Owlsynth Pics for Superb Owl Day

We at CatSynth feel there is no better way to celebrate Superb Owl Day than with “owlsynth pics”. Here is our stuffed owl atop our main modular system.

And with our trusty Roland Boutique VP-03 vocoder.

And with our Arturia MiniBrute 2.

(Definitely need to tidy up a bit there.)

Owls are quite captivating as they are so different from other birds, even from other birds of prey. We all know their unique front-facing faces and nocturnal behavior. But they also have amazing auditory capabilities.

Both the cat and the Barn Owl have much more sensitive hearing than the human in the range of about 0.5 to 10 kHz. The cat and Barn Owl have a similar sensitivity up to approximately 7 kHz. Beyond this point, the cat continues to be sensitive, but the Barn Owl’s sensitivity declines sharply.

Some Owl species have asymmetrically set ear openings (i.e. one ear is higher than the other) – in particular, the strictly nocturnal species, such as the Barn Owl or the Tengmalm’s (Boreal) Owl. These species have a very pronounced facial disc, which acts like a “radar dish”, guiding sounds into the ear openings. The shape of the disc can be altered at will, using special facial muscles. Also, an Owl’s bill is pointed downward, increasing the surface area over which the sound waves are collected by the facial disc. In 4 species (Ural, Great Grey, Boreal/Tengmalm’s & Saw-whet), the ear asymmetry is actually in the temporal parts of the skull, giving it a “lop-sided” appearance.

Owls and Hearing – The Owl Pages

We at CatSynth hope you all have a fine and enriching Superb Owl Day!

Fun with Highways: Belen, New Mexico

On this dreary, rainy afternoon, we turn our attention southeast to the small town of Belen, New Mexico.

Belen is near the geographical center of New Mexico, south of Albuquerque.  It is wedged between Interstate 25 to the west and the Rio Grande to the east. Business Loop 25 serves as the town’s Main Street, as well as the terminus for New Mexico state roads 314309, and 109.  In its past, it served as a major railroad hub, even earning the nickname “Hub City.” 

New Mexico is a place steeped in a unique character, bringing together Native American, Spanish, and Northern European heritage.  Its landscape is bleak and beautiful.  It has attracted generations of artists.  Judy Chicago is one of those artists, and she chose to make her home in Belen.

Chicago is one of the founders of feminist art, a collection of art movements that serve to both create and critique art from the perspective of women.  Early work by Chicago and others in this movement often turned assumptions upside down, sometimes slyly but sometimes not so subtly inserting womanhood into all types of artistic practice.  But she has also been involved in work beyond feminism, notably The Holocaust Project.

Perhaps her best-known piece is The Dinner Party, which is now a permanent installation at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.  I have had the opportunity to view it on multiple occasions.

The Dinner Party imagines women artists, thinkers, and leaders throughout history sitting at a large triangular table.  Each of the place settings bears the name of an accomplished woman and the contents of her plate represent a stylized version of her accomplished.  Additionally, the porcelain tiles surrounding the table identify nearly 1000 other women.  The plates and their contents are often described as representing female sexuality through vulva-like, floral, and butterfly forms.

Returning from Brooklyn to Belen, we pick up the story in this weekend’s New York Times, about an effort by the town to host a museum dedicate to its famous resident and the art she creates and supports.  This would seem to be a slam dunk for a town that appears to have fallen on hard times, but it apparently generated quite a bit of opposition.

The quarreling reflects not just the power of Ms. Chicago’s art to ignite emotions, but also the limits of tolerance in New Mexico, a state long known as a welcoming mecca for artists. Evangelical Christian leaders in Belen have mobilized to thwart the project, calling Ms. Chicago’s art pornographic and indecent.

“I love fine art, but I would never want to see a vagina hanging on my wall,” said John K. Thompson, 62, a retired stockbroker.

[link]

It seems odd that the state that celebrates Georgia O’Keefe would have a problem with vaginal imagery in art.   So why this place, and why now?

Paula Castillo [a sculptor who was born and raised in Belen] believes that the friction reflects the town’s own evolving dynamics…Belen has long been home to Hispanic families whose roots in New Mexico go back centuries. Religious affiliations are in flux, but many remain members of the Roman Catholic Church, which has not voiced opposition to the museum.

But after meeting with pastors from the evangelical churches opposing the museum, Ms. Castillo said she concluded that much of the resistance appeared to come from relative newcomers who brought more conservative sensibilities with them.

