Dogs live in the present – they just are! Dogs make the best of each moment uncluttered by the sorts of complex fears and feelings that we humans have. They don’t judge, they simply take the world around them at face value. Yet they have been part of man’s world for an unimaginable time, at least 30,000 years. That makes the domesticated dog the longest animal companion to man, by far!
As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer. Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming, thence the long journey to modern man. But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite. Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.
Dogs know better, much better! Time again for man to learn from dogs!
Welcome to Learning from Dogs
Time from two very different perspectives.
I’m writing this post approaching midnight (UTC) on the afternoon of Tuesday, 26th May, 2015. In other words, approaching 00:00 UTC 27/05/15. (Or, in American speak 05/27/15.)
In fewer than four weeks it will be the moment of the Summer solstice, as in the Northern Hemisphere’s Mid-Summer’s Day. More precisely explained over on EarthSky.org together with a number of very interesting facts:
The solstice comes on June 21, 2015 at 16:38 UTC. For North American time zones, that places the solstice at 12:38 p.m. EDT, 11:38 a.m. CDT, 10:38 a.m. MDT and 9:38 a.m. PDT.
The planet Earth has been in orbit around the sun for a very long time! Time beyond imagination. By comparison, in a very short time one species alone, namely homo sapiens, has altered the biosphere of Planet Earth. It’s almost beyond comprehension!
To expand on that notion, let me republish an essay from TomDispatch from last September. Republished with the kind permission of Tom Engelhardt.
Tomgram: Rebecca Solnit, What to Do When You’re Running Out of Time
Posted by Rebecca Solnit at 8:09am, September 18, 2014.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.
Just when no one needed more lousy news, the U.N.’s weather outfit, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), issued its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. It offered a shocking climate-change update: the concentrations of long-lasting greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) rose at a “record-shattering pace” from 2012 to 2013, including the largest increase in CO2 in 30 years — and there was a nasty twist to this news that made it even grimmer.
While such increases reflected the fact that we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels at staggering rates, something else seems to be happening as well. Both the oceans and terrestrial plant life act as carbon sinks; that is, they absorb significant amounts of the carbon dioxide we release and store it away. Unfortunately, both may be reaching limits of some sort and seem to be absorbing less. This is genuinely bad news if you’re thinking about the future warming of the planet. (As it happens, in the same period, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, parts of the American public stopped absorbing information in no less striking fashion: the number of those who believe that global warming isn’t happening rose 7% to 23%.)
So consider this a propitious moment for a major climate-change demonstration, possibly the largest in history, in New York City this Sunday. [Ed: it turned out to be the largest climate march in history.] As the WMO’s Secretary-General Michel Jarraud pointed out, there is still time to make a difference. “We have the knowledge and we have the tools,” he said, “for action to try to keep temperature increases within 2°C to give our planet a chance and to give our children and grandchildren a future. Pleading ignorance can no longer be an excuse for not acting.” As TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit, author of the indie bestseller Men Explain Things to Me, points out, the pressure of mass movements can sometimes turn history upside down. Of course, the only way to find out if climate change is a candidate for this treatment is to get out in the streets. So, for those of you anywhere near New York, see you this Sunday! Tom
The Wheel Turns, the Boat Rocks, the Sea Rises
Change in a Time of Climate Change
By Rebecca Solnit
There have undoubtedly been stable periods in human history, but you and your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents never lived through one, and neither will any children or grandchildren you may have or come to have. Everything has been changing continuously, profoundly — from the role of women to the nature of agriculture. For the past couple of hundred years, change has been accelerating in both magnificent and nightmarish ways.
Yet when we argue for change, notably changing our ways in response to climate change, we’re arguing against people who claim we’re disrupting a stable system. They insist that we’re rocking the boat unnecessarily.
I say: rock that boat. It’s a lifeboat; maybe the people in it will wake up and start rowing. Those who think they’re hanging onto a stable order are actually clinging to the wreckage of the old order, a ship already sinking, that we need to leave behind.
As you probably know, the actual oceans are rising — almost eight inches since 1880, and that’s only going to accelerate. They’re also acidifying, because they’re absorbing significant amounts of the carbon we continue to pump into the atmosphere at record levels. The ice that covers the polar seas is shrinking, while the ice shields that cover Antarctica and Greenland are melting. The water locked up in all the polar ice, as it’s unlocked by heat, is going to raise sea levels staggeringly, possibly by as much as 200 feet at some point in the future, how distant we do not know. In the temperate latitudes, warming seas breed fiercer hurricanes.
The oceans are changing fast, and for the worse. Fish stocks are dying off, as are shellfish. In many acidified oceanic regions, their shells are actually dissolving or failing to form, which is one of the scariest, most nightmarish things I’ve ever heard. So don’t tell me that we’re rocking a stable boat on calm seas. The glorious 10,000-year period of stable climate in which humanity flourished and then exploded to overrun the Earth and all its ecosystems is over.
