Posts Tagged ‘horses’

Watermelon and Other Amazing Things

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

   

 The amazing watermelon.

The amazing watermelon.

By Bob Gaydos

  I have recently taken a brief break from writing, well, just because. It helped. For one thing, I learned that if you can turn your gaze away from the chaos of the day, even briefly, sometimes life can be amazing. For example, you know what’s amazing? Watermelon. Watermelon’s amazing.

       Think about it. It is sweet, juicy, virtually free of calories and is loaded with nutrients, including Vitamin C and lycopene, a combination which, the science suggests, may fight off cancer, heart problems, macular degeneration, inflammation and cell damage, while protecting your skin and hair. Also, being mostly water with a little fiber, it’s good for digestive health. You can eat it or drink it, it grows anywhere that it’s not too frigid and if you binge on it, it’s a terrific diuretic. Yum today, gone tomorrow.

        Amazing. Who thought of this?

        Well, we don’t really know. It was just kind of here, like a lot of other stuff, just waiting to be discovered, apparently in West Africa, from which it spread to Egypt, India and by the 10th Century, China, which is today’s largest producer of watermelon. Europeans brought it to the New World in the 16th Century and the Japanese, to the dismay of seed-spitters, developed a seedless variety in 1939. Today, there’s a watermelon variety for every palate or picnic.

        One more bit of watermelon trivia: In 2007, the Oklahoma State Senate declared watermelon the official state vegetable, although the rest of the world considers it to be a fruit. Oh, Oklahoma.

         But the point here is that this fruit grows abundantly, is both delicious and healthful and has virtually no significant risks associated with it. It’s like someone left us a gift and hoped we would find and appreciate it: You’re going to need and enjoy this, earthlings. Until recently — well, just now — I hardly gave it a thought. But no more. Go ahead, I know the season’s about over, but find one and take a bite.

       Amazing, right?

       You know what else is amazing? Benford’s Law. In fact, it is mind-numbingly amazing, in my humble opinion. It’s also called the Newcomb–Benford law, the law of anomalous numbers, or the first-digit law. By any name, it’s well, you know.

        As simply as I can explain for the non-mathematicians or non-accountants (like me) out there, the law states that in naturally occurring sizable groups of numbers, be it dollars in a budget, acres, heights of mountains, populations, street addresses or stock prices, the first number of each entry is likely to be 1 about 30 per cent of the time, while 9 is the leading number only about 5 percent of the time. And, the frequency moves downward from 1 to 9 in a predictable curve. This happens all the time, unless the sample is too small or there are restrictions in the collection, such as the height of basketball players (5 to 7 being the range).

 The Benford’s Law curve of probability .

The Benford’s Law curve of probability .

         In practical terms, this means it’s possible to determine if someone is cooking the books, the natural tendency of humans being to distribute numbers randomly, with each number having an equal chance of lead status. The law has been admitted in criminal fraud cases at local, state and federal levels. The IRS must use because it won’t even comment on it. A recent study of reported Covid-19 cases indicated that results from Italy, Portugal, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium and Chile are suspicious, because the numbers don’t match the Benford Curve.

    I learned about this amazing law from the Netflix series, “Connected,” which I recommend for those who like their science approachable and with a little humor. It turns out the law had a leading role in another Netflix series, “Ozark,” in which it was used to detect fraud in a cartel financial statement. And in the 2016 movie, “The Accountant,” Ben Affleck uses It to expose the theft of funds from a robotics company.

    So I’m really late to the game on this one. But that doesn’t make it any less amazing that, in the seemingly randomness of our numbers-crazy society, someone/thing/power has provided order, if we only know where to look for it. Physicist Frank Benford knew where to look in 1938 when he did an extensive test of the phenomenon first noted by astronomer/mathematician Simon Newcomb in 1838. Newcomb noted that the early pages in a book of algorithms were used much more often than the later pages. Benford took Newcomb’s observation and gave it meaning.

       Here’s one more amazing thing I just learned after years of taking it for granted — horses can jump fences even though they don’t really see them the way humans do. It’s not as simple as see the fence, jump the fence.

        For starters, horses’ eyes (the largest of any land mammal) are not in the front of their heads like ours are. Horses have one eye on each side of their face. Just take a look. Never gave it much thought because, well, it looks right and normal, which it is. But it also means horses have to turn and raise their heads a lot more than we do to see the full picture of things in front of them, including fences they have to jump.

         Briefly, according to British Eventing Life, horses have two kinds of vision. One, monocular vision, means they see each side separately with either eye. This gives them a remarkably wide field of vision, except for what’s right in front of them. So they can see both sides of the fence as they approach it, but they can’t tell how close they are until they’re within about six feet. That’s when their binocular vision kicks in. They raise their heads to see directly in front of them to judge distance and height. Not much time when you’re cantering.

    

 See the fence; jump the fence.

See the fence; jump the fence.

