Saturday, March 31, 2018

Brain Lube

Dear Facebook thread person,

I'm back. I had a sudden need for a beer, and now I feel calmer.

With regard to your suggestion that we "agree to disagree LOL," fine. We can agree to disagree on the topics of abortion and where exactly to draw the line on socialism, and we can move on. As for the rest, I will agree to disagree with you right after I finish discussing trouser design with a sea urchin. At that point I will consider your suggestion, if you complete and submit the following exam. Please use the #2 pencil you will find up your butt.

1. Look at the following graph depicting global temperature rise and atmospheric carbon concentration over the last two hundred years. Are the two lines:
     A. Similar
     B. Different
     C. Matched up snugger than lube in a rectum

2. Explain the semantic difference between the theory of evolution and that theory you have about the pharmaceutical industry slipping vaccines in Skittles in order to make a killing on autism medication later.

3. Re: Colin Kaepernick's demonstration of discontent during the national anthem. Was he:
     A. Protesting the American flag?
     B. Disrespecting our armed forces?
     C. Other?
Support your answer using original source material (Colin Kaepernick's own words).

Not him. You don't know him.
4. If you answered A or B above, name at least one African-American friend of yours, and the amount of time you have listened to them explain what the Black Lives Matter movement means to them, without interrupting.

5. Essay: Write 500 words about that time someone online called you a racist and it really really pissed you off for days because nobody has any goddam right to make assumptions about you when they don't even know you. What can we learn about how that feels?

6. On a scale of one to ten, how likely do you think it is that Hillary Clinton was personally involved in a child molestation ring out of a pizza joint in Washington, D.C. while simultaneously selling uranium to the Ukraine and arranging for the murder of up to a dozen individuals?

7. If you answered any number higher than zero, above, does this indicate Ms. Clinton's superior stamina and skill, or Satanic possession?

8. Take a look at the following two photographs: a diverse intact mountain ecosystem in West Virginia, and a poisoned, barren butte emptied of coal, all of which has already been burned up. List ten advantages of each. If you cite "bocce ball" as a plus in the barren-butte column, please note the last time you got on your hands and knees to personally admire a salamander. If you can't remember, please go back to your childhood and start the fuck over. Get a decent education along the way, with a foundation of critical thinking skills and a good grounding in science and history.

If you then make it past voting age and still want to agree to disagree, we can discuss appropriate medication at that time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What Snot To Like?

I might have recently referred to fiber as the scrub brush of the intestines. Move it along, fiber says, slapping its little nightstick in its little palm. Without it, your poop has no motivation. That's sort of the way people looked at fiber for a long time, but it turns out to be not exactly true. Fiber is way more important than that, and it is implicated in way more health issues, although unmotivated poop is no bag of giggles.

It all has to do with those bacteria we're all harboring. Bacteria, some of them, eat what we can't eat, like fiber. We didn't invite them, actually, but they go where the food is, like everyone else, and we've set up the big buffet in our intestines, and word got out.

Every living thing is all about finding energy to operate. Plants, bacteria, us, we're all looking for fuel. If it were not so, the people who study us would be called geologists. So we eat plants and animals for energy and bacteria finish off the bits we can't. If we never had them, all our food would slide out with the nutrients removed but otherwise recognizable and ready to plate up again. But because we have evolved with the bacteria, at this point we need them. And since they're here, we have to figure out what to do about them. That's where mucus comes in.

Gut snot, basically. We've got lots, and maybe at one time we thought it was about slicking up the poop delivery system, but there's more to it than that. We need lots of mucus to keep the bacteria away from our delicates. They ride on top of the mucus layer and do their thing and don't bother us. They also send little chemical messages to our intestinal lining to beef up the mucus. But if we don't get enough fiber, our bacteria falter and our mucus thins out. That puts the bacteria a little too close to our intestinal walls and that triggers an immune reaction, and ultimately chronic inflammation, which is bad news all around.

Not all bacteria get energy from the same sources. Some of our bacteria get energy from the fiber, and other bacteria get energy from the first bacteria's poop. It's an ecosystem, and fiber is what holds it together. You withdraw the fiber, and the populations crash. The bacteria that are left behind might start attacking the mucus layer. Out of spite, probably. Then you get your inflammation and that War On Terror that the heightened immune system represents. Nothing good can come of it.

It all seems as though it was designed, but that kind of misrepresents what's happened. Any kind of working ecosystem is basically a truce. If we didn't have bacteria foraging around us for whatever they like to eat, but instead had packysnappers, we'd look quite different. Maybe packysnappers like to eat fingernails and claws and such, and if we evolved with packysnappers, we'd judge each other's attractiveness on the basis of the plumpness of our cuticles. Instead, we've got bacteria and gut snot.

So that's the system we've got. And that's why we should be stuffing kale and sweet potatoes into it. And not throwing in stuff like antacids. That's like putting up a wall. Or threatening to nuke. Not good. That's asking for trouble. That's when you get your headache, your nausea, irritability, weakness, reduced kidney function, fascism, and acid rebound.

Kale is diplomacy.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Popeye Was Right

Like many of you, I've heard how important it is to have fiber in my diet, but I wasn't clear what, exactly, fiber is. When I thought about it at all, I thought it must be something like rope. So I looked it up. Dietary fiber refers to the indigestible portions of food made from plants. It used to be more commonly known as "roughage" back in the days people used cool evocative words instead of inferior replacement words. You can get lots of nice digestible gooey bits and nutrients from plants; the fiber would be in all those sturdifying parts of a plant that keep it from getting floppy.

