Thursday Reads: Animal Psychology, Republican Race-Baiting, Obama’s Drone War, and More

Good Morning!!

Before I get to political news, here’s an interesting story that has nothing to do with the upcoming 2012 elections: Suicidal dogs and bipolar wolves. It’s an interview with Laurel Braitman, a PhD candidate at MIT and the author of an upcoming book, Animal Madness. As someone who strongly believes that animals have personalities and strong emotions, I’m looking forward to check out her book. Here’s just a bit of the interview, conducted by Malcolm Harris of New Inquiry Magazine.

MH: How did you get involved in writing about mental illness in other animals in particular?

LB: I was doing something completely different but I had gone to graduate school for history of science at MIT. I had originally gone there to do research on the aquarium fishery in the Amazon basin. But I had a dog at the time, my partner and I had adopted a Burnese Mountain Dog. And he was fine for the first six months and then he went spectacularly crazy. He developed a debilitating case of separation anxiety. If we left him alone he would destroy himself, the house, anything in the way. He nearly killed himself at least once. So I had to take him to the vet hospital after he jumped out of our 4th floor apartment, and they said I had to take him to a veterinary behaviorist who would give him a prescription for Prozac and Valium. I was stopped in my tracks. I had heard there were some animals taking these drugs, but I never thought of myself as the kind of person who would put an animal on Prozac. But I found myself in a desperate situation with a 120 pound dog and I tried all these things and they didn’t work, so I became that person that puts her dog on antidepressants. Prozac didn’t work for him really, but the Valium did, at least in the short term. And I began to get curious about how these drugs got into vet clinics in the first place and if there was something to this. Was my dog responding to these drugs in the some of the same ways that people do?

I ended up switching what I was studying because I couldn’t find anything written about the history of this. My PhD research is now the story of what the last 150 years have to tell us about mental illness in other animals. Can they be crazy? Who says they’re crazy? How did the industry around animal mental health come to be? And how do we make other animals feel better? That’s the question that interests me most. Once you notice that another animal is disturbed or anxious– what do we do then? I’ve spent the last few years traveling all over the world to talk to people who are making it their life’s work to help these animals – whether they are elephants or dogs or birds.

What a brilliant idea!

And now, once again we move from the sublime to the ridiculous–and offensive. The Romney campaign is up to it’s old dirty tricks, sending their meanest surrogates out to race bait again. First up, Newt Gingrich says Obama is “not a real president.”

“[Obama] really is like the substitute [National Football League] referees in the sense that he’s not a real president,” Gingrich told Greta Van Susteren on Fox News Tuesday night. “He doesn’t do anything that presidents do, he doesn’t worry about any of the things the presidents do, but he has the White House, he has enormous power, and he’ll go down in history as the president, and I suspect that he’s pretty contemptuous of the rest of us.”

Unbelievable! And there’s more:



“This is a man who in an age of false celebrity-hood is sort of the perfect president, because he’s a false president,” he said. “He’s a guy that doesn’t do the president’s job.”

 ….

“You have to wonder what he’s doing,” Gingrich continued. “I’m assuming that there’s some rhythm to Barack Obama that the rest of us don’t understand. Whether he needs large amounts of rest, whether he needs to go play basketball for a while or watch ESPN, I mean, I don’t quite know what his rhythm is, but this is a guy that is a brilliant performer as an orator, who may very well get reelected at the present date, and who, frankly, he happens to be a partial, part-time president.”

It kind of takes your breath away, doesn’t it? Next up, John Sununu: Obama Is “Absolutely Lazy And Detached From His Job”

“Look, let me tell you what the big problem with this president is in my opinion. He is absolutely lazy and detached from his job. When he doesn’t go and attended 60% of the detailed presidential daily briefings that come from the CIA and thinks he can just skim it, skim the summary paper on his iPad instead of sitting down and engaging in what — I was in the White House with George Herbert Walker Bush. He took that brief everyday. George W. Bush took it everyday and I believe that Bill Clinton took it everyday. This president thinks he’s smarter than those guys and he doesn’t have to engage in the discussion. That’s the most important half-hour of the day for a president who has to protect the security of the United States,” Romney surrogate John Sununu said on Hannity.

