Archive for May, 2011

A Bird Brain May Be Smarter Than Your Honor Student

Excuse my logic but to all you people of my dad’s generation and mine (I am 53 years old) when you call someone a “bird brain” in reality you are not insulting them at all.  True, the brain of a bird is small compared to that of a human and thus we erroneously think we’re one up on someone when we compare their brain to that of a bird.  In small hummingbirds the brain may be no larger than the size of a pea.   However, relative to its size, the bird’s brain occupies a much larger percentage of the bird’s total body mass than a human brain does to a human.

The brain to body mass ratio of a human is 1/40.  In other words, the human brain is 1/40 of our total body content.  Amazingly, the brain to body mass ratio of a bird is an impressive 1/12. Far down the scale, the irony of which we will touch on later is the brain to body mass ratio of a shark which comes in at 1/2496.

What this all boils down to is that we humans aren’t the only smart species of animal life on this planet.  Animals are quite intelligent.

Who hasn’t heard stories of animals running to higher ground an hour before a tsunami hits?  Dogs are used to locate narcotics and dead bodies. They also navigate the darkness for the blind. The below photo even shows that animals not only have smarts but also compassion as this monkey saves a dog from a burning building.

As early as 3,000 years ago, homing pigeons, also referred to as carrier pigeons were used by the Egyptians and Persians to carry and deliver urgent messages to peoples far away.

In modern times, we have seen Lassie, Flipper and more recently “Beethoven” the loveable Saint Bernard, deliver performances worthy of Academy Awards.

Then there is the survival quotient.  Tortoises have roamed this Earth for more than 200 million years.  And that Shark that we mentioned above, the one with a 1/2496 brain to body mass, has existed in its current anatomy for 100 million years and in various other anatomies for a whopping 450 million years. By comparison, depending upon whose figures you want to believe, humans have existed on this planet anywhere from 500,000, to 2.5 million to 5 million years. We are so to speak, “the new kids on the block.”

Suffice it so say, that the extreme longevity of some animal species speaks volumes about their intelligence.

Several years ago, we housed a pregnant cat and it gave birth to three kittens in our living room.  One of those kittens, a black Burmese cat which we named Michael has become a permanent and revered member of our family.

Michael is nothing short of remarkable.  As a hunter he is prolific.  I have seen him kill three mice in one night.  However, what is more eyebrow-raising is what he does with his prey after he kills it. Between the side of our house and the backyard is a four-sided raised cement platform that covers what used to be an underground well.  When Michael kills mice, birds or the occasional chipmunk (which makes me mad because I love chipmunks), he arranges them neatly on this cement slab as if it were some sort of sacrificial altar. About three years ago, he continued with this practice for a full Spring, Summer and Fall until we brought an end to it by confining him to our house.

Michael adopted other hobbies once his hunting days came to a close. We have seen him sit upright on our piano bench and tickle the ivories with his two front paws.  At night, when I am asleep on my back, he will step up on my chest and pump his front legs up and down in a rhythmic motion. I jokingly refer to this as Michael giving me CPR but I think in actuality he is just trying to please me for all the care I give him.  He knows who’s his daddy!

Furthermore, if you laugh at Michael, he will shift his gaze downward and his sulking expression is a dead giveaway that he is unhappy.  He is also quite the model.  One day he will strike his George Clooney pose in which he sits in a debonair fashion, front paws outstretched.  Other times he will lie on his side with all his front paws and rear paws fully extended in what I call his Marilyn Monroe pose.  Or, he will sit atop all of his four legs looking like one of those hand-warming muffs women used to carry around.

What up Michael? Can't you take a joke?

Getting back to animals in general, despite their inability to recognize their own reflection in a mirror, through senses of smell, visual cues such as body movement and in many cases the phenomenon known as behavioral imprinting, animals have an uncanny knack of knowing whom to mate with.  Somehow ostriches don’t go around mating with giraffes yet both have long necks.

Many animals also have an innate ability to judge peoples’ character.  To this day, I still LOL (as the texters say) when I recall an incident that happened around our backyard pool some 35 years ago.  My mother’s friend, who was sort of a know-it-all remarked that dogs can tell good people from bad.  I didn’t give much thought to her comment at the time it was made.  Incredibly, about an hour later, this woman went inside to use the rest room.  Suddenly she emerged from our house screaming.  When she had leaned down to pet our Scotch terrier named Scotty, the dog had bitten her enough to cause bleeding.  Scotty was the most well-fed dog I’ve ever seen so it was not as if he was perhaps just biting her out of hunger.  I guess Scotty had her number.

Copyright 2009; Greg S.

