Friday, June 30, 2006

ENV: David Taylor's New Book!

Some of the evolution of this masterpiece played out over at The Nature Writers of Texas . . .

This from the press, thanks to publicist Colleen Shaw:

New from the University of North Texas Press:

Pride of Place
A Contemporary Anthology of Texas Nature Writing

Since writer and folklorist Roy Bedichek published his influential Adventures with a Texas Naturalist in 1947, no book has matched that work in exploring the uniqueness of Texas nature or reflected the changes in the human landscape that have accelerated since Bedichek's time. However, UNT Press believes that has changed with the official release of Pride of Place: A Contemporary Anthology of Texas Nature Writing edited by UNT Academic Adviser David A. Taylor.

Pride of Place offers updates to Bedichek's discussion by acknowledging the increased urbanization and the loss of wildspace in the Texas of today. It joins other recent collections of regional nature writing while illustrating what makes Texas uniquely diverse.

"The book's fourteen essays are held together by the story of Texas pride, the sense that from West Texas to the Coastal Plains, Texas and its unique landscape are important and worthy of pride, if not downright bravado," Taylor said.

Pride of Place addresses all the major regions of Texas. Beginning with Bedichek's essay "Still Water" from Adventures with a Texas Naturalist, it includes:

Stephen Harrigan and Wyman Meinzer on West Texas;
John Graves' evocative "Kindred Spirits" on Central Texas;
Writings by Carol Cullar and Barbara "Barney" Nelson on the Rio Grande region of West Texas;
Joe Nick Patoski's celebration of Hill Country springs;
UNT Philosophy Professor "Pete" A.Y. Gunter on the Piney Woods;
David Taylor on North Texas;
Gary Clark and Gerald Thurmond on the Coastal Plains;
Ray Gonzales and Marian Haddad on El Paso;
Naomi Shihab Nye on urban San Antonio

Publisher's Weekly says:
"The strength of the selections lies both in the skill of the writers
and the variety of their subject matter."

Taylor is the academic advisor in the new UNT Honors College and he teaches in the philosophy and English departments. His previous works include South Carolina Naturalists: An Anthology, 1700-1860 and Lawson's Fork: Headwaters to the Confluence. He lives in Denton.

The book is now available in bookstores. Persons seeking to order directly from the UNT Press can call (800) 826-8911 or go to

ENV: Circus of the Spineless #10 is up!

On short notice and likely with a barrage of last minute submissions Dave at Science and Sensibility has put together a fantastic tenth edition of the Circus of the Spineless featuring a cool graphic linked to the various taxonomic groups. The systematic grouping is a natural so to speak but his arrangement and narrative are well thought out and sensitive. All in all it's a wonderful issue for browsing and enjoying our little obsession. Congrats David on a great issue!

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COM: Blogarithmic #132

Went to feed the Llama yesterday and when i turned to leave i noticed something a bit odd across the way in the barn. Checked it out and found the critter below. While there is a corral outside that the adults use, it's a long way around to an open door. I don't know if mom dropped this guy off in there or if he found his way in on his own. Later when i went to check on it, and found it still there near dusk, i turned again to check on the llama, heard a doe bleat, and watched the youngster jump up and take off around the corner and straight out the door, almost like it was used to the place. It's very possible it's been bedded down there before, because in that spot i could easily have missed it.

Two bits of news on the media front. I'm working on providing some of my footage to Animal Planet for a show they are putting together on dragonfly migration. And Charles Lawrence wrote me to ask if he could use another of my songs. He used It's All Right on his debut CD.

Yep. Under the folding chairs we keep in the barn for just such an occasion!

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

COM: Blogarithmic #131

There's a couple of big Blog Carnivals gearing up! First, you might want to take a look at a new one -- MC is putting together a neuroscience carnival

Then, those of you who have an invertebrate fetish like i do, may want to get in on the next edition of the monthly Circus of the Spineless which in short order has turned out to be one of the most contributed to, word-spread-about, best read carnivals on the net. This next edition is at Science and Sensibility, based out of New Zealand. You can submit posts and photo-posts to David if you'd like, but in any case go visit this weekend for some exciting writing.

And of course, a personal favorite, I and The Bird, via this note from originator Mike Bergin at 10,000 Birds:

Patrick Belardo of The Hawk Owls' Nest must have international taste in sports, because he's served up a World Cup-themed I and the Bird #26. Play ball, or whatever they say in soccer . . . the next edition of I and the Bird marks the first anniversary of our happy carnival, a year of collective bird blogging greatness. To mark this milestone, I'm hosting the first themed edition of IATB. To participate, send me a link to a post you've written addressing at least one of these three burning questions: Why do you blog? Why do you bird? Why do you blog about birds? This special edition is intended as a celebration of the amazing aggregate talent encapsulated in our last 26 installments and is therefore only open to previous participants. Also, only posts on why you blog, bird, or blog about birds will be included in this edition. I and the Bird #27 will appear on these pages on July 6, so get those links to me by Tuesday, July 4. I really hope to hear from each and every one of the nearly 150 contributors from the last year of IATB, but if you don't find this theme engaging or haven't participated yet but really want to be a part of this beautiful collaboration, just wait for a couple of weeks. We're kicking off Year Two in style with Katie of Bogbumper taking the reins of IATB #28 on July 20. If you haven't hosted yet, be advised that we've got a few summer slots still open!

Looks to be a big music weekend. Greg Bitkower and Still Here is playing their usual gig at Chili's in Kerrville, 8-11 Saturday June 24.

And check out local phenom (on his way to Texas Tech!) Casey Hubble:
"Casey Hubble Live at Cafe Riverstone"
Saturday, June 24 at 9:00pm

The Uptown Arts Alliance in Marble Falls is hosting another big party this weekend with Tex Thomas:

Tex Thomas and His Danglin' Wranglers
Saturday, June 24; Showtime 7:30 p.m.; Doors open 6:30 p.m.; Tickets $10
Advance tickets at the R Bar, 904 3rd Street, Marble Falls
For more information or to purchase tickets online, visit

"Tex Thomas and His Danglin’ Wranglers are back together again and what a treat it is. Take some original Texas Rock, throw in a trombone and a mandolin, add Tex's take on life and you've got a great evening of entertainment. Once known for having the best band in Austin, they made a big mark on the Austin music scene at Hut’s on 6th Street, where they played every Sunday for ten years. More often than not, the crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder. They have been playing at Guero’s in Austin every first Sunday of the month for over five years now. The Danglin’ Wranglers are truly an all-star band of musicians who enjoy successful careers in and out of this group. Trombonist, Jon Blondell, who can hear a song one time and chart it, is responsible for the band’s arrangements. Keyboardist, Danny Levin, Asleep at the Wheel alumnus, showcased his talents at the Uptown Marble during the Bluebonnet Blues Festival on the “Pianorama” show. Barry “Frosty” Frost was formerly drummer for Rare Earth and Lee Michaels. Eric Hokkanen, a Finn from Florida, known as the “Texas Tornado” for his high octane playing, joins in on guitar and mandolin. They are the Dangling Wranglers and they have what it takes to grab people’s attention. Most of us fluctuate between riding the wave and hanging ten, but as always, when these guys are hanging ten, you don’t want to miss it. Tex is back, and so are his Danglin’ Wranglers."

And i got recently turned on to the Eric Tessmer Band out of Austin. Hot! If you're in that Stevie Ray, Derek Trucks, Jonny Lang, Los Lonely Boys groove you migth wanna check 'em out at

And finally in this line of doling out the dish, word is that Leon Russell will be here at our recording studio this weekend . . . will let you know how that turns out . . .

Okay, anything can happen, even among the big boys at the big dance. However, i expected to do better than pick only five winners of the eight quarterfinal games. And i could make a few excuses -- i called the Ukraine-Swiss game a potential draw, but picked the Swiss, wrongly it turns out; i picked Spain over France but again acknowledged the levelness of the impending duel, still i picked wrongly; and finally i acknowledged that Portugal is the team that has, more than any other, seemed to have the Dutch's number lately, and yet i not only picked the Dutch, but picked them, mostly out of homerism to go all the way. The end result is that leaves my final four, two rounds away, in shambles. So you can go back and look if you want at my picks the rest of the way, but to keep me interested, and with a new slate, i'm going to pick again. I'll stay with my previous picks where there are no changes, but am going to alter the bracket as necessary to reflect the new teams.

Germany over Argentina
Italy over Ukraine
Portugal over England
Brazil over France

Germany over Italy
Portugal over Brazil

Germany over Portugal

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ENV: Karst Badwater

via Mike Quinn . . .

Subterranean life thrives deep in water system
Researchers find that 'badwater' in Edwards Aquifer is home to an array of life-forms
By MICHAEL RAY TAYLOR, Houston Chronicle, June 19, 2006, 10:37PM

Suppose you discovered the following in your drinking water: Long spaghetti-like strands of bacteria, flaky yellow mats that smell of rotten eggs, a stubby white fish named Satan, blind salamanders, snails.

