What Facebook Kitties are Really About

In my college years, the 1960s, scientists were telling us that animals have no emotions. This struck me as patently ridiculous, but they insisted. As someone much later said, “Don’t any of these guys have dogs?”

Somehow these brilliant scientists seem to have missed out on fundamental brain anatomy. We differ from other animals in that we have a greater cerebral cortex. But the cortex is not the seat of emotions. The “seat of emotions” is found in the Limbic system, one level up from the “reptilian” brain, the brainstem and cerebellum. Obviously, then, a bigger cortex cannot separate our emotions from those of other animals. Hell, even reptiles are easily shown to have emotions. Even fish.

Franz de Waal, in one of his earlier books, relayed a story told to him by Nobel winner Conrad Lorentz, who researched geese in the early 20th century, among other things. A visiting woman read the look on a goose’s face and remarked that she must have had a tough life. Indeed she had. Lorentz explained that she had lost two mates to violence.

It pleases me very much that our understanding of animals has improved greatly since my college years. But still, there are still many who make use of the “rubber ruler”. That is they claim that we differ from “the animals” (somehow neglecting to realize that we are animals ourselves) because “animals can’t do”… and here they mention some specific thing. Then they learn that certain animals can indeed do that certain thing, and so the ruler is stretched and some other thing that animals can’t do is found. But then the process repeats, requiring the ruler to be stretched again. This has been going on for some time but it has become more and more difficult to pretend the idea makes sense. The ruler won’t stretch any more.

This brings us to our favorite source of all wisdom, Facebook. Even though it is now becoming more difficult to winnow out the nonsense, I still like Facebook for all the animal photos and videos, if nothing else.

Recently I saw a photo of a cat embracing the back of his busy human, eyes closed. The love was obvious, as it often is in photos. Remember the huge tiger, all but bowling over his favorite person as he slurps his cheek with that big tongue, eyes closed. Or the baby elephant who came running whenever his fave guy drove up. Or the big owl who was in bliss when his head was scratched. I’ve also in person seen birds who wantonly turn belly-up for a good scratch. Facebook swarms with photos of all kinds of animals, big and small, from all over the animal world, who very obviously love and are loved. They can love their own species, another species, or specifically the human species. Is there any other reason a dog would come to his human’s grave every day for years?

Videos can be priceless because we are amazed, or because they make us laugh. One of my recent favorites showed a smallish rabbit watching a border collie herding sheep. Apparently that seemed interesting enough to try, because the video next showed the rabbit taking a shot at it. To everyone’s great surprise, he was pretty good at herding sheep. I howled at a video of a mischievous dog watching the cat as it stood on the edge of the bathtub, watching it fill. Then the dog pushed the cat in, and in an instant took off running, knowing the cat would be in hot pursuit, which it was, and furious, with laid-back ears and a snarl on its face. Then there’s the one with two dogs seated on the stairs. A woman’s voice demands, “who made this mess?”. Two noses turn in synch to point to a third dog, who immediately looks embarrassed. I come across the video now and then, and laugh every time.

We’ve all seen various parrots do hilarious things, like really get down and dance in perfect rhythm, or make up operatic songs with nonsense lyrics, or be swung around on clotheslines. I saw the wild blackbird “sledding” down a snowy roof on a jar lid. And the magpie stealing clothespins, and hanging on the bottom of the sheet a woman was trying to dry, between the times he was harassing his dog friend.

Hardly a day goes by that there isn’t some really interesting video of an animal doing something we might not have believed if we hadn’t seen it ourselves. There are hundreds of them.

This is why the kitty videos on Facebook are important. Not because kitties are cute, but because they and all the other animal videos show us that we are not nearly so different from animals as we once thought. They do very many of the things we also do, and express sadness, surprise, and pride. Facebook shows us that their emotional lives are virtually identical to ours.

How dare we mistreat an animal when we know we are so close to them, and they are capable of deep love. Cruelty to animals is deeply offensive, and earns hefty jail sentences. And if we dare not mistreat the animal that shares all of our emotions, how dare we mistreat someone of our own species?

What to Call a Hater

The short answer is, Don’t call them anything. Don’t label them. Forget what they look like to you. Drop all your preconceived notions. Even the worst haters are sentient beings, after all. Maybe the dumbest and ugliest of them mostly wants you to pay attention.

