Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Code Found on Pigeon Baffles British Cryptographers"

The headline from the NYTimes summarizes the problem, that "an encrypted handwritten message from World War II, found on the leg of a long-dead carrier pigeon in a household chimney in southern England, has thwarted all their efforts to decode it since it was sent to them last month."

The bird died in the chimney of a 17th century house in Bletchingley (just south of London). Specialists believe the bird was flying back to England around the time of the Normandy invasion. Britain’s GCHQ code-breaking announced that it can not break the code. Why not? Dear reader, because the code is not for humans. Why do we assume the signs are for us. It is for those to come...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Who is Caesar?"


The 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a mindless Hollywood science-fiction action-adventure film with killer CGI, terrible dialogue, flat characters, and no sex. But I can’t stop thinking about one scene or, rather, one brief moment in a scene, when the protagonist chimpanzee Caesar speaks for the first time. It happens during a violent struggle with the meanie animal shelter guard, Dodge (played by Tom Felton, a.k.a. none other than Draco Malfoy!). Mimicking one of Charleton Heston’s more memorable lines in the original 1968 film, Dodge yells, “Take your stinking paw off me, you damn dirty ape!” In response Caesar roars, “No!” It’s a gripping moment, one that has been excerpted—and parodied—many times on YouTube. How do we explain its power?
I think the answer lies not in the event itself but in the reaction to it. The close ups that follow emphasize the dumb, what-the-&#@? facial expressions of Dodge and two onlookers (the stuttering animal shelter guard and a huge gorilla). In this look is written power’s confused reaction to an event that it cannot subsume under a concept, something it cannot know, something that does not accord with its ordering of the world, something that is, for it, impossible. Dodge might be struck dumb, but his face expresses what the so-called father of modern conservatism Edmund Burke once said of the French Revolution:Everything seems out of nature in this strange chaos of levity and ferocity.”
After all, when Dodge issues his Hestonian order, he’s not talking to Caesar but at him. So far as he knows, Caesar is just an animal, and animals can neither understand nor speak language. And remember that ever since Aristotle, language has been taken as the condition of possibility of politics, understood as the working out of just forms of living together in the world, and not merely of economic ways of living on the earth. Up until the point that Caesar speaks, he is, for Dodge, a natural being of the earth that, by definition, cannot have rights. If this animal is putting up a fight, it is only as a piece of the material world mutely thwarting the efficiencies of rational instrumentalization.
Caesar's speech act changes everything because it throws him towards—but not securely into—a condition where he is a creature of our political world with a capacity to claim rights. It is not that Caesar definitively transforms from an animal into a subject of rights, let alone into a human being. Rather, in the lingering shot sequence following his speech, Caesar hangs over the gulf between earth and world, nature and politics. As such his identity as either a creature of nature of a creature of politics becomes a site of dispute.
Undoubtedly, outside of these eight seconds, the film almost wholly forgets the question of politics. The apes’ escape towards the state of nature (conveniently located on the northern shore of the Golden Gate Bridge) is reduced to a military gesture, rendered in all of its CGI glory. And the film trades heavily in exciting our compassion for the goodie apes and anger at the baddie humans. Neither military combat nor compassion is properly political, and so the film largely ignores the question of justice. However, for one brief moment, it dramatizes contemporary political theorist Jacques Rancière’s suggestion that “the simple opposition between logical animals [i.e. humans] and phonic animals [i.e. animals] is in no way the given on which politics is then based. It is, on the contrary, one of the stakes of the very dispute that institutes politics.”
Rancière himself resists his own account of democracy when, in what is ultimately a mechanical repetition of Aristotle, he assumes that animals, literal animals, cannot be members of the demos, because they cannot speak and hence cannot have an interest in pursuing justice. And to be sure, Caesar’s speech act may have no literal referent in the real world, where animals do not speak human language. However, his “No!” can be read as a displaced figure of attempts by human beings who do speak to contest the artificial, unequal, and murderous division of the world into two, the human and everything else, and the characterization of this division as inevitable. Any form of this division that appears to be an ontological necessity is always vulnerable to being revealed to be merely an ideological obviousness. This is what the film portrays, however fleetingly.  During this moment we cannot tell the difference between human beings whom power treats as animals and animals that power treats as rightless.
The only other philosophically poignant moment in the film comes earlier, and interestingly, it involves a human being not talking. Caesar, who has been taught American Sign Language, asks Will the scientist (James Franco), “Who is Caesar?” In response to a previous question, Will has just given the bullshit answer, “I’m your father,” so when he does not answer this question, and does not explain this lack, he suggests a structural predicament. Indeed, “Who is Caesar?” is a figure for the question of politics, and Will’s silence, far from being evidence of stupidity, signals that the question is without a definitive answer. Perhaps it is in the echoes of this silence that we can hear the future of radical democratic politics.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Plato's Republic undone

