Saturday, March 17, 2018

Dave's Unicorn

So Dave came home from a walk the other day and I asked him what-all he'd seen and he said Nothing, and then he thought about it for a moment and said Oh yeah I saw a unicorn, and I said Where, and he said Over on Edgehill Place, and then we talked about dinner. But later I circled back to it because it seemed odd to me that if he were to see a legitimate mythical beast it would be a unicorn. Neither of us has the kind of affection for unicorns that most people have. Seems to me if you're going to string together a lot of odd features into one critter, you could do better than a horse that can spindle you with his head. Not that you hear a lot about unicorn spindlings in the news. Perhaps they're bred to be unaggressive. If they're doing anything at all, historically, they're sitting on the ground with their heads in a pretty girl's lap. That comes from the notion that only a young virgin can tame a unicorn, wink wink, like we don't know what that's about.

If I'd had a thing for such beasts when I was a young wink-wink, it probably would've been a centaur. Flying horses looked nice but I was afraid of heights and didn't even fly in my dreams. The centaur is designed to be appealing. Unlike the mermaid, which is all come-hither on the top end and sorry-Charlie on the bottom end, the centaur promises all the parts, and in a big way. We can see how all this came about. Men were in charge of writing this stuff up, and when they visualized their handsome top halves, they made sure to include impressive equipment on the bottom half. But when they visualized half of a beautiful woman, they made sure to make her endlessly frustrating, just like women are in real life, so they can go crazy and feel comfortable and justified about killing things.

But why a spiral horn? Why not a horse with tusks, or plates down its back, or long graceful fingers? Well, there were probably a number of extant critters that could qualify as a unicorn, at least in description. They've been cited going back many thousands of years. In fact there used to be a large mammal called an Elasmotherium that ran like a horse and had a single giant horn on its head, and although it lacked delicacy, we've had thousands of years since we made it go extinct to shine up its reputation. Earlier ones had elephant feet, and maybe a boar's tail, and it took hundreds of years of playing "telephone" across Europe to recombobulate it from a rhinoceros to a virgin-friendly equid.

And the spiral horn of a narwhal is what was generally presented as a unicorn horn. Back in the day, it was common for people to take found bones and odd, unrelated parts and assemble them into all sorts of things that never existed, the same way Republicans cherrypick data, email, and random lies to make the case that climate change is a hoax. People bought into it then, too.

Dave reports his unicorn was not two men in pajamas and a papier-mache head. It was quite authentic right down to the hooves and sparkles, and was being led down the street by one or several princesses to reintroduce it to its native habitat, a child's birthday party. This is what happens when real estate prices go through the roof.

I'm glad for him that he saw it, and now I'm looking around for my centaur. Just my luck he'll turn up with a pot belly and a T-shirt that reads "If you can read this, the bitch fell off" on the back.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Buck Shtups Here

Everyone bemoans the existence of dirty money in politics, although in the case of Ana Lisa Garza, who is running for a seat in the State House in Texas, it might not be dirty so much as a little schmutzy. The majority of her $87,000 war chest came in the form of deer semen.

Garza is going to require a lot of spunk to unseat the incumbent, who has previously garnered 100% of the vote.

Presumably, there is nothing illegal about the campaign contributions, although if there were, no one is eager to investigate it. The donations should result in some slick campaign literature, and make it easier to smear an opponent.

It was a surprise to me that there is such a thing as a deer breeder, inasmuch as in many parts of the country, including urban areas, deer are so prolific that they need to be regularly spatulaed off the roadways and no one gets to eat their own lettuce. It didn't seem like there would be much call for any deer semen, let alone banks of frozen buck butter.

But that is because I had heretofore been unable to imagine the existence or desirability of a deer with a rack of antlers that look like broccoli.

The semen is stored in straws and frozen in banks of liquid nitrogen. One straw of ejaculungulate can be worth up to $10,000, and it is possible to acquire up to 60 straws of campaign donations in a single, um, collection. That's some big bucks.

I do not know how deer semen is acquired in a straw, and am not eager to investigate it. It sounds like the sort of thing you'd get an illegal immigrant to do.

As it turns out, the process involves a rectal probe and an electrical pulse which inspires the buck to ejaculate.

Once the straws are filled, they are frozen and kept in banks. Many of the people who buy the straws do not get custody of the actual straws. It's a tradable commodity; someone buys $50,000 worth of semen straws from someone else and they are transferred to his account, but not removed from the tank. For all we know, this is what bitcoins are.

