Learn from Man’s Best Friend

canine fair play

Canids compensate for size and status, to play fair

Scientific American brings us The Ethical Dog, an interesting and thought-provoking article about the social behaviors and ordered customs of canids. We’ve admired and lived side-by-side with these remarkable animals for thousands of years.

These behaviors, including altruism, tolerance, forgiveness, reciprocity and fairness, are readily evident in the egalitarian way wolves and coyotes play with one another. Canids (animals in the dog family) follow a strict code of conduct when they play, which teaches pups the rules of social engagement that allow their societies to succeed.

The authors of the article point out that human beings could learn a thing or two about playing fair from our four-legged companions.

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Sucking the Quileute Dry

To millions of “Twilight” fans, the Quileute are Indians whose (fictional) ancient treaty transforms young males of the tribe into vampire-fighting wolves. To the nearly 700 remaining Quileute Indians, “Twilight” is the reason they are suddenly drawing extraordinary attention from the outside—while they themselves remain largely excluded from the vampire series’ vast commercial empire.

Op Ed piece from the New York Times.

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The Semicolon: The Most Feared Punctuation On Earth

Everything you always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask, explained simply, clearly, and precisely right here by The Oatmeal.

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Virus Fossil Bed

Good Ideas Come in All Sizes

Scientists spent thirteen years mapping and sequencing the human genome. The Human Genome Project, though completed in 2003, was only the barest beginning of what we have yet to learn about ourselves, our own DNA, where we’ve come from, and where we’ve yet to go.

Hereditary predispositions to disease and illness—cancer, for example—may well be regulated or even eradicated in another generation or two.

Also, think of the billions of dollars to be made if we can only learn to manipulate the DNA of parents to guarantee children of unusual brilliance, custom eye-color chosen off a ring of those little color-sample chips, and perfect pitch.

Scientists are reconstructing million-year-old viruses from the remnant DNA scraps found in the human genome, according to this article in the New York Times:

Scientists who hunt for these viruses think of themselves as paleontologists searching for fossils. Just as animals get buried in rock, these viruses become trapped in the genomes of their hosts. While their free-living relatives continue to evolve, fossil viruses are effectively frozen in time.

Now, while reconstructing viruses that changed the course of human evolution may sound rather alarming, we’re told that the search for these virus fossils, and their eventual reconstitution, has a great deal of information to impart about the course that human evolution has taken:

Fossil viruses are also illuminating human evolution. Scientists estimate that 8.3 percent of the human genome can be traced back to retrovirus infections. To put that in perspective, that’s seven times more DNA than is found in all the 20,000 protein-coding genes in the human genome.

So not to worry. This is gentle pursuit of science for its own sake. It’s not as if they’re cloning dinosaurs. Or building flesh-eating battle robots.

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Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse 5 POW

In December of 1944 Private Kurt Vonnegut was captured by Wehrmacht troops. A month later, Vonnegut and his fellow POWs were imprisoned in an underground slaughterhouse known by German soldiers as Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five), beneath Dresden. The following February Vonnegut survived the allied bombing of Dresden and wrote a following letter in May of 1945 to his family from a repatriation camp. The letter is astonishing reading.

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Moff’s Law

Inevitably, in an online discussion (especially a discussion about -isms in art) involving more than three people, some ignoramus will say something very like: Jeez, it was just a movie. STFU and enjoy it, okay?

How to respond the next time someone accuses you of overthinking a text or a film? Please allow me to direct your attention to the newly-coined Moff’s Law.

First of all, when we analyze art, when we look for deeper meaning in it, we are enjoying it for what it is. Because that is one of the things about art, be it highbrow, lowbrow, mainstream, or avant-garde: Some sort of thought went into its making — even if the thought was, “I’m going to do this as thoughtlessly as possible”! — and as a result, some sort of thought can be gotten from its reception. That is why, among other things, artists (including, for instance, James Cameron) really like to talk about their work.

Because I don’t know about you. But at least once a week, someone demands to know why I insist on thinking about things so much.

And unless you live on a parallel version of Earth where too many people are thinking too deeply and critically about the world around them and what’s going on in their own heads, you’re not helping anything; on the contrary, you’re acting as an advocate for entropy.

The discussion giving rise to this matter-of-fact observation that it’s actually both unreasonable and intellectually hostile to demand that everyone turn off their brains when they approach a book, movie, or other form of art, originated in the comments thread following  Annalee Newitz’ review of Avatar on  io9

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Art in the Oddest Places

Cupcakes, by their very nature a fleeting and clearly-delineated moment of sweetness, capturing the essence of games.

A mouthful of art:

How many games do you recognize? How many have you played?

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TSA Knocking on Doors to Seize Hardware

Wired has the story:

Two bloggers received home visits from Transportation Security Administration agents Tuesday after they published a new TSA directive that revises screening procedures and puts new restrictions on passengers in the wake of a recent bombing attempt by the so-called underwear bomber.

And the follow-up:

In the wake of public outcry against the Transportation Security Administration for serving civil subpoenas on two bloggers, the government agency has canceled the legal action and apologized for the strong-arm tactics agents used.

We have got to walk back the crazy. Because when the brownshirts TSA is banging on your door, confiscating your hardware, bullying, threatening, and then backing down under public outcry—what happens when the public gets bored and jaded, and stops raising the outcry?

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Paul Krugman on the Economics of the Last Ten Years: A Whole Lot of Nothin’

What was truly impressive about the decade past, however, was our unwillingness, as a nation, to learn from our mistakes.

You can read the rest of Paul Krugman’s “The Big Zero” in the New York Times here.

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The Photographic Periodic Table of Elements

This is a gorgeous, fascinating, Fluorite from the William Wise mine in Westmoreland, N.H.and very fun site. It’s from the Element Collection, which includes Theodore Gray who is also the creator behind the lovely Wood Periodic Table. Sites like these remind us that science is fun, creative, and beautiful.

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