Gastronomy is the science of pain

Sunday, June 10th, 2018

Anthony Bourdain got his start in writing with this piece for the The New Yorker — which, from the get-go, demonstrates his dark streak:

Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay. It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger — risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese, and shellfish. Your first two hundred and seven Wellfleet oysters may transport you to a state of rapture, but your two hundred and eighth may send you to bed with the sweats, chills, and vomits.

Gastronomy is the science of pain. Professional cooks belong to a secret society whose ancient rituals derive from the principles of stoicism in the face of humiliation, injury, fatigue, and the threat of illness. The members of a tight, well-greased kitchen staff are a lot like a submarine crew. Confined for most of their waking hours in hot, airless spaces, and ruled by despotic leaders, they often acquire the characteristics of the poor saps who were press-ganged into the royal navies of Napoleonic times — superstition, a contempt for outsiders, and a loyalty to no flag but their own.

Ape-men and dactyloscopy

Friday, April 13th, 2018

When I first read Tarzan of the Apes years ago, I was surprised by a number of things, including how fingerprints were still seen as cutting-edge science in a novel from 1912:

The ape-man was anxious to proceed to America, but D’Arnot insisted that he must accompany him to Paris first, nor would he divulge the nature of the urgent necessity upon which he based his demand.

One of the first things which D’Arnot accomplished after their arrival was to arrange to visit a high official of the police department, an old friend; and to take Tarzan with him.

Adroitly D’Arnot led the conversation from point to point until the policeman had explained to the interested Tarzan many of the methods in vogue for apprehending and identifying criminals.

Not the least interesting to Tarzan was the part played by finger prints in this fascinating science.

“But of what value are these imprints,” asked Tarzan, “when, after a few years the lines upon the fingers are entirely changed by the wearing out of the old tissue and the growth of new?”

“The lines never change,” replied the official. “From infancy to senility the fingerprints of an individual change only in size, except as injuries alter the loops and whorls. But if imprints have been taken of the thumb and four fingers of both hands one must needs lose all entirely to escape identification.”

“It is marvelous,” exclaimed D’Arnot. “I wonder what the lines upon my own fingers may resemble.”

“We can soon see,” replied the police officer, and ringing a bell he summoned an assistant to whom he issued a few directions.

The man left the room, but presently returned with a little hardwood box which he placed on his superior’s desk.

“Now,” said the officer, “you shall have your fingerprints in a second.”

He drew from the little case a square of plate glass, a little tube of thick ink, a rubber roller, and a few snowy white cards.

Squeezing a drop of ink onto the glass, he spread it back and forth with the rubber roller until the entire surface of the glass was covered to his satisfaction with a very thin and uniform layer of ink.

“Place the four fingers of your right hand upon the glass, thus,” he said to D’Arnot. “Now the thumb. That is right. Now place them in just the same position upon this card, here, no–a little to the right. We must leave room for the thumb and the fingers of the left hand. There, that’s it. Now the same with the left.”

“Come, Tarzan,” cried D’Arnot, “let’s see what your whorls look like.”

Tarzan complied readily, asking many questions of the officer during the operation.

“Do fingerprints show racial characteristics?” he asked. “Could you determine, for example, solely from fingerprints whether the subject was Negro or Caucasian?”

“I think not,” replied the officer.

“Could the finger prints of an ape be detected from those of a man?”

“Probably, because the ape’s would be far simpler than those of the higher organism.”

“But a cross between an ape and a man might show the characteristics of either progenitor?” continued Tarzan.

“Yes, I should think likely,” responded the official; “but the science has not progressed sufficiently to render it exact enough in such matters. I should hate to trust its findings further than to differentiate between individuals. There it is absolute. No two people born into the world probably have ever had identical lines upon all their digits. It is very doubtful if any single fingerprint will ever be exactly duplicated by any finger other than the one which originally made it.”

“Does the comparison require much time or labor?” asked D’Arnot.

“Ordinarily but a few moments, if the impressions are distinct.”