What would you do?

Answer: Grow them in the lab and publish a paper. At least, that's what you do if you're Annette Summers Engel, geomicrobiologist who loves caves and slimy creatures.

Engel and a team of geologists from Louisiana State University have found a bacteria-based ecosystem thriving 1,000 feet below San Antonio, where the fresh water of the Edwards Aquifer intersects with a lesser-known body of salty water.

Called "the badwater" by local ranchers and well-drillers, this reservoir provides a chemical food source for bacteria that, in turn, support an array of underground life, including blind fish and salamanders, according to a study to be published in the journal Geomicrobiology.

"Most people ignore the badwater, because you can't drink it and you can't give it to cows," said Engel, who, with graduate student Kelli Wilson Randall, initiated the year-long research project in cooperation with the science arm of the Edwards Aquifer Authority. "But, intellectually, it is very interesting."

Engel compared the strings and mats of sulfur-eating microorganisms to bizarre life discovered in deep-sea hydrothermal vents. "Many of these microbes have genetic 'cousins' in the deep-sea vents," she said.

Two types of rare blind catfish, salamanders, snails and tiny creatures called isopods had been known to live in total darkness within the Edwards Aquifer, which provides drinking water to San Antonio and dozens of surrounding communities. Some of these organisms depend on nutrients carried underground via caves and sinkholes that feed rainwater — and pollutants — into the system.

Food for larger creatures
Engel believes many of the larger subterranean creatures have evolved to feed off "this incredible mass of gooey stuff" that grows where the badwater, which is about a third as salty as seawater, meets fresh water. The interface lies 600 to 1,000 feet below the surface.

The total extent of the badwater is unknown. The source of the salts likely is a gypsum layer deposited 65 million years ago, when Texas was underwater. The badwater dissolves these salts of an ancient sea.

The toothless blind catfish, Trogloglanis pattersoni, has unusual mouth parts adapted to graze spaghetti-like strands of microbes that thrive in the chemical mixing zone. But the widemouth blindcat, a finger-sized, white catfish with the diabolical scientific name Satan eurystomas, is a predator.

''When you look in the belly of Satan, you find it loaded with isopods and other animals (from the mixing zone)," Engel said.

Beyond the scientific significance of these species, protecting them adds another wrinkle to already contentious water regulation.

"Water is extremely political in Texas," Geary Schindel, chief technical officer of the Edwards Aquifer Authority, told a group of municipal water supply managers gathered last week from around the country for a San Antonio convention. "It's like Mark Twain said. 'Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting over.' "

When the water level drops, the flow to area springs slows down, affecting cities that depend on the Comal, San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers, as well as the creatures living in them.

"If the spring flow at Comal drops to 200 cubic feet per second, we're in danger of impacting species covered by the Endangered Species Act," said Roland Ruiz, an EAA public affairs officer. "If it drops to 150 cfs, some species may be in danger of extinction."

Protecting own water levels
Some water experts have called the Endangered Species Act a "hammer" downstream cities and industries use to preserve their own water levels. The fishing and shellfish industries of the coastal estuaries, among others, are highly dependent on freshwater outflow from the Edwards Aquifer.

While Schindel does not expect the unusual microbes Engel's team discovered to affect current regulations, he said it indicates that there are two very different ecosystems in the aquifer: one in the recharge zone, fairly close to inflowing caves and sinkholes, and another hundreds or thousands of feet down.

More interesting to Schindel is the study's implications for the aquifer structure itself.

The Edwards Aquifer comprises three main zones: The drainage area, a basin of some 5,450 miles that channels rainfall into streams and rivers; the recharge zone, where the water of some drainage sources enters the limestone bedrock through caves and sinkholes; and the artesian zone, where water is stored until removed through wells and natural springs.

While existing literature describes the artesian layer as a "giant sponge" of limestone, Schindel prefers to call it a tangle of "complex plumbing."

The plumbers may be microbes.

Schindel has conducted extensive dye traces trying to chart the path of water through the recharge and artesian zones.

"In rare cases, water that enters at one point travels two miles per day," he said. "In other cases, dye that is injected in a well that's right beside a spring never reaches it — but shows up at a spring nearly a mile away 36 hours later."

In the standard "meteoric" model of the aquifer, rainwater coursing through caves and sinkholes in the recharge zone enters a homogenous, porous layer. "We have a dynamic Karst system," Schindel said, that instead follows what he calls a "hypogenic" model.

"Karst," named after a region in Slovenia, is a landscape characterized by limestone hills, underground rivers and large springs. In the hypogenic model, these rivers are carved not by rainfall from above, but by strong acid from below, eating tunnels into the rock.

Under a hypogenic model, microbes consume sulfur in the form of sulfides. They then excrete sulfate as sulfuric acid, which dissolves limestone; other bacteria use the sulfate to make more sulfide, creating a self-perpetuating cave excavation system.

Bacteria like those Engel found have been seen elsewhere in the world in acid-filled caves, usually in oil-producing regions, where sulfides are released by oil deposits.

Thirty miles east of San Antonio, the badwater gets warmer and saltier. Eventually the Edwards Aquifer itself becomes a rich petroleum brine, the Stewart City Reef Trend.

What does this mean to the average person, drinking a glass of water that has traveled through 50 miles of plumbing excreted by acid-dripping bacteria en route to water treatment and the home?

"I wouldn't worry about the bacteria, or the saline water mixing with the fresh water," Schindel said. "That's not something that keeps me up at night."

Instead, computer models created by for the EAA by the U.S. Geological Survey show that the speed and pressure with which freshwater flows through the upper artesian layer keep it from mixing with the underlying salt water.

While this means that residents are not likely to draw spaghetti-like strands through their taps, it also means that any foreign matter introduced in the recharge zone can travel to water wells much quicker than anyone previously thought.

"What I worry about is some unknown pathogen flowing into the recharge zone," Schindel said. "That's what keeps me up at night."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

ENV: New County Record!

Had the kids down at one of the ponds today catching frogs, Double-striped Bluets, and Mosquitofish, and a billion other creepy crawly things. I was intent today on taking pictures and so didn't bring along a net. I've done that -- manage eight kids, carry a net and a camera and a first aid kit kind of thing already. So, i'm standing on shore trying to find some good things to take pictures of -- some bright Checkered Setwings are buzzing around, a nice male Red Saddlebags zips by once in a while, plus there's the usual Eastern Pondhawks, Blue Dashers, Black Saddlebags, Banded Pennants, leaftails, Citrine Forktails, etc. Then i catch sight of something large zipping across the pond in pursuit of a setwing. I have yet to see Common Green Darner here at the Ranch so i zero in on this thing, and then it banks up. Having been highly tuned in by Greg Lasley (and having been with him a couple of times to search in vain for his Austin colony of these things) i immediately knew it was a Comet Darner, Ana longipes. It was, however, larger and brighter than i had imagined. This thing was not only new for the Ranch, but new for me, and new for Kerr County. I started snapping photos at this flying buzzbomber hoping one photo would show enough to cinch the documentation. I'm hoping that the long distance, cropped up fuzzy things i got are enough. If nothing else they're enough to show that this critter was not one of the things previously documented in the county. This makes species #77 (after Martin Reid's recent finding and documentation of Bronzed River Cruiser at #75, and my confirmation and photographing of Thornbush Dasher at #76). The faunal list also has two species, Filigree Skimmer and Red Rock Skimmer, which have been seen but not documented for a potential total of 79 species for the county. Here's my lousy pics:

Comet Darner, Anax longipes
TX: Kerr County, Hill Country Youth Ranch, 1 Mile N of Ingram off TX27
27 June 2006

More on this:
Gallucci, T. 2006. The Odonata of Kerr County and the Guadalupe River System of Texas. Dragonflies and Damselflies (Odonata) of Texas (ed. J.C. Abbott) 1:18-22.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

COM: Blogarithmic #130

Finally got a lightsheet set up last night. After a short but heavy rain though little was about. Did find a few cool click beetles, including a big Eyed Click Beetle (presumably Alaus oculatus, but awaiting some confirmation) and some new ground beetles. Tonight expecting a little better haul. One of the kids caught a big Largemouth Bass today, and class caught a load of Blanchard's Cricket Frogs and Gulf Coast Toads (all now safely returned to the pond edges). Should mention that one of the key misses i've had here is Rio Grande Leopard Frog, Rana berlandieri -- odd i thought with five decent sized weedy ponds. I'd decided that the Green Herons and rather common water snakes had kept them from taking hold. And then on the way home last night a big frog flew across the road in front of me and landed in the grass. I'll post a picture. I have noticed that the Rana sp. in this county seem to take two forms, or else segregate themselves somewhat as they get older. The largest frogs down on the river and the big forks tend to be greenish, very dark-spotted and medium sized. The critters i find occasionally on the uplands are more tan/brown with paler spots and get significantly larger. I've called them all Rio Grande Leopard Frogs, Rana berlandieri, but it has me wondering. I'll post a picture of the upland dude from last night below. Also have a couple of Tantilla-type snakes that i'm going to have to focus on IDing -- three species could be here. One of them, Flat-headed Snake, Tantilla gracilis, i've already had and photographed, and these two look a bit different [update: turned out to be Rough Earth Snakes, Virginia striatula]. Tonight while going to turn on the lights i had a bird fly across the road in front of me. It's at a junction where i've heard Eastern Screech Owls singing, so i immediately pulled over. Took me about ten seconds to locate an adult sitting in a bare-limbed old Texas Oak (Quercus buckleyi). Then two others flew in and examination of the photos later showed them to be fledglings, one of which chuckled and burbled at me for some time. See photos below. Unfortunately i only got off one shot of the adult and it was too distant to be of use. The chicks were about 20 feet away and i got recognizable if grainy photos. P.s. the local race is Hasbrouck's Screech-Owl, Otus asio hasbroucki, basically a central Texas endemic. The Hibiscus and caterpillar are from yesterday.

