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planet mercury | Chelsea Scrolls

Note resemblance to Death Star. Coincidence?

by chelsea schuyler

Alert: Nothing is Happening!

blank road sign |Chelsea Scrolls

Harrowing.

Mercury is in retrograde until April 15th – time for our triannual, or even quarterly panic! Yes, Mercury goes into retrograde for about 3 weeks, 3 to 4 times a year. That’s 9 to 12 weeks of panic, so get your stress hormones a-flowin.

Or you could just go on like normal, as not only is there no evidence to suggest that Mercury affects us by doing anything differently, but in fact, Mercury isn’t doing anything differently at all.

Mercury in retrograde is the APPEARANCE of it moving backwards, based on our perspective from Earth.

 

truck and bus, retrograde | Chelsea Scrolls

Party bus member ‘sees’ the truck go backwards, when really it is just moving forward slower

Imagine you are a passenger on a bus that’s stopped at a stoplight. A semi truck pulls up next to you in the other lane.

The light turns green, and though both vehicles start to move forward, your bus accelerates faster than the truck. Looking out the window, the truck can APPEAR to be moving backwards, though it’s trudging on like normal.

This is referred to as ‘the truck in retrograde’, and everyone knows it causes computers to crash, relationships to foil, and new deals to be riddled with bad luck.

dead bus | Chelsea Scrolls

Bus, post truck-in-retrograde. How’s that party now??

Sound like a ridiculous conclusion to make out of a perfectly normal, visual illusion? Welcome to astrology!

Definitions

  • Astrology – the ‘study’ of how planets and celestial bodies affect human lives. Henceforth referred to as astro-LIE-gy, to remind us of the ridiculousness of its assertions. Not that make-believe isn’t fun, or even good for inspiring conversation, but let’s make sure we aren’t propagating the kind of mindset that made us think epilepsy was due to demonic possession.
  • Astronomy – an actual science studying planets and celestial bodies, without conclusions about humanity, and for good reason as we will explore. Henceforth referred to as astro-KNOW-my from here on out.

From Analogy to Actuality

The bus analogy is actually a pretty good one for planets in retrograde. ‘Retrograde’ means literally ‘backward step’ in Latin. All the planets in our solar system orbit the sun in ‘prograde’ – forward motion.

Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, which it orbits in a speedy 88 Earth days and in a smaller oval than Earth’s. As Mercury whips by and curves around, there’s a matter of weeks where it APPEARS to be going backwards.planetary orbits | Chelsea Scrolls

Try this – point your finger up and put it at eye level. Now rotate it in a small, horizontal circle, starting from the left to the right. Notice that though your finger is always going in the same direction, it appears to your eye as though it were switching from right to left for a bit.

While Earth slowly orbits, Mercury is quickly orbiting around the sun in a tighter circle.

Here’s a great visual display I found, thanks to Vox: (1:29 – 1:59)

It’s not just Mercury by the way, all the planets at some point appear to be moving in retrograde from Earth’s perspective. You can actually take a picture of Mars every night and see the little dot move in one direction, then the opposite, then back to normal, over some weeks.

mars in retrograde | Chelsea Scrolls

Mars appearing to move backward – freaking out the ancients

(You can’t do that as easily with Mercury because it’s always on the dayside of Earth, so the sun gets in the way).

Does Mercury Affect Our Personal Lives?

Astro-LIE-gy has it that when Mercury goes retrograde on us it can send electronics haywire, new relationships to future Vagina Monologues, and don’t dare sign any new contracts!

(Lest we repeat the horrors of signing the Declaration of Independence or the Voting Rights Act – both having occurred during Mercury in retrograde. Fools).

founding fathers and LBJ | Chelsea Scrolls

No founding fathers! No LBJ! If only they had listened to astro-LIE-gers, we wouldn’t have a country, negating the very NEED for black voters…

To be fair, it’s not such a stretch to think that maybe the celestial bodies out there might affect us in some way. The moon affects the ocean tides; the sun is the reason anything works. Humans are made out of mostly water, perhaps the moon pulls at us and changes our mood or something?

That not a bad question. Let’s look to the sciences.

The Four Forces

When things have an effect on other things, it’s called a force. There are four fundamental forces.

The first two are the strong force and the weak force (oh the creativity!), but they only affect the tiny nuclei of atoms and such. These forces degenerate with distance, to the point where the ‘strong’ force pusses out after a few billionths of a meter.

The other two forces get all the attention, gravity and electromagnetism. So, do these planetary forces (particularly the minxy Mercury) affect us?

Gravity

Well, gravity, as we know (see WTF are Gravitational Waves?), has a major affect if:

1) the mass of the object is great.
2) you’re close to it.

So, what’s massive and what’s close? To keep the numbers simple, lets look at mass and distance in comparison to Earth.

If we call Earth a mass of 1 and a distance of 0, the comparative masses/distances in the solar system (of note) are:

Note that the sun has 98% of the mass in the entire solar system, and the moon is closer to us by far than any of the planets, so even IF these were to affect our personal lives, these two bodies should be having the greatest effect, not Mercury.

The Moon’s Gravitational Effect on Us

However, notice the moon’s teeny mass, and your body’s infinitesimal mass. This kinda negates gravitational effect. To add perspective – if you’ve ever had a mosquito fly by, it had a greater gravitational force on you than the moon.

mosquito | chelsea scrolls

FEEL IT!

The Earth has over 320 million cubic miles of ocean, which are pulled at maximum of 38 feet (2 feet in open ocean). The Great lakes, when the moon and sun’s gravity are combined, moves 2 inches.

Fine print: tidal effect moves unbound bodies only. Our personal body of water is quite bound, like at the cellular level even. These non-powers combined, we are Captain (not-affected-by-a) Planet!

captain planet | Chelsea Scrolls

These images, on the other hand, affect us all

Electromagnetism

So how about electromagnetism? Again, we look to astro-KNOW-my.

Electromagnetic (EM) fields depend on electric charge and distance. Therefore, they mostly just affect the planet to which they belong, if they have one at all (the moon does not have a global EM field). Jupiter does, but again, Jupiter is friggin far, so nothing happens to us.

Mercury has one, but it’s 1.1% the strength of ours. And, if it were to affect us, it would be concentrated when near to us, not during random retrograde distances. Also, perspective check: medical scanners use EM fields 100,000 times stronger than Earth, to which the body feels only mild, temporary effects (assuming normal exposure – don’t go buying property in an MRI).

solar flare | chelsea scrolls

It wasn’t me, it was the one-armed Mercury!

The sun bigtime has a magnetic field, and we DO feel it’s effect occasionally, if it gets all explodey and has solar flares. These spew charged particles on Earth, screwing with our communications systems, and even going so far as ground level causing transformers to blow, such as during the Quebec blackout in 1989.

That particular event was the equivalent of thousands of nuclear bombs exploding at the same time, the energy of which came straight to Earth at a million miles an hour. All that, and we got a power outage and some radio frequency jams, among others. Pretty small when you think about how direct and targeted we were.

Meanwhile, every quarter or so Mercury does absolutely nothing different than usual. And which one do we blame for electronic meltdowns?

So no, Mercury nor the planets have any effect on our personal decisions. The illusion of a fart in the wind isn’t even a fart.

Thanks Patreon Supporter!

This blog requested by Patreon member ‘C’, who’s work lunch was ruined by the uniformed bonanza of Mercury-crazed, paranoid hippies. May you be better armed in the next round.

photos in the public domain except:

mars movie: movie by Eugene Alvin Villar, CC BY SA 4.0
captain planet cartoon: photo by Mark Anderson, CC by 2.0
captain planet man: photo by daisydeee, CC by SA 2.0

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by chelsea schuyler

Green With River Envy

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! An occasion that has morphed so far from celebrating Catholicism that even a secular humanist like me can get on board. As an American, I’m celebrating the contribution of the Irish to our (sometimes) great nation, and that includes those cheeky Irish using science to make things green.

JFK, beer, and Mother Jones. Thanks Ireland!

