But this is a kingdom not a democracy. I have an advanced degree in philosophy and love debate. I’m very tolerant of unpopular “politically incorrect” views even when I disagree with them. What I won’t countenance is outright nonsense, venom, and spleen. “Hit and run” posts by anonymous posters won’t be tolerated. Name calling I’ll handle on a case-by-case basis. Something like “James, you’re an idiot if you believe…” would likely be tolerated whereas “James, you fucking kike…” probably would not. Let’s keep our abuse of each other free of scurrilousness. I hope I don’t regret starting this blog, which I’ve done in response to the astounding lack of real discussion and debate in everyday life, especially when it comes to certain topics like religion and gender. Got something on your chest? Well here’s a good place to vent. Let’s see how it goes.

If you’d like to start a topic, get in touch with me with an abstract if not a full post and I’ll let you know if you can be a guest poster.

There’s little doubt outdoor cats (by which I mean domestic cats) have an impact on native wildlife wherever they establish themselves as an invasive species. We love our cats so much that cats now outnumber dogs as pets. And for obvious reasons: cats largely take care themselves of many of the sometimes burdensome chores that come along with owning a dog. No twice daily (or more) walking. Or, if you let your pooch out in the backyard, no cleaning up the poop or stepping in it. Most cats take to the litter box as kittens and except in the case of something gong wrong will stick with it. You may never have to bathe your cat because cats groom themselves. Then, while there are lapdogs, how many of them can purr?

To help control cats, advocates for native wildlife have backed neutering pet cats before they can reproduce along with programs designed to capture and neuter or kill off feral cats (pet cats gone wild). Cats can go completely wild in one generation, and even a fully domesticated pet cat can take care of finding food and shelter for itself (and raising the next generation) relying entirely on its instincts.

By some standards, the domestic cat is the world’s top land predator. All you have to do is overlook its size and measure it by the success rate of its hunts, which are estimated to be about 50% for mature feral cats. (Lions, tigers, jaguars, and cheetahs are successful perhaps 20% of the time.)

At the same time, a study undertaken in the UK by Dr. John Bradshaw (not to be confused the American pop psychologist of the same name) closely monitored outdoor pet cats with kittycams and GPS units, and by so doing he learned a lot about them. It turns out that pet cats may hunt, but far less aggressively and with far less success than their feral counterparts, averaging just 2 prey items each week.

Most of the concern by native wildlife advocates seems to be about birds. However, it turns out that only about 10% of the toll pet and feral cats take is avian. Big surprise: they can fly! By far most of the toll is small mammals and reptiles and most of the public isn’t all that worried about a decline in wild mouse, mole, or snake populations.

What the wildlife advocates seem to ignore is that the cat might be taking the place of wild predators who tend to be either shy of human populations or, if not, are often exterminated as vermin. In that sense, the toll taken by cats may not be a bad thing.  It turns out that where feral cats do by far the most damage is on remote islands where birds and animals have evolved without having to adapt defenses to a predator with anything like the weapons and skills possessed by the cat.

Advocates often overlook the role humans play. If bird numbers decline, one should be asking how much of it is due to the encroachment of humans into formerly wild habitat? True, cats come along with this encroachment, but how much of the damage to wild critters would have happened anyway even without cats?

Getting back to efforts to control feral cats  and neuter pet cats can backfire in ways one might categorize under “unintended consequences.”

Unintended consequence #1: Dr. Bradshaw is concerned that efforts to kill off feral cats will be far more successful with the more approachable, less wary, and less intelligent members of the feral population, effectively supercharging the evolution of a bigger, nastier, smarter, more dangerous feral cat.

Unintended consequence #: Dr. Bradshaw notes that because some people refuse to neuter their cats, the genes of the bigger, nastier, smarter, more dangerous ferals will infect the gene pool of the pet domestics.

Unintended consequence #3: By neutering pet cats before they can reproduce, we no longer have access to genes of those cats with characterstics we’d like to breed in, such as genes from cats with exceptionally gentle and loving personalities and with a very weak or nonexistent predatory drive.

