Monday, December 29, 2008

Bedbug Dogs

Bomb sniffing, cadaver recovering, seizure sensing, cancer diagnosing... Now, add another talent to the canine resume, bedbug detecting. Over the past decade, incidences of bedbug infestation have skyrocketed in the United State due to increases in international travel and the elimination of powerful pesticides such as DDT. With bedbugs infesting hotels, cabs and airline baggage compartments, even the most fastidious traveler can inadvertently transport these tiny pests over international borders and straight into the home.
While humans can find and treat bedbug infestations too, dogs are quicker and more accurate at the task. Tim Leatherman of Perfection Pest Control told WLWT News in Cincinnati that his canine bedbug detector, Betty, is 98 percent accurate as opposed to his human help's 30 percent accuracy rating. And Betty can work a room in 20 to 60 seconds, far faster than any human. Betty's pinpoint accuracy allows for minimal chemical use. This, combined with her speed, means lower fees for clients.
For a list of accredited bedbug detecting dogs, visit the National Entomology Scent Detection
Canine Association (NESDCA) at http:/
Top Reasons to Use a Bedbug Dog

Friday, December 19, 2008

$20,000 in Scholarships from Fire Sprinkler Association

The American Fire Sprinkler Association,(AFSA) is offering high school seniors a chance to win $20,000 in scholarships in its National Scholarship Contest, Unlike the majority of scholarships, the AFSA's does not require applicants to painstakingly craft a grammatically impeccable, stand-out essay. Nor does it require a panel of judges to comb through thousands of overwrought entries about how the applicant's life was altered by the presence and precision of fire sprinklers. Instead, students are asked to read an essay, a 3,000-word opus on - you guessed it - the importance of fire sprinklers. Next, they complete a ten-question test based on the information in the essay. Each correct answer gives the student a chance to win one of ten $2,000 scholarships. Each student can win only one scholarship but, for such minimal effort, it might be the easiest $2,000 you'll ever make. Deadline for entries is April 1, 2009. For details or to apply, visit

Clip Art curtesy of

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Redeeming Qualities of Bed Bugs

The oldest known bed bug on record was found by archaeologists while excavating el-Amarna,
an ancient city south of Cairo. The fossilized specimen is estimated to be 3500 years old. So bed bugs - nicknames: mahogany flats, red coats, crimson ramblers - have been bugging humans for a long, long time. Were they put on this earth simply to feed on and harass humans? Maybe not.
They may have some redeeming qualities after all. In Bugs in the System: Insects and Their Impact on Human Affairs, author May R. Berenbaum, writes that ancient Greek physician Dioscorides "attributed to bed bugs no fewer than eleven medicinal virtues." To treat wounds, for example, mix a concoction of crushed bed bugs and tortoise blood and apply liberally to the affected area. To cure nocturnal fevers, attach a single bed bug to the left arm. Berenbaum goes on to quote some traditional Chinese treatments employing bed bugs. For "lip-turning furuncle" [also known as an infected hair follicle or a boil], pound seven bed bugs thoroughly with some cooked rice and apply the paste on the lesion. It will effect a quick cure." "For stye, drop a little blood squeezed from bed bugs on the affected spot. The swelling will soon subside."It would be nice if these parasitic companions were able to give something back, to soothe some pain after all the itching and aggravation they've caused. Leeches and maggots have made a big comeback in medicine. What
about mahogany flats?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Silent Night, Holy Night. Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite.

If you are celebrating Christmas away from home this year, don't forget, before the decking of halls and the drinking of egg nog, before even the unpacking of suit cases must come the inspection of the mattress.

The following bed bug defense measures are provided to holiday travelers by Protect-A-Bed.

1.Using a travel flashlight, conduct a very basic inspection of the bed by pulling back the bed linens and checking the visible edges of the mattress. You are looking for evidence of live bugs, dark brownish to black spots or stains that could indicate bed bugs. (See image above for an example of a heavily infested mattress.)

2. Inspect the headboard and the spaces between the carpet and the wall where moulted
skins, excrement and eggs of the bed bugs could be found.

3. Do not place your luggage near the places where bed bugs are typically found - on the
bed, near the bed, on the couch or any type of upholstered furniture.

4.Elevate your luggage on a luggage stand.

5.Keep your luggage closed at all times. If possible, use hard shelled luggage.

6.When not in use, keep items like laptops, books, toiletries, jewelry and electronics in sealed
plastic bags.

7.Notify the manager-on-duty immediately if you suspect bed bugs or if you begin to develop
itchy welts on your body.

Returning home with wonderful memories of holiday cheer is good. Returning home with bed bugs in your suitcase is not. Protect-A-Bed offers these basic tips for travelers to follow upon returning home.

1.If you are a frequent traveler, encase mattresses and box springs before you leave

2.Do not take luggage inside your home.

3.Unpack your luggage in an area that is well-lit and away from furniture and sleeping areas, such as a garage.

4.Unpack one suitcase at a time. Immediately place all of your clothing that can be
hot-laundered into the washing machine or into a garbage bag that can be sealed and placed aside.

5.All items being laundered should be laundered in the hottest possible wash cycle and placed in the dryer on the hottest possible setting.

6.Place all dry-clean clothing in a garbage bag, seal it and place it aside. Consider using
GreenClean™ Dissolvable Laundry Bags to transport your clothes from your luggage to the washing machine a simple one-step process.

