Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Old Timey Contraceptives

I did follow through with the Trixie costume - sort of. You can buy a lot of things on Amazon.com, except authentic-looking nineteenth century blouses in dust bowl brown.

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So I ended up going with a more traditional Halloween saloon girl look.

To make up for the lackluster ensemble, I accessorized with some abortifacient herbs. (A bag of Ceylon rose tea masquerading as tansy.) And while researching abortifacients (substances that induce abortion), I discovered some interesting facts about early contraceptives:

- Silphium, a member of the parsley family, was a powerful abortifacient harvested in ancient Greece. It was so popular it was harvested to extinction around the 1st century.

-Other supposed abortifacients:

Wild carrot
Black Cohosh
Slippery Elm
Common Rue

- In the 2nd century, the Greek gynaecologist Soranus advised women seeking abortion to drink water that blacksmiths had used to cool metal (PS: guy's name is Soranus).

-Old western prostitutes used coins as cervical caps (according to David Carradine). Asian women used oiled paper; English women used beeswax.

-"From 1930 until 1960, the most popular female contraceptive was Lysol disinfectant -- advertised as a feminine hygiene product in ads featuring testimonials from prominent European "doctors." Later investigation by the American Medical Association showed that these experts did not exist."

- Condoms were first made from animal intestines

-The first IUDs (intrauterine devices) were used on camels. Apparently, Arabs would stick pebbles into their uteruses to keep them from getting pregnant.

SoCal Halloween Maze Review

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Stencils of the world, unite!

Though I've slacked on the Halloween-themed blogging, I did make it to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood and Halloween Haunt at Knott's Berry Farm. Here's a quick recap:

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood
Five mazes, including the tram tour through the backlot, which wasn't as satisfying as last year -- you could still walk through the Bates motel and the flaming War of the Worlds plane wreckage, but there weren't as many zombies lurking about. The other mazes improved, however. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre maze was extremely detailed and, overall, the scariest, but there were some truly frightening moments in the Nightmare on Elm Street maze (one of the scare actors scared me so badly I fell backwards into the person behind me. Frankly, I'm surprised I didn't end up here). Overall, very quality experience. I was assaulted by chainsaws (sans chains) twice. What did it feel like? It tickles.

Halloween Haunt at Knott's Berry Farm
Though the TGI Friday's pre-game did not disappoint, the mazes did. Perhaps they're understaffed on Sunday nights because there was a noticable decrease in scare actors, in both the mazes and the scare zones. The new mazes were underwhelming (Killer Klown Kollege, Doll Factory) -- even, dare I say, dull. My favorite maze from past years, the Asylum, was structured differently and missing the scariest part of all -- the smoke-filled infirmary ward. The best mazes were (surprisingly) Beowulf and Pyromaniax (the log ride -- the premise was "disaster at the moonshine factory." Very disturbing.) I did notice that there were more animatronics this year -- at the expense of staff, maybe? Are all the good scare actors going to Universal? Next year I'll have to step up...

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Science behind Spirit Boards

Now that the worst of the wildfires are over (we hope), let's get back to
science and the supernatural.

Maybe carbon monoxide poisoning, infrasounds and paranoia aren't enough to explain the sights and sounds that accompany hauntings. Maybe you, like 33 percent of Americans, believe these are, in fact, caused by the spirits of the dead. How might one reach out and communicate with these spirits?

Through Ouija Boards, of course.

Ouija boards -- also known as "talking boards" or "spirit boards" -- are flat boards bearing letters, numbers and symbols. These boards often come with message indicators, or planchettes; when people rest their fingers lightly on a message indicator, it moves around the Ouija board and spells out messages that some say come from the dead.

Although some believe that spirits control the planchette, others say there is a simple scientific explanation for this movement: the ideomotor effect. The ideomotor effect is the body's involuntary and unconscious response to psychological stimuli. (Crying, for example, is attributed to the ideomotor effect). Scientists say that Ouija board users may be moving the planchette even though they think they're not exerting any pressure on it. This movement would be more pronounced if more than one person had their fingers on the planchette.

