What Is Your Cat Thinking?

Apr 24 2014 @ 8:00am

It’s hard to say:

Dogs have lived with us for as many as 30,000 years—20,000 years longer than cats. More than any 194other animal on the planet, dogs are tuned in to the “human radio frequency”—the broadcast of our feelings and desires. Indeed, we may be the only station dogs listen to.

Cats, on the other hand, can tune us in if they want to (that’s why they pass the pointing test as well as dogs), but they don’t hang on our every word like dogs do. They’re surfing other channels on the dial. And that’s ultimately what makes them so hard to study. Cats, as any owner knows, are highly intelligent beings. But to science, their minds may forever be a black box.

Still, there may be hope. As scientists begin to experiment with new ways to study animal intelligence—from eye-tracking technology to fMRI machines—they may yet find a way to peek inside the feline mind.

A reader calls the headline of this post “offensive and biologically wrong”:

A new sexuality is found in nature if it gets crunched down to chicks with dicks? Bullshit! The gynosome is an amazing discovery; it is not like anything else ever found. But to reduce it to human sexuality removes the wonder of the diversity on this earth.

She points us to Annalee Newitz, who asserts that “the gynosome isn’t a penis”:

As Jason Goldman explains in an article about the gynosome, this is a hitherto unknown form of sexual organ in the animal kingdom. When female members of the Brazilian bug species Neotrogla mate with males, they insert their gynosomes into the male’s sexual organ. Once inside the male’s body, the gynosome inflates and grows spines, then absorbs both sperm and nutrients from the male for several days.

I’m sorry, but does this sound like a penis to you? When was the last time you found a penis that grew spines, absorbed nutrients, remained erect for 75 hours, or allowed its owner to get pregnant? Pretty much the only thing this organ has in common with a penis is that it’s used to penetrate a partner during sex.

She scoffs, “when it comes to sex, humans are still hopelessly in thrall to our anthropomorphic urges – which is to say, our urge to see every animal’s behavior as a reflection of our own.” Ed Yong, on the other hand, defends the characterization:

As Diane Kelly, who studies penises, points out:

Read On

The Best Of The Dish Today

Apr 23 2014 @ 9:00pm

Never forget E.B. White!

Today, I argued that Obama was on the verge of another meep meep in foreign policy with Syria and Iran; that Rand Paul’s criticism of Reagan’s spending and deficits is a vital part of resuscitating conservatism; and that the Onion should have the last word on the circumcision debate. Plus: climate change’s threat to global security; and the power of psilocybin in tackling anxiety.

Some brief links on the Becker book. Ronan Farrow had a terrific interview with Becker today – tough but fair. Check it out. Lisa Keen has a superb takedown, as does Kevin Jennings. Petrelis piles on to HRC’s spin. I think it’s safe to say that there have been episodes of the 700 Cub that have gotten a better reception in the gay community.

You can leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish.

35 more of you became subscribers today. Join them here.

And see you in the morning.

A Two-Way Sleep

Apr 23 2014 @ 8:41pm

Holly Allen extols the virtues of sleeping in separate beds:

Sharing a bed is good for sleeping together, but not actually sleeping together. We all know the importance of sleep, so why then do we still choose to share our beds with the kickers, the snorers, and the human dish_twinbedsfurnaces that we love?

“Man since time immemorial has made preparation for sleep, either laying an animal pelt on the ground or using plant matter as some sort of mattress,” according to sleep expert Dr. Neil Stanley. “Originally we all slept together on the ground, mainly because we had nowhere else, but also for warmth and security.”

Warmth and security? We have flannel pajamas and deadbolts now.

There have been times throughout the history of slumber that couples did not share a bed. Ancient Romans retreated to their separate quarters in the evening. On The Dick Van Dyke Show, Laura and Rob Petrie turned in to their separate beds, and I bet they slept great.

