As the companion of a geriatric cat, I am acutely conscious of the changes in nutritional, psychological and medical care that must be afforded to aging animals. With advancements in veterinary science and safer environments, just as domestic pets in affluent nations are experiencing unprecedented increase in their longevity, so are the inmates of modern, better designed zoos. As a result, zoo animals sometimes survive much longer than they might in their natural habitats. Older animals in zoosoffer up new challenges to their care takers who must learn to adapt to the changing and sometimes unexpected needs of their aging wards.
Even as a youngster, Rollie looked older and wiser than his years. His white mustache sprouted longer by the month, until it flamed from his cheeks like a German kaiser's. In the past few years, though, the tribulations of age — not just the appearance of it — have begun catching up with Rollie. His keepers are reminded each time they get a look past the Emperor Tamarin's flowing whiskers and into his jaws. The monkey, used to crunching on raw sweet potato, has surrendered all but six of his 32 teeth to the toll of time. At 17, Rollie — a resident of Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo — is a senior citizen of his species. In the Amazon he almost certainly would never have made it this long. In captivity, he's got plenty of company.
The golden years have arrived at the nation's zoos and aquariums, taking veterinarians and keepers, along with their animals, into a zone of unknowns.
Do female gorillas, living in to their 40s and 50s, experience menopause?
Can an aging lemur suffer from dementia?
How do you weigh the most difficult choice — between prolonging pain and ending life — when the patient is a venerable jaguar who feels like a member of the family?
All those questions hang on a larger one that, until recent years, has been left to educated guesswork.
"How old do animals really live?" says Sharon Dewar, a spokeswoman for the Lincoln Park Zoo, whose keepers adjusted to Rollie's toothlessness by serving him soft-cooked veggies. "That's the million-dollar question."
Zeroing in on the answer takes years of tracking births, deaths and the age of animal populations. But zoos, which have pooled information since the 1970s, are drawing conclusions. For example, records show that the median age of Siberian tigers in zoos has reached 15 years old, up from just over 11 in the two decades ending in 1990.
Russ Williams, the executive director of the North Carolina Zoo Society ponders the same questions on his blog.
In his comment on my last postabout a Japanese train company which turned its fortune around by appointing a cat as the station master, my co-blogger Dean informed me that US librarieshave for long known the advantages of employing feline friends to add pizazz to their premises.
Dean is notorious for burying nuggets of interesting and important pieces of information in the comments section of the blog rather than showcasing them in posts. (Dean, what can we do to bring you out to the main page?) So I am taking the liberty of bringing the story to the front for our readers' enjoyment. Note that the California cat Flyerwas once our ownDean's colleague in a Whittier public library.
The Memorial Day weekend at the Paul household was TV and Internet free. Early Saturday morning our cable service went out of commission and so did the two amenities dependent on it. Our cable provider Comcast blithely informed us that no technician could come out to restore connection any earlier than next Friday, the 30th of May. My extremely Internet dependent husband took matters in his own hands. After hours on the phone setting up service with new providers and firing Comcast, he managed to get everything up and running by Monday afternoon.
By the time I turned on the TV and the computer, I discovered that some interesting events had taken place while I was cut off from 24/7 cable news and the World Wide Web. Among them:
NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander touched down flawlessly on the red planet as planned and is now busy sending back photos. See the mission overview here. The projected goals of the mission:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The international space station's lone toilet is broken, leaving the crew with almost nowhere to go. So NASA may order an in-orbit plumbing service call when space shuttle Discovery visits next week.
Until then, the three-man crew will have to make do with a jury-rigged system when they need to urinate.
While one of the crew was using the Russian-made toilet last week, the toilet motor fan stopped working, according to NASA. Since then, the liquid waste gathering part of the toilet has been working on-and-off.
Fortunately, the solid waste collecting part is functioning normally.
Russian officials don't know the cause of the problem, and the crew has been unable to fix it.
