Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
Sometimes, one just has to hold one’s head in shame ….
… at the madness that we humans are capable of.
I included this sub-heading in the draft of this post last Thursday intending to make it Friday’s post then changed my mind. Hence the reason behind me writing in Friday’s post:
I was looking at a recent George Monbiot essay and getting myself all wound up about it, thinking that it should be today’s post. Then I thought, “Come on, Paul, end the week on a gentle tone.”
In the light of events in Paris last Friday, I had no idea how pertinent my sub-heading was!
What wound me up, so to speak, was a recent essay from George Monbiot about the damage being done to a Devon river; the River Culm. This river was known to me in the days that I lived in South Devon and had my Piper Super Cub based at Dunkeswell Airfield that was not far from the Culm.
So with no further ado, here is George Monbiot’s essay republished with Mr. Monbiot’s kind permission.
12th November 2015
The agencies supposed to protect the living world have been neutered, and polluters and wildlife destroyers now have a free hand.
By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website 12th November 2015
It could scarcely have been a starker case. The river I came across in Devon six weeks ago, and described in the Guardian, was so polluted that I could smell it from 50 metres away. Farm slurry pouring into the water, from a pipe that I traced back to a dairy farm, had wiped out almost all the life in the stretch of River Culm I explored.
All that now grew on the riverbed were long, feathery growths of sewage fungus. An expert on freshwater pollution I consulted told me that the extent of these growths showed the poisoning of the river was “chronic and severe”.
Here, as a reminder of what I saw, are some of the pictures I took:
Slurry pouring from a pipe cut into the riverbank:
And mingling with the clear water of the river:
I reported the pollution to the Environment Agency’s hotline. It told me it was taking the matter seriously. So when I received its report on the outcome of its investigation, I nearly fell off my chair.
It had decided to take no action against the farmer, as “the long term ecological impacts on the environment were fortunately low”. How did it know? Because there was “no evidence of a fish kill”.
Why in the name of all that’s holy should there be evidence of a fish kill? This is a chronic pollution case, not an acute one. Fish kills are what you see when a sudden poisoning occurs, as pollutants are flushed into a healthy living system. Chronic pollution deprives fish of their habitats and prey, but no investigator in their right mind would expect to see them floating belly up in the river as a result. They are simply absent from places where you would otherwise have found them.
And if a riverbed covered in nothing but sewage fungus suggests a “low” ecological impact, I dread to think what a high one looks like.
The same inability to distinguish between an acute event and a chronic one was revealed by another of the agency’s statements: the pollution “had a short term impact”. The slurry had plainly been pouring out of the pipe for months, as the luxuriant growths of sewage fungus show. It would doubtless have continued, had I not reported it.
The Environment Agency also told me that it had inspected the farm, and found no problems with the infrastructure, as there was plenty of space for slurry storage under the floor of the barn where the cows were kept. But, the problem, as I had explained to them, had nothing to do with slurry storage in the barn. It was caused by leakage from the outdoor slurry lagoons, where I found cow manure pouring down the hill.
They could scarcely have made a bigger mess of their investigation if they had tried. The mistakes the agency made are so fundamental and so obvious that it makes me wonder whether they are mistakes at all. What does a farmer have to do to get prosecuted these days, detonate an atom bomb?
If this were an isolated case, you could put it down to ineptitude, albeit ineptitude raised to the status of an Olympic sport. But responses like this are now the norm at the Environment Agency. It has been so brutally disciplined by cuts and by ministers’ demands that it leave farms and other businesses alone that it is now almost incapable of enforcement.
Even when the fish kills it appears to see as the only real proof of pollution do occur, in the great majority of cases it doesn’t even bother to assess them, let alone investigate and prosecute. Freedom of information requests by the environmental group Fish Legal reveal that the agency sent its investigators to visit just 16% of reported fish kills.
There was massive regional variation. While in the Anglian Central region, covering parts of Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and surrounding counties, the agency inspected 61% of these events, in Devon they investigated only 3%. (I suspect that it was only because I’m a journalist for a national newspaper that they came out at all in the case I reported). In the fishery areas on either side of it – Cornwall and Wessex – the inspection rate was, er, 0%. If you want to pollute rivers in these regions, there’s nothing stopping you.
