Sunday, June 6, 2010

Intelligent Design?

One of my favorite examples of the need for critical thinking and the value of skeptical inquiry is the "intelligent design" debate.  There's no shortage of books on the subject of biological evolution and its non-scientific counterpoint.
I'm currently reading The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution by Sean B. Carroll.  It was a text for our son's freshman biology classe at college this year and I'm glad he brought it home.
Carroll also wrote the excellent, if not quite so accessible, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo

If you're just looking for some interesting websites to help you understand the players in the Intelligent Design movement check out The Panda's Thumb and TalkOrigins on the science side of the ledger. 

On the Creationist, Creation Science, and Intelligent Design side of the hall have a look at The Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture and the ever popular Answers in Genesis.

An American Deer Hunter In Africa, Part I

I wrote An American Deer Hunter In Africa in 1998 after returning from a hunting trip with friends to South Africa.  I'll post it here as I did on Usenet's rec.hunting, as a four part serial...

So, you're headed to Africa to go big game hunting. Good for you. If you're like me and my friends this will be your first African hunting trip. You did the math and discovered that it really is cheaper to hunt for ten days in Africa than it is to go on a guided Elk hunt in the United States. You've booked a hunt with a reputable outfitter recommended to you by someone who has hunted with them. Your preparations are well under way, and prepare you must. Our safari last June was a tremendous learning experience. I learned volumes about what to do and what to bring. I did this, in part, by keeping a detailed journal which now contains an only slightly edited recollection of what I failed to do and neglected to bring. If you have a few minutes I encourage you to learn from our successes, and mistakes.

Part I: The Little Things

Four friends and I went hunting at Bush Africa Safaris in northern South Africa, about 30 kilometers from Ellisras, a town near the border with Botswana. The proprietors, Schalk and Terina van Heerden, offer very comfortable accommodations and delightful cuisine. The bushveld 'thornbush country' has much to offer to the first time American hunter. The terrain itself is easy going, the game is plentiful, the bush is thick, and the shots will be quick and at short range. My experience is limited to the bushveld, so you'll need to make some allowances for my perspective as you prepare for different terrain and other countries. That said, let's prepare, shall we.

Do you have a passport? No? Then you'll need to apply for it right away, won't you? Those of you who answered 'Yes,' where is your passport? Are you sure? Why don't you go check right now. Go.

Have a clear idea about what you want to hunt. Get a field guide that describes the animals you intend to pursue. Find one that offers photographs of adult males and females, as well as juveniles. The Stewart's Field Guide: Mammals of Southern Africa is the best I've seen. Study your outfitter's brochures. One can hunt all sorts of animals in Africa, but your outfitter's concessions may not be home to the species you seek. And study the price lists. While hunting in Africa is a bargain, your budget may not accommodate your wildest fantasies. Understand the terrain you will be hunting in. If your ambition is to take Kudu on the ground in its natural mountainous habitat, you'll have to work for it.

Unless you're already fit, get in shape. Hunting is hard work. You'll be creeping through the bush all day. You'll be jumping in and out of bakjes. You may get to help drag your Zebra into the truck. At the peak of any of these exertions you may be presented with a challenging shot at a really nice trophy animal. You'll do better if you're not winded. At a least start doing sit-ups and push-ups --the slow, difficult kind-- every evening. Better, you could pursue an exercise plan that increases your aerobic capacity. Running, bicycling, swimming, even walking, will do. Anything is better than nothing, unless you wait till the week before your trip and hurt yourself with overexertion.

If you have any physical malady, treat it long before you leave, and then bring emergency treatment along in case it recurs. I had an emergency root canal the day before leaving for Africa, and then popped the top of the temporary filling in the departure lounge at the airport. Better to have had the crown completed before I left. Fortunately for me the bottom half of the filling held for two weeks. I had antibiotics and painkillers with me, which would likely have held me over until I could find a dentist in surprisingly civilized South Africa. Finding a dentist, or other physician, in, or en route to, central Africa might be a real good trick. Oh yeah, if you have any temporary dental work skip the bagels at the airport snack bar.

Get your shots. Take your prophylaxsis on time, every time. As for malaria preventatives I think that the side effects of Larium (mefloquine) almost outweigh the benefit, but then I've never had Malaria. One of our South African hosts had recently been told of a fellow who took ill with 'his malaria' one day and was dead the next. I'm sure there is more to that story, but do talk to your tropical/travel doctor before --well before-- leaving for Africa. Ask her about the newer daily therapies to see if they might work better for you. Visiting the Travel Clinic is one of those things you shouldn't leave until the last minute. Some of your preventative therapies need to be started the week before you go. Oh, I'm sure the clinic will fit you the day before you leave (between your emergency appointments with the dentist and the endodontist) if they can. What if they can't?

Bring your allergy medications with you. I interrupted a really fun stalk with a coughing fit when dust aggravated my allergies. About fifty steps after I recovered, my patient tracker, Filamon, showed me the tracks of a large Kudu bull that seems to have suddenly turned and run away. If you have a cough, I find that sucking on a hard sweet will keep the throat from drying out. Just let it dissolve though; crunching on it will earn you cross looks from your tracker.

If you tend toward dyspepsia, take a Maalox or something. I apparently have one stomach growl that sounds like Blue Wildebeest, and another that sounds like an unhappy Leopard. One sound results in much more excitement than the other when checking a leopard bait site.