Hello, you beautiful minds. Let’s take some brain candy, shall we? So put down your game controls for a brief yet splendid moment, and stuff your brain with tasty tidbits of information.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Eight Tiny Cervids

I felt obligated to write some sort of holiday-themed post, so here goes nothing. Every year (in the western world) we are bombarded by images of a fat man in a flying sleigh pulled by eight members of the Cervidae family. You may tell your children that these eight flying creatures are “reindeer,” and refer to pictures like these:

I am here to tell you that you are lying to your children. That’s right. You are a liar. You lie to children. How are we supposed to count on these creatures (the children, not the reindeer) to be our future if we can’t even tell them simple truths? The sad truth is, most of the Christmas depictions of Santa’s livestock we see are blatant fallacies. I know a reindeer when I see one. And these are not reindeer:

 White Tail                                                                     Fallow Deer

This is a reindeer:

Can't you tell the difference? Reindeer are also known as caribou. According to Merriam-Webster, “Caribou are a large gregarious deer (Rangifer tarandus) of Holarctic taiga and tundra that usually has palmate antlers in both sexes —used especially for one of the New World —called also reindeer.” So, now we know what a reindeer is and isn’t, no one should ever get the Cervids mixed up again. Ever. Excellent. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Oh, the Places You Won't Go!

Feel like taking a nice vacation (or, holiday for you foreigners) this year? Maybe you want to bring the kids along and go camping, or bring the significant other on a romantic spa getaway. Maybe you are just so tired of your monotonous and vapid existence that the next town over seems like an exotic dreamland (I’m looking at you, Tustin). Well, pack your bags and/or backpacks and get going! But remember to avoid a few places. Seriously, even Tustin, CA is better than these places. Below are (in my humble yet accurate opinion) the worst possible places to be in each continent.

North America - Juarez, Mexico:
Just across the Rio Grande from El Paso lies Juarez, Mexico, a desiccated hellscape of poverty, rape, murder and disappearances. Juarez is a place where pollution is masked by a constant barrage of bullets in the air. That’s the good part. Sort of. There isn’t really a good part about Juarez. It’s a city completely controlled by drug barons who bribe, bully, and kill their way to power. And the police only make matters worse because they resemble people who should have responsibility or maybe a conscience. Unfortunately, the police just got paid to dump the body of your son into the desert because he looked like he was thinking about not cowering enough to a drug lord. So that’s Juarez. It needs to be bulldozed.

Australia – Directly Inside a Swarm of Box Jellyfish, Australia:
Sorry to disappoint anyone, but Australia just doesn’t have a town or city or region full of enough abject horror to include on this list. I’m sure there are some lame places, don’t get me wrong. But these lame places are just not high up enough on the terror scale to list. I might be bored and uncomfortably warm in Goodooga, but at least I won’t have the constant fear of being kidnapped, chopped into pieces, and sent back to my family over the course of a year in a gesture of warning from the local genocidal leader. Box jellyfish are scary though, but Goodooga is inland.

South America – A tie between Columbia and Venezuela:
Sure, Columbia is probably the first bad place you think of when you think of bad places in South America, but Venezuela is up there too! I understand that when people think of Columbia, they think of cocaine plantations, child labor, and children working on cocaine plantations, but Venezuela has bad stuff also. I mean, Venezuela has managed to increase its poverty rate by 300% since the 1970s! That’s no small task! I think Venezuela deserves a little more consideration. Just don’t go there. Not to either country. Not even for cocaine.

Europe – Albania:

According to The Onion, Albania is the Haiti of Europe. I wouldn’t want to go to the Haiti of Anywhere, so I won’t be going to Albania. I suggest you avoid it as well. Another place to avoid would be Dagestan, which is apparently a federal subject of Russia…so I guess that makes it part of Europe in a roundabout way. This place has been having a lesser-known Islamic insurgency complete with suicide bombings, Sharia Law, and dead public officials for the past twenty years. So it’s like a lesser-publicized Chechnya.

Asia – Afghanistan:
Well, Afghanistan is at an advantage on this list because there is a big war going on there. But even before the war the place sucked, especially if you were female. It had a HUGE female suicide rate. Probably because they were forced to observe Sharia Law x 1,000. Women were covered head to toe, uneducated, received little to no medical care, had no rights, couldn’t go out of the house without a male escort, forbidden from work, forced into marriages, and probably couldn’t sneeze without permission from their husbands. Then it got worse. Or better, since war creates excellent opportunities for suicide.

