Friday, November 18, 2005

See A Real Live Dead Person Without Feeling Guilty

Children too young to be admitted to the latest Harry Potter movie can view sliced and diced human bodies.

These are real bodies of the destitute, unclaimed, and those who willed themselves to Gunther Von Hagens.

Arnie Geller somehow got his bodies from China, meaning that some of the corpses were probably purged political prisoners, people executed for slandering the state, and other acts that are crimes in China but not yet in the United States.

Geller's exhibit, "Bodies...The exhibition" is at South Street Seaport in New York City. Hagens has taken his "world of Bodies" around the world.

Calling them "bodies" may not be accurate. They once were people, true. After they died, Geller, Hagens and fellow ghouls dehydrated organs and muscles and filled them with plastic.

How they do this is a secret. Colors must apparently be introduced because the "plastication" process seems to leave the corpses white.

So, these are plastic versions of once real, live people. Hagen and Geller could present them conservatively and clinically, which would have educational value, but not much entertainment zing.

Instead, they take apart bodies in strange and whimsical ways and model them in fun positions. For instance, a "soccer player" who was not a soccer player in life, is posed in mid-air kick, sans skin.

There is something fascinating about these bodies. Adolescent boys want to know more about sex, minus personality and emotions, which is why they are drawn to pornography.

People who flock to see dissected, cleaned up, preserved corpses, are doing the same. They want to see "inside" without having to witness death and decomposition.

Hagens and Geller are either incrediblt cynical or bona fide pervents.

Or both.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Keeping Up with the Delusions

What on Earth is Steven E. Jones thinking?

Assuming he is thinking and not wrapped in wet sheets in a back ward somewhere.

Jones is one of the folks at Brigham Young University who brought the world "cold fusion," making him the P.T. Barnum of physics. This way to the egress.

At least his colleagues had the sense to fade into total obscurity.

Jones is now embarked on a campaign to convince paranoids and conspiracy nuts that the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center was merely a diversion to obscure a planned demolition.

He won't say who blew up the buildings, but it's bound to be bizarre. He apparently believes it was all a big plot to collect insurance money. By the time he's done the Elders of Zion will hold the blame.

As "evidence" Jones contends that no steel girder building has ever collapsed during or after a fire. This is highly questionable, considering the number of steel girder buildings in the world. Did he check them all?

Also, the Twin Towers were struck by big airplanes. The towers were more than 1,000 feet tall, which made the airplanes look small as we watched them crash endlessly on television.

The Boeing liner (full of innocent passengers) that slammed into Tower 2 was 178 feet long with a wingspan of 125 feet. The tail was as tall as a four-story building. It was carrying perhaps 11,000 gallons of jet fuel, weighed about 270,000 pounds, and was traveling at several hundred miles an hour.

Do the elementary physics. Energy equals one-half of the mass times the velocity multiplied by itself. The airplane sent about 11 trillion pounds of force into the structure before dumping 11,000 gallons of flaming fuel through the building.

No other buildings has ever been hit by airplanes like that and let's hope none ever are again. World Trade building 7 was not hit, but was set ablaze. It contained a large tank of diesel fuel.

Jones argues that none of these buildings should have collapsed, so therefore, they must have been brought down by previously placed explosives. It can't happen so therefore it didn't happen.

This is a common fallacy. It did happen. There is a first time for everything, no matter how small the chance.

Then there's the matter of "imploding" the buildings. Workmen with pneumatic hammers would have to expose the girders so that experts could drill holes into the steel and carefully insert tubes of high explosive. This couldn't be done overnight, or on weekends, or without anyone noticing.

BYU should have lifted his tenure and given him the boot after the cold fusion swindle. Now the university has another golden opportunity, unless it wants to be both a laughing stock and a slanderer of the dead.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

A Hard Fact To Swallow

No wonder male barn swallows are on edge.

Cornell University ornithologists have discovered that even after the female barn swallow has made a long term commitment to a male, the female continues to look for additional sexual partners.

And it's not like personality counts for much for the females. The females judge potential significant others based on the reddish color of the males' breast and belly feathers.

A faded breast and the female sneaks out of the nest and secretly copulates with the better looking male.

"The bad news for male swallows is the mating game is never over," said Cornell researcher Rebecca Safran.

Thanks to all of this furtive funny business half of all male barn swallows typically care for at least one chick fathered by another bird.

Presumably, darker breast feathers signify a stronger, healthier, more prestigious barn swallow.

Add it all up and we see the evolutionary advantage of the mullet.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Chemicals Don't Hurt People, People Made out of Chemicals Hurt People

The American Chemical Council has spent about a bazillion dollars to bring us this less than astounding message: Chemicals are essential to life.

Chemicals are undoubtedly essential to life because our bodies are made out of chemicals.

Chemistry is the study of what substances are, how they behave, and how they interact. That broad but accurate definition basically includes everything made out of matter.

What's that leave out? Gravity, light, magnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces, and, if you really want to stretch the point, the Higgs field.

Really, what the chemical industry means by "chemicals" is the set of substances with a high potential for misuse and harm. For example, methyl isocynate is an innocent but highly poisonous chemical that killed tens of thousands of sleeping people in Bhopal.

Chemicals don't kill people, people made out of chemicals kill people.

Of course, we'd be nowhere without pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, bullet-proof vests, gasoline, wood preservatives, explosives, paint, detergents, glass fiber, vinyl siding, chlorine, liquid absorbing diapers, aluminum foil, plastics, electronics, food preservatives, fireproofing, drain cleaners, buckyballs, synthetic fibers, and frozen dinners.

The problem is that some of these beneficial chemicals are destructive under certain circumstances.

So, yes, the chemical industry contributes greatly to modern life.

If only it hadn't left all those barrels of who-knows- what, who-knows-where, during all of those years before there were any stringent environmental laws.

That's when the suspicion started.

Coming to a Big Skull Near You

Finally, after a long dreary dry spell, there's some good news about the state of the human brain.

Our brains are evolving. That's generally a good thing.

It also seems pretty bizarre the way things have been going over the past few thousand years. Scientists are also not sure in what direction brains are evolving.

Actually, they aren't sure of much, except that two brain genes seem to have been changing rapidly since humans stumbled on agriculture and written language.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers at the University of Chicago found that two "new" versions of the genes arose about then.

Now here's the puzzling part: one of the genes is called "microcephalin" and the other is "abnormal spindle-like microcephaly." As their names suggest, mutations in these genes can cause a syndrome in which the brain develops to a much smaller size than normal.

Presumably, the unmutated versions of these genes have something to do with determining the size of the brain. What is that something?

The internal dimensions of the skull have a lot to do with the size of the brain, too. That is, cranial volume is an upper limit. So for brains to get any bigger the skull is also going to have to do some evolving.

It's happened before, but not in a long time.

The researchers are also careful to point out that larger doesn't necessarily mean smarter.

The other big question is what is the selective pressure that is changing the two genes? It's not like "smarter" people possess some recognizable advantage. On the contrary, intellect doesn't seem to count for much these days.

The average American is more likely to be able to explain football and stock car racing than name a single philosopher, poet, mathematician, painter, novelist or scientist.

Maybe humans are bifurcating into two species, a neo-Neanderthal country-western, Maxim-reading, SUV-driving big guy, and a book-worm, chess-team, Mozart-listening, small guy.

Who gets the big brain?