Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ask an Amateur Scientist: Spontaneous Human Combustion

Would you be so kind as to visit our friends at PinkRaygun.com and read the latest installment of my weekly column Ask an Amateur Scientist? It might be worth your time, considering I discuss the wacky world of spontaneous human combustion. What is it? What causes it? Are you likely to spontaneously combust at this very instant? Find out the answers to those questions and more right here.

Chinese Weather Men

With China's decade-long transformation from a hard-line communist regime into a kind of atomic-age mutation of hyper-capitalism, it's had a hard time finding a place in the global consciousness. There's nothing shady and sinister about a nation-wide plan to open as many Wal-Marts as humanly possible. But hopefully their mad scientists will fix all that, as they're currently experimenting with weather manipulation technology to ensure a crystal clear opening day for this August's Olympic Games. Since China's Olympic stadium was constructed without a roof, this is kind of a high priority. They claim to have had success eliminating light rain, but the heavier stuff is still causing some problems. Meanwhile, the country has been crippled by a massive snow storm that's left citizens stranded, freezing, and on the verge of death. China has yet to import the concept of irony. More details here.

Mercury Seen

It's kind of the ignored wallflower of the solar system. Mercury just doesn't have the same kind of mystical appeal of, say, Saturn's rings, Jupiter's swirling storms, or Uranus' hilarious name. But now that NASA's Messenger probe has photographed the previously unseen side of the sun's closest buddy, Mercury may be nudging itself into the spotlight after all. Not only is it slightly different looking than our moon (it's got some blue and red spots here and there!), but it also features the "spider", an unusual formation that scientists believe could be the remnant of a massive volcano. It's no wonder Mercury's been trying to hide this unsightly blemish from us, but it's about time the little planet learned to embrace its flaws and allow us to love it for its personality, which, like the personalities of other unattractive and often ignored things, I hear is just wonderful. More details here.

Exorcist in Jail

Former Romanian Orthodox priest Daniel Corogeanu (pictured here sporting an awesome beard and what appears to be a LARPer's costume) has lost his appeal and will be going to jail for the murder of 23-year-old nun Irina Cornici. Cornici had complained of hearing the devil's voice and though she had been treated for schizophrenia, Corogeanu and four nuns decided to take God's law into their own hands and subject her to a brutal exorcism ritual. Unlike in the movies, Corogeanu learned, chaining someone to a cross and denying her food and water doesn't result in cool pea soup vomit and backward spider walking. In fairness to the Russian Orthodox Church, they've condemned the ritual, and Corogeanu, who had dropped out halfway through his official priest training, had only been assigned to a church because of a lack of actual priests. Presumably, their usual job training routine includes instructions for how not to abduct and brutally murder the mentally ill. More details here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Nature's Terrifying Truths: Invincible Mole Rats

They already haunt the corners of my nightmares. Naked mole rats seem to have no place on this Earth. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland they may thrive--their abject nudity and deformed visages blending into the background of moaning, lumbering despair. But for now, they're the stuff of terror. Unique among mammals and things with consciences, they are cold blooded. Woe be to those who wake up with a naked mole rat's buck tooth buried in a fresh wound, its hairless skin permanently stained with the blood of its victims. And now you can forget about dumping deadly acid or red hot chili peppers on the thing in self defense. The naked mole rat is impervious to such things. Science would tell us that studying the mole rat's pain immunity may lead to new drugs for pain relief. They would stupidly suggest that the naked mole rat may be useful to us after all. But let me remind you that there is occasionally only a line as thin as pink, hairless rodent skin between science and madness. More details here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Alzheimer's Hat

Researchers at the medical research company Virulite have created a helmet which they say will reverse the effects of Alzheimer's in those who wear it for ten minutes a day. Working from research conducted by the University of Sunderland that found infrared light to reverse memory loss in middle-aged, the researchers think that the low-level IR radiation generated by the helmet will have the same effect in humans. It seems odd that these researchers would be telling the media that this helmet is definitely going to work before they've even done any human trials. The whole thing smells of stock pumping on the part of Virulite, but here's hoping the helmet actually works and doesn't just make Alzheimer's patients look like extras from Death Race 2000. More details here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bloodthirsty Afghanistan

