Sunday, April 29, 2007

Monkey Bob Discovers SOHO Artist - Alex Beard

Today my wife Trudi and I visited SOHO in New York City. For those not familiar with The Big Apple, SOHO stands for South of Houston Street. This is a section of the city in lower west Manhattan that is known for art studios, bistros, and eclectic retail stores. While there, we came upon the studio of Alex Beard, which was a wonderful discovery

This artist uses color in a bold and captivating style. Many of his paintings have the same visual impact as a neon sign. But instead of just splashing chroma onto his canvases with the wild abandon of a child's finger painting, Alex controls his use of color to create images which have a powerful immediate impression. But then, as you study the paintings, you can focus in on the symmetric complexity of his designs. This allows you to view his works on at least three or four different levels. I could easily study some of his paintings for half an hour or more, and still be discovering new information.

Alex's work is also whimsical. Many of his paintings represent animals and people in new and refreshing ways. I really enjoy artists who can present familiar objects from a different perspective. It makes me realize that the zebra or flamingo (that I thought I knew so well) can still teach me something about nature and life.

Some artists prefer to work in solitude, and then present their finished works to the world. However, Alex devotes a significant amount of his time to running childrens' workshops and other participative activities. He also encourages visitors to come and see him in his studio, while he is working. The Beard Studio also hosts cocktail parties and intimate dinners. Instead of seeing these interactions as an impediment to his work, I am guessing that Alex enjoys meeting people and that they increase his creative energy.

The bio in his brochures offers some background on Alex: "Born in 1970, Alex was influenced to think creatively from a young age by his uncle, Peter Beard, the photographer, and his mother Patricia Beard, an accomplished author and magazine editor. Alex grew up as a child among some of the world's most interesting and influential people. Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, and their Pop World cohorts were familiar faces in the Beard Household."

So if you are in SOHO, then I believe that you will enjoy a visit to Alex Beard's studio. It is located at:

Alex Beard Studio
77 Mercer Street
New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 274-0326

What Chinese Astrologers Say About Monkeys

China is a 4,000 year old civilization, so they must have accumulated a wealth of wisdom in that time period. Here is what Chinese astrologiers have to say about monkeys.

If you click on the picture, you will see a larger version, which will make it easier to read the text. However, when you are done, you must hit the Left Arrow button on the top left of your screen to be taken back to the Monkey Prose site. Otherwise, if you hit the red (Close) X button on the top right of your screen, then you will lose your connection to Monkey Prose.

I don't know how to fix this. Any suggestions?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Court Battle Over "Primarily Primates Inc." in Texas

A court battle has been ragining in Texas over Primarily Primates Inc., a sanctuary for primates.

One side says that the animals there were being neglected and abused. The other side says that this is not true.

I leave it up to you, dear readers, to make up your own mind. Some sources for information are:

The Chicago Tribune. - "Refuge Became Prison"

PETA - "Hell on Earth for Animals"

Primarily Primates Inc. Press Page

Friends of Animals Commentary

Animal Liberation Front Commentary

Wikipedia Entry on Primarily Primates Inc.

San Antonio Express News Article on Primarily Primates

The latest news is a story in the Chicago Tribune, entitled Texas expected to end legal moves against animal sanctuary

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot is the person responsible for this decision. If you wish to express your feelings about this matter to him, he can be reached at: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Jeremy Bentham once said about animals: "The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?"

Monday, April 23, 2007

Chimps Lead Evolutionary Race

Nature Published online: 16 April 2007; doi:10.1038/446841a

Chimps Lead Evolutionary Race

More chimpanzee genes have been positively selected for than human ones.

Story by Michael Hopkin

Humans are generally believed to be more highly 'evolved' than our chimpanzee cousins. But in at least one sense that isn't true, say geneticists who have hunted for the hallmarks of natural selection in our respective genomes - and found more of them in chimps.

The discovery suggests that, since our evolutionary paths diverged 6 million years ago, greater numbers of chimpanzee genes have been shaped by 'positive selection', in which natural selection favours beneficial mutations.