Basically, rope.

There are many types of fiber. There's your cellulose, as epitomized by celery; there's your mucilage, which is found in oats and also little jars with rubber nipply tops; there's lignin, which is found in beans and fruits, and wants to be coal when it grows up; chitin, located in the exoskeleton of insects and the really crunchy parts of crabs; and many others. Good sources of dietary fiber include beans, dark green vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and burlap. Artichokes are packed with fiber, but a lot of that is the leafy part you throw away after you've toothed the butter off of it. Peas are good also, and okra, which is high in both fiber and snot.

You're not going to get any fiber from an animal, unless you eat the string around the roast beef, or unless it was wearing a little cotton sweater. Nonetheless, people have done just fine with an all- or nearly-all-meat diet, such as my Uncle Irvin, who reportedly never touched a salad or green vegetable in his life, although he happily suffered the potato, which is another vehicle for butter. But he was a Norwegian and as such could count on a minimum of 85 happy years, as long as the butter held out.

It is claimed that the Inuit people traditionally ate virtually nothing but meat, from caribou, fish, whale, and seal, and did just fine. In order to survive, they ate some of the meat raw, to retain the vitamin C, and also ate the skin and hooves and what-have-you, and also got their greens by eating the stomach contents of the caribou. That strikes me as one crappy salad, although it wouldn't surprise me if Norwegians had a recipe for it. It would include butter. I don't know. The whole situation would have me rethinking my location. Maybe I'm over-delicate, but I'd snap a tooth on a hoof.

Generally speaking, however, you need roughage. Roughage is the boat your shit sails out on, and without it, your Cheez Whiz and burger just mill around in the intestine for days, enjoying the ambience. Fiber is nature's scrub brush, and is even said to ward off hemorrhoids. Or maybe just grind them off. Either way.

There are animals that can digest cellulose, but you don't want to be any of them. They all make a point of enslaving colonies of cellulose-digesting microbes; they include horses, cows, goats, koala bears, giraffes, and termites. Ruminants not only engage the microbes to bust up their grasses, but repeatedly throw up in their mouths for a re-chew. And all of these, especially the termite, are gassy as the dickens.

Which is fine in moderation. Flatulence, in fact, is considered a downside of a high fiber diet, but only by people suffering from undue decorum. But you can fix undue decorum with enough fiber.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Yanking My Keychain

Most of my friends have thoroughly grownup children now, and it still startles me to hear the way they talk. They've made sure their kids are fully versed in and prepared for adulthood in a way our own parents failed to, even talking frankly about S - E - you-know-what. So my friends' daughters will rattle on about penises right in front of their moms and everybody is totally cool about it, except me. It's not the subject matter part that bothers me. It's the WITH YOUR MOM part.

My own mom gave me only the most necessary information concerning highly personal hygiene, just enough to keep me from running to the school nurse screaming the moment I became a woman, not that we used inflammatory words like "woman." Ours was a family that didn't even say "down there." Just as we can infer the existence of a black hole by the behavior of nearby stars dancing around it, I learned what is never to be explicitly talked about by what Mom and Dad danced around. It was understood. We had a deal. They let me know exactly what their standards were and what they expected from me for eighteen or so years, and in return I knew exactly what to never, ever talk about. I learned the nature of problems I was to take to my doctor or my friends but not my parents. We certainly never sat around talking about penises.

I don't have a kid. I have a laptop, and it's young. I can tell. If my laptop could volunteer anything about its private life, it wouldn't hesitate. It would tell me who it met out in the Cloud and what it was doing with them. The little sucker is flapping its digital lips all day long. I really don't want to know. I bought it and brought it home and plugged it in and hoped it would have the good sense to do whatever it wanted to do and not bother me with it, but no. I just want to get in and take 'er for a spin but as soon as we snap the seat belts on, it lets up on the gas and says Safari is using an encrypted connection. Encryption with a digital certificate keeps information private as it's sent to or from the website. Okay?

Fine! Duly noted. I don't need to hear all that stuff. And thanks for offering to show the certificate, but some things aren't meant to be seen. Keep it to yourself. You don't need to ask for permission every time you go anywhere. Just be careful, have fun, and don't give me any of the details.

Likewise all this bullshit about the passwords. I don't know what the passwords are. You're supposed to be the smart one, you tell me. I do remember that there was some simple setup procedure when I got this thing and I dutifully plowed through a bunch of stuff before hitting a logjam of some kind and quitting. I was supposed to come up with all these passwords for this that and the other, and every time I did, it said it was crappy and I should pick another. I started writing them down, expecting the interrogation to end, and finally gave up when it kept asking me ever more obscure things I didn't know the answer to. As a result, my laptop can't play on the Cloud after all, which is why it keeps asking me all the time. My cat still thinks we're going to open the back door for her, too.

Safari wants to use the "Local Items" keychain. Well fine! I gave it to you once, it's in your room somewhere, and if you would pick up after yourself every now and then you'd be able to find it. Oh all right. Hold on. Here it is. Last time, I swear.

Safari would like to use your iCloud keychain password.

Great! I'd like to have Sophia Loren's cheekbones but you don't see me whining about it every two seconds.

And if you need some damn keychain so bad just sneak it off the dresser like a normal kid, go on your toot, and put it back before I wake up. That's called being considerate.

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.