Monday, December 10, 2007

The Death of Zoo Blogging?

In a couple of hours I'll be flying out to Chicago to spend the holidays with my family, so this will be the last post in my Zoo Blogging series. Not to worry, though--like Superman, Zoo Blogging will, I suspect, return from the grave to exact fiery vengeance against evil-doers everywhere (well, maybe not that last part). When that day will come, I do not know. We'll all just have to wait and see, and keep watching the skies (why, you ask, should we be watching the skies? Well, I have no idea, but it felt right!).

Here, we have two Asian elephants. I'm pretty sure those tusks were longer than I am tall.

This is a Hyacinth macaw hiding from me in the foliage of one of the park's aviaries.

Well, that's going to have to do it for now. I hoped to post more, but I've run out of time. Posting will probably be more characteristically sparse for the next few weeks, but I'll check in now and then.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Bride of Zoo Blogging!

Okay, here we go with more zoo pictures. First, let's return to the Primate order with two ring-tailed lemurs. Like all lemurs, these two (Lemur catta) hail from the island of Madagascar. Along with galagos and lorises, lemurs are part of a group of primates--the Strepsirrhini suborder--that are more distantly related to humans than monkeys and apes are. Nevertheless, humans and lemurs share many characteristic features, including opposable thumbs, finger/toenails, and stereoscopic vision. Ring-tailed lemurs are considered by the World Conservation Union to be "vulnerable" to extinction, though not yet technically endangered. Sadly, I'd be surprised--albeit pleasantly so--if they aren't moved to the endangered list within the next decade or two.

Switching kingdoms for the moment, I've long been a fan of strolling through the Wild Animal Park's conifer forest; it's pretty much a short nature hike (though an expensive one for non Zoo-members), and these impressive Mediterranean Cypress trees are by far my favorite sight:

Ever the botanical philistine, I'm always forgetting the names of trees, so I took a picture and now won't have to try to remember what type these are!

Incidentally, if anyone is looking for a Christmas tree to seriously impressive your relatives, I'd be happy to hook you up if the price is right (I kid, I kid!).

Finally, let's end this post with a second helping of primates. I'm not sure what this gorilla is looking at, but I like her (his?) eyes. Perhaps I'm over-anthropomorphizing, but I can't look at those eyes and that expression without seeing a sense of of intelligence and self-awareness.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Revenge of Zoo Blogging!

As promised, I'm back with more pictures from my recent trip to the Wild Animal Park. Leading off today is a baby African elephant. Born November 28th of this year, this female pachyderm is the epitome of cuteness--though to get the full impact of her devastating charm, you really should see her up close and in person.

Speaking of cute, I also got a shot of this desert bighorn in full relaxation mode. While I'm usually not too partial to animals with cloven feet, this sheep captured my attention with its sleeping repose (Incidentally, I think I woke it up with my camera's flash. Sorry!).

And with that, I'm going to continue my teasing ways and bring things to a close. Don't think for a second that I haven't noticed this post's lack of primate photos. Believe me, I will make up for this glaring deficiency with my next installment. Until then. . .

A proud moment in blogging history

I would like to take this ooportunity to inform my esteemed readers that this blog has reached an important milestone. Yes, A History of Histrionics has climbed the cut-throat google ladder and is now the first hit when searching for the phrase "pat robertson is a tool." *Sniff*. . .I'm so proud I could, well, burst into histrionics! I'd to thank all the little people--namely Pat Robertson and myself. To the fine person who found A History of Histrionics using this search: welcome; I couldn't agree more.

Wait! Hold the presses!

While typing this post, I happened to google the phrase "burst into histrionics" out of idle curiosity, and guess what-- we're number one there too! What a fantastic and historic day this is turning out to be!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Return of Zoo Blogging!

I visited the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park today, and, as always, took a ridiculously large number of photos. Hailing from the "technique-is-for-tools" school of photography--that is, I have no idea what I'm doing and have thus far been too lazy to try to actually learn how to us a camera--my method is to just start shooting and hope that a handful of the hundreds of pictures I take don't suck. It works--sort of. Instead of following my normal routine of immediately posting the best shots, I think I'm going to try to milk this latest slew of pictures for as many posts as I can.

To start, here is a picture of a cricket, one of the Park's many freeloading animal guests. While not typically the kind of fauna that most people go to zoos to see, I have a soft spot in my heart for insects and couldn't resist taking a picture when I saw it jump from the sidewalk into a nearby plant.
Next up is a western lowland gorilla basking in the warm morning sunlight--either that or pouting. I'm not sure which.

That's it for now. I'll be posting more over the next few days.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Who's the troglodyte now?

News stories detailing the impressive feats and skills of our closest primate relatives have become so common that they're beginning to verge into dog-bites-man territory, but the following New Scientist report on a chimpanzee study is, I think, undeniably cool:
Young chimps can beat adult humans in a task involving remembering numbers, reveals a new study. It is the first time chimps – and young ones, at that – have outperformed humans at a cognitive task.

And the finding may add weight to a theory about the evolution of language in humans, say the researchers.

Three adult female chimps, their three 5-year-old offspring, and university student volunteers were tested on their ability to memorise the numbers 1 to 9 appearing at random locations on a touchscreen monitor.

The chimps had previously been taught the ascending order of the numbers. Using an ability akin to photographic memory, the young chimps were able to memorise the location of the numerals with better accuracy than humans performing the same task.

During the test, the numerals appeared on the screen for 650, 430 or 210 milliseconds, and were then replaced by blank white squares.

While the adult chimps were able to remember the location of the numbers in the correct order with the same or worse ability as the humans, the three adolescent chimps outperformed the humans.

The youngsters easily remembered the locations, even at the shortest duration, which does not leave enough time for the eye to move and scan the screen. This suggests that they use a kind of eidetic or photographic memory.
. . .

The article conveniently comes with a YouTube video to help explain the results of the study.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

"We are not separate."

Take a look at this poignant and beautifully-shot National Geographic film about a recent spate of mountain gorilla killings in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park.

Friday, November 30, 2007

I am a terrible person

Upon hearing about the hostage crisis at Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire campaign office, my first thought was, "Holy crap!" This initial reaction was quickly followed up with, "I hope she doesn't manage to score any sympathy votes out of this!"

