Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Edition - Lame Monsters

This slideshow on talks about the "lamest" monsters of film.  While I agree that Plan Nine From Outer Space is the worst movie of all time, I do not agree with the author concerning some of their more famous picks. Boris Karloff's Frankenstein monster is iconic, not only for the actor's magnificent portrayal of the misunderstood  and pathetic being, brought into a world he neither understands nor has the ability to control, but also as the first broadly seen image of what would evolve into today's zombie of the film world.  While the monster may seem lame to the jaded horror fan so used to the realistic gore and violence that is a cornerstone of the modern B film, it is important to remember that the audience in 1931 was quite different.  This was at the beginning of the flowering of modern horror, a time when even the thought of moving images and sound on film was a great novelty.  The film's moody atmospherics and cinematography, coupled with the relatively new experience of the darkened theatre gave depression-era moviegoers an experience not only immensely terrifying but cathartic as well.
     Moving on, the article misses the point again with 1988's Pumpkinhead, directed by special effects master Stan Winston.  The movie is no masterpiece, but is certainly not worthy of being labelled as lame by anyone.  The story is basically a morality play about the futility of revenge and the unforeseen consequences of one's actions (a concept many people- especially politicians, fail to grasp).  The demon Pumpkinhead is a great creation, far superior to other "rubber suit" creatures such as Rawhead Rex, Octaman and many, many others.  The gradual exchange of characteristics between Pumpkinhead and Ed Harley, portrayed by veteran character actor Lance Henriksen, is effective, as are the atmospheric sets and cinematography.
     Finally, I'd even go so far as to defend a couple of other picks in the article against the charge of monster lameness, simply on the basis of their novelty.  Gingerdead Man was a true stinker of a movie, but who wouldn't be creeped out at the thought of a man-sized killer cookie with the deranged mind of Gary Busey?  The same goes for Warwick Davis's Leprechaun.  Horror movies don't have to be perfect to be effective, nor do their monsters have to be fast, gory head rippers.  Sometimes the most effective horror is the stuff we don't see, since horror, like sex, is 99% mental.  Happy Halloween!
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Friday, October 08, 2010

Oh, the Horror!

We've all heard the commercials about "cheap chicken," by the folks at the Boar's Head brand, but how much attention do we really pay?  I came across this article today that gives "chicken" a whole new meaning.  Now I know how SPAM, hot dogs, sausages and so on are made, but this is ridiculous.  My first impression was that the stuff was either bubble gum or ice cream.  I wonder what it smells like...?
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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Decline in Phytoplankton - Warnings Not Heeded

For years I have been warning students and others about the consequences of our continued pollution of the world's oceans and the effect it would have on some of the most important members of the microbial world - the phytoplankton.  These microbes supply as much as 50% of the available oxygen in the atmosphere and help to remove carbon dioxide both for their own photosynthetic needs and as a structural component.  This article, unfortunately, proves I have been correct in my assumptions.  While the scientific and political debate about global climate change rages on, we have quietly chosen to ignore this decline.  I honestly do not know if anyone reads my blog and perhaps it does not ultimately matter if they do, but if so I can only reiterate that which I have said before.  A decline in atmospheric oxygen levels of even a few percent could easily shift the delicate balance that has allowed life on this planet to evolve the way it has and will profoundly impact biodiversity on a global scale.  Declines in atmospheric ozone will widen already existing holes and perhaps allow new ones to form, in turn allowing more ultraviolet radiation to pass.  Mutations resulting from such radiation will reduce biodiversity further and shift the species curve.  This is not science fiction. This is not speculation.  This is not political maneuvering.  The facts are in and data is available to anyone who wishes to see and analyze it.  Here is the NOAA site if you wish to do your own analysis, as well as the Nature article abstract of the most current research.

