Stephen Kahn

Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

You can take the hen out of the cretaceous…

In Humor on September 19, 2011 at 12:25 pm

My wife has reconciled herself that
Little Peep has gone to the great roost in the sky. We are now down
to two hens and two pullets, now almost full grown. Of the hens, only
Big Mama is still laying. “It’s a good thing I am so soft-hearted,”
says my wife of Big Moll. My wife is divided between her desire to
have farm birds that pay their way with eggs and loveable pets that
keep us company. The chickens will really come home to roost when we
have dozens of non-laying hens and no roost for them. (No way am I
building another hen house.)

Lucy, the leader of the pullets, can
not yet challenge Big Mama as the leader of the hen pack. Yesterday,
I saw a large ground beetle near the chicken run. My wife has said,
“These are helpful beetles. They eat garden pests. Don’t feel them
to the chickens.”

My wife was not home to stop me. I
picked up the beetle and dropped it into the chicken run, “Listen,
Lucy,” I said, “I brought you a pet. Be nice to it. It will
follow you around. Protect it from the other hens.”

“Yeah, right” said Lucy, the little
dinosaur (As you may know, birds are the modern remnants of
dinosaurs.) Then she savagely tore the beetle apart and chowed down.
You can take the chicken out of the cretaceous but you can’t take the
tyrannosaurus out of the chicken.

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Calibration

In Hard to tell on September 12, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Our physical evolution and our cultural heritage provide plenty of reasons to promote our tendency to be violent against our own kind. Our physical evolution and our cultural heritage provide plenty of reasons for us to refrain from violence against our own kind.

The word “calibration” refers to the process of adjusting our actions to avoid dangerous excesses. When we drive vehicles, we adjust our speed based on traffic laws, objects in our field of vision, weather conditions, and other inputs. We adjust our direction of travel for similar reasons.

For me, calibration is also desirable in evaluating violence. Some sociopaths and some terrified people may turn to violence with excessive enthusiasm and frequency. Some pacifists and some terrified people and some overly empathic people may reject the use of violence even when circumstances probably warrant it for self defense or for rescuing threatened people. Such extreme reactions indicate to me calibration failures.

How can we improve our violence calibration?

No green burial for Little Peep

In Bad news on September 10, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Not too long ago, a friend of my wife in the organic farmers group told her that with care and protection, our chickens might live to the age of 10 or 12 years. As it is hard to imagine a more protected, more cosseted group of chickens than our little flock, my wife was optimistic.

As each of us get older, if we are still fondly espoused, the thought of outliving our spouse does not seem that enticing. If we have dear animal companions, the thought of seeing our pets die, or worse, “putting them to sleep” depresses us. My wife’s best friend (who lives in Portland), just had to have her much loved cat put to sleep.

Although my wife (as am I) is still healthy, perhaps she imagined our chickens would outlive us. As chickens are productive at laying eggs for only a couple of years, she put out of her mind the difficulties and expenses of feeding, housing and caring for an ever-growing flock of superannuated chickens. If nothing else, we don’t have the room, and I am not about to build another hen house.

As chickens go, Little Peep was not that charming. She pecked the pullets. She ate sow bugs, earthworms, and beetles with relish, with little concern that they were other living creatures who had lives of their own to live. Well, she did let us “pet” her, but only because her “a rooster is about to mount me” instinctual drives took over.

Even so, my wife thought she might carry on pecking and scratching for another five to ten years. When she started limping, my wife hoped she might still be able to survive. As my wife began to accept that Little Peep was not going to live, she hoped that one day I would open the basement door and see she had passed away in her sleep in her cage. Each morning she was alive. Each day, she feebly but persistently pecked at the weeds I put in her cage.

This morning, my wife said to me, “We can’t go on like this. You will have to dispose of her. She has some sort of infection. Don’t throw her out for the eagles or hawks; she might make them sick.” Little Peep liked bugs the best, but it was too hard to find enough for a suitable last meal. All the hens consider oats as a kind of candy. My wife gave her one last generous portion of oats to peck. Then I took her to the other side of the house (where the other chickens could not see what I was about to do).

My wife insisted on watching. Chickens don’t stop moving all that quickly. Even after they are dead, they are still thrashing around for a while. Eventually, she stopped moving. My wife sobbed. I said, “Go inside. I will finish up disposing of her.”

I wrapped Little Peep’s remains in a plastic bag and put her in the trash can. We now have four chickens. As far as I can see, they are all healthy.

I notice there is a new movie out, called Contagion, about a epidemic striking humans on earth. Perhaps I will take the chickens to see it at the local movie theatre. They can peck at popcorn and crap on the seats as they watch. They are too dumb to realize that if humans die off, no one will be around to fill their water container, put out their chicken feed, or keep the juice running in the electric fence that protects them from the raccoons.

