Tuesday, October 31, 2017


A childhood friend and I — both of us seventy-reaching-for-eighty — were talking about porn.  To her it was trash, always there, sliding along in the gutter.  My contention was that porn has been part of the mainstream for years now.  Also, a classic element of transgression and rebellion.  As well as a marker for elitist privilege.  She suggested that she’d read one of the “Fifty Shades” books and it was worthless, cheap and predictable.  Even boring.

So I had to come up with some evidence and I didn’t think I’d be able to get her to read some of the things I encountered on my short literary tour through pornville.  Luckily, on You Tube there are perfume ads for men.  No need to read at all.

These links are to Paco Rabanne, non-conformist.  Born Basque.

This first lovely fellow is starring in a “concept” ad.  The idea is that he’s fabulously attractive to women, at least the ones living in his walls, and that they are overwhelmed when he’s wearing only the perfume.  

In the next one the production is amazing.  I can’t even imagine how they figured out how to shoot it.  The storyboard alone must be a work of art.  You’d have to watch it many times to figure out what’s going on.  I don’t know whether that would be very erotic since you’d be on the wrong side of your brain.  Just go with it.

This last boy is so much like one of the Paris Cinematheque boys that it’s spooky.  He was at risk because people got obsessed with him, because he took advantage and had no boundaries, because he did one thing too dangerous and was killed by it.  But the message is joy, movement, and — check those eyes — the male exotic gaze.

"Boys at risk” don’t have to be starving, living on the street, getting beat up for money, catching deadly viruses to be at risk.  They might be as beautiful and invulnerable-seeming as these perfume models.  They still could be exposed to HIV, Hep C, STD’s.  They still might be emotionally agonized.  They still might be hooked on drugs.  They still might not be able to locate a home or maintain a relationship or even manage the considerable amounts of money they can make — while they’re young.  Being “at risk” doesn’t necessarily mean being deplorable or any one gender.

It’s a matter of selling what you’ve got — youth, personality, flesh — by converting it into “merch,” something to sell.  I wonder whether these men were forced to fuck to get their jobs, like Weinstein starlets.  I wonder whether Weinstein himself was treated that way when he was young and pretty.  Now just passin’ it on.  Like frat hazing.  The whole culture revolves around sex power, with the military acting as a kind of “cargo cult”.

The most interesting category of porn I found (it won’t be for everyone) is tentacle porn, not even about humans.  In graphic versions they’d have to be CGI.  Here’s a history.

Imagine the little kisses of suction cups all over your body!  A famous male prostitute used to go to the beach and kiss the sea anemones — not the big deep water floral ones on reefs, but the little round green ones on tidal rock.  They still pack an electrical jolt.

There are no famous erotic individual octopuses (some species are deadly), so they have to be graphic.  I mean, there are no octo-porn stars.  I’ve never been able to forget a graphic story in “Heavy Metal” magazine about a narcissist octo that divided itself in half, made love to itself, and then merged back into one creature.  What made it so memorable was not the sight of penetration but rather the philosophical content, like the theory that human lovers are really two people who have been separated until they find each other — and reunite.  This story was not loving the Other, but the Same, like right wingers.

Octopuses have no spines, nor any bones at all.  But they have “boners”.  “Unlike females, "males have a modified third right arm called a hectocotylus, which has a sperm groove down it and a specialized tip," . . . To mate, a male will insert his hectocotylus into the female's mantle cavity and deposit spermatophores (sperm packets).  In some genera, particularly those in which males are far smaller than females, such as Argonauta (argonauts, or paper nautiluses) and Tremoctopus (blanket octopuses), males have a detachable hectocotylus, which they break off after inserting it into the female's mantle.”

Females store their spermtophores until they're ready to lay their eggs. Typically, males die within months after mating, while females watch over their eggs until they hatch and then die shortly after. In one deep-sea species, Graneledone boreopacifica, females may brood over their eggs for up to 4.5 years without ever leaving to eat.”

“The larger Pacific striped octopus, which doesn't yet have a formal name, appears to break the octopus mating rules. In this odd social species, mating takes place mouth-to-mouth and sucker-to-sucker — and these females don't practice cannibalism.”

How did I wander so far from porn?  This is not even anthropology!  But it’s almost sci-fi.  And some porn does indeed get this far away from the plain unadorned act of human coitus.  It is, after all, wreathed with memes of bliss and intensity, jingling with insertions and embroidered with tattoos.  We don’t make it as “pretty” as it used to be — we have an awful taste for agony, trauma, pleasure mixed with pain.  Kink.  Gothic.  Punk.