The crew has used the toilet on the Soyuz return capsule, but it has a limited capacity. They now are using a backup bag-like collection system that can be connected to the broken toilet, according to NASA public affairs officials.
"Like any home anywhere, the importance of having a working bathroom is obvious," NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said.
A financially beleaguered Japanese train company has managed to turn its profits ledger from red to black by appointing a cat as the station master.
TOKYO (AP) -- A money-losing Japanese train company has found the purr-fect pet mascot to draw crowds and bring back business - tabby Tama.
All the 9-year-old female cat does is sit by the entrance of Kishi Station in western Japan, wearing a black uniform cap and posing for photos for the tourists who are now flocking in droves from across the nation.
Tama has been doing such a good job of raising revenue for the troubled Kishikawa train line that she was recently promoted to "super-station-master."
"She never complains, even though passengers touch her all over the place. She is an amazing cat. She has patience and charisma," Wakayama Electric Railway Co. spokeswoman Yoshiko Yamaki told The Associated Press Monday. "She is the perfect station master."
Appointing a cat to turn around fortunes makes cultural sense in Japan, where cats are considered good luck and are believed to bring in business.
People are snatching up novelty goods - postcards, erasers, notebooks and pins - decorated with Tama's photos. There's even a special 1,365 yen ($13) book of photos of Tama called, "Diary of Tama, the Station Master."
I learnt some new facts about my co-author Sujatha in a postshe wrote at her blog. Responding to an Internet game of tag among bloggers, she revealed a few hitherto unknown (to me) talents and proclivities. The two that caught my eye particularly are:
3. Languages known: English (best of all), Tamil (really well, but unfortunately I never did learn any swear words in it, even though it's my mother tongue), Hindi (enough to sing along with Bollywood songs and understand the dialog), Malayalam (enough to pass for a Tamilian speaking Malayalam badly), Sanskrit (enough to be dangerous trying to figure out when the priest at the local temple has bumbled in his rendition), French (Parisien accent, rolled 'rr's and all...) Plus, I can read Cyrillic and Urdu scripts, though I am rather rusty with the lack of practice. I'm aiming to learn Telugu, Bengali, Arabic and Chinese as well, if I can get hold of enough online material.
8.I love creepy-crawlies and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to save spiders, centipedes and the like from the attacks of the 'Bug Squad' ( M & S armed with fly-swatters and bug vacuums).
I knew that Sujatha knows several languages well. But that she can read Cyrillic and Urdu scripts came as a complete surprise to me and I am properly impressed. The second revelation impressed me even more - her love for creepy-crawlies and the time she spends trying to save them. I am wondering if Sujatha ever goes as far as this kind womanto help a spider. See the photo below and read the post to find out the spider's reaction to her "helping hand" interventions. (link to Nina Katchadourian's website via 3QD)
The scene of this chronicle is the town of Dawson's Landing, on the Missouri side of the Mississippi, half a day's journey, per steamboat, below St. Louis.
In 1830 it was a snug collection of modest one- and two- story frame dwellings, whose whitewashed exteriors were almost concealed from sight by climbing tangles of rose vines, honeysuckles, and morning glories. Each of these pretty homes had a garden in front fenced with white palings and opulently stocked with hollyhocks, marigolds, touch-me-nots, prince's-feathers, and other old-fashioned flowers; while on the windowsills of the houses stood wooden boxes containing moss rose plants and terra-cotta pots in which grew a breed of geranium whose spread of intensely red blossoms accented the prevailing pink tint of the rose-clad house-front like an explosion of flame. When there was room on the ledge outside of the pots and boxes for a cat, the cat was there-- in sunny weather--stretched at full length, asleep and blissful, with her furry belly to the sun and a paw curved over her nose. Then that house was complete, and its contentment and peace were made manifest to the world by this symbol, whose testimony is infallible. A home without a cat--and a well-fed, well-petted, and properly revered cat-- may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?
