Cary Neeper

Writer, Blogger, and Painter -- esteeming life wherever and whatever it might be.

Check out Critical Non-fiction for links to reviews in Goodreads.com

COMPLEXITY
Exploration of complexity, its indicators, embedded chaos, and value in human organizations.

Forty Years with Birds and Dogs
Care and Respect

Dolphins and Humans

October 16, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-Image

A close encounter with dolphins in the Bahamas and at Roatan in the
Los Alamos Daily Post

The Human Factor (1)

August 24, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-Image

Gwendolyn Americauna
Beginning the Hen House series on the human factor in conversing with birds and dogs. The Human Factor (1)--Chickens

Conversations with Birds--a new series

July 10, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness

Bobbi, Lucy and Little Bear
Domestic birds are very conversational if you take a moment to listen and talk to them. Los Alamos Daily Post

Hen House Wild Neighbors 2. The Angry Jay

May 6, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness

Offering peanut, Scrub Jays
Wild Jays never fly over the house to the backyard’s Hen House pen for a snack of lay pellets, but a few small birds do, even when Lucy and the gang are there.

On the front porch bird feeders, only one Scrub Jay watches and waits for us, but him or her (we can’t tell which) keeps his distance. He doesn’t come in for the peanuts if I wait outside on the porch, but he will snatch peanuts off the porch railing when Don has turned away to fill the hanging feeders.

Years ago two generations of Scrub Jays frequented the feeders, and some took peanuts from our hand, but only if we rested our hand on the fence rail. One Jay would come down from the aspen trees for peanuts, even if I sat down beneath the porch roof to watch. One day I pushed the relationship too far.

While I sat on the porch chair, the Scrub Jay took several peanuts and hid them in the yard. When only one peanut was left on the rail, I got up, took the peanut, and set it on the table beside my chair. When the Scrub returned I showed him the peanut. He hesitated, squawked, flew in, picked up the peanut, and flew back to the railing. Then with a squawk he threw down the peanut and flew off.

The message was quite clear. “Okay,” I hollered. “You win. Peanuts go on the rail.” A few moments later he came back, picked it up and hid it in the front yard. Ever since then his rules for the peanut game have remained firmly in place.

Scooter--Dogs Dealing with Loss

April 10, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness

Young DeeDee & Scooter
It's taken several weeks, but Scooter is settling into a new routine without her life-long sibling companion.
Now on The Los Alamos Daily Post

The Puzzle of Animal Consciousness

April 1, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-Image

Why can't Bobbi goose accept the fact that I'm going to be in her pen every day? I'm I'm just filling her feed and water dishes. Why all the honking? The Hen House continues its blog here at the Ladaily post.

DeeDee--An Impossible Dilemma

March 19, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-Image

DeeDee Feb.26, 2014
DeeDee was an exceptional dog--intelligent and loving, with integrity to be admired. She was taught not to bark, so she did not complain, though it became obvious that she was in a great deal of pain near the end of her life. A brief article in the Daily Post takes a look at the dilemma many dog owners face. I'll be writing about her life in blogs to come. DeeDee--An Impossible Dilemma

Butch, Coxswain of the Mahan-A WWII Memoir

March 13, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness

Coxswains Bill and Butch 2-2-45
Published today in the Los Alamos Daily Post--The story of the cocker spaniel Butch and the crew of the World War II destroyer Mahan, sunk in the Pacific on Dec. 7, 1944 in Ormoc Bay, Philippines.
Butch's story

The Power of Story--A Whole New Mind Set

March 4, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Domestic Bird Care

Bobbi, Lucy and Ms. Khaki
It sinks in gradually--the power of your daughters' stories, as they approach and cross society's invisible line at 50. Suddenly you realize they see you as an elder citizen, one who needs to consider what to do with all the scrapbooks, the geese and ducks that will probably outlive you, the closets that have accumulated too much forgotten Stuff.

And the dogs are failing. Scooter still enjoys patrolling the yard while the birds are out, but DeeDee can barely manage the back stairs. She still enjoys her biscuit and licking the pan after dinner, so she isn't ready to quit yet. Neither are we, but we have faced that fact that we will not live forever. time to downsize.

