Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Charles Manson Is Getting Married, But I’m Still Single

By now you’ve heard the news – 80-year-old convicted mass-murderer Charles Manson has been granted a marriage license to wed his TWENTY-SIX-YEAR-OLD fiancĂ©, Afton Elaine Burton, or, as Manson calls her, Star. Charles Manson has found someone who is willing to marry him, but I – an attractive, educated, well-traveled woman who can cook at least five things – am still left searching halfheartedly for love once in a while.

Oh well, I guess it could be worse – I could be marrying Charles fucking Manson.

The future Mrs. Manson told CNN that she and Manson already consider themselves husband and wife, even though “the paperwork hasn’t gone through yet.” 

The couple hasn’t set a date for the wedding yet. In fact, it seems like Ms. Burton had some trouble getting Charles Manson to commit to marriage – and now I need a minute because that, dear readers, is a phrase I never thought I’d ever type. Wow.

Anyway, as I was saying, Manson was apparently reluctant to marry, having gone on the record in December 2013 to call rumors of his impending wedding to Ms. Burton “a bunch of garbage.” Personally, if someone asked a guy I was planning to marry if we were really getting married and he replied that it was a bunch of garbage, I would stop planning to marry him, but what do I know, I’m not marrying Charles fucking Manson.

Ms. Burton first started corresponding with Charles Manson when she was 17. Later, she moved from her parents’ home in Illinois to Corcoran, CA to be close to Charles Manson’s prison, where she has been visiting him since 2007 and dating him since she was 19. I'm not sure, but I think this might mean that Charles Manson is this girl's first love. What's she going to tell the next guy? You would think being Charles Manson's widow would make you undateable, but somebody married Amy Fisher so I guess it takes all kinds. Burton talks to Manson on the phone “almost every day,” according to CNN, and visits him on the weekends. Because Charles Manson is serving a life sentence, the pair won't be able to enjoy conjugal visits when they get married -- if they go through with it, that is. Personally, I’ve got my money on Charles Manson getting cold feet.

Even though she won’t be able to have conjugal visits with an 80-year-old man (her loss, I’m sure), Ms. Burton wants to marry Charles Manson because she believes he’s innocent and wants to work on his release, and there are “certain things next of kin can do,” like access documents and information about his case that, she believes, would allow her to prove his innocence. When asked by an incredulous CNN reporter if she was in love with Charles Manson, Ms. Burton responded that she was, to which the reporter replied, “People get married for all kinds of reasons.” AHAHAHAHAHA.

Ms. Burton and Charles Manson’s other followers – holy shit you guys, Charles Manson still has followers, plural! – insist that all he wants to do is save the trees, which is noble and all, but when you’ve masterminded the murders of seven people, I think that harms your credibility as an environmentalist a bit. In her downtime from working on proving Charles Manson’s innocence, his fiancĂ© maintains his websites, which I’m not going to link to or visit, because I’m afraid to.

The parents of the bride will not be attending the wedding. They have made it clear to their daughter that Manson won’t be welcome in their home, although somehow I don’t think that will be an issue. Ms. Burton’s father, Phil, told the Daily Mail he and his wife would never disown their daughter, “no matter what she does in her life.” There are still parents tossing their gay kids out onto the street, but this guy can bring himself to stand behind his daughter even though she’s marrying Charles Manson. There’s a lesson to be learned here, folks.

And shockingly, it's NOT "don't hang around with Charles Manson." Although, you know, don't.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fun Friday Facts #95: World’s Tallest Birds

I came up with this idea because one of my search keywords this week was “list of tall birds,” which means that someone happened upon my blog this week in their search for tall birds. I have no idea why a search engine would bring them here, as I have never blogged about tall birds before, but I am about to rectify that oversight and hopefully, in the process, rake in some of that sweet, sweet tall bird traffic.

You probably already knew that the tallest living bird is the ostrich, a bird native to Africa that can grow as tall as 9.2 ft (2.8 m) and weigh more than 345 lb (156 kg). The ostrich is also the fastest flightless bird, capable of reaching speeds up to 40 mph (70 km/h). It also lays the largest eggs in the world; its eggs can weigh up to 3 lb (1.4 kg), and can be eaten, although I’d imagine you’d need a pretty big frying pan for one of those. Cracking open an ostrich egg is a bit of an ordeal, too, according to this YouTube video in which a lady carefully taps her ostrich egg endlessly with the edge of a knife until she’s finally able to crack a small hole in it and pry off the top.

