Friday, November 26, 2010

Cattle Language

I guess languages have always fascinated me. Working with cattle, and being a reasonably observant person, I noticed cattle communicating with each other. We want to think of them as stupid beasts. We eat them. We break up their families, keep them in feedlots knee deep in manure for months, and kill them in front of their friends. We want to think they don’t know what’s happening. Cattle have been domesticated for about 10,000 years. If we don’t understand them, it is because we don’t want to.

I knew cattle made noises and had body language. I learned to tell if they were happy, distressed, angry, and the other things that affected my working them. My epiphany came one day when we had driven a team of my oxen to a neighbor’s with a load of stone. As we were working, the oxen were grazing next to the pasture fence. The neighbor’s steers came up and greeted my oxen. They all arched their backs, raising their heads high as they greeted. My oxen were an easy six feet at the shoulder and weighed near 2,500 pounds each. These little steers weighed under a thousand each. I knew the basic greeting sniffs so this was something different. I also knew that my oxen would sometimes make similar gestures toward me. Watching the rest of the body language, I realized I was seeing a submission signal. This was the foot in the door.

In the years that followed, I stayed alert to examples of communication between the animals and on occasion with me. I noticed begging sounds. We figured out there were “words” reserved for good friends and others for strangers. We found them trying to tell us things. And, we learned to use their language.

Because they found we were paying attention, they have become more comfortable telling us what they want. This has been a big help in working them. Just to give one example, other teamsters are always surprised when we are working and I will stop the team, turn them loose to get a drink and when they are done, they will come right back to their places on the load. What happens is that George (usually) will give the begging moan (a low moo that I think could be translated as “please”) and suck in his third stomach. He is thirsty. I believe him. He is the spokesman. As soon as I can, I turn them loose for a drink. Because they know they will be listened to, they get their drink and come back.

What makes cattle hard to understand is that they use contractions extensively.  A full-blown submission signal is reserved for strangers. In the herd, among friends, a simple bob of the head suffices. When I realized this, a vast amount of communications that I had been missing was suddenly revealed. We now know thirty-two words and postures that we can identify and use. I am not sure how much of their language this is, I suspect we are nearing the end of the dictionary.

When you watch cattle, in life, or a video of some sort, you can see them trying to communicate, sometimes poignantly. I just saw a clip of a rodeo. Just before the turnout men tightened the flank strap, the bull begged them not to do it. He knew what was coming. He had been ridden before. That strap hurts and he didn’t want it. And he said so. Same film, different clip, a bull in a ring in Spain fell down as the picadors were teasing him. He lay there giving the submission signal repeatedly. When you know what they are, you can’t miss them.

In a future posting, I will list the “words” we have found. I would really like feedback.  I am not that sure that I have it all right. The only way we are going to get this straight and on paper is with help.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Phases of the Four Great Awakenings

Fogel, The Phases of the Four Great Awakenings

Do you agree?

The Farm

It might be wise to explain our farm. This is, and always will be an experiment. We have 63 acres (about 25 hectares) stretched along Delk Branch, a tiny creek that dries up in the summer droughts that we have here in Kentucky. We have a small house tucked in a clearing, a barn and a number of outbuildings. We have the farm because we work horses and oxen and need a place to keep them. A large chunk of our income is from the team of four oxen. They do our farm work here and I hire them out for various purposes, logs, events, wagon rides, reenactments, etc. I try to keep the boys working.

We also have a fine pair of grey horses that will do everything, ride drive and pack. They get less use than the oxen, but they are well trained and give us another transportation option. We also take in animals for training. We have three horses here now learning to drive and ride.

I love large animals. They treat me well and we get a lot of work out of them. I do have an ax to grind. I believe animals are sentient beings. Respecting them, being considerate of their welfare and feelings gives me a better working animal. We gain their willing cooperation. I want people to see what can be done with draft animals (oxen are my real passion) humanely.

Maria’s two passions are textiles and green living. She processes fibers (wool and flax), spins and weaves. She just had a recreated textile, an Assumption sash bought by the Dousman Museum in Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin.

We are trying to convert to subsistence farming, raising most of what we need here. We are careful with energy use, electricity and gasoline (diesel). We minimize trips into town and have engineered the house to be as efficient as possible. I read an article last summer about passive solar. We were already doing everything on their list. Coming changes are a solar oven and if possible a magnetic generator.

The other thing that goes on here is writing. I have just finished a two-part article and am working on the illustrations that will probably end up in the Journal of the Early Americas. There should be a piece on tracking in the coming issue (Jan-Feb, 2011) of Muzzleloader. My little book, Some Thoughts on Scouts and Spies is being published by Greenleaf Press.  My goal is to have twelve articles and short stories in print next year.