Okay, says I, get moving. Research the options for Life Care (link to CCRC guidelines), update the will to include goose care, and Throw Out Stuff You Haven't Used in Twenty Years. Thirty? Forty already?

What fun--the cleaning-out-closets bit. I found some great stuff to give the granddaughters, had lovely moments of discovery with daughter Shawne pouring over old news clippings she didn’t know existed. One day I found Treasure True. I tried on all the shoes in one closet and discovered most of them still fit.
Out went the ones too tight on my big toe. I focused on why I hadn’t worn this sweatshirt of that pair of pants, and came to the conclusion they were not the old friends I thought they were. They had shrunk or something. They were clothes I didn’t much care for, had never worn, ad would not fit into the closets of potential life care retirement homes.

What a relief this new mind set is. We’ve given ourselves five years to make the transition to a less-frantic older age, and I can with glee look forward to the next closet. How much useful stuff will I find to give away to people who might really use it? Then there’s the satisfaction of showing off my garbageing talents to a long-patient husband, hoping for fifty years that I would one day be able to shut my bedroom closet door. It’s so beautiful. He “ooed” and “awed” for at least ten seconds at the cleanly neat look of it.

Now—don’t ask me about the file cabinets and book shelves. Enough is never enough. I feel I must sit out while the small ducks take their morning bath. Hawks can probably spot an ageing dog. And these gorgeous blue sky mornings are not to be missed.

A Wedding To Be Thankful For

February 26, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image

The happy couple
Repeated from November 27, 2012
One more quote from "1001 Funniest Things Ever Said."
(Hamilton Books) From Eddie Cantor : "A wedding is a funeral where you smell your own flowers." Well, not quite.

In this season of holidays, I remember our New Years Eve wedding. I really enjoyed it, in spite of everything that happened, which, luckily, struck me funny at the time. It was a great garden party Ma and Pa and Auntie Flo threw, even though (Number 1) the latter beloved aunt got all upset because I wanted to be married, not in church, but in my parent's house, just like Ma did (because their father was ill at the time.)

Number 2: When the green velvet dresses arrived, my bridesmaid Ingrid split a seam (the dress's seam) getting into it. Third: A raisin (or something) got stuck in my front tooth as I was about to descend the stairs into the living room to meet my bridegroom. (Luckily, bridesmaid Sally discovered it and plucked it out before I hit the stairs.) Fourth: When it came time to read Corinthians about love, I could see that the minister's secretary had simply printed the reference numbers on his notes, so we lost that part of the ceremony. You'd think he'd know that by--oh well. Fifth: We had written our own vows, a hugely rebellious thing to do in the fifties, so I could hear our mothers holding their breath until that was over. Sixth: My cousin forgot to bring colored film, so all our wedding photos are candids in black and white. The 16 mm movie, I think, was in color, but it has turned to sharp plastic shards by now. And Seventh: The wedding cake seemed to be made of cardboard, so we couldn't find a way to slice a bite to feed each other. Some nice relative probably cleaned up the mess.

All that made for a very relaxed garden party. I had a ball seeing college friends out of context. Even the uncles didn't get into a fight. And Don, my groom, was in such a state of shock, he survived the ordeal. all he had wanted to do was to give me a ring, but then the dishes started arriving. He'd given me nose drops before our first date, so I knew this was the man for me. He's still in a state of shock, as we write haiku for our 55th college reunion, but I know he'll survive because he knows I think he'll be the handsomest old guy there. Our glorious 50th wedding anniversary on Tortola is long past.

A Review by Don Neeper-- The Spirit Level

February 20, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Complex Systems

The greater the disparity in income, the more dysfunction a society has in multiple characteristics, including infant mortality, social mobility, literacy, AIDS, homicide rate, degenerative diseases, teenage births, trust, and status of women.
See the complete Blog 18 by Donald Neeper at
his web site.
The Spirit Level

A Review of Grasshopper Dreaming by Jeffrey A. Lockwood

February 9, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness, Religion

There have been no grasshoppers in our yard since First Turkey did them all in 35 years ago. Maybe that's why this title caught my attention. Then its thoughtful consideration of our lives and their meaning caught my soul. < Grasshopper Dreaming: Reflections on Killing and Loving> by Jeffrey A. Lockwood, Boston, Skinner House Books, 2002.

