Michael Brune: Choose Wisely...

Michael Brune: Choose Wisely... 2014-04-15

We all make choices, and some turn out better than others do. But the choices we end up regretting the most are usually the ones we make against our better judgment. Both individually and collectively, we humans seem uniquely capable of acting as our own worst enemy.

We also are capable of wonderful, positive, and inspiring actions. That makes it all the worse when the consequences of a single bad decision overshadow our best intentions. And that, I'm afraid, is what the Obama administration risks by recklessly expanding fossil fuel production on public lands.

The Climate Action Plan that President Obama announced last year is full of good ideas, and his administration has already done more to address carbon pollution than any other has. New fuel-economy standards will double the efficiency of our cars and trucks. The energy efficiency of our appliances and buildings will dramatically improve. Stimulus spending has helped boost clean, renewable energy, and the president has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards to curb both toxic emissions and carbon pollution from coal plants.

Unfortunately, a hard look at the numbers shows that all this progress could be undermined by one bad choice -- expanding fossil fuel production. Using publicly available data already gathered by federal agencies, the Sierra Club has calculated the potential carbon dioxide emissions from dirty-fuel development proposals in a new report, Dirty Fuels, Clean Futures. Such calculations send a clear message: To protect our climate, we must keep these dirty fuels in the ground.

Extracting and burning these coal, oil, gas, oil shale, and tar sands resources would release hundreds of billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere and negate carbon-reducing actions. If we develop just one of these "climate disrupters" -- the Arctic Ocean, for example -- we'll release two-and-a-half times more pollution than we are saving through stronger fuel-economy standards.

Of course, that carbon pollution would be in addition to the already high toll from destructive mining, drilling, and fracking: polluted drinking water, destroyed wildlife habitat, and air that is dangerous to breathe. No matter where it happens, dirty fuel development leaves a trail of destruction. Throughout Dirty Fuels, Clean Futures, you'll find profiles of activist heroes around the country who are working to stop that destruction.

The world's best climate scientists have made it clear: To have even a two-thirds chance of keeping global temperature rise to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, we cannot exceed more than 469 billion additional tons of carbon dioxide pollution, yet burning existing worldwide reserves oil, gas, and coal would release 2.8 trillion tons of new carbon dioxide. That's why the Obama administration (and future leaders) will need to complement policies that reduce fossil-fuel consumption (and promote clean energy) with similar measures that limit dirty fuel extraction on U.S. public lands. It would be a mistake to see that as self-denial. In fact, committing to a future powered by clean, renewable energy will mean a healthier America with cleaner air and water, pristine coasts, and protected natural areas. As fossil fuels leave the picture, ours will be a wealthier, more just, and more productive nation.

For all these reasons, we urge that President Obama reject these dirty fossil-fuel projects and choose instead to maintain our national momentum toward a 100 percent clean energy future. The data in Dirty Fuels, Clean Futures leaves no excuse for saying we didn't know better.

Dr. John R. Hutchinson: The Science Of Anatomy Is Undergoing A Major Revival

Dr. John R. Hutchinson: The Science Of Anatomy Is Undergoing A Major Revival 2014-04-15

Only two decades ago, when I was starting my PhD studies at the University of California in Berkeley, there was talk about the death of anatomy as a research subject. That hasn't happened. Instead the science of anatomy has undergone a renaissance lately, sparking renewed interest not just among researchers but also the public.

I may be biased, but examples from my own work, which is a small part of anatomical research, might showcase what I mean. In 2011, my team found out found why elephants have a false "sixth toe," which had remained a mystery since it was first mentioned in 1710. Last year, with University of Utah researchers, I helped reveal that crocodiles have "bird-like" lungs in which air flows in a one-way loop rather than tidally back and forth as in mammalian lungs. Subsequent work by those colleagues has shown that monitor lizards do this, too.

2014-04-15-Elephantfoot.jpg Elephant fore (left) and hind (right) feet in side view, showing the false "sixth toe" (in white; labelled pp or ph) in the back of the foot. (By Julia Molnar)

Researchers have also solved the mystery of how monitor lizards got venom glands. They have discovered that lunge-feeding whales have a special sense organ in their chin that helps them engulf vast amounts of food. And like the whales, it seems crocodiles have sense organs in their jaws, which can detect vibrations in the water. Anatomy has even found gears in nature. Turns out that leafhopper insects have tiny gears in their legs that help in making astounding and precise leaps.

If the scientific examples weren't enough, there are many from popular TV. British viewers have had the delights of anatomy served to them in a BBC TV series called Secrets of Bones, which concluded in March. American viewers are getting anatomical insights in Your Inner Fish, an ongoing TV series on PBS.

Anatomy's highs and lows

Apart from an anomalous period in the 20th century, such discoveries have always captivated scientists and the public. From the 16th century until the 19th century, human anatomy was one of the top research fields. Anatomist Jean Francois Fernel, who invented the word "physiology," wrote in 1542:

Anatomy is to physiology as geography is to history; it describes the theatre of events.

This analogy justified the study of anatomy for many early scientists, some of whom also sought to understand it to bring them closer to understanding the nature of God. Anatomy gained impetus, even catapulting scientists such as Thomas Henry Huxley ("Darwin's bulldog") into celebrity status, from the realization that organisms had a common evolutionary history and thus their anatomy did too. Comparative anatomy became a central focus of evolutionary biology.

2014-04-15-AnatomyofaLesson.jpg The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (Rembrandt)

But then something happened to anatomical research that can be hard to put a finger on. Slowly anatomy became a field that was scoffed at as outmoded, irrelevant, or just "solved." Nothing important seemed left for anatomists to discover.

As a graduate student in the 1990s, I remember encountering this attitude. This apparent eclipse of anatomy accelerated with the ascent of genetics and the flourishing of techniques to study molecular and cellular biology.

One could argue that molecular and cellular biology are anatomy to some degree, especially for single-celled organisms and viruses. But today anatomy at the whole organ, organism or lineage level revels in a renaissance that deserves inspection and reflection on its own terms.

Perhaps the other reason is that most people think we now know human anatomy quite well. But that is not so true. For example, last year Belgian scientists rediscovered the anterolateral ligament of the human knee, overlooked since 1879. They described it, and its importance for how our knees function, in novel detail, and a lot of media attention was drawn to this realisation that there are some things we still don't understand about our own bodies.

High-tech anatomy

A huge part of this resurgence of anatomical science is technology, especially imaging techniques -- we are no longer simply limited to the dissecting knife and light microscope as tools. Digital technology such as three-dimensional imaging combined with computer graphics are allowing researchers to look at body parts in new ways. For instance, using such techniques, we were able to rewrite the evolution of the backbone of early land animals called tetrapods.

2014-04-15-Molnar2.jpg Vertebrae (backbone elements) of the early amphibious animal Ichthyostega. (By Julia Molnar)

Science moves forward the fastest with the development of new tools, and anatomy is a great example of that. Consider this recent example from researchers at the University of Bristol. They found that by using a simple solution that stains animal tissue they can get three-dimensional scans using CT (computed tomography), which is a much more easy to find imaging tool than the more powerful, more expensive MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). This advance enabled them to do "digital dissections."

