Sunday, February 28, 2010

Your supplements in danger again

One of the first activist things I did in this country, back in the nineties, was write my congresscritters and senators to keep dietary supplements legal.

It needs doing again. John McCain has introduced a bill that will put supplement manufacturers under pretty much the same rules as drug manufacturers. That's not because supplements are unsafe, but because, apparently, they may be adulterated with illegal drugs such as steroids.

It's already against the law for them to be adulterated with illegal drugs...obviously...and the new bill is nothing more than a transparent attempt to shut down supplement manufacturers by making it too expensive to make and sell a (non-patented) natural substance, which will mean large drug companies will do it instead (if at all).

Large drug companies already make enough money. Trust me, I know, I've worked for them. It's in your best interests to have supplement companies survive, and that means once again writing Senators to get the bill taken away.

More info here.

The Ghost Who Walks

Everybody seems surprised that this is any good, but it is. Karen Elson, otherwise known as Jack White's wife, has made an album, and this is the teaser video from it (edit: that was removed from YouTube. This is the title track 08/2017).

At first I thought people were surprised because it was Jack White's wife, which I didn't get because White had a free choice in whom to marry - freer than most, in that he's a millionaire - and was likely to pick someone who was good at the things he is interested in. After thinking about it, I decided they were surprised because women who marry famous millionaires are supposed to be great at oral sex, snorting coke and looking decorative, but pretty useless at anything else. It's the sexism thing - women aren't really supposed to be good at creativity.

Well, Karen Elson is. Not fabulous enough for me to actually lay out any money on her album, mind, but fairly fabulous.

I think the thing that most impresses me is how she breaks the mammalian cube-square law. She's gigantic and yet has an unfeasibly extensive surface area. The cube-square rule means that mice can fall fifty feet off a cliff and survive, whereas elephants just...can't. Karen Elson could probably float off a cliff with no problems. (In fact she fell a few feet at the British Fashion Awards in December, and suffered not the slightest injury.) The thinness of her arms in this video continually makes me glance away in horror, which is, I suppose, why the band is behind her in the video even if it's doing nothing. It supplies a few people who are normally-proportioned for the eye to rest upon.

By the way, I find this amateur video of her with Melissa auf der Maur (singing Devil's Plaything) to be much more pleasing than the official release.

And both are much better than the video of her with Cat Power, doing the nasty and unjustly famous Je t'Aime (Moi Non Plus) which I'm not going to link to.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Utah to criminalize miscarriages

Utah, always on first name terms with the Middle Ages, now seems to be actually in bed with them. In a church-sanctified, polygamous married state, of course. Otherwise it would be a sin.

It is outlawing miscarriages. You know, those things where a mother loses a pre-term baby and spends months crying and wondering what she did wrong and if only things could have been different? Well, now she'll be investigated by the police as well.

Utah Bill Criminalizes Miscarriage

From the article:

A bill passed by the Utah House and Senate this week and waiting for the governor's signature, will make it a crime for a woman to have a miscarriage, and make induced abortion a crime in some instances.

According Lynn M. Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, what makes Utah's proposed law unique is that it is specifically designed to be punitive toward pregnant women, not those who might assist or cause an illegal abortion or unintended miscarriage.

The bill passed by legislators amends Utah's criminal statute to allow the state to charge a woman with criminal homicide for inducing a miscarriage or obtaining an illegal abortion. The basis for the law was a recent case in which a 17-year-old girl, who was seven months pregnant, paid a man $150 to beat her in an attempt to cause a miscarriage. Although the girl gave birth to a baby later given up for adoption, she was initially charged with attempted murder. However the charges were dropped because, at the time, under Utah state law a woman could not be prosecuted for attempting to arrange an abortion, lawful or unlawful.

Good christ, a young girl is so unfamiliar with family planning that she pays a guy to beat her up and the response is to pass a law criminalizing miscarriage? Does nobody in that pretty but let's face it hellhole state have even half a brain? Well they do, of course - in their own snakelike way: They're inching toward making abortions illegal, starting by investigating grieving women for possible criminal activity. It's no problem. Women don't really have feelings, being just the outer coat for the fetus they can carry.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Shit Eating

Pitcher Plants are plants that grow in low nitrogen areas. If you can't get nitrogen from the soil, and you can't fix it like clover or some other plants, you have to get your nitrogen from somewhere else, and eating an animal is always a good way to cope. So pitcher plants usually try to attract insects to fall in their liquid-filled cups, and then they eat (digest) the insect.

