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Thursday, March 17, 2016

What Do Animals See In a Mirror?

     I got to thinking about this because there are two floor length mirrors in our bedroom and when the cat walks by she ignores the image of herself. As an experiment I held her up to the bathroom mirror...no response; she was more interested in examining the light fixture. 
     Back when she was a kitten she was sitting on my lap while I was watching Animal Planet. When a scene involving lions walking towards the camera appeared, she took an interest and ran to the TV, studied it intently, and when the lions got close she started batting at the screen. When the lions didn't respond she quickly lost interest and to this day she ignores animals when they appear on the television. 
     In psychology the mirror test is considered an important evaluation as a sign of the normal development of cognitive skills in children. Humans are typically 18 months old before they are able to recognize themselves in the mirror. But what about animals? Studies have shown (yes, people actually experiment with this stuff) that only higher primates, dolphins, orcas, elephants and European magpies are known to recognize that what they see in a mirror is a reflection of themselves. Here is an odd fact...pigs show no sign of recognizing their reflections in a mirror but they are able to identify the location of food placed behind them. Why is that? Evidently only animals that rely on vision as their primary sense are impressed with mirrors. 
     When a kitten or puppy first sees his image in a mirror they often react as if it is a strange animal. But, cats and dogs both check new things out by sniffing them. So the theory is that when cats or dogs see themselves in a mirror there is nothing to smell, so they aren't interested. 
     A controversial test was designed to see if animals could recognize themselves in mirrors. Gordon Gallup, Jr., a professor at Tulane University, showed chimpanzees their reflection.  He isolated two chimps in cages and placed a mirror in each cage for eight hours at a time over 10 days and observed their behavior. At first they treated the reflection like it was another chimp, but over time they started using it to explore their own bodies. They used the mirror to look at the inside of their mouths, to make faces and to inspect their genitals and even to remove mucous from the corner of their eyes. 
     Gallup was not completely sure that the chimps recognized themselves in the mirror though so, under anesthesia, he painted one eyebrow ridge and the opposite ear tip with a red dye that they would not be able to feel or smell. The idea was that if they really did recognize themselves then they would inspect the new marks and that's exactly what they did. 
     Next he tested monkeys, which are different than chimpanzees. The monkeys did not react the same. The conclusion was that the ability to recognize one’s reflection is not a matter of learning abilities but one of higher intellectual capacity. Charles Darwin had shown mirrors to orangutans, but they didn’t respond and in 1889 a German researcher named Wilhelm Preyer claimed there was a connection between mirror self-recognition and an inner sense of self in people, but that's a whole other area. 
     In the early 1990s two bottlenose dolphins at an aquarium were exposed to a mirror. Like the chimpanzees, the dolphins learned to use the mirror in a variety of ways that suggested they recognized themselves. To test the theory they used a modified “mark test” by marking black ink on various parts of their bodies and the dolphins went through a lot of contortions trying to examine the marks. 
     What was controversial about these experiments was that one researcher became convinced that the mirror test indicated that there is at least some level of self-awareness on the part of the animals and that made it unethical to keep them in captivity. As a result she set up the Nonhuman Rights Project which is attempting to gain legal rights for animals with higher-order cognitive abilities by getting courts to recognize them as “legal persons.” Their belief is some animals are, like humans, self-aware and so can also suffer mental anguish because of their captivity.  But all that is another matter.
     The point is that while some animals recognize themselves in a mirror, most of the ones we are associated with, cats and dogs, don't. They may, as mentioned, treat their image as another animal the first time, but they quickly lose interest. And, as mentioned, for humans recognizing you own image in a mirror is a major mental feat because it requires self-awareness, which is one of the most sophisticated aspects of consciousness. And, we are not born with the ability to recognize ourselves in mirrors. Young infants may be fascinated by their reflection, however they view this as social interaction with what appears to be another baby. Somewhere between the age of 18 and 24 months babies begin to understand that they are looking at themselves. Interestingly, a baby recognizing itself in a mirror was tested using nearly the same “spot test” that was used on animals. 
     However, one researcher concluded that dogs do have some sense of self-awareness as well as a sense of what's his and what belongs to someone else...like his territory, his toys and his sleeping place, but they fail the mirror test because there is no smell. In the dog's mind (or a cat's) the reflection isn't important enough to warrant attention if it has no smell.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Political Mud Wrestling

