Friday, June 26, 2009

The Naming of Raccoons

Dear T.S. Eliot,

You have pointed out clearly in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, the inherent difficulty you've found in the naming of cats:

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES. . .

When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
Well, the same is definitely true of raccoons. Their names are both important and not always easy to come by.

But I'd like to introduce you to this little guy whose name is Stripes. It is a name quite right for him. When he first came to us, he seemed a little worn out, but with food and a bit of care, he is doing quite well, though his tail is a fright!

Even our cat, Bernice, to be exact and named, incidentally, after my great aunt, Bernice Johnson, who pronounced her name burn-iss with a good hiss sound, likes Stripes in her own catty way.



Monday, June 22, 2009

Beowulf and the Card Catalog

Dear Edgar Allan Poe,

I wanted to talk with you about the bust of Pallas. You and your Ravenian protagonist were men of books. He had, once upon a midnight dreary, while he pondered, weak and weary over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, vainly sought to borrow from his books surcease of sorrow -- sorrow for the lost Lenore who, unfortunately, remains currently nameless.

But, sore as we all may be for our friend's sorrow, I just want to talk about the bust, the one of Pallas above the chamber door. I am trying to track down a factoid about busts and books. Now you, Poe, said, in the voice of our sad friend,

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door
--Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door--
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore--
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore.

Now the fact of the matter is that I am not studying your work right now, but it was playing in my head as I have been studying (and a long overdue study it is) the work of that great author Anonymous and the much ado-ed Beowulf. In the course of this study I stumbled upon J.R.R. Tolkien, for heavens sake, and not in Hobbiton for once. He, apparently was renowned for his knowledge of Beowulf. Well it certainly makes sense, when you think of all the gum stretching names he uses throughout his fantasies. Eomer, Hama, Helmings, are found in both pieces of literature, and even Beorn from the Ring trilogy is reminicent of the hero Beowulf himself. I think though, that it is the tone of the books that call to mind the sounds and poetry of Beowulf. But I digress.

I have tried, formerly, to wade my way through the Haethains, Hrethels, and Herebealds of Old English, and only concluded that the language was a Grendl whose lair was one I could not enter. It felt too much like hand to hand combat. So I have been surprised that now I am a fan, not of Beowulf as Nordic Superhero, but of Beowulf as Aged Contemplative.

Perhaps the only thing I knew of the Beowulf story was:

  1. It was one of the first pieces of true English literature.

  2. Beowulf fights and kills the monster Grendl (which, some say, is the template for the orcs of Tolkieniana)

  3. Grendl had a lair.
Come to find out, there is much more of poetry to this than epic and it contains fascinating contemplations about the values of life and the pain of episodes in life that are beyond our control.

I'm meaning to write a letter to J.R.R. about these things, but first I wanted to find out something from you about library cataloguing. Were you thinking of a room, in the Raven, as one with busts on top of every shelf? Did the gentleman in your poem enter the room and say, "I believe I'll read Sir Galwain, that would be 'Nero A.x.' Go to the bust of Nero, top shelf (denoted by A) and then the tenth book? According to a little book I'm reading about Beowulf, Robert Cotton, who preserved the original Beowulf manuscript organized his bookshelves that way and I thought that perhaps you did too, at least in your imaginings.

How beautiful it would be to enter a classic library and find one's books in such an artful way. Supposedly the great Beowulf manuscript is still kept in the British Library under the bust of Vitellius. My guess is that the public doesn't have free access. Ah to wander a library, unfettered, and see these amazing things. Wouldn't that be terrific? We do have great digital access, and I should be satisfied with that I suppose, but I would love to see the analog version. But, to quote the raven, "Nevermore."


Sunday, June 14, 2009

A review of "Animals Make us Human", or why I was crying over chickens

To whom it may concern: (and if you eat meat this concerns you...)

Have you ever been in your kitchen staring down at a big red blob thinking about how, once cooked, this substance will be so juicy and delicious? And then, have you ever turned your mind to see this red blob as a working muscle under a leathery and furry layer of skin. Suddenly you see the animal that this muscle came from walking before your eyes? I have. Many, many times, in fact. It always makes me sad, although I see the necessity of eating meat. I mean, it is a totally natural thing, and it part of the order of the world. But I am aware of the fact that what I buy at Kroger's meat department is not the same to me as that living creature. The two have been separated. I would certainly eat differently if I myself had to take that cow from creature in a field to red slab on my kitchen counter. But that ugly world of slaughter is closed to me.

Or it was. You see, in my mind when I think of the cow my meat came from, I naturally think of the cows I know. That is, cows like Junior or Sad Sack. They are two bulls that have passed through the lives of our farmer friends. Junior was a sickly calf who was bottle fed until very fat and strong. In fact, he would have retired as a spoiled pet were it not for the hay shortage that hit our area in the last few years. He had to be sold, but he certainly enjoyed his life while it lasted. Sad Sack was a bull purchased after times got better. I don't know if he still lives on the farm, but he was put out to pasture on green fertile fields with trees and water and plenty of land and girl cows.

