Saturday, August 19, 2017

Based on a True Story

Guitar Guy would stand outside in the college campus courtyard, strumming the same chord for eight minutes while singing painfully off-key. Supposedly, he was practicing to woo the lady of his dreams.

Unbeknownst to him, Athena Rosalind Daly had already overheard him. In fact, the entire building could hear him. But Athena Rosalind had it the worst, as she was cursed with perfect pitch. She had been less than impressed.

He strummed incessant quarter notes on an A major chord that was about forty cents flat. Without changing the tuning or tempo, he made up the lyrics as he went. His voice occasionally cracked.

The buildings seemed to recoil.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Aim for the Moon

If you aim for the moon and miss, you'll probably be fired from your job at NASA. That will be the least of your worries, however. You won't be significantly closer to distant stars. Your cold, dead body will never escape the gravitational influence of the sun. Gravity holds you hostage, just as it has bound every organism that has ever lived before you. Leaving the Solar System requires highly precise calculations, exact technical maneuvers, and rocket fuel. No one will hear you as you scream in agony, slowly dying, knowing that there is no hope. Your last words, possibly expletives, will be lost to history. Your cadaver will be damned to orbit the sun for a billion years, or be crushed, or incinerate in the sun, or dissolve into dust. No one will care which. 

Your friends at NASA will shake their heads, wondering how an astronaut could ruin a simple moon landing so thoroughly. Your family will be devastated. Your friends will be mortified. Your alma mater will quietly delete your name from their alumni list. Buzzfeed will write a listicle and put you at the top of "Top 25  Biggest Space Blunders." Your legacy will be ruined. Your name will become synonymous with failure. NASA will have to permanently halt all space missions. Your country will become the laughing stock of the world. 

There will be memes. 

Oh, there will be memes. They will not cut you any slack. 

Children will learn of the space failure in their schools. Teachers will use your failure as a means to convince their students to behave. You will foresee all this, then slowly die. 

So by all means, aim for the moon.

But for the love of the Milky Way, don't miss.

Milkman [Lyrics]

Parody of a parody of David Bowie's "Starman" from a fan-based parody of a fan-based parody created by LittleKuriboh of a show originally by Masashi Kishimoto.

LYRICS:
There's a milkman passing by the store
He delivers dairy daily, as long as it's homogenized
There's a milkman waiting at your door
He wants to say howdy, but afraid he'll be chastised

And he's
Dropping off milk that has been pasteurized
And you
Don't notice him, he's past your eyes
And he
Sees you by the window, he's mesmerized
He wants to say hello, but afraid he'll be despised

He says
Let the bovine moo
And
Let the cattle chew
And
He wants to say "how d'ya do"

There's a milkman driving back home
Scenic route shows some sea foam, he feels so alone
There's a milkman sitting on the floor
He's staring at the ceiling, wondering what you're feeling
He feels like he's failing but he doesn't know why

What the children say
Is
Watch the children play
And
They all can say "how's ya day"

There's a milkman delivering daily dairy
He knows it's pasteurized
He knows it's homogenized

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Kinds of Poems We Analyzed in Class


Water bothers Father,
Walter brought Mother
Another toddler walker,
A phone caller calls her,
"A collar worth a dollar."
Brother bought a bother Some
thing's wrong.

We belong together
Like cookie butter and kale
Gerber daisies and cheddar
Leather in your cocktail
Birds without a feather
A sail in a whale

Friday, August 4, 2017

On PETA's Article About Feral Cats

Note: This blog post originally written in 2016.

PETA's article about feral cats is unclear, unfocused, and confusing. It's worse than the instruction manual that came with my Programming Sentient Artificial Intelligence for Dummies kit that I picked up from Walmart.

In fact, after reading the article I didn't even know what PETA's position was. Its purpose, I think, was to convince me that they were right, but I didn't even know what they were arguing. Do they like TNR or hate it? It was like debating a three-year old. I contacted PETA directly, and a representative confirmed that PETA opposes trap-neuter-vaccinate-release (TNR) programs because they believe the Release phase is inhumane. You can see the specifics at the end of this post.

My position on TNR is neutral. There is little peer-reviewed scientific evidence can be used to reach a consensus on the well-being of cats, their environment, and humans involved in TNR programs. Although I have found the most (read: quantity, regardless of quality) studies supporting TNR, I have chosen to remain neutral for the purpose of this project.

