Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Hatfields and McCoys in Romania?



I flicked past the new Hatfields and McCoys mini-series on the History Channel and instantly rejected it as Kevin Costner crap when I could tell it was not filmed in either West Virginia or Kentucky or Virginia or Tennessee, or even on the East Coast of the United States.

It was strange country.  Those were not our mountains or our forests.  Could it be California?  North-central Oregon?

Nope.  Romania.  They filmed the Hatfields and McCoys in Romania and thought no one would notice.  Morons.  Idiots.  Pretenders.  Fantasists.  Hollywood nincompoops.  Time wasters.  Traitors.   Accountants.  Zombies.

History Channel?  Yeah right.

Pour me some more Kentucky Vodka and tell me again about how we fought the Civil War because Lincoln wanted to hunt down our kin, the vampires.  

That movie's ready for the History Channel too, no doubt.


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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Thorndike's Cat Box



B.F. Skinner's work was not quite as original as some would have you believe.

For example, Skinner's theory of operant conditioning was built on the ideas of Edward Thorndike who studied cats and devised an experiment in which he used a "puzzle box" (the progenitor of a "Skinner Box") with latches to test the idea that a cat could learn if rewarded or punished.

Thorndike subsequently published his "Law of Effect” which states that any behavior that is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated, and any behavior followed by unpleasant consequences is likely to be stopped or avoided.

Genius or obvious? I will let others decided, but suffice it to say that Edward Thorndike, like B.F. Skinner, believed that all animals learned alike (albeit at different speeds).

According to Thorndike, cats did not learn by watching other cats, nor did moving a cat's paws into place to trip a switch help -- everything had to be done by accident because cats had no insight, and only if an accidental behavior resulted in a reward would it be more likely to be repeated a bit faster the next time around.  All learning was incremental, and all animals learned the same way.

Of course, all creatures do not learn the same way as anyone with open eyes can attest.  For example, right now you are learning about Thorndike's cat box. A cat cannot read, and neither can a dog or a pigeon.  No matter how long you put a dog, cat, or pigeon in front of a computer screen with sentences running into paragraphs about Thorndike's cat box, they are not going to learn a new idea from the symbols.  So, contrary to what Thorndike thought, not all animals learn exactly alike and many animals do have insight, even if that may not be quickly self-evident with cats.

Another point is that Thorndike's "puzzle box" for cats was both coercive and rewarding.  As a general rule, cats hate being jammed into tight boxes with no obvious way out.  By taking a hungy cat and making it uncomfortable, Thorndike increased the chance that the cat would meow, scratch, paw and present with various kinds of distressed behaviors as it tried to get out.   If the cat managed to flip the lever on the door of the box, it not only got out, but it was rewarded with food as well.

Was hunger and a desire for food driving the cat to learn or was it aversion to being in a confined space, or was it both?

Both, very clearly -- a cat will work to get out of a very small confined space even if it is not hungry and no food is presented at all.

The point being made here is a simple one:  in the first version of a "Skinner Box," i.e. a "Thorndike Puzzle Box," a low-level but persistent irritating aversive was at work, and that aversive alone was probably as strong as any food reward.

Thorndike saw that, which is why Thorndike's "Law of Effect" has two sides, not just one.
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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

5,000 Blog Posts Later

This blog has more than 5,000 posts on it now, but back when it had only 3,000 posts I gave an email "interview" with the folks over at PawTalk.net.  I had forgotten about that interview, but stumbled across it last weekend, and I append it below as a way of avoiding having to write something new at the end of a long day.

Since this interview was given, the blog and web site have received more traffic, and we are now approaching 3.5 million visits, and we occasionally get tapped as a "top pet blogger" for whatever that's worth (so far, absolutely zero).  

As you can tell, I am a bit wary about plumping for dogs in general, or terriers in particular.  There are simply too many dogs in rescue to encourage people who need a cat, and deserve a goldfish, to go out and get a puppy. Please think before you buy or acquire!

A special thanks to the regular readers of this blog, and those who have cross-posted links or mentioned this blog in a positive light at one time or another.
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What is Terrierman.com and how did its creation come about?
Terrierman is a site devoted to working terriers. It's been around for about eight years now. There was an earlier version of the site, so total time on the web is about 9 years. So far as I know, it's the only site in the world devoted to giving basic instruction on working terriers. The main site itself is several hundred pages, and the related blog -- added about four years ago -- is almost 3,000 posts, not all of them on dogs.

Were you always a dog lover?
I'm not sure I'm a dog lover. I like dogs, defend dogs, and respect dogs, but I have no illusions about dogs -- they can be a real pain in the ass. That said, I have always had dogs, and they are a big part of my life. I think I have always done right by my dogs.

I've had terriers since I was five years old -- 45 years -- but I have only been hunting with terriers for about 10 years. People get into dogs for different reasons. I am not a dog trainer, though I have trained dogs, and I am not a show dog person, though I have done that too.

What I appreciated about dogs is the fact that dogs see the world differently than we humans do. The partnership between human and dogs is one of the most ancient of partnerships, and through it you can learn a lot about people and nature. They are a door to quite a lot.

Explain to our readers what a working terrier is and why you created a page entirely devoted to one.
A working terrier is a dog that goes underground after fox, groundhogs, raccoon, badger, possum, or any other animal that dens underground. If you are ratting with a terrier, you do not have a working terrier -- you have a "sporting" terrier. A true working terrier goes underground, and it is dug from the earth with shovel and digging bar. Most dens in North American are two to four feet deep, and the dog is located underground by sound, or (in modern times) by an electronic locating collar. In North America, groundhogs are generally dispatched (by the human, not the dog) as an agricultural nuisance and pest, but fox and raccoon are generally released unharmed.

