Results for “puffin”
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What does the puffin tell us about the Atlantic?

The widths of the Pacific continued unaltered for millions of years.  Temperatures scarcely dropped there in the Ice Ages.  Generation after generation of Pacific birds were able to evolve in an almost completely stable world.  Birds which somehow or other had arrived on remote islands branched into different species.  In the Atlantic, there was hardly time to do that between the Ice Ages…in the Atlantic endemics — species confined to particular places — only rarely evolved.

What you see when the puffins arrive in the spring is a product of this history.  The Atlantic, for the past 2.74 million years has been a place of coming and going, unsettled at the deepest of levels, a system always ready to flip from relatively beneficent to deeply unaccommodating.  Life does not have the time here to develop the mass of differentiated variety it has within the security of the Pacific.

…The result is that now in the North Atlantic there is relatively little local variation.  Species have evolved to cope with the variability and have wide ranges across the latitudes.  The Pacific is a mosaic of local land-based varieties; the Atlantic the exclusive realm of the ocean travellers, birds which have distance embedded in their way of being.

That is from the new and excellent The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers, by Adam Nicholson.  Whether it is covering the sex lives of guillemots or how gannets abuse their children, this book is first-rate.

The puffin chapter closes with this:

Next time you sit among the puffins on a summer evening, looking at their elegance and anxiety, that is what to hold in mind: not clowns but beauties, Ice Age survivors, scholar-gypsies of the Atlantic, their minds on an everlasting swing between island and sea, burrow and voyage, parent and child, the oscillating nomad masters of an unpacific ocean.

By the way, that is a UK Amazon link above, so they had to ship my copy across the Atlantic.


I've had a few reader requests to blog puffins.  My interest in puffins dates from a visit to Iceland in the early 1990s, where I went on a lovely mini-quest to track down a colony.  Here is a YouTube of puffins.  Here is a longer and more scenic video of puffins in Iceland.  Here is the sound of puffins, UK puffins at least. 

"The fresh heart of a Puffin is eaten raw as a traditional Icelandic delicacy."

But that is not for me.  I am interested in puffins for a few reasons: a) they appear unlikely, b) they often seem to be anticipating something, and c) nature has produced them.

Here is a collection of poems about puffins.  None seems good.  Here is a Russian video about Puffincat.  It is recommended.  Here are postage stamps featuring puffins.

On this site if you scroll down you will see pictures of albino puffins, among other delights.

Here are twenty-six questions about puffins, along with answers; e.g.,

The greatest natural predator
of the puffin is the Great Black-backed Gull.  This gull can catch
adult puffins in mid-air. 

Currently puffins are not at serious risk of extinction.

Saturday assorted links

1. Do people see their political opponents as more stupid than evil?

2. Sam Enright on Charles Haughey.

3. “I argue that lawmakers representing more homogeneously white districts have greater electoral incentive to moderate their voting records, since the two parties compete more for support of white voters than for the support of minority voters.”  Link here.

4. Petite Maman is an excellent movie.  It is rare to see a film with a truly original premise.

5. Puffin photo.

6. Are iPhone users worse drivers?

Thursday assorted links

1. Stablecoins, 1830-63.

2. New youngest chess grandmaster in history is 12 years old and lives in New Jersey.  Father is a software engineer, Indian background.

3. Today’s central bank digital currency status.  And Timothy Taylor on CBDC.

4. “This paper uses data from biological experiments to demonstrate that the trading behavior of mycorrhizal fungi is consistent with the predictions of GET [general equilibrium theory].

5. Forthcoming book: We Have Never Been Woke, looks great, sign up to receive notification of pre-order!

6. Mishnah on the Cowen-Deutsch CWT.

7. ““You’re never going to beat a kid’s adrenaline rush off a riot. You’re not going to stop them,” says Michael Logan, an 18-year-old who works part-time at Townsend Outreach Centre, a youth centre off the loyalist stronghold of the Shankill Road.” (FT link)

8. Rare white puffin.

9. “Japan’s top court on Wednesday again ruled legal provisions forcing married couples to use the same surname are constitutional, upholding a Supreme Court judgment from 2015.