So the life of a cow like these cows doesn't seem so bad, even if it may be shortened at the slaughter house. But Temple Grandin's book, Animals Make Us Human, made me rethink all that. Dr. Grandin is a renowned author and researcher in the area of animal welfare and the meat industry. You would think that these topics are mutually exclusive, but for her they are not. They go hand in hand, exemplifying the symbiotic relationship we have with animals. Oh yeah, and she has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.

So thanks to pressure from so called extremists, McDonalds called Dr. Grandin to do audits of the beef plants that they buy from. She went in and found appalling conditions. Her goal became finding ways, through technologies and better handling practices, to give cows better lives and calm deaths. She is not a vegetarian, and she realizes the need for slaughter plants. And in nature, life would be much worse for the cows. In fact, if we did not eat cows, most of the cows living today would not be here. So she helped McDonalds make changes in those plants. These changes benefit both sides, leading to better meat and less loss through injury; and they give cows a better life.

The book is wonderful and I could not even begin to summarize all the points here, so I will skip to crying over chickens. Dr. Grandin was describing the method by which chickens are killed. First though, they are fattened up so much that they can barely walk...legs break and the animals can easily get damaged. The male birds are also bred to have such huge breasts that they can barely mate. (Some say that may happen to American women one of these days...) And then when they are killed they are hung upside down, their brains are put into water that is electrified, and that pretty much knocks them out. Then their throats are cut. This is fairly humane when it works right, but sometimes the birds are injured when being hung by their feet, or are not totally knocked out. Then they experience pain upon death.

It doesn't matter how low a creature is on the food chain or how small a creature's brain, the animals in human's care should not be allowed to die in pain if we can help it. Especially when it is totally preventable.

There are various parts to the meat processing problem. Technology and logistics is one side of it, but the other is the massive increase in consumption over the past 30 years. Other, more mainstream outlets are also starting to notice our meat consumption problem. The NY times reported on this issue. Here is a quote from the article:

"Global demand for meat has multiplied in recent years, encouraged by growing affluence and nourished by the proliferation of huge, confined animal feeding operations. These assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests...Americans eat about the same amount of meat as we have for some time, about eight ounces a day, roughly twice the global average. At about 5 percent of the world’s population, we “process” (that is, grow and kill) nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world’s total. "

It amazes me when I think of the consumption of animals this way. Not only are we American obese and killing ourselves with fatty meat and food fried in animal fat, we are also killing more than our fair share of animals. We are using up more than our fair share of grain to feed those cows, while others in other countries starve. We are raping and pillaging our world for the sake of our stomachs.

I am really not a "greenie", even in saying all of this. But I do have a heart. It is not wrong to eat meat, but when we abuse animals so that we can have our fill, or more than our fill, we lose touch with the value of what we are eating.

My in-laws come from India, a very different place. They learned about not wasting food there. When we eat with them, my mother-in-law takes all the bony pieces of meat because she knows that if I get one of those pieces, I will eat my way around the bones, fat and tendons and only eat a few sweet spots of meat. She on the other hand will clean the bone wasting nothing. In the Kalahari the bush man thanks his prey before killing it, explaining his needs and thanking the animal for its sacrifice. We Americans throw food away like it is going out of style.

So what can we do? Here is my challenge, because one or two extremely self-controlled people becoming vegans is not going to make a huge difference, so I am not advocating that. We all must make small changes in order to get bigger changes to happen. So first, I want to say, thank you for thinking about this issue. Second, think about this issue every time you buy meat in the grocery store. Labels are for marketing, but we all need to make efforts to identify brands that treat their animals more humanely and who are following better animal handling guidelines. And the more local you buy, the better, as far as that goes. Third, let's all eat a little less meat. If you eat meat every day twice a day, cut it back to once. Or every other day. I am personally going to strive for 2-3 times per week. I think I can handle that.

I would love to know what you think about this issue and what you might try in order to make a difference.

Your friend, who just wishes she could change the world,
CaDh 8

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Survey: What do You Think about Twitter?

Survey: What do You Think about Twitter?

In an Mother Jones interview with linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, a professor of linguistics at the University of California-Berkeley is asked if Twitter will "dumb-down" our sentences. He answered:
It's just silly to imagine that this form of communication could have any effect on language. The English sentence has done very well for itself over the last thousand years or so, and it's not about to autodestruct because kids have suddenly started to text message each other rather than passing notes under their desk. In fact, what we're taught in school—the gospel according to Strunk and White—is to be concise. What imposes more constraints of conciseness than Twitter? So in that sense, Twitter could be the greatest thing that's happened to English since print.

What do you think?