Including the Chicago River!

Wait, they turn the Chicago River green? Yep – on St. Patrick’s Day, there’s a whole thing where thousands of people gather to watch three boats race around in the freezing cold and dye the river green.

And we’re not talking the tepid, ever disappointing RIT dye green, or that sad color of your DIY easter eggs that you euphemistically call ‘pastel’ to cover up its putt puttery as a green.

This is a neon, shamrock green, bright as a leprechaun’s as–*ahem* envy and enough to impress any day-glo enthusiast today.

History

It all started in 1961 when the Chicago mayor was on a beautification bent that included weeding out the illegal polluters of the river. Plumbers used a powder to find the illegal leakages, which apparently turned one plumber’s white coveralls green.

Orange is the new plumber’s crack

And, as in all messy situations, the boss noticed. In this case first generation Irish-American Stephen Bailey.

Stephen was also the chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day parade committee, AND boyhood friend of the mayor. A green light bulb went on in his head. Making him the holy trifecta of nucleating the river in celebration of his ancestral home.

Now, he wasn’t the first. Savannah, Georgia had tried to dye their river green the year before, but it turns out that if you have a fast-moving river, it’s about as effective as dying a flushing toilet.

Oh Savannah, don’t you dye for me…

Oh Sure, it was Totally Green declared the Savannah mayor, because without the modern media and lack of prevalent color photography, who’s to know?

The Science of Changery

So, back to the question – how do they dye the river? Well, early plumbers were using an oil-based toxin called fluorescein (because why not fight pollution with pollution?).

This chemical is actually bright orange that turns green when mixed with water, appropriately representing the other color in the Irish flag.

Perfect match I tell you.

At first they dumped 100 pounds of it, resulting in the nuclear-disaster look staying for a whole week. They decided to back off a bit.

But then environmental concerns forced a change (fluorescein may or may not tend to kill fish and snails – small details) to a bright orange vegetable dye in 1966. This orange powder also turns green when mixed with water. The exact recipe is a big secret, so the Rachel Carsons among us just have to have faith.

Environmentalist’s Response

Ask the stewards of the Chicago River for their thoughts on the matter, and they mostly say that there are way worse things to worry about for that river than one day of vegetable dye. What worse things? Well, anywhere from 2.4 to 90 billion gallons of sewage overflow a year to start.

…you decide

According to the Chicago Tribune, “routine violations” of water quality kinda go against the idea that the river ought to “be clean enough to prevent kayakers, rowing teams and boaters from suffering diarrhea and other gastric ailments.” Mmm, sell it!

The director at Natural Resources Defense Council says, “My guess is most people flocking to the Riverwalk aren’t aware of the intestinal miasma just a few feet away from them.” How can you not love a nature-lover that says ‘intestinal miasma’?

The mayor said last year that “Lake Michigan is our Yellowstone. (The river) is our Grand Canyon. We have to treat it with the same type of respect.”

And what better show of respect than a transformation reminiscent of three-eyed fish and radiation?

What do you mean? I totally respect you…

Indeed, the Exec of Friends of the Chicago River has nothing against the idea of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, but thinks the dying “sends a message to people that the river is not alive. Can you imagine there’s actually beavers living there? Because there are. You would never do that to a beaver. … Dyeing the river green does not respect that resource.”

Reversing the Chicago River

Ironically, pollution was the inspiration for another event in this exact same river’s odd history. See, the Chicago River flows in the opposite direction that it did in nature. Story time!

In 1865, when the ever growing Chicago was fast becoming the industrial meat-packing icon that The Jungle had to ruin for everyone, the place was rife with waterborne cholera and typhus.

“..the place ran with steaming hot blood – one waded in it on the floor.” “They use everything about the hog except the squeal.” Ah, Chicago.

Chicagoans dumped their sewage into the Chicago River, which flowed into Lake Michigan, from which the Chicagoans drank – creating a beautiful cycle of death and re-death from this bubbling cauldron that was the Great Lake grab-bag of disease.

For some reason, fixing pollution and waste systems seemed harder than reversing the gravity of an entire river and sending your problems somewhere else – like Missouri!

Ha! So, basically, avoid disease, unless you can’t help it, then you know, do what you can.

So, in 1887, the great project of digging a canal that progressively deepened away from the lake was begun. Ceaseless arguments between contractors and district, and 38 million cubic yards of digging later, we showed the ancient glaciers of North America the correct way to flow a river.

Ah, that’s better. Stupid glaciers.

The grand opening was actually hush hush and hurried to avoid an injunction from the courts – pesky Missouri was decidedly unkeen on receiving Chicago’s sewage, imagine.

But to be fair, Chicago’s disease rates did go down significantly, and luckily the towns downriver didn’t see an uptick. Turns out the water dissipated the disease over some distance. That, and soon Chicago would build water treatment plants that took care of the sewage (you know, unless it overflows once every 6 days on average even in the 21st century).

Michelle Obama started the tradition for the White House in 2009.

In other words, it’s all fixed(ish) now, so go remember the Irish folks, even if you have to settle for fountains.

photos in the public domain except:
Jay-Z quote – photo by Get Everwise, CC by SA 2.0
Chicago River – photo by Doug Belshaw, CC by SA 2.0
Canal – photo, CC by SA 3.0

Ren & Stimpy lives on in all my explanations

by chelsea schuyler

Red Button of the White House

Today we answer the ever nagging question: Should you press the red button?

There has been much speculation about whether there actually is a red button, from which the president in his infinite stable genius wisdom could launch a nuclear weapon.

Luckily for humanity, there is no such nuclear button. However, there IS a button available to the president, and it IS red. I have included an image of the White House’s Resolute Desk below. Included is Barack Obama looking under said desk, for scale (and the memory of better times).

Resolute Desk red buttonHistory Fun Fact!

This desk was made from wood from the HMS Resolute, a drifting British ship that the Americans found. They were like ‘poor chaps’ and gave it back to the British in the spirit of good will. The Queen was like ‘Aww!’ and commissioned a fancy desk to give to America in 1880. Drinks all around!

So what does this White House button in fact do? Turns out it’s just for calling the valet to get a coke or something. Seagulls are in full support of this practice, and if we want to commune with them, we should probably start here.

The Dutch – “Do You Even Science Bro?”

European herring gull

Larus argentatus, the European version of default seagull

If there were a red button available for nuclear destruction, seagulls would press it, because they are completely wired to do so. At least, when they’re young.

How do we know this? Well, there was once a Dutch scientist  Niko Tinbergen, who studied Herring Gulls. (Remember the Dutch? We love them for their babies and their Brothers coffee, and of course, their airplane attendants’ ability to pronounce my last name.)

dutch baby, dutch brothers, niko tinbergen

Top 3 reasons to approve of the Dutch: Dutch baby, Dutch Brothers, and Niko Tinbergen.

Anyway, at the time Tinbergen was studying, scientists were completely obsessed with behaviorism, the idea that everything was learned or could be taught (a la Pavlov). Nothing could possibly be innate they said.

Well, Tinergen’s experiment with birds  basically said, “You don’t know Shinola from seagulls.”

shinola shoe polish

Shinola was a shoe polish brand. Now you know s@!# from Shinola AND from seagulls

Seagull’s Shape and Gender

Tinbergen studied Herring gulls. There’s a lot of species and regions and blah blah, but at heart they are your basic default seagulls, so we’re just going to say that from now on.

If you live in North America or Europe you’ve no doubt you’ve seen these beasts in town or on your various beach trips, but have you ever noticed the red spot? It’s on their bottom lip-beak (mandible) and resembles sloppy joe dribble.

Both males and females have them. A note on seagull sex – males and females look basically the same. It’s the juveniles that are the mottled brown gulls you see hanging out with them – which you may have mistaken for females, because I may have told you as much, because I may have/was definitely wrong, and I blame mallard ducks entirely.

mallard ducks

female brown, male colorful dammit

The female is in fact, slightly duller than the males, which we can barely see, but they have no problem seeing. While we have three cones in our eyes (seeing red, green, and blue), the seagull has four, the fourth capable of seeing UV light. To them the males stand out like a french fry held off a boat.