Hasbrouck's Screech-Owl fledglings, Otus asio hasbroucki

Rose-center Hibiscus, Hibiscus sp.

Rio Grande Leopard Frog, Rana berlandieri

Black Swallowtail caterpillar, Papilio polyxenes
on Daucosma (Wild Carrot), Daucosma laciniatum

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

COM: If only he represented all of humanity . . .

Warren Buffett gives away his fortune
By Carol J. Loomis, FORTUNE editor-at-large, June 25, 2006: 1:42 PM EDT

NEW YORK (FORTUNE Magazine) - We were sitting in a Manhattan living room on a spring afternoon, and Warren Buffett had a Cherry Coke in his hand as usual. But this unremarkable scene was about to take a surprising turn.

"Brace yourself," Buffett warned with a grin. He then described a momentous change in his thinking. Within months, he said, he would begin to give away his Berkshire Hathaway fortune, then and now worth well over $40 billion.

This news was indeed stunning. Buffett, 75, has for decades said his wealth would go to philanthropy but has just as steadily indicated the handoff would be made at his death. Now he was revising the timetable.

"I know what I want to do," he said, "and it makes sense to get going." On that spring day his plan was uncertain in some of its details; today it is essentially complete. And it is typical Buffett: rational, original, breaking the mold of how extremely rich people donate money.

Buffett has pledged to gradually give 85% of his Berkshire stock to five foundations. A dominant five-sixths of the shares will go to the world's largest philanthropic organization, the $30 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose principals are close friends of Buffett's (a connection that began in 1991, when a mutual friend introduced Buffett and Bill Gates).

The Gateses credit Buffett, says Bill, with having "inspired" their thinking about giving money back to society. Their foundation's activities, internationally famous, are focused on world health -- fighting such diseases as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis -- and on improving U.S. libraries and high schools.

Up to now, the two Gateses have been the only trustees of their foundation. But as his plan gets underway, Buffett will be joining them. Bill Gates says he and his wife are "thrilled" by that and by knowing that Buffett's money will allow the foundation to "both deepen and accelerate" its work. "The generosity and trust Warren has shown," Gates adds, "is incredible." Beginning in July and continuing every year, Buffett will give a set, annually declining number of Berkshire B shares - starting with 602,500 in 2006 and then decreasing by 5% per year - to the five foundations. The gifts to the Gates foundation will be made either by Buffett or through his estate as long as at least one of the pair -- Bill, now 50, or Melinda, 41 -- is active in it.

Berkshire's price on the date of each gift will determine its dollar value. Were B shares, for example, to be $3,071 in July - that was their close on June 23 - Buffett's 2006 gift to the foundation, 500,000 shares, would be worth about $1.5 billion. With so much new money to handle, the foundation will be given two years to resize its operations. But it will then be required by the terms of Buffett's gift to annually spend the dollar amount of his contributions as well as those it is already making from its existing assets. At the moment, $1.5 billion would roughly double the foundation's yearly benefactions. But the $1.5 billion has little relevance to the value of Buffett's future gifts, since their amount will depend on the price of Berkshire's stock when they are made. If the stock rises yearly, on average, by even a modest amount - say, 6% - the gain will more than offset the annual 5% decline in the number of shares given. Under those circumstances, the value of Buffett's contributions will rise.

Buffett himself thinks that will happen. Or to state that proposition more directly: He believes the price of Berkshire, and with it the dollar size of the contributions, will trend upward - perhaps over time increasing substantially. The other foundation gifts that Buffett is making will also occur annually and start in July. At Berkshire's current price, the combined 2006 total of these gifts will be $315 million. The contributions will go to foundations headed by Buffett's three children, Susan, Howard, and Peter, and to the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation.

This last foundation was for 40 years known simply as the Buffett Foundation and was recently renamed in honor of Buffett's late wife, Susie, who died in 2004, at 72, after a stroke. Her will bestows about $2.5 billion on the foundation, to which her husband's gifts will be added. The foundation has mainly focused on reproductive health, family planning, and pro-choice causes, and on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. Counting the gifts to all five foundations, Buffett will gradually but sharply reduce his holdings of Berkshire (Charts) stock. He now owns close to 31% of the company-worth nearly $44 billion in late June - and that proportion will ultimately be cut to around 5%. Sticking to his long-term intentions, Buffett says the residual 5%, worth about $6.8 billion today, will in time go for philanthropy also, perhaps in his lifetime and, if not, at his death.

Because the value of Buffett's gifts are tied to a future, unknowable price of Berkshire, there is no way to put a total dollar value on them. But the number of shares earmarked to be given have a huge value today: $37 billion.

That alone would be the largest philanthropic gift in history. And if Buffett is right in thinking that Berkshire's price will trend upward, the eventual amount given could far exceed that figure.

So that's the plan. What follows is a conversation in which Buffett explains how he moved away from his original thinking and decided to begin giving now. The questioner is yours truly, FORTUNE editor-at-large Carol Loomis. I am a longtime friend of Buffett's, a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder, and a director of the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation.

ATH: Argentina Lucky to Escape El Tri

World Cup Watch
A regular feature of Soccer America, is a benefit for Soccer America members.
MAHONEY: El Pato stymies El Tri
By Ridge Mahoney, Soccer America, Sunday, June 25, 2006, in Leipzig

The incredible dipping shot that Maxi Rodriguez drilled over Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez in extra time decided the tense round-of-16 match for Argentina, yet the match was truly won at the other end of the field.

Stuck in glide mode for much of the game, as if they would rather tango than tangle, the lordly Argentines had their dainty dancing toes stomped on by a fleet of feisty, focused Mexicans and needed a stunning strike from the skies to subdue them. Mexico took the lead in the sixth minute and despite conceding an equalizer just four minutes later, repeatedly stormed through a disjointed Argentine midfield to pierce the back line, only to be thwarted by a duck clad in red.

Goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri, nicknamed El Pato, is one of two representatives of Boca Juniors, whose most famous son, Diego Maradona, has been noisily visible at this World Cup. Abbondanzieri made his international debut only two years ago. He is modest in demeanor, and rarely flails wildly or screams incessantly as do so many of his counterparts.

He is an afterthought on this team in the minds of many, so glittering are the names that appear after his on the roster: Roberto Ayala, Esteban Cambiasso, Hernan Crespo, Lionel Messi, Juan Roman Riquelme, Javier Saviola, Juan Pablo Sorin, Carlos Tevez, and on this night, certainly, Rodriguez.

But Argentina wouldn't be in the quarterfinals without Abbondanzieri. Mexico's control of the match delivered numerous crosses into the goalmouth, which Abbondanzieri usually handled flawlessly, and a pair of stinging Jared Borgetti shots that he repelled superbly. Midway through the first half, Borgetti cut loose a 22-yard shot that arrowed toward the top corner until Abbondzanieri stretched to tip away. Nine minutes into the second half a looping cross cleared Sorin and was collected by Borgetti, whose smoking shot was stabbed to safety by Abbondanzeiri's right hand.

He also scrambled to smother a deflected just as it was about to spin out of play for a corner and came out confidently to collect crosses. Aside from one bobble that he quickly recovered, the current Argentine goalkeeper smoothly frustrated one of his predecessors.

For most of the first half, Argentina scrambled to contain the Mexicans, who'd been prepared most meticulously by Coach Ricardo La Volpe, who sat on the bench as the No. 3 goalkeeper during Argentina's 1978 World Cup triumph. Mindful that the Argentines' dependence on Riquelme's playmaking often leaves them with three across in midfield, he sent multiple players at the outside backs to force the midfielders to help out on the flanks, which in turn pulled open the middle.

