Friday, May 29, 2015

Secret Life Of NYC Rats & Other City Animals

The Rat Paths of New York

How the city’s animals get where they’re going.

Most New York animals stay close to home. Yes, itinerant coyotes will traverse the parks by night, and raccoons might travel half a mile in search of better trash, skunks a little less. But feral cats won’t stray three blocks beyond where they were born, and few mice will venture more than a hundred feet from their burrows in a lifetime. Rats seldom stray far from home, either. But they get where they’re going more easily than other New York animals, because they are more like us. The city suits them.

“With rats, the map is almost three-dimensional: the surface, the buildings, everything underneath,” Jason Munshi-South told me. We were rat-spotting in Lower Manhattan, and Munshi-South, an urban ecologist who is an associate professor at Fordham, was explaining what he’d discovered after studying New York rats, also known as Norway rats or brown rats, for three years. They cannot, as legend has it, collapse their skeletons to fit through cracks, nor are they especially bold; indeed, they’re “neophobic,” which means they won’t touch a new object, even unfamiliar food, for at least two days and sometimes as long as a week. They nearly always follow the same routes to their food sources. They sleep, on and off, for about 10 hours a day, and the rest of the time they travel in tight, well-worn paths. Munshi-South’s back-of-the-envelope estimate is that they take at least 2,800 steps a day, compared with the average American human’s 5,000 or so.

Rats live in colonies of 40 or 50 and sometimes relocate to new homes, but over the course of their one-year life span they rarely walk more than 600 feet from their birthplace. When they do, they seem to move north and south, with the subways, but, Munshi-South emphasized, no one is sure exactly how they do it. “We don’t even know if they move between stations, under- or above-ground,” he said. “That’s something we hope to figure out.”

We walked north from City Hall Park into the southern edge of Chinatown. Munshi-South was confident we’d see some rat activity, even on this bright, crisp morning. In the city, rats hug structural edges (“feeling” the walls with whiskers), and their routes are marked by sebum, oil from their hair that rubs off and darkens the concrete landscape. Pay attention, and you’ll see these lines on walls, an inch or so above the sidewalk, sometimes smattered with little clumps of fur. Rats build their colonies wherever they can burrow: in dirt, certainly, but really anywhere crumbly and close to constant food, usually in the form of trash, which is more or less everywhere. (A few pockets of the Upper East Side are free of large permanent rat colonies, but that’s about it.) Every few minutes, Munshi-South pointed to a lumpy mound, usually under a bush or near a trash can, pocked by silver-dollar-size holes. Rats tend to use just one entry and exit, but they like to build extra escape routes just in case.

“This is insane,” Munshi-South said. “It looks like a prairie-dog town.” We had reached Columbus Park, an asphalt playground near the original Five Points, the slum where men would pay up to $5 during the 1870s to watch fox terriers battle rats in the backs of saloons. Now a few seniors practiced tai chi, while others set out bowls of rice as offerings to passing spirits. What small patches of green remained had been scraped flat by rats. They weren’t eating the grass, Munshi-South explained, just dragging a lot of trash across it. “I bet if we just wait, they’ll come out,” he said.

Not more than a minute passed before a big rat emerged from under a bush and approached a woman who was putting out rice bowls. He inched forward slightly — it was a male; we could see his testicles — then rested, waiting. A minute passed, and a bigger rat emerged, also a male. He ignored the rice, though, and instead ambled from one rathole to the next, occasionally snapping up a loose crumb. There was a practiced efficiency to his movements, but he was old and missing an eye. “He’s making the rounds,” Munshi-South said — looking for the scraps that more successful rats had discarded. “He’ll probably be dead in a few days.” For now, though, the city would provide.

New York is the rat’s ideal habitat. Our idea of what a park or public space should look like mirrors its native environment, which, contrary to the animal’s common name, was almost certainly the grassy Asian steppe. We mow grass, plant a few shrubs and low bushes, a line of trees. Then we improve on nature by adding a constant source of food, our trash. Now at least two million rats live here, maybe millions more, depending on which scientist you ask. If we’d like fewer of them around, we might start thinking about how to make the city more attractive to other animals.

