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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Obedience versus Intelligence

It has been raining on and off every single day for many days now. The outer pen is flooded and Bow cannot go out to play.

Bow is not a saint. He does not walk on water. In fact, he also refuses to walk in water. He does not want to get his feet wet. When he was little and we went outside early in the morning, if there was dew on the grass he would insist on riding on my back rather than exploring.

But it is tedious to be stuck indoors with not much to do, so yesterday Bow asked to go outside. I took him all the way to the entrance of the outer pen and opened the door for him to go out, but he just sat there and stared at the water covered floor and the wet bench, and he did not choose to go.

When Bow is not happy, I don't get to be happy, either. He will keep asking for things, and then when I give them to him, it turns out he didn't actually want them, and then he gives them back to me, and then he asks for more things, which he also doesn't really want.

When Bow is not happy, he makes raspberry sounds and rocks back and forth and interrupts conversations that I have on the phone or on Skype. "Can't you just explain to him that he needs to be quiet so that you can hear what I am saying?" somebody asked me. "After all, he is so intelligent. Surely, he will understand, if you explain it to him."

"He already understands," I answer. "He is intelligent, and it's not about understanding. It's about choosing to cooperate or not."

This is one of the most difficult points to get across to anyone. "If he is so smart, why doesn't he do what you tell him?"

"Because he's smart enough to get me to do what he tells me."

Of course, I don't do everything that Bow tells me to do, either. I might as well ask: "If I am so smart, why don't I always do as he says?"

The answer, of course, is that intelligence is not obedience. Obedience is not intelligence. They are two separate things. Someone who always obeys is not necessarily stupid. He's not necessarily smart. But he has accepted a subservient position to somebody else, and neither Bow nor I are quite ready to do that, vis a vis each other.

True obedience is not about being afraid of the other person. It is not about giving up your own capacity for critical thinking. It is about accepting another person's leadership unconditionally. I wrote about obedience in my recent novel, Theodosia and the  Pirates.  Obedience is a wonderful trait to have. But in my current household, nobody seems to feel sufficient reverence for anybody else to practice the virtue of obedience. Which is to say, we may love each other, but none of us accepts complete and utter subservience to another.

Many dogs are known for their obedience. This comes in handy when trying to prove what they know. A while ago, a friend shared with me a video about a border collie who knew the names of a very large number of toys and could prove it by fetching the required toy on command. The dog named Chaser could prove that she knew over a thousand words, because she never tired of doing exactly as she was told.

When I watched the video with Bow, he told me: "The dog is stupid."

"Why do you think she's stupid?"

He spelled: עושה מה שאומרים. "Does what is told."

He didn't think she was stupid because she understood the commands. He thought she was stupid because she put up with the test. Many people flunk tests ostensibly designed to test their intelligence, but which in fact test their ability to follow directions without any internal motivation.

If Bow would just cooperate with me in proving he has language, he might get a lot of things that he wants, such as, for instance, a companion of his own kind and  a five acre island to be king of. But explaining this to him does not help me secure his cooperation, not because he is stupid, but because he does not choose to play along. He would feel stupid if he did as I asked.

What does freedom actually mean? Does it mean having money, power and everything you could want in return for pleasing others? Or does it mean living only to please yourself?

It depends on what sort of person you are. If you are a border collie with a good master, or a follower with a good leader, then maybe obedience is exactly what makes you happy. But if that is not the case for you, then listening to your inner voices may make you much happier, even if it does not get you any loot, space or companionship.

Ultimately, if you do what makes you happy, then you are truly smart.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"I want Mom."

Yesterday was a Wednesday, and Bow enjoyed his time with Lawrence. During my day off, I spend most of the day running errands, so it's not really the case that I do "my work" on my time away from Bow. Most of my writing, editing, publishing, advertising and other related tasks are done during the twelve hours a day when I am with Bow. But yesterday, before I got in the car and drove away to the post office, the bank and the grocery store, I looked outside and saw a beautiful landscape through the window of my front door.

