Thursday, April 28, 2011

Links, pics, music and such...

An old photo of Holly, my first chessie and the meanest, toughest, surliest old school bay dog bitch I've ever seen. She loved me beyond measure, tolerated my wife, and everyone else could go to hell. I hope I never have another one like her, but god, how I miss her sometimes...

My second post over at Mouthful of Feathers is up, as is my latest Quail Forever blog. Feel free to check them out if you get a chance...

And for today's edition of Mallard's Infinite Playlist... well, pretty conventional stuff, really: the Cowboy Junkies and their exquisite, haunting, beautiful cover of the Velvet Underground's Sweet Jane. As much as I like the original, when the Cowboy Junkies' version came out in '88 I thought then - and still do today - that it was simply one of the most beautiful songs I'd ever heard.

Was I in love with a girl at the time and did playing this song over and over and over in my iPod Walkman hone my adolescent heartbreak to a razor's edge? Silly question...

Monday, April 25, 2011

To Whom Can Freethinkers Pray for Rain?

Christians, Muslims and Jews have their God. Buddhists have their spiritual advisor. Wiccans, Celts, Druids, Shintoists, heathens and other animistic and pagan followers have their God(s). But if you're a Texas freethinker then Governor Rick Perry just tossed you a theological sticky wicket...

From Fox News

Gov. Rick Perry, a devout Christian, is calling on all Texans to pray for rain as most of the state battles an extreme and exceptional drought. Perry has proclaimed a three-day period, from Friday to Sunday, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the state. "I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal way of life," he wrote in the proclamation.

So if you're a good, patriotic Texan as well as an atheist, freethinker or other secular-humanist (is that a mutually exclusive condition? I kid, I kid the Texans...) to what or whom are you left to pray? The accuracy of computer climate modeling? The jet stream? The evaporative cycle? The laws of probability?

Incidentally, early this morning while we slept, our little corner of the Great American Desert (21st Century Edition) received its first measurable rainfall for the month of April, a whopping .02 inches of rain. Just enough to dampen all the dust that had collected in the bottom of the rain gauge.

That bears repeating: our first measurable rainfall for the month of April (you know, the "April showers bring May flowers month") came on April 25th. In the past month, we've officially received a grand total of .06 inches of rain (but considerably less at our house), in the past three months a total of .59. Our last rainfall of more than .25 inches came some 163 days ago. Unless we get some good soaking rains interspersed with a few toad-stranglers, the rest of spring is trending grim and summer is starting to look downright terrifying.

The weather this spring has been weird, to say the least. Last week, we had a days-long windstorm that produced (I shit you not) wind gusts of over 70 miles per hour and sustained winds of well over fifty. Depending on where you sit in the theological/secular-humanist/ancient pagan prophecy matrix, the weather's starting to look either biblical, Mayan or human-induced climate-change confirming....

I don't want to start any rancorous debate on the matter, so in the spirit of the times, here's my non-denominational, religion-neutral, spiritually agnostic plea/prayer/sacrifice/reasoned and logical secular request for rain...

Dear Monotheistic Supreme Deity(s), Polytheistic Horned God(s)/Karmic Cycle/ Immutable Laws of Natural Science:

I am sending you this prayer/incense/goat/good thought/scientific theory based on a complex probability algorithm in the hopes that it will persuade you to send rain angels/rain spirits/a slight change in drought-inducing climatological parameters.

We need rain very badly, and as your loyal subject/child/disciple/carbon-based product of the evolutionary process I am pleading with you to hear my prayers/accept my offering/confirm my hypothesis.

Amen/Shalom/All Hail the Divine Moon Goddess/Empirically yours,

Chad Love

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Modest Proposal

This morning I got up insanely early, pulled on my boots and went turkey hunting at one of my usual public quail hunting spots, a place that during quail season was absolutely covered up with turkeys, but no quail.

