Saturday, November 22, 2014

Watch What Happens to This Tree

This was filmed in Zaandam
, Netherlands.

These are almost certainly Starlings. What, exactly, should we call such a massive flock?

After all, almost every other group of animals has a poetic phrase attached to it.

  • It's a paddle of ducks and a flock of seagulls.
  • It's a skulk of foxes and a cry of hounds.
  • It's a lamentation of swans and a charm of hummingbirds.
  • It's an unkindness of ravens and a murder of crows.
  • It's a mob of kangaroos and a pride of lions.
  • It's a school of fish and a pod of whales.
  • It's an aerie of eagles and a wake of buzzards.
  • It's a flight of cormorants and a mob of emus.
  • It's a mischief of rats and a clutter of cats.
  • It's a charm of finches and a hedge of herons.
  • It's a husk of hares and a trip of goats.
  • It's a band of gorillas and a troop of monkeys.
  • It's a deceit of lapwings and an ascension of meadow larks.
  • It's a burden of mules and a drove of ox.
  • It's a descent of woodpeckers and a kettle of hawks.
  • It's an ambush of tigers and a gang of weasels.
  • It's a bale of turtles and a knot of toads.
  • It's a dray of squirrels and a surfeit of skunks.
  • It's a business of ferrets and an array of hedgehogs.
  • It's a rookery of albatrosses and a tiding of magpies.
  • It's a coalition of cheetahs and a leap of leopards.
  • It's a route of coyotes and a packs of wolves.
  • It's a cast of merlins and a scold of blue jays.
  • It's a ridicule of mockingbirds and an ostentation of peacocks.
  • It's a labor of moles and a richness of martens.
  • It's a raft of pelicans and a covey of pheasants.
  • It's a bloat of hippopotamus a crash of rhinoceros.
  • It's a cackle of hyenas and a shiver of sharks.
  • It's a flight of pigeons and a wing of plovers.
  • It's a clan of badgers and a nursery of raccoons.
  • It's a cloud of flies and a swarm of bees.
  • It's a circus of puffins and a flush of quail.
  • It's a regiment of flamingos and a huddle of penguins.
  • It's a sounder of boar and an army of frogs.
  • It's a congregation of plovers and a walk of snipes.
  • It's an intrusion of cockroaches and smack of jellyfish.
  • It's a piteousness of doves and an exaltation of larks.

So what is a huge group of Starlings called?

I would propose a vulgarity of starlings -- a term lifted wholecloth from their Latin name -- Sturnus vulgaris. 

Of course, we could also call it a constellation of starlings, working off of their more common name, which references the spotted iridescence of their summer plumage.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Wishing the Damn Dog Was Dead Already?

Then the Boxer may be for you!

From The Onion:

Known as loyal purebreds susceptible to genetic diseases and shorter lifespans, many boxers have nevertheless been known to live way too long, hanging in there for as many as five years after all the kids moved out. Though many are afflicted with hereditary degenerative myelopathy or stomach bloat, some just keep on going, for Christ’s sake, even after A.J. headed off to college and despite the fact that you and your wife have earned a little peace and quiet. But nope, they go on needing food and walks and someone to watch them every goddamn time you want to leave for a day or longer. Jesus.

Mazda MX5 Sports Car vs. Greyhound

A Mazda MX5 sports car races a greyhound
at Shelbourne Park in Ireland. Greyhounds are faster than horses too.

The Monster Ivan Pavlov

A nice article on Ivan Pavlov in The New Yorker notes that Pavlov was a bit of a monster:
Pavlov’s research originally had little to do with psychology; it focussed on the ways in which eating excited salivary, gastric, and pancreatic secretions. To do that, he developed a system of “sham” feeding. Pavlov would remove a dog’s esophagus and create an opening, a fistula, in the animal’s throat, so that, no matter how much the dog ate, the food would fall out and never make it to the stomach. By creating additional fistulas along the digestive system and collecting the various secretions, he could measure their quantity and chemical properties in great detail. That research won him the 1904 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine...

... Pavlov was constantly stymied by the difficulty of keeping his subjects alive after operating on them. One particularly productive dog had evidently set a record by producing active pancreatic juice for ten days before dying.