It’s a rare book, only 138 pages long, that becomes a treasure. I marked thirty-five of those pages because they contained quotable quotes.

Jeffrey Lockwood begins by taking us deep into the Wyoming prairie to watch grasshoppers doing nothing, just being, most of their time. Perhaps we should be called “human doings,” not “human beings,” he suggests. Then he leads us seamlessly into observations about complexity and “...what science cannot fathom, nature still manages to exploit.” Before we realize it, he has led us full circle to ask, “What is a grasshopper good for?’ and concludes with the timeless answer: “...we value our children...because of who they are,” not what they do.

As we learn the details of Lockwood’s work as an etymologist, defending farmland against hordes of grasshoppers, he illustrates his dilemma of what it means to kill. “Taking life, like giving life, can be a sacred act.” Sometimes an essential act, if we are to live.

We watch as Lockwood teaches his children about his job killing grasshoppers, while capturing and releasing insects he finds in his house. In either case, he feels that his obligation is to “...mitigate their potential pain.”

The author notes our need to control as we confront nature’s “absolute indifference” to our existence, encourages us to “...contribute to moving human society through this phase of self-destruction”, and ends with a treasure chest of quotable quotes about the complementary nature of science (how we came to be) and religion (why we came to be).

A Review of Al Gore's The Future

February 2, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change by Al Gore: New York, Random House, 2013, a New York times bestseller. As former Vice President and member of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, as author of An Inconvenient Truth, a member of Apple Inc. board of directors, chairman of Generation Investment Management, chairman of the nonprofit Climate Reality Project, Al Gore is no stranger to business, government or environmental concerns.

This latest book provides a treasure for anyone concerned about our current dilemmas. In unvarnished, direct language, Gore explores environmental, economic and political issues. He presents the facts, sometimes a brief history, and digs deep into the reasons behind our failure to agree on solutions that he believes, passionately, must be implemented soon. The consequences of inaction are made clear, and they are dire.

This book was in development for eight years by Gore, his research team, business associates and distinguished reviewers, including Jared Diamond, E. O. Wilson and Herman Daly. Besides 373 pages of compelling text, the book includes an invaluable eight pages of Bibliography, 144 pages of usefully titled Notes, and a detailed Index.

The credibility of Gore’s arguments are enhanced by his understanding of complex systems and a balanced approach to each topic. He makes his own views crystal clear while exploring relevant evidence without overloading the reader with data. An example is his description of Earth’s wind and water currents that are involved in the experience of climate change (pages 305-311). Gore argues that though we prohibit “...human experimentation that puts lives at risk...”, we are engaging in a deadly global “unplanned experiment” as we continue to dump CO2 into the atmosphere.

Of particular interest to me is his analysis of why we cannot agree on such important issues. He covers many. A brief look at the Index can tell you if your topic of concern is covered. The range of possibilities for the future is huge, introduced in each section by extensive topic organizing diagrams. The concluding paragraphs “So What Do We Do Now?” (page 367) recap his most urgent tasks, if we face the fact that we humans are now “...a geologic and evolutionary force...” on Earth.

If the United State of America is to provide leadership to the global community, Gore insists that we must reform “...legislative rules that allow a small minority to halt legislation in the U. S. Senate” and “...limit the role of money in politics...”. The latter is a positive feedback loop, a recipe for disaster well known in physics and studies of complex systems.

Weather and Common Sense

January 23, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-Image

Bobbi, Lucy and Little Bear
On most days, Lucy and the Hen House gang cut loose whenever I appear outside. I am greeted with a cacophony of loud honks and squawks. Their message is quite clear, “Let us out of here.” And I do.

But then, when the wind starts blowing the Ponderosas into a wavering dance, usually after noon, they retreat to the safety of the pen.

If the day is not bright and sunny—or if I need to open the Hen House doors a little too early—they do not holler at me with such insistence.

If it is raining, the chicken and turkey stay indoors. They have many choices of shelter—dog crates and a dog igloo, an apple tree, an old dog house, a roof constructed of landscape panels from the set of “Petra and the Jay,” and the Hen House itself. At least, turkey sticks her naked head in the door. The rest of her is dressed in a thick layer of feathers.

