Was David Eisenhauer a Jekyll-Hyde-like psychopath?

February 11, 2016 at 8:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Torrential rain on Thassos island, Greece, photo by Edal Anton Lefterov, 6 July 2011.

Torrential rain on Thassos island, Greece, photo by Edal Anton Lefterov, 6 July 2011.

You probably have heard the horrifying story.  (If not, you can read about its various aspects here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

A sweet, cheerful, friendly, affectionate young girl, Nicole Lovell, in Blacksburg, Virginia, had overcome challenges that most of us will never face. She overcame lymphoma (a type of cancer), had a liver transplant, and a trachoetomy. The tracheotomy left a scar on Nicole’s throat.

Doing so took courage, fortitude, the strength of character to overcome fear, to endure physical pain. It entailed loneliness from being separated from her friends. It caused her unease about falling behind her classmates. What she did was nothing short of heroic. Her parents were subjected to staggering burdens, which they lovingly accepted.

The tracheotomy scar and Nicole’s medical absences from school made her the target of bullying and snubs at her middle school.

That, and her entry into adolescence, made her eager for a boyfriend. She sought one on social media. At 13 years old, in middle school, she thought she had found one, David Eisenhauer, 18 years old, an athlete and accomplished student at nearby Virginia Tech. She was proud and happy: she now had a handsome affectionate defender, and a living proof that she was lovable and attractive. For a girl in middle school, he was a trophy. She dreamt of starting a family with him. She spoke of running away with him.

At some point they had sex. At some point David Eisenhauer decided to kill her. He and a friend of his, Natalie M. Keepers, plotted for a month on where and how to do it. They bought a shovel. He had a knife. They selected a secluded spot on campus.

In November 2015, David arranged for Nichole to sneak out of her house to meet him in secret.

On the night of November 27, 2015, she climbed out of her bedroom window to meet him. She must have been happily excited and eager: she had even told a friend that she was going to run away with him (but not when). At some secluded location David stabbed Nicole to death. He and Natalie took Nicole’s body a little across the border of North Carolina and buried her.

Was David Eisenhauer a Jekyll-Hyde-like psychopath?

No, not according to what his roomate and others say.

Why then did he plot with a friend, for a month, to cold-bloodedly murder a sweet, trusting, affectionate young girl, Nicole Lovell, who adored and trusted him?

Here is a guess.

According to those who knew him, David Eisenhauer is intelligent, and is focused on the future.

He knew he had made a very serious mistake when, probably in a moment of weakness, he had earlier had sex with Nicole Lovell. Since she was a juvenile and he was not, if their sexual activities ever became known, he would be classed as a sex offender who took advantage of an under-age girl. For the rest of his life he would have to declare himself to the local police wherever he lived, and he would have to obey restrictions that barred him from proximity to schools and playgrounds, and even those used by his potential future children. If the sensible proposal to mark the passports of sex-offenders is eventually approved, some countries would thereafter deny him entry. He would be shamed in the eyes of his parents, friends, and classmates. Even his family would be disgusted by him, and would feel let down by him, and would even feel shame at having raised him.

Because of the bullying she had suffered, Nicole Lovell had a pattern of boasting about any evidence that she was lovable and attractive. In particular, she had boasted about him, on social media, and Nicole Lovell’s friends knew about him. David Eisenhauer knew that it was only a matter of time before Nicole boasted to her friends about having sex with him, and then that damning fact would quickly become widely known. All the bad consequences would ensue.

So David Eisenhauer felt that he had no choice but to silence Nicole Lovell by killing her.

He revealed his quandry and his plans to fellow student Natalie M. Keepers, a close and supportive friend, and enlisted her help.

We know what happened next. David Eisenhauer compounded his earlier serious crime of having sex with a minor by the far more serious crime of murder.

But suppose the plot had succeeded, and the murderers had never been identified?

After the murder, the only person who knew David Eisenhauer’s secret was Natalie Keepers. She herself had in the past been bullied, and was somewhat unstable – perhaps as a result of the bullying. So she was the only remaining threat. She was emotionally unstable. She might blurt out the secret during some therapy session in the future, or during some future dispute with David Eisenhauer.

Natalie Keepers was lucky that she and David Eisenhauer were caught.

Most likely, David Eisenhauer still had the knife and the shovel.

The scenario described above is just a guess. But it could explain what had seemed inexplicable.


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Shout It! We Do NOT Love Donald Trump

January 23, 2016 at 8:33 pm | Posted in Conceited, Dysfunctional Politics, Presidential election, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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320x480.DonaldTrump.May2015.UpsideDown

As explained at the bottom of this post, you can comment on it to show either your agreement or your disagreement with some or all of it.

Trump is insecure. To an abnormal extent, he likes to project strong self-esteem. But the abnormal intensity of his boasting reveals that his self esteem is actually weak. His need for reassurance is why he continually claims that this group and that group loves him. Do you know anyone else who so obsessively boasts that so many groups love him?
Donald Trump, we do NOT love you.

We do not even LIKE you.