Today, however, I neither saw nor heard a single tom, but I was kicking up pairs of quail seemingly every few yards. So it goes. It was nice to see quail doing well, even in our continued drought, so I didn’t mind getting skunked on the turkeys. After last quail season I was beginning to think that perhaps the bobwhite quail was a mythical creature that inhabited the realm of cryptozoology.

All in all it was a singularly pleasant morning – until I made it back to the parking area. I had gotten there and walked in well before dawn, so I hadn’t noticed the bullet-riddled sign and wads of toilet paper strewn everywhere.

And as I stood there trying to comprehend the mind-boggling idiocy of such an act, it occurred to me that perhaps science – in its never-ending quest for new sources of energy - has for all these years somehow managed to overlook the single most powerful, limitless and ever-renewing force known to Man – stupidity.

Think about it: Fossil fuels still reign, but are on the downslope of Hubberts Peak. Forget nuclear fission and all its attendant issues of safety and radioactive waste, while cold nuclear fusion still occupies the realm of science fiction. Solar and wind have major scale issues, destroy upland bird habitat and are completely dependent on the vagaries of weather and climate. And biofuels? Maybe if we all want to live in a global cornfield.

But stupidity? Well, that shit’s everywhere, all around us, occurring naturally and in such profusion that I sometimes wonder if we’re not all drowning in a sea of the stuff. So when life hands you stupid, why not - to paraphrase the old cliché – make stupidaide, or stupanol, or stuplear power (we can work on the name later…).

Seriously, if there were some way to harness the kind of potent, high-grade stupidity it takes to completely trash the parking area of a public hunting area and then convert that stupidity into an energy source for spinning power plant turbines, we’d be set for life…

And if any physicists out there want to take a crack at it, I know where you can start mining your raw material…

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mystery Of The Day: Teacher Edition

Yep, a new semi-regular filler feature for days when I can't think beyond a paragraph or so. It's called "Mystery of the Day."

And since I'm married to one, here's a mystery for all you public school teachers out there. I'm confident you can all identify with this one. But really, it's a one-size-fits-all mystery, because if there's one constant to the human condition, it's injustice without reason...

So without further ado, I give you my inaugural "Mystery of the Day."

Personally, I couldn’t care less about the fundamental mysteries of the universe or existence. The forces behind things like quantum physics, metaphysics, dark energy, extraterrestrial life, unified field theory, the source of John Boehner’s weird skin glow, what went with Schrodinger's cat, the name of Glenn Beck's home planet or any of our other great scientific and philosophical imponderables are completely lost on me.

To me the greatest mystery, the most vexing question of human existence and the human condition is not who we are or why we are or what we are or whether we got this way by crawling up out of the primordial ooze or the result of some divine plan. I’ll leave that for those who care about such things.

What I wonder is simply this: Why do a relative few undeserving shit-asses get ahead in life while so many good, decent, unappreciated people doing good, important work don't?

If science can figure that one out, then maybe there’s hope for the rest of it...

A Very Brief Q&A...

Question: "So what kind of writing would you like to do?"

Answer: "The kind that doesn't require sidebars."

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Mallard's Infinite Playlist

I've always admired Scampwalker's scribbles on music, even though I'm not nearly as deep into the outlaw-alt country scene as he is. The dude needs to be writing for publication.

Myy musical tastes, on the other hand, tend to run broad, shallow, disjointed and, quite frankly, bizarre. But that won't stop me from ripping him off. Well, not ripping him off, because I can't write about music to save my life, but I am starting yet-another regular blog feature I'll promptly forget about and neglect, one I like to call "The Mallard's Infinite Playlist."

And yes, I ripped off the movie title. Everything is derivative...

Anyway, it's just music I like for no particular reason. It's also - if I'm being honest here -  a cop-out for those days when I can't think of anything to write. Which is most of the time.

So without further ado, here's my first installment...

I was in fourth grade when I first saw The Clash on MTV. I was spending the night with a friend, and his big sister - with whom I was in extreme ten-year-old love - was glued to the TV watching videos. I had no idea who The Clash were. My father was and is a strict country traditionalist. My parents were still married at that point, so it went without saying that I lived in a Clash-free household.