When my friend and I were in grade school we walked together, planning our lives.  She had a lot of children but lost her first husband when death’s hectocotylus thrust into him.  I had no children.  We both know a lot about boys-at-risk.  We are old ladies at risk.  There have been times and places when we would have been demonized, outlawed, fictionalized, and killed by the righteous.  

This time of year in Portland was less green, more gray, more than fifty shades.  When the first snow came, we walked farther than usual, down NE 15th towards the Columbia River.  In those days there were phone booths and we carried dimes.  No one interfered with us — we never thought about that, but eventually we wore out, miles from home, and called our mothers to come get us because it was getting dark, almost supper time.

There are many ways to organize a culture.  Right now people are hungry and far from home, but there’s no one to call on this tidal surge of history -- not even with a cell phone.  If someone, disguised, knocks on the door, will we feed them or betray them?  Traditionally, angels are represented as young men.

Monday, October 30, 2017


Sorting cats by behavior because they all look pretty much the same except for coat color has its parallel for boys, who can also be sorted by behavior from compliant to defiant.  Like cats, boys can go from tame to feral and back again, and tame is seen as better by most — but not all — people.  This is mostly a survival-driven dynamic with the driver being the culture in most cases, using stigma as a source of control.  The “culture”— which is a made-up, imaginary concept with real consequences — tries to preserve itself by sacrificing persons they see as damaging, mostly because they are different.

In the past we’ve seen this as psychological, a matter of ideas, maybe driven by invented unconscious forces (id, ego, thanatos).  Psychotherapy is meant to improve the situation by understanding it better.  But in recent years we’ve been able to see the organic, molecular, “real” consequences of behavior/ideas in terms of brain development, and have begun to understand how brain cells carry ideas, sometimes controlling them, making them persist even when unwanted.

Right now the brain of Paddock, the Mandalay Bay shooter, is being dissected in the hopes of finding an explanation for his behavior, maybe a tumor or lesion.  But the function of the brain is not in its structure (parallel to the idea of organs) so much as its operation, its connectome — the tiny filaments that meet in electromagnetic connections that persist as both memory of experience and plan for new action.  The building and foundation of this brain process begins before birth and is crucially formed in the earliest years of life.

I watch the news clips showing endless lines of people thrown out of their homes, their countries, family people of all ages and both genders, walking on dirt paths, carrying little more than something to sleep on and a plastic jug for water.  And the babies.  Always the naked babies clasped close so they ride their mother’s hip.  Even the children, still almost babies themselves, carry the babies.  What are the brains of those babies doing?  What little flickering sparks are moving around in brains without enough nutrients to grow properly?

I look at the Victorian photos of street kids, mostly boys, filthy in short pants, newsboy caps, broken high-top shoes.  I look at contemporary photos of kids a little older, piled up together like street cats pillowing on each other in places street cats seek out.  How can they be anything but feral?  Not to each other -- just to the adult world.

Centers of psychological study form in cities and prestige universities, and naturally center on the issues of people there.  In Manhattan there has been a critical mass of WWII displaced educated Jews who work with theoretical psych systematics, so that Woody Allen, famous for his constantly reviewed neuroticism, seems never to have had his treatment of women challenged, even when it exceeds normal boundaries.

A more appealing center of thought is in Britain where Winnicott, Bowlby, Schore, Hughes and others have developed ideas about primary attachment so basic (beginning to form during gestation, even in the earliest months) and so broad (including every impingement from the mother’s molecular blood content as it varies when she deals with her dilemmas) that even large environmental forces (radioactivity, toxics, abuse, food insecurity) all make a difference.  (You’ve read about DDT in mother’s milk.)  This is the kind of theory I find most helpful when exploring the dimension of feral/tame in any mammal.  

Attachment theory looks at human relationships, esp. the caregiver vs. the unfolding infant.  Mothers are best caregivers during pregnancy if they can take care of themselves, which means a family or other protective setting.  If they hope to be domestic, they need a domicile.

Once a baby is born to a poor caregiver, genetic or not, it can be removed by social services to a paid caregiver.  The problem is, in part, that a child already taught to distrust will have patterns that are meant to say, “Keep away!  “I won’t.”  “Leave me alone!” and even will attack, because they have learned that people who approach them will hurt them some way, maybe at best by leaving, abandoning them.  They are making pre-emptive strikes, often very successful.

