Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Weeds and Flowers Prove Contraception-Abortion Link

One More Soul explains the science behind sexual morality and politics: abortion is a blossoming weed with roots of contraception sown in soil of lust and individualism. You can't argue with science (via Feministing).

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

2006: The Year in Penises

January: Washington’s Museum of Health and Medicine dispels the rumors that it has in its collection the severed, breathtakingly immense penis of John Dillinger. But the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History does have a mysterious synthetic phallus labeled “J. Dillinger”—and no one is sure where it came from.

February: A group of British surgeons announced the results of a survey of men who had undergone penis-enlargement surgery. Although they had gained about a half an inch on average, two thirds of men remain dissatisfied, but most of those had their spirits lifted once more when they were unexpectedly contacted by a wealthy Nigerian willing to transfer them thousands of dollars.

March: After going on a car-window-smashing rampage in Chicago’s Northwest Side, Jakub Fik was confronted by police. Running low on knifes to throw at the arresting officers, Fik severed his own penis and threw it at them. After he was detained, doctors were able to reattach the displaced member.

April: Florida zoologist Louis Guillette spoke out against the use of pesticides after finding that they decrease penis size. In baby alligators. Maybe baby boys, too.

May: An eighth-grade girl was suspended from her St. Louis school after she pulled down the pants and bit the penis of a six-year-old fellow rider on her school bus.

June: An Oklahoma jury convicted state judge Donald Thompson of indecent exposure for masturbating with a penis pump while sitting on the bench during three trials, two of which were murder cases. The Smoking Gun was there:
For example, on May 13, while he was presiding over State v. Kurt Arnold Vomberg (who was accused of killing his girlfriend's 21-month-old daughter), Thompson loudly pumped himself up. Two court employees told investigators that they saw Thompson (pictured in the mug shot at right) attach the suction device to his penis, while five jurors reported hearing whooshing sounds, which they thought were coming from either a bicycle pump, blood pressure cuff, or an air cushion on the judge's chair.

July: Two male contestants were kicked off Australia’s version of Big Brother after “turkey slapping” a female contestant: John Bric held Camilla Halliwell down on a bed while the appropriately surnamed Ashley Cox ran up and slapped her across the face with his penis.

August: Officials at O’Hare International Airport stopped twenty-nine-year-old Madin Azad Amin at security when he told them a suspicious object in his luggage was a bomb. He later disclosed that it was a penis pump, a fact he tried to cover up so his traveling companion, his mother, wouldn’t know he brought a sexual aid along with him. He had bought it on eBay from a judge who no longer needed it.

September: Though it is fairly routine for doctors to reattach the penises of the Jakub Fiks of the world, there had never been a successful penis transplant until doctors in China performed the surgery in September 2005. A year later, the forty-four-year-old recipient had to have the procedure reversed due to “severe psychological problems experienced by the man and his wife.”

October: In what was hailed as a victory for woodies with hoodies everywhere, an Illinois judge ruled that a nine-year-old boy did not have to have the circumcision his mother wanted for him. The boy’s father, his mother’s ex-husband, convinced the judge to allow the boy to wait until he was eighteen to decide for himself.

November: German sex-educators announced the development of spray-on condoms (and the GraveDigger brought it to you here first).

December: Providing another bullet point for the “pro” side of nine-year-old Chicagoans’ decision lists, an NIH study demonstrated that circumcised men are significantly less likely to contact HIV than their foreskinned counterparts. This prompted Slate’s Daniel Engber to explain how adult circumcision procedures work:
First, doctors inject some painkillers into the two nerves that connect into the base of the penis. (They might add a few more injections around the circumference of the shaft, to create what's called a "ring block.") Once the penis is good and numb, it's possible to gently detach the inside of the foreskin from the shaft by pushing a blunt probe between the two. Then it's time for the snipping.

The easiest way to do this is to use the "guided forceps" technique. In this procedure, the foreskin is grabbed and pulled forward over the head of the penis—called the glans—and clamped straight across with a long forceps. Now it's a cinch to cut the skin along the outside edge of the forceps, in much the way a barber might hold a lock of hair between his fingers and snip it with a pair of scissors. The metal arm of the forceps guides the incision and protects the head of the penis from injury.

