Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Irish 12 Days of Christmas

Everybody knows how annoying the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" can be. Even Bing Crosby can't save me from wanting to jam a candy cane in my earhole whenever I hear it. Well, here is a series of letters that describes how it would actually be to receive the gifts listed in "The 12 Days." Awesome.

Day One

Dear Nuala,

Thank you very much for your lovely present of a partridge in a pear-tree. We’re getting the hang of feeding the partridge now, although it was difficult at first to win its confidence. It bit the mother rather badly on the hand but they’re good friends now and we’re keeping the pear-tree indoors in a bucket. Thank you again.

Yours affectionately,
Gobnait O’Lúnasa

Day Two

Dear Nuala,

I cannot tell you how surprised we were to hear from you so soon again and to receive your lovely present of two turtle doves. You really are too kind. At first the partridge was very jealous and suspicious of the doves and they had a terrible row the night the doves arrived. We had to send for the vet but the birds are okay again and the stitches are due to come out in a week or two. The vet’s bill was £8 but the mother is over her annoyance now and the doves and the partridge are watching the telly from the pear-tree as I write.

Yours ever,

Day Three

Dear Nuala,

We must be foremost in your thoughts. I had only posted my letter when the three French hens arrived. There was another sort-out between the hens and the doves, who sided with the partridge, and the vet had to be sent for again. The mother was raging because the bill was £16 this time, but she has almost cooled down. However, the fact that the birds’ droppings keep falling down on her hair whilen she’s watching the telly doesn’t help matters. Thanking you for your kindness.

I remain,
Your Gobnait

Day Four

Dear Nuala,

You mustn’t have received my last letter when you were sending us the four calling birds. There was pandemonium in the pear-tree again last night, and the vet’s bill was £32. The mother is on sedation as I write. I know you meant no harm and remain your close friend.


Day Five


Your generosity knows no bounds. Five gold rings! When the parcel arrived I was scared stiff that it might be more birds, because the smell in the living-room is atrocious. However, I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the beautiful rings.

Your affectionate friend,

Day Six


What are you trying to do to us? It isn’t that we don’t appreciate your generosity but the six geese have not alone nearly murdered the calling birds, but they laid their eggs on top of the vet’s head from the pear-tree and his bill was £68 in cash! My mother is munching 60 grains of Valium a day, and talking to herself in a most alarming way. You must keep your feelings for me in check.


Day Seven


We are not amused by your little joke. Seven swans-a-swimming is a most romantic idea but not in the bath of a private house. We cannot use the bathroom now because they’ve gone completely savage and rush the door every time we try to enter. If things go on this way, the mother and I will smell as bad as the living-room carpet. Please lay off. It is not fair.


Day Eight


Who the hell do you think gave you the right to send eight, hefty maids-a-milking here, to eat us out of house and home? Their cattle are all over the front lawn and have trampled the hell out of the mother’s rose beds. The swans invaded the living-room in a sneak attack, and the ensuing battle between them and the calling birds, turtle doves, French hens and partridge make the Battle of the Somme seem like Wanderly Wagon. The mother is on a bottle of whiskey a day, as well as the sixty grains of Valium. I’m very annoyed with you.


Day Nine

Listen you loser! There’s enough pandemonium in this place night and day without nine drummers drumming, while the eight flaming maids-a-milking are beating my poor, old, alcoholic mother out of her own kitchen and gobbling up everything in sight. I’m warning you, you’re making an enemy of me.


Day Ten

Listen, Manure-face. I hope you’ll be haunted by the strains of ten pipers piping which you sent to torment us last night. They were aided in their evil work by those maniac drummers, and it wasn’t a pleasant sight to look out the window and see eight hefty maids-a-milking pogo-ing around with the ensuing punk-rock uproar. My mother has just finished her third bottle of whiskey, on top of a hundred and twenty four grains of Valium. You’ll get yours!

Gobnait O’Lúnasa

Day Eleven

You have scandalized my mother, you dirty Jezebel. It was bad enough to have eight maids-a-milking dancing to punk music on the front lawn but they’ve now been joined by your friends ~ the eleven Lords-a-leaping, and the antics of the whole lot of them would leave the most decadent days of the Roman Empire looking like “Outlook”. I’ll get you yet, you old bag!

Day Twelve

Listen, Slurry-head. You have ruined our lives. The twelve maidens dancing turned up last night and beat the living daylights out of the eight maids-a-milking 'cos they found them carrying on with the eleven Lords-a-leaping. Meanwhile, the swans got out of the living-room, where they’d been hiding since the big battle, and savaged hell out of the Lords and all the Maids. There were eight ambulances here last night, and the local Civil Defense as well. The mother is in a home for the bewildered, and I’m sitting here up to my neck in birds’ droppings, empty whiskey and Valium bottles, birds’ blood and feathers, while the flaming cows eat the leaves off the pear-tree. I’m a broken man.

Gobnait O’Lúnasa

...and to all a good night...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Third Annual Misanthrope's List

Well, folks, here we are again. Another year has passed and a fair number of you have managed to piss me off in some way or another. So here it is – The Third Annual Misanthrope’s List. Take a gander and see where you land. If you’ve managed to make it on the list more than five times then I’m probably either married to you, divorced from you or want to kill you. Either way it’s the annoying things in life that make you feel alive, right? Enjoy!

