Wednesday, May 31, 2006

ENV: New Cave Critters

Prehistoric ecosystem found in Israeli cave

JERUSALEM - Israeli scientists said on Wednesday they had discovered a prehistoric ecosystem dating back millions of years.

The discovery was made in a cave near the central Israeli city of Ramle during rock drilling at a quarry. Scientists were called in and soon found eight previously unknown species of crustaceans and invertebrates similar to scorpions.

"Until now eight species of animals were found in the cave, all of them unknown to science," said Dr Hanan Dimantman, a biologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He said the cave's ecosystem probably dates back around five million years when the Mediterranean Sea covered parts of Israel.

The cave was completely sealed off from the world, including from water and nutrients seeping through rock crevices above. Scientists who discovered the cave believe it has been intact for millions of years.

"Every species we examined had no eyes which means they lost their sight due to evolution," said Dimantman.

Samples of the animals discovered in the cave were sent for DNA tests which found they were unique, he said. The cave has been closed off as scientists conduct a more detailed survey.

"This is a cave of fantastic biodiversity," Dimantman said.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

ENV: Cool Critters & Plants

Some cool recent critters

All locations: Hill Country Youth Ranch, 1 mile N of Ingram Kerr County, Texas

Red Oak Borer, Enaphalodes atomarius
21 May 2006
Thanks to Mike Quinn and Dan Heffern for the determination

Four-striped Leaftail, Phyllogomphoides stigmatus
29 May 2006

Red-winged Blackbird nest with young, Agelaius phoenicius
27 May 2006

Rhinoceros Beetle, Strategus aloeus
30 May 2006

Texas Brown Tarantula, Aphonopelma hentzii
30 May 2006

Thryallis, Thryallis angustifolia
29 May 2006

ENV: Odd Finch at the Feeders

The goofy finch i reported the other day returned last evening (or maybe i just missed seeing it the last couple of days). This time i was able to spend some time watching it, and to get some photos (see below). It feeds about 90% of the time at the thistle seed feeder, which the House Finches are scarcely visiting at all. When it's at the millet/sunflower feeder it is aggressive towards any House Finches that come in, despite being smaller.

Overall the bird has finer streaking than female/young House Finches, is about a third again smaller, and looks somewhat intermediate between a Pine Siskin and a House Finch, save for having the face of a House Finch. I noticed for the first time yesterday that it is distinctly grayer in tone, and has more well-developed streaking on the back than the House Finches at the feeders.

The possibilities that have been put forth (some of them my guesses) are:
Runt House Finch
Different race of House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch X House Finch
Pine Siskin X House Finch
Pine Siskin X Cassin's Finch
Yellow-rumped Seedeater/Gray Singing Finch

This last possibility was suggested by Joshua Rose via a bird IDed at Bentsen by Mary Gustafson. With the return of the bird i think i can safely rule out that possibility. This bird lacks the yellow rump, and i get a rosy cast from a few feathers around the flanks. But Grey Singing Finch is one that's rather common in captivity (used to hybridize with Canaries to improve their singing), i've raised them myself. It ought to be considered by anyone with a similar odd finch at their feeders.

P.s. a couple fledgling House Finches were at the feeders today as well, and since i too had a notion that might be apossibility, i can say now that this bird is still diferent from them.

ENV: Fawn of the Day

Some of our folks found a couple hour old fawn by the road today. Angela Tijerina had the vet check it for dehydration -- it was fine. She returned it to the spot where it was picked up in hopes mom makes her way back. Will update.

Friday, May 26, 2006

ENV: Feeder Birds

Still in training so posting has been hit and miss. However, i was able to put up a variety of feeders this week in anticipation of a project with my summer class. Already i've had much more traffic than i expected, with a few surprises.

Here's some pictures - the quality suffers some because i'm taking the pics through my office window.

A second-year male Scott's Oriole comes through daily since these pictures were taken on the 23rd of May. The tree is a singing post.

A quite late, and brilliant, American Goldfinch on May 24th.

[Marcy Dorman just called to alert me to this Barn Swallow nest at the Community Center!]

I also have an odd little finch coming through that may be a Carduelis X Carpodacus hybrid, or maybe just a runt House Finch. Trying to get pictures.

Species using the feeders since i put them up on May 20th:

Carolina Chickadee, Black-crested Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, American Goldfinch, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Raccoon, Red Wasp, Giant Leaf-footed Bug sp.

Hill Country Youth Ranch
Ingram, Kerr County, Texas

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

OBT: Lloyd Bentsen

Lloyd Bentsen Dies at 85; Senator Ran With Dukakis
By DAVID E. ROSENBAUM, The New York Times, May 24, 2006

Lloyd Bentsen, former congressman and senator from Texas, onetime secretary of the Treasury and the Democratic nominee for vice president in 1988, died yesterday at his home in Houston. He was 85. The cause was complications of a stroke he suffered in 1998, his family said.

Rapid Rise to Influence
In a long career in public office, Lloyd Bentsen was involved in some of the most important legislative battles of the second half of the 20th century. But he is probably best remembered for one devastating riposte he delivered an hour into a deadly dull debate between the vice-presidential nominees in Omaha in October 1988.

Almost as an aside, his youthful Republican opponent, Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana, remarked, "I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency."

Mr. Bentsen pounced. "Senator," he declared, contempt in his voice and admonition in his eyes, "I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

In the election a month later, Mr. Bentsen and Michael S. Dukakis, the Democratic presidential nominee, were trounced by George Bush and Mr. Quayle. But that one moment onstage in a generally lackluster election campaign propelled Mr. Bentsen's national image from that of an unexceptional Texas senator beholden to the oil and gas industry to that of a major national figure.

In their book "The Quest for the Presidency 1988," Peter Goldman and Tom Mathews wrote that before the debate, Mr. Bentsen "had been the forgotten man" of the campaign.

Afterward, Mr. Bentsen's "own gray solidity," they wrote, was "made luminescent by the pallor of the other three men."

Then and throughout his career, Mr. Bentsen was helped by the fact that he looked and comported himself like Hollywood's version of a successful politician. He was tall and thin with handsome features, a deep, soothing voice, elegant clothes and such legendary self-control that those who served with him in Congress and in the Clinton cabinet could not recall a single instance in which he let his emotions get the better of him.

Indeed, in his younger days in Congress, his skills as a poker player were fearsome. Once, it is said, he won a house from another lawmaker in a late-night game. Asked about this years later, Mr. Bentsen, looking like a man with confidence in his hole card, replied, "There are some who have alleged it."

Big Lloyd and a Big Ranch
Lloyd Millard Bentsen Jr. — he stopped using his middle initial and the "Jr." long ago — was born into prosperity on Feb. 11, 1921, in Mission, Tex., in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the country's poorest regions.

His father, Lloyd Bentsen Sr., known as Big Lloyd, had taken military training in San Antonio in World War I and moved to South Texas from South Dakota after the war. He made money buying and selling land, and quickly expanded from ranching to oil and then to banking.

The Arrowhead Ranch, where Lloyd Jr. was reared, was one of the biggest in the valley and remained in the Bentsen family until it was sold in 1997 for more than $6 million.

After earning a law degree from the University of Texas, Mr. Bentsen enlisted in the Army as a private in 1942 and quickly became a commissioned officer in the Army Air Forces. Before being shipped off to Europe in 1943, he married Beryl Ann Longino, known as B. A., a fashion model who had been a college classmate.

Charming and enormously popular in Washington and Texas, Mrs. Bentsen often wanted to stay at social functions long after her husband was ready to leave. Even when they were well into middle age, he would playfully toss her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carry her out of parties. In addition to his wife, his survivors, all from Houston, include two sons, Lloyd III and Lan; a daughter, Tina Smith; two brothers, Don and Kenneth; a sister, Betty Bentsen Winn; and eight grandchildren.

During the war, Mr. Bentsen, a B-24 pilot, was shot down twice and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, among other decorations. He left the Army as a colonel. Back home, helped by his war record and his family's money and prominence, he was elected Hidalgo County judge in 1946. Two years later he was elected to the House of Representatives, becoming the youngest member of Congress at age 27.

Mr. Bentsen was a protégé of a fellow Texan, Speaker Sam Rayburn, but when he was 33, after six years in the House, he decided to leave politics to earn money to support his young family.

He often told the story that when he announced he would not run for re-election, Rayburn, a bachelor, commented: "Lloyd, it's a damn fool thing you've done. Why, in another 25 years, you could be speaker."

Mr. Bentsen replied: "Mr. Speaker, I have a wife and three kids. They" — the government — "pay me $12,500 a year. I can't cut it on that. I have to go back to Texas and go to work."

And that is what he did for the next 15 years. In 1955, he went to Houston and founded the Consolidated American Life Insurance Company, called Calico. At the time, the $7 million his father put up was described as the largest initial capitalization ever for a Texas insurance company.

Calico soon branched out into other businesses, and by 1967 Mr. Bentsen was president of a family financial holding company, Lincoln Consolidated Inc. The company, one of the first in Texas to use data processing technology, owned businesses ranging from a savings and loan to a funeral home. Mr. Bentsen also served on the boards of the Lockheed Corporation and various petroleum companies.

In 1970, having earned his fortune, Mr. Bentsen re-entered politics, challenging Ralph W. Yarborough in the Democratic primary for Mr. Yarborough's Senate seat. Mr. Yarborough, a strong supporter of labor unions and an opponent of the Vietnam War, was a leading figure in the liberal-populist wing of the Texas Democratic Party. The battle was a bruising one in which Mr. Bentsen painted him as an ally of antiwar rioters, and it left wounds in the state party that did not heal for years.

Mr. Bentsen narrowly won the primary and defeated Mr. Bush, then a congressman from Houston, in the general election. The two candidates were on the same wavelength ideologically — Mr. Bush less conservative than most Republicans, and Mr. Bentsen less liberal than most Democrats — and Mr. Bentsen won largely on the strength of a heavy Democratic majority in voter registration in Texas.

A Pro-Business Democrat
After only two years in the Senate, Mr. Bentsen was given a prized seat on the Finance Committee, which handles tax, trade and social welfare legislation. He got the post in large part because the chairman, Senator Russell B. Long, Democrat of Louisiana, wanted to solidify his majority on the committee on the side of favorable treatment for the oil and gas industry.

In 1976, as his first term in the Senate was drawing to a close, Mr. Bentsen made a quixotic run for the Democratic presidential nomination. He called himself a Harry Truman Democrat and tried to establish a base as a moderate Southerner.

But the campaign never got off the ground. Squeezed by the combined opposition of Jimmy Carter and George C. Wallace, Mr. Bentsen dropped out of the race in the spring with only six delegates, all in Texas. That November, he easily won re-election to the Senate.

As he moved up in seniority on the Finance Committee, he became increasingly influential as an ally of business interests. He devoted considerable energy to maintaining tax breaks for small oil and gas producers and for the real estate industry, to which he had close ties. He was a leader on trade expansion and pension issues. And he was one of the foremost Democratic advocates of private investment and economic growth.

Mr. Bentsen basically took a pass on the most important matter to come before the Finance Committee while he was a member, the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which completely rewrote the nation's tax code. He eventually voted for the legislation, but he was never enthusiastic about its underlying principle of ending most deductions and tax incentives in return for lower tax rates. He tried, but failed, to block a section of the measure that abolished most real estate tax shelters.

In 1987, with Senator Long's retirement, Mr. Bentsen became the committee's chairman. Soon after he took the seat, he was embarrassed by the disclosure that he had invited lobbyists to breakfasts in exchange for $10,000 campaign contributions. Rather than make excuses, he admitted to a "doozy" of a mistake and refunded the $92,500 he had collected.