A 23-year-old journalism student in northern Afghanistan has been sentenced to death for blasphemy after distributing an Internet article calling Muhammad a killer and adulterer. The New York Times euphemistically describes this kind of gross violation as evidence of Afghanistan's "conservative" government, though more appropriate adjectives may include "backward", "murderous", and "catastrophically stupid". While the student, Sayed Parwiz Kambakhsh, has the right to appeal the sentence under what's left of Afghani law, the rest of the free world should be coming down hard on a government that could let something like this happen in the first place. And for the record, Muhammad was, indeed, a murderer, an adulterer, a pedophile, and an illiterate. More details here.

Obama the Panderer

Let me tell you right now that I like Barack Obama. Of all the candidates for president, John Edwards has the best plan for government, but Obama would be a fine alternative. And Clinton is a sociopath. But I can't keep posting every time a candidate says something ludicrous without mentioning Obama's recent interview with Christianity Today wherein he reaffirms his belief in the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ. It's sad and unnecessary to think a politician has to throw such a meaningless bone to the religious nuts of America, especially in an election year where the so-called "change" candidate should be promoting the kind of rational, evidence-based thinking that rejects such a laughable and macabre idea as a demigod's death as scapegoat for humanity's imagined sins. More details here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Islamic Sex Prank

Algerian police have broken up a group who were selling pornographic DVDs disguised with pictures of popular Islamic clerics on the covers. The unsuspecting pious were purchasing the DVDs on the streets of the Algerian capital, only to take them home and discover the sexy contents within. The police condemned the group for blasphemy and hurting people's "religious feelings". Apparently one can most effectively hurt an uptight Muslim's religious feelings by showing him that women do, in fact, have vaginae and enjoy sticking things in them. On video. For money. More details here.

UFOs or F-16s?

Responding to the massive and perplexing amount of publicity generated by the UFO sightings over Stephenville, Texas, the Air Force Reserve now says that ten F-16 fighter jets were on training missions in the area around the time of the sightings. Of course, this comes two weeks after a spokesperson had said that there was no fighter activity in the area. The discrepancy is blamed on email miscommunication (a distinct, yet dishearteningly bumbling possibility), though the local UFO nuts are taking it as evidence of their presuppositions. Kenneth Cherry of the Texas chapter of the Mutual UFO Network (NAMBLA) is quoted as saying that this backs up stories that fighters were seen chasing the UFOs. Of course, it's much more likely that the fighters were simply seen, and the UFO chasing was the made up part. Stories like this always make me think of the great Netherlands panda escape of the late '70s, when a panda broke free from a Dutch zoo and was spotted all over town despite the fact that it had been run over by a train well before any of the sightings could have occurred. Mass hysteria is a wonderful thing. More details here.

Ron Paul: Idiot

I've gone back and forth lately on writing anything about the myriad reasons why Ron Paul is one of the most ludicrous candidates still in the race for president. He's not going to win anyone's nomination, so he's kind of a moot point. But more and more, I personally encounter otherwise thoughtful, intelligent people who seem to have been snookered by Paul's libertarian promise of small government and increased personal freedom. While the war on drugs is an obviously intrusive and unnecessary expenditure and civil liberties should be protected at all costs, most of Paul's platform is outright insane. Privatization of libraries, public schools, and charity hospitals would be a disaster. Big government does not always mean bad government, and even still, where does Paul's libertarianism mesh with his public belief that there should be no separation between church and state? Not to mention his recently uncovered racist and paranoid newsletters or his idiotic denial of evolution. And now he says immunization should not be mandatory, because it's mandating the injection of foreign substances and only those who aren't immunized suffer for their decision. As a doctor, Paul should know better than most that this just isn't true. Even a small percentage of non-immunized children in a classroom would be enough to spread fatal and preventable diseases such as smallpox. Immunization isn't a case of some oppressive government "forcing" behavior upon the people. It's a case of the people collectively agreeing to ensure their own public health. This anti-immunization stance from Paul is just another example of his courting of the paranoid, misinformed, and ideologically blinded. A libertarian may one day make a great president, but Paul is no great libertarian. More details here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

OMG, Tom Cruise is a CFB!

