Monday, October 31, 2016

Book Review: Dogs Never Lie About Love (With a Bonus Story!)

Title: Dogs Never Lie About Love

Author: Jeffrey Masson

Author's web site:

Date: 1997

Publisher: Crown

ISBN: 0-609-60057-5

Length: 263 pages plus 11-page index

Illustrations: drawings by Jared T. Williams

Quote: “In the case of dogs, their emotional responses so resemble our own that we are tempted to assume identity; the joy of a dog appears to be identical to human joy…Yet we can never claim that we know precisely what a dog feels.”

That disclaimer appears in the introduction. In chapter one (page 3), Masson admits: “Does one ever know what another human being is actually feeling? It may be no harder to find out the truth about feelings in dogs than it is in people.”

It’s an interesting exercise for pet owners, of whom Masson is one, to reflect on the different things we actually feel that seem to fit under a clear, familiar heading. There are reasons why animals, even litter mates who look alike, attract such different names. If you live with pets called Sultan, Magic, Goofy, Sneaker, and Ginger, you’re announcing to other humans not only (a) that you like animals, but also (b) that you like each of those animals in a different way.

Masson tells us that other people named his dogs Sasha and Rajah, and he changed Rajah’s name to Rat-ki-rani “to correct the gender error, but…preserve the sound,” but there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Sasha was a young adult police-type dog when Masson acquired her, and was allowed to help choose the golden-retriever-mix puppies Rani and Sima who became the followers in her pack. In some Indian languages rajah means a ruling king, rani a queen mother or queen consort, and although rat ki rani literally means “queen of the night” it actually just means a night-blooming flower, a sort of jasmine, which “has a sweet smell”…and Rani is a beta dog, a natural follower with “a sweetness of disposition.” Once you know that rajah means a king, it becomes hard to use that name to refer to a beta animal. You will, like it or not, relate differently to your alpha dog than to your beta dog. Likewise you’ll sense a difference, as Masson does, between two kittens—brothers—whom he calls Raj and Saj: Raj being a short form of Rajah and Saj being a short form of Sanjaya, which literally means “victory” in Sanskrit but, Masson reminds himself and informs us, he chose as being the name of the king’s driver in a Sanskrit book he’s read.

“I wanted to pursue questions that had not yet been asked,” Masson explains, as his goal for acquiring this menagerie…although undoubtedly he wanted to enjoy the animals’ company, too, and to rescue all of them but Sasha from the horrors of confinement in animal shelters. “For example, can dogs feel gratitude or compassion? Scientists often take the line that whatever cannot be proved…should not be raised at all.” (Right, and I for one am all in favor of teaching middle school science without reference to evolutionism or creationism, or global warming or the impending ice age, or other questions of scientific theory that too many scientists have sneaky, venal, insufficient reasons to confuse with facts.) “Yet only by asking such questions, even if at present we are unable to answer them, can we think about a direction in which to take our inquiries.” These questions “stretch our imaginations, and that is always a useful exercise.” So “Some of what I write about will be from observation,but some will be pure speculation.”

He begins, in any case, with stories. Even in cases where psychologists can agree on what kind of emotions can be classified as gratitude and compassion in humans, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to study those emotions “scientifically.” Even to define those terms, gratitude and compassion, we have to begin with stories. Stories also make Dogs Never Lie About Love a fun read.

Masson begins with the theory (admittedly speculative) that wild canines and felines may have chosen to tame humans rather than vice versa. Humans have certainly bred domestic dogs and cats for traits that would be weaknesses in wild dogs and cats.Dogs and cats as we know them appear in human history only at a certain level of cultural sophistication. Did their wild ancestors sense that it would be useful to train humans to care for those puppies and kittens who just wouldn’t make it in “the wild”? Masson doubts that dogs think humans are “gods” but thinks, from the evidence, that they “love us because we are fun.”

He postulates that love is “the master emotion of dogs.” Feeding, according to experiments he cites (from back in 1954), is “not a necessary part of the development of the social bond.” (This I can confirm; I’ve been cherished, adored, even defended, by dogs I never fed, and although I’ve been deputized to feed, walk, and groom friends’ dogs, I agreed to do those things only after the dogs had made it clear that they considered me a friend.) Most human observers note that dogs show different levels of friendliness with different people. Masson observes this too: Sasha, the big strong wolfish alpha dog, greets friends with “a kind of howl mixed with a whine” and “smacks her lips and rubs her body against the person”; Rani “wags her tail, her whole body wags with it,” and Sima “cannot stop squealing and charging -round in circles…racing between the person…and that person’s dog, pushing her nose into the dog’s mouth.” These are obviously top-dog, middle-dog, and bottom-dog displays…yet they express friendliness as well as that sense of hierarchy. Masson resists the simplistic classification of dominant and submissive displays that most scientists use when describing dogs’ social behavior, and associates friendly-dog displays, both dominant and submissive, with the loyalty and protectiveness he discusses in the next chapter. 