Africa – The Democratic Republic of Congo:
This place takes the misery cake. The DRC (which is neither Democratic nor a true Republic) makes Somalia look good by comparison. The only comfort the souls of the damned receive in Hell is the knowledge that they aren’t in the Congo. It’s like the apocalypse already happened over there – starvation, roving gangs, children with machine guns, babies on spears. It’s the rape capitol of the world. There is no economy because the various militias destroy everything in an almost locust-like manner – if locusts raped, maimed, and killed people for sport. Getting shot in the head is considered lucky over there. As if that weren’t enough, it is also home to the Ebola virus. F***.

Antarctica –Meh:
So…Antarctica is a continent, but there isn’t much going on there. It’s cold. You can go there if you want to though. Chill with some Norwegian researchers, say hello to The Thing, smell penguin poop. No big deal.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

There's A Book For That: Skepticism

This is random, but I feel like recommending some books for all you literate types. One of my favorite genres of nonfiction is what I shall call “Skepticism/Debunking books.” They tackle the falsities of pseudo-science and related silliness in an easy-to-read way. Personally, I can’t get enough of these types of books, although I’m not much of a Dawkins fan. Don’t get me wrong, he is an intelligent and highly respected skeptic, but I find him off-putting.  I prefer the more respectful tact of Carl Sagan and James Randi. If I want an offense, I’ll choose Penn Jillette (the Penn of Penn and Teller). At least Penn is funny, Sagan is a sage, and Randi is adorable.

Flim-Flam: Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and other Delusions, by James Randi, is a fun read (although I disagree with his views on unicorns). Randi had a long and exciting career as a conjurer (he was the Amazing Randi back then) but is now better known for his skepticism. He had a brief T.V. show where he allowed supposed psychics, astrology experts, telepaths, etc. to prove their talents. They ended up debunking themselves. This book basically debunks various frivolities from psychic surgery to dowsing. It was originally published in 1982 but is still very pertinent today. Oh, and just in case any of you have supernatural powers, the James Randi Educational Foundation offers a $1 million prize to anyone who can prove, under proper observable conditions, any paranormal power. The prize has been offered for over 20 years. Many hundreds have applied. Not one person has yet to pass the preliminary tests. Good luck!   

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, written by the immortal (in the figurative sense) Carl Sagan, is part of the cannon of skeptical literature. Sagan was a world-renowned astrophysicist and author. A staunch promoter of scientific skepticism, Sagan nevertheless treats religion with respect, which I really appreciate. Sagan is known for his work on the Cosmos television program, as well as his frequent appearances on The Tonight Show with Jonny Carson. This particular book of his is eloquently written and very approachable. You can be a bit slow on the uptake and read it. I know this because I read it. Always a proponent of scientific education, Sagan creates a strong argument for reason. The back cover of his book reads, “How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don’t understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience, New Age thinking, and fundamentalist zealotry and the testable hypothesis of science?” How indeed.

Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? is an important book in the fight against Holocaust denial. Written by Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman, it is a book that explores the phenomenon of denial and arms readers against it. Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and Alex Grobman is president of the Institute for Contemporary Jewish Life. A collaboration between these two men must be important. And it is. Growing up in a town with a large Jewish population (ma shelomkha Irvine?), I never truly realized that there are still people who deny the Holocaust. This book was an eye-opener. It pokes holes in the arguments of “Holocaust revisionists (that term can be loosely translated as “f@*%^ng bastard, anti-Semitic sons of bitches),” and gives rational people the knowledge they need to refute illogical claims.

So there we go. Give someone the gift of reason this Chanukah/ Christmas. Woot woot. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pleistocene Park

I was about to start a totally different topic but then I found this:

Wholly Mammoths

That's right, we (well, Russia and Japan) are one step closer to cloning the mammoth. Not going to lie, I am extremely excited about this. So excited, in fact, that I want to expand this cloning trend to other extinct or nearly  extinct animals. I realize that there are plenty of ethical issues to deal with here, but to those I say, "C'mon! It's a freaking MAMMOTH! I wanna see it!!!" Forget sheep and dogs, let's clone mammoths. This needs to happen within my lifetime. If I were a crazy billionaire, I would bathe these scientists in money...and I would get the first ticket to visit Pleistocene Park. I realize there are some striking parallels to Jurassic Park here, but we should still move forward on this. John Hammond had a dream and it was beautiful (and deadly, but mostly beautiful). Let's hope that the next step for science (besides finding places to colonize in space) will be the resurrection of the dinosaurs. Bad idea? Maybe. Awesome idea? Definitely. 

"I wish I weren't extinct. Won't somebody please clone me?"

"Bringing me back to life will in no way be a bad idea."