Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday Reading

Why The Benghazi Committee Was An Embarrassment — Charlie Pierce on the spectacle.

As a public service, I would like to give the voters of Alabama’s Second Congressional District a preview of one of the campaign commercials they are going to see next fall, when Congresswoman Martha Roby is running for re-election. There is going to be a serious movie-trailer in-a-world musical introduction and then a clip of Ms. Roby thundering at Hillary Rodham Clinton, “I don’t know why that’s funny. Did you have any in-person briefings? I don’t find it funny at all…The reason I say it’s not funny is because it went well into the night when our folks on the ground were still in danger, so I don’t think it’s funny to ask if you’re alone the whole night.” And then, Martha Roby – Not Afraid.

Paid For By The Committee To Re-Elect The Clueless.

What you will not see is Hillary Rodham Clinton’s finally breaking into the gale of laughter she’d been suppressing for about seven hours, and those members of the gallery still conscious enough to laugh guffawing right along with her. This is because if you watched the hearings in real time, you would realize, in context, that in her outrage, Ms. Roby looked like nothing more than an angry nun who’d reached for her ruler only to realize that someone had switched in a vibrator on her. It was that kind of day. It was that kind of night. Well, if nothing else, HRC’s stalwart performance scared Lincoln Chafee right out of the presidential campaign. Feel the O’Malleymentum!


The reason that Thursday’s hearing looked so grotesque was not simply that it was a partisan dumbshow. It looked grotesque in the first place because what was being investigated was nothing. The Marine barracks really was destroyed. The Khobar Towers really did blow up. The Reagan administration really did sell weapons to the mullahs. What Gowdy and his merry band of meatheads was trying to find out already had been explained by a number of different investigations, and it still was unclear what Thursday’s hearing was supposed to be getting at. The other reason is that, for two midterm cycles now, the Republican base has been sending lightweights to represent it in a federal government that the base has grown to hate. Say what you will about Cheney, in terms of partisan political warfare, the man is a heavyweight. Instead, we got Roby, inadvertently stumbling into a wilderness of punchlines, and Lynn Westmoreland, who appeared to be lifted whole from Sam Drucker’s store and plopped behind the committee table, and angry red balloons like Mike Pompeo and Peter Roskam. Even chairman Gowdy is in Congress only because Bob Inglis proved too much of a liberal for a district down in the home office of American sedition. The Tea Party people are electing each other now. The problem with Thursday’s fiasco was not that it was partisanship per se, but that it was an obviously amateur theatrical.

Dear United States:

Please stop electing morons.



Category 5 — Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic explores how Hurricane Patricia gained strength so fast.

Patricia got extremely strong, extremely fast. Late Wednesday evening, it was merely a strong tropical storm, with peak winds of 65 miles per hour. By the following morning, it had become a category-one hurricane; and by Friday morning, it had exceeded records.

How did it intensify so quickly? Falko Judt, a meteorologist at the University of Miami who studies hurricane intensity, said the intensification wasn’t entirely unexpected. It’s just that almost everything that could go the cyclone’s way, did.

The two major factors that govern hurricane intensity, Judt said, are ocean temperature and wind shear. The ocean-surface temperature was very warm under Patricia—it was measured at 31 degrees Celsius, or more than 87 degrees Fahrenheit—which provided the storm with a lot of fuel. At the same time, wind shear was very low, which meant that wind was blowing in the same direction across multiple levels of atmosphere and there was little frictional drag on the storm.

Judt said that these two factors were aided further by very high humidity locally.

“It’s not totally unexpected to me that it intensified so quickly,” he told me. “Everything looked toward it becoming a strong hurricane. It’s just incredible how strong it got.”

What drove that strength?

Judt said that he thought El Niño played a large role. El Niño is a Pacific Ocean-spanning climate phenomenon, in which the eastern part of the ocean, near the equator, becomes warmer than usual. The central and western Pacific in turn become cooler. The effects of the climatological phenomenon are felt across the globe, which causes droughts in Australia and Ethiopia and deluges in California.

“The largest signal of El Niño is around the equator, so it tapers off at higher and lower latitudes. But Mexico is still close enough that it feels the effects,” he said.“It’s always hard to attribute one single storm to a larger phenomenon like El Niño, but it most likely did play a role.”

The Cat’s Tale — Ferris Jabr in The New Yorker on our relationship with felines.