One reason this all surprised me was that I was certain I’d read about Sherlock Holmes using fingerprints in much older stories — but Holmes was ahead of his time, and the stories weren’t quite as old as I’d assumed:

Conan Doyle made Holmes a man of science and an innovator of forensic methods. Holmes is so much at the forefront of detection that he has authored several monographs on crime-solving techniques. In several instances the extremely well-read Conan Doyle depicted Holmes using methods years before they were adopted by official police forces in both Britain and America.

Holmes was quick to realize the value of fingerprint evidence. The first case in which fingerprints are mentioned is The Sign of the Four (1890); Scotland Yard did not begin to use fingerprints until 1901. Thirty-six years later in the 55th story, “The Adventure of the Three Gables” (1926), fingerprints still figure in detection. In “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” (1903), the appearance of a fingerprint is the key piece of evidence in the solution of the crime. It is interesting to note that Conan Doyle chose to have Holmes use fingerprints but not Bertillonage (also called anthropometry), the system of identification invented by Alphonse Bertillon in Paris that pivoted on measuring 12 characteristics of the body. The two methods competed for forensic ascendancy for many years. By having Holmes use fingerprints rather than Bertillonage, the astute Conan Doyle picked the method with the soundest scientific future.

Fingerprints have a long history:

Jan Evangelista Purkinje (1787–1869), a Czech physiologist and professor of anatomy at the University of Breslau, published a thesis in 1823 discussing 9 fingerprint patterns, but he did not mention any possibility of using fingerprints to identify people.

In 1840, following the murder of Lord William Russell, a provincial doctor, Robert Blake Overton, wrote to Scotland Yard suggesting checking for fingerprints but the suggestion, though followed up, did not lead to their routine use by the police for another 50 years.

Some years later, the German anatomist Georg von Meissner (1829–1905) studied friction ridges, and five years after this, in 1858, Sir William James Herschel initiated fingerprinting in India. In 1877 at Hooghly (near Calcutta) he instituted the use of fingerprints on contracts and deeds to prevent the then-rampant repudiation of signatures and he registered government pensioners’ fingerprints to prevent the collection of money by relatives after a pensioner’s death. Herschel also fingerprinted prisoners upon sentencing to prevent various frauds that were attempted in order to avoid serving a prison sentence.

In 1863, Paul-Jean Coulier (1824–1890), professor for chemistry and hygiene at the medical and pharmaceutical school of the Val-de-Grâce military hospital in Paris, discovered that iodine fumes can reveal fingerprints on paper.

In 1880, Dr. Henry Faulds, a Scottish surgeon in a Tokyo hospital, published his first paper on the subject in the scientific journal Nature, discussing the usefulness of fingerprints for identification and proposing a method to record them with printing ink. He also established their first classification and was also the first to identify fingerprints left on a vial. Returning to the UK in 1886, he offered the concept to the Metropolitan Police in London but it was dismissed at that time.

Faulds wrote to Charles Darwin with a description of his method but, too old and ill to work on it, Darwin gave the information to his cousin, Francis Galton, who was interested in anthropology. Having been thus inspired to study fingerprints for ten years, Galton published a detailed statistical model of fingerprint analysis and identification and encouraged its use in forensic science in his book Finger Prints. He had calculated that the chance of a “false positive” (two different individuals having the same fingerprints) was about 1 in 64 billion.

Juan Vucetich, an Argentine chief police officer, created the first method of recording the fingerprints of individuals on file, associating these fingerprints to the anthropometric system of Alphonse Bertillon, who had created, in 1879, a system to identify individuals by anthropometric photographs and associated quantitative descriptions. In 1892, after studying Galton’s pattern types, Vucetich set up the world’s first fingerprint bureau. In that same year, Francisca Rojas of Necochea, was found in a house with neck injuries, whilst her two sons were found dead with their throats cut. Rojas accused a neighbour, but despite brutal interrogation, this neighbour would not confess to the crimes. Inspector Alvarez, a colleague of Vucetich, went to the scene and found a bloody thumb mark on a door. When it was compared with Rojas’ prints, it was found to be identical with her right thumb. She then confessed to the murder of her sons.

