Yesterday evening, I came home from work to find Berk splayed out on the floor, dead for many hours. (His body seemed like it was in a violent position – legs up, head half under the couch. But now that I think about it, what probably happened is he died on the couch, hopefully sleeping, and his body fell off sometime later — hence the contortion when the rictus sent in.) My friend Arjun and I carried his corpse downstairs and drove it to the vet for cremation. In the space of ten hours, he’s gone from being happy to just being gone. Looking out at the snow everywhere this morning, I can’t help but think that this is the type of day he would have loved.
My ex-wife and I divorced the following year, in 2001. I knew I wanted Berk and gave up all our other (very few) common possessions — Berk coming with me was never really in doubt. And for the next twelve+ years, he was my constant companion and power animal. We’d walk the streets of New York and DC together, spend the weekends in Riverside and Central Park, Dupont Circle and the Mall, and days and nights just hanging around the pad — him circling or on watch.
There was a year or two of grad school there where Berk was the only living entity I had consistent contact with. I remember at least twice in our time together, when I was devastated after a scorched-earth break-up and the general despair of the long-term PhD process, where the only thing I could do for days was stagger around my apartment sobbing, clutching a half-gallon of water so I didn’t completely dry out. Berk would dutifully follow me around, tail wagging, and lick my face dry when I got in a place where he could reach me. Despair or no, there was salt to be had here.
He was a great dog. Lived happy until the day he died.
And he was my best friend. I can think of a lot of times when he felt like my only friend.
RIP, little buddy. I’ll miss you.
10 Life Lessons from Calvin & Hobbes. A bit cloying at times, but hey, the world always needs more posts about Calvin & Hobbes. Also, if you can’t imagine yourself a tiger buddy for these, a crazy sheltie will also do.
ABC News takes a gander at the subway dogs of Moscow, who, for reasons of survival, seem to have figured out the system better than most tourists. “Moscow’s strays have also been observed obeying traffic lights, says Vereshchagin…Sometimes a pack will send out a smaller, cuter member apparently realizing it will be more successful at begging than its bigger, less attractive counterparts.”
In very related news, a new study finds that, since domestication many moons ago, dogs and humans have been evolving along parallel lines. “The study shows that dogs split from gray wolves about 32,000 years ago, and that since then, domestic dogs’ brains and digestive organs have evolved in ways very similar to the brains and organs of humans…They found both species underwent similar changes in genes responsible for digestion and metabolism, such as genes that code for cholesterol transport.” This must be the reason Berk loves him some gummi candy.
My favorite Onion piece in a few moons: Pet Eating Like Country Isn’t In Goddamn Recession. “According to reports, the 5-year-old labrador appears callously unswayed by the constant stream of gloomy market forecasts and instead demands greater and greater supplies of dog food, to the point where he must think the Dow Jones industrial average is soaring through the fucking roof or something.“
Actually, no, not yet. But I wanted to quickly explain the reason for the retro-look around here, and since tonight is also the movie event of the summer, it seemed like a good time for a brief update regardless. (All apologies to The Avengers, of course. If it’s any consolation to Whedon’s fine film, the “movie event of the year” will be The Hobbit in December. And at least you were great fun and not a half-assed disappointment like Prometheus.)
Anyway, life continues much as it has this past age. I work, Berk — fully recovered, minus one toe — barks at things. We’re leading a pretty solitary existence these days — hello, 2007 again — and it has its depressing moments, to be sure. But we’re getting by.
The good news is, and the reason why I won’t be returning to GitM for now, is that I’ve spent pretty much all my free time these past few months cracking out my long-neglected dissertation. At this point, I’ve got ten chapters and 800 pages written, which, I’ve been informed, is more than enough to defend for the degree. (I defend this fall.) But since I’ve finally come this far, I want to push through until I complete the project in its intended scope — which means four more chapters and, assuming a productive August recess, probably at least two-to-three more months of working evenings and weekends to go. When that’s finally done, I’ll be more inclined to reconnect with the world at large and take up the Ghost once more.
(And, yes, I know that nobody wants to read 800+ pages on progressives in the Twenties, or for that matter, 800+ pages on anything. I also know that all the time I’ve spent on this would probably have been better served just writing bondage-y Twilight fan fiction. Oh well.)
The bad news is, along with a gunfight breaking out above my head last weekend, the forces of entropy have conspired to infect the old blog here with some sort of google-hit-stealing malware. This has made the Google wrathful, and it has banished this poor, lowly Ghost to the unclicked shadowlands with the other leprous websites. It’s my fault — MT was way out-of-date. I was going to have it updated this past winter, along with a general overhaul of the look of the site. But the old blog-“friend” I hired to do the job took my money and then disappeared with it. (That turned out to be the opening salvo of the frozen-run-of-luck that precipitated this whole “interregnum of despair” around here.)
