Raccoons & Humans Can’t Be Tamed

raccoonI read Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” (1997) when it first came out.  Like other of Diamonds books, his theories seem painted too broad.  But his books still made me think. In discussing human civilizations, he mentions that having domesticable animals is a big boon to a civilization. But postulates that that many factors must be just perfect to have a domesticable animal: flexible diet, fast growth rate, breed in captivity, pleasant disposition, does not panic, modifiable social hierarchy. (see details here)

Though sharing qualities with dogs and cats, raccoons are not considered tamable animals.  Mainly because they bite — they inevitably bite; especially when are looking for mates.

I raised several raccoons in my childhood.  I had a huge walk in pen with a house up on a tree stump for my coons.  I could walk them around the neighborhood, and feed them.  But I was the only one who could do it — and only when they were young.

One Spring, when my parents were gone for their annual pilgrimage to the Kentucky Derby leaving us the mean old Mrs. Reinhold (the hired sitter), I decided to play a trick on my younger brothers.  I told them they could feed my raccoons, but as soon as they walked in the cage, I looked the door and told them I would not let them out.

My youngest brother was scared and the raccoons picked up on his panic and started hissing at him. Our middle brother protectively jumped between  the angry/scared raccoon and our baby brother, but began to be bit.  I panicked at the look trying to remember the combination to let my brothers out.  My trick had turned disastrous.

Finally, the raccoon stopped biting, I remembered the combo and my brothers came out — one still crying and the other with a bloody hand.

Mrs. Reinhold was angry at us (of course) and refused to drive my bother to the hospital — so we walked.  I begged my brothers not to tell my parents, promising to do anything they asked for the remainder of the week — which I did.  But of course they told my parents, immediately on their return and I got punished twice.

All to say that raccoons can’t be tamed forever, and human are not trustworthy either.



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Korean Christians Learn Judaism

Korean read TalmudAbout 30% of Koreans are Christian and one of those Christians, Park Hyunjun, decided that since Jews have prospered over the last thousands of years, the Korean Christians could learn much from Jewish culture.  Read this article in the New Yorker about the school he set up to teach Judaism to Koreans for pragmatic reasons and about popular Korean Talmud retellings used as a source of wisdom to help Korean readers “overachieve in the world arena.”

To some Jews it is forbidden to teach the Talmud to non-Jews, and others worry of distortion.  But the market ignores their concerns and religion finds consumers of all sorts.

This illustrates that for most people the package called “religion” captures far more than just doctrine and salvation.

This 2011 article in The Jewish Chronicle On-Line (and pic source) speaks of the same phenomena back then:

But although average Koreans can boast that their bookshelves hold at least one or two copies of the Talmud, to think of Korea as a hotbed of latent Judaism would be wrong. The motivation is less to do with religion and more to do with aspiration. Korean parents value schooling above all else. Parents send their children to after-school crammers until midnight and will spend their last penny on tutors and extra lessons. And, shy of good role models on the quest to securing academic success for their offspring, mothers almost unerringly turn to the Jews for inspiration.


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Existentialism does not Exist

ExistentialismTo the right are just some of the philosophers who are often labeled as “Existentialists”. But many of them were labeled this after they died and they never called themselves an “Existentialist”.

So it is no surprise that when we try to discover what Existentialism is, we run into more exceptions and differences than we’d imagine. That is because “Existentialism” is not something to be discovered, but instead, it is just human-created category with lots of disagreement.

“Existentialism” is an abstraction like “Religion” and like the more deceptively concrete-like word “Mammal” — both of which have exceptions that reveal their blurred borders and arbitrary definitions.

One of my son’s favorite YouTube personalities has said, “Existentialism is dangerous — just get busy and work.” This self-made philosopher presumably meant “Thinking too much about the meaning of life can be crippling and unnecessarily painful, for which real work is the perfect cure.” — and we all know there is lots of truth there.

But is that what “Existentialism” really mean?

Well, again, definitions of “Existentialism” vary hugely (see this wiki article). In philosophical circles, something about “existence precedes essence” or “we make our own meaning, otherwise there is not eternal meaning” or some such thing, is common. So we can see that that YouTube philosopher and professional philosophers use the word differently. But when a word is used differently long-enough, it becomes an accepted meaning too. And again, we see that definition are created thing, not something eternal thing or essence waiting to be discovered — hmmm, that is sort of an existential view, isn’t it?

Stop reading now and get back to work!


Note: See my other posts of “The Limitations of Abstractions


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Write for your Audience

SignsWrite for your audience.  And for most audiences it is very important HOW you say something — even simple word order can matter.

Above is an example of my point. The electronic exit door to our clinic broke a few days ago. Someone put up the sign on the left (“old sign”) but it had no effect on patients — they either didn’t read it, or only pushed the button or only pushed the door.

So I changed the sign (“new sign”) and put the important word first — “BOTH” so that the patient knows they must keep reading to find out what “both” means.  And sure enough, almost everyone opened the door properly after I took down the old sign and put up mine.

Even with posts, many people won’t read to the end.  So if your audience tends to not read your whole post before commenting, make sure you state your main point right in the beginning of the post as well as at the end..

Question to readers: Give us your own example of writing for your audience.


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Poetry: Annie Lighthart


On This Date  by Annie Lighthart

On this date many things happened.
Governments were heaved into being, creeds
were repeated, maps and speeches given and believed.

There was quiet on this date. A little boy lived.
There was sleep, and one birdcall stitched all the way through.

