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Kitty Cops

hard at work                                                                                                               screen shot
Homeless cats. Nuisance rats. Put them together, as the Los Angeles Flower Market has done, and everyone's happy (except the rats). The Working Cats program places shelter cats in locations that could use their services, including businesses, schools, and warehouses. So far, they've matched up about 500 cats with close to 50 places. Often, these felines are not the friendliest and, for that reason, are hard to place in private homes. After "working" around people, like at the Flower Market, many become used to humans and end up being adopted. "It's not anything new," says Melya Kaplan, executive director of Voice for the Animals, who came up with the idea in 1999. "People used to have barn cats or church cats to keep out rodents. We just brought [it] to the city, and it seems to be really working":
   Here's the group's video:

The Female Arts

one of oldest cave paintings. El Castillo Cave, Spain Pedro Saura/AFP/Getty Images
The title of this article ("Early Humans Became More Feminine, Which Led to the Birth of Culture") drew me in immediately, as this correlation is something I've thought and wondered about for a long time. In particular and bringing it to the present tense, it seems to me that many of the countries whose laws make it more difficult for creativity to bloom are the same as those where punishment for unsanctioned behavior is the harshest and, (not) coincidentally, where women are subjugated and seen, basically, as non-citizens with few, if any, rights or voice. Conversely, it seems to me, those where women have attained some level of acceptance and respect and, even, elected positions in government, are those in which the arts are more revered and dissent and "otherness" are more tolerated. This observation seems to apply even to organized groups or areas within countries. Now comes a study that finds a correlation between lower levels of testosterone in early humans and the beginning of agriculture and cooperation. According to the article, the study concludes that "this may have proved an evolutionary advantage for early human societies, as it would have fostered wider-ranging social networks, closer cooperation between unrelated individuals, a wider choice of mates, and reduced chances of inbreeding." (This is one of the reasons I'm so concerned about women feeling they need to be more competitive and aggressive/assertive in the name of equality, instead of men feeling the need to be less so, but that's another story):

It's About Time

Get ready to have your mind bent. It seems that what happens to an atom in the present can change its past. As if the bit about photons changing as a result of the mere fact of being observed wasn't weird enough. According to the article, a team of physicists at the Australian National University "showed that if you offer a speeding helium atom two possible paths, the route it takes appears to be retroactively determined by the act of measuring the atom at the end of its journey." No one is quite sure what all this means yet. "If you ask 10 people, you'll get 11 opinions," says Radu Ionicioiu, of Bucharest’s Horia Hulubei National Institute for Physics and Nuclear Engineering:

A Day Twice As Nice

There's Pi Day, of course, on March 14, or 3.14. It's notable date, celebrating as it does a most reputable and essential cipher. Since 2010, though, it's had a competitor for your devotion ~ Tau Day, or 6.28, aka 2 Pi Day ( What argument could possibly be made for Tau Day, you might ask. Well, allow educator and physicist Michael Hartl to elucidate: "Since the circle constant is important, it’s important to get it right," he writes in his Tau Manifesto, "and we have seen in this manifesto that the right number is τ. Although π is of great historical importance, the mathematical significance of π is that it is one-half τ." And, yes, the day is gaining its adherents and, consequently, recommended ways of celebrating in style:

On Second Thought

It's only the 26th time this has happened since 1972, and it may be the last, so enjoy the leap second while you can (which would be at the end of the last minute of June 30). The extra second is being tacked on to correct a slight error made back in the 1960s. John Lowe, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, explains: "The rate we chose for the atomic clock is slightly wrong. We could have done a little better." Indeed. Why on Earth would anyone calculate a second as being 9,192,631,770 oscillations instead of 9,192,631,950 oscillations? Well, we may be paying for it now. Some are predicting computer-related issues, along the lines of the Y2K scare:
   It's all so simple! Scientists use Very Long Baseline Interferometry, employing geometry ~ and quasars as reference points ~ to determine how Earth's radio telescopes are moving relative to one another and over time. And that's how they figure out exactly how long a day is and why we need that extra second every once in a while. It's also not so simple. There are lots of factors, including earthquakes, volcanoes, and oceanic tides, that impact how we roll. “In the short term, leap seconds are not as predictable as everyone would like,” says geophysicist Chopo Ma, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (story, video):