It was bright out, but the sky threatened a storm with its dark clouds. Bow became agitated when I went outside to take the picture. Lawrence later reported to me that Bow seemed agitated to see me outside. He gestured to Lawrence that he wanted to say something, and Lawrence thought he would ask for a toy or a snack.  But Bow only spelled: "I want Mom."

Lawrence told Bow that I was busy "working." But actually, I would not describe what I was doing as working. It was more like taking a break.

It wasn't until the afternoon, after I got back from running all my errands that Lawrence told me about this. I was touched that Bow had said he wanted me. "That's so sweet!"

"Have you been spending more time with him?" Lawrence asked, because it was unusual for Bow to ask for me during his playtime with Lawrence.

When Lawrence comes over, Bow has his undivided attention, whereas during the twelve hours each other day besides Wednesday that I spend with Bow, Bow does not have my undivided attention, because I do, in fact, work on other things in Bow's presence.In the Mommy War context, the distinction between undivided attention on a child for short periods and multitasking with your child all day long is known as quality versus quantity time. I used to weigh in on the quality time end of the spectrum, but more recently I have realized how important the time is we spend with our children when they are not the center of attention. (I wrote about this in "Our Mothers' Backs".)

"No," I said. "Not more time. The same amount of time. But this morning we argued. Maybe Bow was feeling bad about that."

As an adolescent, Bow sometimes needs time away from me. Sometimes he turns his back on me. Sometimes he asks me to leave. But like every other adolescent, Bow kind of wants his mom, even as he tries to push her away.

This morning we went out into the outer pen. Bow was nice, but eventually he turned his back on me, letting me know that my company was not required. But then when I went in, he seemed to regret it a little.

Growing up is hard to do!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Raising a Happy Noise: Not Necessarily Intentional Communication

Everybody knows about chimpanzee vocalizations. The experts have classified them, numbered them, named them, and they can assure you that they are "not language." And because they have not been seen to have the abstract levels of encoding that we expect in language, the experts have concluded that chimpanzees don't "have language", as if language were a possession that one can carry around and display to others and own.

Bow "has language", in the sense that he can spell in Hebrew and English. He also "has language" in the sense that when I say something like "pick that up and throw it away", he knows what I mean. (Whether he'll do as I ask is a whole other question.) I mean, "having language" is not only producing an utterance. It is also decoding the utterance made by another. In all these senses, Bow "has language."

But Bow is also a chimpanzee. And sometimes he has to raise a happy noise. Or an aggressive noise. Or to express his feelings directly. Not every sound a human makes is language, either. Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we sneeze. Bow vocalizes. And his vocalizations tend to have the plot structure of a sneeze.

Not every sound we make is entirely voluntary. Cries of fear or joy often aren't. A sneeze, on the other hand, is something we may allow to happen or not quite pull off. So it is with Bow's vocalizations. Sometimes he starts but clearly does not finish. Sometimes the vocalization runs its course, and then he seems relieved and happy.

There is a difference between intentional communication and unintentional signals. Bow exemplifies that difference. He is not trying to tell anyone anything when he vocalizes like this. But this does not mean that we don't learn something about how he is feeling, if we listen.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

To Jefferson City and Back

Today is a dark, rainy day. It has been raining all morning, which leaves the pens unusually dark, and Bow is a little less than happy. But yesterday was a beautiful day, and Bow got to spend most of it outside in the sunsine, while I made my way to Jefferson City and back again.

In the morning, it had started out foggy and then the fog cleared up, and I saw all the rolling hills with green grass, the blossoming fruit trees and the trim little farmhouses along the way. The Missouri Ozarks are beautiful country, and it's such a shame that anything like politics should ever mar them.

The Missouri State Capitol Building is a tourist attraction, and there were groups of school children with their teachers coming and leaving all the while I was there. I arrived a little early, but it was hard to find a parking spot anywhere close by, so I ended up walking down Madison Street. It got me to thinking about James Madison, who is an ancillary character in Theodosia and the Pirates.

