30 June 2009

Cargo Cult Civilization

So, over on Dreamwidth, piranha has a question about American conservative social norms -- why is conduct they decry in others OK when they do it?

I think this question has a simple answer.

Civilization is a trade-off; you give up immediate gratification for indirect benefits. This means a larger co-operating group, less effort expending on suppressing the impulses towards immediate gratification of others, and general improvement of circumstances.

It's not that hard to understand, but it is sometimes hard to do; actively participating in civilization means, often, not getting what you want right now; it means being patient about standing in lines, playing by the rules, accepting that the indirect benefits of being honest outweigh the direct benefits of cheating.

If you don't understand or accept that trade-off; if you continue, personally and fundamentally, to be driven by the basic primate status indicators—being able to hit who you want, and, if male, rape who you want—you can't really be civilized. You haven't made the jump to civilization as a thing you do, you're stuck in a civilization-as-environment mental space.

At which point you probably make two mistakes, both common mistakes about environments: that if it's preventing you from doing what you want, this is in some sense malicious and needs to be suppressed, and that it's effectively indestructible and eternal and that your actions cannot then modify it.

So, basically, the US right believes that the tenets of civilization—the necessary cosmopolitan respect for differences in others, the we're-all-in-this-together, I'm-not-special common good, the need to co-operate in groups to solve larger problems, the indirect benefits of peace and prosperity over the immediate direct benefits of loot and rapine—are negatives; they prevent the accumulation and demonstration of basic primate social status.

(This is a very common and widespread problem with honour cultures; it's by no means restricted to the US.)

Because they don't really understand civilization, they complain about it as a big amorphous thing that's trying to tell them what to do; they produce superficially logical complaints ("the nanny state"), and they interact with it on the basis of uncomprehending imitative ritual. (Hence my choice of post title.)

Anybody who does understand civilization doesn't display basic primate status indicators; therefore, according to the US right, they're of very low status and their opinions don't matter. The only really important thing is to prevent them from being able to tell people with status what to do, since that's a complete perversion of the natural order. As such, their expectations and standards for members of their tribe are "can't be told what to do by outsiders" in a more fundamental way than "sticks to the ostensible and declared moral standards", since the real moral standard is the core primate one about "I have status; if you don't have status, I get to do whatever I want to you".

Outsiders have to be made to stick to their stated standards because that's an opportunity to compel them and and thus an opportunity for an affirmation of basic primate status relationships in their favour.

(There's a lot that could be said about how this relates to the choice between a dynamic, specific-problem, situational hierarchy organizational model and a fixed hierarchy model in selecting preferred social organization, but this is already both long and drifting off into perhaps undesirable definitions of simple.)

28 June 2009

Aoife update

Little Miss Complex Paws.
Entirely flaked out.
But why do the squirrels run away?
It's kinda bright out there.


At least, I think they're daisies.
They volunteer along the north east fence in the back yard.

26 June 2009


There's just something inherently punk about ostriches.
What I presume—can't see into the scrape to see if there are any eggs—is brooding behaviour. Female ostriches with the dull dun colouring do the daytime brooding; male ostriches with the black-and-white colouring do the night time brooding.This factoid allows one to conclude that the contents of the zoo enclosure is not meant to represent the ostrich's natural habitat. (I'm pretty sure somebody from the zoo dug the scrape with a shovel, come to that; the sod-busting ability of ostriches is perhaps justly to be regarded as dubious.)
Great shaggy mass of feathers, standing to check the scrape. This happened with enough thoroughness that I think there are eggs in there.
Yes, I know; basically a hundred kilo chicken, with all that implies about temperment and approachability. But still decidedly and amusingly floofulent.

Feeding in shadow

I do so wish there had been a way to get that leaf—the blurry, bright, intruding leaf—out of the way entirely. But it's not bad.

Another Malaysian Woods butterfly of unknown-to-me provenance.

Not a monarch

Since it is in the Malaysian Woods pavilion, it more or less can't be a washed-out monarch or one of their North American lookalikes, but I have no idea what it actually is.

