So after bunny_hugger's talk came the long lunch break. Again lunch was served out in the open, on the quad, where it was pleasantly warm and didn't really get close to raining. bunny_hugger had the chance to walk me around some and show a bit of the campus that had gotten familiar to her, and spots like the convenience store (we didn't visit that day) or the public art or the cafeteria with the tangles of barbed wire lining the top of the building. It added this weird touch of prison life to an otherwise open and friendly campus; it suggested they've had problems with people hanging out where they shouldn't. (Or, given the history of student strikes and protest movements at the school, maybe this has been a good rallying point somehow.) I tried to figure out what was on display behind a door that was clearly some kind of museum and that seemed to have some kind of police endorsement behind it; I think bunny_hugger explained it was a women's studies museum. I think the police-endorsement vibe I got came from the references given in various posters about things done to women. Meanwhile bunny_hugger was busy meeting with her new fans.
The afternoon session that we went to was held in one of a couple of very law school classrooms. I mean, the morning session was in an ordinary classroom, the kind with individual seated desks a little too small to actually put your notebook on, and that trap a person with big legs like mine when he tries to sit down. The afternoon session was in a much higher-class place, one with wood paneling everywhere and lush chairs and that we took to be a courtroom replica. (Actually we went to two panels in different rooms, but they were both in the law school mock-court classrooms. We did worry that we were going to miss the start of the second, because while all the talks inside sessions are supposed to start and end at the same time this basically never happens.)
The second panel and the one that's most easy to get lay people interested in is about The Rabbits of Okunoshima. You know, that island in Japan that's overrun with rabbits. The speaker gave a bit of discussion about the history of the island --- it's apparently not even clear when the island came to be the rabbit refuge it is --- and about just how complicated it is having a feeling about this. I mean, everybody loves those videos about women being chased down by flocks of rampaging bunnies. Or standing still while dozens of rabbits of every kind converge, looking for food. The thing is, the rabbits are hungry. They've way overrun the available food and they charge after humans because they know this is their best chance to eat at all. Behind a fantastic moment of someone laying down and being covered with bunnies is rabbits who're starving to death.
Except that it's more complicated than that. The speaker was part of a research team trying to understand just what the rabbit population is like. It's grown, yes, dramatically. Very much in the last few years, as the rabbits became viral social-media darlings and tourists, and thus feeders, started bringing food. But the island had many rabbits before that and the population was roughly stable then. The rabbits who live closest to the hotel or other easily human-accessible ports have been trained very well to respond to human attention. The ones living in more remote places act more like wild rabbits do, more nearly normal. And apparently it's not clear that the rabbits on this island live shorter lives, or less healthy lives, than wild rabbits otherwise do. There's been a population explosion lately and that's dangerous stuff, but it's less clear that the rabbits are being specifically harmed by it.
And the rabbit island is this imagination-capturing, incredible experience. People want to go to a land that's an ocean of bunnies, none particularly afraid of people and many who want to come up and get attention or at least food. It seems like that's got to be good for rabbits, good for animals in general: an amazing experience like this ought to make people care more about the creatures of their experience. This is one of the four good reasons that zoos should be a good thing. But ... are they? How much of a difference does a day or a weekend on a bunny island actually make in a person's life? How does it change them, and for how long? This is also hard to say. It's not clear that zoos make much of a lasting difference, not in so many people. Does the bunny island?
I went in to the talk expecting the worst because I knew that the rabbits of that island were starving. And came out feeling much more ambiguous about it. When you look closely at how humans interact with animals it's usually hard to feel anything simply.
Trivia: Ms Pac-Man coder Doug Macrae named ``Sue'' for his sister. Source: The Ultimate History of Video Games, Steven L Kent. (Kent also quotes Macrae as saying that they had figured to name the game Pac-Woman until ``as we were getting ready to go into production, several females inside of Midway objected ... I never understood why''. This serves as a reminder that it is impossible for a tech guy to say ``female'' without sounding like he's Ferengi.)
Currently Reading: The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before The war, 1890 - 1914, Barbara W Tuchman.
PS: Can I Still Get A B In This Class? for some of that sweet repurposed content. Actually it's for the same purpose. But it's that time of year.
PPS: Some more of the formerly wet day at Cedar Point!
Sea serpent cast in glass in a display that cost several hundred dollars and that is now mercifully itself under glass. I had picked it up to examine the year before and been terrified by the price tag. Cool sea serpent, though.
Glass-blowing demonstration, by a company that runs classes out of southeastern Michigan but that's still a great place to stop and watch and realize you can feel the heat from the furnace even that far away.
Little wedge of glass being rolled into shape in front of the various colors available for glass these days.