Tuesday, December 11, 2007

StZA: Flesh-Eating Beetles

Death Online: Decomposition: Corpse Fauna has an interesting overview of the succession of organisms that decompose dead bodies.

Since they are the only insect that produces enzymes capable of digesting keratin and easily kept, colonies of thousands of dermestid beetles are used by taxidermists and museums to strip bones clean of flesh. Dermestids can be pretty hardcore.

Flesh-Eaters Are Latest Recruits at Natural History Museum

It seems that the hide beetle (Dermestes maculata) is the one most commonly kept for this purpose. There are plenty of sources for the insects as well as growing guides (1, 2, 3,4,

Hide beetles aren't as colorful as carpet beetles (Anthrenus verbasci), much less the American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) or even the interesting-looking Trogidae.

Nicrophorus americanus

Omorgus carinatus

Saturday, December 8, 2007

StZA: An Old Toast: Cholera Song

More often attributed to Bartholomew Dowling (1823–1863), it seems. Google Books makes all things possible.

"The Literary World: A Fortnightly Review of Current Literature." Volume XI, January-December, 1880, p.160.
Revelry in India
by Alfred Domett
(with a biographical sketch of the author)

We reprint this wild and powerful lyric...in a good text, as the common ones have some sad errors...

We meet 'neath the sounding rafter
And the walls around are bare;
As they shout to our peals of laughter,
It seems that the dead are there.
But stand to your glasses, steady!
We drink to our comrades' eyes;
Quaff a cup to the dead already;
And hurra! for the next that dies.

Not here are the goblets glowing;
Not here is the vintage sweet;
'Tis cold, as our hearts are growing,
And dark, as the doom we meet.
But stand to your glasses, steady!
And moon shall our pulses rise.
A cup to the dead already;
Hurra! for the next that dies.

Not a sigh for the lot that darkles,
Not a tear for the friends that sink;
We'll fall, 'mid the wine cup's sparkles,
As mute as the wine we drink.
so stand to your glasses, steady!
'Tis this that the respite buys.
One cup to the dead already;
Hurra! for the next that dies.

Time was when we frowned at others--
We thought we were wiser then;
Ha! ha! let them think of their mothers
Who hope to see them again!
No! stand to your glasses, steady!
The thoughtless are here the wise;
A cup to the dead already;
Hurra! for the next that dies.

There's many a hand that's shaking;
There's many a cheek that's sunk;
But soon, though our hearts are breaking,
They'd burn with the wine we've drunk.
So stand to your glasses, steady;
'Tis here the revival lies;
A cup to the dead already;
Hurra! for the next that dies.

There's a mist on the glass congealing--
'Tis the hurricane's fiery breath;
And thus does the warmth of feeling
Turn ice in the grasp of death.
Ho! stand to your glasses steady!
For a moment the vapor dies.
A cup to the dead already;
Hurra! for the next that dies.

Who dreads to the dust returning?
Who shrinks from the sable shore?--
Where the high and haughty yearning
Of the soul shall sting no more!
No! stand to your glasses, steady!
The world is a world of lies,
A cup to the dead already;
Hurra! for the next that dies.

Cut off from the land that bore us,
Betrayed by the land we find,
Where the brightest have gone before us,
And the dullest remain behind,
Stand! stand to your glasses steady!
'Tis all we have left to prize.
A cup to the dead already;
And hurra! for the next that dies.

...For twenty-five years, or thereabouts, it has been a favorite poem with the newspapers of America. It was written in India, during a season of cholera, and may have appeared first in the St. Helena Magazine, though we do not know that it did. ...[Alfred Domett] is of a Dorsetshire family, studied at Cambridge, read law, and was called to the bar in 1841, but never practiced.
It's probably most familiar to modern folks from it's appearance in the 1931 "Dracula".

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

StZA: Delicious Lant

Ah, lant!

What could make a glass of beer better than a jigger of stale urine?

Urine is mostly a sterile solution of nitrogen-rich urea in water. Urea is useful enough in itself; last week I got a packet of yeast nutrient for my homebrewing, and it was (artificially produced) food-grade urea. It's an agricultural fertilizer also, and a flavor enhancer in cigarettes. But as bacteria enter and ferment the urine, the lant sours with hydroxide ions and the urea decays to ammonia and carbon dioxide.