  1. The whole “your” / “you’re” mess. Why is it so hard for people to figure this one out? When people send me a message that says, “Your a dick!” I think, “My a dick? What does that even mean?” You’re is short for “you are.” Your is not. Smarten up.
  2. Pictures of lottery winners. Nobody, and I mean nobody, cares that Jim Bob and Ethel Mae just won $35 million. And I certainly don’t need to see photos of these morons in their native habitat.
  3. People that have almost quit smoking. Oh, Good Christ! Why do I care that you failed at doing something six months ago? If you don’t have anything better to talk about then stuff a couple more of those things in your face so I don’t have to listen to you whine about your bullshite addiction.
  4. People with corn teeth. Hey, Barnaby. Grab a toothbrush every now and then and scrub your glassies, Mate. Either that, or yank those fuckers out so I don’t have to stare at your mouth while you talk.
  5. The words “ginormous” and “redonculous.” They were funny the first time, but so were parachute pants. You don’t see me still wearing those, do ya? If either of these words shows up in the dictionary, I’m going to start speaking solely in Aramaic.
  6. When there is a really short car in a parking spot. Driving around a parking lot for ten minutes looking for an empty spot is bad enough. Then just when I think I’ve caught a glimpse of relief and start to turn into a space some hippy has their escape pod hidden between all of the SUVs. Balls!
  7. Whatever that airport smell is. Nobody can tell me what exactly that smell is, but I think it’s the perfect combination of jet exhaust, crappy terminal food and sweaty tourists that binds to the Piss-Me-Off receptors in my nose.
  8. Speaking of airports…the TSA. Also, affectionately known as the Take Shit Away people. Does anyone honestly believe that these “security” personnel are keeping the world safe by taking nail clippers from 80 year-old grandmothers and prohibiting bringing leftover soup on the plane because it may be explosive? What the? Totally useless and completely wasteful.
  9. That little pocket at the bottom of a normal sized pants pocket. What sadistic tailor thinks this is a useful addition to menswear? The only thing this irritating piece of fabric is good for is trapping my keys so I cannot extract them from my pocket without tearing a hole in my pants. Annoying.
  10. People that put the new toilet paper roll on top of the holder instead of actually replacing it. Seriously, it takes four seconds to put the thing on the holder properly. (Yes, I timed it.) What’s the thought process here? “Four seconds!?! Who has time for that? I’ve got to be to work in two seconds!” Come on…
  11. Big guys named Tiny. This is really creative, people. Why not just quit dancing around the issue and call them F@cking Lard Ass? Unless tiny refers to some other part of their anatomy, of course.
  12. Facebook applications, games, quizzes, etc. Ditto fans of anything. Let’s get this straight right now. Nobody wants to help you find your lost virtual puppy or help you build a fekking fence on your goddamn fake farm, and who the Hell cares if you are a fan of Chinese food?!? Knock this shit off immediately.
  13. People with a chronic toothpaste-on-the-face problem. Hey, Slob. Why bother scraping the slime off of your grill to make yourself presentable in the morning if you aren’t going to follow it up by wiping the drool off of your chin. God, I hope that’s drool.
  14. Accidentally tearing off scabs. I’ll tell you a secret: I’m a picker. I love picking scabs, especially my own. So when I forget that I recently had a junk show on my bike resulting in me losing 45% of the skin from my legs then I jump nonchalantly into my pants the next morning peeling away a scab the size of a dinner plate I cry a little bit inside…and a lot outside.
  15. A whole nother. Alright, Lenny. “Another” is a single word. It isn’t “a nother.” What the Hell is a “nother” supposed to be anyway? Can you have a pile of them? They apparently come in fractions since a whole one is a big deal.
  16. Trying to mouse-select multiple paragraphs of a Word document that spans several pages without scrolling all over the place. Zoom! Too far up. Zoom! Too far down. Zoom! Nope, too far up again. Zoom! Down…irritating. Yeah, I’m a nerd. Get over it.
  17. Bad apples. I try to eat an apple a day just like the doctor ordered. However, when I bite into an apple and instead of a crisp sour-sweet crunch of joy I get a mouthful soppy brown mash I want to kick that doctor in the nether regions.
  18. Misspellings on Craigslist. I could be wrong, but I don’t think anybody is going to respond to your add for a “Free Hot Tube.” Sounds dirty and maybe a little creepy. Reread your shit, Jerky.
  19. People that mouth out what you are saying to them as you are speaking. Hey, Weirdass. Turn the other way when I’m talking to you if you can’t get your neuroses under control. You’re creeping me out.
  20. Biblical language. Jesus is the light and the way! I have absolutely no idea what that means. Nobody does. Creating sentences by randomly omitting words and shoehorning your favorite imaginary friend into the subject doesn’t make you sound pious or religious. It makes you sound ignorant and foolish. Mission accomplished, I guess.
  21. Dealing with insurance companies. Everybody involved knows this transaction is going to suck worse than doing squat thrusts in a cucumber patch, so can we just skip to the part where you lie to me and I make disparaging remarks about your choice of vocation, arsehole?
  22. When people say “really?” or “seriously?” with an incredulous inflection. How and when did this catch on? I wish it would catch off…soon.
  23. People that say tuna fish. As in, “I’ll have the tuna fish sandwich.” Well, I hope it’s a tuna fish sandwich. A tuna pig sandwich would be disturbing. Just saying “tuna” will suffice, thanks.
  24. Dream catchers in cars. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you should be sleeping while you are driving. Just an observation.
  25. The phrase “…at the end of the day.” As in: “At the end of the day all that matters it that you’re happy.” Well, what about at the beginning of the day? How about right effing now? Why do I have to wait?
  26. Pointless physical exercise. Don’t get me wrong. I love being active: hiking, skiing, sports, etc. However, exercising solely for the point of exercising (like jogging, push-ups, and sit-ups) is utter bollocks. There was a time in my life when I enjoyed this crap, but happily I’m over it.
  27. When I’m sitting at someone else’s desk and some other jerk wanders by and says: “Whoa, Sarah! You’ve really changed.” Ha! Hahahahahaha! Hooo! Heh heh. Heeeeeee! Oh, that’s a good one! Now, come a little closer so I can break your nose, Smartguy.
  28. When I'm standing at the urinal or toilet and I feel like I might be having that dream. You know that dream. The one where you’re taking a 12-minute beer piss in your dream only to realize that you are in fact taking a 12-minute beer piss all over your significant other in bed. No sir, I don’t like it.
  29. Eeeeelegal. It’s pronounced just like it is spelled. il-LEE-guhl. It’s not that hard.
  30. When I blow up a massive inflatable pool and then the kids don’t want to use it. Alright, you little Hellspawn. I just passed out six times, had an aneurysm and lost an hour and a half of my life blowing this thing up. Now get in there and have fun before I tear your lips off!
  31. When people break apart their food to eat it. Over the course of millions of years we have evolved very specific implements to deal with breaking food into manageable pieces for consumption. They are called teeth. Breaking your muffin apart with your hands doesn’t make you look dainty or proper. It just makes a mess. Quit it.
  32. Talk about the weather. I can do without this crappy social grooming exercise. If you are that socially awkward why don’t you just pick the bugs out of my back hair and eat them like a normal primate?
  33. When companies advertise that you can "Save up to 20% or more!!" Sweet! So basically you're telling me that I can save anywhere between zero and 100%. Thank you for alerting me of my mathematically potential savings, Kepler.
  34. Women that ask you to hold all of their shit when they go to a public bathroom. Hey, ladies, you have something men don’t have when we go to the bathroom – A LAP! Set all of your garbage there, will ya?
  35. People that say, “Life is short.” Well, geologically, yes, life is short, but so far it’s the longest thing I’ve ever done.
  36. Legally drunk. Look, Officer, if I’m legally drunk then why don’t you f@ck right off? Come back when I’m illegally drunk. Now pour me back into my car.
  37. People that are “more than happy” to do something. Is this even possible? I think the American Psychiatric Association has a place for people that are more than happy.
  38. When someone’s B.O. smells like food. Sometimes people have body odor that smells so bad that it seems like they are storing an Italian beef sandwich in their armpits. What are they using for deodorant? French onion soup mix?
  39. Crazy as a zoo. “It’s like a zoo in there!” Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t all of the animals in a zoo caged and sedated? That doesn’t seem too crazy to me. I might want to go to the zoo more often if the animals were in fact all running around helter skelter terrorizing people.
  40. Road rash. Few things in life suck as much as the puss-oozing, linen adhesive raspberry covering your whole hip that you get from sliding into third base, bicycle carnage, or rookie break-dancing mishaps.
  41. Witty banter. “Hey, Dan. Are you working hard or hardly working?” Listen, Bud. I’m perfectly comfortable standing here in silence, so if you don’t have anything to talk about why don’t you just shut your yapper.
  42. People that don’t know where their car fits. Hey, Lady! It shouldn’t take a 97-point turn in order to get your minivan into a parking spot. Practice at home before you venture out into the world and ruin my day.
  43. Smokers that hold their cigarettes outside of their car windows. Psst. Come here for a second, Mac. I’ll let you in on a secret. You still smell like an ashtray! And the 18 pine tree air fresheners aren’t hiding anything either. Roll it up and inhale, Jerky.
  44. Weird pets. Why in the wild, wild world of sports do people have ferrets, sugar gliders, and dangerous effing lizards running around their house? And cats?!? Don’t get me started on cats. What, other than a horrendous odor and an exotic disease, are they getting out of these things?
  45. When the waiter asks if I’ve ever eaten here before. Um, no, but I’m pretty sure I can figure this one out without advanced instruction. I’m guessing that I choose an item form this piece of paper, let you know what my selection is, and you screw it up. Am I close?
  46. People that can’t hear but get mad when you talk louder. What did you say? “…” Sorry? “…” Nope, still didn’t get it. “!!!” Well, you don’t have to yell! Grrrr…
  47. Anyone who doesn’t like The Godfather. If you don’t like the best movie ever made then you suck, and I hate you.
  48. Wedding invitations. Come on, girls. Why, dear God, why do wedding invitations have to come with 23 layers of leaves and tissue paper? It’s boring, overdone, trite, kitschy and agitating. The ones that spill glitter and confetti all over Hell’s creation really torque me off, too.
  49. Anyone that gets offended by humor. Lighten up, Sister Mary. It’s just a joke, and it’s supposed to be shocking and off kilter. That’s why it’s funny. Get over yourself or go die a protracted, humorless death in silence if you don’t like it.
  50. Whoever thought up the annoying “Got Milk?” ads. Let’s just ignore the obvious homoerotic undertones of smearing an artificial cumshot on professional athletes’ mustaches. That’s bad enough, but now I have to deal with less creative fekkers who copy this BS and twist it for their needs. Got Jesus? Got Cash? Got Whateverthefuck?
  51. People that walk backwards on elliptical machines. What exactly does this accomplish? You don’t see anyone doing this on treadmills or stationary bikes, do ya? The miles don’t come off if you walk backwards, plus watching people do this makes me feel like I’m in a crappy Enigma video.
  52. Guys that keep change in their wallets. Something is just weird about it, OK? Besides, I don’t like carrying change in general. It makes it harder to lie to homeless people.
  53. Neon signs or lighted business signs that have lights burned out. It really looks like garbage. What’s the problem here? Business owners can’t pay Manny or their retarded brother three dollars to get on a ladder and screw in a bulb? Driving by the HOTel cORAL esSEX is funny, I admit.
