Monday, September 30, 2013

Some Last Hurrah Before the Crunch!

October is our major fundraising month on the job, so everybody works extremely hard. For myself, I am working 28 shifts for the month- not 28 days, though, most of the weekends, I'll be pulling doubles. I had planned a bit of a breather, but I had to come in on an ad hoc basis tonight, on my day off. Last night, I had to give a site orientation to two groups of contractors who are working for the creative director who has put together one of our fundraisers. He has assembled an ensemble over the last three years, so I have worked with most of these people before and consider them friends. My usual line about the job is that it is very cushy, except when it isn't, and the usual October crunch has come a bit early this year.

One downside to being so busy is that I haven't been keeping up with the news as well as I'd like to, especially with a looming government shutdown occurring. Am I fortunate to be ensconced in the work bubble? Would I be tearing my hair out (HA!) if I were more current on current events?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Passing of a Bastard Favorite

Tonight, I turned on the radi-adi-o, and I found out that one of my favorite DJs, Jim Riecken of Fairleigh Dickinson's WFDU, succumbed to pancreatic cancer a week ago. Taking a moment to think about my musical tastes, I have to say that Mr Riecken's influence on my musical tastes is second only to the influence of the legendary WLIR. Jim was a champion not only of punk and post-punk music, but surf rock, 60's sci-fi instrumentals, space age bachelor pad music, ska, moldy oldies (the record's gotta be old, and it's got to have mold, but not Bob Mould)... his music tastes were eclectic. He was also a prolific IMDB reviewer and incorporated a lot of clips from 50's sci-fi B-movies and film noir... I bought the DVD of Kiss Me Deadly, now one of my favorite movies, simply because I was intrigued by the clips he played during his show. He was also a big fan of Forteana, which went hand-in-hand with his interest in sci-fi.

I guess the best way to pay tribute to a DJ is to embed some videos of artists I first heard on his show, in no particular order:

Saturday nights aren't going to be the same without him. Rest in peace, old pal.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sound Instincts. Unsound Judgment?

This afternoon, some unusual looking fruits on a small tree on a worksite caught my eye:

I did not know what these fruits were, but their eye-catching reddish-pink color (the picture does not do them justice) caught my attention. They looked like overgrown crunch berries. Now, there is a plant edibility test that one can follow to determine if one can eat a strange plant. Of course, fruits are typically meant to be eaten by animals so that their seeds can be dispersed efficiently over a broad area. With their bright colors, these fruits looked especially noticeable, which usually translates to edible. I grabbed one of the softer ones and noted no adverse reaction. I broke the fruit open and licked the beige pulp, which was sweet... as a matter of fact, quite delicious. Sweet is good, we tend to enjoy the flavors of foods that are good to eat, and most plant toxins are bitter tasting. Of course, I didn't jump in and start scarfing these suckers down, sweet or not. There were a lot of hard seeds, much like the seeds of a cactus pear.

I took an additional fruit into the building in which I am working and, before I was able to look up the plant on the internet, a co-worker was able to identify it as the fruit of the Asian Dogwood (Cornus kousa). She did not think that the fruits were edible, but the Internet, which never lies, indicates that they are. Here's Green Deane's take on the fruit (he also indicates that the young leaves are sometimes eaten in Japan). Here's a nice video about the tree and its fruits:

Sampling this unknown fruit was perhaps a lapse in judgment on my part, but my instincts, which are pretty good, led me to believe that the fruit wouldn't be dangerous. I wouldn't recommend this approach to anybody unless they are desperate for sustenance, but I can now heartily recommend trying the fruit of the Kosua dogwood now that I have verified my suspicions regarding their deliciousness.

ADDENDUM: Now, this is funny... I just looked up at the office calendar, a gift from the nearby Chinese restaurant, and I spy a familiar theme:

I may be easily amused, because this cracks me up.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dawkins' Talkin'

As I detailed in my last post, last night I headed down to NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts to see Friend of the Bastard Dorian Devins conduct an interview with scientist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is currently touring to promote his new memoir, An Appetite for Wonder, and the interview pretty much stuck with the topics addressed in the book.

Professor Dawkins detailed his youth in Kenya, recounting a funny anecdote about a game of hide-and-seek with an adult friend. After searching a building, the young Richard returned to it after searching elsewhere and found the man. The man told the six-year old Dawkins that he had been in the building all along, but had been invisible. Professor Dawkins joked that the hadn't been a skeptic back then and, not considering that the man "lied", he took him at his word. It was a charming story, not as dramatic an "origin tale" as Bruce Wayne's, but illustrative of the good Doctor's "trajectory".

Professor Dawkins spent quite a bit of time talking about linguistics, and indicated that he had written a computer language as a younger man. He spoke about the development of dialects, and the point at which they split into separate languages. After observing that a Glaswegan dialect is barely intelligible, he opined that a dialect splits off to become a language when a native speaker is flattered by attempts to address them in their vernacular. An attempt on his part to speak German would be considered politeness, while an attempt to imitate a Glaswegan accent would probably get him in trouble.

He continued on with a long discussion of his neologism meme from The Selfish Gene. He described how a meme is a reliably transmitted unit of social information that is "selected" for (fashions and slang phrases are two examples of memes, and the spread of them can be measured much like a measles outbreak)- he used the analogy of a game of Chinese whispers to illustrate the transmission of memes- subjects playing the game can reliably transmit messages in their own language, but a group of English-speaking players transmitting a phrase in Hungarian would hopelessly garble the phonemes of the message. He indicated that, had computer viruses existed at the time, he would have used them as an analogy. He then wryly observed that the meaning of "meme" had mutated so that it describes internet phenomena usually involving cats.

The tone of the interview was very cordial, almost cozy. The audience was a friendly one, and Dorian kept a light, conversational tone. Professor Dawkins came across as a charming, erudite fellow- a far cry from the firebrand his detractors paint him to be. There was a brief Q&A after the conversation, and all but one of the questions were from whole-hearted supporters. The one guy who "challenged" Professor Dawkins was so inarticulate that his question had to be "translated" by a young lady standing at the other microphone set up for the Q&A. Basically, the guy asked Professor Dawkins about mathematical formulae that do not rely on empirical evidence, but on pure deductive reasoning, and questioned why a search for a deity couldn't proceed along the same lines. Dawkins steamrolled him, answering that when one proceeds from a false axiom, then one's logic, no matter how flawless, cannot lead to a sound conclusion. Poor stumbletongued dude, he didn't stand a chance against the articulate Oxford professor with the cultivated accent.