25 June 2009

Tiny Green Flowers

Someone on the Pentax list wants green flowers to complete the colour wheel; they're probably not going to approve entirely, but best I can do. (I know I have seen green roses, but I don't appear to have any pictures.)

23 June 2009

Cuddling the bow wave

K20D and FA50/1.4; the camera gloating tag is because these did not need white balance adjustment. (Though they did get the level of magenta lightly tweaked in the GIMP.)

Seussian demeanor

Alpaca are smaller, cuter, and probably less gratuitously aggressive than llama, but it's not difficult to imagine that there are dark fates being contemplated here.

Your basic bucorvid

The zoo always refers to these as "African ground hornbills"; I think it's Bucorvus abyssinicus rather than Bucorvus leadbeateri on the basis of the blue facial skin.
Darren Naish talks about these on Tetrapod Zoology not infrequently; link is to the most recent instance.

One of those days

Here we have the stump of a largish (for the northern edge of the Carolingian forest, third growth deciduous) tree; we may observe from its hollow, shattered condition and the depth of the neatly level saw cut (and also the hollow, shattered condition of the trunk out of frame to the left there) that someone was attempting to fell it to keep it from falling on the path and squishing zoo visitors when enough of the cylindrical shell got sawn through to cause some abrupt uprooting, shattering and plummeting. Lack of dents or bloodstains on the ground strongly suggest that the fellow with the chain saw got away in time.

21 June 2009

Somewhere in Canada

At least, it was growing outside on the walk down to the Canadian Domain. Medium-high bushy plants, and lots of it.

White florets

Another random field-flower from the Zoo.

Any time I get something white to come out with fine detail when it started out in direct sunshine, I'm happy.

This probably indicates lack of suitable ambition, but oh well.

19 June 2009

Large Purple Spherical Flower

The larger size of globular purple flower, about 10cm across:
Growing in a long, vaguely linear tract (of which this is but a tiny part) along one of the paths near the Metro Zoo's African Savannah exhibit.
I kinda like the light in this one.

18 June 2009


Saker falcons, Falco cherrug, breed from eastern Europe eastward; they're quite large, not quite gyrfalcon sized. They're also fairly common, and I don't know why particularly the zoo has one. But they do, and it's in the bird demo. (Which is a good thing; flying exercise isn't easy to provide, but if they can, of course they should.)

Up above the world so high... (that's the 100% crop from 300mm of lens. Way up there.)
And there goes the whistle!
Head stays level; everything else, optional.
The second whistle, blown after multiple passes, means "catch!"
Being jessed (I think actually "de-radio-trackered", since both jesses show), and still panting a bit.
Just before being taken back to regular quarters.
I quite like the weathered-metal look of the beak.

Have to get better at tracking the thing in flight; get a faster long telephoto (hah!); and remember to make sure the shutter speed never drops below about 1/500. (There were a couple other shots where the 1/300 I though would be fast enough for a bird wasn't, and the blur ruins the shot.)

That same little owl

This little guy is not normally low enough in the enclosure to get this relatively flat angle of view; the mesh still gets in the way, but I'm reasonably pleased with this one.

Most owls look a bit mad; some owls look a lot mad. Saw-whet owls continue to look like they might be mad, if they didn't subsist on a diet of concentrated cute-on-a-stick.

Purple Spherical Flower

Absolutely no idea what it is, as usual, but I thought it was pretty.

Eastern Kingbird

The Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus is a flycatcher, which means it sits on branches, spots a passing bug, flies after the bug, and returns to its perch. This is called "hawking", and it's something a photographer can exploit.

Note the bit of hook to the bill-tip; this goes with a habit of eating insects, and is also seen in vireos.
Of course, the hawking flight (presuming agile insects) can be quite spectacular and sometimes vertical, so that's the next photographic challenge.