This is what liberals should do, rather than the vile name-calling we often see under Comments on political statements online, from conservatives and liberals alike. It’s not so easy to maintain a level head when someone is calling you a “libtard” or some equally insulting name. But using such a label is just a reflex, to be used instead of debate.

If you keep your response neutral you may learn something valuable. For example, some guy who lives in an area where so many are becoming addicted may be unemployed for years, and rightfully angry about it. Ask him about his problems. Then ask him what he thinks the solution is. If he spouts nasty comments, do not respond in kind. If he speaks of information you know is false, gently remind him of the actual facts. Tell him where you found your information.

In this particular case, your new buddy might have some simplistic solutions to complex problems. Explore with him some of the options for improving the situation. For example, what does he think of a guaranteed minimum income? The role of robots these days. Is more unemployment due to shipping jobs overseas or to replacing workers with robots? He may have some interesting insights from the front lines.

Offer to meet with him online with Skype or FaceTime. Ask him to put some of his friends in touch. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up with a lively discussion group.

What to call a hater is part of a much larger problem, that of turning the hate that Trump cultivated and tapped into over a long period, and enlarged greatly during the campaign, back into civilized discourse. Trump’s campaign of lies and hate, much approved of by racists and haters of every kind, and never disavowed by him, even to this day, has resulted in a storm of hate crimes against virtually every social, cultural, and religious group that is not white and Christian. In short, we have rapidly devolved from an admirable nation into a dangerously uncivil one, unsafe even to visit.

It will not be enough for liberals to simply “make nice”, though. Hatred makes a lot more noise, even when very few people are involved. But are there very few? I’m afraid not. It has been obvious for a long time that racism is one of the defining characteristics of today’s Republican Party. Republicans believe all blacks are lazy and stupid, all Mexicans are criminal, all Asians are sneaky and untrustworthy, all Muslims are terrorists, and so on. Not to mention the rampant misogyny we have observed in hundreds of proposed laws to control and limit women—but never men, not once. Many are outspoken in these and similar beliefs, although most refuse to explicitly acknowledge them. But the beliefs are there, and making nice on the part of liberal Democrats can only be a weak and ineffective response.

It is not the liberal message that needs to be changed. The rights and welfare of the people are still the primary concerns, and not the wealth of the already wealthy. It is the way the message is delivered that must be improved. It is imperative to know that ending the loud shouts of hatred depends not only on how a better message is delivered, but on formulating workable specific programs and policies that address the legitimate issues raised by the unemployed and disappointed in all parts of the country. Moreover, bringing new hope to neo-nazi haters is just as important as improving the lives of more likable characters. If a cause is legitimate, it is legitimate for everyone, and seeing that improved fortunes for all don’t depend on worsening fortunes for some—it’s not like dividing a pie—may change a few minds.

No such coherent plan exists at present. Hillary Clinton, as competent a president as she would have made, would largely have preserved the status quo, rather than forge a very progressive new plan that would address these very real problems. What we need is that progressive plan—guaranteed minimum income, encouragement of domestic industry of all sorts by various means, a strong program of acceptance of all people—always delivered with kindness.

It must be consistent. It must be insistent. It must be brought to all, including the very people who would prefer to simply hate and shout.

Women, Power Up

I have heard that the Women’s March of “45” + 1 (the day after Trump’s inauguration) was the largest demonstration in history. I don’t know about that, because there have been many marches and demonstrations around the world that made the streets look like a bee swarm. But what I do know is that women, particularly in the West, have enormous power, and that power must not be lost.

Almost all of the violence, wars, and mistreatment of others throughout history has been the fault of men. This is largely because women, because they are generally smaller and weaker, have been judged inferior by men, and relegated to the kitchen and the business of child rearing, often by force. But women have some of the most important character features needed in the world today, particularly patience and compassion.

There have been hundreds of laws proposed by Republicans in recent years to control and limit women, but not a single one that limits the social atrocities or sexual activities of men. The statements by old white Republicans in this regard are astonishing. Old white Republican men can’t seem to leave the female reproductive organs alone.