A fine and extensive thinking on how animality can undo the Republic:
"it is this sensitivity towards the instinct for freedom shared among all living beings, and among domestic animals in particular, which, more than anything else, Plato fears will ignite a revolution that will bring down the oligarchy of his ideal Republic." Essay title "Cannibals and Apes: Revolution in the Republic" is a conference paper by Richard Iveson delivered at The London Conference for Critical Thought at Birkbeck College, University of London. Richard, the revolution awaits your book Zoogenesis: Thinking Encounter With Animals.

Farmer eaten by his own pigs.

File under animality and inversions or Derrida "On eating well"
"US authorities are investigating how a US farmer was eaten by his own pigs....A relative later found Garner's dentures and pieces of his body in the pig enclosure, but most of his remains had been consumed."

Monday, September 10, 2012

Their time will come

Fear of the Animal Planet: the hidden history of animal resistance
Need I say more... read the rest of my blog.
And now back to my writing the revolution.


When in Stroll through the World of Animals and Men Jakob von Uexkull wanders what a starfish sees or a sea urchin experience when a boat floats above him in the water, we enter into a strange world of animal phenomenology. Now according to Scientific America, neuro-scientists have "discovered" or "granted" consciousness to a realm of creatures include the octopus. Of course, the octopus knew this all along but either we were not listening (highly possible) or the cephalopod was not talkin'. The Cambridge Deceleration on Consciousness now puts things straight:
“The weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness,” the scientists wrote. “Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Rogue Monkey invades GOP convention city

A rogue macaques wandered 100 miles from a forest along the Silver River to create a spectacle and just a bit of chaos in Tampa just in time for the GOP National Convention there. Okay, actually he has been there three and a half years... waiting for his moment. As Vernon Yates, a wildlife specialist, said of the animal that roams from St. Petersburg to Tampa and around the bay area: "“It’s an amazing feat, when you think about his travels.” This critter has become known as "The Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay" and has his own Facebook page. The animal's "the monkey’s lone-wolf, fugitive lifestyle" has inspired Floridians... the revolution will not be televised, brothers. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bees attack Hillary Clinton

What the Secretary of State does not realize is that the bees have their own state of affairs. While bees have often been used as allegorical animals for social organization, in this case the animal state is unhappy with humans. An eye witness in Malawi explains "“There was a slight panic as the bees winged across the airport. People could be seen running away to keep cover as the Secretary of State swiftly boarded her plane to avoid any stings.”

Thursday, August 2, 2012

We are not alone in the universe... and we are not who we think we are

A nice interview with Jill Tarter on the search for alien life. It is a fine interview. A nice moment is when she looks at how we ourselves are not of this world:
"We are made out of stardust. The iron in the hemoglobin molecules in the blood in your right hand came from a star that blew up 8 billion years ago. The iron in your left hand came from another star. We are the laws of chemistry and physics as they have played out here on Earth and we are now learning that planets are as common as stars. Most stars, as it turns out now, will have planets."

"If a modern human female was giving birth to a hybrid baby, part Neanderthal, could there have been obstetric problems?"

Chris Stringer author of the recent book Lone Survivors discusses cross-breeding between various branches of humanoids, " We’ve had the genomes of Neanderthals reconstructed, and yes, indeed, it shows that people outside of Africa have, on average, about 2.5 percent of an input of Neanderthal DNA in them. And, of course, it’s led to a rethinking of our relationship with them; clearly there was viable interbreeding." The various cross-species breeding is most evident with Neanderthals but recall there are a lot of players in the mix: "if we went back 100,000 years, which is very recent, geologically speaking, there might have been as many as six different kinds of humans on the earth."

