As usual, U.S. and world news is mostly bad, so I thought I’d focus on some news emanating from escapist Hollywood. I do have a serious point to make later on.
The latest action movie hit is Luc Besson’s “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson as an ordinary woman who suddenly begins using the full capacity of her brain (this is based on the oft-repeated notion that humans only use 10% of their brains) after she accidentally absorbs some kind of super-drug that Korean drug lords have surgically implanted in her abdomen so they can use her as a drug mule. If that sounds like an idiotic premise, just wait till you either watch the movie or otherwise get the details of the so-called plot.
“Lucy” is the epitome of what’s known as a “high concept” film. The main character’s name is presumably drawn from the name that has been attached to a partial skeleton of a female Australopithecus Afarensis that was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974. “Lucy” could walk upright, but her small skull indicated she didn’t have much brain capacity; scientists argued from this that bipedalism led to larger human brains.
Thus, the Lucy of the film demonstrates the how humans could further evolve if they used the brain’s full potential, get it? The Wall Street Journal loved it; Here’s their review, ‘Lucy': A Diamond in the Action-Thriller Sky
The problem with the concept is that we humans are already using the full capacity of our brains, and the idea that we only use 10% is complete bullshit. Here’s a brief explanation from brain scientist David Eagleman at NPR: Sorry, Lucy: The Myth Of The Misused Brain Is 100 Percent False. But, like the GOP, Hollywood couldn’t care less about scientific facts.
In case you don’t mind a bunch of spoilers, here’s a hilarious review of the movie by Christopher Orr at The Atlantic: Lucy: The Dumbest Movie Ever Made About Brain Capacity. Here the introduction; you can click the link to read the rest.
Every now and then a movie comes along that’s so beyond-the-pale sloppy, so disastrous in both conceit and execution, that it simply defies conventional analysis. It happened with The Happening. There was something unspeakably wrong with The Words. And Broken City was utterly beyond repair.
So, too, with Lucy, writer/director/producer Luc Besson’s mind-bendingly miscalculated sci-fi vehicle for Scarlett Johansson. In its defense, I can offer only that Johansson is a moderately charismatic presence (despite playing a character who barely qualifies as a character) and that the film clocks in at a mercifully brief 89 minutes. That said, the sheer quantity of inanity that Besson squeezes into his limited screen time beggars that of awful movies of substantially greater length.
Consequently, what follows is not a review but a spoilereview. If you are genuinely considering watching Lucy—and I urgently recommend that you reconsider—you should stop reading now. If, by contrast, you plan to give the movie a pass and would like to have your good judgment ratified (or, alternatively, if you have stumbled out of the theater bewildered and seeking commiseration), read on. Because while Besson has made very, very bad films in the past—most recently, last year’s The Family—this is the first time he has made a film so idiotic that the only way to properly convey its flaws is to enumerate them.
Read on for a complete dissection of the movie’s plot. Whatever happened to intelligent films made for adults? Maybe it has something to do with the growing control of media by just a few giant corporations. And it’s going to get worse.
Did you know that Rupert Murdock is trying to buy Time-Warner? From The New York Times on July 17, A Potential Combination of Two of Hollywood’s Most Successful Studios.
LOS ANGELES — What for years has been a whisper in Hollywood — the possible consolidation of major studios in the face of tough industry economics — has become a starkly real option with the disclosure on Wednesday that Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox made an $80 billion bid to acquire Time Warner Inc.
In the bid, which Time Warner rejected, Mr. Murdoch is said to have made clear that his 20th Century Fox and Time Warner’s Warner Bros., two of Hollywood’s six major studios, would be managed jointly, but kept essentially separate.
But business history and market pressures in both the movie and television industries make it almost inevitable that studio overhead would be cut, back-office operations would be combined, and jobs would be eliminated if a merger happens.
“In size and structure, the studio of the 21st century still looks very similar, if not identical, to the studio of the 20th century,” said Marc Shmuger, a producer who was formerly co-chairman of Universal Pictures. “That has to change,” he added.
Murdoch is worried because Comcast is currently working on (and will likely succeed in) merging with Time-Warner Cable. Harvard professor of intellectual property Susan Crawford explains what’s going on:
Both sides of the negotiating table — programming and distribution — are already highly concentrated. In 1983, 50 companies ran 90 percent of American media; today, just five mega-entities control 90 percent of what we read, watch and listen to. Among the notable properties owned by Murdoch are Fox, as part of Twenty-First Century Fox, and the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, as part of the spun-off News Corp. Time Warner has CNN and HBO. Comcast Corp., now thoroughly vertically integrated, has NBCUniversal….
After the merger, Comcast will be available to 70 percent of American homes. Most of these will have no other choice for high-speed data distribution: anything over 10 Mbps download. That means the programmers — even though they’re giant companies with gigantic quantities of high-value video — won’t have competing distribution outlets to play against one another in negotiations. In order to reach most Americans, they’ll have to deal with Comcast. That means they have to make sure that Comcast needs them more than they need Comcast.
The merged Comcast-Time Warner Cable entity will control 20 of the top 25 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and a vast number of regional sports networks. (Sports is at the heart of this story; Murdoch knows he will need the heft to negotiate for sports rights that Comcast will need.) …. Because there will be so few alternative content buyers, and because Comcast’s control over its data flows is so absolute, if the programmer someday decides to go “over the top” — across the Internet, as Netflix has — its fate will be utterly dependent on Comcast’s good graces.
You’ll note that once Murdoch owns Time-Warner, he’ll be in control of HBO, one of the few remaining producers of quality video content. From Bloomberg Businessweek July 16:
No matter who winds up owning Time Warner (TWX)—Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox (FOXA), Disney (DIS), Amazon (AMZN), or even its current shareholders—it is clear that one of the shiniest jewels in the entertainment company is the 30-year-old cash-printing machine once known as Home Box Office.