The Environment Agency no longer prosecutes even some of the most extreme pollution events. In 2013, a farmer in Somerset released what the agency called a “tsunami of slurry” into the Wellow Brook. One inspector said it was the worst pollution she had seen in 17 years. But the agency dithered for a year before striking a private agreement with the farmer, allowing him to avoid prosecution, a criminal record, a massive fine and court costs, by giving £5000 to a local charity.
New rules imposed by the government means that such under-the-counter deals, which now have a name of their own – enforcement undertakings – are likely to become more common. They are a parody of justice: arbitrary, opaque and wide open to influence-peddling, special pleading and corruption.
I see the agency’s farcical investigation of the pollution incident I reported as strategic incompetence, designed to avoid conflict with powerful landowners. Were it to follow any other strategy, it would run into trouble with the government.
These problems are likely to become even more severe, when the new cuts the environment department (Defra) has just agreed with the Treasury take effect. An analysis by the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts reveals that, once the new reductions bite, the government’s spending on wildlife conservation, air quality and water pollution will have declined by nearly 80% in real terms since 2009/10.
It’s all up for grabs now: if you want to wreck the living world, the government is not going to stop you. Those who have power, agency, money or land can – metaphorically and literally – dump their crap on the rest of us.
Never mind that the government is now breaking European law left right and centre, spectacularly failing, for example, to ensure that all aquatic ecosystems are in good health by the end of this year, as it is supposed to do under the water framework directive. It no longer seems to care. It would rather use your tax money to pay fines to the European Commission than enforce the law against polluters.
I’ve heard the same description of Liz Truss, the secretary of state for environment, who oversees the work of the Environment Agency, from several people over the past few months. “Worse than Owen Paterson”. At first, I refused to take it seriously. It’s the kind of statement that is usually employed as hyperbole, such as “somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan”, or “more deluded than Tony Blair”. But in this case, they aren’t joking. Preposterous as the notion of any environment secretary being worse than Mr Paterson might seem, they mean it.
Nowhere, as far as I can discover, in Liz Truss’s speeches or writing before she was appointed, is there any sign of prior interest in the natural world or its protection. What we see instead is perhaps the most extreme manifestation of market fundamentalism on this side of the Atlantic. She founded the Conservative Free Enterprise Group, and was co-author of the book Britannia Unchained, that laid out a terrifying vision of a nation run by raw economic power, without effective social or environmental protection. Now she has a chance to put that vision into practice.
Those who have tried to engage with her describe her as indissolubly wedded to a set of theories about how the world should be, that are impervious to argument, facts or experience. She was among the first ministers to put her own department on the block in the latest spending review, volunteering massive cuts. She seems determined to dismantle the protections that secure our quality of life: the rules and agencies defending the places and wildlife we love.
Bureaucracy and regulation are concepts we have been taught to hate, through relentless propaganda in the media. But they are essential pillars of civilisation. They make the difference between a decent society and a barbarous one.
While this essay from Monbiot clearly concerns a river in the South-West of England and may therefore not relate to readers in other parts of the UK or the world, those closing sentences [my emphasis] do relate to all of us wherever we are on this planet.
Bureaucracy and regulation are concepts we have been taught to hate, through relentless propaganda in the media. But they are essential pillars of civilisation. They make the difference between a decent society and a barbarous one.
Tomorrow, I will return to Piper Cubs flying out of Dunkeswell!
With seventeen pets here at home Jean and I should live forever!
Another Saturday and another gentle post about the power of our wonderful pets. (Oh, and who, as I did, missed the fact that yesterday was not only a Friday the Thirteenth but the third one this year!)
Anyway, back to the plot!
Last Monday, Mother Nature Network published an item about how good pets are for our health. It seemed the perfect item to share with all of you this Saturday.
11 studies that prove pets are good for your health
Check out the ways your 4-legged friends enhance your physical and emotional health.
By: Sidney Stevens, November 9, 2015.
If you have pets you already know the joy and love they bring to your life. Now science is confirming just how good they really are for you — both mentally and physically.
How do they help? One theory is that pets boost our oxytocin levels. Also known as the “bonding hormone” or “cuddle chemical,” oxytocin enhances social skills, decreases blood pressure and heart rate, boosts immune function and raises tolerance for pain. It also lowers stress, anger and depression.
