2011 - %3, May

A Strange Love Story from the Deep

| Fri May 20, 2011 6:04 PM EDT

This post courtesy BBC Earth. For more wildlife news, find BBC Earth on Facebook and Posterous.

In a time full of romance and a royal wedding, BBC Earth looked toward the natural world to find out exactly which animal truly mates for life.

Weirdly enough, it took us to the dark zone of the ocean, more than 3,300 feet below the surface, to find the perfect couple. However, they were not only not what we expected, but were a total surprise to find at all! It was during the filming of the documentary series Blue Planet that the hairy angler was first discovered. Like many deep-sea fish, these creatures were new to science because of the great depths at which they live.

With a mouth full of fang-like teeth, a stomach that can expand to ingest prey twice its size, and a body covered in sensory antennae called neuromasts, you might be scared to learn that this is just the female! But never fear, the male is tenth the size of the female and much less frightening, at lease visually. Without a bright lure like the female, males ability to capture prey is nearly zero. Therefore the male takes on a more parasitic role.

With scarce food and mates, it's essential to the survival of both male and female that the union is made permanent. When the two encounter each other in this inhospitable habitat, the male is quick to take the plunge. Latching onto her underside with his sharp teeth, the male will fuse with the female’s bloodstream where he will remain, providing sperm in return for essential nutrients.

However as time passes, not only will the male lose his eyes and all of his internal organs except his testes, but he could be joined by up to six other males! Watch BBC Earth executive producer Alastair Fothergill describe what he found weirdest about filming this amazing creature.

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The Voice of the Dolphins

| Fri May 20, 2011 3:36 PM EDT

In his newly released book, The Voice of the Dolphins, filmmaker Hardy Jones reports his story of a life spent working with dolphins—working to understand them and working to save them. 

Ultimately, and with a sad irony, this dolphin work proves important to Hardy's own survival. He writes:

 

This memoir covers three phases of my more than thirty years spent among dolphins and other sea creatures: my initial, exhilarating encounter with friendly dolphins; my subsequent discovery that these creatures are mortally threatened by both slaughter and the chemical contamination of our oceans; and, finally, my diagnosis with a form of blood cancer that has clear links to the same chemical toxins that are causing disastrous consequences among dolphins.

 

Like all love stories, Hardy's story with the dolphins—Atlantic spotted dolphins in the Bahamas, spinner dolphins in Hawaii and Tahiti, orca in the Pacific Northwest and Norway, to name a few—is full of beauty, discovery, and wonder. The book resonates with these passages. Here Hardy describes swimming for the first time in the wild with dolphins who did not flee him... a feat even Jacques Cousteau considered impossible in 1978 when Hardy pulled it off.

 

Dolphins raced at me from all directions, their eyes wide and bloodshot with excitement. The sea was a cacophony of breaking waves, my own gasping, yells, outboard motors, and the creaky-door buzzing of dolphin sonar. Whenever I surfaced, I tried to get some idea of how the filming was going, but no one was even remotely coherent. Words tumbled out of ecstatic faces...

I made a surface dive and swam down among a mixed group of juvenile and adult dolphins, blending into their formations, banking and turning in mid-water. It seemed I had no need to breathe, that I’d assumed properties of a dolphin just by being among them. When my air did run out, I clawed my way back to the surface and gasped for breath, often to find a trio of dolphins accompanying me.

 

Atlantic spottAtlantic spotted dolphins. Credit: Bmatulis via Wikimedia Commons.Atlantic spotted dolphins. Credit: Bmatulis via Wikimedia Commons.

 

But like many love stories, Hardy's with the dolphins is also full of pain and sickness. In 1979 he went to Japan to film the slaughter of dolphins. This was the first of many trips to talk, listen, and argue with the fishermen in defense of the dolphins—all done decades before The Cove filmmakers got there.  Hardy writes of being haunted by the two irreconcilable dolphin worlds he'd come to know:

Again and again, especially in early morning hours when I couldn’t sleep, my thoughts returned to the brutal images of dolphins piled on the beaches of Iki... I placed an aerial photograph of the dead dolphins littering the beach at Iki on my desk. Next to that photograph, stood a framed print of two dolphins, looking at me as we swam side by side in the turquoise waters of the little Bahama Bank.  
 

