Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Neonicotinoids

I have seen several links to petitions about neonicotinoids. Some of these contain accurate information and others do not. Accurate information link.

Couple of points:

The government's policy on this presumably continues to be inline with EU law, which included this 'emergency' loophole. Are the precautions taken sufficient in the link above? That's for you to decide. Should the UK continue to adhere to the standard of an external authority, or should this country set an example of higher standards by not allowing loopholes? You decide that, too. Write to your MP.

Please do not add your name to petitions that are inaccurate or contain misinformation (the government to my knowledge has not granted permission for farmers to 'spray crops with neonicotinoids'). If such petitions come before the government, they will likely just disregard them. And time spent looking at bogus petitions means time wasted that could have been spent on more deserving ones.

Remember that neonicotinoids are a derivative of a natural product called nicotine. A major thrust of the reasoning for neonicotinoids being developed was because nicotine was just too damn poisonous and dangerous. It is still legal to buy products containing nicotine and to use them as pesticides (or as something else). Is it right and proper that so many different products containing this as an active ingredient should be so easily available and disposed of without precaution? Might smoking nicotine products and the litter produced from them be polluting the environment and harming insects?

Tobacco by Dominik Haenni


Thursday, 31 December 2020

Happy Birthday 'Stars' litter

 

Adhara is 7.


Adhara is still a nutcase. :-)
Happy birthday to her and her siblings!

Sunday, 20 December 2020

The Species That Caused Its Own Extinction

CARBONIFEROUS

Once upon a time, in a land called Pangaea, there lived some small slimy creatures. They are of little consequence to this story, but they lived in the hot humid swamp that covered much of the land. From the swamp grew trees, and the trees were enormous as plants in this land had recently evolved the ability to produce a protein called lignin, which gave them strong trunks and enabled them to grow tall. Another advantage of lignin is that it is very tough and stable, and nothing at the time could digest it. The trees were at the top of the food chain. When they eventually died from natural causes or from falling over due to growing too big, the dead trees piled up on the ground and didn't decompose. Even in death their armour was impervious.

Whether fungi that could break down lignin at this point hadn't evolved at all or they just weren't efficient at it at the levels it was found in these prehistoric trees, and whether such fungi evolved at the end of the Carboniferous period and played a part in the trees' destruction is debated, but what is  now pretty widely accepted is that the removal of carbon from the atmosphere and its accumulation in the trees caused climate change and this contributed very strongly to the eventual extinction of the trees themselves along with many other organisms in the ecosystem.

Carbon dioxide levels when these trees first evolved were around eight times as high as before the Industrial Revolution and atmospheric oxygen was 15% compared with 21% today, but at the end atmospheric oxygen was at a massive 35% and CO2 was down to the level it is today. Average temperatures dropped by 8 degrees and the land fell into an ice age. The previously warm and humid swamps were replaced by cold, arid desert as the now ill-adapted trees died out.


Artist's impression of the carboniferous rainforest. From an old book but unfortunately the name of the artist has not accompanied it.

ANTHROPOCENE

The remains of all the trees that lived and died and piled up in the swamps never decomposed, and you probably put them in your car not too long ago. There's something ironic about the fossils of the Carboniferous rainforest being the fuel of modern anthropogenic climate change. There's also a lesson in that mankind is not unique in being an organism that drastically affects its environment. Extinction is the natural order and the vast majority of species that have ever existed are extinct, either from their own effects like humans or the trees of the Carboniferous, or from extraneous factors such as vulcanism or asteroid impacts.


Lycopod fossil, photograph by Kennethgass

Humans will, at some point in the future through whatever means, become extinct. Even if the species is able to adapt its technology to every challenge it faces, the sun will in the distant future die and the Earth will be uninhabitable, and if people manage to migrate to other worlds, eventually in the unfathomable future the Universe will collapse or all the hydrogen will be used up, etc. When humans become extinct, it will not be 'better' or 'worse' for the Earth, for other species -- it will just be 'one of those things'.

When we say, we need to halt climate change, what we are saying is, we want things to stay the same for a bit longer for the benefit of people who are alive today and some that might subsequently be born. That we don't want any given species to become extinct is more so that people can continue to experience that species firsthand or because its loss might have a detrimental effect on the ecosystem that our species benefits from, not because the endangered species cares about its extinction (few if any animals have the ability to comprehend the concept of their own mortality, let alone their extinction) or because a god/the Universe cares about that (unlikely given the vast amount of species already extinct and the vast size of the Universe). Ultimately, something else will simply evolve to fill the void. Thinking in this way is anthropocentricism (anthro = human, centric = focus).

ANTHROPOCENTRIC

Arguments for opposing climate change are anthropocentric for these reasons, just as much as are arguments for letting anthropogenic climate change run rampant like 'We need this shale gas now so that our citizens can have inexpensive electricity.'

