May 30th, 2012
atomvincent

Nothing So Beautiful

For most of my life, I have found whales to be utterly fascinating. Their size, grace, and intelligence ignite in me a child-like curiosity and enchantment. I have thus far not indulged this interest on RTNT, but in celebration of our six months in existence, I want to share this small part of myself with you.

Here, I offer a few pieces that illuminate the foundations of my interest in our brothers of the deep, whose minds and lives are at once unknowable and familiar. 

1. Watching Whales Watching Us
A fascinating look at the evolving relationship between man and whale in Baja California Sur, and research into the highly evolved brains of whales.
Charles Siebert, The New York Times, July 2009

2. On the Minds of the Whales
A history of the hunting and scientific investigation of whales across the twentieth century.
Tim Flannery, New York Review of Books, February 2012 

3. The Fall and Rise of the Right Whale
On the (very slowly) increasing population of right whales in the Atlantic and the efforts put forth to protect and study them.
Cornelia Dean, The New York Times, March 2009 

4. Of Man and Whales and Apes
Cetaceans can recognize themselves, use tools, and communicate in structurally complex ways - are they more like us than we have ever considered?
Brandon Keim, Wired, June 2009 

5. The Auditory Life of Sperm Whales
One of Arvind’s early posts from the RTNT vaults, this piece looks at how acoustic imaging is used to investigate the relationship between sperm whales and that other, mythical giant of the deep, the giant squid.
Eric Wagner, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2011 

6. Seeing Whales
A beautiful poem that invokes (among other things) the breathtaking sight of a whale.
Michael Dickman, The New Yorker, January 2008 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on whales (politically, scientifically, spiritually, or otherwise), if you have any to share. At the very least, I hope you enjoy learning a bit more about the largest creatures in our world, and perhaps you’ll find yourself as enchanted by those kings of the sea as I find myself.
- Atom Vincent, Managing Editor 

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February 8th, 2012
atomvincent

As Cold As the Leaves

On October 18, 2011, Terry Thompson opened the cages of fifty exotic animals on his farm in Zanesville, Ohio, before taking his own life. The animals - many of them big cats but also bears, monkeys, and wolves - were hunted down by local police through the night, the bodies lined up neatly at the bottom of the farm’s drive and eventually deposited into a mass grave. It was a story that shook the world, prompting outcries from animal rights activists, rounds of finger-pointing over lax regulation, and push back from those who felt that there was no alternative when considering the potential threat to human life. For Esquire, Chris Jones chronicles that long, surreal night.

Blake remembers one kill especially. The memory of it still slips into the front of his brain at the strangest times, without warning. He closes his eyes, and it’s right there in front of him again. Night was falling fast, and there was a tiger trapped in the edge of his headlights, up and to the right. The beams were just spilling onto its fur. The men in the back hollered for Blake to stop. He had learned by then to sink his ears under his raised shoulders in a mostly vain effort to stop the ringing, but he hadn’t yet learned to look away from the intended target. He stared at the tiger — “They’re just such beautiful animals,” he says — and then the shots rang out. Blake watched a patch of fur, like a leaf of paper caught in the wind, blow clean off the tiger’s back. One moment that patch of fur was there, thick and orange, and then it was gone, grabbed by the coming storm and scattered across the grass like seeds. Now his headlights caught a flash of the tiger’s disrobed spine instead, a thick column of white stripped down to its core. Blake saw the architecture of a tiger in the instant before it collapsed. “I just never seen anything like it in my life,” he says.
And then it got dark.

Read the full article here.

As Cold As the Leaves

On October 18, 2011, Terry Thompson opened the cages of fifty exotic animals on his farm in Zanesville, Ohio, before taking his own life. The animals - many of them big cats but also bears, monkeys, and wolves - were hunted down by local police through the night, the bodies lined up neatly at the bottom of the farm’s drive and eventually deposited into a mass grave. It was a story that shook the world, prompting outcries from animal rights activists, rounds of finger-pointing over lax regulation, and push back from those who felt that there was no alternative when considering the potential threat to human life. For Esquire, Chris Jones chronicles that long, surreal night.

Blake remembers one kill especially. The memory of it still slips into the front of his brain at the strangest times, without warning. He closes his eyes, and it’s right there in front of him again. Night was falling fast, and there was a tiger trapped in the edge of his headlights, up and to the right. The beams were just spilling onto its fur. The men in the back hollered for Blake to stop. He had learned by then to sink his ears under his raised shoulders in a mostly vain effort to stop the ringing, but he hadn’t yet learned to look away from the intended target. He stared at the tiger — “They’re just such beautiful animals,” he says — and then the shots rang out. Blake watched a patch of fur, like a leaf of paper caught in the wind, blow clean off the tiger’s back. One moment that patch of fur was there, thick and orange, and then it was gone, grabbed by the coming storm and scattered across the grass like seeds. Now his headlights caught a flash of the tiger’s disrobed spine instead, a thick column of white stripped down to its core. Blake saw the architecture of a tiger in the instant before it collapsed. “I just never seen anything like it in my life,” he says.

And then it got dark.

Read the full article here.

December 15th, 2011
atomvincent

Read This, Not That: Man and Beast

Writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Justin E.H. Smith looks at the unique and wide role animals play in human culture, both as symbols of the other and as manifestations of our hidden selves. Over the course of history, we have increasingly removed ourselves, intellectually, from community with the animal world around us. What can we learn from that cultural history? And what might we lose when we cease to think of ourselves as beasts?

Before and after Darwin, the specter of the animal in man has been compensated by a hierarchical scheme that separates our angelic nature from our merely circumstantial, and hopefully temporary, beastly one. And we find more or less the same separation in medieval Christian theology, Romantic nature poetry, or current cognitive science: All of it aims to distinguish the merely animal in us from the properly human. Thus Thoreau, widely lauded as a friend of the animals, cannot refrain from invoking animality as something to be overcome: “Men think that it is essential,” he writes, “that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride 30 miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain.” What the author of Walden misses is that men might be living like baboons not because they are failing at something or other, but because they are, in fact, primates. Thoreau can’t help invoking the obscene and filthy beasts that have, since classical antiquity, formed a convenient contrast to everything we aspire to be.

Read the full article here.

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