"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Avian holocaust, and the mind of the raven (book review)

I try to keep things positive here, but jeez, sometimes the news just strikes so deeply into my psyche that it feels like a mortal blow for a while. Like this story about how the government is deliberately killing birds: http://readersupportednews.org/off-site-news-section/49-49/4730-us-government-commits-avian-holocaust-with-mass-poisoning-of-millions-of-birds
I might be tempted to wonder whether there was actually some justification for this vicious (and all too typical) example of everything that's wrong with my species, but years ago I read a book (reviewed below) in which the scientist-author dispatched for me that old farmer's belief that killing birds accomplishes anything of benefit to the farmer (even if it weren't completely immoral in the first place, for any reason); to quote from (and emphasize) my own review: "Looking at the common fear that ravens damage crops, Heinrich asserts they have been unjustly accused and persecuted by farmers."

"Blackbirds" and ravens are very closely related genetically, and so in appearance and behavior (indeed ravens are black birds; most people can't tell the difference) and in this instance, what goes for one corvid goes for the other. I feel utterly defeated by stuff like this, but since I'm still alive, will do what I can. Which right now is a very small thing: to share a review I wrote for SLJ . The book came out more than ten years ago and if anybody in the idiotic USDA program had bothered to read it, this whole ghastly business might have been averted.

Check out the author's credentials (from the Amazon page):
Bernd Heinrich is the author of Mind of the Raven, which won the John Burroughs Medal for Natural History Writing and was a New York Times and Los Angeles Times Notable Book as well as a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Science and Technology Award. He is also the author of Bumblebee Economics, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and The Trees in My Forest, which won a New England Book Award. A professor of biology at the University of Vermont, Heinrich also spends time in the forests of western Maine, where he has done much of his field research and training for ultramarathons.
He's written other fine books as well. Check out also the raves for this one on the Amazon page linked to the title, below. And for more, related books about ravens and their close relatives, visit this blog: http://nonsuchbook.typepad.com/nonsuch_book/2009/04/weekly-geeks-quoth-the-raven-nevermore.html

Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds by Bernd Heinrich* (2000)

Heinrich's adventures with ravens are consistently interesting and illuminating, whether he's crouching for hours in cold rain to observe them, hauling animal carcasses into the woods to attract them, or visiting in the homes of their human companions.

In 29 readable and richly illustrated chapters, he shares his own experiences with the birds as well as many anecdotes collected by observers from around the globe. He explores "the possibility of conscious choice" in these obviously intelligent but often baffling birds, and believes they owe much of their complexity to the fact that they have evolved in close association with dangerous carnivores--wolves and humans.

Looking at the common fear that ravens damage crops, Heinrich convincingly asserts they have been unjustly accused and persecuted by farmers, and he studies firsthand the relationship of ravens with Eskimo hunters. Sometimes the research just leads him from one mystery to another, but wherever his questions take him, the journey is always fascinating as the many layers of raven psychology are revealed.

Perhaps best known on this continent for its "trickster" talents, the raven has been associated in Europe with divination, death, and the Norse god Odin. Heinrich's perspective, that of the scientist, is just as compelling for modern readers and does full justice to this bird's mythical reputation. A fine, entertaining book for general readers, as well as an excellent resource for those seeking meticulously gathered and documented scientific information.

One more time...

illo found at http://nonsuchbook.typepad.com/nonsuch_book/2009/04/weekly-geeks-quoth-the-raven-nevermore.html I don't see a credit given, there, but thank the artist.
May they inherit the earth. And may the earth still be liveable when that happens.

We've all done things that we realized later were wrong. How do we deal with that knowledge? Those of us who've grown up "in the country" know too much already about how animals are wronged by people from rural, pioneer cultural backgrounds, who are taught from childhood to turn away from the empathy that would teach them a better way. Well, so, what's done is done, but must it continue? This culture of death, of indiscriminate killing as an acceptable response to anything that gets in a person's way, is a theme that sometimes comes up in American literature (see Conrad Richter's great trilogy). Of course, those who carry out the business of atrocities (slavery, holocaust, torture, whatever), will often tend to continue on that path, defend their actions, and do them again, rather than deal with the pain of the awareness concerning what they've wrought. We've all experienced this because we've all done wrong things and realized it later; but the question is, do we accept the knowledge and if we do, what do we do with it? I don't know. Individuals can change, but it's harder to turn a culture around. Look at the persistence of a culture of racism in this country, generations after institutionalized slavery was ended.

There are many signs that we're on the cusp of a new paradigm in our awareness of animal consciousness, and that Western culture is rediscovering forgotten truths about the balance of nature and humans' place in it. I'll round up some more material on this. Things are changing. But over all... The answer is blowing in the wind. These are questions too big for me.

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