The geese and ducks—whose feathers don’t get pitifully soggy when wet—ignore rain. They go about their business as if nothing is happening, until they slip in the mud. To avoid disaster, I keep all muddy slopes in the Hen House pen laced with straw. In winter, when mud freezes, I stomp the straw into the ice to secure it. That works almost as well as kitty litter on ice.

However, if it starts to hail, the geese and ducks take notice. Lucy takes great offense at being bopped on the head for no apparent reason. She looks around to see who did it, and only if it continues with undeserved violence does she retreat to the Hen House.

I’m wondering what the moral of this story is. Are we humans any smarter than the geese? Or do we stand in the air, bopped on our heads during each proverbial storm, wondering where they're coming from, again and again?

The Power of Imprinting

January 16, 2014

Tags: Imprinting, Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness

Baby First Turkey
It’s been almost four years now, since Gwendolyn hen was a chick, raised in our human house during a nasty cold spring, thus imprinted with me as her mother hen.

She still climbs onto my lap whenever I perch on the bench beside the stock tank. She’ll accept a snuggle under my jacket, holds still for several minutes—a rare event in the life of most chickens—then she gets bored and hops off to peck around in the yard for the rest of the morning.

Such imprinting is not unique to birds. When First Turkey was a chick, hunting grasshoppers with us convinced her to eat and live, and she, too, became imprinted on humans. Every time we went into the back yard, she would run to us with a happy bark.

I didn’t realize the power of imprinting on humans until Husband Don and I experienced something like this when we moved to a large apartment in Madison, Wisconsin. The apartment had a large kitchen—too large. My being a less than perfect cook, the floor got stickier and stickier. Worse, the garbage seemed to multiply by spontaneous generation.

Tempers flared and accusations flew: “Why aren’t you taking out the garbage?” I asked sternly. “And why aren’t you mopping the floor?” Don retorted. We answered in unison: “Because that’s man’s/woman’s work.”

Oh! The light dawned. We had been imprinted with different childhood experiences. My dad always did both garbage and floors. Don’s mother did those chores.

True—people are not chickens, but I suspect that patterns of behavioral experience in childhood can define what is natural and acceptable to us humans, as it does with birds.
Our kitchen experience makes me wonder what we do to young human minds with a steady diet of media violence.

Psychologists have defined imprinting as “phase-sensitive learning,” which can be “rapid and independent of consequences” according to Wikipedia. Another phrase is “filial imprinting,” in which the young learn behavior from their parents. We now accept that fact for some animals, also.

Results are mixed in recent studies of the effect of media violence on youth. This is not surprising, given that case study results are hard to make from correlative evidence.

Imprinting—The Writers' Dilemma

January 9, 2014

Tags: Imprinting, Human Self-Image

The increasing violence—in amount, degree, and unrealistic lack of damage—written for both books and movies could be disastrous in two ways—1) There is some indication that young people can become addicted to the physiological or mental effects generated by watching violence. There is a possibility that media-experienced violence could be translated and acted out in real life, especially in young people who are mentally or socially challenged. 2) It is known that a young child's experiences can be interpreted by them as what is natural in the world, how the world should be, what is okay.

Do we really know how many school shootings are triggered by media violence? Or suggested? Perhaps justified in sick minds?

As described in the previous blog, studies so far have been equivocal. At first, results indicated that media violence resulted in more acting out. Lately, a relationship between media and real violence has not been shown. Direct cause and effect between viewing media and overt action is hard to find.

Even if a relationship were proved, would it make a difference? As long as violence sells, it will be written and sold. Money trumps everything in our current society. Or does it? The responsibility lies with us as writers—to write truth as we see it, but temper it with possible nonviolent solutions, lessons learned, and creative paths that provide hope for the future.

The Importance of Hands and Imprinting With Media Violence?

January 2, 2014

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-Image, Imprinting

In previous blogs, the Hen House has taken on Mark Twain and decided that humans are no better or worse than other animals, given the complex nature of their brains and a wide variety of societal influences.

However, we humans may not be very different from animals in other ways—like our susceptibility to the phenomenon of imprinting. Some call it “phase-sensitive learning” or “filial imprinting.” I doubt many animal behaviorists would argue with the psychologists who suggest 1) that young humans learn behavior from their parents or 2) that environmental factors and experience can influence brain development.

More ominous is the finding that children abused in childhood develop more methyl groups on their DNA, which can be passed on for two generations, at least. No wonder the consequences of abuse are so hard to overcome.