    This feat also requires considerable teamwork from the rider, whose job is to give the horse every chance to succeed. That means providing a good approach and verbal, hand, leg and seat prompts, if necessary. Well-trained horses make it look easy, but here’s another amazing thing: Horses’ brains have a left side and a right side, that act as two separate brains, meaning horses have to be trained from both sides. Their amazing double brain quickly computes the data received from both visions as the horse approaches the jump. Up and over. I don’t know who thought of this. By the way, if I messed up any of this explanation, I hope horse people will forgive me. I just find this animal to be amazing.

        Finally, I guess my point here is that, at a time when amazingly evil and stupid things are happening, it is still possible to find some amazingly positive things in everyday life. I just need to keep looking for them. Peace.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

Country Life (and more) Midst COVID-19

Sunday, May 17th, 2020

Bob Gaydos

THE REPORT … emus, swans, secrecy and third parties

A couple of new neighbors. RJ photography

A couple of new neighbors.
RJ photography

  I’m a city boy. Bayonne, Binghamton, Annapolis, Middletown. Not big cities, but places where most stuff you need was in walking distance, there were downtowns, buses (in varying degrees), lots of kids, stickball, cats, dogs, and people you might nod and wave to. No emus.

      Today, I’m a country boy. Pine Bush. Burlingham actually. Slightly upstate New York (about 75 miles from the city), but definitely not urban or even suburban. It’s nice, except for the stuff you need not being in walking distance. The pandemic has made even that less of a nuisance since we’ve discovered that you can order anything online to be delivered to your door. It eliminates the human connection, but society has been working on that for some time now.

       Back to the emus. One of the pleasures of country living is the abundance of non-human neighbors. In the past I’ve commented on eagles, coyotes, owls, woodpeckers and the variety of visitors to our bird feeders (still just two cardinals). But that’s chicken feed compared to the menagerie we’ve seen on just one local road over the past few months.

       In the four-and-a-half miles under discussion, we have seen: Two stunning black swans, two emus, flocks of chickens, one beautiful white swan, one peacock (please get off the road)  a pig, two score of horses, herds of cows, four white, domesticated geese, Canada geese galore, a llama, several sheep (please stay off the road!), a blue heron, grazing herds of deer, a bull and one outspoken burro. A recent addition — a mare and her foal. Most of these are permanent residents we look forward to seeing regularly. Toto, we’re not in Bayonne anymore. By the way, I’ll give a shout out here to any reader who can identify this road.

       Hint: It’s in Orange County.

      — By the way … speaking of shouting out. Mitch McConnell is probably wishing he’d kept his mouth shut last week. The Senate majority leader first said that Barack Obama “should’ve kept his mouth shut” instead of criticizing the Dotard’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Classless,” McConnell suggested. He got mocked all over Twitter and Facebook for this absurd comment, given the lack of class demonstrated by the person he was defending. Then, McConnell had to eat crow by admitting that, contrary to what he and Dotard were saying, the Obama administration had indeed left a detailed playbook on how to handle future pandemics. Dotard got rid of it. That’s what happens when lying becomes so automatic you do it as naturally as breathing. McConnell is a disgrace.

       — By the way … Kentucky, the state represented by Republicans McConnell and the foolish Rand Paul, both of whom have objected to further stimulus funds for people who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19, is one of the states most economically impacted by the pandemic. This from the Lexington Herald-Leader: “Figures released Thursday show that another 103,548 Kentuckians filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total number of initial claims since the beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak in mid-March to nearly 500,000, or 24 percent of the state’s total civilian workforce. Two analyses from financial technology companies show Kentucky is one of the most-impacted states when measuring the number of claims as a percentage of the workforce, and when measuring the percentage increase in unemployment claims from the start of the COVID-19 crisis.” But hey, Kentuckians, keep electing these yohos because, you know, they’re poking fingers in the eyes of The Man.  And you’re about to lose your old Kentucky home. 

        — By the way … A lot of state and local governments have used the pandemic as an excuse to make it difficult or impossible to get access to public records. Many are routinely denying Freedom of Information requests. Of course, at the same time, these governments are making major decisions and spending billions fighting COVID-19. Not a time when government secrecy should be encouraged. David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a California-based nonprofit fighting this trend, says, “It’s just essential that the press and the public be able to dig in and see records that relate to how the government has responded to the crisis. That’s the only way really to avoid waste, fraud, abuse and to ensure that governments aren’t overstepping their bounds.” Or to find out if they even have a clue as to what they’re doing.

        — By the way … Rep. Justin Amash, an independent Michigan congressman who had the guts and good sense to quit the Republican Party, has again come to his senses and given up his foolhardy and potentially damaging bid to run for president as a Libertarian. (You didn’t know?) Amash blamed COVID-19 (it’s become a handy multi-purpose excuse) for making it so difficult to campaign. Call it a mercy killing. He didn’t mention that maybe he had no shot at winning and the effort would mostly be an exercise in ego and spreading routinely rejected Libertarian views. He was running because of his dislike for Drumpf, which is commendable, but his candidacy would also have gotten votes from Republicans and others who don’t like Drumpf, but can’t find themselves voting for Joe Biden or another Democrat. Shades of Ralph Nader and Al Gore and Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein. This is no year for symbolic votes, people.

