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Climate Change: ‘Unequivocal … Irreversible’

climate-change-083012Another voice joins the chorus of scientists warning that it's too late to turn back the tide of climate change. The train has left the station, we've crossed the tipping point.

All we can do now, according to the American Meteorological Society (AMS), is devote whatever energies we can muster to mitigating the damage and adapting to the new reality.

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Is Dog Pee Killing City Trees?

You’ve probably never thought about it as you lead Fido from tree to tree on his neighborhood walk, or as he mingles with other dogs for the latest water-cooler gossip around the trees of the dog park. But there’s mounting evidence that Fido and his pals are killing those trees.

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Internet Cat Film Festival

(Update: The winner of the Festival was Henri reflecting on his existential angst in a classic homage to the French New Wave movies of the 1960s. We first posted his work back in April.)

We warned you last month that it was coming. And now it's here, this weekend: the world's first Internet Cat Film Festival at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

The festival will present 70 videos in 60 minutes. (No sitting around for days in dark rooms with celebrities in Cannes or Park City.)

Submissions include the great classics like Keyboard Cat to heavier metal kitties like Dubstep Cat. People studying feline language can check out the two Talking Cats:

Some of the best videos are playing all day today on the art center's home page.

9,000-Year-Old Animal Figurines


Two animal statuettes from the Stone Age have been unearthed by archeologists near Jerusalem. The one above is of a ram; the other is a more abstract depiction, maybe of a bull or buffalo.

They are estimated to be from the time when people were making the transition from hunting animals to domesticating them – around 6,000 years before what's generally considered to be Biblical Israel.

Archeologists suggest that the figurines were either charms to bring good luck to hunters or were related to the new practice of domestication.

“It is known that hunting was the major activity in this period,” Hamoudi Khalaily, director of the dig, wrote in an e-mail. The figurines “may have been the focus of a traditional ceremony the hunters performed.”

The e-mail continues:

The figurines, which are 9,000-9,500 years old, were found near a large round building whose foundations were built of fieldstones and upper parts of the walls were apparently made of mud brick. The first figurine, in the shape of a ram with twisted horns, was fashioned from limestone and is c. 15 cm in size.

The sculpting is extraordinary and precisely depicts details of the animal’s image; the head and the horns protrude in front of the body and their proportions are extremely accurate. The body was made smooth and the legs of the figurine were incised in order to distinguish them from the rest of the body.


The second figurine, which was fashioned on hard smoothed dolomite, is an abstract design; yet it too seems to depict a large animal with prominent horns that separate the elongated body from the head. The horns emerge from the middle of the head sideward and resemble those of a wild bovine or buffalo.

The Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period (the eighth millennium BCE) is considered one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of mankind; many changes took place in it that shaped human society for thousands of years to come. During this period, the transition began from nomadism, based on hunting and gathering, to sedentary life, based on farming and grazing. It was at this time that mankind began to inhabit permanent settlements and started building settlements that extended across a large area. In several sites that were exposed in our region remains were discovered indicating preliminary architectural planning of those same settlements and complex engineering capabilities including the construction of two story houses. The process of animal and plant domestication was accelerated in this period.

The archaeological evidence from Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, particularly the artistic objects such as the figurines that were discovered at Tel Motza, teaches us about the religious life, the worship and the beliefs of Neolithic society. Other evidence on the subject has also been derived from the study of tombs and funerary customs of the same prehistoric society.

It is known that hunting was the major activity in this period. Presumably, the figurines served as good-luck statues for ensuring the success of the hunt and might have been the focus of a traditional ceremony the hunters performed before going out into the field to pursue their prey

The dig’s co-director, Anna Eirikh, suggested they might equally be linked to the domestication of animals .

The two sculptures were found during an excavation at Tel Moza, in preparation for the widening of a highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Zoos Talk about Their Conundrum

zoos-1-082912How much should a zoo tell its visitors about what's happening in the wild to the kinds of animals they have in captivity?

Should they risk scaring people away by saying that we're already deep into a Sixth Great Extinction? Or should they keep quiet and just say a few fun things about how fast, for example, a cheetah can run?

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How One Zoo Is ‘Educating’ the Public

By law, marine mammals can only be held in captivity and put on display at zoos and marine circuses if they are doing this for "educational purposes." But at the Mystic Aquarium, the educational outreach involves teaching people how to keep animals in captivity!

"Educating" people on how to keep belugas captive at the Mystic Aquarium

To comply with the Marine Mammal Protection Act, your typical zoo or aquarium will have notices up explaining how such-and-such animals live in the wild, or perhaps an interactive display where kids can press buttons and get information about whales or sea lions. Or before the show begins at a marine circus like SeaWorld, a video will show killer whales or dolphins in the wild with adventure-type music and a voice explaining how magnificent these animals are ... and then the gate opens and the captive orca is led into the arena to perform tricks.

