Archive for March, 2012
25 Mar 2012

Mozart Allegro Molto in C-Major Rediscovered

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Last Friday, the harpsichordist Florian Birsak performed in the Dancing Master’s Hall of the Mozart Residence in Salzburg, for the first time in something like two centuries, a small, 84-measure, Allegro Molto for keyboard believed to have been written by the eleven-year-old prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart circa 1767.

The composition was found last year in a 160-page collection of musical pieces discovered in the attic of a private home in the Tyrol. The manuscript was apparently written by a John Reiserer, born 1765 in Rattenburg, while a student at the Universitätsgymnasium in Salzburg, which he attended between 1778 and 1780.

Musicologists agree that the Allegro is a composition of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart unrecorded in the Köchel directory of his compositions.

The Allegro is a sonata movement, reminiscent of an Allegro in Nannerl Mozart’s Notenbuch and of the opening movement of the Piano Sonata No. 1 in C-Major K.279.

Neu entdecktes Mozart-Stück zu hören has a link to the 3:48 Birsak performance.

So klingt das „Allegro molto“ von Mozart also links the performance.

24 Mar 2012

The Intellectual Roots of Liberal Energy Policy

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24 Mar 2012

Language, Culture, and Equality

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Pirahã

The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses the potentially revolutionary impact on Linguistics of Daniel L. Everett’s new book Language: The Cultural Tool.

Everett’s study of the Pirahã language offers evidence directly contradicting Noam Chomsky’s regnant belief in a Universal Grammar and taking linguistics back to the thoroughly out-of-fashion Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis which contended that language created the categories by which cognition classifies the world.

Chomsky’s view of linguistics, known as Universal Grammar,… has dominated the field for a half-century.

[Daniel Everett] believes that the structure of language doesn’t spring from the mind but is instead largely formed by culture, and he points to the Amazonian tribe he studied for 30 years as evidence. It’s not that Everett thinks our brains don’t play a role—they obviously do. But he argues that just because we are capable of language does not mean it is necessarily prewired. As he writes in his book: “The discovery that humans are better at building human houses than porpoises tells us nothing about whether the architecture of human houses is innate.”

The language Everett has focused on, Pirahã, is spoken by just a few hundred members of a hunter-gatherer tribe in a remote part of Brazil. Everett got to know the Pirahã in the late 1970s as an American missionary. With his wife and kids, he lived among them for months at a time, learning their language from scratch. He would point to objects and ask their names. He would transcribe words that sounded identical to his ears but had completely different meanings. His progress was maddeningly slow, and he had to deal with the many challenges of jungle living. His story of taking his family, by boat, to get treatment for severe malaria is an epic in itself.

His initial goal was to translate the Bible. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics along the way and, in 1984, spent a year studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in an office near Chomsky’s. He was a true-blue Chomskyan then, so much so that his kids grew up thinking Chomsky was more saint than professor. “All they ever heard about was how great Chomsky was,” he says. He was a linguist with a dual focus: studying the Pirahã language and trying to save the Pirahã from hell. The second part, he found, was tough because the Pirahã are rooted in the present. They don’t discuss the future or the distant past. They don’t have a belief in gods or an afterlife. And they have a strong cultural resistance to the influence of outsiders, dubbing all non-Pirahã “crooked heads.” They responded to Everett’s evangelism with indifference or ridicule.

As he puts it now, the Pirahã weren’t lost, and therefore they had no interest in being saved. They are a happy people. Living in the present has been an excellent strategy, and their lack of faith in the divine has not hindered them. Everett came to convert them, but over many years found that his own belief in God had melted away.

So did his belief in Chomsky, albeit for different reasons. The Pirahã language is remarkable in many respects. Entire conversations can be whistled, making it easier to communicate in the jungle while hunting. Also, the Pirahã don’t use numbers. They have words for amounts, like a lot or a little, but nothing for five or one hundred. Most significantly, for Everett’s argument, he says their language lacks what linguists call “recursion”—that is, the Pirahã don’t embed phrases in other phrases. They instead speak only in short, simple sentences.

