Monday, July 30, 2007

Rent a Dog - Flexible Pet Ownership

Did you ever want a pet but as an apartment dweller you just never had the room? Does your work schedule mean lonely hours for a puppy and possibly finding his retribution all over your Persian rug?

Well FlexPets has the solution for you. This new company offers busy people the opportunity to have a pet without the hassle, the paper training or the flea dips. In other words, without commitment.

With FlexPets, people share dogs, with a maximum of two to three owners each and no one has to actually take the dog home. This is the most fitting service offered to the "me" generation yet. The only service they would like better is FlexKids, where you only visit them to romp and play and someone else changes the diapers and foots the bill for college tuition.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Real Pinky & The Brain

Scientists have succeeded in breeding mice with a gene for schizophrenia. Studying these mice, they believe, will lead them to a greater understanding of this mental illness and lead to better and more successful treatments.

Without missing a beat, animal rights groups condemned the creation of animals born mentally ill. But how mentally ill can a mouse be? How do they diagnose schizophrenia in a mouse and what signs do they look for to ascertain it has been cured?

Some symptoms of schizophrenia are auditory hallucinations, depression and even holding still in bizarre positions. What is a bizarre position for a mouse? Making obscene gestures at the cat? How is depression diagnosed in a mouse? He yawns and goes back to sleep when shown the exercise wheel?

Well, in previous testing of antidepressants on mice, they determined that the antidepressant drug was working when the mice fought longer against a hopeless situation, such as being hung upside down by their tails or given electric shocks that pressing a lever no longer stopped.

Admittedly, experimentation in mice has led to greater understanding of cancerous tumors and how to treat them as well as possible breakthroughs in common conditions such as obesity and diabetes, but a mouse is not an apt model for human mental illness. Depression involves emotions: sadness, hopelessness, guilt. Those symptoms involve the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is not highly developed in animals.

The problem is, of course, you can't ask a mouse how he is feeling, he can't describe the voices he's hearing, and you can't tell if he's depressed unless you try to kill him and he doesn't really put up much resistance.

Science, ain't it great?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lindsay Lohan a Victim of Gender

According to a study at the Oregon Health & Science Univeristy, there are more male alcoholics than female, but women may be more prone to brain damage from alcoholism than men.

Kristine Wiren, Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral neuroscience and medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, and research biologist, PVAMC Research Service, was said to be surprised by the results of the study conducted on mice.

"At this one time point, which is the peak for cell death, we clearly see females are showing enhanced brain damage compared to the males. So, if you're female, the cells are dying; if you're a male, the cells are not," Wiren said. "We don't know the behavioral consequences of that, though."

Well,Dr. Wiren, here's one of them:

Actress Lindsay Lohan was arrested last night for drunken driving for the second time in two months. She was taken into custody by Santa Monica police after a wild car chase in which she pursued a vehicle driven by the mother of a recently-terminated personal assistant. Tests done after her arrest showed that Lindsay had nearly twice the legal limit blood alcohol content. A small amount of cocaine was also found in her pocket.

Who says science can't explain everything?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Elephant Teaches Man New Trick

Rollo has never liked the circus. Rollo isn't thrilled by seeing trapeze artists tumble to their deaths before him, nor does he enjoy the hijinks of clowns who terrorize crowds, threatening to dowse them with buckets of water that turn out to be nothing but confetti. With circus crowds, this seems to work over and over and no one ever catches on. The bottom line is that you should never trust a man who wears that much makeup.

Then there's the smell of a circus - a strange mix of popcorn and animal dung. Now and again a lion or tiger attacks a trainer and at least once or twice a year there's a rogue elephant that breaks free, terrorizing the audience, stomping on a few cars or even stampeding the town with a hapless member of the audience on its back.

But when an elephant picked a man up with his trunk, threw him to the ground and stomped him to death in Thailand, Saturday, Rollo could't help but be on the side of the elephant. The man, 30 years old, had hit the resting elephant repeatedly with a stick. Never mind the kind of brain damage you have to suffer as a child to attack anything that weighs 12,000 lbs. Aside from anything else, it's just rude. Imagine you are relaxing by the pool, sipping a cool drink and having a nice rest when a mosquito starts buzzing around your head and trying to bite your arm. Without a moment's thought, you swat and kill it. That's all that happened here.

