Wednesday, March 25, 2015


To wit:

Dogs tend to align themselves either north or south along the earth's magnetic field when defecating. I'm still trying to find out if this is true of cats. My hypothesis is that it's not. But I appeal to all of you who have dogs to take a compass with you when walking your canine companion and to record your observations. Cat owners who are able to observe the moment of poopage in the litter box, please do the same. Let's make this a 30-day project. If you will report your findings to me, you will have advanced the cause of science, which these days needs all the help it can get.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A CAT'S LIFE is born

Back in the fall I finished a proposal for a book to be called A Cat's Life, and sold it to Hachette Books.  Structurally it is built on the life story of my dear Augusta, who died in the fall of 2011.  Augusta leads the reader into the mysteries of the biology, behavior, and cognition of her species, Felis silvestris catus.  There has been an amazing amount of research done in the last couple of decades on the domestic cat, and very little of it has yet come to the attention of the public.  Since there are ninety million owned cats in the United States alone, it seemed like a good idea to get this information out in language and form congenial to non-scientific readers, and that's what I'm working on now.

Only yesterday I learned, for example, that cats can hear higher-frequency sound than any other terrestrial mammal--as high as bats--a hundred thousand cycles per second--quite a bit higher even than dogs.  People max out at forty thousand, if they haven't been to too many rock concerts or ear-splitting bars, which eliminates, I'd guess, about half of all American grownups.

Monday, January 12, 2015


Elizabeth and I got back from Paris a week ago today.  While there we were deeply immersed in French history.  She was reading The Guns of August, about the years leading up to World War One, and to understand any of that we had to keep dialing backwards into the nineteenth century and the various paroxysms of French society in that time.  One day, walking through the old Jewish ghetto--only a few blocks from the office of Charlie Hebdo, though of course we didn't know it at the time--we came onto the Place de la République, which is where all the huge gatherings have been this past week and where the march yesterday began and ended.  It's vast, must be more than a quarter-mile across, and in the middle of it (prominent in all the photographs of the demonstrations) is an enormous, stunningly beautiful statue of Marianne, the symbol of French liberty.

The day we were there, there were very few people around.  Cars go around the outside, but the plaza itself doesn't have much in it other than some bare trees and that enormous statue.  We went to look at it up close, and found that around the bottom are a series of bronze bas-reliefs of crucial scenes of French history from the Revolution forward.  Some are bloody, and others represent culminations of horrible bloodshed.

Now another bloody possible turning point: the killings at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Kasher market.  It's hard to know what to make of those and what's going on now and what may be to come--such complexity--but I find myself turning to one of the other main activities of our time there (besides eating), viz., looking at art, specifically the stuff that I always am most moved by, Italian Renaissance.

I can't say I have a favorite artist from the period, but certainly near the top is Giovanni Bellini, and one of the reasons, besides the sheer beauty of his work, is the particular way in which some of his Madonnas seem to be looking somewhere else, far away, a way I (over?)interpret as (fore)seeing the Crucifixion.  There's a Bellini in the Louvre of the Madonna and Child with Sts. Peter and Sebastian in which everybody, including the baby Jesus, seems to be doing it.  Even the little angels look pretty pessimistic.
All this brings me to why, over time, in fits and starts, I've gotten interested, even involved, in the Church in its more Roman forms, with saints and all the trimmings (well, okay, most of the trimmings), especially the old-time versions of Mary and baby and John the Baptist and St. Jerome, et al., and most of all the Crucifixion: (I conveniently exclude miracles, resurrection, and a great deal of inconveniently confusing hocus-pocus): the pure, clear expressions of the innocence and the hope and the evil that live in the heart of every human being.

There's another picture in the Louvre, by Antonello da Messina (who moved from his home in Sicily to Venice in 1475 and was influenced there by Bellini), of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns but not yet on the cross, in sheer agony and terror.
Is he looking up at the cross or at God, or both?  Is he, like Mary in the Bellini, gazing horrified into the future?  You could hang a "Je suis Charlie" sign on him and it would be perfectly appropriate.

Monday, November 3, 2014


An English acoustician, Jeremy Luscombe, published a terrific piece about his work to reduce restaurant noise, and he was kind enough to open it with a reference to a piece of mine that was published in Zester Daily some while ago.
Click here to see Luscombe's piece.
And here's mine:

And then in an email thanking Luscombe I wrote the following (I've still been thinking about this problem, which shows no sign of diminishing):

One thing you didn't mention, which I barely touched on in my piece but which I've been wondering about since, is the question of how noise raises levels of adrenaline, norepinhephrine, and (worst) cortisols, in effect creating the sensation of anxiety and even fear.  Those of course can be mollified by further intake of alcohol and food.  Up go sales.  And like the idiots who combine Red Bull and vodka, the victims of this (perhaps sometimes unconscious?) stratagem believe that the combined effects of simultaneous excitement and calming--at war with each other, as it were--are tantamount to "having a good time."  Loud laughter, the camaraderie of the whole group being in the altered state together (thus some moderation of the underlying sense of fear), and general disinhibition are exactly what you get in these goddam places, and exactly what increasing numbers of young people have learned to identify as markers of having a good time.  Good conversation is out the window.  And we adherents of conversation are out of the restaurant, not to return.

Friday, August 22, 2014


Unfortunately, this is not a joke.  I thought the killer of Wolf Number Ten was long dead--I'd been told so by several people.  Apparently he's not, and he has been acting strangely in Red Lodge, and not nice-strangely.  The bookstore owner got in touch with the sheriff, and they decided that it might be prudent to have a couple of armed deputies present at my talk and reading.  If I don't get shot, this will be make for a photograph I will treasure forever.
Here's a link to the event.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


In the very hometown of the killer of Wolf Number Ten, a talk and signing:
Red Lodge Books, Saturday, August 23.
Click here to check the Facebook page for full information.