Thursday Reads: Animal Psychology, Republican Race-Baiting, Obama’s Drone War, and MorePosted: September 27, 2012
Before I get to political news, here’s an interesting story that has nothing to do with the upcoming 2012 elections: Suicidal dogs and bipolar wolves. It’s an interview with Laurel Braitman, a PhD candidate at MIT and the author of an upcoming book, Animal Madness. As someone who strongly believes that animals have personalities and strong emotions, I’m looking forward to check out her book. Here’s just a bit of the interview, conducted by Malcolm Harris of New Inquiry Magazine.
MH: How did you get involved in writing about mental illness in other animals in particular?
LB: I was doing something completely different but I had gone to graduate school for history of science at MIT. I had originally gone there to do research on the aquarium fishery in the Amazon basin. But I had a dog at the time, my partner and I had adopted a Burnese Mountain Dog. And he was fine for the first six months and then he went spectacularly crazy. He developed a debilitating case of separation anxiety. If we left him alone he would destroy himself, the house, anything in the way. He nearly killed himself at least once. So I had to take him to the vet hospital after he jumped out of our 4th floor apartment, and they said I had to take him to a veterinary behaviorist who would give him a prescription for Prozac and Valium. I was stopped in my tracks. I had heard there were some animals taking these drugs, but I never thought of myself as the kind of person who would put an animal on Prozac. But I found myself in a desperate situation with a 120 pound dog and I tried all these things and they didn’t work, so I became that person that puts her dog on antidepressants. Prozac didn’t work for him really, but the Valium did, at least in the short term. And I began to get curious about how these drugs got into vet clinics in the first place and if there was something to this. Was my dog responding to these drugs in the some of the same ways that people do?
I ended up switching what I was studying because I couldn’t find anything written about the history of this. My PhD research is now the story of what the last 150 years have to tell us about mental illness in other animals. Can they be crazy? Who says they’re crazy? How did the industry around animal mental health come to be? And how do we make other animals feel better? That’s the question that interests me most. Once you notice that another animal is disturbed or anxious– what do we do then? I’ve spent the last few years traveling all over the world to talk to people who are making it their life’s work to help these animals – whether they are elephants or dogs or birds.
What a brilliant idea!
And now, once again we move from the sublime to the ridiculous–and offensive. The Romney campaign is up to it’s old dirty tricks, sending their meanest surrogates out to race bait again. First up, Newt Gingrich says Obama is “not a real president.”
“[Obama] really is like the substitute [National Football League] referees in the sense that he’s not a real president,” Gingrich told Greta Van Susteren on Fox News Tuesday night. “He doesn’t do anything that presidents do, he doesn’t worry about any of the things the presidents do, but he has the White House, he has enormous power, and he’ll go down in history as the president, and I suspect that he’s pretty contemptuous of the rest of us.”
Unbelievable! And there’s more:
“This is a man who in an age of false celebrity-hood is sort of the perfect president, because he’s a false president,” he said. “He’s a guy that doesn’t do the president’s job.” ….
“You have to wonder what he’s doing,” Gingrich continued. “I’m assuming that there’s some rhythm to Barack Obama that the rest of us don’t understand. Whether he needs large amounts of rest, whether he needs to go play basketball for a while or watch ESPN, I mean, I don’t quite know what his rhythm is, but this is a guy that is a brilliant performer as an orator, who may very well get reelected at the present date, and who, frankly, he happens to be a partial, part-time president.”
It kind of takes your breath away, doesn’t it? Next up, John Sununu: Obama Is “Absolutely Lazy And Detached From His Job”
“Look, let me tell you what the big problem with this president is in my opinion. He is absolutely lazy and detached from his job. When he doesn’t go and attended 60% of the detailed presidential daily briefings that come from the CIA and thinks he can just skim it, skim the summary paper on his iPad instead of sitting down and engaging in what — I was in the White House with George Herbert Walker Bush. He took that brief everyday. George W. Bush took it everyday and I believe that Bill Clinton took it everyday. This president thinks he’s smarter than those guys and he doesn’t have to engage in the discussion. That’s the most important half-hour of the day for a president who has to protect the security of the United States,” Romney surrogate John Sununu said on Hannity.