Mark Twain (from the opening page of The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson)
I am writing this as a follow up to Sujatha's post below. Readers can leave a note of protest against such inhumane and unethical treatment of animals here. Also, if you wish, please make a donation to the Humane Societyto help with the campaign against cruelty to all animals, including factory farmed animals used for meat, milk and eggs.
A recall of 143 million pounds of beef, one of the largest in U.S. history was made recently, affecting thousands of school districts supplied by a California plant under the National School Lunch program. This stemmed from an undercover investigation of practices at the plant, complete with a disturbing video shot of animals being forced into the chutes, even when they were sick and unable to walk in.
Wrangler isn't an ordinary slaughterhouse worker. He is an
undercover investigator for the Humane Society of the United States,
who got a job at the Westland plant and filmed the abuses with a hidden
camera. "There wasn't a formal strategy or anything like that," he
says. "You're there just doing the job, and this stuff is just
happening all around you." On Jan. 30, the Humane Society broadcast
excerpts of the video on its Web site.
The next day, the United Stated Department of Agriculture suspended
Westland Meat Co. as a supplier to the National School Lunch Program. A
few days later, USDA pulled its inspectors from the plant and shut down the plant, pending further investigation. The acts of animal cruelty have led to the arrest of two meatpacking workers by Chino police.
More than two weeks after Wrangler's video caused a sensation online, the USDA issued the largest beef recall
in the history of the United States: 143 million pounds of beef
products, most of which has already been consumed. About 40 percent of
that meat went to the National School Lunch Program and other federal
nutrition programs. Amazingly, all of the abuses occurred with USDA
inspectors on the premises. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said he
was "dismayed at the inhumane handling of cattle" at the plant.
The school district my children attend was among the many listed as having received the recalled meat cases, and while the authorities assure us that the recalled meat has been off the lunch menus since the start of February, there are still anecdotes of some kid or the other having stomach problems after eating meat at lunch. Who knows whether the un-recalled products are any safer or more humanely harvested than the recalled batch? We will probably never find out.
A recent book that I read, "Animals in Translation" by Temple Grandin, who is autistic, brought fascinating insights into the behavior of animals, as 'autistic savants' of sorts. She is also an industry expert on the design of humane slaughter house facilities, and is even invoked in a Feb 3, 2008 Westland letter promising more investigation into the cattle abuse:
we had 17 third party audits of our operation to confirm that we meet the statutorily
mandated humane handling and food safety standards. In addition we have
conducted 12 internal audits by our own personnel to ensure that such standards
are met. We also, conduct weekly humane handling audits based on standards set
forth in the American Meat Institute’s (AMI), Recommended Animal Handling
Guidelines and Audit Guide 2007 Edition, which was authored by Dr. Temple
Grandin, a world renowned expert of humane handling practices. Complete
documentation of this activity has been made available to the USDA
investigation team currently at our plant.
What problems have been rectified by the recall of meat that have been largely consumed by now? Will it really save unwary consumers from eating problem meat? It seems more like a case of bolting the stables after the horses have run away, similar to the situation with declaring clone-derived meat safe for human consumption after the offspring of clones had already entered the food-chain.
The above is an excerpt from Pablo Neruda's poem Ode to the Cat (Oda al Gato) which was sent to me by Narayan Acharya. Despite a severe allergy to cats, fortified with anti-histamines, Narayan entertains his neighbor's cat Sammy in his home. The full poem below the fold.
Dying--you wouldn't do that to a cat. For what is a cat to do in an empty apartment? Climb up the walls? Brush up against the furniture? Nothing here seems changed, and yet something has changed. Nothing has been moved, and yet there's more room. And in the evenings the lamp is not on.
One hears footsteps on the stairs, but they're not the same. Neither is the hand that puts a fish on the plate. ......
Monday's Democratic debate in South Carolina had more than its share of fireworks. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama went at each other with passion and fury. The bitter exchange continued beyond the debate stage next daywhen both candidates addressed reporters to harp on the weaknesses and dirty tactics of their main rival.
