Autumn Peeked at Me Today

          For a brief half-minute he walked about 200 meters ahead.  When he turned, looked over his shoulder (saw me) and casually marched into the forest, I could see his very bushy brownish-gray tail.  I immediately knew it wasn't a domestic dog.  I thought it wasn't low enough to the ground or as small as (I believed) a gray fox should be (but that outdated glossy magazine and zoo-based belief was in need of an internet refresher—now, I'm not so sure).  It definitely wasn't tall or gangly or large or light-gray enough to be a wolf.  My best guess: male coyote.

          When I got to the spot I thought he entered the woods...I paused.  He was observing me from behind a fallen log.  For one long, slow, breath, we stared at each other.  Then, he turned, and I watched the tops of twigs shiver and the leaves of underbrush vibrate marking his path as he moved away into his forest.

          A male coyote with toxoplasmosis.   

          Toxoplasmosis is an infection in mammals caused by a protozoa.  (As you recall from Biology 101, protozoa are extremely tiny organisms which are easy to see under a microscope and are more fun to identify than other things found in a drop of pond water because most of them are motile.)  Almost every mammal on earth can be infected by it.  You might be infected right now—might have been infected your entire life—there are very few symptoms after the initial infection which is normally misidentified as the flu.

          The toxoplasmosis protozoan thrives on the inside of felines and insures its life-cycle continues in a very unique way [more on that soon].  (It's safe to assume the protozoan is/was incapable of differentiating between the guts of saber-tooth tigers and those of your housecat.)

          The protozoan infects the tissue of its feline host as well as passes cysts (eggs) into the feline's feces.  Those cysts are passed to new hosts both when the feline is eaten as well as when a cyst is transferred from the feline's feces to the paw of another mammal who later ingests the cyst when grooming (or when your pet uses the litter box and happens to get a cyst on his paw, which transfers to the carpet where your baby crawls's first "cold").

          Very unique way:  when mice get toxoplasmosis, they tend to exhibit behavior which can best be described as "risky".  They are less scared of open spaces than their uninfected brethren; and, strangely, they don't avoid the odor of cat urine (as do all uninfected mice) but, instead, they are either incapable of noticing the odor or are attracted to it.

          It's safe to assume the protozoan can't differentiate which warm blooded animal has consumed it, therefore, the obvious question:  Is the behavior of all animals, including humans, affected just like that of the mice?

          Within the last few decades a small number of studies have been done on how toxoplasmosis affects humans.  The indication is that toxoplasmosis acts in concert with hormones in humans to exaggerate behaviors.  Infected men tend to be risk takers; they exhibit jealousy more often than uninfected men, and are more willing to disobey laws (one study showed infected men were 2.5 times more likely to have automobile accidents than uninfected men).  Infected women tend to be more compassionate, warm, and more conscientious than uninfected women.

          I couldn't find a study to determine if the kind little old lady who always has something nice to say and who keeps 23 cats in her house on the corner, can't smell them or is actually attracted to the smell...but there's little doubt about the fact that she's infected with toxoplasmosis.

          Just like the male risk-taking coyote who paused to get a closer look at the noisy man on the first day of autumn.

          Post Script - - - I've cared for and been friends with the full gamut of cats my entire life (indoor only, outdoor only, and indoor-outdoor).  It seems improbable to me—with all the cat puke I've cleaned, scratches I received, and scat I've dumped with bare hands since the invention of clumping cat litter—that one cyst hasn't found its way inside of me.  However.  I'm a pretty strict law abider; I never understood what getting jealous accomplished; and I've very rarely intentionally risked harming myself (Avoid Pain At All Costs - a good subtitle for my life story).
           Clearly, I don't have any of the male behavioral symptoms of toxoplasmosis.  On the other hand, although I don't think the term "warm" has ever been used in reference to me (a term which I think applies to extraverts not introverts) I would agree I'm more compassionate and conscientious than the average bear.  Which means (operating upon the assumption of being infected) that I have less testosterone and more estrogen inside me for the protozoa to amplify.
          But, I hate the smell of cat piss and can detect the tiniest whiff from several meters maybe I'm just one of those guys who's immune to the brain control of the catbug aliens.