Alone in a Crowd

Billy Idol was nothing if not prescient when he sang "if I had the chance I'd ask the world to dance/and I'll be dancing with myself." Enter, about a year or so ago, the silent disco, in which revelers wear headphones or earbuds they can tune to whichever of several DJs they want to listen and dance to. As one might expect, this leads to everyone dancing to the beat of his or her own drummer, as it were, and pretty much dancing on his/her own. Then again, it also allows everyone to customize, to a certain extent, and gives the DJs fairly instant feedback as they note who's bopping to the tune they're playing. So, you decide ~ individualization or isolation? momentary fad or long-term trend?:

Talk of Ages

Age ~ and, more particularly, aging ~ seems to be the obsession du jour today (see post immediately below this one), but really, it's only because these articles and Census Bureau figures appeared recently. The fact that this country is getting grayer (OK, silver or platinum) pretty quickly is not news; we've been hearing this for years. But here's the interesting part: not all areas are doing so equally. The maps in this article show, for example, that the grayest counties seem to be in rural areas, mostly in the center of the country, while those with the fastest rise in older residents tend to be in the left half. One county in Nevada, population about 800, has seen the percentage of its residents over age 65 rise from 20 percent in 2010 to almost 30 percent in 2014. Other maps show where there are the fewest and the most working-age residents per capita and where more than 27.3 percent of the population is younger than 19:
   According to the latest report from the Census Bureau, millennials (those born between 1982 and 2000) now make up one-quarter of the population, and 44.2 percent of them belong to a minority race or ethnic group. Another interesting statistic is that, while most states are graying (led by Maine), North Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Hawaii, and Wyoming showed a decline in median age from July 1, 2013, to July 1, 2014. Utah is the state with the lowest median age (30.5):

Long Time Growing

Posidonia oceanic
It's all relative, right? So here are a few facts about old age and long lives that might make some of us feel just a bit better about where we stand on our own timeline. from

The oldest living thing in the world is thought to be an ancient seagrass known as Posidonia oceanic that was estimated to be approximately 200,000 years old when it was discovered in the Mediterranean Ocean, from Spain to Cyprus in 2012. Scientists believe that the seagrass is able to live so long because it is asexual. It can reproduce on its own and essentially clone itself as needed. Over time, as Posidonia oceanic expands by growing more branches. Each individual patch of the seagrass weighs about 6,000 tons and takes up about 10 miles (16 km) over the Mediterranean Ocean.
The second oldest living thing is the world is a 43,000-year-old Tasmanian shrub, Lomatia tasmanica.

More about the oldest living things on Earth:
  • A French woman named Jeanne Calment is considered the person who lived the longest in documented history, and was 122 when she died in 1997.

Itching for Summer

A little public-service post here. About mosquitoes. I've been noticing more of them around lately than I remember in previous years (at least, I think that's what's been biting me whenever I'm outside in the evening), and that brings up an old dilemma ~ bug or drug? Most of the conventional repellents are chemical-laden, and many of their ingredients are not so good for us. But they work. Over the last few years, more "natural" repellents have hit the market, but not all of them work as well. Here's a list of essential oils whose scent mosquitoes apparently don't like and that work at least as well as the DEET-based formulas:

Body of Art

"Microbial Me," by Mellissa Fisher
We are the world, yes, and each of us is also a world unto ourselves ~ a total microbiome that's home to a trillion organisms, give or take. While every individual has certain of these organisms in common with certain other individuals, each microbiome is as unique as a fingerprint. A U.K. exhibit called "Invisible You" illustrates these facts and others with the works of 11 artists. These include a sound piece, sculptures, textiles ~ and photos from a Brooklyn-based artist of what grows in a petri dish when one swabs people's belly buttons:

The Boy Who Went Fission

screen shot
Taylor Wilson, now of Reno, Nevada, built an actual nuclear fusion reactor in his garage when he was 14. That was seven years ago. He also won $50,000 at a science festival for his invention that can find nuclear material in cargo containers. And he's not even close to running out of ideas. Like how to make cancer treatments more effective, and how to lower the price of energy with fission. “My life has been this series of events that I didn’t see coming," he says. "It’s both exciting and daunting to know you’re going to be constantly trying to one-up yourself. People can have their opinions about what I should do next, but my biggest pressure is internal":

Come See About Them

Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
They are the Supremes, the justices of the highest court in the land, and the judgments they hand down, for better or worse, are almost always the final say on any issue. As justices, they are unbiased and base their verdicts on the guiding principles of the Constitution ~ or that's the idea, anyway. In reality, it seems that impartiality is not that easy to come by and one's political beliefs often sway one's decisions. You can probably name most of them, but what do you know about them, their backgrounds, and their political leanings?:

It's Complicated

I know, I know, Father's Day is about all the good things dads do and how much we love them, and there'll be a lot of that in the next couple of days. Completely deserved. But when I read this excerpt, I remembered how, when my dad died, I found out that there are many, many people who aren't, or haven't been, all that close to theirs (as I wasn't with mine). So here it is, a moving, cautionary tale from

Today's encore selection -- from Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin. Steve Martin's strained relationship with his father:

"My father, ... died in 1997 at age eighty-three, and afterward his friends told me how much they loved him. They told me how enjoyable he was, how outgoing he was, how funny and caring he was. I was surprised by these descriptions, because the number of funny or caring words that had passed between my father and me was few. ... When I was seven or eight years old, he suggested we play catch in the front yard. This offer to spend time together was so rare that I was confused about what I was supposed to do. We tossed the ball back and forth with cheerless formality. ...
   "My father, ... was not impressed [with my comedy act]. After my first appearance on Saturday Night Live, he wrote a bad review of me in his newsletter for the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, of which he was president: 'His performance did nothing to further his career.' ... I believe my father didn't like what I was doing in my work, and was embarrassed by it. Perhaps he thought his friends were embarrassed by it, too, and the review was to indicate that he was not sanctioning this new comedy. Later, he gave an interview in a

'Fate Has These Turns'*

"Battle of Waterloo" by William Sadler II
It was on June 18, 1815, that France's Napoleon Bonaparte lost it all, at the famous Battle of Waterloo, to England's Duke of Wellington ~ with the not inconsiderable help, it must be said, of forces from Prussia ( Small wonder, then, that while the British are whooping it up with reenactments, exhibits, and new monuments, the French are keeping rather quiet. Napoleon has always been a divisive figure, seen as either sinner or saint, sociopath or sage. Either way, the battle had ~ and continues to have ~ major repercussions and influence, not only on the two countries most directly involved, but on the entire continent. Writer Victor Hugo (1802-1885) was not thought to be exaggerating when he said, "Waterloo is not a battle; it is the changing face of the universe": and (story, video)
   So how, exactly, did this truly historic encounter unfold?:
   * Victor Hugo (describing, in fact, this particular event), Les Misérables:

On the Pelota

Zincha is pumped                                                                                                  © Getty Images
There's a big-deal soccer competition going on in Chile right now (June 11-July 4), and it's quite possible that no one in the United States who's not of South American origin has ever heard of it. It's the Copa América, and it's only the oldest such competition in the world. As a public service, then, The Guardian has compiled a handy-dandy study guide about the event. A few highlights: the 10 countries that participate are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela; the official ball this year is the Nike Cachaña; this seems to be Uruguay's contest to lose ~ they're the biggest winners in Copa history, followed closely by Argentina; some of the meets have been particularly colorful (and I'm not talking about the mascots), politics invading the field as it sometimes does:

Running on Empty

Columbia University
Hard to believe, but here it is ~ an engine powered by room-temperature water. Even harder to believe is the main component of this engine ~ a new material called hygroscopy-driven artificial muscles, or HYDRAs, living spores whose outer shell reacts to moisture. How does it work? Well, according to the article, "The engine is placed over a puddle of room-temperature water, creating a small enclosure. As the water on the surface naturally evaporates, the inside of the engine becomes slightly more humid. This triggers strips of HYDRAs to expand as they soak up some of the new-found humidity. Collectively, these HYDRAs pull on a cord which is attached to a small electromagnetic generator, transforming the cord's movement into energy." Granted, we're talking small engine here, but the potential seems almost limitless (story, videos, GIFs):

One By One

In 1976, 37.4 percent of Americans age 16 and older were single; by 2014, that number had jumped to 50.2 percent. But what, exactly, qualifies as "single"? Does it mean "unattached," or does it simply mean "unmarried"? In other words, does someone who lives with a partner qualify as "single"? "Once you recognize that the two-parent, two-kid family that married at 22 and are together till the end of their lives is a rarity these days, everything else seems less unusual,” says Hugh Ryan, who considers himself single even though he recently bought a house with, and shares it with, two other men. However it's defined, singledom seems to be booming. "Almost half of new births are to unmarried mothers," according to this article. "The number of parents living together but not married has tripled. And the number of American adults who have never been married is at a historic high, around 20 percent." It's a trend that shows no signs of slowing or reversing itself, and perhaps the question to ask here is, Is there any reason it should?:

We Are Stardust

"There is a wind that blows from the heart of dying stars, a wind so strong that it reshapes the atoms in its path and drives them out as spindrift into space." So begins this poetic piece on the ways the finding of a specific iron isotope on a rock brought up from the ocean floor ~ and the absence of a specific plutonium isotope on Earth ~ could change our theories about our planet and the history of the solar system. Even if it doesn't, the author says, the link such discoveries highlight between the geological and the cosmological, between the smallest thing we know and the largest, is a source of wonder and nuance:

The Playground's the Thing

Patrick Giblin
You may never look at playgrounds the same way after you've seen City Museum in St. Louis. Always under construction of one sort or another, it opened in 1997 on the site of the International Shoe Company and covers 600,000 square feet. And when you've got that much room to play with, you'd better get inventive. Which they have. In addition to the aquarium, ball pits, and Ferris wheel (on the roof, of course), there's the cantilevered school bus, hundreds of feet of tunnels, two 10-story slides, a restaurant, and ~ get this ~ a bar, among other pleasures (story, tons of pix):

Dog Really Is Your Copilot

According to a study conducted at Kyoto University, dogs are very loyal, maybe even more so than your human best friend. “We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest,” reports lead researcher Kazuo Fujita. How did they determine this? By having their test dogs be offered a treat by someone they saw being mean to their owner and someone who was neutral to their owner. Consistently, the dogs refused to take food from the mean person:

Just Because: 'First Love'

Arnaldo Reyes
OK, I'll admit it. I'm posting this poem because it strikes a really deep, resonant note in my soul and solar plexus. But I'm willing to bet it speaks a universal truth that many can relate to. The poet, Jennifer Franklin, explains its origin: "This poem was written on a napkin in Brandy's Piano Bar in New York's upper east side. Brandy's is a remnant of old(er) New York where a solo featured pianist and a handful of bartenders take turns playing 80s ballads, Bob Dylan, and the standards. We arrived, close to last call on a bitterly cold February night ... Just before close, two patrons asked if they could usurp the piano and mic for a three-song set. They were brilliant. Their set happened to be the nostalgia of my childhood jukebox, presented as spontaneous and ironic, but nonetheless sincere and therefore sad." From poem-a-day:

The boy beside me
is not you but he
is familiar in all

the important ways.
I pass through life
finding you over

and over again—
oppress you
with love. And every

Afflicted by my
kindness, they leave

me with my music.
I loved you before
I ever loved you.

Monitor on Board

Board Formula
At some point in November, if you happen to be out in the vicinity of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, you will be witness to an interesting sight ~ 50 scientists and researchers from that venerable institution taking to the waves on their surfboards. While they'll probably enjoy their time out there, their purpose is to test a new fin. Called the Smartphin, it's the brainchild of a professor-of-neurology-turned-filmmaker and a surfer getting his PhD in structural engineering. What makes it smart is the sensors embedded in it that will collect data on water temperature, salinity, acidity, and wave signature. If all goes well, the next step will be to convince surfers to swap out their old fins for a smart one:

Where Did Bashō Gō?