PHOTO BREAK: 12 astonishing facts about horses
No surprise then that keeping regular company with a dog or cat (or another beloved beast) appears to offer all these same benefits and more. Read on to discover the many impressive ways a pet can make you healthier, happier and more resilient.
1. Pets alleviate allergies and boost immune function
One of your immune system’s jobs is to identify potentially harmful substances and unleash antibodies to ward off the threat. But sometimes it overreacts and misidentifies harmless stuff as dangerous, causing an allergic reaction. Think red eyes, itchy skin, runny nose and wheezing. You’d think that having pets might trigger allergies by kicking up sneeze-and-wheeze-inducing dander and fur. But it turns out that living with a dog or cat during the first year of life not only cuts your chances of having pet allergies in childhood and later on but also revs up your immune system and lowers your risk of eczema and asthma. In fact, just a brief pet encounter can invigorate your disease-defense system. In one study, petting a dog for only 18 minutes raised immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels in college students’ saliva, a sign of robust immune function.
2. Pets up your fitness quotient
This one applies more to dog owners. If you like walking with your favorite canine, chances are you’re fitter and trimmer than your non-dog-walking counterparts and come closer to meeting recommended physical activity levels. One study of more than 2,000 adults found that regular dog walkers got more exercise and were less likely to be obese than those who didn’t walk a dog. In another study, older dog walkers (ages 71-82) walked faster and longer than non-pooch-walkers, plus they were more mobile at home.
3. Pets dial down stress
When stress comes your way, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, releasing hormones like cortisol to crank out more energy-boosting blood sugar and epinephrine to get your heart and blood pumping. All well and good for our ancestors who needed quick bursts of speed to dodge predatory saber-toothed tigers and stampeding mastodons. But when we live in a constant state of fight-or-flight from ongoing stress at work and the frenetic pace of modern life, these physical changes take their toll on our bodies, including raising our risk of heart disease and other dangerous conditions. Contact with pets seem to counteract this stress response by lowering stress hormones and heart rate. They also lower anxiety and fear levels (psychological responses to stress) and elevate feelings of calmness.
4. Pets boost heart health
Pets shower us with love so it’s not surprising they have a big impact on our love organ: the heart. Turns out time spent with a cherished critter is linked to better cardiovascular health, possibly due to the stress-busting effect mentioned above. Studies show that dog owners have a lower risk of heart disease, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Dogs also benefit patients who already have cardiovascular disease. They’re not only four time more likely to be alive after a year if they own a dog, but they’re also more likely to survive a heart attack. And don’t worry, cat owners — feline affection confers a similar effect. One 10-year study found that current and former cat owners were 40 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack and 30 percent less likely to die of other cardiovascular diseases.
5. Make you a social — and date — magnet
Four-legged companions (particularly the canine variety that pull us out of the house for daily walks) help us make more friends and appear more approachable, trustworthy and date-worthy. In one study, people in wheelchairs who had a dog received more smiles and had more conversations with passersby than those without a dog. In another study, college students who were asked to watch videos of two psychotherapists (depicted once with a dog and once without) said they felt more positively toward them when they had a dog and more likely to disclose personal information. And good news for guys: research shows that women are more willing to give out their number to men with a canine buddy.
6. Provides a social salve for Alzheimer’s patients
Just as non-human pals strengthen our social skills and connection, cats and dogs also offer furry, friendly comfort and social bonding to people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of brain-destroying dementia. Several canine caregiver programs now exist to assist at-home dementia patients with day-to-day tasks, such as fetching medication, reminding them to eat and guiding them home if they’ve wandered off course. Many assisted-living facilities also keep resident pets or offer therapy animal visits to support and stimulate patients. Studies show creature companions can reduce behavioral issues among dementia patients by boosting their moods and raising their nutritional intake.
7. Enhances social skills in kids with autism
One in nearly 70 American kids has autism (also known as autism spectrum disorder, or ASD), a developmental disability that makes it tough to communicate and interact socially. Not surprisingly, animals can also help these kids connect better to others. One study found that youngsters with ASD talked and laughed more, whined and cried less and were more social with peers when guinea pigs were present. A multitude of ASD animal-assisted therapy programs have sprung up in recent years, featuring everything from dogs and dolphins to alpacas, horses and even chickens.