The main web site itself was created to help preserve terrier work and to offer tips and advice to novice diggers so that the dogs did not get seriously injured.

Briefly summarize the sections on your page (Hunting, Quarry, Health Care)
The section on hunting is a basic how-to for those interested in hunting with terriers, with pages on what is needed in a dog, equipment, how to use a locator collar, how to handle quarry at the end of the dig, and how to locate farms, and where animals are likely to be located on those farms.

The health care section details the basic veterinary kit every working dog owner should have in his or her vehicle, and gives tips on how to get antibiotics and use them so you do not waste money on unnecessary veterinary runs for minor problems. Flea and tick remedies are given, as well as a basic advice on how to vaccinate your dogs yourself, how to closes small cuts, how to release a dog from a trap, and the dangers of skunk toxic shock, which only occurs when dogs are skunked underground.
An Articles section includes a pictorial history of terrier work, as well as a guide to how terrier work was done in the Middle Ages, and several articles on the how Kennel Club theorists have managed to wreck nearly every working dog brought into their fold. Also included are detailed statistics on the size and measurement of working terriers in North America.

The section on Earthdog work is a simple instructional piece on the basics of artificial den work as practiced by the American Kennel Club, the American Working Terrier Association, and the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America.

RatDog is the oldest part of the web site, and is devoted to ratting with terriers.

The Books section gives some detailed book reviews, and some very abbreviated ones, as well as ordering information for some of the harder-to-find tomes.

The section on Quarry gives a good life-story for every type of animal we dig on here in the U.S. -- Groundhog, Raccoon, Red Fox, Gray Fox, Badger and Possum.

"The Daily Dose" is the blog, which has one to four posts a day. I generally have at least one dog post a day, but these are leavened with information on wildlife, conservation, veterinary tips, a little humor, and some politics, as the mood strikes me. In the last two years, the blog has had over two million visitors from over 200 countries.

Can you offer some tips on how to care for terriers?
As a general rule, terriers are a lot of dog in a small package, but there are many kinds of terriers, and no one rule holds true for all of them. The term itself is much abused -- a "Russian Terrier" is not a terrier, for example, and neither is a "Tibetan" terrier. An Airedale is mostly Otter Hound!
Most of the Kennel Club terriers are breeds created for the show ring and never really worked, and almost no Kennel Club terrier is found working in the field anymore. Most true working terriers are dogs that are not registered with the Kennel Club -- Jack Russell terriers, Patterdale terriers, and Fell Terriers.

The main thing with a terrier, as with all dogs, is to put a collar on the dog, and to attach a leash to the collar. Loose dogs spell trouble, and that is particularly true for terriers. No dog except a fat dog is truly ugly, and every fat dog is hideous. Weight control is portion control. The trick here is simple: only one person in a house should ever feed the dog, and if you cannot easily feel a rib, the dog needs to lose weight.

As for other tips that will save dog owners thousands of dollars over the life of a dog, see the blog or the web site; they are their for free. If someone wants to get those tips in a more organized way, buy a copy of American Working Terriers here .

Tell me about the book, American Working Terriers.
The book was not made to make money -- it was made to get more people out into the field, and to keep the dogs safe when working underground. Almost no one digs on the dogs in the U.S., and those that do are generally new to the sport, and their enthusiasm exceeds their capacity. A dog should not have to die because an overly enthusiastic new digger does not know how to use a locator collar, does not know how to treat a dog that has been skunked underground, and does not know how to handle things at the end of the dig. So, to put a point on it, the book is written on behalf of the dogs.

Your blog, The Daily Dose, has had more than 1 million viewers in the last two years. Tell me about the blog and what makes it so successful.
Success is relative. The blog makes no money, and there are a lot of blogs that are far more popular. I suppose it has done well for a one-person effort focused on obscure issues, however. 

I think anything of value is built slowly, one day at a time. You build a castle by cutting one stone at a time, and you write a blog or a book the same way -- a couple of paragraphs or a few pages a day. The trick is discipline and consistency.

If you are writing a blog, I think it's important to not make it about you. Sure, it's important to have a voice, or a point of view, but let's face it -- no one is interested in what anyone else had for breakfast!
I write about a small raft of topics, and I keep coming back to those topics in a fairly reliable way so that people know what to expect. Everything I write is sourced and linked, so that over time people trust that I am not going to spout too much nonsense. It's important for readers to be able to trust a writer or narrator, but that trust has to be earned through research and clear thinking, both of which look suspiciously like work.

What are the worst things about terriers? 
They bark a lot. They do not take commands very well. A working terrier cannot be trusted around a pet parrot, hamster, rabbit, chicken or cat. The breed, of course matters quite a lot. If people are looking for a pet terrier, I recommend a Cairn Terrier, or a West Highland White Terrier, or perhaps a Welsh Terrier. These dogs are sufficiently far from their working roots that they make decent pets. Stay away from Scotties, which are loaded with health problems, and the hair dresser dogs like Silkies or the dogs with very small gene pools like Glens and Dandies. The best terrier, in my opinion, is a mixed-breed rescue terrier. Go to PetFinder.com and click through what it available, and you will probably be the winner for having done so.

