Why We Love, And Even Need, Photos & Videos Of Interspecies Animal Friends

dog-jerryFrom 1984’s comedy classic, Ghostbusters (my emphasis added in bold in the last line of dialogue):

Peter Venkman: Well, you can believe Mr. Pecker…
Walter Peck: My name is “Peck.”
Venkman: Or you could accept the fact that this city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, “biblical”?
Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff!
Venkman: Exactly.
Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes!
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Venkman: Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!

That the idea of cats and dogs living together in peace should be included in a list of biblical-scale events works as the punchline of this joke, because it’s so tame compared to the other items listed. And yet, it speaks to the endurance of the stereotype that cats and dogs are natural enemies.

cat-dogMeanwhile, anyone who spends nearly any amount of time on the interwebs or watches any number of home video TV shows is familiar with the near-ubiquitous photos and videos featuring animals from different species — in some cases species known to have a predator-prey relationship in the wild, or would likely be enemies if they shared the same habitat — interacting playfully, or even, though some might call it anthropomorphizing, lovingly.

I have to admit, while I’m a true lover of animals, I’m not someone who goes all gushy over them, regularly browsing cute animal photos and videos on the web, using puppy or kitten photos as the desktop background on my computer, etc.

And yet, the videos that feature friendly interspecies interactions do grab my attention and move something deep inside me, and I suspect the same thing happens for millions of people, even, perhaps, some hardcore cynics. I’m sure there are some who would rather suggest that these are nothing more than the result of artificial domestication, but I suspect that this is a slim minority, judging by how often these videos go viral.

Given that we live in a world perpetually wrought with human conflict, often horrific and deadly human conflict, it’s easy to despair, to conclude that there will never be lasting peace.

tiger-pigUnder these conditions, how can we not be moved when we see a cat and a dog peacefully snuggled together, as in the above photo, or, let’s say, a tiger and a piglet doing the same? And even if the two species interacting aren’t known or likely enemies, many of the pairings appear surprising and unlikely and serve as powerful symbols of harmony and hope in the face of differences.

Given that we live in a world perpetually wrought with human conflict, we are drawn to, and I’d even say we need, these images of animal harmony and hope, to keep us from despair. In fact, our biochemistry helps us benefit from these images. Human brains produce a hormone called oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”, because it’s released when we experience love and joy, and it’s been proven that we produce oxytocin when we observe baby humans and cute animals.

I could go on and on with this topic, perhaps by bringing the spiritual component to the topic, for instance how Buddhism, which I dabble with, teaches the value of cultivating harmony with all living things, but I think you get the point.

So, even if you think these interspecies friendship videos are a bit cheeseball, try to let go of your initial resistance, allow yourself to notice the sweetness, to consider the far-reaching implications of the fact that our brains allow us to experience feelings akin to love when we see such sweetness, try to extrapolate how this sweetness could possibly melt away human-to-human and human-to-animal conflicts.

Start now, watch this brief yet powerful video of a monkey affectionately interacting with a litter of puppies, notice how gentle the monkey is with these fragile, practically newborn pups, notice the monkey’s fingers lightly stroking the puppies, truly caring regardless of the fact that these creatures must seem incredibly different and strange.

Enjoy.

Video Fridays: R.I.P., Leonard Nimoy

mr-spockWow. I’m shocked by the passing this morning of Leonard Nimoy.

I’d gone years without watching any Star Trek: The Original Series, or any of the movies featuring the original cast, before I decided recently to do a series of Video Fridays posts on a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth, a lineup that included Star Trek, and I published my post on Star Trek just two weeks ago.

In preparation for writing that post, I watched many episodes of the TV show, reconnecting with what I loved so much about it. And then, this past week, I was home sick in bed for two days and binged on more Star Trek, including the movies.

That Leonard Nimoy should die today, frankly, creeps me out as much it saddens me.

I think it must be nearly impossible to grow up Jewish in the late 1960s, 70s, 80s, etc., and NOT know, with enormous pride, that the two main characters in Star Trek, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Nimoy), were played by Jewish actors.

