Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Note to the Cookie-Pushers

The Greatest Lie Told to Dog Owners

Bound Angels Sep 13, 2017  10 min. 30 sec.

People are sold a bill of good by countless trainers who tell them that they will never need to correct a dog for bad behavior, that all training should be 100% positive. Its this lie that lands dogs in shelters and costs them their lives. In this video, Robert Cabral -founder of Bound Angels talks about this issue during a lecture to shelter employees. The video sums up the issues as well as the solutions to this issue and offers some insight into techniques that he uses when dealing with aggressive, stubborn and dangerous dogs.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Bloody Good Science

Monster magnet meets blood...

Brainiac75 Oct 27, 2017  9 min 45 sec.

Isn't it a problem to handle powerful magnets with iron in our blood? Let's find out! This video was sponsored by The D200xH50 mm neodymium magnet was donated by You can see the unboxing of it and more tests here: Credits for the illustration and animation of the hemoglobin molecule: May 2003, Shuchismita Dutta, David Goodsell doi:10.2210/rcsb_pdb/mom_2003_5 Used with written permission.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Forget Maximum Security’s Misstep, the Whole of Horse Racing is a Foul

Maximum Security is walked off the track after being disqualified for the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby. (Charlie Riedel)

If there’s a moral to the 145th Kentucky Derby, it’s that you can’t take the gambling out of gambling. But try telling that to horse people, those incurable lottery addicts. The stewards of Churchill Downs imposed an artificial order on 19 horses searching for solid footing while stampeding in a mire, the brown water pooling in mud-trench harrows, while 150,000 people wearing flower pots on their heads hollered at them. What sense did any of it make? The final result, Maximum Security disqualified for committing a “foul” by straying wide, to hand the roses to Country House, was just another attempt by silly humans to mask the astounding risk. Let’s be clear. This entire sport is a foul.

It all starts with the owners and breeders, who perpetually try to beat nature with their bank accounts, at the expense of the horses. As if you can control the things that get born in a barn, separate out the intended from the intended, the champions from the ponies and donkeys and goats. Think for a moment about all the factors that have to line up just right for a Kentucky Derby runner to be foaled and safely reach the age of three, how unpredictably the spinning-wheel of genetics must stop on just the right alignment of bone and spirit to produce a creature that can hold up while galloping at 45 miles an hour and strike the ground with a force of 5,500 pounds per square inch, on legs shaped like a beauty-contestant’s. It’s all chance. Frightening, terrifying chance.

Yet here came the human interference at the finish line of the Derby, trying to impose a numbered first-to-last list on the dangerous chaos and seek some kind of, what, justice? You’ve got to be kidding. A foul? They called a foul because Maximum Security with Luis Saez aboard swerved out of his “lane”? “He’s a baby,” Saez said rightly of his horse. Where, pray tell, was the discernible lane in all that muck and rain and screaming and flogging and young animal surging? Where is the “lane” in a sport beset by medication overuse, and purse-structures that incentivize racing horses even when they are hurt, in which the jockeys whip-beat their horses to the finish on a clearly unsafe wet surface the substance of farina?

This isn’t sport, it’s a fancied-up vice. Horse people counted on the excitement of the Derby to obscure the fact that 23 horses died at Santa Anita this winter, and Churchill Downs, too, is one of the deadliest tracks in America. All you could think, during the long 22 minutes that the stewards took to review the film, as the walkers led the steaming, mud-caked contestants in cool-down circles while great plumed exhalations came from their nostrils, was “I don’t give a damn who won, somebody just please get these horses out of the mud, and check their legs, and dry their coats and give them something to drink.”