Ouch. There's nothing like a knee-jerk empathy-free response to a tragic event--which, luckily, had a more or less happy ending--to make me question my ethical priorities. Now if Barack Obama's campaign had been involved, that would be a different story altogether. Ah, the joys of reflexive tribalism!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In which I try my hand at poetry

It's the question that drives us. . .
-
Trinity, The Matrix

If the massive number of inquiring emails I've been receiving is any indication, many of you are very curious to know what it would look like if I started writing poetry about food. Dear readers, as of this moment, you need no longer spend your nights tossing and turning in restless contemplation. The answer you seek can be found at Catherine's blog. May it be everything you had hoped for!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Something to be thankful for

Via John Wilkins comes news sure to provoke a bit of timely Thanksgiving gratitude in primate-lovers everywhere: The Congolese government has pledged to set aside almost 12,000 square miles of rainforest as a preserve for bonobos and other endangered jungle-dwelling animals. The Bonobo Conservation Initiative has the full report:

Washington, DC – The Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI) joins the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in announcing the creation of the new Sankuru Nature Reserve, a huge rainforest area harboring the endangered bonobo, a great ape most closely related to humans. Larger than the state of Massachusetts, the new reserve encompasses 11,803 square miles of tropical rainforest, extremely rich in biodiversity.

“This is a monumental step towards saving a significant portion of the world’s second largest rainforest, of critical importance to the survival not only of humankind’s closest great ape relative, the bonobo, but to all life on Earth given the increasing threat of climate change ,” said Sally Jewell Coxe, president and co-founder of the Bonobo Conservation Initiative.

The Sankuru region was hit very hard during the recent war in the Congo, which devastated the local people and claimed four million lives—more than any war since WWII. In addition to the critical environmental challenges presented by unsustainable hunting, the humanitarian crisis must also be addressed. “The people of Sankuru rely on the forest for every aspect of their livelihood. Helping them to develop economic alternatives to the bushmeat trade is one of the most urgent priorities,” Coxe said.

In danger of extinction, bonobos (Pan paniscus) were the last great ape to be discovered and are the least known great ape species. Found only in the DRC, bonobos inhabit the heart of the Congo Basin, Africa’s largest rainforest, which is threatened by the onslaught of industrial logging. Bonobos are distinguished by their peaceful, cooperative, matriarchal society, remarkable intelligence, and sexual nature. Other than humans, bonobos are the only primates known to have sex not only for procreation, but also for pleasure and conflict resolution—and with members of either sex. Unlike chimpanzees, bonobos do not murder or wage war on others of their own kind. They serve as a powerful flagship both for conservation and for peace.

In addition to the bonobo, the Sankuru Reserve contains the okapi (Okapia johnstoni), an exotic short necked forest giraffe also endemic to the DRC, but not previously found outside of their known range far to the northeast. Survey teams from the Congo’s Center for Research in Ecology and Forestry (CREF) sponsored by BCI made this exciting discovery. Sankuru also contains elephants, which have been hunted out in many other areas of the Congo forest, plus at least 10 other species of primates, including the rare owl faced monkey and blue monkey.

The wildlife is under intense pressure from organized hunting for the commercial bushmeat trade. The report from the Congolese Institute for Conservation of Nature (ICCN) on its recent expedition to the area states that “the ecocide must be stopped” and recommends immediate action to protect this invaluable ecosystem and watershed. The DRC Minister of the Environment, Didace Pembe Bokiaga, who officially declared the new reserve, said, “This increases the total area of protected land in the DRC to 10.47%, bringing us closer to our goal of 15%. We are proud that the Sankuru Reserve is being created in the framework of community participative conservation…and will be zoned to guarantee the rights of the local population.”

Andre Tosumba, director of BCI's Congolese NGO partner, ACOPRIK (Community Action for the Primates of Kasai), led the successful local effort to protect Sankuru. “When I saw the extent to which people were hunting bonobos, okapi, and elephants, we began to sensitize them to realize the value of these animals,” he said. “Once they came to understand, the people themselves decided to stop hunting these precious species and to create a reserve to protect their forest. BCI has helped ACOPRIK and the local people at every step of the way; we call on the international community to join our effort.”

Protecting Sankuru Reserve’s forest will contribute significantly to mitigating global warming. Approximately 20% of annual green house gas emissions come from deforestation and other land-use change. Keeping this rich tropical forest intact will make an important contribution to global efforts to reduce emissions while simultaneously conserving biodiversity. The Sankuru Reserve stores up to 660 million tons of carbon, which if released by deforestation would emit up to 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, comparable to emissions from 38,000,000 cars per year for 10 years.

“This is a huge victory for bonobo and rainforest conservation,” Coxe said. “However our work has just begun. Now we need investment to successfully manage the reserve. And, other areas need to be protected to ensure the long-term survival of the bonobo and the integrity of the Congo rainforest.” The Sankuru Reserve is the southern anchor for a constellation of linked, community-based reserves being developed by BCI in the Bonobo Peace Forest, a project supported by DRC President Joseph Kabila since its inception in 2002.

[Editorial note: While I'm very fond of bonobos, this press release--following in the footsteps of many popular news accounts--exaggerates their pacifist nature a bit more than I think is truly justified. See here for some evidence contrary to the peacenik school of thought.]

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What are you doing to fight the War on Christmas?


Like the warmth of springtime and the start of election cycles, the winter Holiday Season just keeps coming earlier each year. While this is undoubtedly a joyous time of year, we cannot forget that the consumption of copious amounts of food and the receipt of presents are by no means the only--or primary--reasons for the season; no, my friends, the onset of Yuletide brings with it a sacred duty for all patriotic and right-thinking Americans: waging the War on Christmas™.

Unlike the many skirmishes of the 20th century, this conflict--the great battle of our age--is being waged on a virtually limitless number of fronts. From the shrill and volatile world of cable news shows--where the forces of darkness have marshaled under the banner of steely veteran General Bill O'Reilly--to the hellish land of internet message boards, the fires of culture war continue to rage unabated, leaving no mountain, valley or plain of our social landscape untouched.

With so many active fronts open at once, it is absolutely imperative that all upright citizens be ready to take up arms at a moment's notice. Just today, I saw an opportunity to join the fight--and I took it. While attempting to spend a gift card at Barnes and Noble, I happened upon the children's fantasy series, His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. Having seen trailers for the upcoming movie adaptation of the trilogy's first novel, The Golden Compass, and having read many pious Amazon.com reviews of the books claiming that they promote "blatant satanism," "anti-christian" themes and "atheism," (and having it on good authority that they are well-written and highly entertaining, but that's beside the point!), I saw immediately that this was my chance to strike a serious blow for liberalism, nihilism, secularism and the multitude of other beautiful philosophies to which we all cling so dearly. Therefore, dressed in full battle regalia--specifically, a t-shirt with a picture of Karl Marx on it*--I immediately walked to the front counter and purchased the trilogy box-set (at a tremendously reasonable price, I might add). Huzzah for another stunning victory!

