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  • National Geographic reports on how, unchecked, global warming may wreck the coffee industry of Uganda.

  • Aeon notes the nervous system of the ctenophore, product of a separate evolutionary process from our own.

  • Phys.org describes a recent study suggesting Easter Island was not wrecked by ecocide. (The Rapanui were devastated by others, I would add.)

  • Even with an active magnetic field, an Earth-like atmosphere of Proxima Centauri b might be eroded away by flares. Universe Today reports on the climate model making this prediction.

  • Does bizarre Przybylski’s star, HD 101065, contain exotic superheavy elements in its atmosphere? New Scientist wonders.

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  • In The Globe and Mail, Elizabeth Renzetti looks at the Toronto debate on having cats indoors or outdoors. (I think the first is best.)

  • Helena Oliveira at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes how people can train their cats to make use of leashes. (Should I have?)

  • The SCMP reports on a Hong Kong prison that will allow inmates to keep cats, for the time being.

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  • Johann Hari writes for Open Democracy about what may be the beginning of the end of the drug war in Germany.

  • I am not in agreement with Joseph Couture's argument in NOW Toronto that the Internet has ended gay communities. (Convince me.)

  • Samantha Edwards reports in NOW Toronto controversy regarding the Parkdale feminist street art event. Was it really intersectional?

  • James Cooray Smith wonders--or "wonders"--why some Doctor Who fans are so upset with a woman portraying the Doctor.

  • In MacLean's, chief Perry Bellegarde argues that more Canadians should be concerned with the too-many deaths of young First Nations people in Thunder Bay.

  • The National Post tells the story of how Australian senator Larissa Walters had to unexpectedly resign her position on account of her Canadian birth.

  • Via James Nicoll, a paper claiming evidence of human presence in northern Australia, in Madjedbebe, 65k years ago.

  • National Geographic tells of the peculiar way some Gulf of Mexico dolphins prepare their catfish. Is it cultural, culinary even?

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CBC shared Liam Casey's Canadian Press report about the vicious fighting for power in the Toronto Zoo's baboon population following the death of the troop's matriarch.

A brutal battle for the throne of a baboon troop at the Toronto Zoo that erupted when the matriarch died became so vicious that staff intervened with hormone treatments to take "a little bit of an edge off" the fighting females.

Medical records show that while the intervention in March of last year helped reduce the number of vicious attacks and resulting injuries, it also helped an unlikely female to emerge as queen in the baboons' game of thrones.

The fighting — first reported by The Canadian Press in late 2015 — began shortly after the troop's leader, 16-year-old Betty, was euthanized.

Baboon troops are run by females, and their behaviour dictates that the matriarch's oldest daughter become queen. But zoo staff have said Betty's oldest daughter, Molly, was still too young to assert her dominance when her mother died in December 2014.

Putsie, the troop's eldest female, saw an opportunity to grab the throne with support from her three daughters, Kate, Kristina and Kalamata.
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CBC News reports on how Toka and Thika, two elephants formerly resident at the Toronto Zoo, are adapting well to their sunset years in a California sanctuary.

For Toka and Thika, retirement is turning out just fine. There's warm sunshine, new friends to spend time with and the chance to do whatever they want.

Three years after they were sent halfway across the continent, the aging elephants from the Toronto Zoo have found a new lease on life roaming the hills of a northern California sanctuary.

"Toka has fit right in and she is a part of the group now and I think that's really good for her," Ed Stewart, executive director of the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary, told CBC's the fifth estate.

"Thika is a much bigger challenge but it's been good for her, too."

After much debate and controversy surrounding the fate of the zoo's last elephants, Toka, Thika and Iringa were trucked 4,000 kilometres to the PAWS sanctuary in San Andreas.
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Seriously Science linked to a paper, "Use of incidentally encoded memory from a single experience in cats", which suggests cats actually have very good memory compared to dogs.

“We examined whether cats could retrieve and utilize incidentally encoded information from a single past event in a simple food-exploration task previously used for dogs (Fujita et al., 2012). In Experiment 1, cats were led to four open, baited containers and allowed to eat from two of them (Exposure phase). After a 15-min delay during which the cats were absent and all containers were replaced with empty ones, the cats were unexpectedly returned to the room and allowed to explore the containers (Test phase). Although the cats’ first choice of container to visit was random, they explored containers from which they had not previously eaten for longer than those from which they did previously eat. In the Exposure phase of Experiment 2, two containers held food, one held a nonedible object, and the fourth was empty. Cats were allowed to eat from one of them. In the post-delay Test phase, the cats first visited the remaining baited-uneaten container significantly more often than chance and they spent more time exploring this container. Because the cats’ behavior in the Test phase cannot be explained by association of the container with a pleasant experience (eating), the results suggest that cats retrieved and utilized “what” and “where” information from an incidentally encoded memory from a single experience.”
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Savage Minds introduces the first of several posts to be made this month by Coltan Scrivner about personhood, starting from the question of whether other primates are people.