We tend to think in anthropocentric ways in most of the things we approach, even when it superficially doesn't appear that way. It's the nature of what we are.

We are, however, the first species able to understand how we affect our environment. We are the first that is capable of doing something about it.

ANTINATALISM

A human called David Benatar wrote a book about antinatalism -- the idea that suffering is inherent to life, and therefore it is morally wrong to produce offspring. There is a great deal of sense in what Benatar said, and as someone who has had to suffer through the misery of a childhood I am someone who could not in all conscience inflict that on someone else. The logical conclusion of this idea is that the only moral course of action is for the human species to voluntarily make itself extinct by not breeding. There are a few logical and logistical problems with this.

Firstly, it would be realistically impossible to get everyone to consent to voluntary extinction. The result would be a kind of dysgenics whereby cautious and caring people largely removed themselves from the gene pool, and the next generation was made up largely of the offspring of careless irresponsible people and religious fundamentalist zealots. This would impact society and quality of life for many would likely deteriorate. A better argument can be made in terms of reducing the population, producing fewer offspring, and trying to educate people to ensure that every person who is born is deliberate and genuinely wanted by at least one parent with realistic expectations, which would hopefully mean better quality of life going forward.

Secondly, if this is only applied to humans because of their capacity to suffer greatly on psychological terms as a result of being able to conceptualise their own mortality, there are a few other species where this self-awareness hasn't been ruled out -- mainly cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and other ape species. These would need to be prevented from breeding further also. If the ability to suffer is defined very broadly, then we would need to ensure the extinction of any species with a nervous system.

Thirdly, time and space are vast on a scale people cannot comprehend, and taking this into account, the attempt even if it were successful would be utterly insignificant and meaningless. If we remove the species we deem are capable of suffering and leave plants, fungi, bacteria, and very simple animals, this will leave an unbalanced ecology that will undergo rapid evolution. The system will likely produce after billions of years have elapsed (which is nothing in evolutionary timescales) more species that are capable of suffering, and ultimately will produce something similar to humans to fill the evolutionary niche. And that species, like ours, before it can reach the position where someone like Benatar can exist and write a book, will have to inflict and have inflicted upon it atrocities such as colonialism, the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, invasion and slavery by Romans and Vikings, and the countless unrecorded tribal conflicts and violences that preceded them.

The same will happen if we only remove humans, or humans and other apes, for example, only much more rapidly. If we destroy our entire planet so that it cannot support any form of life, we fail to appreciate that the Universe is vast and it is extremely unlikely that complex life and concomitant suffering does not occur widely throughout it, and it is unrealistic to assume it does not simply because we cannot see it.

If we invent nihilistic deathbots and deploy them on near-light-speed vessels to eradicate life and end suffering wherever they find it, the deathbots will only become outdated because of time dilation at near lightspeed, and other organisms/deathbots will outevolve and destroy them. Life and suffering will continue with or without humans. Antinatalism is thus also anthropocentric, like the vegetarian who thinks nobody should be allowed to eat meat because farmed animals suffer from being alive, while conveniently ignoring the wild animals that go on suffering simply because that person or other people are not involved with it.

Indeed the myopic idea that the human species can effect such a cosmically profound concept as preventing suffering via its own extinction is perhaps the ultimate anthropocentric conceit.

ZERO SUM

What all this is getting to is that all species are part of a system that exists in balance. Unbalance the system, and extinctions occur and evolutionary processes drive change. This change is part of the natural order, but we may not like the effects it has on us as individuals or a species. A lesson we should learn from the Carboniferous rainforests is that it's foolish to make up dichotomies like oxygen good, carbon dioxide bad; plants v. animals; humans v. anything else; wild v. domestic. We must consider them together, as a whole system.

There's an irrational tendency when talking about extinction for people to prioritise large vertebrates over insects, plants, and fungi -- which is particularly illogical in the case of efforts expended to conserve evolutionary zombies like pandas instead of something like a fungus, plant, or insect that may have far more significance in its ecosystem. The long-term viability of any system depends on it existing in balance and conservation efforts need to focus on the habitat and the species in it as a whole. Had there been slightly more advanced fungi in the Carboniferous and animals capable of grazing the vegetation properly rather than just fish and amphibians in puddles, it might have been sustainable.

GRAZING LIVESTOCK

This was a philosophical digression, but this is intended to be the first of a series of articles about sustainable grazing management!

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Carrots from Hell

Hemlock is poisonous
More hemlock


Cow parsley looks like hemlock, but is not poisonous. It's something that's beneficial to have in grazing for livestock. Properly maintained grasslands with diverse species (that hopefully aren't poisonous) store carbon, support biodiversity, and provide food for livestock.



This is neither -- it's called hogweed and you can eat it. If you eat the seeds green they taste like gin and are kind of disgusting, but when they're dry they taste like spice. You can also eat nettles, which tend to grow near it.

