Ron Costello

Not too far right and not too far left — Can we meet somewhere in the middle on: Immigration?

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Paul the Octopus Could Predict the Future

If Paul can do it, why not Jamil Jamil?

Here's Paul selecting a World Cup winner.

Here’s Paul selecting a World Cup winner.

The eight-legged sea creature captured the world’s imagination when — by selecting food from boxes representing soccer teams — Paul correctly predicted not just the outcome of his native Germany’s matches but also the overall winner.

Here’s how Paul the octopus did it. For each match, he was presented with two boxes containing food, each marked with the flag of a nation football team in an upcoming match. He correctly picked 11 out of 13 matches. In the World Cup final, he predicted a win for Spain against the Netherlands by eating the mussel in the box with the Spanish flag.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) says that octopuses are some of the most intelligent of invertebrates, with complex thought processes, long, and short-term memories, and different personalities. They can use tools, learn through observation, and are particularly sensitive to pain. Paul died in October 2010, at age two and a half, a normal lifespan for the species.

The book Charter School General, based on real-life thought exchanges between a 13 year old African American kid growing up in South Philadelphia and zoo animals, was written on the assumption that animals have a special gift of perception. The book can be ordered in soft back or in Kindle or Nook.


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The Good, The Bad, and The Ulgy

“Play ball…”

If you are not a baseball fan like I am you might not be aware of the run-a-way salaries teams are shelling out for somewhat good to marginal players.

Big money spread out over many years — in Robinson Cano’s case, a decade. With big TV deals kicking in, Forbes predicts major league baseball revenue will exceed $9 billion in 2014.

Here are some of those fat contracts:

  • Shin-Soo Choo agreed to a seven year, $130 million contract with the Texas Rangers.
  • Robinson Cano signed by Seattle for 10 years, $240 million
  • Jacoby Ellslbury inked a seven year, $153 million deal with the Yankees
  • Brian McCann signed by the Yankees for five years, $85 million
  • Curtis Granderson the Mets, four years, $60 million

A new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund — on the well-being of children in 35 developed nations — turned up some alarming statistics about child poverty. More than one in five American children fall below a relative poverty line, which UNICEF defines as living in a household that earns less than half of the national median. The United States ranks 34th of the 35 countries surveyed, above only Romania and below virtually all of Europe plus Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.


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Sixty-five Has Its Advantages and Disavantages

Sixty-five may have its benefits.

I now ride SEPTA free, subways and buses, that is. I’ll get my money’s worth on that deal because I’m on the Philly subways a lot, 2-3 times a day. Just show my little card and, whamo, I’m on.

But age can work against you, too, like back in May when I ran Broad Street with my son, Matt. And what a great run it was: through the heart of the city and neighborhoods to the Naval Yard. Finished fine, but not at the same time my son did. He’s 31.

Next day, however, I couldn’t walk. The pain and stiffness in my left hip was about all I could bear. Loaded up on Motrin and toughed it out. By August when it wasn’t much better, I went to a doctor. He took x-rays and said I have hip arthritis and need a hip replacement.

I laughed. I need a what? Get out of here.

Couple of weeks later I went to another doctor; a hip surgeon who does hip replacements. I figured if I was getting a second opinion, I’d go to a doctor that worked in the trenches of what I had. His diagnosis: Not hip arthritis but tendonitis and bursitis. Gave me some anti-inflammatory medicine and told me to work on loosing up the hip with stretching and exercises.

I’m up to 25 minutes on the treadmill a day and feeling good. Stretching and exercising, just like the doc said.

So how can one doctor say this, and another doctor say that?

To be honest, the hip surgeon said I do have some cartilage loss in my left hip, but nothing near hip arthritis. He said I‘m done running on the street, which I’ve been doing for 30 years. He told me to swim, use a stationary bike, do exercises that won’t put more wear and tear on my left hip.

Or, he said, “In 10 years you may really need my services, if you get my drift.”

I want to get back to the street. The treadmill is okay, it’s bringing me back from the tendinitis and bursitis, but it’s not outside running. So here’s my plan: I’m getting an MRI on the hip soon to see what my chances are of getting back outside. It will give me a better idea of how much cartilage loss I have.

If someone has a better idea I’d like to hear it.


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Have You Heard the One About…

Have you heard the one about the city getting people to work by giving them beer?

Yea, they sign up alcoholics…Badump – pa – tish!

Only, it’s no joke.

Apparently Amsterdam has a lot of alcoholics. So the city formed a work crew made up of alcoholics and they bring them to work each day cleaning city streets. But isn’t’ this demeaning?

Not if you are an Amsterdam alcoholic. Here’s how it works. They report to work at 5:30 a.m., and promptly get two cans of beer. Two more cans at lunch, and two more at the end of the work day. Overall, six cans of beer. They also get a sandwich, a half packet of rolling tobacco, and 10 euros a day, or about $13.55.

Turns out the alcoholics can’t wait to get signed up for the program. City officials claim you can’t just say “stop drinking” to the alcoholics, but by making them productive and controlling their alcohol content, is a much better way to go. Besides, Amsterdam’s city streets are now cleaner than hospital toilets.

I wonder if this would work with methadone clinics in the United States? In Philadelphia, getting a meth clinic in your neighborhood is worse than a $200 parking ticket. It’s the kiss of death. Sections of the city organize and fight to prevent getting one.

But if the methadone recipients had to clean the streets in order to get their fix?

I don’t know, seems barbaric, don’t you think?


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Hey you, no you, come over here…

A recent article in the Science Times section of the New York Times pointed out (no pun attended) that pointing is common to human beings. Babies learn to do it before their first birthday. Want the toy rattle? Point to it. Want the baby biscuit? Point to it. Real smart babies learn it before six months.

It’s most likely when I learned it.

When scientists test other species, however, they find that pointing is rare in the animal kingdom. Even our cousins the chimpanzees don’t really get the knack of pointing — you point at something and a chimpanzee scratches his head and looks up at the sky.

Most animals are like that — that is, except for elephants.

Since the star of Charter School General is an elephant named Bette, this article quickly caught my attention. Seems that elephants have a deep social intelligence that rivals humans’ in some ways. So scientists came up with a research experiment to test to see if animals understand pointing.

Here’s how it works. Scientists put food in one of two identical containers. Then silently point to the container with the food. They wait to see which container the animal approaches. Scientists sit around and think up things like this. You can try it with your pet.

Then the scientists went to Zimbabwe (I’ve got to get me one of those jobs) and tried the pointing experiment with elephants. They went to the Wild Horizons park where elephants are used to take tourists on safaris and there they tested out the pointing experiment with elephants.

Turns out, when the scientists pointed to a bucket of fruit, the elephants went to that bucket first, at about a 67.5 percent success rate. One year old human babies have about a 72.7 percent success rate. The elephants definitely passed the pointing test. Now scientists are wondering if elephants can point to each other.

We’ll have to wait until those results come in, but you don’t have to wait to read Charter School General.



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Along Comes Molly Cat

Just when you think you have things figured out, along comes a water-loving cat. We can’t keep Molly out of our sinks. My guess is her ancestors were born on a  river bank beneath a drainage pipe. Could have gone back several cat generations. Molly is a PAWS alumna but the PAWS people didn’t know anything about a drainage pipe.

What’s your best guess?