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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Foggy Morn

Today is a very foggy morning. There was so much fog that I could not even see the school bus as it picked up my daughter.

The neighbors' field was enveloped in white gauze.

When it is foggy, the spider webs stand out.

Yesterday, which was not a foggy day, I spotted a spider rolling up and wrapping a bee that had been caught in its web. The bee was still buzzing when I came upon this scene.

Then the bee stopped buzzing, and the spider stopped wrapping up the bee, but it did something to it with its mouth.

Was it the kiss of death?

After that, the spider went and sat back down in the center of the web to await a new bee. There were several bees buzzing nearby.

The spider made me think of this verse from a longer poem called "Assassin"  that I wrote decades ago and will be attributed to Marah Fallowfield in Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way:

Timing is definitely the thing. Yesterday, for a fleeting second, I came face to face with a deer in my front yard.

It was only the briefest glimpse, but it was so close. One moment later, and I might not have caught it on camera at all. That's timing. Timing also applies in the longer run, as we meet or fail to meet the right person.

 Bow is growing up, and that brings change -- new feelings, new longings. Yesterday, Bow watched a video of a female chimpanzee who is close to his age. She was playing with a water hose that she used to clean up her enclosure, but also to take a drink from. Bow watched with great interest, although he did not seem as excited as he had been watching Lady Gaga videos. He did not say anything afterwards, but I got the impression that he was more interested in the idea of  playing with a water hose than getting together with her.  In other words, he identified with her, but did not see her as an object of adulation.

Should we adore a mate? Or should we see them as a person? Or can we do both? It's a question I address in some of my novels.

A Sampling of my books

Bow did not ask to meet that female chimp. I wonder what would happen if they did meet.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Eclipsing the Moon

Bow had a nice day yesterday. It was not too hot and not too cold. And although there were a few sprinkles, he was able to go out and spend lots of time playing and relaxing out of doors.

When Bow goes outside, he checks everything out.

He displays at the dogs and plays with Leo. After getting plenty of exercise, he sits down and relaxes

A little later, he stands up on the bench and looks over the fence to see the view beyond into the neighbors's field.

And then gradually he relaxes and bends his knees...

... and takes a seat on the edge of the bench rim.

And after sitting there for a while, he decides maybe it would be nice to relax even more and lie down.

And he lowers himself down very carefully, until he is lying on the rim of the back rest of the bench.

And there he relaxes for over an hour, before he decides to go back in.

Now, the bench was not designed with this use in mind, but this is the use that Bow puts it to. Many things in life are like that. We need to understand that it is not our intentions towards others that will come to fruition, but things have a way of working themselves out based on choices that others make for themselves.

Yesterday,  my interview with Julia Hanna about the painting of the Liberian chimpanzees came out:

In it I discuss the consequences to chimpanzees from possibly "well meaning" legislation. The consequences of trying to "liberate" someone are not always what was intended by the people who draft laws. On Labor Day, for instance, the labor movement congratulated itself for having stamped out child labor in sweatshops. They showed the faces of smiling children. But they did not discuss the fact that none of the clothes we buy in American stores today are actually manufactured in America. They did not say that the consequence of the law was that all those sweatshops were moved overseas. They did not talk about the Panic of 1819 and how bailing out the textile manufacturers led to those sweatshops in the first place, or how Americans used to make their own clothes at home before the corporate entity with its limited liability became widespread.

Because all of that is complicated and would require thought. And people just like to look at pictures of children with smiling faces. Today, Animal Rights activists are still crowing over their victory about getting US Fish and Wildlife to classify domesticated chimpanzees in the United States as an endangered species and not allowing them to travel from state to state. They think it is a great idea, and it will prevent medical research from being conducted on chimpanzees, even though US Fish and Wildlife actually left a very big loophole, allowing medical research to be conducted on chimpanzees if chimpanzees are the ideal subject for such research. All the researchers have to do is apply for a fishing permit from Fish and Wildlife and show the need. Yesterday, an article was published in a major paper citing such a need:

What if they can show that research on captive chimps for diseases such as Ebola and AIDs can benefit chimpanzees in the wild (as well as... humans)? Then you will have those permits to conduct medical research on chimps, but no chimp will be allowed to go from Missouri to Hollywood to star in a film or live with a new family. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. 