Deer farming is big business in Texas. Breeders are often focused on antler size and the resulting freaks are transported to high-fenced shooting preserves. Bucks with antlers the size of Christmas trees do not live as long as wild deer, if allowed to try, but they're generally put out for the hunt. They're human-raised and unwary, so all the hunter needs to do is park his fanny and wait for an eight-million point buck to wander by and look up in anticipation of a nice apple or something. A fair number of people make money off this and it's probably a great idea for breeders to purchase a few legislators here and there to ward off the pansies who might raise a fuss.

But if the business is ever shut down, there might be good money in rectal probes.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Junco By Any Otter Name

Since I was just complaining about taxonomists throwing all my varied juncos into the same bucket but separating identical chickadees, I thought I'd revisit what constitutes a distinct species. Seems to me there was something about a group of organisms being a species if individuals in the group are able to interbreed.

Which of course made me think of sea otters, because sea otters like to breed with anything. They don't really care. If it has a hole, they're going to poke it. If your cocker spaniel is off leash on the beach and you hear it go bark bark blub blub, you should run hurry and get ready to whack the otter. Because they'll just keep hammering away at your dog, and holding its head underwater until it's dead, and then they'll keep going, because it takes a while to notice a cocker spaniel is dead in cold water, plus they don't care.

So are otters and cocker spaniels the same species? Most experts agree they are not. The breeding may have been successful from a recreational standpoint, but a total bust from a viable-offspring standpoint. One successful pairing of a sea otter with a basset hound was ruled as an outlier when the resulting pups failed to thrive. The long ears of the mother were able to keep the pups from floating off, but were subject to an unfortunate kelp entanglement.

Okay. I just checked, and there hasn't been a recorded case of sea otters attacking cocker spaniels. That turns out to be a part of my fevered imagination, poor data retention, and the fact that sea otters are known to rape seal pups. Someone in Alaska did report an assault on his sled dog, but you never know about those stories. It's lonely up there. Could be the guy just likes to whack his otter.

The whole species business gets crazy with birds. We have this urge to drop every living thing into its own slot, but birds have a way of ignoring the boundaries, and things change, and sometimes we decide to split a species, and sometimes we decide to lump two or more together, as was done with my juncos. There's a whole committee devoted to this, and every year it gets together and decides if a given bird deserves its own designation or has to keep pretending it's the same thing as a whole other bird. It's like the Hall of Fame, and it's contentious. Just ask Pete Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. But if you're lazy and have a bird list, you could check it against the new lumps and splits every year, and maybe you'll be able to add a Purple-Capped Fruit-Dove to your Crimson-Crowned Fruit-Dove without even getting your ass out of the Barcalounger. Birders love splits. I want my juncos re-split.

Meanwhile, dozens of gulls are soberly proclaimed to be different citizens on the basis of invisible dots on the bill and random imaginary variations on white and gray, seen against a mottled gray sky. I am willing to go along with lumps if we can call them all Seagulls, like everyone else does.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Junco Drawer

When you do start noticing birds, you find yourself becoming familiar with their habits. You might notice that the juncos, for instance, park their fannies on the feeder and hoover sunflower seeds. If the seeds still have hulls, those go flying off like Frisbees and the meat goes down the hatch and it's on to the next seed. That's not a big feat--I've seen Norwegians do the same thing. But a chickadee pops up and takes one single sunflower meat out and runs to the nearest branch with it. It then pins the meat down with one adorable little toe and shaves it down until it's gone, and then it thinks about maybe going in for another. They're very dainty. The chickadee is eating grapefruit sections with a serrated spoon, pinkie extended, and the junco is on the beanbag chair dumping a bag of chips in his face.

I'm assuming the chickadee is a pluck-and-go guy because he's cautious. This doesn't seem to be a factor with the juncos, who actually spend less time at the feeder proper than they do on the ground underneath. That's where they spend most of their time, which is a pity, because so does my neighbor's cat, Sid. Juncos don't care. They look around and all they see is other juncos all over the place and they figure odds are it's some other guy who's going to get whacked.

I have gobs of juncos and they don't look alike. They have white outer tail feathers and they flick them when they fly, and that's about all they have in common. We have dark-headed ones and gray-headed ones and ones with brown sides and ones that are only gray and white, and every last one of them  is called a Dark-Eyed Junco. When I visited my sister in Colorado, I saw some real cool-looking bluish birds with rusty backs. I'd never seen them before, but they acted like juncos. And guess what they turned out to be? Juncos. Dark-Eyed Juncos, just like mine.

It's a little disheartening when you're already a sort of shitty birder and you've spent all that time peering through your binoculars and totting up all the ways your birds are not at all like each other, only to be told they're one and the same. You've got one wearing a gray vest and a dark topcoat, and one with an executioner's hood, and one is mostly gray, and one might even have a corporal's stripes on his wings, but you do not have four different birds there. You get to add only one of them to your Life List. You can score a different junco if it turns out to be a Yellow-Eyed Junco, but he's about to be on the other side of Trump's wall.