In 1990, Mr. Bentsen was instrumental in brokering the budget deal in which President Bush agreed to a tax increase.

On politically delicate issues outside the Finance Committee, he often voted with Republicans. He supported prayer in public schools, aid to anti-Marxist rebels in Nicaragua, production of the MX missile and restrictions on involuntary busing for school desegregation. He voted against federal financing of abortions for poor women and against gun control.

Compared with that of many other senators who stayed long enough to become chairmen of powerful committees, Mr. Bentsen's Senate career was not particularly distinguished. No landmark legislation bears his name. He was hampered in part by the fact that Republicans controlled the White House for all but 4 of his 22 years in the Senate.

But he made many friends among senators of both parties. His contacts in Congress and the national acclaim he had gained from his 1988 campaign for vice president led President Bill Clinton to choose him as Treasury secretary. The appointment was applauded in Congress and on Wall Street.

At the Treasury, Mr. Bentsen led the fight in 1993 for approval of the first Clinton budget, which included a tax increase and was approved without any Republican votes. Then he mustered enough Republican support to win passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement over significant Democratic opposition.

After two years in the cabinet, Mr. Bentsen, by then 73, resigned. He told the president that he had long planned to retire from politics in 1994, at the end of what would have been his fourth term in the Senate.

Out of office, Mr. Bentsen joined the Houston office of the law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand, which makes a point of hiring famous former politicians as lobbyists and rainmakers. Among others, Bob Dole and George J. Mitchell, both former Senate majority leaders, also joined the firm after they left office.

In his political retirement, Mr. Bentsen traveled widely. He helped create a billion-dollar private investment firm to finance projects throughout Latin America and headed the advisory committee of the Beacon Group, a New York investment bank with interests around the world.

As a private citizen, he stayed out of the limelight and almost never spoke out about public policy. But his office in Houston remained a testament to his life in politics.

On the walls were portraits of the 10 presidents he had known, from Truman through Bill Clinton. On his portrait, Mr. Clinton had written, "To my friend Lloyd Bentsen, who makes me study things until I get it right."

And in the center was the photograph that was in a prominent spot on the wall of every office Mr. Bentsen occupied for nearly 50 years — a portrait of his beloved mentor, Sam Rayburn.

David E. Rosenbaum, the reporter for this article, died in January.

ENV: Spotted Owl Non-listing

Feds Reject Petition to List Spotted Owl
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Rejects Petition to List California Spotted Owl As Endangered
By JULIANA BARBASSA, The Associated Press

FRESNO, Calif. - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday rejected a petition to list the California spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act, saying the population is stable and programs that prevent forest wildfires will allow it to thrive.

The decision rankled the environmental groups that had requested protection of the speckled, football-sized owl. This was their second effort to list the bird in three years.

The petition's denial was based in part on the recommendation of scientists commissioned to study the owl, said Steve Thompson, manager of the agency's California-Nevada operations office.

They found that fires that creep through excessive brush and eventually consume the old-growth forests the owls prefer are their main threat, Thompson said, adding that U.S. Forest Service tree thinning programs will prevent the spread of flames and ensure the owls remain off the endangered list.

But environmentalists protested, saying the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan, amended in 2004 to allow cutting trees of up to 30 inches in diameter, is logging in disguise and destroys owl habitat.

"They're completely off base," said Noah Greenwald, with the Center for Biological Diversity's Portland office. "Logging is by far the most serious threat to the California spotted owl and the kind of fuel reduction they're talking about is just that logging."

Greenwald said that it's long been understood that the owls need mature trees. He said that thin, easily consumed vegetation such as grass, brush and small trees under 12 inches in diameter are what feed the raging fires that can race through California's hills in summer and fall.

Environmentalists said the petition's denial has more to do with the current political climate than with threats facing the owl.

Another threat to the California spotted owl is encroachment into its territory by a larger, more aggressive owl the barred owl, originally from the East Coast.

But although the eastern owl moved quickly into the Pacific Northwest, its spread into the Sierra has been slower than anticipated, and it hasn't reached Southern California yet, federal officials said.

Placing the owl under federal protection would have required officials to designate habitat that is essential for its recovery. That could have significant impact on activities allowed within the 11.5 million acres of national forests in the Sierra.

It could severely limit commercial logging in the area, as seen when a closely related subspecies the northern spotted owl was listed as threatened in 1990. Large tracts of federal forests were closed to logging in Northern California, Oregon and Washington, cutting back logging by 80 percent in federal forests and reducing it in private lands, and leaving timber-depended towns to face an economic slump.

ENV: The End of the Genome

Last Chromosome in Human Genome Sequenced

LONDON - Scientists have reached a landmark point in one of the world's most important scientific projects by sequencing the last chromosome in the Human Genome, the so-called "book of life."

Chromosome 1 contains nearly twice as many genes as the average chromosome and makes up eight percent of the human genetic code.

It is packed with 3,141 genes and linked to 350 illnesses including cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

"This achievement effectively closes the book on an important volume of the Human Genome Project," said Dr Simon Gregory who headed the sequencing project at the Sanger Institute in England.

The project was started in 1990 to identify the genes and DNA sequences that provide a blueprint for human beings.

Chromosome 1 is the biggest and contains, per chromosome, the greatest number of genes.

"Therefore it is the region of the genome to which the greatest number of diseases have been localized," added Gregory, from Duke University in the United States.

The sequence of chromosome 1, which is published online by the journal Nature, took a team of 150 British and American scientists 10 years to complete.

Researchers around the world will be able to mine the data to improve diagnostics and treatments for cancers, autism, mental disorders and other illnesses.

Chromosomes, which are found in the nucleus of a cell, are thread-like structures that contain genes which determine the characteristics of an individual.

The human genome has an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 genes. The sequencing of chromosome 1 has led to the identification of more than 1,000 new genes.

"We are moving into the next phase which will be working out what the genes do and how they interact," Gregory told Reuters.

The genetic map of chromosome 1 has already been used to identify a gene for a common form of cleft lip and palate. It will also improve understanding of what processes lead to genetic diversity in populations, according to Gregory.

Each chromosome is made up of a molecule of DNA in the shape of a double helix which is composed of four chemical bases represented by the letters A (adenine), T (thymine), G (guanine) and C (cytosine). The arrangement, or sequence, of the letters determines the cell's genetic code.

The scientists also identified 4,500 new SNPs -- single nucleotide polymorphisms -- which are the variations in human DNA that make people unique.

SNPs contain clues about why some people are susceptible to diseases like cancer or malaria, the best way to diagnose and treat them and how they will respond to drugs.

ENV: Endangered Birds

Fifth of world’s bird species in danger of extinction

BirdLife International’s annual evaluation of how the world’s bird species are faring shows that the total number considered threatened with extinction is now 1,210. When combined with the number of near threatened species this gives a total of 2,005 species in trouble – more than a fifth of the planet’s 9,799 total species.

The Bengal Florican Houbaropsis bengalensis, a globally endangered species of bustard is rapidly loosing its grassland habitat within the inundation zone of the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia.

Not only could the Florican become locally extinct but the whole suite of species dependent on these grasslands could be lost.

Local communities who have been dependent on these grasslands for their livelihoods are joining with BirdLife, Wildlife Conservation Society and local government to find a solution.

In Viet Nam the species is already believed to be extinct as a result of grassland conversion.

Not all species that are faring badly are found in the tropics. The black-tailed godwit Limosa limosa, a migratory wading bird whose breeding population is concentrated in Europe, has declined in number by around 25 per cent over the last 15 years.

As a result, the species is now classified as globally near threatened. Loss of nesting habitat owing to wetland drainage and agricultural intensification are its biggest threats.

In North America, the tricoloured blackbird Agelaius tricolor breeds only in California. Its numbers have fallen from more than 700,000 birds in the 1930s to just over 250,000 in 2005.

The speed and extent of this decline means it is now classified as endangered, the second highest risk category.

"Loss of upland nesting sites combined with low reproductive success in native habitats and complete breeding failure in harvested agricultural fields are the most likely causes of the tricoloured blackbird’s worrying decline," commented Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Species Programme co-ordinator.

Of the species most at risk 181 are now categorised as critically endangered, the highest level of threat.

New additions include the purple-backed sunbeam Aglaeactis aliciae, a hummingbird found only in a tiny 1 area of alder woodland in western Peru.

Recently much of this crucial habitat has been replaced with eucalyptus, which will have a devastating effect on a species already numbering fewer than a thousand individuals.

Another species now regarded as critically endangered is the uluguru bush-shrike Malaconotus alius, from the Uluguru Mountains of Tanzania.

Repeated surveys in the 1990s found that the species is restricted to the small Uluguru North Forest Reserve, which is suffering from ongoing habitat degradation.

Loveridge’s Sunbird Nectarinia loveridgei, also only found in the Ulugurus, has also been uplisted (to endangered) to reflect its continuing decline.

However, it is not all bad news: the seychelles fody Foudia sechellarum, a small yellowish songbird has been down listed to near threatened.

Habitat management and conservation measures have encouraged the regeneration of natural woodland on its island homes and are thought to have been key factors in the recent substantial population increase.

Nature Seychelles (BirdLife in the Seychelles) has also recently translocated birds to Denis and Aride islands where self-sustaining populations are now established.

"This is a credit to the efforts of Nature Seychelles and others who can now add this species to a significant list of native Seychelles birds that have been brought back from the brink of extinction," commented Dr Butchart.

Several new species are also recognised in the 2006 update including the serendib scops-owl Otus thilohoffmanni (endangered) from Sri Lanka.

The long-legged thicketbird Trichocichla rufa is also evaluated for the first time as Endangered, following its rediscovery in 2002 on Fiji.

However, a warning as to the ultimate fate that could await some of these species is offered by a number of extinct species that appear on the list for the first time.

These include three species of monarchs (small songbirds) from French Polynesia that had already disappeared before taxonomic studies recognised them as full species – in one case (Ua Pou Monarch) as recently as 1985.

"We face a huge challenge in improving the status of the 1,210 threatened and 795 near threatened species. But the success stories show that concerted conservation action can save these birds from extinction: we just need the political will and resources," added Butchart. — VNS

Friday, May 19, 2006

ENV: Another New Monkey

Scientists Claim New Monkey Species Found
Scientists Contend They Have Discovered a New Monkey Species in the Brazilian Rainforest
By MICHAEL ASTOR, The Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Brazilian scientists say they have discovered a new monkey species overlooked in the receding rain forest of the country's northeast coast, although other experts believe the primate may have been documented before.

Antonio Rossano Mendes Pontes, a professor of Zoology at the Federal University in Pernambuco, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that the discovery of the monkey, dubbed Cebus queirozi, showed how little is known about Brazil's flora and fauna even in developed areas.

He spotted the monkey near the Pernambuco state capital of Recife, about 1,200 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro.

"As soon as I saw the monkey with its golden-yellow hair and the white tiara on its head, I knew it was a new species," Pontes said.

A scientific description of Cebus queirozi, which has longish golden-yellow fur and a snow-white cap on the front half of its head, was published in the international scientific journal Zootaxa earlier this month.

A male adult weighs about 6.4 pounds and measures 32 inches from head to tail, according to the description.

But some primatologists questioned whether the species was in fact new to science.

Some suspect Pontes merely rediscovered a monkey called Simia flavia, named and depicted in a drawing by German taxonomist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber in the 18th Century but never seen since.

Mario de Vivo, a primatologist at the University of Sao Paulo not involved in the new finding, said the monkeys look almost exactly alike.

