Tag: New York Times

Buddy: PITB Is A ‘Terrible’ Site That ‘No One Reads’

Apparently angry that Pain In The Bud hasn’t been featuring enough stories about him, Buddy the Cat went on a tweet storm Tuesday night in which he took aim at the site and its staff.

“Just looked at the failing PITB and saw they published ANOTHER story that’s not about me,” Buddy wrote at 10:57 pm. “That’s obviously why they’re losing readers! Sad!”

Four minutes later he launched another salvo, noting only a handful of stories in the past month were focused on him.

“PITB and its editorial staff think they’re being so inclusive by writing about birds and orange tabbies and Arnold Schwarzenegger,” he wrote. “BORING!”

The former president of the Americats tweeted seven more times in the next 23 minutes before turning his attention back to the site that was named for him and ostensibly exists to feature stories about him.

“That rag, the failing PITB, is no better than the New York Slimes. It claims I slept as a mouse invaded my home. FAKE NEWS!!!” he wrote. “Folks, I am a TREMENDOUS HUNTER and would have DESTROYED that mouse — if it existed. NEWSFLASH: It doesn’t! Another lie by the lamestream media!”

That message was immediately followed by a tweet in which Buddy declared himself “the best hunter of all time, a tremendously talented hunter, and everybody knows it.”

Buddy the Cat
Buddy has expressed his displeasure with PITB.

Buddy’s supporters took his accusations to heart. At a rally in New Jersey attended by 24,000 cats, a tuxedo cat held up a sign that read: “The media hates turkey and hates America!’

Another sign held by an Abyssinian blasted “Low Energy Big Buddy” and referenced C-Anon, a conspiracy theory that imagines Buddy as the leader of a league of patriotic heroes fighting to take down a shadowy kitten smuggling ring.

Supporters of C-Anon believe Buddy is working with “supposedly deceased” cats like Streetcat Bob and Lil Bub to combat insidious canine forces who have allegedly infiltrated feline leadership.

Not all cats are enamored with Buddy, however.

One user, LosGatos446, pointed out that Buddy accusing someone else of being low energy was hypocritical because the silver tabby sleeps between 10 and 16 hours a day, promoting Buddy to reply with a terse “FAKE NEWS!”

Another user with the handle ScaredyCat_Bud shared a video that appeared to show a terrified Buddy dashing for cover behind his human’s legs in response to the crinkle of a paper bag.

“An obvious deepfake!” Buddy replied. “Everyone knows I have tremendous courage. I’m an incredibly, tremendously brave cat!”

Every Attempt To Translate Meows Has Failed. Why?

New York Times science writer Emily Anthes details her experience with MeowTalk in a new story, and has more or less come to the same conclusions I did when I wrote about the app last year — it recognizes the obvious, like purring, but adds to confusion over other vocalizations.

Back in January of 2021, in MeowTalk Says Buddy Is A Very Loving Cat, I wrote about using MeowTalk to analyze the vocalizations Bud makes when he wants a door opened. After all, that should be a pretty basic task for an app that exists to translate meows: Cats ask for things, or demand them, some would say.

But instead of “Open the door!”, “I want to be near you!”, “Human, I need something!” or even “Obey me, human!”, it told me Bud was serenading me as he pawed and tapped his claws on the door: “I’m looking for love!”, “My love, come find me!”, “I love you!”, “Love me!”, “I’m in love!”

According to MeowTalk, my cat was apparently the author of that scene in Say Anything when John Cusack held up a boombox outside of Ione Skye’s bedroom window.

John Cusack and Buddy the Cat
Buddy the Director.

Anthes had a similar experience:

“At times, I found MeowTalk’s grab bag of conversational translations disturbing. At one point, Momo sounded like a college acquaintance responding to a text: ‘Just chillin’!’ In another, he became a Victorian heroine: ‘My love, I’m here!’ (This encouraged my fiancé to start addressing the cat as ‘my love,’ which was also unsettling.) One afternoon, I picked Momo up off the ground, and when she meowed, I looked at my phone, ‘Hey honey, let’s go somewhere private.’ !”

On the opposite side of the emotional spectrum, MeowTalk took Buddy’s conversation with me about a climbing spot for an argument that nearly came to blows.

“Something made me upset!” Buddy was saying, per MeowTalk. “I’m angry! Give me time to calm down! I am very upset! I am going to fight! It’s on now! Bring it!”