Pavlovian Markets in Saliva

A nice article on Ivan Pavlov in The New Yorker notes that Pavlov funded his lab by selling dog drool to folks looking for a "treatment" for upset stomach:
For more than thirty years, Pavlov’s physiology factory turned out papers, new research techniques, and, of course, gastric juice—a lot of it. On a good day, a hungry dog could produce a thousand cubic centimetres, more than a quart. Although this was a sideline for Pavlov, the gastric fluids of a dog became a popular treatment for dyspepsia, and not just in Russia. A “gastric juice factory” was set up for the purpose. “An assistant was hired and paid thirty rubles a month to oversee the facility,” Todes writes. “Five large young dogs, weighing sixty to seventy pounds and selected for their voracious appetites, stood on a long table harnessed to the wooden crossbeam directly above their heads. Each was equipped with an esophagotomy and fistula from which a tube led to the collection vessel. Each ‘factory dog’ faced a short wooden stand tilted to display a large bowl of minced meat.” By 1904, the venture was selling more than three thousand flagons of gastric juice annually, Todes writes, and the profits helped increase the lab budget by about seventy per cent.

How Skinner Got Pavlov Wrong

A nice article on Ivan Pavlov in The New Yorker notes that B.F.Skinner got Pavlov wrong:
As a college student, B. F. Skinner gave little thought to psychology. He had hoped to become a novelist, and majored in English. Then, in 1927, when he was twenty-three, he read an essay by H. G. Wells about the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. The piece, which appeared in the Times Magazine, was ostensibly a review of the English translation of Pavlov’s “Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex.” But, as Wells pointed out, it was “not an easy book to read,” and he didn’t spend much time on it. Instead, Wells described Pavlov, whose systematic approach to physiology had revolutionized the study of medicine, as “a star which lights the world, shining down a vista hitherto unexplored.”

That unexplored world was the mechanics of the human brain. Pavlov had noticed, in his research on the digestive system of dogs, that they drooled as soon as they saw the white lab coats of the people who fed them. They didn’t need to see, let alone taste, the food in order to react physically. Dogs naturally drooled when fed: that was, in Pavlov’s terms, an “unconditional” reflex. When they drooled in response to a sight or sound that was associated with food by mere happenstance, a “conditional reflex” (to a “conditional stimulus”) had been created. Pavlov had formulated a basic psychological principle—one that also applied to human beings—and discovered an objective way to measure how it worked.

Skinner was enthralled. Two years after reading the Times Magazine piece, he attended a lecture that Pavlov delivered at Harvard and obtained a signed picture, which adorned his office wall for the rest of his life. Skinner and other behaviorists often spoke of their debt to Pavlov, particularly to his view that free will was an illusion, and that the study of human behavior could be reduced to the analysis of observable, quantifiable events and actions.

But Pavlov never held such views, according to “Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science” (Oxford), an exhaustive new biography by Daniel P. Todes, a professor of the history of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In fact, much of what we thought we knew about Pavlov has been based on bad translations and basic misconceptions. That begins with the popular image of a dog slavering at the ringing of a bell. Pavlov “never trained a dog to salivate to the sound of a bell,” Todes writes. “Indeed, the iconic bell would have proven totally useless to his real goal, which required precise control over the quality and duration of stimuli (he most frequently employed a metronome, a harmonium, a buzzer, and electric shock).”

Pavlov is perhaps best known for introducing the idea of the conditioned reflex, although Todes notes that he never used that term. It was a bad translation of the Russian uslovnyi, or “conditional,” reflex. For Pavlov, the emphasis fell on the contingent, provisional nature of the association — which enlisted other reflexes he believed to be natural and unvarying. Drawing upon the brain science of the day, Pavlov understood conditional reflexes to involve a connection between a point in the brain’s subcortex, which supported instincts, and a point in its cortex, where associations were built. Such conjectures about brain circuitry were anathema to the behaviorists, who were inclined to view the mind as a black box. Nothing mattered, in their view, that could not be observed and measured. Pavlov never subscribed to that theory, or shared their disregard for subjective experience. He considered human psychology to be “one of the last secrets of life,” and hoped that rigorous scientific inquiry could illuminate “the mechanism and vital meaning of that which most occupied Man—our consciousness and its torments.” Of course, the inquiry had to start somewhere. Pavlov believed that it started with data, and he found that data in the saliva of dogs.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

These People Have Access to the Internet

Remember these people are in college, can vote, and they have opinions on all kinds of subjects and they will tell you that their opinions are just as valid as yours!