A report in Bloomberg News, citing an unnamed source familiar with the bid, put the perceived value of HBO alone at $20 billion as part of Fox’s offer of $75 billion or more for Time Warner. “It’s really now HBO that’s the driver, and I think that’s the Holy Grail that Rupert had his eye on,” Porter Bibb, managing partner at Mediatech Capital Partners, said in a radio interview on Bloomberg Surveillance. “It’s a huge money maker with a huge potential. And probably the only Netflix killer that’s in the world right now.” ….
…virtually no other enterprise in Hollywood has been able to crack the code of critical and financial success with the same consistency as HBO, the most-cited darling of those who praise today as television’s golden age. The network’s recent hit, True Detective, pulled in almost 12 million viewers per episode, a feat never before accomplished in its first season by an HBO series. And the ongoing Game of Thrones series, which recently concluded its fourth season, has drawn audiences of 17 million in what has become the biggest show for the network since The Sopranos.
I guess we can kiss all that goodbye once either Murdoch or Comcast buys Time-Warner. Because it’s not about producing a quality product; it’s about making money by appealing to the lowest common denominator. Here’s a deeply disturbing NYT report on what’s going on and what we can expect in the future: When Media Mergers Limit More Than Competition, and a quick digest version from the Sky Valley Chronicle:
By 2012, just six companies — including Fox (then part of News Corporation) and Time Warner — controlled that 90 percent, according to testimony before the House Judiciary Committee examining Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal.
So what does a merger between 21st Century Fox and Time Warner mean for consumers of media in this country?
~ “The situation is already terrible and this would make it worse,” according to Susan Crawford, a visiting professor in intellectual property at Harvard Law School. Coupled with giant cable and Internet distributors, like Comcast and AT&T, “you’ve got two highly concentrated markets that need each other to survive and protect their profits,” Professor Crawford said. “The public interest side of this conversation is hopelessly outgunned.”
~ Such a merger would reduce control of the major Hollywood studios to five owners, from six, and major television producers to four, from five.
~ Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black once wrote in a 1945 antitrust case, “The widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.”
~ Regarding the proposed 21st Century Fox and Time Warner merger, “These so-called horizontal mergers always reduce competition, the only issue being whether it’s enough to warrant blocking the merger or imposing conditions on it,” according to the report.
~ “When you’re dealing with media, you’ve got to look more carefully at the impact than with other commodities,” said Allen P. Grunes, an antitrust lawyer at the firm GeyerGorey, and an author, with Maurice E. Stucke, of “Antitrust and the Marketplace of Ideas.” “It has an impact on democracy and what the public discourse is.”
Here’s a graphic depiction of the situation:
We’ve seen what happened to journalism after media consolidation; now we’re learning what happens when the people who control the news also control the entertainment industry. We end up with endless reality TV shows and mindless high-concept movies. Then what?
So . . . that’s what’s on my mind today. What’s on yours? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread.
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting really sick of bad news. I’ve completely stopped watching TV and listening to radio news, because I just can’t take any more details of wars, plane crashes, dead children. If it weren’t for writing these morning posts, I wouldn’t have a clue what’s happening. I get all my news from Google, Twitter, and various blogs, including Sky Dancing. So I’m going to quickly link to the major stories topping Google this morning, and then I’ll post some interesting longer reads that I came across around the ‘net.
There’s a 12-hour cease fire in Gaza right now. BBC News has extensive coverage, Gaza conflict: 12-hour truce as deaths top 900.
Residents in Gaza are using a 12-hour humanitarian truce to return to their homes, gather essential supplies and search for those trapped in the rubble.
At least 85 bodies have been pulled from the rubble during the truce, a Palestinian health official says.
That raises the Palestinian death toll to 985 since the Israel-Hamas conflict began on 8 July, the spokesman said. Thirty-nine Israelis have died.
International talks on a longer truce have resumed in Paris.
Israel said it would continue to “locate and neutralise” Hamas tunnels during the pause, which began at 08:00 local time (05:00 GMT).
So far 31 tunnels have been discovered, with about half destroyed, Israeli’s military says.
Lots of details and photos at the BBC link.
From AP via The Boston Globe, Gaza Sides Agree to Lull But Truce Efforts Stall.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel-Hamas fighting looked headed for escalation after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry failed Friday to broker a weeklong truce as a first step toward a broader deal and Israel’s defense minister warned Israel might soon expand its Gaza ground operation ‘‘significantly.’’
Hours after the U.S.-led efforts stalled, the two sides agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire to begin Saturday. However, the temporary lull was unlikely to change the trajectory of the current hostilities amid ominous signs that the Gaza war is spilling over into the West Bank.
In a ‘‘Day of Rage,’’ Palestinians across the territory, which had been relatively calm for years, staged protests against Israel’s Gaza operation and the rising casualty toll there. In the West Bank, at least six Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, hospital officials said.
The latest diplomatic setbacks, after several days of high-level diplomacy in the region, signaled that both sides are digging in and that the fighting in Gaza is likely to drag on.
An op-ed from Al Jazeera, Israel’s war of disproportionate force on Gaza, by Britain Eaken.
The recent killing of four Palestinian children by an Israeli airstrike while they played soccer on a beach in Gaza should call into question Israel’s claim that it’s waging a war of self-defense. Western journalists who saw the attack witnessed firsthand an ugly reality of life in Gaza — Palestinian civilians are too often caught in the crossfire in this tiny, densely populated and besieged coastal strip.
Early Sunday, an Israeli incursion into the Shujayea neighborhood in Gaza killed at least 60 more Palestinians. Most of the injuries being treated at Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital belong to civilians suffering from shrapnel injuries and amputations. More than 100 children have been killed so far and the Palestinian death toll just surpassed 400 with more than 3000 injured.