By now it should be very clear that it is not the case that women are fit only for the kitchen and child rearing. Women have been leaders in every field of endeavor. Women of all colors and cultures have been heads of state, leading scientists and mathematicians, have been CEOs of international corporations, prominent academics and presidents of universities, noted ambassadors and senators, pilots, welders, car mechanics, astronauts, and so on and on. Women are not inherently unfit for anything one can imagine.

Judging women as fit only for the kitchen has been the policy of the Republican Party and more, and in the face of the evidence it is an insult that cannot continue. That is not to say that the kitchen and child development are unworthy occupations. Indeed, both are vastly important, and women appear to be generally better at managing the lives of children for the same reason they should be prominently featured in public life: compassion, self-control, and endurance.

It is encouraging that in recent weeks women have seized the opportunity to organize for the purpose of resisting 45 and his dangerous acolytes. Republicans have embraced a world-plan that is bad for virtually everybody but the top 1% in income.

The Republican plan is built around these things: (1) enrichment of the rich at the expense of the rest of us, especially the poor; (2) punishment of everyone who is not a white Christian; (3) destruction of every law and regulation that protects the lives, education, and wellbeing of us all, as well as the natural world; (4) morbid denial of reality, including denial of the advancing climate change, belief in magic as found in ancient books like the Bible, denial of the reality of the physical world, including how the universe functions, the true age of things, the reality of evolution, and much more; (5) failure to understand that the Age of Carbon is over, and it is necessary to advance to a new reality and leave behind our dependency on oil and coal.

This is virtually, and maybe literally, insane. The purpose of the government of the United States of America is not to destroy the lives and futures of the people and to deny realities that cannot be denied. It is not to support the greed of the rich at the expense of the poor. It is not to lead us into war. It is to support and protect the people and the planet, nothing less.

When one sees pictures of Republicans in the seat of power one sees almost entirely the faces of old white men. Men who don’t give a damn about our lives or about any future of the country that doesn’t make them very wealthy—at the expense of the very environment we live in, the air we breathe, the water we drink. And at the expense of everyone who is not they. They want to control us all.

Only the power of women, many millions of women, can turn this tide in the direction of improving the lives of all. “45” can deny the sheer power of the Women’s March all he wants. The fact is that it was an awesome demonstration of the power of organized women. It was quickly followed by the hundreds of town hall meetings featuring women that frightened Republican representatives so badly that almost all of them fled when they were unable to answer simple questions—because they had no reasonable answers. They are correct in their fears, and they know they are doomed. When the next election rolls around, it is the women who will determine the outcome. If they continue to organize and be active, they won’t allow the same mistakes to be made—including allowing the 46% of lazy citizens who couldn’t be bothered to vote, thereby electing an unqualified white man with a three minute attention span.

Women, especially you young women, take a look at what men, especially Republican men, say about women. About all women. Consider what the uneducated voters for 45 have to say about women. These people are dangerous, not only for democracy, but for you and me. Many of you need to run for office. It is your responsibility to become involved however you can, for the rest of your life. We need you. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the survival of civilization depends on you.

Impeach Trump Now

Anyone who has observed Donald Trump at work, or even read his daily hateful and disturbing tweets, must be painfully aware that these things point to a pathological obsession with narcissistic perfection, and are not what we should be learning about a man who is representative of the most powerful nation in the world. While enormous global problems fester, Trump tweets about celebrities who ridicule him or point out his imperfections, his daughter’s fashion line, and anything that suggests he is not the greatest man in the world.

These daily rants are, as is becoming more and more clear, evidence of a man in the throes of mental illness that threatens not only the office of president, but our republic itself. Ordinary people and professional psychiatrists recognized the signs of pathological narcissism early on. His long astonishing history of hatred of whole groups of people, his personal sexual aberrations, physical insults to women and men alike, insults in his dictated book, his daily lies, astonishing ignorance of so many things, and his very brief attention span, provide ample evidence of an incompetence that cannot be denied. These things have been continually exposed in virtually every public medium, including respected news media like the New York Times (which Trump tweets is failing), which carried the Letter shown below.

Meantime, Republicans in the legislative branch have until very recently been 100% silent as Trump set about to accomplish wholesale destruction of protections for citizens and environment alike enacted over the past half century. If allowed to continue unchecked, Trump will be personally responsible for the deaths and impoverishment of hundreds of thousands of people every year, while at the same time funneling vast amounts of cash to the owners of dinosaur corporations of the dying Carbon Age.

