Phantom The Pirate Purring Moggy

I’ve had a small, self-imposed hiatus from blogging recently. Nothing untoward. Just pursuing other equally important stuff. But there is nothing like coming across a piece of total absurdity to shake off lethargy and get you hitting the keyboard again.

There is a small moggy called Phantom to thank for getting me out of the blocks. And I thank his owner. I will try my best to keep any puns to a minimum. Now, I know online piracy of copyrighted material is a big issue, and big companies don’t like it. There’s been a significant court case in Australia recently on internet piracy that initially delivered a judgment going one way and then, on appeal, another judgment that went the other way. But that is another story. What I am talking about here, in the case of Phantom, should be called online piracy of the ridiculous.

This story began about a year ago when Phantom’s owner, a YouTube user called Digihaven tried to do us all a favour. He wanted to acknowledge the calming, soothing, not to mention meditative qualities of cat purring. So Digihaven uploaded an hour long looped video of Phantom, his cat, doing just that. Purring. Softly. The video was called “Cat Purr 1 Hour Relax, Study,Sleep.”

So I guess you are wondering how in the name of Christ could this find its way to being a case of copyright infringement? Me too. But wait. There’s more.

Digihaven’s video did modest business compared to some cat videos. It amassed around 25 hundred hits but it was monetized so potentially it could earn revenue for Digihaven under YouTube’s Content ID system.

For those who might not be aware of the YouTube Content ID system, this is how it works. Anyone who uploads a video can potentially leverage it to make money by ticking the monetizing tab. But you have to own the copyright on all of the material in the video, including any music or sound used. It’s designed to keep everyone honest. YouTube’s system is built to look for evidence of copyright infringement, and stop people making money from uploading other people’s songs and films. The automated program scans videos and matches their soundtracks to existing songs — if they’re too similar to something on its database, it stops uploaders from making money from the posts.

Week in, week out, automated bots detect and report millions of alleged copyright infringements, which are then processed by the receiving site without a human ever looking at them.

Unfortunately this process is far from flawless, resulting in many false and inaccurate copyright infringement claims. Just to give you more of an idea, the system is similar to what YouTube installed to detect pornographic videos which went horribly wrong when it was revealed that uploaders were by passing the system by using Gaelic Irish language titles for porn films. Is it just me who finds this particularly hilarious? Talk about an Irish joke.

So, getting back to the story of Phantom, the purring moggy. Almost a year after Phantom’s video was posted by Digihaven, the cat’s owner was informed by YouTube that Phantom is a “pirate” purring moggy. No I am not joking. Apparently, it was claimed that part of the video belongs to EMI Music Publishing and PRS, who happen to be two of the world’s biggest music publishing companies.

In its copyright notice sent to Digihaven, YouTube says the cat purring was flagged by its Content ID system as infringing a copy of a musical composition called “Focus.”

The video was not removed by the false claim, but according to Digihaven, monetization was disabled. I am happy to report he won’t be forced into bankruptcy due to the loss of income.

“I’m sure EMI/PRS made Phantom a sad kitty,” Dighaven was heard to say.

But the story doesn’t end here. Not on your life. Or in this case all nine of them. Digihaven was just sharpening Phantom’s claws for a catfight with YouTube and the two music publishing giants who seemingly have nothing better to do.

Hoping to clear his cat’s name, Digihaven filed a dispute. I am also happy to say sanity prevailed with EMI agreeing to lift its claim of copyright infringement.

And while we all might contemplate how it even got this far, Phantom, meanwhile, is reportedly considering a career in the music business and looking for compensation.

“Phantom is currently independent, but looking to sign on with an indie label,” his owner Digihaven says. “ Phantom’s lawyer is looking for 4 kilos of catnip in damages.”

And so he should.

Nigel, The Talking British Parrot Who Now Only Speaks Spanish

Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh. Out loud preferably. The way the world is lately, we are crying out for it.

Sorry for the mixed metaphor. But I’m sure you get the idea.

Hopefully what I’m about to tell you, will give you a good laugh.

A pet parrot called Nigel, which previously only ever spoke English with a British accent, when he disappeared from his home four years ago, has been reunited with his owner.

That’s the good news.

Here’s the bad news. The bird now only speaks Spanish.

