Monday, 30 November 2015

Releasing Traps

Note, this exercise may require some variation to complete. Use your personal creativity to reach for the concept of the exercise and then interpret it accordingly.

Think back to a past "trap" you created for yourself, something that when it had you ensnared kept you from doing something you either loved doing then or love doing now (or both). As a kindness to yourself, review the situation, including what may have caused the trap and how you dismantled it. As a related kindness and if feasible, do the thing the trap kept you from doing.

In your journal, write your story and then edit it to a point where it is succinct, no more than three short paragraphs. What wisdom have you gained from this story and from this experience? Summarize this wisdom in a sentence and add it to the bottom of your story.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

On The Road To Damascus

I am reading Reason for Hope by Jane Goodall and there were so many things I wanted to excerpt along the way, her poems, her introduction, her mystical experiences (you can't live that close to nature and not have mystical experiences) and then I came to this chapter and discarded all other plans. It is the most important chapter in the book and I think she will forgive me for reproducing it in full. It bears the whole weight of her message. I think it was the reason for the book.

In October 1986, the pattern of my life changed forever. This was the indirect rest of the publication of The Chimpanzees of Gombe by Harvard University Press. In order to write that book I had struggled to master a great deal of information that biologists usually acquire as undergraduates -- topics such as the influence of hormones on aggression, sociobiological theory, and so on. It was hard work but worthwhile. Before expanding my knowledge I had felt ill at ease when talking to "proper" scientists. Snide remarks in the 1960s and 1970s about the "Geographic cover girl" had, I suspect, rankled more than I had admitted, even to myself. But the book was well received when it was finally published, and my self confidence had a terrific boost.

To celebrate the publication of this book, Dr Paul Heltne, director of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, suggested holding a conference: Understanding Chimpanzees. All the field biologists studying chimpanzees in Africa were invited, as were some working, noninvasively, in captive settings. It was an amazing gathering; almost all the great names in chimpanzee research were there. The event lasted four days; its after-effects lasted far longer. It wrought in me a cataclysmic change, similar, perhaps, to that described by Paul of Tarsus as he travelled on the road to Damascus, the experience that changed him from gentile to the most fervent and tireless of Jesus' disciples. When I arrived in Chicago I was a research scientist, planning the second volume of The Chimpanzees of Gombe. When I left I was already, in my heart, committed to conservation and education. Somehow I knew that Volume 2 would probably never be written -- certainly not while I was still active and filled with energy.

The content of the meeting was mainly scientific but there was a session on conservation. I think we were all shocked when we realised the extent to which the chimpanzees across Africa were vanishing. At the turn of the century there must have been as many as two million chimpanzees in 25 in 25 African nations, but during the last half of the 20th century their number had been reduced to less than 150,000, and only five countries had significant populations of 5,000 or more. And even in those remaining strongholds, chimpanzees were gradually and relentlessly losing ground to the needs of ever growing human populations. Trees were being razed for dwellings, firewood, charcoal and cultivation; logging and mining activities had penetrated ever deeper into the virgin forests and human infectious diseases to which chimpanzees were susceptible followed. People had settled along the roads, cutting down ever more trees, growing their crops, setting their snares, hunting. Dwindling chimpanzee populations had become increasingly fragmented and many groups were so small that inbreeding was inevitable: there was no hope of their long-term survival. In some countries in West and Central Africa, chimpanzees were hunted for food. They always had been, but whereas in the old days the hunters shot only enough meat for their villages, now hunting had become commercial. Hunters from town travelled  deep into the heart of the last remaining forests on logging trucks, shooting everything they could. Then they smoked or sun-dried the meat, loaded it onto the trucks, and took it to he towns. It was a commercial business -- the bush meat trade. It catered to the cultural preference of many people for the flesh of wild animals. (Years later it would be shown that chimpanzees carry a variant of the human HIV virus. It is not impossible that the virus may have crossed over to humans as a result of hunters butchering chimpanzees for meat)

Then there was the live animal trade. Even in places where chimps were not eaten, females were often killed so that their infants might be captured and sold, locally as pets, or for the international entertainment or medical research industries.

Another sobering session highlighted the conditions in which chimpanzees were kept in some medical research laboratories in the US and other parts of the world. What I learned shocked me to my core, leaving me with a burning passion to do something.

For 25 years I had lived my dream. I had gloried in the solitude of the forest, learning from some of the most fascinating creatures of our times. Now, with my newfound professional confidence, the time had come for me to use the knowledge I had acquired to try and help the chimps in their time of need. up until this point I had believed that there was nothing I could do that had not been sufficiently academic for me to stand up to those scientists engaged in medical research. And why on earth would politicians listen to anything I had to say? But now, after all the work I had put into writing The Chimpanzees of Gombe, I had the self-confidence to embark on visits to research laboratories where I had discussions with the scientists and the staff, official visits to the governments of various African countries, campaigns and lobbying efforts on behalf of chimpanzees in labs, circuses, and other degrading captive situations, and a no-stop series of lectures.

What if I had known, at that time, that my efforts would keep me more or less permanently on the road? That over the years ahead I would never remain in any one place for longer than three weeks, and that such "roosting periods" would only occur two or three times a year and would provide my only opportunities for serious writing? And that my precious time at Gombe would be whittled away until I was able to get there only a few times a year, for only one or two weeks at a time? Would I have been strong enough, committed enough, to start out along such a hard road? I was so utterly moved and shocked by  what I had learned at the conference that I believe the answer would have been yes. I didn't have to make the choice, for my life, it almost seems, was taken over by a force far too strong to fight against. Like Saint Paul I found myself unable to "kick against the pricks."

My campaign to help the chimpanzees in Africa would send me travelling to different chimp range countries with an exhibit called "Understanding Chimpanzees" which was the focal point of a Wildlife Awareness Week. I would meet (when possible) heads of state, environment and wildlife ministers and other government officials, and make contact with environmental organisations and anyone involved in chimpanzee research and/or conservation. I persuaded dedicated people within each country to organise these Wildlife Awareness Weeks. Every stop included school visits, public lectures, fund-raising events, and as many media appearances as possible. We managed to put on very successful events in Uganda, Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, Angola, Sierra Leone, and Zambia. And, of course, several in Tanzania, in Kigoma as well as Dar es Salaam. Conservation projects were also initiated in Zaire, South Africa, and Kenya.

It was during those visits that I was brought face-to-face with the terrible plight of hundreds of orphan chimpanzees. They had been born into a Gombe-like world, but their mothers had been shot -- for meat or simply to steal their infants for the live animal trade. My concern would lead to the development of sanctuaries for chimps confiscated by government officials -- from the marketplace or from the roadside. And for others handed over to us by people who had bought them as pets. A chimpanzee is as strong as a man by the time he or she is six years old, and even for those who have lived as part of a human family, eating at the table, playing with the children, going on visits, the time eventually comes when they can no longer be kept safely in the house. They want to be chimps, and do chimp things: they resent discipline, they can inflict serious bites, they become potentially dangerous.

There were many who urged me not to get involved with orphan chimps. It would be costly, and we would have to care for them throughout their long lives (as long as 60 years) for they can almost never be returned to the wild. It would be better, I was told, to use the precious dollars to try and save the wild chimpanzees and their habitat. Others felt I should help the African people rather than "mere" animals. But for me there was no dilemma. I could not turn my back on the outstretched hands, the pleading eyes, the pathetic malnourished bodies of the orphans. And so our sanctuary programmes began. Each one became a focal point for a conservation education programme, especially for children. Moreover, as at Gombe, we tried to involve the local people, employing as many as we could, buying fruit and vegetables from them, boosting the local economy. The villagers, often for the first time, had an opportunity to observe the fascinating social interactions between chimpanzees. Tourists were fascinated too, and in Kenya and Uganda the sanctuaries eventually became self-supporting.

Whenever there were chimpanzees in local zoos I went to see how they were kept. Those visits were distressing; it was hardly surprising that the animals were starving, since the keepers themselves and their families often had very little to eat. We were able to make some improvements -- at zoos in Congo-Brazzaville, Uganda, Angola -- for small amounts of money and with the involvement of the local expatriate communities.

Visits to some of the medical research labs in America and Europe were worse, for although the chimps were well fed, their conditions were utterly bleak and sterile and filled with boredom. Moreover, there was no excuse: with government and industry putting billions of dollars into animal research, those responsible should have been able to provide a better environment. I shall never forget watching a videotape that had been secretly filmed by animal rights activists inside a federally funded laboratory, SEMA, Inc. It arrived, as had been promised, soon after the Chicago conference. I was in Bournemouth where I had just spent Christmas with my family. After watching this video we were all in tears, almost too shocked to speak. The footage showed young chimpanzees in  tiny cages, far gone into depression and despair. I had, of course, known that chimps were used in medical research, but I had never dreamed of conditions as bleak as those at SEMA, conditions that were totally unacceptable, and clearly psychologically damaging to the chimps. I wanted to speak out against such cruelty but I knew that I could not do thus on the evidence of a videotape -- I had to see the conditions with my own eyes. Could it really be so bad? I asked for permission to visit the laboratory; to my surprise permission was granted and a date was set in March 1987.

