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Posts from — September 2007

Did You Forget Your Lobotomy Today?

My LobotomyThere once was a monster. The monster hurt more people than Dr. Joseph Mengele. The monster was Dr. Walter Freeman. From Wikipedia:

Frustrated by his lack of surgical training and seeking a faster and less invasive way to perform the procedure, Freeman invented the “ice pick” or transorbital lobotomy, which, at first, literally used an ice pick hammered through the back of the eye socket into the brain. Freeman was able to perform these very quickly, outside of an operating theatre, and without the assistance of an actual surgeon.

Sounds pleasant, doesn’t it?

Few people survived this surgery with their intellect. It literally scrambled brains. One person who did survive, damaged but intellectually sound, is Howard Dully and he’s written a book about his life. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

The surgeon, Dr. Walter Freeman, did the procedure at Doctors General Hospital in San Jose. After sedating Howard with four jolts of electroshock, Freeman inserted two skewer-like steel knives into his skull, entering through the inside of the right and left eye sockets.

“(He) swirled them around,” Dully writes, “until he felt he had scrambled things up enough.” The lobotomy took 10 minutes to perform. The charge was $200.

There are so many reasons to read My Lobotomy. I think one of the most important reasons is to understand that monsters are everywhere and, when you find one, scream as loud as you can.

September 26, 2007   2 Comments

Bush Says Mukasey Measures-Up

Has anyone noticed that Bush chooses to surround himself with short people? Can Dick Cheney reach the bar without a booster seat? Gonzales, attorney wannabe, uses the elementary school drinking fountain. The latest nominee, Mukasey, looks like he’s about five feet five inches or so. It doesn’t matter if they’re short but everyone Bush chooses is really short. Methinks he has issues.

September 17, 2007   No Comments

Animal Hoarder in the Neighborhood

A few weeks ago I woke up to the smell of smoke. It was about 4 AM on a Sunday morning. I checked my place and looked outside. I didn’t see anything. I couldn’t imagine that someone was using their fireplace during the heatwave. I went back to bed.

Around 8 AM I went out to walk Schmooze and Bounder. There were fire trucks and paramedics and way too many people about this generally very serene neighborhood. Attracted by the excitement, the dogs and I went over to my neighbor’s house where firemen were busy raking her flower bed. The heat from her air conditioner had ignited a fire in her mulch. That was the smoke I smelled. Luckily, no real damage was done.

This little hubbub was how I found out that we have a cat hoarder in the neighborhood. In order to make sure the fire was contained, the firemen went under my neighbor’s town home. The ammonia smell was so bad under her house that they had to wear their breathing gear. The woman in the town home next to my neighbor is a cat hoarder and the smell from her place has permeated everything in the immediate vicinity.

When the cat hoarder first moved in, I tried to be neighborly. I waved and when my pups found a few kittens near the front of her place, I asked if they were hers and said how cute they were. At this point, the cat hoarder said to me that she let her cats out to get pregnant. I smiled and went on my way. I filed the new neighbor under wacko. I had no idea what was going on in her house.

In the few weeks since the fire, the woman next door to the hoarder has kept me informed. I’ve seen the animal control truck removing cats from the hoarder’s home. The whole thing went before a judge last week and the hoarder is under court order to get down to 5 cats and to clean up the smell. I love cats. Animal hoarding is yet another flavor of obsessive compulsive disorder. Even though this lady is obviously nuts, I couldn’t sit by and just watch. I tried contacting some rescue groups and one came through.

Today, I left a note on the hoarder’s truck giving her a number to call. I hope she makes the call and saves the cats she has left. Animal control has already removed over fifty from the house. I rode my bike to her truck to leave the note. I see this truck now and then full of trash bags. I had no idea until the fire that the bags were cat litter. I would always marvel at the amount of trash she had. She seemed to make more trash in a week than I make in six months. When I dropped the note today, she had about four bags in the back of her truck. The smell nearly knocked me over. I can’t imagine what it must be like in this woman’s house. She probably has permanent lung damage and doesn’t even know it.

