Saturday, October 31, 2009

A poem by Wendell Berry

(This the first time I have ever used someone else's writing for my blog.  But this Wendell Berry poem, which I only discovered recently, resonates with me.)

The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Manifesto: "The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" from The Country of Marriage, copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Swine flu: Avoiding everyone and everything

(DrTom is now prepared to go to the grocery to pick up some milk and bread, no longer fearful of the H1N1 virus.)

The swine flu, or H1N1 virus, is now prevalent and is highly communicable.  I don't want to get it, and either does Management.  We will get the vaccine when and if it is available to us, but I'm one of those who is not sure it helps anyway.  Therefore, there is only one real preventative action we can take--avoid other people at all cost.

The logic is simple, the plan is sound, but the execution of our strategy is not so easy.  Fortunately, we both work at home, so we can avoid the workplace and all its germs (and its gossip and politics, which are about as unhealthy as viruses).  We simply don't invite anyone over to the house.  If someone shows up uninvited, we just hide in the house and pretend we are not home.  I perfected this technique as a kid in Lima, when the Longworth sisters from next door would come over on a Saturday morning.  My brothers and I were always in our underwear watching cartoons on tv on Saturdays, and we did not want to be disturbed.  Those girls knew we were in there, but the door was locked, so we had the advantage.  After several minutes of  "we know you boys are in there", they would burn out and go home.

But on occasion, you need to have a repairman come inside the house for one thing or another.  Last week, the electrician was here to do some work.  Of course, he came from town, where the germs live, so I was nervous.  I basically stayed at the far end of the house and pretended to be working.  When he asked me a question about the wiring, I would yell something like "IT SEEMS TO GO OUT WHEN WE TURN ON TOO MANY LIGHTS".  And, at the end, "JUST PUT THE BILL ON THE TABLE IN THE KITCHEN.  THANKS".

This virus is a persistent little devil; it can apparently remain viable for up to two hours on any surface to which it is transmitted.  So even if you stay away from people, you must not touch anything that other people have touched for at least that long.  I did not go near the kitchen table for half a day after the electrician put his bill there.  Die, virus, die!  We leave our mail in the mailbox until the next day.  UPS parcels remain in the garage until sundown.  Stray dogs are given wide berth--you don't know who may have petted them recently.  You have to break the chain of transmission.  I no longer trust my wife, and she has not been anywhere.  But we eat in separate rooms just to be safe.

My immediate concern is that we are having our grandkids here for Thanksgiving.  Holy crap!  They go to school, and after-school programs, and guitar lessons, and soccer practice with dozens, maybe hundreds of other kids.  A veritable cesspool of dangerous pathogens swarming in, around, and through their contaminated bodies.  Runny noses.  Sneezes and coughs.  I'll be dead by Christmas.  I've suggested we set them up in the basement when they arrive to sleep and to eat; we could use Skype to see and hear them safely from upstairs.  I think they would do fine down there, but my wife and daughter think I am overreacting. 

And so it goes.  I continue to dodge all humans, and their possessions, and their air, and their space.  Remember the plague of earlier centuries in Europe?  People living in close proximity in cities.  We should learn from that experience.  Live in the country.  Find that deserted island.  Go backpacking alone until flu season is over.  Have supplies dropped to your rural home from a chopper, then let it sit for a day (or should it be "let it set"?).  Live simply (and alone), so others may simply live.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Biological prospecting in your own backyard

(The breast feathers from this dickcissel may be effective in treating ED.)

Picture this scene for a moment from 500 years ago, somewhere in Ethiopia or Arabia.  A man picks some ripe fruit from a plant we now call the coffee tree.  Inside the reddish fruit are two seeds embedded in a gelatinous material with the consistency of an 8-year old's snot in January, although it is somewhat sweet.  He removes the seeds, somehow dissolves the snotty material that coats each seed, dries the seeds, roasts them over a fire, grinds them up, pours hot water over them, and drinks the beverage so created.  Are you kidding me?  Although used originally only in religious ceremonies, coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world today, with over 100 million people dependent on coffee for their livelihoods. 

Or picture this from about 2,000 years ago.  Some Native Americans, and the early Greeks as well, happened to suck on the leaf of a willow tree at the time they had a headache or a fever and found that their symptoms improved.  Later, the bark was soaked in water and the solution used as a medicinal.  It turns out that willows contain a chemical we now call aspirin.  Aspirin, which is produced commercially these days, is probably the oldest and most widely used medicine by humans.  What are the odds?

Now, I don't know what the trial and error process was for these early discoverers of coffee and aspirin, or for maple syrup, bee honey, silkworm silk for clothing, tobacco for smoking, or any of thousands of other such examples.  The facts are clear: humans have been exploring and investigating the fauna and flora in their environment for a very long time, resulting in many useful products that we take for granted today.  This continues today in a highly technological milieu in an endeavor called "bioprospecting", which I will explore in a future post.  But to the ancients, there was a logic to many of these discoveries.  For example, willows are found in low lying wet or damp areas, which is also where the fever or "ague" was prevalent.  It made sense to them that there would be a treatment for the ailment that was found in the same area.  We will employ that same logic below.

Given that I spend a lot of time in my woods, and I know the plants and animals pretty well, why can't DrTom discover a really useful food or health remedy on his own.  Those early humans didn't even attend The Ohio State University.  I have some ideas that might work.

1.  Collect 8-10 earwigs, mash them up with a mortar and pestle from your kitchen, and add a teaspoon of cheap whiskey (for heaven's sake, don't use a single-malt scotch).  Strain out the body parts of the insects, gently warm the remaining solution, and pour it carefully into an infected ear.  It could relieve ear aches. (See the idea here: earwigs to cure ear aches.)

2.  Gather up 6-8 red fruits from a flowering dogwood tree.  Mash them in your mortar and pestle (but washed after the earwig procedure), blend in some fresh deer pellets, and add a splash of warm water.  This slurry can be used to spread on your family pet's coat and it might repel ticks and fleas.  (The dogwood is the active ingredient, but dogs love the smell of deer poop, so they will allow you to apply this liberally.)  I would keep the dog off your bed for about a week after application.

3.  For men over 60.  Capture a live dickcissel (the meadow bird of the midwestern U.S.) and collect several breast feathers.  (Can you guess where I am going with this?)  Soak the feathers in cheap vodka for about a day.  Strain out the feathers, add a shot of dry vermouth and a dash of Angostura bitters, and shake gently.  Imbibe slowly during Happy Hour.  Should work for ED.  If you maintain an erection for more than eight hours, rejoice!, and then consult a physician.

