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A summer retreat opportunity for writers focused on animal rights literature

The 300-acre Camp Muse at Shin Pond, Maine, is the site of a Summer Retreat Program for writers, scholars, artists, educators, and other cultural producers and knowledge workers focusing on animals and/or their humane treatment. The program, operated by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), invites all interested parties to apply for a residency at the property, which is open between July 1 and September 30, 2013.

Camp Muse, a wooded retreat at the edge of a pristine and peaceful pond just ten miles from the northern entrance to Baxter State Park, offers an idyllic atmosphere for research, contemplation, writing, and other creative work. The purpose of the program, operated through the generosity of longtime HSUS board member K. William Wiseman and his wife Madge, is to encourage scholarly, cultural, and practical projects relating to animals, and to provide a site for enhanced productivity on such projects.

For views of the property, and other details, see:

Applications for use of the Shin Pond property are evaluated by an ad hoc committee at The HSUS.

There is no application form to submit, but the applicant must present:

  • a statement of interest that includes relevant information on the project he/she intends to pursue;
  • the specific work product that will be produced during the retreat period;
  • details of the likely outcome or application of the work undertaken or product produced at the retreat;
  • any applicable scheduling concerns or scheduling preferences; and
  • two professional references.

Applicants may be asked to submit copies of prior publications.

If approved, the applicant is expected to cover the costs of transportation to and from Shin Pond, local transportation while staying there, food, beverages, entertainment, recreational activities (including admission to nearby Baxter State Park), long distance telephone services, and all other costs connected with the applicant’s use of the property. The HSUS will, however, pay for local telephone service, electrical utilities, and routine maintenance.

Participants may take up to three household members (including spouses, significant others, and children) with them. Please note that because Camp Muse is a Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust-protected wildlife sanctuary, companion animals require specific prior approval and applicants may not be permitted to bring them. In all events, approved cats will need to remain indoors and dogs must be leashed or under voice control at all times.

The house at Shin Pond has the amenities common to any comfortable home, including all utilities and a full complement of furniture, kitchen ware, and other household equipment.

There is a telephone line and high-speed Internet access. There is convenient food shopping at Shin Pond Village and the town of Patten.

The broad guidelines for the kind of work appropriate to the retreat include:

  • major intellectual projects such as a book, a chapter on an animal-related topic, a case study, or an on-line course in animal studies.
  • projects of smaller scope and/or shorter duration

We prefer a commitment of at least two weeks. Requests for use of the property for shorter periods will be given lower priority. The property is not generally available for very brief stays, e.g., an overnight or weekend visit.

Limited financial support for travel will be considered.

Applications should be sent to Dr. Bernard Unti at The Humane Society of the United States, 2100 L Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20037, by fax to 301-258-3077, or email to Applications will be received on an ongoing basis beginning immediately.

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Farmed fish may be safe for humans but not for the oceans

So it looks like the FDA is going to approve the sale and consumption genetically altered salmon.

The AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon contains a growth hormone from the Chinook salmon, which causes it to grow twice as quickly as regular Atlantic salmon. By the way, you really should check out the company’s website; this is a company concerned about technology and intellectual property and the bottom line, not animal welfare.

Here is a photo that compares one of their salmon (background) to a normal Atlantic salmon (foregound).

Genetically modified salmon

Even if I did eat fish, I can’t imagine eating something that has been genetically modified to get fat quickly. Do we really know the long-term effects of “get fat fast” fish on human bodies?

But that’s not what I’m most concerned about.

I’m most concerned about the impact on the oceans of farmed fish.

The FDA said the these salmon “posed little risk to the environment.”

I find this assessment hard to believe, because the FDA doesn’t regulate the oceans. It can’t know the repercussions of an expanding salmon industry on the oceans around the world.

Farmed fish typically are fed food from the ocean. That is, fisherman suck up or net vast quantities of krill and sardines and other small creatures to feed to the salmon.

Yes, it is rather ironic that we must fish for food to feed to fish.

Already there are numerous signs that the overfishing of the oceans is having a negative impact on creatures that depend on these fish. Like the Magellanic and African penguins, which now must swim farther from their nests to find food for their young. The reason they’re traveling further is because the fishing boats are taking the food that is closest to shore.

And what if the farmed fish industry continues to grow? What will the impact on penguins be then? I doubt the FDA takes penguins into account when it approves genetically modified salmon. But it should. Until the regulators of the world take a more holistic approach to the fishing industry, we will continue to deplete the oceans.

Everything is connected.

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Book Review: Mark Twain’s Book of Animals

I recently discovered (and ordered) a book that focuses on Mark Twain and his writings and views about animals. Edited by Mark Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Mark Twain’s Book of Animals, focuses on the many ways Twain not only wrote about animals but advocated on their behalf.

Here’s an article that summarizes the book. And an excerpt:

Fishkin was inspired to undertake the project after realizing how central animals were to Twain’s works and that his views on animals revealed a great deal about how he viewed people.

Fishkin was surprised by what she found during the course of her research. “ I had not realized when I embarked on this project that Twain was the most prominent American of his era to throw his weight behind the animal welfare movement.”

Mark Twain was greatly influenced by the ideas that Charles Darwin laid out in his groundbreaking publication, The Descent of Man (1871), a book that “startled the world,” as Twain put it. She examined copious notes that Twain wrote in the margins of his copy of The Descent of Man (housed with the Mark Twain Papers at the Bancroft Library) and analyzed their significance.

In particular, Fishkin found that that Twain was affected by Darwin’s idea that man and animal were in reality, much more similar than people liked to believe. “The topic he was dealing with was emotional and intellectual continuities between humans and non-human animals. Darwin wrote that the lower animals were capable of experiencing the same emotions as people and that they were capable of rudimentary reasoning, as well. ”

I look forward to reading this book.

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Book Review: Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee

 An inside look at the life of an outsider

Elizabeth Costello is a challenging novel, just like the namesake character. This is a book that alternates between brief scenes between mother and son, mother and ex-lover, mother in purgatory — and extended lectures on many topics.

Including animal rights.

In one lecture which began as an essay — The Lives of Animals — Costello lectures on the cruelty of killing animals. It is a lecture not exactly met with enthusiasm and it’s an experience that many vegans and vegetarians have probably shared at one point or another.

The experience of an outsider.

Costello is an outsider, partly because of her trade and mostly because of her lifestyle.

Coetzee has written about outsiders for many years now. Based purely on his relative silence when it comes to book promotion, my guess is that he has a great deal of experience in this area.

Is he a vegan? Vegetarian? I have no idea. All I do know is that he has captured in this book a feeling that resonates with me.


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