     All politicians lie, it's just a matter of how much. They can get away with telling some big ones because most people interested in politics, especially now with the US presidential primary's going on, are not fact-checkers, preferring to take at face value whatever the media, or worse yet, SOCIAL media, tells them. Even if there was such a thing as a “Truth-O-Meter” veteran politicians would probably not score badly though because they are veteran liars and are apt choose their words with great care. Of course, it's not possible to check absolutely everything a candidate says, but it's a good idea to ask what's the source and is something being taken out of context. 
     The waters are muddied by the fact that the news media are often nothing more than a public relations outlet for certain candidates and are willing to mislead, slant, and falsely report on national and international events. This is propaganda, not news. Add to that the fact that many political ads and debates do not focus on issues, but on mudslinging and calling their opponents everything they can think of from outright liars to racists. 
     It's long been known that if you tell a lie big enough, loud enough, often enough, and do it with authority, people will believe it. Just read the story about the time Upton Sinclair ran for governor of California! Smithsonian article.
     About the only decent political election the U.S. had was the one that was won by George Washington, but after that one, candidates emphasized the shortcomings, real or made up, of their opponent and the campaigns, to use one writer's apt expression, resembled something between a carnival and a bar fight. Some examples: 

In the 1796 the Boston Independent Chronicle alleged that during the Revolution John Adams had publicly supported Washington but secretly attempted to have him cashiered out of the Army. There was such an attempt, but it was Sam Adams, a second cousin, who was behind it. Adams’s opponent was the highly revered Thomas Jefferson; at least he's highly revered today. But at election time he was portrayed as being the son of a half-breed Indian and a mulatto father and it was claimed that if elected President, there would be a civil war and a national orgy of rape, incest, and adultery. 

Ol' Hickory, Andrew Jackson, was portrayed as a bloodthirsty wild man, a brawler, the son of a prostitute and a black man and it was said his older brother had been sold as a slave and Jackson put to death soldiers who had offended him. Throw in the fact that Jackson and his wife were, technically speaking, adulterers and you have to wonder who would ever have voted for him. What happened was Jackson's wife, Rachael, had married him before her first husband divorced her. Opponents screamed that an adulteress and her paramour husband should never be President “of this free and Christian land.” Rachael died of a heart attack before they could move into the White House. It was said of Jackson he was a gambler, a cock fighter, a slave trader and the husband of a really fat wife. 

Back in 1839 Martin Van Buren was accused of being too close to the Pope. Actually he had official correspondence, as most all Presidents have, with the Vatican as part of his job as Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson. Opponents spread the word that there was some kind of Popish plot going on. 

During the James K. Polk versus Henry Clay race of 1844 the Ithaca, New York, Chronicle ran a fake report that someone named Baron Roorback (a fake name) had personally witnessed Polk purchase 43 slaves. Opponents accused Clay of gambling, dueling, womanizing and swearing. 

Abe Lincoln was called about every name you can think of: ape, ghoul and traitor. During the Civil War his wife was accused of collaborating with Confederates. That was considered so serious a charge that on his own Lincoln appeared before a Senate committee that was secretly examining the allegations and swore that Mary Todd Lincoln was innocent. 

In 1884 the Buffalo Evening Telegraph accused Grover Cleveland of fathering an illegitimate son in 1874 in Buffalo. That one may have been true. Cleveland, a bachelor, had dated the kid's mother, but so had a lot other men, so there was no way of knowing for sure who's son he was. It was kind of suspicious though that Cleveland had provided for the kid. The result was that his opponents took up the slogan: “Ma! Ma! Where’s my pa? Gone to the White House, ha! ha! ha!” Cleveland’s opponent, James G. Blaine, was not exactly a saint either.  Blaine was involved in a business scandal when a railroad had permitted him to sell bonds for a generous commission in return for a land grant. Blaine, in a cover-up attempt, had ordered the evidence burned, but he couldn't get away from the damage. “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the State of Maine” became the slogan used by his opponents. 

I could go on, but what's the point? It would be funny if it wasn't so serious.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Fish Oil

