Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Top Ten Reasons The World Won’t End on December 21, 2012

September 29, 2010

No doubt about it, 2012 and doomsday prophecies are big nowadays. According to the Mayan calendar, the world as we know it will end sometime around December 21st, 2012. Of course, if it doesn’t, that won’t mean we’ll be out of the woods. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ may return at any moment to destroy the armies of the Antichrist and reestablish his throne in Jerusalem, thereby ushering in a thousand years of peace. And if that doesn’t occur, there’s always the chance that the Mahdi will arise to institute a kingdom of justice and, alongside the returned Isa Al-Maseeh (Jesus), will fight against the Dajjal, the Antichrist of Islam. Then, of course, there’s always the chance that—at least according to the Hopi Indians—a blue star will suddenly appear in the sky to signal the start of a great atomic war which will destroy the white man and other ancient races.

Sounds like there’s quite a few ways we might catch it, but what are the chances that any of these things might actually happen? Of course, there is no way to prove that something won’t happen, but below are the top ten reasons why one would be ill-advised to believe the end is coming in 2012 or any other time soon.

10. Because a reversal of the magnetic poles would not be catastrophic.

magneticpoles

It seems that every few hundred thousand years or so, the Earth’s magnetic field dwindles to practically nothing and then gradually reappears with the north and south poles flipped. Now this flipping of the magnetic poles—which appears to have last happened about 780,000 years ago—isn’t particularly dangerous, but this brief period—about a century or so in duration—of decreased magnetic fields could threaten life on the planet, for without magnetic protection, particle storms and cosmic rays from the sun, as well as even more energetic subatomic particles from deep space, would strike Earth’s atmosphere, eroding the already beleaguered ozone layer and causing all sorts of problems to both man and beast (especially among those creatures that navigate by magnetic reckoning). Further, scientists estimate that we are overdue for such an event and have also noticed that the strength of our magnetic field has decreased about 5 percent in the past century, possibly signaling that such an event may be in our immediate future—within a few centuries if not sooner. However, in being so gradual, should scientists in the future discover that such a shift is in the works, there should be plenty of time to take the necessary precautions to avoid the most destructive effects by moving underground or off planet, or perhaps strengthening the planet’s atmospheric defenses through the use of exotic, futuristic technologies. In any case, it isn’t something we need to worry about in the short term—though it could be a concern for those living a few hundred or even thousands of years from now.

9. An increase in sunspot activity in 2012 will not have any particularly detrimental effect on the planet.

sunspots

As every schoolchild knows, our sun is constantly shooting gaseous plumes of white hot plasma thousands of miles into space which our atmosphere generously shields us from. Sometimes these plumes are much larger than normal, however, and are what we refer to as solar flares (more properly known as coronal mass ejections). Fortunately, these enormous magnetic outbursts that bombard Earth with a torrent of high-speed subatomic particles are also largely negated by the planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field, so we seldom feel the effects of these plasmic bursts, beyond creating havoc for ham-radio users and increasing the luminosity of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. They are of concern mainly to space explorers, who really would have a problem if they are caught in orbit without suitable shelter when one of these things go off. The sun goes through a natural twenty-two year cycle when such storms increase significantly for a time before decreasing again. Such a period is scheduled to occur in 2012, which has some folks all atwitter. For those who are expecting the worst, it might be beneficial to realize that the sun reached similar period of solar activity in 1990, 1968, 1946, and it will again in 2034, 2056 and 2078. While these periods can produce large solar flares that can effect satellite communications and, in a worst-case scenario, adversely affect the flow of electrical energy through the power grids, it is unlikely to do more than produce some especially spectacular light shows in the northern skies and make people onboard the International Space Station a little nervous.

8. Because the poles cannot shift or the planet’s orbit be otherwise altered.

earthorbit 285x400

Some well-meaning but scientifically challenged individuals maintain that the planet’s physical poles are on the verge of reversing (that is, the planet is flipping over onto its top) or that gravitational forces from the other planets or from the galaxy itself could affect Earth’s orbit and, hence, dramatically alter its climate and environment. Fortunately, however, the gravitational forces that effect our planet and its place in the solar system are mandated by Newton’s laws of planetary mechanics and cannot be changed without some extremely rare (think one chance in ten billion over the next three billion years) and dramatic event taking place—such as a collision with a small moon or a massive black hole making its way through the solar system, both of which would be noted well in advance or whose effect would be so gradual as to take centuries to have any great impact. As far as we know, there are no such cosmic events known to be on the horizon—at least for the foreseeable future (and well beyond 2012).

7. Because Earth climate change is a gradual process and one easily adapted to.

climatechange 427x400

Some take a more hand-on approach to the end, claiming that humanity will perish as a result of human-caused weather changes, which, it is claimed, will melt the polar ice caps, raise the ocean sea levels, and change weather patterns over large portions of the planet. Even if the science holds together, however—which many claim it does not—such a process would be felt over a period of years or even decades, giving human beings time to adapt to the changes (relocate, create shoreline reclamation technologies, etc.) It is even possible that a warmer planet might ultimately be beneficial by, for example, increasing arable land in Siberia and North America as the permafrost layer retreats northward. In any case, the year 2012 has no particular significance in regards to any Earth changes that may occur over the next few decades.

6. Because the people who suggest the end is coming don’t know what they’re talking about.

fortuneteller 400x400

Unfortunately, human beings have a tendency to invest great authority in people who can convince them they are prophecy “experts” or have some sort of hidden knowledge others do not possess that allows them to read the future. Many of these people are sincere individuals who simply misinterpret ancient bible texts, while others are deluded crazies who only want to include others in their fantasy world. A few are even unscrupulous charlatans out to make a quick buck. The bottom line is, however, that nobody really knows what the future holds regardless of who they are or what methodology they use. There simply is no evidence that anyone has ever successfully prophesied some future event (beyond some short-term political or military events easily surmised by gauging current international trends) with anything approaching clarity or accuracy.

5. Because the Bible Code is a parlor trick.

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Using a complex type of cryptographic code called Equidistant Letter Sequencing (ELS), journalist Michael Drosnin, author of The Bible Code, contends that one can find meaningful and related patterns of words and dates in close proximity to each other within the words of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament and the heart of the Jewish Torah) which would seem to go beyond mere chance. One of these, he says, suggests the planet will be struck by a comet in 2012, with all the unfortunate consequences that would entail. However, critics dismiss Drosnin’s methodology as little more than a parlor trick, demonstrating that meaningful words and phrases can be produced using his method on any similar sized manuscript. For example, Australian mathematician Brendan McKay, an ardent critic of Drosnin’s process, demonstrated that a computer search of Herman Melville’s nineteenth century classic Moby Dick found a number of meaningful phrases in close proximity to each other (specifically having to do with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995), suggesting that just as the eyes can be tricked into seeing familiar faces in random patterns of light and shadow, so too can the mind be tricked into finding meaningful phrases in random collections of letters where none exists. And if that’s not enough, Drosnin has been proven wrong about other “significant events” he claims were contained in the Bible, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

4. Because the Earth isn’t that easy to destroy.

Sure, there are things that could do the planet in, but Earth is a lot hardier a place than many give it credit for. After all, it’s been here for four billion years now, had its clock repeated cleaned by asteroids and comets, endured climactic changes of biblical proportions, and even survived a collision with another planet that created our own moon, and yet it keeps on ticking. And you think a few melting ice caps and puny nuclear weapons are going to do it in? Please…

3. Because doomsday prophecies have consistently been proven wrong.

doomsdayprophecy

Literally hundreds of dates have been picked by various religious leaders and self-proclaimed prophets over the last two thousand years as being the end of the world and not a one of them has ever even come close to being accurate. So why do we believe these same people today when they tell us the end is coming in 2012 (or whenever they imagine it to be coming)? Listen, you wouldn’t believe your doctor if it has been repeatedly demonstrated that he has never once correctly diagnosed a patient, so why give these guys the benefit of a doubt?

2. Because Nostradamus never picked 2012 as the end date.

nostradamus

It has been popularly believed that Nostradamus, the famous sixteenth century French mystic, suggested the end would come in 2012, perfectly coinciding with the Mayan date, which, if true, would be very spooky indeed. However, in reading through Nostradamus’ many quatrains, nowhere does he specifically mention the year 2012 or even suggest that the end would come around that time. In fact, his predictions extend all the way to the year 3797, making it seem we have some time yet before the end is neigh. Additionally, his writings are so obscure as to make any interpretation little better than a guess. Most of them are likely referring to events that took place in his lifetime, with the rest being so vague that they can be made to fit any time frame the reader so desires.