Meanwhile, we have three different brands of chickadee here, the Black-Capped being the most common, and they look different from each other, but no more so than the Dark-Eyed Juncos do. However, elsewhere in the country, you might find yourself in territory shared by the Black-Capped and the Carolina Chickadees. Good luck telling those bastards apart. Evidently there's a line north of which you have your black-capped and south of which you have your Carolina, but unless one of them has a drawl, there ain't no difference between them. One is the eensiest bit greener on the back, until the light changes, and the other is slightly less fluffy, unless it's cold. I recently gazed at painted renditions of the two and I couldn't tell them apart even with the captions and arrows pointing out the differences. You want to add a Carolina chickadee to your life list, you can probably put a black-capped in a shoebox and drive south with it.

The good news is Sid the cat got run over by a car. My neighbor has his ashes and I invited her to sprinkle some under our bird feeder, since that was his favorite place to hang out. She said she would. Maybe if all those different juncos figure out who to bang this spring, they can use the calcium for their egg shells.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

I Feel Pooty, Oh So Pooty

From Trousering Your Weasel
We all like to think we have affected people in positive ways, so it is with great humility and gratitude that I acknowledge, here, the four thousand people who saw the link about the fart tracking pill and passed it along. Australian scientists have developed a device the size of a large pill that is capable of monitoring the development and culmination of your fartular output in real time. This might be the greatest advance in highly personal meteorology the world has ever seen. The "pill" is capable of sending gas updates, as they happen, to your smart phone.

I do not know what the alert notification might sound like.

There is no camera associated with the pill, because of insoluble problems with the selfie stick. It's just a gas-permeable membrane, a transmitter, and a reservoir for the scrubbing bubbles.

The fart-tracker pill uses wireless technology, which is good in most respects, except for retrieval; as it is, lacking a cable, we have to wait for the pill to ride the 7:15 Morning Express to the station, and someone has to be on the platform to meet it, most likely a graduate student. Researchers have discovered that, on average, it takes about twenty hours to see the device all the way through to the depot. That seems like a long time, but the entire intestine is a big slip-n-slide, nearly eight miles long in American humans and even more kilometers everywhere else, and you don't want to take those corners too fast. Research subjects given a very low fiber diet report that the pill spends as much as 54 hours in the colon, and why not? If you're comfortably cushioned in a goober of Wonder Bread and Cheez Doodles, why not relax and enjoy it?

None of these statistics apply to Dave, who has the metabolism of a tweaker hummingbird. There isn't a research study he can't skew. Gaping wounds heal up before you can find the Band-Aid box, crippling back injuries are resolved within hours if there's no one to fetch him a beer, and when he had his first post-colonoscopy meal, he was able to say hello to his little friend later the same day. One time in Maine my cousin Jim, who had some sort of relationship with the lobster cartel, presented Dave with over five pounds of personal lobster just for the entertainment of watching it disappear, drenched in melted butter. That night, sound asleep, he tossed and turned and moaned and grunted and cried out and flang his arms around so violently that I considered taking him to the emergency room in case he was about to have a heart attack, but by dawn's early light he did a full kip out of bed and stuck the landing and was ready for breakfast. If Dave were to swallow a fart-tracker pill, it could take an eye out.

Did you know that in certain clinical situations a tube is inserted into the rectum to collect gases in something called a "flatus bag?" This is generally employed when the patient is otherwise unable to fart, but I'm not sure why you'd need anything other than the open-ended tube for that. I don't see why anything in there needs to be collected in a bag unless you've got some serious pranksters on the unit. If anyone had collected my post-colonoscopy flatus and failed to properly secure the bag, they'd run the risk of flying around the room backwards.

As much as we'd like it to, the fart tracker is not actually used to track individual, nameable farts, but does monitor carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and oxygen levels at all points of the digestive tract. My beloved methane, which I call a noble gas even though it isn't one, is not on the menu. Interestingly, methane itself has no odor at all. In fact, of all the gases that are expelled from the human anus, only one percent has any stink to it. One percent. That sounds familiar, somehow.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Get Me Fig Leaf, Stat!

As it happens---I have no control over it--I'm more interested in looking at naked men than naked women. This concerned me back in the '70s when I thought it was important to be open to any experience, and I thought it was probably a character flaw that I didn't get the same feelings about girls that I did about boys. But after a while you grow up and realize your feelings are nothing more than your feelings, and you're better off being honest about them, and why not drink beer at ten o'clock in the morning? Ha ha! Oh wait, that's a different subject.