But responding to these current cataclysmic changes means taking on people who believe, or at least assert, that those of us who want to react and act are gratuitously disrupting a stable system that’s working fine. It isn’t stable. It is working fine — in the short term and the most limited sense — for oil companies and the people who profit from them and for some of us in the particularly cushy parts of the world who haven’t been impacted yet by weather events like, say, the recent torrential floods in Japan or southern Nevada and Arizona, or the monsoon versions of the same that have devastated parts of India and Pakistan, or the drought that has mummified my beloved California, or the wildfires of Australia.
The problem, of course, is that the people who most benefit from the current arrangements have effectively purchased a lot of politicians, and that a great many of the rest of them are either hopelessly dim or amazingly timid. Most of the Democrats recognize the reality of climate change but not the urgency of doing something about it. Many of the Republicans used to — John McCain has done an amazing about-face from being a sane voice on climate to a shrill denier — and they present a horrific obstacle to any international treaties.
Put it this way: in one country, one party holding 45 out of 100 seats in one legislative house, while serving a minority of the very rich, can basically block what quite a lot of the other seven billion people on Earth want and need, because a two-thirds majority in the Senate must consent to any international treaty the U.S. signs. Which is not to say much for the president, whose drill-baby-drill administration only looks good compared to the petroleum servants he faces, when he bothers to face them and isn’t just one of them. History will despise them all and much of the world does now, but as my mother would have said, they know which side their bread is buttered on.
As it happens, the butter is melting and the bread is getting more expensive. Global grain production is already down several percent thanks to climate change, says a terrifying new United Nations report. Declining crops cause food shortages and rising food prices, creating hunger and even famine for the poorest on Earth, and also sometimes cause massive unrest. Rising bread prices were one factor that helped spark the Arab Spring in 2011. Anyone who argues that doing something about global warming will be too expensive is dodging just how expensive unmitigated climate change is already proving to be.
It’s only a question of whether the very wealthy or the very poor will pay. Putting it that way, however, devalues all the nonmonetary things at stake, from the survival of myriad species to our confidence in the future. And yeah, climate change is here, now. We’ve already lost a lot and we’re going to lose more, but there’s a difference between terrible and apocalyptic. We still have some control over how extreme it gets. That’s not a great choice, but it’s the choice we have. There’s still a window open for action, but it’s closing. As the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Society, Michel Jarraud, bluntly put it recently, “We are running out of time.”
New and Renewable Energies
The future is not yet written. Look at the world we’re in at this very moment. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was supposed to be built years ago, but activists catalyzed by the rural and indigenous communities across whose land it would go have stopped it so far, and made what was supposed to be a done deal a contentious issue. Activists changed the outcome.
Fracking has been challenged on the state level, and banned in townships and counties from upstate New York to central California. (It has also been banned in two Canadian provinces, France, and Bulgaria.) The fossil-fuel divestment movement has achieved a number of remarkable victories in its few bare years of existence and more are on the way. The actual divestments and commitments to divest fossil fuel stocks by various institutions ranging from the city of Seattle to the British Medical Association are striking. But the real power of the movement lies in the way it has called into question the wisdom of investing in fossil fuel corporations. Even mainstream voices like the British Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee and publications like Forbes are now beginning to question whether they are safe places to put money. That’s a sea change.
Renewable energy has become more efficient, technologically sophisticated, and cheaper — the price of solar power in relation to the energy it generates has plummeted astonishingly over the past three decades and wind technology keeps getting better. While Americans overall are not yet curtailing their fossil-fuel habits, many individuals and communities are choosing other options, and those options are becoming increasingly viable. A Stanford University scientist has proposed a plan to allow each of the 50 states to run on 100% renewable energy by 2050.
Since, according to the latest report of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, fossil fuel reserves still in the ground are “at least four times larger than could safely be burned if global warming is to be kept to a tolerable level,” it couldn’t be more important to reach global agreements to do things differently on a planetary scale. Notably, most of those carbon reserves must be left untapped and the modest steps already taken locally and ad hoc show that such changes are indeed possible and that an encouraging number of us want to pursue them.
In case you are wondering why this TomDispatch essay has been published in this place some ten months after it first appeared over at TD, it is simply because I made a note to leave it for a few months to see if the benefit of some hindsight put the essay into context.
Here’s the context.
In the month of September, 2014, when this essay was published over on TomDispatch, the Atmospheric CO2 monthly average was 395.26 ppm. In April, 2015 it was 403.26 ppm. I can’t spell it out any better than what is written on the home page of CO2Now.org:
What the world needs to watch
Global warming is mainly the result of CO2 levels rising in the Earth’s atmosphere. Both atmospheric CO2 and climate change are accelerating. Climate scientists say we have years, not decades, to stabilize CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
To help the world succeed, CO2Now.org makes it easy to see the most current CO2 level and what it means. So, use this site and keep an eye on CO2. Invite others to do the same. Then we can do more to send CO2 in the right direction.
