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Tag: truth

The dog, the fish, and our need to go “awww”

Here’s a video that has been posted and reposted to YouTube in recent days, showing a shiba inu (or is it a golden retriever?) in Thailand (or is it Taiwan?) trying to save (or bury?) a fish out of water.

Yes, we humans are at it again. We all think we know — despite the lack of any factual foundation, despite living on the opposite side of the planet, despite being of another species, despite our inability to get straight what few facts there are — what this dog is doing, and why he’s doing it.

How do we know? Because we’re humans, dammit.

On its surface, through human eyes, it seems a most touching scene — as if the dog, by splashing water on the lifeless fish, and nudging it with his nose, is trying to revive it. (All this, we’d note, as humans stand by idly, giggling and taking video.)

And maybe that’s exactly what he’s doing.

But we do not know that.

We don’t know that, and yet, in our vanity, we are willing to express our interpretation as indisputable fact — whether we are the original observer, a watcher of the video, or a blogger in search of hits.

“This Dog Trying To Save A Fish Will Make You Say Aww” reports BuzzFeed

“Kindest Dog Ever Tries to Save Fishes by Splashing them with Water!” says the Inquisitr.

I’ve bemoaned this phenomenon before, and will bemoan it again — because it’s a little presumptious, and a little vain, to proclaim we know what’s motivating the behavior of animals. And it’s a little disingenuous of us to to let ourselves be moved to tears based on a rash, and possibly erroneous, interpetration.

It’s as if we don’t want to let facts or reason get in the way of our “awwwws,” or when something is going viral.

The video, and snippets thereof, have been posted on YouTube by dozens, all it seems in the last couple of days.

One of those post reads, “In the city of Phetchaburi in Thailand, a dog discovered the fish out of the water and unconscious on the pavement. It will try not to let them die by spraying water with its snout. Besides the fish are few puddles. The dog will then sprinkle the fish, as if he wished they would not die. Touching!”

The original poster of the video, or at least someone claiming to be such, explained on LiveLeak “Hello we took this video on a short trip to asia. The dog here … hangs out at the docks (and) is trying to keep the fish alive. He understands they need water to live and it made me a little sad inside.”

(A short trip to Asia? Could they be less specific?)

Others who have posted the video say it happened in Taiwan. Some describe the dog as a golden retriever; others suspect it’s a shiba inu, but they all agree the dog is engaged in a valiant rescue effort.

Some of those commenting on YouTube are pointing out that may not be the case:

“Sorry to burst your bubble but.. the Dog isn’t trying to save the fish. He think’s he is burying it. He’s using the water to bury it but doesn’t realize that water is not dirt, and hence he cannot successfully do the job properly. Canines are not intellectual enough to know that a fish needs water to breathe or survive.”

Others — caught up in the “awwww” of it all — refuse to accept that theory, or even consider it: “He is trying to save the fish,” asserts one. “He’s nudging it with his nose at 0:39. He’s trying to get the fish to move again and doesn’t understand why it won’t.”

There’s nothing wrong with speculation — as long as we admit it’s speculation, and don’t get too carried away by it.

Here’s mine. Assuming this dog is a regular at the wharf, maybe he discovered one day that he could revive dying fish by splashing them with water, and maybe he remembers that. Maybe he is trying to get them to move again. Maybe that’s because death saddens him, or maybe it’s because they’re more fun to play with when they’re flopping around.

Most of us are taught — in school, and in training for careers — to avoid using the word “maybe,” as it could maybe make us appear uncertain and plagued by self-doubt, the sort of person who would flip flop.

Not to splash water in your face, but I think, just maybe, that’s a mistake.

The truth about the tsunami dog duo

Truth, always elusive, is even tougher to get a handle on in the chaotic aftermath of a tsunami — and that’s one reason the fate of the two dogs pictured in the now famous video of one stranded dog loyally watching over another remains obscure.