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head.  If you can think of more, please write them in a comment to this post.  The right idea could make us millions.  But I want only "green" suggestions.  Notice I did not think the dickcissel liver would work, only breast feathers, which are renewable.  For those of you reading this who are economists or political scientists, if you remove the bird's liver, it dies.  Think broadly, dig deeply, and tread lightly.  Happy prospecting!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The value of wood and the role of women in reforestation

(Kenyan women being checked for their wood-collecting permits near Kijabe.)

The striking thing about visiting an arid part of the globe is the lack of trees and the struggle of those people to find wood for cooking and heating. I have observed this first-hand in the Dominican Republic, Madagascar, and East Africa. Those of us who live in locations where there are abundant forests are incredibly fortunate, even though we seldom rely on wood for household uses. (My wife and I actually heat our home with wood, so I appreciate the value of this resource. However, if I don’t gather enough wood for the winter, we have the luxury of turning on the electric heat.)

The problem is really a “mass balance” problem. Wood is produced (i.e., trees grow) at a rate dependent on the species of tree, and the temperature and moisture of its environment. Opposing that growth rate is the rate at which wood is collected and used. The rate at which wood is used is greater than the rate at which new wood can grow in many places, especially in arid lands with a dense human population. Hardly a branch hits the ground that is not picked up by women who endure this arduous task. Benet women in eastern Uganda spend up to 10 hours per day, three days per week, gathering wood. That amounts to a full-time job, which is in addition to all the other tasks these women need to accomplish during the week. Can you just picture the soccer moms of the U.S. spending time in this manner? (Actually, the Benet left some mature trees, almost all Prunus africana, from the original forest when they cleared the land for agriculture. They do not use these trees for fuel.  Prunus africana, the African plum tree, has been used for thousands of years to treat various ailments, including problems of the prostate.)

Gathering wood in some places is downright dangerous. One Benet elder told us that he lost two wives during his youth while they were gathering wood for the home—one was killed by a neighboring tribe when she wandered into their territory. And, of course, there are large mammals and the scorching sun that can do harm as well.

So the answer is simple, but execution is nearly impossible. Grow more trees. But when Joe plants trees for the future, Sam cuts them down to use this year. In fact, Joe knows this will happen, so he doesn’t even bother to plant the trees in the first place. Or, no one can really afford the space for trees that will take years to grow large enough to use, given that trees shade areas that are needed to grow food for tomorrow. You can see a version of “tragedy of the commons” at work here. And so, the women continue to walk 30 hours per week to gather wood from some communal area miles away from home.

There are some successful attempts to turn this pitiful situation around. My colleague, Louise Buck, started a tree-planting program in Kenya about 20 years ago. The successful project was called the Agroforestry Extension Project (AEP), which mobilized women's groups and their members to develop small-scale nursery enterprises to propagate native and naturalized trees and to plant and to sell them. Over 1 million trees/year were planted in and around farms in western Kenya for over a decade, and the tradition continues. My friend, David Kuria, has mobilized a small cadre of volunteers (KENVO) near Mt. Kenya who maintains nurseries for native species of trees, and then plants them in concentric zones around a nearby national park. The idea is that those trees can be used eventually by local people, thereby reducing pressure on forests in the national park. At present, women can collect dead wood in the park after being issued a wood-collecting permit. Even this tree planting at the perimeter of the park, however, will not help women who live miles from this reforestation zone.

But the fact is that it is possible to produce wood where there was little before. It takes agreement within the local community that growing trees in a communal woodland is a worthwhile goal, some protection of young trees until they reach harvestable size, and a little money. The Benet women were waiting on a small grant ($100) to buy the seedlings to begin planting when my ecoagriculture group visited them, an amount about equal to what I spend on scotch in a given month. A little money can do a lot (microcredit?), if you can get it to the women. Women are the movers and shakers in most of these cultures. Women see the value of the plan immediately, and they are willing to do the work if given the resources to succeed.  In these societies, it seems it is always the women who actually make plans work.

One of the advantages of traveling around the world is the appreciation you gain for commodities we Americans take for granted. After living in Costa Rica, for example, I have never looked at a cup of coffee or a banana in the same way again, because I learned how much sweat-equity was used to produce those items. Similarly, I have always loved the trees in my forest and the firewood they produce to heat my home, but after some time in East Africa, my respect for that resource ratcheted up another notch. People only need a little help from the outside, and they can nurture a culture of trees that can provide an essential resource for their livelihood, reduce carbon dioxide, and contribute to conservation of biodiversity. It might just be that what is good for some locally is good for all globally.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why I am such a Facebook slut

(I'll invite anyone to be my FB friend.)

I have been a Facebook slut from the beginning.  I will invite anyone to be my friend, and I will accept anyone else's invitation to do the same.  But is this lack of selection standards the behavior I should employ?  If not, then I am somewhat confused about who to ask to be, or allow to be, my friends in the social networking world.  I'm a liberal and an atheist and an avid environmentalist, but there are lots of FB members who are conservatives and religious and who think that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy. There are those who want to play silly games with farm animals and send flowers around and ask for help with the Mafia, and I'm not into any of that.

There are young women with very provocative profile photos, and older women who are not so provocative, and balding men with white beards who look all-knowing.  There are CEOs and television personalities and publishers and lots of students.  I just spent the last 40 years of my life with students; do I need to continue?  After all, the only thing students want from me is another letter of recommendation.  There are people who only lurk, and there are those who want to sell me their herbal medicine or belly-dancing attire or 3-bedroom house on a cul-de-sac.  Others are trying to sell me that Obama is a Marxist, or a Muslim, or a Mouseketeer.  (I learned that literary technique in 9th grade English class.  Notice the three "Ms".  But I couldn't think of a third one, so I used Mouseketeer.)

Should I avoid members who are not like me, and surround myself with like-minded thinkers?  Or, should I embrace the differences and pursue those "others" so I have the chance to influence their thinking?  You know, keep your liberals close and your conservatives closer.  But to be perfectly honest, I am trying to make lots of friends, some of whom will become regular readers here. 

So I guess I don't really care what my FB friends' beliefs or politics are as long as I think they might be attracted to DrTom's blog.  Here is the strategy I am using currently to befriend FB members.  I invite the following categories of people to be friends:

1.  Anyone who is baby boomer age.  Check profile photos for elderly-looking men and women, and those who think they are hiding out as a 52-year old.  I figure this demographic could relate to my perspectives better than, say, a 25-year old who thinks that "Vietnamese" is just the word on a marquee for any non-Chinese Asian restaurant.

2.  Anyone who looks like they enjoy the out-of-doors, nature, hiking, gardening, etc.  Check profile photos for dirty hands, tears in clothing, Columbia Sportswear jackets, people on horseback, those with a dog, snow-capped mountain in background.