Reinforcing the need to move personhood beyond the human person.
Yesterday, I wrote about the moves to have the concept of personhood extended to chimpanzees. Here’s a small extract:
The order to show cause on the issue of habeas corpus is the first step in a process which Steven Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) hope will secure Hercules and Leo’s bodily liberty and integrity. If the court were to find in their favour, the chimpanzees would no longer be kept for research and could be moved to a sanctuary in Florida.
Last Friday, George Monbiot published an essay that reinforced our need to regard our animals differently than hitherto; especially our larger animals. It is my pleasure to republish it with Mr. Monbiot’s permission.
22nd May 2015
The destruction of some of the last of the huge animals that shaped us inflicts a great wound in our lives.
By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website 22nd May 2015
When I read about the attacks on the world’s remaining elephants and rhinos, the first thought that enters my head is: “these creatures used to be everywhere”. Almost every area of land and sea, in every region of the world, had a megafauna. Elephants lived throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and America until very recently in ecological time (30,000 years ago in Europe, 14,000 years ago in the Americas). Rhinos lived across Africa, Asia and Europe. Temperate forest rhinos lived in Britain during previous interglacials, and woolly rhinos lived here in colder periods. Russia was haunted by two gigantic species: humpbacked rhinos the size of elephants, eight feet to the crest, weighing perhaps five tonnes.
Lions were everywhere except Australasia (that had a marsupial equivalent); tigers ranged to the borders of Europe; hippos wallowed in British rivers; hyaenas survived into the early Mesolithic in Britain and northern Europe. All this is easily forgotten in a world afflicted by Shifting Baseline Syndrome: our habit of conceptualising as natural and normal the ecosystems that prevailed in our own youth, unaware that they were, even then, in an extremely degraded state.
The places in which monsters remain are the last tiny redoubts of what was once a global population. Of the 42 species of terrestrial mammals weighing more than a tonne that existed on Earth when modern humans left Africa, just eight are left: the African and Asian elephants, the larger of the two hippopotamus species and the black, white, Indian, Javan and Sumatran rhinos. Seven of them are threatened and four are critically endangered.
Even in the relatively recent past, the area of land over which these animals roamed has drastically declined. Maps published in a new paper in the journal Science Advances show that elephants, hippos and black rhinos occupied most of sub-Saharan Africa when their populations were first encountered by modern Europeans, but are now confined to a few tiny specks of land.
Why do the very large animals prove most susceptible to destruction? It’s partly because they reproduce slowly and partly because they require plenty of land and food for their survival, so the destruction of wild places tends to hit them sooner than it affects smaller species. But it’s also, I believe, because we have a deep-rooted urge to assert our status by killing them and owning their body parts. Even when people don’t do the killing themselves, possessing their skins, heads, tusks or horns has long been a means of acquiring bragging rights.
From the exquisite sculpture of two reindeer migrating across a river, carved from a piece of mammoth ivory 13,000 years ago and now housed in the British Museum, to the tiger skin rugs and heads of exotic beasts exhibited in stately homes today, bigging ourselves up by displaying our mastery of great beasts seems to be a fundamental human trait. Today’s aristocrats, some of whom are descendants of tribal chiefs, hang their ancestors on the wall to establish their genealogy and the heads of the animals they have killed beside them, to establish their prowess. Not much has changed in thousands of years.
Many of the world’s great sagas, tales of Ulysses, Sinbad, Sigurd, Beowulf, Cú Chulainn, St George, Arjuna, Lạc Long Quân and Glooskap, tell of struggles with megafauna real or imagined. Doubtless at least some of these stories originated in real battles with beasts whose true nature has been forgotten, as a result of their extinction. Think of Sinbad and the roc, which might be a garbled version of encounters with the elephant bird of Madagascar.
Today, some very rich people try to recreate these battles in ways that seem to me grotesque. They bid on the internet for the right to shoot a particular animal, sometimes paying tens of thousands of dollars, arrange a date, a time and a place, then fly over, in some cases with their taxidermists in tow, to bag the creature they have bought.
The animal is waiting for them – sometimes in an enclosure, sometimes just after being released from one, sometimes in the wild but already located by guides. There is no question about the outcome; otherwise the money would have to be repaid. I have heard that in some cases these people fly to a country for just a couple of days, during which they have booked the killing of several spectacular animals. Their diary secretaries arrange their schedules so that they can fit them all in. Once they have posed triumphantly with a foot on the beast they have just killed, they leave it for the taxidermist to process and move on to the next appointment with death.