For some interesting history on the Ouija board, check out the Museum of Talking Boards.

If you're interested in hearing some Ouija board stories, check out graveaddiction.com

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The word "Ouija" is now copyrighted by Parker Brothers. If you're interested in buying your own gateway to Hell, you can find it here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Is Carbon Monoxide Making us Mental?

Everyone seems tense here at the Annenberg School, and at first I thought it had something to do with an impending lecture from She Who Must Not Be Named (yes, the Young Republicans have arranged for her to speak here in an hour, and the Los Angeles Police Department has already combed the building for bombs), but then I wondered if the fires are to blame for everyone's headaches, fatigue and general malaise.

Then I remembered that while researching the science behind ghostly phenomena, I ran into an interesting fact about carbon monoxide -- that "Carbon monoxide poisoning, which can cause powerful auditory and visual hallucinations, depression, and a generalized sensation of illness and dread, was recognized as a possible explanation for haunted houses as early as 1921."

Sure enough, one of the gases released by mass quantities of burning homes is carbon monoxide.

Could we all be suffering from a case of mild carbon monoxide poisoning?


Which one of these puts you most ill at ease?


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C. All of the above

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Smells Like Burning

We're surrounded by fire.

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The sky was pale orange yesterday morning and heavy with carcinogens by the time I got out of class last night. The air smelled like ground beef roasted on a tire fire.

As I drove home with watering eyes and the occasional hacking cough, I wondered, how are these wildfires affecting my health?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoke from wildfires contains gases and fine particles that can "hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases."


Once I got home, I visited the SignOnSanDiego fire blog to check the fate of Rancho Bernardo, a small community northeast of San Diego where my aunt and uncle live. They had to evacuate on Monday, when the Witch Fire tore through the area. Last night, city officials released a list of the homes destroyed in Rancho Bernardo.

Can you imagine finding your address on this list?

Luckily, none of the homes on Pacato Circle South were mentioned.

But the fire did raze an entire neighborhood about a mile north of where she lives, and about 200,000 acres of adjacent land.

As an arborphile, I have to admit that what bothers me most about wildfires is not the loss of homes, but the loss of vegetation. Earlier this year, 800 acres of Griffith Park went up in flames. I hoped that my favorite spot in the park (and one of my favorite spots in Los Angeles), a grove of tall squirrel-filled evergreens, had been spared. But, when I returned to the park to visit the Griffith Observatory last month, I learned that, indeed, it hadn't.

Now that large swaths of San Diego county have been destroyed, I wonder, how long will it take to grow back?

So far, I haven't found a conclusive answer.

But I did learn that fire can help foster biodiversity in some ecosystems, and that fire actually assists in the reproduction in certain plants, such as the lodgepole pine, whose cones "are sealed with resin until fire melts it away and releases the seeds."


Monday, October 22, 2007

Ghosts . . . or Pareidolia?

All right, so we've determined what happens to your body once you die, so let's move on to more mysterious matters:


Some say that if you die a particularly traumatic death then you might emit enough electromagnetic energy to imprint a lasting image at the location of your departure, which may pop up at certain instances in the future often enough to constitute a haunting...

...or not.

Possible scientific explanations for ghostly phenomena:

  • Sound -- Frequencies lower than 20 hertz are inaudible, but they can cause people to feel a "presence" in the room, or "unexplained feelings of anxiety or dread"

  • Carbon Monoxide -- carbon monoxide poisoning can cause auditory and visual halluncinations and general malaise.

  • Air pressure changes -- can cause doors to slam, or houses to creak.

  • Pareidolia -- "a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant."

Well. Whatever you think it is, consider this:

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My friend's father claims that this picture was taken with a digital camera he locked in a safe while he was out of the country.

Fake? Real?

You tell me.

The White Man

Q: The following passage was taken from a science textbook. What year was it published?