And then, of course, Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg capped off a momentous year in the history of penises with a suggestion for the perfect holiday gift.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

MacGyver Army Uses Silly String in Iraq

U.S. troops in Iraq are getting a little help from a stateside drive to send at least a thousand cans of Silly String so that they can have fun Christmas parties or, barring that, use it to detect trip-wire booby traps and save their lives:
Before entering a building, troops squirt the plastic goo, which can shoot strands about 10 to 12 feet, across the room. If it falls to the ground, no trip wires. If it hangs in the air, they know they have a problem. The wires are otherwise nearly invisible.
. . . .
In other cases of battlefield improvisation in Iraq, U.S. soldiers have bolted scrap metal to Humvees in what has come to be known as "Hillybilly Armor." Medics use tampons to plug bullet holes in the wounded until they can be patched up.

Also, soldiers put condoms and rubber bands around their rifle muzzles to keep out sand. And troops have welded old bulletproof windshields to the tops of Humvees to give gunners extra protection. They have dubbed it "Pope's glass" — a reference to the barriers that protect the pontiff.
Link (via Freakonomics Blog). Major Kong, when reached for comment, said, "Shoot, a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff."

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Roadside Memorial

As I dig through the archives of my new favorite blog, Pruned—if it’s not the best blog about landscape architecture, I defy you to find me a better one—I am consistently wowed by Alexander Trevi’s ability to take the ordinary, look at it from a new angle, and turn it into a new and exciting treasure.

This post about roadside memorials—the offering-accompanied crosses and markers that spring up along rural highways where loved ones have died in car crashes—struck a chord. On one level this is probably because I am from Southern Arizona, roadside-memorial capital of the United States. Ian Urbina’s article in the New York Times, which Pruned cites, explains, “Most researchers believe they descend from a Spanish tradition in which pallbearers left stones or crosses to mark where they rested as they carried a coffin by foot from the church to the cemetery.” The former director of the University of Arizona’s Southwest Folklore Center, Jim Griffith, discusses theories of the history behind the memorials in a book called Beliefs and Holy Places: A Spiritual Geography of the Pimeria Alta:
The custom of erecting a cross to mark the location of a sudden death is an old one in the Hispanic world. The theological purpose for erecting such a cross, as I understand it, is to signal for passersby that at this spot a soul suddenly left its body without the benefit of the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church. According to Catholic belief, most souls spend time after death in purgatory, a place of cleansing and purification. There they may be helped by the prayers of the living. The appropriate response to seeing such a cross, therefore, is to pause and say a prayer for the person who died there.
This is why, according to Griffith, many crosses “are decorated with wreaths of artificial flowers”; some with candles, which “are a symbol of prayer and in many communities have become prayers—offerings—in and of themselves”; and still others with “piles of stones, piles that are added to by each traveler who goes by.”

Read on...

To Trevi at Pruned, meanwhile, the memorials and their offerings open up possibilities about the aesthetic in sacred space:
1) it's only a matter of time (if not already) before roadside memorials become as iconic as the Land Survey grid, the gas station, and the clover-leaf highway interchange, a part of the parageographic experience of the American landscape; 2) we should definitely reinstitute the ancient practice of siting cemeteries along traffic arteries, the celebration of death again a part of daily life; 3) besides the occasional shuttered malls, exuberant auto dealerships, and monolithic grain elevators, the ride up to Chicago from points southern is pretty boring, even the political and “Adult” signage have lost their amusement value after several passes, but I-57 looking decidedly Roman and Subcontinental -- or imagine a hysterical mix of a Hindu cremation ritual, a New Orleans jazz funeral march, Jim Crace's quivering, and a High Baroque Requiem mass and the resulting nonstop visual, aromatic and aural assault -- can make for a much livelier drive; 4) why not a pyramid or a baker's tomb or statues in relief and in the round or an Eisenman or the winning entry in the Annual International Roadside Memorial Student Design Competition; so that 5) in a hundred years or in the next decade, pilgrimage routes crisscrossing the country are very much well-established with all the varying roadside caravansaries stitched scenographically together -- a tourist circuit populated by readers of Roadside(memorial)america.com.

