Take a look at this.
It's a dog drinking water. It's also the answer to a riddle. When you and I take a drink, we can lift a glass, hold it to our mouth, tilt and use gravity to pour the water in. Dogs can't do that. In a pinch, we can kneel down, put our mouth to the surface and suck water up (or, to be polite, use a straw). Dogs can't do that either. They don't have sucking ability.
Yet dogs do drink. Oddly enough, scientists weren't sure how they do it.
Once super high speed cameras became available, we could look more closely, and aiming at this dog, we can see it appears to bend its tongue backwards, like an inverted ladle. It dips down, scoops up some water, using its tongue as a pulley. This was a revelation. Because they are dogs, they drool, miss, splash the water — there's nothing polite about a dog drinking — but we seem to have our answer. They scoop! Dogs turn their tongues into ladles. Beautiful!
But wrong. When scientists looked more closely — when they measured — they found that the "scoop" is a delusion. Yes, as Eyder Peralta here at NPR reported a couple of years ago, and as you can see in this short video, the tongue does bend back, but notice a lot (most?) of the water never reaches the mouth. It just slips back to the bowl.
The tongue, it turns out, is not a ladle, but a sticky whip. A dog will extend — no, that's too polite a word — the dog will thrust its tongue into the water and then whip it back up, very, very fast. A stream of water attaches to and follows the tongue upward (adhesion and cohesion) — but only for a fraction of a second. Then gravity kicks in. The rising stream of water loses its upward momentum, and just as it's about to fall back into the bowl, at exactly the point where gravity is about to win, the dog snaps its mouth shut and swallows. Done. The motions are precise, even mathematical.
Engineers have worked out the equation, and when the math says, "Close Your Mouth!" that's when dogs do it. It's as if dogs understand fluid mechanics, and, in their messy doggie way, I guess they do.
Enough About Dogs. What About Cats?
Which brings us to cats.
Cats, it turns out, do the same thing, but being cats, they do it more carefully, more elegantly, more efficiently. No sloshing for them, no puddles outside the bowl. When MIT professor Roman Stocker (working with Pedro Reis) filmed Cutta Cutta, his own cat, drinking, they saw its tongue dip very gently at the milk — no doggie style tongue thrusting, no gouging — just a delicate lap ...
Cats do this very fast — four laps per second — too fast for us to see without a high speed camera. But now that we can measure what's going on, it appears that cats can take in more liquid with less spillage than dogs in the same unit of time. This suggests cats are more efficient (and therefore more intelligent?) lappers than dogs. (Of course, I am aware that the cat in the MIT study was owned — and maybe even loved — by the scientist doing the study. One could imagine, even in the oh-so-rational Civil & Environmental Engineering Department at MIT, Professor Stocker might have just the teeniest cat-admiring bias. I'm waiting for cat-drinking studies done by dog-owning scientists before I'm completely convinced.)
And Now ... The Champions!
But before we get too excited by cats behaving elegantly, I want to move on to pigeons. Cats, I know, eat pigeons. But I recently met three pigeons, who for my money, would embarrass any cat (and every dog) with their extraordinary drinking skills. These three may be the smartest beverage consumers in the small-animal kingdom.
They live (or lived — this picture was taken four years ago) in Brisbane, Australia, and apparently frequented a shopping mall where there is a water fountain. According to the always fascinating blogger Antranik ("Anto" for short), these pigeons watched humans pushing a lever to release water and figured out how water fountains work. They then took turns.
In this shot you see one pigeon sitting on the lever, weighing it down to release some water. The middle one takes a semi-bath dodging in and out of the water, and the third one, on the left, is taking a drink. Then they switched.
Say what you will about sloppy dogs or elegant cats, these three are the Plato, Aristotle and Socrates of the drinking world. Send them to a diner. I bet they'd soon be sucking on straws.
There's been an explosion followed by the sound of gunfire in Kabul, NPR's Sean Carberry and other journalists report from the Afghan capital.
Reuters reports that the explosion occurred "at about 4 p.m. local time in a downtown district. ... There was no word on any casualties." The BBC says gunfire can be heard near the headquarters of the Afghan intelligence service.
Sean tweeted just after 8:25 a.m. ET (4:55 p.m. in Kabul) that there's "ongoing gunfire near scene of blast in Kabul. Police keeping a perimeter of a couple blocks."
We'll monitor the news from Kabul and update as the story develops.
Representatives of President Bashar Assad's regime have agreed "in principle" to attend an international peace conference aimed at ending more than two years of brutal warfare in Syria, Russia's foreign ministry said Friday.
But NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Moscow that Russian diplomats also said it's not known just when such talks might start because it's unclear who would speak for the groups who have been fighting to overthrow the regime. Corey notes that "so far, the opposition has been resisting any peace plan that would allow Assad to stay in power, even on an interim basis."