His first film on the dolphin slaughter in Japan was called Island at the Edge—a masterpiece of restrained, elegant reporting. But that was only the beginning. He writes:

 

In the course of my travels to Japan, I’d come to realize that... a major part of the incentive to local fishermen to pursue and kill dolphins is cash put on the table by international dolphin traffickers who come to Taiji to pick out "show-quality" dolphins. They pay enormous amounts, as much as $150,000 for a dolphin trained in Taiji. The service includes trainers who will accompany the locally trained dolphin to its final destination in one of the many dolphinaria in Japan, as well as to China, Korea, French Polynesia, Turkey and Egypt. For dolphins, this must be the equivalent of an alien abduction. The captive dolphins eventually end up in a cement tank performing for fish in aquarium shows and "swim-with-dolphins" programs around the world.

 

Shamu Stadium, SeaWorld. Credit: David Bjorgen via Wikipedia.Shamu Stadium, SeaWorld. Credit: David Bjorgen via Wikipedia.

 

From stories of the brutal dolphin entertainment industry, Hardy was eventually drawn into other problems, including the monumental tragedy of six million dolphins drowned in tuna nets. His film If Dolphins Could Talk helped tip that story in a new direction.

 

When the show hit the air, the results were explosive. The emotional impact of the footage was amplified by a short PSA hosted by George C. Scott that included a 900 number, produced for the show by Stan Minasian of the Marine Mammal Fund. The result was a pile of six thousand telegrams hitting the desk of the chairman of Starkist tuna demanding an end to catching tuna by setting nets on dolphins. Within weeks, Starkist announced that it would no longer accept tuna caught on dolphin. The dolphin-safe label was born and is today overseen by Earth Island Institute and the Marine Mammal Fund. My film synergized with years of hard work by several organizations and was a major conservation victory.

 

Courtesy Hardy Jones.Credit Okeanis, courtesy Hardy Jones.

 

In 2003, Hardy was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer. A few weeks later, he was offered an exciting film project with the PBS series Nature. The film that would eventually come to define him was called The Dolphin Defender.

 

In follow-up conversations with [PBS], we mapped out the general shape of the film that would be an episodic journey through my career of making films about dolphins. It would combine archival footage shot over a period of several decades with newly shot footage that would fill in gaps in the story and bring it up to date... I hadn’t looked at a lot of that old film for years, and as I started to screen bits and pieces, memories flooded back with a combination of exhilaration, nostalgia, and not a few thoughts of how young I looked. The reaction was, no doubt, intensified by my new-found sense of mortality. 

 

Amazingly, Hardy eventually discovered that his rare disease was not rare in dolphins. Investigating further, he found that places where dolphins were suffering were also myeloma hot-spots for people.

But I'll leave the rest of that amazing chapter of Hardy's story for you to read.

 

Mother and calf bottlenose dolphins. Photo by M. Herko, courtesy NOAA, via Wikimedia Commons.Mother and calf bottlenose dolphins. Photo by M. Herko, courtesy NOAA, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

There are a lot of old friends in Hardy's book, and many facile sketches of others in that strange realm where dolphins, diving, and filmmaking intersect. I'm there too, because Hardy and I worked together for 20 years making nature documentaries. I shared many of the adventures and some of the horrors he describes in The Voice of the Dolphins.

After more than three decades, Hardy's relationship with the dolphins he loves and admires has mellowed. You can get a sense of that in this clip (below) from BlueVoice.org—Hardy's nonprofit dedicated to fighting to end the slaughter of dolphins and to exposing levels of toxins in the marine environment harmful to marine mammals and humans. Hardy included.

So buy the book. It's vivid, vibrant, impassioned, generous, inspirational, and packed with one good sea yarn after another. Best of all The Voice of the Dolphins is loaded with dolphins—old friends with names and personalities and great stories that only Hardy can tell on their behalf.

 

Among Dolphins from BlueVoice.org on Vimeo.

