Feminist

A type of human animal which developed in the 19th century that has since become nearly extinct. Although generally of the female gender, a feminist can be male, the latter is almost rarer than the former. Feminists can be found today in small numbers in America, mostly in San Francisco and New York. Most feminists have been driven into closed communities since the rise of anti-feminism in the 1990s. Today feminism is a virtual anathema comparable to the worst vices of civil society like child molestation and serial murder. The peak of feminism occurred between 1960-1980, a period concurrent with high education rates and general historical acuity in America. The decline of feminism is concomitant with the general intellectual malaise that has contaminated America since 1980 and is at its zenith today. The decline in feminism is also paralleled by a rise in engagement ring sales, online dating sites, and teen pregnancies and subsequent marriages. A feminist today is usually referred to as a “bitch” or “cunt” or simply “baby killer.” Social scientists have predicted the complete extinction of feminists anywhere from 2020 to 2040. Above are archive photographs of feminists.

Chimera: A Cure?

Such an animal hybrid as the Chimera used to exist only in mythology. The earliest surviving literary reference of this monstrous creature comes from Homer’s Iliad, wherein he describes: "a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire." Once confined to the pages of poets, the chimera now lives in the labs of scientists. In an effort to find cures for monstrous diseases, reproductive and cell biologists alike have turned to gene-editing farm animals, such as pigs, as a way of growing human organs needed for transplants. As a result, we hear the mutterings of new myths—these chimeric pigs could give birth to part-human, part-pig creatures. From this, one of many very important questions emerges: is this practice damaging or expanding our sense of what it means to be human?

The Albatross

Engraving by Gustave Doré for an 1876 edition of the poem. "The Albatross," depicts 17 sailors facing an albatross on the deck of a wooden ship. Icicles hang from the rigging.

Engraving by Gustave Doré for an 1876 edition of the poem. "The Albatross," depicts 17 sailors facing an albatross on the deck of a wooden ship. Icicles hang from the rigging.

Since Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” having an albatross around one’s neck has meant to be carrying a burden, but, like so many metaphors, the truth of the matter is much more complex. The issue is the agency of humans in relation to fate and fortune. The albatross, with a wing span of 6 feet, glides behind boats and was generally considered an omen of good luck by sailors. In Coleridge’s poem, the mariner’s ship is driven off course and is lead out of icy waters by an albatross. Nonetheless, the mariner shoots the albatross. The crew, believing the albatross had summoned the wind that rescued the ship, see the killing as a great crime against the supernatural spirits that rule the sea. Subsequent travails at sea confirm the crew’s beliefs and the mariner is blamed for their sufferings. Thus, the mariner carried an albatross around his neck.

Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks
Had I from old and young !
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

Mick Dodge

Mick Dodge is a human who has lived, at least the past 25 years, in the wilderness, in the wild, like an animal. Mick lives in the great Northwest, specifically the rain forest around the Olympic mountain range of Washington state. Mick is the subject of National Geographic Channel’s The Legend of Mick Dodge. His apprentice is Will of Stone, a much younger man-animal. Mick and Will do not wear shoes and forage and hunt and live a life on the other side of the human industrial revolution. What is interesting, if you fish about on that arbiter of truth (sic), the internet, you shall find all manner of human authenticity police debunking the truthfulness of Mick’s way of life. Humans get to decide what a natural human animal is and how and what are the parameters of wilderness living. The irony is so human, all-too-human. Mick Dodge is on TV. TV is not 100% real; nothing is. We could wager that Mick Dodge is more animal than any of the authenticity trolls that are obsessed about the reality of reality.

Rat Kings & Lab Rats

The term “rat king” might conjure up images from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet, where the Nutcracker Prince battles the evil Rat King and his army of mice. However, the term refers to a group of rats whose tails have become entangled such that one rat might be forced to sit atop the others. Rouet de rats, the early French term for this phenomenon that later evolved into roi de rats, suggests a spinning wheel of rats, the knotted tails looking like spokes. While rats historically were considered bad omens, given their associations with diseases and plague, today’s medical and psychological advancements would be nothing without them. For almost 200 years, the Norwegian brown rat, Rattus norvegicus, has been one of the most commonly used animal models in scientific experimentation because it is easy to keep and breed in captivity, and it reaches sexual maturity quite rapidly. During the last twenty years, mice have become the research tool of choice, but mice and rats make up 95% of the animals used in scientific experimentation. True, the lab rats of today have been bred specifically for scientific research purposes, yet the potential consequences of such research are always something to consider.

