Crows!

Here is an awesome short about crows wrecking shit:

Here are some internet things about crows:

Crows Understand Analogies

Stop Picking On Crows: Study Reveals the Birds Aren’t Evil Predators

Do Crows Hold Funerals for Their Dead?

6 Terrifying Ways Crows Are Way Smarter Than You Thinkl

Solitary Crow On Fence Post Portending Doom, Analysts Warn

Here are some books about crows:

Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans, By John Marzluff

Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds, by Bernd Heinrich (mostly about ravens, but there’s some crow talk)

Crows are great and I welcome any cool crow stories. Crow negativity will not be tolerated.

ETA: A few years back I was walking from the house to the garage when  something hit me on the head. It was a chunk of bread. The weird thing was, it felt like it came straight down – the house was on my immediate left (it seemed unlikely someone from that direction threw it on a high enough arc that had an endpoint at my position), and I couldn’t see anyone in my field of view to the right of me. Sure enough, I look up and there’s a crow looking down at me from a wire. Well played, I thought.

Muhammad gave cats their “m”

One of these days I will see “Nine Lives: Cats in Istanbul,” and cease to exist because I will melt into a pile of goo. Watching the trailer, I thought about cats and Islam. Turns out, it’s kind of a thing:

According to legend, Abu Hurairah’s cat saved Muhammad from a snake. In gratitude, Muhammad stroked the cat’s back and forehead, thus blessing all cats with the righting reflex. The stripes some cats have on their foreheads are believed to mark the touch of Muhammad’s fingers.

The “stripes” refer to the nearly ubiquitous “m” that many cats have on their foreheads. That story fucking rules. Other articles on the first page of a Google search for “cats and Islam” include: “The Sunnah and Blessings in Healing effects of Cats,” and “Deen islam -Secrets and Blessings of cats.”

Since Islam is the sworn enemy of the apocalypse yearning madmen currently running America, I thought it prudent to examine their chosen religion’s relationship to cats. If one googles “Christianity and Cats” not only is there not a Wikipedia page, but literally the first listing is titled “Ten reasons it’s okay for Christians to hate cats.” The other website titles are similarly shitty (another: “Are Cats For True Christians?”). Fucking weak. But then, what should I have expected from a religion whose incarnated deity forced a bunch of pigs to commit mass suicide?

In the interest of providing all sides to the story, I thought I’d see what good ol’ science has to say in terms of the “m.” Perhaps my googling skills are lagging, but I couldn’t find anything pertaining directly to it. As far as cat coat patterns:

The conclusion, then, is that the patterns of cat coats reflect, in large degree, selection for camouflage in their natural habitats. This camouflage almost certainly evolved to hide them from prey, and, in smaller cats, predators as well.

But no word on the “m.” The deafening silence forces me to conclude that, indeed, Muhammad gave cats their “m.”

 

IMG_0674

Carrie, Hester, and their “m’s”

IMG_0038

Patches doesn’t have an “m” but it wouldn’t be fair to not have a picture of her. Note that science also doesn’t have an explanation for mer-cats

 

Putting a tunnel through a tree is stupid

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/us/pioneer-cabin-tree-sequoia.html

Pioneer Cabin tree, a tree that was tunneled through in the name of tourism, recently fell. I found out on social media, and people really seemed to be bummed out about it. I had never heard of it, and didn’t even know tunneled trees were a thing. My first thought, when looking at a picture, was one of revulsion. My second thought was people are the fucking worst.

But is it really so bad, ethically-speaking? In Practical Ethics, Peter Singer argues that we don’t owe any special consideration to the interests of plants because they lack the capacity for sentience/consciousness, however one defines these terms. A human or nonhuman animal with adequate mental capacities has preferences, but the desire for tolerable conditions and the ability to do something about it is not thought to be present in plants:

Once we stop to reflect on the fact that plants are not conscious and cannot engage in any intentional behavior…it is clear that all this language is metaphorical; one might just as well say that a river is pursuing its own good and striving to reach the sea. [1]

Thus, the Pioneer Cabin tree was incapable of having an opinion as to whether or not its mutilation was good and, in terms of ethical consideration is little different than a stalactite.