1. Because the Mayans never claimed it would.

mayancalendar 399x400

The Mayans had many calendars they used, one of which was known as the “long count” calendar, which measures very long periods of time.  According to this calendar (which has been known to archeologists for decades, by the way) the Earth’s “fifth sun” would end at the Winter solstice, December 21, 2012, at which point a new, sixth 5,125-year cycle would begin. What significance this had to the Mayans is a source of some debate, but it is the general consensus that they did not attribute to it any catastrophic events. Most likely, they simply considered it a time for spiritual renewal or introspection, which doesn’t sound all that dangerous to me. The teaching that the Mayan’s believed it was the end of time, then, appears to be a largely westernized misreading (or deliberate misrepresentation) of the significance of the Mayan calendar and Mayan beliefs associated with it.

Top Ten Format Wars

September 27, 2010

A format war occurs when two incompatible versions of a similar technology begin to compete against one another in the market.  In almost every case, one of the two formats wins out in the end, either because of a better marketing strategy or a superior product, leaving groups of unlucky consumers with an obsolete technology (Laserdisc, anyone?). Format wars are most common in the realm of audio and video technology, but they’ve also involved computers, digital media storage, and even (in one legendary case) something as basic as electricity. Here are ten of the most famous examples:

10.  DVD vs. DIVX

DIVX

In the late 90s, a format war erupted between DVD and DIVX, two early pioneers in the digital home video market. DVD followed in the footsteps of VHS and Laserdisc as a dedicated home video format, albeit with superior picture and sound quality. DIVX, meanwhile, was a bit more complicated. The movies came on a disc that looked similar to a DVD, but they could only be played on a specialized DIVX machine. Customers could buy DIVX movies for $4, but the disc would only be playable for 48 hours. After that, they’d have to pay a small additional fee via a subscription service to watch it again, or an even bigger fee to access unlimited views.

Who Won?

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone with a Netflix account that things didn’t work out too well for the folks at DIVX. For starters, consumers never truly embraced the pay-for-play format that the company was trying to engineer. Videophiles shunned the idea of not being able to easily collect movies on DIVX, and the idea of a subscription-based video service rubbed most consumers the wrong way—one guy even started a “ban DIVX” petition online. What’s more, big box stores and video shops balked at the idea that by selling DIVX they would only be able to make a meager profit. The $4 discs were much cheaper than DVDs, and any profits from consumers buying infinite plays or paying for additional views went straight to the DIVX subscription service. The format eventually crumbled, losing millions for the now-defunct Circuit City, which sold the discs, and the few major studios that tried to embrace it.

9.  VHS-C vs. Video 8

Video 8

In the 80s and 90s, personal camcorders became the battleground for a clash between two rival tape formats: VHS-C and Video-8. Video-8 and its higher quality successor, Hi8, were both pioneered by Sony, which made the format famous with the release of the Handycam in 1985. JVC created the VHS-C format in 1982, and it quickly caught on thanks to its ease of use. Simplest of all were the format’s tapes, which could easily be played back by putting the VHS-C tape inside a VHS tape adapter.  By the late 80s, the two formats had largely taken over the consumer video market, and the battle between the two would last through much of the 1990s.

Who Won?

This is one of the rare cases where both formats managed to be successful. Thanks to their longer recording time and slightly better quality, video-8 and Hi8 were believed by most to be the better format. Still, VHS-C stayed popular thanks to one thing: playback. Most people didn’t use the cameras for anything more than recording vacations and birthdays, and what mattered most was being able to easily watch the videos on their home televisions. With Video 8 or Hi8, this meant recording the tapes to VHS or hooking the camera up to the television. With VHS-C, users just had to pop the camera tapes into a VHS adapter and they were ready to go. This unique feature kept the two formats at war through most of the 90s, and it was only with the advent of digital video that they finally started to fade.

8. Super Audio CD vs. DVD-Audio

Super Audio

After the success of DVDs in the late 90s, Sony and Phillips combined to create Super Audio CD, a new format of music on disc that used the superior capacity of DVD technology to create high quality audio discs. SACD was quickly followed by the release of Toshiba’s DVD-Audio in 2000, and it wasn’t long before a format war was under way. The battle centered on compatibility. Not only were the DVD music players expensive, but consumers were loathe to switch formats after having had over ten years to acquire shelves of CDs. Both systems countered this by making their players backward compatible—they could play DVD discs as well as regular old compact discs. On top of this, DVD-Audio discs were designed to be compatible with most DVD players already on the market. SACD, meanwhile, designed hybrid discs that had both a CD and an SACD layer, so that they could be played in either device

Who Won?

Not all format wars have a clear winner. In the case of SACD vs. DVD-Audio, the confusion created by the brand rivalry nearly ran both formats out of business. Cost was the first problem. Early SACD models easily ran a few thousand dollars, and even today the devices aren’t cheap. Not only that, but the two sides were in such a rush to get their players and discs on the market that there were several mistakes made along the way. Compression issues and other technical difficulties meant that early on both formats had trouble truly proving their superiority to CD. These problems, along with consumer mistrust of the viability of DVD music, prevented both formats from ever gaining a foothold in the market.

7.  Sirius vs. XM

sirius xm merger

In early 2000s, the battle over “the future of radio” began when XM and Sirius both began jockeying for control of the satellite radio industry. Early on, XM easily had twice the subscribers of Sirius, but aggressive marketing and partnership deals by both companies had soon leveled the playing field. By 2005, the two sides had a near-even split on the sports market, and both had made deals with separate auto companies to have their receivers pre-installed in new cars. Even the celebrities joined in, as both companies began enlisting major figures like Martha Stewart, Bob Dylan, and Oprah. The biggest of all went down in 2006, when Sirius struck a major blow by luring radio sensation Howard Stern over to their service.

Who Won?

Both, depending on how you look at it. There’s nothing like a good old fashioned monopoly, and that’s nearly what Sirius and XM achieved in 2008, when the two companies merged to form Sirius XM radio, a massive single company that now boasts over 18 million subscribers. The merger was more than a bit controversial—the FCC had previously granted licenses to XM and Sirius with the stipulation that one would not be allowed to swallow up the other—but it went through anyway, giving the newly formed company a huge market share of the satellite radio industry. Despite concerns about the new mega-company becoming a monopoly, Sirius XM has struggled quite a bit since the merger. Trouble in the car industry hurt sales of their pre-installed receivers, and the rise of internet radio and podcasts has also cut into their business.

6.  8-Track vs. Cassette

orion 8 track

The 60s and 70s brought on another audio format war in the form of the 8-track vs. the cassette tape. 8-track, or Stereo 8, debuted in 1964, and at first it was seen as the natural successor to vinyl. With 8-track, users could skip forward to individual songs with the touch of a button—a feature that wouldn’t appear elsewhere until compact discs came about in the 80s. Also, because the cartridges used magnetic tape instead of discs, they had a level of portability that had previously been unheard of, and they were soon being installed as hi-fi systems in cars, especially in the United States. The 8-track party finally came to an end in the early 1970s, when cassette tapes, which had previously only been used for office dictation, began being marketed as a home music format.

Who Won?

8-track tapes slowly went the way of the buffalo during the early 80s, and cassette tapes took over the music market until the rise of the CD. Oddly enough, because they ran at twice the speed of cassette tapes, 8-tracks technically had a higher sound quality, but inherent design flaws meant that they were more likely to have problems with background noise and pitch shifts. This is not to mention that the tracking system meant songs would often be rearranged, and there would sometimes be long periods of silence between them. By the early 80s, cassette tapes had taken over and 8-track players were no longer being produced, but they still retain a small cult following of enthusiasts to this day.

5.  Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD

blu ray vs hd dvd

A bitter format war occurred from 2006-2008, when Sony’s Blu-Ray and Toshiba’s HD DVD battled for control of the high definition video market.  The tension originally started with the invention of the blue laser diode, which Sony championed and developed into a new format it called Blu-Ray. A syndicate of electronics companies soon formed in support of the new technology, but Toshiba, along with Microsoft and a few other major manufacturers, were wary of the cost. Negotiations between the two factions stalled when the Blu-Ray supporters snubbed Microsoft’s interactivity feature, HDi, in favor of a Java platform known as BD-J. Toshiba and Microsoft soon announced that they were pursuing their own high def video system, which would later be known as HD DVD. This was followed by a bitter war of words and cries of foul play, and both sides had soon formed alliances with electronics manufacturers and film companies.

Who Won?