  54. Roadside memorials. I don’t mean to be totally insensitive, but what is that purpose of putting a cross at the bottom of an irrigation ditch? If someone dies in the bathroom of their shitty apartment you don’t barge in on the new renters every year and chuck flowers in at them while they are dropping the deuce, do you? OK, maybe I’m being a little insensitive.
  55. Those stupid oval Euro bumper stickers. This is easily the worst European export since smallpox. If I have to try to figure out what “OB” or “HH” stands for while I’m behind you at a stoplight I may just get bored, slam it into 4WD and run over your dumb arse.
  56. Guys that use the trap door. I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do than fiddle with buttons on my underwear when I have to go to the bathroom. In fact I’ve started following my son’s lead on this one. Now when I’m standing at the urinal I drop my drawers all the way down to my ankles and make awkward conversation with people around me. “I think I have to poop, too!”
  57. Andrew Dice Clay. Comedy generally involves jokes with punch lines and audience laughter. Listening to some Jersey turnpike juicebag with Tourette’s syndrome attempt to string a line of offensive language together for no reason is agitating.
  58. When you go to pick up one thing and something totally different magically ends up in your hand. Ever reach for your car keys, but by the time you get to the car you realize that the keys have somehow transformed into a ballpoint pen? How does that happen?
  59. People that are against the death penalty. This one definitely warrants its own topic, but I can sum it up quickly. The death penalty isn’t supposed to be a deterrent. It is a penalty. If commit crime A then we may kill you. It’s a simple concept unless you want to mollycoddle some useless incorrigible cunts in prison forever.
  60. Nylon head condoms. You usually find these on gentlemen of a particular ethnic category. It always looks like they are either squeezing their brains out or holding them in because of some traumatic head injury. Either way they look absolutely stupid, but I’m not telling them that.
  61. When a wad of garbage flies out of my mouth in the middle of a conversation. It’s just awkward for everyone involved. Not only did I just hork a wad of unknown detritus onto the forehead of whoever I’m talking to, but now we have to do that uncomfortable eye-lock for six minutes where we both pretend that didn’t happen until the thing dries up and sloughs off. Don’t like it.
  62. Exerwalking. Did some sadistic physical trainer tell these people that exaggerating their movements and looking like a sixth-place finisher in the Special Olympics burns extra calories? If you’re going to walk, just walk, Buddy. Leave the silly stuff to John Cleese.
  63. Being a cashier. By the time I swipe my card, enter my PIN, hit “OK” thirteen times, hit “No” twice, and then sign I begin to wonder what the moron on the other side of the counter is actually getting paid to do. I have worked pretty hard in life to ensure that I don’t end up being a clerk, but now I’m getting forced to be one with every transaction. Crappy.
  64. Restaurants that don’t have their specials written down. “Would you like to hear the specials tonight?” No, I would like to see the specials printed neatly on a piece of figgin’ paper like everything else, Fuckstick. I’ve just slugged down a dozen mixed drinks waiting for my effing table, and you expect me to remember your grocery list?!? Shut it.
  65. Recycle Nazis. “You’re not going to throw that plastic bottle away are you!?! Here, let me take it home, and I’ll recycle it.” Fine. Transport it another 50 miles before it ends up in the landfill if it makes you feel any better, but don’t give me that look like I just clubbed a baby seal unless you want to be next on my To-Club List.
  66. People who ask for honest feedback but get upset when they get it. Don’t ask me if I think you’re a bad person unless you’re mentally prepared to hear that I’d rather have my kids play hide-and-seek in John Wayne Gacy’s basement with Michael Jackson and an archbishop from Boston than have you watch them. Don’t get huffy. You asked.
  67. That awkward moment after you watch a movie with a group of friends. You know, when nobody wants to break the silence and say anything because they think they are the only one who thinks gay porn was an inappropriate choice. Heh, gotcha!
  68. That second when you think you’ve misplaced something, but then immediately realize the lost object is in your pocket. Getting old sucks.
  69. Accidentally typing an entire page with Caps Lock on. I’m not the best typist in the world, and I have to watch where my fat fingers are wandering. So when I look up after five minutes of typing and the screen is screaming at me I almost sully myself every time.
  70. Full bicycle outfits. When did wind resistance trump looking like an asshole? The four seconds that you may save on your 30-mile bike ride definitely does not warrant a spandex leotard, Lance. The guys that wear this garbage on stationary bikes are priceless, though.
  71. Crows. Close your eyes and imagine waking up to the soft twitter of songbirds outside your bedroom window as the sun is coming up and a cool spring breeze blows in. Nice and relaxing. Then: CAW!!! CAAAAWWRR!!! CACAWW!!!! What the fuck?!?
  72. The greatest thing since sliced bread. Why is sliced bread our yardstick pioneering inventions? Setting the bar pretty low aren’t we?
  73. Having this conversation with a woman you have just met or haven’t seen for a long time: “…That’s great. Good to hear it. So when are you expecting?” I’m not pregnant. “You’re not pre…!?! Er, Sorry. Well, do you have a handgun on you that I can borrow to kill myself or should I slink away under cover of darkness?”
  74. Or this conversation: “Did you guys find out Marshal had Down’s with prenatal testing or did you discover it at birth?” Um, my son doesn’t have Down’s syndrome. “Yikes! Look at the time…”
  75. People that don’t put their belongings in the same place every time. “Now, where are my keys? Have you seen my shoes? I could have sworn I put my wallet in the toaster.” Come on, Columbo. If your memory sucks that bad why not try to keep your shit in one place instead of wasting everyone else’s time looking for your stinking sunglasses?
  76. Those rubber bull ball sacks that some rednecks hang on the trailer hitch of their trucks. How is this socially acceptable? Why is it alright to hang a big scrotum on your vehicle, but people get all offended when you glue a big hairy vagina where you stick the fuel nozzle for the gas pump? I don’t understand.
  77. When the DVD player skips in the middle of a movie. Of course it never happens in the first five minutes. It always happens right as the dental assistant with a chromosomal defect is about to pull the intestines out of the underwear model he has hanging in the barn. Frustrating.
  78. Accidentally releasing the clutch too soon while shifting. I don’t know why, but this instantly pisses me off every time it happens. And I always blame it on the vehicle.
  79. Train horns. Especially when they are continuously blasted at 2:00AM. Train engineers are seriously evil human beings. There have been many a sleepless night that I have wished a tortuously prolonged and painful death on the arsehole pulling the blast horn for ten minutes at a stretch to scare deer off of the tracks. Inhale fire and die, bastards.
  80. Bad parenting. “I don’t know why he doesn’t listen to me. He’s just full of energy.” And you are an effing moron. I don’t want to listen to you either. You have to actually teach children how to behave in a functioning society or else they will turn out like Dick Cheney.
  81. When I go to innocently scratch an itch on the back of my neck and inadvertently squash some goddamn hairy spider whose crawling was causing the itch. EEEEhewwwww!!! TJ coined the term “arachnolepsy” which perfectly describes my reaction every time.
  82. Dog vomit. Before I owned a dog I would have never believed you if you told me that dogs puke green ink that smells like somebody is boiling Ghandi’s sandals. It is easily one of the vilest substances on Oden’s fair planet.
  83. The smell of urine. Not only is the smell horrendous, but also it is difficult to bring up in conversation. “Hey, Bud, did you know your shirt smells like a colony of pregnant bats have been using it for a latrine?” Or “Excuse me, Miss, but your house smells like a retirement home the morning after a kegger.” See what I mean?
  84. Junk shows. One second I’m blazing down a ski run at 60mph on 10 inches of fresh powder under clear blue skies, and the next thing I know a hidden tree branch grabs my ski and somehow manages to disrobe me, leaving a trail of debris that looks like a plane crash in the Andes. Not the best.
  85. Stories about children’s names. “Tarrence was my great grand aunt’s name. She survived for three years in a sunken ship in the Arctic. It’s a ancient Norse na…” Hey, that’s great. Do you happen to have a length of rope and a balcony so I can hang myself? Thanks.
  86. Activists. Honestly, since we have struggled out of the primordial ooze has anyone ever been swayed by someone else with a totally contrary opinion? What is the logic here? “Hmm. People don’t seem to appreciate my point of view during normal conversation, so maybe I can persuade them that I’m right by poorly stating my position on a crappy sign and repeating it to the point of exhaustion on the street corner. If that doesn’t work I’ll bet a shitty informational flier strategically placed under their doormat will definitely do the trick!”
  87. People that can’t navigate a roundabout without killing someone. Once, just once, I’d like to see into the mind of someone that is confused by something so simple. It really isn’t complicated. Look left, turn right. If that seems difficult then maybe you shouldn’t be operating heavy machinery, imbecile.
  88. Dropped calls. I don’t necessarily mind that my call gets dropped unless I’ve been on hold for 45 minutes. The part that gets right under my skin is when both parties immediately try to call each other back, and you both are sent directly to voice mail. So you hang up and try again. Then you see that you have missed a call or you have a call waiting, and you stomp your phone into 50,000 pieces. Pain in the proverbial arse.
  89. Or when your connection is bad and people ask, “Is that your phone?” Hrmm, let me look at it. Nope, it still looks like the same phone to me. {Sniff, sniff} Yep, still smells like the same phone. {Lick, ptew!} A huh, still tastes like my phone. HOW THE FEK AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHOSE PHONE IS FEKKING UP, DOUCHE HOLE?!? The goddamn call is bounced into outer-friggin-space for Chrissake.
  90. Mob chants. Right about when a group of people start to mindlessly chant “Hell no! We won’t go!” or “Kill the bill! Kill the bill!” or “insert nonsense here” is just about the same time I start cheering for the riot police to fire rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd.
  91. Suicidal Insects. What could be so bad in the life of an insect that makes it want to Kamikaze dive into my mouth or eyeball? I mean they’re only alive for a couple of days anyway. Hateful bastards.
  92. Audience participation. {Stomp stomp clap. Stomp stomp clap.} Listen, Jerky. I didn’t pay $6300 per ticket so that I could be your percussionist. Besides, I’m white, and I think we both know that in 20 seconds this is going to degrade into a bunch of random clapping and stomping.
  93. In the wrong place at the wrong time. Really, if you are in the wrong place who gives a shit when you got there?
  94. Annoyingly long urls. “Hey check out my website. Do you have a pen? It’s http://www.llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch.com/.” Come on, Jackass.
  95. Personal hygiene. I’m not saying that I want to look like Jaoquin Phoenix or smell like hot trash. After all I am not French. It’s just such a chore to keep it up every day. I really need a slave to take care of this garbage for me.
  96. Monkey butt. AKA: swass, swalls, swunt, swaint, etc. I can’t think of one positive thing to say about it. I think most would agree.
  97. Political bumper stickers. Let me clue you in on something. We (I’m speaking for the whole world here) don’t give a rat’s ass that you voted for McGovern in 1972, and the fact that you have a sticker that says “Vote NO on 304!” makes me want to vote “YES” out of spite, even though I have no idea what 304 is.
  98. That weird sound deaf people make when they are signing. Does snorting and moaning somehow give you more manual dexterity? Maybe nobody has told them that they are doing it. I’ve tried, but I don’t think they were listening.
  99. The backhanded wave while looking in the rear view mirror. Basically this says to me, “Yeah, whatever, jack hole. I’m in front of you now.” Hey, pal, just forget the wave and move your arse. We wouldn’t have to worry about it if you learned how to friggin drive. MOVE IT!
  100. And of course…me. I really can be a jaggoff.