Brit murder mysteries are one of my evening unwinding practices.  I notice how often the murderer is detected, explained and caught because ultimately it is the result of a failure of attachment or a raging distrust so intense that it has become lethal.  There is rarely a mention of “sin” or “evil,” but many images of the torn bodies who have become targets of revenge against early abuse and neglect.  The bookend for that is persons who have tried to alleviate their pain with drugs and are now numb.  And addicted.  And so pawns.  They do not imagine Hell is a perpetual pit of burning agony, but rather Hell is endlessly falling through an icy abyss of dark and cold meaninglessness.

American police procedurals (I watch the new version of “Hawaii 5-0” -- for the scenery) are often focused on violent evil people, no explanation of how they came to be that way, but only the necessity of heroism in capturing them and the lack of cooperation on the part of government to get that done.  Children are innocent, sometimes victims.  Ironically, given the Manichean good/evil premise, no religious system is ever explored — just the church as setting.  Maybe an exotic ceremony.  (Hawaii)

When I look at all these theories and contexts, I can’t help coming back to myself and my family.  I see signs that some have been “interfered with” in the English euphemism.  I see patterns of distrust and closing out what could be helpful, partly because of past economic insecurity.  I see competitive presentations of “front,” and the valuing of economic advantages that aren’t exactly morally defensible.  There are little threads of consequences:  alcoholism, depression, distant emotion, hated jobs, unsettled children.  

But few have become outright feral or even have much contact with feral people.  They are “white” in two flavors:  Scots/Canadians with the thrift and caution of those cultures, or Irish with the quickness to blame and the cockamamie sense of humor.  Not genetic qualities but “memes” learned from cultures with certain prescriptions for survival as they developed in the 19th century of immigration and frontier settlement — not really relevant now.  For instance, the patriarch who imposes his standards on the family for the sake of pulling them together has become a hated figure in literature, and yet we look for a single male ultra-strong figure to save us.

This is one of the ways we have filled America with feral boys escaping their fathers, distrusting their mothers.  The whole culture is shaping the outcome.  We have now become dominated by emotions developed in a right brain lobe traumatized by neglect on one hand and smothering on the other.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Smudge and two of her three kittens
"Satellite cats"  foto just days ago

To most people a “stray” cat is any they can’t attach to a specific owner or household — but it’s actually much more complicated than that.  The cat may not be a “stray” at all, but on it’s own mission in the world, connecting with humans only as convenient.

Cats look pretty much the same except for coat color, so that’s the way they are sorted into categories.  Scientists try to find a genetic connection between coat color and temperament, with a little success.  Siamese cats have evolved a bit differently, being “boat cats.”  “Ginger/red/yellow” cats — shades along a spectrum of one color — seem pretty much connected to a good temperament.  “Good,” being one that is friendly to humans and a “bad” or “wild” temperament defined as resisting control or reacting to something mysterious humans don’t know about.

Granny Mama Cat at least ten years ago.
All these kittens have disappeared.
I think GMC died not long ago.

What’s useful to me is watching and pondering the cats around my household, a population that I’ve observed almost twenty years.  One part was pre-existing in the neighborhood, mostly white with gold patches; one part was the two pet kittens I acquired from a family in Great Falls and which lived a long time; and one part was imported by a neighbor who accidentally brought them home as stowaways when he bought an old truck.  The three categories were quite different.  But we all know that cats don’t vary in appearance as much as dogs do.

A Portland co-worker who didn’t like cats used to say that they had all the brain-power of digital wristwatches.  He was thinking of the logical reasoning brain, but one of the distinctions of felines is that they have formidable autonomic nervous systems.  I’m told that another species with such a developed sympathetic/parasympathetic system is the grizzly bear, but not the black bear, which is more like a dog.  Cats and grizzes are emotional.  They don’t plan, though they are good at understanding puzzles or why would Skinner put them in puzzle boxes?  They react to experience and are shaped by it.  Once they form a habit, they are not easily discouraged from it.

The nature and personality of cats are more a matter of memes than genes.  If genetics submits a faulty or vulnerable kitten, its mother may simply eat it.  (Or a tomcat like Uncle Shorty, who lives in the garage, will “recycle the protein” for her.  Once kittens are up and running around, Uncle Shorty becomes protective.)  

