Lazy Caturday Reads: Weather and Russia Investigation Tidbits

By Didier Lourenço

Good Morning!!

It’s March 2, but winter is still hanging on. It’s snowing here in the Boston area, and we expect several more inches on top of what we got earlier this week. It’s also supposed to snow again tomorrow night. I guess that’s going to come from this major cross-country storm.

USA Today: Major weekend winter storm packing heavy snow begins 2,500-mile cross-country sprint.

A major, fast-moving winter storm is racing across the country this weekend, bringing forecasts of heavy snow from California to New England and threats of heavy rain and severe thunderstorms along the 2,500-mile path….

In parts of the Midwest, the snow — falling at up to 1 or 2 inches per hour — could pile up fast enough to strand motorists along major highways, AccuWeather warns.

Sections of Pennsylvania, New York and northern and western New England could see up to a foot of snow.

The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings Saturday for parts of Colorado, northern New Mexico, southern Wyoming and much of Kansas.

By Galina Kim

Snow was expected to move into the Central Rockies on Saturday and develop over parts of the Northern and Central Plains by Saturday evening, the NWS says. The snow will expand into parts of the Southern Plains and Middle Mississippi Valley overnight as it rolls eastward.

We didn’t get any new indictments from Robert Mueller yesterday, but there’s still quite a bit of Russia investigation news.

Roger Stone apparently failed to tell Judge Amy Berman Jackson that he has a book coming out that may violate his gag order. Late last night she ordered him to explain WTF is going on.

The Washington Post: Judge orders Roger Stone to explain imminent release of book that may violate gag order.

Republican operative and longtime Trump friend Roger Stone faced fresh legal trouble Friday after a federal judge ordered his attorneys to explain why they failed to tell her before now about the imminent publication of a book that could violate his gag order by potentially criticizing the judge or prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The order by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District of Columbia late Friday came barely eight days after Jackson barred Stone from speaking publicly about his case, prompted by a photo posted on Stone’s Instagram account that placed a crosshairs next to a photo of Jackson’s head….

By Adrie Martens

In the new controversy, Jackson, in a brief order posted on the court’s electronic docket after office hours Friday, said she was allowing Stone’s defense team to file under seal a motion apparently to clarify the court’s gag order and an unspecified accompanying exhibit, and ordered a court clerk to make public Stone’s request.

But Jackson also ordered Stone’s attorneys to explain by Monday why they waited until now in making that request to disclose the “imminent general rel[e]ase” of a book, which Jackson said “was known to the defendant.” [….]

On Jan. 16, Stone announced via Instagram that he would be publishing a book titled “The Myth of Russian Collusion: The Inside Story of How Trump Really Won.” He included an image of the book cover. At the time, a source familiar with the publication plans told The Washington Post that the book consisted of a new introduction attached to a previous book that Stone had written about the 2016 presidential campaign. On Feb. 15, he announced via Instagram that the book would be published March 1, and he accompanied the post with hashtags such as #noconspiracy and #norussiancollusion.

According to Bloomberg, this may be an updated version of a 2017 Stone book.

At Buzzfeed News, Zoe Tillman writes about Paul Manafort’s latest sentencing memo: Paul Manafort Didn’t Just Ask For Less Prison Time In His Latest Court Filings — He’s Attacking Mueller Too.

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort on Friday continued to attack special counsel Robert Mueller, accusing Mueller’s office of not only vilifying him, but also of “spreading misinformation.”

Manafort and his lawyers have used pre-sentencing memos not only to lobby for a lower prison sentence, but also to criticize the special counsel’s office — something they’ve had limited opportunities to do, given a gag order imposed early on. In a sentencing memo filed Friday in Manafort’s case in federal court in Virginia, his lawyers wrote that Mueller had unfairly impugned Manafort’s character.

By Catriona Millar

“The Special Counsel’s attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this Court,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote. “The Special Counsel’s conduct comes as no surprise, and falls within the government’s pattern of spreading misinformation about Mr. Manafort to impugn his character in a manner that this country has not experienced in decades.”

Manafort’s lawyers repeated their claim that Mueller pursued Manafort for crimes largely unrelated to his work on President Donald Trump’s campaign in order to pressure Manafort to flip on the president. Political and legal pundits have speculated that Manafort is angling for a pardon; Trump in November told the New York Post that a pardon for Manafort was not “off the table.”

“The Special Counsel’s strategy in bringing charges against Mr. Manafort had nothing to do with the Special Counsel’s core mandate — Russian collusion — but was instead designed to ‘tighten the screws’ in an effort to compel Mr. Manafort to cooperate and provide incriminating information about others,” his lawyers wrote, quoting language Manafort’s judge in Virginia, US District Judge T.S. Ellis III, had previously used to question the special counsel’s office’s motivations.

Manafort is due for sentencing in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on March 7. Earlier this month, Mueller’s office said in a sentencing memo that it believed Manafort should face a sentencing range of between 19.5 to 24 years in prison. It also wrote that Manafort’s penalty could include a fine of up to $24 million.

Lock him up!

At The New York Times, John Dean has suggestions for Michael Cohen: John Dean: I Testified Against Nixon. Here’s My Advice for Michael Cohen.

There are several parallels between my testimony before Congress in 1973, about President Richard Nixon and his White House, and Michael Cohen’s testimony this week about President Trump and his business practices. Setting aside the differences regarding how we got there, we both found ourselves speaking before Congress, in multiple open and closed venues, about criminal conduct of a sitting president of the United States. This is not a pleasant place to be, particularly given the presidents involved.

The field cat, by Isabella Bryer

There are some differences: Unlike Mr. Cohen, who testified in public for a day, I testified for five days. His prepared statement was about 4,000 words; mine was some 60,000 words. Nielsen reports over 16 million people watched his testimony. I am told over 80 million people watched all or part of mine….

Mr. Cohen should understand that if Mr. Trump is removed from office, or defeated in 2020, in part because of his testimony, he will be reminded of it for the rest of his life. He will be blamed by Republicans but appreciated by Democrats. If he achieves anything short of discovering the cure for cancer, he will always live in this pigeonhole. How do I know this? I am still dealing with it.

Just as Mr. Nixon had his admirers and apologists, so it is with Mr. Trump. Some of these people will forever be rewriting history, and they will try to rewrite it at Mr. Cohen’s expense. They will put words in his mouth that he never spoke. They will place him at events at which he wasn’t present and locations where he has never been. Some have tried rewriting my life, and they will rewrite his, too.

There’s much more at the link.

This isn’t a Mueller case, but it could be related: Chelsea Manning has been subpoenaed. Politico: Chelsea Manning fights grand jury subpoena seen as linked to Assange.

Lawyers for convicted WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning are asking a federal court to block a grand jury subpoena she received in what her supporters believe is a federal investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Manning’s attorneys filed the motion Friday morning in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., a spokesperson for Manning said. The motion was put under seal and no information about it was immediately available from the court clerk’s office.

