“welcome to the jungle”

Okay, so it can go either way with Kitsune a.k.a Mazuzu Whang: tuna will either make him sleepy, or turn him into a crack monster.
After feeding him maybe a spoonful in hopes of calming him down and going back to sleep, nature called and I had to get up again.
Outside the bathroom, something sat in a crouch, waiting for poor, unsuspecting me in the doorway: the hunched back, the basket ball sized eyes, the ears, big enough to outfit the Mayflower.
Right: Mazuzu Whang, the Benjamin Button of catdom.
The unsettling part? He was making this weird clacking sound he usually makes when staring at birds, like the Predator.

Klak-klak-klak-klak!

After maybe half a minute, he trotted away back to bed. Neither rhyme nor reason.

You gotta respect something about a tenth your size, standing in your way and looking up at you as though it could just as soon kill you. Christ, even Schwarzenegger might have to check his drawers…


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Tito’s Guide to Cats

MeeMee! Prepping for the arrival of your new cat.

Now that you have cat/kitten proofed your home, it’s time to think about other things.

If you already have a kitty and are adding another, you’ll want to use the same food you have now. Just remember to find out what your new cat has been eating in the shelter or cattery. You will want some of it so that you can change the food gradually. A sudden change can cause tummy aches and diarrhea.

Kitsy and I have a bowl of dry food available and we’re free-feeders. Mom doesn’t have to measure because we’re not over eaters. Some kitties will over eat though, so watch out for that. Mom measured my food when she and dad first brought me home. When they realized that I was ok with free-feeding, they just kept a bowl full of food.

Cats are obligate carnivores.  Please do not put them on a vegetarian diet.  Be sure to look for a food that does NOT have grains listed as one of the first three ingredients.  These a just empty carbs that are not processed well by the kitty.

You will also want to think about litter boxes and litter. My brother, Kitsy, isn’t always coordinated with his box when he poops and misses sometimes. They got us a covered box and it helps a lot. A covered box is good, but requires constant cleaning as it holds in the smell. It’s also a good rule to have at least one box per kitty. The best is 3 boxes for two cats, but we do fine with just two.

Warning! If your kitty begins peeing outside the box in an inappropriate place, it may not be bad behavior.   Many times, it’s a urinary tract infection.  If this happens, take kitty to the vet right away.  Many cats are given back to shelters because of this, when simple treatment for UTI will cure it.   Spaying and neutering also helps prevent this problem.

Never flush your cat litter. Squidoo has a page with good info on why it’s bad to flush cat litter.

According to Squidoo

Did you know that cat crap can give sea otters a potentially deadly disease if it is not disposed of properly? This is a major issue for sea otters along the California coast as well as river otters, but one that most people have never heard about.

Let’s talk about why cat crap stinks.  There’s pretty solid evidence that Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that attacks the brains of sea otters, is transmitted through cat feces. (This is the same parasite that can cause birth defects in humans, so pregnant women should stay away from poopy kitty litter boxes too!).

When feces is flushed down the toilet, it goes to the sewage treatment plant with all the other feces in the sewer system. You would think that this parasite would be killed as the waste water is treated, but it survives! Toxoplasma gondii is one tough hombre and isn’t affected by sewage treatment process.

I know this doesn’t matter to a lot of you who don’t live near the sea, but it’s still good knowledge to have.  In addition, flushing the scoopable litter can wind up plugging up your pipes, especially if they’re old.

Mom and dad use scoopable litter, but they don’t flush it.  We live in San Francisco and there have been lots of sick sea otters here.  We don’t want to add to the problem.

I do hope all you moms to be saw the bit about staying away from the litterbox.  No litterbox cleaning until AFTER the baby.  Be safe please.  Ask your partner to take care of it.

I have one more litter suggestion.  It’s not the cheapest litter, but it’s one of the best.  It’s called Feline Pine . The scoopable is messy. The pellets are very good. All you do is put in the litter and then put a one inch layer of the old litter on top until the kitties start using it. They won’t, otherwise. The pellets turn to sawdust as they collect the urine. We use a sifting litter box. This litter is great as there was NO ammonia smell from the urine. There is also no clay dust.

Oops, I have a disclaimer. I won’t recommend ANYTHING unless I really like it. Right now, no one is sending us samples or anything. If they do, it will have to be with the knowledge that if I don’t like it, I will say so. I will also donate anything (if possible) to local shelters.

Well, that’s it for now.

MEE! I’ll have more later..!


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Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison and American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is bit of followup to Lastech’s Midnight Madness discussion of Malpertuis.

Harlan Ellison wrote Deathbird Stories in 1975  It contains 19 short stories that took him ten years to write.  The book looks at what happens when the old gods are replaced by new ones.   Computers, money, and isolation are just a few.