Do you recommend terriers as pets and why or why not? 
Terriers are simply a kind of dog, and most dogs are oversold. If you don't believe that, check out how many dogs are in rescue at any given time. Millions! The first question to ask yourself is this: Do you really want a dog at all? If you will not consider getting a rescue dog, or a semi-adult dog that was groomed for a show career before some minor fault popped up, then you do not want a dog at all. You want a puppy, and what you need is a cat. 

Dogs are a lot of work. They will determine when you get up in the morning, when you come home at night, what house you live in, and maybe where you go on vacation. They are an obligation that can last anywhere from 7 years (for a giant breed) to 15 years (for a terrier). So, no, I never recommend anyone get a dog. I want people to know that a dog will pee on the carpet, crap in the living room, dig up the flowers, and howl on a Sunday morning. I want people to know a dog will hump their leg, and eat its own vomit, and maybe do both things in front of your dinner guests. I have no romance when it comes to dogs. I want people who get a dog to do so eyes wide open.

As for terriers, they are a little smaller than some dogs, which means a smaller crate and a little less food, but the cost at the vet is about the same, and the dogs will bark your ear off. Most terriers are very friendly things, but remember that terriers are also bred to bite small animals that make high-pitched noises and have jerky movements. That describes a lot of very small children. I point that out as a not-too-subtle caution for folks with children under the age of six or seven. A terrier might not be the dog for you, and a working terrier breed is certainly not.
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Monday, May 28, 2012

Digging on the Dogs

First hole was right next to the river.


Gideon guards a bolt hole.


This was wet ground on top, but surprisingly dry a foot or two down.



Dug on three groundhogs. A large one bolted up inside a tree and out a hole at the end of a branch. The last picture is Mountain pinging on it just before the camera  batteries died.

The next hole had two inside (young ones newly out on their own), and Gideon did the finding there.

All in all a quick day, which was a mercy as it was over over 90 degrees.
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Looking for Jack's Collar


This post recycled from Veteran's Day 2007.

The area in which I live, hunt, and go to work is steeped in history. I live about a mile from the Pentagon, on part of what used to be the old Lord Fairfax estate (Fairfax started the first fox hunt in the U.S.), and just a 15-minute drive down the river from Mr. Vernon, George Washington's old home.

Arlington Cemetery, the former estate of Civil War General Robert E. Lee, is a congenial walk down the bike path, while at lunch I can walk to the White House or the Vietnam Veteran's memorial.

The sign, pictured above, is near Frederick, Maryland on the edge of one of the locations I hunt -- an 1,800 acre tract bound by farm fields. The sign notes that this immediate area was part of the Antietam Campaign of the Civil War -- the most vicious campaign of a very violent and bloody period in American history.

The sign does not mention Jack at all.

Jack was a brown and white Pit Bull terrier that learned to understand the bugle calls of his regiment, the 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry, which was largely composed of volunteer firemen from Pittsburgh.

After every Civil War battle of his regiment, Jack would search out the dead and wounded -- a trick he repeated across Virginia and Maryland.

Jack was wounded at the battle of Malvern Hill, but recovered and was captured by Confederates at Savage's Station.

The dog managed to escape and he survived the battle of Antietam on Sept 17, 1862, in which over 23,000 were killed, missing or wounded.

Jack's was severely wounded at Fredericksburg three months later, but was nursed him back to health. Then, at Salem Church, he was again taken prisoner by the Confederates. The value of the dog was such, however, that he was exchanged for a prisoner at Belle Isle six months later.

Jack stayed with his regiment through the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Campaigns and the Siege of Petersburg.

On the evening of Dec. 23, 1864, Jack disappeared from his regiment, which was on furlough at Frederick, Maryland just four miles from where this sign (top picture) is located.

Though an entire regiment looked for the dog, and even offered a substantial award, he simply vanished, and was never seen or heard from again.

It could be that Jack was stolen or murdered for his new collar, which was emblazed with silver and which cost (at the time) the astounding price of $75.

Or perhaps Jack succumbed to a bullet, poison, trap, or some other wayward thing, and simply expired ignominiously on hallowed ground -- his silver collar waiting to be dug up by a lucky groundhog hunter.


The original "Jack" circa 1863 or 1864. This dog looks very much like today's Pit Bull Terrier..

World War I Rat Hunters in the Trenches



World War I Trench Hunters: Photo from a German newsmagazine with a not too-subtle remark on sanitary conditions: "The result of 15 minute's rat-hunting in a British trench."

Note the Jack Russell Terrier in the gentleman's arms at left. Click on picture to enlarge. Photo from Great War in a Different Light.

Another photo from the same site, below, shows French rat hunters in the French trenches. Again, note the terriers.




The illustration, below, comes from the British Magazine, The War Budget. Again, note the Jack Russell Terrier in full pursuit.
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For other stories about terriers in World War I, see:
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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Stubby: Terrier Hero of Georgetown

Georgetown University features a bulldog mascot on their hats and other memorabilia, but in fact the original dog, Stubby, was not a bulldog, but a cross between a boston terrier and a bull terrier.

Stubby, the mixed terrier, was one of the more famous dogs of World War I. He is reported to have trotted onto Yale Field in New Haven, Connecticut when a bunch of soldiers were drilling in preparation for the War. He may, in fact, have been a plant -- a companion dog brought by Corporal Robert Conroy, with whom he quickly became fast friends.

