Lies, damn lies, and LOLcats

One interesting point made in Temple Grandin's Animals Make Us Human is that cats don't express emotions on their faces the way people and dogs do. If one reflects on this fact in light of the way people address and treat cats, it highlights the tendency of people to anthropomorphize inappropriately. The prime example of this on the Interwebs is LOLcats.

Funny/heartbreaking as this photo is, it is entirely conjured. It is hard not to think that people like Claire Berlinksi base their vegetarianism on entirely false premises. Not only sentimentality, but mistaken and self-generated sentimentality.

Dogs are different

Remember, you heard it here first: dogs are qualitatively different from other animals.

While reading Temple Grandin's Animals Make Us Human, with its comments on the non-tame-ness of ranched cattle and the differences in the domestic evolution between cats and dogs, it occurred to me how singularly in the animal world is our experience with dogs and yet how often they seem to be used as our emotional gateway onto the animal world. The quintessential example here is the cover of the book The Bond, which I mentioned in my post eating kittens. Importantly, the bond with dogs shown on the cover of this book is definitively not like the bond we experience with any other animals. Is it an overstatement to say that dogs and man evolved together? That human history can be told only vis-a-vis dogs?

My guess is that, in addition to finding interesting trivia like the fact that dogs are the only animals that track human gaze, we are going to find out that dogs are qualitatively different from other animals vis-a-vis humans. Rather than being seen as the best example of how humans can communicate with and appreciate animals, dogs should be seen as a unique experiment in nature that can't be used to examine our relationships with the animal world at large.

Animals Make Us Human review

Animals Make Us Human is a book about using our knowledge of neuroscience to understand animal behavior and improve animals' experiences of living and working around humans. It is the academic and cognitive science take on Joel Salatin saying that pigs need to indulge their God-given pig-ness.

The premise of the book is that animals have the same basic emotional centers in their brains that people have and have the same basic emotional categories. These are specified as PANIC, FEAR, RAGE, SEEKING, and PLAY, a set described by Jaak Panksepp. According to author Temple Grandin, the idea that animals have emotions is still somewhat controversial, at least in the arena of animal husbandry. So the purpose of Animals Make Us Human is another salvo in the assault on behaviorist psychology, but the book is not academically oriented. Rather, the audience is the general public and non-degreed animal workers (zoo employees, etc).

The book is divided into chapters on common domesticated animals such as dogs, cows, and pigs, and explains how to use the 5 emotional categories to analyze behavior and misbehavior, as well as how to improve living conditions. The book also contains a chapter on scientific fieldwork in which Grandin calls for more animal researchers to engage in direct observational studies of animals in their natural habitats.

I purchased Grandin's previous book, Animals in Translation, with a Borders giftcard that I won for having the highest class average in A&P (the $25 card also paid for Better Off). In that book, Grandin focused on what she thinks of as "animal intelligence". From the title, I thought Animals Make Us Human would be her take on living with animals, similar to the book The Bond, that I mentioned in my post eating kittens. However, the title has little connection to the content of the book. If Animals in Translation was Grandin's IQ book, Animals Make Us Human is simply Grandin's feelings book. Grandin hasn't much to say about the ethical or economic implications of her beliefs about animal emotions, although she does say that she continues to eat meat because when she started consulting in animal husbandry conditions for animals were better, and she was able to see that commecial meat production was consistent with animal happiness.

Can we draw ethical conclusions about animal treatment from the contents of this book even though the author doesn't delve into the topic explicitly? Jaak Panksepp's university web page declares "Our overall research orientation is that a detailed understanding of basic emotional systems at the neural level will highlight the basic sources of human values..." Obviously, the animal researchers working in Panksepp's mold are likely to think so. I am less inclined to agree. SEEKING behavior is key for animals' mental well-being. SEEKING behavior in animals is displayed when a tiger stalks and kills prey, but Grandin cannot condone putting a live cow in a game reserve for a tiger to kill. SEEKING behavior in people is displayed when Goldman-Sachs bankers figure out how to make a killing in the markets, but people have been down on this type of behavior at least since usury was banned in early Christian times. Human values are neither simple animality nor the recognition of phenomenological commonality. They are something that arise out of the struggle between these things and the requirements of complex social systems.

