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Are you colorblind? November 9, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. When I was in college, my favorite pair of shoes was an elegant pair of green suede high heels. I loved them, but one of my most ardent suitors hated them. He was colorblind, and described the color he saw when he looked at my beautiful high heels as a sickening yellow-grey. With his trademark irony, he always referred to them as “the emerald slippers.”

I’ve always remembered this, so I was intrigued to see an article in last Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal called “New Outlook on Colorblindness.” Most people know that men are more likely to be colorblind than women, and that colorblindness typically strikes as an inability to distinguish red and green. But the WSJ article had a lot more to say about colorblindness (read it at www.wsj.com.).

The article splits colorblindness into four categories, which it described as green blindness, in which greens and reds both look greenish-grey; red blindness, in which not only are greens and reds difficult to distinguish, but reds appear dark and purples look blue; blue-yellow blindness, when yellows look white, purples look red, and blues are dimmed; and achromatopsia, which is a lack of all color perception, meaning that people with the condition only see black, white and shades of grey, as if their lives were played out in black-and-white TV. Mercifully, only .005% of the population suffers from achromatopsia, but 8% of the male population has green, red, or blue-yellow colorblindness (opposed to .5% of women). Are you one of them?

If so, there’s hope for full recovery, thanks to genetic science. I’d always assumed that colorblindness was an aesthetic thing, as in my friend’s inability to appreciate my green suede shoes. But it turns out that it inhibits people who suffer from colorblindness from working in careers that rely on color identifiers, such as air traffic controllers, the police force, pilots, and even video game developers.

Genetics to the rescue! In 2009, at the University of Washington, vision scientist Jay Neitz and colleagues were able to insert a corrective gene via a virus into the retinas of red-green colorblind squirrel monkeys. The monkeys regained the ability to see colors correctly, and have retained it to this day. So if you have colorblindness, head to Google and monitor the UW site, contact Professor Neitz, and hope that what worked for the monkeys will soon be available to you.

              ‘Til next time,



Don’t get sick. September 23, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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You never know what you’re going to discover in the paper. That’s why our friend Ben enjoys reading our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, and for national coverage, The Wall Street Journal. But sometimes the news is both startling and horrific, as in this weekend’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, which featured an article with the bold and attention-grabbing headline “How to Stop Hospitals from Killing Us.”  

Yikes. The article pointed out that 25% of patients were actually harmed during their hospital stays, that 98,000 people died in hospitals every year through medical errors, that each month, enough people died from hospital malpractice to fill four jumbo jets. And that’s just in the U.S. (Head over to www.wsj.com to read the article in its entirety.)

Our friend Ben understands that hospitals are, at heart, corporations, and that like all corporations, they drive their employees too hard, give them impossible schedules, wear them out. When corporations are run like this, by the modern business model, mistakes happen, mistakes are inevitable, because people are people and simply can’t do what the modern business model is asking of them: more and more in less and less time. So I’m not trying to blame the hospital employees for this horrific body count.

Instead, since I doubt that we as individuals can revise the prevailing business model into something that’s actually humane and doable, I suggest that we do everything possible to stay or get healthy and keep out of the hospital. Let’s try not to become a statistic of our delightful system’s effort to continually do more and more with less and less. Those poor, overworked doctors and nurses! Let’s reach out to them in fellow feeling, knowing how desperately overworked and overburdened we all are in our own jobs, and not blame them for this nightmare. The blame lies squarely on the business model of corporate America: too few employees, too much pressure. Shame, shame, shame on them!!!

Another missed opportunity. July 2, 2012

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Our friend Ben read in today’s Wall Street Journal that a company called Pebble Tech had designed a “smart watch” (as in wristwatch) that could talk to and convey messages from your smartphone, including alerting you to messages from Twitter and Facebook. It then raised $10.27 million to actually make the watches through a crowdfunding website called Kickstarter, more than $1 million in the first 28 hours. (Crowdfunding? It’s “when a company raises money from multiple individuals online,” according to the WSJ.) In the case of Pebble Tech, 85,000 interested folks paid $115 each to pre-order the watches.

Our friend Ben will refrain from going into the mindset of someone who already has a smartphone to convey all these messages, but now feels it necessary to own a wristwatch that does so as well. I wish I could raise $10.27 million on Kickstarter to develop a product that implants the awareness of incoming messages and ability to text back directly into the brain. We used to call that conversation. But I digress.