In reality the little dude wanted to jump on the TV stand. Because he’s a serial swiper who loves his gravity experiments, the TV stand is one of like three places he knows he shouldn’t go, which is exactly why he wants to go there. He’s got free rein literally everywhere else.

If MeowTalk had translated “But I really want to!” or something more vague, like “Come on!” or “Please?”, that would be a good indication it’s working as intended. The app should be able to distinguish between pleading, or even arguing, and the kind of freaked-out, hair-on-edge, arched-back kind of vocalizations a cat makes when it’s ready to throw down.

buddytranslations
Accurate translations of Buddy’s meows.

Still, I was optimistic. Here’s what I wrote about MeowTalk last January:

“In some respects it reminds me of Waze, the irreplaceable map and real-time route app famous for saving time and eliminating frustration. I was one of the first to download the app when it launched and found it useless, but when I tried it again a few months later, it steered me past traffic jams and got me to my destination with no fuss.

What was the difference? Few people were using it in those first few days, but as the user base expanded, so did its usefulness.

Like Waze, MeowTalk’s value is in its users, and the data it collects from us. The more cats it hears, the better it’ll become at translating them. If enough of us give it an honest shot, it just may turn out to be the feline equivalent of a universal translator.”

There are also indications we may be looking at things — or hearing them — the “wrong” way. Anthes spoke to Susanne Schötz, a phonetician at Lund University in Sweden, who pointed out the inflection of a feline vocalization carries nuances. In other words, it’s not just the particular sound a cat makes, it’s the way that sound varies tonally.

“They tend to use different kinds of melodies in their meows when they’re trying to point to different things,” said Schötz, who is co-author of an upcoming study on cat vocalizations.

After a few months in which I forgot about MeowTalk, I was dismayed to open the app to find ads wedged between translation attempts, and prompts that asked me to buy the full version to enable MeowTalk to translate certain things.

The developers need to generate revenue, so I don’t begrudge them that. But I think it’s counterproductive to put features behind paywalls when an application like this depends so heavily on people using it and feeding it data.

To use the Waze analogy again, would the app have become popular if it remained the way it was in those first few days after it launched? At the time, I was lucky to see indications that more than a handful of people were using it, even in the New York City area. The app told me nothing useful about real-time traffic conditions.

These days it’s astounding how much real-time traffic information the app receives and processes, routing drivers handily around traffic jams, construction sites and other conditions that might add minutes or even hours to some trips. You can be sure that when you hear a chime and Waze wants to redirect you, other Waze users are transmitting data about a crash or other traffic impediment in your path.

Bud
“I’m thinking deep thoughts about turkey.”

MeowTalk needs more data to be successful, especially since — unlike Waze — it depends on data-hungry machine learning algorithms to parse the sounds it records. Like people, machine learning algorithms have to “practice” to get better, and for a machine, “practice” means hearing hundreds of thousands or millions of meows, chirps, trills, yowls, hisses and purrs from as many cats as possible.

That’s why I’m still optimistic. Machine learning has produced algorithms that can identify human faces and even invent them. It’s produced software that can write prose, navigate roads, translate the text of dead languages and even rule out theories about enduring mysteries like the Voynich Manuscript.

In each of those cases there were innovators, but raw data was at the heart of what they accomplished. If MeowTalk or another company can find a way to feed its algorithms enough data, we may yet figure our furry little friends out — or at least know what they want for dinner.

Karl Lagerfeld’s Millionaire Cat Travels By Private Jet, Drinks From Silver Dishes

Choupette Lagerfeld travels the world in her own private jet, appears in commercials for Japanese beauty projects and has graced high fashion covers, including a shoot with French supermodel Laetitia Casta for V Magazine.

At one point she traveled with a body guard, two minders, a personal chef and her own doctor, according to the New York Times. She drinks and eats from silver bowls and enjoys a one-of-a-kind Louis Vuitton carrier.

Oh, and she’s worth millions.

Choupette (“sweetie” in French) is a white-and-cream Birman with subtle tabby marks on her head, and she was adopted by Karl Lagerfeld in 2011. The German designer, who was the creative director of fashion houses Chanel and Fendi, died of pancreatic cancer in February of 2019 but left a considerable fortune to his cat.

