A story of lasts

Two tales of extinction from Tasmania.

Earlier in May, I read about the efforts to clone the Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine) an animal whose last known representative died in captivity in 1936 (see video at BBC).

I studied about the Tasmanian Tiger when I wrote a four-part story about cryptozoology, extinct and legandary animals, and the giant squid in Tale of Two Monsters. According to an article in ENN:

It took humans only some 70 years to make the Tasmanian tiger extinct, as farmers in the 1800s began shooting, poisoning, gassing, and trapping the animal, blaming it for attacking sheep. The last known Tasmanian tiger died in 1936, and it was officially declared extinct in 1986.

Today, Allan pointed to this sad tale of the return of pieces of the body of Truganinni, the woman who is considered “the last Tasmanian Aborigine”.(Descendants of the early aborigines have survived, though none are full-blooded.)

The British Royal College of Surgeons pilfered the pieces long ago for study, and only just discovered them again in January. Since the Tasmanian aborigines believe their bodies should lie in rest near their home, the pieces of Truganinni are being returned for ceremonial burial.

Accounts about the deliberate extermination of the Tasmanian aborigine bear a remarkable resemblance to those taken to exterminate the Tasmanian Tigers. According to Jared Diamond:

Tactics for hunting down Tasmanians included riding out on horseback to shoot them, setting out steel traps to catch them, and putting out poison flour where they might find and eat it. Sheperds cut off the penis of aboriginal men, to watch the men run a few yards before dying.

The final efforts to eliminate the aborigines occurred through that most efficient of destructive agents – religion. When only about 300 aborigines still lived, George Augustus Robinson a self styled preacher convinced the remnants to join him in a sanctuary created for them on Flinders Island. There he would convert them over to Christianity and “modern ways” while he protected them from further destruction. Unfortunately, the Island became a prison rather than a refuge, and Robinson helped complete the work started so enthusiastically by the other settlers.

Note: In the interest of disclosing possible bias, I should point out that here in the United States, we share much of the same efficiency as our Australian brethren when it comes to killing or displacing natives – human and otherwise.

RDF Weblogging

Doing my part: RSS auto-discovery

Since weblogging is all about RSS and aggregation, I’ve added the Mark Pilgrim RSS auto-discovery code to my weblog’s template.

Note: In the interests of disclosing any bias, be aware that I am writing a book on RDF, and that I support RSS 1.0 based on the RDF specification.



I took that Belief-o-Matic test that’s supposed to tell you the religious system that best suits you.

After finishing the test I waited for the results. And waited. And waited. Finally a simple plain white web page opened, and in the middle of the page I read the following words:


I reached a place where every light is muted,
which bellows like the sea beneath a tempest,
when it is battered by opposing winds.

The hellish hurricane, which never rests,
drives on the spirits with its violence:
wheeling and pounding, it harasses them.

The soul falls headlong, down into this cistern;
and up above, perhaps, there still appears
the body of the shade that winters here.


As I puzzled over the results, a beating sound started coming from my computer and my monitor started slowing spinning. I was amazed since I was using a laptop and the monitor doesn’t spin.

Faster went the monitor, louder was the beating, smoke poured from the machine until all of a sudden the monitor stopped spinning and displayed

The Blue Screen of Death

And then my machine died. A melted plastic blob, still faintly smoking. In the air, the subtle scent of burnt plastic mixed in with overripe ocean and rotten eggs.

Luckily I had this backup machine so I could post to my weblog. Unfortunately, I don’t have any results from the test to post.


Just Shelley

And the seagull cried…

I knew today would be one of those days when I put on a black shirt and black denim pants. My only color was a turquoise necklace – primitive silver encasing the brilliant blue of a clear Arizona morning.

I bypassed my usual music, turning the radio to a station that features the likes of AC/DC, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin. Normally I cut such strong music with softer tunes, but not today. Today I wanted to rip into the air with sound.

Outside, a strong wind was blowing, knocking down tree branches and signs, pushing against the people walking along the street. I headed down to Crissy Fields, knowing I would have the beach to myself.

On the way I followed a muscle car – a black Camaro – and stayed behind him until he turned. I wanted to listen to the sound of the car; a deep, throaty rumble, part growl, part purr. A politically incorrect car among all the politely quiet and refined Mercedes, Audis, BWMs, Lexus, and my lone little Focus.

At that moment I would have sold my soul for a Harley.

I left the digital camera at home, and stopped by the photo shop for a few rolls of B & W film. I wanted to feel the heft of my regular camera, and to pay the consequences of a bad shot. And I didn’t want color. I wanted smug black and white, arrogant gray – to capture form and thought and not be distracted by neutral tans and safe blues.