This plant has evolved with the knowledge* that the usual mammal waste products, feces and urine, are very high in nitrogen. So, it has become a toilet.

Original Credit: Ch'ien Lee

The plant [video] is big, almost the size of a football, The lid is covered in nectar, which attracts the tree shrew with a yummy snack; the bowl is shaped precisely to catch the shrew's poop. There is even some thought that the nectar might have laxative properties, because it certainly collects a lot of the stuff, which provides needed nitrogen for the plant.
I love evolution. All's for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

* Yes, I know the plant doesn't actually have 'knowledge'. I can't think of another way to put it at the moment.

Original article.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Brendan Benson and Dean Fertita

Bah. I saw BB on Sunday in San Diego on Sunday and he was great. But I missed out on the LA show a couple of days earlier, when Dean Fertita (of the Dead Weather) joined him onstage.

I loved my show but I love that more!

Satellite cuneiform

From the unlikely combination of the Daily Mail and the JG Ballard mailing list, here's a picture from Google Maps of a warplane graveyard.

It looks like cuneiform. A proclamation in some strange language only satellites can see and understand.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Brendan Benson: From 1930 to 2010 in one evening

I went to see Brendan Benson last night and had a great time.

BlackBerry photo more for purposes of proving I was there than
adding to the world's supply of Brendan Benson pictures.

I'm used to watching Benson on videos of the Raconteurs playing to 150,000 people jumping up and down at a festival. It was a touch cognitively dissonant to see him live for the first time playing to about 300 discriminating customers in a bar in San Diego - an agreeable place called the Belly Up.

The support act was Frank Fairfield, an amazingly accomplished folk-blues singer. He opened with a Robert Johnson number, in which his (Frank's) mumbled asides matched Robert Johnson's mumbed asides perfectly. He was instrumentally perfect on guitar, banjo and fiddle and came out with a great show that would have wowed anyone, white or black, any time in the 1930s and maybe 1940s too. He did make the mistake (in my eyes) of playing Cumberland Gap, which for any British people my age is owned by Lonnie Donnegan so any other rendition is a cover. (Odd that I don't feel that way about the Robert Johnson opener, but maybe some Americans can take that one on for me.) He had the stage presence of a sleepy three-toed sloth, but played like a maniac.

The place began to fill up during the intermission and Brendan Benson took the stage. I don't know all of his solo stuff, having only heard Lapalco and the recent My Old, Familiar Friend. I'd characterize his stuff as beautifully written, intelligent and lyrically outstanding, with a Beatles-like understanding of harmony and pop hooks. But with a little less...oomph...than I usually like. No worries tonight. Live, the oomph appears. I got up from behind my pile of loaded potato skins and went to the uncrowded dancefloor and stepped out. There wasn't exactly a mosh pit out there, I have to say.

Someone threw Benson a hand-made t shirt which read "Who the f#ck is Jack White?" which made him laugh, and then we were back to power pop. Brendan Benson live is definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tutankhamun and his DNA

Ancient Egypt is one of my early loves. I read avidly about it when I was little, learned the folktales and the myths, read everything E. A. Wallis Budge ever wrote (which gets me the occasional laugh from Egyptologists), read my Charles Piazzi Smyth, even Paul Brunton's A Search in Secret Egypt, which I practically memorized. I learned elementary Ancient Egyptian at night school, and went to Egypt in the early eighties to see it for myself.

Of course, I caught the Tutankhamun Exhibition when it rolled into London in the early Seventies. The story of the tragic young boy king, dead at nineteen, and his mysterious father, who denied the pantheon of Egyptian Gods and worshipped one true god (forcing his frail young son to frantically back-track when he was on his own, as the powerful priests of the other gods reasserted themselves) is endlessly fascinating.

Here in the twenty-tens we have technology that would seem indistinguishable from magic to Howard Carter, the discoverer of Tutankhamun's tomb, and would seem farfetched even to the writers of the various catalogues of the 1970's exhibitions. For the Egyptian authorities have just tested the DNA of the boy king and some associated mummies, and come up with "wonderful things", as Carter might have said.

The study is published in JAMA, but there is a write up at National Geographic.