Ellison has a comment at the beginning of the book.  He suggests that the reader not attempt to read the entire book at once.  I would agree.  The writer deals with facets of our humanity that are not always pretty and nice.  It’s good to take the time to digest and think about it.

Along The Scenic Route is about road rage with a twist.

Paingod Ellison answers his own question of:

If God is good, why does He send us pain and misery?

The Deathbird What if Genesis was wrong and things happened a bit differently?

Be aware that the book is NOT for children and does explore some adult themes.  It’s well worth tracking down though.  Lucky for me,  I’ve been able to bring it in from the library.  The San Francisco Public Library is a wonder and if they don’t have the book I want, they will bring it in from elsewhere.

This book gets 5 claws.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman was winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2002.  It, too follows the theme of old gods being replaced by new ones.  The old ones are dying off, but a war is brewing.  It’s quite a good read and you’ll have fun figuring out who all the gods are.

This book gets 4 claws


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What’s in a cat’s name? Listen to what they say…

I’ve often (and unfairly) complained about the way cats get named in shelters. Not that my method of naming them after dictators is much better, Kitsune being the exception.
Originally, Tito had been named Capri, and Soza (short for Somoza), our Burmese we lost to lymphoma, had been Kobe.
Truth is, it’d probably be best to wait until you know your cat before you settle on a name.
Going by physical characteristics can work, I guess, but then in Kitsy’s case, that might have meant calling him Sydney: as he lays down in the padded basket we have atop the computer tower, the only visible part of him are the huge flappers he has for ears:

… And from the side, they really look like the Sydney opera house. But in fact, he has come up with his own name.
See, he yammers.
He flaps his jaws.
The only time he ever shuts up is when he’s asleep, otherwise we have conversations all day, every day. He announces himself as he leaves the room, when he returns, when he goes to the litter box, sometimes as he uses it, and it’s when he trots away that he makes a modulated “HMRAOW” sound, followed by what sounds like a question.

He is therefore known as… Mazuzu Whang.

He and Tito coo at each other, but when Tito addresses us it is with a high pitched “MEE”, usually ending with a yawn. My more limited conversations with Tito usually go like this:
-“MEE! [yawn]
– I’m sorry, am I boring you?”
Maybe we should have called him Sluggo…


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Science Droppings

These droppings are brought to you today by Tito and Kitsy.  We hope you enjoy them.

I just flew in from Alaska and boy are my arms …I mean wings, wings.  On a serious note, talk about amazing…

Every autumn the bar-tailed godwit undertakes an eight-day journey from Alaska to New Zealand. The bird flies non-stop, without once breaking the journey to rest or eat. Then when spring comes, the bar-tailed godwit makes the 11,000-kilometre journey back to Alaska.

You can read the rest here, at Science Daily.

It’s a bird!  It’s a plane!  It’s a fish?

We’re all familiar with birds that are as comfortable diving as they are flying but only one family of fish has made the reverse journey. Flying fish can remain airborne for over 40s, covering distances of up to 400m at speeds of 70km/h. Haecheon Choi, a mechanical engineer from Seoul National University, Korea, became fascinated by flying fish when reading a science book to his children. Realising that flying fish really do fly, he and his colleague, Hyungmin Park, decided to find out how these unexpected fliers stay aloft.

Science Daily has more here.

Woolly Mammoths, yay!

A team made up of members of the University of Oviedo (UO) and the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) have gathered together all findings of the woolly mammoth, the woolly rhinoceros and the reindeer in the Iberian Peninsula to show that, although in small numbers, these big mammals — prehistoric indicators of cold climates — already lived in this territory some 150,000 years ago.

As usual, Science Daily has more here.


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Tito’s Guide to Cats

MeeMEE! My first column was about where to find your new cat.

Today, I’ll talk about things you need to do before you get your kitty. I’m hoping that you plan to keep your cat indoors. Outside is full of dangers for them.

If you are thinking of declawing your kitty, then don’t adopt one please. Just imagine having your fingers cut off at the first knuckle. It can cause permanent problems and leaves your cat defenseless. Kitsy and I have our claws. We use our scratching post, though once in a while we’re naughty and scratch the futon.  Mom makes sure she keeps our nails clipped.

There are a great many things in a home that can be dangerous to cats. A lot of houseplants are poisonous. For a complete list of poisonous plants for dogs and cats, visit the ASPCA for a toxic plant list.

While most people know that chocolate is bad for pets, not as many realize that there is a far more dangerous food ingredient. Xylitol is the main ingredient in sugar-free foods. It can be deadly, so keep all food with this ingredient out of reach of all cats and dogs. You can find out about Xylitol and more at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.

Now for the rest of the cat-proofing.

