involved.

The hunt that introduced me to the area, my first for elk, saw my dad kill a five point bull that was too big for three of us to load in the back of the truck even after we'd dressed him out and cut the carcass in half. Heck. the truck was on a slope so the tailgate wasn't more than eighteen inches off the ground and it was still to much for us. It also saw us watching and shooting at one of the biggest bulls I've ever seen, with a rack so large that when he laid his head back, the end tines of his antlers scratched his butt as he stood way off uphill through the mist and rain. For that matter, callow youth that I was, I saw my first legal bull in the dark timber, some twenty yards off. Appropriately, he was a rag horn four point. I saw his butt first, sticking out from behind the giant spruce he was bedded against before he'd stood up. Once his head came out the other side and I'd counted tines to make sure he was legal, I filled the scope with hair and, despite the long smooth trigger (original military) on the sporterized Springfield that I carried, I managed to lose the crosshairs and shoot right over his back. Three jumps, one other shot, and he was gone. I was convinced I must have hit such a large target until we'd tracked him a couple of hundred yards, as he went from sprint, to trot, to walk, with never a cut hair nor drop of blood to mark the encounter. By now, that rag horn has gone from herd boss to old bull to mulch, but I'll never forget the sight of him.

So, I was back. A couple of big fires, more people, and some road closures had changed the usage of the land by animals and by hunters. A couple of days hard hunting and on my last available day I finally found the elk, hanging out around the heads of some truly intimidating canyons. An elk 800 yards off might be half a day's walk away. For that matter, I could sit high up and count a dozen bulls, some so far off that their racks were mere suggestions, but could get to none.

The next year, I put in and drew a tag for the same area. The first day, I hunted a big meadow that was an easy mile and a half walk off the road. No elk, no dice. The next day, I drove and tracked lower country leading right up to the private land. Other hunters, but not much in the way of elk sign. So, bowing to the inevitable, I headed over to the broken country. I hunted up a ridge bordering one of the big canyons (to my left) with a burnt-over draw to my right. Elk had been using it and browsing the young aspen and wild rose in the draw, but none were there now. I'd sit overlooking the big canyon and glass elk by the dozens, including several nice six-point bulls. They were all a couple of thousand vertical feet away. The down isn't so bad, but the loaded uphill trip is a killer, especially as steep as those canyon walls are. In addition, the slopes below me were south-facing and inadequate cover. So, I worked up my ridge, eventually heading one canyon (elk-less at the top) and getting to a high meadow above another. There below me were a dozen cows and two small bulls. I waited for them, and perhaps some others, to walk out toward me and graze on the grass exposed by the wind, closing the distance between us, without any success. As time was getting on, I began a long slow crawl through the knee-deep snow, shortening the distance to the elk. At four hundred yards, I ran out of cover. I guessed the distance at three fifty and leaned against a wind-tortured pine to aim at the four point bull bedded in a slight swale. At the shot, he and the other elk stood, then trotted off for the timber, my bull obviously hit. I shot again, then lost him to the trees and sprinted down the hill, entering the timber and following the blood trail to see him staggering some fifty yards in front of me. A quick shot to the back of his head and I'd accomplished what I intended with the first round.

It was now three in the afternoon. I dressed, skinned and quartered my bull, then loaded a quarter and the loins and headed over the mountain. Nearly a thousand vertical feet and an hour and a half later, I had a two thousand foot descent to the truck. I got to my vehicle at eight in the evening and drove home. That night, a snowstorm blew in, shutting down highways and dropping substantial snow. I bought a plastic toboggan in town and headed back up to my elk once I could get on the road. Parking a bit closer, I headed up slope with two liters of water, two power bars, my pack frame, the toboggan, and quite a lot of line. I started at noon and reached the elk, feeling a bit blown, by three in the afternoon. I loaded two quarters, the miscellaneous cuts, and the rack on the sled and the third quarter on my back. Then I started up the hill. The snow ranged from knee deep to mid-thigh and, even following my trail down, each twenty yards of gain required a rest. By five, it was dark. About ten at night, I reached the crest of the mountain. From that point, I rigged a second rope to the back of the sled and let it precede me down the mountain. The main trick was to keep control and not build up too much speed to avoid having a hundred and fifty pounds of meat go shooting down the hillside to land well up some spruce. By midnight I was in the truck and, still in the early morning, home. Blessed by the red gods once again.

No brag, and I still believe in shooting them where you find them. At the same time, every now and then they might be so far back you better be pretty hungry before you pull the trigger.

Never look an easy, that is to say easily packed, elk in the mouth.