News about Elephants

From Whipsnade Zoo:

On 4 December, London Zoo’s elephants were successfully moved to Whipsnade Wild Animal Park following the completion of the Park’s additional new facilities.

As part of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), Mya, Layang Layang and Dilberta are now being integrated with the Whipsnade herd to join the conservation effort to save this endangered species. The three elephants have been settling into their new home and getting to know their companions: Whipsnade’s three female elephants Anna, Lucha and Kaylee, and Emmett, the bull elephant.

Moving elephants is a complex business and requires a lot of planning. It all went extremely smoothly and that was down to the expert team involved in the move. Encouraging signs are now being seen as the two elephant groups are integrated. Bonds are being formed between the females, in particular Layang Layang and Anna are becoming great friends.On arrival, the three London Zoo elephants were kept separately from the Whipsnade herd but as the new elephants were so calm, introductions to the resident females began soon after. To ensure that introductions went well, staff had to take into account all the elephants’ different personalities and their status within the two herds. Initially, they had visual contact, and then there were neighbourly greetings over the fence, involving a lot of trunk touching and snorting. Today they are mixed in different combinations as the settling-in process continues.

Whipsnade’s extended elephant facility, which is over seven acres, has five linked outside areas including a huge grass paddock as well as two separate houses. Visitors can see the elephants taking advantage of the many additional facilities designed specially for them. There are two pools, mud wallows and dust baths, as well as rubbing posts, shades for summer and high-level feeders.

As Emmett, the bull elephant, is rapidly maturing the new facilities have been designed to withstand his incredible strength, especially when he is in musth. Emmett has already proven himself as a breeding male, with two of Whipsnade’s original herd due to give birth this year. The new additional facilities have been designed particularly with him in mind as they will have to withstand the force of a 4 tonne elephant moving at 30 miles per hour.

The new Whipsnade herd, which is the largest group of breeding females in the UK, will play an important role in the European Endangered Species Programme as Asian elephants become even more threatened in the wild. With only 20,000 to 40,000 wild Asian elephants left, ZSL’s herd at Whipsnade will help to ensure that this species is not lost forever and will inspire our visitors to join our commitment to the conservation of this fantastic animal.

In memory of Jim Robson, Senior Keeper who was tragically killed at London Zoo in October 2001, some evergreen oaks will be planted at Whipsnade. Jim died working with the elephants he loved and it was felt to be appropriate to plant trees that will provide a supply of ‘browse’ on which future generations of Whipsnade elephants can feed.

It’s nice to know there was a lot of trunk touching and snorting. Good elephants! (Bad elephants, though, for trampling poor Jim Robson to death).

Flat Rate

Students here at Magdalen have voted for a flat rate for their room rents, starting from the next academic year. Good for them, and good for Alec, who seems to have done a ton of useful work to educate, agitate and organise the JCR referendum, and who has produced useful and informative cross-tabs here.

Orgy puts stop to degree courses in sex

Only in the Daily Telegraph:

By Oliver Poole in Los Angeles

A university course on male and female sexuality has been suspended after students took part in orgies and were taken to a gay strip bar where they watched their instructor have sex.

Male undergraduates at the University of California at Berkeley also complained that they were made to listen to other people’s depraved sexual fantasies, take pictures of their genitalia and watch explicit pornography.

A female sexuality class at the university, which was synonymous in the 1960s with the spirit of free love and psychedelia, is also being investigated after it emerged that it, too, involved visits to strip clubs, along with lectures from porn stars.

Social science faculty heads took action after student Jessica McMahon said that at the end of the trip to the gay strip club the class instructor stripped on stage and started to engage in sexual activity with one of the club’s male performers.

She said: “It got kind of crazy and one of the [strippers] ended up getting fired.”

Christy Kovacs, a Berkeley freshman on the course last term, said that there had been an open invitation to any students who were interested in attending an after-class orgy at another instructor’s home.

They were encouraged to pair off and disappear into one of the bedrooms before swapping to have sex with another partner.

Marie Felde, the university’s spokesman, said that an investigation into the accusations had begun. She said: “Those sorts of activities are not part of the approved course curriculum.”

State senator Dick Ackerman, a Republican and a former student at the university, has demanded the institution “re-evaluate” its approach to pastoral care.