Last night was the night of the blood moon eclipse. I do not have a very good camera, though, so my moon was eclipsed by leaves.

Let's not lose sight of what's important. Getting rid of suffering is not something that you accomplish by legislating against suffering. It's accomplished by repealing laws that make it impossible for people to live free, making their own decisions.

Sometimes a bench is most comfortable when used not in the manner intended by the manufacturer. And each person knows what is best for himself.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Going to Seed

Everything is going to seed in my pasture.

Tall dandelion plants are letting the small parachutes fly, carrying their seeds in the air, and you can actually see the process in motion.

As the seeds float through the air, it is almost possible to ascribe volition to them, because they are in motion. If it moves, it must be alive. That's how our brains have been programmed to think.

The thistle flowers are going to seed as well.

When you see a pile of seed parachutes on the ground somewhere, it is sometimes hard to tell which plant they came from.

"Going to seed" is a funny expression in English. It can simply describe the process of a plant getting ready to reproduce by letting its seeds loose on the world. But because people are so into man-made gardens, it can also mean "to produce seeds because it has not had proper care." And by extension, going to seed as an idiom means "to decline in looks, status or utility due to lack of care."

Let that sink in. We seem to think that getting to the point when you can actually reproduce makes you look as if you have not had proper care.  We apply this to humans, too. No wonder so many women try to look like little girls.

Not all of the thistle flowers have gone to seed, though. Some are still flowering, and those are the ones that the Monarch butterflies are turning to now.

Can you see the Monarch hidden among the flowers?

I spotted the butterfly from far away, but this Monarch did not make it easy to take a picture.

Here are few stolen glimpses at the Monarch's glory:

Spreading it wings, it flew not away, but seemingly right at me.

Yet always  it turned in time to avoid a collision.

In order to make these tight turns, the butterfly had to resort to stunning aerobatic maneuvers, flying straight down or straight up at times, then righting itself at the last moment.

As we watch our children going from cute, helpless babies to teenagers ready to reproduce, we need to remind ourselves they are not going to seed in the sense of losing their utility. They are going on to the next very useful phase of life.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Nala is Nile

Yesterday was Homecoming. Bow was very excited as preparations were made. He likes my daughter's boyfriend and was happy to say "Hi" to him. The kitten, on the other hand, was a little frightened of the interloper.

Not used to males, the kitten was shy. But with me, it bares all. And for some time now, I have had a nagging suspicion that we may have been too hasty in our assessment. Maybe there is more there to this kitten than we first believed.

Yesterday, Sword's boyfriend confirmed it. We have a male on our hands. So now the kitten's name is no longer Nala, but Nile.

In November, when it starts to get cold, Nile is going to go live with my daughter's boyfriend, because I am not able -- due to my allergy to cat dander -- to allow the cat into the house, and it will need someplace warm to spend the winter. But my daughter will still spend plenty of quality time with Nile, so he is not being abandoned. Come springtime, he may return here.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fall in the Air

Fall is in the air.

 Sometimes it's the leaves turning color and falling, and sometimes it's little, fuzzy white seeds from dandelions blowing through the air.

This morning the dogs were barking loudly and Bow sent me out to see what it was. All I could see was a chipmunk who scampered under the storage shed. It was so small that even Nala did not choose to pursue

The persimmon trees have lost all their leaves already and are decorating themselves for Halloween.

In the pasture, I occasionally run into a family of deer who hurry to take cover in the woods.

Many of the butterflies that I meet are in very poor shape.

But there is a yellow butterfly who meets me at the same spot each day.

Sometimes it lets me come in pretty close, but it always flies away before I get in a really good shot.

I finished the painting of the Liberian chimpanzees.

The last part I worked on was the hands. Chimpanzees have such beautiful hands.