Beyond mere linguistics, the differences in the two theories have powerful implications overflowing into the moral and political question of equality. If certain peoples perceive and understand the world in fundamentally different ways, it is possible that their language and entire culture may not be equal to our own. Their language and culture may fundamentally limit their capabilities, and Imperialism may actually be morally obligatory.

24 Mar 2012

Danish Television Punches Obama Above Its Weight

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It turns out that small countries pay attention to what insincere US presidents say about other US allied countries and themselves.

Hat tip to Peter Somerville.

23 Mar 2012

Miniature Kiev

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Incredibly detailed miniature animated portrait of the capital of Ukraine.

Hat tip to Walter Olson.

23 Mar 2012

RMS Titanic

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Sonar image of the wreck

The upcoming April issue of the National Geographic will be devoted to coverage, including then and now photographs, commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, which struck an iceberg on April 15, 1912.

22 Mar 2012

Osage Oranges Were Made For Megafauna

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Since arriving in Virginia, Karen and I have frequently marveled at the Osage orange, a fruit-producing tree not encountered in my native Pennsylvania or in New England where we attended college and resided for decades.

The Osage orange was evidently ill-advisedly imported into Virginia as a decorative tree, and it responds to that hospitality by covering the ground every Fall with enormous bumpy fruits that nothing eats and which simply lie on the ground and rot.

I wondered out loud recently why a tree would bother to produce enormous fruits in great quantity that were inedible. Fruit production, after all, constitutes a system of bribery by members of the botanical kingdom. The tree or bush produces a tasty fruit or berry, and birds and animals consume them and consequently carry away and redistribute the plant’s seeds.

There are all those Osage orange trees busily producing gigantic, but inedible, citrus fruits that nobody wants. Why is this? I wondered. It just seemed very strange.

Happily, Karen found the answer just a few days later, in American Forests.

It turns out the Osage orange fruits, like certain others, used to have customers who liked eating them. Unfortunately, their natural Pleistocene megafauna audience went extinct.

[L]et’s return to the forlorn fruit of the Osage orange. Nothing today eats it. Once it drops from the tree, all of them on a given tree practically in unison, the only way it moves is to roll downhill or float in flood waters. Why would you evolve such an over-engineered, energetically expensive fruit if gravity and water are your only dispersers, and you like to grow on higher ground? You wouldn’t. Unless you expected it to be eaten by mammoths or ground-sloths.

According to my field guide, Osage-orange has a limited natural range in the Red River region of east-central Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, and adjacent Arkansas. Indians used to travel hundreds of miles for the wood, prized as the finest for making bows. Then European settlers planted it widely as living fences, taking advantage of the tree’s ability to spread via shoots from lateral roots. But Osage-orange persisted, and became widely naturalized long after the invention of barbed wire rendered them useless to farmers. The tree can now be found in 39 states and Ontario. If Osage-orange does so well elsewhere, why was it restricted to such a small area?

The answer likely lies in the disappearance of its primary disperser. Without mammoths, groundsloths, and other megafauna to transport its seeds uphill, the range of the species gradually shrank to the Red River region. In fact, fossils tell us that Osage-orange was much more widespread and diverse before the megafaunal extinctions. Back then, Osage-oranges could be found north up to Ontario, and there were seven, not just one, species in the Osage-orange genus, Maclura.

Another anachronistic tree is the Kentucky coffeetree, so named because early Kentucky settlers used its beans as a coffee substitute. Coffeetrees have tough, leathery pods with large, toxic seeds surrounded by a sweet pulp. Water cannot penetrate the thick seed coat to begin germination unless it is abraded or cut. Sounds like mammoth food to me. The natural range of coffeetrees is concentrated in the Midwest, but without its megafauna disperser, it is generally rare and mostly limited to floodplains.

Much the same can be said about the honeylocust, with its sweet seedpods up to 18 inches long. It is more common than coffeetrees, and is found in upland areas because cattle have filled in for the mastodons, camels, or some other dearly departed megamammal with a sweet tooth. The big-fruited pawpaws, persimmons, desert gourds, and wild squash may also have been dispersed more efficiently by recently extinct mammals.