Both formats were released to the public in 2006. Blu-Ray scored a major hit in that same year, when Sony announced that it was using the technology as a means of storage in its Playstation 3 game system. Toshiba and Microsoft tried to include a similar package in the Xbox 360, but they were slow in rolling it out, and Blu-Ray had soon made a major jump in the market. The deathblow for HD DVD came in 2008, when Warner Bros., one of its biggest champions, jumped ship and defected to Blu-Ray. This set off a chain reaction of shifting alliances that saw nearly every major manufacturer and retailer abandon HD-DVD within a few weeks. Defeated, Toshiba discontinued the format in February of 2008.

4.  Disk Records vs. Wax Cylinders

wax cylinderswax cylinders

The most famous audio format war was between Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner, both of whom invented competing types of records for the phonograph. Edison first pioneered the wax cylinder in the 1880s. He originally intended it as a means of recording telephone conversations, but the cylinders soon became a popular format for musical recordings. Berliner, meanwhile, released the disk record as a competing format in 1894. Disks had originally been used solely in children’s toys, and in the beginning their sound quality was poor. But after several technical modifications, they were able to rival Edison’s cylinders in sound quality, sparking a format war that would last nearly 20 years.

Who Won?

There’s a reason they call them record stores and not cylinder stores. Despite the cylinder’s initial dominance, disk records won out in the end, and by the late 1920s, even Edison had started marketing his own version of Berliner’s product. This is not to say that there weren’t drawbacks to the disk format. The sound quality tended to be a bit tinnier than a cylinder, and disk records could easily get damaged after being played enough times. Unfortunately for Edison, the battle ultimately came down to ease of production. Disk records were much cheaper and easier to make, since they could simply be stamped out on a press. This helped make the disks a cheaper alternative, and once they started being recorded on both sides, people were able to get twice the music for the same price. Not only that, but disk records were easier to ship, and consumers liked the fact that they could easily be stacked and stored on a shelf like books.

3.  VHS vs. Betamax

BetaMax

The battle over VCR formats arose in the mid-70s, when Sony’s Betamax tapes engaged in a 15-year competition with JVC’s VHS. In the beginning, the war included five or six different videotape formats—Video 2000, V-Cord, Umatic, VX—but after only a few years VHS and Betamax had separated themselves from the pack. With its higher resolution, more reliable playback, and snazzier features, Betamax was seen as the higher quality alternative—but it sported a higher price to prove it. VHS was a more basic format, save for one key area: capacity. While Betamax players could only record for 60 minutes, VHS could copy as much as 120 minutes of programming. After RCA introduced long play tapes, the capacity doubled to 4 hours, and this proved to be a major tipping point in the format war.

Who Won?

Despite its superior features, Betamax eventually lost out to VHS, and by 1993 the players weren’t even available in stores in the U.S. anymore. Sony was never able to get manufacturers to really embrace its product, and this meant that the price could never be lowered enough to compete with VHS. Meanwhile, the 60-minute recording limit ultimately proved to be a deal breaker for most buyers: consumers simply didn’t want to invest in a format that they couldn’t set to record a movie or a football game without having to switch tapes. A long running urban myth has it that the undoing of Beta came down to Sony’s reluctance to release porn videos, but this has since been proven to be largely unfounded. The failure ultimately hinged on economics. The format did live on elsewhere—Beta video players were still being produced in Japan as recently as 2002, and Betacam technology and tape was used widely in the video production industry for years prior to the rise of digital video—but the home video version of it has since gone down in infamy as perhaps the most well known failed format of all time.

2.  The Home Computer War

mac vs pc

Today the competition has boiled down to just “Mac vs. PC,” but in the early 80s, there was a fierce format war between several different companies for control of the burgeoning home computer industry. Mac and the original IBM PC were both frontrunners in the contest, but there were also a number of other models that some people today might not have heard of, like the Commodore 64, the Amstrad CPC, the Timex Sinclair 1000, and the Atari 8-bit. Not only did these different machines compete to see who could be the biggest seller, but they were also all gunning to establish a trusted format. This was because early on in the computer wars, most of the tech was completely incompatible with other formats. A joystick from an Atari computer wouldn’t work with a Mac; a keyboard from a Mac wouldn’t work with a PC; and a printer for a PC wouldn’t work with a Commodore 64. Even floppy disks weren’t universal, and this lack of compatibility only fed the flames of what became a campaign of rapid progress and aggressive marketing.

Who Won?

Not surprisingly, in the long term it was Apple and the IBM PC who were able to outlast the competition. The 80s, though, were another story. Both IBM and Apple were frequently outsold by competitors, particularly in the case of the Commodore 64, which moved some 30 million units to become the best selling PC of all time. On the whole, though, the companies avoided a true format war when they settled on a few basic forms of connectivity (Atari 2600 connectors for joysticks and computer mice, DOS FAT-21 floppy drives), which made the units at least mildly compatible. Likewise, PCs and Apple computers today use USB as a means of compatibility, and most Mac computers are now even capable of running on the Windows platform. The format war between the two still continues, but if the steady sales of both PCs and MacBooks are proof of anything, it’s that neither format will be declared the outright winner any time soon.

1.  Alternating Current vs. Direct Current

Direct Current Alternating Current

The most bitter format war in history was also one of the first. In what has come to be known as “the War of Currents,” Thomas Edison’s direct current battled against Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse’s alternating current for control of the U.S. power grid. At the time, Edison’s direct current was the standard in the United States, and it was up and running in a number of major cities. But there were problems with DC’s distribution technology. In a direct current system, a power plant was connected to distribution conductors, which then branched out to individual customers. While practical, this system ensured that the electricity could only be transmitted at one voltage, no matter if it was feeding a single light bulb or a large engine. Westinghouse and Tesla offered the answer to this problem in the form of alternating current. AC used a transformer to allow for different levels of voltage to be transmitted to different locations depending on demand. Not only that, but using a transformer let AC current transmit at much faster speeds, allowing for fewer power plants to serve larger areas.

Who Won?

Westinghouse and Tesla’s superior technology eventually won out, but only after significant controversy. Ever the master of media manipulation, Edison held public demonstrations where he electrocuted animals with AC in order to show how dangerous it was to transmit electricity at high voltage. He even used AC to develop the first electric chair, which, because of inadequate voltage, put on a gruesome display the first time it was used on a death row inmate. But despite Edison’s attempts to disparage AC, in 1893 Westinghouse won a major contract to use it to generate hydroelectric power from Niagara Falls. The experiment was a rousing success, and it proved to be the tipping point in the War of Currents. AC eventually replaced DC in the central power grid, and after a few years even Edison’s General Electric company was producing AC machines.

Top Ten Presidential Candidates Who Should Have Won

September 26, 2010

Every four years the good citizens of this country drag themselves to the voting booth (well, actually about half of them do, the rest being far too busy to concern themselves with such things as picking the leader of their nation) to pick the candidate they hope will do the least amount of damage to the country over the next 48 months. Usually they are reasonably successful at picking, if not the best man possible, at least the best one available, but every once in a while they find themselves wishing they’d pulled the other lever. Below is my list of those men who, in the hindsight of history, would probably have made a better president than the victor did. Some of these men were sitting presidents who were unseated by a lesser opponent, but most were first time candidates who offered a real alternative but were overlooked for whatever reason.

I’m aware that a list like this is highly subjective and I realize that some of my picks will be controversial—causing great anguish and threats of retribution—but such is the price for doing things like making top ten lists. Undoubtedly, you will be able to point out all sorts of people that should be on this list but are not—or, conversely, why some who are on it should not be—which is to be expected. And, finally, none of my picks should be construed as an indictment of any candidate’s personal character; I’m not trying to trash people here, but merely give the reader a look at what might have been but for the fickleness of fate and the electorate.

10. GERALD FORD over JIMMY CARTER, 1976

jimmy carter gerald ford debate

It’s not that Gerald Ford was the greatest president the country had ever seen or that Carter lacked the intelligence and experience to be president, it’s just that Carter was ill-suited to make the really tough decisions the job demanded, while Gerald Ford had already proven that he was capable of making those decisions. How that would have impacted the Iran hostage crises and the economic downturn of the late seventies could only be guessed at, but in retrospect, Jerry Ford couldn’t possibly have done any less inspiring a job than the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia did. Either way, Ronald Reagan would have ended up the next president.

9. HENRY CLAY over JAMES K. POLK, 1844

Political cartoon predicting Polk's defeat by ClayPolitical cartoon predicting Polk’s defeat by Clay

It’s not that Polk wasn’t a capable man, it’s just that Henry Clay was a man with a remarkable résumé. A congressman and senator from Kentucky with over forty years of legislative and executive experience (including a previous run for the presidency in 1832), Clay had served as Speaker of the House and Secretary of State before running against Polk (and losing in a squeaker). An abolitionists who did his best to limit the spread of slavery and a colleague of Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun (plus a man greatly admired by Abraham Lincoln), in 1957, a Senate committee chaired by John F. Kennedy named Clay as one of the five greatest senators in U.S. history. Polk, in comparison, while no slacker, had less experience and could have used a bit more polishing—even though he did okay.

