Why Naked Mole Rats? 

Monday, August 27, 2007

For about a year now, numbers of visitors to this blog have jumped to an unbelievable number.

I went from around 10 daily visitors in early 2004 when I first added a site visit tracker thingie, to about 30 when I was blogging more frequently. Of that 30, almost 30 were readers as opposed to people googling hamster menstruation or slipper spanking (look me up, I am an authority of sorts in those fields).

Oddly enough, now that I only update once a week, my numbers have shot up to almost 400 visitors a day. Out of those 400 visitors, only about ten a day seem to be people actually looking to read this blog, meaning my readership is back to 2004 levels. The other 390 site visits are almost all from image links (like this). I sometimes just link to photos if I don't bother to write to ask for permission to use photos directly or if I never get an affirmative response from the image's copyright holder. Who knows why my links brings in so many visitors to my blog?

Mostly I ignore these visits. But sometimes a ridiculous amount of people come to just one post of mine. These days its the naked mole rat post. Last November I wrote about the British TV show QI and, in particular, about my discovery of the naked mole rat, a grotesquely fascinating looker of an animal. I linked to this picture.

A year ago it was hundreds, if not thousands of visitors coming to read the Resurrection post. I wrote that one after visiting Arizona in 2004 and, by writing it, I alienated one American reader who objected to my calling Americans "militaristic." I was then de-linked by this individual. Then no one noticed that post for two years. Suddenly, people from all over the US were entering my site through that one post, making me suspect someone emailed the link to a bunch of their friends. Is it the "militaristic" comment? Is it that the Marines are deciding whether or not to take me up on my request to being recruited? Is it the Arizona tourism board finally deciding to use my idea of Krazy Kat marketing to promote their state?

Now it's visitors from all over the US, Kuwait, Italy, Dubai, Britain, France, South Africa, Australia, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, Finland, Indonesia, Korea, Qatar and other countries coming to see pictures of naked mole rats. I'd love to know why that particular post.

In a rather stereotypical deduction, I am guessing that by the number of Islamic countries represented, it must be curious sheltered girls. The European countries also have sizeable Islamic immigrant populations, with yet more curious sheltered girls. These curious girls want to know what penises look like but they do not have access to art history textbooks and they cannot ask their brother's friends to display their goods. Their parents or their government monitors their online visits.

Then I come in. I write: "The naked mole rat is the only animal that resembles human male genitalia." Then I link to a picture of the penis-resembling naked mole rat. Voilà. Girls know what to expect their first time and I am a feminist hero. Well, hopefully the girls are not traumatized by the fangs. Or, if they are, hopefully they will be inspired by their nightmares to write some great horror novels that publishers will have the sense to translate into English.

So, what is it about naked mole rats? Seriously, I want in on the joke. Why so many visitors for this picture?


Asterix is Finally Happening 

Monday, August 27, 2007

It's drawing to the end of the summer, so perhaps the local kids are returning their books back to the library. I finally got my hands on Asterix the Gaul, the very first Asterix comic in the series, which first appeared as a serial comic on October 29, 1959 and were published in book form in 1961. Hopefully, I will have better luck finding the subsequent Asterix books so I can read them chronologically.

Asterix the Gaul sets up the Asterix universe scenario: where do these set of Gauls get their strength? The story revolves around the magic potion, which, for those of you who didn't grow up on Asterix comics, gives this one last unconquered Gaulish village's citizens superhuman strength to take on Julius Caesar's legionaries. Getafix the Druid does explain that the potion gives one strength but not invulnerability. To contain the uncooperating natives, the Roman army has set up four garrisons around the village, resulting in a little-known historical stalemate. With this simple recurring gag, René Goscinny fuelled 24 further books and, after his death, illustrator Albert Uderzo continued the series for, so far, another nine books.

