Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
Musings on truth and the corrosive nature of fear.
Yesterday, in Part One, I explored how easy it is to signal to the public that they are not to be trusted. I used the case of PayPal’s changes to their ‘privacy’ policy which, as Wolf Richter wrote, only partially tongue-in-cheek perhaps, made “the NSA, which runs the most expansive spying dragnet in history, is by comparison a group of choirboys.“
Again, back to Roget’s Thesaurus.
1. Correspondence with fact or truth: accuracy, correctness, exactitude, exactness, fidelity, veraciousness, veracity
2. Freedom from deceit or falseness: truthfulness, veracity
So that’s all clear then!
If only it was that easy. So many aspects of our modern lives are exposed to complex issues. None more complex than, of course, the issue of humans having a damaging effect on the planet’s climate. Or if one wants something more esoteric then try the origins of the universe. (So far as the former is concerned, then my personal belief is that mankind is damaging the global climate. But do I have the scientific background to support that belief? No Sir!)
However, one thing that our complex society does offer is the opportunity to spread fear. Indeed, fear pervades popular culture and the media. I picked up that theme from an essay published by David L. Altheide and R. Sam Michalowski of Arizona State University.
The link to that essay is here. It opens, thus:
Fear pervades popular culture and the news media. Whether used as a noun, verb, adverb, or adjective, an ongoing study finds that the word “fear” pervades news reports across all sections of newspapers, and is shown to move or “travel” from one topic to another. The use of fear and the thematic emphases spawned by entertainment formats are consistent with a “discourse of fear,” or the pervasive communication, symbolic awareness and expectation that danger and risk are a central feature of the effective environment. A qualitative content analysis of a decade of news coverage in The Arizona Republic and several other major American news media (e.g., the Los Angeles Times, and ABC News) reveals that the word “fear” appears more often than it did several years ago, particularly in headlines, where its use has more than doubled. Comparative materials obtained through the Lexis/Nexis information base also reveals that certain themes are associated with a shifting focus of fear over the years (e.g., violence, drugs, AIDS), with the most recent increases associated with reports about children. Analysis suggests that this use of fear is consistent with popular culture oriented to pursuing a “problem frame” and entertainment formats, which also have social implications for social policy and reliance on formal agents of social control.
No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. [my italics]
That last sentence offers the words of Edmund Burke, the Irish statesman and author from over 200 years ago. So, perhaps, nothing changes in this regard!
In my old country, the British press love to sell their newspapers on the back of fear. Here are some examples of lurid front pages.
However, it doesn’t end there. Fear of the unknown, of forces beyond our control, are behind the incredible number of conspiracy theories, many of them quite famous. WikiPedia lists dozens of them. One that was voiced by friends of ours concerned HAARP, which is an acronym for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. It was a perfectly legitimate research programme, one that was unclassified, albeit a program that was shut down in July, 2013.
But that didn’t stop it being regarded by many as deeply suspicious, “Many conspiracy theories surround HAARP. Some theorists believe that it is being used as a weather-controlling device that can trigger catastrophic events, such as floods, hurricanes, etc. Others believe that the government uses HAARP to send mind-controlling radio waves to humans.” Taken from here.
As it happens, this was a programme that I was acquainted with back in my UK days.
OK, time to round this off.
This new, digital world allows the sharing and spreading of information in a manner unimaginable from, say, 25 years ago. It has many positive attributes, as I will touch upon in tomorrow’s post. But it also has the power to spread fear and misinformation. In a world that is becoming more complex and more uncertain year by year, it takes effort by every one of us to stop, think and check on anything that has the potential to upset one.
It takes the power of community to keep us rooted in the stuff of our daily lives, to live calmly and stay in touch with the truth. More on the power of community tomorrow.
Reflections on our present world.
Today, and the next two days, I want to offer you three essays under the theme of Trust, truth and community.
As is so often the case, there was a series of outwardly unconnected experiences that seemed, well to my eyes anyway, to speak to a theme. You will have to wait until Friday to judge whether or not you agree with me!
This first essay was motivated by two disparate events: One very local and one as far removed from being local as one could imagine.