I could tell you who Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Jim Reeves or Merle Haggard was, but for me "punk" was what my father muttered at the college students in Norman as we drove by. It sure as hell wasn't a musical genre in my little world.

But sitting there on my friend's living-room floor (his family was from Ohio and were considered "liberal Yankees" so my parents didn't let me spend the night often) sneaking peeks at the woman I loved (remember, I was ten...) as she made moon-eyes at Joe Strummer I finally realized that yes, there really WAS music out there that didn't include steel guitar. I mean, these guys seemed to yell and scream a lot, but if she liked it then damn it, I liked it, too.

A few months later my parents were split, my mom moved us from our house in the country to Norman and we finally got cable, and with it MTV. And while I eventually lost touch with that fourth-grade friend as well as the love of my life, fourth-grade-edition, I credit her with unintentionally turning me onto The Clash and a larger musical world beyond twang (even though I hasten to add I still dig twang...). I've been a huge Clash fan ever since. This may be the first Clash song on the playlist, but it won't be the last.

So this one's for you, girl of my pre-adolescent dreams. Sorry, I've forgotten your name. And it was actually Rock the Casbah you were listening to that night. But I like Rudie Can't Fail better. And it's my blog...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Little More Crappieness

Yesterday at lunch I decided to take a few minutes and run over to the next-door park pond for a few minutes of fishing with the three-weight.

Since I feel guilty about taking such outings when I could be home eating lunch productively in front of the computer, I always set a strict twenty-minute time limit to these mini-trips on the rare days when I take one. It's a nice way to get away from the computer for a few minutes and refresh the mind and soul.

It didn't disappoint. First cast, fish. Second cast, fish. Third cast, fish. A brief lull. Then another fish. And another. And another. A brief lull. Then another fish.

It almost looked like I knew what the hell I was doing. And then my alloted time was up and I was forced to leave a hot hole with only seven delicious crappie when I could have, should have, stayed and sacked them up. But then I would be forced to explain to my wife why I spent all afternoon fishing when I could have been home working on something, anything. Not like there's a dearth of that...yard work, that is.

Incidentally, I was only thirty, yes, thirty away from my limit. For reasons known only to...someone, Oklahoma's daily limit on crappie is 37. Not 35. Not 40. But 37. Don't ask me, it's that kind of state.

So I reluctantly turned away from the water and trudged back to the car. But I have to admit thus far I'm digging the warmwater flyrod action. Who knows, if I keep practicing holding my pinkie in the air as I cast I might make an angler of the fly yet...

We Are All 'Bots In The Machine...

Here's an interesting story in The Atlantic I think is pitch-perfect metaphor for the current state of critical thought and discourse in this country.

From the story:

One day last February, a Twitter user in California named Billy received a tweet from @JamesMTitus, identified in his profile as a “24 year old dude” from Christchurch, New Zealand, who had the avatar of a tabby cat. “If you could bring one character to life from your favorite book, who would it be?,” @JamesMTitus asked. Billy tweeted back, “Jesus,” to which @JamesMTitus replied: “honestly? no fracking way. ahahahhaa.” Their exchange continued, and Billy began following @JamesMTitus. It probably never occurred to him that the Kiwi dude with an apparent love of cats was, in fact, a robot.

JamesMTitus was manufactured by cyber-security specialists in New Zealand participating in a two-week social-engineering experiment organized by the Web Ecology Project. Based in Boston, the group had conducted demographic analyses of Chatroulette and studies of Twitter networks during the recent Middle East protests. It was now interested in a question of particular concern to social-media experts and marketers: Is it possible not only to infiltrate social networks, but also to influence them on a large scale?

The group invited three teams to program “social bots”—fake identities—that could mimic human conversation on Twitter, and then picked 500 real users on the social network, the core of whom shared a fondness for cats. The Kiwis armed JamesMTitus with a database of generic responses (“Oh, that’s very interesting, tell me more about that”) and designed it to systematically test parts of the network for what tweets generated the most responses, and then to talk to the most responsive people.