Pruned's roadside-memorial post caught my eye for another reason. One of my old new favorite blogs, Sarcasmo’s Corner, is no more. This isn’t because, as happens all too often in the blogosphere, its author put up a final “I don’t have time to do this anymore” post, picked up stakes, and left town. And it isn’t because, as happens even more often, posts just dwindled over longer and longer periods until you realize there’s no one at the other end of the line anymore. It’s because she died. Sarcasmo. Or rather, as I found out, Star C. Foster. The death was sudden and unexpected, and I was shocked. To call her a friend would be an affront to people who really were her friends—she had many. To me she was a friend the way Dave Barry or Jack Kerouac or Roger Ebert are friends. I could relate to her through her writing. All I really knew was that she was funny, a little nerdy in that charming way, and able to find and link to interesting things. She was the kind of person you hear speak on TV or you read about in some interview and you say, you know, I think if I knew her I could actually be friends with her. I linked to her site once or twice, and she, once or twice, to mine. I never really knew her. But I still miss her.

She was local, and relatively well known in this e-knit Philadelphia blogging community. PhillyFuture.org dutifully reported the news and compiled links to the posts of local bloggers who did the same. Phillyist, where she was once an editor, paid tribute over several posts. But the best place to go to remember Sarcasmo is her own blog. Her last post still hangs there at the top of the page, just another entry for another Friday, last Friday, her last Friday. It will remain there until someone either figures out her password and changes it or forgets to pay the webhosting bill and the page disappears. Right at the top, it eerily mentions death—not her own, which she couldn’t have predicted, but her computer’s—and the possibility of the post ending abruptly. Friends, colleagues, and visitors have left condolences in the comments. "Goodbye Star... You will be missed," says Camden. Luna adds, "I read the news and still can't believe it. The few times I met her she was always smiling, was a wonderful person, very friendly and full of life..." To Pax Romano, "It's heart breaking...just heart breaking."

If the Internet, as they said in 1996, is a highway, this is the closest it can get to a roadside cross. If you put something out there in cyberspace and are suddenly deleted from existence, what you wrote will still be there, your legacy. On the Internet your work is your memorial. And people who knew you, in real life or just through what you published online, will show up and leave offerings to mark the spot where you last were.

Jim Griffith is right when he explains that roadside memorials, like any memorial, really, are about the living more than the dead:
Sudden death of a loved one is horribly disruptive for most survivors. At one moment the person is alive; the next instant, often as the result of a violent accident, he or she is dead. There has been no period of sickness during which the survivors can prepare themselves for the coming loss, no formalized ritual such as the last rites of the church to mark the transition. Erection of a roadside cross can ritualize the fact of a loss, and provide the survivors with some meaningful action by which they can begin to lose the ties that bound them to their loved one.
Star Foster will have a memorial service and, I’m sure, some monument in a cemetery or plaque in a mausoleum, and those that saw her face and heard her voice in real life will visit, cry, and say prayers. But I’ll just swing back by Sarcasmo's blog every now and then to make sure it’s still there, to read what she wrote long ago, and maybe, every so often, to leave a comment.

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Image credits: "Roadside cross, near Lake Havasu City, AZ," jaho, courtesy Flickr, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I've Never Seen the Video for "SexyBack"

This comes from not having cable. I'm sure I could track it down if I wanted to, but I much prefer the version that plays in my head:

There is a generic European village in the Middle Ages. Many a year ago, a gypsy's curse robbed it of its sexy. All the people walk around sad, drab, and unsexy. But Justin Timberlake has set out on a quest to find the sexy, and now he returns with a sack of sexy on his back. He starts distributing it around town—it looks like pixie dust—and as it hits the townsfolk, they all start getting freaky. Timbaland is the town crier in a three-point hat and ringing a bell, and he periodically pops his head in the frame to scream his lines. JT brings sexy all over the town, including "to the bridge," where people start doing an elaborate choreographed dance when they get sexy; "to the chorus," which is the church choir that starts singing the backup chants; to the prisoner in the town pillary, whose shackles you can see, and who gets whipped by a sexy executioner; and to the old gypsy herself, who, when sprinked with the sexy dust, gives up her cursing ways, magically becomes a hot snake charmer, and belly dances to the middle-eastern-influenced instrumental hook.

