Flying with geese

Tim Skellet:

OK, folks, I’m off to see a man about some geese.

Not with a view to buying them, but with a view to flying with them a short while. Will explain later. Wish me luck, it may not work out at all.

Later:

this is what I want to do, why I’m here. Hoping I get to do it. My photo yesterday:

Vekica says:

Fly Away Home!

Just what I was thinking. I’ll be that movie triggered a lot of this flying with geese stuff, putting it up there with swimming with dolphins.

So much better to fly with birds that to shoot them with guns like so many used to and some still do.

Red dog – red cat

Mick Hartley has been spotting red pets, out East in Mick Hartley land:

Woof. Miaow.

In London, and I suspect elsewhere, interesting new murals now seem to be more numerous than interesting new buildings. And more interesting, I’d say. To put this another way, murals are now the latest architectural thing.

One of these muralisers should be let loose on this building.

Stephen Davies on the Growth of Sympathy

The Wealth Explosion by Stephen Davies is not just about the when and where of that kink in the graphs. It is also a description of what that transformation in human affairs consisted of, not just materially, and in how people thought and felt and behaved. In an early chapter, “The Way We Once Lived and The Way We Live Now”, under the heading “The Growth of Sympathy” (pp. 26-28), Davies describes (in the bibliographical note at the end of the chapter he mentions this book by Stephen Pinker) how people started being nicer to each other:

Another significant change that marks out the cultural and mental world of the modern as compared to what went before is one that attracted much attention from an early date. This was the growth of what eighteenth and early nineteenth century authors termed ‘sympathy’ and ‘sensibility: As defined by authors such as Adam Smith and Lord Kames this meant the capacity to put oneself in the position of another person and feel an intimation of what that person felt or experienced. This was associated with a general ‘softening’ or ‘polishing’ of manners and behaviour. In other words, there was a tendency for people to be gentler, less aggressive, more self-conscious and controlled, less impulsive, more sensitive to the suffering or hardship of others. This was seen as being connected to the growth of trade and commerce and what they called ‘luxury’ and we would call affluence or comfort. In other words, as people became more connected to others, often distant, by the connections of trade and by social intercourse, and as their lives became more comfortable and less harsh so their psychology changed and they became gentler, less violent and aggressive and more controlled and ‘refined’ (to use a key term) in their way of behaving. In the language of the time this meant that the ‘passions’ as they were called, that is strong and natural human desires and feelings, came to be tamed and made milder and less fierce and powerful or even subject to the check of reason and calculation.

This may seem to be simply a reflection of eighteenth century rationalism and optimism but in fact there is a lot of evidence for the view that the modern world has indeed seen such a change. Again, people such as Smith, Hume and Kames thought that the change was gradual (although they were struck by the extent and rapidity of change in their own country and lifetime) but very soon after their own lifetimes the change in this aspect of human life also underwent an abrupt acceleration. At this point, many people will simply find the argument implausible. Given the terrible political events of the last hundred years and the widespread evidence of cruelty, violence and aggression that fill the daily news, how can anyone think that over that period human beings in many parts of the world have become less passionate, gentler and more in sympathy with the suffering of others?

One point to make is that the attention given to such matters and the horror they inspire are because there has been such a change. Things that were seen as unexceptionable and normal in the past, even if regrettable, are now regarded as egregious and horrible precisely because they are less common. Clearly something as intangible yet profound as a widespread or even general shift in the way most people feel or in their psychology is hard to measure or demonstrate. However, there are a number of indicators, some of which can actually be quantified. One is the evidence of delinquent behaviour as captured in the records of the criminal justice system. The evidence here is that over the last two to three hundred years there has been a long term secular decline in interpersonal violence. Three hundred years ago the bulk of the cases brought before criminal courts were crimes of violence. They now make up only a small proportion of the courts’ business. In addition the actual incidence of such crimes on a per capita basis has also declined so that they are a much less frequent part of experience.

There are several other prominent indicators. One is the change in the functioning of the criminal justice system, with a pronounced shift away from harsh and brutal or sadistic physical punishment such as public execution, flogging or branding. Another is the transformation that we can trace in popular attitudes towards children and animals. In very recent times historically what we would regard as brutal and cruel treatment was widespread or even normal for both whereas now this arouses revulsion and disgust. Literature and personal writings such as diaries and correspondence are another kind of evidence, which again shows a significant alteration in popular psychology, at both an individual and a collective level. Finally, there is the evidence of manners, where we can clearly trace what one author calls the ‘civilising process’ by which ways of speaking and behaving become steadily more controlled and moderate. Looking at this evidence we can say firstly that there has been a radical change in what historians call the ‘collective mentality’ of modern men and women, that is the common mental assumptions, habits and ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that they share. The second thing we can say is that this change became much more rapid and widespread among all levels of society at some point in the early nineteenth century. Here we can draw the analogy and connection with trade and economic development. In the case of trade and economic development, we can indeed trace a very gradual process of increasing trade and economic integration between different parts of the world and a slow corresponding rise in the level of economic development and standards of living. After the later eighteenth century, this process becomes so much more rapid and extensive that both it and its effects are wholly different order of magnitude – explosive in fact.

