Friday, January 27, 2012

Morris & Ken have made up

Ken is the good-looking one
Ken Marks and I have agreed that our friendship is too important to us not to get back onto speaking terms again. Look for Ken's comments once again on Moristotle.
    My wife had discovered on Monday that it was the birthday of my friend of about forty years, and she immediately called on me and Ken to "negotiate a peace," effectively offering her services as an interlocutor, if not as a full-fledged Switzerland-type intermediary. "Neither of you boys," she pointed out, "is getting any younger, and I would hate to see one of you die before restoring diplomatic relations with the other."
    Good thought, and bless my dear wife for having it. She'd already communicated with Ken, who seemed to doubt seriously that I would agree to make peace without some serious mediation. But my wife's touching plea was already enough mediation for me, and I immediately agreed to a reconciliation.

Scourge [used to inflict severe
corporal punishment...on the back
In case the break in relations escaped your notice, I'll just say that about seven weeks ago Ken and I defriended one another (as they say on Facebook). I won't report the personal aspects of it, except to say that I was now prepared not only to apologize publicly but also to flagellate myself with a scourge for any and all offenses I may have given, possibly using the instrument shown to the right—the instrument of choice among innumerable Roman Catholic self-mortifiers of their flesh down through the sad ages of the Christian religion.

Another contributor to Moristotle, who has already been told of Ken & Morris's refriending, says that this is really good news. "It will be nice to perhaps cross swords with him again."
    Moristotle looks forward to the recommencement of Ken's thoughtful comments.
    Welcome back, Ken!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Eagle webcam in Decorah, Iowa

Bald Eagle
My neighbor who provided a link to the "Eagle webcam at Jordan Lake" has provided me another one. Says she:
The second camera is in Decorah, Iowa. Straight across the upper part of Iowa from my family. I watched it all last year and it has sound and can be seen at night. Right now the parents come at various times to check the nest and eat. They will not lay eggs until the later part of February. It will be fun to watch the different age babies

For more links to nature webcams, go to the site where I found the code:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Eagle webcam at Jordan Lake

Many thanks to our former next-door neighbor in Chapel Hill for sending me the link to a webcam posted near an eagle's nest at Lake Jordan, in North Carolina. I've added to my sidebar (on the right) the code for seeing what's happening. And I add it here for your convenience (sorry about the ad, if you have to watch one before the webcam):

Mystical bent?

William James (1842-1910)
Yesterday, I referred to myself as "of a mystical bent." Admitting this surprised me as much as quoting Rilke; I hadn't meant to get into anything like that.
    Maybe I'm ready to try to say what spirituality (or being spiritual) means for me?
    Phrases like reverence for life [Albert Schweitzer], benevolence toward the humblest living creature [Charles Darwin], practice compassion [Dalai Lama], and The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth [Chief Seattle] come to mind.
    What can I say? Dwelling on such concepts in the awareness of nature and of our life on Earth casts a sort of numinous spell over me, a feeling that resonates with William James's characterization of mystical experience as "a deepened sense of significance." And, even when I'm not "having the experience," I try to maintain an abiding sense of the deep significance of things, the deep significance of choices and actions.
    James even excuses my inability to say much about this deep sense: "There is ineffability: the subject of a mystical experience cannot find words to describe it."
    Rainer Maria Rilke came close, very close indeed, in his Duino Elegies and other writings:
Silent friend of many distances, feel
how your breath enlarges all of space.
Let your presence ring out like a bell
into the night. What feeds upon your face

grows mighty from the nourishment thus offered.
Move through transformation, out and in.
What is the deepest loss that you have suffered?
If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine.

In this immeasurable darkness, be the power
that rounds your senses in their magic ring,
the sense of their mysterious encounter.