The ostrich bears the dubious distinction of being the second most likely bird to kill you, and not from high cholesterol. Though ostriches will usually run away if they can, they will attack to defend their young or territory, which they do by kicking at you with their powerful legs and large claws. In the town of Oudtshoorn, South Africa, the “Ostrich Capital of the World,” two to three people each year are seriously injured or killed by ostriches. Domesticated ostriches are just as territorial and violent as wild ones, which may at least in part explain why a single ostrich egg costs between $45 and $90 depending on its size, although that website I linked to does make allusions to a “bargain” egg that you probably don’t want to eat.

In many countries, especially South Africa and the United States, ostrich racing is a popular pastime. Some ostrich jockeys hitch the bird to a special cart, but it’s possible to fit an ostrich with a saddle and ride it, though Wikipedia notes that the birds are “harder to manage than horses.” You see examples of both these riding styles in this Dutch newsreel from September 1933:

If the ostrich is the world’s second-most-deadly huge bird, you may be wondering which enormous bird is the world’s deadliest. That bird is the southern cassowary, a species native to the rainforests of northwestern Australia and New Guinea. This bird can grow to more than 6’3” tall (190 cm) and weigh up to 187 lb (85 kg), so it is bigger than me, though not by much.

Although the cassowary is no more aggressive than the ostrich, it will still attack when it feels threatened – and since their natural habitat is in an UNESCO World Heritage rainforest, tourists often approach them and try to feed them, a gesture that, in general, does not go over well. Though urban legends that describe the southern cassowary as capable of disemboweling a human with one slash of its 4.7 inch (12 cm) claw are untrue, the bird can inflict some nasty injuries and is capable of killing an animal as large as a horse. The northern cassowary, the third largest bird in the world, is very similar to the southern cassowary, except for its accent and slightly smaller size.

I will cut you.

Image by www.viajar24h.com

Friday, November 7, 2014

Fun Friday Facts #94: What Was the Greatest Thing BEFORE Sliced Bread?

It’s Friday again, and you know what that means – it’s time for another Fun Friday Facts! As some of you will be aware, I sometimes ask my readers to suggest a topic for this column. Reader @VikingtotheMax (aka my friend Mark) wanted to know, “What was the greatest thing BEFORE sliced bread?”

If I had to guess, I would have said it was latex condoms, which were invented in the early 1920s, several years before sliced bread, but I would’ve been wrong. The greatest thing before sliced bread was wrapped bread. Yes, I know, it’s rather anticlimactic.

But etymologists (those are the scientists who study the origins of words and phrases, not the ones who study bugs – those are entomologists) believe that the phrase “greatest thing since sliced bread” refers to a back page ad placed in the daily newspaper in Chillicothe, Missouri on 6 July, 1928. The ad touted the Chillicothe Baking Company’s new bread slicing machine, which it purchased from Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, the visionary who invented pre-sliced bread. The ad claimed that the advent of pre-sliced bread (or as we call it now, pre-sliced bread) was the “greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” The first recorded use of the idiom occurred in a 1952 interview comedian Red Skelton (if you know who that is, you might be too old for the Internet) gave to the Salisbury Times, a Maryland newspaper, in reference to the newfangled invention of the day, television.

It was only after many setbacks that Rohwedder finally managed to sell his bread-slicing machine to the Chillicothe Baking Company in 1928. He first invented the automated bread slicer in 1912, but bakers of the era rejected the device, claiming that customers would want to be doing their own bread-slicing, please and thank you. Clearly, Rohwedder was ahead of his time.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Rohwedder lost not only the blueprints but also the prototype for his bread slicing machine in a fire in 1917. No quitter, Rohwedder was willing to jump right back on the sliced bread horse, but couldn’t convince investors to fund the revival of the project. It wasn’t until ten long years later, in 1927, that Rohwedder was finally able to produce another working model of his bread-slicing machine, but by this time, the world was ready.

This may be the very bread-slicing machine in question.

Sliced bread quickly became popular, as customers loved the convenient, uniform slices. It would take another innovator, baker Alexander Taggart, to distribute sliced bread on a nationwide scale. Taggart was a baker from the Isle of Man. His father had been a baker before him, and his father was a baker before him. Taggart immigrated to the United States after the Civil War, starting his first bakery in 1869. He teamed up with another baker, Burton Parrott, to open Parrott-Taggart Baking Company. They would go on to found the United States Baking Company, which would later merge with the National Biscuit Company, to form Nabisco. Though Taggart and Parrott continued to sell their baked goods under their own name, it would be this affiliation with Nabisco that would help them make history.