In earlier Hen House stories, I have described the lasting effects of imprinting on newly hatched birds. We raised the hatchling First Turkey and the chickens Gwendolyn and Americia with constant care, and they remained bonded to us for life. (See earlier blogs under Domestic Bird Care)

Such imprinting was first observed in chickens in the 19th century, and Konrad Lorenz discovered that greylag goose hatchlings bonded to their first movable stimulus at 13-16 hours of life.

That’s why I worry about young children who are introduced to computer games before they have experienced using their hands by building real objects with blocks, legos, Tinker Toys, and cardboard boxes. These may seem like baby toys to a computer savvy four-year-old, but I hope not.

In her book called Your Hands, Connie Leas explores the importance of hands in brain development. She reports that some engineering firms will not hire people who have not grown up with physical hand manipulation play.

I also worry about teens who are addicted to dystopias or outright media violence. The latter has been on the rise since the 1950’s. Results are mixed in studies of how media violence might trigger violent acts. Though early studies indicated such a link, more recent studies show little influence of media violence on social actions. Overall, the effects of subsequent aggression after experiencing media violence seem to be evenly split. The data oscillate, and there is no agreement that media violence leads to desensitization or psychological saturation that diminished anxiety or disgust. No wonder. Such studies are inherently incapable of producing sound results since they are based on correlations.

The effects on individuals, however, cannot be denied. Shaking the camera to dilute the effects of horrific acts of murder and torture does not make it okay. The violence is still obvious, and I believe that young minds can be imprinted with the fact that it’s okay—a normal way of being in this fictional dystopic world, after all. If even one mind is so influenced, it’s not okay. The excuse of a revolutionary theme cannot erase the damage such imprinting may have on a mind too young to get the revolution’s message.

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--13. Man Is The Unreasoning Anima

December 28, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Religion, Animal Consciousness

Mark Twain’s thirteenth and last Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race is more about why man is inferior to all other animals because of the abuses he has done in the name of religion:
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

MT claims that he put several animals in a cage together and they lived “...together, even affectionately.” In another cage he put people of different religions, and they slaughtered each other. History provides his evidence. “...he is...afflicted with a Defect...permanent in him, indestructible, ineradicable—the Moral Sense...the quality which enables him to do wrong....It...is a disease...for there can be no evil act without the presence of consciousness of it in the doer of it.” The question then becomes--If we are learning that animals do have consciousness, are we to assume that they too will lose their reason?

MT ends his diatribe with a long list of man’s failure as a biological creature, including a useless appendix and a long list of ailments, including the admission that human “intellect is supreme.” Organs and senses are useless, and in the end “...we are not as important, perhaps, as we had all along supposed we were.” Here I’ll have to agree that we have too often over-bloated our uniqueness and our worthiness. But we are capable of learning, of accepting knowledge that might not fit our early assumptions, of finding our real place in a large universe, of being thankful for our ability to appreciate its beauty and to grow in capacity to love, especially those who inhabit the Hen House and its equivalent, our domestic animal friends.

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--12. Man, The Only Religious Animal

December 28, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Religion, Animal Consciousness

Mark Twain’s twelfth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals because of the abuses he has done in the name of religion.
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

In this one, MT goes for the religious jugular with a well-known sarcastic cliché: “Man is the only animal that has the True Religion—several of them.” He goes on to list horrendous events in history that show that “He is the only animal who loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight.” He mentions the Caesars, Mahomet, the Inquisition, France a couple centuries, Mary’s England, and “...today in Crete.”

It’s true that animals don’t seem to be deliberately cruel in order to support a theory of Existence or requirements for the Hereafter, which they are supposedly forbidden. I’ll make the case that they have religion in some sense of the word—at least some do.

We struggle with the definition of religion. The 2007 American Heritage College Dictionary says religion is “1a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe”... or “3a. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.” Or “4. A course...pursued with zeal...”

Well, that’s descriptive, but not very useful when it comes to animals, unless, as one must, you interpret some of the descriptive words in a broad sense. Two examples: 1) A dog’s devotion to a kind master, and 2) an animal parent’s care of her young. Call it genetic programming if you like. It is no less than religious devotion, even to the point of sacrifice.

