Monday, February 28, 2005

Questions You Were Afraid to Ask

NEW SCIENTIST - It's an unfortunate question I know, but why does human excrement smell so badly? I realize cows eat different foods, but their excrement is far less offensive. Why is ours so awful?

Why Your Offal Smells Awful (abridged)

Your body ejects poisons and things it won't need,
And these are the things on which you mustn't feed.
If your offal smelt tasty, like fresh cherry pie,
Then you might eat it, and then you would die.

If your offal smells so bad that you kick it off of your plate,
You then may survive and may procreate.
If ever an animal found its waste in good taste,
Evolution has cured that condition post-haste.

- Mark Gilkey Palo Alto CA

The smelly substance in excrement is skatole (3-methylindole), and it is the substance to which the human nose is most sensitive on a per molecule basis. No doubt it is present in faeces because it is a breakdown product from haemoglobin that enters the gut via bile. We have evolved to be repelled by it because excrement transmits disease and we should steer clear.

However, skatole doesn't always trigger the disgust reaction in humans, nor is the reaction shared by the whole animal kingdom. The substance is used in small amounts as flavoring in food, notably in vanilla ice cream. Dung flies are attracted to it, and the phallus-like spadix of the arum lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) synthesises skatole to attract flies that pollinate the flowers. The civet cat also has glands that produce skatole, presumably to mark territory and repel others. This gland is used in perfumery. - Bill Rathmell

Even though animals avoid their own dung, many relish the dung of other species: wild dogs covet the droppings of jackals, while hyenas eat the dung of both. Many a cute domestic dog loves the ordure of humans and cats. Tortoises eat weathered carnivore dung for its minerals. Chicken manure is valuable cattle feed and, in a shared enclosure, rabbits will gobble the droppings of cats before the flies get a look-in. Autocoprophagy also happens. Rabbits and many rodents eat certain types of their own droppings as a necessary part of their digestive process, much as cattle chew cud. Baby elephants eat elephant dung, thereby charging their guts with the digestive microbes they need. Other animals anoint themselves or scatter or accumulate their own excreta, either as protection, or to convey a wealth of territorial or social signals.- Jon Richfield Somerset West, South Africa

Boy Crushed By Giant Snowball

EVENING STANDARD - A 10-year-old boy died after being crushed by a giant snowball, it was reported today. Local minister Norman Nicoll told the paper: "It seems there was a giant snowball the boys had made themselves. Apparently it rolled and unfortunately Peter was caught under it."


Cows Hold Grudges, Say Scientists

JONATHAN LEAKE, THE AUSTRALIAN - Once they were a byword for mindless docility. But cows have a complex mental life in which they bear grudges, nurture friendships and become excited by intellectual challenges, researchers have found. Cows are capable of strong emotions such as pain, fear and even anxiety about the future. But if farmers provide the right conditions, they can also feel great happiness.

The findings have emerged from studies of farm animals that have found similar traits in pigs, goats and chickens. They suggest such animals may be so emotionally similar to humans that welfare laws need to be reconsidered....

The Bristol researchers have documented how cows within a herd form friendship groups of between two and four animals with whom they spend most of their time, often grooming and licking each other. They will also dislike other cows, and can bear grudges for months or years.

Donald Broom, professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University, will tell the conference how cows can become excited by solving intellectual challenges. In one study, researchers challenged the animals with a task where they had to find how to open a door to get some food. An electroencephalograph was used to measure their brainwaves.

"The brainwaves showed their excitement; their heartbeat went up and some even jumped into the air. We called it their Eureka moment," Professor Broom said.

The assumption that farm animals cannot suffer from conditions that would be intolerable for humans is partly based on the idea they have no sense of self. Latest research suggests this is untrue.

"Sentient animals have the capacity to experience pleasure and are motivated to seek it," Professor Webster said.

"You only have to watch how cows and lambs both seek and enjoy pleasure when they lie with their heads raised to the sun on a perfect English summer's day. Just like humans."

Sunday, February 27, 2005

So Tired

Where Web surfers go when they haven’t slept a wink. Article.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The New Bugs Bunny?

From this.................... To this.....


Monday, February 21, 2005

Remembering Hunter S. Thompson

PHILIPPE NAUGHTON, TIMES, UK - Iain Sinclair, the British cult writer, said that Thompson had ended up as "quite a conservative figure" in his mountain retreat surrounded by guns.

"I suppose the shock of his death is that he hung on so long, because the ghost of Papa Hemingway was looming over him for a very long time," Sinclair told BBC Radio 4's Today program. Ernest Hemingway, Thompson's hero, shot himself at his home in Ketchum, Idaho, in July 1961, after his heavy drinking had ruined his health. . .

