Sunday Morning Open Thread: Companion Animals

Seems like a lot of people are taking the holiday-for-some weekend as a vacation from politics, not that I blame them. We’re debating whether to spend some time at the Topsfield Fair, or to start planting out the big box of spring bulbs that just arrived.

But speaking of companion animals, here’s a fun story from the Washington Post, which you should definitely click just for the absolutely perfect stock photo illustrating it. “What makes dogs so special and successful? Love”

Clive Wynne, a psychologist and founder of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, has a new book that walks readers through the growing body of dog science. In it, he argues that what makes dogs remarkable is not their smarts, but their capacity to form affectionate relationships with other species — in short, to love.

Wynne spoke recently with The Washington Post about his book, “Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You.” This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Washington Post: Many dog owners will think, “Of course my dog loves me.” Why study this?

Wynne: It’s at least worth thinking about that what on the surface appears to be something in our dogs that people are happy to call love might — might — not have deserved that name. It could have been that our dogs were in some sense just faking it to get better treats. Ultimately, this is, to me, about trying to understand the secret of dogs’ success and what makes dogs unique.

Scientists in the first decade of the 21st century were mainly concerned with the idea that dogs have special forms of intelligence and social cognition that were unique in the animal kingdom. From the point of view of those of us that are in the science of studying dogs, the idea that it’s affection and not intelligence that’s the secret ingredient that makes dogs successful is quite a radical idea.

You and I have had conversations in the past where I got the impression you would be on the more skeptical end of the dogs-love-us spectrum.

I’m a reluctant convert. I was somebody who was resistant to the idea that what appeared to be affection radiating from our dogs could really be that. But ultimately, a combination of getting this dog into my life — who’s lying down next to me now, Xephos — and the overwhelming evidence of the studies that my students and I did, and the studies that so many other people have done, it really all adds up to an irresistible picture. I know that sometimes Xephos just wants dinner. But I’m pretty convinced that that’s not the whole picture. She really does feel a bond, a connection toward me that’s as real as any other connection that any other individual in my life might feel toward me…

You also write about how biological research backs up the idea that dogs can love.

If it’s there, it’s got to be in their biology. Their biology has to underwrite their behavior.

A Japanese research group analyzed dogs’ and people’s urine for levels of this hormone oxytocin, which gets called the love hormone because it spikes when two people are in loving contact with each other. They had people and dogs come into the lab and look at each other lovingly. Sure enough, the oxytocin levels went up on both sides of the relationship…

The more biological side that I’ve been involved in is digging right down to the genetic code. In part of the genome of the dog that shows evidence of recent changes, the equivalent part of the human genome is responsible for this syndrome called Williams-Beuren. The most peculiar symptom is what they call exaggerated gregariousness. People who have this syndrome have no notion of stranger, they treat everybody as a friend, they’re extremely outgoing. When I read this, I thought: They’re much like our dogs!
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Impeach the MOFO Open Thread: Maybe We Can Subpoena Ivanka, Too…

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead… but probably not if the secret-sharer is a senile narcissist propped up by parasites. Or, as Ivanka probably puts it, Who gave the servants *our* password, Daddeee?:

There were dozens of ears listening to President Donald Trump’s 30-minute phone call with the leader of Ukraine that is at the center of a House impeachment inquiry , and as many eyes that saw what he said.

White House staffers, working in the secure, soundproof Situation Room in the West Wing basement, listened in and chronicled the conversation . National Security Council personnel edited a memo written about the call. White House lawyers, according to a government whistleblower, directed that the memo be uploaded into a highly restricted classified computer network. And there were the staffers whose keystrokes on a computer made that happen.

They represent a universe of people, little known outside their vital circle of national security officials, who can either support or disavow the whistleblower’s account. Their roles could well become more public as the impeachment investigation unfolds and Congress seeks additional witnesses.

Some staffers involved with the call still work at the White House; others have left. But what was thought to be a routine conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy turned into anything but that, when Trump asked him to investigate Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election and the activities of Democratic political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter…

This call, as well as others Trump has had with foreign leaders, was unusual in other ways, too. In past administrations, top foreign policy officials routinely briefed a president in person right before a call and provided written materials as well…

One individual with firsthand knowledge of how the Trump calls with foreign leaders are handled said the president “hates” such “pre-briefs” and frequently has refused to do them. Trump doesn’t like written background materials either, preferring to handle the calls himself, often in the morning from the residence. Occasionally, while on the phone with foreign heads of state, Trump has handed the receiver to his daughter, Ivanka Trump, so she can talk with the leader, according to this individual.