But most animals have a hard time getting around the city. When Munshi-South first moved to New York eight years ago, he studied white-footed mice, which live in heavily wooded parks, where there are many fewer rats. (Rats eat baby mice.) He took genetic samples from hundreds of mice that had been trapped in 15 parks, on a hunch there might be some differences among them. A mouse in Pelham Bay, after all, would rarely if ever interbreed with a mouse in Central Park; the journey would simply prove too daunting. His results confirmed the disconnection: White-footed mice so rarely leave their forested home territories that, over time, each population of city mouse became for practical purposes marooned, and genetically distinct. A white-footed mouse from the Bronx, indeed, never makes it to Manhattan or any other borough.

Still, new animals do show up from time to time — turkeys, red foxes, coyotes. Leslie Day has been watching them come and go most of her life. She lived on a houseboat at the West 79th Street Boat Basin for nearly 40 years, falling in love with the wilder aspects of this urban space. A middle-school science teacher, she eventually got her Ph.D. in science education and wrote three books drawing on her observations and research, including the “Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City,” with entries on, among other city animals common and uncommon, Eastern gray squirrels, rabid wolf spiders, opossums, red-backed salamanders, cabbage white butterflies, common snapping turtles, the Northern rock barnacle, the double-crested cormorant, little brown bats, big brown bats, the American eel, the pyralis firefly and, inclusively, earthworms, which, she notes, “were brought to North America by the early European settlers.”

Day recently moved to land, in Washington Heights, near the George Washington Bridge. Down at the basin she watched raccoons and squirrels, but up in Washington Heights she follows skunks. “Oh, my God, we have a million of them,” she said when we met at her apartment. Skunks have terrible eyesight and live their lives low to the ground, smelling, smelling and being startled. One had taken up residence under Day’s front stoop, she said, and we went out to take a look. There were hundreds of tiny, perfect divots in the lawns surrounding her apartment building, where skunks had stuck their noses into the soil, rooting for bugs.

We walked over to the Heather Garden in Fort Tryon Park. Day pointed to a gap along the terrace — last summer, she said, she had been walking past this very spot with her friend Mike Feller, who worked as the chief naturalist for the city’s Parks Department for 31 years, and they noticed something unusual: a mound of brilliant white sand pierced by a pinhole leading down into the earth. Day thought it might be a sand trap made by an ant lion, a predatory insect, but Feller told her no, it was probably just plain ants. He’d bet anything, he continued, that it was sand someone dredged from the Rockaways and trucked up long ago to make this terrace. The ants go down and excavate it, reminding us of our past. Like the rats, and the woodchucks, and the skunks, and all the burrowing creatures, even us, the ants don’t just walk back and forth, but up and down, through time.

When I got home I called Feller, and he told me about another small but significant journey that happens each spring, one that has been happening since not long after the glaciers retreated thousands of years ago. It isn’t historic, Feller said. Just beautiful.

“On warm, rainy nights, the spotted salamanders emerge from underground and walk 100 yards down to vernal ponds — wetlands that only exist in the spring and beginning of summer — to breed,” he said. “It’s a highly ritualized, synchronized thing that they do: Coming up out of the forest floor, they amble down to the water’s edge, and a male and female do this very intricate nose rubbing. They swim together, then apart, and the male swims down and leaves a little mushroom, a sperm-containing sack, and the female dives down, picks it up and implants it in her. It is a bizarre, aquatic ballet. In a few small spots in the city, it’s happening, right now.”

Most animals make city living better, or more interesting, but animals that eat rats might be especially welcome. Coyotes from the Bronx have devoured many rats in Riverside Park and Central Park, and in April a coyote was sighted all the way down in Chelsea. Smaller rat catchers, like foxes, are not uncommon in London, but they are rare in New York. We don’t make it easy for them. If you’re a fox or a coyote coming in from the countryside, you might try to stick with what you know: dirt, low cover, bushes that hug the ground. You would follow the rail lines, which are open to the air but still overgrown in places, or the parkways, the great green strips that Robert Moses built, or even the older, abandoned Long Island Motor Parkway, between Alley Pond Park and Cunningham Park, in eastern Queens. You would follow them until the concrete takes over completely. And then? Well, it gets harder. (It’s worth noting that probably the greatest predator of rats in Manhattan right now is the red-tailed hawk, which of course moves with far more freedom.)

