Lazy Saturday Reads: Just Human Interest Today

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Good Afternoon!!

I hope you don’t mind if I stay away from politics and other horrors in this post. I’m still feeling very overwhelmed by the Hillary hate, ignorance, and bias in the media, and the horrible tragedies happening in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Feel free to post anything you want in the comment thread, but I’m going to sick to human interest stories for today.

The photo above comes from a Boston Globe article about mysterious hobby horses that have appeared in a field in Lincoln, Massachusetts, over the past several years. The photo above and many of the other photos in this post come from a link in this story.

A Lincoln field, a herd of hobby horses, and a whimsical mystery.

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Stories abound of how a herd of some 30 wooden and plastic rocking horses gradually appeared on a sliver of farmland in the town of Lincoln.

As far as Harold McAleer is concerned, it started some years ago with a lemonade stand, two kids looking to make a quick buck in the summer, and a pair of the antiquated children’s toys.

“The lemonade stand failed, and the kids went away. But the horsies stayed,” says McAleer, who has lived in Lincoln for 30 years. “Gradually over the years, it has grown and grown.”

Megan Kate Nelson, a Lincoln resident who has documented the growth of the hobby horses in videos and pictures, has a different recollection.

It began with a single horse in 2010, she says. Then, a second one arrived. Soon, the trusty steeds proliferated more quickly than the overgrown weeds and wildflowers that surround them. Visit https://houseofcannabis.ca for more information.

Another theory:

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James Pingeon, whose house adjoins the parcel where the plastic horses roam, says the first one was placed there as part of a holiday display.

James Pingeon, whose house adjoins the parcel where the plastic horses roam, says the first one was placed there as part of a holiday display.

“It started out where we had a little Halloween show, and they had a headless horseman in the field, and we didn’t know what to do with the horse afterward,” he said in a message to the Globe. “So we thought, ‘Oh, let’s just leave it in the field.’ ”

Then other horses kept arriving, flying in from everywhere, he said, and gradually the herd expanded.

“It’s a spontaneous art production,” Pingeon said of the dreamlike scene.

Isn’t it wonderful? I love that people in the Lincoln community did this.

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The next story–also from Massachusetts–really shouldn’t be funny because it’s about someone who apparently has psychological problems; but it’s bizarre enough to be sort of darkly humorous. The story played out over a few days.

WCVB Boston (September 3, 2015): Cop who claimed he was targeted by gunman fabricated story, police say.

MILLIS, Mass. —A rookie police officer in Millis who said Wednesday that someone shot his cruiser before it crashed and burst into flames fabricated the story, police said.

The officer, 24, said he was traveling on Forest Road when he saw a red or maroon pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction. He said when the two vehicles met, the driver opened fire on the police cruiser, police say.

“My cruiser’s been shot at. I’m at Forest Road. It’s going to be a dark maroon pickup,” the officer radioed to dispatch at 2:17 p.m.

The officer said he spun around, and in an attempt to avoid the gunfire and seek shelter, he slammed into a tree and the cruiser burst into flames.

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The incident led to a massive manhunt, with schools closed and residents told to stay in their homes.

From WCVB on September 2: Millis schools closed Thursday as hunt for shooting suspect continues. Residents told to shelter in place during manhunt.

Millis public schools will be closed Thursday while investigators continue to hunt for the man who shot a police cruiser, causing it to hit a tree and burst into flames Wednesday afternoon.

At a news conference Wednesday night, Millis police said a cruiser was traveling on Forest Road when an officer noticed a red or maroon pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction, and when the two vehicles met the driver opened fire on the police cruiser.

The officer spun around, and in an attempt to avoid the gunfire and seek shelter he slammed into a tree and the cruiser burst into flames.

The unidentified officer was able to escape the flames and began to return fire as the pickup truck fled south toward Medfield.

Unreal. Finally, from today’s Boston Globe: Millis officer’s story shifted in alleged shooting hoax. Confessed he ‘blacked out,’ police say.

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MILLIS — Less than three weeks ago, Bryan Johnson was beaming in a suit and tie as he stood before town selectmen, who had voted unanimously to make him a permanent police officer on the small force where he had been a part-time officer and dispatcher.

“This is a blessing,” said the 24-year-old Johnson, with the police chief and his parents sitting behind him at the hearing.

On Friday, police officials said he will be fired and face charges for allegedly making a false claim that he had been shot at by a passing driver, a report that triggered a massive response by heavily armed police who cordoned off parts of the town for hours on Wednesday and led authorities to close the public schools.

“I know I speak for the entire department and the police community when I say that we were shocked by what’s happened,” said Sergeant William Dwyer, who has been running the Millis Police Department this week.

I’m very sad for him and his family. At least he didn’t shoot anyone.

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Johnson’s alleged confession to State Police came after he told them several false stories about what happened, according to a Millis police report filed in Wrentham District Court. The report said Johnson will be charged with misleading a criminal investigation, communicating false information to emergency services, malicious destruction of property, and unlawfully firing his gun.

Johnson is in an undisclosed “medical facility’’ and will remain there for the next six to 10 days, Dwyer said at a news conference Friday afternoon. “As soon as he is cleared at the medical facility, we will execute the warrant,’’ he said. He did not say what Johnson was being treated for.

Read more at the link. Apparently, no everyone who knew Johnson is shocked and mystified. The police have no idea why he did this.

What does this story say about human nature?

Fox News: ‘One hell of a pillow fight’ West Point tradition turns violent; 24 concussions.

An annual pillow fight by freshmen cadets at the U.S. Military Academy turned bloody this year when cadets swung pillowcases packed with hard objects, injuring 30 cadets, including 24 who suffered concussions.

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Photos and video have circulated on social media showing the Aug. 20 brawl, which The New York Times reports West Point did not confirm until Thursday.

Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker told the newspaper the annual fight is organized by first-year students as a way to build camaraderie after a grueling summer of training to prepare them for plebe life.

He said upperclassmen overseeing the fight required cadets to wear helmets, but video shows many did not. Some cadets swung pillowcases believed to be packed with their helmets.

The Times noted one freshman posted on Twitter: “4 concussions, 1 broken leg, 2 broken arms, 1 dislocated shoulder, and several broken ribs. That’s one hell of a pillow fight. #USMA19.”

What the hell? So far no one has been disciplined, the administration is “investigating,” and they’re not going to cancel the annual pillow fight.

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British researchers say their study shows that cats are more independent than dogs. Really? No sh*t, Sherlock. The Economic Times reports:

LONDON: Domestic cats do not generally see their owners as a focus of safety and security in the same way that dogs do, according to new research.

The study by animal behaviour specialists at the University of Lincoln, UK, shows that while dogs perceive their owners as a safe base, the relationship between people and their feline friends appears to be quite different.

While it is increasingly recognised that cats are more social and more capable of shared relationships than traditionally thought, the latest research shows that adult cats appear to be more autonomous – even in their social relationships – and not necessarily dependent on others to provide a sense of protection.

OK. I think most people who have provided grain free choices and homes for cats would agree with that finding, but The Daily Mail headline goes too far. Face it, your cat doesn’t care about you: Felines are more independent than dogs and don’t miss you when you’re gone, study reveals.

Um . . . no. If that’s the case, why do rush to the door when they hear their human’s car or footsteps approaching? Why do cats freak out if they figure out you’re going away for a few days–for example, you they see you packing suitcases?

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The researchers based the study on Attachment Theory, and used the Strange Situation (developed by Mary Ainsworth to study relationships between young children and their caregivers), adapted for use with cats and dogs.

The research, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, was led by Professor Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, along with Alice Potter – who studied as a postgraduate at Lincoln and now works with the Companion Animals Science Group at the RSPCA.

Professor Mills said: “The domestic cat has recently passed the dog as the most popular companion animal in Europe, with many seeing a cat as an ideal pet for owners who work long hours. Previous research has suggested that some cats show signs of separation anxiety when left alone by their owners, in the same way that dogs do, but the results of our study show that they are in fact much more independent than canine companions. It seems that what we interpret as might actually be signs of frustration.”