Little Peep does not think this is very funny

In Hard to tell, Humor, Uncategorized on September 8, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Last night when I got home from the monthly meeting of Transition Whidbey. I asked my wife if poor limping Little Peep had managed to jump up to the perch again after my wife put the chickens to bed.

My wife replied, “I think Little Peep is dying. I put her in the cage and put her in the basement.”

This morning, my wife asked me to check on Little Peep to see if she is still alive. She was alive, but sitting very still in her cage. I put her up on a platform we have for the pullets in the chicken run, and put some shade over her cage. The other chickens gathered around her and clucked in sympathy, or confusion. After she dies, we will put her out next to the garden where a hawk, eagle, owl, crow, coyote, or raccoon can scavenge her body.

I am still healthy, though I have a few aches and pains these days, and my heart is beating a little too slowly, so I may need a pacemaker implanted one of these days just to get my pulse with the program. The local newspaper runs obituaries, usually written by survivors, and often speaking admiringly of their religious faith (for the believers), or being evasive about their beliefs (or lack thereof), in the case of the agnostics and atheists.

I am writing my own obituary with instructions to my heirs to send it to the newspaper. There is a cost involved, so if the Great Depression #2 continues, my heirs may decide not to spend the money. My instructions are to have me cremated, though it would be fine with me if they tossed me in the woods where the hawks, eagles, owls, crows, coyotes, or raccoons can scavenge my body. However, I think the health department looks askance on such a practice,  and as much as the tea party rails against government bureaucracy, I doubt they will adopt my desire to have my body disposed of as inexpensively and simply as possible as a cause.

The whistle of bullets

In Bad news on September 6, 2011 at 4:46 am

At present I am reading quite a bit of Christopher Hitchens. I find some differences and some similarities between us. We are about the same age, so we are both contemplating our mortality. He has cancer of the esophagus, which may be a result of some hard drinking and hard smoking, or may be just bad luck of the draw. I am sore here and there, and my pulse is too slow, according to a couple of doctors, but I quite possibly may live for a few more years.

One difference is that Hitchens is about 10,000 smarter than I am, and about 10,000 times better informed on a variety of topics, and is at least a 100,000 times a better writer than I am, and probably has about 10,000,000 more readers, which is only appropriate.

One similarity is that we have both decided at an early age that we are not religious believers (so my religious readers may want to depart at this point). Another is that we have both mused on politics and on right and wrong, and have struggled with and bounced around such matters.

Although there are many other works I could refer to/quote, I will quote a bit from a chapter titled “Mesopotamia from Both Sides” starting on page 296 of his memoir Hitch-22.

Iraq and Saddam Hussein is probably old news at this point, but I think the following is still relevant.

“Other things—Bosnia, Rwanda—emerged to trouble the sleep of those who cared about human rights. But what I had learned in Iraq was working somewhere in my mind. I got hold of a copy of the video that showed how Saddam Hussein had actually confirmed himself in power. This snuff-movie opens with a plenary session of the Ba’ath Party central committee: perhaps a hundred men. Suddenly the doors are locked and Saddam, in the chair, announces a special session. Inside the room is dragged an obviously broken man, who begins to emit a robotic confession of treason and subversion, that he sobs has been instigated by Syrian and other agents. [I am omitting details of culling and killing by Saddam, eventually ending with the death of half the people on the committee in that room.]…I am not sure that even Beria or Himmler would have the nerve and ingenuity and cruelty to come up with that…”

Hitchens then discusses in bloody and horrible detail what he found out about Hussein and Iraq that led him to support the invasion of Iraq. As a very sad postscript to this chapter he tells the tale of Mark Daily, an idealistic American soldier, inspired in part by Hitchens’ writing, who died in Iraq, probably saving the lives of other American soldiers when he took the lead of a convoy (after noticing that the lead vehicle was not properly armored) and was then killed by an IED that blew up directly under his vehicle where no amount of armor could have protected him.

Neither Hitchens nor I have gone to war, though Hitchens in his travels has had a few close calls and a few bullets come close to his head. [I have had a few close calls, also, and at least one bullet coming close to my head, though that was from a careless deer hunter. Still a bullet in the head is a bullet in the head, whether it comes from a mad religious fanatic sociopath soldier or from a careless hunter.

Little Peep Limps On

In Bad news on September 5, 2011 at 11:50 pm

The other night as I went out to care for the chickens, I noticed that Little Peep, bottom of the pecking order of the three hens, and thus persecutor of the two pullets, is limping. Perhaps she has a sprained ankle. Chickens are remarkably tough birds, but also remarkably fragile. Even at best, their life span is brief. Once they injure one of their legs, they are probably not that long for this world.

My wife is optimistic, and we are caring for her as best we can, and she is limping around gamely, and still trying to pick on the pullets. I am maintaining a discreet silence, but preparing myself for a “Peepless” world. I now return myself to my glum musings about violence.