Watch the video at the link, if you can stand it. Read the rest of this entry »


TBIF Reads

Good Morning!

Today we’re thanking the Buddhas for Friday just ’cause I feel like it!!  Well, not that any Buddhas had anything to do with naming today Friday or inventing the calendar or anything.  Let’s just say I felt contrarian today.

So, some of the Republicans who want to be president had a debate last night and it was all about denial of the last few centuries or progress.  Heck, it was denial of maybe 5 or so centuries.  Here’s a blast from the past from one of the more “credible candidates”.

MR. BROKAW: In the vast scientific community, do you think that Creationism has the same weight as evolution, and at a time in American education when we are in a crisis when it comes to science, that there ought to be parallel tracks for Creationism versus evolution in the teaching?

GOV. PAWLENTY: In the scientific community, it seems like intelligent design is dismissed — not entirely, there are a lot of scientists who would make the case that it is appropriate to be taught and appropriate to be demonstrated, but in terms of the curriculum in the schools in Minnesota, we’ve taken the approach that that’s a local decision. I know Senator Palin — or Governor Palin — has said intelligent design is something that she thinks should be taught along with evolution in the schools, and I think that’s appropriate. My personal view is that’s a local decision —

MR. BROKAW: Given equal weight.

GOV. PAWLENTY: — of the local school board.

MR. BROKAW: And you would recommend it be given equal weight?

GOV. PAWLENTY: We’ve said in Minnesota, in my view, this is a local decision. Intelligent design is something that, in my view, is plausible and credible and something that I personally believe in but, more importantly, from an educational and scientific standpoint, it should be decided by local school boards at the local school district level.

I guess he doesn’t think stuff like science should be left up to scientists.  School Boards know so much more.  But that’s pretty funny, because last night, he couldn’t exit that question fast enough.  He also said he was for cap-and-trade before he was against it.

10:07 p.m. “Do we have to?” Pawlenty’s candid comment before he’s asked to listen to an old interview where he backs the cap-and-trade approach to put a price on carbon. Afterwards, he reiterates he’s changed his mind. “I don’t try to duck it, bob it weave it. I’m just telling you I made a mistake.”

10:05 p.m. Pawlenty pivots off a question about creationism to burnish his blue collar credentials: “My family is a union family,” he said. “It’s not about bashing unions it’s about being pro-jobs…Pressed on to answer the creationism question: “I believe that should be left up to parents and local school districts.”

The shocker of the evening was that  there is another pro-choice Republican politician still standing besides Rudy Guilliani.  It’s Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico.  Former Senator Rick Santorum is as Spanish Inquisition as ever.

10:00 p.m. Santorum offers a robust defense of the party’s social conservative wing — and takes a direct shot at Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels: “Anybody who would suggest we call a truce on the moral issues doesn’t understand what America is all about,” he says.

9:56 p.m. Johnson acknowledges he’s writing off the anti-abortion vote. “I support a woman’s right to choose up to the viability of the fetus,” he says.

9:54 p.m. Gays could get married if they want to under a President Paul: “The government should just be out of it,” the congressman says of the definition of marriage. “I have my standards, but I shouldn’t have the right to impose my standards on others… Just get the government out of it.”

If you haven’t noticed, Mittens and a few others were AWOL.  The debate was carried by Fox News.  This is interesting.  Gingrich didn’t show up but his contract with Fox was ended as was Rick Santorum’s contract.  How DO they tell the difference between dabblers and done thrown the hat in?  Huckabee still has his program.  Then, there’s the Donald on NBC.  NBC isn’t talking one way or the other about canceling whatever reality show Trump’s cooked up at the moment.

Fox News has terminated its contracts with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum after the deadline for them to decide on presidential bids passed on May 1, a source familiar with the move told POLITICO.

Fox suspended the two contributors in early March and stopped paying them as they mulled presidential runs, but left them the option of returning to the network. The contracts’ end marks another sign that Gingrich, who has repeatedly delayed his decision citing business obligations, is in the race — though he dropped out of tonight’s Fox debate.