Researchers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, combed through 14,000 matching genes from the human and chimpanzee genomes. As they report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, 233 chimp genes showed signs of having been shaped by positive selection (M. A. Bakewell, P. Shi and J. Zhang Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA doi:10.1073/pnas.0701705104; 2007). The corresponding figure for our own genes was just 154.

The result overturns the view that, to promote humans to our current position as the dominant animal on the planet, we must have encountered considerable positive selection, says lead author Jianzhi Zhang. "We think we're very different from animals, with our large brain size and speech," he says.

The gene discrepancy might be due to the fact that, for much of our histories, chimpanzees had the larger population size. Humans, with a smaller and more fragmented population, may have been shaped by random, erratic changes.

It is possible that the genetic changes underlying brain size are very few. It is difficult to put together a coherent picture, says Zhang, because it is hard to know which genes would have been crucial in shaping traits such as our large brain size. "It is possible that the genetic changes underlying brain size are very few," he says.

A sample of 14,000 genes does not tell the whole story. The team could not compare the entire genome as the chimp sequence has not been completed to the same level of detail as the human one. But for genes with good sequences, they were taken to show signs of positive selection if they had a high proportion of 'non-synonymous mutations' — DNA changes that alter the protein sequence produced by the gene — which could be a 'lever' for natural selection.

Zhang admits it is difficult to spot genes that have been the subject of more recent positive selection. Such genes could have been responding to selection pressures — such as changes in climate and food source — encountered by humans as they began to move out of Africa and across the planet over the past 100,000 years.

There also seems to be little pattern to the functions of the selected genes, says Zhang. Among those favoured in chimps are genes for protein metabolism and stress responses, whereas the human genes are involved in processes such as fatty-acid metabolism.

Victoria Horner, who works with chimpanzees at Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia, says: "We assume that chimpanzees have changed less than us, when that's actually not the case."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Monkey Bob Battles "The Crammers"

I recently became aware of a telephone billing scam called "cramming". The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) defines this practice as follows:

“Cramming” is the practice of placing unauthorized, misleading, or deceptive charges on your telephone bill. Crammers rely on confusing telephone bills in an attempt to trick consumers into paying for services they did not authorize or receive, or that cost more than the consumer was led to believe."

Cramming charges are usually under $50.00, and are usually located somewhere near the end of the (multi-page) phone bill, so many consumers may not even notice them

Twice in the last year, I have (allegedly) been crammed. The last company involved was:

YP Corp. - which is associated with YP.Net, YP.Com, and (The last three company names bring up the same website.) Their stock ticker is YPNT. They recently added a $27.50 charge onto my last home phone bill for something called "web maintain". I never requested this service, nor authorized them to charge me for it.

In investigating this matter, I discovered some disturbing reports about the YP group of companies:

1) In December of 2006, YP.Corp agreed to pay $2 million in refunds after settling in court with the Attorneys General of 34 states. In a 12-14-06 statement from The Office of the Attorney General of Missouri - Attorney General Jay Nixon said that "The businesses and organizations often did not realize that depositing an “activation” check for $3.25 from YP Corp. — which does business under the names, and — triggered a monthly charge of $25 to $30 on their telephone bills or from their bank accounts for an Internet directory listing."

Many of the victims of this tactic were churches, schools, and non-profit organizations. These were good candidates for cramming because they receive many checks, which are often processed by volunteers. These volunteers usually don't scrutinize received checks for any legal fine print.

2) According to an April 2, 2003 article in The Jacksonville Business Journal, a Federal jury convicted Michael Bloomquist of fraud conspiracy. According to Citron Research, Michael Bloomquist was a director of Telco Billing, a wholly owned subsidiary of YP.Net.

3) According to an SEC Report filed on 6-1-04, "YP Corp. ("YP") announced that its Chief Executive Officer, Angelo Tullo had resigned as an executive officer and director of the Company as a result of indictments handed down against him by a Federal Grand Jury for matters unrelated to YP Corp." Citron Research said that these Federal indictments were for Fraud and Money Laundering.