The person said a six-page pre-brief with attachments was once prepared for Trump before a call to a foreign leader. But that turned out to be too long, as did a single-page version. Preparing pre-brief note cards that offered about three talking points for Trump to make on a call was the norm, according to this person, who feared retribution for describing this process and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The individual said that when Trump is done with the note cards, he often rips them up and tosses them in a burn bag. Staff who handle records have had to retrieve the burn bags from the residence, put the papers out on a table and tape them back together to preserve them as official presidential records, this person said…
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Excellent Read: “In the Land of Self-Defeat”

There has always been a strong strain of ‘Who do those snooty eggheads think they are, and why do they insist on shoving their values at us?’ in American culture… and for at least the past sixty years, the Republican party has grown fat feeding on the people most susceptible to that prejudice. Having (no doubt temporarily) exhausted its supply of Good Heartland Diner Voters anecdotes, the NYTimes permits Arkansan Monica Potts to tell the other side of the ‘rural values’ story:

I returned to Van Buren County at the end of 2017 after 20 years living on the East Coast, most recently in the Washington area, because I’m writing a book about Clinton, Van Buren’s county seat. My partner and I knew it would be a challenge: The county is very remote, very religious and full of Trump voters, and we suspected we’d stand out because of our political beliefs.

Since coming back, I’ve realized that it is true that people here think life here has taken a turn for the worse. What’s also true, though, is that many here seem determined to get rid of the last institutions trying to help them, to keep people with educations out, and to retreat from community life and concentrate on taking care of themselves and their own families. It’s an attitude that is against taxes, immigrants and government, but also against helping your neighbor…

In April, a local man who operates the Facebook group, “Van Buren County Today Unfiltered,” posted the agenda for a coming meeting of the Quorum Court, the county’s governing body. The library board wanted to increase the pay it could offer a new head librarian, who would be combining her new job with an older one, to $25 an hour.

Only about 2,500 people live in my hometown. The library serves the entire county, which has an estimated 16,600 people, a marked decline from the population at the last census in 2010. The library has historically provided a variety of services for this community. It has offered summer reading camps for children and services like high-speed internet, sewing classes and academic help. I grew up going to the library and visited it often when I returned. It was always busy. I thought people would be supportive.

Instead, they started a fight. The battle began on the Facebook post, which had 240 comments by the end. The first comment came from Amie Hamilton, who reiterated her point when I interviewed her several months later. “If you want to make $25 an hour, please go to a city that can afford it,” she wrote. “We the people are not here to pay your excessive salaries through taxation or in any other way.”
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Election 2020 Open Thread: Kamala Harris Gets Her TIME Cover

Molly Ball is always worth reading, even when her editors have saddled her with a blatantly biased pre-take. “Kamala Harris Is Making Her Case… “:

Harris is here, in Iowa, trying to regain her footing in the race. After a promising start in January, her campaign has stalled. While she is in the competition for the nomination, she’s stuck in the mid–single digits in most national and early-state polls and draws modest crowds. Perhaps three dozen people showed up to see her in Waterloo, where they were packed into a few rows in front of the stage so that the large room–an ornate century-old former department store–wouldn’t look so empty.

In mid-September, Harris said she’d be focusing on the first-to-vote caucus state. It was something of an unwitting announcement: she was overheard in Washington joking to a colleague, “I’m f-cking moving to Iowa.” (At least, a staffer quipped, “she didn’t say, ‘I’m moving to f-cking Iowa.’”) Her campaign is doubling its staff in the state, to more than 130 people, and she has pledged to visit every week for the foreseeable future. “I’m really excited about it,” she tells me, saying the opportunity to engage in “old-school retail politics” reminds her of her San Francisco political roots. “I like people.”

People like Harris too; they just can’t quite place her. Like the acquaintance you recognize but can’t recall how you met, she seems both familiar and yet mysterious. Is she a liberal or a moderate, establishment or populist, reformer or radical? Critics point out that she has flip-flopped or obfuscated her positions on important policy issues, like health care and immigration, and the speeches she could use to define herself often devolve into paeans to unity.