10. NYT profile of Joe Rogan.

My Conversation with Richard Prum

Prum is an ornithologist at Yale, here is the audio, video, and transcript. Here is part of the summary:

Richard joined Tyler to discuss the infidelity of Australian birds, the debate on the origins of avian flight, how the lack of a penis explains why birds are so beautiful, why albatrosses can afford to take so many years to develop before mating, the game theory of ornithology, how flowers advertise themselves like a can of Coke, how modern technology is revolutionizing bird watching, why he’s pro-bird feeders yet anti- outdoor cats, how scarcity predicts territoriality in birds, his favorite bird artist, how Oilbirds got their name, how falcons and cormorants hunt and fish with humans, whether birds exhibit a G factor, why birds have regional accents, whether puffins will perish, why he’s not excited about the idea of trying to bring back passenger pigeons, the “dumb question” that marks a talented perspective ornithologist, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Putting path dependence aside, if you were trying to give us the most fundamental explanation of why sexual dimorphism is different in birds compared to mammals, what would that be?

PRUM: Well, that’s actually a really big question. [laughs]

COWEN: Of course, but the most fundamental factor — what is it?

PRUM: The most fundamental factor is that most birds don’t have a penis.

COWEN: Talk me through the equilibrium there.

PRUM: [laughs] There’s a lot. That’s where we start: Most birds don’t have a penis, which means that one of the things that happens in avian evolution that’s distinct from mammals is that the kids require a lot of care. They’re growing up in the nest, they’re hatching out of an egg, but they’re very, very vulnerable until they can fly.

Birds have a very rapid period of rapid development. That means that they grow up and leave the nest, and you need two parents to do that efficiently in most diets or most kinds of ecologies. That means the dad’s got to be at the nest.

We usually thought that you have social monogamy, at least two birds helping raise the young, because the young are so needy and they have to grow up quickly. But there’s another possibility, which is that they could evolve to be so needy and grow up quickly because they managed to get males at the nest.

One of the things that happened in the phylogeny of birds — you’ve got ostriches and their relatives, and you’ve got chickens and ducks, and then you’ve got the rest of birds, and that’s a bunch. That’s the vast majority of them, and in that lineage leading to the rest of birds, the penis evolved away, and the question is why. My own theory is that female birds preferred mates that did not have a penis.

One of the ancillary benefits of that, one of the correlated benefits of that is that they were no longer subject to sexual coercion or sexual violence. They could be coerced behaviorally, but they couldn’t be forcibly fertilized. That means that they have freedom of choice, and what do they do with their freedom of choice? They choose beauty. One of the reasons why birds are so beautiful is that males don’t have a penis. They have to be subject to choice in order to effect reproduction, and also they have to invest if females require it.

COWEN: Now, sometimes albatrosses don’t breed until they’re 20 years old or even, on average, maybe it’s what — 10 years old. What are they doing in the meantime that’s so important?

PRUM: Well, that is a deep question.

Recommended, this was one of my favorite CWT episodes.

Monday assorted links

1. How inevitable is the concept of numbers?

2. Learning about disadvantage leads to perceptions of incompetence.

3. The decline and indeed collapse of the ACLU (NYT).

4. “Latinos who overestimate their lightness (darkness) take less (more) liberal positions on racialized political issues than those who do not.

6. The import of home field advantage in soccer.

Friday assorted links

1. PBA cards, and implicit trades with police.

2. Australia: “Lawyers and civil liberty groups have expressed concerns about the way a pregnant woman was arrested at her home in Ballarat for allegedly encouraging people to take part in an anti-lockdown rally.”  I guess she didn’t have a good enough PBA card.