The basic plan of cats is that of the predator and the success of the predation depends upon sensitivity to the environment.  “Where the birds are.”  If a human is part of the environment, that’s fine.  Looking at cats this way means considering them according to their behavior and habitat.  

Categories may include:

Household cats, in human homes, often with generative organs removed, which changes their hormonal patterns, though some instincts will remain, like that for nurturing kittens.  These can adapt to other animals: sometimes prey babies (rabbits, ducklings), or to toy animals if they are cuddly enough to be triggers.  

Another surgically forced change is removal of claws because they can destroy household objects or inflict minor wounds on humans.  There is a strong movement in opposition to this practice.  Underlying both the practice and the resistance are Apartment Cats that never go outside and serve decorative or intimacy needs for humans.  Surgical alteration and confinement will probably not result in genetic change, but theoretically it could, as the humans select the kind of cat they will accept and protect.  The individual cat is rewarded or punished according to the standards of the compassionate and aware human, but always within the limits of what means anything to the nonhuman creature.

Come and go cats are part of a household but have established an outdoor territory that responds to what is out there.  These territories have been explored by humans via tiny neck cameras on collars and GPS locators.  The “cat turfs” are stable but interact with each other and vary if there is something new and attractive, like a food source or dangerous like a new mean dog.  Still, most cats are faithful to their household and come back even after adventures take them far away.  Some cats disappear for weeks or months, then return, like grizzes coming back to their dens.

“Double Dipper cats”  One of the startling results of camera research is how many cats eat and sleep at multiple homes.  Fitting themselves into human schedules, they show up regularly, which leads the humans to believe that the cat has “bonded” with them.  That’s true, but cats don’t mind multiple relationships if they don’t conflict.

One of the prettier satellite cats.
I called her "Maybelline" because of her lined eyes.
Currently there are NO calicos.

Satellite cats keep a human household as a reference point but actually have a wide range of places they keep track of.  They may not allow themselves to be touched or even trapped and only obey their own rules, but fit into niches like a sunny wall angle or a jungly bit of plant growth, making grass nests with their curled bodies.

Scouting cats are looking for a new anchor point after they’ve been ejected or the anchor household has been demolished or emptied.  These come closest to what people call “strays.”  If they are fed and praised, they may attach and settle into a human family.  People in this town will “deport” cats they don’t like or want — assuming they can catch them.  Some cats will scout and adapt to even a nonhuman environment, but the premise of the humans is that they will attach to a farm of the type that existed in the old days.  Those places are scarce these days often replace cats for rodent control with poisons, which will kill the cats.  Coyotes and owls are predators of cats.

Mascot cats might be those that attach to businesses or libraries, simply adding warmth and charm or maybe performing rodent control.  They get names and praise from multiple people but don’t go home with them.  

Colony cats  accumulate from genetic families that stick together over generations and then maybe attract other cats if there is enough food.  Rome and Ernest Hemingway’s home in Cuba are both famous for cat colonies.  The latter has inbred enough to develop distinctive multi-toed paws, a heritable anomaly that shows up in people as well.  (My cousins have it.)  Sometimes this feature is honored as “special” or even “magic.”

Natal cats  (Born on the premises and shaped by that).  The cats at my house are burrow cats — they like to give birth down under structures as though they were foxes.  They are too wild to touch and run when they see me unless I’m feeding them.  But one cat raised two kittens in the crawl space under the house which are tame, but they have a genetic element (Bengal?) that drives them to climb and they will run from me if I unexpectedly appear outdoors.  They are long-legged, long-backed, with yowling voices.

Lab cats… These are cats we don’t want to know about.  Because of being used for experiments on brains and sensory organs, they are essentially tortured and discarded.  I haven’t heard of any being taken home for pets.  Luckily for scientists, there are a lot of people who hate cats, having internalized old European ideas about witches having cats for “familiars,” that connect to the Devil.

Damaged cats . . . Cats can survive horrendous injuries, which evoke different responses.  I remember one in my childhood on the farm of a relative.  It had been shot through and through.  I thought something should be done, but the farmer shrugged.  No one I knew in childhood EVER took a cat to a veterinarian, and most home-doctored only working animals.  An animal that was also a “crop” like a cow or pig or horse, might be taken to a veterinarian.  Cats don’t even have as much value as puppies.

