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March 25, 2007


I think an important matter in the news today is an upcoming Supreme Court case involving minimum wage requirements for home health aides hired through agencies. An important health care/immigrant/elderly/etc. hook.

"I will personally post a video of myself singing a Kyrgyz translation of Bob Dylan's "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat" while wearing a tutu and standing on my head."

Hell, I'd endow a prize in economic hackery just to see/hear that.

Ginger Yellow: thus the little codicil at the end.

Is Krugman’s credibility on the economy that great? Maybe it is that filter again, but I seem to recall no…

OCSteve: yes.

That was a bit abrupt. But: he's a very serious economist, in another universe from most of his critics outside professional journals.

I think it has become standard practice for Will to equate those who become impatient with being lied to, with those who become impatient when their lies are not believed.
He has been doing it for as long as I can remember, and I am very old.

Back to animal cognition for a quick item. About eight years ago my wife acquired her first horse, a young arabian mare, soon joined by a couple of companions. When the process started my knowledge of horses could be fairly summerized as "Have a leg at each corner and eat hay." I have found them smarter than I expected, but with easily seen limits.
One gelding, named Einstein is fearless. Neighbors can set of fireworks without upsetting him. The second gelding, Tom spooks when the breeze ruffles the leaves. The mare, Cleo falls somewhere in the middle. My amazement came one day when something spooked Einstein. He bolted and Cleo followed without an instant's hesitation. It was unexpected because I'd seen Tom bolt many times, and Cleo just raises here head from grazing and looks around to see if there really is anything to get excited about. So I started keeping track and sure enough, if something startles Einstein, Cleo will always run first and then stop to evaluate the situation. If Tom bolts, she'll look around to see if there really is a reason to worry. She understands the difference in their personalities, and acts rationally on that understanding. It displayed a level of abstraction I did not expect.

Hilzoy:(4) And how are you?

Been on a high ever since I won Time's person of the year award last year.

Once upon a time, I had a cat named Sofi, who was easily the smartest cat I've known. The first time I ever went away for a weekend after getting her, both she and Nils were very upset.

Nils would just follow me everywhere; when I went to thank the neighbor's kid who had fed them while I was away, I went inside their house, and Nils plastered himself, Garfield-style, to their screen door. One could explain this just by thinking: I was away, he got nervous; he wants reassurance, which I am a source of. No need to assume things like: he knew that I had gone away.

Sofi was different. For about a week, she just refused to acknowledge my presence at all. When I entered a room that she was in, she would react in sort of the same way she might react to the sudden appearance of a distasteful odor, and leave. One fine day, though, I was lying on my bed, and Sofi very tentatively came into the room. I stopped what I was doing, since I knew that this was significant. After a bit she came, again very tentatively, onto the bed. I reached out my hand for her to sniff, if she wanted to. She grabbed it and held it tight against her chest, with her front paws, for about 45 minutes.

She was angry at me in particular, because I had left her alone. It was very striking (and very touching.)

I forgot, does (3) mean I have to feel worse about the rats traps I need to set this week?

(4) And how are you?

Actually, quite contented and smug, thank you. I will sleep for 36 hours straight, get up and work on the next show.

Ick[1], TPM has a h**dia weight-loss ad now. Can fake R*l*xes and p*nis enl*rgement be far behind?

1. Please, no one start commenting with that name -- let Ugh be the only exclamation-based handle.

Ugh: I forgot, does (3) mean I have to feel worse about the rats traps I need to set this week?

Well, you could try putting up little signs saying "Beware! The Giant is Angry!" but the rats might set traps for you.

Hilzoy, I had a cat for years who - for the first year of her life - I quite literally took with me everywhere I went except to work. (There were complicated reasons why this was so. Never mind. I did.) She wasn't a lap cat, but she very much regarded me as her territory. And after that first year, when I went away without her, she wouldn't "speak" to me. She'd glance to make sure I was looking and turn so that she had her back to me. These periods of "not speaking" lasted a day to three days: after many years (especially after I got another cat) she got used to the idea that I didn't take her away with me any more. But the first time I left her for over two weeks, when she would have been about five years old, she was waiting at the top of the stairs the day I came back, greeted me enthusiastically for five minutes or so... and then didn't speak to me for three days.

(3) Surely the rats shouldn't be *allowed* to decline tests simply because they're difficult? It builds their character to be taken out of their comfort zone and to be given a real challenge. We are in danger of building a generation of molly-coddled rats.

Oh, sorry. I may have got this story confused with the one about student complaints. Do the rats all get given As at the end?

New Scientist's podcast had a segment on metacognition in animals last December. You can listen to it http://www.pheedo.com/click.phdo?i=56ecf994d90ffd335825cba25f454579>here.

Haven't the ad homenem attacks against Goldberg gotten a little old? The man is a cream-puff to attack on his words; we should lay off his appearance. Or so it seems to me.

Do the rats all get given As at the end?

Only if they earned them. We don't grade metacognition on a curve!

Plus, "molly-coddled rats" sounds perilously close to a Roman delicacy...

Let me tell you a great cat meta-cognition story: We have a cat, Scooter, who is (or was, depending on your POV) feral. My wife and I discovered her five years ago living in a storm drain outside our old apartment, about four weeks old, with no mother or siblings to be found. We started putting out milk, then food, for her, first right by the storm drain, then at our patio. She'd come to eat it, then quickly disappear. We very much wanted to rescue her and get her to a cat adoption agency and a veterinarian, but she would never let us approach within five feet of her. She'd simply turn and run. She'd come rub up against our screen door when our male cat, Rusty, was sitting there, but run as soon as we approached. She even avoided tripping a live trap by simply stepping over the trigger plate to eat, then stepping over it again to exit.

One night, she showed up outside our screen door with an enormous bite wound on her tail. We opened the door and she walked right in. She allowed us to pick her up, take her to the vet, and have her examined. For three weeks afterward, we had to irrigate the tail wound with a saline solution and apply a salve to it. She allowed us to do it without complaint. (Except for one ugly bowel-voiding incident when it was particularly painful.) She allowed us to hold, pet and comfort her.

That was four and a half years ago. Since the day the wound was pronounced healed and vet care was finished, she's lived in our home, but we are not allowed to touch or approach her. She's back to her old feral behavior, only with a roof over her head and regular feeding. She somehow knew enough to know that for the duration of her injury she could be taken care of, and used that time, then reverted right back to previous behavior.

Cats is smart.

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