In Central Park, I met Timon McPhearson, a professor of urban ecology at the New School. McPhearson studies how animals and plants get from one place to the next; for the last 10 years, he has been thinking about how to connect big “reservoirs of biodiversity,” like Central Park, to everything else. Even things as small as the walled-in tree pits all along the sidewalk outside the park. “That’s a dot,” he said, pointing to one. “I want to connect the dots.”

Sometimes, as in the case of the tree pits, connecting the dots can be as simple as adding a green strip between them. Open up the sidewalk a little, add some dirt, pull a few benches apart and, presto, all kinds of animals suddenly have a space for darting and hiding. Or run a pipe under the road, maybe put some soil in there to make it slightly more comfortable. “It’s all open,” McPhearson said. “You just need to start thinking about negative spaces, spaces that aren’t being used for anything else.”

Most of McPhearson’s proposals for building a connected city are modest (“If you can imagine where to put a bike rack, you could imagine where to put a green element”). But he has a larger vision of what the city might be, which begins with turning five blocks of Midtown into a pedestrian plaza with a natural, historic creek running through the middle. “That would be the new, future park,” McPhearson said. “The whole world would gasp.” It wouldn’t be cheap, but the countervailing revenue potential in real estate is huge; according to McPhearson, a tree in front of a house increases that house’s value by as much as 15 percent.

A new ecological infrastructure could have an impact worth billions of dollars, not just in the form of pricier lofts and storefronts but in the form of better mental and physical health. We are fundamentally natural beings, as McPhearson points out, and we are drawn inexorably to wild spaces, no matter how small — an affinity that E. O. Wilson, drawing from Erich Fromm, called biophilia. (“Mysterious and little-known organisms live within walking distance of where you sit,” Wilson wrote in 1984. “Splendor awaits in minute proportions.”) McPhearson’s fundamental point is that spaces where animals can move freely are good for people too.

The animals will come if we let them. Northern Manhattan alone has six large parks, and it is connected by five bridges to substantial woodlands in New Jersey, the Bronx and the forested suburbs beyond. In recent years, woodchucks have begun to make their way into Manhattan from the north. They are leaving the suburbs for the same reason rats began heading uptown long ago: overpopulation. As farming near the city has subsided, the woods have returned, and with the woods the wildlife. It’s natural dispersal, driving the woodland creatures to follow the landscape into the city.

Soon, thanks to a series of city- and state-sponsored greenway projects, the woods in the highlands that spill down to the Hudson will be interconnected, and a path will run along the river from the northernmost point of Manhattan down to the Battery — a great route for a bike ride or run, and a new, complete byway for the wild things coming down from the north. A fisher, a sort of weasel that preys on rodents, was seen in the Bronx last summer. That was unusual, but there could be more, moving farther south, as the paths into the city ease.

When I was walking with Leslie Day through Fort Tryon Park, the heath was beginning to come in, shades of purple and lavender against the brown and gray. We stared out at the great gray river, treetops tumbling down to its shore, and I mentioned how it was interesting that all these animals would come into the city, and that so many would choose to stay. “Oh, but just look at what’s here!” Day said, and she swept her arm across the vernal land. — Ryan Bradleyapril | The New York Times

Style Wars (1983) — Original Graffiti Documentary

The Original Style Wars

Directed by Tony Silver and produced by Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant, it was awarded the Grand Prize for Documentaries at the 1983 Sundance Film Festival. STYLE WARS is regarded as the indispensable document of New York Street culture of the early ’80s, the filmic record of a golden age of youthful creativity that exploded into the world from a city in crisis.

STYLE WARS captured the look and feel of New York’s ramshackle subway system as graffiti writers’ public playground, battleground and spectacular artistic canvas. Opposing them by every means possible were Mayor Edward Koch, the police, and the New York Transit Authority. Meanwhile MCs, DJs and B-boys rocked the city with new sounds and new moves and street corner breakdance battles evolved into performance art.

New York’s legendary kings of graffiti and b-boys own a special place in the hip hop pantheon. STYLE WARS has become an emblem of the original, embracing spirit of hip hop as it reached out across the world from underground tunnels, uptown streets, clubs and playgrounds.