We despise Trump because he is an insecure braggart and a bully.

In Atlantic City, Trump tried to bully an elderly widow who just wanted to remain in her own home, rather than have it bulldozed to advance Trump’s plans for a casino. Trump lost. (Despite his inflated claim, Trump does not always win.) Afterwards, instead of expressing remorse and ethical growth, Trump gratuitously and falsely said that she was a nasty person.

We mistrust Trump because he believes in hype as a matter of principle.
An article (by Robert O’Harrow Jr., Alice Crites, Walter Fee) in a recent Washington Post adds detail to what we know about Trump’s spotty business history.
Besides being careless of facts, Trump overstates his assets, overstates what he can accomplish, and spins his failures – as if calling a failure a success makes it so.

As a matter of policy, Trump tells people what he knows they want to hear (voters, casino commissions), without making sure that he can back up what he says.

We despise Trump for his astoundingly incautious handling of large sums of money. Imagine what such an impulsive, feckless investor would do to the US Treasury, and to the financial standing of the US. Alexander Hamilton would have been aghast at the dangers of entrusting any significant aspect of the US economy into the hands of such a gambler and bluffer, especially given Trump’s bumpy track record in business.

We despise Trump for never acknowledging when his claims are proved to be erroneous. Trump’s disinterest in correcting the record shows that he does not care about the truth.
A striking example is his ‘birther’ claims about Obama, which he never retracted despite abundant solid disproof.

We despise Trump because he does not favor an open society, with the time and role it gives to the airing of dissenting views. Instead, Trump likes Putin’s way of doing things, and Putin likes Trump. An open society is the goal of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution: witness the separation of powers, and the Bill of Rights. Trump thinks those features are merely impediments to decisive action. As explained in a previous post, Trump’s political beliefs developed as a result of the atypical advantages he had in starting his carreer.

We despise Trump because he allows and enables Corey Lewandowski‘s totalitarian control of access – by reporters and by the public – to Trump’s speaking appearances. Lewandowski’s approach is similar to that of Putin in Russia, to Xi in China, to Kim Jong-un in North Korea: only favorable images and reports may come out. Lewandowsky stomps on freedom of speech. Perhaps for his next job, Lewandowski should interview for a job with one of the dictators named above.
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Luanne Castle’s new book of Poetry: Doll God

January 24, 2015 at 3:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Golden laurel wreath, probably from Cyprus, 4th/3rd century BC; Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim, Germany, photographed by Andreas Praefcke in April, 2007.

Golden laurel wreath, probably from Cyprus, 4th/3rd century BC; Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim, Germany, photographed by Andreas Praefcke in April, 2007.

Luanne Castle, whose very popular blog is at http://writersite.org , has just published a book of poetry, Doll God.

Here is the review I posted on Amazon.

Trajectories:
The changing feelings and conditions
Of a person,
Of two people,
Of an animal,
Of an object,
Over an hour or a lifetime,
Each captured in a concise slide-show,
Each snap-shot taken
With empathy
And insight.

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Not included in that review were lines that particularly struck me.

‘Calculating Loss’ (on p.51) included the wise observation,
“Every day the world subtracts from itself and nothing
is immune”.

‘Between the Art and the Muse’ (p.17) contains the phrase
“… yearning
out the window to his rightfulness”. Replace ‘his’ by ‘her’ when appropriate, and you have a phrase that captures the innermost thought of everyone who has experienced unrequited love.

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Proselytise Chief Justice Roberts, and thy Neighbor?

January 21, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Posted in Privacy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Controversy, a sculpture "Auseinandersetzung", by Karl-Henning Seemann, 1979 in Lammhof, Tübingen, photographed by Собственное фото .

Controversy, a sculpture “Auseinandersetzung”, by Karl-Henning Seemann, 1979 in Lammhof, Tübingen, photographed by Собственное фото .

According to a recent article by Robert Barnes in the Washington Post, the Supreme Court is presently deciding the size of the buffer zone around abortion clinics.  At issue is whether a person entering an abortion clinic can choose to avoid hearing the arguments of protesters, and not be forced to have a discussion with them, by staying within a wide-enough buffer zone.

More broadly, the issue is about the tensions between freedom of speech and privacy, including the right to choose not to engage in a discussion – the right not to be subjected to another’s attempt to persuade.

The Justices of the Supreme Court should remember that the existence and size of the buffer zone that results from their decision in this case will, by logic, apply also to the Supreme Court itself, as well as to the Justices’ own homes, and to their persons, when shopping or traveling or strolling.  If the buffer is thin, anyone will be able to approach Justice John Roberts, or any of the other Justices, when the Justice seeks to return or to leave home, or any time and place when the Justice is outside home, to convince the Justice of the errors in his or her judgement, or of the rightness or wrongness of either side in any case that is before the Court.

The outcome of the decision will also apply to all lower Federal courts, and to the dwelling places and sojourns of their judges, as well as to the workplaces, dwelling places and sojourns of all Federal civil servants, regardless of whether their work is classified or not, and to those of all members of Congress.  They will apply also to every house of worship in the land, and to the NRA, and to the Koch brothers.