In 1970 Thompson ran for sheriff in Pitkin County, Colorado, losing by a handful of votes after campaigning for drugs to be decriminalised and Aspen to be renamed Fat City. Since his Republican opponent had a crew cut, Thompson shaved his head entirely and peppered his speeches with the phrase "my long-haired opponent."

Two Heads Not Better Than One

BBC - Doctors have operated successfully to remove a second head from a 10-month-old baby. Manar Maged was originally one of conjoined identical twins, but her sister failed to develop in the womb. As a result she was born with a second head attached to her own - a condition known as craniopagus parasiticus.

Manar, who was otherwise healthy, underwent a 13-hour operation at Benha Children's Hospital, Cairo, on Saturday. She is reported to be stable. Doctors said the second head was capable of smiling and blinking - but not of independent life.

What Liberals Need to Know About the Working Class

JOE BAGEANT, DISSIDENT VOICE - The working class people in my town [of Winchester, VA] are angry, but not especially angry at Queer Eye For the Straight Guy, or unseen fetuses. I think working class anger is at a more fundamental level and that it is about this: rank and status as citizens in our society. I think it is about the daily insult working class people suffer from employers, government (national, state and local), and from their more educated fellow Americans, the doctors, lawyers, journalists, academicians, and others who quietly disdain working people and their uncultured ways. And I think working class anger is about some other things too:

It is about the indignities suffered at the hands of managers and bosses -- being degraded to a working, faceless production unit in our glorious new global economy.

It is about being ignored by the educated classes and the other similar professional, political and business elites that America does not acknowledge as elites.

It is about one's priorities being closer to home and more ordinary than those of the powerful people who determine our lives.

It is about suffering the everyday lack of human respect from the government, and every other institutional body except the church.

It is about working at Wal-Mart or Home Depot or Arby's wearing a nametag on which you do not even rate a last name. You are just Melanie or Bobby, there to kiss the manager's ass or find another gig.

It is about trying to live your life the only way you know how because you were raised that way. But somehow the rules changed under you.

It is about trying to maintain some semblance of outward dignity to your neighbors, when both you and the neighbors are living payday to payday, though no one admits it.

It is about media fabled things you've never seen in your own family: college funds set aside for the kids, stock portfolios, vacation homes...

It is about the unacknowledged stress of both spouses working longer, producing more for a paycheck that has been dwindling in purchasing power since 1973.

Yes, it is about values. It is about the values we have forsaken as a people -- such as dignity, education and opportunity for everyone. And it is about the misdirected anger of the working classes toward those they least understand. You. And me.

By the way, the working people I am talking about are not entirely unhappy with life, just angry to a certain degree at this point (and bound to be angrier when the Bush regime finally runs the nation's economy off the cliff). They simply resist change because for decades change has always spelled something bad -- 9/11, terrorism, job outsourcing -- always something bad headed toward worse...

God, gays and guns alone do not explain the conservative populism of the 2004 elections. College educated liberals and blue-collar working people need to start separating substantive policy issues from the symbolic ones. Fight on the substance, the real ground zero stuff that ordinary working people can feel and see -- make real pledges about real things. Like absolutely guaranteed health care and a decent living wage. And mean it and deliver it.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Thought for the Day

"Educational television should be absolutely forbidden. It can only lead to unreasonable expectations and eventual disappointment when your child discovers that the letters of the alphabet do not leap up out of books and dance around the room with royal blue chickens." ~ Fran Lebowitz

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day

My Cat Hates You

L2's Got Some Explaining to Do

Google Search:

I'm shaking my head at this.

'Over My Dead Body'

ST. PETERSBURG TIMES - The words haunt Lisset Greene as she struggles to understand what happened to the man she loved. Home from fighting in Iraq, he had grown depressed and distant as he witnessed thousands of his fellow soldiers head off to war.

Curtis Greene was angry about the war and frustrated with Lisset for not understanding what it had been like there. They argued, so fiercely that twice the police had to break it up.

Gone was the man smiling with her and the kids in family photos. "He was not the person I knew when he came back from Iraq."

One night he disappeared from their home outside Fort Riley, Kan. Lisset and the kids went to stay at her father's house in Hernando County. When he called her to apologize for running out, he promised he would come home to Fort Riley. But he wasn't about to return to Iraq.

"Over my dead body are they going to make me go back..."

On Dec. 6, he showed up for work, his uniform pressed, his boots polished. He sang cadence.