I don't care whether TNR programs are effective or even if they're humane. My position on PETA as an organization is also neutral. I don't even care if they're effective or humane. My only position is that their article about feral cats is poorly written.

Even disregarding the illogical structure of this article (for instance, in Paragraph 2, the idea that “[m]any [cats] are in ‘managed’ colonies” does not necessarily provide information for the point that “trapping, altering, and releasing [is inhumane].”), PETA’s article discussing trap-neuter-release programs is still unconvincing. Since PETA’s mission is to promote the ethical treatment of animals through education, a caring representative of PETA should:

1. Edit with these guidelines in mind:
a. Unnecessary quotation marks
b. Illogical structure 
c. Poor, confusing, or incorrect diction 
d. Define the term “feral cat
e. Irrelevant information about outdoor cats (rather than feral cats specifically)
2. Include hyperlinks toward reputable sources in order to substantiate claims 

3. Include quantitative information from reputable sources

4. Suggest an alternative to TNR

This article is intended to discuss why PETA's feral cat article is poorly written, no more. I may provide a hyperlink to the same source more than once, particularly when I refer to the same source more than once. Hyperlinks toward relevant sources at the end.

I have made some important assumptions from the text, as well as from my communications with PETA:

I assume that “outdoor cat” refers to cats owned by people who are let outdoors. Outdoor cats are distinct from “feral cats” and “homeless cats,” who are not owned by humans. “Feral” and “homeless” are synonyms. Although PETA uses the terms interchangeably within the article, other organizations (e.g. the Humane Society and the American Humane Association) do not.

I assume (because the article is unclear) that PETA is discussing TNR specifically. Even though the article is called “Feral Cats,” the purpose of the article is to challenge TNR as inhumane. It's not really about feral cats in general.

---
A.     PETA’s experiences with trap-alter-and-release programs and “managed” feral cat colonies have led us to believe that these programs are not usually in cats’ best interests. 

In Section A, PETA states that TNR is not in feral cats’ best interests. While PETA's position is stated clearly here, the rest of the article fails to elaborate.

B.     We have seen firsthand and have received countless reports that cats suffer and die gruesome deaths because they are abandoned to fend for themselves outdoors.

PETA states that “cats suffer and die […] because they are abandoned.” Since the rest of the article denounces TNR, PETA implies that cats are “abandoned” by TNR workers.

This means that PETA sees the release stage of TNR as the same as abandonment. However, an assertion that TNR workers abandon cats is:
  • Only implied, 
  • Not supported well by the rest of the article, 
  • Accusatory in tone, 
  • Alienating to TNR workers, and
  • Untrue (to my knowledge) because TNR workers manage cat colonies (source) and provide veterinary resources to them. (source 1) (source 2) (source 3)

The rest of the article reads differently depending whether the passive voice "cats [...] are abandoned" is, "TNR workers abandon cats" or "cat owners abandon cats." This confusion is detrimental to the organization because it makes the communication of PETA's "education" less clear.

However, my understanding of the article is that PETA means cats are abandoned by owners who can or will not care for their cats.

C.    Many are in “managed” colonies, which usually means that they are fed. 
D.    Having witnessed the painful deaths of countless feral cats, we cannot in good conscience advocate trapping, altering, and releasing as a humane way to deal with overpopulation and homelessness.

PETA defines the meaning of a managed cat colony and re-states its position that TNR is inhumane. Section C might not seem related to Section D, but for some reason they are both included right next to each other in the same paragraph without a transition phrase.

E.     Horrific fates await most homeless cats—they do not die of old age. If you have a cat at home, you know that veterinary care is a necessity. Cats get heart disease, leukemia, bladder problems, ear infections, and more. 

TNR provides continuous veterinary care for feral cats. Cats’ general need for care is not a reason to oppose the very people who provide that care. 

Furthermore, PETA states that most cats "do not die of old age." Sources indicate feral cats in managed colonies do die of old age. Perhaps most feral cats don't live in managed colonies, but this isn't really clear in context.

Section E sounds like, "being a feral cat is bad," which is hard to argue with, but doesn't really advance animal rights either.

This section simply needs to be rewritten for clarity.

