Friday, August 27, 2010

More Signs of the Apocalypse

Good Afternoon Ladies & Gentlemen,

Last night, I hung out with Pork Chop at his new place in Tahoe Donner… and it’s pretty nice. A little far away from work in stuff which would be a pain in the winter… but yeah, very nice. We had a few beers, talked about this and that, being a fellow Eagles fan he was a little pissed that I’m going to the Eagles-49ers game… but even more pissed that it was on his birthday, 10/10/10. That was going to be his birthday / housewarming party for the place & he wanted me to be there… but oh well, next time I’m sure. We’re actually gonna head over to Reno for the Great Western Rib Cook-Off next week, followed by some bowling, so that should be fun. Oh, also, Pork Chop’s roommate made us some WONDERFUL salmon with ginger slivers, grilled squash & zucchini, and some potatoes for dinner. That’s living.

The other night, I watched “Youth in Revolt” starring Michael Cena, Ray Liotta, Fred Willard and… Michael Cena again. Now, I don’t understand the appeal of Michael Cena (or his doppelganger Jesse Eisenberg) but hey, he’s only mildly amusing to me at best, usually irritating. Yeah, I’m rooting for The World in that Scott Pilgrim movie that just came out. Anyway, this movie is about a teenager (Cena) who meets a lovely interesting girl, falls in love (in his eyes), and then has to move back to Oakland. Now he wants to move back to be with her… utilizing various schemes created by his evil & suave alternate persona Francois (also Cena), which includes everything from lying to vandalizing to manipulation to spreading unfounded rumors to burning down half of Berkeley. Spoiler alert: It is kinda funny at some points… but in the end, I was just kind of sitting there like “So… wait, what? If I’m a persistent felon offender, then I get the girl in the end? That’s what I’m doing wrong?” So… yeah, check it out if you like Michael Cena. You see plenty of his awkwardness. Then again, maybe my final thought on the movie wasn’t completely unfounded…

Do-Gooders Shunned like Moochers - The fact that groups of people typically choose to expel selfish individuals is no surprise. But new research suggests such troops often want to kick out generous members as well. This counterintuitive behavior could be rooted in how such giving people make others feel bad, or simply in how they stand out from the crowd, researchers suggest. Initially, psychologists were investigating if groups would tolerate individuals who contributed little toward group endeavors but also mooched little of the subsequent payoffs. The researchers told 104 college students they were each in groups of five, in which each member interacted via computer. In reality the other four members were played by the computer -- three of the programmed members made consistently moderate choices, while the fourth typically made more extreme decisions. Each group member was given 10 points. The students were told they could invest as many of the points as they wanted into a bank, and were told how much the other members invested. The number of points in the bank was then doubled, and each member could then choose to harvest up to a fourth of the points in the bank. Any leftover points were then doubled, and the process started over again for several rounds. The students were told that at the end, the points would be converted to tickets in a lottery for coupons to campus eateries. At the end of this experiment, four students were selected at random to get food coupons. When asked whether they would like members to stay or leave the group, as expected the volunteers wanted to expel selfish moochers who invested little but harvested much, while they were indifferent to those who invested as much as they harvested. Surprisingly, however, generous members proved as unpopular as the bad apples. Puzzled, the scientists ran the experiment twice more, asking volunteers if they thought generous members were either confused or simply behaving randomly. In general, people don't like dealing with either incompetent or unpredictable individuals, and thus might want such members to leave the group, the psychologists reasoned. However, these studies not only replicated the initial findings, but also ruled out incompetence and unpredictability as reasons for the volunteers' common desire to kick out selfless members. Now fascinated, the researchers conducted the experiment once more, this time asking volunteers why they wanted to kick out members who gave to the public good while asking little in return. Nearly two-thirds of the time, the students essentially said such generosity made them feel as if they fell short by comparison. They said, "He makes us all look bad," for instance, or "People would ask why we can't be like him." About one-third of the time, the volunteers wanted to kick selfless members out apparently because they just deviated from the norm. They said, "This would be OK if someone else in the group was being like this, but no one is so it's wrong," for instance, or "I probably would have been OK with him if I hadn't seen everyone else's choices and saw that he was so different. He's too different from the rest of us." A few of the remaining miscellaneous reasons students gave suggested suspicion of some ulterior motive. They said, "I'll bet later on she or he would stop giving so much and would start taking more," for instance, or "This person probably wants us all to start taking less so they can come in and take a lot more and get more than us." These new findings fit in with past studies revealing that people often dislike exceptional competence or offers of help. This might stem from a competitive desire to do at least as well as whoever is setting the standard, leading to a drive to iron out differences between members of a group, even at the group's overall expense. In other words, although generous members might objectively benefit the group, subjectively others may see them as a problem. The selfless people in question likely find this lack of appreciation rather surprising, the researchers added. An interesting next step is to look at the reactions of generous people toward such rejection. They may spurn these groups and dubbing them ingrates, reduce their selflessness to fit the norms, or perhaps even increase their generosity if they see their efforts as important, the researchers noted. Study researcher Craig Parks, a social psychologist at Washington State University, and his colleagues now want to see what conditions might help keep such generous members in the group. "If we accept that chasing such generous people away is objectively not a good idea, are there things we can try and do to encourage others to not worry so much about whether this person seems to be behaving fairly or unfairly, or violating social norms," Parks said. "How can we build tolerance of people who behave like this?" When asked, Parks noted this "biting the hand that feeds them" behavior could represent a kind of problem that people have trouble reasoning their way through, much as they do at times with logical fallacies or statistical puzzles such as the Monty Hall problem. "It could have to do with some kind of flawed reasoning about the world," Parks said. Parks and his colleague Asako Stone detailed their findings online Aug. 5 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, since I know you want to read more on this. Anyway, just an interesting little study that I found kind of perplexing… you know, kind of seeing myself as a shunned do-gooder in some ways. Some people just don’t trust you… no matter how much you do for them or how worthy of their trust you are. Just part of the human condition, I guess. Oh well… we’ll see how that all plays out once the Apocalypse comes…

Apocalypse Update - A 79-year-old Sheboygan, Wisconsin woman who couldn't find any help when a rattlesnake showed up on her patio said it was no big deal taking matters into her own hands. Margaret Street said she used an ice chopper to kill the snake with three cuts behind the head. She made some calls hoping to find someone who could help her. She said when that failed she killed the snake because she was afraid it could hurt someone at a nearby elementary school. Dale Katsma, with the state Department of Natural Resources, said the massasauga rattlesnake is endangered in Wisconsin, but photos suggest this was a prairie rattlesnake, which isn't endangered or native to the area. He told The Sheboygan Press the snake may have been aboard a train bringing materials to a local salvage yard. Regardless of what you believe, the snakes are commuting now. Hitching rides on trains, going to places they shouldn’t logically be, for God’s sake, we’re talking about rattlesnakes in Wisconsin. That’s like finding an alligator in… well, Wisconsin. You may be saying, “$teve, you’re crazy. Why would a rattlesnake travel hundreds of miles just to take out an elderly lady in America’s Dairyland?” Because she knew how to fight back. Maybe that’s part of their master plan, to take out those who know how & aren’t afraid to fight back. Think about it. With them gone, what would the rest of mankind do? Piddle in their pants and just wait to be devoured. Not on my watch, b**ch! “$teve, you’re nuckin’ futz! Not only is the idea of snakes, bears & other woodland creatures trying to overthrow the human race a completely idiotic idea… but there is certainly no way that they are communicating and formulating some kind of master plan in doing so. Your logic is flawed. Good day sir.”

Snake Takes Out Hospital – I’m sorry, you were saying something derogatory about my warning? Oh, you’re done now? Great! A snake slithered into a switch box outside a New York hospital, where it met its maker… but also caused a 10-hour power outage. Officials at Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York say backup generators kicked on Tuesday afternoon when a common-variety snake got into the switch box and disrupted the hospital's main power supply. Workers found the dead snake inside the box. Hospital officials say there were no patient care disruptions caused by the outage, which lasted from 3 p.m. Tuesday to 1 a.m. Wednesday. Some emergency room cases had to be diverted to other hospitals. While squirrels and other small animals have been known to get into electrical equipment and cause outages, a utility spokesman says it's the first time he's heard of a snake doing it. So to recap, one single solitary snake… took out an entire New York hospital… for ten full hours. Scared yet? Perhaps not this time. They were able to divert the sick & wounded to another nearby hospital temporarily… but what if when IT goes down, and their coordinated attack leaves our hospital powerless, and there’s no other hospital to go to… then what? I wouldn’t be surprised if they found remnants of explosives when this happens again. Oh yes, I’m talking about serpentine suicide bombers. Traveling underground, taking out power lines, phone lines, gas lines, fence lines, hisssssssssssss-BOOM!!! Who’s crazy now? What’s your “logical” explanation? The snake was cold, or attracted to the vibrations from the circuit breaker’s electric current, found it’s way in there & completed a circuit setting itself ablaze and causing the outage? Yeah, because the logical thing to do when you’re cold is stick your finger in the power socket. Yeah, that’s less crazy than my idea. It’s okay, I forgive you for criticizing me. You’re still not scared?

Throw In Some Dragons – For centuries, the largest lizards in the world, the Komodo Dragons, have been completely isolated on the islands of the South Pacific so that they won’t rip humans limb from limb in ravenous hordes with their diseased jaws. These things are HUGE!!! Like alligators that can run 20 MPH plus in packs… like four-legged raptors. Luckily though, they’ve been contained to these islands… until I read this article. Twenty-two Komodo dragons have hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo this month, giving a modest boost to the world's endangered population. The zoo's adult female Komodo, Lima, laid the eggs back on January 22nd. The first one popped through its soft-sided egg shell on August 8th and hatchlings kept coming for two weeks. Komodos are the world's largest lizards and are popular attractions at zoos from the United States to Europe. All 2,500 left in the wild can be found at the 700-square-mile Komodo National Park in Indonesia (allegedly). Komodos are cannibalistic and usually eat their young and eggs of their own species, so zoo officials say staying alive is tricky for a hatchling (or maybe it’s the dragons way of weeding out the week so that they will grow to be mighty generals of the Apocalypse). This is the first time the Los Angeles Zoo has succeeded at a breeding attempt. It joins fewer than 10 other zoos in North America that have made it work. Eleven babies will eventually go to the Columbus Zoo in Ohio and the others will go to zoos assigned by the Species Survival Program, curator Ian Recchio said Thursday. Los Angeles will just keep Lima and the adult male, Buru. It is exciting to know "the hatchlings from this clutch will go on to help ensure the survival of the species," Recchio said. Hatchlings are 14 to 20 inches long and weigh around 3 ounces, but they will grow to about 9 feet and can weigh 200 pounds or more. Males tend to be slightly larger than females and sometimes have yellow spots on their snouts but are otherwise gray. They have about 60 needle-like teeth that will grow back quickly if one falls out. They will cut their prey into sections and then swallow without chewing. They drink rarely, getting their fluids from the blood of their victims. There are no Komodos on display at the zoo now, but before the offspring all leave Los Angeles, some of them will be shown at the Winnick Family Children's Zoo. Yes, I just said that they will be on display… at the CHILDREN’S ZOO. In the wild, a young Komodo will sprint up the nearest tree to avoid being eaten by adults. They will stay in the trees and eat insects and other lizards until they get too heavy for the tree. By then, they will have developed enough to protect themselves from adult Komodos on the ground. Komodo dragons in the wild eat 80% of their weight and then go without food for several weeks. They will eat snakes, other lizards, reptile and bird eggs, carrion, deer, pigs, goats and dogs... but luckily have not developed a taste for manflesh (yet). They will even try to eat larger animals, like horses and water buffalo. The dragons are probably best known for their venomous saliva. It is naturally harmless, but picks up deadly pathogens because of the food they eat, Recchio said. The Komodos are immune to the bacteria, but the animals or humans in their path can be in nearly instant trouble. The animals are believed to have descended from a larger lizard on Indonesia's main island Java or Australia around 30,000 years ago. So now there are at least two dozen of these monsters in America’s most populous city, with others strategically positioned throughout the United States (including San Diego if you remember). Snakes, dragons, bears, what’s the next animal to join this coalition?

Tiger Update - Authorities at Bangkok's international airport found a baby tiger cub that had been drugged and hidden alongside a stuffed toy tiger in the suitcase of a woman flying from Thailand to Iran (for some reason), an official and a wildlife protection group said Friday. The woman, a Thai national, had checked in for her flight and her overweight bag was sent for an X-ray which showed what appeared to be a live animal inside, according to TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring group. The woman was arrested at Suvarnabhumi Airport before boarding her Sunday flight. The cub, estimated to be about 3 months old, was sent to a wildlife conservation center in Bangkok. "The cub arrived at our unit Monday," said Chaiyaporn Chareesaeng, head of the Wildlife Health Unit at the Department of National Parks' Wildlife and Plant Conservation Center, where the animal was put under close supervision. "He appeared exhausted, dehydrated and couldn't walk, so we had to give him oxygen, water and lactation (yummy)," said Chaiyaporn. "We have monitored him closely. As of today, he looks better and can walk a little now." A DNA test was expected to provide details about its origin (Hellspawn?), said Chaiyaporn. "I was a bit shocked because an animal isn't supposed to be treated like this," said Nirath Nipanant, chief of the airport's wildlife checkpoint. "Had the animal passed the oversize baggage check and gone through four to five hours of travel, its chances of survival would have been slim." The woman, identified as Piyawan Palasarn, 31, faces up to four years in prison and a 40,000 baht ($1,300) fine for two wildlife smuggling-related charges, police said. She denied the luggage with the cub belonged to her and said another passenger had asked her to carry it for them, said Adisorn Noochdumrong of the Thai Wildlife Protection Department. The cub could have fetched about 100,000 baht ($3,200) on the black market in Iran, where it is popular to have exotic pets (not just their wives either), Adisorn said. He said he did not know what the woman allegedly intended to do with this particular cub. He said his office wants the law amended so the maximum prison term is increased to 10 years. Wildlife experts say the number of tigers in Asia have plummeted over the years due mainly to habitat loss and poachers who sell their skins and body parts to booming medicinal and souvenir markets, mostly in China. Conservationists say the government needs to do more to eliminate trafficking networks that operate out of the country. "We applaud all agencies that came together to uncover this brazen smuggling attempt," Chris R. Shepherd, TRAFFIC's deputy regional director for Southeast Asia, said in a statement. Perhaps… or perhaps that’s what the adorable vicious cub wants you to think. Perhaps that woman’s family is now in danger because that cub’s parents were holding them hostage in exchange for transportation to the latest nuclear power where he already has a scheduled meeting with their ruler… we’ll just say “long funny name” to discuss a few things. Perhaps I’m just crazy… but on another note, seriously? Only $3200 for a tiger? Hmm… imagine walking that thing down the street. Can you imagine? “Oh my $teve, is that your new cat?” “Yup, rescued her from an Iranian shelter just last week during one of my many trips over there to help at women’s shelters in Tehran. Her name is Shibamba Makayla… which is Hindu for “Precious Flower that emits sunshine” (or whatever BS I come up with on the spot).” “Wow, that’s amazing. Is she safe? Can I pet her?” “I wouldn’t be walking down the street with her if she wasn’t safe… but don’t you find a little bit of danger quite erotic?” “Tehehe, sometimes.” “Tell you what, you can pet mine if you let me pet yours…” How did this go from an Apocalypse update to some really bad setup for an adult film? Sigh… such is my world. Well, at least there is some indication that we are able to fight back…