September 16, 2007   No Comments

Robot Dreams – Sara Varon

Sara VaronSara Varon’s new book, Robot Dreams, is finally here. I don’t have a copy yet but I wanted to promote it. Few comic artists will make you feel better than Sara Varon. Her first book, Sweaterweather, was a joy. She followed with her first children’s book, Chicken and Cat. It captured the same joys of doing simple things with a friend. Robot Dreams appears to continue with that theme. You can see a sampling of Robot Dreams here.

For those living in the mid-south, you’ll be able enjoy Sara in person. She’s tentatively planning on attending the Southern Festival of Books. This is one of the premier book festivals in the country. It’s Oct. 12-14 in Nashville, TN. Be there or be square.

September 12, 2007   No Comments

Amylase – Is Your Humanity in Your Spit?

salivary glandsAs a devoted observer of food fads, the article in the last Nature Genetics on amylase gene copy number in humans and the implications for our evolutionary development is especially rewarding. Ever read any of the “reasoning” behind the raw food movement or the paleolithic diet? Trust me, it’s even kookier than the bible. Fruitarians are another islet in the foodie fringe that bring idle speculation to new heights in the library of bogus knowledge. Let me pause a moment to say that raw fruits and veggies are generally better for you than cooked because the micro-nutrients are maintained. This is not always true, of course. Tomatoes are better for you cooked. If you hear someone say raw food is good for you because it’s living food and it has live enzymes. Run. That’s total bunk. Enough with the backstory, on to the Nature Genetics article. The BBC has a very good lay summary of the findings:

Man’s ability to digest starchy foods like the potato may explain our success on the planet, genetic work suggests.

Compared with primates, humans have many more copies of a gene essential for breaking down calorie-rich starches, Nature Genetics reports.

And these extra calories may have been crucial for feeding the larger brains of humans, speculate the University of California Santa Cruz authors.

I’d go further out on a limb than these authors. I would hypothesize that starchy foods drove tool development. Primate hands are not meant for digging. The article continues:

“Even when you look at modern human hunter-gatherers, meat is a relatively small fraction of their diet.

“To think that, two to four million years ago, a small-brained, awkwardly bipedal animal could efficiently acquire meat, even by scavenging, just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

They discovered humans carry extra copies of a gene, called AMY1, which is essential for making the salivary enzyme amylase that digests starch.

The real seal of approval on this bit of research comes from an earlier paper from this group:

In work earlier this year, the team found that animals eating tubers and bulbs produce body tissues with a chemical signature that matches what has been measured in early fossilised humans.

Ah, more finger lickin’ goodness from the human genome. I love it.

September 10, 2007   No Comments

Turning the Pages from the BBC

I’ve always sketched and I’ve always keep a sketch notebook with me. This has become a trendy thing to do nowadays. It makes me cringe. When I see another popular article on the subject, I want to burn my notebooks. I have nearly all of them from age 10. It’s also been one of my most closely guarded secrets. I keep past notebooks in a safety deposit box away from prying eyes. There’s nothing very interesting in them like most sketch books but I feel better keeping them under lock and key. Despite this eccentricity, I like looking at other people’s sketchbooks. Crazy, isn’t it? I developed this fascination as I’m sure many people have when I was a child and first saw Leonardo’s notebooks. The message I got was that ideas have value and are worth keeping.

The BBC has a great webpage for notebook/sketchbook voyeurs. It’s called Turning the Pages and it allows you to look at books page by page. Blake’s notebook is there and I found it a very interesting volume. Portions of Leonardo’s notebooks are there as well. Finally, the original hand-printed Alice in Wonderland is there. Don’t miss it.