Well, did you make the cut? Who did I miss? Let me know.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Playset Plans

Hey, DanielPDansters. Sorry it’s been a while since my last article, but I have just been overloaded this summer with other projects, one of which I’m going to share with you here. As some of you know I have two great kids, and they are getting to the age where they don’t need constant supervision. Now I can turn them loose in the backyard without worrying that they are going to fall into the open tar pit or tease the plague-infested prairie dogs back there. Plus, they are at an age where they actually want to play together instead of the older one just rolling the younger one down two flights of splinter ridden deck stairs repeatedly.

So one day this spring She Who Must Be Obeyed mentioned, “They play so well together. We should buy them a swingset.” Now, as I’m sure most other men would agree, what I heard was: “Build my babies the best playset in Creation, or your daughter will hate you for the rest of your life and end up with a tattoo that says ‘HECTOR’ on her throat, and your son will become a Republican. You lazy bastard!” Right? Just me again?!? Ah…well anyway, I was initially against the idea for several reasons. First, we live three blocks from a park. Admittedly sending a two year old to the park alone is a dicey proposition fraught with peril. I’ve learned my lesson on that one the hard way with a little persuasion from a rolling pin and SWMBO. Second, the whole playground-in-the-backyard thing smacks of keeping up with the Joneses, and as you might have guessed by now I hate those fuckers. The Joneses are arseholes. Plus, I am cheap. Some of the huge wooden playsets that you see crammed into backyards throughout the suburbs nationwide sell for over $3500. Hrmm…should we build a swingset for the kids or pay for their college tuition? However, after mulling it over for a couple of days I began to realize that it’s probably not that bad of an idea. It might even make the backyard actually useful. Right now the only time I go back there is to dump used oil and bury bodies, so making the kids a structure to run around and fall off of seemed like a decent way to put the space to good use.

Since the new units were astronomically overpriced, I began the journey where I often do – on the interweb looking for freebies. I poked around for a while trying to dig up some free plans so I could make the playset myself. However, I soon realized that even with the plans that I did find I would be spending a mint on the hardware and lumber anyway. So naturally I started to mine Craigslist to see what was out there. After about a month of scouring the list I found something that wasn’t too dangerously rickety, four states away, hugely overpriced or old enough to be made from the deck boards of the Santa Maria. So I snatched it up and transplanted into our backyard with some modifications and additions, and, being the nerd that I am, I of course made a complete CAD model of the playset. Take a look at the pics below. Assembling and staining the set took probably a day. If you are starting from scratch you’d be looking at a solid weekend. The drawings took substantially less time than that. And after all of my hard work I brought the kids out back to see their new playset. What do you think my son’s first comment was? “Wow, Dad. That’s AWESOME!! Can we go to the park?” Great…

I’m posting the images so that anyone who was in the same boat that I was in will have a resource for free plans to a pretty simple, inexpensive, and customizable playset for their little chitlins. There is a complete cut list for the lumber needed, and some basic dimensions for the critical components. The construction process is about as basic as one can get with exterior construction. You can use the same wood, brackets and hardware as though you were building a deck. The 4 x 4 posts do not need to be sunk into the ground, but the whole structure should be anchored to the ground in some way just for a little added safety. You never know what the little maniacs are going to do on this thing. If anyone is interested, or if I missed some needed dimensions please leave a comment, and I can try to get you more info or even the entire CAD file if you’re so inclined. Just let me know.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

ThanksKilling (2009)

O.K. folks, The Missing Piece has been a little top heavy lately with a series of articles about proteins and how a bad decision by a single caveman destroyed our planet. As a result, it’s been a while since we’ve had a good old-fashioned horror movie review. So I figure it’s about time to break things up a bit with some delightfully schlocky, low-budget, B movie horror deliciousness. Don’t ya think?

