Category Archives: Original Duenos

Posts by the original crew.

Elephant Stories and Psychology: Part 3

One of Ruby's paintings

Ruby, an Asian elephant primarily associated with the Phoenix zoo, became famous in the late 80’s for her abstract paintings. After her keepers noticed the elephant scratching in the dirt with sticks, they offered her a paintbrush, and Ruby the (very profitable) Painting Elephant was born. Art collectors from all over the world joined what became 18-month waiting lists for a painting from the elephant. An individual painting sold for up to $5,000.

According to her “CNN obituary”:, Ruby’s paintings raised about $500,000 for the zoo. She died in 1998 at 25 years of age and at 9,000 lbs. during complications from an attempted c-section.

Elephant paintings have since become something of a fad, and there are multiple other endeavors to sell paintings done by the animals; “this NOVICA article”: details just a few. Multiple kinds of animal art has been sold in auctions such as Christie’s. A team of two Moscow-born entrepreneurs, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, have even organized elephant painting-only auctions; they “began with dog art,” have exhibited photographs taken by a chimpanzee, and after their elephant project intend to “work with beavers using processed wooden boards on an architectural project” (read more about Komar and Melamid “here”:

Map Monday: Walkable Neighborhoods

Many of my recent Map Monday tools have been more than just maps, but rather they have been tools that have harnessed mapping functions in order to tell a more complete story. Whether it be “keeping your neighborhood safe”: or “tracking the Olympic medal count”:, maps are very useful as a way of understanding or interpreting data. This Map Monday feature is an excellent example of that principle.

“”: is a website that rates neighborhoods by how walkable they are, and then serves as a forum/information hub for everything to do with urban walkability. This isn’t anything spectacularly new, but what is new is the way that the site’s rankings–walk scores–are determined. Rather than relying on anecdotal evidence and peer review like “WikiTravel”: or other wiki-based sites, WalkScore runs addresses through the Local Google API to find amenities close to that address and then, based on the proximity and variety of the amenities found, rates the location from 1-100. Of course there’s more to it than that, and if the social scientist in you needs to read more, check out “their methodology page”: for more., or just view the "138 Walkers' Paradise neighborhoods": Not interested in all this hippie bullshit and kind of feel like jumping in your Navigator and running over some wildlife? Check out the "Why Walk?": page for some reasonable explanations of why walking is right for you, me, and everyone.

Caving out Wikipedia

You know as much as I talk up Wikipedia I had never bothered to become a member until just recently. I had even set up my own wikis before diving in, go figure.

Anywho I recently went on a spelunking trip out to Buckner’s Cave in Indiana and jumped on the web to scout out something on the cave on my phone on the way there in the car. Much to my dismay I discovered only a website from 8 years ago and a tiny piece of a Wikipedia entry. I decided it was time to put my knowledge to use and signed up to write an article.

Anyway for those of you who don’t know Buckner’s Cave is a cave outside of Bloomington, Indiana privately owned and operated by the Richard Blenz Nature Conservancy and is free access, assuming you contact them a week in advance.

The experience was spectacular! Three miles of cave with endless off-shoots and passages ranging from enormous caverns to tight squeezes where you have to push your bag first and wedge your shoulders side-ways. We went in without a real good idea of its layout and features and found it to be quite the adventurous exploration! I had the unpleasant experience of being the leader down a long mud tunnel that progressively shrunk smaller and smaller until it dead-ended and I couldn’t go any further… which meant I had to tell the 8 people behind me to back out army-crawl style backwards. We discovered cavern after passage after cavern, and explored in all sorts of directions and rock environments. On the way back we found ourselves lost (a few times actually) only to be saved by a bat who was in the same spot we left him the first time.

Once out from underground I paged up Wikipedia and wrote my very first official entry, officially wiping out the request for it to be expanded. Huzzah!

Janeites in the 21st Century

I was never a fan of Jane Austen until I took a class that focused on her Aristotelian plot strategies and the core literary merit of her writing. Having converted in a traditional literary sense, then, it’s very difficult for me to take the pop culture Austen that has flooded US chick lit and the media. Nowadays a Janeite can be someone whose other favorite books include Confessions of a Shopaholic. In fact, one of my most recent book store shocks came when I discovered a book titled Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, detailing the adventures of a woman who is thrown by some sort of time warp into Regency England.