I absolutely, utterly dreaded that visit, and as the time came close, I felt almost physically sick. It would be my first confrontation with the white-coated scientists who, rightly or wrongly, I regarded as the enemy. When the day came, I was glad to have, in my pocket, a little card on which Vanne, knowing how anxious I was, had written two of Winston Churchill's famous wartime morale-boosting quotes to the nation: "This is not a time for doubts or weakness --- this is the supreme hour to which we are called," and "Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour, and be in readiness for the conflict." SEMA, Inc. was in Rockville, Maryland, and my route from downtown Washington took me past the British embassy -- and lo! there was that marvellous bronze statue of Churchill standing outside, hand up in his famous V for victory sign. What a wonderful omen.

I needed every bit of courage I could muster to get through that visit. Even repeated viewing of the videotape had not prepared me for the stark reality. From the outside world of sunshine I was ushered through subterranean corridors into the dim basement world of the laboratory animal. We went into a room where infant chimpanzees, one or two years old, were crammed, two together, into tiny cages that measured (as I later learned) some 22 inches by 20 inches square, and 24 inches high. Each cage was inside an "isolette", which looked a bit like a microwave oven and permitted only filtered germ-free air to enter the chimps' prison. From the small window of each isolette  two infants peered at us. Not yet part of any experiment, they had already spent four months of quarantine in their tiny cells. At least they had each other, but not for long. Once their quarantine was over they would be separated, I was told, and placed in single isolettes, then infected with hepatitis or HIV or some other viral disease.

A juvenile female rocked from side to side, sealed off from the outside world. We needed a flashlight to see her properly. A technician was told to open her cage, lift her out. She sat in his arms like a rag doll, listless, apathetic. He did not speak to her. She did not look at him or try to interact with him in any way. She was either drugged, or far gone into despair. Her name, they said, was Barbie.

I am still haunted by the memory of Barbie's eyes and the eye of the other chimps I saw that day. They were dull and blank, like the eyes of people who have lost all hope; like the eyes of children I have seen in Africa, refugees who have lost their parents and their homes. Chimpanzee children are so like human children, in so many ways. They use similar movements to express their feelings. And their emotional needs are the same -- both need friendly contact and reassurance and fun and the opportunity to engage in wild bouts of play. And they need love.

When I emerged from the underground lab, shocked and sad, I was taken to sit at a table with SEMA and National Institutes of Health personnel. I realised that everyone was looking at me, questioningly. What on earth could I say? And then, as so often happens when my mind goes blank, words came.

"I think you all know what I felt in there," I said. "And since you are all decent, compassionate people, I assume you feel much the same." They could hardly contradict. I talked about the lives of chimpanzees in the wild, their close family ties, their long and carefree childhood.  I described their use of tools, their love of comfort, the rich variety of their diet, and some of our recent insights into the workings of the chimpanzee mind. Then I broached the idea of a workshop, a meeting at which biomedical scientists and veterinarians and technicians from labs could discuss, with field scientists and ethologists and animal welfare advocates, what could be done to improve conditions for the lab chimpanzees.

The workshop took place, but the NIH dropped out and the document that outlined what we considered the absolute minimum requirement for lab chimps as regards cage size, social life, and mental stimulation was largely disregarded by the regulatory body, the US Department of Agriculture. Nevertheless, over the years that document, refined during three other workshops, one in the Netherlands, has been useful in many ways in our fight for improvement in the lives of lab animals. Useful because it included the views of scientists and other people who worked in the labs themselves, and not just animal rights advocates.

I became convinced that it should be mandatory for all scientists who make use of the living bodies of animals, whatever the species, to kern something about the natural behaviour of those animals, and to see for themselves how their research affects the individuals involved. Only then can they balance the benefit (or hoped-for benefit) to humanity against the cost in suffering to the animals.

Chimpanzees, differing from us in the structure of DNA by only just over 1%, also resemble us closely in the composition of the blood and immune systems. They can catch or be infected with all human contagious diseases. And this, of course, is why they have been used as "guinea pigs" to try to find out more about human diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS, and to search for vaccines and cures. But it is important to realise that the anatomy of the brain and central nervous system of the Great Apes is also remarkably similar to ours -- more so than any other living creature. If physiological similarities between chimpanzee and man mean that a disease pattern is likely to follow a similar course in our two species and be affected by similar preventative or curative agents, is it not logical to infer that similarities in the central nervous systems of chimpanzees and ourselves may have led to corresponding similarities in cognitive abilities? And that chimpanzees may experience emotions similar to those of the human primate they so closely resemble? And have a similar capacity for suffering?

We cannot state, categorically, that chimpanzees experience mental states similar to those that we label, in ourselves, joy, sadness, fear, despair, and so on, but it seems likely. Certainly an infant chimpanzee has the same need for comfort and reassurance as an infant human. Chimpanzees do not shed tears, but those who understand the behaviour of human children have little difficulty in correctly identifying the emotional state of a young chimpanzee. It is because I believe, so absolutely, that chimpanzees, like us, can feel sad, depressed, and bored, that I find visits to research labs so chilling.

I first met JoJo, a fully adult male, in 1988. He had been in a standard lab cage, 5 feet by 5 feet square, 7 feet high, for at least 10 years. He was in a facility owned by New York University, the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates -- LEMSIP. He and many others of the 300 or so chimpanzees earned their keep: their bodies were rented to pharmaceutical companies for testing drugs or vaccines. In particular, chimpanzees were thought, at that time, to be good models for learning about AIDS. For although they do not get the symptoms of full-blown AIDS, the retrovirus stays alive in their blood. JoJo was destined to be given a new vaccine against HIV, then "challenged" by an injection of the retrovirus.

It was the first time I had visited adult chimpanzees in a lab. The veterinarian, Dr Jim Mahoney, introduced me. "JoJo's very gentle," he said, as he walked away between rows of cages, five on each side of the bleak, harshly lit underground room. I knelt down in front of JoJo, and he reached as much of his hand as he could between the thick bars that formed a barrier between us. The bars were all around him, on every side, above and below. He had already been in this tiny prison for at least 10 years; 10 years of utter boredom interspersed with periods of fear and pain. There was nothing in his cage save an old motor tire for him to sit on. And he had no opportunity to contact others of his kind. I looked into his eyes. There was no hatred there, only a sort of gratitude because I had stopped to talk to him, helped to break the terrible grinding monotony of the day. Gently, he groomed the ridges where my nails pressed against the thin rubber of the gloves I had been given, along with mask and paper cap. I pushed my hand in between the bars and, lip smacking, he groomed the hairs on the back of my wrist, peeling the glove down.

JoJo's mother had been shot in Africa. Could he remember that life? I wondered. Did he sometimes dream of the great trees with the breeze rustling through the canopy, the birds singing, the comfort of his mother's arms? I thought of David Greybeard and the other chimpanzees of Gombe. I looked again at JoJo as he groomed me, and my vision blurred. Not for him the freedom to choose each day how he would spend his time and where and with whom. There was no comfort for him of soft forest floor or leafy nest, high in the treetops. And the sounds of nature were gone too, the tumbling of the streams, the roar of the waterfall through the dim greens and browns of the forest world, the wind rustling and sighing in the branches, the scuttlings of little creatures moving through the leaves, the chimpanzee calls rising, so clear, from the distant hills.

JoJo had lost his world long, long ago. Now he was in a world of our choosing, a world that was hard and cold and bleak, concrete and steel, clanging doors, and the deafening volume of chimpanzee calls confined in underground rooms. Horrible sounds. A world where there were no windows, nothing to look at, nothing to play with. There was no comfort or gently grooming fingers, no friend to embrace and kiss in joyous morning greeting, no chance to impress with a magnificent display of malehood. JoJo had committed no crime, yet he was imprisoned, for life. The shame I felt was because I was human. Very gently, JoJo reached out through the bars and touched my cheek where the tears ran down into my mask. He sniffed his finger, looked briefly into my eyes, went on grooming my wrist. I think Saint Francis stood beside us, and he too was weeping.