When the concept of a person is brought up, many seem to begin by comparing the “other” to humans, using our species as a measuring stick. We take for granted that our species exemplifies what it is to be a person, to be an agent in the world. This leads many of us to assume that personhood is somehow intrinsically tied to human beings. It’s “a part of our DNA,” so to speak, to be a person. Thus, any other creature or entity that might be considered to be a “person” is measured against abilities that exist in Homo sapiens. This often tosses the question to scientists to figure out if the “other” is enough like us to be a person. When considering chimps and other apes, this has been the charge of cognitive and comparative psychologists.

For quite some time now, chimps and other primates have been subject to a battery of cognitive tests aimed at assessing theory of mind. One of the first major studies in this area was Gallup’s “mirror test.” In essence, an animal is sedated and a mark is placed on their forehead, where it could not be seen by any normal method. The animal awakens in front of a mirror with no knowledge of the dot. If they begin to use the mirror to inspect themselves, in particular the dot, it suggests that the animal has some idea that the thing in the mirror is not just “that animal,” but is “me.” Thus, they would possess, at minimum, a sense of bodily awareness. The study has been replicated numerous times with various animals, but consistent passing has largely been restricted to adult species of Great Apes. Moreover, humans don’t start passing the test until around 18 months of age.

One of last cognitive bastions separating humans from other primates was the inability to show that other primates understand false beliefs. This might seem like an odd barrier, but understanding false beliefs, or the intentions of others, is an important and potentially testable component of understanding the mind of others. However, a recent study published in Science has purportedly demonstrated that chimps – as well as orangutans and bonobos – can in fact understand the false beliefs of others. Through the use of eye tracking software, all three primates were shown to anticipate another ape’s (okay, really a human dressed as an ape) false belief by looking where the misinformed ape would look before they did, even though the observing primates knew the object wasn’t in that location. If replicated and demonstrated to be a reliable finding, there will indeed be little in terms of testable self-consciousness that we possess that at least some apes do not.
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  • Apostrophen's 'Nathan Smith writes about what he has learned from his huskie.

  • Bad Astronomy shares some gorgeous Cassini images of Saturn's polar hexagon.

  • Centauri Dreams looks at L2 Puppis, a red giant star that our own sun will come to resemble.

  • D-Brief notes climate change is starting to hit eastern Antarctica, the more stable region of the continent.

  • Dangerous Minds looks at some of the cool pins put out by supporters of LGBT rights over the decades.

  • The Everyday Sociology Blog looks at Susan Faludi's account of her life with her newly trans father.

  • Far Outliers examines the War of American Independence as one of the many Anglo-French global wars.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money wonders why the Los Angeles Times allowed the publication of letters defend the deportation of the Japanese-Americans.

  • Marginal Revolution's Alex Tabarrok argues that we are now moving beyond meat production.

  • The NYRB Daily looks at Mexico as a seedbed of modernism.

  • Savage Minds shares an article arguing for a decentering of the position of human beings at the interface of anthropology and science.

  • Understanding Society has more on the strange and fundamentally alien nature of the cephalopod mind.

  • Window on Eurasia notes that the North Caucasus is set to go through austerity.

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EurekAlert! shared this intriguing press release from Princeton University highlighting new research claiming that the reason some monkeys do not speak has everything to do with their innate intelligence, not their anatomy.

Monkeys known as macaques possess the vocal anatomy to produce "clearly intelligible" human speech but lack the brain circuitry to do so, according to new research.

The findings -- which could apply to other African and Asian primates known as Old World monkeys -- suggest that human speech stems mainly from the unique evolution and construction of our brains, and is not linked to vocalization-related anatomical differences between humans and primates, the researchers reported Dec. 9 in the journal Science Advances.

Co-corresponding author Asif Ghazanfar, a Princeton University professor of psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, said that scientists across many disciplines have long debated if -- and to what extent -- differences between the human and primate vocal anatomy allow people to speak but not monkeys and apes.

