Monday, March 31, 2008

West Texas

"West Texas" can mean a lot of different things, given the size and variety of the state.
On a tip from my Dad, here is a very interesting history web site about Texas. One of the many extensive sections gives a lot of information about the part of West Texas wherein I spent a fair amount of my growing up.

Back when my family lived there, my ten-year-old archeologist self didn't know anything about leaving things in context. We hunted arrowheads and other flint tools, which could be found even right around town.

Cabeza de Vaca stumbled through that country, then nearly everyone left it alone. For a history of settlement after statehood, Baronial Forts of the Big Bend is a good book if you can find a copy. Apart from some brushes with fame during the Mexican Revolution, a little ranching, a little mining, a little farming, and a lot of emptiness characterizes much of the Big Bend.

That is still a relatively little known corner of the world, although I've found a surprising amount of material on the web just looking around now. For years the best way of explaining the part of West Texas my family spent a few years in was either as "the Trans-Pecos", which wasn't particularly illuminating but satisfied some, or "a couple hundred miles down river from El Paso", which more people can envision. If you gave a town name, it is most likely heard of or seen by people on the way to the big national park or perhaps an exclusive resort. Back in the 70's, I don't think anyone would have expected Lajitas to become a resort. Mostly it was just the last little place you drove through on your way to the Park or, for the people that participated in that, a famous chili cookoff. The best restaurant for a couple of hundred miles in any direction when we lived there was in a ghost town.

We had the good fortune to have access to a big ranch, now also a park, where we got to hunt, picnic, and see some pretty interesting prehistoric sites- pictographs in rock shelters, metates and manos, and deep mortar holes in the rock where grain or seeds were ground. On further expeditions, we'd head up to higher elevations and check out the fort or swim in a really nice pool.

I'm taken a bit back to find so much of that country on the web. Check out the county courthouse, fitting for the second biggest county in Texas.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Thanks to The Regal Viszla for inclusion on their blog roll. Stories about hunting dogs are always a welcome part of the web and I'm flattered to be linked. I hadn't really looked at their site prior to noticing a couple of referrals, and wanted to call attention to it as well as use the linkage as an excuse to put up some pictures, older and not.

First, my sister's wirehair viszla, Bator:

He is quite probably the smartest dog I've ever been around.
Grouse hunting in southern Colorado, Labor Day snow:

My folks wirehair, Liszka, a water monster and shown here as just a pup dealing with East Texas heat:

and relaxing on a New Mexico grouse hunt:

And then back to the smooth coat viszlas I grew up with- Red and Anya. I'm lazy, so I'll quote what I wrote earlier about them:

"The first vizsla we got as an adult; he'd been abandoned by someone and came to us as a burly and wild two-year old. He turned out to be a wizard bird dog with a great nose: capable of pinning of covey of blue quail as he literally slid into a point, dust raising around his feet from the sudden stop. He also ate the birds he picked up for the first couple of seasons. He never got over a hard mouth but we accepted the few extra puncture wounds as the price of doing business and finding more birds. The female was a decent bird dog in her own right, though her nose never matched Red's. She particularly loved to fish in small mountain streams, shuttling back and forth between anglers leapfrogging each other to hit the pools and runs. Every so often she'd wade out next to your fly or bait and look intently in the clear water for fish. Of course, finding none with forty-some pounds of bird dog in the middle of the hole she'd give you a quizzical look as if to question your choice of spot. I'll probably always have an affection for red colored dogs after those years."

Here are serious Red and clowning Anya:

and Anya grinning in a posed shot with a cock blue grouse:

and last posing photogenically in some Texas bluebonnets as an old girl:

I have to say, one of the really nice things about the Chessie is his insistence that he be right next to you almost all the time you're home, shades of a velcro viszla. In any event, this recent bit of linkage is perhaps more apropos given my viszla history and connections.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The last on...

D.C. v. Heller, at least until the decision comes down and possibly not even then. A few links. First, the transcript of the oral argument is out, even though it just concluded a couple of hours ago. A rundown of the argument and some analysis is available at the Scotusblog. More analysis and lots of comments, as usual, at The Volokh Conspiracy.

All the above is interesting to people really into Conlaw analysis, the courts' take on the Second Amendment, and Supreme Court watchers. Still, court watching is a pretty slow ballgame. The decision most likely will be handed down some time this summer. In the meantime, I recommend everyone do something really helpful (and almost as exciting as waiting for the written opinion on Heller from the Supremes) and assist in this noble effort to prevent spontaneous gun violence.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Recent Bits of Web

Some interesting posts around the web, some more old, some more new:

First, some free legal advice to bloggers which is potentially worth much more than you'll pay for it.

