Rats Risk Their Lives to be Useful

December 31, 2008

By Fred

The Chinese Year of the Rat, which ends January 25, 2009, proved lucky for vermin. African Giant Pouched rats have two new career paths, although one is kind of kamakazi.

In Mozambique, rats in cute little harnesses and leashes (just like the red one Yul got for his aborted attempt to meet Santa) sniff out vapors from old landmines. Their noses are more sensitive than mechanical devices, and they’re so light on their feet, they don’t trigger explosions.

"Landmines smell just like kimchi!"

"Landmines smell just like kimchi!"

In fact, they’re making dogs, who could do this job, look oafish and inept.

Humans are so excited, they’re considering using rats to find landmines in other parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe. I personally have no problem with exposing rats to this sort of danger, but I would caution people against getting carried away.

You may train a rat to walk on a leash, but he’ll never be your friend. Don’t forget who brought you the Black Plague in the Middle Ages.

In Tanzania, rats are detecting less-than-microscopic traces of tuberculosis in human saliva samples. That must make for nice chit-chat at rodent cocktail parties:

“And what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a spit sniffer.”

Rats are much cheaper than sweatshop labor. When a rat finds what he’s looking for, he scratches, and is rewarded with a piece of fruit or a nut.

You may wonder, if the rats are so smart, why haven’t they realized they can just scratch and get the treat because humans can’t immediately tell if the rat’s done the work?

Here’s what rat trainer Bart Weetjens thinks: “That would be human behavior. The rats are more honest.”

If you’re interested in adopting one of these rodents (no, I’m not kidding), here’s the site for you.

Gas is Down, but Health Insurance is Up – Again

December 30, 2008

By Karen

Anthem must be missing all the reports that the economy’s in the toilet and money’s tight because they didn’t think 87% profit on my health insurance in 2008 was enough. They’ve raised my rate for 2009 another 14%.

Here’s a simple breakdown:

In 2008, I paid $4,646 for an individual policy.

For one office visit and the usual annual checkups and tests (which revealed nothing unusual), my doctors billed Anthem $1,491.

Anthem spit back $686, calling it “network savings,” and paid $594 — just 13% of my premium dollars.

I had to fork out another $378 in copays and charges Anthem denied.

Bottom line: Anthem kept $4,053 — 87% profit. Now they demand another $636.

An Anthem rep told me that my new rate is based on a statewide review of claims.

However, when I recently reapplied for their insurance (to reduce my ridiculous $488 premium), my personal medical history was dissected with a microscope as if I were the last person on earth as they tried to deny me. Now they’re lumping me in with every invalid in Virginia.

Apparently, Anthem can slice it any way it takes to boost their bottom line.

HR 676, the universal healthcare bill that would stake these vampires, is supposed to come before the next session of Congress. If you’re being gouged by your health insurer, I urge you to send the details to your congressman and senators ASAP.

Hearing that things are “bad and need fixing” isn’t getting through to Capitol Hill. We need to bury them under specifics on how the insurance industry is killing us – financially and literally.

They need to see voters’ names on this problem until they get it through their heads that for-profit health insurers can never be part of the fix.

We must make the putrid stench of health insurers’ greed permeate every corner of Congress until it sickens them enough to act in our best interests for a change.

And to keep Obama’s team on track, share your concerns and keep them motivated. They’re our best hope for implementing the drastic changes healthcare needs now.

We Wish You a Meowy Christmas

December 25, 2008

By Fred, Yul, and Adele

A picture’s worth a thousand words, so take a peek at a Cats Working Christmas…

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care…

Fred worries, "I hope Santa brings enough treats to feed this crowd!"

Fred worries, “I hope Santa brings enough treats to feed this crowd!”

The kitties are nestled all snug on the couch…

"Please make Yul stop treating me like a tube steak."
Adele’s Christmas wish: “Please make Yul stop treating me like a tube steak.”

And Fred plays a snarky Santa…

"Ho, ho, ho, I think I feel a hairball coming up!"

“Silent night, holy night, all my hairballs are juicy and white!”

We wake up eagerly on Christmas morning to a gourmet Fancy Feast® Elegant Medleys® breakfast, then proceed to stuff ourselves with treats, play with new toys (or, preferably, the wrapping, boxes, and bows), hone our claws on virgin scratching posts, then lie back and get stoned on some high-quality ‘nip as we watch Video Catnip – the feline remake of It’s a Wonderful Life.

We and Karen wish you and all the cats in your life a very Meowy Christmas!

Holiday Greetings from Anthony Bourdain, Himself

December 24, 2008

By Karen

When I saw “BOURDAIN” printed in neat block letters on the thin FedEx envelope, I felt my eyeballs boing out of my head like some cartoon character.

Possessing my own little streak of snarky cynicism, my first thought was, “Oh great, a ‘cease and desist’ letter from his lawyer.” But inside I found an unmarked red envelope containing this:


Still suspicious of a practical joke, I studied it with a magnifying glass (and would have dusted for prints if I knew how). But after counting no less than 19 of his books on the shelf behind the Christmas tree, I concluded the card’s genuine. Nobody but the author himself keeps so many copies of his own books.