That just strikes me as intuitively wrong. However, I’m mindful that one’s intuition, without good evidence to support it, is meaningless. Ideally I believe humans should give consideration to the interests of all life, and not just the section that comprises the animal kingdom [2]. Every living organism – sentient or nonsentient, conscious or nonconscious – is an entity comprised of molecules that resist entropy. An entity that continually incorporates, changes and discharges molecules, all in an ultimately futile attempt to rage against the dying of the light. A stalactite has no such internal chemistry that resists the inevitable, with no mechanisms to alter its surrounding physical conditions and maintain homeostasis. It’s that struggle that is sufficient for me to grant that all living entities have an interest in existing, whether an organism is sentient or nonsentient, conscious or nonconscious.

That certainlydoesn’t mean it’s never wrong to take a life, be it animal, plant, fungi, or bacteria. Generally speaking, it’s acceptable to eat plants and animals, regardless of their desires to continue existing. I also have no problem with, in a vacuum, purposefully or mistakenly killing plants and animals for agricultural purposes [3] or if they pose a health threat to oneself. Taking antibiotics to kill harmful bacteria is fine. A deer tick in my navel drinking my blood for 3 days that I inexplicably and foolishly didn’t notice? Fuck you, I’ll kill you. [4] Basically, one should have a good reason for killing or harming another living being.

Humans, ever willing to take on the mantle of God, frequently make decisions that mean life or death to countless organisms. This is from the smallest of scales – killing a spider in your bedroom – to the level of whole ecosystems. It would be nice if such alterations were divorced from anthropocentric desires that do not deal with our health or survival. Obviously, if the tree was left alone and people were unable to drive or walk through it, our health or survival would have been unaffected. So hollowing out a tree for tourism purposes is bad, as the National Park Service admits.

Even if it wasn’t the reason the tree fell, I don’t see how hollowing out a tree can be seen to, at best, have no detrimental effects to the tree itself. Perhaps, though, the experience people had with this tree caused a shift in general viewpoint in terms of the necessity of conservation. If so, I would argue that this is based on a grotesque display of human domination, and wonder how one could quantify any positive real-world consequences (as opposed to mere changes in one’s perspective).

All of this leads to the question of human assigned value: there is no intrinsic difference between a thousand year sequoia, and a ten day old garlic mustard plant. We assign value to the sequoia due to the sense of majesty we feel when we’re in its presence; knowledge of the significant role it plays in its ecological relationships; or, if you suck, the amount of money you can make off its wood. Garlic mustard, on the other hand, is non-native to North America, makes our lawns look like shit, and outcompetes native vegetation. These are human assigned values that are extrinsic to individual organisms – we love well manicured landscapes devoid of unsightly weeds and prefer more visually appealing native flora.

And yet, I feel no sense of grief as I pull individual garlic mustard plants out my yard. This means I’m a dick for doing so, because intrinsically a garlic mustard plant is no better or worse than any other plant in the vicinity. I make a value judgment, and my reasoning does not take into consideration the plant continuing to have the ability to do plant things (regardless of whether or not it can be said to have preferences). Basically, I’m a hypocrite if I prefer a yard that myself and other humans arbitrarily regard as “nice,” because that’s a pretty shitty reason to end a life. Oh well. But fuck putting tunnels in trees.


[1] Practical Ethics, p. 249. The Oxford Dictionary website defines intentional as “Done on purpose.” Left unstated is whether or not doing something on purpose requires a conscious component, though it’s probably implied. David Chamovitz, author of What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, states that while he doesn’t grant plants the ability to think, they “exhibit elements of anoetic consciousness [“the rudimentary state of affective, homeostatic, and sensory-perceptual mental experiences”].” This, coupled with the pretty amazing things plants can do is, to me, enough to differentiate them from a river flowing to its mouth.