Thievery Corporation Concert

          Two pictures containing me in one week!  The first marking the endpoint in the goody bygone days of yore when I intentionally cropped myself out of everything (including bare legs) to impose a facade of pseudo-zorroloneranger-esque anonymity, while this pic is just some vaingloriously ridiculous Where's WaldVeacho foolishness.

          I'm wearing an orange shirt.

How to Improve the Entire World

          Since all card-carrying members of the narcissistic personality disorder club refuse to carry membership cards almost as vehemently as they deny their own membership, this bumper sticker won't cause your car (or your ass) to get kicked like zombies definitely would if you had a bumper sticker that said: 'first ... kill all the ZOMBIES'.

          Unlike zombies, identifying narcissists is not always easy.  Along with seven myths about narcissism, there are many signs to look for in others.  Of course—only in others, as I already pointed out, it's impossible for a narcissist to recognize their own traits:
  • Believe they are better than others
  • Fantasize about power, success, and attractiveness
  • Exaggerate their achievements or talents
  • Expect constant praise and admiration
  • Believe they are special (and act accordingly)
  • Lack empathy; fail to recognize emotions or feelings of others
  • Expect others to always go along with their ideas and plans
  • Take advantage of others
  • Express disdain for those they think are inferior
  • Express jealousy of others as well as believe others are jealous of them
  • Incapable of maintaining healthy relationships (especially long-term)
  • Set unrealistic goals
  • Thin-skinned; feel easily hurt and rejected
  • Possess a fragile self-esteem
  • Display a tough-minded or unemotional appearance
          Just like you can't convince a zombie to stop trying to eat anyone's and everyone's brains, you can't convince a narcissist to stop ruining the world with their constant manipulative yet disdainful blathering-on-and-on about themselves.  The best way to stop them both is with a headshot.

          One problem...a world without narcissists is a world without celebutantes, celebutards, and most other reality television participants who not only stoke the coals but fan the flames of our schadenfreude.

This Is How We Do It

Five mile hike and we feel alright
Both feeling hearty up on the mountain
Take my kleen kanteen and sip it up
Cecil O. Zonk jump along the path
Parading together and we're hummin'
Birds 'n the breeze cry, "Zonkey's coming!"
It feels so good in my woods today
With chitterin' squirrels and butterfly play
Flash-glimpsing thru the leaves and needles
Kitt ya oughtta pad on up to th' shade
So lift your nose and throw up your tail
Me all I meow'z my trekkin' partner says:
          Kinda jazzed and it's all because (this is how we do it)
          State forest does it like nowhere else (this is how we do it)
          We—my hikin' feline and I—will beeline (this is how we do it)
          Venture back to this woodland track 'cause (this is how we do it)

REPLAY by Ken Grimwood - Book Review (☆☆☆☆☆)

          This speculative fiction novel combines the perfect blend of what-if from Groundhog Day quarter century, with the clean pacing and suspense of The Time Traveler's Wife (book not film).  Soft science fiction fans will not be disappointed because Ken Grimwood deftly dangles the bet-you-know-what'll-happen-next bait followed by several successful surprises. 

          I enjoyed the story enough to give it my highest rating because I recall almost all of the key American events which happened between 1963 and 1988.  However, the downfall of a story which leans as heavily on a specific country's historical events as REPLAY does, is that it gradually loses its audience.  Consequently, I don't recommend it to anyone born after 1970 (unless they are history/SF buffs or love period-pieces)...readers born between 1970 and 1980 will rate it four-stars, between 1980-1990, three stars, et cetera.

          I suspect this novel will become a shitty movie someday soon (I'm a bit surprised it hasn't already).  Just like many books of this type, the success of the plot is based on the empathy we slowly gain watching the world go by through the main character(s) eyes.  Films rarely succeed in relating "over a long period of time" to their audiences.   The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (the film, not Fitzgerald's short story) attempted to accomplish this feat...and bored most of its audience while doing so.  There are exceptions.  Robert Zemeckis's Forrest Gump (a bad book turned into a great screenplay) is the first example I can think of.  If someone had the patience and skill to Gumpize REPLAY and could find the perfect 28 year-old everyman-character actor who is not a comedian (who must capture the two-and-a-half decades between college freshman and middle age; make us love him, feel sorry for him, hate him, and eventually love him again)...I picture ....ahhh.... nobody comes to mind.   Which is why this hypothetical film will be made out of pure suckage.