But the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut has a new kind of wildlife education for children. Rather than even teaching them how we need to protect animals in the wild from human interference (like capturing them in the first place!), the aquarium is teaching them how to train the animals in captivity.

A new all-day program, costing $375 per adult or teenager, starts with lessons about the aquarium's animals, with some passing information about conservation and research. And then you practice training a beluga, working with sea lions, and feeding the penguins.

Aquarium spokesperson Erin Merz explains that the training day is good for animal lovers and anyone who thinks they might be interested in becoming marine animal trainers.

Bottom line: The "educational" program at the Mystic Aquarium is about teaching people how to keep more animals captive.

Who Is the Smartest of Them All?

At the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda, everyone knows that Natasha is the smartest of them all. Now a series of scientific tests have confirmed her intelligence.

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Captive Dolphin ‘Heals’ Unborn Babies? Oh Please.


The latest version of the old "dolphin assisted therapy" scam has pregnant mothers going to a resort in Peru where two captive dolphins supposedly make their unborn babies more intelligent by communicating with them in dolphin-squeak.

But this particular version of the scam may be worse than useless; it could even be dangerous.

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England’s Escaped Lion: Monty Python-Style

The search for the lion stalking the eerie grasslands of Essex County (the scene of one of P.D. James's best murder mysteries) has been called off. Too bad. Nobody does Monty Python-style police stories like the Brits. (" ... 'Allo, 'allo, 'allo, What's goin' on 'ere then?") :

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Just Close Marineland Down!

There's only one fitting conclusion to the investigations currently being conducted into the shocking conditions at the Canadian marine zoo Marineland, following the revelations by the Toronto Star: The facility needs to be closed down. Anything short of that will be a travesty.

But don't hold your breath; a travesty is most likely exactly what we can expect.

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Cats and the Conservation of Angular Momentum

How does a cat go from feet up to feet down in a falling reference frame without violating the conservation of angular momentum? (Huh?)

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Are Factory Farm Antibiotics Making Us Obese?

If you're getting fat and you don't know why, it may be that you're being dosed with antibiotics in the meat you're eating. Two new studies are creating waves among scientists trying to understand the causes of obesity.

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Lisa’s Video Picks – August 25th

Surprise! ... Cool cat's high five ... Energizer pooch with giant red ball ... In case you were wondering how it's done ... Welcome home, soldier.


Cool cat's high five

Energizer pooch with giant red ball

In case you were wondering how it's done


Welcome home, soldier!

... and there are still some people who say nonhuman animals don't have emotions. ;-)

The Country Vet

For the weekend: A rescued stallion who's all hormones ... a pit bull who literally ate the homework ... a pheasant with a broken leg ... a cow struggling to give birth ... a barn cat with an infected leg ... and a tornado coming through. Read more

Where Rape Is Truly ‘Legitimate’

You’ve probably heard enough about rape for this week – what with Rep. Paul Ryan’s concept of “forcible rape” and Rep. Todd Akin’s notions about “legitimate rape.”

Whatever your definition of rape, it derives from the Latin word to “seize” and has always included the violent seizure of land, property and other living beings, too.

Which brings us to the rape of the rain forest in Indonesia – and the rape (yes, by every definition) of our close cousins, the orangutans.

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Paul Ryan-Matthew Scully: The Very Odd Couple

author Matthew Scully (Dominion)
photograph in his house in Arlington, VA for the Federal Paper Oct. 3. 2002

by Hector EmanuelIf you think Romney and Ryan are an odd couple, here’s an even odder one: Paul Ryan and Matthew Scully.

Not sure who I’m talking about? Scully, a passionate, vegan, animal advocate, has long been one of the top speech writers for high-level Republicans.

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Farewell to Ivan the Gorilla

ivan-gorilla-082212Ivan, known in this country for most of his life as "the Shopping Mall Gorilla," died this week at Zoo Atlanta. He was 50 years old.

Ivan, a western lowland gorilla, was born in the wild around 1962 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While still a baby, he was captured by wildlife traders, who would most likely have had to kill his mother in order to reach him.

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More People Agree Climate Is Changing (duh)

With temperatures soaring across the United States, the number of people who say they believe the climate is changing is edging upwards. A poll taken mid-July by the University of Texas showed that 70 percent of respondents said they think the climate is changing. That's up from 65 percent in March. Climate change deniers fell to 15 percent – from 22 percent in March.


In Canada, however, only 2 percent of the population are climate change deniers. A survey conducted in June revealed that "Canadians from coast to coast overwhelmingly believe climate change is real and is occurring, at least in part due to human activity,” according to Carmen Dybwad of IPAC-CO2 Research Inc.