Once at the Capitol Building, I decided to stop by and say hello to my representative in the Missouri House, Robert Ross. When I told his assistant, Gina Richardson, my name, she exclaimed: "That's who I thought you were! You wrote a book."

This surprised me so much, that for a moment I was speechless. I did not remember ever seeing her before, so I could not imagine how she knew that. While I had been in touch with my previous representative in the Missouri House, I had not actually had any sort of dealings yet with the office of Robert Ross, who is newly elected this term, which is why I thought I would make a point of saying hello. How did this woman know I had written a book?

Of course, I was actually holding a book I had written: When Sword Met Bow.  I was going to give it to the Senate Agriculture Committee when I gave my testimony.

"Well, yes, yes, I did," I said and showed her the book. But clearly this was not the book she meant. "I was just reading about you," she said. And she opened up a manila folder where she had a photocopy of a newspaper clipping about my  book signing at Texas County Museum of Art and History. She pointed to a picture of Lanie Frick, Suzie Blackburn and me, posing in front of Lanie's painting. "I thought it was really interesting to see the author, the artist and the model in the photo together," Gina said. I remembered posing for that picture, but I had never actually seen it until then. Gina told me that Representative Ross would be mailing me that clipping. Then she walked me up to the house floor, where Representative Ross was busy. He came by to speak to me briefly, and we exchanged a few words, but he had to get back to the floor, and I had to get to Senate Room One for the Ag Committee hearing.

The Agriculture committee was chaired by Senator Munzlinger and closely attended to by Senators Libla, and Parson. Senator Kiki Curls was there toward the end of the session and asked about large carnivore owners.

If I believed that the burning issue on everyone's mind on the Senate Agriculture Committee was non-human primates when I came in, then I learned otherwise rather quickly. Two other bills were discussed before SB149. The first was introduced by someone who wanted the Agriculture Department to develop a new website for Missouri farmers to sell their products online internationally, a sort of Craigslist. One of the senators asked him whether there wasn't already such a website, and he answered that indeed there was, but that it was outdated and obsolete, because it was not properly optimized for search engines these days. I was surprised that the subject of SEO would come up in an agriculture committee meeting. The sponsor of the bill also said that Google was not the top search engine globally. That honor falls to and now everything needs to be optimized for that engine. Senator Munzlinger was concerned about selling goods in Asia and not getting paid, but Senator Parson wanted to know if the current agriculture department website was obsolete now, how we could be sure that this proposed website would not be also obsolete in a couple of years.

The next item on the agenda was a bill to regulate the freshness of goose and duck eggs when sold in a regular establishment. Apparently, there already is such a law regulating the sale of chicken eggs, but a loophole had been left for other kinds of fowl in the interest of public safety.  Senator Munzlinger thought this was an "egg-cellent bill," but Senator Parson was concerned with how it might affect his Amish and Mennonite constituents who do in fact sell duck and goose eggs. A person from the Department of Agriculture was there to testify on behalf of the bill. He said it was a matter of public safety to make sure the eggs were stored at a low enough temperature.

At this point, I began to think about Willy Wonka and wondered if the public really had such trouble recognizing a bad egg that it needed protection from independent farmers. But nobody showed up to testify against the bill, and it was clear that -- unopposed as it was -- it was going to pass.

And then it was time to consider HB149. Senator Keaveny revealed that he was acting on behalf of the St. Louis Zoo and the Kansas City Zoo. He took great pains to distance himself from HSUS, although further testimony revealed that HSUS and those zoos had a financial connection.

And then testimony began starting with those who supported the bill, sometimes stultifying in its claims concerning safety and animal welfare. There was also a boast that the law does not discriminate in favor of the zoos -- that the same rules apply to all, and that the zoos are happy to submit to these restrictions like everybody else. But the first people to testify quickly put that in issue, since there is a requirement that no one who kept primates should breed, transfer or display them to the public, and yet clearly the zoos in order to operate, would have to engage in these activities. If the bill does not exempt them, it would put them out of business.

