Chicken Little: Has the sky already fallen?

I was thinking about pigeons earlier today, and that got me thinking about thier more land-bound, edible counterparts:  The chicken.  Now chickens, as we know, cannot fly for any great distance.  They can gracefully soar out of pine tress and down hillsides, if given the opportunity.  I’ve seen them do it.  And when startled, they do flap thier wings and glide about in the air a bit, just like pigeons.  But they don’t migrate – longer flights are impossible for them.  In fact, the longest recorded distance flown by a chicken is 301.5 feet.

Given that chickens have wings, and do have the ability to fly at least for short distances, it is a valid hypothesis that chickens at one time were able to fly.  Given that chickens have been domesticated for thousands of years, it’s difficult to say for certain.  However, I did a bit of research on the chicken’s supposed precursor, the Red Junglefowl, to attempt to shed a little light on the mystery.  While most documented cases of flight are short in duration and distance, similar to the chicken’s, I remained unsure if this was due to nature or as a result of early domestication. True, both are members of the pheasant family, who are primarily ground feeders.  But does that mean they couldn’t fly, or wouldn’t migrate?  My limited time at work did not give me the chance to find out.

Still, the idea of domestication forcing a species to give something up intrigued me.  Generally we see domestic selection as good – it’s selection for the characteristics we want.  But in all cases, something must be lost.  In addition, in our own lives, the word ‘domestic’ has negative connotations.  There’s ideas of servants, ‘the domestics’.  There’s houswives, also seen as domestic.  And yet with animals, this does not quite ring true – but then again, we don’t expect to perceive animals as on par with ourselves.

It makes me wonder…what are the things we have selected for as a society?  What skills, or natural abilities and talents, or personality traits have we allowed to grow and thrive?  And at what cost?  With this selection, what has been lost?  Can we still fly?  Were we ever really able to?

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Debt, Mortgages, and How They Affect Your Life

There’s been tons of hoopla in the media recently about mortgages, especially high-risk mortgages that have been defaulting.  If you haven’t heard something in this vein, you’ve probably been living under a rock, deliberately avoiding current events.  Event though that’s what I normally do, I thought I should crawl out for a bit and echo the voice of doom.

Now, I’m sure most people are confused.  So a few poor people defaulted on their home loans.  What’s the big deal?  the banks foreclose, someone new gets the land and pays for it, everyone is happy.
In order to a clearer view, I need you to think back to your days of high school economics.  You know, supply, demand, all that good stuff.  I’m not sure if you recall, but somewhere in that course, you probably talked about how economic growth was judged – what the factors for positive growth were, and what factors were part of an economic downturn.  At that time in my life, the economy was fairly stable, as judged by two key factors – unemployment, and building.  Characteristically in this economy, people stay employed if it is worthwhile to them – if it is more cost effective to go to work for a wage than to stay at home and collect unemployment.  In a healthy economy, 3% should be the rate of unemployment.  It makes sense – if a small number of people are unemployed, more people are making a better wage, and are hence able to buy more things, growing the economy.  The building market works in much the same way – when people have more money, they are more willing to invest in a house, hence more housing is needed, hence more building occurs, creating more jobs and shooting money back into the economy in a widening cycle.

For the past several years, this has largely been the apparent cycle – better wages = stronger economy= more building = stronger economy.  The problem comes with speculation.   It’s almost become a part of the American dream to own a house – a good job, a good family, a home and two cars.  And with the housing market booming, everyone wanted some of the action.  People looking to expand their portfolio invested in real estate and housing instead of more traditional investment.  With the building boom, most property values were expected to increase as a demand for land grew.  In addition, to sate the American dream of those with lower credit ratings and lower incomes, mortgage lenders took on increasingly risky prospects.  Bad idea.

Basically, the rules that were developed to see if a person qualifies for a mortgage were put in place for a reason – to sort out those who could actually pay for a house over the long term.  While it’s true that the rules currently in place may be discriminatory, biased, and unfair,  that does not mean that everyone should be able to buy a house.  It’s not necessary for happiness, and I’m not sure it should be a part of what we see in our future.

But that’s all water under the bridge now.  The point is, how does this affect you?   Remember the high school economics?  Basically, enough big lenders and banks have invested in poor mortgages that it affects everyone.  When these lenders start posting downturns, it affects the market.  building slows – the market slows.  The value of housing and real estate goes down as the demand for it lessens.  Those with mortgages continue to pay the same monthly rate while the overall property value they are invested in decreases.  With jobs in the building industry falling off and banking institutions cutting costs in staffing, unemployment rises.  The market goes into a downturn.

What can you do?   Avoid debt, if possible.  Interest is going to be high, and creditors unsympathetic if you default.  If you have property investments and can afford to hold on to them, do so.  It may be a long ride, but eventually, property values should increase again.  Don’t be afraid to spend, but don’t feel forced to either.  Economists and other market watchers are asking for continued spending to help boost the economy.  There’s nothing wrong with that, and with the deflated spending pattern, you’re likely to get the goods you want at a bargain price.  Still, it’s also a good time to invest, with stocks priced low and interest rates high.  Basically, we could end up with a continued and lengthening downturn, but it shouldn’t get to the point of another Great Depression, or force us to starve.  So I’m pretty content with that.

Pigeon herding

Of course I left my wonderful SUPA-cool camera at home again today, so you guys will just have to bear with me and deal with the slightly crappy shots from my phone.  Trees through sculptureSorry.  I am doomed to have my camera only when the world around me is ugly.

Today I had to deliver some ‘important papers’ to main campus and on my way back, saw something most interesting.  Two pigeons were perched on a rooftop.  As I watched, one of them dived off, just falling like a rock towards me, then opening his wings into a glide.  It made me wonder, are pigeons ever afraid?  They are pretty fat birds.  Or does instinct just give them an infinite trust that their wings will keep them from splatting on the ground?  The whole thing was just beautiful – the arc of the pigeon’s wings, the sunlight on iridescent feathers, the display of fearlessness.  I wish i’d caught it on tape.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Pigeons are ugly birds.  They waddle, they eat garbage and they barely keep themselves clean.  Even for someone like me, who enjoys chasing them and seeing how close I can get before they take off or how many of them I can get going in the same direction, I wouldn’t want to actually touch one.  I don’ think they’d make a very good pet, or be very soft to touch.  They probably carry lots of noxious diseases, too.

Sun and TreesBut in this case, all that was beside the point.  For a moment, this mangy flying rat was something more than a city scavenger.  And for that transformation, I’m grateful, both for the beauty of the moment and for the potential it imparts to me to be better than myself, if only for a moment.