(Image via Flickr user AZAdam)

Seeing Blue, Ctd

Apr 23 2014 @ 8:13pm

A reader offers some help to others:

I read your snippet on the effects of blue light with interest, as my partner has Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder. We have a whole system in place at the house for the timing of optimal lighting. This includes blue LEDs pointed at him during the day and software applications to reduce blue lights on all the media screens at night. F.lux reduces blue light in your computer/iDevice screen according to your time zone, while Twilight for Android does the same thing for your mobile. So when I’m reading the Dish late at night, I now don’t have to worry that it’s corrupting my circadian rhythm as well as my mind.

Happy Bard Day

Apr 23 2014 @ 7:52pm

Daniel Hannan notes the occasion:

Four-hundred-and-fifty years ago today, in a village in the West Midlands, the greatest imaginative intelligence evolved by our species was born. Lawrence Olivier called Shakespeare “the nearest thing in incarnation to the eye of God”. John Dryden wrote that, of all the poets, “he had the largest and most comprehensive soul”. Thomas Carlyle asserted, “I know not such a power of vision, such a faculty of thought, if we take all the characters of it, in any other man.” For Harold Bloom, “Bardolatry, the worship of Shakespeare, ought to be even more a secular religion than it already is. The plays remain the outward limit of human achievement: aesthetically, cognitively, in certain ways morally, even spiritually.”

Bob Duggan traces the spread of bardolatry:

Once the modern taste for the individual took hold … Shakespeare found a home beyond England’s shores. American colonists staged plays by Shakespeare as early as 1750. “There is hardly a pioneer’s hut that does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1835 in Democracy in America. From the very beginning of the American experiment in democracy, Shakespeare and his individualized characters inspired a government of, by, and for the people, to paraphrase the Gettysburg Address of that notorious Shakespeare lover Abraham Lincoln. As kings fell and democracies rose throughout Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, Shakespeare (often in vernacular translation) showed the way, sometimes in the form of music, as in Giuseppe Verdi’s operas Otello and Falstaff, which provided the popular soundtrack to the political movement by which modern Italy was born.

Noting that Virginia Woolf wrote “man has Shakespeare & women have not” in an early draft of To the Lighthouse, Stefanie Peters considers what the playwright’s works have meant for women:

Read On

Ancient Survivors

Apr 23 2014 @ 7:22pm

Popova gushes over Rachel Sussman’s The Oldest Living Things in the World, a book of photos and essays about organisms more than 2000 years old:

With an artist’s gift for “aesthetic force” and a scientist’s rigorous respect for truth, Sussman straddles a multitude of worlds as she travels across space and time to unearth Earth’s greatest stories of resilience, stories of tragedy and triumph, past and future, but above all stories that humble our human lives, which seem like the blink of a cosmic eye against the timescales of these ancient organisms — organisms that have unflinchingly witnessed all of our own tragedies and triumphs, our wars and our revolutions, our holocausts and our renaissances, and have remained anchored to existence more firmly than we can ever hope to be. And yet a great many of these species are on the verge of extinction, in no small part due to human activity, raising the question of how our seemingly ephemeral presence in the ecosystem can have such deep and long-term impact on organisms far older and far more naturally resilient than us. …

From a broken arm in remote Sri Lanka to a heart-wrenching breakup to a well-timed sip of whisky at polar explorer Shackleton’s grave, her personal stories imbue the universality of the deeper issues she explores with an inviting dose of humanity — a gentle reminder that life, for us as much as for those ancient organisms, is often about withstanding the uncontrollable, unpredictable, and unwelcome curveballs the universe throws our way, and that resilience comes from the dignity and humility of that withstanding.

The Dish has highlighted Sussman’s work over the years.

Face Of The Day

Apr 23 2014 @ 6:58pm

Prague Tribute To Kiev Maidan Dead

A girl embraces a cross at symbolical cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic on April 23, 2014. Activists placed 107 meter tall wooden crosses each carrying the name of a victim of Ukraine’s Maidan protests. By Matej Divizna/Getty Images.

A Pivotal Visit?