Peculiar of Odious and Peculiar on the recent pseudo-flood through the Grand Canyon: "The problem with doing flooding experiments in the GC is that there is no large amount of water to use to mimic a flooding event, the dam notwithstanding. Releases from Glen Canyon are determined by a bewildering host of factors: agriculture in California; municipal water needs in Phoenix, Vegas and So-Cal; electricity needs in Arizona; our treaty obligations to provide Mexico with 2 million acre-feet yearly; balancing inflow (i.e., snow melt) with diversions in upper basin states while maintaining useful water levels in three major downstream reservoirs and three major and a host of minor upstream reservoirs."

Via Fretmarks, a heads-up and link to a post by Patrick Wright which contains some interesting history as well as a strong whiff of England when there was still an empire. Correspondence in the Times regarding the proper arsenal for a long trip back of beyond. Hah! for any newspaper today to publish such correspondence (here only a bit of one letter in small part, you really need to read the whole thing): "I wonder how those who look on a .22 rifle as a childish toy would like to make a target of the plump part of their own back view at 100 yards – or even 150 – for a good .22 cartridge.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
G.A. ANSON, Lieutenant-Colonel.
Naval and Military Club, 94, Piccadilly, W. 1, Nov. 28."

Keeping with the UK theme, here's a bit on a blog about hunting geese with a 130 year old 8 gauge in Scotland, complete with video.

From last month on Rigor Vitae, rattlesnake appreciation: These reptiles are not only specialized at their very tips; the musculature of the tail itself is dominated by three pairs of “shaker” muscles, two of which produce lateral, back-and-forth movements, while the third pair applies torsion, drawing the ventral edge of the rattle outward to either side.

From Atomic Nerds, a fairly recent hit about nature red in tooth and ... well, let's just say that biology works in some mighty strange ways. Not a post for the squeamish, or anyone under twelve: "My personal favorite, because it makes my inner thirteen-year-old giggle madly, is Xylocaris maculipennis. Like a surprising number of other bedbugs, Xylocaris reproductive process is 'traumatic insemination'...."

From Prairie Ice, some really nice photos of Canada Geese on their way (farther) North. Go here and check out the third photo down, where the first bird on the left is completely inverted while flying. He has a bunch of other great photos from this spring's migration once you scroll around a bit.

Camera Trap Codger is a great biology and photo blog. Recently, he put up mountain lion photos from one of his automatic cameras in the California mountains. That's another good site for scrolling around.

Next, from Maggie's Farm, a series of photos from a very exciting bear-relocation effort. Click here to see the poor Game Warden have a really tough day at the office.

Food! Via Ruhlman, here is an opinionated, fun report of an unusual dinner prepared by famous chef Chris Cosentino. Sounds challenging: "Imagine yanking a snail off the side of a house and sticking your tongue deep inside the shell, and you're about halfway there." but fun "It had a rich, silky texture and a wonderfully full, pork flavour--heaven's lunchmeat." Rulhman actually links to several reports of the dinner if you feel like reading a couple of perspectives.

Sea ducks are pretty quick. Here's a computer game with a view from the rocks. You lose points if you shoot a hen. (37 points)

A couple of interesting blogs: A Smallholder in Scotland- just starting out but good so far, with a recipe for pigeon goulash. Then there is "Hunter Angler Gardener Cook"- check out the dinner with five wild duck dishes.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Well, so far this year the snowpack is looking really good. To any outdoorsfolk here in the Southwest, this is welcome news, particularly given the very dry years just past.

Every spring for the last decade or so, my sister and I have taken a whitewater rafting trip somewhere in the Southwest. We go with professional rafting companies and generally seek an overnight trip with at least a few class IV or even a couple of class V rapids. The last couple of years, seasons have been short and the flows down, a tough condition on the rafting companies and we tourists. This year promises a longer season, provided spring doesn't get too hot too fast, and bigger water. The Rio Grande through the Taos Box in New Mexico provides a whole different level of excitement at 2800 cfs than it does at 1200.

Here's a couple of guides working a supply boat through a tight spot on the Gunnison in '03- barely enough water to get through there. Interesting ("technical") but not exactly a matter of adrenaline. More like work pulling on the lines:

Here's a different sort of work on the lines- a couple of guides lining a boat down a tight spot on the Piedra in southwestern Colorado:

Year before last we went down the upper Animas, between Silverton and Durango, Colorado.

That was our second trip down that particular river. The upper Animas is unusual amongst southwestern rivers in that instead of presenting a pool-and-drop scenario, the gradient is so steep that you have almost constant class II and III rapids with occasional stretches that spike up to IV. You really don't want to fall out of the raft or have it turn over, as there aren't many spots along the steep banks that offer a chance to eddy out and crawl out of the water, which is very cold. On the plus side, you get lots of work and excitement and the Animas usually flows at a decent rate. The company that we've gone with insists on running a stern rig with oars, rather than pure paddle boats, and I can't really blame them or be too sorry about it. We're just doing this to have fun.