And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I'm flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.
                [–Sonnets to Orpheus, XXIX, Stephen Mitchell's translation]

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bulgaria trip remembered

The photos I published last June from our trip to Bulgaria included several from Rila, which my son recently featured on "Тук не е Америка: 20 years in Bulgaria," in his article, "New Year's Notes from Rila." Here's a sample of what you can see there, the balcony on which we stood last May (the 10th):

Humanitarian inclusion

On my residential community's website the other day, someone asked whether anyone else had heard early-morning gunshots nearby. Someone else wondered whether local people were taking shots at the coyotes, which she had several times seen early in the morning as she headed out to work.
    A gun enthusiast in our community commented approvingly:
There is no closed season for coyotes, so as long as it is daylight, then you can hunt them. This area is also outside the city limits, so there are no limitations on discharging firearms. I am a hunter/shooter and I say more power to these folks if they are hunting coyotes. Coyote packs are a danger to small pets in the neighborhood and perhaps even to calves and small livestock in the pastures down the road.
    While predators of course need to be dealt with for such reasons as he gives (I do not condemn the killing of a home-invader, for example, if that's the only way to protect oneself or one's family), I asked this hunter/shooter to suggest humane ways to reduce the local coyote population. I pointed out that shooting them might not result in a clean kill, but only wound the animals and result in their prolonged suffering. I told him that I was opposed to hunting on philosophical grounds (and I cited my statement on sentients rights).
    This morning, I was thinking about the grounds of my opposition, but in doing so I misremembered characterizing the grounds as humanitarian rather than "philosophical." Humanitarian, of course, seems perfectly congruent with my asking the hunter about humane ways to deal with the coyotes.
    But opposition on humanitarian grounds doesn't seem quite right. Humanitarian is usually used in the context of the mistreatment of humans (human animals), even if humane has a wider berth—the humane treatment of animals is a common phrase, focusing on the idea that compassionate human beings would not treat animals badly.
    It didn't take me long to identify a nearly perfect synonym for humanitarian to include the mistreatment of other animals as well as human ones: sentientarian, derived easily from my statement of sentients rights.

I say nearly perfect. In fact, plants, too, are sentients, as my wife correctly observed (in attempting to demolish the moral foundation of my opposition to eating animals, but not to eating plants). "Plants can react to their environment. That's practically the definition of life."
    Which brings me back to a sentence from Wikipedia's entry on sentience, which I omitted in my statement on sentients rights:
For Eastern philosophy, sentience is a metaphysical quality of all things [emphasis mine] that requires respect and care.
(I myself avoid phrases like "metaphysical quality," however much they impressed me when I was in school.)
    Respect for life should of course take in respect for plants, but also for our environment, for our planet—the laboratory of our natural creation and evolution fueled by solar energy.
Rainer Maria Rilke
    And Rainer Maria Rilke (and others of a mystical bent, myself included) would count manufactured things as well. From the eighth of his Duino Elegies:
...Are we here, perhaps, for saying: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, jug, fruit-tree, window—
at most: column, tower......but for saying, realise,
oh, for a saying such as the things themselves would never
have profoundly said. Is not the secret intent
of this discreet Earth to draw lovers on,
so that each and every thing is delight within their feeling?
I didn't see it coming, that I would end up quoting Rilke this morning. But it is most agreeable to be reminded of the many transfixed hours I have spent reading his Duino Elegies, his Sonnets to Orpheus, and many others of his poems....
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
                [– Archaic Torso of Apollo, Stephen Mitchell's translation]

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Follow-on to Motomynd unmasked

A reader of Moristotle asked me whether I had a clue how Paul (Motomynd) fell upon my blog?
    Actually, at the time, I didn't—or at least didn't remember whether I'd ever had a clue or, if I did, what it was. (I hope this failure carries no omen foretelling the demise of my ability to blog.)