The touching reunion, between owner and pet, was orchestrated by a Southern Californian veterinarian, who initially mistook Nigel, an African gray parrot, for her own missing bird.

Nigel was micro-chipped as most animals are these days.

Veterinarian, Teresa Micco, tracked Nigel’s microchip to Darren Chick (believe it or not that is his real name) a British man living in Torrance, California.

Teresa takes up the story saying that when she introduced herself and said to Chick, have you lost a bird? He initially said no, but he thought she meant had he lost a bird recently. Nigel disappeared four years ago.

Teresa, the Vet, to her credit, persisted. She’d verified Chick’s name as the registered owner. She then told him she’d found his missing African grey parrot. Of course Chick thought he was dealing with a crazy woman. How could she have found his pet parrot when it’s been missing for four years?

Little is known about Nigel’s whereabouts for the past four years but how he talks now, as in the language he uses, could be a fairly substantial clue.

Chick says the bird’s British accent is gone, and it now chatters away in fluent Spanish. Unfortunately Chick doesn’t speak Spanish so it’s not like he can ask Nigel about what was happening for the past four years. In any case, Chick said the reunion brought tears of joy to his eyes – despite the fact that Nigel bit him when he first tried to pick him up. How quickly they forget.

Teresa, the Vet, who knows a lot about animal behavior, said Nigel’s recalcitrant attitude was not unusual and he would soon settle back to his old self.

“He’s doing perfect,” Chick, (who also seems to have also lost his British accent), told the local newspaper. “It’s really weird. I knew it was him from the minute I saw him.”

There is a small, cruel irony in this story with the happy ending. Teresa, the Vet, has been running ads over the past ten months for her own missing parrot, Benjamin, who flew the coop in February by darting through an open door.

She’s managed to reunite five other missing parrots with their owners, but no luck in locating Benjamin. How Nigel ended up with Teresa, the Vet, is a mission in its self. A woman called Julissa Sperling, managed to catch Nigel, outside her house, and brought him to Teresa, after seeing one of her ads. But first, she took Nigel to her dog-grooming business. It was like mana from heaven for an animal that likes to copy sounds.

“He was the happiest bird. He was singing and talking without control,” Sperling said. “He was barking like the dogs. I’m from Panama, and he was saying, What happened? In Spanish.”

What happened indeed. Sadly, Julissa didn’t bother asking Nigel, in Spanish of course. Hopefully someone will. He just might tell them. I am sure it will make for one hell of a story.

At The Moment My Cat Likes It A Little Too Much For My Liking

We have a foster cat. She is a seven-month-old tortoiseshell called Sadie. One of the things we do is provide a temporary home for cats and dogs that would otherwise be on death row. It’s a pit stop until they can find their forever home.

But right now, Sadie, our foster cat, is driving me nuts. She is on heat and up for it. Big time. I am living with a nymphomaniac who is not getting any. Believe me, that is a very bad combination. I can’t help thinking she was named after that William Somerset Maugham book about a fallen woman called Sadie Thompson. It is such an appropriate name.

It’s not that I mind the way Sadie crouches down, raises her hind-quarters and thrusts her backside in the air. I don’t even mind it when she seductively wraps herself around my ankles or the coquettish way she stares with great concentration and then rolls around on her back. She reminds me of that Nine Inch Nails song I want to f***k you like an animal although I prefer the version done by the group Lady Does It Better. Check it out on Youtube.

What is getting to me is Sadie’s constant, bloody, chirping. Chirp, chirp, chirp all over the house. It’s either chirping or this loud, throaty yowling roooooowwwww. Talk about grievous bodily harm of the eardrums.There is no mistaking her intentions. It’s come and get it boys, I’m all yours. Therein lies the second problem. If she managed to get outside, then every Tom in the street would be lining up. Sadie would be up the duff in no time at all and the world would be populated with even more unwanted kittens. So she has to stay inside and I have to suffer.

Now if I was a tomcat I would be more than happy to oblige just to keep her happy and quiet. But I’m not. So it’s impossible. I’ve tried telling her but she doesn’t listen. We have three other male cats of our own but they are all duds as far as she is concerned. None of them have any balls at all. They don’t have the slightest interest apart from one, who occasionally likes to sniff her nether regions. Probably remembering a long forgotten time. But he’s just window-shopping with absolutely no intention of buying any of the merchandise. Our two dogs are in the same position as me. Sorry but we can’t help.

