Our City on the Hill complex needed revision, if not utter destruction. Imagine my excitement I had played a new Wole Soyinka film at the Commonwealth Educational Conference in Lagos, Nigeria, in , urging the creation of a global film library of literary first takes on all the English-speaking Commonwealth countries.
So I was constantly on the lookout for new titles that would, at the very least, instruct us in the uniqueness of their authors' views of our shared global culture.
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So imagine my recent excitement to learn about Junot Diaz, a new young writer from the Dominican Republic, currently a professor of creative writing at no less a university than MIT. In my shallow science awareness, I was pleasantly surprised and could hardly wait for interlibrary loan to deliver Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Diaz was born in Santo Domingo, got his B. His first book, a collection of short stories titled Drown , was described by Hermione Lee in Britain's Sunday Independent as "a dazzling talented first book.
Disgusting loser Not from me he wouldn't have. His Oscar character is the most disgusting loser I've encountered in almost a century of compulsive reading. Oscar Wao contains much too much trash about the sexual gifts of the run-of-the-bed Dominican. Oscar, the author endlessly reminds us, would win no Oscars for his equipment! But it did prick my curiosity about the history of Trujillo's decades-long dictatorship as well as American collusions and destructions thereby.
Unreadable footnotes But Diaz has devised the shtick of almost unreadable footnotes that suddenly appear erratically when Diaz briefly gets "serious. This animal is very gentle, peaceable, and familiar. It is somewhat melancholy, and even plaintive; but has no violence or vehemence in its passions. Its movements are slow, and its efforts feeble; yet is seriously occupied with a desire of liberty, gnawing, from time to time, the gates of its prison, but without fury or precipitation, and with the sole view of making an opening for escape.
In these relative qualities, which would make him approach to man, he seems to be inferior to the dog. He appears to be formed neither for serving, commanding, nor even holding commerce with any other species than his own. His sense, locked up in his own person, never entirely manifests itself but among his own tribe. When alone, he has little personal industry, less artifice, and hardly prudence enough to avoid the grossest snares. Instead of attacking other animals, he is even very aukward in defending himself.
He prefers flight to combat, though he bites cruelly when he finds himself seized by the hand of the hunter.
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If, then, we consider this animal in a state of nature, or rather in a state of solitude and dispersion, he appears not, by his internal qualities, to rise above the other animals. He is the only quadruped furnished with a flat, oval tail, covered with scales, which he uses as a rudder to direct his course in the water; the only animal that has his hind-feet webbed, and the toes of his fore-feet, which he employs for carrying victuals to his mouth, separate from each other; the only quadruped that  resembles the land-animals in the anterior parts of his body, and the aquatic animals in the posterior.
He forms the link between quadrupeds and fishes, as the bat does between quadrupeds and birds. But these peculiarities would be rather defects than perfections, if the beaver knew not how to derive, from this singular conformation, advantages which render him superior to every other quadruped. The beavers begin to assemble, in the month of June or July, for the purpose of uniting into society. They arrive in numbers, from all corners, and soon form a troop of two or three hundred. The place of rendezvous is generally the situation fixed for their establishment, and is always on the banks of waters.
If the waters be flat, and never rise above their ordinary level, as in lakes, the beavers make no bank or dam. But, in rivers or brooks, where the waters are subject to risings and fallings, they build a bank, and, by this artifice, they form a pond or piece of water which remains always at the same height. The bank traverse the river, from one side to the other, like a sluice, and it is often from 80 to feet long, by 10 or 12 broad at the base.
But the solidity with which the work is construc-ted, is still more astonishing than its magnitude. The part of the river where they erect this bank is generally shallow. If they find on the margin a large tree, which can be made to fall into the water, they begin with cutting it down, to form the principal part of their work.
This tree is often thicker than the body of a man. By gnawing the foot of the tree with their four cutting teeth, they accomplish their purpose in a very short time, and always make the tree fall across the river. They next cut the branches from the trunk, to make it lie level. These operations are performed by the whole community. Several beavers are employed in gnawing the foot of the tree, and others in lopping off the branches after it has fallen.
Others, at the same time, traverse the banks of the river, and cut down smaller trees, from the size of a man's leg to that of his thigh. These they dress, and cut to a certain length, to make stakes of them, and first drag them by land to the margin of the river, and then by water to the place where the building is carrying on.
These piles they sink down, and interweave the branches with the larger stakes. This operation implies the vanquishing of many difficulties; for, to dress these stakes, and to put them in a situation nearly perpendicular, some of the beavers must elevate, with their teeth, the thick ends against the margin of the river, or against the cross-tree, while others plunge to the bottom, and dig holes with their fore-feet, to receive the points, that they may stand on end. When some are labouring in this manner, others bring earth, which they plash [sic] with their feet, and beat firm with their tails.
They carry the earth in their mouths, and with their fore-feet, and transport it in such quantities, that they fill with it all the intervals between the piles. These piles consist of several rows of stakes, or equal height, all placed opposite to each other, and extend from one bank of the river to the other. The states facing the under part of the river, are placed perpendicularly; but the rest of work slopes upwards to sustain the pressure of the fluid; so that the bank, which is 10 or 12 feet wide at the base, is reduced to two or three at the top.
