Photo of the day

Yes– a miniature horse in an Apple store.   Check this out for 32 similarly intriguing photos.

Foxes as pets

So, I’ve heard from multiple sources through the years about the amazing fox domestication experiments in Russia. Today I came across this cool homemade video of an American who visisted the fox domestication farm to learn more.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Here’s the explanation of what’s up:

How I ended up here starts in the United States, listening to a podcast that I religiously follow called Radiolab from NPR/WNYC. They had a show called “New Normal” in which they discussed reframing ideas of normalcy. One of the stories was about a fox farm in Novosibirsk which had been working to domesticate the foxes for over 50 years.

It was started by a researcher at the Novosibirsk Institute of Biology named Dr. Belyaev in the Soviet days, during which he had to keep it disguised as a fur farm since the Soviet administration perceived genetic studies like his as a sort of pseudoscience and did not permit it. Starting with a few hundred foxes obtained from Estonia, he selected the ones that were most friendly and most hostile toward humans for continued breeding.

This wasn’t just capturing wild animals and trying to tame them, it was an attempt to artificially re-create the evolutionary process of domestication in few generations, a process which took thousands of years for other animals like that from wolves to dogs.

I seem to recall that there’s been very interesting genetic results from this.  When you breed for a gentler temperament, you are basically breeding to turn the foxes into permanent juveniles and they “tame” foxes also have the morphology of juvenile foxes even when adults.  Pretty cool.

Private prisons

In sticking with the “government doesn’t always waste money” theme of the last post, there was a good post by Yglesias yesterday on prison privatization.  Many people just assume that the private sector can deliver goods and services more efficiently than the public sector, but that’s simply not always the case.  Turns out, private prisons have not done so well in Arizona:

Privatizing prisons hasn’t been the boonthat was promised:

The conviction that private prisons save money helped drive more than 30 states to turn to them for housing inmates. But Arizona shows that popular wisdom might be wrong: Data there suggest that privately operated prisons can cost more to operate than state-run prisons — even though they often steer clear of the sickest, costliest inmates.

Yglesias makes a really nice point about how this relates to capitalism:

There are important general lessons here. The genius of the real private economy is that firms that are really poorly run go out of business. It’s not that some magic private sector fairy dust makes the firms all be runs soundly. Lots of bad businesses are out there. But they tend to lose money and close. Meanwhile, well-run firms tend to earn profits and expand. The public sector doesn’t have this feature. Just because a public agency is inept is no guarantee that it will go out of business. Resources are allocating according to political clout rather than any criteria of merit.

And, it’s also worth noting that a private business with a multi-year government contract gets to keep on making money even if it’s a poorly-run business.  The sub-par dry cleaner or pizza restaurant, will be gone in no time, though.

Finally, in this particular case, it’s important to realize that prisons are more than dollars and cents.  We are dealing with human lives here– criminals, yes, but no less human.  The incentive for a private prison is to do everything possible to keep costs down, regardless of the impact on the prison population.  For a publicly run prison, it is much easier to consider actually treating the prisoners like human beings, rather than what will simply be the cheapest and most profitable way to run a prison.

The government does not always waste money

There’s quite a strong perspective out there that the government can always be counted upon to waste money. Of course, private businesses waste money all the time, too.  If you want organizations to stop wasting money, you can stop having organizations; or organizations run by humans.  Anyway, I learned today that NCSU has a “Veterans Affairs Certifying Official” that keeps track of students who’s education is funded by the GI Bill.  Turns out that if you are on the GI Bill and you fail a class due to lack of attendance, you have to pay back the government the portion of your tuition to cover that class.  I love that!  And, in case you are curious, looks like I have a student who’s going to have to repay the government a good chunk of change.

Hello, liberal white males!

Well, what you’ve been waiting for– I’m going to report the results from my blog survey.  The stuff I found most interesting:

1) I am preaching to the choir.  An overwhelming percentage of respondents were liberal and Democratic– mostly strongly.  To those few conservatives reading this blog– more power to you!  I love people who challenge their own ideology and I apologize that I can be so obnoxious and snarky some times, but hey, I am writing mostly for the choir.

2) As you might have also guesses from the title of the post, readership skews very much white and male.  Median age group is in their 30’s.

3) Not surprisingly, most everybody (except for my wife) loves the political posts– that’s probably what brought you here.  I was pleased to see that science was also very popular.  Sports and tv/moves were the least popular, but certainly popular enough to justify the rate at which I post in these categories.

4) I was really interested in the commonly-used sources of my regular readers.  I sometimes feel like, heck, if my readers are also following, Klein, Drum, Chait, and Yglesias and reading Slate, what do they need me for?  Well, my readers do seem to love Slate almost as much as I do.  Nearly 60% of respondents also follow Slate closely– surprisingly, just as high as the New York Times.  Ezra Klein is also big among my readers.  Kevin Drum was only a regular read for 6% of the readers– I’ll have to borrow from him more.

5) As for open-ended comments, whoever wrote “your blog is full of win” made my day– thanks.  Someone suggested “short, random facts about anything.”  That certainly appeals to me.  I have been trying to post more quick posts just to get an interesting link out there when I might have just let the idea die before.

6) Cannot imagine who wrote, more cute pictures of your kids, but how can I not accommodate that?

I am damn proud of that picture.  I think it really shows off the value of a DSLR versus a point and shoot (very prominent depth-of-field effect).  I’ve lamented before how the cell phone camera seems to be killing real photography– at least on facebook.

7) Thank you, thank you!!  This blog wouldn’t be worth doing if I didn’t know I had such smart and thoughtful readers.

There’s hypocrisy and there’s hypocrisy

One could have a full-time job with a blog to pointing out hypocrisy in politics.  It’s like pointing out bark on trees.  That said, some acts of hyprocrisy and truly breathtaking.  When it comes to the Republican filibuster of judicial nominee, we’re definitely in the latter category.  Dahlia Lithwick (among others) catalogs some of the worst examples:

First, there are the most obvious failures of intellectual consistency: Republicans who once claimed that filibustering judicial nominees is “offensive to our nation’s constitutional design” (Sen. John Cornyn, 2004) and flat-out “unconstitutional” (Sen. Lindsey Graham, 2005) voted against Liu. Even the Republican who said he “will vote to support a vote, up or down, on every nominee—understanding that, were I in the minority party and the issues reversed, I would take exactly the same position because this document, our Constitution, does not equivocate”—even that guy (Sen. Johnny Isakson, 2005) voted against Liu.

I don’t blame them so much their naked partisanship involved in rejecting their earlier statements, I think the real flaw is pretending to be oh-so principled and righteous in their original position (under a Republican president) when that was never even close to that actual case.  Look, just don’t say “never” or “flat out unconstitutional” in a position taken for obvious partisan gain (which will change with the circumstances), rather than actually taken for a principle.  Substance-wise, it’s a real shame Liu will not be an appelate judge, we could certainly use more like him.  Especially annoying is the Republicans (yes, you, Lindsey Graham) who voted against by claiming he had been too mean to Sam Alito during his confirmation hearings.  And here’s the basic substance of that:

Liu testified at the time that “Alito’s record envisions an America where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy to stop him from running away with a stolen purse; where federal agents may point guns at ordinary citizens during a raid, even after no sign of resistance; where the FBI may install a camera where you sleep on the promise that they won’t turn it on unless an informant is in the room; where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man, absent a multiple regression analysis showing discrimination; and where police may search what a warrant permits, and then some.”

If you’ve followed 4th amendment cases in the past few years, its also clear that Liu was basically right on this.  Sam Alito’s America is very much a police state.  Anyway, the whole damn thing is just sorry.

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