Archive for the ‘Language and animals’ Category

Animals on duty

October 19, 2014

In the latest (10/20/14) New Yorker, a hilarious and simultaneously disturbing piece by Patricia Marx, “Pets Allowed: Why are so many animals now in places where they shouldn’t be?” (starting on p. 36), about emotional-support animals. From p. 37, on E.S.A.s vs. service dogs:

Contrary to what many business managers think, having an emotional-support card merely means that one’s pet is registered in a database of animals whose owners have paid anywhere from seventy to two hundred dollars to one of several organizations, none of which are recognized by the government. (You could register a Beanie Baby, as long as you send a check.) Even with a card, it is against the law and a violation of the city’s health code to take an animal into a restaurant. Nor does an emotional-support card entitle you to bring your pet into a hotel, store, taxi, train, or park.

No such restrictions apply to service dogs, which, like Secret Service agents and Betty White, are allowed to go anywhere. In contrast to an emotional-support animal (E.S.A.), a service dog is trained to perform specific tasks, such as pulling a wheelchair and responding to seizures. The I.R.S. classifies these dogs as a deductible medical expense, whereas an emotional-support animal is more like a blankie.

In the piece, Marx attempts (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to take (purported) E.S.A.s into places where animals are in fact not allowed, using creatures borrowed from acquaintances: a turtle, a (large) snake, a turkey, an alpaca, and a pig.

Plato — or Woody Woodpecker?

October 9, 2014

Today’s Zippy, at the Existential Automat:

(#1)

First, a litany of philosophical approaches, then one of animated cartoon studios, plus Woody Woodpecker in the last panel (and, by allusion to the pileated woodpecker, in the title of the strip).

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Pests on the march

October 1, 2014

In the NYT on Monday (9/30), “Once Considered Won, Battle Against Invasive Beetles Is Renewed” by Paul Glader, beginning:

It is a menace from Asia that over the past two decades has ravaged tens of thousands of trees in several states. But after being wiped out in New Jersey, it seemed to be in retreat in New York thanks to a warlike response from federal and state governments. It was gone from Staten Island and Manhattan, and the battle against it was tilting toward eradication in Queens, in Brooklyn and on Long Island.

That was until Charlie Crimi spotted one in his Long Island backyard — an Asian long-horned beetle. “I didn’t really know what it was,” Mr. Crimi said of the large, white polka-dot, shiny black bug with long, wavy antennas that he saw in the summer of 2013. But after some Internet research, Mr. Crimi, 54, realized he had seen the notorious insect equivalent of Jesse James. He emailed a photo of the bug to a state forestry worker and received confirmation that what he had seen was, in fact, an Asian long-horned beetle.

 

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Coneflowers and Goldfinches

September 14, 2014

Now the flowers of the late summer and early fall. Message from Liz Fannin in Columbus OH a little while ago:

Today I had the best reward for planting echinacea: a goldfinch on it. There was a little female who was so engrossed in eating those seeds that she didn’t even fly off when I went out the front door to the car.

On echinacea, from Wikipedia:

Echinacea … is a genus … of herbaceous flowering plants in the daisy family, Asteraceae. The nine species it contains are commonly called coneflowers. They are endemic to eastern and central North America, where they are found growing in moist to dry prairies and open wooded areas. They have large, showy heads of composite flowers, blooming from early to late summer. The generic name is derived from the Greek word ἐχῖνος (echino), meaning “sea urchin,” due to the spiny central disk. Some species are used in herbal medicines and some are cultivated in gardens for their showy flowers.

… The flower heads have typically 200-300 fertile, bisexual disc florets but some have more. The corollas are pinkish, greenish, reddish-purple or yellow

I’ll get to the goldfinches in a moment.

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Linguistic diversity among the nopalries

September 13, 2014

I’ve been reading through Amy Butler Greenfield’s fascinating A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire (HarperCollins 2005, paperback in 2006), which abounds in great topics: conquest, colonialism, skullduggery, official secrecy, piracy, medieval-style commercial guilds, mysteries of natural history, the growth of science, international trade, cultural diffusion, and more. Officially it’s about dyes, in particular the intense and durable true red dye sought by cultures around much of the world. So of course it turns out to be about cactuses and scale insects. Plenty of linguistic interest in there.

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In memoriam Martha Pigeon

September 5, 2014

(Only a little bit about language.)

From New Scientist on 8/30/14, “Beautiful but doomed: Hubristic humans should heed the tale of the passenger pigeon” by Adrian Barnett, beginning:

This September marks a melancholy anniversary: the first of the month is the centennial of the death of Martha the pigeon in Cincinnati zoo and, with her passing, the extinction of the passenger pigeon. It was an extinction that 100 years earlier would have been inconceivable.

This was a species that moved in flocks of billions of individuals, so dense as to blot out the sun and take days to pass.

… The anniversary has been marked by the publication of three very different books, all focusing on how a species can go from sky-darkening abundance to a single, aged individual in a matter of decades – and what this may tell us about the future.

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Three from New Scientist

September 4, 2014

From the 8/30/14 New Scientist, three stories: one with a piece of technical terminology I hadn’t heard before, and two perfectly straightforward stories (on the mapping of Antarctic Ocean life and on the mating customs of the giraffe weevil) with some language play that’s characteristic of much science writing.

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The animal report

July 14, 2014

In the NYT Book Review yesterday, a set of three reviews of quirky books about people and animals (elephants, a tawny owl, and the giant squid); and then today in the Daily Post (Palo Alto and Mid-Peninsula), the story “Another cougar reported” (by Angelo Ruggiero), which I took at first to be a silly story about sexually aggressive older women in the area but which turned out (of course) to be about mountain lions.

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pentapedal

July 8, 2014

In the latest (7/5/14) New Scientist, a “60 seconds” (ultra-brief) feature “Bouncing on five legs”:

Kangaroos have five “legs”, making them the first known pentapedal animals. A study of kangaroo motion suggests their tails aren’t simply a crutch but actively move them forward, producing as much propulsive force as all four limbs combined (Biology Letters, DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0381).

What about starfish? Aren’t they pentapedal animals? What about primates that use their tails (in addition to their hands and legs) to propel themselves?

Well, it depends on what you mean by animal and what you mean by leg. Starfish are customarily said to have five arms, and primates to have only two legs (but four limbs, plus, for some, a tail that can function rather like another limb).

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Museum notes

April 27, 2014

The world of museums is full of marvelous oddities: in particular, remarkably specialized museums, of all sizes (there are also grab-bag museums: local museums, exhibiting anything having some connection, however remote, to the locality, and eccentric museums, gathering together all sorts of things that have caught the collector’s eye).

Two specialized museums that have come by me recently: one that’s a fresh mention of an old friend, the Frog Museum in Estavayer-le-Lac, Switzerland; and a new acquaintance, the Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik.

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