I write this to you today, my brothers and sisters, not simply to brag about my brave and impressive accomplishments, but to encourage you to follow my example. While my actions were perhaps only tangentially-related to the specific mission of our blessed War on Christmas™, I hope you can see how they fell within our all-encompassing strategic plan for world domination through indoctrination and intellectual conquest. Furthermore, I hope it is clear that only through constant vigilance and readiness for battle will our noble aims be achieved. When your time comes, will you stand up and be a non-gender-specific adult human being? This is a war, and we are the front line. May we never forget our duty.


*Full disclosure: The t-shirt is also an advertisement for a conservative evangelical university, so if the People's War Committee for the Promotion of Politically Correct Sentiments chooses not to give me full points for wearing it, I'll understand.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Something is wrong with this picture

I apparently do not possess the competency necessary to read this blog:

cash advance

Yet somehow I manage to write it. I can think of only two explanations for this curious result: either I'm a genius autodidact, or that test sucks. Lacking the evidence necessary to rationally discern the correct option, I choose to believe the more satisfying narrative--

ALL HAIL MY STUNNING INTELLECTUAL PROWESS!


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Further confessions of an irreparably geeky person

Recall in a post written quite some time ago, I noted that, while possessing many qualities of a decidedly geeky nature, I had never participated in two of the most insidiously geeky pastimes; namely, I had not played a single game of Dungeons and Dragons and I had never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I mention this idle statement made long ago as a preface to a confession I feel I must now make: I have watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I love it. Yes, the metaphorical Rubicon has been crossed, and there is now no returning to the so-called life I once lived. While confessions of undying love for Buffy and its creator, Joss Whedon, have long since become hopelessly cliche in most respectable internet circles, I have no choice but to put social niceties to the side and add my voice to the clamoring mob of devoted Buffyverse fanatics.

Truth be told, oh merciful reader, this confession should have come long ago. While keeping it secret to all but a chosen few, I have for months now harbored a devastating affection for BtVS and its fantastic spin-off Angel. The fateful epiphany occurred last spring, when, wearied by watching the X Files, I sought to undertake a new geeky television enterprise. After consulting with several trustworthy and like-minded purveyors of sci-fi wisdom whose praise for BtVS was both universal and unmeasured, I added the show to my Netflix queue. After suffering great pangs of anticipation caused by the horrendous inefficiency of our postal system, the first disc arrived in my hands. Seven seasons of Buffy--plus five of Angel--later, I can only stand in awe at what is certainly the greatest artistic achievement in television history (for the sake of brevity, I will set aside the oft-debated question of whether the works of Shakespeare are utterly inferior or only somewhat inferior to the works of Joss Whedon).

To my readers, I apologize for keeping the details of my conversion from you for so long. You certainly deserved to know the truth before now, but, I am ashamed to admit, that I was afraid--afraid of what you would think of me. Now, though, having worked through my fears, I stand before you, ready to proclaim the good news of Buffy to all who would listen.

You may be wondering, "What is so great about the show that could cause this otherwise only slightly deranged fellow to write such dreadfully flowery and dramatic prose about it?" A fair question, perhaps, but one for which I have no answer. The beauty and power of BtVS are of such a mystical quality that any attempted rational explanation of them is doomed to absolute failure. One could just as easily calculate the square root of love or distill the meaning of life into a fruity malt beverage as decipher or quantify the true genius of the Buffyverse. Simply put, if you've never seen it, you cannot hope to understand; furthermore, if you've seen it and do not agree with me, your opinions are hopelessly misguided, and I will choose to accord them no further value. Like so many things, this comes down to a choice: A person is either with Buffy or against her, and if the latter is what you choose, then you are no friend of mine!*

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.


Hooray for overtime pay!

*Points to anybody who can identify exactly which two quotes I bastardized in this sentence.

Recommended reading: Gorillas in their Midst

While reading up on the Dead Sea at the behest of my roommate who just returned from a trip to Israel, I stumbled upon this detailed Smithsonian article about the plight of mountain gorillas living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here are a few representative highlights:

Only about 750 mountain gorillas are left in the world: 350 in Uganda, 270 in Rwanda and a mere 150 here in Congo (formerly Zaire). They have been ravaged by poaching, habitat loss, disease and the violence of war. Many live in lawless regions, sharing territory with armed rebels from Uganda or the remnants of Hutu militias responsible for Rwanda's 1994 genocide of ethnic Tutsis. Today the biggest threat comes from the Congolese area of their range. Rebel groups opposed to Congo president Joseph Kabila control territory in the turbulent east. The most powerful group is led by an ethnic Tutsi named Laurent Nkunda, who commands thousands of well-armed rebels in the Virungas. Not far from here in January, troops from Nkunda's group killed and presumably ate two silverbacks. A female was shot in May, another male and four females were slain in July; their killers had not been identified as we went to press.
. . .
Two hours later, we reach our destination, the Bukima patrol post, a dilapidated weatherboard hut that is home to the rangers who accompany the gorilla trackers each day. Jean Marie Serundori, the post's chief ranger, has spent 17 years with the gorillas. "So many of our rangers have been killed by rebels and poachers in the park," he tells me as Newport translates. "Two months ago, hundreds of Nkunda's troops occupied this very spot and looted it, remaining until just two weeks ago. We fled at the time, and have only just returned. [The rebels] are still just a few miles from here." I ask him why he risks his life by returning. "The gorillas are our brothers," he responds. "I know them as well as my own family. If we don't check that they're safe every day, soldiers and poachers might harm them." Rangers sometimes name newborn gorillas after community leaders who have recently died.
. . .
As if on cue, Rugendo rolls onto his side for a mid-afternoon nap, sated by his bulky snack. He became the master of this group in 2001, when his father was killed by crossfire between the Congolese military and the Interahamwe. Rugendo's easy acceptance of our presence allows the rangers to keep watch over him and his family. But it also allows poachers and soldiers to get dangerously close.

I edge closer, impressed by his brawny arms, many times thicker than a weight lifter's, and salami-size fingers. His massive, furry-crested head holds enormous jaw muscles. While the big chief dozes, Noel and two other sons tussle in mock combat, a favorite gorilla pastime, tumbling, growling, slapping and tugging. The fur on Kongomani and Mukunda, 10- and 12-year-old males, is still black. Noel is especially aggressive, baring his teeth as he repeatedly bangs his fists on the ground and charges his brothers. He leaps on them, pulls at their fur, bites their arms and legs and whacks them on the head. They soon tire of Noel's antics. Now, each time he attacks, one of the brothers grabs him with an arm and tosses him back into the bushes. After a few such tosses, Noel turns to peer at the pale-skinned stranger. Up close his dark brown eyes shimmer.