"But we don't know, because Pontes didn't keep a specimen of the monkey," he said.

Scientific descriptions usually require that scientists kill a specimen and deposit it in a museum for future examination, though there are exceptions.

Pontes said he captured, examined and photographed one of the monkeys but returned it to the wild because of the small number of individuals surviving in nature.

Pontes said he had identified about 32 individuals belonging to the species in an area covering some 500 acres of forest and swamplands.

Vivo conceded that the monkey in Schreber's drawing differs from Cebus queirozi in that it lacks the distinctive white band stretching from ear to ear, but he said that may have to do with the age of the specimen in question.

"Even if it is only a rediscovery it is important that such a large monkey could go unnoticed for so long," Vivo said.

Pontes said the monkey, which he was calling the blond capuchin in English, avoided detection for so long by hiding inside the swamp.

He said he stumbled on the species by accident during a five-year forest survey in Pernambuco state.

Pontes said the monkey appeared in the last of 24 forest fragments he was studying along with his students at the Federal University of Pernambuco, and when their guide told him there was a monkey species living in the area he didn't believe him because the area was so small.

"It's incredible that in the 21st century there hasn't been an extensive survey of medium and large mammals in that area," Pontes said.

Only about 7 percent of the Atlantic rain forest, which once lined much of Brazil's coast, remains standing, compared with the better-preserved Amazon rain forest to the north, of which about 80 percent remains intact.

There are more than 300 known monkey species in the world, including 111 that are endemic to Brazil.

ENV: Finding Chestnuts

Rare American Chestnut Trees Discovered
Stand of Rare American Chestnut Trees Discovered Along Hiking Trail in Georgia
By ELLIOTT MINOR, The Associated Press

ALBANY, Ga. - A stand of American chestnut trees that somehow escaped a blight that killed off nearly all their kind in the early 1900s has been discovered along a hiking trail not far from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Little White House at Warm Springs.

The find has stirred excitement among those working to restore the American chestnut, and raised hopes that scientists might be able to use the pollen to breed hardier chestnut trees.

"There's something about this place that has allowed them to endure the blight," said Nathan Klaus, a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources who spotted the trees. "It's either that these trees are able to resist the blight, which is unlikely, or Pine Mountain has something unique that is giving these trees resistance."

Experts say it could be that the chestnuts have less competition from other trees along the dry, rocky ridge. The fungus that causes the blight thrives in a moist environment.

The largest of the half-dozen or so trees is about 40 feet tall and 20 to 30 years old, and is believed to be the southernmost American chestnut discovered so far that is capable of flowering and producing nuts.

"This is a terrific find," said David Keehn, president of the Georgia chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation. "A tree of this size is one in a million."

The rugged area known as Pine Mountain is at the southern end of the Appalachians near Warm Springs, where Roosevelt built a home and sought treatment after he was stricken with polio in 1921.

"FDR may have roasted some chestnuts on his fire for Christmas or enjoyed their blooms in the spring," Klaus said.

The chestnut foundation may use pollen from the tree in a breeding program aimed at restoring the population with blight-resistant trees.

"When the flowers are right, we're going to rush down and pollinate the flowers, collect the seeds a few weeks later and collect the nuts," Klaus said. "If we ever find a genetic solution to the chestnut blight, genes from that tree will find their way into those trees."

The chestnut foundation has been working for about 15 years to develop a blight-resistant variety. The goal is to infuse the American chestnut with the blight-resistant genes of the Chinese chestnut.

American chestnuts once made up about 25 percent of the forests in the eastern United States, with an estimated 4 billion trees from Maine to Mississippi and Florida.

The trees helped satisfy demand for roasted chestnuts, and their rot-resistant wood was used to make fence posts, utility poles, barns, homes, furniture and musical instruments.

Then these magnificent hardwoods, which could grow to a height of 100 feet and a diameter of 8 feet or more, were almost entirely wiped out by a fast-spreading fungus discovered in 1904.

"There are no chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and if they are, they're Chinese," Keehn said.

On the Net:
American Chestnut Foundation:

Thursday, May 18, 2006

COM: Blogarithmic #126

Some cool, if obvious, hints from the Digital Phtography School.

Cooler -- 101 versions of Stairway to Heaven, including an Australian yodeled version.

Been in training, and putting in 18 hour days the last couple of weeks, another couple to go. Will post when time allows. Some cool stuff going on though. Took Roy's boys skiiing last week, jhave about completed initial versions of faunal and floral checklist for both the Hill Country Youth Ranch and Big Springs Ranch for Children, watched a Red-shouldered Hawk rob a Green Heron nest much to the dismay of the parents. watched a great Talent Show at ITM and laughed myself silly at the Theatre Departments night of one-acts, etc., etc. Hope to have more notes up soon.

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If you are able please donate to this worthy cause here

REV: Canning Cannes

Cannes Journal
At the Cannes Film Festival, Brows Range From High to Middling
By MANOHLA DARGIS and A. O. SCOTT, New York Times

CANNES, France, May 16 — Every year you hear the same complaints: from purists who accuse the Cannes Film Festival of selling out its tradition of artistic prestige for the glamour and lucre of Hollywood, and from the more commercially minded scenesters who wonder why Cannes lavishes so much attention on esoteric, difficult films bound for an ever-shrinking audience of cognoscenti.

But both forms of grousing miss the point and the glory of this festival, which since the beginning — this is its 59th edition —has mingled the lofty and the crass with particular Gallic flair. Way back in the 1940's, for example, the competition found room for both Walt Disney and Roberto Rossellini, and it continues to hold a place in its heart for blockbusters as well as potential masterpieces.

And so Wednesday night the red carpet will belong to Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ron Howard and "The Da Vinci Code," Sony's top-secret adaptation of Dan Brown's best-selling historico-theological potboiler. Unseen by critics anywhere until the day before, the movie will open the festival in advance of its release worldwide on Friday. The premiere will feed the ravenous maw of the international paparazzi who line that red carpet, while bringing star power to the festival and giving Sony what may be its best chance for a worldwide hit since "Spider-Man 2."

Once the celebrity rituals of "The Da Vinci Code" are out of the way, festivalgoers can settle down to the real business of Cannes, which is to see the best work that is available from filmmakers, both established and emerging, from every corner of the map. Hollywood may dominate the world market — and three movies by American directors, Richard Linklater's "Fast Food Nation," Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales" and Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" are represented in competition this year — but Cannes at its best envisions a global meritocracy.

It not only welcomes back star auteurs like Pedro Almodóvar, who returns with "Volver," but also nurtures talented, challenging directors like Nure Bilge Ceylan from Turkey, who is here with his fourth feature, "Iklimer" ("Climates"). Mr. Ceylan's last film, "Distant," was a critical favorite and won the Grand Jury Prize here in 2003.

Ken Loach, who will turn 70 next month, is the oldest filmmaker in a competition slate notable for its relative youthfulness. Mr. Almodóvar, once the bad boy of post-Franco Spanish cinema, is now something of a senior figure. In recent years, Cannes has often presented a parade of old masters, many of them contemporaries of Gilles Jacob, the festival's longtime director and guiding force. The influence of the festival's current artistic director, Thierry Frémaux, has been slow to emerge but has been evident in the recent inclusion of genre films like Park Chanwook's "Old Boy" in 2004 and Johnny To's "Election" last year. Mr. To's follow-up to that film, "Election 2," will be screened out of competition here in the Midnight Movies program, a new addition that seems to be in keeping with the emphasis on youth.

Each year, Cannes seems to have a slightly different regional emphasis. There are fewer Asian films this time — only one in competition, Lou Ye's "Summer Palace," from China — though the competition jury is headed by Wong Kar-wai, the Hong Kong maestro who is a frequent visitor to Cannes. And though the surviving grand masters of French film may be absent, France is well represented, with four films (out of 20) in competition. Two of the stars of the new Mexican cinema, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro, are competing for the top prize, the Palme d'Or: Mr. Iñárritu's "Babel," which features dialogue in four different languages and a cast that includes Brad Pitt, Gael García Bernal and Cate Blanchett, and Mr. del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth," which is a fantasy set in Spain in the 1940's.

Like their compatriot Alfonso Cuarón ("Y Tu Mamá También," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"), Mr. Iñárritu and Mr. del Toro have made a point of moving back and forth between the United States and Mexico. Much like the first films screened at Cannes six decades ago, their work proves that the boundaries between Hollywood and the rest of the world remain fluid.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

OBT: Stanley Kunitz

Stanley Kunitz, Poet Laureate, Dies at 100
By CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, The New York Times, May 16, 2006

Stanley Kunitz, who was one of the most acclaimed and durable American poets of the last century and who, at age 95, was named poet laureate of the United States, died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 100 and also had a home in Provincetown, Mass.

The cause was pneumonia, his daughter, Gretchen Kunitz, said.

Over the extraordinary span of his career — nearly 80 years — Mr. Kunitz achieved a wide range of expression, from intellectual to lyric, from intimately confessional to grandly oracular.

Among other honors, he won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1959, the National Book Award in 1995, at age 90, the National Medal of the Arts in 1993 and the prestigious Bollingen Prize in poetry in 1987.

Mr. Kunitz was still at full power into his 90's and continued to write and give readings until a few years ago. For almost 50 years he spent his summers in Provincetown, where he tended his lush garden. His last book, "The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden," a collection of essays and conversations produced in collaboration with his literary assistant, Genine Lentine, also a poet, was published last year by Norton.

"What Kunitz's work lacks in glamour and commotion it compensates for in serious and decisive purpose," the poet David Barber wrote in The Atlantic Monthly. "That no shelf will ever groan under Kunitz's collected poetry is a measure of his daunting ambition as well as of his scrupulous restraint."

Mr. Kunitz shunned shallow confession in his art. "Poetry is ultimately mythology, the telling of stories of the soul," he wrote. "The old myths, the old gods, the old heroes have never died. They are only sleeping at the bottom of our minds, waiting for our call. We have need of them, for in their sum they epitomize the wisdom and experience of the race."

They awoke in him slowly. His first two collections, "Intellectual Things" (1930) and "Passport to War: A Selection of Poems" (1944), reflected his admiration for the English metaphysical poets John Donne and George Herbert and were admired more for their craft than their substance.

"In my youth, as might be expected, I had little knowledge of the world to draw on," he once told an interviewer. "But I had fallen in love with language and was excited by ideas, including the idea of being a poet."

Yet much lay at the bottom of his mind, waiting for his call. Ever haunted by the suicide of his father six weeks before his birth, he could approach the edge of pathos. In a poem decisive in his development, "Father and Son" (in the 1944 collection), he wrote:

At the water's edge, where the smothering ferns lifted
Their arms, "Father!" I cried, "Return! You know
The way. . . .
Your son, whirling between two wars,
In the Gemara of your gentleness,
For I would be a child to those who mourn
And brother to the foundlings of the field
And friend of innocence and all bright eyes.
O teach me how to work and keep me kind."
But the final two lines silence the outcry:
Among the turtles and the lilies he turned to me
The white ignorant hollow of his face.

As he developed, Mr. Kunitz came to believe in what he called "the need for a middle style," one that didn't have "to be fed exclusively on high sentiments," as he put it. And in his mature work he contained his passion in the formalities of his art.

The critic Vernon Young wrote in The New York Review of Books: "Conspicuous, in the most convincing of Stanley Kunitz's poems, is the tension produced in them by a controlled inhibition of the passion that threatens to break through."