"Before the white man arrived on the Great Plains of North America, nature through millennia had evolved a balance. The land easily supported a wonderful variety of living creatures, many competing with each other to survive, yet all to some extent dependent on one another. They seldom lingered in one place long enough to damage the area by overgrazing... Jack rabbits, ground squirrels and many other smaller animals flourished on the Great Plains, but each species' natural tendency to multiply was constantly checked by available food and by predators. The Indians themselves, largely nomadic, adjusted to the natural order. But the white settlers saw wealth in the grasslands in the form of cattle and sheep. They killed off the competing herds of pronghorn and bison. Predators were poisoned, as were the prairie dogs into whose holes the cattle stumbled, often breaking their legs. Birds feeding off poisoned carcasses were poisoned in turn. Insects and small rodens on which the birds had fed then multiplied and the land suffered devastating plagues. Cattle overgrazed the range, and sheep nibbled the grasses to their roots. The biome was torn apart, erosion set in and large areas of the once rich plains turned into deserts."

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A: 1963 Life "Ecology"


We interrupt GBD's Month of the Dead to bring you . . .


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Severe drought + Santa Ana winds/ Downed power lines = Apocalypse

Friday, October 19, 2007

Back to Basics (or not): Body Decomposition and Soap Mummies

Before we get into ghosties and ghoulies and the walking dead, let's start with the basics:


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(This is not a real corpse)

According to Webster's, death is a permanent cessation of all vital functions, the end of life, the state of being dead, the destroyer of life represented usually as a skeleton with a scythe (when capitalized).

Our body's cells die when they stop receiving oxygen. This happens one of two ways - our hearts stop beating and circulating oxygen through our blood stream, or we stop breathing and bringing new oxygen into our lungs.

The first cells to go are the ones that need the most oxygen: the ganglionic cells of the central nervous system (including the retinal ganglion cells, the cells in the eye that transmit visual information to the brain. Perhaps this is why we "see the light" in our final moments?). Once the cells of the brain stem die, any respiratory or circulatory function that remains will cease.

Once our cells are dead, they no longer produce the energy that warms our bodies, so our temperature drops (algor mortis). Our blood, no longer propelled by our hearts, succumbs to the force of gravity and pools in the areas closest to the ground (livor mortis). Our muscle tissue, without oxygen, stiffens (rigor mortis). Every now and then, biochemical reactions can cause our dead arms and legs to twitch. And, according to the BBC, "On the odd occasion, when these gases reverberate against the vocal cords, noises may even be produced."


Then the real fun begins: decomposition.

Once our white blood cells are dead, they can no longer combat the bacteria that live in our bodies. So, these bacteria grow and begin to break down internal tissues. This biochemical process releases gases that bloat the body and produce that lovely rotten corpse smell. Eventually, the bacteria will break all of the tissue down until only a skeleton remains.

Unless, a lot of water is involved and the corpse becomes too acidic for bacteria to feed. If that happens, "the body fat remains as adipocere, a yellowish-white, greasy, waxy substance which smells of cheese, earth and ammonia. This substance floats on water, dissolves in hot alcohol and ether, and when burned produces a faint yellow flame."


The transformation of body fat into soap-like adipocere is called saponification, and it is especially common in corpses with a lot of fat (obsese corpses, infant corpses) or any and all corpses that have been laid to rest in air-tight caskets in moist ground.


"Many - and perhaps most- dead bodies interred within USA and Canadian cemeteries during the past century are still largely intact, 'down there' - and it's all due to adipocere formation. The grisly image of millions of buried and entombed soap mummies might not be serene, but it is apparently a shocking reality."

I won't force the evidence upon you, but if you're interested in knowing what these look like, click here.

I, personally, do not want to be a soap mummy. I want to be left out to rot on the open acres of the University of Northern Iowa's Body Farm in Tennessee.

Don't you?

South Bend storm nearly claims USC Trojans

Yes, my football team nearly died while descending into my hometown.

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It's a moment ripe with metaphor. Any takers?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Shadowlands: Ghosts on the Internets

Back in my Tarot card-reading quasi-Goth years, my favorite site on the Internets was Shadowlands, the web's finest collection of *true* ghost stories (some interesting, some incoherent).

There's also ample information about ghost hunting.

This was one of my favorite sites when I first got the 'net in '95. As you can see, it's still very Web 1.0.

