Monday, February 29, 2016

Creepy, Creepy, Creepy

Joe Scarborough: Donald Trump Playing Dumb About the KKK Is 'Disqualifying'
“I mean is he really so stupid that he thinks Southerners aren’t offended by the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke?"

The Huffington Post  02/29/2016 Paige Lavender Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post 

Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," suggested business mogul Donald Trump's refusal to disavow the Ku Klux Klan could disqualify him from the presidential race.

"It’s breathtaking. That is disqualifying right there," Scarborough said Monday. "To say you don’t know about the Ku Klux Klan? You don’t know about David Duke?"

“Is he really so stupid that he thinks Southerners aren’t offended by the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke?" Scarborough continued. "Is he really so ignorant of Southern voters that he thinks this is the way to their heart? To go neutral, to play Switzerland when you're talking about the Klan?" 

ASSOCIATED PRESS Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been slammed for failing to disavow the Ku Klux Klan's endorsement.  

Over the weekend, Trump failed three times to refuse the endorsement of both the KKK and David Duke, a former leader of the white supremacist group.

"Honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I’ve ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him," Trump told CNN's Jake Tapper.

But Trump later blamed his hesitancy to condemn Duke on a "bad earpiece," claiming he had previously disavowed Duke. 

"I was sitting in a house in Florida, with a bad earpiece," Trump told NBC's "Today" on Monday. "I could hardly hear what he's saying. I hear various groups. I don't mind disavowing anyone. I disavowed Duke the day before at a major conference."

Scarborough is one of many slamming Trump for the move. At a campaign rally Monday morning, Trump's GOP primary rival Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Trump is "unelectable now." Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), also a GOP presidential hopeful, called the KKK "abhorrent" in a tweet Sunday.

Editor's note: Donald Trump is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynistbirther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.
Yesterday, a friend brought me a pile of magazines. There was an issue of "Gather Journal", which is an art and food magazine.  It's always a treat.  And then there were various mags about home and decorating.  And then there was this scary-looking one called "The Intelligence Report", published by the The Southern Poverty Law Center.  

That one was really scary.  I thumbed through it with growing revulsion and distress.  

OK.  I know there's a bunch of scary people out there.  But here they were all neatly graphed and mapped.  It was enough to give you nightmares.  These are Donald Trump's people.  

Here's a couple of maps from the issue -  Spring 2014 - that I looked at.  Creepy, creepy, creepy.

 Click maps to enlarge

Happy Leap Day


Today, February 29th, is a leap day - a relatively rare occurrence. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar, featured here in a self-decreed minted coin, created a calendar system that added one leap day every four years. Acting on advice by Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes, Caesar did this to make up for the fact that the Earth's year is slightly more than 365 days. In modern terms, the time it takes for the Earth to circle the Sun is slightly more than the time it takes for the Earth to rotate 365 times (with respect to the Sun -- actually we now know this takes about 365.24219 rotations). So, if calendar years contained 365 days they would drift from the actual year by about 1 day every 4 years. Eventually July (named posthumously for Julius Caesar himself) would occur during the northern hemisphere winter! By adopting a leap year with an extra day every four years, the calendar year would drift much less. This Julian Calendar system was used until the year 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII provided further fine-tuning when he added that leap days should not occur in years ending in "00", unless divisible by 400. This Gregorian Calendar system is the one in common use today.

I Know You

Do Dogs Know Other Dogs Are Dogs?

This is not a philosophical riddle. Despite their highly variable appearance, dogs can recognize one another by sight alone

Scientific American  By Julie Hecht on December 29, 2015

Afghan Hound meets Pug

Non-study images by Vicky Hugheston and VinceFL via Flickr under Creative Commons license. Study images courtesy Autier-Dérian et al.

Do you see dogs everywhere?

My ears perk up to the jingle jangle of metal-on-metal, hopeful that it predicts a dog and his collar, disappointed when it turns out to be keys on a belt (boring).

A person walking down the street with their arm outstretched holds the promise of a leash with a dog on the other end (sometimes it’s a stroller holding a kid. Oh well).

From a distance, my eyes play a cruel trick on me, where shopping bags are dogs and dogs are shopping bags until I get close enough and one wins out (obviously I'm rooting for the dog).

But catch any part of a tail, and I know I'm in. You could say my motto is, “dog, until proven otherwise.”

How about dogs?

Does a dog know, merely by sight, that an approaching being is a fellow dog? Before you answer, remember this: Canis familiaris is the least uniform species on the planet. Members of this species come in a wide range of body shapes and sizes from itty bitty teeny weeny to absolutely ginormos. Adult members of this species appear as tight little packages, huge weightlifters, lean ballerinas, elongated hotdogs and everything in between.

