Monday, April 27, 2015

Human importance?

As we were watching the Ted Talk video in class today, I started to ponder over a few important questions. What important roles do humans play in nature? If humans did not exist would the planet still be able to survive?  This thought came into my head as Klein was talking about in the video that humans try to present the idea of killing off species that are "useless" such as crows. Well that got me thinking. If crows are considered useless then aren't humans useless as well? What important role do we actual play in nature? We as humans only degrade and pollute this earth anyways. So many animals provide humans support to live, and all we do as humans is make it difficult for species to be themselves and live as they were made to. One important example of an animal we often neglect is the bee. Bees provide us with honey and also pollinate flowers. Without them humans would probably have a difficult time surviving. We often kill bees in our homes or anywhere we think they do no belong simply because we are afraid of what they are capable of, or even sometimes because society has programmed us to believe that all insects are gross and useless. So the real question is why don't we find our real importance, and instead of being useless be useful to nature?


I work as a groundskeeper and deal with a variety of animals in a variety of different ways. One thing that always sat on my conscious was gophers (insert Caddyshack joke here). I, personally, have no problem with gophers. However outlined in my job description I am to "remove" gophers from any landscaped areas. So we poison them. We put little food pellets laced with coagulants (they thicken your blood) in their gopher holes. The poison kills them if they eat it for more than 3 days in a row. My guess is that it is slow and extremely painful, but I don't know. Up until the early 2000s, my job used a poison that would kill them much faster. One side effect of THAT poison was the the gophers would go crazy, run up out of their burrows and die out in the open. Hawks, eagles, and falcons would then eat the poisoned gopher and then die themselves. While I value the life of a hawk over the life of a gopher on an ecology scale, what gets me is this...That I make these little critters suffer greatly for good of another species. Is it that hawks are more ecologically important than gophers? They are important for pest control especially here in Santa Cruz. They also have a visual aesthetic that people (or at least me) associate with competency, fierceness and bravery. So is it another example of anthropomorphism? Sacrifice-the-lowly-gopher-digger-of-holes-for-the-noble-king-of-the-sky kinda thing?

One more thing. Part of my morning routine is checking the dumpsters to see if there are any raccoons trapped inside. Many would consider the raccoon as much of a pest as a my experience they are just as destructive to the garden as the gophers are...BUT NO ONE ASKS ME TO POISON THEM. It's inconsistent and it bothers me.


No judgments please I know I'm a gopher killer, no need to rub it in.

- Alex Verdoia

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Animals in children's literature

          In section we had briefly discussed the prevalence of animals as characters in children's books and what purpose they serve. Obviously children understand that animals cannot speak, yet having animals talk in a story is quite popular. In many fables such as the tortoise and the hare, animals are used to convey a particular moral or underlying truth. One reason why many authors use animals to relate to children is because children and animals are actually very much alike. They're both often curious, naive, and fascinated by the external world. However, it's also interesting to consider that animals can be anthropomorphized in powerful, personal, or painful stories, thus putting the reader at an emotional distance from the message the writer is conveying, since it is only an animal going through the experience.
          I found this article intriguing because the author describes how animals are used as devices in literature to act out and create scenarios that humans experience, thus making the message more identifiable to the reader. One quote from the text, and what I believe to be the author's thesis is: "The intellectual and emotional distance that the animals' role-playing allows children and their mentoring adults grants space in which to become reflective and critical concerning life problems and life choices." I agree with this idea because without simplifying issues of complex cultural significance, children would not be able to gain a firm grasp on many social and moral truths.

This is an article which I found that discusses the relationship humans have had with animals throughout history.  In Mackenzie Cooley's new exhibit located at Stanford university has a large collection of multiple books in order to show and make more people aware of our historical relationship to animals through rare books.
This exhibit is open now through the 22 of august and if anyone has a chance to go see it I think it would be very interesting and directly is connected to this class. It discusses the human races dependence on animals and the products we have created out of bodies of different animals.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The King and His Loyal Beast

This is a short clip that highlights and explains the Oxytocin hormonal link between the ever growing pet-owner relationship, especially involving dogs.  After finding and listening to this clip, I thought of a confounding question in connection with the short story "Bisclavret".
As we know, in the story "Bisclavret" the main protagonist reveals to his lover that he transforms into a werewolf.  Rather unexpectedly, she turns against Bisclavret and forces him to retreat into the forest as a wild beast. One day the King and his hunting party came across Bisclavret in his beastly form.