On 24 May 1921, Parrot-Taggart Baking Company introduced Taggart’s Wonder Bread, today known simply as Wonder Bread. In 1930, thanks to Mr. Rohwedder and his stubborn refusal to give up on his dream of eating pre-sliced bread in spite of long odds and much criticism, Wonder Bread became the first loaf of sliced bread to be distributed nationally.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Fun Friday Facts Are Back! FFF #93: Halloween Edition the Third

It’s Halloween again, woot woot, my favorite holiday after Saint Patrick’s Day, New Year’s Day, and Bastille Day, when baguettes fall right out of the walls. I bet you thought I’d stopped doing Fun Friday Facts, and well, you’re not wrong. But I’m going to start again because a cursory glance at my traffic data reveals that’s all anyone’s reading around here.

In previous Halloween posts, I’ve discussed haunted places; the origins of Halloween, trick-or-treating and jack o’lanterns; and candy. These days, we still practice many relatively ancient Halloween traditions in one form or another, but there are also some traditions that have fallen out of favor.

In the past, when getting married was a much more important part of a young woman’s life, several Halloween rituals centered around trying to help a young lady land a man. In Ireland in the 1700s, a young woman might hope to find a ring in her mashed potatoes at dinner on Halloween night, which would bring true love or at least a binding contract within the next year. (The tradition continues in Ireland to this day, but the ring, along with other small charms, is baked into a cake called a barmbrack.) Young women in Scotland would name hazelnuts after each of their boyfriends, then throw the nuts into the fire; the nut that burned straight to ashes instead of exploding either did or did not represent the man she would marry, according to which (presumably haggard, old and warty) fortune-teller she was talking to that night.
Other superstitions say that eating a bedtime sweet made of hazelnuts, walnuts and nutmeg on Halloween night will cause a young lady to dream of her future husband. Peel an apple in one long strip and throw the peeling over your shoulder; the peel will fall in the shape of your husband-to-be’s initials (no, no it won’t, not really). When you’re planning your kid’s Halloween party, you may want to skip the bobbing for apples – the first person to successfully bob (?) an apple will be the first to get married that year. Another technique involved standing in front of a mirror with a candle in a darkened room; allegedly, the future husband’s face would appear in the mirror, floating behind the single lady’s shoulder. Sounds like a great plan, if you want to marry a murder-ghost from another dimension.

Now that you mention it, I think my grandmother told me to do this.

Fortune-telling was popular at Halloween parties in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One game involved using milk as invisible ink – hosts wrote fortunes in milk on slips of paper, than inserted them into walnut shells. Later, party guests would warm the walnut shells, causing the milk to burn and totally mystical writing to appear on the slips of paper. This is your chance to convince your friends they’re ALL GOING TO DIE, or get married, depending on your personal idea of a fate worse than death.

As some of you may know, many Christians are freaked all the way out by Halloween, because tiny witches and zombies are pretty scary. Many Protestants celebrate Halloween as Reformation Day, because it’s the day that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. I always pictured him doing that furtively under cover of darkness, but I guess not, because he timed it to coincide with one of biggest holy days of the year. The children of these families dress up as characters from the Bible or as Reformers, which I don’t even know what that costume might look like.

Like this?

Many Christians don’t celebrate Halloween at all. Some “celebrate,” if you can call it that, by sending their children to Hell Houses, which are like haunted houses except they give you a glimpse of the eternal torment waiting for you in the afterlife. Others take the opportunity to proselytize by handing out religious tracts to kids who come trick-or-treating.

And you thought the guy handing out sugar-free candy was bad.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Double Fistful of Nope

So a few days ago one of my Twitter peeps tweeted this article about a Harvard professor exploring the Amazon who came face-to-mandibles with a Goliath birdeater, the world’s biggest spider, and like a fool, I clicked on it.


According to the article, the professor, Piotr Naskrecki, was taking a nighttime stroll through the jungles of Guyana, as you do, when he heard strange rustlings in the undergrowth that sounded like “a possum or a rat.” He turned on his flashlight – wait, what? He was wondering around in the jungle at night and waited until he heard strange rustlings in the undergrowth to turn on his flashlight? This is why I never got a PhD, you guys.

Anyhoo, the good doctor turned his flashlight on the beast, and in his own words, “I couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing.”