Watch the video at the link, if you can stand it.
JJ posted about how Romney unsuccessfully tried to get an audience to chant his name along with Ryan’s. Dopey Republican talk show host Joe Scarborough was driven to calling out for Jesus when he saw the video.
After Romney gave a shout out to his running mate, Paul Ryan, in Vandalia, Ohio on Tuesday, the crowd got excited and began chanting, “Ryan! Ryan!”
“Wait a second,” Romney said, reminding the crowd that he was at the top of the ticket.
“Romney-Ryan, Romney-Ryan,” the former governor instructed the crowd, although most of them ignored him. “There we go.”
After co-host Mika Brzezinski played the video on Wednesday, Scarborough could only put his hands over his eyes and utter, “Oh, sweet Jesus.” ….
“You know what? You don’t fix it…I say this about Mitt Romney, he’s a great man. He is. He’s a great father. He’s a great husband. He is a great business man, great turnaround guy. If I had a business anywhere in the world, I’d have him run it. He just — he’s a horrible politician. He’s one of the worst.”
Now a critique of President Obama. Conor Friedersdorf writes: Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama.
I don’t see how anyone who confronts Obama’s record with clear eyes can enthusiastically support him. I do understand how they might concluded that he is the lesser of two evils, and back him reluctantly, but I’d have thought more people on the left would regard a sustained assault on civil liberties and the ongoing, needless killing of innocent kids as deal-breakers.
Read the whole thing at the link. I know there are a number of people here at Sky Dancing Blog who feel the same way. The problem I have with the argument is that every president we’ve had in my lifetime–and even in my parents’ lifetimes has committed horrible foreign policy crimes. President after president has increased executive power in unacceptable ways. Romney would probably be worse in that way than Obama.
When I was Conor Friedersdorf’s age, I also refused to vote for either major party candidate–many times. Where did it get me? The other problem I have with Friedersdorf is that if he votes it will be for the Libertarian Party candidate.
There is a candidate on the ballot in at least 47 states, and probably in all 50, who regularly speaks out against that post-9/11 trend, and all the individual policies that compose it. His name is Gary Johnson, and he won’t win. I am supporting him because he ought to. Liberals and progressives care so little about having critiques of the aforementioned policies aired that vanishingly few will even urge that he be included in the upcoming presidential debates. If I vote, it will be for Johnson. What about the assertion that Romney will be even worse than Obama has been on these issues? It is quite possible, though not nearly as inevitable as Democrats seem to think. It isn’t as though they accurately predicted the abysmal behavior of Obama during his first term, after all. And how do you get worse than having set a precedent for the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens? By actually carrying out such a killing? Obama did that too. Would Romney? I honestly don’t know. I can imagine he’d kill more Americans without trial and in secret, or that he wouldn’t kill any. I can imagine that he’d kill more innocent Pakistani kids or fewer. His rhetoric suggests he would be worse. I agree with that. Then again, Romney revels in bellicosity; Obama soothes with rhetoric and kills people in secret.
To hell with them both.
I can’t disagree that Obama’s drone attacks are dreadful and shameful. Yesterday Raw Story highlighted a story on Obama’s drone wars from Democracy Now, Law professors: Drones have turned Pakistan into ‘war zone’
Stanford professor James Cavallaro and New York University professor Sarah Knuckey travelled to Pakistan to study the effects the drone strikes had on civilians.
“What we found, much to our surprise, was, first of all, that there is significant evidence of civilian casualties,” Knuckey said. “Most reliable evidence indicates between 400 and 800 civilian casualties since 2004. Second, that more than the deaths and injuries to civilians, there’s broad mental health impacts for people. They are unable to protect themselves from the drones, which fly 24 hours a day.”
I’m not sure why they were surprised.
