Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bitten by an Iguana

I've had lots of pets over the years, but none of them ever got as excited at feeding time as my iguana, Gwangi.

At the mere sight of her food dish, Gwangi leaps from her basking shelf to the cage door. When I say "leap" you'd swear iguanas could fly, because she does.

Not being the sharpest knife in the drawer, Gwangi hasn't yet figured out that I can't open the door and give her the food as long as she's attached to it, so I have to lure her to the other side of the cage with a shred of collard greens fed through the bars.

With any luck, she takes long enough to eat the lure for me to get the door open and get her food dish inside. Supper is usually torn up collard greens, broccoli slaw, celery and sometimes grapes or watermelon thrown in.

It doesn't take her long to realize she's been duped though, and soon she leaps over to where I've placed her food dish.

I try to get my hand out of the way pretty quickly, because, like most herbivores, iguanas have eyes on the side of their head. It gives them a broad field of vision so they can watch out for predators, but it also gives them a blind spot right in front of their face.

Since they can't see what's directly in front of them, iguanas depend on the sense of taste and smell to know when to bite into their dinner, and if I still have some collard green smell on my fingers she will sometimes nip at them.

She's not being mean though, and immediately releases as soon as she realizes her mistake. Iguanas have dozens of pointed teeth and can inflict a painful bite when they want to, almost always breaking the skin. When I first got her and she was still afraid of me, I had to really watch out for that.

Because they start out small, a lot of people get iguanas as pets for children. This is a really bad idea. An adult iguana can grow to five feet long for a female and six feet for a male.

Being reptiles, iguanas don't think like we do which can lead to painful misunderstandings, both for the owner and the iguana.

For an adult though, iguanas can be a pretty cool pet, so long as you're willing to do the research and provide the proper kind of habitat for them to live in.

Drs. Foster and Smith Inc.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ignore the Polls: Obama Wins

Normally political polls are valuable and accurate because Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to actually get out and vote when the polls open.

In that way, whatever opinions they give to pollsters before the election are just about equally likely to turn into real votes when the time comes.

That's normally, but the 2008 presidential election is far from normal because Barak Obama is half black.

Polls today show Obama, the democrat, and McCain, the republican, more or less neck-and-neck in votes. That's not unusual, Americans have a sort of yin and yang thing going on as far as considering themselves conservative or liberal and the two forces are just about equally divided.

Although I consider myself a liberal, I also think it's good we're equally divided on these issues because both sides are just about equally likely to be right and just about equally likely to be wrong and with both sides just about equally popular, we have a fair chance that both sides will correct the other's mistakes, while preserving the things they do right.

I suspect Obama will win the November election by a landslide because I can't imagine any black American who is able not getting out to vote for him, and their sheer numbers will overwhelm the republicans who will probably vote at about the same rate as they always do.

Black people have had a pretty tough time in these United States over the last three hundred years, and Barak Obama's candidacy represents a watershed change in all that. So much so, that even if they're not liberal like Obama, I just don't know what to think about a black person who doesn't physically get out and pull the lever to elect him.

That being said, I like John McCain a lot. I supported McCain long before I'd ever heard of Barak Obama, but, lets face it, McCain isn't the most popular guy among the rank-and-file republicans and I just can't see them being all that motivated to stand in line and vote for him.

No matter what the polls say, it's who actually stands in line to pull the lever that decides elections, and in November that will be Obama.

Astronaut Punches Asshole

LaReeca Rucker's really cool article about UFO's in Mississippi, the recent death of Eric Beckjord, and former astronaut Edgar Mitchell's claims about UFO's, made me think about the whole genre of fringe science today and one of my favorite stories ever.

In 1969, Edwin Eugene (Buzz) Aldrin was the second human being to ever walk on the moon. His responsibility was to actually pilot the Eagle Lunar Module from lunar orbit to the surface of the moon. Buzz Aldrin is not only an American hero, but a world hero as well.

Ever since that day, fringe people have put forth the theory that the whole thing was a hoax. There's a million reasons why they're wrong that I don't have time to go into here. Suffice to say, we really did go to the moon no matter what people say.

The reason Bart Sibrel is an asshole instead of just being a guy who thinks we faked the moon landings, is that he has a habit of stalking ex-astronauts. Besides the yelling and screaming and accusations of lying, Sibrel is known to ask moon-walkers to to swear on the bible that they actually went to the moon, carrying his own bible to aid the task.

In 2002, Sibrel laid in wait to ambush Aldrin at a California hotel. When the astronaut showed, Sibrel accused him of being "a coward, a liar, and a thief" to which, the seventy-five year old Aldrin decked Sibrel in the teeth, nearly knocking him off his feet.

Sibrel made noises about charging Aldrin with assault, but the police and court would have nothing to do with it. Watch the punch on the video below.

Uncle Forry on Facebook

"You were turned into a zombie by Forest Ackerman"

When Facebook first introduced the Zombie Application, it really got to be kind of annoying as person after person was "biting" me online, so I turned the application off.