F.     Imagine if your cat were outdoors and you did not know that he or she was in trouble. Or imagine if, upon seeing an obvious symptom, you could not catch your cat to provide treatment. 

Section F is unconvincing due to its hypothetical and unfocused nature. Section F proposes that the reader imagines a situation regarding one’s outdoor cat. However, hypothetical situations are unconvincing because they are not grounded in reality. To educate the public, an organization of animal rights activists should use information, not imagination.

Secondly, this section is unconvincing because it shifts focus from “homeless [feral] cats” in Section E toward “your cat.” The difference is jarring because the debate about TNR is focused on the humane treatment of feral cats in feral colonies, not of pet cats who venture outdoors.

The lack of distinction between feral cat colonies and individual outdoor cats suggests that PETA does not understand the purpose of TNR. Though this may not be true, PETA must communicate the problem clearly in order to advance animal rights.

G.    Contagious diseases such as rhinotracheitis, feline AIDS, and rabies are common in “outdoor cats,” who also sustain puncture wounds, broken bones, brain damage, or loss of an eye or limb after they are attacked by other animals or hit by cars.

TNR programs provide constant medical care to feral cats, which manage (but do not solve) all the issues listed above. Again, PETA uses the phrase "outdoor cats" incorrectly to refer to feral cats, rather than pet cats who venture outdoors.

Section G is also a run-on sentence, which makes reading difficult.

H.    During winter months, automobile engine fans slice through cats who seek shelter from the cold under car hoods. 

I briefly researched this claim, and I could only find one incident about one cat being sliced by a car fan. (Warning: Graphic) Though the statement “fans slice through cats” is a distinct emotional appeal, cars pose a greater risk to cats when they are being driven than when they are being started.

I.      If cats escape these perils, they may still fall prey to an agonizing death at the hands of cruel people. 

Human cruelty is not a legitimate point against TNR. Feral cats can fall prey to cruelty regardless of whether or not TNR is employed. This statement denounces homelessness and letting cats outdoors, not TNR itself.

This may seem like a minor point, but it is important to emphasize that PETA attempts to demonize TNR by listing the risks of living outside. PETA has, thus far, not given any of the real reasons people actually oppose TNR. For example, an argument might be: feral cats are a danger to local bird populations that are in danger of extinction; the cats should be relocated, not reintroduced.

Disease, injury, and torture are not problems unique to TNR. They are the problems of being a feral cat. Listing the downsides of being a feral cat isn't the same thing as listing the downsides of TNR. PETA's evidence against TNR is weak.
J.      Our office is flooded with calls about cruelty to animals every day because, across the country, free-roaming cats are mutilated, shot, drowned, poisoned, beaten, set on fire, used in ritual sacrifice, stolen by “bunchers” for medical experiments, or used by dogfighters as “bait.”

Again, feral cats are feral with or without TNR.

PETA reiterates that homelessness is a problem without offering an alternate proposal. It appears as though PETA simultaneously considers TNR inhumane and the most humane solution to the feral cat problem.

However, if PETA believes TNR is the lesser of two evils, why does PETA spend energy publishing an article describing everything wrong with homelessness?
K.    Advocates of trap-alter-and-release programs argue that feral cats are just as deserving of our consideration as other felines and that it is our responsibility to alleviate their suffering and ensure their safety. We absolutely agree. 

The phrase “We absolutely agree” directly following a counterargument makes it appear that PETA agrees with “advocates of trap-alter-and-release programs.” Since they don't agree with advocates of TNR, PETA really needs to rewrite this.

L.     It is precisely because we would never encourage anyone to abandon their own cats in, for example, a parking lot or a warehouse district that we discourage the same for feral cats. 
[I think they meant to say, “You wouldn’t leave your cats outdoors, so don’t leave feral cats outdoors.”]

The reason that feral cats are released back into the wild is because TNR advocates generally consider allowing a feral cat to live its life outdoors, despite the risk, is more humane than euthanizing a healthy cat. PETA disagrees with the TNR advocates who make this moral (rather than factual) claim, which is a legitimate and defensible moral position.

PETA defends its moral position in Sections M through O.

M.   Although altering feral cats prevents future generations from suffering, it does not protect cats from the litany [previously mentioned] of other problems that they may encounter. 
N.    Allowing feral cats to continue their daily struggle for survival in a hostile environment is rarely a humane option.