Author Temple Grandin is semi-famous for being a PhD university professor with Autism. I first heard her on NPR's All Things Considered, and she has appeared on numerous radio and TV shows. Would Animals Make Us Human be worth the time if it weren't written by a celebrity? I think so. Grandin is not just a circus freak who attracts attention to animal psychology. Her way of looking at the world makes her books extremely salient and visceral. Her explanations are also easy to understand and make sense of a wide range of behaviors across different species. It's possible that she simply leaves out any confounding evidence. I don't have the expertise to evaluate that. But her perspective is systematic and sensible. And, like Salatin, her refusal to disavow meat-eating gives her a moral persuasiveness that vegetarians like Claire Berlinski can't have.

any value for health care workers?

The book is primarily about animal husbandry. Is there any value in it for health care professionals? I think so. There are a lot of lessons here--for example, about the negative relationship between FEAR and SEEKING--that are applicable to management, including the management of medical fascilities and hospital units. But the book is also a good non-technical introduction to Panksepp's emotional categories, which should be a useful tool for understanding patients, co-workers, and ourselves. Patients with dementia and delirium often lack impulse control and the type of emotional damping that rationality can impose on the lower brain. In many ways a delirius patient is somewhat more like an animal, a useful perspective to keep in mind in a stress ER or ICU.

Keeping elephants Paleo

I've been reading Animals Make Us Human. From the chapter on zoos:
Zoo nutritionists are often concerned that the treat will be bad for the animal's health, especially if it is something unhealthy like grain or marshmallows. To get around this problem, you can use very small amounts. Animals can be rewarded with as little as a teaspoon of grain. One keeper I met learned that an elephant will perform for a single miniature marshmallow.

Why am I not living in Iceland?

BoingBoing points us to a 30-minute documentary called "Thor's Daughter" on CrossFit games winner Annie Thorisdottir. The documentary can be seen on YouTube. But it can also be downloaded from the CrossFit Journal website.

In addition to this longish documentary, the CrossFit Journal offers a number of shorter pieces related to Thor's daughter.

One of them, a profile of CrossFit BC Island at Reykjavik, Iceland, features Arn's Daughter and Oskar's Daughter, seen above. Which only leads me to ask, why am I not living in Iceland?

Death of a muppet--you can't buy longevity

On this past week's McLaughlin Group, domestic gadfly Eleanor Clift all but said the words "mission accomplished" with reference to the recent death of international gadfly Gaddafi, now resting in pace in a Libyan produce freezer. The latest is that Gaddafi may have been the richest man in the world, worth some US$200bn. Two-hundred-billion-dollars. $200,000,000,000. Wow.

With all the discussion of the international, financial, and other public interests of the Gaddafi case, I would like to draw attention to a different aspect of his life. You can't buy longevity.

No, I don't mean that he couldn't buy his way out of his murder. So what? What I'm referring to is the fact that he looked like a muppet for much of the last years of his life. Or maybe a cross between a muppet and that moment at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Germans' faces begin to melt off.

The various paths to longevity taken by people like Ray Kurzweil, Jeff Life, or Art DeVany require certain degrees of leisure time, financial support, and medical expertise. However, in the end, the richest man in the world still wasn't able to buy the fountain of youth.

Someday, scientists will crack the code of aging and Goldman-Sachs bankers will simply outlive the Occupiers of Wall Street. However, until that time, the best you can do is work, work, work at staying fit, agile, and nimble-minded.

Knitty heart

A pattern for this knitted heart can be found at

h/t Anatomy-UK, which really has some outstanding and different images

Quebec MD on history of AIDS

Dr. Jacques Pepin (not the chef) of University Sherbrooke in Quebec has written a new history of AIDS called The Origin of AIDS. A summary can be found in the NYTimes.

Academic Life in Emergency Medicine

Academic Life in Emergency Medicine is a great short read with frequent posting. If you haven't found it yet, check it out. Recent suggestion: for taking EKG on patient who can't lay still, put hands under butt cheeks. It's obvious, but I never would have thought of it because the position looks potentially uncomfortable and vaguely restraint-like. I guess that's one difference between ICU and ECC--get 'er done!