This looks to me as dry and joyless as it is brutal and unsporting. Though I would struggle nowadays to bring myself to shoot a mammal or a bird (in my youth I killed and ate a few rabbits, squirrels and pigeons), I can understand the attraction of doing so in difficult circumstances, stalking and crawling and lying in wait much as a wild predator would. Canned, predetermined hunting of this kind seems empty of challenge and romance, bought rather than won. But such is the drive to establish dominion over the largest and most magnificent of beasts, and such is the obsession with conspicuous outcomes, that, for some people, none of this appears to matter.
Others are satisfied to remove themselves even further from contingency, by purchasing pieces of animals that have already been killed. My guess is that the use of rhino horn, tiger bones and other such body parts in traditional Chinese medicine, which are of course clinically useless, might be another manifestation of this deep-rooted drive, to make ourselves feel better by association with creatures larger or fiercer than ourselves.
You might have imagined that there were now plenty of alternative means of asserting our status and persuading ourselves of our own value, but traits that resonate with our evolutionary past – our ghost psyche – die hard.
So this great global tragedy continues. I know I should write about it more often. But I find it too upsetting.
Until 2008, conservationists, in some places at least, appeared to be winning. But in that year the number of rhinos killed in South Africa rose (from 13 in 2007) to 83. By 2011, the horrible tally had risen to 448. It climbed to 668 in 2012, 1004 in 2013 and 1215 in 2014. In the first four months of this year, 393 rhinos have been killed there, which is 18% more than in the same period last year.
The reasons for this acceleration in the Great Global Polishing are complex and not always easy to tease out. But they appear to be connected to rising prosperity in Vietnam, the exhaustion of illegal stocks held by Chinese doctors and, possibly, speculative investment in a scarce and tangible asset during the financial crisis. Corruption and judicial failure help to keep the trade alive.
Already, the western black rhino is extinct (the declaration was made in 2011). The northern white rhino has been reduced to five animals: a male at the end of its anticipated lifespan and four females, scattered between Kenya, the US and the Czech Republic.
Similar stories can be told about some populations of elephants – in particular the forest elephants of West and central Africa.
It’s not just these wonderful, enchanting creatures that are destroyed by poaching, but also many of the living processes of the places they inhabit. Elephants and rhinos are ecological engineers, creating conditions that hundreds of other species have evolved to exploit.
As the paper in Science Advances notes, the great beasts maintain a constantly shifting mosaic of habitats through a cycle of browsing and toppling and trampling, followed by the regrowth of the trees and the other plants they eat. They open up glades for other herbivores, and spaces in which predators can hunt. They spread the seeds of trees that have no other means of dispersal (other animals are too small to swallow the seeds whole, and grind them up). Many trees in Africa and Asia are distributed exclusively by megaherbivores.
They transport nutrients from rich places to poor ones and in some places reduce the likelihood of major bushfires, by creating firebreaks and eating twigs and leaves that would otherwise accumulate as potential fuel on the ground. Many animal species have co-evolved with them: the birds that eat their ectoparasites, the fish that feed on hippos’ fighting wounds (some of these species, I believe, are now used for fish pedicures), the wide range of life that depends on their dung for food and moisture, on their wallows for habitats, on the fissures they create in trees for nesting holes.
Who knows what ecological processes the world has already lost through the retreat of the megafauna? Everywhere on earth, living systems have been radically altered by the loss of the great beasts. (I’ll be discussing the impacts of the extinction of European elephants in next month’s edition of BBC Wildlife magazine).
The destruction of some of the last populations of the animals that shaped us, as well as the natural world, inflicts, I feel, a great wound in our lives, diminishing the wonderful planet on which we evolved, shrinking imagination, crushing experience. All of us should have an interest in supporting those who seek to save these wonderful creatures.
Dear Reader, I don’t intend to cast you in some dark mental place with the republication of this dark essay from Mr. Monbiot. Yet if you care about the world that we are leaving for the next generation, and I’m certain that the majority, the vast majority, of you readers do so care, then these terrible aspects of humanity must be highlighted. For if just one person is moved to make a difference then the mental pain is a necessary step on that journey of making a difference.
“Always search for the rainbow – it’s there somewhere. If
you can’t find one, invent one.” Anon.
Loving the animals on this planet must be more than a romantic notion.
Before you read on, take a small break in your busy day and watch the following:
On December 8, 2013 Michael Mountain spoke on “”I Am Not an Animal” — The Signature Cry of our Species” at the Personhood Beyond the Human conference at Yale University.
Michael Mountain is Past President and one of the founders of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the nation’s largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals.
Abstract: The past 50 years have seen enormous growth in the animal protection movement. But the situation for nonhuman animals in every sphere, with the exception of homeless pets, continues to deteriorate. Any small advances remain incremental. Animal rights and welfare groups find themselves at a loss to explain their inability to influence the general public. But the work of Ernest Becker (The Denial of Death) and of psychologists in the field of Terror Management Theory (TMT) offer essential insight.
