Classic Contributions to Science Journalism #2.1mya

In the coverage of recently published research revealing that stone tools in China – which research suggests were crafted by individual members of Homo erectus – date back 2.1 million-fucking-years, we get this gem contributing to our understanding of why this finding is so important in understanding the habits and abilities of our ancestors and not just their birth dates:

Another key finding is that the new dates show that “already before 2 million years, hominins were able to cope with a range of environmental conditions,” says archaeologist Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University in the Netherlands, who is not a member of the team. During the long span of occupations at Shangchen, which is about the same latitude as Kabul, the climate fluctuated from warm and wet to cold and dry. “They must have been freezing their buns off,” adds paleoanthropologist Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

That’s right, just try reading that entire last sentence out loud and in one take without interrupting yourself laughing. Pure brilliance.

What Constitutes A Tool? Orca Are Freuding Amazing Edition

So, apparently some folks have known about this for a long time, but I just came across a reference to orca gathering together several members of a pod who then swim, dive, and surge synchronously to produce a wave displacing several tons of water.

Why would they do that? Well, it turns out it’s a good way for orca to wash prey animals who rest on ice floes – mainly seals – off the safety of their floating islands and into the open water where the orca can eat them.

Here’s one video which culminates in three orca using the strategy:

 

However, there are others. I came across a 45 minute TV program that would be inconvenient to use in demonstrating the tactic. Still if you’re willing to scan through and find it, you can see five orca swimming, diving, & surging synchronously to form a massive wave. While synchronized action isn’t unusual in the animal kingdom (think of birds migrating in V formations or schools of fish turning in near-unison among other things), this involves not only planning, but very possibly also either communicating a plan to one’s companions or, even more spectacularly, a theory of mind where the means to communicate a plan are absent, but other orca recognize what one orca is attempting to achieve in the future, then thinking about how to enhance the success of that other animal’s plan. Thinking from that other animal’s perspective, if that’s what’s happening, is a stupendous intellectual feat.

It would not be the only time one can see theory of mind operating in non-human animals, but the operation of theory of mind is rare.

And yet, the thing that completely disarms me intellectually is the thought that in this instance, the very water in which they swim has probably been rendered into a tool, which would challenge the very definition of the word. Wikipedia’s discussion of tool use by animals has a brief discussion of the difficulties inherent in defining “tool”. The first example they present, though, is sufficient to the point:

The external employment of an unattached or manipulable attached environmental object to alter more efficiently the form, position, or condition of another object, another organism, or the user itself, when the user holds and directly manipulates the tool during or prior to use and is responsible for the proper and effective orientation of the tool.

Is the seawater an “environmental object” or the orca’s environment itself? I’m not sure, but this is an incredible bit of cooperative hunting a raises a great many questions about orca, their intelligence, and even the nature of tool use itself.

 

Hold My Beer: Irony Is Frozen Inside ICE

A spontaneous protest at a Portland, Oregon ICE facility has become an encampment over the last 24 hours. Although nothing stops ICE employees from coming or going, the protest does now stop cars from entering or leaving, which is causing some employees who don’t wish to take public transit to remain inside.

Arun Gupta (@arunindy) tweets out the tragic and hilarious response:

About 75 people blockading ICE prison in Portland, OR. DHS keep coming out to ask protesters to let 9 ICE employees to leave.

“So they can get home to their families.”

If only someone had some compassion.

American Academy of Pediatrics is Not Down

The AAP is not down with what’s been happening to immigrant children of immigrants (both those who seek to cross within the law and those who seek to evade it). In addition to putting out a statement,

Dr Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, visited a shelter for children under the age of 12 that runs along the Texas border with Mexico.

And what did Kraft find?

The shelter in question held 60 beds and had a little playground for children. Rooms are equipped with toys, books and crayons. …

But the child who caught the paediatrician’s attention during a recent visit was anything but happy. This little girl – no older than two – was screaming and pounding her fists on a mat. Yet staff members could not comfort the infant because of the rules prohibiting physical contact.

That’s right: no hugs for toddlers is the law, because Democrats and their awful, no good, very bad refusal to capitulate to everything the Orange Tyrant wants, forever.

Or at least, I guess that what the Rs are saying today.

Ishtar fucking Inanna with the Strap-On of Birth Control, there are no words.

Hold My Beer: Giuliani Explains His Own Statements on Credibility and Respect

It’s hard to even even on this one:

I respect all human beings. I even have to respect, you know, criminals. But I’m sorry I don’t respect a porn star the way I respect a career woman or a woman of substance or a woman who has great respect for herself as a woman and as a person and isn’t going to sell her body for sexual exploitation. …

So Stormy, you want to bring a case, let me cross examine you. Because the business you’re in entitles you to no degree of giving your credibility any weight.

Oh, but that’s not all.

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Churches Complicate Everything

So Oregon has a new case that, while pretty much terrible for all concerned, is very interesting from a law geek’s perspective.

As someone who participated in law-drafting exercises while in law school with adjunct professors who took back the class’ collective work to the provincial legislative assembly, I’ve had about the most minimal input into drafting law that could still be truthfully, if technically, called input at all. Nonetheless, even if my input was minimal, my work with these two professors was significant and they have spent their entire careers drafting legislation. It’s a topic I took to eagerly and (if they weren’t just puffing me up) well. And, it turns out, I know just enough to know that I’d be in way over my head trying to address a recent issue that came up with respect to non-discrimination law in Oregon.

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For Your Enjoyment: An Unexpurgated Headline

Maybe I’m just too dirty-minded to survive in modern society, but when I showed this headline to my best friend, she laughed herself silly as well. In all its glory, I give you

French President in ‘delicious’ faux pas on tour Down Under

Yes. Well. A-hem. Perhaps you can all tell me if I’m not the only one who thought this headline was more worthwhile than the article that accompanied it.

 

 

The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Trump

So many of us have said for so long that Trump is authoritarian. Some of us even said Fascist, though that definition is up for debate and if it means anything, shouldn’t be merely a synonym of authoritarian.

Nonetheless, our warnings fell on 62,984,825 deaf ears. It seems that a heck of a lot of people thought that Trump might be hostile to some persons’ rights, but not their own rights.

Frankly it reminds me quite a bit of how in the anti-domestic/sexual violence community we’ve been saying for years that if someone can’t show respect to an intimate partner, that bodes ill for that person’s propensity to violence more generally. Since heterosexual relationships are most common, this has often taken the form of warning that men who abuse women need to be taken more seriously as threats to their communities. In a world where most lawmakers are men, men who didn’t fear they might end up in an abusive relationship with a man, the glowing-scarlet flag of intimate partner violence has been treated as little import. We’ve slowly changed perceptions so that at least the actual violence to the intimate partner is treated, legally, as violence against others might be. In other words, violence against women isn’t treated as a warning sign of future dangerousness to a community, but is more frequently than it once was taken as an actual violation of the laws against assaults and/or batteries.

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