We do not make much money, but we are free to live in the style we want.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

National Debt

There are times I could just scream. People enraged about taxes and the national debt (in the same breath) are the same ones creating the problem. Yes, George W. Bush got us into two expensive, poorly thought out wars. Then, in the closing act of his comedy, we got TARP (signed into law Oct. 3, 2008 by President Bush). President Obama was inaugurated to the tune of a traumatized banking system, a stock market disaster and industrial collapse. The stimulus package, health care bill and assorted other economic corks have added to the problems, but none of these address the root of our dilemma. We are spoiled children.
We got in this mess by wanting everything, now. We went in debt. We removed laws that kept the financial institutions from making bad loans on real estate. We have a love affair with credit cards. And, we buy Chinese goods at Wal-Mart because they are cheap and we want it, regardless of the consequences.

Look at the reality. Our personal debts are out of control, and this reflects in the national economy. That compounds the problems of the national debt. Take a single issue: Trade imbalance. We have more money going out of this country than we have coming in. If this was your house, you would know that you were headed for financial disaster. However, conservative economists tell us this is healthy. They, and the politicians and pundits that espouse their philosophy tell us, that being in debt is good for the economy. After all, Bush said after 9-11 that we should go out and spend for the good of the country. That’s what we all need when we are depressed, a good trip to the mall.

The fact is, that a bad balance of trade means less jobs. If you are out of work and buying at Wal-Mart you have done it to yourself. That means fewer tax payers. It means more people on unemployment or another way of saying it is, a bigger drain on the working tax payers. Businesses, such as the big box stores, are making bigger profits. Under Eisenhower these businesses paid as much as 91% taxes. Today they pay 30% and cry like a rat eating onions about it. Reagan was blind about the trickle down economy. Profits never trickle down, debt does. Worse, that national trade deficit carries over into national debt. The debt is in dollar instruments. Countries like China use these to buy the U. S. debt in the form of bonds. As our money weakens, they defend themselves by playing with the exchange rate. Our debt grows.

Big business wants it to stay this way. The guiding philosophy of our financial and industrial institutions is short term profits at the expense of long term growth. One is fast, one is slow, that is American. They back the Tea Party movement to the hilt (with lots of money, both overt and covert). This is not conservative nor liberal, this is stupidity. Big money buys our elections. Big money does not care about our long term survival, they are in it for short term profits. They know they will survive. And the masses follow blindly. Buy Wal-Mart, vote Tea Party, it is good for China.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Reaction to the 2010 Election

We are, sadly, an extremely dysfunctional people. I am a believer in both capitalism and democracy. I am passionate in my belief in and devotion to freedom. And, as a Christian, I dislike the discrimination against Christianity and the apparent promotion and protection of almost all other beliefs in the name of political correctness. But, without responsibility, all of these are destructive.
It was our belief in unregulated capitalism that brought on our present economic crisis. Conservatism that simply protects the plutocrats that created this disaster will not save us. Look at the profits made by our good capitalists from the bail-outs, TARP and stimuli of the past two years. Possibly more destructive, our lack of regulation with accompanying lack of responsibility has exported our manufacturing and agricultural assets, essentially ensuring the destruction of this country. A welfare state is every bit as destructive. Years ago, I was the executive director of a fairly large museum. There was a lady there in a community service program who was a wonderful worker. A position came open and her supervisor came to me and asked me to hire her for the position. We found that this would cost her health care and benefits that our pay and benefits could not replace. There is something wrong with a system that makes it more economically feasible to be unemployed than productive.
Our problem is that this conservative spasm is not going to help us any more than the flop into liberalism did. If we do not redesign ourselves, we are doomed to become the next third world country. I am still amazed at the idiocy of a Greenspan advocating spending not saving, parroted by George W. Bush in telling us to go out and spend for the good of the country. I would like to see economic freedom, but the figures on the growing disparity of our distribution of wealth leads me to believe that we are out of control.
I agree that the Tea Party has a right to be angry. I am angry. We have outsourced our own jobs. This was not Democrats, this was us: Buy Wal-Mart it keeps the Chinese employed. NAFTA, another big problem, was begun under George Bush (Sr.) and ratified under Clinton. We are facing repeated energy crises, our money is inflating at a disastrous rate, and we have a terrifying national debt. Hell yes, there is reason to be angry, but I am not sure that there is any rationale to the target of the Tea Party anger. The people I know who are the most rabid Tea Partiers have been consistent conspiracy theorists and negative about whoever has been in power. Willing to ignore facts to cling to vicious lies. How will that help?
Furthermore, it is nonsensical, or disingenuous, to say that the Tea Party is not racist. Anyone who saw even parts of the Nashville Tea Party convention heard racist statements repeatedly draw applause. There was no opposing voice. And, when a Tea Partier proclaims that they are going to win America back for Americans, who do they think is in government that is not American? This is lightly veiled racism. I live in Kentucky, it is not lightly veiled here.
We need this country back together. We have real problems facing us, and the political trend of the twenty-first century is simply speeding our descent. We have an economic crisis, but there are also crises of energy, overpopulation, water, and climate that we cannot address without all our mental resources. We need every American working together. Instead, we are falling apart. History is going to look at us as ignoramuses; or worse.