Friday, May 21, 2004


“Here in the paper a columnist is asking why people in the US are not incensed about the torture in Iraq. Why they aren’t demanding accountability and demanding that their leaders be replaced.” Raven slurps his coffee and pecks off the corner of a cinnamon roll. “What’s your theory?”

My theory is not a theory, Rave. It’s a description based on empirical observation. Unfortunately, the majority of folks in the US are addicted to violence—either directly or as spectators. They think the US should be kicking ass around the planet. That’s what they see their heroes in the Hollywood action movies doing.

“They think they’re Rambo?”

Rambo is sort of old hat. Now the violence has been passed through the production values of Hong Kong and the sieve of computer-generated special effects, so that watching an action movie is like watching a video game on the big screen. The old, horrified responses to violent images have been replaced by excitement. It’s violence as another form of pornography. And we know with addictive behavior that the addict doesn’t want to give it up.

“So you’re saying that a lot of folks are getting their fix looking at the torture pics?”

Sure I am. When the social context is violence, when the cross-eyed cretin in the Oval Office thumps his chest and grunts, “Let’s go kick some ass”, the rest of the addicts are given permission to indulge their addiction. That’s what the soldiers and paramilitaries in Iraq are doing. And the folks at home are kicking Arab ass vicariously, living out their violent and pornographic fantasies looking at the photos and videos of torture—let’s not forget that lots of folks in the US are racist and xenophobic in the extreme. It’s the American Way.

“And people have been conditioned to live through fantasies--in front of their t.v. sets, primarily.”

And beating off to pornographic magazines—some of which have very violent components.

“I have said it before, and I will say it again: your species deserves to be eliminated from the food chain.”

Raven has given up on the cinnamon roll, tosses it into the garbage can.

Thursday, May 20, 2004


Rave, bad news. I just got an e-mail from Rifle with an article about ravens from…the Economist.

“Why is THAT bad news? THIS stuff is bad news.” Raven is playing with spaghetti he didn’t eat last night and which is now hardened threads of paste on his plate.

Well, perhaps you should decide for yourself. Want me to read you the article?

“Why not? Meanwhile, I’ll be thinking about ways to commit suicide.”

Okay. It’s called “Quoth the Raven”—from the Poe poem.

“That’s where all I say is ‘Nevermore’, right?”

Umm. Ready? “Now, it seems, even the bird-brained have theories of mind.”

“Offensive! What is this bird-brained horseshit?”

Rave, I am just reading you the article. Okay? “HUMANS like to regard themselves as exceptional. Other animals do not
have complex, syntactical languages. Nor do most of them appear to
enjoy the same level of consciousness that people do. And many
philosophers believe humans are the only species which understands that
others have their own personal thoughts. That understanding is known in
the trade as having a "theory of mind", and it is considered the
gateway to such cherished human qualities as empathy and deception.

Biologists have learned to treat such assertions with caution. In
particular, they have found evidence of theories of mind in a range of
mammals, from gorillas to goats. But two recent studies suggest that
even mammalian studies may be looking at the question too narrowly.
Birds, it seems, can have theories of mind, too.”

“I’ll give those bird brains theories of mind!” Raven is getting hot under the collar—er, feathers.

In the PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY, Bernd Heinrich and Thomas
Bugnyar of the University of Vermont, in Burlington, describe a series
of experiments they have carried out on ravens. They wanted to see how
these birds, which are known to be (at least by avian standards) both
clever and sociable, would respond to human gaze.

Response to gaze is reckoned to be a good measure of the development of
theory of mind in human children. By about 18 months of age most
children are able to follow the gaze of another person, and infer
things about the gazer from it. Failure to develop this trick is an
early symptom of autism, a syndrome whose main underlying feature is an
inability to understand that other people have minds, too.

To test whether ravens could follow gaze, Dr Heinrich and Dr Bugnyar
used six six-month-old hand-reared ravens, and one four-year-old. The
birds were sat, one at a time, on a perch on one side of a room divided
by a barrier. An experimenter sat about a metre in front of the
barrier. The experimenter moved his head and eyes in a particular
direction and gazed for 30 seconds before looking away. Sometimes he
gazed up, sometimes to the part of the room where the bird sat, and
sometimes to the part of the room hidden behind the barrier. The
experiment was videotaped.

Dr Heinrich and Dr Bugnyar found that all the birds were able to follow
the gaze of the experimenters, even beyond the barrier. In the latter
case, the curious birds either jumped down from the perch and walked
around the barrier to have a look or leapt on top of it and peered
over. There was never anything there, but they were determined to see
for themselves.

A suggestive result, but not, perhaps, a conclusive one. However, the
second study, carried out by Dr Bugnyar when he was working at the
University of Austria, and published last month in ANIMAL COGNITION,
suggests that ravens may have mastered the art of deception too.

