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Forty Years with Birds and Dogs - Care and Respect

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

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.

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The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain-7. “Man is the cruel animal.

Written at the worst time of his life, Mark Twain’s seventh Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race goes on to say [Man] “...inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.”
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’s list of human cruelties is not fun to read. It goes on for a full page. I hate to think what would be on the list of current incidents.

MT excused the cat who plays with a “...frightened mouse...” because the cat doesn’t deliberately torture the mouse. The kill is sudden and quick, as is the deadly throttle of experienced non-human hunters.

As MT suggests, the cat may or may not be conscious of the mouse’s fright . The jury is still out on that issue, but, at last, evidence is gathering that non-human consciousness is more astute than we have recognized to date.

If the cat knows that the frightened mouse is suffering, but plays with it anyway, we’ve got a serious problem. What’s the point? Philosophically, should we write off life knowingly torturing life as the inevitable consequences of a brain too complex for its own good.

Maybe it’s like the price we pay for being made out of stuff. The material called flesh and bone is subject to harm. Pain is an alarm system so you can fix your hurting stuff. Too much pain and you shut down—another blessing in disguise.

Looking at torture as a byproduct of the most complex object in the universe—that’s what students of complex systems call the brain, due to the super-astronomical number of connections between neurons and other brain cells—one can say that our moral or religious challenge is to rise above such complex aberrations and prove ourselves worthy of heaven.

Though that may be viewed as a primitive western myth, it has some merit in giving us motivation to be the best complex critters we can be. However, viewing the ability to do torture as a byproduct of natural processes doesn't make it acceptable, not in the least.

When Creation started tinkering with matter so that is could come alive, consciousness and complexity were as inevitable as vulnerability and imagination. Surely we can meet these challenges and live as if we were grateful for the miracle of our conscious lives.

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The Hen House Takes on Mark Twain 6-“Man Is The Animal that Blushes.”

Scooter, feeling what?

Mark Twain’s sixth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals since he invented “indecency, vulgarity, and obscenity.”
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.”

Well, maybe. This is a tricky one. Nature has pruned and shaped us so that our mating signals are far more obvious than most other animals.’ Hence, we wear clothes, so we can do good work without distraction. The historical and current cleavage fad is a rebellion against this work ethic and should be considered carefully. Because of our blatant biological design, maybe we should not advertise unless we mean it.

MT blames our “moral sense” for our invention of “indecency, vulgarity and obscenity,” but I blame the accident of nature’s creating a “naked ape” with a brain so complex it has resulted in the human capacity to invent such concepts, plus a million reasons why the concepts induce lewdness and/or humor.

“The “...higher animals...hide nothing; they are not ashamed.” MT’s second statement for the superiority of animals on this topic is simply not true. Dog owners know very well that dogs are capable of intense shame—though it may be triggered more often by their sensitivity to human expectations than not. Is it shame that some dogs feel when their luscious fur is shaved?

I need more input on this one. Anyone have any experience with animal shame to share? It’s closely related to, but different from, guilt, isn’t it.? Or does MT have this one correct?

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The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain 5-- Loose Humans Are More Guilty Than Loose Cats

Mark Twain’s fifth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race is based simply on the fact that humans are consciously loose, while cats are “unconscious,” hence innocent.
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 unconscious are animals? My first reaction to this assumption by MT is that in his day no one imagined what we have discovered recently about animal behavior. The old fear of anthropomorphism in this specialized field of science has finally been overcome by the rational acceptance of common sense, a huge collection of anecdotes, and some clever experiments. Recent Titles

I understand that behavior scientists can now publish words like empathy and joy when referring to animals. In MT’s day—in fact, even a short time ago—scientists would not be published if they used such words.

I suspect that what drove this unscientific verbal prejudice was our historical need to feel unique in creation. If animals did not have emotions, then we could feel superior and make cruel use of them more easily.

MT took another angle on the problem, stating that since cats were unconsciously loose, “The cat is innocent. Man is not.” He had no idea how conscious cats are. They know exactly what I’m about when I chase them away from our bird feeder. And I believe they know exactly what they are about. My childhood barnyard cat Oscar certainly did.

Oscar was so “loose,” he sired dozens of kittens, who came into the barn for the pan of milk Pa provided while milking Buttercup, our World War II Victory Farm cow. They came for the milk, I’m convinced, because Oscar showed them and their mothers where it was. He was a good family provider. He knew exactly what he was doing—proof positive of his consciousness. He just didn’t agree with MT’s condemnation of looseness.

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The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain 4—Do Humans Rank Lower Than Roosters In The Keeping Of Harems?

This is Mark Twain’s fourth Horrendous Condemnation 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.”

I can confirm MT’s observation that “...roosters keep harems, but it is by consent...” For eleven years, Peeper, the Hen House’s resident male, a gorgeous game cock raised as an only child by a devoted hen, wooed and won his harem with generous offerings of crickets and worms, even his treasured tidbits from the kitchen scrap bucket.

However, when MT states that men keep harems by “brute force,” I’m afraid he exaggerates. Sure, it has happened in our sad history, and we still have MT’s “atrocious laws” that don’t respect women’s rights, but not all men do this. I know many good men who respect and support their wives. I’m married to one. There are many who exercise amazing patience with domestic fal de rals that any self-respecting eunuch would not endure—the famous Honey-Dos.

