Monday, June 27, 2005

3QD Reading: The rise and fall of just about everything

A gifted young brain trust continues to be a wellspring of challenging and well-chosen information comparable to Arts and Letters Daily. There was a time when I never missed a daily visit to but it proved to be more than I could sustain and still have time in my life to do anything other than read. It was just too much to cover. For me Three Quarks feeds the same appetite without tempting me to gluttony. (I don't read Instapundit either, incidentally, for the same reason. Too much to ingest. Besides, when an item is linked by Glenn Reynolds that pretty much seals the deal that everyone is gonna know about it within a day or two anyway, so I don't feel I miss much by skipping Instapundit, Drudge, Polypundit or the rest of the blogosphere's popular "breaking news" sites.)

But I digress...
On Mondays 3QD publishes pieces written by members of their own club on topics that interest them. They are always worth a look and this Monday's catch is no exception.

  • Eastern Kentucky is described in all it's contrasts by Timothy Don, a guest contributor who hails from the intellectual and cultural center of the Universe don't you know. I'm talking about New Yawk City and it shows. Titled Down the Rabbit Hole with a nod to Lewis Carroll, he marvels in wide-eyed wonder that other human beings actually live and move and have their being in such a place. I am trying (but not too hard) not to be snippy because he is a great writer. Criticizing his writing is like finding a fingerprint on a new car in the showroom. Just plain petty. BecauseI was born and reared in the Bluegrass and my mother is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky State Teacher's College in Richmond and my family still lives very close to the area that Mr. Don describes, I read his words with a slightly different slant, if you will excuse the use of the word. When you read his essay you will see what I mean.
  • In the last several years research into the Mayan Civilization has advanced a reasonable explanation into why the society collapsed. American Scientist takes a look.

Given the common image of lost Maya cities buried beneath tangles of jungle vegetation, it may come as a surprise to discover that the Yucatán is, in fact, a seasonal desert. The lush landscape depends heavily on summer rains for nourishment, rains that vary considerably across the peninsula. Annual precipitation ranges from as little as 500 millimeters along the northern coast to as high as 4,000 millimeters in parts of the south. As much as 90 percent of this moisture falls between June and September, and a pronounced winter dry season runs from January to May.


In his fascinating book, The Great Maya Droughts, independent archaeologist Richardson B. Gill persuasively argues that a lack of water was a major factor in the terminal Classic collapse. Gill pulls together an enormous amount of information on modern weather and climate, draws on the record of historical droughts and famines, and heaps on evidence from archaeology and from geological studies of ancient climates. To demonstrate the importance of the porous limestone bedrock, for example, he quotes Diego de Landa, Bishop of Yucatán, who in 1566 wrote: "Nature worked so differently in this country in the matter of rivers and springs, which in all the rest of the world run on top of the land, that here in this country all run and flow through secret passages under it."

Gill builds an impressive case. When his work was first published (five years ago), the most compelling evidence for drought came from sediment cores that David A. Hodell, Jason H. Curtis, Mark Brenner and other geologists at the University of Florida had collected from a number of Yucatán lakes. Their measurements of these ancient deposits indicate that the driest interval of the last 7,000 years fell between 800 and 1000 A.D.—coincident with the collapse of Classic Maya civilization. Later work by these same investigators found evidence for a recurrent pattern of drought, which seems also to explain other, less dramatic breaks in Maya cultural evolution.

  • Finally, and best of all, Abbas Raza remembers one of Pakistan's true intellectual giants, Sahabzada Yaqub Khan. As a friend of the family Abbas Raza is in a unique position to know a lot about this man and his considerable and breath-taking accomplishments. I have been fortunate in my life to have known three or four individuals who were larger than life, though none have stood as tall as the subject of this sketch. As I read I was able to connect, not only with the life of the man being described, but the writer as well.

(I just realized that the second item above is from American Scientist, not the 3QD stable. I'm not going to reformat the post but I need to make a note.)


Abbas Raza said...

Dear John,

Thank you so very, very much for your extremely generous words about 3QD. Though it is great to meet the giants of our time when possible, it is through the daily encouragement of people like ourselves (you, in this case) which really makes everything worthwhile. Thanks again, and keep visiting 3QD; we'll keep writing and posting!

Yours gratefully,


timothy don said...


Many, many thanks for the shout-out on your site. It seems like I trod on a few sets of toes with my remarks about Kentucky--which is the last thing I intended. I loved the place, was awed by the landscape and the people. Plus I picked up some very fine bourbon--sipping on a bit of Buffalo Trace right now, in fact. Best to you; keep in touch,