Apr 23 2014 @ 6:31pm

As Obama begins an East Asian tour, Keating asks whether the much-touted “pivot to Asia” is a real thing:

[T]here doesn’t seem to be much evidence that the administration is spending more of its energy on Asia, or less of it on the Middle East, than it did previously. As Gideon Rachman argues, the fact that the pivot hasn’t been much in evidence doesn’t mean that the idea wasn’t a sound one. The Pacific is an area of growing strategic and economic importance and the U.S. position still carries a significant amount of weight there.

But the fact is that more attention tends to be paid to the places where things are blowing up on a regular basis. Thankfully, despite tensions running high on the Korean peninsula and the East China Sea, Asia is not yet that place. But it means that the region is often going to be pushed to the back-burner when more obvious crises present themselves

Dan Blumenthal thinks the pivot was a bad idea from the get-go:

Yes, Asia is of emerging consequence in world affairs. All post-Cold War presidents have recognized this. And China has had the potential to pose the greatest challenge to the United States since it became the prime actor in world affairs. Without a doubt, Asia needs more U.S. attention and resources. But the United States is a global superpower with vital interests in several interlinked regions. There can be no Asia policy without a global strategy.

Read On

Quote For The Day

Apr 23 2014 @ 6:02pm

Fresh Colombian magic mushrooms legally on sale in Camden market London June 2005

“At the hospital they gave me Xanax for anxiety. Xanax doesn’t get rid of your anxiety. Xanax tells you not to feel it for awhile until it stops working and you take the next pill. The beauty of psilocybin is: it’s not medication. You’re not taking it and it solves your problem. You take it and you solve your problem yourself,” – a patient with acute anxiety, after treatment with the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms.”

Extensive Dish coverage of psilocybin here.

(Photo: Fresh Colombian magic mushrooms legally on sale in Camden market London June 2005 before such sales became a crime. By Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.)

Hold The Vodka

Apr 23 2014 @ 5:41pm

Russians are turning away from the bottle, at least relatively:

[When Dmitry] Medvedev handed the presidency back to Putin in 2012, his anti-alcohol campaign had quietly produced marked improvements in Russian health. Consumption of all types of alcohol had dropped from 18 liters per capita to 15. Suicides, homicides, and—most telling—alcohol-poisoning deaths occurred less frequently. In 2011, “only” 11,700 Russians died from alcohol poisoning, quite a drop from the average of 36,000 a year during Putin’s first eight years (2000–08) but still some 50 times higher than the rate in Europe and North America. The same year, combined life expectancy for men and women surpassed 70 years (64.3 for men, 76.1 for women) for the first time since 1986, during Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign.

Clapper’s Clampdown

Apr 23 2014 @ 5:14pm


Jack Shafer criticizes the gag order (seen above) that James Clapper recently placed on the entire intel community:

The nation’s top spy has prohibited all of his spies from talking with reporters about “intelligence-related information” unless officially authorized to speak. … Directive 119 increases the insularity of the national security state, making the public less safe, not more. Until this directive was issued, intelligence community employees could provide subtext and context for the stories produced by the national security press without breaking the law. Starting now, every news story about the national security establishment that rates disfavor with the national security establishment — no matter how innocuous — will rate a full-bore investigation of sources by authorities.

Tina Nguyen has more on how far the order extends:

Read On

Even Atheists Stereotype Atheists

Apr 23 2014 @ 4:44pm

Theo Hobsons wonders if atheists can offer a satisfying approach to ethics, arguing that “when God is rejected, the stakes are gulpingly high; the entire moral tradition of the West is put in question.” That dubious line of reasoning brings to mind a study Tom Jacobs recently flagged, which found that “the way Americans view non-believers remains extremely negative”:

After reading a description of someone committing an immoral act, participants in five experiments “readily and intuitively assumed that the person was an atheist,” University of Kentucky psychologist Will Gervais reports in the online journal PLoS One. “Even atheist participants judged immoral acts as more representative of atheists than of other groups.”

The findings suggest our instinctive belief that moral behavior is dependent upon God—as ethical arbiter and/or assigner of divine punishment—creates a belief system strong enough to override evidence to the contrary. It leads people many to look at non-believers and reflexively assume the worst.

Slate Wants You To Subscribe

Apr 23 2014 @ 4:00pm

My old friend and former colleague in the intern pit, Jake Weisberg, sent out an email the other day. He was pitching Slate‘s new subscription push: Slate+. But the reason the email caught my eye was the following paragraph:

We face one major impediment to future success: we’re too dependent on advertising. Don’t get me wrong — we love our sponsors. But we’ve long recognized that we’d be a healthier and more secure magazine if — like many of our favorite ancestors in the print world — we got a meaningful share of our revenue from readers as well as advertisers. The catch for Slate is that we don’t want to put up a paywall, which would shrink our big audience and make the site more of a hassle to access.

One other option would be a pay-meter, like the Dish’s, but they’re going the TPM route of a VIP membership of $50 a year or $5 a month, with some exclusive features for subscribers:

You’ll get Slate articles without pagination, Slate podcasts without ads, first-crack at tickets and discounts to our many live events, a special Members-only section of the site with extra content, privileged status for your comments, and more.

My own view is that pay-meters for repeat readers is a better way to do this. Yes, they do reduce traffic a bit. Our unique visitors now average around 800,000 a month compared with around a million with no meter. But we still have surges. Last October we were back up at 1.2 Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 12.52.37 PMmillion and in February, more than 2 million unique visitors. My take-away is that the immense benefits of close to 30,000 subscribers, and freedom from intense advertizing pressure, far outweigh any minor downsides in pageviews. But every site is different, and what works here may not work for Slate.

And Jake’s point about being too dependent on advertising is the critical one. Editors who only have to please advertisers will make different choices than those who have to please advertisers and subscribers. If you want to assign one reason for the scourge of sponsored content, it is that when you have no source of income except ads, the advertisers have you over a barrel. So what Jake is proposing – and what Josh at TPM has also done (yes, I know their backing of sponsored content messes things up) – is the only real way to get out of these woods.

I guess we’re in some competition. But I think the general benefits to online journalism of a more robust subscription model are enormous and vital. And the one thing you can actually do to stop the rot is to subscribe to the sites you love and believe in. So, if you haven’t already, subscribe to the Dish here, to TPM here, and to Slate here. It matters.

Kidnapped In Slovyansk

Apr 23 2014 @ 3:40pm

Pro-Russian forces in the eastern Ukrainian city have abducted American reporter Simon Ostrovsky (whose latest Vice dispatch from Slovyansk is above):

Ostrovsky, a veteran reporter for a number of outlets, had been filing regular video reports from the region for Vice, including the one above on Ukrainian forces’ botched attempts to retake Slovyansk, which was posted on Sunday. This just the latest is a series of attacks on the press by pro-Russian forces in the area, including the arrest of journalist and activist Irma Krat. [Ostrovsky's cameraman Frederick] Paxton himself was beaten by a pro-Russian crowd last week. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented multiple cases of journalists being “assaulted, detained, or obstructed from reporting” in Russian-controlled Crimea.

It seems the insurgents have no plans to release him anytime soon:

“He’s with us. He’s fine,” [the group's spokeswoman] Stella Khorosheva told The Associated Press, adding, “(We) need to be careful because this is not the first time we’re dealing with spies.” Khorosheva also told The Daily Beast that Ostrovsky is being held according to the “laws of war” because “he was not reporting in a correct way.”

Read On

John Cassidy worries that yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling in Schuette will have widespread consequences:

Without saying so explicitly, [the ruling] appeared to give its approval to ballot initiatives designed to roll back affirmative action in other areas as well, such as hiring employees, awarding contracts—and ending racial segregation. In effect—and, in the case of the Court’s conservatives, surely in intention, too—the justices on the majority suggested that if voters in individual states want to throw out laws designed to counter America’s long history of racial discrimination, that’s fine by them, and perfectly constitutional.