In this case, the observation was serendipitous. Dr Bugnyar was
conducting an experiment designed to see what ravens learn from each
other while foraging. While doing so he noticed strange interactions
between two males, Hugin, a subordinate bird, and Munin, a dominant

The task was to work out which colour-coded film containers held some
bits of cheese, then prise the containers open and eat the contents.
The subordinate male was far better at this task than the dominant.
However, he never managed to gulp down more than a few pieces of the
reward before the dominant raven, Munin, was hustling him on his way.
Clearly (and not unexpectedly) ravens are able to learn about food
sources from one another. They are also able to bully each other to
gain access to that food.

But then something unexpected happened. Hugin, the subordinate, tried a
new strategy. As soon as Munin bullied him, he headed over to a set of
empty containers, prised the lids off them enthusiastically, and
pretended to eat. Munin followed, whereupon Hugin returned to the
loaded containers and ate his fill.

At first Dr Bugnyar could not believe what he was seeing. He was
anxious about sharing his observation, for fear that no one would
believe him. But Hugin, he is convinced, was clearly misleading Munin.

As it happened, Munin was no dummy either. He soon grew wise to the
tactic, and would not be led astray. He even stooped to trying to find
the food rewards on his own! This made Hugin furious. "He got very
angry", says Dr Bugnyar, "and started throwing things around." Perhaps
ravens have something else in common with people--a hatred of being
found out.” There you have it.

“Hey, I never said we were perfect. But at least we aren’t ringers.”

Would you care to explain that?

“Avec plaisir, madame. For example, John Kerry is not a real candidate. He’s a ringer.”


Haven’t you noticed that he and Georgie Porgie continue to be Tweedledee and Tweedledumb? First we find out they’re cousins several times removed. Then we see that they have the same anti-program: invade Cuba, send more troops to Iraq, invade Venezuela, send more troops to Iraq, invade Syria. Ad nauseum. It’s obvious that they came up with this guy—this cardboard cutout—so that the voters would not have a real choice. He’s a ringer!”

That sounds way beyond Maquiavellian, guy.

“So? Those neocons were writing their How to Take over the World manual more than 12 years ago. They cooked the ballot boxes in Florida to get Georgie into the Oval Office. But it was a close shave. And the Supreme Court his daddy packed had to bail them out. They’re not going to let it happen again. Now they have two candidates. And the voters can go to hell.”

I see. So when are you going to talk to Ralph Nader about this theory?

It’s not a theory of mind. It’s plain common sense. The one party system is here. The end of elections as we know them.

So that’s it for free choice, Rave?

“Right. Nevermore.”

He got me again….

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


Raven is pecking at the cap of a pen.

Rave, you’re pecking pensively, I think.

“Idly is more like it. The Devil finds work for idle beaks, and all that. By the looks of things, there must be millions of idle folks out there.”

Oh no. Does that mean more scandals?

Raven scrolls through the news headlines in La Jornada.

“The usual suspects, that’s all. Invading Venezuela. And hundreds of thousands of venezolanos marching to protest US intervention and Plan Colombia.”

What else?

“More torture pics. Three Iraqi journalists who work for Reuters denouncing that they were picked up and tortured by US soldiers. Oops—there’s a June Bug here—just flew in the window.”

Is that a news item, guy?

“Don’t be silly. I am talking about a real bug. Don’t you see him there on the table?”

Well, yes I do. And it’s only May. Wonder what it means.

“They always start revving up in May. What do you mean what does it mean?”

Don’t you remember the Jung story, where the patient dreams about the scarab beetle and goes to her session with Jung and there’s a scratching at the window and it’s a scarab beetle wanting to get in?


Jung uses that scarab apparition to talk about synchronicity—that everything in a a given moment has the properties of that moment.

“In that case, we’re in deep doo-doo. Look at the moment we are living—chaos, torture, perversion all over the planet. Your species running amok and dragging the rest of us down with you. And a long list of etceteras. What would Jung make of that?”

Probably he would say that the unconscious—the unaccepted shadow exemplified by the dark deeds in Iraq and other places—has exploded into consciousness, and has taken over. He saw that happening before both World War I and World War II.

“And the June Bug? Where does it fit in?”

I suppose as a harbinger. of something. The scarab is also a symbol of rebirth in Egyptian cosmology.

“And in Mesopotamian cosmology?”

Probably it’s about the same, given the cultural overlap.

“So that means we’re on the way out, right? I mean, you have to die before you can be reborn.” Raven looks doubtful.

‘He not busy born is busy dying’—in the words of Bob Dylan.

“I don’t see a whole lot of emphasis on being born right now, do you?”

No, dying seems to have the upper hand.

“He should have been a cockroach.” Raven pokes at the June Bug with one talon.

How do you know it’s a he?

“We lower animals have not lost our ability to relate to other species.”

Okay, and why should he have been a cockroach?

“Those guys are not about being busy dying and being born again. They are about being busy surviving. Hunkering down and just getting through it. Which is what we probably should be doing.”

Oh, Rave, I don’t know. I think I’d rather go write my will. All things considered.

“All things considered, I don’t think you need to bother.”

Raven has to have the last word.