Yesterday morning Sujatha and I had a short e-mail exchange about a New York Times article on politics in the animal world. I asked Sujatha which animals the Democratic presidential candidates reminded her of during Monday's debate. She replied:
"I think gorillas- the matriarch (Hillary) challenging the newcomer (Obama) to the group, while Edwards was like a side-lined Silverback, trying to recapture the attention of the audience in between the slugfest between Obama and Clinton. We're not that far off from our proto-monkey ancestors!"
I agree. But both of us forgot the other 800 pound gorillawhose gigantic shadow looms all over this election.
Early last year I wrote a post on pet euthanasiawhen the memory of a beloved and very loving pet's death was painfully fresh in my mind. The article was linked to a Newsweek essay by Jonathan Cooperman who had just gone through the wrenching experience of putting his playful Doberman to sleep. I argued that those of us who love our animal companions deeply, relate to them at some level as persons. In doing so, we unashamedly accord them the dignity and worth that we normally reserve for our human family members. While some find the notion bewildering and even preposterous, others like me, find nothing unusual about the sentiment.
Abbas Raza, fellow pet lover and editor of 3 Quarks Daily, recently went through the ordeal of dealing with the near fatal sickness of his much loved cat, Freddy. He was distraught and disconsolate and was surprised by the depth of his own sorrow. In a heartfelt article, Abbas examines his emotions and his deep attachment to his feline companion. He concludes that Freddy had long ago ceased being a "cat" in his mind and had been transformed into a very interesting and endearing "person" whose company is now an essential source of joy for him.
There are two kinds of people: there are the kooky kind who will spend $4,000 on dialysis for their cat whose kidneys are failing (substitute some significant expenditure of resources for individuals in differing financial circumstances—you know what I mean), even if only to extend its life briefly; and then there are the kind who will make fun of the former (or even regard them with moral disapproval—that money could have been used for better purposes, etcetera). Recent events surprised me by showing that I belong in the first category. And now that I know I belong there, I am going to attempt an explanation or at least hazard a conjecture, a speculation, a plain guess, at what puts some people there.
I have thought a bit about my own reactions which, as I mentioned above, surprised and even embarrassed me. ... Here's what I think: while you can have various degrees of affection for pets, there is a quantum leap that you can make (and this is a Rubicon that cannot be uncrossed): if in your own psychological representation of your pet, you habitually grant them personhood, then there is no choice but to treat them as you would a person because different parts of your mind which specialize in generating the emotions which allow you to interact with (and love) other humans come into play, and these are irresistible impulses. You might as well try to not care about your children. I believe that some animals, like cats and dogs, have through their long histories of living in people's homes as pets (more than 10,000 years in the case of cats), been naturally selected to encourage human empathy. Imagine what a survival advantage it is to the household cat that its young behave in such ways and make such tiny, vulnerable (to the human ear) sounds that it takes a particularly monstrous human to harm a kitten. Similarly, they have, I think "learned" (even if they do not have the equivalent emotion--after all, just as I don't know what it is like to be a bat, I don't know what it is like to be a cat either) to express emotions that move us and encourage us to conceive of them as persons.
Two animal posts in a row - no it's not going to be a pattern. Having written a harrowing and depressingstory yesterday about cruelty to animals, I hope to cheer things up a bit with a heart warming and curious tale of peaceful animal-human co-existence.
I have a favorite old Edward Gorey t-shirt. The caption reads: "Books. Cats. Life is sweet." The following story may well inspire t-shirts and other parphernelia with the logo, "Family. Friends. Purring Cat. Death is peaceful." ....... In a nursing home for the elderly in Providence, Rhode Island, lives Oscar, a two year old cat adopted by the staff who literally "sniffs" out death. Oscar unerringly picks out patients who are about to die - very soon. He gets in the bed with them and waits until they are gone - purring all the while. His record is so impressive that doctors and the medical staff at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center have begun to depend on Oscar to alert them to the impending deaths of patients, so they can notify family and loved ones. When families cannot make it to the bedside in time, Oscar also provides companionship to those who would otherwise have died alone.