But not all dogs always show loyalty when humans (or other dogs) might want or expect them to. Some might see the ability of one dog to traverse hundreds of miles to find its home, and the inability of another dog to remember which way home was after walking three blocks, as an indication that dogs’ cognitive capacities may vary as dramatically as their sizes do. Masson can’t prove it scientifically, but his discussion of dogs’ homing behavior under the heading of “loyalty” shows that he thinks dogs feel emotional love and loyalty for places as well as people…selectively.

Dogs’ dominant sense is smell. Scientists have devised ways to measure the relative perceptiveness of different individuals within and across species. They tell us that almost all cats have a much more highly developed sense of smell than any human, and almost all dogs have a much more highly developed senseof smell than almost any cat has. Do dogs think as they smell? “It is not entirely clear whether humans can think and feel at the same time…Smelling is so intense for dogs that it may well preclude…thinking.”

Masson can’t fully explain, although he’s intrigued by, dogs’ tendency to wallow in things that smell strong and often, to humans, foul. It’s a bottom-dog thing, he notes: in a submissive display a dog offers itself to be sniffed, whether the individual to whom it feels submissive is going to sniff it or not, and dogs who do that often seem to be the ones who want to cover themselves with extra scents. Masson cautiously postulates, however, that dogs like whatever they feel when doing their submissive displays. Dogs show love and loyalty to those whom they recognize as leaders or masters.

Masson cites Carol Lea Benjamin as saying that dogs become lonely, anxious, and “difficult” when forced to spend much time alone. Desmond Morris also observed that dogs “are social…and…also intensely exploratory. If they are deprived of companions” and variety, “they suffer. The worst mental punishment a dog can be given is to be kept alone in a tightly confined space where nothing varies.” Masson postulates that “Maybe what feels like loneliness to us feels like abandonment to a dog,” which might account for “the exuberant, often almost hysterical greetings” we receive from dogs ‘we have left only moments before.”

He finds stories of animals protecting friends of other species. “Skeptics may be reluctant to see any of these stories as examples of compassion…Yet feeling compassion and committing compassionate acts make sense from an evolutionary point of view. Solitary animals…do not need to show compassion to survive, and examples of compassion among the big cats are scarce. On the other hand, humans and dogs are social animals, and…must learn to get on with one another to survive… Rats are reluctant to press a lever to get food if doing so will also deliver an electric shock to a companion…and some will even forgo food rather than hurt their friends.”

Masson also suspects that dogs may feel humiliation, and thus even “remorse,” which Ludwig Wittgenstein specifically claimed dogs can’t feel. I tend to agree with him about this; I’ve not seen a positive clue that a dog has felt remorse, specifically, but I have seen dogs, cats, and even birds display what looked like clear nonverbal equivalents of “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that” after they’d hurt or scared someone. I suspect my social cats of genuine empathy.

Masson discusses the possibility that dogs also feel gratitude. I suspect dogs and cats of feeling gratitude, as well as empathy…and in this context I’ll even share a true story about a hen. 

Regular readers may remember that, eight or nine years ago, I adopted a shelter cat I called Dusty, who disgraced herself and was banished from the Cat Sanctuary after eating one of the chicks being brought up by a Game hen who was boarding there at the time. 

The other cats, even the giant kitten Graybelle, had been thoroughly cowed by the bigger of two Game hens, Lindsey. The smaller hen Rachelle had, however, been injured before she and her eggs had been brought to the Cat Sanctuary, and hadn’t been able to intimidate the cats. Rachelle had an interesting social life in that (a) she had never been at all friendly with humans, and (b) even before her injury she’d always been smaller than Lindsey, who was generally the dominant hen in what had been a large chicken family, but (c) she was dominant over Lindsey. 

So Dusty grabbed a chick, and while the chick was struggling and crying I ran after Dusty and tried to bribe her to release the chick with a treat. Dusty refused to be bribed; she killed the chick and ate part of it before I could grab her. I chose to display anger to all the resident animals and let everyone watch as I yelled at Dusty, shook her, and clipped all her claws down to the quick. Dusty scratched and bit during this punitive pedicure. I ignored her defensive reactions and put her on a short leash until someone hauled her away. 

The next day, when I delivered their feed, the baby chicks came to me in their usual friendly confiding way. Rachelle gave them her usual warning cluck, and then she looked at my arm; she saw the scratches Dusty had inflicted on me. She approached more closely than she'd ever approached a human before. I expected to be henpecked, because young and undomesticated chickens, attracted to the dark red color of dried blood or cooked meat, will usually bite at a scratch on human skin. 

Instead of biting at the scratches Rachelle ran her beak along one of them in a gentle, even caressing way, as if to say that she remembered how that scratch had happened. From that day forward Rachelle was my friend. Not a cuddly pet—I’ve never known a Game chicken who was anybody’s cuddly pet—but, in a dignified adult-to-adult way, my friend. She started to listen to my words; she stopped warning her chicks not to get close to me. (No, most chickens wouldn’t have had that much memory. Most chickens in North America have been systematically bred for extreme stupidity. Game chickens are one of the breeds that have not.) It was very hard for me to construe Rachelle's behavior as anything but expressing gratitude.