Seriously, go read the whole thing. The article is quite long, but it is a beautifully-written and--sadly--all too timely piece of journalism.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is there an arachnologist in the house?

For your viewing pleasure--or, possibly, displeasure if you suffer from arachnophobia--allow me to introduce you to my newest neighbor (click the image for a much larger and more detailed photo):

Sadly, the beautiful details of its posterior were hidden in shadow:

According to this paper, there are around 30,000 known spider species in the world, but only about 200 of them are known to harm humans. In all likelihood, my new neighbor is not part of the dangerous bunch, but just to be safe, I would recommend against attempting to steal anything from my patio for the time being!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

How about a real challenge?



Sure, this cockatoo can keep an easy 4/4 beat, but can it groove to the frenetic and irregular time signature changes of Tool?

(Via Laelaps)

Monday, October 22, 2007

In the line of fire

I woke this morning to find that the area that I live in, San Diego County, is ablaze. Stoked by strong, warm winds and dry air, fires are, quite literally, ravaging the countryside. Apparently everything started last night, but I spent much of yesterday following a conflagration of another sort--a major dramatic episode over the sacking of a popular member at a message board I frequent--and I guess I wasn't paying attention to much else.

The good news is that the fire burning closest to where I live is pretty well contained. The bad news is that there are six other fires in this county alone that are not contained! I already talked to a friend of mine who lives quite a bit further east than I do, and she told me she is safe, but had "lost everything." She will not be alone in her loss; thousands of people have already been evacuated, and I'm sure more will follow--perhaps even me.

Our local NPR affiliate, KPBS, is doing a fantastic job of providing the public with vital information concerning the fires. I'm listening now via the web (The one radio I own is the one in my car.), but due either to problems with my internet connection or difficulties are their end, the broadcast is constantly cutting out, making the updates difficult to follow.

Today will be difficult for all and tragic for many. And by all accounts, things are only going to get worse.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

On the prospects of my continued blogging

Allow me to apologize for this blog's silence over the past several months. Life has been stressful and often busy for me, but that's no excuse. Actually it's not even why I haven't been blogging--the real reason is that I've just been feeling too lazy and uninspired to bother. I'm going to try to change that, though. I don't want this blog to die on me.

With that in mind, I have a request for you, my readers. If you visit this blog on anything resembling a regular basis, would you mind posting a comment every now and then to let me know who you are? It will be a lot easier for me to keep this up, if it doesn't feel--as it often has--like I'm just talking to myself (I'm not counting you, Cath; you're my sister, you have to comment!). Perhaps that's an unreasonable request, but I'm going to make it anyway.

If nothing else, please feel free to correct my grammatical mistakes (I know you grammar Nazis are out there and you just love to make the rest of us toe the hard line!), argue with my points, and call me an idiot for all the dumb things I undoubtedly say. Of course, if you think something I've said isn't entirely stupid, feel free to mention that too!

Anyway, I'm taking A History of Histrionics off of life support. Let's see if, together, we can not only keep this thing alive, but make it lively!

Primates, reptiles and children! Oh my!

Contrary to the received wisdom of old adages, timing isn't everything, but it certainly isn't nothing, either. Much to my chagrin, upon arriving yesterday at San Diego Zoo I found that I had been preceded by what must have been every child under twelve in the tri-county area (in Coastal California, "tri-county area" is a rather meaningless geographical concept, but I was raised as a rural Midwestern boy, so I'm allowed to use it). October, you see, is "Kids get in Free" Month at the Zoo, and schools apparently use this as an opportunity to take their students on a fun and relatively cheap field trip. I had known this ahead of time, but had obviously not sufficiently pondered the dire consequences the Zoo's generosity might have for me. Luckily, my exceedingly awesome ipod music selection was able to muffle the worst of the cacophony, but the excessive number of screeching references to apes as "monkeys" still managed to grate on my ears like a shotgun blast of nails onto a chalkboard (obviously our public schools are failing utterly in the area of primate taxonomy--aren't the standardized exams mandated by the "No Child Left Behind" Act testing for this?).

Despite the hardship of being surrounded on all sides by a broiling sea of prepubescents , I still managed to have a wonderful time. I think, actually, that short of personal tragedy, it would be very difficult for me to not enjoy myself immensely at the San Diego Zoo. But enough of my inane babbling--onto the pictures!
____________________________________________________________________
This is Satu the Orangutan; you've seen him here a few times before, but he's my favorite animal at the Zoo by far, so I can't help but include him again. Oddly enough, it seems to be a law of the universe that if one waits around at the orangutan exhibit long enough, something highly interesting--usually involving Satu--will happen.


There also exists another tangentially-related law which states that juvenile siamangs--who share the exhibit with the orangutans--must always be compelled by some unfathomable genetic directive to harass the nearest available orangutan (usually Satu). As evidence of my claim (hey, I've just discovered two universal laws within a 24 hour timespan--isn't that enough to get me a PhD and a high-paying science job, or something?), I submit the following video:

**********************************************
Okay, I've been trying to upload this clip to
Google Videos for a few hours now, but it isn't
working. I'm losing patience, so I think I'll just
get this post up now and hope I can get the
video to to work later.
**********************************************

The playful harrassment of poor Satu (actually, I think he kind of likes it) lasted a lot longer than what I could catch on video. At one point, Satu climbed the fake bamboo poles to look out at the crowd. The infant siamang climbed right up after him and hung from his dangling legs like a useless appendage. It was very amusing, to say the least.


One of the keepers told me an amusing--amusing to me, at least, but perhaps not to the people involved--story about this female bonobo. Recently, while in one of her frequent aggressive moods, she bit off the top joint of one of the keeper's fingers. Doctors were able to reattach it, but only after the severed appendage was confiscated by the dominate female of the group and then traded to the keepers for raisins!

Moving away from the primates for the moment, here is are two Galápagos tortoises. I don't know their ages, but the Zoo has tortoises that are well past 100 years old.

Here is some sort of parrot--or a relative thereof. Judging by its guilty look, this bird is obviously up to no good.

Here, one of the Zoo's brown bears (commonly called grizzly bears) emerges from a relaxing bath in his (?) pool.

Ah, and here we come to the most exciting part of my Zoo visit, the baby bonobo! You can't really see it from this photo, but bundled in her blanket and resting on a giant bonobo stuffed animal, it was amazing just how much like a human baby she appeared to be (minus the obvious physical differences, of course).