Oscar's amazing ability prompted Dr. David Dosa, geriatrician at Rhode Island Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, to dedicate an essay to him in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. (the NEJM link is subscription only. I am copying most of the essay below).
Oscar the Cat awakens from his nap, opening a single eye tosurvey his kingdom. From atop the desk in the doctor's chartingarea, the cat peers down the two wings of the nursing home'sadvanced dementia unit. All quiet on the western and easternfronts. Slowly, he rises and extravagantly stretches his 2-year-oldframe, first backward and then forward. He sits up and considershis next move.
He takes a few moments to drinkfrom his water bowl and grab a quick bite. Satisfied, he enjoysanother stretch and sets out on his rounds. Oscar decides tohead down the west wing first, along the way sidestepping Mr.S., who is slumped over on a couch in the hallway. With lipsslightly pursed, he snores peacefully — perhaps blissfullyunaware of where he is now living. Oscar continues down thehallway until he reaches its end and Room 310. The door is closed,so Oscar sits and waits. He has important business here.Twenty-five minutes later, the door finally opens, and out walksa nurse's aide carrying dirty linens. "Hello, Oscar," she says."Are you going inside?" Oscar lets her pass, then makes hisway into the room, where there are two people. Lying in a cornerbed and facing the wall, Mrs. T. is asleep in a fetal position.Her body is thin and wasted from the breast cancer that hasbeen eating away at her organs. She is mildly jaundiced andhas not spoken in several days. Sitting next to her is her daughter,who glances up from her novel to warmly greet the visitor. "Hello,Oscar. How are you today?"
Oscar takes no notice of the woman and leaps up onto the bed.He surveys Mrs. T. She is clearly in the terminal phase of illness,and her breathing is labored. Oscar's examination is interruptedby a nurse, who walks in to ask the daughter whether Mrs. T.is uncomfortable and needs more morphine. The daughter shakesher head, and the nurse retreats. Oscar returns to his work.He sniffs the air, gives Mrs. T. one final look, then jumpsoff the bed and quickly leaves the room. Not today.
Taking into account a few rare exceptions, I don't like, watch or follow the game of football. But from time to time I catch the news of some or the other high priced, high profile athlete indulging in foul or criminal behavior. Mostly I shrug. Assault, battery, gambling, drug abuse, rape and even murder seem to have become par for the course for our arrogant modern day gladiators. The O.J. Simpson case had us glued to our TV sets a little over a decade ago. Accusations of slitting his ex-wife's throat and the ridiculous spectacle of the bloody glove that "did not fit" gave rise to high drama. Sensational journalists called it the "trial of the century" (NOT!). Nothing, we were told could top that tragic and sordid event. But O.J. (who I believe was guilty), if he did kill Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, did so out of rage filled jealousy - a crime of passion. At least we understand that even when we are revolted by it. But how does one explain what Michael Vick, the star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons is accused of doing?
It's time for Michael Vick to hang up his Atlanta Falcons jersey. He should be immediately suspended from the NFL and, if convicted of dogfighting, thrown in the slammer. People who abuse animals belong in prison, not on the playing field. Anyone who is capable of the heinous cruelty that is detailed in Vick's damning 18-page indictment poses a danger not only to animals but also to fellow humans. Unlike football, dogfighting is no ''sport.'' The ''winners'' are kept on heavy chains, starved, beaten and forced to fight other dogs again and again; the ''losers'' pay with their lives. According to the indictment, in March 2003, Purnell Peace, one of Vick's co-defendants, allegedly killed a female pit bull who had lost a fight by soaking her with water and electrocuting her after consulting with Vick. Just this past April, Vick and his codefendants allegedly killed at least eight dogs who didn't make the ''cut'' in preliminary fighting sessions by hanging them, drowning them and ''slamming at least one dog's body to the ground.'' The indictment describes at least four other incidents in which Vick's co-defendants allegedly killed dogs who weren't aggressive enough by electrocuting them or shooting them with a .22-caliber pistol. Vick's success as a quarterback brings him multimillion-dollar contracts, status and recognition, but the ''winners'' who survived Vick and his cohorts' alleged bloody fights apparently got the ''luxury'' of being chained constantly to buried car axles, left with untreated injuries, forced to run on a treadmill and, in the case of females, strapped down with their heads immobilized in a ''rape stand'' while male dogs mounted them.