By Peter Mitchev, Bulgarian painter

The subpoena sent to Manning in January does not specify any crimes or particular investigation, but it was issued at the request of a federal prosecutor assigned to handle the fallout from an error that led to the disclosure late last year of the strongest indication so far that Assange is the subject of sealed criminal charges in the U.S.

In a statement Friday, Manning blasted the process and said she plans to fight the subpoena, which was first reported by The New York Times.

The rest of the article is mostly whining from Manning and her attorneys. Frankly, I don’t see why should shouldn’t be willing to testify. Another former Julian Assange associate has done so.

Kevin Poulsen at The Daily Beast: WikiLeaks Veteran: I ‘Cooperated’ With Feds ‘in Exchange for Immunity.’

Chelsea Manning isn’t alone.

Late Thursday, Manning revealed that she’s fighting a subpoena to testify before a grand jury that’s been investigating Julian Assange for nearly nine years. But Manning isn’t the only one being dragged into the aging probe of WikiLeaks’ first big haul. A former WikiLeaks volunteer who was also personal friends with Manning was subpoenaed last May. But unlike Manning, he did not fight the subpoena. He accepted an immunity deal offered by prosecutors….

Manning’s subpoena is the latest surge of action in an old case given new life under the Trump administration. Though the paperwork doesn’t specify what she’s expected to testify about, a case number is visible at the top of the page. It’s the known case number for a grand jury probe into WikiLeaks that began nine years ago in the middle of Assange’s dump of the hundreds of thousand of diplomatic cables and Army field reports leaked to him by Manning.

Friends, by Ljudmila Vasina

The existence of case 10GJ3793 first became public in early 2011 when prosecutors were papering companies like Google and Twitter with demands for records of key WikiLeaks activists. With the government’s consent, Twitter notified five users that the feds were after their records, and three of them went to court to challenge the lawfulness of the search, backed by the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Paulsen expends quite a bit of verbiage on the history of the government’s pursuit of this case (I get the feeling he thinks it’s terrible) before he gets around to telling us who the cooperating witness is. His name is David House.

The Daily Beast has learned that David House, the former WikiLeaks volunteer and Manning friend, was subpoenaed last May for an encore appearance before the Alexandria grand jury. This time he didn’t take the Fifth. “I decided to cooperate in exchange for immunity,” said House, who provided a copy of the subpoena. “You know, I’m walking around on the street out here. I’m not in an embassy.”

House spoke briefly with prosecutors and then testified for about 90 minutes in front of the grand jury, he said. “They wanted to know about my meetings with Assange, they wanted to know broadly about what we talked about,” he recalled. Prosecutors seemed particularly interested in the potential for collateral damage in some of Assange’s leaks. The identities of some American collaborators were exposed in Assange’s release of State Department cables and Army field reports from Afghanistan, which triggered internal debate and led to the departure of some of WikiLeaks’ key staffers early on.

“They showed me chat logs in which I was arguing vehemently with him about releasing documents that would leave people vulnerable and put people’s lives at risk,” said House, a computer science graduate and political activist now working on a centrist movement called the Pilot Party. “That was the only thing they put in front of my face that made me think, ‘This may be what they’re going after him for.’”

That’s all I’ve got for you today. What stories are you following?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Crazy is Our Daily Reality Now

Good Afternoon!!

Paul Newman and his Burmese caat

There are four Democratic women running for president and the media is working overtime to take them all down. Meanwhile, elderly white males Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders get kid glove treatment.

Let me see if I can get this straight: Elizabeth Warren believed her family when they told her she had a Native American ancestor. Kamala Harris was a prosecutor (horrors!), she dated an older black man but married a white man. Amy Klobuchar is mean to her staff. Kirsten Gillibrand is “too transparently opportunistic.”

Each one of these women has now been assigned a “her emails” story that will dominate her campaign if reporters are successful. But two elderly white men with problematic political records and a younger man with few qualifications (Beto O’Rourke) are treated as viable candidates.

Sigh . . . Will I live to see a woman president? I’m still hoping.

In other news, Trump had his physical and surprise! He’s in perfect health!

The Washington Post: Trump’s doctor says he is in ‘very good health’ after exam by 11 specialists.

President Trump is “in very good health” and is expected to remain healthy for “the duration of his Presidency, and beyond,” the president’s doctor reported Friday after a physical exam that lasted nearly four hours and included 11 specialists.

Carole Lombard with black cat

The White House did not release details of the exam at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and did not say whether more details would be released.

Trump was seen by a “panel of 11 different board certified specialists,” Sean P. Conley wrote in a brief memorandum released by the White House.

The memo did not include the disciplines of any of the specialists. Typically, a physical exam includes checks of height, weight, blood pressure and other standard measures. Trump said last year that he takes a statin drug to manage his cholesterol.

Trump did not undergo any procedures requiring sedation or anesthesia, Conley reported.

I wonder if he is still 6’3 and 239 pounds? The doctor doesn’t say. Maybe his height increased again–so rare for a 72 year old man, but possible for a wannabe dictator.

Let’s see, what else is happening?

The New York Times: Trump Defies Congressional Deadline on Khashoggi Report.

President Trump refused to provide Congress a report on Friday determining who killed the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, defying a demand by lawmakers intent on establishing whether the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was behind the grisly assassination.

Steve McQueen and friend

Mr. Trump effectively bypassed a deadline set by law as his administration argued that Congress could not impose its will on the president. Critics charged that he was seeking to cover up Saudi complicity in the death of Mr. Khashoggi, an American resident and a columnist for The Washington Post.

“Consistent with the previous administration’s position and the constitutional separation of powers, the president maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate,” the Trump administration said in a statement. The statement said the administration had taken action against the killers and would consult with Congress.

But Democrats said Mr. Trump was violating a law known as the Magnitsky Act. It required him to respond 120 days after a request submitted in the fall by committee leaders — including Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — a period that expired Friday.

The illegitimate “president” of the U.S. is protecting a foreign despot who ordered the brutal murder of a Washington Post journalist. And there are suggestions that the “president” used Saudi Arabia and his pals at The National Enquirer to get revenge on Jeff Bezos, who owns the Post.

CNN: Bezos flags ‘Saudi angle’ in alleged AMI extortion attempt.

Jeff Bezos’ stunning accusation that the National Enquirer tried to blackmail him mentioned the close ties between the paper’s publisher, David Pecker, and President Donald Trump — and a second, less well-known connection.

Lucille Ball with cat

Bezos flagged the link between the New York tabloid’s parent company, American Media, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, returning to it several times.

While Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir denied any connection between his country and AMI to CNN, Bezos said in his Thursday statement that the link between the Kingdom and the media company is not yet fully understood. He carefully laid out a web of connections.