Don't believe that? Just ask them!

Nescience in the World of Dogs

You know the word science.  It's a "discipline or study concerned with facts or truths systematically arranged and operating by general laws."

You know word omniscience.  It's "the capacity to know everything there is to know."

You know the word prescience.  It's "knowledge or awareness of the future" or "knowledge about something that has not yet happened."

But have you ever heard of the word NESCIENCE?

Nescience is the more than ignorance -- it's the opposite of prescience, which is to say it's ignorance about things which cannot be known.

Some years ago David Dunning used the word "clueless" to describe why people so often think weird things and he drew a set of circles showing denial, self-deception and cluelessness

A while back, recalling Dunning's diagram, I drew a slightly modified version on a napkin, with an added circle to show what people might actually know about dogs, and a second circle to encompass ignorance, which I think is quite different from cluelessness.

The smallest circle, in yellow, is denial. This is the stuff about dogs that is too painful for us to confront for whatever reason. Sometimes this is about dogs in general or a breed in particular, but often as not it is about the owner and his or her own need to work out his or her own psychological issues through a canine surrogate.

The next largest circle, in white, is actual knowledge about dogs. Here we have the sum total of what an owner may have read about dogs, been told about dogs, or actually experienced or seen with their own eyes with their own dog.

This is a surprisingly small circle with most people, and it is probably way over-represented in this drawing.

The next largest circle, the one in orange, is self-deception or what Dunning describes as "rationalization, wishful thinking, defensive processing, self-delusion, and motivated reasoning."

This is the circle that encompasses all the falsities we tenaciously hang on to, or refuse to reexamine because re-examining them is not very convenient.

How many people position their dog food or dog training choices as the only ones that work, and never mind the evidence to the contrary?

How many people blame the dog for their failure to be clear and consistent?

How many people are breed or kennel blind?

How many think they exercise their dog when they walk it around the block?

How many people think they know all about dogs even though they have never read a book or bothered to teach a dog a simple trick?

The next ring is ignorance. These are the things we know we do not know. We may not know how to teach a dog how to climb a ladder, for example, or how to close a barbed wire flesh wound, but we know it can be done and it can be learned.

Finally, on the very outside, and encircling all, in purple, we have cluelessness. This is the stuff that we do not know that we do not know.

This is the eternal mystery of dogs.

Humans do not smell the world as dogs do, nor do we see the world in the same visual spectrum, nor do we see the world from the same angle.

We do not hear what a dog hears, and we do not have the same internal drives or all of the same motivations.

When a dog throws a sign, we generally do not know how read it, or even that it is being given, much less how to send it back (or that we should) with a wag of our tail or a slight movement of our ears, or a curve in our gait.

We have no idea. 

In the world of the dog, we humans seem to bump around blind, deaf, loud, incoherent, manic and stupid.

Look at what is in white versus the sum of what is colored, and remember that knowledge is probably over-represented here!

Now is there really any wonder why so many people think strange things about dogs?

Self-deception alone has made us blind to the large numbers of deformed dogs paraded around Kennel Club rings.

Self-deception is what enables us to call a place a "shelter" when 75 percent of the dogs admitted are summarily killed.

Denial is what enables English Bull Dog owners to claim their dogs are "fit for function" and Pit Bull owners to tell each other that their dogs are exactly the same as all the others.

And as for knowledge, it is not that easy to get, is it?

The all-breed books are packed with invented stories from dog dealers, or are filled with  prattling nonsense copied from one autodidact to another.  So many of the dog training books are either autobiographies about the author or are tips on how to train a dog to do a nearly-useless trick.

And, of course, book learning will only take you part way.

You cannot really know dogs until you have spent a lot of time in action with them and observing them, and not just one dog but many.

If you truly want to know about dogs, you have to take them out into the elements for which they were created. And even then, there will be mysteries.

While you may be able to shrink the denial circle, and expand the knowledge circle, there will always be the vast land of Clueless lying just over the horizon.