Women clerical employees of the Los Angeles Police Department being fingerprinted and photographed in 1928.
A Fingerprint Bureau was established in Calcutta (Kolkata), India, in 1897, after the Council of the Governor General approved a committee report that fingerprints should be used for the classification of criminal records. Working in the Calcutta Anthropometric Bureau, before it became the first Fingerprint Bureau in the world, were Azizul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose. Haque and Bose were Indian fingerprint experts who have been credited with the primary development of a fingerprint classification system eventually named after their supervisor, Sir Edward Richard Henry.

The Henry Classification System, co-devised by Haque and Bose, was accepted in England and Wales when the first United Kingdom Fingerprint Bureau was founded in Scotland Yard, the Metropolitan Police headquarters, London, in 1901. Sir Edward Richard Henry subsequently achieved improvements in dactyloscopy.

In the United States, Dr. Henry P. DeForrest used fingerprinting in the New York Civil Service in 1902, and by 1906, New York City Police Department Deputy Commissioner Joseph A. Faurot, an expert in the Bertillon system and a finger print advocate at Police Headquarters, introduced the fingerprinting of criminals to the United States.

The Scheffer case of 1902 is the first case of the identification, arrest and conviction of a murderer based upon fingerprint evidence. Alphonse Bertillon identified the thief and murderer Scheffer, who had previously been arrested and his fingerprints filed some months before, from the fingerprints found on a fractured glass showcase, after a theft in a dentist’s apartment where the dentist’s employee was found dead. It was able to be proved in court that the fingerprints had been made after the showcase was broken. A year later, Alphonse Bertillon created a method of getting fingerprints off smooth surfaces and took a further step in the advance of dactyloscopy.

There are other reasons why stories are remembered

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

I recently shared an interview with Frank Herbert, where he and Professor McNelly discuss, among other things, why stories are remembered:

Willis McNelly: I have said this to my classes that, in many ways as satisfying as “Dune” is, I find it unsatisfying because there are so many unanswered questions; you don’t tie up the loose ends of, say, Paul’s sister, unless you read…what is it?.. a “Huntress of a Thousand Worlds” (Laughter)…that marvellous little…little footnote of Princess Alia. But… or several other things. The whole question of the Spacing Guild itself and how it got to be the way it was is handled very…you know…

Frank Herbert: Well, let’s…let’s examine something, as far as fiction in general is concerned…

WM: All right.

FH: Now there are other reasons why stories are remembered, and I’m talking about story in the classic sense of the knights who goes from castle to castle to earn his meal.

WM: All right.

FH: Entertainment…

WM: Sure.

FH: The stories that are remembered are the ones that strike sparks from your mind, one way or another. It’s like a grinding wheel. They touch you and sparks fly.

WM: Would this be something like the Miller’s tale of Chaucer or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, if you please?

FH: Yes, indeed.

WM: Or, well, we could adduce thousands of other examples up to, say, Treasure Island or what you will. There’s sparks there.

FH: OK.

WM: I understand your term.

FH: Now we all have stories that we go on with after we finish reading them. As children, we can remember playing Treasure Island…

WM: Or playing Tom Sawyer…

FH: Or Tom Sawyer…any of these. We remember playing these. The story stayed with us…the characters and their conflicts, their joys, their play all stayed with us.

WM: And it enkindled sparks in our own imagination, so that we were then active in creative play.

FH: That’s exactly right! We went on and told the story ourself…

WM: Yes.

FH: Now, I deliberately did this in “Dune” for that purpose. I want the person to go on and construct for himself all of these marvellous flights of fantasy and imagination. I want him to…you see, you haven’t had the Spacing Guild explained completely…just enough so that you know its existence. Now with lots of people, they’ve got to complete this.

WM: Yes.

FH: So they build it up in their own minds. Now this is right out of the story, though, you see…

WM: Yes. Or the whole…

FH: The sparks have flown.

I found this almost ironic, since I had just watched the first episode of Netflix’s The Toys that Made Us, about the original Star Wars toys, which no major toy manufacturer was willing to produce. Only Kenner was willing to take on the project, because Bernard Loomis recognized how toyetic the new film would be. Millions of kids would go on to play out their own versions of Star Wars, never knowing how heavily it borrowed from Dune.