Definition # 4 could apply to fandom of all sorts. I remember a riot that broke out during a high school football team when some fans decided to take their zeal off the stands into the fieild. I was supposed to stop the flood of angered teenagers pouring out of the stands. Animals?

The other problem with MT’s argument is that we know very little about animal thinking. It’s been only a few years since animal behavior theorists could publish words expressing emotions, such was the fear of anthropomorphism--as if sincere scientists and honest pet owners produced anecdotes that were re-inventing Bugs Bunny.

At least, now we admit that animals feel real emotions very similar to ours. We know without a doubt that we all came from the same biochemical stock of miracles. We have learned recently that we share a few genes with algae. The evolutionary process simply did not fix some things that weren’t broke. Human uniqueness is a matter of degree and good luck, like hands and a large brain that can invent its own excuses, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

The Hen House Takes on Mark Twain—11. The Eleventh Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race

December 17, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Book Club Discussion

We are inferior to all other animals because “He sets himself apart...to grab slices of other people’s countries, and keep them from grabbing slices of his.”
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

How many animals defend their territory? It’s a long list. And why? Usually it has to do with mating rights, the harem MT mentioned (See Blog MT #4) But it can also be to protect an area large enough to feed one’s family, as some big cats do. Or perhaps just to assure one’s family the right eucalyptus leaves to eat, like the koalas. I’m no expert, but you get the point.

As to keeping “...multitudinous uniformed assassins on hand at heavy expense...” in order to do the slicing—history offers us many reasons for war. I grew up in World War II when this country was united in its goal of saving the world from Hitler’s vicious slicing. Some values, like freedom and safety, are worth defending. Some are more questionable, a stretch on the freedom or safety arguments. We could all make a list, like the Crusades or Vietnam, but each list would be slightly different.

Are we still driven by our tribal instincts? Do our genes—crafted in the hunter-gatherer days—have to determine how we act? Recent theories about the D4-7 allele—that it give us a dopamine high whenever we win either food or football games—may be a problem. But aren’t we smarter than that? Or is it more education that is needed? How could we possibly “slice” up someone else’s “country” if we understood who they were at their best, if we nurtured their best potential and responded to their blogs and tweets with compassion and good information.“

The Hen House Takes on Mark Twain--10. Humans are the only animal to "enslave their own kind."

December 7, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness

Mark Twain’s tenth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals says that only humans enslave their own kind. “Higher animals...do their own work and provide their own living.”
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

True, not too many animals –except for ants who farm aphids—entrap other animals and force them to provide sustenance. But neither do too many humans now, though there are some horrendous exceptions the authorities have not yet stamped out.

MT has a point. We call it hired help, but there is a hierarchy of people doing work for other people, who then do work for richer people, etc. It’s supposed to be voluntary, but no one gets hired who doesn't follow the employees’ rules. See movie The Help The wider the differential in wealth, the more repressive the chain of command. Hence the Occupy Wall street movement and needed reform.

It’s also true that MT’s “higher animals”—the carnivores and some insects on the list—provide their own living by entrapping and murdering to “provide their own living.”

I wish some brilliant biochemist would find a way to fuel intelligent life without ending some other conscious life. Some are trying. Serious business efforts are being made to develop attractive chicken-like soy vegetable “meat.” Others are trying to grow “meat” from stem cells; others print it out with 3-D printers.

We do eat lots of insects, and more of us may have to eat more, if we insist on overloading the planet with our teeming hordes. But insects enjoy their brief lives and devise clever ways to survive, like the rest of us. That’s no solution.

Maybe we could get the geneticists to isolate an herbivore gene from cows and implant it into newborn humans. Within a generation we could all survive on plants, who (as far as we know) don’t consciously enjoy life or grieve for its loss.

It’s very dangerous, this trend, because it’s a positive feedback loop. In physics, positive loops always implode if left uncontrolled. The loop? Business in bed with government—money buys politics—its called lobbying—which boosts moneyed interests, which can then buy more politics, which can therefore legislate more business interests, which can...etc.etc. In World War II Mussolini called this Fascism. Don’s blog.

The Hen House Takes on Mark Twain--9. “Man is the only animal that robs his helpless fellow of his country..."