Tinbergen’s Experiment

Why the spot? Well, that little dribble is a target for baby seagulls. When the adult returns to the nest, the chicks peck at the red spot, which stimulates the parent to regurgitate food in that time-honored, revolting tradition of so many animals.

seagull herring gull baby

Yeah, you’re cute now, but you’ll be pushing my buttons soon enough.

How do we know this? Well, Tinbergen gathered his best experimental supplies, the very same ones our own children run to the fastest – cardboard and sticks!

Approaching seagull chicks on the coast, he held a seagull-shaped disembodied head with the white face and the red beak. Somehow not horribly traumatized, the chicks pecked at the spot.

Okay, so far so good.  What about just a head and beak with no spot? No pecks. What about other colors? Nope, red only please. Okay, what if we just waved a stick with a red spot on it? Pecking resumes.

red spot experiment tinbergen

Mine?

And the best part – what about a stick with three red lines on it? Pecking frenzy!

Apparently, nature uses minimal wiring in the chick’s brain to save energy (in the biological sense), so its neurons simply know that red = peck = food.

seagull chick

Putting the ‘gull’ in ‘gullible’

Cardboard red dot? Sure. Thick red lines? Superbeak!! It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet so peck like there’s no tomorrow!

Thus proving that some behavior is innate, Tinbergen championed a new field – ethology, the study of animal behavior that evolves as part of adaptation. He won a Nobel Prize for his contributions in 1973.

Meanwhile, we know what the seagull would say about pressing the red button. You say push and it says ‘how red?’

Thank You Robert Sapolsky

The idea for this blog was brought to you by a tiny footnote in the book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by my hero Robert Sapolsky:

behave robert sapolsky

Don’t skip the appendices

700 microscopically thin pages of genius that will teach you neurobiology basics through really cool case studies and relatable examples. I heart you Robert Sapolsky.

Photos in the public domain except:
seagulls drinking – photo by John Haslam, CC by 2.0
dutch baby- photo by Jengod, CC by SA 3.0
niko tinsbergen– photo by Rob Mieremet, CC by SA 3.0
dutch brothers – photo by M.O. Stevens, CC by SA 3.0
baby gull – photo by Byron Chin, CC by NC-SA 2.0
Behave – BUY IT so that promoting it will let me off the copyright hook?

WTF are Gravitational Waves?

gravitational waves

She canna’ take much more cap’n!

by chelsea schuyler

What Are Gravitational Waves?

I think we can all understand gravitational waves if we just put our minds to it. I observe that:

  •  Gravity is what makes apples fall down.
  •  Waves are what oceans do.

Therefore, gravitational waves are apple-flavored fruit leathers that, when you hold it by both ends, can make the wavey wavey shapes. And we’re done here.

gravitational wave |chelsea Scrolls

obviously.

Unless you want science, in which case I’d have to explain real things. Which doesn’t make me want fruit leathers any less.

Start With Gravity

Okay, basics. Gravity isn’t just a one direction thing. Nor just a thing that only our planet has (I’m looking at you Flat Earthers).

It’s something that spacetime has. Spacetime is three dimensions of space and one dimension of time, all combined in one continuum of four dimensions.

In other words, spacetime is a giant, taught blanket that engulfs everything. Except this blanket isn’t 2D but 4D – 3 spaces, 1 time. Blankets in every direction. Very warm. (The universe is actually quite cold. Vicious liars those blankets.)

Now, the universe is full of mass (planets, black holes, etc). This is like distributing a bunch of balls and peas onto each blanket. These cause distortions to the blankets, felt as gravity.

space curvature

Ye old spacetime diagram. Earth = the pea in The Princess and the P-spacetime continuum

Gravitational Waves

However, if those balls/peas do stuff like explode or collide, the blankets then ripple, and these ripples are called gravitational waves. It’s kind of like tapping a floating buoy on still water, making ripples flow out in every direction.

(If you would like to learn more about floating buoys, watch this 1 minute 19 second Youtube video of nothing but two floating buoys in an indistinguishable body of water. Let’s get those 15 views up people!)

So gravity is already distortion, but gravitational waves are wave-like distortions. Gravity is a big ball on the blanket, gravitational waves are when you bop the ball and it boings up a down a bit.

As Usual, Einstein Knew

Einstein predicted these gravitational waves with his theory of general relativity in 1915. In an essence of quaintness, 100 years later (2015), the Earth felt the stretch and squeeze of a gravitational wave, and humans caught it red-handed.

einstein | Chelsea Scrolls

Einstein – the originator of all science to the laymen – seen here trying to write the word ‘Lookie’ in a way we might understand

Now, as catastrophic as ‘gravitational waves’ sounds, these waves are itty bitty to the extreme, ruining any accuracy of future sci-fi action movies. These waves were measured to be a few thousandths of the diameter of a proton. (Which was recently found to be 4% smaller than originally thought. Because unimaginably small just wasn’t small enough for some physicist, and they had to go ruin it for all the other physicists who now have to rewrite their thesis).

But don’t cancel your James Cameron contract yet, the reason for the 2015 waves was because of something mega-giant.

But first, how did they detect these ridiculously small waves? A big ole machine elbow.

Analogy Alert, Analogy Alert

To help explain this elbow machine, let’s meet Jack. And the house that Jack built. Picture Jack 2.5 miles north of his house. He shines a laser pointer into the window of his house in a straight line (to mess with his cat).

lol cat laser toy | Chelsea ScrollsBecause I wanna be just like him, I am also 2.5 miles away from his house, but east, forming a right triangle. I also shine a laser into his house, so both of our beams are perpendicular to each other.

Lasers are made of light, therefore they travel in waves. If our lasers are in perfect sync, his wave goes up exactly when mine does, and down exactly when mine does.

However, if a gravitational wave disturbs our weird cat toy party, it will s-t-r-e-t-c-h the space between Jack and the house and squeeze the space between me and the house.

gravitational waves analogy of lasersBecause his light now must travel slightly farther, and mine slightly less, our waves get out of sync.

How can we tell when this happens? His cat would be able to tell…assuming ‘cat’ is an acronym for Catastrophe Auto-detecting Technocomputer.

How Science Proved It

This is generally what the real scientist’s machine, called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), does. It has a laser beam going along a 2.5 mile long arm, and mirrors bounce it back to the origin spot, then bounce it 2.5 miles the other direction.

LIGO | Chelsea Scrolls

LIGO (because LEGO was taken). Note Jack’s house at center.

Since it’s one laser, the waves are definitely, exactly synced. September 2015, those mirrors imperceptibly twitched, and the internet exploded.

The Cause

What caused the waves? Well gather round ye consumers of Star Wars, cuz long ago, in a galaxy literally far far away (1.8 billion light years in fact), two black holes 30 times the mass of our sun collided. Somebody bitch-slapped the buoy.

black hole collision | Chelsea Scrolls

Gravity was a might perturbed.

1.3 billion years later, Washington state and Louisiana (in it together, how, why??) detected it. Scientists subsequently lost their minds, doubted, tested, ruled out a lightning strike in Africa (no joke), then settled on the fact that true awesomeness had occurred.

Since then, we have tracked other collisions, and Italy has joined the cause with their own long-armed observatory called VIRGO.

Virgo | Chelsea Scrolls

Italy’s version, Virgo (because LIGO was taken)

The ESA (European Space Agency) is even toying with the idea of putting one in space with arms over 600,000 miles long!

In conclusion, gravitational waves are what happens when you bop something in the universe.

bop it game | Chelsea Scrolls

Bop it! Pull it! Twist it! Gravitational waves…

Today’s blog brought to you by Patreon supporter Jack B. Thanks Jack! Find me at Patreon, cuz you know you wanna be just like him and support your local science enthusiast.