Here she is from a different angle. Alas, due to thick glass and prohibitively poor lighting, it was difficult to get a good shot of her.

This video, I think, more than makes up for the low quality of the pictures:




On my way home, I saw this car on the freeway, and I couldn't resisting getting a picture of it. I guess it is that time of year.
And on that note of macabre humor, we come to the end of this post. I'm off now to see the movie 30 Days of Night. Mmmmm. . .vampires!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Attenzione, attenzione!

We interrupt your regularly-scheduled blogging lethargy to bring you this bit breaking news: the San Diego Zoo has seen the arrival of a baby bonobo! Mali--which, according to CBS, is the Swahili word for "something valuable"--was born on September 4th, but I just learned about her birth a few minutes ago. Happily for me, I had already decided to take Friday off to spend a much-needed day at the Zoo, so I won't have to wait very long to see her. I'll post pictures when I get back, I promise (unless, of course, they have her sequestered somewhere out of the public eye, but the Zoo's website says she's accessible in their nursery, so I'm hopeful that this won't happen). In the meantime, you'll have to settle for this disgustingly cute stock photo I found online.

One. . .two. . .three, "Awwwwwwwww!"

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Fun with wet surfaces

This video is so great, even my anti-blogging lethargy couldn't keep me from sharing it:

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A public service announcement from Greenpeace

It is perverse irony that, in our desire to find an environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, humans are causing catastrophic damage to the environment of one of closest relatives, the orangutan. The harvesting of palm oil, a potentially useful ingredient in biofuels, is a leading cause of devastation of Indonesian rainforests, areas on which orangutans rely for survival. The following clip from Greenpeace is--let's be honest--somewhat melodramatic, but it gets an important message across, and I think it's worth spreading around:



There is a right way and a wrong way to go about fixing problems like global climate change. If we do not choose our future energy sources carefully, our actions may result in the unintentional destruction of many Indonesian rainforest species, including orangutans.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A bit o' creative writing

A few weeks ago, I wrote a satirical essay for an assignment in one of my classes. I wasn't entirely pleased with the outcome, but my teacher really enjoyed it, and the class seemed amused when I read it aloud, so I'm posting it here.

Brave New Zoo

Attention, zoo-goers! After twenty years of closure due to the unavoidable mass extinction of its inhabitants, the San Diego Technological Society (formerly the San Diego Zoological Society), is proud to announce that on June 1st, 2075 the new and improved San Diego Zoo will be opening its doors! We are excited for you to experience the many amazing exhibits we have designed for you. Unlike our predecessors—who were inordinately focused on inefficient and misguided notions like animal well being and species conservation—we are pleased to inform you that every aspect of the new zoo has been created with the convenience and gratification of you, the entertainment consumer, in mind. Let’s take a look at some of the unforgettable experiences that await you at the Zoo of the Future®.

Here at the San Diego Technological Society, we believe that some traditions are worth keeping alive (only figuratively, of course!). That’s why, when walking through the entrance, the first thing you’ll see is the familiar sight of the zoo’s flock of flamingoes. But unlike the primitive flamingoes you may be used to (which were notoriously noisy smelly and messy), our flamingoes are quiet, unassuming, and sculpted entirely out of a fine pewter/copper alloy. As the zoo’s official greeters, our flamingoes* do what flamingoes do best—absolutely nothing!

While we like to uphold some traditions, we also believe in the need for constant innovation, which is why our teams of tireless and inventive R & D engineers are always on the lookout for substandard products worth improving. Take, for example, monkeys and birds—on their own, neither even comes close to meeting our rigorous excitement quality standards, but, we thought, what if they were combined? That’s right—the zoo’s robotic amalgamation team has created the world’s first mechanical bird-monkey hybrid! What’s more, our robot bird-monkeys have been programmed to serve as the zoo’s support staff. Not only are they entertaining to watch, but they’ll take food orders, deliver refreshments, and even give your car a full wash and wax while you enjoy your day at the zoo. Now that’s innovation!

If there was one thing we hated about the old biological zoos of the past, it was all of those nagging signs ordering the guests not to feed the animals. If, like us, you loathed this particularly egregious restriction, we have a real treat for you. In partnership with McDonald’s—now with sixteen locations conveniently disbursed across the zoo grounds—we are proud to present Mei Shung, the cyborg Panda. Mei Shung’s digestive system has been specially designed to function entirely on Big Macs, and you can feed her. Truly, it is a delight to witness the insatiable hunger in her eyes as she devours burger after tasty burger!

After feeding Mei Shung, why not visit our nearby education hub, the Conservation Irrelevancy Center? There, our knowledgeable and well-trained staff will inform you the many ways in which extinction and the loss of biodiversity have made the world a safer, healthier and happier place for humans. And we haven’t forgotten the kids! While you educate yourselves about the wonders of human progress, your children will experience the hilarious virtual reality high jinks of “Petey the Pathetic Platypus.” They’ll laugh at the outrageous trouble Petey gets into as he futilely attempts to keep from being “naturally selected” out of the gene pool, and they’ll receive an important lesson about not placing too much value on out-dated, non-human forms of life. Truly, the Conservation Irrelevancy Center is fun for the entire family!

All of these fabulous experiences—plus much more!—await you at the brand new San Diego Zoo. As if this was not enough, we would also like to invite you to the San Diego Technological Society’s newly-renovated sister site, the Wild Rubbish Park. Here, you and your family will scream with delight through your gas masks at the spectacle of our majestic used battery gardens, and you’ll have the opportunity to take a guided hover-tram tour (with recorded narration provided by the upcoming Hollywood starlet, Paris Hilton III) through a pristine, 65-acre rubber and plastics dump. By itself, the full scale replica of the Statue of Liberty made from three hundred thousand car tires is well-worth the price of admission!

The thrill of progress; the joys of convenience; the gratification of entertainment—the furtherance of these, our principles, is why the San Diego Technological Society exists. As you visit the ground-breaking San Diego Zoo and Wild Rubbish Park, we hope that you’ll take a moment to reflect upon the inspiring words of our society’s motto: “Life—it’s all about you.”


*Please note: In an effort to reduce the need for repainting after heavy rainfalls, we have altered the color of our flamingoes from the traditional pink to a pleasant orange rust hue. We’re sure you’ll love the new look.



Orangutans on the brink


Today, Reuters published an excellent (if sad) in depth article on the plight of orangutans and other forest-dwelling animals of Borneo and Sumatra:
Bound hand and foot, disheveled orangutans caught raiding Borneo's oil palm crops silently await their fate as a small crowd of plantation workers gather to watch.