Give them living eulogies

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

Megan McArdle offers her own 12 rules for life:

  1. Be kind. Mean is easy; kind is hard.
  2. Politics is not the most important thing in the world. It’s just the one people talk about the most.
  3. Always order one extra dish at a restaurant, an unfamiliar one.
  4. Give yourself permission to be bad.
  5. Go to the party even when you don’t want to.
  6. Save 25 percent of your income.
  7. Don’t just pay people compliments; give them living eulogies.
  8. That thing you kinda want to do someday? Do it now.
  9. Human beings are often splendid, the world is often glorious, and nature, red in tooth and claw, also invented kindness, charity and love. Believe in that.
  10. Don’t try to resolve fundamental conflicts with your spouse or roommates.
  11. Be grateful. No matter how awful your life seems at the moment, you have something to be grateful for.
  12. Always make more dinner rolls than you think you can eat.

I’ve been blogging for 15 years!

Saturday, January 20th, 2018

Our Slovenian guest brought it to my attention that I’ve been blogging for 15 years! I don’t have Google Analytics going back to January, 2003, when this site was still hosted on Blogger.com, but I do have data going pretty far back, to December 2005, and my top posts over the years make an eclectic list:

  1. Icelandic skipper kills shark with bare hands (2003)
  2. Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics (2008)
  3. A One-Way Ticket to Mars (2009)
  4. Stalin’s half-man, half-ape super-warriors (2005)
  5. Rich, Black, Flunking (2009)
  6. The ‘Israelification’ of airports (2010)
  7. Foux du Fafa (Foux Da Fa Fa) (2007)
  8. He-Man Opening Monologue (2007)
  9. Archetypal Stories (2004)
  10. Myostatin, Belgian Blue, and Flex Wheeler (2004)

It all started as a way to share interesting links with friends and family and evolved into a digital commonplace book. I didn’t plan on accumulating a couple million page views.

(By the way, my first post was Foreign Scientists Are Stranded By Post-9/11 Security Concerns. Our Slovenian guest asked, “Whatever happened to the mentioned Heng Zhu? I hope to find out soon.” Well, a quick search shows that he made it back into the country and into an important position at Johns Hopkins‘ High Throughput Biology Center.)

I suppose this is a good time to ask you, my gentle readers, how did you find this blog? And what keeps you coming back?

Even nomads take snow days

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Modern nomad Aaron Gulley experiences extreme digital detox in the tundra of Siberia:

Alexey lies in his bed of frost-dusted furs, his breath rising in tendrils like woodsmoke.

In the ashen dawn light inside the chum, a reindeer-hide tepee, I watch slivers of snow slip through crevices at the tent’s apex around the stovepipe. Alexey’s wife, Rosa, clambers up from beside him, rips birch bark from branches stored beneath the stove to coax the embers to flame, then steps outside into a maelstrom of snow.

A storm has blown in overnight, a complication for the Nenets, a tribe of reindeer herders who move their animals across Siberia’s frozen tundra twice a year. The 20-person group, six families known as Brigade 20, have been camped in the same exposed spot for three days with about 3,000 reindeer, and the animals have nearly exhausted the forage. They must cross the Gulf of Ob, a 30-mile-wide ice sheet that separates the Nenets’ winter and summer grounds, before the spring thaw. But March has been unseasonably warm, with temperatures hovering around freezing for the past week, and if conditions persist, the crossing could become perilous. Today’s objective is to close half the 15 miles to the southern gulf, but with the tundra suddenly turned opaque with falling snow, that seems unlikely.

“If you want to know the weather,” Alexey says, exiting, “you have to ask the sky.”

Two days earlier, I, along with 11 other paying tourists and three guides, joined the Nenets on a $4,646, ten-day trip that would take us as far away from the comforts of modern life as possible. Our outfitter, a British tour company called Secret Compass that organizes adventures to some of the planet’s most remote places, presented the journey as both an escape from the relentless grind of the West and an immersion into one of the world’s last nomadic cultures. The landscape, a roadless expanse of central Russia above the Arctic Circle, was daunting, but it was the cold that I found most intimidating. During our first night on the tundra, as we headed into the bleak wilderness with the temperature plummeting below zero, I realized that without the Nenets’ guidance, we’d likely freeze to death within hours.