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Specter. . . or Photoshop?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Month of the Dead

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Ahhh, October. The temperatures are cooler. The days are shorter. I can finally move the Halloween decorations out of my bedroom and into the rest of the apartment. And my roommates can't say one damn thing about it.

I love this month.

Ever wonder where Halloween came from? Well, according to the History Channel, our modern day Halloween descended from the Celtic celebration of Samhain, which fell on October 31st, the last day of the Celtic new year:

"This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.

In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes."

So the transition of October 31st from November 1st is so spiritually significant the worlds of the LIVING and the DEAD are permeable! Fitting, then, that at this moment, I came into the world! Mwahaha ahaha! aAH! ahAHAH!

(I was born at 5 a.m. on November 1st)

In honor of this (un)holy moment, Go Be Delighted will feature fun facts about specters and corpses and other terrifying horribleness through the remainder of October. Scurrred yet?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

New Earth!

Scientists say a new Earth could be in the works around HD 113766, a Sun-sized star only 424 light years away from our own Blue Planet. Astronomer Carey Lisse at John Hopkins University says that a dust belt full of Earth-grade materials is beginning to fuse in the star's habitable zone -- the area where "temperatures are moderate enough to sustain liquid water."

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Reggie and the Paramylodon harlani

We took our new dog to the La Brea Tar Pits on Saturday.

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Here, Reggie sits atop a Harlan ground sloth (scientific name: Paramylodon harlani), one of the Pleistocene megafauna found in the park's excavation sites. The Harlan ground sloth was six feet tall when standing.

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Here, Reggie sits with a short-faced bear (scientific name: Arctodus simus). Scientists believe that the short-faced bear was the biggest bear that ever lived -- the creature was eleven feet tall on its hind legs.

Scientists have also found sabre-tooth cats, dire wolves, and mammoths at the tar pits, but unfortunately no dinosaurs; they died out 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period and, at that time, Los Angeles was submerged in the ocean. Ah!

And that's why there's all this "tar" laying around for the animals to fall into. According to the website, the pits are actually deposits of asphalt, the lowest grade of crude oil; oil that was "formed from marine plankton deposited in an ocean basin during the Miocene Epoch (5 - 25 million years ago). Time and pressure converted this material into oil - and for about 40,000 years, this petroleum has been seeping to the surface around Hancock Park."

And that petroleum will suck down anything in its path:

Is entrapment still occurring at Rancho La Brea?
Yes. About 8 -12 gallons (32 - 48 liters) a day ooze and bubble to the surface occasionally trapping invertebrates (insects and worms), reptiles (lizards), birds (mostly pigeons, but also hawks, egrets, ducks, doves, and sparrows), small mammals (rodents and rabbits) and occasionally large mammals (dogs and humans) especially during warm days when the asphalt is softest.


Monday, October 1, 2007

The Tao of Kanye

Wisdom from Kanye West's Graduation:

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"Look at the valedictorian, scared of the future/Scared to face the world, complacent career student/Some people graduate, but we still stupid."

-- Good Morning

"You can still be who you wish you is/It ain't happen yet/And that's what where the tuition is"

- I Wonder

"I was splurging' on trizz/But when I get my card back activated/I'm back to Vegas/ cause I always had a passion for flashing' before I had it"

-- The Good Life

"And you can live through anything/if Magic made it"

-- Can't Tell Me Nothing

"Now everybody got the game figured out all wrong/I guess you never know what you got till it's gone/I guess that's why I'm here and I cant come back home/And if you don't know by now/I'm talking bout Chi town."

-- Homecoming

"So if the devil wear Prada/Adam Eve wear Nada/I'm in between, but way more fresher."

-- Can't Tell me Nothing

"Lauryn Hill say her heart was in Zion/I wish her heart still was in rhymin."

-- Champion

"People talk so much shit about me at barbershops/they forget to get they hair cut."

-- Everything I Am

UPDATE: The Tao of Kanye coming to a bookstore near you!

Gamers in Space

Richard Garriott, the creator of the genre-defining MMORPG Ultima Online, is going to space!

Congratulations, Richard!