There are only five chimpanzee owners in the state of Missouri, one person testified. To subject them to the fees necessary to fund a regulating agency would be prohibitive. To tattoo or chip chimpanzees, some of whom are already fifty years old and are retirees from the zoos, would be inhumane and extremely cruel. Many people testifying against the bill said  that they were Missouri natives, had lived here all their lives and they opposed the bill. While they agree that not everyone should own primates, there is no need for this law, as those people who choose to go into primate ownership are very responsible and well informed. There were no ordinary people testifying on behalf of the bill. There were only employees of the zoos and of animal rights organizations.

When my turn came to testify, I decided not speak against the bill's effect on primates and owners, so much as to inform the committee about what it would do to the State of Missouri if it were passed. I told them that unlike many of the others who were Missourians born and bred, I was an outsider. I came to this state because I wanted to start an ape language research project, and Missouri was the best state to do it in, because there were no anti-primate laws. I came to Missouri because Bow was born in Missouri. I started a project that might be of help to autistic children who had trouble communicating. I needed to cross-foster Bow together with my own child, because if I did not do that, he would not be enculturated, and the experiment would fail. If it is now impossible to continue here, because the law is passed, then I will have to leave the state of Missouri. That means no more investment in the state, no more revenue from donors or volunteers or even tourists who come here because of Project Bow. We will be gone. And the state will be left holding the bag.

Senator Munzlinger wanted to know if I meant that I could not afford the fees. I agreed that I couldn't. But Senator Parson wanted to know something completely different. "You say you raised Bow with your child. Do you consider them the same?"

At first I thought he was talking about safety issues, and I tried to explain that when Bow was a baby he posed no risk to anyone, so it was okay to raise them together. By the time he turned five, I found it necessary to put him in the pens, which are very secure. But Senator Parson stopped me. That's not what he wanted to know. His concern was not safety. He wanted to make sure I wasn't claiming equal rights for Bow. He asked the question again: "Do you consider them the same?"

I shook my head. "No. They are not the same." He was satisfied. There were no more questions for me.

I met a lot of good people yesterday, some of whom belong to an organization called Animal Owners of America. Senator Parson made a comment during his questioning of one of the witnesses from the zoo that stuck in my mind. He distinguished animal welfare from animal rights. "We are all interested in animal welfare," he said. "Every farmer is interested in that."

When somebody wants to grant rights to a creature who cannot exercise those rights directly, you can be sure that the person is looking to gain power over that creature. That is the issue of animal rights versus animal welfare. And I think the Missouri Senate Agriculture Committee is pretty clear about that difference. I think it's going to be okay.

As I was leaving, after I said goodbye to all my primate supporting friends, one of the animal rights activist called after me to say she appreciated the research I was doing. "Thanks!" I said.

I got home too late to take Sword and her friend to their regular music lesson, but their teacher Jill Dabney came over to my house instead, and I could hear the strains of The Star Spangled Banner being played at Sword's piano as I came in.

As for Bow, he had had a great day with Lawrence. His only complaint: he didn't like the peas he was served at lunch. He refused to eat them. When Lawrence asked him why, Bow spelled: "The peas are rotten."

The peas were not rotten. Bow just likes to complain sometimes. We had the peas for lunch today -- both of us. Bow ate his peas, but for some reason wouldn't eat the pickles.

Last night, after I put Bow to bed, I was so grateful to be home that I appreciated my little corner of the world even more. I hope I don't have to leave Missouri. I've got a really nice place here!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Senate Hearing to be held on Wednesday

The weather has been nice. While I worked on my taxes, Bow went outside and relaxed.

With the taxes done, I turned to mowing the lawn.

Okay, so it's not much of a lawn, but it's still important to keep the vegetation down in the backyard, so as to   limit ticks and fleas. This morning I finally finished mowing the lawn. I thought we would have a little relaxing time together.

But I see that SB149, the parallel bill to HB284 in the Missouri State Senate is back on the table. There will be a hearing on it tomorrow.