Opposition groups are meeting in Istanbul to choose a new leader.
Still, The New York Times adds that Russian foreign ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said in a statement that:
"We note with satisfaction that Damascus has confirmed its readiness in principle to participate in an international conference in the interest of the Syrians themselves finding a political path to a settlement of the conflict that has been devastating for the country and the region."
As the Times adds, "Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry had agreed during a meeting in Moscow earlier this month to pull together the peace conference, with Russia responsible for bringing the government of Bashar al-Assad to the table and the Americans focused on securing the participation of the Syrian opposition."
Since anti-Assad protests and fighting began in early 2011, an estimated 80,000 people — many of them civilians — have died in Syria.
As the residents of Moore, Okla., and surrounding communities continue to recover from Monday's devastating tornado that killed at least 24 people and injured more than 375, we're keeping an eye on the news from there:
— Oklahoma City's KOCO-TV reports that " Moore Police will be removing checkpoints into affected areas in the city limits of Moore at 7 a.m. Friday. Storm victims may enter and exit their neighborhoods as needed."
— CBS News talked with Shayla Taylor, who was in labor when the tornado struck. Nurses at the Moore Medical Center "rushed Taylor to a place without windows — the operating room." They covered her with towels and hung on to each other. Then the twister tore the hospital apart. The next things Taylor saw were the highway outside and a nearby building because, she says, "there was no wall there anymore." When it was safe, Taylor was taken to another hospital where she gave birth to a son, Braeden Immanuel.
— According to The Wall Street Journal, many people in Moore "will find that insurance will cover less of the tab than after past storms. ... A sharp jump in insured damage from tornadoes and thunderstorms has led to more policies with higher deductibles, stingier reimbursements for roof damage and limits on payouts for total reconstruction of a house, according to insurance executives, agents, regulators and consumer activists."
Update at 8:35 a.m. ET. "We've All Been Changed":
Teachers at the two Moore elementary schools destroyed by the storm have been hailed as heroes for doing all they could to protect their students. On CNN moments ago, Plaza Towers Elementary 6th grade teacher Rhonda Crosswhite spoke of how "we've all been changed by what happened on Monday." No one who went through the tornado will ever take disaster drills lightly again, she said. Seven Plaza Towers students were killed during the storm.
Some of NPR's related stories and posts:
— Interactive Graphic: Explore The Oklahoma Tornado Damage.
The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, who will hear the Justice Department's e-book price fixing case against Apple, hinted at her initial leanings during a pretrial hearing: "I believe that the government will be able to show at trial direct evidence that Apple knowingly participated in and facilitated a conspiracy to raise prices of e-books, and that the circumstantial evidence in this case, including the terms of the agreements, will confirm that." Reuters adds: While she stressed that the view was not final and that she had read only some of the evidence so far, her comments could add to pressure on Apple to settle the lawsuit, in which the Justice Department accuses the company and five publishers of conspiring to fix e-book prices." The trial is set to begin June 3.
- One of the publishers accused of e-book price-fixing, Penguin, has now settled with consumers and the Attorneys General of 33 states for $75 million, after settling with the Justice Department last December.
- Poet Mary Karr speaks to the addiction and recovery website The Fix about the fallacy of the "tortured artist": "I think being tortured as a virtue is a kind of antiquated sense of what it is to be an artist." She also touches on her friendship with David Foster Wallace: "I think we kept each other alive to some extent, for a period of time when we were trying to quit using and it was all but impossible for each of us to do that."
- In reaction to the news that Amazon will begin selling fan fiction, Melville House's Dustin Kurtz writes some (mildly racy) fan fiction featuring Gossip Girl's Blair Waldorf and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: " 'It's important you listen to me, Blair.' Jeff ran his hands over his gleaming scalp."
- Maria Semple — screenwriter, amphibian enthusiast and the author of the brilliant novel Where'd You Go, Bernadette — tells The New York Times about her reading habits. She said, "My favorite kind of book is a domestic drama that's grounded in reality yet slightly unhinged. So Jonathan Franzen is my big daddy." She also notes, wisely, that "I steer clear of any novel that gets billed as a 'meditation.' I've seen 'moving meditation,' 'elegiac meditation,' even 'angry meditation.' To me, this is code for: Run! There's no story!"
- Alberto Manguel writes about dreams for The New York Review of Books: "In literature, dreams often serve to bring the impossible into the fabric of everyday life, like mist through a crack in the wall."
- The silence surrounding the resignations of senior editors at the literary magazine and publisher Granta has finally been broken. Editor John Freeman, who recently announced his departure, told The Guardian that owner Sigrid Rausing "decided a while back she wanted to run the magazine and books on a very reduced staff," and that he "didn't want to be part of that change."