Photos in the public domain (thanks NASA) except:
curvature – photo by Johnstone, CC by SA 3.0
first the dot– wherever lol cats come from
bop it game – photo by Larry D. Moore, CC by SA 2.5

mushroom cloud box jellyfish

Two causes of the sense of impending doom. Note uncanny similarity.

by chelsea schuyler

patreon | Chelsea Scrolls support

Donate a dollar? I love dollars. A journey of a 1000 steps started with…something about a dollar.

(Quick note – like these blogs? Support me for as low as a dollar a blog on Patreon!)

An Actual Scientific Symptom

Winner of best science symptom contest: ‘a sense of impending doom.’ I love it when scientists are forced use their words.

twilight cover

No! You have so much (else) to live (read) for!

And this isn’t your gloomy, sullen, withdraw-from-the-world (because patriarchy), plunge into a Twilight binge kind of impending doom. This is a violent, fear-ridden, panicked sense of impending doom.

When I wrote a blog about common fruits and vegetables bent on our destruction (Produce, Prodeath), I was delighted to find that overindulging on nutmeg can cause nutmeg psychosis, which includes ‘feelings of impending doom.’

Well, it was recently brought to my attention by a fan (thanks Michelle!) that there is yet another source of this jolly symptom – the jellyfish.

The Culprit

Not just any jellyfish of course, but the giant, ship-drowning, MEGAJELLY!!!! One assumes.

blue tang and box jelly

I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy

Wrong! Actually it’s a tiny, translucent, four-armed box jelly of the “Squishy” variety.

But still, fear it! Make no mistake, this single centimetered fraud can cause wide-spread hysteria and agony in the body. Included is the ever awesome ‘sense of impending doom.’

It’s called Irukandji syndrome, after the aboriginal tribe that had lived in the region with the most cases. (Always name a horrendous syndrome after a marginalized people, because every little racist bit helps.)

aborigines

Aborigines: “It’s just that there’s been so little to demonize us lately”

Checklist of Doom

Victims of the unassuming Carukia barnesi jellyfish become so utterly convinced that they’re going to die that “they’ll actually beg their doctors to kill them just to get it over with,” according to Australian biologist and jellyfish expert Lisa Gershwin.

It’s not just some psychological psychobabble either, there’s plenty of evidence to help them feel quite confident of suffering their last hours. Mainly:

  • excruciating back pain (“similar to an electric drill drilling into your back” – Gershwin again.)
  • nausea accompanied by vomiting EVERY 90 SECONDS for up to 12 hours

    drill | The Chelsea Scrolls

    The experience is a drilling adventure ride.

  • full body cramps
  • raining sweat
  • the perception that you can’t breathe
  • pain when moving any muscle, which might be okay except for:
  • muscle restlessness

It’s a sneaky thing too – you don’t even know that you’ve been stung. With regular jellyfish, you know it immediately by a searing pain, throbbing, and blistering. But with this little jelly, you know nothing Jon Snow. Until about half an hour later, with the vomiting and the dooming.jon snow, kit harrington | The Chelsea Scrolls

Totally Moral Test Subjects

Because of this doom delay, it actually took a long time to figure out what exactly was causing this horrendous hellflood. But after studying currents and patterns and stuff, scientist Jack Barnes figured he had it figured. But how to know for sure?

Good ole Science Jack is hangin out on an Australian beach. He thinks he’s found the rascal culprit causing this terrible syndrome, so he nabs some teeny box jellies to prove it. But who does he test them out on?

fingers | The Chelsea Scrolls

I bequeath unto you, my son, my unbridled  inappropriateness

Well, himself of course. No potential movie rights are complete without the stereotyped, obsessive scientist blazing through the scientific method with enough overconfidence and impatience to self-stun. (Must I always have to reference The Fly?)

But why take just your own word for it, Jack? Better include more subjects.

Hey look, a 9-year-old boy that happens to be your son. Definitely. Why spare your child the maturity of depressing worldviews that only a harrowing experience of impending doom can bring?

lifeguard tower | The Chelsea Scrolls

Um..lifeguard? Lifeguard?

Hmm, how about just one more. Ah, the lifeguard. Looking at a beach’s worth of possible subjects, the lifeguard certainly serves the least use.

The Results

And so, using his plethora of diverse subjects (three, slightly-differently-aged, white males), we have our experiment! Ah, the days before an Institutional Review Board.

After 40 minutes, Barnes reported that “the abdominal musculature of the three subjects was in unrelenting spasm…subjects were seized with a remarkable restlessness, …stamping about aimlessly winging their arms, flexing and extending their bodies, and generally twisting and writhing”. That’ll do jellyfish, that’ll do.

Not doubt his son is proud that his traumatizing experience, subsequent trust issues, and years of therapy could help put the ‘Barnes’ in C. barnesi. Sorry kid, your dad was an A-hole. Science!

Should I Pee On It?

nutmeg jellyfish chelsea scrolls

Nutmeg and jellies, in it together…how, why?

So what do you do if you get stung? By this, or any jellyfish for that matter? Well, first, don’t worry,  arguably only two people have died from the impending doom jellyfish (the exact same death toll for nutmeg psychosis! Coincidence?).

Next ask yourself: “Am I in Australia and vomiting by the minute?” If yes, go to the hospital.

If no, and therefore it’s definitely just a regular jellyfish sting, then first things first: DO NOT pee on it. This is a great general rule for fixing most problems.

friends monica and joey | The Chelsea Scrolls

sorrowful humiliation

Remember that Friends when Monica pees on Joey’s jellyfish sting and it worked? Yeah, don’t do that. Cuz it won’t.

See, when jellyfish sting, they leave behind a bunch of stinger cells in you called cnidocytes (vermicious knid…o-cites). Inside these cells are little ticking time bombs – organelles called nematocysts. These explode with venom at the slightest jostle.

Don’t scratch it – that will set off the bombs. Don’t pour your water bottle on it either. See, the inside and outsides of cells are always trying to be in balance. Water outside a cell makes there be an imbalance of solutes, so cells will release solutes to make the outside equal the inside. Freshwater therefore draws solutes out of cells, which also happens to make the nematocysts release more pain juice.

Urine, as it turns out, can act a lot like freshwater, so you might actually feel more pain, not just the humiliation of a story you will never live down.

What Does Work?

warning sign | chelsea scrolls blog

Absolutely no fun-having on this Australian beach. Also, every danger is present. Use vinegar.

Turns out, vinegar and it’s 5% acetic acidness is just the thing. And talk about convenient, as what self-respecting beach trip is complete without a good gallon of delicious vinegar?

Or you can just avoid Australia, as this sign seems to imply. But, like celibacy, where’s the fun in that?

(Speaking of nonwhizzing, this blog brought you by the memory of Ren & Stimpy and the game they introduced to the world:)

Photos in public domain except:
box jelly – photo by Forgerz, CC by SA 3.0
twilight – photo by norika21, CC by SA 2.0
jellyfish in tube – photo by GondwanaGirl, CC by SA 3.0
jon snow (Kit Harrington) – photo by Kevin Dougherty, CC by 2.0
“Friends” – photo by Peter Pham, CC by 2.0

Cairo and Egyptian pyramids | Chelsea Scrolls

Contrary to my desolate, isolated imaginings, the Egyptian pyramids are a quick cab ride from Cairo.

by chelsea schuyler

The White Person’s Reprieve

seven wonders | Chelsea Scrolls

Artists largely not to several scales impressions of the Seven Wonders (left to right, top to bottom: Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Temple of Artemis, Statue of Zeus, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes, Lighthouse of Alexandria)

If you’re white, like I know I am, there’s a lot to feel guilty for. Top of the list? Slavery.

So when I’m taking a white privileged break from the guilt of my ancestry and the inevitable, if unintentional, consequences of my own racism in my American society, I think about fun things like the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Except I’m stymied there too, cuz I can’t really remember what any of them are, except for the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. But wait, that was built by slaves. Man! Now every 6.5 million tons of stone is riddled with the sadness of drudgery and torture. Way to ruin it, slaves.