Not until the second half, when Sorin dropped into a deeper position to form a five-man back line, and Mascherano tucked back to buttress the middle, did Argentina assert itself defensively in midfield. Those changes often deprived Riquelme of support, and in the 75th minute, Pekerman began throwing attackers on the field. Messi came on for Crespo and Tevez for Saviola in straight swaps up front, but Pekerman also replaced Cambiasso, a two-way player not having a glorious night, with the strictly offensive Pablo Aimar.

So with six minutes left in regulation and the game deadlocked, Pekerman had not only burned all his subs, he'd also left Mascherano and Rodriguez to hold down midfield. La Volpe, too, had used his three substitutions -- one of them being Zinha for Morales -- and the teams buckled down, knowing the game and their World Cup fates would be decided on a mistake, or a moment of brilliance, or penalties.

With his flowing black hair, rampaging runs up the wing, and elegant left foot, Sorin is one of the modern game's most vivid images. He's neither defender nor midfielder but a unique hybrid of the two. He's also the captain of this star-studded side, and for all the mesmerizing dribbles and insidious touches Messi and Tevez brought to the game, it was Sorin who created the winning goal with one of his trademark traits.

From midfield near the left touchline, he swung a crossfield ball toward the right edge of the penalty area, which the Mexican defense should have cleared. But with Messi, Aimar and Tevez marked up in the goalmouth, no one pushed out to challenge for the ball.

Rodriguez did the rest with a classic display of fundamental skill, exquisitely executed as to belie its difficulty. He killed the ball with his chest and as it dropped, slashed the ball with the outside of his left foot toward the far post. The ball dipped as it swerved, or vice versa, and swooped over goalie Oswaldo Sanchez's desperate dive down into the net. Fantastico! Golazo!

Masses of blue-and-white jerseys and scarves and flags roiled and a deafening roar drowned out all else. For much of the game, sections of blue-and-white and those of green had vied to overpower the other with cheers and songs and chants. The green had been in louder voice, with good reason for much of the match, but the majesty and power of what they'd seen and felt stunned them.

Mexico roused itself as best it could, but ideas and energy dried up as the minutes raced by. For Argentina, the roar at the final whistle was one of relief, not euphoria.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

ATH: A fine Roundup from SI

A really good roundup of the remaining teams at the World Cup from Sports Illustrated . . . except that they're already on the ropes on one of the first two games (of course i am too!) . . .

Knockout Stage Preview
A look at the the 16 teams that survived the first round
Mark Bechtel, SI, Posted: Friday June 23, 2006 5:03PM; Updated: Saturday June 24, 2006 11:02AM

Left: In his first World Cup, Argentina's 18-year-old wunderkind, Lionel Messi, has put on a show.
Ben Radford/Getty Images

They've played 48 of the 64 games in this year's World Cup in Germany, and half the field has gone home. Here's what to look for from the 16 teams who survived the first round.

How It Got Here: By putting on a clinic. Argentina beat a very good Ivory Coast team to open, and it closed with a draw in a meaningless game with the Dutch. In between, it humiliated Serbia and Montenegro 6-0. If you haven't seen the second goal, do yourself a favor and watch. It says something about the play that the highlight lasts well over a minute. The Argentines strung together 24 passes. If you're scoring at home, it went Riquelme to Maxi Rodriguez to Sorin to Maxi Rodriguez to Sorin to Mascherano to Riquelme to Ayala to Cambiasso to Mascherano to Maxi Rodriguez to Sorin to Maxi Rodriguez to Cambiasso to Riquelme to Mascherano to Sorin to Saviola to Maxi Rodriguez to Saviola to Cambiasso to Crespo to Cambiasso (a backheel!), who put the finishing touch on the prettiest team goal you'll ever see.

What Lies Ahead: A date with Mexico, which can't be too pleased. Moreover, Argentina's outstanding form combined with Brazil's indifferent displays may have propelled La Selección into the role of favorite.

Prediction: Barring several injuries or a mass alarm clock failure on the morning of a match, a deep run looks inevitable.

How It Got Here: In Guus they trust. Dutch coach Guus Hiddink got the team to finally play up to its potential. After qualifying for the first time in 32 years, the Socceroos scored their first World Cup goal late in the second half against Japan, then tacked on two more to win 3-1. A fine showing against Brazil (in which they got no help from strangely terrible ref Markus Merk) was followed by a draw against Croatia, which saw the 'Roos through for the first time.

What Lies Ahead: The Aussies play Italy, a team that, on paper, should handle them. But both Ghana and the U.S. gave the Italians fits. And you're not going to get far in life betting against Hiddink, who led Korea to a win over the Italians in 2002.

Prediction: There aren't many Cinderella stories left in this World Cup, but don't count out the Aussies. Italy can be beaten, and that would be followed by a game against Switzerland or Ukraine. Watch the 'Roos.

How It Got Here: By underwhelming the world. Ho-hum wins over Croatia and Australia were followed by a clinical dissection of a bad, bad Japan team. The big story was Ronaldo, who has gotten so pudgy and whose movements have become so belabored that looking at him you couldn't help but think he was going to start sweating red beans and rice. But where has Ronaldinho been? He's provided a couple dozen stopovers, and not much else.

What Lies Ahead: Being kicked in the ankles. Brazil should handle Ghana, but it will have the bruises to remember the encounter for days and days.

Prediction: The odds-on pre-tourney favorite will have its hands full with Spain in the quarters.

How It Got Here: Group A was horribly weak.

What Lies Ahead: Ninety minutes of football against England and a plane ride home.

Prediction: See above. Actually, I talked to several England fans who would have preferred playing Germany to playing Ecuador in the round of 16. While those people might be crazy, it does bear mentioning that Ecuador played very well in qualifying for the tournament and it handled Poland in the opener and drilled Costa Rica. But Poland isn't good, and neither is Costa Rica. The lasting memory of Ecuador's 2006 campaign will be Ivan Kaviedes's Spider Man mask, which he donned during the rout of Costa Rica.

How It Got Here: By playing dull but effective football. England won its first two group games (against Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago) then tied Sweden to win Group B. With Wayne Rooney working himself back into shape, England relied on long balls to Peter Crouch, which didn't really work. Michael Owen was ineffective before he injured his knee in the early moments of the Sweden game. And central midfielders Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard never really got clicking.

What Lies Ahead: An easy match against Ecuador, which is what England needs. It'll give Rooney another game to get fit, and it'll give the team a chance to tinker with the formation. Losing Owen might not be a huge blow; in fact, it might be a blessing in disguise. With the team so thin up top, Sven-Goran Eriksson could go to a 4-5-1, which would allow Lampard and Gerrard to both play attacking roles.

Prediction: England should handle Ecuador, but its quarterfinal game will be a challenge: either Portugal, which dumped England from Euro 2004, or the Netherlands. Chances are, despite what the English fans sing, football ain't coming home.

How It Got Here: By skirting every mandatory retirement age in the books. The 1998 champs, who were abysmal in 2002, have been slightly less abysmal this time around. But had France not had such a weak draw, it would have gone home after the group stage for the second straight Cup.

What Lies Ahead: France's just dessert, in the form of Spain.

Prediction: If France's World Cup campaign has shown us anything, it's how good Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is at figuring out when it's time to sell a player. Remember when Patrick Viera was, I don't know, good? It wasn't too long ago. But Wenger sent him to Juventus for a boatload of cash, and we're now seeing just how prudent and timely that move was. Viera has been awful, and France's other aging stars -- Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, who's done little to shed the I-can't-perform-when-it-matters label -- haven't been much better. Watching France is like watching Ali get his ass kicked by Trevor Berbick.

How It Got Here: By pounding a weak group. The Germans outscored their opponents 8-2 in winning all three of its Group A games.

What Lies Ahead: A test. We know the Germans can run roughshod over the likes of Costa Rica, Poland and Ecuador. But will they be able to attack with such ease and grace against a disciplined team like Sweden? They'd better hope so, because if they beat the Swedes, they'll likely get Argentina in the quarters.

Prediction: Sweden they can beat. Argentina? That's a different story.

How It Got Here: By manhandling Group E. The Black Stars were fouling machines, roughing up all three of their opponents. But there's more to this team than its passing resemblance to the 1988 Pistons. The midfield is fantastic -- the middies run up the center of the park when they don't have the ball, hunt down whoever does have it and then transition into attacking mode in no time flat. The only thing they lack is a deadly finisher. If midfielder Michael Essien could shoot, we'd now be discussing if he was, in fact, the best player in the world.

What Lies Ahead: Brazil. Oy.

Prediction: The U.S. wasn't the only team to get hosed by referee Markus Merk on Thursday. Before his awful penalty kick call, Merk gave Essien a ridiculously soft yellow -- his second caution of the group, meaning he'll miss the Brazil game. That's too bad, because the man is a class footballer. Without him, Ghana has no chance.