On this date there was longing. Someone walked
through a room. One hand brushed loose crumbs into the other.
The earth received them out the side door on this date, on this day.

About Annie Lighthart:

  • Here is her bio on her website
  • Her first book of poetry: Iron String (2013)
  • Annie used to teach poetry at Boston College but now lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband Michael A. Faletra (Ph.D. Boston College 2000) who is a professor of English and Humanities with a focus in Celtic studies and medieval Anglo-Saxon studies.  They have two sons: Sam and Benjamin.  Annie has helped him on translations of Anglo-Saxon poems. To see how Anglo-Saxon’s fit into the development of the English language, see my post here.  Wales, as some readers know, has a special place in my heart.

My Impressions:

(1) Memorial Day
Today is Memorial day in the USA — a day to remember the people who died while “serving” in the the United State’s armed forces. The US also has a Veterans Day which is more inclusive — you don’t have to die to be remembered.

Empires, countries and tribes have waged wars for thousands of years. Each told their citizens why they were the righteous warriors, the deserving people. Each used propaganda and deceit and force to get their people to die for their rulers. Celebrating their deaths and “service” is part of that propaganda.

Annie’s above poem, “On This Day”, has the line “Governments were heaved into being, creeds were repeated, maps and speeches given and believed.” The poem alludes to the histories we tell — the events of various years and days. Our view of history is deceptive — one twist is “The Great Person Theory of History“.

That view, like Annie’s poem also suggests, ignores the common person, the daily events, the mundane emotions and simple aspirations. These are the things we all share, while governments tell us to kill each other. So instead of “honoring” the dead on this day, maybe we should remember with sadness how we all kill each other — tricked by the hidden agendas of others.

(2) The Second Music

In the last year, I have started learning a bit of bass guitar. The rudimentary practice has already helped me to hear much of music which I have missed before. The above poem of Annie’s talks about the background, which is really perhaps the appropriate foreground, if you culture that state of mind.

Some religions claim that “God” or “Spirit” or “The One” is the real background, and that this life is a distraction. I don’t believe that any more. But I am a mystic at heart: I feel the various background hums, the enlivening bass lines behind the apparent. I often like turning my focus on those tones.

I list her a few poems of Annie’s that hint at perhaps the same. I am not sure of her position on these issues, or even if we are really similar, but that is the beauty of poetry to me at times: I can let them mean that to me today.

See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

Other Related Posts of Mine:

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Religion and “Consciousness” Apathy

Abstraction SpectrumAbstract words help us talk quickly and simply — well, unless we disagree on their meaning. At times like that, we can see that the abstract words are contrived. “Consciousness” is just such a contrived word — especially if we take a stance like this: “Well, it is a word, so it must exist. So now we just have to discover what it is.”

Ned Block (b. 1942), a philosophy of mind professor once at MIT and now at NYU is interviewed in this 5/18/2015 post at Scientia Salon.

Block calls “consciousness” a “mongrel concept” because of its many different, easily conflated meanings and thus requiring careful distinctions between these meanings to make any conceptual advances.

I have said the same about other highly abstract words including “faith” and “religion”. In my post on “The Myth of Definitions” I suggested that the first step to making cognitive progress on disagreed abstractions is to agree on the various meanings, and then to add an adjective to the abstract word to distinguish these meanings.

Using adjectives, Block wants to introduce three fundamentally different sense of consciousness:

(1) Phenomenal Consciousness: the internal experience of a sensation — obviously shared with other animals. Requiring no language.

(2) Monitoring Consciousness: Awareness of self and our own thoughts and pains and perceptions.

(3) Access Consciousness: When our cognitive systems reflect upon phenomenal consciousness. Other animals can do this too.

OK, I did not enjoy the article, because I don’t really enjoy the topic. It is too hard for me. And I can’t see why I should care about it.  Perhaps my meditative experiences are what occasionally draw me back to such articles — a desire to think about the complexity of mind.  But inevitably, on reading them, I quickly return to my state of apathy for the philosophy of consciousness.

Sure, I have a few opinions about consciousness: I am certain that we hugely exaggerate how conscious we think we are — we exaggerate our Access Consciousness (using Block’s term). But that one supplement to the normal view of consciousness is about all I feel I need for now– unless someone can show me how the other concepts should matter to me.

So why do this post?  Well, I think many people treat religion and certainly religious words the same way I treat consciousness:

I have friends who believe in “God” but don’t care about the details because the idea of life after death or a need to be good is enough for them. Likewise, I know religion-free folks who don’t care about the Bible or the Qur’an arguments, because it is so obviously clear to them that there is no loving, controlling, miracle working super spirit. So they don’t care to get into all the other abstractions and minutia.

Question to readers: Do you see why I have written about consciousness here?  Do you care?



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Poetry: Michael Lauchlan

lauchlan__michaelDetroit Pheasant by Michael Lauchlan

From a window, the boss calls to us
where we load his truck with bricks.
“Turn around fellas-look.”
A pheasant wades through the brown grass
across the street, vanishing
and emerging from the tangle.
A shed leans near a phone pole.
Bumpers glint from the weeds.
Blocks from the old foundation
angle through the earth.
The pheasant paces his courtyard.

We have killed the city which lived here.
The hieroglyph of its streets and rails
has joined the ancient lost tongues.
Buds unfold on a dwarf maple.
A rooster hollers.


My Impression:  Earthy and philosophical, all with loose images.

More Links on Michael Lauchlan:

See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

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