"A breakthrough documentary." A.O. Scott, The New York Times

“The best hip hop film ever made. Reveals hip hop in its purest state, capturing it before it was part of pop culture and a source of revenue for major corporate entities. The film shows the innocence of these young innovators who are considered forefathers of a movement bigger than they could have ever imagined. A superb job of showing the bond between the different elements, displaying how the art, music and dance are interchangeable and maintain a close symbiotic relationship.”Insomniac DVD Highlights

"The Holy Grail of hip-hop movies."XLR8R

“Hip hop’s Rosetta Stone.” VIBE
Style Wars (1983) - the critically-acclaimed cult classic was originally broadcasted on PBS and
won the grand prize for documentaries at the 1984 Sundance Film Festival

Henry Chalfant – Producer

Starting out as a sculptor in New York in the 1970s, Henry Chalfant turned to photography and film to do an in-depth study of hip-hop culture and graffiti art. He became one of the foremost authorities on New York subway art and other aspects of urban youth culture. His photographs record hundreds of ephemeral art works that have long since vanished.

To Chalfant’s credit are three of the most influential documentations of aerosol art. He co-authored the book Subway Art (1984) with Martha Cooper and he co-produced the film Style Wars (1983) with the film’s director Tony Silver.

In 1987 Chalfant co-authored the book Spraycan Art with James Prigoff, documenting the global expansion of graffiti. Each one of these documentary efforts have been embraced by the international graffiti community and they have served as cultural blueprints for graffiti art movements around the world. Chalfant also directed with Rita Fecher a documentary on South Bronx gangs, Flyin’ Cut Sleeves (1994) and he directed From Mambo to Hip Hop (2006) portraying two generations of Latino youth growing up in the South Bronx.

Tony Silver – Director / Producer (April 15th, 1935 – February 1st, 2008)

Tony Silver was a native of New York City, where he attended Columbia University and briefly pursued an acting career, before becoming the leading independent maker of movie trailers on the east coast. He began making his own films in 1970.

Following Style Wars, he directed and produced a feature documentary, Arisman Facing The Audience, tracing the artistic and spiritual journeys from Manhattan to Guangzhou, China of Marshall Arisman, master painter, teacher, and storyteller, Marshall Arisman. Admired worldwide for uncompromising images of worldly violence and terror Arisman is seen as “an enchanter, a shaman,” perceived as a painter of “serial killer syndrome,” and the possessor of knowledge about the afterlife, that, says a colleague, he “won’t tell us [about it], he’s so fucking perverse.”

Silver’s public television film Anita Ellis, For The Record documents a rare recording session by the legendary jazz-pop singer with the pianist Ellis Larkins. Broadcast on PBS and in England, Germany and Scandinavia. Silver’s first film, The Miss Nude America Movie (1970), documents the strange journey of a wheelchair-bound boy, founder of Naked City, Indiana. The film was shown at the New York Film Festival.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Death Of Desktop Computers? Fugetaboutit!

CES 2015: Death of Laptop, Desktop PCs Isn't About to Happen

IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS: There is a renewed interest in laptops and desktop this year at the CES, and the manufacturers are ready for the attention.

An awful lot of smartphones continue to sell each year as old ones die and new ones become hot items -- all told, a shade more than 1 billion in 2013 worldwide, and an expected 1.3 billion in 2014. The same goes for tablets, which are expected to sell nearly 200 million units worldwide in 2015.

Despite those formidable sales numbers, there is still a strong market for laptop and desktop PCs, no matter what trends the market research people are producing. About 300 million portable PCs were sold in 2014, a tick up from the previous year, and prospects look good for sales increases to continue in 2015.

The facts are that smartphones and tablets simply cannot do what larger-form PCs can do, especially in a business setting. They certainly cannot perform as quickly or efficiently as laptops or desktop PCs for most of the work force. In fact, smaller form computers never will be able to do what larger ones can do. Period.

While smartphones and tablets drew most of the attention at the Consumer Electronics Show last year, things have cooled down a bit in 2015. Tablet sales, especially by the Apple and Google knockoffs, have dropped, and even iPads and Android tablets have seen sales level off or drop in the last 12 to 18 months.

Thus, there is a renewed interest in laptops and desktop this year at the CES, and the manufacturers like Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Acer, Asus, Samsung, and Toshiba -- to name just a few -- were ready for the attention.

"When your kid goes off to college, are you going to give him only a cell phone?" Dell Inc. founder and CEO Michael Dell asked recently during an interview in Laguna Beach, Calif.