4) According to a US Department of Justice document dated June 27, 1996, Douglas Carpa was one of 6 defendants convicted on 72 counts of tax evasion, mail fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and related charges. According to YPNT SEC filings, Douglas Carpa controlled Gladstone Enterprises. According to Citron Research - Gladstone Enterprises was associated with Hickory Management, which was associated with Sunbelt Financial. And Sunbelt financial was paying Angelo Tullo's salary (see the paragraph above).

Other companies that you should be aware of are:

Axcess Internet Solutions

Email Discount Network – also known as EDN. Note: The Florida Office of the Attorney General recently reached a settlement with this company, where they will repay over $1 million for improper telephone charges. Residents from a number of states are eligible.

ILD Teleservices – also known as ILD Telecommunications Inc.

Northwest Nevada Telco - also known as NWNT

OAN – also known as Operator Assistance Network and OAN Services Inc. They are associated with Nationwide Connections.

Talk America Inc. – also known as

Here is how you can protect yourself:

1) Take a closer look at your phone bills before you pay them. With Verizon phone bills, charges from crammers are usually listed on the back 1 or 2 pages of your telephone bill. If you see something that doesn't look right, call your phone company's business office.

2) Don't waste your time calling these crammers. The best way to contact them is by Certified Mail, with a Return Receipt. Just write a simple letter that explains that you did not authorize the charge and that you expect it to be removed in a timely manner. This method carries much more weight, because there is now a paper trail of your complaint, which could later be given to the authorities if the offending company doesn't solve the problem. A certified letter to the crammer may also protect your credit, if the crammer sends (or threatens to send) their charge to a collection agency.

3) You can file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, but they are unlikely to take any immediate action to help you. They will record your complaint - among the thousands of others that they receive – but action from such agencies moves forward at a glacial pace.

4) File a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs in the state where you reside, and also in the state where the crammer is located. Most state Divisions of Consumer Affairs have websites, where you can file a complaint online. I don't know if this is effective yet, but it's worth a shot.

5) Ask your phone company to put a cramming block onto your phone line. This should protect you against most future cramming attempts.

6) File a complaint with the U.S. Postal Service for mail fraud. Your phone bill came to you through the mail, so these crammers are using the U.S. Mail to improperly get money from people. I don't know (yet) how effective this might be, but it may very well turn out to be a strong tool for prosecuting crammers.

7) Send a Certified Letter or an Overnight Express Letter to the CEO of your phone company. You should easily be able to find the name and mailing address of this person on Google. CEOs have "the juice" to get problems resolved quickly. Every time that I have sent a Certified Letter to Ivan Seidenberg, the CEO of Verizon, Verizon has resolved the problem promptly and professionally. In this last incident, Salvatore Tedesco and Sal Tromonda, of Verizon, provided exceptional support. I give Verizon, kudos for their excellent service!

NOTE: In their response to my cramming complaint, Verizon indicated that they cannot prevent crammers from putting charges onto a Verizon phone bill because of The Telecommunications Act of 1996. This act was designed to centralize billing for multiple telephone service providers. However, an unintended consequence of this legislation is that it allows unscrupulous companies to bill phone company customers for charges that they did not authorize.

8) If you have a blog, or if you frequent the blogosphere, spread the word about this practice and the companies involved. The blogosphere is an incredibly powerful tool for affecting social change.

Note No. 1:
I believe that truth in journalism is absolutely essential. I have carefully researched the information that I am presenting in this post, and to the best of my knowledge, it is accurate. Where I obtained information from other sources, I have provided links to these sources. All of the sources that I used appeared to be credible.

Note No. 2: Truth in journalism applies to all parties who are reported on. If anyone can present me with information that proves that (any of) the data in this post is inaccurate, then I will change the post, and issue a retraction.

Note No. 3: At the time that this post was written, YP.Corp has not been charged or convicted of cramming - in my situation - by any court of law. However the evidence that I have presented indicates that YP.Corp's charge (on my home phone bill) appears to be cramming.

Note No. 4: Every responsible journalist has an obligation to present both sides of a story. I therefore invite YP.Corp to submit a response to this post.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Court to Rule if Chimp Has Human Rights

It may become one of the most significant animal rights cases in history, rivaling even The Scopes Trial. A court in Austria is going to hear arguments about whether Hiasl, a 26 year old chimpanzee, deserves to be treated as a human. You can read about it in The Observer at Are Chimpanzees Human?.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Monkey Bob Has Another Great Meal in East Hampton!

