Category Archives: Science

Animal’s Daily Addadicktame News

No, it’s not what you think.

Imagine the worst kind of injury a man could suffer, short of being killed or (maybe) brain-damaged.  The WW2 Wermacht made a mine to accomplish just this “unmanning.”  It was called the Bouncing Betty, and it went off at waste height, resulting in emasculating – in the truest sense of the word – injuries.

IEDs in use in some less friendly parts of the world today have similar goals.

Now, though, there may be hope for some men who have suffered such injuries.  Excerpt:

Many soldiers returning from combat bear visible scars, or even lost limbs, caused by blasts from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. However, some servicemen also return with debilitating hidden injuries — the loss of all or part of their genitals. Now, the Johns Hopkins reconstructive surgery team that performed the country’s first bilateral arm transplant in a wounded warrior has successfully performed the first total penis and scrotum transplant in the world.

“We are hopeful that this transplant will help restore near-normal urinary and sexual functions for this young man,” says W.P. Andrew Lee, M.D., professor and director of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

A team of nine plastic surgeons and two urological surgeons was involved in the 14-hour surgery on March 26. They transplanted from a deceased donor the entire penis, scrotum (without testicles) and partial abdominal wall.

“It’s a real mind-boggling injury to suffer, it is not an easy one to accept,” says the recipient who is a veteran who sustained injuries in Afghanistan and wishes to remain anonymous. “When I first woke up, I felt finally more normal… [with] a level of confidence as well. Confidence… like finally I’m okay now,” he says.

Hopeful as this is, it would be even better (no immune-suppressive drugs) to be able to fashion some replacement tissues from the patient’s own stem cells, but even that is a few years off yet.

Not all that long-ago this kind of injury would be horrifically, permanently life-altering for young combat servicemen.  Now it will still be life-altering, but maybe less drastically so.  It’s nice to see some hopeful developments.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Ever wonder what (other than Rule Five fulsomeness) led to mankind’s domination of the planet?  Turns out it may be sweating.  Excerpt:

One theory of human evolution states that our ancestors began eating meat about 2 million years ago, which rapidly expanded the development of their brains. Since meat packed a lot of calories and fat, a meat-based diet allowed the brain to grow larger. But how did early humans get that meat?

One way was eating carcasses, just like pack animals of today still do. The human tapeworm evolved from the kind that infects dogs and hyenas, which means that at some point, we must’ve fed on the same carcasses as them, and came into contact with their saliva. But this wasn’t the only way we obtained meat.

Early humans must’ve taken part in hunting too. Yet, hominins didn’t begin using stones and sticks for hunting until about 200,000 years ago. So between 2.3 million and 200,000 years ago, how did early humans hunt? According to journalist and writer Christopher McDougall, author of the book Born to Run, we ran game animals to death in order to feast upon them.

The ability to run long distances and sweat—so as not to overheat, allowed our ancestors to wear out other animals. Sweating was the key factor. Consider a gazelle running over long distances and being chased by our progenitors. The fact that they can sweat and the gazelle can’t means they can last far longer in the heat of the African Savannah.

Hump Day Bonus!

It’s generally thought that human (and near-human) consumption of a high-protein, high-fat diet started before any evidence of specialized hunting tools, and long before the use of fire.

Whether or not early humans ran down prey and literally tore it apart rather than relying on carrion is, of course, speculation, but it is logical to presume that the advent of meat-eating yielded a dietary advantage allowing more metabolic power devoted to large brains; hominids with larger brains were better at obtaining meat, resulting in a sort of self-reinforcing evolutionary feedback loop that resulted in us.

Either way – ultimately, hunting is what led to us being human.  Keep that in mind on your next foray afield.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

This just in:  Judging from one survey, one third of millennials are fucking idiots.  Excerpt:

YouGov, a British market research firm, polled 8,215 adults in the United States to find out if they ever believed in the “flat Earth” movement. Only 66 percent of young millennials answered that they “always believe the world is round.” Science teachers across the U.S. will be shaking their heads after learning that nine percent of young adults answered that they have “always believed” the planet was flat.