“The cat does not offer services,” William Burroughs wrote. “The cat offers itself.” But it does so with unapologetic ambivalence. Greet a cat enthusiastically and it might respond with nothing more than a few unhurried blinks. Later, as you’re trying to work, it will commandeer your lap, keyboard, and attention, purring all the while. A cat will mew at the food bowl in the morning and set off on a multiple-day trek in the afternoon. Dogs are dependent on us to the point of being obsequious, but cats seem to be constantly reëvaluating the merits of our relationship, as well as their role in domestic life. “Are cats domesticated?” is one of the most frequently Googled questions about the animals, based on the search engine’s autocomplete suggestions.

It’s a question that scientists have been asking, too. The latest answer, based on insights from recent archeological discoveries and genome-sequencing studies, is that cats are semi-domesticated. Conventional wisdom holds that the ancient Egyptians were the first people to bond with the cat, only four thousand years ago. In 2004, however, a team of French researchers working in Cyprus unearthed the ninety-five-hundred-year-old remains of a human and a cat buried side by side. Last year, an analysis of cat bones and teeth from a fifty-three-hundred-year-old settlement in China indicated that the animals were eating rodents, grains, and the leftovers of human meals. It appears that, following the advent of agriculture, wildcats in the Near East and Asia likely began to congregate near farms and grain stores, where mice and rats were abundant. People tolerated the volunteer exterminators, and wildcats became increasingly comfortable with people. Whether this affiliation began five or ten millennia ago, the evidence suggests that cats have not been part of our domestic domain for nearly as long as dogs, who have been our companions for perhaps forty thousand years.

At first, the cat was yet another opportunistic creature that evolved to take advantage of civilization. It was essentially a larger version of the rodents it caught. Somewhere along the line, people shifted from tolerating cats to welcoming them, providing extra food and a warm place to sleep. Why? Perhaps because of the cat’s innate predisposition to tameness and its inherent faunal charm—what the Japanese would call kawaii. Look up photos of the thirty-eight or so wildcat species and you might be surprised at how easy it is to picture one curled up on the couch. Dogs likely initiated their own domestication, too, by prowling around campfires in search of food scraps. Whereas our ancestors quickly harnessed dogs to useful tasks, breeding them to guard, hunt, and herd, they never asked much of cats. We have also been slow to diversify cat breeds. Many dog, horse, and cattle breeds are more than five hundred years old, but the first documented cat fanciers’ show didn’t take place until 1871, at the Crystal Palace, in London, and the most modern cat breeds emerged only within the past fifty years.

This relatively short and lenient period of selective breeding is manifest in the cat genome, Wesley Warren, a geneticist at the University of Washington, in St. Louis, said. In a study published last year, Warren and his colleagues analyzed DNA from several wildcats and domestic cat breeds, including an Abyssinian named Cinnamon. They confirmed that, genetically, cats have diverged much less from their wildcat ancestors than dogs have from wolves, and that the cat genome has much more modest signatures of artificial selection. Because cats also retain sharper hunting skills than dogs, abandoned felines are more likely to survive without any human help. And in some countries, feral cats routinely breed with their wildcat cousins. “There’s still a lot of genetic mixing,” Warren said. “You don’t have the true differentiation you see between wolf and dog. Using the dog as the best comparison, the modern cat is not what I would call fully domesticated.”

Doonesbury — Doctor, doctor.

4 barks and woofs on “Sunday Reading

  1. Two quick comments, having watched the Ohio State-Rutgers game last night, the ruferee looked so familiar. Long about the end of the 3rd quarter I got it; It was Trey Gowdy so called chairman of that House Select Committee. The guy must be moonlighting. Having seen the display from that committee the other day I question who is domesticated, the cats or the humans?

    • That’s easy — cats domesticated us a while ago, although it had nothing to do with witch hunts.

      As for the time gap between the domestication of dogs and cats, that makes perfect sense: dogs are social animals and co-operative hunters, like humans, so working together in a hunter/forager milieu was more or less natural. Cats are solitary hunters, and it wasn’t until the advent of agriculture that human settlements became fixed and began to attract pests — rodents — that were attractive food sources for cats.

  2. We keep electing morons by default. The apathy and lack of interest in the individual and common welfare in our country by the majority of the registered voters is appalling. It has become a vicious circle: we don’t vote so the morons are elected and because the morons are elected and we get angre and disappointed,we don’t vote.Makes perfect sense.

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