On Thursday, Choupette’s minders marked her 11th birthday by sharing a snap to her Instagram, choupetteofficiel, showing the fabulously wealthy feline aboard her private jet, with a cake presumably made of pâté, a bottle of champagne, balloons and various gifts from her late human’s fashion collections.

“Happy birthday to me,” the post reads. The pampered puss’ Instagram has 121,000 followers.

Choupette's birthday
Choupette celebrated her birthday on Aug. 18. A snap shows her celebrating on her private jet, which ferries her between modeling gigs and vacation spots like Ibiza.

No one’s sure precisely how much Choupette is worth, but Lagerfeld — who had a net worth between $170 million and $300 million, per reports — left her a considerable sum.

“She’s an heiress,” Lagerfeld told an interviewer. She “has her own little fortune.”

Like human celebrities she’s the subject of net worth profiles on various sites, which list an often-cited $13 million number. Some of that money includes her own earnings for commercials in Japan and Germany, where she’s been the face of beauty products and luxury cars, respectively.

Laetitia Casta and Choupette
Sacre bleu! The Eiffel Tower, a French supermodel and Choupette! This photo was printed in V Magazine, which featured Laetitia Casta and Choupette in a 10-page spread.

I’m kind of at a loss for words here. Anything I could say seems so obvious.

However, I’m thinking it may be time to put Buddy’s good looks and charm to use for once and arrange some sort of meet cute with Choupette.

The name Buddy would have to go. He’d have to be called something appropriately, Frenchly snooty, like Jean-Luc Budélard Lucien or Yves Buddiene Baptiste. I’d have to school him in Parisian meowing, invent a suitably bohemian upbringing for him, and fabulate a skill that hints at his creative genius. Perhaps he’s inspired by Choupette’s late human and works as creative director of the Buddeaux fashion house, or maybe he creates abstract art by smearing paint on a canvas with his paw pads.

Meanwhile, in India…

article-street-children-of-india1
Street kids eat from the garbage, wear tattered clothes and exist beneath the notice of the rest of society.

The New York Times Is Back To Spread Misinformation About Cats

Prompted by the recent news that Polish scientists have added cats to a list of invasive alien species, the New York Times ran an enterprise story on Tuesday titled “The Outdoor Cat: Neighborhood Mascot Or Menace?”

I’m highly critical of print media stories on animals because I’ve been a journalist for almost my entire career, and I know when a reporter has done her homework and when she hasn’t. Unfortunately it looks like Maria Cramer, author of the Times story, hasn’t.

Her story identifies the stray cats of Istanbul as “ferals,” cites bunk studies — including meta-analyses based on suspect data — and misrepresents a biologist’s solutions “to adopt feral cats, have them spayed or neutered and domesticate them.”

Doubtless the biologist understands cats are domesticated, but Cramer apparently does not, and her story misrepresents the domestication process.

Individual animals can’t be domesticated. Only species can. It’s a long, agonizingly slow process that involves changes at the genetic level that occur over many generations. Domestication accounts for physical changes (dogs developing floppy ears while their wolf ancestors have rigid ears, for example) and temperamental ones. A hallmark of domestication is the adjustment to coexisting with humans.

agriculture animal beautiful cat
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In other words, if cats were wild animals it would take hundreds of years to fully domesticate them, and I’m sure no one’s suggesting we wait hundreds of years to solve the free-ranging cat problem.

Ferals can be “tamed,” but the majority of cats living in proximity to humans are strays, not ferals. The difference? Strays are socialized to humans and will live among us, while ferals are not and will not. Strays can be captured and adopted. In most cases ferals can’t, and the best we can hope for is that they become barn cats.

To her credit, Cramer does make efforts to balance the story and quotes the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the U.K., which places the majority of the blame squarely at the feet of humans, noting “the decline in bird populations has been caused primarily by man-made problems such as climate change, pollution and agricultural management.”

Even our structures kill billions of birds a year. That’s the estimated toll just from the mirrored surfaces of skyscrapers, and no one’s suggesting we stop building skyscrapers.

Indeed, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud (MBS), the de facto ruler of Saudi Araba, has been busy commissioning science fiction city designs when he’s not murdering journalists critical of his policies. The design he’s chosen for his ultra-ambitious future city, which he hopes will rival the pyramids in terms of lasting monuments to humanity’s greatness, is a 100-mile-long mirrored megacity called Neom, which is Arabic for “Dystopian Bird Hell.” (Okay, we made that up. Couldn’t resist.)