But first, what do we mean by trust? Roget’s Thesaurus defines the word (in part):
Absolute certainty in the trustworthiness of another: belief, confidence, dependence, faith, reliance.
You will recall that just over three weeks ago, we welcomed two horses to our pastures; Ranger and Ben. Both horses had previously been treated badly by humans, especially Ben who had been starved and beaten by his ex-owners.
In the early days, Ben was very cautious of any sudden movement by me and would back away from any contact from me other than being offered a food treat.
But in just three weeks, Ben has gone a huge way towards trusting Jean and me.
Now, I don’t know about you, but my guess is that if a human had experienced the degree of cruelty from the hands of another person that these horses had, it would take very much longer than three weeks for that human victim to regain the same level of trust that Ben and Ranger now offer. Indeed, many persons would harbour anger and distrust forever.
That was the local example of trust
Now to the ‘non-local’ example of trust. It involves PayPal.
You must read it in full, especially if you are a PayPal user. Thanks to Wolf, I can offer you his opening paragraphs:
I Just Got PayPal’s New Absolutely-No-Privacy-Ever Policy
TUESDAY, APRIL 1, 2014 AT 1:00AM
Sunday, when people had other things to do and weren’t supposed to pay attention, PayPal sent its account holders an innocuous-sounding email with the artfully bland title, “Notice of Policy Updates.” PayPal didn’t want people to read it – lest they come away thinking that the NSA, which runs the most expansive spying dragnet in history, is by comparison a group of choirboys.
The email started with corporate blah-blah-blah on privacy, that PayPal was “constantly” changing things “to give you more of what you want and improve your experience using us.”
Do read the rest of the essay here. Here’s a comment from a reader of Wolf’s essay, republished with Wolf’s permission:
Concerning: I Just Got PayPal’s New Absolutely-No-Privacy-Ever Policy
I am a retired old geezer living in NY State. About 4 years ago I looked at Ebay’s bidding process to place a bid on an item I wanted. However I discovered that I could not make such a bid without subscribing to pay pal. I provided pay pal with the information it required and made my bid. My bid was exceeded by other bids and I did not get the item. My credit card was not used at that time and I never used Ebay or pay pal after that.
Because I did not respond to ongoing emails from the 2 companies I believed that I had no further connection to either of them and that my single failed bid was the end of our relationship.
Then about 2-3 years ago I received a couple of emails from Best Buy: one thanking me for opening a new account, and the other thanking me for purchasing an expensive electronic item.
When I opened up that new Best Buy account I discovered that my address was stated to be in California in care of a person named Pham Pham and that the credit card that was used was one that had recently expired although the number was still in use on a subsequently issued card. I checked all my credit cards online and found that the charge was not pending. I also took some other measures to protect myself. Within hours I received another email from Best Buy cancelling the order because payment was not made by my credit card company.
This incident took a strange turn a couple of days later. Initially I had no idea as to the source of the credit information leak. But then 2-3 days afterwards I received an email from Pay Pal requesting an update of the credit card information in my Pay Pal account. Pay Pal’s email request for updated credit information so soon after the online theft attempt may be just a coincidence, but in my mind there is an undisclosed connection. Of course I have not complied with Pay Pay’s requests. To this day no company has informed me that their accounts were hacked and that my credit information was stolen.
If, when you have read Wolf’s report in full, you feel, as I do, that the time has come to cut the relationship with PayPal then go for it. Because only a customer base that is ‘voting with their feet’ will deliver the message.
What is that message?
Oh, want to know how to close a PayPal account?
To close your Payflow account:
If your partner is PayPal, VeriSign or CyberCash contact PayPal Merchant support at 1-888-883-9770 or via email at email@example.com. Be sure to include your login ID.
If your partner is with a Payflow partner, reseller, or merchant bank you will need to contact the partner, reseller, or bank directly to close your Payflow account.
For additional information, contact PayPal Merchant support at 1-888-883-9770 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Once your Payflow account is terminated, you cannot access the PayPal Manager or any account data. If you need access to this data, you will be charged a fee.
If you are trying to close your PayPal account and not a Payflow account do the following:
Log in to your PayPal account.
Click Profile at the top of the page.
Click Close Account in the Account Information column and follow the steps listed.