I guess it's a way of purging the gene pool, but as Rollo trawls through the news stories of these and other stupid human tricks, he thinks it may not be the most effective way.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Elderly Nudist Sparks Ban in Vermont

Brattleboro, Vermont has always had a kind of live-and-let-live atmosphere. That's why last summer when groups of teens started disrobing in the hot weather and going nude, town officials were unwilling to introduce an ordinance against nudity. In the end, not wanting to clutter the books with restrictive laws, they decided that as autumn was on the way, the colder weather would take care of the problem for them.

Publicity however, has exacerbated the problem and brought nudity enthusiasts from other parts of the country to experience the freedom of this accepting town. When a 68 year old man from Arizona strolled through town clad only in a fanny pack, they realized it was time for some intervention. Teen bodies hula-hooping was one thing, but apparently wrinkled old men was quite another.

So town officials held an emergency meeting and passed an ordinance against nudity in Brattleboro. But the true spirit of Vermont, the belief in the sanctity of individual expression, is only slightly diluted by this measure. After deliberation, the ordinance is only a temporary restriction in effect for 30 days and only bans nudity near churches, schools and the main part of town.

Next month, town officials will meet to discuss a broader ban but Rollo notes that next month is August and suspects the outcome will be much the same as last year. "Let's not be rash, Autumn is coming".

Monday, July 16, 2007

Does the IAAF have a leg to stand on?

He's been called "the fastest thing on no legs".

Oscar Pistorius is the double amputee sprinter who holds record times that are comparable to Olympic Gold Medal winning times in the 100, 200 and 400 meter races. Because his legs were both amputated below the knees when he was 11 months old, Oscar runs on carbon fiber prosthetic limbs. Oscar Pistorius is an athlete whose dream is to compete against able-bodied atheletes at the 2008 Olymmpics in Beijing.

But strangely enough, the biggest obstacle Oscar faces is not the loss of his legs, it is the perception by some that his prosthetic limbs give him an unfair advantage over athletes running on old-fashioned legs of flesh and bone.

The International Association of Athletics Federations had invited Pistorius to race against able-bodied athletes in Helsinki in 2005. He was unable to attend due to other commitments. But in June 2007, following Pistorius' setting world records in the Paralympics, the IAAF instituted a new ban on the use of "any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device". They deny that the ban was aimed at him.

Pistorius' claims his limbs do not provide unfair advantage. It requires more energy for him to get going at the start of a race and the devices do not get good traction on wet surfaces (he came in last at the British Grand Prix on a rainy day). Whatever advantage the lighter carbon fiber legs give Pistorius there are equal disadvantages, such as having a leg break during a race. There is no stumbling to the ground, just hitting the track at top racing speed.

Are the grumblings and mutterings of able-bodied athletes just the beginning of a new trend: Disability Envy? Will we begin to envy handicapped people because they get the best parking spaces, despite our ability to walk the extra difference and dismissing the extreme effort that handicapped people have to put into everyday activities? For every advantage there is an equally sobering and hampering disadvantage.

There is one way that other runners can be sure if Pistorius is running with an advantage or not - they can amputate both legs and train on prostheses. Maybe then they would find out that the true advantage that Pistorius holds is that he is an outstanding athlete.

Sports Illustrated

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Life's Lessons From The News

Aside from the tragic nature of these stories, there's a personal side to them that doesn't affect the majority of people who read them. To those that knew the victims, we extend our sincerest sympathy on their losses. For the rest of us, let's all take a moment to read and learn, so that we do not end up under the heading "Weird News".

A few important Life Lessons:

1. Don't try to have sex on the slick, sloped metal roof of a four story building. A young couple, both 21, slid off such a roof in Columbia, SC. A taxi driver found their naked bodies in the street and called police. They later died despite receiving emergency medical treatment.

2. Don't do gymnastics on a balcony. 20-year-old Jessica Hawkins was attempting a handstand from a balcony when she fell 15 feet headfirst. She was taken to the hospital by friends but later died of her injuries.

3. Don't become an animal trainer/expert/zookeeper. Don't open a refuge for exotic big cats. There are too many examples to list here, as tigers and lions attack human keepers several times annually in the United States. The latest is a zookeeper in Texas, mauled by a Sumatran tiger. Since none of these people mauled by large cats expect this to happen, maybe they should remove the word "expert" from their titles.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Parents Not Cheering School

The constitution guarantees every American citizen the right to the "pursuit of happiness". Now, when you pursue anything, you know you have to be in shape for the race. It's a rough world out there and being prepared for it is the only way to survive.