2014-04-15-StephanLautenschlager.jpg Buzzard head anatomy in 3D with new imaging tools. (By Stephan Lautenschlager)

Anatomy has been transformed because we now can peer inside the bodies of organisms in unprecedented detail, sharing and preserving findings in high-resolution digital formats. We can do this without the concern that a unique new species from Brazilian rainforests or exciting fossil discovery from the Cambrian period would be destroyed if we probed certain questions about its anatomy that are not visible from the outside -- a perspective in which science had often remained trapped for centuries.

When I started my PhD in 1995, it was a luxury to get a digital camera for research. Similarly, in 2001, I only got intermittent access to a small laser scanner for making 3D digital models of fossils. Both of these are now cheap enough for most researchers to have access to most of the time.

These improvements in technology have totally transformed the way I study anatomy. In the 1990s, you dissected a specimen and it was reduced to little scraps. At best you might have some decent two-dimensional photographs of the dissection and some beetle-cleaned bones as a museum specimen. Now, as routine practice we use imaging techniques to scan specimens, providing data on their internal and external, three-dimensional anatomy in lush detail, before scalpel ever touches skin.

Computational power, too, has grown to the point where incredibly detailed 3D digital models produced from imaging real, whole specimens can be manipulated with ease (even in live animals), so science can better address what anatomy means for animal physiology, behavior, biomechanics and evolution. We are at the point now where anatomical research seems no longer impeded by technology -- the kinds of questions we can ask are more limited by access to good anatomical data (such as rare specimens) than by the ways we acquire and use it.

2014-04-15-JohnRhutchinson.jpg Skull of a hippopotamus reveals more now than ever. (By John R. Hutchinson)

We all like bones

With interesting discoveries, there has also been a keen interest among the public to know about them. Anatomy is for everyone. It is easy to relate to, because we all live in fleshy anatomical bodies that rouse our curiosity from an early age, and everywhere in nature there are surprising parallels with -- as well as bizarre differences from -- our anatomical body-plans.

This public interest became very clear to me when I was a consultant for the BAFTA award-winning documentary series Inside Nature's Giants in 2009. I also write an anatomy-based blog called What's in John's Freezer?, in which I recount the studies of animal form and function.

Other researchers are exploiting this interest. For instance, the Visible Interactive Animal website, managed by Witmer, has gorgeous pictures and videos of numerous animals. Although aimed at researchers and educators, it is easy enough for the public to view and pursue their curiosities.

2014-04-15-JohnR.Hutchinson.jpg Dissecting an elephant for Inside Nature's Giants. (By John R. Hutchinson)

More than a curiosity

Such interest is not just driven by curiosity. Anatomy's modern relevance is significant too. Take the example of geckos' toes. At the ends of the toes they have millions of fine filaments that can grip almost anything, including highly smooth glass. The skin has been studied in such detail and replicated to produce revolutionary super-adhesives, such as the product "Geckskin," 16 square inches of which can currently suspend 700 pounds aloft.

Other examples come from bio-inspired innovation in engineering and design, especially in robotics. By studying the humble cockroach, Robert Full at the University of California in Berkeley has created new ways of designing legged robots that can scour earthquake wreckage for survivors or explore faraway planets. By trying to find out how a lizard use its big tail during leaping, they have discovered principles that they then use to construct robots that can jump over or between obstacles. Much of this research relates to how anatomical traits determine the behaviors that a whole, living, dynamic organism is capable of performing.

Anatomical knowledge is key in improving preservation and conservation of wildlife. For example, studying zoo mortality in elephants has revealed that about half of these large animals die in captivity from problems related to their feet, such as arthritis or abscesses in their foot bones or toenail areas.

2014-04-15-JohnR.Hutchinson222.jpg Normal (left) and badly diseased (right) elephant toe bones. (By John R. Hutchinson)

This affects efforts to raise self-sustaining captive populations in Western conservation centers. One obstacle to detecting, monitoring and ultimately preventing these problems is that we know too little about what these foot diseases look like, where they most commonly tend to occur (or how often), and how they vary among species, which again returns to a lack of basic anatomical understanding that we are trying to remedy.

An example of such life-saving help comes from Witmer's team, who were studying rhinoceros horn anatomy which proved extremely useful in the high-profile, tragic case of the rhinoceros Thandi in South Africa. Thandi's horn had been cut off by poachers but she survived long enough for veterinarians to try to treat her. Informed by Witmer's studies, Thandi has survived and is now pregnant.

The struggles of modernity

There is also some culture change among scientists. As a graduate student, anatomists butted heads with molecular biologists more often than was healthy for either of them, competing for funding.

That is now changing because a lot of the time they are working together. However, obstacles remain, and funding is but one of them.

The other is that anatomy as a scientific discipline is clearly flourishing in research while it dwindles in teaching. Fewer and fewer universities seem to be teaching the basics of comparative anatomy that were a mainstay of biology programs a century ago. Yet anatomy is everywhere now in biology, and in the public eye. It inspires us with its beauty and wonder -- such as when you marvel at the glory of beholding a newly discovered species.

But there is cause for concern that biology students are not learning much about the "theater of events" that Fernel wrote of, or that medical schools increasingly seem to eschew hands-on anatomical dissection in favor of digital learning. Would you want a doctor to treat you if they mainly knew human anatomy from a computer graphic?

Anatomy has an identity problem, too. Some comes from cultural attitudes, but others come from its own success. Having been integrated into so many aspects of biology, the field could be seen to be driving towards its own oblivion.

I struggled with what label to apply to myself as an early career researcher. I was afraid that calling myself an "anatomist" would render me quaint or unambitious in the eyes of faculty job interview panels, and I know that many of my peers felt the same. I settled on the label "evolutionary biomechanist" as the best term for my speciality. In order to reconstruct evolution or how animals work (biomechanics), we first often need to describe key aspects of anatomy, and we still discover awesome new things about anatomy in the process. I still like that label, but now that my career is stable I speak out more on behalf of anatomical sciences.

Other colleagues that do anatomical research use other labels for themselves such as "physiologist," or "palaeontologist," because those words better capture the wide range of research and teaching that they do. But I bet some to do this because they likely still fear the perceived stigma of the word "anatomy" among judgemental scientists. At the same time, many of us are getting hired at medical, veterinary or biology schools because we can teach anatomy-based courses, so there is still hope.

Few would now agree with Honore de Balzac's 19th century opinion:

No man should marry until he has studied anatomy and dissected at least one woman.

But we should hearken back to what classical scientists knew well: it is to the benefit of science, humanity and the world to treasure the anatomy that is all around us. We inherit that treasure through teaching; to abscond this duty is to abandon this trove. With millions of species around today and countless more in the past, there should always be a wealth of anatomy for everyone to learn from, teach about, and rejoice.