In this talk, we discuss how our need, as humans, to proclaim that “I am not an animal!” and to deny personhood to other animals affects our relationship with them at a fundamental level. We argue that to be effective, the animal protection movement needs to understand TMT and take it into account. And we conclude that a new kind of relationship to the world of nature in the 21st Century is not only essential to the mitigation of the catastrophic effects of the Sixth Great Extinction, but that it also holds the key to Becker’s still-unanswered question of how we can begin to relate positively to our own terror of personal mortality — and therefore our own future as a species.
Me spending time becoming better acquainted with the subject of rights for other animals besides us humans coincided with a recent item published over on The Conversation and republished here within their rights.
May 19 2015, 4.05pm EDT
Climbing the tree: the case for chimpanzee ‘personhood’
Hercules and Leo don’t know it, but a decision about their future has made history. In granting an order to show cause on whether Hercules and Leo (who just happen to be chimpanzees) are illegally imprisoned, a Supreme Court judge in Manhattan has kept open the possibility that some nonhuman animals will be granted legal rights under common law.
The plaintiffs are currently used for biomedical research at New York’s Stony Brook University. What the lawyers running the case hope to show is that Hercules and Leo shouldn’t be treated as if they were just things or property, but should instead be given the status of persons.
Showing that any animal has what is needed for legal personhood is a difficult task. But chimpanzees seem promising candidates as there is a wealth of scientific evidence showing they possess complex cognitive abilities, like self-awareness and autonomy.
The order to show cause on the issue of habeas corpus is the first step in a process which Steven Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) hope will secure Hercules and Leo’s bodily liberty and integrity.
If the court were to find in their favour, the chimpanzees would no longer be kept for research and could be moved to a sanctuary in Florida.
NhRP was founded by Wise in 2007 and after years of research it filed its first cases back in December 2013. To date it has brought three cases on behalf of chimpanzees held in captivity in the state of New York. But NhRP is ambitious, aiming to run as many cases on behalf of animals as it can fund.
If it can find suitable plaintiffs, NhPR hopes to mount cases for the personhood of elephants, whales and dolphins too.
Different perspectives on personhood for animals
Reactions to treating nonhuman animals as persons vary widely. Some people think it is ridiculous to even entertain the idea. Persons have to be human – end of story.
For philosophers, this is not very satisfactory. It tries to answer the question of whether animals can be persons by asserting a definition rather than offering an argument. It gets more interesting when people give reasons to support their view.
One approach to defending the idea that only humans are persons involves saying that persons need to participate in society. Society is founded on reciprocity; you can’t just take rights without also assuming responsibilities. And animals like chimpanzees can’t take on responsibilities, so they can’t have rights.
Another tactic is to suggest that there is a whole heap of criteria that one has to meet to be a person. And although humans meet these criteria, nonhuman animals don’t. These criteria could include things like being rational, self-aware, autonomous, having culture and being able to communicate.
The problem is neither of these kinds of arguments stand up to interrogation. There are lots of humans who get the benefit of rights without living up to reciprocal responsibilities, such as young children and people with certain physical or mental impairments.
There are similar difficulties when using a criteria based approach. Just as there are many humans who don’t meet certain criteria for personhood, there are some nonhuman animals who do.
This is known as the “problem of marginal cases”. Taking a consistent approach would mean treating some animals, but not all humans, as worthy of moral consideration.
This is known as the “problem of marginal cases”. Taking a consistent approach would mean treating some animals, but not all humans, as worthy of moral consideration.
There are other people who are sympathetic towards giving greater ethical consideration to animals, but who don’t think using personhood is the best approach. Utilitarians, for example, worry about the capacity to suffer. If a chimpanzee – or for that matter a dog, cat or rat – can experience pleasure and pain, then they matter regardless of whether they meet a test for personhood.
Implications of nonhuman animals as persons
If Wise and the NhRP win their case it will be a significant precedent and other cases will surely follow. Chimpanzees in jurisdictions where successful cases are mounted will no longer be permitted to be used in research or kept in zoos and circuses.
However, less charismatic animals – ones that don’t look like us or where it is not in our interests to grant them rights – won’t be so fortunate. Historically, there is a deep inconsistency in how we treat different types of animals that is not easily overturned, even in the face of compelling legal and ethical arguments.
The case of Hercules and Leo also has connections to Australia. Wise was inspired to practice animal law back in the 1980s after reading the work of Australian philosopher, Peter Singer. The hearing of the case in New York was actually interrupted due to Wise’s long-standing commitment to visit Australia and deliver the 2015 Voiceless Animal Law Lecture Series.
The hearing is now scheduled for 10:30am Wednesday May 27 at the New York County Supreme Court. Those interested in seeking rights for nonhuman animals keenly await the outcome.