But allow me to deliver the (non-Bible related) good news. They weren’t actually slaves! I just assumed they were. Why? Because I’m so white that I can’t imagine something so grandiose not being built by slaves? Well, maybe, but to be fair, I was misled.

Herodotus | Chelsea Scrolls

Herodotus: The first fake news

Alternative Facts Misled Us

The Pyramid of Giza was built in 2560 BCE. Greek historian Herodotus visited the pyramids in 450 BCE and wrote about it, estimating that about 100,000 slaves must have built it.

Then, in 1977, then Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin visited, then went to the Museum in Cairo and said “We built the pyramids”, meaning the Jews.

Menachem Begin, Egyptian Museum | Chelsea Scrolls

“If you can’t say nuthin true (in front of a giant group of experts on the subject), don’t say nuthin at all”

Ignoring the tiny detail that Jews didn’t exist yet, but who ever said the Israelites knew anything about Jews? Y NetNews.com reported that historians and archeologists were quite offended, “the Egyptian press was full of protest articles.”

Ha! This is why the world should be ruled by scientists. There wouldn’t be any wars, just the renowned fury of swift letters to the editor!!

Archeology Says ‘Duh’

Anyway, so how do we know now that these builders weren’t slaves? There certainly were slaves at the time, so it’s not a totally crazy notion. However, Harvard Magazine says that the following evidence helped:

sliced bread and freed slaves | Chelsea Scrolls

equivalent.

  • geological history
  • analysis of living arrangements
  • bread-making technology
  • animal remains

Bread-making technology. Technology. Of bread-making. Yeah, okay. As long as we can say that these workers not being slaves is the best thing since (primitive-technology-chronologically-excluding:) sliced bread.

Basically, here’s what points to well-fed, respected workers:

pyramid city Egypt | Chelsea Scrolls

Pyramid city – formally underground

  • A ‘pyramid city’ found deep in the sand nearby, which could have housed the rotating teams of about 10,000 workers, each working in 3 month stints for 30 years (per pyramid – the successor pharaohs wanted pyramids too).
  • This city included ancient bakeries – which they recognized from the conical bread pot remnants that match tomb hieroglyphics of the bread-making process. Keep in mind that large scale production of anything was not a thing in ancient times, so this is epic.
  • Evidence of nearby clover fields (used to feed cattle) but no cattle bones to be found.
  • conical Egyptian bread | Chelsea Scrolls

    Actual conical bread turds from a tomb at Giza

    Scads of bones at the pyramid city, to the point where it is estimated that workers ate 21 cattle and 23 sheep a day, the best meat available at the time.

  • Tombs specifically for workers were very recently found near to the pyramids. No treasure, and no mummification (just regular corpses), suggesting that the people weren’t THAT revered as to be royalty or anything, but important and respected enough to be buried near the Great Pyramid, with tubs of beer and bread for the afterlife. The lack of treasure made these of no interest to looters, leaving them pristine (cool!!).

Let’s Not Go Crazy

Now, this doesn’t mean these workers were just so idyllic that they happily skipped along in the heat hauling rocks like tanned Smurfs singing and carving JOY in their diaries each day.

great pyramids and smurf | Chelsea Scrolls

La laa, la la la la

Their bodily remains show all the signs of a very hard-working and painful (arthritis, etc) life. Some of the single blocks of the pyramids weigh nine tons. You can steak me all you want, that’s still a rough job.

But yes, they were indeed loyal to the pharaoh, and also, at that time manual labor was just a part of the culture (of the lower classes anyway), intertwined with religion, status, purpose, and yes, a lack of ample, independent choice. For a peasant of Egypt the promise of meat, bread, beer, and relative glory in the afterlife would have looked pretty Smurfin’ good.

hieroglyphics of egypt | Chelsea Scrolls

Lay off, I’m reading.

Our Bad, We Got Distracted

So why did it take so long to discover this? Well, if you found three gargantuan, ancient tombs filled with treasure and symbols and mummies and royalty and myth, are you really gonna go digging in the sand miles away just to see if there’s anything there?

inside the Great Pyramid | Chelsea ScrollsKeep in mind there was also hieroglyphics to decode, which was only figured out in 1822, and remember that the pyramids aren’t empty – they’ve got hallways and chambers and all kinds of cool stuff.

But, after all that Tomb Raider fodder died down, some Egyptologists went looking a little further.

Suck It Heston

Well, sweet – now I can appreciate the pyramidal amazitude without a dark cloud of human cruelty hanging over me. Granted, this kinda dampers the Hollywood mood set for decades.

charlton heston moses | Chelsea Scrolls

WTF my people?

Heston fans who remember the ‘Let my people go’ scene can now imagine all those people going “screw off, I ain’t givin up my daily meat to starve in some desert!”

Oh – and why is the pyramid the only wonder I can remember? Because it’s the only one still standing. Just goes to show that healthy, free workers ensure long-lasting, quality achievements without need for whipping and various horrors.*

*21 and 23 daily cattle and sheep beg to differ, but..one step at a time.

Images in the public domain except:

 

ivan pavlov

Science’s Santa Claus, Ivan Pavlov

by chelsea schuyler

PAVLOV – NOT THE FRIENDLY (science) GIANT?

What (we think) Pavlov taught us: ring a bell before feeding time, and a dog will learn to associate the bell with food, and salivate just at the ring of it.

Wait, we can trigger automatic reflexes with mere association? Epic! This concept of ‘classical conditioning’ has led to treatments of phobias as well as effective marketing.

pavlov experiment

DIY dog drool

We love Pavlov because this experiment sounds like a nice, friendly one you could do at home with full PETA approval.

Even the apparatus just involves loose rope to hold the dog at a wooden structure, and a little test tube attached to the jowls to catch and measure the saliva. Kinda neat.

pavlov dog

Taxidermy dog of Pavlov with test tube accessory. Because nothing is sacred

However, there are two things wrong with the previous impressions:

  1. Pavlov may or may not have even used a bell.
  2. Pavlov was not kind to animals

Oh, and

  1. Americans are not kind to babies.

That third one is a bonus misassumption that I bet you didn’t even know you were assuming! Allow me to explain:

NERD DEBATES – DEFINE ‘BELL’

The best part of science is the nerd arguments among researchers – the red rage of their faces when debating whether T. Rex was a scavenger, or whether Neanderthals bred with humans – it’s the best part of any documentary.

spock

I fail to comprehend your indignation

yosemite sam

OOO!! that rackin’ frackin’…

The Spockian part of their conscience tells them to calm the F down and be presentable as a logical scientist, while the Yosemite Sam part is OOOOoooo!!! bursting with the Bunsen burner flames of the years of research at stake from this varmint!!

I’m not sure it got quite to this level, but in 1994, yet another mostly useless debate began about whether the famed Russian scientist in fact used a bell.

First guy: there’s no evidence he did
Second guy: yeah, it was the reporters misled us
Third: No, here are three instance that specifically say ‘bell’ in Pavlov’s writings
Fourth (or back to first? I’m lost now): but maybe ‘bell’ refers to an electronic sound?

…until even I was like OH MY GOD it’s so not the point! The only thing at stake is whether the joke “Does Pavlov ring a bell?” even works anymore.

WHAT PAVLOV ACTUALLY USED

michael jackson

Annie was in fact ‘okay’ according to science dogs

Whatever, regardless, Pavlov didn’t use bells often – what’s actually more interesting is what he did use, which includes a buzzer, a harmonium, a metronome, and electric shock.

And it didn’t just stop at one sound. For example, in one trial he only fed the dogs when the metronome was at 60 beats per minute. 120 beats per minute, no chow for you.

Interestingly, the dogs subsequently became more discerning, only salivating at the speed of say, the classic Michael Jackson original “Smooth Criminal”, while dry-mouthed at the spastic Alien Ant Farm version.

NOBEL PRIZE IGNORES BELLS, PRAISES TORTURE

Pavlov did win a Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine but not for his (non)bell experiments. It was actually for researching the digestive system of mammals, via dogs.