Or, as Mr. Kunitz himself put it in his poem "The Approach to Thebes," (about Oedipus):

Children, grandchildren, my long posterity,
To whom I bequeath the spiders of my dust,
Believe me, whatever sordid tales you hear,
Told by physicians or mendacious scribes,
Of beardless folly, consanguineous lust,
Fomenting pestilence, rebellion, war,
I come prepared, unwanting what I see,
But tied to life. On the road to Thebes
I had my luck, I met a lovely monster,
And the story's this: I made the monster me.

Stanley Jasspon Kunitz was born on July 29, 1905, in Worcester, Mass., the third child and first son of the deceased Solomon Z. Kunitz, a dress manufacturer whose business had been failing, and Yetta Helen (Jasspon) Kunitz. Because of his father's death, Stanley was haunted by nightmares during his childhood. But he proved a gifted student, and after becoming valedictorian of his class at Worcester Classical High School, he entered Harvard on a scholarship in 1922, graduating with highest honors in 1926.

He began writing poetry at the suggestion of a professor, then set out to earn a doctorate at Harvard. But on being told that he would not be offered a lectureship because the Anglo-Saxon students would resent being taught English literature by a Jew, he dropped out of the program in 1927 after completing the requirements for his master's degree. Instead he became a reporter and editor, first writing Sunday feature articles for The Worcester Telegram. He eventually settled in the country, buying a run-down farm in Connecticut.

From his new home, Mr. Kunitz began working in 1927 for the H. W. Wilson reference company in New York City, serving as an editor of the Wilson Library Bulletin and co-editing "Twentieth Century Authors" and other reference works. Under the pseudonym of Dilly Tante, he edited a collection of biographies titled "Living Authors: A Book of Biographies" (1931). He began selling poems to magazines like Poetry, Commonweal, The New Republic, The Nation and The Dial.

In 1930, he married Helen Pearce. They divorced in 1937, and two years later he married Eleanor Evans. That marriage ended in 1958, when he married Elise Asher, an artist whom he met through his friendships with painters like Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko. She died in 2004 at the age of 92.

In addition to his daughter, Gretchen, of Orinda, Calif., by his second wife, Mr. Kunitz is survived by a stepdaughter, Babette Becker, of Manhattan, two grandchildren and three step-grandchildren.

Mr. Kunitz continued as an editor for the Wilson Company until 1943, when he was drafted into the Army, despite being a conscientious objector. (He refused to kill, he said, because with the early deaths of his two older sisters he had seen enough of dying.) At a camp in North Carolina, he edited a weekly Army news magazine, Ten Minute Break, and wrote for the Air Transport Command.

After World War II, he won a Guggenheim fellowship and began a long career as a teacher and founder of art institutions. He first taught at Bennington College in Vermont, where he also organized a literary workshop. In 1949 he became a visiting professor of English at the New York State Teachers College in Potsdam, N.Y. The following year the New School for Social Research in New York appointed him director of its Poetry Workshop.

He was also a founder of both the Fine Arts Center in Provincetown and Poets House in New York. Through both his writing and his teaching at schools like the University of Washington, Queens College, Vassar, Brandeis, Columbia, Yale and Rutgers, he influenced a generation of younger poets, including them Louise Gluck, Carolyn Kizer and James Wright.

Among his books were the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Selected Poems, 1928-1958" (Little, Brown, 1958); "Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected" (Norton, 1995), which won a National Book Award; "The Poems of Stanley Kunitz, 1928-1978" (Atlantic/Little, Brown; 1979); "Next-to-Last Things: New Poems and Essays" (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1985) and "The Collected Poems" (Norton, 2000). In another collection, "The Wellfleet Whale and Companion Poems" (1983), the lengthy title piece was based on an incident in which a whale beached and died near his Cape Cod home.

In 1987, when Mr. Kunitz was 81, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo appointed him to a two-year term as the official New York State Poet. Writing for state occasions was not a requirement, but Mr. Kunitz would have been reluctant to in any case. "The poet is not in the service of the state," he said of his official post. "On the contrary, he defends the solitary conscience as opposed to the great power structure of the superstate."

His term as the United States poet laureate was for one year, in 2000. From 1974 to 1976 he was the consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, a precursor to the poet laureate program.

Mr. Kunitz was excited about the prospect of poetry in the new millennium. "I see a new aliveness with all the poetry slams, the cowboy poets, the feminist and gay poets, the experiments with rap," he told People magazine. "It's like the beginning of the 19th century, the Romantic movement, which started with street ballads."

Mr. Kunitz wrote slowly, usually on an old manual typewriter, sometimes holding on to a poem for years before letting it go. He preferred to work at night, perhaps reflecting the restless nights he endured as a child. He insisted that the secret to his longevity was his attitude: "I'm curious," he told People. "I'm active. I garden and I write and I drink martinis."

In an interview in The New York Times last year, he said he had become reconciled to death and gave little thought to his legacy. "Immortality?" he said, "It's not anything I'd lose sleep over."

Of his work, he told People: "The deepest thing I know is that I am living and dying at once, and my conviction is to report that self-dialogue."
In the concluding stanza of "The Long Boat" he wrote:

Peace! Peace!
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn't matter
which way was home;
as if he didn't know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

ENV: Eradicating Zebra Mussels

Zebra Mussels Eradicated in Va. Quarry
Scientists Eradicate an Infestation of Zebra Mussels in a Virginia Quarry
By KRISTEN GELINEAU, The Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. - An infestation of zebra mussels in a Virginia quarry has been eradicated, marking what biologists and environmental experts believe is the first successful extermination of the notoriously invasive species in open waters.

"I'm not aware of any other successful eradication," said zebra mussel expert Hugh MacIsaac, invasive species research chair at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research in Ontario, Canada. "That's quite impressive."

The small black-and-white striped mussels, native to eastern Europe, were first discovered in Virginia in a Prince William County quarry in August 2002, surprising and concerning state wildlife officials.

Zebra mussels are voracious eaters, gobbling up large amounts of plankton the same food many native freshwater fish need to survive. They also pose a threat to utility companies by clogging industrial pipes.

"Zebra mussels throughout North America and, in fact, throughout Europe, are a serious threat," said Ray Fernald, manager of nongame and environmental programs for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. "The economic and environmental damage that they can cause is tremendous."

A contractor, Aquatic Sciences L.P., of Orchard Park, N.Y., injected the quarry with thousands of gallons of potassium chloride solution over a three week period beginning in late January. The solution, while toxic to zebra mussels, did not pose a threat to the environment or humans, Fernald said Thursday.

To verify that all the creatures had been killed, thousands of zebra mussels were imported from the Great Lakes and suspended throughout the 12-acre quarry in mesh bags in late March. On May 2, officials checked the creatures in the bags and determined all were dead. More than a thousand other mussels scraped from the rocks at various sites throughout the quarry were also examined and deemed dead, and scuba divers conducted a visual inspection of the quarry to make sure no live mussels were left.

The eradication process cost about $365,000, Fernald said. Water quality at the quarry and in nearby landowners' wells will be monitored for the next two years, he said.

While Virginia's success with potassium chloride could be replicated in smaller bodies of water infested by zebra mussels, one invasive species expert said the approach would likely fail in a region as large as the Great Lakes.

"Trying to do that on Lake Michigan, or a thousand-acre lake the cost would just be prohibitive," said Phil Moy, a fisheries and non-indigenous species outreach specialist at the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute.

Zebra mussels are difficult to eradicate because they reproduce very quickly, said Thomas Horvath, a professor at the State University of New York in Oneonta who has been researching zebra mussels for about 15 years.

There has been at least one other attempt to eliminate zebra mussels from a body of water. In 1999, researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute began manually pulling the unwelcome mollusks from Lake George in New York. Since then, the population has declined dramatically, but has not been completely eradicated, said Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, a professor at Rensselaer who directs the zebra mussel removal efforts.

You're not going to necessarily get every single last one," she said. "But our goal was initially to go in and to remove the bulk of them. And we did that."

Zebra mussels were first discovered in the United States in 1988 in the Great Lakes, after apparently being carried in a trans-Atlantic ship's ballast water, which was emptied in the lakes. In addition to the five Great Lakes, the creatures have been found in 398 lakes nationwide, as far west as Kansas and as far south as Louisiana, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Amy Benson, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, cautioned against celebrating too soon.

"You never know, they could be back next year," Benson said. "Mother nature has a way of surviving."

On the Net:
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries:

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

ENV: New ES Journal

""I have joined the list to see how and where I can engage your community of scientists can engage with a new conservation journal "Endangered Species Research" or ESR . The journal is an Inter Research publication which is best known for the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series; a journal with excellent reviewing and production standards, leading its field.

The aim of ESR as articulated on the website:

“….publishes contributions reporting research on all species (and habitats) of conservation concern, whether they be classified as Near Threatened or Threatened (Endangered or Vulnerable) by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) or highlighted as part of national or regional conservation strategies. Submissions are also welcomed on (among others) the following wider cross-cutting issues and themes pertinent to the conservation of biodiversity:

* Captive breeding and re-introductions
* Sustainable use
* Conservation medicine (veterinary)
* Conservation genetics
* Population monitoring
* Conservation economics
* Restoration ecology
* Invasive species
* Effects of climate change
* Fisheries bycatch
* Bushmeat
* Biodiversity assessment”

The project was launched in late 2004 by Professor Otto Kinne an ardent conservationist with some of his own work on locally threatened amphibians. Although an editorial board was assembled, for several reasons, the pickup of the journal was relatively slow. Over the last few months the progress of the journal has started to accelerate. For 2006, we have 4 mss accepted and under production and 10mss at review on molluscs, cetaceans, otters, seabirds and turtles. In April we had over 1000 pdf downloads and our trajectory is exponentially upwards. Our editorial board will be commensurately growing over the next few months. We welcome submissions on all taxa and ecosystems of conservation concern in terrestrial, freshwater and marine realm. Submissions should be via the Managing Editor Penny Khun at

If you would like to receive additional updates about contents to ESR you can subscribe for e-mail updates by sending a message to: containing the text “SUBSCRIBE esr-content”

We already have high editorial and production standards, swift reviewing and publication online with free access. I hope that some of you on the list will be interested enough to pay us a visit, subscribe to receive further updates or even submit a piece for publication!

With kind regards

Dr. Brendan J. Godley
Lecturer in Conservation Biology
Centre for Ecology & Conservation
University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus

Editor-in-Chief, Endangered Species Research

MSC: More Blues from Marble Falls

The Uptown Marble Arts Alliance

in association with Marc & Carolyn Seriff present

Clifford Antone’s History of Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll

A multi-media and performance presentation by the people who lived it

Thursday, May 11
Showtime 7:30 p.m.
Doors open 6:30 p.m.
Tickets $10 in advance; $12 at the door
For more information or to purchase advance tickets, visit
Tickets also available at the R Bar, 904 3rd Street, Marble Falls

You have one more chance to brush up on your Rock ‘n’ Roll education on Thursday, May 11th at 7:30 p.m at the Uptown Marble Theater, 218 Main Street, Marble Falls.

Clifford Antone, owner of the famous Antone's nightclub in Austin, is teaching us The History of Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll. This lesson will cover Chess Records and the Chicago blues scene. You’ll hear and see film clips of artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Etta James. Debbi Walton and Sweet Soul Vibe will provide live versions of the songs you’re still singing along with after all these years.

Everyone has had a great time with this series. Clifford is full of funny stories, memories and off-the-wall information. Rick Melchior has assembled Clifford's collection of film clips, interviews and live recordings into a montage of images that will keep you amazed and entertained.

I'll paraphrase a quote from Clifford: "Turn off the TV, get out and support live entertainment." You won't regret it!