Inside the chum, a few minutes after Alexey goes out to check the weather, I rise from my bed on the ground, slip the reindeer-fur cloak that I’ve been sleeping beneath over my head, then exit through the flap that serves as the front door. Outside, Alexey battles to keep his cigarette lit amid clots of wet snow blasting sideways. He motions me back inside. We aren’t going anywhere. Following Alexey’s lead, I cozy up under my furs. Even nomads take snow days.

42 rules for dealing with Life, the Universe, and Everything

Friday, January 5th, 2018

Jordan Peterson’s answer to What are the most valuable things everyone should know? garnered quite a bit of attention and led him to consider writing a book of his rules, rather than a simplified version of his Maps of Meaning for a popular audience:

  • Tell the truth.
  • Do not do things that you hate.
  • Act so that you can tell the truth about how you act.
  • Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.
  • If you have to choose, be the one who does things, instead of the one who is seen to do things.
  • Pay attention.
  • Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you need to know. Listen to them hard enough so that they will share it with you.
  • Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationships.
  • Be careful who you share good news with.
  • Be careful who you share bad news with.
  • Make at least one thing better every single place you go.
  • Imagine who you could be, and then aim single-mindedly at that.
  • Do not allow yourself to become arrogant or resentful.
  • Try to make one room in your house as beautiful as possible.
  • Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
  • Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens.
  • If old memories still make you cry, write them down carefully and completely.
  • Maintain your connections with people.
  • Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or artistic achievement.
  • Treat yourself as if you were someone that you are responsible for helping.
  • Ask someone to do you a small favour, so that he or she can ask you to do one in the future.
  • Make friends with people who want the best for you.
  • Do not try to rescue someone who does not want to be rescued, and be very careful about rescuing someone who does.
  • Nothing well done is insignificant.
  • Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.
  • Dress like the person you want to be.
  • Be precise in your speech.
  • Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
  • Don’t avoid something frightening if it stands in your way — and don’t do unnecessarily dangerous things.
  • Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
  • Do not transform your wife into a maid.
  • Do not hide unwanted things in the fog.
  • Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated.
  • Read something written by someone great.
  • Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.
  • Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
  • Don’t let bullies get away with it.
  • Write a letter to the government if you see something that needs fixing — and propose a solution.
  • Remember that what you do not yet know is more important than what you already know.
  • Be grateful in spite of your suffering.

He thought he’d title his book 42 and include 42 rules for dealing with Life, the Universe, and Everything, but he instead pared it down to 12 Rules for Life.

Here he gives a preview:

His former student, Gregg Hurwitz, included the (older) rules in his thriller Orphan X.

Popular Posts of 2017

Monday, January 1st, 2018

I just took a look back at my numbers for 2017. Here are the most popular posts during that calendar year, three of which are new, seven of which are older:

  1. Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics
  2. Polar Bear Turns Purple After Medication
  3. Fast Friends Protocol
  4. He-Man Opening Monologue
  5. The Father of Social-Science
  6. Observations from Actual Shootings
  7. Summary of the Fate of Empires
  8. John Danaher on Mayweather-McGregor (new)
  9. The Nine Strategic Consequences of Chinese Racism (new)
  10. Erik Prince’s Training Bases in China (new)

Here are the most popular posts actually from 2017 and not from an earlier year:

  1. John Danaher on Mayweather-McGregor
  2. The Nine Strategic Consequences of Chinese Racism
  3. Erik Prince’s Training Bases in China
  4. The very bottom 14% have very simple skills
  5. Teenagers and the Education Apocalypse
  6. The easy and reliable way of defeating all insurgencies everywhere
  7. African farmers’ kids conquer the marshmallow test
  8. There might be something amiss with our institutions of higher education
  9. The rest of us are end users
  10. This isn’t the “PC police” talking

Again, I’m not sure what to conclude.

Also, I should thank some of my top referrers: Reaction Times, Social MatterZ ManMapping The Dark EnlightenmentFree Northerner (despite going dormant!)Ex-Army (despite disappearing completely!)Outside In, and Amerika (new to the list!).

God Jul!

