Sunday, November 10, 2013

Key West International Latin Arts Festival

The concert was held at the San Carlos theater, the former Cuban Consulate on Duval Street, the building still claimed by the Cuban government but operated as a Cuban cultural center by exiles in Miami. An eminently suitable location for a performance of music and dance designed to highlight the various different cultural styles encapsulated by the rather broad term "Latin America."

¡Esperando Nacer! means waiting to be born in Spanish which describes the struggle to hold the first two festivals in Key West. The second closed last and next years is already scheduled for next November with a new name as they figure at this point the festival is here to stay.

Was I surprised to see the warm up was my dog walking neighbor Marian who announced she'd lived in Latin America for eight years and proceeded to knock our socks off (had we been wearing any on an 80 degree evening) with a collection of ballads she accompanied on her own instrument.

Valerie Carr came to a Key West ten years ago from the upper Midwest and a few years later got together with Christian Monzon an Argentine musician with quite some talent. And she trills like the proverbial nightingale.

They performed music while a couple of Miami based Argentines, founders of Tango Times, Roxana Garber and Oscar Caballero danced. With their reputations it's no surprise their tango was breath taking, exhibiting strength, timing and absolute grace. I wanted more of just their tangos and they reinforced my desire to fly to Argentina and rent a car in pursuit of wine, barbecue and tango.

Tango Times Dance Company is definitely worth a visit in Miami.

Congressman Joe Garcia made it finally, in time to open the second act with a few good words about Key West, diversity and connections to Latin America (not Cuba of course which is still embargoed, though flights from Key West to Havana are scheduled soon at vast expense to feed the Miami exile mobsters' monopoly on charter flights to Havana). It's nice to be represented finally by a Democrat in the southernmost district where we are generally out voted by hordes of exile Republicans on the mainland.

There was a Brazilian samba conga thing that lit up the stage with color as the brightly dressed eager dancers streamed on stage.

And finally everyone took their bows after they sang their title song, waiting to be born.


An excellent evening and well worth repeating next year.

Outside it was Duval Street as usual, fudge making at Kilwins above...

And drinking at Margaritaville of course:

While some wondered what to do next on Key West's fabled main drag...

I fired up the Bonneville and got us out of there on my motorcycle, the fastest way to park and negotiate traffic!

They missed a fine evening inside the San Carlos, them as didn't go.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Blazing November At Bahia Honda

It was hot and still and summer like. I like this place any time of year but summer in winter is best.

I like the hill that used to be the ramp up to the old Flagler railroad bridge to Bahia Honda, the state park on the other side of the deep bay, in Spanish Bahia Honda.

I keep coming back and taking the same pictures. Coming here during a weekday afternoon doesn't guarantee we'll be alone, Cheyenne and I because it is so scenic even hell-for-leather tourists screech to a stop to take pictures. They got one when Cheyenne popped out, jumped down to the water and plunked herself in. Oh look they said that dog just appeared and sat in the water. Well duh, it was hot. 85 degrees is a lot for a small dog in a fur coat.

I ramped up the saturation on my Android camera not for realism but to convey the burning hot day for people wielding snow shovels. It felt lovely and toasty. The railroad bridge still rises up over the deep bay. It was converted to a road bridge in 1938 aft the railroad closed and was abandoned in 1982 when the new road opened. I rode it the year before it closed on my Vespa.

Looking west more or less toward Big Pine Key and the evocative single coconut palm.

Busy dog.

Oh look, a hill. It's a lot taller than Solares Hill, the highest point in. Key West.

Hot work.





Like I said, blazing hot. A picture postcard from the place where winter is summer. Enjoy the seasons you lot.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Shrimp Road

