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Archive for May, 2008

People & Puppies Behind Bars

The Times’s City Section this week has a feature on a program called Puppies Behind Bars, which places puppies with incarcerated men and women in NY state prisons. The “puppy raisers” train the dogs how to be explosive detection canines, seeing eye dogs for the blind, and therapy dogs for people with physical or mental disabilities (full disclosure: my family is very involved with PBB and has been since it was founded).

While I disagree with the initial spin that the organization’s founder gives (people who are incarcerated have an “obligation to give back,” she says), I’d agree that the organization has the double benefit of training dogs for people whose lives will be greatly enriched by them and allowing people who are in the most dehumanizing place imaginable regain a sense of their humanity and compassion — effects that are clear in this video, which accompanies the article.

One particularly moving story (in the video) is of Pax, a dog who was trained by a woman in Bedford Hills, a maximum security prison, and who has gone on to become a service dog for an Iraq vet with PTSD. Like many of the women incarcerated in America, Pax’s puppy raiser was convicted of killing her abusive husband. She herself suffers from PTSD. And here she is, finding some healing in training the dog that will provide freedom to someone else.

Or, put differently by Jules Flynn, another incarcerated puppy raiser, “We give people who receive these dogs their freedom, and that is something that was taken away from us.”

The grim reaping begins

[ 79 ] May 30, 2008 |

Verbatim Ferraro:

As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama’s historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you’re white you can’t open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama’s playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They’re not upset with Obama because he’s black; they’re upset because they don’t expect to be treated fairly because they’re white. It’s not racism that is driving them, it’s racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don’t believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory “Our Time Has Come” they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Slightly Longer Ferraro:

A Secret LGM Fan? I Bet He Comments as DocAmazing…

[ 19 ] May 30, 2008 |


Draw your own conclusions, write your own captions.

Christopher Hayes is Making Sense

[ 24 ] May 30, 2008 |

Tepid Defense of Scottie

[ 35 ] May 30, 2008 |

I think this is right:

But unlike most liberal journalists and bloggers, I think McClellan deserves quite a bit of credit for going public with this, even at this late date. Writing this kind of book could not have been easy for him. He has undoubtedly lost friends. Many of his former colleagues will never speak to him again. If he’d written the kind of anodyne snoozer that Ari Fleischer did, then surely he’d be set for life on the wingnut welfare circuit. But now? Well, let’s just say he’ll never eat lunch in that town again. And it’s not like the liberals are eager to embrace him with open arms, either.

Kathy has a good point; while we think a lot about the benefits of tell-all books (lots of exposure, book sales, historical re-evaluation, etc.) but there are also some very real costs, as McClellan is going to find himself shunned by the people most likely to give him jobs and invite him to dinner. It’s true enough that Scottie is still responsible, as everyone in the Bush administration was, for the crimes that have been committed over the past eight years. Still, disgruntled former administration hacks really should be given a strong incentive to write this kind of memoir; it’s critical to our understanding of the administration that we get these kinds of testimonies, and as such I’m willing to cut Scottie a little bit of slack.

I suppose it’s also possible that I’m just a wee bit sympathetic because Scottie was such a bad liar; you could almost see the sweat dripping down his face as he went into another whopper.

[ 24 ] May 30, 2008 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson

…needless to say, on the watch for monkey-cyborgs

Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 20 ] May 30, 2008 |

Ronald Reagan, remarks on US policy in the Persian Gulf, 29 May 1987

Now, I will not permit the Middle East to become a chokepoint for freedom or a tinderbox of international conflict. Freedom of navigation is not an empty cliche of international law. It is essential to the health and safety of America and the strength of our alliance. Our presence in the Persian Gulf is also essential to preventing wider conflict in the Middle East, and it’s a prerequisite to helping end the brutal and violent 6 1/2-year war between Iran and Iraq. Diplomatically, we’re doing everything we can to obtain an end to this war, and this effort will continue.

. . . Our goal is to seek peace rather than provocation, but our interests and those of our friends must be preserved. We’re in the gulf to protect our national interests and, together with our allies, the interests of the entire Western World. Peace is at stake; our national interest is at stake. And we will not repeat the mistakes of the past. Weakness, a lack of resolve and strength, will only encourage those who seek to use the flow of oil as a tool, a weapon, to cause the American people hardship at home, incapacitate us abroad, and promote conflict and violence throughout the Middle East and the world.

The Impending Attack of the Monkey-Robot Hybrids

[ 23 ] May 29, 2008 |

Rob usually covers the zombie/robot/monkey beat around here — while I content myself with vampires, UFOs and the occasional case of therianthropy — but this is an urgent piece of news, with implications far too important to be left steeping in the obscurity of the New York Times:

Two monkeys with tiny sensors in their brains have learned to control a mechanical arm with just their thoughts, using it to reach for and grab food and even to adjust for the size and stickiness of morsels when necessary, scientists reported on Wednesday . . . .