Ammonia was essential enough to Roman and medieval European societies that ordinary people were expected to save their urine to be contributed to the communal town piss-pot. Washerwomen collected the lant for cleaning clothes, tanners for preparing leather for tanning, dyers for producing indigo dyes, textile makers for use as a mordant on wool. The Romans knew it to be an excellent mouthwash, for whitening the teeth.

Lant is also essential in the preparation of saltpeter (potassium nitrate) for the manufacture of gunpowder. To make saltpeter, prepare a large nitre-bed of a porous material such as straw, earth and manure, along with wood ashes. Wood ashes are important, as in the way they are used with lime to make lye for food processing and soap. Cover it from the rain and keep it moist with urine; let this age for a year or so. Run water through the bed to leach out the potassium nitrate, and run this liquor through the bed several times until you can float an egg in it ( 1, 2, 3 ).

Indeed. Lant is useful for many purposes, from beverages to laundry to alchemical rocket engines.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

StZA: Conspiracy Theories

Part of the appeal of conspiracy theories is simply that it's more psychologically comforting to think that your ideas are not wrong or unpopular, but that the rightness of your ideas is inappropriately suppressed by illegitimate authority.

People will go to great lengths to avoid being wrong or unpopular, it seems.

Tax Protester Myths is my favorite site debunking tax protester myths. See also the IRS's Truth about Frivolous Tax Arguments.

List of myths about the Federal Reserve: Myth 7:
The Treasury Department prints Federal Reserve Notes and then sells it to the Federal Reserve system for an average cost of about 4 cents per bill (see FedPoint #1). However, the Fed must present as collateral for the currency an amount of Treasury securities that is equivalent in value to the currency purchased. The Federal Reserve collects interest on all the Treasury securities it owns, including the ones held as collateral. This is as far into the realm of fact as Schauf's statement can take his reader.

What Schauf does not tell his reader is that nearly all the Federal Reserve's net earnings are repaid to the Treasury. This is done per an agreement between the Board of Governors and the Treasury.

...However, there is no functional difference between U.S. Notes and the Federal Reserve notes we now use. Neither impose a net interest burden on the Treasury. The key difference between the two currencies is who controls the issuance. The publicly-appointed Board of Governors now controls the emissions of Federal ReserveNotes and can make monetary policy decisions largely independent of political pressure. The issuance of U.S. Notes, on the other hand, would be controlled by the Treasury Department, an arm of the executive branch and a purely political entity. Monetary policy, in this economist's view, ought to be based on the needs of the economy, not on the needs of current incumbent political party.

Like many others, this Federal Reserve myth is also incorrect. Schauf and the Coalition err in the argument by ignoring entirely the funds rebated from the Fed to the Treasury each year. This key detail essentially means that the bonds held by the Federal Reserve are interest-free loans to the federal government -- the equivalent of printing money. Federal Reserve Notes do not cost the Treasury any net interest.
Even a plausible Geocities link is more credible than some of these conspiracy theory Web sites.

Some early news reports seem to report that some of the hijackers turned up alive later. But that story has an addendum at the bottom that notes that the early report, two weeks after 9/11, was erroneous and superceded by later reporting. "All of the reports have since been acknowledged as cases of mistaken identity by the publications in," sez Wikipedia (check the citations). CTs rely on selective use of the MSM: cite it when it supports your theories, and ignore it otherwise.

Debunking the 9/11 Myths (Popular Mechanics)
Why the 9/11 Conspiracy Theories Won't Go Away (TIME)
The Top September 11 Conspiracy Theories (usinfo.state.gov)
Journal of Debunking 9/11 Conspiracy Theories (debunking911.com)
9/11 Commission Report (9-11commission.gov)

The charge that planes weren't used in the attacks is so easy to disprove that plenty of 9/11 Truthers argue that even making it discredits the 9/11 Truth movement.

The Pentagon Attack: What the Physical Evidence Shows
Evidence That A Boeing 757 Really Did Impact the Pentagon on 9/11
A Critical Review of WTC 'No Plane' Theories (PDF)
Why the Big Picture Matters (LiveLeak)
Or try Penn & Teller's Bullshit! on 9/11 conspiracy theories ; )