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04/18/2002

Nitric Oxide, Hat Birds and Scriabin

If my count is correct, this column is a milestone in that it is my
150th column. In the past 149 columns, we''ve considered some
strange things ranging from black holes to the role nitric oxide,
NO, plays in Viagra''s use to help improve a man''s sexual
performance. In my first column, which dealt with the latter
subject, I said that there would be more about NO in future
columns, it being such an important compound in the body. In
the February Reader''s Digest, there''s a condensation of an article
in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Jon Tevlin illustrating that
the potential of NO is still being explored. Jon''s wife, Ellen, was
admitted to the hospital to mend a broken ankle by implanting a
metal rod. This is a situation I can relate to, having a metal rod
implanted near my own ankle after breaking my leg on the golf
course - but you already know that story.

However, while in the hospital, Ellen developed a horrible
complication known as ARDS, acute respiratory distress
syndrome. In ARDS, blood vessels leak fluid into the lungs and
multiple organ failure may result. About 40 percent of the
patients die. To make a long story short, Ellen lapsed into a
coma and her vital signs deteriorated so badly that, unless
something was done quickly, she was about to become one of
those 40 percent. Fortunately, the attending doctor had heard of
another case like Ellen''s in which a last ditch dose of nitric oxide
was administered which rescued that patient. In Ellen''s case, NO
and very dedicated nursing care did the trick. A week after
receiving NO she opened her eyes. It was nearly a month after
lapsing into the coma that she spoke her first words and in
another month she came home. I''m pretty sure that NO will
come up again in a future column.

For over a year, Ellen and Jon thought about how to thank David,
the nurse who had played a key role in pulling her through.
Ellen being a dedicated photographer, they finally decided on a
photograph taken on a trip that would illustrate her recovery.
Strangely, in a tragic footnote, they took the framed picture to the
hospital only to learn that David had committed suicide the week
before, just a year after he had taken Ellen off the ventilator.

Musical composers sometimes exhibit strange behaviors in their
compositions. Indeed, many members of my generation question
whether much of today''s popular hits even qualify as "music".
This is not to say that the classical music field doesn''t have its
share of weird composers. Last week, we went to the last of this
season''s Friday afternoon concerts of the New York
Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. The conductor was Riccardo
Muti, one of the world''s outstanding wielders of the baton and a
foremost interpreter of the music of the Russian composer
Alexander Nikolaevich Scriabin. But first there was a
performance of Schubert''s Sixth Symphony, a pleasant work to
which I could tap my toes.

After intermission, it was on to Scriabin''s First Symphony,
composed a bit over a hundred years ago. Scriabin was
somewhat of a free spirit, according to the program notes. This
was apparent when behind the orchestra were seated, by my
estimate, some 80 or more members of the New York Choral
Artists group under the direction of Joseph Flummerfelt. The
men of the chorale were arrayed in tuxedos and the women in
black gowns. Two soloists, Larissa Diadkova and Sergei Larin
joined them. We were obviously in for a major vocal effort.

It was clear from the start that Scriaban was not a slave to custom
in writing this first symphony. Instead of the conventional four
movements, he opted for six. Those of you familiar with
Scriabin''s First will know what happened. The orchestra
performed the first, second, third, fourth and even the fifth
movements and the assembled vocalists had not uttered a peep -
not a sound! You could see those uncultured members of the
audience like myself look at each other during the pauses
between movements with questioning looks on their faces. Had
these 80 or so formally attired individuals stumbled into the
wrong concert hall by mistake? Or were they there to attend
some formal reception afterwards?

Finally came movement number six and the two soloists stood up
and, in Russian, individually and together, sang for perhaps a
total of 4 or 5 minutes and sat down. The orchestra was
obviously building toward a rousing conclusion when, suddenly,
in perfect unison, the choral group stood up and burst into song!
But they only had one line to sing - the Russian equivalent of
"Glory to art, forever glory." Admittedly, they repeated this
same line in various tonal forms, joining with the orchestra in the
expected rousing and really quite impressive finish to the
symphony. However, I estimate that the chorus sang a total of
maybe three minutes or so. I couldn''t help wondering how much
the members of the choral group were paid for those few
minutes. Scale, I would imagine.