Anyone who tries to improve the lives of animals invariably comes in for criticism from those who believe that such efforts are misplaced in a world of suffering humanity. Certainly this was the opinion of a woman I met while on tour in America. It happened to be my birthday and I was enjoying a small surprise party. The sun was shining and the spring flowers brought a smile to one's heart. Suddenly my hostess came up, concerned, to point out a tight-faced woman who had just arrived. "She's been told her daughter is only alive because of experimental work on dogs. She belongs to People for Animal Experimentation." I was familiar with that group and was glad I had been warned. I expected trouble and, indeed, the woman approached me soon afterward and proceeded to tear strips off me. If I had my way, her daughter would have died. People like me made her sick. It was quite a vicious verbal attack and the people around us drew back, embarrassed. When finally I could get a world in I told her my mother had a pig valve in her heart. It was from a commercially slaughtered hog, but the procedure had been worked out with pigs in a laboratory. "I happen to love pigs," I told her. "They are quite as intelligent as dogs -- often more so. I just feel terribly grateful to the pig who saved my mother's life and to the pigs who may have suffered to make the operation possible. So I want to do all I can to improve conditions for pigs -- in the labs and on the farms. Don't you feel grateful to the dogs who saved your daughter? Wouldn't you like to support efforts to find alternatives so that no more dogs -- or pigs -- need be used in the future?"

The woman stared at me -- she was speechless for a moment. Then she said: "No one ever put it like that before." The bitter, angry expression on her face had disappeared. "I shall pass on your message to my group," she said and left.

The use of animals in experiment is a highly controversial issue. From the point of view of those who care about animals this is hardly surprising. In the name of science and with the various goals of improving human health, keeping dying people alive, ensuring human safety, testing researchers' hypotheses, and teaching students, animals are subjected to countless invasive, frightening, and sometimes very painful procedures. To test product safety and efficacy, animals such as rats and mice, guinea pigs, cats, dogs, and monkeys are injected with or forced to swallow, or have dripped into their eyes, a whole variety of substances. Surgical techniques are practiced by medical students on animals, and new surgical procedures are tested on animals. To try out experimental techniques for treating burns, vast areas of animals' bodies are subjected to first-degree burns. To discover more about the effect of smoking, taking drugs, eating too much fat, and so forth on human animals, other kinds of animals are forced to inhale huge quantities of smoke, take drugs, and overeat. To learn about biological systems, scientists stick electrodes into animals' brains, deafen, blind, kill, and dissect them. To learn about mental functions, researchers subject animals to a vast array of tests; mistakes are punished with electric shocks, food and water deprivation, and other cruelties. In short, what is done to animals in the name of science is often, from the animals' point of view, pure torture -- and would be regarded as such if perpetrated by anyone who was not a scientist.

I have thought long and deeply about the ethical implications of animal research. Regardless if how much or how little these experiments benefit human health, should we exploit animals in this way? Human beings are animals. Experiments were made on human beings during the Nazi era in Europe. And in many other countries,  at many other times, human beings, with or without their knowledge, have been used in potentially harmful experiments. The thought of deliberate experimentation on nonconsenting human beings horrifies us. And rightly so.

If a painful experiment is performed  on another kind of animal being, other than a human being, our distress, presumably, will be more or less acute depending on the amount of suffering we believe that the animal endures. So it would be a good thing if we knew how much suffering various species of animals experience. Unfortunately we can never know this -- after all, there is a huge difference even among humans regarding perception of pain: the same procedure can be agonising for one person, and only mildly painful to another. However, there are certain things that we know cause pain to humans and animals alike, such as swallowing poison that causes death due to its agonising attack on the gut. Are we justified in causing agony of this sort in a healthy animal if, at some future time, humans may be spared agony? This is a question that each of us must answer for ourselves. And our answers will vary depending on: 1) the species of animal involved; 2) our knowledge of the nature of that animal; 3) our own experience of painful illness of this sort in ourselves or in loved ones.

Fortunately the growing animal welfare and animal rights movements have stimulated new efforts in the search for alternatives to the use of live animals in pharmaceutical and medical experimentation. It is unfortunate that, once such an alternative has been found, certified effective (by the Food and Drug Administration in the US), there are no laws to prevent the further exploitation of animals for that particular purpose. It is unfortunate also that the hurdles that must be crossed before a new nonanimal procedure is approved are more numerous and harder to negotiate thanks the case if a new animal procedure is proposed. There has been a good deal of research into the history of medicine tracing the contributions made by animal experimentation. this work shows clearly that animals have not been as critical to the advancement of medicine as is typically claimed by proponents of animal experimentation. Moreover, a great deal of animal research has been misleading, and resulted either in the withholding of drugs, sometimes for years, that were subsequently found to be highly beneficial to humans, or to the release and use of drugs that, though harmless to animals, have actually contributed to human suffering and death.

I believe one of the great challenges of the future -- a challenge to young researchers in human and veterinary medicine -- is to find alternatives to the use of live animals of all species in experimentation, with the goal of eliminating them altogether. We need a new mindset: let us stop saying that, while it is unfortunate, some animals will always be needed, and, instead, admit that the practice is unethical and the sooner we stop doing it the better. Let science direct its collectively awesome intellect toward phasing out all animal research. Human history is full of inspiring stories of those who achieved the impossible.

Of course, while science is responsible for a great deal of animal suffering, including much that is unnecessary, it is not scientists alone who are guilty of animal abuse. Billions of animals are subjected to unspeakable pain, misery, and fear during intensive factory farming for food. From birth to death, in their pens or crates, on the sometimes interminable journeys to slaughter and, worst of all, in the abattoirs, they suffer. Wild animals are hunted, trapped, and poisoned. There is horrid exploitation of a huge variety of animal species in the live animal trade, and in training for entertainment, and in the pet industry. And there are countless "beasts of burden" whose treatment is nothing short of barbaric.

Over the past 40 years, animals have been increasingly subjected to intensive farming. This type of husbandry, which inflicts on sentient beings the assembly line method for maximum productivity, became widely adopted as small farms were forced out of business by giant corporations -- agribusiness had arrived. I first became aware of this when I read Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation, in which he described, in graphic detail what this entailed. Because laying hens were crammed, in some cases five birds into a cage only 16 inches by 18 inches, in "battery farms," they sometimes became cannibalistic. So they were "debeaked" -- that is, they were strung upside down, in long lines, and conveyed past a machine that cut off their beaks. This procedure was painful; worse, the stumps would be sensitive for the rest of the hens' lives. Pigs, I read, were kept in small pens, barely able to move. Standing on slats that allowed dirt to be washed away, their feet became sore and deformed; their legs, weak from lack of exercise, often broke as the overweight pigs were forced toward their execution. Farrowing sows were pinned under hoops of steel so that they literally could not move -- and accidentally squash a piglet. And one of the worst nightmares for pigs with their incredibly sensitive noses (remember the famous truffle hunters in France?) was that they could not escape the stench of their excrement, the ammonia of their urine -- unbearable even for us with our poor human sense of smell. Veal calves, I discovered, were kept in crates so small that they could not turn around. And they were kept in the dark and deprived of light and iron so that their meat would be white. So intense was their craving for iron that they drank their urine.

I found that my whole attitude to eating flesh abruptly changed. When I looked at a piece of meat on my plate I saw it as a part of a once living creature, killed for me, and it seemed to symbolise fear, pain, and death -- not exactly appetising. So I stopped eating meat. For me, one of the delightful side effects of becoming a vegetarian was the change in my own health. I felt lighter, more filled with clean energy. I was not wasting my body's time by asking it to sort out the good protein from all the waste products that the onetime living creature had also been trying to get rid of.

There are other issues relating to raising animals for food. Thousands of acres of rain forest are cleared to provide grazing for cows, or to grow crops for animal fodder. Not only are the indigenous peoples of the Amazon losing their forest heritage but also the whole process is extremely wasteful. It has been estimated that one acre  of fertile land can produce between 500 and 600 pounds of vegetable protein from crops such as peas or beans. If the acre is used, instead, to grow a crop to feed animals, which we then kill and eat, we shall only get between 40 and 45 pounds of animal protein from that acre.

At this point, I want to make it quite clear that I do not condemn the eating of meat per se -- only the practice of intensive farming. Let the meat eaters among us -- most of my friends -- try to partake of the flesh of animals who have enjoyed their lives and have been killed in the most painless way possible. And could we not offer up a prayer for the spirit of the once living creature that has died for us? In the olden days people did just that. Indigenous peoples still do. Any little thing that brings us back into communion with the natural world and the spiritual power that permeates all life will help us to move a little farther along the path of human moral and spiritual evolution.