Hopefully, Paul Allen is right

It's no news to anyone that technology has a lot of impact on health care, or at least potential impact. From my perspective, not all of it is positive.

Ideally, technology would usher in an age of disease-free longevity without distorting any of the distinctively human virtues that we associate with having life bounded at a small and unknown number of years. A la Star Trek, we'd have easy and painless medical care, though still provided by doctors and maybe the occasional nurses (who should, ideally, mostly be out of jobs while exploring the galaxy or staying at home with their babies instead).

In my personal dystopia, technology would make our meat superfluous, our meaty natural lives foreign and surreal to us, and our psychology morphed beyond recognition. This dystopian vision is pretty much the promise of the Singularity.

While there are Singularity skeptics, the logic of it seems pretty compelling to me. You don't have to know a lot about the specifics of computing or neuroscience to believe in the Singularity. Given the right economics, it's pretty much a given if you assume that the mind can be explained within the realm of natural sciences and engineering.

My dystopia is not a world I want to live it, so my great hope is that the Singularity will wait for my death.

Technology Review publishes a short piece by Paul Allen predicting that the Singularity is a long way off, due to lack of knowledge about the human brain.

I hope he's right. However, his theory is self-serving in that, if the key to the Singularity is more basic scientific knowledge, it would increase the historical importance of his own philanthropic work.

X-ray art

By Italian Benedetta Bonichi. It's not clear to me whether these are actual x-rays or some other medium made to appear like x-rays. If the latter, very impressive formally. Below, a man apparently holding up two halves of some food animal.

h/t Street Anatomy

Knowing oxymorphone, or the frustrations of work

So far, my experience in the ICU indicates to me that the trust of your co-workers and medical doctors has more to do with projected self-confidance than competence. Probably, critical care isn't the only field of work where this is true.

As an illustration of this point, I relate the following anecdote:

I had a surgical recovery patient recently who, during verbal report from the anesthesiologist, told us that a certain disease he had was from a blood transfusion. The anesthesiologist said, "I didn't know you had had a blood transfusion before?!" Said the patient, "I forgot to tell you." After the anesthesiologist had left, the patient told me, "I never had a blood transfusion, I got it from sex." All night, the patient told me he was narcotic naive, but the next morning he told a doctor he was prescribed oxymorphone.

(As I mentioned last month, patients lie, which is why I think the FDA can be a bunch of regulation-happy morons.)

As I was telling this story to some co-workers, one particular co-worker who started in the ICU at the same time I did and has been "advanced" to a preceptor position interjected twice to tell us, in a tone of confidence, that said disease is contracted from IV drug use, not from sex, and that oxymorphone doesn't exist. Neither of these points were germane to my story, which was about patient deceit, but also, what he told us in a tone of confidence was wrong on both counts. Said disease can be contracted from sex, and oxymorphone is a real drug.

Very frustrating to me.


I would have been more upset, but the surgeon that talked to the patient the next morning also claimed he hadn't heard of oxymorphone.

Like the much better known hydromorphone (Dilaudid), oxymorphone (Opana) is an opioid analgesic.
Why don't we use oxymorphone more in health care? I'm not sure, but I suspect it has something to do with the low oral bioavailability, which means it has to be produced in high strength tablets, which makes it attractive as a recreational drug, which is probably why my patient was familiar with it.

Clinical trials for beginners

Scientific American has a guest blog on clinical trials for new medicines. How do they work?

Diagnostics fail at Razib Khan's

Razib Khan and the commenters at his site are pretty smart. But in a recent post called Up with nurses! Down with doctorates!, the commentary fell into a common error. That is, the assumption that greater medical training and ability is necessary to deal with more serious diagnoses.

Razib's original point was that "degree creep" is a bad thing that hurts the economy and adds nothing to the medical field. Basically, he's right. Charles Murray said it a long time ago, and John Durant also points us to a Peter Thiel interview where he says much the same about an "educational bubble."

However, Razib's commenters then riff on his point by musing that we could use NPs and PAs for simple family medicine, whereas MDs are needed for more serious medicine. The commenters even mention dermatology as a specific area not requiring a medical doctor. The truth is probably almost the opposite.

