Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Month of the Dead: Obit for a Parrot

November is the month of the dead, and for the season I want to share this obituary for a parrot, from the Economist.

(I subscribed to the magazine after I found myself paying $5 for a single copy. I bought that issue off the newsstand because Alan Greenspan, who was retiring from the Federal Reserve, was on the cover was--an action I still can't quite reconcile with my self-image.)
(This is a picture of Alex the parrot not Alan the economist.)

I was about to let my subscription expire when this obit appreared. I immediately renewed my subscription because any magazine that writes an homage to a parrot, I want to be on their maling list.

I post this in honor of my beloved dead, especially my mother, whose 73rd birthday it would be today. 
Not long before she died she told me with great delight that Winston Churchill used to write important state papers sitting in bed with a budgie (parakeet) on his head. You might think an ability to find delight in such things would protect you against suicide, but it is not so. 

Anyway, this article would have given her glee, as it does me.
From  Alex the African Grey [click for full article], Sep 20th 2007, The Economist

Science's best known parrot died on September 6th, aged 31

THE last time Irene Pepperberg saw Alex she said goodnight as usual. “You be good,” said Alex. “I love you.” “I love you, too.” “You'll be in tomorrow?” “Yes, I'll be in tomorrow.” But Alex (his name supposedly an acronym of Avian Learning Experiment) died in his cage that night, bringing to an end a life spent learning complex tasks that, it had been originally thought, only primates could master.
There are still a few researchers who think Alex's skills were the result of rote learning rather than abstract thought. Alex, though, convinced most in the field that birds as well as mammals can evolve complex and sophisticated cognition, and communicate the results to others. A shame, then, that he is now, in the words of Monty Python, an ex-parrot.

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