My PayPal account was closed at 15:10 PDT yesterday.
Perhaps PayPal should take note of how humans witness trust offered by our dear animals!
Two videos that end up very differently to how they started!
The common link between Ed Scalpello, Dan Gomez and me is that Ed and Dan are good friends.
Coincidentally, both of them sent me links that matched today’s theme.
So with no further blathering from yours truly here’s the first video from Ed.
and here’s the second that Dan sent me.
You all have a great weekend.
Talk about extreme ends of the spectrum!
Yesterday, I posted about the prediction that in four billion years the Milky Way galaxy would collide with the Andromeda galaxy. I called the post Not of immediate concern.
Today, I am writing about something that is of immediate concern. That is if you regard the next couple of decades as ‘immediate’.
The post is prompted by an item that was published on the BBC News website two days ago. It carried the title Climate inaction catastrophic – US
Climate inaction catastrophic – US
By Matt McGrath
Environment correspondent, BBC News, Yokohama, Japan
The costs of inaction on climate change will be “catastrophic”, according to US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Mr Kerry was responding to a major report by the UN which described the impacts of global warming as “severe, pervasive and irreversible”.
He said dramatic and swift action was required to tackle the threats posed by a rapidly changing climate.
Our health, homes, food and safety are all likely to be threatened by rising temperatures, the report says.
Scientists and officials meeting in Japan say the document is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the impacts of climate change on the world.
In a statement, Mr Kerry said: “Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. Denial of the science is malpractice. There are those who say we can’t afford to act. But waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic.”
Putting to one side the mild irony of a representative of the US Government wringing his hands about what mankind is doing to our climate, the report is valuable and potentially significant.
The report was from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is, as their website explains:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of human induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for mitigation and adaptation.
Watch this 5-minute video of Stanford professor Dr. Chris Field, co-chair of that IPCC working group, addressing some of the key questions raised by this latest report. In particular, focus on Dr. Field discussing the potential of the loss of the Greenland ice cap around 3 min 30 seconds.
Back to the BBC report (which you should read in full!). Back to Dr. Chris Field being quoted as saying:
I think the really big breakthrough in this report is the new idea of thinking about managing climate change as a problem in managing risks. Climate change is really important but we have a lot of the tools for dealing effectively with it – we just need to be smart about it.
It would be easy to get into the mindset that humanity is not going to change its ways in time.
But, then again, the pace of growing awareness about what the changes are that we all need to make, and make relatively soon, is dramatic.
Maybe, just maybe, this will turn out alright!
For all the young people in the world, I do so hope!
Milky Way galaxy heading for a collision – in about 4,000,000,000 years!
As with huge numbers of others who come to this blog, the night sky has always been of incredible fascination to me. To reinforce that fact, one of the favourite posts on Learning from Dogs for the last three years has been The night sky above published back on the 27th March, 2011. If you haven’t read it, do pop across and do so as the title is misleading in terms of the post.
Thus it was unavoidable not to pick up on an item recently referred to by Naked Capitalism that had been published by the EarthSky blog. This particular item was called Night sky as Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies merge. It began thus:
As seen on Cosmos … the collision and merger between our Milky Way galaxy and the nearby Andromeda galaxy 4 billion years from now.
The video below illustrates what NASA scientists announced in 2012 – and what the Cosmos TV series featured in 2014 – that the nearby Andromeda galaxy will collide and merge with our Milky Way galaxy 4 billion years from now. The video (from the Hubble Space Telescope news center) is from a series of photo illustrations, showing the predicted merger between our two titan spiral galaxies, as seen in Earth’s sky. Will Earth as a planet survive long enough to see this? A word about that at the end of this post.
The video lost a lot for me by not carrying a commentary. But no problem as one was found that did have a ‘voice-over’. However, the article photographs were stunning. For example:
A description of what’s happening in the images above:
First Row, Left: Present day.
First Row, Right: In 2 billion years the disk of the approaching Andromeda galaxy is noticeably larger.
Second Row, Left: In 3.75 billion years Andromeda fills the field of view.
Second Row, Right: In 3.85 billion years the sky is ablaze with new star formation.
Third Row, Left: In 3.9 billion years, star formation continues.