3.  Older, white men in the publishing or media business.  I need a break and these guys have the power to make the big decisions in these industries, and to make contact with other media moguls, and they probably know lots of other older, white guys.

4.  Jewish people.  One of my blogs was about preparing for my first Rosh Hashanah at age 62.  That should endear that demographic to my site.

5.  People who look like they like to read stuff.  This is a tough one, but they probably wear glasses, have wrinkles in their forehead, and they just plain look intelligent.

6.  Anyone holding a cigar in their profile.

7.  Really sexy young girls.   Because they attract more of all of the above to my FB page, and a certain percentage of these attractants might visit DrTom's blog.

Given that FB has a 5,000-friend limit, I need to be somewhat selective about who I invite.  For example, I could fill my quota just with "really sexy young girls" if I wanted.  There are so many of those.  (Hey, what's up with that anyway?  Do these girls wearing very little and posing so provocatively think they will be discovered by MGM, or that they will win an appearance in a music video or a reality show?  Or, are they just looking to hook up with the "older, white guy" category?)  Man, there is a lot going on in the FB world, and I don't grasp the half of it.  I just want a little of their time, and a click or two.  I need to buy a Whopper at Burger King's for my wife.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The color-blind naturalist

(If you see a number in this circle, then you are not one of us.)

I am willing to come out of the closet and tell the world that I don't see things the same way most people do.  Along with 7% of American males and 0.4% of American females, I am color-blind.  The genetic basis of this condition and the myriad of details surrounding the types of color-blindness are too esoteric for this post, and their description would bore most of you to drink (even more than you currently do).

Color-blind people are apparently interesting and curious to normal-sighted people.  Holding up some item at hand, the perennial question is always: "What does this look like to you?"  Come on.  Think hard about that question for a minute.  You are asking someone who does not see objects as you do what the world looks like.  The color-blind person could only describe the world as he sees it, not the way you see it, so no matter what the answer is, it will be of no value to you at all.  It is a ridiculous question, but non-color blind people ALWAYS ask it.  Do you do it just so you can laugh behind our backs?  To make yourself feel superior? I'm really sick of the ignorance of the colored-sighted persons.  It is high time that color-blindees stand up and complain about the bigotry and ignorance that exists in the U.S. toward those of us who happen to have been born with a weird density or arrangement of cones in the retina of our eyes.  This "defect" is not our fault, and being grilled relentlessly by our children, and now grandchildren, who try to teach us the colors by holding up those stupid Crayola crayons is not helping.  What the hell is mauve, anyway?

And besides, how do we know that an object that you say is "red" is really that color?  That is just the way YOU see it.  I see it differently.  Maybe I am correct, and the majority of people are incorrect.  Is it correct to call it red because more than 50% of humans say that is what it is?  Or, to get even more complicated.  Because I have been told all my life that the color of the shirt you are holding up is called "red", I may have learned to call it that, even though I see something very different from what you see.

To publicize the plight of color-blind persons, I propose we initiate a Special Olympics of sorts.  The main event, which would actually constitute an extreme sport for color-blindees, involves a railroad crossing in an actual rural setting. The exciting spectator part of this is that the umpires wait until a train is coming at full speed.  The umps hold up a green flag when it is safe to cross and a red flag when it is not safe.  If the contestant gets it wrong, they lose, big time. 

Actually, this railroad crossing event simulates what real life is like for us all the time.  Years ago, my brothers (who are both also color-blind) and I went grouse hunting in southern Ohio.  As we crossed an intersection in a small town, cars screeched to a halt from two directions and started blasting their horns.  We pulled the car over to see what the heck was wrong.  After studying the situation for a few minutes, we realized that the traffic light had the green light on top and the red light on the bottom.  Go figure.  It was Ohio.  Our M.O. had always been to drive through any intersection when the bottom light was on and stop when the top light was lit.  This had worked for years.  The color never mattered to us.  Whoops!  It matters in southern Ohio.  Was this some kind of trick to kill off color-blind innocents like us?  (By the way, in Romania and Turkey, color-blind people are not given a driver's license.)

I went through life bearing this burden from primary school until I was 40 thinking I simply saw objects slightly differently from other people.  Then, when we were on sabbatic in Costa Rica in the mid-80s, I was taking a hike with my son Matt along a trail in the Monteverde cloud forest.  At one point in the walk he said: "Dad, look at those red flowers on that plant."  I said: "What red flowers?"  And he patiently pointed out to me that there were dozens of red flowers all over a patch of some herbaceous plants about two feet tall immediately next to the trail.  I realized then that not only did I see colors differently from normal people, but that I was not seeing some objects at all.  Only two weeks ago, my wife was exclaiming about the red apples all over our tree about 50 feet from where we were standing.  I could not see a single apple unless I stood right next to the damn thing.  I have been quasi-depressed about this startling revelation ever since that day in Monteverde.

In 1968, I thought I might turn this handicap to my advantage.  I had received my draft notice to report to Uncle Sam.  You know, that uncle who has 300 million nieces and nephews.  The Vietnam War was at its peak, and the military took every body they could find.  I heard a rumor that they even picked up a road-kill deer at one point, because the body was still warm.  They probably figured the deer could at least serve as a company clerk.  So I thought I might fail my physical if I was color-blind and, thereby, not have to go into this dangerous situation.  I took my physical in Columbus, Ohio and, immediately after the eye exam, I asked the technician if I was color-blind.  His response: "Yep. Next."  I spent the next three years in the U.S. Army.

So I am a nature lover, and I have been all of my life.  But think how much more beautiful it would seem to me and to color-blind people everywhere if we actually saw the world in all its incredible, colorful reality.  Brilliant flowers and ripe fruits and autumn leaves on trees that we hear everyone exclaiming about.  And rainbows.  And blushing girls.  And birds.  And Christmas lights.  And even traffic lights.  Damn those deficient cones!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Senescence sucks: The virtues of Versed (part 4)

(When you see this guy coming, just say "Versed please".

Last week, I had occasion to be given an "ultra short-acting benzodiazepine derivative, which has potent anxiolytic, amnestic, hypnotic, anticonvulsant, skeletal muscle relaxant, and sedative properties"?  Of course, this was done under medical supervision at the hospital.  Don't try this at home.  The occasion was a procedure called an upper GI endoscopy, and it was conducted by the same doc that does my colonoscopy every five years.  Hopefully, he uses different instruments for each procedure; no double-dipping, please.  This most recent procedure involves having the specialist thread a tube with a small camera attached down your throat into the esophagus and into your upper digestive system to reconnoiter, take pictures, or even repair some problems.  This was recommended because of that hiatal hernia that I wrote about earlier. 

