Friday, July 31, 2015

Suede live in Tel Aviv, 30 July 2015

Last night I went to a concert by the British band Suede. I have been listening to their music ever since their first album. I have always loved their ravishing guitar sound and soaring vocals. Sometimes you like a band for a while and then lose interest, or your taste changes, but for me there have been a few bands I have continued to enjoy over the years, and in terms of my taste, their old music holds up, while their newer albums might indicate their changing style over time, but I still enjoy them just as much. I would say Suede was one of my top ten favourite bands.

The show started on time (!) with the warm-up show by Israeli band Siam. This was a one time reunion for the 80s alternative band, who sing in English. I remember knowing and liking a couple of their songs back in the 80s, and their sound triggered some nostalgia for that time. I thought they did well, but it seemed that much of the audience was completely unfamiliar with them. It was also unfortunate that so many people came in just on time or a bit late, perhaps assuming that things would start late, or that the warm-up show is like the commercials and trailers in a cinema.

Suede gave a slick 90 minute show, including songs from all their albums. The audience seemed most familiar with their hits. For me all their songs are very familiar, so I would have been pleased with anything they played. However, I was grateful they played one of my favourite songs, "Everything Will Flow". I was also pleased to hear some songs from their 2013 album, "Bloodsports", and they also played one new song, which was well received.

Brett Anderson is a great vocalist, though it does seem that he can no longer reach some of the high notes of his early career. He gave an energetic rock-star performance, and seemed to be playing especially to the crowd at the front, sometimes touching them or sitting on the edge of the stage. His attempts to get the audience to sing along were not always entirely successful, though the acoustic version of "She's in Fashion" went down well.

I was torn between wanting to experience the show and also wanting to take some photos and videos to have a souvenir. This was the first time I've taken photos at a live concert. Photography and recording used to be forbidden at concerts, but now they are so acceptable that the before the concert screens in the venue displayed an ad for an app, saying "use this app to record the show and get excellent quality audio"! My choice was to take a few photos, knowing they would not be very good from my seat so far above the stage, and to video a few select pieces (quality not good enough to post here), and the rest of the time I just enjoyed the performance.

I haven't seen many rock concerts in my life for various reasons. First of all, not many international artists/bands choose to appear in Israel. Suede have played here five times now, throughout their career, and have never shown signs of giving in to the boycott pressure. Second, there have often been logistical difficulties preventing me from seeing concerts I wanted to, such as ticket price, not having anyone to go with, and getting to/from the venue. Finally, as an introvert I find my dislike of crowds can make live events very draining. In this case I didn't find the experience as exhausting as expected, and it seemed like quite a civilized crowd, mostly in their thirties and forties.

The one criticism I could make has nothing to do with the performance. The venue was a basketball arena, and this made it far from ideal for a rock show, though it was good to have air conditioning. I hope future concerts will be held in more suitable locations.

You can read a review here (Hebrew, with photos and video clips that are better than mine).

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Compassion for feral cats

For the past 3.5 years I have been watching various foster kitten cams. These cams show rescue cats and their kittens in foster care until they are adopted. Usually the cams follow each family for 9-12 weeks. The foster homes are connected to various rescue organizations, and the cats are usually abandoned or surrendered pets, rescued strays, and sometimes semi-ferals.

Recently, Shelly Roche, of Tiny Kittens in Fort Langley, BC, Canada, has started an innovative new project involving feral cats. The aim of the project is to care for a colony of feral cats in a forest, with a feeding station, and to reduce the population and improve the cats' health by TNR (trap, neuter, release). Over the past few months they have managed to spay and neuter over 100 feral cats and return them to the colony. They carefully observe and document the cats, and sometime manage to have some interaction with a few individuals, though they remain feral and unsuitable for adoption.

One of the questions arising is what to do with the pregnant cats. Eventually, the hope is that all the cats can be trapped and spayed, but until that happens, there are still some pregnancies, and these are more likely to happen among the cats who are less trusting and therefore more difficult to trap.

Some TNR projects trap the pregnant mothers and abort the babies before spaying. However, non-kill shelters and their supporters usually object to aborting kittens except in real medical emergencies. Other projects wait until the kittens are weaned and then trap and spay the mother, and try to trap and spay or neuter the kittens when possible.

Shelly proposed a new option: trap the pregnant mother and keep her in foster care during birth and the first few weeks of raising the kittens, then spay and release the mother and foster the kittens for adoption. The aim is to give both mother and kittens the best solution. The mother gets better food and some medical care before and after giving birth, and is later spayed and returned to her feral colony, while the kittens are born in a safe environment, under constant camera supervision, and can be socialized and adopted into a new life as pets rather than ferals.