Take a look:

The point is, of the many factors driving bird extinction, humans are responsible for the majority of them, and if we want to save birds we have to do more than bring cats inside. Additionally, sloppy research portraying cats as the primary reason for bird extinction has resulted in cruel policies, like Australia’s effort to kill two million cats by air-dropping poisoned sausages across the country.

This blog has always taken the position that keeping cats indoors is the smart play, and it’s win-win: It protects cats from the many dangers of the outdoors (predators like coyotes and mountain lions, fights with other neighborhood cats, diseases, intentional harm at the hands of disturbed humans, getting run over by vehicles), ensures they’re not killing small animals, and placates conservationists.

At the same time, we don’t demonize people who allow their cats to roam free, and we recognize attitudes vary widely in different countries. Indeed, as the Times notes, 81 percent of pet cats are kept indoors in the US, while 74 percent of cat caretakers allow their pets to roam in the U.K.

We have readers and friends in the U.K., and we wouldn’t dream of telling them what to do, or suggest they’re bad people for letting their cats out.

Ultimately, tackling the problem depends on getting a real baseline, which Washington, D.C. did with its Cat Count. The organizers of that multi-year effort brought together cat lovers, bird lovers, conservationists and scientists to get the job done, and it’s already paying off with new insights that will help shape effective policies. To help others, they’ve created a toolkit explaining in detail how they conducted their feline census and how to implement it elsewhere.

Every community would do well — and do right by cats and birds — by following D.C.’s lead.

NYC Mayoral Candidate Has 16 Cats

We normally avoid politics on this blog except for the occasional light-hearted satire imagining Buddy as a comically inept president of the Americats, but we’ll make an exception for the New York City mayoral race, which features two animal-loving major party candidates.

Eric Adams, a Democrat, is a former NYPD captain, Brooklyn borough president and vegan who has supported TNR programs in Brooklyn, pushed for more animal-friendly housing in the city and hosted adoption events in his home borough, according to the Humane Society’s Legislative Fund.

Curtis Sliwa is best known nationally as the founder of the unarmed crime prevention group the Guardian Angels, and in New York as a host on the city’s biggest talk radio station. (He’s been on hiatus since launching his mayoral campaign to comply with election law.)

He survived an attempted mafia hit in 1992, jumping out of a cab after he was shot several times by Gotti family enforcers, and he’s a dedicated cat lover, sharing his home with 16 rescues. Most of Sliwa’s cats have disabilities or were pulled from local shelter kill lists. Not all of them are permanent, and the Sliwas consider themselves long-term fosters until they can find the right homes for special needs cats. Last year they were able to place 10 kitties in good homes.

Still, the felines come first in their 87th Street apartment.

“Guess what? It’s the cats who rule the roost,” Sliwa told a New York Post cameraman in June. “We take whatever room is left after the cats carve out their territory.”

Cat furniture dominates the studio apartment Sliwa shares with his wife, Nancy, who told the Post she’s considering adopting more furballs, including a special-needs rescue who is blind. (They had 15 cats at the time and have adopted one more since then.)

Turning to her husband, she quipped: “We might have to lose your half of the closet.”

The couple share litter box duties and clean the multiple boxes in their home at least three times a day, they told the Post.

NYC mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa plays with his cats.

At the end of Tuesday’s televised mayoral debate, when asked which qualities they admire in their opponents, both Sliwa and Adams praised each other for their work with animals.

The city and its surrounding environs lean heavily blue. Sixty-eight percent of registered voters in the five boroughs are registered Democrats, and Adams holds a commanding 36-point lead according to the latest poll.

Like all Republicans who set their sights on the mayor’s job, Sliwa knew it was going to be an uphill battle even though New Yorkers have tired of the current mayor, Democrat Bill DeBlasio. Sliwa hopes one of his central campaign promises — to enact a no-kill policy across the city’s shelter system — will resonate with voters across the aisle.

Republicans who have won in the past have been centrist, like former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, or nominally Republican, like businessman turned politician Michael Bloomberg. The latter enjoyed widespread name recognition before he turned to politics and supplemented his campaign hauls with his own considerable resources.

Still, the Guardian Angels founder sees Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s Upper East Side home, as a potentially fantastic cat house.

“I’ve been in Gracie Mansion before,” Sliwa told New York magazine. “There is easily room in there for 60 cats.”