When the troops shipped out, Stubby was hidden on board by Conroy and went to France with the rest of the boys. At Chemin des Dames the soldiers noticed that the artillery fire didn't faze Stubby, but they taught the dog to duck down just the same. In a very little while they noticed the dog ducking before they did -- it turned out that the dog could hear the shells coming long before the men!

One dark night in the trenches, Stubby woke up while the men were sleeping, crept down the trench line and around a corner and found a German spy prowling the trenches in the dark. The soldier let out a howl when the dog bit him hard in the back thigh, and the dog did not let go even after the soldier had been disarmed by Stubby's friends -- they had to pry his jaws off the enemy soldier.

After this bit of service Stubby became famous, and honors were heaped on him by soldiers looking for a bit of humor and story to alleviate the boredom and carnage of trench warfare. At Mandres en Bassigny, Stubby was introduced to President Woodrow Wilson who "shook hands" with him. Stubby received a wound stripe for a grenade splinter he received, and the Marines even made him an honorary Sargent.

After the Armistice was signed, Stubby returned home with Conroy and his popularity seemed to grow. He became a nationally acclaimed hero, and eventually was received by presidents Harding and Coolidge. General John "Black Jack" Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Forces during the war, presented Stubby with a gold medal made by the Humane Society and declared him to be a "hero of the highest caliber." Stubby toured the country leading war parades, and was made an honorary member of the American Red Cross and the American Legion. The YMCA issued him a lifetime membership card good for "three bones a day and a place to sleep."

In 1921, Robert Conroy headed to Georgetown law school and took Stubby along with him.

While at Georgetown Stubby served several terms as mascot to the football team where, between the halves, Stubby would nudge a football around the field, much to the delight of the crowd. Stubby was Georgetown's first canine mascot, and it is his ugly countenance that has somehow been morphed into the English Bulldog emblem of the Hoyas.

Old age finally caught up with Stubby on April 4th, 1926, and he died in Conroy's arms.

Stubby's stuffed body is one of the many artifacts kept by the Smithsonian museum in their vast collection.

This post is recycled from Veterans Day 2004.

Rags: Hero of World War I

Some years back, I worked a short distance from Aspen Hill Memorial Park and Pet Cemetery at 13630 Georgia Ave., in Silver Spring, Maryland. It's a peculiar place, but a notable one.

With rows of small tombstones and a few statues, Aspen Hill Memorial Park is, as far as I know, the first graveyard for pets in the United States. Opened in 1920, it is the final resting place of many dogs and cats, but a few other creatures as well -- parrots, horses, and a few exotic animals. A few of the graves are the final resting spot of some fairly famous animals.

One famous Aspen Hill resident is "General Grant Forbush of RKO," better known as Jiggs or Petey, the ring-eyed Pit Bull terrier in the "Our Gang" comedies. It's not clear how this Hollywood star came to rest at Aspen Hill.

The most notable grave at Aspen Hill is that of "Rags," a mixed-breed terrier whose simple gravestone reads "War Hero, First Division Mascot." That simple inscription hardly begins to tell the tale, however.

Rags' story begins on July 14, 1918, when a battalion of the American 1st Infantry Division took part in Bastille Day ceremonies in Paris. One of the participants was Private James Donovan, a Signal Corps specialist, who got drunk and over-stayed his time in the city.

While lost in a cul-de-sac in the dark streets of Montmartre, Donovan stumbled over what appeared to be a pile of rags, but one that emitted a whimper and small bark. When Donovan examined the bundle, he found a small dog inside. Just as he was trying to figure out what to do with the pup, three MP's arrived on the scene, and they quickly figured out that Donovan was A.W.O.L.

Thinking quickly, Donovan convinced the MP's that the little terrier he had just found was the missing mascot of the 1st Division, and that he was part of a search party that had been sent to look for it. The gambit paid off, and "Rags" and Donovan were sent back to the 1st Division.

Back at their unit, Donovan's commanding officer allowed him to keep the little dog. Within just two weeks Donovan and Rags were sent off to the 2nd Battle of the Marne that was waged from July 18th to August 6th, 1918. During this time they were active in the sector from Ville-En-Tardenois to Soissons. Donovan's job was to string communications wire between the advancing infantry units of the 26th Infantry Regiment and the supporting 7th Field Artillery Brigade, and repair the lines when they were damaged by shellfire. When the wires were ripped and shellfire was still incoming, the only way to get messages through the lines was by runner, but the runners had difficulty getting through the miles of barbed wire strung along the trenches, and were frequently killed or wounded while trying to do so.

Donovan began training Rags to carry written notes back to the 7th Field Artillery. Rags was a quick study and soon learned to take messages towards the sound of the American guns.

In late July of 1918, during a counterattack driving towards the Paris-Soissons road, Rags and Donovan found themselves with a group of advancing infantry that had been cut off and surrounded. The only officer surviving was a young lieutenant, and he sent the following message out attached to Rags' collar:


"I have forty-two men, mixed, healthy and wounded. We have advanced to the road but can go no farther. Most of the men are from the 26th Infantry. I am the only officer. Machine guns at our rear, front, right and left. Send infantry officer to take command. I need machine gun ammunition."


Rags was able to slip under the barbed wire, avoid the Germans, and make his way through the shell holes back to the 7th Field Artillery. The message was passed on to headquarters, and a supporting artillery barrage was layed down, and reinforcements sent in, and the cut-off group rescued.