If you're having a heart attack, and especially if you're having a heart attack with cardiac arrest, in terms of diagnostics, the most you need to deal with the problem effectively is non-degreed emergency medical personnel who have gone through nothing more than a training course. But if you have a skin lesion, an EMT isn't going to have any idea what the possible differentials and causes are.

Most people would probably have trouble with this idea because a heart attack is scary and we've been trained to turn to MDs to deal with fear and doubt rather than for expertise.

Once you move beyond immediate life-saving diagnostics, you wouldn't want an EMT managing your cardiac care, but even at that point, is an MD necessary? Let's say you need a cardiac catheterization. Having seen several of these and managed the patients post-procedurally, I doubt an MD is necessary. I suspect a BS in biology or nursing with a two-year Masters focused completely on cardiology and catheterizations could perform them as effectively as most cardiologists. And the outstanding cardiologists are that way from intrinsic skill factors and experience, not training.

Once you get beyond the catheterization lab and into the territory of secondary level prevention and long-term management of heart failure, etc, the issues get more complicated, but with increasing technology making a memory for drug interactions, etc less strictly necessary, and with the increasing team orientation of health management, I'm not sure a cardiologist is called for universally.

The theme here is that training (and especially the experience of residencies, etc) is needed to deal with complexity and vagueness, not with severity.

One of Razib's commenters complains about a misdiagnosis of an intestinal parasite. Ironically, this is the type of problem you deal with in simple "family medicine." When you have an office practice, anybody can walk in the door with anything from a heart attack to domestic abuse to a stubbed toe to a tropical disease to end-stage cancer.

When your toddler is sick with vague symptoms, do you really want a two-year associates trained nurse with a three-year online "bachelor-to-masters" practitioner degree trying to figure out if the kid has a mental illness, environmental poisoning, or an infection?

This is the reason doctors get out of family practice: it's very hard, doesn't pay as well, and doesn't get the respect. Why would you stay?

Midnight in Paris

Although I have for the most part sworn off film, I am still a sucker and went to see Midnight in Paris today after its positive TakiMag review.

In addition to the sordid personal life that adds fuel to the Carthaginian fire of Hollywood celebrity news to which the public's exposed, Woody Allen's been making entartete kunst, like Vicky Cristina Barcelona, aimed at the core of civilization. So I haven't paid attention to him, specifically, for a while. Apparently, he's been suffering from "old man syndrome": as this photo shows, he is now indistinguishable from the elderly Alec Guinness.

Midnight in Paris, however, was a delight. More focus on sexual betrayal, death, and the meaninglessness of life, but with just the right touch of nostalgia so that the film actually critiques the modern world's approach to these subjects rather than simply being a bellows.

As you probably know, the Woody-Allen-stand-in played by Owen Wilson is an aspiring writer who vacations in Paris and is picked up by a taxi-cab from the 1920s every midnight. Awe and hilarity ensue, and Wilson realizes he can't love his fiancee, who is a Malibu bimbo*. Humor-wise, the best part of the film (spoiler alert) is when Wilson gets into a cab with Eliot and tells him "Prufrock's been like the theme of my life..."

Slightly less obviously, the film is Allen's nose-snubbing at the rest of the world. Wilson is a self-effacing writer who, nevertheless, won't let anyone critique his novel until he meets Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. The implicit message here is that, unlike the Tea Partiers and hoi polloi of the U.S., Allen is a Real Artist, whose work is fit to be judged only by his peers, the other great artists of history. We'll see. Barring the Singularity, I suspect Picasso will still be known in 50-100 years, but Allen forgotten.

Midnight in Paris is filled with references to giants of modern literature and art. Allen throws us some bones, but if you don't get the joke about Prufrock above due to not knowing either Woody Allen films or T.S. Eliot, you aren't going to enjoy this movie.

* My favorite joke from college courses was by James Kurth, who used to say that if you tipped up the East Coast, all the nuts and fruits in the U.S. would roll out of California into the ocean. Great double entendre humor in which the plain meaning is less obvious than the hidden one.

Sigmund Abeles' medical and naturalist imagery

Artist Sigmund Abeles has a show at the Visual Arts Gallery of SUNY Adirondack opening October 13th. Abeles works in realist/surrealist oils, pastels, drawings. The postcard announcement of the show features the 2008 pastel self-portrait Portrait of a Parasomniac.