The UN says more than 70 percent of Palestinian casualties are civilians, a marked increase from previous Israeli assaults.
The toll on civilians has raised United Nations’ concerns of the Israeli use of disproportionate force in Gaza in violation of international humanitarian law. But the use of disproportionate force and the targeting of civilian infrastructure isn’t a new or surprising tactic for Israel. In fact, it’s a primary strategy according to Gabi Siboni, head of the Military and Strategic Affairs program at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel. This strategy has a well-documented history in Gaza.
I have no words.
Yes, there’s still fighting in Libya, and the violence is getting so bad than the U.S. has closed and evacuated its embassy there. NPR reports: U.S. Embassy Compound In Libya Shut Down Amid Fighting.
The U.S. has closed its embassy in Libya and evacuated diplomats amid what is being described as a significant deterioration in security, with rival militant factions battling in the capital, Tripoli.
“Due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, we have temporarily relocated all of our personnel out of Libya,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
“Securing our facilities and ensuring the safety of our personnel are top department priorities, and we did not make this decision lightly,” Harf said. “Security has to come first. Regrettably, we had to take this step because the location of our embassy is in very close proximity to intense fighting and ongoing violence between armed Libyan factions.”
In a separate statement, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said: “[All] embassy personnel were relocated, including Marine security guards who were providing security at the embassy during the movement.”
AP via ABC News: US Evacuates Embassy in Libya Amid Clashes.
The United States shut down its embassy in Libya on Saturday and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort amid a significant deterioration in security in Tripoli as fighting intensified between rival militias, the State Department said….
The evacuation was accompanied by the release of a new State Department travel warning for Libya urging Americans not to go to the country and recommending that those already there leave immediately. “The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security,” it said. “Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.” ….
“We are committed to supporting the Libyan people during this challenging time, and are currently exploring options for a permanent return to Tripoli as soon as the security situation on the ground improves. In the interim, staff will operate from Washington and other posts in the region,” Harf said. The evacuated staffers will continue to work on Libya issues in Tunis, elsewhere in North Africa and Washington.
Ukraine is still roiling, but it seems to have receded into the background for the moment. Here are a few headlines just to keep you current.
From the WaPo editorial board: If the West doesn’t do more for Ukraine now, it might soon be too late.
From the Are You Kidding Me? File
From the LA Times: White House aide says Republicans might impeach Obama over immigration.
Pesident Obama will propose broad-ranging executive action on immigration reform later this summer that could provoke Republicans into trying to impeach him, a senior White House official said Friday.
While details of the immigration plan are still being worked on, it will mark “an important step in the arc of the presidency” that will shape both the substance and politics of immigration policy for years, White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
That move is certain to “increase the angry reaction from Republicans” who already accuse Obama of exceeding his executive authority, Pfeiffer said, highlighting recent statements by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in which she backed an impeachment move.
“I would not discount the possibility” that Republicans would seek to impeach Obama, he said, adding that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has “opened the door to impeachment” by his plans to sue Obama for allegedly exceeding his executive authority.
Is this just an effort by the White House to put the impeachment question out there so Americans can let the GOP what they think about it? The Hill reports: White House taking impeachment seriously.
Senior White House advisers are taking very seriously the possibility that Republicans in Congress will try to impeach President Obama, especially if he takes executive action to slow deportations.
Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Obama, said Friday that the White House is taking the prospect of impeachment in the GOP-controlled House more seriously than many others in Washington, who see it as unlikely.
Pfeiffer noted that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has a large following among Tea Party conservatives, has called for Obama’s impeachment and a large block of the GOP’s base favors it.
“I saw a poll today that had a huge portion of the Republican Party base saying they supported impeaching the president. A lot of people in this town laugh that off. I would not discount that possibility,” he told reporters Friday at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.
Pfeiffer said Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) decision to file a lawsuit against Obama over his use of executive actions increased the chance of impeachment proceedings in the future.
A little reality testing from Sean Sullivan at the WaPo: These two numbers show why impeachment talk is trouble for the GOP.
By about 2-1, Americans say they don’t think President Obama should be impeached and removed from office, according to a new CNN/ORC International poll released Friday.
But a majority of Republicans disagree.
That, in a nutshell, is why talk about impeaching the president is nothing but trouble for the GOP heading toward the November midterms.
Sixty-five percent of Americans say Obama should not be impeached, compared to just 33 percent who say he should. Very one-sided. It’s clear that impeachment is a political loser when it comes to the public as a whole.
The “public as a whole” numbers matter because with most of the consequential primaries behind us, Republican candidates in key Senate races — the battle for the Senate is the main midterm event — have to be concerned about playing to broad statewide audiences.
Some (mostly) longer reads
These aren’t all that cheery either, but they are interesting.
This one from the NYT Sunday Magazine is for Dakinikat: Why Do Americans Stink at Math?
Why do people leave their kids in hot cars? How can you forget you’ve got your kid with you? I just don’t get it, and it makes me furious! There’s a long article about these cases at NBC News, Fatal Mistake: What Everyone Should Know About Hot Car Deaths, by Alex Johnson.
This NYT op-ed isn’t a long read, but it’s a useful one: Why the Border Crisis Is a Myth, by Veronica Escobar.
Remember all that talk about how there was going to be some kind of horrible disaster in 2012? Well it turns out that something awful almost happened. From NASA Science News, Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012. If you don’t want to wade through the whole article, The Boston Globe has a shorter summary, Apparently Earth ‘Just Missed’ a Solar Superstorm in 2012.
Finally, something entertaining and not depressing, This Is What Happens When You Ask Contemporary Artists To Reimagine Maps Of The World. Check it out!
What stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread.
