Fursday - Reading List
fandom, or of relevance due to the involvement of animals or
This is a surprisingly left field development. After a decade being independently ran, FurAffinity is now under the ownership of a bigger company.
Whilst the choice of owner caught me off guard, I would not be surprised if finances were a factor behind the sale. The stress of operating solely on advertisement and donations wears your soul out eventually.
His strong piece addresses things the media fixated on when reporting the chlorine incident at MFF last week. Society’s judgemental stance towards supposedly ‘childish’ interests, the sex angle and the relationship between fursuiters and kids. My favourite part are the closing paragraphs that sums up the defiance and contempt our fandom has towards the media.Truthfully, we don’t even need you to notice us at all. We just need you to not make our lives harder by automatically lumping every single one of us into the most lurid, explicit and unpleasant story you read on the internet or heard from your friend who read it on the internet. Most of us are just trying to have fun while inspiring others to have fun. We know what we do is fairly unusual, and we don’t feel like we should have to apologize for it or pretend that we’re all saints. We’re people. Adults. Human beings. We have real jobs, real feelings and real lives.We're cool if you feel like laughing at us, though obviously we’d like it much more if that laughter is inspired by our zany antics and not your imagined moral superiority. But we don’t need the world’s approval, as much as it would be nice not to feel pressured to keep our interests secret from society. We just need you to either give us a chance or give us our space. We are trying to make the world a more colorful, interesting and joyful place by sharing something that we love.
Whilst GMing for friends last week, one of my players mentioned Bunnies and Burrows. Looking it up, to my surprise it was an old role playing game best described as a cross between the settings of Watership Down and the combat of Lugaru (with combat named ‘bun fu’).
The first thing to have stood out was that it was one of the earliest RPGs to have been published, a mere 2 years after Dungeons & Dragons. It is argued to have introduced various innovations, namely being the first to allow you to role play a non-humanoid. By extension I suppose it means it was the first anthropomorphic RPG.
The second thing was B&B’s strong empathises on role playing and getting players to think their way out danger rather than rely on combat. As Steffan O’Sullivan (author of a revised edition) put it:You're playing a rabbit, after all - how much combat do you want to do?!? If a GM in a fantasy game sends a wolf against a party of PCs, the players laugh at him. If a GM sends a wolf against a party of rabbit PCs, however, the players get very nervous! This means the players concentrate on out-tricking their opponents instead of fighting them - which makes for a very satisfying game.
The outlook looks grim, but there is one small ray of hope:Although the outlook may seem grim for the northern white rhino, there is cause for hope. The southern white rhino was considered extinct in the 19th century, until a small population was discovered in South Africa. Ensuing conservation efforts gradually brought the animals back to life. According to WWF, there are more than 20,000 southern white rhinos alive today.
Victoria McNally of The Mary Sue:"Listen, we’re all adults here—or at least, we’re supposed to be acting like adults. Forget about the fact that “furries” is such a hot Internet buzzword for just a second. Forget about how their relatively harmless kink might squick you the heck out. Can we at least agree that no one deserves to be gassed while at a convention, and that maybe now is not the time for jokes to the contrary? After all, even if you’d prefer to conveniently forget that furries are human beings who shouldn’t be subjected to physical harm for a weird thing they like, what happens the next time someone with access to a toxic agent of chemical warfare thinks a congregated group of people “deserve” it? Heck, what happens when it’s somebody who hates one of your hobbies?"
A great piece by McNally on why the media and wider geekdom should not snigger so much at our fandom’s misfortune. Imagine the outrage had this happened at any regular convention.
Don Newgreen and Jeffrey Craig writes for The Conversation:Take a look at several domesticated mammal species and you might spot a number of similarities between them, including those cute floppy ears.The famous naturalist and evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin even observed in the first chapter of his On the Origin of Species that:Not a single domestic animal can be named which has not in some country drooping ears […]And it’s not just the ears. Domesticated animals share a fairly consistent set of differences from their wild ancestors such as smaller brains, smaller teeth, shorter curly tails and lighter and blotchy coats: a phenomenon called the “domestication syndrome”.
Fascinating how selective breeding solely for tameability can have an adverse affect on the appearance of future generations.
Jason G Goldman writes for the BBC:Researchers can now humanely peer into the electrical and chemical activities of brain cells in animals while they sleep. In 2007, MIT scientists Kenway Louise and Matthew Wilson recorded the activity of neurons in a part of the rat brain called the hippocampus, a structure known to be involved in the formation and encoding of memories. They first recorded the activity of those brain cells while the rats ran in their mazes. Then they looked at the activity of the very same neurons while they slept. Louise and Wilson discovered identical patterns of firing during running and during REM. In other words, it was as if the rats were running the maze in their minds while they were snoozing. The results were so clear that the researchers could infer the rats' precise location within their mental dream mazes and map them to actual spots within the actual maze.