That was before I was bitten by the most famous Zombie of them all, Forrest J Ackerman.

When I was a kid, Ackerman was the editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. "FM", as we called it, was a newsprint magazine dedicated to all the monster movies from the golden age of Frankenstein and King Kong to the latest drive-in schlock. (Even a movie called Schlock! that had Ackerman in it.)

Of all the classical elements of Western Culture over the past four thousand years, and American Culture over the last three hundred years: none had as much of an effect on my life as those movies and Famous Monsters magazine.

When I grew to become a man, I actually got to meet Uncle Forry on several occasions and visited his famous Ackermansion in Horrorwood, Karlofornia.

He always acted like he remembered me, but I think he was just being polite because there have to be at least a million kids like me that he runs into every day.

Always on the edge of science and technology, Ackerman, now in his 80's joined Facebook a few weeks ago. Immediately I clicked "add to friends" on the hopes that he might confirm me. How cool would that be!

So now, like millions of new facebook users before him, Uncle Forry has taken up the Zombie application and started biting his friends. This time it's different though. All those millions of other Zombie users probably would have no idea what a "zombie" was if it wasn't for Ackerman, so, when Uncle Forry Bites me, I'm gonna damn well stay Bit!


When I was a kid, in the third grade, I heard somebody call somebody else a "homo".

I had no idea what that was. My best friend, Timmy, was also the smartest guy I knew so I asked him. Timmy said, "a homo is kind of like a retard, except they put their finger up their butt."

That didn't make a lot of sense to me, but it didn't sound like anything any reasonable person would do or want to be so I decided it was best to avoid homos.

It would be another three years before I learned that a "homo" was actually a "homosexual", and they weren't like retards with their finger up their butt, but rather they were people with a sexual interest in people of their own gender.

They may not put their finger up their butt, but I heard they did put gerbils up their butt so it still made sense to me that it would be best to avoid these people.

It would be another ten years before I learned that homosexuals were actually fairly nice people and there wasn't any good reason to avoid them--in fact, several people I already knew and liked were homosexuals.

I tell this story because it's so easy for people, especially children, to form wrong perceptions of other people based on really bad data.

I have no idea when is the right age for adults to talk to children about these things, but rest assured that they are talking about it amongst themselves long before you might think is appropriate--and they're getting it all wrong.

I also can't help but think about the kids, who, sometime in adolescence, begin to realize that they themselves might be attracted to people of the same gender, but decide to keep it hidden or even deny it to themselves because of the crazy things they hear the other kids say.

It was hard enough going through adolescence and the teen-age years as a straight person, I can only imagine how hard it is for kids who are gay.

Adults get it wrong too. I have a friend, who years ago was fired from his job as an incredibly popular high-school teacher for being gay.

This sent a pretty clear message to his straight students that, no matter how much you like this guy, he still has to go because he's gay.

It sent an even clearer message to his students who were gay themselves that no matter how successful you are, and no matter how popular you are, there's no room for you here if you're gay.

Now, you may not like homosexuals or the so-called "gay agenda", but keep in mind that it's just not that simple and what you do or say can really hurt kids who are already having a hard time adjusting to the world.

When I was young, I said a lot of pretty hurtful things about homosexuals, absolutely oblivious as to whether or not my words hurt anybody. If any of my readers were one of those people I hurt, forgive me. I was working from really bad data.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Taking the Lord's Name In Vain

You're not taking the Lord's name in vain when you use the phrase "god damn".

When you say god damn something, you're wishing that terrible things would happen to it. In biblical terms, "terrible things" can be, well...terrible, including: molten lava, infestations of frogs or locusts, death of the first born and really uncomfortable skin conditions.

For Jews and Christians, the Lord's name isn't "God" it's "Yahweh", meaning: I Am. I Am is a really cool name for a number of reasons that I might write about later. For Muslims, God's name is "Allah".

Knowing God's name is a big deal. When God gave Moses his name, it gave Moses authority when he returned to deal with his people and Pharo. For regular people, knowing God's name gives them authenticity in their worship and indicates their special relationship with God as the chosen people.

Many of the older parts of the bible try to define this idea of one god and what God is. It recognizes that people worship gods other than Yahweh. In some places, it seems to say these other gods are real but inferior to Yahweh, in others it seems to say these other gods are just imaginary.

Several of the commandments God gives Moses try to deal with these issues directly. The very first one is "I am God, (the one god) and you won't worship any other gods before me." That's pretty plain speaking.

When God commands Moses not to "take the Lord's name in vain", he means that we shouldn't try to get away with worshiping other gods by giving them the name, Yahweh. It's similar to the commandment where God tells us not to make and worship idols. An idol is not God. God is Yahweh.

You see, the most human thing in the world is to try and make God be whatever you want him to be. Since God is intangible, it's pretty easy to do. By commanding us not to take his name in vain, God is saying he is what he is. He is real and not subject to our wishes and imagination.