     I was once asked, “You do take fish oil, don't you?” The way the question was put made me feel a little guilty because I didn't, so I started taking it, but not for long. The reason? You'll see, keep reading. 
     The use of fish oil started being hyped in the 1970s when scientists started speculating that the Eskimos of Greenland had lower rates of heart attacks than their neighbors in Denmark because their diet was rich in whale blubber and seal meat. 
     Fish oil is sometimes used after heart transplant surgery to prevent high blood pressure and kidney damage that can be caused by the surgery itself or by drugs used to reduce the chances that the body will reject the new heart. Fish oil is also sometimes used after coronary artery bypass surgery. It seems to help keep the blood vessel that has been rerouted from closing up. 
     When it comes to eating fish way the fish is prepared makes a difference. Broiled or baked fish is good. Fried fish or fish sandwiches may actually increase heart disease risk. 
      Some reasons people eat a lot of fish (or take fish oil) are: depression, psychosis, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, dry eyes, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration diabetes, asthma, developmental coordination disorders, movement disorders, dyslexia, obesity kidney disease, osteoporosis, psoriasis and preventing weight loss caused by some cancer drugs. Women sometimes take fish oil to prevent painful periods; breast pain; and complications associated with pregnancy such as miscarriage, high blood pressure late in pregnancy, and early delivery.  That's just to name a few.
     Today scientists are still studying the fats found in fish and the research over the last two decades has focused on people who already had heart disease or multiple risk factors. The benefits appeared to be a decrease in blood clotting, lowering of triglyceride levels, and anti-arrhythmic and anti-inflammation qualities, all of which appear to be beneficial in the prevention of heart disease stroke, and possibly, some forms of cancer. 
     The scientific evidence suggests that fish oil really does lower high triglycerides and it also may help prevent heart disease and stroke when taken in the recommended amounts. Ironically, taking too much fish oil can actually increase the risk of stroke
     Another downside: a study by scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington linked eating a lot of oily fish or taking potent fish oil supplements to a 43% increased risk for prostate cancer overall, and a 71% increased risk for aggressive prostate cancer. If you are a male that should be enough to make you want to avoid fish oil right there. They came to this conclusion by looking at blood samples of men taking part in the study found that selenium supplements did nothing to prevent prostate cancer and vitamin E supplements slightly increased prostate cancer risk. 
     Fish oil can be obtained from eating fish or by taking supplements. Fish that are especially rich in the oils known as omega-3 fatty acids are mackerel, tuna, salmon, sturgeon, mullet, bluefish, anchovy, sardines, herring, trout, and menhaden. Fish oil supplements are usually made from mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, salmon, cod liver, whale blubber, or seal blubber. 
     Fish oil supplements often contain small amounts of vitamin E to prevent spoilage. They might also be other vitamins and minerals. 
     One must be aware that high doses of fish oil might possibly affect the immune system and so reduce the body’s ability to fight infection. It also has some adverse side effects such as belching, bad breath, heartburn, nausea, loose stools, rash, and nosebleeds. 
     The fact is taking large amounts of fish oil from some dietary supplements can be unsafe. People with liver disease have an increased risk of bleeding, people who are allergic to seafood might also be allergic to the supplements. In the case of bipolar disorder fish oil might increase some of the symptoms and it can increase the symptoms of depression. There is some concern that taking high doses of fish oil might make the control of blood sugar more difficult in people with diabetes. For people on blood pressure medication it is possible that it may cause an unsafe drop in blood pressure. HIV/AIDS and other conditions in which the immune system response is lowered the body’s immune system response can be made worse. Fish oil might increase the risk of irregular heartbeat in patients with an implanted defibrillator. Birth control pills interact with fish oil. 
     Another reason not to take fish oil... fish oil capsules are frequently rancid. Researchers at New Zealand’s Crop and Food Research Institute tested capsules from many different brands from countries all over the world and discovered that a majority of the capsules they tested had begun to go bad.  Rancid fish oil does not benefit those who take it and may actually cause harm. Health risks associated with rancid fish oil include increased risk of hardening of the arteries and increased blood clotting.  Is taking fish oil supplements really worth the risks?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Uncle Dave Macon

