May 16, 2007

Lazy Blogger Round Up

Posted in science, vegan at 12:49 pm by nevavegan

(subtitle: Having some faith, the bucket effect, and acting like we believe in ourselves)

I’m completely addicted to reading science, sociology, and psychology news. It’s better than comics and chocolate cake to me. Hey, I never claimed to be 100% sane.

So, I’ve stumbled across so many great articles lately and was hoping to compile them in some kind of sensible way.

The big one, which has been blogged up lately is the study that showed people responded more, and gave more money, when presented with the story of one suffering individual, as opposed to a suffering multitude. One puppy in need of help? Great, let me get my wallet. 500 puppies in need of help? Maybe some other time. The article mainly concentrated on how this psychological response affects our less than helpful handling of the Darfur crisis. But it is of course good information to keep in mind for anyone fundraising for any cause.

FWIW, I don’t really know anyone who isn’t upset about Darfur, and yet the magnitude of it really is paralyzing. Many of my friends feel that in the face of such horror, sending $10 to UNICEF really isn’t a decent solution. They put things this huge in the realm of stuff the government should handle. But our current government, bogged down in endless war, isn’t going to take care of Darfur.

Anyway the story has been played up as further evidence of just how not-nice people are, though really it only calls for a fine tuning of technique and playing up the individual stories. Of course, sometimes it’s that our minds just have trouble understanding the huge numbers involved in some cases—it just get dizzying and you can’t imagine it, so it becomes unreal. Compassion fatigue is part of it too; people might not have it in them to really feel for so many people or animals.

But there was actually another story about charitable giving in the news at the same time that got lost in the shuffle—people give more money when they are laughing. So if you want to raise a lot of money for your group, don’t hire a blues musician to play at the benefit, get a really good comedian.

Also of note, just thinking about money makes people selfish, and just thinking about power makes people less empathetic.

Ok, everyone, visualize nesting doves, or something else soft and money-free.

Well, I thought it was interesting.

Anyway, part of the difficulty, in my unprofessional, un-asked for opinion is that people don’t have much faith in other people. So when they’re making a donation, or volunteering their time, or however they choose to help out, they’re looking for something that feels “doable,” manageable to them. If we don’t believe that other people are going to step in and also contribute, then donating our $20 or even $200 to help out thousands of displaced people is just throwing money away. It’s not enough to even help with such a huge problem. But $200 to help out one puppy? That just might work. We need to keep in mind that it’s about a bucket that is hopefully being filled from many sources. So we add a few drops and somebody else adds a few drops and maybe someone else tosses in a whole cup. But it’s little by little, it’s not just all on us. To get anything done we have to have some faith in that. “I’m not in this alone.” Repeat as needed.

Other interesting news: Nearly everyone is empathetic. Wow, we’re not all budding psychopaths here. Good news.

The other thing I wanted to talk about is the power of taking ourselves seriously and acting like we know what we’re doing. That doesn’t mean being arrogant, or acting like we’re always right. It means projecting the idea that we’re proud of what we’re doing and we believe in it.

The reason I bring this up is that same old thing I’ve blogged on before, this supposed retirement of the word “vegan.” I don’t know, I kind of think we’re acting like we’re ashamed of our very values, so there’s this push to distance ourselves. But why should we be ashamed of it when at the core being vegan is such a tremendous gift to the animals, to the planet, to other people, to the very cause of kindness and compassion.

People have said to me that they feel we need to align ourselves more with mainstream values, which seems odd to me. I feel pretty average most days. I already feel like on some core level my values are pretty mainstream, it’s just about how I apply them. But I also wonder where we draw the line on mainstreaming our values. Does this mean we have to promote “humane meat?” Does this mean animal groups should fire their homosexual employees because middle American still has some kind of chip on their shoulder when it comes accepting homosexuals as human beings. Do we stop pushing for what we know is right because some people disagree?

Often when we talk to other people they respond as much to the emotional signals we give as the words we say. So if we’re projecting that we feel there’s something wrong with veganism, that’s the message they take away. If we are able to project our actual feelings, our deep commitment, our compassion, our belief in what we’re doing, that matters too. Always with respect, always with kindness, but that doesn’t mean compromising the main point of our message.

Sometimes also, people just give us what we expect. If we expect them not to care, there’s a built in excuse for them to tune us out. If we believe in our message and expect people to be affected by it, perhaps some will live up to those expectations. It remains to be seen, but we shouldn’t dismiss ourselves as some kind of joke before we even walk out the door in the morning.


April 6, 2007

Getting along with deer

Posted in animal advocacy, deer, science, vegan at 4:03 pm by nevavegan

I’m a little steamed right now because in the area where I live there have been articles in the paper and public meetings to talk about “the deer problem.” Most solutions that have been suggested are lethal solutions. I did write a letter to the editor (fingers crossed that they take it).

NOTE: It seems some people read my letter to the editor and are coming here for more information on tick control.

Here are some links to help with tick control:

Now, more on getting along with deer.

