Sunday, February 28, 2010

if wishes were horses

I've always liked horses. They might not provide the most comfortable or practical means of transportation but there's something about the idea of horse that lets our imaginations about other ways of living run free. So rather than painting this weekend I spent some time on a couple of new drawings for paintings to come later. Draw while the pencil is hot.

Speaking of lively imaginations I've been reading some articles recently about the efforts being made to clone extinct species and wondering what to think of the idea. There's a project underway to find some useable DNA from one of the mammoths that are occasionally found when the permafrost melts. An egg from an Asian elephant would have the nucleus destroyed and replaced with the nucleus of a mammoth specimen. If successful, the resulting clone would be genetically all mammoth. Wow.

Another plan underway is to bring back aurochs. You may remember having seen their images in cave paintings - huge cattle with sweeping horns, seven feet tall at the shoulder and weighing over a ton that haven't been seen for at least 500 years. Caesar described them as: "a little below the elephant in size" and a favorite hunting prey for wild Germanic tribesmen. I wonder how you'd milk something like that?

There are plans as well to bring back the dodo (perhaps an ostrich would mother the egg) and the DNA of other endangered species is being collected and stored just in case the last real tiger dies in captivity like the Tasmanian Devil did at the turn of the 20th century.

What next, you may wonder? Well, the last one I read about was the plan to clone a Neanderthal. Really. You can read about it here but basically now we're talking about a human species that diverged from our line approximately 450,000 years ago and were very different from us in just about every way. Considering the difficulties for one surviving birth and infancy how would he or she see our world? Could one cope without peers or would the plan be to clone a small band and let them live on a northerly island with mammoths and aurochs ready to fill an ecological niche when we're gone?

Is it possible we need to figure out how to take better care of the world as it is before diving headlong into cloning the extinct? When I think about it for a bit I really don't have a very wild imagination at all.


  1. Which brings to mind the ethics of science and it's implied responsibility to our World. I am also conflicted over this. I see a World that is becoming way too focused on new tech just for the sake of new tech. As you say, does it not make more sense to care for what we still have than worrying about what was or what we can manipulate without regards to the impact on the future.

    Very thoughtful post. Thanks.

    BTW - I am not afraid of much. But horses scare me to death. I was put in the hospital at age 9 by a horse. I do however like them if there is a very strong and high fence between me and them.

  2. Beautiful drawings Susn. As for resurrecting extinct species. I would love to see somwthing like the Quagga back but the emphasis must be on preserviing what we still ahve

  3. mrmacrum - I think a big problem in science is the fact most of the funding is from the military or big business. It's a situation bound to cause serious moral conflicts of which cloning is just a small example - for now.

    In spite of being thrown from and dragged by the first horse I ever rode, I still liked them enough to take every opportunity I could to ride.. but they are scary.

    jams - Thanks :-) In a way it's a cool idea (and the quaggas were lovely - I looked them up) but indeed, first things first.

  4. according to the world resources institute, 100 species go extinct each day-- four every hour-- due to tropical deforestation alone.
    it might be more productive saving these species from extinction, rather than trying to 'bring them back' afterwards.

  5. Yeah, what's the sense of bringing them back if they'd only go extinct again? Plus, which species went extinct because of overhunting or other outside influence, and which ones went extinct because of the natural order of things?

    For the record, I think it would be outrageously cruel to bring back a Neanderthal out of curiousity.

    I really need to add you to my blog roll or follow you or whatever, because I enjoy your writing.

  6. Movies about clones doing our fighting in galactic wars is not a new idea, (Think Star Wars), so I think if they could clone a human, they would, especially suited to that purpose.
    As far as cloning anything just to have it around seems, to me, to be frivolous, but then again, I can't speak from the science of it. That must be monumental to a scientist, anthropologist or archeologist.
    Your drawings might resurrect another possibly lost species, the unicorn. It wouldn't take much, just the horn seems to be missing. It would definitely fit with the theme of whimsical and gaiety, at least that's what I see in these drawings.

    Peace to you susan.