8. Dampens depression and boosts mood
Pets keep loneliness and isolation at bay and make us smile. In other words, their creature camaraderie and ability to keep us engaged in daily life (via endearing demands for food, attention and walks) are good recipes for warding off the blues. Research is ongoing, but animal-assisted therapy is proving particularly potent in deterring depression and other mood disorders. Studies show that everyone from older men in a veterans hospital who were exposed to an aviary filled with songbirds to depressed college students who spent time with dogs reported feeling more positive.
9. Defeats PTSD
People haunted by trauma like combat, assault and natural disasters are particularly vulnerable to a mental health condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sure enough, studies show that the unconditional love — and oxytocin boost — of a pet can help remedy the flashbacks, emotional numbness and angry outbursts linked to PTSD. Even better, there are now several programs that pair specially trained service dogs and cats with veterans suffering from PTSD.
10. Fights cancer
Animal-assisted therapy helps cancer patients heal emotionally and physically. Preliminary findings of an on-going clinical trial by the American Humane Association shows that therapy dogs not only erase loneliness, depression and stress in kids fighting cancer, but canines can also motivate them to eat and follow treatment recommendations better — in other words participate more actively in their own healing. Likewise, new research reveals a similar lift in emotional well-being for adults undergoing the physical rigors of cancer treatment. Even more astounding, dogs (with their stellar smelling skills) are now being trained to literally sniff out cancer.
11. Puts the kibosh on pain
Millions live with chronic pain, but animals can soothe some of it away. In one study, 34 percent of patients with the pain disorder fibromyalgia reported pain relief (and a better mood and less fatigue) after visiting for 10-15 minutes with a therapy dog compared to only 4 percent of patients who just sat in a waiting room. In another study, those who had undergone total joint replacement surgery needed 28 percent less pain medication after daily visits from a therapy dog than those who got no canine contact.
When I was setting this post up and copying across all the many links I was aware that there was a mountain of information out there. You may want to take some time and explore those links. For example, the link to HABRI- Human-Animal Research Initiative looks incredibly interesting. Then there was the link to the work being undertaken by the American Humane Association, that link being to this video that I am presenting here to close off today’s post.
Wherever you are in the world look after yourself and care for all those lovely pets out there. Love them so dearly!
Staying with the theme of our lives being “rebooted” by our dogs.
Again, as so often occurs, a thought or reply left by someone to a previous post kicked off a new post for me.
That website is full of great information and any readers living in the UK who have not come across them before are highly recommended to have a good browse. One item that caught my eye was the Precious Memories link.
The loss of a pet is always a devastating and traumatic experience but even more so for the owner of a PAT dog or cat who has brought much love and companionship to many people, as well as to their owners.
This page contains lasting memorials to some PAT dogs and PAT cats who have given much to society by regularly visiting in Hospitals, Hospices, Residential homes or Day Care Centres.
PETS AS THERAPY
They will not be forgotten.
Here is one of those memories:
Baggy was a Finnish Lapphund and a wonderful and loving companion. She enjoyed taking part in many canine events including passing the KCGC Bronze, Silver & Gold awards, agility, showing and heel work to music, Baggy loved to go on a camping trip in the caravan or a trip down the river in our boat.
Baggy had two litters of puppies and two sons one from each litter are PAT dogs and her grand daughter is also a PAT dog. Baggy was my first PAT dog and she loved to go visiting in our local Residential home bringing joy and love to many people.
We love and miss Baggy so much our special sweet little friend.
The last aspect of the Pets As Therapy site that I want to refer to is their blog: Dog Dog Dog. Do drop in there and read some of the wonderful stories of those caring dogs.
That very nicely leads on to two videos that I quickly came across.
The first is described, thus:
Published on Dec 19, 2013
Follow Fraser, a black lab-golden mix, who has been a part of HCA Virginia’s unique Pet Therapy program since 2007. For several years, Fraser has spread comfort, compassionate care and joy to the faces of countless patients and staff at Chippenham and Johnston-Willis Hospitals from Tucker Pavilion and the Thomas Johns Cancer Hospital to many other areas. Catch a glimpse of how pet therapy is a source of alternative care for those in need.
While the second is about the therapy dog test.
Published on Dec 16, 2012
Achilles, my German Shepherd Dog, taking the Therapy Dog International test for certification.
Having this certification will allow Achilles and I to visit people in the hospital and other health care facilities.
Achilles is an AKC Obedience trained competitor and was able to pass the TDI test using that training and experience rather than special training for the test.