I’ve been told that Sadie can’t be neutered until she stops with the promiscuous behavior and goes off heat. It did stop for a brief time but it returned again with a vengeance and worse still, it’s showing no signs of disappearing any time soon.

In one desperate moment, a mad thought did briefly cross my mind. What about inviting one of the neighbor-hood Tom’s over just to shut her up? Of course I dismissed it just as quickly. But it did get me thinking and wondering. Do cats have recreational sex just like humans? I’m talking about sex for pleasure and not simply procreation.  Many animals do such as dolphins, rats, horses and birds of the feathered kind. But Guess what? Cats don’t. They only have sex when the female is on heat. It lasts seven to ten days and can occur every few weeks. Once reproduction is achieved the Yes turns into a giant, fat, no way known.

So I guess I just have to bide my time and get ready to rush her to the vet the minute there is a break in proceedings.

Either that, or get a gun and take her out the back and shoot her. Bang, bang. Of course I am having a big joke. But if you could ask Sadie I’m sure she’d say please take me out the back so we can have a bang, bang as in gang-bang. Yippee.

The New York Mayor’s Groundhog Day

What is it with the American fascination with Groundhogs? I should have said Groundhogs AKA a woodchuck, whistlepig or land-beaver. One of American poet, Robert Frost’s, best-loved odes was ‘A Drumlin Woodchuck’ in which he used the imagery of a Groundhog dug into a small ridge as a metaphor for emotional reticence. Guess what? It’s a rodent. Get over it.

Granted they are accomplished tree-climbers and excellent swimmers but what else do they do that’s worth anything? You ask any farmer and they’ll tell you. Groundhogs are a nuisance and a pest. They eat many commonly grown vegetables and their burrows can destroy farm ponds and undermine building foundations. As you might expect there is also a thriving business in their extermination.

Personally, I take a very Zen approach to animals big and small. Live and let live. Mind you I have three cats and two dogs so technically that makes me an animal lover. So you won’t hear war-like rhetoric from me such as down with all groundhogs.

What I can’t quite figure out, in some parts of the United States and Canada, Groundhogs have reached mythical status. There’s Wiarton Willie from Ontario, Jimmy the Groundhog from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin and the most famous Groundhog in the world, Punxsutawney Phil from Punxsutawney Pennsylvania. Phil has a day dedicated to him, on the 2nd of February each year. This tradition dates back to 1877.

There is music and food and a select group called, wait for it, the inner circle, recognizable by their top hats and tuxedos, who are his specially appointed guardians. At one point, the festival moves from Punxsutawney to Phil’s temporary home at Gobbler’s Knob in a rural area two miles east of the town. This famous Groundhog emerges from hibernation. Some people believe, I am not one of them, that if he sees his shadow and returns to his burrow then there will be six more weeks of winter and no early spring. Punxsutawney Phil is so well-known, that even Hollywood paid homage. They made a movie called Groundhog Day, starring Phil and Bill Murray. And Punxsutawney Phil been on television making a guest appearance on the Oprah Winfrey talk show.

American politicians love Groundhogs. Or, they just love the publicity that comes from being photographed with a Groundhog. They like kissing babies and holding Groundhogs except when they drop them. I’m talking about a Groundhog, not a baby. When that happens it makes headlines. Just ask the current Mayor of New York, Bill deBlasio. In his case it was a headline he didn’t really want or need.

Staten Island Zoo has a Groundhog Day for their Groundhog called Chuck. Just like Punxsutawney Phil, if Chuck sees his own shadow guess what? You’re in for another six weeks of winter. Some cynics claim this whole Staten Island Zoo Groundhog thing, is just a cheap rip off to cash in on the fame of Phil but I am not one of those cynics. Anyway, part of the ceremony involves the current Mayor of New York, holding the Groundhog. In 2009, Chuck, who clearly didn’t vote for Bloomberg, ended up biting the Mayor on the hand. Fast forward to 2014 and Mayor de Blasio, first time participant in the Staten Island Zoo Groundhog Day ceremony, now has that honour. But as a precaution, the Mayor is wearing heavy work gloves, which might go some of the way in explaining what happened next. Clearly the Mayor didn’t have a good hold of Chuck, who tumbled several feet to the ground. But there has been a dramatic and tragic postscript to the story. It was subsequently revealed that a week after the tumble, the Groundhog died.

