Mehitabel the cat writes into Science

August 5, 2022 • 1:15 pm

Reader Miriam brought my attention to an editorial in Science that, for once, is not offensively woke. In fact, it’s hilarious, using the trope of the famous books/cartoons of Archy and Mehitabel, created by writer and humorist Don Marquis. Appearing in newspapers and then in books from 1916 to 1937, when Marquis died, the lucubrations of the two animals was wildly popular. When I was very young, our neighbors had a cat named Mehitabel, and investigating that name brought me to the books, which I devoured. Read at least one!

Someone at Science has a great sense of humor, for I found from 2007 an “editorial” by the pair on cat domestication, addressing an article in the same issue. Mehitabel the cat ordered Archy to the typewriter to object to a scientific piece on cat domestication.  I hope Science doesn’t mind if I reproduce the editorial—written in perfect Archy-an prose—in its entirety. The introduction explains the absence of caps and punctuation.

Click to read:

Science’s intro, with a link to the 2007 paper under discussion (it shows from genetic analysis that cats were domesticated in the Near East, and all domestic cats originate from at least five “founder” cats in this region):

Readers old enough to remember Don Marquis’ syndicated New York Sun columns may recall that at night, a cockroach named Archy took over his typewriter to write short pieces about him and his friend, a cat named Mehitabel. Because he typed by diving on the keys, he had difficulty with upper case and punctuation, yielding a rather free-form text. In the following message forwarded to us, Mehitabel is apparently responding to recent findings on the genetic background and history of cat “domestication” (Science, 27 July 2007, p. 519).

The letter:

boss, i sent archy to the keyboard to say how upset I am about the terrible treatment of cats in the papers it’s because of a report in science telling all about how we cats got started pretty interesting but some of the papers are saying that’s how we got domesticated domesticated hell domesticated is for dogs not us boss action needs to be taken against this slander these scientist guys did a good thing they found that the first real house cat was not that pampered egyptian pussy instead they showed our relationship with people was much older thank god for that then they looked at genes of us cats and compared them with the five small wildcats and decided we all came from the one in the middle east maybe an arab cat their idea is that the first farmers ten thousand years ago started storing grain that brought in rats and mice so then this arab cat helped out some papers call that domestication that nonsense has gotta be stopped this was a gift not some ownership deal why do they think today we occasionally bring a bloody present into the house and lay it on the bed or the best rug it’s because we want to remind everyone that we are volunteers not repressed conscripts like the damn rovers and fidos just look at how they act wagging their tails and begging for food talk about deal they got one okay but they lost their independence not me and my kind no sir heres the thing about us cats we think it’s fine in the house but we’re just as happy in the alley or out hunting when we do that they call us feral ever hear anyone call a dog feral by the way hell the feral dog is a coyote not some lost rover get it our gig is about independence pet us a little thats okay even pimp us up for the cat show but make one of those ownership moves and sayonara we’re gone we think the scientists got it right about what went down back then in the fertile crescent after the mice got after the einkorn wheat or whatever pretty soon our ancestors were chomping em up well you might ask did they see any dog fossils in there what was old rover doing not much it appears maybe practicing pointing rats or rolling over for the farmers well when the going gets tough only the tough get going us cats are okay with the publicity but when the science story got out into the mainstream media what was said was downright disrespectful domestication indeed we don’t like to be dissed boss so get off your editorial ass and do something about this nonsense

your colleague mehitabel

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 27, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we drive off the road a bit, as reader Athayde Tonhasca Júnior has a collection of Scottish signs he photographed (this is one of two parts, the second coming later). His notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

They all leapfrog, with surprisingly few injuries reported (Redgorton, Scotland).

I reckon you are expected to sneeze and cough explosively before leaving the van (Perth, Scotland).

A joiner from Perth who knows his Classics. Cesar wrote the famous words after crushing the forces of Pharnaces II, king of Pontus, in 47 BC. Veni, vidi, vici exemplifies the concision and precision of Latin – although the saying loses some of its gravitas when pronounced because it requires going full Elmer Fudd: “weenee, weedee, weekee”. Cicero, the cunning orator, could also get to the point quickly and elegantly. When he needed to announce to the Senate the execution – ordered by him – of some conspirators, he avoided awkward and incriminating words like “execution”, “death”, “strangulation”, etc. by declaring, vixerunt (“they have lived,” which implies “they are now dead”). Nuff said.

Wise advice at Perth College library.

These pets belonged to members of the Raj and apparently were brought back from India for burial in holy Christian ground. Dead servants probably were discarded locally (Hopetoun Estate on the outskirts of Edinburgh).

My petition to have a sign like this for summons to my home office was rejected by higher domestic authority. My motion to be addressed as His Lordship didn’t pass either (Hopetoun Estate).

This culinary atrocity amuses and attracts tourists visiting Scotland. True natives stick to a traditional fare: greasy, starchy & overcooked food (Stonehaven, Scotland). [JAC: I ate a deep fried Mars bar, battered of course, when I lived in Edinburgh. I just wanted to try it,  and it was surprisingly good!]

Home cooked. Really, honest to god (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Why do quotation marks “baffle” so many? (Stonehaven).

Tea room in Thornton, Scotland. “Serendipity” was coined in 1754 by English writer, art historian and politician Horace (born Horatio) Walpole (1717-1797). He was inspired by Michele Tramezzino’s 1557 tale Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo (The pilgrimage of the three young sons of Serendip’s king). In the story, the princes of Serendip (a Persian name for Sri Lanka) went about making accidental discoveries of good and pleasant things. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Walpole introduced over 200 words into the English language, including beefy, malaria, nuance, sombre, and souvenir. Some of them didn’t quite catch on, like balloonomania or robberaceously. But “serendipity” was voted the UK’s favourite word in 2000.