One of the most ridiculous symptoms of this chick lit take on Jane Austen is the recent “makeover” of Austen’s portrait for Wordsworth Editions.

The only uncontested portrait of Jane was drawn by her sister Cassandra in 1810 (Austen was 35) and is on the left side below:

This portrait has been described as “hideously unlike” Jane by Austen’s niece Anna. While it is the only uncontested portrait of Austen (the Rice portrait has always been a great controversy), the sketch does not seem to line up with familial descriptions.

Wordsworth’s version of Jane is the picture to the right of Cassandra’s portrait. Helen Traylor, managing director of the publisher, explains the publisher’s choice:

“The poor old thing didn’t have anything going for her in the way of looks. Her original portrait is very, very dowdy. It wouldn’t be appealing to readers, so I took it upon myself to commission a new picture of her.

“We’ve given her a bit of a makeover, with make-up and some hair extensions and removed her nightcap. Now she looks great — as if she’s just walked out of a salon.”

Nor is Traylor shy about her opinions of other authors’ looks. Since Wordsworth Editions tries to place author portraits on their covers when aesthetics “allow,” Traylor is also evaluating the makeover possibilities for other authors. “Virginia Woolf wasn’t much of a looker,” she says. “I’m also considering making over George Eliot, who was frumpy, and William Wordsworth, who was pretty hideous. Most poets were really unattractive, with the one exception being Tennyson, who has wonderful bone structure.”

Portrait of George Eliot:

Since this is one of the most common portraits of Eliot, I can only imagine that soon she will be remade into a likeness of Catherine Zeta Jones. After all, we wouldn’t want an author looking as though she hadn’t just “walked out of a salon.”

Mud phobic pig

Although I originally intended to write a post for today that had nothing to do with animals, I stumbled on this and couldn’t resist: a pig that supposedly suffers mysophobia, fear of dirt, and has been given Wellies to overcome her issues.

The “BBC Article”: explains that the piglet was afraid of wallowing in the mud, leading her owners to fit her with Wellies, overcoming the problem. Andrew and Debbie Keeble own a sausage company but no longer plan to slaughter Cinders, the mysophobic piglet.

Map Monday: The Olympics

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Track the Olympic medal count geo-spatially with Google Maps! I know, I talk too much about Google Maps but seriously, I’ll stop talking about them when they stop innovating. Anyway, check out this cool feature “here at Google Maps Olympics.”:

Previously featured on Map Monday:
* “Google Walking Maps”: Google adds functionality for trip-planning pedestrians. Combine that with GPS and Street View and you’ve got yourself a toolkit.
* “Tracking Troublemakers”: A local blogger uses online mapping to patrol his own neighborhood.

Elephant Stories and Psychology: Part 2

Batyr, The Talking Elephant (1970 – 1993)

In 1977 the young elephant Batyr made his ability to mimic human speech known to his keepers at the Karaganda Zoo in Kazakhstan. Batyr apparently learned to produce about twenty words by using his trunk–placing it in his mouth and using his bottom jaw and tongue. A. N. Pogrebnoj-Aleksandroff studied Batyr, recording the elephant’s speech and writing many articles about him. “Wikipedia”: says that Batyr “delighted zoo-goers at large by asking his attendants for water and regularly praising (or, infrequently chastising) himself.”

Batyr had been rejected by his mother as a young calf and hand-reared by humans. He had no interaction with other elephants after his infancy.


According to Pogrebnoj-Aleksandroff, Batyr was able to reproduce the following words, phrases, and noises:

Баты́р — Batyr — abruptly (the trunk in the mouth)

Я — I’m — very abruptly and to combination of his name, at a long pronunciation so “I’m-Batyr,” sounded almost together

Ба́ты́р — Batyr — thoughtfully-tenderly and lingeringly (the trunk in the mouth)

Батыр, Батыр, Батыр… — Batyr, Batyr, Batyr — joyfully running in a cage (the trunk in the mouth)

Воды́ — Water — ask (the trunk in the mouth)

Хоро́ший— Good — as is good fellow (the trunk in the mouth)

Батыр хоро́ший — Good Batyr — (the trunk in the mouth)

Ой-ё-ёй — Oh-yo — (it is very sonorous — the trunk in the mouth)

Дурак — The Fool — seldom and abruptly (the trunk in the mouth)

Плохой — Bad — it is rare (the trunk in the mouth)