However, encouraged by Motomynd's generous recent forthingcomingness with photos and accounts of his exciting adventures, I asked him how he'd "fallen on my blog," and he said:
Well I guess we could say I met this interesting couple with a very interesting and interestingly named dog at the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail and while the guy was making notes about me for his blog (without my knowing such), I was making notes about him (without his knowing such), and when I googled the information I remembered it led me to the blog. And as a joke I commented not only as me but also as my alter ego Motomynd, and since the latter seemed to be the more interesting persona and better writer, I just stayed with that. I guess we could say all that.
    Motomynd graciously added, " more literary fashion," but frankly I don't think that's necessary (if even possible).
    And I think it's interesting that we googled each other. There must have been something about that chance encounter (my wife and me and Siegfried taking a walk, Paul doing some serious physical conditioning), some impression made, something provocative said—"mystery men" to each other apparently. Anyway, Motomynd's story is on the way to unfolding, as mine has been unfolding already here for several years.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reminds me of the time I innocently referred to a fictional website I gave the address It was supposed to be for political advertising (to flog is slang for sell hard), but it turned out that was already taken by a porn site (as in sado-masochistic sex).
    Anyway, I just discovered that is actually someone's personal website.
    But never mind. What I wanted to share today is that yesterday over coffee, a friend and I got to talking about social networks—specifically, about how much time they can eat up.
    He said he was thinking of starting a new network and naming it Fritter....

Friday, January 13, 2012

Motomynd: On the trail (and not on a bike)

It is 11:00 p.m. on January 12 and the weather broadcast just announced there is a cold front ripping into the mountains just west of my home in Virginia. It is bringing with it the first measurable snow of the season; that means it is time to head out to properly greet an old friend too long gone.
    So while the safe, sane world sleeps, I am putting on running gear and headlamp and heading for an 8-mile trail run/walk to properly welcome real winter at one of my favorite places in Virginia—a sharp-edged piece of rock called McAfee Knob that juts from the face of Catawba Mountain and knifes into that west wind bringing a bit of Canada our way. A wind that also picks up a lifetime of memories from more than 100 trips to my family's home place in Upstate New York and hurls them frigid to the body yet warming to heart and mind into my life of relative southern softness.
    It is only a 20-minute drive to the trail head where Route 311 crests Catawba Mountain, and even in the dark I can manage this eight-mile section of the Appalachian Trail in under two hours. With any luck I can fit in the outing and still steal five hours sleep before tomorrow's schedule sweeps me away. Live strong and sleep less. Or, to quote the refrain from an old Warren Zevon song, "I can sleep when I'm dead."
    When I climb from the car, the wind cuts through my layers of running clothing. I will be cold the first couple of miles or so but as I hit the climb—1,300 feet of elevation gain in a little over a mile—I will warm quickly. What I don't think about, however, is that those first two miles are on the lee side of the mountain, unprotected from the wind. When I hit the climb I am assaulted by gusts of wind and feel ever colder.
    There are few things in life as exhilarating as being on an exposed mountain side in the dark, in a swirl of snow, during a period the weather service calls "high wind warning." More than I bargained for and almost more than I wanted. I find out later that the area supposedly had gusts in the range of 60 miles per hour. Knowing how the wind feels on a motorcycle at 60, I bet these gusts were every bit of that. Somewhere just to the right and safely downwind a tree crashes to the ground. Thinking of possible "widow makers" upwind raises my pulse and finally I begin to warm a bit.

On a warm, soft, safe summer day,
a hiker sits on the perch where
Motomynd and others like to stand
and lean into the winter winds of fate
Reaching McAfee Knob, I walk to the very knife edge of the rock and lean into the biting wind. This is a game many of us have played countless times over the years, body jutting outward with feet well behind our center of gravity, arms spread like vultures' wings, only the support of the wind sparing us a fall of more than 100 feet into the trees and rocks below. Eventually a lull in the wind will claim one of us and we will finally get our name in the paper. But not once so far in the 40-plus years we have done this, and not tonight. I spread my arms and lean out hard into the dark until the cold takes the fun out of it, then I pull back and continue on to Campbell Shelter and the turn back toward my car.
    Near the spring below the shelter a herd of deer trots away, snorting in the dark. Halfway back to the car another tree, again mercifully downwind, crashes to the ground.
    Back at home I take time for a quick shower and reload some carbohydrates with a bowl of brown rice spiced with a touch of organic molasses and Sunbutter, a peanut butter-like substance made from sunflower seeds that seems much more nourishing and tasty than Skippy or Peter Pan or their kindred. Unfortunately I lie awake listening to the howling wind and reliving the rush of leaning into the abyss at the Knob, and the planned five hours sleep drifts toward four, then three.