That night, he was found hanging in his barracks. Sgt. Curtis Greene, 331st Signal Company, was 25.

Feminine Males 'More Attractive'

BBC - Men with feminine faces will be luckier in love as most women are attracted to them rather than masculine men, Liverpool University scientists say. While square-jawed men attract beautiful women, the less macho ones have a wider choice as their face type is more in demand. Most women like a feminised face, but those who rated themselves attractive went for the classic masculine face. Feminine faces tend to be linked with stability and caring, scientists said.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Song of the Day

For Howard

Video of the Day

The Battle for America

Letter to the Editor

I found the following moving - maybe you will too.

Letter to the Editor
by Sharon Underwood, Sunday, April 30, 2000
from the Valley News (White River Junction, VT/Hanover, NH)

As the mother of a gay son, I've seen firsthand how cruel and misguided people can be.

Many letters have been sent to the Valley News concerning the homosexual menace in Vermont. I am the mother of a gay son and I've taken enough from you good people.

I'm tired of your foolish rhetoric about the "homosexual agenda" and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant. You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny.

My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the first grade. He was physically and verbally abused from first grade straight through high school because he was perceived to be gay.

He never professed to be gay or had any association with anything gay, but he had the misfortune not to walk or have gestures like the other boys. He was called "fag" incessantly, starting when he was 6.

In high school, while your children were doing what kids that age should be doing, mine labored over a suicide note, drafting and redrafting it to be sure his family knew how much he loved them. My sobbing 17-year-old tore the heart out of me as he choked out that he just couldn't bear to continue living any longer, that he didn't want to be gay and that he couldn't face a life without dignity.

You have the audacity to talk about protecting families and children from the homosexual menace, while you yourselves tear apart families and drive children to despair. I don't know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn't put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse. God gave you brains so that you could think, and it's about time you started doing that. [more...]

Too Bad There Wasn't a "Born-On" Date

FICTIONEER - I popped in to see my friend the framer, Karl, today, to warn him that I'd be bringing by a brother with some things to be framed tomorrow. Karl mentioned to me that he'd gotten a letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services regarding his application for a visa for his wife, who lives in China. I gathered that a naturalized citizen applying for a visa for an alien must have his fingerprints on file with USCIS. Current fingerprints. USCIS had written to advise Karl that his fingerprints on file had expired.

Karl held up his hands to me and asked, "What expire? Fingerprints don't expire!"

This is America, Karl. Everything expires, including common sense.

1984 vs. Brave New World

NEIL POSTMAN, 'AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH' - What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Zimbabweans Find New Use for Female Condoms

BBC - In Zimbabwe, enterprising traders are making money by turning female condoms into brightly-coloured bangles (jewelry worn around the wrist for decoration). The rubber rings are removed from the condoms and made into fashion items... One shopper in central Harare said: "They're pretty. I used to wear them until I discovered they were made from condoms. Then I threw them away."

An estimated 25% of adult Zimbabweans are HIV positive. Zimbabwe is one of the leading users of female condoms in southern Africa, using almost one million every year... The business of turning female condoms into fashion accessories may die down soon, but whatever the rights and wrongs, it certainly shows that Zimbabweans are creative and resourceful people.

Watch out, Indians... Zimbabwe is right on your heels.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Happy Birthday, Ashley!

To an incredibly sweet friend - welcome to your third decade of life!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Victory is Mine!

In what will go down as my crowning achievement in life, tonight I have corrected the BBC's reporting. After sending an email to their news editor about an inaccuracy in one of their stories, I am happy to report they have since fixed the offending passage. Prior to my email, one of their articles said (incorrectly) that Howard Dean had not won a single primary or caucus in his bid for the presidency last year. Witness the corrected text:
Mr Dean, the former governor of Vermont, was ultimately unsuccessful in his bid to be the Democrats' presidential candidate in last year's election.

He won only one primary - in his home state, after he had suspended his campaign - but he galvanised Democrats early on in the contest with his attacks on President George W Bush and criticism of the war in Iraq.
It may be a hollow victory - but it is a victory for me all the same. Huzzah!

Monday, February 07, 2005

Bush Explains his Social Security Plan

DAILY KOS - Jesus, I thought Atrios was joking when he posted this:

THE PRESIDENT: Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those -- changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised.

Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.

Okay, better? I'll keep working on it.
Bush has no clue what he's talking about.