Another nine percent said of young adults said they thought the planet was spherical but had doubts about it. In a disturbing display of indecision, 16 percent of millennials said they weren’t sure what the shape of the planet was.

Overall, only two percent of the respondents said they always thought the Earth was flat without any doubt.

Seriously, folks.  In the third century BC, Eratosthenes of Cyrene not only figured the Earth was a sphere but worked out the circumference of the Earth with surprising accuracy for the time.

Now, it’s easy to write some of this off as simple ignorance and blame (not without cause) the atrocious state of science education in the United States.  But there are people out there who actually believe this horseshit, and are claiming some sort of global conspiracy to cover up the “truth.”

It just goes to show, there is nothing out there so mind-bogglingly stupid that some horse’s ass won’t believe it.  For example, there’s this asshole.

But let’s focus on the American millennials reported on above.  What do we blame for this stupidity?  The education system?  (See how those much-touted Imperial standards are doing?)  Pop culture?  Fluoride in the water? Chemtrails?  How can so many of our youths be this bogglingly stupid?

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

The common Western coyote is a tough, fast, smart adaptable little wolf.  They are ubiquitous over most of North America now, not excluding our major cities.  In Los Angeles, there’s a study ongoing to determine just what the the little urban wolves live on.  It’s no surprise that the answer is “a little bit of everything.”  Excerpt:

Shoes with rubber soles may seem unsavory, but preliminary results show that urban coyotes gulp them down, along with western cottontail rabbits, birds, avocados, oranges, peaches, candy wrappers, fast-food cartons and an occasional cat.

“Cats seem to make up only about 8% of a local urban coyote’s diet,” said Martinez, 27, a graduate student at Cal State Fullerton.

Another surprise: Remarkably few of the coyotes had eaten roof rats, a ubiquitous rodent that can weigh up to a pound. The researchers theorize that may be because roof rats are fast, superb climbers.

Determining whether a coyote had feasted on dogs — Chihuahuas, for example — is beyond the scope of the study, researchers said. That’s because it would be extremely difficult to differentiate the DNA of the predator from that of another member of the canid family.

The defining characteristic of the decomposed grayish-brown gunk in a coyote tummy, however, is its stench, which lab visitors have described as “shocking,” “disgusting” and “fetid.”

Quinn, who says her lab work keeps her “elbow deep in coyote carcasses,” put it this way: “It’s a sickly sweet smell — like the worst candy you ever had in your life. No joke. But Danielle is a trouper, and I’m used to it.”

Coyotes are successful precisely because of their adaptability, especially the ease with which they make a meal out of almost anything.  Our own ancestors did much the same; the human digestive system is pretty much a biological garbage disposal, making us very adaptable omnivores.  Way back in our history there were cousins to the human line, the paranthropines, who were obligate herbivores, specialized to live on rough vegetation.

In order to determine how well that worked out, take not of how many members of genus Paranthropus are around today.

I kind of like coyotes.  I enjoy hearing them sing on mountain evenings, and I like seeing them skulking along at a respectful distance when I’m hunting – mountain coyotes have long since learned that human hunters often leave behind gut piles, which is like candy to prairie wolves.  They can cause some problems with pet owners and so on (which can be forestalled by keeping your cat in the damn house) but all in all, I like having them around.

Animal’s Daily “Vikings in Canada, Eh” News

It’s been known for a while that Norse raiders made it as far as Newfoundland long before Christopher Columbus talked Isabella into hocking the Spanish crown jewels to fund his explorations.  Now it seems the Norsemen may have made it as far as New Brunswick.  Excerpt:

A lost Viking settlement known as “Hóp,” which has been mentioned in sagas passed down over hundreds of years, is said to have supported wild grapes, abundant salmon and inhabitants who made canoes out of animal hides. Now, a prominent archaeologist says the settlement likely resides in northeastern New Brunswick.

If Hóp is found it would be the second Viking settlement to be discovered in North America. The other is at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland.