If you read that article I linked to above, you’ll already know that it describes the spider in question as “puppy-size.” It further informs us that this particular species of giant spider can weigh more than six ounces (170 grams), with a leg span of up to 12 inches (30 cm) and “a body the size of ‘a large fist.’” As if Ebola, climate change, serial killers, antibiotic resistance, the GOP, school shootings, and all the rest weren’t bad enough, I now have to live with the knowledge that there exists in the world “puppy-size” spiders. I mean, okay, Pomeranian puppies, but still. And my doctor wants to know why I can’t sleep at night.

Of course, Dr. Naskrecki doesn’t see it that way. Instead of shrieking like Ned Flanders and fleeing into the night, he says he “lung[ed] at the animal, excited about seeing one of these wonderful, almost mythical creatures in person.”

On his own blog, Dr. Naskrecki explains that the Goliath birdeater – which, naturally, does not eat birds – is capable of growing so large because of its low metabolic rate. The Goliath birdeater also has claws, which is why it makes so much noise while stalking its prey, earthworms, across the forest floor. The terrified spider attempted to defend itself against the intrepid explorer by emitting a warning hiss and releasing “a cloud of urticating hair” that irritated Dr. Naskrecki’s eyes for several days. It also tried to bite him, apparently, with its “enormous fangs, capable of puncturing a mouse’s skull,” which is the exact thing that I, personally, would be worried about.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Calm the F&*k Down About Ebola Already

I thought I wasn’t going to get a chance to blog about Ebola, because I was super busy a couple of weeks ago when that first Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan (may he rest in peace) showed up in Dallas and everyone started flipping all of their shit at once. And I said to myself, “This is why I’m never going to succeed as a blogger, because whenever something happens, I’m always too busy to drop everything and go for the SEO.”

But not this time, because everyone’s still freaking out about Ebola. In the past couple of weeks I’ve read more than enough statuses, tweets, threads, and comment sections to make me finally relinquish the last shreds of my hope that someday humankind will evolve beyond foam-drooling idiocy. There are  plenty of things two-thirds of Americans really ought to be freaking out about right now, including but not limited to climate change, the still-broken healthcare system, Congress, prescription drug abuse, heroin addiction, getting shot tomorrow, getting shot today, and I could go on, but you get the picture. Whenever I hear or see someone ranting about how Ebola is going to destroy this country, I mentally replace the word “Ebola” with the words “immigrants from the Third World” and it all suddenly makes a lot more sense.

The hysteria has gotten so bad that even Fox News, a media outlet not know for its calm, balanced, and rational perspectives, has had to come out and provide a calm, balanced, and rational perspective. When Fox News is telling you to calm the fuck down about something, that’s when you know you need a lie-down.

Let’s take a minute to go over a few basic facts about this situation:

This is not the movie Outbreak with Dustin Hoffman. Just because the fictional Ebola-like virus in Outbreak became airborne and killed Kevin Spacey does not mean that the real Ebola virus in the real world will become airborne and kill Kevin Spacey, or you for that matter. Movies are not real. In fact, the whole reason the writers of Outbreak had to make the fictional Ebola-like virus airborne is because if they hadn’t, it would have been a very short film indeed.

But hand sanitizer sales would have spiked after its release.

Image credit: User Dailybragger from Wikimedia Commons

You’re not going to get Ebola from riding on the same bus, plane, or train as someone who has the virus, and probably not even in the same taxi. For the umpteenth time, you can’t get Ebola unless the person is showing symptoms, and even then you have to have direct contact with the blood, sweat, saliva, urine, feces, vomit, breast milk, semen, vaginal fluids, or other bodily fluids of the person showing symptoms. The Ebola virus can survive in body fluids for about two hours outside the human body, so you’re not likely to catch it from sitting in the same chair or seat as someone who has been symptomatic. I mean, if the sick person who sat in that chair before you was literally dying and you didn’t clean the chair before sitting in it, you know, you might. But they won’t be and just calm the fuck down.

You’re not going to catch Ebola from riding one of the commercial airplanes that carried the second Texas healthcare worker from Dallas to Cleveland and back. The planes have been sterilized. I’m sorry you live every day of your life in crippling fear, but I’m not going to sit here and nod enthusiastically while you rant about how this is reason 4,957 why you’ll NEVER GET ON A PLANE EVER EVER.

No, “all of Ohio” has not been “exposed to Ebola now.” Amber Vinson was not running around the state licking people. Calm the fuck down.