It is 6:00 a.m. and BBC news is talking about a financial crisis in Hungary. I stretch and roll in bed to loosen up a bit before I even try to walk. That is not nearly enough recovery time for a body now aged well toward 60, but it is all I have. Over breakfast I realize I was literally leaning into the wind of fate on Friday the 13th. I resolve to live carefully on the busy day that awaits.
    Call it silly, or immature even. Feel free to consider it rampant over-scheduling. Some of us just call it wringing all we can from every day. When you've lived on borrowed time for 20 years you grab every piece of life you can. What can be called crazy can also be called living.
    Now on toward a mundane day, carried not by extra rest but by the rush of the night before. All the best with your day.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thursday morning's backyard birds

My wife thought she had spotted a Downy Woodpecker on our woodpecker feeder (later she allowed that it might have been a Hairy), so I set up my digiscoping equipment and waited.

When I saw a bird alight on the woodpecker feeder, I managed to repositioin and get two shots before it flew off. My wife looked at them and didn't think it was the Downy (or the Hairy) Woodpecker she'd spotted earlier:

Here's our array of feeders:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Happy my birthday

Dessert after brunch at the Carolina Crossroads Restaurant in Chapel Hill's Carolina Inn, a surprise from our waiter:

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sunsets & moon risen

January 5, 5:38 p.m., from back yard in Mebane, North Carolina
About half an hour after sunset, actually

January 7, 5:04 p.m.

5:28 p.m., from front porch
Click to check out the edges
All photos were taken with a Nikon Coolpix P300. The sunsets were hand-held; the Moon was digiscoped with a Nikon ED50 field scope (mounted on a tripod, of course).

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sentients rights

About 225 years ago, Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) formulated a "categorical imperative," one version of which was that we "act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end." [Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals]
    Yet another way of stating it is that we should respect the right of persons to be treated as ends in themselves (as existing for their own sake).

Recent reading encourages me to consider whether a unified statement of rights for both human animals and other animals might be useful.
    An article in the January 2 New York Times, "Animal Studies Cross Campus to Lecture Hall," reports that the Animals & Society Institute lists "more than 100 courses in American colleges and universities that fit under the broad banner of animal studies." Five of the courses are offered by three universities in the state where I live. Three of the courses are offered at Duke University in the area of women's studies, and two courses are offered, one at East Carolina University and another at North Carolina State University, in philosophy. The description of ECU's course, "Ethics and Animals," explicitly states the connection:
The primary goal of the course is to learn more about ethics or morality from considering the significance of animals in moral deliberation. In thinking about whether animals have rights, for example, we shall also need to ask wider questions such as, what are rights and how do they fit into the system of morality?.... [emphasis mine]
    I had realized in November, when attempting to lay the foundation for my own statement of animal rights, that the existence of any rights depends on prior agreements that have the force of law. And "any rights" includes those of humans, who even quite recently were held in slavery in many parts of the world and, if they are women, are still held virtually in slavery in many places. That is, the existence of human rights, too, depends on prior agreements that have the force of law.
    The Animals & Society Institute also states explicitly the connection between humans and other animals. The Institute's announced objectives are "to promote new and stricter animal protection laws, stop the cycle of violence between animal cruelty and human abuse, and learn more about our complex relationship with animals," and its website home page flatly asserts that there is a link between cruelty toward animals and violence toward humans.
    Agreements about both human and animal rights are becoming more enlightened.