That's why what one set of parents in Texas are doing is setting such a bad example for their daughter. Wycoda Fischer wanted to be a cheerleader and so attended try-outs for one of six positions on the Junior Varsity cheerleading squad.

Seven girls tried out for the six positions and alas, it was Wycoda who didn't make the cut. The Fischers did what any red-blooded American parents would do: they hired a lawyer.

Wycoda's parents say she was "singled out", but what if 8 girls had tried out for six positions, or ten, or twenty-five? When you try out for something, you have to realize there is a chance you may not win. When Wycoda enters the real world, she will have to understand you don't get every job you apply for, you don't always win.

This story is an example of why we are turning into a nation of crybabies. If things don't go our way, we cry "unfair" and file a lawsuit. The US has 75% of the world's lawyers, and they don't seem to be lacking work.

Not making the cut is not a great feeling, but it has to be worse if your parents convince you that you are the victim of a conspiracy against you. That takes it from a level of not being the best cheerleader to being downright disliked. Great going Mr. and Mrs. Fischer.

Cheerleader's Family to Sue School District

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Judge Loses Pants and $54 Million Suit

In case you missed it, everything that's wrong with the legal system was recently embodied in a single, vindictive and frivolous lawsuit brought against a family of immigrant dry cleaners by the very symbol of justice - a judge.

The judge, Roy Pearson, got more than a little annoyed when the dry cleaners lost his favorite pants. Recently appointed to the bench, those pants were the ones he wanted to wear his first day on the job, and apparently the only ones that fit him well - he'd got a bit pudgy.

Although the pants were found later, Judge Pearson refused to own them and instead sued the dry cleaners for $67 million. A little common sense crept in at some point and Pearson lowered his demand to a paltry $54 million.

Pearson, who while talking of the lost pants during the trial, got teary-eyed and had to leave the courtroom(score him one point for showmanship), insisted his lawsuit was meant to protect consumers from businesses that engaged in deceptive practices. Are we buying that?

The dry cleaners tried to settle the problem with offers of $800, $6000 and even $12,000 to compensate him for the lost pants. But Roy Pearson decided that the sign in the shop that said "Satisfaction Guaranteed" meant he had the right to "unconditional and unambiguous" satisfaction. Luckily, for the future of the American legal system, the judge presiding over the case ruled against his interpretation.

Of course, Roy Pearson is appealing the verdict and asking the judge to reconsider. But what really needs to be reconsidered is Judge Pearson's appointment to the bench - any bench. What kind of justice can we promise people when petty, mean-spirited, vindictive men like Roy Pearson have the right to sit in judgment of others?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fake Cop Tries to Pull Over Real Cop

We have all received our share of those chain emails that warn you about dangerous and frightening situations you should be aware of. Things like men with knives lying under cars waiting to slice the ankles of unsuspecting women. Another good one is about men pretending to ask women to sample perfume when their real intent is to knock them unconscious with chloroform-soaked hankies. The best one was about the woman who licked an envelope and had spider eggs that were embedded in the glue later hatch in her mouth.

Of course these are all hoaxes but at least one of those legendary chain emails has proved to be true. Remember the warnings about men in unmarked vehicles with flashing lights pulling over motorists and pretending to be police officers?

Well, in Suffolk County, Long Island, Robert Lane pulled his SUV that is equipped with flashing lights up to another car and flashed a badge at the motorist he later said had cut him off. But what happened then made Lane take off, leading the motorist he had tried to pull over on a chase down the highway until local police were able to overtake Lane and arrest him.

Robert Lane is not a real police officer but the motorist he attempted to pull over was an off-duty NY police detective who, when confronted by Lane, flashed an even larger and completely authentic badge at Lane.

Lane was charged with criminal impersonation and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.


Conservation Project Kills Fish

When it comes to saving the planet, it may be that humans are not the right ones for the job.

In Virginia, a conservation project aimed at planting wetland grasses ended up killing thousands of fish.

The Dominion Virginia Power company dammed part of Lake Gaston near the North Carolina border and drained it so that workers could plant wetland grasses. However, before they drained the lake they didn't manage to catch and move all the fish. An effort to move the fish before they drained the lake apparently left about 6,500 fish to die in the low water and hot weather.

Man never seems to figure out that when he messes with nature, he usually messes up.