Anyway, in order to root out the infection, I’ve upgraded to MT 5, rolled back to the default templates, and rebuilt the site — Hopefully this finally does the trick and Google takes us back. If it does, and when I have the time, I’ll work on gradually fixing up the look of the Ghost again. (That is, presuming I learn to master all the intricacies of the non-coder-unfriendly new Movable Type. (Zemanta? What the?)) Until then, thanks for the patience and understanding, have fun in Gotham this weekend, and thanks, as always, for stopping by.
Update: Still on the wrong side of Google, and running out of ideas at this point. And my host — the once reliable Cornerhost — appears to have fallen off the Earth. So I guess, first things first, I’ll have to move everything to a more reliable host. If anyone has any keen infection-fighting ideas, please do pass them along. Otherwise, I’ll see ya when I have time to sort all this out.
Anyway, the upshot is there’s not much joy in Mudville these days, and I’m just not feeling very inclined to post here. I can’t really talk about politics because (1) it interferes with my current employ and (2) when you get right down to it, I find it hard to take presidential politics seriously as a vehicle for (hope-and-)change these days (although I’m sure it’s a great way to get your name on a NASCAR car.) I can’t really talk about personal matters because that’s just plain unsightly, and the Internet really doesn’t need any more TMI kvetching about first world problems. Nor, quite frankly, does it need to know what I thought of 21 Jump Street and Mass Effect 3 and the new Prometheus viral campaign and the like.
I’m not saying the Ghost is dead and buried, but I don’t see it coming back online regularly anytime soon: With the exception of the occasional comment-spam clear, the old hound and I are on walkabout for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, the archives are here and here, and all the old movie reviews are here. If you’ve been swinging by the site at any time for the past 12+ years, apologies for the service outage and thanks, as always, for stopping by.
Update: Thanks for all the well-wishes in the comments. As a follow-up, Berk has lost the toe, but the offending infection has, per the lab report, been “completely excised.” Meanwhile, after several weeks in the cone, the old hound is back to moving around normally and otherwise seems in good health. Squirrels and skateboarders, beware.
The NYT tells the tale of Chaser, a border collie with a vocabulary of over 1000 words now. “Dr. Pilley said that most border collies, with special training, ‘could be pretty close to where Chaser is.’…Dr. Horowitz agreed: ‘It is not necessarily Chaser or Rico who is exceptional; it is the attention that is lavished on them,” she said.’” (Sorry, Berk…At least I taught you bacon and tacos — you know, the important stuff.)
General Veers, prepare your troops for a surface…trip to the dog park. In case you missed this in the Twitter feed, the All-Terrain Armored Transport finally gets a day in the sun in a well-constructed short, AT-AT Day Afternoon. I get the sense Berk would prefer this companion to the old, now-defunct apartment droid.
After one does the dog-to-human-year conversion, that puts him at exactly twice my age. Here’s hoping I’m as spry, convivial, good-natured, and slightly deranged when I reach his years. Happy b-day, l’il buddy.
“The chimps did badly, able to learn the meaning of a pointed finger only after lots of training. The apparent explanation for these results was that pointing — and the social smarts behind it — required a humans-only level of intelligence and evolved in our ancestors only after they branched off from the ancestors of chimpanzees some 7 million years ago. When Tomasello suggested this idea to Hare, however, Hare demurred. ‘I said, “Um, Mike, I think my dogs can do that.”‘”
TIME’s Carl Zimmer “probes “the secrets inside your dog’s mind.” And what he finds is much like the articles here and here. Like babies, dogs (including Berk) understand pointing because it was evolutionarily advantageous for their ancestors to comprehend our behavior. Put another way, the dogs that watched us verrry carefully in the scavenger days, and ingratiated themselves accordingly, were the ones that often fared better than their more feral (and unobservant) friends.
So, after a deep-end immersion into the Capitol Hill throng (as you might expect, it’s been busy ’round these parts, particularly by grad student standards) and a slow but steady establishing of a new home base here in the Beltway (I’ve secured a dog-friendly 1BR apartment in downtown Dupont, done 99.44% of the unpacking, acclimated the sheltie, and made the requisite investment in Swedish modular infrastructure — hat-tip, IKEA), I think I’m about at the point where I can officially log back on the grid.
All of which is to say, tho’ I’m jumping the gun by a day here — the Comcast guys come tomorrow to wire the new pad, which should greatly facilitate posting — I expect normal updates at GitM should now resume. Hey y’all, good to be back.
So, since the Comcast powers-that-be have posited the existence of a deep and unbreakable connection between having a screen to show a TV signal and the Internets, another week of relative quiet, I suspect. But back soon.