Therefore, PETA suggests that feral cats who cannot be adopted be euthanized.
PETA denounces TNR but does not have an alternate proposal.
Since the argumentative points of the article are unclear, I am unsure if this article was intended to discuss:
  • The reality of TNR as it is today,
  • Why TNR is inhumane,
  • Why cat homelessness is bad, 
  • Why you should oppose TNR, or
  • Multiple topics at once.

I also know that PETA officially opposes TNR, but it's difficult to tell if the article is talking about TNR specifically.

Since this article is on the “Our Views” tab, I assume that PETA is attempting to communicate its view about TNR. However, PETA simply claims TNR is evil and does not offer an alternate proposal. Therefore, this article will not convince the general public of PETA's position. Without an alternate proposal, readers may assume that TNR is the best available option, even though it is imperfect. Actually, other articles suggest that PETA thinks TNR is okay, though an official representative claims that TNR is "misguided" and morally wrong.

Again, I'm not really concerned what PETA thinks. I'm just concerned that this article is really ambiguous.

O.    We believe that it can be marginally acceptable to trap, vaccinate, alter, and release feral cats when the cats are isolated from roads, people, and animals who could harm them, are regularly attended to by people who not only feed them but also provide them with veterinary care, and are kept in areas where they do not have access to wildlife and the weather is temperate. 

The closest we get to an alternate proposal is a variation on the very solution that the article criticized for being inhumane. PETA seems to believe that TNR is sometimes humane, sometimes not. Perhaps the title of this article should have been “The Dark Side of TNR,” not “Feral Cats.” It should be considered a counterpoint and add to the discussion about TNR, not debate TNR.

P.     The biggest problem is that most cats, once they are caught to be sterilized, will not be able to be lured by traps again when they are sick or injured.

The article ends awkwardly here, as if the intern forgot to type the rest of the article.

Those were my detailed thoughts about a random article that I found on PETA’s website. I’d never considered TNR from PETA’s point of view, and their perspective was interesting to me. It wasn't something that I had considered before, which is nice. In fact, the idea that the Release stage of TNR is inhumane prompted me to read countless medical and veterinary journals I didn’t understand.

Thanks PETA, the only organization that cares about the rights of fleas and rats! Thanks PETA, the only animal rights foundation in the world in which interns write articles! #FleaLivesMatter #RatsAreGross #InternsCanWriteToo

---

Were you as confused as I was after reading the PETA article? Do you want to know what their position really is?

I emailed PETA directly, asking them their position is. My email was more about PETA itself rather than the specific article, but I think their response sheds some light on the PETA side of things. Here is my email and their response.
PETA representative,

I cannot tell if PETA is for or against TNR programs. I have read PETA's article about feral cats from the "Our Views" tab, which opposes TNR except under specific circumstances, citing trapping as "inhumane" (http://www.peta.org/about-peta/why-peta/feral-cats/) (http://www.peta.org/about-peta/why-peta/).

However, another PETA article supports trapping under all circumstances, citing it as the "kindest solution." [and also includes instructions on how to trap the cats] (http://www.peta.org/issues/companion-animal-issues/companion-animals-factsheets/feral-cats-trapping-kindest-solution/)

Is trapping inhumane or kind? Please clarify PETA's position and include reasons for that position.

Thank you.
---
Hey [Name] !
Thanks for your email. We appreciate your question.

I’m happy to clarify our position on Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) for you. :)

TNR is the misguided practice of scooping up homeless cats on the street, spaying or neutering them, and then dumping them back where they were found.
There’s another, more accurate name for this: “trap, neuter, abandon” (TNA).

There are millions of cats living on the street today. Spaying and neutering prevent future generations of unwanted animals from being born, but they don’t protect the animals who are put back onto the street from suffering slow, painful deaths.

Cats who are abandoned outdoors do not die of old age. They die young and miserably from highly contagious diseases, infected puncture wounds, broken bones, and urinary tract infections; brain damage and internal injuries from being hit by cars; attacks by other animals or cruel humans who shoot, burn, and torture them; and more. They often have no protection from freezing cold or stifling hot temperatures and must scrounge for every scrap of food.

The best way someone can help cats is by getting any stray, abandoned, sick, or injured animal to an open-admission shelter—one that accepts every animal in need, unlike “no-kill” facilities, which pick and choose. Cats are not wildlife, even if they are unsocialized and skittish around humans. They’ve been domesticated over centuries, and they depend on humans to fulfill all their needs, including shelter, veterinary care, food, and water. At a shelter, animals are safe, cared for, and given the chance to find a loving, permanent home. If adoption isn’t possible, a painless, peaceful injection is far kinder than any fate cats would suffer being homeless and left to fend for themselves.

You can check out this video to learn more about why TNR is hurting animals, not helping them.

Talk to you soon!
[Name of the PETA representative who was nice enough to answer my email] 

The video they emailed me was rather graphic, which is concerning because I filled out the form as a student. What if I was a child and was traumatized or something? Maybe they could tell because of my email address or something. I don't know. [Warning: graphic]

TL;DR:
A PETA representative used smileys and hearts to say euthanization is the most humane alternative to TNR (which was unclear in the article). I guess it's a morally defensible position, but it made me uncomfortable.
 
---

Some sources (subset):
http://jfm.sagepub.com/content/10/4/366.short
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167587706001437
Alternate Strategies to TNR
http://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/pdf/10.2460/javma.2004.225.1354

--
Edited Dec. 18, 2017, for repetitious or out of place criticisms. There are still tonal issues with this post, but they are less irritating now.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Conversation with an "Evil Genius"

Lucas's "Canada" quip and Marley's subsequent rhyme are from or inspired by How I met Your Mother, S9E11. Phrase, "My machinations lie undetected" from ProZD's sketch, "when you start a new game and you meet the character you know is going to betray you."

“Freddy, for six whole years today, my machinations lie undetected. Children with parents afraid of vaccinations will be infected [ambiguity intentional; both child and parent become sick]. By exploiting virality [pun] and fear on the web unassisted, I convinced a few folks there was a link where none existed [ref. belief that vaccines cause autism]. They spread those rumors far and wide, causing a measles resurrection. Now he’s away in the countryside, so I’ll infect a few folks with whom he has connection. To guarantee: for assuredly, Tim-Tim will die.”
 
“Sir, if you’re trying to kill Tim-Tim, why not just give him measles? You know, instead of giving measles to the people around him and hoping that he catches it, does not receive proper medical care, and dies? It seems like you’re leaving a lot of variables unaccounted for. If he’s going abroad, it won’t be so suspicious when he comes down with the disease. And why does it have to be measles? Why not give him anthrax?”
  
“It must be a virus to befit my computer syntax!” [pun]

“Okay, but it just seems like you could’ve killed Tim-Tim by now. Is infecting the whole continent before targeting Tim-Tim really necessary?”
 
Fred, you may be wary, but it is not arbitrary. The virus must be spread, homogeneous. Do not question me, Fred, I am a genius!”

“My name is Lucas.”

“Your name sounds like ‘mucus.’”

“Also, I know you’re a genius and you know it, too. Who are you trying to impress with your convoluted plan? And why are you rhyming with me? Orange.”
  
“I’m impressing my mother, whose maiden name was Gorringe. She was a botanist who studied a single-celled sporange. I rhyme with you because it is fun to. Any more questions and suggestions, or shall I continue?”

“I think I’m done working with you, Marley. Thanks for the employment, but I have a job elsewhere now. I can’t work like this anymore.”

“Your resignation has rocked me to my core. That castration was uncalled for! It honestly makes me feel so blue. To prevent my evil plans from landing in the wrong hands, I will have to kill you too.”

Lucas left out the door. “Let’s hope it doesn’t take as long as it will for Tim-Tim.”

Marley muttered, “The stupidity in Fred’s little head flows over the brim.”

Lucas popped his head back through the doorframe. “I’ve never met a bloke who could rhyme with Canada.”

“Except for Hannibal, he’s a tarantula from Africa. And Pamela, she taught algebra, drawing parabolas with stamina. She said in Florida there’s a radical cannibal. He reads Encyclopedia Britannica; turns out Canada has a high GDP per capita.”

Lucas was long gone before Marley could finish talking.

Why I Went to Tevin's Band Practice Instead of the Spa

Gotta get the job done
Gotta start a new nation
Gotta find my son