Towards the end of that piece, one sentence stood out. This one: “Historically, there is a deep inconsistency in how we treat different types of animals that is not easily overturned, even in the face of compelling legal and ethical arguments.“
Well it has to be overturned if mankind is to have any future on this planet!
Yet another aspect of our lives where taking a lesson from our dogs would do us no harm.
Remember Jasmine the greyhound?
Pictured left to right are: “Toby”, a stray Lakeland dog; “Bramble”, orphaned roe deer; “Buster”, a stray Jack Russell; a dumped rabbit; “Sky”, an injured barn owl; and “Jasmine”. All told a mother’s heart doing best what a caring mother does.
A novel Nursing Home plan.
Sent to me by dear friend, Dan Gomez, as a light-hearted diversion for the weekend. (But it did fit rather nicely as a sequel to my Lies, Damn Lies, and … from yesterday!)
Say you are an older senior citizen and can no longer take care of yourself and the government says there is no Nursing Home care available for you. So, what do you do? You opt for Medicare Part G.
The plan gives anyone 75 or older a gun (Part G) and one bullet. You are allowed to shoot one worthless politician.
This means you will be sent to prison for the rest of your life where you will receive three meals a day, a roof over your head, central heating and air conditioning, cable TV, a library, and all the Health Care you need. Need new teeth? No problem. Need glasses? That’s great. Need a hearing aid, new hip, knees, kidney, lungs, sex change, or heart? They are all covered!
As an added bonus, your kids can come and visit you at least as often as they do now! And who will be paying for all of this? The same government that just told you they can’t afford for you to go into a nursing home. And you will get rid of a useless politician while you are at it. And now, because you are a prisoner, you don’t have to pay any more income taxes!
Is this a great country or what? Now that you have solved your senior financial plan, enjoy the rest of your week!
I’ll leave the closing words to Dan: “Crazy world but compelling plan.”
Have a great weekend wherever you are.
What is so terrible about integrity!
I don’t know if my title to today’s post is part of a saying that is well-known in the USA. But back in dear old England the expression is widely used; the full expression being, “Lies, Damn Lies, and Politicians“.
So what’s got my ‘knickers in a twist’ about the various hues of ‘truth’ that we find amongst our politicians?
Before answering that question, perhaps I should answer a more fundamental question that might be arising in the minds of those followers who are relatively new to this place. (And each and every one of you has to understand the very great privilege you offer me by being a follower.) That question being what have integrity and politicians got to do with a blog about dogs?
Easily answered in the words over at About this Blog:
The underlying theme of Learning from Dogs is about truth, integrity, honesty and trust in every way. We use the life of dogs as a metaphor.
The article seemed to articulate, in a measured and responsible fashion, what huge numbers of us sense subjectively: truth is rare to see in the world of power and politics.
I’m not going to republish it in full, including the tables, but will offer the first half with a link to the rest of the article. The author of the article is Dr. Ellis Jones, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.
How many ways can politicians ‘lie’? How a class led to a ‘truth’ report card for the 2016 election.
I regularly teach a course called The Sociology of Television & Media in which my students and I critically explore newscasts, entertainment programming and (both commercial and political) advertising. The theme that I use as a touchstone throughout the class is: What happens when, as a society, we begin to mix fantasy and reality together in mass media?
We discuss how a range of troubling outcomes emerge for a public that has difficulty telling truth from fiction. Max Horkheimer, a German-Jewish sociologist, argued that this is part of what led to the rise of Nazism in Germany.
Once we lose our ability to detect lies, we become vulnerable to demagogues.
Six categories of rhetoric
About halfway through the semester, I have students deconstruct political ads, and we discuss practical resources for navigating the web of truths, half-truths and outright lies that proliferate unhindered during each election cycle.
One resource that I offer is Politifact.org’s Truth-o-Meter. Students fact-check politicians’ statements to determine how much, if any, truth is contained therein (they actually won a Pulitzer Prize for their work fact-checking the 2008 election).
The first, and perhaps most important, takeaway from their work is that modern political statements cannot accurately be rated as simply “true” or “false.” So sophisticated has the art of mixing truth and lies become that the scale Politifact currently uses includes six separate categories of political rhetoric: true, mostly true, half true, mostly false, false and “pants on fire” (for statements that aren’t just false but also completely ludicrous – and yet still stated as truth).
In essence, while there is still but one way to tell the truth, there are now at least five times as many acceptable ways to lie.
For example, John Boehner’s May 3 2015 statement on Meet The Press that “we spend more money on antacids than we do on politics” is rated simply “false.” Fact-checking reveals that in the US, we spent somewhere between US$3 billion and US$7 billion on elections in 2014 (depending on what money streams you include), while we spent less than $2 billion on antacids in the same year.
Boehner’s team was apparently trying to compare global sales of antacids (including all seven billion people on the planet) to US spending on elections (about 320 million of us) – a false comparison.