Perhaps I am wrong.  I certainly hope so.  But with anthropomorphic environmental disasters such as the current spill on the gulf coast, continued overfishing, agricultural and aquacultural runoff, not to mention plain old pollution, plus the law of unintended consequences we may suffer at the hands of potential "geoengineers" who have forwarded plans such as the seeding of the oceans with iron filings and the air with sulfur compounds to combat global warming, I am not so sure.  As Pink Floyd said, "breathe...breathe in the air..."  If this decline continues, you may not be able to do so much longer.
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Neat things to do when you're dead (...or someone else is)

I just finished reading two books by Mary Roach, Stiff and Spook.  These are both entertaining and informative, written in a witty and charming style.  In Spook, Ms. Roach seeks to discover if the afterlife actually exists, while in Stiff, she examines exactly what does happen to a person after they have become an ex-person, shuffled off their mortal coil, begun their dirt nap...etc (you see where this is going).  I, being a professor of biology, have dutifully checked the organ donation box on my driver's licence so when I do as previously described may offer others the chance to live on with whatever bits of me may still be useful, but have not as yet specified what to do with the rest.  My original intent was to will my body to science in hopes of being rendered down to skeleton and ensconced in a teaching lab, forever to inform and give sleepless nights to generations of eager young science students.  As an instructor I can think of no better way to spend my eternity.  While I might not be able to give the lectures, at least I'd direct them, in a sense.  However, Ms. Roach found that while most cadavers do indeed end up in medical teaching labs (as a grad student, I had the opportunity once to help deliver some to the gross anatomy class at Illinois State University), many are used for a wide variety of purposes, from forensic science studies to being processed as human organic fertilizer.  Most skeletons today are highly detailed plastic, easy to produce and much more hygienic than my bio hazardous bones are likely to be.  I must, therefore, choose another path.  Intellectually I know that my quest for immortality is more a product of hubris and perhaps vanity than scientific, and that having successfully produced a son (with more than a great deal of the initial work done by my wife) my genetic heritage has a better than even chance of being passed on, I would still like to think there is something more than the big sleep awaiting me.  I don't like funerals or funeral homes other than in that creepy horror sort of way, and funeral home directors all bring to mind Angus Scrimm, the wonderfully tall, creepy actor from the Phantasm movie series.  Body donation should be cheap, practical and efficient and should take most of the financial and emotional load off of my survivors.  Perhaps composting... you are, as they say, what you eat, so perhaps it's plantdom for me, at least until an herbivore comes along.  Body farm as bug, bacteria and fungus food?  Forensic anthropologists and their students could surely learn things from what's left over and entomologists, ecologists and microbiologists could all be a little more job secure.  The possibilities are many, though I, personally, will not get to choose, much like booking a hotel through Hotwire or Priceline.  Not that I will care at the time.

The other possibility lies in what becomes of the non-corporeal me once the main event has occurred.  Neither I, nor Ms. Roach know even if such a thing as the afterlife exists, so pre-planning is pretty much out of the question.  If I am to be a spook, I would like very much to be able to interact with the physical world so I can, at the very least, torment nasty people and teach the good.  I don't see that happening though and no doctored video or gibberish-filled EVP will convince me otherwise.  Still, wouldn't it be fun to make Jason Hawes or Grant Wilson or John Edwards (or any of those others out there who make their living convincing others that such nonsense is true) make poo in front of a live studio audience?
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Friday, May 14, 2010

News of the Day

I am not a regular blogger- I get too busy with other aspects of my life and often suffer both from ADD and CRS. But today, I've found some interesting stories while reading the morning web news I thought I'd post, just in case there is someone who actually reads this stuff. The first involves bottled water. Now, I've been telling students for years that there is no such thing as pure, natural spring water hyped by bottling companies. This story proves that I am correct. Pepsi's Aquafina brand is, in fact, nothing more than filtered tap water. I have no doubt that many, if not all brands of bottled water come from similar sources. It amazes me that people moan and complain about the price of oil and gas, but never give a thought to the fact that they are paying more for water per unit volume than either petroleum product (by the way, the bottle the water comes in is a petroleum product). Is the average consumer that ignorant, or does he or she just not care?

