Category Archives: Words

Who Knows

… whether Mark Hurd (recently of HP) sexually harassed the contractor who filed a complaint against him. HP decided it didn’t like Hurd’s bookkeeping, and that’s that. But whatever happened between him and that woman, Business Insider is acting like a bunch of woman-hating jackasses blathering about her being an “gold-digging E-list actress” and describing her as “posing as a marketing consultant.” I’ve worked in advertising a LONG time, and posing is part of the marketing business, for one thing.

No, I’m not linking to the article. It’s easy enough to find, and I am not interested in referring traffic.

I subscribe to a newsletter of theirs, and it was infuriating to see a chart praising Mark Hurd side-by-side with these gratuitous remarks. Maybe HP’s board is wimpy. Maybe this woman is acting in bad faith. Maybe Mark Hurd is an executive genius. Not one minuscule part of that story benefits from smearing her.

The Parent-Child Dyad

I’ve had cats all my life, and like everyone else with a pet, I spend a lot of time thinking about what my pet is doing, wondering what he is thinking, and, of course, being pleased by all the cute things he does.

“Some people say my cat is a child substitute, but his pediatrician says that’s not true!”

Humans do every mammalian thing to extreme. Hey, Aphid-farming ants: bow down before the sheer scale of the manure pits alone on a pig farm. Sex? We (sort of) conceal whether we’re ovulating—that’s how interested we are in getting it all the time. Caring for young? What mammals even come close to the prodigious and promiscuous capacity for adoption – within and outside our species – of humans? (Even if it does seem like half the people you meet must surely have been raised by wolves.)

My cat’s not [strictly|exactly|only] a child substitute. I am his mother substitute.

And it turns out this works for dogs, too. This article looks at research that examines the conditions under which we learned what we think we know about alpha canine behavior (from wolves from different families, grouped in captivity, and thus in competition for attention and status). Like cats, and probably every other mammal on the planet, the most essential bond in wolves in the wild is the first-degree family bond, particularly (from a pecking order point of view) parent and child.

The article also takes aim at dominance displays for dog training, like those advocated by The Dog Whisperer, labeling as cruel the technique of rolling a dog and pinning it at its throat. This doesn’t mean that you don’t effectively train a dog by making sure it knows you’re the boss.

Says Bonnie Beaver, former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA): “We are on record as opposing some of the things Cesar Millan does because they’re wrong.” Likewise, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) issued a position statement last year arguing against the aggressive-submissive dichotomy. It is leadership by showing a good example, not dominance, that AVSAB says owners should strive for in relation to their dogs.

Your house, your rules—just like any good, involved, boundaries-setting parent.

I Could Have Saved Him Some Time

In an experiment of one, Dr. Kessler tested his willpower by buying two gooey chocolate chip cookies that he didn’t plan to eat. At home, he found himself staring at the cookies, and even distracted by memories of the chocolate chunks and doughy peaks as he left the room. He left the house, and the cookies remained uneaten. Feeling triumphant, he stopped for coffee, saw cookies on the counter and gobbled one down.

“Why does that chocolate chip cookie have such power over me?” Dr. Kessler asked in an interview. “Is it the cookie, the representation of the cookie in my brain? I spent seven years trying to figure out the answer.”

The two gooey chocolate-chip cookies are Chekhov’s gun. Maybe a scientist has to spend 7 years figuring this out, but any student of literature knows that the deliberate introduction of such a compelling device demands that it have consequences.

That said, the larger point, that by combining fats, sugar and salt in innumerable ways, food makers have essentially tapped into the brain’s reward system, creating a feedback loop that stimulates our desire to eat and leaves us wanting more and more even when we’re full, is an interesting one. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite is the book he wrote about it.

Dear Vatican: Fire Your PR Agency

Because your messaging is all kinds of messed up—much more than usual.

The Vatican today made the “attempted ordination” of women one of the gravest crimes under church law, putting it in the same category as clerical sex abuse of minors, heresy and schism.

Vatican makes attempted ordination of women a grave crime helpfully explains that these are simply separate issues, and offers suggestions for how to educate the public about what is meant here:

From the Vatican’s perspective—the canon-law perspective—the issue of women’s ordination belongs in the same category as the issue of sexual abuse; they are both among the most serious offenses that clerics can commit. Fine. But the rest of the world sees these things from a different perspective, and can’t make the same associations. So provide two briefings. First tell reporters about the norms as they apply to sexual abuse, providing story #1 for the headlines. Then, a day or two later, hold a second briefing and explain the norms about women’s ordination. That story will then run separately. The issues won’t be confused, and perhaps the stories won’t be so sarcastic.

Remedial public relations for Vatican officials

No, actually. The people who actually read the source document will go ahead and discuss them together, and even the people who are late to the party will still make the connection.

Oh, really, it’s just hopeless, isn’t it?

WEIRD Like Us?

Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. You know, like the college students that form the backbone of so many psychology studies done in universities.

The fact that WEIRD people are the outliers in so many key domains of the behavioral sciences may render them one of the worst subpopulations one could study for generalizing about Homo sapiens…. WEIRD people, from this perspective, grow up in, and adapt to, a rather atypical environment vis-à-vis that of most of human history. It should not be surprising that their psychological world is unusual as well. (2010: 79-80) […]

So, to sum up this post-Henrich, next stage concern: I worry that W.E.I.R.D. classification flatters the WEIRD, focusing on traits that Westerners typically highlight to describe themselves in ways that are, however inadvertently, pretty self-congratulatory. If we were to call the same group, Materialist, Young, self-Obsessed, Pleasure-seeking, Isolated, Consumerist, and Sedentary (MYOPICS)… you get the idea. (By the way, I’m not committed to this, only to getting my own acronym – You know the steps in the cheap acronym process: Set acronym. Find words to fit each letter.)

We agree it’s WEIRD, but is it WEIRD enough? by Greg Downey—where there is much much more, plus charming illustrations.

Commercial Press

And in this context, we have to realize that the US no longer has a truly adversarial press. It has a commercial press that is entirely driven by fear of losing readers and/or viewers. Remember that the MSM allowed Palin – then a total unknown – to go an entire campaign without an open press conference. She knows they’re patsies. She’s much less afraid of them than they are of her. And rightly so.

More at “Moms Just Know When There’s Something Wrong”

Squirrels Lie Like Us

Reporting in the journal Animal Behaviour, the Steele team showed that when squirrels are certain that they are being watched, they will actively seek to deceive the would-be thieves. They’ll dig a hole, pretend to push an acorn in, and then cover it over, all the while keeping the prized seed hidden in their mouth. “Deceptive caching involves some pretty serious decision making,” Dr. Steele said. “It meets the criteria of tactical deception, which previously was thought to only occur in primates.”

And many other squirrel facts of interest in Nut? What Nut? The Squirrel Outwits to Survive.


Bryne was the first trainer ever killed by orcas at a marine park. It took Sealand employees two hours to recover her body from Nootka, Haida, and Tilikum. They had stripped off all of her clothes save one boot, and she had bruises from bites across her skin. “It was just a tragic accident,” Al Bolz, Sealand’s manager, told reporters at the time. “I just can’t explain it.”

Emphasis added. From The Killer in the Pool.