Yes, Michael Vick has been charged with "dog fighting" - the inhumane pastime (accompanied by brisk betting) of pathetic losers who use dumb animals to satiate their twisted, sadistic blood lust. Note the gruesome details in the quoted article to put things in perspective. Dogs (usually pit bulls) are bred and reared to kill. They are kept chained most of their short lives with little care or nurturing contact, to prevent them from becoming "soft." Other animals - dogs and cats, are used as "bait animals" for the killer dogs to practice their skills on. The murderous enterprise is illegal in all 50 states. Therefore it is also secretive. But that doesn't mean that the practitioners are not organized. They use special equipmentsto breed and train the dogs. And that dog fighting goes on despite its being a felony in 48 states and a misdemeanor in 2, means that it is profitable and that some people really enjoy the barbaric carnage. Dog fighting used to be mainly a rural phenomenonin the United States. But the vicious practice has in the past decade or so found enthusiasts in urban areas where its popularity has mostly followed the increasing coarseness, violence and macho display associated with rap culture.
I have a hard time understanding the motivations of so called "manly" men for whom expressions of toughness and machismo include activities like bull fights, dog fights, cock fights, canned hunting and sending other people's children to fight their fantasy wars. (Vice President Dick Cheney is guilty of at least two of the five.) It is also an established fact that brutal killers often begin as animal abusers. Cruelty to animals is not punished sufficiently in my opinion, despite efforts by animal welfare organizations and animal lovers. But now that Michael Vick has put a well known, popular and Nike endorsed face on the criminal enterprise of dog fighting, it can no longer be dismissed as the weekend pastime of gap toothed hillbillies in remote corners of the country. I hope people will wake up and demand severe punishment for the perpetrators.
I am not a fan of Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.VA) and his long winded histrionics on the senate floor. But after the Michael Vick story became public, the octogenarian spoke at length about the brutal "sport" of dog fighting. When he protested, his body shaking and voice quivering, "Barbaric!," "Dastardly!" "Sadistic!" "Shame!" "Inhumane!", I cheered.I hope other law makers took note and were similarly moved. I do not know what the punishments for dog fighting or other animal abuse usually amount to. Probably a fine and a short jail term for illegal actions but more likely a slap on the wrist for less "egregious" abuse cases. What will be the fitting punishment for Michael Vick? Seizing his multi-million dollar assets? Neutering him? Throwing him into a pit with hungry wild dogs? 20 years in prison without parole? What is a dog's life worth? I don't know. But it is probably worth more than that of the likes of Michael Vick.
LikeLucy, the mother of man who came out of Africa, the mother(s) of all domestic cats might have been a resident of the middle east. Don't worry, this is not the start of Friday Cat Blogging - I refer to a paper to be published in the June 29 issue of Science which traces the history of the domestication of the house cat. The research conducted on behalf of the National Cancer Institute's Laboratory of Genomic Diversity by Carlos Driscollof Oxford University concludes among other things:
Cat domestication probably began some 12,000 years ago and became complete around 8,000 years later.
DNA analysis shows that house cats all over the world, from Shanghai to San Paolo, can trace their ancestry to five distinct wildcat lineages in the near east - around Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE.
Cats voluntarily adapted to humans and domesticated themselves upon finding safe living conditions around early agricultural settlements. Man probably played little or no role in the taming of the cat except to tolerate its presence around the home and the barn.
Cats migrated with their human companions from their original habitat to different parts of the world.
Although the cat earned its keep by killing rodents around the grain bins, the reason the cat became a beloved household animal (and even a divine deity, as in Egypt), probably had as much to do with its winning personality as its utility in the early agrarian society as a pest controller.