Now when you see an Osage-orange, coffeetree, or honeylocust, you might sense the ghosts of megafauna munching on treats made just for them.

21 Mar 2012

The Republican Budget Versus the Obama Budget

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I’d call that a significant choice.

Ezra Klein offers the left’s intellectually bankrupt and futile response. Young Ezra has nothing to offer but emotionally manipulative appeals to sentimentality. The Obama budget must be supported, regardless of consequences or affordability because it spends lots of money on the poor. “The poor” are a species of Brahmanic sacred cattle whose interests trump reality.

It doesn’t matter if you bankrupt the country and strangle economic growth affecting everyone. If you fail to immolate the American economy on the altar of bleeding heart social consciousness, you are just mean!

Ezra is a member of the economic school that wants to raise taxes (and stifle economic activity) now. After all, as unidentified “experts” cited by the Associated Press announced today, no study accepted by the left proves that drilling (and thereby increasing petroleum supply) reduces gas prices.

If you are simply an irrational emotionalist, economics is whatever left-wing studies say it is, and the proper operation of any economy really consists of transfers of wealth from the more affluent to the less affluent members of society.

Hat tip to Bruce Kessler.

21 Mar 2012

Activist Left Whipping Up a Lynch Mob

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Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

Yesterday, the more intellectually conformist element of my Facebook female friends began linking leftwing agitprop stories, like this one featuring a petition and all presenting one-sided, partisan, and axe-grinding accounts of the February 26th shooting of a 17-year-old African American by a 28-year-old Latino neighborhood watch captain in the Orlando, Florida, suburb of Sanford.

Zimmerman was not charged by the Sanford police, and accusations of racial bias being behind the failure of local authorities to prosecute the shooter originally leveled by the family of the 17-year-old were taken up by the local African American community and spread through the left-wing activist grape-vine to the Huffington Post’s Trymaine Lee, who one week ago produced a professionally researched, carefully drafted, and thoroughly partisan account complete with 12 pages of pictures of Trayvon Martin as a baby and small boy.

Coverage spread to standard extremist left-wing outlets like Daily Kos, Fire Dog Lake, and Mother Jones, and to mainstream media outlets which happily accepted the narrative carefully framed by representatives of the professional left.

Trayvon Martin, we are informed, was unarmed, innocently returning from a trip to the convenience store, carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. He began to be followed by George Zimmerman, an allegedly self-appointed neighborhood watch captain armed with a 9mm handgun. Zimmerman was racially profiling Trayvon Martin as his Sanford gated community had experienced 8 burglaries in the last 15th months, typically by young black males.

Zimmerman made numerous 911 calls (46 over 12 years) and on February 26 called and reported Trayvon Martin as a suspicious person. Despite being advised not to follow him, Zimmerman went after and accosted Martin.

Trayvon Martin recognized that he was being followed and phoned a 16-year-old girlfriend to discuss this, rather than calling the police. Martin also responded to finding himself under surveillance by deciding to “put his hoodie on,” i.e. to put his sweatshirt hood up over his head so as largely to conceal his face.

At that point published accounts of what happened omit vital details and contradictions begin to appear.

It is evident that Zimmerman confronted Martin and a physical struggle ensued which was ended by a fatal gunshot to Trayvon Martin’s chest.

There is a very incomplete version of events provided by Stanford Police Chief Bil Lee to the Miami Herald:

“Mr. Zimmerman’s claim is that the confrontation was initiated by Trayvon,” Police Chief Bill Lee said in an interview. “I am not going into specifics of what led to the violent physical encounter witnessed by residents. All the physical evidence and testimony we have independent of what Mr. Zimmerman provides corroborates this claim to self-defense.”

To claim self-defense, someone has to show there was danger of great bodily harm or death, Lee said. “Zimmerman had injuries consistent with his story,” Lee said.

Zimmerman had a damp shirt, grass stains, a bloody nose and was bleeding from a wound in back of his head, according to police reports.

“If someone asks you, ‘Hey do you live here?’ is it OK for you to jump on them and beat the crap out of somebody?” Lee said. “It’s not.”