The barium swallow that I took several weeks ago was a preliminary look inside the problem area but, as my doc explained, the endoscopy procedure is the "gold standard" for examining that area of the human body.  I may not invest in gold when I trade online, but you can be damn sure I want the gold standard applied to figure out what to do about this hernia.  The doc and I sat in his office as we discussed all this.  It took only five minutes to explain the endoscopy procedure, and we spent 20 minutes talking about cigars, wines, and scotch.  I really like this guy!

Part of the reason the medical discussion went so quickly is because as soon as I learned that the patient is sedated with a drug called Versed, I needed to hear little more.  This is the same drug they used for the colonoscopies, so I was an old pro at this one.  Understand that I have never done recreational drugs in my life (well, there was that one time at the Delta Chi house), but I now go around to cocktail parties, wedding receptions, and bar mitzvahs giving free testimonials about Versed.  What is sad is that my testimonials are more interesting than most conversations at these events, so I always have good attendance in my corner of the room.  There are a few jock-types standing around the hors d'oeuvre table discussing the Yankees, but there are really impressive numbers in my corner where I am discussing my favorite ultra short-acting benzodiazepine derivative.

In short, and I'm obviously being very non-technical, Versed works not only by relaxing and sedating the patient, but it results in total amnesia about the event that occurred while you were under the influence of the drug.  You are completely awake during the procedure, you can answer questions, and you are able to respond to the medical team's directives, but you remember absolutely none of the gagging and swallowing of the tube.  Think about that for a moment.  You realize they are putting 2-3 feet of tubing down your throat while they are doing it, not a very comfortable thought, but when you recover from the drug, you can not remember a single second of the experience from the time they injected the IV drug until you recover. 

Think of all the times in your life you wish you would have been under the influence of Versed.  Your boyfriend breaks up with you.  The next day you feel great, because you don't know you have no boyfriend.  Your boss fires you, the next day you feel great, but you don't know you are unemployed.  The stock market crashes as it did last year, but the next day you feel normal, even though you have no money for retirement.  Wow!

But there are two problems with this antidote for life's miseries.  First, you don't know when these adversities are going to occur, so you would have to be on Versed all the time to gain the benefit.  On your 50th birthday, you wouldn't have any memories until before your 20th, when you began the Versed regimen.  And second, eventually you will realize you don't have a boyfriend, and that you're unemployed and broke.  At that point, you would probably employ Plan B, which is to partake of a more common drug of choice, alcohol.  So Versed is not a long-term solution to life's problems.  But when it comes to someone in a white coat sticking a tube into one of your body's orifices, it is fantastic.  Who needs to remember the details about that?

Plus, I have always adopted the view that life is mostly about creating memories, which you can draw on later in life.  In fact, bad memories may be better than no memories at all.  Memories enrich life, help us realize that our time was not spent for nothing, give us something to discuss over and over, and entertain us when we are alone.  They represent material for sharing with others. But when you see the doc comin at ya with a tube and a camera attached, just say "a benzodiazepine derivative, thank you very much".

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Everyone is selling something all the time

(Listen.  This is the honest truth.  I'm not selling anything.)

As a behavioral ecologist, I have long believed the literal truth of the title of today's post.  It benefits each individual to convince others that they are trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.  Of course, not everyone is a Boy Scout at heart, but it is to their advantage to try to get others to believe that they are.  If I trust you, then I might buy a car from you, loan you money, give you a job, let you date my daughter, invite you to my party, give you a ride downtown, or tell you an important secret; if I trust you, there are a plethora of ways I might help you materially or help you enhance your status in the community.  As we shall see in future posts, status is everything in a species as social as ours.

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But being a regular participant and reader of social networks over the past year has brought home to me this lesson most vividly.  The posts on any social networking site are mostly a barrage of salesmanship, of one form or another.  On Facebook, for example, I have become "friends" with several celebrities: Joan Lunden, Billy Bush, Craig Crawford, Tom Bergeron, Peter Greenberg, Michael Wolff, Alexis Glick, and others.  Those people are on FB for only one reason--to sell their tv show, or their next interview of Kate Gosselin, or their next appearance on the Bill Maher show, or their next book.  And any of us who read what they write are their intended consumer. 

Many of these salespersons, mostly the females, take the tact of describing how they spent the weekend with their adorable kids at the beach, and then came home to cook mac and cheese for their family, and then washed the dirty dishes with their husband after they put the kids to bed.  That is, she is trying to sell the image that she is a regular working mom, just like you.  The difference, of course, is that she has a weekly tv show, which she would appreciate you watching on Wednesday night, and she makes $500,000 per year (and is hoping for a raise to $1M next season).  The men tend to be less devious in their approach: "Watch me tackle the health care reform bill on Sunday morning on Meet the Press".  It sounds like a football game, and that is what REAL men do.  They tackle things.

Those of us who are not famous or well-known are, more often than not, doing the same thing within our own milieu, in our own way.  We are trying to be humorous, clever, intelligent, sexy, provocative, useful, ludicrous, outrageous, or interesting.  We play to our strengths on or off FB to "win friends and influence people", as the famous Dale Carnegie course promised decades ago to entrepreneurs who aspired to be successful. All of this is perfectly normal human behavior, but once you view the world this way, nearly everything you hear or read seems trite and hollow.  In fact, if we were all perfectly honest all the time, society as we know it would probably collapse.  The lies we tell and the myths we believe keep us sane and moving forward.  My current favorite is the investment company that advertises on tv and tells us how much they care and worry about us, how they want our financial future to be bright, to be able to send our kids to college, and to retire in style.  Bullhonky!  They don't know any of us and they couldn't care less about us as individuals.  They simply want to sell us their product.  You all know what I mean.  For fun, watch a couple of hours of tv tonight, including the commercials, and turn on your crap detector.  You will find it more amusing than the content of the show you tuned in to watch.

All of this can take a serious turn as well.  Bernie Madoff pulled off the largest financial scam of all time by selling his friends and acquaintances on his investment scheme.  I know some people who invested with him.  He was, apparently, a hell of a nice guy and everyone thought he was perfectly honest.  Not!  He was, however, very good at playing his role.

What is the point of all this cynicism?  Not sure.  It is just that the older you get, the more practiced you become at seeing through the morass of lies and half-truths.  The most difficult to discern are those lies told that the teller truly believes.  By definition, I guess those are not really lies, just untruths.  Natural selection must have favored individuals who are good at telling these self-serving stories, and good at selecting individuals who are able to detect their merit.  Another example of an evolutionary arms race.  Human behavior is about as interesting and entertaining as it gets.  And it is free.  Now, I must get back to trying to entice FB readers to visit this blog.  I love each and every one of you!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Car Rider: the deer who liked to ride in cars

(Would you share a ride with this deer in your Volvo?)

