A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for October 2006

[LINK] On the intelligence of elephants

The Los Angeles Times reports that past suggestions that elephants are actually highly intelligent seem to be correct, for at least some elephants have passed the mirror test.

Cats may try to pick a fight with their image in a mirror. Dogs may bring a gift of food to what they think is a newfound friend. But humans and chimpanzees — and maybe dolphins — have long been thought to be the only species that primp and groom before the mirror because they recognize themselves.

Now elephants can be added to the list, researchers from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and the Wildlife Conservation Society reported Monday in the online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Three female elephants at the Bronx Zoo in New York examined the insides of their mouths, studied their ears and showed other signs of self-awareness, said Yerkes graduate student Joshua M. Plotnik, a co-author along with Frans B. M. de Waal of Yerkes and Diana Reiss of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Most important, one of the elephants, Happy, used her trunk to touch a mark on her head that she could see only in the mirror — a standard test of self-awareness developed 35 years ago by biologist Gordon R. Gallup Jr.

On a related note, Barbara Gowdy‘s The White Bone–about a community of elephants caught in a land ravaged by famine and hunting–is a good novel indeed.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2006 at 2:53 pm

[NON BLOG] FreeCell

Since we started dating back in May, I’ve picked up quite a few things from Jerry. A month ago or so, bitterlawngnome observed (jokingly?) that our speech patterns have begun to converge. I’ve not noticed that so much myself–I think–but I can attest to the enjoyment I’ve begun to take in the FreeCell. My success rate can still be measured in single-digit percentages after too many dozens of games, but I think that I’m hooked.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2006 at 2:47 pm

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[MUSIC] Cansei de Ser Sexy, “Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above”

I’d heard Cansei de Ser Sexy‘s debut international single “Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above” broadcast a couple of weekends ago on CBC Radio’s Saturday afternoon show Definitely Not the Opera. The video, thankfully, has been uploaded to YouTube.

I think I quite like the discopunk genre. Recommendations?

Written by Randy McDonald

October 28, 2006 at 2:47 pm

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[LINK] “There’s something about Oriana”

Oyvindstrommen’s takedown of Oriana Fallaci, “There’s something about Oriana”, makes for fantastic reading.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 25, 2006 at 9:25 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Portable mp3 players: A force for community breakdown?

Monday, during their continuing visit to Toronto, my parents gave me a portable mp3 player, SanDisk‘s m240. By iPod standards, this player might not have that much capacity, capable of storing only a gigabyte’s worth of data in the form of several hundred songs. Still. I spent all last night transferring Eurythmics mp3s to this wonderful player, cursing my inability to locate a third USB port on my desktop as I transferred B-sides, remixed, live versions, and the like over. I’m using it right now. (1999’s “I’ve Tried Everything” sounds nice.)

On the subway ride to work today, I suddenly remembered Andrew Sullivan’s contentious argument that iPods and their kin are directly contributing to the breakdown of social capital, by ensuring the fragmentation of listening audiences and crowds into individuals each intent on living out the requirements of their own highly specific tastes. This argument has been criticized abundantly elsewhere for a variety of reasons, and I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Sullivan was wrong. And yet, I also wouldn’t be surprised to discover that, yes, I was the first person to listen to “Grown Up Girls” on the Bloor-Danforth line.

Go figure.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 25, 2006 at 2:55 pm

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[LINK] They really don’t like us

Via thebitterguy, a news report on a recent outburst of (admittedly) passive Canada-bashing by the United States’ Republican Party.

A Republican attack ad stirring controversy in the U.S. mid-term elections does a drive-by smear on Canada, suggesting America’s northern neighbour is a do-nothing country on world affairs.

The television ad has sparked denunciations from both the Democratic candidate it targets and the Republican candidate it is designed to help.

Produced by the Republican National Committee, the ”man on the street” ad features a hefty man wearing suspenders and a ball cap, commenting sarcastically on his view of Democratic foreign policy.

”Let Canada take care of North Korea. They’re not busy,” the man says.

[. . .]

Just how Canada got caught up in the mid-term mudslinging remains a mystery. The Republican National Committee did not respond to calls from CanWest News Service.

But the ad fosters stereotypes about Canada’s engagement in international affairs that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tried hard to dispel.

Earlier this year, the Canadian Embassy in Washington mounted an advertising campaign highlighting Canada’s role as America’s ally in Afghanistan, where 43 Canadians have died since 2002.

David Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, voiced outrage in the last federal election campaign when the Liberal party criticized President George W. Bush.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 25, 2006 at 2:40 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Return of the Terran Trade Authority

Quite a few of my readers are familiar, as I am, with the Terran Trade Authority books. Designed and illustrated by Stewart Cowley, the Jane’s Fighting Ships-style presentation of a space oepra future history over several books managed to acquire a large global fanbase.

The Terran Trade Authority is back. A RPG, reportedly incorporating more than four hundred pages of new material approved by no less a person than Cowley himself, is now out in production, with an associated Wiki and discussion group.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 23, 2006 at 11:47 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Politovskaya again

Yesterday’s post about Putin’s bad joke about rape reminded me of a passage from Anna Politovskaya‘s A Dirty War (London: Harvill Press, 2001; trans. John Crowfoot), in which Politovskaya interviewed two men, Yura a lieutenant, and Volodya a corporal, stationed in Chechnya as part of the OMON riot police.

Volodya felt deeply offended; Yura saw himself as a hero in some American action film. He described revolting scenes, watching to see how his listeners reacted. The FSB distributed videos among the soldiers in the North Caucasus, he said, and they watched them every evening to “get in the mood”.

“What do they show?”

“How they kill and rape. Don’t you know how they raped Shamil Basayev’s brother, Shirvani, in Nazran? A whole gang of them. Well, I saw it.” Yura is very pleased with the nauseating effect this has.

“Not bad.” Yura is satisfied. It doesn’t take long to realise he is mentally unbalanced. All that’s lacking is a formal confirmation (107).

Politovskaya, incidentally, was killed earlier this month in her apartment building. One juournalist suggests that she was killed because of the threat that she posed to Chechnya’s president Ramzan Kadyrov, allegedly implicated in sexual and other atrocities against his subject population.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 22, 2006 at 8:47 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Bad, bad jokes

Via Reuters, thanks to Will Baird:

The Kremlin said on Friday President Vladimir Putin was joking and not condoning rape when he commented about the virility of Israeli President Moshev Katsav, whom police suspect of raping female employees.

Unaware a microphone was switched on during talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Putin called Katsav a “mighty guy” and said: “Raped 10 women! I would never have expected that from him. He surprised us all. We all envy him.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed Putin had made the comments on Wednesday and said Russian humour did not always travel well across linguistic borders.

I’m right to read Peskov as someone desperately trying to cover up a catastrophically insensitive gaffe, correct?

Written by Randy McDonald

October 21, 2006 at 12:16 am

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[LINK] C For Cookie

Fans of V for Vendetta might be amused by the below YouTube-hosted video.

The cookie should be afraid of people.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 20, 2006 at 11:57 pm

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