So, don't feel bad the next time you say "goddamn it". It may be a bit extreem to wish a plague of frogs on something, but, you're not taking the Lord's name in vain.

Image credit: one of my favorite engravings by the brilliant Gustave Doré

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Jesse Jackson's Gaff

The key to Barak Obama's campaign is making people believe he represents all Americans, not just black Americans.

As evidenced by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy, the greatest threat to Obama's support among white people may be any perceived association with sixties and seventies era "blame white people" civil rights activists.

The most famous example of that kind of public figure has to be Jesse Jackson. Even though his son is Obama's campaign co-chair, you rarely see Obama and Jackson linked in any way.

Recently, Jackson was caught on video criticizing Obama when he thought his microphone was off. Jackson immediately apologized and the Obama camp, including Jackson's son, immediately distanced themselves from Jackson.

My question is: was this real or was it staged?

Certainly, people are sometimes caught saying things they wish they hadn't when they thought the microphone was off, but the timing of Jackson's gaff makes me suspicious.

By now, Jesse Jackson has been attached to a microphone in a television news studio a few hundred times. He knows how it works and it's unlikely that he, all of a sudden, forgot that his lapel microphone picks up everything he says, even whispers.

I have to think that Barak Obama's campaign represents something really significant in Jessie Jackson's life's work. Does that mean he would make himself look bad to benefit Obama? We will probably never know for sure, but if I were Jesse Jackson I'd do it, and do it again if need be.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Plain Speaking and Metaphor

The preacher on television said that some one's heart was "full of the holy spirit". It was beautiful how he said it. You could tell why he's on television and I'm not.

The thing is: what does it mean?

Since religious people deal in the greater mysteries of our existence, they rely pretty heavily on metaphor to try and make sense of things that don't make much sense. The bible itself is full of metaphor in a thousand different varieties.

Metaphor can be a crutch though, and over-used it can get in the way of people understanding what it is we're trying to say instead of illuminating it.

I don't know what "full of the holy spirit" means. Hearts aren't full of the holy spirit, they're full of blood. As far as I know, the holy spirit doesn't actually infest our bodies, and even if it did, since we don't have a really specific idea of what the holy spirit is, how would you know?

In the example from television above, "full of the holy spirit" was a metaphor for someone taking action in the real world based on their religious faith and teaching. If the preacher wants to teach us listeners that this is good to do, then he should have spoken plainly rather than rely on a metaphor like "full of the holy spirit".

Jesus used metaphor, like when he asked peter to be a "fisher of men", but he also spoke very plainly too.

Some men came to Jesus. They said, "Teacher, what should we do if someone hits us on the side of the face?" Jesus said, "Turn your face and offer them the other side to hit as well."

That's pretty plain speaking. Jesus leaves us no question about what he means and "turn the other cheek" became one of Christ's most remarkable and memorable lessons.

It's important for religious people to remember that when we teach about our faith, it's more important to be understood than it is to use flowery code words or phrases and a lot of times, plain speaking is a much better choice than metaphor.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Penn Jillette Doesn't Know About The Weather

The earth is dying and we're killing it. Any reasonable person knows this.

Never mind that scientists can't make an accurate 24-hour weather forecast.

Never mind that anyone who saw the 2000 presidential debates knows that Al Gore is bat-shit crazy.

The logical path is laid out for us, and if we don't follow that path, then we're all gonna die!

At the most recent skeptics convention hosted by The Amazing Randi, Penn Jillette was asked about global warming--to which he replied: "I don't know". It took him about a thousand words to say "I don't know". If you've ever seen his act then you know a thousand words is conservative for Jillette. His normally silent partner's response was maybe five hundred words.

Penn & Teller are among America's greatest thinkers. I say this because I agree with them about half the time. They have a great program on television called "Bullshit" where they expand on just how insane and illogical most of us are.

After the skeptics conference, Newsweek's Sharon Begley wrote an article dismissing Jillette's comments on climate change (in her best Post hoc ergo propter hoc manner) because he dislikes Al Gore. You can read her article here.

In his reply to Begley, Jillette was again terse (only about a thousand words).

The deal is: we don't know as much as we think we know about climate change. We suspect many things, and a lot of them may be accurate, but a lot of it we just can't posit as a scientific fact yet.

Jillette's response was reasonable. He doesn't know. I don't know either. Begley is pretty sure she knows but she doesn't. As a race, we will do our best to rectify the climate change problem, but that doesn't mean we should be sanctimonious about it all, because quite frankly, we don't know.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Watermelon Viagra

Scientists in England or somewhere have made the astonishing discovery that eating watermelon has basically the same effect as Viagra. You can read more about it here.

I gotta call bull-crap on this one. I've eaten more than my fair share of watermelon since early childhood and if it had an effect like Viagra, I would have noticed by now. Maybe you have to eat the whole melon, seeds and all for it to take effect.

Of course, this does give a whole new meaning to the phrase "melon balls". . .

Official Ted Lasso