Cavallaro added that the constant drone strikes had caused people in Pakistan to live in fear, causing significant societal and psychological effects. He said that people were afraid to congregate in groups or attend funerals, which are sometimes targeted.
“In short, there’s a breakdown in basic social engagement that we’ve documented, and what it adds up to is thousands of people living in a region where drones cause them to experience life as though they were in a war zone,” Cavallaro said. “And the last time I checked, the United States had not declared war on Pakistan.”
What can we do to stop this? Someone please spell out some specific methods that would work to change this dreadful policy. I spent years protesting the Vietnam War, and it still went on. We’ve had war after war since. Perhaps protests have had some effect in terms of calling attention to the horrible policies, but the wars always go on. The war in Afghanistan has lasted longer than Vietnam did.
The Washington Post has an article on “Why Europe is looking like a mess (again).” Dakinikat can judge whether it’s a good explanation or not. It makes sense to me.
What’s happening is as frustrating for Europe watchers as it was inevitable. For the nearly three years that the euro-zone crisis has been underway, a startlingly reliable pattern has set in. Whenever the European Central Bank steps up and deploys its bottomless ability to print euros to ease the panic on financial markets, everyone else steps down. The political leaders in financially troubled southern European nations see less urgency to the budget-cutting demanded of them by the ECB, the International Monetary Fund and other international creditors. Germany, Finland and other strong Northern European countries dig in their heels on what concessions they demand for aid.
Then the ECB steps back, lets market forces threaten to get out of control again (specifically, by letting bond yields rise) and forces the politicians to act in their common interest. Rinse and repeat.
Earlier this month, it seemed that the ECB had finally broken this routine. With tacit approval from powerful German political leaders (though not Germany’s central bank), ECB President Mario Draghi introduced a program to buy European nations’ debt on a potentially unlimited scale, but with major conditions. The most important at the moment is that a country must formally request the assistance and, in the process, agree to financial conditions from the international lenders.
I’ll end with this long read by the estimable Alec MacGillis at The New Republic: How Paul Ryan Convinced Washington of His Genius. It’s much too long for an excerpt to give a sense of the piece, but I’ll give you just a taste.
Ryan clearly surrounded himself with the right people, but he also benefited from a big structural change that was taking place on the Hill. In 1995, Gingrich slashed committee staffs, creating an opening for members of congressmen’s own offices to become more involved in policy-making than they previously would have been. Simply put, you didn’t have to know as much to be influential. Ryan spotted his opening. “It used to be a closed-down system where the committee had all the staff and expertise, and this shifted powers to the members more broadly,” said Matt Kibbe, who became friendly with Ryan while working on the staff of another House Republican.
The effects of the purge have lingered to this day, says Bruce Bartlett, a veteran of both the Reagan and first Bush administrations. After 1994, he explains, “the institutional knowledge about policy was gone, and it’s never been replaced. And as a consequence, it’s not that hard to do what Paul has done”—by which he means: build a reputation as a policy expert. The mystery is why others haven’t caught on. “I’ve never understood why other backbenchers don’t realize there’s an opportunity for anyone who becomes credibly knowledgeable about some issue that people care about,” he says.
So Ryan cleverly stepped into the vacuum and conned a lot of Congresspeople and media dopes.
Crucially, Ryan chose as his area of expertise the budget, an issue that was both broadly relevant to everything else going on in government and esoteric enough to scare off many others….
During the time when he was first studying the budget, Ryan was also firming up his ideological convictions….Ryan, according to Rob Wasinger, who was working under him at the time, was constantly citing a rather different writer. “I probably heard more about Ayn Rand than anything else in terms of his thinking on things,” Wasinger says. “It was basically a lot of references to Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.” Meanwhile, Ryan was spending more time with like-minded libertarians at conservative organizations, particularly the Cato Institute, hiring staffers from its ranks and bandying tax-cutting proposals back and forth.
It’s a fascinating article, and MacGillis is a terrific writer. I hope you check it out.
This post is waaaay too long–sorry about that. Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today.