Despite reports from CNN, UK Telegraph, NPR, PETA and others that the dogs were rescued — all based solely on Facebook posts by Kenn Sakurai, the owner of a dog food supply company in Japan — their fates remain unclear and uncomfirmed.

The best account we can find is one prepared by Global Animal, an online animal magazine that, unlike most major media,  interviewed Sakurai, who is being described, without documentation, as both a savior or a charlatan in Internet posts 

Global Animal reports that Sakurai told them the two dogs were rescued by friends of his who are off-road bikers and that the dogs are being treated by an undisclosed veterinarian.

Sakurai posted on Facebook last week that the dogs had been saved — and on that page he also sought donations to continue what he described as his work rescuing animals left homeless by the tsunami.

Sakurai lists his occupation as president of Butch Japan, Inc., a dog food company. Oddly, for a self described animal lover, his Facebook page lists Michael Vick among his “favorite athletes.”

Sakurai has reportedly deleted all negative comments from the page — as well as those that questioned his involvement in rescuing the dogs.

Sakurai’s page says he was born in Tokyo, raised in Tokyo and the UK and went to school in Tokyo and New York City. He says he was involved with the development of Tokyo Disneyland and that he now is the importer of ”the safest dog and cat food on the planet.”

After the tsunami, he set up a paypal account so that people could donate to his effort, but, in his later posts on his Facebook page, he says he plans to donate that money to established shelters.

Still, many remain troubled that he has presented no photographic evidence that the two dogs are safe.

Global Animal reports: “Mr. Sakurai says he promised the bikers that he wouldn’t reveal the location of the veterinarian because they don’t want animal rescue organizations to take the dogs for their own fundraising purposes. This is why no pictures are being made available, claims Mr. Sakurai.”

In an editorial written by Arthur Jeon, co-founder of the online magazine, Sakurai is quoted as saying he would try and send the organization photos. But, the magazine said, “we are not hopeful that credible evidence will materialize.”

“Our best guess is that some difficult truth may be hidden here, and that either one or both dogs have died, possibly on the trip or shortly after. Or, that this is a story that got out of hand, perhaps being used to raise money by Mr. Sakurai himself, though he is not associated with any animal rescue organization that’s mobilized in the devastated areas.”

Global Animal provided readers interested in donating money to the animal rescue effort in Japan with a list of legitimate and long-standing animal rescue organizations.

The editorial concludes: “It’s human nature to yearn for a happy ending, to be able to move these dogs’ misery off our mental list of anguish and to find heroes in a horrible reality. It also makes for ‘good copy’ by mainstream news organizations who hit it for its feel-good elements, then move on. However, the web and Facebook are not good places to collect facts for substantiated reporting; these reputable news organizations know better.

“Ultimately, the two dogs … deserve the truth. As do we. If Mr. Sakurai responds with verifiable truth that the dogs are alive and well, nobody will be happier than the hardcore animal lovers and readers of Global Animal.”

Lie to me: Yellow lab can’t hide the truth

Apparently, there was no need to even question the cat after this yellow lab, in the view of his owner, all but confessed to the crime — getting into the cat treat bag.

For all those who say dogs don’t feel guilt, or something closely akin to it, explain this reaction.

Based on it, Denver, the yellow lab who is the second to be interrogated, is sent to the pen — though I would point out the evidence was entirely circumstantial, there was no DNA testing,  he was never read his rights and he received no trial before a jury of his peers.

We hope his sentence was a short one.

And we still think it’s possible the cat did it.

All the world’s a stage — even Fargo

John Steinbeck, as he tells it in “Travels with Charley,” didn’t stop in Fargo.

He kept Rocinante rolling another 40 miles until he stumbled upon a more idyllic setting — yet another riverside camping spot, this one along the Maple River, near the sleepy little farming town of Alice. There, he just so happened to run into what would turn out to be one of the book’s more colorful characters, an itinerant Shakespearean actor.

Steinbeck would break out the coffee, and the whiskey, and listen as his flamboyant fellow camper explained that he performed Shakespeare around the country, in tents, in high schools  … “wherever two or three are gathered together … With me there’s no question of doing something else. It’s all I know — all I ever have known.”

