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.