Viewers of Shelly's foster kitten cam were privileged to be able to watch the first feral mother in this program, Sloane, and her four kittens. The experience was very different to the usual cam, because Shelly's aim was to reduce stress, and so she only came in twice a day and had no contact with Sloane. The outcome was a great success, with Sloane happily reunited with the colony and her kittens completely socialized and adopted to good homes like all the kittens of foster homes.

We are currently watching the next feral mother, Sisko, who is expected to give birth soon. A companion was trapped and brought in, Mila, who was first considered possibly pregnant, but now it seems she probably isn't, so she will be spayed and returned to the colony soon after Sisko's kittens are born. The purpose of bringing in a companion was to reduce Sisko's loneliness. The feral cats in the colony are very social, and it is possible that Sisko and Mila knew each other in the forest. There was also a chance that two mothers might co-parent, pooling their kittens into one group and sharing nursing and cleaning duties. I hope to see this happen one day with a future pair of mothers.

You can read Shelly's detailed report about the Compassionate TNR project here.

It is compassion and sensitivity that motivate people like Shelly to make a difference in the lives of cats. Expanding her reach from the mostly social rescue cats the shelter takes in for fostering to the feral cats in the forest shows that her care for cats is not motivated by the ability to make them into cuddly pets. She also wants to provide whatever help possible for the unfriendly and often invisible cats who live in the wild. This shows a profound understanding of the nature of cats. Some are socialized to living with humans, others live in cat colonies in the wild, but they are still cats worth caring for. TNR gives them a chance for a better life without trying to change them into something they cannot become.

Earlier this week, Shelly received an emergency call about a mother and newborn baby found in the colony. The mother was young and inexperienced, and one of her kittens was found dead, while the other was cold and wet at the bottom of a barrel. Shelly brought them home and calmed the mother, who was fortunately friendly despite being born in the forest. The kitten was kept warm and bottle fed for hours, but eventually faded and died. Watching Shelly hold the unresponsive, fading kitten was a heart-wrenching experience. Despite all her knowledge, experience, and compassion, sometimes even Shelly is unable to save a cat. It is a sad but unavoidable fact that some kittens die.

Being a foster care provider requires a unique combination of sensitivity and strength. You have to love the cats and then let them go to their new families. Shelly has demonstrated these qualities impressively throughout the time I have been watching her cams. Emotional involvement could potentially lead to a fantasy that everything must go well all the time, and to collapse when things go wrong. Instead, Shelly has shown resilience and a realistic view of life, doing all she can to save kittens, not holding back emotionally, but ultimately knowing that there will be pain and loss some of the time. It is a price that has to be paid, because we are not living in an ideal world and not every life has a happy ending. Let us hope that the joy of fostering and making a positive difference in the world outweighs the pain of sometimes losing a kitten.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

In praise of uncertainty

This week I came across an interesting phrase, "unarguably". Here's the context:

Person A: "Arguably, X is worse than Y".
Person B: "Unarguably".

Person B seemed to mean that there was absolutely no doubt whatsoever that X was indeed worse than Y, and there was no point discussing it or arguing about it.

I was struck by the certainty Person B expressed. While I have some clear opinions myself, I would never claim this level of certainty and decide that any opinion is true beyond any discussion or argument. This sort of arrogance seems to me to be unproductive. When people claim that they are right and are unwilling to listen to any discussion, they impose their opinions on others and avoid exposure to any facts or arguments that might contradict their certainty.

Open-minded thinkers feel comfortable with uncertainty. They know that opinions are personal choices, and that even what we consider as facts result from an ongoing process of examination and re-evaluation. The scientific method is based on accepting what seems to be the most likely explanation of the known data, provisionally, until a better explanation comes along. Once upon a time, people would have said "Unarguably, the sun goes around the earth". Now we know better.

The dogmatic approach that demands total certainty can only hold back the progress of the human race, which is based on discussion and experimentation. It is uncertainty that drives our curiosity and our ability to question and examine.

Here is my challenge for myself and others: Whenever you think you know something with any certainty, ask yourself what makes you so certain, and whether you could be mistaken. Question and doubt everything, until you can form opinions that make sense to you, based on facts. Try to avoid the confirmation bias that makes us take seriously only opinions similar to our own. Be willing to listen to other opinions and consider their merit. Be willing to not have an opinion on certain issues, especially those about which you have little knowledge. Uncertainty means openness and flexibility. Embrace your uncertainty!