Feral cats . . . One can look at this from a species context — kinds of animals normally domesticated but having escaped and adapted to the wild (pigs come to mind) or an individual animal that was once part of a household but has converted to being wild.  The remarkable aspect of cats is that they may convert from domestic/tame to wild and back again, whichever works for survival.  Humans are a bit like that.

Alley cats are those that used to live out of the garbage cans left in alleys for pickup by garbage trucks.  Like small family farms, this habitat is about gone, due to higher sanitary standards and impenetrable garbage cans.  Grizzlies also struggle with this habitat change.  But humans can still get into dumpsters.

"Bengal" cats

Wild cats.  The original “root stock” of cats is thought to be an array of small striped felines in Africa.  They evolved in warm climates, though if you include bobcats and lynx or even bigger cats, they can range up mountains and far to the north.  The effort to create “bengal” cats by back-breeding for coat patterns and for research about cross-breeding have not settled into new species.  Some of the results are attractive and docile enough that they get taken home for pets.

Friday, October 27, 2017


I read about aggression, for one thing, because of children being the victim of violence, esp. boys, who are somehow expected to just “take it.”

This is probably the dorkiest and most laughable discussion of a forbidden sex subject that you’ll ever encounter.  But members of NA tribes know that the most emotional and dangerous internal subjects they have are often best understood by outsiders, so I hope that’s true for the “Nambla” controversy, which can be framed as abuse.  At least I couldn’t be more “outside” since I’m an old celibate woman who has far too much curiosity.  I can barely imagine a sex-inclusive relationship between a grown man and a boy.  Maybe when I read fiction, like “The Persian Boy.”  Safely historicized.  But this isn't just about Nambla.

Partly I keep thinking about it because as a woman of 21, I made a decision (conscious) to join a man of 47.  I was the "boy."  It lasted ten years, through a legal marriage/divorce and his exploding success as a sculptor, a sort of celebrity pattern. (Lolita is not much of a shock these days.)  When I get to analyzing what happened, part of it is that my father had a concussion when I was about nine that subtly warped him.  He seemed normal but was always absent, often physically because he was a traveling man for work.  I’m saying I had “daddy hunger” and it makes me blush to type that.

In a world where fathers are absent, dead, incarcerated, unknown, hooked, cruel, there must be a whole lot of sons out there with daddy hunger.  Maybe not biological but a deep longing for male attention and explanation of a crazy world.  Maybe a need for protection, an intercessor.

More formally, when I read the accounts of men who have sex with boys, the adult men often have an “enlightenment” rational approach to the situation:  “Why not?  It’s just something you do.”  The emotional aspect is denied.  Even fathers might say, “Who better to initiate my son into the wonders of sex?”  (Of course, mothers sometimes take that attitude as well.  Remember “Souffle du Coeur”, the French film?)  

But on the boy side, the understanding is going to be unintellectual, a physical response pulling sub-rational “felt concepts” into an identity that most likely is not ready to handle them, so likely overwhelmed, even traumatized, esp if the sex is mixed with violence or the more intense forms of love.  Developmental steps can be skipped with crippling effects.  A “rational” approach is likely not taking this into account, but neither is a purely emotional approach.

As I read and queried old friends and watched vids and thought about gay sex, the one subject that was radioactive, a third rail, was this idea of sex between an older man and a boy-man.  Partly they were reacting to the subject itself and partly they seemed to be reacting to the absolute judgment of our culture that this was nothing less than pedophilia, which has become the most villainous possible offence.

So where is the pushback, the safeguards, the depiction of the healthy way to go — even if it means blocking all asymmetrical relationships?  What happened to the innocence of Batman and Robin or Red Ryder and Little Beaver.

Two countervailing forces may oppose the conviction of scandal that lately clings to male-to-male relationships of unequal ages, particularly those of adult to adolescents old enough to be sexual and feel they know what they are entitled to do. 

 Two things might get people’s heads over to a different context.
1.  The pair really knowing each other as human beings, not just social silhouettes.
2.  A “holding community” that embraces and protects both but esp the younger.

These are the same conditions that protect females.  They are the conditions of family, the definition of family, regardless of age, gender, biological origin, or whatever.  Not just biological family, which can be lethal.

They are also very idealistic conditions and not easy to live out in a society where everything is framed in terms of sex — not just mutual sex but aggressive penetrative dominating sex as glamorized evil that is asserted to be the very definition of maleness, as if copulation were all that life was about, an insectoid point of view.