We have had many different kinds of pets over the years. I use the term “pet” very loosely, because many of these critters remained with us for a very short time, and they were not pets in the normal sense of that word. I will write about some of them in the future, if all of you behave yourselves.  During the past 40 years, we have had hawks, owls, foxes, rabbits, kangaroo rats, deer mice, gray squirrels, various salamanders and snakes, a red-eyed vireo, a black bear cub, and a black-tailed deer. And it is the latter animal that is the subject of this brief anecdote.

When I was studying Columbian white-tailed deer in southwestern Washington during grad school, Fred Lindzey, a fellow grad student, called me up and asked me to come over to his study area on the Washington coast. Fred was studying black bears on an island just off the coast adjacent to Willipa National Wildlife Refuge. Apparently, someone had raised a black-tailed deer fawn to yearling age, and it had become too much for them. The deer was hanging around refuge headquarters, so the personnel there thought it would be a good idea to get rid of the animal somehow. Fred immediately thought of me. I was only an hour away, I was studying a closely related species of deer on a deer refuge, we lived on the refuge, and there was plenty of space to turn the deer loose. Plus, he thought I might learn something by watching a black-tailed deer amidst a population of white-tailed deer. Sounded reasonable.

So I drove over to Willipa to pick up this deer in my Dodge truck. Now, this deer thought it was a dog or something, because it tried repeatedly to get through the front door of any house and, most curious of all, it would jump into the front seat of a car or truck if the door was left open. It actually liked to ride in moving vehicles. Thus, it was given the name “Car Rider”. In this instance, we encouraged the deer to jump into the back of the pickup truck and I drove it back to my study area on the deer refuge.

When I arrived back at the refuge, I promptly put a neck collar on the young male, similar to the one I used on my study animals. After a few hours of entertaining ourselves with this weird deer, I decided it was time to introduce Car Rider to his new home. I put him in the back of the truck and drove down the gravel road to the center of the 2,000 acre deer refuge, and released him. I began driving back to my house and after about 100 yards, I looked in the rear view mirror only to see that Car Rider was chasing after the truck and was only a few yards behind me. I couldn’t drive fast enough on this rough road to distance myself from him, so I ended up back at the house with a winded deer. Introduction of black-tailed deer to white-tailed deer population = failure!

The next morning I received a call from the refuge manager who wanted to meet with me in his office, which was about 3 miles on the other side of the refuge. I got in the truck, and drove about 45 miles per hour to his office. The road made a bend about half way there where I needed to bear right to get to his office; another small road took off to the left at the bend, and this was the only other road that intersected the route I took. About 20 minutes into our meeting, we got a phone call from Hobie's grocery store in Skamokawa, the tiny town nearby, that they had a very hot and tired deer standing in their store with a white collar around its neck. Damn! Car Rider had apparently tried to follow my truck, unbeknown to me, but I had been able to drive fast enough to put enough distance between us so that when he got to the bend in the road, he went left instead of right and ended up at the store.

Needless to say, my cohabitation with this deer had already become an untenable situation. At this point I was cursing Fred Lindzey, because I had little time for all this. In the end, I found that research biologists with the Washington Department of Game needed a trainable deer for a food habits study, and that is where Car Rider was sent. What a dear.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I promise to be more macho

(My morning ride on a dolphin.  Normally, I prefer a killer shark, but they were all busy.)

It seems that the majority of my readership is female.  That suggests one of several explanations: 1) men don't know how to read, 2) men are busy watching NFL football, and don't have the desire to read, 3) men are more technologically challenged than they will admit, and simply don't know how to find my blog, or 4) my blog topics are not manly enough for the average guy.  I will assume that #4 is closest to the truth.  And I understand guys.  Although I have written about cutting firewood with the macho chain saw, which is potentially dangerous and makes loud noises, I have also described how I canned pears, wore Sean John underwear, and been happily married to the same woman for 41 years. 

In my defense, I have mentioned many times how I like to drink single-malt scotch and smoke cigars.  That is getting pretty male-like, although my wife does exactly the same thing. When I am in the woods with my liquor and smokes, I fart frequently and cuss for no reason whatsoever.  Sometimes I kick a squirrel that attempts to cross my path, and I was once seen spitting on the sidewalk when a meter maid passed by.  I will urinate almost anywhere.  I help women cross the street, but only if they are wearing a really short dress.  I might even make a lewd and lascivious comment (sorry guys, that means a filthy remark) as she continues to walk down the street, and I will definitely check her out from head to toe in a way I learned in Latin America.  I almost never watch Desperate Housewives.

But I need to cover topics that appeal more to men.  I need to talk about hunting and fishing, and playing poker with the guys, and drinking at Punk's until it closes, and driving above the speed limit.  Better yet, I will take up extreme sports and write about them.  I will ski down the Matterhorn......on one ski...........blindfolded.  I will go skin diving in the ocean as soon as a great white shark is reported in that exact location........naked...........with a dead bloody rabbit tied to my night...........with no first aid kit.  I will camp out in a small tent..........on the beach in the height of tsunami season.  I will jump into the lion enclosure at the Syracuse zoo............lie down on the ground..............and pretend I am a wounded antelope.

I fully intend to complete all these activities within the next month.  So stay tuned guys.  Have your wife or girl friend find this blog for you, then show up at the computer  wearing a wife-beater T-shirt with a beer in hand, unshaven, smelling of chicken wings and cold pizza, and prepare to live vicariously through DrTom's exploits.  I promise not to disappoint you.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I'll bet you don't own a pair of orange chaps

(Before and after I took the chain saw safety course.)

Have you ever had a close call while riding on a bicycle or motorcycle?  You know the kind I mean.  You start to turn left and the car behind you slams on its brakes and blasts its horn, nearly skidding into your left leg.  Or, you are swimming alone offshore, the currents seem much stronger than normal, and before you know it, you are 300 meters from the beach where you started, and you make it back to shore only after an intense struggle.  Later, you learn that if you had just had a simple rear view mirror on your bike or you knew more about ocean tides, you would have been much less likely to be in peril.  A little preparation ahead of time would have saved you a possible knee surgery, or prevented you from ending up like a drowned rat on the beach in Bermuda after entering the water near Miami the week before.

About a week ago I took a 5-hour Chain Saw Safety and Productivity course taught in Candor by Jim Signs.  What an epiphany!  How I managed not to cut off my right ear or my left foot all these years is beyond me.

