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Forty Years with Birds and Dogs 

A Wedding To Be Thankful For

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.

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A Review by Don Neeper-- The Spirit Level

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

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A Review of Grasshopper Dreaming by Jeffrey A. Lockwood

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).

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A Review of Al Gore's The Future

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.

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Weather and Common Sense

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?

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The Power of Imprinting

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.

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Imprinting—The Writers' Dilemma

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.

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The Importance of Hands and Imprinting With Media Violence?

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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