This is the Unexplored Country which the dog inhabits alone -- the vast veldt call NESCIENCE. 


The Circle of Dysfunction

From Wikipedia comes this summary of the Dunning–Kruger Effect:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which "people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it." The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average, much higher than in actuality; by contrast, the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. This leads to a perverse result where less competent people will rate their own ability higher than more competent people. It also explains why actual competence may weaken self-confidence because competent individuals falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. "Thus, the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others."

The Dunning-Kruger effect can be seen all around us all the time.

For example, look at the folks running for Congress. 

Most of the time, it's the ego-besotted and barely-competent who put their name out for that job. 

The folks who actually understand the intricacies of energy policy, foreign policy, and economics, are pretty sure they are not the right sort for public office -- or they have better jobs to start with.  

Of course, the Dunning-Kruger effect is also at work in the world of dogs.

Look at most of the breed clubs, for example.

In the world of Border Collies, you can find instant-experts breeding dogs left and right, and never mind that their own animals have yet to even see a sheep!  No problem there, they will tell you.  

Then, you have the retriever experts who do not hunt, and whose own dogs will not return a tennis ball, much less a bird.    They have strong opinions on the proper color, however!

And then, of course, you have the Border Terrier and "Parson" Russell Terrier breeders who do not own a locator collar, and have never sunk a hole. But do they have puppies to sell? Yes they do!

Of course, it does not stop with the breeders and the dog dealers, does it?

There are the instant experts on electronic training collars who have never owed one, used one, or even seen a dog being trained with one.

There are the instant experts who decry chain slip collars, and who do not even know how to put one on.

And then, of course, there are the 23-year old  experts.  Here's a hint:  If you are 23 years old, you are probably not a real expert in anything.

But of course, there is no stopping folks.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect means the least competent and least experienced are often the most certain they are right, and that they are also quite certain they doing a better-than-average job at most of the tasks they are doing.

What's that mean for dogs?

Well, for one, it means the least competent breeders are often the ones who are most certain they are quite excellent.

On the reverse, the most competent and most knowledgeable dog men and dog women are often filled with self-doubt to the point they may go a lifetime without breeding a litter.

And so it goes, round and round, in an almost never-ending circle of dysfunction. 

Is it any wonder we are in the mess we are in?


Ten Years After the "Ban"

Over Horse and Hound
they give a short look back at "the ban" on hunting fox with dogs that passed 10 years ago in the U.K.

It was not, of course, an actual ban on hunting fox with terriers or hounds, nor did it prevent the killing of fox with snare or gun.

So what was it about? 

Students of history and fox hunting will tell you it was little more than nattering nannyism based on vestigial elements of class warfare left over from the last throes of the Enclosure Movement some 120 years earlier.

Horse and Hound notes that "Since the ban was enforced on 18 February 2005, registered hunts in England and Wales have carried out more than 150,000 days hunting."

Over the course of the first nine years of the law, only 341 people were convicted of Hunting Act offences, and just 21 of those people involved with registered hunts; the others were, for the most part, folks poaching or engaging in offenses that were illegal under the law that existed prior to the Hunting Act (i.e. disturbing a badger sette or hunting badger).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

German Raccoon-Dog, Badger and Raccoon Hunting

Frank, badger and dachshunds.

Frank Joisten, from Germany, sent in some terrific pictures of his dachshunds working everything from badger and raccoon-dog (Tankuki) to American raccoon and fox. One of my favorite pictures is below, showing not only his take this eventful day, but also some very well-disciplined dogs!

Dog, dog, badger, dog, badger, dog, dog.

Frank lives in the northeast corner of Germany, near the Polish border, and is blessed with both badger and red fox, but also raccoon-dog, which were imported to the Ukraine from Korea and Japan, and which have now migrated into Finland, Poland and parts of Germany.

An amazing take of raccoon-dog!

American raccoon have also been imported to Germany.

Frank also has some American raccoon
in his area -- a legacy of animals brought to Germany in the 1930s in the hope of expanding the domestic fur industry.

