Too cool, part 37

Enceladus and Saturn's rings from Cassini courtesy Cassini Imaging Team

Courtesy: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA


Okay, okay, it’s cheating, I know, since I’ve featured this very same moon before, taken by the very same probe as well. Of course, for the time being, there’s not a lot of choices in the latter department, since the Cassini probe was the only one doing detailed images of Saturn and its moons, but last September it boldly went down into the thickening atmosphere of Saturn and either got rendered inoperable by the pressure, or Bowmaned off into a new realm someplace – I’m fairly certain NASA is maintaining the former, but you know, they still maintain that we’ve actually been to our moon…

Anyway this is, once again, Saturn’s moon Enceladus, still showing off its fancy plumes, backlit by the sun, backgrounded by Saturn’s rings, and accompanied in the frame (though not in proximity) by another of Saturn’s moons, Pandora. Astronomy Picture Of the Day from February 15th has the details, and a larger version of the image. This one looks like a digitally created abstract; add in a base color of blue fading into pink and you’d have a great representation of cosmic artwork from the eighties.

Enceladus is known for being composed of a thick ice crust over what seems to be an underlying, global, liquid ocean, which vents out into space through cracks in the ice crust; that’s actually what you’re seeing at the bottom of the moon. You might be thinking, How does a liquid ocean exist under the ice crust way out there around Saturn? Enceladus is close enough to Saturn’s strong gravity that the constant tidal forces on the solid core – the same kind of thing that gives Earth its ocean tides, but a hell of a lot stronger – actually keep it in flux and generate a fair amount of heat and friction, which appears to be enough to maintain the ‘mid-level’ water in liquid form – and it’s this same state that makes Enceladus one of the biggest candidates for life to form within our solar system. Determining this could be tricky, since that ice crust is kilometers thick – right now we have the information we do about it through penetrating radar and gravitational measurements. One of the things that I hope we accomplish within my lifetime is actually getting some kind of probe down to the water level of that moon.

Now an examination from the photographic standpoint. You may have noticed that Enceladus is entirely silhouetted except for the barest edge, but Pandora has its face illuminated by sunlight reflected from Saturn. Why not Enceladus? Because we’re looking at the ‘double-night’ side of Enceladus – it’s closer to Cassini (and our viewing position) than Saturn is, while Pandora is on the opposite side of the orbit; the sun itself is directly behind Enceladus, thus the glowing ring lines across the image, while Saturn is out of the frame to the left. Sunlight reflected from Saturn can illuminate Pandora, and it illuminates Enceladus too, making it much brighter than Pandora – but on the side opposite us.

I said ‘double-night’ above to reflect the light dynamics around other planets. On Saturn’s moons, the sun can be very bright, but it’s so distant as to be quite small in the sky, while the vast bulk of Saturn itself – and Jupiter, and Neptune, and so on – will dominate the sky, and throw a lot of reflected light. So Pandora, between the sun and Saturn, is lit from two sides, and only a narrow sliver of the moon might be experiencing darkness. But as it moves around to the night side of Saturn, the far side can experience true night, like this face of Enceladus is now. The ‘day-night’ cycle of the moons is distinctly different from our own, where our little and somewhat distant moon can brighten the night at times, but not as badly as something taking up literally half of the entire sky as Saturn might.

And yes, Earth throws reflected sunlight onto the ‘dark side’ of our own moon as well, but a) it mostly does it during our local day so the light scattered from our atmosphere obscures most of it, and b) it’s weak in comparison to Saturn – consider how small the Earth looks in those photos taken from the moon. But in the right conditions it can still be captured – check out ‘Earthshine’ sometime.

It seems you’ve never met

This was originally going to be included in an earlier post, but it never fit in well with it and needed its own dedication, so let’s start with another frequently-seen internet meme that illustrates an all-too-common perspective:

internet idiocy meme
Hmmmmm.

And what if I told you that you should stick to subjects you have the faintest knowledge of, and stop spreading your idiocy around like herpes?

Let’s face it: the anti-vaccination fuckheads are too stupid to be allowed out in public alone. The moon-conspiracy chuzzlewits imagine they’re clever when they haven’t the faintest grasp of basic physics. And the dog breed champions really, really need to sit down and think for a whole ten seconds.

Seriously, if dog behavior was entirely up to the owner, then there would be almost no point at all to actually breeding dogs, would there? I mean, physical appearance, right? That’s it? Behavior and traits and tendencies – they all have to be written on that ‘blank slate’ of the brain, just like birds have to be shown by their parents how to build their intricate and specific nests, and snakes have to learn through trial and error how to constrict, and how all animals have to sample a bunch of different things in order to determine what food works best for them. Sure, you can manipulate genes to produce body shapes and fur color, blood types and resistance to diseases, even temperature hardiness and homing abilities. But the brain? Not a chance – that’s always exactly the same because the brain isn’t developed through genes. I mean, duh!

Hopefully my sarcasm is elaborate enough, but if not, let me know because I can still ramp it up a bit. We’ve only been breeding dogs for millennia because no one has yet noticed that it doesn’t have much effect. And seriously, anyone can train any breed of dog to be attack dogs – we’re just conditioned to believe that pitbulls are overreactive, and rottweilers are badasses.

Anyway, let me introduce you to common sense.

In a long history of breeding animals – we’re talking literally thousands of years – it’s only been in the last century or so that we did so for appearance (theirs, not ours.) All of the remaining time, it’s been for functionality. And yes, a large portion of that functionality comes through behavior, attitude, and even ‘personality.’ We have dog breeds that are good with kids, or better at home protection, or good at herding, and on and on and on because when they showed any such tendencies, we selected for those and enhanced those traits, just as we were able to enhance physical traits that make any given breed fail to look like the wolves they originated from. The original line of bulldogs was bred for the ‘sport’ of bullbaiting: seizing onto the nose of a bull and hanging on as long as they could, and as such they have powerful jaws, neck muscles, and shoulders. Later on, pitting the dogs against one another became more popular, and the breeds began to reflect that – including very limited tolerance of being ‘challenged’ and a fierce desire to establish dominance. This is a standard behavioral factor in all pack animals anyway, the origin of the phrase “alpha male,” so breeders weren’t even producing the behavior, just exaggerating it.

[As a trivial sideline, this is also the reason behind cropping ears and docking tails. Dogs usually establish dominance through body language such as dropping the tail and laying the ears flat to communicate their reluctance to challenge authority, their ‘submission.’ Removing these meant that, even if the dog wanted to submit, it never displayed the language that said so. And now we consider it a “breed trait” and insist on surgically altering these breeds to pay homage to their idiotic past.]

Worse, in breeds such as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or American Staffordshire Terrier, or Pitbull (pick whichever name you consider proper – we made them all up anyway, so who cares?) the practice of dog-fighting had to go underground but continues to this day, meaning the enhancement of these stubborn, dominant, and violent tendencies is still going on, unlike most of the other former working breeds that have now become ‘show’ dogs and may be bred away from unnecessary and dangerous behavior. In other words, pitbulls are the least removed from nasty traits – even if you specifically refer to those produced by breeders that are trying to establish a nonviolent aspect of the breed.

