Furry Tales

Rats vs. Nukes, Stray Cats vs.
Florida & a Dog Lovers’ Bacteria

For thousands of years, no other trio of animals have been so close to us. Whether you love or abhor their company, most of us have at least one funny story to share about a rat, a cat, or a dog we’ve met. But behold, for furs always fly when one fails to recognize their own stripes.
Some stories may start with a flamboyant set up: so a rodent, a feline, and a canine walk into this bar and… We’d rather tell you about the environmental bent of Japanese rats; the furious fight over southern feral cats; and a bacteria type that only people who love dogs carry.
To be sure, that’s not a threesome that you’re used to seeing mentioned in the same sentence either. Except, maybe, as the title of some obscure flick. And cats’ undisputed dominance of the Internet, viral video division, is inversely proportional to our own aversion, or general failure to fully understand, rats, mice, and the vermin attracted to our provisions since immemorial times.
With dogs, though, it’s another story, one that usually invokes feelings of companionship, loyalty, and not a small penchant for being subservient to our most spurious interests. It all points to our bottomless guiltless ability to subjugate animals in order to prevail in our daily grind against our own species.
If we could, for a moment, see the natural world through unbiased eyes, perhaps we’d have the clarity to recognize that having been bestowed with a sense of moral, we’re the first ones to betray it. And all other living beings are muted witnesses to our nefarious sense of supremacy and self entitlement.

The final and sad toll of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which struck Japan’s Pacific coast in March of 2011, was close to 16,000 dead, with thousands more injured and officially missing. To that, one may add now a few rats, unsung heroes of an ongoing battle between environmentalists and government bureaucrats.
Along with death and destruction, another scary consequence of the catastrophe was the meltdown at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex provoked by the tsunami. It not just disabled the plants, but to this day it’s still generating radiation to Continue reading


Scary Monsters

Three Man-Made Mutants
& One Beauty All Her Own

To be riveting, a view of the future has to be unsettling, unfamiliar, disturbing even. The whole sci-fi genre is built upon fears of the unexpected, the threat of chaos taking over natural order. In fact, it should first get rid of concepts such as natural and order altogether.
It’s a completely different animal when that extends to our real and present world, and it affects, well, animals. Feel uneasy when it’s warm in winter? check. Nervous with melting glaciers? check. But have you seen a two-headed snake lately? Or an abnormal butterfly? What about a human-milk producing goat?
And the worst part of it all is, we did that. Our so proud species, capable of writing symphonies or reaching for the moon, can also act ever so casually towards that same natural world that was around billions of years before us. And treat Earth as our landfill.
It gets personal when we’re talking about living, breathing, beautiful beings, of course. For the record, though, we’re no prudes; nature has been creating monsters since the beginning of times, and to consider it ‘gentle’ is a fatal, wishy-washy misconception, often deservedly punishable by death.
But exactly because we claim to be a step higher of the brutal and uncontrollable forces of the wild, it’s also our responsibility to own up our flaws. Thank goodness then that every once in a while the unpredictable tops itself and produces a creature of rare beauty, even if not as esthetically pleasing as nature is so used to producing.
You may say that all animals below were indeed harmed by ways our civilization considers acceptable: the condition that produces a two-face species has been around since ancient times, but it seems to be increasingly connected with chemical pollution. The odd butterflies were found around Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plants. And genetic engineering is behind the goats with human milk.
Scary indeed, isn’t it? “What man has joined, nature is powerless to put asunder,” wrote Aldous Huxley in his 1931 nightmarish view of the future, Brave New World. And the thing is, we want that, just like we wanted cellphones, and social networks, and machines to tell us Continue reading

The Miyagi We Can Avoid

The Earth Shook & the Waters Came.
Nukes Blew Up & Thousands Got Killed

It happened a year ago tomorrow. At 2:46pm local time, on a Friday afternoon, the biggest earthquake to ever hit Japan shook the floor of its Pacific coastal sea and the entire country for six long minutes, while gigantic tsunami waves covered 10 miles inland with debris of every boat, building and vehicle it found on its lethal wake.
Even before the powerful aftershocks started, 15,000 had already perished, while over three thousand remain missing. The worst natural disaster, however, may have also caused the worse man made disaster: the destruction of the Fukushima Daiichi complex of six nuclear plants, which may have doomed by radiation thousands of Japanese citizens and miles of once fertile land for generations to come.
Even after a year, it’s impossible to determine the exact extent of the devastation of this tragedy, both uncontrollable from the point of view of nature, and utterly predictable, if experience and wisdom had prevailed years before it happened. Still, for years to come, the Myiagi earthquake will remain a cautionary tale for our losing bet against the dangers of nuclear power.
For if Japan has already started the process of reconstruction and Continue reading

Hot Spot

Fukushima Sows Sunflowers
to Help Ward Off Radioactivity

Who said that we never talk about flowers? When the earthquake and following tsunami hit Japan, in March, we all feared for the worst. The cores of the aging nuclear plants near the city of Fukushima all but melted completely down, and a still unknown amount of radioactivity was released into the surrounding air and sea water.
In fact, no one knows for sure the extent of the disaster and the impact it will still cause going forward. Plant officials have been notoriously reticent about the damage, which doesn’t mean that the good people of Japan won’t overcome yet another man-made tragedy.
In the meantime, studies have been measuring radiation levels Continue reading

Death by Blue

What a Little Canister in Goiania
Has in Common With Fukushima

As the world pulls its collective hair watching dozens of workers struggle to contain the radiation from Japan’s leaky plants, scores of scientists around the world lose sleep over the damage caused by nuclear crisis past.
While the Fukushima disaster has already surpassed the combined radiation produced by Chernobyl and Three Miles Island, other, less well known nuclear disasters may better guide us out of this dangerously overheated, seawater soaked, plutonium infused mess.
Over at the New Scientist magazine, for example, technology features editor Sally Adee revisited an over 20-year old case that resonates Continue reading