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An Historic Opportunity for Egypt’s Military

July 8, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Mohamed Morsi, photographed at on May 8, 2013 by Wilson Dias for Agência Brasil, during Morsi's reception by President Dilma Rousseff, of Brazil. The original image has been turned upside down.

Mohamed Morsi, photographed at on May 8, 2013 by Wilson Dias for Agência Brasil, during Morsi’s reception by President Dilma Rousseff, of Brazil.
The original image has been turned upside down.

Until this week, Egypt’s military seemed fated to appear in the history books as being blind to the benefits of democracy and of an open society, and as interested only in its own welfare and power.

Its removal of the undemocratic, autocratic, coercive Morsi regime and the Islamic Brotherhood from power suddenly offers the prospect that Egypt’s military can now end up being recognized as truly patriotic, as the friend and defender of democracy and of an open society, and therefore as the defender of the true interests of Egypt.

Although Morsi and the Islamicists were elected, they were elected because the majority that opposes their policies did not understand what was at stake in the election, nor the need for political organization.  Many did not vote.  The secularist opposition was fragmented.  This is well described in an article by Abigail Hauslohner in the Washington Post.

That was because during that election, democracy was new to Egypt.  The results of the election were not the results of a functioning democracy.  The overthrow of Morsi and the Islamicists was not an assault on democracy.  Jack H. G. Darrant, whose blog The Political Idealist is noted for its rigorous analyses, came to the same conclusion.

Egypt has learned a lot as a result of seeing Morsi and the Islamicists in action.  Morsi and the Islamicists do not understand and value democracy and an open society, do not want to understand, and never will understand.  They are autocrats at heart.

Egypt’s military has given Egypt a new chance to build a thriving, open society.

Mentally Handicapped – But Very Impressive

February 18, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Posted in Fairness, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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The Orion Nebula as seen in the infrared, by NASA's  Wide Field Infrared Observatory (WISE).

The Orion Nebula as seen in the infrared, by NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Observatory (WISE).

The relevance of the picture will be explained later.

Ellen McCarthy and Elizabeth Chen recently published an article in the Washington Post Magazine about a young couple, Bill Ott and Shelley Belgard.  Both have mental handicaps.  The article, in honor of Valentine’s Day, traces the crisscrossing paths that finally merged, resulting in their becoming a couple.

The article is eye opening, and heart warming.  I recommend that you take a look at it.  Any summary here would be much less effective than the article itself.

Go ahead.  I’ll wait for you to read it, and then return to this post.

Now, assuming that you have read the article, I wish to make only two brief observations.

Many of Bill’s statements are poetic.  They are remarkably evocative.  They are concise, and make their points perfectly.  Anyone would be proud to have said them.

Shelley shows a degree of self-understanding that many would envy.

Despite their mental handicaps, Bill and Shelley are quite impressive, and quite likable.

The relevance of the picture is that it shows stars being born.

(To be precise, it is a color-coded image in infrared light, in which brightnesses at wavelengths that are invisible to the eye are portrayed by brightnesses at wavelengths that are visible to the eye.  Each glowing ball is not a new star.  It is a ball of dust around a new star.  The dust is warmed by ultraviolet and visible radiation from the new star, causing the dust to emit infrared radiation.  You might enjoy the caption on the original image.)

 

More on Homeless Children

February 12, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Obdachlos - Homeless mother and children, 1883 or earlier.  From the Illustrirter Katalog der internationalen Kunstausstellung im Königl. Glaspalaste in München 1883, 4. Auflage, München, September 1883 (Digitalisat der BSB). Photographed by Fernand Pelez.

Obdachlos – Homeless mother and children, 1883 or earlier. From the Illustrirter Katalog der internationalen Kunstausstellung im Königl. Glaspalaste in München 1883, 4. Auflage, München, September 1883 (Digitalisat der BSB). Photographed by Fernand Pelez.

Petula Dvorak’s recent article in the Washington Post vividly draws attention to the cruel injustice to homeless families – and in particular, to the children in those families – that results from the present policies in Washington, DC toward homeless families.  The article is likely to apply to many cities.

Dvorak’s moving account nicely complements a post (Homeless Children at School) in this blog.

I won’t repeat here what is in the article or in the blog post, but I recommend that you look at both, if you care about what kind of world you live in, and about what kinds of people will be living in your world in the near and medium-term future.

Instead I’d like to draw your attention to something that at first has no relation to the topic, but is actually very relevant.

Zachary Karabell recently published an article that takes a fresh look at the deficit – which is topic A these days – and arrives at startling but convincing conclusions.

Zachary Karabell points out that deficits are debt, and, depending on what it is used for, debt can be either a prudent investment, with future payoffs, or can be spendthrift and dangerous.  He points out that the present discussion on the deficit incorrectly assumes that all debt is bad.  Historically, that is not true.  If well used, debt can bring us future prosperity that would be unattainable otherwise.  Historically, deficits have often been prudent and beneficial.  They can temper recessions, avert depressions, and provide infrastructure that is essential for future growth.