Now, there are thousands of arguments about the whole subject, and I’ll address some of those in a moment. But for the opening (and oft-repeated) assertion that dog behavior is learned, well, bullshit, and rather obvious bullshit at that. Some behavior is learned, or trained into a dog – and some of it is inherent, sometimes in the species as a whole, and sometimes as an aspect of that particular breed. And of course, it is the inherent aspects that are causing the problems.

There are countless arguments and claims and oral diarrheas that come up, time and again, mostly in the service of utter denial that some dogs are, on average, a lot more dangerous than others: “They were provoked,” and, “they weren’t socialized properly,” “people overreact to media attention,” and, “every dog can bite,” and on and on and on. They all have a kernel of truth to them – but we need more than a kernel, and the bare statistics make it abundantly clear. For instance, what a dog might consider provocation can be as simple as maintained eye-contact (pits are especially sensitive to this because, again, it’s how dogs communicate challenges and attempts to establish dominance) or failing to heed their keep-away signals, something that children are remarkably prone to doing, and even a lot of adults can be abysmally bad about reading signs. And yes, every dog can bite – but those that are compiling statistics aren’t counting the bites, they’re looking at the numbers and types of dog attacks that result in hospitalizations and even deaths, something that chihuahuas somehow manage not to score highly on, despite their propensity for biting. And no, those attacks are not all coming from dogs from disreputable sources either, or dogs with improper socialization or exercise room. These can certainly contribute, but this would mean that all species that were in such conditions should show the same number of injuries dealt, and they don’t. Not by a long shot.

What has to be the most pernicious and annoying argument that arises, every fucking time the subject is discussed, is the hoary old, “I know someone with that breed and it couldn’t be a nicer dog!” Well, shit, why did we spend all this time compiling statistics and talking to animal behavior experts and interviewing victims when we could have just asked you? I’m sure that your singular personal experience countermands all other evidence that we could possibly examine! Seriously, anecdotes of this nature should be grounds for getting smacked upside the head, especially among anyone that’s had to view the videos of dog attacks, the photos of the injuries, or talk to the parents of the young victims. Every dog has their own personality, and there are a lot of variations – none can be considered so representative of the breed that all others must conform to it, and this goes for any personality you want to assign. But on average, any given species often has a distinct tendency towards certain traits, which is what the numbers tell us. And for a bit of amusement, note that the very argument of a nice example of the breed directly implies that behavior is an inherent trait – otherwise such an anecdote would be completely worthless. Like I said, people often don’t even sit down and think for ten seconds about what they’re saying.

The topic itself arises primarily because of the myriad ways people are proposing or implementing methods of reducing the attacks and injuries: breed-specific legislation, housing/socialization requirements, special registrations, and so on. And there are two primary factors that arise during such discussions, the first being, exactly how effective is the proposed method at curbing or halting the negative consequences? And this is certainly a worthwhile question. Unfortunately, it is often overshadowed by the other factor, which is, “I’ve got a blind spot about animals (especially this breed.)” And I’m going to put this very very bluntly, but I want a real answer: How many instances of people being maimed or killed are allowable in order not to impinge on some dog-owners’ personal preference?

While we’re waiting on that answer, I’ll point out that dog ‘breeds’ are arbitrary distinctions that we make up out of pure ego – we created all of them, from the original wolves (whose DNA is so similar that it’s next to impossible to distinguish from any dog.) Try to determine any reason whatsoever to even maintain these distinctions, much less a reason why anyone would have to own one. “Purebred” actually means “inbred,” and carries a burden of genetic disadvantages and detriments with alarming frequency – feel free to look up the tendencies towards specific medical problems (and adverse behavior) for any given breed. And once again, from the sheltering standpoint, there are millions of animals already seeking homes – what fucking reason does anyone have for breeding, or even desiring, a “special” animal in the face of those numbers?

*     *     *     *     *

My days in the animal shelters, and compiling reports, and working as an animal cruelty investigator, produced more than a little direct experience pertinent to the topic itself, and so here are a couple of examples. I have more if you want them.

At one point in time, we actually had a group of fighting pitbulls in the shelter, over twenty dogs impounded during an investigation, and this introduced a lot of changes to our routines. To begin with, we added a lot of safety equipment to the kennels in handy locations, things like pepper spray and parting sticks. If you’re not familiar with the dog-fighting world, parting sticks are tools used to convince the dog to let go; they’re made to pry open a dog’s jaws in the frequent-enough event that the dog refuses to do so on its own or on command. Which pretty much puts the lie to the idea that dogs have to be trained to be aggressive; they’re trained to obey commands, but in the thick of things it doesn’t always work. The fighting bit is a lot more instinctual, and is a reflection of the pack behavior that is the primary social structure among canids (and birds, and plenty of other species as well – these dynamics helped the animals survive, and were honed over millennia by nature itself.)

In general, dogs determine on their own where they stand among others of their kind – one will become the pack leader, with a reducing hierarchy of deference. In the event the leader isn’t immediately available, the next in line takes its place. Even all by itself in a family of humans, dogs still view things in terms of the pack, which occasionally leads to obedience problems, as well as other adverse interactions. Some dogs, for instance, recognize the human father as the dominant male, but fit themselves into the ‘pack’ elsewhere, perhaps occasionally obeying the commands of the mother, and completely ignoring the kids. Others may view the kids as pups or lessers in the pack, and may react strongly when they feel the children are acting out of line; this is often kids running around wildly, especially if the kids are squealing a lot – I don’t have to give you examples of this, do I?

No matter how dogs consider humans in their ‘pack’ hierarchy, there are other aspects of their behavior that easily override this introduced concept. This is why, every time someone tells me their dog doesn’t need to be on a leash because it is “voice-trained,” I smile indulgently and, I hope, a little condescendingly; it’s better than guffawing loudly into their face and calling them ignorant buffoons. Any dog can take off after a squirrel if they consider squirrels food or intruders, because the millions of years of evolved behavior kinda blows a few dozen hours of training out of the water. Your dog always stays in the yard? Yeah, until another dog happens along, and then this idea gets left behind as the pack interaction dominates their behavior – we used to call it ‘partners in crime’ because a pair or more of dogs will do things that no individual gets itself into, like chasing neighborhood cats or kids and tearing up stuff. They’re competing against each other. You can shout, “Here Fido!” until you’re blue in the face; the training to obey falls way below the drive to survive, behavior evolved into them long before we came along.

