Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Tuesday Worldfarts

Jeff's blog is a Koreablog, and I'd normally cite it for the Monday Koreafarts, but today he gets special mention for his post on some of nature's most beautiful creatures: spiders. In particular, Jeff's post shows huge camel spiders, which live out in the desert. Jeff says he's an arachnophobe, but as a former owner of four tarantulas, I think these fuckers are gorgeous. I'm not sure whether camel spiders are actual spiders, though. Here's a brief article on them. Here's another, which reads as if it were written by an 8th-grader, but it seems to support the idea that these aren't actual spiders. Here's a video (Quicktime) of a camel spider at work. The video's narration will remind people in my age group of countless nature films we had to view in elementary, junior high, and high school. Here's an article on camel spiders that appears to have been written by an adult.

Hey, Jeff! I got somethin' for ya'!!

It Came from Kevin's Ass!

My first-ever hairy beast was an orange-kneed tarantula. I knew all about these guys when I was in elementary school. My spider looked a lot like what you see in the above picture; I used to let it crawl all over my head and arms and shoulders-- which is, of course, how the poor thing ended up dying, when it fell off my hand one day. The abdomen split open like a bag of jelly; the spider crawled miserably for about a foot, then simply curled its legs and died. I was in shock.

My next tarantula was all black-- the bad-tempered variety. This one was male and had its "mating hooks," tiny appendages under its front legs that're used for grappling with females. Mating hooks indicate maturity, and sure enough, this spider died of old age after about a month with us. But while it was alive, it gave our family a three-day nightmare when it escaped from its terrarium one day. Tarantulas are escape artists, and this one figured out that the terrarium top wasn't weighed down. It shimmied up the terrarium's corner, pressed against the top until it was able to slip out, then scuttled into our town house's dark recesses. Three days passed. Everyone expected the spider to be ensconced in someone's underwear, or under a blanket seeking warmth and shelter. Neither happened. True to Hominid form, I was on the toilet taking a shit when I shut the bathroom door and there it was, hiding behind the door, staring at me with its eight tiny eyes (on a true tarantula, those eyes are in a tight cluster on top of the spider's cephalothorax, not in front as is true for a wolf spider).

Normally, these spiders can live for decades, some even as long as thirty-five years (about the age of a horse, which makes me question whether being "healthy as a horse" is truly a compliment). Tarantulas are also incredibly fast when hungry, but otherwise lead a fairly uneventful, languid existence. The highlight of owning a tarantula, however, is the molting process. The tarantula will flip onto its back and slowly, ever so slowly, slip out of its old exoskeleton. The weirdest time is the first couple hours after molting: the old, dead skin looks exactly like a second spider in the terrarium, and the "new" spider, whose exoskeleton hasn't hardened yet, is as pale white as something bloodless and undead. It's horrifying, which of course makes the tarantula a cool pet for a young boy. Generally speaking, most varieties of tarantula are harmless; their bite hurts worse than a beesting, but isn't much more potent than that. Some deadly tarantulas exist, but I don't know who would keep them as pets. Tarantulas like my ill-fated orange-kneed buddy were harmless to humans. I've never been bitten, not even by that second, foul-tempered spider (it did try to bite me once, though; it didn't want to be picked up).

Tarantulas provide one other form of entertainment: you get to pretend you're watching some alien gladiatorial contest when they eat. Our family would occasionally buy crickets from the pet store to feed the spiders, but my childhood friend Sam and I would go hunting around for grasshoppers in the summertime, and these guys, much larger and stronger than crickets, sometimes looked like they might be a match for the tarantula. But no: the tarantula would win every time, and the "fight," such as it was, would happen in a flash, a bit like the way Obi-wan Kenobi handles himself in a bar (cf. "Star Wars" and "Attack of the Clones" for Kenobi-in-bars action). A properly motivated tarantula can cover a short distance with a lightning pounce. Its fangs, almost a half-inch long, not only inject venom into the prey but also crush it. Ever seen a struggling grasshopper that looks like it's been snapped in half? I have, thanks to my lovely pets. Never forget that nature is red in tooth and claw.

Which brings me to Keith Burgess-Jackson's recent meditation on animals, meat-eating, and suffering. KBJ writes:

The meat you eat involved a great deal of pain, suffering, and deprivation. This is a fact, not an evaluation. (See here.) Most meat-eaters shield themselves (conveniently) from the suffering their actions cause. Find out how the meat that ends up in your grocery store got there. Ask yourself whether it’s right for you to support an industry that inflicts such suffering. Don’t say I’m imposing my values on you. I’m imposing your values on you. I’m trying to get you to examine your beliefs and behavior. I believe that if you do, you’ll see that you’re not living up to your moral principles. You would never think to inflict pain, suffering, and deprivation on a human being because of something as trivial as taste. Why is it permissible to inflict them on an animal?