But here's the best part...

After the first week, the teams were allowed to tweak their bot’s code and to launch secondary identities designed to sabotage their competitors’ bots. One team unleashed @botcops, which alerted users, “You might want to be suspicious about JamesMTitus.” In one exchange, a British user confronted the alleged bot: “What do you say @JamesMTitus?” The robot replied obliquely, “Yeah, so true!” The Brit pressed: “Yeah so true! You mean I should be suspicious of you? Or that @botcops should be challenged?” JamesMTitus evaded detection with a vague tweet back—“Right on bro”—and acquired 109 followers over two weeks. Network graphs subsequently showed that the three teams’ bots had insinuated themselves into the center of the target network.

 The more I am confronted with the increasingly invasive ubiquety of social media and its frenzied, orgasmic craving for constant connectivity; the superficial, utterly banal white noise it generates in lieu of even half-assed genuine and organic thought and/or dialogue, the more tempted I am to just say fuck it all, pull the plug on everything and go raise goats for a living.

Granted, the conversations may be a little one-sided, but at least they'd be real.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Yes, I Really Did...

...and it felt wonderful. Good riddance, you sonofabitch. You've given me your last "Line Error"...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Some Vintage Bantam Awesomeness...

I recently found this damn-near-mint little jewel in an OKC pawn shop. A little ogling, a little dickering and a few minutes later I walked out fifteen bucks poorer but holding the nicest vintage Bantan 1000 I've ever run across.

This little baby was state-of-the-art back in 1982. Can it hold a performance candle to a modern baitcaster? No, not really. From a purely technical and performance standpoint there's no doubt;  modern baitcasters are just better (longevity? Eh, that's another issue...).

But just like the feeling you get from playing an old Atari 2600 or listening to albums- real albums -there's just something about holding those old reels that elicits a mournful tinge of nostalgia and longing for a time long gone by.

What can I say? I was the world's biggest fishing geek growing up, and much of my adolescent memories are wrapped around fishing adventures and delinquency (there's a co-dependent relationship there...).

 I have written previously of my nostalgic penchant for the old Bantams, and really, you just don't see too many early Bantams in this condition anymore. What good examples you can find are really starting to increase in value. They're not super-collectable, but there are enough guys out there looking for them that if you want a nice one, you'll pay for it.

Unless, of course, you find one in a pawn shop...

I got it home and mounted it on an equally vintage five-and-a-half-foot custom Phenix boron rod, which was also state-of-the-art at the time, so what you see before you is exactly what I would have been lusting after in the pages of BASSMaster magazine back in 1981-82.

Well, that and girls. And interestingly enough, I did recently run into a girl I was madly in love with back in 1982 (need I even mention the feelings weren't reciprocated?). And I gotta say that - some twenty-nine years later - I'm glad I ended up with the reel (cue rimshot)... 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

So Long, It's Been Good To Know You, Deux*...

*I don't know what my fixation with the word deux is today, but I seem incapable of refraining from its use, however appropriate...

A few of my approximately four regular readers may remember a Dust Bowl-themed blog post I wrote almost a year ago. April 14th to be exact, the 75th anniversary of Black Sunday, a storm that defined the era (and the term). I entitled it "So Long, It's Been Good To Know You." If so inclined, you can read about it here. If not, here's a snippet...

No, I'm not quitting just yet. It's the title to a song penned and sung by the greatest artist and one of the greatest individuals the state of Oklahoma ever produced.

And it may be an apocryphal story, but legend has it that Woody Guthrie penned the opening lines to "So Long It's Been Good To Know You" while hunkered down in Pampa, Texas, on April 14, 1935, riding out what would forever be known as "Black Sunday." Seventy five years ago today a whole lot of people in my part of the world were convinced that world was coming to an end. It didn't, but that massive April 14th, 1935 storm was the one that coined the term "Dust Bowl."

And here is where the deux part kicks in...