This brings us back to the topic of homeless parents, job seekers, and children.  For the moment, consider only homeless people who are either looking for work, or who will be looking for work when they grow up.  For the moment we are not considering those who are homeless because they cannot work now nor in the future, for reasons of physical or mental ill health.  We will consider them at the end of this post.

Both Petula Dvorak’s article and the blog post cited earlier point out the penny-wise and pound-foolish nature of the present policy.  Zachary Karabell’s findings greatly sharpen that point.  Providing resources that provide a stable, non-chaotic, respectful environment for homeless people who seek jobs, or will grow up to seek jobs, or who are raising children who will grow up to seek jobs
– will provide means for them to get off the dole, which they ardently seek to do
– will lead to more taxpayers in the future
– will reduce the number of the unemployable and the number of criminals in the future

That is, public expenditures of this type are an investment – an investment in the employability and character of people who will be part of our city in the future.  Think of it as an investment in infrastructure.  People are the most important infrastructure.

Now about those who are homeless because they cannot work now nor in the future, for reasons of physical or mental ill health.  Our policies to them are a more purely humanitarian issue.  What kind of people do we want to be?  What kind of world do we want, insofar as we can influence it?

Homeless veteran in New York, 13 December 2008, http://www.flickr.com/photos/josjos/3105382896/in/photostream/, by JMSuarez.

Homeless veteran in New York, 13 December 2008, http://www.flickr.com/photos/josjos/3105382896/in/photostream/, by JMSuarez.

Human Brain, Dog Brain, Wolf Brain

January 18, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Scientiffic reconstruction of a Homo habilis, photographed 25 March 2007 at the Westfälisches Museum für Archäologie, Herne, by Lillyundfreya

Scientiffic reconstruction of a Homo habilis, photographed 25 March 2007 at the Westfälisches Museum für Archäologie, Herne, by Lillyundfreya

People have long wondered about what makes us human.  What underlies our difference from other species of animals?  How did the difference develop?  Why are our brains so large relative to our size, and so versatile?  Why do we have so much cerebral cortex?  Why do we teach and communicate what we have learned, so that – as a group – our collection of knowledge and skills keeps growing and compounding?  Why do we ask sweeping questions about our origin, about the world we live in, and about our future, as an individual and as a group?  Why do we ask whether we have a purpose, as an individual and as a group?

Older attempts at answering these questions in terms of natural processes, focused on factors such as that we walk on two feet, leaving our hands free to become dextrous and make tools.  Other candidates have been language (another type of tool).  It is now widely thought that although such features may have played a role, they miss the most essential parts of the answer.  Other bipeds have nothing like our facility with abstractions.  Some other types of animals have a limited ability to grasp abstractions and to use language and tools.  Some even invent new tools on the spot, to solve a new problem.  But they show no evidence of using a wide range of different levels of abstraction, and as a result their languages are not general purpose.

A promising, widely-considered answer is that the key to our distinctiveness is that for much of our history we lived in small groups, which fared best when their members cooperated with one another and could depend upon one another.  That put a premium on each member of the group being able to figure out what each other member of the group saw and wanted and planned, and therefore whether that individual could be trusted, and how to compete and cooperate with that individual.  It was also advantageous to have that type of information about collections of individuals – cliques.  Our brains had to be able to simulate – to ‘mirror’ – what other individuals were thinking, and would do.  I had to estimate what you were paying attention to at the moment, and also what you thought I was paying attention to at the moment.  I also had to estimate what you knew about what I knew about you, and what I knew about what you knew about what I knew about you.  And so on, in an endless regress.  In other words, there was a great evolutionary advantage for humans who were good at mirroring the minds of other humans, at multiple levels of abstraction.  That also favored the development of the ability to move nimbly from one level of abstraction to another.

Once we had developed the brain mechanisms for that, the same mechanisms conferred other advantages, thereby reinforcing the development of those mechanisms.  They helped us to better anticipate what animals would do, what vegetation would do, and even what inanimate objects would do – the trajectory of an animal, or a stone or a spear.  The same brain mechanisms that helped us to anticipate what human individuals and groups would do, also helped us to better anticipate the behavior of the non-human features of the world around us.  Hence our proclivity to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, including the Sun, Moon and stars, storms, seasons, trees, mountains, seas, animals, and groups of people, both small and large (families, villages, tribes, nations, civilizations).  It is easy to see that these same brain mechanisms would favor the development of superstition and religion.

A remarkable book, Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer, shows how patterns of thought that develop because of immediate needs are often later applied in ways that are unrelated to the immediate needs that led to them.  He shows how this broadening of the use of a pattern of thought has frequently resulted in a wide variety of superstitions and religious beliefs, as well as in ethnic mistrust.