 

Friday Cat Blogging - 20 May 2011

| Fri May 20, 2011 2:57 PM EDT

Today is catnip day. On Sunday I mentioned that my research forays into quantum mechanics were halted when Inkblot got distracted by some Cosmic Catnip. That's because we keep the Cosmic Catnip on a shelf right above the stove, where he was watching our water boil. So here he is, being distracted. On the right, Domino is being distracted by one of our catnip plants. Actually, I think she pretty much uprooted the poor thing. But that's OK. Catnip plants are cheap. We can put in another one pretty easily and she'll never be the wiser.

Bibi and Barack at the White House

| Fri May 20, 2011 2:34 PM EDT

Bibi Netanyahu and Fox News have now made it crystal clear — over and over and over — that Israel will never return to its 1967 borders. The dissimulation here is really pretty staggering. They're just hellbent on giving everyone listening to them the impression that this is what President Obama has proposed.

He hasn't, of course. No American president ever has. Full stop. It's really pretty loathsome listening to these guys doing their best to pretend otherwise.

Still, maybe it's all for the best. If Obama's utterance of the word 1967 is really so revolutionary, maybe it ought to be out on the table. Likewise, I'm fine with Netanyahu saying categorically that the right of return is a dead letter. It is, after all, and there's not a lot of point in pretending otherwise.

Still, I noticed during the press conference that we aren't entirely free of euphemisms yet. Netanyahu stammered a bit when he talked about Israel's borders and then very carefully referred to "demographic changes on the ground over the past 44 years" that made its 1967 borders unacceptable. Needless to say, there's nothing demographic at all about those changes. Israel won a war started by the other side, it occupied some of their territory, and then it decided to take some of that territory forever. We can argue endlessly about whether any of this was justified, but "demographic changes" is definitely not the usual way of referring to territory seized in a war.

Playing Musical Chairs With LinkedIn

| Fri May 20, 2011 1:11 PM EDT

Ryan Chittum highlights an odd warning from LinkedIn management in a recent SEC filing:

It also warned investors, in its recent filing, that it expected its revenue growth to slow as costs increased. It said it did not expect to be profitable in 2011.

Huh? When costs increase your profitability might suffer, but there's no reason that rising costs should affect your sales figures. This really makes no sense. But perhaps it explains why the same folks who blew up the housing bubble are madly blowing up a LinkedIn bubble right now. They know it's all rubbish, but they're just hoping to get out before the music stops, leaving suckers like you and me holding the bag. It worked pretty well before, after all.

Chart of the Day: Where the Debt Comes From

| Fri May 20, 2011 12:59 PM EDT

What accounts for the growing U.S. debt load? You already know the answer, but CBPP has a new chart that lays it out yet again. What we're interested in is public debt — that is, debt that the government actually owes to other people. It's this debt that can cause problems if it gets out of hand. So here's where our projected debt in 2019 comes from:

[This chart] shows that the Bush-era tax cuts and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — including their associated interest costs — account for almost half of the projected public debt in 2019 (measured as a share of the economy) if we continue current policies.

Altogether, the economic downturn, the measures enacted to combat it (including the 2009 Recovery Act), and the financial rescue legislation play a smaller role in the projected debt increase over the next decade. Public debt due to all other factors fell from over 30 percent of GDP in 2001 to 20 percent of GDP in 2019.

Put this one up on your refrigerator along with the last one. Then, if a friend comes over after watching Glenn Beck and insists that we're doomed, just point to the chart. If you want to save America from a crushing future debt burden, you need to repeal the Bush tax cuts, get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and stop pursuing austerity policies that will slow down economic recovery.

Once we've done that, then it's time to talk about Medicare. But the other stuff comes first.

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Bachmann's Anti-Gay Ally: Obama's Not a Christian

| Fri May 20, 2011 12:14 PM EDT

On Wednesday, we told you about the unlikely alliance between Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a possible GOP presidential candidate, and Bradlee Dean, a head-banging, tatooed, death* heavy metal drummer. (The relationship becomes a lot less confusing when you consider that Dean belives that gays are, by defintion, "criminals," and should be prohibited from holding government jobs; that the average gay man will molest 117 people before "they're found out"; and that he runs a ministry called You Can Run But You Cannot Hide, which travels to public schools to encourage students to find Christ).

