05 September 2019

At the zoo

Two topics this week have kept me much too close to my computer: Hurricane Dorian and events in the British Parliament. I was "present" via parliamentlive.tv for two of the key votes in the House of Commons, along with much of the debates on both motions. At the same time, we've all been painfully aware of Dorian grinding away for a near-eternity at the Bahamas, and now washing over much of the U.S. southeastern seaboard.

Maybe another time I'll look at the charges and countercharges of "Russophobia" surrounding the re-examination of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its evil Secret Protocol, and the many other storms and clangs surrounding the observation of September 1, 1939 -- the opening shots of World War II. (For now, I'll just refer you to Sean Guillory's brief and fair treatment of American Russophobia in the Moscow Times.)

All that is for another time ... maybe.

"Who are you?"
Today, Judy and I ripped ourselves away from our workstations and took a trip to the Oregon Zoo. The last time I mentioned a visit to a zoo on this blog was almost six years ago (scroll down to "Kazan' Zoo and Botanical Garden.") Again today, with a sting of nostalgia, I thought of the essay assignment I gave college entrance exam prep classes in Elektrostal:

Exercise from Olga Afanasyeva, Virginia Evans, Victoria Kopylova, Practice Exam Papers for the Russian State Exam, 2010 Revised Edition,
Moscow: Express Publishing/Prosveshchenie Publishers.
Here's how one of my students expressed herself:
Is it ever a good idea to keep animals in zoos?

I think that animals should never be kept in zoos, because it is very terrible for them. Of course, people spend time in zoos, but it would be better for people to watch “Animal Planet” instead of visiting zoos. Zoos are very bad for the animals’ health and zoos are uncomfortable for animals. To spend your whole life in a cage... For people such conditions wouldn’t be comfortable. WHY MUST ANIMALS LIVE IN SUCH CONDITIONS? This is not right.

Why not give animals better conditions? It would be better for them and also for the people. There are certainly zoos where conditions are similar to the wild. But the zoo where the animals are in cages and bad conditions – that’s awful.

If I could I would release all the animals from zoos but unfortunately I can’t do it.
I wonder how Kate would have evaluated the beautiful facility we saw today, with its heavy emphasis on conservation, care, and public education. According to its Web site, the zoo participates in 62 Species Survival Plans. However, what I loved best about the zoo's spacious habitats was that animals could completely ignore us. One chimpanzee consumed a leafy lunch with his or her back to us. Some of the animal sleep areas and play areas were surrounded nearly full circle (well, maybe 240 degrees) by observation points; others required us to look from a higher level than their homes or through portholes, but I think even so, animals had places to hide. As I watched the elephants tromp аt a stately pace in a group of three from one snack bar to another, they had a non-negotiable dignity that my rapt stares could not take away.

That's it for this week! Now I will go back to watching the human zoo that, for too much of the time, is our political reality. The elephant community we saw today could show our species a thing or two about how to conduct ourselves with gravity.

On this very day, 24-7 Prayer celebrates its twentieth birthday. As Pete Greig says in his blog post on the anniversary,
The first discovery was that prayer is actually the most important thing in life. Think about it and you’ll realise this is true. Whether you’re desperately needing a miracle, urgently needing guidance, or just needing to know if God’s actually really there, nothing matters more than prayer.

The second discovery was that we were embarrassingly bad at the most important thing in the world. We were lazy, distracted and confused when it came to prayer.
As I continue to come across long-lost books (see last week's examples), a book edited by Chuck Fager brought back a specific moment in the long and complicated relationship between American Friends and the American Friends Service Committee. The book: Quaker Service at the Crossroads. As part of the context-setting first part of the book, Fager includes an article by R.W. Tucker, "Structural Incongruities in Quaker Service," that was written back in 1971 for Quaker Religious Thought, and that is still very helpful for today's conversations about the ways our institutions do and don't serve our mission. I'd really love to know what you think.

Tony Wesolowsky writes about an NGO in Nobosibirsk that helps young people after they leave the orpanage system. Judy and I got to know a similar organization in Moscow, Big Change, with a very similar mission. (We're glad to note that Friends House Moscow helped start Big Change.) Wesolowsky's article is a good introduction into the reasons these organizations are needed.

In the meantime, a mixed picture for Russian legal actions against demonstrators for honest elections (and against police brutality).

"Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" Hans Theessink and Knud Møller, performing in Greve, Denmark.

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