Monday, December 25th, 2017

Please enjoy these yuletide posts of Christmas Past:

Saturnalia gift ideas from Martial

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

Martial‘s Epigrams include his list of 223 Saturnalie gift ideas — some of which seem timeless; some of which don’t.

An ordinary politician would have been powerless

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Ryan Holiday describes the most durable form of influence and power:

In 1931, Winston Churchill found himself more or less exiled from political life. In the previous years he had found himself vehemently fighting members of his own party over a number of issues and when a new government was formed, Churchill was not invited. He was viewed as out of date and out of touch by his fellow politicians and so began a period now known as his “wilderness years.”

An ordinary politician would have been powerless when voted out of office or driven to the fringes by political enemies. Not Churchill. Because he held onto something even more valuable than office — he had a platform.

Most people are unaware that Churchill made his living as a writer, publishing some ten million words in his lifetime in hundreds of publications and published works. In fact, it was his enormous worldwide readership that Churchill cultivated through books, newspaper columns, and radio appearances that allowed him to survive the periods in which he did not have the ability to directly shape policy. Instead, he was able to reach directly to the people about the rising threat of world war, not just in Britain but worldwide, including in America.

During his infamous time in the so-called political wilderness between 1931 and 1939, Churchill published 11 volumes and more than 400 articles, and delivered more than 350 speeches. His enormous platform — based on his editorial contacts, his extraordinary gift with words, and his relentless energy — allowed him not only to be relevant but also to guide policy and opinion across the globe until he was eventually brought back in to save Britain and eventually and in many ways, the world. For any kind of leader, creator or entrepreneur, this kind of platform is essential. Because it is the ultimate insurance policy and the most durable form of influence and power.

He presents another, quite different example:

Think about a band like Iron Maiden — radio hasn’t played their kind of music since the mid 80′s. MTV hasn’t played their kind of videos in almost as long. But in that time they’ve put out a dozen albums which have sold millions of copies. How? Because their relationship was directly with their audience. They had a platform. They have an enormous email list.

They had 1,000 true fans.

It can be far worse than laziness

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

Overanalysis has been Tim Ferriss’s life story:

It can be far worse than laziness, as overanalysis leads to the same lack of action but ALSO self-loathing.

What helped me quite a bit was studying military history, military strategy, and decisive battles (check out Blink and Jocko Willink’s Extreme Ownership).

The stories informed how I overcame paralysis by analysis. Step one is set deadlines for decisions. In warfare, you rarely have complete information, and if you wait to push certainty from 75% to 85%, say, that lag time could cause you to lose advantage and opportunity. It’s the same in many parts of life.

So I set deadlines. By X point in time, I must make a go or no-go decision, no matter how much or how little information I have. Furthermore, I try and figure out small, short-term, low-risk experiments (e.g., split testing, hiring a contractor to design mockups) I can run as “go” decisions, so that I don’t perceive action as high-risk.

So, in short: set deadlines for decisions (put them in your calendar or they aren’t real) and break large intimidating actions/projects into tiny mini-experiments that allow you to overcome fear of failure. Once you have a little momentum, the paralysis usually disappears on its own.

Hope that helps!

Tim

But what does he really mean by overanalysis?

All Hallows’ Eve

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

I’ve written a surprising amount about Halloween and horror over the years:

The DNA from both wolves and dogs brings big advantages

Saturday, October 21st, 2017

The coywolf — a combination of wolf, coyote and dog — is greater than the sum of its parts:

Some call this creature the eastern coyote. Others, though, have dubbed it the “coywolf”. Whatever name it goes by, Roland Kays of North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, reckons it now numbers in the millions.

The mixing of genes that has created the coywolf has been more rapid, pervasive and transformational than many once thought. Javier Monzon, who worked until recently at Stony Brook University in New York state (he is now at Pepperdine University, in California) studied the genetic make-up of 437 of the animals, in ten north-eastern states plus Ontario. He worked out that, though coyote DNA dominates, a tenth of the average coywolf’s genetic material is dog and a quarter is wolf.

The DNA from both wolves and dogs (the latter mostly large breeds, like Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherds), brings big advantages, says Dr Kays. At 25kg or more, many coywolves have twice the heft of purebred coyotes. With larger jaws, more muscle and faster legs, individual coywolves can take down small deer. A pack of them can even kill a moose.