For all that, however, Harris remains in the hunt. She consistently polls among the top five candidates in the jumbled Democratic field, and she has the financial resources to remain viable. Her campaign raised $11.6 million in the quarter ending Sept. 30–a respectable haul, although far short of what some other front runners pulled in. As more long-shot candidates bow out of the race, campaign officials expect Harris to benefit from voters’ renewed focus. With a little luck, they say, she still has a fairly clear path to the nomination…

Meanwhile, as the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives moves toward impeachment, another piece of Harris’ record may supercharge her candidacy in the coming months: her background in law enforcement. At a time when liberals are clamoring to make the criminal-justice system less punitive, her record as a district attorney and state attorney general has been a liability. But in this new political climate, voters may relish the idea of seeing Harris–with her icy prosecutor’s glare–square off against President Trump on the national stage.

“This guy has completely trampled on the rule of law, avoided consequence and accountability under law,” she says of the President. “For all the sh-t people give me for being a prosecutor, listen. I believe there should be accountability and consequence.”…
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(Respite) Intriguing Book News: “The Fallen Worlds of Philip Pullman”

I had not known that the American edition of The Amber Spyglass was ‘slightly’ censored for the publishers’ fear of our delicate sensibilites about… teenage hormones. Alexandra Schwartz, at the New Yorker:

Pullman, who has written books for both adults and children, including the Sally Lockheart quartet, numerous fairy tales, and a reimagining of the New Testament, considers himself a storyteller first and foremost. Before becoming a writer, he taught middle school. In 2017, he returned to Lyra’s world with “La Belle Sauvage,” the first in a planned trilogy called The Book of Dust, named for the mysterious particle linked to consciousness that lie at the heart of His Dark Materials. The trilogy’s second book, “The Secret Commonwealth,” will be published in October; and an adaptation of His Dark Materials, starring James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the newcomer Dafne Keen, will appear on HBO the following month. Pullman lives with his wife and two cockapoos in Oxfordshire; he spoke with The New Yorker over the phone on a recent afternoon…

“The Secret Commonwealth” is the second in your new trilogy, The Book of Dust, which returns to the world that you created in His Dark Materials. How did you decide to come back to Lyra?

Well, in the usual way. These stories come to me. I didn’t do it on purpose. I found myself daydreaming a number of events involving Lyra and the people around Lyra. And there was always a kind of a mystery which I hadn’t settled to my own satisfaction in His Dark Materials, which is about the nature of Dust. It has something to do with consciousness, but I didn’t explore that fully, and I’m using this story, among other things, as a way of finding out what I mean by this idea.

The first book in the series, “The Book of Dust,” takes place when Lyra is a baby. She’s not enormously communicative, as babies aren’t.

And she hasn’t got any agency in that book. She’s the MacGuffin, in Hitchcock’s words, the thing that sets the plot going: the secret plans, or the unlocked suitcase, or the mysterious woman wearing a veil, or whatever it is.

And now she’s back in “The Secret Commonwealth,” and she’s twenty years old. It’s a shock, honestly, to read about her, because she’s troubled, she’s surly, she’s depressed. She’s not at all the confident heroine we remember from His Dark Materials.

Well, she’s growing up. She’s an adult. I don’t use the word “depressed.” It’s a rather depressing word. Melancholy. I think at one point Malcolm’s dæmon refers to her as bearing the mark of “Le soleil noir de la mélancolie,” which is a quotation from a poem by Gérard de Nerval which I like very much.

She’s marked by melancholy, and the reason for that, and probably one of the results of that, is she and Pantalaimon have suffered a rupture.

Yes, they’re not joined in the way that people in that world are with their dæmons.

They’re not. This was something I had wondered about for a long time. You know, we’ve had a picture of dæmons in His Dark Materials as these close beings, really an aspect of yourself. You can’t be divided. But what if you don’t like your dæmon and your dæmon didn’t like you? What would it be like then?

In the past, you’ve spoken of not so much creating dæmons as sort of discovering that they were there in your writing.

I’m sure that a very strict scientistical person would say that I did not discover anything because there’s nothing there before I make it up. But it does really feel like discovery, not invention.
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