Another missing plane story tops the news right now. This time it’s an Algerian that has disappeared in Mali. According to the Wall Street Journal: Air Algérie Flight Reported Missing With 116 on Board.
Air Algérie lost contact with Flight 5017 after takeoff from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, as the jetliner headed to Algiers with 116 people on board, Algeria’s state news agency and the plane’s operator said Thursday.
French Secretary of Transport Frédéric Cuvillier told reporters the plane disappeared over Northern Mali, where Islamist militants are fighting the Malian government and French forces. Numerous French nationals were probably aboard the missing plane, Mr. Cuvillier said.
Contact with the Boeing Co. BA -0.95%MD-83, carrying 110 passengers and six crew members, was lost at about 1:55 a.m. local time, 50 minutes after the jet had taken off, the Algerian government’s official news agency said in a statement. “Air Algérie launched [an] emergency plan,” the agency added. It gave no other details.
An official at the directorate of Ouagadougou Airport said there had been an incident, “but for the moment we don’t know anything more.” He refused to give his name because he wasn’t authorized to speak to reporters.
Was this plane shot down like Malasian Airlines Flight MH17 in Ukraine?
The flight path of the missing Algerian jet isn’t yet clear but the FAA has warned airlines to be extra vigilant when flying over Mali.
There is no indication the jet was shot down and no confirmation of a crash.
Still, amid questions by airline executives and regulators over whether MH17 should have been flying over eastern Ukraine, the Air Algérie jet’s flight path will be closely scrutinized.
The FAA has banned U.S. carriers of flying over Mali at lower altitudes. The FAA cited “insurgent activity,” including the threat of antiaircraft missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and rockets. Apart from worries about insurgent threats in Mali, the Algerian government has been keeping a close watch on airspace on its eastern border, where violence in Libya has led to flight bans there.
The missing plane was owned by Swiftair, a Spanish charter company. NBC News reports: Air Algerie Jet Chartered by Spain’s Swiftair Vanishes in Africa.
Air Algerie Flight AH5017 vanished about 50 minutes after it left Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, according to the Algerian Press Service. The jet took off at 1:17 a.m. local time (9:17 p.m. ET on Wednesday) bound for Algiers, Algeria.In a statement, Madrid-based Swiftair confirmed it had chartered the missing McDonnell Douglas MD-83. Swiftair said 110 passengers and six crew were aboard the jet. It had been due to land in the Algerian capital at 5:10 a.m. local time (12:10 a.m. ET). The flight was missing for hours before the news was made public….Issa Saly Maiga, the head of Mali’s National Civil Aviation Agency, told Reuters that a search was under way for the missing flight. “We do not know if the plane is Malian territory,” he added. “Aviation authorities are mobilised in all the countries concerned – Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Algeria and even Spain.”
Updates on Malaysian Airlines MH17
“We thought we were going to fight but instead we found dead civilians”“We thought we would have to fight baled out Ukrainian pilots but instead we found dead civilians. All those poor people with baggage that certainly wasn’t military”. We spoke to a militiaman from the Oplot (stronghold) combat unit at midday yesterday on the concrete platforms of Torez railway station. He was standing beside five rail wagons – four refrigerated and the fifth with the refrigeration unit’s diesel geneerators – containing the human remains collected among the sunflower fields in pro-Russian separatist-held Ukraine. His words are revealing because he spoke them quite naturally, without reflecting, after telling us about the international representatives’ recently completed inspection of the bodies and his unit’s orders to stand guard over the wagons. In its innocence and simplicity, the story is significant. In fact, it could provide new evidence for those who blame the pro-Russians for mistakenly launching the fatal missile under the impression that their target was a Ukrainian military aircraft.
A top rebel commander in eastern Ukraine has reportedly said that the armed separatist movement had control of a Buk missile system, which Kiev and western countries say was used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane last week.
Alexander Khodakovsky, who leads the Vostok battalion – one of the main rebel formations – said the rebels may have received the Buk from Russia, in the first such admission by a senior separatist.
“That Buk I know about. I heard about it. I think they sent it back. Because I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this tragedy had taken place. They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence,” Khodakovsky told Reuters.
Russian news agencies later said people close to Khodakovsky denied he made the admissions. Khodakovsky himself told Life News, a Russian news agency with links to Moscow’s security services, that he was misquoted and had merely discussed “possible versions” with Reuters. Khodakovsky said the rebels “do not have and have never had” a Buk.
As two further Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down, apparently by missiles fired from within Russia, Khodakovsky appeared to imply that MH17 was indeed downed by a missile from the Buk, assuming the interview with Reuters is confirmed. He blamed Ukrainian authorities, however, for allowing civilian jets to fly over its airspace when the rebels had such capabilities.
Mr Borodai admitted that the rebels had received support from “the whole Russian people” in their fight against the Ukrainian government.
“Volunteers are joining us,” he told the Newsnight programme, describing himself as one of them – “a resident of the city of Moscow”.
“It just so happened that, instead of sitting in a trench with a rifle or a machine gun, I now have the post of prime minister. Well… that’s fate.”
He denied that he was a member of a Russian intelligence agency, as has often been alleged.
However, he admitted to having contact with other members of the secret services in Russia – as, he said, would anyone “who has dealings with the elite of society”.
On the treatment of the bodies,
“We wanted to collect the bodies from the very beginning,” said Mr Borodai.
“But we were under extreme pressure from the OSCE representative, who said to us: ‘I represent 57 countries. Don’t you dare touch the bodies of the dead. Under no circumstances. Or else all the 57 countries of the OSCE will do this and that to you.'”
“So we wait a day. We wait a second day. A third day. Come on! Not a single expert…. Well, to leave the bodies there any longer, in 30C heat, it’s absurd. It’s simply inhuman. It’s a scene from a horror movie.”
