Bein' sick stinks

I'm sick. Well, I was sick; I'm mostly over it now. It's my second cold of 2010, which is pretty obnoxious when you consider the fact that I've been known for an otherwise sturdy immune system. My wife, though? Not so much. If I get sick, she gets sicker. She gets mad when I give her my colds; she'd positively kill me if I gave her the flu or something really nasty.

These infectious tête-à-têtes (head colds-to-head colds?) between the two of us makes me think about social biology and genetics. Humans are social animals and we tend to find ways to smudge the edges of individuality just a little when we're in packs. Menstrual cycles sync up between women who live together for long periods of time. (Ahem. Pun not intended.) (EDIT: Or not. See comments.) And our immune systems, long thought of strictly in that sense, turn out to play a key role in the way we pair off for romantic relationships.

I think the connection between these pseudo-pheromones is fascinating. I love that there really is a basis for Fabienne telling Butch in Pulp Fiction, "I like the way you stink." And even if my immune system isn't a lock-and-key fit with my wife's, she still likes to wear my t-shirts to bed. They smell like me, and she's cool with that.

So it'd be nice and warm-fuzzy if our immune systems dovetailed neatly, the way they're "supposed to" if two people are a "match" for one another. One gets sick, the other doesn't, and vice versa--and the offspring get the best of both parents' immunities. Personally, I'd bet that very few couples match up that way. And I think that those whose immune profiles are less than mirror images--like mine and my wife's--slowly start to sync up over time. One person plots out the course of the illness, and then gives it to the other. How generous! What's mine is yours, honey.

So I'm just about done with my cold, I've run the marathon; meanwhile, the wife is just coming to the 13-mile mark. But babe, I'm right here at the finish line, and I'm rooting for you! And I stink.

You can tuna fish, but can you fish a tuna?

I've eaten one tuna melt in my life (at Barriques, was pretty tasty). I've never made one. I'm no connoisseur, but I know this was not the template for traditional tuna melt. But christ if it wasn't one of the tastiest sandwiches I've made at home. Ever. And I like to make sandwiches. I do it respectably well.

I used American Tuna. In the Madison area, you can find it at Woodman's. It's not cheap; it costs $5 per can. But open it up and you'll see the difference. Hardly any water, packed tight. Aroma and taste are FISH, not FISHY. And the albacore from American is procured responsibly. No mega-trawlers. No drag nets. Pole caught. And if it means something to you, it's all done by Americans in the US of A.

Starkist tuna (albacore, really) costs a fraction of this. You might think it wasteful or unfrugal to spend five times as much for what seems like the same thing. Again, I refer you to the taste and aroma, texture and low water volume. If you need more convincing, wrote:
A new study warns that overfishing has shrunk marlin, swordfish, and tuna populations by 90 percent since 1950. Given the crisis, why does a can of tuna still cost under a buck?

Because the species that end up in your tuna casserole aren't the ones being severely depleted.

As visitors to Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market can attest, a choice southern bluefin can fetch upward of $40,000—a price that makes it an uneconomical choice for, say, Starkist's Chunk Light tuna. That's why big-time canners instead prefer smaller, less flavorful species. Albacore, the so-called chicken of the sea, is what you'll get if the tin says "white meat."

A recent study by the WorldFish Center estimated that, in a worst-case scenario, prices for tilapia, carp, and other low-grade fish could jump by 70 percent, in real terms, by 2020. On the canned front, albacore, skipjack, and yellowfin stocks are generally considered "fully exploited," meaning that a marked increase in annual catches could, eventually, put an end to your supermarket's two-for-a-dollar deals.
(emphasis mine)

If you're not thinking about sustainability, responsibility, and the health of our world's oceans when buying seafood, you're neglecting a very important issue. The new documentary film The End of the Line can tell you what you might not realize is the case.

The sandwich I made, at home, for about $3 worth of ingredients, would likely cost you $7 for the same ingredients at a local cafe. Think about that before you bemoan the cost of a $5 can of American Tuna. More importantly, don't focus on the dollars and instead think about what an ocean devoid of abundant life would be like for the health of our planet. It's a change you can effect in your own life, and trust me when I tell you that it'll taste better to eat right.

LOST - The Island as Boggle dome

Over at The Lost Community, we've been trying to nail down whether the intended effect of the frozen donkey wheel being turned is the same as what's happening on the Island post-turn (the whole record-skipping thing). I think I've come up with a theory that actually brings a little science into the discussion.

Remember Boggle? The little pod with dice with letters, and you shake the pod and the dice scramble, settle into a grid, and you make words?

Turning the frozen donkey wheel is equivalent to shaking the Boggle dome. It results in a noise, and even a reshuffling of the contents of the dome.

But what if some of the dice have been taken out of the dome? Then, when the dome is shaken, the remaining dice reshuffle but their interaction is changed because there aren't the same number of dice to bounce off of. When they settle, the resulting jumble cannot be directly correlated to that which pre-dated the last shake.

It's kind of like a muddle of Brownian motion, quantum mechanics, and a little bit of Schrödinger's cat.