On the atheism front, Dr Dawkins cited census data indicating that religious identity declined precipitously in the UK from 2001-2011 and boggled at surveys which indicated that 40% of Americans didn't believe in evolution.

There were other cute moments, the good doctor mentioned his tie, hand-painted by his wife to depict chinstrap penguins. The doctor also gave advice to a man who was asking about "coming out" as an atheist to his wife (he told him to argue and debate, a surefire way to determine if the marriage were worth saving). He then related an anecdote about a friend whose husband transformed from a non-observant Jew to one who had two refrigerators and wouldn't flip a switch on Saturday- that marriage didn't survive. He was very sympathetic to kids who were struggling with coming out as non-believers and expressed a great degree of compassion for people living in fundamentalist societies such as Afghanistan, and the very real dangers that they faced. I was a bit surprised that nobody brought up the aftermath of Elevatorgate.

All told, it was a nice night, and my Dawkins fanboy friend got a book signed.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Devins! Dawkins!

In a little while, I'll be heading down to NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts to see my great and good friend Dorian Devins, chanteuse and Secret Science Club goddess (one of a pantheon of two) interview Richard Dawkins. One of the friends I am meeting downtown is a total Dawkins fanboy, while another of them is, like me, a total Dorian Devins fanboy. While I appreciate the good that Dawkins has done as a populizer of science, I do recognize that he is oblivious to his straight white male privilege. I am looking forward to an evening of spirited discourse, followed by a trip to Mamoun's Falafel Restaurant.

I'll put up a post about the evening tomorrow. It's going to be an interesting evening, to be sure!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lurid "Legend"

I'm not a TV watcher, I've never seen an episode of Mad Men or Breaking Bad. I certainly don't denigrate people who watch TV, it's just not my bag. That being said, because it is of local interest, I watched the pilot episode of Sleepy Hollow on the internet last night. Longtime readers will know that I am a Sleepy Hollow purist, even though The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is not a legend (it is a short story written in England in 1820 by American author Washington Irving, under the psedonym "Geoffrey Crayon, Gentleman" and attributed by "Crayon" to the fictional "narrator" Diedrich Knickerbocker) and there was no Village of Sleepy Hollow until 1996 (the village was called North Tarrytown, and the name "Sleepy Hollow" was coined by Irving to describe the valley of the Pocantico River).

On the most basic level, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which is freely available online, is a humorous story about a guy who, after attending a party, is chased by what he thinks is a headless horseman . The perennial popularity of the story is that it works on so many levels- it can be read as a story of the conflict between the Dutch settlers of the Hudson River Valley and an "English" interloper, or a tale of rivalry between a mischievous rustic bruiser and an effete, "citified" pseudointellectual, or a satire of a wannabe nouveau riche striver seeking to marry into old money. There's a lot of backstory, much of it implied, to the simple chase narrative that forms the climax of the story.

Most recent "adaptations" of the story eschew the rational explanation of the events of the story (I view it as a "spiritual ancestor" of the orginal Scooby Doo, Where Are You! (sic), and bring in supernatural elements (oddly enough, Ichabod Crane's superstitious credulousness is portrayed as a humorous quirk and a possibly fatal flaw, a fact that is lost on those who have adapted the story). TV's Sleepy Hollow is firmly in the "supernatural thriller" camp. Spoilers will abound ahead, so be forewarned... I'll post the trailer for the show, and there will be spoilers ahead:

The tagline of the show could very well have been: "Ichabod Crane: He's back from the dead, and ready to kick ass!" Rather than Irving's Ichabod Crane, a neurotic and greedy yet somehow likeable geek, the Crane of the show is a man of action, a former British redcoat who deserted and joined the revolution, becoming a "special agent" for George Washington. After a harrowing encounter in which he beheads a masked "Hessian" who bears a startling resemblance to The Lord Humungus, Crane ends up in suspended animation for more than two centuries. When he comes to, he finds that himself arrested by local law enforcement officers. Meanwhile, a young police lieutenant, Abby Mills, witnesses the death of her avuncular captain (played by one of my favorite actors, Clancy Brown- as an aside, Clancy Brown and James Earl Jones, the two best voices in Hollywood, should collaborate on a show, just for the sheer awesomeness of hearing them talk) at the hands of a headless dude. Eventually, she meets with Ichabod and the two realize that they are bound by fate to combat the Headless Horseman, who is implied to be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The show provided about forty-five minutes of goofy, lurid fun. The two leads have good chemistry as a mismatched pair forced into a collaboration by circumstances that seem to be spiraling out of control. The character of Lieutenant Abby Mills is a strong, capable African-American female whose interactions with the temporally-unmoored Crane are played for understated comic relief. When Crane unthinkingly observes that she has been emancipated from slavery, she reminds him that she is a lieutenant in the Westchester County police force, and quips that she is authorized to use her gun on him, which elicits a stammering assertion from Crane that he has long supported the abolitionists' cause.

The basic plot has Lieutenant Mills and Ichabod Crane piecing together the phenomena that have led to the resurrection of both Crane and the Horseman. Through the course of the pilot, it is revealed that the town of Sleepy Hollow, and the entire Eastern seaboard of the United States, is home to two conflicting covens of "witches", some who are trying to hasten the end of the world, and others who are trying to thwart their nefarious plot. Some characters are revealed to be participants in the conflict, and Abby reveals that she and her sister encountered a supernatural evil that unhinged her sister... it's revealed that Crane's wife, a good witch who is based on the character of Katrina Van Tassel from the original story, had encountered the same supernatural force. The pilot set up a bunch of potential plot threads, and I imagine that most of the fun that will be provided by the series involves trying to figure out the various supernatural allegiances of the townspeople. In particular, police chief Irving (named after Washington Irving?), played by talented comedian and character actor Orlando Jones has a couple of "ominous" scenes in the pilot. Thankfully, the show eschews that all-too-common "fantasy skepticism" that a mars the "suspension of disbelief" of too many supernatural thrillers-- the characters, confronted repeatedly by tall, dark, and headless and his trail of decapitated victims, don't insist that the monster is not real. Similarly, the in-show reality does not include the Headless Horseman, or Ichabod Crane, for that matter, as well-known characters. Sorry, there's no room for a Horseman Restaurant in the TV Sleepy Hollow.

