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.

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The population of Gaza is about 1.8 million. Here’s a little math: Assuming that this money could have been used to build industries, create greenhouses, dig wells, and initiate irrigation farming, Hamas stole (or diverted, if you prefer less inflammatory terminology) $50 from every Gazan man, woman, and child to build tunnels and build or buy weapons in a vain attempt to destroy Israel.

So, the problem with Gazans is that they get no love from anyone, least of all their Hamas leaders.

I’m pessimistic. I’m unable to imagine how the world can stop Vladimir Putin from annexing all or almost all of the states that used to compose the old Soviet Uni0n by using the ploy of protecting “Russian speakers” and people with Russian blood, who exist in all of those countries.

No Russian tanks will roll in. No bombers or fighters based in Russia will attack. No Russian troops will invade. Rather, it will be done in the style of asymmetrical warfare pioneered in modern times by Mao Tse Tung. Insurgency warfare.

The sad fact about countering insurgencies is that it can take anywhere from hundreds to millions of times the resources (in dollars) to counter them. Only a few countries, and perhaps only the United States in today’s world, have the economic resources to even attempt a counter-insurgency, and with very little prospect of success.

Why?

In an asymmetrical war, a handful of soldiers (frequently called “rebels” or “insurgents”) oppose a well-financed, well-equipped professional military. Unfortunately, professional militaries are most effective in battlefield situations where the sheer volume and quality of soldiers and hardware can play a huge role in the outcome.

Modern armies seem almost helpless to counter insurgencies. Sure, they can go house-to-house hunting down insurgents, assuming they can identify them. But since insurgents blend into the population, the soldiers will make many mistakes. Each mistake may recruit one, two, or three people to become—or at least to sympathize with—the insurgents. This makes the old school military lose the PR war for the hearts and minds of the uncommitted public in the insurgents’ area.

Often, the ways of countering high-tech military weapons are breathtakingly cheap by comparison. This goes back to medieval times when commoners found themselves in opposition to horse-mounted armored knights. A charge by a group of knights was, for a while, the end of the story. Until, that is, someone had the bright idea to sharpen a long pole. When the knights charged, the commoner would plant the blunt end of the pole in the ground, then when the mounted knight charged, the sharp end went into the horse, the knight fell off the horse, and was easily dispatched with a club of some sort.

In modern times, a torpedo or missile costing perhaps several hundred thousand or a million dollars can sink a destroyer costing almost a billion dollars. Antitank weapons cost far less than tanks, and while it may take several hits for such weapons to find a sweet spot that KO’s the tank, they will still cost far less than the tank.

When it’s insurgent against a professional soldier, it’s much the same. It costs a lot to train and arm a soldier. Here’s an exchange from a recent congressional hearing:

Keeping one American service member in Afghanistan costs between $850,000 and $1.4 million a year, depending on who you ask. But one matter is clear, that cost is going up.

During a budget hearing today on Capitol Hill, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, asked Department of Defense leaders, “What is the cost per soldier, to maintain a soldier for a year in Afghanistan?” Under Secretary Robert Hale, the Pentagon comptroller, responded “Right now about $850,000 per soldier.”

Conrad seemed shocked at the number.

“That kind of takes my breath away, when you tell me it’s $850,000,” Conrad said

A Pentagon spokesman later said a more accurate figure is $815,000 a year. (source)

What we’ve seen in the Crimea is the recipe for how the USSR will rise again, no longer Communist, and under the name Russia, not The Soviet Union.

If there’s a way to stop Putin, I don’t see it in so-called “sanctions,” especially since so much of Europe and Asia is dependent on Russian goods and natural resources.

Recently, the downing of a commercial airliner with almost 300 innocents aboard, about a third of them children, has some people thinking that things have finally gone too far and that Putin will have to pull in his horns. That may be true, but only for a while.

Why?

Because he has a recipe that works. Whether speaking of the old or the new Russia, it has always excelled at disinformation. It will weather the storm of the downed Malaysian airliner and in a year or two, that will be the vaguest of memories for most of us. And Putin isn’t really the problem. It’s likely that, once Putin is gone, the new leadership will also want to bring back the glory days when Russia had a virtual empire in Central and Eastern Europe.

 

Whoops!!!. With the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, a trend has been started that will cost the GOP votes in 2016 and further entrench the ACA (Affordable Care Act), making it harder to get rid of.