This series is sponsored by: Old Oak Square and Oldies KITY 102.9 and 106.1 Hits from the 60’s and 70’s

P.S. For those of you who just can't get enough, Clifford also has shows concerning Texas Blues and Delta Blues which we hope to bring to the Uptown Marble Theater later this year. We'll keep you posted!

EDU: No Child On The Left

The Self-Inflicted Wounds of the Academic Left

Truly this is a bizarre time for the life of the mind in America. The airwaves and best-seller lists are noisy with anti-intellectual jeers. The ruling party embraces the nostrums of "No Child Left Behind" while tossing the teaching of all subjects besides reading and math to the winds. Many of its leaders declare that the Republic was founded not in the name of enlightenment but as a "Christian nation." When the topics of evolution, climate change, stem cells, and contraception arise, the president of the United States blithely jettisons scientific judgments. On the evidence of his dialogue with reporters, and his behavior toward underlings like former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and the former Environmental Protection Agency chief, Christine Todd Whitman, his interest in and capacity for reason are impaired.

Conservative pundits apologize for him. According to his rapturous chronicler, Fred Barnes (Rebel-in-Chief), early in 2005, Bush devoured Michael Crichton's novel State of Fear, which maintains that global warming is a scientific fraud, and met with Crichton at the White House for an hour. They were, Barnes writes, "in near-total agreement." Meanwhile, the great straight-talking hope of the ruling party makes ready to traipse off to Jerry Falwell's university, while another leading candidate for the presidency, a medical doctor, diagnoses a brain-damaged patient from a family videotape. Nor is the reign of fantasy limited to the titular leaders. One year ago, 79 percent of Republicans (and 37 percent of Democrats) still believed that Saddam Hussein's Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction when the war began, according to public-opinion experts Yaeli Bloch-Elkon and Robert Y. Shapiro.

In this perverse climate, dissenting intellectuals might gain some traction by standing for reason. They might begin by asking how it came to pass, over recent decades, that reason in America was defeated. They might explore the subject of public ignorance, its origins, tactics, and prospects. They might also study contrary tendencies, including scientists' resistance to ignorance. They might investigate how it happened that the academic left retreated from off-campus politics. They might consider the possibility that they painted themselves into a corner apart from their countrymen and women. Among the topics they might explore: the academic left's ignorance of main currents of American life, their positive tropism for foreign saviors, their reliance on intricate jargon, their commitment to keeping up with post-everything hotshots of "theory" from more advanced continents. Instead, in a time-honored ritual of the left, a number of academic polemicists choose this moment to pump up rites of purification. At a time when liberals hold next to no sway in any leading institution of national government, when the prime liberal institution of the last centuryorganized labor wobbles helplessly, when most national media tilt so far to the right as to parody themselves, the guardians of purity rise to a high pitch of sanctimoniousness aimed at ... heretics. Liberals, that is.

Liberals, they argue, are a powerful force of accommodation — baby-boomer liberals particularly, baby-boomer liberals in the humanities even more particularly. These heretics are not a generation preparing to shuffle into retirement counting their 401(k)'s but a cunningly if undeservedly potent clique standing astride the culture, betraying the masses and fending off bright alternatives to ideological darkness. Only their treason could possibly explain the triumph of the barbarians' reign of error.

There is scarcely an institution of higher learning where such insinuations cannot be heard. Now several books emerge along these lines, from serious publishers who must believe there is a market for them. Timothy Brennan, a professor of comparative literature, cultural studies, and English at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, pulls the theoretical shotgun off the shelf and writes in Wars of Position: The Cultural Politics of Left and Right that during the last quarter-century, "cultural scholars in universities were instrumental in shaping public sentiment," "their influence was for the most part mixed, at times even disastrous," and that "the humanities played a large and influential part in the descending spiral of political options since 1980." Eric Lott, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, narrows the target, declaring in The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual that "a liberal cadre of writers and academics ... helped blaze the way for the rightward turn that has given us Most Hated Nation status abroad and a paranoid, bloated, and revanchist state apparatus at home. ... For at least a decade and a half, boomer liberalism has helped obstruct useful thinking about U.S. cultural and political complexities, let alone the relation of these to the larger world."

Interestingly, not least, never least — if column inches and broadcast occasions are measures — the cottage industry known as David Horowitz confirms that this cadre (and its allies among those whom Professors Brennan and Lott consider enemies) is stupendously powerful, so much so as to require the immediate attention of some two dozen state legislatures, and maintains (in The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America) that they "ought to trouble ... every American who cares about our country's future." So if universities "often refer to themselves as institutions dedicated to 'social change,'" and "the radical Left has colonized a significant part of the university system and transformed it to serve its political ends," as Horowitz writes, then crashing disappointment must be the lot of the scheming professors, for they have left no apparent trace on the White House, Congress, the federal courts, or the economy, or even (if Professors Brennan and Lott are right) the Democratic Party.

I must disclose an interest. I have the distinct honor, or something, of being attacked in all three books. I will not detain the reader by responding here in detail. Horowitz's slapdash charges include the claim that in my recent writing, I consider my country "ultimately unworthy of [my] respect and even allegiance," when as any reader with a brain will discern, I distinguish between the country that is worthy of respect and allegiance and the government policies that are not. Brennan declares that I have committed "Zionism and ... apologies for U.S. imperial intervention in Iraq, Latin America, and elsewhere." I must have misplaced those apologies somewhere amid the haystack of words I've poured out in recent years against Bush's misguided, disastrous expedition in Iraq and the strategy that accompanies it. As to Zionism, since I do believe that Israelalong with other less-than-perfect nation-states in the Middle Easthas the right to exist, I suppose I plead nolo contendere. Here, I am less concerned to defend myself than to examine the attacks and see what light they cast, even inadvertently, on the pathos of the academic left today.

Professor Brennan's is the more coherent and astute argument, though of the books in question here, his is by far the murkiest in expression. Beneath the murk, though, the skeleton of an interesting argument protrudes, for Brennan knows that the prevalence of radical rhetoric in certain university quadrants does not signify political clout. His saving grace is a certain ironical eye, the anatomical feature necessary to appreciate the downright peculiarity of the situation of left-wing intellectuals today. He maintains that a pseudo-radical left has colonized a significant part of the university system — but unlike Horowitz, he believes this left serves anti-political ends. What Horowitz considers a takeover, Professor Brennan thinks was a period of defeat, when the left-wing "vision of the political past was banished from public discussion." How did that happen? Three processes intertwined: "the deadening effects of middle-class immigration and entry into the university of intellectuals who either were, or were related to, formerly colonized peoples, and who therefore automatically registered as the oppressed when this was often far from the case"; "the popularization of right-wing philosophies from interwar Europe in which a fundamental confusion reigned between conservative and radical rejections of capitalism"; and "hyper-professionalism."

Stirring together these forces produced identity politics, or what Professor Brennan calls "the politics of being," but this trend induced "paralysis" rather than useful (or "agential," as he prefers) activity because it did not produce or value political belief — in particular, left-wing politics. Marxism and left Hegelianism, the ideological good guys, were forced to masquerade as "post-structuralism." Multiculturalism — pluralism in many colors, but no challenge to plutocracy — triumphed over genuine leftism. As a result, "an entire generation has been taken out of politics."

In Professor Brennan's view, the climate of critical discourse that passes under the name "theory" has gone mainstream. It is "widely practiced and believed in the culture at large," inspiring "Hollywood scriptwriters, advertising executives, and the composers of neo-punk bands," infecting "urban avant-garde theater circles, alternative publishing, and middlebrow journalism" alike. Recent obituaries for theory, by the critic Terry Eagleton among others, are no more than feints. "In fact," Brennan writes, "the announcement of theory's death can be seen as a pre-emptive gesture by theory's proponents, designed to pump new life into a failing project by giving it a different and more updated rubric (under the sign of 'biopolitics,' 'local knowledge,' 'the cultural turn,' and so on)." Theory's "decentered subjects" and such purport to be radical departures from dead ideas but in truth share "the American credo of the middle way." They divert from the world-historical task of uprooting capitalism. They are nothing but ... "middle-class." Speaking in behalf of the world's proletariat, Professor Brennan need say no more.

Professor Brennan wants academics to do politics — not cultural-studies' flourishes of consumerist anarchism, disdainful of organization, that amount to "a stay-at-home sort of politics." He knows that politics is more than a theory of meaning, or a round of applause for the latest fad in popular culture, or the silly abstractions of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (Empire, Multitude). He agrees with liberal and social-democratic critics (though without crediting us) that the theory turn of the 70s was politically disarming, by which I do not mean charming or propitiatory. When students in freshman composition at a university like my own are compelled to read third-rate imitators of Walter Benjamin, they are not inspired to organize against the depredations of capital. They are, as Professor Brennan says, inspired to aestheticize social analysis.

But what does Professor Brennan wish the professoriate to embrace instead? Evidently some sort of root-and-branch class-based revolutionism — a variant of the old-time religion. "The crimes committed in the name of communism are real," he acknowledges, "but they ... are certainly no match for the atrocities launched by liberal capitalism, which, far from being officially acknowledged, are completely disavowed or excused." No need to know much about Stalinism or Maoism, then, or the actual Soviet-style policies of that stylish icon, Che Guevara. Such researches might get in the way of the necessary enthusiasms.

Professor Brennan, tracing his own arabesques, elevates gesture above argument. Like most heresy hunters, he is more interested in damning the villains than in making a case against their villainy — or in behalf of some more convincing worldview. Like most practitioners of theory, he is more interested in "positioning" the contenders than making a case for the validity of their theories. The question of how theory X diverges from theory Y takes precedence over the question of X's or Y's truth value or lack of it. If you want to know the ins and outs of Michel Foucault's concepts, or Edward Said's, Professor Brennan will gladly instruct you. If you want to know what their theories are good for and not so good for, however — how it was, say, that Foucault supported the Islamic revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini and Said went silent on Saddam Hussein's assaults on Iran and the Kurds — Professor Brennan has nothing to tell you.

Where Brennan writes a muffled prose, Eric Lott comes out blasting. Intellectuals who want "social-democratic reform" stand for "little more than political complacency with a relatively youthful face." He wants to "take out bourgeois thinkers," and he doesn't mean on dates. They, or we, are guilty of "crimes." They commit "treason against the left, if not indeed against the very vocation of the intellectual." Perhaps the person Professor Lott wants to take out is Ann Coulter.

Enamored of his gestures of virulence, Professor Lott is at pains to add that he has nothing against treason, mind you. What he wants is a "better treason" of the sort he engaged in some years ago in a University of Virginia organizing campaign for living wages. He labors under the impression that this admirable project was more than admirable but momentous — a prefiguration of that up-from-below revolution that might result from a simultaneous casting off of white privilege and a trampling down of national boundaries, which are intrinsically "anti-democratic." It would seem that all that holds back the revolution is "the tenacious affective hold the nation-form exerts on liberal intellectuals." After all, doesn't Étienne Balibar, a longtime French Marxist lately scrambling for a fresh intellectual scheme, maintain that borders are "anti-democratic"?

Like George W. Bush, Professor Lott doesn't "do nuance." He has reissued one of the oldest, stalest stories in the annals of left-wing heresy-sniffing. It goes like this: Marx's "old mole" of "the revolution" is eternally burrowing upward toward the light, whatever obstacles "boomer-liberal nation-love" throws in its way. But misleaders slow it down. What Professor Lott calls "new social movements" (i.e., movements some 30 or 40 years old now), like "blacks, Chicanos, gays, lesbians, women, the disabled, and the working class" — "any one of these movements is liable to engage a dominant social formation at one of its weak points and spark a fire that will earn widespread solidarities." Professor Lott awaits the bracing whiff of a cleansing conflagration in that revolutionary morning. In the meantime: "I smell boomer blood."