An early morning walk on the southern end of Stock Island.
Slowly development is coming to the island next to Key West.
Stock Island has been the refuge or the people who enable Key West to function. The glamor of the tourist trade in the Southernmost City, the sexiness of a second home in the tropics, none of that could happen without the trailer parks and dusty streets of Stock Island. Now the long deferred plans to change this island where Spanish and Creole and tradesmen's skills predominate are slowly starting to be realized.
One marina at a time. Land in Key West is too expensive for banalities like affordable housing and plumber's yards and body shops. Try imagining living in Key West on minimum wage and Stock Island's purpose is explained.
The thing is Stock Island has always played bridesmaid to Key West's bride. The very name comes from the history of the place where cows were raised to feed beef to the good and the wealthy on Key West. Now they are looking to park boats here for people who need space for their boats.
The Peninsular boatyard got replaced by a rather nice marina and club. Oceanside was not to be left behind and changed hands a couple of times and now Marina Village appears on Shrimp Road complete with floating docks and brightly lit Pepsi machine.
This one even has a community garden though which community it is that is growing plants in the planters I know not. It's very fashionable all the same.
The beginnings of landscaping bode well for a future of gentrification, and I'm guessing Shrimp Road will get fresh asphalt to cover the potholes and dips and gravel that make up the street at he moment.
At the height f he development boom in the mid 2000s the newspaper published a map of lots purchased by developers arose most of Stock Island which was to be the new modern Keys community. Things got held up and the Hippie woodwork shop is still here. Key West Diary: Stock Island
Tis place builds giant multihulls, the kinds of boats that are used by the one percent or deployed as cattle boats to haul tourists. They are built here in the US of A so that qualifies them to be used as commercial craft in US waters. If you've taken a boat tour in the US Virgin Islands you might well have been aboard a boat built on Stock Islamd.
Meridien West was supposed to be matched by Meridien East at some point, a hundred apartments nicely designed with covered parking, fences and a big No Pets sign at the entrance. Ed Swift's building has bee widely touted as the way to go for future workforce housing but so far no other takers on the East thing in a world consumed by expensive housing for people with money. The Spottswood plans for one more shopping center alongside Highway One were derailed by the economy, now replaced by housing of some low income sort visible to the left before Burger King as you drive toward Key West. Flagler Station is another development, manufactured homes for a quarter million are considered affordable around here.
Slowly slowly change comes and I don't know what to think. Better housing is good but at what price? Upscale marinas serve a purpose for someone, hopefully funding long term housing for people who support the rest of the infrastructure. It's hard to get repeat visitors if housekeeping sucks.
Bernstein Park has been here for a while and it's still here, open space, ball fields, picnic tables and toilets. The donors of the land sort of own Wisteria Island in Key West harbor and plans to develop that got derailed when a member of Last Stand committed the gaffe of checking records and discovered a glitch in the title. Now the Feds think they may still own the island.
Every now and again things glitch, which keeps the march of history interesting.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Happy Dogs, Scientifically Speaking

From   this essay about the emotions that dogs may feel. At this stage it is all conjecture but it's conjecture whose conclusions thus far I like (!). So I am reproducing the paper here, to support my theory that letting my dog choose where and how to walk is good for her mental health. She seems happy, I enjoy her company and the vet says she is doing very well for a Labrador of her advanced years.

For the first few decades of his career, Emory neuroscientist Gregory Berns studied the human mind. Using fMRI technology, which tracks the flow of blood to different areas of the brain, he sought to find correlations between people’s internal mental patterns and their real-world behaviors, decisions and preferences. Then, in 2011, he took on a new object of neuroscientific study: Canis lupus familiaris, otherwise known as the domesticated dog.

Instead of merely studying canine behavior, as has been done for years, he and his colleagues began scrutinizing the internal architecture and patterns of dogs’ brains, using the same tools they rely on to better understand the brains of humans. “I’ve always been a dog person, and when my dog died, a pug named Newton, it planted a seed in my mind,” says Berns, who published a new book on his recent work, How Dogs Love Us, last week. “It got me wondering about how dogs view their relationship with us—if he had loved me the same way I had loved him.”

Just looking inside inside the canine brain, however, posed a formidable challenge: Getting an accurate fMRI reading means that the subject has to stay almost perfectly still, moving less than a millimeter from one moment to the next. Using anesthesia or restraining the dogs would ruin the experiments, producing an image of an unconscious or anxious dog instead of a comfortable, alert one. To solve the problem, Berns recruited dogs from the local community—starting with a dog he adopted after Newtown died—and gradually trained them to climb up a series of steps into a table, rest their head on a pad inside the fMRI’s inner tunnel and sit still for 30 seconds at a time as the machine does its work.

To deal with the device’s noise (which can surpass 95 decibels, equivalent to the sound of a jackhammer 50 feet away), they taped earmuffs to the dogs’ heads and piped in ambient noise over loudspeakers, so instead of the machine’s sound beginning abruptly, it gradually arrived over background noises. In total, they’ve successfully trained about a dozen dogs to voluntarily participate in their studies. The research is still in its preliminary stages, but as Berns’ team begins to scratch the surface of the canine brain, they’re finding something surprising—in several ways, its activity mirrors that of the human brain to a much greater extent than expected.

As part of their first paper published on the work in 2012, they trained dogs to recognize two different hand signals: one that meant the animal would be given a piece of hot dog imminently, and one that meant no hot dog. As they hypothesized, the first signal triggered elevated activity in an area called the caudate nucleus, which is rich in receptors for dopamine (a neurotransmitter involved in the sensation of pleasure). In humans—and in dogs, the research indicated—caudate activity is related to the desire to have something that causes pleasure, and the satisfaction involved in obtaining it. Subsequent work revealed more unexpected findings.

As part of a second experiment, they had dogs sit in the scanner and exposed them to smells of humans (from either their owners or strangers) and other dogs (from either dogs they lived with or unfamiliar dogs). “We wanted to understand how dogs recognize other people and dogs in their households,” Berns says. Again, they saw increased activity in the caudate, but only as a result of one of the scents. “In this case, the reward system only seems to activate in response to the smell of a familiar human, which is pretty amazing,” he says. To further probe how the dogs’ brain activity correlates with the actions of humans they know well, they put the dogs in the fMRI and had their owners leave the room, then walk back in.