Conservation Project Turns Deadly for Lake Gaston Fish

Monday, July 09, 2007

Police Arrest Woman, 70, for Dry Lawn

In Orem, Utah, a police officer handcuffed and arrested a 70 year old woman because she refused to accept a ticket for not watering her lawn. Betty Perry suffered a cut on her nose and some bruises when she fell trying to avoid being handcuffed and spent an hour in jail. The officer in question is on administrative leave.

If you're like Rollo, your first thought is that this is a case of unnecessary force by a police officer against an elderly woman. But the devil is in the details, and many versions of this story on the net don't give them all.

The officer is part of the Neighborhood Preservation Unit. It's his job to patrol the neighborhood and do just what he was doing. He stopped to talk to Betty Perry about her lawn but she refused to give him her name when he decided to give her a citation. Betty Perry wouldn't identify herself and said she wanted to call her son, she then attempted to re-enter the house. At that point, the officer decided to place her under arrest.

Here's an actual quote from Betty Perry in the Central Utah Daily Herald: "He had one [handcuff] loose on my arm and he was trying to get my arms back and of course, you know, I'm resisting."

"I'm resisting" - well, that's why the officer is arresting you.

Let's look at what really happened here. She refused to give her name, refused to take the ticket. She fell and rolled on the ground, putting up as much resistance as any 70 year old could muster.

Orem police spokesman Lt. Doug Edwards said the woman fell after she pulled away while the officer was trying to arrest her. He also said she rolled onto her stomach and put her hands underneath her body to keep the officer from handcuffing her.

Is there any good reason for ticketing someone for having an unsightly, brown lawn? Well, in Utah, where wildfires are out of control due to the hot and dry weather, there may be. In a free country we would like to have the right to do as we please, but our rights end when they infringe on the safety of others.

Was there a better way to handle this situation than to handcuff an elderly woman and arrest her? Of course there was. A brown lawn is not exactly a felony offense, although apparently there is a city ordinance requiring you to water your lawn. But if Betty Perry had just identified herself and taken the citation, none of this would have happened. If this were a young male, would the story make the news at all? Do we have a right to tell a police officer that we have to consult a third party before accepting a ticket? If a police officer stops you for speeding and you refuse to show your license and registration upon request, you better believe you are going to be arrested. It's no different than what anyone is required to do.

There may be a bright side for Betty Perry in all this. She states she hasn't decided yet whether to pursue legal action. Get ready for a whopping lawsuit against the city for police brutality.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

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Tree Robs Bank in NH

Police in New Hampshire are busy scouring the city for a tree that robbed the Citizen's Bank early Saturday morning.

Police say a middle-aged white man with a blue shirt and thick glasses, disguised himself as a tree by duct-taping branches to his body, walked into the bank as it opened, demanded money and then walked out.

It's a novel approach, but how hard could it be to spot a tree driving a getaway car? What sort of APB went out following the robbery? Stop that tree running down the road?

Rollo notes that this happened on the very day the Live Earth concerts were underway all over the world. Perhaps this was the most clever disguise a bank robber could have. Who would dare tackle a tree on the day we were all fighting global warming? On 7/7/07 what could be safer than being a tree?

It has also occurred to Rollo that the whole thing may be an obscure political statement. While Al Gore and friends stage this enormous concert to raise awareness (and money) to fight global warming, a tree shows up to steal your money.

Man in Tree Garb Robs Bank Branch

Saturday, July 07, 2007

What's The Matter With Kids Today?

Remember "Leave it to Beaver"? In some ways the kids behaved exactly the way boys of any era behave, wild schemes, misinterpretations of the world adults live in and finding ways to survive dangerous exploits. There was the one big difference that makes Beaver unlike any sitcom today and unlike any real family today - the children were afraid of consequences. Limits were real, and the phrase "I am going to tell your father about this" was enough to make the Beav tremble.

Can you imagine the Beaver at 11 years old, getting into the liquor cabinet and then driving dad's car at speeds exceeding 100mph, leading police on an 8-mile chase? That's what a girl in Alabama did recently. Her excuse was that she had to pick her sister up at a concert.

What about the sisters, 10 and 12 years old who kidnapped a neighbor's baby and left a ransom note asking for $200,000 to be left on the couch in exchange for his safe return? When you were a kid, did you ever think of plotting and committing a kidnapping? The childlike elements are there - for instance, taking the boy to their own home and asking for the money to be left out in the victim's livingroom where they believed they could sneak in and get it, but just because they are unskilled criminals doesn't mean they aren't just as criminally minded as someone with more experience.