Third Row, Right: In 4 billion years Andromeda is tidally stretched and the Milky Way becomes warped.
Fourth Row, Left: In 5.1 billion years the cores of the Milky Way and Andromeda appear as a pair of bright lobes.
Fourth Row, Right: In 7 billion years the merged galaxies form a huge elliptical galaxy, its bright core dominating the nighttime sky.
The sequence is inspired by dynamical computer modeling of the inevitable future collision between the two galaxies.
Further on in the article one reads:
Will Earth survive long enough to see this merger of galaxies, as depicted in the video above? Earth as a planet might, but life on Earth – probably not. Astronomers say that the luminosity, or intrinsic brightness, of our sun will steadily increase over the next 4 billion years. As the sun’s luminosity increases, the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth will also increase. It’s possible that – around 4 billion years from now – the increase in the Earth’s surface temperature will cause a runaway greenhouse effect, perhaps similar to that going on now on the planet next door, Venus, whose surface is hot enough to melt lead. No one expects to find life on Venus. Likewise, life on Earth will probably not exist 4 billion years from now. What’s more, our sun is expected to become a red giant star eventually. A probable fate of the Earth is absorption by the sun in about 7.5 billion years, after our sun has entered the red giant phase and expanded to cross Earth’s current orbit.
Anyhow, I mentioned that I found a better video on YouTube than the one included in the original article, and that is now presented.
Rather puts the grunt and grind of daily life into perspective! ;-)
But being careful about what our dogs eat is another story!
This is not the first time that I have used this title for a blog post. The previous time was almost eighteen months ago when I highlighted a fascinating talk about the green revolution by Raj Patel, the award-winning writer, activist, and academic.
However, today is a first in that it looks at what our dogs eat. It was inspired by a recent article by Brady Dennis in the Washington Post. Here’s how that article opened:
Mystery of pet deaths related to jerky treats made in China continues to stump FDA
By Brady Dennis, Published: March 28
Andy lost his appetite. Then came the vomiting, the unquenchable thirst, the constant need to urinate. Over several days last year, the spunky 4-year-old West Highland white terrier grew lethargic and lost more than 10 percent of his weight.
“It got bad,” said Andy’s owner, Alfredo Gude, a retiree in Cape Coral, Fla. “I knew that he was in trouble.”
Gude and his wife rushed Andy to their veterinarian, who referred him to a clinic 15 miles away. Doctors there sent a urine sample to a specialized metabolic lab at the University of Pennsylvania. Days later, test results confirmed the diagnosis: Fanconi syndrome, a rare, often fatal illness that affects the kidneys. The suspected cause: chicken jerky pet treats manufactured in China.
The incident is part of a troubling mystery lasting more than seven years, with reports of at least 600 dogs dying and thousands of others sickened. It has outraged unsuspecting pet owners, confounded the Food and Drug Administration and put the pet food industry’s manufacturing practices under a microscope.
A little later on in the article, Brady Dennis writes:
Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, has called it “one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we’ve encountered,” a sentiment echoed by others at the agency.
“We are frustrated,” said Martine Hartogensis, who oversees the FDA’s ongoing investigation. “It’s been a long, winding, twisting road . . . [But] we haven’t given up.”
The FDA says it has tested more than 1,200 jerky treats in recent years, looking for salmonella, mold, pesticides, toxic metals, outlawed antibiotics, nephrotoxins and other contaminants. Federal officials have inspected factories in China that manufacture chicken jerky products for U.S. companies and sought input from academics, state and university research labs, foreign governments and the pet food industry. The agency even made its own jerky treats to try to duplicate the commercial process.
This is not some minor issue reinforced by the huge increase in dog food imports into the USA from China. Back to Brady:
The long-running investigation has paralleled a striking increase in the amount of pet food China exports to the United States. That volume increased from barely 1 million pounds in 2003 to an estimated 86 million pounds by 2011, according to the FDA.
Pet treats, including the jerky treats at the heart of the current investigation, have made up a fast-growing sliver of the pet food market. Part of the reason many U.S. companies have looked to China to produce chicken jerky treats, industry officials say, is that unlike in America, people in China overwhelmingly prefer dark meat. That leaves a larger supply of the white meat used in pet treats available for exporting.