In previous studies, researchers showed that humans who had been paralyzed for years could learn to control a cursor on a computer screen with their brain waves and that nonhuman primates could use their thoughts to move a mechanical arm, a robotic hand or a robot on a treadmill.

The new experiment goes a step further. In it, the monkeys’ brains seem to have adopted the mechanical appendage as their own, refining its movement as it interacted with real objects in real time. The monkeys had their own arms gently restrained while they learned to use the added one. . . .

After several days, the monkeys needed no help. They sat stationary in a chair, repeatedly manipulating the arm with their brain to reach out and grab grapes, marshmallows and other nuggets dangled in front of them. The snacks reached the mouths about two-thirds of the time — an impressive rate, compared with earlier work.

The monkeys learned to hold the grip open on approaching the food, close it just enough to hold the food and gradually loosen the grip when feeding.

On several occasions, a monkey kept its claw open on the way back, with the food stuck to one finger. At other times, a monkey moved the arm to lick the fingers clean or to push a bit of food into its mouth while ignoring a newly presented morsel.

The animals were apparently freelancing, discovering new uses for the arm, showing “displays of embodiment that would never be seen in a virtual environment,” the researchers wrote.

There being no monkeys in Juneau, I am momentarily comforted by my distance from the peril. When, however, our future simian masters learn to navigate ferries and cruise ships — or to pilot aircraft — even the geographically remote among us will not be spared.

She Read My Mind

Indexed’s Jessica Hagy read my mind:

via feministing.

Speaking Of…

Colbert is on fire here.

A Solid Step, if Small

NY Governor Patterson has directed that NY will recognize out of state same-sex marriages. It’s not totally clear from the NY Times article whether this includes civil unions that are not called “marriage” from other states. I would expect so.

Certainly, this is not a total victory. Total victory would be the state’s decision to grant same-sex marriages. But it’s a solid step, and hopefully a sign of things to come from Gov. Patterson’s administration.

Great War Memories

[ 24 ] May 29, 2008 |

John Quiggin, riffing off this Edward Lengel column, suggests that the respective experiences of Europe and the United States in World War I may explain cultural differences on the use of force:

In any case, in the long run, the absence of this most bloodily futile of wars from historical memory has been a huge boon to the war party. With a historical memory of war dominated by the “Good War” against Hitler and the Axis, it’s unsurprising that Americans have been much more willing than the citizens of other democratic societies to accept war as part of the natural order of things.

In Europe by contrast, the Great War and its consequences are still ever-present, and the Second World War is correctly seen as the inevitable product of the First. With all its faults, the EU is widely supported simply because it has been associated with sixty years of peace. Even in Australia where the Gallipoli campaign has long formed the basis of the official national myth, it has been impossible to avoid the fact that thousands of young Australians suffered and died in the most horrible ways, fighting people of whom we had barely heard and with whom we had no quarrel of our own, in a futile diversion from a futile war. Honouring those who died goes hand in hand with a general recognition that they died for the failures of the world’s leaders and that the only proper lesson from their deaths is to hope that we can avoid war in future.

There’s certainly something to this, although it bears repeating that the World War II experience of Europe and the United States also differ in dramatic ways. The level of raw destruction visited upon Europe during both World Wars is something alien to the US experience, apart from that of the American South during the Civil War. Moreover, I’m not convinced that the immediate reaction to the Great War in the United States was isolationism, and not pacifism; I think that there were some significant strands of pacifist thought that extended across the Atlantic, resulting (among other things) in the Washington Naval Treaty and a series of other interwar agreements designed to prevent future conflict. The Great War did not, for the United States, result in a shift to European levels of military spending and conscription; other than in the naval arena, US military commitments remained proportionately smaller than the European powers. For example, per capita military expenditure in the US during the interwar period ran roughly half that of either the United Kingdom or France.

I think that the detectable divergence in European and US attitudes towards war (and the fundamental shift in how Americans viewed war and military service) came after World War II, when the US began maintaining its first large peacetime standing military forces. Over the weekend I watched Fort Apache (released in 1949) for the first time; my first thought is that it is a less ambitious but in some ways more successful film than either The Searchers or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. My second thought is that it is, in large part, a paean to military life; its tribute to the United States Army is something that might not have been understandable to pre-war audiences. In part this is because World War II conscripted more American manpower than World War I, and for a longer period, but I think it also reflects a shift in how Americans thought about military service and the military in American life.

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