During this same campaign Rags came under enemy shell fire for the first time, and he quickly learned to drop to the ground upon hearing the sound of an incoming shell. The soldiers quickly figured out that Rags could hear the incoming rounds long before they could, and they began to use him as an early warning system.

The soldiers and Rags spent a lot of time together in the trenches, and the young men began to teach Rags a few parlour tricks. One of the first was how to "salute" by sitting up and holding a front paws up close to his head. Rags got very good at this trick, and was soon exchanging "salutes" with important military personnel up and down the line, including Major General Charles P. Summerall, commanding officer of the First Division.

From the 12th of September until the 16th of September Rags and Donovan participated in the first all-American offensive of the war, which was the drive on St. Michel which routed the Germans. Over the course of four days 15,000 Germans soldiers were captured, and during this period Rags learned to greet any grey-uniformed figure with a low growl and a snarl.

The final American campaign of W.W. I , the Meuse-Argonne, lasted from September 26th until November 1918, and during this period Rags was used to take messages across the misty and rugged terrain.

October 9, 1918, Donovan and Rags were in the Argonne Forest and bound in by a thick fog. Since it was impossible to see where the communications lines were cut, Rags was sent back with a message.

Rags had just set off when the Germans began firing mustard gas shells. Rags was was mildly gassed and was also hit in the paw with a splinter from a concussion shell. Rag's right ear was badly mangled by this same shell, and a needle-like sliver of shrapnel was embedded under his right eye. Dazed and confused, Rags was found by an American infantryman who delivered both the dog and the message to the 7th Field Artillery.

Donovan was also severely gassed during this battle, and he too was wounded by shell fire. Like Rags, he was carried back to the rear where dog and owner were reunited. Rags was placed on Donovan's stretcher, and both were given prompt medical attention "on orders from the Division."

Rags had the shell splinters removed from his paw, but he would remain blind in his right eye and deaf in his right ear for the rest of his life. Donovan was not as well off, as his lungs were severely damaged from the mustard gas. Donovan was labeled a priority case, to be shipped home as soon as possible, and Rags was sent home with him.

Donovan and Rags were sent to Fort Sheridan in Chicago, where Rags visited Donovan in his hospital room every day. Soldiers at Fort Sheridan made a special collar tag for Rags identifying him as "1st Division Rags," and he frequently joined the troops at the end of the day as they stood at attention as the flag was lowered.

Donovan showed no improvement, however, and in 1919 he died from the lingering effects of the mustard gas he received in the Argonne Forest.

In the year following Donovan's death, Rags remained at Fort Sheridan as a "post dog." In early 1920, however, Major Raymond W. Hardenberg was transferred to Fort Sheridan along with his wife and two daughters.

Rags was adopted by the Hardenberg daughters, and the 1st Division allowed Rags to move with them to Fort Benning, Georgia. Rags and the Hardenbergs were eventually posted to the Army War College in Washington, D.C., and then to Fort Hamilton in New York.

While in New York, Rags became a small celebrity. In October of 1926 he was a special guest at the Long Island Kennel Club dog show at the 23rd Regiment Armory in Brooklyn. He was awarded a special ribbon recognizing his wartime achievements. A book and a number of newspaper and magazine articles were written about him. A ceremony was held at which Rags "signed" a copy of his biography with an inked paw print, and this "autographed" copy was sent to the British Imperial War Museum in London, to take its place along other official records of the Great War.

In 1928, the 10th Anniversary of the end of the Great War, Rags was a participant at the 1st Division's reunion in New York, taking part in a parade down Broadway, appearing at receptions, and taking part in a battle re-enactment on the parade grounds at Fort Hamilton. The high ranking brass were especially fond of having their photo taken with Rags, including former 1st Division commander Summerall, who was now a four-star general.

Early in 1934 Major Hardenberg was transferred back to Washington, D.C. to serve at the office of the Chief of Infantry at the War Department. Rags went with the Hardenberg family back to Washington and, now in extreme old age, a quiet life.

On March 22, 1936 Rags died in Washington, D.C. at the age of 20. The little dog's death received considerable news coverage, and Rag's obituary was featured in The New York Times.

Rags's final resting place was in the Aspen Hill pet cemetery in Silver Spring, though perhaps Arlington Cemetery or the grounds of the War College might have been more fitting. In any case, he was a remarkable dog with a remarkable life.

This post recycled from Veterans Day 2005.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Jack Rabbit Drive Video



I found a pretty amazing video of an old Jack Rabbit drive in Kansas in 1934Click on this  link and then hunt through the thumnails at the left.  Should be the second one in the third row. 

Yes, it's worth taking the trouble to see it.

As the web site of the Kansas State Historical Society notes:
Jackrabbit drives in western Kansas were viewed as a battle of survival between farmers and the rabbits during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl in the mid 1930s. Record-setting summer temperatures of the 1930s along with blowing topsoil and drought made it difficult to grow crops. Farmers received low prices for those crops that were produced. In addition, western Kansas in the mid-1930s was plagued with hoards of Lepus californicus melanotis, black-tailed jackrabbits. These jackrabbits were migratory and ate green plants and their roots. Adults were capable of producing three to eight offspring every 32 days. Reminiscent of the grasshoppers 60 years earlier, the rabbits ate everything in their path. Thus, the few farmers who eeked out crops had to cope with the rabbits demolishing their livelihood.

