Virginia Hughes looks at the science on why people have pets:

If pet-keeping were a purely (or even largely) biologically driven trait, it would be difficult to bowie-lapexplain why its popularity has spiked in the last 200 years, and particularly since World War II — a tiny blip on the timeline of human evolution. As a rough marker of this change [psychology professor Harold] Herzog turns to Google Ngram, a tool that tracks the frequency of words published in books. If you put the word “pet” into Google Ngram, you’ll see a sharp rise since about 1960.

Similarly, if pet-keeping were biological you’d expect all human cultures to do it. While it’s true that most human cultures have pets in their home, the way they interact with them is remarkably variable. Herzog cites a study published in 2011 comparing pet-keeping practices in 60 societies around the world. The study found a large variety of species of pets, including some that seem quite odd from a Western perspective: ostriches, tortoises, bears, bats. The most common pet species is the dog, but even then, people are very different in the way they keep dogs.

Of the 60 cultures surveyed, 53 have dogs, but only 22 consider dogs to be pets. Even then, pet dogs are usually used for specific purposes such as hunting or herding. Just seven cultures regularly feed their dogs and let them live inside the house, and only three cultures play with dogs. The study’s general conclusion, as Herzog puts it: “The affection and resources lavished upon pets in the United States and Europe today is a cultural anomaly.”

Meanwhile, Kaleigh Rogers flags research on the role of animals in helping humans overcome addiction:

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Illiberal Feminism Strikes Again

Nov 21 2014 @ 1:30pm

This is a truly clarifying argument:

The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups. Debating abortion as if it’s a topic to be mulled over and hypothesised on ignores the fact that this is not an abstract, academic issue. It may seem harmless for men like Stanley and O’Neil to debate how and if abortion hurts them; it’s clearly harder for people to see that their words and views might hurt women.

Access to abortion impacts the lives of women, trans and non-binary people every day, and the threat pro-life groups pose to our bodily autonomy is real, not rhetorical. If you don’t believe me, visit any abortion clinic and witness the sustained aggressions of pro-life pickets. In organizing against this event, I did not stifle free speech. As a student, I asserted that it would make me feel threatened in my own university; as a woman, I objected to men telling me what I should be allowed to do with my own body.

The context for this is the inability of a group called Oxford Students For Life to find a place on campus for a debate on abortion between two men. They were planning an event in Christ Church’s Junior Common Room, a typical place for a small-scale discussion. The group has had similar debates including women in the past. The pro-choice side was represented. But men, it seems, are not allowed to debate abortion at all, according to a fem-left group at my alma mater. Because: men. Even pro-choice men. In a country where pro-choicers greatly outnumber pro-lifers, and where the right to an abortion is deeply rooted in law. And their contempt for even the idea of free debate is palpable:

This Tuesday Oxford Students for Life are putting on a super cute debate with two cis guys on whether people with uteruses deserve to have any choice over their own bodies. We don’t think this is okay so (assuming the event is still going ahead) we thought we should go and say hi! … We are still hoping this gets shut down by the college (Christ Church).

The college canceled the debate in part due to concerns about “physical security” of the students – the danger that the college would be mobbed by protestors, making a debate impossible – and their “mental security” as well. What on earth does “mental security” mean? This apparently:

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What To Think Of Bill Cosby? Ctd

Nov 21 2014 @ 1:15pm

The latest damning evidence in the Cosby saga is this post-interview AP footage:

Amanda Hess blames the culture of entertainment journalism for allowing the allegations to go under the radar for so long, pointing to that AP interview as a prime example:

Entertainment journalists require access to rich, famous people, and rich, famous people require favorable press. How news organizations and celebrities negotiate that exchange depends on their relative status in the marketplace. When Cosby granted the AP interview at the beginning of the month, he believed that he was powerful enough to demand positive coverage, and ultimately, it appears the AP agreed.