  7. Lovely drawings Susan of horses which made so much difference to our life in just about every respect not so long ago. I like the tree of life in the background- life’s oxygen to give us energy. It is indeed true we need to figure out how to take better care of the world before diving headlong into cloning the extinct.
    I doubt if we will be successful but the idea is fraught with many biological risks which are almost impossible to quantify. Best wishes

  8. sera - Until that can happen anything else is sheer craziness. Stabilizing and gradually reducing the human population would go far to clear a number of problems in the world.

    ubermilf - For a couple of examples mammoths and aurochs both disappeared largely because of human predation and there have been questions too about Neanderthal territories being overrun. People have a tendency to make their own ecological niches by wiping out other species.

    Thanks, I will visit you too.

    spadoman - The idea of cloning people has been around for a while and even though it hasn't been done yet (so far as anyone admits) there are precedents in place that would have them be recognized as fully human. It's still a very creepy idea.

    You're right. Maybe I'll paint a unicorn next :-)

    lindsay - Thank you for the kind words and the confidence. Would you believe it was drawing the Tree that gave me a headache? I love the idea of the World Tree as an ideal of nature's harmony and I hope I can do that justice when I paint this one.

    Best wishes to you too.

  9. isn't that just our twisted human nature...? to want to invest in a big way in things just out of reach, while we trample underfoot the things we have in order to get them? and imagine being the only mammoth or dodo or neanderthal... in a world where no one knows what 'normal' is for you.

  10. imagine how the neanderthal would get teased at school, it reminds me of those tv commercials with the neanderthal all pissed off at being treated like he's stupid, funny stuff, maybe not so funny in real life!

  11. I have never had the horse thing. But lately I am horse mad. I dream of horses. I wish for horses. And now I come here and see these gorgeous horses. I think this is a sign that my horsey wishes are about to come true.

  12. gfid - As Crow has said 'Humans are the craziest of all species'.

    elaine - He'd probably be just fine once he tried out for the high school football team.

    belette - I'm glad you like my horses. I wish there was a horse for each and every one of us and we could race across the dunes to splash in the waves. I always wanted to do that.

  13. I rode a horse once. Closest I ever came to death. I'll pass, and I'll also pass on this whole Jurassic Park nonsense, save for summer popcorn flicks.

    Right now, there's an evil mastermind, oh, let's call him, um, Cheney, who's thinking about having agents scour Russian archives for any bone fragment or DNA sample of a certain really bad guy.

  14. love the pictures, love horses!!

    and Bellette.....make a commitment and go for it!! its worth every minute!!

  15. I don't know...all that cloning of extinct creatures reminds me of Jurassic Park and we all know how that turned out!

    Regarding the cloning of Neanderthal's...not necessary, we have a whole bunch of them on Capitol Hill and in the White House. They never left...they're still walking the earth.

    Regarding horses...just like you, I was crazy about them when I was a kid and I'm not sure if the fantasy of having my own horse ever left me.

  16. randal - Me too but I got back on anyway :-) You know, it might be interesting seeing trains of mammoths delivering goods rather than 18 wheelers.

    That rascally Rasputin was a hard guy to get rid of, wasn't he?

    clairesgarden - I know you do and I'm glad you like these. Belette would do well to follow your advice and if she ever escapes from LA she just might.

    nunly - You're right that we already have enough monsters in DC and on Wall St. but I didn't want to insult Neanderthals with a comparison to them. After what I've read about them playing musical instruments and burying their loved ones with flowers, I couldn't help but see them as good people.

    I still fantasize about horses too but I'm a bit too breakable now to risk a fall.

  17. Is it but me? The longer and deeper diving into the first drawing, the more fascinating creatures I detect.
    Very enjoable, Susan. Thanks.

    As for your thoughts: The dilemma in which scientists, politicians etc. are sticking is, that none of them will get old enough to witness the (ultimate) consequences of their decisions.

  18. sean - That tree took me ages to draw and it's still changing. I hope you'll find the eventual painting just as interesting.

    I think it goes to show our immaturity as a species that we can't come up with an overall global framework. Greed and shortsightedness will have some very long-term and nasty consequences indeed.