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

We Don’t Eat Horses, Do We?

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Mustangs running free ... for how long?

By Bob Gaydos

Let’s talk about horse meat.

What’s that? You don’t want to talk about horse meat? Fine. Then I’ll talk and you listen. Please.

I’m talking about horse meat because, as some of you may have heard, there is a horse meat scandal engulfing Europe. It started with horse meat showing up in what were supposedly beef burgers in England and Ireland. It has subsequently shown up in packaged lasagna in Italy and in Swedish meatballs marketed by Ikea, which I, probably like you, thought was just a furniture company. Ikea quickly pulled all its meatballs off the market in Europe and Southeast Asia, even though the horse meat was detected only in a couple of samples in Czechoslovakia. There’s a good name to protect and Ikea customers were buying what they thought was ground beef, not horse meat. A smart business move. Some packaged meat products were also found to contain horse meat. Calls for more testing are spreading across the continent.

Let’s be clear. This is not a safety issue. Well, not primarily — some drugs given to horses can be dangerous, especially for unknowing consumers. Horse meat is a regular part of the diet in some countries, France and Khazakhstan, for example, where history has set precedence for eating horse meat. But a lot of people prefer not to eat horse meat for moral, personal reasons and purposely mislabeling beef products that contain horse meat (which is cheaper to produce because of fewer controls) is not just criminal, it is, in a very real sense, immoral.

So what? you say. Americans don’t eat horse meat and don’t slaughter horses. Supposedly no horse meat is imported into this country. Do I have to worry about horse meat showing up in Big Macs or tacos? (Probably not.) Then it’s not our problem, right?

Not so fast. The world economy is simply too inter-related for such an easy (typically American) dismissal — not our problem; move on. Mainstream American media news stories that finally caught up with the story, which broke in January, detailed Europe’s horse meat situation and went so far, geographically speaking, as mentioning meat suppliers in Mexico, but no farther.

But it turns out that there is a very real possibility that some of the horse meat being shipped out of Mexico — and Canada — includes horses bought from American businesses legally prohibited from selling to horse slaughterers and, furthermore, includes wild horses, protected presumably forever by federal law to roam free on federal land, perhaps to be adopted by caring humans and to die in peace. Not in a slaughterhouse.

Americans by and large don’t eat horse meat (polls show some 80 percent oppose slaughtering horses). Horse meat used to show up in pet food, but the animal decades ago passed into that special category we reserve for dogs and cats. Americans don’t eat animals who are pets, companions, participants in sports or, indeed, partners in war, all of which the horse has been in America. Spike is a companion; Secretariat was a champion.

This is not a matter of taste, but respect, even love, for fellow inhabitants of this planet. Americans do not raise horses for their meat and we recognize the rightness, if not the “right” of some 35,000 wild mustangs (the number once was in the millions) to run free on millions of acres of federal land in the West.

At least most of us do. Again, we’re talking ethics and morals here, not personal tastes in meat products. A law protecting horses from slaughter expired in 2011, but Congress in 2005 refused to fund inspections for horse slaughterhouses and, without inspections, you can’t operate a slaughterhouse in this country.

That situation has held until today. But there is an effort in New Mexico to authorize a horse slaughterhouse and Oklahoma is also debating whether to legalize the slaughter of horses. And the federal Bureau of Land Management has been under attack by advocacy groups for failing to protect the mustangs from what are said to be abusive, unnecessary efforts to cull herds through helicopter-driven roundups, for putting some 45,000 in “holding corrals” and for allegedly allowing thousands of them to be sold for slaughter in Mexico and Canada, to be shipped worldwide.

Ken Salazar recently resigned as Secretary of the Interior, admitting that the wild horses management issue was the toughest one he had faced. The wild horse advocacy groups counter that he never really faced the issue, being a former rancher who dealt with companies that sold horses to Mexican slaughterhouses. His would-be successor, Sally Jewell, is being pressured by horse advocacy groups to explain her positions on issues affecting wild horses, who must routinely battle energy companies and ranchers and farmers, whose livestock far outnumber the mustangs, for use of public lands.

While the issue has some currency, I suspect it will pass quietly from the American landscape, unless some horse meat is detected in a package of Swanson’s frozen meat loaf. Then, all hell will break loose and people will demand to know how that happened. How did they get horses to slaughter? Where were the inspectors? What do you mean these were wild horses? Didn’t Congress protect them in 1971, calling them “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West”? Didn’t that mean for life? Who’s protecting the horses?

Because, you see, Americans don’t eat horse meat.

bob@zestoforange.com