The trigger for Bezos’ post was his decision to hire a respected investigator to find out how texts to his girlfriend were obtained and published by the National Enquirer — and to determine why the paper and Pecker, the AMI chairman, had made him a target.

“Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation,” Bezos wrote. “For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve,” he continued.

A couple of articles on the National Enquier story to check out:

The Washington Post: Federal prosecutors reviewing Bezos’s extortion claim against National Enquirer, sources say.

The Daily Beast: Private Eyes Detail Inner Workings of National Enquirer ‘Blackmail’ Machine.

Marlon Brando and his cat

The illegitimate “president’s” fake attorney general made an ass of himself in front of the Congressional committee and the world yesterday and the “president” is very pleased. Natasha Bertrand at The Atlantic: Matthew Whitaker Plays to an Audience of One.

It took about five minutes of questioning for the acting attorney general to provoke gasps and jeers in the congressional hearing room. “Your five minutes are up,” Matthew Whitaker, an ex-U.S. Attorney-turned toilet salesman, told the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chairman Jerry Nadler. Nadler cracked a smile, but from that point on the rules of engagement seemed clear: Whitaker, just days remaining in his legally dubious role as the interim head of the Justice Department, appeared to be playing to an audience of one…..

Despite the lingering questions about his resume and suspicions about why he was appointed over Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who would have  been Sessions’s natural replacement, Whitaker presented himself to Nadler, a 13-term congressman, with the same aloofness and disdain for tradition that often seems typical of the Trump White House. And that may have been on purpose. Whitaker, whose tenure ends when Bill Barr is confirmed as attorney general next week, will need a new job. He has reportedly been considered for the role of Trump’s chief of staff. And though he testified under oath that he had “not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation,” he repeatedly declined to contradict Trump’s claims that Mueller is on a “witch hunt.”

Marilyn Monroe

Chuck Rosenberg, a former senior Justice Department official who resigned in 2017, said it would have been “easy” for Whitaker to say that Mueller’s investigation is legitimate, as Barr did during his recent confirmation hearings. “I don’t know how somebody could be that cowardly,” he added. But doing so would have undermined what is arguably his boss’s most important talking point—and that would not have been a good move for Whitaker if he was, in fact, auditioning for his next position.

Instead, Whitaker had a boilerplate response prepared for the myriad of questions posed by Democrats about the Mueller probe: “It would be inappropriate for me to talk about an ongoing investigation,” he said. Democrats, though, found that disingenuous—Whitaker had discussed the probe publicly earlier this month, going as far as to speculate that it would be wrapping up soon.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

Here’s a Trump/Whitaker/Russia scandal that is new to me. Raw Story:

Taking to Twitter on Friday night, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) hinted that there will be an investigation into a donor who gifted the Judicial Network with $18 million to steal the Supreme Court seat belonging to Merrick Garland.

As part of his observations on the Matt Whitaker hearing where he was confronted about a mysterious $1.2 million donation that funded his salary, Whitehouse said Democrats shouldn’t stop there.

Meryl Streep

‘Whitaker did political hit work for a front group called FACT that does not reveal its donors. Today he admitted that its donor was Donors Trust, an entity that hides the identity of right-wing donors. That means the unknown real donor hid behind two entities,” Whitehouse tweeted….

Whitehouse then put conservatives on notice that he expects an investigation into the dark money that was used to fund a campaign to keep Judge Merrick Garland from even getting a hearing — only to see his seat go to conservative Neil Gorsuch after Donald Trump was elected.

I found this on Twitter.

Could this be true? I don’t know, but I hope Whitehouse finds out. At this point, nothing about Trump, Republicans, and Russia would surprise me.

I’ll end with something more hopeful from The New York Times: John Dingell: My last words for America.

John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.

Mary Tyler Moore

One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.

In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.

And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.

My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.

Click on the link to read Dingell’s final thoughts. How amazing that he chose to speak out publicly from his deathbed. He was a true public servant.

That’s all I have for today. I hope you all enjoy the weekend in spite of the insanity that surrounds us.


Lazy Saturday Reads: Just Human Interest Today

rockinghorse2

Good Afternoon!!

I hope you don’t mind if I stay away from politics and other horrors in this post. I’m still feeling very overwhelmed by the Hillary hate, ignorance, and bias in the media, and the horrible tragedies happening in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Feel free to post anything you want in the comment thread, but I’m going to sick to human interest stories for today.

The photo above comes from a Boston Globe article about mysterious hobby horses that have appeared in a field in Lincoln, Massachusetts, over the past several years. The photo above and many of the other photos in this post come from a link in this story.

A Lincoln field, a herd of hobby horses, and a whimsical mystery.

rockinghorse1

Stories abound of how a herd of some 30 wooden and plastic rocking horses gradually appeared on a sliver of farmland in the town of Lincoln.

As far as Harold McAleer is concerned, it started some years ago with a lemonade stand, two kids looking to make a quick buck in the summer, and a pair of the antiquated children’s toys.

“The lemonade stand failed, and the kids went away. But the horsies stayed,” says McAleer, who has lived in Lincoln for 30 years. “Gradually over the years, it has grown and grown.”

Megan Kate Nelson, a Lincoln resident who has documented the growth of the hobby horses in videos and pictures, has a different recollection.

It began with a single horse in 2010, she says. Then, a second one arrived. Soon, the trusty steeds proliferated more quickly than the overgrown weeds and wildflowers that surround them. Visit https://houseofcannabis.ca for more information.

Another theory:

rockinghorse10

James Pingeon, whose house adjoins the parcel where the plastic horses roam, says the first one was placed there as part of a holiday display.

James Pingeon, whose house adjoins the parcel where the plastic horses roam, says the first one was placed there as part of a holiday display.

“It started out where we had a little Halloween show, and they had a headless horseman in the field, and we didn’t know what to do with the horse afterward,” he said in a message to the Globe. “So we thought, ‘Oh, let’s just leave it in the field.’ ”

Then other horses kept arriving, flying in from everywhere, he said, and gradually the herd expanded.

“It’s a spontaneous art production,” Pingeon said of the dreamlike scene.

Isn’t it wonderful? I love that people in the Lincoln community did this.

rockinghorse7

The next story–also from Massachusetts–really shouldn’t be funny because it’s about someone who apparently has psychological problems; but it’s bizarre enough to be sort of darkly humorous. The story played out over a few days.

WCVB Boston (September 3, 2015): Cop who claimed he was targeted by gunman fabricated story, police say.

MILLIS, Mass. —A rookie police officer in Millis who said Wednesday that someone shot his cruiser before it crashed and burst into flames fabricated the story, police said.

The officer, 24, said he was traveling on Forest Road when he saw a red or maroon pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction. He said when the two vehicles met, the driver opened fire on the police cruiser, police say.

“My cruiser’s been shot at. I’m at Forest Road. It’s going to be a dark maroon pickup,” the officer radioed to dispatch at 2:17 p.m.