Today Dean outdid himself. With the Minnesota legislature in the middle of a heated debate over a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the state—the opponents of which, Dean has pilloried on his radio show—the House Republican Caucus invited the controversial hair-metal evangelist to deliver the opening prayer for Friday's session.

How did it go? Well, the grand finale consisted of Dean alleging that the President of the United States is not a Christian. Via the St. Cloud Times:

I end with this. I know this is a non-denominational prayer in this Chamber and it's not about the Baptists and it's not about the Catholics alone or the Lutherans or the Wesleyans. Or the Presbyterians the evangelicals or any other denomination but rather the head of the denomination and his name is Jesus. As every President up until 2008 has acknowledged. And we pray it. In Jesus' name.

That shouldn't come as too much of a surprise: Dean recently explained on his radio show that there's no real difference between Obama and Osama bin Laden, and that the President's policies—like those of his predecessors—are part of a plot to bring about the New World Order.

Dean's remarks didn't go over well: legislators had to summon the House chaplain to deliver a new prayer, and Democratic Rep. Terry Morrow immediately took to the floor to denounce the whole affair. From the Minnesota Independent:

"Today hope was crushed by the words of a single speaker," he said. "Mr. Speaker, I do trust and hope that we understand the gravity and the severity of the prayer that has been given to the people within this chamber and out."

"I'm shaking right now because I'm mad," he concluded. "This cannot happen again."

Wow. According to WCCO's Patrick Kessler, Speaker Kurt Zellers, a Republican, has since publicly apologized, saying "I denounce him, his actions and his words." (The caucus did not vet Dean's remarks).

Update: The Independent has the video and a follow-up interview with Zellers. Yes, Dean really wore a track suit:

*Thanks to the readers who pointed out that Dean's music is better classified as heavy metal, or even "rap-core." We regret the error.

Free Parking

| Fri May 20, 2011 11:34 AM EDT

Yesterday the LA Times ran a story about a special parking ticket service for local VIPs that it called "Gold Card" service. I didn't actually read the story and assumed that was just a catchy name the Times was using. But no. It turns out there is, literally, a Gold Card:

The service, which few outside of city government appear to know about, partly involves a plastic parking bureau "Gold Card" that is distributed to city offices. It includes a special phone number to call and on the back side notes that the holder may have an "urgent need to resolve any parking citation matter which requires special attention." It promises "you will be immediately connected to our Gold Card Specialist."

....[City controller Wendy] Greuel's audit said the Gold Card referral service is provided exclusively to the mayor's office and council district offices.

....Sarah Hamilton, a spokeswoman for Villaraigosa, said the mayor's office had periodically used the program as one of many ways to help constituents. Callers who thought they didn't deserve certain citations are referred to the Gold Card Desk, she said, adding that the program is open to anyone, not just VIPs or insiders.

"Any resident of the city who feels they received a citation in error, or who needs a sidewalk repaired or graffiti removed can call the mayor's office for assistance," Hamilton said. The Gold Card Desk is a comparable "resource for constituents."

I just love that line. As the Times story makes clear, however, virtually no one who's a non-insider even knows this program exists, let alone uses it.1 And the most common reason for tossing out tickets? Inability to pay — "a complaint Greuel's investigation portrayed as a dubious reason for dismissal." Indeed. Isn't life wonderful for the rich and famous?

1Take Danny Legans, for example. "I wish they did let us know about it," he told a Times reporter as he was paying an $88 ticket. Legans then asked officials inside about the program but was told it did not exist. "They said there is no such thing. You can't appeal. They told me: You have 30 days to pay this ticket or it will be doubled."

Ex-Obama Aides' Super PAC Blasts Mitt's Mushy Positions

| Fri May 20, 2011 11:10 AM EDT

With nearly a year-and-a-half to go before election day, Priorities USA, the new presidential "super PAC" founded by two ex-Obama aides, is out with its first advertisement of the nascent 2012 presidential campaign. The ad targets Mitt Romney, accusing the former Massachusetts governor of flip-flopping on the issue of health care on the eve of his visit to South Carolina this weekend.