8. GEORGE BUSH over BILL CLINTON, 1992

Bill Clinton George Bush Debate

Okay, I know Bill Clinton oversaw one of the great economic boom times in recent history (thanks largely to acquiescing to the GOP controlled congress) but I submit that old George got shafted out of a well-deserved second term. After all, here was a man with a résumé as thick as a phone book who had overseen the largely peaceful collapse of Communism in Europe and successfully prosecuted two wars in two years (Panama and the Persian Gulf), only to lose to a draft evader and two-term Arkansas governor because of a minor recession that occurred late in his term, the incoherent promises of third party candidate Ross Perot, and the oratorical skills of slick Willy. Hardly seemed fair but whatcha gonna do?

7. RICHARD NIXON over JOHN F. KENNEDY, 1960

This is easily my most controversial pick, especially in light of the Kennedy mystique that developed in the aftermath of the man’s assassination. I don’t make this selection, however, because I believe Kennedy was a bad president. My position is that in light of the Cold War tensions that were going on in 1960 and the situation in Cuba, Richard Nixon was probably in a better position to confront the Soviets and resolve the Cuban situation than the neophyte Massachusetts senator was, as Kennedy proved by approving the Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961 and then failing to back it once it began. Nixon, in contrast, was in on the planning for the Cuban invasion from the beginning and would undoubtedly have given the Cuban nationalists the air support they needed to oust Castro, thus removing a fifty year long thorn in our side and foregoing the ensuing Cuban missile crises of October, 1962. How Nixon would have dealt with Vietnam in its infancy, civil rights, and the space program remains a great unknown of course, but it definitely would have been an interesting time that might well have transformed the sixties into something more closely resembling…well, the fifties.

6. HORACE GREELEY over ULYSSES S. GRANT, 1872

Horace Greeley Ulysses Grant Cartoon

While the Civil War General was still wildly popular and Grant was a man of personal integrity, his first four scandal-ridden years in the White House demonstrated that he was in way over his head as president. None-the-less, the Democrats couldn’t seem to find anyone who thought they could unseat him, so they nominated none other than newspaper man and writer Horace Greeley as token opposition. However, Greeley was no slacker, but a genuine reformer and intellectual who probably would have shaken things up. Whether for better or worse is anyone’s guess, but it would have been interesting to see what he would have done had he been given the chance. Unfortunately, he died just a few weeks after losing the election to Grant, but it could be argued that even a dead Horace Greeley would probably have been an improvement over a live U.S. Grant.

5. HORATIO SEYMOUR over ULYSSES S. GRANT, 1868

Horatio Seymour Presidential election poster

There’s no denying that Grant was a superb military commander. The problem is that superb military commanders often do not make for good presidents, as Grant’s corruption-plagued and largely inept eight years in the White House later proved. Seymour, on the other hand, had oodles of political experience, including two tumultuous stints as Governor of New York. Even better, he never sought the nomination for president and was essentially drafted by his party to run, demonstrating that unlike most men who seek the presidency, ambition was not one of his short-comings. Would he have been a great president? Probably not, but considering how poor Grant fared, he couldn’t help but to have been better.

4. SAMUEL TILDEN over RUTHERFORD B. HAYES, 1876

Rutherford Hayes Samuel Tilden Presidential Election

Actually, Tilden won this election but lost the electoral college vote count through some partisan shenanigans, but that’s another story. In any case, this was the man who took on the corrupt Boss Tweed and his Tammany Hall boys in New York and won. A genuine reformer, it is likely that he would have done considerably better than the scandal ridden Hayes had the will of the people been upheld. Unfortunately, like Greeley four years earlier, he also went into failing health after the election, so we don’t even know if he would have lived long enough to do much had he persevered, though all the tea leaves read positive.

3. JAMES COX over WARREN G. HARDING, 1920

1920 election cox harding

After the eight years of turmoil created by the Wilson administration, the country was ready for a “return to normalcy” and in doing so sent one of the most corrupt and incompetent men ever to be president to Washington while repudiating the one man who really might have done some great things had he been elected. Clearly, the former newspaper reporter, Ohioan congressman and two term governor would have been a huge improvement over the womanizing and inept Harding, and he had a pretty decent vice-president named Franklin Delano Roosevelt to boot. (Side note: Imagine that had Cox won and if FDR had succeeded him in 1928, only to get hammered by the Stock Market Crash in 1929 and the resultant depression, whether he would have lost in a landslide to Herbert Hoover in 1932? Weird to think about, huh?)

2. WINFIELD SCOTT over FRANKLIN PIERCE, 1852

Scott Pierce Presidential election race

This is kind of a tough call for neither man was especially qualified to be president, but Pierce proved to be such a bad one—despite being, by most accounts, a fairly nice guy in general—that it probably would have been reasonable to have let ol’ Winfield take a shot at it. At least Scott wasn’t pro-slavery and a secessionist (Pierce being one of the few ex-presidents to support the confederacy), nor was he as likely to have made the catastrophic decisions—such as repealing the Missouri Compromise and reopening the question of the expansion of slavery in the West that made succession growingly unavoidable—that poor Franklin did. Winfield was no saint himself (he was in charge of removing the Cherokees from their homes in the southeast United States, though he was acting under orders from then President Andrew Jackson) but he was an able general, having successfully led the U.S. Army against Santa Ana in Mexico, and a man with some impressive leadership skills. Would he have been able to prevent the Civil War from occurring had he been president? Hard to tell but he doubtlessly would have at least made some effort to do so, which is more than can be said for Pierce.

1. THEODORE ROOSEVELT over WOODROW WILSON, 1912

Charles Lewis Bartholomew, ca. 1912. Untitled. This election marked the only time that graduates of Harvard (Teddy Roosevelt, top), Princeton (Woodrow Wilson 1879), and Yale (President William Howard Taft) competed in a presidential election campaign.Charles Lewis Bartholomew, ca. 1912. Untitled. This election marked the only time that graduates of Harvard (Teddy Roosevelt, top), Princeton (Woodrow Wilson 1879), and Yale (President William Howard Taft) competed in a presidential election campaign. Courtesy Princeton University Archives

It would have been interesting to see how the twentieth century would have turned out had the hawkish TR been given his parties’ nomination and won a third non-consecutive term as president in 1912. It’s hard to imagine him standing idly by for two years while war raged in Europe as Wilson did without throwing America’s weight in against the Kaiser, probably ending the conflict a couple of years early and saving the world from having to fight Germany again twenty years later. Whether he would have come up something like Wilson’s League of Nations remains to be seen (Teddy more likely would have pursued an isolationist policy) but regardless, it would have made for quite a different century, one would think.

Top Ten Awkward Bible Stories

September 25, 2010

The Bible – it’s one of the most popular and best-selling books in the world. Spanning a couple thousand years of history, it touches upon a wide range of subject matters. In it we find stories about origins, human nature, kingdoms, salvation, and the end of the world. Life and death, happiness and despair, good and evil. All of this, and more.

There’s plenty of inspiration to be found in the Bible, but sometimes the narratives can make you cringe. What follows below are a few stories that might have made the characters involved feel a little (or a lot) on the awkward side of things.

10. Adam and Eve introduce awkwardness to the human race (Genesis 3)

adam eve God 302x400

To kick this list off, let’s begin with the story about how Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, discovered what feeling awkward was like.

In the middle of the entire Garden of Eden God had created for them, only one tree was off-limits. They could eat any fruit they wanted, so long as they stayed away from that one tree. Thanks to the crafty serpent, however, they chose to ignore God’s command. As a result, they became aware of their own nakedness (yes, there were other consequences, but let’s just focus on this one).

Think of how uncomfortable you would feel if, after having lived in oblivious nudity without any feelings of shame, you took a bite of contraband fruit and suddenly realized, “Whoa – I’m naked!”

Bonus awkward points: In addition to their new-found sense of shame, the prospect of facing God and explaining why they couldn’t follow one little rule must have been equally awkward (and terrifying) for the two partners in crime.

9. Talking to a donkey (Numbers 22)

talking donkey 291x400

Most people would agree that receiving correction can be a humbling and awkward ordeal, but then again most people don’t receive correction from their donkeys. And that’s apparently what happened to a prophet named Balaam.

In Numbers 22, King Balak of the Moabites, worried about Israel’s military advantage, decided to request Balaam’s services, which consisted mainly of blessing and/or cursing people depending on God’s instruction.