A Supersized Chicken: [link] The original Naturearticle requires subscription for full access.
One of the world's top fossil hunters has unveiled a previously unknown gigantic, chicken-like dinosaur that may change evolutionary theory on prehistoric animals.
The remains of the animal, thought to have weighed 1400 kilograms, was discovered by Professor Xing Xu, from Chinese Academy of Sciences, Mongolia's Erlian basin, an area rich with fossils. The new species, named Gigantoraptor erlianensis, is the biggest bird-like dinosaur ever found and at a height of 5 metres is about the size of the famous Tyrannosaurus rex, Xing says.
The 85 million-year-old creature was 35 times heavier than other known similar species, and is thought to have had a beak and sporadic patches of feathers, according to a paper in today's issue of the journalNature. Through analysing its skeleton, the researchers believe the Gigantoraptor shared the same ancestor and belonged to the same family as the Oviraptor.
With a beak and feathers, the Oviraptor is also bird-like and flightless, but weighed a mere 1-2 kilograms. The largest known feathered animal before the Chinese discovery was the half-tonne Stirton's Thunder Bird, which lived in Australia more than 6 million years ago.
"If you saw a mouse as big as a pig you would be very surprised; it is the same when we found the Gigantoraptor," Xing says.
DNA Restores The Cuckold's Nest: [link] Okay, we have known this for ever - men's anxiety over fatherhood. DNA testing for paternity has put many a man's mind to rest. But paternity tests are beyond the financial reach of the majority of men in the world. So, absent any concrete proof, men will go on wondering about the biological origin of their offspring. What came as a bit of a surprise to me in the linked article, is that this innate suspicion is reflected even in men's considerations for adoption - they tend to gravitate towards children who bear some resemblance to themselves. Women on the other hand, simply look for healthy babies.
High-profile paternity suits point to a trendy obsession for the ultimate proof of biological fatherhood. But to evolutionary psychologists, they're just a recent and hi-tech twist on age-old anxieties.
Since hunter-gatherer times, men have relied not on DNA swabs but on a little-understood calculus of physical resemblance to decide whether to invest in little Emma or Ethan. In the infant's upper face and eyes, the skeptical pater familias looks for clues.
Computer geeks have their own niche in pop culture. Sometimes, something crazed from that niche escapes and runs rampant among the masses.
Now working its way into the popular consciousness is something far more bizarre and — depending on your point of view and sense of humor — either very funny or irritatingly cutesy.
For the last few months, online regulars have been seeing on various Web sites and blogs pictures of cats and other animals in strange poses, with large type captions embedded in the photos. The grammar and syntax in the captions are atrocious by design. The pictures are called LOLcats, named after the abbreviation for "laughing out loud" used by fans of text and instant messaging.
The origin of LOLcats is murky at best. From what I can tell based on various blog posts — the most authoritative at LinguisticMystic.com, written by a Colorado linguistics student — they may have evolved from a practice called Caturday, in which cat lovers posted photos of their felines with funny captions on Saturdays. The cat-photo fad then merged with some other geek jokes. The mangled spelling associated with texting and gaming known as leetspeak — teh for the, ur for your, hai for hi, 1337 for "leet" or elite, and so on — became part of the gag.
Jyothsnay, whom I first met through a heated debate about cats and dogs, points me to a perfect crime. But she suggested and I agree, that the animal roles are reversed. Download PerfectCrime.zip (hope the file opens)
The mysterious disappearance of colonies of honeybees across several nations has alarmed commercial beekeepers who rent their services to a variety of large farming operations, due to what has been termed the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Entomologists and apiologists have been proposing and testing hypotheses ranging from radiation from cell phones ('Turn off your cell phones and Save a Beehive') to GM crops (courtesy the great Monsatan). We have purported quotes from the famed Einstein himself, credited with sobering utterances such as
"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only
have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no
more plants, no more animals, no more man."