Immediately before the shot was fired, a witness reports hearing “someone crying — not boo-hoo crying, but scared or terrified or hurt maybe.” This witness thought she was hearing a child. It is disputed whether the cries for assistance came from Trayvon Martin or from Zimmerman.

As of this moment, the activist left has gotten 821,488 people to sign a petition accepting their own one-sided, ultra-partisan version of events and demanding the prosecution of George Zimmerman, which I think shows that you can use racial stereotypes just as effectively to whip up mob indignation today as you could a hundred years ago. The stereotypes have changed, but the human inclination to respond with predictable emotions when the right buttons are pushed has not.

The truth of the matter is we do not know what Trayvon Martin was really doing. We do not know what actually happened. And we have nothing beyond the unsupported testimony of the same combination of the local black community and the activist national left that always testifies to the absolute innocence of every African American who gets into trouble with the police, or is shot during a hold-up by an ordinary armed citizen, to go on. It was precisely the same kind of reliable sources that, a few decades ago, told us all about what those white police officers had done to poor Tawana Brawley.

Meanwhile, the same Obama Administration Department of Justice that declined to do anything about voter intimidation by Black Panthers in Philadelphia has announced its intention of intervening to deliver its own version of justice. George Zimmerman would be well advised not only to lawyer up, but to Latino up.

19 Mar 2012

Whit Stillman is Back

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After 12 years of silence, Whit Stillman, to young American haute bourgeoisie what Akira Kurosawa was to ronin samurai, has returned to feature film directing. Damsels in Distress, theoretically released in 2011 in order to qualify for various cinema awards is about to start showing in the theaters.

The New York Times‘ description sounds exactly like a Whit Stillman flick.

“Damsels in Distress” follows four college girls, Heather, Lily, Rose and Violet, as they grapple with problems ranging from love troubles to toxic frat-house odors and suicide attempts by education majors who insist on throwing themselves off two-story buildings. (“If they can’t even destroy themselves, how are they going to teach America’s youth?” Rose asks.) The students at Seven Oaks, the fictional college, have a lot in common with the preppies and patricians of “Metropolitan” (1990), “Barcelona” (1994) and “The Last Days of Disco” (1998), the autobiographical trilogy that prompted reviewers to call Stillman “the WASP Woody Allen” and “the Dickens of people with too much inner life.” They grope for direction but are seldom lost for words, and beneath their barmy crotchets and pretentious dissertations there’s heartache and yearning. Stillman is the knight-errant of sneered-at bourgeois values. He extols the overlooked merits of convention and the hidden virtues of the status quo. Inveighing against “cool people” and the social cachet of “uniqueness, eccentricity, independence,” the transfer student Lily asks: “Does the world really want or need more of such traits? Aren’t such people usually terrible pains in the neck? What the world needs to work properly is a large mass of normal people — I’d like to be one those.”

and

18 Mar 2012

“Don’t Know Much About History”

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Some of the basic objectionable features of liberalism include a profound contempt for the past combined with an overwheening sense of personal superiority. Barack Obama excels at embodying liberalism.

His energy policy speech, delivered on Thursday at Prince George Community College, was a truly classic performance, featuring an utterly empty and fraudulent claim to eminence based upon superior learning and understanding embodied in a series of totally erroneous self-flattering comparisons.

Barack Obama demonstrated, once and for all, that he is an historically-illiterate imbecile, too ignorant, vainglorious, and incompetent to factcheck supposed historical claims, which really constituted a series of excellent examples of “things every badly educated idiot know to be true,” all of which were dead wrong.

Mark Steyn did a fine job of kicking Barack Obama’s boneheaded and abysmally ignorant butt around the block for this one, not failing to remind his readers of the time liberal presidential historian Michael Beschloss (Andover, Williams, Harvard) shared his opinion with the savant Don Imus that Barack Obama “is a guy whose IQ is off the charts” and “probably the smartest guy ever to become president.” The gods of history fell over laughing.

As John Hinderaker reports “the smartest guy ever to become president”‘s public pratfall was not without consequences. A new Internet meme of captioned portraits of Rutherford B. Hayes, avenging himself for Barack Obozo’s inaccurate slights, has taken off and become a craze.