     Uncle Dave Macon (October 7, 1870 – March 22, 1952), born David Harrison Macon—also known as "The Dixie Dewdrop"—was an old-time banjo player, singer, songwriter, and comedian. Known for his chin whiskers, plug hat, gold teeth, and gates-ajar collar, he gained regional fame as a vaudeville performer in the early 1920s before becoming the first star of the Grand Ole Opry in the latter half of the decade. Macon was the grandfather of country music. 
    Macon was born in Smartt Station, Tennessee, the son of Confederate Army Captain. In 1884, when Macon was 13 years old, his family moved to Nashville, Tennessee to run the Old Broadway Hotel, which they had purchased. The hotel became a center for Macon and was frequented by artists and troupers traveling along vaudeville circuit and circus acts. In 1885, he learned to play the banjo from a circus comedian. Macon's father was murdered outside the hotel in 1886 and his mother sold the hotel and the family moved to Readyville, Tennessee where his mother ran a stagecoach inn. 
     Macon began entertaining passengers at the rest stop, playing a banjo on a homemade stage. In 1889, Macon married Matilda Richardson and moved to a farm near Kittrell, Tennessee, where they raised six sons and around 1900 Macon opened a freight line between Murfreesboro and Woodbury, Tennessee. It was called The Macon Midway Mule and Mitchell Wagon Transportation Company. When Macon was driving his mules he would entertain people by singing and playing the banjo at various stops along the way. In time, his sons became part of the company as they grew up. But the arrival of an automobile-based competitor forced him to close down in 1920. 
     His first professional performance was in 1921 in Morrison, Tennessee during a Methodist church benefit. In 1923, during a performance for the Shriners in Nashville, Macon was seen by Marcus Loew of Loews Theatres, who offered him fifteen dollars if he would perform at a theater in Alabama. Macon accepted the offer and went to Alabama. After the show he was approached by the manager of Loews Theatres in Birmingham, who wanted to hire him to perform there. Macon's salary was several hundred dollars a week. This led to offers from other theaters in the Loew's Vaudeville circuit. At age fifty Macon was suddenly a professional entertainer. 
     In 1923 he began a tour of the southeastern United States, joined by a fiddler and five other acts. A record distributor noticed Macon and realized his potential as a recording artist. On July 8, 1924, Macon and the fiddle player, Sid Harkreader, made their first recordings and in 1925 they added "Dancing Bob" Bradford, a buck dancer to their act, Their tours included comedy, buck dancing and old time music. In late 1925, Macon and Harkreader performed at the Ryman Auditorium, the future home of the Grand Ole Opry in a benefit for the Nashville police force just three weeks before the WSM Grand Ole Opry was founded.
     Macon was one of the first performers at the new WSM radio station. His career with WSM lasted twenty-six years, but as he continued touring, he wasn't a regular performer in the years of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1927, Macon formed the Fruit Jar Drinkers who performed traditional songs and fiddle numbers, but they occasionally recorded Gospel songs under the name of the Dixie Sacred Singers 
     Between 1930 and 1952 Macon was often accompanied by his son Dorris who played the guitar. In 1940 Macon together with Opry founder George D. Hay, Roy Acuff, and Dorris received an invitation to take part in the Republic Pictures movie Grand Ole Opry. The film contains rare footage of Macon performing, including a memorable duet of "Take Me Back to My Carolina Home" with Dorris in which the 69-year-old Macon jumped out of his seat and danced throughout the second half of the song. While playing, Macon often kicked and stomped, whoop and holler. Macon delivered showmanship, humor, not always “politically correct” political commentary and a lot of energy. 
     Although Macon toured with Bill Monroe in the late 1940s, he was neither impressed by the new bluegrass style nor by the banjo picking of Earl Scruggs. Contemporary musicians didn't consider Macon a particularly skillful banjo player, but modern musicologists have identified at least 19 picking styles on his recordings. 
     Macon continued to perform until March 1, 1952. He died three weeks later on March 22, 1952 at Rutherford County Hospital in Murfreesboro. He was buried at Coleman Cemetery near Murfreesboro and his funeral was visited by more than five thousand people. He was inducted posthumously into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966. A monument was erected near Woodbury. 
     His son Dorris and several band members made occasional appearances on the Grand Ole Opry as the Fruit Jar Drinkers until the early 1980s. During the second full weekend in July the city of Murfreesboro celebrates "Uncle Dave Macon Days" which hosts the national competitions for clogging, buck dancing and old time banjo picking.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Pet Peeve: Politics and Facebook Twaddle

     The right to free speech and the right to join with others in protest or peaceful assembly is critical to a functioning democracy and at the core of the First Amendment.  When it comes to political candidates what that means is that they are allowed to say whatever they want.  The exception is hate speech which is defined as any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. Some of the stuff some politicians are saying is probably borderline, but that's not the issue.
     According to the American Civil Liberties Union the rights of political protesters are constitutionally protected in "public forums" such as streets, sidewalks and parks or their expressions may be permitted in public locations that the government has opened up to similar activities. 
     However, on private property the owners may set rules limiting free speech. If anyone disobeys the property owner's rules they can order the offender off their property and have them arrested for trespassing if the protester does not comply. Police are permitted to keep two antagonistic groups separated but should allow them to be within the general vicinity of one another. 
This MUST be true...it's on the Internet
     I see on social media sites a lot of propaganda and fake news stories that are fueling hate among various groups of people. The last one I saw was at a candidate's rally where protesters were escorted (against their will...they did not go peacefully) out of the auditorium (private property) and the comments about the candidate were all negative. I don't know anything about the man, but given all the video editing and Photoshopping I see, there is simply no way of knowing what led up to his derogatory statements to and about his detractors or whether or not the video was even legitimate. 
     Also, this candidate, like most of them, was NOT on public property; he was in a rented facility. Therefore, he (and the owners) had a right to have the protesters who were disrupting his speech escorted off the property. Further, to avoid potential violence, police had an obligation to separate the protesters. In this case the police were not involved, but rather private security. 
     What peeves me is 1) the gullibility of the simpletons who think that if it's on social media it's true and let these video clips and photos guide their thinking and 2) they are uninformed about even the most basic laws. 
     Social media can be a great tool and a fun place, but too many people let the hearsay, half-truths and outright lies they see be the source of what they base their opinions and beliefs on. Off course, responsible news outlets are not above trying to upstage their rivals with incomplete news stories and are prone to sensationalize things just to get viewers and readership. The result can be that they incite people in the process just like social media.
     Local on air news reporters are often clownish, too. I wish they would go back and watch men like Douglas Edwards and Walter Cronkite to see how news should be delivered.