Last week, I also found it strange that Brian Trumbore had
dropped off the 20th anniversary issue of the Smithsonian
magazine dated April 1990 with a note suggesting I''d find ideas
for a couple of columns. The issue''s theme was the environment.
It was interesting to look through the magazine and see what
issues were discussed over a decade ago and compare the
situation then and now to check the progress being made. Since
the theme of this 150th column seems to have become strange
things or behavior, I did find an example of an unusual type of
behavior. This was in connection with the effort to return
endangered species to the wild, in particular, raptors such as the
peregrine falcon.

An article by Don Moser described activities at the World Center
for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. Moser characterized the
peregrine falcon as "the art of bird design carried to perfection."
Flying at speeds up to 80 miles an hour and diving at 200 mph,
the peregrine is one impressive bird. It''s eyesight is reportedly
eight times keener than ours and those eyes can focus like a
zoom lens when the falcon is closing in on its prey. Thanks to
DDT and other chemicals, the peregrine became extinct in the
Eastern U.S. and its population in the West had fallen by 90
percent. The Center, in combination with other institutions
through an initiative known as the Peregrine Fund, had released
some 3,000 captive-bred chicks into the wild and had established
300 nesting pairs in the wild. The goal was by 1995 to have
incubated populations of peregrines in all the regions of the
country where the falcons used to live.

To achieve this objective, the Center became a falcon factory,
raising peregrines and then releasing them into the appropriate
regions of the country. The article describes the effort in detail
and it''s not simple. For example, the eggs have to be tended and
watched very carefully to ensure that a chick hatches. In
particular, the egg must lose a certain amount of its weight by
evaporation, 17 percent over a period of 31 days to allow the
embryo room to grow into a chick. To achieve a uniform rate of
weight loss requires weighing the eggs every three days and
adjusting the humidity in the incubator to either speed up or slow
down evaporation. When the chick is ready to emerge, it first
pecks a hole in the shell in order to breathe. Then, exhausted by
the effort, it rests for a couple days and finally starts to peck out a
circle in the eggshell to make its way out. There, its first meal is
typically a mush, sort of a quailburger made from a species of
Japanese quail raised at the center.

Most of the time, the male and female peregrines mate in the
Center''s breeding chambers but some falcons aren''t all that
receptive and artificial insemination is required. Here''s where
the strange behavior comes into play. To obtain the semen for
the insemination, a young male is given special treatment. The
bird is reared and hand fed by its handler for a period of a month
or more. After getting this special attention, the bird considers
the handler to be just another falcon. Or maybe the bird
considers itself to be a human. Imprinted in this fashion, the
peregrine considers another falcon to be some kind of unfamiliar
extraterrestrial being. When the peregrine is mature at two or
three years of age, the handler and the imprinted male engage in
a weird ritual.

In the wild, the courtship ritual involves the offering of food by
one partner and the handing it back by the other and then
exchanging it again. This courtship ritual is mimicked by the
handler, who hands the falcon a piece of quail breast. The falcon
takes a feather and gives the quail back to the handler, who then
returns it to the peregrine. The peregrine, strangely enough, gets
turned on by this food exchange bit and bows its head and
cheeps. The dutiful handler bows and cheeps in return and the
two keep bowing and cheeping until the falcon is really wound
up. The handler then doffs a specially designed hat with a rubber
dam on the top to catch the semen. The handler turns his back to
the bird, again mimicking the position of a peregrine female
ready for action. The peregrine flies onto the hat and
consummates this passionate lovemaking with the hat! This is
why the imprinted peregrines are known as "hat birds" at the
Center.

A search of the Web reveals that the Peregrine Fund is still active
and that there are a number of other birds of prey centers
involved in the effort to reestablish falcons, eagles and other
raptors back into their native habitats. Could it be that the eagle I
saw on my last walk on Marco Island was one of those whose
existence is due to such laudable efforts? And could it be that
the handler himself becomes imprinted after many times spent
engaging in those weird sexual acts? Might not he begin to think
of himself as a peregrine? Or have I become warped myself after
150 columns? Quite possibly!

Happy birthday to our editor, Brian Trumbore.