People are born with sharp teeth and the ability to digest flesh. We evolved eating meat (among other things). I don't think we have conclusive proof that the vegetarian lifestyle is, on the whole, healthier (or significantly healthier) than a well-balanced, omnivorous lifestyle. Zen master Seung Sahn's argument against meat-eating takes the karmic route and dovetails somewhat with KBJ's contention that meat-eating contributes to the perpetuation of suffering in the world. My own trouble with all this is that I believe meat-eating is a perfectly natural, perfectly human thing to do. I think that KBJ might score more points were he to argue that the meat industry creates a great deal of unnecessary suffering for animals (and perhaps by extension for the people who work in the often-hazardous and even unsanitary conditions of the meat industry).

Here's a speculative question. As we begin to hone our biotech skills, it may become possible for people to clone not entire humans, but only specific body parts. In this way, we'd avoid the ethical questions that arise from debates about harvesting whole clones for their organs. The cloned organs of person X, unattached to any body and totally matching X's genome (i.e., 100% compatibility, minimal possibility of organ rejection), could be plugged into X at will (though I imagine there might be debates about cloning X's brain!) and with no complaint.

Suppose that technology gets applied to the meat industry. No more need to clone and raise and slaughter entire animals: instead, you merely clone the requisite organs, muscle groups, etc. Does this change the ethical picture for people who are against the carnivorous lifestyle? I'm not asking because I think this technology is upon us; for all I know, it's centuries away. I'm trying to figure out how the question of meat-eating relates to the question of suffering, and I guess this is a question not only for nonreligious people like KBJ, but for religiously vegetarian people as well.

In a different post, KBJ takes on the liberals and their apparent inability to argue their case(s). I'm not entirely in disagreement here, but let's face it: there are masses of inarticulate conservatives out there. KBJ's claims about the liberals he targets could apply equally well to the brachiating morons on the conservative side of the fence. I'm not asking KBJ to be fair about this; he's entitled to his bias. But I personally would prefer a fairer explicaton of the actual rhetorical environment, because I think such an explication would correspond more closely to reality. It's simply not true that all conservatives are rational and able to argue their case well; nor is it true, from what I can see, that conservatives have a monopoly on honesty (or any other virtue we can name).* I've been impressed by those liberals and conservatives who argue their cases well and passionately-- one reason why the liberal Kevin Drum remains on my blogroll while Atrios and Democratic Underground do not is that Drum is a reasonable, thoughtful fellow, not prone to what Cobb calls "hateration."

Speaking of Cobb, read his "It's Not About Rice."

Ryan tells us that the BSGSC (Buddhist Studies Graduate Student Conference) went off without a hitch. Scroll upward from that link; Ryan's got pics of lots of happy white folks (well... most of 'em are white) talking Buddhism. I'm envious. The envy is mitigated by the fact that Ryan blogrolled me. He didn't have to do that, but I appreciate it. Thanks.

BravoRomeoDelta offers the very long view on Iraq.

Check out Dan Darling's Winds of War brief at Winds of Change.

Justin Yoshida comes up with a pungent line as he kicks into celibate mode (his girlfriend's off to Thailand for a month): "The world is now officially my blast radius."

Hope you never meet da Toxic Pussy.

Dr. Lorianne Schaub writes a lovely Easter meditation here. It includes a joke in which a Catholic priest beats up a Buddhist monk, and morning wood is an issue. Aigo! She also notes that the Tao of New Hampshire includes... horse blankets. And shotguns.

Can the world handle a shotgun-totin' Zen Mama? Master Shin of Hanguk-sa in Germantown, MD also has a gun. "My gun brings life; it doesn't bring death," he once joked. Heh.

[*NB: Point of clarification: I know KBJ doesn't specifically state either of these claims, but I agree with Smallholder that KBJ's overall tendency is to point out things like liberal dishonesty without pointing out the conservative equivalent. This silence could be interpreted as support for the unstated claims. I think the content of KBJ's blog confirms this. He paints liberals with a very broad brush while at the same time advocating the philosopher's notion of "charity in interpretation." This doesn't seem consistent. I'd like to know which "hat" KBJ is wearing when he talks about charity in interpretation, and whether it's the same hat he's wearing when he whomps liberals.

Further clarification: I'm not implying that KBJ's critiques of liberals are totally without merit. They aren't. I think there's plenty of evidence to support his claims. Annika, for example, calls attention to a recent troll who possesses all the liberal demerits KBJ has been talking about. But my point remains: you don't have to rove (!) very far in the conservative blogosphere to find the same sorts of troglodytes as those in liberal camps.]


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