The officer said he spun around, and in an attempt to avoid the gunfire and seek shelter, he slammed into a tree and the cruiser burst into flames.

rockinghorse3

The incident led to a massive manhunt, with schools closed and residents told to stay in their homes.

From WCVB on September 2: Millis schools closed Thursday as hunt for shooting suspect continues. Residents told to shelter in place during manhunt.

Millis public schools will be closed Thursday while investigators continue to hunt for the man who shot a police cruiser, causing it to hit a tree and burst into flames Wednesday afternoon.

At a news conference Wednesday night, Millis police said a cruiser was traveling on Forest Road when an officer noticed a red or maroon pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction, and when the two vehicles met the driver opened fire on the police cruiser.

The officer spun around, and in an attempt to avoid the gunfire and seek shelter he slammed into a tree and the cruiser burst into flames.

The unidentified officer was able to escape the flames and began to return fire as the pickup truck fled south toward Medfield.

Unreal. Finally, from today’s Boston Globe: Millis officer’s story shifted in alleged shooting hoax. Confessed he ‘blacked out,’ police say.

rockinghorse4

MILLIS — Less than three weeks ago, Bryan Johnson was beaming in a suit and tie as he stood before town selectmen, who had voted unanimously to make him a permanent police officer on the small force where he had been a part-time officer and dispatcher.

“This is a blessing,” said the 24-year-old Johnson, with the police chief and his parents sitting behind him at the hearing.

On Friday, police officials said he will be fired and face charges for allegedly making a false claim that he had been shot at by a passing driver, a report that triggered a massive response by heavily armed police who cordoned off parts of the town for hours on Wednesday and led authorities to close the public schools.

“I know I speak for the entire department and the police community when I say that we were shocked by what’s happened,” said Sergeant William Dwyer, who has been running the Millis Police Department this week.

I’m very sad for him and his family. At least he didn’t shoot anyone.

rockinghorse6

Johnson’s alleged confession to State Police came after he told them several false stories about what happened, according to a Millis police report filed in Wrentham District Court. The report said Johnson will be charged with misleading a criminal investigation, communicating false information to emergency services, malicious destruction of property, and unlawfully firing his gun.

Johnson is in an undisclosed “medical facility’’ and will remain there for the next six to 10 days, Dwyer said at a news conference Friday afternoon. “As soon as he is cleared at the medical facility, we will execute the warrant,’’ he said. He did not say what Johnson was being treated for.

Read more at the link. Apparently, no everyone who knew Johnson is shocked and mystified. The police have no idea why he did this.

What does this story say about human nature?

Fox News: ‘One hell of a pillow fight’ West Point tradition turns violent; 24 concussions.

An annual pillow fight by freshmen cadets at the U.S. Military Academy turned bloody this year when cadets swung pillowcases packed with hard objects, injuring 30 cadets, including 24 who suffered concussions.

rockinghorse5

Photos and video have circulated on social media showing the Aug. 20 brawl, which The New York Times reports West Point did not confirm until Thursday.

Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker told the newspaper the annual fight is organized by first-year students as a way to build camaraderie after a grueling summer of training to prepare them for plebe life.

He said upperclassmen overseeing the fight required cadets to wear helmets, but video shows many did not. Some cadets swung pillowcases believed to be packed with their helmets.

The Times noted one freshman posted on Twitter: “4 concussions, 1 broken leg, 2 broken arms, 1 dislocated shoulder, and several broken ribs. That’s one hell of a pillow fight. #USMA19.”

What the hell? So far no one has been disciplined, the administration is “investigating,” and they’re not going to cancel the annual pillow fight.

rockinghorse8

British researchers say their study shows that cats are more independent than dogs. Really? No sh*t, Sherlock. The Economic Times reports:

LONDON: Domestic cats do not generally see their owners as a focus of safety and security in the same way that dogs do, according to new research.

The study by animal behaviour specialists at the University of Lincoln, UK, shows that while dogs perceive their owners as a safe base, the relationship between people and their feline friends appears to be quite different.

While it is increasingly recognised that cats are more social and more capable of shared relationships than traditionally thought, the latest research shows that adult cats appear to be more autonomous – even in their social relationships – and not necessarily dependent on others to provide a sense of protection.

OK. I think most people who have provided grain free choices and homes for cats would agree with that finding, but The Daily Mail headline goes too far. Face it, your cat doesn’t care about you: Felines are more independent than dogs and don’t miss you when you’re gone, study reveals.

Um . . . no. If that’s the case, why do rush to the door when they hear their human’s car or footsteps approaching? Why do cats freak out if they figure out you’re going away for a few days–for example, you they see you packing suitcases?

rockinghorse9

The researchers based the study on Attachment Theory, and used the Strange Situation (developed by Mary Ainsworth to study relationships between young children and their caregivers), adapted for use with cats and dogs.

The research, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, was led by Professor Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, along with Alice Potter – who studied as a postgraduate at Lincoln and now works with the Companion Animals Science Group at the RSPCA.

Professor Mills said: “The domestic cat has recently passed the dog as the most popular companion animal in Europe, with many seeing a cat as an ideal pet for owners who work long hours. Previous research has suggested that some cats show signs of separation anxiety when left alone by their owners, in the same way that dogs do, but the results of our study show that they are in fact much more independent than canine companions. It seems that what we interpret as might actually be signs of frustration.”

Well, why would cats be frustrated if they don’t care what you do or whether you leave them alone?

From phys.org.

IMG_6439

The study observed the relationships between a number of cats and their owners, placing the pets in an unfamiliar environment together with their owner, with a stranger and also on their own. In varying scenarios, it assessed three different characteristics of attachment; the amount of contact sought by the cat, the level of passive behaviour, and signs of distress caused by the absence of the owner.

“Although our cats were more vocal when the owner rather than the stranger left them with the other individual, we didn’t see any additional evidence to suggest that the bond between a cat and its owner is one of secure attachment. This vocalisation might simply be a sign of frustration or learned response, since no other signs of attachment were reliably seen. In strange situations, attached individuals seek to stay close to their carer, show signs of distress when they are separated and demonstrate pleasure when their attachment figure returns, but these trends weren’t apparent during our research,” said Professor Mills.

That’s interesting, but it sounds like the results demonstrate that cats have a insecure attachment–possibly an avoidant attachment.

In a child, avoidant attachment is demonstrated in the Strange Situation by the child ignoring the caregiver and feigning disinterest when he or she leaves the room. When the caregiver returns, the avoidantly attached child appears not to notice. But studies have shown that these children are internally stress–showing increases in vital signs like heart and pulse rates. They have simply learned not to expect much positive attention from their caregivers.

Is it possible that the cats in the study had caregivers who simply assumed they were independent and autonomous, based on the popular stereo type, and thus formed an insecure attachment with their pet cats? I think it’s an interesting question. Too bad researchers couldn’t interview the cats.