If we accept that humans are not the only animals with personalities, not the only animals capable of rational thought and problem solving, not the only animals to experience joy and sadness and despair, and above all not the only animals to know psychological as well as physical suffering, we become (I hope) less arrogant, a little less sure that we have the inalienable right to make use of other life-forms in any way we please so long as there is a possible benefit for human animals. We are, of course, unique but we are not so different from the rest of the animal kingdom as we used to suppose. This knowledge leads to humility, to a new respect for the other amazing animal beings with whom we share this planet, especially those with complex brains and social behaviour about whom we know the most, such as dogs and cats and pigs. Even if we only suspect that other living beings have feelings that may be similar to our own, or not too dissimilar to our own, we should have doubts about the ethics of treating those beings as mere "things" or "tools" for our own human purposes. Even if all animals used are bred especially for our use -- in the laboratory, or for food, or for entertainment -- does this make them, somehow, less pig? less monkey? less dog? Does this deprive them of feelings and the capacity to suffer? If we raised humans for medical experiments, would they be less human and suffer less and matter less than other humans? Were human slaves less able to feel pain, grief, and despair simply because they were born into slavery?

We need only to list some of those who have spoken out for kindness and compassion toward animals to realise how many of the truly great have been among their ranks. Albert Einstein begged us to widen the "circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." Albert Schweitzer insisted, "We need a boundless ethic that includes animals too." Mahatma Gandhi believed, "You can tell about the people of a country by the way they treat their animals."

Throughout the ages, a number of eminent men have been outspoken on the subject of meat-eating. Pythagorus wrote: "The earth afford a lavish supply of riches, of innocent food, and offers you banquets that involve no bloodshed or slaughter; only beasts satisfy their hunger with flesh." George Bernard Shaw, the British playwright, said: "We don't want to fight. And yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead." Benjamin Franklin declared that meat-eating was "unprovoked murder." And, most vehement of all, Leonardo da Vinci, surely one of the greatest minds of all time, considered the bodies of meat-eaters to be "burial places; graveyards for the animals they eat."

To me, cruelty is the worst of human sins. Once we accept that a living creature has feelings and suffers pain, then if we knowingly and deliberately inflict suffering on that creature we are equally guilty. Whether it be human or animal, we brutalise ourselves.

It is not always an easy message to get across.

One of my favourite stories concerns a London taxi driver who, early one morning, took me to Heathrow Airport. I was tired, I had two weeks of lectures ahead of me, and I planned to doze in the car. But somehow the driver knew that I worked with chimpanzees and launched into a vindictive tirade against everyone who "wasted" money on animals. Especially his sister. He went on and on about his sister. She worked for a local animal protection group. There was so much human suffering, so many abused children. It made him sick to have a sister who cared about animals. There were far too many TV programmes about animals. He always turned them off.

I was not in the mood for all that. I was just about to lean back in my seat and close my eyes when I realised that this was exactly the kind of irritating, blinkered person that so desperately needed to be made aware. He represented thousands who thought the same way. Ignorant of these issues, unable to discuss, only able to trot out the same old dogmatic statements that he had heard, and repeated, a hundred times. Quite clearly I had been meant to ride in that taxi.

So I sat uncomfortably sideways on the jump seat and talked to him all the way to Heathrow through the little open window behind him. I started off with stories about the chimps. He did listen, but it didn't seem to make any difference. I told him how chimps could learn sign language. I told him how some of them loved to paint. And how they felt emotions, and cared for each other, and even rescued each other. I recounted stories about dogs and other animals who had saved the lives of their owners. I suggested that we had a responsibility toward animals in captivity because we had deprived them of any ability to fend for themselves. And that there were already many people concerned about human problems, so surely it was okay for some to care about animals also.

But nothing seemed to make any difference. Caring about animals, he maintained stubbornly, was a waste of time. "But anyway, enjoy yourself in America," he said as I got out.

It was appropriate to give him a tip regardless of his views, but I didn't have the right amount, and he had no change. So I told him to take a couple of pounds for himself and give the rest to his sister, for her animal work. I never thought he would -- but it appealed to my sense of humour.

When I got back to the UK after my tour one of the letters waiting for me was from the cab driver's sister.

"My brother gave me your donation," she wrote. "That was so very kind of you. But the most amazing thing is, something happened to my brother. What on earth did you do to him? He's so nice to me suddenly, and he's asking me all these questions about the animals. He's really interested in my work. He's changed. What did you do to him?"

My exhausting hour had paid off. Not only had he made his sister happy, but perhaps he had expounded his new understanding to some of his friends and converted one or more of them.

Today, attitudes are slowly changing. And they will continue to change as the general public becomes better informed, as more people with mass appeal spread the message - such as Sir Paul McCartney, who, after his wife's death, made the decision to become more involved with the animal issues that meant so much to her. Many of the major medical schools have dropped "dog lab" from their curriculum. Many veterinary schools in America are offering alternatives to the traditional way of learning by operating on healthy stray dogs and cats -- healthy, that is, until the students begin cutting them up. The old SEMA lab, where I met Barbie. has a new name, reflecting a change in attitude. The isolettes are gone, the chimpanzees have quite large cages, and they remain in pairs for all experiments. JoJo, my sad acquaintance from LEMSIP, was retired to a sanctuary in California when the place closed down, and many other chimps from that lab were similarly placed in sanctuaries around North America.

We still have a long way to go. But we are moving in the right direction. If only we can overcome cruelty, to human and animal, with love and compassion we shall stand at the threshold of a new era in human moral and spiritual evolution -- and realise, at last, our most unique quality: humanity.

Friday, 27 November 2015


I am blessed when it comes to my friends. They gave me a lovely birthday which started before the day itself. They made me feel so loved and wanted. It was just like exhaling, and finding yourself home.

My love, who doesn't write cards, sent me the cutest one with loving words inside.

Another friend from Texas sent me a lovely book that I am going to enjoy reading thoroughly. In fact, I will read it slowly and savouuuuuuuur....

Today, I just want to take time out to be grateful.

With all the things that is happening in the world, I should be tormented and anxious.

Instead, you, all of you, make me feel so loved.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Life After Delivery

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Happy Birthday. To Me.

Me on my first birthday:

The whiteboard Jackie created for my 40th birthday with my various names on it:

The message inside one of my favourite birthday cards:

Dearest Appu,

Happy 35th! This was the rudest card I could find. And it's quite tame some more kan? Anyhoo so 35. Thirty five. Yesiree Bobbo...the big mid 30s. I just have to say this. You don't look a day over 25!

I am waffling so here's wishing you the best of all the ill-gotten booty there is to have, run wild and free like the bulls in Pamplona (sp?), enjoy the breeze like the tumbling tumbleweeds and fly high with the birdy num nums in the sky. (and poop on anyone who tries to 'lastik' you down).

Have a great one.



Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Annual Letters

As this is the month of my birthday, and this is one of my favourite birthday stories, I thought I would share this, today, on the eve. I came across this story in one of the Chicken Soup collections and I always loved it. Loving, as you know I do, letters...can you imagine what it would have been like to open the box at 21 and read ALL these letters?

Shortly after my daughter Juli-Ann was born, I started a loving tradition that I know others (with whom I have subsequently shared this special plan) have also started. I tell you the idea here both to open your heart with the warmth of my story and also to encourage you to start this tradition within your own family.

Every year, on her birthday, I write an Annual Letter to my daughter. I fill it with funny anecdotes that happened to her that year, hardships or joys, issues that are important in my life or hers, world events, my predictions for the future, miscellaneous thoughts, etc. I add to the letter photographs, presents, report cards and many other types of mementoes that would certainly have otherwise disappeared as the years passed.

I keep a folder in my desk drawer in which, all year long, I place things that I want to include in the envelope containing her next Annual Letter.  Every week, I make short notes of what I can think of from the week's events that I will want to recall later in the year to write in her Annual Letter. When her birthday approaches, I take out that folder and find it overflowing with ideas, thoughts, poems, cards, treasures, stories, incidents and memories of all sorts -- many of which I had already forgotten -- and which I then eagerly transcribe into that year's Annual Letter.

Once the letter is written and all the treasures inserted into the envelope, I seal it. It then becomes that year's "Annual Letter". On the envelope I always write "Letter to Juli-Ann from her Daddy on the occasion of her nth birthday -- to be opened when she is 21 years old."

It is a time capsule of love from every different year of her life to her as an adult. It is a gift of loving memories from one generation to the next. It is a permanent record of her life, written as she was actually living it.

Our tradition is that I show her the sealed envelope, with the proclamation written on it that she may read it when she is 21. Then I take her to the bank, open the safe deposit box, and tenderly place that year's Annual Letter on the growing pile of its predecessors. She sometimes takes them all out to look at them and feel them. She sometimes asks me about their contents and I refuse to tell her what is inside.

In recent years, Juli-Ann has given me some of her special childhood treasures, which she is growing too old for but which she does not want to lose. And she asks me to include them in her Annual Letter so she will always have them.

That tradition of writing her Annual Letters is now one of my most sacred duties as a dad. As as Juli-Ann grows older, I can see it is a growing and special part of her life, too.