In Asterix the Gaul, we're introduced to many of the major characters, including a last-minute cameo by Julius Caesar to usher in the sequels: ".....this is only a truce, Gaul. We shall meet again." However, many of the favourite Gauls are either missing or undeveloped. Cacofonix, the lousiest bard in all of Gaul, for example, is a respected musician in this book. On page 19, the Gauls are impatient for him to start playing, probably for the last time in the series. But Vitalstatistix appears in a mere two panels, there is no Impedimenta, Fulliautomatix the blacksmith looks nothing like himself, there is no Unhygenix or Geriatrix yet, which means no Mrs. Geriatrix.

However, the names of the male characters are always a fun puzzle to try and figure out. (The female names all end in -a.) The Gaulish male names always end in -ix, the Roman ones in -us. Aside from the regular cast, a Gaulish bit-player in this book was Tenansix (Ten and six). The Romans were:
  • Crismus Bonus (Christmas Bonus)
  • Julius Pompus
  • Marcus Ginantonicus (Gin and Tonic)
  • Caligula Minus (who becomes Caliguliminix when disguised as a Gaul; Caligula means Little Boots - the nickname of the crazy emperor Caligula - and Minus is also a diminutive as pointed out by Asterix NZ)
  • Tullius Octopus
  • Gracchus Sextilius
  • Claudius Quintilius
  • Caius Flebitus
I own the next two books, Asterix and the Golden Sickle and Asterix and the Goths, though the latter is in Romanian, a language I am still learning. I will read the Romanian version as well as the English version, and compare the two in an upcoming post.

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Tintin's Cigars and Opium 

Monday, August 20, 2007

Reading along smoothly on my Tintin-and-Asterix streak, I recently finished reading the Tintin adventures Cigars of the Pharaoh and The Blue Lotus.

Though Cigars of the Pharaoh is still not a completely cohesive story, Hergé was by now losing interest in disconnected episodes. Notable for having the first appearance of the Thompson Twins, Tintin also proves he is cuter in local costumes than the decidedly uncute Twins.

In The Blue Lotus, Tintin also wears the local outift, spending most of the book in a blue Chinese suit. I forgot how cute Tintin looks with his new friend Chang Chong-chen, inspired by Hergé's real-life friend and Chinese culture advisor Zhang Chongren.

Father Gosset, the University of Leuven Chinese students' chaplain, introduced Zhang to Hergé so that the cartoonist wouldn't mess up the depiction of China as he did in previous books (apparently there is a Fu Manchu torture chamber in Land of the Soviets). Hergé ended up doing so well in depicting the realities of 1930s China, that the Japanese diplomats complained to the Belgian government.

(Hergé and Zhang were eventually reunited in 1981 in France; Zhang received French citizenship in 1985, living in Paris until his death in 1998.)

Hopefully, I can track down the next Tintin adventure, The Broken Ear.


Other Tintin links found while writing this post:

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Pod Person Testament 

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I may not have long to live. In case I die mysteriously during the night and found tomorrow morning as a rotting pod person wallowing in a labyrinth of red fungal matter, please use this blog post as a starting point for the investigation into my death.

For weeks, Matt and I have noticed red dust all over Ivan the cat's bathroom. At first I blamed it on plastic. I suspected that our latest package of toilet paper was shedding the red ink printed on it. Once we finished that package of toilet paper and got a different brand, the red dust continued to pollute Ivan's bathroom.

So I next laid the blame on the mushrooms. Below our window, hundreds of mushrooms sprouted during the recent rains. Pretty little things, with jaunty caps, as if you'd expect them to start dancing. Must've been their spores wafting through our open window.

But tonight, I found out. I stuck my finger, unwittingly, into the heart of the matter.

In a frenzy to clean out the pet supplies cabinet to get to my foot bath basin, I found long-forgotten packages of cat and hamster treats. I collected a handful for Lucian, then a handful for Ivan.

Then I opened Ivan's container of Pounce. The Bigger Softer Bite. Beef flavoured. Never even remembered buying it.

The inside was a red dust. Yet, I didn't quite believe it was red dust. I did not believe what I saw. I poked it.

My husband was horrified. "Oh, my god, that's where all the red spores have been coming from!"