Horrifyingly, this involved surgically removing their esophagus and adding a tube so that the food would just fall right back into the bowl. Pavlov would measure the gastric juices that the stomach (from another tube) makes when expecting to get humanely treated, I mean, fed.

Meanwhile, another tube was inserted into the stomach so the gastric juices could be collected and measured. …And then sold as a treatment for dyspepsia – digestive trouble. Let the irony sink in there for a minute.

pavlov dogs

Pepto bismol factory of old

This was a good side business – some dogs could reportedly drop a thousand cubic centimeters of gastric goodness a day! (Which is like a quart, but sounds way impressive to Americans cuz of the word ‘thousand’ and because metric jargon is inconceivable to us. “This lettuce is five thousand cents per kilogram – it’s an outrage!”)

I guess we didn’t really know anything about digestion, so, this was epic.

AMERICA JUMPS ON THE TORTURE TRAIN

Okay, so Ivan “Dr. Moreau” Pavlov removed parts of dogs to catch the fluids at every part of the digestive system. Many dogs didn’t survive the surgeries let alone enjoy being Dr. Suessian machines behind curtains, but don’t give all the heinousness credit to the Russians.

frog

Frogs everywhere however, would like to thank Pavlov for his subject choices

First of all, Pavlov was kind of anti-Russian. He called Marx a fool, wrote to Stalin that he was “ashamed to be called a Russian”, and said publicly “For the kind of social experiment that [Russia is] making, I would not sacrifice a frog’s hind legs!” to which his dog subjects were moderately offended.

Anyway, while Russia was removing any non-red citizens, America took Pavlov’s dog torture and brought it to the next level: babies and Santa Claus.

THE LITTLE ALBERT EXPERIMENT

John B Watson

American Horror story, John B Watson

Arguably (always arguably!) the greatest and most deplorable application of Pavlovian concepts was carried out by oft-cited American psychologist John B. Watson. In his famous ‘Little Albert’ experiment, he wished to show that he could turn what is naturally pleasant to all human children, furry things, into terrifying realizations of our nightmares.

He took a nine month old infant, and first simply allowed him to interact with a monkey, a rat, a rabbit, a dog, fur coats, etc. The child was happy and unphased.

Then Watson paired the items/animals with the deafening sound of a hammer hitting a steel bar behind from where the child could see. After doing this, well, more than once and therefore, a horrendous number of times over days, the child burst into tears at the mere sight of the fur of any his former plush pals.

john b watson and little alfred

dear god people

INCLUDING (and it doesn’t get better than this) Dr. Watson himself in a crude Santa mask with all the poofy white fur attached, on his hands and knees getting right up into the kid’s grill. Science!

P.S. The idea that Santa Claus produces an innately friendly response has been disproved by decades of photographic evidence of screaming children in shopping centers. Let alone an aggressive man-stranger with a mask a 4yr old could have glued together more tastefully.

THE PSYCHOLOGY TRAIN WRECK CONTINUES

But be comforted baby Albert, in a mere 54 years, they’ll make the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects. Oh, and sorry that Dr. Watson didn’t desensitize you. Why?

Rosalie Rayner

Rosalie ‘is this tainted?’ Rayner, who is: “unanimously in favor of breaking the mother attachment as early as possible”

Because he was fired. Not because of child abuse, no, but for having an affair with his grad student assistant, Rosalie Rayner, who later died young from eating tainted fruit. Because Watson, I guess, just wasn’t tainted enough.

But she managed to co-author the book Psychological Care of Infant and Child, in which she tells mothers thatWhen you are tempted to pet your child remember that mother love is a dangerous instrument.”

And because the fun never stops, she and Dr. Watson’s two children both suffered depression and  attempted suicide, with one saying that their upbringing “eroded [their] ability to deal effectively with human emotion.” You think?

DEBATE! WHERE’S ALBERT TODAY?

Little Albert

Have you seen me? I’m likely in therapy and frantically scrambling away from malls around Christmas time…

But why focus on the horrors of our past ideas of child-rearing when there’s a pointless debate to be had? Decades later some scientists dutifully wondered, where’s Albert now?

Some say that he was Douglas Merrite who was sadly sick with neurological problems (not divulged by Dr. Watson, and therefore totally disqualifying any results humanity can scrape from this disaster) who, also, died 5 years later.

But wait no – that kid would have been vastly underweight and clearly from the video (shown below!) he is not. So maybe it’s Albert Barger who reportedly disliked animals, especially dogs, and died 10 years ago! Let’s speculate with creepy, old timey video (Santa footage at 3:10)!

Photos are public domain except:
Pavlov drawing: photo by Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0
Taxidermy dog: photo by Rklawton, CC BY-SA 3.0
Spock: photo by e_chaya,  CC BY 2.0
Yosemite Sam: photo by Mark Anderson, CC BY 2.0
Five dogs: photo by Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0

old yeller poster rabies

Rabies poster child from Disney. Disney: tragically killing animals since 1957

by chelsea schuyler

The Zombie Apocalypse Was SO 131 Years Ago

rabid man

Besides agitation, hallucinations, loss of motor control, and death, rabies can also cause panic in association with water (hence the old name ‘hydrophobia’), as swallowing induces horribly painful spasms. The virus spreads through saliva from biting, so swallowing = less saliva = unpatriotic to the zombie cause.

While an excess of movies and books have been preparing us to meet an inevitable zombie apocalypse, fear not. We’ve actually been facing it for thousands of years, and are now simply in a post-apocalyptic residue phase.

Why? Because zombies are in fact tiny, itty-bitty viruses that eat brains and cause zombification, known more commonly as: rabies.

Think about it – super aggressive, no longer recognizable, frothing at the mouth, walking and moving all weird – total zombie. It even affects multiple mammals, just like I am Legend, Resident Evil, 28 Days Later, and other equally authoritative sources have shown.

Walk like a (rabid) Egyptian

Walk like a (rabid) Egyptian

Rabies is well described in writings by Egyptians dating back to 2300 B.C., but a vaccine was found in 1885.  So, slightly anticlimactically, this apocalypse has already happened, and now we’re left twitching and scarred to the tune of 55,000 people a year still getting it (mostly in Africa and Asia).

The Golden Years

Motherland!!

Motherland!!

But let me offer you a story of simpler times – a glorious age of “viper’s venom, crayfish eyes, and the liver of a mad dog.” The perfect witch’s brew? Why no, rabies treatments of course! Well, alternative treatments anyway. Naturally, the standard treatment was a red-hot iron at the site of the bite, which usually did nothing and the person died anyway.

This is why we all miss the old days, which was filled with dandy perks like pre-death scaldings, leeches, and blood-letting. Name an obscure animal part or barbaric practice – anything goes (went)!

But then a boring old white guy had to ruin it for everyone with ‘science’ or whatever. The story:

Rabies Cure Origin Story

Joseph Meister rabies survivor

Joseph “fiest” Meister himself

One day in October of 1885, in a town just like this one (not really), a small boy just about your age and size (if you are a 9 yr old French boy) was sent to town to fetch ingredients for his father’s bakery.

As little Joseph Meister made his way, he encountered a terrifying rabid dog that bit his hand and legs a total of 14 times. Luckily, a locksmith beat the dog away with an iron bar (locksmiths are SO handy!).

Who needs arrows and swords when you have locksmiths?

“Call the locksmith!” Takes on a whole new meaning.

The doctor came later that afternoon. You know, after the mini-zombies had had plenty of time to populate the body, establish a government, and draw up plans for a fully funded, full-scale brain takeover.

Here, let me just rabies that for you

Here, let me just rabies that for you

The doctor uselessly cauterized all 14 wounds, and left – because the horrific pain of being mauled by drooly fangs isn’t complete without the searing sensation of your own bludgeoned skin melting together. Don’t forget the lack of pain medication folks. Fun times all around!

The boy’s options at this point were a horrible slow death, or to be suffocated between mattresses – which was sometimes used to put victims out of their misery. It just gets better and better right? Simpler days…

Here, let me just mattress death that for you

Here, let me just death that for you

Luckily, rumor had it that a guy in Paris could help. Word spread to the parents, and the mangled, blistered boy was on the next bumpy wagon to the city of romance, a doubtlessly comfortable and restful trip.