I thought I was being safe:

1.  I only drank beer out of a can while using the chain saw, never a bottle, which could break and cut you.
2.  I wore Crocs so that if I ever cut my foot badly with the saw, I could remove my footwear quickly.  Plus, with all the holes in the Crocs, blood would drain from my shoes rapidly.  This makes Crocs much easier to clean than leather boots after an accident.
3.  I never wore ear protection, because I wanted to hear my cell phone if it rang. Robin often calls me on that phone when I am in the woods to tell me dinner is ready.  If I missed meals, I might become light-headed, and this is dangerous when using a chain saw.
4.  I never smoked cigars while cutting.  I only lit up between cutting sessions, while I was refilling the gas tank of the saw.
5.  I never used the chain brake when walking among the trees, because I didn't want to wear out that mechanism (repairs can be expensive).
6.  As mentioned in a previous blog, I always take the landline phone from the house with me, because of its intercom feature.  If my wife is ever off the phone with her sister in Ohio, I would be able to call her for help.
7.  And finally, I always wore shorts or a bathing suit when cutting to avoid overheating (I hate sweat).  I especially like to fell trees on windy days; the wind keeps me cool.

Man, I took that safety course and now I realize how wrong I was.  One of the biggest dangers in cutting is "kickback", which is when the saw flips back toward the person holding the saw.  This is the accident where you can lose an ear, or worse.  The saw comes back in 1/10th of a second.  I always had pretty good reflexes (you know, I am an ex-tennis player and all that), so I have been dodging that damn saw for years.  But now I know that it is the upper tip of the saw that causes kickback when it hits the log. Plus, I also learned that the chain saw users' mantra is "Stay out of the kickback plane".  Whenever possible, stand slightly to the left of the plane through which the saw would pass if it kicks back.  See, that 10th grade geometry is coming in handy, finally, to save an ear or two.  Remember what a plane is?  Thank goodness we didn't have to do anything with a rhombus, or I would have stitches all over my body.

But the main lesson I learned was that you have to wear the proper clothing and protective gear.  I went back to Jim's store for three days in a row after the course to buy stuff (see photo).  Helmet with shield and ear protection.  Check.  Boots with steel toe, made from a material that protects against the moving chain.   Check.  Did you know that 22% of all chain saw accidents occur to the feet and ankles?   Proper gloves that really grip the handle of the saw.  Check.  And my favorite--wrap-around chaps that protect your legs from cuts.  Check.  Did you know that 52% of all chain saw accidents occur to your upper leg?  These chaps stop the saw dead if it hits your leg.  Plus, they are blaze orange, so if a tree falls on you in the forest, the rescue squad can find your body more rapidly.

So now I feel better informed, better protected, and I am more productive in the woods.  I also learned a few tricks on cutting and moving wood that should save me time and energy (I hate sweat).  The more free time I have, the more I can write blogs.  The more blogs I write, the more time you waste reading them.  I guess in the grand scheme of things, my increased productivity in cutting wood is a global zero-sum game. 

(If interested in taking this excellent course from Jim Signs, he can be reached at

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

When a snake bites your student on his buttocks

(Would you check the white Swiss butt of this biologist for a snake bite?)

When you do field work in places where there are venomous snakes, you think about it. Because you see these snakes only rarely, you become somewhat habituated to the fact that they exist in your location, but it is always in the back of your mind. You think about where you put your hands and feet, where you sit down to have your lunch, where you go to the bathroom, and how you pick up a backpack that has been on the ground for several hours.

We know that humans actually do get bitten by venomous snakes. I have had two colleagues receive serious bites from snakes, and it is not pleasant. You spend days or weeks in the hospital receiving doses of anti-venom and other drugs, battle pain and nausea, and often undergo reconstructive surgery to repair the muscles that experienced necrosis and atrophy near the site of the wound.

It was a tense moment when one of my graduate students appeared unexpectedly at the door of our little house in southern Costa Rica one evening and announced to me: “Tom, I think I’ve been bitten by a snake.” I was studying birds, so my schedule was that of an ornithologist. I got up at 4:30am, went to the field at 5, came home about noon, and went to bed at 9pm. Martin, who is the focus of this story, was studying frogs and lizards. He went to the field about 2pm, but never returned home before midnight. We rarely saw each other until the weekend when we took some time off. But on this day, I heard his car pull up to the house in the dark about my bedtime, saw him trudge past the window in his yellow rain gear, and watched him make his startling appearance at the back door. He was slightly hunched over, his face was pale, and he stared me straight in the face as I digested the words “…….bitten by a snake.”

He explained that he and his assistants were sampling lizards after dark in a pasture next to the forest. This technique involves crouching low to the ground and, using a flashlight, searching every square meter of your assigned area, capturing all lizards you see by hand. The individuals were then taken to a processing “station”, where they were weighed, measured, and marked, before being returned to the area where they were captured. At one point, the student felt a sharp “prick” on his buttocks and at that very moment a small snake, striped red and black like some coral snakes, crawled between his legs. The temporal proximity of the prick and the presence of the snake led him to conclude that the snake had caused the prick. Not an unreasonable conclusion, in my opinion. The snake was definitely NOT a fer-de-lance, which we feared the most. But there are many other venomous snakes in Costa Rica. He waited a few minutes, felt nothing, and assumed that either the snake was not venomous, or it had not really bitten him, or, or, or. But the student was about an hour from any medical help, so his Costa Rican assistants demanded that he return home, just in case he needed to go to the hospital in town. He would be that much closer.

Gap Adventures
So Martin returned to our house and appeared at the door as described. The next question out of his mouth was almost more shocking than the statement that he might have been bitten. “Tom, would you check my buttocks?” I explained that this might be going further than the faculty-student contract, that this was not in my job description, that I needed to go to bed to get my sleep, but, geesh, this had to be done. He dropped his trou and I put on my examination face as if I had done this a hundred times before, and not at all sure what I would find. I looked it over, carefully, but I could see absolutely nothing—no wound, no mark, no swelling, no redness. I pronounced that he would probably live, although the scientist in me was quick to point out that I had no baseline data with which to compare. I could only assume that what I was seeing was a normal-looking, very white, pasty, Swiss butt (the student was, in fact, from Switzerland). We both laughed and the incident ended.

I got a lot of mileage out of this anecdote. I repeated the story when I introduced Martin to an audience before he gave a presentation on his research. I emailed everyone I knew and told the story. My son Matt replied to the email with a sobering thought: “Dad, it is a good thing he had not been bitten. You would have had to suck out the venom.” What could have been a really serious event turned out to be nothing but fodder for an amusing anecdote. But our fascination with snakes continues, and we think about them, and we watch for them, and the stories about them are remembered for a long, long time.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Punk's Place: Did we make it home?