“Sympathetic owners sometimes just retire their new purchases. In other cases, the pets take matters into their own paws. Peter Haney, a university administrator in Lethbridge, Alberta, twice found his Roomba in pieces after letting it clean while his flat-coated retrievers, Macleod and Tima, had the run of the house. ‘No one is talking,’ he says.” They’re only trying to save us from our future cybernetic overlords…From the bookmarks and by way of a friend, the WSJ broaches the thorny issue of the canine-robot divide. As I noted earlier, the Battle for 122nd St., 5D went to Berkeley, whose fearsome arsenal of dog hair apparently convinced my Roomba to give up hope.
Hello all. After a long week of moving, cleaning, filling up a nearby storage unit, and unpacking the mobile dissertation office, Berk and I are back on the grid: He’s acclimatizing (again) to my parents’ house, and I’m acclimatizing (again) to the strange and seemingly unsustainable environment that is late-stage car culture. In order to procure a bag of dog food, we drove along the highway for two exits, pulled into one of an endless sea of strip-malls with parking lots the size of Morningside Park, and entered a super-air-conditioned palace, brimming over with a cornucopia of All Things Pet-Related. Now, I understand this is highly normal, but it seemed really bizarre at the time. Hey, it’s been awhile.
At any rate, the move out of New York is complete. And, notwithstanding a few more occasional moments of in-transition disorientation, I expect my southern roots will soon reassert themselves (particularly after several more visits to Chick-Fil-A, Cracker Barrel, and the like.)
“When someone from the audience asked Mary McDonnell, who plays President Roslin, if Barack Obama had approached her to be his running mate, she replied that Hillary had. At which point Douglas quipped: ‘Hillary’s the final cylon.’ Badabum!” The promotional campaign for BSG Season 4 gets rolled out of drydock, including a stop on Letterman’s Top 10. [Text.] Not great, frankly, but it’s redeemed by #5, #1, and the World’s Most Dangerous Band’s mean version of “All along the Watchtower.” If you’re not caught up, Season 3 came out last Tuesday. If you are, Season 4 premieres Friday, April 4.
By the way, the first link is via High Industrial, who’s also recently linked to this great dog-cylon friendship, one considerably more symbiotic than Berk and the now defunct Roomba. (It apparently got distressed by all the dog hair and up and pulled a Marvin. Now it just sits there “recharging” and won’t vacuum a frakking thing.)
So I surreptitiously received some very interesting photos from the Clinton campaign this morning…
Yep, Berkeley, GitM’s resident ombudsdog and Sheltie-American, turned eight today. [3, 4, 5, 6, 7.] As you can see, he finds all the dissermatating a bit of a drag sometimes, but otherwise is his normal spastic self, particularly with other dogs, squirrels, and/or Evil afoot.
Blah Blah Blah Berkeley…Scientists in Hungary have apparently developed a computer program that speaks basic canine. “After analyzing digital versions of the barks, overall the computer program correctly identified the kinds of barks the dogs made 43 percent of the time — about the same as humans’ 40 percent…The software identified ‘walk’ and ‘ball’ barks better than people, although people identified ‘play’ and ‘alone’ barks better than the software.“
Hmm. I don’t want to dismiss the advance of science, but that’s a pretty low success rate. (And I’d wager most dog owners can get the thread of their own pet’s barking more often than 40% of the time.) More interestingly, though, “‘I’m pretty sure this could work with any animal vocal signals,’ Molnár told LiveScience” So, when the Dolphin Wars start, you’ll know why.
Which reminds me, longtime readers may remember that Berk and I were part of the test group for the American release of the Bowlingual. Alas, that version of this technology wasn’t really ready for primetime.
“He had managed to climb out through the cat flap in the night, obviously with the intent to get Arthur back. Bearing in mind that Arthur was a huge cat, Oscar must have used all the strength he could muster. Then he pulled him into the basket and went to sleep next to him. Arthur’s coat was gleaming white. Oscar had obviously licked him clean. It must have taken him nearly all night.” The Times has a moving story about a dog mourning his best buddy. (And, a cat even! Dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria.) Update: Megg at Quiddity has posted another interesting tale of animal friendship.
Also, since I came back to find over 10,000 spam comments plastered all over the Ghost, I’ve decided to take drastic action and installed a Captcha system, in the form of Jay Allen’s comment challenge. So, if any of y’all want to leave a comment from now herein, you’ll need to answer the not-very-tricky “challenge question.” (The answer, as the hint basically tells you, is Berkeley.) As a result, the spam ratio around here has gone from 10-15 a minute to none, zip, zero over the past 24 hours. Can the war on spam finally be over? I’m not rolling out the Mission Accomplished banner just yet, but I’m cautiously optimistic.