Friday, August 7, 2009

First there was the plant thief; today it was the Recyclables burglars

No burglars sign A couple of days ago I woke up to find two of our potted plants missing--apparently someone stole them in the night. This Friday morning turned out to be more of the same. I saw two young ladies in their house clothes drive around in their black Nissan Armada picking through the recyclables crates and garbage bins the neighbors put out. It looked like they were taking empty water bottles and the like. I never thought I'd see the day. (I believe technically the latter isn’t stealing in many states: once you put your trash out for collection it becomes public property; but still…)

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Aunt Britannia: the nanny-fication of the British state proceeds apace

Close up of sign with prohibition symbols captioned "THE NANNY STATE Total bliss is just one more regulation away."In a move further cementing Britain's reputation as a nanny state and surely causing Eric Arthur Blair to perform feats of gymnastic virtuosity in his Oxfordshire grave, England’s left-wing government is planning to expand its “Youth Crime Action Plan” to encompass 20,000 problem families at a potential cost of £400 million over the next two years. 2,000 families have already undergone this program, where CCTVs are installed in subject homes in order to monitor children 24 hours a day in a bid “to ensure that children attend school, go to bed on time and eat proper meals.”

Also called “Sin Bins,” these monitoring projects also entail sending private security guards to check on the families to ensure the program is being followed. Referring to the program the Children’s Secretary, Ed Balls, said: “This is pretty tough and non-negotiable support for families to get to the root of the problem. There should be Family Intervention Projects in every local authority area because every area has families that need support.”

[Daily Express via Gadget Lab]

Little, Alison. “Sin bins for worst families.” Daily Express on the Web. Jul. 23, 2009 Aug. 3, 2009 <>

Sorrel, Charlie. “Britain To Put CCTV Cameras Inside Private Homes.” Gadget Lab on Aug. 3 2009 <>

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Cat’s Meow: training people to do their bidding

funny-pictures-cat-loves-youCats have been among man's favorite companions for thousands of years. Originally though to have been domesticated by ancient Egyptians, who loved felines so much that they included a cat in the form of  Bastet in their Pantheon of deities, new DNA evidence points to an even earlier time: 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent.

Compared to man’s other best animal friend, the Dog, cats are famously aloof  and contribute little to human survival. It’s been proposed that ancestors of the modern house cat were domesticated for their mouse-hunting prowess buy ancient farming societies, but the same research that estimated an earlier era of domestication suggests that cats domesticated themselves.

The house mouse having made itself at home in human settlements in the Fertile Crescent certainly attracted wild cats who preyed on them. However these cats were also drawn to the accumulated detritus of human settlements as a source of food. In such close proximity to humans, cats who were able to tolerate people were most likely to access the new food sources and reproduce.

Modern cats continue to adapt to the human condition, so much so that they have mastered cues that effectively manipulate people into meeting their needs. A study found that a particular cat vocalization mixing a purr with a high-pitched cry was recognized by humans as more urgent and less pleasant, even by those who never had cats. By learning to use this purr-cry to signal their hunger, cats train their owners to provide food.

Driscoll, Carlos A. et al.  “The Evolution of House Cats.” Scientific American on the web. Scientific American Inc. Jun. 2009 Aug. 1, 2009. <>

Live Science Staff. “Cats Do Control Humans, Study Finds.” Live Science on the web. Jul. 13, 2009 Aug. 1, 2009. <>

Thornton, Kim Campbell. “Putty in their paws: Why we do what cats want.” Jul. 31, 2009 Aug 1, 2009. <>

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