Tag Archives: war & peace

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.

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:

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Subversive and oh so cool!

Yoga Joes: War meets Ahimsa

yoga-joes-2This is fantastic!

Via Inhabitat, check out San Francisco designer, entrepreneur, and yoga enthusiast Dan Abramson’s Yoga Joes. (see more photos below!)

Like millions of young American boys, I had an extensive collection of little green plastic army men, and I had them before I totally understood the horrors of war, before the Vietnam War bruised America’s war ego, when every day after school WABC TV from New York City showed The 4:30 Movie, known for week-long themes, based on either sequels (e.g. Planet of the Apes Week), actor (e.g. John Wayne Week), or genre (e.g. Monster Week), and once in a while they’d do War Week, showing a different war movie each day, and me and my next door neighbor and best friend would watch and take it all in, and then we’d set up our little green plastic army men, numbering in the hundreds, in an enormous battlefield covering the entire living room floor, and then we’d shoot rubber bands at the little green plastic army men, making gunfire and explosion sound effects, not a drop of blood in sight.

Well, I eventually did come to understand the horrors of war, and I came to be a full-on pacifist, and then I discovered Buddhism and Yoga and the concept of Ahimsa, the principles of nonviolence that totally aligned with the anti-war stance that I’d already assumed.

Delightful, then, to see these two worlds come together in Yoga Joes!

Below, check out some additional photos and the Kickstarter video.

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Video Fridays: R.I.P., Allan “Sidney Freedman” Arbus

allan-arbusI’m late getting to this, but I’m sad that I’m posting my second obituary in one week.

Following my post on Monday on the loss of Richie Havens, I heard the very next day of the death of actor Allan Arbus, at the age of 95, mostly known for his role as the psychiatrist, Dr. Sidney Freedman, on the TV show M*A*S*H.

(In a creepy example of the urban myth that celebrities die in groups of three, since I started writing this, I’ve learned of the death of country music legend George Jones at the age of 81. I may or may not be able to post an obit for George later today.)

Anyway, I mentioned once before that I practically grew up on M*A*S*H. In fact, it was such a central experience for me, as well as for many of the people I knew, including my best friends, who would talk about it constantly, reciting our favorite lines, analyzing it’s ups and downs, that it is not unsurprising to me at all that Allan Arbus’ passing would inspire more than just a brief note about how I used to enjoy him on television.

(If you aren’t a TV geek who enjoys exploring the themes of a show, if you are someone who simply likes entertainment, that’s cool, but you might want to skip ahead below, to the video part of this Video Fridays installment, a montage of clips of Allan Arbus from various M*A*S*H episodes.)


Now, the fascinating thing here, for me, is that Allan Arbus and his character, Sidney Freedman, actually represent the epicenter of an aspect of M*A*S*H that divided its fans into two opposing camps:

  1. Those who preferred the earlier seasons of the show, when comedy far outweighed drama, and when the comedy was, as I would argue, of a more sophisticated style.
  2. Those who loved the evolution of the show from mostly comedy toward increasing amounts of drama, and despite the shift in comedic style.

You see, although Arbus only appeared in 12 of the 251 episodes of M*A*S*H, and although his earliest appearances were in Season 2, when the show was still firmly mostly-comedy, I contend that the very fact that Sidney Freedman became a recurring character is symbolic of the evolution of the series towards drama.
Gradually, the show became less and less about the farcical absurdities of war, in the style of, say Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 — the style, incidentally, of the original source material, the novel by Richard Hooker and the film by Robert Altman — and more and more about the emotional, dramatic, traumatic and tragic nature of war.

That said, a convincing argument could be made that, once you delve into the ugliness of war, as would, let’s say, a psychiatrist, digging through the horrible toll it takes on humans and humanity, that it necessarily gets harder and harder to make light of it. A sitcom about war, then, could eventually become shallow or even insulting to those who have faught in, been injured by, or have lossed loved ones to war.

And, nothing underscores Sidney Freedman’s central role in this evolution than his central role in the very last episode of the series, 1983’s Goodbye, Farwell and Amen, M*A*S*H‘s swan song, the show’s last statement on the subject of war, which centered on therapy sessions between Sidney and Alan Alda‘s Hawkeye Pierce, who had suffered a nervous breakdown over a traumatic experience involving a mother who silenced her baby, thereby suffocating and killing it, in order to protect Hawkeye and the other passengers on a bus that was under enemy fire.