Steinbeck recounted the meeting in great detail — including how the actor unfolded a packet of aluminum foil to reveal a note he once received from John Gielgud. After that, explaining the importance of a good exit, the actor makes one.

Was the Shakesperean actor a dramatic invention in Steinbeck’s classic work of non-fiction? We’ll probably never know. But indications are, just maybe, something is rotten in the state of North Dakota.

From all existing clues, it appears Steinbeck didn’t actually sleep in the town of Alice on the night of Oct. 12, which can only lead one to wonder if the actor was real, or if, like Tom Joad in ”The Grapes of Wrath,” he was artfully concocted by the author, most of whose works were fiction.

If so, it wouldn’t be the first discrepancy between Steinbeck’s account in “Travels with Charley” and what his papers and other sources reveal about his 1960 trip.

Many of those are now being brought to light by blogger Bill Stiegerwald as he retraces Steinbeck’s route. (Bill, who we met at the begining of our trip is a good two weeks ahead of me.)

“Contrary to what he wrote so nicely and in such detail in ‘Charley,’ Steinbeck didn’t camp overnight near Alice on the Maple River or anywhere else on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 1960,” Stiegerwald concluded on his blog, Travels Without Charley. “He stayed at… in Beach, N.D., some 300-plus miles to the west.”

This, along with some of the recent stops on our own retracing of Steinbeck’s travels with Charley, brings us back to our discussion of the truth in fiction, and the fiction in truth.

We’re all for the former, but have some problems with the latter. We have nothing against using the techniques of fiction writing in non-fiction – in portraying the innate suspense of a situation, or the turmoil raging inside characters; or in skipping over the boring stuff.  (Otherwise, a writer might end up boring readers with something as mundane as tossing french fries to his dog.)

But we’d argue that a reader of books, even a reader of blogs, deserves — like an eater of food — to know what he’s consuming. What sort of liberties an author of non-fiction has taken in processing the facts is information to which a reader should have access, much like a diner should be able to find out what sort of oil a fast food restaurant uses to cook its french fries.

The line between fiction and non-fiction, it seems, is becoming a difficult to define boundary. Then again, maybe it has always been so.

Earlier this week, our “Travels with Ace” took us to Sauk Centre, or as Sinclair Lewis called it in his 1920 novel “Main Street,” Gopher Prairie. “Main Street,” while labeled fiction, exposed many truths about small town life — more, at least initially, than some Sauk Centre residents cared to be exposed, proving that not only does the truth hurt, but fiction can as well.

Our next, and latest, stop was Fargo, which most people know through the Coen brothers movie of same name. The movie starts off with the words: “This is a true story …  At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”

But “Fargo” — whose characters were mostly portrayed as dull-witted sorts, living in a frozen wasteland — wasn’t a true story at all; rather it was a concoction of the wonderfully degenerate minds of two brothers from neighboring Minnesota.

Both the movie “Fargo” and the book “Main Street” brought some unflattering notoriety to the towns they were depicting — much like Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” offended some Oklahomans.

In addition to criticism that “The Grapes of Wrath” was too political, didn’t accurately describe the migration of farm families from the dust bowl to California, and some nitpicking that Sallisaw, the town it opens in, was not actually part of the Dust Bowl (a fairly major nit), there were those who thought the novel portrayed “Okies” as illiterate hicks.

(Possibly, that’s why when he was traveling with Charley, Steinbeck sidestepped the state of Oklahoma.)

In each case, though, once the dust settled, there was something close to a happily-ever-after ending – some acknowledgement of the truth beneath the fiction, or at least some evidence that any perceived slights were forgiven.

Sauk Centre, where Main Street now intersects with Sinclair Lewis Boulevard, has embraced Lewis, its most famous son, with an annual festival.