Fighting dogs are selectively bred to be pack leaders, and maintain this status when challenged – this is what a dog fight is to them: the other dog must yield, or it remains a challenge to their own authority. Yes, it’s just as stupid as any bar fight. But as I said, there’s a lot of emphasis on obeying commands – owners want the dogs to release when told, not to fight to the death, and the fight belongs among other dogs, not among humans; no owner wants to feel threatened themselves. But after breeding these traits in for decades – traits that are mere extensions of behavior established thousands to millions of years back in the wolf ancestors – a couple of generations isn’t going to make it go away dependably. Believe me, I’m not going to dispute that there are reputable pitbull breeders out there, ones that are ensuring in every way possible that they are not producing aggressive dogs, but there’s several key factors to consider:

1) There is no absolutely no way of determining if the aggressiveness if actually bred out of a dog – again, it’s an extension of deeply ingrained behavior. The only thing that can be done is to observe a dog for a lack of indicators, a failure to respond to typical triggers – which doesn’t mean that there’s not a trigger that no one’s found yet. And this says nothing of genetic latency, especially since we have no idea what genes are actually involved (much less the ability to do the intricate and expensive tests necessary to find them);

2) For every reputable breeder, there are at least five ‘backyard breeders’ who haven’t the faintest idea that they should be looking for indicators in the first place, and are only in it for the buck. Good luck determining where any particular dog comes from. The last I heard, the average authenticity of any given American Kennel Club certification (you know, “he gots papers“) was less than 30%. And that only tells bloodline, which is a near-meaningless factor anyway;

3) There are certainly nice pitbulls out there, as there are for any breed – but for a very large percentage of the people that want them, that’s not the trait or ‘aura’ they’re after. They want the reputation, and as long as the breed exists, there will be that market;

4) There are, really, an unknown percentage of breeders specifically for fighting dogs. The dogs that don’t quite pass muster all go somewhere – I’ll let you figure out where. Are you going to be surprised if you find out that most fighting breeders are also ‘reputable’ breeders? Let’s face it, it’s not easy to completely conceal a kennel full of dogs.

So with all of that, perhaps it’s a little more obvious now why there are no easy solutions – and in fact, no one’s quite sure what they’re trying to accomplish, since too many people are at cross purposes. For my own part, I find that even bothering with a distinguished ‘breed’ is pointless – when we do it with people it’s considered racism.

That situation with the fighting dogs in our kennels was entirely uneventful, by the way – I wish I could say the same for others. In a neighboring county, a particular pitbull was placed on quarantine following a bite situation (this is a requirement of North Carolina law, as the animal is observed for signs of rabies,) while Animal Control tried to determine if the dog should be maintained under vicious confinement as a potentially dangerous dog, due to the circumstances under which the bite occurred, primarily unprovoked. Eventually, with the testimony of a neighbor who knew the dog and maintained that he was not aggressive, the dog was released back to the owner with no restrictions. The neighbor, an elderly woman, would stop by the yard to visit the dog and give it treats from time to time.

Less than ten days after being released, the dog attacked her early one morning, and ripped her arm off.

Anyone may want to ask a lot of questions – it’s natural to want to know what happened. I never heard myself, but you know, it doesn’t matter. There is nothing, no circumstance, that could warrant such a response from the dog, ‘provoked’ or not (and while any given dog might have a different idea of what constitutes provocation, it’s not their standards we should concern ourselves about; any pet dog lives in a world of humans and needs to conform to our minimal standards. Full stop.) Hey, this is one anecdote – I don’t blame anyone for treating this as an isolated incident, though granted, it’s often the exact same people who think their anecdote of a nice dog should be a pertinent example. Except – it’s not an isolated incident; it’s a pattern of behavior that’s occurred far too many times. The personal feelings horseshit and feeble attempts at thinking need to go away entirely while we seek real solutions.

The edge of the world has a dock

dock on foggy lake
It is perhaps best not to ask what actually moors to it…

The night and thus the morning was foggy and I was up early with nothing pressing to do, so I headed down to Jordan Lake to do something interesting with the conditions. I was down there for about two hours I think (I don’t really look at my watch when I’m shooting,) and captured something like 175 images. But, this post could be better – I know, that goes without saying, but I mean, better than normal for me – because of an uncommon but probably unavoidable occurrence. A large number of the images from the memory card simply disappeared.

I unloaded that 175 count of files from the card. Checked the folders, ensured that the beginning and end images were there, then deleted them from the card. There’s several aspects of reasoning to this. First, I make sure that I got everything from the card (which I didn’t quite do – I knew I had the first and last dozen or so images, but never confirmed all the ones in the middle were intact.) That way if any were missed, they could still be retrieved from the card. But I soon delete the images from the card, because if I forget, I end up trying to download them again later on, and then playing around with determining the most recent files. There’s a small factor in keeping the most amount of space available on the card, but with 8Gb and jpeg files, it would take a long time to fill it – like a week of heavy shooting.

Anyway, something happened – I suspect with the card reader, which as I type this still thinks that the card is present though it’s been formatted and returned to the camera (and formatted again, but I think I’m going to make it an emergency backup instead.) This is a relatively new compact flash card too.

foggy flooded region in woods
I’ve run into this before – it’s something you just have to be prepared for when shooting digital. It happened with film too, only with bad batches, accidentally exposed film, or errors in processing. Sometimes you simply lose images. However, there is a program called Zero Assumption Recovery that does a pretty nifty job of recovering images from memory cards – even after you deleted them and/or formatted the card; it’s the nature of how files are actually stored and retrieved in digital memory. I’ve used it quite a few times, sometimes on my own cards, sometimes for other people, and while it usually doesn’t get everything, it can recover a lot of stuff that was believed gone forever.

Sometimes, a lot of stuff. Computer (and thus camera) memory isn’t actually deleted when you hit delete, it is simply marked as usable space, and ZAR ignores those markings and finds all the files. You may end up recovering things from months to years ago, though the present versions allow you to set date parameters. However, if you deleted files, used the card for more shooting, and then want to go back and find old files, you may not – that space may have been overwritten by the new files. Also, sometimes the files just become corrupt, and even ZAR can’t repair them. Sometimes you get incomplete images or, like in this case, a bunch of files with corrupt headers that simply cannot be read. I had to recover just shy of a hundred missing files, and ended up with 37 of them. So it goes. Naturally, the ones that I felt were the most fartistic were among the missing.

drops acting as lenses
A quick note about this image. The trees in many cases were dripping with water, which became almost like a light rain under the horrid longneedle pines, and I made several attempts to go in close with the macro lens and tripod to do this kind of drop lens effect. I talked about the difficulties of doing this before, and it played out this morning. I would place the tripod carefully, find I was a little too far away for maximum magnification, and try to scootch closer. This was all on small trees and saplings, by the way, the ones where the branches were at the right height to be photographed. Which also means the branches were at the right height to be bumped, and three separate times I disturbed the tree as I tried to get in closer. It doesn’t matter how insignificant the contact is, because such useful drops are on the fine edge of giving up the fight with gravity, and that tiny vibration on a branch well away from the one I had chosen was still enough to dislodge the drop. You know how trees are wider on the bottom, right? So are tripods. Feel free to try it if you don’t believe me.

odd-shaped web with dew and occupant
I have shot this kind of web many times before, once here, but this time, I actually captured the builder in the pic – except I didn’t see this at the time and so didn’t focus on it; it’s that grey spot at the bottom of the bowl in the center. I hate noticing details when I get back home that I wish I’d seen when shooting. This was just a casual grab-shot, and I could have done some nice detail and discovered what species of spider makes it. Foggy and dewy mornings, by the way, make it abundantly clear just how many spiders there are in any given location – the webs are always there, you just can’t see most of them.

