Today’s Short Attention Span Theater is not brought to you by disease or lack of sleep, it’s just an excuse to deal with my to-do pile.

First, a brief administrative note.

I will be attending the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival at the end of the month. I’m not planning a book signing or any other formal event, but The RagTime Traveler will be available for sale*. Come on down to Sedalia, enjoy the music, pick up a book, and I’ll be delighted to sign it for you.

* Dad’s ragtime books, both fiction and non-fiction, will also be in the festival store. In my totally unbiased opinion, you need copies of all of those as well.

While I will take my laptop along, I don’t plan to write any blog posts. I’ll make sure to have a post for Friday, May 31–I don’t want to be responsible for riots caused by cat deprivation–but other than that expect silence between May 28 and June 4, with a return to the usual schedule on June 6.

Second, I’m a little disturbed to discover that El Sobrante* is more dangerous than I’d thought.

* For those unfamiliar with the Bay Area, El Sobrante is the closest of the several cities that border the part of Richmond where I live.

Over the years, I’ve gotten accustomed to the suspicious sorts lurking in the local undergrowth, but it appears that a new threat is moving in.

According to a recent post on everyone’s favorite unbiased news source–Nextdoor–“[…]a somewhat large buck with velvet covered antlers jumped out from the side… he mean mugged us hella hard and took a few quick steps towards the car…”

That’s right. As if street gangs of turkeys and terrorist coyotes aren’t bad enough, now we’ve got to deal with deer carjackers. It’s a bad neighborhood, obviously, and getting worse.

But I have to wonder: how the heck did the deer expect to drive the car to the chop shop? He could probably hold the key between his hooves, but it’s not like the driver’s seat can be adjusted to fit his shape. For that matter, what kind of payment would he have been expecting? I’ve heard that fences pay chicken feed, but salt licks?

Anyway, moving on.

The big story a few days ago was that Microsoft is working on tools to (as the Chron’s headline put it) “secure elections”. Which is great news as far as it goes.

Microsoft is doing it right: making the source code freely available, so anyone can audit it and any company in the voting machine field can use it.

The thing is, it’s not a complete voting system, and the value of Microsoft’s software is only as good as the implementation. Voting machine companies have a justifiably poor reputation for the quality of their coding. You can have the greatest software in the world for allowing voters to verify their ballot, and it’ll be absolutely useless if the rest of the software and the hardware it’s running on is riddled with security holes.

How many voting machines run on Windows XP, an operating system that has been completely unsupported for half a decade? (Probably fewer than the number of ATMs running on OS/2, which has been dead for three times as long. But I digress.) Sorry, not totally unsupported. Microsoft just released a security patch for XP. How many of those voting machines running the code are going to get the patch? I’m betting on a percentage in the single digits.

Also, as the articles point out, Microsoft’s new code doesn’t support Internet voting (something far too many people want, given the woeful state of the art) or vote by mail systems, which are increasingly popular.

I’m not running Microsoft down. As I said, it’s a step in the right direction. But we as a country need to take far more than just that one step.

And, finally, no SAST post is really complete without a mention of either the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch or the Transbay Terminal fiasco. I don’t have anything on the BBBB, but there was a brief note in the Chron a few weeks about about the terminal.

The cracked support beams are nearly repaired–though we still don’t have a date for the grand reopening. What we do have is word that the paths in the rooftop garden are going to be replaced.

Those paths, you may remember, are made of decomposed granite, and even before the terminal was closed, the granite was decomposing even further. So the decision has been made to repave the paths, this time using concrete.

As local megaconstruction repair projects go, it should be a comparatively cheap fix, no more than half a million dollars or so. The city and the contractors are, of course, arguing over who is at fault for the failure of the paths. We all know who’s going to wind up paying for the repair, though, and it isn’t either of the arguing parties.

Still at it

Never let it be said that I’m unwilling to indulge–even pander to–the tastes of my readers, especially when they take the step of sending me research materials.

One reader pointed out that I’ve been neglecting my responsibility to keep you all informed on the activities of our feline overlords. No, not the ones who have taken over my house, the ones who are actively working towards world domination.

  • First, we’ve got a brief note in the police report for Bucyrus, Ohio. On May 9, at 9:45 in the evening, “A report of someone trying to break into a house in the 500 block of South Poplar Street was investigated. It was actually a resident of the house on the roof trying to rescue a cat.”

