A CAT NAMED OSCAR IS THE HARBINGER OF DEATH in an old person’s home, according to articles in the Boston Globe and New England Journal of Medicine:

Since he was adopted by staff members as a kitten, Oscar the Cat has had an uncanny ability to predict when residents are about to die. Thus far, he has presided over the deaths of more than 25 residents on the third floor of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. His mere presence at the bedside is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death, allowing staff members to adequately notify families. Oscar has also provided companionship to those who would otherwise have died alone. For his work, he is highly regarded by the physicians and staff at Steere House and by the families of the residents whom he serves.

That sounds nice and all, but I have an alternate theory: I think the cat is killing off the patients one by one and stealing their souls. Why does no one else suspect this?

LIFE IN THE BIG CITY AND FRIED CHICKEN CRAVINGS don’t always make the best of friends. Or so I learned from this video. Unfortunately, I saw the video last week and ate at the fine dining establishment in question four weeks ago. But never fear, now that KFC has brought an expert in on the scene, I’m sure everything will be fine from now on:

Corrigan is a world-renowned expert on rodent problems. He once spent months living in a rat-infested barn to better study the rodent’s behavior, and he has taught at the New York City Rodent Control Academy.

There’s a Rodent Control Academy?

WHEN HUMAN AND APE GO TO WAR, it’s good to know that the pigeons will be on our side – whether they like it or not.

Scientists in eastern China have successfully experimented with brain-motor skill manipulation in pigeons to “force the bird to comply with their commands.” Micro electrodes have been planted into the brains of these pigeons to control their movement left, right, up, and down during flight.

Beware of bombs, Koko!

NIGHTY NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT, don’t let the Cimex lectularius infest your home, drag you into legal battles with your landlord or co-op, force you to throw out your mattress and vacuum all your books, and generally make life miserable. Apparently, bed bugs don’t just bite, they terrorize. And while everyone else in New York is trying to get rid of them, this guy keeps ’em as pets:

“People are afraid to admit they have bedbugs, because they feel it means that they haven’t had proper cleaning or hygiene in their apartment,” said Louis N. Sorkin, an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History. (He keeps a small colony of bedbugs in a glass jar at his office and lets them feed on his arm.)

FEMALES ARE SCARY, pretty much no matter the species. Even so, there are so many creepy moments in this article about cannibalistic sugar mamas, I don’t even know where to begin. Well, I suppose this description of dead suitors leaving behind their leftover genitalia seems a good a place as any:

Scientists have found other species in which males encourage their own cannibalism. One remarkable twist on this strategy is seen in a species of orb-weaving spiders. The males suddenly die as they mate. The male’s death may be a strategy for preventing other males from mating with the female. In death, its sexual organ becomes stuck in the female’s receptacle. Even if she feeds on the rest of his body, the organ remains behind, preventing her from receiving more sperm.

Um. Jeez.

NATURE’S A MOTHER in this warm and fuzzy New York Times article, which arrives just in time to brighten everyone’s Mother’s Day:

Researchers long viewed infanticide and similar acts of maternal skulduggery as pathological, a result of the mother’s being under extreme stress. A farmer’s child pokes around in a rabbit’s nest, for example, and the mother rabbit responds by methodically consuming every one of her eight baby bunnies. By standard reckoning, it made little genetic sense for a mother to destroy her young, and maternal nurturing was assumed to be a hard-wired affair.

More recently, scientists have accrued abundant evidence that “bad” mothering is common in nature and that it is often a centerpiece of the reproductive game plan.

Along with a bunch of other fun-filled examples of mothers from hell, the author also sneaks in a reference to birds called “blue-footed boobies”. So, basically, the whole article is a non-stop laugh-fest.

SCIENCE IS NOT OUR FRIEND. Or if it is, it’s the sobering, semi-snooty one nobody really wants to pay attention to even though he’s saying yards of interesting and useful things — it’s just that you don’t want to encourage the arrogant, little know-it-all. I recently crossed over to the pages of Discover Magazine from Wired via the writings of Steven Johnson. Instead of the thinly veiled hype that science and technology will either doom or save us all in the next five years, which seems to be Wired’s editorial bag, Discover is full of examinations into how humans are basically muppets, with thousands of years of evolution and biology pulling the strings — but, hey, the Universe is so big and so full of impossible stuff we’ll never comprehend there’s no reason to dwell on the fact that we’re just educated slime mold to begin with and — ooh! look at that crazy chemical reaction! — neato.

Anyway, this month I learned that nice and fuzzy are basically invented PR terms if ever applied to the natural world. Big, male chimps will kill little, baby chimps if they’re not quite sure who’s their daddy – which is just another observation in the long string of observations regarding the complexities and conflicts of parenting (“The Hardy Sarah Blaffer Hrdy”). Dogs only like us because they’ve been pre-disposed by evolution to cast their lot with ours, so their affections seem nearly as mechanical as AIBO, Sony’s robotic version of my favorite kind of cuddly canine quadraped (“AIBO as Research Tool”). And, here’s a good one, the deer population is exploding to the point where the ravenous, inconsiderate Bambi-monsters are ravaging the ecosystems of forests across the country – and have to be hunted and killed in big, big numbers. This is a plan conservationists are for, and, oddly enough, both the Disney-fied public and hunters are joined very much against (“Oh, Deer”).

Undoubtedly, the conclusions I’ve drawn here are not perfectly in line with the original intentions of the article’s authors, but this is what I learned into my excursion into science – and which actually happens to be a reoccurring theme after any amount of targeted study into any specific area of human understanding: Nobody knows anything. Or to put it another way, we’re only guessing here. We think chimps are cruel and barbaric, and then we read that some other poor human mother has left her newborn in the garbage. Dogs (our “best friends” for pete’s sake) only like us because we know how to operate the can opener, and before that, because we knew how to spear a wooly mammoth. Save the deer, kill the deer — Bambi is the enemy. I’m sure next month will tell me more about how life is basically hard, cold, and cruel and the only real difference between us and the rest of the universe (so far) is that we agonize a little more over it.

But now I forgot to mention the bit in the magazine about the Aztecs and their obsession with violent deaths and human sacrifice (“Empire of Blood”). Apparently, one way in which this played out in their culture was that high priests would basically make jump suits out of people – wearing the dangling, bobbled flesh as part of a spring ritual celebrating renewal. Why don’t they ever get into this stuff in school?

P.S. – Oh yeah, the war started. Forgot to mention, but I’m sure you noticed. So disregard the previous post. Bush is a crazy mofo, no doubt.