I asked Santa to bring me Typhoid Mary to round out my own Bourdain collection, but a Christmas greeting from Tony and Ottavia is beyond amazing. The thought that he or one of his peeps spent even a moment looking up my address gives me shivers — in a good way.

Now I can definitively answer the question readers have asked: Yes, Virginia, Anthony Bourdain is aware of Cats Working. I think he sent this greeting knowing I’d have to share it with you, and it’s his way of saying “Happy Holidays” to all of us.

Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Bourdain, for giving us this charming glimpse of your lovely daughter Ariane, and for providing Cats Working with what I believe is a worldwide exclusive on Lupetto. Now even my cats are your fans.

‘Til Durham!

[A Christmas bonus: Faithful Cats Working reader Adele found the Washington, DC, episode of No Reservations (which hasn’t officially aired yet) under “News & World” on Comcast On Demand. It has limited commercials and is supposedly available until January 15, but watch it ASAP because it’s probably a mistake and the Travel Channel will yank it.]

Banks Take the Bailout Money and Run

December 23, 2008

By Fred

With breathtaking, yet unsurprising, arrogance, 21 banks who received more than $1 billion in bailout money refused to tell The Associated Press…

How much has been spent?

What was it spent on?

How much is being held in savings?

What’s the plan for the rest?

All we do know for sure is that the top 600 executives spread among the 116 banks who have received some money so far raked in $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and whatever other perks they could grab in 2007, the year leading up to the current mess.

The same questions should be posed to those guys about their personal finances. If they can’t answer every one in detail, they have no business running a bank.

The banks claim these jerks need big bucks to reward their crackerjack judgment and keep them motivated.

Are they kidding? We’re talking about the judgment that sent them begging to Congress for a handout because they blew the assets they had like drunken gamblers in Vegas.

Any bank accepting taxpayer money that can’t account for it obviously has a glaring lack of oversight at the highest levels. Those executives — and the boards who picked them — should all be fired. Immediately.

Banking and insurance are two industries that collect cold, hard cash from consumers while providing precious few tangibles — often nothing, in insurance’s case — in return. When imposing higher interest rates and premiums and bogus fees failed to satisfy them, they brazenly robbed American taxpayers of $350 billion — so far.

Let’s hope Congress has the sense to slam the till shut on their fingers until these thieves get their greed under control and offer ways to get the U.S. out of the deep hole they helped to dig.

Was a Stunt Cat in Barney’s Christmas Video?

December 22, 2008

By Adele

That stubby-legged publicity hound, Barney Bush, made his farewell White House video and graciously let the whole family appear in the opening scene of Barney Cam VII: A Red, White and Blue Christmas. Daughter Barbara Bush is sitting on the floor petting a black cat rather obsessively, but the cat’s presence is never acknowledged by anyone else, nor is it seen again until the closing credits. As usual, the video is all about the dogs.

Was that India or a stunt cat? It looks like India, but the credits bill it as “Willard the Cat.”

India, or a stunt cat named Willard?

India, or a stunt cat named Willard?

Since India’s facing great upheaval finding a new bed to hide under in the Bushes’ relatively puny new house in Texas, I hardly think this is a good time to be changing his name.

The Bushes always make such a fuss over Barney and Miss Beazley, I just hope they don’t forget to take India/Willie/Willard/Whatever with them when they leave Washington. On the other hand, if he could dodge Malia and her allergies, he would make a nice addition to the Obama family, and maybe even put them off getting a dog.

The Latest Tony (Bourdain) Tidbits

December 19, 2008

By Karen

Although she probably takes a pass on some of Anthony Bourdain’s exotic travels, I’m guessing Ottavia won’t miss a long weekend at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman January 16-19, 2009, when Tony participates in the Cayman Cookout.

On the agenda is A Cook’s Tour of Cayman at Pedro St. James, with Tony himself presiding over an assortment of homegrown delicacies, local music, and crafts. Read all about it.

Top Chef is suffering from nice contestants, no back-stabbing, and ho-hum judges. Padma going bulimic into her napkin is a poor substitute for Tony’s trenchant, often hilarious, assessments of the food.

The Top Chef Web site recently ran a poll on the hottest guest judge. At last check, Bourdain was pulling 71% of the vote, with Rocco DiSpirito at only 13%, and Johnny Iuzzini 2%. Tom Colicchio himself got only 14%.

Disposable Income bemoans Bourdain’s absence, and I hope the blogosphere’s collective wail carries to the powers-that-be and Tony returns next season. We need something to live for.

Good recent photos of Tony at Clark Lara Photography.

Tony wrote about his favorite travel music for WorldHum. As I read it, I heard his voice in my head. He seems to be on the road alone a lot – good for fans, but hard on him.

Unfortunately, I’m not hearing Tony’s voice as I plow through The Best American Travel Writing 2008, which he edited and wrote the foreword to. I think he’s ruined me for other travel writers.

