Archive for December 8, 2011

Do Rats Feel Empathy?

Do rats have the ability to feel empathy?  Here’s evidence that they might.  When placed in a controlled environment, one rat concentrated on freeing a trapped friend, while ignoring chocolate.

That says something!

 Once rats learned to free their trapped and agitated partners, they did so almost immediately in trial after trial. The behavior was clearly deliberate. When the restrainer was empty, rats ignored it. When stuffed rats were restrained, the rats ignored them. “It’s compelling evidence that it’s the distress of the trapped cagemate motivating this helping behavior,” said Mason. “It is a huge leap up to use emotional contagion to actually do something, to actually help another individual.

To make sure the rats weren’t responding to some immediate social reward — a rat version of a thank-you hug — the researchers tweaked the apparatus so that trapped rats were released into a separate cage. Again, the rats freed each other. When given the opportunity to eat chocolate treats first, rats were as likely to release their companions first, and even shared the chocolate with them.

However, the researchers stopped short of ascribing the results to a conclusive display of empathy. It’s possible the rats were less concerned with alleviating the suffering of brethren than soothing their own upset feelings. Perhaps the trapped rats’ distress calls were simply loud and annoying, and the free rats wanted to quiet them. One potentially important experimental condition — the opportunity for free rats to simply leave — wasn’t tested.

“The reservation I have is that it’s very difficult to demonstrate empathy. You have to show that the animal is putting itself in another’s shoes, and I’m not sure that’s demonstrated here,” said Joshua Plotnik, an Emory University psychologist and collaborator with de Waal. But Plotnik still called the observations “very exciting.”

Here’s the video:

Compelling.  And I love the joy they seem to express the first time the one rat lets the other out of its tube/cage.  They look like they’re hugging.

One thing I know for sure:  We don’t give animals enough respect, and we give ourselves (also animals) too much.

December 8, 2011 at 9:06 PM Leave a comment

Who Needs a “Formal” Living and Dining Room?

I’m making dinner and watching “House Hunters” on HGTV (hoping for flat brain waves).  The featured couple is in their late 30’s, they’ve got two young girls (4, 5-ish) and they live in the Dallas area.

They’re moving from a home they love, primarily because the kitchen/family room is where they spend all their time.  It’s a huge, sunny space that has a warm, inviting, cozy yet airy feel.

Meantime, the realtor is showing them homes with small kitchens, family rooms that are separate from the kitchen area and “formal” living and dining rooms.

Will someone please tell me why we need “formal” living and dining rooms these days.  Aren’t we over that already?  Who uses those rooms anymore?

I’m not thinking this,

but why is it so hard for us to do away with rooms we don’t use but we’ve got to build, furnish, heat and clean?

I don’t get it.


December 8, 2011 at 8:07 PM Leave a comment

Twitter Launches New Design

About a year ago Twitter introduced a “new” version of itself which wasn’t all that different from the original.  I begrudgingly switched and got used to it pretty quickly.  Today Twitter is out with a fairly big revamp:  “Twitter:  Yours to Discover.”

Here’s their teaser video.  It looks interesting but my initial impression is they’ve packed too much into a thing that works beautifully and simply as it is now.


Watch.  Six weeks from now I won’t remember the version I’m using now.

Oy.  Technology.  Adapt (humans to it) or die!


December 8, 2011 at 7:28 PM Leave a comment

Air Force Dumps Partial Remains of 274 Troops in Landfill

This is a horrific story and it occurred under George W. Bush’s watch.  You know, when the American flag was ubiquitous and politicians were criticized for not wearing a flag pin on their lapel.  When we were continuously reminded how much conservatives respected the troops (as opposed to liberals who allegedly didn’t).

Yeah, that’s right.  That’s when this sickening thing happened:

“The Air Force dumped the incinerated partial remains of at least 274 American troops in a Virginia landfill, far more than the military had acknowledged, before halting the secretive practice three years ago, records show.

“The landfill dumping was concealed from families who had authorized the military to dispose of the remains in a dignified and respectful manner, Air Force officials said. There are no plans, they said, to alert those families now.


The landfill disposals were never formally authorized under military policies or regulations. They also were not disclosed to senior Pentagon officials who conducted a high-level review of cremation policies at the Dover mortuary in 2008, records show.


“This week, after The Post pressed for information contained in the Dover mortuary’s electronic database, the Air Force produced a tally based on those records. It showed that 976 fragments from 274 military personnel were cremated, incinerated and taken to the landfill between 2004 and 2008.”


If this had happened during Barack Obama’s watch, instead of on George W. Bush’s, the media would be going wild right now.

December 8, 2011 at 5:08 PM Leave a comment

Photo of the Day

Love it:


December 8, 2011 at 4:38 PM 1 comment

U.S. Citizen Faces Two+ Years in Prison for Insulting the Thai Monarchy

I’m sure everyone in the United States is aghast at this because we would never do that here:

(Reuters):  A U.S. citizen was jailed for two-and-a-half years on Thursday for insulting the Thai monarchy, prompting the U.S. Embassy to speak out at the severity of the sentence and say it supported the freedom of expression everywhere in the world.

Thai-born Lerpong Wichaikhammat, 55, had pleaded guilty in October to using the Internet to disseminate information that insulted the monarchy, charges stemming from material posted on his blog in the United States, where he has citizenship.

But wait!  We’re headed in that direction.  Remember Emma Sullivan and a guy named Sam Brownback (R), who seems to think he’s a monarch (or a dictator) too?

A Kansas teenager got in some trouble with her school for comments she posted on her Twitter account — in which she claimed to have trashed Gov. Sam Brownback (R) to his face during a field trip.


Brownback’s office flagged the tweet to the event organizers, who in turn passed the complaint on to Sullivan’s school. This got her called to the principal’s office.


And more here and here.

So, let’s not get too conceited here folks.  The space between what happened in Thailand and what happened in Kansas could close before our eyes if we aren’t careful.


December 8, 2011 at 2:05 PM Leave a comment

Michigan Teacher Takes the Word “Gay” Out of Deck the Halls

Talk about a war on Christmas!  A teacher at Cherry Knoll Elementary School in Michigan replaced the word “gay” in the Christmas carol “Deck the Halls” because her students were “snickering at the lyrics.”  She changed the lyrics to “don me now our bright apparel.”  When the principal found out, he immediately reversed the teacher’s decision.

More in this video:

(Video via.)

The American Taliban at work.

December 8, 2011 at 1:41 PM Leave a comment

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