IMG_6442

Here’s another interesting study–this time on big cats. The Christian Science Monitor: Where are all the lions?

When Ian Hatton, a McGill University PhD student, began studying lions and their prey in protected parks in East and Southern Africa, he found himself looking for more lions.

A veritable feast of gazelles bounded around and Zebras trotted freely – easy pickings for a pack of hungry lions. But there were fewer than Mr. Hatton expected.

Upon further research, Hatton and the other scientists discovered that this was a pattern. Prey-crowded areas had fewer lions than expected. More prey did mean a few more lions, but the lions did not increase proportionally to the gazelle population, for example.

When they examined studies on other animals, the researchers saw the same pattern. Large populations of prey did not lead to a significant increase of predators.

This wasn’t limited to carnivores. The same pattern appeared among herbivores and the plants they eat.

Why would that be?

Researchers surmise that this pattern emerges because of prey reproduction rates. In crowded areas, prey reproduce at slower rates. Thus the prey population is made up of many healthy adults.

It’s easiest for predators to capture and kill younger prey or older, weaker prey. As such, a crowded population of prey that is reproducing at slower rates makes getting a meal more difficult for predators to find.

More from the Washington Post:

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By conducting an analysis of more than a thousand studies worldwide, researchers found a common theme in just about every ecosystem across the globe: Predators don’t increase in numbers at the same rate as their prey. In fact, the faster you add prey to an ecosystem, the slower predators’ numbers grow.

“When you double your prey, you also increase your predators, but not to the same extent,” says Ian Hatton, a biologist and the study’s lead author. “Instead they grow at a much diminished rate in comparison to prey.” This was true for large carnivores on the African savanna all the way down to the tiniest microbe-munching fish in the ocean.

Even more intriguing, the researchers noticed that the ratio of predators to prey in all of these ecosystems could be predicted by the same mathematical function — in other words, the way predator and prey numbers relate to each other is the same for different species all over the world.

“That’s what was very surprising to us, to see this same pattern come up over and over,” Hatton says. But what’s actually driving the pattern remains something of a mystery.

Hatton and his colleagues suspect that different aspects of different ecosystems may drive the predator-prey ratio: For example, Hatton says, competition for space might be a major factor controlling animal populations, but changes in the nutrients used and produced by plankton might have more of an effect on some marine ecosystems.

Read more fascinating stuff at the link.

How did this post get so long? I hope you enjoyed reading these stories as much as I did. See you in the comments, and have a great Labor Day Weekend!


Lazy Saturday Reads: Will Roger Goodell’s Handling of #DeflateGate Be the Final Straw for NFL Owners? And Other News . . .

 cat on radiator1

Happy Saturday!!

I’m so tired of being cold. The Boston area tends to get a lot of snow–especially late in winter–but we rarely experience the frigid temperatures we’ve had this year. We usually get a lot of sun and temperatures in the 20-30+ range in the winter months. This year we have had many gloomy days in the teens and nighttime temperature in the single numbers. My house isn’t particularly well-insulated, and my furnace isn’t powerful enough to keep the house at 70 degrees when it’s that cold. Fortunately we enter February tomorrow and spring is on the way, even though it doesn’t feel like it yet.

On mornings like this one, I wish I could drape myself over a radiator and sleep for 16 hours a day like a cat. Honestly, I have to admit I’ve been taking a lot of catnaps lately to deal with a cold that isn’t all that bad but just keeps hanging on. Between that and following the buildup to the Super Bowl, I’ve been kind of ignoring politics for the time being. The 2016 race will begin to heat up soon enough, and the antics of the GOP Congress are just too depressing for me to want to know the gory details.

cute-kitten-sleeping-in-radiator

I haven’t written anything yet about the recent attacks on my beloved New England Patriots, but since it’s the Saturday before the Super Bowl, I’m going to write a little about it today.

I understand that most people around the country hate the Pats for the same reasons everyone hated the Yankees when I was a kid. They always seemed to be winning, and we got so sick of having to watch them in the World Series. Not to mention that their fans were unbearably arrogant and obnoxious. Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, I learned to root for the underdog.

At the beginning of the football season this year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was in hot water over the mild 2-game suspension he handed out to Ray Rice after the league learned that the Baltimore Ravens running back had punched his then-girlfriend Janay Palmer in the face in a Las Vegas elevator in February 2014, knocking her unconscious. Rice was arrested and charged with aggravated assault.

After video surfaced of the incident, Goodell turned around and suspended Rice indefinitely (this arbitrary decision was later overturned). After that the media began calling attention to other cases of domestic violence by NFL players, and many people called for Goodell to be fired. At the time, Patriots owner Robert Kraft was one of the few team owners to publicly support the commissioner. Goodell survived and the controversy died down temporarily.

Now Goodell has made an enemy of Kraft. Will a silly controversy about deflated footballs lead to Goodell’s final downfall? I’m not going to get into the details of “Deflate Gate,” but I’ve followed the story closely, and at this point I’m convinced that whole thing is ridiculous.

At first I was stunned by the accusations and then I began to believe that the Patriots must have done something wrong. But over time, I’ve concluded that the whole thing was a tempest in a teapot, and I’ve reached the point where I’m embracing the hatred and laughing about the whole thing.

cat on radiator5

I’m not a huge fan of the Super Bowl, but to me it seems stupid that this year’s game has been overshadowed by this ludicrous controversy. I think it’s time for Roger Goodell to go, and now that he has lost the support of one of the NFL’s most powerful owners–and one of Goodell’s bosses–it might actually happen. As former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told CQ Magazine, Goodell doesn’t seem to understand the value of treating the players like adults and working for peace and understanding rather than enraging everyone.

Tagliabue also said that Goodell hasn’t spoken to him since the former commissioner vacated Goodell’s ridiculously over-the-top punishment of another winning team–the New Orleans Saints–for supposedly paying bounties to players for big hits during games in 2011. This practice was common around the league and none of the hits by Saints players had lead to serious injuries. Tagliabue felt that it was unfair to penalize one team so harshly for behavior that was widely tolerated around the league, and he overturned the punishment after Goodell asked him to review the case.

Why would the NFL commissioner want to tear down winning teams? It doesn’t make sense unless you understand that the NFL doesn’t like dynasties. Here’s a piece from the Bleacher Report from 2009 about another scandal involving the New England Patriots.

Cat basking in the radiator

The Truth About Spygate: Punishing Success and Promoting Parity.

Excellence isn’t against NFL rules—at least not yet.

 But, the league punishes success anyway.

 They punish success to achieve parity among the teams. In theory, when more teams have a chance to win it all, the ratings are higher. That means more advertising dollars for the networks and bigger TV contracts for the league.

 Twelve games into the season and your team has four wins and eight losses?

 Keep watching.

 They still have a chance, just like the 2008 Chargers.