Dr. John R. Hutchinson is a Professor of Evolutionary Biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College, in the Structure & Motion Laboratory and Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences.

This post first appeared on theconversation.com.

Josh Silver: Money In Politics Is Taxation Without Representation

Josh Silver: Money In Politics Is Taxation Without Representation 2014-04-15

Today, April 15, is Tax Day. Most of us will dutifully pay our taxes to a government that no longer represents us. Policy decisions on nearly every issue, regardless of public opinion, are decided in favor of a select few who can afford to write massive checks, host campaign fundraisers, and hire armies of lawyers and lobbyists.

That might read as an exaggeration to some, but it's a verifiable fact of the American political system. A new analysis of 1,779 recent policy outcomes by researchers at Princeton and Northwestern found that "economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy," while average citizens -- the people in "We, the People" -- "have little or no independent influence."

Why? Because if you want representation in today's Washington, you must buy your way in.

Another recent study by researchers at Yale and UC Berkeley found that members of Congress were four times as likely to take a meeting with a prospective donor than with a regular constituent. That's a whole lot of attention for a vanishingly small number of people: Just 0.12% of the population made $200 or more in political contributions in the last election cycle.

Keep in mind those were just the results for "prospective donors" with no prior relationships to the members of Congress contacted in the study. Complete strangers, in other words. Imagine the access granted to known donors and former colleagues. As Mark Leibovich noted in his book This Town, "In 1974, 3% of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. Today 50% of senators and 42% of congressmen do." Now, combine that with the fact that those members of Congress who leave to become lobbyists enjoy, on average, a 1,452% raise. Combine that with the fact that the suburbs of Washington, D.C. now account for seven of the nation's 10 richest counties, and a very clear picture emerges.

This is a culture of corruption, made even worse by the recent McCutcheon Supreme Court ruling. Our nation's capital has become a place where those who have the money to buy their way in receive better treatment from our elected leaders than everyone else. That's great for the handful of people who can afford to buy access, but for the rest of us, it's taxation without representation.

If you're as fed up with this sorry state of affairs as I am, you'll understand why I couldn't stand to sit on the sidelines anymore. And I'm not alone. Today, Tax Day, thousands of Americans are taking part in a national day of action to remind our leaders that they're supposed to represent all of us, not just big donors. It's an important first step in building a national, nonpartisan anti-corruption movement to push for an overhaul of American campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics laws -- starting in cities and states, and eventually in Washington, DC.

In this fight against money in politics corruption, it's easy to lose sight of our biggest enemy. It's not lobbyists, or big donors, or even corrupt politicians.

Our biggest enemy is cynicism. It's the sense of hopelessness that leads some to dive straight for the comments section of articles like this one to leave snarky remarks about how democracy is doomed and change is impossible. This is a rational first instinct, even when a mind-boggling 97% of Americans support the kind of tough, new anti-corruption laws we need to actually fix this problem.

But change is possible, by building a movement while passing anti-corruption laws from the bottom up, across the nation, with the force of a movement that can eventually unseat politicians who stand in our way. And that's why days like today are so important. Photos and videos are already streaming in from demonstrations nationwide, and the results are truly inspiring. Thousands of people are coming together and organizing -- neighborhood by neighborhood, town by town, state by state -- to build the massive movement required to end the culture of corruption that's taken root in state capitals and Washington, DC.

Money in politics corruption is a national disgrace that does every hardworking American a disservice. As citizens of this great republic, it is our duty to put an end to this corruption once and for all. Lets start by demanding No Taxation Without Representation.

Lindsey Ellison: 5 Things That May Be To Blame For Your Sexless Marriage

Lindsey Ellison: 5 Things That May Be To Blame For Your Sexless Marriage 2014-04-15

It was 1998 and I waited nervously in my doctor's waiting room. The blood tests were in, and I was convinced something was wrong with me. I thought I had cancer, a thyroid imbalance, or my ovaries weren't releasing the proper hormones. I needed a medical reason to explain why I didn't want to have sex with my husband. After all, I was only 25 and married for just one year.

The doctor came in and gave me the news:

"Lindsey, there is nothing wrong with you. You are perfectly healthy."

What? No, something is wrong. Then why don't I ever want sex? This was not what I wanted to hear.

He told me it was psychological and encouraged me to see a therapist. I ignored his recommendation and took "sex boosting" herbs, read books on how to "sex things up," heck, I even watched porn. Nothing worked.

After nine more years of a near sexless marriage, I finally saw a therapist. I discovered my "low sex drive" had nothing to do with me, but rather, deep rooted issues I had with my husband. Had I blamed myself less, and taken more time to examine my marital problems, perhaps my marriage could have been saved. But I am now remarried and let's just say, my sex drive is doing just fine. Why? Because when I entered my new relationship, I openly discussed these five issues that can affect your willingness to have sex, not your sex drive:

1) You are angry: There's nothing like a good fight that will put sex on hold. Who wants to be intimate when you're pissed off? But how mad are you? Anger can last a day or for many years but regardless, if you're angry, you will withhold sex as a weapon for your fight. If your anger can't be resolved in a conversation with your husband, then talk to a coach or a therapist. Anger not only affects your sex life, but your health and wellbeing.

2) You feel controlled: Whether your husband is outright controlling of you and tells you what to do, or if he is more passive aggressive in his controlling behavior, nobody likes to be controlled. While we may be tempted to give in sexually, just to "get it over with," sex is a very unenjoyable experience. When we are controlled, the one thing we control is sex. It may not be a conscious action, but controlling sex can give us power in a powerless relationship.

3) You don't communicate: When communication between you and your husband is only about the kid's schedules or what to buy at the grocery store, you need a lot more words of love to reignite the sex spark. Being told that you look sexy and beautiful can go a long way. If you want to hear that, start by telling him how good he looks when he goes to work -- men do like to hear it! Stroke his ego and hopefully he will catch on to pay you a compliment in return.

4) You just aren't attracted to him: Perhaps he has gained 20 pounds since you married him, and his physical appearance has declined. I truly believe that it is every married couple's responsibility to uphold their appearances so the physical attraction remains intact. Yes, we all age, but are you doing what you can to look attractive as well? If weight gain is an issue, be honest with him. Suggest a lifestyle change for both of you. Set a goal to run/walk in a local 5K, go on an active muli-sport vacation, try kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding. Being an active couple can really make a difference in your appearances and your communication.

5) You are stressed: Let's see, you work a full time job and spend your free time in the car carting your children around from game to game, and you have no time for YOU. Stress and anxiety can put a major damper on your willingness to have sex. It is crucial to commit to one hour a day for some down time -- go for a walk, do yoga, meditate, go shopping, get pampered and look pretty.

As women, we do a wonderful job blaming ourselves for the lack of romance in our marriage. Naturally, we are givers so when we can't give, we think something is wrong with us. Irregular intimacy in your marriage can be normal, but weeks and months of a sexless marriage is an indicator that something is wrong in the relationship, not with you. Talk to a therapist or marriage coach to help pinpoint the underlying problem before the marriage itself becomes at risk.