We have never had to impeach a sitting president for mental incompetence, but it becomes more and more evident that we must do it now. How this should be accomplished is not clear, but it is clear that Republicans cannot function in the obstructionist lockstep they practiced during the entirety of the Obama years, because to do so would be literally very dangerous. Trump and Trump alone—an unbalanced man given to temper tantrums—has the ability to launch a nuclear attack.

Please read the following and lend support to your representatives in every way you can. The enormity of the risk cannot be overstated.

To the Editor (NYT, 14 Feb. 2017):

Charles M. Blow (columnnytimes.com, Feb. 9) describes Donald Trump’s constant need “to grind the opposition underfoot.” As mental health professionals, we share Mr. Blow’s concern.

Silence from the country’s mental health organizations has been due to a self-imposed dictum about evaluating public figures (the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 Goldwater Rule). But this silence has resulted in a failure to lend our expertise to worried journalists and members of Congress at this critical time. We fear that too much is at stake to be silent any longer.

Mr. Trump’s speech and actions demonstrate an inability to tolerate views different from his own, leading to rage reactions. His words and behavior suggest a profound inability to empathize. Individuals with these traits distort reality to suit their psychological state, attacking facts and those who convey them (journalists, scientists).

In a powerful leader, these attacks are likely to increase, as his personal myth of greatness appears to be confirmed. We believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.

Lance Dodes, M.D. and 34 other respected practicing and retired psychiatrists

Low Tax is Not What We Need

Low tax never made anyone’s life good.

Consider India. Millions of Indians pay no tax at all, and they are so miserable that suicide is at a record high. In the US, low tax means nothing to you if you can’t pay for your cancer treatment until you go bankrupt. We already have taxes that are too low.

Taxes too low!? How is that possible?

It’s very simple. The cost of a good life is not measured by how low taxes are. We forget that only the rich can afford high quality with low tax, because they can buy anything they want. That’s why they always want to cut their own taxes.

What we want is the best quality of life, and that’s very different from mere low taxes. Let’s attempt to determine what gives us high quality of life. Here’s what I think.

First, high quality of life isn’t very dramatic. The elements of a good life are pretty basic: clean air, clean water, safe housing, healthy food, competent medical care, and a few more. All of these will cost much more if they aren’t paid for with taxes.

We don’t really need public transit, right? But if we have nothing but private cars a simple trip downtown in any US city will cost a fortune, the trip will take much longer, and parking will be a bear. Good public transit is much better, and far cheaper. Scope it out yourself, beginning with car cost, insurance, and maintenance. Cars are damned expensive.

But perhaps medical care is the easiest element to illustrate why low tax can mean high cost.

It’s not a contradiction at all. As literally every modern nation except ours knows, the cost of national medical care is about half the cost of individually purchased healthcare.

Did that come through? We pay twice as much.

Look at it from the other end. Let’s say a new nation wanted to have health care for everyone. They might decide that $2,000 a year for every person is enough. That would work fine if everybody had the same income, because everyone would have the same advantages. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same income. Capitalists earn a lot, and the poor don’t earn enough to buy health care.

If health risks for the poor are not shared, any serious disease will easily kill them, which will cost everyone more. Repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act would cause 44,000 additional deaths each year. All of us eventually pay for these unnecessary events.

Back to our new nation. What happens if health care is paid for with private insurance? The cost for health care would be $2,000 plus the extra cost the insurance companies would add. Don’t forget that insurance premiums provide no health care at all, and capitalism demands that profit be maximized for the benefit of the owners.

In sum, we pay a lot of money to insurance companies that provide no health care at all, yet absorb a large part of the money spent on health care. And the poor are often left to die because they can’t afford the insurance. We have this gross malfunction even though we spend twice the money that countries with national health care pay.

There are other reasons we spend so much on health care. First, training for health care professionals is very expensive, which leaves new doctors with huge debt they must discharge through high earnings. In other countries the government pays for their training, and they don’t have to earn a huge salary just to get by. Second, the cost of medications is determined by capitalists, who, as we have seen, have no compunction about pure greed. They apparently do not understand that they are not making fly swatters, that health care is a sacred duty. Third, charges for care often have little relationship to the quality of care because they are controlled by profit-maximizing capitalists. In countries where the government manages all the elements of health care, all costs are kept at a fair and consistent level. Providers are paid fairly and everyone gets all the care they need, paid for with taxes, because that’s the most efficient and fairest way.