And I close with another dock shot, as a morning fisherman headed off into the mist – this gives a fairly good idea how thick the fog was. It also distinctly shows the effect of an aspherical very-wide lens, in this case the Tamron 10-24 at 10mm – look at the dock.

fishing boat disappearing into foggy lake
Wide-angle lenses are going to distort – it’s necessary to fit the broad view angle into the narrower aspect of the frame. Old spherical lenses used to distort the edges so badly there would be a ‘fisheye’ effect, which the newer lenses largely correct – but this situation demonstrates that it can’t be perfect. But this image also, originally, gave a fairly good idea how much dust was on the sensor again! I just fucking cleaned the bastard not two weeks ago! Granted, doing multiple lens changes in such conditions certainly doesn’t help, but shit, I’d hoped it could stay clean for a month or so. Anyway, that all got edited out for display here, before I go back and clean the goddamn thing again…

Not all at once

Hmmmm, I have a choice between a rant semi-continued from another post, or a kinda-long exposition that explains some curious traits. What to do, what to do?

strange lightning picture not mineI would like to give credit for this photo, but it’s one of the millions on the internet that were lifted from somewhere and make the rounds without attribution – oh, you internet! Anyway, it looks pretty bizarre and definitely puzzles a lot of people, but it’s actually not hard to determine how it came about, provided you know a simple trait about some cameras.

Despite the teeny tiny little lens and digital sensors on most smutphone cameras, they don’t operate in the same manner as DSLRs or film cameras, and don’t take the entire image at once. Instead, they have a ‘scanning’ method of recording the scene, very much like those old flatbed scanners, or a photocopy machine, or robots in cheesy science fiction depictions: the image is recorded a section at a time, generally running from one side of the scene to the other. It goes pretty fast, but if something is moving pretty fast (like a propeller) or happens very briefly, it gets captured in different portions of the action – this is worse if the light is low and the sensor is trying to get the most light from the scene. So what we actually see here is just a photo of the car, but during the exposure time, a very brief flash of lightning occurred right in the center of the frame – bright enough to illuminate the sky and, very slightly, the tree in midground, but short enough to only get captured during a portion of the recording scan. If you look very close, you can see that one arm of the lightning bolt to the right side persisted into the next block of the scan after the brightest light from the sky had faded. It’s simple, really.

Except that what I said earlier is a little bit of a misnomer, because even the better SLR cameras, digital and film, do this too, and have been for quite a while – anything with a focal-plane shutter does, which means anything with a shutter that sits over the film or sensor itself, rather than within the lens assembly (which is a fairly rare subset of camera types anymore, usually large-format cameras.) There is a physical limit to how fast a shutter can move aside to expose the sensor/film behind it, and this limit provides a certain set of restraints in photography – and some clever bits of engineering.

So let’s start with, there are actually two shutters (or to be more pedantic, two shutter curtains) within SLR cameras: one that moves out of the way from one side to the other to expose the media, and another that follows it in the same direction to close the opening. Nowadays with electromagnetic activation and very light materials, it takes roughly 1/300 second to completely cross the entire exposure area, but not too long ago it was about 1/100 second, and for medium-format cameras with much larger film frames and exposure areas, 1/40 to 1/50 second, give or take. And yet, for a long time, cameras have been able to get photos at much higher shutter speeds, 1/1,000 to 1/8,000 second. What sorcery is this?

Well, that’s the point of having those two shutter curtains. For a shutter speed of 1/4,000 second, the first curtain opens up and moves across the sensor (which it will take about 1/300 second to fully cross,) while the second starts to close behind it 1/4,000 of a second after the first starts. This means there’s a narrow gap between the curtains that travels across the media – again, like a flatbed scanner, but a hell of a lot faster and with less grindy noises. Any given point on the media is exposed to the light for 1/4,000 second, but not all of the media is exposed at the same time, and there are no sound barrier explosions from within your camera body.

And this is why, if you’re using the built-in flash of the camera, it always sets itself to a particular shutter speed and no higher: the flash can only go off when both curtains are fully open, or you get an effect like the lightning here. For external flashes, generally they are set to synchronize and go off only when the first curtain has fully opened, and on older cameras there was often a special mark on a particular shutter speed, say 1/90 second; any shutter speed below that was guaranteed to have the frame completely exposed by the flash, while above it would not.

However, there are also dedicated flash units that can expose at higher shutter speeds, often called some variation of ‘FP flash.’ To operate properly, they must communicate with the camera body precisely, because they won’t fire off one flash burst, but a series of them like a strobe light. They’re going off for each section of the media uncovered by the two shutter curtains as they travel across the frame, so the faster the shutter speed (meaning the smaller the gap between the two curtains,) the more bursts are necessary to light up the whole frame. Flash units need a lot of power to fire off that xenon tube within that provides the light, and this means charging a capacitor, so when a lot of bursts are needed, less of the charge can be used for each and the light strength is commensurately weaker and carries less distance.

By the way, this strobing happens so quickly (you know, about 1/300 second give or take) that we don’t see it blinking with our eyes, but just register it as one flash. Yet it syncs up perfectly with the shutter curtains so there’s no gaps or overlaps. Isn’t technology cool?

So now let’s look at another aspect of this high-speed shutter fudging.


When things are moving fast, like propellers or race cars, their movement gets captured in different regions of the media as the shutter travels. So no, this isn’t an especially high wind, but the whirling blades and the sliding curtains coinciding in weird ways. The Republic P-47 has a propeller that rotates counter-clockwise, seen from this angle, so this means the shutter curtains were most likely traveling from bottom to top in this image – think about it and it’ll make sense. You can see, on the topmost blade for instance, how the shutter catches the root of the blade at one position, but as the curtains travel upwards the blade moves to the left and ‘bends’ in that direction. Meanwhile, the two blades on the left side are traveling against the shutter movement, getting compressed in size and spacing.

Except – this is backwards, because the lens always throws an inverted image onto the media, so the shutter was actually traveling from top to bottom of the camera; most camera manufacturers opt to have the curtains travel the shortest distance across the frame, for obvious reasons, so this means a top/bottom travel rather than left/right, though some older cameras do have shutters of this nature. With a little more research I could probably tell you the rough shutter speed that was used, given that engine’s idle RPM…

[Time out for a little warbird trivia. I get this “Mohican” impression from the shirtless crew chief there, though I think it’s just his hat hanging from a chin strap, but notice the difference in clothing between him and the pilot. Even in Burma, where this was taken, the temperatures at high altitudes are well below freezing and the cockpits were neither pressurized nor heated, so bundling up was necessary. Meanwhile, you can see the four .50 caliber machine guns in each wing, staggered so that the ammo belts could fit next to each other, and even the slots under the wing to expel the spent shell casings. The sleek P-51 gets a lot of attention, but the P-47 was an impressive aircraft that could absorb a tremendous amount of punishment and keep flying – check it out sometime.]