Over the decades, scholars have suggested possible locations where the remains of Hóp might be found, including Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick (on the east coast of Canada), Nova Scotia, Maine, New England and New York. However, using the description of the settlement from sagas of Viking voyages, along with archaeological work carried out at L’Anse aux Meadows and at Native American sites along the east coast of North America, an archaeologist has narrowed down the likely location of Hóp to northeastern New Brunswick. The likeliest location there? The Miramichi-Chaleur bay area. [In Photos: Viking Settlement Discovered at L’Anse aux Meadows]

Based on the research, “I am placing Hóp in the Miramichi-Chaleur bay area,” Birgitta Wallace, a senior archaeologist emerita with Parks Canada who has done extensive research on the Vikings in North America, told Live Science. Hóp, she said, may not be the name of just one settlement, but rather an area where the Vikings may have created multiple short-term settlements whose precise locations varied from year to year. Tales of the Viking voyages were passed down orally before being written down, and “Hóp” may have been misunderstood as being just one site when it could have referred to several seasonal settlements, Wallace said.

Speaking as someone who makes a pretty good living helping big corporations learn how to analyze data and find solutions, I really don’t envy archeologists their jobs.  They work with fragmentary data and, the farther back in time their targets of study are, the more disjointed and fragmentary the data is.  The distance in time now between us and the first Europeans to visit the Americas is vast enough to leave only a few tantalizing clues; and the Norsemen weren’t very good at keeping records, leaving us only bits and pieces of oral legends.

Still, it’s important to note that the New Brunswick settlement hasn’t actually been found.  It’s also important to note that the Norse may not have been the first Europeans to land in the Americas, although the prospect of Ice Age hunter-gatherers skirting arctic ice to get to North America is supported by even sketchier evidence.

Still.  It’s an interesting idea, and maybe now some diggers have a better idea where to dig.

Animal’s Daily Ethanol Subsidy News

I’m a big fan of ethanol.

That is, ethanol in the form of a good Scotch or a nice rye whiskey.  Ethanol has some advantages when blended into gasoline, true enough; but why the hell is the government subsidizing it?  Why not let ethanol fend for itself?  Excerpt:

The East Coast’s largest and oldest oil refinery is declaring bankruptcy. In its January 22 filing, Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) — whose facilities can process 335,000 barrels of oil per day — cited the economic burden of complying with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as a primary contributor to its fiscal woes. Regardless of the merits of PES’s claims, the RFS is an economic and environmental burden on the United States and ought to be repealed.

The RFS, first passed in 2005 and expanded in 2007, mandates that fuel blenders mix ethanol into fuel supplies at increasing levels until 2022. Interest in ethanol peaked during the George W. Bush administration for an amalgam of reasons stretching from rising oil prices, to a belief that plant-derived fuels would be environmentally superior to fossil fuels. With ethanol production then sitting at just a few billion gallons, the law sought a 10-fold increase in ethanol production over less than two decades. In the early years of the policy, complying with the standard was fairly inexpensive. Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), the tradable compliance credits generated when ethanol is produced, sold for 10 cents or less.

Sometime within the past few years, the fuels industry began to heave under the pressure of steadily mounting RFS requirements. With the exception of rare 85 percent ethanol pumps only usable by specially-designed engines, U.S. pumps can generally only sell blends up to 10 percent. This puts a hard cap, referred to as the “blend wall,” on how much ethanol can realistically be blended.

Full disclosure:  I come from a long line of farmers.  The Old Man farmed for much of his life, and both of my grandfathers farmed, although one of them gave it up for a career as a Ford mechanic.  So I know a little bit about farming and farm life.

With that said:  There is a tendency among some well-meaning folks, including plenty involved in agribusiness, to consider farming as a sort of holy calling.  It isn’t.  Yes, it is a vital industry.  Modern technological societies can’t exist without industrialized agriculture.  But farming is a business like any other.  Methods and technologies change, and the best way to determine which changes are economically feasible is not government; it is the free market.

Yes, the ethanol subsidy should end.  All such subsidies should end.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links, and to blogger pal Doug Hagin at The Daley Gator for the linkback!