A few years ago we took a day trip through Westwater Canyon on the Colorado, just into Utah. The outfitter provided inflatable kayaks and oar boats.

There is a fair amount of flatwater on the trip and quite a few small and medium rapids that were plenty exciting for novices to IK's. The trip got a bit more exciting for my sister and I when we missed eddying out after Surprise rapid. We'd picked up another trip member (actually, our friend) who'd dumped and was swimming, then ferried him back up to one of the escort rafts. The guides had everyone pull river right and eddy along the cliff wall, but we bounced out of the first couple of eddies and were getting pulled progressively downriver. Getting tired, we tried one more eddy (my sister even attempted to wedge her paddle in a crack in the cliff) but were ejected once more. The lower safety boat had long since gone downriver and the guide in the follow boat helpfully exhorted us to "Eddy out!" As we drifted toward the horizon line he even more helpfully shouted "Eddy out! You really don't want to go down there!" Sarcasm ensued in our boat. We knew darned well we didn't want to go down there, but we couldn't catch the eddy and needed to rest a minute or two before hitting what was obviously another rapid. We didn't really have a choice, wants aside.

By that point we were about in the middle of the river and, once we could hit the top of the rapid, we could see a huge hole river left. Even worse, the river appeared to split on a cliff right in front of us. Lacking apparent options, we tried to run the main current, knowing for certain that we wanted no part of the big recirculating hole. We hit the wave train, got caught, bounced, then flipped. I came up a few feet from the rock face, sucked in some air, went under at the face, then came up in a huge eddy. I let that carry me back up to the midpoint of the rapid, crawled out, then started looking for my sister, who was nowhere in sight. The other IKs and the escort raft showed up sneaking the rapid on extreme river left, going around the back of that huge hole, which turned out to be Skull Rock. Yep, we went down Skull Rapid the wrong way, at least wrong for a couple of novices in an IK. The guides were less than thrilled to spot me on the wrong side of the infamous "Room of Doom" (the eddy), too. The guide who drew the short straw got in an IK then ferried across. Once he'd caught his breath, the two of us ferried back over, paddling hard to avoid being swept into the rock face ("The Rock of Shock"). It turns out that my sister managed to miss the rock face entirely and swam the rapid with no incident, getting picked up by a Utah park ranger waiting below for just such an occurance. This remains our one scary, as opposed to thrilling, rafting encounter. I wish the guide has used some of his breath to yell "Go river left, hard left, all the way left!" once it became clear we were going down, as then we'd have stood a chance of making the run. Here's a YouTube video of a raft making the same run we made, though they stay upright and manage to scrape along the rock without getting stuck in the Room of Doom. (Language warning on the video).

The big hole is right under the camera here. The Colorado is running about 6000 cfs in this video (according to one of the author's other videos from this trip) whereas we were on the Colorado at about 12000, which made that wave train they crash through all the larger.

One sure-fired hangover cure is to start your morning off with a nice rapid. The combination of gallons of cold water crashing over your body and a good spike of adrenalin works to shrink your brain right back to size, get your heart pumping, banish any fuzziness, and leave you ready for the rest of your day.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Via the Volokh Conspiracy, a bit of news and a link to a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Laurence Tribe on the DC v. Heller case I mentioned last month.

Tribe urges that the Supreme Court should explicitly limit its decision in Heller to the terms of the Federal government's power to restrict the right to keep and bear arms on a Federal reservation, leaving aside the question of the extent to which states or the Federal government can restrict ("regulate") the right in other contexts. Tribe contends that such a decision would be consistent with the principle of judicial restraint (pause for all lawyers who graduated in the last twenty years to recover from their faint at the prospect of Larry Tribe urging judicial restraint) and appropriate because "scholarship on the reach of the Second Amendment and its implementation is still in its infancy". Hubris, thy name is law professor. The extent of legal scholarship on any given subject is hardly determinative of whether that subject presents a question of law. For any who've read about this sort of thing for a while, Tribe's statement is particularly exasperating and amusing because much of the recent scholarship on the Second Amendment can trace a fair part of its inspiration to an article by Professor Sanford Levinson which appeared in the Yale Law Journal nearly twenty years ago and titled "The Embarrassing Second Amendment". In that essay, Professor Levinson mentions Tribe's near exclusion of the Second from discussion in his widely distributed (as a required text in law schools) constitutional law treatise. Because Levinson is a respected legal scholar and also a self-avowed liberal, his article attracted a fair amount of attention. Somewhat famously, Tribe later examined the resulting new scholarship and changed his treatise to reflect his new found opinion that the Second Amendment protects an individual, rather than a collective right. Thank God John Locke and Edmund Burke engaged in a bit of new scholarship and and those other crazy guys who wrote our Constitution went ahead with those ideas, rather than waiting for them to be adopted by the academy.