One day we were sitting with friends musing about what we will be doing in the future. I cannot recall the exact words spoken, but it went something like this: I jokingly told Juli-Ann that on her 61st birthday she would be playing with her grandchildren.  Then, I whimsically invented that on her 31st birthday she will be driving her own kids to hockey practice. Getting into the groove of this funny game and encouraged by Juli-Ann's evident enjoyment of my fantasies, I continued. On your 21st birthday, you will be graduating from university.

"No, she interjected. "I will be too busy reading."

One of my deepest desires is to be alive and to enjoy that wonderful time in the future when the time capsules are opened and the accumulated mountains of love come tumbling out of the past, back into my adult daughter's life.

Raymond L. Aaron

Monday, 23 November 2015

Week 46: Creative Giving

This week's exercise is inspired by the Secret Society For Creative Philanthropy, an organization that to join you must have been gifted $100 by someone and then creatively given it away. Since I don't have $100 to give each of you to get that kind of ball rolling, I’ll instead encourage you to do one of two things (or both if you are so inclined):

Idea #1 – Give money to some friends with the instructions that they give it away creatively.
Idea #2 – If you don't have cash to give away, give something else of yours to some friends that they can give away in a creative fashion.

In either case, give a deadline for the creative giving to be done and then get together with your friends to learn what they did. Use your journal to write about your experience, perhaps considering what it means to see yourself as a conduit for kindness.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Kitten in Peril

A few nights ago, I nearly lost Ebony for good. He had stormed off in a huff because I kicked him out of the room. I was putting Stella (the new pup) to sleep and when she had dropped off, Ebony, who had insisted on being in the room, started creating a ruckus, waking her right back up again.

So I gathered him up and threw him out. Bad move. As it is, Ebony was jealous of the pup and my attention to the pup and he's extraordinarily sensitive. I went back to trying to get Stella to sleep but she was up now and restless. She couldn't drop off. After trying for half an hour more, I abandoned all attempts, and just switched off the light and locked the door. Stella is starting to know bedtime and she is a smart pup. She cries for a while if I leave her alone without having put her to sleep, but then she settles.

Anyway, I went to my room and settled on the bed to watch a Korean comedy on YouTube. Sheba leapt up to join me. I figured Ebony was off somewhere in high dudgeon. But half an hour later when he still hadn't shown up I started to get worried. I had stupidly left the front door open (bad move) and he has started to show an interest in the outside world. What if he had gone out?

I searched the house and he was nowhere to be found. By now, I was really alarmed. I started calling his name...and I heard a faint mewing coming from the direction of the big drain in front of the house.

Good God, had he fallen in there?

He had. I came out in my large, baggy night dress and leaned down to hear the faint scared mews of the little black cat.

It was so deep he could not jump out. It was taller than me. How on earth could I get in?

But it was my kitten, my baby and there was no way I was going to leave him there.

There is a broken ladder in the house. It is precarious when you lay it on solid would it be if I tried to stand it in the drain?

Well, no prizes for guessing there. Even more precarious. I ran into the house to get it, unfortunately disturbing Stella in the process as it was in the room I had laid her down in. But I had no time to pat her to sleep. My baby was in that big horrible drain and I had to get him out by any means.

I lowered the ladder into the drain and tried to stand it up there.  It took some doing. Now, as I have said, this ladder is broken. Which means climbing down it, the rungs could break.

But Ebony could not be coaxed to climb the ladder on his own. So there was no help for it. I would have to go down. I glanced around at my neighbours, all those quiet, gracious houses, mellow with sleep.

I started to step down tentatively. False start! Nearly fell there...but bit by bit, I lowered myself down until I got to the bottom of the drain. I scooped up my wet, dirty, frightened kitten and lifted him out of there. Sheba who had come outside to watch curiously, followed him as he shot back into the house.

I carried the ladder back in and then locked the door. And decided that what Ebony really needed was a good bath. I had bought the kitten shampoo a little while earlier but could never bring myself to bathe the little I would have no choice...Ebony was stood under the tap and then I rubbed the shampoo into his fur...he struggled some...but I was relentless.

Then the drowned rat of a kitten emerged from his bath, and I dried him with one of the doggies' towels. Not perfectly and he soon pushed his way out of the towel to take over the job himself. Sheba tried to help but it was too big a job for even her determined tongue (I know all about her determined little tongue because I wake up to it licking me every morning).  I stroked Ebony for a while...but he kept getting out of my reach to get on with the task of drying himself.

And then, we all fell asleep, my two kittens and I, me, more glad than I can say that they were both safely asleep next to me.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Healing Power of Pets

I have been feeling pretty seedy lately. The latest bout with illness was when a massive pocket under my new crown filled with food: food impaction, gum infection, pain radiating out to the top left half of my mouth...I was in agony. A visit to the dentist and I went home with the area cleaned, feeling better if rest.

But the pain meds didn't work (the pain in my gums was something awful) and after a while I started reacting to the antibiotics.

One day, lying in bed feeling miserable, I felt Ebony creep up and lie on my left side. He just lay there and after a while, I noticed the pain leaving me. Nothing had worked before this. Not positive thinking, not washing out my mouth, not the frigging pain meds. But Ebony lying on me for a half hour or so did.

Now, Ebony is a very independent kitten and he usually likes lying somewhere near me but not within touching distance. It was clear that he knew there was something wrong with me and that I needed him. He is an uncanny kitten that way.

Later, when I reacted to the meds and started to purge he came and lay on me again. And that was the only stretch where I got some sleep. Otherwise, I was running to the bathroom every 10 minutes until I became weak, weary and dehydrated.

I am feeling better now. Not 100% but more normal than I felt all this week.

And my kitties are back to normal as well.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Pyrrhic Victories

Dominic Utton began to keep a blog of letters to the train company's managing director which have been the inspiration for his new book

So I stumbled across this book, Martin Harbottle's Appreciation of Time by Dominic Utton. Kinokuniya was having a special shelf with epistolary novels (books told in the form of letters), which you know I love. And I was lucky that I picked this particular book because it is SOOOO good. It is a series of emails that Daniel (a writer for a well known tabloid in the UK) writes to Martin Harbottle, who is managing director of the railway that Daniel travels on every day. Daniel has come up with the brilliant idea of sending Martin an email every time the train is delayed. The length of the email depends on the length of the delay. Say, it was a 20 minute delay (totally unacceptable), then the email will take 20 minutes to read. But maybe because he runs out of things to say about bad service and train delays (that would take one or two minutes at most) he goes on to talk about other things, his life, Greek literature, his marriage and newborn daughter, his work in the tabloid during one of the most interesting times in its history, gossip about the people they feature...

Anyway, here is one of the letters. It sort of gives you an idea. And I hope that on reading it, you go out and get a copy of this severely underrated book:

Re: 22.20 Premier Westward Railways train from London Paddington to Oxford. June 22. Amount of my day wasted: ten minutes. Fellow sufferer: Overkeen Estate Agent.

How the devil are you, Martin Well, I hope? In the pink? Good, good. Well done.

I gather you had a rough night of it last night. I hear that all Premier Westward services out of Paddington yesterday evening were -- not to put too fine a point on it -- up the spout. Down the Swanee. Round the U-bend. Nothing moved, as I understand it, for hours.

I monitored it all on the internet. I kept a window open on my desktop as I worked into the night. All those winking 'delayed' signs reproduced faithfully for the benefit of the world. Just as well I had to work late, eh? Just as well my sadistic boss was in an especially bad mood (the threat of legal action against one's employees can do that to a man, I hear). Just as well he wanted all my copy rewritten. Or I'd have been right round the U-bend myself.

As it was, I escaped with a mere ten-minute delay to my journey home. As it was, my wife was only moderately cheesed off with me. Lucky me!

Or rather -- lucky us. Me and Overkeen Estate Agent. My sole regular fellow traveller on the night shift home.

He's an odd one, is Overkeen Estate Agent. I only ever see him when I'm on these later trains -- and he always seems to have come straight from work. The shiny suit, the tie in a fat footballer's knot. (What is that knot? Like a quadruple-Windsor, far too big for any shirt collar, swatting there at the neck like a fat silk Buddha. Who decided that was a good look? And when did we start taking sartorial direction from footballers anyway?) He's always on the phone (a white iPhone -- and that in itself speaks volumes. He chose the white model. I am male, I appear to the heterosexual...and yet, still, despite all that, I'd prefer the white iPhone. That's the sort of person I am) and he's always saying things like: "We need to drill this down", and "Let's get that actioned asap." He uses words like "diarise" and "bro" and "PDQ". He calls people "legends". He's about 14 years old. I'm simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by him.

But, to be fair to him, he rarely seems bothered by the train delays. He just keeps talking nonsense into his white iPhone and staring at his reflection in the window.