Children of the early 1980s might remember the rats of NIMH, who possessed heightened intelligence as a result of scientific experimentation.

The Wolf of Gubbio

One of the most famous episodes in the Fioretti di San Francesco is the story of the ferocious wolf that terrified the town of Gubbio in Umbria in the 13th century. The story illustrates the unprecedented value that St. Francis gave to animals as part of God’s great chain of being. Typical of The Little Flowers, we have St. Francis discoursing with an animal and bequeathing animals the status of God’s creatures. The tale was depicted many times in Renaissance art and in later periods. This is the story from chapter 21 of The Little Flowers of St. Francis:
 
At the time when St. Francis was living in the city of Gubbio, a large wolf appeared in the neighborhood, so terrible and so fierce, that he not only devoured other animals, but made a prey of men also; and since he often approached the town, all the people were in great alarm, and used to go about armed, as if going to battle. Notwithstanding these precautions, if any of the inhabitants ever met him alone, he was sure to be devoured, as all defense was useless: and, through fear of the wolf, they dared not go beyond the city walls.

St. Francis, feeling great compassion for the people of Gubbio, resolved to go and meet the wolf, though all advised him not to do so. Making the sign of the holy cross, and putting all his confidence in God, he went forth from the city, taking his brethren with him; but these fearing to go any further, St. Francis bent his steps alone toward the spot where the wolf was known to be, while many people followed at a distance, and witnessed the miracle.

The wolf, seeing all this multitude, ran towards St. Francis with his jaws wide open. As he approached, the saint, making the sign of the cross, cried out: “Come hither, brother wolf; I command thee, in the name of Christ, neither to harm me nor anybody else.” Marvelous to tell, no sooner had St. Francis made the sign of the cross, than the terrible wolf, closing his jaws, stopped running, and coming up to St. Francis, lay down at his feet as meekly as a lamb. And the saint thus addressed him: “Brother wolf, thou hast done much evil in this land, destroying and killing the creatures of God without his permission; yea, not animals only hast thou destroyed, but thou hast even dared to devour men, made after the image of God; for which thing thou art worthy of being hanged like a robber and a murderer. All men cry out against thee, the dogs pursue thee, and all the inhabitants of this city are thy enemies; but I will make peace between them and thee, O brother wolf, is so be thou no more offend them, and they shall forgive thee all thy past offences, and neither men nor dogs shall pursue thee anymore.”

Having listened to these words, the wolf bowed his head, and, by the movements of his body, his tail, and his eyes, made signs that he agreed to what St. Francis said. On this St. Francis added: “As thou art willing to make this peace, I promise thee that thou shalt be fed every day by the inhabitants of this land so long as thou shalt live among them; thou shalt no longer suffer hunger, as it is hunger which has made thee do so much evil; but if I obtain all this for thee, thou must promise, on thy side, never again to attack any animal or any human being; dost thou make this promise?”

Then the wolf, bowing his head, made a sign that he consented. Said St. Francis again: “Brother wolf, wilt thou pledge thy faith that I may trust to this thy promise?” and putting out his hand he received the pledge of the wolf; for the latter lifted up his paw and placed it familiarly in the hand of St. Francis, giving him thereby the only pledge which was in his power. Then said St. Francis, addressing him again: “Brother wolf, I command thee, in the name of Christ, to follow me immediately, without hesitation or doubting, that we may go together to ratify this peace which we have concluded in the name of God”; and the wolf, obeying him, walked by his side as meekly as a lamb, to the great astonishment of all the people.

