TUESDAY, JUNE 13, 2023
Years later, Trump arrived: Beavers have an impressive technology.
In fairness, ours is better.
Concerning that first technology, here's the way the leading authority on such construction projects thumbnails the complex undertaking:
A beaver dam or beaver impoundment is a dam built by beavers to create a pond which protects against predators such as coyotes, wolves and bears, and holds their food during winter. These structures modify the natural environment in such a way that the overall ecosystem builds upon the change, making beavers a keystone species and ecosystem engineers. They build prolifically at night, carrying mud and stones with their forepaws and timber between their teeth.
A minimum water level of 0.6 to 0.9 metres (2.0 to 3.0 ft) is required to keep the underwater entrance to beaver lodges from being blocked by ice during the winter. In lakes, rivers and large streams with deep enough water, beavers may not even need to build dams, and instead simply live in bank burrows and lodges. If the water is not deep enough to keep beavers safe from predators and their lodge entrances ice-free, beavers build dams.
Beavers start construction by diverting the stream to lessen the water's flow pressure. Branches and logs are then driven into the mud of the stream bed to form a base. Then sticks, bark (from deciduous trees), rocks, mud, grass, leaves, masses of plants, and anything else available are used to build the superstructure. Beavers can transport their own weight in material; they drag logs along mudslides and float them through canals to get them in place. Once the dam has flooded enough area to the proper depth to form a protective moat for the lodge (often covering many acres), beavers begin construction on the lodge.
Trees approaching a diameter of 90 centimetres (3.0 ft) may be used to construct a dam, although the average is 10 to 30 centimetres (3.9 to 11.8 in). The length depends on the diameter of the tree and the size of the beaver. There are recorded cases of beavers felling logs of as much 45 metres (148 ft) tall and 115 centimetres (45 in) in diameter. Logs of this size are not intended to be used as structural members of the dam; rather, the bark is used for food, and sometimes to get to upper branches. It takes a beaver about 20 minutes to cut down a 15-centimetre (5.9 in) wide aspen, by gnawing a groove around the trunk in an hourglass shape. A beaver's jaws are powerful enough to cut a 1.5-centimetre (0.59 in) sapling in one bite.
Maintenance work on the dam and lodges is often done in autumn.
"Maintenance work?" What's that?
As noted above, the lodge must be entered through an underwater entrance. But once the beaver has entered the structure, the living quarters sit above the water line, creating a dry living space!
Beaver, beaver, burning bright! What's going on in a beaver's mind as he or she works on this complex construction project?
Even at the highest ends of our discourse, we (meat-eating) humans have devoted remarkably little attention to such challenging questions.
Is anything going through the mind of a beaver at all? By inference, it's sometimes said that Descartes said, or seemed to say, that the answer was no.
Descartes was a doubter. But these construction projects are quite complex, and beavers complete such projects quite easily. What's going on in their heads?
In fairness, our human technology is much more advanced. There are no electric lights inside a beaver's lodge, nor do beavers ever emerge from their dry mid-water homes to launch rocket ships to the moon.
Our technology is more advanced. That doesn't answer a basic question:
Do we humans command the intellectual skills which allow us to construct a "rational" national discourse, even in a very large, culturally diverse nation such as our own?
In theory, a rational discourse would help us escape predation from other humans—from outsiders who might wish to "break through and steal" the "treasures" we have laid up. The early passage from sacred Thoreau goes exactly like this:
But men [sic] labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon plowed into the soil for compost. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool’s life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before.
It's a fool's life, our near neighbor scathingly said.
Still, we humans will seek to protect our treasures, just as beavers do. Do we command the intellectual skills which allow us to construct a "rational" discourse toward this particular end?
Within the past several decades, the answer has seemed to come back as a resounding no. By the late 1990s, The Crazy was increasingly in the saddle and riding Americankind—and much of this was coming from the high-end mainstream press corps, not from the right-wing machine:
MCGRORY (10/31/99): Vice President Albert Gore came to his fateful encounter with newly menacing challenger Bill Bradley carrying heavy baggage. He was wearing an outfit that added to his problems when he stepped onstage at Dartmouth College: a brown suit, a gunmetal blue shirt, a red tie—and black boots.