In Fargo, chamber of commerce types proclaim there has been “a renaissance” — not so much due to the movie itself, maybe, as to the efforts to show the world there was more to Fargo than the movie portrayed. In 2006, on the movie’s 10th anniversary, it was projected on the side of the Radisson Hotel, the city’s tallest building as part of the Fargo Film Festival.

And even Sallisaw, on the 100th anniversary of Steinbeck’s birth, started a “Grapes of Wrath” festival, though it was short-lived. It has since been replaced with the annual Diamond Daze Festival, which isn’t Steinbeck-related at all.

All of which, in addition to just being interesting, serves as proof that — as the maybe real, maybe not Shakespearean actor in “Travels with Charley” might have said — all the world really is a stage.

John Steinbeck didn’t sleep here

Two journalists, each independently seeking to chart the course John Steinbeck took 50 years ago with his poodle Charley — including figuring out where he slept when — have come to the conclusion that the highly respected author may have taken some liberties with the facts in his classic work of non-fiction.

It’s not stop-the-presses stuff, especially these days, when fuzzily defined terms like “creative non-fiction” and “literary journalism” have taken on enough heft to become college courses.

Like it or not composite characters, re-created dialogue and tampering with timelines have become fairly common practices in non-fiction (though not in my book). But 50 years ago, when “Travels With Charley” was written — five years before Truman Capote’s groundbreaking “non-fiction novel” (his term), “In Cold Blood” — the practice probably would have been given the far less literary label of “making shit up.”

If Steinbeck borrowed from his fiction writing toolbox — and he was primarily a novelist — to craft “Travels With Charley,” he could, on one hand, be viewed as a pioneer. In reality, though, storytellers, even those bound by the tighter confines of non-fiction, have been leaving out the boring stuff and juicing up the truth for centuries.

To Jeff Woodburn, though, who counts Steinbeck among his literary heroes, his discovery that Steinbeck might have made stuff up — and definitely left stuff out — was disheartening.

Woodburn, a New Hampshire-based freelance writer, pitched the idea of writing about Steinbeck’s travels through the state — from Shelburn, west to Lancaster — to the editor of New Hampshire magazine. The editor, being a Steinbeck fan too, liked it. Woodburn set out to retrace the 30-mile route and learn more about the places, and maybe even some of the people, Steinbeck encountered in New Hamsphire.

As Steinbeck recounts it in “Travels With Charley,” on his way to the top of Maine, he drove up a farm road in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, bought some eggs from a farmer and asked permission of him to camp beside the stream on his farm. Later, the farmer visited his camper and they drank coffee, laced with “a good dollop of twenty-one year old applejack.” They talked about Kruschev, and how, that week, he had used his shoe to pound a table during a UN meeting, and whether we should attack the Russians before they attacked us.

When the farmer eventually took his leave, Steinbeck and Charley went to sleep in the camper, parked alongside the stream, according to the book.

Woodburn couldn’t find the farmer, or even the farm. He came up with three possibilities, but none of them panned out. “I really wanted to find him, because he seemed so wise,” he said. When all his research led nowhere, Woodburn began to think that the farmer didn’t actually exist, or that he was a composite of different people Steinbeck met in New England.

Later Woodburn learned that, in reality, on the night in question — Sept. 25,  1960 – Steinbeck apparently slept here:

 

That’s the Spalding Inn, a luxurious spot in its day, and still moderately fancy, with white tableclothes, well-manicured gardens, orchards and magnificent mountain views. In 1960, it was popular with well-heeled New Yorkers seeking country getaways.

The inn is never mentioned in “Travels With Charley.” Then again Steinbeck admittedly glossed over some of his other stops – Deerfield, Mass., to visit his son in school, and Chicago, where he reunited with his wife at the Ambassador Hotel. “In my travels it was pleasant and good,” he wrote of the latter stop, “in writing, it would contribute only a disunity.”

Woodburn, though his initial retracing of Steinbeck’s route didn’t merit enough for a story, continued to keep a file on Steinbeck, and check out leads when they arose. When he came across a Facebook page about growing up in Lancaster, he put out a query, seeking anyone who remembered meeting Steinbeck 50 years ago.