We have many good examples in literature and life, for instance brothers, partners in hunting or war.  Closely cooperating pairs of men are thought to be one of the advances of evolution that allowed relationships beyond the “pack,” doubling what can be done or thought of.  

I have no quarrel with homosexuality.  I’m only Xian culturally and even then, I see that original culture as radically inclusive in the New Testament.. For those who think homosexuality is labeled “bad” in the Bible, I recommend these Bible verses about "the disciple whom Jesus loved" in the book of John (John 13:23, John 19:26, John 20:2 and John 21:7, John 21:20).

The worry in asymmetrical intimate relationships is that one partner may be exploiting the other, usually the older man taking advantage of the boy — but it depends on the boy.  Some are quite capable of using a grown man for their own ends, like food, shelter, and education.  Let alone raw survival.

When violence comes into the picture, understanding moves to outrage.  I’m told that some men will pay boy sex-workers to let them beat up the boy.  Pain might be mixed with sex or maybe not— maybe it’s just the straight infliction of pain that’s the kink.  My head won’t let that in.  How desperate for money must a boy be to allow himself to be beaten, knowing he will be laid up for days — maybe killed?  But then, how many men PAY?  If it’s a pleasure, some men must be imposing it for free, a form of rape.  Some men like beating up women and do it for free.  Some cultures will reframe it from perversion to “discipline.”

I’m researching “domestication” which is how some people like their sex: domestic, tame, peaceful and safe.  In-house, all in the family.  Some researchers talk about “aggression” — violence — in terms of “hot” and “cold”.  They say that some people blow up, go ballistic, strike out in an emotional situation.  That’s “hot,” not in the sexual sense. It’s what my father did when he lost his temper -- not beatings but spanking any child within reach. 

The other kind, the “cold” kind is someone who plots, who plans, and — maybe — pays for the pleasure.  A psychopath, a sociopath.  Like the Great Falls cannibal of boys, David Bar Jonah.  The research paper pointed out that there are medicines that can calm a “hot” aggressor, because it is often a serotonin problem, but there is nothing that will control a “cold” aggressor.  

The trouble is that aggressors are often attracted to jobs like law enforcement or jailer, where the person suffering violence is either trapped or overmatched.  The Pondera County sheriff is being recalled (link under photo), but not for violence though he admits he kicked his son while the boy was curled on the floor.  The recall is for incompetence.  An insecure authority figure is often driven to be the Dominator, the Big Grabber, and to act it out on the vulnerable.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


This is the way I understand the post-conception waltz:

Sperm enters egg.

One half of the egg is considered “animal” (animated) and becomes the new creature while the other half is “vegetal” and becomes the support system, the enveloping tissues and the placenta attached to the inner surface of the uterus.

(A zygote is called an embryo after it attaches to the uterus lining.)

The point where the sperm enters the egg becomes one pole of the organization of the zygote (fertilized egg) and the point opposite is then the other pole.  In vertebrates, this line through the zygote is where the spine develops.  So vertebrates are almost always bilateral, two equal sides.

The animal part develops into three primal or potential groups of cells.

"In general, ectoderm develops into parts of the skin, the brain and the nervous system. Mesoderm gives rise to bones, muscles, the heart and circulatory system, and internal sex organs. Endoderm turns into the inner lining of some systems, and some organs such as the liver and pancreas."

Neural crest cells are a temporary group of cells unique to vertebrates that arise from the embryonic ectoderm cell layer, and in turn give rise to a diverse cell lineage—including melanocytes, craniofacial cartilage and bone, smooth muscle, peripheral and enteric neurons and glia.”

The surface ectoderm develops into: epidermis, hair, nails, lens of the eye, sebaceous glands, cornea, tooth enamel, the epithelium of the mouth and nose. The neural crest of the ectoderm develops into: peripheral nervous system, adrenal medulla, melanocytes, facial cartilage, dentin of teeth."

"By the 17th-20th day, the neural plate is formed. The neural plate turns into the neural groove on day 23. Two days later, the neural groove curls, which then turns into the neural tube, which marks the beginning of brain development. "

"The neural tube forms the eventual central nervous system, with the bottom becoming the spine, and the top becoming the brain. The 7th week marks the formation of the genitals, which decides the baby’s gender. By the 8th week of development, the baby is no longer an embryo, and formally becomes a fetus. Additionally, all of the baby’s organs are formed by this time."