Allen F. Bortrum



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-04/18/2002-      
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Dr. Bortrum

04/18/2002

Nitric Oxide, Hat Birds and Scriabin

If my count is correct, this column is a milestone in that it is my
150th column. In the past 149 columns, we''ve considered some
strange things ranging from black holes to the role nitric oxide,
NO, plays in Viagra''s use to help improve a man''s sexual
performance. In my first column, which dealt with the latter
subject, I said that there would be more about NO in future
columns, it being such an important compound in the body. In
the February Reader''s Digest, there''s a condensation of an article
in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Jon Tevlin illustrating that
the potential of NO is still being explored. Jon''s wife, Ellen, was
admitted to the hospital to mend a broken ankle by implanting a
metal rod. This is a situation I can relate to, having a metal rod
implanted near my own ankle after breaking my leg on the golf
course - but you already know that story.

However, while in the hospital, Ellen developed a horrible
complication known as ARDS, acute respiratory distress
syndrome. In ARDS, blood vessels leak fluid into the lungs and
multiple organ failure may result. About 40 percent of the
patients die. To make a long story short, Ellen lapsed into a
coma and her vital signs deteriorated so badly that, unless
something was done quickly, she was about to become one of
those 40 percent. Fortunately, the attending doctor had heard of
another case like Ellen''s in which a last ditch dose of nitric oxide
was administered which rescued that patient. In Ellen''s case, NO
and very dedicated nursing care did the trick. A week after
receiving NO she opened her eyes. It was nearly a month after
lapsing into the coma that she spoke her first words and in
another month she came home. I''m pretty sure that NO will
come up again in a future column.

For over a year, Ellen and Jon thought about how to thank David,
the nurse who had played a key role in pulling her through.
Ellen being a dedicated photographer, they finally decided on a
photograph taken on a trip that would illustrate her recovery.
Strangely, in a tragic footnote, they took the framed picture to the
hospital only to learn that David had committed suicide the week
before, just a year after he had taken Ellen off the ventilator.

Musical composers sometimes exhibit strange behaviors in their
compositions. Indeed, many members of my generation question
whether much of today''s popular hits even qualify as "music".
This is not to say that the classical music field doesn''t have its
share of weird composers. Last week, we went to the last of this
season''s Friday afternoon concerts of the New York
Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. The conductor was Riccardo
Muti, one of the world''s outstanding wielders of the baton and a
foremost interpreter of the music of the Russian composer
Alexander Nikolaevich Scriabin. But first there was a
performance of Schubert''s Sixth Symphony, a pleasant work to
which I could tap my toes.

After intermission, it was on to Scriabin''s First Symphony,
composed a bit over a hundred years ago. Scriabin was
somewhat of a free spirit, according to the program notes. This
was apparent when behind the orchestra were seated, by my
estimate, some 80 or more members of the New York Choral
Artists group under the direction of Joseph Flummerfelt. The
men of the chorale were arrayed in tuxedos and the women in
black gowns. Two soloists, Larissa Diadkova and Sergei Larin
joined them. We were obviously in for a major vocal effort.

It was clear from the start that Scriaban was not a slave to custom
in writing this first symphony. Instead of the conventional four
movements, he opted for six. Those of you familiar with
Scriabin''s First will know what happened. The orchestra
performed the first, second, third, fourth and even the fifth
movements and the assembled vocalists had not uttered a peep -
not a sound! You could see those uncultured members of the
audience like myself look at each other during the pauses
between movements with questioning looks on their faces. Had
these 80 or so formally attired individuals stumbled into the
wrong concert hall by mistake? Or were they there to attend
some formal reception afterwards?

Finally came movement number six and the two soloists stood up
and, in Russian, individually and together, sang for perhaps a
total of 4 or 5 minutes and sat down. The orchestra was
obviously building toward a rousing conclusion when, suddenly,
in perfect unison, the choral group stood up and burst into song!
But they only had one line to sing - the Russian equivalent of
"Glory to art, forever glory." Admittedly, they repeated this
same line in various tonal forms, joining with the orchestra in the
expected rousing and really quite impressive finish to the
symphony. However, I estimate that the chorus sang a total of
maybe three minutes or so. I couldn''t help wondering how much
the members of the choral group were paid for those few
minutes. Scale, I would imagine.