[2] Not viruses, which aren’t technically alive. Viruses can fuck right off

[3] Outside of this vacuum, factory farming is cruel and abhorrent.

[4] The thought of getting Lyme Disease again is terrifying.

 

Make humanity great again

I’ve long been uncomfortable with the high level of arrogance inherent in Western Civilization. Through the ages, humans have been inexorably downgraded in terms of cosmic importance, but it’s done little to stem our collective hubris. Every religion that’s ever existed provides no empirical reasons to believe in any of their metaphysical tenets, many of which place humans above the rest of Creation. Divorced from a providential sense of importance we are only special from a global perspective due to our canny abilities to take massive quantities of raw materials and turn them into massive amounts of manufactured eventual garbage, as well as the creation of technology that is capable of destroying tremendous amounts of human and nonhuman life.

This is admittedly a bleak and pessimistic overview. I would be remiss if I didn’t note that some of the “manufactured eventual garbage” has enabled us to, among other things, transport our bodies at fast speeds to faraway places; systematically investigate and understand the cosmos at the largest and smallest scales; share, store and transmit vast amounts of information; diagnose and treat diseases; and travel beyond our planetary confines. Not to mention other fun and awesome things like literature, music, the arts, and skateboards. More seriously, some of us have developed empathy and compassion for unrelated humans, and perhaps more notably nonhuman animals, which I think is one of our more admirable traits. [1] Unfortunately, empathy and compassion are often reactions to monstrosities perpetrated by other humans. On the whole, any and all positive characteristics need to be considered in light of our 8-12,000 year onslaught against each other and the rest of the biosphere.

We are destroying ecosystems and extirpating entire species and only recently beginning to grasp the true extent. [2] The only other biological comparison on par with our illustrious death march is Proterozoic oceanic cyanobacteria, which produced enough oxygen to wipe out much of earth’s anaerobic biota eons ago. The obvious difference is we are aware, though, I’m not sure that’s an entirely accurate way to phrase it. One can’t be certain to what extent the individual humans (not to mention humans in charge of other humans) participating in direct and indirect ecosystem disruptions are aware of the harm they are doing spatiotemporally. Did a Canadian fisherman trawling in the North Atlantic in the 1950’s necessarily know they were destroying the local cod population? Did a mining company CEO in the 1990’s know on some level the devastation that mountaintop removals cause, the cessation of which would hurt their company’s bottom line? Did they just not care?

Certainly there is a large difference between a working class fisherman in an industrialized nation and a CEO of a transnational mining company. The former does such work as part of their livelihood and likely noticed diminishing returns but still continued fishing, with the hope that the cod would return. The latter is, in my mind, more grotesque with regards to power and responsibility. They largely don’t give a shit, their transparently disingenuous corporate website environmental propaganda sections notwithstanding. The point is, in an age where information is widely available some of these individuals must know or have been made aware of the idea that their actions in some capacity have negative impacts. Those negative impacts aside, it’s patently obvious that extractive industries will eventually run out of things to extract in a discrete area, which necessitates the movement to a new area, be it fish or coal. On a finite planet with finite resources, eventually we’ll run out nonrenewable resources and are largely reliant on the ecological resilience of harvested wild animal and plant communities (not to mention the vagaries of agricultural systems and its associated environmental factors). [3]

Overall, those who derive the most profit off of organic life and abiotic phenomena care about the aforementioned in terms of how to best utilize it for their own narrow-minded ends. [4] We are a culture that richly rewards this type of behavior. If the Bramble cay melomys in Australasia goes extinct due to ecosystem mismanagement so fucking what? If there’s no monetary or utilitarian value for humanity, or something we don’t find to be cute or iconic, the vast majority of people won’t give it a passing thought in the unlikely event they are even made aware of it. This is summed up well by Paul Kingsnorth:

Today’s environmentalism is as much a victim of the contemporary cult of utility as every other aspect of our lives, from science to education. We are not environmentalists now because we have an emotional reaction to the wild world. Most of us wouldn’t even know where to find it. We are environmentalists now in order to promote something called “sustainability.” What does this curious, plastic word mean? It does not mean defending the nonhuman world from the ever-expanding empire of Homo sapiens sapiens [Latin: ‘wise man’], though some of its adherents like to pretend it does, even to themselves. It means sustaining human civilization at the comfort level that the world’s rich people — us — feel is their right, without destroying the ‘natural capital’ or the ‘resource base’ that is needed to do so.