I’m going to move away from the gun issue for today, although I have plenty more thoughts on the topic.  Instead, here’s something else that interests me a great deal; it turns out that Neandertals were artists.  Excerpt:

“Neanderthals created meaningful symbols in meaningful places”, says Paul Pettitt from University of Durham, also a team member and cave art specialist. In the Cueva Ardales, where excavations are currently being conducted by a German-Spanish team, the presence of Neanderthals has also been proven from analysing occupation layers. “This is certainly just the beginning of a new chapter in the study of ice age rock art”, says Gerd-Christian Weniger of the Foundation Neanderthal Museum Mettmann, one of the leaders of the Ardales excavations.

In the Iberian Peninsula Neanderthal symbolic behaviour may actually have a long-term tradition. In a second study, also published this week by Hoffmann and colleagues, the researchers determined the age of an archaeological deposit located at the Cueva de los Aviones, a sea cave in Southeast Spain. This cave contained perforated sea shells, red and yellow colorants and shell containers including complex mixes of pigments. The researchers used U-Th dating to determine the age of the flowstone that was covering and protecting the deposit. “We dated the deposit underlying the flowstone to an age of about 115,000 years”, says Hoffmann. These dates are even older than similar finds in south and north Africa associated with Homo sapiens, but at this time Neanderthals were living in western Europe.

This is a pretty profound finding.

For many decades, most thought of the Neandertal as shambling brutes, apelike, inarticulate and savage.  More recently, most even in the field of paleoanthropology reckoned the Neandertal as lacking the capacity for symbolic thought, for the leaps of mental ability that leads to such things as decorating their clothing, tools and selves.

We’re beginning to learn more now.  Recent finds have shown the Neandertal made jewelry; a hyoid bone found in the Levant indicates they were fully capable of speaking, although their voices may have sounded odd to us.

Folks shouldn’t underestimate these people.  They survived for many, many millennia in some of the harshest environments known to humans, and did very well until much of their preferred forest habitats were replaced by open steppe, where our more gracile, longer-legged, distance-running ancestors had the edge.

But the Neandertal were more sophisticated that most modern folks suspect.  It would be very, very interesting to meet one.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

GMO corn is increasing yields and decreasing losses due to insects and so on all over.  This is pretty damn close to an unqualified success, folks.  Excerpt:

The analysis of over 6,000 peer-reviewed studies covering 21 years of data found that GMO corn increased yields up to 25 percent and dramatically decreased dangerous food contaminants. The study, published in Scientific Reports, analyzed field data from 1996, when the first GMO corn was planted, through 2016 in the United States, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa and Australia.

The researchers’ key findings:

  • GMO corn varieties increased crop yields 5.6 to 24.5 percent relative to their non-GMO equivalents
  • GMO corn crops had lower percentages of mycotoxins (-28.8 percent), fumonisins (-30.6 percent) and thricotecens (−36.5 percent), all of which can lead to economic losses and harm human and animal health

The study also reaffirmed the scientific consensus that genetically modified corn does not pose risks to human health.

“This analysis provides an effective synthesis on a specific problem that is widely discussed publicly,” study coauthor Laura Ercoli told Italian newspaper la Repubblica (quote translated from Italian).

The scientists said that the meta-analysis allows us “to draw unequivocal conclusions, helping to increase public confidence in food produced with genetically modified plants.”

I know I harp on this – blame it on an actual background in Biology – but humans have been genetically modifying crops as long as humans have been growing crops.  Only the methods have changed.  The anti-GMO clowns are of a type with the anti-vaxxers; people who reject the work done by qualified scientists in producing technological breakthroughs that improve life for the entire planet.

Farm life has its advantages.

There are plenty of people in nations with marginal farmland who could benefit from, say, drought-resistant and insect-resistant crops.  Well-meaning but poorly-informed Westerners would deny these people GMO seed crops for reasons that have little to do with reality.  Ironically, many of these same clowns would then lecture us on “compassion” when we hesitate to continue pouring aid money into these same nations.

Can anyone explain to me where the sense is in all this?