This, too, triggered activation in the caudate. Berns interprets these results as indications that, in some ways, the mental processes of dogs may not be so different from those of humans. They’re close enough, he suggests, that we can safely describe them with words we don’t often apply to animals: the mental activity represents emotions, and perhaps even constitute love. “At some fundamental level, we believe the dogs are experiencing emotions something like we do,” Berns says. He admits that the idea is controversial. But, he points out, the research suggests that the human brain and canine brain aren’t as radically different as we might have imagined.

“Obviously, dog brains are much smaller, and they don’t have as much cortex as we do, but some of the core areas around the brainstem—the basal ganglia, which the caudate nucleus is part of—look very much like those in humans,” he says. Dogs might not have the hardware necessary for complex thoughts and higher-level reasoning, the thinking goes, but they do have the relevant structures for basic emotions. This also makes sense from an evolutionary perspective: We evolved the heavily folded cortex necessary for high-level thinking after we diverged from all other animal species, but areas like the basal ganglia developed beforehand, so it follows that our ability to feel emotions produced by those areas existed way back in our evolutionary history, in ancestors that we share with many other mammals, including dogs.

Dog lovers mind find these ideas obvious, but Berns’ work has attracted a fair amount of criticism. One of the biggest complaints is against his use of words like emotion and love for dogs—their attachment to us is simply a result of conditioning, some say, entirely based on the desire for food, rather than the deeper emotional connections we feel for other humans.

But Berns hopes to respond with future fMRI work, which will compare brain activity in dogs being fed by automated mechanisms with that of dogs being fed by humans. He hopes to show that dogs do develop qualitatively different relationships with humans, underscoring the strength of those attachments. He took his ideas to what some might call as a rather extreme conclusion earlier this month in the New York Times, in an op-ed he penned with a provocative headline: Dogs Are People, Too.

If animals truly are capable of emotions we normally consider characteristically human, he argued, they should no longer be treated as mere objects, or property, but instead be given some of the rights we associate with personhood—namely, a respect for their preferences and well-being that would lead to the abolition of things like puppy mills and dog racing. There’s obviously a long way to go—both in terms of scientific evidence and policy changes—before dogs are treated anything like people.

But Berns cites a recent Supreme Court decision that invoked neuroscientific evidence (specifically, the finding that the juvenile brain is less developed than a mature adult’s, and thus should not be subject to the same punishments) as an indication that our laws will inevitably follow the science. The next step, then, is for he and his colleagues to keep peering into the minds of dogs, finding out how deeply the mental similarities truly go.

Posted By: Joseph Stromberg — Biology,Mammals,Psychology

How To Keep Your Dog Happy

Bill Butler Park early in the morning. That's how Cheyenne likes it when Daddy has a day off and nowhere particular to be.
Not all dogs get the attention Cheyenne gets, not,all dogs live indoors either.
This guy lives in the yard of a crumbling house off an alley between Elizabeth street and Bill Butler Park. Cheyenne has the winning personality that wins over prisoners too. Not really but sometimes she deigns them with a friendly sniff through the bars of their captivity.
Checking out the cat food bowl and finding it empty. Had it been full I'd have engaged in a tug of war but my dog will not be denied food if she thinks she can get away with it. The vet gave her a check up and pronounced her in excellent health for her age, almost 13 I think. She has been showing some signs of limping but we increased the dose of the magic pill I can't spell (con droit something) and as usual Dr Edie was right and Cheyenne is walking like a puppy again.
It's bloody difficult to keep her slim with her constant pursuit of nourishment. Almost as grotesque as people who ride scooters and then park them like this, which is a big fat fail.
And when not meeting caged dogs or eating cat food one lies in a puddle for refreshment. Remember this is the Southernmost City and it's still hitting eighty five degrees daily in November.
The thing about walking Cheyenne is I get to see stuff and I get to ponder stuff so while I'm keeping her happy I am amusing myself. See the Eden House and therefore think of Goldie Hawn. Good movie.
I asked my wife where would she live if she had money enough to choose anywhere. She got lost in thought for quite a while and when I had forgotten about the question she asked if money was going to be an issue in her mythical new home. Not at all I said magisterially and she thought about it a bit more. So then I could travel anywhere I felt,like from my home she asked as though I had the power to actually make all this real. Sure I said. Well she said I think I'd stay right here. Your can see why.
Here's a Key West conundrum. We got as far as I was letting Cheyenne get from the car to prevent total exhaustion and we passed the Stock Island Produce shop which is located on Whitehead Street in Key West. Why it's called that I couldn't say. Do they grow produce for export from Stock Island?
I do enjoy walking my dog. What a dweeb.