    Of course, we know what was really going on. The “resident” was clearly under the mental control of the cat. They were preparing a break-in for money or material to support the cat’s nefarious plans. When the police arrived, the cat pulled a “these are not the droids you’re looking for” routine on the hapless officers. No doubt that the break-in continued as planned as soon as the police left.

  • Next up, KDVR in Denver reports that the so-called “Cat Lady of Aurora” has won the release of five of her forty-six cats from the shelter that was holding them hostage.

    The official story is that Schultz fell ill, and to preserve the lives and health of the cats, they were taken in by Almost Home Adoptions. At the time, AHA agreed to return five of the cats when Schultz recovered.

    Naturally, there’s more to the story than that. What’s really going on becomes much clearer when you recognize that Karen Schultz’ home had been co-opted by a local feline supremacy group. Schultz illness and the agreement with AHA were arranged by the cats as a way to spread themselves throughout the community. The five who were to return to Schultz’ home were to act as cadre for the next trainee battalion. AHA’s unwillingness to honor the agreement put the plan in jeopardy, but it appears that it’s back on track.

    I suggest we keep our eyes on the Denver area over the next few years. I’d be willing to bet that we’ll see an upswing in cat-related crimes as the forty-one cats still with AHA settle into new homes and begin exercising control over their new human toys…

  • Then there’s the tale of Tara. At first glance, it appears heart-warming. When a dog attacked a young boy, the feisty feline leaped on the dog and chased him away. The security camera video posted by the boy’s father has been viewed more than 6 million times and received almost 15,000 comments, most expressing approval of the cat’s actions.

    Doesn’t sound much like our typical evil genius moggy, does it? But think about it for a moment. The cat is a former stray (read “emancipated feline”). Two years before the boy, Jeremy, was born, Tara was adopted by his parents-to-be. Jeremy is now four years old, nearing school age. What better time for a cat who needs a human stooge to begin solidifying her mental control? Jeremy now considers Tara his “hero”, and when she begins exerting mental control, suggesting that he take action to support her goals, he’ll be that much more willing. In the meantime, she’s gained the worship of tens of thousands of people around the world and the good will of Jeremy’s parents. Not a bad return for the minimal effort of controlling one dog’s mind for a few seconds!

Finally, I’ll leave you with this report–it’s not directly about criminal cats, but as we’ll see, it may be connected–from Mike Fossum of WebProNews. According to Mike, the recent radiation leaks at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project near Carlsbad, New Mexico may have been due to a change in the type of kitty litter used to absorb liquid in nuclear wastes.

Traditional clay litter has been used for decades in the stabilization of radioactive waste. However, Mike theorizes that a change from clay to a modern “organic” litter composed of plant matter “may have contributed to the chemical reaction that caused the WIPP decontainment.” Take Mike’s theory for what it’s worth–he also takes pains to point out that “kitty litter also houses Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that exists in cat feces.” Mike is, it appears, under the impression that WIPP stabilizes radioactive waste with used kitty litter. I have to wonder if he thinks that the cats in question are resident at WIPP, or if there’s some kind of national used litter recycling project providing WIPP with its materials.

Personally, I suspect that WIPP is actually a cover for a feline-controlled project to produce giant, mutant cats: the next generation in feline attack technology.

Remember, you heard it here first!

Not So Swift

We’re overdue for another look at the link between cats and crime. In the past, we’ve focused on the feline criminal masterminds. Lately, though, there’s been a run of not-so-criminal-mastermind cats. (Yes, the ambiguity there is deliberate. You’ll see.)

Consider the tale of “Mercy“. Last Christmas, Mercy decided to change her living quarters. She enlisted the help of one James Boyce to spirit her away from her previous domicile and deliver her to her new home. (For those of you who didn’t read the article, Boyce has been convicted of stealing Mercy from a neighbor and giving her to his mother as a Christmas gift.) Not a bad plan on Mercy’s part, really. Her only error was in selecting a henchman who was too easily identified. Considering that she was less than a year old at the time, her error can be excused on the grounds of inexperience. It could be argued that she also erred in not choosing new quarters further away from the old ones, but I’m inclined to give her a pass on that. According to the report, she has returned to the her original home. Presumably, she’ll have a more robust plan the next time she decides to move.