 Current rules allow scenarios where nine win teams make the playoffs and go to Super Bowls, while 11 win teams miss the playoffs….

They don’t want dominant teams. They want mediocrity. They don’t want dynasties.

They want to spread the wealth.

So, the league punishes successful teams, hoping to weaken them, and rewards bad teams, hoping to strengthen them.

Read the rest of that article to learn why the Patriots were punished with a trumped-up scandal over something every other team was doing.

cat on radiator8

So far the strategy has worked with the Saints, but maybe they can still turn it around. I hope so. After “spygate,” the Patriots refused to lie down and die. They just kept winning, and Goodell and some other team owners and coaches resented it. I think Goodell’s ham-handed strategy for promoting parity is bullshit. There have to be other ways of doing it than ruining the NFL’s most important event–the Super Bowl–and humiliating players and coaches who have worked their asses off to achieve excellence.

Rhode Island sportswriter Tom E. Curran has followed the Patriots since the late 1990s. At the beginning of “deflategate,” he thought that the Pats had cheated, but he gradually learned that the NFL had zero evidence to show any wrongdoing by the team;  and yesterday after Roger Goodell gave his “state of the NFL” speech, Curran wrote a scathing response.

Goodell Deflategate stance shows he’s a fraud.

Congrats, Roger. You successfully debased your marquee event.

You allowed one of your marquee franchises to be devalued.

You allowed the legacies of a Hall of Fame quarterback and coach to be battered.

You watched with disinterest as one of the league’s visionary owners and most influential proponents had his influence siphoned and his investment diminished.

Your NFL has bookended the 2014 season with two perfect embarrassments.

First, the wink, wink “investigation” into Ray Rice punching his fiancee into unconsciousness which exploded on the Monday morning after the season openers.

Now, a vindictive, self-important, spare-no-expense investigation into footballs being less than 12.5 PSI during the AFC Championship.

And there you were Friday, Roger, on a rainy morning in Phoenix – two days before the best two teams in the NFL will play a game that’s been terribly overshadowed – puffing out your chest.

Read about Curran’s evolution on the deflategate issue at the link.

cat on radiator7

Here’s his conclusion:

The NFL had to know it had no numbers written down before Monday dawned. But the leaks of leaky balls flowed. The NFL had a choice. Step up and say, “Look, this is standard stuff, we frequently do a review of procedures and we are not alleging any wrongdoing by anyone. We just have to make sure our footballs aren’t defective.” Or do nothing and let the whisper campaign turn into a full-throated, planetary roar that the Patriots are cheaters.

The NFL chose the latter.

And everybody’s paying for it.

The league itself. The players. The coaches. The fans.

The revenue streams keep cascading and because of that, Goodell’s 32 bosses can go to sleep every night knowing that, no matter how bad it gets, it will never slow to a trickle.

Still, he’s got to be congratulated for finding a way to let the Super Bowl be overshadowed. Seemed impossible.

The only thing that can save the week now will be the game itself. I think it will.

What will save the reputation of Roger Goodell? Nothing.

We’ll find out about the game tomorrow night. Goodell may stick around for a little while, but I think his goose is cooked.

I’ll end this diatribe with a hilarious video that finally dissolved all my resentment over what has happened over the past two weeks of deflate gate hype.

Now that I’ve bored you stiff with my obnoxious Boston fan routine, here are some other stories you may find interesting.

Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone: While Deflategate and Chaitgate Rage, America Quietly Robs Its Elderly.

NYT: Support Waning, Romney Decides Against 2016 Bid.

WaPo: Up to foot of snow possible for Midwest, Northeast.

OMG!! CNN: Mary Cheney: Why is drag ‘socially acceptable’ and blackface isn’t?

Raw Story: Drag queens respond to Mary Cheney’s question of why drag is acceptable if blackface isn’t

Reihan Salam at Slate: The Upper Middle Class Is Ruining America. And I want it to stop.

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Michael Moore on Facebook: The Day Clint Eastwood Said He Would “Kill” Me, 10 Years Ago This Week.

Michael Schiavo at Politico: Jeb ‘Put Me Through Hell’.

Talking Points Memo: Jeb Bush’s Former Classmates Say He Was A Hash-Smoking Bully.

Nina Burleigh at Newsweek: What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women.

Talking Points Memo: The Sounds of Solidarity: Remembering Pete Seeger at Selma.

From The New Yorker, April 10, 1965: Letter from Selma, by Renata Adler.

RedOrbit via Raw Story: ‘Horrific’ pre-historic shark makes a rare appearance in Australian waters.

Georg Gray: Rare Historic Photos You’ll Never Forget.

What else is happening? Let us know in the comment thread and have a fabulous Super Bowl weekend!

 


April Fools Day Evening Thread

Originally published in the April 1st, 1995 issue of Discover magazine. The Hotheaded Naked Ice Borer is a fictional animal invented by Discover magazine as an April Fool’s Day joke. A short article on the Hotheaded Naked Ice Borer first appeared in the April, 1995 issue of Discover magazine. The article was written by Tim Folger, then an editor at the magazine.

Good Evening

Today is one of the most annoying days on the internets…of course, I am talking about the April Fool “pranks” played on the “unsuspecting” public on the world wide web. It used to be fun, way back in the day of print magazines. National Geographic and Discovery Magazine had some spectacular ones.

<———You may remember this gorgeous fellow in the picture from Discovery Magazine.

Here is a link to NatGeo’s history of April Fool’s Day: April Fools’ Day Mystery: How Did It Originate?

For the eager prankster, nothing beats the centuries-old tradition of April Fools’ Day.

“A lot of people think [April Fools’ Day] is just obnoxious, and just wish it would stop,” said Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes in San Diego, California. (Read an April Fools’ Day Q&A with the Museum of Hoaxes curator.)

“But people who love pranks really love the day and refuse to give up the tradition. They’re the ones who keep it alive.”

Boese notes, however, that the number of pranks in the home and at the office has decreased in recent years in the United States, and has been replaced by large institutionalized media hoaxes, he said.

(Related: “April Fools’ Day Special: History’s Hoaxes” [April 1, 2003].)

April Fools’ Day Origins a Mystery

The origins of April Fools’ Day are shrouded in mystery, experts say.

The most popular theory is that France changed its calendar in the 1500s so that the New Year would begin in January to match the Roman calendar instead of beginning at the start of spring, in late March or early April.

However word of the change traveled slowly, and many people in rural areas continued to celebrate the New Year in the spring. These country dwellers became known as “April fools,” the story goes.

Mr. Boese does not think this is the case, but you can read the rest of the history of April Fools Day at the link.