The movie of the moment isn’t very apropos since it is about a foul-mouthed axe-wielding turkey. I’m not sure which is stranger: a movie based on a puppet turkey that lays waste to coeds or Thanksgiving themed horror movie. Am I the only one that finds it odd that in t
he whole of the horror movie genre Thanksgiving is remarkably underrepresented? That's a rhetorical question. Sure there are plenty of Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and even St. Patrick’s Day gore fests, but, somehow, I can only think of two other Thanksgiving based horror movies (Blood Freak (1972) and Home Sweet Home (1981))…until now. The latest addition to the paltry Thanksgiving horror movie cannon is the very definition of low-budget and has almost everything a gore hound such as yours truly could ask for in a horrible movie.

ThanksKilling was born in 2007 for under $3,500 in 11 days by then college students Kevin Stewart and Jordan Downey. Interestingly, Downey acted in Day of the Dead 2: Contagium two years earlier. According to the ThanksKilling website, the project started simply with two guys setting out to see how much they could do with so little. Casting was done in a garage, the turkey puppet fell apart by the end of the film, and distribution came and went many times. Sadly, they persevered, and in 2009 they unleashed their creation on the movie-going masses.

The movie starts out as all movies should with a topless Puritan woman with huge breasts running through the forest from an unseen menace. The villain of course is the scurrilous murdering turkey puppet unleashed by Native Americans who were apparently not happy with the Puritans because the baked stuffed sweet potatoes were undercooked. The demonically possessed gobbler is commanded to return forever in order to satisfy his blood lust by hacking anyone nearby to pieces. Never mind the fact that he doesn’t have any hands to hold an axe…or a shotgun…or a steering wheel…

Skipping ahead to the present the foul fowl (heh, heh…) is awoken by a dog pissing on his partially buried totem. Even though the dog’s owner said its name about 25 times throughout the movie I am still unsure what the dog’s name is. Could be Flashy. Could be Blasty. Maybe Lassie? Apparently the homeless Ted Nugent look-alike that the filmmakers recruited to play the redneck dog owner was either too drunk or missing the teeth required to enunciate properly. Either way, the bad-ass poultry is awoken from a long sleep, and an improbably hilarious killing spree is soon to follow.

Meanwhile a Jeepload of college kids on fall break find themselves stuck after their vehicle overheats, so they decide to wait it out by camping in the cursed woods overnight. I think we all know what happens next. Right. Our blood thirsty turkey puppet weeds his way through them like a serving spoon through a can of cranberries, having sex with one coed along the way and (in the movie's most hilarious scene) impersonating the father of another.

Despite ThanksKilling’s humble origins it is filled with hilarity and some great (if not predictable) one liners. The film quality and lighting are remarkably good for such a low-budget production, which makes me think that some of the bad edits and dialog gaffes were intentionally made by the filmmakers. The movie itself is very reminiscent of a Troma production, and I mean that in a good way. The acting isn’t the best, but, seriously, it’s a feature film starring a turkey hand puppet. Although the movie is brilliantly done, I think it could have definitely benefited with more gore and, of course, more topless coeds.

All in all ThanksKilling is certainly worth watching, and it is sure to secure its place in the top five Thanksgiving themed horror movies ever made…even though I’m pretty sure there are only two others. I would definitely recommend this turkey of a movie for any fan of the genre, especially since it is barely over an hour long. Gobble, gobble, mutherf*cker.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How Cattle Destroyed a Planet, Part II

Alternatively titled: F*UCK COWS, PART II

Last time we covered a bit of history and religion regarding the cattle industry, so this time let's go over the current state of affairs. What does the picture look like now?

Well, once the wilderness was tamed we were left with a cattle industry that is pretty much the same (except in scale) as what we have today, with one notable exception. Now Americans are the worldwide beef eating champions rather than the British, even though Europe still has about 30 million more cattle than the U.S. Over 100,000 cows are slaughtered daily in the U.S. That’s about 300 per hour - one every 12 seconds 24-7-365. Every week 91% of U.S. households purchase beef in some form or another, and the average American eats 65lbs of beef in a year. We consume 23% of the beef produced in the world even though we only have less than 5% of the population. Today, thanks to British imperialism and American gluttony, cows are the basis of a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. The international trade in beef for 2000 was over $30 billion and represented only 23 percent of world beef production. Dairy production is accountable for about another $30 billion. It is a massive worldwide industry that needs huge subsidies and incredible amounts of infrastructure and has social and environmental impacts that reach far into every corner of the globe.

One major logistical problem with maintaining a herd of 1.5 billion animals is of course figuring out how you are going to feed them. In the U.S. over 30,000 ranchers graze cattle on more than 300 million acres of public land - an area about equal to 20% of the land surface area of the lower 48. Anyone who lives in the west and has ever taken a hike in the wilderness has undoub
tedly experienced first-hand the devastation that these animals leave in their wake. Each animal eats its way through 900lbs of vegetation in one month, and they stomp festering mud holes into the ground that collect flies and mosquitoes wherever they go. The Worldwatch Institute estimates that more plant and animal species in the U.S. are eliminated by cattle grazing than by any other factor. The ranchers do have to pay a fee for the privilege of using public lands to feed their pests. The federal grazing fee in 2009 was $1.35 per animal per month. The Reagan administration estimated the market value for pasturing cattle on the same federal lands to be between $6.40 and $9.50 per month. Bit of a discrepancy, no? In 1989 the BLM and Forest Service spent $35 million more on administrating the program than the program took in, not counting the destruction of habitat caused by these stupid animals.

The situation in Central and South America is worse. Most people think that the rain forest is being cleared for the lumber, but in actuality the destruction of this pristine environment is done to clear pastureland for cattle that we can then slather with special sauce and cram into our faces. In the past 50 years more than one quarter of the forests of Central America have been cleared for pastureland. In the same time span around a quarter million square miles of Amazon forest have been cleared for commercial cattle development. It is estimated that for every ¼ lb burger that comes from rain forest cleared cattle it is necessary to destroy ~165lbs of living matter including some 20 – 30 different plant species, perhaps 100 insect species and dozens of bird, mammal and reptile species not counting displaced native populations. Due to this forest clearing and grazing cycle cattle are responsible for much of the soil erosion that occurs worldwide. Grazing is the primary cause for desertification, which is occurring at an unprecedented rate never before seen in human history.

OK, so we have a bunch of cattle that are sinewy and lean from grazing on grasses and other plants that the animal can actually digest, but that’s no good because we want fatty beef. Off to the feedlots we go for an intense regimen of fat building, lack of exercise and corn eating. Kind of sounds like growing up in the Midwest. There are some 42,000 feedlots in the lower 48 alone that take these wiry cattle and beef them up {ahem} to 1100lbs of fat marbled meat. The problem is that cattle are not very good at converting grain protein to animal protein. It turns out that a cow has to consume 9lbs of grain to see 1lb of weight gain. So ~11% goes to make the fatty beef, and the rest shoots out the back end to the tune of about 50lbs of shit per day per cow. You knew we eventually had to talk about crap, didn’t ya? The average feedlot has 10,000 head of cattle which means that the waste generated at a standard feedlot every day is equivalent to a city of over 100,000 people. Anyway, if you remember the protein article humans have a conversion efficiency of ~90% for the same grain. What to do? No problem. Due to technological advances in fertilization, hybridization, pesticides, etc., since WWII agricultural yields have increased by almost 300%. Where does all of that surplus food go? To feed the billion or so undernourished people of the world? Nah. Screw those guys; we NEED more beef, bitches! Yep, it all goes to feed cattle inefficiently.