Got Milk Disease?

MEANWHILE IN PARIS: people were not big fans of medical facilities – who needs science when you’ve got home visits from doctors with lava sticks at the ready?

Louis Pasteur with rabbit spine

Pasteur with the infinitely coolor science equipment of back in the day

So, scientists like Louis Pasteur had to make do with little money, but he did okay by figuring out how to prevent wine from ‘disease’ (going bad). Pasteur had suspected that a living organism was the culprit, and not a spontaneous generation of badness (the generally accepted idea).

He realized that if he heated the wine to a certain temperature he could kill it off. This procedure was passed on to milk (etc.) as well, and we now know it as ‘pasteurization’.

But because saving millions of people from botulism and the like is never enough, Louis Pasteur wanted to continue his work on little organisms and apply it to human disease.

Rabid Rabbits, Happy People

Though someone had made a smallpox vaccine, nobody really knew why it worked. Pasteur, however, was beginning to put two and two together (horrifying disease, tiny creatures (zombies)).

Louis Pasteur with rabbits

Pasteur and his hare-raising experiments. (Halloween pun – CHECK)

Pasteur grew rabies in the brains of a bunch of adorable rabbits (like ya do), then killed the rabbits and dried out the tissue to ‘weaken’ the virus.

He tried out the new vaccine on dogs with much success (because when you’re already brutalizing bunnies, why not generate more compassion from the public by throwing in a few puppies?).

Enter a terrified Madame Meister and a mutilated, sickly boy. Though unlicensed to practice medicine, Pasteur was persuaded to treat the boy, and it worked. The people rejoiced, forgave his malpractice, poured money into the lab, and came from all over the world to receive the rabies treatment. ‘Institut Pasteur’ thrives to this day as a non-profit studying micro-organisms, diseases, and vaccines.

Institut Pasteur

Epic gate of which Meister became the keeper (keymaster unknown).

Epilogue:

Happily: The boy grew up, sold the family bakery, and became the gatekeeper at the very Institute that saved his life. He married and had a couple of daughters.

Unhappily: When the Germans invaded France in 1940, Meister heard that his family had been killed in the bombings, and so committed suicide with gas. His wife and daughters returned just hours later, safe.

Nothing says Halloween like epic tragedy, eh?!

oregon rabies map

Best. Map. Ever. Fox has appealed to be removed from the legend due to lack of involvement.

 

Rabies Today

Rabies is still everywhere here in the US – in the saliva of usually wild animals, especially bats.

The only sure method for determining if an animal has rabies is to look for the virus in the brain. Which, I can say from veterinary experience, is done by literally cutting off the head with tree clippers (standard zombie kill treatment!!) and mailing it to a lab. Good to know that some barbarism still thrives.

Batman and any others whose primary workspace is a cave is advised to be vaccinated.

Batman and any whose primary workspace is a cave are advised to be vaccinated.

You can get the vaccine, but it’s expensive and you have to do it three times. So, only do so if you’re a vet or a field biologist. Or if you’re just really, really into bat-riddled cave exploration.

The frugal spelunker like myself can take comfort in the fact that you can get the vaccine even after being bitten by a suspicious animal. But be quick about it.

Oh, and by the way, according to the WHO, “Human-to-human transmission by bite is theoretically possible but has never been confirmed.”‘ Yet, my friends…yet.

Thanks to Danielle who requested this topic!

Photos are in the public domain except:
Crayfish: photo by Monica R., CC by 2.0
Institute gate: photo by Lamiot, CC by 3.0

Leper hand bones. “Your wrist bone’s connected to your, well, let’s just stop there”

leper man

Actual leper, despite looking just like those holographic Halloween pictures.

by Chelsea Schuyler

Lepers Still Roam

Happy Halloween! This year I bring you leprosy. Because the deadening of hands and feet while simultaneously turning into a molting lizard just feels right this time of year.

Though we cringe, we can’t help but be fascinated – how can you slough off bits of yourself and still live to tell the tale?

To be fair, you really don’t. Nothing falls off of you, you just get scaley,.. and suffer nerve damage and deformities, ..and get a fever and angry inflammation of the skin, eyes, and joints. And you know that’s bad, cuz inflammation isn’t exactly known for general contentment. Scientists, you had me at ‘angry’…

Finger-lickin good!

Finger-lickin good!

That’s IF you don’t treat it, which is easy (except that it takes 6-24 months).

Despite 95% of humanity being immune, people here in the states STILL contract it – about a hundred a year. Though now it’s called Hansen’s disease to avoid stigma (because WHO GETS LEPROSY THESE DAYS?) and to pay awkward tribute to the man who discovered the bacterium in 1873.

Where are these victims? The South of course, because all evil originates in swamps, so if you’re not too busy being riddled with Yellow Fever or birthing tiny-headed offspring which are later eaten by alligators at Disneyland, you might notice your hands have turned into leprotic finger nubbins.

You Two Have So Much in Common

armadillo

Actual armadillo I followed in the Barataria Preserve off New Orleans, Louisiana. It’s so blind and the leaves it was pawing in so loud it couldn’t detect me – I even pet it once or twice!

Said swamp contains the only other creature susceptible to the disease. Mosquitoes? You’d think, but no.

arthur tv show

Arthur, no!

Armadillos.

Those adorable living-dinosaur pinecones?! Why??

Note: Only the nine-banded armadillo is known to carry the disease. So the next time you’re hugging your neighborhood armadillo, count the bands just to make sure. But be subtle about it, no need to insult the thing.

armadillo

Yep, 9 bands. = I have leprosy.

The bacteria that causes leprosy is incredibly weak and pathetic (yet takes 2 years to kill??), and can only live in things with a low internal body temperature. Which feels somewhat ironic that a creature that grows its own protective ninja-shield has a War of the Worlds Achile’s heel of a tepid temperature and breezy bowels.

But don’t go hatin’ on armadillos, it’s not their fault. Originally, we gave it to them.

cat sleepling in

Cuddle warming is real!

(How is the human 98.6 degrees considered low, you ask? Spend a few years putting thermometers in dog and cat anuses like I have – and you’ll discover their norm is 102. It makes a difference – hence them being so nice to cuddle up to in winter.)

History of Leprosy

Prevalent in India back in the day, leprosy victims were sometimes assisted by families to suicide, which was considered an exception to the suicide-is-a-sin rule in Hinduism.

leper-colony-members

Leper colony members no doubt about to pounce on each other

As the English Christians strutted in, they saw a disease of Biblical proportions, and sent WTF?! notes back to Britain. Answering to the fears for the motherland, the colonial government isolated those diagnosed in 1898, separating men from women. Because leper reproduction – so hot.

Even the US had a leper colony – on some gorgeous peninsula in Hawaii. Reason enough to contract it I say. Wait, so, we sent the Native Americans to dry, desolate wastelands but the lepers get a tropical paradise? I’ll say it now and I’ll say it again, lepers have all the luck.

Many depressing decades later, we figured out a nice multi-drug therapy, which the WHO still offers for free. So when you remember the 80s, know that you were either:

the fly

The Fly: ‘Woops! An error occurred.’ ‘404, this animal not found.’ And other coding jokes…’

  • An unaffected leper gentile (leptile?) flocking in droves to watch Jeff Goldblum turn into a fly, which, let’s face it, was symptomatically a case of extreme leprosy rather than anything fly-related.
  • Minding your own business in your transport pod where, unbeknownst to you, an armadillo was present, and now you’re turning into one, scales and all. But huzzah, there’s a cure!

However, leprosy still affects people in India, especially due to poverty (compromised immune system), deeply ingrained stigma, and a hesitance toward Western medicine.

This despite Gandhi, who never ceases to be awesome, who took in a scholar outcast with leprosy, and massaged his feet daily. Someone took a picture, and it became a stamp that said ‘Leprosy is Curable’ to try to educate the world.

