Dazzling Knowledge

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

So Long, Screwy... See You In Camaguey

Fidel "I loooooove killing people!" Castro has decided to step down as president-for-life of Cuba. Strangely, he has not stepped down from living. Go figure.

Aside from leading the 1959 revolution that toppled former Cuban leader (and a dick in his own right)
Fulgencio Batista, Castro created the kind of Soviet-funded Socialist utopia that got Cubans so excited they couldn't wait to get into rubber rafts and tell their friends in Miami about it.

Castro's successor held a press conference and had this to say:

In response to the news of Castro's retirement, President Bush stated,

"I believe that the change from Fidel Castro ought to begin a period of a democratic transition...Eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections. And I mean free and I mean fair."

The president continued, "Not the kind of election where someone loses the popular vote and still becomes president thanks to a shady judicial ruling. I mean free and fair. And not the kind of elections where voting machines are tampered with and senior voters are confused by poorly-designed ballots.

"I mean free and fair. And not the kind where people who are not allies of the U.S. government
get elected to power. I mean free and--"

At that point the president's microphone mysteriously cut off.

Fidel Castro retires [Yahoo! News]

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Beagle wins best in show

I just figured that people who know Trusty and Charlie would be surprised to know of the existence of a well-behaved beagle that doesn't smell funny.

Because Nothing Screams "Respect Me, Punk!" More Than A Fat Guy In Bicycle Shorts

My guess is this particular Baltimore police officer is not happy having to work the skateboard beat along the Inner Harbor. Perhaps he'd rather be venturing into other, more lucrative areas of Charm City law enforcement?

Yes, teenagers can be -- and often are -- bratty and disrespectful (which believe it or not is far from a recent development), but these kids were guilty of little more than catching a grumpy cop on a bad day. While this officer's reaction may go over well with the Fox News crowd, it was completely out of line.

Fortunately for all, we were spared the near-inevitability of a new catchphrase du jour: "Don't tase me, bro dude!"

Baltimore Cop vs. Skateboarder [YouTube]

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why do all cultures have dragon myths?

I've long wondered about where the ideas for our mythical creatures came from, especially ubiquitous ones like the dragon:

Of all the hoary old monsters, dragons are the most persistent, appearing everywhere from mall crystal shops to Disney movies. Cryptozoologists search for its cousins, the Loch Ness monster and the mokele-mbembe of the Congo swamps.

Dragon images have been found on the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, on scrolls from China, in Egyptian hieroglyphs and Ethiopian sketches, on the prows of Viking ships, in bas relief on Aztec temples, on cliffs above the Mississippi River and even on bones carved by Inuits in climates where no reptile could live.

Now scholars drawing on primitive art, fossilized bones and ancient legends are struggling to explain how cultures that had no contact with one another constructed mythical creatures so remarkably similar. And why did dragons persist so long?
In ''An Instinct for Dragons'' (Routledge, 2000), Dr. David E. Jones, a professor of anthropology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, posits a biological explanation that jibes with the Jungian notion of unconscious collective fears. He argues that the dragon image, fermented in the primal soup of man's first nightmares, is a composite of the carnivores who fed on human ancestors when they were tree-dwelling monkeys: the pythons, the big cats and the raptors.

Whole article here.

The teacher who couldn't read or write

Of course he's a public school teacher in California.

John Corcoran graduated from college and taught high school for 17 years without being able to read, write or spell.
He cheated his way through high school, receiving his diploma in June 1956.

He stole tests and pursuaded friends to complete his assignments. Corcoran earned an athletic scholarship to Texas Western College. He said his cheating intensified, claiming he cheated in every class.
In 1961, Corcoran graduated with a bachelor's degree in education, while still illiterate he contends. He then went on to become a teacher during a teacher shortage.

"When I graduated from the university, the school district in El Paso, where I went to school, gave almost all the college education graduates a job," said Corcoran. For 17 years Corcoran taught high school for the Oceanside School District. Relying on teacher's assistants for help and oral lesson plans, he said he did a great job at teaching his students.

Meet the world's smallest bodybuilder

Story and more pics here.

Still no Malthusian panic here

Are you worried about population growth, consumption, and sustainability? I'm not, and neither is Ronald Bailey:

Globally fertility rates have been falling since the 1960s. What does this mean
for the future? At the Transvision 2007 conference, Jerome Glenn, head of the
United Nations' Millenium Project and author of its annual State of the Future
report, pointed out something what I've been saying for years—that the U.N.'s
low variant trend appears to be the path that world population is following. If
that trend holds, Glenn noted, that would mean that world population would grow
to about 8 billion in 2050 and start declining to 5.5 billion in 2100. That's a
billion fewer people than currently live on the planet.

A 2006 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that "among 50 nations with extensive forests reported in the Food and Agriculture Organization's comprehensive Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005, no nation where annual per capita gross domestic product exceeded $4,600 had a negative rate of growing stock change." Biotech tree plantations would enable humanity to produce all the timber we need on an area roughly 5 percent to 10 percent of the total forest today. This would mean that more of the Earth's forests could remain in their natural states.