“There’s a level of nuance to what’s going on that’s been neglected,” Ms. Castillo said. “Belen and the rest of New Mexico can be very welcoming, but it’s easy to forget the influence that some churches now have.”

Indeed, I had come to think that despite the power of conservative Christians in our politics, the somewhat cartoonish cries of “indecency” in art were a sad joke from my past.   Not surprising, this has been an upsetting experience for Chicago herself.  I can only imagine what it feels like to feel welcomed in a community, only to have part of that community turn against you…

Responding to the critics, Ms. Chicago and Mr. Woodman in November withdrew their offer to work with Belen’s municipal government on the proposed museum. “The whole experience has been very painful,” said Ms. Chicago, explaining how she followed the debate over the museum and her work on social media while she was traveling in Brazil

It seems like a potential opportunity missed, especially as one sees how embracing minimalist Donald Judd put Marfa, Texas, on the map and has made it a cultural destination.  Indeed, Marfa is on my bucket list, especially after seeing it featured in one of the last episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s show.  Whether Belen gives up its chance to be another Marfa remains to be seen.

See more of New Mexico and many other fascinating places in our Highway☆ app, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. 

Highway☆ on Apple App Store
Highway☆ for Android

Wordless Wednesday: San Francisco Under Smoke

Eerie light in San Francisco at sunset this Saturday as the city was engulfed in thick smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County.

Military Cats on Veterans Day

On this Veterans Day, we salute some of the cats who have served in their countries armed forces. 

First up is Able Seacat Simon,

Simon has the distinction of being the only cat awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal after being wounded during a battle on the Yangtze River.  From his Wikipedia page:

The badly wounded cat crawled on deck, and was rushed to the medical bay, where the ship’s surviving medical staff cleaned his burns, and removed four pieces of shrapnel, but he was not expected to last the night. He managed to survive, however, and after a period of recovery, returned to his former duties in spite of the indifference he faced from the new captain Lieutenant Commander John Kerans. While anchored in the river, the ship had become overrun with rats, and Simon took on the task of removing them with vigour, as well as raising the morale of the sailors.

When Simon died in 1949 he was buried with full military honors and lies in PDSA Animal Cemetery in Ilford.

Cats in the military have most often been ship cats, who have perform the practical function of ridding the ships of rodents and other potential pests, as well as boosting the crew’s morale.  You can find many examples in this post from the Naval History Blog

“War Veteran – ‘Pooli’, who rates three service ribbons and four battle stars, shows she can still get into her old uniform as she prepares to celebrate her 15th birthday. The cat served aboard an attack transport during World War II.” Los Angeles, 1959.

Cats have also served on land.  Pfc Hammer served with an Army unit in Iraq in 2004.  

The cat, dubbed Pfc. Hammer, experienced the war right alongside the soldiers. He jumped at the sound of nearby gunfire and unexpected explosions when they did. He would always take the soldiers’ minds off of the war at just the right time.


During a mortar attack on the unit Hammer ran to the bunker with everyone else. The nearest soldier picked up the cat and tucked the feline inside his body armor for safe keeping until the attack was over.

http://petslady.com/articles/hammer_time_cat_iraq_62910

In the true spirit of “no soldier left behind”, the unit made sure that Hammer was able to come back to the U.S. with them.  With the help of  Alley Cat Allies and Military Mascots, he was relocated stateside and no lives with fellow veteran Staff Sgt. Rick Bousfield and his family.

If you have stories of cats who have served in war, we would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: Sheltering from #CaliforniaFires

California is on fire.  To our south, the area northwest of Los Angeles that I remember fondly from past visits in on fire, including Malibu and Thousand Oaks.  To our north, the devastating Camp Fire has laid waste to much of the town of Paradise, is threatening Chico, and is among the smokiest I have ever experienced.  If anything the air quality in San Francisco is even worse than it was during last year’s wine-country fires, which were much closer.

We’re mostly hiding indoors during this time, at least as much as we can.  Even just opening the patio door for a minute left my eyes watering and nose as if I was just breathing straight out of a charcoal grill.   Yesterday, Sam Sam seemed quite distressed as the particulates seeped into HQ (mostly from the main hallway).  Today is slightly better, and she is more like her normal goofy self, including showing off her scratch’n’roll.

But she still is finding places to hide – if I can smell the smoke, I can only imagine it’s much more intense for her.  Yesterday, before I left for work, she jumped up on my chest and snuggled in, wanting me to stay and be close.  I had to go, but came home as soon as I could after my in-office responsibilities were done.