7.Empty items that you sealed in plastic bags (computer, books, toiletries, etc.) and immediately discard the bags in an outdoor trash can.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cloned Pet Pup Celebtrates First Birthday

Mira, the first clone of a pet dog, celebrated her first birthday today in Mill Valley California. Although she never met her genetic doner, Missy, who died in 2002 at age 15, Mira shares many traits with her predecessor. Not only is there a striking visual resemblance, but their unique mink-soft coats feel exactly the same to owner Lou Hawthorne. And then there's the weird broccoli thing. Mira, along with her fellow Missy-clones, Chingu and Sarang, love to chow down on steamed broccoli, just like Missy did. The three pups belong to the same extended family and meet up for playdates several times a week.

For information on how to have your pet cloned, visit

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Camping with Kitty

A Texas family was reunited with their cat, Fluffy, three months after having lost her on a camping trip in Yellowstone Park. Last summer, the Wattenbargers - Mom, Dad, three girls and two cats - took off on a cross-country tour of National Parks. At each stop, the cats, Fluffy and Tiger, were let out to explore the new terrain. But they always came back to the trailer when they get hungry for supper. One particular August day, however, when the family was camping in Yellowstone, Fluffy went off to explore and never returned for her meal. The Wattenbargers figured that their vanished tabby must have become someone else's meal -maybe a bear's, bobcat's or coyote's. And Mom admits that, "Fluffy wasn't the smarter of our two cats." They didn't have much faith in the feline's ability to fend for herself in the wilderness. After searching for several days, the family packed up and went back to Texas.
In November, three months after the ill-fated camping fiasco, the Wattenbargers get a call from 79-year-old Shirley Armstrong, who lives along the outskirts of Yellowstone. Armstrong had been feeding a stray tabby who had not allowed her close enough to read the name and phone number on its collar. With the weather getting colder, this resourceful woman had borrowed a trap from the local police department and snagged the skittish critter. After contacting the Wattenbargers, she was even able to arrange a chaperon to escort Fluffy back to Texas by air. One of Armstrong's neighbors was a retired flight attendant who was able to fly free. All the family had to do was pay Fluffy's fare and show up at the airport.
It was a joyful reunion to be sure. But has the family learned their lesson about letting pets wander freely among wild animals in strange surroundings? No, they've decided to continue camping with their cats.
"They seem to enjoy themselves out there," says Dad, in an article from the Houston Chronicle.

Image of a Yellowstone Park resident, courtesy of the Official Website of Yellowstone National Park, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pass the Turkey Pardon

In the spirit of change, could our next President please consider doing away with the ceremonial pardon of the Thanksgiving turkey? This annual ritual is just embarrassing. The person with, what is generally considered to be, the most important job in the world, should not have time for these fowl photo-ops.
Following this year's pardon, the turkey and its alternate will fly first class - on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel days of the year - to Disneyland Resort.
According to, the first official presidential pardon of a turkey was bestowed by President George H.W. Bush in 1989.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Don't Blame Cell Phone for Low Self-Esteem

In his November 13th article, "Dial 'S' for Shame," Boston Globe staffer Christopher Muther writes about a seventh grader from the Jamaica Plain neighborhood who is so embarrassed by her non-state-of-the-art cell phone that she actually leaves it at home when she goes to school. Although the paper names the young lady, I will not. Some day she is going to grow up and realize how silly she sounds and she doesn't deserve to have her typical tween nonsense live on in perpetuity on the Internet.
The rest of the article, unfortunately is filled with actual adults - chronologically, at least - who, without the excuse of youth, are either ashamed by their older phones or truly believe that their cutting-edge models elevate their status in society.
"An iPhone is like the Rolex of phones," Muther quotes Steve Kidera of the Consumer Electronics Association. "You want people to see you on your iPhone or your BlackBerry to show your status." No, Steve; you want people to see you on your iPhone or BlackBerry. When most people use their phones, they just want to make a phone call.
An "image consultant" named Doris Klietmann insists that you can size up a person's worth by the kind of phone they carry. "If you have someone with a BlackBerry, you can usually assume they're educated and they either earn a good salary or they have an important job that requires them to be in constant communication."
But we all know what happens when we assume. . . Maybe the guy posing with his BlackBerry is just some loser who hired an image consultant who convinced him that that's what he needed in order to appear educated, financially successful and professionally important.
As I read this article, I kept waiting for the Voice of Reason, some sage expert to explain what went so wrong in these people's up-bringing that they are depending on an electronic device to define their sense of self. But there was nothing along those lines. The piece read as if this were perfectly normal human behavior. So much the sadder.
Image courtesy of
Boston Globe Article:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Free Treats for First Pup

When I read that Wagatha's, a Vermont-based maker of organic dog treats, is offering to donate four years worth of premium treats to the yet-to-be-adopted first pet, my first reaction was, why give something away free to people who certainly don't need anyone's charity? Aren't there shelters filled with needy dogs, who would love to sink their teeth into one of Wagatha's certified organic, certified kosher biscuits baked with human-grade ingredients and available in six chef-inspired flavors? As I read on, however, I learned that Wagatha's owners, Neil Reilly and Norman Levitz already had that covered. Last year, they donated over 2000 pounds of treats to canine-friendly causes such as shelters, rescues organizations and therapy dog programs. In addition, if the Obama family adopts a shelter or rescue dog, Wagatha's will take care of that group with a steady stream of treats. So, if Wagatha's grabs some publicity by pampering what will already be a pampered pet, who am I to judge? Besides, do I really think that the President pays for his pet supplies with his own personal money? No, we, the taxpayers do. So, actually, Wagatha's is doing us all a service by picking up our dog treat tab for the next four years. Thanks guys!
Illustration courtesy of