The gods must be smiling upon me. Never before have I struck gastronomical gold twice in the same week. Last night I had an unsurpassed meal at The 1770 House in East Hampton, NY. Tonight I dined, with family, at cittanuova, (also in East Hampton) and again the meal was superb! By the way, both restaurants are owned by the same people.

The cittanuova experience is very different from the 1770 House. While the latter provides a more formal dining environment, Cittanuova presents trattoria style dining. But that's OK too, as long as the food is good. And it was!

Zulfia, who is new to cittanuova, provided us with first class service, and was also very helpful with our wine selection. Because I am not familiar with Italian wines, I relied on Zulfia to select a full bodied red for us. She chose a Dolcetto di Dogliani, 2004, which was delightful. My first perception of this wine was of grape juice, but as it lingered on my tongue, the flavor morphed into a melange of dry and fruity sensations that were most pleasant. Cittanuova's menu describes it as "wild fruit, with a note of spice and minerality - long finish", which I think was "right on the money".

Cittanuova serves their wine in cylindrical glasses, which resemble juice cups. No Reidel at this restaurant. But this was OK, because that's the way that people drink wine in Italian trattorias. Most of the time, Italians drink table wine, which is usually served in carafes. They only bring out the bottled wine (and traditional wine crystal) at high end restaurants. I was therefore able to enjoy my wine because I understood that its presentation reflected an authentic Italian custom.

For my main course I chose the Filetti di Passera, which was described as "pan fried local fluke, brown butter, caper berries, lemon and parsley". The fish was cooked to perfection, and the outer shell of carmelized ingredients provided an excellent culinary counterpoint to the fluke's natural flavor.

I skipped dessert, because I am now at the last notch on my belt, and I don't want to cross that threshold into the next larger pants size. However, I did have a decaf cappuccino, which was most satifying, and which provided a perfect punctuation to the meal.

Both The 1770 House and cittanuova have excellent websites that appear to have been designed by the same company. They both have a polished appearance, with some wonderful photographs, which make these restaurants look very appealing.

Monkey Prose Rating: I give Cittanuova 4 bananas. If you like informal trattoria style restaurants (and good food), then you will definitely enjoy Cittanuova. I hope that Zulfia sticks around to provide her excellent service to this summer's diners. I definitely plan to be one of them!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Monkey Bob has an Exceptional Meal in East Hampton!

One of my favorite quotes is from The Buddha:

"Your body is precious. It is our vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care."

Tonight I had a chanced to treat my body with TLC when I had dinner, with family, at The 1770 House in East Hampton, NY. To say that dinner was exceptional would be an understatement.

My criteria for a fine restaurant are:

  • Interesting and unique recipes
  • An intriguing (but not intimidating) wine list
  • Knowledgable and supportive staff

The 1770 House far surpassed my criteria. Andre, who served our meal, was there when we needed him and wasn't when we didn't - an important tip to "would be" waiters and waitresses who think that "hovering" is a virtue. Message from The Mother Ship - it isn't.

Andre expressed a passion for the food that was impossible not to share. The presentation was flawless, and his devotion to our dining experience made the food taste even better. He brought out each dish as if it were made of precious metal.

We "lucked out" by dining at one East Hampton's most popular restaurants in the off season. In July, there could be a long wait for a reservation. But in April, we were able to get an early seating with few other diners to distract us. In addition, The 1770 House is currently offering a Prix Fixe (3 course) Menu - for $30.00 per person, which is an exceptional bargain.

For an appetizer, I had a salad consisting of Mache, endive and Maytag blue cheese, accompanied by Cavaillon melon, bacon, candied walnuts, and sherry vinaigrette. The flavors accented each other perfectly, without any one ingredient overpowering the others.

A delicious olive bread was also served, along with a well seasoned extra virgin olive oil. This provided a nice accent to the appetizers.