We do also worry about our pal Marlon in Oakland, who spends much of his time outside.

The light from the smoky skies is stunningly beautiful.  It’s amazing how such beauty can arise from something as awful as this.

But in all, we need to put our challenges in perspective.  I can’t imagine the horror and pain people in the fire zones are going through, losing their homes, fearing for their loved ones, and of course their companion animals.  The messages I see from people searching for their missing cats, or the heartbreak of not being able to rush home to rescue them, is painful and our hearts go out to them.  Other animals, too, of course, as we hear about horses, dogs, and birds.  

Both north and south zones have evacuation shelters for those who have small or large animals.  In the north, Butte County has set up a line for those who either find and are searching for lost pets in coordination with North Valley Animal Disaster Group.

NVADG is active both in trying to locate and rescue lost pets, as well as running multiple shelters for those with animals.  From their website:

NVADG is providing emergency animal sheltering and where and when allowed will evacuate and/or care for animals in evacuation areas.  
Animal shelters will be established at:


Small Animal Shelter: 2279 Del Oro Avenue, Oroville.  Off Nelson near the County Center and Highway 70.

Small Animal Shelter 150 Airpark Dr, Chico at the Chico Airport
Large Animals should be taken to the Rolling Hills Casino Equestrian Center off Highway 5 in Corning

If you want to donate to NVADG, please consider a cash donation. It gives us the flexibility we need and we will definitely need it!  Donate on our website or send a check to NVADG, PO Box 441, Chico, CA  95927. 

We certainly hope all the fires around our home state are brought under control soon, and the air returns to normal as well.  Then the hard work of rebuilding begins…

Post-Election Thoughts and Getting Back to Normal Life

We at CatSynth are political nerds/enthusiasts, and also believe in civic participation for the greater good.  So elections are always an exciting time.  Yesterday was no exception as we transitioned from our daily routine to preparing to host friends to watch the returns.  There was an electricity in the air that went beyond our unseasonably warm weather.  I took a brief break to rest and meditate before jumping in to watching coverage and interacting on Twitter.  So did Sam Sam.

In the end, it was like a normal election.  Some important things went very well – like the takeover of the House.  Some things didn’t.  The Senate results imply more trouble for the judiciary, often the most important thing.  A few results were heartbreaking, like Beto O’Rourke losing in a close race to the exceptionally odious Ted Cruz in Texas, but I took solace in some other defaults, notably almost as odious Scott Walker, Kris Kobach, Dana Rohrabacher (from Orange County here in California).  I even take a bit of perverse pleasure in watching the infamous Kim Davis go down to defeat. My home state of New York seems as dysfunctional as ever, but perhaps with a better chance to clean things up than they have had in a while.

The day after, one reflects on the mix of results and moves on with life.  It’s another exceptionally warm, sunny day for November in San Francisco, and I’m eager to get back to cats, synthesizers, music, and art.  It’s a far cry from the day after the 2016 election when it truly felt like it could have been our last.  I was working in an office on Market Street, with US flags fluttering on tops and sides of many buildings – it was tragic, heartbreaking, fearful, by far the worst I had experienced in my lifetime.  And it was just days after Luna left us, so the experience was even darker and devoid the comfort of my beloved cat.  This time I woke up much happier, as there was more good news awaiting than when I went to bed the previous night.  And Sam Sam was there to jump on the bed and remind me that it was time to get up and feed her.  There is much unfinished business on all fronts, but that’s ok.  Overall, it feels a bit more hopeful, a bit more optimistic.

Before we move back to our regularly scheduled topics, a few quick thoughts…

  • Close to home, I was happy to see that San Francisco’s Prop E – funding for arts – passed.  This is great news for organizations that I am involved with, whether as a board member, artist, audience member, or reviewer.
  • The people of Massachusetts affirmed the rights of trans people and other gender minorities in a ballot proposition.  It’s great to see support at the ballot box, but it should have never been there in the first place.  California’s Prop 8 (2008) may seem like ancient history, but the memory is still pretty raw…
  • If anything, the rural/metropolitan-area divide seems starker than ever.  We at CatSynth are city creatures, but also love many aspects of rural America, and it’s sad to see that division get even worse.  That’s one I would like to write more about, but with a little distance from political events.
  • Another is the continued push-and-shove around “nationalism”.  For me, it’s an unequivocally dirty word, and it’s frustrating to see centrists offering bromides to nationalism even as its most sinister aspects are ascendant at home and around the world.  I still believe in cosmopolitanism and the idea of an “anti-nation”.  But this is another topic that requires careful thought for a future article.