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Insulin Pump vs. the Over-Zealous Proctor

Sara Kingsley, 24, showed up to take the G.R.E exam last month in Lowell. She is diabetic and wears an insulin pump. The exam proctor spotted the pump, with its digital screen and vaguely iPod-like appearance, and, suspecting that it was some sort of high-tech cheat sheet, instructed the young lady to remove it before entering the exam room. After Kingsley explained the device's crucial function, that it stabilizes her blood sugar by injecting insulin into her body, and went so far as to lift up the back of her shirt to show him that the pump's tubes were actually attached to her body, he relented and allowed her to enter the exam room, pump and all. But not so fast with that cranberry juice and blood-sugar monitoring kit. Kingsley was made to leave them outside of the room, even though they are essential tools she uses to keep her blood sugar levels stable. Once the test was underway, the over-zealous proctor hovered around Kingsley and told her, during a break, that he was still suspicious of her so-called insulin pump. I'm sure Sara KIngsley was able to focus, full-tilt, on her exam. I'm sure she aced it.
What could she have done differently? She could have asked for prior written approval to bring her medical equipment and the cranberry juice into the exam. Thousands of special accommodations are made each year.
What could the proctor have done differently? Once he had grilled her about the pump, he should have just left her alone, no hovering or snide remarks. And he should have made darn sure that that blood-sugar monitoring kit and cranberry juice were within easy reach. What would he rather have on his conscience, someone who cheated their way into grad school or someone who went into insulin shock?
Read the Boston Globe story here:

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Two Too Seldomly-Used Scholarships

Aren't today's college students willing to make a few sacrifices to help pay for their education? Here are two shameful examples of available scholarship dollars going to waste.
At Vassar College, students who can prove they are descendants of benefactor, Calvin Huntington - or who are willing to change their middle name to Huntington - are eligible for a full scholarship. This scholarship has been awarded only twice in the past 25 years. Tuition at Vassar this year is $39,635 , plus another $9040 for room and board. Isn't that worth changing your middle name for? It's not as if you have to change your major to bagpipes or something. That would be a requirement for a seldom-sought scholarship at Carnegie Mellon University. This school offers the only bagpipe major in the United States and a $7000 a year scholarship to the student willing to pursue it. In the program's 16 year history, only six students have chosen the major. Three of those six ended up dropping it before graduation.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Fun Fact of the Day
It is estimated that the 75 million dogs in the United States produce 3.6 billion pounds of waste per year. That is equivalent to filling 800 football fields one foot high.

Does it sometimes seem like the sidewalks and parks in your neighborhood are like dog-poop minefields? BioPet Vet Lab, a genetic testing and veterinary reference laboratory in Knoxville Tennessee, has a solution, a dog-poop data base. Remember the city in Israel where dog owners were being asked to register their dog's DNA so that unscooped poop could be traced back to the canine culprit? Same idea here. Except now, BioPet is marketing their service to home-owners' associations and condo complexes.

Here's how it works.
  • First, a participating HOA should pass an amendment to its existing covenant that requires all dog owners in the community to have their pet's DNA analyzed and filed with Bio-Pet's "DNA World Pet Registry." Registering each dog with its DNA on file costs $29.95.
  • Once the DNA is on file, any dropping found in the public areas of the neighborhood can be sent to BioPet to be analyzed and matched up with the DNA already on file. Processing of waste samples costs $49.95 each. BioPet provides complete program kits to the HOA which include waste sampling devices and containers for shipment.
  • When the dog is identified by BioPet, an email report is sent to the HOA, which then can match the pet with the offending owner. The matching process takes three to four days after receipt.
  • With positive proof through the DNA matchup, the association may choose to impose fines on the offenders, which will defray the cost of the program.
Photo Caption: Tom Boyd, CEO of EDP Biotech Corp., of Knoxville, Tenn., poses with his dog, Luke. Boyd hopes homeowners associations and apartment buildings will use his company's new DNA kit to identify neighbors who don't clean up after their dogs.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Very "Bat" Idea

Here's a nice pre-Halloween story. A pet cat in Stevensville Montana presented his mistress with a dead bat. The woman, a nurse and mother of two, decided it would be fun to bring the bat corpse with her when she dropped her children off at school the next day. The students in her younger child's kindergarten class were so excited to see the dead creature, some of them even stuck their fingers in its mouth. The kids in her fifth-grader's class were equally impressed. Then, the mom exhibited her bat in other classrooms, five in all. A total of around 80 children were treated to a touch. The bat was such a hit that, after leaving the school, the mom stopped by a soccer field and showed it to more people. Later that day, the school nurse got wind of the situation. A notice was quickly dispatched to parents. The bat body was confiscated and taken to a lab for testing. The results came back positive. The show-and-tell bat had rabies. Parents were called and informed that their children would need a rabies vaccination, a series of 5 shots given over a month's time.
The cost of the treatments could run as high as $800 per student. The school's insurance policy will cover up to $70,000.
In an effort to prevent something like this from ever happening again, the school has enacted a new policy requiring that all visitors to the school obtain a pass from the office!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


There's more than one way to skin a cat. In the last post, we read about a scholarly collection of essays on animal ethics, eloquently defending the non-human animal as our moral equivalent. Today, we read about another defender of all creatures great and small, Cutout What is it? Actually, the proper question would be, who is she? Cutout is a 19 year old PETA intern. She shed her former name, Jennifer Thornburg, in an effort to draw attention to her pet cause, eliminating animal dissection in school labs.