Unintended consequence #4: Cats not only predate upon native wild animals, they also gladly kill rats and mice. Were one to eliminate feral cats, and given the diminished presence of natural predators, one might be inviting a plague of rats and mice. (And, by the say, many historians mention that the black plague might have been far less devastating had the church not declared a pogrom on cats, who were viewed as demonic and satanic and the consorts of witches.

Perhaps now you can see that there is no easy solution to the cat problem and that some of the proposed solutions could turn out to be worse than the problem, a problem that may not be as big as some of the advocates for native wildlife seem to believe.

Way back in the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church promoted the idea that cats were allied with Satan and with witches. As a result, millions of cats were beaten, flayed, drowned, or burned alive, drastically reducing the population of cats and almost undoubtedly making the plague years much worse than they might have been, given that the areas affected by the plague were overrun by disease-bearing rats with relatively few cats to kill them.

While no such cruel and brutal anti-cat pogrom is going on at the moment, there is nevertheless a shrill group of anti-cat folks who decry the toll domestic cats take on so-called “natural” fauna. It should be noted that by “natural” they mean either a long-time native mammal, bird, or reptile, or, more rarely, one which evolved right here from the beginning and didn’t migrate here at some point in the long-distant past.

Many familiar species migrated here from elsewhere. Others came along with human immigrants and have become accepted. Horses and dogs most obviously. Cats came with immigrants, too, probably as seafaring vermin killers. Cats were welcome on the sailing ships of the time.

The problem is that the domestic cat, like the North African/Eastern Mediterranean wild cat from which it is descended, is a phenomenally proficient predator, especially on prey that didn’t evolve defenses by evolving alongside it. Almost every sense a cat has is keener in some other animal, but no predator other than the cat has such an arsenal of keen senses and killing tools and skills overall. Dogs smell better, but cats smell very well. Hawks and owls may have better vision, but the cat’s vision is among the best in low light. They are unbelievably athletic, able to leap high, quick at the sprint, and with climbing and balance abilities no other predators can match. They have strong jaws (largely due to their short mouth). And then…you have the claws. 

Cats are so familiar to us that we don’t think about how unusual their retractable claws are. Only a few other mammals have them. Just a couple mongoose species and the mysterious cat-like fossa of Madagascar fall into that class.  Its keen senses help the cat locate, follow, and pounce on or chase prey, but once the cat gets a front paw on the prey item, it’s generally show over. It’s been said that the domestic cat (and its wild cousins) are the top land predators in the world based on their kill rate and allowing for their size.

Recently, I saw  The Secret Life of the Cat by anthrozoologist Dr. John Bradshaw, which showed that feline pets who were also outdoor cats do remarkably little killing of local fauna. He demonstrated this because a substantial number of the subject cats were fitted with critter cams. It must thus be the feral cats who do the bulk of the damage to local fauna which can be laid at the cat’s doorstep. While some cats might have caught one or two prey items a week, others hardly hunted at all.

Furthermore, cat critics citing declining fauna populations almost always ignore other causes, the leading one being the increasing loss of habitat caused by humans.

Undoubtedly, feral cats are doing damage, but the answer isn’t to eradicate pet cats or legally require them to remain indoors (though that is often advisable for their safety). Rather, it’s to do something effective to control feral cats. Rounding them up and euthanizing or neutering and housing them in feral cat shelters will get the quickest results, although as one expert has pointed out, by rounding up the easiest cats to capture, as is likely, we may inadvertently be selectively breeding a tougher and more elusive feral cat.

Lately, I’ve been reading Dr. Bradshaw’s best-selling book, Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, which covers many topics. I’m only about halfway through it, but so far it’s a riveting read. It addresses how the cat became a pet, for example. Of course, it’s often said that the utility of the cat was to kill the mice, rats, and other critters who threatened grain stocks, but that doesn’t explain why we find them in our homes purring on our laps, more popular now than even dogs. After all, wild cats will kill grain store vermin just as effectively as pet cats, and probably better. We aren’t brought together with cats by mutual or one-way need. We don’t need cats and they certainly don’t need us. Feral cats do very well between hunting and scavenging. They’re the ultimate survivors.