Kansans had hunted rabbits for meat and sport from the territorial period, and newspapers in the 1890s carried articles on a coursing meet (hunting rabbits with dogs) in Chase County. In earlier years rabbits had been a blessing in western Kansas, providing meat for the new settlers.

The warm weather of the early 1930s coupled with the lack of rainfall eliminated many of the natural conditions that killed young rabbits. By 1935 the Wichita Beacon estimated there were 8,000,000 rabbits in 30 western Kansas counties. The worst years were 1934 and 1935. Desperate farmers called them "Hoover hogs" after the U.S. President Herbert Hoover who was generally blamed for the Great Depression. The rabbits were eating what few crops had survived, depriving cattle of badly needed feed.

Several counties tried offering bounties of one to four cents per rabbit, but Hodgeman County stopped paying bounties at 44,000 rabbits when the cost became more than the county could bear. Strapped farmers couldn't afford to waste precious ammunition shooting them.

Drives to control the rabbit population were tried as early as the turn of the century, so the idea was not a new one in the 1930s. Drives were often held on Sunday afternoons in the late winter or early spring, with February and March being the most popular months. Drives were advertised in newspapers and on handbills in neighboring counties. Several county commissions purchased fencing. Other groups such as county farm bureaus, chambers of commerce, and local newspapers lent support.

The size of a drive varied from covering one or two sections of land to massive efforts covering several square miles. The largest successful drive was near Dighton in Lane county and involved 10,000 people in an area eight miles square. It was estimated that this drive netted 35,000 rabbits.

At the beginning of a drive, people lined up about every 20 to 30 feet along the four sides of a square and made noise as they walked. Often there were two lines on each side with women and children behind the front line in cars and trucks blowing horns, pounding on pans, or anything else to scare rabbits ahead.

A fenced area in the center was the object of the drive. The size of the enclosure varied from about 75 feet square to as large as 40 acres. People closed in toward it, coming closer together all the time. By the time they reached the enclosure, people were shoulder to shoulder, blocking all possible paths of escape for the rabbits. At the end of most drives, he rabbits were clubbed to death in the fenced enclosure. Firearms were strictly forbidden, lest participants injure each other.

Stories about the drives appeared in regional newspapers in the Midwest, and it caused an outrage as many people thought the rabbits were being hunted for sport rather than population control. Farmers emphasized the destruction the rabbits were causing to their crops and livestock. Eastern Kansas residents, who had no jackrabbit problems, were among the critics, prompting some farmers to propose that the rabbits be driven to the eastern part of the state.

The farmers tried to ship live rabbits to eastern states, but Ohio game and wildlife officials realized how destructive jackrabbits were and canceled their order. Residents of western Kansas rounded up about 1,200 live rabbits to ship to Indiana; the press in Kansas City, Omaha, and Denver as well as the Pathé newsreel company covered this attempt.

Cattlemen estimated that feed for 200,000 cattle was saved by these attempts to control the jackrabbit. The remains of the rabbits were used as feed for other animals. Relatively few were eaten by humans because of the fear of a disease known as "rabbit fever," introduced into the rabbit population earlier in the 1930s. Some rabbit pelts were sold for about three cents each.

Rabbit drives were a means by which farmers could directly improve their economic condition, which was being attacked by a variety of destructive forces in the mid-1930s. Though gruesome by today's standards, the drives fostered a sense of community as farm families struggled to survive during the worst years of the Dust Bowl and the Depression.

By the way, the American Jack Rabbit is not a rabbit at all, but a hare.

Read the links below to see how the land and the wildlife got so out of balance.
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Friday, May 25, 2012

Coffee and Provocation


  • The Salukis stayed out.
    An international team of scientists analyzing data on the genetic make-up of modern-day dogs has discovered that 
    Basenjis, Salukis and Dingoes have a differing genetic signature than most other dogs, not because of some unique direct heritage to ancient dogs, but because these animals "were not part of the 19th Century Victorian-initiated Kennel Clubs" that blended lineages to create most of the breeds we know today.  The scientists also note that their study also suggests that "keeping dogs as pets only began 2,000 years ago, and that until very recently, the vast majority of dogs were used to do specific jobs."  Hat tip to Walter H. for the link!

  • Winter time bomb for the East Coast and Midwest.
    Warm weather all winter means 
    ticks will be out early and in astounding numbers. You can expect the incidence of Lyme to soar. The good new is that prevention works (wash your dog with flea and tick shampoo every week) and Lyme is pretty easy and cheap to fix and no you don't need to see a vet.  More about that here.

  • Police K-9 Magazine.
    A nice simple article on 
    E-collar basics which defines a "working level" as when "the sensation is significant enough that the dog will pay attention to it and work to make it stop, but it is not so overwhelming that it actually detracts from the dog’s ability to problem-solve."  No, for training purposes you do NOT turn the collar up to twelve.  Try two or three.

  • Are a lot of dead deer good for birds?
    Maybe. The point has been 
    made before and is made again in an op-ed in The New York Times by Daniel Cristol, professor of biology at William and Mary. Of course, blaming deer for a decline in some migratory bird populations is a little too facile.  As I have noted in the past, the main factor is neo-tropical forest loss, loss of migratory resting spots, and forest fragmentation leading to a massive rise in cowbirds, raccoons, possums, crows, and other meso-preadots.  Ironically, the simplest solution for both deer and meso-predator reduction may be more coyotes.