Tomorrow is a Wednesday. Lawrence will be here. I can go. But if I go I will miss Sword's music lesson and all the other things I was planning to do on my day off. 

I will go, but you can see how even if these laws are not passed, the very act of trying to pass them is harassing and disturbing. I'd much rather contemplate the flowers and spend time with my family.

If you are a Missouri resident, please call your state senator and ask him or her to vote against SB149. And while you're at it, ask if there is anything we can do to stop the out-of-state sponsors of the bill from ever being able to try this again. Some things should never be voted on. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Weathering the Storm

I am cautiously optmistic about HB284. People have called and asked how they can help. There has been much activity on the legislative front. My informants in Jefferson City think the bill will not be passed and that the parallel legislation that is being introduced in the state senate is also getting nowhere. But it feels like a roller coaster, coming up for the vote and getting passed out of committee one day, then getting shelved the next, and who knows what tomorrow will bring. In this way, politics is a lot like the weather.

Bow was enjoying the warm weather that came upon us recently, spending most of the day outside with Lawrence on Wednesday, but then by evening everything changed. Storm clouds flew over our property, the winds picked up, and even the tiniest flowers tucked safely underfoot began to tremble.

After dinner, the storm came in.

Besides the big show that a storm always brings us, there was a considerable drop in temperature. I had to start heating the pens again. All yesterday it was quite cold out. Today, it's may be a little warmer, but still too cold to play outside before noon.

Earlier this morning Bow asked to go out, but no sooner out, than he wanted to go right back in. But the cool weather made him playful. When we went back inside he was jumping and initiating a short chase sequence, making happy whistling-like sounds with his mouth. Then he kissed me and examined my hand and led me to the glass where he spelled: "Give me a rug." When I gave him the rug, though, he had trouble deciding what to do with it.

 And now he is napping. When the weather changes again, he will be well rested and will have plenty of energy to accept new challenges.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

When Bow is Not in the Spotlight

Bow has an immense presence. If you enter into Bow's space, it's going to be very hard to ignore him.

 Bow has a way of interjecting himself into every conversation, of being in the spotlight more often than not.

But sometimes, it's not about Bow. Sometimes Bow is not in the spotlight. Sometimes he's just in the  background. For instance, I launched my book, Theodosia and the Pirates on March 16. So a lot of my activity has been centered on promoting the book, rather than promoting Bow. Because my attention was focused on this, I did not notice that HB284 was somehow voted on and taken out of committee on March 28.


We are very much in danger now, and I just didn't seem to get the message about this going up for another vote. But my informant in Jefferson City did ask that I call my state legislator, now that the bill is likely to go to the floor. I was cautioned, however, not to share this information on FB, because then the "Animal Rights Activists" might see it and rise up against us. That confuses me.

Mine is a household with only a single voter. I can vote. Bow can't. Sword can't. Neither can the dogs. If I can't share our struggle with the general population and ask that everybody help to defeat HB284, then aren't we already beaten?

This is advice that I have been getting a lot lately. Stay quiet. Don't make any noise. Don't let people know that you represent a viewpoint that is not favored in the media. Yes, tell people that you work on ape language research. But don't tell them that you're not part of the establishment. Don't tell them that you are actually a private owner and that you support private property rights. Don't speak up for other animal owners. Make it clear that you can do this, because you are an expert and you are special, but deny that other people can do it, too.

I would never tell someone that they cannot do what I do. I would, however, caution them about all that is involved. In the same way, I would never say to someone: don't have a child. But I would say: if you're going to have a child, make sure that you have the time and resources to take care of it. Be able to stay home with your child, or if you can't, make sure another family member can. Or if no family member can devote full time to caring for the child, make sure that you have enough resources to pay someone else to take care of your child full time.