Then a few paragraphs later, he adds:
“It’s maddening that it has gone on this long,” said Susan Thixton, who runs the Web site TruthAboutPetFood.com, which has repeatedly demanded that the agency do more. “If this were humans dying, and they couldn’t figure out a cause for seven years, members of Congress would be screaming at them.”
The home page of her site displays a clock tracking how long jerky treats from China have been killing and sickening pets. It asks: “When will FDA make this clock stop?” As of Friday, the count stood at 2,643 days.
“My job is to point out that they aren’t doing their job,” Thixton said. “I have a lot of respect for what they have to accomplish. They have huge responsibilities, but this is one of them.”
When I read out the article to Jean what then jumped ‘off the page’ was this paragraph [my emphasis]:
Angry pet owners also have heaped criticism on U.S. companies that continue to manufacture jerky treats with ingredients from China. The backlash includes everything from skepticism over the industry’s assurances that the treats have never posed health risks to lawsuits alleging harm.
As Susan Thixton was reported earlier: “If this were humans dying, and they couldn’t figure out a cause for seven years, members of Congress would be screaming at them.” Quite so!
Luckily, owners are responding as Brady highlights in these paragraphs:
Nina Leigh Krueger, head of the Waggin’ Train brand, said most retailers and customers have welcomed the treats back. “Thousands of consumers have been calling and asking us for Waggin’ Train treats to be back on the market,” she said.
Terry Safranek is not one of them.
“It’s a kick in the gut to see them back on the shelf,” said Safranek, whose 9-year-old fox terrier, Sampson, who had eaten jerky treats, died of kidney failure in 2012. Since then, Safranek has become a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Nestlé Purina and retailers including Target and Wal-Mart. She helped create Animal Parents Against Pet Treats and Food Made in China, a group that has petitioned the FDA to do better in alerting people about the potential dangers of jerky treats produced in Chinese factories.
The link in the last paragraph takes the reader to the Facebook page for that group. Do go there and ‘Like’ the page.
I will close by recommending you read the Washington Post article in full and then spend some time perusing the website Truth about Pet Food. This is not just about ‘Made in America’ but fighting to ensure that animal treats made in the USA are also using ingredients from the USA!
Remember how Brady opened his article? With Alfredo Gude learning that their dog, Andy, had been diagnosed with Fanconi syndrome, a rare and often fatal illness that affects the kidneys of dogs.
Well last words left with Brady Dennis:
For now, on Florida’s west coast, Andy the terrier has returned to normal after months of treatments — about $3,500 worth — to restore his kidney function. “We feel very lucky,” said Gude, who has taken the advice of many vets around the country to steer clear of pet jerky treats altogether. “It could have gone another way.”
Our dogs (and cats) have a right to be fed to the same standards as us humans!
The sirens of past lives take some silencing.
Going to relate to you a true story.
In 1968 I emigrated to Australia; to the city of Sydney. It was an easy move in many ways. For before I left I was working in the sales office of British Visqueen Ltd in Stevenage in Hertfordshire. ‘BVL’ were part of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI).
On Day Three of my new life in Sydney I noticed that ICIANZ (Australia & New Zealand) had their headquarters building on Macquarie Street near North Circular Quay. On impulse I went in and two hours later had been offered a job in the sales office of ICI’s Inorganic Chemicals Division.
From the window of my office I had a stupendous view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This is a picture taken the other side of the Bridge looking back at the office complex to the right of the Sydney Opera House; the office block partially obscured by the top curve of the bridge.
Anyway, back to the story.
I was dating a Finnish woman who with her sister and parents had emigrated from Finland some years previously. That woman’s name was Britta and later we were married and then upon returning to England in 1970 we had two children; a son and a daughter. In Australia I didn’t miss England and when back in England I didn’t miss Australia.
I was 26 when we returned to England.
Fast forward forty-four years to now.
This is the view through our bedroom window in the morning when Jean and I awake.
This is another view of the same scene but taken from outside the windows.
When the air is really moist and there are clouds hanging low over the ridge, it’s common to see mist swirling through the trees.