Dell told eWEEK that the PC sales are on the rise for his company, which recently received an order for 10,000 laptops from one customer. Dell also said his PC business is posting a much larger margin ["multiple times the profit"] than the slim 1 percent profit margin its biggest competitor, China's Lenovo, shows in financial statements.

Dell said PCs will continue to play an increasingly important role for his company. PCs are important for everything from customer acquisition to having a complete enterprise offering, he said. Despite the declining sales worldwide over the past three years—due in large part to the growth in popularity of tablets—PCs are still a fundamental computing tool for much of the world's population.

That is even truer in developing markets, where hardware continues to be a high priority. Businesses in these countries still need networking and other technologies, "but they start with the basics," Dell said.

"If you give people the tools they need to make them more productive, you give them a PC," he said. "Maybe not just a PC; maybe a PC and a smartphone. But the PC is important."

In 2015, the number of PC shipments—which include traditional desktops and notebooks as well as premium ultramobile systems—will climb to almost 317 million units, up about 2.9 percent from this year and almost equaling the number of units shipped in 2013. Much of that will come in the commercial PC space, according to Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner.

"2014 will be known by a relative revival of the global PC market," Antwal said. "Business upgrades from Windows XP and the general business replacement cycle will lessen the downward trend, especially in Western Europe. This year, we anticipate nearly 60 million professional PC replacements in mature markets."

CES 2015 was crammed with innovative new laptop and desktop PCs from a variety of vendors. The vast majority of them are running Intel's new fifth-generation Core Broadwell processors, the first to leverage the company's latest 14nm process and architecture.

Toshiba, Acer, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Samsung, Asus and Lenovo are in an intense battle for market share by adding features, lowering weights and prices, and increasing battery life in a flotilla of new personal computers that can put mere 6-month-old laptops to shame.

New PCs at CES

Here is an overview by respected IT analyst Charles King on new PCs from three major PC vendors -- HP, Dell, and Lenovo -- being shown at CES 2015:

--HP is a longstanding CES attendee, and the company arrived this year with a host of new products and some excess baggage -- the fact that this will be the last CES HP attends as a unified company. On the PC side, HP's new Pavillion Mini Desktop and Stream Mini Desktop squeeze the performance of a conventional PC into a package that's approximately 6-inch x 6-inch x 2-inch in size, and weighs less than 1.5 pounds. What makes the Mini products run are fanless Intel CPUs that don't require mechanical cooling. Despite their diminutive size, HP's Minis can be upgraded/expanded and have numerous ports for attaching external devices.
HP - Envy Phoenix Desktop - Intel Core i7 - 16GB Memory - 1TB + 16GB Hybrid Hard Drive - Black | Retail: $1,199.99

The company calls its new HP ZBook 14 and 15u the industry's thinnest, lightest workstations, and is positioning them for mobile-minded engineers and designers. HP is pitching its new ultra HD monitors as "interactive virtual reality displays" that enable a variety of immersive experiences. The new Officejet 8040 AIO printer includes Neat software that allows the device to seamlessly integrate with mobile devices and also supports HP's Instant Ink discount ink replacement service.

--Dell hasn't had a high profile at recent CESs, but the company hit the show this year with an expanded portfolio of laptops and tablets that earned it seven CES Innovation awards -- the most in the company's history.

Dell - Precision Tower Workstation - 1 x Intel Xeon E5-1620 v3 3.50 GHz - Black | Retail: $1,859.99

Leading Dell's pack is the new Venue 8 7000 that at 6mm qualifies as the world's thinnest tablet (it also captured a coveted CES Best of Innovation award). Other award-winning Dell products include the redesigned XPS13 laptop, which packs a 13-inch display into an 11-inch laptop frame; the XPS15, which is now available with a 4k ultra HD display; the Alienware Area 51 gaming desktop; the Latitude Education 13-inch laptop and Mobile Cart; the Inspiron 15 7000 Series laptop; and two new monitors -- the curved Dell UltraSharp 34 and the Dell UltraSharp 27, a 5K ultra HD display. The company also introduced new Alienware 15 and 17 laptops and said it is adding Intel RealSense 3D Camera Front F200 to Inspiron 15 5000 Series laptops and Inspiron 23 all-in-one (AIO) desktops.