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Turns out planets are just every frickin’ place.  Excerpt:

Experts have long known that planets would not be confined to our galaxy, but this is the first time that a celestial body has been discovered outside of the Milky Way.

Researchers from the University of Oklahoma used microlensing – an astronomical phenomenon that allows scientists to use gravity from huge objects such as stars to peer hundreds of billions of lightyears into the universe – to detect the planets.

The scientists say they have detected up to 2,000 planets beyond the Milky Way, in a galaxy around 3.8 billion light years away from Earth and ranging in mass sizes from the moon to Jupiter.

University of Oklahoma researchers used NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory and were even able to see a quasar – a large celestial object – up to six billion lightyears away.

Xinyu Dai, professor in the Homer L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Oklahoma College of Arts and Sciences, said: “We are very excited about this discovery. This is the first time anyone has discovered planets outside our galaxy.

“These small planets are the best candidate for the signature we observed in this study using the microlensing technique. 

“We analysed the high frequency of the signature by modelling the data to determine the mass.”

Microlensing, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is a technique based on gravitational lensing, which happens when light passes near to a super-massive object on its way to us; the massive object can bend the light, focusing it like a titanic telescope lens.

While this is a pretty cool technique, and assuming the detection of these planetary bodies are accurate, then it’s neat but not too surprising.  Our own galaxy is known to be chock-full of planets, so there’s no reason to think that other galaxies would be any different.

No aliens yet, though.  Could our galaxy be like the one in Asimov’s Foundation, Robot and Empire mega-series, where life is common but intelligent life is limited to humanity?  There’s no way to know at the moment; maybe one day we’ll find out.

Animal’s Daily Damned Bureaucrats News

There is at present a bill in Congress, H.R. 878, known as the “right to try” bill.  The summary reads as follows:

This bill requires the federal government to allow unrestricted manufacturing, distribution, prescribing, and dispensing of experimental drugs, biological products, and medical devices that are: (1) intended to treat a patient who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and (2) authorized by state law. The federal government must allow unrestricted possession and use of such treatments by patients certified by a physician as having exhausted all other treatment options.

A manufacturer, distributor, prescriber, dispenser, possessor, or user of such a treatment has no liability regarding the treatment.

The outcome of manufacture, distribution, prescribing, dispensing, possession, or use of such a treatment may not be used by a federal agency to adversely impact review or approval of the treatment.

The treatment must: (1) have successfully completed a phase 1 (initial, small scale) clinical trial; (2) remain under investigation in a clinical trial approved by the Food and Drug Administration; and (3) not be approved, licensed, or cleared for sale under the Federal Food, Drug, or Cosmetic Act or the Public Health Service Act.

Seems logical, right?

Well, a whole bunch of folks are against it.  Here’s why:

“Patients with terminal conditions who access unapproved therapies outside of clinical trials may be at risk of hastened death or reduced quality of the life that they have left, and deserve protections similar to patients taking part in clinical trials,” the authors wrote.

Andrew Powaleny, a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical industry organization PhRMA, which hasn’t taken a firm stance on the legislation, said, “It is crucial that any right-to-try policy proposals protect patient safety and the integrity of the clinical trial process along with U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversight. PhRMA appreciated the opportunity last fall to work with Sen. Johnson on his proposal and is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with his office and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Walden.”

Honestly, (language alert) fuck these assholes.

If a patient is dying and has exhausted all other treatment options when it’s apparent that they have nothing else to lose, then the decision to try something else is up to them, not some bureaucrat in the Imperial City.  This is short-sighted beyond belief; I’m as adamantly against snake oil salesmen and Gwyneth Paltrow-style horseshit as anyone, but if a patient is dying and all hope is exhausted, then to hell with it – if there is some new treatment that hasn’t been through all the levels of red tape yet, I say let them try it.  These aren’t untried buckets of Paltrow-style woo that’s being discussed, after all.  The bill refers to treatments that have at least been through preliminary clinical trials with positive results.

Are these people afraid that the multiple levels of red tape required by FDA might be shown to be excessive?