Dear fuzzy-headed faces from prestigious places,

          Please stop dumbing-down your [specific area of scientific expertise] to coloring book level.  I'm really sorry [name of college or university] doesn't pay enough for you to disregard all those enticing offers from [television channel] but every time you recite from a script written to be understood by [target audience] you inflict excruciating pain in my brain. 
           I know.  Brains don't actually have pain receptors.  But, when watching [video of gravity tests in a testosterone-laden common-sense-free environment] I experience (real-to-me) empathetic groin pain and I feel a similar pain inside my skull when I watch you transmogrify [complex theorem or formula] to the level of SeeDickAndJaneRun.

          Because specifics are better than vague analogies:

          •  Tweedle Dee, aka Brian Richmond, The George Washington University (NOVA, Becoming Human minutes 2:28 thru 3:00) - his explanation of a few theories why quadrupedal protohumans became bipedal: "...they stood up to be able to see over tall grass...they stood to be able to pick fruits off of the low branches of trees...(or) cool more efficiently so that we don't have as much sun beating on so much of our body."
          •  Tweedle Dum, aka Daniel Leiberman, Harvard University (NOVA, Becoming Human minutes 3:00 thru 4:40) - his favorite opinion why quadrupedal protohumans became bipedal:  "...the most compelling hypothesis is that it saved us energy."

          These two idiots bruised my frontal lobes.  Their few seconds of Discovery Channel fame only proved one thing:  neither of them actually understands natural selection.

          In a muddled attempt at simplicity, this NOVA episode completely fails to explain natural selection and offers information as true, which is the exact opposite of the truth.  The show paints a picture that six million years ago, in the middle of protoAfrica (with the environment in flux and jungles becoming savannahs)...for reasons we can only guess at...a protochimpanzee stood on its hind legs and, subsequently, passed that ability to constantly walk upright to its progeny.

          The fiction—like that of so many television shows based on psudo- and/or fuzzy-science—is relating that the reason/desire to walk upright preceded our distant ancestor's ability to do so.  But when somebody from [prestigious place of higher learning] says, "they stood up in order to..." how can we interpret it otherwise?

          What actually happened?  How did a few of the little ancient monkeys who walked on four legs many millions of years ago eventually walk on only their two hind legs?  The same way every gradual evolutionary change occurred in every living entity since the beginning of life.  It happened by mistake.  Zillions upon Trillions of miniscule beneficial mistakes.  The same number (or more) of non-beneficial mistakes also (must've-probably) occurred, but any of those mistakes (those which don't improve their possessor's chance of procreation) are useless in evolutionary terms and lead to extinction. 

          One quadrupedal protohuman gave birth to a malformed baby with a slightly misshaped pelvis (I'll call her Miss Takè).  Her pelvis was a bit too flat, too horizontal...and all the quadrupedal kids at school teased little Takè because she wasn't very good at reindeer games.  But she was able to survive long enough to procreate and pass along that genetic error because she was [reason for not dying...including being lucky].  She had a fifteenth cousin twice removed with a slightly bent thumb which made swinging from branches a little harder than normal, but she always won at thumb-war; and her imperceptibly encephalitic and slightly taller great-great-great grandson (who could never peek over a log without his forehead being seen when playing hide-n-seek) became a great hunter because of his above-average eyesight...and his eighteenth son from his fifteenth mate (who happened to be distantly related to thumb-war cousin) was taller-still but he happened to have less body hair, hated the winter, and walked a long distance in order to live in a warmer infinitum...modern man.

          South Park's (Mrs Garrison's) grasp of the theory of evolution is more accurate.  The fact that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are more capable than NOVA at explaining natural selection makes me giggle-cringe (but inflicts no pain in my gulliver).