--Lenovo arrived at CES shortly after manufacturing its 100 millionth Thinkpad laptop and introduced a host of new products to that line. The pick of the litter is the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which the company calls the world's lightest 14-inch performance ultrabook. The ThinkVision 24 is an attractive new borderless display, and the company's new Thinkpad Stack offers an innovative approach to taking accessories like back-up batteries, storage and Bluetooth speakers on the road.

Lenovo - ThinkStation P500 Tower Workstation - 1 x Processors Supported - 1 x Intel Xeon E5-1630 v3 Quad-core (4 Core) 3.70 GHz - Multi | Retail: $2,098.69

Lenovo also highlighted new additions to its respected Yoga line, including the YOGA Tablet 2 featuring the compa-ny's AnyPen technology which allows owners to use a common pencil or pen for handwriting and navigation instead of a special stylus. There were also two new YOGA 3 models (11-inch and 14-inch) and three new YOGA Thinkpads (12-inch, 14-inch and 15-inch) that are designed to blend the best aspects and features of the company's signature laptop lines. — Chris Preimesberger | EWeek

A Virus Called Fear

A Virus Called Fear

Fear is apparently a universal emotion; all persons, consciously or unconsciously, have fear in some sort.

In short, fear is the ability to recognize danger leading to an urge to confront it or flee from it.

Very few people understand the programming of fear, and why it distorts our perceptions.

While fear is a program used for our survival, fear also creates irrational beliefs that cause larger systems of fear like politics, religion and the media.

A Virus Called Fear is short film about the conditioning of fear, and what irrational fears can lead to. Written and directed by Ben Fama Jr.

Why We Love & Hate — The Humble Pig

A farm near Palmyra, Nebraska specializes in organically raised pigs. Many pigs, however,
are raised in crates and never see the light of day.

Why We Love—And Loath—The Humble Pig

Among pig tales the author tells is the story of the animal’s surprising snout.

Winston Churchill  famously remarked, “I’m fond of pigs. Dogs look up to you, cats look down on you. Give me a pig—he just looks you in the eye and treats you as an equal.” But as Mark Essig, author of Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History Of The Humble Pig discovered, today’s pigs have been almost completely banished from sight to industrial hog farms where they live in gestation crates, never seeing the light of day.

Talking from his home in Asheville, North Carolina, he teases out our long relationship with the pig; explains how the Chinese are abandoning ancient husbandry practices to satisfy the booming demand for pork, while Americans are slowly turning away from the industrially produced variety; and why a pig’s snout is one of the most complex, and delicate, organs in all of nature.
You call our long relationship with the pig “a tale of love and loathing.” Unpack that idea for us.
We have to start with how incredibly useful the pig is to humans. The pig, like a person, is an omnivore. They’ll eat corn in a field, they’ll eat garbage on city streets, your kitchen waste or acorns in forests, even seashells on beaches. They’re also self-sufficient. You can pretty much turn them loose into the woods and they will take care of themselves. They’re good at fighting off predators.

If you wanted to produce a large amount of meat quickly, the pig was the animal for you.

Maybe most remarkably of all, they reproduce so quickly. A cow gestates for about nine months and gives you one calf. A sow gestates for just four months and gives you eight, twelve, or even more piglets. Each will grow to a weight where you can slaughter them very quickly. So, if you wanted to produce a large amount of meat quickly, the pig was the animal for you. Its other advantage was that it cured so well. You could apply some salt and some smoke to pork and you’d get bacon or ham, whereas, cured beef and mutton tended not to be so palatable.
That’s the love side of the equation. The loathing side has to do primarily with point number one: their omnivorous diet. Because a pig will eat anything, it means it eats unsavoury things such as dead animals, rotting garbage, and even human faeces. Particularly among people who are concerned with the ritual purity of their religions, pigs have been considered a loathsome creature despite their usefulness.

When were pigs first domesticated?
There’s good evidence that they were domesticated independently on a number of different occasions. Several times in China, maybe once in India, But the case we know most about happened on the northern fringe of what we call the “fertile crescent,” in Anatolia, Turkey, probably about 10,000 years ago. It happened after dogs were domesticated, but most likely a little bit before sheep and goats were domesticated.
Once wealthier societies developed, people started to get picky and reject pigs for the very reason that they had earlier embraced them...