Stinger gives a few more details: "Western Asia becomes a critical area for this possibility of interbreeding. It could have been 25 Neanderthals mixing with 1,000 modern humans. It doesn’t have to be a lot of Neanderthals, but clearly there might have been interbreeding somewhere like Israel or Lebanon or Syria — all possible places where we know Neanderthals lived, and at times modern humans also lived."

Why does this matter? Well, it changes how we think about what it means to be human.

Jelly Fish to the beachhead

It is not D-Day but ....
Thanks to Natasa Kovacevic for turning me on to this news story in which the jellyfish take on the 1%. They invade the beaches of Cannes looking to sting the rich and famous when they are most exposed.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Comparative Anatomy...

In the 18th century Buffon began working on a comparative anatomy between humans and other animals. George Stubbs created excruciatingly detailed picture books that compared the musculature of humans, horses, and ostriches--yes an unlikely combination. In the 1800s medicine abandoned the comparisons in an anthropocentric fit. Now the comparative medicine is back in style. See the June 10, 2012 NY Times Magazine article.

So you can find out that (to quote the article):
- Melanoma has been diagnosed in the bodies of animals from penguins to buffalo.
- Koalas in Australia are in the middle of a rampant epidemic of chlamydia. Yes, that kind — sexually transmitted.
- And animals are susceptible to obesity and diabetes — two pressing concerns for human health.

Once again, corporeality weighs upon any anthropocentric dream of supremacy over the other animals.

Friday, May 25, 2012

"A monkey that sneezes when it rains, a worm that lives more than a mile underground, and a hairy blue tarantula made the list of top 10 most interesting species discovered in 2011." Despite massive extinction, we continue to "discover" new species. As Aristotle proclaimed "Life is said in many ways." These animals reveal to us that there are may ways to comport oneself. Why should we limit ourselves to human-ness and our narrow ideas of what it means to live and to be human on this planet.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wormwood Forest: a natural history of Chernobyl

After an much earlier blog post on radioactive boar, I'm writing a bit on the animals who occupy the "exclusion zone" in Chernobyl. Mary Mycio's book Wormwood Forest is a useful primer. Google books preview here.

Convulsion, Chen Sheinberg

Anat Pick presented on this work, Convulsion, among others by the video artist Chen Sheinberg.
Here is a dung beetle turned over and struggling a hopelessly long time (at least in human observational terms) to get up-righted. 

I'm posting it here because it is a moving piece for thinking the alien-ness of other animals and yet a connectedness (J. M. Coetzee in Lives of Animals calls "imaginative sympathy") with other creatures.

[note, while not in the video, the beetle eventually makes it back on its feet with some human help.]

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Now Here's My Plan

Prior to Alastair Hunt's guest blogging, let me add this bit...
Shel Silverstein, a political cartoonist, developed a wonderful concept in the 1960s. He depicted hopeless situations and place amid this futility an inspirational hope. Such hope would be something outside of what the reader could see but what we would, well, hope for and imagine and want--a line of flight, an escape from bondage. Here is what Shel says about this collection of images according to biographer Lisa Rogak:

The cartoon on the cover that provides the book's title would turn out to be one of his most famous and often-cited cartoons. In the cartoon, two prisoners are chained to the wall of a prison cell. Both their hands and feet are shackled. One says to the other, "Now here's my plan." Silverstein was both fascinated and distressed by the amount of analysis and commentary that almost immediately began to swirl around the cartoon. "A lot of people said it was a very pessimistic cartoon, which I don't think it is at all," he said. "There's a lot of hope even in a hopeless situation. They analyze it and question it. I did this cartoon because I had an idea about a funny situation about two guys."

Shackled, the animal revolution will not surrender. Now, here's my plan...

Saturday, April 7, 2012

next up to bat: Guest Blogger

I'm pleased to have Alastair Hunt guest blog for the coming month. Alastair is an assistant professor at Portland State University where he teaches on Romanticism and critical theory. His work on biopolitics is some of the most foremost thinking in the field. We welcome Comrade Hunt as an animal revolutionary. Onward!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Animal communication is an open secret

Animal communication is an open secret. They are sending signals out in the open but we have no way of comprehending these signs that are all around us. (See entomology of "comprehend": com- "completely" (see com-) + prehendere "to catch hold of, seize", see prehensile)
In other words, we had no idea why the Tarsier primate open and closed its mouth from time to time. Nor did we understand why arctic Snowy Owls would turn their feathers at a particular angle to the sun. Only recently have we discovered that they are communicating, sending out signs and waves. What other animal communication goes unknown and unnoticed by us? The earth (and indeed the universe) is replete with languages and meanings. Listen he who has ears to hear.

