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!

Goodbye Flipper?

Rick O'Perry, right, and another dolphin trainer with Flipper

Flipper, an Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphin, was one of the biggest television stars from 1964 – 1967. There were actually 4 dolphins who played Flipper on the screen.  Most of the series was filmed behind the scenes at the Miami Seaquarium on Virginia Key in Biscayne Bay.  The success of the Flipper franchise made dolphins a lovable species around the world.  The true story of Flipper, the dolphin and the making of the television series, is told by Ric O’Barry, Flipper’s trainer, in his book Behind The Dolphin Smile.  For those of you who were born after the 1960s, you may have seen dolphins in captivity at marine parks or even had the opportunity to swim with dolphins at one of these attractions. (NOTE:  I do not support dolphins in captivity)

Due in large part to people’s exposure to Flipper or dolphins in captive environments, there has been increased interest in and concern for dolphins around the world.  Since the beginning of this year dolphins worldwide have been stranding themselves and dying in record numbers.  The reasons for these deaths are slow in coming.  Bear in mind that the numbers listed below are like the tip of an iceberg.  Only those dolphins found onshore are listed.  Those who died at sea, whose bodies were never discovered and/or recovered are not included in the mortality/stranding counts.

THE GULF STATES – GULF OF MEXICO – February, 2010 – now

When the first report of the explosion and oil leak of the Deepwater-Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico was announced,  I knew that we were about to witness one of the greatest environmental disasters in the history of the U.S.  It had the potential to outpace the Exxon-Valdez spill off the coast of Alaska – and it did.  In case you never saw the official mortality record from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, their last report from April, 2011 lists the statistics on birds, sea turtles and marine mammals impacted.

Of course, those numbers don’t tell the whole story.  They don’t include unrecovered animals, nor the impact on breeding or toxins passed on to the offspring of the survivors, nor the poisoned food sources available to the survivors.  Please don’t get me wrong.  The people living in the area are exposed to the same toxins, but they, at least, may be treated for the illnesses that result from their exposure.  And, the people aren’t living in the water, surrounded by the oil and corexit, a toxic substance used to disperse the oil.  People also can choose what they will eat, which isn’t the case for the birds, fish, turtles and marine mammals living and swimming in this toxic soup.

Since February of 2010, 693 dolphin deaths have been documented in the Gulf of Mexico.  A good compilation of the news coverage can be found at Reef Relief.

An ongoing die-off of dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico has resulted in 693 carcasses washing ashore. Scientists believe many more dolphins likely died but were never recovered. An investigation is underway to determine whether the BP oil spill is to blame. (Press-Register/Ben Raines)

Many of the dolphins in Barataria Bay, LA are sick, according to researchers.  The AL.com blog has a full story on what researchers have found through taking both blood and tissue samples.

Thirty-two dolphins caught in August in Louisiana’s heavily oiled Barataria Bay were found to suffer from a range of symptoms including anemia, low body weight, hormone deficiencies, liver disease, and lung problems.

Those symptoms are typical of mammals exposed to oil in laboratory experiments, scientists said.

According to the Gulflive.com blog, of the 30 dolphins who washed ashore since January, 2012, 24 have been calves.

“We are dealing with a very unusual mortality,” said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport. “It is mostly calves. Generally when you see a stranding it is a variety of animals — adults, males, females, young.”

The second anniversary is approaching and the legacy of this catastrophe mostly lives on with those people, animals and plants along the Gulf Coast who survived.  This story from the one year anniversary has some amazing and heartbreaking photos: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/04/gulf_oil_spill_one_year_later.html   This recent story paints a more current picture of the state of the Gulf Coast.

Laurel didn’t find dead turtles on a recent stroll on her Gulfport shores, which she now calls “death beach.” But walking along she smelled something bad. After poking around in the sand, she found the nauseating source: a dead baby dolphin’s tail, decomposing and buried not more than a few inches in the sand. An out-of-work shrimper came a long and picked it up, and when he realized what it was he started to sob: “This really ruins my day…” Laurel remembers. Tourists looked at it incredulously, Laurel says, their kids screaming, ‘Mommy, it’s a dolphin’s tail!’