Last week, I also found it strange that Brian Trumbore had
dropped off the 20th anniversary issue of the Smithsonian
magazine dated April 1990 with a note suggesting I''d find ideas
for a couple of columns. The issue''s theme was the environment.
It was interesting to look through the magazine and see what
issues were discussed over a decade ago and compare the
situation then and now to check the progress being made. Since
the theme of this 150th column seems to have become strange
things or behavior, I did find an example of an unusual type of
behavior. This was in connection with the effort to return
endangered species to the wild, in particular, raptors such as the
peregrine falcon.

An article by Don Moser described activities at the World Center
for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. Moser characterized the
peregrine falcon as "the art of bird design carried to perfection."
Flying at speeds up to 80 miles an hour and diving at 200 mph,
the peregrine is one impressive bird. It''s eyesight is reportedly
eight times keener than ours and those eyes can focus like a
zoom lens when the falcon is closing in on its prey. Thanks to
DDT and other chemicals, the peregrine became extinct in the
Eastern U.S. and its population in the West had fallen by 90
percent. The Center, in combination with other institutions
through an initiative known as the Peregrine Fund, had released
some 3,000 captive-bred chicks into the wild and had established
300 nesting pairs in the wild. The goal was by 1995 to have
incubated populations of peregrines in all the regions of the
country where the falcons used to live.

To achieve this objective, the Center became a falcon factory,
raising peregrines and then releasing them into the appropriate
regions of the country. The article describes the effort in detail
and it''s not simple. For example, the eggs have to be tended and
watched very carefully to ensure that a chick hatches. In
particular, the egg must lose a certain amount of its weight by
evaporation, 17 percent over a period of 31 days to allow the
embryo room to grow into a chick. To achieve a uniform rate of
weight loss requires weighing the eggs every three days and
adjusting the humidity in the incubator to either speed up or slow
down evaporation. When the chick is ready to emerge, it first
pecks a hole in the shell in order to breathe. Then, exhausted by
the effort, it rests for a couple days and finally starts to peck out a
circle in the eggshell to make its way out. There, its first meal is
typically a mush, sort of a quailburger made from a species of
Japanese quail raised at the center.

Most of the time, the male and female peregrines mate in the
Center''s breeding chambers but some falcons aren''t all that
receptive and artificial insemination is required. Here''s where
the strange behavior comes into play. To obtain the semen for
the insemination, a young male is given special treatment. The
bird is reared and hand fed by its handler for a period of a month
or more. After getting this special attention, the bird considers
the handler to be just another falcon. Or maybe the bird
considers itself to be a human. Imprinted in this fashion, the
peregrine considers another falcon to be some kind of unfamiliar
extraterrestrial being. When the peregrine is mature at two or
three years of age, the handler and the imprinted male engage in
a weird ritual.

In the wild, the courtship ritual involves the offering of food by
one partner and the handing it back by the other and then
exchanging it again. This courtship ritual is mimicked by the
handler, who hands the falcon a piece of quail breast. The falcon
takes a feather and gives the quail back to the handler, who then
returns it to the peregrine. The peregrine, strangely enough, gets
turned on by this food exchange bit and bows its head and
cheeps. The dutiful handler bows and cheeps in return and the
two keep bowing and cheeping until the falcon is really wound
up. The handler then doffs a specially designed hat with a rubber
dam on the top to catch the semen. The handler turns his back to
the bird, again mimicking the position of a peregrine female
ready for action. The peregrine flies onto the hat and
consummates this passionate lovemaking with the hat! This is
why the imprinted peregrines are known as "hat birds" at the
Center.

A search of the Web reveals that the Peregrine Fund is still active
and that there are a number of other birds of prey centers
involved in the effort to reestablish falcons, eagles and other
raptors back into their native habitats. Could it be that the eagle I
saw on my last walk on Marco Island was one of those whose
existence is due to such laudable efforts? And could it be that
the handler himself becomes imprinted after many times spent
engaging in those weird sexual acts? Might not he begin to think
of himself as a peregrine? Or have I become warped myself after
150 columns? Quite possibly!

Happy birthday to our editor, Brian Trumbore.

Allen F. Bortrum