Батыр плохой — Bad Batyr — it is rare (the trunk in the mouth)

Иди́ — Go — (the trunk in the mouth)

Иди (на) хуй — Go onto penis (on-similarity the American expression ‘fuck you’) — the obscene Russian slang; first and unique time during telecast shooting (the trunk in the mouth)

Хуй — The Russian slang of the penis — seldom and abruptly (the trunk in the mouth)

Ба́-ба — the short of “babushka” — the grandmother; short children’s sound “ba” (the trunk in the mouth)

Да́ — Yes — (the trunk in the mouth)

Дай — Give (me) — (the trunk in the mouth)

Дай-дай-дай — Give, give, give… — (the trunk in the mouth)

Раз-два-три — One, two, three — dancing, being turned and hopping (the trunk in the mouth)

A whistle of human

The words of human speech said at level of infrasonic and ultrasonic frequencies

A gnash imitation of rubber or polyfoam (foam plastic) on glass;

The peep of rats or mice

The bark of dogs

The natural blares of elephants

In 1993, Batyr died; I have found two different accounts: that Batyr didn’t wake up from sedation after being put under for foot care, or that he died from complications regarding inflammation of the kidneys and kidney stones.


A short list works about or including the story of Batyr:

The most truthful history or who are talking? An Elephant?!
A.Pogrebnoj-Alexandroff, 1979-1993. ISBN 0972126600.

A.Pogrebnoj-Alexandroff, 2001. ISBN 097212666x.

Speaking Animals
A.Dubrov, 2001. ISBN 5879690865.

Speaking Birds and Speaking Animals
O.Silaeva, V.Ilyichev, A.Dubrov, 2005. ISBN 5944290161.

Elephant Stories and Psychology: Part 1

Outside of Jumbo (and, in fiction, Dumbo), Topsy (1875 – 1903) is probably the most famous elephant in American history, and hers is a story worth knowing–definitive of a time, place, and moment in circus history.

Topsy was part of the Forepaugh Circus at Coney Island’s Luna Park. In three years, she killed three trainers–the last of whom was an abusive alcoholic who threw a lit cigarette into her mouth. Because of this, it was decided that Topsy needed to be put to death: she was sentenced to hanging. The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) protested that this was inhumane; New York State had just replaced the gallows with the electric chair.

And so it was that Thomas Edison, currently battling George Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla about electric current (Westinghouse and Nicola argued that alternating current was safer, Edison was currently living off patent royalties after establishing direct current as the standard), designed Topsy’s death by alternating current–meant to add evidence to Edison’s stance on AC as deadly. On January 4, 1,500 came to watch Topsy’s electrocution. She was fed cyanide-laced carrots, and fitted with wooden sandals with copper electrodes connected through a copper wire to Edison’s electric light plant. Topsy was twenty-eight years old. Edison captured the event on film and released it with the title “Electrocuting an Elephant,” found “here”: on YouTube.

In 2003 a memorial to Topsy was created for the Coney Island Museum.

What do you call a stolen yam?….a hot potato!

Mountain Dew : Supernova

There’s no way around it: buying organic foods is expensive, usually 10 to 40% more costly than buying regular foods (according to Wikipedia). And if you choose to buy organic part of the time, like me, which products should you focus on?

A relatively recent study by the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration might be able to help you decide, if you’re living in the US. The Environmental Working Group has ranked pesticide contamination for forty-six fruits and vegetables involved in over 100,000 lab tests from the study as well as further testing by the state of California (all done between 1992 and 2001). Their results? The following:

Twelve Most Contaminated Fruits and Vegetables (buy organic):

1. Nectarines (97.3% of nectarines sampled were found to contain pesticides)
2. Celery (94.5%)
3. Pears (94.4%)
4. Peaches (93.7%)
5. Apples (91% )
6. Cherries (91%)
7. Strawberries (90%)
8. Imported Grapes (86%)
9. Spinach (83.4%)
10. Potatoes (79.3%)
11. Bell peppers (68%)
12. Red raspberries (59%)

Twelve Least Contaminated (not as necessary to buy organic):
(in alphabetical order)
1. Asparagus
2. Avocados
3. Bananas
4. Broccoli
5. Cauliflower
6. Corn – sweet (nearly all corn is genetically modified, however)
7. Kiwis
8. Mangoes
9. Onions
10. Papaya
11. Pineapple
12. Sweet peas