On April 23 2015, Hillary Clinton provided a good illustration of a statement that rates as a “half truth.” When addressing the Women in the World Summit in New York City, Clinton asserted that the US ranks “65th out of 142 nations” when it comes to equal pay for women. The statistic comes from the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Report.
However, the primary measure generated by this report ranks the US 20th in gender equity. The ranking of 65th is taken from a subcategory in the report that relies on a survey of perceptions of executives rather than hard numbers. So, while it is technically true, it may actually be overstating the severity of the gender pay gap comparison.
Whom can we trust?
The second takeaway, though it may not be much of a surprise, is that there are no politicians in this country that exclusively tell the truth. Every single one, to a greater or lesser extent, spins, bends, twists or breaks the truth.
Perhaps this is the price of power in our modern democracy, but we should find it at least a little troubling.
So where does this leave us? Well, knowing that every one of our politicians lies, the most important question, in my mind, becomes: Who is most often telling the truth and who is lying to us repeatedly in order to gain our support?
In other words, whom can and whom can’t we trust?
With this question in mind, I had my students add up the raw numbers for 25 major politicians (based on Politifact’s fact-checking over the past eight years) and write the results up on the board in rank order from most to least honest based on the data. The results were intriguing.
While the prototype point system was not particularly sophisticated (two points for each true statement, one point for each mostly true statement, zero for half-truths, etc.), the numbers revealed that many well-known politicians were abusing the truth far more than they were embracing it.
When I asked the class what they thought of the results, one student raised her hand and replied, “I’m not shocked.” Many of the others immediately nodded their heads in agreement.
I wondered if we’ve become so accustomed to the bending and breaking of the truth that we no longer expect truth from our leaders. Now we’re teaching the next generation not to expect it either.
After seeing these preliminary results, I was hooked.
Please do read the rest of this fascinating and hugely helpful report. It names names in terms of the ‘good, bad and ugly’!
However, the closing paragraphs of Dr. Jones’ article are so wonderful that I can’t resist republishing them!
As teachers, caught up in our own subject matter, we easily forget that our students are hungry to apply what they’re being taught in our classes to something meaningful in their own lives.
It is our obligation to offer each generation a sense of social responsibility, hope for the future and the practical tools that will allow them to build it for themselves.
Something like a yearly Honesty Report Card might serve us well at this point in our democracy’s evolution. At the very least, let’s use this idea as a starting point for some kind of political unity in this country.
Whether you are liberal or conservative, can’t we at least agree that our politicians should start telling us the truth?
At this point in preparing today’s post, I wanted, wanted so much, something to take me away into some dreamy corner of my mind. For just a few minutes to be distracted from the present day realities of life.
I chose to do it by listening to this track from Chris Rea.
Oh, nearly forgot to mention that dogs don’t lie!
Some aspects of our food that many of us would rather not know about!
Many readers will be used to me republishing the essays from George Monbiot. Admittedly, not every single one of them but especially those that seem to have a message that deserves a wider promulgation. Having Mr. Monbiot’s permission to so do is generous of him.
Yesterday, there was an essay written by him that was published both on his blog and in the UK’s Guardian Newspaper. At first reading, it seemed to apply predominantly to the United Kingdom. Then, upon a second reading, I was convinced that this was yet another ‘message’ that quite happily fits in here, on Learning from Dogs. Because it is another reminder that integrity is missing from so many aspects of our societies.
You be the judge!
19th May 2015
The astonishing, multiple crises caused by chicken farming.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 20th May 2015
It’s the insouciance that baffles me. To participate in the killing of an animal: this is a significant decision. It spreads like a fungal mycelium into the heartwood of our lives. Yet many people eat meat sometimes two or three times a day, casually and hurriedly, often without even marking the fact.
I don’t mean to blame. Billions are spent, through advertising and marketing, to distract and mollify, to trivialise the weighty decisions we make, to ensure we don’t connect. Even as we search for meaning and purpose, we want to be told that our actions are inconsequential. We seek reassurance that we are significant, but that what we do is not.
It’s not blind spots we suffer from. We have vision spots, tiny illuminated patches of perception, around which everything else is blanked out. How often have I seen environmentalists gather to bemoan the state of the world, then repair to a restaurant in which they gorge on beef or salmon? The Guardian and Observer urge us to go green, then publish recipes for fish whose capture rips apart the life of the sea.
The television chefs who bravely sought to break this spell might have been talking to the furniture. Giant chicken factories are springing up throughout the west of England, the Welsh Marches and the lowlands of the east. I say factories for this is what they are: you would picture something quite different if I said farm; they are hellish places. You might retch if you entered one, yet you eat what they produce without thinking.