How It Got Here: I'm not sure. Italy got through the toughest group in the tournament without looking spectacular. They struggled to put Ghana away, drew a plucky, undermanned U.S. team and then dispatched a Czech team that couldn't catch a break.

What Lies Ahead: A stroll to the semis if Italy can get past Australia, which will put up a fight. Past that, it's Switzerland or Ukraine.

Prediction: Here's what we learned about the Italians: 1) They can compartmentalize (the Serie A scandal that could see a quarter of the lineup relegated didn't seem to bother anyone). 2) They're not impermeable, but they're still pretty darn good defensively. 3) They're cagey. Did you see Francesco Totti take that quick short corner against Ghana? The Azzurri should be in it when the semis roll around.

How It Got Here: A good draw. Mexico was held to a draw by Angola and lost to a Portugal side that was resting Deco, Cristiano Ronaldo, Costinha and Pauleta. Had Mexico been faced with decent competition, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

What Lies Ahead: Mexico's most likely path to the title game: Argentina, Germany, Italy.

Prediction: Did I mention Mexico plays Argentina next?

The Netherlands
How It Got Here: By dispatching a good Ivory Coast team. After a decent effort in their opener, a 1-0 win over Serbia and Montenegro, the Dutch played a fantastic game to beat the Elephants. (It was sad to see the Ivorians go. Were they not handed such a hellish draw, they likely would have been the tournament's darlings.) The final score was 2-1, but the Netherlands looked awfully scary, especially on the wings, where Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben have been outstanding.

What Lies Ahead: A rematch of their Euro 2004 semifinal with Portugal, which the Dutch lost 2-1.

Prediction: The Netherlands boast one of the most energetic sides in the tournament. The Portugal game will be the best match in the round of 16. If the Netherlands can get past Portugal, it'll likely face England -- whom the Netherlands should paste pretty good. A semifinal berth doesn't look at all far-fetched.

How It Got Here: On the back of a rejuvenated midfielder. Portugal had one tough game in an otherwise weak group: Mexico. During that affair, Maniche played brilliantly, making one wonder why he can't come near to cracking the lineup at Chelsea. He bossed the midfield -- winning balls, starting attacks and, not insignificantly, scoring Portugal's first goal. Portugal's other two games, against Iran and Angola, were hardly challenges.

What Lies Ahead: Portugal has a much tougher test in the round of 16 (the Dutch) than it would in the quarters (England or Ecuador).

Prediction: Coming into the tournament, I thought the Portuguese were going to sneak up on people. In 2002 they had the burden of wildly high expectations, as their so-called golden generation came of age. We all know how poorly that turned out. But in '06, the Portuguese have, unfairly, I think, been written off. They're hardly ancient, and any team with Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Deco and Pauleta can't be trifled with. Plus, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has won straight 10 World Cup games. Don't count this team out.

How It Got Here: Group H is almost as bad as Group A.

What Lies Ahead: A cakewalk against Group G runner-up France, then we find out how good Brazil really is.

Prediction: Chronic underachievers, the Spaniards showed signs that they might be ready to look as good as they historically do on paper. Captain Raul has been pushed aside, with youngster David Villa slipping on the stud suit. After Spain hammered Ukraine 4-0 in the opener, Villa, who had two goals, said, "We expected a much more complicated match." And that was against the second-best team in the group. Spain is good. Brazil should be worried about getting out of the quarters.

How It Got Here: By finally figuring out a way to score. The Swedes were held to a scoreless draw by minnows Trinidad and Tobago in their opener, and then Paraguay kept them off the board for 89 minutes in their second game. Freddie Ljungberg finally headed home the winner against Paraguay, setting up the Swedes to finish second in Group B.

What Lies Ahead: A showdown with the hosts, which should show us once and for all if the Germans are for real.

Prediction: A team with Ljungberg, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson is going to create chances against anyone, especially a team like Germany (the German defense has ranged from passable to awful so far). If the Swedes get the kind of finishing those three are capable of providing, they should give the hosts all they can handle.

How It Got Here: DEE-FENSE!! DEE-FENSE!! While not the most exciting team (they only scored three goals), the Swiss were the only side not to concede a goal in the group stage.

What Lies Ahead: A winnable knockout stage match against a weak Ukraine team. Then, most likely, an Alpine showdown with the Italians.

Prediction: Switzerland had virtually no attack until Hakan Yakin was brought on as a sub midway through its second game, a 2-0 win over Togo. He was excellent again in the finale versus South Korea. If the playmaker is on his game, he gives the Swiss -- who defend well and play with a, well, Swiss precision -- a nice balance. (However, that strong D will suffer if Philippe Senderos's arm injury is serious.) They haven't blown anyone away in Germany, but they're always going to be a tough team to beat. Italy has had its moments of weakness. If the Swiss can take advantage of one and keep Italy off the board, they could surprise.

How It Got Here: Someone had to come in second in Group H.

What Lies Ahead: If we're lucky, a loss to Switzerland. I've had this World Cup theory for a while: One great player on a roll can make any team dangerous. So I thought Ukraine, with Andriy Schevchenko, would be a dark horse. In retrospect, it's the worst theory ever. Ukraine got killed by Spain and advanced with a win over Tunisia, which was down a man, in what might have been the worst game of the tournament. That the Ivory Coast got sent home and Ukraine is still in it is an abomination.

Prediction: Sadly, Ukraine can beat Switzerland, which looked like anything but a worldbeater in winning Group G. Should Ukraine pull the upset, Italy will send them home.

COM: Blogarithmic #129

If you haven't seen Argentina's second goal against Serbia & Montenegro in the first round here it is. Besides being a phenomenal piece of scoring, the play leading up to it is a clinic from one of the world's best teams. Argentina is so much more fun to watch without crybaby Diego Maradona. And Messi looks to be a legitimate star in the making.

My picks for the rest of the tournament:

Germany over Sweden (would like the Swedes to move on, but Germany is improving by the minute)

Argentina over Mexico (Messi will make a difference)

Italy over Australia (Australia would be a likely Cinderella, and i'd like to see them move up a step, but Italy will win based on decades of knowledge, and a habit of making the big games count)

Switzerland over Ukraine (the weak game of the second round, but equally weak, and may be a fine game)

England over Ecuador (another weak game considering the English non-performance of round one; also the game i am least comfortable with my choice -- Ecuador is hungry)

Netherlands over Portugal (well, i'm an Oranje fan since the early 1970s -- they were my models as a player and as a coach, and i will always be a homer for them; but i am steeled for the possibility that a talented Portugal, having beat them three times in the last three years, will have a solid shot; still it would be nice to see the long-denied Dutch make the finals for another shot)

Brazil over Ghana (this is a replay of my comments about Italy-Australia; but i wouldn't bet against the hunger of Ghana v. the listlessness of a so-far underperforming Brazil)

Spain over France (before the opning round i would have picked France, an old favorite; but Spain seems to have drawn all the right numbers so far)

Germany over Argentina (Germany is performing better in tight matches; update: Argentina was outperformed in both of its draws)

Italy over Switzerland (as before)

Netherlands over England (more than wishful thinking now; the Dutch are in their element)

Spain over Brazil (continued improvement matches Germany)

Germany over Italy

Netherlands over Spain

over Germany (hoping the home crowd isn't the difference)

SI predicts an all-South America final (Brazil over Argentina; funny, i'm predicting an all-Europe final)

Cool bugs about last night, pictures coming soon. Storms threatening as i write, and a dozen+ hummers swarming the feeders.

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ENV: Turtles die, so do salamanders . . .

Another Kennedy Living Dangerously
By MARK LEIBOVICH, San Francisco, The New York Times, June 25, 2006

ONE of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s family mementos is a boyhood photo of himself in the Oval Office with his uncle President John F. Kennedy. Then 9, Mr. Kennedy — who is still known as Bobby — had just given the president a spotted salamander in a small vase. The salamander appears to be dead.

"He does not look well," President Kennedy told Bobby as they observed the slimy pet. The president is prodding it with a pen, to no avail. "I was in denial," Bobby Kennedy said, explaining that he had probably doomed the salamander by keeping it in chlorinated water.

Not to attach too much significance to a dead salamander, but, oh, what the heck: the photo distills some Bobby Kennedy essentials — his matter-of-fact presence in royal circles, his boyish chutzpah and a lifelong appreciation for animals (even those he has killed).