I hope that Bow is never reduced to asking for a handout like those chimpanzees in Liberia. Before I am done, I hope that I can leave him in a situation that is financially secure. I also would like him to be able to earn his own money, if necessary. It does not make sense to talk about personhood for chimpanzees and then completely rule out the right to work. You have to ask yourself what kind of personhood are these idealists envisioning for chimpanzees: Is it the same kind that humans have when they are wards of the State?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bow the Art Critic

Day and evening, morning and noon, Bow and I are together. The lighting changes, our activities vary, but we are almost always together, even when we are doing different things.

This morning, Bow was outside when I was adding some more little touches to the painting of the Liberian chimpanzees. When Bow came back in, he went to the glass and looked at the painting in its current stage. Then he took my hand hand and spelled: שמתי לב שזאת ילדה "I noticed that it's a girl."

"The one on the right?" I asked him.? האחת מימין

He answered: כן. באמת יפה    "Yes, really pretty."

I will take this as a mark of approval!

Bow can be a harsh critic at times, so this means a lot to me.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Painting the Liberian Chimpanzees and Facial Recognition

The days are getting cooler and autumn is in the air. Bow is taking it easy. Whenever he naps, I take this opportunity to do somethings else. Today, it was a little more work on the painting of the Liberian chimpanzees.

As of right now, the painting looks like this:

I saw an article today that said there were natural reasons why people do not recognize other people outside their ethnic group very well.

I think it actually works even on the family level. People in a particular family filter out the traits they all have in common and notice only the differences. But people from outside the family will think relatives all tend to look the same,

 Nevertheless, when I look at the photo of the Liberian chimpanzees, I see individuals who all look very different from each other. I hope that comes through in my painting. They are all going through the same experience, but each is reacting to it in a completely different way, and each face is different.

I am not an accurate painter, but I do focus on the personality and the special features of my subjects. No two are the same. It's what I believe.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Microaggressions in the New Mary Poppins

Bow outside this morning
I signed a new lease for Orchard House on the 18th , and the new tenants will take possession early in October. We celebrated by attending a local production of the new Mary Poppins. It was very well done, with a full orchestra and a cast of thousands on a shoestring budget. But it was not Walt Disney's Mary Poppins, or the Sherman Brother's Mary Poppins or P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins. It was the new Broadway play. which took out several of the old Sherman brothers songs and replaced them with other songs that were not as good. And the plot of the play was not as tight as the movie, which had  climaxes coming in all the right places. I wondered what the revisions were there for. And slowly it dawned on me that the ideology has been modified.

The "Sister Suffragette" song was not there. "The Life I Lead" was replaced by something quite inferior. The run on the bank triggered by the children listening to "Feed the Birds" and refusing to deposit their tuppence in an account was entirely missing. My all time favorite song in the musical, "Fidelity Fiduciary Bank" was gone.

All that, I could have suffered in silence, except for this: I experienced microagressions from this play on the matter of caged birds and cod liver oil.

One of two cockatiels I own

Yeah, I know, that sounds ridiculous. But I felt this funny twinge a couple of times, and as I tried to identify why, I suddenly realized that it was as if I were being personally attacked. And since I have been paying attention to the progressive neologisms, it occurred to me that this is what a microaggression feels like.

The two cockatiels look onto my kitchen
In this new revised play, the practically perfect nanny is being contrasted with an evil nanny, who uses cod liver oil as a punishment, as opposed to Mary Poppins' spoon full of sugar bribe, and who happens to own a caged bird which she loves. In short order, Mary Poppins neutralizes the bad nanny by 1) freeing the caged bird and 2) making the nanny swallow a whole bottle of cod liver oil,

The birds in their large cage in a central location in the house

Sitting there in my seat, I was possibly the only member of the audience who identified with Miss Andrews, the bad nanny.  I started to feel really bad. I am offended, I thought to myself. But at first, I was not absolutely sure what I found most offensive. "Am I maybe taking this as a metaphor about Bow?" I asked myself. Then I remembered: I don't need this to be a metaphor. I actually have some caged birds at home.

Now, I did not purchase these birds. They were given to me be someone else who had paid for them, but could not afford to keep them. Because bird seed costs money. Lots of money every month.