Now, the news of this most wonderful miracle spreading quickly through the town, all the inhabitants, both men and women, small and great, young and old, flocked to the marketplace to see St. Francis and the wolf. All the people being assembled, the saint got up to preach, saying, amongst other things, how for our sins God permits such calamities, and how much greater and more dangerous are the flames of hell, which last forever, than the rage of a wolf, which can kill the body only; and how much we ought to dread the jaws of hell, if the jaws of so small an animal as a wolf can make a whole city tremble through fear. The sermon being ended, St. Francis added these words: “Listen my brethren: the wolf who is here before you has promised and pledged his faith that he consents to make peace with you all, and no more to offend you in aught, and you must promise to give him each day his necessary food; to which, if you consent, I promise in his name that he will most faithfully observe the compact.”

Then all the people promised with one voice to feed the wolf to the end of his days; and St. Francis, addressing the latter, said again: “And thou, brother wolf, dost thou promise to keep the compact, and never again to offend either man or beast, or any other creature?” And the wolf knelt down, bowing his head, and, by the motions of his tail and of his ears, endeavored to show that he was willing, so far as was in his power, to hold to the compact.

Then St. Francis continued: “Brother wolf, as thou gavest me a pledge of this thy promise when we were outside the town, so now I will that thou renew it in the sight of all this people, and assure me that I have done well to promise in thy name”; and the wolf lifting up his paw placed it in the hand of St. Francis. Now this event caused great joy in all the people, and a great devotion towards St. Francis, both because of the novelty of the miracle, and because of the peace which had been concluded with the wolf; and they lifted up their voices to heaven, praising and blessing God, who had sent them St. Francis, through whose merits they had been delivered from such a savage beast.

The wolf lived two years at Gubbio; he went familiarly from door to door without harming anyone, and all the people received him courteously, feeding him with great pleasure, and no dog barked at him as he went about. At last, after two years, he died of old age, and the people of Gubbio mourned his loss greatly; for when they saw him going about so gently amongst them all, he reminded them of the virtue and sanctity of St. Francis.

Worthington's 'Dog' Spot

Cal Worthington and his infamous “dog” Spot flooded West-coast televisions with quirky ads persuading viewers to buy a car and drive off with a deal. Of course Spot was never a dog. In parody of a competitor’s ad urging viewers to buy a car and save a pound puppy, Worthington’s Spot changed regularly from gorilla to goat, hippo, bear, elephant, horse, rollerskating chimp, and other exotic and surprisingly wacky animals. While good ol’ Spot had viewers laughing, Worthington’s jingle, set to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it” and sung and recorded by Worthington, had viewers annoyed but singing along:

“Here’s Cal Worthington and his dog Spot:
If you need a better car, go see Cal
For the best deal by far, go see Cal
If you want your payments low,
if you want to save some dough
Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal.”  

Like Spot, the lyrics varied:  

“If your wife has started naggin’
and your tail pipe is a-draggin’
Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal.”

Worthington wasn’t only “top sales dog” for his humor and song, but also for the lengths he’d go to make a deal. In addition to showing viewers his “acres and acres” of cars he’d be willing to sell for only a dollar down and finance with his own finance company, he offered two free meals to anyone who saw him first about buying a car. On several occasions Worthington said he’d stand on his head to make a deal, which he literally did (once while standing on the wings of a biplane flying upside-down).

Worthington’s wacky ways made him millions (earning $200-$300 million a year during the 80s) and turned him into an icon. He was on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson several times, and played himself or was parodied in various movies from Hickey & Boggs to Beetlejuice.

Eventually, state regulations watered down his ads, and Spot was retired, but the Worthington empire lives on through Worthington’s grandson Nick Worthington.

Party Animals

The eagle, the elephant, and the donkey are the totems of America’s political identity, but why these animals? Despite Benjamin Franklin’s stance that the turkey, not the eagle, should represent this country for its courage, in 1782 the bald eagle won out for its strength, beauty, and long lifespan. During the 1828 election season, Andrew Jackson’s opponents hoped to damage his campaign by calling him an ass, but Jackson embraced the label, associating it with the animal’s hardworking nature. Nearly fifty years later, cartoonist and staunch Republican Thomas Nast used the donkey to represent Jackson, thus making it the symbol for the Democratic Party. Nast is likewise responsible for creating the Republican Party’s elephant, though there is conjecture as to why he chose this animal. Some speculate that it's connected with the phrase “seeing the elephant,” an Americanism that refers to experiencing the world at great cost as well as to seeing battle. These party animals* still symbolize our two major political parties today, but (as our 2016 Presidential Election approaches) we might want to look to other animals for voting advice.