Bashō on the road
So who is this Bashō, and which back roads did he take to which far towns and places (see post directly below this one)? Born Matsuo Kinsaku in 1644, in the Iga Province of Japan, he became the most famous haiku (or hokku) poet of his day. And really, his haikus are so open and honest, so real and so evocative as to touch all the senses at once. For example, this one:
an ancient pond
a frog jumps in
the splash of water
   He was a restless spirit, by all accounts, but he also had a sense of humor:
now then, let's go out
to enjoy the snow ... until
I slip and fall!
   Around 1682, Bashō ("Matsuo" was his family name, "Bashō" a pen name he took on after receiving a gift of bashō trees from a student) began the first of the many months-long walking journeys that

Just Because: 'Back Roads to Far Towns After Bashō'

Along with Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and William S. Burroughs, among others, writer and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti (né Lawrence Monsanto Ferling in 1919 ~ his Italian immigrant father, who died six months before he was born, had shortened the family name, but Ferlinghetti went back to the original) is considered one of the premier voices of the Beat movement of the 1950s. According to The Literature Network, "The years immediately after the Second World War saw a wholesale reappraisal of the conventional structures of society. Just as the postwar economic boom was taking hold, students in universities were beginning to question the rampant materialism of their society. The Beat Generation was a product of this questioning. They saw runaway capitalism as destructive to the human spirit and antithetical to social equality. In addition to their dissatisfaction with consumer culture, the Beats railed against the stifling prudery of their parents’ generation":
   Ferlinghetti founded City Lights magazine and then the iconic bookstore of the same name in San Francisco, which was a gathering place for Beat artists, and in this way, in addition to through his writing, he was a major influence in the movement. His book Back Roads to Far Towns After Bashō, published in 1970 and a year later under the title Back Roads to Far Places, is one long poem, written in his hand. Here is an excerpt:

Make it new!
                                                                 Make it new!
cried the parrot
                                                                                 to the mockingbird
We were born
                                                                 under the mulberry trees
from which drop
                                                                                             the mynah birds of madness
And fish float
                                                                 thru the trees
eating the seeds
                                                                                         of the sun

High-Tech Hotel

inside the NH Collection Madrid Eurobuilding
Just in time for summer vacation, that's "high-tech" as in wireless charging, Bluetooth furniture, chrome glass walls, and hologram presentations. As in Bluetooth room keys, projector TV in the bathrooms, and under-bed sensor lights. Really. Only thing is, so far, you can get all this at one hotel ~ and that's in Madrid (as if you needed that excuse to go there). But it may not be long before every Motel 6, Hampton Inn, and Super 8 ... Yeah, right! (story, videos):

A Race of Robots

Running Man scores another point               Daniel Terdiman for Fast Company
"I instantly see there's a gulf in performance between the top robots and all the others. A handful of bots can't even get out of the vehicle they drive to the start of the course. At one point, the Atlas robot from Hong Kong University spills head-first out of its vehicle, tearing its hydraulic lines and spraying fluid in an arc." So begins an account of the finals at DARPA's Robotics Challenge on June 5-6. It is, according to the article, "the world's most important robotics competition," testing as it does the skills a robot would need in a real-life disaster. The participants drive vehicles, climb stairs, and cut through walls. Some perform most of the tasks automatically and others are completely human-controlled. By the end, the field is narrowed down to the KAIST humanoid, Running Man, Tartan Rescue, Momaro, and CHIMP. With the first prize set at $2 million, the tension is palpable and understandable (story, link to slideshow):