The attention of the rest of the country has turned to other news stories, having been  lulled into a false sense that everything has returned to normal by all of those commercials, funded by BP and the states’ tourist boards.  The bodies of the dead and dying animals tell a different story.  But dolphins, in particular, aren’t just dying along the Gulf Coast.

CAPE COD – January – February, 2012

177 dolphins have stranded themselves in Cape Cod.  Once again the cause or causes of the high number of dolphins ending up on the beaches of Cape Cod are simply guesses.  In mid-February, 11 stranded dolphins were found onshore in Wellfleet.

The remote inlet down Wellfleet’s Herring River is a place where the tides recede fast and far, and that’s left the animals mired in a grayish-brown mud one local calls “Wellfleet mayonnaise.”

News coverage of the incident details the stranding and actions taken to save the dolphins.   Sixty dolphins stranded in Cape Cod.  The full story tells that only 19 could be rescued.

A single dead dolphin calf was found in Queens, NY.

Kim Durham, the foundation’s rescue program director, tells the Daily News there were “no signs of trauma.” Researchers say an increasing number of common dolphins have been spotted in the Northeast in the winter, which may be attributable to climate change and a steady improvement in environmental cleanliness in the waters off the Rockaway peninsula.

Although no official cause for the strandings has been announced, there are some who think Naval operations in the area could be to blame.

Again, just as in the months of January and February Naval activity is taking place in the Atlantic. Even government Funded IFAW Katie Moore who has denied Naval involvement despite evidence of Naval activity can no longer deny the possibility of sound being the source of these tragic deaths along the Atlantic Coastline, “

And these deaths may not be the only ones which may be attributable to sonar type activities taking place in the oceans. 

PERU – February – April 2012

To locate possible oil and/or gas deposits, seismic surveys are conducted with the use of air guns by releasing high pressure air.  This passage from the Canadian Centre for Energy Information report was particularly interesting.

Offshore seismic surveys require government approval and must comply with strict environmental regulations, including a pre-survey environmental assessment. Programs are designed to avoid fish spawning seasons and sensitive fishery areas.  During the first half-hour of a survey, the energy level of the discharges is gradually increased so that fish and aquatic mammals have an opportunity to move out of the area.

That paragraph is telling.  The fish and other marine life are given a full half hour to “leave the area.”  Are these people serious?  Any of the marine life in area will understand the increasing sound waves are a signal to vamoose?  Maybe they should try transmitting in Morse Code, it would make as much sense.  Dolphins, like all cetaceans, use echo location to find food, navigate in their habitat and communicate with each other.  Needless to say, these high pressure sound waves can do massive damage to marine life, especially dolphins and whales.  If you are interested in more detailed information on dolphins and the use and effect of sound, check out this lesson plan:  http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/education/documents/porpoise-marsouin/harbourporpoise_lesson4_e.pdf

Of all these recent stranding episodes, the largest die-off is occurring off the coast of Peru.  Over 3000 dead dolphins have washed ashore since the incident began.  Once again, authorities and researchers are cautious about announcing the cause of the massive numbers of dead dolphins.  Some have attributed the deaths to the search for offshore oil deposits in the ocean floor.    More information, along with photos and video on this massive die- off can be found at The Watchers and at SF GateCNTV  and on the blog StrandedNoMore.

For the time being, drilling for oil is a necessary evil.  There are many downsides to onshore drilling, but drilling offshore has far greater along with potentially catastrophic problems.  This Hub Pages blog entry by Cheryl has a comprehensive discussion of offshore drilling.

It seems evident to me that we, humans, are the culprits in the deaths of these magnificent, highly intelligent animals.  Whether through releasing toxins into the environment or sending shockwaves through the ocean, we are killing them.  Why?  OIL – our endless quest to drill for more and more and more oil.  And our tax dollars continue to subsidize this industry, while these oil companies make vast amounts of profit.  Then we get to pay again, at artificially inflated prices, when we pump the resultant gasoline into our vehicles.  We are complicit, intentionally or not.  But Bill McKibben, of 350.org can say it better than I.

Whether or not the bill passes, those subsidies are worth focusing on.  After all, we’re talking at least $10 billion in freebies and, depending on what you count, possibly as much as $40 billion annually in freebie cash for an energy industry already making historic profits.