Trees and shrubs (that are not poisonous) store carbon, support biodiversity, and provide shelter and environmental enrichment for animals. 

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Poodles in Autumn

 Autumn can be beautiful or it can be dismal. Today it was OK.






Thursday, 8 October 2020

Scottish Orwellian Friday the 13th Loom

 I started doing spinning and weaving a few years ago, a hobby which stemmed from an interest in using fleece from my own alpacas in traditional ways. I found out that I enjoy repairing and re-engineering old looms almost as much as actually using them. This loom was given to me to repair with a lot of its original parts missing, and had apparently been stored in an attic for many years. Wrapped around the back beam was the newspaper in the pictures, which gives some hint about when and where it was last used, and explains the title of this blog post.

I've been reassembling it and working out how to replace missing parts for about a year to get it into condition it can be used. The most difficult part was the front beam, as the original was missing apart from the pawl, and finding a new ratchet that would match the original exactly proved to be impossible, and even sourcing one in a similar size was too expensive. By coincidence, the Nissen hut on the site and another outbuilding which had fallen to pieces needed to be demolished, and as it turned out, Nissen huts were constructed with wires and steel ratchets of a very similar size to the one used on the loom, which turned up during the disassembly. So I've remade the beam with one of these ratchets and a piece of drainpipe and a piece of old curtain pole, and hope that perhaps one day the original beam might be found. Most of the damaged or missing parts were replaced with wood from rubbish that would otherwise have been burnt or thrown away, and the only parts I bought in were the aluminium bars to rebuild the shafts and the heddles and tie-up.











As the newspaper suggests the loom has a connection with Scotland, and since a four-shaft counterbalance of this mechanism was probably what was traditionally used for weaving in most parts of the British Isles, I decided the inaugural project for this loom should be a tartan! The different colours of the tartan are made from wool from native British sheep breeds.





Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Naming Conventions

In the news recently was the removal of a stone from the grave of the Dambusters dog with the reasoning that the dog's name engraved on the stone, which was apparently not considered offensive at the time the dog lived, has now become a slur. Becoming historically significant is one way an animal's name might survive past its own death, but the main way animal names last through history is in pedigree records. In most breeds and species where registration records go back far enough, there are animals with the same word in the registered name as the Dambusters dog (at least 12 of them in poodles). Registered names are a permanent record and become an important part of the history of the breed. Breeders and other people who study pedigrees will be seeing the names that are given to animals today centuries into the future.

Male animals: Wywylwynd Checkmate, Brock-o-Dale Trident, Brock-o-Dale Zaphod Beeblebrox, Greenside Suri Marius.

An issue with choosing a name without care is that it can be inherently unappealing in some way even if not outright offensive, and this can act as a deterrent to breeders and contribute to the decline of certain bloodlines. Most breeders, when selecting a male to use, and having a choice of two, one with an unattractive name and the other with an attractive one, all else being equal would choose the one with the attractive name. 

Different things are offensive to different people, and it's often not possible to predict how language will be repurposed by posterity. However, when animals are registered, it's worth putting some effort into attempting to avoid having registered names that are inappropriate to large numbers of people now or in the future.

Polarising/Political
Do not name animals after any 'marmite' subject/thing/person that a large proportion of people by its nature are going to dislike. Philosophy, religion, and anything political and the people involved with them are prime examples -- Jeremy Corbyn, Ayn Rand, Anton LaVey, Pope John Paul etc.

Twee/Unaspirational/Unappealing/Inappropriate
If you want to buy an alpaca, a species that has evolved to produce a luxury fibre, would you want to buy an animal to start your breeding programme if its registered name or that of one of its ancestors was Grotcarpets Manky Ratbag? Would you even feel you'd want that name to show up in the pedigree of any animal you bred with your name on it?
What would you think if someone told you his bitch needed one more CC and then she would be Champion Princess Fluffy Cute and Cuddly?
Would you want to buy a ferret from an establishment whose affix was 'Theferretfactory' even if the breeder had a good reputation?
Would you like to take to a show to represent your breeding programme animals called Mediocrity Jane and Browntrousers Gary? Giving animals names that are commonly given to people never works very well, and conversely names that would be pretentious or silly on a person can often work quite well for animals. The famous case of Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii being one example that was given to a child who hated it and was given permission to change it by a judge, but would probably have been perfectly acceptable as a name for an animal.
Names should be appropriate for the breed or species and its original purpose -- if someone is breeding working terriers, Grotcarpets Manky Ratbag as a name might not be such an impediment.

Misspelled
Check carefully when registering. If you can't use a name because it's too long or the registry rejects it, choose something else and don't make up an 'alternative' spelling to get around it. A friend once intended to register a white animal with a phrase that included the word 'Arctic', but accidentally typed 'Artic' instead, as in a heavy goods vehicle. The animal was intended to be a pet and the mistake is fairly discreet and mildly amusing, so no harm done, but it reflects poorly when prominent breeding animals have grandiose names including words like vengeance and serendipity that have been misspelled.

