Saturday, February 12, 2011

The cat came back

I am feeling remarkably cheerful this morning, although I'm not sure why. It was not a particularly fun week at work -- had to do substantive editing (aka major rewriting) on a couple papers to save the authors from potential embarrassment. One schmuck conflated domestic ferrets with black-footed ones, which is a rather wince-inducing blooper when the critters are completely different species. It would be knd of like confusing coyotes and cocker spaniels (both canids, but for sure not the same canid), and definitely not something any thinking person would want sliding into print.

The author, of course, did not fall into the thinking person category. I'm not sure if he's pissed because I changed his precious prose or because I, a nonbiologist, spotted what is an elementary error, but pissed he was. Too bad. I don't particularly care if he makes a fool of himself, but I'm not letting junk science slide into the journal. I have no clue how the blooper slid past the peer reviewers, although to be honest I'm not sure I would have picked up on the error if I hadn't edited a couple of the articles cited in the reference section and knew they didn't say what the author was suggesting they said.

One of my little obsessive-compulsive fact-checking things tends to be the references -- I've never been too keen on authors who sprinkle a lot of citations through an article, dropping numbers here and there like fresh cilantro on a tostada, but clearly don't know what's actually in the stuff they're referencing. I'm not sure if you'd call it tertiary citing or what, but I see authors all the time where something gets cited because somebody else cited it because somebody else cited it. You have to wonder just how long it's been since anyone went back and looked at the original paper. Sometimes it's a token genuflection (must bow in the direction of the Great Man who did the seminal work in this field) and sometimes it's the result of a quick lit search that pulls a list of titles -- and the author says, Aha, this one sounds like it applies to what I did! and plugs it into the citations list without ever bothering to look beyond the title (or to make sure it's in a language he or she is likely to be able to read; the fact the title is in English on PubMed doesn't guarantee the article itself isn't written in Swedish).

Then, on top of dealing with idiot authors too dumb to realize copy editors exist to make authors look good, we've been working short-handed. One of the other editors has been out sick since before Christmas, and it's beginning to catch up with us. We started falling far enough behind schedule on getting things into production that the Editor-in-Chief actually pulled a few things from the Table of Contents to shrink the size of an upcoming issue and give us some breathing room.

So why am I in a good mood?

Captain Jack is back. The Captain is a battered, definitely been through the wars feral tom that's been hanging around this apartment complex since we moved here in 2007. He's a domestic shorthair with Sylvester coloring, a broken tail, and torn ears, is missing an eye, and is covered with scar tissue. He's like an old pirate, hence, Captain Jack. You can tell this guy is a scrapper -- and you can also tell he stays busy. Every time we see feral kittens around, they're miniature versions of Captain Jack.

He's been looking like he's led a tough, adventure-filled life since I first spotted him several summers ago. I'm not sure just how many lives he's burnt through, but it's got to be several. Every time I see him around, I wish I could adopt the dude -- he's earned a soft pillow and a peaceful retirement -- but he's definitely the most feral of the semi-feral cats that call this complex home. There are several clowders living in the crawl spaces under the buildings. The manager tolerates them because he figures they keep rats and mice away. Some of the other cats are mellow enough that they might make adoptable pets, but the Captain doesn't have much use for people.

About a year ago, the maintenance man spotted the Captain sprawled next to the driveway. The cat looked really, thoroughly dead. Didn't move. So the maintenance man got out a shovel, tried sliding it under the cat, still no movement -- he had to grab him by the tail to drag him on to the shovel. The cat remained totally limp. Then he walked across the street and flipped the "body" over the chain link fence into the patch of woods there.

The next day the cat was back, looking like he always did.

I had been thinking maybe this time the Captain was gone for good -- I hadn't seen him around for a couple months -- but when I left for work Thursday morning, there he was, sleeping under my car, no doubt nursing sore feet and a hangover and regretting the latest tatoo.


  1. This was wonderful. Even better (by a hairball) than this masterful version of the song by a Canadian animator:


  2. Our Kuchma is a semi-house cat in that he comes home to eat and sleep then off again. He has been battered and bruised many times over the years. His front leg is chewed pretty bad this time. But there are like Captain Jack, lots of yellow and white cats in the neighbourhood.

    Editing for scientific journals must be a joy. Writing is not high on the skill list of most scientists.

  3. Further comment: The Muppets' version uses a slightly different melody in the refrain. The original melody, as used in the Canadian cartoon I ref'd earlier, shows up in other renditions of "The Cat Came Back" as well. For some reason, the original melody, when I hum it to myself, has my brain automatically segue-ing into Ray Charles's "Hit the Road, Jack!" Weird.


  4. I'm not a cat hater but cats, while tolerant of humans, are sneaky killers. It's astounding how many things an outdoor cat will kill. SOme years ago a study was done in a small British village ... the locals were asked to keep a tally of cat killed birds, mice, etc.( at the least the dead things brought home to show off). Months of counting indicated a tremendous number. And we wonder about diminishing bird populations!

  5. As a marginal hack of ill repute, I shudder at the notion of having any editor read my dribble.

    On the other hand, glad Jack is back. It is never fun to have them just disappear. Although the late, great Bob, our yellow badboy, disappeared on a regular basis for up to a few weeks at a time. He always came home with some kind of war wound - missing fur, a new chunk missing from an ear, and once a completely healed gash that had gone septic. He died cantankerously at the age of 15.


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.