Vincent Daly: 5 Ways Little Kids Are Like Hippies

Vincent Daly: 5 Ways Little Kids Are Like Hippies 2014-04-15

In general, being an adult means taking on responsibility. It also involves adhering to a certain level of appropriate behavior at home and in public. Kids, on the other hand, are blank slates. Decorum? Nope. Rules? No thanks. Fun? Yes please, and keep it coming. They thrive on new experiences and revel in the joy of it all. Freedom, baby. Pure unADULTerated freedom. That's their credo. Little kids are like natural-born hippies. Don't believe me? Check out my list of 5 things that prove it.

1. Open door policy for the bathroom. Moms and dads seeking privacy when doing nature's business can just forget about it. Kids will read, sing and ask you a zillion questions including the status of your bodily output. Unless you lock the door, they're coming in full throttle. Count on it.

2. Running around naked. Little kids hate wearing clothes. Being naked equals feeling groovy! They have no inhibitions and will run, skip, jump and shake their bongos with delirious glee. But what about eating snacks at the table while naked? "Bunnies don't put on pants to eat!" (Actual quote from my own kid.) Overall, this should be no surprise. Just try getting an infant to keep her socks on for more than 10 minutes.

3. Utensils have no meaning at the dinner table. You've shown them how to use a fork or spoon. Yet the little buggers much prefer scooping up a pile of rice using their hands because "I can fit more in my mouth!" Or slurping in bowls of spaghetti noodle by noodle with their heads craned back like hungry baby birds. They also believe eating to be an extreme version of family-style, in which everyone's plate of food is fair game. "Can I eat that?"

4. Group baths. Little kids don't like the idea of bathing to get clean. To them, being dirty just translates into time well spent. Yet toss in the idea of another little kid (their brother or sister) joining them in the tub and suddenly it becomes a party... a splash party. Mom or dad's best efforts to remain dry will be as futile as trying to stop a tidal wave with an umbrella.

5. Sleeping anywhere, anytime. When little kids get tired, they just knock out. It doesn't matter where they are, either. I've personally witnessed my own children fall asleep in cars, trains, planes and buses. They've also nodded off at restaurants, sporting events, movie theaters, parks, churches and parties. In addition, sleep can be had on the nearest floor, the arm of a couch, and, of course, on the nearest parent. Time of day has no relevance. Sleep happens when it just feels right. Bohemians.

What do you think? Am I right or completely wrong or maybe somewhere in between? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Ingrid Newkirk: 9 Ways Pigs Are Smarter Than Your Honor Student

Ingrid Newkirk: 9 Ways Pigs Are Smarter Than Your Honor Student 2014-04-15

Easter's coming up -- have you bought your honey-baked ham yet? I hope not because I'd like to try to talk you out of it. Not just because it's bad for you (a recent Harvard University study found that eating processed meats such as ham, bacon, and sausage daily increases your mortality risk by 20 percent) but also because it's bad for pigs (it increases their mortality risk by 100 percent).

On today's factory farms, mother pigs spend most of their lives confined to cramped "gestation" crates that are so small, the animals can't even turn around or take a step in any direction. Piglets are castrated and have their tails chopped off and their teeth clipped without any painkillers whatsoever. All of this is done to animals whom scientists have determined are smarter than the family dog.

Need proof that pigs are brainy? Here's just a sample of their amazing feats of mental prowess:

Pigs can use tools. A study conducted by Professor Donald Broom at Cambridge University found that pigs used a mirror placed in their enclosure to locate food reflected in it but otherwise not directly visible. Only a handful of other species, including dolphins, elephants, and chimpanzees, have passed the "mirror test" or have been documented to understand that mirrors are reflections, not windows.

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Pigs just wanna have fun. While at Pennsylvania State University, the late Dr. Stanley Curtis found that pigs can play joystick-controlled video games and are "capable of abstract representation." Dr. Curtis believed that "there is much more going on in terms of thinking and observing by these pigs than we would ever have guessed." Pigs' love of video games has even been turned into an iPhone app, Pig Chase, that gamers can use to play remotely with pigs on Dutch farms.

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Pigs can fetch your slippers. Dr. Curtis was able to teach pigs to sit and jump as well as fetch a ball, a Frisbee, and a dumbbell on command. Even after years had gone by, the pigs were still able to identify the objects.

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A pig never forgets. Suzanne Held, who studies the cognitive abilities of farmed animals at the University of Bristol, has found that pigs are brilliant at remembering where food is stored and are also able to distinguish between different-size stashes of treats. Held says pigs are "really good at remembering where food is located, because in their natural environment food is patchily distributed and it pays to revisit profitable food patches."

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Pigs are sneaky. They learn to follow other pigs to find food and will even use evasive tactics to try to throw a pursuing pig off the trail so that they can keep their trove to themselves.

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Some pigs like it hot. While at the University of Illinois, Dr. Curtis learned that not only do pigs have temperature preferences, they can also learn how to turn on the heat in a cold barn and turn it off again when they get too warm.

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Pigs clean up. Contrary to that popular expression, pigs can't sweat, so they like to bathe in water or mud to keep cool. One pig guardian developed a shower for her companions, and the animals learned to turn it on and off by themselves.

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Pigs can be real lifesavers. A pet pig named Pru rescued her guardian by dragging her out of a bog. Other heroic pigs include Priscilla, who saved a young boy from drowning; Spammy, whose squeals led firefighters to rescue her calf friend Spot from a burning shed; LuLu, who flagged down a passing car to help her human companion, who had collapsed from a heart attack; Tunia, who chased away an intruder; and Mona, who held a fleeing suspect's leg until the police arrived.

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Pigs are cockeyed optimists. In his book The Whole Hog, naturalist Lyall Watson writes, "I know of no other animals that are more consistently curious, more willing to explore new experiences, more ready to meet the world with open mouthed enthusiasm. Pigs, I have discovered, are incurable optimists and get a big kick out of just being."

2014-04-15-Esther9.jpg Maybe I'm an incurable optimist, too, because I like to think that once people find out how smart, sociable, brave, and even silly pigs are, they won't want to eat them.

All photos courtesy of EstherTheWonderPig.com. Find out what Esther's been up to lately by visiting her Facebook page.

Brittney Griner: The Punch: From Wnba Player Brittney Griner's New Memoir, In

Brittney Griner: The Punch: From Wnba Player Brittney Griner's New Memoir, In My Skin 2014-04-15

The following post is an excerpt from Brittney Griner's new book, In My Skin, from Harper Collins. The excerpt concerns Brittney being disciplined while she was a college star at Baylor University by her coach Kim Mulkey for an incident in which she punched a rival player.

I had a meeting in Kim's office the day after we got back from Lubbock. The NCAA had handed down a one-game suspension, and Kim decided to add on another game, to show everyone how seriously she was taking the incident. She also tacked on a number of obligations -- most of which were not made public -- as part of my punishment. I had to write a letter of apology to Jordan Barncastle. I had to put in a certain number of hours doing community service.And I had to see a therapist, a requirement I initially rolled my eyes at, assuming it would be the kind of thing you see on television: And how did that make you feel?