It is a beautiful place to live, for us and for all our animals …. yet …. we don’t feel perfectly settled.
Back to Britta’s parents. After they had been living in Australia for quite a few years, in Brisbane in those days, and all settled with jobs and their own house, they still didn’t feel perfectly settled. So they gave up their jobs, sold the house and transported themselves and their belongings all the way back to Helsinki, Finland.
Only to find that in less than three months that they had made a ghastly mistake and so, yes you know what’s coming, they transported themselves and all their belongings all the way back to Australia; this time settling in Sydney.
OK, to the point of this tale.
In many, many ways this life that Jean and I have here in Oregon is better than anything we have previously experienced.
Yet, there are times when I hear the sirens of Devon calling out to me and for Jean there are times when she hears the sirens of Mexico calling out to her; Jean lived in San Carlos, Mexico for twenty-five years, off and on, with her late American husband, Ben, who died in 2005.
I’m 70 in November this year.
What does it all mean?
When Jean and I were living in Payson, Arizona we were talking one day to a woman who in previous times had been a personal counsellor. She asked how we were settling in. We mentioned that we were not yet settled. The woman went on to say that people over the age of 60 frequently had a much more difficult time adjusting to major moves and changes in their lives than younger persons.
Jean and I wouldn’t rewind our lives for all the tea in China but what, dear reader, do you think?
Anyone out there the ‘wrong’ side of 60 who can relate to this?
From The Meta Picture website, link sent to me by Suzann.
A MOTHER FROM RUSSIA TOOK THESE PICTURES AT HER FARM
ALONG WITH HER TWO SMALL BOYS, A CAT AND A DOG.
These wonderful photographs by Elena Shumilova plunge the viewer into a beautiful world that revolves around her two boys and their adorable dog, cat, duckling and rabbit friends.
Taking advantage of natural colors, weather conditions and her enchanting surroundings, the gifted Russian artist creates cozy and heartwarming photography that leaves you amazed. Elena said, “Children and animals – it’s my life. I’m a mom with two sons and we spend a lot of time on the farm.”
Another eight next week; be sure to come back, they are unmissable pictures.
A most fitting guest essay after yesterday.
The following is published with the kind permission of the author, Jeremy Nathan Marks. I have done a ‘screen grab’ of the image associated with his blog post so you can experience it as you would see and read it from The Sand County. It seemed perfect as a follow-on to yesterday’s post Life, and mortality.
The Sand County
“In wildness is the preservation of the world.” -Henry David Thoreau
My Wish for the World
If I could leave behind but one lasting accomplishment from my life it would be to have changed the hearts and minds of all those people who accept or practice cruelty towards animals.
Now there are a great many worthy causes in this world which fully deserve the attention of all those who believe in justice, in fairness, and in mercy. But I also know that each of us -perhaps- has a cause that stands above and beyond all of the other noble concerns that we know exist. For me this cause is the humane treatment of animals.
And when I say animals I mean ALL animals. Permit me to explain.
My wife and I have two dogs. Both are mutts and both were adopted through the Animal Rescue Foundation of Ontario (ARF). I have blogged about ARF before and can only offer the highest praise for the organization. Courtesy of ARF, we have been provided with free dog training classes which have proved to be an invaluable resource in learning about dog behaviour. Better yet, the dog trainer we have worked with has made herself available for our questions outside of class. Whenever we have encountered a behavioural challenge that we have not understood or have been unsure of a proper method of approach, this trainer has been very obliging. Importantly, she believes in positive reinforcement and does not believe in the use of pain, dominance, or stress as a means of conditioning dogs. For my wife and me, this fits in with our moral beliefs and our ethics.
Our eldest dog, who just turned one year old, is a 60 lbs. shepherd mix who has a “leash anxiety,” if I may call it that. When we are out on a walk and she sees another dog she becomes quite agitated and will bark loudly and lunge at the other dog. This has puzzled us because our dog loves to play with others and is frequently socialized. We grew increasingly concerned because our use of treats and positive reinforcement was not working. And because our dog is a large shepherd, we both have worried that she might develop a reputation and become a source of fear or suspicion by other people in our neighbourhood. In due course, we contacted our trainer for advice.
