Whatever and Ever Today: Saturday, March 23, 2013

Old white men stare pensively at an icon.

Two Popes, One Cup

In a marvelous display of historic lunching, Pope Francis flew (by helicopter! Papalcopter?) to Castel Gandolfo outside the Vatican for a meal and prayer with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Tension rose when they discovered they were wearing identical outfits. Nevertheless, the New Pope referred to the Old Pope as his brother and both sat side-by-side during their prayers. The existence of a former Pope lurking in the background is a reminder of how unprecedented it is for a Pope to retire. Italian press is already questioning how loyalty to the different men could cause future division for the papacy. It’s not entirely clear if the chalice has really been passed.

Swine Flood

In the last two weeks, over 16,000 pig carcasses have been recovered from the rivers that supply water the city of Shanghai. 10,570 have been pulled from the Huangpu river with another 5,528 coming from upstream tributaries. Why are there thousands of dead pigs littering the rivers? Nobody really knows. A fact that is actually insane. The local government claims that the water remains safe after repeated quality tests, but that hardly makes people feel better. Some reports say that there has been a substantial rise in the number of pigs found floating in the water after the government started cracking down on the illegal sale of dead and diseased pork. If you can’t sell your diseased swine, you might as well toss them in with the drinking water. “Those pigs must have come from somewhere,” said author and local resident Li Mingsheng. The particularly perceptive Mingsheng is, of course, right. But the government continues to give people the “runaround.”

Hitting the Jungle Books

“Can an octopus use tools? Do chimpanzees have a sense of fairness? Can birds guess what others know? Do rats feel empathy for their friends?” These are questions animal intelligence experts ask, and as of late, the answer doesn’t seem to be “no.” Primatologist Frans de Waal believes that humans have severely underestimated the size and scope of animal intelligence. This is largely attributed to our inability to give animals realistic IQ tests. For example, an elephant might seem stupid because it can’t use tools, but it doesn’t have the proper anatomy to use them anyhow. It’s feet can’t pick a stick up or do anything useful with it, and were it use it’s trunk to grab one, it would cut off the elephant’s nasal passages. This doesn’t mean an elephant is too dumb to use tools, just that it doesn’t make sense for an elephant to use tools in the way we traditionally think of them. But in a controlled environment, researches suspended fruit at a height above an elephant’s reach and placed a box on the ground. The elephant kicked the box until it was positioned under the fruit, and used it as a platform to reach the food. Clever pachyderm, after all.

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