Cigarette smokers rejoice! Apparently, a recent research report out of China suggests that cigarette butts, when soaked in water, release an unusual mixed of chemicals that have an antioxidant effect on steel. Perhaps smokers should be paid for saving their butts (sorry for the unintentional pun) in much the same way they are paid for recycling certain glass bottles. I keep my butts in a can until I can dispose of them properly. I wonder how much a can of butts would sell for....

Also, the global warming folks are on the defensive now that errors have been found in their work and following the recent release of scandalous emails between grant-funded researchers that hint of scientific impropriety. The chairman of the IPCC is offering up research for review, no doubt hoping that there is so much paper to plow through that the average skeptic will shy away. As I have stated in the past, though I feel that much of the hype about anthropomorphic global warming is just that, in the final analysis we need to do many of the things being proposed- not so much to stave off global warming, but to wean us off of our dependence on foreign oil and prevent such true environmental disasters as the BP drilling rig debacle occurring right now. Folks, global warming is not going to kill you. But if we in our stupidity continue polluting and destroying the world's ocean life, especially the phytoplanton and other photosynthetic microbes that produce about 50% of the molecular oxygen we all need to survive, we will go the way of the other 90% of life that once inhabited Earth, only we'll do it much more quickly. Hey Stockholm! I'd like my Nobel Prize now please. You gave one to Gore, you gave one to the IPCC, you gave one to Obama and none of those folks have really done anything substantial other than talk a lot. My cause is different from theirs. Mine is real. The proof is in the data concerning primary ocean productivity can be seen and analyzed here and an overview of creeping death zones in the world's oceans here. I'd like to use the award money to help pay for my wife's health care, as well as my son's college tuition since it it would be nice to see him graduate before the extinction level event. Small bills, thanks and I'd like a lump sum rather that an annuity. I'll pay the taxes myself.
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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Hand Sanitizers, Hygiene and the Flu

The article, "How To Sell Germ Warfare; Can hand sanitizers like Purell really stop people from getting the flu?" on MSN is strongly critical of alcohol-based hand scrubs and their ability to reduce the spread of infectious disease, based on the results of studies performed by a Boston-based research group in 2005 and again in 2008 and at Columbia University. These and other studies showed that such scrubs were not particularly effective at reducing infection rates among various groups of people. Every semester, we perform a hand washing lab that demonstrates how a surgical scrub first removes transient bacteria, then residents of the pores and hair follicles. On several occasions, we have compared the effectiveness of antibacterial soaps and sanitizers against mild soap and have never found one is superior to the other or any significant difference in bacterial colony counts owing to the particular scrub used. This suggests that, with regards to effectiveness and expense, a good old-fashion hand washing with a mild soap is just as good and much cheaper. When I was asked about purchasing alcohol scrub dispensers for our computer labs, based on the concerns arising from the recent outbreak of H1N1 influenza, I said that I viewed this as a waste of time and school money. I was ignored, though the science backs me up. I think that such hand sanitizers are certainly better than no hand cleaning at all and do think that if they are used in conjunction with good standard precautions (washing hands, wearing gloves and changing gloves between patients) in hospitals, health care facilities, laboratories and doctor's offices they certainly have their place. But alcohol and triclosan-based hand scrubs are not a panacea and should not serve as a replacement for a good wash with soap and warm water.
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Rise in Food Allergies

The article "Why are Food Allergies on the Rise in Children?" comes as no surprise to me. We are seeing the effects of what was dubbed "the hygiene hypothesis," first introduced in 1989 by immunologist David P. Strachan. The idea is that as we overuse cleaning products containing antibacterial compounds such as trichlosan, a phenolic found in everything from hand soap to kitty litter, we reduce the number of microbes both harmful AND beneficial we would normally come in contact with. The reduction in microbes has the unwanted effect of reducing the ability of our immune systems to maintain "memory" of microbial agents and making them more likely to overreact to stimulation when it does occur, resulting in hyperimmune responses ranging from hives to autoimmune diseases and food allergies. While this would not be as obvious in adults, it would be immediately visible in children, since their immune systems are still developing. Without constant, low-level stimulation, these youngsters would, in essence, become immunocompromized. We are victims of our own cleanliness.
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