She suggested that rather than putting our dog in a stressful situation by repeatedly walking her past other dogs (and trying to control her behaviour when she becomes agitated) we should take her out of the situation instead. So, when we see another dog approaching we turn around and walk in a different direction, all the while rewarding our dog with treats and telling her she is a good girl. We have recently started doing so and the improvements are showing.
So, let us fast forward to today. . .
This afternoon we took both of our dogs on a 20 km hike along the Thames River. The trail is like so many other trails; it forms a narrow path through the woods which makes passing other trail goers challenging at points. If another dog were to come toward us this narrowness would pose something of a challenge because we cannot turn around (and head home). Also, because the trail runs through the woods, there aren’t often places to step aside and let other dogs pass by without our oldest detecting them.
Inevitably we encountered another dog. We were approached by a small dog that was off leash (which is posted as unlawful, actually). We heard the dog before we saw it and prepared ourselves for some nervousness on the part of our oldest. When the dog approach some barking ensued and I tried to move our dog, as best I could, off the trail to let the family that was approaching us pass by with their dog. When we informed the family that our dog is uncomfortable around other dogs when she is leashed they did not seem to understand that we wanted them to pass by us quickly. When our eldest became excited one of the women turned to us and said that we should “knee our dog in her side to show her who is dominant.”
I was appalled.
Some woman, whom I have never met, who knows nothing about our dog or our relationship with our dog, was suggesting we use violence against her to show her who is boss. . . And this is a woman with a dog of her own!
My wife later remarked to me, as we were driving home, that she would not feel entitled to the love and affection our dogs offer us if we used violence on them in any way. I thought what she said was beautiful and captured the principle of the matter perfectly. We want our dogs to love us and to trust us. How would we have any right to their love and affection if we were to lead them to believe that -at any moment and for no apparent reason- we might use painful force on them?
Dogs do not understand why you use violence against them. They do not reason or understand cause-and-effect the same way that humans do. This is not a fault. It does not mean they are stupid or of lesser value than human beings. It does not mean they deserve to be treated with cruelty or brutality. Dogs experience violence as pain and suffering that is inflicted out of the blue. They are not only unprepared for it, but are often completely defenceless against it. How could we ever defend such an inhumane practice?
It troubles me immensely that someone, whom I do not know, could so nonchalantly counsel me to violence against my dog. Her arrogant presumption aside, this was a monstrous act. It was barbaric. Nowhere in polite society would someone get away with counseling violence against a child. . . or against someone who is weaker. Yet violence against animals, even against dogs who supposedly occupy a place closer to human hearts than most other animals, is countenanced and even endorsed. (I won’t even begin to explain why the Dog Whisperer horrifies and saddens me.)
If a young child was caught torturing animals we would all raise the alarm. The torture of animals, by a young child, is seen as an early warning sign of severe mental disturbance and has been linked to homicidal tendencies and highly violent behaviour. One of the great villains of American literature, the character Popeye from William Faulkner’s novel Sanctuary is depicted as a torturer of animals in his youth.
Now I know that increasingly there are laws on the books in many nations that are designed to prevent cruelty to animals and to prosecute perpetrators. This is a positive development that I certainly applaud. But I would argue that there is something broader, more troubling in our relationship with animals that goes beyond the bounds of this current posting. It is a topic I will return to time and again at this blog.
What troubles me is how animals are frequently seen as objects if they are even seen or thought of at all. The damage that our destruction of the forests, deserts, plains, and oceans of this world does to countless species is something that has been well documented. We do this because we are interested in acquiring the resources we feel are vital to ensuring our survival. . . but often it is our comfort or our “way of life” that really is the central reason for our pursuit of these things.
There is a deep seated human arrogance which treats animals as inferior forms of life. We see them as less sophisticated because they cannot compete with us for power on this planet. We suffer from what Aldo Leopold called an “Abrahamic view” toward the land. Somewhere biblical “dominion” over nature became domination. This is tragic. And it is not necessary.
I was deeply troubled by what I experienced today and it reminded me that if I could leave behind but one lasting accomplishment it would be to somehow awaken a sense of love, of mercy, and a thirst for justice where the animal life on this planet is concerned.
