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Should we apologize?

Animal lovers, says The Daily Telegraph, should stop calling their furry or feathered friends "pets," because the term is insulting, leading academics claim. "Domestic dogs, cats, hamsters or budgerigars should be rebranded as 'companion animals' while owners should be known as 'human carers,' they insist. Even terms such as wildlife are dismissed as insulting to the animals concerned -- who should instead be known as 'free-living,' the academics, including an Oxford professor, suggest. The call comes from the editors of the Journal of Animal Ethics, a new academic publication devoted to the issue." The journal condemns the use of terms such as "critters" and "beasts" because such derogatory language about animals can affect the way they are treated. It also contends that phrases such as "sly as a fox," "eat like a pig" or "drunk as a skunk" are unfair to animals.

Conjugal visits for poultry

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"A New Jersey town has adopted an ordinance that regulates when chickens and roosters can hook up in backyard henhouses," Associated Press reports. "Roosters must show they're disease-free and they better not crow about their conquests. Hopewell Township residents can have up to a half-dozen hens on half-acre lots. Roosters would be allowed only 10 days a year for fertilization purposes. Mature roosters are not allowed because they are too noisy. Any roosters that crow too long can be banned from the property for two years. Mayor Jim Burd told The Times of Trenton the ordinance is a compromise between today's lifestyle and the township's agricultural history."

Giving snakes a surprise

Virtually every week, reptile expert Jeff Lemm goes looking for trouble, writes Mike Lee of The San Diego Union-Tribune. "[H] shrugs off whatever primal fears most people have of snakes and traipses through the backcountry near Escondido in search of red-diamond rattlers, southern Pacific rattlers and other slithery creatures. Along the way, he runs into any number of rats, geckos, scorpions and lizards attracted to his simple traps." Mr. Lemm is a research co-ordinator for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. He said he hasn't been bitten by a rattler and doesn't shy away from seeking poison snakes. "Almost always, they are a little surprised," he said. "They just sit there and don't do anything."

Darwinian chairs

"The 19th-century naturalist Charles Darwin was so eminent a scientist that some 120 species, an Australian city and a mountain in the Andes have been named in his honour, but among his other accomplishments is a modest footnote in design history for an unsung contribution to furniture design," Alice Rawsthorn writes in The New York Times. "Darwin designed the earliest known example of the wheeled chairs that millions of people now sit or slouch on in offices all over the world. He customized a wooden armchair in his family home in the English countryside during the 1840s by removing the legs and replacing them with a set of cast-iron bed legs mounted on casters. Darwin then literally rolled around his study to scrutinize specimen after specimen."

Divorce by text message

"Some marriages end in a burst of anger, others with a whimper. Marina Dodobayeva's ended with an SMS," writes Olga Tutubalina of Associated Press. "The 33-year-old mother of two was sweeping her yard one October morning when her mobile phone vibrated with a three-word text message from her husband of 14 years. ' Taloq, taloq, taloq,' it read - divorce, divorce, divorce. With those words, Ms. Dodobayeva found herself among the growing ranks of women in predominantly Muslim Tajikistan whose husbands have used mobile phones to issue the 'triple taloq,' an Islamic ritual in which men can end a marriage by reciting the word for divorce three times. ... Islam frowns upon divorce but allows it, generally when a husband announces his intention to his wife and a cleric ratifies the decision. ... Clerics from Malaysia to Qatar have struggled with the impact of new technology on such proceedings. But in few places have digital innovations muddied the waters as much as in this Central Asian nation."

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Deadly painkillers

"Disturbing new research finds that unintentional overdose deaths in [U.S.] teens and adults have reached epidemic proportions," reports Psych News Central. "Experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of North Carolina and Duke University Medical Center report that in 2007, unintentional deaths due to prescription opioid painkillers were involved in more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. In fact, in 20 states, the number of unintentional drug poisoning deaths exceeded either motor vehicle crashes or suicides in the U.S. in 2007. The new research report seeks to give physicians information so that safeguards and interventions can be put in place to reduce the problem."

Thought du jour

"The hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning."

- Adlai Stevenson (1900-65), American politician

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