We talked about it on this week's episode of The Amateur Scientist Podcast (which you will hear later today), but the recently leaked Scientology recruitment video starring Tom Cruise is a wonderful melange of crazy. And, apparently, it's also inspirational in the eyes of actor Jerry O'Connell, who some know as a star of NBC's sleuth show Crossing Jordan, and others know as--wait, Crossing Jordan is still on the air? What the?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Creationist Museum Going Extinct

The Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum outside of Lubbock, Texas includes exhibits on the presence of dinosaurs aboard Noah's Ark and argues that the Grand Canyon was carved by God's wrathful Genesis flood. It's also going out of business unless it can sell its centerpiece acquisition, a genuine mastodon skull complete with tusks. Being close to 40,000 years old, the skull is proof in itself that the 6,000-year Biblical age of the Earth is bunk. Maybe that's why it's being put up on the auction block. Or maybe it's because the skull is the only thing of scientific value in the entire museum. More details here.

Paper Space Plane

University of Tokyo scientists and the Japan Origami Airplane Association have finally pooled their resources to develop a folded paper airplane capable of being launched from the International Space Station and gliding safely to Earth. As a much lighter craft than the space shuttle, the origami space plane wouldn't be subjected to the same kinds of atmosphere reentry heat as NASA's craft, so it would be possible to treat a paper product to survive the trip. Also unlike the space shuttle, however, the origami space plane is incapable of carrying passengers or payloads and (like bubble tea, Gatchaman, and robot cats) would serve no beneficial purpose for humanity. Shinji Suzuki, an aerospace engineering professor working on the project, hopes the space station crew will write messages of peace on the plane before its launch. The plan is for the plane to strike the back of a substitute teacher's head before the space station crew are forced to read their messages out loud to the rest of the class. More details here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Thanks, Columbus

Columbus may have brought more home from the New World than teenage natives' scalps, advanced bludgeoning techniques, and the promise of untold amounts of gold. According to research done by Emory University, he probably brought back syphilis as well. While the bacteria that cause syphilis had existed before Columbus' trip, it wasn't until his triumphant return to Europe that the disease switched from being a South American skin condition to a venereal plague. Of course, Columbus' voyages eventually paved the way for the wholesale slaughter of anyone who might have given the disease to him or his crew, so I guess he wins. More details here.

Mike Huckabee: Idiot

Check out this quote from Republican superstar Mike Huckabee: "I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do--to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view." And get this: he said it in front of a room full of people who cheered and waved his oddly-colored campaign signs at him. Huckabee gets a lot of slack for being a charming, self-deprecating, and articulate guy. When compared to some other prominent Republicans of recent years, he sounds like some kind of chart-busting genius. But this quote sums up the true depth of his stupidity. Obviously this is a nod to a constitutional ban on homosexual marriage, but the implications run a lot deeper here. And when he criticizes a "contemporary view" of the Bible, he's criticizing his own beliefs. He may enjoy the subservience of his wife, but he chooses to ignore the Bible's support of slavery, torture, and pillaging. Or does he...?(!) Watch the video for yourself here, and savor the early-morning charm of MSNBC's Morning Joe crew. If I had to wake up to these people every morning, I'd start to believe I was in a Philip K. Dick waking dreamstate of terror.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This is Your Brain on PETA

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (NAMBLA) has produced a television commercial depicting two parents encouraging their teenage daughter to have sex. "What if I get pregnant?" the thoughtful girl asks. In response, her mother encourages her to "pop out all the kids you can". The point of the ad is summed up in this closing statement: "Parents shouldn't act this way. Neither should people with dogs and cats. Always spay or neuter." PETA's president, Ingrid Newkirk, hopes that people will see the similarities between encouraging promiscuous teen sex and lopping the sex organs off of your pets. Does that mean we should spay or neuter our children? Or does it mean we should sit our dogs and cats down and explain how condoms work? The wisdom of getting your pets fixed aside, there's some faulty logic here. But, of course, it's no more faulty than the logic that allows Newkirk to take animal-produced insulin while telling other people they shouldn't. Here's the ad:

All My Extraterrestrials Live in Texas

Several dozen people in and around Stephenville, Texas have reportedly spotted a large, silent object floating through the sky. One witness claimed it was a mile long and half a mile wide. Descriptions of the object and times of its sighting vary, which casts some doubt on the veracity of the eyewitness claims. Maj. Karl Lewis of the local Navy air station in Ft. Worth is quoted as saying he believes the object was actually two commercial jet liners spotted in the setting sun. Until some plausible eyewitness claims can be verified and analyzed, who really knows? If I were a large object, I'd hope to silently hover above somewhere a little more interesting than Stephenville, Texas. More details here.

No Blood for Helium

It's one of the backbones of the world economy. We use it to fill our balloons and our blimps. Thousands of teenage grocery store employees sneak huffs from its tanks and amuse themselves with their chipmunk voices while avoiding the watchful gaze of their day managers. It's lighter than air, and it's running out. The world's largest helium deposit outside of Amarillo, Texas (who knew?) is projected to run out of the amusing gas within the next eight years. But it's not just the silver-backed "Lordy, Lordy, Somebody's Forty" novelty balloon industry that's worried. Helium is also used in the manufacture of microchips and other scientific apparatus. It's also widely used as a coolant. Though the most sophisticated laboratories recycle their helium, many do not. We're now taking bets on how long it'll take whatever third world president is sitting on an unknown helium stockpile to declare himself emperor for life. More details here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Possible Alzheimer's Cure

A new study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation (this month's centerfold: elderly) details the successful human test of a promising Alzheimer's treatment. After injecting a patient with a tumor necrosis factor-alpha cytokine inhibitor, the researchers noticed a decrease in Alzheimer's symptoms within minutes. This is a small and very early study, but hopefully it'll lead to an effective treatment in the near future. No offense to your demented friends/relatives, but I'm just hoping they get this thing going in time to stave off Terry Pratchett's disease long enough for him to crank out a few more Discworld books. More details here.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ask an Amateur Scientist: Washington UFO Flap

In the latest edition of my PinkRaygun.com column, I tackle the (semi)famous 1952 Washington, D.C. UFO flap. For two consecutive July weekends during the Truman administration, mysterious objects were spotted on radar and appeared to be storming over our national treasures. Turns out there's a much more rational explanation than extraterrestrial craft, but I still can't explain the mystery of why anyone ever voted for Rick Santorum. Read all about it here.

Nature's Terrifying Truths: Rogue Black Holes

New computer simulations presented at the American Astronomical Society show what happens when two black holes collide. They merge into one black hole that shoots across the galaxy at nearly 2,500 miles per second. These rogue black holes would destroy anything in their path. And aside from the property damage, they also demonstrate a reckless, disrespectful attitude toward authority and have been known to slick back their event horizons, wear dirty leather jackets, and bang on jukeboxes with their fists. More details here.

Church of State

Speaking of the mark of the beast, it's being written up as one of those "isn't this weird" kind of stories, but a recent motion to debate the disestablishment of the Church of England in the House of Commons was listed with the number 666. One of the MPs backing the motion gave a cutesy quote about God being at work, but does that mean God supports the idea of a state-sponsored religion and a monarchical church/nation figurehead in a supposedly advanced Western democracy? Because if so, God is a ridiculous dick. But so is any MP who refuses to debate and support this motion. More details here.

Mark of the Beast? (No.)

Get ready for another round of mouth-foaming rants from your conspiracy-worrying, Ron Paul-supporting friends and loved ones. A new driver's license seems to be coming along--one developed by the Department of Homeland Security as a more secure alternative to those used now. The nation's nutjobs have been screaming about this for years. They say that America has been moving toward a federally issued identification card which would be tantamount to the New World Order's mark of the beast. But there are some key differences with this new card. For one thing, it won't be federally issued. Instead, the states will be given the option of checking driver's license applicants' information against a federal database. The new cards won't contain any kind of information-transmitting microchip, and they will only be required to drive (obviously), board an airplane, and enter government buildings. And only if you're under 50. Not such a big deal by any stretch, but still entirely unnecessary. The 9/11 plot didn't hinge on easily counterfeited driver's licenses. And for that matter, it didn't hinge on taking shampoo aboard a plane. More details here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Nature's Terrifying Truths: Raining Iguanas