Just imagine what realizing that love would really mean. By achieving a love that transcends the will to power, the will to control, and the will to domination our embrace of animals really is, after all, the achievement of that revelatory love that is at the heart of the great religions and the religious spirit. Love for animals is love for justice and mercy. It is reverence for life. And it is peace.
I think Henry Beston captures these sentiments beautifully:
“Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate in having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” -from The Outermost House, by Henry Beston (quoted from Farley Mowat’s A Whale For The Killing)
I’m sure you will join me in thanking Jeremy for writing such a beautiful and heart-felt essay.
Possibly the most important lesson we can learn from dogs!
I was aware when writing the concluding part of Meet the dogs – Pharaoh that the next day I would be faced with writing about a subject that is a whole degree more difficult. Death!
It must have been in my mind when I wrote “of the need to smell the flowers in this short life of ours.“
What has prompted today’s post?
Simply that Dhalia developed a limp in her front, right-hand, leg. That was a few weeks ago. Naturally, we took her to our local vet, Dr. Codd, who diagnosed a strained elbow joint probably as a result of arthritis; Dhalia is believed to be ten-years-old. With the recommended medication, the limp came to an end.
Then about two weeks ago, the elbow weakness appeared in her left-hand, front leg.
On Monday, we returned to Dr. Codd who took further X-rays and sought a second opinion. That second opinion came back with the probability that it was a “osteoproliferative neoplastic lesion” or bone cancer to you and me! It’s not one-hundred-per-cent certain but likely.
It only seemed like yesterday that Jean wrote about Dhalia in our ‘Meet the dogs’ series. That post included this photograph.
Jean is very sad, as one would expect, nay we both are. Dhalia, like Hazel and some of the other dogs here at home, has a loving openness towards humans that is truly remarkable when one learns of how these dogs came to be rescued: Dhalia being found by Jean living rough in a desolate part of a Mexican desert. This is what Jean wrote in that ‘Meet the dogs‘ account:
I named her Dhalia and after treatments for mange she became quite beautiful. She was the pivotal part of a short story, Messages from the Night, Paul wrote back in 2011. Under her sweet exterior remains that same will to survive so evident when I rescued her all those years ago. There has been more than one occasion that she has brought me a recently killed squirrel or an ancient bone. We love our Dhalia: she still reaches out with her front paw when she seeks attention. Dhalia will be ten-years-old this year.
Somehow, Dhalia’s possible last few weeks of life resonated with much else going on. Close to us, the recent death of a chicken, and one of our cats that does not have much longer to live. In the wider world, the Washington State mud-slide, flight MH370, and the Ukraine. The news media treat death as almost a trivial, incidental part of the scheme of things.
Prayer for an eagle
Please say a prayer for beautiful bald eagle who just died a death he did not deserve.
He was stuck on the ground near a concrete barrier on a stretch of interstate under construction in Arkansas. I spotted him with his head down, facing into the traffic that was passing a foot away from him.
He was an adult bald eagle-big and brave, facing down the oncoming 18 wheelers.
There was no place to pull off, concrete barriers on both sides, so I went to the next exit and backtracked. My adrenaline was rushing in horror and fear. My plan was just to stop and block traffic, and pick him up. But he had been killed by the time I got back to him three or four minutes later.
I failed that bird.
I hope he is circling over the lakes and trees he loves.
Back to learning about death from our dogs.
Dhalia’s possible terminal condition; my Pharaoh being the age he is; somewhere in there has come the recognition that we should embrace life yet also embrace our mortality; our death. As Leonardo da Vinci was reputed to have said, “While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.“
What does death mean; truly mean? I don’t know. All I know is that death is the end of a life. That our immortality is only an echo, a reverberation of who we were and what we stood for. Or no better put than by American lawyer, Albert Pike, who left these words before he died on April 2nd, 1891 (Yes, I looked it up!)
What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us;
what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.
Last thought from our dogs. Recall that yesterday, I wrote, “Pharaoh has been my greatest inspiration of the power of unconditional love; of the need to smell the flowers in this short life of ours.“
Day in, day out, anyone with dogs in their lives know how often they offer us simple acts of love.
A life of simple acts of love – now that does give death a meaning!