The Bay was stormy, with an extremely high tide. The waves tore aggressively at the beach, depositing weeds and crabs and other debris in the water’s wake. The wind blew directly into the waves, sending sand into the air and water, stinging the skin of my face and arms.

I wanted to rip my clothes off and let the sand burn me clean.

I stood at the edge of the water, facing into the waves, back to the wind. I lifted my arms from my sides, and the wind blew around my body as the water inched closer to my feet.

And there I stood, balanced between wind and wave, face tilted towards the sun.


Traveling through Arizona

I took Interstate 8 from San Diego to Arizona, and stopped at a rest area outside El Centro while still in California. As I got out of the car, I heard this jet sound. Looking up, I saw four jets in close formation directly overhead — the rest area was right next to the base where the Blue Angels practice their show. So I grabbed my water and my crackers and cheese and watched the entire show from the best seats a person could have. Serendipity.

I stayed my first night outside Flagstaff, and the next day went hiking around the Cathedral rocks in the Red Rock country in Sedona. If you’ve ever been in Sedona, you know how incredibly beautiful the countryside is. I took several photos but they don’t even capture the “rightness” of this area. Rust red rocks, dark green scrub, and blue skies, though the sky that day was overcast.

There wasn’t anyone at the park when I got there, which just blew me away. I walked along the stream when I came upon this field of piled rocks. People who visited would take river stones and pile them just as the rock artists in San Francisco. A novel way of marking your visit, without any harm to the area. Eventually the weather and critters will knock the little pyramids down and the stones become fodder for the next artist. Can you see my little pyramid in the photos? Free trip to Arizona for anyone that spots the correct one — one guess to a customer.

On the way back I decided to deteour through the Navajo Indian Nation. I thought I could take Highway 160 to 64 and make Santa Fe by evening. What a lousy judge of distance I am.

The Navajo Indian Nation is probably the most inspiring land I’ve seen. It changes constantly from desert to plains to cliffs to hills to rocks to farms. You can’t get bored, but you can get overwhelmed. On thing I had read is that you don’t want to be on the Reservation at night because livestock and wild animals are frequently on the road and it can be very dangerous.

As the afternoon wore on and I saw no end in sight of Arizona, much less getting close to Santa Fe, I started inching my speed up on the car. Well, that was a mistake. The Navajo police are meticulous about the letter of the law. Sure enough, here come the lights. Driver’s license less than 8 months and I get a speeding ticket.

The officer was very nice and asked me the usual, including did I know I was going 71 in a 65 MPH zone. I answered truthfully, that yes, I knew it but I had badly misjudged the length of time to cross the reservation and was concerned about being on the road at night. He checked me out, and maybe because I was honest, and probably because he was a very decent person, he just gave me a warning — saving me I don’t know how much money in insurance rates.

He also told me I would be out of the Res in about an hour, but still in the back country.

At that point I checked the map and decided to cut directly down to the freeway on another road. I started out at dusk and drove for much longer than expected. I’m almost out of gas, it’s dark, the highway isn’t that well traveled and I haven’t seen a sign about what highway I’m on, and when I’ll hit something. Well, something friendly.

I did NOT want to run out of gas in the back country. Sure, I’d be safe enough, though cold. Still — I’m a coward, and I have a real thing about being out in the country all by my lonesome without any preparation, late at night.

Luckily, cars became more frequent, I found a gas station, I got gas, I got on the freeway.

Point to make — having an adventure because you plan it, or deliberately grabbing an opportunity is great; having one happen because you keep making stupid mistakes is a completely different thing.

Next day, I was tired and wanted to just get to my friend’s in St. Louis. I drove through the rest of New Mexico, Texas, most of Oklahoma, and most of Missouri. I drove 18 hours with little break.

Crossing Missouri was a nightmare. It was night, I was exhausted, and there were so many semi-trucks out that I thought I had stumbled on to a trucker’s convention. I spent three solid hours playing dodge car with trucks that could make a smear out of Golden Girl. Worse, I was having real problems seeing at night. In fact, I found that my night vision for driving was extremely poor — is this normal?

By the time I got to St. Louis, I was so tired that I was driving 45 MPH in a 65MPH zone, weaving all over the road. At one point, I was actually confused about the lines on the road and the exit I was to take. Once off the freeway, I had to call my friend on my cell and have him give me step by step instructions to get to his place.

That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done! I will never ever drive that long again, and to that point of exhaustion. I could have killed myself or worse, someone else! And playing games with semi-trucks? Rocks for brains.

All in all, though, I had an enlightening first long distance trip. And I’m already planning my next visit to Arizona — where I will obey the traffic signals to a letter, as well as stay for much longer than a few days.