"Neurulation refers to the folding process in vertebrate embryos, which includes the transformation of the neural plate into the neural tube. The embryo at this stage is termed the neurula."

Somewhere along in these days is when the difference between “tame” and “wild” is defined for the body.  It might be actual nuclear genome change from the egg, or it might be epigenomic, a change added to the genome by methylation (a molecular switch) which can be imposed by the environment, both that inside the womb or outside after birth.  Presumably, change could also affect the mother who IS the environment for the fetus.  If something happened to the mother during the first two months, when she barely realizes she is pregnant, it will affect these steps of development.  Tame and wild are predilictions, inclinations, that can be influenced by environmental conditioning or epigenomic modulation.


This is an important new “frame” for understanding humans.  

The article proposes:
“Long before humans domesticated other animals, we may have domesticated ourselvesOver many generations, some scientists propose, humans selected among themselves for tameness. "

Notice that this statement equates “domestic” with “tame”.  Is this valid?  Tame is a frame with unexplored dimensions.  Here’s a googled set of definitions:  Notice that the antonyms — at least to my ear — are more appealing than the synonyms.

(of an animal) not dangerous or frightened of people; domesticated."the fish are so tame you have to push them away from your face mask”   domesticated, domestic, docile, tamed, broken, trained; More gentle, mild; pet, housebroken;  house-trained   not exciting, adventurous, or controversial."network TV on Saturday night is a pretty tame affair"

unexciting, uninteresting, uninspiring, dull, bland, flat, insipid, spiritless, pedestrian, colorless, run-of-the-mill, mediocre, ordinary, humdrum, boring; harmless, safe, inoffensive "it was a pretty tame affair”

amenable, biddable, cooperative, willing, obedient, tractable, acquiescent, docile, submissive, compliant, meek "

wild, fierce, exciting, uncooperative

”This process resulted in genetic changes, several recent studies suggest, that have shaped people in ways similar to other domesticated species.”
This is the statement that brings it into the discussion of embodied thought, specifically in humans.  That is, we think with our whole bodies in ways the body structure dictates.

“Tameness, says evolutionary biologist and primatologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University, may boil down to a reduction in reactive aggression — the fly-off-the-handle temperament that makes an animal bare its teeth at the slightest challenge. In this sense, he says, humans are fairly tame. We might show great capacity for premeditated aggression, but we don’t attack every stranger we encounter.”

“Sometime in the last 200,000 years, humans began weeding out people with an overdose of reactive aggression, Wrangham suggests. Increasingly complex social skills would have allowed early humans to gang up against bullies, he proposes”, pointing out that hunter-gatherers today have been known to do the same. 

This is what is meant by self-domestication.  It leads to evolving physical changes in the brain and in appearance — the head and face change.

Selecting for less-aggressive humans could have also helped us flourish as a social species, says Antonio Benítez-Burraco, who studies language evolution at the University of Huelva in Spain. The earliest Homo sapiens were becoming capable of complex thought, he proposes, but not yet language. “We were modern in the sense of having modern brains, but we were not modern in behavior.”

“Once humans began to self-­domesticate, though, changes to neural crest cells could have nudged us toward a highly communicative species.”

Science and technology at the level we see today is not possible without high levels of communication supported by non-aggressive behavior.  But what the heck are “neural-crest cells”?

Neural crest cells are a temporary group of cells unique to vertebrates that arise from the embryonic ectoderm cell layer, and in turn give rise to a diverse cell lineage—including melanocytes, craniofacial cartilage and bone, smooth muscle, peripheral and enteric neurons and glia.”

So to paraphrase, these are a “stage” in the development of a human body.  What begins as “blastosphere” or ball of very early cells starts morphing into different kinds, each assigned to “make” different parts of the body.   I’ll stop defining here because there’s too much to tell.  You can research for yourself or I’ll try to pick up “neural crest cells” in a separate post.  (It follows directly.)

This story appears in the July 8, 2017, issue of Science News as a sidebar with the headline, "Domesticating us."

“. . . Marrying that DNA data with archaeological findings, the context in which the bones were discovered, for example, may tell researchers more about when, where and how humans first engaged with plants and animals. Recent results are already rewriting the stories of rice, horse and chicken domestication.

One central developmental change — in a temporary clump of cells called the neural crest — may be behind the suite of characteristics known as domestication syndrome.”

“The pace of research, much of it seemingly contradictory, will only increase in the near future, Larson predicts. “We’re going to get a lot more confused before we figure out what’s really going on.”