Similarly, there is clearly a long-term trend in the direction just described with respect to human mentality and ways of behaving. Thus, there is a very long term trend for inter-personal violence to decline. Our Stone Age ancestors lived in a society that was unbelievably violent by contemporary standards (as do many more recent hunter-gatherers) and we can trace a decline in levels of violence since that time. However, as with trade, the process while of long standing underwent a dramatic breakthrough or acceleration after the later eighteenth century so that, as in the economic sphere, there was a greater change in popular psychology and ways of behaving between 1800 and 1900 than for several centuries at least before then.

Colossal baby tripod fish – flamingos feeding – house exploding

Baby? Well, it says “larval”. That sounds very young to me:

I came upon this at Colossal. But I’ve not checked out Colossal lately, and it took a Steven Pinker tweet to draw my attention to these photos, of which the above is one.

I scrolled down at Colossal, having not, as I say, been there recently, and I then also came upon this video of flamingos feeding, which David Thompson also noticed, them being his penultimate item of ephemera today, his final item being about an old man who attacked a fly with his electric fly swatter and blew up his house.

Ah, the Internet, Where would we be without it?

Keeping eyes on the cows

Modern Farmer:

Chinese Entrepreneurs Develop Facial Recognition Software for Livestock

And from the same website:

Painting Eyes On Cows’ Butts Can Scare Away Predators

Like this:

And in political news from the same source, metaphor alert:

The Pork Industry Wants More Aid From Congress

In a barrel?

LATER: More about the eyes on cow butts story here. Via David Thompson.

Cardboard face

It’s a common experience. I’m making absolutely no claim to originality here. We humans regularly see faces where we know, even as we see these faces, that there are no real faces to be seen. Yet, we see them:

That is one of the bits of cardboard I photoed for that earlier cardboard-v-polystyrene packaging posting. It looks happy.

Closely related to seeing faces where there are none, is the way that humans see human-like expressions in the faces of animals, and react accordingly. An animal may be just standing there, looking cute. But what that animal may well be thinking is: Could I beat this creature in front of me if we had a fight? And if I could, what would his flesh taste like? We all know this. Yet, our brains overrule our minds.

I hesitated quite a while before showing my latest clutch of Oscar photos, this morning. My reason being that by showing such photos I am proclaiming myself to be rather soft in the head, in the sort of way I have just described. I don’t think that Oscar was contemplating attacking me and trying to eat me. If we had a straight up fight, I’d win, and both he and I know this. But Oscar may well have been thinking: When is this idiot going to feed me? Yet still, I find myself liking Oscar. All because he has evolved to behave in such a way as to make my brain think him a combination of a nice, warm-hearted, generous person and a comfort blanket. I can’t help myself.

Related: I regret the apparent fading out of Idiot Toys, where there was a whole section devoted to gadgets with faces.

Goats in Llandudno

When the humans stay indoors, the goats are emboldened:

My favourite (photo 15 (and their favourite because they also put it at the top)) of these lockdown photos.

See also, a raccoon in Central Park (photo 2), with Big New York Things in the background.

And: fallow deer in East London (photo 7). I hope they aren’t playing a ball game.

The great upward kink in the graphs of human creature comforts

My go-to guy for creature postings, which I like to do on Friday, is Steve Stewart-Williams, and he has recently tweeted about plenty of impressive creaturely behaviour. There’s this shark, jumping out of the sea. There’s this butterfly pretending to be leaves. There are fishes doing social distancing. There are lions and hyenas having a dust up, although the interesting thing to me about this is how little actual damage they seem to be doing to each other. There are donkeys, one of them a bit cleverer. And much else besides of a creature-related sort.

But honestly, the recent SS-W tweet that I want to pick out is the one with this graphic, which identifies one of the most important moments in all of human history:

If that graph, or another like it, is not entirely familiar to you, then it damn well should be. It pinpoints the moment when our own species started seriously looking after its own creature comforts. This was, you might say, the moment when most of us stopped being treated little better than farm animals, and we began turning ourselves into each others’ pets.

Patrick Crozier and I will be speaking about this amazing moment in the history of the human animal in our next recorded conversation. That will, if the conversation happens as we hope and the recording works as we hope, find its way to here.

A lion and a deer in Upper Grosvenor Gardens

At the end of last month, I did a posting in which I grumbled about the boringness of my immediate neighbourhood. To my surprise, the effect on my state of mind of getting these grumbles off my chest and onto this blog caused me immediately to start looking at my immediate neighbourhood with fresh eyes. In the posting linked to in the previous sentence, I displayed photos of things I am mostly pretty familiar with, like those big lumpy buildings on the other side of Victoria Street. But I have also found myself searching out oddities in my locality that I had not properly noticed before.

Oddities like these two statues:

I photoed the above photos just moments after photoing these photos.

This deer, with its big twiddly antlers, and this lion, chasing the deer, are to be seen in the north easterly of two triangles of vegetation in the vicinity of, or which together add up to, Grosvenor Gardens.

So, what on earth are they doing there? Who thought that such statues would make sense? Secret London explains:

In 1993, Jonathan Kenworthy, famed for his animal sculptures, was asked by the Duke and Duchess of Westminster to create this piece for a lake at Eaton Hall in Cheshire. A second casting was placed here in 2000 to mark the opening of the gardens to the people of Westminster.

So there we are. A Duke thought it would be a shame to confine two decent and probably quite expensive bits of animal sculpture to Cheshire, and had further copies of them put in London. There was no logical connection between the bit of London he put them in and the sculptures, but he was a Duke and he owned the place, and he thought it a good notion to put these sculptures there, in Upper Grosvenor Gardens, so that was what happened. I mean, who was going to object?