Lacking only hand-cuffs and finger-printing to complete the atmosphere of a criminal bust, such "ape evictions" have become part of life for Asia's endangered red apes.

Thousands have strayed into the path of international commerce as Indonesia and Malaysia, their last remaining habitats, race to convert their forests to profitable palm crops.


Branded pests for venturing out from their diminishing forest habitats into plantations where they eat young palm shoots, orangutans could be extinct in the wild in ten years time, the United Nations said in March.
Please, follow the link and read the whole thing.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Red in tooth and claw (and horn)

Dear Diary,

Today was not a good day. It started off well enough; after a restful morning, my friends and I managed to sink our teeth into some tasty buffalo meat. We were all set to have a nice meal when who should arrive? That mean ol' nasty crocodile, that's who! We played tug-of-war for a little while, but my friends and I were tired from the hunt, and that croc has jaw of steel. Yes, that thieving bastard stole our meal! I was pretty depressed at this point, but things just got worse. As soon as I managed to come to terms with the fact that I probably wouldn't eat today, our would-be prey's family showed up--and they were pissed! I don't care how big my claws and teeth are; when I'm face to face with an entire herd of angry, horned buffalo, I'm going to do what any sensible person would do--run! They say that I'm the Queen of the Jungle, and maybe I am. But today, on the savanna, I got my ass kicked. Oy vey, I need a drink.




(hat tip to The Voltage Gate)

Odds and ends

As of last Thursday, I've finished the two classes I was taking this semester, so, in theory, I'll have more time and brainpower available for blogging. In actuality, my blogging habits are the result of complex calculation involving highly-volatile variables ([time + urge + current mental faculties]/laziness = probability of blogging), so whether or not you'll see a substantial increase in my blogging output is anybody's guess.

I should note that my sister, in an act of rank nepotism, has presented a "Thinking Blogger" award to me. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that I can't shake the feeling that the whole thinking award meme--though well-intended--might just be more than a bit ridiculous, I'm going to have to be a contrarian jerk and say that I don't feel like I'm much of a deserving recipient. Hell, I barely even blog, much less blog with thoughtful consideration. Nevertheless, thank you, Cath.

The standard response to receiving the "Thinking Blogger" award would be for me to nominate five people who I think are also deserving; I'm not going to do that. Most of the blogs I read regularly are written by professionals or semi-professionals writing--at least some of the time--on topics related to their areas of expertise. I think it would be misappropriately pretentious of me to nominate any of these blogs. Instead, I'm going to link to a few relatively recent posts that I've found especially enjoyable:

PZ Myers argues against the pervasive notion that the history of life--from "simple" single-celled organisms to the obvious pinnacle of evolution, walking and talking apes--reflects a pattern of ladder-like increases in complexity.

In his typically lucent and well-written fashion, Carl Zimmer has a great article on the findings and implications related to the sequencing of the opossum genome.

Kambiz writes an interesting and informative post about the new Digital Morphology Database, a great tool for people interested in skeletal anatomy.

Sean Carroll explains his reasons for believing that the rumours of string theory's demise have been greatly exaggerated. While my ability to consistently comprehend complex arguments related to theoretical physics is rather limited, the folks at at Cosmic Variance do an outstanding job of keeping things both informative and readable for both experts and novices.


That's it for now. Barring a case of uncontrollable lethargy, I hope to have more new content--if it can be justifiably called that--up within the next few days.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Overheard on the internets

I got a pleasant chuckle out of this:
Darwinism is something of a misnomer. Darwinism has been with us ever since the serpent beguiled Eve. Darwin was inspired by his father the devil to write his books much like Jesus inspired Moses and Paul.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Oh glorious, long-awaited day!

Tomorrow, I see Tool live in concert.


I've been crawling on my belly
Clearing out what could've been.
I've been wallowing in my own confused
And insecure delusions
For a piece to cross me over
Or a word to guide me in.
I wanna feel the changes coming down.
I wanna know what I've been hiding in my shadow
.
- forty-six & 2

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A plea for help

I think I know how Winston Smith feels at the end of 1984. The bastards have broken me, destroyed my will to resist, and I now believe wholeheartedly something that I know to be false. I confess, here and now, that I have become a Californian.

Being a Californian has much more to do with one's state of mind than one's state of residence. Indeed, I've lived here for almost three years now, and I wouldn't have called myself a Californian until very recently. You see, to be a True Californian (which is nothing at all like a True Scotsman), a person must be suffering from what I call "Chronic California Superiority Syndrome" (CCSS). CCSS is characterized by a persistent belief--despite all evidence to the contrary--that California is better than every other state in the country (and, in some especially severe cases, every other place in the world). While CCSS is not listed in the DSM-IV, it has afflicted many millions of people, and it's symptoms--which are, curiously, usually only apparent to those not affected by the disorder--are hideously ugly. Sadly, apart from a full-frontal lobotomy, there is no known cure for CCSS (some studies have reported that a good old-fashioned Alabama ass whuppin' may do the trick, but these results are disputed). Once CCSS takes hold, the patient is stricken with it for the rest of her life, no matter where she may later reside.

I'm not proud to admit it, but I feel the need to come clean about the fact that I have CCSS. It feelst--to quote Darwin's anguished words about becoming an evolutionist--"like confessing a murder." I first realized I had a problem just a few days ago, when I caught myself idly fantasizing about how great it would be if California seceded from the Union. I'm sick, I know. Frankly, I don't know what to do. I realize that California is not actually better than all the other states, and yet, I believe that it is! I am broken, a man without will enough to believe the truth. And yet, I want to be cured! Perhaps if I could just piss off some Alabamans. . .

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Depressing

From a recent Newsweek poll:

Nearly half (48 percent) of the public rejects the scientific theory of evolution; one-third (34 percent) of college graduates say they accept the Biblical account of creation as fact. Seventy-three percent of Evangelical Protestants say they believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years; 39 percent of non-Evangelical Protestants and 41 percent of Catholics agree with that view.
Oy vey. This data really isn't all that surprising--many polls in the past have reported similar numbers--but I still find it highly discouraging that, even now, almost three out of four evangelicals could hold a view so inconsonant with all the available evidence.

It should be noted that not all of that 73% necessarily hold to a "Young-Earth" view, (some may, in fact, accept that the earth is around 4.56 billion years old, but still believe that humans are a recent creation), but even so, a person has to throw most of the basic principles of geology and paleontology straight out the window in order to reach the conclusion that humans have existed on earth for only 10,000 years.