One source of this theory is the research on foxes.

“Since 2002, Anna Kukekova has been making annual treks to Novosibirsk. A geneticist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she travels to Siberia each year to collect blood from hundreds of silver foxes to look for genetic changes that produce tame and aggressive behaviors.”

"In Kukekova’s early visits, about 70 percent of the tame foxes were considered “elite,” aquiver with excitement when people came around. The rest of the tame ones “didn’t mind if you petted them, but they weren’t super excited to interact with you,” she says. Now, almost every tame fox is in the super-friendly elite group. (Foxes bred to be aggressive, on the other hand, are definitely not happy to have people around, much like the fearful rats Cagan encountered at the institute.)

"Even though the friendly Novosibirsk foxes are genetically tame — some are sold as pets — not everyone would call the animals domesticated. “In an apartment, they would probably be very difficult pets,” Kukekova says. The foxes have a strong odor, are more active at night and they aren’t easily house-trained. The combination of living with people plus inherited changes in the foxes’ genomes may eventually make them fully domesticated, but they aren’t there yet."

"Researchers have set out several biological criteria that should determine when silver foxes, or other animals, cross the line that divides merely tame from fully domesticated. Number one: Domesticated animals are genetically distinct from their wild forebears, and they inherit their human-friendly demeanor. That’s different from wild animals that have been tamed but don’t pass on that tameness to the next generation."

"Two: Domestication makes animals dependent on humans for food and, for the most part, reproduction. Three: Breeding with wild counterparts becomes difficult, if not impossible. For example, domesticated plants don’t drop their seeds when ripe; they rely on humans to spread their progeny. Finally, domesticated animals and plants should bear the physical hallmarks of domestication syndrome, such as a smaller skull for animals, and a narrower footprint for plants."
But “domestication” is not just a matter of calm mammals.  The concept can be applied to plants or creatures that were selectively bred to be useful to humans.  When we use DNA intervention to change living beings, the changes are abrupt and not necessarily positive.

In China, people began domesticating the larvae of silk moths for the fine, strong threads of their cocoons as early as 7,500 years ago, genetic evidence suggests. People bred the larvae to produce more silk and to tolerate human handling and extreme crowding (For more than 2,000 years, the Chinese kept their silk-making methods top secret, and smuggling silkworms out of the country was punishable by death. Silk makers traded their monopolized fabric throughout Eurasia along the Silk Road. To this day, the only other insect that is domesticated is the honeybee. — Erika Engelhaupt

When we use DNA intervention in a lab to change living beings, the changes are abrupt and not necessarily positive.  But other mammals domesticate themselves.  In a coming post I want to discuss cats, because some are domestic and some are not, regardless of their DNA.  In fact, they are capable of moving from domestic to wild, what we call “feral.”  So are humans.

"By these criteria, some people argue that cats — popular pets worldwide — are not fully domesticated. Cats probably started taming themselves about 9,500 years ago by hunting vermin, infesting early farmers’ grain stores and feasting on food scraps. Farmers brought the mousers with them from the Middle East into Europe around 6,400 years ago, researchers reported June 19 in Nature Ecology & Evolution. But cats may not have been purring lap pets at that time, say molecular biologists Thierry Grange and Eva-Maria Geigl of the Institute Jacques Monod in Paris. That behavioral transformation may have happened later, perhaps in Egyptian cats that were quickly dispersed by boat around the ancient world."

I'll pick up on this in later posts, to get some practical use out of the colony of cats in my household, some feral and some tame, and some still deciding.  But “domestication” is not just a matter of calm mammals.  The concept can be applied to plants or creatures that were selectively bred to be useful to humans.  When we use DNA intervention to change living beings, the changes are abrupt and not necessarily positive.

In China, people began domesticating the larvae of silk moths for the fine, strong threads of their cocoons as early as 7,500 years ago, genetic evidence suggests. People bred the larvae to produce more silk and to tolerate human handling and extreme crowding (For more than 2,000 years, the Chinese kept their silk-making methods top secret, and smuggling silkworms out of the country was punishable by death. Silk makers traded their monopolized fabric throughout Eurasia along the Silk Road. To this day, the only other insect that is domesticated is the honeybee. — Erika Engelhaupt

This vid is directly about violence.  In relation to this talk, I will say that I've never heard of gangs of cats going out to find a cat or kitten to kill.  But tomcats will kill and eat kittens.