Drama indeed. Nothing funny about that.

Now, I should make it clear that, despite my preference for the earlier seasons, I do appreciate the significant achievement of keeping the show on the air for 11 seasons, while maintaining a huge audience and mostly positive reviews. After all, I kept watching and never missed an episode.

Truthfully, my beef with the show wasn’t really with the trend toward drama-over-comedy. Rather, as mentioned above, I found the comedy that did remain to be lacking in sophistication, too often heavily laden with silly puns, slapstick arguments and personality clashes.

Whatever you make of this analysis, regardless of which camp you reside in, I think we can all agree that Allan Arbus was wonderful as Dr. Sidney Freedman. As Alan Alda said, quoted in the Los Angeles Times Arbus obituary, “He was so authentic in the role it was hard to believe that he wasn’t that person.”

R.I.P., Allan Arbus. Thanks for the memories.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: If Baboons Can Do It…

Originally Published: April 11, 2011


I read an absolutely fascinating article in Yes! Magazine today by Robert Sapolsky, loaded with a ton of information that I did not know about primates, full of surprises, by turns disturbing, sweet, sexy (yes, sexy!), sad, scary, and hopeful.

Disturbing

It used to be thought that humans were the only savagely violent primate. That view fell by the wayside in the 1960s as it became clear that some other primates kill their fellows aplenty. Males kill; females kill. Some kill one another’s infants with cold-blooded stratagems worthy of Richard III. Some use their toolmaking skills to fashion bigger and better cudgels. Some other primates even engage in what can only be called warfare—organized, proactive group violence directed at other populations…

Goodall and other chimp researchers have carefully documented an endless stream of murders, cannibalism, and organized group violence among their subjects…

The most disquieting fact about the violent species was the apparent inevitability of their behavior.

Sounds pretty bleak, huh?

Sweet

But all along there has been another chimp species, one traditionally ignored…Now known as bonobos, they are recognized as a separate and distinct species that taxonomically and genetically is just as closely related to humans as the standard chimp. And boy, is this ever a different ape…

Male bonobos are not particularly aggressive and lack the massive musculature typical of species that engage in a lot of fighting (such as the standard chimp). Moreover, the bonobo social system is female-dominated, food is often shared, and there are well-developed means for reconciling social tensions.

What’s that I hear? An old song I discovered via the Grateful Dead?

That’s right, the women are smarter
That’s right, the women are smarter
That’s right, the women are smarter
The women are smarter than the men today.

–Norman Span

Sexy

And then there is the sex…

Bonobos have sex in every conceivable position and some seemingly inconceivable ones, in pairs and groups, between genders and within genders, to greet each other and to resolve conflicts, to work off steam after a predator scare, to celebrate finding food or to cajole its sharing, or just because.

You know, I kinda wish I was a bonobo all of a sudden.

Then again, maybe not…

Sad

So—a wondrous species (and one, predictably, teetering on the edge of extinction).

Sometimes I really hate that fucker Charles Darwin.

But, here’s where it gets REALLY interesting.

Sapolsky proceeds to describe two troops of Savannah Baboons he observed over many years, troops that inhabited neighboring territories, troops that were typically aggressive and violent, until one day a tuberculosis outbreak, spread via the garbage from a tourist lodge, wiped out the whole troop nearest the lodge as well as most of the males from the other troop, who made early morning raids into their neighbors’ territory in order to get at the garbage from the lodge as well.

Scary

The results were that Forest Troop was left with males who were less aggressive and more social than average, and the troop now had double its previous female-to-male ratio…

The social consequences of these changes were dramatic. There remained a hierarchy among the Forest Troop males, but it was far looser than before. Aggression was less frequent, particularly against third parties. And rates of affiliative behaviors, such as males and females grooming each other or sitting together, soared. There were even instances, now and then, of adult males grooming each other—a behavior nearly as unprecedented as baboons sprouting wings.

Speaking as a male primate, that is some scary damning evidence that the very testosterone coursing through my veins is the primary cause of so much death and destruction throughout history.