Years later I learned that the Vulcan salute (seen in the photo above), was derived by Leonard Nimoy from a blessing bestowed by Rabbis, where the hands form an approximation of the Hebrew letter shin, shorthand for the Hebrew word Shaddai, one of numerous Hebrew names for God.

As an actor, I think the best compliment one could give would be that his portrayal of Mr. Spock was defining and masterful. While Gene Roddenberry may have dreamed up the character, Leonard Nimoy brought him to life and was always believable as that half-human-half-Vulcan caught between the competing aspects of his nature.

While I was very impressed by Zachary Quinto‘s performances as Spock in the recent reboots, Quinto’s was an act of imitation and Nimoy’s an act of creation.

I couldn’t pick just one video to accompany this obituary, and so I’ve included two. The first is perhaps the most moving scene from all of the TV episodes and movies, a scene that epitomizes Spock’s Vulcan logic, as well as his very human emotional bond to Captain Kirk. The second is a compilation of clips from the TV series that highlight Spock’s human-Vulcan conflict, often to comedic effect.

As my fellow Jews say, upon the death of a loved one, “May his memory be a blessing.”

Rest in peace, Leonard, and thanks so much for the many years of thought-provoking entertainment.

Live long, and prosper.

Being Sick Sucks, Revisited

(Since I’m bedridden by some bug or another, and consequently not feeling inspired to write anything new, I thought I’d re-post something from about four years ago on the topic of being sick. I did edit a bit, because I didn’t like the ending. Hopefully, I’ll be back with something new tomorrow.)

Seriously! Being sick really sucks.

When I was a kid, a sick day at least had a silver lining, it meant missing school. But now, every hour I miss at work is an hour I’m getting behind in my work.

I wrote back in August about how vacation is a double-edged sword, a badly needed break from the daily grind for sure, but that there’s often so much prep work to prepare for a vacation and so much catch-up work when you return, that the time off might not register as having been as relaxing and renewing as one would like.

Well, sick days are worse. There was no warning, no chance to prep, I’ll have tons of catch-up when I’m back at the office, AND I’m lying here in bed in physical distress.

I, of course, am very thankful that I have plenty of accrued sick leave and good health insurance. And so now, in addition to being sick, I feel guilty for complaining about being ill, while millions of people on this planet don’t have the luxury of calling in sick and getting paid for it; while millions of people don’t have any health insurance or access to adequate healthcare.

Being sick sucks, indeed, but for me and my fellow First Worlders, hopefully it engenders compassion for those less fortunate than us.

Willie & Trigger & Me: ‘As long as it keeps going, I’ll keep going.’

triggerI came across a wonderful short documentary film today at Rolling Stone about Willie Nelson and his legendary Martin N-20 guitar (shown here), nicknamed Trigger. And, as I watched the video, it triggered a very vivid memory of mine.

About 15 years ago, I attended a weekend retreat, held at one of those camps where they have boy and girl scout events most of the time, a scenic lakeside property, dotted with towering Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and a mixture of little cabins, barrack-style dormitories, and larger lodges, and as I was walking between two buildings with an acoustic guitar strapped on, I played as I strolled, probably some well-worn and well-loved Dylan or Neil Young song. It was an old, cheap guitar that I’d had for years, bought for $200, brand new, including a hard-shell case, but it had a surprisingly decent tone, especially by then, because I played it as often and as hard as I possibly could, which ‘opened up‘ the guitar significantly. And, I was strolling along with a friend who happened to be a guitar player as well, although a very different type of player, a performing classical guitarist, who played a guitar that probably cost him ten times as much as mine, and all of a sudden my guitar’s strap came loose from the guitar, and the guitar fell to the ground, onto a course gravel trail, the guitar suffered two significant dings, one on the headstock and the other on the upper bout, so deep that they penetrated the high-gloss finish down to the bare wood, and…

Me: Oops! Ha, ha, ha. (Picking up the guitar, barely missing a step, strapping it back on, and starting to play again.)