November 30, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Book Club Discussion

This is Mark Twain’s ninth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals.
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

“There is not an acre of ground on the globe that is in possession of its rightful owner...[all have been] taken by force and bloodshed.”

I’ll agree with MT on this one. Here he summarizes much of the history we had to memorize in Freshman Western Civilization—the bane of all college Freshmen until the 70’s, when you could graduate from college with a degree in basket weaving. Don’t get me started. I believe in vocational training, but I also value an education in a wide variety of the essentials necessary to open young human minds.

My argument with MT on this topic is his assumption that human beings need to own land. I think the Native American cultures—I don’t know which ones—got it right. Land is a necessity of life, like air and water. Without land one cannot hunt or gather or grow food. Someone has to do it, and everyone needs food.

In my book The Webs of Varok, second in the series,, I add to recommendations for a secure future the suggestion that no one owns land—as in Greenland—not even governments. You simply trade the productive or constructive use of the land for its care. You become responsible for its protection from harm and for the enhancement of its best potential, not just for your own monetary advantage. The idea is worth exploring, perhaps in another setting?

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--8. Man is the Only Animal that Does War?

November 19, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Book Club Discussion

Mark Twain’s eighth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals is open to question. Do ants do war?
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

MT puts it this way: Man gathers together “for sordid wages” other men “to exterminate without passion those who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.”

I’m not sure E.O. Wilson would agree. Ants do something similar. Ants They are quite good at warlike behavior, but perhaps we can excuse them, for several reasons. They have a smaller brain than we do. It is programmed to do a simple, specialized job (most likely), and the purpose is attaining food and surviving as a species. All life needs to do that. MT’s statement gives defending Homo sapiens two challenges 1) we do war against others of our own kind and 2) against others who are innocent.

I agree that (1 may be unique to humankind. We seem to have nasty tribal instincts left over from a time when competition for food was necessary for survival. Recently we have discovered a gene, allele D4-7, that gives us a dopamine high whenever we win a battle or eat good food.

MT’s (2—doing war with those innocent of hurting us—will bring a storm of protest from many who feel we always have a righteous cause. There’s always something, from someone’s point of view.
Now, however, as borders dissolve under the impact of rising global communication, economic necessity, migration and interracial breeding that produces hybrid vigor in the species—we have less and less reason to war against our human brethren, more and more reason to work together for a stable future.

In short, the writing is on the wall. Our numbers are now so large and our impact on mother Earth is so great, if we don’t get together soon to agree on a way to limit our avariciousness and our blind tribalism, we will forfeit our chances of rising to our best potential as long as Earth is habitable.

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--1. No Other Animal Wantonly Destroys

October 3, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Today I’ll begin a series that may not be entirely fair, since the author can’t fight back (at least not directly). The writings I’ll cite were not published until Mark Twain was long dead. His daughter Clara finally allowed DeVoto’s 1939 edition to be published in 1962, says Henry Nash Smith, Editor at Berkeley.

I’ll begin by quoting from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.” In this ten-page article, Mark Twain (MT) lays out the evidence—thirteen horrendous reasons why humans are inferior to all other animals. MT’s tone is serious, usually, and seriously distraught at times. The satire is nearly gone. Now, fifty years after this writing was resurrected, I’ll review the thirteen faults he finds in Homo sapiens and test them against our modern perspective from the Hen House.

According to MT, given a choice of many calves, an anaconda ate only one, refusing all others, [with] “...no disposition to harm them,” but an English earl, with “charming sport...killed seventy-two of those great animals [buffalo]; and ate part of one of them and left the seventy-one to rot.” The excess calves offered to the anaconda were perfectly safe while shut up with him. (more…)

The Power of Story

December 19, 2012

Tags: Human Self-Image, Sustainability/Steady State Economics

The January 2013 issue of National Geographic "Why We Explore" brought it home. "The fastest spaceship ever built--the Helios 2 probe, launched in 1976...attained a top speed of 157,000 miles per hour . At that rate, a spacecraft headed to Proxima
Centauri, the nearest star, would take more than 17,000 years to make the 24-trillion-mile journey...some scientists...find the prospect of eternal confinement to two [Earth and Mars] small planets in a vast galaxy just too depressing to contemplate." (Emphasis mine.)