Now, as to local content, which is the sole reason I watched the show... while the show was largely filmed in North Carolina, there are plenty of aerial shots of the genuine Sleepy Hollow, which establish a sense of place. Starting at the three-and-a-half minute mark, a camera follows a southbound train on the Metro North Hudson line and at the 3:38 mark there is a great shot of the Philipsburg Manor historic site, specifically the 17th century manor house and the New World Dutch barn. If I'm not mistaken, the overhead shot at 10:45 in the show is the Broadway (Route 9)/Bedford Rd (Route 448) intersection, but I would have to do a drive-by to verify the landmarks. At the 17:03 mark, there is a great overhead shot of the Old Dutch Church and the ODC and Sleepy Hollow Cemeteries. At the 26:28 mark, the Hudson River can be seen in the upper left hand corner. At 28:27, there is a beautiful shot of the sun setting over the Western Hudson highlands, with a brief glimpse on the extreme left hand side of the Philipsburg Manor House, the Philipsburg millpond, and the curve of the Pocantico River as it flows into the mighty Hudson.

Finally, the quibbles... I can't write this without mentioning quibbles, because I revel in pedantry. One of the jokes in the show, which can be seen in the trailer, is that Starbucks are ubiquitous in Sleepy Hollow. In fact, there are no Starbucks franchises in the Village of Sleepy Hollow. If one wished to get a cup of coffee in the village, one would most likely go to the aforementioned Horseman Restaurant or perhaps get a cafe con leche at Corona's Lunch. While more of an "Easter Egg" than a quibble, the series makes a big deal about the population of Sleepy Hollow being 144,000, which is a reference to the Book of Revelation- the real village of Sleepy Hollow, as of 2010, has 9,870 residents, 51.04% of which are Hispanic, many from South America. The community portrayed in the show seems simultaneously more developed and more rural than the real Sleepy Hollow, with a couple of large buildings and undeveloped outskirts. Also, while I have seen many complaints about Katrina Crane being burned as a witch, rather than hanged (the method of execution employed by our fanatics), I am more peeved that they portrayed the witch's grave as being in consecrated ground. The Sleepy Hollow region's one witch, a midwife, herbalist, and crack shot known as "Mother Hulda", fell in a running gun battle with a British cattle rustling party and, because she wasn't an orthodox member of the Old Dutch Church congregation, was buried outside of consecrated ground, even though she routed the raiders. My biggest quibble with the pilot episode was that light didn't shine out of Clancy Brown's severed neck, but I'm a geek.

All told, the show was a bit of goofy fun, and I didn't hate it. The characters were fairly well written and the two leads were appealing and had good chemistry, essential for what boils down to a "buddy cop" show. The "fish out of water" elements were amusing without being totally farcical. I don't know if I'd make a commitment to watching the series on a regular basis, but I did enjoy playing "Hey, I know that place" during the "scene establishing" shots. If you are a fan of supernatural thrillers with some comic elements, you will probably enjoy the show. For a breakdown of the show's elements, TV Tropes has a good summary, just don't fall into the TV Tropes Time Trap... you might be trapped there for over two centuries.

Monday, September 23, 2013

September Girls

I just spent quite a bit of time pulling a brutal October schedule out of my hat, which is to say, my ass. I kicked it over to the department head and my minions, so they can peruse it and suggest changes. I also asked them to look for any errors, because I was pretty much cross-eyed by the time I was done with it. Yeah, it's not a fun time of year for me, but somebody's having fun! bbkf and Von were able to meet up in Chicago, and their e-mails to me indicate that they had a blast together. I knew they'd get along famously, and look forward to a full report. While I'm not having too much fun right now, those September girls are having a good time, which reminds me of a song. Here's Big Star's oft-covered September Gurls:

Oft-covered, you ask? Sure, here's The Bangles doing a version of the song:

And a version by The Replacements, who also performed a song about Big Star frontman Alex Chilton:

The rest of the week won't be so bad, I have the next two days off, and then things get just a little insane.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

September is the New October

One theme that has run throughout my blogging career is the annual descent into madness that is October. October is our major fundraising month, with every weekend occupied by major events. This year, my department has two fewer staff members than last year, and I am the guy who has to cobble together a schedule. Four department members, three sites to cover over seven days, with simultaneous events occurring every weekend. I'm jumping through hoops here.

Today, besides trying to get feedback from everybody regarding the October schedule, I have been running around all day. Today was the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, so we had a lot of Hasidic families visiting the site (the celebration involves getting outside for a good portion of the day, and we provide wholesome entertainment in an outdoor setting, so we have a good number of Hasidic families visiting on a typical Sunday, but today was especially busy). I had to help one of the day shift members close up one of the buildings, and Ginger followed us from one side of the site to the Visitors' Center, where she was a huge hit with our visitors (while she won't replace Moses, she's carving out her own niche).

Tonight, I had to travel to another site to address a glitch in the alarm system there, which took an hour to accomplish. I then had to e-mail my department head to give him some feedback regarding next month's staffing requirements.

It's been a busy, busy day, and it's not even October. I guess it's good practice.

Tomorrow, I'll provide links for the various referents in this post, but I'm out of here in ten minutes, and I wanted to put up a quick post, almost a placeholder.

Friday, September 20, 2013

One Year's Advance Warning

This week, I got an e-mail from my great and good friend J-Co regarding the band Black 47, a band that has entertained the New York community, the Irish Diaspora community, and lovers of raucous music for many years. I have had the pleasure of meeting frontman Larry Kirwan on a couple of occasions. The wonderful Mary Courtney, the Star of the County Bronx, sang on the song Livin' in America. Anyway, J-Co's e-mail contained the following urgent message from the band:

In early November 2014, exactly 25 years after our first gig, Black 47 will disband. There are no internal disagreements, "differences over musical policy," or general skulduggery, we remain as good friends as when we first played together. We just have a simple wish to finish up at the top our game after 25 years of relentless touring and, as always, on our own terms. The last gig we played at the South Buffalo Irish Festival was as good as any we've ever performed. Our goal now is to play another full year plus and dedicate all of those gigs to you who've supported us through thick and thin. Rather than just running out the clock we will be recording "Last Call," an album of new songs in November. We would like to say goodbye to you all personally and will make every effort to come play in your city, town, college, pub, club, performing arts center, and should you wish to alert your local promoter you can download booking particulars here.