It's hard to get on Professor Lott's left side unless one sticks with the uncontaminated "everyday resistances and activisms of many stripes all across the country," which are his only hope. "The New Black Intellectuals," by contrast — Cornel West, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Michael Eric Dyson, et al. — are "too often at ease with the compromises of liberalism," guilty of "a sometimes ingenuous faith in the educability of white Americans" — which, were it so, makes one wonder how the African-American minority is ever to improve anything. Sociologists like Mary Waters, historians like David Hollinger, critics like Ross Posnock and Stanley Crouch, philosophers like K. Anthony Appiah — all who challenge fixed notions of ethnic purity — are members of what Professor Lott considers (no compliment) "the color-blind club." Even so "great" a multiculturalist historian of American literature as Eric Sundquist has signed on to "the devil of liberal nationalism," a.k.a. "Americanism," a.k.a. "a logical bourgeois result of the bourgeois, albeit black, nationalism Sundquist espouses." There's no thought-crime Lott cannot charge by sprinkling a "bourgeois" or two on his sentences.

Thus do the frail forces of purification go apoplectic. As at many junctures when revolutionaries suffer defeat — as in the early 1970s, when the New Left unraveled in fratricide — they conclude they must have been stabbed in the back. Shrinking in real-world significance toward the vanishing point, they go hunting for enemies within. Such sectarian stuff may go over in certain English departments, but its purchase in the rest of the world is meager. It may heat up the revolutionary spirit to curse "boomer-liberal nation-love," but the hurting masses of the poor world — who love their own nations, by the way — might prefer some practical American politics, the kind that stands a chance of wrestling the bully off their backs, "nationalist" as Professor Lott may consider it, to the frisson of his internationalist gestures.

Professor Brennan is right that the academic left is nowhere today. It matters more to David Horowitz than to anyone else. The reason is that its faith-based politics has crashed and burned. It specializes in detraction. It offers no plausible picture of the world. Such spontaneous movements as do crop up in America — like the current immigrant demonstrations — do not emerge from the campus left. Neither do reformers' intermittent attempts to eject the party of plutocracy and fundamentalism from power, to win universal health care, to protect the planet from further convulsions, to enlarge the rights of the least privileged. If more academics deigned to work toward reforms, they might contribute ideas about taxes, education, trade, employment, investment, foreign policy, and security from jihadists. But the academic left is too busy guarding the flame of nullification. They think they can fortify themselves with vigilance. In truth, their curses are gestures of helplessness.

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University and the author, most recently, of The Intellectuals and the Flag, published in January by Columbia University Press.


The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual,
by Eric Lott
(Basic Books, 2006)

The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America,
by David Horowitz
(Regnery Publishing, 2006)

Wars of Position: The Cultural Politics of Left and Right,
by Timothy Brennan
(Columbia University Press, 2006)
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 52, Issue 35, Page B6
From the issue dated May 5, 2006

ENV: New Laotian Frogs

8 New Frog Species Discovered in Laos
Conservationists Worry About Habitat Loss
By MICHAEL CASEY, The Associated Press

BANGKOK, Thailand - You want to find a new frog species? Head to the Southeast Asian nation of Laos. gcScientists working in conjunction with the New York-based World Conservation Society, or WCS, say they have discovered eight new species of frogs in the past two years. Among them is one where the male is half the size of the female and another which has a row of spines running down its belly.

Their findings were reported earlier this year in Copeia, the journal of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, and in other peer-reviewed scientific journals since 2004.

"Nobody has really paid much attention to Laos in terms of amphibian and reptile research," Bryan Stuart, whose team made the discoveries, told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

"So the amphibian fauna of Laos is much more poorly understood compared with neighboring countries. Almost every one of my field trips has yielded species unknown to science," he said.

The frogs are the latest new species to come out of the tiny, landlocked Asian country. Many are found in Laotian forests, largely unexplored by outsiders because of the geographic remoteness and the country's history of political turmoil.

Last year, scientists reported discovering a rat-like rodent known locally as kha-nyou. The mammal, with the face of a rat and the body of a skinny squirrel, previously was thought to have died out 11 million years ago, researchers writing in Science said in March.

Stuart, whose team also discovered a new species of salamander in Laos in 2004, said he is captivated by the new finds but also concerned since many of the frogs depend on forests which are constantly under threat across the region.

"These frogs are not living in rice paddies or near villages. They are living in intact forests," he said.

"When forests are cleared, we're losing this piece of biodiversity that we may never have known existed," he said. "I can't think of any tropical region where there isn't a threat to intact forest. Certainly, there is forest destruction in Laos."

Another threat at least to the black and gold salamander Stuart's team discovered is collectors. Earlier this year, the salamander turned up in the pet trade in Japan, where it is commanding a high commercial price. There also have been reports of it being sold in Germany and Britain, the WCS said.

"The collectors are getting in before we understand the ecology of the salamander," said Michael Hedemark, co-director of the WCS Lao Program. "Our concern is that the population will be driven to extinction before we understand it better."

Stuart, a research assistant at the Field Museum in Chicago, plans to return to Laos later this year for additional research. He said he believes the conservation benefits of reporting a new discovery outweigh the threat of collectors.

Referring to the frogs, he says none of their characteristics such as size or color are likely to interest collectors. But reporting their discovery, he said, may spur the government to protect its forests better.

"The process of discovering and describing biodiversity must go on," he said.

On the Net:
Wildlife Conservation Society:

ENV: The NYT on Ovoryb-bills

13 Ways of Looking at an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker
By JACK HITT, The New York Times, May 7, 2006

If I wanted to, I could claim something that fewer than two dozen people on the planet right now can: I have seen an ivory-billed woodpecker. It was only a year ago that history was made when it was announced that this legendary woodpecker — also known as the Lord God Bird for the excited cry said to accompany a sighting — was not extinct, as had been widely believed, but had been positively identified in a swamp called the Bayou de View in Arkansas. On Feb. 26, I visited the bayou with Bill Tippit, a friendly bear of a birder. We were expecting to spend the day in the swamp with an expert guide, but in the chime of a cellphone, we found ourselves suddenly guideless, standing there with our waders, a canoe and a big desire. "I'm game," he said in his slow, deep twang. So we put in and spent the day drifting around the primeval beauty of Arkansas's most famous bottom-land swamp.

Even though I grew up among South Carolina's cypress swamps, I had never seen cypress trees this huge and haunting. Towering beside them was the ancient tupelo, like some Devonian Period beta version of "tree." These thousand-year-old senator trees are large enough at the base to garage a car, and then they suddenly narrow like a wine bottle before shooting up into a regular tree. Tippit and I spent the day paddling into swampy cul-de-sacs and just hanging there, strictly quiet, for half an hour at a stretch.

"You can't find the bird," Tippit said. "The bird has to find you." By late afternoon, the swamp had come to life with a dozen birdsongs. Blue herons flapped through the trees, while above, the canopy was a rush hour of swallows and sweeps. At times, the dimming forest could be as chatty as a crowded cocktail party, filled with the call of the pileated woodpecker. A relative of the ivory-bill, the pileated is common and often mistaken — very often — for its more renowned cousin.

Then: "Ivory-bill!" Tippit urgently whispered from the back of the canoe. I looked ahead but saw nothing. I turned to see precisely where he was pointing. I whipped back around to see the final movements of a large dark bird disappearing like a black arrow into the dusky chill of the swamp.

I knew the drill. To confirm the sighting, I asked Tippit to report to me precisely what he saw. As with any witness, it's important to set the interview down on paper as soon as possible. Tippit called out: "Two white panels on the back of the wings! It lit on that tree. It was large. Also saw it flying away from me with flashes of white."

Since that February afternoon, I have been able to say, "I saw an ivory-billed woodpecker," yet I have not said it. It turns out it's not an easy sentence to utter, and not only because all I really saw was a distant flash of black feathers. I got a better sense of the difficulty of this claim when I attended the Call of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Celebration in February in nearby Brinkley (formerly Lick Skillet), Ark. The town had so gussied itself up in midwinter woodpecker boosterism that I fully expected to see a parade led by Robert Preston sporting an ivory-bill haircut (available at Penny's Hair Care for $25). A modest motel is now the Ivory Billed Inn. Gene's Restaurant and Barbecue offers an ivory-bill cheeseburger. There's even ivory-bill blue: I bought a T-shirt that reads, "Got Pecker?" And yet talk of seeing the bird was curiously absent. It's hard to describe, but it's like saying you've walked on the moon or been anointed by the Dalai Lama. It's a boast of immense magnitude, frightening to claim, and here's why: In the weeks after the initial sighting, Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology flew down dozens of scientists to comb the swamp, and the Nature Conservancy intensified its efforts to secure large swaths of the habitat. Even the Department of the Interior got involved. The gravitas of powerful institutions and eminent professionals now looms over every claim.

During the question-and-answer period after a talk given by Sharon Stiteler, a perky, witty, smiling blonde who is the host of, I cut off a back-and-forth about bird feeders to ask her, "Have you seen an ivory-billed woodpecker?" It was as if I'd dropped a glass on the floor. The room went weirdly silent. The smile on Stiteler's face flickered away quick as a chickadee. "I am not allowed to comment on that," she said. "I was out with Cornell in December and had to sign a lot of confidentiality agreements."

Soon after the original declaration of the discovery was made last April, controversy broke out, and it quickly got nasty. The ugliness derives from something deep in the heart of birding. Most people think of birding as either a science worthy of a word like "ornithology" or a harmless hobby pursued by rubber-faced old men in porkpie hats. But the act of birding, ultimately, is an act of storytelling. For instance, if someone said to you, "I saw this cardinal fly out of nowhere with yellow tips on its wings and land on the side of a tree," even the least experienced amateur would counter that cardinals don't have yellow wingtips and don't cling to trees but rather perch on branches. Each bird is a tiny protagonist in a tale of natural history, the story of a niche told in a vivid language of color, wing shape, body design, habitat, bill size, movement, flying style and perching habits. The more you know about each individual bird, the better you are at telling this tale.

Claiming to have seen rare birds requires a more delicate form of storytelling and implies a connoisseur's depth of knowledge. Saying "I saw an ivory-bill's long black neck and white trailing feathers" requires roughly the same panache as tasting an ancient Bordeaux and discoursing on its notes of nougat and hints of barnyard hay.

If you don't pull it off, then people presume that you are lying or stupid. And this is where birding gets personal. Telling a rare-bird-sighting story is to ask people to honor your ability as a birder — to trust you, to believe you. To say I saw an ivory-bill — and Tippit says we did — would put me in one camp; on the other hand, to say that I'm not sure totally disses my canoe partner's integrity. And I came to like and trust Bill Tippit quite a lot. He pointed out about a dozen birds to me that afternoon that I never would have seen without his keen eye. I don't want to deny him. So I cagily keep myself suspended between two potential truths, which is where a lot of birders now find themselves.

The ivory-billed woodpecker is, essentially, Schrödinger's cat, the famous physics paradox in which a cat in a box is neither dead nor alive until you open the box. By keeping my mouth shut (about as rare an experience as an ivory-bill sighting), the bird is both extinct from the planet and nesting in the swamps of Arkansas.

But this is not one of those crummy stories that ends with some annoying riff about "ambiguity." Birding is not philosophy. Birding is storytelling, and ivory-bill birding is the most exquisitely nuanced yarn of them all. It requires that you consider the different facets of the ivory-billed woodpecker from every angle. (My experience with Bill Tippit and this philosophical mumbo jumbo are but two.) There are, with some editing, 13 ways of looking at the ivory-billed woodpecker, and there is an answer to the burning question Did I see the damn bird or not? Here's the thing — I'm not able to give the answer. It's a birding story. Only you can.