At least human males don’t have to fight other males every spring for mating rights, as do many of our fine furry friends. Or do they? At least, I’d say humans come out close to the top in the courtship competition category.

The animal at the very top of the list in my opinion is the humble squid--the one who wins the female by imitating her skin coloration, hence fooling the competing males and snuggling in closer than other suitors. Is there a lesson there? Or an analogy I’m missing?

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The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--3. Are Humans the Only Animal With A Passion For Revenge?

Mark Twain’s Third Horrendous Condemnation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals is simply wrong. 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 ten-page article, Mark Twain (MT) lays out the evidence as he saw it at a terrible time of his life. Perhaps we should excuse him, but on this point I can’t agree. Personal experience has told me that revenge is not unique to the human animal.

Nowadays we know a lot more about animal behavior—both good and bad. Turns out, we’re all carved from the same DNA, and it shows. Read the work of Frans DeWaal and Colin Tudge.

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The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--2. Are Humans the Only "...avaricious and miserly" Animal?

This is Mark Twain’s second observation in his list of human faults, due to their unique “moral sense.” 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 states that when several animals were offered the chance to accumulate all the food they wanted “...none of them would do it.” Humans who become millionaires, however, “...show...a rabid hunger for more.

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Guest Blog from Mia Darien--Writing Suspense

There are a lot of thin lines you have to walk when writing. At least, if you ever plan for anyone to read what you write!

One of those things is between complexity and simplicity. When you're writing for adult audiences, you don't want stories that are so simple that it sounds like a children's novel, but you also don't want it so complex that you confuse and lose your readers.

It's even more important when you're writing thrillers, suspense stories, or mysteries. I consider my Adelheid series to be suspense, which means that you need an intense series of events, a mystery to the tale even if you're not writing it as a mystery and leaving clues for the reader to pick up on.

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Aging in the Hen House and Elsewhere

Gwen and Puddles in her maturity

What has the Hen house been telling me lately? Something about aging, I'm afraid. Should I blog about aging? In this culture? Maybe. But I'll do it anyway.

We're all aging, aren't we? Turkey's knees are thick with rough scales, and she has quit whining for her flock, content to hang out with the geese and chicken. Lucy is still a beautiful fat white goose, but she laid only a few eggs this year. Baby duck Puddles, now one year old, has sprouted lovely dark brown patches in her feathers. She is still laying one egg each day, more than her mother Khaki.

And the miniature Mallards, Kiebler and Ms. Ritz, can no longer fly all the way up to the stock tank for their morning swim. Even so, Ms. Ritz is sitting faithfully on several eggs I neglected to collect. I haven't the heart to take them away. Maybe they'll hatch. She's a good mom, but the Hen House is quite full enough. I don't know what I'm going to do.

What do I do if they don't hatch? She once sat for eight weeks on eggs that didn't make it while we were on travel. That's why I got her Meatball, a broiler, the only chick in the feedstore.

Back to aging. The dogs hips are arthritic, but they don't complain, like the rest of us. We're cutting back and looking for end-of-life options, so we don't leave a huge legacy for our children to cleanup. There are many different options for elder care. Most people wait too long, then move when they have to--when there's no time to make a comfortable choice. Here's a few links to start working on it. NACCRA or a 2010 overview

Our problem is that the Hen House birds could easily outlive us, and most Life Care campuses don't allow geese.

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Where Have All the Collies Gone—Hybrid Vigor Is In

Meatball at three weeks

How many people own or breed Collie dogs these days? You hardly ever see them on the street. Even shepherds like Boots, those wonderful, intelligent, sensitive ball-chasers, are more rare than they used to be. It’s all Labradors or a variety of short hair, middle sized dark-haired dogs—as if the flexible canine gene package has reverted to its wild mix.

Maybe more people are adopting shelter dogs, once roamers of the streets. That’s a good thing. It is probably good for the long-term survival of the species. Hybrid vigor may be working good things-though the specialties or unique beauties that result from inbreeding may be more interesting.

Too much in-breeding has led to a remark from a vet I know: “I can tell by the breed what disease to expect when they come in with an ailment.” That’s why people don’t marry cousins. Somehow, biologically, we know better--except for royal families who sometimes forgot that recessive genes can get together for ill effect.

By people of mixed racial heritage, there is a new recognition of hybrid vigor and the perks of being raised by two different cultures. It’s a rapidly growing population, exhibiting all the genetic advantages and getting together to share the experience. Biracial Meetup Groups

My first job was at a home for children of Asian-Caucasian mix. They were gorgeous, strong, healthy kids with a capacity for robust character and the healthy ability to apologize when called-for. I’ll never forget Jadine coming to me after I told her go to go to her room until she could stop screaming—her beautiful tan face turned up to me with wide, tear-filled eyes saying, “I’m sorry, Miss Almond.” I hope you’ve had the great life you deserve, Jadine.

In an earlier blog, I talked about chickens that have been bred for non-stop egg-laying, which seems to shorten their lives. They also suffer the horrors of selective breeding for fast growth (meat), which damages their ability to walk up hill on legs not designed to carry their weight. See my story about Meatball, the sweetheart rooster with the bass crow.(Week of April 19, 2013 Los Alamos Daily Post)

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