Well, why would cats be frustrated if they don’t care what you do or whether you leave them alone?

From phys.org.

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The study observed the relationships between a number of cats and their owners, placing the pets in an unfamiliar environment together with their owner, with a stranger and also on their own. In varying scenarios, it assessed three different characteristics of attachment; the amount of contact sought by the cat, the level of passive behaviour, and signs of distress caused by the absence of the owner.

“Although our cats were more vocal when the owner rather than the stranger left them with the other individual, we didn’t see any additional evidence to suggest that the bond between a cat and its owner is one of secure attachment. This vocalisation might simply be a sign of frustration or learned response, since no other signs of attachment were reliably seen. In strange situations, attached individuals seek to stay close to their carer, show signs of distress when they are separated and demonstrate pleasure when their attachment figure returns, but these trends weren’t apparent during our research,” said Professor Mills.

That’s interesting, but it sounds like the results demonstrate that cats have a insecure attachment–possibly an avoidant attachment.

In a child, avoidant attachment is demonstrated in the Strange Situation by the child ignoring the caregiver and feigning disinterest when he or she leaves the room. When the caregiver returns, the avoidantly attached child appears not to notice. But studies have shown that these children are internally stress–showing increases in vital signs like heart and pulse rates. They have simply learned not to expect much positive attention from their caregivers.

Is it possible that the cats in the study had caregivers who simply assumed they were independent and autonomous, based on the popular stereo type, and thus formed an insecure attachment with their pet cats? I think it’s an interesting question. Too bad researchers couldn’t interview the cats.

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Here’s another interesting study–this time on big cats. The Christian Science Monitor: Where are all the lions?

When Ian Hatton, a McGill University PhD student, began studying lions and their prey in protected parks in East and Southern Africa, he found himself looking for more lions.

A veritable feast of gazelles bounded around and Zebras trotted freely – easy pickings for a pack of hungry lions. But there were fewer than Mr. Hatton expected.

Upon further research, Hatton and the other scientists discovered that this was a pattern. Prey-crowded areas had fewer lions than expected. More prey did mean a few more lions, but the lions did not increase proportionally to the gazelle population, for example.

When they examined studies on other animals, the researchers saw the same pattern. Large populations of prey did not lead to a significant increase of predators.

This wasn’t limited to carnivores. The same pattern appeared among herbivores and the plants they eat.

Why would that be?

Researchers surmise that this pattern emerges because of prey reproduction rates. In crowded areas, prey reproduce at slower rates. Thus the prey population is made up of many healthy adults.

It’s easiest for predators to capture and kill younger prey or older, weaker prey. As such, a crowded population of prey that is reproducing at slower rates makes getting a meal more difficult for predators to find.

More from the Washington Post:

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By conducting an analysis of more than a thousand studies worldwide, researchers found a common theme in just about every ecosystem across the globe: Predators don’t increase in numbers at the same rate as their prey. In fact, the faster you add prey to an ecosystem, the slower predators’ numbers grow.

“When you double your prey, you also increase your predators, but not to the same extent,” says Ian Hatton, a biologist and the study’s lead author. “Instead they grow at a much diminished rate in comparison to prey.” This was true for large carnivores on the African savanna all the way down to the tiniest microbe-munching fish in the ocean.

Even more intriguing, the researchers noticed that the ratio of predators to prey in all of these ecosystems could be predicted by the same mathematical function — in other words, the way predator and prey numbers relate to each other is the same for different species all over the world.

“That’s what was very surprising to us, to see this same pattern come up over and over,” Hatton says. But what’s actually driving the pattern remains something of a mystery.

Hatton and his colleagues suspect that different aspects of different ecosystems may drive the predator-prey ratio: For example, Hatton says, competition for space might be a major factor controlling animal populations, but changes in the nutrients used and produced by plankton might have more of an effect on some marine ecosystems.

Read more fascinating stuff at the link.

How did this post get so long? I hope you enjoyed reading these stories as much as I did. See you in the comments, and have a great Labor Day Weekend!