So what's the matter with kids today?

Fox News has uncovered perhaps one reason kids are committing more and more crime these days with their expose on the Singing Elmo toy from Fisher Price. According to their report, Elmo seems to sing "beat up Elmo and pull my fur out". With millions of preschoolers watching Sesame Street daily and worshipping Elmo, wouldn't a call to violence from their favorite muppet be heeded? A spokesman from Fisher Price relates that the actual words are "be like elmo and shake your fur out". Yeah, right. A nice cover. Pull the other leg, it plays the Barney song.

Let's face it, the whole idea behind Sesame Street is to get small children used to monsters and make them appear cuddly and cute, preparing them for the ugly world that awaits them. Along with reading and math skills, however, they will have learned some techniques for survival in the street - Sesame Street. Beat up Elmo, pull his fur out.

Interestingly, both the Beaver and Wally could read and write and neither of them ever watched Sesame Street.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Live Free, Die Stupid

In July the hearts of all Americans pump red, white & blue as the spirit of patriotism rises up within us. It wells up to overflowing and spills out in tears at the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, especially for those of us for whom those high notes shred our vocal chords like dull steak knives. Tradition and family, that's where it's at on the Fourth. Hotdog shaped patriotism, that smells like charcoal smoke and sounds like gunfire, permeates every suburban street.

And the sound is very important. The bang, the boom and the pop of fireworks are an accepted form of being a noisy neighbor for at least a week surrounding the Fourth. Still, when a 4th of July party grew too loud in Cleveland, a neighbor made his objections heard by shooting three people. Pardon me, but wouldn't shooting people make similar noises to the ones he was complaining about?

Some states try to curb this explosive merry-making by having strict laws that prohibit average citizens from purchasing fireworks. But as a friend pointed out on his blog, neighboring states without such laws are often just a short drive away. For instance, in Massachusetts not even the so-called "safe" fireworks, such as sparklers, can be sold. But in NH, whose motto is "Live Free or Die", Massachusetts residents with enough gas in the tank can drive a few miles north and buy whatever kind of fireworks they want.

So I wondered what the statistics were for fireworks injuries in both states. The US government keeps statistics on fireworks injuries but not by state, however according to the National Fire Prevention Association, about half of all home fires reported around the 4th of July are caused by fireworks. Cross-referencing this with the CDC data on fire-related deaths from state to state, I expected to see a large difference between MA and NH. What I found was that they run neck and neck on fire-related deaths at .85 and .88 deaths per 100,00 people respectively. MA is one of five states that ban fireworks entirely. Of the remaining four, three of them have higher fire death rates than NH. Only Rhode Island has a lower rate.

So, in New Hampshire, it's "Live Free or Die" and despite the proof that you can do both (evidenced by the woman in Michigan who leaned over a 3-inch mortar just as it went off while setting up a fireworks display for her fiance) it's also possible that in the 39 states that allow fireworks, there are no more injuries than there are in the five states that ban them entirely or the six states that have laws restricting sales of fireworks to the "safe" kind. This is just supposition, but I believe that if the government nursemaids had absolute proof that banning fireworks led to decreased emergency room visits, they would have at least ten studies and websites to declare it.

We are warned by the National Fire Prevention Association that even safe fireworks cause injuries and to prove it, they have a list of injuries caused by sparklers. The incidents they cite involve children as young as 13 months but no older than 4 years. Well, isn't that just an argument for the fact that some parents are stupid? You can't explain the dangers of poking yourself in the eye with a 1200 degree sparkler to a 13 month old, so you don't give him one.

The problem is, of course, that even if we could eliminate all fireworks injuries by banning fireworks nationwide, the cost would far exceed the cost of medical treatment they required. Because once you ban anything, you have to enforce it which costs money, and others will find ways to make money providing the banned article. Investigating, finding, arresting and prosecuting those who provide illegal products will cost the average taxpayer a hefty sum, not to mention the cost of housing those who are convicted for the terms of their sentences.

There's a website out there called The Darwin Awards, which proves year after year that stupid people will find ways to kill themselves no matter how much you legislate for their safety. Should we protect children? Of course! Can we protect adults of limited intelligence from harming themselves simply by swaddling them in restrictive legislation? No, that's the price of freedom.
Live Free or Die.