First I guess I’d better explain the “deer problem.” I lived in this area all through high school and moved back in 1999. When I was younger, the area where my parents live, Reston, VA (about an hour drive from where I am now, but still part of the same metropolitan area) was largely wooded. It still had farms: family farms, truck farms (my dad grew up nearby on a truck farm—they grow table produce, drive to a crowded area and sell it out of the back of the truck, it’s not a farm for trucks), and Christmas tree farms. There were acres and acres of undeveloped land. My parents’ house backed up to a huge wooded area full of horse-riding paths. Likewise, when Sean and I moved to our most recent place in Maryland, we were told by all of the older residents that our street used to back up to 20 acres of woods. Now every possible inch of Reston is crammed with McMansions, shopping centers and high end condos, and my house backs up to row after row of cookie cutter houses.

So in short, once there was plentiful deer habitat, now we’re a sprawling metropolis where everyone drives everywhere and it’s just suburb to exburb with everything paved over. Well, if you build your house on deer territory, where do you think the deer are going to go?

Here are some point/counterpoints on the deer:

1. The anti-deer contingent claims that the deer population has exploded since hunting was banned in much of the region (hunting was banned not for animal concerns but because it creates issues to fire a gun in such a heavily populated area). They claim the deer population has increased by pointing to extremely questionable studies that estimate previous deer populations. However, the deer were once endangered in this area, so it’s hard to say if the population increase is just normalizing or really is an issue. I find the studies estimating deer population prior to European settlement to be so ludicrous that I can’t even discuss them. Further, hunting never reduced the deer population as hunting was of male deer only, and all it takes is one male to impregnate 20 females and return the deer population to prior levels. The deer were endangered before because when there were a lot of farms here, farmers saw the deer as a threat to their crops and competition for grazing land for livestock, so they systematically exterminated the deer.

2. The anti-deer voices cite the risk of traffic accidents involving deer as grounds to resume hunting them. Well, duh… When you look at rural regions and their suggestions for reducing deer related accidents they all say that deer accidents increase during hunting season as the hunters in the woods chase deer onto the roads. Additionally, who causes more accidents and more serious accidents, deer or other human drivers? Seriously. Also, no matter how small you reduce the deer population, short of endangering them again, you’re still going to have deer/car collisions until they put better barricades on the highways, get people to slow down (everyone here speeds), and teach people accident-avoidance techniques. People don’t know the silliest things about deer, such as they travel in groups, so if you see a deer in the road, don’t speed up and try to swerve around her, or you’ll hit the other deer following behind. You need to stop, scan the roadsides for more deer and proceed with caution. And there are lots of other tips for avoiding deer. Many accidents occur in areas with posted deer crossing signs and the drivers still speed, yet everyone blames the deer.

3. Next, people want to exterminate the deer because of Lyme disease. Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks, tiny little ticks that are sometimes hard to find and remove from people and companion animals. The ticks tend to end their life cycle on deer, which means as adult ticks they attach to deer, or to people, or dogs, or any warm blooded creature in their paths. The adult tick feeds until she becomes engorged, then drops off the host animal, lays her eggs in the ground, and finally dies. For this reason, the deer do help in the final stage of the tick’s life, as the deer are in the woods nearly all of the time, which allows the tick to drop off and lay eggs there.

However, the tick doesn’t begin her life on deer, instead this tiny tick after hatching feeds on deer mice. Once they are carrying the Lyme infection the ticks may bite humans and transmit the disease.

Killing deer won’t protect people from Lyme disease; it will just mean the ticks will go after more people, companion animals, squirrels and any other available animal.

Scientists have determined that the best way to reduce the threat of Lyme disease is to kill the ticks in their larval and nymph phases (the first stages of their life). To this end an amazingly simple solution has been found. Using miticide (a chemical much like the Frontline we can use on our companion animals to kill parasites) can kill ticks in all stages of their life and even prevent tick eggs from hatching. However it wouldn’t be healthy or environmentally sound to spray down wooded areas with chemicals. To get the maximum use from the smallest amount of miticide, it should be placed in the nests of the deer mice. How do we do that? This is so clever: we let the mice do it!

In experimental trials scientists treated cotton balls with the miticide and then put the cotton balls into cardboard tubes, like from toilet paper or paper towel roles, and put them into areas where mice are known to nest. The tubes keep the cotton safe and dry and prevent birds from carrying it off. When the mice go looking for nesting materials they find the softest cotton, and the mice are small enough to crawl into the tubes and get it. The mice carry the cotton back to their nests. The miticide is harmless to the mice but kills the ticks in the nest. Some miticide also gets in the fur of the mice and kills ticks that might bite them outside of the nest.

This method greatly reduces the tick population and disrupts the spread of Lyme disease. Best of all it doesn’t involve any misguided efforts to hurt deer or mice.

4. People want to kill deer because the deer are eating their landscaping plants. I don’t know why anyone is surprised. Um, you move to an area with a heavy deer population and then tear down the woods, pave over the fields where they used to graze, and then plant lots of decorative plants. What did anyone expect?

Still there are tons of publications on deer-resistant landscaping, and nothing beats investing in a really good, properly designed fence. Sigh, the mindset of killing these beautiful animals over landscaping is just so alien to me.

So that’s it, there’s my deer rant.