Friday Evening Reads: Scientific Discoveries, Cats from Hell, and Romney Reads

Good Evening Sky Dancers! I’m filling in for Minkoff Minx tonight. I’m a little weary of all the nonsensical arguments fomented by the right wing nuts and the red beanie pedophile enablers, so I’m going to avoid those issues in tonight’s roundup. Instead, I’m going to go with some odds and ends that piqued my fancy today.

Russian scientists have finally reached Lake Vostok in Antarctica.

Opening a scientific frontier miles under the Antarctic ice, Russian experts drilled down and finally reached the surface of a gigantic freshwater lake, an achievement the mission chief likened to placing a man on the moon….

Lake Vostok could hold living organisms that have been locked in icy darkness for some 20 million years, as well as clues to the search for life elsewhere in the solar system….

The Russian team made contact with the lake water Sunday at a depth of 12,366 feet (3,769 meters), about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) east of the South Pole in the central part of the continent.

Scientists hope the lake might allow a glimpse into microbial life forms that existed before the Ice Age and are not visible to the naked eye. Scientists believe that microbial life may exist in the dark depths of the lake despite its high pressure and constant cold — conditions similar to those believed to be found under the ice crust on Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

That sounds pretty amazing. Read the whole article to learn about the possibilities and goals of the study.

Did you ever wonder why Zebras have stripes? To be honest, I never did, but now that someone has discovered the likely reason, I do find the answer kind of interesting. It turns out that zebras have stripes because they discourage horseflies.

While it is widely-known in the scientific community that horseflies and other insects prefer animals with dark skin to animals with white skin, a study published this week in the Journal of Experimental Biology examines evidence that zebra stripes actually discourage horseflies from biting. Prior to the study, researchers thought that the primary purpose of zebra stripes was to confuse predators. However, the study suggests that predator confusion is secondary to horsefly deterrence.

“We demonstrate that a zebra-striped horse model attracts far fewer horseflies (tabanids) than either homogeneous black, brown, grey or white equivalents,” the researchers write in the study’s abstract.

Horseflies, which can carry diseases and distract their victim from feeding or drinking, are unwelcome visitors to zebras and other animals that graze. According to Gábor Horváth, one of the study’s authors, horseflies are attracted to horizontally polarized light because the sunlight that reflects off of water is horizontally polarized. When horseflies and other aquatic insects discover water they can mate and lay eggs. The female variety of horseflies, however, are also attracted to linearly polarized light that reflects off of the hides of their victims.

Is your pet making you crazy? Do you have a cat? Then you might want to read this article at The Atlantic–or maybe not. It’s about a scientist who believes that a feline parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, is affecting his brain and altering his personality.

As a student of development, I’m familiar with this parasite, because it has to be avoided by pregnant women because it can affect the fetus and lead to severe brain damage or death. The parasite is excreted by cats, so pregnant women must not change cat litter boxes or get too close to them But Jaroslav Flegr suspects it may be causing other problems in non-pregnant humans. For one thing,

T. gondii is also a major threat to people with weakened immunity: in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before good antiretroviral drugs were developed, it was to blame for the dementia that afflicted many patients at the disease’s end stage.

Is is commonly believed that:

Healthy children and adults, however, usually experience nothing worse than brief flu-like symptoms before quickly fighting off the protozoan, which thereafter lies dormant inside brain cells…

Au contraire, says Flegr.

the “latent” parasite may be quietly tweaking the connections between our neurons, changing our response to frightening situations, our trust in others, how outgoing we are, and even our preference for certain scents. And that’s not all. He also believes that the organism contributes to car crashes, suicides, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia. When you add up all the different ways it can harm us, says Flegr, “Toxoplasma might even kill as many people as malaria, or at least a million people a year.”

An evolutionary biologist at Charles University in Prague, Flegr has pursued this theory for decades in relative obscurity. Because he struggles with English and is not much of a conversationalist even in his native tongue, he rarely travels to scientific conferences. That “may be one of the reasons my theory is not better known,” he says. And, he believes, his views may invite deep-seated opposition. “There is strong psychological resistance to the possibility that human behavior can be influenced by some stupid parasite,” he says. “Nobody likes to feel like a puppet. Reviewers [of my scientific papers] may have been offended.” Another more obvious reason for resistance, of course, is that Flegr’s notions sound an awful lot like fringe science, right up there with UFO sightings and claims of dolphins telepathically communicating with humans.

But after years of being ignored or discounted, Flegr is starting to gain respectability. Psychedelic as his claims may sound, many researchers, including such big names in neuroscience as Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky, think he could well be onto something.

eeeeeeeek! Go read the article if you dare!

The headline of that article reminded me a great show I recently saw on the Animal channel, My Cat from Hell. It’s a “reality” show that documents the adventures of an “animal behaviorist” named Jackson Galaxy. He’s a rock musician by night and helps people with crazy cats by day. I thought I’d share a couple of clips from the show with you. The first one is an introductory promo.

Here’s a clip from one of the episodes.

Here’s a video of Galaxy working with a cat from hell.

I love this show! It’s even better than It’s Me or the Dog.

I’ve got a couple of crime stories for you. First, police in Washington state searched a storage facility owned by Josh Powell, the man who recently murdered his two sons and killed himself by blowing up his house. They found a comforter that tested positive for blood.

Investigators had considered Josh Powell a person of interest since his wife, Susan Powell, disappeared in Utah in 2009. At the time, Powell said he took his two sons ice camping in subfreezing temperatures.

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said presumptive tests are conducted with a field kit and that a determination of blood won’t be confirmed until the item is examined in the lab. “Field tests are not infallible,” he said.

Lindquist said he expects the finding will be something law enforcement will share with colleagues in Utah who have been investigating Susan Powell’s disappearance.

I wonder why that storage facility wasn’t searched sooner?

In Illinois, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy pulled a gun on a pregnant woman because she had two many items in a self-serve line at Walmart. Her husband was arrested for trying to defend her.

Just one week from her due date, Nicole Thurmond said she feared for her life while checking out at a Walmart store in Oswego on a recent Sunday.

“I felt someone close behind me. He started being really rude and said, ‘Don’t you know how to count? You are holding up the whole store,” Thurmond recalled.

Thurmond said she didn’t know it at the time, but the man in plain clothes was off-duty deputy Craig French.

Thurmond’s husband had been getting eggs at the time and said he could see his wife was upset when he returned to the checkout area.

“There was a guy in her face, yelling at her,” said Jason Thurmond. “In an aggressive manner he steps toward me, and I just push him back to keep him away from my wife and myself, and before I knew it I just froze because he pulled out a gun.”

Jason Thurmond said the man didn’t show his badge, was “waving a gun in a store,” and at one point asked them if they were on welfare.

The case is now being investigated.

Well, of course you know I have to indulge my Mitt Romney obsession, so I have a few Romney reads. Have you heard that Romney “can’t wait to get his hands on Washington?” He said so at CPAC today.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Friday tried to convince attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to vote for him by reminding them of his “severely conservative” record, including preventing Massachusetts from becoming “the Las Vegas of gay marriage.”

“History will record the Obama presidency as last gasp of liberalism’s great failure and a turning point for the conservative era to come,” the candidate predicted. “I know this president will never get it, but we conservatives aren’t just proud to cling to our guns and our religion, we are also proud to cling to our Constitution.”

“As governor of Massachusetts, I had the unique experience of defending conservative principles in the most liberal state in the nation,” Romney said. “Even with a legislature that was 85 percent Democrat, I cut taxes 19 times and balanced the budget all four years. I cast over 800 vetoes and cut entire programs. … And I can’t wait to get my hands on Washington!”

Ooooooooh! He was “severely conservative.” How impressive.

This one is a little old, but it’s so funny that I had to share it. It’s a brief humor column from the New Yorker by one of my favorite writers, Calvin Trillin, called “President Romney Meets Other World Leaders.” It’s based on a New York Times article that addressed some of Romney’s “peculiar habits” on the campaign trail. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

When Mitt Romney introduces himself to voters, he has a peculiar habit of guessing their age or nationality, often incorrectly. (A regular query: “Are you French Canadian?”)
When making small talk with locals, he peppers the conversation with curious details. . . . Mr. Romney has developed an unlikely penchant for trying to puzzle out everything from voters’ personal relationships to their ancestral homelands. . . . Mr. Romney likes to congratulate people. For what, exactly, is not always clear.

And here’s just a bit of Trillin’s piece playing off that quote:

The moment President Romney entered the room where the opening reception of his first G-8 summit was being held, he was approached by a small man who shook his hand and said, “Je suis Nicolas Sarkozy.”

“Are you of French-Canadian origin?” President Romney said, smiling broadly.

“I am French,” Sarkozy replied, looking somewhat puzzled. “I am, in fact, the President of France.”

“Congratulations,” President Romney said. “Lipstick contains a substance made from fish scales.”

Before Sarkozy could reply—in fact, before he could think of anything to say on the subject of lipstick manufacturing—they were approached by Angela Merkel, of Germany, who looked eager to greet the newest leader in the G-8. President Romney peered at her briefly and then said to Sarkozy, “Your aunt? Your mother?”

“This is Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany,” Sarkozy said.

Please go read the rest–it’s very short but funny.

Here is Charlie Pierce’s latest blog on our former Governor: What the Self-Manufacturing of Romney Hath Produced

The transformation is now complete. Willard Romney, my former governor, the man who campaigned here for the Senate and lost, and who campaigned for governor here and won, has fashioned himself into the most carefully manufactured fake in the recent history of American politics. I used to call him the Piltdown Man of American politics — a candidate fashioned from a jawbone picked up here and a shinbone picked up there and whatever position on whatever issue he happened to find at hand at the time — but that may no longer be sufficient to explain him. After all, and even though it took more than 40 years, eventually they busted the Piltdown Man as a hoax. Willard’s transformation, from what he was here in Massachusetts, to what he is now, is so full and thorough that he has successfully constructed an entirely new Willard for himself. Of course, they had to hurry him off the assembly line because of the urgency injected into the race by the stunning (if remarkably delegate-free) triple play pulled off on Tuesday by Rick Santorum, who has never taken a breath in which he was not the authentically wingy wingnut that Willard has labored so hard to make of himself.

I’ll let you savor the rest at Charlie’s place. I hope everyone has a great Friday night and a fabulous weekend!

45 Comments on “Friday Evening Reads: Scientific Discoveries, Cats from Hell, and Romney Reads”

  1. northwestrain says:

    Good round up.

    Romney wanting to know where people come from — that’s a Mormon thing…. really.

  2. Minkoff Minx says:

    Have you seen this: CPAC Discovers Hip-Hop – Ta-Nehisi Coates – Politics – The Atlantic

    He did not even comment on it…so I will post a link to a blog that did:

    Little Green Footballs – Video: CPAC Racist Rap

    Yet another jaw-dropping moment from CPAC, as right wing “comedians” Steven Crowder and Chris Loesch perform an absolutely nauseating “rap” song, wearing “founding fathers” powdered wigs. And don’t miss what happens at about the 2 minute mark, as an African American walks out.

    Yes, they’re yelling the N word, pretending they’re saying “knickers.”

    Right wing humor.

    WTF?! The CPAC Rap Everyone Is Talking About | Angry Black Lady Chronicles

    Yes, it’s that bad.
    I made it to the two minute mark at which point my jaw dropped and I actually said out loud: “Holy fuck.”

  3. ralphb says:

    It’s becoming more obvious that we have got to hire better, and calmer, police officers in this country. We’re past the point of ridiculous now.

  4. dakinikat says:

    Republicans Retreat on Domestic Violence

    Even in the ultrapolarized atmosphere of Capitol Hill, it should be possible to secure broad bipartisan agreement on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, the 1994 law at the center of the nation’s efforts to combat domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The law’s renewal has strong backing from law enforcement and groups that work with victims, and earlier reauthorizations of the law, in 2000 and 2005, passed Congress with strong support from both sides of the aisle.

    Yet not a single Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor last week when the committee approved a well-crafted reauthorization bill introduced by its chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, and Senator Michael Crapo, a Republican of Idaho, who is not on the committee.

    The bill includes smart improvements aimed, for example, at encouraging effective enforcement of protective orders and reducing the national backlog of untested rape kits. The Republican opposition seems driven largely by an antigay, anti-immigrant agenda. The main sticking points seemed to be language in the bill to ensure that victims are not denied services because they are gay or transgender and a provision that would modestly expand the availability of special visas for undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence — a necessary step to encourage those victims to come forward.

  5. quixote says:

    Yikes. Romney is beyond bizarre. Obviously, he’s been taking lessons on Connecting With People In A Crowd. But how can he not have enough of a self-check routine to know that he’s doing it wrong? Hell, even a Roomba has more social intelligence!

  6. quixote says:

    Oh, and I also wanted to say: loved the news about zebras.

  7. Minkoff Minx says:

    On the cat thing…no wonder I have always been a dog person. That is some scary stuff.

    • NW Luna says:

      (Rushes to defense of felines…) As someone who’s grown up with both dogs and cats, it’s straightforward, not scary. Watch the cat’s body language, act nice to them, and no problem.

      Some of those cats were yelling Don’t Touch Me Now in felinese, and their dumb humans kept grabbing them. No wonder the cats scratched defensively. Keep your paws to yourself. No means no.

      I’ve adopted a couple of cats who were biters and scratchers on slight annoyances to them. After some training, they are nearly models of deportment. Or so say our cat sitters.

      Dogs may be easier to read and they aren’t as independent. But I did get nipped when I stupidly went to pet a little dog who was shivering and looking scared, tied up outside a store. It wanted no part of comfort from a stranger. Should’a known!

  8. ralphb says:

    This is a beautiful thing. Car as instrument…

  9. bostonboomer says:

    Here’s another cat from hell video. You have to see this one!

    • ralphb says:

      That cat is scary.

      • bostonboomer says:

        It reminds me of this cat I had once. He had to go to the vet for surgery, and afterwards he was like a wild animal. They called me and asked if I thought I could get him out of the cage, and I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about. When I got there, my cat was growling and yowling, throwing himself against the bars of the cage. I couldn’t get near him. I had to leave him for another day at the vet’s until he calmed down. The vet really got a kick out of it.

      • ralphb says:

        When my daughter was young, I had a similar experience. It was unsettling but funny when it was all over. 🙂

      • NW Luna says:

        Yeah, if I was stuck in a little cage hardly bigger than what I could turn around in, the open toilet inches away from my nose, huge animals staring at me all the time, and sounds of other frightened and angry cats around me — I’d be really pissed too.

  10. ralphb says:

    Brruuuuuuuccccceee h/t maddowblog

  11. bostonboomer says:

    Josh Powell murdered his children four days after a judge denied him custody because of images of parent-child incest that had been found on his computer (not his father’s) after his wife disappeared two years ago. The images weren’t considered child-porn because they were computer-generated. The judge ordered Powell to undergo a psychosexual exam which would have required a polygraph and would have measured his level of arousal while watching child porn.

    He knew the jig was up and he decided kill his children. Maybe he killed Susan because she found out he was molesting them? Maybe he was afraid they would talk about it.

    Why didn’t this come out earlier?

    • peggysue22 says:

      If they [the police] had suspicions that the father was a sexual deviant and molesting the two little boys, why in God’s name was he allowed to have unsupervised visits in his own home? Or was the social worker suppose to accompany the kids. The whole thing sounds as if the authorities really mucked the investigation up. The outcome was horrible.

      Btw, those cats from hell are beyond belief! Now I know why I’m a puppy person. I did read that article about the cat-related parasites and the brain/behavior effects. Strange and creepy.

      Good roundup! Poor Willard. You know he has to be asking himself: ‘Rick Santorum? Are you kidding me. This wing nut predicting the Bastille is beating me?’

      Incredible! Obama must be thinking it’s Christmas all over again!

      • bostonboomer says:

        It was the Utah police who had the images from Powell’s computer. He was living in Washington state when he murdered his children. But the judge saw them and ordered a psych evaluation. Unfortunately, as I wrote in a previous post, family court judges tend to favor parents’ rights over children’s safety.

        Powell wasn’t permitted unsupervised visits. The social worker was always present. I saw an interview with her and she had spent a lot of time with those boys and really loved them. She is really traumatized. The really horrible thing is the way she was treated by the 911 operator, who questioned her for 7 minutes and didn’t tell police it was an emergency or that she was calling from Powell’s home. That operator should be fired.

      • foxyladi14 says:

        ordering the cake already. 😆

  12. BB & everyone else – that last video of the orange cat is NOT from My Cat From Hell. It was taken by an asshole veterinarian in his clinic. This cat was in extreme pain, dying from kidney failure. He posted this video on you tube & thought it was FUNNY.

    Jackson Galaxy & My Cat From Hell is an incredible show. And, yes, I am a cataholic. I agree that it’s even better than It’s Me or the Dog, although I think Victoria Stillwell is the best “dog” trainer ever. Both she & Jackson are attuned to the animal & actually train the humans who are doing things wrong and are not listening to their animals & what they are trying to communicate. I’m just glad to finally see a show on TV with someone who really likes and understands cats & treats them as the complex and fascinating animals that they are.

    Toxoplasmosis is a touchy subject with cat people. Cats have remained villainous creatures in the human psyche since the witch hunts in the Dark Ages. I will check out the study mentioned, but my first reaction is it’s one more weapon in the anti-cat arsenal. Here’s a link from the CDC about toxo – which is most often contracted by humans from handling & eating under cooked meat. And here is a link from the Cornell Veterinary School Note that infected cats only shed the organism for a very short period of time during their lifetimes.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Hi Connie,

      I know it’s not from The cat from Hell. I didn’t realize the background of that video, and I apologize for posting it now. I just thought it was interesting and it reminded me of a cat I had years ago that I loved dearly. His name was Bigfoot. He was so feisty! Yet he was also very loving. He just wasn’t going to let that vet push him around. My vet was very concerned about my cat and was glad to keep him until he got past whatever pain he was experiencing. That vet cried when Bigfoot finally died.

      I love The Cat From Hell, and I plan to buy Galaxy’s book when it comes out in May. I adore cats, and I’ve never had one that wasn’t very affectionate, probably because I always tried to pay attention to them. I noticed early on that individual cats like to be touched and petted differently. They have very individual personalities.

      • Yep, much like people – each one is unique. Jackson is amazing. Honestly, there have been a couple of people on the show that I would have punched in the face. Wouldn’t have been the correct approach, but would have felt good. He’s just so patient & really cares about cats.

        The orange tom’s video was on Facebook several months ago. A friend of the cat’s owner started a petition to get the vet to remove the video from you tube. He & the staff were laughing while this poor cat was screaming in pain. Such a schmuck.

    • NW Luna says:

      Toxo scare is much ado about nothing. Most of us are immune to toxo already after having contacted it in childhood. Toxo can easily be found in garden soil. Toxo in cat feces is only contagious after several days. So if a pregnant woman cleaned a litter box daily (gloves & handwashing is a good idea in general), there would never be a contagious stage.

      That vet who took the orange cat video should be stuffed into a stainless steel box with 1 mesh side through which little kids torment him. Cruelty to animals is heartrending — and a sign of psychopathy in the tormentor. Ugh. Must go do something to clean my brain out after thinking about this.

  13. Carolyn Kay says:

    I didn’t know that right wingers liked cats so much.

    Carolyn Kay

    • I don’t understand your comment.

      • Carolyn Kay says:

        “the ‘latent’ parasite may be quietly tweaking the connections between our neurons, changing our response to frightening situations, our trust in others”

        Carolyn Kay

      • fwiw, one of those Focker movies is playing on the E channel this morning… Robert DeNiro’s character, who seems pretty rightwing, has a kitty he dotes on… 😉

    • NW Luna says:

      Would that comment be more clearly phrased as “Right wingers like toxoplasm?” I’d think they would prefer dogs which are easier to train to do what they’re told.

      Not that I want to get into a Which is the Better Pet argument here.