By the way, from time to time you might see a photo of a race car, often from when someone can get right down to the fences, that is skewed diagonally. Again, trying to use a high shutter speed that doesn’t actually freeze the car in place, so it’s moving horizontally as the shutter curtains travel vertically. This is why panning the camera works better.

ice cube and water droplets in midairAnd one last trick, another way to overcome the limitations of a focal-plane shutter. In dark conditions, you can actually lock the shutter open, and use a flash as the sole light source, so the brief duration of the flash is the actual exposure time of the image (this usually ranges from about 1/1,000 to 1/10,000 second.) This is a method pioneered by the guy that developed the xenon flash tube, the heart of nearly all standard flash and strobe units, in the first place: Harold “Doc” Edgerton. He’s the guy that did all of those classic photos of the milk drop and the bullet passing through the apple. That kind of jazz takes some engineering skills with microphone triggers and careful calculations for the latency of the electronics, every step of the way, but in most cases you can get by, like here, with some careful timing, a bit of luck, and a lot of tries.

I mentioned a different type of shutter earlier, and that’s the iris shutter – it sits within the lens assembly and often doubles in function as the lens aperture, opening to a preset size to expose the film. Because of its shape and position within the lens, there are no focal plane or shutter curtain effects, and it can flash-sync at any shutter speed, but generally the shutter speeds are limited (physically/mechanically) to a maximum of 1/500 second anyway, and often none too accurate at that. All this means is that each lens has to have its own shutter assembly, increasing expense and complication, and this practice is primarily limited to large-format cameras. I’ll go into the pros and cons of those someday…

UPDATE 02/16/18: So, I decided to attempt to calculate the shutter speed of that plane photo above, and began playing around with it after determining the idle speed of the P-47 is 900 RPM. After a lot of fiddling around, I realized I wasn’t mathematically-inclined enough to figure it out. I mentioned this, however, to Jim Kramer while I was speaking with him on the phone, and he provided the answer while we were in conversation: allowing for some slop given inexact measurements from blurry propellers, the camera had a shutter speed of ~1/360 second. Knowing that virtually all cameras at the time would have had only 1/250 and 1/500 second settings, and that the mechanical shutters typically fell a little on the slow end, I figure the photographer had likely set for 1/500 second. I had been trying to determine the distance the blades had covered while Jim went with angle instead, but Jim’s an engineer. He probably just asked one of the passengers on his train…

Be creative

Lower Cascade Falls Hanging Rock State Park by James L. Kramer
I had plans to put something up for Darwin Day, which is today, and was in the middle of a project to produce some photos, but life happens, as do family issues. You may have noticed that I discuss very few personal matters here, save for trivial frustrations – that kind of shit really isn’t for online dissemination, despite what some people seem to think social media is for. I’d like to vent sometimes, believe me, but it really doesn’t serve a purpose other than self-gratification, and not much of that. The result right now is that instead I’m going to feature some photos from the blog’s official Contributing Non-correspondent, Jim Kramer, that he sent me several days back. I will leave it up to you to tie this into Darwin Day in some manner, which explains the post title.

The above image is Lower Cascade Falls at Hanging Rock State Park, and is possibly the very image that Jim was taking when I snapped my own photo of him at work. You can see a significant color difference between his image and mine; most of this was due to me shooting slide film, which captured the color cast of the deep shade conditions, while Jim was shooting digital with some form of white balance in effect, though there’s a chance he tweaked the color in post-processing as well (I’m not making accusations, I just never asked before starting this post, and that pertinent bit is not recorded in the EXIF info of the image file.) I’m pretty sure that I had an appropriate warming filter at the time, which would have made the colors much better, but for some reason didn’t use it; it’s possible that I hadn’t purchased one yet, and images exactly like the one on that earlier post were what prompted me to get one.

Lower Cascade Falls at Hanging Rock State Park by James L. KramerI really do need to get back to this park and do some more shots; I was originally going to take along the Impertinent Mr Bugg, but he’s trying to be obnoxious so I’ll just go alone and have a nice, relaxing day where I won’t have to remind anyone to use the appropriate lenses or fix their damn hat all the time.

There is only a small range of positions available to photograph the falls, but this is pretty typical of waterfalls to be honest; they tend to occur in geography with steep drops and narrow openings, so options are limited. Minnehaha Falls in north Georgia has been the one cascade that I know of with a fair amount of options, if one was careful and didn’t mind hiking up the rock ‘steps’ that the water crashed down.

The deep shade, by the way, helped with these very images, because to get that wispy, cottony water effect you have to use a long exposure, and low light helps. So does a small aperture, and a neutral density filter. Bright sunlight on the water has an unintended effect that’s impossible to correct for (at least if you’re skipping quite a lot of digital editing): individual water droplets and ripples in the falls will catch the sunlight momentarily, producing brilliant reflections that will appear in the image as white specks. I’ve got several examples from experiments and never managed to produce anything that didn’t look weird, so shade still remains the best conditions. Someday, I’ll do some serious moonlight exposures, much like these, but probably not at Hanging Rock or indeed any park, since they usually close by sunset (which is much safer and a very good idea – people tend to be stupid if you give them the chance.)

I will close with another image of Jim’s, of a (to my knowledge) unnamed little torrent almost hidden in a cleft in the rocks. The scale is nicely deceptive; while Lower Cascade Falls is about ten meters in drop, this one is less than two. I’d featured my own image of this before, to which was added a variation from Jim too – he did a much better job of capturing the falls during these trips than I did, the bastard. I’ll just have to console myself with eclipse pictures I guess…

unnamed small torrent at Hanging Rock State Park by James L. Kramer

Podcast: Nothing in particular 2

It is, inexplicably, still winter here, and so little to do except projects that really don’t result in photographs. I’m still working on some other possibilities, so hopefully something will be along shortly. And as I say out loud below, I’ve got several things planned for later on in the year, actually scheduling photo opportunities rather than taking them as they come, so we’ll see if this results in more and/or better content.

So for now, we got this:

Walkabout podcast – Nothing in particular 2

Some of the things I made reference to within:

George Hrab’s Geologic podcast. I shouldn’t link to this because mine will now seem even worse than you originally thought in comparison, but I can promise you that I will never talk about how great The Beatles were, so there’s that.

The program to block Windows Update Services can be found here. With Windows 10, the updating service has become obnoxious, intrusive, and uncontrollable, any one of which is an inexcusable trait for any software to have – having all three is fucking contemptible. This disables that completely, and greatly improves Windows performance to boot (at least in my experience.)