(I hadn't used this move on the dance floor in quite a while.  Everyone at Punk's Place was impressed.)

On Saturday, Robin, Mark and I went to our new favorite bar/club in Candor, NY--Punk's Place.  Mark had gotten there before us and reported that the 2-7 crowd had just left.  You know what I'm talkin bout--the guys who sit in a bar all afternoon on a Saturday and drink.  A few scary characters, but nothing we haven't seen in bars from Korea to Costa Rica.  I will join them some Saturday for a while; has to be some good material for a blog there. 

But by 8, an entirely different crowd appeared.  I was completely surprised that the average age of this clientelle was about 45.  Maybe I was wrong about all the senior citizens being locked up in abandoned buildings in Syracuse by younger people.  Maybe it was the other way around.  Or, the older group made the younger ones stay home and babysit.  Or, there are no longer any young people left in Candor; they all moved to Ithaca.  Maybe Candor is comprised of people under 18 and over 40.  I will explore the demographics of Candor further when we attend the Fall Festival there next weekend.  I should have pumped the lady who cut my hair last week for this information.

Almost everyone there came as a couple.  Where are all the swinging singles you are supposed to find in a place like this?  What if I had been single and I wanted to dance with someone?  Mark came stag.  What in the world was he supposed to do?  We ate our reubens, drank some beer, and listened to one set of the band, which was excellent, by the way.  I hate about 90% of the bands I hear these days, but these guys (Giant Steps) were really good musicians.  I barely had to breakdance at all, but I understand why the word "break" is included in the name of that dance form.

Robin and I left about 10:30, so maybe the youngsters came after that.  Babyboomers, the custom these days is not to even go out until 11 or so.  If you come before that, you look desperate.  You have to walk into these places like you don't really care if you are there or not.  Then, order a beer like you were asking to borrow a pencil.  No big deal.  You don't really care if you drink or not.  Look around like you don't really see anyone but, in actuality, you are scoping EVERYONE out. Very kewl.  You might leave at any minute, and they would hate to see you go.  Your leaving would be a big loss.  Everyone would follow you out the door, bar revenues would collapse for the night, and the band would take an extra long break.  In the old days, you could smoke a cigarette during this initial phase of your night and you would look very James Dean-like.  Now, you have to chew gum and you look very Goldie Hawn-like.  But these are the times in which we live.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Saturday night at Punk's Place

(Punk's Place, Candor, NY.  Where everybody knows your name.)

This will be only our second visit to Punk's Place, and our first Saturday night.  Live music.  Drinks.  Food.  I've showered for the first time in two days, and I shaved for the first time this month.  Kind of an autumnal equinox celebratory shave.  Not thinking so much about what I might drink there (they seem to be a little shy of single malts), but what I might eat.  I noticed last time that the menu had reuben sandwiches, so I have been thinking about that all day.  But you know, anticipating going out to a place like this is just not what it was 30 years ago.  It takes effort to get presentable and, besides, I normally go to bed about 10pm.  Have to feed the damn dog at 5am.

Robin and I will almost certainly be the oldest people in the joint, but we are getting used to that.  It seems it has been that way for a long time.  When we visit our sons in Denver, they take us out to tequila bars, latin dance clubs, or parties at their friends' houses; we out-age everyone in the room by at least a decade.  Did we just not do enough partying when we were younger?  Are we trying to make up for lost time and the fact that we had children when we were in our early 20s?  Did all the other baby-boomers get kidnapped by the x-generation who think our age group has a lot of money?  (We were spared, cause they know we don't have any.)  If so, where did they hide all those senior citizens, in those old abandoned brick buildings in Syracuse?

But we are meeting one of my former students there, Mark.  Mark is 21, so he can guide us through any social nuances we may have missed during our previous encounters with younger adults.  Do men still shake hands?  Does the old guy buy the younger one the first round, or is it the other way around? 

Plus, do they have any strange customs in Candor, NY that we have not seen?  I've never been there in the dark. Do you have to drink beer there or would a nice chardonnay be out of the question?  Am I expected to breakdance to any Michael Jackson music they play, or can I beg off?  I'm wearing cords; am I overdressed?  I just don't know.   Maybe Mark doesn't know either; he's from Syracuse.  We don't want to offend anyone.  In hindsight, I probably should have arranged to have the white-haired lady who cut my hair in Candor last week meet us there.  I tipped her $2, so she would help.  She would know everyone and could introduce us around.  Man, now I am really nervous.

several hours later.........

We went, we saw, we conquered.

to be continued..........

Friday, October 2, 2009

Coffee, candy bars, and Facebook

(They look really good, but DrTom has no clue what kind they are.  When he orders a coffee, he says "Give me a coffee.")

The Facebook (FB) phenomenon amazes me.  Of course, there are many aspects of it that we all marvel at and puzzle over.  It is really neat to be able to connect and reconnect with friends and family all over the world, and keep them up to date with our lives.  We would never write enough letters to do this, or even talk to them often enough on the phone to accomplish the same amount of information transfer.  My sons and I regularly insult each other in that public forum, for example, but I would never take the time to call them a "dickhead" in a hand-written letter, or call them up just to say "your mother wears combat boots". Whoa!  I guess that would be my wife.

In addition to our friendly "hellos" to one another, many FBers are obviously trying to sell something, or to inform us about a topic that is important to them---a social issue, like poverty or global climate change.  They want to tell us what is happening on these fronts and they hope to motivate us to some kind of action.  It is truly difficult to imagine a system that could alert more people in less time than a social networking site like FB, so it is tempting to use it to pass on messages, links, and photos that are near and dear to our hearts.  Alas, it is also not uncommon to read posts that are about as inane as one can get: "I'm bored", or "time to sleep", or "Guess what?", etc.  You know what I am talking about, and you know who you are.  But this just comes with the territory.

However, the most curious FB site I have found so far is Starbucks.  Many commercial enterprises have a page on FB, and the size of their fan base must be an indication of how popular that particular store or product is in the real world.  Target has 535,000 fans, Butterfinger has about 300,000, while the most popular Sears Group page I can find has only a couple of hundred fans.  (There is often more than one Group page for well-known names.)  Starbucks Group page has over 7 million fans!  Think of that.  A number that nearly equals the population of the New York City area bothered to find and join a FB site that is all about coffee.  What could all those people have to talk about, because at a site like Starbucks, no one knows anyone else?  What they have in common is that they apparently love Starbucks coffee, and they are willing to proclaim it to the world.