Next, we turn to a case that raises more questions than it answers. According to The Sentinel, Someone broke into an apartment in Cobridge sometime around Christmas. Adding insult to injury, a neighbor saw the broken door, walked in, and stole several DVDs. When the inhabitants returned, they found that “the room had been trashed. A cat was found in the living room that did not belong to them.” Questions: Did the cat break down the front door, or did he just take advantage of someone else’s work, in the same way the DVD thief did? Was the cat present when the DVDs were stolen? If so, did he tempt the thief into the criminal act, or did he chase him out before he could steal anything else? Who trashed the flat: the original burglar, the DVD thief, or–assuming there were three individuals involved–the cat? How stupid did the cat have to be to get caught? Given the usual clutter and chaos in student-occupied spaces, he could have easily hidden and lived there for years rent free!

On a related note, is reporting that a woman was recently robbed of $10,000 of jewelry. According to the story, there were no signs of forced entry, but there was a window “slightly ajar”. The critical piece of information here: her cat was found in the basement with the door closed. It seems clear that this was an inside job: most likely, the cat stole the jewelry and hid it somewhere outside, then locked itself in the basement in a transparent attempt to provide itself with an alibi. Hopefully the woman and the police will keep an eye on the cat and keep an eye on its finances. Arrest that cat before it blows all of its ill-gotten gains on catnip!

Let’s close with a cheerful story. reports that a woman recently used a vacuum cleaner to chase an intruder out of her house. When police located the suspected housebreaker, they were able to link him to the crime partly because his clothes were smeared with cat droppings, which they were able to match to a smeared pile of droppings the woman’s cat had left on the floor. That’s right, we’ve got a cat who’s on the right side of the law, helping police catch criminals! How rare!

They’re At It Again

Time for another roundup of cat-related news from around the world.

Adriana Lee reports that her cats didn’t take it well when she installed a home monitoring system to keep tabs on them.

We’ve talked about the risks of insufficiently-secured home monitoring systems before, but we missed this one. According to Adriana, the system had been in place for less than a day when the motion sensor alerted her to feline activity in the bedroom. She switched on the camera just in time to witness one of the cats lying down on her pillow, looking at the camera, and then coughing up a hairball on her side of the bed.

Clearly the cats were up to something nefarious and didn’t want her to catch them at it. We all know from the movies that premature revelation of a villain’s plans for world domination are the most common reason why the plans fail. Surely the cats are well aware of that fact too.

Or maybe they’re not after world domination. Maybe they’re members of the growing class of feline masterminds. Adriana doesn’t say where she lives, but it could be that her cats are controlling James Lawlor of Clearwater, Florida. Mr. Lawlor was arrested when he tried to walk out of Walmart pushing a shopping cart filled with cat food.

He claimed that he planned to sell the food to a friend with 300 cats, but how likely is that? It seems obvious that his claim is really a cover story to avoid revealing his feline controller, who’s attempting to set up a food supply independent of any human. Stocking a secret command post is an expensive proposition; any savings you can realize through control of weak-minded humans is money you can put into catnip-infused champagne for your victory party.

A bit of sad news on the subject of feline overlords: The infamous Colonel Meow passed away last week. The Colonel’s minions request that memorial contributions be sent to Seattle Persian and Himalayan Rescue. My presumption is that SPHR is a front established by the Colonel’s successor, and the funds will be used to further the Colonel’s dream of world domination.

Not all cats are as blatant in their methods as Colonel Meow. Take a peek at this post by Devan McGuinness. The post, clearly ghost-written by a cat, makes it clear that humans should dump their spouses and lavish all of their love on their feline overlordscompanions. Her ten reasons why a cat is the perfect valentine are a frightening peek into the way cats want us to think of them. I’m particularly taken by number 4: “Hanging out at home is also their idea of a really good time.” Forget all the times the cats have tried to dash past your feet when you open the door or squeeze out of a barely-opened window. They don’t want to get out to further their nefarious plans at all. You clearly are hallucinating. Your cat wants nothing more than to stay at home and watch “Love Actually” with you (per reason number 8).

One last note. Our feline masters are figuring out that sometimes it’s worthwhile for them to team up and work together to extend their control over humans. Case in point: there are currently two groups competing to open the first “cat cafe” in the U.S. Both groups are in the SF Bay Area, and one suspects that the competition between them owes as much to the rivalry between San Francisco and Oakland as it does to the battle for market- and mind-share. Both groups are affiliated with rescue/adoption organizations, so the potential for the feline masters to use the cafes to infiltrate formerly cat-free homes is obvious.