Every year, 6,000,000 animals are killed for use as dissection props in anatomy and biology labs. Cutout argues that alternatives, such as computer simulations, diagrams, or 3D models, could be used instead - and more economically. What's worse, these animals often suffer painful deaths which I won't elaborate on here. But for more information, you know where to go:

So, her Norfolk Virginia driver's license reads, Cutout, But do people really call Cutout "Cutout?" According to this interview, her PETA pals actually do call her Cutout. But to her family, she's still Jenny.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Animal Subjects

Animal Subjects: An Ethical Reader in a Posthuman World, is not an easy book to read. Whether or not you put animals on the same moral plane as humans, whether or not you believe that beasts should be bestowed with all the unalienable rights of "personhood", it's unpleasant to confront some of the truths in this collection of essays on animal ethics. Take, for example, "Power and Irony: One Tortured Cat and Many Twisted Angles of Our Moral Schizophrenia about Animals," by Lesli Bisgould. The essay recounts the case of Jesse Power, a Canadian art student who filmed himself and friends torturing a cat and then claimed it was part of a school project on animal rights. In 2002, Power was sentenced to just 90 days in jail, which he chose to serve on weekends so his class schedule wouldn't be disrupted. Bisgould makes the point that, while anyone who saw or even read about the feline torture film knew viscerally that it was wrong, we generally ignore that animals are used, abused and murdered every day, in order to produce food and clothing, test household products or medications, or just for purposes of entertainment. "Should we not finally confront Orwell's observation literally and ask, why are some animals more equal than others?" Bisgould asks. "Is there really a difference between the animals we call 'pets' and the animals we call 'dinner' or does the difference reside in the comfort of our own imagination?"

If you've ever taken your children to the zoo or aquarium for a day of wonder and fun, gazing at exotic animals, applauding for somersaulting sea lions, you might see things differently after reading "Monsters: The Case of Marineland." In this essay, author John Sorenson draws disturbing parallels between these animal exhibits and the sideshows of human "freaks" put on display by P.T. Barnum and other legendary exploiters of people with genetic disorders and physical abnormalities. "Zoos and aquaria are prisons for animals where the public can visit and observe the suffering of the inmates, just as the circus sideshow allowed paying customers the opportunity to derive pleasure from viewing the misfortunes of the disabled." Sorenson focuses in on Marineland, a marine mammal theme park in Niagara Falls Ontario, to illustrate his point with disturbing clarity.

Throughout the 14 essay collection, edited by Jodey Castricano, spirited arguments are made for the elimination of any moral distinction between human and non-human animals. In "Electric Sheep and the New Argument for Nature," Angus Taylor rejects a litany of mental attributes traditionally used to elevate humans above animals. "Not all humans can reason better than animals; not all humans are moral agents; not all humans can imagine an extended future for themselves or have a sophisticated conception of self. Many animals exhibit more autonomy than many humans do, in the sense that they are better able to care for themselves and to navigate successfully through their natural and social environment."

For those who believe all creatures should be treated with dignity, this volume is full of difficult reminders about how far we have to go. For those who abuse, mistreat or neglect animals, this book should be required reading.

I'll end where the introductory essay begins, with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi.
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

Animal Subjects is published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Friday, September 26, 2008

NIne Kids Out: Nebraska Safe Haven Law Overdoes It

Nebraska was the last state in the nation to adopt a safe haven law but when they finally did, it was a doozy. Meant to prevent abuse, neglect or death of infants, from overwhelmed new parents, safe haven laws offer the option of abandoning a child at designated locations, anonymously, without threat of criminal charges.
Usually, safe haven laws come with some stipulated age limit.  In Maryland, the baby can be up to 3 days old. North Dakota will accept babies up to a year after birth. Not in Nebraska. In an effort to avoid arbitrary age limits, Nebraska simply used the word "child," when indicating who could be abandoned without parental consequence. This unique law took effect in July.
Last night, nine siblings, five boys and four girls, ranging in age from 1 to 17 were abandoned by their father at Creighton University Medical Center's emergency room in Omaha. 
The father, Gary Staton, says he had become overwhelmed with the responsibility of taking care of his family since his wife died from a brain aneurysm 17 months ago. He tried to improve matters by quitting his job; but that only led to an inability to pay the rent. So, he went to plan B. Last night, around 8 o'clock, he gathered up nine birth certificates, loaded the kids into the family vehicle, and drove them to the emergency room. He handed the birth certificates to a woman working there and informed her that he was surrendering his family.
"I was able to get the kids to a safe place before they were homeless," he told reporters today. "I hope they know I love them." 