An unassuming wall sign in Falkland (Scotland) praising James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England, thus the first king of Great Britain. James’ greatest legacy was the commission of a translation of the Bible into English. A group of sages laboured for seven years to translate from Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin. The resulting text is considered a monumental literary achievement, which Christopher Hitchens labelled “a giant step in the maturing of English literature”, and which prompted Richard Dawkins to say “a native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian” (I can’t comment because I never read it). The good king was also into demons and black magic, writing a whole book about the subject. William Shakespeare may have been inspired by it to create the Weird Sisters, which to me are the best part of Macbeth. James upheld a delicate religious harmony, but it all went pear-shaped: his weak and incompetent son (Charles I) managed to get his head lopped off.

Real or fake?: Representative Boebert fools the public

November 12, 2021 • 12:15 pm

I had to use something from HuffPost because it’s funny. Jimmy Kimmel showed people on the street some real clips of Representative Lauren “Glock” Boebert, telling them that they were videos from Saturday Night Live. They weren’t, but people thought they were.

I had no idea that she was so nuts; I may watch her videos for fun from now on. Have a look at the YouTube clip below, which I’ve started at the relevant part, and tell me if you don’t think Boebart is off the rails. But we already knew that. She is, of course, a Republican.

ZeFrank: True facts about the mosquito

October 25, 2021 • 1:30 pm

Matthew sent me the tweet below, which of course compelled me to go see ZeFrank’s new video (also below). It’s a long one (17 minutes), but is superb—full of biological facts that show the diversity of mosquito behavior, and with unbelievably good photography.  While some of the jokes are a bit off-color, I can’t see that showing this to a class in middle school or high school would be offensive.

Do watch the whole thing; you’ll be much enlightened. (There’s a short ad in the middle.) I was. Just the way the mosquitoes bite is fantastic: their multipart mouthparts and the ability of the “needle” that sucks blood to actually search around under the skin to find a juicy capillary.

John Oliver on duck stamps

September 27, 2021 • 1:30 pm

Here’s John Oliver this week on Federal Duck Stamps, an American tradition and a requirement for duck hunters (oy!) Oliver seems to be under the impression that all ducks have long corkscrew willies, but he’s wrong. But this is pretty funny, though, describing mutual animosity between duck artists and even submitting his own designs (there’s an annual contest for the stamp’s design, with the latest one required to be in the possession of all duck hunters).

 

Oliver is actually auctioning off his four designs for duck stamps, and you can see the designs and make your bid here.  First watch the video, then make your bid! (Click screenshot below to enlarge.) One of them is already up to $20,000!

 

By the way, the Post Office has also issued regular postcards this year (with the “forever” stamp that doesn’t go up in price), and they feature a beautiful mallard drake. But where’s the hen?  A kind reader sent me a fistful of these:

 

h/t:  Steve, Paul

Lovely BBC video of meerkats standing on videographers

September 12, 2021 • 2:00 pm

Meerkats (Suricata suricatta) are a type of social mongoose that lives at the very southern part of Africa. We all know them and love them because they’re cute and they stand on their rear legs when surveying their surroundings for danger.  The BBC’s Planet Earth has filmed them so extensively that they’ve become inured to the presence of humans, and even stand on photographers’ bodies and heads.

Here’s an adorable and short BBC video showing this behavior. Look for a quip about the size of the director’s buttocks!

Finalists: 2021 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

September 3, 2021 • 2:15 pm

I love wildlife photography contests, but am always surprised that the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards is among the best of them. I’m not sure why, as animals aren’t usually doing funny stuff, but it may be a combination of humorous photographers and discerning judges.

At any rate, the finalists for the 2021 Awards have been announced, and you can see them online here, along with previous years’ winners as well. There are a LOT of good entries, and I’ll show you just a few of my favorites among the finalists. This seems an appropriate way to start the three-day weekend (Labor Day). Thanks to the several readers who sent me these links.

. . . and my favorite.  WHO’S a bad otter?

Sarah Silverman hosts Jimmy Kimmel’s show, disses podcasting

August 19, 2021 • 12:45 pm

Reader Enrico told me that Sarah Silverman hosted Jimmy Kimmel’s show twice this week (they used to be a couple).  Even though I’m no longer as smitten with Sarah after I discovered that she endorses BDS, I still had to watch the four clips on YouTube. Here’s one of them.

The one below was fairly good, though I thought the segment with Louis Virtel was pretty weak and not funny at all. But I greatly enjoyed “the greatest plague facing our nation,” which turns out to be PODCASTING. It begins at 8:20. (Siverman does, by the way, have her own podcast!)

It does seem that everyone who used to write prose (with the exceptions of Dawkins and Pinker) has turned to podcasting, and, as you know, I can’t listen to them. They go on for hours, and yes, I know that some of them are absorbing. But the turn to podcasting has to reflect things like people’s increasing need to multitask rather than read (which you can’t do while cooking), itself perhaps a result of Internet-lowered attention span, and maybe to the fact that it’s simply easier to do a podcast, especially if it involves a conversation, than to write something substantive.

Sarah’s right: everybody’s getting into the game. Bari Weiss, for example, seems to have abandoned writing on her Substack site and gone to podcasting. The pieces on her site are all written by others. The result: I don’t get the chance to read her, and I don’t listen to her.  And if lots of good writers transition to podcasting, well, the quality of writing will go down.

But I still love Sarah—all Jewish boys do.

The other three videos of Sarah hosting for Kimmel are here, here, and here.