Here in the United States 106 million acres of farmland are used to grow 220 metric tons of grain for cattle annually. Globally 600 million metric tons of grain is fed to cattle. That means that fully 70% of all U.S. grain goes to feed livestock, or 1/3 of worldwide production. Of course all of these crops need to be irrigated which leads to the inevitable discussion about water. We use over 70% of our fresh water on agriculture. Breaking it down further, around half of the water consumed in the U.S. goes to feed cattle specifically. The water used to produce 10lbs of steak equals one average household’s consumption for an entire year. The water that goes into a 1000lb steer would be enough to float a destroyer, and producing 1lb of beef requires 15 times more water than producing the equivalent amount of plant protein. Adding insult to injury, cattle feedlots account for over half of the toxic organic pollutants found in fresh water. Here’s another one of my pet peeves. We use 70% of our water on agriculture and another 20% on industry, which leaves 10% for residential use. About 50-70% of residential water use goes to landscaping irrigation. In other words we use it to water our lawns. Why do we have lawns? Because Kentucky Bluegrass made excellent pasture for…drum roll please…cattle. Fugginell…

All of this tilling and irrigation of the soil for cattle feed inevitably leads to erosion. The Worldwatch Institute estimates that each pound of feedlot steak results in ~35lbs of eroded soil. Put another way, 85% of eroded soil in the U.S. is directly attributable to cattle and feed crop production. It
is worse in developing countries where forests are cleared and cattle are grazed on marginal soil. Of course the machinery used to do all of this consumes massive amounts of energy and fuel. It is estimated that it takes 1 gal of gas to produce 1lb of beef. So, to sustain the yearly beef consumption of a family of four requires the use of over 260 gal of gasoline. This is equivalent to releasing 2.5 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere or the same as an average car over 6 months. While we are on the subject of emissions, a 400-page United Nations report (entitled Livestock's Long Shadow) from the Food and Agriculture Organization states that cattle farming is "responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases." In some countries cattle are the number one cause of global warming emissions. The production of cattle to feed and clothe humans stresses ecosystems around the world and is one of the top three environmental problems in the world on a global scale.

Who the Hell cares? I love me some cheeseburgers! Can’t live without them. Ahm nam nam nam…Well, if learning about all of the effed up mess that cattle leave in their wake doesn’t deter you from sucking down a couple of porterhouses every week, realize that I haven’t even touched on the health related issues that come from eating so much beef or how the animals themselves are treated in the process. Regarding the latter, I could almost not care less. We are raising these animals for food, and they are part of an industrial assembly line. We might as well just breed them without brains and hybridize them with jellyfish so we can just pour them into a blender at the end of the line. Screw those things. I’ll let PETA get their panties in a wad over how they are treated. As far as health concerns go, I won’t dig too deep into this since the web is literally loaded with resources telling you why slugging down twelve McRibs every week is bad for you. I will touch on a few of the big hitters, though. One of the reasons why our agricultural output has increased so dramatically over the last half century is due to advances in pesticide and herbicide production and formulation. Feed corn is bombarded with these chemicals in order to maximize output per acre, and then the chemical-laden corn is fed to cattle by the ton. Who cares if cattle get cancer? They are going to get shot in the head anyway, right? Well, as it turns out beef is the most dangerous food for herbicide contamination and third in pesticide contamination. One estimate by the CDC is that beef pesticide contamination accounts for ~11% of all cancer risk in the U.S. The high beef diet of Americans tracks directly with an increased rate of heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes, breast cancer, arthritis, fatt-arse and a host of other cancers. I think it’s important to mention that the beef Americans crave (because the British told us to) has a high fat content, and that high-fat diet also leads us to circle the drain healthwise. Additionally, the CDC says food poisoning causes over 2000 deaths and 500,000 hospitalizations costing $150 billion in healthcare per year …that’s right, billion. So, let’s sum this up abruptly. We raise an animal that eats our food, destroys our environment, and causes wars then we kill it and eat it and it gives us cancer and heart disease. Sound about right? Mmmm, deeeelish.

On top of everything else, the very word “cattle” kind of weirds me out. Here’s why: What’s a single elk called? An elk, right? What’s a single rabbit called? A rabbit. Right. Same for gorilla, elephant, turkey, lizard, sloth, and every other animal I can think of. But what’s a single cattle called? Cow? Bull? Critter? It’s unnecessarily confusing and annoying. Hey, it’s my blog, Mack.

On a more serious note, I think, generally, people can understand the negative impacts that the cattle industry has on the environment, and that cattle production is grossly inefficient. It should be obvious to anyone that is willing to take even a few minutes to look into it, but there is an underlying tone of entitlement, elitism and, frankly, racism regarding beef production and consumption that never gets spoken about. We make enough food to feed billions of people, but we feed it to cattle instead. Why? To what end? Can any one of my readers look at a steak and say that the resources put into one T-bone are actually worth displacing those resources for someone who literally is on the brink of starvation? I hope not. We read statistics like, “Over 60% of childhood deaths are directly attributed to under nutrition in developing countries”, and we know make enough food to feed them. Instead we still happily give it to cattle and bitch when the price of ground beef goes up by $.05. Oh, here’s another tidbit of information that many people don’t realize. Remember the famine in Ethiopia? In the early ‘80’s when thousands of people were starving every day, the country still exported livestock feed to Europe in order to meet market demand. Sound familiar? It was essentially the potato famine all over again, but nobody mentions that essentially cattle were to blame for another mass starvation. What does that say about humans in general? If an alien civilization happened across the Earth and watched this whole process could you explain to them why this is the current state of affairs? I’m asking because I can’t figure it out, but then I haven’t eaten beef for around ten years now.

When I tell people that I don’t eat beef and tell them why, I usually get a disconnected shoulder shrug and a statement along the lines of: “But I couldn’t live without steak!” What they really mean is that they won't live without it. I think what it boils down to is it is much easier for those of us in the developed world to tell those in the developing countries to have fewer babies than to face the fact that our effing cattle are eating food that could be theirs…for a price of course.

You tell me why that’s OK.

How Cattle Destroyed a Planet, Part I

Alternatively titled: F*CK COWS, PART I

How did we get to a point in human civilization where cattle dominate so many aspects of the global economy yet we continually look to other places for blame regarding ecological and humanitarian crises? More importantly why doesn’t anybody care? There are around one and a half billion cattle alive today, at least for a little while. In Australia the number of cattle exceeds the number of people by 40%. South America is about even. Fully one quarter of the earth’s landmass is used for their pasture. Over half of the U.S. population lives within three minutes of a McDonald’s, and more people eat at McDonald
s in a month than attend churches and synagogues throughout the country. It is clear that we still treat this animal as sacred even though it wreaks havoc on our health, social structure and environment. Why?

This next article is something that I have been working on for quite some time now. I have broken it in half so that hopefully readers aren't flooded with too much information. It follows a story that is seldom told and even less often actually understood by the audience for the importance and implications of its main plot. It is an epic tale of death and destruction - or conquest and glory, if you want to believe the shite history books - that has been a ubiquitous part of human existence for more than 20,000 years…perhaps even 100,000 years. We like to think that we, as humans, are the chosen species for this world. That we reside at the pinnacle of evolutionary selection or exist as the very image of any number of omnipotent deities depending upon your belief set. That we stand alone at the top of the food chain, head held high, chests inflated and pronounced. That somehow we are the only animals in this short corner of the universe that are of any import at all. Well, DanielPDansters, I am here to pull back the curtain and expose a very different view of that perceived reality, and the journey, if you are willing to follow, starts in a dark, mildewed cave in the southwest of France.
The image above is a panoramic view of one of the chambers of the famous cave found at Lascaux. The ceilings and walls here are covered in 17,000 year-old Paleolithic artwork much like dozens of other caves found the world over. Take a moment to look at the paintings. What do you see? A lot of animals? Sure. What type in particular? Look like cows to anyone? Well, they aren’t cows. They are the giant aurochs that used to roam the plains of Europe, Asia and Northern Africa at the time. Aurochs were huge beasts that stood six feet tall at the shoulder and weighed in excess of a ton – a fearsome creature, especially since we hadn’t invented high-powered rifles or running shoes yet. They originated in Asia and had migrated to Europe by about a quarter of a million years ago. To the hardy band of humans that wandered the pristine wilderness that was Europe in prehistoric times this animal must have been both a source of hope and intense fear. On one hand their tough hides could be used for clothing, their bones for weapons, and their flesh for food. However, on the other hand you had to be either brave or desperate enough to try to approach a 2500lb bull with 8ft horns and an attitude that makes modern bulls look like Tickle Me Elmo and then poke it with a sharp stick. The utility, status, and sense of awe seen in this animal in Paleolithic life can be seen in these paintings at Lascaux as well as other sites strewn about Eurasia. So why am I giving the history lesson about Barney Rubble’s big game choice, you ask? Well, somewhere around 10,000 years ago someone decided that instead of killing one of the young aurochs they would bring it home as a pet and thus set in motion a chain of events that has caused the death of more people and more worldwide environmental destruction than any other decision made by a human in history, and, boy have we made some doozies. Nice work Barney.