The male and female sexuality courses were set up by the university a decade ago to examine the limits and prejudices surrounding sex.

Although established and monitored by the social sciences faculty, student instructors ran the classes, which counted towards end of year marks.

Among the lecturers scheduled to speak at the male sexuality class this term were Nina Hartley, a porn star who appeared in the Hollywood film Boogie Nights, a representative from an anti-circumcision organisation, and the owner of Good Vibrations, a local sex shop.

It’s such a good Daily Telegraph story that the reader has no idea at all as to whether it might be true.

Cutting Edge Research

Raj writes to the weblog:

Here’s something from the “coffee after a meal keeps you awake” stable, c/o the BBC:

After crunching data from five decades of Olympics, two Harvard economists have deduced that cold countries perform better than hot ones in the winter games, and that large states produce more athletes than their smaller neighbours.

You can download their paper here.

Rivers of Babylon

Whenever I put on one of my very small number of reggae CDs, I’m always delighted to listen to “Rivers of Babylon” by the Melodians:

By the rivers of Babylon,
where we sat down,
and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
‘Cause the wicked carried us away in captivity,
required from us a song,
How can we sing King Alpha’s song
in a strange land? …

And this, of course, is a very close paraphrase of the opening four verses of Psalm 137, the inspiration also of Verdi’s famous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco, here in the King James Version:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

(The beginning of the Psalm is far better well known than the end, with the very violent sentiments of its final two verses: “O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”)So I was very pleased today to find a terrific article by Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, “Tuning Hebrew Psalms to Reggae Rhythms: Rastas’ Revolutionary Lamentations for Social Change” in Cross Currents, which presents an extraordinarily detailed account of the transformation of the ancient text into the modern, which sheds a great deal of light on what is going on in this marvellous song, with its strange composite lyric (“So, let the words of our mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight…”), and which provides a fine commentary on the politics of Rastafarianism. Good stuff.

I was also pleased to come across an online Anglo-Saxon translation of the Psalm, too.

Tech Stuff

I’ve finally fixed the code error that meant that the weblog never appeared properly in versions of Netscape 4.x. This is good news, especially for Richard, who used to point it out to me.

Richard writes [13.2.2002]: As a dedicated 4.7 Netscape user, thank you… another blow for Microsoft haters everywhere.

Tom writes [19.2.2002]: Just to let you know that it works fine in my new favourite browser – OmniWeb – a particularly beautiful (OS X – only: I’m now a Mac hugger again) browser that I’m getting rather enamoured of. Oh, except that your ‘byline’ style is such a subtle shade of grey that it almost blends into the background…

White Paper

The Government has recently published its new White Paper on immigration, asylum, nationality and citizenship questions: Secure Borders, Safe Haven. There is much to be criticised in it, unsurprisingly enough, but also some things to be welcomed, such as the closure of the detention facility at Campsfield House here in Oxfordshire before the end of the year, the phasing out of the degrading voucher system, and the fact that asylum seekers are no longer being locked up in prisons any more.

Watch these spaces for further comments, once I’ve read my way through the document and ruminated a little on its contents. In the meantime, the following links might be helpful: the White Paper itself can be downloaded here; you can follow the discussion in Parliament after the statements by Home Office ministers David Blunkett in the Commons here and Jeff Rooker in the Lords here; the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has devoted a portion of its website to discussion of the White Paper, and The Guardian has a page of links to reports on asylum issues around the world here.

2001: A Space Iliad

Nick reminded me yesterday of the excellent Washington Post competition from 1999, asking people to amalgamate literary classics into strange new forms:

Green Eggs and Hamlet — Would you kill him in his bed? Thrust a dagger through his head? I would not, could not, kill the King. I could not do that evil thing. I would not wed this girl, you see. Now get her to a nunnery.

Catch-22 in the Rye — Holden learns that if you’re insane, you’ll probably flunk out of prep school, but if you’re flunking out of prep school, you’re probably not insane.

2001: A Space Iliad — The Hal 9000 computer wages an insane 10-year war against the Greeks after falling victim to the Y2K bug.

The others are very good, too (and they include some not on the list you sent me, Nick): follow the link above to see the rest.