In a coda to the chapter on dog “dignity” Masson reports that the dog Sasha is “listening for some idea of what it is that I mean” by the word “soon.” Skeptical but not altogether unable to believe the claim that the owl Wesley had formed some concept of what his human meant by words referring to future time, I’ve tried, for myself, telling my cats things like “at dinnertime” or “soon” or “tonight, about sundown.” I think they’re learning these words. Then again, Ivy, a beloved Listening Cat, didn’t understand or trust the word “soon” enough to avoid going too far from home to meet me…

Masson discusses dogs’ aggressive behavior at some length. Dogs both play-fight and fight in earnest; “they can smell and feel the difference.” (In this chapter he mentions his cats liking “to rake their paws down the sides of my legs" as a form of play-fighting behavior. I’d classify this as territorial behavior; cats scent-mark everything in a variety of ways indicating their relationship to places, objects, and people, and my cat Polly, the only Cat Sanctuary cat who’s ever done this, was unmistakably saying, “I’m the Queen of the Cat Sanctuary now, and this is my human.”) The chapter ends with a fascinating, though somewhat hard to believe, report of a police dog who “attacked—not the woman, but his policeman partner, and took his club away” when a Bad Cop applied the club to a female suspect for no good reason.

The chapter about sadness in dogs is a sad read. Humans who have dogs put down “swear that the dogs know what is coming, and that the dogs seem to be forgiving them.” For humans who’ve ever considered our own demises and talked with loved ones about our choices regarding life support and suchlike, it’s not hard to believe that our pets may know and forgive us for making the kind of hard decisions we may have made for ourselves, or our parents, spouses, etc., may have made for themselves. There is also little doubt that animals other than humans feel that certain changes, other than painful disabilities, might make their lives not worth living—but the stories that illuminate those changes aren’t pleasant to read. Brace yourself.

Masson’s discussion of dogs’ dreams, their play, their relationships with cats and wolves, are inconclusive, but they contain several interesting dog stories.  

Finally…this book doesn’t end with its “conclusion” chapter. It contains another 53, count them, 53 pages of suggestions for further reading. Many of the books listed are likely to be familiar to readers. Most will be enjoyed, and Masson is generous with the pleasure of reading stories reported as true about animals, whether they’ve been reported in Experimental Neurology or published in books as successful as The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be.

Anyone who enjoys this web site’s “animal” posts and links will enjoy Dogs Never Lie About Love. It's a Fair Trade Book; buy it here for $5 per copy + $5 per package + $1 per online payment, and we'll send $1 to Masson or a charity of his choice. You could fit another of Masson's books into the package for a total of $15 (on a postal order) or $16 (online), and Masson or his charity would get $2.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Book Review: Tribulation Force

Title: Tribulation Force

Author: Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

Jerry Jenkins' web site:

Date: 1996

Publisher: Tyndale House

ISBN: 0-8423-2921-8

Length: 450 pages

Quote: “Buck Williams has witnessed the murderous evil power of Nicolae Carpathia, and Bruce Barnes knows from his study of Scripture that dark days lie ahead…But only Bruce has more than a hint of the terror to come.”

The Left Behind series was an epic in more ways than one. As a series of novels it was an epic-sized work of what can only be called “Christian mythology,” the genre of fiction Christians invent by asking themselves “What if this or that variation on, or addition to, or even misunderstanding of, Christian doctrine were true?”

In the case of Left Behind, it was “What if both the ‘pre-tribulationist’ understanding of Scripture and the ‘Y2K panic’ about civilized life ending at the turn of the millennium were true?” Obviously the Y2K panic was not true; to a considerable extent it was whipped up by computer technicians to motivate people to update their computers. My understanding of the prophetic apostasis is not the familiar version of “The Rapture,” either.

As a publishing phenomenon, the way Left Behind appealed to so many people on so many levels as to become a whole publishing industry in itself was a different sort of epic; something writers will dream of being able to reproduce as long as this world may last.There were almost two dozen big fat novels, counting the prequels, plus forty short paperback spin-offs, and millions of people wanted to read all of them.

Not everybody liked them. They were written fast. They were adventure stories, more about plot than about character development; you knew from the beginning that Rayford Steele was going to embody the steely strength children attribute to their fathers, Buck Williams was going to be the more vulnerable but still heroic character boys identify with themselves, and Chloe Steele was going to be the sweet but strong heroine girls identify with themselves. You knew Buck and Chloe were going to fall in love and, if you were Protestant enough to know where the plot was heading, you regretted that they’d never get to live happily ever after, with children. Jerry Jenkins wrote the storylines for some of the most popular adventure comics of the twentieth century, so you already had a vivid, if two-dimensional, picture of the resolute set of Rayford’s jaw, the swing of Buck’s arms, the perkiness of Chloe’s bosom, and so on. Comics are easy to laugh at, even when the cartoons and stories aren’t particularly funny…and some readers did laugh at the stereotypical quality of the characters. LaHaye and Jenkins had written other stories in which characters developed in more of a realistic way; in Left Behind, although they hadn’t been especially heroic before, the main characters were supernaturally transformed into almost “super” heroes, and at least one really “super” villain, by the force of the apocalyptic adventures they were acting out.

There is in fact an historical precedent for this kind of storytelling, in Christian hagiography. The prospect of being executed, it has been observed, “concentrates the mind.” Many an early Christian who might never have done anything interesting, if not faced with martyrdom, was dragged to a Roman arena for some form of torture that allowed him or her to exhibit epic-quality fortitude. Knowing they had little time to live in any case, they packed wonderful demonstrations into that time.

