Thursday, February 21, 2008

"..." 22

"The postmodern philosophical concepts of anti-foundationalism and post-epistemological standpoint invoke logics and sensibilities that privilege active pursuit of ways of looking at the world rather than absorbing predefined content and skills grounded in extant worldviews. The learner who masters 'platforms' can proactively generate interpretations and frame designs that in turn generate their own learning and innovation agendas and, ultimately, worldviews."

Report on Inquiry into the Purposes of Scottish Education

Monday, February 18, 2008

Panda pornography unsuccessful

. . .

Their encounter is filmed by one of the keepers. And scientists at the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding now play this mating tape to other pandas in the hope that it will encourage them to do the same.

"Here you can see the female is very co-operative," says reproduction specialist Hou Rong - who is known here as the Goddess of Fertility. She watches the video closely.

The two pandas writhe about for a bit longer. Then they untangle. It may be best to stop male pandas from watching what comes next.

"The female is not co-operative," says Dr Hou laconically.

That is an understatement.

The tape shows the female, Qing Qing, attacking the male, Ha Lei. He runs off to the corner, looking sheepish.

. . .

Female pandas are only interested in reproducing for two or three days a year. For males it is the same.

Luckily for the survival of the panda species, these days of interest happen to coincide.

Scientists here have to make the most of this brief mating season. There are only around 2,000 pandas left in the world - including about 250 in captivity.

So the trick for everyone here at the Chengdu reserve is to get their pandas together on the right days, and then nudge them along a bit by playing them the video of Qing Qing and Ha Lei.

No one here can remember who came up with the idea - it was possibly a behaviour specialist from abroad, they say.

And there is one problem - no one is sure whether or not the mating tapes make any difference.

"We don't know if its useful for pandas or not," says Dr Hou. "Some pandas are interested. Others are not interested. They prefer to eat or rest - and not pay attention to the video."


We get together a small monitor and some loudspeakers, put some plastic bags onto our shoes and head into a small enclosure.

One panda lies on its back among piles of bamboo leaves. Another is asleep. It does not look like they have mating on their minds.

We set up a small TV screen in front of a seven-year-old female panda called Shu Qing. She is busy crunching her way through an apple.

We play her the tape of Qing Qing and Ha Lei. Shu Qing shows no interest. She is much more concerned about finishing her apple.

After a couple of minutes she glances over at the TV monitor. Then she seems lost in thought. She vaguely waves a paw, but nothing more.

So the video does not appear to work. Perhaps Shu Qing has a headache, or perhaps she just prefers apples to adult videos.

So the reserve lets us play the video to the pandas ourselves.

1. Sex videos fail to engage pandas

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"..." 21

   "Good morning," said the little prince.
   "Good morning," said the flower.
   "Where are the men?" the little prince asked, politely.
   The flower had once seen a caravan passing.
   "Men?" she echoed. "I think there are six or seven of them in existence. I saw them, several years ago. But one never knows where to find them. The wind blows them away. They have no roots, and that makes their lives very difficult."
   "Goodbye," said the little prince.
   "Goodbye," said the flower.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"..." 20

“Just as irrigation is the lifeblood of the Southwest, lifeblood is the soup of cannibals.” —Jack Handey

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"..." 19

"Philosophy is the pedantry that ensues when language leads men astray."

2/15 update:
"Philosophers often behave like little children who scribble some marks on a piece of paper at random and then ask the grown-up 'What's that?' — It happened like this: the grown-up had drawn pictures for the child several times and said: 'this is a man', 'this is a house', etc. And then the child makes some marks too and asks: What's this then?"


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Death of the Moth

Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that pleasant sense of dark autumn nights and ivy–blossom which the commonest yellow–underwing asleep in the shadow of the curtain never fails to rouse in us. They are hybrid creatures, neither gay like butterflies nor sombre like their own species. Nevertheless the present specimen, with his narrow hay–coloured wings, fringed with a tassel of the same colour, seemed to be content with life. It was a pleasant morning, mid–September, mild, benignant, yet with a keener breath than that of the summer months. The plough was already scoring the field opposite the window, and where the share had been, the earth was pressed flat and gleamed with moisture. Such vigour came rolling in from the fields and the down beyond that it was difficult to keep the eyes strictly turned upon the book. The rooks too were keeping one of their annual festivities; soaring round the tree tops until it looked as if a vast net with thousands of black knots in it had been cast up into the air; which, after a few moments sank slowly down upon the trees until every twig seemed to have a knot at the end of it. Then, suddenly, the net would be thrown into the air again in a wider circle this time, with the utmost clamour and vociferation, as though to be thrown into the air and settle slowly down upon the tree tops were a tremendously exciting experience.