Note that the above paragraph correlates conservation with wealth.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The strangest spam I've ever received

I received two spam emails from "Foty Cameron." Here's what the first message said, along with a bunch of animated emoticons:

"Hi, this is my e-mail address. please send some pics, say hi to mum, Emmanu"

The second had this message:

"Hi, Morning these are some photos hope you would like them and re call. bye talk to yopu later."

And it came with all these photos attached. All spelling errors sic, natch.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

According to the Telegraph:

Smokers, heavy drinkers, the obese and the elderly should be barred from receiving some operations, according to doctors, with most saying the health service cannot afford to provide free care to everyone.

About one in 10 hospitals already deny some surgery to obese patients and smokers, with restrictions most common in hospitals battling debt.

Managers defend the policies because of the higher risk of complications on the operating table for unfit patients. But critics believe that patients are being denied care simply to save money.

Obesity costs the British taxpayer £7 billion a year. Overweight people are more likely to contract diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and to require replacement joints or stomach-stapling operations.

Meanwhile, £1.7 billion is spent treating diseases caused by smoking, such as lung cancer, bronchitis and emphysema, with a similar sum spent by the NHS on alcohol problems. Cases of cirrhosis have tripled over the past decade.

Among the survey of 870 family and hospital doctors, almost 60 per cent said the NHS could not provide full healthcare to everyone and that some individuals should pay for services.

But Michael Moore told us that health care is free in the UK. What is all this talk of "costs"?

Meanwhile, the NHS and nanny staters in the United States ignore the overall savings that smokers and the obese provide to health care systems… by dying young.

According to Dutch researchers:

Although effective obesity prevention leads to a decrease in costs of obesity-related diseases, this decrease is offset by cost increases due to diseases unrelated to obesity in life-years gained. Obesity prevention may be an important and cost-effective way of improving public health, but it is not a cure for ncreasing health expenditures.

The researchers used their model to estimate the number of surviving individuals and the occurrence of various diseases for three hypothetical groups of men and women, examining data from the age of 20 until the time when the model predicted that everyone had died. The “obese” group consisted of never-smoking people with a BMI of more than 30; the “healthy-living” group consisted of never-smoking people with a healthy weight; the “smoking” group consisted of lifetime smokers with a healthy weight. Data from the Netherlands on the costs of illness were fed into the model to calculate the yearly and lifetime health-care costs of all three groups. The model predicted that until the age of 56, yearly health costs were highest for obese people and lowest for healthy-living people. At older ages, the highest yearly costs were incurred by the smoking group. However, because of differences in life expectancy (life expectancy at age 20 was 5 years less for the obese group, and 8 years less for the smoking group, compared to the healthy-living group), total lifetime health spending was greatest for the ealthy-living people, lowest for the smokers, and intermediate for the obese pople.

Besides the fact that the fallacy of saving health care costs by eliminating smoking and obesity is intuitive, I believe there is another reason so many people believe that smokers and fat people should be denied health care. People don’t like smokers and fat people for moral and aesthetic reasons. Therefore, they think that it is good for “those people” to suffer.

All blue-eyed persons have a single common ancestor

New research shows that people with blue eyes have a single, common ancestor. A team at the University of Copenhagen have tracked down a genetic mutation which took place 6-10,000 years ago and is the cause of the eye colour of all blue-eyed humans alive on the planet today.

What is the genetic mutation?
“Originally, we all had brown eyes”, said Professor Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. “But a genetic
affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a “switch”, which literally “turned off” the ability to produce brown eyes." The OCA2 gene codes for the so-called P protein, which is involved in the production of melanin, the pigment that gives colour to our hair, eyes and skin. The “switch”, which is located in the gene adjacent to OCA2 does not, however, turn off the gene entirely, but rather limits its action to reducing the production of melanin in the iris – effectively “diluting” brown eyes to blue. The switch’s effect on OCA2 is very specific therefore. If the OCA2 gene had been completely destroyed or turned off, human beings would be without melanin in their hair, eyes or skin colour – a condition known as albinism. Limited genetic variation Variation in the colour of the eyes from brown to green can all be explained by the amount of melanin in the iris, but blue-eyed individuals only have a small degree of variation in the amount of melanin in their eyes. “From this we can conclude that all blue-eyed individuals are linked to the same ancestor,” says Professor Eiberg. “They have all inherited the same switch at exactly the same spot in their DNA.” Brown-eyed individuals, by contrast, have considerable individual variation in the area of their DNA that controls melanin production.

Professor Eiberg and his team examined mitochondrial DNA and compared the eye colour of blue-eyed individuals in countries as diverse as Jordan, Denmark and Turkey. His findings are the latest in a decade of genetic research, which began in 1996, when Professor Eiberg first implicated the OCA2 gene as being responsible for eye colour.

Nature shuffles our genes
The mutation of brown eyes to blue represents neither a positive nor a negative mutation. It is one of several mutations such as hair colour, baldness, freckles and beauty spots, which neither increases nor reduces a human’s chance of survival. As Professor Eiberg says, “it simply shows that nature is constantly shuffling the human genome, creating a genetic cocktail of human chromosomes and trying out different changes as it does so.”