And cages have to be cleaned. It's a lot of work. Lots of people start out thinking it will be fun, but they give it up because they realize they have gone in over their heads. So what should they do then? Should they just open the cage door and let the birds fly free? Would that be the humane thing to do? Of course not, unless you live in the Amazon region, and even then, a bird that has been caged all its life might not survive if just set free. We have harsh winters here. We have snow. There is no way that you can just let a bird like this go and expect it to prosper. So the previous owner gave the birds to me, and I let them have a  bigger cage than they came in, and all the food they need, and they feel safe in the cage. If the door is open, they still don't fly out.

Is this an ideal situation for a bird? Probably not. But if the entire rainforest is destroyed, those birds that are in captivity and kept by breeders will survive as a species. That should be important to anyone interested in conservation.

But what message do theater-goers get when they see the new Mary Poppins? That if they happen to come across a caged bird belonging to someone else, it's okay to open the door and encourage the bird to fly off. Is this a responsible message to be giving to the public and especially to the children in the audience? And yes, some of them are going to transfer that message to other caged animals, such as lions and tigers and bears and primates. Not a month goes by that some idiot on Youtube does not try to tell me in the comments that Bow should not be in a cage and that I should just set him free. What if an AR activist tried that and got injured? Would I be held responsible for that?

On top of which, all bird owners are vilified in the new revised Mary Poppins by having that particular bird owned by a "bad woman" who abuses children. Don't even get me started on cod liver oil.  .

We live in an age when many American children are obese. To prefer a spoon full of sugar over cod liver oil in terms of nutrition is like choosing a high carb diet over a high fat diet. It leads to obesity. You may protest that this is not what is meant by the song, and that this is not about nutrition but rather about discipline. Yes, I get that. But by eschewing all forms of "negative" consequences for bad behavior and substituting bribes instead, today's parents and educators are treating children like trained seals who will perform tricks in return for candy. It's a bad policy both nutritionally and psychologically.

Even putting sugar and enticing flavors in actual medicine backfires in the long run. In the United States, medicine children are given when they are sick is sickeningly sweet, enough to make you gag. Sometimes children get to hate a flavor, such as cherry, just because they associate it with cough medicine. In Taiwan, where we got the medicine straight from the doctor, it came in a powder that we could mix at home with anything we wanted. I think that is the better policy.

But back to the theory of microagression. I felt bad -- really bad -- for a couple of minutes in the scene where the bad nanny got her comeuppance. Not that I would ever force someone to drink cod liver oil -- what a waste of nutritious fat! -- but cod liver oil in this case stands for any form of discipline that involves an unpleasant consequence. I don't believe we can always rely on bribes and manipulations to avoid coming head to head with the fact that sometimes a child will want something that he cannot have and should not have. Sometimes we have to say no. When the child does not accept no, there have to be consequences. It can't be a bribe, or it will encourage the bad behavior. It cannot be a distraction, because this shows contempt for the child's intelligence. Really respecting a child means being honest, not sneaky. That policy pays in the long run, though it may be painful momentarily.

I realized sitting there that this is precisely why it is hard to get a theater to perform my own musical, even when they themselves do not understand the lyrics.

Microaggressions in a work of art, like a play, a novel or even a song, are those things that sting, because they belittle a member of the audience who does not share the underlying values of your work. It is that way in which as an author, we sometimes offend a reader not by directly stating something that counters his subconsciously held beliefs, but by indirectly targeting his values. It feels like a slap in the face.

I am guilty of this, too. I thought, when I was younger, that I had better not spell out too directly what I believe, but I should entice my readers by sneaking my morality in between the lines. So many people when they hear "I Love Everyone" do not immediately recognize it as a satire. Some even say they applaud the sentiment expressed by the song. But something still grates on their nerves, and they feel bad, and they don't end  up liking the song.

I was hoping to change the world, by convincing people to change their minds. But you have to change their minds first, before they will even allow you to say what you want to say in a public venue. It is no coincidence that I was a very small minority of the audience who thought freeing that bird was wrong. If everybody agreed with me, The Debt Collector would be the play showing in that theater last night. Instead the evening was capped by an extra song about how love is everything.