Transphobia and Misogyny

In general, I have been fortunate.  Transphobia is rare in my own life.  I was able to come out and transition on the job, I have supporting friends and family, a nice home, a sweet cat…I have not experienced any trouble in the more conservative places I enjoy traveling.   In many ways, plain-old sexism and the increasing menace of misogyny have been a much bigger issue .  This is why it can be so jarring when it does reach me, as it did over the past two weeks.  There were three punches: the statement that existing civil rights laws on sex don’t apply to gender identity; the active support of businesses’ right to discriminate against transgender employees and applicants; and most sinister of all, the attempt to hard-define gender as fixed at birth, erasing the lives of trans people and taking away the rights and privileges we currently enjoy.  This last one is the one that worries me the most – no, they probably won’t yank my passport or my social security card, but sadly I can’t trust them not to.

I don’t think the buffoon at the top of the executive branch cares one way or another about trans people, but he certainly does like to tweak his base, which seems to take particular pleasure in things that hurt women, trans people, gay men, and the like.  That is the cynical answer to “why now”, but why this seems to be a particular obsession is a more complex question.  I don’t pretend to have definitive answers, but I would point to the prevailing and growing misogyny.  It’s not new, but it’s been particularly ugly of late.  Basically, the recently concluded court fight made the statement that a woman’s pain from sexual assault is not as important as getting a man into a position where he will uphold the traditional authority of powerful men over, well, everything.  They hate women who challenge them, and they hate men who are “not with the program.”  This explains why it is gay men and trans women who bear so much of the anti-LGBTQ violence worldwide.  Both groups are perceived as men who are deviating from the program, and therefore as much a threat as women who defy their authority.

Up to this point, I have focused on patriarchy and misogyny without looking at religion, but it’s impossible not to see the interconnection.  The Abrahamic faiths are practiced by millions upon millions of wonderful people, and their worship and rituals are often very beautiful, but their scriptures are all deeply misogynistic to the core.  It’s not surprising that the fundamentalists of each are the easiest people to rile up against women and sexual minorities.  It’s time we finally recognize this and not treat it so gently.  When civil rights are taken away from LGBTQ folks, they lose everything.  When they are restored, no one loses anything.  The deeply conservative and religious claim they are victimized but we must at every step ask them to list how they are harmed.  Except for a few cases of violence which should be dealt with accordingly, they lose nothing.  What does a county clerk lose when she hands a marriage license to a same-sex couple?  Nothing.  What does the baker lose?  Nothing.  If they fear they lose their faith by participating in civil society, it’s probably time to question the strength of their faith, and not the lives of others.

And progressives who claim to be allies need to prioritize this.  No more excusing bad behavior for economic issues (again I could write a book about how some white progressives see only class and forget race, gender, or sexuality).  No more cynically complaining about “pinkwashing” when a large company does the right thing, as several did in North Carolina two years ago.  Don’t just say you stand with us, make it your priority!  And don’t tolerate those who stand against us, whether TERFs, religious communities that claim persecution, or otherwise.

Oh yes, and please do VOTE.  But that’s just a start…

A Perfectly Clear Day 2018

Once again, it’s a perfectly clear day this year. Maybe a little haze, but otherwise a blue sky in San Francisco. But the sounds of the city are a bit sharper today, the foot traffic, the construction equipment, the screeching of the commuter rail and light rails pulling into their stations. And there is a bit of wistfulness, a bit of nostalgia in the most classical sense of the word.

A few things have brought 9-11 back to the fore the anniversary. First, there was the opening of the Cortland Street subway station which serves the 1 IRT line and which was pretty much destroyed in the attack. It’s the last major piece of the puzzle in the rebuilding of the neighborhood, which is a thriving and vital space that includes the transit center, the 9/11 Memorial, and of course 1WTC which has taken its proper place in the skyline.


[Photo by CatSynth]


[Joe Mabel (CC BY-SA 2.0 ), via Wikimedia Commons]

Let’s take a moment to emphasize that the building is called 1WTC! It never was, and never will be, the so-called “Freedom Tower”, a name that was obnoxious, jingoistic, and rather gauche. Same thing for the attempts to call the date “Patriot Day”. I always detested that.