A local woman responded, saying her mother had met Steinbeck when he stayed at the Spalding Inn, in Whitefield. Woodburn, who worked washing dishes at the inn as a teenager, went to the family that owned it, and they confirmed that Steinbeck was a guest around the time in question.  

“It seems as this is where he spend the night,” Woodburn told me over the weekend when Ace and I met him at the inn. “Enough people have said it, that I feel comfortable saying he spent the night here.”

Woodburn, whose piece on Steinbeck’s travels through the state will appear in New Hampshire magazine’s November issue, said he was told Steinbeck went to dinner at the inn, but was refused service because he wasn’t wearing the required jacket and tie. Upon learning who he was, they supplied him with proper attire.

Other than having dinner, Steinbeck did little socializing while at the inn, and it’s doubtful that Charley, his poodle, actually slept inside. More likely, he spent the night alone in the camper.

To Woodburn, who is a third generation New Hampshirite, finding that Steinbeck might have been less that totally honest was disturbing.

“I’m a big fan of Steinbeck. I’m very troubled that he didn’t tell the truth,” he said.

To blogger Bill Steigerwald, who is retracing Steinbeck’s route for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, discrepancies between the book and reality — and he’s found a few — don’t diminish the esteem he holds for the writer.

Steigerwald, who we met on a ferry boat as we crossed the Long Island Sound the same day Steinbeck did — 50 years later — tried a couple of weeks ago to find the “ghost cabins” along the Connecticut River that Steinbeck slept outside of on his way back through New Hampshire

Steinbeck wrote that, although its signs said “open” and “vacancy,” no one was around when he walked into the office 50 years ago. So he and Charley, according to the book, slept in the camper on the lot.

As it turns out, and as both Woodburn and Steigerwald have confirmed, the “ghost cabins” did exist, and were known as Whip O’Will. Today, they’ve been replaced by the Beaver Trails RV Park, and Munce’s Convenience store. Next to that is the Happy Star Chinese restaurant. And across the street live Mike and Sallie Beattie, whose family once owned the Whip O’Will property.

During its conversion to an RV park, the new owners took down the six cabins and offered one (that’s it above) to the Beattie’s, who had it moved across the street so they could use it for storage.

Steigerwald buys the ghost cabin account, but he has serious doubts about the New Hampshire farmer — since that’s apparently the same night Steinbeck apparently stayed at the Spalding Inn.

“It’s clear evidence — and further proof, considering what I and others already know and anyone who reads ‘Travels With Charley’ with a critical eye should suspect — that the book is not nonfiction but a creative mix of fiction and nonfiction,” Steigerwald wrote on his blog, Travels Without Charley.

Woodburn, while less forgiving, also notes that Steinbeck gave some hints that the book wasn’t a straighforward account of the journey. ”It’s easy to confuse reality with romance,” he said. “I think he gave signs that he was making stuff up.”

As Steinbeck himself noted, reality is in the eye of the beholder:

“What I set down here is true until someone else passes that way and rearranges the world in his own style,” Steinbeck wrote. “In literary criticism the critic has no choice but to make over the victim of his attention into something the size and shape of himself.”

I bounced the issue of a professor-friend, a teacher of creative non-fiction writing, who pointed out that the term didn’t exist until around the 1980′s, when the National Endowment for the Arts saw it as a way to give non-fiction writers a chance to win literature fellowships.

Though the term is fairly modern, the practice is not, he agreed.

“There’s been a long and wondrous and centuries-long tradition of made-up non-fiction in literature (the Victorians were particularly good at it), and not even just a few changes of detail.

“Steinbeck was a novelist, not a journalist. If his fibs were limited to whether he stayed in a hotel or not, that’s pretty remarkable restraint,” he added. “It’s not my personal standard for writing nonfiction, but many writers have had worst standards (paging Mr. Capote). It seems a silly thing to lie about, really.”