In virtually the same way, all the other elements of good living—clean air and water, healthy food, safe housing, and so on—are most efficiently paid for with tax revenue and/or managed by the government. Everyone benefits and the cost to individuals is much lower. Imagine having to pay for clean water by yourself—think Flint—with corporations allowed to dump whatever they wanted to into the water supply. Imagine your house wired by some dodo unclear on the concept of electrical codes.

But, some say, government just can’t do anything right. That is nonsense. Government services, from federal to local, are full of programs that are well managed and efficiently priced.

It’s not low taxes we need, it’s the best services, and that has very little to do with low taxes. Low tax virtually guarantees higher cost.

The Lingering Death of the Carbon Age

Donald Trump’s presidency, custom built for the benefit of the very rich, is not a new fashion. Every few years the power shifts in an unsteady balance between those motivated by the welfare of the people, as Lincoln’s memorable Gettysburg address states, and those who think money itself is the highest order because they have a lot of it.

What is new is the failure of the latter to understand that the larger world has changed. But it has, a lot. Republicans show every sign of resisting or ignoring the increasingly obvious sea change from from carbon captured millions of years ago in the age of dinosaurs, to energy from the sun that surrounds us every moment and will not be exhausted. Energy from sunshine in the form of electricity and heat, wind-derived electricity, ocean wave-generated energy, natural purification powered by the sun, from tides, and many other sources, and continually improved by the ingenious devices of people everywhere.

This change is happening no matter who doesn’t want it or how rich they are. Several nations have either achieved or are about to achieve complete energy derivation from the sun, and independence from all fossil-based fuels. These are nations where government isn’t so interested in making a few people very rich, and are permanently focussed on the welfare of all their people.

The very rich deniers, in fact, risk the very lives of their own descendants—and ours—because the Carbon Age has died, and they waste large sums of money that should be spent on the future, not on dinosaurs.

Some of you have probably seen the bones of the colossal dinosaur in New York’s Museum of Natural History. It’s so big that its tail extends out of the huge main hall and into a hallway. It is said that the tail is so far away from its tiny brain that there needs to be a sort of second brain to operate the tail.

What has happened is that the Carbon Age dinosaur has died, but the little tail-brain of carbon investors doesn’t know it. Those who do are moving on, building new societies not built around oil and coal.

Here’s another way of looking at it. We’ve all seen the guy in the cab at the rear of the fire department’s “hook and ladder”. He steers the rear wheels. He turns the rear wheels first in the “wrong” direction, then the “right”, so the very long truck can make sharp turns. He is like the old carbon investors who deny that the world has changed. They are not going to steer in the “wrong” direction because they deny that it’s necessary. And they are going to crash the fire truck, which then becomes useless, like a 21st century economy built around coal-powered steam trains.

The US has from the very beginning been a nation ruled by the Almighty Dollar, something noted by Alexis de Tocqueville in his mid-1800s tour of the country. As a nation of inventors and innovators, there were more than a few people who turned their talents into wealth, sometimes vast wealth. Among these were the millionaires, now the billionaires, whose great wealth derived from oil, gas, and coal. Today many descendants of these same people expect their carbon-powered festival to continue forever.

But it won’t. It can’t, because the combination of over 7.5 billion people in the world and the pollution caused by the use of these fossil fuels has poisoned everything and created global warming and other signs of radical change that are now inescapable. But, in spite of massive undeniable evidence, the carbon dinosaurs still don’t believe it, because to do so would mean the end of their big celebration. So they spend many millions to convince others by means of manipulated evidence and outright lies that the changes that are all around us don’t exist.

Our new president is one of these ignorant deniers, because he too gets richer from these antique investments. As the commander in charge of the country he will do all he can to preserve his own bragging-wealth, along with the other very wealthy. These are the people who keep the dying Carbon Age on ever more expensive life support, while more advanced countries understood long ago that a new age of renewable power was already upon us, and we must shift our efforts to survive. They have succeeded, whereas the deniers harm the future for the sake of money they don’t need.