Does a Pug look at an Afghan Hound and say to themselves, "Hello, dog!" or does a Pug look at an Afghan Hound and say, "WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU?" and only after olfactory investigation (smelling) does the Pug realize, “Oh my goodness. How silly of me. You're a dog. Sorry for the confusion my large, long-snouted compatriot."

A number of researchers have essentially wondered what Pugs think of Afghan Hounds. Are dogs able to identify other dogs solely by appearance, they wondered? If olfactory cues are taken out of the equation, would a dog still know another dog when he sees one?

A team of researchers based in France took on this question, publishing their findings in Animal Cognition in 2013. Nine companion dogs joined as study subjects. They all had basic training and extensive experience with both dogs and people, and notably, the participants weren’t uniform in appearance -- two were purebred (Border collie and Labrador), and the rest were mutts. Below are the study subjects in all their photographic glory (while they are all my favorites because they are dogs, I vote Cusco winner of Best Eyeliner and Best Ears, while Babel, Cyane and Sweet tie for Most Photogenic).

 The study subjects.

The experimental setup was simple enough: the nine subjects saw two screens, one on the right and one on the left with a divider between. In each trial, two images would appear simultaneously on both screens, and dogs were reinforced with a click and rewarded with a treat for approaching the "correct" screen — more on that in a moment. Here's what the experimental layout looked like:

 Experimental layout

To find out if dogs could ID other dogs based on appearance alone, the researchers first had to create a common language with their dog subjects. They did this with the help of three training sessions where dogs received a treat only when they approached the screen that had a picture of a dog’s face. Importantly, the same dog picture was used throughout the training sessions. During the training phase, the other screen was either all black, all blue, or had a picture of a cow’s face. The dog subjects were not rewarded if they approached any of the other non-dog pictures. This created a common language: “You are rewarded for approaching this ‘dog’ image, nothing else.”

To proceed, the dogs had to approach the dog image 10 out of 12 times in two consecutive sessions, which is better than approaching 'dog' by chance. All nine dogs were able to do this. Common language secured!
Dog makes correct choice!

Then came the test. Dogs were presented with a wide variety of never-before-seen dog faces paired against never-before-seen non-dog faces. As before, dogs had to approach the dog image and avoid the non-dog image to get a treat. This was no longer an easy feat as the dog images now captured dogs’ vast morphologic diversity in shape, color, size, head shape, ear position, you name it. On top of that, the dog images were now pared against a wide range of non-dog faces including human faces as well as domestic and wild mammals like cats, sheep, gerbils, cows, rabbits, reptiles, and birds, among others. Images were presented head-on (full face) or as a profile. Below are examples of faces dogs saw in the study:

Examples of study stimuli. Top row: dog images, bottom row: non-dog images

The dogs prevailed! The nine subjects successfully identified "dog" from “non-dog” faces. Some dogs, like Babel, Bag, Cyane and Vodka, were able to do so quite quickly, taking few sessions to approach the required 10-out-of-12 dog images. Other dogs, like Bahia and Cusco, were slower on the pickup and took more sessions to identify “dog” from “non-dog” (dog subjects needed anywhere from 2 to 13 sessions to meet criteria). This is not to say, of course, that Bahia and Cusco don't know a dog when they see one. The researchers highlight that a number of factors — like dog personality, learning styles and strategies, and motivation — can affect dog behavior and performance, particularly when it comes to this type of task.

Even so, the study suggests that despite their wackadoodle appearances, dogs can identify other dogs by sight alone. Dogs seem to have a sense of who (or at least which images) falls in the category of “dog” and who does not. Exactly which features dogs use when tuning into “dog," though, the current study can't say. They offer that as a natural next step in the research.

Autier-Dérian D, Deputte BL, Chalvet-Monfray K, Coulon M, Mounier L. 2013. Visual discrimination of species in dogs (Canis familiaris). Animal Cognition, 16, 637—651.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Devil in Black Phillip

Why Are Goats Associated With the Devil, Like Black Phillip in The Witch?  By Jeffrey Bloomer  Feb. 26 2016 3:20 PM

When Black Phillip looks at you, you can tell he's working things out.

Witchy spoilers ahead.

If goats have recently enjoyed an Internet-aided renaissance thanks to their uncanny ability to yell like humans, The Witch reminds us of the beasts’ Satanic true nature. Black Phillip, the goat who may be tormenting a family in 17th century New England, became an instant star after the film’s debut at Sundance, spooking up early trailers and earning his own Twitter account months before the movie’s release. For a while, it isn’t clear if Black Phillip is an unlucky creature born to a family of hysterics, an instrument of a witch deep in the woods, or perhaps even the devil incarnate. By the movie’s delicious final moments, there is very little doubt at all.