The great irony was that the stewards made the right decision, so far as they were concerned with safety. The rules clearly state, “if a leading horse, or any other horse in a race, swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with or intimidate or impede any other horse or jockey, or to cause same, it is a foul,” and “any offending horses may be disqualified …”

As Country House’s trainer Bill Mott said of the scrum as they came to the final stretch, “There’s a couple of riders that nearly clipped heels and went down in there.” Maximum Security came out of the final turn and at the roars from the crowd, he got “a little bit scared,” and shied, moving wide. A chilling close-up video shows how nearly Maximum Security’s back legs came to interlocking with the front legs of War of Will and creating a catastrophic fall. The stewards had to make the decision they did, if only to show a nominal concern for the well-being of the field.

An old trainer once said, “A million things have to go right to win a race. Only one thing has to go wrong to lose it.” That’s the real truth. And only one thing has to go wrong for a horse to die. You can’t take the chance out of gambling, or the risk either.

Thoroughbreds would run even if a soul wasn’t watching, and like all great athletes, sometimes their ambition outstrips their bodies and they hurt themselves. But that doesn’t absolve their human handlers of the responsibility to mitigate the risk. There are some tracks that hurt horses more than others, and Churchill Downs is one of them, and everybody in this beautiful-turned-rotten game knows it.

As far as chance and luck go, Churchill Downs is just lucky it doesn’t have a horror on its hands. The stewards’ controversy should not distract from some critical soul searching over Santa Anita, or fool anyone into thinking that the sport’s responsibilities to the health of the horses have been adequately met. As the veteran Louisville Courier-Journal journalist Tim Sullivan has pointed out, 43 thoroughbreds have been injured at Churchill Downs since 2016, a death rate of 2.42 per 1,000 starts, which is 50 percent higher than the national average. Yet not until two weeks ago, amid scrutiny of its track record in the wake of the Santa Anita debacle, did Churchill Downs move to institute any common sense reforms. It will install an equine medical center and surveillance cameras in barns, and advocate for medication reform. There’s a start.

Thoroughbred racing is in the midst of a moral sickness: its leaders have lacked the will to organize and implement some basic best practices though everyone has known for years now they would reduce fatalities. Control the use of masking medications. Monitor track consistency and moisture. Standardize pre-race examination protocols. Make it easier for jockeys to scratch at the gate. And curb the evil habit by track officials of pressuring trainers to fill the fields. All of these were recommended by a 2012 task force after a spate of catastrophic injuries at Aqueduct, when 21 horses broke down in a year. To date there are only piecemeal measure at tracks in crisis, with piles of dead carcasses.

The old saw that horse people really love their animals won’t wash anymore. When, exactly, are they going to start showing it? The only Derby result anyone should be happy about is that the horses made it safely back to the barns. This time.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Mind-Boggling Artistry of China’s Ivory Puzzle Balls

This traditional art from Guangzhou can never be produced legally again.
Puzzle Balls, ivory, 1.75 to 4 inches diameter, late 19th century, 
Puzzle Balls, ivory, 1.75 to 4 inches diameter, late 19th century, China. Copyright: Heritage Museum of Asian Art
In 1388, the Ming scholar Cao Zhao published Gegu yaolun, an instrumental guide to collecting and assessing Chinese antiques. Among his writings on fine craft, including porcelain and bronze items, is a description of a peculiar object: guǐ gōng qiú (鬼工球), or “devil’s work ball.” That name might bring to mind something insidious, but Cao was referring to beautiful, hand-carved ivory orbs that nest inside each other, such that the inner ones are free-floating. Each layer has holes evenly distributed across its thin surface, simultaneously concealing and revealing the artistry beneath.

So why the allusion to spirits? “People said that something like this could not be carved by a human,” says Jeffrey Moy, the executive director of Chicago’s Heritage Museum of Asian Art. “When you look at them, they look perfect. Later on, they became known as ‘concentric balls’ or ‘puzzle balls.’”

The Heritage owns two exquisite puzzle balls from the 19th century, when the art form—a special style of carving from Guangzhou, or Canton—reached its peak. Each has about 20 to 25 layers of ivory, all carefully chiseled from a single piece of the material. In comparison, the early examples Cao Zhao describes have just three. While puzzle balls are technically puzzles, solved by aligning the holes (using toothpicks is recommended), they were largely decorative due to their fragility.