3. The football culture that is Fargo.  10,000 at an indoors game?  And is a two-puffin photo twice as good as a one-puffin photo?

4. Should a consortium of 45 hospitals defy the FDA’s directive on convalescent plasma and run an RCT instead?

5. New data on the Russian vaccine.

6. Obituary for David Graeber.

7. MIE: The Japanese companies that help people vanish.

Sunday assorted links

1. How many young people would volunteer to take a Human Challenge vaccine?

2. How much does tourism inflow account for coronavirus heterogeneity?

3. Christopher Phelan argues for relaxing mass quarantine.

4. A “happiness economics” analysis that a British lockdown lasting after June 1 would damage human well-being.

5. Puffins.  And celebrities have never been less entertaining.

6. Short history of Iceland coronavirus policy, quite interesting.  And Netflix continues production in Iceland (and South Korea).

7. Russians mimicking famous art works (NYT).

8. Limited immunity from previous “common cold” infections?

Wednesday assorted links

1. Megan McArdle on Elizabeth Warren, recommended.

2. Damien Ma Iowa China podcast.

3. “The church wants to attract more young families. The present members, most of them over 60 years old, will be invited to worship somewhere else. A memo recommends that they stay away for two years, then consult the pastor about reapplying.”  Link hereCottage Grove, Minnesota.

4. “And the island’s puffin population has almost trebled in 15 years.”

5. Rent control #TheGreatForgetting.

Open Borders in Svalbard!

Well north of Iceland there is a island archipelago that is governed by Norway but because of a peculiar treaty it has entirely open borders:

When you land in Longyearbyen, the largest settlement in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, you can step off the plane and just walk away. There’s no passport control, no armed guard retracing your steps, no biometric machine scanning your fingers. Svalbard is as close as you can get to a place with open borders: As long as you can support yourself, you can live there visa-free.

In an excellent piece in The Nation, Atossa Araxia Abrahamian describes the history and what it is like to visit:

Formally, Svalbard—known as Spitsbergen until the 20th century—belongs to Norway, which writes the laws, enforces order, builds infrastructure, and regulates hunting, fishing, and housing. Last year, when a Russian man was caught trying to rob a bank in town, a Norwegian judge sentenced him under Norwegian law to a Norwegian jail. But Norway’s control over Svalbard comes with obligations outlined by an unusual 1920 treaty signed as part of the Versailles negotiations ending World War I.

Written in the aftermath of the war, the Svalbard Treaty is both of and ahead of its time. Its architects stipulated that the territory cannot be used for “warlike” purposes. They included one of the world’s first international conservation agreements, making Norway responsible for the preservation of the surrounding natural environment. The treaty also insists that the state must not tax its citizens more than the minimum needed to keep Svalbard running, which today typically amounts to an 8 percent income tax, well below mainland Norway’s roughly 40 percent.

Most radically, the treaty’s architects held Norway to what’s known as the nondiscrimination principle, which prevents the state from treating non-Norwegians differently from Norwegians. This applies not just to immigration but also to opening businesses, hunting, fishing, and other commercial activities. Other countries could not lay formal claims on Svalbard, but their people and companies would be at no disadvantage.

Some 37 percent of Svalbard’s population is foreign born and there is an abandoned Soviet town with statues of Vladmir Lenin. Tyler will also be pleased to know that there are puffins.

I can’t say that I am tempted to move, but given global climate change it’s good to know that I could.

Hat tip: The Browser.

Wednesday assorted links

1. Is this still the best place to be a puffin?

2. “For Dr. Kevin Spencer, a solution to stuck rings is long overdue. He said he sees patients with stuck rings in the ER at least once a week.

3. Bruce Caldwell on The Road to Serfdom after 75 years.

4. Building iPhones in Vietnam? (NYT)

5. A Medicare buy-in or public option could easily threaten Obamacare (NYT).

6. Apollo waste management.