I sat in Kim's office, and we talked about what had happened. She explained she had to take a tough stance, to make it clear she wouldn't tolerate that kind of behavior, because what I had done was wrong, and now I had to go about making it right. But she also said she understood how frustrating it was to be me on the court. She saw how much abuse I absorbed without getting the same calls as players smaller than I am.

"You just can't retaliate," she stressed. "The blame always falls on the player who retaliates." I knew she was right. Kim and the other coaches had said all along that I needed to keep my cool, that I would have to deal with a lot of crap on the court, players trying to knock me down to their size. But it wasn't until I punched Jordan Barncastle that the message really hit home for me. That game at Texas Tech would be the last one I played without constantly reminding myself I needed to stay levelheaded. I wanted so much to redeem myself. The hardest part was that nobody really understood my history of fighting. I think Kim knew, just from us talking here and there, that I had some conflicts when I was younger -- "altercations," she called them. But nobody at Baylor, and certainly nobody in the media, had any idea how much I had struggled as a kid, trying to solve my problems and hide my insecurities by raising my fists...

In the years after "the punch," the storyline became that I had made this one mistake, and it was totally out of character for me. She's just a big teddy bear. A gentle giant. I was glad people were willing to forgive what I had done, but I also felt a little uncomfortable with how simplified everything was -- all neat and tidy and fixed -- when the reality was that I had worked hard to control my anger.

Kim wanted me to see the therapist every week for the rest of the school year. As I drove to his office for that first visit, I told myself that it was just another obligation, something I had to do to check the box and move on. I wasn't planning to say much, because I'm stubborn like that: I thought therapists were for people who are weak, and I didn't need to see a shrink. I was still learning that the weakest people are the ones who can't ask for help. His office was off campus, unaffiliated with Baylor. I sat in a leather chair with little pleats in it. (I spent a lot of time fiddling with those stitches.)

The therapist sat on the couch, and the first thing he said to me was, "So how are you doing? How was your day?" I had been expecting him to ask me why I punched Jordan Barncastle and if I felt bad about it. I thought the whole thing would be weird and awkward. I remember feeling stiff, ready to shut down. And then he asked me that simple question, as if he really cared about how I was doing, and I felt myself relax into that leather chair. I also liked that he said, "If you want to cuss, go ahead and cuss. It doesn't matter what you want to say, just say it. I'm here to listen. I want to listen. So tell me what you want to talk about."

It didn't take him long to figure out that so much of who I am, of how I act and how I respond and how much anger I feel sometimes, is a direct result of my relationship with my dad. That first session, the therapist asked me about my family, and he noticed how I kind of changed -- my body language, the emotion in my voice -- when I started talking about my father. So we stayed on that topic longer, and when we circled back around to it, the same thing happened.

Starting therapy is like pointing a spotlight into your past, and into your heart. It became an important part of my life away from basketball. I stayed in Waco for school that summer, and I stayed in therapy, too. I kept going back throughout my sophomore year, then on and off for the rest of college.

My therapist provided me with a certain peace of mind. When I became angry about something that happened with basketball, or school, or my dad, I would go talk to him and calm down. Whatever the situation, he helped me look at it in a better way, and he encouraged me to move past the anger I held on to. That has always been my Achilles heel: letting wrongs and slights fester inside of me instead of discussing them right away. I'll tell everyone that everything is fine, until things are so far past fine that I'm about to burst with anger or sadness.

Finding a great therapist was the silver lining that came from the Jordan Barncastle incident. I don't know how I would have made it through my sophomore year, and the swirl of depression I found myself in, without having that support.

Nigel Barber: Freedom From Religion As A Civil Right

Nigel Barber: Freedom From Religion As A Civil Right 2014-04-15

The separation of church and state in the U.S. constitution is more honored in the breach than in the observance. Those who want to escape from organized religion must fight for that freedom against those in power who would foist religious views upon them at every turn. The religious pledge of allegiance continues to be recited in schools despite being clearly unconstitutional.

Religious oppression is far worse in other countries than it is in the U.S. It is not like living in an Islamic republic where rejecting Islam (or apostasy) is punishable by death. Still, that is a very low bar. Countries that lack religious freedom have a very bad quality of life in other respects, as I pointed out in my book Why Atheism Will Replace Religion.

It is not unreasonable to expect that the home of modern democracy would grant its citizens the same freedom to reject religion as residents of other developed democracies do, especially when that right is written into the constitution in the sense that no religion may be established by the state.

Yet, the establishment of the Christian religion is apparent everywhere. I would like to know why my taxes are used to pay a Christian chaplain who is hired by Congress to lead them in prayer. Why does the U.S. Army and the National Guard use my tax money to pay chaplains who lead the troops in prayer?

I am not a constitutional scholar but it is hard to see how these activities could be interpreted as anything but establishment of religion by the state. Why is the president sworn into office using a Bible and religious language implying that the office draws strength from God in violation of the Article VI prohibition on religious texts as a condition for holding public office?

In our thoughts and prayers

It would be easy to write off the presidential oath as an exercise in tradition were it not for the fact that the head of state engages in a constant flow of religious cheerleading. If something bad happens to Americans, the president informs the families that they are "in our thoughts and prayers."

This is an ambiguous formulation. Who is doing the praying? The Obamas, or the government. A more irritating interpretation is that all Americans are praying for the victims. As the head of state, responding to a national disaster, that seems the most plausible interpretation.

President Obama is not alone in his frequent reference to religion: most other recent presidents did exactly the same, suggesting that religious utterances are perceived as safe ground for American presidents. Indeed, if one listened to the content of Obama's public statements, one might be forgiven for concluding that he was a religious leader rather than a secular one. That would certainly explain why he might bother to visit the Pope in Rome seeming like a supplicant before the outlandish pomp and circumstance of the Vatican. It would also explain his fondness for hosting "prayer breakfasts."

I have some questions for the president, and the Supreme Court about the presumed separation of church and state.

Some questions for the President

Why so long after the Cold War has ended, do we still have "In God we trust" on the coinage and paper money? How can the Governor of Alabama on his first day in office say that people who are not Christians are not his brothers or sisters? Why does my local TV weatherman in Alabama tell me that I will need an umbrella on my way to church? Why are religious employers making health decisions about employees who do not share their beliefs? Why are states being allowed to ban contraception and abortions contrary to the Roe v. Wade decision? How can the Texas Board of Education be allowed to insert religiously-inspired falsehoods into school science texts? Why are atheists discriminated against in hiring decisions and generally unable to hold political office in America? Belatedly on board with gay rights, will Obama support the civil rights of those who want freedom from religion? What is he going to do to protect the civil rights of those who want to be free of religion in America?
Ashley Schmidtbauer: The In-betweeners Of A Broken System

Ashley Schmidtbauer: The In-betweeners Of A Broken System 2014-04-15

We're not destitute, but we barely make it month to month.