This 18th-century ivory ball contains eight smaller spheres.
This 18th-century ivory ball contains eight smaller spheres. Rijksmuseum/Public Domain
The carvings alone are mind-boggling: At the Heritage, the outermost layer of one ball features a garden scene, complete with tiny human figures; the other is more textural, embellished with dragons weaving among undulating patterns. According to Moy, dragons were common puzzle ball motifs because of their auspicious meaning in Chinese culture. Similar examples can be found at Gettysburg College, which owns nine ivory balls. The mythical beasts are often depicted with phoenixes, a pairing that has long represented the perfect coupling of yin and yang. Inside these showstopping shells, inner layers tend to feature simpler but still highly intricate designs, often of geometric latticework.

Europeans, in particular, were captivated by puzzle balls and collected them as curiosities starting in the 18th century. The spheres were among the ivory goods carved by Chinese artisans in Canton that became popular as export ware; others include fans, combs, and backscratchers. “Foreigners visiting were always looking for something to buy,” Moy says. “Puzzle balls were common works of art for them to purchase and were a way for artisans to try to show off skills.” The dark reality of this desire for ivory products, of course, is that it fueled the ivory trade, resulting in the death of countless African elephants.

In Germany, craftsmen even tried to replicate the techniques to create their own market. “Lorenz Zick [of Nuremberg], in imitation of the Chinese, carved balls, enclosed one inside another; his son Stephan, continued the same style of work,” writes the 19th-century French art historian Charles Jules Labarte. The work from Canton, however, was more intricate.
Hollow spheres by Lorenz Zick.
Hollow spheres by Lorenz Zick. Public Domain
The region’s method is detailed in an 1876 publication by the Scottish photographer John Thompson, who traveled extensively around China. According to him, an artist first used a lathe to rotate a block of ivory, shaping it into a sphere. They then drilled evenly distributed conical holes towards the ball’s center. Accessing the interior with an L-shaped tool, they would carve grooves to form concentric gaps, creating layers. “Hole after hole is in like manner centered,” Thompson wrote, “until all the grooves are cut, and meeting each other, the innermost ball falls into the center of the sphere. This inner ball is then moved about and carved with long tools passed through the holes, after which the bent chisel is again brought into play to cut out the next ball.”

The “devil’s work ball,” though, still holds secrets to this day. Researchers with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica, a Dutch computer science institute, have partnered to scan and 3D-image two of the museum’s early-18th-century puzzle balls—one with nine spheres, and one with a dozen. “Through our research we are able to deduce the make process of the balls,” says Ching-Ling Wang, the museum’s curator of Chinese art, adding that the team will publish a report within the next year. Among their questions: How many L-shaped tools are required? What are artisans able to see? As the computer scientist Robert van Liere notes in an early presentation, “It is very dark deep down in the ball!”

A 19th-century puzzle ball.
A 19th-century puzzle ball. Rijksmuseum/Public Domain

The object’s design has also inspired the British firm Steven Chilton Architects to propose a puzzle ball-inspired theater in Guangzhou. The envisioned building consists of a dome of overlapping shells, each decorated with geometric patterns.

If realized, it would stand as a striking homage to the region’s traditional art form that can never be produced legally again. At the end of 2017, China finally banned all domestic ivory sales and ordered ivory production facilities to cease operations. The origins of puzzle balls add to their complexity: While undeniably beautiful to behold, they are tragic reminders of the desires that drive the illegal wildlife trade.

Hanoi’s Motorcycle Deliveries

Two-wheelers are the most popular mode of transport in Vietnam, especially in big and dense cities such as Hanoi. Motorbikes and scooters suit Hanoi’s narrow streets and tiny alleys that connect one quarter with the next, allowing commuters to avoid the congested main roads. 

Motorbikes in Hanoi are used to carry everything—from a four-member family to cartons of eggs stacked to dangerous heights. Street vendors and delivery guys use bikes extensively.

These unusual cargo began to fascinate Jon Enoch, a freelance photographer based in London. “The huge pile of eggs, towering bags of ice or an enormous mound of flowers, was visually so stunning I started asking people if I could take photos of them,” he says.

“Mopeds are a way of life in South East Asia, the workhorse of the city, carrying a vast and unusual array of goods” he says. “When I first travelled around South East Asia, 15 years ago, the number of motorbikes and mopeds just astounded me. Initially, that level of traffic that never stops is overwhelming to the senses - you wonder how you'll ever manage to cross a road. I began to be fascinated by the drivers and deliveries.”

According to The Guardian, there are 5 million two-wheelers in Hanoi—a city with a population of 7.6 million. That’s practically one bike per person, assuming a quarter of the population to be too young to drive. Hanoi’s traffic is so bad that in 2017 government announced that they would ban motorbikes and scooters by 2030 to ease congestion and air pollution.

All photographs by Jon Enoch

Saturn and the Da Vinci Glow


Image Credit & Copyright: Tunc Tezel (TWAN) 
Explanation: On February 2nd early morning risers saw Saturn near an old Moon low on the eastern horizon. On that date bright planet, sunlit crescent, and faint lunar night side were captured in this predawn skyscape from Bursa, Turkey. Of course the Moon's ashen glow is earthshine, earthlight reflected from the Moon's night side. A description of earthshine, in terms of sunlight reflected by Earth's oceans illuminating the Moon's dark surface, was written over 500 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci. On May 2nd an old Moon also rose in the predawn twilight. On that date its ashen glow shared the sky with Venus, the brilliant morning star. May 2nd also marked the 500th anniversary of Leonardo's death in 1519.

Friday, May 3, 2019

As the Kentucky Derby Approaches, Deaths Pose Existential Questions for US Racing

A rash of deaths at the famous Santa Anita Park in California has left many wondering about the future of horse racing in America

Tank Team, Unusual Angel, Secret Street, Derby Treasure, Noise Mandate, Amboseli. There will be no statues built at Santa Anita Park in memory of those six thoroughbreds, or the 17 others who died during this torrid winter but if – or when? – the doors ever close on this famous old track, their names will be written in what many in the industry fear could be the final chapter of Californian horse racing.

These are bloody times at Santa Anita. Literally. Over a three-month spell from December, 23 horses died at the track, either training or racing. Equine death has been a gruesome staple of American racing for decades but even an industry inured to ‘collateral damage’ has been shocked by the carnage and the condemnation that followed. There were plenty of excuses offered – bad luck, bad weather, ‘bad apples’ in the industry – and just as many promises to do better. Yet few within the industry are in any doubt it now faces an existential threat. California senator Dianne Feinstein has called on racing to be suspended at Santa Anita, while the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office announced an investigation into the deaths. 

Animal right activists are calling for the abolition of horse racing in California, an attainable goal in a state where the proposition system gives voters the power to write and enforce new laws. “If we don’t make racing safer I don’t think the public will allow us to continue,’’ says Rick Arthur, equine medical director at the California Horse Racing Board and one of the most respected voices in the industry. “We are one ballot away from being voted out of existence.”

It is hard to believe such a fate may lie in store for Santa Anita, an art deco playground synonymous with the golden age of Hollywood and the backdrop for a more recent cinematic rehabilitation of the sport’s image. Seabiscuit the horse won his last race here. Seabiscuit the movie was filmed on location here. 

They built a statue in the little horse’s honour. It sits in the parade ring, a focal point for the sparse Sunday afternoon crowd, and industry veterans are fearful of what lies ahead. “The public think we all cheat and all we do is kill horses, which isn’t true,” says Karen Headley, one of a half-dozen female trainers working out of the track. “Will we still be here in five years? I hope so, because I’ve still got a lot of glass ceilings to break.”