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pooper-Scooper Law Meets CSI

DNA samples are being collected from canine residents in the city of Petah Tikva, Israel. For the next six months, unscoooped poop found on the city sidewalks and other inappropriate places will be brought to a municipal lab and compared to the DNA samples in an effort to identify the pooper and slap a fine on the non-scooper. Meanwhile, poop deposited in specially-marked receptacles around the city, will be identified and the depositor awarded with dog toys and coupons for dog food. If this voluntary trial period is successful, the city is considering making the DNA testing mandatory for all dogs. Of course, the major flaw with the trial period is that people who don't scoop are not about to bring their dogs to the municipal veterinarian for the oral DNA swab in the first place. Also, how long are people going to have to carry the poop around to get it to one of those specially marked receptacles? Unless there's one on every corner, I don't think they're going to do much business.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Balance: In Search of the Lost Sense

Have you noticed any changes in your equilibrium lately? Feeling a little less steady on your feet? If you're past your twenties, you might be experiencing a natural deterioration in your sense of balance. In his intriguing book, Balance: In Search of the Lost Sense, Scott McCredie explores the importance of the often ignored vestibular system, the rapid-fire sensory superhighway connecting the eyes, the inner ear and the proprioceptors - cells in muscles and joints that indicate our position in space. Inspired, in part, by a fall suffered by his aging father on a hiking trip, McCredie delves into balance's past, present and future and scours the research for a solution to the "epidemic" of falls among the elderly.

The author intersperses anatomy and physiology lessons with fascinating field trips - some, back in time, to the early 19th Century, when the mentally ill were treated by strapping them into spinning chairs to induce vomiting: some, to unusual places, such as the School of Circus Arts in San Francisco or an anti-gravity training flight for astronauts. Readers join Lord Nelson on his ship, battling not only the enemy but persistent sea-sickness as well. We are in the cockpit with John Kennedy Jr. on his final flight. We walk the high wire without a safety net, with Karl Wallenda as he supports his wife on his shoulders. And we wobble and sway along with
Robin Grindstaff, who suffered from severe vestibular disorder until she made the decision to sacrifice her hearing, in an effort to recover her balance.

If you've never thought much about balance, this book will give you a new-found respect for the "lost sense.". And if you haven't tried standing on one foot lately, you just might be surprised at how challenging it has become.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Principal's Office

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. In truTV's new "actuality" show, The Principal's Office, we get to watch real high school administrators confront real - as in, you couldn't possibly make these people up - high school students. It's fine entertainment seeing the teens attempt to rationalize inappropriate behavior and negotiate their way out of punishment. Some of them are skilled strategists, like the girl who refused to participate in gym class because she didn't want to mess up her hair. The gym teacher sent her to the principal who delivered a half-hearted lecture on the goal of coming to school being learning not looking good. The student argued altruistically that people depend on her to show up looking good and she didn't want to let them down. She added that, were she to be forced into exercising and showering, her temporarily straight hair would frizz and she would end up looking "like a lion." Eventually, the dumbfounded principal sent her on her way with a warning. Out in the hallway, the hair-obsessed student told truTV's camera that she considered this a "win-win" situation. Not only had she escaped detention or any other punishment from the principal, she had, most importantly, avoided messing up her hair in gym class.
Other students struggle to utter a coherent sentence. Last night's episode featured one such language-challenged soul who, ironically, was sent to the Principal's office for hanging out in the journalism room. Maybe he should be encouraged to spend more time there instead of less. It might expand his vocabulary beyond "like," "uh" and "y'know."

Friday, August 29, 2008

It's Perfectly Normal

JoAn Karkos is going about things the wrong way. This grandmother from Lewiston Maine is facing jail time over her refusal to return a library book. The book in question, It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing up, Sex and Sexual Help, is geared toward 9 to twelve year olds and covers such topics as masturbation and sexually transmitted diseases, complete with illustrations of naked cartoon people. Ms. Karkos has kept the book for more than a year. She believes that, by refusing to return the library's property, she will be able to stop the children of Lewiston from reading what she calls a "sex initiation book." But, thanks to her efforts, the book is more available than ever. Since the brouhaha hit, multiple copies have been donated to the library and now five children at a time can check it out. 
Karkos, 64, was ordered, by a judge in civil court, to return the book by 4:00 today or face possible incarceration. 
By the way, there is precedent for this. In February of this year, Keely Givhan, of Beloit Wisconsin, spent six days in jail when she was unable to pay the late charges on her overdue books. 

The city of Lewiston has decided not to lock up Karkos. Instead, they are charging her $100 and barring her from the library until she pays the debt. Karkos has not yet decided if she will comply.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Still Paddling in Public Schools

In a couple of weeks, my school will have its first faculty meeting of the new academic year. At this meeting, we will set school-wide goals for the year, meet new staff members and iron out mundane scheduling issues such as recess coverage and bus duty. And, as always, at some point during the meeting, our formidable principal will lean forward and announce, "I say this every year and I'll say it again for the new teachers. If you ever hit a child, I will fire you." I've been at the school several years now and the proclamation is just another harbinger of autumn. But the first time I heard it, the words startled me. Hit a student? What kind of teacher would do such a thing? Why would such absurd words even be uttered? After all, isn't all that knuckle wrapping and bottom paddling long gone with the one-room school house?
No, apparently it's alive and well in 21st century America.
According to an Associated Press article by Libby Quaid, 223,190 public school students were paddled at least once in the 2006-2007 school year. Forty percent of these children live in Texas or Mississippi. Other pro-paddling states include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida and Missouri. 
Far from being a fireable offense, in places where corporal punishment is allowed, teachers and principals generally have legal immunity from assault laws. 
Where do the paddles come from? Some of them are actually made by students in shop class.
Here is the disturbing report by Human Rights Watch on Corporal Punishment in US Public Schools.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Biodegradable Burials