The peccaries native to the Americas are related to pigs. When did their genetic paths diverge?
Their genetic paths diverged about 45 million years ago. They’ve dug up fossils of much larger peccary-like creatures in the fossil beds of North Dakota and elsewhere in the U.S.: short-legged, barrel-bodied, creatures who could survive either by rooting things up from under the earth or by scavenging. The domestic pig is descended from the Eurasian wild boar, which is a species found everywhere from Southeast Asia to England. But it was not found in the New World or Australia. Pigs first made their way to the Americas on Columbus’ second voyage. They thrived in the New World better than any other animal.
Thousands of newly arriving pigs are inspected for quality in Guangdong, China.
Photograph by John Stanmeyer, National Geographic Creative

You say that “ between them, the Jews and the Romans set the terms that would define the pig.” Explain.
That gets back to the love and loathing. Pigs were first domesticated in their role as village scavengers. They lived amongst you in the village and provided an incredibly useful service: they got rid of something you didn’t want, which was garbage and other waste. And they gave you something you very much did want, which was meat and fat.

But once wealthier societies developed, people started to get picky and reject pigs for the very reason that they had earlier embraced them. It was pretty much true throughout the Near East, not only among the Israelites but also among the Egyptians. They rejected the pig as ritually impure. You would never sacrifice a pig to the gods. If you wanted to remain pure, and we have the best evidence of this from the Torah, then you could not touch the pig.

That is a strain of fear and loathing that went on throughout Western culture. But when the Romans conquered Palestine, they were very puzzled by the Jewish avoidance of the pig, because nobody has ever loved swine quite so much as the Romans did [Laughs]. The earliest collection of recipes we have, De Re Coquinaria, by Apicius, has far more recipes for pork than for any other type of meat. It was central to the Roman diet.

At a farm in Brazil, sows are confined to sectioned crates that allow a mother to suckle
her young without accidenatly crushing them.
Photograph by George Steinmetz, National Geographic Creative

A pig’s snout is a thing of wonder, isn’t it? Anatomize it for us.
I think of it as a short version of the elephant’s trunk. It’s capable of incredible muscle control, so it can sniff under the dirt. It can let in enough air to smell things without letting it get clogged with dirt. It’s incredibly powerful. Pigs have been known to break up the concrete in their pens to get at what’s below. Yet it’s incredibly subtle and sensitive, both to touch and smell. One study measured the nerves of pigs and the part of the brain connected to the touch-sensitive parts of the body. With humans, most of those nerves connect to the hands, because that’s where we’re touch-sensitive. In the pig, almost everything is concentrated to the snout. That’s their primary interface with the world.
Today’s industrial pig farms are concentration camps of cruelty. Tell us about gestation crates and other forms of cruelty inflicted on pigs.
Most pigs never see the light of day. They spend their entire life in these low industrial metal sheds. The sows are kept in crates, which are generally about two feet by seven feet. The famous animal scientist, Temple Grandin said it was like spending your entire life in an airplane seat. There were many steps along the road to confinement hog farming. Each step, from pigs living on pasture to pigs living on concrete in sheds, seemed to be a reasonable response to the prevailing conditions. Yet we’ve ended up with a situation where pigs live hidden away in horrific conditions. And, in my opinion, something should be done to alleviate those conditions.

The state you live in, North Carolina, has a huge problem with pig poop. What is the issue?
For nearly all of history, animal manure was an incredibly valuable resource. They used to scrape up horse poop from the streets of the cities and carry it into the country for fertilizer.
But like many things, what’s good in small doses becomes a problem in large doses. Hog farms with 5,000 sows can produce as much waste as a small city. But a small city is required to have an advanced sewage disposal system, whereas hog farms aren’t. They just pump the waste into what are euphemistically called “lagoons,” where it is allowed to evaporate and eventually pumped on to nearby fields. But there’ s such an incredible over-concentration of nitrogen and other things that it poses a health hazard to people living, especially downwind.
These lagoons have also been known to burst in times of heavy rain. There was a famous instance in North Carolina in which a dam burst and the waste was flooded into a river, causing a massive fish kill-off.  
When you spend time around pigs you see they are very complex creatures that have a lot going on behind those eyes...
When I return to the UK I see pigs roaming free in fields and supermarket shelves groaning with free range bacon and pork, often from heritage breeds like Tamworths. Why is the UK so far ahead?
I would resist that characterization it a bit because, at least in some areas, like where I live in the western part of the state, it’s fairly easy to find pasture-raised pork and heritage breed pork. Natural food stores, like Whole Foods, are also paying attention to pig welfare. But certainly in the larger supermarket chains, you’ll find commodity pork from the major growers.

