Photo by Alasdair Preston, and almost certainly copyright
This is a field mouse feeling the chill wind of death - in the shape of a peckish ringtailed lemur - ruffle the fur on the back of its neck. But have no fear! A zoo-keeper leapt in and rescued it!
The picture was taken by Alasdair Preston, a casual visitor to the Five Sisters Zoo in West Lothian, and has no real news value. But it does illustrate neatly a truism about zoos: that they are extremely porous institutions - animals get in (usually to snack on the inmates' fodder; occasionally to snack on the inmates), and animals get out, rather more often than the authorities like to let on. At the Hagenbeck Tierpark in Hamburg a couple of years ago I noticed a crowd gathered just next to the Siberian tiger's enclosure but ignoring the tiger completely: as I got closer, I could see that their attention was being held by a perfectly ordinary red squirrel squatting under a bench - its independence making it far more attractive than the rare and magnificent predator prowling a few yards away.
You can read the full story of the mouse's escape in the Telegraph, though you may find yourself vomiting in disgust at the ignorance on display: the lemur is referred to as a "lemur monkey" and plain "monkey". Lemurs are primates but about as closely related to monkeys as we are, and you wouldn't describe a human being as a "person monkey", would you? Well, not unless it's a Telegraph website sub-editor.
Something very nasty - and very, very stupid - is going on in musty corners of the American psyche. Back in February, there was this cartoon (which, as I've already mentioned, was all the less forgiveable in view of the appalling nature of the incident that inspired it).
Then in June, after a gorilla escaped from Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina, a local Republican activist, Rusty DePass, published a joke on his Facebook page: "I’M SURE IT’S JUST ONE OF MICHELLE’S ANCESTORS—PROBABLY HARMLESS". He swiftly apologised, sorta:
Busted by South Carolina political blogger Will Folks on his FITNEWS blog, DePass told WIS-TV in Columbia, “I am as sorry as I can be if I offended anyone. The comment was clearly in jest.”
Then he added, “The comment was hers, not mine,” claiming Michelle
Obama made a recent remark about humans descending from apes. The Daily
News could find no such comment.
Rusty starts by making his apology conditional (“if…”), sloughing
off the blame onto p.c. killjoys. Then he pretends that his critics
don’t understand that he was making what he considers a joke — that they
think he seriously believes that Mrs. Obama is descended from a
particular gorilla currently on the run from the Riverbanks Zoo, in
Columbia, South Carolina.
And then, presumably after pausing to think, Rusty suggests that his
insult to the First Lady is justified by the fact (never mind what she
said or didn’t say, I’m sure it is a fact) that she believes in evolution.
And now we have Boston police officer Justin Barrett, suspended after sending an e-mail to a journalist about a report on the Henry Louis Gates Jr. affair. Apart from his disturbing suggestion that a criminal suspect has no rights, Barrett referred to Gates as "a banana-eating jungle monkey" and "a bumbling jungle monkey", and suggested that an appropriate headline for the article (part of which he dismissed as "as pathetic as jungle monkey gibberish") would be "CONDUCT UNBECOMING A JUNGLE MONKEY - BACK TO ONE"S ROOTS".
via Chris Sims, the "Critical Reception" section of the Wikipedia entry on the Pokemon character Bulbasaur:
CNN reporter Dennis Michael described Bulbasaur as one of the "lead critters" of the games and "perhaps the Carmen Miranda of Pokémon figures." Joyce Millman's impression of a Bulbasaur was that it looked like "a dinosaur thingy with what looks like a large garlic bulb growing out of its back." She did not know how it defeated its opponents but speculated that "perhaps [it] overpowers them with a strong batch of pesto."
Bulbasaur was selected as one of the top ten Pokémon by fans who voted at Pokemon.com. According to a panel of 5 - 8 year olds assembled by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1999, Bulbasaur was one of the children's three favorite Pokémon. A writer for the University of Notre Dame's The Observer noted that Bulbasaur was the the third most popular Pokemon to pick after Charizard, who was "was sleek, powerful, and utterly destructive", and Squirtle, who "would evolve into Blastoise, a tank of a turtle with huge water cannons on its back." Next was Bulbasaur, "which would become Venusaur, a clumsy-looking lout with a giant flower growing on its back." He speculated that the people who chose Bulbasaur were ones who "knew how it felt to be picked last in gym class." In a The Ohio State Sentinel point-counterpoint, Matthew Thomas Gross felt that Charmander is superior to Bulbasaur, saying Bulbasaur has "shown evidence of sloth and laziness," and has lower speed rating than Charmander. In contrast, Clark Helmsley feels that Bulbasaur is superior, noting that it is higher in four of the six main Pokemon statistics (HP, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense). Helmsley also feels that Bulbasaur's loyalty is more important than Charmander's abiltiy to evolve into the powerful Charizard.
Recommended listening: The Origins of the Origin (BBC Radio 3, available until Sunday 15.2.09), a programme by Andrew Cunningham about Darwin's intellectual precursors in France - in particular, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire père and Lamarck, who both thought of evolution but got the mechanism wrong; and Cuvier, who realised that fossils imply extinction of species but didn't cotton on that new species might develop.
Much interesting information, much of it in amusing French accents, but I was struck by the comment that Cuvier's pre-eminence in comparative anatomy was largely down to the success of Napoleon's armies, who brought back specimens from across Europe. Similarly, Darwin accumulated his data on a survey expedition sponsored by the British admiralty as part of Britannia's continuing efforts to rule the waves. In each case, their theorising was based on a breadth of observation made possible by an expansionist state.
So one cheer for imperialism, which may enslave and impoverish subject peoples and leave the conquerors bitter and confused, but which advances and enlightens mankind.