Tribulation Force was volume two, numbered and published and originally conceived before the three prequel volumes of Babylon Rising, which made it, in a way, volume five of the story. The characters have reconciled themselves to the loss of most of the nice people in their world. They’ve met Nicolae Carpathia, who is still only starting out as a villainous would-be world ruler but will later embody the Evil Principle itself as the super-villain; he’s still trying to act like a nice guy but the Steeles, Bruce, and Buck know he’s not one.

The Left Behind series was meant to be solidly Christian, but never anti-Jewish. Differences between whole-Bible Christians and Messianic Jews are cultural; you are one or the other, but mixed groups meet and worship together.  In Tribulation Force our newly baptized Christian protagonists form alliances with a few newly religious, newly Messianic Jews. One of the “signs and wonders” that make false Jews and Christians think Nicolae is an angel of light, but warn true ones that he’s “the” Antichrist, is his ability to sweep Muslims aside—literally—reclaiming the Dome of the Rock on behalf of his “Global Community.”

There’s no real resolution in these novels. Each one points forward to the next one. The world in which they’re set is ugly, and will get uglier; that’s why all the covers are dark up to the final white-and-gold one.Some of the plot threads in Tribulation Force seem to resolve by the end of the book. Others don’t. One of the main nice characters dies; to preserve some suspense, this review won’t say which one.

Should you buy this book from me? Realistically, I imagine that most of the people who were interested in Left Behind have already read it. If you need Tribulation Force to complete your collection, I have it. If you’ve not already read the whole series and would like to, however, you can and should buy all the Left Behind books as Fair Trade Books. Tim LaHaye no longer has any use for a dollar per book. (Sniffle. I miss him. I knew he was older than the pictures he chose to publish looked, but not how much older; when he e-mailed that he was starting a new speculative fiction series, earlier this year, I thought he was likely to live long enough to finish it.) Jerry Jenkins doesn’t seem to need a dollar either, but he’s active online and probably has a longish list of charities to support by any residual sales of his books.

So if you buy Tribulation Force, it's still a Fair Trade Book. Regular readers know the drill: $5 per copy, $5 per package, at least one more of the full-size novels would fit into the package, add $1 per online payment, and since it's no longer possible to send the $1 per copy to Tim LaHaye we'll send it to Jerry Jenkins or the charity of his choice. Note that this series went into multiple printings; if you care very much which cover design you get, let us know, but currently used copies of all three editions cost the same.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Haiku in Batches

The trouble with writing haiku is that it's hard to stop. Everything that comes to mind starts coming to mind in 5-7-5 forms. (This latest burst of haiku was triggered by a contest...)

Cafe Ceremony

Turn on computer.
Two Sweet’n’Lo, one sugar.
Sip coffee slowly.

Haiku for Hyattsville

Large pale grey crickets
Nest and chirp in our carpets.
We have no roaches.

Cyclists Beware (A Froggy Night on the Possum Creek Road)

Summer sky foggy,
Gardens flooded, earth soggy,
Caution: road’s froggy.

Bow to Tradition

All haiku writers
Should walk at least once, in spring,
Through cherry petals.

Writer Pleads for Mercy

O please, kind people,
A serious job! I’m writing

Too many haiku!

Terrible Minds: The Genetics of Revenge, Part 3

Wotta day, oh wotta day. I thought I could skip the Friday Market and post this in the morning. Lisiwayu insisted on taking Barnie-cat to market. Lisiwayu then failed to report to haul Barnie-cat to market. Barnie-cat has had food and water during the week, but I'd planned to load it into a clean cage and let the adopter be the one to provide food and water this morning. So I walked into town, spent the morning trying to place this wretched antisocial stray cat, failed to accomplish that, and am now officially late with the final chapter of the Terrible Minds Writing Challenge.

The trouble was that the Part 2 that inspired me was "The Dark Fairy," and although The Cross and the Switchblade had embedded a suitable Part 3 in my brain, it turned out everybody wanted to finish "The Dark Fairy." Nobody seems to want to finish either "Black Dog" or "Bubble" or "Grim Reaper." It's not faaair. The other Part 2's seemed to come from backgrounds that weren't familiar enough to inspire me.

Well...nobody else mentioned having written a Part 2 for Doug K Zeigler's story when I checked the Terrible Minds comments; Catastrophe Jones mentioned it in the comments on Part 1, but I didn't find her Part 2 at her site. Warning: this is the gory story that sets up a Part 2 dripping with obscene sexualized violence. It's "horror" for men. It's "cathartic feminist fantasy" for women. If you've been raped or molested or even called "honey" recently, you can probably enjoy a few moments just visualizing a possible Part 2, but as a woman you probably don't feel motivated to spend enough time with this thought to write 1000 words of blood and gore. As a man you probably find it too gruesome.

Very well. The story has now fallen into the hands of an aunt. Aunts don’t go in for bloodbaths. We are too old. We know the kind of thing that happens in a story about animals that have been bioengineered to attack humans. That story becomes interesting again at the point where most or all of the animals and humans who have been killing each other are dead.

