Author: Cornish, Rick

Don't mess with zebras
Saturday morning is my favorite day of the week to write the Welcome column. Even though I'm partly retired, weekends are still officially kick-back days for me: I always sleep a little later than usual; I don't set my sites too high accomplishment-wise; and I assume, through transference I admit, that everyone feels the same way so I can be a little late in posting the Welcome and I can be a little more, ah, creative (read off message) in what I write.

So this morning I did snooze a little longer than usual but even after I was mostly awake I lay in bed determined to come up with a solidly bluegrass-related topic for the morning’s Welcome. After all, when you visit a bluegrass web site, and this is surely one, you have the right to expect solidly bluegrass content. So I lay there, pinned down by three slumbering dogs and two cat-napping cats, and tossed around some ideas. Tossed some more, dozed, tossed, dozed. And well, you probably won't be surprised to learn that when I finally jumped out of bed I'd decided on another animal Welcome. (But I promise, no anecdotes about my dog Ed this morning.)

Not that I really need an excuse (I don't see anybody else sitting sleepy-eyed in front of their computer attempting to wax poetic at 7:00 a.m.), but I'll explain why animals anyway. It's like this: my dad, who was not what you'd call a philosophical expositor, once told me that he believed the world would be a better place if there were half as many people and twice as many dogs. I was pretty young when he shared this radical view, and I realize now that the notion wriggled its way into many, many different regions of my boy brain. Let me put it in algebraic terms:

minus 50% people + plus %100 dogs = better world

Okay, I'll concede that I wouldn’t know an algebraic equation if it fell out of the sky and hit me on the head. But the point is, I was a little kid, I looked up to my dad, and, given that he was not in the habit of letting fly nuggets of wisdom, let alone absolute pronouncements on what would and would not make a better world, I took the dog thing to heart. Long story short, that's why I might seem to be a tad bit, ah, animal-oriented in these good mornings I write to you. Anyway, let’s get down to business. (Once again I'll use headers for those who like to skim and skip.)

Bunny letter opener

No, you read that correctly……bunny letter opener.
The instant I saw this on my computer screen a couple days ago I had to send the link to Lynn and my son Phil. In less than 90 seconds, each had written back. Lynn: Awwwwww. Phil: Yeah, dad, already saw this. Cute though. (Can't scoop the kid.) So please, view cuddly little letter opener. If nothing else good happens to you today, this clip will get you buy.

Montauk Monster

Now something the exact opposite of cute. The Montauk Monster was found washed up on the beach back on Long Island (coincidentally, the same beach on which my wife spent many a summers day when she was growing up). A shell-less turtle? I don’t think so. A 'devil dog'? No such thing. This, folks, is a story we’ve got to stay on top of. There’s surely a logical explanation. If you know something the authorities don’t, please write asap.

Silence of the Sheep

Now for a little venting. I'm a carnivore, through and through, and I've never tried to hide it. And I'm certainly not opposed to the domestication of animals to benefit human kind. I understand, for example, that chickens have had flying mostly bred out of them so they're more convenient to round up ( Nevada County Red being the notable exception). And cows were engineered by animal husbandpersons over eons to be docile and, yes, slow witted, for the same reason. I'm not bothered by these examples, mainly because I don’t see that clucks or cattle are bothered much by their deficits….self-image wise. But sheep, now that's a completely different story. What we've done to them is unconscionable.

Have you ever watched sheep run? Or I should say try to run? They are stiff legged, they utterly lack coordination, they waddle more than walk, they're just barely faster than turtles and, what’s most painful to watch, they're obviously self-conscious about it. In fact, I'd say downright ashamed. I know, I can hear someone out there sighing, 'now he thinks he can read the minds of his livestock’. No, you don't have to be a mind reader to know when an animal is embarrassed. I used to think that Joe and Ted, our two Boar goats, were awful runners, but Mary and Burt make those two look like Kenyan long distance stars. Our two sheep don’t run a lot, for obvious reasons, but when they do it just makes you want to avert your eyes. Sheep have no respect (ever wonder why they're nobody's mascot? The Detroit Sheep?) and I’m convinced that it is we, humans, those who, according to my dad, could make the world a better place if every other one of us would just go away, who robbed sheep of their dignity when we robbed them of their ability to run like any normal, self-respecting animal. (Why the header, 'Silence' of the sheep? Desperately wanted you to keep reading.)

The Dreaded Zebra

The flip side of the sad tale of sheep over the millennia is the story of the zebra. Ever wonder why zebras were not domesticated? Why they were never really even able to be trained, except in very rare instances? That’s okay, I didn't either, but thankfully Jerrod Diamond, famed biological anthropologist wondered and in his book, Germs, Guns and Steel , writes about them. Turns out that zebras are ALMOST the textbook example of a species just right for domesticating. Very much like a horse, they offer tremendous strength and endurance and utility and they're herd animals, which, according to Diamond, is a key quality in selectively breeding animals for domestic use. The anthropologist lays out in his book seventeen key characteristics that candidates for domestication must have and, in fact, he says that they must have ALL, not most, to be successfully bred for use by man.

So, how many does Jerrod say zebras have? Sixteen of the seventeen qualities. Our almost-barn yard animal friends lacked a single characteristic, and it was for the want of that single trait that Africans tried and failed for many, many centuries to bring them under bridle. What did they lack? The stripers are not friendly creatures. In fact, they're the opposite of friendly. Zebras are downright mean. They bite, and when they chomp down, say on a man’s arm, they do not unchomp. Period! (You can shoot and kill ‘em, even cut their head off, and it still takes a wench to unclamp their jaws.)

Of course when the Europeans claimed much of Africa for their own two centuries ago, the first thing they did was set about domesticating zebras. It was a no-brainer, really: they were strong, smart and plentiful. That the indigenous peoples hadn’t been up to the challenge was nothing more than proof of their intellectual inferiority and, believe it or not, early anthropologists supported this theory. And so the effort began throughout South Africa, modern day Zimbabwe, etc., and it only took the German and British ranchers a mere fifty years to figure out that you cannot domesticate a zebra because he does not want to be domesticated. Unlike sheep who seem not to care.

So, you ask, what's the point of all this? Simple really. I've finished writing my Saturday Welcome and am now out blowing my deck while you're still reading. I've got a head start on you.

Have a terrific weekend. Be sure to listen to and/or play some bluegrass music and be certain to come back tomorrow for a welcome-and-how-do-you-do from our fire-fighting friend Gene Bach.
Posted:  8/2/2008

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