I spotted the following article in MT Void, the weekly e-zine edited by Evelyn and Mark Leeper. You can e-mail them at ecl@mtgbcs.mt.lucent.com. Although some of you will have already seen this, most won't, and we thought it was very, well, Plokta-ish. So, over to Mark Leeper to tell you about

Zombie Dogs and Magic Swords

Evelyn did a double take when I said it. She is never really clear when I say something like this if I am joking or not. Sometimes I will say something in all seriousness that sounds like no sane person could say it. This time what I said is that terriers tend to come back from the dead. She was talking about a film called Michael in which she says a dog returns from the dead and I said it might makes sense if it were a terrier because dead terriers come back to life. It is the same kind of straight face I have when I tell people that the legend of Excalibur is probably based in reality on some real magic sword.

Yup, there really were magic swords at one time. You see, back when swords were made of iron people did not know a whole lot about how to forge iron. I guess we would say their methodology was not all that consistent. Well, if you get really sloppy making iron and get the carbon content wrong -- that can happen when you get your heat from charcoal fires -- what you get is something that looks like an iron sword but is in large part steel. This is iron made so bad it is good. A steel sword could bite through pretty much any sword or iron that they knew how to make at the time. So every once in a while a sword came out wrong, but better. Hence the legend of magic swords.

Oh, and terriers that return from the dead, that really happens also. The time was that humans used to return from the dead. That is one of the reasons to have people embalmed. It makes sure they do not return. We tend to have a horror of the idea of people returning from the dead, but that is because we tend to think selfishly. It is a heck of a lot more horrible for the person it happens to. Time was when people would wake up in coffins and find no way out. When you would exhume old coffins, a certain percentage had signs that the occupant had tried to make an exit.

But of course coffins are pretty well-made. Now only very rarely does a dog get embalmed. And very few have coffins. A dead dog just gets buried in the ground. So a dog coming back to life may have a fighting chance of saving himself. If any kind of dog has a good chance of making it to safety, it is a terrier. Most kinds of dogs are bred for some purpose and the name tells their purpose. It means "earth-dog;" it has the same root as "terra." A terrier is a hunting dog who chases the quarry into its hole or tunnel, fights it there, and brings it back out. These are dogs who are really good at digging and tunnelling. And every once in a while you see a news story of a Jack Russell Terrier or a dachshund who was some prized family pet who had to be euthanised or perhaps was dead from other causes, but then comes back scratching at his master's door. This is a dog who seemed to be dead, was buried, came back to life, found himself in dirt, and his natural instincts were to dig his way out.

I have a particular interest in the spirit that terriers have because I grew up with a dachshund. I never knew he was a terrier and he never let on except that he occasionally would dig in the back yard. He probably thought it was his idea to dig also, but it was instincts that were bred into him. That is interesting, isn't it? That if you want an animal (including a human) to have certain thought patterns and certain behaviours, you can actually breed for them. You can give them a genetic message to think in a specific way or to have some specific behaviour trait. You could breed humans for intelligence and integrity if you really wanted. Getting back to dogs, most people think that dachshunds are hounds. The name means "badger hound." But they were bred to go into badger holes and bring out badgers. A badger is a particularly mean and uncooperative animal, especially when it comes to preserving their own life. A terrier was bred with little short legs so that they do not get in the way when burrowing. They also had the sort of personality so when they get into the burrow, they still have the intelligence to out-think and out-fight the badger. That made them precocious pets. With a name like "badger hound" they were bred to look like little basset hounds so snouts got longer and ears more pendulous. It is surprising just how easily formed dogs are when it comes to breeding them. It does not take long to breed a dog with a certain look and a certain personality if you just make those the traits you want to breed for. That has implications that evolution is a lot faster a process than we would think. Animal behaviour and human behaviour is much more pliable than we may realise. That is a scary thought.

-- Mark Leeper

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