Digging to raccoon-dog (aka Tanuki)

Frank reports that his dachshunds have a chest of 35 cm (13.78 inches). The Germans are very precise about chest measurements, as they understand that for a dog to be a "gebrauchshund" (i.e. a "useful" hunting dog), it cannot be too big to fit into a tight den, nor can it be so nose-dead as to be unable to find in the field. Along with size and nose and gameness, a German working dachshund has to show that it is also not gun shy.

For those interested in the various chest size standards for the teckel or hunting dachshund, see >>  As the FCI standard makes clear, the ideal chest size of a the largest working dachshund is just under 14 inches in circumference (35 cm). This 14 inch chest measurement is the same size cited as ideal for working terriers by Barry Jones in the UK (see and Ken James in the U.S. (see ), and is about the size of the average red fox chest found the world over (see

For those interested in working dachshunds in North America, see:

One of the great things about terrier work all over the world is that while it is a bit different all over, it is also quite a bit the same. The picture, above, could have been taken in the U.S., Germany, Finland, England, Canada or France -- the hunched over walk of a man with a locator box is the same all over!

Repost from 2006.

The Battle Between Fur and Feather


It's one of my favorite words, as it explains why most predators are so cautious in the wild, and why so many prey species appear to be so lucky.

To be too bold or too aggressive is to be maladaptive. "Too bold is soon cold."

A predator cannot afford damage to muscle, joint, bone, tooth, wing, or talon.

And yet a predator cannot afford to be slow, and cannot always be cautious. At some point is has to eat.

And so the great game begins.

Every flight or run holds within it the possibility of great tragedy -- a torn cruciate ligament, a ripped claw, a shattered beak, a lost eye.

Is it any wonder that lions, tigers, and bears are generally so cautious around men? Most of the time, we represent the unknown, and the unknown always represents the chance of great harm.

It does not take much to undo a top predator.

And yes, they somehow know that.

The Rich ARE Different

In a review of a book about billionaires
, Michael Lewis (the author of The Big Short, Money Ball, and Liar’s Pokerwrites that research shows that money itself changes the ethics and perspective of people:

What is clear about rich people and their money—and becoming ever clearer—is how it changes them. A body of quirky but persuasive research has sought to understand the effects of wealth and privilege on human behavior—and any future book about the nature of billionaires would do well to consult it. One especially fertile source is the University of California, Berkeley, psychology department lab overseen by a professor named Dacher Keltner. In one study, Keltner and his colleague Paul Piff installed note-takers and cameras at city street intersections with four-way stop signs. The people driving expensive cars were four times more likely to cut in front of other drivers than drivers of cheap cars. The researchers then followed the drivers to the city’s cross walks and positioned themselves as pedestrians, waiting to cross the street. The drivers in the cheap cars all respected the pedestrians’ right of way. The drivers in the expensive cars ignored the pedestrians 46.2 percent of the time—a finding that was replicated in spirit by another team of researchers in Manhattan, who found drivers of expensive cars were far more likely to double park. In yet another study, the Berkeley researchers invited a cross section of the population into their lab and marched them through a series of tasks. Upon leaving the laboratory testing room the subjects passed a big jar of candy. The richer the person, the more likely he was to reach in and take candy from the jar—and ignore the big sign on the jar that said the candy was for the children who passed through the department.

Maybe my favorite study done by the Berkeley team rigged a game with cash prizes in favor of one of the players, and then showed how that person, as he grows richer, becomes more likely to cheat. In his forthcoming book on power, Keltner contemplates his findings:

If I have $100,000 in my bank account, winning $50 alters my personal wealth in trivial fashion. It just isn’t that big of a deal. If I have $84 in my bank account, winning $50 not only changes my personal wealth significantly, it matters in terms of the quality of my life—the extra $50 changes what bill I might be able to pay, what I might put in my refrigerator at the end of the month, the kind of date I would go out on, or whether or not I could buy a beer for a friend. The value of winning $50 is greater for the poor, and, by implication, the incentive for lying in our study greater. Yet it was our wealthy participants who were far more likely to lie for the chance of winning fifty bucks.

