Good Reads: dogs with PTSD, children in the news, unwed mothers, waking up the Ice Age

This week's round-up of Good Reads includes helping dogs who come home from war zones, the dilemma behind telling Malala Yousafzai's story, why more mothers aren't choosing marriage, and a quest to bring back the wooly mammoth.

Ed Andrieski/AP/File
Gina, a US military bomb-sniffing dog, suffered from stress after serving in Iraq.

It has been said that war has no winners. That statement could easily include not just soldiers and civilians, but also the hundreds of stray animals that are caught in the crossfire.

As the 2014 withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan draws closer, a lot of attention has been paid to how to care for the soldiers coming home, many of whom have done multiple tours. Attention is also being paid, as Jessie Knadler points out in The Daily Beast, to the animals they bring home with them.

Some dogs rescued from war zones appear to be coming home with their new masters exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress disorder – even when their owners aren’t ­– as they adjust to not having to navigate land mines or sudden fights.

What’s the method to ease such a transition?

“All we could give her was time, love, freedom, and lots of exercise and discipline,” writes Ms. Knadler of Solha, the dog her Army Reservist husband brought home with him from Kandahar. “Is that how to treat canine PTSD? I don’t know. But Solha is a different, calmer dog today than she was a year ago. And she’ll never have to fight another dog again.”

Children on camera

By the time a 15-year-old schoolgirl named Malala Yousafzai was shot point-blank by the Taliban six months ago in Pakistan, her activism and story had captured interest around the world. She exemplified a rare courage, spunk, and determination that made her a powerful symbol of the fight for female education amid extremism.

It was the media that handed this young girl the soapbox – and possibly made her a target, worries Syed Irfan Ashraf, who first put Malala on camera when she was just 11 years old.

Disclosing the guilt he felt for doing so, he told Marie Brenner of Vanity Fair, “No one was paying attention to what was happening in Mingora. We took a very brave 11-year-old and created her to get the attention of the world. We made her a commodity.”

The economy of unwed mothers

Good news: Over the past two decades, teen birthrates have fallen. The other news? By the time American women turn 30, about two-thirds have had their first child – usually outside of marriage, according to a recent report highlighted in The Atlantic Monthly.

Take note of “usually outside of marriage,” writes Derek Thompson, asking, “Why so few marriages?” The answer, he writes, is best seen through the lens of three factors:

“(1) The changing meaning of marriage in America; (2) declining wages for low-skill men; and (3) the declining costs of being a single person.”

It used to be that the marriage contract was entered into in the US with specific roles in mind. The wife would stay home and take care of the kids, and the husband would go to work and put food on the table. That model has been upended.

“Think of marriage like any other contract or investment. It’s most likely to happen when the gains are big. So we should expect marriages among low-income Americans to decline if women perceive declining gains from hitching themselves to the men around them.”

Back to life, back to reality

Right now scientists in South Korea are combing the frozen remains of woolly mammoths looking for the scientific version of a needle in a haystack: a live cell. Any live cell. If they find one, they’ll try to use it to bring the mammoth back from centuries of extinction. (Don’t worry, they’ve got a Plan B.)

Roll your eyes if you must, but, writes Carl Zimmer in National Geographic, the idea of bringing vanished species back to life has percolated in popular culture and in science labs at least since “Jurassic Park,” and that technology is close – really close.

Indeed, advances in manipulating stem cells, in recovering ancient DNA, and in reconstructing lost genomes has pushed science closer to reviving that which was once thought to be lost for good. Remember Dolly, the first sheep to be cloned in 1996? Amateur. Scientists now offer up the hopeful example of Celia the bucardo (an extinct type of mountain goat).

“Celia’s clone is the closest that anyone has gotten to true de-
extinction. Since witnessing those fleeting minutes of the clone’s life, [Alberto] Fernández-Arias, now the head of the government of Aragon’s Hunting, Fishing and Wetlands department, has been waiting for the moment when science would finally catch up, and humans might gain the ability to bring back an animal they had driven extinct.”

The question now is, Should it be done?

“ ‘The history of putting species back after they’ve gone extinct in the wild is fraught with difficulty,’ says conservation biologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University. A huge effort went into restoring the Arabian oryx to the wild, for example. But after the animals were returned to a refuge in central Oman in 1982, almost all were wiped out by poachers. ‘We had the animals, and we put them back, and the world wasn’t ready,’ says Pimm. ‘Having the species solves only a tiny, tiny part of the problem.’ ”

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