"Now nobody can say that it's something about the vocal anatomy that keeps monkeys from being able to speak -- it has to be something in the brain. Even if this finding only applies to macaque monkeys, it would still debunk the idea that it's the anatomy that limits speech in nonhumans," Ghazanfar said. "Now, the interesting question is, what is it in the human brain that makes it special?"
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National Geographic's Christine Dell'Amore's feature is quite right to identify the elephants fleeing poachers into Botswana as refugees, I think. What a terrible situation.

The elephants swim across the river in a straight line, trunks jutting out of the water like snorkels. With low, guttural bellows, they push their bodies together, forming a living raft to bolster a calf too tiny to stay afloat on its own.

This pachyderm flotilla has a dangerous destination in mind: The grassy shores of Namibia, where elephants are literally free game for legal hunters. The animals will risk their lives to feed here before fording the Chobe River again, back to the safety of Botswana's Chobe National Park.

To avoid ivory poachers in neighboring Namibia, Zambia, and Angola, elephants like this family are fleeing in astounding numbers to Chobe, where illegal hunting is mostly kept in check. (See National Geographic's elephant pictures.)

"Our elephants are essentially refugees," says Michael Chase, founder of the Botswana-based conservation group Elephants Without Borders, which works to create transboundary corridors for elephants to travel safely between countries.

Elephants aren't the only animals battling for survival in the dry, harsh world of northern Botswana. Tune in to the three-part miniseries Savage Kingdom on November 25 at 9 p.m. ET on Nat Geo WILD.
But while Chobe offers some protection, it’s not the most welcoming stronghold. The increasingly dry ecosystem is buckling under the pressure of supporting so many of the six-ton animals, which each eat 600 pounds of food daily.
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  • Apostrophen's 'Nathan Smith notes that his husky loves the winter that has descended on Ottawa.

  • blogTO notes Toronto's continuing housing price spikes.

  • D-Brief notes that chimpanzees apparently are built to recognize butts.

  • Dead Things reports on discoveries of the first land vertebrates.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes the weird patterns of KIC 8462852.

  • Marginal Revolution considers Westworld's analogies to the Haitian Revolution.

  • Steve Munro looks at the latest on the TTC budget.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the controversial nature of the new official doctrine of Russia's nationhood.

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The Crow Agenda (1920 X 1080) from Jason Arsenault on Vimeo.

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The Crow Agenda, as described by its Indiegogo fundraising page, is a recent documentary a half-hour long that takes a look at Charlottetown's crow population and the whole complex mixture of thoughts about them. Apparently these feathered apes are common here.

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island is known as the birth place of Canadian Confederation. The city also plays a lesser known historic role as a roosting site for over 15,000 crows who have been sharing the city space since the 1800s. The crows affect the residents both positively and negatively, and this dichotomy gives rise to an important question – is this murder of crows a persistent problem that needs to be permanently eliminated or a gift of nature from which to draw inspiration?

For some residents an emotional and spiritual connection has developed with the crows. Stories emerge about grandfathers thought to be reincarnated as crows, crows that talk, residents with pet crows, and people who claim to have been feeding the same crows for over ten years. They are in support of leaving them alone and allowing the birds to be uninhibited in Victoria Park. They draw inspiration from the beauty of the birds daily commute in and out of the city. Local artists, dating back to world-renowned poet and Charlottetown native Milton Acorn, have developed a strong stance on the crows. They are in support of leaving them alone and allowing the birds to be uninhibited in Victoria Park. They draw inspiration from the beauty of the birds daily commute in and out of the city.

Other residents have had their lives turned upside down by what they see as an unwanted invasion. Farmers have had their crops ruined, residents have had the paint jobs on their cars destroyed from crow droppings, children and the elderly are afraid to leave their homes due to the overwhelming number of loud birds in the area. The response from these residents has not been one of acceptance. Instead, they have waged a small-scale war upon the birds: a weapon-like sound cannon has been purchased by the city; some residents fire off cap guns, bang pots and pans and garbage lids together in order to scare the birds away. A crow complaint hot-line and bureaucracy has been established to help deal with complaints and local politicians have made getting rid of the crows a key component of their political platforms in the last local election.

The Crow Agenda is an entertaining short documentary film that examines the people of a small East Coast Canadian city who have a unique relationship with these birds. Love them or hate them, the intelligent and mysterious crows have deeply influenced local art, politics and the relationships between family, friends, and neighbours.
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  • blogTO notes Niagara Falls' new light show.