This is a great idea, biodegradable burial. No embalming fluid, no hardwood and metal caskets, no concrete grave liners. Nothing to inhibit your body's natural return to nature. 
What kind of environmentally friendly burial container best suits you?
  • A burial shroud - a large piece of natural fabric such as cotton or silk, that is wrapped around the body
  • A cardboard casket (self-explanatory)
  • An ecopod - a pod-shaped container made from naturally-hardened recycled paper (pictured above in gold)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ethical Love Potion

A company called Behappy is giving away free samples of an all natural and environmentally friendly love potion, created using only alternative energy. Unlike other, run-of-the-mill love potions out there that commonly use pig pheromones to attract that special someone, Behappy's "Love Potion No. 9 Parfum" does not exploit our porcine friends for our own lustful pleasures. Instead, according to the web site, the potion contains 21 mysterious essential oils gathered from all over the earth and "slowly simmered and steeped in special antique containers using centuries old techniques." That explains it. The "free sample" of love potion is available in Spicy Sandalwood or Exotic Floral and will run you $5 for shipping and handling. 

Monday, August 11, 2008

Thomas G. Plant Shoe Company

During our trip to New Hampshire this summer, we visited Castle in the Clouds, a mountaintop estate overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee. We thought maybe we would just grab a quick lunch at the Carriage House, a stable turned restaurant. But we ended up touring the 16 room, Arts and Crafts style home and discovering a connection to our own neighborhood.
Before beginning the self-guided tour, guests all gather in the sun room where a docent gives a brief introduction to the estate and its original owners, Thomas and Olive Plant. The Plants were something of an odd couple with Thomas 26 years Olive's senior and Olive, at 6'1", towering a foot above her husband. 
Thomas Plant was a shoe manufacturer. And that's where the local angle comes in. His factory, the largest manufacturer of women's shoes in the world at the time, was right down the street from our home in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. In fact, the Thomas G. Plant Company stood on the spot where we now buy our groceries at Super Stop and Shop, on the corner of Centre and Bickford Streets. 
The factory employed over four thousand workers from the surrounding neighborhood of predominantly German and Irish immigrants. Plant, a former factory worker himself, took pains to keep his workers happy, healthy and productive. His pay scale was above average. He provided workers with a free lending library, a gymnasium and swimming pool. He employed mothers of young children and started an on-site daycare center for them. Throughout the "bright, clean factory interior," a heating and ventilating system "change[d] the air completely every three minutes." 

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Castle in the Clouds

This 16 room, arts and crafts style "castle in the clouds" was the home of shoe manufacturer, Thomas Gustave Plant, and his second wife Olive. The name they gave their mountaintop estate, "Lucknow," turned out to be something of a misnomer. Almost as soon as they moved into their new home in 1914, their considerable fortune began to dwindle, due to misguided investments, some made at the suggestion of Plant's pal and hunting buddy, Theodore Roosevelt. Plant died penniless in 1941. Lucknow was sold to settle debts. Olive moved back to her family in Illinois

Plant, who stood only 5 feet 1 inch tall, was a great admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte. In the library are the emperor's portrait, bust and copies of his battle plans. Also in the library, cut inconspicuously into the wood paneling, is the chair-rail-high doorway to Plant's secret room. During his lifetime, Plant possessed the only key and was the only one allowed in the tiny space. 

Other intriguing features of the home:

  • The kitchen floor is made from interlocking rubber puzzle pieces fitted together so snugly that no adhesive was needed.

  • Several of the bathrooms are equipped with "needle showers." These innovations of the late 19th century provided a flow of water not only from above but also via jet sprays from a series of ribcage-shaped pipes that nearly encircled the showerer.

  • In Plant's office, you can view a short-statured suit of armor which the diminutive millionaire enjoyed wearing to costume parties.

  • The game room features a large, built-in organ designed by the Aeolian Organ Company which could be played manually or mechanically. It's music was piped throughout the house via a series of ducts.

  • On Plant's orders, granite stones used to build the home were cut into pentagons., a task so labor-intensive that masons were able to complete only a few stones a day.

After touring Lucknow, visitors can enjoy lunch or a light snack in a renovated stall at the Carriage House Restaurant, the estate's former stable.

The tour is self-guided. Go at your own pace. Stay as long as you like. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Athletic Flashback: Ancient Olympics

As the world readies itself for another round of summer Olympics, take a few moments to remember the ancients who started it all, more than 2500 years ago, as a tribute to their top god, Zeus.

While today's athletes may get more world-wide exposure via television than those in the original Olympics, it was the ancients who were truly exposed - as in naked. Yes, athletes of old wrestled, boxed, sprinted, jumped and threw javelins in the nude.

Due in part to this most casual of dress codes, married women were prevented from attending the games on the premise that they should not be gazing longingly upon that which they could never have. Wives caught attempting to crash the party were tossed over a cliff. Single women, however, were allowed to attend because it was thought that young virgins should see the best that the male gender had to offer and then aspire to win such a man for herself. 

In contrast to the modern games, quashed three times so far because of war, a general truce was announced before and during each of the ancient Olympics, to allow visitors to travel safely to Olympia. During the truce, wars were suspended, armies were prohibited from entering the area, and legal disputes and the carrying out of death penalties were forbidden.

In the pankration - a cruel combination of boxing and wrestling- punching, kicking, choking, finger breaking, and blows to the genitals were allowed; only biting and eye gouging were prohibited.

In horse races, jockeys rode without saddle or stirrups and, subsequently, were sometimes thrown from their mount. One independent equine bumped his rider off at the beginning of the race but went on to complete the course, cross the finish line first and be declared the winner.

In "the kalpe," an equestrian event that never quite made it to the moderns, the rider would dismount on the last lap and, while holding the reins, would ran alongside the horse to the finish.

Women were allowed to enter their horses into equestrian events but were not permitted to act as their own jockeys or charioteer.

While females did not actively participate in Olympic events, girls and young unmarried women were allowed to run foot-races at Olympia as part of a separate festival for Hera, the wife of Zeus. Their uniforms, somewhat more modest than the men's, consisted of short tunics which revealed the right shoulder and breast. Their hair hung loose down their backs.

The ancient games ended with a race in which each competitor wore full armor and carried a shield as he ran, a reminder that the truce was about to end and that wars would soon resume.

The Olympics were held in Olympia every four years for about 12 centuries. After an extended 1500-year time-out, they resumed in 1896. If the modern Olympics enjoy such longevity, they will continue until at least the year 3000.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dogs On Duty, Off Menu

Dog meat will be banned from menus in China during the summer Olympics - at least the 112 official Olympics restaurants in and around the host city of Beijing. But canines are being put to good use for the games. More than 200 dogs will assist with security efforts, including sniffer dogs performing inspections of bags and travelers and rescue dogs who are ready to help with disaster relief if needed. 
View video of Chinese security dogs in training.

The Beijing summer Olympics open on August 4th.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lincoln deserves more respect.

This was the message left on a promotional poster for a political mural created by street artist Ron English.

The commissioned mural, displayed along a construction wall in Boston's South End, consists of a series of multi-colored portraits, each melding the faces of Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama. Soaring 13 feet high and running nearly a block long, the mural, entitled "Abraham Obama" hardly seems to need a full-press ad campaign. But inspired fans of the artist, armed with miniature prints of the portrait, fanned out around the South End, plastering every available surface with "Abraham Obamas."
So, on my way to work, I saw one of these mini-posters on an electrical box, with the hand-written note reading, "Lincoln deserves more respect," stuck between the image's eyes. I wasn't sure if the note-writer was complaining about the unauthorized placement of the poster or the blending of Lincoln's features with Obama's.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Jackpot Fantasies

If you won a large sum of money tomorrow, would you tell anyone? Would you tell your spouse? If you said, "No way!" you're not alone. A survey conducted by revealed that nearly 15 percent of 2000 randomly chosen respondents would keep their new-found fortune all to themselves. That means, of the 2,000 adults asked, 300 of them would attempt to deceive their husband or wife by hiding life-altering amounts of money from them. One can only imagine what secret, hedonistic pleasures they would spend it on.

People surveyed spent an average of about twelve minutes a day fantasizing about winning a fortune. This seems innocuous enough until you run the numbers. Twelve minutes a day works out to almost one and a half hours a week, three days a year and six months of one's life. Surprisingly, for respondents who spend such substantial amounts of time dreaming about easy street, only 10 percent say that they would quit their jobs. 


I visited the Flexpetz website this morning to see what all the rent-a-pet hoopla was about.

Flexpetz is a service which provides members with access to a variety of dogs without the responsibility of full-time ownership. Flexpetz participants are allowed to borrow and return dogs like library books - except it's far from free.

Here's how it works. After signing up for a Flexpetz membership, you must meet with a trainer for a mandatory, in-home introductory session. After that, you will be given access to the online reservation system. Then it's time to choose your canine date and book a time to rendezvous. Your date can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. You can either pick up your temp-pet or have it delivered on the Flexpetz shuttle. According to the website,"You can take out the same dog time after time, or choose to meet different doggy friends on different days."
The orientation session will run you $150. There is a monthly membership fee of $99.95 plus $45 a day with a four-day monthly minimum. The fee for shuttle service can vary but is usually $25 one-way. Also, there is a $99 annual administration fee but, at this point, who's counting anymore.

Apparently, I've been approaching this dog ownership thing from the wrong angle. Instead of paying our wonderful dog walker to come and take Shadow to doggy playgroup, I could be on the collecting end of things, selling her escort services. All I have to do is find some lonely soul with deep pockets who's itching for a little canine companionship. Of course Shadow has a few quirks - chasing motorcycles, trying to bite the rear tires of mail trucks and SUVs, attacking basset hounds for no apparent reason - but, hey, that just makes your doggy date that much more exciting.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Dime Novel Made Him Do It

In the 1950's rock 'n' roll was branded "the Devil's music" by some and blamed for every kind of juvenile delinquency. Today, violent video games and "gangsta rap" are under the same spotlight of suspicion. But back in the late 1800's, it was the low-tech dime novel which was viewed as the evil influence on youth.
In Fiend: The Shocking True Story of America's Youngest Serial Killer, author Harold Schechter gives readers the gory details of Jesse Pomeroy's spree of torture and murder in Boston, ending in his 1874 arrest at the age of 14. In an intriguing passage, Schechter explores the sordid reputation of the dime novel genre. These action-packed, melodramatic adventure stories were chock full of bravado and bloodshed. And they were readily available and inexpensive enough for even a working-class boy to buy on a regular basis. As is the case today, there were those who chose to blame an individual's bad deeds on a popular form of entertainment. Schechter writes, "Denunciations of the dime novel's supposedly corrupting effects on young minds began appearing everywhere, from the pulpit to the newspaper editorial pages to such venerable publications as Harper's and the Atlantic Monthly."
Soon after Pomeroy's arrest, incriminating stories arose about the boy's fondness for this violent fare. The Boston Globe found it relevant to note that "There is plenty of evidence to show that dime novels ... constituted a good share of the boy's mental nourishment," and quoted a friend of Jesse's who revealed that the boy had been smuggling these volumes into school and hiding them inside his text books where he would "devour [them] while pretending to study his lessons."