"these tiny primates can send and receive ultrasonic calls, joining a select club of mammals with the same acoustic talent—namely, whales, dolphins, cats, rats and bats. Researchers already knew that tarsiers make at least 15 distinct calls—all of which are audible to people—but until now no one had good evidence that they also communicate with ultrasonic shrieks"

"Snowy owls use their white feathers to reflect sunlight, warning rivals of their presence"

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Day of the Dolphin

The film Day of the Dolphin is inspired by Lilly's work on dolphin intelligence. In the film the dolphins are trained by a 'good' scientist then 'kidnapped' to be used to kill the US President. The Simpons parody the film and undo the anthropocentrism by showing intelligent dolphins invading land and wrecking havoc on humanity. This then became a video game but which, alas, became anthropocentric as gamers play as the human characters to beat back the dolphins. When do we get to join the animal revolution?! And when do we get to undermine the head of state?

Neanderthals challenge humanism

The walls of the humanist subject turn out to be rather porous. 

We are part Neanderthal or as as Riel-Salvatore says “Recent sequencing of ancient Neanderthal DNA indicates that Neanderthal genes make up from 1 to 4 percent of the genome of modern populations – especially those of European descent. While they disappeared as a distinctive form of humanity, they live on in our genes." 

The oldest works of art are not by humans, but by neanderthals. Anthropologists have found neanderthal paintings of seals on a cave in Spain's Costa del Sol dating from approx. 40,000 BCE. Scientist Jose Luis Sanchidrian describes it as a "bombshell" to how we think about culture.

UPDATE: a Neanderthal built structure from stalagmites in the Bruniquel Cave in southern France. The structure dates to approximately 175,000 years ago. Its purpose is unknown. It was not thought that neanderthal built elaborate structures but this circle structure deep in a cave suggests some interest in building. Its purpose remains unknown. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Animals are better than you

So many animals with such capacities outstripping us. Don't mind the laugh track in the video... it is the uncomfortable laugh of those who know their end is near.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Octopus is a force to be reckoned with

Camo: "Two deep-ocean species of cephalopod, an octopus and a squid, can go from transparent to opaque in the blink of an eye, a new study finds." (active camouflage)

Smarts: despite a walnut size brain (distributed through its arms and head), the octopus displays tool use and play and some basic language skills.

Technology: manipulates stones and shells for tools.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Seals have dark eyes... an abyss of revolution

Thanks to Tali Ford for pointing to me this un/cute song about seals with some great lyrics including:

you've taken to hanging out on that rock about a mile from shore
given what I know about that rock mainly that it's populated by seals
I strongly suggest to you that you not hang out there anymore
'cause the seal is a wily and a vicious creature
and the seal will bite you if you give him half a chance
yeah the seal has a mind set on violence
and the seal is the sworn enemy of man

Long live the revolution.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Animal forgetting...outside of history

I'm working through Nietzsche's Untimely Meditations II
Here is a wonderful moment from chapter 1:

Consider the herds that are feeding yonder: they know not the meaning of yesterday or to-day; they graze and ruminate, move or rest, from morning to night, from day to day, taken up with their little loves and hates, at the mercy of the moment, feeling neither melancholy nor satiety. Man cannot see them without regret, for even in the pride of his humanity he looks enviously on the beast's happiness. He wishes simply to live without satiety or pain, like the beast; yet it is all in vain, for he will not change places with it. He may ask the beast—"Why do you look at me and not speak to me of your happiness?" The beast wants to answer—"Because I always forget what I wished to say": but he forgets this answer too, and is silent; and the man is left to wonder.

[a bit further on]
Thus the beast lives unhistorically, for it gets up in the present like a number without any odd fraction left over; it does not know how to play a part, hides nothing, and appears in each moment exactly and entirely what it is.  ... However, with the smallest and with the greatest good fortune, happiness becomes happiness in the same way: through forgetting or, to express the matter in a more scholarly fashion, through the capacity, for as long as the happiness lasts, to sense things unhistorically.