From today's Oklahoman...
Oklahoma sees driest 4 months since Dust Bowl

"In most years, the dark clouds over western Oklahoma in the spring would be bringing rain. This year, they're more likely to be smoke from wildfires that have burned thousands of acres in the past month as the state and its farmers struggle with a severe drought. Oklahoma was drier in the four months following Thanksgiving than it has been in any similar period since 1921. That's saying a lot in the state known for the 1930s Dust Bowl, when drought and high winds generated severe dust storms that stripped the land of its topsoil."

That's right, in terms of moisture we're technically drier right now than we were during the same timeframe for any year in the 1930s. The wind is still blowing like hell, but we've not seeing any exodusters...yet.

Why is that? First, let noted regional author and rapier wit Chad Love explain in this beautifully-written, award-winning feature story from the March-April 2003 issue of Oklahoma Today, entitled "The Story of Wind."

Then, just to show that I'm a persistent, single-minded sonofabitch, I'll explain why this, too, ties in with this week's debate on the future of our hunting, fishing and conservation programs.

Take it away, Chad...

"...In those early years, Oklahomans, like those in other plains states, learned to live with wind, but unfortunately they failed to learn from the wind. The result was one of the greatest ecological disasters the world has ever known.

Wind and drought do not have a causal relationship, but one of exacerbation. Wind is the gasoline that fans the flame of drought. On the vast sweep of the plains wind and drought have been playing out these roles for eons, and climatologists are just now starting to grasp the significance of drought in the natural cycle of the nation’s grasslands. Recent findings suggest that historically the plains have gone through extended periods of extreme drought and that it is a regularly occurring phenomenon. It’s not a matter of if the plains have a tendency to dry up, scientists say, it is merely a matter of when and how severely.

But Oklahoma farmers in 1914 did not have the luxury of modern science to help guide their land-use practices. All they knew was that, thanks to the outbreak of World War One, wheat prices had soared to unheard-of levels and advances in farm machinery were allowing them to plow more and faster than they ever had before.

Some historians have dubbed what followed “the Great Plow-Up.” According to historian Donald Worster, over 11 million acres of native grass were turned under between 1914 and 1919 in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Texas. The 1920s saw unusually wet years, unusually high wheat harvests and even more conversion of grassland to wheat. Worster estimates that by 1935, with the rain gone and the nation in the fifth year of a widespread drought, over 33 million acres of ground lay exposed.

That’s when the wind started blowing and a large chunk of the continent took flight.

Seventy years later, the national conscience has largely healed, but if there is one group that still feels the sting of blowing dust, it is Oklahomans. Rightly or wrongly, the specter of the Dust Bowl and the cultural identity with which Oklahomans were seared as a result of it continue to resonate today. That’s why many Oklahomans still view Steinbeck with so much anathema and Rodgers & Hammerstein with so much adulation.

But the real lessons to be taken from those blowing winds aren’t academic arguments over whether the word Okie should be viewed as pejorative or compliment, but the conservation ethos which came out of the Dust Bowl’s aftermath.

“The real conservation movement in the United States, in terms of institutionalizing conservation practices, especially in regard to wind erosion, was born in the 1930’s, and the Dust Bowl had quite a lot to do with that,” says Oklahoma State University Professor Dr. Terry Bidwell.

"...Bidwell says there was, and continues to be, a push to permanently return highly erodible cropland to grass. “Since the thirties there’s been a pile of money spent on programs to get those soils taken out of production and into permanent vegetation.”Those broken parcels of land were eventually designated as National Grasslands.

Grass. More than anything, the choking storms of the Dust Bowl highlighted its importance, and its primacy in the Great Plains ecosystem. The extensive root systems of prairie grasses act as billions of tiny anchors. Lose it, and you lose the soil. Shelterbelts and strip cropping helped, but shelterbelts alone could not hope to quell the blowing wind. In extremely hard-hit areas erosion was so severe revegetation was the only hope, so in 1934 the federal government began purchasing some of the most heavily eroded farmland and re-seeding it to grass. By 1947, when the program ended, over 11 million acres had reverted to federal ownership.