Did you know about this? How come no one told me about this? A cold snap across south Florida has caused dozens and dozens of tree-dwelling iguanas to fall into suspended animation and plummet to the ground. Yes, when the temperature falls below a certain level, the disgusting lizards can't help but take a nap. How's that for intelligent design? But what really concerns me here is the fact that Florida's trees are lousy with iguanas. Apparently obnoxious iguana owners suddenly realized they were harboring four-legged horror in their homes and decided to release them into the wild. Hence, what was once a nice, semi-tropical bike path is now a lizard lounge. My skin crawls just thinking about it. Wait, that's not my skin. It's a goddamn iguana! More details here.


The Russians have joined with the European Space Program to help launch a mission looking for life on Jupiter's moon Europa. Like the advancement of Nazi Germany, the icy moon has inspired the two regions to put aside their differences and work together toward a common goal. The Russian plan is to land a craft in one of the fissures in Europa's ice sheets, melt some of the ice below it, and analyze those samples for life. While exciting, nothing in this plan convinces me that they'll be able to find and subsequently destroy that damned white whale that took my leg. More details here.

Monday, January 7, 2008

JREF Challenge No More

After twelve fruitless years, the James Randi Educational Foundation's million dollar challenge will finally be discontinued after March 6th, 2010. For those of you who don't know (and if you're reading this site, you probably should), James Randi has offered a million dollar prize to anyone who can prove he has paranormal abilities under controlled experimental conditions. Needless to say, the money has never been claimed. In his weekly newsletter, Randi explains that twelve years is long enough to wait--especially for a nonprofit organization such as the JREF that could put the money to more meaningful use. I'm sure the frauds and deluded of the world will see this as some kind of fearful backtracking, but those people have always found the most creative ways to explain why they've never claimed the prize themselves. More details here, and hopefully even more details when James Randi is a guest on The Amateur Scientist Podcast next week.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Kreskin For Hire

In an odd move, mentalist George Kresge, better known as the Amazing Kreskin, has offered his services in locating Stacy Peterson, the 23-year-old wife of Illinois police sergeant Drew Peterson. (Drew Peterson allegedly [most likely] killed her.) While Kresge has at times admitted that he possesses no supernatural powers, he often bills himself as a psychic and annually makes New Year's predictions on CNN. One of his signature tricks is finding the paychecks he has an assistant hide before his performances. He's failed to find them at least nine times. The police have refused his services in finding Peterson, despite the fact that almost every self-proclaimed medium, psychic, and charlatan claims law enforcement officials are clamoring for their "expertise". Nore details here.

Cocaine Vaccine

Was one of your New Year's resolutions to finally turn down your Donna Summer 8-tracks, un-slick back your hair, cut your lapels down to size, and finally stop calling all those hookers over so you can snort blow from their asses? If so, you're in luck! The husband and wife team of Dr. Tom and Therese Kosten at the Baylor College of Medicine have developed a vaccine that blocks the effects of cocaine and curbs its addictive powers. The drug is currently in preliminary trials while awaiting a full trial commitment from the FDA, so you've still got time to coke yourself up and clean out Wal-Mart's HDTV inventory. More details here.

The Exorcist Squad

Although it just won't be the same without Mr. T, Pope Joey Ratzo (a.k.a. Joseph Ratzinger, a.k.a. Pope Something the Somethingth) has decided to call the boys and put the Vatican's rag-tag band of roaming exorcists and demon fighters back together. Citing a rise in Satanism and the occult, the pope believes it's time to get back to a grittier, more bad-ass version of Catholicism that fights the devil head-on. And if reality is anything like the movie End of Days (hint: it isn't), these wisecracking papal commandos will most likely battle the forces of darkness with automatic weapons and a fully stocked armory of one liners. This is all very exciting, to be sure, but aren't the ones with the most obsessive interest in all things evil actually the exorcists themselves? Or would such postmodern thinking earn me a visit from the Holy Ghostbusters? More details here.

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