17 June 2009

Pork with mushrooms

You will need these implements:

  • cutting board
  • sharp general purpose cook's knife
  • a large wok
  • wooden spatula for stirring the wok
  • large colander
  • mushroom brush
  • small sieve
And these ingredients:
  • four pork tenderloins (about 400 g)
  • 2 bunches green onions
  • 650 g white button mushrooms
  • dried tarragon
  • dried basil
  • cinnamon
  • imperial mustard powder
  • cooking wine or brandy

Step one: wok and spice prep
  1. put a large wok over medium heat
  2. cover the bottom of the wok with olive oil
  3. sift into it one heaping tablespoon (~ 25 mL) of imperial mustard powder
  4. crush between your hands a palmful of dried tarragon and a palmful of dried basil; add them to the oil
  5. woggle the wok a bit to make sure it's all heating evenly; mustard powder clumping is what you sifted it to avoid, but it probably wants to do this anyway
Step two: add green onions
  1. wash and slice up into rounds, widening the rounds away from the root end, two bunches of green onions.
  2. once the mustard has brightened in the oil and shows bright yellow, add the onions to the wok, stirring to cover evenly with the oil and spices
  3. cover the wok (those silicone rim general-purpose lids? very handy for this)
Step 3: add pork tenderloin
  1. slice up four pork tenderloins about 5mm thick; where the tenderloins are wide, slice the slices in half, to produce dainty bite-sized pieces.
  2. Remove lid; stir the onions. If the onions are not yet limp, replace the lid for a bit.
  3. When the onions become limp, add the sliced pork tenderloin, and stir to mix all together thoroughly. Make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the wok; vigorous passes with the wooden spatula may be required if the mustard has got ahead of you and precipitated.
  4. Add a goodly dollop of cooking wine or brandy. (60 mL? enough to perceptible change the note and level of the fluid in the bottom of the wok)
  5. Cover the wok.
Step 4: add mushrooms
  1. Wash, stem, and section into wedges 650 g of white button mushrooms. Depending on mushroom cap size, that's 4, 6, or 8 wedges per mushroom. About halfway through this, stop and stir the wok, ensuring that what was low becomes high and what was high becomes low, as well as that all is seething happily together.
  2. Uncover the wok; add the mushrooms. Stir to coat them thoroughly in the existing liquid and to distribute them thoroughly among the pork.
  3. Sprinkle cinnamon to half-cover the surface of the mushrooms.
  4. Add another crushed palm full each of basil and tarragon.
  5. Cover.
Step 5: Wash, dry, and put away knives and cutting board.
Step 6: Make sure the mushrooms cook evenly
  1. After 3 to 5 minutes, when the lower mushrooms have shrunk and given up fluid, remove the cover the wok and stir, replacing the low with the high and the high with the low.
  2. Cover.
  3. Check and stir twice more until all the mushrooms are done; about another 5 to 8 minutes. Keep covered while not being stirred.
Takes about 30 minutes in total to prepare.
Remove from heat and serve. Serves 4 if there's other stuff like starch, 2 if not.

Note: This can be markedly sharp, especially if the onions turn out to be the opinionated kind. A couple teaspoons (~10 mL) of maple sugar, or a couple tablespoons of maple syrup, may be considered during the mushroom-adding case if you wish to dial back the sharpness somewhat, but in that case you must be careful that the sugar doesn't stick to the bottom of the wok.

16 June 2009

Warm Rock

At a minimum, a sunny rock.

14 June 2009

Black, Orange, and White

Another butterfly from the Malaysian Woods pavilion at the Metro Zoo. Absolutely no idea what it is, other than pretty.

Flying Gull

Gull plumages are a frequent source of despair to me.
I believe this is a ring-billed gull moulting out of 2nd winter basic plumage into adult alternate—there are the new inner primaries, and the new outer retrices without the terminal black band, to suggest moulting and which moult—but I certainly wouldn't bet detectable quantities of money on this point.

(It's a ring-billed because the white in the outer primaries is small in area; because the feet and legs are yellow; because the bill is also yellow with a black band near the tip, the bill is proportionately small but not that small, and because, aside from the black primaries, it's entirely white beneath. Also because I took the picture in Toronto, where, to a first approximation, all the gulls are ring-bills.)