Where is this coming from? Are we unable to appreciate the awesome beauty and diversity of Earth, still partly unexplored and largely unknown by most of us? I suspect that the depressed scientists have been imprinted (as have we all?) with decades of stories, powerful stories, assuming humans can and should travel to the stars, even explore the galaxies and/or subdue them. True, star travel has also been irresponsibly oversold, but perhaps the power of stories based on time-bending warp drives has warped our perspective--the ability to sense the enormity of universal space and time.

Can stories really be so powerful? Religions of the world know they can be. In this holiday season, we know they can be powerful indeed . (more…)

A Wedding, Thankfully

November 27, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Human Self-Image

One more quote from "1001 Funniest Things Ever Said:"
(Hamilton Books) Eddie Cantor : "A wedding is a funeral where you smell your own flowers." Well, not quite. In this season of holidays, I remember our New Years Eve wedding. I Really Enjoyed it, in spite of everything that happened, which, luckily, struck me funny at the time. (more…)

Wild Or Alien Or What?

February 2, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Human Self-Image, Aliens

What if there were aliens living in our solar system? Aliens native to our solar system, from some other world we hadn't yet discovered. Would they be after our resources, eager to enslave us, or better yet, eat us? Would they be wild, in our sense of the word ? I don't think so. Not if they are like most wild animals on Earth--those not on the hunt, driven by hunger. When well fed and respected, wild animals (and the wild birds I've known) recognize a friendly gesture--a peanut placed on the porch railing, a soft click and an extended hand to guide them out the door when they find themselves trapped inside the house, a crippled chicken tossed over the fence, just killed by two young hungry, hopeful coyotes. (more…)

What is wild? Thinking of Mr. Peacock

January 26, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Human Self-Image, Aliens

He wasn't very wild. He wanted to be in the pen with the other birds, waited on the hen house roof until I filled the water troughs and put out the lay pellets and corn. So what does wild mean? Number one in my dog-eared American Heritage Dictionary says it means "Occurring, growing, or living in a natural state; not domesticated, cultivated, or tamed." The definition includes a lot of other things, too, like "savage...unruly...extravagant,...storm"...and "arbitrary equivalence..."

Mr. Peacock, though gradually getting used to me, was a bit arbitrary. (more…)

In Memorium--An Allegory

January 19, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Human Self-Image

Mr. Peacock is gone--all but a few scattered feathers left behind on the ice.
He couldn't override the ancient instincts to roost high in the Ponderosa.
He couldn't learn why I locked him in at night.

The raccoon watched and learned where the peacock slept.
The raccoon crept silently up the tall straight tree trunk
And took young Mr. Peacock before he could fly away.

Many search and find more than ancient instincts preach,
While many miss too much in loving the past too well.
Do we dishonor the most precious of gifts?

Why do we rebuild on flood plains and shallow bays
While the oceans rise?

New Musical "Petra and the Jay." Book by Cary Neeper. Music by Alice B. Kellogg.

August 17, 2011

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Human Self-Image, Musicals, Population

Production dates set April 13 and 14, 2012. This is a musical with the same fun aliens featured in "U.F.F.D.U.H." produced in 2001 by Los Alamos Little Theatre.

In the far far future (3020C.E.) a young woman with an identity problem defends the personhood of her extraterrestrial and Earthly animal friends, as humans tackle their most difficult challenge--a conference with friendly aliens to discuss solutions to overpopulation.

An Oz For Our Time

November 21, 2010

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Population, Human Self-Image

The five novels of "The Archives of Varok" listed on this web site have been in development for 35 years. The first in the series, "A Place Beyond Man" is available as an Authors Guild Backinprint.com Edition for all major book outlets. Its sequel "The Webs of Varok" will be released this fall by Penscript Publishing House. Others will follow in the next few years. All model steady-state economics and complexity issues and deal with the place of Homo sapiens in the larger universe--how we might deal with intelligent life nearby. The setting is an alternate solar system that includes Earth of the 21st century and two other planets orbiting "our" sun, inhabited by a delightful set of species too challenging and living too close to be ignored.
See the books' concepts and excerpts here.
2013 Nautilus Silver Award YA and 2012 Foreward Finalist Adult Science Fiction




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A Place Beyond Man
Authors Guild Edition 2011


The Oil Patch Project--Mystery team Cary and Don
See Oil & Gas tag above.