Anyhoo, nothing much has changed, and if I'd rather admire David Robinson from behind at the free throw line than watch an ice princess doing triple spatchcocks in flesh-colored Spandex, I've come to accept that about myself. I like the entire human lineup, basically, but I hew more to the masculine form. And not just because most men can pick me up like I'm a tortilla chip. Even so, it's not the genitals that attract me. In fact, I'm not even that interested in looking at the junk.

I mean, it's weird. You've got all this smooth muscle going on and that lovely shoulder form and taut neck and those hairy forearms and the chiseled, um, stern, and then there are all these squishy bits flopping around amidships like a tiny mutiny going on. They've got no control over it at all. Can you even imagine that? I mean, maybe half of you can. It's like there's a whole puppet show going on in your crotch. The underpants are just the curtain. The main character has a face, but it's not a poker face. Nuh-uh. The supporting cast members are bobbing up and down like Muppets in the floodlights. It's nuts! Some of it is nuts.

Well, it's entertaining, but it's goofy. I do find it interesting, and it gets more interesting the closer you examine it--I've found--but that's like turning over a compost pile. You don't know if everything's going to be inert, or if something's going to be wiggling around in there.

But it's not really, if you don't mind my saying so, handsome.

I can well appreciate that men are nervous about what other people are going to think of their sporting equipment, but they shouldn't worry. No matter the proprietor, it's all sort of silly-looking, if endearingly vulnerable. I've got nothing against any of it, at least at the moment. But it's nothing I feel like I need to see.

Which brings us, as everything else does, to the current horrifying state of the world, to situations so appalling that I, like many of you, have had to cut back on my news diet just to keep from wanting to pin myself out for the vultures. We have to walk that fine line between keeping ourselves informed and contemplating slit wrists as a cure for insomnia. It's bleak. But it can get even worse. For the second time in four administrations, we are looking at the real threat that someone, somewhere will tell the press what the President's junk looks like. Lord, have mercy. The powers that be have always wanted to keep us ignorant. Please, please, don't let them stop now.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Support Hamster

I would have been inclined to scoff at the notion of emotional support animals were it not for the example of our cat Tater. Tater is not an emotional support animal herself: she's good company, but we do okay without  her. She's always willing to climb on Dave's lap and grab a knee when he's feeling down, but since she also does it when he's tip top, it feels like a bit of a stretch to claim she's emotionally intuitive, rather than just a little chilly or wants her butt scratched. For a long time we all recognized the guide dogs for the blind as being your prototypical support animal--you can tell them by that furtive apologetic glance they give you that says "You look nice but I'm not allowed to play right now"--but there've been some interesting additions: dogs that clue into blood sugar levels, that detect seizures before they happen, and other amazing things.

Tater is not in that league. But she has a support hamster. Her support hamster is very important to her. It is not a real hamster; it's a stuffed plush hamster. Also, it's not a hamster either, but "support gerbil" sounds ridiculous. Although she'll run after almost any toy you throw for her, she will ignore you completely if you toss her support hamster. It's vital that you not know how special it is. And when she's under stress, which would be every time Dave leaves the house, she starts yowling and picks up her hamster and moves it somewhere else in the house to keep it safe. We guess that's why, anyway. The hamster has been relocated at least once a day for years and there isn't a tooth mark in it.

Around Portland, people have been claiming support dogs for years now, but they don't even have to buy the little vest anymore. Merchants have given up. Dogs get to go anywhere they want to. They can even go on the merchandise and the storekeepers write their Lysol and mops off their taxes. A support dog doesn't have to be a basic Lab or a German Shepherd. He can even live in your purse and guard your Kleenex stash.

We have a neighbor who feels very strongly that her dog, who is outside barking anytime between 4am and midnight, is a support animal. She has pointedly refused offers to help with training or purchase a bark collar and says the barking makes her feel safe. Although the only people likely to be a threat are her sleep-deprived neighbors. There's a dot or two she ain't connecting.

But there are support dogs and support rabbits and now, famously, a support peacock named Dexter who was turned back at the gate by employees of United Airlines, with good reason. You'd have to give a support peacock the middle seat and Aisle and Window would have to vacate every time he got a little peacock boner. (That's just an expression. Peacocks don't have boners but they do get wide when they're inspired.) It's nice to see an airline take a stand on this issue. I used to take our dog Boomer on flights back in the '80s but she snoozed in a crate in cargo. Nowadays she could fly right alongside me as a support animal, but I don't know. Seems like if we had myriad support dogs and support cats and support parakeets sharing the same airplane, and I guess we do, they'd kind of be obligated to bring back the smoking section, wouldn't they?

Anyway, I'm not likely to take advantage of the airlines that way. The critters that really bother me on airplanes are those damned viruses. I'm packing my support bacteria just in case.