Bear Baying - A declawed, defanged bear is chained to a stake as hunting dogs bark and snap, trying to force the bear to stand on its hind legs. The training exercise called bear baying is intended to make the bears easier to shoot in the wild and it's only allowed in one state… the one state in the union that we KNOW we can always trust to be on the forefront of issues… and make the other states feel better about themselves… and that’s the great state of South Carolina. GO GAMECOCKS!!! Armed with new undercover video of four such events, the Humane Society of the United States is pressuring state officials to explicitly outlaw the practice, which the organization says is effectively banned in every other state (much like the confederate flag). Animal rights advocates say it's cruel to the nearly defenseless bears and harms them psychologically (Really? Defenseless bears? Let your kids play with ‘em). Hunters say the exercise popular in the state's hilly northwestern corner helps them train their dogs on what to do when they come across a bear during a hunt. But John Goodwin, the Humane Society's chief animal fighting expert (I want a job title like that), calls it "bear baiting" — a centuries-old bloodsport that is more for spectators' entertainment than instruction for dogs on what to do when they encounter wild bears. "This isn't about training dogs. This is a competition," Goodwin said a news conference in Columbia on Monday in conjunction with the public release of the videos. "If this is their idea of training a dog for hunting, then they're sending that dog on a suicide mission." State law on the issue is murky (much like the rivers). Statutes banning animal fighting have a specific exemption for dog training. And while South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster (great name, Hank McMaster) says animal cruelty laws prohibit bear baying, he hasn't prosecuted any cases. On Monday, a spokesman for McMaster's office said prosecutors were reviewing the videos. The videos, which were filmed with hidden cameras by activists posing as spectators, show an adult black bear standing on all fours, its back to a 4-foot high wooden fence, tethered to the ground by several feet of chain. Crowds of a few dozen line the dirt pen around it. The bear rises onto its hind legs as three hounds sprint toward it, which is precisely the point: Hunters have a better chance of killing a bear swiftly with a shot to its exposed underbelly. The unleashed dogs bark, show their teeth and swat at the bear, which lunges to the end of the chain, then backs up against the fence. Moments later, handlers pull off the dogs. A new team of dogs (most of them Plott hounds weighing about 50 pounds) soon takes on the roughly 150-pound bear. Dozens more will follow. "We really view this as a throwback to the days of the Roman Colosseum, when people filled an arena as spectators to watch animals pitted against each other," said Michael Markarian, the Humane Society's chief operating officer. Animals regularly died bloody deaths during the ancient battles Markarian references. But the Humane Society's videos show no bloodshed. Handlers need their dogs healthy for hunting, and the bear is needed for more exercise sessions. Along with staging activities such as dog races and field trials, hunting groups hold competitions in South Carolina to see whose dog team can most quickly get the bear to rise up on its hind legs, or "bay." "It's just training," says Brian Kelly, a hunting enthusiast who organized a bear baying in Greenville County in February. "There's no dogs that get in any conflict with the bear, and the dog does not get hurt." Kelly said the bear is kept in a cage while dogs on 3-foot leashes bark at it, with judges rating the dogs on how well they pay attention to and become accustomed to being close to the much bigger animal. That description isn't backed up by the Humane Society's videos, which clearly show the dogs and bear swatting each other. The dogs aren't on leashes, and one of them was injured after the bear slapped it, Markarian said. The only time the bear is shown in a cage on-screen is in the bed of a pickup truck, either before or after the baying. Markarian said bear baying is illegal in all states but South Carolina, though a review of some of those laws shows the ban is by default. North Carolina, for instance, has a law against keeping black bears in captivity except for zoos or for scientific research, but have no explicit ban on baying. South Carolina's ban on animal fighting has an exemption that allows bear baying, as long as there is no "repeated contact" between the animals. When the attorney general was asked to weigh in on the issue in 2008, McMaster issued an opinion saying he views the practice as illegal under the state's animal cruelty law. Bear hunting is permitted for two weeks each October in only three counties in northwestern South Carolina. Last year, hunters bagged 92 bears — the most ever recorded in a season. For a limited time in 2005, the state Department of Natural Resources issued 38 permits to keep bears for baying, all for bears that were already in captivity as pets or in small zoos. Fourteen of those bears have either died or been let go (recession has hit everything apparently), leaving 24 permitted captive bears, according to regional wildlife coordinator Tom Swayngham. At least eight of those animals are used for baying in the three counties where bear hunting is permitted, Markarian said. But the same bear showed up in all the events taped by the group's investigators, he said. The man identified by the Humane Society as the owner of that bear did not return repeated messages left by the AP. State records show he has permits for five black bears. Animal fighting has history in South Carolina, where the mascot of the state's flagship university is a "Fighting Gamecock" with metal spurs. See? I’m not crazy. The state's agriculture commissioner pleaded guilty in 2005 to extortion after admitting he took a bribe to protect a cockfighting ring. That led to a heated legislative debate about cockfighting, deadly contests between two roosters that have been illegal since 1917 but remain fairly commonplace. In 2006, Gov. Mark Sanford signed legislation raising penalties for cockfighting and outlawing hog-dog rodeos — events where dogs maul and maim hogs to subdue them — and other animal blood sports (a.k.a. Nature). State Rep. David Hiott of Pickens County, one of the counties that allow bear hunting, said it's unlikely the Legislature will revisit a ban on bear baying. If the Humane Society strikes out with lawmakers, it will ask wildlife managers to effectively halt bear baying by revoking the remaining captive bear permits, Markarian said. "They can put a stop to this cruelty immediately," he said. Thoughts? Here’s mine. I think those good ol’ boys in South Carolina are just preparing for the Apocalypse. You don’t hear much about black bears breaking into homes and such down there… unless you want to hear about how Junior got that stuffed bear right thurr. Besides, 92 bears? I think it’s a good idea to make sure that the dogs are still on our side. I’d hate to see the forthcoming war turn into another Civil War, where man is pitted against his brother… or rather, man pitted against his best friend. “Jasper, I thought we was friends.” “Haha, I’ve been affiliated with the Animal Resistance Movement (ARM) for years. I’ve been playing you like a Steinway, my friend.” “Wait, when did you learn to talk?” “All dogs can talk. We just choose to communicate using our complex array of barks that don’t translate to mere human ears. Don’t worry, I could never harm you, Cletus. That’s why that bear standing behind you is going to dispose of you.” Oh it’s too gruesome to imagine. Let us hope that it never comes to pass. Stay true, South Carolina. You’re a beacon of logic & understanding… by the way, sarcasm doesn’t translate when you type it out.

Anyway, I think that crazy talk will be enough for one day. No real idea what I’m going to do this weekend… but there is La Tomatina en Reno, which is that festival in Spain where they throw tomatoes at each other… and allegedly, Reno’s is the largest such celebration (?) in the United States, so that might be fun. Also, there’s their monthly Pub Crawl. Should be good sloppy fun. There’s also a wine walk or two here in town… and Burning Man starts on Monday but I more than likely won’t be attending that. Good times. Still no idea when my brother’s coming out here… but I honestly don’t care. I’m being incredibly too nice even considering it in the first place. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!!!

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