For what it’s worth, the pundits and the focus groups liked former CEO Herman Cain’s debate performance.   For some reason, Santorum came in second with the Fox News debate focus group.  Most of them should just head to the ice floes now for the good of society.

In an interesting twist of fate,  Paul Ryan Agrees That His Budget Includes An Individual Mandate  for Health Insurance.

Q: If Medicare becomes a voucher program, would you require seniors to purchase private insurance and if so isn’t that an individual mandate? If you will not require them to purchase insurance how do you propose to prevent a situation where the costs of uninsured seniors is very expensive and gets passed on to me as a private policy holder? […]

RYAN: Its mandate works no different than how the current Medicare law works today, which is you just select from a wide range of different plans. It literally would be like Medicare Advantage…

So much for the faux outrage on “Obamacare”.  This was the same kind of crap that went on back in the day when it was all called Dolecare.  The centerpiece of all the Republican plans has been forcing people to buy stuff from private businesses.  I still can’t figure out how Obama got the Democrats to go along with it after they’d been fighting it for like 15 years.

The Daily Mail asks “Will Bin Laden’s sea burial backfire?” According to one British scholar, Radical Muslims have already renamed the Arab Sea  location ‘Martyr’s Sea’

Radical Muslims are already calling the site of Osama bin Laden’s ocean burial the ‘Martyr’s Sea’, according to one of Britain’s leading Islamic scholars.

The US said the decision to drop bin Laden’s body into the North Arabian Sea was taken to avoid creating a shrine for the slain Al Qaeda chief.

But Abdal Hakim Murad, Muslim Chaplain at Cambridge University, claimed yesterday that the move could backfire on the Americans.

Speaking on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, he said it was ‘disappointing’ that bin Laden wasn’t taken into custody.

‘By tipping him into the sea, the Americans may have created a kind of shrine. Some radicals are already calling the Arabian Sea the Martyr’s Sea,’ he said.

Okay, here’s a  new study that’s  interesting but maybe not very useful:   WILL a baby be a boy or a girl? If the mother started her period at a young age, it is more likely to be a girl.”

That’s according to Misao Fukuda at the M&K Health Institute in Hyogo, Japan, and colleagues, who found subtle differences in sex ratios of children depending on when a mother entered menarche.

Fukuda asked over 10,000 mothers the age at which they had begun their period and the sex of their baby. Forty six per cent of the children born to women who began their periods at age 10 were boys. This figure rose to 50 per cent when the woman began her period at 12, and 53 per cent when the women entered menarche at age 14 (Human Reproduction,DOI: 10.1093/humrep/der107).

Fukuda points to previous research demonstrating higher levels of the female sex hormone oestradiol in women who entered menarche before the age of 12. This may lead to spontaneous miscarriage of fertilised male eggs, he says. The theory is plausible, says Valerie Grant at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, as male embryos are known to be more vulnerable to hormone imbalances.

WAPO has a very interesting personal feature up on Bradley Manning:  “Bradley Manning is at the center of the WikiLeaks controversy. But who is he?” It basically gives a brief biography of the young solider in the center of so much controversy and trouble.

Despite his struggles, Manning was excited about his future in Army intelligence, a field that suited his analytical mind. “It’s going to be a different crowd when I get through with basic,” he told the friend. “I’m going to be with people more like me.”

He enjoyed classes at the Fort Huachuca, Ariz., intelligence school, where he received a top-secret security clearance, graduated and joined the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y.

It was here, constrained by the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, that he began speaking out anonymously about gay rights. He attended a rally in Syracuse and noted on Facebook that he had gotten an “anonymous mention” in an article. The reporter wrote of a gay soldier who complained he was “living a double life. … I can’t make a statement. I can’t be caught in an act.”

Manning now had a love interest: Tyler Watkins, a freshman interested in neuroscience at Brandeis University who was an active member of Triskelion, the Brandeis club for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. Manning began to make weekend visits to Watkins’s dorm at the tranquil, wooded campus west of Boston. On his Facebook page, Watkins declared that he was “totally in love with Bradley Edward Manning!!!!!!!”

It still seems that TV is centered on OBL.  I’m glad that we’ve been able to scrap up some alternatives around here. Well, that’s enough to get you started today! What’s on your reading and blogging list?