What I did wonder on reading the article (“Smart Money for a Smart Watch?”, www.wsj.com) was about an idea I’ve had for some time: solar panels to power up smartphones and similar appliances. Now that they can make tiny solar panels to power outdoor lights, flashlights, radios, and the like, why on earth couldn’t someone come up with one for smartphones, iPods and MP3 devices, laptops, tablets, and the like? Oughta be easy, right?

Unfortunately, being a Luddite, our friend Ben doesn’t own a smartphone, much less an iPod or MP3 player. So I turned to my good friend Google to see if I could learn more about the state of the smartphone/solar interface. Unfortunately for my dreams of financial independence, but fortunately for smartphone and iPod/MP3 owners, it turns out that others were there before me. Solar plug-ins are readily available, and some smartphones already come equipped with built-in solar charging panels.

Guess it’s back to the drawing board (again). Given this heatwave, maybe I’ll try again with the personal portable air conditioner. And should anyone out there wish to start a Kickstarter drive to raise money to support Poor Richard’s Almanac, we can only say: Thanks for your support. 


Another good reason not to eat out. June 1, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As if cost weren’t already enough disincentive to eat out. Then came the huge, ubiquitous television screens (I once counted 20 in one restaurant), making it impossible to enjoy yourself and focus on your food or your dining companions.  Not to mention diners ignoring the people at their tables while furiously texting and/or talking on their smartphones to everybody else. But now there’s something even worse afoot: tabletop computer consoles.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal broke the horrible news in an article called “Screens Get a Place at the Table” (check it out at www.wsj.com). Apparently chains like Chili’s, Applebee’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, Chevys, Uno Chicago Grill, and P.F. Chang’s are all either using or testing the devices in their restaurants. Diners can use the screens to place orders, pay their bills, and provide computer games and other entertainments for restless kids so Mom and Dad can relax and have a little adult conversation—if either of them can tear their eyes off the TV screens and/or their phones. 

Yeesh. The restaurants are certainly loving it. Their nonstop dessert ads—which appear strategically 20 minutes after the entree is served—have resulted in a 30% increase in dessert orders. (Just what we all need, more desserts.) And by making it possible for patrons to both order and pay via machine, table turnover is even faster, rushing diners out of restaurants and completely defeating the purpose of an evening out: a nice, leisurely dinner where you could take your time and not worry about cooking or cleaning up the dishes afterwards.

I myself have always viewed eating out as an opportunity to enjoy a well-prepared dish you wouldn’t make yourself, be it Kenyan, Morrocan, Thai, Turkish, Greek, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, or you name it. Recently,  I decided to try to recreate my faves here at Hawk’s Haven, and have had pretty good success. Better to do it right at home than sit there asking yourself “What the bleep?!” in some restaurant. And please, skip the dessert.

                 ‘Til next time,


What is sanctuary? February 16, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was gearing up to post an irate response to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Banished by Bolivia, Circus Animals Find a Home on Colorado Range,” with the subhead “Pat Craig Can’t Say No to a Carnivore; Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh, My!” Mr. Craig was described in the article as a “50-year-old former high-school math teacher.”

The article, after noting the 13 dogs, five cats and three parrots who share Mr. Craig’s three-bedroom home, went on to say: “He has other creatures in his backyard: three packs of wolves, 66 black bears, 13 grizzly bears, two prides of lions, 70 tigers, 14 mountain lions, five leopards, eight bobcats, five coati mundi, five lynx, three foxes and a coyote—all scattered across 320 acres of rolling prairie. Mr. Craig just can’t say no to needy carnivores.”

At this point, our friend Ben had to put down the paper and go tend to my own animal chores, but as I did so, my outrage continued to grow. I have never had any patience for those idiots who think that they can, say, go out uneducated and unarmed in grizzly country and be viewed by the huge, hungry animals as anything other than a soft, succulent, easy meal. Or the morons who adopt exotic animals as pets, again without any training, then wonder how their beloved adult chimp could rip the face and arms off one of their friends. 