Bazelon is disturbed by what she sees as Roberts’ blindness to the enduring problem of racism in America:

I still think there is a difference between a local ordinance that bans busing or fair housing, which aim for equal treatment, and a ballot initiative that takes away a preference based on race. That’s how I made my peace with the outcome today. But I had my doubts when I got to a telling exchange between Roberts and Sotomayor. It’s over the basic underlying question that is nowhere resolved in this case: Whether affirmative action—or any awareness of race—is still needed or valid. …

Read On

Dirty Corn

Apr 23 2014 @ 3:02pm

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Corn stover, or the stuff left over when a corn crop is harvested, has become a popular source of biofuel, partly because it doesn’t affect the food supply the way that corn or sugar-based ethanol does. Unfortunately, this type of fuel may actually have a bigger carbon footprint than gasoline:

It used to be that the stalks, leaves, and detrital cobs would be left on fields to prevent soil erosion and to allow the next crop to feast on the organic goodness of its late brethren. Increasingly, though, these leftovers are being sent to cellulosic ethanol biorefineries. Millions of gallons of biofuels are expected to be produced from such waste this year — a figure could rise to more than 10 billion gallons in 2022 to satisfy federal requirements.

But a new study suggests this approach may be worse for the climate, at least in the short term, than drilling for oil and burning the refined gasoline. The benefits of cellulosic biofuel made from corn waste improve over the longer term, but the study, published online Sunday in Nature Climate Change, suggests that the fuel could never hit the benchmark set in the 2007 U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act, which requires that cellulosic ethanol be 60 percent better for the climate than traditional gasoline.

Michael Byrne explains what the problem is:

Read On

The View From Your Window

Apr 23 2014 @ 2:42pm

SF-1207pm

San Francisco, California, 12.07 pm

Chris Hayes compares the fight against fossil fuels to the abolitionist movement. He states plainly that “there is absolutely no conceivable moral comparison between the enslavement of Africans and African-Americans and the burning of carbon to power our devices.” But he sees economic parallels:

[I]n the decades before the Civil War, the economic value of slavery explodes. It becomes the central economic institution and source of wealth for a region experiencing a boom that succeeded in raising per capita income and concentrating wealth ever more tightly in the hands of the Southern planter class. During this same period, the rhetoric of the planter class evolves from an ambivalence about slavery to a full-throated, aggressive celebration of it. As slavery becomes more valuable, the slave states find ever more fulsome ways of praising, justifying and celebrating it. Slavery increasingly moves from an economic institution to a cultural one; it becomes a matter of identity, of symbolism—indeed, in the hands of the most monstrously adept apologists, a thing of beauty.

And yet, at the very same time, casting a shadow over it all is the growing power of the abolition movement in the North and the dawning awareness that any day might be slavery’s last. So that, on the eve of the war, slavery had never been more lucrative or more threatened. That also happens to be true of fossil fuel extraction today. …

[T]he parallel I want to highlight is between the opponents of slavery and the opponents of fossil fuels. Because the abolitionists were ultimately successful, it’s all too easy to lose sight of just how radical their demand was at the time: that some of the wealthiest people in the country would have to give up their wealth. That liquidation of private wealth is the only precedent for what today’s climate justice movement is rightly demanding: that trillions of dollars of fossil fuel stay in the ground. It is an audacious demand, and those making it should be clear-eyed about just what they’re asking. They should also recognize that, like the abolitionists of yore, their task may be as much instigation and disruption as it is persuasion.

He goes on to argue that avoiding “planetary disaster will mean forcing fossil fuel companies to give up at least $10 trillion in wealth.” Barro sees “reason for somewhat less despair than Mr. Hayes shows, because there are crucial political and economic differences between abolition and carbon limitations”:

Read On

A timely reminder of how old the struggle for marriage equality really is in the US:

And this is how revolutions begin:

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