An example: Each new human needs to develop the sense that some things are dangerous and contaminating.   Those who do are more likely to leave descendents than those who don’t.  So we have evolved to inherit a proclivity to develop patterns of thought that provide that sense.  We do not inherit the pattern of thought itself, and as a result the detailed sense of what is revolting, of what is scary, and of what is contaminating, varies from one culture to another.  But once developed, those patterns of thought are likely to lead to mistrust of those who are not like those in our group.  That can easily morph into ethnic or national hatred, accompanied by feelings as visceral as those that produce revulsion when we encounter a rotting carcass.  Another example of (which was not considered by Boyer) was noticed by Leslie Sanders, a psychotherapist.  He points out that none of us would have reached adulthood without having been watched over, protected, and fed by adults during our infancy and childhood.  That develops in each of us patterns of thought that incline us to later believe that we are being watched, our actions are being monitored, by one or more beings who evaluate what we do, and some of whom might care about our welfare.

A careful anthropolgist, Boyer compares each claim about the human proclivity to religion to the beliefs and practices to a staggeringly wide variety of human groups.  That enables him to show that most of the plausible ideas about religion, both those of believers and those of non-believers, are false.  Boyer open mindedly and comprehensively tests each assertion by comparing it to all of the relevant data.  That makes his work science, rather than advocacy.

Because we evolved to become individually able to learn to mirror the various actors in the world, and to move nimbly from one level of abstraction to another, we developed a sense of ourselves as distinct actors, with a history, a present, and a future.  We came to realize that we had been born, had been little and helpless, had grown, and would die.  This mental development was the reality that legend tries to capture by the story of ancestors who ate the apple from the Tree of Knowledge.

Because we developed the ability to mirror groups of individuals as well as individuals, we also developed abstract (general) concepts, and became capable of abstract thought, and of asking abstract questions.  We went from ‘I want’ to ‘I am’, from ‘my leg’ to the general concept of a leg, from ‘that particular actor that runs on four legs’ to ‘lion’, as a type, and then to ‘I am like those others I live with, and unlike unlike a lion’, and from ‘I will die’ to ‘What is death?’  We developed an urge to understand, that is, to mirror something via patterns of thought that are easy and familiar, so that we are fluent with them.  We also developed an urge to  steer.  Hence legends, literature, philosophy, mathematics, science, engineering, and politics.

By the way, scientists are beginning to identify the regions of the brain that are used for mirroring others.  That is the first step toward understanding how the brain does it.  A pioneer in identifying the relevant regions is Rebecca Saxe, at MIT.  She recently gave a talk for non-experts, which you can see here.  (Look for  the entry for Nov 2 on the web page for Fall 2012.  It should say “Nov. 2, Rebecca Saxe, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, How We Think about Other People’s Thoughts,”.  To see the video, click on the ‘V’ at the right.)

Gyri - anatomical subregions of the cerebral cortex.  Author: Patric Hagmann et.al., Published: July 1, 2008, in Hagmann P, Cammoun L, Gigandet X, Meuli R, Honey CJ, et al. (2008) Mapping the Structural Core of Human Cerebral Cortex. PLoS Biol 6(7): e159. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060159

Gyri – anatomical subregions of the cerebral cortex. Author: Patric Hagmann et.al., Published: July 1, 2008, in Hagmann P, Cammoun L, Gigandet X, Meuli R, Honey CJ, et al. (2008) Mapping the Structural Core of Human Cerebral Cortex. PLoS Biol 6(7): e159. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060159

Now about dogs and wolves.  We have seen that mental mirroring underlies much of what makes us human.  But because of their long close association with humans, dogs have evolved mechanisms for sensing human moods – for mirroring us.  Because wolves had no long close association with humans, they rarely mirror us, although, as we shall see, in at least one case they did.

Four tesem dogs (an Egyptian breed believed to be the progenitor of all sighthounds), and a beagle like dog, all in the bottom row, as well as 3 hyenas in the upper row, led on leashes by a man in ancient Egypt.

Four tesem dogs (an Egyptian breed believed to be the progenitor of all sighthounds), and a beagle like dog, all in the bottom row, as well as 3 hyenas in the upper row, led on leashes by a man in ancient Egypt.

When I was a baby, my parents lived in a rented part of a house.  The owner and his family lived in the rest of the house.  The owners had a collie dog, Rusty.

A Rough Collie. Photo by sannse at the City of Birmingham Championship Dog Show, 30th August 2003.

A Rough Collie. Photo by sannse at the City of Birmingham Championship Dog Show, 30th August 2003.

If I cried in my crib, Rusty would get under the crib, and then move her back up and down until the rocking motion stopped my crying.

This is very strong evidence that Rusty’s brain could mirror at least some aspects of human brains, since:

– Rusty was capable of realizing that a baby was helpless, and was in some sense to be treated as she would have treated a new puppy.  She knew that crying meant that something was wrong.

– She was capable of feeling discomfort at the unhappiness of someone who was neither herself nor her puppies, someone who played no role in feeding and patting her, but someone who was somehow important to those who did.

– She must have observed human adults rocking the crib – a very peculiar activity that they did not do except with the baby – and was smart enough to draw the connection between this distinctive activity and its calming effect.