Credit: Graham Richardson

Foreign and Wrong
There are many reasons why one might want to use foreign words or phrases as names, but 'to sound cool' is not a valid one. If you want to use another language and you aren't bilingual and don't have professional qualifications in it, ask a native speaker to check your names for grammar and syntax, otherwise you will end up looking like Del Boy.



This works both ways as I've seen affixes and registered names from dogs in other countries where someone who doesn't speak English well has tried to use English words and produced phrases that look weird and that a native speaker would never come up with. If you import an animal with a name in its breeder's native language and are allowed to add your affix and a joining word, it's appropriate to use the one from that language, but check the grammar of it with the breeder, e.g. von or vom.

Pop Culture/ Too Modern
A lot of things do not age well, and are either completely forgotten after a year, or are remembered as annoying pop phenomena or a manifestation of problems of the time. The other problem with referencing stuff that's too current is that living people can commit crimes or behave in otherwise inappropriate ways that can taint anything associated with them. A stallion being called Rolf Harris in 2005 might have been harmless at the time, but seen in a pedigree today it would likely be a source of shame. Using the name of a long-dead artist would have been a safer choice.
The Harry Potter children's books are a common example that often turn up as registered names -- and are already starting to be seen as trite and not really appropriate for adults wishing to be taken seriously at the best of times, and likely to wane further in popularity in the not-too-distant future because of the author's unfortunate commentary on social media along with the passive portrayal of women and girls and the unresolved elitism and genetic apartheid intrinsic to the books themselves.
Rather than using characters out of the Harry Potter books, look to the source material itself as most of the names were taken from mythological characters, older literature, and heraldry. Or choose more established and less controversial books such as Lord of the Rings (calling a brown animal Radagast or a grey one Gandalf is probably not terribly original, but would likely be considered tasteful to most people). Dead authors are less likely to embarrass themselves. Your collection of classic rock and metal may be a better resource than what Radio One was playing at the time her waters broke.
Strangely, there seems to be an arbitrary point in history at which behaviour and attitudes that are considered unacceptable today instead are written off as a product of the times. Ancient Egypt and the Roman invasion of Britain were both times where attitudes towards things like slavery and sex would be considered abhorrent by modern standards, and yet naming something Hadrian or Nefertiti isn't generally seen as offensive. Rightly or wrongly, taking names from ancient history seems to be a safer bet than using more recent history.

Rude
Most pedigree registries will automatically reject words and phrases that resemble expletives and slurs, but names that resemble or reference rude and insulting words should not be used even if they fly under that radar. Do not give an animal an official name of 'Betty Swallocks'. It's not funny and it's just not respectful to a living creature or the history of its breed. Don't use 'See You On Tuesday' or 'Carped My Pants' or anything else of that sort. Don't use phrases that look insulting to the animal or the person reading them, like 'Fat Smelly Sow' even if you're registering a female pig and it's technically an accurate description.
If you're worried that you're naive and you might inadvertently use something rude, we all have someone we know who reads innuendo into everything, so ask that person you know to check your names for you. True story, when I was a child I had a stuffed toy I innocently called 'Rock Hard Roger' (it was stuffed with rags or something and it was quite uncomfortable if you sat on it or threw it across the room and hit someone) and did not understand at the time why I was reprimanded for calling it that and told I had to call it Roger only. On the other hand, intentional innuendo and double entendre can work if it's kept mild and used subtly.

The Affix
Most registries allow breeders to register an affix, that is, a word unique to that breeder that is used in the names of all animals the breeder produces to identify who bred them. Some registries are notoriously demanding about what they will or won't accept for an affix. All of the rules above apply when choosing an affix in addition to whatever demands the registry might have, but there are some additional considerations. Make sure the name you choose is 'googleable' -- there should not be lots of competing results if you put the name into a search engine, which can potentially make the right one hard to find for someone looking for it. The obvious choice for an affix is the name of your farm or house, but if that's 'Oak Farm' this may be too generic as there are many Oak Farms about the country and a lot of them aren't even agricultural. It may be better to choose something else.

Male Animals
If a male animal might in future be used for breeding, special consideration should be put into making sure his name will be appropriate for this. If you name a male 'Tiny Tim' because he has a slightly low birthweight and he grows to be a spectacular animal and you'd like to breed him and let your friends use him, his name isn't going to do him any favours (unless possibly he's a Chihuahua or a mouse). Straightforward and suitably sexy choices include heroes from fiction and mythology, historical male artists and composers, fast cars, military aircraft, weapons, and traditional 'manly' career titles such as Sergeant Major or The Admiral.