The Island, as a Boggle dome, is trying to find a way to reshuffle the dice to make the grid make sense. It can't, and it keeps on shuffling and shuffling. Only when someone reinserts those remaining dice will the Island stop trying to resolve its error.

The question is, how does the Island determine what the correct number of occupants is? What's the marker? The destruction of the Swan, maybe? Is anyone (or anyone's body) other than the Oceanic 6 off-Island that was on-Island when the Swan went boom? Is Desmond not included in Ben's charge to bring everyone back because the rules don't apply to him? Since the Swan implosion was kind of what triggered his unusual spacetime status, is he not on the Island census as of that point in spacetime?

(This analogy was more fun when I was conflating Boggle and Trouble. I liked the idea of the Island "popping" rather than "shuffling" or "shaking." Oh well.)


For more of my thoughts on LOST, which are occasionally well-elucidated, click here.

Monkey see, monkey don't

I suppose the time for being surprised by American scientific willful ignorance has come and gone, but color me surprised at American scientific willful ignorance.

The setting: I was processing a donated book for inclusion in the collection here at work. It's titled ape•man: the story of human evolution. It's based on a BBC documentary, and here's the cover:

You'll notice that the link goes to the site, because this is the cover of the US edition, which was released after the documentary made its way to the TLC network:

Yep, that's right. ape•man became Dawn of Man, and I don't think it was to eliminate the unusual character or unconventional capitalization.

The really unexpected part of this stupid story is that it didn't take place during the W presidency. The UK edition was published in February 2000, and the US edition followed in June 2000.

What this really shows is that the United States has been on an academic decline for longer than the W regime, but it has been because of entities like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, the Christian Coalition, and Bill Donohue that we have been forced to accept a simplified and often falsified version of scientific reality.

There are more apes that come to mind when the subject of science trumped by faith comes up:

Sorry, South Carolina, but Clemson's a public school

The fine folks at Clemson University have found, via a surely expensive study, that double-dipping a chip in a bowl of dip does indeed result in an increase in bacteriological contamination.

And yes, this was inspired by the Seinfeld episode.

Let me say that I'm as interested in being healthy as the next guy. I don't want to get sick. I don't want your cold, or your cough, or your flu.

But jumping Christ, did anyone think to do a study of the number of germs that depart one's hand when reaching into that bowl of chips in the first place? I mean, come on! Let's say the bowl is full of nacho cheese Doritos. How many people wash the cheese off their fingers?

(i'll wait for all respondents)


Okay, now how many people do you think lick the cheese off?

Yeah. That's right. So please. Spare me the righteous indignation about stuffing an entire chip into one's mouth rather than "double-dipping." You're reaching into the same bowl fifteen other peoples' hands have already been in, before you even get to the dip.

And now, arguing for the oppostion...

The state of Kansas has been making a fair ass of itself lately by mandating the inclusion of "intelligent design" subject matter in science classes. You can believe what you want, and you can have all the faith you feel you need; this is America, and that is your right. But religion isn't science. Faith does not imply fact. Faith, actually, flourishes in a realm completely separate from fact; faith is acceptance of an idea with no proof or solid evidence. That's what makes faith so powerful and comforting to those who have it.

The horribly named, intentionally misleading "intelligent design" (or ID) argues that life is too complex to have developed haphazardly via evolution. "Irreducibly complex" is the 25-cent phrase. It means that if you consider the eyeball, there's no way it could have developed slowly over time because to remove one small component of it makes it completely useless as an eyeball.

This is a bad argument, and scientifically disproven by a number of actual professionals in the field (such as The Digital Evolution Laboratory at Michigan State University). I'm not here to break it down in detail. I want to highlight the self-defeating behavior of a couple of ID-ers from Kansas.

Paul Mirecki, a professor at the University of Kansas, had planned on introducing a class this coming semester entitled "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism, and Other Religious Mythologies." This was done in response to the state school board shoehorning ID into science curricula. Now, this is a smart-alecky thing to do on Mirecki's part. I don't deny that. But the offense taken to the terminology indicates that proponents of ID know (somewhere in their heart of hearts) that ID is a religious topic, not a scientific one. When it gets put in the Religious Studies department, they get all worked up and make the silly claim that it's an insult to call ID "religion."

Prof. Mirecki decided, after some bad press locally, to withdraw the course from the spring timetable. It's his prerogative; I would have liked to take that class, but it's up to him as the professor to offer or pull the course. And you would think, short of some diehards who want to argue about it, that this would put the matter to bed. There were, however, at least two diehards who really wanted to pick a fight about it.

Mirecki was treated and released from Lawrence (Kansas) Memorial Hospital late on Monday, after being accosted by two men and beaten along the roadside. The men tailgated his car early on Monday morning, and after Mirecki pulled over to let them pass, they pulled up behind him and got out of the truck. He (foolishly, to his own admission) followed suit, and was promptly beaten about the head, face and shoulders. His account indicates that they knew who he was, and shouted something accusatory about his previous course offerings.

So, what, they were defending their turf? Trying to show dominance?

Mirecki should be glad he still has both nuts.

Way to go, ID. You've attracted quite a following.