– Astoundingly, she must have been able to project ahead, imagining something that she had never seen or done before, namely, herself rocking the crib and calming the baby.

– She must therefore have had some sense of herself as able and willing to have a beneficial effect on others.

– She must have been able to anticipate that the up-down motion of her back could produce an effect that was similar enough to that which the humans produced by the side-to-side motion of their hands.

Striking examples of a dog’s ability to decipher human emotions also appear in the first volume of the autobiography of Dodie Smith, who is best known for having written I Capture the Castle, and 101 Dalmatians.

(A parenthetic note:  I Capture the Castle is a perennially popular novel that is treasured by all who stumble across it, for its convincing portrayal of the turbulent stream of thoughts in a young woman’s mind, and for its perceptiveness about people in general, and for its humor.  101 Dalmatians, long popular as a childrens’ book, is based on an actual Cruella-like offhand remark made by one of Dodie’s friends; the book is much better than the Disneyfied version of it.  Dodie Smith’s four volume autobiography provides a vivid, funny, ground level experience of life in England from 1896 to 1990.  It is the best possible way of refreshing your sense of what it feels like to be a child and then a young adult, and then mature.  It wonderfully captures the episodic way in which our understanding of the world expands.  If you read it, you will never again have a one dimensional, stereotype-based picture of what people were like during the eras she witnessed.)

Now, back to Dodie Smith’s astute dog. The dog was her second, a fox terrier named Peter.  She writes, “He was a highly intelligent dog, particularly clever at hinting at his needs. Long before tea [the English high tea] was ready he could be heard nosing his bowl up and down the hall. … Out for walks with me, he would race ahead to the sweet shop and put his paws on the window, as if choosing his pennyworth. But his most brilliant achievement was a seemingly psychic pre-knowledge of the days he was at risk of a bath. He was supposed to have one every month or so, given to him by our weekly washer woman, but one day she got soap in his eyes, and after that he left every Monday morning long before she arrived and when there was no indication that she was coming. He stayed away until she had gone, frequently returning covered with mud. At last my mother, who had bathed him when he was a puppy, took the job on again. He liked this so much that he would stand up at wash-basins and invite baths.”

Two smooth fox terriers, photographed 23 March 2008 by Franek B (www.bisiki.pl).

Two smooth fox terriers, photographed 23 March 2008 by Franek B (www.bisiki.pl).

Many anecdotes show that dogs feel emotional attachment to the individual members of their human ‘family’: joy, when a loved member of their human ‘family’ reappears,  and grief when a loved member of their human ‘family’ dies.  Elephants clearly show emotional attachment to one another, and show grief when a member of their group dies.  Grief over another individual has several ingredients: the individual is missed, the griever realizes that the missed one’s absence is permanent, and the griever is reminded of their own mortality and also grieves for that.  The first ingredient surely occurs for both dogs and elephants.  Although the first ingredient does not involve mirroring or projection into the future, the second ingredient does.  (The third ingredient probably requires too long a projection into the future to apply to a dog.)  Anyone who has observed a grieving dog or elephant senses that the animal’s grief includes the understanding that the missed one will never return.  Admittedly, in the absence of brain-imaging, that inference is based on our own human mirroring of the animal.  Although there can be pitfalls in basing a conclusion on mirroring an animal that is not completely like ourselves, in this case the mirroring produces a strong signal.  Also, our mirroring of our pets usually predicts their reactions quite accurately.  So we can be fairly confident that a dog’s grief includes the understanding that the missed one will never return.

Now consider wolves.  The evolution of wolves did not include selection pressures produced by long term close association with humans.  Unlike dogs, wolves have not evolved a special proclivity to learn to mirror humans.

Wolf in Denali National Park, 2 June 2010, photo by Ken Miller.

Wolf in Denali National Park, 2 June 2010, photo by Ken Miller.

But wolves live in packs, and they have developed the ability to mirror each other.  Once developed, that capability presumably also enables them to partially mirror their prey and their predators.

A striking example was experienced by Farley Mowat, and is chronicled in his book, Never Cry Wolf.  He was in the Canadian arctic, studying the behavior of a single pack of wolves.  The pack had gradually become accustomed to his presence, and neither feared him nor regarded him as prey.  Each evening, individual wolves would leave the pack’s home location and go out along well worn paths to look for small prey, returning in the early morning.  Farley Mowat’s  tent happened to be near one of those paths, and he eventually became annoyed at being disturbed early every morning by the close passage of a returning wolf.  He had noted how the wolves marked their individual territories within the pack, so one evening he drank an especially large quantity of tea, and then he marked all along a rectangle that was centered on his tent.  Since the rectangle crossed one of the well worn paths in two places, he awoke early the next morning to see what would happen when a wolf encountered his boundary.  After a while, a wolf wearily trudged homeward along the trail, not looking about, because the trail was so familiar.  When the wolf reached the scent-marked boundary, it stopped, startled.  It looked over at Farley Mowat’s tent, and then went along the marked boundary until it reached its other intersection with the trail, and then resumed its normal trail.  The wolf had mirrored Farley Mowat.  It had treated him as a member of the pack.