But just ten days after the piece aired, Cosby’s stock had dropped considerably: In that time, Netflix, NBC, and TV Land had all cut ties, meaning that he had fewer friends, less influence, and very little leverage. As the power differential shifted, the AP’s complicity with Cosby in producing the art-related video and scuttling the rest began to pose a reputational risk to the news organization. (The AP notes in the new video that it decided to publish the additional footage in the new context of the “backdrop” of his shuttered business deals.) So: The AP rolled the tape of its interview touching on the rape allegations, and also included the tense off-the-cuff conversation that followed. The postscript contained the interview’s juiciest bits, but it also served as a sly explanation for why the AP failed to release the video earlier: The implication is that Cosby and his people intimidated the AP into silence.

But the video shows that the Associated Press reporter was not eager to approach the topic in the first place, and unwilling to justify his line of questioning when Cosby challenged him.

Bill Wyman also holds the media accountable:

The odd thing about Cosby’s downfall is that nothing had changed in the last decade; there was no suggestion that any of the events described by his new accusers had happened since the first allegations and an accompanying civil case, which was settled. The initial lack of followup by influential outlets created a sort of reverse pack mentality—a reinforcing silence. No one mentioned it, because no one else had.

This was helped along by the feel-good nature of much arts writing: If the point of the story is to promote a comedy appearance, or a new book or other product, a digression into allegations of drugging and sexual assault was buzzkill.

Others reflect on how one should approach Cosby’s work now that he’s widely seen as a rapist. Despite being “100 percent in favor of NBC yanking his sitcom,” Pilot Veruet laments TV Land’s removal of the show that made Cosby famous:

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Another Day, Another Mass Shooting

Nov 21 2014 @ 12:59pm

Myron May, the man who shot and wounded three people at the Florida State University library yesterday morning before police killed him, was mentally disturbed:

May’s Facebook page shows he posted mostly Bible verses and links to conspiracy theories about the government reading people’s minds. Records show May was licensed to practice law in Texas and New Mexico. According to a Las Cruces, New Mexico, police report last month, May was a subject of a harassment complaint after a former girlfriend called to report he came to her home uninvited and claimed police were bugging his house and car. Danielle Nixon told police May recently developed “a severe mental disorder.” “Myron began to ramble and handed her a piece to a car and asked her to keep it because this was a camera that police had put in his vehicle,” the report said. The report also said May recently quit his job and was on medication.

In the wake of this latest tragedy, Beth Elderkin wants to talk about how almost all such “active shooters” are male:

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A Democrat Finally Steps Up, Ctd

Nov 21 2014 @ 12:42pm

Joe Klein welcomes Jim Webb’s presidential run:

He will be a refreshing presence on the campaign trail. He doesn’t talk like a politician. He can be blunt and combative. He has taken strong populist economic stands and was a strong opponent of the war in Iraq. In fact, Webb goes in strong whenever he takes a stand. He’ll certainly be fun to watch during debates (he was a boxer at Annapolis).

You’d have to call him a longshot, of course. But I suspect he’ll be one of those long shots who have the power to shape a campaign with new ideas and sharp arguments. He will certainly cause Clinton some populist agita, should she run.

David Freedlander downplays Webb’s chances:

It has all the trappings of a campaign as vanity project, the type of presidential exploration designed not to excite convention delegates but to boost a candidate’s name ID before cable-TV bookers.

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The Dish Mug Is Here!

Nov 21 2014 @ 12:31pm


[Re-posted from yesterday]

A reader recently wrote:

I haven’t bought a t-shirt because that’s not so much my thing. I eagerly await a coffee mug though. A mug with a beagle on it would make my mornings brighter.

We looked and labored over a dozen different mug options and chose what we think is the perfect one:


This navy-colored coffee mug is very high quality, holds a generous 15oz, and, during our caffeine-addled test phase, it proved very durable. So the sturdy mug should last a long time in any Dishhead’s kitchen or office (and yes, it’s microwave and dishwasher safe – we tested that too). As a serious coffee-addict, I love it.

The Dish mug can be yours for $15 plus shipping and handling. Just click here and follow the simple prompts to order yours today. We only have a limited number of mugs for sale, so get yours before someone else does. And send us a photo when it arrives; you might see it on the blog.

Update from a reader:

Hubby has been told that it better be going in my stocking this year. Thank you!