Now 52, Mr. Kennedy, is one of the country's most prominent environmental lawyers and advocates. Clearly he was traumatized by his youthful act of environmental insensitivity and vowed as an adult to become a fervent protector of all the planet's salamanders. Or perhaps this is overreaching, seeing too much in a simple picture. (Sometimes a dead salamander is just a dead salamander). But it goes with the family territory — the speculating, overguessing — and it would seem particularly inevitable for anyone burrowing through life with the name Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Mr. Kennedy presided last week at the annual conference of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an assembly of 153 "keepers" from around the world charged with protecting the planet's most vulnerable watersheds, largely through litigation or threat thereof. On Wednesday the riverkeepers, baykeepers, coastkeepers, deltakeepers, channelkeepers and inletkeepers packed into three zero-emission hybrid-electric buses bound for Treasure Island on San Francisco Bay. There they ate dinner on biodegradable plates and took turns giving brief speeches. They spoke with earnest commitment, contempt for industrial polluters and awe for Bobby Kennedy.

"Thank you for fighting for our waterways, Bobby," said Leo O'Brien, executive director of San Francisco Baykeeper. "And thank you for fighting for democracy."

Recently, much of Mr. Kennedy's public focus has been on democracy, and he has taken increasingly audacious leaps into political swamps that transcend the environment. He roiled the blogosphere and cable news shows this month after declaring — in an article he wrote in Rolling Stone — that Republicans stole the 2004 presidential election through a series of voting frauds. "I've become convinced that the president's party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people in 2004," Mr. Kennedy wrote in the exhaustive, strenuously footnoted article, which relied heavily on the published research of others.

He has repeated the accusation on Air America, the liberal radio network on which he is co-host of a program, and on a procession of television talk-'n'-shout fests (with Stephen Colbert, Wolf Blitzer, Tucker Carlson, Chris Matthews). Mr. Kennedy is hitching his iconic name to a cause that has largely been consigned so far to liberal bloggers and which nearly all Democratic leaders and major news media outlets have ignored and which, unsurprisingly, Bush supporters have ridiculed. Tracy Schmitt, the Republican National Committee press secretary, accused Mr. Kennedy of "peddling a conspiracy theory that was thoroughly debunked nearly two years ago."

Farhad Manjoo, of, wrote: "If you do read the Kennedy article, be prepared to machete your way through numerous errors of interpretation and his deliberate omission of key bits of data."

It is impossible to read the Rolling Stone article without wondering how Mr. Kennedy's audacious accusations might relate to his philosophical evolution or even affect his political viability. Naturally he is asked all the time what he envisions next for himself, specifically, what he plans to run for.

"I'd say daily," he says of how often he's asked. As if the mantle of one of the country's top environmental advocates couldn't be enough to satisfy a Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy came close to running for attorney general of New York State this year. "Very, very close," he said, but he decided not to, fearing its effect on his wife, Mary, and their four children. (He has two other children from a previous marriage.)

Nonetheless, perhaps more than any other Kennedy of his generation, he is looked upon as the next potential vessel for Something Bigger. In words, temperament and actions, he conveys a frenetic vibe of restlessness that invites the questions "What else?" "What next?" "What more?"

At the Waterkeeper Alliance meeting he bounced from conversation to conversation, introducing people, touching bases, jiggling his right foot on the floor in rare idle seconds. He is also possessed of Kennedy looks and a riveting speaking style, despite a genetic neurological condition, spasmodic dysphonia, that he developed at age 40, which strains his speech and can make it sound as if he's choking up.

"He's the only speaker in the environmental movement who can say he'll speak for 20 minutes, then speak for 40 and you want him to go on longer," said Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy said in a phone interview that his nephew "has a certain Pied Piper quality about him" and described a typical scene at the family compound in Hyannisport, Mass., in which his nephew transfixes 30 children with nature demonstrations, usually involving animals or fish.

One of the recurring themes within Mr. Kennedy's orbit of friends is the "Bobby story," an action or vignette that is quintessential to the man. In most cases a "Bobby story" involves some kind of spontaneous, often daredevil act, on the order of impatiently jumping off a chairlift, jumping off a cliff or being host to more than 100 people for hypercompetitive Capture the Flag games at his 10-acre home in Mount Kisco, N.Y. (which inevitably yield at least one emergency-room trip).

"He has a really intense metabolism," said Andrea Raisfeld, a close family friend and frequent participant in what she described as "these adult play dates."

Mr. Kennedy has always lived his life close to nature and to the edge. The third of 11 children born to Ethel Skakel Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, he used to fixate on ants from his crib, he said his mother recalls. As a boy he assembled a zoo at his family's home in Virginia, comprising about 40 reptiles and birds at any one time. He started racing homing pigeons at 7 and falconing at 9 and has always been given to the family penchant for recreational abandon: high-speed pursuits like skiing, water-skiing and hockey.

He was 14 in June 1968, when the rector of Georgetown Preparatory School woke him to tell him his father had been shot. He flew to California, where Senator Kennedy had just won the Democratic primary. He was at the hospital when his father died.

Mr. Kennedy graduated from Harvard College and the University of Virginia Law School. He received a master's degree in environmental law from Pace University, where he is now a law professor.

In 1983 he entered a drug treatment program after having been arrested for heroin possession in South Dakota. He has been clean ever since and attends regular meetings, Mr. Kennedy said, declining to discuss his sobriety further for the record.

"I think, in a very dramatic way, Bobby's surviving, and his determination to get to a state of mind where he can be constructive, has been central to him," Senator Kennedy said. "He has faced some enormous challenges, some enormously serious challenges."

In 1984 his younger brother David Kennedy died of a drug overdose. In 1997 another brother, Michael, was killed after skiing into a tree while playing football on the slopes of Aspen, Colo. They are among the litany of exhaustively documented Kennedy tragedies, which create a prism through which to view Mr. Kennedy's penchant for risk taking and full-on recreation. At what point is he tempting fate?

As is the family custom, he is not given to public hand-wringing about his family losses. "I think God's in charge of that," he said of whether he lives or dies. "You're supposed to do what you're supposed to do. And whatever happens, happens."

Peter Kaplan, the editor of The New York Observer and one of Mr. Kennedy's closest friends since they met as college roommates, said that he doesn't worry. "Bobby really loves life, so he takes good care of himself," Mr. Kaplan said. "The second part of the answer is, he really loves his life, and he wouldn't live it any other way than with complete engagement with himself and with the outdoors."

Senator Kennedy, who like his nephew lost brothers well before their time, said, "I think he feels he has to live for a lot of people who've been lost."

The senator made these remarks in the context of his nephew's lifestyle and political work. Friends say Mr. Kennedy has undergone a gradual adjustment to his priorities through the Bush years. He has broadened his notion of "what you're supposed to do." He has, through his professional life, been identified with the environmental movement.

"Now it's much more fundamental than protecting the environment for Bobby," said his friend Laurie David, the liberal advocate and producer of "An Inconvenient Truth," the Al Gore movie. "He fears that the country is being lost, that democracy is at stake."

Mr. Kennedy said that he had "continually expanded my realm of interest." His recent focus on the 2004 election exists on that continuum, he added.

He had heard low-grade rumblings about alleged abuses in Ohio, faulty voting machines and minority voters waiting hours in line at the polls. But he remained skeptical, or complacent. "I kept the same kind of deliberate blinders on that much of the media did," he said, bemoaning the news media's relative preoccupation with "Brad and Angelina and the Duke lacrosse team."

THEN Mr. Kennedy spent Christmas skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho, at the home of Ms. David and her husband, Larry David, the "Seinfeld" creator and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" protagonist. Mr. David urged him to read a book on the 2004 election by the news media critic Mark Crispin Miller.

Mr. Kennedy did, and a few days later he was skiing with the Rolling Stone publisher, Jann S. Wenner, an old friend and Sun Valley homeowner. Mr. Kennedy suggested that Mr. Wenner commission a story on the "stolen election." Mr. Wenner said he would, provided Mr. Kennedy wrote it. He had written a much-discussed and much-challenged story for Rolling Stone last year linking childhood vaccines and a rise in autism.

After some hesitation, Mr. Kennedy said, he agreed to write the election article. Since it was posted on Rolling Stone's Web site on June 1, the Web has been ablog with a split between those who believe this is the biggest unreported story ever and those who think it's old news, discredited long ago. Mr. Kennedy said it's hard to prove that any election had been "stolen."

"If you're looking for proof and certitude, you're not going to find it," he said. Either way, Mr. Kennedy said he is committed to stoking the outrage of 2004, wherever it leads. "This is going to remain one of my central concerns for a while," he said, adding, "America should be indignant." But is it, beyond certain liberal airwaves and blogs? Congress has not exactly been rocked with speeches on the matter or with calls for investigations.

In a phone interview, Mr. Wenner said that John Kerry, the big loser in 2004, "does not question the validity of the piece," hardly a signal of outrage.

Senator Christopher Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat and a longtime advocate of electoral reform, called the article "tremendously compelling." But not compelling enough to talk about it: Mr. Dodd's comments were relayed in a statement from his office.