What caught my attention is that what Doug K Zeigler's character is trying to achieve in Part 1 is what men have actually achieved, for themselves, many times in human history. The idea of most of the male population being killed by monsters with unnatural urges to torture their prey is horror fiction. The idea of most of the male population being killed by one another is...war. War is more horrible than any kind of fiction. And yet, after the wars humans have waged so far, the species has survived. If men were targeted and women were protected in a different kind of war, how different would the outcome really be?

So here we are in Part 3, when the story becomes either bland or really scary, depending on your gender:

As So Many Times Before (The Genetics of Revenge, Part 3)

The lamprey mouth stretched toward him as so many times before. Dan reached for his pistol, realized it was empty, fell backward over something, recognized his dead neighbor’s shotgun, and put such a neat hole through the frankencheetah that he might have hit it with a bullet. A fat bullet. As so many times before.

On the thought “as so many times before” he woke up and decided he was recovering. He was still dreaming about the frankencheetahs Dahlia Moses had engineered for the purpose of exterminating men. Maybe he always would. At least he wasn’t screaming any more.

Adult male humans were, of course, rare—as after every war. Being rare, they’d become a protected class. Women now did all the jobs. There was no question about a man being allowed to work outside the home, but the home had, Dan supposed, become a livelier place than it was for that woman Friedman or whatever her name was, who’d made all the racket about “the problem that had no name.” It had always needed a bit of male imagination and humor, especially after the word got round that Alice, Joan, Debby, Susan, Karen, Caitlyn, Jen, Mary, Crystal, and Megan had an actual man in their home, and every son’s mother in the neighborhood started dropping her son off “for the male bonding experience.” Frankly it was more of a challenge than construction work. He still did some of that, mostly at home. These days a fellow’s protectors begrudged every minute he wasn’t baby-sitting all the boys in the neighborhood.

There were, of course, trade-offs, like the young girls’ moonlight parades through the streets, wearing whatever the temperature indicated, which wasn’t much these days (maybe global warming was happening after all). A man might get a glimpse from a third-floor window, but no way could a man get out the door between sundown and sunup. Even in the daytime two or three protectors had to follow him everywhere. Also, whatever the temperature indicated for women, a man had to wear full body armor whenever he was outdoors. You no longer saw a frankencheetah every day, but you didn’t want to be exposed to an attack if you met one.

And it had turned out not really to be an oversight that men were still allowed to vote, if they had a preference about any of the female candidates and women’s issues under consideration. It was simply that six percent of the population weren’t likely to affect the outcome.

Nevertheless Dan, always a cheerful type, still liked to sing in the shower in the morning.

First there'd been only a few frankencheetahs, and it had taken a while to figure out whom they went after, and why, since some of the men had never been charged. Then the unnatural animals’ populations had increased, and they’d gone after all sorts of men, not only the ones who’d committed hatecrimes against women. Men, first the military and then every man, had gone after the frankencheetahs. So had some women; a few women were glad to see their men go, but more women missed them.

He’d heard all kinds of stories about what a couple of hundred widows had done to the  woman known as Dahlia Moses and wondered whether they really had taken turns killing her, or half-killing her, or desecrating her remains, in a couple of hundred different ways. Most of the troops who’d formed to exterminate the frankencheetahs were male, though not all; the TV news had broadcast women killing them too.

That was when there’d still been TV news. It turned out that although a few old women missed a few soap operas, by and large TV had always been a guy thing. Now there was no more TV and it was hard to find any kind of moving picture on the Internet.

War, of course, had also been a guy thing. By now world peace and unity might even have been achieved, in the sense that most of the men were gone, and many of the women, and the world’s population was spread so thin that nobody seemed to care where national borders were or who was trying to cross them.

School had apparently been a girl thing, except that boys did so much better with a man teacher that Dan had become an unofficial teacher in his own protectors’ home. He’d worked out a sort of routine: singing, some kind of prayer or poem to open the school day, math, reading, exercises, lunch, gardening.

Alice went to work in a store. Joan cooked, not just for the boys and Dan, although they ate too, but for the workers in the shoe factory; Debby and Crystal were two of them. Susan gave piano lessons but, on that day, she was in her room having cramps. Karen, Jen, and Caitlyn worked on the neighborhood farm. Mary, the writer, wrote as usual in the public library. Megan took in washing. Once, long ago, people had thought a woman President would make a difference to women. Now all the Presidents were women, but the women Dan knew were doing the same things every day that they’d done so many times before.

In another twenty years, he thought, things would be back to more or less normal. Young people would get married and have children, instead of groups of women, with or without one man among them, keeping their houses like forts in case the frankencheetahs turned against women. All the nations on Earth would be the way the war-torn nations used to be, with only a few young people blessed to have known their grandfathers. Women would go back to flattering and fussing over men, because they enjoyed doing it. Men would take the flattery, and themselves, seriously, because they weren’t noticeably more intelligent than they’d been. Some would be violent. The species would go on without one generation of men, as so many times before.

Except: anyone convicted of splicing genes would die.

