The most crucial thing to note about fascism is that it doesn’t need thinking. That’s why, be it in Germany or India, fascist thought failed to inspire or include any brilliant mind. The only brilliant thinkers during Hitler’s regime were the suffering Jews and anti-fascist Germans. Barring Martin Heidegger’s momentary mad folly, those whom Nazism could inspire were merely henchmen in thought and practice. In India, all that Savarkar and Golwalkar did was to define India as a nation as strictly as possible, borrowing Western intellectual sources, so that Muslims could have no claim over it. Thinking in reverse, having fixed your conclusions in advance, is the martyrdom of thinking.
Cat owners speak to their cats, attribute many complex emotions to them and chide them when they bring small dead rodents into the house. People don’t pause to ask what is going on in the mind of the cat during these interactions, and perhaps that’s just as well. The role of a pet is to be relentlessly anthropomorphized.
But for any who may wonder what their feline companions are really thinking, “Cat Sense,” by John Bradshaw, provides the best answers that science can give for the time being.
Dr. Bradshaw, a biologist at the University of Bristol in England, has studied animal behavior and cats in particular for the last 30 years. The starting point of his analysis is that cats are still essentially wild animals. They wandered into our encampments when we first started to store harvested grains, which attracted mice.
Unlike dogs, which have been greatly changed by domestication from their wolf ancestor, cats have almost never been bred for a purpose. They caught mice well enough, and their kittens made attractive companions. So cats have stayed much the same, with any evolutionary trend toward domestication constrained by frequent interbreeding with wild cats.
To this day the population of domestic cats is maintained in a semiferal state by the practice of neutering. About the only males available for domestic female cats to breed with are the wildest and least people-friendly tomcats who have escaped into the feral cat population. Some 85 percent of all cat matings, Dr. Bradshaw writes, are arranged by cats themselves, meaning with feral cats.
I have been fascinated by hummingbirds ever since I was given a pack of wild animal cards in hospital while my tonsils were removed and fell in love with Heliothrix aurita, a speck of fire and jade. And also wine-red Topaza pella, perched in a jungle whisking a crimson tail.
I still have those cards. Their pictures seem crude now, but when I was eight I was enraptured. The Aztecs said the Earth’s first flower was fathered by the god of poetry in the shape of a hummingbird; and everything about hummingbirds seems tailor-made for a poet.
Birds see ultraviolet light, and female hummingbirds have a taste for iridescence, so males have turned themselves into flying jewels. Their metallic sheens, glancing as soap bubbles, are reflected in equally iridescent names for which taxonomists have plundered all the shimmer in the lexicon.
There are more than 300 species: words such as emerald, copper, bronze, gold, fire, sapphire, lazuline, emerald and sunbeam spill like Aladdin’s treasure through the list: amethyst woodstar, blue-headed sapphire, Brazilian ruby, buff-winged starfrontlet – you marvel not only at nature’s capacity for spangly variation but the human urge to match it in language.
Hummingbird nests – the size of a nutshell, spun out of plant down, covered with lichen, bound by spider’s silk – are works of art straight out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Hummingbird tongues, almost transparent, are liquid-trapping miracles of bioengineering that change shape as they flick in and out of the nectar. Their tips are forked: the V’s inside edges have feathery tufts that draw in nectar by capillary action. When hummingbirds sleep they fall into hibernation-like torpor. Metabolism drops, temperature zooms to near-hypothermic levels and breathing slows so drastically that if you find a sleeping hummingbird you think it’s dead. Which, in the Peruvian Andes, makes it a symbol of resurrection.
I came before I ever read Walden. I came during my reading of Walden, and after my reading of it. I understood that no degree was required and none conferred. I recognized it as a place in which to have the Thought of That Place.
I thought of the author as the-one-ahead.
I acknowledged the being-there-before-me of others. I understood that’s what Humanities means—the being here before, and after me, of others.
At first I treated the gone-cabin as destination: promenade to its halfwayness around the Pond. I noticed the different nouns for what had stood there: “Hut.” “Cabin.” “Site.”
And where the non-agreement of these terms converged stood a cairn, commenced by Alcott. I heard my thrown stone make the abacus sound. I heard the sound of my amounting: a“finger among fingers.”1
I called the other fingers, “tourists.”
I called the other fingers, “fieldtrips.”
How many wildernesses are entered mentioning the one man—and that one person not be discoverer of anything, or founder of anything, and that one person not be victor of anything? A sometime poet and pencil-maker. A tax-evader and walk-taker. A Harvard grad and a handyman.
The only way we can keep living on Earth, the author writes in his new book, is if there are fewer of us
In his 2007 book “The World Without Us,” Alan Weisman took on an ambitious thought experiment: What if mankind were to suddenly disappear from the planet? It was an apocalyptic scenario, to be sure, but it arguably pales in comparison to the alternative: What if, instead of going anywhere, we just keep making more of ourselves?
“Countdown,” which hits shelves today, takes on that scenario, as a reality that’s quickly approaching. This time, the question for Weisman isn’t just about what could happen — it’s about what we could possibly do to prevent it.
Technology isn’t going to fix this problem, Weisman found. And though the book’s subtitle is phrased as a question (“Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?”) the answer is clear: If we want to keep going, he argues, there needs to be fewer of us. Weisman spoke with Salon about our cross-cultural impulse to be fruitful and multiply, and his quest to find a more sustainable mantra for humanity. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
For Barack Obama’s 2008 inauguration celebration, Pete Seeger, his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and a chorus of young Americans sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” At Seeger’s insistence, they sang all of the original verses, not just the chorus’s familiar evocations of natural splendors. They sang, “Nobody living can ever stop me / As I go walking that freedom highway.” They sang about gazing at their fellow citizens lining up “in the shadow of the steeple, by the relief office.” And they sang about a sign reading “private property,” whose blank reverse side “was made for you and me.” Standing at the Lincoln Memorial, with the eyes of the nation upon them, they reclaimed America for its poorest citizens.
Woody Guthrie wrote “This Land is Your Land” in 1940, when he was sick of hearing Kate Smith belt “God Bless America” over the airwaves on a daily basis. Nowadays “This Land is Your Land” is an alternative national anthem, and its author, a communist Oklahoma balladeer, has been enshrined as a patron saint of American music. Guthrie never attained anything like superstar status during his lifetime, but as Springsteen put it in his keynote address at last year’s South by Southwest festival, “Sometimes things that come from the outside, they make their way in, to become a part of the beating heart of the nation.”
Over the last decade or so, Woody Guthrie’s place in that heart has seemed increasingly secure. In addition to his own recordings, you can now hear at least nine new albums of his material—much of it previously unknown and set to music by a new generation of artists such as Wilco, Billy Bragg, and the Klezmatics. By all accounts Guthrie’s archives hold troves of other unpublished materials. He was a remarkably prolific writer. He’d hammer away at his typewriter, often composing lyrics before bothering to think about melodies. He wrote voluminous letters, essays, scripts for his various radio appearances, and weekly columns for a communist newspaper. He wrote the first 25 pages of his masterful, fictionalized 1943 autobiography Bound for Glory in a single day. The night after he met his first child, he wrote her a 70-page poem.
Last year was the centennial of Guthrie’s birth, and amidst the flurry of tributes came the announcement that a new Guthrie novel had been discovered: House of Earth. Guthrie had begun writing it in 1946 and was thought to have given up after a single chapter. But three more chapters recently showed up in the papers of the filmmaker Irving Lerner, and earlier this year, the whole thing was trotted out by Infinitum Nihil, a new publishing imprint that HarperCollins has put under the charge of the actor Johnny Depp.