Mr. Kennedy called the silence of leading Democrats "a great disappointment," but declared himself undeterred. If anything, he said, the experience has left him more likely to run for office than before.

"It's all in God's hands," he said on Wednesday night at Treasure Island, a lemony sun setting over the Golden Gate Bridge. He was surrounded by environmentalists swapping stories about protecting the planet's liquid resources (and imbibing other liquid resources).

"I can only control my own conduct," Mr. Kennedy said, shrugging. "And I plan to go down fighting."

ENV: Everything must go . . .

'Darwin's tortoise' dies, age 176

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- A 176-year-old tortoise, believed by some to have been owned by Charles Darwin, has died in an Australian zoo.

The giant tortoise, known as Harriet, was long reputed to have been one of three tortoises taken from the Galapagos Islands by Darwin on his historic 1835 voyage aboard the HMS Beagle.

However, historical records, while suggestive, don't prove the claim, and some scientists have cast doubt on the story, with DNA tests confirming Harriet's age but showing she came from an island that Darwin never visited.

According to local legend, Harriet was just five years old and probably no bigger than a dinner plate when she was taken from the Galapagos to Britain.

She spent a few years in Britain before being moved to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens in Australia's tropical Queensland state in the mid-1800s, where she was mistaken for a male and nicknamed Harry, according to Australia Zoo, which later bought the 150-kilogram (330-pound) tortoise.

The Queensland-based zoo is owned by "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin and his wife Terri.

"Harriet sadly died last night after, thankfully, a very short illness," senior veterinarian Jon Hanger told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Friday.

"She'd been sick yesterday with, in effect, heart failure. She had a very fairly acute heart attack and thankfully passed away quietly overnight," Hangar said.

Irwin said he considered Harriet a member of the family.

"Harriet has been a huge chunk of the Irwin family's life," Irwin said Saturday.

"She is possibly one of the oldest living creatures on the planet and her passing today is not only a great loss for the world but a very sad day for my family. She was a grand old lady."

Harriet was believed to be the world's oldest living tortoise, and one of its oldest living creatures. Despite her longevity, however, Harriet is not the world's oldest known tortoise.

That title was awarded by the Guinness Book of World Records to Tui Malila, a Madagascar radiated tortoise that was presented to the royal family of Tonga by British explorer Captain James Cook in the 1770s. It died in 1965 at the ripe age of 188.

Scientist Paul Chambers cast doubt on Harriet's Darwin connection in an article in the New Scientist magazine and a book, "The Unexpected History of the Giant Tortoise."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

ATH: Clint Dempsey, Babeeeee!

Okay, the USA goes home after a dispiriting 0-2-1 performance. Those of us who were skeptical of the world fifth-ranking thing, now are reminded why. Italy (yeah) and Ghana move on to round two.

Meanwhile, Clint Dempsey comes home as the only American to have scored in this World Cup.

Of course, he's a Texas boy, but more important is his flair, and his story. Here's more:

No ordinary background
By Wayne Drehs, ESPNsoccernet: June 11, 5:34 PM US

The thought alone moves Debbie Dempsey to tears. It's Monday, 54,000 people are squeezed into Gelsenkirchen's World Cup Stadium and millions more are watching on television at home. Running around on the perfectly manicured field below her, wearing the red, white and blue, playing in the largest sporting event in the world, is her son, Clint.

Clint Dempsey could be the solution to the troublesome right midfield spot in the U.S. lineup. (Streeter Lecka/GettyImages)

"I won't see any of the 50,000 people; I won't hear any of them -- it will be just me and him in that stadium," Debbie says. "Just to know that everything we went through and everything he had to overcome, he still reached his goal. He did it. It's emotional just thinking about it."

How could it not be? How could Debbie sit in a soccer stadium in the middle of Germany, for the World Cup, and not think back to the three-hour drives, three days a week, so her son could play club soccer?

How could she not think of all the corners they had to cut -- selling her husband's boat, holding off on new furniture, never going out to eat, never going on a vacation, not buying a new car -- to help pay for soccer?

And how could she not think of her daughter Jennifer, who only to die of a brain aneurysm at 16. She sacrificed her own athletic ambitions on the tennis court so Clint could chase his soccer dreams.

"He's overcome so much," Debbie says. "We can tell you about it, but until you've lived it, you have no idea. And he carries all of it with him every time he steps on the field."

The Clint Dempsey story is nothing new in professional sports. Talented athlete overcomes humble background to become a star in the sport he loves. But it is unique for American soccer.

American soccer stars don't grow up in a trailer in their grandparents' backyard in East Texas, learning the game from the Hispanic kids in their neighborhood. They don't grow up playing on dirt fields, kicking rock-hard basketballs with their bare feet while using T-shirts and socks as the outline for goals. And if they do somehow, someway overcome all that to make it to the big time, they don't make a rap video when they get there, sharing their life story in a head-bobbing hip-hop tune for Nike that shows up on BET and becomes the soul of the shoe conglomerate's U.S. World Cup promotional campaign.

And yet Clint Dempsey has lived it all.

"Not everything has been cupcakes and ice cream and happy endings," he said. "It's been a grind. It's been tough. But that's what's made me who I am."

"Something I Had to Do"

Who Clint Dempsey is is a fearless competitor who will go right at the opposition with little regard for anything but winning. Over the past two years, he's come out of nowhere to compete for a spot in Bruce Arena's starting lineup when the U.S. team takes the field in its World Cup opener Monday against the Czech Republic. Yet ask Dempsey's mother and she'll tell you with a straight face that out of each of her five kids, Clint was the most likely to become … a priest.

"He had such a strong faith and such a young age cared about other people so much," Debbie said. "We'd have these big conversations about what happens when people die and he'd get so torn up emotionally."

On the flip side is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get man who hates to lose. When Clint was 11, he refused to go to Dallas to watch Argentina in the World Cup after FIFA suspended Diego Maradona, his favorite player.

Years later, after becoming a professional with the New England Revolution of the MLS, he played two games with a broken jaw. This past March, he was suspended two weeks after a fistfight with New England captain Joe Franchino.

"It's one of those things that happens in sports," Dempsey said. "Two fiery competitors getting into it. I'm upset that it happened. It's something that should have been avoided."

So how does a kid from football-happy Texas end up playing the "other" football? Ryan Dempsey, Clint's older brother by five years, claims he was the one who first put a soccer ball in front of Clint after learning the game from the Hispanic kids in their neighborhood. Debbie remembers signing her kids up for soccer just so they could get out and run around a bit. And Clint's first memory is playing with a local rec league team, the Strikers.

"I remember everything else as something fun to do," Dempsey said. "Soccer was something I had to do. It was inside me."

The family realized Clint had ability, but knew that if he was going to have any chance of playing in college, he'd have to play outside of Nacogdoches, a secluded town of 40,000. So when Clint was 10, his dad Aubrey drove him to three hours to Dallas to tryout for a club team, the Longhorns. The coach dropped a ball in front of Clint, watched him dribble a few steps and immediately said, "I want him."

"Aubrey was like, 'Now wait a second, here. He can have a temper. He's very competitive. You need to look at him some more,' " Debbie recalled. "But the coach was like, 'Nope. I know what I see. I want him.' "

And so began the family commitment to help Clint, the second of five children, chase his dreams. Clint would go to sleep praying for two things: to become a professional soccer player and to play in the World Cup. As many as three days a week, either Debbie or Aubrey would load the family in the car and make the six-hour round trek to Dallas in hopes that those dreams would someday come true. Sometimes the kids would talk, sometimes they'd to homework, sometimes they'd sing songs.

"It brought us closer together as a family," Debbie said.

To help offset the cost of gas and meals away from home -- an estimated $120 week, Debbie says -- Aubrey, who worked in a variety of jobs over the years (carpenter, bridge builder and construction), sold his boat and his hunting guns. The family stopped taking camping vacations. And they stopped making big purchases. On the rare occasions the family did eat out, the five kids would split a meal. And Debbie, who worked as a nurse, picked up every overtime shift available.

"Our vacations became soccer tournaments," Debbie said. "I'd look around and see other nurses and what material possessions they had, but I was more concerned that my kids were happy -- that they had what they needed."

The family commitment weighed on Clint. After ever game, every practice, every workout, as Debbie recalls, he'd walk over to his parents and ask, "Are you proud of me?"

"I always felt I had to show my parents that I gave everything I had," Dempsey said. "They're the one's who were making those trips, who were sacrificing so much for me. The whole family was. I'd be out on the field, look over and know that they're the ones busting their butts. That always motivated me. Still does."

The Ultimate Motivation
As the kids grew older, Clint's big sister Jennifer developed a talent for tennis. In the fall of 1995, feeling it was time to spread the wealth amongst her children, Debbie pulled Clint out of the club league in Dallas so Jennifer could travel more as a state-ranked tennis star.