It’s been thought that cats are less intelligent than dogs, but that comparison is apples and oranges. Dogs depend upon people and have evolved skills facilitating the dog-human relationship and bond. Cats have some remarkable skills and can even learn by observation. My own cat, I just noticed, has learned to turn on a battery-operated toy. Either she saw how I turn it on by stomping on a button or she did it by accident and a light bulb lit up over her head.

So, back to that question, why do we keep cats as pets when they are simply not interested in pleasing us. The answer, I think (and for me at least), is that we respect them for their independence and self-sufficiency. Yes, we feed them, but if we didn’t they’d simply hunt.  Beyond that, they are cute when kittens and very pretty when mature.

Bradshaw refers to scientific experiments and studies to support his statements and conclusions. For many years it was in dispute whether animals could think abstractly, at least below the level or humans and primates. But we now know that animals can, indeed, form abstract concepts. Some parrots have learned to speak in novel grammatical sentences. Now, cats can learn to order similar objects by size such as very small mouse, average mouse, large mouse. But once they learn that, they can apply this concept of relative size to other objects: small bird, medium-sized bird, big bird; small bowl, medium bowl, big bowl. That’s actually pretty amazing because that implies thinking conceptually.

I’m a photographer and back when photography was done on film, being able to look at a negative and be able to instantly recognize the subject was very hard to do and not a skill many people could even learn with practice. To a cat, however, there seems to be no difference between a picture of a chickadee, for example, and a negative of the same image.

Cats have remarkable intelligence when their skills are related to their natural view of the world and their hunting needs.

Bradshaw discusses many of the myths we humans have about cats, often based on anthropomorphism. For example, many people think “My cat is bored and lonely. I will get him/her a companion.” Well, as Bradshaw reveals, this is as often as not at least a stressor for one or both cats, and frequently is a disaster. As a solitary and territorial hunter, it’s unlikely your grown up kitty is hoping you’ll bring another cat into his/her territory. Introductions are sometimes done successfully, but not often enough that one can depend on it being a success. If your cat is bored, play with it. Set up a bird feeder near the window. Two adult cats sharing a space is unnatural and usually works best with cats raised together.

Perhaps the most interesting thing Bradshaw discusses for people faced with brand new kittens is the very small window during which cats need to be socialized to humans to become pets. Kittens 3 to 9 weeks old who get 30 to 60 minutes of stroking and talking interaction a day fare best, especially if the stroking and talking are done by several people. Less positive human contact than that and/or outside that narrow 6-week window and the kittens may become incapable of being pets. They will be shy and fearful of humans.

Well, I realize I’m probably rambling. If you love cats or simply want to understand this remarkable species better. I highly recommend the video and book I’ve linked to above.

 

Many employers, especially in service industries, pay so little—at, near, or even below minimum wage in the case of food servers—that their employees end up on various forms of government assistance. In effect, these employers are themselves on government assistance because the government is forced to subsidize their substandard wages out of taxpayer dollars.

Who are these employees? They are the ones who, for example, serve you food or coffee, who clean your office while you are sleeping,  and who ring up your retail sales. More often than not, they are young. While some are teens living at home and largely supported by their parents, very many are young parents. Most are not college graduates, and on what they earn they find it nearly impossible to get a college education. (Yes, there’s always a government school loan, but so often they turn into a debt trap, especially if the student isn’t going into a highly-remunerative profession in medicine, law, engineering, accountancy, etc.).

That many minimum wage earners are parents forced to hold down multiple jobs adversely affects American family life and contributes to kids getting in trouble and even becoming criminals due to lack of supervision.

While Republicans wring their hands over the cost to taxpayers of covering this subsidy, they ignore the fact that these people and these families put their money right back into the economy, supporting businesses and creating jobs for other employees, and generating tax revenue.

It would really be nice, however, if the taxpayers could depend on the employers to just give their workers a decent wage. Perhaps $15/hr is too “pie in the sky,” but the $10.10/hr proposed by President Obama looks like a good start.