My choice for a main course was roasted organic miso glazed salmon, with Soba noodles, cucumber, radishes, red onions, and "Tosa-Zu". The combination of the perfectly cooked salmon with the crisp outer shell of accent elements created a hard/soft taste experience that was new and captivating.

Capable assistance was also offered with the impressive wine list, which included some Premier Cru labels. While First Growth Bordeaux is still "just a little" out of Monkey Bob's financial reach, the wines that we did have were full bodied, with a complex blend of flavors, and nice finishes. Trudi, my wife, had the 2003 Powers Cabernet Savignon (Washington State) while I sampled the 2005 Pillar Box Red Henry's Drive Shiraz/Cab from Australia. These were new wines for both of us, and neither one of us was disappointed.

One mark of a fine restaurant is their choice of glassware. There was no commercial stemware on our table. Our wine was served in Riedel crystal, which impressed me, and added an extra level of enjoyment to our beverages.

For dessert, I selected an apple crisp with caramel ice cream, which was delicious. But I must confess that I couldn't eat much of it because I was so full from the first two courses.

If you live near (or on) Long Island, and you want an unsurpassed dining experience, then I highly recommend The 1770 House. Now would be an good time to go, to take advantage of the excellent Prix Fixe deal!

Monkey Prose Rating: I give The 1770 House 5 bananas (my highest rating). The food, service, and wine were all first class.

NOTE: Neither Monkey Bob, nor any of my primate friends, were compensated by The 1770 House for this review. I just really liked the food and the dining experience!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Monkey Movie Review - "The Last Mimzy"

"The Last Mimzy" is the story of a young brother and sister who discover a box of toys that turns out to be a communication device from the future. This gives them extraordinary powers. The story then develops around how their new abilities affect their parents, their teachers, and the US Government.

The movie presents excellent performances by newcomers Chris O'Neil as Noah Wilder (the brother) and Rhiannon Leigh Wynn as Emma Wilder (the sister). This is the first movie for Chris and the second for Rhiannon. She also played Betty Ross (as a child) in the 2003 flick - Hulk.

My granddaughter's name is also Rhiannon, so that automatically put this young actress near the top of my Christmas Card list.

Powerful roles are presented by Timothy Hutton as David Wilder (the father) and Joely Richardson as Jo Wilder (the mother). They convincingly portray parents who become increasingly confused, fearful, and concerned as these peculiar playthings transform their little boy and girl into wunderkinder. Michael Clarke Duncan also makes a strong contribution to the story as Nathanial Broadman, the Dept. of Homeland Security officer who is assigned to determine if the electrical blackout (caused by the children) is an act of terrorism. You may remember him as the condemned prisoner John Coffey in "The Green Mile".

The special effects are impressive, and accent the story without overwhelming the plot. I particularly like the triangle matrix scenes, which are hypnotic.

"The Last Mimzy" is based on a 1943 short story "Mimzy Were the Borogroves" by Lewis Padgett. Lewis Padgett was the joint pseudonym for science fiction authors (and spouses) Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore. "MWTB" is a well known story among SF devotees.

Robert Shaye directed this film - with a concentration on closeups of Noah's and Emma's faces as they are transformed by their discovery. The "time travel" toys are designed so that they can only be used by young children. Noah's and Emma's innocence and lack of a hardened world view allow them to more easily accept the extraordinary properties of these devices. The director creates a family dynamic which pits the "down to earth" viewpoint of the parents against the magical perceptions of the children. This results in a dramatic tension, which makes the story more compelling.

Shaye has a strong background in sci fi movies. He was a producer for a number of "Lord of the Rings" movies, as well as "Frequency" (2000), and a few "Nightmare on Elm Street" flicks.

Primate Perspective: I think that this movie will appeal to Capuchin monkeys. They only come down to the ground to drink, so ethereal stories appeal to them. They also have a long maturation period (4 to 8 years, depending on the sex) so stories that involve children are perennial favorites.

I give this movie 3 bananas. Chris O'Neill's and Rhiannon Leigh Wynn's vigorous performances are interesting and believable. Also, Robert Shaye's focused directing and the excellent special effects combine with the childrens' portrayals to make "The Last Mimzy" an exciting and enjoyable viewing experience.