Brother-sister mating: not usually good for you even if your father is a powerful Sith Lord Pharoah who brought prosperity to your land.
Tutankhamun was born around 3,300 years ago, the son of Amenhotep IV. His father had wrenched Egypt into worshipping Aten, the creator, alone, rather than the myriad gods and goddesses previously honored, some locally, some nationally. His father's preferred name was therefore Akhenaten, "In the service of Aten". Tutankhamun did not succeed his father directly, and the records of the Amarna dynasty, as this family was known, read like a soap opera crossed with Battlestar Galactica.

The new news includes evidence that Tutankhamun died of malaria - but since when do rich 19 year old people die of malaria? They did in this family. Here's why. According to the DNA evidence, his mother and father were brother and sister.

Dad Akhenaten is now identified as "mummy kv57", and Tutankhamun's grandfather, Amenhotop III, is identified as 'mummy kv37". Amenhotep III's wife, Queen Tiye, is the mummy "Elder Lady". One of Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV)'s wives is identified as the mummy "Younger Lady".

Genetic tests show that both Akhenaten and his wife, Younger Lady, were children of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye. They were Tutankhamun's parents. This overturns the theory that another wife, Nefertiti, was Tutankhamun's mother, and instead makes Tutankhamun the product of brother/sister incest - not uncommon in Egyptian Royals at this time. Akhenaten's sister-wife was not the chief wife. Although a daughter of Pharoah Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, like Akhenhaten, this young woman went into the pool of minor wives for the new pharoah. The brother became pharoah, but the sister was not special.

This, more than anything, opens up my imagination. Think of a world where a son inherits riches, and his sister becomes a nobody. Despite that, and despite the son marrying the most beautiful woman in the world, Nefertiti (which means A Beautiful Woman is Coming), the son and his neglected sister hook up and have children, one of whom, after immense struggles, becomes the head of the family. What goes on in an household where that can occur? What conspiracies and servant-led intrigues and poisonings and sudden assassinations have to take place to make that happen? Particularly when the new head of the family only succeeds after a couple of non-family members (Horemhab and Smenkhare) were in charge after the patriarch's death for some years?

It doesn't really matter in the end. As the product of a brother/sister marriage (with almost certainly some previous incest to make it worse), Tutankhamun's immune system was shot, and he suffered from a genetic bone disorder that forced him to walk with a cane. He was unable to have children* - two stillborn fetuses found in his tomb are preliminarily identified as his daughters by his wife Ankhesenamun. His foot weakening, his leg fractured and failing to heal, his immune system half as vigorous as an outbred person's, he caught malaria (more than once, and once with malaria tropica, or Plasmodium falciparum) and then he was destined to die.

He died at nineteen after ten painful years on the throne, and was subjected to an Orwellian rewrite of history as his father had been, to erase him from the books. He's remembered now because debris from later, more important pharoahs' tombs on the slope above covered the entrance to his tomb, and so Howard Carter was able to sleuth it down three thousand years later and open it - to find it absolutely intact, the mummy, the masks, the canopic jars, his walking-sticks and even his poor, non-viable fetus daughters in little coffins, piled into unfinished rooms in hasty finery - for what deliberation can a tomb-builder afford when his king dies at nineteen? - in a hermetically sealed tomb.

* Edit to add: It may not have been his infertility alone. If I'm remembering correctly, Tutankhamun's wife Ankhesenamun was the daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, making her Tutankhamun's half-sister. He was the product of a brother/sister mating and his wife was his half-sister. (And before she married her half-brother, she was married to Akhenaten, her father,who married several other of his daughters.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

What you know and what you don't know

It's well established that all our personal knowledge fits into three areas:

1. Stuff I know
2. Stuff I don't know
3. Stuff I don't know I don't know.

When we work on something, applying the stuff you know is easy. Even applying the stuff you don't know is pretty easy. Look it up on Google. Where most people fall down is the third category. If you don't know something and you don't realize you don't know it, you're not going to apply it, and you're not going to look it up. You're going to screw up instead.

Before taking action, check the stuff you don't know you don't know.

That's it, that's me, I'm done. I'm pretty gnomic.

For anyone who needs more help with the concept, I've been alerted to a great post here at Steve Schwartz. That spells it out for you. With pie charts.

Don't be afraid that Donald Rumsfeld said it once. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Stars, and their lofty ideals

I've always thought John Mayer was a bit of an idiot. He's proved it recently. No one, surely, can ignore his remarks like,

"Do black women throw themselves at you?" And just in case he wasn't already in enough trouble already, Mayer actually answered the question by saying: "I don't think I open myself to it. My [penis] is sort of like a white supremacist. I've got a Benetton heart and a [expletive] David Duke penis]."