The race to open first–both groups are targeting this summer–is still neck-and-neck. Both groups have tentative approval from the appropriate zoning and health departments, both have secured partial funding, and both are still looking for appropriate spaces.

KitTea, in San Francisco, seems to be somewhat ahead in website development, but Oakland’s Cat Town Cafe has an active Indiegogo page for funding, as well as pledged support from Pet Food Express.

Stay tuned. When (or if) either group manages to get their venture off the ground, I’ll be sure to do an on-the-spot report.

More Criminal Activity

A while back, I reported on criminal cats, ones who were either engaged in criminal activities on the own behalf, or who were acting as the “brains behind the operation,” and forcing humans to commit criminal acts.

Sad to say, not much has changed. Cats continue to ignore the law and do whatever they want, regardless of the negative impact it may have on the humans around them.

The latest such criminal is “Oyster”. As The Mirror reports, earlier this week, the orange villain boarded a train on the London Underground–without paying. Not content to merely deprive the system of the £3.20 rush hour adult fare, he then compounded the offense. The perfectly healthy feline monopolized a seat that should have been offered to someone more in need.

The feline scofflaw was not wearing a microchip, leading officials to believe that he has been living on the streets and fueling speculation that this is not his first offense.

Fortunately, Oyster was placed under citizen’s arrest by a fare-paying Tube traveller. Oyster is currently incarcerated at the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Authorities believe he will be sentenced to time served and hope to release him into home arrest under the supervision of a responsible human.

Hopefully whoever adopts Oyster will be of strong moral character and will be able to stand firm when he inevitably attempts to lead them into criminal activities on his behalf.

Meanwhile, Man Cave Daily notes that cats kill somewhere between 8 and 20.7 billion animals every year in the U.S. Those numbers are only for direct kills, and do not include cases where cats have found human minions to do their dirty work. Consider the case of Annamarie Cochrane Rintala who was strangled in 2010. The prime suspect in her death is her wife, Cara Rintala. A previous attempt to try Cara Rintala for murder ended in a mistrial. Her defense lawyers in the current retrial are asking that investigators consider other suspects based on the fact that cat hairs were found on victim’s body, but the couple did not own a cat. The lawyers suggest that another suspect who does own a cat should receive additional scrutiny. Oddly enough, however, no one appears to be suggesting that–despite centuries of evidence that cats kill humans by sucking their breath–the cat might be the actual murderer. In fact, as best I can tell from the stories, nobody is even looking for the cat that left the hairs behind.

In that earlier article, I mentioned Norris, a notorious feline thief in Bristol. Apparently word of his success in avoiding punishment despite multiple thefts is inspiring imitators throughout the former British Empire. Bluebell in Wokingham and Loki in Blenheim, NZ are both following in Norris’ pawprints, stealing clothing and small objects from the neighbors and forcing their human pawns to go to great effort to return the stolen goods.

And yet, it appears that Australia is actually lowering barriers to potentially criminal felines entering the country. Previously, all cats were required to spend a month in quarantine; that limit is being reduced to a mere 10 days. As Oyster shows, making it easier for the fuzzy reprobates to travel can only encourage them to escalate their crimes. I predict a surge in feline criminal activity Down Under as more cats, encouraged by the shorter stay behind bars, enter the country.

Beware the Cat!

Back in May, we spent some time talking about what professions would be open to cats, and especially to cats with thumbs. It turns out we forgot one: Evil Genius.

We see evil villains in the movies who dote on their feline companions. The film makers tell us that it’s a humanizing trait: it allows us to establish a connection with the villain and see him as more than just “evil”. “He loves his cat,” we think at some subconscious level, “so he can’t be all bad.”

The evidence is mounting, however, that those evil villains aren’t evil at all, but simply misled. That’s right, tricked into doing bad at the paws of their “loyal” feline companions. From the cat’s perspective, it’s the perfect crime. If the plot succeeds, the cat reaps the benefits, but if it fails, it’s the human who takes the rap. The cat moves on to find another stooge to front its next scheme.