This is an ongoing area of research, but from what's been observed so far, dreams are like a safe training ground simulator for other animals. Of course we shouldn't jumps to conclusion based on what we see effectively as an outside observer, looking in through frosted glass. We only have part of the picture, but nothing of what the animals thinks or sees.
I would be interested to see if similar studies have been conducted on apes and whether they are aware of the concept of a dream. Might dreams have started as a virtual reality the brain creates in order to practice essential survival skills, but then higher intelligent creatures became aware of these false reality?
Opening paragraph from The Independent's piece about Eurofurence 2014:This weekend 2000 self-proclaimed ‘furries’ - fans of anthropomorphic animals in cartoons, anime movies, literature and computer games - checked into a conference hotel in Berlin for Eurofurence, Europe’s largest furry fandom convention.
The Daily Mail's opening paragraph:Grown adults dressed as sexualised cuddly toys met at a gathering for ‘furries’ in Germany at Eurofurence, Europe’s largest furry fandom convention.
Starkly different, sadly predictable on The Daily Mail's part, but a reality we better get used to as I will explain later.
To provide context for readers outside the UK: The Independent is a centre left 'broadsheet'; The Daily Mail is a middle income tabloid. The former's article is good, covering the obligatory basics such as what a furry is, what the fandom is about, its sci-fi convention origins , that's it's not all about sex, yet surprisingly little about the convention itself other than its past themes.
To the Mail's credit, their article is not out and out bashing us. It also introduces reader to the fandom, going as far as lifting quotes directly from their news rival. The difference is that sex was a minor talking point for The Independent, whilst for The Daily Mail it's part of the eye catching headline:Cats wearing stockings and bears in satin corsets: 2,000 adults dress as sexualised cuddly toys at bizarre festival
By comparison The Independent headline:Furrie invasion: 2000 fans attended Eurofeurence in Berlin to celebrate their love of anthropomorphic animals
The narrative is seen throughout The Mail's piece. Beneath the headline are three bullet points, the second says:Event attracted 2,000 'furries' - some in stockings, tutus and corsets [emphasis mine]
There's a nice piece midway where Kathy Gerbasi talks about her interest in the fandom, however those paragraphs are wedged between two photos of a fursuiter's cleavage. It's no crime on the fursuiter's part if she chooses to go for a sexy appearance, but The Mail made an editorial decision to have the second photo be a close up.
While we deplore The Mail and would prefer articles about our fandom be like The Independent's, we're faced with the uncomfortable reality; The Mail probably makes more money from sensationalised titles than The Independent's makes from respectable news articles. Online publications rely on high volume traffic to justify the price advertisers pay, hence click bait headlines that draw you in, even if the content is mundane. Of course this is nothing new to those familiar with the tabloids, but even respectable publications are getting into the act with titles posed as questions.
Don't be surprised if you see future a loaded headline such as "Should you keep your kids away from furries?" The answer will be a well considered 'no', but that moment of curiosity will be how they get you. For the greater good of not just the fandom but the web as a whole, we should think twice before clicking a headline and not reward publishers for their baiting tactics.
 I would like to read an article that actually tracks down some of the proto-furry convention attendees. How often do we hear about these fable origins, yet not get some first paw accounts of those early days?
Ars Technica reports:United States copyright regulators are agreeing with Wikipedia's conclusion that a monkey's selfie cannot be copyrighted by a nature photographer whose camera was swiped by the ape in the jungle.
Copyright law prevails. Most copyright laws states that the intellectual property of a photo belongs to the person who shot it, unless contracted out as an agent. The photographer David Slater did not shoot the photo himself and he certainly did not obtain an agency contract from the macaca nigra monkey.
It's a fascinating photo too, the smile and lazy eyes.
I find it to be novel and adorable. In a cafe I use to frequent there was a large (and heavy) stuffed teddy always hanging around.
Tom Junod writing for Esquire:There are two ironies here: The first is, as pit-bull advocates like to point out, "the pit bull is not a breed; it's a classification." [...] Yet Luis Salgado, the animal-services investigator charged with enforcing the pit-bull ban in Miami, admits that "there is no reliable DNA testing for that breed. DNA is useless. If you look at where that breed came from, there's American bulldog, there's terrier—all watered down and mixed together to produce the dog we now call the pit bull." What Salgado uses to establish a dog's genetic identity is not genetics but rather "physical characteristics—we have a forty-seven-point checklist. Any dog that substantially conforms to the characteristics of a pit bull is considered a pit bull."
Later on:"We had a beautiful dog in here not long ago that was a pit-Weimaraner mix," says Lieutenant Cheryl Shepard, who runs the animal shelter in Cobb County, Georgia, where I live. "But we try not to call dogs pit mixes, because then nobody will adopt them. So we called it a Weimaraner mix. And it looked like a Weimaraner. It had a lot of the traits of a Weimaraner. We found a woman to adopt it. But she took it to her vet and he said, 'No, that's a pit bull.' She returned it the next day."