Black 47 has always been more than a band, we've spoken out for the nationalist population in the North of Ireland, against the war but for the troops in Iraq, for our gay brothers & sisters, immigrants - legal and undocumented - as well as for the voiceless of 1845-47; but in the end it all comes down to the music, the songs, and the desire to give audiences the time of their lives and send them home smiling and, perhaps, with a question on their lips. We look forward to seeing you all at the upcoming gigs. Thanks for the support and the memories - let's make many more over the next year. Take care of yourselves. Beir bua!

Wow, reading this e-mail set me on the five stages of grief. Black 47, besides being local heroes, has unfailingly promoted progressive values. As the e-mail puts it, "we've spoken out for the nationalist population in the North of Ireland, against the war but for the troops in Iraq, for our gay brothers & sisters, immigrants - legal and undocumented - as well as for the voiceless of 1845-47". The best way to convey the message of the band is to embed some links to illustrate these categories.

First, we have Fantic Heart, an explicitly anti-torture song detailing the plight of a man radicalized by The Troubles, an individual haunted by the death of his lover, and his subsequent torture at the hands of the authorities:

Downtown Baghdad Blues, drawn from an entire album about the Iraq War was their best-known anti-war but pro-soldier song:

The band's take on Danny Boy was a pro-gay rights anthem:

Livin' in America is about immigrants trying to cope with dead-end jobs with no safety net= "no sick days or benefits, and for Christ's sake don't get hurt. The quacks over here won't patch you up 'til they see the bucks up front!" Mary Courtney runs away with the song with her blistering delivery of the brilliant line, "Is this what I was educated for, to wipe the arse of every baby in America?"

Finally, the band gives voice to the victims of the Great Hunger by virtue of their name. Larry has asserted that the band's attitude towards the Famine is identical to the Jewish attitude toward the Holocaust "Never Again!" While I haven't been able to find a video for the haunting song Black 47 (it's kind of hard to narrow down a web search when band and song share a name), the incongruously jaunty San Patricio pays tribute to Irish immigrants who fled the Great Famine and were pressed into service in the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War, only to desert and join the Mexican Army when they realized that they had more in common with the Mexican peasants than with the largely WASP invasion force:

So, you have a full year to see the band play before they disband. If you get the chance to attend one of their concerts, jump on it! While the band has always been passionate about politics, they're a hell of a party band as well. Beir bua, indeed!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

DNA from Dioramas

In yesterday's blog post, I indicated that I had an interesting conversation with a previous Secret Science Club lecturer, and that I would write a future post about this conversation. As regular readers may recall, April's Secret Science Club lecture featured Dr Evon Hekkala of Fordham University. Her lecture was an outstanding combination of hard science, adventure narrative, mystery novel, and autobiography, and she came across as a combination of Indiana Jones and Sherlock Holmes, only cooler, and a real person.

Dr Hekkala is currently seeking funding for her DNA from Dioramas project, an undertaking which involves obtaining DNA from organisms collected by an expedition to the Congo which lasted from 1909 to 1915. The DNA from Dioramas project involves comparing the gene sequences of the 20th Century Congo specimens to modern specimens in order to determine how modern biodiversity stacks up against that of a century ago.

Currently, the project is 6% funded, $860 has been pledged towards a $13,000 goal. There are eighteen days left in the campaign. One of the classic protest slogans of the Cold War era read "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." A current slogan could read "It will be a great day when our scientists get all the money they need and the Televangelists have to hold a bake sale to push Creationism."

I don't "bleg" often, but this is a special case. I took an oath "to uphold the scientific method and to advance the public understanding of science throughout the Universe" and publicizing this project is the least I can do to fulfill my responsibilities as a card-carrying member of the Secret Science Club. Seriously, if you can make a pledge, no matter how small, it would be fantastic. Dr Hekkala deserves your support, she's so awesome that she saved a village in Madagascar using SCIENCE!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: Of Two Minds

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for the latest Secret Science Club lecture, featuring Dr Moran Cerf, who is one of those scientist/rockstar figures, a former hacker/security expert and Moth "Grand Slam" story winner.

Dr Cerf's lecture dealt with decision making and the brain/body interface. Why do individuals want one thing, but do the opposite thing? At times, it seems that an individual is two people fighting for dominance in one body. How does the brain interact with the body in everyday life?

Dr Cerf illustrated this conundrum by relating the tragic tale of Charles Whitman, the infamous University of Texas "tower sniper". After the mass shooting, the police tried to determine a cause for the shooting spree. Whitman was generally seen as a quiet, law abiding man, but his diary told an alarming tale. Whitman wrote that he "feels like he's not the same guy" and described having violent urges. Before he embarked on his murderous foray, he indicated that he wanted an autopsy performed on him and left a check to pay for it. When an autopsy was performed, a tumor the size of a walnut was found in his brain which impinged on his amygdala.

I another instance, a patient with a frontal lobe tumor began to exhibit signs of sexual deviancy, including pedophila. The removal of the tumor caused him to revert back to his previous sexual mores, but a partial recurrence of the tumor caused a return of the symptoms until it too was removed.

To illustrate the ability of individuals to "color" their perceptions of events, Dr Cerf cited a study (PDF) in which which a group of colonoscopy patients were told to rate the pain they experienced on a ten-point pain scale. Half of the patients experienced an interval at the end of the procedure in which the tip of the scope remained in their rectums. Oddly enough, the patients with the extended colonoscopy rated their experience as less painful than the patients whose colonoscopies were shorter in duration. It is probable that they experienced fewer "highs and lows" during the procedure than those with a quicker colonoscopy, and that the patients with the quicker procedure assessed it from moment to moment, rather than assessing it as one single event.

Studying the "competing influences" in the brain poses some ethical dilemmas- while studies using rats and monkeys can be conducted using electrodes implanted in the brain, human subjects typically refuse to have their brain tissue exposed and to have wires implanted in their brains. The ideal human subjects for such studies are patients who have brain injuries or illnesses. In extreme cases of epilepsy which cannot be treated medicinally (about 4% of cases), the corpus callosum, which connects the hemispheres of the brain is "cut". In these patients, the brain is typically open for two weeks, and electrodes are implanted in the brain to monitor it. The patients are asked for permission to be studied during this period of time.