  • Body Horrors reports on a 1980 epidemic of MRSA among Detroit drug users.

  • Centauri Dreams describes the final orbits of Cassini around Saturn.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper suggesting Tabby's Star is being star-mined.

  • Language Log looks at an element of Chinese slang regarding telecommunications.

  • The LRB Blog argues against blaming migrants for problems on the left.

  • The Planetary Society Blog discusses the continued Dawn mission around Ceres.

  • Savage Minds talks about the need to slow down in a time of crisis.

  • Seriously Science notes research suggesting whales jump out of the water for purposes of communication.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes that, in the United States, flag burners cannot be stripped of their citizenship.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russians would like the West to make up on Russia's terms and looks at the embassies and delegations of Russia's component regions.

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  • blgoTO notes how the Guild Inn was once a popular resort.

  • Centauri Dreams notes the import of real scientists in Arrival.

  • Crooked Timber notes that anti-Trump Republicans did not seem to matter in the election.

  • The Dragon's Gaze looks at cutting-edge options for studying exoplanets.

  • False Steps notes a proposed American spacecraft that would have landed on water.

  • Far Outliers notes the pointless internment of foreign domestics in Second World War Britain.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at the potential impact of a Michael Bloomberg presidential run.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at the development of apps which aim to find out the preferred songs of birds.

  • Steve Munro and Transit Toronto look at ongoing controversy over the 514 Cherry streetcar line's noise, including upcoming public meetings.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer suggests the election of Trump could lead to the election of a similar populist to the presidency of Mexico.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy deals with the odd and seemingly meaningless distinction made by Americans between "republic" and "democracy".

  • Window on Eurasia wonders if Trump's negotiating style might lead to worse Russian-American relations and looks at his business history in Russia.
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Via 3 Quarks Daily I found Grigori Guitchounts' article in Nautilus making the case for research into the mechanisms of corvid intelligence.

The animals of neuroscience research are an eclectic bunch, and for good reason. Different model organisms—like zebra fish larvae, C. elegans worms, fruit flies, and mice—give researchers the opportunity to answer specific questions. The first two, for example, have transparent bodies, which let scientists easily peer into their brains; the last two have eminently tweakable genomes, which allow scientists to isolate the effects of specific genes. For cognition studies, researchers have relied largely on primates and, more recently, rats, which I use in my own work. But the time is ripe for this exclusive club of research animals to accept a new, avian member: the corvid family.

Corvids, such as crows, ravens, and magpies, are among the most intelligent birds on the planet—the list of their cognitive achievements goes on and on—yet neuroscientists have not scrutinized their brains for one simple reason: They don’t have a neocortex. The obsession with the neocortex in neuroscience research is not unwarranted; what’s unwarranted is the notion that the neocortex alone is responsible for sophisticated cognition. Because birds lack this structure—the most recently evolved portion of the mammalian brain, crucial to human intelligence—neuroscientists have largely and unfortunately neglected the neural basis of corvid intelligence.

This makes them miss an opportunity for an important insight. Having diverged from mammals more than 300 million years ago, avian brains have had plenty of time to develop along remarkably different lines (instead of a cortex with its six layers of neatly arranged neurons, birds evolved groups of neurons densely packed into clusters called nuclei). So, any computational similarities between corvid and primate brains—which are so different neurally—would indicate the development of common solutions to shared evolutionary problems, like creating and storing memories, or learning from experience. If neuroscientists want to know how brains produce intelligence, looking solely at the neocortex won’t cut it; they must study how corvid brains achieve the same clever behaviors that we see in ourselves and other mammals.
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National Geographic's Ed Yong reports on some amazing research findings from the Galapagos, examining the culture of the sperm whales of the area. This knowledge carries with it some notable implications: Is what happened to the Galapagos' prior population of sperm whales a form of genocide?

Since 1985, Hal Whitehead had been leading a team to the Galápagos Islands to search for sperm whales, which gather there in the thousands. The researchers tracked the animals with underwater microphones, day and night, for two to four weeks.

Their recordings revealed that the whales belonged to two distinct vocal clans—large groups that each call using their own dialect. The Regular clan makes a train of regularly spaced clicks, while the Plus-One clan leaves a short pause before their last click. The two clans share both genes and oceans—they are distinct only in their vocal culture.

In the 1990s, for some reason, the whales started to vanish. By 2000, the whales had completely gone, and Whitehead ceased his annual expeditions.