But then: I've been thinking. If I'm to write to you every time my train is delayed, and if a massive, will-to-live sapping delay should therefore prompt an equally massive time-wasting letter to you in return, then there may be a problem in my otherwise brilliantly childish revenge plan.

Are these letters nothing more than me wasting even more of my time that you've wasted in the first place?

That, Martin, would make all this decidedly Pyrrhic. A Pyrrhic victory. Do you know what a Pyrrhic victory is? Of course you do -- you must have benefitted from a classical education. Where was it? Rugby? Stowe? Where then...? St Andrews? Cambridge? Or have you worked your way up from nothing? Managing Directed your way out of the mean streets? Was it a case of sport and management directing being the only legal options for a kid from the wrong side of the tracks?

I'm going with the classical education. The traditional route to the top. Born to rule, eh? Effortlessly schooled in the ways of casual superiority.

Anyway, no shame in that either way. We play the hands we're given, right? You am what you am! You need no excuses. You deal your own deck: sometimes the aces, sometimes the deuces. Dead right!

Where was I? Oh yes. Pyrrhic victories. Let me explain, just in case you skipped class that day.

A long time ago, in a country far, far away, there was a king called Pyrrhus. As Ancient Greek kings go, he was pretty tasty. Gave the emergent Roman Empire a bit of a spanking on more than one occasion. He took no lip off nobody. He was a born winner.

But there was a flaw. Old Pyrrhus, he was a bit over-keen. The way he saw it, winning was all that mattered. Victory had to be pursued -- no matter what the cost. Until, after one particularly bloody encounter at a place called Heraclea, his defeat of the Romans was so absolute that it ended up costing him his whole army too. He won the battle but he also kind of lost. And a certain Mr Plutarch, who was a leading tabloid scribe of the day, coined the term "Pyrrhic victory" to describe that peculiar kind of victory that comes at a prohibitive cost to the victor.

Interesting, eh? But also, eye-opening. A Pyrrhic victory. Are my letters Pyrrhic victories? It gives me pause. Oooh, and it makes me wonder, as Robert Plant puts it. Am I the real loser here? Twicefold? Firstly by giving you so much money for such pitiful service every day, and secondly for wasting my own time in order to waste your time writing about it?

Possibly, I'd welcome your thoughts.

But on the other hell with it. I'm with Pyrrhus.

Until next time,

Au revoir!


Monday, 16 November 2015

Be Open To Direction

This week, allow yourself to be open to direction, which means trusting that an opportunity for kindness will find you. When it does, complete it. To allow this to happen, it's best to relax and trust that it will happen. That's the being open part.

When the opportunity does find you, engage in the kindness fully and mindfully, taking steps to complete the action in the way it is meant to be done. See this action as having an integrity and it is your job to honor it. Additionally and for further practice with this concept this week, act on many of the small, spontaneous opportunities for kindness that are regularly presented to you.

In your journal, write about anything that you find meaningful or profound this week, be it a statement made, a newspaper article read, a scent, an aspect of nature, etc. Reflect on each of these things and ask yourself what is the message behind them. Those things that are profound to you are providing you direction.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

A Hero - Malgudi Days - English - Episode 1

This was the first episode of Malgudi Days that I watched way back in the 1980s (or was it the early 90s?). It was shown on Singapore's Channel 12, which featured the artier shows - music, literature, etc. Because I loved this so much I watched Malgudi Days till the end of its run. But I never saw an episode which I loved as much as this.

My favourite character is his grandmother. Watch how she crushes the unreasonable father by the end of the episode.

"I have only one grandson. If anything happens to him..."

Pure genius.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Prayer of St Gertrude for the release of 1,000 souls in purgatory


Our Lord told St. Gertrude the Great that the following prayer would release 1,000
Souls from Purgatory each time it is said. The prayer was later extended to include
living sinners as well.

for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal Church,
those in my own home and within my family. Amen."

[In one Rosary or chaplet this prayer is said 50 times!]

Say this chaplet using regular Rosary beads.
Begin with the Apostles' Creed, one Our Father, three Hail Marys
and a Glory Be to the Father just as with Our Lady's Rosary.

On the five decades, say the above Prayer for the Holy Souls on each Hail Mary bead
and the Our Father on each separator bead between the decades.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

A Shocking Sabbath Carnival of Death

Close to midnight on the evening of Sunday, November 8, 1874, as the early edition of the next day's New York Herald was being born, the gaslit building at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street bustled. The telegraph machines hammered away, the press platens churned, the setting room clinked with the frenetic rearranging of movable metal type, the copy editors clamoured for last-minute changes -- and outside, in the cool autumn air, the crews of deliverymen pulled up to the freight docks with their dray horses and wagons, waiting to loathe hemp-tied bundles and carry them to every precinct of the slumbering city.

Following routine, the night editor had the draft edition of the paper brought up to the publisher for his approval. This was no mean feat: The proprietor of the New York Herald could be a tyrannical micromanager, and he wielded his blue pencil like a bowle knife often scribbling barely legible comments that trailed along the margins and then off the page. After his usual wine-drenched dinner at Delmonico's, he would return to his office to drink pots of coffee and torment his staff until the paper was finally put to bed. The editors dreaded his tirades and expected him to demand, well into the wee hours, that they rip up the entire layout and start over again.

James Gordon Bennett Jr was a tall, thin, regal man of thirty-two years with a trim mustache and fine tapering hands. His blue-gray eyes seemed cold and imperious, yet they also carried glints of mischief. He wore impeccable French suits and dress shoes of supple Italian leather. To facilitate his long, if erratic, work hours, he kept a bed in his penthouse office, where he liked to snatch an early-morning nap.

By most reckonings, Bennett was the third-richest man in New York City, with an assured annual income just behind those of William B. Astor and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Bennett was not only the publisher but also the editor in chief and sole owner of the Herald, probably the largest and most influential newspaper in the world. He had inherited the paper from his father, James Gordon Bennett Sr. The Herald had a reputation for being as entertaining as it was informative, its pages suffused with its owner's sly sense of humour. But its pages were also packed with news; Bennett outspent all other papers to get the latest reports via telegraph and transatlantic cable. For the newspaper's longer feature stories, Bennett did whatever was necessary to acquire the talents of the biggest names in American letters -- writers like Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, and Walt Whitman.

Bennett was also one of New York's more flamboyant bachelors, known for affairs with burlesque stars and drunken sprees in Newport. He was a member of the Union Club and an avid sportsman. Eight years earlier, he had won the first transatlantic yacht race. He would play an instrumental role in bringing the sport of polo to the United States, as well as competitive bicycling and competitive ballooning. In 1871, at the age of twenty-nine, Bennett had become the youngest commodore in the history of the New York Yacht Club -- a post he still held.

The Commodore, as everyone called Bennett, was known for racing fleet horses as well as sleek boats. Late at night, sometimes fueled with brandy, he would take out his four-in-hand carriage and careen wild-eyed down the moonlit turnpikes around Manhattan. Alert bystanders tended to be both puzzled and shocked by these nocturnal escapades, for Bennett nearly always raced in the nude.

James Gordon Bennett's most original contribution to modern journalism could be found in his notion that a newspaper should not merely  report stories; it should create them. Editors should not only cover the news, he felt; they should orchestrate large-scale public dramas that stir emotions and get people talking. As one historian of American journalism later put it, Bennett had the ability to seize upon dormant situations and bring them to life. It was Bennett who, in 1870, had sent Henry Stanley to find the missionary-explorer David Livingstone in remote Africa. Never mind that Livingstone had not exactly needed finding. The dispatches Stanley had sent back to the Herald in 1872 had caused an international sensation -- one that Bennett was forever seeking to recreate.

Critics scoffed that these exclusives were merely "stunts", and perhaps they were. Bennett had a conviction that a first-rate reporter, if turned loose on the world to pursue some human mystery or solve some geographical puzzle, would invariably come back with interesting stories that would sell papers and extend knowledge at the same time. Bennett was willing to spend profligately to get these kinds of articles into his paper on a routine basis. His paper was many things, but it was rarely dull.

Now, on this early November morning, the Herald's night editor must have been cringing as he had the still-warm draft of the first edition sent to his mercurial boss. The Herald contained a lead story that, if executed properly, was guaranteed to cause the kind of stir Gordon Bennett delighted in. It was one of the most incredible and tragic news exclusives that had ever run in the Herald's pages.  The story was headlined: "A Shocking Sabbath Carnival of Death."