The fantastic story of the bird's rediscovery begins with the first confirmed sighting. Tim Gallagher, editor of Living Bird magazine, published by Cornell University's ornithology lab, was writing a book, "The Grail Bird," a history of the search for the ivory-bill. He intended to interview every living person who had seen one. It turns out that there's a whole subcategory of bird aficionados known as ghost-bird chasers, who look for birds presumed to be extinct. Gallagher himself was one, and over his years of searching, he met Bobby Harrison, a photography professor at Oakwood College in Alabama, who was also in this game.

The two men were made for the Chautauqua circuit, which they're now in fact on, sometimes together, sometimes solo, telling the tale of their sighting. Their appearance before an awestruck audience capped the Brinkley celebration. Gallagher is a tall 55-year-old with white hair and a pleasantly restrained Yankee demeanor who introduced himself in Arkansas by confessing amiably that he'd always thought the South was weird and that he considered Harrison his "interpreter and guide." Harrison, a fun guy with a head like a mortar shell, had his own schtick, like saying that he didn't know "damn Yankee" was two words until he was 20 years old. The audience laughed wildly at their tale, which was, like the best sightings, a great adventure story full of snakes, mayhem, missteps, mud, bugs and a bird.

In early 2004, Gallagher was alerted to an online posting by another Southerner, a kayaker named Gene Sparling, who reported that he'd seen an unusual woodpecker in the Bayou de View. Gallagher and Harrison each interviewed him and were convinced. They rushed to Arkansas and put in. The second day they were there — Feb. 27, 2004 — the two saw something burst into the sunshine. "Look at all the white on its wings," Gallagher shouted. "Ivory-bill!" they both screamed. And it was gone. They wrote down their notes and drew sketches. Gallagher had a new ending for his book. Bobby got on the phone to his wife, Norma, and sobbed.

Back at Cornell, Gallagher told John Fitzpatrick, the head of the school's lab of ornithology, and Fitzpatrick was persuaded by Gallagher's description. After quietly deploying a few pros (and then a lot of them) to poke around Arkansas, Fitzpatrick decided to throw the lab's prestige and best resources into the search. Meanwhile, Gene Sparling, the kayaker, had contacted the Nature Conservancy, the environmental group best known for buying undeveloped land. According to Scott Simon, the conservancy's state director, the group had helped save some 120,000 acres of this part of Arkansas, known as the Big Woods, a good bit of the habitat where the bird might be.

"A few days after Feb. 27, Fitzpatrick called me," Simon told me, "and we danced around trying to find out what the other knew." When they discovered that they knew the same thing, Simon became a partner and agreed to supply aerial photographs.

"Fitz emphasized the need to keep it quiet," Simon went on to tell me. "They wanted to get in one full year of research uninterrupted and focused. For 14 months we did that. We called it the Inventory Project, and we talked about it in code." Eventually, when all the necessary groups were brought in, the Inventory Project had a 16-person management board. "And it was really fun," Simon said. "These people met on a conference call every Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m., Central Time." The ivory-bill was now the subject of the greatest supersecret mission in the history of ornithology.

Cornell's swamp operation moved swiftly into place in Arkansas in the spring of 2004, and it is still there today. "We have 36 people on the ground at any one time," the field supervisor, Elliott Swarthout, told me. "Twenty-two are paid staff; 14 are volunteers." There are 28 Autonomous Recording Units, or A.R.U.'s, stationed at strategic flyways in the swamp. Hundreds of hours of audio recordings are routinely flown back to Cornell, where they are computer-searched for the patterns of the ivory-bill's two most famous sounds. There is the "kent" call, a funny bweep that sounds like a kid's toy horn. And there is the double knock — two heavy bill blows into a tree, so close together they almost register as one sound.

Scattered throughout the forest, time-lapse cameras are mounted on trees. The ornithologists have also drawn up grids and transepts and are systematically moving through the area with human eyes to conduct regular bird counts and spot roost holes. They have flown as many as four ultralight aircraft low over the swamp canopy to flush out ivory-bills. By the end of the first year of searching, Cornell had registered seven brief sightings of the bird.

In April 2004, a compelling piece of evidence came in. A computer scientist named David Luneau was videotaping in the swamp when his camera, fixed in the canoe and focused on his colleague, captured a large black-and-white woodpecker in the background. The woodpecker was half-hidden by a tree and was startled before making an out-of-focus escape into the swamp. The tape lasts four seconds. Fitzpatrick and 16 colleagues slowed down the tape and concluded that the fuzzy white patches appeared in the right places.

Fitzpatrick waited a full year, studying the habitat, before taking the discovery public. On April 28, 2005, the peer-reviewed 17-author paper was published with much fanfare by Science magazine on its Science Express Web site. Cornell and the Nature Conservancy launched and provided the media with easily downloaded images. The lab's marketing department fired off electronic press releases to 1,000 members of the media. Cornell's press office beefed up its presence in Washington and assisted in the media rollout of news items: 43 radio shows, 174 television programs and 459 newspaper articles. Overnight, the ivory-billed woodpecker became a generally accepted scientific fact.

But not for long. Within weeks, both professional ornithologists and amateur birders were starting to have doubts. Four world-class bird specialists, led by Richard Prum of Yale University (who is a neighbor of mine) and including a renowned ivory-bill expert named Jerome Jackson, prepared a peer-reviewed paper, arguing that the Science magazine material did not rise to the standard of scientific evidence. It was a heavy charge.

But then last summer, as the authors prepared for publication, Cornell sent them some fresh and exciting evidence: recordings of kent calls and double knocks. Prum was temporarily won over, publicly stating that the "thrilling new sound recordings provide clear and convincing evidence that the ivory-billed woodpecker is not extinct." The authors pulled their paper.

But as the months passed and no new evidence materialized, the doubters were heard from again. In January, Jackson published a direct attack on Cornell's science in The Auk, a respected bird publication. He charged, among other things, that Gallagher's original sighting suffered from what might be called "story creep." Gallagher's book, published in May 2005, estimates his distance from the bird at "less than 80 feet." In the July 2005 issue of Audubon magazine, his wife wrote that it was "less than 70 feet." In an interview on "60 Minutes" in October, Gallagher said the bird was "about 65 feet away." At one news conference, Fitzpatrick observed that if Gallagher and Harrison had not shouted, the bird "might even have landed on the canoe." Jackson wrote: "Observations can become more and more 'real' with the passing of time, as we forget the minor details and focus inwardly on the 'important' memory." He characterized Cornell's science, memorably, as "faith-based ornithology."

The video has always been held out by Cornell as the most solid proof. After all, the pileated has white on the front undersides of the wings; the ivory-bill's wing is distinguished by a lot of white on the top trailing feathers. But in March of this year, David Allen Sibley, the author of "Sibley's Guide to Birds," issued a frame-by-frame analysis of the video. (I know Sibley and have been in the woods with him on a few occasions.) Sibley's critique (which Cornell quickly rebutted) offered a completely different interpretation of the video. As Sibley saw it, the bird pushed back from the tree and rotated its wings furiously, scooping the air to gain initial flight. In other words, the "topside trailing feathers" you could see were actually the underside feathers of a wing strenuously wrenched backward in the act of getting airborne. The most famous ivory-billed woodpecker of the 21st century looked to David Allen Sibley like a pileated flying away.

Early last month, I was back in the swamp, this time with Bobby Harrison, the ivory-bill rock star. If you're going to spend a day in a swamp, there is no one better to spend it with than Harrison. He had a nearly silent trolling motor, so we were able to penetrate the darkness of the swamp this time without a peep, except when we were beating off cottonmouth snakes with our paddles or portaging the whole rig over frustrating logjams. After three miles we came into an area called Blue Hole, and we puttered up the way just past a visible A.R.U. when suddenly: bam-bam. "Did you hear that?" Harrison said. I had. No question. We pulled the canoe onto a mud bank and stepped out. Visibility was becoming limited, not because of light but because the forest was in early bud. Leaves seemed to grow bigger by the hour, making the distant vistas close right up around us. As Harrison and I stood there, a large black-and-white bird came from behind us and soared into the green. "Did you see that?" he said. I did. His eyes tightened with disappointment. "I couldn't tell," he said. Me either.

The problem with double knocks is that they are not that distinctive a sound. As Fitzpatrick himself told me: "There are certain double-knocky sounds that come from wood ducks flapping wings on the water or running into each other." Two branches banging in the wind can make that sound, as well as a distant truck running over a manhole cover.

When I was out in the canoe with Bill Tippit in February, we were disturbed by some amateur birders nearby, loudly discussing their dinner plans. Tippit hammered the side of our canoe twice with his paddle: bam-bam. The woods went so totally quiet that I might have been able to hear the birders scratching down the notes of their encounter if it hadn't been for Tippit's chuckling.

The first sentence of Gallagher's book reads, "I think I've always been the kind of person who gets caught up in obsessive quests, most of which seem to involve birds." This sentiment of deep longing grips all those now on the prowl in Arkansas. "It's been a fixation since early childhood," Fitzpatrick told me. If you accept the thinking of Jackson and Sibley, then it's possible to reread Gallagher's book not as a birder's adventure of discovery but as a fanatic's confession of self-delusion. He sometimes seems to undermine his own claims. Gallagher confesses to be prone, for example, to "quixotic quests." The code name used for the bird during the Inventory Project was "Elvis," an unusual choice given that Elvis is now someone seen by true believers but who is, well, extinct. In Gallagher's book, you can find Harrison's initial reaction to Luneau's video: "It makes a bad Bigfoot movie look good."

Gallagher also tells the story of a ghost-chaser named Mary Scott, who had an Arkansas sighting a year before Gene Sparling, the kayaker, and was the first person to alert Gallagher to Sparling's account. Scott is a former lawyer who in midlife took up residence in a yurt near her parents' house in Long Beach, Calif. On one birding expedition, Scott took along a friend who knew an "ivory-bill whisperer." With the clairvoyant on the cellphone, the search party learned that the bird wanted to be seen but was troubled by the group's "energy." Scott eventually wandered off by herself and, she says, saw the bird. In fact, Scott has seen the bird quite a lot, so much so that she is openly scorned by other birders. "I must admit," Gallagher nevertheless writes, "I had come to believe strongly in her sighting."

Trace back the involvement of the Department of the Interior, Cornell University, the Nature Conservancy and a half-dozen other groups on the ground, and you'll find that all of them, arguably, owe their presence in Arkansas to a tent-dwelling courthouse dropout taking her guidance from an ivory-bill whisperer on a cellphone.

From the moment the Inventory Project began, according to Scott Simon, environmental organizations carefully laid out a fund-raising strategy. The Nature Conservancy immediately went to work raising money to buy or option some 18,500 more acres. "Because 18,500 acres is about $28 million," Simon said, "we went to about seven or eight key donors who have supported other projects. We shared everything with them, like you would with a board member." Simon contacted people like Marshall Field, the department-store owner; Roger Sant, a founder of AES Corporation; and John Norris of Lennox Corporation. They were briefed on the ivory-bill after being asked to sign confidentiality agreements.

The conservancy was raising millions. Cornell, meanwhile, had committed itself to an extensive ground research operation costing, Fitzpatrick told me, "between half a million and a million dollars a year." At the time of the 2005 announcement of the discovery, Gale Norton, then the secretary of the interior, pledged more than $10 million in federal funds to help secure the bird's habitat. She called it the Corridor of Hope.