We are making it a priority to pay off all of our debts so every extra penny we are trying to put towards our debt snowballs. That doesn't leave a whole lot of wiggle room at the end of each paycheck.

We are lucky. My husband works a good job for the area we live in. It allows me to stay home with our two young children. But there are sacrifices. Sacrifices we make every month. We do it for our family. Our kids come first. Clothes, shoes, diapers... everything for them. I can't tell you the last time I bought myself any clothes.

Yes, we have health insurance. It doesn't cover hardly anything though. We owe $2,500 on an emergency room bill from when I was in excruciating pain and found out I had gallstones. $2,500 for one hour, one ultrasound, and two pills before they sent me home. But we don't like to complain -- we're making monthly payments to pay it off. We take the punches as they come.

Somehow our children are now being punished. This is what I have a problem with. We applied for our son to get into Head Start, the preschool program that is offered to low income families. I love being a stay-at-home mom, but I want my kids to have some social interaction with kids their age before they go to kindergarten. Both of our kids were denied entry into the program because we make "too much" money. To be honest, we make roughly $35,000 a year. Somehow, we make over $10,000 more than their limits allow.

We are the in-betweeners. Not making enough to live "comfortably" -- but not "poor" enough to get any assistance either. We don't expect handouts. We just want what is best for our family. It feels like because my husband works and we don't have an outrageous number of kids we can't catch a break from either side.

I don't know how to fix the system. To be honest, my concern is my family and that's it. We will pay off every debt we have and then hopefully be able to buy our first home next year. The American Dream feels impossible sometimes. We do everything we can. I started a blog to help (possibly) get a second income. My biggest reason for starting a blog was to help others who may be in similar situations. How to live on a budget without going crazy. Recipes, meal plans, grocery lists, crafts, DIY, and more. All on a budget.

You want to know how the working poor really live? My husband works an average of 50 hours per week just so we can barely make it paycheck to paycheck. We just want to give our kids a good life. We just want the American Dream. We want to have a little house and yard. Want to give our kids their own rooms, a dog, a garden. We really just want a simple life. Seems we just have to work three times as hard as anyone else.

poverty

Ashley's story is part of a Huffington Post series profiling Americans who work hard and yet still struggle to make ends meet. Learn more about other individuals' experiences here.

Have a similar story you'd like to share? Email us at workingpoor@huffingtonpost.com

Bill Moyers: Watch: Fighting For The Four Freedoms

Bill Moyers: Watch: Fighting For The Four Freedoms 2014-04-15

Previously published on BillMoyers.com.

If you believe America desperately needs a great surge of democracy in the face of fierce opposition from reactionary and corporate forces, then remembering and reviving the spirit of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died 69 years ago last week, is in order.

In January 1941, FDR's State of the Union address made it clear that a fight was inevitable, a fight to preserve, protect and defend four essential freedoms: freedom from fear and want and freedom of speech and religion.

This week, I speak with historian Harvey J. Kaye, author of the new book The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great, about how FDR's speech was a rallying cry to build the kind of progressive society that Roosevelt hoped for but did not live to see at war's end.

Kaye says the president was able to mobilize Americans who created "the strongest and most prosperous country in human history." How did they do it? By working toward the Four Freedoms and making America "freer, more equal and more democratic."

He believes Americans have not forgotten the Four Freedoms as goals, but have "forgotten what it takes to realize them, that we must defend, sustain and secure democracy by enhancing it. That's what Roosevelt knew. That's what Jefferson knew. And no one seems to remember that today. That's what we have to remind people of."

Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at BillMoyers.com.

Leana Wen, M.d.: One Year After: A Tribute From An Er Physician

Leana Wen, M.d.: One Year After: A Tribute From An Er Physician 2014-04-15

On April 15, 2013, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and walked to Mass General Hospital to begin my ER shift. It was the day of Boston marathon, and we were prepared for the usual influx of people with heatstroke and dehydration. That day, as other days, we also treated dozens of critically ill patients with heart attacks, strokes, and severe infections

Just before 3 p.m., we received the call that nobody could have predicted. Bombs had detonated at the Boston marathon. Many people were gravely injured.

Minutes later, they arrived in our ER. Some were not breathing. Others were missing limbs. All were covered with blood and soot.

As an emergency physician, I am trained to treat traumatic injuries. But while I helped direct our trauma teams to triage then resuscitate these patients, I was terrified. My husband and I lived in Back Bay, next to the explosions. He had texted me not long before to say that he was headed to the finish line to watch the marathon. I didn't know where he was; I feared that the next patient I took care of could be him.

I wrote about this fear and guilt, and subsequently about the need to care for the many health care providers who served on that day.

Now, one year later, I no longer live in Boston, but I will always remember April 15. I remember the bravery and resourcefulness of the first responder, bystanders, and volunteers. I remember the teamwork in our hospital among every service -- not just those of us caring for the victims themselves, but also those oncologists and obstetricians who jumped in and provided excellent care for other patients in our ER. I remember the support from our city and indeed our broader community in the U.S. and around the world.

Most of all, I remember the courage of the victims and their families. Their resilience serves as inspiration for all of us.

As I think back to April 15, 2013, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to take care of these brave men, women, and children. I'm honored to be able to serve and proud to be a physician and emergency care provider.

Robert Reich: Happy Tax Day, And Why The Top 1% Pay A Lower Rate Than You Do (

Robert Reich: Happy Tax Day, And Why The Top 1% Pay A Lower Rate Than You Do (video) 2014-04-15

It's tax time again, April 15, when our minds turn toward paying the taxes we owe or possibly getting a tax refund. But what we don't think about enough is whether our tax system is fair. The richest 1 percent of Americans are now getting the largest percent of total national income in almost a century. So you might think they'd pay a much higher tax rate than everyone else.

But you'd be wrong. Many millionaires pay a lower federal tax rate than many middle-class Americans.

Some don't pay any federal taxes at all. That's because they're allowed to deduct from their taxable income such things as large interest payments on mortgages for huge homes, also the costs of business entertainment and conferences (aka vacations at golf resorts), and gold plated health care plans.

Some also take advantage of tax loopholes that let them park some of their earnings in offshore tax havens like the Bahamas or the Netherlands Antilles.

And other loopholes that allow them to treat some income as capital gains - subject to a much lower tax rate than ordinary income. If you happen to be a hedge-fund or private-equity manager, there's a capital gains loophole designed especially for you.

Consider the Social Security payroll tax and the situation is even more lopsided. That tax applies to every dollar of income up to a cap -- which this year is $117,000. Anything earned above the cap is not subject to Social Security taxes at all - meaning anyone with a high income pays a much smaller percentage of it in Social Security taxes than most people do.

Put these all together and you see why Warren Buffet, the second richest person in America, pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, as he readily admits.

State and local taxes are even more regressive. The poorest fifth of Americans pay an average state and local tax rate of over 11 percent, while the richest fifth pay only 5.6 percent. This isn't small change. State and local taxes account for about 40 percent of all government revenues.

Believe it or not, Republicans want to make all this worse by cutting taxes on the wealthy even more. Paul Ryan's new budget doesn't just slice Medicare, education, and food stamps. It also lowers the top federal tax rate to 25 percent.

When the rich are let off the hook in all these ways, the rest of America has to pay more in taxes to make up the difference - or have services cut because government doesn't have the funds.

Katie Koestner: A College Vice President Confesses To Rape, Promises To Do Bet

Katie Koestner: A College Vice President Confesses To Rape, Promises To Do Better 2014-04-15

Trigger warning: This post contains description of sexual violence.

Pickup trucks, VW Buses, Smart Cars and Maserati's were snug together, as if they were friends. Forced contact resulting from finite minutes to complete a commute. An awkward menagerie of diversity. Out of their cars, and back to comfort zones.

The road was sweating. The windows were down to let in the dust and warmth. I was sticky. The first drivel had moved down the inside of my right thigh. I gave my body eight minutes to end up committed to the pleather seat. I wondered if his air conditioner was broken, but didn't ask.

"I moved 3,000 miles to get away from her." He looked toward me as he spoke, not fully completing the 90-degree rotation. The college's Vice President had picked me up from the airport to take me to my speech. Sexual assault awareness week and Take Back The Night. My chauffeur did not seem to mind that he was over-qualified for his current task.

I had met him on the East Coast five years ago, and had been to speak at his prior institution five times.

"I needed to not have to see her, or see the spaces where we'd been. This job came up, and I took it." I asked him if he had found someone new yet. He was only in his forties and academically handsome. Quick with banter and astute with analysis. Psychology background. He said maybe. They'd only been out once so far.

"How do you enforce a policy you're guilty of breaking yourself?" Pause. "It wasn't wrong back then." Justification?

I look at him now. Full rotation of face and neck, but not my shoulders. My shirt is wet. The guy in the BMW next to us in the traffic has air conditioner. His windows are up.

"She was 18. She was drunk. And, I raped her." I heard him. I don't think I moved. He self-confessed what he had done over 20 years ago. That part came out faster than I thought he could talk. Like a half of a single breath.

"You'll like the hotel where I booked you. Order whatever you want. It's the suite where I put up our VIP's."

It was a mirage. It was the sweltering. I imagined the preceding lines.

"I knew she was a virgin. We were at a Catholic school." So the oasis is real. "I got her pregnant. I paid for the abortion. I took care of it." There, he said it.

I say nothing. I am in the passenger seat of the car of a rapist. I am wearing my seatbelt. I am firmly affixed to his car. I wonder if he moved 3,000 miles away from the divorce or his victim?

He is extra brave. He has the windows down so that the secret is spoken more loudly. If your confessional is more public, is it more satisfying? I hear about 10 stories of rape at every school I visit. This morning in Colorado at a high school, there were closer to 20. Most are from women. Some are from men. I am white and heterosexual, and I always feel privileged when someone who is gay or not white shares his or her story with me.

Sometimes it takes years of hearing the same sound, to grow the ear hair follicle that will be able to hear it. Better is when I don't shimmy out the window on the freeway and can hear a rapist acknowledge what he did. Best is when he is sober, it is daylight and he tells me he's going to start enforcing policies after that. Recidivism averted.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Take Back the Night in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about Take Back the Night and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.

Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit theNational Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: Marathon Bombing Anniversary Demands Interfaith Respon

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: Marathon Bombing Anniversary Demands Interfaith Response 2014-04-15

We are approaching the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. The surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, will face the death penalty when he stands trial in November on federal charges that he planted bombs near the race's finish line that killed three people and injured more than 250 others.

The anniversary is sure to remind people that Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, who was killed by police, were Muslims who said they acted in retaliation for U.S. involvement in Muslim countries.

Once again, Americans will become wary of Muslims in their midst.

For the 7 million Americans who are Muslims, that is a burden they must bear.

Muslim immigrants are no different from all of the other ethnic immigrant groups who have fought against prejudice to gain acceptance. In Boston, Irish and Italian Catholics endured discrimination, especially because a few bad characters cast suspicion on their entire communities.

Yet Boston now is famous as a multicultural society that remains a beacon to the world as John Winthrop's "city on a hill."

So it is important, as this anniversary approaches, that we redouble our efforts to build bridges among the faiths to counter Islamophobia and to explain that true Muslims who submit to the will of God find violence abhorrent and attacks on innocents a violation of their faith. Contrary to popular opinion across America, Islam is a religion of peace.

People ask me, how can you say that? Look at the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Look at the Boston bombers. Look at the killings going on in the Middle East and Africa, all in the name is Islam. That is true. But Islam is not a violent religion. In fact, the fundamental imperative of all religions - Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hindu - is peace.

Individuals are violent. Groups that misinterpret religion are violent in their zealotry or their self-interest. For hundreds, if not thousands, of years, violence has been committed in the name of religion. Small numbers of extremists commit acts of violence. This prompts a violent reaction. And so begins a vicious cycle of hatred and death.

Any violence that is committed in the name of religion comes from extremists. These people masque their political or power agendas in false religious doctrine. We must make that distinction - between religion and extremists -- and combat the extremists.

We should never think that we are combating a religion. That only plays into the hands of the extremists.

Islam, Judaism and Christianity all start with the same root. All insist that the first commandment is to love God. All insist that we should love each other.

Islam should be used to counter extremism, not promote it. The Holy Quran says that if someone kills an innocent, it is as though he killed all mankind.

In the more than four decades I have been in the United States, I have seen the transformation of Muslim immigrants into American Muslims. They are creating a new form of Islam that rejects sectarian differences that tear apart their homelands and embraces modernity while preserving the essence of morality and dignity at the heart of Islam.

Acts of misguided individuals who mistakenly believe they are performing God's will by killing others must not be used as to smear an entire religion. America's growing Muslim population has demonstrated time and again that they are loyal Americans who believe in American values and are contributing to building and protecting this country. They root for the Patriots, Celtics, Bruins and the Red Sox like everyone else.

Obviously, we cannot let down our guard because radicals are plotting against us.

But we should not take the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing to renew suspicions about Muslims in general. Instead, we should create the atmosphere for the voices of moderation in all religions to flourish and be heard.

Since 9/11, people have asked me repeatedly, where are the moderate Muslims? Why aren't they speaking out?

I answer them this way: They are here, living among you. Open your ears to what they are saying. Open your eyes to see all of the good that America's growing Muslim population is doing for the country - and for Boston.

Use this as an opportunity to embrace Boston's -- and America's -- diversity and make it stronger than ever.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the Founder of Cordoba Initiative, a multi-national, multi-faith organization dedicated to improving Muslim-West relations.

Michael Marissen: Handel's Messiah: See No Evil, Hear No Evil?

Michael Marissen: Handel's Messiah: See No Evil, Hear No Evil? 2014-04-15

What's wrong with the following picture?

The opening shot of a PBS video, "Messiah": Music for the Christmas Season, pans up Washington's magnificent National Cathedral as the soundtrack presents the Cathedral Choir singing Handel's glorious chorus, "And He shall purify the Sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness."

Well, superficially at least, everything would seem to be altogether meet and fitting: A great choir is performing Messiah in a towering church, and so the video starts out simply and innocently by showing its awe-inspiring venue and sounding some of its most exalted music. When you dig deeper, however, you can uncover disturbing issues. This video perfectly highlights -- unwittingly, one feels sure -- the anti-Jewish Christian triumphalism lurking within the world's favorite Christmas (and Easter) piece. Alas, not all religious art that glitters is spiritual gold.

The choir's words come from the King James Bible's reading of Malachi 3:3. Christians before, during, and after Handel's day typically understood this text as a prophecy of God's abandonment of the Jewish Temple for the Christian Church. Forty years after the crucifixion of Jesus, God sent the Roman army into Jerusalem, they say, to slaughter its inhabitants and destroy its Temple because of Jewish failure to accept Jesus as God's messiah.

The very organizing principle of Messiah is to link Old Testament prophecy with New Testament fulfillment. The piece consists only of biblical texts, and nearly all its OT passages are cited in the NT; similarly, nearly all its NT passages cite OT texts. The true meanings of Messiah's many OT passages are assumed to be governed by the way they're used in the NT.

Therefore, we can get a better idea of what singing Malachi 3:3 was designed to convey by looking at how "the Sons of Levi" are understood in the NT. At Hebrews 7:5-12 "the Sons of Levi" (the Jerusalem Temple's priesthood: the order of Aaron, the brother of Moses) are contrasted with "the order of Melchisedec" (the ancient king of Jerusalem and priest of the most high God, who prefigures God's messiah Jesus as king and priest). As 7:12 instructs, "For the priesthood being changed, there is also made of necessity a change also of the law"; that is to say, in the messianic age there is by necessity a change from the Levites to Melchisedec, the ritual law to the gospel, from Synagoga to Ecclesia, Judaism to Christianity.

Malachi 3:3 serves as the immediate backdrop in Messiah to the birth of Jesus, as beautifully expressed in the solo, "Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us" (a conflation of Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:22-23). "God with us" is meant to be understood as "God with us Christians," something one would be expected to gather from Matthew 18:20 with 28:20, which declare that in Jesus, God is with us who are Jesus' followers, always, even until the End of the world.

From here, Messiah will go on to continually pit an us against them, where "us" means Christians while "them" means Jews.

When the choir sings "He was wounded for our transgressions ... and with his stripes we are healed" (settings of Isaiah 53:5), its we is to be understood not as sinful humanity in general but as us who are followers of him, Jesus. We are expected to gather this from 1 Peter 2:24-25, which quotes the excerpts from Isaiah 53:5-6 that are set to music in Messiah -- 1 Peter 2:7 identifies the we specifically as "you which believe (in Jesus)."

By contrast, when the choir sings "He trusted in God, that He would deliver him" (a setting of Psalm 22:8) just after the soloist's declaration, "All they that see him laugh him to scorn" (Psalm 22:7), its they is to be understood not as sinful humanity in general but as the Jewish persons witnessing his, Jesus', crucifixion. We are expected to gather this from Matthew 27:39-43, which quotes the excerpts from Psalm 22:7-8 that are set to music in Messiah. The Gospel assumes that the mockers are all Jewish unbelievers in Jesus attending Passover: Jesus' followers certainly would not "laugh him to scorn," and no pagan gentile would speak the words of Psalm 22:8 quoted at Matthew 27:43.

Handel's music fully underscores the text's us-versus-them contrasts. "And with his stripes" is set in the venerated stylus ecclesiasticus ("church style"), reminiscent of the great renaissance composers of sacred music, like Palestrina. The chorus "He trusted in God," however, is set in the aggressive style of the turba ("crowd") choruses found in baroque settings of the passion narrative. In short, what we have here is a placing of (hostile) Jews over against ("healed"/saved) Christians.

Messiah's us-against-them reaches a great climax with the Hallelujah chorus.

Right before this chorus, the tenor soloist delivers a ferocious aria whose text, Psalm 2:9, reads: "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." Thou is understood here to refer to Jesus, and them to "the people" and "the nations" from Messiah's preceding bass aria, whose text is slightly adapted from Psalm 2:1-2 in the Book of Common Prayer: "Why do the nations so furiously rage together? and why do the people imagine a vain thing? ... against the Lord and against his Anointed."

We are expected to know -- as Handel's original listeners typically will have known -- that Psalm 2:1-2 is cited in the NT at Acts 4:25-28, where verse 27 speaks of the hostility of "the people of Israel" toward God's Anointed One, Jesus. In light of Messiah's full contexts, the tenor aria could appropriately be paraphrased as:

Says God to the Lord Jesus Christ: "In purifying the Sons of Levi, beginning with the destruction of the Temple, you will break the people of Israel, the Jews who do not accept you as my messiah, with an iron rod, and also the heathen; you will dash them in pieces like earthenware."

Here's the response to this violence leveled first -- and emblematically -- against Jews:

"Hallelujah! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth" (Revelation 19:6, most gloriously set with trumpets and drums).

In significant part, then, Messiah rejoices against Judaism. Messiah exults against other unbelievers in Jesus too, but its rejoicing against Judaism should be seen as a special problem, even for a solely NT-based ethics.

Romans 11:17-18, a profoundly under-appreciated passage, specifically warns about the special ethical problem of gentile Christians "self-boasting/rejoicing" (the NT Greek source word, katakaucho, simultaneously carries both meanings) against ethnic Israel.

In part, Messiah, I'm suggesting, goes patently counter to Romans 11, whose directive on Christian schadenfreude toward Jews, it's worth noting, is not contradicted anywhere in the NT.

Rejoicing against Judaism is -- thank God -- neither the whole nor the primary story of Messiah; it is, however, I'm suggesting, a significant forgotten secondary aspect.

Many will call upon aesthetics to object to the present re-reading of Messiah on the grounds that in great art "beauty trumps all." Others, similarly, will call upon theology to object that, in the end, the Gospel of John's declaration of God's boundless love for "the world," alluded to in Messiah at the chorus "Behold the Lamb of God" (a setting of John 1:29), neutralizes any polemic against Judaism.

But why might not any anti-Jewish polemic in the Gospel of John in fact undermine or negate its declaration of God's boundless love for the world? Likewise, why on earth might not the undeniable aesthetic and spiritual magnificence of Messiah in fact make this work more, not less, problematic?

Messiah's many excellent and godly aspects will rightly ever continue to aesthetically and spiritually sustain my fellow Handel lovers. But the notion that beauty or love trumps all may really be too good to be true.

Michael Marissen is the author of the new book 'Tainted Glory in Handel's Messiah: The Unsettling History of the World's Most Beloved Choral Work' (Yale University Press).