Mahatma Gandhi nursing the leper patient Parchure Shastri, Sevagram Ashram, 1939. Mahatma Gandhi bei der Behandlung des Lepra-Patienten Parchure Shastri im Sevagram-Aschram, 1939.

Leprosy continues despite Ghandi.

Yeah, yeah, somethin about millions of humans. What about the armadillos??

But Back to Armadillos

pink fairy armadillo

This 5-6″, adorable meme wannabe is leprosy-free. You can just tell.

Luckily the rare pink fairy armadillo – which amazingly is totally a thing, yet so rare  that even internet videos of it are just desperate image montages – remains unaffected, as it only lives in a tiny section of Argentina, dies quickly in captivity, and therefore is effectively the unicorn of armadillos. And as everyone knows, unicorns are pretty and therefore leprosy-free.

CBS reported a study done on the link between armadillos and leprosy, in which they quoted the lead researcher saying “Leave the animals alone.”

Let's definitely ask a continent that doesn't have armadillos their opinion.

Let’s definitely ask a continent that doesn’t have armadillos their opinion.

Sure, makes sense, but then they quoted Dr. Warwick Britton of Sydney, Australia, “who had no connection with the study”, as saying: “I would not cuddle armadillos.”

So basically, CBS was like, ‘Who else can we quote? Someone funny. I know, call Australia.’

And note that it doesn’t say why Dr. Warwick Britton (a name that just screams ‘formerly British’) wouldn’t cuddle armadillos. Maybe it doesn’t have to do with leprosy. People generally don’t want to cuddle things with ‘armor’ literally in the name. Or maybe he’s a cuddle warming denier.

glyptodon

Ridiculously giant glyptodon, terrorizer of early humans and assumed inspiration for Mario’s ‘buzzy beetle’ villains.

Or perhaps it’s because he knows they’re descended from the uncuddable Glyptodon, an animal from the ice age the size of friggin car. Concluding that all ancestors were giant and terrifying and haunt us even today in smaller, cuter, bacteria-ridden form.

So, Happy Halloween everyone! Especially the South and subsequently Hawaii.

Photos are in the public domain except:
Leper bones – photo by B.jehle, CC BY 4.0
Leper fingers – photo by B.jehle, CC BY 3.0
Armadillo in leaves 1 and 2 – taken by me
Pink Armadillo – photo by CC BY 2.0

Plankton Confessional

Plankton_collage

Default plankton.

by chelsea schuyler

Your Definition of Plankton

plankton silhouette

ish?

Plankton – the little floaty things in the ocean that whales eat, right? So much more. For example: chalk. You heard me.

I submit that the reason I didn’t really know what plankton is is because nobody ever told me all the COOL stuff about it. Cool commenceth here.

Actual & Greek Definition of Plankton

Plankton = ocean creatures that drift around and cannot swim against a current.

different races running a race

The minority on the right is totally gonna win.

It’s a wicked biological catch-all – for when you’re just too lazy to be specific or taxonomically technical. Like ‘dinosaurs’ or…‘minorities’.

Plankton officially comes from the Greek word ‘planktos’ for ‘wanderer.’ Which I think is a bit of stretch – I mean, are you really ‘wandering’ if you can only kinda flail around? And only maybe in a direction if it’s nice and calm out? Like, are limbless people ‘wanderers’? Or people in hot air balloons?

air balloons like plankton

Pretty sure all those who planktos are lost.

Or is ‘wander’ really just a euphemism to make it sound like being scared out of our minds includes some kind of spiritual openness, like, again, being in a hot air balloon, or being eaten by a whale (I’m lookin’ at you krill,…and Jonah).

They say mosquitoes can’t fly against a breeze (air plankton!) but they are definitely not ‘wandering’. They are out to do evil. They are eviling.

mosquito

Planktevil.

But I digress…

Plankton can be plant-like (phytoplankton) or animal-like (zooplankton), and some are only considered plankton for part of their lives. Like small children caught in the undertow.

Zooplankton

jellyfish

Just because you’re plankton doesn’t mean you can’t be a brainless brain-destroyer mildly reminiscent of an atom bomb.

Zooplankton are the animal-like ones that have to find food for themselves. The largest official plankton – jellyfish. Amazing right? Making ‘jellyfish’ neither a jelly, nor a fish. Discuss.

But it’s true, jellyfish are plankton, as though they can swim in a direction, they could not stand up to a flipper’s worth of current.

In my mind, they sit a little easier at the plankton table because they have no bones or brain. Ironic that something with no brain would contain a neurotoxin (eats brains!) in their tentacles.

Enough about animal-likes, let’s talk about the plant-likes.

Phytoplankton = Chalk

Phytoplankton have chlorophyll in them, so they can get their energy from the sun. They tend, therefore, to hang out near the surface where they provide food for shrimp, snails, whales, and ironically, jellyfish (it’s like the blind eating the blind!).

One type of phytoplankton is a teenie weeny thing called a coccolithophore (pronounced: Co-co for Cocoa Puffs LIT-oh-four). For protection it iron mans itself by making limestone plates all around it in a shell of scales. Cuz that’s a thing.

coccoliths and puzzle ball

Coccolithophores’ worthy aspiration.

But I suppose limestone is just calcium, carbon, and oxygen, which are all present in the ocean. No doubt just waiting to become like one of those plastic puzzle balls that you can throw against a wall and shatter, then put back together. Like that. Only stone and awesome.

When these creatures die or make extra (or someone goes on a throwing spree), the plates fall to the bottom of the ocean. That oceans recedes, and the exposed rock is covered in the remains, which is this white powdery stuff that we call chalk!

colored death sticks

colored death sticks

Friggin chalk! Which in the 1900s we then gathered, refined, formed into cylinders, baked (#ScientistsAreBakersToo) and then scrawled on blackboards which were black because they were made from actual slate rock. Rock on rock = bleeding ears. It’s all coming together…

The White Cliffs of Dover in England. Because chalk!

The White Cliffs of Dover in England. Because chalk!

If you have a microscope, you should immediately look at some chalk dust. You might need a powerful one though, as these shells, or coccoliths as they are called, are only 3 one-thousandths of a millimeter. Each coccolithophore has about 30. Which means the number of these dead creatures in the ocean is in the bajillion million, impossibillion scale.

Phytoplankton = Magic

If chalk doesn’t impress you, it being dead n’all, how about dinoflagellates (pronounced: mag-ic)? These plankton have tails (flagella) that help them swim about as well as a pool noodle would serve as an oar. Better yet though, these plankton are bioluminescent, which mean they light up perdy (to learn how this really works, check out my post I’ll Luminate Your Essence).

The theory goes that they flash to confuse predators, or warn others. But they’re easily scared, so anything that disturbs them, like waves, will set them off. Hence amazing waves:

Phytoplankton = Flea Killer

diatoms

Diatoms – best Christmas decorations ever

Another major group of phytoplankton are diatoms. These are the single-celled snowflakes of the ocean. Instead of surrounding themselves with a limestone shell, these guys have a silica (glass-like stuff) based covering, which makes them unique and gorgeous.

They also leave their shells behind after death, and their powdery remains are called diatomaceous earth. You may have heard of this as an alternative flea control. How does it work?

diatomaceous earth

diatomaceous chex mix will destroy your flea family

Well, diatomaceous earth is like a bunch of microscopic death shards. If it touches a flea, the flea’s exoskeleton is cut open, and the super absorbent power sucks out their fluids and dehydrates them to death.

Kind of like if you threw a human into a vat of diamonds and lined the bottom with paper towels. The only problem is, to use it you basically have to white powder bomb your house and hope it’s getting to every last flea.

I am nothing if not here to educate, so hopefully you will walk away with the knowledge that plankton is a magical, chalky, snowflake flea death. The truth shall prevail.

Photos are in the public domain except:
plankton collage: photo by Kils, CC by SA 3.0
coccolithophore: photo by Alison R. Taylor, CC by 2.5
diatoms b/w: photo by Dawid Siodlak, CC by SA 4.0

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