A World Without Cats
Published on February 7, 2012 by Sara Foss

Being a cat owner, I was eager to read this article, which poses the question: What If All the Cats in the World Suddenly Died?

I know what would happen if my cats died: I would sleep better, because nobody would be batting me in the face with their paw, or meowing by the door at 6 a.m. Based on my experience, a world without cats doesn't necessarily sound like a terrible thing.

But according to the article, the disappearance of all the cats on earth would be a catastrophe.

"By killing mice and rats in barns and grain storage areas, cats are vital for keeping those pests in check. In India, Beck said, cats are believed to play a significant role in lessening the amount of grain loss caused by consumption or contamination by rodents. In other words, it may be true that humans feed cats, but without cats, humans would have less food in the first place. [Why Do Cats Bury Their Poop?]

So, how dramatically would the rodent population increase if cats suddenly vanished? It just so happens that several scientific studies have been conducted that paint a vivid picture. A 1997 study in Great Britain found that the average house cat brought home more than 11 dead animals (including mice, birds, frogs and more) in the course of six months. That meant the 9 million cats of Britain were collectively killing close to 200 million wild specimens per year — not including all those they did not offer up to their owners. A study in New Zealand in 1979 found that, when cats were nearly eradicated from a small island, the local rat population quickly quadrupled."


I don't know about you, but I'd rather have a couple of pesky cats than an army of rodents roaming the streets.

For a different perspective, visit this Mother Jones piece, which suggests that cats are bad for the environment, at least in the U.S., because they kill millions of birds each year.


Greener Cities
Published on February 7, 2012 by Sara Foss

In her weekly column Greenpoint, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about how cities are getting greener - how they have more parks and natural spaces for residents and visitors to explore.

Here's an excerpt:

"When my daughter was little, she worried about people who lived in big cities. She thought they had no grass or trees, no woods to play in or fields to run through. Mostly she worried about their farm animals.

I explained that city people generally don’t have animals because they live in apartment buildings, and she thought about that for a while. 'So, they all keep their animals in the barns?' she asked, and then wanted to go poke around the alleys behind the buildings to find the barns. It made sense to her that if so many people lived in one building they would keep all their chickens and goats together in one barn.

That daughter’s a teenager now and has been dragging us to New York City a lot lately, auditioning for dance programs. Our friends have been hosting us on our visits and while they have no chickens or barns, they have a lot more green space than they used to."

Click here to read the rest.

End of the Season
Published on February 7, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the sad end of the 2011-2012 NFL season.

Here's an excerpt:

"The first Super Bowl I watched was in 1986, when the New England Patriots played the Chicago Bears. I even requested permission to stay up past my bedtime to see it. 'OK,' my mother said. 'But don’t expect much. The Patriots are not expected to win, and the game probably won’t be very exciting.'

My mom was right. The Bears crushed the Patriots. I got bored before the game ended, and went to bed.

Times have changed. On Sunday night, I fully expected the Patriots to win. When the New England Sports Fan Friend said, 'But seriously. If you had $100 to bet on this game, who would you take, the Patriots or the Giants?' I said, 'The Patriots,' without hesitation. And when the game opened on an ominous note — the Giants scoring 2 points on a safety — I was completely confident that the score would be much closer by halftime. And it was. It was only in the game’s final moments that it began to register that the Patriots were likely to lose. Even after Wes Welker and Tom Brady failed to connect — the failed play most commentators have pinpointed as the moment the game was lost — I still had faith."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Lessons in Parenting
Purchasing Baby Gear: My Two Cents
Published on February 5, 2012 by guest author: J LeBlanc

Generally, I like to avoid dispensing advice about parenting in this forum because I am not yet a very experienced parent and because parenting experiences can differ so greatly. However, this time I feel I have some advice worth giving.

When you are a new parent, or about to become one, other parents delight in giving you advice about what to do. A lot of this advice ends up being what you should buy because they simply couldn’t live without it. Like many new parents, I felt a little panicked around nine-and-a-half months of pregnancy when I didn’t have all of the items I’d been told I would need. For a first-time parent, the fear of being unprepared for this life-changing event can be so strong as to prompt an unwarranted shopping spree, but there are very few items that I consider to be absolutely essential to have purchased before the baby is born. Things like a car seat and a crib or bassinet would fall in this category, but even that could be up for debate, for example, if you live in a large city and use the subway and plan to co-sleep with your infant.

My first bit of advice regarding buying baby gear is to wait. Whether it is a toy, a baby carrier, or a diaper bag, it is better to see how you or your baby reacts to it before making a purchase. I quickly discovered that my copious baby book reading was no substitute for experience. One book considered a ring sling to be the essential mode of carrying a baby. I dutifully bought one in advance, but my son was swallowed in it. I couldn’t see his face and he couldn’t see mine. That alone was a deal breaker. I returned it and bought a Baby Björn. I couldn’t put him in the Björn right away, as he weighed too little, but it wasn’t long before he fit into it and it became indispensable to my ability to eat breakfast in the morning. What’s more, my son went through some periods as an infant where he wanted to be upright all day, which wouldn’t have been easy in the ring sling I had bought.


Joining the "Mystery Team" Cult
Published on February 5, 2012 by Sara Foss

When I was a kid, my friends and I used to write mystery stories.

These stories channeled Scooby-Doo, the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew/Three Investigators youthful sleuth genre and spooky ghost stories. We were the main characters, and our hobby was solving mysteries. Our home base was a treehouse. Early models were fairly simple, but later designs incorporated crow's nests, zip lines, an underground bunker and a moat. The name of our club: The Mystery Gang.

I've never completely left the Mystery Gang behind, and so I was undeniably intrigued when I learned about a barely-released 2009 film called "Mystery Team." Absurd and ribald in equal measures, the film focuses on a trio of teenagers who never outgrew their mystery gang phase. Now seniors in high school, they still monitor a wooden booth in the front yard, waiting for neighborhood "clients" to pay them a dime to solve everyday mysteries involving stolen pies and missing cats. They are ridiculous, and even their parents regard them as a bunch of losers. Not long after the film opens, they are asked to sole a real live mystery by a girl who claims her parents were murdered.

"Mystery Team" was created by members of the Derrick Comedy group, and it's a strange little film, with gags involving magnifying glasses, hoboes and slingshots. One highlight is a trip to a gentlemen's club to look for clues; the trio don tuxedos and monocles and speak with patrician accents in an attempt to pass for gentlemen. I suppose there are people who wouldn't find such jokes very funny, but I was practically rolling on the floor. At times, I felt as if "Mystery Team" had been made for me personally - as if someone had broken into my trunk, stolen all my Mystery Gang stories, and developed an adult script based on the goofy scribblings of an elementary school student in the 1980s.


Same Make, New Model
Published on February 5, 2012 by Sara Foss

I got a new car!

Click here to read all about it.

Top Reads of the Week
Published on February 4, 2012 by Sara Foss

Tornados: Cindy F. Crawford on Coping With a Tornado As a Family

Music: Sara Foss on the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Tony Are on Sandy Denny

Parenting: J LeBlanc on the pets

Housing: Adam Rust on Buying a Foreclosure

Sports: Sara Foss on the Super Bowl

Super Bowl Pick
Published on February 2, 2012 by Sara Foss

Yes, I am picking the Patriots to win the Super Bowl.

Click here to read more.

Welcome to Cancerland
Published on February 2, 2012 by Sara Foss

The Susan G. Komen-Planned Parenthood controversy makes this 2001 Barbara Ehrenreich essay a particularly potent read.

Free Steve Nash
Published on February 2, 2012 by Sara Foss

I wholeheartedly support this campaign.

Watching "War Horse"
Published on February 1, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the new Steven Spielberg film "War Horse."

Here's an excerpt:

“'War Horse'” is a big, emotional, sentimental film, but I liked it anyway. It’s a throwback, but a good one, and director Steven Spielberg earns its tears honestly, by crafting a compelling storyline, creating vivid characters and filling the screen with evocative and expansive images.

'War Horse' is an old-fashioned movie about war and animals and men, but it’s also a little stranger than it might initially appear. The film opens in rural England, at a horse auction, where a disabled and hardscrabble farmer (Peter Mullan) outbids his nasty landlord for a beautiful thoroughbred. His wife (Emily Watson) was hoping he would return home with a useful plow horse, and demands that he do whatever he can to get his money back, but her son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine) begs to keep the horse, and promises to train him to plow. These early scenes pave the way for a lovable yarn about the bond between a boy and his clever horse, but the film switches gears when the farmer decides he SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS! needs money, and sells the horse to a kindly Army captain. The horse, named Joey, is then sent off to war, where he spends the bulk of the film, passed from caretaker to caretaker. Unsurprisingly, the film’s final sections bring the film back around to Albert, now a soldier on the front, and still searching for his beloved horse.

This synopsis makes 'War Horse' sound like nothing I’d ever want to watch in my life, but the film’s open-hearted sincerity, the conviction of the performers, and the unusual storytelling technique won me over. I appreciated following Joey on his journey, and meeting the various men, soldiers and children who grow to love him. Most of the film’s characters are kind and decent, and a scene late in the film, where English and German soldiers call a temporary cease-fire to free Joey from barbed wire, seems to be Spielberg’s way of pointing out the folly of war, and the common humanity of the soldiers who wage such wars."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Diet Soda Will Kill Me
Published on February 1, 2012 by Sara Foss

I keep reading articles about how bad diet soda is for your health.

According to a new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, drinking diet soda every day is linked with a higher risk of heart attack and death. Which is unfortunate, because I drink a lot of diet soda. The question is: Why do I drink so much diet soda? And how hard would it be for me to stop?

One theory is that diet soda helps me get through the day, especially at work. I stay up late, and get up earlier than I'd like, so it helps to have some caffeine in my system. And I've never been much of a coffee drinker, although I don't mind coffee and on rare occasions have been known to drink it. I also think work is an activity that becomes more bearable when I have something sweet to imbibe while doing it, and that a periodic trip the vending machine is something to look forward to, especially when I've been writing for a long period of time. But I also drink soda when I'm at home, so I can't blame my addiction solely on working at an office.

Anyway, I am not the only person questioning a bad soda habit. Over at GOOD magazine, Amanda Hess has posted a piece titled "Why I'm Reconsidering My Diet Soda Addiction." She writes:

"For me, diet soda isn't an occasional treat—it's an occupational hazard, one of the few things keeping me from face-planting into my keyboard. It's my version of chain smoking.

It should have been obvious that my excessive consumption of diet soda was not a wholesome choice. But as a press release accompanying the study notes, our 'current climate of escalating obesity rates' tends to reinforce the idea that reduced-calorie options are healthier than their alternatives. I want to believe it's not that bad."


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