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An Explosive Anniversary

On this date 110 years ago, Swedish Chemist Alfred Nobel died of a stroke. The death of the inventor of dynamite had been prematurely announced eight years earlier when a French newspaper published an obituary titled "Le marchand de la mort est mort." The unfavorable report on his life—it's thesis was that Nobel made millions on a device that created mass murder—prompted Nobel to do something about his legacy. So he altered his will to endow a series of annual prizes in chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, and peace. The Nobel Prizes were first awarded 105 years ago. The first laureates were, respectively, Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff, who documented the thermodynamics of chemical solutions; Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, who discovered x-rays; Emil Adolf von Behring, who discovered substances that could fight diptheria and tuberculosis; French poet-essayist Sully Prudhomme; and jointly Henry Dunant, founder of the International Red Cross, and Frédéric Passy, who established organizations for peace and international arbitration.

Despite the notable works involved in inventing dynamite and founding the prizes, Nobel is best remembered today for his hilarious and heartwarming role as J.J. Evans in the television program Good Times, 1974–79.

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Image credits: "J.J. - Dyn-o-mite," tshizzleshirts, courtesy eBay, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Equal Justice Under ROCK

Jack Balkin et al. have invented a nerdy lawyer parlor game, because there weren't enough already—based entirely on their writing style, what rock stars do justices of the Supreme Court most resemble?
  • William Rehnquist-- David Byrne of Talking Heads, Blondie, Devo. Unsentimental, terse, and cleverly ironic 80's New Wave post-punk. (Psycho-Killer could easily be a Rehnquist opinion except, of course, for the use of French. No foreign sources in our Constitution, thank you.).
  • Antonin Scalia-- Meat Loaf. Histrionic Opera Rock.
Link (via Volokh Conspiracy). Scalia really could have saved some trees if he reduced his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas to "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that."

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Friday, December 01, 2006

The Quotable Quotes of Mr. Administration Official Sr.

Confidentiality in news reporting has a time and place (say I, The Good Reverend). But when official political spokesmen ask for it from the podium during official press briefings, it can create absurdities. Wonkette was quick to discover that, when White House Press Secretary Tony Snow and Counselor Dan Bartlett stopped taking questions in the middle of a briefing and two "senior administration officials" started speaking, it signified not an actual cast change in the press room but a transformation of named sources into unnamed ones in a particularly transparent maneuver. Even Snow himself acknowledged the humor in this ruse at another briefing "on background":
MR. SNOW: Greetings. Welcome to Amman. First, I am joined by my close personal friend, Senior Administration Official, for a background briefing on the President’s dinner with the King of Jordan. So let me introduce to one and all, Senior Administration Official, to give you a readout and then answer your questions.

Link (via Wonkette). Even the Secretary of State's attempt at background briefing was thwarted by a pesky gender-specific third-person pronoun:
In the New York Times' latest report on Bush's meeting this morning with Maliki, reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg passes along quotes from a "senior administration official" who attended the meeting. Stolberg says the official was "granted anonymity" to discuss the meeting -- but then refers to the official as a "she." So far as we know, neither Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, nor Education Secretary Margaret Spellings nor Transportation Secretary Mary Peters made the trip to Jordan. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did.
Link. Where's a po or a hu when you need it?

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Spray Me Baby, One More Time

The Grave Digger
Have you ever thought to yourself, I wish that my condoms were custom fit to my body?

Wish no more. German sex educators are developing a spray-on condom tailor-made for all sizes.

The Institute for Condom Consultancy, a Singen-based practice that offers advice on condom use, is at the forefront of the research, with a team lead by Jan Vinzenz Krause (spraykondom.de). The concept: the man first inserts his penis into a spray can. With the push of a button, it is coated in a rubber condom.
It works by spraying on latex from nozzles on all sides," [Krause] said. "We call it the '360 degree procedure' -- once round and from top to bottom. It's a bit like a car wash."
(Link, courtesey Reuters). Krause estimates the product will be available in 2008, and will cost about 20 euro ($26) per can. The latex cartridges, which have approximately 20 uses, would cost around 10 euro.

In light of World Aids Day, I can certainly appreciate the efforts to make safe sex even safer, by preventing slippage and perhaps a relatively simple application process. Yet I can't help but wonder how seamlessly one can incorporate a spray can into the perfect romantic moment.

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