In reality the aurochs were first domesticated in Mesopotamia, not Europe, and were used primarily as a sacrificial animal in various religious rites. In fact the first Western religion was bull worship in Egypt. It’s easy to see why. These animals represented both physical power and natural resources. They were essentially the Swiss Army Knife of their time. They were used as food (meat and dairy), clothing, shelter, fertilizer, blood sacrifices, tools, weapons, currency, sporting attractions, religious idols and (eventually) as draft animals. The ox-driven plow is often considered to be the first power driven tool in Western history. Once we had the plow, we had the ability to grow more food than we could eat locally so trade routes opened. We needed to advance technology for aqueducts, harvesting, food storage, and transportation. Humans mingled with other societies where they never had before. Currency became necessary. Not surprisingly, in Latin money was called “pecunia” which came directly from “pecus” which meant cattle. Similarly, the Spanish word for cattle is “ganado” while the word for property is “ganaderia”. The animal is still a symbol of wealth today in some societies.

Cattle cults became all the rage, and other religions had to either compete or be assimilated. Ancient Hindus used to use the cow in sacrifices and eat its flesh, but in order to separate itself from the early bull-worshiping religions, Hinduism decided to make the cow sacred. It still is today. Christianity, too, competed directly with the cattle cults. Many of the sacred rites and tenets within Christianity come directly from those early religions – “borrowed” in order to make the transition from cow worship to Jesus worship an easy one for the god-fearing masses. Pretty good sales tactics, don’t you think? The blood of a bull was substituted with the blood of Christ. December 25th was the day chosen for Christmas in direct competition with the Mithraic holy day, which celebrated the birth of the sun from a cow. Take a close look at a Christmas nativity scene. What do you usually find lying next to the Son of God? A bull…that’s right. Christians even transformed the bull god into the Devil (although interestingly not in the Bible). Imagine the Devil for a moment. What does he look like? He has horns, right? Of course. And Hooves? Yes, hooves. A tail? Sure why not. Probably blackish skin, too. Smells a bit like sulfur. Hmmm…the guy sure sounds like a cow to me.

While the “modern” religions were duking it out with cattle cults, the trade routes made possible by the development of the land and standardization of currency became larger and larger over millennia until they stretched across continents. Wherever people went cattle followed (or vise versa). By the 1300’s (A.D.) the Ottoman Empire engulfed the Mediterranean Sea so they controlled the main trade route in the Western world at the time. All goods traveling from Asia to Europe passed through Ottoman-controlled lands. By now the aristocracy in Europe was obsessed with cattle meat, and they consumed it nearly daily. The problem was that in the 1300’s refrigeration did not exist so they were continually looking for ways to disguise the taste of rotten meat. Burning it to a crisp was certainly one way, but the most popular method was to cook it with spices that came exclusively from the East. The Ottoman Turks got wise and started to crank up the taxes for these goods flooding into Europe through their lands, but Europeans paid it because the Mediterranean was the only route in town, unless they wanted to sail all the way around Africa…or across the world.

Enter those intrepid explorers that are the heroes of our sixth-grade history books. The truth is they were not looking for adventure or treasure or new lands. They were on government-funded expeditions looking for a new spice route to Asia in order to avoid paying the 800% markup the Turks were charging. It probably would have made more sense to invent refrigeration, but, hey, I wasn’t there. Of course they never found the new route to the East. What they did find was a lush wilderness for grazing their cattle, and Columbus himself began seeding the islands of Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, and Puerto Rico with horses and cattle before heading home to Spain to announce his “discovery”. Soon those wild cattle began to destroy the pristine island environment and out-compete the natives that lived there…a sad omen of things to come.

In the 1500’s ships began delivering cattle by the hundreds to North and South America where they were they were allowed to run wild. The cattle were then used as a tool to force the native populations to work for the Empire on ranches which would eventually lead to their subjugation, assimilation and/or death. By the mid 1600’s the herds of wild cattle in the South American grasslands were so numerous that some resources say people in particularly overrun areas began to eat beef at every meal and wore only leather clothing. That had to smell real nice {hork}. As an example of how well these newly introduced cattle did in the American environment, in 1600 about 7000 cattle were introduced into what would later become Texas. One hundred years later there were over 100,000 head, and by the mid 1800’s the estimated cattle population of Texas was nearly 4 million.

Meanwhile, right about when the colonies in North America gave the British the biggest middle finger in history, the British appetite for beef was growing. Over 100,000 cattle were being slaughtered every year in London alone, and, famously, British seamen were fed over a half pound of beef daily. Soon there wasn’t enough room in England for the cattle they “needed” so the government started to force themselves into other countries for pasture. Scotland and Ireland were obvious choices since they were right next door, so the locals were pushed off of the best pasture land by the Brits and were forced to farm smaller plots on marginal land. What did they grow? Potatoes. You can see where I’m headed with this, right? In 1846 blight devastated the potato crop causing mass starvation and death despite thousands of cattle grazing on what was once their land. Somewhere around one million people died and a million more had to leave their ancestral lands, many going to the U.S. The servants of the crown then promptly took over the abandoned land for, of course, more cattle.

The next part of the story takes place back in North America where words of “expansion and subjugation” seemed to form the mantra for U.S. society in the 19th century. By then, the cattle industry was booming, consuming more and more land for grazing which spurred border wars and bloody battles between farmers, ranchers, and natives. Since cattle companies didn’t (still don’t) respect the rights of other property owners (and since cattle are too stupid to train) fences had to be put up to protect crops and public land from the devastating effects of cattle grazing. That is why to this day we are cursed with fences from sea to shining sea. The European desire for a fatty, marbled appearance to their beef led the U.S. ranchers to feed the excess corn grown by farmers in the lush Midwest to the cattle just before the trip to the slaughterhouses. The problem was that the cattle drives to the Midwest took their toll on the cattle, so rail lines needed to be constructed. However, there were two little roadblocks that had to be cleared up for the rail lines to be able to move safely across the “deserted” plains - Indians and buffalo.

The story of not only how but also why the west was won is not one that is ever told truthfully. The way we usually hear it is that Indians were savages and buffalo were wild and both had to be tamed by the cowboys who were civilized and replaced by their cattle, which were domesticated. However, essentially, British aristocracy decided that they needed a constant diet of fatty beef that lead to the settling of an entire continent and the subsequent subjugation and genocide of an entire native population… for cows. Over 4 million buffalo were killed in a handful of years as part of this campaign. After their food source was annihilated the surviving Indians were herded onto reservations. The ranchers then sold the cattle that they were now grazing on land once populated with buffalo and natives to the government, which then gave it to the Indians on the reservations to eat. Not the good stuff, of course. Eventually, even the marginal reservations were used illegally by ranchers as pastureland for cattle. The governments of South America were even less accommodating to native populations when it came to cattle ranching, and similar cleansing campaigns were the norm.

So, that's a bit of history that is seldom told - a tale of how we got here. But where is here? What does the picture look like today? We'll cover that next time.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Mechanical Universe

Throughout my entire life, it seems, I have had an insatiable curiosity about how the universe works. As long ago as I can remember (which admittedly may only reach as far back as last Tuesday on some occasions) I have always wondered how the tangled mess of forces and energy that permeate the universe conspire to hold the atoms in a baseball together or how a hot cloud of dust and hydrogen in space can form stars and planets. As such, I feel as though I am tied to the field of physics no matter what I my current pursuits are. I consider the science of physics to be the foundation of all other sciences. Physics describes the forces that hold atoms and molecules together which makes the study of chemistry and engineering possible, and biology is essentially just an extension of the field of chemistry. Everything is built upon the knowledge gained in the pursuit of physics, and I believe that there is something to be said for the rich traditions and history of the field.