What about the traditions that inspired Black Phillip himself? Writer-director Robert Eggers closes The Witch by noting on screen that much of the film came “directly from period journals, diaries, and court records,” and his movie goes to extraordinary lengths to summon authentic 17th century wares and atmosphere. So are there actual accounts of insidious goats terrorizing North American settlers? Why are goats linked to the occult, anyway? Is Black Phillip real??

The answer to the first two questions, alas, is no. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there is nothing about goats in the Salem records or, that I can recall, in any American records of other witchcraft prosecutions,” the famous Cornell scholar Mary Beth Norton wrote to me. She hadn’t seen The Witch yet, but she said “there has been a considerable amount of email talk about this movie among certain Salem scholars.”

Emerson Baker, a history professor at Salem State University, co-hosted a packed screening of The Witch in Salem, and considers himself among the film’s biggest fans—“It’s just about the best depiction of early New England that I’ve seen in a movie,” he told me. But he too said he didn’t recall goats in North American lore or historical records. Still, he praised the movie’s depiction of “animal familiars,” or creatures believed to be in the thrall of witches. “There aren’t a lot of direct goat antecedents, but pretty much any animal could be a witch’s familiar—that’s certainly an accurate notion,” he said. “One of the definitions of a witch is of a shapeshifter, and the ability to put themselves into animal form. We see that repeatedly, in the concept of the black cats, or rats, mice, dogs, you name it.” He noted a record of two dogs in Salem, in 1692, who were shot to death because they were believed to be witches. Baker had particular praise for The Witch’s evil rabbit and evil raven, but he enjoyed Black Phillip, too (“I follow him on Twitter”).

Eggers, the movie’s writer and director, conceded that Black Phillip is in some ways his own special creation. “It’s not that I’ve not found any evidence in English witchcraft of goats playing some kind of function similar to this, but it’s just not as common,” he said. “Most of the goat mythology tends to be from continental witchcraft. In England, goat farming was not something you would really want to do. If you were a goat farmer, you were thought of as very backward.”

“I think some hardcore witch historians might be offended by my use of some of these continental tropes,” he added, laughing. “All my talk about accuracy, they might think, Well, uh uh uh.” Still, Eggers defended Black Phillip’s depiction, pointing to artwork showing witches riding goats instead of sticks, along with engravings and woodcuts depicting goats. He also cited Goya, with paintings like “Witches’ Sabbath (The Great He-Goat).”

I followed the history a bit more to England, where Eggers and several American scholars also pointed me. Malcolm Gaskill, a professor of early modern history at the University of East Anglia, confirmed that goats play a more prominent role in European witch imagery. “In European engravings and painting[s] that depict the witches’ sabbath—that is, the remote meetings where witches were supposed to gather to pay homage to Satan—the devil is often depicted as a goat or a goat-like man,” he wrote. Still, contra The Witch, he said that in actual witchcraft trials, animals that were said to physically represent the devil tended to be smaller creatures like cats, mice, dogs, and birds.

Anyone who has seen The Witch can agree that these slight elisions of witchcraft history have a major upside for the movie, and at least this viewer is pleased that Eggers allowed himself a little genre latitude to create Black Phillip. (Other important Phillip facts: He’s played by a lone goat, real name Charlie; Charlie is a huge jerk and was very difficult on set; he was voiced by the male model Wahab Chaudhry.) But what of the larger question behind these depictions—when did goats first become a tool of the occult? Everyone I asked pointed in different directions, including Greek mythology (think Pan), biblical references, Baphomet, and a rich artistic record stretching back to the Middle Ages. There is no single point of reference, but goats pervade many strands of mythology connected to malevolent spirits, and Eggers isn’t even the first contemporary horror director to seize on the association. Sam Raimi, in 2009’s Drag Me to Hell, transferred a demon into a goat during an uproarious séance, which then turned to Alison Lohman’s doe-eyed protagonist and yelled, in perfect goat tongue, “You black-hearted whor-or-ore! You bi-i-ii-tch!” 

The origins may be elusive, but Gaskill, the English historian, offered a convincing explanation for why the link exists. “I guess the goat-devil features so prominently in European iconography because of the horns and weird eyes,” he wrote, “but also because of the association with predatory sexual potency and energy.” With its lingering camera on Black Phillip’s dead stare, and its terror at a pubescent girl’s “transformation,” The Witch may ultimately be a potent distillation of why goats feature into this kind of narrative in the first place.

I totally get it.  Goats are scary-looking.  And they scream!  This one is named VoldemortNot Fluffy, not Cuddles.  Voldemort.