Staten Island Zoo also stands accused of a cover up. They failed to notify the Mayor’s office of the fatality. In fact the story broke in the New York Post. It also turns out that the Groundhog who died, after slipping from the official Mayoral grasp, wasn’t Chuck after-all but a stand-in called Charlotte.

Needless to say it has all been a bit embarrassing for everyone concerned. The moral to this story, assuming there is one: If you are going to pick up a Groundhog don’t give it to a politician. They don’t have a firm grip on anything.

Man Bites Crocodile

Man they breed them tough in Australia’s Northern Territory. Tough like the territory they live in. It’s an area known for cyclones, tropical temperatures and hazardous critters like crocodiles. I am talking heaps and heaps of crocodiles.

Usually it’s the fatal attacks that make the news. Sometimes Territorians, but usually out of towners full of mad sauce who go swimming in a creek or river, even though there are signs warning of the danger. Salt-water crocodiles are nature’s apex predators. They are opportunistic and will stalk their prey, watching and waiting for the right time to strike. Why you would want to take them on, or think you can, has always been a source of great consternation to me. They will eat a human being just as easily as they eat any other prey. I’d like to think we are the smarter species and don’t give them that chance. But plenty of people have proved me wrong over the years .

So, when you hear the tables were turned it makes you sit up and take notice. It happened when a 20-year-old man was hunting geese in wetlands near a remote community in the NT. What he didn’t know, lurking under the water was a two-meter saltwater crocodile. A man-eater hunting him. And knowing crocs as I do, he would have watched that young man for some time. Watching and waiting for his opportunity. It’s was not long before it presented itself.

The man waded into the water to recover a goose he had shot. Talk about wading out of his comfort zone and into the crocs. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Talk about dinner on a plate. This croc was spoiled for choice. Start with the appetizer or the main course? Choices, choices. So many choices. No surprise which one, out of the two sets of prey, that big, old croc decided to go for.

According to the local policeman, the crocodile launched at the young man grabbing him by the arm, trying to pull him under water. That’s how crocs kill their prey. They drown them. But what the croc didn’t count on, he was attacking a true Northern Territorian. Just think Crocodile Dundee only younger. The 20-year-old man fought back. He wrestled with the croc and was finally able to loosen its grasp. But the Territorian wasn’t done. He proceeded to poke the croc in the eye, which was the smart thing to do. The croc took off and the man returned to shore.

But like I said they breed them tough in the territory. He received first aid to stop the bleeding from fairly severe puncture wounds and driven on a Quad bike to the station homestead. He was then given what some might describe as real first aid in the form of an ice-cold can of beer. Come to think of it there might have been more than one can drunk by the man. When ambulance staff arrived he was ‘mildly intoxicated’. I mean, wouldn’t you be?

When they took a good look at him he had puncture wounds, tears and claw marks on his arm and back. The ambulance officers told the young man they would fly him to Darwin hospital for further treatment. But oh, no. Air ambulance flights are for sissies. He decided to make the journey of hundreds of kilometers by road.

He is now in hospital in a satisfactory condition. No doubt telling everyone about the one that got away. Meaning himself.

This One’s For George

There is something very fishy about the story I am going to share with you. As in, you are not going to believe it. Definitely fishy, but at the same time it’s kind of remarkable.

The story is about a goldfish called George. He lives in a tank with 38 other fish. Life for George is pretty good in a manner of speaking. The same four walls every day but he’s fed regularly and his owner loves him.

About a month ago, George began developing a noticeable problem. Unusual white spots appeared on his head, which later developed into a tumor. It began causing him problems. He had difficulty breathing and swimming and was being bullied by the other fish in the tank. He was unable to eat properly and the tumor was affecting his eyesight. Something needed to be done.