*Of course, the term “party animal” conjures images of toga-wearing frat boys, like those from the 1978 Animal House, and as a slang term its history is fairly recent. A Saturday Night Live episode, which also aired in 1978, introduces one of the earliest uses of the term: ‘Here is the party animal himself—Bill Murray.’ However, the term wasn’t added to the OED until 2005.

The Eye of a Dragonfly

The lifespan of an individual dragonfly can be less than six months, yet as an order with more than 5,000 known species, the dragonfly has subsisted for over 300 million years due to its design and its fresh water habitats. Both under water and above, the dragonfly adeptly hunts its prey. Their scientific order, Odonata or “toothed one,” names them for their serrated teeth. The nymph’s swift retractable jaw and the dragonfly’s wide eyes allow this hunter to snare its prey at speeds almost unimaginable to humans. Even though some dragonfly nymphs spend the first two years of their lives submerged in water, they are able to take their first flights only twelve hours after they’ve emerged and shed their nymph exoskeletons. While our eyes can’t see what the dragonflies see, we are at least able to appreciate the dragonflies’ complex, iridescent wings and their vibrant, various colors that hover over our puddles and ponds. Whether it’s through the lens of a high-speed camera or the haiku of a Buddhist poet, looking at the dragonfly reminds us of the intricate connectedness of all beings through time.

 

The distant mountain
reflected in his eyes...
Dragonfly.

            —Kobayashi Issa, 1763-1828

 

Big Papi: A Penguin Story

Endemic to Antarctica, emperor penguins thrive in cold harsh conditions because they’re dutiful mates and parents—the male often celebrated as the best dad of the animal kingdom. In Emperor Penguins: The Lords of Antarctica, Gloria Clifford writes that after mating, “the male stays by the female’s side, his eyes fixed on her pouch. As soon as he sees the egg, he sings, a variation of what has been called ‘ecstatic display’ by early observers.” After the cigars have been handed out, the mother passes the egg to the father, who stores it in his brood pouch until it hatches two months later. The male feeds the chick with whatever is left in his stomach until the female relieves him of daddy duty.

The emperor penguin has been the star of several consciousness-raising movies about climate change. It is also a fact that emperor penguins love the Boston Red Sox. David “Big Papi" Ortiz—the best clutch hitter on this side of the universe—is the emperor penguin’s favorite player. Although Ortiz has said he got his nickname from calling others “Papi” when he couldn’t remember their names, his nickname has taken on more significance because, like the emperor father, he is always there for his team.

Paula the penguin is not an emperor penguin, and she has clearly been brainwashed into supporting the Cincinnati Reds.

Elephants

Elephants are ubiquitous in cultures around the world. They have been used in war, worship, and work and appear in literature, movies, parables, and idioms such as “the elephant in the room” and “seeing pink elephants.” They are intelligent and social creatures with self-awareness, and their concern for the dying and dead suggests they have empathy. Though not always gentle giants, they sure are cute.

Dire Wolf

Dire wolf (canis duris, “fearsome, dreadful dog”)

Canis duris lived before and after homo sapiens developed and were perhaps domesticated in Neolithic times. The dire wolf’s extinction occurred about 9k years ago. Canis duris seems to have evolved in the east but it seems to have flourished in parts of Western Europe and in the Americas. As we learn from the historically accurate Game of Thrones, where canis duris is called the direwolf, direwolves are as loyal as they are vicious; smart and cunning as they are decisive and responsive with lightning speed. They would certainly be great pets today, much more efficient, pragmatic, and loyal than the incredibly overrated and by now historically insignificant felis catus.