There's a whole raft of these things in the LA Times.

Later - when he'd been called out- he said

"I am sorry that I used the ('N') word. And it's such a shame that I did because the point I was trying to make was in the exact opposite spirit of the word itself," Mayer said in a Twitter posting late on Wednesday.

"It was arrogant of me to think I could intellectualize using it because I realize that there's no intellectualizing a word that is so emotionally charged," he added, saying he would never say the word again.

Mayer, who is currently on a U.S. and Canadian tour to promote his latest album "Battle Studies", said he thought it was time "to stop trying to be so raw in interviews."

I'd care except I already assumed he was a douche.

Good day, Sunstein redux

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Cass Sunstein's theory that Conspiracy Theorists (you'll know them when you see them) should be infiltrated by the government and shut down.

The Huffington Post writes in on the subject.

It posits a government that is basically benign and it takes it as a given that the truth is knowable -- that some theories are objectively "wrong." It presumes that it's possible to distinguish between relatively innocuous conspiracy theories that can be safely ignored (Santa Claus or Roswell Space aliens) and more inimical ones that aren't (that the US government deliberately murdered 300 innocents on 9/11/2001 or used "tectonic weaponry" to further its imperialistic aims in Haiti).

Huffpo feels the idea is likely to backfire.

When I consider its costs and benefits, I foresee scant likelihood that "cognitive infiltration" will win over any hearts and minds for Obama's or anyone else's administration -- and an overwhelming probability (just Google "Sunstein" and "Conspiracy Theory" if you don't believe me!) that it will undermine not just its ideals but its own best interests.

It's a bit calmer than my own ideas, but okay.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Airforce vs. Jack White: It never rains in Southern California

Except it does, and we're about to be washed out again. The road between my home and my work is, stereotypically, affected by a fire last season which burned off all the vegetation and means the mud flows across the road every time it rains.

On top of that, my house turned out to be porous, and I'm on standby mop detail. This is largely affected by my next door neighbor (eight feet higher than us) and we asked him to to clear his drains. Since he was informed, number of floods has been zero.

The White Stripes had to suffer a song of theirs not to be litigious...being completely re-imagined by someone else and played to umpteen squillion at the Super Bowl as an Air Force Reserves recruiting ad last week. The White Stripes currently have the front page of Third Man Records saying:

I guess they really don't like the fake FILWAG and I don't blame them.

The Air Force blamed the ad agency. Here.

The ad agency blamed the musician, who responded here.

Kraft says he was “absolutely” surprised to hear of the Stripes’ accusations this week. “I went to the website and I go, ‘Yeah, that kinda sounds close.’ [But] I don’t even listen to those guys.” Asked if he had ever heard “Fell in Love With a Girl” prior to the controversy, Kraft replies, “God, I might have somehow or somewhere. I don’t know. That’s not the kind of music I listen to.”

Now Kraft says he’d like to speak with Jack White to clear things up. “I would say, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it sounded like your song. I had no intention whatsoever of copying you. If you need me to pay the money back that I made, which was 2,000 bucks, to you, I will do that if you want me to.’ This has gotten way out of proportion.”

Oh, poor man - he had no idea he'd ripped off a major hit and is prepared to give back $nothing to make it good.

How about the goverment pays Jack White the type of compensation the RIAA demands? Jack doesn't need the money and the RIAA are mad, but hey, it's a precedent. 'Paying back my $2000' doesn't cut it.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Dead Weather shows announced.

04.15.2010 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore
04.17.2010 Indio, CA Coachella Valley Music and Arts
04.18.2010 Las Vegas, NV The Pearl Concert Theater
04.20.2010 Albuquerque, NM Sunshine Theater
04.22.2010 Tulsa, OK Cain's Ballroom
04.24.2010 St. Louis, MO The Pageant
04.26.2010 Lake Buena Vista, FL House of Blues
04.27.2010 Birmingham, AL WorkPlay Soundstage
04.28.2010 Memphis, TN Minglewood Hall
04.30.2010 Austin, TX Stubb's Waller Creek Ampitheater
05.01.2010 Houston TX House of Blues

Luckily I sold my blood again on Friday, so I will attempt to go to yet another Dead Weather show. The one on my birthday is in Tulsa, OK - wherever that is - which sounds too far away to fly. (I'm only getting $160 less tax this time around.)

Note: I know the song about Tulsa, just don't know where Oklahoma is. See, I really do learn most of my history/geography from songs.


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