September 10, 2007   No Comments

Tribal Hunting and Fishing Rights Should be Terminated

In the US, Native Americans enjoy special hunting and fishing privileges. There are a variety of rationalizations for the granting of these special rights. Basically, the real reason is guilt. Here’s a bone to chew. Sorry we exterminated your culture. It’s time to withdraw these special privileges. Outside the reservations, Native Americans should be made to follow the same hunting, fishing and conservation practices as others are required to do. It would be easy to make a very long list of cruel and greedy acts committed under these special laws but here is one of the latest atrocities on animal life in the name of cultural heritage. From MSNBC:

An injured California gray whale was swimming out to sea Saturday after being shot with a machine gun off the western tip of Washington state, officials said.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Kelly Parker said five people believed to be members of the Makah Tribe shot and harpooned the whale Saturday morning. The extent of the whale’s injuries were not immediately known.

Tribe members were being held by the Coast Guard but had not been charged, said Mark Oswell, a spokesman for the law enforcement arm of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

A preliminary report said the whale was shot with a .50-caliber machine gun, Oswell said.

It’s disgusting. This sort of abuse is not unusual. It always happens when any group is placed above the law.


September 9, 2007   No Comments

The Children of Llullaillaco

Incan Mummy

Incan archaeology was my first love. Anyone who has studied anthropology and its sub-discipline archaeology views religion differently from most of those who have not. This story is an excellent example of the anthropological viewpoint. Basically, a group of children were put in their Sunday best and dropped off on a mountain top drugged with alcohol and left to die in the name of god. Their remains mummified in the high thin air. Their bodies are on display in Argentina. From CNN:

Scientists believe the so-called Children of Llullaillaco were sacrificed more than 500 years ago in a ceremony marking the annual corn harvest. Dressed in fine clothes and given corn alcohol to put them to sleep, the victims were then left to die at an elevation of 22,080 feet.

All religion is the same. It’s an excuse to murder. It seems quite a few people have objected to this exhibit. Again, from CNN:

Several Indian groups waged a losing campaign to prevent the remains from going on display, arguing that the mummies should be buried or at least kept from public view.

The exhibit is a “great mistake,” said Miguel Suarez, a representative of the Calchaquies valley tribes in and around Salta.

Of course, let’s hide the murders. No, such things should be prominently displayed. Look at what was done. These children were murdered. All religion seeks to dominate and kill.


September 8, 2007   No Comments

Madeleine L’Engle is Gone

What a sad day! It was just announced that Madeleine L’Engle is dead. She was a marvelous writer. From the New York Times:

Ms. L’Engle (pronounced LENG-el) was best known for her children’s classic, “A Wrinkle in Time,” which won the John Newbery Award as the best children’s book of 1963. By 2004, it had sold more than 6 million copies, was in its 67th printing and was still selling 15,000 copies a year.

Her works — poetry, plays, autobiography and books on prayer — were deeply, quixotically personal. But it was in her vivid children’s characters that readers most clearly glimpsed her passionate search for the questions that mattered most. She sometimes spoke of her writing as if she were taking dictation from her subconscious.

September 7, 2007   No Comments

Bees, Bees, Where Are the Bees?

Summer is almost over and I haven’t seen a single honeybee in my yard. Generally, my lavender plants are full of bees. This year, it’s been bumble bees. If you haven’t heard, our bees, the foundation of agriculture, are disappearing. It’s called Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. Bee keepers place a hive in a field and, when they return, the bees are gone. Disappeared. This is frightening. Without pollination, there is no food. The public, as usual, is clueless but scientists around the world have been working like bees (sorry) to find out what is going on. Finally, they may have found a lead. From the BBC:

A virus has emerged as a strong suspect in the hunt for the mystery disease killing off North American honeybees.

Genetic research showed that Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) turned up regularly in hives affected by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Over the last three years, between 50% and 90% of commercial bee colonies in the US have been affected by CCD.

The work to complete the honeybee genome has allowed this breakthrough. Now that scientists know what DNA belongs to the bees, they’re able to identify what doesn’t belong. In this way, they were able to determine that DNA from IAPV appears only in bees from collapsed colonies. From the BBC:

“This virus appears to be strongly associated with CCD,” commented Dr Cox-Foster, “but whether it’s the causative agent or just a very good marker (of the syndrome) is the next question we need to address.”

Let’s hope they’ve found the problem. Solving it may prove to be more difficult than understanding the cause.


September 7, 2007   No Comments