Two huge broiler units are now being planned to sit close to where the River Dore rises, at the head of the Golden Valley in Herefordshire, one of the most gorgeous landscapes in Britain. Each shed at Bage Court Farm – warehouses 90 metres long – is likely to house about 40,000 birds, that will be cleared out, killed and replaced every 40 days or so. It remains to be seen how high the standards of welfare, employment and environment will be.
The UK now has some 2,000 of these factories, to meet a demand for chicken that has doubled in 40 years . Because everything is automated, they employ few people, and those in hideous jobs: picking up and binning the birds that drop dead every day, catching chickens for slaughter in a flurry of shit and feathers, then scraping out the warehouses before the next batch arrives.
The dust such operations raise is an exquisite compound of aerialised faeces, chicken dander, mites, bacteria, fungal spores, mycotoxins, endotoxins, veterinary medicines, pesticides, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide. It is listed as a substance hazardous to health, and helps explain why 15% of poultry workers suffer from chronic bronchitis. Yet, uniquely in Europe, the British government classifies unfiltered roof vents on poultry sheds as the “best available technology”. If this were any other industry, it would be obliged to build a factory chimney to disperse the dust and the stink. But farming, as ever, is protected by deference and vested interest, excused from the regulations, planning conditions and taxes other business must observe. Already, Herefordshire County Council has approved chicken factories close to schools, without surveying the likely extent of the dust plumes either before or after the business opens. Bage Court Farm is just upwind of the village of Dorstone.
Inside chicken factories are scenes of cruelty practised on such a scale that they almost lose their ability to shock. Bred to grow at phenomenal speeds, many birds collapse under their own weight, and lie in the ammoniacal litter, acquiring burns on their feet and legs and lesions on their breasts. After slaughter they are graded. Those classified as grade A can be sold whole. The others must have parts of the body removed, as they are disfigured by bruising, burning and necrosis. The remaining sections are cut up and sold as portions. Hungry yet?
Plagues spread fast through such factories, so broiler businesses often dose their birds with antibiotics. These require prescriptions but – amazingly – the government keeps no record of how many are issued. The profligate use of antibiotics on farms endangers human health, as it makes bacterial resistance more likely.
But Herefordshire, like other county councils in the region, scarcely seems to care. How many broiler units has it approved? Who knows? Searches by local people suggest 42 in the past 12 months. But in December the council claimed it has authorised 21 developments since 2000.  This week it told me it has granted permission to 31 since 2010. It admits that it “has not produced any specific strategy for managing broiler unit development” . Nor has it assessed the cumulative impact of these factories. At Bage Court Farm, as elsewhere, it has decided that no environmental impact assessment is needed .
So how should chicken be produced? The obvious answer is free range, but this exchanges one set of problems for another. Chicken dung is rich in soluble reactive phosphate. Large outdoor flocks lay down a scorching carpet of droppings, from which phosphate can leach or flash into the nearest stream. Rivers like the Ithon, in Powys, are said to run white with chicken faeces after rainstorms. The River Wye, a special area of conservation, is blighted by algal blooms: manure stimulates the growth of green murks and green slimes that kill fish and insects when they rot. Nor does free range solve the feed problem: the birds are usually fed on soya, for which rainforests and cerrado on the other side of the world are wrecked.
There is no sensible way of producing the amount of chicken we eat. Reducing the impact means eating less meat – much less. I know that most people are not prepared to stop altogether, but is it too much to ask that we should eat meat as our grandparents did, as something rare and special, rather than as something we happen to be stuffing into our faces while reading our emails? To recognise that an animal has been sacrificed to serve our appetites, to observe the fact of its death, is this not the least we owe it?
Knowing what we do and what we induce others to do is a prerequisite for a life that is honest and meaningful. We owe something to ourselves as well: to overcome our disavowal, and connect.
 Total purchases for household consumption (uncooked, pre-cooked and take-aways combined) rose from 126 grammes per person per week in 1974 to 259 grammes in 2013 (see the database marked UK – household purchases).
 BBC Hereford and Worcester, 15th December 2014
 Response to FoI request IAT 7856, 13th August 2014
 Herefordshire County Council, 22nd December 2014. Screening Determination of Bage Court Farm development, P143343/F
Jean and I found a way to watch the BBC Panorama programme that was broadcast recently. It was screened under the title of Antibiotic Apocalypse. This is how the programme was introduced on the BBC website:
Panorama investigates the global advance of antibiotic-resistant superbugs and the threat they pose to modern medicine and millions of patients worldwide. Reporter Fergus Walsh travels to India and finds restricted, life-saving antibiotics on sale without prescription and talks to NHS patients whose recovery depends on them.
There is much in George Monbiot’s essay that resonates with the findings of that Panorama programme. Indeed, the Panorama programme showed the extent of the use of antibiotics in many animals over and beyond chickens.
It hardly needs to be said by me that the reason this is republished in a blog based in Southern Oregon, USA is because this is a problem that is not unique to the United Kingdom; far from it!
What a strange species we humans are!