Specifically, many of the female swing voters who will have their birth control options reduced or eliminated will swing toward the Democrats. For other women, it will be further evidence for the conservative’s (and, by implication, the GOP’s) supposed “war on women.”

It’s expected that, despite the “narrowness” of the decision, many companies will feel they have a green light to push further into the religious exemption to the ACA area. After all, contraception is just the camel’s proverbial nose under the tent. There are also religious objections to blood transfusions, antibiotics, vaccination, and, in the case of faith healers, to any kind of medical care at all! Given this decision, it’s hard to see how the Supremes could justify denying the wishes of corporations in those cases.

One can also imagine two other consequences of this decision.

The first is cynical business people pretending to have religious objections if they can find a benefit of doing so.

Worse, perhaps, may be that people who hate gays, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and women may feel they have at least a potential green light to start discriminating.

I think we can expect a few or a lot of these cases between now and 2016, each of them driving voters toward the democrats. 

They won’t drive many people toward the GOP. The Republicans already have the votes of people who oppose abortion and hate ethnic or religious minorities and/or want to keep women in their current place.

The Republicans are pushing hard for continued congressional investigations into Benghazi (supposed misrepresentation of facts by the Obama Administration) and the IRS scandal (some in the IRS targeting Republican/conservative political organizations more than Democratic/liberal ones).

Obviously, they see these as important matters. And they may be important matters, but the problem for the GOP seems to be polls showing very little interest in these matters by the general public. These investigations are clearly aimed at the Republican base, because its hard to imagine a woman, Hispanic, or black person going GOP over either one of these matters.

At the same time, immigration reform, which not only is crying out for attention, and is important to Hispanic American voters, is on the back burner. The strategy seems to be to wait until they defeat the Democrats in 2016, and then pull the reform rabbit out of the hat to play the hero role. The problem with that strategy is that if they want to win in 2016, they won’t be able to do it without the Hispanic vote. Perhaps, then, they understand that almost nothing they do will win over enough Hispanics to make a difference.

And so we have the typical Republican pattern of not giving a shyte about racial minorities except in terms of figuring out how to keep them from voting or making their vote count for less through gerrymandering voting districts.

Personally, I don’t see a window for a Republican White House victory in 2016. If we’re stuck with a divided Congress again, we can look forward to even more years of nothing of consequence happening in Washington.

 

Like a lot of Americans, this last week or so I discovered the game the rest of the world calls “football”  but we call “soccer,” and I asked myself if perhaps it might take a place alongside football, basketball, and baseball on American TV. My conclusion is that it would take some big changes to TV, because the game can’t be changed.

Before I go any further, I’m going to stipulate that I’ll be calling soccer “futbol” from now on here, because that is the official name of the sport. It’s pronounced a bit different from “football,” the “foot” part rhyming with “snoot” or “coot” or “toot.”

Let’s consider what it would take to make running futbol matches commercially feasible for TV. And let’s put it up against the most profitable sport on American TV, NFL football.

One of the reasons NFL football is so popular is all of the money behind it, a good deal of which comes from highly profitable TV contracts.

Unlike a game between two NFL teams, where the clock stops several times an hour for several different reasons, thus giving opportunities for the TV network to insert very expensive advertising, the soccer clock stops for nothing. Rather than stop the clock, one official keeps approximate track of how much time has been lost to play being stopped for injuries, substitutions, delaying tactics, and other reasons. This time is then added on at the end in what is called “stoppage time.”

Since the clock never stops, trying to run ads during a soccer match would necessarily involve missing play, injuries, substitutions, etc., including sometimes missing a goal. That simply won’t fly. In particular, it won’t fly with the international futbol crowd.

Maybe futbol has a place on a currently nonexistent PBS-style public sports network, but I expect the major networks would fight that tooth and nail. They would prefer that you simply not watch futbol at all.

Of course, there’s a possible end run around the advertising issue, though I’m not sure how well it would work. In the rest of the world, teams tend to represent cities and countries. Suppose American pro futbol teams played on behalf of corporations instead of geographic entities. The Ford Motors Kickers? The Exxon Tigers? That might fly. Then players drawn from those teams would represent the United States in world competition.

I’m not holding my breath.

 

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, lizard, 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 such 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 also overlook or excuse 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 #2: 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 way, 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.