Abeles subject matter includes other medical and naturalist imagery as well. For example, the following Clinton King Drawing Ducks After a Stroke and Cock of the Roost.

I am particularly fond of the following Experiment #1 and Five Lubavitcher Men at Prayer.

Abeles website is, while the gallery does not seem to have a website (boo, SUNY Adirondack), although the ILOVENY website does have info.

Taurine Provence

Roy Campbell was a mid-twentieth-century poet whose reputation fell on hard times even before he died. According to the cover blurb of this book, Taurine Provence, it is his first prose work.

Provence is in southern France, and taurine refers to cattle cutlure. It is a book about bull-fighting and the culture of equestrianism and cattle raising in which Campbell lived during his stay in Provence.

The first copyright date is 1932, which would make it contemporary with Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon. I tried to read Death in the Afternoon several years ago but couldn't finish it. (I have never finished any Hemingway work, although I may try to re-visit Death now and force myself.) Unlike Hemingway, Campbell is more interested in the bullfighting of southern France than of Spain.

You didn't know the French also had bullfighting? Neither did I. According to Campbell, the French bulls are smaller, faster, and therefore more dangerous. My father says the same is true in Mexican bullfighting.

In Taurine Provence, Campbell takes a strong stand against many things modern (this was 1932). He has some strong words against "animal rights" and vegetarianism, but he clearly loves the animals he writes about and the culture of husbandry in the Camargue. He hates mechanization and its effect on people, but concedes that it is probably better for animals: is better for such a fine animal [as the horse] that he should no longer be a drudge but a luxury--and let the machines do the work. Similarly with the bull. Modern science, the slave of puritanism, has a horror of the physical. Mr. Haldane shudders at the indecency of milking cows. He might prefer to prepare the maternal fluid by means of test-tubes, etc (and would probably prefer synthetic sirloins to the real article): whereas I would sooner take a bucket (unsterilized) and go into the field and milk the bloody thing myself and, as for sirloins, they suit me all right.
In addition to sirloin, he is a fan of rustic Provençal cooking:
After a course, or a ferrade on the Camargue, there is nothing to my mind so pleasant as to go up to the heights of Fos in the evening light with three or four fair companions and partake of that sacrament of friendship, a good Provencal meal. A bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape from whose black column the setting sun strikes one or two Aldebaran-like, crimson, starry sparks; green olives scented with fennel; silver bread; a poutarque or two cured by ourselves from our own fishing, that equals the roe of the sturgeon; and then the gigot of lamb that all its life never ate anything but rosemary fennel and thyme. We look over the Camarague and the Crau, where we see, peacefully grazing, the fighting cattle of Feraud and Raoux beyond the magnificent avenue of pines which escorts the road to Arles a mile upon its way across the Crau.

The very short book is a fascimile. It was produced by someone as part of a series of works on traditional culture of the south of France. It isn't clear whether the book was originally in French or English. I think English, although the horrible punctuation in this edition is confusing. Some charming illustrations are not explained--by Campbell or not?

To the modern way of thinking, the bullfight is the worst possible use of an animal by man as the animal dies a slow death that does not serve any purpose sanctioned in modernity. Campbell is opposed to this way of thinking as well. He is aware of his opposition to utilitarianism, although he mostly writes against "big commerce." However, his mind seems to be on a horizon between the modern world we know and a pre-modern way of associating with nature that we don't recognize. Campbell is a little too much in the past to be fully aware of his difference with the world, and the value of Taurine Provence to those interested in old ways of living in nature is more to do with being presented an artifact than following a line of argument.

Duck confit, greens, and wine

I purchased a can of duck confit from a while back. Recently, we ate it with roasted potatoes, green salad, and wine.
It was good. Amazing that you can get anything edible from Amazon. Unfortunately, it wasn't perfect. I've had quite good (locally made, I think) duck confit in Quebec. This Rougie duck confit from Amazon didn't meet that standard. The can had plenty of left-over duck fat (which we put on the roasted potatoes--best roasted potatoes ever) but the duck was salty. I've never had heavily seasoned duck confit in a bistro. The item I ordered isn't available right now, but you can get the same product in a larger tin.