An organic farm near Palmyra, Nebraska allows its pigs to revel in the muddy outdoors.
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Creative
The UK has always been ahead of the US in animal welfare concerns. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded before its equivalent in the U.S. In recent years, the EU has banned gestation crates and stipulated that all pigs must have access to a certain amount of straw. In the US, we romanticize farmers and don’t like to tell them what to do. We romanticize corporate interests and don’t like to regulate what corporations can do.
The changes that are happening here are because of consumer pressure. When groups like the Humane Society publicize what goes on, people get disgusted by those practices. That’s why some restaurants have asked their suppliers to phase out gestation crates from their supply chains. But it takes a long time to switch hog barn infrastructure to make that possible.

While the West is becoming more humane, ancient husbandry practices in places like China are disappearing. Deconstruct that paradox for us.
It’s a bit like the global warming problem. Just as we got started on our industrialization much earlier, we got started on meat eating much earlier.  China is doing all its industrialization now, you have a population of 1.3 billion, and as the country grows richer, there’s a rising middle class. And when people start to earn a little bit more money, one of the first luxury goods they spend it on is more meat —like Europe and the U.S. before 1900, when diets started switching from primarily grain and vegetable to include a regular meat component.

With China, that’s only happened with the last generation. Plus their cuisine has always been very devoted to pork. So, the best way to raise a lot of pork quickly is to switch to factory production models.

A man drives a pig through Basque country. Pigs, the author points out, are pretty much self sufficient.
“You can pretty much turn them loose into the woods and they will take care of themselves.”
Photograph by William Albert Allard, National Geographic Creative

Do you raise pigs yourself, Mark?
I do not. I live in the city, so my neighbors would be upset with me if I were to raise pigs [Laughs]. But there’s a wonderful little college just outside of Asheville where I live called Warren Wilson College. It used to be the Asheville farm school and they still have a farm where they raise sheep and cows and chickens and pigs. For one year, I spent time there volunteering, doing pig chores out on the farm so I got to know these creatures better. I scraped out stalls, I castrated piglets, I clipped the needle teeth on piglets and participated in a couple of hog slaughters.

What do you love about pigs?
First, their liveliness. When you spend time around pigs you see they are very complex creatures that have a lot going on behind those eyes of theirs. They remind me a lot of my dogs in the way they act.

The other thing I like is that they have such a complex history and relationship to human beings stretching so far back into time. The pig is so much like us. It has similar teeth, similar guts. Today, doctors and medical scientists rummage around in pigs to find various parts that they can use in humans, like pig skin or pig heart valves. They’re very much like us biologically and they’ve lived alongside us for a long, long time. — Simon Worrell | National Geographic

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Top 5 NBA Plays Of The Night: May 25th, 2015

Top 5 NBA Plays Of The Night: May 25th, 2015

Check out the top five plays from Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.

James Harden 2015 NBA MVP Runner-Up

Monday, May 25, 2015

Top 5 NBA Plays Of The Night: May 24th, 2015

Top 5 NBA Plays Of The Night: May 24th, 2015

Here are your top 5 plays from Game 3 between the Hawks and Cavaliers.

The King serves-up a double-facial

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Top 5 NBA Plays Of The Night: May 23rd, 2015

Top 5 NBA Plays Of The Night: May 23rd, 2015

Here are your top 5 plays from Game 3 between the Warriors and Rockets.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Top 5 NBA Plays Of The Night: May 22nd, 2015

Top 5 NBA Plays Of The Night: May 22nd, 2015

Here are your top 5 plays from Game 2 of the Cavaliers vs. Hawks.

JR Smith's reverse lay-up against the Hawks

Friday, May 22, 2015

Top 5 NBA Plays Of The Night: May 21th, 2015

Top 5 NBA Plays Of The Night: May 21th, 2015

Take a look at the top plays from Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

Curry & Thompson tag-teams Harden's last ditched-attempt
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