The other time bringing today into focus wasn’t 17 years ago, but last year. I was back in New York by coincidence, and the Towers of Light memorial loomed over us in both Manhattan and Brooklyn as we went about simply enjoying being in New York. I posted this picture at the time.

If there is a dominant feeling at the moment, it is more one of homesickness for my home city, the one that will always be The City. And that trip one year ago truly emphasized all its aspect. A wedding on Governors Island with both lower Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfront surrounding us. I rode a record number of subway lines (yes, I’m a total transit nerd). We wandered in Borough Park as well as my usual haunts in Downtown Brooklyn, Chelsea, the West Village, and the Bronx.

17 years ago, the dominant feelings were grief, anger, and (I’m not afraid to admit it) a desire for revenge. That revenge never came – it was twisted by the rest of the country into a nationalistic (and often tacky) morass that turned into multiple wars that left us and the world poorer. The rest of the country rattles its swords, waves its flags, and the great cities suffer. I do hope one day the radical fundamentalism and radical nationalism that grip so many places in the world, including our own country in this moment, will dissipate. And I hope to return home again.

Aretha Franklin: Rock Steady

We pay tribute to the late Aretha Franklin with one of my favorite tracks, “Rock Steady” from the album Young, Gifted and Black.  It is the perfect coming together of soul and funk. Regular readers know that even as I am immersed in all things synthesizer and electronic, soul, funk, jazz fusion are close to my musical heart.

RIP, Queen of Soul 😿

 

Forced Togetherness Fridays: Depression

With multiple suicides of noted figures making headlines this week, it is no surprise that depression, too, has been a major topic of discussion, both in the news and on social media.

First, let’s look at depression itself.  I am not a psychologist, nor a licensed professional of any sort when it comes to mental and emotional health.  I am, however, someone who has dealt with depression.  Mostly mild, but sometimes quite severe.  And it’s different from sadness.  Sadness is a rich feeling, albeit a deeply painful one at times.  Depression is a hole, an absence of feeling that can be very debilitating and frustrating.  Most of the time, it is just something that comes and goes periodically, like the tides, seasonal flooding, or the marine layer that often blankets San Francisco.  Sometimes it is the byproduct of prolonged stress, from a workplace, from relationships, or really anything.  When Luna was diagnosed with cancer, and when she later passed away, there was tremendous sadness and grief.  But the depression is separate from sadness, and in the case of Luna’s illness, it was from the stress and sometimes a sense of helplessness that came in between those events.

Another thing that can cause or exacerbate depression is a sense of being trapped.  This can be confinement to a physical space, but also mental or metaphoric.  The sense of being “trapped” in the wrong birth gender would be one example, as would being trapped in a bad relationship (a long time ago), or any number of negative workplace experiences over the years.  It can come from being trapped by others expectations, or fear of being judged and shamed for something as simple as deciding what to eat for lunch.  One can also feel trapped by negative emotions like sadness and the fact that our culture sanctions very few outlets for them outside of grief.

The most important thing, I have found, is to reduce the sense of feeling trapped.  Like reducing artificial barriers on a shoreline, it allows the emotions to ebb and flow more gradually and naturally, and not get caught up as easily in dangerous cycles.  That could be something small, like going out for a walk and getting fresh air, or deciding to leave a bad job.  It could be a good cry – I find adorable pictures of cats can be a good way of inducing a depression-cleansing cry.  But more often than not, the activity requires a fair amount of space and solitude.  Like a road trip, playing one of the synthesizers, or cuddling with my cat.

Well-intended inquiries and offers of company can actually have the opposite effect and can lead to feeling even more trapped, stressed, and depressed. In a sense, this is bringing a “forced togetherness” situation into the picture.  The best thing to do to help, outside of a genuine crisis situation, is to let people know you are there if needed, and then wait for your friend or loved one to take the lead.  Don’t assume, and don’t treat the depression as something that needs to be tamped out.  Do listen, because sometimes all a depressed person needs at the moment is to be heard and acknowledged, not to take action.  And let them tell you what they need: if it’s company,  help with a particular problem, or simply to be left alone and to feel free to be themselves and do what they wish without judgment.

Of course, none of this applies in a genuine crisis situation, where the immediate needs of the crisis take precedent.  While we sometimes have to make a call on whether a situation is a crisis, but handling it is often best left to professionals if possible.

The other caveat is that everything I have described is deeply individual and likely to be different for different people.  But that is the most important point.  Everyone is different and experiences depression differently.  And attempting to force the same solutions or advice can only make things worse.