Book Review: The Knitter's Guide to Hand-Dyed and Variegated Yarn

Title: The Knitter’s Guide to Hand-Dyed and Variegated Yarn

Author: Lorna Miser

Date: 2010

Publisher: Crown

ISBN: 978-0-8230-8552-1

Length: 144 pages including one-page index

Quote: “[H]and-dyed yarns…require extra thought and care to make them look as pretty when they’re knitted into projects as they do in the skein.”

When choosing this as one of the books to purchase with an Amazon giftcard I received from another site for which I write, I said that I’d bought Faith Hope Love Knitting, sold a project I knitted from that book the first day I displayed it, and expected good things from Lorna Miser’s second book. So, the question is: Was this book as good as I expected? and the answer is: Better! I expected “excellent”; I got “amazing.”

My pattern hoard contains some other books about knitting with multicolored yarns and/or scraps (and, as in the case of Kaffe Fassett, the multicolored yarns knitters can create by tying and/or splicing together leftover ends of yarn from our stashes). Several of them are good. Some, like Fassett’s Glorious Knitting (or Glorious Knits; same book, multiple printings in different countries) are excellent. Glorious Knitting/Knits was a knitting revolution in its day and is still a source of “glorious inspirations” (not to be confused with Fassett’s multi-arts-and-crafts book, Glorious Inspirations). Then Cheryl Potter and Alexis Xenakis put together Handpaint Country, another glorious knitting pattern collection. But for some knitters I think it’s fair to say that The Knitter’s Guide to Hand-Dyed and Variegated Yarn may be even better.

Is that possible? Apples and oranges, do I mean? Maybe…but if you’ve learned the basics of how to knit, and are specifically interested in knitting with multicolored yarn as distinct from knitting with more than two yarns per project, this is the book to buy. It contains as many patterns as the average knitting pattern book, at least one pattern in all the standard categories (pullover, cardigan, kid sweater, baby sweater, hat, sock, mitten), and also a gallery of stitch patterns that work especially well with multicolored yarn, with a combination of two (or more) coordinating multicolored yarns, and with a combination of one multicolored and one solid-color yarn.

That’s a special, new category of pattern book. I’ve seen the occasional article in Knitter’s, Threads, and Interweave Knits magazines that discussed this specific kind of knitting. Barbara Walker’s classic Treasuries furnish some hints (on which Miser has drawn). Yarn manufacturers have printed patterns that fit into this category in the leaflets displayed along with the novelty yarn of the season in wool shops, and occasionally on skein wrappers.

However, in my 25 years as a pattern hoarder, I’ve not seen another pattern book that either attempts or achieves what this one does. Designers who write books usually skirt the topic of using multicolored yarn because multicolored yarns tend to be novelty yarns. Designers who do venture into this topic, as in Handpaint Country, tend to provide examples of how multicolored yarns worked for somebody, but not try to explain how to make new multicolored yarns work for you, some other year. I hadn’t thought new ground remained to be broken in the field of pattern books for hand knitting. Miser has broken it.

How many of the patterns in this book gave me that delightful “must knit” feeling? All of them…because, even though I don’t like vests and feel no desire to knit vests, Miser’s vest pattern comes with enough examples of alternative patterns and techniques to inspire me to use the pattern  in sweaters, hats, or blankets yet to be designed as appropriate yarn comes along. Meanwhile, er um, anything you could do if you were able to find and afford the appropriate fabulous hand-dyed multicolored yarn, if you’re an Old Knitter, you can probably do with your stash. You’d rather do it with a different yarn from Lorna's Laces, if you could afford to buy that yarn, just to show respect—but if you don’t have the money, you can get a similar effect out of your stash. (Actually, I got into multicolored “magpie knitting” out of a desire to help a long-gone wool shop find suitably lovely ways to use up the lovely yarns left in their stash at the end of each season…in 1989...)

So, if you like madly multicolored knitting and want to go beyond plain knitting, fairisle, and jacquard, this is the book you must have. Run don’t walk. Order a “new” copy from your local book and/or wool store if you can.

What’s not to love? I always spell this out. In this case, I shouldn’t have to. “Madly multicolored” is what some other knitters would not love about this book. They’d be happier with a collection of one-color patterns like, maybe, Viking Knits. Sometimes I like to knit that sort of thing, too.

Also, as noted in my review on Amazon...The Knitter's Guide to Hand-Dyed and Variegated Yarn is for people who already know how to knit one, purl two, increase, slip one and pass the slipped stitch over, and so on. If you need those techniques spelled out and illustrated, you may need to consult the person teaching you to knit or work through a beginner-oriented book first.

Knitting books tend to be marketed more slowly than novels. Publishers print fewer copies, fewer sellers distribute the books, and new copies stay on the market for years. So, Miser's books are not recommended for purchase as Fair Trade Books. You can still buy them as new books, and you should, to show respect. (Though I've not yet read them, to show additional respect I'll also mention Miser's new books, Knit Pink and Pick the Pieces.)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

October 27 Link Log

Trying to read even the good stuff is still a bit overwhelming, due to Niume, but I'm getting there...mainly by working overtime offline. Today's Categories: Animal, Armed Citizen Fights Crime, Book, Christian, Crafts, Etiquette, Food, Health, Pictures, Poem, Politics, Psychology, Television, Travel, Writing, Zazzle. (Lots of Zazzle, courtesy of Google + .)