  • Make sure all dangling wires and cords are out of reach. If necessary, get some Bitter Apple at the pet store. You can wipe the electrical cords with it. It prevents chewing. Yes, cats will chew.
  • Make sure all meds and make-ups are in a cupboard away from kitty.
  • Check all the nooks where a vacuum can’t reach for bits of string or rubber-bands. These can block the intestine if swallowed.

  • Put all breakable knick-knacks away for a while so that they don’t get broken.
  • Recliners and rocking chairs can be dangerous for a cat. My mom’s rocker sits in the corner and has stuffed animals on it. That way no one can sit on it and rock over a tail. Ouchie. We sleep on it.

  • When doing laundry, always check the dryer before starting and keep the lid to the washer closed at all times.
  • Make sure that you have a scratching post available before you bring your kitty home. It will help protect your furniture.
  • If you have expensive furniture, consider a good cover for them. The scratching post will help, but even so, kitty claws can be bad for them. Merely jumping on the furniture can be a problem.

These are just a few suggestions.  Look around and I’m sure you’ll see other things to do.

Next time I’ll tell you how to introduce your new kitty to your home.

MEE!  Goodbye for now.


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Midnight Movie Madness

“Malpertuis” – alternate title ”the legend of Doom house” green nose and blue eye shadow (director’s cut 125 minutes, France-Belgium-Germany 1971)

“And those eyes! I’ve got a whole tin of eyes, but none like yours!”

Based on a book by Jean Ray of the same title, adapted for the screen by Jean Ferry, directed by Harry Kumel. This movie is available on a two disc DVD set: disc 1 is the director’s cut with a Flemish soundtrack and English subtitle.
Disc 2, referred to as the Cannes version because it appeared at the Cannes festival, is dubbed in English.
So, if you have trouble watching a movie with subtitles, be aware… The English version has been heavily cut and is missing some significant material.
Speaking of material, there is a lot of it, and I don’t just mean in the film. Both DVDs have extras well worth watching and the book itself, written by Jean Ray in 1943, answers some questions necessarily left out by the adaptation.

Warning: there are spoilers ahead.

Sometime in the early part of last century, in the house of Malpertuis lives a strange assemblage of people, some of whom are related, on the surface constituting a dysfunctional family headed by the dying and evil Uncle Cassavius (Orson Welles). Cassavius’ young nephew Jan (German actor Matthieu Carriere) returns from years at sea, and is tricked into seeking his sister Nancy (Susan Hampshire) who has gone to live at Malpertuis after some family misfortunes.
Cassavius’ testament dictates that Malpertuis’ inhabitants will inherit his considerable fortune, on condition that they never leave the domain, until their death.
Seduced by his cousin Euryale (also played by Susan Hampshire), Jan changes his mind and decides to stay, slowly unraveling the house’s mysteries.
Most of the people living at Malpertuis are forgotten gods of ancient Greece captured long ago by Cassavius, a master of the occult.
It is somewhat difficult describing a movie which unfolds like a dream, and that’s exactly how “Malpertuis” develops. It helps knowing that the source material, Jean Ray’s book, has in tone and style been compared to H.P. Lovecraft among others. And for those who enjoy Lovecraft’s stories, “Malpertuis” can be a thrilling experience.

Technically, shooting this turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. First of all, the cast includes Dutch, Belgian, British, German, French, Canadian and one American (Welles) actors. There were scheduling issues due to availability, scenes shot in two languages between actors who did not understand the other’s language, and then the major headaches caused by Orson Welles.
These difficulties are discussed at length in the discs’ interviews and commentaries by Kumel, director of photography Gerry Fisher and some of the actors.

It’s worth noting here, not simply because Kumel himself expounds on them at considerable length, but because in a real sense, Welles’ behavior as described, egotistical demands and tantrums, sabotaging the other actors’ performance, meddling with the shooting schedule, mirrored the way the “Malpertuis” characters interplayed.
The drunken hubris, pettiness, the wondrous but by then waning reputation of Welles, turning the performers’ awe and respect for him into resentment and into something likely close to hatred. He was their god, once.

Kumel credits his DP (director of photography) Gerry Fisher with much of the atmosphere and artistry of the film, and more. Fisher, in preparation for the shoot, visited as many museums as possible, even after shooting began, to immerse himself in paintings of the Flemish and Dutch masters.
This shows throughout, but Fisher also worked around issues presented by Orson Welles’ demands. As I remarked in a review of “Daughters of Darkness”, Kumel uses color as symbols and character/mood definitions.
Welles insisted on using his own clothes and doing his own make-up, due to his theater background.
Two issues came of this: in the scenes set in Cassavius’ bedroom, Kumel decided on three colors to dominate: black, red and white. In the commentary, he attributes to these an oppressive quality, apparent in “fascist”, specifically Nazi, flags. In contrast, Jean Ray in his book refers to red, black and white as characterizing the various types of magic. Red represented also sin and passion, blue represented virtue and white, purity. We’re made to understand Jan is a virgin, hence the blue eye shadow worn by Carriere. Well, at the beginning anyway.

Problem was, Welles arrived wearing a green house robe over his white shirt, and as was his habit, a fake nose made of green colored theater putty. Fisher devised a lighting combination which made the robe look black and gave the nose a leaden complexion, very much as described in the book. Terrific creative work, also seen in the individual lighting he gave each character, even as they appeared together or in groups, truly remarkable work, as was his mastery of shadows and their projection.
Welles was not the only obstacle Kumel had to overcome. The actor playing Abbe Doucedame disappeared for a few weeks, screwing up the schedule.

Kumel gives credit where it’s due, and not just to Gerry fisher who is owed a lot. His cast performed admirably. By today’s standards, the character of Jan may well be annoying to the point of exasperation. In the book, he is a product of the bourgeoisie, spoiled and subject to mood swings and tantrums, drawn between two strong female characters, who are goddesses after all. Strange then that screenwriter Ferry decided to make him a sailor returning after years on the oceans, essentially combining Jan’s character with that of his father.
Another issue is that of the scene in the tavern of the red district where Jan follows Bets (Sylvie Vartan). It does not work, the song supposed to be an homage to Dietrich in “Blue Angel” sounds like bad late ‘60s pop, which it is. Vartan was a popular French pop singer.

This brings me to the other jarring scene, toward the end of the movie, when Jan turns out to be a modern day computer engineer who is released from a mental hospital, after being “cured” from his hallucinations about ancient gods captive in Malpertuis.
That scene, which Kumel says critics hated but made sense to him, suddenly pinpoints the action in time to the early ‘70s, with the wide ties, bell bottoms, sideburns, cars of the era, even shots of Biafra which was much in the news at the time.
This is way too specific, too mundane after we were lured into the unspecified era of the tale. Like the helicopter appearing at the end of “Donkey skin”, it feels like a bucket of cold water.
There are many nice twists and touches throughout, visual and otherwise, which make “Malpertuis” a must see. One of my favorites has to do with the quote at the top of this review, spoken by Philarete to Jan, taken from the marionette maker of “the tales of Hoffman”.

Because of this, as well as the originality of the themes, explored later by Harlan Ellison and Neil Gaiman, about the nature of divinity and destiny, “Malpertuis” gets four jellybeans.

4 beans


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Hiking at the Sunol Regional Wilderness

The Sunol Regional Wilderness is located in Alameda County. It was established in 1962 and is owned by the San Francisco Water Dept. It is home to Little Yosemite, a scenic gorge on Alameda Creek. At the link above, you can get directions to the park.

We went to Sunol in May of last year. It was a drizzly day, but cool and nice. We began our hike at the visitor’s center, taking Flag Hill Trail over to Little Yosemite and came back via the fire road. Flag Hill Road is only 1.26 miles, but it’s quite strenuous. One can hike in and out via the fire road with minimal stress.

The easier part of the trail
The easier part of the trail

The hills offer a nice contrast to redwood forests
The hills offer a nice contrast to redwood forests

In the spring, the hills are full of blooms. You can find mustard, poppies, and lupines.

California Poppy
California Poppy

Thistle
Thistle

The hills were green and beautiful. The land is mixed use, so you are quite likely to come across cattle on the trail. Be sure to close any gates behind you because of this.

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Along the trail you can see coast live oaks, elderberry, gray pine, and madrone.

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Along the way, pay attention to the rocky outcroppings. They are both beautiful and interesting. Once a part of an ancient seabed, there are huge boulders of greenstone, metachert and schist. Many are covered in moss.

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This is from atop the Flag Hill Trail looking down at the fire road.

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Again, from atop Flag Hill Trail looking down at Little Yosemite.

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The route back was much easier. We took the fire road and it took us across this pretty little bridge over the Alameda Creek.

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September 11, 2001. In Memoriam.

Looking out my kitchen window on Thursday evening, I thought I should revise this post, as massive clouds of smoke drifted eastward from the fire in San Bruno.
While there was little in common with the September 11 attacks of 9 years ago, either in scope or cause, for many people 10 miles to the South, the nightmare has only begun. I remember having a similar thought as I watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center on television.

Yesterday I heard questions were raised about complacency and incompetence, after it came out that residents had some weeks ago reported smelling gas in their now destroyed San Bruno neighborhood.

Since the dawning of this new millennium, we’ve seen much more of what happens around the world, but perhaps understand less of it. Tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, man-made disasters and wars.
Everything shown, discussed and interpreted not just on TV and radio, but on the internet as well, making the 1990s feel like a century ago.

In remembrance of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, here is an image from another crime which took place 37 years prior at the Twin Towers, referred to as “the artistic crime of the century”. In retrospect a deeply moving endeavor.

Man on wire


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