I ate my wafer...


For male readers only...

Another link from an email conversation: I always enjoy reading PZ Myers, the prolific and witty blogger that runs pharyngula. Anyway, he has a fun little post about the mating habits of giant Australian cuttlefish, from which, we can see a great lesson about clever, sensitive males.


Through a friend (Jenn Bresnan) of a (Peter Wood) friend of a (Will Farnum) friend blogging connection, I just discovered the Gallery of Regrettable Food. Highly reccomended, though I wouldn't reccommend thinking too much about meat jello before meals. Most of the cooking instructions featured in the Gallery are shades of my Life magazine "Beer the Healthful Refresher" ad, and highly amusing even without the additional commentary. The "science" facts in some of the 1950's era promotional cookbooks are pretty similar to the Oscar Meyer periodic table from the Simpsons, or 1950's cigarette ads.

So, I'm part of several interesting email conversations at the moment, and I realized that some of the websites involved might make an interesting blog post:

A. I've been aware of the German flak tower system since reading the IMPACT books in 5th grade, but just discovered that some of the giant, castle-like structures still exist. The extremely cool Urban Exploration website, UER, has a nice pictorial article on the flak towers, with a number of photos of the Berlin towers. If giant concrete castles with room for 20,000 people and massive artillery wasn't cool enough, enterprising Germans have converted the side of the Berlin G-tower into a climbing wall! Even though my climbing ability is not particularly impressive, falling somewhere between wine-tasting and welding on my personal spectrum of skills, I would love to try it.

B. UER also has a brief, though interesting pictorial of Ur. The archeology of Ur is certainly fascinating in and of itself, with religious significance and buried treasure, but I find the chemistry aspects particularly interesting. That is, various petroleum derivatives, such as bitumen were widely used by the ancient inhabitants of Ur.

Although at the time, the Babylonians were more interested in the waterproofing and cementing properties of bitumen, they exported a great deal to Egypt for mummification purposes. (I highly recommend The Mummy Congress, by Heather Pringle for an excellent, and very readable discussion of mummification).

Although the Egyptians and Greeks get all the press, the Babylonians had some pretty interesting chemistry of their own, such as, believe it or not, effective pH based home pregnancy tests. Not to mention that by 850AD, the inhabitants of Mesopotamia were distilling light-fraction petroleum products, such as naphtha in vast quantities. (Which means that you could probably get functional diesel for your car, and certainly fuel for your Zippo in a 9th century bazaar.)

But back to bitumen: due to a darkly-humorous, but gruesome, mistranslation of the Arabic word mumiya (bitumen) and confusion between mummification and medical uses of petroleum products, Western Europeans spent some 500+ years grinding up mummified corpses for consumption as a medical drug. Disgusting isn't it?


In light of the recent decision in Kitzmiller, (pdf, 134 pages) Blandus has started a new round of Intellegent Design discussion. I've responded breifly.


So, risk-taking behaviours prevent Parkinsons.


Valentines Day: lets talk about diamonds.

So, since I’ve been bombarded with radio and billboard ads from jewelry stores for weeks, I feel compelled to post on diamonds. I like diamonds; they’re my second most favorite form of carbon after buckyballs. However, unlike buckyballs, diamonds, contrary to the jewelry industry, aren’t that rare. In fact, they’re kind of common in nature, but the diamond industry has carefully controlled production. Besides artificially increasing the price, the industry, espicially the deBeers group, has conducted a wildly sucessful marketing effort to supplant more traditional engagement gemstones with large diamonds, and to encourage women to avoid used diamonds.

Despite the fact that I am a budding member of the most capitalistic of all professions, I find the artificial market manipulation of the diamond industry irritating. So, the invention of extremely high quality artificial diamonds warms my heart. Not only are artificial diamonds a nicely ironic end-run around the contrived market value of natural diamonds, they avoid all of the nasty moral baggage connected with natural diamonds. Frankly, there's something close to a 1-in-20 chance of buying a conflict diamond in the natural diamond industry even with the Kimberly process, and it is practically impossible to check the origin of a polished natural diamond. On the other hand, the synthetic ones are serial numbered, and completely traceable.

So, if you're in the market for a diamond, consider a synthetic one from Gemesis, Chatham, or Appollo. Not only will your diamond buying dollar buy a larger and higher quality stone, you get to proove yourself smarter than the deBeers marketing, and avoid guilty feelings about civil unrest in Africa and AlQuida diamond money laundering.

I should mention that one of the companies that makes artificial diamonds alledgely allows customers to provide their own carbon. As much as I like the artificial diamond concept, making jewelry out of humans or domestic animals is completely insane. I would much prefer to think that lifegem was a scam than that people were walking around with fluffy or grandma on a ring.


There's already a discussion of Cheney's Negligent Discharge over at Krupa's blog. Rather than totally hijack his comments, I wanted to link to Summers v. Tice for those not in the legal community. Those in law school probably immediately thought of this seminal torts case involving a quail hunting accident, but for everyone else, it is short as far as cases go, and reading it might even be fun.

Overall, yes, you can be civilly liable for a Negligent Discharge while hunting, and no, the fact that Whittington didn't announce his return does NOT change Cheney's moral or legal liability whatsoever. Every time you discharge a firearm, you are responsible for the terminal resting place of each and every projectile. When in doubt, especially when hunting a 6oz game bird, do not shoot.