Rise Up

Wee passerine birds generally—by no means universally, but generally—hop, and generally speaking they hop quite well.

As evidenced by this house sparrow thinking nothing of hopping twice its height to the lower bar of a gate.

The splendour falls from concrete walls

Presenting from a high point is presumably instinctual; if the high point allows you to get your vast artifice of tail behind the wind-shadow of the wall, even better.

12 June 2009


If that tusk wasn't attached, this would be a much less ambiguous depiction of elephant tool use.

She stuck the big flake of hay between her right tusk and her trunk, and leaned on it with the upper trunk. Lower trunk pulled out wee delicate quantities of hay and transported same to her mouth while wandering about with every appearance of good humour.


It's the same photo, except one has had a modest amount of unsharp mask applied.

Only by thinking of it as output-device appropriate dithering can I avoid thinking of this as somehow cheating, but it really isn't anything to leave out.

11 June 2009

Shift Change

Given that they're not honeybees, I suspect that each bee is functioning independently. (Though one never knows; there are hive-forming bumblebees.)

Given the fence placement and the bee size, it's enough to make a fellow want a 200mm macro lens.

10 June 2009

Bald Eagle

Streaky lines are wildly out-of-focus enclosure grating.

This is one of the three eagles at the zoo who are at the zoo because they can't fly; I can never remember his name (it's in an Algonkian language and slides off my lamentably anglo head) but was blown out of his nest near Sioux Lookout as a nestling and injured, and never really got able to fly as a result.

I'm always pleased to get a clear picture through the wire mesh, and this is very much the look visitors to the Metro Zoo have been getting from this particular eagle for something like the last ten years now, so I'm quite pleased with the shot.

08 June 2009


It is perhaps your considerable misfortune that I consider the cuteness of baby waterfowl to culminate in cygnets, and took a couple hundred cygnet pictures.
The zoo has an observation post by the side of the pond, and that includes a sloping concrete apron into the water where food gets put out. This makes it remarkably easy to get cygnet pictures, if mostly straight down.
This is a coming-in-for-lunch shot with the 800mm Rokinon. The rest are nigh-vertical from the observation platform using the DA 55-300.
It's a foodstuff!
If the cygnet and the cygnet's shadow do not touch, the cygnet must be floating.
As one might judge by the ripples, when cygnets lunge for something, they do it emphatically. I would judge that these guys are still young enough to be eating diverse arthropods and crustaceans, and maybe tadpoles, but I wasn't able to discern just what they were eating from the water.

Family portraits, Cygnus buccinator

The Metro Zoo has, down in the Canadian Domain pond, a breeding pair of trumpeter swans. This year, the adults are lacking the big yellow wing flashes indicating zoo ownership; don't know if this is a change of policy, it's too early in the season for someone to have risked their life to apply the big yellow wing flashes indicating which swan this is, or if this year, it's a wild pair who have taken over the pond. (Certainly the cob seemed rather more aggressive toward the geese this spring than in previous years; actually launched, and my but a low-flying swan can look malevolent.)
Both parents and four cygnets (there's another couple of eggs still in the nest, but given the size of the cygnets I would not hold much hope for them), over by the reedy margin of the south-east-ish corner of the pond.
Swans are not (that I have ever heard) supposed to have exceptional vision for birds; they still seem to notice camera lenses right quick.
Middle-front cygnet attempts dabbling, with a lack of success limited by the inherent buoyancy of being a baby swan, and thus made of air and fluff.
Air and fluff and big paddle feet; no idea what it was, but it certainly must have looked tasty.

Trumpeters remain something of a photographic challenge; glare white and absorptive black on a reflective surface is at least a legitimate photographic challenge.

06 June 2009

First picture number three

One summer tiger, derived from picture 0001 the third.

Since the K20D was at 237 when I got it, and it's at 0307 again right now, I have indeed taken 20,000 pictures since I got it in March of 2008. (Image 0237 the third is a pair of red river hogs; I figured everybody'd be happier with a tiger.) This implies I'm taking about 1,250 pictures a month.

Hopefully I'm learning something.