Dog people may not believe this, but...I don't perceive dogs as more loving than cats. Needy, yes. Bossy, in some cases. Clingy, in some cases. Dogs Never Lie About Love is a Fair Trade Book you can buy here but I'm not entirely convinced by its thesis that love is "the master emotion" for dogs...well, maybe it depends on how we define love. Most dogs I know are friendly and probably do feel something in the "love" category toward their friends, but I don't see most dogs express love-in-the-sense-of-good-will, as my cats do.

Some dogs, yes. Dogs with whom we've bonded, yes. The dog who rescued me from harassment when I was eighteen, yes. The boardinghouse dogs who were that dog's friends, yes. Sydney, yes. But what I perceive coming from a lot of dogs, including a couple of Lhasa Apsos with whom I once lived for eighteen months without ever really bonding, is just yap-yap-yap, me-me-me, no capacity for real awareness of others...sort of like humans with extroversion.

Mine are outdoor cats who don't really need me for survival, so if they show affection to me they really mean affection, not just neediness. Mine are also social cats, capable of (some degree of) teamwork, empathy, gratitude, compassion, loyalty, protectiveness.

(Then again...animals are as individual as humans are; the ones that don't seem to have distinct personalities, to humans, are the ones with whom humans are completely unable to communicate. The cat I call Barnie is not loving, and not going to stay at the Cat Sanctuary or be adopted by anyone living within ten miles or anyone who can't promise to keep Barnie indoors. Barnie is antisocial. It's not just that Barnie hates my cats; it's that Barnie sneaks away from my three stronger cats, even though Barnie is insulated even from their teeth and claws with all that fur, and then attacks my two weaker cats, seriously attacks, leaves bleeding wounds on a spring kitten...and then tries to kiss up to me. Barnie is so dastardly as to deserve the lifestyle the Humane Society of the United States recommend for all cats...but I never thought I'd live to meet a cat of whom I could say that. Barnie is one in a thousand, if that.)

Armed Citizen Fights Crime

Warning: both of these Blaze pages are under attack, but it's worth documenting...the more noise the gun grabbers make, the more Americans check the facts and realize that "gun control" does not reduce violence.


Recommended by a correspondent, not yet read by me:


Short and to the point:

This was the Concerned Women of America prayer over the weekend, but it's worth sharing:

Pray for peace in Israel.

God, we know that Israel is close to Your heart.
Please grant the people of Israel safety,
And create peace among the nations in conflict.
May our nation wake up to the fact that You bless
Those who bless our strongest ally in the Middle East.

Psalm 122:6-7 – “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.’”


Quilt pictures…colors may inspire non-quilters:


No, men, women who don’t know you personally probably don’t want to hear what you think of the way we look. (We can see that, after all.) Yes, part of what Kelly Fox is expressing here is her own problem. Most of the time when men stare at women or make personal remarks, they don’t intend to do anything worse than just be rude,pushy, intrusive, which some people don’t even recognize as a bad thing. If someone tells me I’m beautiful, depending on my own rating of how I look that day I may think “Well, his eyes work, but what about his brain?” or “In this? He’s joking” or “Oh’s not bad enough merely having [some sort of minor health problem], now total strangers are feeling sorry for me”; I do not think “He’s going to follow me home and kill me.” Most of us have observed a lot more admirers, jokers, and strangers-trying-to-be-helpful than murderers in the course of our lives. I don’t know what KF has observed but I’m sure it has something to do with her self-identification with the homosexual lobby.

"You look beautiful" is of course a good thing for men to say to their dates, their wives, their relatives, and the sort of car-pool buddies who delay everyone by peering at themselves in the mirror and saying "I want to go back and fix my hair." Only as an effort to make conversation with a stranger does it suggest that there's something wrong with the man saying it. 

Still…if you want to talk to someone who has a life and therefore doesn't try to talk to strangers, it's a good idea to try to make as good an impression as possible. At least say something that's not a personal remark, to show that you’re intelligent enough to notice things beyond the end of your nose. Talking about the weather, asking for directions, or not wearing a watch so you can ask someone who has a watch for the time, are traditional.

Signs of life--that is, a life of your own--are also desirable on social media:

Food (Yuck) 

I might eat venison, but er um, not this rare!

Food (Yum) 

Vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-optional. (The pumpkin butter, anyway. The biscuits? Up to you.)

Not gluten-free, but interesting. Would it work with gluten-free flour?

I'm one of those people who eat the raw kale "garnish" in restaurants. Some find it hard to digest. I never have...but then I also munch on raw peas, raw green beans, and raw wild garlic. It's wheat (and things genetically modified to resemble wheat, and the poison they were modified that way to survive) that make me sick. Kale is fine.


John McDougall's diabetes "webinar," which will take place while I'm writing, is not news to me (I read McDougall's Medicine: A Challenging Second Opinion twenty-some years ago). Nor is it especially relevant to me. It is relevant to a lot of people who weren't diabetic, or employed by diabetic patients, twenty or thirty years ago and so may not know how a diet plan based on limiting fats and sticking to complex carbs can reverse adult-onset diabetes. I posted Dr. McDougall's announcement earlier today, separately, so people could catch the webinar. If you know someone who is diabetic you might want to review the webinar after it happens; it'll go in the McDougall Archives. It could save a patient's life.