My Friend: Dude! Your guitar!

Me: No biggie. Gives it character!

I remember, later on, feeling conflicted about that incident. On one hand, for millions and millions of people, a guitar, any guitar, even a “cheap” $200 guitar, would be a treasured luxury item. And so, it was an embarrassing display of economic privilege for me to have acted like a $200 instrument was practically a disposable item that could be replaced with ease.

j-guitarOn the other hand, I work hard at my Buddhist non-attachment, a guitar is just a material object, and it’s a tool not a museum piece, it’s meant to be handled and used vigorously, doing so causes wear, and I happen to love this wear, what some guitarists refer to as mojo. I think Willie Nelson’s Trigger, Joe Strummer’s road-worn Telecaster, and Neil Young’s Old Black are beautiful, because they symbolize passion over pretense.

My son has now inherited my old guitar (show here, with damaged headstock), and it gives me great pleasure that he plays it and appreciates it despite the damage. Meanwhile, I moved on to my own Martin, a 000-15s (shown here in a photo I snapped 4 years ago), now replete with all kinds of scratches and a few dings and just about the loveliest tone you can image, a tone that seems to contain all of the accumulated notes and chords I’ve played over the past 10 years, a tone so dear to me that I feel as Willie does, when he says about Trigger:

As long as it keeps going, I’ll keep going.

Anyway, check out this great short doc on Trigger.

Headline of the Day: Mummy Monk

Mongolia_monkWhen you see a headline like the following, you expect it to be a hoax or from The Onion.

Instead, this story is making its way into mainstream news outlets.

Mongolian scientists study 200-year-old mummified monk who is ‘still alive’

The Telegraph

Meanwhile, Hollywood agents have expressed interest in casting the monk in the next Night At The Museum sequel. (just kidding)

Tweet of the Day: @LionsRoarOnline

suluI love George Takei!

He will always be Sulu to me (sorry John Cho), I appreciate how he leveraged his celebrity by coming out as a gay man in 2005, becoming a strong, vocal LGBT advocate, and I find his Facebook feed consistently entertaining.

That he’s also a Buddhist is news to me, and since I dabble in the teachings of the Buddha, another reason to like him.

Today’s Tweet of the Day installment is from Lion’s Roar, an online Buddhist publication, and if you follow the included link you get to read Mr. Takei telling his own, inspiring story:

Eyecatchers: Little Plastic Army Men, Revisited

yoga-joes-2A week ago, I wrote about Yoga Joes, the brainchild of designer, entrepreneur, and Yoga enthusiast, Dan Abramson, who put his own spin on the classic little plastic army men of yesteryear, placing them in a variety of Yoga poses, evoking a wonderful tension between images of war and peace.

I shared my own childhood experience, having been raised on war movies on television, having played with these little plastic army men, until, that is, I became a pacifist and embraced the concept of Ahimsa that is central to the Buddhism and Yoga practices I came to dabble in.

Amazing timing, then, that yesterday, when my wife and I stopped in at the Smith & Vallee Gallery in nearby Edison, Washington, we should see this piece by Pieter VanZanden, a woodworker in Smith & Vallee’s Woodworks shop, working here not with wood but with little plastic army men, riffing on Auguste Rodin‘s most famous sculpture, The Thinker, and conveying what could be interpreted as an anti-war sentiment similar to that of the Yoga Joes:

VanZanden-3 VanZanden-4

If you can’t quite tell what’s going on here, click on these images to enlarge them.

I think this is fantastic and a powerful statement. Titled Think About It, clearly the suggestion here is that, perhaps, if we would think more about the consequences of war, the horrific loss of life, symbolized by this pile of bodies, then maybe we might be less inclined to rush into military conflict.

In a related work by VanZanden, the centerpiece of his exhibit, standing a good six feet high, he uses this same material on a huge scale, recreating one of the classic little plastic army men poses:

army-man-dyptich

Here’s a closeup of the soldier’s head, which you can click on to enlarge for more fine detail:

VanZanden-2

Subversive and oh so cool!