I do have two places you can go to check out what internet pranks were pulled today:

Internet April Fools Jokes – Google Search

April Fools’ Day On The Web : 2013

The “perfect pet” became the perfect April Fools’ Day prank in 1984, when the Orlando Sentinel ran a story extolling the merits of the “Tasmanian mock walrus”—including a picture that actually featured a naked mole rat (pictured). According to the paper, the four-inch-long (ten-centimeter-long) creature resembled a walrus, purred like a cat, and was as tractable as a hamster, the Museum of Hoaxes website said. This ideal pet—which had supposedly been smuggled in from Tasmania, an island state of Australia—also never needed to be bathed, used a litter box, and munched on cockroaches. Dozens of people called the Sentinel seeking to get their own Tasmanian companion, according to the museum’s website. Unfortunately, real-life naked mole rats don’t live up to the newspaper’s hype.

(BTW, I remember that 1984 prank distinctly. A hairless hamster who eats roaches? Cool! But I didn’t remember that it used a litter box.)

With all that being said…I have a couple of cat stories for you.

Boston Boomer sent this to me last night. I don’t think it is a joke, because it seems fair to me that back in the middle ages, a monk who spent his days as a scribe, had a pet cat that wanted a little attention….Curious Cat Walks Over Medieval Manuscript.

This article was published on March 26th, so if it is a joke…its a damn good one.

A medieval manuscript showing cat paw tracks across the pages.

Inky paw prints presumably left by a curious kitty on a 15th century manuscript.

While thumbing through the medieval manuscript in July 2011, Emir O. Filipović, a teaching and research assistant at the University of Sarajevo, discovered pages of the book stained with the inky paw prints of a cat and snapped a picture—something he planned on sharing with colleagues and students for a laugh.

“I never could have imagined the attention that those prints would subsequently receive,” Filipović wrote in an email.

Filipović sent the photo to fellow historian Erik Kwakkel via Twitter in September 2012, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that the paw prints saw a flurry of reblogging, retweeting, and sharing.

“It’s not very often that a researcher can come across curious things while sifting through monotonous and dull archival registers,” Filipović said. But the more time spent scouring manuscripts, the better the chances of stumbling across oddities.

One of my favorite history blogs is called Got Medieval, which takes a look at the Marginalia that is found in medieval manuscripts. Here is a little cat found in the margins that you tickle you…If You Give a Cat a Necklace (Mmm… Marginalia #30) — Got Medieval


I’m not 100% sure on this one, but I believe this is an illustration of an old medieval folk-tale. It goes thus:

If you give a cat a necklace, he’ll want to throw a party.If the cat throws a party, he’ll want to invite over all the dogs who used to chase him to lord it over them.

If he wants to lord his necklace and party-throwing panache over those dogs, he’ll have to hire some entertainment to play music to set the mood.

If he hires entertainment to play mood-setting music, he’ll have to go with the bagpipe playing fox, who is the only one available on such short notice.

If he goes with the bagpipe playing fox, his groupies the geese will come too. They go everywhere with him.


If the geese come, the owl will follow behind, but he’ll mostly keep to himself at a table alone.If the owl stays at a table by himself, they’ll probably call up the flute-playing monkey in hopes of cheering him up.

If they tell the monkey who plays the flute, he’ll come, but he’ll be totally disinterested in the cat’s party and only make things more awkward–for the owl and for everyone else.

If the monkey acts like he’s above the party, the cat will be filled with an impotent self-loathing.

If the cat is filled with an impotent self-loathing, he will forget he is anthropomorphic, throw his necklace away, and feast on the tender flesh of a mouse who just came to the party to get a cookie…

Why, heartless, foolish world, why did you give the cat a necklace? Now a poor defenseless mouse is dead and the king of the cats has forgotten how to sit at the table and use a knife and fork. And all because you gave a cat a necklace.

It’s either that, or we’ve got a medieval-version of the Goofy/Pluto problem on our hands here. While all the other characters are anthropomorphized animals, the King of Cats’ pet cat is still a non-anthropomorphic cat. Perhaps this is why the monkey looks so pensive. If there are non-anthropomorphic cats in his marginal world, is it possible that he is just a normal monkey, and not an anthropomorphic one?

Well, who would have thought the best damn party in the world would come from giving a cat a necklace….

I had to go to my neurologist in Atlanta today, so I won’t be around the internet much. Please be sure to share some pranks you may come across during the day…

This is an open thread.


Lazy Caturday News and Open Thread

Good Morning All!

The 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in is coming up on June 17. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein published a piece about it in yesterday’s Washington Post.

Today, much more than when we first covered this story as young Washington Post reporters, an abundant record provides unambiguous answers and evidence about Watergate and its meaning. This record has expanded continuously over the decades with the transcription of hundreds of hours of Nixon’s secret tapes, adding detail and context to the hearings in the Senate and House of Representatives; the trials and guilty pleas of some 40 Nixon aides and associates who went to jail; and the memoirs of Nixon and his deputies. Such documentation makes it possible to trace the president’s personal dominance over a massive campaign of political espionage, sabotage and other illegal activities against his real or perceived opponents.

In the course of his five-and-a-half-year presidency, beginning in 1969, Nixon launched and managed five successive and overlapping wars — against the anti-Vietnam War movement, the news media, the Democrats, the justice system and, finally, against history itself. All reflected a mind-set and a pattern of behavior that were uniquely and pervasively Nixon’s: a willingness to disregard the law for political advantage, and a quest for dirt and secrets about his opponents as an organizing principle of his presidency.

Long before the Watergate break-in, gumshoeing, burglary, wiretapping and political sabotage had become a way of life in the Nixon White House.

What was Watergate? It was Nixon’s five wars.

The Post also provides links to it’s coverage of the Watergate Scandal back in the good old days when the press believed in exposing government corruption. Today, the Post admits that “investigative journalism is at risk.”

Remember this?

The sad thing about Watergate is that if it happened today there wouldn’t be any investigation or arrests. We’d be told to move along, look forward not backward.

To see how things work today, you can read the White House e-mails that detail President Obama’s sellout to the pharmaceutical industry on health care. Apparently this one was leaked by House Republicans. Down With Tyranny has some good commentary.

um…huh? Must have dropped off for a second there. Let’s see what else is happening.

At the San Francisco Chronicle, Jeff Brinkley, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, now a Professor of Journalism at Stanford University finds Mitt Romney’s foreign policy positions deeply disturbing. He thinks it’s highly problematic that Romney has no experience and seemingly no knowledge about foreign policy. Brinkley notes that Obama already had to learn on the job, and now the Republicans have nominated another foreign policy naif who may be even less prepared than Obama was.

Romney…declared a couple of months ago that “Russia is America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe.” What nonsense. The U.S.-Russia relationship is a bit strained, but what about Iran, North Korea, Pakistan? Every one of those states poses a strategic threat that Russia does not.

“Immediately, speculations surfaced that the former governor of Massachusetts continues to live in a Cold War world and has few, if any, insights about American foreign policy,” Klaus Larres, a German American academic, wrote for the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. And former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Romney to use his head and “check the time. It’s now 2012, not the mid-1970s.”