There is plenty more like this to be found, if you look for it. A team of researchers at the New York State Psychiatric Institute surveyed 43,000 Americans and found that, by some wide margin, the rich were more likely to shoplift than the poor. Another study, by a coalition of nonprofits called the Independent Sector, revealed that people with incomes below twenty-five grand give away, on average, 4.2 percent of their income, while those earning more than 150 grand a year give away only 2.7 percent. A UCLA neuroscientist named Keely Muscatell has published an interesting paper showing that wealth quiets the nerves in the brain associated with empathy: if you show rich people and poor people pictures of kids with cancer, the poor people’s brains exhibit a great deal more activity than the rich people’s. (An inability to empathize with others has just got to be a disadvantage for any rich person seeking political office, at least outside of New York City.) “As you move up the class ladder,” says Keltner, “you are more likely to violate the rules of the road, to lie, to cheat, to take candy from kids, to shoplift, and to be tightfisted in giving to others. Straightforward economic analyses have trouble making sense of this pattern of results.”

There is an obvious chicken-and-egg question to ask here. But it is beginning to seem that the problem isn’t that the kind of people who wind up on the pleasant side of inequality suffer from some moral disability that gives them a market edge. The problem is caused by the inequality itself: it triggers a chemical reaction in the privileged few. It tilts their brains. It causes them to be less likely to care about anyone but themselves or to experience the moral sentiments needed to be a decent citizen.

Now think about what this means in a world where most Members of Congress are multi-millionaires!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Balancing Points of a Working Terrier

A repost from 2005.

The ideal working terrier, if there is such a thing, represents a set of balancing points. Above all it must be small enough to easily negotiate an earth and follow the quarry wherever it goes. At the same time it has to be large enough and strong enough to spend an entire day in the field, often in miserable weather.

Balancing points do not end with size, of course. There is also the issue of temperament. A very hard dog is likely to come away from too many encounters with gashes to the muzzle. This is not only painful for the dog, it can also be expensive in terms of time and money spent on antibiotics and veterinary care.

Another factor with very hard dogs is that many of them are mute or nearly-mute. A dog without voice is a serious liability because you never know if it has found its quarry or is merely stuck in the pipe.

It is worth remembering that a fox, groundhog or raccoon can see nothing underground. Nada, zip, zilch. The darkness is complete and the picture for both dog and quarry is pure blackness. For an experienced dog, this is less of a liability than for the quarry. The dog, after all, knows what a groundhog is, what a fox is, and what a raccoon is. This is not the dog's first rodeo.

For the quarry, however, this is probably the first time it has encountered a dog in its den. It has no idea what to expect, and its first inclination is to flee -- a response that rises rapidly if the dog is barking and growling just a foot up the pipe.

It is very rare for a fox, groundhog, possum or raccoon not to flee from a baying dog, as standing to fight is a very maladaptive strategy for a small animal. Unless there are young in the den, there is nothing in the pipe to defend, and in most cases a fox, raccoon or groundhog will simply abandon their young to the dog since self-preservation is a genetically encoded response.

A dog that goes in silently and grips the quarry is not allowing the animal to flee, but forcing it to stand and fight. While some terriers do learn to grip a fox by the throat and push it to asphyxiation, most do not, and most dogs take a pounding if they try to grip in every situation -- a bit like a boxer who knows only how to slug. Such fighters do indeed have wins, but they do not have great careers.

A dog that approaches all quarry in every pipe as if it can muscle its way to success is a dog that is going to take a beating over time. Under most circumstances, a groundhog cannot be killed underground -- they have no necks and skulls as thick as a breakfast skillet.

A raccoon is another serious animal with very good canines and a crushing bite. A fox has a very light build, but sharp canines which can leave deep muzzle punctures and take out an eye. If the rip is particularly serious, it may be two or three weeks before a dog can see action in the field -- a lot of time away from work, especially in a foxing season that may last no more than eight weeks in its prime, and offer perfect weather conditions for just a fraction of that.

The baying dog, on the other hand, is like a boxer with a full array of skills. If the dog understands its job -- and the digger understands his -- it will use voice and grit (and yes, this means the occassional use of tooth) to move the quarry to a bolt or a stop end, at which point the owner will dig down and either release or dispatch the quarry as required.

Hollywood Western Towns in the World of Dogs

Go back in your closet and get out a couple of old dog magazines, and look to see who was showing and selling in your breed just a decade ago.

Now look to see if they are still in dogs now.

No? A lot are gone, you say?