Meanwhile, more breaking news: study quantifies the extent to which the current birth control pills are contributing to young women's depression. Not very different from my generation's experience, really. There is one form of birth control that's safe for every couple. All this web site will say about it, per contract, is: safe s

Here's a tip for beating depressive tendencies, and more:

Basic, but useful information:


From Idaho:

Thanks to the +Allen West Republic for sharing this photo essay. The site that shared it with them commented, "Is this the coolest Dad in America?" He certainly put a lot of ingenuity into building a costume around a kid's wheelchair:

Tiny paintings on feathers:

Chinese monks work out...some of the photos look like tricks, but they're interesting tricks to study.


Light verse for Halloween:

More serious:

Politics (Election 2016)

Just a few quick dog pictures from +Ruth Cox . No, dogs and cats can’t vote, but what’s to stop them wearing campaign gear, if you want to support a candidate?

Democrats think they're leading in the polls, yet some report them still showing insecurity. (Yes, I think #Hillbullies is a catchy neologism for supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton who act like bullies. If they're supporters of Bernie Sanders, they're still merely Illiberal Left.)

Democrat admits that stealing Trump lawn signs was the wrong thing to do, although the signs still make her feel angry:

Rachel Sklar says she believes the women who've accused Trump of sexual assault and harassment, and "knows why they've stayed silent so long." I'm not sure. Sklar is a Democrat. I wouldn't trust Trump as far as I could throw him lefthanded, but neither would I trust unverified accusations made long after the alleged fact in the heat of an election.


Did I ever need to be reminded…

Is "fear of missing out" (FOMO) "replacing" stress, or is it just the trendiest source of stress for young people? This article describes FOMO as basically a new trigger for the classic stress reactions. Anyway, Young Readers (The Nephews, including nieces), there's a simple cure for it. Unplug. Tell yourself, "Whatever is going on in cyberspace will go on without me." 

(I think about this blog on weekends--sometimes dream about it at night--and wonder whether I could make more money blogging six days a week instead of four, but I don't sweat it. Whatever is going on in cyberspace does go on without me. Even if it takes me half of Thursday to get back to the last e-mail left over from the previous Friday.)


In case anyone was wondering what CRTV is and why Michelle Malkin is going there: 


Why are people from out of state coming to the Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, he asks? Two words: leaf peeping. That's the traditional cute name for tourists who come to the Blue Ridge Mountains in October (and November) just to admire, and photograph, mountain slopes covered with different shades of foliage. Apparently more of them know to go into town and look for the bookstore this year. Great news!

If they keep driving long enough they'll be in North Carolina.

I've never thought of Lynchburg as much of a tourist attraction, unless you attend or know someone who attends Liberty University...but then again perhaps you do.

Since the main attraction of Montpelier, further east in Virginia, is the historic house rather than the scenery, it doesn't really matter what time of year you visit...


No, I don’t think Scott Adams is insane. I think it’s possible that he’s been blocked or banned from Twitter briefly, possibly as a result as a glitch, or blocked or “muted” by some people who don’t appreciate his Tweets…either way, the banning he notes was limited in extent because he was still showing up in my Twitter feed. (Some idjit really did manage to block Governor Pence...Twitter needs to address this kind of abuse of the system.) So, I think he wants more people to follow @ScottAdamsSays on Twitter, so that he’ll always have enough faithful Tweeps out there to show that he is or is not being banned at any given time. That’s something a lot of Real Twits want, and SA deserves. 

What do you think, Gentle Readers? Would you like to see more quotes here? I know that HTML "blockquote" formatting shows up in strange, confusing ways at many web sites, so I don't use it. I've tried different ways to make it obvious when I've posted a long quote here. Since traditional paragraph formatting tends to be messed up by HTML, what reads most easily, for me, is a quotation mark on a line all by itself above and below the quoted text. 

What works at Niume…which does not work too well with me…One tip: If you must use pictures, a good pixel count is 200. Pictures that measure no more than 200 pixels in either direction usually don't interfere with the use of a web site. But please resist the urge to put a big splashy centerfold-type picture on the computer screen. It’ll foul up older, slower browsers. And if it “breaks up the text” it will annoy me. (I put pictures in these Link Logs, yes…notice that each picture appears as an illustration or reference below a bit of text that’s about what’s in the picture, and although Blogspot has "small, medium, large" sizes rather than pixel counts their "medium" size is close to that 200-pixel maximum.)


Business cards for writers? Why not?

Needless to say, Zazzle is there to put your name in place of "Terry Bain," or put your contact information in the middle of the new official Fix Facts First business card. (The site may show that I "designed" another version that doesn't show up on the accident, that; at the time I didn't know how to make those customizable fields show up on the screen, and even now I'm finding it easier to design a new card than to edit the old one. The old one is, however, a plain white card Zazzle will let you customize.)

Business cards were the theme of today's sale e-mail from Zazzle; meanwhile various Googlers are posting images of their latest Zazzle creations...