"He took hold of his stirrup and kissed his foot and his leg. The king saw him and was filled with dread. He summoned all his companions. 'Lords,' he said, 'come forward! See the marvelous way this beast humbles itself before me! It has the intelligence of a human and is pleading for mercy."( pg. 70)

I want to explore how this new research complicates the intricate meaning between sovereign owner and loyal pet? Has these findings changed or challenged the true fidelity of the parallel relationship between the King and Bisclavret? The clip explores how the increase in Oxytocin hormone levels correlates to bonding between Dog and owner. The research specifically highlights how these findings do not apply to wolves.  In the context of the story, partnered with the NPR clip, what do you think this implies about domestication? Was Bisclavret a true domesticated pet in the sense of how we define domestic today? If so, was he transformed through necessity of safety? What do you think the King`s statement about Bisclavret and his show of loyalty, reveal about the relationship between loyalty and intelligence?


          As we briefly discussed in section Wednesday morning, there are lawyers and scholars arguing for the freedom of animals and their writ of habeas corpus. This New York Times article discusses Leo and Hercules, two lab chimpanzees at Stony Brook University, who are in trial for getting their writ of habeas corpus. The chimpanzee’s defense team is the Nonhuman Rights Project. They are arguing that the chips are “legal persons” with the right to “bodily liberty”.  The article states that the university chose not to disclose the purpose for possessing the chimpanzees. Later on the article states that those against animal rights are against this trial and believe that “animals do not have legal rights any more than they have legal responsibilities”. Legal experts argue that habeas corpus should be available to test the capacity of nonhuman animals.

         After reading this article, I noticed some of the language is human centered. Certain arguments are concentrated on whether or not it benefits us as humans rather than benefitting the individual chimpanzee. After reading this article, do you think the argument for the freedom of Leo and Hercules is human centered, or is it in the best interest of the chimpanzees?

Crap Traps and a Grateful Whale?

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Hello all! I'd like to share a podcast, “Animal Minds” (Season 7, Episode 1) from WNYC’s Radiolab. If you have time to listen it’s a super interesting episode. If you do not have time I’ll give a brief rundown. There are a few stories in the podcast, all of them interesting. The one I am going to talk/ask about is the whale story beginning at around (4:00). A group of divers gets a call that a humpback whale is tangled in crab buoys and traps. On the scene they find fishing devices completely wrapped around the wale, dragging her down, inhibiting her mobility, and impairing her breathing. The divers work for hours, sawing away at the ropes, until they finally unbind the whale. She disappears for a moment, and then barrels back to the divers. As she approaches, one diver thinks she will ram into him, but instead she nudges the diver on the chest several times. She continues to each diver present, looking each in the eyes, letting the divers touch her, as she nudges them. The divers “leave the whale” as the whale does not want to leave them. The team thinks she came back to thank each diver, and even the boats!

What do you think is going on here? Is the whale saying thank you? Are we even able to tell what is going on with this individual? Is this an example of humans using a whale to elevate their sense of importance? Is it as Animal Psychologist Clive Wynne says: that attributing this reaction to the whale is demeaning her by saying that all animals in the world can only have human emotions? Or is it an instance of authentic connection between human and whale? For me, as a listener, I want there to be a communion between these creatures. I want it to be an instance of the removal of the barrier of language; so true trans-species communication can ensue. But I am inclined to agree with Wynne, what we “don’t speak whale” and cannot truly know what is happening in the whale's mind (also, is attributing a mind to the whale human-centric?).

If the whale is not saying thank you, maybe establishing a connection (even in human terms) can be a benevolent action in our dealings with other animals. Something not addressed in the podcast, but that is a striking part of the story, is the human implication in the whale’s entanglement. If we humans see our fishing activity as detrimental to whales, and if we see whales as having human-like emotions, we may be motivated to stop polluting the whale’s habitat. In this way I think something positive can come from this anthropomorphizing. That said I am sure there are arguments to the contrary! What do you think?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

We Unname Them

Really lovely sitting down and talking with all of you on Wednesday morning. I'm posting the thread I mentioned in our first section, following Ursula LeGuin's thought experiment in "She Unnames Them."

For the week let's see what happens if as we go about our individual Santa Cruz lives, every time we encounter a non-human animal (alive or dead) we unname them––or take away the "generic appellations 'poodle,' 'parrot,' 'dog,' or 'bird,' and all the Linnaean qualifiers that…[have] trailed behind them for two hundred years like tin cans tied to a tail." Jot down when possible what language you replace the name with and maybe some quick thoughts about how/if this changes your experience or encounter. Feel free to post some of these as they transpire and toward the end of the weekend it would be wonderful if some of us posted some reflections/impressions/ideas/feelings about the process.

Here we go….."[We can] not chatter away as…[we] used to do, taking it all for granted. [Our] words must be as slow, as new, as single, as tentative as the steps…[we] took going down the path away from the house [of human exceptionalism], between the dark-branched, tall dancers motionless against the winter shining."