 

 

Dolphin Games

The mysterious beauty of the dolphin has been recognized in art and mythology since the ancient days of the seafaring Minoans. In Greek mythology, dolphins are often seen accompanying the sea god Poseidon. They served as messengers charged with bringing the god the nymph Amphitrite, who he later married. It’s said this is why, with gratitude, Poseidon placed the constellation Delphinus in the night sky. In later Greek culture, dolphins were considered rescuers. Even Arab, Byzantine, Chinese, and European sailors told tales of being rescued by dolphins at sea. These playful creatures still intrigue humans today. Given their complex intelligence, dolphins not only make up games but also communicate with a fairly sophisticated language—one that includes both vocal and visual signals. Like humans, dolphins communicate emotions, often through body language such as gentle petting of the head using the pectoral fin or an aggressive bite to the flank. Of course, dolphins can also communicate with humans, especially in an effort to catch fish. And like humans, they enjoy looking at themselves in mirrors.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat

Bats flap elastic wings, lighter than the echoes by which they navigate, and feast on moths and mosquitoes and other insects of the night. Though there are only three species that survive on blood, and many that survive on fruit, bats have inspired vampiric legends for millennia—have seduced us into darker realms of fantasy in which handsome fanged counts and femme fatales drink the blood of their victims. But bats have also flapped into the imaginations of the pioneers of aviation, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, who knew the bat was a better flyer than the bird. As clumsy as bats appear, they are stunt pilots—the only mammals capable of flight—and can make a sudden turn while flying at the exhilarating speed of 80 km/hour. The Mad Hatter certainly appreciated their uniqueness and despite their rather pedestrian ubiquitousness in popular culture, bats are a wonder in-themselves.

Homo Sapiens

The human being is perhaps the most difficult animal to understand historically given that it is the author of its own mythology which includes its own constituted and privileged place among other animals. According to the historical legends of evolutionary biology, homo sapiens is the last extant human species, derived from various other hominids which emerged as far as 3-6 million years ago (depending on the mythological source). According to the cultural records of human religions, homo sapiens is either a created creature fashioned by a supernatural “Deity” (“God,” “Adonai,” “YHWH,” “Allah,” “The Lord,” “Jehovah,” et al., in monotheistic traditions) or perhaps a descendant of a kind of Ur-Human (in highly incestuous polytheistic genealogies). In some cultural traditions, homo sapiens is nothing but a kind of dreamt illusion among the infinitely unknowable eternal nothingness (see Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Gary Snyder). Today’s most fashionable mythologies hold that homo sapiens is part of a grand “design” or “system” that will soon be revealed through the wonders of neuroscience and computer graphics (see Richard Dawkins, Ray Kurzweil, Wikipedia, et al.). Much more accurate theories include Michel Foucault’s argument that humans were of recent creation and will eventually disappear, a theory which can be measured empirically by recent developments in so-called “evolution,” the American presidential election of 2016 being an acute example. An excellent documentary on the development of human evolution was made in 1999 by the renowned British human scientist Norman Quentin Cook (a.k.a. Fatboy Slim):

Scientific reconstruction of “Lucy” skeleton (Australopithecus)

Scientific reconstruction of “Lucy” skeleton (Australopithecus)

The Sport of Kings

Bukowski had a saying: “You will find the lowest of the breed at the racetrack.” The gambling, the skirt chasing, the drinking, the crapping—the track is a place to observe humanity’s grotesque nature. Given this, the phrase “sport of kings” resonates with irony, for horse racing is, too, the sport of dirty fools. Of course, “sport of kings” earliest usage referred to war, then hunting, though some would say that even today polo, which originated in Central Asia before 600 B.C. as both a sport and a means of battle training, is the true sport of kings. No matter, man has long shared an intimate relationship with the horse, relying on its speed and strength to usher him through battle and to carry him, his family, and his belongings across countries. While the Ancient Greeks certainly considered the centaur to be a monstrous beast, contemporary images of the mythological creature suggest we find it sexy and, perhaps, harbor some desire to merge, and thus elevate our human nature, with the equine’s tremendous power, prowess, and majesty. 