His owner happened to work at a local animal hospital and knew what to do. Boy did she know what to do. She took George in for a checkup. A check-up performed not just by any old animal doctor. George was in the hands of a vet who knew the kinds of stuff that can cause sickness in goldfish and how to surgically deal with it. In this particular case surgery was the only option. It was either that or turning George into goldfish and chips.

Here’s where it gets tricky and fraught. This is not your average, run of the mill animal operation. The surgery is delicate, cutting edge and extremely risky for a goldfish. Just getting the fish sedated is a major operation. You have to use three buckets. One filled with water and strong anaesthetic, one filled with water, and a mild dose of anaesthetic and oxygen and the last with just water and oxygen. Phew. Once George was sedated, water then had to be trickled continuously over his gills to keep him asleep and alive.

But George was in good hands. The Vet doing this operation, believe it or not, had experience in performing this kind of surgery. Yes on a fish. Once George was anaesthetized, the delicate 30-minute operation began. The tumor was quite extensive and widespread all the way down George’s skull. The medical team had to closely monitor blood loss because of his small size. A significant loss of blood would be catastrophic. You can’t give a goldfish a transfusion.

After successfully removing the tumor the veterinary team ran into yet another problem. The wound couldn’t be closed with sutures. They wouldn’t take. It called for some improvisation. Tissue glue, the same as they use in surgery on humans, was applied to close up George’s head wound. You’ll be pleased to know the procedure went well and George is in recovery.

The Vet was interviewed about his cutting edge surgery. He said it was fiddly, high risk and well worth the trouble. It was also relatively inexpensive for George’s owner. The operation cost $200. The Vet said he could understand why George’s owner opted to have the operation. Every one of us bonds with animals in different ways and we shouldn’t discriminate or distinguish between species. While the operation cost way more than it would have to simply buy a replacement for George from a pet shop, you can’t put a price on love.

Incidentally, some goldfish can live for 30 years. Maybe George will too. So far his recovery has gone swimmingly and it won’t be long before he’s back in his tank with his 38 other buddies.

They’re Coming

Just when you thought you had enough to worry about with the effect of climate change on the environment, here’s something that’s bound to give you nightmares.

If you are like me and think spiders are already big enough and scary enough, then you’d better brace yourself. They are getting even bigger.

In Australia, where I live, we have some of the biggest and nastiest critters imaginable. For example we are home to the world’s most poisonous snake, the inland Taipan. Luckily it lives far, far, away from civilisation. Its venom is so toxic, it makes a death adder look like a wimp in comparison.

So the idea that our spiders might be growing even bigger is not exactly good news. Apparently this trend is happening the world over.

The cause of this has something to do with our cities becoming busier and more populated. Researchers have been examining how your everyday garden spider, like the harmless Golden Orb Weaver, is suddenly growing exponentially.

One species of this type of spider has been gaining weight almost at the same time as the city grows. Researchers say the further they are away from bush land and the more concrete there is with a corresponding reduction in leaf litter, the bigger the spider. And we are talking significant weight gain. For example, spiders found in a park away from the city had an average mass of 0.5 grams. But those in an inner city park averaged 1.6 grams or three times the size. Eeek.

Scientists are calling it the urban heat island effect and prey availability. Spiders are very sensitive to temperature. If it’s warmer they grow bigger. And urbanization has been a big benefit. The food or prey the spider eats tend to do well in small fragments of bush land like urban parks. And they do even better if there is lighting at night. So the spiders have more to eat so they can put more energy into growing bigger.

Income also plays a big part. Scientists found that wealthier areas in the city tend to have the largest spiders. The reason for this is less clear. But it might be because they have more parks and more concrete that heats up readily. Now the really bad news is that the trend is across the board. So poisonous spiders like the Australian Redback are also growing bigger. Global warming will encourage spiders to get bigger but they don’t like the really, really hot weather.

All of this has been pretty surprising to the scientific community. They expected that the opposite would be true. An increase in heat usually means an increase in the rate of development. It also means metabolic function speeds up so they mature early at a smaller size. But that is not what is happening.

The scientists do say the relationship between heat and body size is complicated. The heat might be allowing the spiders to hatch earlier giving them a longer growing season.

In any case, a healthy spider population apparently should be celebrated. They eat pests and provide food for birds. Spiders in urban areas should be encouraged. Sure. Anywhere except my backyard.