The ad opens with fellow 2012 contender Newt Gingrich's recent criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan that would, among other things, eviscerate Medicare. (On NBC's Meet the Press, Gingrich called Ryan's plan "right-wing social engineering"—a description that Gingrich quickly retracted in the face of massive criticism from conservatives.) Then the ad highlights Romney's support for Ryan's plan, which is followed by an image of Romney during his recent health care speech in Michigan, in which he defended his universal reform plan in Massachusetts—a plan that is anathema to GOPers like Paul Ryan. The ad concludes by asking, "With Mitt Romney, you have to wonder: which page is he on today?"

Here's the ad in full, with a script afterward:

The script:

Newt Gingrich says the Republican plan that would essentially end Medicare is too "radical." Governor Haley thinks the plan is courageous, and Gingrich shouldn't be cutting conservatives off at the knees. Mitt Romney says he's "on the same page" as Paul Ryan, who wrote the plan to essentially end Medicare. But with Mitt Romney, you have to wonder: which page is he on today? Priorities USA Action is responsible for the content of this advertisement."

Bill Burton, a former press secretary in the Obama White House who co-founded Priorities USA, declined to put a price on the ad buy, but described it in an email as a "statewide, election-year level buy over the course of his short trip." He added, "If you are watching the news this weekend in South Carolina, you will see this ad."

Priorities USA is hardly the first group to hit Romney for his mushy position on health care. Indeed, as Mother Jones reported, Romney's 2008 New Hampshire campaign director, Bruce Keough, ruled out working for Romney in 2012 because of the former governor's wishy-washy political identity. Romney, Keough told me, "manages to say things that cause people to think, 'Wait a second: I thought I knew him, and now I'm not so sure.' I think he can be successful. But I don't think he will be successful if he runs his campaign like he did in 2008."

In the months to come, expect plenty more ads like this one hitting Romney for his changing positions, especially when it comes to health care.

Obama's Middle East Speech, Take 2

| Fri May 20, 2011 11:05 AM EDT

Yesterday I wrote that I was puzzled about the conservative meltdown over Obama's Middle East speech. Didn't he just continue the policy of pretty much every president since Carter, namely that the eventual Israeli border on the West Bank will be based on the 1967 border with some expansions to include settlements built since the war? So what was the big deal? Well, after reading a bit more and watching some TV, I discovered that, yes, pretty much everyone who actually knows anything about the subject agrees that Obama's formulation was a nothingburger. It's the same policy as always.

So why is the right in such a lather about it? A friend emailed to suggest the obvious: normally, lathers take a day or so to build up. This one happened instantly. "The lather exploded fully formed from their foreheads," she wrote. "I think that the lather was planned as soon as the word came out that Obama was going to make a speech on the Middle East." Andrew Sullivan takes it a step further:

The verbal formula that essentially repeats the standard position of every recent US administration on the two-state solution did not strike me as anything new; in fact, it struck me as a minimalist response to Israel's continued aggressive settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And yet instantly Drudge, Fox, Romney et al. blasted the "stunning" news that Israel had somehow been thrown under the bus.

None of this makes sense until you realize that Netanyahu had been given a heads-up by the administration. So it's pretty obvious that it was the Israelis who immediately got their US media mouthpieces to spin the speech as some sort of attack. So those of you who think Jeffrey Goldberg and Walter Russell Mead and Victor Davis Hanson are a foreign government's favored outlets should think again. These leftist radicals are far too unreliable a channel.

I guess that's possible. A more parsimonious explanation is that the Drudge/Rush/Fox axis was, indeed, going to go nuts no matter what, and the "1967 borders" reference was just such an obvious attack point that that's the one they chose. After all, the rest of the speech contained so much criticism of the Palestinians, including both a firm denunciation of Hamas and a warning not to seek statehood via the UN, that it was hard to find anything there that was really very detrimental to Israeli interests at all. Deliberately misconstruing Obama's border comments was pretty much their only avenue.

So: the speech was still a yawn. The American right wing is still deranged. And peace in the Middle East is still not going to happen. You may now go about your business as if nothing has happened. Because nothing has.