Monday, May 30, 2011

war animals, finny and furry

A while ago I started a "military animal" bibliography on Zotero to share with a friend who's also interested in the social and cultural studies of dogs. It's definitely dog-heavy, though crows and camels also put in cameos. Most of the items are news stories from the past few years (lots of Bin Laden commando dog stuff of late). Here are a couple gems I've added recently. The first is more humorous ephemera, the latter, less so.

i. WWII submarine insignia
Via All My Eyes: "Due to the stealth nature of submarines, a logo is not displayed on the vessel itself, but it is printed on stationery, made into jacket patches, mess hall items, and home-port flags."

ii. K-9 Storm
Via Amaki09's Tumblr (click images for direct links). Google K9 Storm for more.

Monday, May 23, 2011

the weirdest people in the world?

WEIRD as in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic.

I'm so excited about this acronym, I'll readily admit to not having read the source article yet! Here's the abstract by psychologists Joe Henrich, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia:
Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world’s top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers - often implicitly - assume that either there is little variation across human populations, or that these “standard subjects” are as representative of the species as any other population. Are these assumptions justified? Here, our review of the comparative database from across the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial variability in experimental results across populations and that WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species - frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Many of these findings involve domains that are associated with fundamental aspects of psychology, motivation, and behavior - hence, there are no obvious a priori grounds for claiming that a particular behavioral phenomenon is universal based on sampling from a single subpopulation. Overall, these empirical patterns suggests that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity. We close by proposing ways to structurally re‐organize the behavioral sciences to best tackle these challenges.
Found via Andrew Goldstone's "Race, Ethnicity, Brains" - which is in turn a response to this really intriguing "fairy tale" on cultural neuroscience by Paula Moya. Goldstone and Moya both teach at Stanford.

* Image: inspired illustration of Henrich, Heine, Norenzayan's research by Only Dead Fish.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

paperwork explosion (1967)

This is one of the most frightening depictions of technology and work life I've ever seen. Even though it's supposed to be selling a new labor-saving office product. For IBM no less. And it's made by Jim Henson. Vertigo-inducing, yes.

I came upon it via this blog post by the media historian Ben Kafka (not sure of relations to Franz - either way how could he not be interested in paperwork??) The film has a frenzied incantatory quality that Kafka captures perfectly here: 
The voices continue to explain the various features and benefits of IBM office equipment: cordless dictation,  error-free copy, improved typography, increased productivity. “IBM machines can do the work — so that people have time to think — machines should do the work — that’s what they’re best at — people should do the thinking — that’s what they’re best at.” Once again the music accelerates as a series of faces and voices speed across the screen: “Machines should work — people should think — machines — should work — people — should think — machines — should — work — people — should — think.”
Because, god knows, THEY HAVE A PLAN.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

fear of a black senate; or, birtherism, 1868

From Princeton's Graphic Arts blog:
The composite image [racist text not shown - quoted below] documents the implementation of the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which redesigned the governing bodies of the southern states after the American Civil War. Not only did African Americans have the right to vote, but also serve within the government. When South Carolina rejoined the Union in 1868, they had the first state legislature with a black majority.

Created to frighten the white population, this image was widely distributed in many sizes and formats. One of our copies includes the text: These are the photographs of 63 members of the reconstructed South Carolina Legislature, 50 of whom are negroes or mulattoes and 13 white. 22 read and write (8 grammatically), the remainder (41) make their mark with the aid of an amanuensis. Nineteen (19) are tax-payers to an aggregate amount of $146.10, the rest (44) pay no taxes, and the body levies on the white people of the State for $4,000.00.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

quick notes: deadly dualisms

Kim TallBear, opening comments at the "Why the Animal? Queer Animalities, Indigenous Naturecultures, and Critical Race Approaches to Animal Studies" symposium (April 12th, 2011):
[The symposium speakers'] critical approaches make the link between dualisms and the relegation of certain humans to the realm of less-than-human, to the realm of the animal. Violence against animals is linked to violence against particular humans who have historically been linked to animality. There are real implications... for who and what gets to live, and who and what gets to die when the human/animal split is made.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

being hunted

{ I }
Val Plumwood, "Being Prey," 1995 (reprinted in the Utne Reader as "Surviving a Crocodile Attack" in 2000)*:
It seems to me that in the human supremacist culture of the West there is a strong effort to deny that we humans are also animals positioned in the food chain. This denial that we ourselves are food for others is reflected in many aspects of our death and burial practices—the strong coffin, conventionally buried well below the level of soil fauna activity, and the slab over the grave to prevent any other thing from digging us up, keeps the Western human body from becoming food for other species. Horror movies and stories also reflect this deep-seated dread of becoming food for other forms of life: Horror is the wormy corpse, vampires sucking blood, and alien monsters eating humans. Horror and outrage usually greet stories of other species eating humans. Even being nibbled by leeches, sand flies, and mosquitoes can stir various levels of hysteria.
This concept of human identity positions humans outside and above the food chain, not as part of the feast in a chain of reciprocity but as external manipulators and masters of it: Animals can be our food, but we can never be their food. The outrage we experience at the idea of a human being eaten is certainly not what we experience at the idea of animals as food. The idea of human prey threatens the dualistic vision of human mastery in which we humans manipulate nature from outside, as predators but never prey. We may daily consume other animals by the billions, but we ourselves cannot be food for worms and certainly not meat for crocodiles. This is one reason why we now treat so inhumanely the animals we make our food, for we cannot imagine ourselves similarly positioned as food. We act as if we live in a separate realm of culture in which we are never food, while other animals inhabit a different world of nature in which they are no more than food, and their lives can be utterly distorted in the service of this end.
Before the encounter, it was as if I saw the whole universe as framed by my own narrative, as though the two were joined perfectly and seamlessly together. As my own narrative and the larger story were ripped apart, I glimpsed a shockingly indifferent world in which I had no more significance than any other edible being. The thought, This can't be happening to me, I'm a human being. I am more than just food! was one component of my terminal incredulity. It was a shocking reduction, from a complex human being to a mere piece of meat. Reflection has persuaded me that not just humans but any creature can make the same claim to be more than just food. We are edible, but we are also much more than edible. Respectful, ecological eating must recognize both of these things. I was a vegetarian at the time of my encounter with the crocodile, and remain one today. This is not because I think predation itself is demonic and impure, but because I object to the reduction of animal lives in factory farming systems that treat them as living meat.

{ II }

Not being prey is not always a sure thing for humans - not all humans anyway - in Western history. In New World slavery, for example, one can be meat for animals without necessarily being food. Or perhaps the correct word is flesh? Among other hideous things, racism is a system which has historically made some people's flesh subject to animal violence.

{ III }
Dog bite genealogy: more images along this vein I've been collecting over at Tumblr.

- - -

* Plumwood's memorial website has a Word version of this essay, which is how I first read it. But the file ended up crashing my computer - so avoid it!

publish, perish - or phish

Surprised they didn't ask for your social and bank account number too!