  • How did the chicken conquer the world? 
    One cluck at a time starting 10,000 years ago in central Asia.  The precipitating event may not have been dinner, but entertainment, i.e. cock fighting. The Athenian general Themistocles is said to have stopped by the side of the road around 5,000 B.C. and pointed to two roosters fighting: “Behold, these do not fight for their household gods, for the monuments of their ancestors, for glory, for liberty or the safety of their children, but only because one will not give way to the other.” Read the Smithsonian article; it's a winner!

  • Miles Davis turned to Nancy Reagan and said... 
    Sorry, you are going to 
    have to read the whole thing.

  • Tea Party official attacks public lands deer hunting.
    Wisconsin's deer trustee says, "Public game management is the last bastion of communism." This fellow just happens to own a 200-acre shoot-the-fed-deer place. In his world, hunting would only be for the rich and a dead deer would be guaranteed meat, same as a stocked lake for children.  Sure, and why not bring back the monarchy while we are at it and replace public parks with Disney Land as well?

  • 50 things to do before you are twelve.
    A great idea and a hat tip to Chas at Southern Rockies Nature Blog for pointing to it.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Digging on the Dogs

Tyler and Josh of K-9 Connection a few weeks ago with Mountain in hand in front of a big pile of downed timber that had a groundhog at home underneath it.  Nothing accounted for on this day, but the dogs probably bolted the first one that we found.  I have taken so many off this farm in the last three or four years that there are not as many to be found as there once were!
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Where's the Dog?



That's a 10-foot snake in Australia with a 14-pound Maltese inside.
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Coyote Den?


This was a very big den pipe. It has clearly been used, but just as clearly it's not in service at the moment.

This den is located near permanent water (about 100 yards from a river) and I think it might be a coyote den despite the horizontal lay of the entrance.  This entrance is larger than the fox dens I have dug on in the past, and the hole stayed big as far down as I could see or feel.  This is a hard-dirt area, so erosion is not much of a factor.

I remember this den from a few year back, and it was not as big a bore hole back then and held fox.  Something has clearly enlarged it, and used it rather heavily.
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Training the Elephant in the Year 2212



How to Write Good



This first set of rules was written by Frank L. Visco and originally published in the June 1986 issue of Writers' Digest.

  1. Avoid Alliteration. Always.
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  3. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
  4. Employ the vernacular.
  5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
  7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
  8. Contractions aren’t necessary.
  9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  10. One should never generalize.
  11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
  12. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
  13. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
  14. Profanity sucks.
  15. Be more or less specific.
  16. Understatement is always best.
  17. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  18. One word sentences? Eliminate.
  19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  20. The passive voice is to be avoided.
  21. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  22. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  23. Who needs rhetorical questions?

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Training a Dog to Stay Away from Horses



Horses can be very good dogs trainers. One well-timed "click" and this dog got the message.

This is not the safest way to to stock-break a dog to horses, but it's certainly the oldest way.
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Mosquitoes and Dogs and Limburger Cheese

Blast from the Past


This picture is from over 30 years ago, and shows Cambrian Right Stuff, my folks' Welsh terrier as a puppy and Barney, my very well-behaved mutt terrier.  Barney was picked up as a stray and went to college with me.  The dog was a stone genius.
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When B.F. Skinner Became a Joke

 


William F. Buckley begins an interview of B.F. Skinner by noting that Skinner has "just written a book announcing that we will have to do away with individual freedoms and throw away the 'superstition' of the dignity of man."

B.F. Skinner himself is right there and does not deny that this is his thesis in Beyond Freedom and Dignity.

Of course, by this time Skinner was on the fast track to becoming a punchline.

Overly-lauded for training pigeons, rats and a few chickens to do a few simple tricks in the 1930s, his ego had swollen to the size of a Macy's Parade float, and he began to over-generalize and pontificate on things he knew absolutely nothing about, writing a Utopian novel (Walden II) shortly after WWII, and then capping that with Beyond Freedom and Dignity in 1971.

And the result? Behaviorism became a bit of a joke.

Where did Skinner go wrong? Right at the beginning. Skinner decided, based on his work with pigeons, rats and chickens, that all animals were little more than empty boxes with external inputs. According to Skinner, living things were simply a fleshy response system to stimuli. Since every animal is little more than an empty black box, no animal should be given credit or blame for choices and behaviors, as no animal has real free will or real choice. According to Skinner, animals are simply automatons programmed by outside stimuli.

Of course this is not entirely true, as anyone who has worked with instinctive traits knows, but by the mid-1960s Skinner did not really care if it was entirely true. What did it matter that his provocative-sounding pseudo-scientific statements about human behavior were not backed up by actual science? Skinner's work was now in the philosophy and fiction sections of the book stores -- that was what he was selling!

 Beyond Freedom and Dignity was one of Skinner's last bits of prattle, and it was effectively eviscerated by Noam Chomsky who noted in The New York Review of Books ( December 30, 1971) that: 


Skinner's science of human behavior, being quite vacuous, is as congenial to the libertarian as to the fascist. If certain of his remarks suggest one or another interpretation, these, it must be stressed, do not follow from his "science" any more than their opposites do. I think it would be more accurate to regard Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity as a kind of Rorschach test. 


Chomsky goes on to note that Skinner offers no evidence to support his Olympian pronouncements about people, nor does he even bother to try to ground his claims in science. 


Claims... must be evaluated according to the evidence presented for them. In the present instance, this is a simple task, since no evidence is presented, as will become clear when we turn to more specific examples. In fact, the question of evidence is beside the point, since the claims dissolve into triviality or incoherence under analysis. 