A poignant case for animal rights is given by Steven Pinker in his most recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined:
Let me tell you about the worst thing I have ever done. In 1975, as a twenty-year-old sophomore, I got a summer job as a research assistant in an animal behavior lab. One evening the professor gave me an assignment. Among the rats in the lab was a runt that could not participate in the ongoing studies, so he wanted to use it to try out a new experiment. The first step was to train the rat in what was called a temporal avoidance conditioning procedure. The floor of a Skinner box was hooked up to a shock generator, and a timer that would shock the animal every six seconds unless it pressed a lever, which would give it a ten-second reprieve. Rats catch on quickly and press the lever every eight or nine seconds, postponing the shock indefinitely. [If this was well known, I wonder what the professor hoped to learn by subjecting yet another rat to the procedure.] All I had to do was throw [throw?] the rat in a box, start the timers, and go home for the night. When I arrived back at the lab early the next morning, I would find a fully conditioned rat. [Again, if he knew what he would find...?]
    But that was not what looked back at me when I opened the box in the morning. The rat had a grotesque crook in its spine and was shivering uncontrollably. Within a few seconds, it jumped with a start. It was nowhere near the lever. I realized that the rat had not learned to press the lever and had spent the night being shocked every six seconds. When I reached in to rescue it, I found it cold to the touch. I rushed it to the veterinarian two floors down, but it was too late, and the rat died an hour later. I had tortured an animal to death. [pp. 454-455]
    The episode is for me even more poignant (if that is possible) because I remember that when my wife and I collected seven-week old "Dark Cream Boy" (whom we renamed Siegfried), we were told that he had been "the runt of the litter." Had he been neglected because of it, perhaps ill-treated? Certain of Siegfried's behavioral characteristics suggest that he might have been.
    Pinker admits that as the experiment was being explained to him, "I had already sensed it was wrong."
Even if the procedure had gone perfectly, the rat would have spent twelve hours in constant anxiety, and I had enough experience to know that laboratory procedures don't always go perfectly. My professor was a radical behaviorist, for whom the question "What is it like to be a rat?" was simply incoherent. But I was not, and there was no doubt in my mind that a rat could feel pain. [emphasis mine] The professor wanted me in his lab; I knew that if I refused, nothing bad would happen. But I carried out the procedure anyway, reassured by the ethically spurious but psychologically reassuring principle that it was standard practice. [emphasis mine; p. 455]
    Pinker writes that he included the anecdote "to show what was standard practice in the treatment of animals at the time." And he summarizes even worse practices before stating:
I'm relieved to say that just five years later, indifference to the welfare of animals among scientists had become unthinkable, indeed illegal....[emphasis mine]
    Any scientist will also confirm that attitudes among scientists themselves have changed. Recent surveys have shown that animal researchers, virtually without exception, believe that laboratory animals feel pain. [emphasis mine] Today a scientist who was indifferent to the welfare of laboratory animals would be treated by his or her peers with contempt.
    The change in the treatment of laboratory animals is part of yet another rights revolution: the growing conviction that animals should not be subjected to unjustifiable pain, injury, and death....[emphasis mine; pp. 455-456]
    To say that agreements about rights are becoming more enlightened is equivalent to saying that standard practice is becoming more enlightened.

