30 March 2009

A Modern Depression

Today's Wall Street Journal had a very interesting article and graph (pictured) comparing the current recession with the "great" depression of the 1930s. This really excellent comparison has helped me better understand what is going on now and just how bad it was then.

The Journal is a paid site, so I cannot link to the article; however, this graph pretty much says it all: things might be bad now, but things will need to be MUCH worse to be as bad as things were then.

27 March 2009

Crabs Feel Pain? Well, duh!

It always amazes me to find out that there are people in the world (still) who think animals do not feel pain, or have consciousness, or have emotions. I mean, seriously: all you have to do is live with an animal for any period of time to realize all animals have the same basic traits as the human animal.

One big difference is self-awareness (essentially, see your image in a mirror and know it is you). Higher animals have this (humans, apes, and I think I even read of a dolphin). Just because they don't have self-awareness does not mean they do not have language, bond with others of their kind (or even other animals) or, of course, feel pain.

So, here is another one of those articles -- this one saying that hermit crabs feel pain AND remember it. And this is news, how exactly?

Anyway, the photograph is of my crabitat at home with the three hermit crabs I have. They have switched shells a little since this pic was taken, but they are the same three. I have had the biggest one for five years, the medium one for four and the little one for three. Aren't they cute?

21 March 2009

A Tale of Two Kitties

In May 2006 we lost our wonderful cat Eames to kidney failure. In October, we adopted our new cat, Eero.

Two years later, I digitized a mass of 16mm home movies that had been transferred to video tape years previously. (The last time I saw these films must have been 30 years before.) When editing the digitized copies, I found something very curious: When I was about four years old, I had a cat of which I have no recollection whatsoever. If not for the filmed proof I would never have known this. I do not remember the cat's name or anything about it.

But, here's the odd part: this mystery cat from 1963 is nearly identical in coloring to Eero. (Click on image to see comparison.)

When we saw Eero at the shelter, I gravitated right to her. Was it because she was all playful and cute, or because I had a forgotten memory of this earlier cat? I don't have the answer, but I was really amazed at the similarity. (And, for the record, I never had a white cat before Eero, at least not that I remembered.)

16 March 2009

Myriad Dinosaurs

Two interesting articles today on recent dinosaur discoveries around the world.

The first about a small group of baby Psittacosaurus (pictured) that got stuck in some mud and died 120 million years ago in the northeastern part of China. You can read more here.

The second is about Hesperonychus, a tiny dinosaur like a velociraptor but the size of a modern chicken. You can read more here.

13 March 2009

Baby Hippo = Lion Food?

So, let me get this straight: some zoos -- when they have baby animals for which they have no room -- kill the baby and feed it to the carnivores. Is that correct?

That's apparently not going to be the case for Farasi (pictured) the baby hippo born last November at the Basel Zoo in Switzerland who has become so popular (voted "Swiss of the year" for 2008) that an outcry has been raised against his impending demise.

You can read more about the uproar created by this cute little baby here.

11 March 2009

"You too can drive a death car..."

There are times when having random advertisements appear on web pages can be, well, awkward. (Click on image to enlarge.)

10 March 2009

A Man Named Cain

I don't read novels anymore -- I reserve my reading time for biographies and histories; but back when I did read novels, one author whose work I loved was James M. Cain. You might not recognize his name, but you certainly recognize his works: "Double Indemnity," "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and the novel that became my favorite movie of all time "Mildred Pierce."

On 12 September 1943, the Los Angeles Times ran an article interviewing Cain and writer Raymond Chandler (probably my second favorite novelist) who were both working on a film adaptation of Cain's "Double Indemnity" -- a fantastic movie, if you've never seen it.

Click on the image and you can read the article.