It’s one thing to be a horse whisperer or dog whisperer, highly trained and attuned to the ways of domesticated animals. And those daredevils who stick their heads into lions’ and tigers’ mouths to titillate a paying audience know what they’re doing and the risks they’re taking, the risk that one day the Devil will claim his due and the jaws will close. Ditto zoologists and animal behaviorists like Farley Mowat who, in his wonderful book Never Cry Wolf, documents his study of and life among a wolf pack—a wolf pack he knew susbsisted on mice for their winter food, so it was unlikely in the extreme that they’d confuse man and mouse. It’s the clueless grizzly-huggers that drive me insane. Their “I’m special, they won’t hurt me” attitude brings themselves and others into untold danger. 

Assuming that Mr. Craig, the math teacher, was unleashing hundreds of carnivores on a 320-acre property when so often only a handful of predators, maybe only one or two, would control a range that size horrified me. What would they eat? Where would they go when they’d exhausted whatever game lived there? How many neighboring farms would be decimated, how many lives (both livestock and human) lost?

Returning to the article and to the computer to check up on Mr. Craig showed me that, in this case, I was completely wrong. Mr. Craig has been working to rehabilitate and rehome unwanted and abused carnivores since he was 19 years old. He is far more than “a 50-year-old former high-school math teacher,” he’s an acknowledged expert in carnivores and their care.

Far from releasing the big animals on his property to roam at will and fend for themselves, he has established his Wild Animal Sanctuary, the largest in the U.S., with a $2 million-a-year budget, $500,000 of which goes to providing food for the animals, all of which are comfortably and safely housed and have access to large fenced outdoor areas, as well as top-notch veterinary care. And he’s paid a high price both in life-threatening injuries and in the dissolution of his marriage in pursuit of his vision. His work has been showcased on Animal Planet and in Reader’s Digest, among myriad other shows and publications. I owe Mr. Craig a huge apology for prejudging and jumping to conclusions before checking out the facts. (Check out the article, photos, and a video of Mr. Craig’s preserve at www.WSJ.com/US.)

All this started our friend Ben thinking about the nature of sanctuary, and how we can create sanctuary in our own lives, for ourselves, our beloved animals, and for everyone whose lives touch ours. Here at Hawk’s Haven, Silence Dogood and I try to provide a sanctuary for the wildlife that calls our one-acre Eden home, planting trees, shrubs, vines, and meadows to give shelter and food for birds and butterflies, adding bat houses and toad houses, bird houses and a variety of bird feeders, making sure there are plenty of water sources, and gardening organically so as not to poison the very wildlife we’re pledged to sustain.

We welcome stray cats that make their way here and then settle in to make a home with us, making sure they get vet care and spaying or neutering so as not to overrun the neighborhood with unwanted offspring. We’re also thrilled to see the occasional turkey, pheasant, or other unusual visitor, and we figure the random skunk, ‘possum, or raccoon is the price we pay for encouraging wildlife to make themselves at home here. And, of course, we rejoice in the presence of our resident Cooper’s hawk and her occasional consorts.

But what about sanctuary for us? Silence and I have worked hard to make our home, as well as our property, a sanctuary, a place of peace and refuge and safety and joy. A place that inspires us to be creative, to think, but also to enjoy every moment we spend here. From creating a medicine wheel in our backyard and planting tons of heirloom fruits and veggies to sustain us to designing beautiful, restful gardens, a container garden for our deck so we can sit surrounded by beauty and fragrance, a greenhouse alive with gorgeous flowers and tropical herbs, fruits, and spices, we strive to create sanctuary here at home.

Our cottage home itself is a sanctuary, full of beautiful, wonderful, and meaningful things we love. From our parrot Plutarch, cat Linus, and black German shepherd Shiloh to our shelves of beloved books, cases of favorite CDs, and collections of art, artifacts, and DVDs, from Silence’s extensive spice, yarn, and quilt collections to our friend Ben’s stamps, coins, Pueblo pottery, and marbles, we have gathered around us everything we need to make our home the ultimate sanctuary. As a result, though there are many places we’d love to visit, any day at home is a good day, maybe the best day. And there are no bad days here at Hawk’s Haven. Being here feeds our hearts, minds, and souls, our creativity and—when Silence whips up one of her amazing meals—our health and bodies as well.

Sanctuary. What does it mean to you?