I am reminded of this phenomenon every time I go to a dog show and look at the new "Kennel Names" gracing the pop-up tents.

Who are these people?

Flip through a breeder's directory or a dog magazine, and you will find more of the same.

Click on a few links, visit a few blogs, and you will find more new arrivals and lots of abandoned houses; web sites not updated in five years, and most of the kennels names listed in the "blog roll of friends" gone with the wind.

So many come, stay for a few years, and then they are gone.

It is not a new problem.

Dog breeders and instant experts show up on an almost daily basis to replace the old ones who wander off to take up new hobbies -- off-road biking, fly fishing or raising backyard llamas.

Surveys show that the average person who breeds show dogs is in it for just five years before moving on to something else. "One and done" hunters seem to be the majority, not the exception.

Someone sent me a link the other day to an Internet bulletin board where someone that no one has ever heard of (and who is not using his real name), was denigrating someone who actually has a real name, and who has dug a few dogs, and bred some too.


But of course, most of the people on the boards are all of 12-minutes old themselves. What do they know? They certainly do not know any better!

Old story. Pretenders and wannabes will always be with us.

There are the terrier experts who do not own a locator collar, pointer experts who do not own a shotgun, and collie experts whose dogs have never seen a wild-eyed sheep.

There are the dog training experts whose expertise is based on training a retriever puppy, and there are the wannabe dog-fighters who roll around in "strong dog" myth like a dog in stink.

It takes all kinds, I suppose.

I got an email the other day from someone who had a bug in her bonnet. She wanted me to know she was an expert in her breed, and that she had owned dogs for 11 years.

Wow. A real expert. Pardon me if I might suggest that expertise is not yet won if your first dog has yet to die of old age! Credibility might also be enhanced if you knew the data being cited comes from the only two breed health surveys done for your breed! Basic stuff. Not much to know, but do try to learn it!

The Internet has made it easy for parrots and typing monkeys to put up spaces that fill voids, but offer no real substance.

And what is the result? Lolcats, puppy peddlers and copy-paste experts.

They are like the Hollywood western towns: a board one-inch thick, with nothing but the desert behind it.

Remembering Gil Scott-Heron

It can be said that Allen GinsbergJohnny Cash, Isaac Hayes, and every blues player since the beginning of time, invented rap.

Or Gil Scott-Heron. Yeah, Gil Scott-Heron. Go with that.

And Dr. Seuss. The original Dr. of Rap.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Teeth in the Dirt

Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the dirt.

Md. family uncovers 15-million-year-old shark skeleton during backyard dig

Donald Gibson found the first vertebra Oct. 23, just as he had begun to dig out the space for the sunroom he had promised to build in the back yard of his parents’ home in Calvert County.

Over the following week, his brother Shawn found another vertebra, and then another, and then a few more — each one about 18 inches deep into the ground. Soon, Shawn Gibson’s 7-year-old, Caleb, joined in on the digging. He’s at an age of being “thrilled to go out and not just play in the dirt, but actually find pieces,” Gibson said of his son.

After all, it’s not that unusual to dig up fossils in the Calvert Cliffs neighborhood. But then they found something more: a straight column of vertebrae, two feet long. And at the end, a tooth.

The digging stopped.

What the Gibsons unearthed were the remains of a 15-million-year-old snaggletooth shark, which paleontologists say is more complete than any other fossil of its kind in the world.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

One Dog, 1,200 Emus

An adult emu is a serious bird with feet that could kill this dog with a single blow. I suspect, however, that the respect the emu have for the dog and the dog has for the emu is learned at a very early age and is somewhat imprinted as a result.

An emu is about as close to a living dinosaur as we have on this planet.  Just look at the toenail on that foot!

And an emu egg is very dark green -- and somewhat pointed on both ends.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Man, Mule, Mutt, and Machine

Plowing with mules and horses is so hard, expensive, and inefficient that when the first motorized vehicles came along. America's farmers leaped at the chance to boost production and ease their work load.

Even the smallest tractor from the 1890s outperformed a mule, and unlike a mule, tractors got bigger and better every year, with new attachments made to drive threshers, log-splitters, saws, and conveyor belts.  Electric light could even be added!