In high school I used to visit Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory for Saturday morning physics lectures (and free donuts) given by the intellectual giants of the field…nerdy, I know. During one science fair I performed the Millikan oil drop experiment using a perfume atomizer and a neon sing transformer, dramatically underwhelming all onlookers. In my junior or senior year I placed first in the entire state in a physics testing competition. I believe it was a JETS competition...uber nerdy, I know. I also managed to sneak a photograph of Albert Einstein into my senior yearbook as a substitute for my senior picture in lieu of the gay pictures that my classmates took in their big hair and horrible cardigans. In college I was a physics major until my junior year when I had a falling out with the dean of the department. I maintained the highest average score on the first few tests with a whopping 24%. I “mentioned” to the dean that his teachers were horse crap, and his response was a shrug of the shoulders and (directly quoting here) “Physics is hard.” How’s that for a grotesque evasion of responsibility? I told him to cram it in his black hole and promptly moved on to another field of study. Anyway, I’m not writing this to amaze you with my mad nerd skills and my bad attitude…well, at least not today. I’m writing this article to introduce you to an old video lecture series that I recently stumbled across that I used to watch religiously.

The Mechanical Universe is a brilliantly done series of over 50 thirty-minute programs covering the fundamental principles of a freshman-level university physics course - from Aristotle to quantum theory. The series follows a California Institute of Technology physics course taught by David Goodstein and was originally aired on PBS in the late 1980’s. I used to watch it with a friend in his basement, and whenever we heard the intro to the show start to play we would drop whatever ill-fated, poorly-thought-out stunt we were about to perform and would scurry to the couch for the next half-hour…OK we’ve passed nerd status and moved into full-blown dork, I get it. The Mechanical Universe wasn’t just a camera set up in a crappy classroom following some monotone professor around. The production team included distinguished scientists, video industry professionals, and gifted educators all working in collaboration backed by funding from the Annenberg/CPB Project. Each episode includes philosophical, historical and often humorous insight into the subject at hand complete with historical reenactments, dynamic location footage, and computer animation segments to help explain the topics covered. While the video footage makes the complex subjects more accessible, the computer graphics give the viewer a unique look at abstract mathematical concepts that can be sometimes difficult to grasp creating an immersive experience that makes an introductory physics course engaging and interesting.

I have placed a list of the episodes and the topics they cover below. The complete episodes are available for viewing (in the US) here: http://www.learner.org/resources/series42.html?pop=yes&pid=622#
Give it a chance, take a look, and let me know what you think.

The Mechanical Universe Episode List:
  1. Introduction: This preview introduces revolutionary ideas and heroes from Copernicus to Newton, and links the physics of the heavens and the earth.
  2. The Law of Falling Bodies: Galileo's imaginative experiments proved that all bodies fall with the same constant acceleration.
  3. Derivatives: The function of mathematics in physical science and the derivative as a practical tool.
  4. Inertia: Galileo risks his favored status to answer the questions of the universe with his law of inertia.
  5. Vectors: Physics must explain not only why and how much, but also where and which way.
  6. Newton's Laws: Newton lays down the laws of force, mass, and acceleration.
  7. Integration: Newton and Leibniz arrive at the conclusion that differentiation and integration are inverse processes.
  8. The Apple and the Moon: The first real steps toward space travel are made as Newton discovers that gravity describes the force between any two particles in the universe.
  9. Moving in Circles: A look at the Platonic theory of uniform circular motion.
  10. Fundamental Forces: All physical phenomena of nature are explained by four forces: two nuclear forces, gravity, and electricity.
  11. Gravity, Electricity, Magnetism: Shedding light on the mathematical form of the gravitational, electric, and magnetic forces.
  12. The Millikan Experiment: A dramatic recreation of Millikan's classic oil-drop experiment to determine the charge of a single electron.
  13. Conservation of Energy: According to one of the major laws of physics, energy is neither created nor destroyed.
  14. Potential Energy: Potential energy provides a powerful model for understanding why the world has worked the same way since the beginning of time.
  15. Conservation of Momentum: What keeps the universe ticking away until the end of time?
  16. Harmonic Motion: The music and mathematics of periodic motion.
  17. Resonance: Why a swaying bridge collapses with a high wind, and why a wine glass shatters with a higher octave.
  18. Waves: With an analysis of simple harmonic motion and a stroke of genius, Newton extended mechanics to the propagation of sound.
  19. Angular Momentum: An old momentum with a new twist.
  20. Torques and Gyroscopes: From spinning tops to the precession of the equinoxes.
  21. Kepler's Three Laws: The discovery of elliptical orbits helps describe the motion of heavenly bodies with unprecedented accuracy.
  22. The Kepler Problem: The deduction of Kepler's laws from Newton's universal law of gravitation is one of the crowning achievements of Western thought.
  23. Energy and Eccentricity: The precise orbit of a heavenly body — a planet, asteroid, or comet — is fixed by the laws of conservation of energy and angular momentum.
  24. Navigating in Space: Voyages to other planets use the same laws that guide planets around the solar system.
  25. Kepler to Einstein: From Kepler's laws and the theory of tides, to Einstein's general theory of relativity, into black holes, and beyond.
  26. Harmony of the Spheres: A last lingering look back at mechanics to see new connections between old discoveries.
  27. Beyond the Mechanical Universe: The world of electricity and magnetism, and 20th-century discoveries of relativity and quantum mechanics.
  28. Static Electricity: Eighteenth-century electricians knew how to spark the interest of an audience with the principles of static electricity.
  29. The Electric Field: Faraday's vision of lines of constant force in space laid the foundation for the modern force field theory.
  30. Potential and Capacitance: Franklin proposes a successful theory of the Leyden jar and invents the parallel plate capacitor.
  31. Voltage, Energy, and Force: When is electricity dangerous or benign, spectacular or useful?
  32. The Electric Battery: Volta invents the electric battery using the internal properties of different metals.
  33. Electric Circuits: The work of Wheatstone, Ohm, and Kirchhoff leads to the design and analysis of how current flows.
  34. Magnetism: Gilbert discovered that the earth behaves like a giant magnet. Modern scientists have learned even more.
  35. The Magnetic Field: The law of Biot and Sarvart, the force between electric currents, and Ampère's law.
  36. Vector Fields and Hydrodynamics: Force fields have definite properties of their own suitable for scientific study.
  37. Electromagnetic Induction: The discovery of electromagnetic induction in 1831 creates an important technological breakthrough in the generation of electric power.
  38. Alternating Current: Electromagnetic induction makes it easy to generate alternating current while transformers make it practical to distribute it over long distances.
  39. Maxwell's Equations: Maxwell discovers that displacement current produces electromagnetic waves or light.
  40. Optics: Many properties of light are properties of waves, including reflection, refraction, and diffraction.
  41. The Michelson-Morley Experiment: In 1887, an exquisitely designed measurement of the earth's motion through the ether results in the most brilliant failure in scientific history.
  42. The Lorentz Transformation: If the speed of light is to be the same for all observers, then the length of a meter stick, or the rate of a ticking clock, depends on who measures it.
  43. Velocity and Time: Einstein is motivated to perfect the central ideas of physics, resulting in a new understanding of the meaning of space and time.
  44. Mass, Momentum, Energy: The new meaning of space and time make it necessary to formulate a new mechanics.
  45. Temperature and Gas Laws: Hot discoveries about the behavior of gases make the connection between temperature and heat.
  46. Engine of Nature: The Carnot engine, part one, beginning with simple steam engines.
  47. Entropy: The Carnot engine, part two, with profound implications for the behavior of matter and the flow of time through the universe.
  48. Low Temperatures: With the quest for low temperatures came the discovery that all elements can exist in each of the basic states of matter.
  49. The Atom: A history of the atom, from the ancient Greeks to the early 20th century, and a new challenge for the world of physics.
  50. Particles and Waves: Evidence that light can sometimes act like a particle leads to quantum mechanics, the new physics.
  51. From Atoms to Quarks: Electron waves attracted to the nucleus of an atom help account for the periodic table of the elements and ultimately lead to the search for quarks.
  52. The Quantum Mechanical Universe: A last look at where we've been and a peek into the future.