The Commodore scanned the paper and began to take in the horrifying details: Late that Sunday afternoon, right around closing time at the zoo in the middle of Central Park, a rhinoceros had managed to escape from its cage. It had then rampaged through the grounds, killing one of its keepers -- goring him almost beyond recognition. Other zookeepers, who had been in the midst of feeding the animals, had rushed to the scene, and somehow in the confusion, a succession of carnivorous beasts -- including a polar bear, a panther, a Numidian lion, several hyenas, and a Bengal tiger -- had slipped from their pens.  What happened next made for difficult reading. The animals, some of which had first attacked each other, had then turned on nearby pedestrians who happened to be strolling through Central Park. People had been trampled, mauled, dismembered -- and worse.

The Herald reporters had diligently captured every detail: How the panther was seen crouching over a man's body, "gnawing horribly at his head," how the African lioness, after saturating herself in the blood" of several victims, had been shot by a party of Swedish immigrants. How the rhino had killed a seamstress named Annie Thomas and had then run north, only to stumble to its death in the bowels of a deep sewer excavation. How the polar bear had maimed and killed two men before tramping off toward Central Park's upper reservoir. How, at Bellevue Hospital, the doctors were "kept busy dressing the fearful wounds" and found it "necessary to perform a number of amputations...One young girl is said to have died under the knife."

At press time, many of the escaped animals were still at large, prompting Mayor William Havemeyer to issue a proclamation that called for a rigid curfew until "the peril" had subsided. "The hospitals are full of the wounded," the Herald reported. "The park, from end to end, is marked with injury, and in its artificial forests the wild beasts lurk, to pounce at any moment on the unwary pedestrians."

Bennett did not break out his blue pencil. For once, he had no changes to suggest. He is said to have leaned back among his pillows and "groaned" at this remarkable story.

The Herald report was written in an even tone. Its authors had peppered it with intimate details and filled the roster of victims with the names of real, in some cases quite prominent, New Yorkers. Byt the story was entirely a hoax. With Bennett's enthusiastic encouragement, the editors had concocted the tale to demonstrate that the city had no evacuation plan in the event of a large-scale emergency -- and also to point out that many of the cages at the Central Park Zoo were flimsy and in bad need of repair. The outmoded Central Park menagerie, the editors later noted, was a far cry from the state-of-the-art zoo at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. It was time for New York City to rise to the level of a world-class city, and for the nation, whose one hundredth birthday was approaching in just over a year and a half, to have at least one world-class park to display the planet's wildest creatures.

Lest anyone say that the Herald had deceived its readers, the editors had covered their bases. Anyone who'd read "A Shocking Sabbath Carnival of Death" to its end (buried discreetly in the back pages) would have found the following disclaimer: "Of course, the entire story given above is a pure fabrication. Not one word of it is true." Still, the paper contended, the city fathers had devoted no thought to what might happen in an authentic emergency. "How is New York prepared to meet such a catastrophe?" the Herald asked. "From causes quite as insignificant the greatest calamities in history have sprung."

Bennett knew from experience that very few New Yorkers would bother to read the article all the way to its conclusion, and he was right. That morning, add the usual clouds of anthracite coal fumes began to rise over the stirring city, people turned to their morning papers --  and were plunged in chaos and confusion. Alarmed citizens made for the city's piers in hopes of escaping by small boat or ferry. Many thousands of people. heeding the mayor's "proclamation", stayed inside all day, awaiting word that the crisis had passed. Still others loaded their rifles and marched into the park to hunt for rogue animals.

It should have been immediately apparent even to the most naive reader that the piece was a spoof. But this was a more credulous era, a time before radio and telephones and rapid transit, when city dwellers got their information mainly from the papers and often found it hard to tease rumour from truth.

Later editions took the story even further. Now the Herald reported that the governor of New York, himself a Civil War hero named John Adams Dix, had marched into the streets and shot the Bengal tiger as a personal trophy. A much-expanded list detailed animals that had escaped from the zoo, including a tapir, an anaconda, a wallaby, a gazelle, two capuchin monkeys, a white-haired porcupine, and four Syrian sheep. A grizzly bear had entered the St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue, and there, in the centre aisle,  it "sprang upon the shoulders of an aged lady, and buried his fangs in her neck."

The editors of rival newspapers were thoroughly perplexed. It was not the first time the Herald had scooped them,  but why had their reporters failed to glean even an inkling of this obviously momentous event? The city editor of the New York Times stormed over to police headquarters on Mulberry Street to scold the department for feeding the story to the Herald while ignoring his esteemed paper. Even some staffers of the Herald fell for the prank: One of Bennett's most celebrated war correspondents, who apparently had not gotten the memo, showed up at the office that morning armed with two big revolvers, ready to prowl the streets.

Predictably, Bennett's rivals excoriated the Herald for its irresponsible conduct -- and for spreading widespread panic that could have resulted in loss of life. A Times editorial observed, "No such carefully prepared story could appear without the consent of the proprietor or editor -- supposing that this strange newspaper has an editor, which seems rather a violent stretch of the imagination."

Such expressions of righteous indignation fell on deaf ears. The Wild Animal Hoax, as it car to be affectionately known, only brought more readers to the Herald.  It seemed to solidify the notion that Bennett had his finger on the pulse of his city -- and that his daily journal had a sense of fun. "The incident heeled rather than hurt the paper," one historian of New York journalism later noted. "It had given the town something to talk about and jarred it as it had never been jarred before. The public seemed to like the joke."

Bennett was enormously pleased with the whole affair -- it still ranks as one of the greatest newspaper hoaxes of all time. The story even managed to accomplish its ostensible goal: the zoo's cages were, in fact, repaired.

(In the kingdom of ice, Hampton Sides)

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Not sweating the small stuff

The other day I was invited to a function where I was supposed to bring a dish. It  was potluck. I accepted but had been too busy doing other things to pick up a cake. I wondered if I had time to rush to Bangsar to my new favourite bakery and pick up a peanut butter chocolate cake. No, I didn’t. Besides, as I now found out, the bakery was closed on Mondays.

I did what anyone in a dilemma would do. I enlisted the services of a superhero. In this case, the superhero was the Gen Y person who sat next to me. Throw any conundrum at her, and she would figure out how to get it done with the least amount of fuss.

“Well, why don’t you try EatCakeToday?”

“What’s that?”

“It’s this platform where you can buy a cake from one of the artisan bakeries and they deliver it to you. For free,” she smiled sweetly like a person who has all the answers. (It’s important to have those in your life).

It blew me away. Was my pressing dilemma going to be solved by so simple a solution? Did I just have to pick a cake and click buy and have it delivered? The website said I would have to give them four hours. Actually there were only two hours more (they operated till 5pm). I tried anyway, and what do you know, one of the nice ladies delivered my cake of choice (chocolate salted caramel) to me at the office and with no trouble at all, I was good to go. Problem solved. And everybody at the function, which was incidentally called “Feast for Good” loved the cake.

Recently, for the Malayalee harvest festival, Onam, I wanted to order a thali meal from this Kerala restaurant I had just discovered in Aman Suria and have it sent to my father. Now, I could do it myself. But that would involve going to the place, finding parking, ordering and getting the meal and then driving all the way to my father’s house. And coming back to the office.

No problem, said another Gen Y-er on my desk. “Just use GoGet. You put in the request, say how much you will tip and then wait for someone to accept the errand.”

So I did. According to my colleagues I went a little overboard with my tip (my errand got picked up right away) but honestly, thinking of all the hassle it would save me, I tipped according to my conscience. As it was a cash on delivery thing and I didn’t want them to charge my father, I managed to do an online bank transfer. And everything went beautifully. I couldn’t get over how easy it all was.

Recently, I wanted to hire movers but was too lazy to go look for one. The last mover I had employed (to bring a few items from JB to KL) had done a terrible job, breaking the fridge and losing the way to my house. How could I find ones that worked?

“Have you tried Kaodim?” asked another Gen Y-er in my office. “I wanted someone to clean an apartment and I put the job there…then companies bid for the job and I chose the cheapest but ended up giving them a tip because the price was ridiculously low.”

As easy as that? I tried it. And got five different bids. And picked one. It was all so hassle-free that I still have difficulty believing it.

It’s a brave new world, as Aldous Huxley might point out, and one that leaves me constantly aghast. I love the creativity that goes into thinking up ways of making my life less irksome. I love not having to brave traffic jams or go around asking for recommendations for a variety of different little jobs that no one seems to want to do.

I am glad to work in a place filled with young people who know all about this stuff. Ask them how to do something and just sit back. They will come up with the best, cheapest and most convenient solution.

I don’t even bother to do my own homework. I just ask. For instance, I have a foodie colleague that I call when I need a restaurant recommendation. She is “au courant” with all the food blogs and she has tried most of them. I give her my specifications (which area, what kind of food, what kind of price range) and c’est voila! She comes up with a series of recommendations that always hit the spot.

One of her recommendations (for my brother’s birthday) has since become a family favourite. And I take my friends visiting from overseas there and it has never failed to please. That’s how good she is.