Chomsky goes on to note that "behavioralism" had already become somewhat of a joke, with almost everyone moving to separate themselves from the Utopian ramblings of Skinner who, by now, had inflated mere trivia to significance, even as he waved off all true science such as as physics, chemistry, and molecular biology: 


It is important to bear in mind that Skinner's strictures do not define the practice of behavioral science. In fact, those who call themselves "behavioral scientists" or even "behaviorists" vary widely in the kinds of theoretical constructions that they are willing to admit. W. V. O. Quine, who on other occasions has attempted to work within Skinner's framework, goes so far as to define "behaviorism" simply as the insistence that conjectures and conclusions must eventually be verified by observations. As he points out, any reasonable person is a "behaviorist" in this sense. Quine's proposal signifies the demise of behaviorism as a substantive point of view, which is just as well. Whatever function "behaviorism" may have served in the past, it has become nothing more than a set of arbitrary restrictions on "legitimate" theory construction, and there is no reason why someone who investigates man and society should accept the kind of intellectual shackles that physical scientists would surely not tolerate and that condemn any intellectual pursuit to insignificance. 


And so, in the end, Skinner became a caricature of himself -- an ego-besotted egg-head who fell in love with his own reflection; a man who codified a few important points about training rats and pigeons, but who then tried to blow those points up into a unifying truth for man that eclipsed all other truths, and with himself as the God Head deserving (of course) a three-volume autobiography.


The result was almost a cartoon. As Chomsky notes


Skinner confuses "science" with terminology. He apparently believes that if he rephrases commonplace "mentalistic" expressions with terminology derived from the laboratory study of behavior, but deprived of whatever content this terminology has within this discipline, then he has achieved a scientific analysis of behavior. It would be hard to conceive of a more striking failure to comprehend even the rudiments of scientific thinking. 


Bingo. Wrapping a few simple ideas in words devoid of common-place meaning is not science, it's nonsense. 

Yes, under the nonsense there may actually be some substance (timing, consequences, consistency), but when stripped down to simple terms, how often do we we that find that the prize inside is quite a bit smaller than the box in which it was delivered? 

And so it is with Skinner. 

 His work in the 1930s with rats and pigeons was important and illuminating, but what came out of it was something less than a unifying truth for all mankind.  In the end, Skinner was less science than science fiction; less prize inside and more designer box.



Monday, May 21, 2012

Digging on the Dogs

Gideon staked out.

Mountain slides in.

Mountain staked at possible bolt hole.

Bolted this groundhog up a tree.  Left for another day.  Yes, the dogs do teach them to climb.


This one did not get away.  Dead on a branch and Mountain leaping.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Pete Townsend, Age 67



Baba O' Riley, circa 1971.
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Coffee and Provocation



They're bombing Guam with mice that have little parachutes. Killer mice on a mission from God.

Meanwhile on Guam, the Jack Russell terriers are still on patrol to make sure no one leaves alive.  Wet work like God intends it to be done.

The Nelson Mandella Stadium in South Africa is the only poison-free stadium in the world.  How do they do it?  They use hawks and falcons to keep the birds away. They use mechanical traps for the rats, and they use bats and bat boxes for the bugs as well as Cape Wagtails. Africa leads the way!

Yes, there are working English Bulldogs. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.

Dog bite insurance paid out $497 million in the U.S. in 2011

Chimpanzees use spears to hunt other monkeys, but only because they cannot find the right sized ammo for their guns. A small note of prudent skepticism: "However, they did not photograph the behaviour, or capture it on film." 

Apparently Florida is too crowded for native wildife. Even the endangered ones

Facebook avoids $16 billion in taxes using the Double Irish and the Dutch Sandwich.  If you think that's the lumhc time menu at your local bar, then you know Reason One this country is going broke.  And this is legal tax avoidance.  As Congressman Bernie Sanders recently noted, "Congress does not regulate Wall Street, Wall Street regulates Congress."

Curt Schilling, the Red Sox player and right-wing defender of less taxes and smaller government ripped off Rhode Island taxpayers for $75 million in loan guarantees for a video game company that never hired the people that it said it would.  Now you know Reason Two this country is going broke.

The IRS does such a crappy job of collecting taxes that owed that the "tax gap" is over three trillion dollars a decade and rising.  Now you know Reason Three this country is going broke.

Where do your direct mail charity dollars go?  Mostly to pay for more direct mail as CNN notes.  I have said this before, and noted that the Humane Society of the U.S. is a paricularly slipperty fish with about 75 percent of every direct mail dollar going to fund more direct mail packages (i.e. forests cut down and then tossed into landfills as waste paper). 

Si Habla Pict?  Not yet, but maybe in a few years when the Rosetta Stone language course comes out.

Liars for hire and every trick in the book.

Coffee drinking is linked to a longer lifeActually it only seems longer if you never sleep.

Pamphleteering that changed the world:  The name "Pakistan" comes from a 1933 pamphlet entitled "Now or Never" written by Choudhary Rahmat Ali, an activist who wanted to create a Muslim homeland in South Asia. It is an acronym for "the five Northern parts of India" which were primarily Muslim: Punjab, Afghan Province, Kashmir, Sind, and Baluchistan. The "i" was added to make a pronouncable name.

A lightbulb that lasts more than 20 years and uses very little energy already exists, and will go on sale later this year.

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