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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Sullivan’

I was not surprised to note in the Beatrix Potter biography I’m reading that although Potter worked hard to get rid of rat infestations in her Hill Top Farm house, she had a soft spot for rats. An artist who could draw all sorts of bugs and wildlife with meticulous care, she kept a pet rat as part of her menagerie and even wrote an indulgent story about Samuel Whiskers.

Rats turn out to be good for other things, too: for example, saving people from land mines.

Michael Sullivan writes at National Public Radio (NPR), “It’s 5:45 in the morning, and in a training field outside Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s demining rats are already hard at work. Their noses are close to the wet grass, darting from side to side, as they try to detect explosives buried just beneath the ground.

“Each rat is responsible for clearing a 200-square-meter (239-square-yard) patch of land. Their Cambodian supervisor, Hulsok Heng, says they’re good at it.

“T ‘hey are very good,’ he says. ‘You see this 200 square meters? They clear in only 30 minutes or 35 minutes. If you compare that to a deminer, maybe two days or three days. The deminer will pick up all the fragmentation, the metal in the ground, but the rat picks up only the smell of TNT.’ …

“These are not kitchen rats, but African giant pouched rats, also known as Gambian pouched rats, about 2 feet long from head to tail. Their eyesight is terrible. But their sense of smell is extraordinary. The rats can detect the presence of TNT in amounts starting at 29 grams (about 1 ounce).

“A Belgian nonprofit called Apopo began harnessing the rodents’ olfactory prowess 15 years ago. (The group also trains rats to detect tuberculosis). The organization set up a breeding program and training center in Tanzania and began deploying rats to post-conflict countries, first to Mozambique and Angola. Apopo’s Cambodia program began in April, in partnership with the Cambodian Mine Action Center.

” ‘The idea was very strange,’ says operations coordinator Theap Bunthourn. ‘Cambodian people kill rats, don’t like rats. But they’re cost-efficient, they’re easy to transport, they’re easy to train, and they don’t set off the mines because they’re too light.’ ”

Gosh, they detect TB, too? Who knew?

Read more at NPR, here.

Photo: Michael Sullivan for NPR
Victoria, a 2-year-old rat, sniffs for TNT, sticking her nose high in the air to indicate she’s found some. She is able to detect the presence of TNT at a distance of approximately half a yard.

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In case you missed it, there’s a new movie about using elderly people’s favorite music to call them back from dementia or Alzheimer’s.

The website for Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory says the movie is an “exploration of music’s capacity to reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity. Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett chronicles the astonishing experiences of individuals around the country who have been revitalized through the simple experience of listening to music.”

The documentary follows “social worker Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, as he fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it. Rossato-Bennett visits family members who have witnessed the miraculous effects of personalized music on their loved ones, and offers illuminating interviews with experts including renowned neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks (Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) and musician Bobby McFerrin (‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’).”

At the Washington Post, Michael Sullivan writes, “The benefits of music to enliven and awaken the senses are not limited to those with dementia. ‘Alive Inside’ also focuses on a woman who suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and on a man with multiple sclerosis. The scenes in which they and others are shown listening to music that has personal meaning are absolutely joyous, but they also might move you to tears.

“As the movie makes clear, none of these conditions are reversible. Music isn’t a cure for anything. But it does seem to be a key to unlocking long-closed doors and establishing connections with people who have become, through age or infirmity, imprisoned inside themselves.” More.

Hmmm. It seems that in addition to making wills, we should all be writing lists of the music that we have enjoyed in our lives so that people know what to play. Should I go with “Swan Lake” and “The New World Symphony” or “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “Mary’s Boychild”? Or how about the Platters and Elvis and Nina Simone and Edif Piaf or musicals like Nine and Chess. Anything in a minor key.

I haven’t even scratched the surface.

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