The article takes a pretty sympathetic look at the social attitudes towards the pit bull and explores what makes a pit bull a pit bull. He weaves in between the analysis his personal experiences from having owned two. I have to admit the piece has made me reconsider my outlook on the much frowned upon dog.
Alex Halberstadt writing for the New York Times:The notion that animals think and feel may be rampant among pet owners, but it makes all kinds of scientific types uncomfortable. “If you ask my colleagues whether animals have emotions and thoughts,” says Philip Low, a prominent computational neuroscientist, “many will drop their voices to a whisper or simply change the subject. They don’t want to touch it.” Jaak Panksepp, a professor at Washington State University, has studied the emotional responses of rats. “Once, not very long ago,” he said, “you couldn’t even talk about these things with colleagues.”That may be changing. A profusion of recent studies has shown animals to be far closer to us than we previously believed — it turns out that common shore crabs feel and remember pain, zebra finches experience REM sleep, fruit-fly brothers cooperate, dolphins and elephants recognize themselves in mirrors, chimpanzees assist one another without expecting favors in return and dogs really do feel elation in their owners’ presence. In the summer of 2012, an unprecedented document, masterminded by Low — “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Human and Nonhuman Animals” — was signed by a group of leading animal researchers in the presence of Stephen Hawking. It asserted that mammals, birds and other creatures like octopuses possess consciousness and, in all likelihood, emotions and self-awareness.
The Verge does a profiles Julius Csotonyi and shows off his stunning dinosaur artwork:A native of Edmonton, Csotonyi's interest in drawing dinosaurs was, for a time, little more than a hobby that carried over from childhood. He just really liked dinosaurs, and as an artist it was a natural extension. Eventually he took a step towards turning that hobby into a career when he started submitting his work to various outlets in 1998. While still studying for his PhD, he received his first commissions to restore dinosaurs for publications and institutions like National Geographic and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. "It was in 2005, when I got my first paleoart commissions, that I realized that I could potentially make this a career," he explains.
Colin Barras writes about the observations Jane Goodall made over a 50 year period:The results suggest that the Gombe community was united until 1971. Then the chimps suddenly split into two groups – one based in the north, one in the south – that spent less time socialising with each other. [...]It's hard to say what caused the split, but a senior male called Leakey died at the end of 1970. "As soon as Leakey died they started splitting," says Feldblum. "He seems to have been a bridge between the northern and southern chimps."
The opportunism seized to become alpha male and invoke tribal loyalties are a fascinating echo of our own human society.
For context, Richard Branson is the publicity hungry owner of the Virgin business group. Their broadband and telephone division created a statue in his likeness (at least, the long blonde hair and beard) as a publicity stunt to announce their Virgin Media ‘Big Kahuna’ package. Helps that it wasn't long ago that Godzilla was released. Pretty amusing photos.
John Timmer:Despite a number of very obvious features that distinguish the polar bear from other bears, it readily produces fertile offspring with brown bears. And fossil evidence suggests that the two species separated about half a million years ago.Researchers have now sequenced 80 separate polar bear genomes as well as a number of brown bears for comparison, and the results show that appearances only tell a very small part of the story. Polar bears have taken up a blubber-rich diet that may leave them with up to half their body weight made up by fat. And as it turns out, most of the polar bear's genes that have undergone rapid evolution seem to be involved in keeping its cholesterol under control and its heart from exploding under the strain.
We often see animals that look similar and yet are different in their abilities. Learning how species diverge further strengthens our understanding of the animal kingdom and of the theory of evolution.
Ravens within a community squabble over their ranking in the group, as higher ranked ravens have better access to food and other resources. Males always outrank females, and confrontations mostly occur between members of the same sex.
These confrontations are initiated by high-ranking ravens, who square up to low-ranking birds and emit a specific call to assert their dominance. Normally, the lower-ranking, or submissive, raven typically makes a specific call to recognize the high-ranking raven’s social superiority. Through this process, the dominant raven ensures that its social position is maintained.
But sometimes the lower-ranking bird does not respond in a submissive way to a dominance call—instead, it replies with what is known as dominance-reversal call. These situations often result in confrontations and can lead to changes in the social structure of raven communities.
Social hierarchy is seen throughout the animal kingdom.
Ever wondered why people knitted cute little jumpers for penguins? As Dara Lind explains:
When penguins come into contact with oil in the wake of a spill, conservationists put them in sweaters so they don't try to eat the oil off their feathers before they can be washed off. After they're washed, the sweaters help keep the penguins warm, and waterproof, until their feathers and natural oils can recover.
However this was only used for a species of penguin imaginatively called... little penguins. Otherwise the penguin species as a whole don't need us taking up knitting to make jumpers.
It is worth noting that some of the headline grabbing charges, such as hostage taking and necrophilia, were one-off sightings. I loath to label them as anecdotal though these were scientific observations done by biologists studying their behaviour.
Rather, what I am saying to otter lovers is that so far there are just a few points of data. Until more observations are made of the same behaviour, there is hope that some of the dark characteristics are one-off anomalies.