Religious Right Fights Science for the Heart of America

GUARDIAN - Al Frisby has spent the better part of his life in rooms filled with rebellious teenagers, but the last years have been particularly trying for the high school biology teacher. He has met parents who want him to teach that God created Eve out of Adam's rib, and then then adjusted the chromosomes to make her a woman, and who insist that Noah invited dinosaurs aboard the ark. And it is getting more difficult to keep such talk out of the classroom.

"Somewhere along the line, the students have been told the theory of evolution is not valid," he said. "In the last few years, I've had students question my teaching about cell classification and genetics, and there have been a number of comments from students saying: 'Didn't God do that'?" In Kansas, the geographical centre of America, the heart of the American heartland, the state-approved answer might soon be Yes. In the coming weeks, state educators will decide on proposed curriculum changes for high school science put forward by subscribers to the notion of "intelligent design", a modern version of creationism. If the religious right has its way, and it is a powerful force in Kansas, high school science teachers could be teaching creationist material by next September, charting an important victory in America's modern-day revolt against evolutionary science....

From one of MY "esteemed" professors:

Other supporters of intelligent design go further, saying evolution is as much an article of faith as creationism. "Certainly there are clear religious implications," said William Harris, a research biochemist and co-founder of the design network in Kansas. "There are creation myths on both sides. Which one do you teach?" For Mr. Harris, an expert on fish oils and prevention of heart disease at the premier teaching hospital in Kansas City, the very premise of evolution was intolerable....

Jack Krebs, a high school maths teacher on the committee drafting the new standards, argues that the campaign against evolution amounts to a stealth assault on the entire body of scientific thought. "There are two planes where they are attacking. One is evolution, and one is science itself," he said.

"They believe that the naturalistic bias of science is in fact atheistic, and that if we don't change science, we can't believe in God. And so this is really an attack on all of science. Evolution is just the weak link."

At the first of a series of public hearings on the new course material:

In a crowded high school auditorium, biology teachers, mathematicians, a veterinarian, and a high school student made passionate speeches on the need for cold, scientific detachment, and the damage that would be done to the state's reputation and biotechnology industry if Kansas became known as a haven for creationists. They were countered by John James, who warned that the teaching of evolution led to nihilism, and to the gates of Auschwitz. "Are we producing little Kansas Nazis?" he asked. But the largest applause of the evening was reserved for a silver-haired gentleman in a navy blue blazer. "I have a question: if man comes from monkeys, why are there still monkeys? Why do you waste time teaching something in science class that is not scientific?" he thundered.

People like these really do cause me to question the idea that man has "evolved."

Friday, February 04, 2005

Our Generation

DOUG IRELAND, DIRELAND - Hard on the heels of the survey of U.S. teens showing their disdain for the niceties of the First Amendment, comes now a survey of the attitudes of first-year college students with some more bad news. Sponsored by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California/Los Angeles, the survey shows, among other things, that:

- a solid majority (58.6%) of freshmen think colleges should prohibit racist/sexist speech on campus, which shows little understanding of what the First Amendment really means--as does the finding that 43.7% believe that colleges have the right to ban extreme speakers

- making marriage equality for same-sex couples legal is supported by only a minority (48.3%) of first-year college males--which strongly suggests this could still be a hot-button electoral issue for years to come--while 38% of male freshmen believe it is important to have laws prohibiting homosexual relationships, a disturbingly large number.

- a slim majority (50.4%) believe that affirmative action in college admissions should be abolished (the number is higher among males at 56.1%)

- only a slim majority (53.9%) believe that abortion should be legal

- A significant majority believes there is too much concern in the courts for the rights of criminals (58.1% --but among males the number jumps to 61.0%), which indicates that demagogic law-and-order themes will still bring electoral profit with the coming generation.

Moreover, as the Chronicle of Higher Education noted in its report on the survey, "A growing number of students appeared unlikely to have a diverse set of friends in college. Only 63.1 percent reported that they expected to socialize with people outside their own racial or ethnic group, the lowest level since the question was first added to the survey in 2000. . .

"Students said they cared less than ever before about those issues. Only 29.7 % cited 'helping to promote racial understanding' as an 'essential' or 'very important' goal for them, compared with 46.4 percent in 1992."

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Birth Tax

Principal Finds Peace Too Risky a Topic for Students, Eisenhower Quote Too Dangerous

ASSOCIATED PRESS - A Cookeville (Tenn.) High School administrator said Veterans for Peace and a Quaker group can't come back into his school with materials considered "anti-American" and "anti-military." The groups plan to go before the Putnam County school board tomorrow with claims that they're being denied privileges afforded to other organizations, including military recruiters.