Then, in 2011, a colleague in the Galápagos told the team that the sperm whales had apparently returned. Whitehead’s team, including Mauricio Cantor, Shane Gero, and Luke Rendell, went back in 2013 to listen for themselves.

They did, indeed, find sperm whales, sighting more than 4,400 individuals across two years. But none of these were from either the Regular or Plus-One clan, which were around in the 1980s. Instead, they belonged to two different groups that were heard elsewhere in the Pacific but were previously rare or absent around the Galápagos: the Short clan, which makes a brief train of clicks, and the Four-Plus clan, whose calls have a base of four regular clicks.
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National Geographic's Brian Clark Howard describes a new study that demonstrates how bees, that epitome of a swarm intelligence, learn.

Bee see, bee do. At least that's the conclusion of research published earlier this month, showing that bumblebees learn to solve problems by watching each other.

In the first study of its kind in insects, scientists constructed experiments that challenged bees to pull strings in order to access rewards of nectar. It's a technique that has long been used to test cognition in various vertebrates, but hadn't yet been tried with insects.

[. . .]

The first step was proving that bees could learn to solve a simple problem. But what's more interesting is that other bees that hadn't encountered the problem before picked up the ability to solve it more quickly when they had a chance to watch a trainer bee that had already figured out the puzzle.

Further, that knowledge was shown to spread from bee to bee throughout a colony, even if the first bee that figured out the trick died.

The scientists hoped their study would shed light on a bigger picture: how social learning spreads through a population. That might even have implications for the evolutionary roots of culture in human beings, they noted.


The study in question is available here.
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  • Beyond the Beyond links to an interview with Darran Anderson, a writer of cartographic fiction.

  • Centauri Dreams notes that 2028 will be a time when microlensing can b used to study the area of Alpha Centauri A.

  • The Crux engages with the question of whether or not an astronaut's corpse could seed life on another planet.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a study that gathers together signals for planetary companions orbiting nearby stars.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that the only gay bar in Portland, Maine, is set to close.

  • Language Log notes the proliferation of Chinese characters and notes that a parrot could not be called to the stand in Kuwait.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that the last time the Chicago Cubs won, Germany was an empire.

  • The Map Room Blog notes the discovery of an ancient stone map on the Danish island of Bornholm.

  • The Planetary Society Blog examines some of the New Horizons findings of Pluto.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer argues that Venezuela is now a dictatorship.

  • Towleroad notes
  • Window on Eurasia notes a Russian cleric's call for the children of ethnically mixed marriages in Tatarstan to be legally identified as Russians.

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  • Beyond the Beyond notes that electronic newspapers just don't work.

  • blogTO notes that the Eaton Centre's HMV is closing.

  • Crooked Timber notes that it will be shifting to moderated commenting.

  • D-Brief notes a new sharp image of Eta Carinae.

  • Dead Things notes that some monkeys are apparently making stone tools.

  • Joe. My. God. shares Le Tigre's new pro-Clinton song, "I'm With Her".

  • The LRB Blog is critical of Britain's hostility towards refugee children.

  • The Map Room Blog links to a new historical atlas of Tibet.

  • The NYRB Daily examines Assange's reasons for using Wikileaks to help Trump.

  • The Planetary Society Blog notes that New Horizons target 2007 OR10 has a moon.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer notes the reasons for Ecuador's clamping down on Assange.

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  • Beyond the Beyond links to an exhibition of art by a Brazilian inspired by War of the Worlds.

  • blogTO shares photos of Vaughan's new library.

  • Centauri Dreams reports on the difficulty of reaching Proxima b.

  • The Dragon's Gaze reports on KS-39b, a hot Jupiter orbiting a subgiant.

  • False Steps reports on a proposed late Soviet space shuttle.

  • Inkfish notes a study suggesting that cuttlefish can count to five.

  • Language Hat reports on efforts to revive indigenous languages in Australia.

  • Language Log shares a sign in New York that combines Latin and Chinese scripts.

  • The Map Room Blog notes a Korean movie about a mid-19th century mapmaker.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer wonders what the Trump meeting with Mexico's president was about, and is unimpressed by Jill Stein.

  • Savage Minds sparks a discussion among its readers about what moment made them an activist for equality.

  • Torontoist reports on how the Great Hall was saved.

  • Understanding Society looks at a cutting-edge sociology anthology from 2008.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy reports on the decision of an American court to allow a Muslim convert to Christianity to file a civil suit with a pseudonym.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at Russia-Ukraine tensions, and wonders about the consequences of Karimov's death of Karakalpakstan and Uzbekistan generally.

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