A high and a low
May 2nd was a bittersweet day for U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey. On one end, he had finally realized a lifelong dream by being selected to play in the World Cup, but earlier that day he received word that Houston rapper Big Hawk, whom he had collaborated with on Nike's "Don't Tread" video, had been murdered.

"I was on such a high and such a low," Dempsey said. "He was somebody I listened to growing up and somebody I was really starting to get to know. He was going to help this sport grow."

Houston Police have no motive or suspects in the death of John Hawkins, who was shot when he went to play dominoes at a friend's south Houston home on May 1. Dempsey said that after the World Cup, both he and U.S. teammate Eddie Johnson will auction game-worn autographed jerseys to raise money for the family.

"He was the one making money for them," Dempsey said. "So anything I can do to help out and make things easier on the family. My heart goes out to them."
But in November of that year, at the age of 16, Jennifer died of a brain aneurysm. The next spring, Clint was back on his way to Dallas, playing soccer with greater motivation than before.

"Before she passed away, we had talks about death," Dempsey said. "And I remember her telling me that if something ever happened to her, she'd help me score goals. She'd help them go in the net."

Six months after the death, Debbie found a note folded in the vase at Jennifer's grave. It was from Clint.

"He wrote to her that for the rest of his life, every time he scored a goal he would look up and think about her," Debbie said.

To this day, Clint thinks about his sister almost every day. His older brother Ryan considers Jennifer's death the turning point in Clint's soccer career.

"When something like that happens, your perspectives change," Ryan said. "I was worn out. But Clint would go out and practice twice as much. He'd work twice as hard. He wanted to do it in her name, in her glory. So he dedicated everything to her."

Including the music video. When representatives from Nike heard Dempsey freestyle last year and called him about making a hip-hop video for the World Cup, he set a list of parameters -- they had to use a Texas artist (they ended up choosing Big Hawk), they had to film the video around his hometown (much of the footage was filmed on the fields Dempsey grew up on) and they had to let him include Jennifer's story.

So in the beginning of the video, when a little girl is holding a daisy next to her mother, that's supposed to be Jennifer. And at the end, when Clint places that same daisy on a gravestone, it's Jennifer Dempsey's actual grave.

"We aren't some guys who are going to do something for Nike because we feel privileged," said Ryan, who served as an associate producer on the video. "Portray ourselves the right way, the way our life really was or don't do it at all. And that's the way it worked out."

"Book the Tickets"
Debbie Dempsey was sitting at her son's old college computer that day last month, constantly hitting refresh, nervously waiting for the confirmation e-mail that her son had made the U.S. World Cup team.

In the days since those never-ending drives to Dallas, Clint had led tiny Furman University to two NCAA appearances and earned MLS Rookie of the Year honors with the Revolution. He had 19 caps for the U.S. national team and had scored four goals to go along with two assists. But none of that mattered now.

There was no e-mail. No reason to open the two bottles of champagne Debbie and Aubrey had bought to celebrate. Debbie began to cry.

"I kept thinking to myself, 'Great -- I'm going to be the one who is going to have to tell my son the biggest dream in his world isn't going to happen," Debbie said.

She began to sweat. Her throat tightened. Her stomach started turning over. "I felt miserable," she said. "SportsCenter" was about to announce the selections in 10 minutes, but there was no e-mail. She hit refresh again and a new message popped up. The subject line: REPORTING. Tears flowing down her face as she opened the e-mail and read the first line.

Congratulations. You've been selected for the 2006 World Cup.

"We were screaming, laughing, crying, it was incredible," Debbie said. "Clint was on the phone with Aubrey and he said, 'Well, book the tickets.' "

Yes, book the tickets. Mom, Dad, Ryan, Lance, Crystal -- everyone.

"I'm paying for the whole family to go," Clint said. "Everything. It doesn't begin to make up for everything they did for me, but it's a start. And I wouldn't want to do this without all of them there."

The June 12 opener against the Czech Republic will mark the first time the entire Dempsey clan has been together since Christmas. It's only the second time Debbie and Aubrey have ever left the country. And even that was just a quick jaunt to Cancun for a scuba adventure. Going to Germany, watching her son in a World Cup, knowing his dreams have come true, after all those nights where he'd pray for this before he went to sleep? It's incomprehensible.

"He doesn't owe us a thing," Debbie said. "You want your kids to be happy -- that's all I ever wanted for Clint or any of my children. And that's why that day will be the ultimate, to look through his eyes and know what he's feeling, know what he's thinking. We're all going to soak up that moment."

Wayne Drehs is a senior writer at

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Monday, June 19, 2006

ENV: Funny Critter Week Special

It's been a week of cool critter experiences. It was the first week of my summer wildlife classes, and with a dozen intense kids running through the woods and sloshing around the edges of ponds we were bound to find some neat stuff. So here goes:

First, off the ranch, i was at Holly's yesterday at Canyon Springs just east of Hunt. Now i've been picking up Eastern Hercules Beetles (Dynastes tityus) there for the last month and a half -- all seemingly drawn to the lights. Down at the Youth Ranch on the other hand, about six miles further east, i've been raking in the Southwestern Ox Beetles (Strategus aloeus), also coming to the lights. But there's been no crossover. While i was checking the garden at Holly’s yesterday though i saw a large dead brown beetle and immediately thought i'd crossed that line -- a Strategus at Canyon Springs. But when i picked it up it felt heavy, and looked both large and oddly shaped for an Ox Beetle. The more i looked the more odd i thought it was. When i got back to the office i examined it more closely and found that it has shadow spots like a Dynastes though it is dark brown like Strategus. I guess i'll be posting a link to this to Texas Ento and asking for opinions as to whether something is awry here, whether it's a dark Dynastes, is perhaps melanistic, or perhaps is a hybrid. I don't know of other possibilities, but surely someone will suggest some. Anyway here's some pics, with obvious flash to try to bring out the spots.

UPDATE: Mike Quinn and John Abbott have both weighed in that this is Dynastes tityus. Johnsays females often darken up like this.

Speaking of melanos, one of the adult Red-shouldered Hawks that just fledged two young from a nest about 50 yards from my cabin here on the ranch is melanistic. I’m trying to get pictures but without luck so far. It is a dark chocolate brown, except for the tail which looks normally banded blackish gray and white. Here’s the nest. Arrow points to the barely visible head of downy chick back on May 21.

TexBirds has been alive in the last couple of weeks with stories of summering and nesting Cooper’s Hawks in Texas. My own experience has been that they’re somewhat scizophrenic. Birds nesting in remote canyons of the Trans-Pecos go vocally nuts when you get near a nest. And yet a pair nested directly over my cabin full of kids for several summers at a summer camp in Trinity County in east Texas. Reminded of all that by the presence of a bird here at the Ranch a couple of days ago. Haven’t found a nest, and it’s possible that the bird is an early migrant. Kerr County usually has a couple of Coop nests and one is being reported from in town in Kerrrville. A few summers ago had a Sharp-shinned Hawk several times in June – that would be by far the rarer nesting of the two common Accipiters in Texas, if indeed it had set up house.

Then there was the porcupine that the kids stumbled across while weeding the garden. Not that porcupines are particularly rare in these parts, but this one was as ragged as they come. I suspect it is a very old individual. See below for yourself.

Here’s a look at an Armadillo that was doing some “gardening” of his own when i interrupted dinner the other night.

Here’s an Eastern Hognose Snake we kept for a week and then released.

And the proud newest inhabitants of the local aviary, a pair of Green Honeycreepers, which, post-breeding, aren’t getting along real well. Hopefully we’ll get one more nest out of them this season.

Returned three fawns to moms last week alone. We’re working with abandoned kids here and they just can’t leave alone a baby they think has been abandoned. You got to have a heart for these guys.

Finally, i looked up yesterday at work to see what hummers were using my feeders (about a dozen Black-chins right now – the last Ruby-throats left about a week ago, plenty late – and i had at least a male, and probably a female Calliope until last week also). Anyway, there was a yearling doe feeding right under the tree where my feeders are hung. She looked up but seemed none too bothered by me and went right on feeding.

Then another doe came ambling up the hill. I should mention that the yearling had a bag and was ribby so she was probably feeding a fawn somewhere close. The larger doe ambling up the hill was very tubby and will probably drop a fawn this week. As the larger doe came up behind the youngster the smaller doe turned on its heels, stood up and lashed out at the larger one. Well, i’d been taking some pictures of the first, but had set my camera down. I scrambled for it while the other doe also went straight up and started boxing. By the time my camera was ready they had moved down the slope below my office a ways but were still boxing and jousting,

until finally the older deer seemed to get the better of the disagreement and chased the smaller doe into the woods. Not thirty minutes later both, plus a young buck and a third doe were standing under the feeders feeding peacefully. And that, in these pictures, was my Disney moment of the week.

Sayonara . . .

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