On the Wings of a Pig

When all people embrace John Steinbeck’s philosophy to “aspire though earthbound,” plump dreams will yield virtue, not lucre, and the pigasus, the humble winged-pig that bathes in mud, will take us to the stars as we earn heaven on earth. In The Log From the Sea of Cortez, Steinbeck writes, "Why do we so dread to think of our species as a species? Can it be that we are afraid of what we may find? That human self-love would suffer too much and that the image of God might prove to be a mask? This could be only partly true, for if we could cease to wear the image of a kindly, bearded, interstellar dictator, we might find ourselves true images of his kingdom, our eyes the nebulae, and universes in our cells."
 

Sloth, Sin & Sorrow

Named after one of the Seven Deadly Sins, the sloth gets a bum rap. Yet, the sloth was tree-hanging upside-down and belly crawling three feet per minute well before the word sloth even formed from Middle English in the late twelfth century. It wasn’t until the seventeenth century when the Portuguese encountered the animal that it was named from a translation of preguiça, from the Latin pigritia meaning “laziness.” The original Latin for this Deadly Sin was acedia. Thomas Aquinas suggests that sloth is not a sin or vice but rather the passion of sorrow. This particular sorrow leads to a spiritual paralysis that causes people to shirk duties, such as charity to others. No doubt Aquinas understood that acedia meant literally “not-caring.” But the sloth’s slow motion is due not to sorrow but an adaptive response that allows it to conserve energy since its diet consists mainly of leaves, which provide very few nutrients. Plus, the sloth is quite charitable ecologically in that it’s host to all sorts of other living beings, including moths, beetles, and algae. The sloth not only exemplifies conservation and charity but also leisure and rest. In our world of technological instantaneity and progressive haste, we’d do well to follow the sloth’s example. There are times it’s better to move too slowly than too quickly, and “[if] you’re having a stressed out day, remember the sloth. They don’t do shit, and they haven’t gone extinct.”

The Question Concerning the Giant Sandworm in Dune

If Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965) is the greatest of science fiction sagas, then the sandworm of the planet Arrakis might be the greatest of science-fiction animal. Worshiped by the indigenous people of Arrakis, the Freemen, Shai-Hulud (in the language of the Freemen) is a type of giant annelid that could grow up to exceed 400 meters in length and a 100 meters in thickness. The Shai-Hulud’s circular mouth could reach 80 meters in diameter and contain over 1,000 or more carbo-silica crystal teeth. The adult sandworm was made up of segments that could range anywhere between 100 and 400 in number, and each segment contained a primitive nervous system. Respiration was accomplished through skin pores. Most of the worm’s nutrients were in the form of gases, thus the worm had no circulatory system as such. Shai-Hulud was a great deity to the Freemen, who called it “Old Man of the Desert,” “Grandfather of the Desert,” and “Old Father Eternity,” respectively. Shai-Hulud were legendarily indestructible and had life spans potentially of thousands of years. The Biblical “Hymn to Shai-Hulud” is testament to the identification of the sandworm to Leviathan or the “Great Water Creature” and perhaps to “The Furry Whale” of divine legend. Nonetheless, Shai-Hulud manifested fundamentally sacred connotations for the Freemen. Freemen developed the ritual art of riding sandworms through the skill of worm-charming and the use of specially designed maker hooks. The underrated film version of Dune by David Lynch (1984) gives us a glimpse of the skill necessitated for riding Shai-Hulud.

On Reading Octopus Ink: a form(less) text

Armed with eight ribbons of muscle, the octopus flexes texture while chromatophores light up its skin with an orchestra of color, enabling the creature to camouflage with kelp, play like a rock, or wear its emotions on its eight rubbery sleeves. Unlike its shelled relatives, this boneless mollusk can take almost any shape, making it more masterful than Houdini. The octopus has been known to escape escape-proofed aquariums and can squeeze through an opening the size of a quarter, or anything slightly bigger than its beak. This creature is able to change shape and color because of its (de)centralized nervous system in which two-thirds of its 500,000 neurons surge through its arms. The octopus’ unique wiring gives each arm its own cognitive prowess and an overall advanced intelligence, which works very differently than human intelligence and perplexes and intrigues evolutionary scientists. Knowing that intelligence can and has evolved on a path so divergent than our own might help us understand that intelligence not only takes different forms, but that there are different forms of intelligence. If only we were fluent readers of octopus ink, we might know the pleasures of tasting with our hands.