“It is, in other words, an entirely human-centered piece of politicking, disguised as concern for ‘the planet.’ In a very short time — just over a decade — this worldview has become all-pervasive. It is voiced by the president of the USA and the president of Anglo-Dutch Shell and many people in between. The success of environmentalism has been total — at the price of its soul.”

Anthropogenic climate change has finally been accepted on a large-scale, resulting in paltry global attempts at mitigating its effects. However, despite this newfound acceptance we have yet to collectively take meaningful actions to lessen our consumptive lifestyles. Fossil fuel extractions continue apace with no end in sight. The prospect of the imminent accessibility of the Arctic’s seabed has wealthy, powerful humans falling all over themselves for the privilege of plundering, environmental concerns be damned. There doesn’t appear to be much standing between them and their greed.

I often wonder how such blatantly harmful actions can be curtailed. As long as there’s money to be made, nonexistent or hard to enforce laws, and a dearth of options for a percentage of the world’s population to survive in a global economy, it’s hard to see things improving [5]. This is not to entirely disparage incremental progress, but in terms of environmental destruction and ongoing human caused extinctions, it’s fair to ponder the futility of conventional environmentalist tactics in the face of continuing and irreversible damage. [6]

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t express a sense of admiration of those fighting the good fight against the ongoing assault against nature, even if their methods haven’t had a lot of success historically. However, the power disparities appear insurmountable. No one, for the most part, is getting rich off of doing the dirty work of fighting the dominant culture, and many are content to blog, retweet and argue online as part of their armchair activism (like me!). It’s easy and requires little time, little effort and little danger to oneself. I am certainly not exempt from this criticism. On the other hand, there is a mass of humanity that couldn’t care less – they can be seen in shopping malls, on TV, in sports arenas, and soon, at rallies for the U.S.’s president-elect.

*****

Many nature/environmental/conservation writers spend the bulk of their writing describing the enormous problems we face and shoehorn a few reasons for hope into the conclusion. It’s hard not to perceive this as blatant wishful thinking, often in the form of “if we do x, y and z, with those variables being improbable pipe dreams, then maybe things won’t be so fucked up.” [7] The only solution my dumb brain can comprehend is a totalitarian world government that violently controls the world’s resources and severely punishes any opposition in the name of sustainability. In other words, we need to be stopped at gunpoint. Such a government would be highly repressive, and regardless of ideology breed a class of elites dominating the rest of society. This would obviously be a nightmare scenario. But as utterly ineffective as the UN is at preventing atrocities and the manifold failures of US hegemony, it’s hard to see the New World Order prophesied by conspiracy theorists coming to pass anytime soon. Perhaps, though, localized authoritarian regimes will materialize, as the depletion of nonrenewable resources continues. Or, I could be very wrong about all of this. I’m wrong a lot.

I think the hope that most have is for Science to generate magical solutions to wean us off fossil fuels while allowing the maintenance or slight decrease of our hyper-consumptive lifestyles (and just maybe, in the spirit of egalitarianism, allowing for the developing world to attain the Western standard of living). It would also be nice to develop technology to better recycle discarded metals and minerals. These solutions should be clean, cheap, safe, renewable and widely available to all. If Science isn’t able to do that, and if humans aren’t willing to stop destroying the environment, it’s hard for me to be optimistic about what the future brings.