However, an OSCE spokesman told the BBC that the organisation had not warned the rebels against moving the bodies.
More obfuscation at the link. Thank goodness the bodies are now being returned to the Netherlands.
Do Dogs Experience Emotions?
There’s a story in The New York Times about research on dogs and emotions with a somewhat cutsie headline and introduction, Inside Man’s Best Friend, Study Says, May Lurk a Green-Eyed Monster. Do dogs experience jealousy?
The answer, according to Christine Harris, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, is that if you are petting another dog, Roscoe is going to show something that Dr. Harris thinks is a form of jealousy, even if not as complex and twisted as the adult human form.
Other scientists agree there is something going on, but not all are convinced it is jealousy. And Roscoe and the rest of his tribe were, without exception, unavailable for comment.
Dr. Harris had been studying human jealousy for years when she took this question on, inspired partly by the antics of her parents’ Border collies. When she petted them, “one would take his head and knock the other’s head away,” she said. It certainly looked like jealousy.
But having studied humans, she was aware of different schools of thought about jealousy. Some scientists argue that jealousy requires complex thinking about self and others, which seems beyond dogs’ abilities. Others think that although our descriptions of jealousy are complex, the emotion itself may not be that complex.
Read more, including reactions from other scientists at the NYT.
Another researcher, Greg Berns of Emory University, has been examining the question of how dogs think and how they relate to humans.
“The more I study dogs and the more I study their brains, the more similarities I see to human brains,” Berns told WGCL-TV. “They are intelligent, they are emotional, and they’ve been ignored in terms of research and understanding how they think. So, we are all interested in trying to develop ways to understand how their minds work.”
Dr. Berns uses an MRI to test a dog’s brain.
“So, we’ve done experiments where we present odors to the dogs and these are things like the scent of other people in their house, the scent of other dogs in the house, as well as strange people and strange dogs,” Berns said. “And so what we found in that experiment is that the dogs reward processing center, so basically the part of the brain that is kind of the positive anticipation of things responds particularly strongly to the scent of their human.” ….
“Currently, we are trying to understand what dogs perceive about the world,” Berns said. “You know, what do they see when they see humans, dogs, other animals, cars, etc. so the idea is, at least in humans and even in certain chimpanzees and monkeys, there are parts of the brain specialized for visual processing of all of these things and so what we are trying to determine is whether a dog has that same kind of specialization.
Here’s Dr. Berns’ home page. He has written a book called How Dogs Love Us.
Anyone who has ever spent time with dogs (or cats for that matter) knows that pets express emotions through body language, facial expressions, and vocalizations; it’s nice to see there are some serious researchers trying to understand their emotions and thinking processes.
A couple more interesting reads . . .
At Talk to Action, the first two-parts of a three-part article on the influence of fundamentalist Catholocism on the Supreme Court by Frank Coccozelli: An Opus Focus on SCOTUS? A brief excerpt:
Beyond the creeping erosion of Roe, there is the disturbing reliance upon traditionalist Catholic teaching on grey area issues, such as a pregnancy endangering the life of the mother. As Justice Ginsburg noted in here dissent:
Today’s decision is alarming. It refuses to take Casey and Stenberg seriously. It tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). It blurs the line, firmly drawn in Casey, between previability and postviability abortions. And, for the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception safeguarding a woman’s health.
Where does this leave a Jewish woman whose life is endangered by a pregnancy? By the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Carhart, the Jewish teaching of saving the mother’s life in such circumstances is not respected. Vatican teaching is completely different. Instead it prohibits any abortion procedure that would be required not only if the choice is between the life of the mother and the fetus, but also where if no procedure is performed, a stillborn would result. That is an extreme teaching that many mainstream Catholics reject outright.
At Pando, Yasha Levine has a fascinating story about the bizarre and twisted interactions between the encryption service TOR and its most prominent employee Jacob Applebaum, the Department of Defense, the CIA, Edward Snowden, and Glenn Greenwald, Hall of Mirrors: Wikileaks volunteer helped build Tor, was funded by the Pentagon. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the Snowden story. Also check out Levine’s earlier article, Almost everyone involved in developing Tor was (or is) funded by the US government.
Also for Snowden junkies, Michael Kelley at Business Insider writes about “An 11-Day Hole In Snowden’s Story About Hong Kong.”
Why doesn’t the mainstream media ask any serious questions about Snowden and his closest supporters?
Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today?
Ugh. I overslept again, and this post will go up a bit late. As I get older, it takes me longer to get rested and reoriented after taking a long trip. Even with almost daily naps, I’m still sleeping longer at night. Normally, I do well with about 7 hours sleep a night. I hope I get back to that routine soon!
Once again, there isn’t a lot of news except for the crises in Gaza and Ukraine. I’ll update you on those and then see if I can find a few other interesting reads.
Here’s the latest on Gaza from Reuters, Israel pounds Gaza despite international peace efforts.
(Reuters) – Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and U.N. diplomats pursued talks on halting fighting that has claimed more than 500 lives.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in neighboringEgypt, while U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Israel later in the day. Both have voiced alarm at mounting civilian casualties.
However, there was no let-up in the fighting around Gaza, with plumes of black smoke spiraling into the sky, and Israeli shells raining down on the coastal Palestinian enclave.
Hamas, the dominant group in the Gaza Strip, and its allies fired more rockets into Israel, triggering sirens in Tel Aviv. One hit a town on the fringes of Ben-Gurion International Airport, lightly injuring two people, officials said.
Israel launched its offensive on July 8 to halt missile salvoes out of Gaza by Hamas, which was angered by a crackdown on its supporters in the occupied West Bank and suffering economic hardship because of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.
“A ceasefire is not near,” said Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, viewed as the most dovish member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner security cabinet.
“I see no light at the end of the tunnel,” she told Israel’s Army Radio.
Also posted just a short time ago at USA Today, Gaza resident: We’re being ‘collectively punished’.
GAZA CITY — As Israeli forces continued their air, land and sea offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, hitting about 70 targets including five mosques, outrage among Palestinians caught in the crossfire grows with the mounting death toll.
More than 583 Palestinians have died and more than 3,300 people [have been] injured in the offensive, The Palestinian Health Ministry said.
The two-week carnage has led many Palestinians to express their support for Hamas, the terrorist-cum-political group that Israeli forces have been targeting since July 8 in retaliation for ongoing rocket attacks against Israel.
“We faced two Israeli wars before but this one is the most bloodiest and most cruel,” said Abu Awni, 38, of Gaza City. “Civilians are attacked in their homes. I’m against Hamas, but when Israel is killing my family, then I will join Hamas.”
“The world must wake up and stop consuming Israeli propaganda,” he added. “More than half of the population in Gaza is not affiliated with Hamas. But we have been collectively punished.”
Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Quidra said the casualties were the same as a full-fledged war. “Bodies torn to pieces. Severe burns. We even found some chips of missiles in the bodies of victims,” he said.
This video from CNN is incredible. Wolf Blitzer asks a Gaza resident why he doesn’t just leave if things are so bad? The man responds, “Where can I flee?” and then continues with a barage of sarcasm, while Blitzer listens stone-faced.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyau continues to assert that the deaths in Gaza are caused by Hamas using residents as “human shields.” Israel has asked these people to leave urban areas, he says, but they just won’t leave. He doesn’t say where they are supposed to go.
I’ve posted a few of David Harris-Gershon’s blog posts from Tikkun. Gershon has strongly support Israel for his entire life, but he recently reached a breaking point. Here’s his latest, Not in My Name, Netanyahu.
As I write these words, my hands tremble from the unspeakable images and stories I’ve witnessed in Gaza. They tremble with worry that those young Israeli soldiers losing their lives, casualties in a war they did not create, will be among those families I know, and that their numbers will grow.
My hands also tremble because, during all this, Israel’s leader – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – has repeatedlyclaimed to represent me, and all Jews, as Israel continues its brutal assault on Gaza, an assault which, as historyshows, will neither achieve its strategic goals nor reap anything but heartache.
No, he does not speak for me.
When Netanyahu said on CNN that Palestinians benefit from “telegenically dead” civilians killed by Israel, that images of carnage helped Hamas because journalists would then ask about Israel’s actions, he did not speak for me.
When he said that Palestinians “don’t give any thought” about their children or their welfare, and that Palestinians use their children as though they are inanimate objects, he did not speak for me.
Read the rest at the link. It’s not long.
Ukraine and the Downed Malaysian Airlines Plane
Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) — As bodies from Thursday’s air disaster reached a facility Tuesday in Kharkiv, Ukraine, the Ukrainian government ratcheted up its accusations against Moscow, saying a Russian officer shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
Vitaly Nayda, Ukraine’s director of informational security, made the accusation in an interview with CNN. The person was “absolutely” a Russian, he said. “A Russian-trained, well-equipped, well-educated officer … pushed that button deliberately.”
Ukrainian intelligence backs up the assertion, Nayda said.
Moscow has denied claims that it pulled the trigger. And Russian Army Lt. Gen. Andrei Kartapolov suggested a Ukrainian jet fighter may have shot the plane down….
Nayda, speaking to CNN on Tuesday, referred to audio recordings captured by Ukrainian intelligence. “We taped conversations” between a Russian officer and his office in Moscow, Nayda said. “We know for sure that several minutes before the missile was launched, there was a report” to a Russian officer that the plane was coming, Nayda said.
From Reuters: Train with MH17 bodies on final journey reaches Ukraine base.
Five refrigerated wagons containing 200 body bags arrived in the city of Kharkiv after pro-Russian separatists agreed to hand over the plane’s black boxes to Malaysian authorities and the bodies to the Netherlands, where many victims had lived.
The train slowly rolled into the grounds of an arms industry plant, where the remains are due to be unloaded and flown to the Netherlands. A spokesowman for a Dutch team of forensic experts in Kharkiv said this was not expected before Wednesday….
Western governments, including European Union ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday, have threatened Russia with broader sanctions for what they say is its backing of the militia although they are struggling to agree a response.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would urge the separatists to allow a full investigation. The Netherlands said it would lead the investigation while Malaysia said it would look after the plane’s black boxes until a team was set up.
The New York Times reported on Russia’s Message on Jet: Conciliation and Bluster.
MOSCOW — Russia presented a combination of conciliation and bluster on Monday over its handling of the downed Malaysia Airlines jet, with President Vladimir V. Putin seemingly probing for a way out of the crisis without appearing to compromise with the West.
On one hand, he offered conciliatory words in a video statement, oddly released in the middle of the night, while the separatists allied with Moscow in southeastern Ukraine released the bodies of the victims and turned over the black box flight recorders from the doomed aircraft to Malaysian officials.
However, two senior military officers forcefully demanded that the United States show publicly any proof that rebels fired the fatal missile, and again suggested that the Ukrainian military shot down the Malaysia Airlines jet despite the fact that Ukraine has not used antiaircraft weapons in the fight along its eastern border.
Mr. Putin seemed to respond to the outraged international demands growing daily that he intervene personally to rein in the rebels — particularly to halt the degrading chaos surrounding the recovery of the remains. But at the same time, Moscow did not concede that it was at fault.
Much more at the link.
Finally, Politico polled voters on whether they wanted to intervene in this conflicts, POLITICO poll: Stay out of Ukraine, Middle East
Amid deepening violence across Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Americans are recoiling from direct engagement overseas and oppose U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine by large margins, according to a POLITICO poll of 2014 battleground voters.
The survey provides a unique look at the foreign policy attitudes of voters who will decide the most competitive Senate and House races this fall. It shows an intensely skeptical view of American military intervention:
Asked whether the U.S should do more to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine, just 17 percent answered in the affirmative. Thirty-one percent said the current policy is correct and 34 percent said the U.S. should be less involved. The poll was completed before the downing last week of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, the civilian airliner that was apparently attacked over eastern Ukraine.
The poll results also showed that Americans don’t want out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and don’t want to be drawn back in for any reason. Are you listening Congress?
Links to Some Interesting Reads on other Topics
I highly recommend this one from The New Republic, Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League: The nation’s top colleges are turning our kids into zombies.
From the NYT, The End of ‘Genius,’ by Joshua Wolf Shenk.
Bad news for states that didn’t set up ACA exchanges (NPR), U.S. Appeals Court Deals Blow To Obama’s Health Law.
We already knew this, but now there’s a study to prove it, FBI pressured Muslims into committing terrorist acts, then arrested them: report (Raw Story).
Talk to Action, Access Denied: The Religious Right Opens Up A New Front On Its War Against Birth Control, by Rob Boston.
BBC News, The German officer who tried to kill Hitler, by Alex Last.
From The Nation, via Alternet, Journalistic Malpractice: The Media Enables the Right-Wing Politicization of Science, by Reed Richardson.
What stories are you following today?
We’ve lost another one of the greats. James Garner, star of movies and TV, has died. He was 86. I loved his TV show The Rockford Files (1974-1980). I watched the show faithfully and watched the reruns for years after it went off the air. I loved the show’s combination of comedy and drama that played off Garner’s relaxed, good-humored personality.
Actor James Garner, whose whimsical style in the 1950s TV Western “Maverick” led to a stellar career in TV and films such as “The Rockford Files” and his Oscar-nominated “Murphy’s Romance,” has died, police said. He was 86.
He was found dead of natural causes at his home in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles Saturday evening, Los Angeles police officer Alonzo Iniquez said early Sunday.
Police responded to a call around 8 p.m. PDT and confirmed Garner’s identity from family members, Iniquez told The Associated Press.
There was no immediate word on a more specific cause of death. Garner had suffered a stroke in May 2008, just weeks after his 80th birthday.
From The New York Times: James Garner, Witty, Handsome Leading Man, Dies at 86.
Mr. Garner was a genuine star but as an actor something of a paradox: a lantern-jawed, brawny athlete whose physical appeal was both enhanced and undercut by a disarming wit. He appeared in more than 50 films, many of them dramas, but as he established in one of his notable early performances, as a battle-shy naval officer in “The Americanization of Emily” (1964) — and had shown before that in “Maverick” — he was most at home as an iconoclast, a flawed or unlikely hero.
An understated comic actor, he was especially adept at conveying life’s tiny bedevilments. One of his most memorable roles was as a perpetually flummoxed pitchman for Polaroid cameras in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in droll commercials in which he played a vexed husband and Mariette Hartley played his needling wife. They were so persuasive that Ms. Hartley had a shirt printed with the declaration “I am NOT Mrs. James Garner.”
His one Academy Award nomination was for the 1985 romantic comedy “Murphy’s Romance,” in which he played a small-town druggist who woos the new-in-town divorced mom (Sally Field) with a mixture of self-reliance, grouchy charm and lack of sympathy for fools.
Even Rockford, a semi-tough ex-con (he had served five years on a bum rap for armed robbery) who lived in a beat-up trailer in a Malibu beach parking lot, drove a Pontiac Firebird and could handle himself in a fight (though he probably took more punches than he gave), was exasperated most of the time by one thing or another: his money problems, the penchant of his father (Noah Beery Jr.) for getting into trouble or getting in the way, the hustles of his con-artist pal Angel (Stuart Margolin), his dicey relationship with the local police.
“Maverick” had been in part a send-up of the conventional western drama, and “The Rockford Files” similarly made fun of the standard television detective, the man’s man who upholds law and order and has everything under control. A sucker for a pretty girl with a distinctly ’70s fashion sense — he favored loud houndstooth jackets — Rockford was perpetually wandering into threatening situations in which he ended up pursued by criminal goons or corrupt cops. He tried, mostly successfully, to steer clear of using guns; instead, a bit of a con artist himself, he relied on impersonations and other ruses — and high-speed driving skills. Every episode of the show, which ran from 1974-80 and more often than not involved at least one car chase and Rockford’s getting beat up a time or two, began with a distinctive theme song featuring a synthesizer and a blues harmonica and a message coming in on a newfangled gadget — Rockford’s telephone answering machine — that underscored his unheroic existence: “Jim, this is Norma at the market. It bounced. Do you want us to tear it up, send it back or put it with the others?”
And isn’t it nice to know that Garner was a “a lifelong Democrat who was active in behalf of civil rights and environmental causes…”?
Here’s one of The Rockford Files iconic opening sequences:
I came across a terrific 2012 essay on The Rockford Files by a philosophy professor named B.B. Olshin at Cynical Times News: Finding Solace in The Rockford Files: Values of Post-Watergate anti-hero still resonate.
I like car chases.
As a philosophy professor, who spends a good deal of time reading through Plato and exploring obscure Daoist thought, there’s something about sitting in front of the television and watching one slick car chase after another that allows my own mind to throttle back. Car chases, in fact, are a big part of the reason I still enjoy watching reruns of “The Rockford Files” — a series loaded with car chases that ran for six seasons, starting in 1974. Another reason is the inherent goodness of lead character Jim Rockford, which is so hard to find today.
After all, I am a philosophy professor, which means that as I watch The Rockford Files, I can’t help but notice how the societal shabbiness and decay it depicts mirrors the period we’re now experiencing – especially our almost willful hurtle towards authoritarianism.
We like to think that the good guy will win out, but even in “The Rockford Files” the fast car chases don’t always end with evil on the run. That said, you would never see Jim Rockford embracing the tactics of repression, like those practiced in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, to eke out a win.
The show featured lead character Jim Rockford in a broad-lapeled sport jacket. The private detective was often tailing someone in his gold Pontiac Firebird or expertly evading a tail by the bad guys.
Rockford had a strong jaw and a stylish look, but was really more anti-hero than hero. He always strove to do the right thing, even when it meant coming up short. The character mirrored a real and honest citizen more than anything else.
Check it out. The essay is two years old, but I think it’s still relevant to current events.
Israel’s Attack on Gaza
The rest of the news today is pretty much a downer, led by Israel’s continued attacks on Gaza. This was posted moments ago at CNN: Dozens killed in Palestinian town; Netanyahu calls for demilitarizing Gaza.
Gaza City (CNN) — Hundreds of Palestinians fled in panic into Gaza City on Sunday as Israeli troops focused their firepower on the nearby town of Shaja’ia. The shelling and bombing killed at least 60 people and wounded 300, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
In previous days, Israel warned residents to flee, through calls, text messages and dropping fliers that said “it is the intention of the IDF to carry out aerial strikes against terror sites and operatives” in the area. The fliers told people to head to Gaza City by Wednesday morning and not to return until further notice. The IDF posted an English translation of the fliers Sunday on Twitter.
Some residents said they had received the warnings but felt that even if they fled, they could face the same dangers in other parts of Gaza.
Israel claims these people were ordered by Hamas to stay in harm’s way, and therefore they are responsible for their own deaths and injuries. Republican Senator Marco Rubio agrees. He says the deaths in Gaza are “100 percent Hamas’ fault” (video).
I highly recommend reading this NYT article by Tyler Hicks, who witnessed the deaths of four young boys who were innocently play on a beach in Gaza City. But have a box of Kleenex handy.
I had returned to my small seaside hotel around 4 p.m. to file photos to New York when I heard a loud explosion. My driver and I rushed to the window to see what had happened. A small shack atop a sea wall at the fishing port had been struck by an Israeli bomb or missile and was burning. A young boy emerged from the smoke, running toward the adjacent beach.
I grabbed my cameras and was putting on body armor and a helmet when, about 30 seconds after the first blast, there was another. The boy I had seen running was now dead, lying motionless in the sand, along with three other boys who had been playing there.
By the time I reached the beach, I was winded from running with my heavy armor. I paused; it was too risky to go onto the exposed sand. Imagine what my silhouette, captured by an Israeli drone, might look like as a grainy image on a laptop somewhere in Israel: wearing body armor and a helmet, carrying cameras that could be mistaken for weapons. If children are being killed, what is there to protect me, or anyone else?
I watched as a group of people ran to the children’s aid. I joined them, running with the feeling that I would find safety in numbers, though I understood that feeling could be deceptive: Crowds can make things worse. We arrived at the scene to find lifeless, mangled bodies. The boys were beyond help. They had been killed instantly, and the people who had rushed to them were shocked and distraught.
Some helpful reads on the Israeli-Palestine conflict:
Yesterday I read an interview with Max Blumenthal that Dakiniat posted a couple of days ago. I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t already, To Zion and Back: Ismail Khalidi interviews Max Blumenthal. Blumenthal is the author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.
Also worth reading, MJ Rosenberg at Tikkun Daily: Gaza Burns To Please The Donors.
Malaysia Airlines Crash in Ukraine
Here’s an excellent–though graphic–article on the downed Malaysian airliner in Ukraine by Max Seddon of Buzzfeed: Chaos At Malaysia Airlines Crash Site Leaves Victims By The Roadside.
HRABOVE, Ukraine — A muted sun baked golden fields of hay and sunflowers. Bloated and mangled bodies gave off a fetid stench. A burly gunman who called himself Grumpy stepped into the road as a convoy of international observers snaked along the bumpy country road to the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
“I will let none of you pass! I have an order!” he shouted. Motley gunmen in ragtag uniforms flanked out alongside him. A lanky rebel in a beekeeping suit who reeked of alcohol folded his automatic rifle in his arms. The observers wandered out, then meekly retreated.
Two days after MH17 was shot down over east Ukraine — turning a simmering separatist conflict into a crisis of global proportions — the crash site remains a hideous mess that will make it harder for investigators to establish what happened — and for relatives to get peace. As Ukraine, Russia, and Moscow-backed rebels trade barbs over which side fired the missile that brought the Boeing 777 jet down, the bodies of the 298 passengers and crew killed instantaneously were still strewn across a field, decomposing in the 85-degree heat.
Nobody seemed to know where the bodies would be taken. Ukraine wants them stored 185 miles north in Kharkiv, the only nearby city with the facilities to take them, but claims that rebels have already spirited 38 corpses to their nearby stronghold in Donetsk and conducted their own autopsies. With the wreckage from the crash spread out over a 10-square-mile radius, the many bodies still at the scene may fare worse. Ukraine claims to have found 186, and BuzzFeed counted 82 in Hrabove alone, many of them unmoved since the crash. Local firemen and police officers, some of whom had clearly spent the night drinking moonshine, listlessly shoveled body parts into black garbage bags and left them to broil at the roadside.
Read more at the link.
Today’s latest headlines on this story:
Live Blog at Zee News: Ukraine rebels to give MH17 black boxes to International Civil Aviation Organisation.
These are the biggest stories so far today, IMHO; I’ll add a few more headlines in the comment thread. What are you reading and blogging about this summer Sunday?