08 March 2009

Stream of Consciousness

Okay, a couple weeks ago we had to go to Tempe to meet Matt's family for Matt's brother's birthday dinner (which we do for all three brothers in the family) and we got there and waited and waited for the table and were standing outside in the cold (yes, it gets cold in Phoenix) and I was tired of standing and waiting so I suggested we (Matt and I) walk around a little bit, which we did, and then we walked by this store that had this gorgeous yellow hoodie in the window, which I didn't really need, but I didn't have a nice casual winter-weather coat-like thing, and it was on sale ($5 off) and it was a bargain ($24.99) so we went in and found one that fit like a glove and I took that one off and found one that fit slightly looser (I mean, who wants to walk around looking like a yellow sausage?) and while we were waiting to buy it, behind a pair of gorgeous black women, I started dancing to this really great song playing in the store that I never heard before and I turned and asked Matt (the human Ipod) the name of the song and he knew it (!) and then one of the black girls said "This song makes you really feel like dancing" and she started dancing too, and so there we were, this black woman and I dancing at the checkout counter of this store, and it was really cool, so when we get home I tell Matt he has to find this song for me -- which he did -- and then he discovered that someone had put it on YouTube (because that's, like, so UNEXPECTED) and I totally love it because whomever thought of it was brilliant, and whomever actually made it is totally brilliant and here it is:

06 March 2009

A Horse, of Course

In the long road of human evolution, many advances stand out: walking upright, opposable thumb, speech, etc. Once we got all that organized, we started living in nomadic groups.

Social evolution basically chugged along until the occurrence of two major events: farming and the domestication of wild animals: Dogs have been associated with humans for about 15,000 years -- originally, more for practical reasons (hunting, guarding) than companionship. Sheep have been around humans for about 11,000 years; cats and cows about 10,000 years.

Then, about 5,500 years ago, came the horse. Originally used as beasts of burden and as a source of meat, the real advance related to horses came when people began riding them. The first major source of long-distance transportation, the horse opened up new arenas for human societies and the exchange of foods, customs and languages.

You can read new information about the domestication of the horse here.

05 March 2009

Remembering a Person Forgotten

Richard David Cowan (circa 1909 - 1939) was, in the 1930s, the boyfriend of someone named Stewart Mitchell -- who may have been a writer. For a short time, he was one of the intimates in the famed circle of Sara and Gerald Murphy. He was also, it appears, an object of attraction for Gerald -- who had gay tendencies.

Very little is known of Cowan (pictured, with Sara and Gerald, in 1934), except that he killed himself by filling a kitchen with gas from the oven.

In a letter Gerald wrote to Richard, he said "... and I got to remembering things: your lingering over the bedded flowers in the Spanish Paseo, the things you laughed at, the way your hair grows on your neck, the loose Greek mould of your body, your staring at the passing foam on water, what brown looks like near you, the skin on your hands, your silences, your sudden height when you stand up.... Should one remember these and the thousand more secret things? ... Was it all lost? Will one ever enjoy it? Did it happen?"

You may read more about a recent exhibition of the art by the Murphys and those now-famous artists in their circle here.

01 March 2009

Metro, Anyone?

Saturday the spouse and I took our very first (and certainly, not last) excursion on the Metro Light Rail -- the new mass-transit option in Phoenix. That's us in the picture (taken by the train driver). Matt's the cute one on the left.

The first phase, opened in December 2008, is twenty miles and goes from the old Christown Mall in Phoenix, through Tempe, and to the edge of Mesa. It takes about 75 minutes to make the entire trip one way. Over the next dozen or so years, the rail will double in length and include routes to Scottsdale and Glendale and other cities in the metropolitan Phoenix area.

As with almost every city in the country now adopting a version of light rail, Phoenix once had its very own light rail system which dates back to 1887 and horse-drawn carriages. Those transformed into electric streetcars in 1893 and a revamped and revitalized system in 1925. (In fact, this later system ran just a block from where we currently live.) Too bad our light rail was torn apart in the 1940s and replaced with buses.

And now, here we are, just where we were 84 years ago, thanks to a system approved by voters in 2000.

Our excursion along the Metro was pretty fun. We were amazed to realize that the route ran right by about six of our favorite restaurants, and a lot of the attractions we visit on a regular basis.

Each of the rail stations has art made specifically for it -- part of a "percent for art" program in nearly all major Arizona cities that dedicates a small amount of every construction project budget to create art for that project. Of course, most of the art is pretty bland. I guess it is nice to have it, but it would be nicer if it was better.

We made it to the end of the route in Mesa and picked a neat little Chinese restaurant for lunch. On the way back we got off at one stop and walked to a thrift store we've visited in the past. After purchasing some books there, we walked to the next stop and got back on the metro for the ride back to our car.

A lot of cities have light rail, and I am so glad they (and we) have finally made the move into the future of transit. I have ridden light rail in San Francisco, San Diego and Washington D.C. and love it.

You can read more about the Metro Light Rail here and here.