The two hemispheres of the brain control "handedness" in the body, with a hemisphere controlling the motor functions of the opposite side of the body. The brain is not completely symmetrical, though, for instance, the language center of the brain is typically in the left hemisphere. Dr Cerf showed a couple of videos in which a subject with a "split brain" had to sort tiles or cards with various symbols on them, with one hand at times "correcting" the sorting performed by the other hand.

Electrodes in the brain can detect the stimulation of a single neuron (Dr Cern cited the "Simpsons" neuron also mentioned by Dr
André Fenton
in his SSC lecture). Here's a video of the "Simpsons neuron" in action:

A neuron that fires for a concept came to be known as a "Jennifer Aniston Cell"- one patient's neuron fired not only when an image of Jennifer Aniston was displayed, but also when the patient heard her name or saw it in written form. In another patient a similar cell fired when images, text, and spoken words represented the Sydney Opera House. This neuron was "fooled" when a display of the Baha'ai Lotus Temple was shown, but it stopped doing so when the discrepancies between images of the two buildings was pointed out to the subject.

In another experiment, a subject was asked to manipulate images on a monitor. The images chosen were of icon Marilyn Monroe and actor Josh Brolin- the subject was asked to concentrate on image, then the other, and the image on the monitor would shift accordingly. In essence, two neurons would vie for dominance. Wired has a great summary of the experiment with an accompanying video.

Dr Cerf then moved on to the role that neurons play in movement- in quadriplegics, the brain cells responsible for movement work properly, but patient is immobile. Is it possible to manipulate objects with the brain? Dr Cerf showed a very poignant video of a paralyzed woman who has been able to manipulate a robot arm with an electrode implanted in her motor cortex in order to drink her coffee- I challenge you to try to watch it without tearing up:

Currently, there are flaws in the work. Dr Cerf discussed, as Dr Anne Churchland did in her lecture, the fact that, although computers can "master" the game of chess, they have not been able to direct the physical act of moving the pieces on the board. The mechanics are being improved- in one particular experiment a monkey was able to manipulate a prosthetic arm via an electrode implanted in its brain in order to grab marshmallows:

During the trials, the monkey's arm was immobilized, necessitating the use of the prosthetic arm. Once able to manipulate the arm properly, the monkey continued to use the prosthetic even when both of its arms were free, effectively giving it a "third arm". Imagine the possibilities, an individual could use the TV remote, drink a beer, and scratch oneself all at once. Now THAT's what I call multitasking!

Of course, there are ethical problems as well as technical ones- one cannot simply implant electrodes into people without an underlying therapeutic need. The human subjects described by Dr Cerf were individuals who needed drastic medical interventions. That being said, it may be possible that the limitations of the human body may be overcome through the use of machines. He cited the transition of the typewriter, from Pellegrino Turri's machine to allow his blind lover to write letters to a ubiquitous office staple.

Dr Cerf then described an experiment in which individuals were presented with a "clock face" graphic, and were instructed to use a button to stop the clock "hand" whenever they chose, and were then asked to indicate when they felt the "urge" to stop the "clock". Using an EEG to measure brain activity, the test administrators determined that brain activity increased three seconds before the button was pressed, and 1.5 seconds before the subject indicated an "urge" to stop the clock. In subsequent iterations of the experiment, the subject was manipulated in different ways- they were told that they couldn't stop the "clock" under certain circumstances and were given conflicting stimuli. In some cases, the subjects tried to "fool" the administrators, but the EEG always gave the subject away.

Dr Cerf wrapped up by reiterating the whole topic of contradictory desires and behaviors. He cited the "snooze alarm" conundrum, in which one's desire to wake, characterized by the setting of the alarm, is "at war" with one's decision to sleep more. He showed various novelty alarm clocks which "escape" the snooze-prone. He wrapped up with a hilarious photo of fitness club patrons taking an escalator one flight to the gym. In the Q&A some bastard asked the good doctor if he'd seen any evidence that the increasing use of electronic gadgets was making subjects more comfortable with electrode implants. Dr Cerf indicated that, to the contrary, the trend is for more conservative therapeutic measures, with the use of electrode implants and radical brain surgery becoming less common as less drastic measures are put into place.

In the middle of the lecture, an individual at the other end of the room from myself fell ill, and there was a brief interruption of the talk, but Dr Cerf recovered quickly without losing his stride. Kudos to Dr Cerf for not missing a beat and delivering a superb lecture. It was another feather in the cap of the Secret Science Club. Here's a brief animated feature covering some of the topics of Dr Cerf's talk:

In other news, I had a conversation with the brilliant and awesome **FUTURE BLOG POST**, a previous Secret Science Club lecturer, about some assistance in an upcoming project. I am looking forward to this project, so watch this space. Additionally, Secret Science Goddess (one of a pantheon of two!) and chanteuse Dorian Devins will be conducting a dialog with Richard Dawkins on Wednesday, 9/25 at NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. A friend of mine who has just recently gotten into science via Dawkins' writings picked up tickets for a bunch of us to go, as soon as I texted him about the event. I feel bad about having told him about Dawkins' dickishness, but I feel that one needs to know about any warts that one's "heroes" may have. Me? I can see the beneficial accomplishments of Dr Dawkins as well as his dickery, and will be keenly interested in the possible controversies that will be brought to the fore in this forum. Of course, my primary reason for attending the event is my unwavering support for Dorian Devins, whose feminist credentials are as strong as her science-supporting community credentials. Put succinctly, I dig Devins more than Dawkins... nobody's ever had to make excuses for her behavior.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Peripheral Kitty

Since the death of our mouser Moses, we have had two cats in our employ, siblings Fred and Ginger. Besides our site cats, there are a couple of kittehs that hang out on the premises, a gray and black striped tabby who is very skittish around humans, but gets along very well with Fred, and a very handsome un-neutered male cat which has become quite friendly and looks a lot like the beautiful Mrs Cat. The latter cat is in beautiful shape, he appears to be well fed and has a clean, sleek coat, but he hasn't been "altered" and he never wears a collar with tags. We can't figure out if this cat is a stray or a neighbor's pet- the evidence is conflicting.

One of the girls in the crew preparing our big fall fundraiser decided that she wants to take the cat home if he's still around when the event is "struck". She described the cat as "the perfect Halloween cat". Of course, she has competition- there's more than a few of us who want to take him on as a mouser. Needless to say, all is contingent on ascertaining that he doesn't belong to a neighbor, even a less-than-responsible one.

Because the cat spends quite a bit of time hanging around, a couple of us have taken to making up names for him. My co-worker **REDACTED** calls him "Panther", but I call him "Shadowcat", in tribute to a character from Dave Trampier's Wormy. Hmmm... somebody has put up the entire run of Wormy. My personal favorite strip is a glorious depiction of a "boat" trip to Toadtown, a particularly nice bit of fantasy art. If you're a fan of outré comics, you'd do well to check out the whole series.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, here is a picture of the handsome feller... a perfect Halloween cat, indeed!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

State of the Neighborhood

Yesterday, I had a blast at the third annual McLean Avenue Street Festival, which was a rousing success. I spent the afternoon wandering from beer tent to beer tent along the length of McLean Avenue. Along the way, I "browsed" the food vendors, munching on a spanakopita on one hand, and grabbing a bizarre hot dog with mac-and-cheese and bacon from Dobbs Ferry's Dawg House (there were a couple of out-of-town vendors, including a restaurant from the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper upper Manhattan). At the western verge of the festival, I found myself in front of the newish Bronkers Tap House, which had catering done by a Jamaican-born gent who runs a "jerk" operation out of a smoker he usually parks by Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center on 233rd St in the Bronx. I spent a good time eating some great jerk pork while drinking hard cider and listening to a couple of middle-aged paisans playing Italian standards onstage. Did I mention how much I love my neighborhood? The guys onstage played Reginella Campagnola, a personal favorite of mine, as their encore. After a while on the western verge of the festival, I wended my way to Rory Dolan's, the premier pub of the McLean Avenue commercial strip. The staff at Rory's had a couple of supplemental bars set up in their parking lot, and the bartenders, consummate professionals all, were slinging the pints with aplomb.

Of course, it's the people who make a party, and the crowd was a great one. There were a lot of families attending the festival, and everybody was in good cheer. The festival was a great opportunity to catch up on the local scuttlebutt... I spent a good deal of time talking to one of the organizers of the upcoming Yonkers Film Festival, which I just learned about this weekend despite the publicity it's garnered. In my conversation with the festival organizer, I referred to Yonkers as "The Sixth Borough", which happens to be the tagline of the festival... great minds think alike! Sadly, October is when my employer runs their major fundraisers, so I basically pull a "Captain Nemo". I'll surface sometime in November.

I also had a good conversation with the founder of the Jonas Bronks beer company, who is planning on opening up a brewery in The Hub in the South Bronx. He's Bronx born-and-bred being the son of Katonah Avenue deli owners. I sure hope the business is a success, it's good to see a local kid make good and provide jobs in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood.

I also had a long, heartfelt conversation with a heart-meltingly pretty young woman who graduated from college last spring. She told me that she was $25,000 in the hole with student loan debt, and doesn't know when she'll be able to move out of her parents' house, but she considers herself lucky because a lot of her friends have much more debt, and she has parents who are supportive. I commiserated with her, and told her that I was convinced that her age cohort was the nation's best hope for a decent future (it's not the first time that I have said that I think the millennials will be the ones to bail the country's chestnuts out of the fire). I gave her a sincere wish for a change in fortune. It's tough to hear that someone who has done everything right isn't guaranteed a shot at success, but that's the new normal here in these United States.

Another standout conversation I had was a beer-soaked discussion of the misogyny of "nerd culture" with two sisters from Woodlawn, one of them resplendent in piper's regalia. Somehow, I managed to avoid a thumping when I mentioned that I wasn't really a "Dr Who" fan, being able to accomplish a "redirect" by saying that Shane MacGowan should have be cast as the new "Doctor". Anyway, one of the sisters was so disenchanted with misogyny in fandom that she refuses to refer to herself as a "nerd", but she'll cop to being a "geek". I told her I'd lend her my copy of Sign of the Labrys, but I'll be prepared to run like hell when she reads the back cover blurb. Back on topic... seriously, nerd d00ds, stop hating on the ladies.

All told, it was a great day- a lot of beer, a lot of good food and music, and peerless company. The neighborhood is as awesome as it's ever been. I have to thank my co-worker **REDACTED** for being willing to juggle the schedule so I could drink and carry on.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Third Annual Fall Festival

Today, the McLean Avenue Merchants' Association Third Annual Fall Festival is taking place from 11AM to 7PM on, you got it, McLean Avenue. McLean Avenue, for those not familiar with the City of Y______, is in the extreme south of the city, near the Bronx border, and turns into Nereid Ave in the Bronx when it crosses the Bronx River Parkway (I can see my house from that map). Along with Katonah Avenue in the Bronx, it forms the Greater Woodlawn neighborhood, which straddles the Yonkers/Bronx border (Woodlawn officially refers to the section of the Bronx east of VanCortlandt Park, West of Webster Avenue, North of Woodlawn cemetery and South of the Yonkers border). The neighborhood has enough of an Irish character that such events as the Fall Festival are covered in the Irish Central.

This year's festival will feature four stages worth of entertainment as well as the usual food, booze, and entertainment offerings. The Avenue's establishments are heavily weighted towards bars, so the beer will be flowing all the doo-dah day. There is a minor controversy, though, as the festival is being held on Yom Kippur. Having known one of the organizers of the festival for almost thirty years, I have to say that the guy hasn't got a bad bone in his body, so this oversight is not due to malicious intent.

I called in a favor at work so I'll be able to go on a bender today, switching a shift with a co-worker and working a double from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning so I can sleep for a few hours, then spend all afternoon/evening/night getting my craic fix.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Vulgar Tongue

Tonight, I am working a double, I started at 4PM and am working straight through until 8AM so I can go out drinking tomorrow. Yeah, I'm not going to sugarcoat anything, I just need to go out and drink plenty of beer tomorrow. Anyway, this evening, a couple parked a camper van (and not the kind you're thinking of) in our parking lot. My cutoff for strange vehicles in the parking lot is nightfall. You want to park and check out the small picnic area outside our visitors' center, I'm cool with that, and will usually approach and give a spiel about the site. After dark, I'm not so sanguine...

I just pounded on the camper and was answered by a European fellow (he sounded French to me, but I didn't ask him his particulars), who told me that the people in the "office" told me that he could park the camper in the lot. I looked at him and said, "Don't blow smoke up my ass. The "office" staff wouldn't tell you such a thing."

Neither of us being a total dick (though his attempted bluff was kinda dickish), I told the guy where he could park in peace, and he moved the vehicle. It wasn't until after our exchange that I wondered whether he got the gist of "to blow smoke up one's ass". It's funny how easy it is to slip into the vernacular when you are miffed. Sheesh, I wonder if he would understand "miffed"...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembrance and Rage

I don't own a television, but I had a couple of errands to run, and I found myself eating a slice of pizza in a local joint and watching the 9/11 memorial festival on the local CBS affiliate. They were in the "S" and the friends I lost were in the "L" section (and one of them died years after the attacks from lung cancer brought on by his being engulfed in a toxic cloud for an hour or two). I pretty much wrote my piece on the aftermath of the attacks two years ago, and I don't have anything further to say about the subject.

This year, I imagine faux outrage about the Benghazi attacks will be interwoven with the 9/11 commemorations, at least among the right-wing set. We have already seen efforts to conflate the Benghazi attacks with the World Trade Center attacks and a Republican strategist claimed that the Benghazi attacks were worse than the WTC attacks- yes, a Republican actually had the nerve to claim that an attack on a remote consular post that killed four men was worse than an attack on the United States' premier city that killed approximately 3,000 individuals. When confronted with the ridiculousness of their Benghazi derangement, the conservatives respond with rage.

Conservatives always respond with rage- conservative pundits attacked the widows and the families of the fallen and various other demographic groups soon after the attacks. They ginned up violence against innocent Muslims, which spilled out into violence against non-Muslims who appeared "Muslimy" to the ignorant. Of course, the invasion of Iraq was the ultimate attack on innocent Muslims, with the WTC attacks used as an excuse.

Remembrance is appropriate. For me, reminders will come whenever I see the siblings, parent, spouse, or child of a fallen friend. It's in the absence that the loss becomes apparent- the empty seat at the table. A friend told me that his sister-in-law cries whenever she sees him because he looks so much like his dead brother. Remembrance is crucial, but rage, rage is poison. Rage just begets more violence, more rage, and that is a disservice to the people who lost their lives twelve years ago.

POSTSCRIPT: The right-wing authoritarian nut jobs just can't help themselves, they are still spouting idiocy twelve years after the attacks.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Shonda for the Primary Voters

Today is primary day in New York and, even though I live in the City of Yonkers, I am paying close attention to the New York City mayoral race. I can walk to New York City in a couple of minutes, I spend a lot of time in New York City, and the fate of my beloved City of Y______ is inextricably linked with that of the Big Apple.

The big kerfuffle in this race is current Mayor Mike Bloomberg's horrible statement that Democratic frontrunner Bill De Blasio is running a racist campaign because his ads feature his African-American wife and mixed-race children- De Blasio's son Dante, with his awesome 'fro has become a minor celebrity in the five boroughs. Bloomberg, when asked to clarify what he meant by a "racist campaign" , whined, “It’s comparable to me pointing out that I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote.”

Predictably, Bloomberg has pointed out that he is Jewish while campaigning in Jewish neighborhoods, even going so far as to billing himself as "Mike the Mensch" and wearing a yarmulke when it suits his purposes.

Bloomberg started his political career as a wonky technocrat and has transformed into a petty autocrat in his third term, a term he engineered in spite of his support for a two-term limit to the mayoralty. Polls now indicated that many New Yorkers have "buyers' remorse for Bloomberg's third term, which has been marred by his stop-and-frisk policy (his howler about disproportionately stopping whites too much and minorities too little was especially odious) and his poorly thought out large soda ban (he should have proposed a penny-an-ounce tax to defray the health costs of soda consumption). Bloomberg has exceeded his shelf life, and is now stinking up the joint.

Bloomberg's animus toward De Blasio probably stems from De Blasio's opposition to Bloomberg's third term, to the extent that he was a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit opposing Bloomberg's third term campaign. There is also a perception that Bloomberg hates De Blasio because he is running against Bloomberg's perceived legacy. If so, Bloomberg's calumnious attacks on De Blasio's family reveals him as a callow, cowardly tyrant.

One of the greatest ads of this political season was recorded by author Junot Diaz. The blistering takeaway quote, one worthy of a celebrated novelist, eviscerates Bloomberg:

“When Bloomberg looks at a photograph of De Blasio’s family, he thinks racism. Me, I just think New York.”

Monday, September 9, 2013

Back to School Blues

Today is the first day of school throughout the NY tri-state area, and my commute will change drastically. There is a high school on the main drag near my workplace, and to avoid passing it, I would have to drive significantly out of my way. I live across the street from a school, so I have to contend with bus traffic if I don't leave my house considerably early. All said, the commute completely changes when school is in session, from a mildly annoying one to a much, much more exasperating drive.

Also on the topic of a return to academics, I had a somewhat depressing conversation with one of my upstairs neighbors last Friday. **REDACTED** is a very nice girl, but she's totally unenthusiastic about school. She's entering the tenth grade and she doesn't like any of her subjects. When I spoke to her, she hadn't finished her summer reading and she still had an essay to write. I'd try to get her on the topic of some subject that might be interesting to her, but she's not an enthusiastic student at all. She's a great girl- last winter, when I shoveled the neighbors' driveway, she joined me and cleaned off their front porch. She ultimately plans on attending the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and going into law enforcement, where her compassionate nature could serve her better than her academic achievements. Still, though, I think back on my love of school and I can't help but feel a little sad.

Hopefully, she'll find some subject to be more enthusiastic about.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

You Have the Greenest Eyes

Have you ever had one of those days when your latest musical obsession has an eerie relevance to an experience in your life? The latest song I've been playing the hell out of, Beauty in the Eye by Milk Carton Superstars kicks off with the awesome line:

You have the greenest eyes for someone who never recycles anything.

I was planning on posting a link to the song anyway, but my hand is forced by circumstances. My co-worker **REDACTED** is, to put it succinctly, a flashlight nerd. He has a plethora of flashlights, ranging from tiny keychain AAA-cell LEDs to a fifteen-pound monster that could throw a circle of light onto the full moon (on the one occasion he brought this one to work, the cops paid a visit to see what the hell was going on- that's how bright the sucker is). Yesterday, he brought a Dorcy LED headlamp to work and he discovered that it was perfect for spotting wolf spiders by creating a bright green "eyeshine". For some reason, our site flashlights are not good for spider spotting, so he left his headlamp with me at the end of his shift and I went out spider spotting.

It's remarkable how pronounced spidershine is, you can see the green luminosity from a distance of twenty feet, easily. We have a huge compost heap on site, and the thing looked like a deposit of emeralds from the reflections of hundreds of spider eyes. Talk about finding beauty in the strangest of places!

For a taste of spidershine, this video of a single spider gives you a good idea of it... now multiply this effect a few hundred times!

UPDATE: Actually thinking with my brain, the reason why the headlamp gives better results in spiderspotting is probably due to the fact that the light is emanating from the vicinity of one's eyes, so it's a matter of positioning rather than spectrum. Gonna have to test this out next midnight shift.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Syria Dilemma Summed Up in One Sentence

I touched upon the dilemma of a military strike against Syria in a couple of blog posts. Should there be a "limited strike" against Syria, and what would the implications of such a strike be? There is no international consensus, and Syria has the support of Russia and Iran, with Russia sending naval vessels to the Syrian coast.

Yesterday, a caller to the Thom Hartmann show, reflecting on the complexity of Syria's alliances and international relations, summed up the situation in one sentence: "The partisan who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assured that it was a limited strike."

On a less depressing note, Franz Ferdinand's new single is really catchy:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Another Sci-Fi Titan Gone

This year saw the passing of one of my all time favorite authors, the SF/Fantasy master Jack Vance. Well, another of the greats has shuffled off this mortal coil. Frederik Pohl, noted publisher, editor, and author has left this world and, somewhat to my shame, I hadn't been aware that he was still with us.

One of Pohl's greatest works is The Space Merchants, a scarily prescient 1952 satire written in collaboration with Cyril M. Kornbluth. The book presents a view of a society in which megacorporations run things and marketing is a powerful force, conducted in ruthless fashion:

"Well, about this Coffiest," he said. "We're sampling it in fifteen key cities. It's the usual offer --- a thirteen week supply of Coffiest, one thousand dollars in cash, and a weekend vacation on the Ligurian Riviera to everybody who comes in. But --- and here's what makes the campaign truly great, in my estimation --- each sample of Coffiest contains three milligrams of a simple alkaloid. Nothing harmful. But definitely habit-forming. After ten weeks the customer is hooked for life. It would cost him at least five thousand dollars for a cure, so its simpler for him to go right on drinking Coffiest --- three cups with every meal and a pot beside his bed at night, just as it says on the jar."

One of Pohl's most accessible works is The Day the Icicle Works Closed, another depressingly prescient short story about a society gripped by a depression kicked off by the collapse of its greatest industry, which leads to a sharp divide between the haves and the have-nots. The story was reviewed by a blogger of note, and can be read here. The Liverpudlian band The Icicle Works took their name from this short story.

Rest in Peace, Mr Pohl... your ability to predict the foibles of society was unparalleled. Truly, we're living in the future you predicted.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I Feel it Coming on Again Just Like It Did Before

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly passed an authorization to use military force against Assad's Syrian regime. A military foray against Syria has bipartisan support- funny how Congress can agree about blowing the crap out of Middle Easterners but they can't agree to a jobs bill for citizens of the United States (unless they work for military contractors).

While the Assad regime is brutal, the opposition is a multifarious assemblage of disparate groups, ranging from pacifists to Islamic fundamentalist jihadis. My biggest concern is that U.S. foreign policy won't take into account the complexity of the former Syrian society, and that the Sunni/Alawite, Turkish/Arab/Kurdish, Druze/Salafi, and the Just-About-Everybody/Armenian conflicts that threaten to boil over and scald the entire region. The simplistic approach to the Iraq invasion led to a decade of sectarian violence, a conflagration which will only be "fanned" by a poorly-executed attack on Syria.

As if that weren't enough, Russia opposes American intervention and Iran, while not keen on Assad's use of chemical weapons, stands in opposition to U.S. military intervention as well. Does the U.S. government really need to get into a proxy war with Russia and Iran (the true victor in Bush's Iraq War)?

The title of the post is derived from the Soft Boys' song I Wanna Destroy You, a song which parodied punk rock and, ironically, became a much covered punk anthem. Here's a 2001 rendition of the song by a reconstituted Soft Boys, which Robyn Hitchcock dedicated to Dubya:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Didn't Do a Thing Today

I worked hard this weekend, and the job was characterized by long shifts, running around and reacting to various conditions... a couple of visitor injuries, a couple of dashes to the handicap-accessible .service gate to admit wheelchair bound patrons, an hour just spent locking up after the event. I was pretty beat by the end of the weekend.

Having a day off, I spent today sleeping in and goofing off. I didn't accomplish a blessed thing today, while most people had to return to work or school after their three day weekend. It wasn't bad leading a life of leisure for a day, though I have to say that when this guy goofs off, it's unseemly.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Cat Brevet

On my principal job site, we have two buildings that require the presence of mousers. As regular readers of mine would know, we recently lost Moses, one of our mousers, to cancer at the age of fifteen. Our two other mousers are siblings Fred and Ginger, who are about four years old. Fred and Ginger were the offspring of a feral cat cared for by a former site director, who took them in and found a job for them handling mousing duties when their predecessor, Mischief, succumbed to a kidney ailment. Fred and Ginger were not kittens when they arrived- they were lanky adolescents. At the beginning of last year, I was actually concerned about Fred, who was looking a bit gaunt, but this proved to be a dramatic growth spurt, and now Fred is about twice the size of his sister.

Since losing Moses, we've had to figure out a solution to our mousing needs until we can get another cat- nobody wants to split up the Fred and Ginger "team" by having them work in separate buildings. Cats being territorial animals, Moses was very jealous of his turf, even though the incorrigible Ginger tried on numerous occasions to impinge on Moses' domain. Sad to say, Moses and Ginger would occasionally squabble, and Ginger would hide atop a radiator above the communal cat water bowl in a "neutral" building and take a swat at Moses when he came to drink... incorrigible.

We hit on a solution of acclimating Fred and Ginger to Moses' former bailiwick, in effect to brevet them to the new position. Ginger overcame a reluctance borne out of shooings out fairly quickly, but Fred needed to be coaxed into the building. When they are both acclimated to the new mousing environment, we'll probably have them alternate between the two buildings. Fred and Ginger both follow me all over the grounds, so it'll be a matter of playing doorman for cats so we have full coverage.

Meeses beware!