With an explosion of farm tractors and trucks in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, a glut of old farm horses and mules appeared on the market.  The horse and the mule, once an essential means of production, was now a nearly-useless vestige of another area consuming too much pasture, money, and time.    

The solution? Canned dog food

Canned dog food was heavily promoted in newspapers and magazines, and the television sets now cropping up in upper-middle class living rooms.

Horse and mule meat was touted as a pure and obviously good food or dogs -- real meat for real dogs.  If people were now eating everything out of cans, surely dogs should too?

Meanwhile, tractors got bigger and too did American farms.

Young adults who had left for war and war production factories never returned to the farm. What might have been a critical shortage of farm labor was in-filled with mechanical labor.  Where it used to take one man to work 20 acres, it now took only one man to work 200 acres or more.

Along with bigger tractors came bigger trucks, plows, discs, winnowers, balers, threshers, separators,  and cultivators.

Tractors not only spurred an increase in the size of American farms, it also increased our agricultural muscle and made the U.S. an essential trade partner the world over. When Russian wheat harvests failed, America stepped in. When Europe went to war, it was the American farmer on his American tractor that not only fed American troops, but much of the populations of Britain and France.

Today, the transition from mule to machine is complete and there are no longer vast herds of redundant horses and mules waiting to be sold for dog food. Sure, there are scores of thousands of wild horses out west that the U.S. government does not know what to do with and which are degrading public lands, but their numbers are not enough to drive a return to canned dog food, even if slaughtering those horses for that purpose were allowed.

Instead, the protein and fat needs of America's dogs are mostly met with grains, vegetables, chicken, and a wide variety of other scrap meat trimmings left over from beef, hog, and other human food production.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Damn Farm Mechanization!

Farms are not just places. They are not land title or economic theory.

They are a continuum.

Dinosaurs and mammoths once roamed the farms I hunt, followed by native Americans, African Americans, and European Americans who fought, bled, cried, and died in the fields, forests and hedgerows where I now hunt my dogs.

The stones at the edges of my fields were not pushed there by a tractor. They were picked up or dug out by hand, rolled and stacked onto wooden sledges, and pulled to their current location by sweating men working teams of horses.

I dig my dogs in fields and forests where the Civil War was fought.

In my part of America, farm labor is not an abstraction. It is a wound that has healed, but the scars still remain.

I have been told that we used to treat our animals better than we do today and that our food once tasted better too.

Not true.

But saying it is one thing, while showing it is another.

And so I have decided to start an occasional pictorial series on American farms with each series showcasing one crop or animal, farmed or raised all over the U.S, with the pictures organized in chronological order.

We will start with cotton.

Cotton picking, Georgia, 1865-70

Cotton picking, Texas, 1907

Cotton picking, Oklahoma, 1916

Cotton, crop dusting for the new boll weevil , 1928

Cotton pickers and wagons, Tennessee, 1931

Cotton field plowing, South Carolina, 1932

Child cotton pickers, Arkansas, fall harvest, 1935.

John Rust and the first cotton picking machine, 1937

Cotton labor and wagon, Georgia, 1941

Cotton picking machine loads wagon, Georgia, 1956

Cotton weeding with overseer, Alabama: 1970

Weeding cotton fields, Mississippi, 1973

Loading cotton from machines, Mississippi, 1995

Cotton bales, North Carolina, 1990

Cotton, tractor spraying, Mississippi, 1991

Mechanical cotton picker, California, 1999

Spraying cotton fields, Mississippi, 2000

I do not begrudge farmers their air-conditioned cabs from which they can now plow, harvest and spray their fields to kill weevils and worms.

Nor do I beat my breast in anguish because genetically modified crops may soon make spraying pesticides a thing of the past.

I do not romanticize hoeing long rows by hand, nor do I worry too much about the impact that glyphosate (RoundUp) has on wildlife.

You see, America's farms now have more deer on them that at any time in the last 100 years.

They also have more turkey, fox, raccoon, duck and geese.

And the farms are strong.

They produce more hay, corn, soybean, wheat, chicken, pigs, eggs, fruit, vegetables, milk and beef than ever before.

And because they produce so much, more land is now allowed to lie fallow.

Look at the pictures above.

What farm do you want to work on?

Which one is more productive?

Which one has more wildlife?'