Male forest elephant at the Langoué Bai (forest clearing), Ivindo National Park, Gabon. This male came to the clearing to drink mineral-rich water, obtained from pits dug by elephants at specific locations within the clearing.  Photographed 8 November 2007 by Peter H. Wrege.

Male forest elephant at the Langoué Bai (forest clearing), Ivindo National Park, Gabon. This male came to the clearing to drink mineral-rich water, obtained from pits dug by elephants at specific locations within the clearing. Photographed 8 November 2007 by Peter H. Wrege.

A Blogging Award

January 10, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Posted in Climate change, Global warming, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

WordPressVeryInspiringBloggerAward

I feel doubly honored to have been selected for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award, first, because being selected says that others find my blog to be interesting and useful, and second, because docreedy, who selected my blog, has a blog of very high quality, in which she provides vivid insight into a culture that has become important to us, but is difficult for us to understand except via personal experiences such as hers. So my double thanks to Dr. Reedy.  I highly recommend her blog, which goes well with the first blog in the list of nominated blogs below.

The  rules for accepting the Very Inspiring Blogger Award are to
Display the award logo.
Thank the person who nominated you and link back to them in your post.
State 7 interesting things about yourself.
Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them.
Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.

Here are seven interesting things about me:

1. Near the end of a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, my wife and I decided that we wanted to ride in a horse-drawn carriage.  Our carriage turned out to be the one that Lafayette had used in Williamsburg during one of his two celebratory visits to the US (1784 and 1824-1825).  Most of the interior was still original.  We admired the way that the windows could be raised and lowered.  We then drove home in our car.  The next morning, we discovered that we had fleas.  We like to think that we were bitten by the descendents of the fleas that had bitten Lafayette.  (By the way, the true story of how Lafayette managed to cross the ocean to help the American Revolution, despite the King’s opposition, would put most novels and movies to shame. )

The Marquis de Lafayette

The Marquis de Lafayette

2. When I was a baby, the landlord’s dog would get under my crib when I cried, and move her back up and down to rock me, until I stopped crying.

A Rough Collie.  Photo by sannse at the City of Birmingham Championship Dog Show, 30th August 2003.

A Rough Collie. Photo by sannse at the City of Birmingham Championship Dog Show, 30th August 2003.

3. My earliest memory was of the arrival of my newborn younger brother, when my mother returned from the hospital after giving birth.  I was a little over three years old, and was given a toy helicopter to distract me while so much attention was being showered on the new baby.  I somehow sensed that I was being deliberately distracted.  I looked at my new brother, and thought, “Oh, is that what all the fuss is about.”  If I had known how to say “hrummfff!” to myself, I would have done so.  (But he worked out well.)

4. We lived the the Rockaways, on Long Island.  From many places, you could see the ocean when you looked in one direction, and the bay when you looked in the opposite direction.  After one hurricane, the streets flooded.  My mother was standing on the porch, contemplating this novel sight, when she saw a neighbor swimming home after his commute.  (The streets had flooded while he was at work.)  A very polite man, on previous occasions he had always tipped his hat to her as he walked by.  This time, he paused in his swimming, tipped his hat, and then swam on.

Rockaway, Long Island, in Queens, in New York City, photgraphed by Jorfer on a senior trip on 22 May 2007.

Rockaway, Long Island, in Queens, in New York City, photgraphed by Jorfer on a senior trip on 22 May 2007.

5. In the first grade, we were sent home for lunch.  It was implicit that were were supposed to return to school afterwards, but no one had told me that explicitly.  I suspected that we were supposed to return, but decided not to until someone told me I had to.  Day after day I enjoyed the freedom of wandering  the streets after lunch, often convincing another kid to join me.  Eventually, as I expected would happen, I was scolded.  For my playing hooky – or for something similar – the school’s Principal, Mr. Ritter, said that he would spank me.  According to my parents (and I vaguely remember saying it), I told him that if he hit me, my parents would sue him.  He backed off.

6. We moved to Far Rockaway a couple of years later, and my elementary school became PS 39, the same school that Richard Feynman had attended long before me.  Hurricane Sandy probably destroyed that school building, and all of the houses I had lived in before going away to college.