You can see page after page of examples via this QuickMeme link.

17 Mar 2012

St. Patrick’s Day

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From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

LEGENDARY HISTORY OF ST. PATRICK

Almost as many countries arrogate the honour of having been the natal soil of St. Patrick, as made a similar claim with respect to Homer. Scotland, England, France, and Wales, each furnish their respective pretensions: but, whatever doubts may obscure his birthplace, all agree in stating that, as his name implies, he was of a patrician family. He was born about the year 372, and when only sixteen years of age, was carried off by pirates, who sold him into slavery in Ireland; where his master employed him as a swineherd on the well-known mountain of Sleamish, in the county of Antrim. Here he passed seven years, during which time he acquired a knowledge of the Irish language, and made himself acquainted with the manners, habits, and customs of the people. Escaping from captivity, and, after many adventures, reaching the Continent, he was successively ordained deacon, priest, and bishop: and then once more, with the authority of Pope Celestine, he returned to Ireland to preach the Gospel to its then heathen inhabitants.

The principal enemies that St. Patrick found to the introduction of Christianity into Ireland, were the Druidical priests of the more ancient faith, who, as might naturally be supposed, were exceedingly adverse to any innovation. These Druids, being great magicians, would have been formidable antagonists to any one of less miraculous and saintly powers than Patrick. Their obstinate antagonism was so great, that, in spite of his benevolent disposition, he was compelled to curse their fertile lands, so that they became dreary bogs: to curse their rivers, so that they produced no fish: to curse their very kettles, so that with no amount of fire and patience could they ever be made to boil; and, as a last resort, to curse the Druids themselves, so that the earth opened and swallowed them up. …

The greatest of St. Patrick’s miracles was that of driving the venomous reptiles out of Ireland, and rendering the Irish soil, for ever after, so obnoxious to the serpent race, that they instantaneously die on touching it. Colgan seriously relates that St. Patrick accomplished this feat by beating a drum, which he struck with such fervour that he knocked a hole in it, thereby endangering the success of the miracle. But an angel appearing mended the drum: and the patched instrument was long exhibited as a holy relic. …

When baptizing an Irish chieftain, the venerable saint leaned heavily on his crozier, the steel-spiked point of which he had unwittingly placed on the great toe of the converted heathen. The pious chief, in his ignorance of Christian rites, believing this to be an essential part of the ceremony, bore the pain without flinching or murmur; though the blood flowed so freely from the wound, that the Irish named the place St. fhuil (stream of blood), now pronounced Struill, the name of a well-known place near Downpatrick. And here we are reminded of a very remarkable fact in connection with geographical appellations, that the footsteps of St. Patrick can be traced, almost from his cradle to his grave, by the names of places called after him.

Thus, assuming his Scottish origin, he was born at Kilpatrick (the cell or church of Patrick), in Dumbartonshire. He resided for some time at Dalpatrick (the district or division of Patrick), in Lanarkshire; and visited Crag-phadrig (the rock of Patrick), near Inverness. He founded two churches, Kirkpatrick at Irongray, in Kireudbright; and Kirkpatrick at Fleming, in Dumfries: and ultimately sailed from Portpatrick, leaving behind him such an odour of sanctity, that among the most distinguished families of the Scottish aristocracy, Patrick has been a favourite name down to the present day.

Arriving in England, he preached in Patterdale (Patrick’s dale), in Westmoreland: and founded the church of Kirkpatrick, in Durham. Visiting Wales, he walked over Sarn-badrig (Patrick’s causeway), which, now covered by the sea, forms a dangerous shoal in Carnarvon Bay: and departing for the Continent, sailed from Llan-badrig (the church of Patrick), in the island of Anglesea. Undertaking his mission to convert the Irish, he first landed at Innis-patrick (the island of Patrick), and next at Holmpatrick, on the opposite shore of the mainland, in the county of Dublin. Sailing northwards, he touched at the Isle of Man, sometimes since, also, called. Innis-patrick, where he founded another church of Kirkpatrick, near the town of Peel. Again landing on the coast of Ireland, in the county of Down, he converted and baptized the chieftain Dichu, on his own threshing-floor. The name of the parish of Saul, derived from Sabbal-patrick (the barn of Patrick), perpetuates the event. He then proceeded to Temple-patrick, in Antrim, and from thence to a lofty mountain in Mayo, ever since called Croagh-patrick.