Evidence? Oh, yes, there’s evidence. Consider:

Norm Lopez” of Sacramento, California has nearly 3,000 Facebook friends and what the newspapers are reporting as “a fervent, almost cult-like following in the community.” His picture appears on band t-shirts, and people stretch their commutes to visit (worship?) him. And what has he done to inspire this devoted following? He’s fat. So fat that he was recently hauled off to an animal shelter when a stranger thought he was pregnant. Shelter workers recognized him from his Facebook page and returned him to his home.

The Cult of Norm is comparatively innocent. As best I can tell, Norm causes no harm to anyone, being content to bask in the adulation of his followers–and bathe in the street.

Much less innocent is an anonymous cat in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who cleverly drove his human front man to assault his wife. The cat allegedly repeatedly scratched the furniture, driving the man to accuse his wife of adultery before hitting her and threatening to kill her. The human has been arraigned on charges of harassment and making terroristic threats (remember our discussion of how vague the definition of “terrorism” is? Apparently threatening to kill one person can be a terroristic act. But I digress.) The cat apparently remains in the family home, presumably continuing its plans to shred all of the furniture in the house.

The Bethlehem cat was subtle. A cat in Connellsville, some 250 miles away was far less so. The unnamed feline allegedly lured one James Anthony Shroyer into a life of crime. Following the cat’s instructions, Shroyer stole a car, drove it to a nearby bank, and used a plastic gun to rob the bank bank of over $1,500. He then fled in the stolen car and–again following the cat’s instructions–rammed the pursuing police car. Shroyer received a 2 1/2 to 5 year prison sentence and is required to pay restitution to the bank, as well as undergo a mental health assessment. The cat remains at large, and no reports of its further nefarious activities are available.

Now, you may think you’re safe if you don’t live in Pennsylvania. After all, Norm is comparatively harmless. And maybe you’re right. Or perhaps not. Consider the tale of Norris, a feline resident of Bedminster, Bristol. Not content to work through a human front, Norris has gone on a one-cat crime spree, putting the “cat” back into “cat burgler”. He’s accumulated a pile of shirts, slippers, bath mats, and underwear, turning his poor, traumatized humans into accomplices and forcing them to send letters around the neighborhood urging people to come claim their possessions. And yet Norris still continues his depredations, secure in the knowledge that the public blames his parents, not him.

So ask yourself whether you know what your “loyal” feline companions are doing all day while you’re at work. Are they really just sleeping in the sunlight and knocking chachkas off the shelves, or are they even now planning to set you up to take the fall if their plans for world domination go wrong?

Don’t Say It

Say what, now?

I’m as unhappy about the events playing out in Valley Springs, California as anyone else who’s not directly involved, but for the last couple of days, every story has tripped a mental fuse for me.

In case anyone has missed it, the story in question is that of eight-year-old Leila Fowler, who was stabbed to death in late April. Yesterday, her twelve-year-old brother was arrested. (No links, it’s not hard to find all the coverage anyone could want, and then some.)

What keeps tripping me up is the statement in every story yesterday and today: “His name is not being released since he is a minor.” Just to be clear here, it’s not just this case, it’s every news story reporting on a juvenile accused of a crime.

Yes, I understand the desirability of keeping the names of minors out of the press, especially given the fact that an arrest is far from proof of guilt. For that matter, I hope that all of the various news agencies have updated any earlier stories that gave his name. I’m even in the apparent minority that would be happy to have his name continue to be withheld even if he is tried as an adult.

I’m not suggesting that the news media should give his name. Quite the contrary, in fact.

What I’m getting stuck on is the incessant repetition of that sentence. Is it really necessary to say the same thing every time? It wouldn’t be that hard to find out his name if one were motivated to do so – let’s face it, how many twelve year old brothers is she likely to have had? Repeating this sentence over and over just feels like it’s calling attention to the omission, and daring someone to start digging.

I’ll grant you that it’s not as easy to find someone’s name as it often appears in mystery novels, but that might just make it worse. If someone goes to the effort of doing the research and learning the brother’s name, he’s going to want to do something with it, and the harder he has to work, the more likely he is to want to show off.

Really, if the paper didn’t say “His name is not being released…” would you notice? Would you care? Most of you probably wouldn’t. Those few who would care are going to care regardless of whether the disclaimer is present or not; at best, the presence of the disclaimer serves no function, and at worst it provokes a few people.

Let’s just drop the disclaimer, state the facts, and move on.