I look forward to the day when, like geocentrism and flat-earthism, antievolutionism will be held by only the kookiest kooks of the extreme religious fringe. I can't wait for a time when reasonable people of all faiths can hardly even fathom why evolutionary biology was once considered a threat to their religions (and I guess this is an admission on my part that--contra many people with similar metaphysical opinions--I don't view religion itself as the main culprit behind the rejection of scientific reality). It will happen, someday. Unfortunately, poll results like these lead me to believe that this day is a depressingly long way off. And yet, with deeply religious scientists like Ken Miller, Wesley Elsberry, Simon Conway-Morris, and thousands of clergy all resolutely standing up for the integrity of evolutionary biology, hope springs eternal.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Inebriated Primates!

On St. Patrick's Day, an inebriated primate is not an especially unusual sight, but, sadly, I don't think I'll see anything quite as amusing as this:



Cheers!

(Via Primatology.org)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

In which I try to start a new meme (or perhaps dredge up an old one)

If there's one thing the internet needs more of, it's blogging memes. So, in the interest of furthering my existence as a meme-replicator (Richard Dawkins, you better be proud of me!), I think I'll start one. Here are my "10 favorite beers of the moment":

1. Duvel

2. Arrogant Bastard Ale

3. Widmer Hefeweizen

4. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

5. Leinenkugel's Honey Weiss

6. Stone Smoked Porter

7. MacTarnahan's IPA

8. New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale

9. Shiner Bock

10. Smithwick's Irish Ale (but only on tap)

That's my list. Of course, ask me tomorrow, and some specific hankering will no doubt prompt me to change my answers. How about you, fellow discerning beer drinker? What's on your "To Drink" list? Do tell. Prost!

Message to Hillary Clinton

Your would-be supporters are sick to death of Democrats who spend more time dissembling than governing; we've had our fill of so-called liberals whose knees shake at the mere thought of offending conservative sensibilities (Here's a hint: the people you're so loathe to offend won't voting for you anyway). More than anything, we despise your inability to take a stand on things that really matter.

If you truly fancy yourself to be presidential material, it might behoove you to GROW A DAMN SPINE. Now there's a novel idea.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Boys will be boys

In my previous post, I intended to include a picture of a bonobo from my latest trip to the San Diego Zoo, but alas, I couldn't find any good enough to share. It seems that I have not yet found a method for consistently taking clear, sharp pictures through glass without getting any glare. Oh well, I'll keep trying. In the meantime, here's a short video--butchered, as always, by You Tube's uploading software--of a three-year-old Orangutan named Cinta.

The best thing I've heard all week!

It's been a long, stressful, sleep-deprived week for me, but, via Afarensis, comes a bit of news that is sure to lift my spirits--a previously unknown population of bonobos has been found (click the link for a really neat video):

March 6, 2007—A new population of bonobos, one of humankind's closest genetic relatives, has been discovered deep in a forest in Africa's Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Perhaps the largest known concentration of bonobos anywhere, the group may number as many as 3,000—a significant addition to a recent estimated total of 10,000.

Bonobos, or pygmy chimpanzees, live only in the Congo River Basin and are notable for using sex for greetings, reconciliations, and favors for food.

The apparently thriving new population may owe its success to its location—partly within a private ranch—and to the local Bateke people

"We consider them human, our ancestors," a Bateke man said. "We don't eat them, and we don't kill them."


I absolutely love bonobos. They are closely related to chimpanzees (and us), but, in some ways, they are strikingly different from chimps. Whereas chimpanzee societies are male-dominated and prone to high levels of aggression, bonobo societies are female-dominated, very sexual (homosexual acts are, incidentally, not uncommon), and much less violent--though not completely free of violence. I'm not sure what, if any, implications this dichotomy in gender roles and levels of aggression might have outside of a non-human ape context, but the idea that knowledge of bonobo and chimp politics might be able to inform us about the nature of our human political and social concerns is very attractive to me.

That reminds me, I really do need to read Frans De Waal's Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes one of these days.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

What really matters

From the NY Times:
Leaders of several conservative Christian groups have sent a letter urging the National Association of Evangelicals to force its policy director in Washington to stop speaking out on global warming.

The conservative leaders say they are not convinced that global warming is human-induced or that human intervention can prevent it. And they accuse the director, the Rev. Richard Cizik, the association’s vice president for government affairs, of diverting the evangelical movement from what they deem more important issues, like abortion and homosexuality.

The letter underlines a struggle between established conservative Christian leaders, whose priority has long been sexual morality, and challengers who are pushing to expand the evangelical movement’s agenda to include issues like climate change and human rights.

“We have observed,” the letter says, “that Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time.”

Those issues, the signers say, are a need to campaign against abortion and same-sex marriage and to promote “the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children.”

The letter, dated Thursday, is signed by leaders like James C. Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family; Gary L. Bauer, once a Republican presidential candidate and now president of Coalitions for America; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; and Paul Weyrich, a longtime political strategist who is chairman of American Values.

How delightful. Dobson, Bauer, Perkins--the self-appointed three musketeers of American Decency fighting the good fight to the end. How can anybody possibly care about an inconsequential little thing like global climate change--which, since the scientists who believe in it are probably liberals and evilutionists, probably isn't true anyway--when there are so many people doing things with their bodies that we think is icky and wrong? Fuck biodiversity; fuck sustainability; fuck the underprivileged--somebody somewhere is probably having an abortion or gay sex (or both!) at this very minute, and they must be stopped at all costs! Isn't it refreshing to see people take a stand for what really matters?

(hat tip to RSR)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Arachnophobia be gone!

People who have known me for a long time (ie., my family) are probably aware that, for the majority of my life, I've been afraid of spiders. I'm happy to report that this is no longer the case; I'm now quite fond of the fascinating little bastards. As evidence of this mental frame shift, I offer the following picture I took of a spider that I found in my sink. I couldn't get a decent shot of it in the dim, metallic basin, so I picked it up by one of its legs and plopped it onto my arm which, I think, made for a better photo opportunity.

Vivo los invertebrados!

Happy Birthday to me!

Another birthday has come, and I'm only one short year away from a drastic reduction in my car insurance payments. Now that will be something to celebrate! For the moment, though, I guess I'll just have to be satisfied with taking a day off of work to make an extra visit to the Zoo.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

But can they work a barbeque?

I apologize for the lack of content lately (Wait, this blog has content? Since when?); work and classes have left me feeling tired and rather uninspired. While I rummage through my closet, trying to figure out where I stashed my muse, check out this juicy morsel (pun intended) from the primate news front:

In a revelation that destroys yet another cherished notion of human uniqueness, wild chimpanzees have been seen hunting bushbabies with spears. It is the first time an animal has been seen using a tool to hunt a vertebrate.