If you remember grade twelve biology, you recall the five kingdoms of life forms: bacterial, protist, fungal, plant and animal. You know that antibiotics kill bacteria, that fungicides kill fungi, that neither can kill viruses because viruses do not quite fit into any of the five kingdoms nor are even living organisms.

Yet, after sticking my finger in the motherlode of red spores, my first reaction was to douse my hands with anti-bacterial soap and scrub away. With no bleach around, this was the first thing I saw that spelled salvation.

I even accidentally ripped off the scab over my recent burn, probably in the process infecting myself further with the red spores.

Now I am sitting here, awaiting fate.

The vector for a new and terrifying fungal disease, I will be patient zero of some awful epidemic. While it would be nice if I start a dramatic zombie plague and end up triggering armageddon, I'll probably just fester into an oozing red slime. Not too ladylike, I'm afraid. Please, please, just don't let my pod double be some sort of gelatinous freak with a dog body and Donald Sutherland's head.

Good god, I already feel the mushrooms sprouting in my veins.

It can't be long now.


Where Art Thou, Asterix? 

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I've been to three public libraries. All the Tintins and the Asterixes are out. Borrowed by little whippersnappers who should be absorbed in the new Harry Potter.

I cannot find the first Asterix book. That's Asterix the Gaul. The first book I was to read in order to make my 60-book quota before December 31.

Nor can I find Asterix and the Goths.

I can, however, find the later Asterixes: Asterix and the Actress, Asterix and the Black Gold, Asterix and the Magic Carpet. Not the canonical Asterixes.

The Tintins, meanwhile, are not quite as reclusive.

I found and read Tintin in America. The subsequent Tintins also appear accessible through the local libraries.

But the first two Tintins, Tintin in the Congo and Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, are nowhere to be seen.

I know the former is out there, because the UK's Commission for Racial Equality recently put out a call to bookstores to ban this book for its racist colonial attitude towards Africans (as reported by the BBC). The book already carries a warning just like CDs with "bad" music. The warning alerts potential readers that the book contains "bourgeois, paternalistic stereotypes of the period - an interpretation some readers may find offensive." Since the resulting publicity, sales of the 1931 comic has risen by almost 4000%.

I am prepared to be offended by Tintin in the Congo. But until the library succumbs to popular curiosity and purchases a copy, I skipped ahead to Tintin in America.

Replete with 1930s American stereotypes - Chicago gangsters, rampant development, cowboy lynch mobs, innocents tied across railroad tracks - the book is most offensive when it comes to the representation of the First Nations. We're talking boys and arrows, tomahawks, papooses, references to scalping, and "torture poles." You've also got the usual, mostly hyphenated "Indian" names: Big Chief Keen-Eyed-Mole, Browsing-Bison, Bull's-Eye, and Lame Duck.

Yet, with six more books to go until I get to the expletive-rich Captain Haddock, I do appreciate this gem from the mouth of the Mighty Sachem:
Let us raise the tomahawk against this miserable Paleface with the heart of a prairie dog!

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Of Hairy Cats and Dandruff 

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Cat ownership is new for me. The cat my family had when I was eight doesn't qualify: it was a working cat. It made itself useful by prowling the exterior of the house looking for varmints.

Ivan, instead, is a house cat and a lavishly hairy one. I found out how hairy he was when I recently tried to comb out all his loose hairs before they could shed themselves on my freshly vacuumed carpet.

(I am allergic to cats. I used to hate vacuuming. My stepcat has made me love vacuuming.)

My methodology was to comb him until A) no more hair filled the cat brush or B) Ivan got bored and ran away.

Half an hour and twenty handfuls of cat hair pulled from the brush later, I started brushing against the grain. I brushed Ivan's head, his back, his tummy, his tail and his legs. He purred the entire time.

After 40 minutes, Ivan was covered in dandruff. I was afraid that I was brushing off living skin cells, but Ivan seemed to love it. He licked my toes.

Finally, when it was all over, 45 minutes after the brushing started, this is how much cat hair I accumulated:

Ivan's Combed Out Fur

Can't read the measurements? Here's a close-up:

For Reference

Are all long-haired cat this shed-ful?




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