Friday, January 27, 2006

PHIL 6000: History and Theory of Cuteness

Still trapped under a backlog of work, though I'm starting to make a dent in it, I think. I'm only taking one course this semester, but it's my dream course: "Darwinian Influences on Psychology," cross-listed to Philosophy from the Psych department. Not surprisingly, we are beginning by reading a lot of Darwin, as well as background on his development of the theory of evolution, including some stuff on Alfred Russel Wallace, who came up with the same theory at the same time. (The story of how Darwin and Wallace very politely negotiated the apportioning of credit for the theory is a long and interesting one.) Darwin and Wallace both come off as irresistably likeable people, not least because they both had a big, sloppy soft spot for animals. Wallace, like Darwin, travelled the world, and he spent some months in Sarawak (where he lived among the Dyak "head-hunters" and became "convinced of the essential unity of all races of mankind"). During this time he adopted an orphaned infant orang-utan, about which he wrote to his sister: "I am sure nobody ever had such a dear little duck of a darling of a brown hairy baby before."

You think that's cute? It gets better. The entire third chapter of Darwin's Descent of Man, "Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals," is a compendium of cute animal stories meant to illustrate that animals have most of the same feelings and cognitive processes as humans. Darwin seems to have spent an inordinate amount of time at the Zoological Gardens, watching the antelopes, chatting with the keepers, and messing with the monkeys' heads. He also has a large collection of second-hand observations of animal behaviour, including this account of a captive baboon, observed "by Brehm in N. Africa":

One female baboon had so capacious a heart that she not only adopted young monkeys of other species, but stole young dogs and cats, which she continually carried about...An adopted kitten scratched this affectionate baboon, who certainly had a fine intellect, for she was much astonished at being scratched, and immediately examined the kitten's feet, and without more ado bit off the claws.
This anecdote has a footnote, which reads:

A critic, without any grounds...disputes the possibility of this act as described by Brehm, for the sake of discrediting my work. Therefore I tried, and found that I could readily seize with my own teeth the sharp little claws of a kitten nearly five weeks old.
I don't think I'll ever be able to look at a picture of Darwin again without imagining him nibbling at a kitten.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Secret swing rides again

Do you know about the secret swing? You probably do -- it's not much of a secret anymore. Someone installed it in a very narrow, graffiti-filled alley near Queen West a year or two ago, and word spread quickly. By last summer, the swing had become a kind of tiny, beloved cultural institution. If you live downtown and pay attention to stuff like this, you probably tracked it down with your friends and took photos of each other riding it; or maybe you never got around to it, but you really wanted to. Mentions of the secret swing appeared on blogs and in hip guides to the city, and visitors from other cities made pilgrimages to find it.

But apparently not everyone loved the secret swing, because about two months ago, somebody cut it down. Only the chains were left, dangling in the air, looking sad and forlorn. There was much anguish, and indignation, and intense discussion of the situation on Stillepost. Then, last month, someone replaced the swing! And if you turn over the new swing seat, there's a message on the bottom saying something like, "The Secret Swing is for the People of Toronto!"

So, people of Toronto, go forth and enjoy your swing! You'll have to find it first, though.

Above, Sean, creator of the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide, takes a turn.

Update: Boo, it's gone again! And it looks like it's gone for good, this time. As that story suggests, though, keep your eyes peeled for the next nifty Thing Like This. What will it be? I don't know. But this is Toronto! We'll think of something!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Climbing the walls on New Year's Eve

Climbing the walls, originally uploaded by squiddity of toronto.

Party photos from New Year's Eve are up here. Above, Blair defies gravity, sometime around 2 a.m. Thanks again to Jeremy and Julie for hosting!

Monday, January 02, 2006

2006 off to a good start

Orange jacket, originally uploaded by squiddity of toronto.

So, that was a really nice New Year's. First I dropped by the Rhino, where low-key hanging out was in progress, and had a drink with Brian, Emily and Maggie. Then moved on to Jeremy and Julie's, where the party was just the right size and full of people I like: the ideal new Year's scenario. (Incriminating photos may be posted if permission is granted.) The night ended with a snowball fight on Euclid St. at 3 am (or, more accurately, with me throwing a single innocent snowball and getting my FACE WASHED OUT WITH SNOW in retribution), and then with a highly amusing ride home on the College streetcar, which at a quarter to 4 was packed with very young, very drunk revellers. Girls in tiaras and warm puffy coats, boys in suit jackets and flashy ties. Couples stood hanging onto poles and making out. Some people just stared dazedly into space, others were having conversations like this one:

Dude #1: Frank wanted to fight me.
Dude #2: Who's Frank?
1: I dunno. Some guy.
2: You shoulda fought him.
1: Nah. I'm not a fighter.

On New Year's Day, Andy cooked pancakes for Leslie and I at the posh condo where he's dogsitting an Irish wolfhound roughly the size of a small pony. Above is a photo from one of the condo's many windows, of the park where we walked the dog after brunch.

Happy 2006, everybody! A few party photos later this week.