There are two in the United States right now, both in San Diego. Mystic is being certified for a return to action; Avalon is ready to go anywhere in the world immediately. Who do they work for, and what do they do?
Send your answer by 6 p.m. ET Thursday to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday's Question (No. 466)—"Animalistic":
As quoted by the BBC Scotland: "There is a certain reduction in the optimism of how practical it will be to take animals and use them in this way." Who said this about what?
(A voluntary, self-policing, bestiality-free zone was encouraged as a way to avoid heavy-handed government regulation and hack responses.)
"Vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman; on training one of those helper monkeys to turn on lights and press the nuclear button for him on the Sabbath."—Charlie Glassenberg
"Och, who else but Sir Sean Connery; speaking of the conversion of cats into bagpipes."—Alison Gordon (Fred Petrick had a similar answer, but with raccoons.)
"Coyote Ugly producer Jerry Bruckheimer; about why he opted to replace coyotes with comely young women."—Andrew Milner
"Education Minister David Blunkett backing down, in a typically obscure Blairite fashion, from his plans to replace striking teachers with magical talking bears."—TG Gibbon
"God, about his plan to flood the planet and repopulate the Earth after the devastation with pairs of animals loaded onto an ark. 'I think I'll just create a new set of creatures. Unless 75 percent of the people who will otherwise perish send me a dollar,' he continued."—Charles Star
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Domestication of animals and plants began around 9000 B.C., says the Encyclopedia Britannica, with dogs, goats, and possibly sheep. (You'd think the editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica would know a sheep when they saw one.) Most species that still serve man were developed later, during the Neolithic Period, although the sugar beet wasn't cultivated until the 19th century and was never a popular pet. One rarely sees anyone walking his beet. Rabbits were domesticated in the Middle Ages, from the sixth to the 10th centuries, by French monks who considered newborn rabbits to be fish and ate them when the church calendar compelled abstinence from meat. (Similarly, some monks classified women as "clothing" when the church urged chastity. With the proper outlook, even the most austere cloistered life can be rather pleasant if you are not a rabbit.)
During the Neolithic Period, dogs accompanied hunters, guarded settlements, and warned the inhabitants of possible danger. In addition, they were eaten by humans: You'd think if they were such great sentries, the dogs would have warned one another about that sort of thing. Sheep and goats were also eaten in the initial stages of domestication but later were valued for their milk and wool and, in cases of urgent need, as a last minute date.
Around this time, the bee was domesticated for its honey, humanity's main sweetening agent until well into the 18th century. Bees were occasionally used in warfare, hives being thrown among enemy troops to rout them. Today, this sort of thing is used as low comedy, but it wouldn't seem so funny if you were being routed, or if you were a bee. It might seem funny if you were a bee with a mordant sense of humor. I'll bet if Samuel Beckett had been a bee, he'd have found that situation hysterical. Although it would have been hard for him to type it up.
Hens were first domesticated not for eggs or meat but for sport, cockfighting being as popular then as television is now, although less degrading to the human spirit. Perhaps if rabbits had shown a little more fighting spirit, they'd have been domesticated much earlier, but they'd never have been all that enthusiastic about visiting France.
Professor Ian Wilmut, head of a team of scientists at Edinburgh's Roslin Institute, made this remark about the shutdown of their project to develop genetically modified pigs to provide organs for human transplant.
But wait, there's more. Professor Wilmut also made this quiz-worthy remark: "We are in the process of reducing pig work. It has not quite finished but it will be before long."
That would be more than enough comical mammalian ambiguity for any quiz. But there's still more. The story ran under this headline: "Dolly Team Halts Pig Organ Scheme." (Wilmut's people also created Dolly, the cloned sheep.)
A disappointed Professor Wilmut explained the thinking behind the cancellation of his funding: "I think the concern is mainly unknown viruses. That's the frightening thing. If you know what the disease is, you know how to look for it. It's possible there could be viruses we don't know about that could be released into the human population."
You can learn more about it here or by flying to Scotland and asking around. People are probably pretty interested in this sort of thing over there. And they've got their own parliament now.
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Overly-Domesticated Animals Extra
Best sentence in today's New York Times consisting of two independent clauses about a small personal tragedy not involving too many people so we can still be amused at human folly without feeling too guilty about taking pleasure from human suffering: "I have three big dogs, and I know they're not calling psychic hot lines."