I thought I’d posted at greater length about what I call the ‘puzzle drive,’ but so far the only mention of it that I’ve turned up has been here. Maybe it was in comments on another site. But think about how satisfied you feel whenever you solve a puzzle, figure out a mystery, or even fix something. And alternately, how frustrated you feel when you can’t. It’s pretty compelling, isn’t it? I think there’s more to this than we typically give it credit for.

The site I used to learn how to clean digital sensors is here. Once again, and they stress this many times on their site, you only want to do this if you feel comfortable with doing delicate work. And yes, Eclipse is the name of the high-grade alcohol – I picked mine up off of Ebay. I also use a battery filler bulb instead of the ridiculously overpriced Giottos Rocket Blower – three to five bucks is about in line with a goddamn squeeze bulb air blower. A good artist’s brush for the first pass, cleaned in baby shampoo (doesn’t leave residues behind) and rinsed and dried thoroughly, and then a microfiber cloth also cleaned meticulously. A dust-free environment helps a lot, but that’s very hard to accomplish, though getting the bathroom a bit steamy can do a lot for controlling airborne stuff. And you can see below why this has to be done from time to time (or at least, why I have to do it…)

snow scene showing lots of sensor dust
And GIMP, a full-featured and completely free photo editing program can be found here. There are versions for Windows, Linux, and OS X.

The plethora of Jim’s pics which contributed to last year’s posts can be found here. And I might have a few others up within a week or so.

That’s all for now. But if you’re looking for more suggestions on how to handle the season, last year’s podcast may help. I already have a bunch of seeds and mantis egg cases for spring.

Addendum: Oh yeah, forgot this in the original post. While I make snarky comments about income, more often than I should really, I think that doing what you like to do is more important than chasing the “‘Murican Dream” or whatever.

A quick comparison

2017 total solar eclipse 'landscape'
Another one that I had kicking around in my blog images folder, waiting for a chance to sit down and explain it – there’s a couple more coming too, but they’ll take a little longer to write up, so we’ll go with this for now. This was my attempt at a landscape shot during the total solar eclipse last year, which came out even worse than expected – but not a lot.

Let’s put it this way: you can, naturally, take any kind of landscape photo with the sun in the shot – but you’re not going to get one that also shows any sunspots. In order to see those, you’d need to reduce the light from the sun by a lot, a tiny fraction of its actual light output, and then the landscape would drop into total darkness. And the same thing’s going to happen during a solar eclipse. Even though the sun itself is blocked and thus you can see the corona, the sun is, you know, blocked, and the corona itself isn’t throwing enough light to illuminate the landscape around you. Sure, you can do a long exposure to actually get a view in the dim light, because after all it’s like late twilight; you can see where you’re walking and all that. But if you do that, the corona itself is going to bleach out and likely completely obscure the dark hole that communicates “eclipse” in the first place.

2017 total solar eclipse landscape shot with curves tweakSo for giggles, I took that frame and brought up the shadow areas in an editing program, to see just how much of the landscape could actually be seen. Annnnddd you’re looking at it; not too impressive, is it? The sun corona is so small because it was high in the sky – the eclipse occurred in early afternoon in August, so to even get anything else in the frame, I had to shoot wide angle with a short focal length. I could have gone up underneath a tree and gotten a closer shot with some branches, but that was really the only choice, and it wouldn’t have been very illustrative (not that this is, but anyway…) The exposure settings were 1/40 second at f5.6, ISO 400 – pretty much the limit of handholding a camera and getting a sharp pic. And even at that, you can see how dark it came out. Think being several dozen meters away from a streetlight at night: you can see where you’re walking, but you ain’t reading any fine print, you know?

The most interesting part? I caught the barest hint of the curious eclipse effect that Jim Kramer got a shot of, because the brightest portion of the sky is not where the freaking sun is, but down low closer to the horizon – picking up the faintest hint of scattered light from those areas outside of totality that were still seeing direct sunlight. It seems normal until you actually think about it.

You got this

Today is a holiday that I’m sure you’re all set to celebrate. No, not that one – I’m talking about Ignore An Utterly Pointless Holiday Day. That’s right – today (by the most remarkable of coincidences) is a day that you’re encouraged to completely blow off whatever insipid and senseless holiday you like. Not that I’m, you know, pointing fingers or making suggestions…

Goodbye January, goodbye snow

snow in crooks of branches
I really shouldn’t say things like that – it’s virtually guaranteeing another snowstorm will roll in for February.

But having said that, now there can be no snowstorm, since I’m so confident there will be! Hah! Fate, you stand no chance with a grandmaster such as I!

[I was remarking to someone the other day about how silly the phrase, “tempting fate” was. It’s fate! It’s gonna happen whether you tempt it or not – that’s the definition. We really can’t even handle our own language, so we’re totally screwed if we ever meet up with extra-terrestrials…]

Anyway, it’s time for the month end abstract. Our abstract this month is brought to you by the letter ‘Sonofabitch,’ and was naturally taken following the big-ass winter storm that we got. These twigs were only a few millimeters in diameter and still collected a half-kilo of snow in a nice pattern to set off their alternation, so there we go. In fact, it’s one of the scenic pics I took while waiting for the brown-headed nuthatch to return, so it has served a double purpose. Its mother would be so proud…

“No kill” is a myth that needs to fucking die already

Yeah, starting with the profanities right off the bat – that’s the way to scare off the little old ladies. But if you managed to make it all the way through the title without swooning, you’re invited to read on, because not enough people really understand this issue.

I’ll lead off by saying that I worked in animal shelters for years, and animal welfare programs even longer – some of them quite progressive. I was also responsible for doing a lot of research into methods and improvements, which included networking with some of the most knowledgeable and advanced people in the business. One of the shelters that I worked for was in the running (multiple times) for the Humane Society of the United State’s “Standards of Excellence” award – not a winner, I admit, but when you realize that there is generally at least one animal shelter for every county in the US, including those with much bigger budgets than ours, I think we were doing pretty damn good to be in that realm.

So I feel qualified enough to tell you: the idea of a “no kill” shelter is a complete myth – at least, in the manner that everyone imagines it to be. And it’s going to remain a myth, at the very least until attitudes go through a huge change in this country, but also as long as the goddamn phrase even exists. It actually works against the very idea, a self-defeating concept, and I don’t expect you to take my word for it – look it up yourself. I’m not the first to express these thoughts.