Finally, Cats Working reader Nickole provided this link to a video of Tony discussing fatherhood with Mario Batali at Serious Eats. He’s recycling some lines (like, his world is now all rainbows and unicorns), but reveals that he’s even embraced diaper-changing. I think Daddy’s Little Girl has him right where she wants him.

The drought is almost over: new episodes of No Reservations begin airing on the Travel Channel January 5.

Suave Vampire is Back in Depp’s “Dark Shadows”

December 17, 2008

By Karen

Rumors to the contrary, Johhny Depp is starring in a new Dark Shadows movie and Barnabas Collins will rise again.

The original Barnabas, Jonathan Frid

The original Barnabas, Jonathan Frid

Years ago, I was a minor vampire expert, starting with Dark Shadows every day after school. That led to insatiable reading: Dracula by Bram Stoker, 40+ DS novels by Marilyn Ross (I still own the complete set), ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, a children’s book called Bunnicula, Anne Rice’s books, beginning with Interview with the Vampire, and dozens more, fiction and “non-fiction.”

I finally burned out on Lestat and stopped doing research, so this new crop of vamps snuck up on me. But they’re so popular, I feel compelled to check them out.

So far, I’m unimpressed. They’re so ordinary.

Edward Cullen is a kid in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series.

Bill Compton is a redneck who seems covered with dirt more often than not in HBO’s True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels.

I can’t wait for Barnabas to come back and show them how it’s done.

In an interview with Collider.com, producer Richard Zanuck confirmed that Depp is teaming up with Tim Burton in summer 2009 to film Dark Shadows in London.

Depp will be about the same age (46) actor Jonathan Frid was as Barnabas, but that’s probably where the similarity ends, except for superficial trappings like the onyx ring, the Inverness cape, the wolf’s head cane.

Depp will undoubtedly make Barnabas suave, sexy, and irresistible. A mysterious, mature Don Juan DeMarco – with fangs.

I haven’t been this excited since Sex and the City: The Movie.

Here’s a great picture of Depp as Barnabas in the portrait that hung in Collinwood’s foyer.

And I found some interesting speculation on casting for the movie. I could see Paul Giammatti as Willie Loomis, even though he might think it’s a come-down from John Adams.

Vampire purists should be thrilled by the return of Barnabas Collins.

In Iraq, Bush is “Man’s Best Friend”

December 16, 2008

By Fred

Those were no lame ducks George W. Bush made when he dodged a pair of shoes hurled at his head in Iraq, during his last visit at American taxpayers’ expense.

The incident got replayed on the news so many times, it looked like the whole room joined in. Our media’s only regret seemed to be that Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes, wasn’t wearing something with a stiletto heel.

I’m still trying to make sense of it all. I don’t get why Arabs revile something they must wear every day to protect their feet. By that logic, they should also loathe their headgear, underwear and, particularly, their handkerchiefs.

And then al-Zaidi yelled at Bush: “This is your farewell kiss, you dog!” like it was the worst possible insult.

Canines should be miffed, but I guess they can’t take to the streets in protest like the humans because the Iraqis have been shooting and poisoning dogs made stray by the invasion and occupation like everything’s their fault.

Bush, a dog-owner himself, took no offense to any of it. Possibly the remark was relayed in translation to him as, “He’s saying you’re his best friend!”

Later, Bush did claim to reporters that he saw al-Zaidi’s “sole.”

Meanwhile, al-Zaidi sits in jail while thousands of protesters who loved his behavior demonstrate, waving shoes and chanting, “Bush, Bush, listen well: Two shoes on your head!”

I hope that sounds better in their language. Here, shoe references will never have the relevance or immortality of, “Bush lied, people died!”

Santa Went to the Dogs

December 14, 2008

By Yul

Cats love Santa, but whenever he comes to town, we can’t score any quality lap time because he’s surrounded by DOGS.

Now I understand why Benny, that cat in New Jersey, hauled off and bit Santa the other day. My vet held an open house yesterday for “valued customers” to have their picture taken with Santa.

The dog on the invitation should have served as warning.

I got a new red harness and leash and was forced (unsuccessfully) to practice wearing them for days. But the last straw was seeing my carrier come out of the closet. I dove under the bed and Karen had to drag me out by that cursed leash.

Open house? Bah, Humbug! It was a big Dog-a-Thon.

Some people even brought multiple mutts and small children to meet Santa. I saw only two other cats miserably huddled in their carriers before turning my back in disgust.

The vet’s assistant told Karen, “We had one other cat here earlier who did OK.”

Only ONE cat?

My demeanor clearly conveyed that I was in no mood to cozy up to some strange guy smelling all doggy, and a shot of me looking thoroughly pissed off wasn’t the Kodak moment Karen had in mind, so she took me home.

Now, I’m not accusing the dogs of being bad or anything. They were happy, excited, sniffing everything and each other – just being DOGS.

But who needed that? If I had come home smelling bad, I’d have never heard the end of it from Adele and Fred.

Back on my home turf, I let Karen snap this consolation photo for all her trouble:

"What? You didn't know Santa Claws is black?"

"What? You didn't know Santa Claws is black?"

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