Having received divine permission to visit the Moabite king, Balaam saddled up his donkey and hit the road. However, God became angry and dispatched an angel with a sword to block Balaam’s path and force the donkey to stop. For some reason, Balaam couldn’t see the angel and kept beating the frightened beast, until finally it complained about the abuse by talking to him.

Awkward, yes, but apparently getting owned by a donkey wasn’t awkward enough for Balaam, who carried on a conversation with it until he finally saw the angel. Whoops.

Bonus: King Balak, who was hoping for some juicy curses against Israel, ended up with his own serving of awkward – he got four oracles that blessed Israel instead!

8. One hundred Philistine foreskins (1 Samuel 18)

100 philistine foreskins 560x373

Before the handsome, successful, and wildly popular David became Israel’s king, he had to put up with a rather jealous King Saul, who hated his guts and wanted him dead. Chucking spears at David wasn’t working out very well for Saul, so when he discovered that his daughter Michal was in love with David, he had an idea – put David in a situation that would result in his death at the hands of Israel’s enemies, the Philistines.

In order to win Michal’s hand, Saul declared, David would need to bring in the foreskins of one hundred Philistines. In other words, if David wanted to marry Michal, he had to go slaughter a hundred enemy soldiers and bring back the proof.

Technically, the task was a suicide mission, so when David and his men actually returned (with a surplus), Saul was understandably shocked and had to hand over his daughter.

“What, you’re still alive? And you’ve got 100 – no, 200!? – Philistine trophies with you, too? This is awkward…”

7. Noah gets naked (Genesis 9)

naked noah 560x348

You’ve just survived a worldwide flood. Life has been almost completely annihilated. You and your immediate family members are now responsible for repopulating the face of the earth. So what do you do about it? Plant yourself a vineyard, brew some wine, get sloshed, and then pass out naked in your tent.

This isn’t such a bad thing by itself, but while Noah was still unconscious his son Ham walked in. Instead of honoring his old man by covering him up, Ham made a joke about it to his brothers Shem and Japheth, who responded by walking backwards into Noah’s tent and improving his modesty without observing their father’s nakedness.

Those who understand the effects alcohol has on one’s behavior can probably relate to the awkwardness Noah might have felt when he awoke (“I did what!?”).

Bonus: Ham had it coming, too. Noah was pretty upset to hear that his youngest son had been disrespectful, and Ham ended up with a curse of slavery on his family line. Explain that one to your kids!

6. Haman forced to honor Mordecai (Esther 6)

mordecai haman 560x396

As a high-ranking official in the court of the Persian King Xerxes, Haman was offended one day when a Jew named Mordecai refused to show him the courtesy of a respectful bow. To get revenge for his injured ego, Haman convinced King Xerxes to let him issue a decree that would legalize the extermination of all Jews throughout the kingdom (overreaction, anyone?).

What Haman didn’t realize was that the recently instated Queen Esther happened to be a Jew – and Mordecai’s cousin. In addition, Mordecai was directly responsible for supplying information to Esther which exposed a plot to assassinate the king. Since Esther was able to put in a good word for Mordecai, the king decided to honor him.

Xerxes went to Haman for advice about how to honor a man who had pleased the king. Haman, self-importantly assuming that he himself was the one to be honored, came up with an idea in terms of what he would have liked for himself. Unfortunately, Xerxes then ordered him to carry it out for Mordecai.

Thus, an embarrassed Haman was forced to lead Mordecai – dressed in royal robes and mounted on a royal horse – through the city streets, announcing to everyone that the king approved of Mordecai, the man he despised.

5. Jesus outs his own betrayer (John 13)

Judas Last Supper

Traitors generally prefer to remain anonymous, at least until they have fulfilled their objective. However, if the person you want to betray happens to be the Messiah, you might find yourself unable to maintain typical standards of secrecy.

Judas is famous for accepting payment to lead Jesus into enemy hands. Interestingly, his plot was brought to light by Jesus himself while the disciples were eating the Passover meal one night.

After announcing that a traitor was in their midst, Jesus decided to make Judas’s secret plans obsolete by specifically pointing him out. “Want to know who’s going to betray me? Okay, I’ll give the guilty party this piece of bread,” Jesus said. “Here, Judas – have a piece of bread.” Judas, confused and surprised by this incident, headed out to gather a mob of people to arrest Jesus later that night in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Bonus: the greeting kiss by which Judas identified Jesus to the soldiers (Matthew 26) was probably a pretty awkward one, wouldn’t you agree?

4. God confirms his covenant with Abram (Genesis 17)

abram circumcision

When the Lord appeared to the 99-year-old Abram in Genesis 17, he laid out the ground rules for how the covenant between them would be confirmed. In exchange for being the father of many nations, inheriting the land of Canaan, and becoming fruitful, Abram needed to 1) walk blamelessly before the Lord, 2) change his name to ‘Abraham’, and 3) cut off part of his penis.

Say what?

Technically, since circumcision was already practiced by other Semitic people groups at that point in history, Abram was probably not too shocked by the revelation that a small part of his anatomy would be going under the knife. Still, I can imagine a brief, awkward silence at this point in the conversation as Abram let this particular aspect of the covenant sink in!

3. God tells Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman (Hosea 1, 3)

hosea gomer 508x400

The life of an Old Testament prophet was not necessarily a pleasant one. For example, in the case of Hosea – who prophesied in Israel during the reign of the wicked King Jeroboam – God had a pretty awkward idea in mind, namely: Go marry a prostitute. And by the way, she’s going to cheat on you.

There was a point to the apparent madness, of course. Under Jeroboam’s leadership, Israel was too busy sinning to bother following God’s laws and commands. By asking Hosea to take an unfaithful wife, God was essentially comparing the sinful ways of Israel to a woman who is not faithful to her husband.

Just as God predicted, after bearing three children to Hosea, Gomer took another lover. In order to show how devoted he was to the people of Israel, God ordered Hosea to show unconditional love to Gomer by buying her back from the dude she’d been sleeping with.

In a way, this is a beautiful story of forgiveness – but at the same,  it would also be pretty awkward to find yourself mixed up in that kind of situation.

2. Jacob gets the wrong wife (Genesis 29)

leah

What better way to deceive your hard-working nephew and future son-in-law than to promise him one daughter’s hand in marriage, and then trick him into wedding your older daughter? It’s a cold thing to do, but that’s exactly how Uncle Laban decided he would treat Jacob in the book of Genesis.

Laban had two daughters named Leah and Rachel, and the latter’s beauty captivated Jacob. In order to win her as his wife, he agreed to become Laban’s employee for seven years. But when the wedding day finally arrived, the devious Laban, in an effort to marry off his oldest daughter first, dressed up Leah as Jacob’s bride instead of Rachel. The veiled wedding outfit, combined with the darkness of the marriage chamber, prevented Jacob from noticing a problem until the next morning.

How awkward would it be to wake up and realize that the amazing sex with Rachel last night had actually been, um, amazing sex with Leah?

1. Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19)

Lot daughters 560x367

The story of Lot and his two daughters provides us with yet another example of drunkenness that turned awkward. In certain cases, drinking wine should be avoided, especially if you are living alone in a secluded mountain cave with your kids. You never know when a serious case of incest could strike.

After fleeing from the smoldering wasteland that had been Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and the girls had eventually settled in a mountainous region, which must have been in the middle of nowhere considering what happens next. The two daughters, perhaps working on the assumption that most of the world had been destroyed by fire and brimstone, concluded that in order for them to preserve their family line, they would have to get their father drunk with wine and… yeah.

For two consecutive nights – one night for each daughter – they managed to get their father so completely smashed that he wasn’t aware of what his own children were doing.

I honestly can’t figure it out – would this situation have been more awkward for the daughters, or for Lot when he found out what had happened?

————-

There are probably other examples that might have worked for this list. For instance, I’m sure it felt pretty weird for Isaiah when God told him to walk around naked (Isaiah 20), and it must have been both awkward and terrifying when Joseph’s brothers realized that the annoying brat they had sold into slavery years ago was now the governor of Egypt (Genesis 25).

But take the examples for what they’re worth. Go, and try not to do likewise.

Top Ten Arguments That Can’t Be Won

September 24, 2010

Since the time of fire, man has had arguments – rare or well done? Of course, arguments depend on your point of view, or in the case of husbands and wives, what the wife thinks. Some arguments are never-ending. Over the centuries, there have been some doozies that have kept philosophy students and teachers debating.

To be included on this list of Arguments That Can’t Be Won, the argument must have no clear answer that cannot be countered with another opposing view.