I guess the same could be said for financial planning. You need to know people who know. You check out the savvy ones and you do what they do. Or you ask them. Most people are keen to share their knowledge.

So I guess it’s OK if you’re an ignorant Luddite like me. You just need to be surrounded by smart people. Henry Ford thought so. I do too.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Week 44: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

This week, take one small step outside of your social comfort zone in the direction of someone to whom you feel drawn but have been resisting because of some kind of fear. In doing so, see this action as primarily a kindness to yourself, not to the other person (although it very well could be, of course).

In being kind to yourself in this way, notice if the action ripples out to touch anyone else.

In your journal, take note of when you or someone else steps beyond a perceived risk to do something thoughtful or kind. Noting it helps normalize it, and expands your awareness.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Mrs Jones and the Decision for Happiness

The 92-year-old, petite, well-poised and proud lady, who is fully dressed each morning by eight o’clock, with her hair fashionably coiffed and makeup perfectly applied, even though she is legally blind, moved to a nursing home today.

Her husband of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary. After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready. 

As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of her tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window. “I love it,” she stated with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old having just been presented with a new puppy. 

“Mrs. Jones, you haven’t seen the room …. just wait.” “That doesn’t have anything to do with it,” she replied. “Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged, it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life.” 

She went on to explain, “Old age is like a bank account, you withdraw from what you’ve put in. So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories Thank you for your part in filling my Memory bank. I am still depositing.” 

And with a smile, she said: “Remember the five simple rules to be happy: 

1. Free your heart from hatred. 

2. Free your mind from worries. 

3. Live simply. 

4. Give more. 

5. Expect less.

Friday, 6 November 2015

I feel loved

I guess you've missed me, huh? My own words, and not just other people's plonked here to save me the trouble. Well, not to save me the trouble exactly...each post is carefully considered and when I come across things I would like to share or post here for posterity (so I can come back at some future date and retrieve it) I do.

I've had lots of ideas about what to post but sadly, I can't remember any of them.

No, my mind is a sieve and I stare into space for hours on end, trying to psyche myself up to clear that story, or write that story or make that plan. You know.

The thing is, to focus.

The thing is, to count my blessings (and there are many, believe me, many).

Like my friends for instance.

Recently I was ill. I lay exhausted in my bed, so exhausted that I switched off my phone because if anyone had bothered me at the time, I would have burst into tears with sheer irritation and frustration. I just wanted to....lie there, close my eyes, shut off my brain...lie there.

And this going quiet so alarmed everyone (come off it, it was a Sunday for crying out loud) that I got an outpouring of love and concern and help and leeway, the next day.

I felt loved.

I feel loved.

I know that I am.

And that's a good feeling.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Freaky serendipity

How long has it been since I shared an anecdote? Well, here goes. I was at the office, ostensibly transcribing my interview with a professor (who actually sounded quite pissed off with me; may have had something to do with my emo email accusing him of not being an honourable man because he said he would be happy to talk to me, and then, begged out) but I was really reading the Goodread "best books of the year" email and googling the books that caught my eye when I came across The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion. The cover looked interesting, so of course I Amazoned it to read what was inside.

I was charmed. Then I looked at Kinokuniya (in the middle of town on a rainy Tuesday night) to see if it was available there. It was.

And then I tried to call Borders (just next door) to see if it was available there. I couldn't.

And as I was going frantic, wondering if I should just brave the rainy jam to the middle of KL (yes, I'm crazy like that) to get the book, Li Ming calls. She tells me she's in Kino and asks if I would like anything.

I mean to say, what?????

What are the odds? Seriously!!!

I quickly fill her in on the two books I was considering. The nice people at Kino find both for her.

And I will be getting them tomorrow.

Now how's that for freaky serendipity?

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Cat Logic

You know what's weird? The big cat could be Ebony. Same colour. The smaller one could be Sheba. Also same colour. Also same differential in size. How weird is that?

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Remove Something Everyday

Despite people acknowledging “less is more” as a cliché and overused adage, no one really seems to follow the actual advice. People are constantly being sold new things, even when the old ones are perfectly fine. The concept of “planned obsolescence” isn’t even a secret anymore. Most of the stuff people buy is unnecessary.

In a broader context, many of things we do are unnecessary. If you keep buying things you don’t need, you’ll need to work harder doing work you may not like, which takes time away from family life, spiritual pursuits, and other important stuff. The more you seek external things, the more life you end up trading for those things.

The mindset of needing more and wanting more creates a life of scarcity. When you strive for more, you give up more of yourself. The less you need, the more time you have to live your own life. Freeing ourselves of attachments results in a certain mental freedom that feels almost alien at first.

When you stop forcing your will upon the world, the world tends to be kinder.

When you go to a dinner party, you don’t walk in all sweaty and desperate and demand that the host give you a steak, french fries, a special craft beer and a silk napkin. You show gratitude and you take what you get. Many people approach the world in the former way, though. They think that life owes them something, and they’ll do anything to get ahead.

They might get ahead, but will they be any happier? Not as long as they’re searching for something outside of themselves. And you know what? The attitude of the materialistic and desperate person does little more than deplete the world’s resources and induce further chaos. No one wins that race.

You know the saying “beggars can’t choose?” We’re all beggars of a sort in this life. We can choose our circumstances to an extent, but we experience the most peace when we’re able to adapt to a scenario rather than force the world to conform to our wishes.

To remove the unnecessary is more of an act of strong will than to demand too much from the world. Boldness is expressed in simplicity. Brevity is wit. I’ll keep this one short.

By Charlie Ambler, The Daily Zen

Monday, 2 November 2015

Week 43: Connections

Begin this week by writing down the names of several living people from your life that you feel or have felt a deep connection to. Include whether you felt this connection immediately or over time. Next, choose one of these people to think about in an even deeper way. If you have a photo of this person, take time to look at it. Consider this person's importance to you.

Having chosen this person, acknowledge her/his importance to you by doing something kind for her/him, something that resonates deeply for you and recognizes this person's uniqueness.

With this in mind, pay attention to the people you encounter this week, those you know and those who are strangers to you. Could it be that you will have a deep connection to one of these people some day? Keep in mind, many of the people with whom we have a deep connection were once strangers to us.

If something meaningful occurs to you, take note of it in your journal.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

What a lovely idea!

Student Jurriën Mentink often cycles by the fishmonger on his way home from college. His neighbor loves fish for dinner, and it’s “no biggie” for him to pick it up on the way, he says. She is not very mobile anymore and has been living in an elder-care home for a while. 

The 21-year-old Mentink also lives there. When Mentink wanted to go study in the Dutch city of Deventer—urban planning—and was scoping out student accommodations, he heard about the Humanitas elder-care home search for “live-in students.” He called to inquire and was invited to drop by for an interview. 

A month later, he moved into his room, which measures 300 square feet (30 square meters), with his own bathroom and kitchenette. He doesn’t pay any rent; the room is free. In return he helps out in the elder-care home for around 30 hours per month. He does some shopping, helps prepare sandwiches, and organizes activities. Mentink describes what he does as “simply being a good neighbor.” A few elder-care homes in the Netherlands have been welcoming students to live in them lately. In the cities of Amsterdam and Arnhem, too, small groups of students are offered cheap or gratis living arrangements in exchange for volunteer work in the home. 

The idea started in Deventer, where about 165 senior residents live. Director Gea Sipkes wanted to add some life to the place by attracting young volunteers, and the students are looking for cheap, clean rooms to live in. The “live-in student” program is a great success. The senior residents get more personal attention and appreciate the volunteer work being done by the young people. “We bring a bit of the outside world along with us,” says Mentink. “Some small talk, conversation, and I think the old people become a bit younger by our just being there. And it’s not a one-way street—the old people are also interested in us.” 

Humanitas does require that the students pass a strict selection procedure, “mainly to be sure they have their hearts in the right place.” And there are rules, of course: no rowdy student parties are allowed in their rooms. After Deventer, similar projects were initiated in Amsterdam and Arnhem. In Arnhem, for example, the Vreedenhoff retirement home recently welcomed five students, selected out of 100 applicants, which indicates there is a lot of enthusiasm for the project. The students even did a round of “speed dating” with the residents. 

The idea has received a lot of positive attention in the international media, ranging from French press agency AFP to an Australian radio broadcaster. It’s no wonder, given that connecting generations in this way is a very noble idea. And smart, too, because the solution touches on multiple social problems: the lack of student housing, loneliness among older people, and the current vacancy rates in retirement homes, a result of the elderly more often continuing to live in their own homes for longer. 

“The idea is of an almost baffling simplicity,” says Mentink. “You can write books and books about it, about how to solve these problems. But if you just put people together, something happens.”

By Elleke Bal in the Intelligent Optimist (Summer 2015)