An article that explores the issue of what it takes to be responsible in primate or other exotic animal ownership can be found here:

Responsible Care of Primates

I am committed to Bow. Even though the animal language experiment that we originally embarked on has not yielded bankable results so far, Bow is still a part of my family, and I am still his primary caretaker. Like all responsible parents, I also need to make sure that our family is on a good footing financially. That means that Bow is not always in the spotlight. Sometimes he is in the background. Sometimes I go out and give talks about my books, and when I do that, Lawrence stays with Bow. Other times, like many a working mother, I continue to work on things that have nothing to do with Bow, while I watch over and take care of him.

In the video below, you can see how Bow stays in the background most of the time, even though he does steal the scene once or twice. (He hates the idea of anyone getting captured by pirates.)

Our children can't always be in the spotlight when we are working to earn a living. But if we continue to take care of them while we do our other work, then we are still responsible parents.

It has got to be all right to speak out openly against legislation that threatens our rights. If we keep our opinion that we have the right to exist as some deep, dark secret that can be shared only with our closest friends, then we concede defeat in advance. 

Please join me in calling your legislator today and making sure that HB284  is defeated. Even if you have no desire  to ever own a primate, we all have an interest in keeping our rights as citizens, even the rights we have no intention of exercising. Today, it's non-human primates. But tomorrow, it could be our human children they go after. I am already hearing that parents do not own their children. Where do you suppose they got that idea? 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bow Hears the Phone

The weather has been very nice indeed. Yesterday, when Bow asked to go outside, not only did I let him, but I also enlarged the outer pen by opening up the partition, and I decided that I wanted to play outside, too.

The dogs were out there, and there was the swing to swing on, but Bow kept indicating that I should go inside. When I did, Sword told me that the phone had rung, but she was unable to get to it. I went back to Bow and we started to play, but again Bow began to look in the direction of the interior of the house, as if something were going on in there that I should attend to. I asked him if the phone was ringing again, but he did not answer. Still, whatever it was seemed to really bother him.

Finally, Sword, who had been in the front yard, but had gone into the house in time to hear the phone ring but not in time to answer it, told me that the phone had rung again.

I went into the house, dialed *69, called the number and found out that it was someone who had heard about my talk at the museum, and who wanted to book me for a talk before her civic organization. We chose a date in June, and then I went back to Bow. He was much more relaxed after that.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bow Goes on Vacation

Lately there has been a lot of local activity to market Theodosia and the Pirates.   I gave a talk at the Texas County Museum of Art and History , and Sword and her friend were able to attend, but Bow had to stay home with Lawrence. Later, I showed Bow a video of my talk, so he did not really miss out on the content of the event, but it's not the same as being there. For one thing, he missed out on the soup social. He would have liked the food there. For another, he missed the company of  other people. But in a way, it's good that Bow could not go, because when I showed him the Q & A session, he started displaying at all those strangers who were talking to me. And yet, Bow seemed to wish he could go.

Yesterday, which was a Wednesday, Lawrence came in later in the day, because he put in a long day on Tuesday on account of my talk. In the morning, before Lawrence came, I had this exchange with Bow:

BOW:  תני לי שבת
          "Give me Saturday." (Sabbath.)
AYA: ?שבת

BOW: לא לעבוד
           "Not to work."

AYA: ?איזה מין עבודה אתה עושה
           "What kind of work do you do?" (A little sarcastic.)

At this point in the conversation, Bow lifted a tuft of his shed hair from the floor and gave it to me, as if showing what a big help he is in cleaning up around here.

AYA:  ?אתה נותן לי לכלוך
           "You're giving me some dirt?"

BOW: תני לי חופש
           "Give me a vacation."

AYA: ?איזה מין חופש
           "What kind of vacation?"

BOW: בחוץ

AYA: ?אתה רוצה לצאת
           "You want to go out?"

BOW: תני לי לצאת
           "Let me go out."

I let him go out, but that was yesterday morning, and it was still quite cold, and so he did not stay out long. It wasn't much of a vacation.

 But today, when Bow went out and began to sunbathe, I could see why it might seem a lot like going on vacation after months of being cooped up indoors.

A little sunbathing and a little rest and recreation and it begins to feel like a real vacation!