Evolution or Creation?

evolution cartoon

Theologists and scientists have been arguing this one for centuries as well. The argument goes back to the time when organized religion was almost as powerful as the monarchies ruling countries. When people starting postulating that the Earth was not the center of the universe, it gave way to the rise in questioning the idea of a seven-day creation and God’s role in creating the Earth. Enter Darwin and his Theory of Evolution and the debate truly kicks off with an unholy fevered pitch. Add in that there are many stories of creation across many different religions and your brain can really start to hurt.

Nature vs. Nurture

Does how you are raised affect your views as an adult more than what your genetic codes dictate? If your family has always been carpenters, are you destined to be a carpenter because of your genes or because of your familial upbringing? When identical twins are separated at birth and grow up to have identical tastes is that an argument that it has more to do with nature than nurture? However, is it nature to love spicy food, when that’s all that your family and friends eat?

Gun control

gun control

It’s not guns that kill people, it’s the bullets. In America, citizens have a right to bear arms, which has proven to be dangerous for many other citizens and police over the centuries since the country’s birth. On the other hand, large portions of the gun-toting population are careful citizens who have never crossed the law. Why should one group’s rights to bear arms be stripped away because another group feels unsafe? Or why should they be allowed to bear those weapons of death among a land of peaceful citizens?

Euthanasia

Dr. Kevorkian helped many people commit suicide due to their health conditions and their desires. His motives were questioned because all life is supposedly precious, but his patients wanted to move on from their frail existence. What if those patients didn’t have a say and we had the opportunity to choose whether they live in agony or die in peace by not giving them medication or a procedure? What is the better option?

The Death Penalty

Centuries ago, the prevalent rule of thumb was an eye for an eye, or in some cases, a life for a life. So the question becomes have we advanced far enough in our social and political structures to ban the death penalty? Or when is the death penalty justifiable? Is the death penalty appropriate for an accidental homicide? How about for a mass murderer?

Abortion or Pro-life?

abortion

Does a woman have the right to control her body by ending a life inside her? When is a fetus truly alive? Is all life truly precious? What happens when a woman is raped and becomes pregnant – is that life still precious? There may never be answers to these questions; however, the government has helped us out many times by entering its own opinion whether the pro-lifers like it or not.

Free will or Destiny?

The free will or destiny argument stems back to the Christian doctrine that God is omniscient and has seen everything that will happen. So if God can see everything that happens, is it free will or destiny that makes you choose to continue reading? Some have argued that God knows you will read this but you still have a choice. However, if the path is already apparent to one being, then the path has already been decided for you. However, that directly contradicts our everyday actions where we constantly make decisions – is something, a destiny foreseen by God, guiding us or are we truly free of the strictures of destiny?

Morals – Relative or Universal?

calvin and hobbes relativism

Like the question of gun control, whether ethics being morally relative or universal comes down to whether the good of the one outweighs the good of the many. If it is fine to sleep with another man’s wife in one society but not in another, then the problem is that the morals are relative to the society or person. But why wouldn’t it be universal that it is wrong to sleep with another man’s wife or woman’s husband in any society? Why is it OK to speed, when it is breaking the law? Shouldn’t breaking any law be just as wrong? If you would never steal a person’s purse, why would you pirate a DVD?

The chicken or the egg?

Perhaps one of the most fun arguments on this list, the chicken or the egg debate has raged for centuries mainly because it asks the questions does the animal evolve and then reproduce or was it hatched? That debate can then be transferred to our own existence, which leads into the argument of Evolution or Creation.

Does God Exist?

god creates adam 300x171

Since the dawn of recorded time, there have been people trying to prove that there is a higher being or beings that have caused the worlds and its creation. Organized religion comes down to having faith that there is a higher being and a place to go after death. Most people, if not already deeply religious in their life, find religion and start believing as they near their twilight years because they want to believe there is somewhere to go and someone to be with. So the question is how do you prove that god, in which ever religion you believe, exists?

Top Ten “Popular” Poisons

September 23, 2010

It used to be that poisoning was the murder method of choice for those cunning villains who wanted to “get away with it.”  However, following advances in forensic science, poisoning no longer allows murderers any anonymity.  Nowadays, the use of poison is so easily detectable it is comparable to the murderer writing a confession.  “And, to think, I could have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those pesky CSI investigators.”

10. Castor Bean

Castor Bean Plant
Castor Bean Plant

When you consider that castor oil is used as a food additive in candy and chocolate, it’s disconcerting to discover that the fruit of that plant, the castor bean contains a supertoxic level of the poison ricin.  As little as one bean, well chewed, could prove fatal.  However, according to figures from the American Association of Poison Control Centres (AAPC) only two Castor Bean fatalities were recorded in the period from 1999 to 2004.

VERDICT: Flava Beans or Castor Beans?  Perhaps it would be best to just go for a meal with Dr Hannibal Lecter.

9. Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade)

belladonna deadly nightshade 248x300

With a name that means beautiful woman, an extract from the belladonna plant was used in Renaissance times as a beauty product.  Applied to the eyes it dilated the pupils and gave women a wide-eyed appearance.  This senseless and dangerous application of the poison often makes contemporary thinkers marvel at the stupidity of our ancestors.  Contemporary poisoning from belladonna usually occurs because some dimwit has discovered that the leaves purportedly have hallucinogenic qualities.  This almost makes the use of belladonna for pupil-dilation seem sensible.

VERDICT: The clue is in the name “deadly nightshade.”  Which part of “deadly” didn’t you understand?

8. Fiddleback Spider Venom

brown recluse fiddleback spider 300x196

At less than half an inch in length, the Fiddleback or Brown Recluse is one of the most venomous spiders in the world.  Native to twenty-five states (primarily southern and midwestern) the bite of the Fiddleback is usually painless but, after eight hours, the victim will be in agony.  Fatalities are now rare, thanks to advances in medical treatments.  However, with a bite that induces symptoms of vomiting, blisters, delirium and necrosis – this spider is best avoided.

VERDICT: Does anyone want to buy my collection of Spiderman DVDs?  I shan’t be watching them again.

7. Pufferfish Venom

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The poisonous part of the pufferfish is the tetraodontoxin found in its ovaries.  This poison is not destroyed by cooking although experts say, if the entrails are removed before cooking, the fish is usually harmless.  Used in the Japanese delicacy fugu, pufferfish can only be cooked and prepared by specially trained and licensed chefs.  Even so, from 1955 through 1975 there were more than 1,500 fatalities caused by eating improperly prepared fugu.

VERDICT: Do you want fries with that?

6. Heroin

bayer heroin bottle

A poison that works on the respiratory system, Heroin depresses the central nervous system creating a feeling of euphoria.  Even if you don’t factor in the risk of HIV from shared needles, or the danger of contaminants being included in unregulated substances, the excess mortality rate amongst Heroin users (up to 20% higher than in comparable groups of none users) makes the appeal of this drug hard to understand.  Symptoms include cramps, disturbed vision, low blood pressure, coma and death from respiratory failure.

VERDICT: Just say: NO.

5. Hemlock

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Hemlock was supposedly the poison that was used to dispatch Socrates.  Whilst Descartes may have said, “I think, therefore I am,” Socrates is meant to have lifted his mug of Hemlock and said, “I drink, therefore I’m not.”  In Water Hemlock the highest concentrations of the poison cicutoxin can be found in the root and one bite of this can cause death in adults.  Water Hemlock causes convulsions and death.  Poison Hemlock causes muscle failure and death.

VERDICT: Only acceptable as a beverage when served with fugu and a side order of castor beans.

4. Snake Venom

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The toxicity of snakebites is dependent on a lot of factors, varying from the length of time elapsed since the snake last bit, through to the level of danger the snake perceives in its victim.  The most poisonous snakes are the vipers, cobras and adders.  Symptoms of snakebite poisoning include swelling, organ failure, vomiting, bleeding from the eyes and nose and gums as well as obvious pain at the site of the snakebite.
Interestingly, white males account for more than three quarters of snakebite victims.

VERDICT: I’ve had it with these mother****ing snakes on this mother****ing plane.

3. Arsenic

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Historically arsenic was the murderer’s favourite choice and it has always been one of the favourite devices used in murder mystery stories.  In the UK it was available as a poison that could be freely bought in chemists to help with rat infestations.  Traces of arsenic are present in all human tissues and it is the twentieth most commonly encountered element.  When used as a poison, symptoms include severe gastric discomfort, vomiting and diarrhoea with blood.

VERDICT: A horrible poison, but it does have the fun factor of having the word “arse” at the forefront of its name.

2. Strychnine

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One of the more popular forms of poisoning at the start of the twentieth century, strychnine attacks the central nervous system and causes exaggerated reflex reactions.  With the correct dose a victim could be dead within ten to twenty minutes – having suffered an agony of contortions and death throes.
Strychnine was the murder weapon in Agatha Christie’s first murder-mystery The Mysterious Affair at Styles.  Whist this is a fast acting poison, effective treatments are now possible and it can only be seen as an efficient murder weapon in fiction and on very old-fashioned murder mystery shows.