Also, before you share a link on Facebook claiming that SEVEN EBOLA PATIENTS have been diagnosed in YOUR MAJOR CITY, do actually read the article and check out the site to make sure it’s not a work of poorly-judged satire. You are the reason we can’t have nice things.

You’re not going to catch Ebola from casual contact with everyday objects, including riding the bus or using a public restroom. Even if you came into contact with contaminated body fluids, the virus would have to get into your body through an orifice or a cut – it’s not absorbed through the skin. You’re American, you have Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer on your person at all times, and you’ve never sat on a public toilet seat in your life. Don’t even try to pretend otherwise.

You’re not going to catch Ebola from using exercise equipment at the gym. A person who is showing Ebola symptoms is not going to be in the gym. They’re going to be in the hospital – because, unlike most of West Africa, the U.S. has lots and lots of hospitals. I think you’re having a First World problem wrapping your head around just how sick a virus can make you.

Ebola is not a conspiracy by the Obama administration to make America more like President Obama’s native Africa. Even if Obama were secretly born in Africa, which he wasn’t, most immigrants come to this country precisely because it is different from their native countries. Shocking, I know. For the record, Kenya is not one of the countries affected by the outbreak and is currently on the opposite side of the continent. Look at a fucking map.

And while we're on the subject, Africa is not a country.

The CDC is not misinformed about how Ebola spreads and they are not lying to the public because reasons. Why would they do that? So you can die already and stop bothering them? The government wants you alive so it can keep collecting your taxes, dumbass. You don’t know more about contagious diseases than the CDC. I know you think you do, but you don’t. You think you can cure cancer with coconut oil and that it’s a good idea to just go ahead and let your kid get polio, but what you haven’t realized is that when you buy into all these conspiracy theories, you’re doing just what the tin foil companies want you to do. The good folks at the CDC did not get their credentials from a 12-year-old who’s really good at Photoshop. Calm the fuck down.

Unless you have been contacted by a medical professional and told that you, personally, may have been exposed to Ebola, then you are really, really not going to die of Ebola. You are going to die eventually, of course, but not of this. You’ll probably die of heart disease. You know what contributes to heart disease? Stress. Hint, hint.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

So It Turns Out I Have a Black Thumb

Remember last year when I wrote a couple of enthusiastic blog posts about the vegetable garden I planted? And do you also remember how I just sort of never mentioned it again? Yeah, there was a reason for that. It turns out that either I can’t grow vegetables or I live on accursed soil. I would say that this is a Sign from the Universe that I’m not supposed to be here, if I were the sort of half-educated hippie who believes that the Universe is a sentient being both capable of and willing to communicate with me personally. I mean, honestly, if the Universe were going to tell me things, I think It would send me a postcard or something.

So all the things I planted last year promptly died or were eaten by rabbits. Well, that’s not entirely true, I got like five peas and two tomatoes. These tomatoes were the size of golf balls. It’s no wonder all those Jamestown settlers died.

When I lived with the ex, Toad Blowhard, we had a bunch of houseplants and I was really good at taking care of them and they thrived. I thought I had a bit of a green thumb. So I was shocked and appalled when all of my plants died. I guess maybe it was really Toad who had the green thumb and I was just the one who watered the plants and kept the cat out of them.

NO SMALL FEAT, I might add.

No, I don’t know what happened. One day all the stuff looked great, the next it was all shriveled up and brown and dead and shit. I didn’t take any pictures, because I don’t want to remember.

If I have one quality that I’m entirely too proud of in spite of the fact that it’s driving me right to my doom, it’s my inability to accept failure. I mean, my tenacity. So, this year, I bought a gas-powered tiller and planted vegetables again.

I managed to get about half a dozen small tomatoes before my tomato plants inexplicably shriveled up and died in a near-repeat of last year’s performance. I say near-repeat because the plants actually grew to a more-or-less normal size before they died for no reason, so that was encouraging. I would have gotten up to three normal-sized tomatoes off of them, but I forgot a dose of deer repellant so the deer ate them instead. I also managed to grow two whole servings of green beans and several small, misshapen and immature bell peppers that were supposed to be purple but had to be harvested while still green, on account of their weight caused the plants to fall over. Rabbits got the lettuce and cantaloupes. The carrots never sprouted. The cucumbers put up a hell of a fight, but ultimately produced nothing.

I also grew a sunflower:

But two days after I took that picture, the sunflower fell over and died.

Will I plant a vegetable garden again next year? You bet your ass I will.