The same energy which inspired the rooks, the ploughmen, the horses, and even, it seemed, the lean bare–backed downs, sent the moth fluttering from side to side of his square of the window–pane. One could not help watching him. One was, indeed, conscious of a queer feeling of pity for him. The possibilities of pleasure seemed that morning so enormous and so various that to have only a moth’s part in life, and a day moth’s at that, appeared a hard fate, and his zest in enjoying his meagre opportunities to the full, pathetic. He flew vigorously to one corner of his compartment, and, after waiting there a second, flew across to the other. What remained for him but to fly to a third corner and then to a fourth? That was all he could do, in spite of the size of the downs, the width of the sky, the far–off smoke of houses, and the romantic voice, now and then, of a steamer out at sea. What he could do he did. Watching him, it seemed as if a fibre, very thin but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body. As often as he crossed the pane, I could fancy that a thread of vital light became visible. He was little or nothing but life.

Yet, because he was so small, and so simple a form of the energy that was rolling in at the open window and driving its way through so many narrow and intricate corridors in my own brain and in those of other human beings, there was something marvellous as well as pathetic about him. It was as if someone had taken a tiny bead of pure life and decking it as lightly as possible with down and feathers, had set it dancing and zig–zagging to show us the true nature of life. Thus displayed one could not get over the strangeness of it. One is apt to forget all about life, seeing it humped and bossed and garnished and cumbered so that it has to move with the greatest circumspection and dignity. Again, the thought of all that life might have been had he been born in any other shape caused one to view his simple activities with a kind of pity.

After a time, tired by his dancing apparently, he settled on the window ledge in the sun, and, the queer spectacle being at an end, I forgot about him. Then, looking up, my eye was caught by him. He was trying to resume his dancing, but seemed either so stiff or so awkward that he could only flutter to the bottom of the window–pane; and when he tried to fly across it he failed. Being intent on other matters I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine, that has stopped momentarily, to start again without considering the reason of its failure. After perhaps a seventh attempt he slipped from the wooden ledge and fell, fluttering his wings, on to his back on the window sill. The helplessness of his attitude roused me. It flashed upon me that he was in difficulties; he could no longer raise himself; his legs struggled vainly. But, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him to right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again.

The legs agitated themselves once more. I looked as if for the enemy against which he struggled. I looked out of doors. What had happened there? Presumably it was midday, and work in the fields had stopped. Stillness and quiet had replaced the previous animation. The birds had taken themselves off to feed in the brooks. The horses stood still. Yet the power was there all the same, massed outside indifferent, impersonal, not attending to anything in particular. Somehow it was opposed to the little hay–coloured moth. It was useless to try to do anything. One could only watch the extraordinary efforts made by those tiny legs against an oncoming doom which could, had it chosen, have submerged an entire city, not merely a city, but masses of human beings; nothing, I knew, had any chance against death. Nevertheless after a pause of exhaustion the legs fluttered again. It was superb this last protest, and so frantic that he succeeded at last in righting himself. One’s sympathies, of course, were all on the side of life. Also, when there was nobody to care or to know, this gigantic effort on the part of an insignificant little moth, against a power of such magnitude, to retain what no one else valued or desired to keep, moved one strangely. Again, somehow, one saw life, a pure bead. I lifted the pencil again, useless though I knew it to be. But even as I did so, the unmistakable tokens of death showed themselves. The body relaxed, and instantly grew stiff. The struggle was over. The insignificant little creature now knew death. As I looked at the dead moth, this minute wayside triumph of so great a force over so mean an antagonist filled me with wonder. Just as life had been strange a few minutes before, so death was now as strange. The moth having righted himself now lay most decently and uncomplainingly composed. O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am.
—The Death of the Moth by Virginia Woolf

Sunday, February 3, 2008