And yet…

Hopeful

Female savanna baboons spend their lives in the troop into which they are born, whereas males leave their birth troop around puberty; a troop’s adult males have thus all grown up elsewhere and immigrated as adolescents. By the early 1990s, none of the original low aggression/high affiliation males of Forest Troop’s tuberculosis period was still alive; all of the group’s adult males had joined after the epidemic. Despite this, the troop’s unique social milieu persisted—as it does to this day, some 20 years [later]…

As defined by both anthropologists and animal behaviorists, “culture” consists of local behavioral variations, occurring for nongenetic and nonecological reasons, that last beyond the time of their originators. Forest Troop’s low aggression/high affiliation society constitutes nothing less than a multigenerational benign culture…

The first half of the twentieth century was drenched in the blood spilled by German and Japanese aggression, yet only a few decades later it is hard to think of two countries more pacific. Sweden spent the 17th century rampaging through Europe, yet it is now an icon of nurturing tranquility….

Is a world of peacefully coexisting human Forest Troops possible? Anyone who says, “No, it is beyond our nature,” knows too little about primates, including ourselves.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: “Late Night War”

Originally Published: January 15, 2010


wordsAdvice I’ve given my son at soccer games:

You gotta fight for the ball!

We all do it. Metaphors and idioms date back to ancient civilizations, and without figurative expression there’d be no good art, literature, or music.

I almost hesitate to add to the din about the Leno-O’Brien-NBC conflict, but I just couldn’t stand to stay silent about how over-the-top the violence metaphors have become in the coverage of this story.

Headline #1:

A war? Really?!

Headline #2, with lede:

    Kimmel slays Leno

    The bloodbath shows no signs of abating — and the breakout supporting star in the Leno-Conan war is shaping up to be Jimmy Kimmel. After doing a viciously dead-on Leno impersonation on his own late-night ABC show earlier this week, Kimmel appeared on Leno last night and really let rip…

The latter article continues:

    It’s one thing to make sport of the other guys on your own turf. But Kimmel, bless him, fired his missiles directly on Leno and his viewers on Leno’s own show. This is the late-night equivalent of wearing a Yankees t-shirt in Fenway Park — a feat of insane heroism.

Again, we all do it. It’s embedded in our language and our competitive culture.

I just find it painful to read this hyperbolic dramatization about something so trivial, when literal wars, and disasters like the Haitian earthquake, have wrought very real death and destruction.

How, I wonder, does the family of a soldier or civilian killed in Iraq or Afghanistan feel when journalists refer to the conflict at NBC as a war? How does a Haitian American feel, who doesn’t know if their relatives in Haiti are dead or alive, a person counting on rescue workers for some real heroism, when a verbal dispute between a bunch of millionaires is referred to as a bloodbath?

A lot of people, especially politicians, like to say that 9/11 changed America, and in many ways it has. But you’d think that when unspeakable murder and destruction hit home on that day, we might, as a nation, from that day forward, think it odd when the same language used to describe 9/11 is used to describe TV trivialities.

TED Talks: Peter van Uhm: Why I chose a gun

I’m continually surprised by how many times I’ve recommended TED Talks — those incredibly thought-provoking, inspiring, often moving products of the various TED conferences held around the world — to people who have never heard of them, for I find them so thoroughly accessible, with each talk lasting no more than 18-20 minutes.

I mean, we can all find time for a few of these a day, or more scattered throughout the week. Right?

Well, it’s been a while since I last posted a TED Talks video, and today I’ve got a juicy one for you.

This was a challenging video for me, as I suspect it would be for most of my fellow peaceniks. The assertion made by Peter van Uhm, Chief of Defense for The Netherlands, that guns and armies are necessary tools for peace, rubs me the wrong way. And yet, having been raised Jewish, I carry the inherited trauma of the Holocaust, and I’ve struggled my whole life with the question of whether or not violent military action is justifiable in order to save people from oppression or genocide.

Now, I don’t agree with everything that Mr. van Uhm says, but I admire the TED organization for inviting him to speak and present his case, and he does so eloquently, with great sensitivity, and with great respect for his fellow TED presenters and attendees, who are trying to make the world a better, more peaceful place via a variety of other means.