Almost one-third said they believe climate change is happening because of human activity, while 54 per cent said they believe it’s a combination of human activity and natural climate variation. Only 9 per cent believe climate change is occurring due to natural climate variation. And two per cent of Canadians said they don’t believe the climate is changing at all. (Details of the Canadian poll are here.)

In the United States, belief in climate change seems to vary with the weather. Bloomberg Businessweek notes:

Following a winter of record snowfall in 2010, the public’s acceptance of climate change fell to a low of 52 percent, according to the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, which was published by the Brookings Institution in Washington. After this year’s mild winter, support jumped to 65 percent, the same as that found by the [Univ. of Texas] Energy Poll in March.

The biggest jump in public opinion took place in southern states, especially Texas, where drought is ravaging the land and 70 percent of people polled say climate change is happening. (That's up 13 percent.)

Democrats outnumber Republicans. 87 percent of them say climate change is taking place, compared to 53 percent of Republicans. And 72 percent of independent voters agree – up from 60 percent in March.

Two papers published by the Brookings Institute delve further into public opinion regarding climate change. Barry Rabe, one of the authors of the two studies, commented that political party affiliation is the best predictor of someone’s belief in climate change.

Which just goes to show that we tend to be guided more by our personal belief systems than by objective facts.

What to Do with the Everglades Pythons

burmese-python-082112They grow up to 20 feet long and can weigh 250 pounds. They can lay more than 80 eggs at a time (one who was just caught was preparing to lay 87 eggs), and they're eating their way through the Florida Everglades.

How did the Burmese pythons get there?

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Feds Shut Down Slaughterhouse

Central-valley-slaughterhouse-082112Yet another undercover investigation, more video horrors, and now the U.S. Department of Agriculture has stepped in and suspended operations at the Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford, Calif.

An investigator from the animal protection group Compassion Over Killing got a job at the slaughterhouse and took several hours of video in June. The Associated Press reviewed the video and wrote this:

One worker appears to be suffocating a cow by standing on its muzzle after a gun that injects a bolt into the animal's head had failed to render it unconscious. In another clip, a cow is still conscious and flailing as a conveyor lifts it by one leg for transport to an area where the animals' throats are slit for blood draining.

... The videos show workers pulling downed cows by their tails and kicking them in an apparent attempt to get them to stand and walk to slaughter. Others shoot downed cows in the head over and over as the cows thrash on the ground. In one instance, the video shows workers trying to get cattle to back out of a chute while repeatedly spraying them with water and shocking them.

... Within hours of seeing the video, the USDA's Office of Inspector General sent investigators who found evidence of "egregious inhumane handling and treatment of livestock."

California's Central Valley is "home" to 1.6 million dairy cows on any given day. When they begin to slow down on milk production, the cows are sent to places like Central Valley Meat Co. to be slaughtered. Most of them are old and exhausted from having given birth so many times. Each time they give birth, the calf is taken away from them. Male calves, who can't become dairy cattle, are raised in a veal crate that prevents the youngster from exercising. At the same time, he's given food that under-nourishes him in a way that will make for the pale-colored meat that's considered good for fancy veal dishes.

Ironically, going from meat to dairy is, on balance, a crueler alternative.

Any of us who consume dairy products are contributing to this horror. Many vegetarians feel they are helping animals by giving up meat and eating dairy – usually more dairy than when they were still eating meat. Ironically, though, going from meat to dairy is, on balance, the crueler alternative. That's because most beef cattle spend the early part of their lives on cattle ranches, where they can at least be together, walk around, chew on grass, and so on. Later they go to the factory farm feed lot, where they have a crash course in overfeeding and are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, leading, months later, to their death.

But dairy cows at factory farms spend their whole lives in a world of pain – bred to have huge udders, continuously giving birth and having the calves stolen from them. By the time they're sent to slaughter at places like Central Valley Meat Co., many of them can barely stand up. And hence the horror that the undercover investigator witnessed at that facility.

For thousands of years, cows were seen as symbols of motherhood – like the great mother goddess Hathor. They are deeply emotional beings who form strong emotional bonds with their young and nurture them in large extended families. But today all of this is lost. These mothers are just resources. We force them to bear calves, take the calves away from them, steal the milk for ourselves – for ice cream and pizzas – and when the mother cow is beyond exhaustion we drag her away to slaughter in the most appalling of conditions.

One of the greatest things we can do to not participate in the abuse of animals is to quit being patrons of the dairy industry. So, to any of us who's going veggie, switching to dairy is not a move that helps the animals. Ultimately, a fully plant-based diet is the only way to go.