VERDICT: Cruel and inelegant.  This almost makes the fiddleback spider look appealing.

1. Cyanide

cyanide 164x300Suicide Cyanide Pill

Cyanide kills by preventing red blood cells from absorbing oxygen.  This results in a process known as “internal asphyxia.”  Cyanide capsules were supposedly used by World War II spies as an easy escape option to avoid the painful part of a torture and death threat.  Lizzie Borden, although more famous for axe crimes, was found to have traces of cyanide in the sugar bowl at her family home – suggesting she had a back up plan in case the forty whacks failed.  Rasputin consumed a dose of cyanide that should have been lethal.  When it produced no adverse effects his enemies decided it was time to shoot and drown him.

Top Ten Most Beautiful Eyes

September 22, 2010

Finding the world’s most beautiful eyes was challenging, to say the least. With a list that started at 50 sets of beautiful eyes that then had to be reduced to 10, well, you can imagine the hesitation to exclude some of the many gorgeous women that were considered. Some of the lovely ladies whoe missed breaking the top ten were Megan Fox, Raquel Welch and, believe it or not, Marie Osmond who were all in the initial 50.

One of the most difficult tasks for this list of the most beautiful eyes was finding a large head shot that showcased their eyes. Most photos included the entire female’s body and when you look at the list of women below you know why that is a good thing – most certainly had a beautiful body to match their incredible eyes. So we did the best we could and looked for nice photography that concentrated on the face and the eyes.

10. Charlize Theron

She’s got stunning eyes, but what else? She won an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in Monster.

charlize theron1

9. Sophia Loren

She’s got sexy eyes, but what else? She won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role
in Ciociara, La.

sophia loren

8. Kristin Kreuk

She’s has gorgeous green eyes, but what else? She has starred in Smallville” as Lana Lang and has kissed Superman.

kristin kreuk

7. Giada De Laurentiis

Okay, her eyes are amazing, but what else? She is a professional chef and has her own cooking program, Everyday Italian, which has been broadcast on Food Network since 2003.

giada de laurentiis

6. Sharbat Gula

Her sparkling green eyes are mesmerizing, but what else? She is known as the cover girl for National Geographic because Steve McCurry was fortunate enough to take her photograph while on assignment for National Geographic. Her photo is the most popular that the magazine has published.

sharbat gula

5. Audrey Hepburn

Her eyes are beautiful, of course, but what else? Audrey won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role
in Roman Holiday.

audrey hepburn

4. Elizabeth Taylor

Her blue eyes make the sky look pale, but what else? She won two Oscars, one for each beautiful eye. She won for Best Actress in a Leading Role in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? & Best Actress in a Leading Role in Butterfield 8.

elizabeth taylor

3. Lynda Carter

Azure blue eyes that sparkle are nice, but what else? Lynda was the superhero Wonder Woman and won the 2004 TV Land Award for Superest Super Hero for “Wonder Woman” which aired in 1976.

lynda carter

2. Angelina Jolie

Okay her eyes are drop-dead gorgeous and her lips are incredible, but what else? She is the daughter of Jon Voight and won an Oscar Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Girl, Interrupted in 2000.

angelina jolie

1. Aishwarya Rai

Her eyes are truly the most beautiful eyes in the world, and that is enough, but just for kicks, what else? Aishwarya was chosen by Time magazine in 2004 as one of the World’s “100 Most Influential People” and she is widely considered the most beautiful woman in the world and with eyes like that you can “see” why.

aishwarya rai

And there you have it, ten of the most beautiful eyes in the world. As with most lists, even top ten lists, there is some subjectivity, so please include any beauties you may think were missed.

Top Ten Deadliest Prisons in the World

September 22, 2010

Of course, nobody wants to go to prison, but there are some prisons that you really, really don’t want to be imprisoned as an inmate. Being in jail is only part of the problem, staying alive is the bigger issue. Here are the top 10 most dangerous prisons in the world.

10. San Quentin Prison

San Quentin, California – In the 1930′s, San Quentin was rife with corruption by management, until a new director, Clinton Truman Duffy, appalled at the inhumane conditions at the prison, decided to implement reforms in the 1940′s. Prior to his appointment, prisoners made counterfeit currency in the prison shops, had their heads shaved and were forced to wear numbered uniforms, while eating out of pails and enduring solitary confinement in poured-concrete cells that had little air and no light. Even a petty offense to prison regulations would land an inmate in solitary, and race riots would put inmate lives at risk on a regular basis. San Quentin is still a harsh environment, filled with California’s most violent offenders, and the high ratio of guards to general population, just barely keeps the prison system from spiraling out of control.

9. Bang Kwang Prison

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Thailand – Known as the “Bangkok Hilton”, Bang Kwang is understaffed, overcrowded, and filled with inmates who struggle with insanity as they spend the first months of their sentences chained in leg irons. The Thai culture doesn’t believe in coddling prisoners, and, in the words of Director of Prison Khun Nattee, “Thai prisons are tough…you don’t want to be in Bang Kwang.” Poor medical care is standard at this prison, with sick inmates shackled to their beds as they wait for medicines they probably will never get. If you find yourself on Death Row at Bangkwang, you will have leg irons welded on until your execution, and you will be given only two hours notice before dying by lethal injection.

8. Rikers Island Prison

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Rikers Island, New York – Stabbings, beatings and brutal treatment from prison guards characterize this American prison. Filled primarily with offenders who are visible minorities, jailed on drug offenses, the prison is a hotbed of violence and aggression. In 2007, prisoner Charles Afflic was beaten senseless with a billy club by a prison official, who hit him repeatedly from behind: his injuries were so severe they necessitated brain surgery. 6 inmates committed suicide, hanging themselves with bedsheets in their cells, during the first six months of 2003 alone. Rikers has a reputation for its cruel treatment of mentally ill prisoners, who often turn to suicide in lieu of treatment and understanding.

7. ADX Florence Supermax Facility

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Colorado – This prison was built in response to the violent attacks on guards and prison staff at other US prisons – it was meant to be the ultimate deterrent, a place where inmates were completely isolated from prison staff, and left to live in slow psychological torture as they spent 23 hours a day in barren cells. Inmates at ADX are the worst of the worst, often repeat offenders who have killed or injured other inmates, or even prison guards, during their time in other institutions. Describes by inmates as a nightmare vision of punishment, “meant to inflict misery and pain”, this “clean version of hell” is also a violent place, despite all the steps taken to segregate and isolate the general population. In its 13 years of operation, two prisoners have been killed at ADX Florence. Another prisoner, named Lawrence Klaker, was shot and injured as he entered the Supermax prison for the first time: he later killed himself within prison walls.

6. Alcatraz Island Prison

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San Francisco, CA – This prison, known as “The Rock”, or “Devil’s Island” was built to house the criminals of the 1920′s, who broke laws during the times of Prohibition leading into the Great Depression. Another study in stark, soul-destroying discomfort and isolation, Alcatraz was known for its unique design, which made escape almost unthinkable. Inmates had no contact with the world outside the prison gates, and suffered harsh discipline from prison officials, as well as an inhumane policy of “silence” that forced prisoners to forgo speech for long periods of time. As can be expected, this was no boon to mental health, and many inmates went insane as they were forced to endure the stringent conditions of the prison without any conversation or other release of their emotions. The prison was shut down in 1963, but its grim legacy lives on, in film and legend.

5. La Sante Prison

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Paris, France – According to whistle-blower and former prison official Veronique Vasseur, this prison was a hellhole, where prisoners were forced to live out their sentences in concrete cells full of rats and lice. Inmates were prone to lose their sanity as they dealt with the harsh daily realities of life at La Sante – which translates, ironically, to “health” in the English language. The well being of inmates was very low on the list of priorities for the French administrators of this torture chamber on a grand scale: weaker inmates were routinely enslaved by stronger ones, and rapes were a daily event at the prison. Suicide was rampant at la Sante, with a staggering 122 self-inflicted deaths of prisoners in 2002, and 73 more by mid 2003. The tendency to suicide could be linked to the terrible living conditions that plunged inmates into clinical depression: overcrowding, understaffing, and prison violence led these people to swallow drain cleaner in order to end their suffering once and for all.