Richard Dawkins was quoted in the Times on September 19 (in the article "A Knack for Bashing Orthodoxy"):
"Consciousness has to be there, hasn’t it?...It’s an evolved, emergent quality of brains. It’s very likely that most mammals have consciousness, and probably birds, too."
    (He has embraced the Princeton University philosopher Peter Singer’s Great Ape Project, which would accord legal rights to apes, including a prohibition against torture.)
    When I invoked the comparison with human slavery above, I hadn't yet seen the first paragraph of Singer's paper explaining "why the [Great Ape] project":
Aristotle refers to human slaves as "animated property." The phrase exactly describes the current status of nonhuman animals. Human slavery therefore presents an enlightening parallel to this situation. [emphasis mine] We shall explore this parallel in order to single out a past response to human slavery that may suggest a suitable way of responding to present-day animal slavery.
So, what to call rights respecting both humans and other conscience beings? Something, perhaps, that identifies Dawkins's essential, common "emergent quality of brains" The terms consciousness and sentience are obvious possibilities, each of which has a paired term: conscious beings and sentient beings. The latter can also be rendered sentients; there doesn't seem to be such a term for the former.
    And Wikipedia's entry on sentience seems to establish a precedent for the use of that term in this context:
...The concept is central to the philosophy of animal rights, because sentience is necessary for the ability to suffer, which entails certain rights. In science fiction, non-human characters described as "sentient" typically have similar abilities, qualities, and rights as human beings.
Sentients rights, therefore, let it be. And can we update Kant accordingly?
Act in such a way that you treat sentients, whether in your own person or in the person of any other sentient, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.
    Yes, but only if we reach agreements to do so and write them into law. Notice that these agreements would need to address the eating of animals.
I might well have mentioned Sam Harris along with Pinker, Dawkins, and Singer. I quoted him on animal rights last April.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Motomynd unmasked (mostly)

When I first published Motomynd, I identified him as a "mystery friend." Since then, by dint of diligent detection, I've learned a few things:
    By googling back in November, I came across a website named "Motomynd" (and I actually announced the find that month).
    Then, just this morning, I happened to be fooling around with the Contacts in my new cell phone, and I noticed that the phone number I'd put there for Paul's Eclectic World (one of the Daniel Boone Traders in Hillsborough) is the number given on the Motomynd site (919-370-0413).

My wife and I had visited Paul's Eclectic World a month or so ago, and I even bought some wonderful decorative stones made in Africa—tiny rounds that could serve as coasters if only they were wider and absorbent. The proprietor, who said he was the very Paul, gave me a discount. I had mentioned my blog to him, so did he recognize me as Moristotle, but coyly decline to acknowledge that he was Motomynd? Mystery Man indeed—with an interesting sense of humor. (Or is he perhaps some sort of borderline recluse? That's yet another mystery....)

Having discovered that connection, and with Sherlock Holmes juices now flowing, I did some googling this morning and found the same telephone number for a photographer's website, "Photo Active Inc," and an obviously related website called "Model Mayhem."
    I say obviously. The proprietor of Model Mahem identifies himself at the top as "Photo Active Inc," which is indicated as doing business in North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The lead paragraph cinches it:
Thank you for stopping by. I am a career editorial/event photographer and writer with credits in more than 400 publications around the world. In 2012 I am launching a motorcycle website [emphasis mine] devoted to touring and road-course racing, and am looking for models—male and female—who actually ride or who are at least comfortable handling a bike. I am also expanding my fashion niche in lifestyle, fitness fashion and swimwear photography.
    No recluse here, so scratch that conjecture. But "interesting sense of humor" is still in the running.
    Elementary, Watson?

But who is this "editorial/event photographer" (and what is an "editorial photographer")? His first name, we will assume, is Paul. But what is his last name? Judging from what he has written so far (on Moristotle and on his presumably own websites), I am unlikely to be successful if I return to Paul's Eclectic World with the intention of beating it out of him. I'd be more likely to have my ass handed back to me.
    But maybe not. He was, after all, willing to donate the biker photo when I called to ask him for one this morning. (He's very prompt; add that to the mix of evidence.)
    And whoever answered the phone did sound like Paul of Eclectic World....

Monday, January 2, 2012

Oz man: thus*

We planted two new Osmanthus bushes recently along the southeastern side of our garage, and they are delightful in their evergreen leaves and subtly fragrant blossoms.

* Mnemonic device: Frank Morgan (1890-1949) was the cinematic Oz Man. He played the title role in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz.