Tuesday Reads


Good Morning!!

I have a varied selection of stories for you today. I’ll begin with one that doesn’t involve politics, racism, murder, woman-hating, or any other depressing topics. A new study released yesterday provides additional evidence that Dolphins may see each other as unique individuals. From BBC News: Dolphins ‘call each other by name’

It had been-long suspected that dolphins use distinctive whistles in much the same way that humans use names.

Previous research found that these calls were used frequently, and dolphins in the same groups were able to learn and copy the unusual sounds.

But this is the first time that the animals response to being addressed by their “name” has been studied.

Dr Vincent Janik University of St Andrews

To investigate, researchers recorded a group of wild bottlenose dolphins, capturing each animal’s signature sound.

They then played these calls back using underwater speakers.

“We played signature whistles of animals in the group, we also played other whistles in their repertoire and then signature whistles of different populations – animals they had never seen in their lives,” explained Dr Janik.

The researchers found that individuals only responded to their own calls, by sounding their whistle back.

According to Janik,

“(Dolphins) live in this three-dimensional environment, offshore without any kind of landmarks and they need to stay together as a group.

“These animals live in an environment where they need a very efficient system to stay in touch.”

More from Discover Magazine:

Although humans start naming things almost as a matter of course during early development, the process of creating and using a name is actually quite complex. Scientists refer to names as learned vocal labels, meaning vocalizations that refer to specific objects. Both parrots and dolphins have used learned vocal labels while in captivity, and researchers had no reason to believe that the animals couldn’t do the same in their natural environments. Now biologists Stephanie King and Vincent Janik from the University of Aberdeen have found that, indeed, wild dolphins use the equivalent of a human name to address each other.

What’s interesting to me is that if these dolphins can recognize each other as individuals and recognize their own names, this suggests a level of self-consciousness that is seen in very few animals other than humans. Even human children do not develop the ability to recognize themselves (PDF) in a mirror or on film until they are at least 18 months old and the development of true self-consciousness and awareness that others have similar thoughts and feelings (theory of mind) takes much longer.

The Washington Post reports on a depressing, but not surprising, poll on attitudes toward the Trayvon Martin case. Zimmerman verdict poll: Stark reaction by race.

The not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman has produced dramatically different reactions among blacks and whites, with African Americans overwhelmingly disapproving of the jury’s decision and a bare majority of whites saying they approve of the outcome, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll….

The new survey underscores not only the gap between whites and blacks, but also how passionate many African Americans are about the case. Among African Americans, 86 percent say they disapprove of the verdict — with almost all of themsaying they strongly disapprove — and 87 percent saying the shooting was unjustified.

In contrast, 51 percent of whites say they approve of the verdict while just 31 percent disapprove. There is also a partisan overlay to the reaction among whites: 70 percent of white Republicans but only 30 percent of white Democrats approve of the verdict. Among all whites, one-third say the shooting was unjustified, one-third say it was justified and the other third say they didn’t know enough to have an opinion.

It figures that Republicans would be driving the results among whites. Republicans have truly become the party of white males who hate anyone who isn’t white and male. You have to wonder why any African American or any woman would choose to be a Republican. Unfortunately the poll didn’t break down the results by gender and geography. Would more women have disapproved of the verdict? It was an all-woman jury, but also a Florida jury. A more complex analysis would have been helpful.

Republicans–at least the ones who watch Fox News–are old too. It’s hard to believe, but even though Fox leads the other cable news channels in viewers, the average age of Fox viewers is 65-plus! From the NYT:

Fox News declined to make executives available for comment, but several recent signs — including changing personalities for some of its weekday programs — suggest the network may have decided the time has come to confront the issue of age.

Just how old is its audience? It is impossible to be precise because Nielsen stops giving an exact figure for median age once it passes 65. But for six of the last eight years, Fox News has had a median age of 65-plus and the number of viewers in the 25-54 year old group has been falling consistently, down five years in a row in prime time, from an average of 557,000 viewers five years ago to 379,000 this year. That has occurred even though Fox’s overall audience in prime time is up this year, to 2.02 million from 1.89 million three years ago….

“The numbers indicate they haven’t been replacing the younger viewers,” Mr. Moffett said of Fox News. Many of the loyal viewers the network has always had are simply aging up beyond the 54-year cutoff for many ad buyers. The result is an audience edging consistently above that 65-plus number.

News audiences always trend old, and the viewers of Fox’s competitors are hardly in the full flower of youth. MSNBC’s median age for its prime-time shows this year is 60.6; CNN’s is 59.8.

In terms of the rest of television, Fox News also is quite a bit older than networks considered to have a base of older viewers. CBS has frequently been needled for having older viewers, but at 56.8, its median viewer is far younger than Fox News’s. (Viewers at Fox News’s sister network, Fox Broadcasting, have a median age of 50.2; at ABC, the median is 54.4; at NBC, it’s 47.7.)

Speaking of old-fashioned viewpoints, I posted this in the comments yesterday, but it’s worth a closer look. Yesterday, Margaret Sullivan the NYT Public Editor posted a remarkable column about Nate Silver: Nate Silver Went Against the Grain for Some at The Times. Sullivan speculates that Silver may have decided to leave the Times for ESPN/ABC because his fact- and probability-based methods of writing about politics didn’t jive with the attitudes of some other Times journalists. She based her analysis on a number of conversations with Silver and “about him with journalists in the Times’s newsroom.”

* I don’t think Nate Silver ever really fit into the Times culture and I think he was aware of that. He was, in a word, disruptive. Much like the Brad Pitt character in the movie “Moneyball” disrupted the old model of how to scout baseball players, Nate disrupted the traditional model of how to cover politics.

His entire probability-based way of looking at politics ran against the kind of political journalism that The Times specializes in: polling, the horse race, campaign coverage, analysis based on campaign-trail observation, and opinion writing, or “punditry,” as he put it, famously describing it as “fundamentally useless.” Of course, The Times is equally known for its in-depth and investigative reporting on politics.

His approach was to work against the narrative of politics – the “story” – and that made him always interesting to read. For me, both of these approaches have value and can live together just fine.

* A number of traditional and well-respected Times journalists disliked his work. The first time I wrote about him I suggested that print readers should have the same access to his writing that online readers were getting. I was surprised to quickly hear by e-mail from three high-profile Times political journalists, criticizing him and his work. They were also tough on me for seeming to endorse what he wrote, since I was suggesting that it get more visibility.

A few reactions to the Nate Silver story:

JM Ashby at Bob Cesca.com: Revenge of the Nerd

TPM: Nate Silver’s Seven Most Memorable Predictions

Politico: How ESPN and ABC landed Nate Silver

Business Insider got Silver’s own reaction to the Sullivan column: ‘The Culture Stuff Was Not A Big Factor’ In Me Leaving The New York Times

I’ll wrap this up with a some Edward Snowden updates. It’s very clear at this point that Snowden is being controlled by Russian intelligence. We don’t really know where he is, and his spokesman is an “attorney” who is in charge of PR for the Russian FSB. We also don’t know what Snowden has given the FSB in return for their help. Geoffrey Ingersoll at Business Insider:

Russian attorney Anatoly Kucherena — who also happens to be the head of public council for the Federal Security Service (FSB) — has announced that Edward Snowden may leave the Moscow airport on Wednesday.

His next destination: Russia.

That’s right, he’s likely not going too far.

We also know that Snowden supposedly said he has no plans to travel to Latin America because at this time, he thought it too dangerous to travel.

How do we know that? Well, Kucherena said Snowden said it, of course.

Not only does Kucherena run the FSB’s public council, but it seems he runs Snowdens public relations as well — he “helped” Snowden apply for temporary asylum, he relayed Snowden’s “promise” not to hurt the U.S. anymore, and he announced Snowden’s (very own) idea about possibly applying for Russian citizenship with the intent to stay for a while and “learn Russian culture.”

And here’s Michael Kelley, also from Business Insider: The Intel In Snowden’s Head Could Be More Damaging Than The Material He Leaked

National Security Agency whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden reportedly flew to Hong Kong carrying “four laptop computers that enable him to gain access to some of the US government’s most highly-classified secrets,” raising the concern that data could have been compromised in China or Russia.

But the information in his head may be more valuable, and accessible, than highly encrypted files.

Beyond trying to acquire information about the 10,000 NSA files Snowden accessed in Hawaii, a U.S. adversary would want to learn from Snowden’s expertise of internal NSA processes — such as its recruiting and vetting processes — to gain insight into America’s decision loop.

“Snowden understood exactly how far he could push [the NSA],” Robert Caruso, a former assistant command security manager in the Navy and consultant, told Business Insider. “That, coupled with his successful exploitation of our entire vetting process, makes him very dangerous.”

There’s much more of interest in the Kelley article, including a timeline of Snowden’s activities. Highly recommended.

I have several more Snowden links that I’ll just list for anyone who’s interested to click on:

NBC News: Lawyer: Snowden hopes to leave Moscow airport by Wednesday

CNN: Snowden did not access ‘crown jewels’ of NSA intel, official says

The Voice of Russia: US communicates concerns over Snowden to Russian gov’t – ambassador

ABC News: New Snowden Documents Show NSA-Germany Spy Links: Report

Atlantic Wire: Edward Snowden Has Everything and Nothing

Now it’s your turn. What stories have caught your interest today? I look forward to clicking on your links!

28 Comments on “Tuesday Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    There was another strange airplane crash yesterday–this one at La Guardia airport. The plane’s landing gear collapsed.

    (CNN) — Ten people suffered minor injuries Monday when the nose gear of a Southwest Airlines jetliner collapsed after landing at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, the city’s Port Authority reported.

    Southwest Flight 345 was landing at LaGuardia from Nashville about 5:40 p.m. when the accident occurred. The nose of the blue-and-orange jet came to rest on the ground after the aircraft came to a stop, and passengers evacuated the aircraft on emergency slides.

    “The aircraft skidded down the runway on its nose and then veered off and came to rest in a grass area between the runway and taxiway foxtrot,” Thomas Bosco, the airport’s general manager, told reporters. It stopped about halfway down the 7,000-foot runway.

    Kathy Boles, a passenger aboard the Boeing 737, said a “strong jolt” could be felt inside the cabin when the gear failed and the nose slammed into the tarmac.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    WaPo: USC students filed federal complaint over USC handling of rape allegations

    University of Southern California students have filed a federal complaint alleging the school ignored or mishandled sexual assault and rape cases.

    Students who alleged they were raped held a news conference on Monday announcing that they filed a complaint in May with the U.S. Department of Education. They say the school failed to take action against alleged attackers, even when they confessed….

    Similar complaints have been filed against other schools around the nation, including Occidental College, UC Berkeley, Dartmouth, Swarthmore and Yale.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    The Convergence of the ‘Glenn Greenwald Left’ and the ‘Alex Jones Right’


  4. janicen says:

    The analogy of Nate Silver to the Moneyball character is spot on. I can totally understand it. Someone I know works for a banking/investment giant and they were told, in the spring of 2012, that Obama was going to win the election. Full stop. They ran the numbers and they knew it. Everything else was fluff. And by the way, they obviously had a huge stake in knowing who was going to win. Yet everyone I told, especially Democrats, listened and acknowledged what I said and then went right back into their habitual analyzing and hand wringing and worrying about the election. It’s very hard for people to accept a paradigm shift especially when it demolishes their old model.

    • bostonboomer says:

      The difference is that sports journalists loved to read and quote Bill James’ stats long before he got the job with the Oakland A’s. It was the owners who didn’t buy them at first.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    Anyone who claims that Mika Brzezinski is a liberal is a bald-faced liar.

    Mika Brzezinski Promotes Smear That President Obama Supported Stand Your Ground In Illinois

    The conservative smear that President Obama, as State Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois), supported a Stand Your Ground law has made the species jump into the mainstream media with an assist from MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, the ostensible counterweight to conservative Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough. On Tuesday morning, Brzezinski credulously read a Wall Street Journal piece that tried to paint the President’s Friday remarks about Stand Your Ground as a reversal, and as usual, there was no one around to call bullsh*t.

    Noting that this is “pretty important, given the grand scheme of the conversation,” Brzezinski dutifully read from the WSJ piece, which uses weasel words and sleight of hand to conclude that then-State Senator Obama “participated” in an “examination” of Illinois’ self-defense law. and “emerged as a Stand Your Ground proponent.”

    Brzezinski also parroted another sick conservative talking point, that “minorities, in some ways, have been on the benefiting side of Stand Your Ground” in Florida, but that’s a whole different can of worms. Host Joe Scarborough followed Brzezinski’s recitation by wishing that the President would explain “why he supported the Stand Your Ground laws in 2004.”

  6. Suzie had this clip of Dennis Farina at her blog, had to put it up here:

  7. ecocatwoman says:

    Thanks for the posting about the dolphins. Of course, as ya’ll might have guessed, my reaction was DUH! We arrogant humans underestimate everything not human. Why wouldn’t dolphins communicate? Why wouldn’t they recognize each other as individuals? Female mammals recognize the calls of their young, but often respond, as well, to distress calls of young of their species but not their offspring. It’s like a human responding to a cry for help from another human. For centuries we have measured animals against humans. That’s just plain stupid as far as I’m concerned. I’ve often turned the tables on people who have said to my face that animals are stupid compared to humans. I’ve suggested dropping them in the middle of a forest, far away from humanity without water, food, weapons, cell phone. How long do they think they would survive – find food, find shelter, escape from a predator? Non-human animals are good at being who they are, otherwise they would not survive in their habitat. I wonder how high humans would score on an Animal IQ test? Many years ago their was a scientific study to determine what kind of milk was best for baby ferrets. Guess what they found? Amazingly (not so much) it was the milk produced by female ferrets! Why can’t we trust Nature instead of fighting “her” all of the time?

    • bostonboomer says:

      Recognizing distress calls is not nearly the same thing as giving a unique name to an individual. Of course all animals communicate. No one would argue against that. Self awareness and self-consciousness are on a much higher plane than basic consciousness.

      I was just speculating about dolphins having self awareness, but I see that bottlenose dophins, like the great apes, have been shown to pass the mirror test–along with orcas, elephants, and European magpies.


    • Eric Pleim says:

      I’m with Eco here. The “gee whiz” reaction to this bit of dolphin news is quite laughable to me, since I have believed with good evidence that dolphins are more intelligent than humans since I was about 12. The gist of the study is that dolphins use some particular vocalizations in a similar way to how humans use names. That they have the cognitive wherewithal to say “Hey Fred” rather than just “Hey you”. That is something better than what say, dogbarks or birdsong represent, but it is a long way from saying anything about the mammal’s “self-consciousness” or “theory of mind”. The reason that this makes the news is that showing individuals’ name use is the easiest, and first evidence gathered that dolphins have a true language, hitherto only credited to humans. As far as I know, we big brained humans have not linked any other dolphin vocalization to any meaning whatsoever, so it is a first, and rightly newsworthy. Any further speculation is what scientists take pains not to do, (in the name of science at least).

      That we cannot decipher dolphin language is a mark of our limited sophistication. I have believed dolphins are smarter than humans for decades due to a few basic facts, some from the work of John C. Lilly, before he went bonkers. First, dolphin brains are bigger than ours. The usual rejoinder to that is that so are elepnants’, they need bigger brains to control bigger bodies. Leaving aside that elephants may be as smart as humans as well, you only have to look at dolphin and human brains side by side to see that one is much more complex and sophisticated than the other, and it isn’t ours. Dolphins have smaller and more numerous gyri, which represents a greater degree of infolding to create more surface area of the cortex, which is what we have been told forever is the mark of the sophisticated human brain versus a smooth rat brain for example. Also, the computational power of dolphins’ brains are not taxed by the need to manipulate the environment with hands and feet, or even facial expressions as far as we know. That leaves a whole lot of brain…for what? Yes they live in a 3D world, but sharks have managed quite well in the same world with no evident evolutionary pressure to expand the brain for hundreds of millions of years. Also, lots of small brained animals live in social groups.

      So what are they thinking about? What WAS the evolutionary pressure to develop such incredible brains, coming from a common ancestor with the hippo, and moving to an argubly simpler environment. I would suggest that what has happened is a real “runaway brain” phenomenon. Some dolphin by chance assembled the genes to be a dolphin genius, relatively, then the chicks dug him (or vice versa if you prefer). From then on, it was an arms race of the “intelligence is sexy” type. That’s my best guess. What they’re thinking that is so amazing will take us centuries to figure out, if we ever do.

      • ecocatwoman says:

        Thanks Eric. And you raised some interesting points. I do have a question about dolphins moving to a “simpler environment” than hippos. On the surface I would think the ocean, and navigating it for no other reason than vastness of it, would be more complex. Can you clarify your point for me? Apparently I’m missing something.

        I do think that “need” is a component of evolution. Logically I would think that non-human animals who are both predator/prey would “need” to develop larger brains. Also those whose offspring remain with the mother longer. Sharks for example give birth and move on whereas dolphin calves stay with their family group. Manatee young stay with their mothers up to 2 years then go off on their own. Dolphins live in a social group, manatees don’t. Species who live in social groups need to establish complex communication skills more so than non-social species. The behavior of non-human animals continues to amaze us humans because until about 60 years ago scientists didn’t even consider that non-human animals had set behavior patterns. There are even scientists today who adhere to Descartes’ assertion that animals are nothing more than machines, much like a clock.

        • bostonboomer says:

          I’d just like to note that I was not particularly surprised by the results of the bottlenose dophin study, and I don’t recall oooing and ahhing or implying that I was shocked and stunned. Other than that, I’ll bow out, because there appears to be some kind of desire to characterize me as a stupid anti-animal person, which I very emphatically am not.

          And may I also point out that the reasons these studies get done is because many psychologists also believe that animals have advanced cognitive abilities? Eric should know that research gets done step by step. Researchers can’t test hundreds of hypotheses at the same time.

          Now I’ll shut up, and I’ll think twice before posting such a story again, since it will likely lead to my being treated like an idiot.

          • Eric Pleim says:

            I think you tend to take things too personally sometimes, BB. What I meant by gee whiz is how this was such huge news and played up so widely in the media. I didn’t mean that you were going gee whiz. I do think you extrapolated a bit much from this study to speculations on consciousness, but that’s just my prejudice. You are free to speculate away if you like.

            Yes, cognitive studies with dolphins are very worthwhile, and you have to start where you are, which is at a primitive point now, and has been for 40 years. Just goes to show how difficult it is. Meanwhile I wouldn’t be surprised if some captive dolphins in contact with humans figured out our language before we made much progress on theirs. By the way, when I googled to find some brain pictures, I kept getting headlines like “are dolphins the second smartest animals?” How about first smartest? I say you can make a better case for that.

            Eco, yes I said arguably simpler, and you are arguing. Fair enough. I really don’t know which is the simpler environment. My point is if it is the 3D aspect of living underwater that makes such pressure, how come very small brained creatures manage it? So it must be the social aspect of their lives that makes being smart so advantageous. Being mammals, and social, that calls for a lot of cognitive power to excel. But more than we experienced as humans? That is the hard case to make. So I’m agreeing with you. I just think there must be something more in terms of the adaptive pressure. I can imagine dolphins with the intelligence of dogs (or wolves in packs) doing fine in the ocean, in their own “packs”, Why are they 10 times smarter? I dunno. I’m just raising the question. Also, I don’t know what can prey on healthy dolphins in their groups. Killer whales could, but I think they like seal meat better, and it’s probably easier to get. Dolphins regularly kick the asses of sharks who threaten them, or even threaten their friends. I think they are alpha species, but that’s a minor point.

            Thanks for the posting and the comments. It’s fun. Beats working…

  8. dakinikat says:

    House Republicans Ready To Burn The Economy To ‘Save’ It http://dlvr.it/3hm4YG

    • Fannie says:

      Lindsey Graham intends on going to war with Iran come September. You know we pulled out of Iraq, and leaving Afghanistan, and the old white folks are real worried now. There he was being cheered on by the right wing Christians United for Israel, and some 30 former government officials who want another war, you know the so called GOP experts. These fucking wingnuts can’t get enough of power. They truly believe that this country was established just for them, and not for everyone to come to. They come with the same attitudes, believing that women don’t have any rights. Wasn’t it John Roberts, who said the consitutition was a legal document, not a living one. As time goes on they will make sure nothing changes. I don’t know how we stop these idiots, I used to think we could walk in their shoes, and see how their minds work, but as of late listening to them talk about blacks,and women, you know damn well they didn’t intend for a black to run this country, and sure as hell will not allow women at the wheel. My wish is that everyone of their children (Graham doesn’t have any)………….would bring home a young black woman, or man, as their intended spouse, that ought to be a learning moment.

  9. Fannie says:

    The last Abortion Clinic in Mississippi – Great read