Many chimpanzees trim twigs to use for ant-dipping and termite-fishing. But a population of savannah chimps (Pan troglodytes verus) living in the Fongoli area of south-east Senegal have been seen making spears from strong sticks that they sharpen with their teeth. The average spear length is 63 centimetres (25 inches), says Jill Pruetz at Iowa State University in Ames, US, who observed the behaviour.

And the method of procuring food with these tools is not simply extractive, as it is when harvesting insects. It is far more aggressive. They use the spears to hunt one of the cutest primates in Africa: bushbabies (Galago senegalensis).

Bushbabies are nocturnal and curl up in hollows in trees during the day. If disturbed during their slumbers – if their nest cavity is broken open, for example – they rapidly scamper away. It appears that the chimps have learnt a grizzly method of slowing them down.

Chimps were observed thrusting their spears into hollow trunks and branches with enough force to injure anything inside the holes, Pruetz’s research team says. The chimps used a “power grip” and made multiple downward stabs – much the same way as a human might wield a dagger.

Ten different chimps in the population were observed to perform this behaviour in 22 bouts. In one case the researchers saw a chimp remove a dead bushbaby and eat it.

The Fongoli chimps inhabit a mosaic savannah – patches of grass and woodland – where there are no red colobus monkeys. The absence of these monkeys, which are the favoured prey of several other chimp populations, may explain the Fongoli chimps’ unique spear-hunting behaviour.

“Given the lack of opportunity, Fongoli chimps have come up with a way to get around the problem of how to get protein in their particular environment...using tools to hunt,” says Pruetz.


Oh, and that mention of bushbabies being one of the cutest primates in Africa is no joke:

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Zoo Videos!

Here are a couple of videos I took today while at the Wild Animal Park. YouTube drastically reduced the quality after I uploaded them, but they're still watchable. Enjoy!

March of the Elephants:



A Gorilla Game of Tag:



I'll put up some pictures later (ie., when I get around to it).

Friday, February 09, 2007

A public announcement

It's time to buff those shoes and put on your good slacks because Evolution Sunday is here (and no, it's not just for Unitarians!):
On 11 February 2007 hundreds of congregations from all portions of the country and a host of denominations will come together to discuss the compatibility of religion and science. For far too long, strident voices, in the name of Christianity, have been claiming that people must choose between religion and modern science. More than 10,000 Christian clergy have already signed The Clergy Letter demonstrating that this is a false dichotomy. Now, on the 198th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, many of these leaders will bring this message to their congregations through sermons and/or discussion groups. Together, participating religious leaders will be making the statement that religion and science are not adversaries. And, together, they will be elevating the quality of the national debate on this topic.
Alas, it appears that no churches in my area are participating. I guess I'll just have to hold my own service at the Church of the Eternal Springs.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

More Zoo Pics

The following photos were taken during the same trip to the San Diego Zoo that generated the pictures I posted a few weeks ago; I just haven't gotten around to post these until now (as before, click the pictures for a larger copy):


Bai Yun, a giant panda, snacks on a tasty stick of bamboo while her young daughter, Su Lin, watches .


A hippopotamus opens wide for a stream of water from a keeper (presumably used--in lieu of a of a 10-foot toothbrush--to clean its mouth).


Pictured here are two okapi. These interesting and beautiful mammals are very closely related to giraffes (although a superficial analysis could easily lead someone to think that they're a species of zebra).


A trio of meerkat guards stand ready to defend their home from any and all attackers.


I don't know what the zoo is doing with an armored truck. . .oh wait. . .sorry, that's not armored truck, it's a rhinoceros!


If I didn't think it would make me dangerously dizzy, I think I could sit and stare at a zebra for hours.


Another unanticipated hummingbird moment. These tiny creatures just seem to be flittering all about the zoo, finding nectar in its plentiful flora.


A pack of pachyderms! Interestingly, the San Diego Zoo has plans to completely overhaul the elephant exhibit, making it much more spacious and comfortable for the elephants, and more informative for visitors (Actually, what they're doing is more ambitious than that, but I won't go into the details here. Suffice to say, it's really exciting.).

I don't know much about this particular animal--other than that it's probably a species of African antelope--but I'm certainly impressed by its contortionist abilities!

Sleeping during the day? Is this koala lazy? Nope, just nocturnal.


And, just because no zoo photo post from me could be complete without at least one primate. . .

. . .here's a picture of my orangutan friends, Satu and Karen, hanging out in their fantastic climbing apparatus.



More later!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

On writing

Lest you think that I've fried what little blogging abilities I once had and have been reduced to posting nothing but You Tube clips for the foreseeable future, here's a tediously boring personal post.

It's January again, which, for me, seems to be the time when I decide to take night classes at my local community college. As I did last year, I've enrolled in an English composition class to fulfill yet another university prerequisite. Luckily, if the first class is any indicator, I expect it to be a pretty stimulating experience.

As I drove home last night after the class, I was began to ponder the appeal writing has for me (yes, contrary to popular opinion, I am prone to the occasional bout of introspective philosophising) and I hit upon what I believe to be the one of the main reasons I am drawn to it: writing is an act of pure creation. When I write, I start with nothing but a blank piece of paper or computer screen, and then minutes, hours, days, weeks later something has come into being that--in all the momentous history of the universe--has never before existed (unless, of course, there is an alien blogger somewhere else in the universe that thinks and writes just like me, I but I'd just as soon not go down that road). From my will, substance emerges! All look upon my greatness and despair!* Err. . .maybe not, but I hope you get my picture.

Beyond the intoxicating power of creativity, there's something positively electrifying and--to me, at least--terrifying in witnessing the intuitive logic of my thoughts begin to form a coherent structure in the words I write; and almost inevitably, I am surprised by the results of this process. Often, I find that the unpacking of my thoughts into words reveals to me what I had previously been thinking in far greater clarity and detail than my scattered brain is capable of producing on it's own. In that sense, I think writing can be likened to opening a Christmas present; I may have a general sense about what the present will be, but until it's unwrapped I can't really know what it is with any precision.

Of course, some presents really aren't very interesting at all, and some of them--as I'm sure I'd soon discover if I bothered to peruse my archives--really don't age very well. But hey--that's life!

*I more or less cribbed that line from Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings, so it doesn't count as part of the whole "never before seen in the universe" thing. Tolkien's estate can sue me.**

** Please don't sue me. I really can't afford it right now.