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Paul Grobstein's picture

Sunday NY Times ... and science/evolution/stories

Couple of articles that seemed relevant. One is in The Week in Review: A Pollock in the Eyes of Art and Science:

  • "a clash of cultures between two very different worlds - hard science and the more subjective, individualistic traditions of the art scholar"
  • ""art historians basically do not collaborate" whille science demands it"
  • "whether science and the trained "eye" of connoisseurship will ever see eye to eye remains uncertain"

The other was in the magazine: The Modern Kennel Conundrum. Its a good reminder that reproduction with variance and selection has been and is operating all the time in a variety of contexts. And raises some interesting additional issues

  • "Many traditionalists [non-narrative story tellers?] see mixing breeds as somehow irresponsible in and of itself."
  • "a peculiarly American tension: between tradition and improvisation, institutions and fads."
  • "to what extent are these new mutts a remedy for what’s wrong with our old dogs and to what extent are they a symptom of what’s wrong with us?"
  • "they were manipulating and then fixing the exact traits they wanted so that their line would “breed true” ... Hybrids do not breed true."
  • "a fad that is healthy and amiable and zips across the linoleum when you call it, Markham argues, works just as well as any animal buttressed by centuries of stately tradition."
  • "many of our haughtiest purebred lines are themselves recent human inventions, willed into being amid a surge of similar excitement."
  • "it is not altogether clear what exactly people meant by “breed” before a new class of Victorian dog breeders began shaping the species with unprecedented intensity. With the advent of dog shows and centralized, recorded pedigrees in the late 1800s, the dog fancy — the culture of competitive show breeders — pushed for strict physical uniformity within breeds and complete segregation between them. They made more and more finely honed distinctions"
  • "Descriptions of what each breed’s ideal specimen would look like were written in “breed standards,” a measure against which dogs could be judged in the show ring. Since winning dog shows is the goal of dog fancying, the standards remain “the word pattern breeders are striving to create in living flesh,” as the A.K.C. puts it. In retrospect, the difference between regularizing an existing breed and inventing a new one can be foggy"
  • "Breeds are thus less found in nature than arduously hewn from it. Arbitrariness must be squelched."
  • "“Predictability is what you pay for when you buy a purebred dog" ... But keeping each breed the way we like it requires not only tremendous effort but also tremendous cooperation. A breed is exasperatingly democratic"
  • "we’ve turned the dog into a record of our priorities, of everything we actively select for and against, but also of what creeps in and we don’t bother to expel, including, of course, genetic diseases ... Recently geneticists discovered that the mutation contributing to widespread deafness in Dalmatians is the same mutation that creates its signature spots."
  • "Crossing dogs is as much an art as pure-breeding them, Havens insisted: it takes judgment. In fact, genetics teaches that purebred breeding and hybrid breeding are both time-tested ways to order nature into predictable products ... I suggested that if dog traits were like words, maybe he was trying to speak, or at least fumble his way through, the whole language. A Lab fancier was endlessly revising a single sentence ... Havens, for his part, seemed confident in his own practiced intuition."
  • "“When you’re breeding a mixed-breed dog, you’re only breeding a dog for money,” Beard told me. “There’s no standard there. There’s nothing you’re aiming for, other than to put these two dogs together and appeal to a fad.” With no set way to police human morals, she seemed to be substituting the only clear-cut rules she had: the ones that spell out what kind of bite, brisket, tail carriage and toenails look prettiest on a dog. The paradox is that adhering to those standards has driven fanciers to outlandish and distressing lengths."
  • "The designer dog’s greatest charm may therefore be its almost Rorschach-like ability to be whatever we see in it: something less constrained than a purebred, something more distinctive than a mutt. It gives us the possibility of the perfect companion. And if we keep projecting that image of perfection onto all its inevitable flaws, perhaps we’ll convince ourselves it actually is."
  • "It was unlike other Labradoodles I have seen: gawkier, with a very long, straight yet nebulous coat of hair. The man threw the ball. But the Labradoodle only romped and plodded in place. “They’re really funny dogs,” the man said adoringly, as if he had just now arrived at the right way to explain it."

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