Tuesday, May 25, 2010

spares no one

Apropos my recent posts here and on Tumblr on the histories of fish and humans in the Atlantic world, today I came across a grim report from the Louisiana Coast on the ecological, economic, social disaster looming over already fragile African American oystering and shrimping communities:
Ironically, one approach to keeping the oil away could itself finish off the black fishing community here.

State officials have opened Mississippi River diversions, such as the White’s Ditch Siphon, hoping that a strong outward flow of water will keep the oil out of the bayou and marsh where it could persist for decades, and ruin the already brittle wetlands . But emptying that much fresh water into the oyster beds throws off the delicate salinity balance the bivalves need to survive.

When the White’s Ditch Siphon was installed in 1963, it destroyed most of the oyster beds owned by African Americans, said Byron Encalade, president of the Louisiana Oysterman Association. Encalade says he had close to 1,500 acres of oyster beds before the White Ditch intrusion and now has about 200 acres. At peak, blacks owned almost 10,000 acres collectively, but now maybe 1,500, he said.
As this sadly beautiful photo-essay from ColorLines puts it: the oil spill spares no one.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

the sea is history

I have a new Tumblr picture post on the monstrous, predatory fish in British artist J. M. W. Turner's famous 1840 painting The Slave Ship.  The task seems daunting and overwhelming, but I wonder if it would make sense to think the histories of Atlantic slavery and Atlantic sea life alongside each other?  The waves of transpecies disasters threatening the Gulf of Mexico, from Katrina to the BP oil spill, would seem to demand it.

Image From Greenpeace Flickr stream

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

free range

I've been scavenging lately through Indian biologist Sunil Kumar (S. K.) Pal's decade-plus research on free-ranging dogs in Katwa, West Bengal (you'll need institutional subscription to access most of these titles, sorry...) The statistics in these articles frankly hurt my poor little humanist brain a bit - nevertheless I'm learning lots about filiative and affiliative behavior among these hard-scrabble creatures. Maybe I'm delusional, but behind the ='s and %'s I think there's a certain stark poetry in narrative passages like this:
Of all pups (N = 35), only 13 survived to the age of 3 months showing 63% pup mortality. Of all pup deaths (N = 22) recorded in the study, 2 (9%) were due to adverse weather, 5 (23%) from various diseases, 4 (18%) from collisions with automobiles, 2 (9%) from predation by adult dogs, 3 (14%) from malnutrition (interviews with area residents), and 6 (27%) deaths were caused due to removal of pups as pets by the children particularly of the lower-class section.
- "Parental care in free-ranging dogs, Canis familiaris,"
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
90 (2005)
Charles Darwin thought that domesticated species in non-Western, non-industrialized societies were more likely to have to fend for themselves, find their own food in the lean seasons, etc. As such, they were subject to greater pressures of natural selection than their European counterparts, who were shaped primarily by human-orchestrated artificial selection, by "man's wants and fancies." I'm struck by how "natural" and "artificial" dangers commingle in Pal's account of pup death - how dog life is imperiled by human technology (automobiles) and human desire (pet-seeking children) alike.

* image from Are you a Pariah Dog fan?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

quality of mercy

* originally titled "dead dogs" - revised March 20, 2011

Things I've been reading recently, about the precarity of dogs in human society, especially those branded as "vicious," "unadoptable," or plainly, "pit bull":

* "Dead Dogs: Breed bans, euthanasia, preemptive justice" by Colin (aka Joan) Dayan: in grad school I read some of Dayan's work on race, slavery, and prisons. I also saw her give an amazing talk on "cruel and unusual punishment": still the only time I've heard an academic speaker whisper to mark points of emphasis, in almost mesmeric decrescendos that pull the audience forward, body and all. Then I discovered that she is a dog person via an elegant, unflinching essay simply titled "The Dogs." Part memoir, part philosophy, the essay tracks the liminality of dogs in Judeo-Christian thought through a terrible personal memory: under disorienting circumstances, Dayan had agreed to have her 11-year-old dog Dogie put down for a sudden, mysterious illness, a "good death" she later came to doubt. She's one of a small handful of critics/writers I know who has grappled with the fact of dehumanization under racism - of people being treated "like dogs," "like animals" as a matter of state policy and coordinated race and species violence - while treating animals as well as humans as social beings.  [Updated May 2: forgot to note that the "Dead Dogs" article mentions the case of Oreo, the pit bull who survived being thrown from a six-story building only to be diagnosed with terminal aggression by the ASPCA and put to death.]

* Pit Bull Patriarchy: a tough and beautiful blog which explores the life-and-death consequences of breed phobias, co-authored by spotted dog farm (also a photographer - Flickr stream here) and redvelvetfemme. Mulling over SDF's recent post on her "dog bite embroidery" project, it strikes me that maybe pit bull fear is, at bottom, a fear of non-human sociality, of a sociality acted out with bodies that are irreconcilably alien to our own, despite our attempts to make them conform to human desires:
A bite is a most basic form of communication. I mean, dogs don't have hands, or English. What are they trying to say? I've seen dogs bite out of love. Extreme love, and the desire to be close, and to play. My dog bite embroidery is a series of linens that have been "altered" by Kaya, the artist, and then embroidered with phrases that I think she might be feeling while she's shredding my linens. The words are a reminder that dogs want family, a lifelong commitment; they are not bodies to be dumped when mistakes have been made, fear sets in and anger shows its teeth.