His advice on Afghanistan has been no better. Repeatedly he has called the plan to gradually withdraw forces “misguided” and “an extraordinary admission of failure.”

In the past, Romney has asserted that the United States and NATO need to defeat the Taliban before leaving. That has been the goal for nearly 11 years, and NATO is no closer today. The most recent National Intelligence Estimate asserts that the war is unwinnable as long as the Taliban maintains a safe haven in Pakistan and the Afghan government continues its corrupt, malevolent and counterproductive ways.

I wonder if Romney knows that one-third of the Western forces killed in Afghanistan so far this year died at the hands of Afghan soldiers they were training or leading.

There’s lots more at the link.

Charles Pierce is talking about “PUMA-ism” again, but I’ll forgive him because of this description of Obama’s defensive behavior of late:

In many ways, this president reminds me of the truck drivers in The Wages of Fear, trying to get the nitroglycerine over the mountains with blowing themselves all to hell and gone. In so many ways, he is still outside of things. In so many ways, he is still the flyer the Democratic party took in 2008. In so many ways, the path he has to walk to re-election is similar to the path he has had to walk through his life. It was hard not to notice the subtext present in all those earnest warnings about hurting the fee-fees of our financial titans. The president was stepping out of his place. The president was being uppity again.
This is also the case with what is perhaps the most noxious idea out there: that Barack Obama “failed” in his promise to “bring the country together,” and that he is now — Glorioski! — campaigning like he wants to be president all over again. He is engaging in politics. Mother of mercy, I swear David Brooks is just going to break down and go all to pieces on PBS some evening over the president’s betrayal of his role as the country’s anodyne black man and, of course, his upcoming role as black martyr to incivility and discord. It is his duty, dammit, to be all the things that people like Brooks wanted him to be so that he could lose, nobly, and then the country could go back to its rightful owners.

The Wages of Fear: now that was a great movie!

At Time, Tim Pagett has an excellent piece called The Catholic Contraction.

If you want some perspective on just how benighted the Roman Catholic Church looks today on the subject of women, consider Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard was a German Benedictine nun in the 12th century and a leading feminist writer of her time. But even though that time was the 1100s, the Vatican rarely hassled her for asserting that men and women are equal — that God’s true nature, in fact, is maternal — or that nonprocreative sexual pleasure is O.K.

In the 21st century, however, Hildegard would no doubt receive the same censure that Sister Margaret Farley is facing this week after the Vatican denounced her book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Farley, a Sisters of Mercy nun, a retired Yale divinity professor and a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, condones practices that have been morally acceptable to most U.S. and European Catholics for quite a while, including divorce, homosexuality, nonprocreative intercourse and masturbation. But Rome’s doctrinal bulldogs are sternly reminding her that those acts are “disordered,” “deviant” and “depraved.”

Sadly, it’s the church that’s looking unhinged these days. The Vatican was apparently just warming up in 2010 when it declared, astonishingly, that ordaining females into the all-male Catholic priesthood would be a “grave sin” on par with even pedophilia. Since then, as if scapegoating women for the escalating dissent among Catholics toward its hoary dogma, the church seems to have embarked on a misogynist’s crusade. Its legal assault on the Obama Administration’s requirement that Catholic institutions like colleges and hospitals make contraception available to female employees as part of their health coverage is, ultimately, less about religious freedom than about women’s freedom. Then there’s the U.S. bishops’ absurd probe of whether the Girl Scouts are selling feminist theology as well as fattening thin mints — and Rome’s accusation of “radical feminism” within the Leadership Conference on Women Religious (LCWR), which represents most of the U.S. nuns doing genuinely Christ-inspired work with the poor and the sick.

In science news,

NASA has discovered "a massive algae bloom under the slowly diminishing Arctic ice."

The same year that NASA researchers launched the Icescape expedition to the Arctic — the project that resulted in NASA’s astounding new discovery — there was a dire report on the world’s phytoplankton.

A Canadian team said in the journal Nature, as The Times reported in July 2010, that the world’s phytoplankton had been disappearing at a rate of about 1% a year for the previous 100 years.

“A global decline of this magnitude? It’s quite shocking,” Daniel Boyce, Dalhousie University marine scientist and lead author of the 2010 study, told The Times.

Phytoplankton — the basis of the marine food chain — “are key to the whole ecosystem,” he said. “In terms of climate changes, the effect on fisheries, we don’t know exactly what these effects will be.”

Could his latest discovery of a mass of phytoplankton in the Arctic signal a turnaround for this crucial organism?

The jury’s out. But it’s a question scientists will be pursuing, according to Paula Bontempi, NASA’s ocean biology and biogeochemistry program manager in Washington.

I think I need another little break.

Okay, back. Wouldn’t you know it? Addicting Info: Koch Brothers Linked To Florida Voter Purge

Former Secretary of State Kurt Browning worked with [Gov. Rick] Scott on the purge. Just before Scott selected Browning as Secretary in 2011, Browning led a group, Protect Your Vote Inc., which was created to oppose fair redistricting. One of the biggest checks that Browning’s organization received for $100,000 in 2010 was from the Center To Protect Patients’ Rights. At the time of the donation, the source of the money was cloaked in secrecy.

Last month, Republic Report exclusively reported that Center To Protect Patients’ Rights is part of a collection of front groups funded by David and Charles Koch as well as other billionaires as part of an election-influencing effort. The Koch Brothers plan to use these front groups to finance $400 million of a $1 billion campaign in outside money to defeat President Obama as well as defeating congressional Democrats. Mitt Romney’s Super Pac and many other nonprofits run by Karl Rove will supply the other $600 million needed to accomplish their goal.

Here’s Here’s something I missed this week: 

Pranksters ‘Jiggly Puff,’ ‘Weedlord Bonerhitler’ sign anti-’Obamacare’ petition.

When the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) set about thinking how to engage the Internet in new and unique ways, it probably did not occur to them that sometimes, the Internet tends to engage you right back.

That misunderstanding apparently led to an NRCC petition drive this week seeking to trump up the number of people who want to see “Obamacare” repealed. Unfortunately for them, it all went horribly, hilariously awry on Thursday night after they hooked an office printer up to the Twitter hashtag #IWantRepeal, then turned on a live video stream.

It was not long before NRCC staff completely lost control and were forced to pull the plug.

In almost no time at all, their printer was spitting out pages of petitions signed by “Weedlord Bonerhitler,” “Jiggly Puff,” “Boner Junkmonkey,” “Pointless Empty Gesture,” “Turd Sniffer,” “Like 20 more boners” and “HelpI’mStuckInThisPrinter,” among many, many others. Screen shots of this Twitter debacle and links to the live video began circulating almost immediately.

Okay, I’ll sign off with this:

“How we behave toward cats here below determines our status in heaven.” – Robert A. Heinlein


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!