In his article in The Auk, Jackson describes the pressure this put on the bird sightings: "How many major donors, how many granting agencies, how many government officials would contribute to the more than $10 million associated with this effort, if the message had been only, 'There might be ivory-billed woodpeckers out there'?" The ivory-bill suddenly looked less like Audubon's stately woodpecker and more like Hammett's Maltese falcon.

The one sturdy argument on behalf of the ivory-bill is that there were repeated sightings, all by the Cornell team, during the secret mission. After Cornell got Gallagher's first sighting report, the ornithology lab excitedly sent down another experienced birder. He didn't see anything, but he returned with enough enthusiasm to inspire a half-dozen more birders to head down. Expanding the clique while still incubating the secret, Fitzpatrick dispatched ever-larger contingents.

"For me, it was just a recipe for misconception," Sibley told me recently. He and other birders believe this expanding pool of people being let in on a secret sighting may well have fed a kind of groupthink, leading to wishful sightings. But could such a thing happen among birders? Actually, it turns out, it does happen. A lot. In Sibley's introductory book, "Sibley's Birding Basics" (published long before these sightings), he warns against "the overexcited birder" and "group hysteria." Sibley cites "one very well documented case in California" in which "the first state record of the Sky Lark (a Eurasian species) was misidentified for days, and by hundreds of people, as the state's first Smith's Longspur."

"There is a long list of well-studied effects," Sibley told me. "There is peer pressure, the expectation of what they were there to do, as well as the authority effect of finding what the boss wants you to find." Most of the Cornell sightings occurred in the surge of joy immediately following Gallagher's return to Cornell. Since then, they have come less frequently. At the ivory-bill celebration in Brinkley, the organizer got up on the big night and said, "We were hoping that tonight we'd be making news with a big announcement from Cornell, but apparently we won't be."

These two opposing views in birding now exist side by side. Each day more birders join the Prum-Jackson-Sibley side. But the Gallagher-Harrison-Sparling view is not yielding any ground. In March, I was invited to attend the annual dinner of the Explorers Club, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. The group is a grown-up version of the Boy Scouts, minus the solemnity of tying knots. In the hotel's Grand Ballroom, there was a visit from a llama and, of course, a march of penguins. The ivory-bill trio were onstage in black-tie to receive the coveted President's Award for Conservation. Around a banquet table loaded with exotic appetizers — "Sweet-and-Sour Bovine Penis Braised, With Testicular Partners" and "Mealworms With Durian Paste, on Toastettes" — the chat was about the thrill of the ivory-bill's rediscovery. Reports of Sibley's critique were still in the newspapers, yet there was not a peep of dissent to be heard near the "Kangaroo Balls Bourguignon."

The bird was both seen and unseen. "The Arkansas ivory-bill," Prum later told me, "is the W.M.D. of ornithology."

One morning last month in Arkansas, a Fish and Wildlife clerk named Karen, sporting ivory-bill earrings, winked at Harrison, handed me a map of the swamp and told us she'd been hearing about an area called the George Tract.

The ground there was not exactly swamp — just wet, full of sinks and little bogs. We didn't find much. We were just chatting when I asked Harrison if he could remember when he first got bit by ivory-bill fever.

"Oh, sure," he said, without pausing. "It was after reading Don Moser's article in Life magazine in 1972. I was 17 years old."

I had been hearing about this article — an account of a search for the ivory-bill — since the festival in February. Gallagher had mentioned it in his talk, and I noticed how often it came up in lunchtime chats with visiting birders. "I remember reading that Life magazine article," Fitzpatrick later told me. So I ordered the old magazine. From paragraph to paragraph, Moser's story quivers with melancholy and wistful longing, and as is typically found in Northern writing about the South, the author's prose goes all damp as he contemplates a landscape of things lost and, at twilight, almost found.

"If the question of its existence remains unanswered it will continue to range the back country of the mind," Moser wrote of the ivory-bill, "and those who wish to trail it there can find it in their visions."

"It's a funny thing about that magazine," Harrison said to me in the bog. "I cannot tell you how many people I stumble upon out here in the woods, and when we get to talking, I find out that they were inspired by the exact same article."

The greatest search for the ivory-bill was a 1935 expedition led by Arthur Allen, who, like Fitzpatrick, headed the Cornell ornithology lab. As Gallagher relates in his book, Allen and his team ventured into some virgin swamp in Louisiana known as the Singer Tract, owned by the company that bought such forests to make cabinets for its sewing machines. Allen not only saw the bird but also filmed it, photographed it and recorded it. Today, when Cornell scientists play the famous kent calls in Arkansas hoping to attract the bird, they are playing Allen's 70-year-old recordings.

After the expedition, Allen sent his best student, a young man named James Tanner, down South to spend three years observing the bird. Out of that work came a slim book, still in print, and no ghost-bird chaser is without a dogeared copy.

The burden of this noble history is undeniable. "No doubt about it, this is a venerable institution," Fitzpatrick said, "and one of the things I'm doing is sitting in Arthur Allen's chair." But that burden carries much more than the reputation of Cornell University. If the ivory-bill is a story, it is one that reaches deep into America's most anguished history.

After the Civil War, when the South lay in smoldering ruins with no railroad or economy and with federal troops occupying many of those states until 1877, there were no jobs for the freed slaves or the poor whites living on the land. When Reconstruction ended, the Northern timber companies descended. "Some 200 million acres of forest were cut in about 30 or 40 years," Scott Simon of the Nature Conservancy told me. (At one talk at the festival, a conservationist put up a slide depicting the annihilated "range of the ivory-bill." It was essentially the Confederacy.) These primeval swamps and old-growth forests had been sheared into flat farmland by the time Allen and his party headed South to visit the last stand of virgin woods.

It's hard to imagine that it's a coincidence that the story of the ivory-bill so often involves a serious Northern expert coming South to hook up with a smart-alecky good old boy from Dogpatch, and these two lighting out for the swamp to find the iconic bird. The stately Gallagher found Bobby Harrison, just as Allen and Tanner found an amusing local lawyer named Mason Spencer and a woodsman named J.J. Kuhn.

After Tanner returned from his famous study, naturalists undertook a monumental project to save the ivory-bill and its habitat. Chicago Mill, a lumber company that had bought the timber rights to most of the 81,000-acre Singer Tract, expressed some willingness to sell them, since there was no labor to cut the wood at the beginning of World War II. But in 1943, as Phillip Hoose recounts in his book "The Race to Save the Lord God Bird," negotiations with government officials and environmentalists broke down when company executives learned that German soldiers were being held in P.O.W. camps nearby and could be used to cut timber practically free. "We are just money grubbers," the company's chairman explained with a long-lost candor. Despite the intervention of four governors, the last large virgin forest in Dixie was clear-cut by Nazis.

After that, there has not been a single undisputed sighting of the ivory-bill. Some theorize that the bird, unable to find appropriate habitat, simply died out. Others disagree. "The bird didn't just die," Harrison explained to me. "He went — somewhere."

A lot of birders believe this, and perhaps that is why the recent Arkansas sightings are hardly unique. Ivory-bills have been seen sporadically since the end of World War II. In 1950, Chipola River, Fla. In 1955, Homosassa Springs, Fla. In 1966, Big Thicket, Tex. In 1971, in Atchafalaya Basin, La. In 1975, near Baton Rouge. In Cuba in the 1980's. In 1999, Pearl River Swamp, La. Each sighting had mythic tones, and not just because the iconic bird could never be definitively seen. There was also that repetition of plot that marks the cultural myth — the friendship of a Billy Yank and a Johnny Reb, the almost-confirmed sighting, talk of resurrection, sometimes a media circus or a fuzzy image. Some of these sightings led to vicious disagreements. The 1966 sighting by a very respected birder, John Dennis, ended brutally: "Dennis wants to believe he saw something," intoned James Tanner himself. "But he didn't." In 1971, George Lowery Jr. came forward with a story that he had befriended a local man who trained his dogs in the swamp. Lowery refused to identify his swamp-loving sidekick, who had given him two fuzzy Kodak Instamatic pictures of an ivory-bill on two different trees. Critics right away noticed that the ivory-bill had the exact same body posture in both pictures. The conclusion was that the bird was stuffed and put up in the tree. Lowery went to his death standing by his mysterious friend and the pictures.

"Am I worried?" Fitzpatrick mused. "That if the ivory-bill is never seen again that people will look back and say, 'Fitzpatrick laid an egg'? No. I did the right thing to jump on the story and put resources on the ground. We continue to focus on this as a conservation story whether or not the bird decorates the treetops." After the disputed sighting in Texas in 1966, 84,550 acres became the Big Thicket National Preserve. The Nature Conservancy says it will be satisfied if this sighting has a similar ending. "There may not be an ivory-bill there," said Steve McCormick, president of the conservancy, "but it's a habitat that now and forever could sustain an ivory-bill."

The ivory-bill's habitat is this Edenic swamp, an old and majestic forest. The names of the areas where it has been sighted — the Big Woods of Arkansas, the Big Thicket of Texas — suggest large and wild habitats, crowded with senator trees and brimming with other life. The swamp's ivory-bill is the storied messenger bird. He is Noah's dove, surviving improbably after a catastrophe to bring us grace. Lord God Bird, forgive us our trespasses.

Back three miles in the bayou with Bobby Harrison, the swamp air got a bit awkward. "We heard a double knock," he said from the back of the canoe. "That is so exciting."

"Yeah, I heard it," I replied. Harrison brought up the double knock a half-dozen times on our way in. He was plumbing my level of enthusiasm. He was listening for that certain tremolo, the true believer's excitement. I was cradling Schrödinger's cat as delicately as possible.

"That is such good news," he said. "It is the first indication all season that I had that tells me the bird is still here." We dragged the canoe through a shallow part of the swamp. The sun was setting. "I feel optimistic," he said.

But the truth is, few of the people involved in the hunt feel all that optimistic anymore. "It would be a shame if the bird is not there and a marvel if it is," McCormick confessed to me one day last month, "but what I care most passionately about is the integrity of the ecosystem and the fact of its rebounding, even if the bird is not there." When I asked Fitzpatrick recently what he had learned after studying the ivory-bill for two years, he said, "The bird is not that common."

Harrison attributed Fitzpatrick's slim finding to the Yankees' grids and transepts, which he mocked as a form of intellectual clear-cutting. "The Cornell method is a bust," he told me, adding, "They had a tiger hunt the other day. You know what a tiger hunt is? When the servants run through the woods banging pots and pans so the maharaja can walk in at the end and shoot the tiger." (Fitzpatrick prefers to call them saturation searches: "Using 30-odd people spaced out in the swamp with G.P.S.'s so that anything that moves that day, we'll find.") "It just shows you how desperate they are," Harrison added. "They'll never see the bird if they keep scaring it off." Harrison prefers the Tippit method, floating and sitting. Harrison has a camouflage rig that covers all of him and his canoe, leaving only his eyes to poke out of some fake leaves. "I want to become part of the landscape," he said, as much a dream as a strategy.

Since bird-watching season begins when the leaves fall off the trees, I asked Fitzpatrick if he intended to hit the swamps with the same ground operation this fall. "The answer is probably no," he said. "We will try to get more robotic. We'll use more technology without human effort."

The 22 paid staff members of this past winter will most likely be downsized to somewhere "in the 3-to-5 range," he said. But Fitzpatrick affirmed Cornell's commitment to Arkansas. "We'll be looking for years," he said. "Maybe for the rest of my life."

Jack Hitt is a contributing writer. His last article for the magazine was about abortion in El Salvador.