7. Throughout elementary school and junior high, I was terrible at math, and hated it.  I liked English, history, science (which at that level had no math), and art.  I could perform the steps of long division, but only dimly glimpsed what the result meant, and didn’t care what it meant.  I was so bad at math that when I read that an astronomer had to be good at math, I sadly gave up my ambition to be one.  Naively, I decided to be a chemist instead.  Despite my mathematical incompetence, at the urging of a teacher I was sent to a high school that specialized in preparing students to go on for college majors in engineering.  I was so bad at elementary algebra, that during the first Parent-Teacher conference day the math teacher told my mother that I had to either improve dramatically or return to the local high school.  He gave her the names of some supplementary textbooks, and somehow she managed to obtain them.  I went through them, working all of the problems, but this time determined to become skilled at algebra.  Then I worked through the problem book for the New York State Regents exam for elementary algebra.  By then I was doing fairly well in algebra, but was afraid of having something thrown at me that I wasn’t ready for.  So I went through the problem book for intermediate algebra, and then the one for trigonometry.  I was beginning to hear the music in math – the counterpoint and multiplexing that could be discerned in each answer.  If an answer was ugly, it was usually wrong.  Working a problem had a kinesthetic aspect: it felt like dancing.  Mathematics had become intensely enjoyable, and I was now good at it.  Still in my freshman year, I then went through the problem book for advanced algebra.  It included an introduction to differential calculus: a huge number of calculations of derivatives, via inserting small increments and then taking a limit.  That had me really excited, because I had been talking to another student in my home room who also wanted to be a chemist, and he had told me that the kind of chemistry I liked was called ‘physics’.  I had gone to the school library to see whether that was so, had read de Broglie’s Revolution in Physics, and Einstein and Infeld’s Evolution of Physics, and saw that he was right.  Those books said that calculus was a main tool in physics, so working problems in calculus was sheer bliss.  I finally understood arithmetic, especially the significance of division, from doing algebra and from those increment+limit calculations in differential calculus.  I had also discovered that most mastery comes from being self-motivated and teaching yourself, with school viewed as just an adjunct.  Mathematics had become so enjoyable that I couldn’t stop doing it.  I acquired college books on calculus and worked the problems.  During my Junior year in high school, a neighbor, an electrical engineer, complained that he had been unable to work out a formula for the length of a single cycle of a sine wave, which he needed for his work.  By then I thought that if an integral could be performed, I could do it.  I wrestled with it for a while, then recognized that the difficulty was that this integral was of a special type called an elliptic integral, and gave him the answer in terms of a complete elliptic integral of the second kind.  I also began asking and trying to answer my own curiosity-driven questions about mathematics.  Ever since then, a major component of my life, and of who I am, has been self-driven research in mathematics, physics, and now also astrophysics.  The more you know about those subjects, the more fascinating they become.

Here are 15 other bloggers that I nominate for this award, and links to them:

1. http://hotmilkforbreakfast.wordpress.com/  Together, this and the blog that nominated me give eye opening insights into the daily life and views of ordinary Afghans, who thereby become far less puzzling, very human, and very diverse.

2. http://broadsideblog.wordpresscom/    Fresh insights into politics, into living and loving, and into earning a living.

3. http://lifewithbump.wordpress.com/    The bump refers to a ‘baby bump’, but the topics are diverse, and the commentary is heartfelt.

4. http://illbeoutinaminute.com/        Wildly creative and imaginative, perceptive and humorous, and very frank looks at human nature.

5. http://thefurfiles.com/            Wonderfully humorous, perceptive, and frank insights into what really goes on inside our heads.

6. http://koshersamurai.wordpress.com/    You never know what topic will come up next, but it is always interesting.

7. http://jameswight.wordpress.com/    Remarkable insights into the environmental tug of war in Australia.  Lessons for everywhere.

8. http://sustainableutah.wordpress.com/    Dramatic photos and comments on environmental damage in a beautiful environment.

9. http://thepoliticalidealist.com/        An up-close, careful analysis of politics and education in the UK.  Instructive for anyone.

10. http://bierstadt54.wordpress.com/    Novel insights, mostly on international politics, but sometimes on changes in culture and technology.

11. http://everydayambassador.org/    Postings by diverse people who want to help others.  Glimpses of worlds you otherwise would not see.

12. http://icelandpenny.wordpress.com/    A sharp-eyed, appreciative walking observer of Toronto, who adds it to your neighborhood.

13. http://hikingphoto.com/        Spectacular photography, mostly of dramatic scenery, but some of water drops and smoke, and photography tips.

14. http://shareabitoflove.com/        Striking close-up photography.  The rarely noticed beauty nearby.

15. http://scienceornot.net/    How to tell whether a widely repeated claim is just an urban legend.  A WordPress site, despite the URL.

December 31, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The corporate behavior described here goes beyond unethical. It is immoral, and since it deliberately misleads the public, it is probably illegal. It certainly deserves to be investigated by the FTC, by the Better Business Bureau, by Consumer Reports, and by the travel writers for major newspapers.

Tony & Cheri's PlayaZone

There is a lot of talk in the news these days about the difficulties facing small business owners around the world. Nowhere are these difficulties felt as deeply as in the travel industry. The rapid growth of the control of travel by big business with its multi-billion-dollar internet and advertising power has caused many small travel business owners to be pushed aside. As a result the consumer ends up with limited access to travel choices while the Mom and Pop hotel or tour or shop ends up on the brink of extinction. We know this firsthand, as we are one of those small businesses being unfairly crushed under the weight of travel industry giant Expedia. In fact we think Expedia is trying to put us, and small independent businesses like ours, out of business. And here’s why:

Expedia and its many affiliates, including Hotels.com and Venere.com, invite people to come…

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