4. Diyarbak?r Prison

Turkey – This prison has been cited for its human right violations, which are thought to cross the line into true atrocity. From 1981 to 1984, 34 prisoners lost their lives due to the excessive instances of torture, both mental and physical, practiced at Diyarbakir. This prison is notorious for the sexual abuse of its inmates, and its unlivable conditions. Prisoners have attempted hunger strikes, set themselves on fire in protest of prison conditions, and committed suicide in order to escape the horrors of this Turkish facility. Diyarbakir is known to incarcerate mere children for sentences of life imprisonment, and its “crimes against humanity” make it one of the word’s most sadistic and forbidding penal institutions.

3. La Sabaneta Prison

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Venezuela – Venezuela is known for its brutal prisons, where violence is a daily occurrence, and inmates are at the mercy of disease outbreaks, underpaid staff, little medical services, and insufficient food and care. La Sabaneta is the worst of the worst, a place where cholera outbreaks have wiped out 700 inmates, amidst “appalling violence” and riots that triggered a horrific massacre of 100 inmates back in 1994. Death is rampant at La Sabaneta, and the hair-trigger tempers of inmates and staff are thought to be linked to idleness and boredom, as no activities are permitted to release tension: left to their own devices, prisoners fight amongst themselves, fashion shivs and other deadly weapons, and kill one another in this truly archaic penal facility.

2. Tadmor Prison

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Syria – The death count may not rank Tadmor Prison as number one on this list, but no other prison sent such shivers down my spine as I did my research. The violence at Tadmor is so gruesome and utterly merciless, I felt sick reading about it. Described as a “kingdom of death and madness” by a former detainee, Tadmor features bloodthirsty guards who butcher inmates with axes, and political prisoners (read: non violent protestors) who are starved to concentration camp emaciation by prison administrators. In 1980, after an assassination attempt on the President (in Damascus), inmates were made to pay the ultimate price as commandos landed at Tadmor in helicopters, and butchered as many as 500 prisoners in their cells: this “warning: sent a clear message to Syrians about staying in line. When guards are not busy tying up inmates and dragging them to death, they can be found chopping up body parts in one of the prison’s several courtyards.

1. Carandiru Prison

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Brazil – The body count was sky-high at this notorious Brazilian prison, where riots in 1992 triggered a massacre of the general population by local police: inmates, who had already given in and surrendered to police, were shot as they cowered in terror in their tiny cells. Deaths at this facility are thought to be as many as 1300 over its 46 year history: the reign of terror by prison officials was stopped in 2002 when the prison was closed, amidst campaigns from Amnesty International, and reports of gross human rights violations that could not be quieted by Brazilian officials.  The violence wasn’t the only thing threatening the unfortunate residents of this dark place: an AIDS epidemic at the facility spread rapidly, with as many as one in five of the inmates suffering from the disease.

Top Ten Worst Internet Scams

September 22, 2010

Top Ten Worst Unhealthy Fad Diets

September 19, 2010

Fad diets try to offer a quick fix for fast weight loss, and, even if they work, the result is short-term and the pounds come bouncing back. The biggest problem with unhealthy fad diets is that you shouldn’t stay on any of them for extended periods of time because they are generally unbalanced nutritionally. Many fad diets don’t work at all, and some can be dangerous because they’re based on bad or strange ideas, like “The Sleeping Beauty Diet” where you knock yourself out for several days at a time with sedatives.

10. The Pasta Chocolate Diet

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Am I dreaming? Pasta AND chocolate? You know the old saying: “If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is” and that’s the case here. You can’t drink anything but water, and the only chocolate you get is up to 1-ounce at the end of the day as an evening snack along with some popcorn, but you do get to eat pasta for lunch and dinner. Prohibited foods include sugar, alcohol, carbonated drinks, coffee, tea, nuts, all junk food imaginable except for popcorn, fried foods, dairy products, salt, and red meat. Do you know how small one ounce of chocolate is? Is it really worth it to not have a steak every once in a while? Most real diets encourage you to have some red meat prepared in a healthy way. This diet offers major food restrictions with a reward of 1 ounce of chocolate each night along with the absence of some very important nutrients.

9. The Chicken Soup Diet

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You’re allowed one breakfast per day (only one?), then you can eat as much chicken soup as you want for the rest of the day. This can’t be good. You’re basically living off of cereal, bagels, yogurt, figs, and gallons of chicken soup. This is similar to the “Cabbage Soup Diet” and both diets smell of malnutrition–among other things.

8. The Zen Diet

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It’s really a very simple plan–only eat food in its natural state, no red meat, and limit other meat considerably. Some Zen diets forbid all meat and dairy. The biggest problem is that little to no meat means not enough protein necessary for brain chemistry, muscle repair, and bone building; and little to no fat, the good fat, affects the body’s satiety and ability to stabilize blood sugar and decrease inflammation. Bring on the bacon!

7. Caveman Diet (Prehistoric Diet, Stone Age Diet, Paleolithic Diet)

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As you might guess, this diet revolves around trying to mimic the diet of the caveman. Allowed foods include lean meat (I suppose dinosaur meat was lean), fish, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts; and excludes: grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils. All foods eaten are those that can be hunted and gathered. Please tell me why we would want to pattern our eating habits after a caveman? Wasn’t their average lifespan around 15 years old or something??

6. The 12-Day Grapefruit Juice Diet

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This one really is too good to be true. You can eat till you’re full, you can double or triple the amount of meat, salad or vegetables for each meal, you can fry food in butter and use butter generously on vegetables, and you MUST eat bacon when they say to eat bacon. You can eat any kind of cheese, and you can have mayonnaise and regular salad dressing. But as the name indicates you must drink 8 ounces of grapefruit juice with every meal as it’s supposed to be the catalyst for burning off what you eat as long as you’re eating the right combinations of foods—don’t forget the bacon! You also have to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day. The promise, while gobbling down all that cheese, butter, bacon, and mayo, and swimming in water and grapefruit juice, is that you will lose 52 pounds in 2 ½ months. Right. NEXT!

5. The 3-Day Hot Dog Diet

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I’m not quite sure why they call this a ‘hot dog diet’ since the only time you actually EAT hot dogs is on the 2nd day at dinner. Otherwise, you’re eating regular diet foods like cottage cheese, tuna, fruit, veggies, and black coffee or tea for 3 days. Correction, you are instructed to have ½ cup of vanilla ice cream every night. Go figure—hot dogs and ice cream? I think they added 2 hot dogs on the menu for the second night just so they could call this a hot dog diet.

4. The Magnetic Diet

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The foundation of this diet is in understanding which foods attract either health or disease to the body. Contaminating magnetism supposedly attracts disease to the body and includes refined sugar, cholesterol, and white flour. Invigorating magnetism include fruits, whole grains, vegetables, lean meat, and foods containing antioxidants. In addition to only eating invigorating magnetism foods, the diet advocates doing meditation and re-programming the mind towards engaging in more healthy habits. Um, to me, it sounds like a new-age, catchy name for what we already know—eat a balanced diet, reduce sugar intake, reduce stress, and train your brain to replace bad habits with healthy choices.

3. Blood Type Diet

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Developed by Dr. Peter D’Adamo, ND, you basically eat or avoid eating foods according to your blood type, and this is supposed to help you lose weight. For example, this diet specifies that blood type B people should avoid corn, wheat, lentils, tomatoes, chicken, peanuts and sesame seeds, and they should eat goat, mutton, venison, eggs, green vegetables, and low fat dairy. However, the Mayo Clinic doesn’t think much of this diet and they say that “eating or avoiding certain foods according to your blood type isn’t thought to have any favorable influence on weight or health” and they also feel that this diet plan is unlikely to meet your nutritional needs at all. Again, another diet that leaves you malnourished in the end as well as very tired if you’re a B blood type person who has to go out and start hunting and shooting all of your food.

2. The Air Diet

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The Air Diet of the Institute for Psychoactive Research doesn’t require you to avoid any foods or change your current diet or exercise habits—you just breathe. Hmmm. How novel. Instead of focusing on what you eat or how much you eat, you focus on breathing. The idea is that if you practice rhythmical breathing, then you breathe more air. The more air you breathe, the more weight you lose. The best part is that you can do this anytime, anywhere—while driving, laying in bed, working, walking, having sex, and so on. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I’m breathing when I do all of those things. Whatever. NEXT!

1. Tapeworm Diet

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This must be the most disgusting diet ever thought of, and there is evidence that “tapeworm diet pills” were marketed from 1900 – 1920’s. Basically, you ingest beef tapeworm eggs (beef tapeworm is supposedly the best choice), and then you take medicine to kill the tapeworm after you’ve lost the desired amount of weight. It doesn’t take a genius to know this diet is both ineffective and unhealthy. You’re not changing your eating habits with this “diet,” so all the weight will come back once the worm is gone, and it’s extremely unhealthy to have a parasite living in your body sucking all of the nutrition out you.