If you are interested in making your dog a TDI Therapy Dog go to their web site for information on how to accomplish that.
Here is the website for Therapy Dogs International, who are based in New Jersey, USA.
Can’t get those words from Per out of my mind: It is all about those huge small things. The huge consequences that flow from a small, adorable puppy.
This is no conundrum: a direct contrast to yesterday.
The benefits of having a dog or two (or nine) are boundless and have been documented for thousands of years. Indeed, a quick web search revealed that Alexander Pope, the 18th-century English poet, is the attributed author of the quote, “Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends.”
Nevertheless, it was still a joy to come across the documentary film Dogs On The Inside.
Filmed in a Massachusetts prison, DOGS ON THE INSIDE follows the birth of a relationship between abandoned rescue dogs and prison inmates as they work together toward a second chance at a better life. Giving a voice to a forgotten dog and a forgotten man, the film is a life-affirming testament to the power of second chances.
The film was released in February 2014, and here is the trailer.
In general, it seems to have gathered good reviews with this one from Amazon being typical of what I have seen.
I had tears in my eyes during several segments of this film. Such a lovely connection between the rescue workers and the dogs. Then, the inmates and the dogs. And, finally, the photos of their forever homes and families. Bravo to all at Don’t Throw Us Away. People like you, who work to save and rehab these animals, are amazing.
You are also recommended to read the review that is on the Ecorazzi website. Here’s a flavour of that review:
Two parties neglected and forgotten become the powerful emotional center of an uplifting new documentary, Dogs on the Inside.
We’re taken to Massachusetts, where there exists a unique, mutually-beneficial rehabilitation program that finds rescue dogs paired with prison inmates.
This documentary, from directors Brean Cunningham and Douglas Seirup, follows a handful of inmates at a correctional facility involved in Don’t Throw Us Away, a program that partners them with neglected dogs. For the animal, benefits include exercise, attention, and care while shelters remain crowded. For the prisoners, they have a chance to form connections and work towards parole.
It’s fascinating throughout watching both sides – scared dogs and (emotionally) guarded inmates – warm to one another, seemingly leaving their past behind.
That’s at the heart of this illuminating, heartwarming film: second chances. Early on, it’s easy to see the parallels between these two groups – with the comparisons handled tactfully throughout a film that never strays from its simple, honest goal. Dogs never preaches or calls for political or social change; it more so asks the viewer to be willing to forgive and welcome in those which have been cast aside. When an inmate says, ‘they come from a bad life, they haven’t seen love in while,’ he isn’t necessarily talking just about the dog.
Let me close with this heart-stirring photograph that was included in the above review.
So much to learn from our precious, gorgeous dogs!
Some of you may have noticed a reply left by Marg (aka MargfromTassie) to my post yesterday. In part, this is what Marg wrote:
By the way Paul, you’re 71 now. If you reverse it, and were 17 again – what is the major thing, if any, that you would do differently with your life – knowing what you know now? ( or is this just too difficult?)
In turn, I replied:
What would I do differently? What a fascinating question. Rather than dump the first thing that comes to mind, let me reflect on the question for a while. Who knows? Maybe make it tomorrow’s post?
At first it was very clear what I would have done differently. Namely, had I had the awareness at a much earlier age of the psychological and emotional impact of my father’s death back in December 1956, just six weeks after I had had my twelfth birthday, I would have been a much more emotionally settled person and, in time, a better father to my son and daughter.
Then almost immediately I recognised the conundrum in what I was thinking.
For that subconscious fear of rejection that I carried all the way through my life until 2007, when a local Devon psychotherapist exposed that fear (thank you, J), had both strong positive and negative consequences. The positive consequences far outweighed the negative ones, that were mainly to do with uncertainty over relationships with women.
Because if my previous wife hadn’t announced in December 2006, fifty years to the day after my father died, that she had been unfaithful, I wouldn’t have sought J’s help, wouldn’t have gained the self-awareness that is so vital for all of us, and wouldn’t have met Jean in December 2007. And that has been a positive consequence of unimaginably beautiful measure.
So dear Marg, thank you for your fascinating question but, in the end, if I had the chance I would repeat my life exactly the same way again.
With apologies to any readers who have regarded the above as excessive navel-gazing! But my justification for writing this is to underline the supreme importance of knowing oneself!