Tribe also believes that the fact of an individual right presents no limitation to gun control measures. To whit (and from the WSJ op-ed): "The lower court's decision in this case [Heller] -- the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found the District's ban on concealable handguns in a densely populated area to be unconstitutional -- went overboard. Under any plausible standard of review, a legislature's choice to limit the citizenry to rifles, shotguns and other weapons less likely to augment urban violence need not, and should not, be viewed as an unconstitutional abridgment of the right of the people to keep or bear arms." Tribe ignores the fact that the D.C. Circuit also found the law at issue's requirement that you keep your shotguns and rifles locked up separately from your ammunition, basically unavailable on any sort of short notice, unconstitutional. I truly look forward to Professor Tribe explaining how an individual right memorialized in the Constitution can be restricted on the basis of location (which is to say urban or densely populated areas) and that restriction pass strict scrutiny. Perhaps he does not consider the latter a plausible standard of review.

Just a bit more- Tribe: "Equally foolish would be a decision tilting to the other extreme and upholding the lower court's decision simply because the right to bear arms is, judicial precedent to the contrary notwithstanding, a right that belongs to citizens as individuals. Such a holding would confuse the right to bear arms with a right to own and brandish the firearms of one's choosing." Nice of the professor to note that judicial precedent hasn't been kind toward the Second Amendment, too bad he neglects the "shall not be infringed" part of the amendment. "Brandish" is a nice touch, too. We've gone from a pistol in the night stand to citizens wildly waving such about in the space of two sentences. Personally, I fall in the "bear" school of gun handling, never having had cause to "brandish", though I might if I could avoid having to shoot someone by virtue of running them off with a little brandishment.

p.s.- if you want to get a nice primer on the Second Amendment and the individual rights view, I cannot recommend Professor Levinson's piece highly enough.

p.p.s.-original title of this post changed to something more clever thanks to the suggestion of a reader.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Reference blogging, re: food

Last week, Steve Bodio put up a post linking to a piece on Mark Bittman's New York Times food blog regarding British cookbook author Delia Smith's statement in favor of frozen mashed potatoes, amongst other things. I was surprised the conversation didn't roar a bit more, though the post did draw some interesting thoughts in other quarters.

The rather extreme comments on Bittman's blog led me to think a bit about the eating cheaply, eating well and/or eating conveniently. Anyone who's been around a college in the last thirty years is probably aware of the siren call that is ramen noodles. Eight for a buck and good for quelling hunger and fulfilling your daily msg requirement. Instant mashed potatoes, canned beans, canned soup, canned stock, frozen pie crust, frozen pies, frozen dinners- there is a continuum of convenience.

This continuum is by no means limited to the regular grocery store. Upscale groceries, with lots of pre-prepared salads, dishes, and meals, are as bad or worse. Whole Foods has plenty of semi- and fully-prepared foods stocked. The packaging is more likely to be biodegradable ink on cardboard or unbleached-appearing paper and the ingredients may be organic, but it's still a tv dinner. Trader Joe's has made something of a specialty of the convenience food and also tends to emphasize food characterized as "fair trade" or "organic". I love Trader Joe's, but will admit to being a bit taken aback the other day upon noticing the packages of shelf-stable cooked rice and cooked lentils for sale. My first thought- "water in, too heavy for backpacking". My second "heck, who can't boil rice?" I'm by no means speaking from a position of some sort of basic ingredient purity- I'll testify that the TJ's frozen gyozu are pretty darned tasty. On the other hand, I consider pre-made pie crust to be a cop out and kind of unworthy.

I suspect that where one falls on the continuum of convenience depends largely upon how important food and eating really are to you. How much enjoyment do you get from a really well prepared, that is to say well flavored, dish? The more important novelty, or subtle improvements in flavor are to a person, the more return he gets for his investment of time and effort in preparing something from basic ingredients.

Much as I enjoy eating what I consider well and much as I enjoy my local grower's market, or eating meat I shot, carried, butchered, and packaged myself, I can't get too carried away with the idea of local, fresh and organic. Cold pizza is a near ideal breakfast food. For that matter, I was going through some old recipes the other night and came across a couple that require a can of cream of mushroom soup. I not only enjoy those recipes, but I'll probably always have a can of condensed cream of mushroom in my pantry for emergency purposes. In fact, when confronted with meat of dubious tenderness and/or strong flavor, you can't really go wrong by flouring it a bit, browning it, taking it out of the pot and cooking some onion in there until the onion turns translucent, then deglazing the pan with some wine, then returning the meat, a can of cream of mushroom soup, some pepper, perhaps thyme, and a bit more wine. Cover tightly then place in a slow oven and let it cook for a few hours. Serve with rice. Works in a dutch oven on coals, too. Hide the empty can.