Please indulge me a moment as I go to the Starbucks site right now, where I will copy some of the posts there to paste here: "I love Starbucks.. BEST COFFEE EVER", "I'm a Cafe Mocha, Decaf, kind of gal!", "venti caramel frap", "Im loving it frappe mocha", "My new favorite. A grande quad skinny vanilla latte... Yum!", "caramel frappaccino w/ extra shot of caramel can get me through the worst day", "Mmmm - Peppermint mocha", "I LOVE Love Love Starbucks!! ♥", "Java Chip Frappchino Light.....YUM", etc., etc., etc.  At the Butterfinger page, posters simply tell everyone they just ate a candy bar.

Starbucks' management must absolutely love this self-perpetuating advertisement love-fest, and they must love FB for establishing this social network. (By the way, click on the title of this blog if you want to go to the Starbucks FB to which I am referring.  There are many of them, but this one is the biggie.)  Thousands of posts per day on that site, going on 24/7, telling perfect strangers either how much they love Starbucks products or which flavor is their favorite.

The question that intrigues a former student of behavioral ecology like me is why people post on a FB site like Starbucks.  My best explanation is that this is a format for being recognized, however insignificant it may be.  Facebook and other similar sites call what we do here "publishing".  When I am finished writing this post, I press a button, you can see what I wrote, and it is then considered "published", in internet jargon.  As a former academic, I think this is pretty amusing.  In academia, we work for years to collect data and analyze it, write a scientific paper based on those data, have our peers tear the paper apart, rewrite it a few times, submit it to a scholarly journal where it is torn apart some more and, if fortunate, it is eventually accepted for publication.  Good journals reject about 70% of the papers submitted to them.  If accepted, you are sent a bill for what is called "page charges".  These charges, which you pay for out of your research money, can be $125 per page of journal occupied.  That kind of publication takes a great deal of effort, and if you are lucky, maybe a few dozen other scientists will read what you wrote.  But here, anyone can be published in a millisecond, at no cost whatsoever.  And you can say anything you want, as long as it is relatively clean, even if you fabricated the idea out of thin air.  And that little publication, complete with name and photo, could be read by thousands.

Most people will go through their entire lives and never have their thoughts or written words heard by anyone outside of their immediate circle of friends and family.  The potential to have your voice heard far and wide is huge on the internet.  The fact that I may only be telling the world that I like mocha frappuccino is better than nothing and, I suppose in the case of the Starbucks example, there is a weird kind of camaraderie knowing that you are communicating with a group of 4 million people who like the same drink.

DrTom also has his motives for publishing on these FB sites.  I seek out FB sites regardless of their content that have lots of members because, to be perfectly honest, I am trolling for new readers of this blog.  A typical post of mine on the Starbucks site would be something like, "Get yourself a cup of Starbucks coffee, and then read about my black lab at"  The more members the site has, the more likely I am to pick up a reader or two.  Why I want you to read my blog is the more interesting question, and I might explore that more in the future.  In the meantime, get yourself a nice hot cup of pumpkin mocha latte and reread this post.  Dig deeply, and tell me why you publish on FB.  If you don't publish there, the reason you don't could be even more interesting.

(Almost every cup of coffee that DrTom drinks is made at home with fair trade, organic French Roast beans ordered online from Cafe Britt. He makes it one cup at a time using an Italian Bialetti.  As they say on the FB Starbucks page, "Yummy".)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Zeus, King of Sleep

(Zeus chillin on the couch.)

My black labrador retriever, Zeus, does not set a very good example for a retired person like me.  I estimate that he sleeps 22.5 hours per day.  Other than his morning and evening meal and a little play time with me fetching, he is asleep or resting on some surface in the house.  Let me enumerate his options for places to sleep: a dog bed in our bedroom and one in my den, our bed, another bed upstairs, the living room couch, living room chair, two different bean bag chairs, three different chairs on the deck, several pieces of furniture in the basement, and any floor surface whatsoever, carpeted or not.  It makes me wonder as an evolutionary biologist what the ancestors of domestic dogs were selected to do--hunt, eat, and sleep, I suppose, and copulate once a year with a member of the opposite sex.  What else matters?

Animal Den - Gift Shop for Dog Lovers!

This dog would rather sleep with one of us, or both of us, than just about anything else in his world.  At about 10pm every night, if I haven't gone to bed yet, Zeus starts to get antsy, he whimpers, and he paws my leg.  I used to think he needed to go outside when he behaved this way, but when I said "do you want to go to bed?", he ran down the hallway and jumped in our bed.  The damn dog tells me when we have to go to sleep.  In addition, he gets fairly excited when I say "you wanna treat?", but he gets even more responsive (and even runs to the house from the woods) if I say "you wanna take a nappie in the beddie?".  (Why do we talk to animals like that.  I always hate when adults talk to babies with baby talk, so I refused to do it.  I always talk to babies like they are a freshman at Cornell.  Sometimes I had to talk to freshman at Cornell like they were babies.  I suppose each human matures at a different rate.)

The routine goes like this.  I turn in at night first with Zeus on our bed.  Later, Robin comes to bed and Zeus knows he has to get off the bed and sleep on the floor, which he does dutifully.  It is just not comfortable with two adults and a 70-pound dog sleeping together.  About 5am, he jumps back on the bed and gets all cuddly by doing the low crawl from the foot of the bed to the head of the bed, until his head is wedged between Management's and mine.  This is how he awakens me affectionately.  I think Management is also awake, but she fakes being asleep so I will take care of the dog.  He wants to go outside and be fed, so I do that every morning at this ungodly hour.  Immediately after being fed, he returns to bed to sleep with my wife.  At that point I am wide awake, so I stay up.  Zeus has managed to get fed AND to get the bed back.  I'm left to drink coffee in the dark, alone.  If dogs wrote scientific papers for canine biological journals, Zeus could pen his results as "Pavlov's dog trains Freud's human in six months".

In Greek mythology, Zeus was the king of the gods, ruler of the universe, the God of Mt. Olympus, and the ruler of sky and thunder.  But today, Zeus is the ruler of DrTom's bed and the eater of DrTom's food.  He can run as fast as the wind, and snore as loudly as a buzzsaw.  He can jump onto a 3-foot platform in a single bound, and he likes to eat pears that fall on the ground.  He protects our gardens from deer, and loves a good bonfire, and his favorite holiday is Thanksgiving.  He will never father any offspring, and I doubt that epic poems will be written about him.  And as our vet says about him, "he is a nice lab, just a little goofy."  He will be remembered for many reasons, but foremost among these, he will be remembered as the King of Sleep.