That would be Feralyn

Let me start by painting the picture. The shelter that I worked for the longest was, as far as anyone would be able to calculate easily, ‘average’ for North Carolina – servicing a medium-sized college city, but with plentiful rural areas. And we took in about 7,000 animals a year – that’s about 20 a day. Very few days could be considered ‘average’ of course – we might range from less than 8 animals on some winter days to over 50 in the height of the breeding seasons. Yes, a day. Mind you, these were of all types – everything from family pets surrendered because of a move (or much more likely, behavioral problems) to impounds from cruelty investigations. Mostly strays of course, some of which were obviously lost, owned animals, but more than enough were feral animals that had never had contact with people. I fostered several borderline cases, feral cats that came in young and stood a chance of being able to acclimate to humans and become pets. My little rule was, ‘about four months’ – if the cat was older than that, the chances of taming it down to become a pet were extremely slim. One of my cats, that I owned for sixteen years, was one such case – not at all sociable around strangers, and still capable of hissing at me neurotically if I entered the room too suddenly. She became mine when I knew that she couldn’t be returned to the shelter and be considered ‘adoptable.’

And that’s a very loaded word, ‘adoptable’ – it implies a demarcation that really doesn’t exist. There are levels of appeal for every animal, and it’s different for every human viewing them. But it’s safe to say that some animals simply would not, cannot, fall into that realm – too many were actually dangerous, and it would have been irresponsible to even try. Others were ill, often communicably so, or might have behavioral/mental issues. So we can start considering the idea that some animals just aren’t adoptable, and retaining them would take space from animals that were. Remember, 20 animals a day on average – that means that, barring those unadoptable animals, that’s how many have to be placed in homes a day to avoid euthanizing animals. For just one county. That’s a pretty busy program.

And I will sideline here to say, ‘euthanize’ is the word of choice (and frankly, respect) among sheltering personnel. Call it semantics if you like, but in a lot of cases, the subtle meanings of the words we use do have an effect, which is why the very phrase “no kill” even exists (more on this is a bit.) When we euthanized animals, and yes, it was a lot, it was done with an overdose of anesthetic injected intravenously, with personal attention and care, for every case where it could be safely done. Feral cats, for instance, had to be restrained pretty thoroughly to avoid danger to the handlers – and still, it was never done cruelly or even thoughtlessly. Nobody in there wanted to do it – we never would have hired anyone that did – but it was a duty and necessity of work in a shelter. The people that were there, that work in any shelter, are the ones who care about the animals and want to make a difference. And often enough, that means doing the tough parts as well.

So now let’s talk about kenneling, especially long term. First of all, with that number of animals coming in, how many cage spaces, do you think, it would require to house all ‘adoptable’ animals until they’re placed? No, wait – let’s correct a small problem in dealing with numbers, because the kennels didn’t magically empty out on January 1 to start counting again. Throw in a standard wait period for every stray animal – in our case five working days – to allow an owner time to show up, regardless of the appearance, health, sociability, or what-have-you of the animal, so even determining ‘adoptable’ by any standards that you like has to come after that period. Now, here’s a simple metric: it doesn’t matter how many cage spaces you add, because all it does is extend the period of time, from the shelter’s opening, that the kennels become full. Once full, you are, yet again, dealing with no euthanasia only by having the same number of animals go out the door as come in. That’s the only number that matters.

Which is, partially, where the claim of “no kill” shelters comes in. None of them, at all, take in every animal required for a given county – they decide which animals they take in, and can refuse anything they deem unadoptable, and may even have a waiting list for those that are still considered adoptable. As part of my job when a new shelter was going to be built, I did extensive research into such shelters to see how they did it – and found that they didn’t. Every one of them existed alongside another “kill” shelter, that in many cases took the overflow directly from the “no kill” shelters when they couldn’t place the animals. So, yeah, the meaning of “no kill” in such cases simply means, “not by our hands,” and not, “the animal is still alive.” Sound like marketing bullshit to you? Yeah, it does to me too.

My study took place in 2006, I believe, when there were two “no kill” shelters that were triumphantly championing their own cause – one was San Francisco, a very distinct city area with very limited opportunities for feral animals and ‘barnyard’ breeding, and it existed right across the street from the county “kill” shelter! The other was Ithaca, which shipped its overflow animals better than 500 kilometers out to Long Island each fucking week to manage their numbers. Hey, I’ll admit that maybe, in the interim, some county has found a way to make it work, and perhaps there really is a “no kill” shelter out there that actually handles all of the animals that a county produces without unnecessary euthanasia – but even then it’s going to be bullshit, because not every animal is adoptable. Period. And of course, when you include that keyword, then you’re free to define ‘adoptable’ as you like, right? I’m not being disingenuous; this happens all the time, including at another shelter that I worked for.

But okay, let’s get back to kennels. Even ignoring the whole idea of the sheer numbers, let’s talk about long-term care. We all know that the ideal situation is a loving home, which means plenty of space and exercise and good food and medical care. Super. That’s not what any kind of kennel can provide – even the expensive boarding kennels, charging a premium rate while the owner goes on vacation, cannot meet these criteria easily – it sure as hell isn’t happening on any county budget or any nonprofit structure. The overwhelming majority of shelters, regardless of claims, house their animals in relatively small spaces, with very limited outside access (forget about gamboling on the lawn,) limited social interaction with other animals or people, and rudimentary food and medical attention. Think ‘jail,’ only with less yard time and interaction – ‘solitary confinement’ is a bit closer to the mark. And it doesn’t matter what intentions are, or how dedicated the staff is, because there are a lot of animals to take care of. And that staff wants to pay their own bills (the selfish fucks) so add that into your budget. Yeah, volunteers, I know – I’ve worked with volunteer programs for years, so let me give you the real numbers. About ten percent of volunteers are worth the time – the vast majority just want to “cuddle” or do “fun” things, so good luck finding dependable people coming in to clean up shit for free. Meanwhile, they all have to be trained to do things right, and who’s going to do this? Believe me, we did a lot with volunteers, but they require a ridiculous amount of effort and the turnover is much higher than fast food workers.

Now let’s talk about disease. Hospitals (human ones) are known for being on their game, and the bare facts are that a lot of communicable diseases actually get spread through hospitals – despite fierce disinfection routines, that’s simply the place people go when they’re sick. Shelters are even worse – at least in hospitals, the majority of patients shit into a toilet, or are isolated from others when they have stuff that can be spread through the air. In shelters and kennels, it becomes ridiculously easy, no matter how fierce your disinfection routine is (and even if every one of your volunteers is doing things exactly as told,) to have illnesses spread throughout, at least a room or wing, but sometimes throughout the entire shelter. So, medical treatment. Yeah, imagine the veterinary costs of that. One of the nastiest canine diseases, parvovirus, is incredibly hardy, able to be tracked between kennels with a speck of feces on a boot, and when infection takes hold, requires very specific veterinary care to prevent the animal from dying of diarrhea and thus dehydration – we’re talking constant intravenous fluids. We saw parvo every year, usually multiple times a year, because it’s very common out in the wild and not every dog (a ha ha ha ha ha ha!) is vaccinated against it. So how, exactly, is the “no kill” shelter handling such cases? Usually, by a) taking only vaccinated, owned animals, and b) having that little criteria of ‘adoptable’ in there, so they can euthanize the parvo victims without “killing” them. Read the fine print.

