Category Archives: Contemporary

Exotic Rage

Peacocks inspire in me an uncharacteristic callousness. It’s their growing ubiquity, their casual destructiveness, and the mere fact that they are of the avian persuasion.

I am not a bird person. Modern dinosaurs, especially larger ones, make me uneasy. Although if I’m honest, the frantic sound of a hummingbird speeding past my ear inspires a similar terror. That Daphne du Maurier story had an impact, just as the goose that bit me when I was a toddler did: birds, if they organized around a shared realization, could wipe. Us. Out. Just think about all their pointy bits! And, get this: they can fly.

But back to peacocks. Many Americans might consider these Indian natives to be gorgeous, and sighting them a rare treat. These same people would consider me lucky to live in an area that boasts so many “wild” ones. Step out the door on any given morning and you’re likely as not to encounter a flock, milling about the streets or snacking on lawn bugs…or people’s gardens.

Not being florally inclined, it’s more their shit that gets to me, as it gets to everywhere. Plops of excrement litter the porch, the lawn, the driveway, the street, our shoes. Outdoor furniture becomes unusable.

And their numbers are only growing. A city ordinance makes it illegal to render these birds road kill. They squawk at all hours and reproduce with impunity. When you hear stomping on the roof, guess who?

peacock

Evil Incarnate

My parents were visiting a few months ago with their dog, and one day they let him chase a male bird off the lawn. The sound of terror that enormous bird made as he took flight, barely escaping the dog’s eager jaws, filled me with a surprising amount of glee. Surprising because I’m more of a “live and let live” type when it comes to fellow creatures.

Not so peafowl. (Nor ants that deign to enter the house and make a meal of my leftover naan–a related story for another day.) Peafowl’s creeping invasion of the neighborhood–the entire geographic region, really–and their entitled attitude has turned this vegetarian animal rights proponent into an urban hunting advocate. I wrote two theses on animal-human relationships, and will always argue for the inclusion of other species in any cultural relativist ideological framework. But when it comes to coexisting with peacocks, Let’s cull the fuckers, I think more often than I’m comfortable with.

I suppose this means I’m only human, and not immune to our culture’s propensity to draw stark lines between ourselves and other animals. How long until these iridescent dinosaurs’ protected status allows them to completely take over?

It’s us or them.

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Filed under Animals, Contemporary, Why Can't I Eat My Dog?

Wait! Before we eat…

Amateur food photography is nothing new. What else can be said about the now mundane practice of pausing before a meal to document it so the image can be shared and admired? Perhaps nothing, but I’m going to share the following experience, anyway.

About a month ago, I treated myself to a day at the Huntington Library. After wandering the gardens and visiting the Reformation exhibit, I decided to have some lunch in their upscale cafeteria. I took my tray outside to what I’ll call the veranda, because I like that word, and sat happily alone amidst people of various ages. That day there was a high school group visiting, probably a private school judging by their uniforms. The girls wore sweaters and skirts. (What’s with private school uniforms and skirts? Beyond the scope of this post…)

So there I sat, eating a passably tasty veggie wrap and enjoying the fresh air and the murmured conversation that filled it, when into my field of vision walked a trio of private school students with their own lunch trays. They selected a table at the edge of the veranda that overlooked the gardens, set down their trays, and sat. But as soon as they had done so they were standing again, each of them taking a step or two backward with their smartphones held aloft, attempting to properly frame their respective meals. After taking satisfactory pictures, they sat and proceeded to eat.

I took out my notebook and made a sketch of the scene, along with a few notes:

Huntington lunch man 2018

Daily documentation — visual — as cultural practice. The three girls photographed their curated collections of comestibles, making the quotidian significant, adding a layer of ritual (visual documentation) to another type of ritual (meal sharing), which will in turn be ritually disseminated on social media (sharing of the visual documentation of meal sharing — nay, meal plating).

Or does the ubiquity of such a practice mean that the quotidian is just that, and layering these rituals temporally is no longer in itself significant? When so many snap pictures of their food to share them in the pursuit of technologically mediated attention, is that not simply a mundane cultural practice?

No less meaningful, but meaningful in a proscribed, ritualized way.

I suppose I mean to say that it’s no longer art.

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Filed under Art of all Kinds, Contemporary, Technology

Positivism, History, and Optimism: NPR’s 13.7 on the Endurance of Scientific Knowledge

“Religious repression and wars pass, but scientific knowledge remains.”

So goes theoretical physicist Marcelo Gleiser’s argument in a recent opinion piece on NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos & Culture blog. To which I thought:

Not necessarily.

Knowledge can be suppressed, corrupted, or simply lost. In one of the latter (lesser?) books of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, a character describes the problem of chronicling millennia of human history. In short, you can’t preserve everything. Choices are always made. Topics fall out of vogue. Those in power can produce countering knowledge, or bury unfavorable information. Even the most meticulous archivists, following the most stringent of professional standards, are guided by prevailing cultural assumptions about what is worth saving.

Later in the blog post, Gleiser writes:

“Kepler witnessed the state collapsing around him, and felt helpless. He couldn’t pick up a sword to fight, for he was a hero of ideas and not of bloody battles. Instead, he looked up. And so did Galileo. And what they saw, and their diligence in pursuing the truth, changed the world forever.”

How can one make such an eternal claim? For someone who lauds the scientific method and the “objective” power of observation so heartily, this is quite the leap of faith.

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Filed under Contemporary, Historical, Media, Power

So we retreat

into familiar narratives
ways of seeing
being
thinking
to the company of those who share our values

We’re all so busy drinking our own Kool-Aid
Few attempt mixing all the fountain sodas together anymore

We fear the unexpected flavor

 

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Filed under Contemporary

Pets as Conduits to Health?

As I made my way to one of my regular dog-walking clients yesterday, I caught a story on the radio about a new study out of the Rand Corporation. Contrary to what the authors call “a widely held belief that children’s general and psychological health benefits from owning and/or interacting with pets,” there was no statistically significant difference between the health of children who lived with pet animals and those who lived solely with other humans.

Let’s side-step an interrogation of the study’s assumption that children’s health is a major reason adults adopt cats and dogs. We all have assumptions about the motivations of other people in our culture. For example, my assumption has long been that some parents and guardians see pets as a way to teach their children responsibility, aside from perhaps enjoying the company of companion animals themselves or wishing to reproduce the conditions of their own childhoods for their offspring. I cannot access the full study to see whether the authors cite any sources that back up their particular assumption. A quick glance at the references section indicates both an explosion of scholarship on pet-human relationships and that the authors likely have research to back up the assumption stated above.

Back when I spent a lot of time researching U.S. pet-keeping practices, I don’t recall reading or asking my informants about the reasons they chose to bring pet animals into their homes. This not only seems like a significant oversight on my part, but an intriguing line of research to pursue in the future. At the very least, I’m considering subscribing to Anthrozoös.

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Filed under Animals, Childhood, Contemporary