There seems to be a particularly virulent faulty comparison between Canadian and U.S. crime statistics floating around the internet at the moment. Since Ryan Thompson has caught it, and I went to the effort to dig out the links to disprove it (I used bugmenot to post the comment on Ryan's Xanga just to save time, since my usual iatemywafer xanga login has been acting up), I thought I'd post them here too.

The gist of the matter is that Canadian crime statistics count stuff that the U.S. ones do not, namely, the U.S. statistics do not include minor assaults and the Canadian ones do. So, the only workable comparisons are to homicide and robbery rates:

U.S. homicide: 5.5/100,000
CA homicide: 2/100,000

CA Robbery rate: 90/100,000
U.S. robbery rate: 137/100000

So, the next time someone tells you that Canada has twice the U.S. crime rate, please, please debunk the myth. I have no great love for Canada, but this statistical false comparison is insane.


A quick update to the dog food business...

I didn't mean to imply that Drummond was sending dog food in the post below, the stories I linked clearly pointed out that it was a different product. I'd guess that its not that dissimilar of a product, since Ms. Drummond originally planned on sending dog biscuits, then changed her mind due to the age of the children involved:

"The first plan was to send dog biscuits and change the vitamins then when I heard there were so many little children I could not send them a bicky..."

(I'd point out that I'm a bit suspicious of Ms. Drummond's claim that her dog food has miraculous naturopathic and homeopathic properties, but the biscuits sound much tastier than the brand-x powerbar I ate this morning.)

In any case, its not dog food. I can understand the random yokels thinking that it actually is dog food, but the attitude of the African journalists and government officials on the topic is insane. There's even an editorial in the Harare Herald (State-owned mouthpiece) that uses Drummond as an example of what's good about grain diverting, aid theifing, all around jackass, Robert Mugabe.


A. Kenya suffers a two year drought, and enters a nasty famine.
B. New Zealand dog food manufactuer offers to send 42 tons of dried food.
C. New Zealand company called racist, etc.

Frankly, I don't get it. If Ms. Drummond wants to ship the stuff all the way to Kenya, and the orphans refuse to eat it, so be it. Otherwise, what business of the Kenyan government is it to interfer with the private shipment of food INTO the country?

If I were Ms. Drummond, I think I'd be inclined to very publically eat a meal of the stuff, and ship the rest of it. I've personally FedEx'd packages to kenya, and their border inspections aren't exactly the strongest in the world, so illicitly importing food shouldn't be that hard.

-As a side note, many dog food manufaturing companies also make human foods, for example, Nestle makes Alpo dog food and Infant formula.


I had 3 siblings, but they all died as zygotes...

Lisa has a recent post (scroll down) discussing the inappropriateness of the term “Emergency Contraceptive” for anti-implantation pharmaceuticals. Since Krupa has been bemoaning the lack of controversial posting, I’ve decided to take the bait:

A. Conception, as a properly used term of art means implantation. That is, the board certifying society for Ob-Gyn, ACOG, defines conception as the moment that a blastocyst implants in the uterine wall. It is true that ACOG revised their definition some 30 years ago on the topic, however, historically, the term contraceptive has been applied to many early term abortificants. (Queen Ann’s lace, and mercury preparations in the civil war era).

B. As a practical matter, defining conception as taking place at implantation helps to deal with the unstable nature of the zygote. That is, zygotes may split into twins, or several (I think only 2) zygotes can combine into a single embryo. Not to mention the relatively low, probably best case, 50%, chance a zygote has at a successful pregnancy. Most people I know, no matter what their views on abortion, do not discuss zygote death in the same terms as embryo death. That is, very few people with say, 3 children, ever think about the 2-6 children that died as zygotes. Of course, depending on ones theological positions, there are all sorts of interesting questions about the ensoulment, salvation-status, etc of the 2-6 dead zygotes.

C. The commonly available emergency contraceptives work primarilly by preventing ovulation and fertilization, and in my oppinion definitely deserve to be called contraceptives. For example, “Plan B” works primarily by preventing post-coital ovulation in the time period where motile sperm are still present, and also helps produce a thickened cervical mucas to prevent fertilization. The FDA won't even let the manufacturers of Plan B claim that it prevents implantation, they have to add the "may" disclaimer to their product literature.


Rats on Valium, cat urine, and parasites.

Ever wonder how anti-anxiety drugs are tested? Apparently, rats have little panic attacks when exposed to cat urine, so you dope up the rats, then expose them to cat urine. The Loom article has more to do with a particularly interesting cat parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, which spends part of its life in rats, hoping (well, one-celled organisms don't hope) for a cat to eat its host rat. To facilitate the eating process, Toxoplasma gondii makes the rat forget its fear of cats. Sort of like the liqour in The Little Brown Mouse song that everyone is forced to sing at summer camp. Now the really interesting part of all of this is that treating the infected rats with anti-schizophrenia drugs, reverses the parasite's effects. Which leads researchers to beleive that human schizophrenia may relate to Toxoplasma gondii infection. The bottom line for humans: don't eat cat crap, and order your meat well cooked. The bottom line for cats: eat only rats that run away.