Coywolf

Coyotes dislike hunting in forests. Wolves prefer it. Interbreeding has produced an animal skilled at catching prey in both open terrain and densely wooded areas, says Dr Kays. And even their cries blend those of their ancestors. The first part of a howl resembles a wolf’s (with a deep pitch), but this then turns into a higher-pitched, coyote-like yipping.

The animal’s range has encompassed America’s entire north-east, urban areas included, for at least a decade, and is continuing to expand in the south-east following coywolves’ arrival there half a century ago. This is astonishing. Purebred coyotes never managed to establish themselves east of the prairies. Wolves were killed off in eastern forests long ago. But by combining their DNA, the two have given rise to an animal that is able to spread into a vast and otherwise uninhabitable territory. Indeed, coywolves are now living even in large cities, like Boston, Washington and New York. According to Chris Nagy of the Gotham Coyote Project, which studies them in New York, the Big Apple already has about 20, and numbers are rising.

Some speculate that this adaptability to city life is because coywolves’ dog DNA has made them more tolerant of people and noise, perhaps counteracting the genetic material from wolves — an animal that dislikes humans. And interbreeding may have helped coywolves urbanise in another way, too, by broadening [their] diet. Having versatile tastes is handy for city living. Coywolves eat pumpkins, watermelons and other garden produce, as well as discarded food. They also eat rodents and other smallish mammals. Many lawns and parks are kept clear of thick underbrush, so catching squirrels and pets is easy. Cats are typically eaten skull and all, with clues left only in the droppings.

Thanks to this bounty, an urban coywolf need occupy only half the territory it would require in the countryside. And getting into town is easy. Railways provide corridors that make the trip simple for animals as well as people.

Surviving once there, though, requires a low profile. As well as having small territories, coywolves have adjusted to city life by becoming nocturnal. They have also learned the Highway Code, looking both ways before they cross a road. Dr Kays marvels at this “amazing contemporary evolution story that’s happening right underneath our nose”.

Inaccurate shots could still plunge into areas where people were huddled

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

The New York Times managed to get someone experienced with guns and combat — former Marine infantry officer C.J. Chivers — to explain how the gunman’s vantage point and preparations opened the way for mass slaughter:

The possibility that Mr. Paddock used tripods, which two law enforcement officials said were in the room, indicates that he understood how to overcome some of the difficulties of his plan. Special mounts designed to fit the underside of a rifle and sit atop camera tripods allow the gunman to fire more accurately while standing. Military snipers use tripods in urban spaces, often setting themselves back from a window so neither they nor their weapons can be seen from the streets below.

These preparations, along with the downward angle of Mr. Paddock’s gunfire and the density of concertgoers, would make the shooting more lethal than it might otherwise have been, and more difficult to counter or escape.

When the gunshots started, videos showed, those in front of the stage dropped to their stomachs — often an adequate first measure when under fire. But on Sunday night, the decision potentially put them at greater risk.

Mr. Paddock’s position overhead gave him a vantage point over objects and obstacles that would typically protect people from bullets flying from a gunman at ground level. It also meant that inaccurate shots — the sort common to rapid or hurried fire, which typically sail high or strike the ground short — could still plunge into areas where people were huddled.

[...]

Sheriff Joseph Lombardo of Clark County, Nev., said that at least 16 rifles, ranging from .308 to .223 caliber, and a handgun were retrieved from Mr. Paddock’s hotel room. A federal law enforcement official said that AR-15-style rifles were among them. The authorities did not detail all of the guns, or which weapons Mr. Paddock fired.

Several pounds of a nonflammable exploding target used for practice were recovered from Mr. Paddock’s home in Mesquite, about an hour outside Las Vegas, Sheriff Lombardo said. Ammonium nitrate was found in Mr. Paddock’s car in Las Vegas, the sheriff said, but he did not say how much was recovered.

[...]

The duration of the bursts, as recorded, suggest that Mr. Paddock cared little about the military’s prescriptions for automatic fire. Sustained rapid fire is difficult to control and causes many weapons, especially light weapons, to overheat quickly.

I wouldn’t think to use a light camera tripod for full-auto fire.