The word “affluenza” crept into our daily language this week when a Texas judge who in the past had sentenced a poor black youth to 10 years in prison for punching a person who fell and hit his head—killing him, presumably unintentionally—gave a much more lenient sentence to a rich kid: no prison time, but 10 years of court supervision, isolation from his parents, and long term treatment at a hoity-toity treatment facility on his parents’ tab.

Wealth has never had a stigma in the affluent suburbs of Fort Worth, where the town of Westlake lanfded, to no one’s surprise, on Forbes’ list of America’s most affluent neighborhoods last year with a median income of $250,000.

But in recent days, the implications of being rich have set off an emotional, angry debate that has stretched far beyond the North Texas suburbs, after a juvenile court judge sentenced a 16-year-old from a well-off family to 10 years’ probation for killing four people in a drunken-driving crash.

The judge, Jean Boyd, on Tuesday declined to give the teenager, Ethan Couch, the punishment sought by Tarrant County prosecutors — 20 years in prison — and instead ordered him to be placed in a long-term treatment facility while on probation. Judge Boyd did not discuss her reasoning for her order, but it came after a psychologist called by the defense argued that Mr. Couch should not be sent to prison because he suffered from “affluenza” — a term that dates at least to the 1980s to describe the psychological problems that can afflict children of privilege. (source)

It occurred to me this morning, which follows the most recent school shooting (which is in Colorado again), that these shootings don’t seem to ever be done in inner city schools carried out by a child of poverty.

Short of keeping everyone poor in the interest of preventing school shootings, what do you imagine accounts for this linkage? For once, I’m not providing the answer, I’m soliciting speculation.

I just read an interesting article arguing that the public support taxpayers give McDonald’s minimum wage employees is nearly the same as McDonald’s profits. Is McDonald’s effectively on public assistance itself? Something seems wrong here:

McDonald’s announced Monday that it raked in $1.5 billion in profits in the third quarter, up 5 percent from last year.

The number is strikingly close to the $1.2 billion taxpayers are shelling out each year to help pay public assistance to the McDonald’s workforce, according to a report released last week by the National Employment Law Project. (source)

Congratulations, Tea Party. In the midst of Obamacare’s glitch-ridden debut, you did the one thing that could make us love our government: You took it away and held it hostage. Don’t expect any thanks from the president you helped.

That’s the last paragraph of a very interesting article about how much the shutdown will benefit Obama in the remainder of his second term, and how it inadvertantly gave him the weapons he needs to increase his power and further weaken the GOP. And the fun part is that they apparently intend to be Obama’s “gift that keeps on giving.”

Before I get to the actual topic of this piece, yet another Republican opened his mouth and, as usual, a turd popped out. Dr. Ben Carson, a black Republican, neurosurgeon, and political commentator, was speaking to an audience at the Values Voters’ Summit when he dropped this gem: “Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing to happen to the nation since slavery.” You have to say one thing about black Republicans like Dr. Carson and former Rep. Allen West” they seem to try harder at saying crazy stuff. And saying that he hates Obamacare so much that he might almost prefer to be out picking cotton as a slave on a plantation should almost be enough to get him committed.

Anyway, back to my main theme, which is that, under the direction of the Tea Party faction, the Republican party is emulating a suicide bomber. Instead of threatening to blow up themselves and others with explosives, they are threatening to destroy the Republican Party and the national and probably world economies if Obama won’t put Obamacare on the table.

The latest proposal the Republicans are floating, to end the shut down and put off a vote on raising the debt limit to sometime around Thanksgiving is even more insane, by kicking the can down the road to a time when it could massively screw up the holiday shopping season even more than it’s being screwed up now. While government workers can look forward to getting back pay, the businesses that rely on them, and their workers, won’t be as lucky. Also, all of this uncertainly inevitably has the effect of making people pull in their horns and be more conservative when it comes to their holiday purchases.

The public is so displeased with their Federal legislators in general, but with House Republicans in particular, that the House may go Democratic the next time around.

And the beauty of it for the Dems is this: President Obama doesn’t have to do anything. He can just sit back and watch the GOP self-destruct.