Only by overcoming the severe and near innumerable issues we face environmentally, not to mention our vast array social problems, would conceivably make humanity great in my eyes. That is the essence of this overlong essay: we aren’t great, and we never really were [8]. I’d also add that during or after we tackle the aforementioned problems, we should maximize the possibility we can predict and survive cataclysmic events relatively unscathed. [9] Designing the means for enduring a gamma ray blast, impact event, or supervolcano eruption would be pretty damn impressive. We’d finally earn the translation from the Latin of our species name that we so humbly bestowed on ourselves. It’s too bad that, if any of it ever comes to pass, I’ll probably be long dead and unable to let my fellow humans know my very important opinions on the matter.

Like the environmental writers referenced above, I too will attempt to end on a positive note. It’s an appropriate encapsulation of how I mentally confront the enormity of what we face. From Derrick Jensen, who is admittedly a douche:

I am a complex enough being that I can hold in my heart the understanding that we are really, really fucked, and at the same time that life is really, really good. I am full of rage, sorrow, joy, love, hate, despair, happiness, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and a thousand other feelings. We are really fucked. Life is still really good.” [10]


[1] It’s worth noting that we do not have a monopoly on empathetic and altruistic behavior. For example, humpback whales have been observed rescuing seals from killer whales, thought the degree of intentionality is uncertain. For more: Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce.

[2] Not that anyone is unaware of this sentiment, but the most illuminating book I’ve read on this from a historical perspective is A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations by Clive Ponting.

[3] The following article on our dwindling resources is behind a paywall at Scientific American but here is a link to that issue as a pdf, pg. 56-63: http://elibrary.bsu.az/jurnallar/Scientific%20American_201009.pdf.

[4] I’m referring more to large corporations, and not the global poor and working class, as the latter groups harm the environment in order to obtain the bare necessities of life. A stark account of how this struggle is manifested can be seen in a recent article in Roads and Kingdoms that describes contemporary fishing villages in South Asia.

[5] And note I wrote the bulk of this BEFORE Trump won the election.

[6] It feels shitty writing things like that. Just to pick one example, there are good, courageous people fighting against DAPL. I really hope they win, but I’m skeptical. Oil and gas companies rarely lose. And even under the Obama administration, the state is decidedly on their side, as it always has been. At best, the pipeline will be moved from Native lands, but it’s still, in all likelihood, getting built.

[7] A brief example from the excellent Song for the Blue Ocean by Carl Safina:

So to embrace a sea ethic we need not idealize or distort the ocean’s creatures. Indeed, up to now our view of the sea’s living inhabitants can hardly be more distorted. Instead, we have the opportunity to see them fully for the first time, as wild animals in their habitats, confronted with needs and dangers, equipped by evolution with the capacity and drive to manage and adapt and survive.

“Such a perspective frees the mind and opens door: to a lifetime of boundless inquiry, to a wealth of enriching insights and reflections, to the chance to be more fully human, to manage and adapt and survive.”

This was after 400 or so pages of some pretty depressing shit. It’s a nice sentiment but frustratingly abstract, though concrete solutions and techniques were dotted throughout the text. That book was written in 1998. Here’s a quote Safina gave to National Geographic this past summer:

Over my lifetime I’ve seen big changes; far fewer fish and terribly deteriorated coral reefs worldwide. More mercury in seafood.”

I should point out that the article does highlight success stories, but the referenced quote speaks volumes, as does another recent article of his with the optimistic title of “As salmon dwindle, whales die.” His comments would obviously be far different if his research and activism resulted in evidence that things have gotten better in the two decades since the publication of the book.

[8] Unless one counts our pre-civilized hunter-gatherer ancestors, whose existence encompassed around 90-99% of our time as a species, and didn’t trash the planet.

[9] It’s possible we’ve already done it once

[10] Endgame, Volume 1:The Problem of Civilization

Check out this nice fox!

I am the type of person that watches animal videos and immediately melts into a pile of goo. I wasn’t sure if that sort of thing was frowned upon in this corner of the interwebs. But yesterday Caine posted a great video about an elephant with a prosthetic leg, and it has emboldened me.

In these shitty times, I propose that nice animal videos are good.

Via The Dodo:

 

I could probably post something like this every day, but I won’t! Once a week perhaps?