In a very real sense, much of Oklahoma’s current public lands were made possible by wind, because two of those grasslands areas are in Oklahoma: Black Kettle in Roger Mills County and Rita Blanca in Cimarron County. Combined they represent over 46,000 acres of formerly destroyed land, a living monument to folly and (at least on public land) redemption.

So, what are we debating in Washington this week as being "too costly?" That's right, the very same type of conservation programs that brought us out of the Dust Bowl and have kept us out of the Dust Bowl, even through droughts (as in the Fifties) that were as severe or even worse than the Dirty Thirties. 

History's a cruel old bitch, isn't she? Once again, I'll leave you with a little Woody (a song, that is...)

If You Read Just One Thing Today, deux...

...then pop on over to Vanity Fair and read this essay by Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Can you draw a connection between that and yesterday's  If You Read Just One Thing Today ?

Hey, I'm just throwing it out there. Call me a class warrior if you must, but I don't see many hedge-fund managers or ex vice-presidents out there with the rest of the unwashed masses hitting public CRP fields, waterfowl units or other such commoner-infested areas...

Miles Law famously states that "where you stand depends on where you sit." And from where I sit in the cheap bleacher seats staring up at the luxury suites, the view is starting to look pretty shitty for the odds of hunting and fishing remaining the great American egalitarian tradition it once was.

But I'd love to be wrong...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

If You Read Just One Thing Today...

...then please, make it Hal Herring's blog post on HR1 over at F&S. I don't want to sound alarmist or anything (oh, horseshit, yes I do) but as Hal points out, these proposals -  if passed -  are total, landscape-level game-changers for American conservation.

Just go on over, read it, and please leave a comment to show editors you care about conservation and appreciate the continued coverage. They do take notice of things like that.

And for god's sake contact your reps, your senators, anyone who'll listen to express your support for the continued funding of America's conservation programs like CRP, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Clean Water Act and everything else in the crosshairs of this misguided, dangerous, punitive, unnecessary  and completely short-sighted proposal.

Monday, April 4, 2011

We All Gotta Eat, But...

...sometimes a little anthropomorphic monkey-wrenching with the natural balance of things is OK in my book.

Such was the case this morning as I was sitting in front of our back window, drinking my last cup of coffee and watching the woods behind the house.

Just as I was getting ready to get up and take my coffee cup back to the kitchen, a female Harris sparrow came swooping and jinking on to the back porch with our resident assassin sharp-tailed hawk right on its tail. The sparrow slammed into the window, then turned and slipped into the space between our glass and screen door.

Smart move, but the sharpie swerved right with it, and just as it was about to pin the sparrow between the doors and have breakfast, Walt Disney here came to the rescue. I beat my hands against the glass, made my best bird-scaring warface and shouted, I don't know...something (shoo bird, shoo! or something equally stupid) which caused the sharpie to flare off and fly away.

Normally I don't mind at all the birds our resident accipiters (mostly sharpies and Cooper's, although I could swear I saw a flash of an immature goshawk last year...) take, and indeed, I enjoy having them around to make things interesting. I call them our "keepin'-it-real" birds. Because nothing reinforces the basic, unsentimental truth of nature more than watching that cute little junco being torn to pieces and eaten right there on the pole feeder.

And this particular sharpie ( I think it's the same one) is particularly bold. A few weeks ago it pinned a cardinal against out windowsill directly in front of my wife, and then calmly devoured it right there on the back porch. Now that's haughtiness...

So why interfere with this one incident? It's not like we've got a shortage of Harris sparrows or anything. And despite the fact that our bird-feeding certainly makes it easier, it's no easy thing catching a bird in flight, and the sharpie - like all wild birds of prey - lives on the ragged edge, expending much precious energy with each pass it makes at a bird.

No deep philosophical meanderings or explorations needed. I'm feeling plainspoken today. I saved the little bugger (who in all likelihood will end up getting eaten, anyway. Such is a bird's life...) because sometimes it just makes you feel good to see the little guys cheat death, if only for a little while.