Was it part of his reinvention strategy? Perhaps it was meant to be a ground-leveling statement—"I am not a well-dressed man." It is hard to imagine that he thought to ingratiate himself with the nation's earliest primary voters by trying to look like someone seeking employment at a country music radio station. Maybe it was the first step in shedding his Prince Albert image.
Black boots! Even that!
That was the reaction of a thoroughly mainstream, Pulitzer-winning columnist at the Washington Post. It was her reaction to the first Gore-Bradley debate of the 2000 campaign, which was held at New Hampshire's Dartmouth College.
Over the course of the next several weeks, three major journalists described what had happened inside the press room from which that strange column emerged. We quote from Chapter 4 of our suspended companion site, the award-winning How He Got There:
The following week, Howard Mortman, managing editor of the Hotline, described the scene inside the Dartmouth press room. “The media groaned, howled and laughed almost every time Al Gore said something,” Mortman said, during a panel discussion on the Hotline’s nightly cable program. What happened when Bradley spoke? he was asked. “Stone silence, really,” he said.
Mortman described astonishing conduct. But Eric Pooley had already described a similar scene, in his full-length report for Time about that first debate. “Whenever Gore came on too strong, the room erupted in a collective jeer, like a gang of 15-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless nerd,” Pooley wrote, referring to "the 300 media types watching in the press room at Dartmouth."
Oddly, Pooley showed no clear sign of thinking this conduct was inappropriate–except for the way he described his colleagues as “a gang of Heathers.” But in early December, a third reporter described this strange scene–and this reporter expressed his surprise, and his plain disapproval. Appearing on C-Span’s Washington Journal, Salon’s Jake Tapper responded to a viewer's question about–what else?–liberal bias:
I can tell you that the only media bias I have detected in terms of a group media bias was, at the first debate between Bill Bradley and Al Gore, there was hissing for Gore in the media room up at Dartmouth College. The reporters were hissing Gore, and that’s the only time I’ve ever heard the press room boo or hiss any candidate of any party at any event.
Tapper had never seen such conduct before. But then, “gathered in a pack they can be cruel and unfeeling,” as [conservative journalist] Fred Barnes had already said.
(For ourselves, we had received a phone call from just outside the Dartmouth press room that very night. When we picked up, a major (Republican) journalist described the astonishing conduct which had just occurred.)
Three journalists spoke about what had happened—but this booing, hissing and jeering was never actually discussed. What happened in the press room stayed in the press room, until people like Mary McGrory began to issue insulting columns about that one candidate's allegedly clownlike attire, or about the way he had scampered about on the stage like a feral animal, or about the appalling way he'd inquired about a sick child.
The mainstream press had descended to that point by The Autumn of 99! When Candidate Trump arrived on the scene in 2015, the discourse was soon awash in insulting, cartoonish nicknames aimed at other candidates, with an endless array of ludicrous factual claims to follow.
The discourse was now in the hands of us, the nonrational animals. That said, something very unusual took place on CNN last night.
As we watched, it made us think, with great surprise, of Keats' reaction to Chapman's Homer. On this morning's Morning Joe, Al Sharpton described it thusly:
"I think Chris Christie was excellent last night."
Sharpton isn't going to vote for Christie, but he saw the same thing we did. He saw a reversion to a type of fully coherent discourse—a type of discourse which predated the era of the insultingly stupid cartoonish nicknames and the earlier era of the booing, hissing and jeering and the subsequent Attack on The Clothes.
Beavers go about their business, laying up their treasures. Nonrational animals that we secretly are, will we be able to bring ourselves back from the culturally and intellectually dead?
Beaver, beaver, burning bright! As you work to lay up your treasures, what's going on in your head?
Tomorrow: Good God! Amazingly clear exposition!