He founded an abbey in East Meath, called Domnach-Padraig (the house of Patrick), and built a church in Dublin on the spot where St. Patrick’s Cathedral now stands. In an island of Lough Deng, in the county of Donegal, there is St. Patrick’s Purgatory: in Leinster, St. Patrick’s Wood; at Cashel, St. Patrick’s Rock; the St. Patrick’s Wells, at which the holy man is said to have quenched his thirst, may be counted by dozens. He is commonly stated to have died at Saul on the 17th of March 493, in the one hundred and twenty-first year of his age.

Poteen, a favourite beverage in Ireland, is also said to have derived its name from St. Patrick: he, according to legend, being the first who instructed the Irish in the art of distillation. This, however, is, to say the least, doubtful: the most authentic historians representing the saint as a very strict promoter of temperance, if not exactly a teetotaller. We read that in 445 he commanded his disciples to abstain from drink in the day-time, until the bell rang for vespers in the evening. One Colman, though busily engaged in the severe labours of the field, exhausted with heat, fatigue, and intolerable thirst, obeyed so literally the injunction of his revered preceptor, that he refrained from indulging himself with one drop of water during a long sultry harvest day. But human endurance has its limits: when the vesper bell at last rang for evensong, Colman dropped down dead—a martyr to thirst. Irishmen can well appreciate such a martyrdom; and the name of Colman, to this day, is frequently cited, with the added epithet of Shadhack—the Thirsty.

    ‘In Burgo Duno, tumulo tumulantur in uno,
    Brigida, Patricius, atque Columba pins.’

Which may be thus rendered:

    ‘In the hill of Down, buried in one tomb,
    Were Bridget and Patricius, with Columba the pious.’

The shamrock, or small white clover (trifolium repens of botanists), is almost universally worn in the hat over all Ireland, on St. Patrick’s day. The popular notion is, that when St. Patrick was preaching the doctrine of the Trinity to the pagan Irish, he used this plant, bearing three leaves upon one stem, as a symbol or illustration of the great mystery. To suppose, as some absurdly hold, that he used it as an argument, would be derogatory to the saint’s high reputation for orthodoxy and good sense: but it is certainly a curious coincidence, if nothing more, that the trefoil in Arabic is called skamrakh, and was held sacred in Iran as emblematical of the Persian Triads. Pliny, too, in his Natural History, says that serpents are never seen upon trefoil, and it prevails against the stings of snakes and scorpions. This, considering St. Patrick’s connexion with snakes, is really remarkable, and we may reasonably imagine that, previous to his arrival, the Irish had ascribed mystical virtues to the trefoil or shamrock, and on hearing of the Trinity for the first time, they fancied some peculiar fitness in their already sacred plant to shadow forth the newly revealed and mysterious doctrine. …

In the Galtee or Gaultie Mountains, situated between the counties of Cork and Tipperary, there are seven lakes, in one of which, called Lough Dilveen, it is said Saint Patrick, when banishing the snakes and toads from Ireland, chained a monster serpent, telling him to remain there till Monday.

The serpent every Monday morning calls out in Irish, ‘It is a long Monday, Patrick.’

That St Patrick chained the serpent in Lough Dilveen, and that the serpent calls out to him every Monday morning, is firmly believed by the lower orders who live in the neighbourhood of the Lough.

17 Mar 2012

Images of Irish Hunting

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An Irish huntsman.

A video of Siobhan English’s photos of Irish hunting. 9:58 video. It could use a better sound track, but the photos are great.

17 Mar 2012

The Black Fly Song

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Those of us who frequent the North Woods in pursuit of Atlantic salmon are only too familiar with these insatiable and numberless horrors. They are at their worst in Labrador on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence. You can find a version there as large as your thumbnail.

Hat tip to Walter Olson.

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