Love them – will give as gifts! Hope you have the web address on there so friends who don’t know you will check out the Dish.

GOP Immigration

Noam Scheiber highly doubts it:

[T]he conservative message machine has gone on at length about the “constitutional crisis” the president is instigating. The right has compared Obama to a monarch (see here and here), a Latin American caudillo, even a conspirator against the Roman Republic. (Ever melodrama much?) The rhetoric gets a little thick. But if you boil it down, the critique is mostly about Obama’s usurpation of power and contempt for democratic norms, not the substance of his policy change. Some Republicans no doubt believe it.

And yet, try as they might to stick to the script, there’s something about dark-skinned foreigners that sends the conservative id into overdrive.

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Obama’s Legal Footing Is Firm

Nov 21 2014 @ 11:53am

That’s Walter Dellinger’s determination:

The idea that the immigration plan just announced by President Obama is a lawless power grab is absurd. As the Justice Department legal analysis that was just released amply demonstrates, much of the advance criticism of the president’s action has been uninformed and unwarranted. The opinion is well-reasoned and at times even conservative. The president is not acting unilaterally, but pursuant to his statutory authority. Wide discretion over deportation priorities has long been conferred on the executive branch by Congress, and it is being exercised in this case consistent with policies such as family unification that have been endorsed by Congress.

The piece is by far the best I’ve read on the subject, and calms my fears a lot. This is the best response to Ross’s point that if the president can do this for 4 million, why not every undocumented immigrant:

The lawyers here were cautious. They gave approval for deferred actions for parents of citizens and lawful permanent residents, finding that Congress had demonstrated support for permitting people who are lawfully in America to be united with their parents, spouses, and children. They did not, however, believe that they could approve a similar program for parents of those who are in the United States under the deferred action for childhood arrivals, or DACA, program. Because the Dreamers remain in the country based on discretion, not on the basis of a legal entitlement, OLC reasoned that without a family member with lawful status in the United States, there was not the same grounding in congressional policy to justify classwide relief.

But, again, the ability of the Obama administration to make its best case seems to be in doubt. They put out a long legal paper – but back it up with no aggressive messaging in the broader public square. That way, they win the argument but somehow lose the debate. Which is the story on the ACA as well. Here’s Dellinger’s strongest point, it seems to me, and one critical to understanding the debate about executive discretion:

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What Happens To The Iran Talks Now?

Nov 21 2014 @ 11:27am

Monday is the deadline for reaching a comprehensive agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program. Despite some hopeful signs in recent weeks, it is not likely to be met: not only have the negotiators failed to resolve some of the major sticking points in the talks, Senate Republicans once again made clear in a letter to Obama this week that they will kill any deal they don’t like—possibly meaning any deal at all—especially if the president attempts to circumvent Congress in enacting it. Acknowledging this reality, Fred Kaplan favors extending the talks for another interim period, given the grim alternative:

As Winston Churchill famously said, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war,” and the situation is no different here, as long as it’s clear we’re not being taken for a ride. As long as the interim accord isn’t altered, Iran will not easily be able to move closer to a nuclear bomb. And on a broader level, the United States and Iran have some common interests, not least in countering Islamist extremists in the Middle East (or at least Sunni extremists, such as al-Qaida and ISIS).

The P5+1 talks are the two countries’ only diplomatic forum; as long as it’s not a forum for deception, it’s a good idea, on many grounds, to keep them going.

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Republicans Take Obama To Court

Nov 21 2014 @ 11:08am

House Republicans just filed their lawsuit against Obama “over unilateral actions on the health care law that they say are abuses of the president’s executive authority.” Michael Lynch and Rachel Surminsky list reasons the lawsuit is likely to fail. Among them:

The courts have made it evident through precedent that they do not want to settle inter-branch disputes that can be remedied through legislative action. Congress has to establish that it cannot stop or remedy executive actions through legislation. Additionally, Congress must show it has made a previous attempt to address the executive action (see Goldwater v. Carter and Kucinich v. Obama). Evidence must be presented that any failures are not simply a result of an inability to overcome political opposition to potentially effective remedies.

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