The war veterans, some who also belong to the Quaker group, were allowed into the school during a September fair for organizations. They set up a table with books about U.S. wars and offered photocopied fliers and pamphlets from both organizations about the war in Iraq and military careers and alternatives.

Quaker and veteran Hector Black said several students stopped by the table and asked questions, and a couple of teachers even thanked them for coming. . .

Shank told Black that some of the groups' materials may be proper for adults, but he thought they were inappropriate for the students.

"The information was brought to the attention of administrators because of the influence it may have had," said Shank, who restricted future visits by the groups. "I felt, from a principal's viewpoint, that the students were being put into a position that they shouldn't."

Black said Shank specified some quotes in the literature that he objected to, including one from a 1953 speech by President Eisenhower that said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed. Those who are cold and are not clothed."

County School Director Michael Martin said, "Parents found the materials to be anti-American, anti-military. That didn't come from us. That came from the parents who saw the materials when their kids brought it home."

Interactive State of the Union

Put in your favorite words at this site and see how often George Bush has used them in his five State of the Union addresses. Here are a few words he has only used one to three times: honesty, decency, fairness, cooperation, truth.

State of the Union 2005 by the Numbers

--5,630,000: American workers unemployed in December 2000
--8,050,000: American workers unemployed in December 2004

--1,226,037: number of personal bankruptcies filed in 2000
--1,584,170: number of personal bankruptcies filed in 2004

--39,800,000: number of Americans without health insurance in 2000
--45,000,000: number of Americans without health insurance as of January 2004

--$1.51: average price of a gallon of gasoline in 2000
--$1.88: average price of a gallon of gasoline through November 2004

--$7,750: average cost of tuition and fees at 4-year public university in 2000 when Bush promised to increase Pell grants to $5,100
--$11,354 :average cost of tuition and fees at 4-year public university in 2004 when Pell grants remain at $4,050 for 3rd straight year

--$121.97 billion: promised since 2001 to make No Child Left Behind act work
--$95.01 billion: actually provided since 2001 for NCLB due to Bush administration cuts

--$13.00: hourly wage of the bulk of jobs eliminated since Nov 2001
--$9.00: hourly wage of the bulk of jobs created since Nov 2001

--$14.00: U.S. median hourly wage in 2004
--$15.37: U.S. hourly wage needed to afford the average two-bedroom apartment in 2004

--$517: weekly take home of average US worker in 2004
--$155,769: weekly take home of average US CEO in 2001

[Campaign for America' Future]

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Connecticut Ordered to Evacuate, Nobody Does

AP - Despite what residents may have seen on television, the state of Connecticut was not ordered evacuated Tuesday. State emergency management officials believe someone pressed the wrong button, and instead of running a test of the emergency alert system, midday television viewers and radio listeners were told that the state was being evacuated. "There is absolutely no evacuation or state emergency," said Kerry Flaherty, of the Office of Emergency Management. "It was an erroneous message." . . . State police said they received no calls related to the erroneous alert.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Intricacies of Welfare Reform

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD - Australians are used to the idea of working for the dole, but the Germans have taken it a step further. A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services" at a brothel in Berlin faces cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year. Prostitution was legalised in Germany two years ago and brothel owners - who must pay tax and employee health insurance - were granted access to official databases of job seekers.

The waitress, an unemployed information technology professional, was willing to work in a bar at night and had worked in a cafe. She received a letter from the job centre telling her that an employer was interested in her "profile" and that she should ring them. Only on doing so did she realize she was calling a brothel.

Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job or lose her unemployment benefit.

Mickey D's Outsources Oregon Drive-Thru Orders... To North Dakota

KIRO-TV - The restaurant on Highway 395 has outsourced one of the most important jobs at the drive-through window -- order taking. When a customer drives through, they'll be patched through to Grand Forks, North Dakota to place the order. Why? Because the minimum wage in North Dakota is $5.15, compared to Oregon's $7.25. Tim Nesbit is head of Oregon AFL CIO. He says this undercuts Oregon's minimum wage by more than $2 an hour. A McDonald's media relations person in Illinois, where the corporate headquarters is based, never returned a phone call to the AP.

No Soldier Captured

AP - The U.S. military said Tuesday that no American soldiers have been reported missing in Iraq after a Web statement claimed that an American soldier had been taken hostage. Questions were raised about the authenticity of a photo purporting to show a hostage with a gun to his head. The figure in the photo appeared stiff and expressionless. Liam Cusack, of the toy manufacturer Dragon Models USA, inc., said the image of the soldier portrayed in the photo bore a striking resemblance to a military action figure made by the company.