Matthew Chew has been running horses here since 1992. “Los Angeles isn’t like Newmarket, where people live and breath horses. People out here don’t understand that horses really do love to race. All they see are horses dying and it’s completely unacceptable to them. It’s unacceptable to us, too, which is why we have to change now. Truth is, we either get better or we go away.”

A horse is led onto the track for a workout at Churchill Downs. The 145th running of the Kentucky Derby takes place on Saturday. Photograph: Charlie Riedel/AP 
 Such pessimistic talk is likely to be evidenced this weekend at Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby marks the sport’s annual foray into mainstream American culture. As ever the fashions will be high and the race card of superior quality. Yet events in California have cast a pall. Even the local newspaper, the Louisville Courier-Journal was bold enough to describe the Kentucky Derby track as “deadly”, pointing out the 43 equine deaths at Churchill Downs since 2016 are 50% higher than the national average. The Arizona Republic published on a similar theme about that state’s most prominent track, Turf Paradise. Fifty horses dead in the 2017-18 season alone.

How did it come to this? There are as many explanations as there are industry people with opinions. “Greed,’’ says Bob Hess Jr, a prominent California-based trainer. “Management, trainer or jockey – we all want to win, and in striving for that I think we lost focus on the big picture and the big picture should always be the horse.”
More prosaically, a lack of a cohesive national leadership - the industry is regulated in 38 different states by 38 different bodies - is often cited. Rather than confront the problem of equine deaths, the industry has done its best to hide them. Animal rights activist Patrick Battuello runs a website dedicated to naming every horse killed on US tracks - a Stakhanovite task carried out by daily scanning of racecard reports and regular Freedom of Information Act filings. He describes the Equine Injury Database (EID) set up by the Jockey Club as little more than a “marketing tool” – undermined by its voluntary nature and the anonymity of the racetrack submissions. “They believe that if they do not put a name to the dead horses the problem won’t seem as bad as it really is,” he says.

A Jockey Club spokeswoman dismissed these criticisms. She said the EID has played a vital role in the effort to improve the health of horses, while the Club’s recently published Vision 2025 white paper offers a set of radical reforms included in the Horse Racing Integrity Act 2019, now before Congress. “By passing the Horseracing Integrity Act, we will be creating one universal system of medication regulation and a private, independent horse racing anti-doping authority administered by the US Anti-Doping Agency – the same body responsible for human athletes, including the US Olympic team.”

The reality is that the legislation has little support among racetrack owners, trainers, jockeys or any other group within the industry. Political backing is limited too, with Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who represents Kentucky, having already stated his opposition. If change is to come it will have to come from the industry itself.

The Stronach Group, owners of Santa Anita, has made the most significant move. The group announced this month it was banning race-day medication, bringing the track into line with standard industry practices in the UK and Dubai (where death rates are as much as five times lower than in the US). “The current system is broken,” declared company president Barbara Stronach. “That ends today.”

Up to a point. While the changes at Santa Anita were welcomed by long-time critics like Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), they were condemned by some within the racing community, trainers and jockeys, who have been brought up in a culture where performance enhancement is viewed as necessary in the preparation of any racehorse. A coalition of the 20 most prominent tracks, including Churchill Downs, announced they would follow Santa Anita’s lead, albeit that the ban on race day medication would be phased in over the next two years, and extended an invitation to more than a hundred other tracks in the US to follow suit.

“These are the first significant steps forward for the industry in a generation,” said Peta’s senior vice-president Kathy Guillermo. “But horse racing needs to be aware that the days of it trying to PR itself out of trouble are gone. It won’t work when people are watching horses break a leg live on TV.”


Horse Racing Wrongs - Close Santa Anita Horse Races

E.G.L.A Apr 30, 2019  2 min. 1 sec.
Why are 2000 horses killed every year from the horse racing industry? Let's shut it down!