View related material from the City of Boston Archives. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Golf Carts Going Off Course

According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, golf cart accidents have increased 132 percent since 1990. And in just the past few weeks, we've had several startling reminders that golf cart accidents aren't just for golfers anymore.
On June 23, a decorated 37 year old police detective in Michigan fell out of the passenger side of a golf cart at a motorcycle rally, bumped his head and later died.
On Saturday, May 31, a 63 year old  South Carolina woman was driving her golf cart over to a friend's house so they could water flowers together, when she fell out of the cart on a turn.  She died the next day from her injuries.
A few days  before that, a 24 year old Minnesota man had gone out for a joy ride in a golf cart. As he was heading home in the dark, he hit a tree and ended up in the emergency room with a three-foot oak branch sticking out of his leg. He is expected to make a full recovery. 
Golf carts aren't just for grown-ups anymore either. Last year, A 9-year-old Massachusetts boy was a passenger in a golf cart being driven around a cul-de-sac by a 9 year old driver, when he fell off the back of the vehicle and struck his head on the pavement. 
And lastly, golf carts aren't just for people who can see anymore. In 1998, a blind man and his seeing-eye dog were detained by police for DUI and reckless conduct in Peachtree City, Georgia, after driving a golf cart two miles along winding streets and crashing into a parked car.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Theraputic Purr

If you've ever had a purring cat curl up next to you, you know how soothing the sound and gentle vibrations can be. But certainly cats don't purr for our benefit. No self-respecting feline would exert energy simply to please its human. At the Fauna Communications Research Institute  in North Carolina, scientists believe that the cat's purr acts as a self-mending mechanism, encouraging bones, ligaments and organs to heal quicker and grow stronger. 

Cats purr when content but also when distressed, ill, injured or birthing. Not just house cats but most big cats are purrers. Since a certain amount of energy is required to purr, the theory goes, an injured or ailing animal is unlikely to exert that energy unless it was getting some benefit from it. According to Elizabeth von Muggenthaler, president of Fauna Communication Research Institute,. the frequency at which cats purr is the best frequency for bone growth, fracture healing and tendon mending. 

Supposedly, the purr acts as a low-impact exercise program for the often-idol feline. Cats in nature are excellent and efficient hunters, using only a small fraction of their day to catch and consume their prey. This leaves them plenty of leisure time which they usually spend in various stages of lounging. How convenient, how genetically advantageous it would be if such a marathon napper is truly able to stimulate bone growth and muscle strength even while at rest, just by purring.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Whooping Cough

I mentioned to my friend Ann that I had just been re-vaccinated for whooping cough. "Did I ever tell you that whooping cough was the beginning of my downfall?"she asked me. Now in her early sixties, Ann had struggled her whole life with anorexia nervosa.
"When I was born, my brother had whooping cough. It was a very dangerous disease for a baby. I could have died if I'd gotten it. So, to keep me safe, the doctors wouldn't let me leave the hospital and go home with my mother. I had to stay in the nursery for the first three months of my life. I couldn't have any contact with my parents except once a week, on my father's day off, they would come to the hospital and wave to me through the nursery window. Of course, I was so little, I didn't know who these people were waving to me. I'm sure the nurses took care of my basic needs but they were busy with their work and didn't have time to touch or cuddle me. And not much was known then about the importance of cuddling and bonding with babies. Everyone thought they were doing what was best for me."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Saint Audrey's Laces

Cheap and showy, gaudy, sleazy. These are hardly words to describe a Saint. Yet, the adjectives are used by Webster's to define "tawdry," a word with saintly connotation.
"Tawdry" refers to Saint Audrey, who traded a queen's throne - and a penchant for exquisite necklaces - for the nun's humble habit and veil. 
At her feast day fairs in Norwich England, brightly colored ribbons and necklaces were sold to remind the faithful of the splendor surrendered by the Saint in the name of God.
At first well-made and elegant, "Saint Audrey's laces" were soon being produced fast and cheap, sacrificing quality and artistry along the way.
Meanwhile, the phrase "Saint Audrey's laces" was being carelessly slurred into the contraction "tawdries" or "tawdry" which has come to mean anything flashy or tasteless.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Proximity Breeds Friendship

In her book Girls Like Us:  Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon - and the Journey of a Generation, Sheila Weller writes of Carole King and her grammar-school girlfriend, Barbara Grossman, "Barbara and Carole's friendship started the way many friendships started back then: in line. Both were small so they were placed next to each other." In another chapter, Weller notes that Carly Simon, upon starting a new school in seventh grade, was befriended by Jessica Hoffmann "the other tall girl at the back of the line." 
Does proximity breed friendship? A psychological investigation of college freshmen suggests it might. Researchers from the University of Leipzig found that students randomly assigned to sit next to each other when meeting for the first time had higher ratings of "friendship intensity" one year later than they had with those seated further away. The study was written up in a recent issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association of Psychological Science.