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Is Your Child the Next Humpty Dumpty?

Excuse my logic but aren’t bunk beds and open bleachers like the types at high school athletic fields just open invitations for disaster?   Now before you peg me as a killjoy or a paranoid quack, I’ll ask you to read through to the end.

First we’ll examine the state of bleachers.  In the 1990s through the past decade much has been written on the high incidence of accidents that occur to people who sit on these seats watching sporting events, circuses, concerts and other events.

The good news is, there are very few fatalities that occur.  According to one website I visited, in 1999, there were only two fatalities to children from bleacher accidents for that entire year. Now even two is two too many. Another website called reported in October 14, 2009 that between 1980 and 1999 there were a total of four fatalities to children under the age of 15.  However considering the number of actual accidents that occur each year nationwide, we are really playing with fire. The 1999 statistics indicate that for that year there were 22,100 injuries involving bleacher seats nationwide and children under the age of 15 accounted for 4,910 of them. 

Responding to the rash of incidents with bleachers at the turn of the millennium, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a report outlining a number of recommendations to improve bleacher safety suggesting a major overhaul of the existing stock.  One major recommendation was to “retrofit” bleachers with safety panels in the open spaces where risers would normally be.

There were numerous other recommendations, but the three most noteworthy beyond that for safety panels were:

  • Installation of guardrails on top of and along the sides of any bleacher seats where the top row of seats were more than 30” above ground level. Nowhere in the guardrail should a 4” diameter sphere be able to pass through.
  • Presence of nonskid surfaces in all the aisles of the bleachers.
  • Sealing off the area under bleachers to prevent curious youngsters from crawling or walking underneath.

I visited the high school athletic fields of four affluent communities in my neighborhood recently. To some degree, the CPSC safety recommendations of more than a decade ago sadly remain unheeded.

In two of the towns, all the four aforementioned improvements had been affected.  However, in the two other towns I found the following.

In the one town, bleachers rising some 20 feet high had not been fitted with safety panels in the risers’ area.  As well, the area underneath these huge edifices was not enclosed.  As well, on this town’s 48”to 54” high mini bleachers the only recommendation it fulfilled was for nonslip surfaces on the foot areas. No guardrails, no panels for the risers and no enclosure of the areas underneath. Dismal!

In the other town, again, we see bleachers that rise some 12 feet in the air, and the only recommendation complied with was for nonslip surfaces.  Shame on them!

It has guardrails, but without chain link or mesh.


I also visited a small sampling of athletic fields in my neighborhood other than high school facilities. Here, we find mainly mini-bleachers but in almost all cases above the 30” maximum height for having no guardrails.

On one field, all recommendations except for securing the area underneath were met.  Okay, things are looking up.

However, on the other two fields, again we find that only nonslip surfaces were present.  No safety panels for risers, no guardrails, and no enclosing of the areas underneath. Abysmal!

Now what about bunk beds?  My recommendation to any parent considering the purchase of this type of furniture is to exercise extreme caution.  Strangely enough, from what I’ve read, there is a higher incidence of accidents involving strangulation between the safety bars and the mattress or between the individual rungs in the safety bars themselves than there is from falling out of the bed. 

This brings up an interesting connection between the aforementioned safety standards for bleachers and those for bunk beds.  I visited a local bedding store and noted on the safety disclaimer labels for bunk beds that they recommend no more than 5” of space between the top of the mattress and the nearest safety bar rung.  This is meant to prevent a youngster’s head and thus his neck from getting caught between the mattress and the safety bar.  If you recall, the maximum allowable space between a guardrail and the bleachers it is on meant to prevent the same accident is 4”.  Would someone please tell me what is the correct diameter of the average 2 to 8 year olds’ head so the bleacher people and bunk bed people can get on the same page?  Also of note, the bunk bed warnings aptly suggest no child less than six years of age to be on the top bunk.  Yet do you think playful kids are aware of that warning late at night when mom and dad are asleep?

Furthermore, it is also interesting to note that on a number of bunk beds I looked at, the distance between the top of the mattress and the ONLY safety bar present on the top bunk was 5”.    I offer you this observation. In my job as an Alzheimer’s patient caregiver, I have seen a six foot tall man in a restless state almost crawl right over a 10” high rail where he would have fallen to the floor.  Hence, is it not equally possible for a 3 to 3 ½ feet tall highly mobile youngster to crawl over a puny 5” rail and fall to the floor? I think we all know the answer. 

In conclusion, hug your child after reading this and protect them from hazards such as the above.  Your children after all should be your greatest treasure.


Copyright 2009; Greg S.

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