Even ignoring all of that, there’s the simple thing that long-term kenneling isn’t healthy for animals – there have been more than a few studies on this as well, not to mention that I can tell you firsthand because I’ve seen more than a few. “Cage crazy” was a term we used for when animals weren’t coping well with extended exposure to such limited environments, and it varies for every animal, just like it does for every human. Generally, a month was considered too long, and while this might be extended for some animals with better, more enriched environments than we could provide, extending it out to several months or years almost certainly isn’t going to work. Behavioral and developmental problems are virtually guaranteed, and in a lot of cases, this won’t reverse. Think about it: if a dog spends six months in a typical kennel space, with only occasional human contact, how house-trained do you think they are? And once this lack of training is established, how easy is it to eradicate and get the dog into asking to go out? I’ll answer this one for you (because I have more than a little contact with dog training, and trainers, as well): Not very easy at all. It may never happen. So, what’s going to happen to that dog, once the new owners decide that they’re tired of carpet-cleaning bills? Heh, not the “no kill” shelter – now it’s a problem animal with very low chance of adoption, and they can’t afford the hit to their reputation… even if they actually caused it in the first place.

We’ll delve into the realm of suffering now, and what exactly counts as cruelty. Deprivation, inadequate medical attention, inadequate exercise, and so on – they don’t have specific lines that can be crossed, and again, it may vary from animal to animal. Too often, however, this isn’t the line that’s being considered; it’s whether the animal is “alive” or not. That’s a pretty shitass criteria, and I’m not alone in that sentiment. Dead animals don’t suffer or feel pain or neurosis – that’s can only take place in living animals, and it’s the reasoning behind euthanasia in the first place, most especially when we consider a family pet that’s in failing health. “Quality of life” is a prime consideration, and it should remain a prime consideration at all times – shelters, no matter what they claim, are not exempt. I’ve also worked as an animal cruelty investigator (this was a checkered few years of my life, I admit,) and I got to see firsthand the effects of ‘hoarding’ behavior; people with the best of intentions, that truly loved animals, but their criteria was, “avoiding death” and not, “avoiding suffering.” You would be horrified, and it happens more often than you might think. I did the photographs and the impound procedures on a case where 66 large dogs, mostly greyhounds, were kept in one three-bedroom house. The smell of ammonia from urine made me reel as soon as the door was opened, and I endeavored not to touch anything in the house because feces was every-fucking-where – I am not exaggerating. The dogs were in varying states of ill health, because who can pay vet bills of that nature? And mind you, this was an approved foster home – just one that the rescue group never checked up on. But, it certainly qualified as a “no kill” environment. Sometimes (all of the fucking time) you have to be less superficial about your standards…

That would be Apple – and you can kind of make out the condition of her teeth. Despite that, she had quite a few happy years with us

[One of those dogs became The Girlfriend’s pet for years, by the way. Despite the fact that they all came in at once into a “kill” shelter, only a couple of them were euthanized due to extremely poor health, and most were adopted.]

Now we get to the actual harm that the “no kill” ideology does, and like I said, exactly counter to what is actually effective. Believe me, the vast majority of people think “no kill” shelters are the way to go, actively denigrating those shelters that do not adhere to such a policy, despite the fact that it’s completely impossible. The overall beliefs seem to be that, if shelters were done right, all of them could be “no kill” – those that don’t “just want to kill animals” (that’s in quotes because I’ve heard this directly more than once,) or are trying to save money, or don’t care about the animals, or various other demonizations that make the operators subhuman. We’re a species that thinks in terms of opposites, so when there are “no kill” shelters, then all the others must be “killers” of course – just like you have gluten-free yogurt, so any that doesn’t say this must have gluten in it (gluten is not only a non-issue unless you have a very specific and rare disorder, it’s found in wheat and so isn’t in yogurt anyway, but it’s exactly that kind of stupidity that prevails in marketing, and “no kill” is a marketing term and nothing else; even the word “kill” is chosen for its impact.) Not to mention, animals are remarkably polarizing, and people get all frothy really quickly – and not very rational. But here’s part one: as long as people believe that things are under control, that such “no kill” shelters exist to make everything hunky-dory, that their own animal is assured a wonderful life when they give it up (including, and this is a big thing, unwanted litters,) then the problem doesn’t really exist.

That’s part two: the problem is, very simply, too many animals to find homes for. I started off quoting those numbers for a reason, because they’re overwhelming, all across our country and in most others besides. Unwanted litters, pets that “aren’t quite what I wanted,” situations where it’s easier to get rid of a pet, animals that aren’t interesting or fun or cute anymore, and so on – they all add up, hugely. And the only way that it’s going to get better is to reduce these numbers. That means spaying or neutering all pets. That means no designer pets or breeding programs (cross-bred animals have way fewer health problems than pure-bred anyway, and what the fuck do you think “pure-bred” even means, anyway? Do you think there’s some kind of genetic superiority among animals, and it reflects on you to own one?) That means no impulse buys or superficial considerations over getting a pet – including how cute it was in a goddamn movie. That means controlling the animal populations on farms and rural areas. That means an animal is for life, a companion that stays with you through thick and thin – friends aren’t ‘disposable,’ especially not when you never did the research to see just what ownership entailed for that breed. And it’s not until everyone is on board with this idea that it’s going to change.

This flies in the face of human desires. There’s no simple solution, no one direction to point fingers, no class of person or particular agency (“kill shelters”) to demonize, no one place to make donations to ‘fix’ the problem; in short, no way to feel superior. We just don’t like it when we can’t say, “All you have to do is this,” and then feel like we’ve accomplished something. The problems are cultural, and systemic.

And none of this is helped by the kind of knee-jerk emotional responses that dominate our attitudes to animal welfare. Animals – the cute, cuddly ones anyway – are our child substitutes, and can trigger our base instincts in countless ways, most of which we try to pretend are ‘rational;‘ this underlies so many things like veganism and anti-fur campaigns and insistence on free-range whatevers and on and on and on. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong in particular with any of these, but use them as examples of how humans can get ridiculously and blindly emotional over the issues, more so than any given situation warrants. It’s way back in our hind-brains, and it has the ability to skew everything we do or believe. And of course, there’s no shortage of organizations that happily prey upon this trait, asking for money while having no actual solution that could possibly work.

Which of course means that the organizations, the advocacy groups, and the outright attitudes that really are aimed towards fixing all of this don’t get the attention; worse, they’re often considered the enemy, and are labeled with attributes that simply don’t belong. You might notice that I’m not providing you with places that are effective to give your money to; I want you to figure this out on your own. And money certainly helps, but the more effective solution is attitude and advocacy; that means us, our efforts, our attitudes, our behavior. We’ve got an entire culture to change, and it doesn’t happen with finger-pointing.

*     *     *     *     *

Some posts regarding, or inspired by, my sheltering days:

Flashback

Flashback, part two

Odd memories, part two

Odd memories, part three

Odd memories, part 11

More than a few of the Amateur Naturalist posts

Doctor Domoore

And, for a bit more animal-related philosophy, Animal ethics