It has, therefore, not only all the necessary thickness and solidity, but the most advantageous form for supporting the weight of the water, for preventing its issue, and to repel its efforts. Near the top, or thinnest part of the bank, they make two or three sloping holes, to allow the surface-water to escape, and these they enlarge or contract, according as the river rises or falls; and, when any breaches are made in the bank by sudden or violent inundations, they know how to repair them as soon as the water subsides.
It would be superfluous, after this account of their public work, to give a details of their particular operations, were it not necessary, in a history of these animals, to mention every fact, and were not the first great structure made with a  view to render their smaller habitations more commodious. These cabins or houses are built upon piles near the margin of the pond, and have two openings, the one for going to the land, and the other for throwing themselves into the water.
The form of the edifices is either oval or round, some of them larger and some less, varying from four or five, to eight or ten feet diameter. Some of them consist of three or four stories; and their walls are about two feet thick, raised perpendicularly upon planks, or plain stakes, which serve both for foundations and floors to their houses. When they consist but of one story, the walls rise perpendicularly only a few feet, afterwards assume a curved form, and terminate in a dome or vault, which serves them for a roof. They are built with amazing solidity, and neatly plastered both without and within.
They are impenetrable to rain, and resist the most impetuous winds. The partitions are covered with a kind of stucco, as nicely plastered as if it had been executed by the hand of man. In the application of this mortar, their tails serve for trowels, and their feet for plashing [sic]. They employ different materials, as wood, stone, and a kind of sandy earth, which is not subject to dissolution in water. The wood they use is almost all of the light and tender kinds, as alders, poplars, and willows, which generally grow on the banks of rivers, and are more easily barked, cut, and transported, than the heavier and more solid species of timber.
When  they once attack a tree, they never abandon it till they cut it down, and carry it off. They always begin the operation of cutting at a foot, or a foot and a half about the ground: They labour in a sitting posture; and, beside the convenience of this situation, they enjoy the pleasure of gnawing perpetually the bark and wood, which are most palatable to their taste; for they prefer fresh bark and tender wood to most of their ordinary aliment.
It is in the water, and near their habitations, that they establish their magazines. Each cabin has its own magazine, proportioned to the number of its inhabitants, who have all a common right to the stores and never pillage their neighbours. Some villages are composed of twenty or twenty-five cabins.
But these large establishments are rare; and the common republic seldom exceeds ten or twelve families, of which each has its own quarter of the village, his own magazine, and his separate habitation.
Beavers Are Dam Fine
They allow not strangers to set down in their neighbourhood. The smallest cabins contain two, four, or six; and the largest  eighteen, twenty, and, it is alledged, sometimes thirty beavers. They are almost always equally paired, being the same number of females as of males. Thus, upon a moderate computation, the society is often composed of or , who all, at first, laboured jointly, in raising the great public building, and afterwards in select tribes or companies, in making particular habitations.
In this society, however numerous, an universal peace is maintained. Their union is cemented by common labours; and it is rendered perpetual by mutual convenience, and the abundance of provisions which they amass and consume together. Moderate appetites, a simple taste, an aversion against blood and carnage, deprive them of the idea of rapine and war.
Although the film is not specifically about beavers - or even salmon per se - it does speak to a growing appreciation of natural behaving watersheds. And Patagonia, which produced the film, is a Ventura county company and several of the makers of the film are very pro-beaver and very interested in southern steelhead. But I would be remiss if I were to suggest that there was not also bad news and I want to focus on two stories that also came up. For me this is an issue of perspective and putting the onus where it belongs. Several papers have came out suggesting that beaver modifications can provide habitat for non-native species.
The onus has to go on the species that put the non-natives there in the first place, Homo sapiens , us.
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There is not a native species left in that watershed!! Invasive species might just be the new normal and at least we can still have the herons, egrets, kingfishers, mergansers, white pelicans, and raptors that love to eat invasives and also love to fish in beaver ponds. This one is patently ridiculous and am surprised it got the traction it got. Now I want to qualify this by pointing out that I emailed the lead author with my concerns over his study several days ago and put him on notice that I was going to be critically discussing his paper in the future and that if he had some words in his defense now was the time to let it be known.
Crickets chirping is the only sound I got back from him. With regards to the paper itself the study sought to quantify the amount of degassing methane arising from beaver ponds on the three continents that they live on.
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The paper took this quantification, the efflux of carbon from beaver ponds via methane, and used that number to suggest that growing and expanding beaver populations will further increase global warming at some appreciable levels but far below what humans or even cows do. Now I hope you caught the big problem with this study - they only looked at eflux and not influx of carbon. That is a damming indictment on this study!!
In fact I think it very much more reasonable to hypothesize beaver wetlands sequester away much more carbon from the atmosphere than they put into it!! As to how this study got published, peer reviewed and so on we can only speculate. But the real damage done is towards the casual reader of articles noting this study and simply equating beavers with global warming via methane outgassing. Now for the Daily Caller article I am sure it is no surprise to you that the writer did not take a critical look at the obvious problems with this study.
But the article did say this towards the end: "Does this mean that the government will have to start regulating beaver dams?