The Real SEAL

Only those who've been on a regular Navy SEAL team for several years can try out for Team 6 (the Navy's counterpart to the Army's Delta Force), and only about half of those who try out make it. Most of us know Team 6 as the group that found and killed Osama Bin Laden, but as this extensive, in-depth New York Times investigative piece shows, what we don't know about it could fill tomes. The team's current role, according to the report, "reflects America’s new way of war, in which conflict is distinguished not by battlefield wins and losses, but by the relentless killing of suspected militants.
   "Almost everything about SEAL Team 6, a classified Special Operations unit, is shrouded in secrecy — the Pentagon does not even publicly acknowledge that name — though some of its exploits have emerged in largely admiring accounts in recent years. But an examination of Team 6’s evolution, drawn from dozens of interviews with current and former team members, other military officials and reviews of government documents, reveals a far more complex, provocative tale" (story, video, GIF, links):

May Flowers Bring Bridal Showers

3,500 couples married in a Unification Church ceremony in 2013              © AP
In honor of June, which, as we know, is traditionally the month for weddings, at least in the United States, a compendium of photographs of the ceremony from around the world (slideshow): and one of interesting traditions, many of which involve mass weddings, also from around the world. It's never too late to incorporate some of these in your own celebration (story, slideshow):

One White Woman's Burden

The story of Cynthia Ann Parker could very easily be seen as a metaphor for the egocentric way in which groups of people have always viewed and continue to view each other. After reading this excerpt, I wondered what happened to her children, the two sons and one daughter by her Comanche husband, Peta Nocona. Both a son and her daughter died young (Prairie Flower was 4) of influenza, and her remaining son, Quanah Parker, grew up to be one of the last Comanche chiefs:


In today's encore excerpt -- from Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne. The heartbreaks of Cynthia Ann Parker. In 1836, when she was nine years old, she was captured in a murderous raid by Comanches on her frontier family. The story, and the resulting search for her, became famous throughout the country. However, she then became the wife of a Comanche chief of that tribe, bore two sons and a daughter, and seemed a content wife and proud mother. She was finally "rescued" by Sul Ross and the U.S. Army twenty-four years later in a battle that saw her husband killed, her two young sons run away to save their lives, and both she and her young daughter taken into captivity:

   "[There was the] virtually universal belief among Texans at the time that Sul Ross, the hero of the battle and the future Texas governor, had saved the poor, unfortunate Cynthia Ann Parker from an ugly fate. That belief would color the histories for a long, long time.
   "We will never know how Cynthia Ann Parker felt in the weeks and months after her capture by Sul Ross. There are so few comparable events in American history. But it was painfully apparent from the earliest days that the real tragedy in her life was not her first captivity but her second. White men never quite grasped this. The event that destroyed her life was not the raid at Parker's Fort in 1836 but her miraculous and much-celebrated 'rescue' at Mule Creek in 1860. The latter killed her husband,

Creature Watch

ospreys, Bremen, Maine                                                                 screen shot
Live cams! It's time for the Hatch Watch with this particular osprey pair (the dad arrived as I was watching), who are caring for their eggs in a beautiful nest with a view of the bay. But wait! There's more! The Audubon website offers links to live cams trained on walruses and puffins and polar bears, too, among others:

Maybe Socks, Too?

There is a place where the precept "reduce, reuse, recycle" is taken very seriously, and that is the Unclaimed Baggage Center. Before you ask, yes, there really is such a thing. It's in Scottsboro, Alabama (mostly known, until now, for the landmark Scottsboro Boys case of 1931 ~ in fact, the center is not far from the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center). It's hard to understand how so many suitcases are left behind by their owners, but there you have it ~ and there, in Scottsboro, you have the spoils, ripe for the picking. Says the center's Brenda Cantrell, "Our shelves provide both a snapshot of what's going on in America right now and also a chance for shoppers to essentially travel the world" (story, slideshow):

The Police and the People

screen shot
Whatever your political stance or general ideology, this chart listing all those known to have been killed by police in the United States so far this year is hard to ignore. So many questions are raised. Are these statistics correct? Have previous years' statistics been correct, and if not, how can we determine whether the number of such incidents has grown over the years? Is it possible, for example, that we are just more aware of them, that their documentation is more publicly available now, due to the growing prevalence of citizen videos shared over the Internet? If their number is indeed up, could that possibly be connected to the easy availability of guns in the country? Or are officers being trained differently?: