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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Wonderful Taraxacum and Snake Wine

     Taraxacum is a large genus of flowering plants which consists of species commonly known as dandelions. They are native to Eurasia and North America, but the two commonplace species worldwide were introduced from Europe and now propagate as wildflowers although when they are in your yard they are considered weeds. Fortunately there are many products to rid them from your yard though. 
     Both of the common species are edible in their entirety. They have very small flowers collected together into a composite flower head. Each single flower in a head is called a floret. In part due to their abundance along with being a generalist species, dandelions are one of the most vital early spring nectar sources for a wide host of pollinators. Many species produce seeds asexually by apomixis, where the seeds are produced without pollination, resulting in offspring that are genetically identical to the parent plant. 
     In general, the leaves are 2–10 inches long or longer, simple, lobed, and form a basal rosette above the central taproot. The flower heads are yellow to orange colored, and are open in the daytime, but closed at night. The heads sit atop a hollow stem (technically called a scape) that is usually leafless and rises 3/8ths to 4 inches or more above the leaves. Stems and leaves exude a white, milky latex when broken. The flower heads are 3/4 to 2 inches in diameter and consist entirely of ray florets. The flower heads mature into spherical seed heads called blowballs or clocks containing many single-seeded fruits called achenes. Each achene is attached to a pappus of fine hairs which enable wind-aided dispersal over long distances. 
     The dispersed seeds rapidly colonize disturbed soil, especially the common dandelion which has been introduced over much of the temperate world. After flowering is finished, the dandelion flower head dries out for a day or two. The dried petals and stamens drop off, the bracts reflex (curve backwards), and the parachute ball opens into a full sphere.
There are also false dandelions. The leaves of dandelions are smooth whereas those of false dandelions are coarsely hairy. 
     Aside from being obnoxious when they are in a lawn, dandelions are supposed to have several health benefits although these claims are currently being studied for complete validation. They are also rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and detoxifiers.
Some health benefits include: improved bone health, control of diabetes, skin care, treatment of urinary disorders, prevention of acne, treating jaundice, weight loss, cancer prevention, prevention of gall bladder disorders, cures constipation, prevents anemia and regulates blood pressure. 
     Dandelions can also be used as a vegetable and are a good source of fiber. It promotes digestion and in the past, it was used to treat scurvy because of its high levels of vitamin C. It also has healing effects on dyspepsia, infections in the stomach, intestines, and the urinary system. 
     A word of caution: dandelions can be helpful in lowering blood sugar, but for patients already taking blood-sugar modulators, this can result in hypoglycemia. Also, the milk sap of dandelions has been known to cause itchiness, irritation, or allergic reactions on the skin, and should be kept away from the eyes. Finally, there is a rare type of fiber in dandelions called inulin and some people have a predisposed sensitivity or allergy to it which can be quite severe. While adding dandelion greens to your diet in any way, start small and closely monitor your body’s response. 
     By the way, you can't kill a dandelion by pulling it. They produce strong taproots 6-18 inches deep and they can produce new plants even when cut off below the soil.
     Every part of the dandelion is edible: you can eat the leaves as greens either cooked or in salad, you can make dandelion wine, fry the flowers into fritters, make coffee and tea drinks out of the stem and seeds and more.

     Now while on the subject wine, did you know you can make snake wine? It's true. Snake wine is an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. The drink was first recorded to have been consumed in China around 1040–770 BC and is considered an important curative and believed to reinvigorate a person according to Traditional Chinese medicine. It can be found in China, Goa (India), Vietnam, and throughout Southeast Asia. 
     The first thing you have to do is get yourself a snake, preferably a venomous one. That's because to have their "essence" the snake venom has to be dissolved in the liquor. The snake venom poses no threat to the drinker because it is denatured by the ethanol, its proteins being inactivated by the alcohol although stomach acid does the same thing. 
     Once you have your snake, you are ready to make one of two types of snake wine depending on whether you want to use just parts of a live snake or the entire snake itself. 
Steeped: A whole venomous snake is placed into a glass jar of rice wine or grain alcohol, sometimes along with smaller snakes and medicinal herbs and left to steep for many months. The wine is drunk as a restorative in small shots or cups.
You insert the snakes into the container while they are still alive and drown them. Or, if you are feeling humane, stun it by placing it on ice then gut it, sew it back up. You have to be careful with the later method though because the snake will likely waken and thrash around, before curling into an aggressive striking pose and dying. Gutting is sometimes preferred because the removal of the snake's innards can noticeably reduce the pungent smell of the finished wine.  Putting them in the alcohol live  has an aesthetic advantage because the snakes often die in a coiled position which some people find attractive. 
Mixed: The fresh body fluids of the snake are mixed directly into prepared alcohol and consumed immediately in the form of a shot. Snake blood wine is prepared by slicing a snake along its belly and draining its blood directly into the drinking vessel filled with rice wine or grain alcohol.  
     If you're curious you can watch a snake being stuffed into the alcohol jar HERE.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Law Enforcement Officers

     Generally I support all law enforcement officers because they do a job that is sometimes dangerous and it's one I would not want to do. But my experience has been that even in non-threatening situations they are rude, arrogant and not very bright and are incapable of using any independent judgment. While I am at it, let's throw in TSA officers at the airport.

      On two occasions I have had the pictured knife/nail file/scissors key chain, which is about one inch long, confiscated because it is a “weapon.” Once upon entering the courthouse and once upon entering a county fair. Seriously?! I could do more damage stabbing someone with a car key or a pencil.
     In fact, several years ago my wife served on jury duty at a trial where the defendant was involved in a fight with another bar patron and during the fracas stabbed his assailant through a winter coat with a similar key chain knife.  The charge?  Attempted murder!  He was acquitted.

     A few weeks ago, I accompanied my wife (she was driving) when she took her mother home. Because it's easier for her mother to sit in the front seat, I sat in the back. After dropping her mother off, I remained in the back seat. On the way home we stopped at a shopping plaza and a Sheriff's deputy pulled my wife over claiming she did not come to a full stop at a stop sign that was actually on private property. She got a lecture about coming to a full stop and a good way to make sure you do that is count one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand. But, his real concern was why was I sitting in the back seat? Was she an Uber driver, he wanted to know? He asked, “Why is that man sitting in the back seat? Is he drunk or on drugs?”  Being satisfied with the answers, he let her go with a warning to drive carefully. Really? What concern was it of his why I was sitting in the back seat?

      Another thing that galls me is when I see local police sitting on Interstate highways trying to nab speeders in order to make money for the communities through which the Interstates passes.

      The State Highway Patrol is a statewide law enforcement agency charged with the responsibility of enforcing traffic and criminal laws on public roadways and on state-owned or leased property as well as vehicle inspections, school bus inspections, commercial vehicle weigh stations, conducting aircraft and vehicle crash investigations and providing security for state facilities. Thus, the Highway Patrol has jurisdiction over all public roadways, including city streets.

      Still, we have local police to patrol city streets, so today I was really peeved to see a Highway Patrolman lurking along a two mile long stretch of “rural” street.  I call it "rural" even though it is actually within the city limits. Being in the city limits means the speed limit is 25 miles per hour, but nobody drives at that speed along that stretch of road. Here's a view of the road:

      On my return trip the patrolman actually had someone pulled over and was writing them a speeding ticket. My guess is they were probably doing like most people along that stretch and driving 35-40 miles per hour.

      OK, legally the Highway Patrol has jurisdiction along this street, but couldn't his time be better used out patrolling the State highways, the turnpike or the interstate and letting the local police take care of the city streets? Surely the people I see cruising those State highways at 80-90 miles per hour are a bigger menace than people hitting 40 on a low traffic volume stretch of street like in the picture.

      Such behavior might not be a big deal, but in the words of the late comedian Bernie Mack, it makes my butt itch!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Reading Glasses

     The realization of a need for reading glasses usually kicks in when the smaller print we’ve been reading with no problem suddenly seems to be impossible to read. As we age, our eyes just can’t focus as well as they used to on close up objects. The technical term is presbyopia. Scientists are unable to fully explain the exact reasons why presbyopia is likely to occur, but it may be a result of reduced elasticity in the lenses of the eyes. 
     The need for reading glasses happens most commonly between ages 40-50, but the fact is that even by age 25, many people begin experiencing a decline in their near vision. This may also include the inability to see objects or small print in a dim light. Symptoms such as eye strain, headaches and/or sore eyes while doing close up activities may be a sign of worsening presbyopia that requires reading glasses. Studies show that people whose work involves close up tasks tend to go to their eye doctor about reduced near vision sooner than those who are not employed in these sorts of fields. 
     The best thing to do is not to wait. Why suffer from eyestrain if a pair of reading glasses will solve the problem? Why visit an eye doctor when you can buy reading glasses off the shelf, sometimes for as low as a dollar a pair? Most people do not have exactly the same prescription in both eyes and almost everyone has at least a small amount of astigmatism. Headaches, eye strain, and even nausea can result from wearing reading glasses that are not a good fit. If you experience these problems and can't find a pair that works then you need to visit an eye doctor for a customized reading glasses prescription. Otherwise, off the shelf glasses are just fine. 
     One misconception about reading glasses is that your vision will get worse over time by wearing them, but that is not true. Glasses are simply an aid to improve vision and they will not cause your eyesight to grow worse. In fact, an ophthalmologist told me that you cannot damage your eyes wearing someone else's glasses. Likewise, if you wear glasses, not wearing them will not cause your vision to deteriorate. 
     If you wear reading glasses, the side effects of not wearing them could include blurriness and distortion, but trying to focus without glasses will not make your vision deteriorate faster, though it could lead to squinting and eyestrain. The primary effects of not wearing your glasses is temporary and, at most, can cause discomfort. 
     Using over-the-counter reading glasses from a pharmacy or online retailer (versus readers from your optometrist) will not hurt your eyes. Non-prescription reading glasses contain magnifying lenses in different powers that work just as well as prescription glasses. However, wearing non-prescription reading glasses that are either too weak or too strong could be bothersome, but it will not cause long-term damage to your vision. 
     Even if you have 20/20 vision, many eye and vision problems do not have symptoms, so it’s important to get your eyes checked regularly by an optometrist to make sure they stay healthy as you age. Eye exams may reveal health conditions such as tumors and diabetes that can be detected before physical symptoms are present. For example, I was told during a routine eye exam for glasses that my eyes were showing early signs of cataracts, but the cataracts themselves did not show up for almost 25 years!
     Optometrists are doctors of optometry, check for routine eye health and prescriptions, while ophthalmologists are MDs and are additionally able to perform invasive surgeries and procedures. Over the years, the lines between these two eye professionals has blurred, as all 50 states allow optometrists to treat many of the same medical conditions that only ophthalmologists previously treated. 
     Generally speaking, for regular checkups as well as problems affecting the surface of the eye (such as allergies, irritations, eyestrain, and conjunctivitis), see an optometrist. For serious symptoms such as loss of vision or eye surgery, see an ophthalmologist. In my case when I visited an optometrist for new glasses when he saw a cataract in my right eye he immediately arranged for me to see an ophthalmologist. 
    Reading glasses come in many types and can also be obtained in sunglasses: 
Single Vision Full Readers - magnification provided is uniform, meaning that text will look the same no matter which portion of the lens you’re looking through. Perfect for glasses you intend to wear only when you need to read something. 
Single Vision Half Readers - these lenses keep the magnification the same, however, the smaller frame allows you to see over the lens when you want to look at something in the distance. 
Traditional Bifocals - upper portion of the lenses is clear. Lowering your eyes to the bifocal segment provides magnification for reading. This allows you to wear the frames comfortably for longer periods of time when you’re not using them to read. 
Progressive No-Line Bifocals – the upper portions of the lenses are clear (not magnified). As you lower your eyes, the magnification increases gradually, until you can comfortably read small text. 
Computer-Style Progressive Bifocals – computer readers have a progressive lens that offers varying levels of magnification. This allows you to switch easily between reading printed documents and working at a computer. These glasses also have a special anti-glare coating that helps minimize eye strain that can be caused by fluorescent lights or flickering monitors. 

     There are a few valid reasons for getting prescription readers. Over the counter readers have the same power in both eyes and you may need a different power for each eye. Looking through readers of the wrong power can cause eye strain by making one eye work harder than the other. 
     Only prescription readers can correct astigmatism, which if uncorrected can cause headaches, tired eyes, and vision that seems a little off. 
     Over the counter readers are one size fits all. Prescription reading glasses are made so that the optical center of the lens is lined up exactly at the center of the pupil. If the optical center is not lined up, you may end up looking through the side of the lens, which can cause eye strain and eye muscle imbalances. 
     Prescription lenses are made optically perfect with no distortions, waves or bubbles in the lenses. If you examine a pair of over the counter readers of low quality, the lenses may have some unwanted defects. By the way, readers will not correct nearsightedness because the condition usually requires a "minus or negative" lens. Over the counter glasses only come in "plus or positive" powered lenses. 
     If ready-made readers are suitable, your eye doctor will let you know; mine did. If they recommend prescription readers, believe them. Many people purchase several pairs of inexpensive readers and stash them in different places all over the house and in the car. 

Best Reading Glasses of 2018 – Buyer’s Guide & Reviews

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Facebook Addiction

     Few people are aware that Facebook and other social media are intentionally exploiting people’s psychological vulnerabilities to keep them addicted to their sites. And, that's according to the man who made a fortune as one of Facebook's early investors and first president, Sean Parker.
      Facebook claims its purpose is to make the world open and connected, build communities and bring the world closer together. Bull! In an interview Parker admitted to being something of a conscientious objector to social media and having some regret about his own role in helping to mold Facebook into what it has become. Parker is on record as saying the goal was to figure out how to consume as much of the user's time and attention as possible. The idea was to try and give users a little dopamine hit every whenever they got validation of a post with a like, share or favorable comment.
      Facebook has become more than just sharing inane social stuff. CBS’ television program 60 Minutes ran a program with the theme of brain hacking and featured Dopamine Labs, company produces a software program called Skinner (named after behaviorist psychologist B.F. Skinner) that companies can use to monitor their own apps and tweak them to make them even more addictive. Interestingly, the company is playing on both sides of the fence. Dopamine also offers an app called Space that helps people manage their notifications and the time they spend online.
      While it is perfectly acceptable to use Facebook as a means of entertainment, when Facebook activities start interfering with a person's everyday life they have a problem. There are a lot of users who think nothing of voluntarily sharing intimate secrets about their lives and often saying things they later regret. Other spend a lot of time checking their posts for comments, likes and shares to the point that Facebook interferes with free time activity or they are constantly switching between work or assignments to their Facebook page. It was such a problem that the company I worked for had to go to the extreme of forbidding employees from using Facebook on company time.
      For many, their Facebook image is all-important. They are always trying to project a certain image of who they are to others. Most of us have “friends” (I use quotation marks because I have seen people with thousands of “friends” - who has that many friends??) who are constantly appearing on Facebook who post about everything they are doing and uploading selfies, etc. For some users, there is an intense desire to add friends. There is race to see who has the highest number of friends in a quest to be seen as more popular. I have also seen posts by family members who have taken their family squabbles public and I know of two people who chose to reveal their sexual orientation on Facebook.
      Research done by psychologists from Edinburgh Napier University found that Facebook users with more friends tend to be more stressed up when using Facebook. The more friends they have, the more they feel pressured to maintain appropriate etiquette for different types of friends while remaining entertaining. It results in a vicious cycle of increasing Facebook-related tensions, resulting in worse addiction outcomes.
People who become over-reliant on Facebook to fulfill their social needs may start sacrificing the time spent on real-life interaction with people. As a result non-verbal communication such as body language, gestures, voice tones, etc. becomes more and more difficult for them to interpret which makes real-life interaction more and more difficult for them.

Facebook Addiction and the Brain
      One study found that the brains of people who report compulsive urges to use the social networking show some brain patterns similar to those found in drug addicts. A major difference is that in Facebook addicts the brain regions that inhibit impulsive behavior seems unaffected.
      Also, according to some studies Facebook (and other social networking sites) can have a profound impact by hurting a woman's body image, cause people to obsess over failed relationships and even lead some people into depression. In fact, there's term called "fear of missing out" in which some people get depressed because they aren't taking part in many of the activities they see on Facebook.
      Psychological tests on Facebook addicts have even revealed that Facebook cues were much more potent triggers in people's brains than the traffic signs. How important is that finding? It means that, if they are driving on a street next to someone who has a compulsive relationship with Facebook, they are going to respond faster to a ringing cellphone than to street signs.
      What causes addiction? A trigger, such as loneliness, boredom or stress; an action, such as logging in to Facebook; an unpredictable or variable reward, such as scrolling through a mix of juicy and boring tidbits in the newsfeed; and investment, which includes posting pictures or liking someone's status update. This comes from said the startup founder and author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Would You Buy A Used Car From These Men?

     Robert S. McNamara (June 9, 1916 – July 6, 2009) was an American business executive and Secretary of Defense, serving from 1961 to 1968 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Sometimes known as the “Author of the Vietnam War”, he played a major role in escalating the United States involvement in the war. I never liked the guy and likened him to a weasel. Nor did I like his boss, President Lyndon B. Johnson, who I considered to be a crude and vulgar man.
     McNamara was born in San Francisco, California, graduated from UC Berkeley and Harvard Business School and served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. After the war, Henry Ford II hired McNamara and a group of other Army Air Force veterans to work for Ford Motor Company. These "Whiz Kids" helped reform Ford with modern planning, organization, and management control systems. After briefly serving as Ford's president, McNamara accepted appointment as Secretary of Defense.
     He became a close adviser to John F. Kennedy and advocated the use of a blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy and McNamara instituted a Cold War defense strategy of flexible response, consolidated intelligence and logistics functions of the Pentagon into two centralized agencies: the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Defense Supply Agency.
     Beginning with the Kennedy administration, it was McNamara who presided over the build-up of the US military in South Vietnam. After the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, the number of US soldiers in Vietnam escalated dramatically. Eventually he grew skeptical of the efficacy of committing US soldiers to Vietnam and in 1968 he resigned as Secretary of Defense to become President of the World Bank. At least he deserves credit for admitting he was wrong. But, let me tell you what he did that lead to over 58,000 Americans, many of them my friends, and who know how many Vietnamese, getting killed for nothing.
     The Gulf of Tonkin incident, also known as the USS Maddox incident, was an international confrontation that led to the United States engaging more directly in the Vietnam War. It involved alleged confrontations involving North Vietnam and the United States in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The whole incident, which occurred in President Johnson's first year as president, was fake.
     On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox, while performing an intelligence patrol was pursued by three North Vietnamese Navy torpedo boats and Maddox fired three warning shots and the North Vietnamese boats then attacked with torpedoes and machine gun fire.
     The National Security Agency claimed that a Second Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred on August 4, 1964, but that was simply not true. The second incident was the result of an overzealous US Navy radar operator and ghost image on the radar, and some politicians took advantage of this non-incident for their own purposes.
     James Stockdale (December 23, 1923 – July 5, 2005), a Navy Vice Admiral, who served as a pilot and was awarded the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War during which he was a prisoner of war for over seven years flew missions during both events confirmed that there were no North Vietnamese boats during the second “incident.” In a 2003 documentary McNamara even admitted the second Gulf of Tonkin attack never happened. In 1995, former Vietnam People's Army General Vo Nguyen Giap also claimed “absolutely nothing" happened.
     Secretary McNamara told President Johnson that a US Navy vessel had been attacked and urged retaliation. The President agreed. Johnson ordered Maddox and another ship, the Turner Joy, to stage daylight runs into North Vietnamese waters, testing the 12 nautical miles limit and North Vietnamese resolve. The outcome of these two incidents was that Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by "communist aggression". The resolution served as Johnson's legal justification for deploying US conventional forces and the commencement of open warfare against North Vietnam. 
     On August 2, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon the orders from the Maddox's captain were to open fire if the Vietnamese boats approached within ten thousand yards. Five minutes later the Maddox fired three rounds to warn them off and the gunboats turned around. The Johnson administration lied about this fact and insisted that the Vietnamese boats fired first.
     Shortly before midnight, on August 4, 1964 President Johnson interrupted national television to make an announcement in which he described an attack by North Vietnamese vessels on two US Navy warships, Maddox and Turner Joy, and requested authority to undertake a military response. Johnson also referred to the attacks as having taken place "on the high seas," suggesting that they had occurred in international waters which was not true.
     The whole mess started when some fast patrol boats were quietly purchased from Norway and sent to South Vietnam. In 1963 three young Norwegian skippers were recruited by a Norwegian intelligence officer, who unknown to them, was working for the United States.
     They agreed to a job involving sabotage missions against North Vietnam. The missions themselves originated from the office of Admiral U.S. Grant Sharp, Jr., CINCPAC in Honolulu, who received his orders from the White House.
     After the sabotage attacks began, Hanoi lodged a complaint with the International Control Commission which oversaw the terms of the Geneva Accords, but the US (meaning Johnson and McNamara) denied any involvement. Four years later, Secretary McNamara admitted to Congress that he and Johnson lied.
     Regarding the Maddox incident, Oregon Senator Wayne Morse smelled a rat. He attempted to raise awareness about possible faulty records of the incident involving Maddox. He supposedly received a call from an anonymous informant urging Morse to investigate official logbooks of Maddox, but the logs were not available before President Johnson's resolution was presented to Congress. Morse tried to warn Congress to be wary of President Johnson's conniving, but nobody believed him because he had no hard evidence. After the United States became more deeply mired in the war his claim began to gain support. When Morse ran for re-election in 1968 he was defeated.
     Theories abound. Various government officials and even embers of the Maddox's crew have suggested the whole scheme was designed to provoke the North Vietnamese and escalate US involvement. It's also been claimed that American politicians and strategists had been planning provocative actions against North Vietnam for some time. American diplomat George Ball told a British journalist after the war that "at that time...many people...were looking for any excuse to initiate bombing".
     According to Raymond McGovern, a retired CIA officer, the CIA, President Johnson, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy all knew that the evidence of any second attack on the evening of August 4, 1964, was highly doubtful. He also claimed Johnson and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were eager to widen the war in Vietnam.
     In his book, Body of Secrets, James Bamford, who spent three years in theNavy as an intelligence analyst, writes that the primary purpose of the Maddox "was to act as a seagoing provocateur—to poke its sharp gray bow and the American flag as close to the belly of North Vietnam as possible, in effect shoving its five-inch cannons up the nose of the communist navy.... The Maddox' mission was made even more provocative by being timed to coincide with commando raids, creating the impression that the Maddox was directing those missions..."

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Fun Rat Facts

     Unless you have a pet rat, they probably aren't your favorite animal and you don't want them in or even around your home, but in spite of their bad reputations, rats are pretty interesting creatures. 
     Rats are various medium-sized, long-tailed rodents of the superfamily Muroidea. “True rats” are members of the genus Rattus, the most important of which to humans are Rattus rattus, the black rat and Rattus norvegicus, the brown rat. 
     Black rats have a slender body about 6 1/2 to 8 inches long. They weigh about 6 to 12 ounces. Their color varies from black to brownish-gray. Their underside varies from gray to white. Their nose and muzzle are pointed, their eyes are large and prominent and their ears are large and cover the eyes if bent forward. They have a hairless tail which has a uniform color and is longer than their head and body. 
     Brown rats or Norway rats have a heavy and thick body about 7 to 10 inches long. They weigh about 10 to 17 ounces. Their color may vary from grayish-brown, a pure gray to a blackish- or reddish-brown. Their underside is gray to yellow-white. Their nose and muzzle are blunt, their eyes are small and their ears are close to the body and won’t cover the eyes if bent forward. Their tail is dark on top with a lighter underside and shorter than their head and body. 
     Most rats live in communities, in which they groom each other, sleep together and even play. However, they are territorial, so they can turn aggressive toward unfamiliar rats. A group of rats is called a mischief, a pack or a swarm. They also have a powerful social chain of command in which the largest and strongest rats get the best food. 
     Rats very lovable animals. They love being in the group of their own species or humans. They like playing collectively and love to sleep curled up together. They take care of the injured and sick rats in their group. And they can even become lonely, depressed, anxious and stressed. Rats are more intelligent than rabbits, hamsters, mice, gerbils and guinea pigs and have excellent memories. Once rats learn a direction-finding route, they never forget it. Rats are curious and will choose to run away rather than confront a potential threat. 
     Rats have been used throughout history as food for people and pets, religious icons, laboratory animals, pets, mine detectors, animals used in sports and some have even been trained to drag wires through walls making some electricians’ jobs go much faster. 
     Rats have very poor eyesight and are colorblind and most are right-handed. Rats have been proven to make a laughter-like noise when tickled and dream while sleeping. You'll never hear one laughing though because it is inaudible to the human ear.  An adult rat can squeeze into your home through a hole as small as the size of a quarter. 
     They can live for up to 18 months, but most die before they are one year old. According to the Guinness Book of World Records the longest lived domestic rat died at seven years and four months of age. 
     Rats have strong teeth that allow them to chew through glass, cinder block, wire, aluminum and lead. Their incisors continuously grow throughout their life. Their teeth can grow up to 5 inches per year so they have to chew on things to wear them down. Rats do not have the ability to vomit which is they way some rat poisons work. It makes them puke, but since they can't, the choke to death. 
     For some people rats make good pets. They are a very clean, spending several hours a day grooming them and they are highly intelligent, affectionate, loving and very loyal and they are very trainable. 
     A rat's hairless tail can be used to regulate their body temperature. Rats don’t sweat nor do they pant to relieve the heat like a dog. Rather, rats control their body temperature by expanding and contracting the blood vessels in their tails. Their tails are also used to provide balance and to communicate with each other. They have scent glands on the bottom of their feet that mark territories and help them retrace their footsteps. 
     Ancient Romans considered rats to be a sign of good luck and ancient Egyptians and Mayans worshiped rats. A temple dedicated to Hindu goddess Karni Mata in northwest India is home to more than 15,000 rats. They are worshiped and protected, and human devotees of the temple believe that when they die, they will be reincarnated as rats. 
     Rats are prolific breeders. A female can reproduce every three weeks or so. And when she gives birth, the litter typically contains six to 10 pups. These pups become sexually mature when they’re three to four months old and can begin spawning their own broods. 
     Rats can swim extremely well. Some types of rats can tread water for up to three days and hold their breath for three minutes and some species can swim over a mile. Stories about rats popping up in toilets is no urban legend because they can easily make their way up sewer pipes. 
     The types of rats most people are used to seeing are small compared to some of their more massive rodent relatives. The Sumatran bamboo rat, for example, can weigh up to 8.8 pounds and measure 20 inches in total length. That’s the size of a small housecat. While not as heavy at 3 pounds, the Gambian pouched rat can measure as long as 3 feet from nose to tail. 
     One of the most well-known facts about rats is that they can carry germs that spread diseases that can affect humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rats and mice can spread over 35 diseases. 
     And, if you have read this blog you'd know that rats are considered by some people to be delicious.  See my post Rat Meat.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Pee Dancing

     An average adult bladder can hold up to about 2 cups (about half a liter) of urine before your brain starts telling you it's time to relieve yourself. Could waiting to pee actually cause your bladder to burst? 
     The answer is a qualified yes. Trauma, surgery or radiation can cause a bladder to become injured, retain urine and burst. Another newly documented danger is binge drinking. A report in the British Medical Journal found that alcohol-induced bladder rupture has sent a number of women to hospital emergency rooms. 
     Physicians found that men and women were equally at risk for bladder ruptures, but that more women were now drinking large quantities of alcohol. In the cases of three women admitted to a hospital in England, they complained of lower abdominal pain after drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and doctors discovered that women's bladders had burst. Alcohol increases urine output, while simultaneously dulling the urge to empty the bladder.
     These effects, coupled with mild trauma, such as a fall, greatly increase the risk of rupture.  If the bladder bursts it releases urine into the abdominal cavity which results in lower abdominal pain. The treatment involves a procedure in which a catheter is inserted via the urethra to drain the urine. There's usually a surgical procedure required to repair the bladder and clean the abdominal cavity. 
     Most people don't need to worry about holding their pee until their bladder bursts, though. The more likely scenario is that you'll pee your pants long before your bladder ruptures. Draining your bladder frequently and completely is good for your health because it helps avoid infections brought on by bacteria buildup. 
     A full bladder can be agony and you can even experience diminished focus and cognitive abilities plus a lot of squirming. Nobody in the pee world business has been able to conclusively identify what causes this behavior, but there are a few theories. 
     Bouncing up and down while clenching your legs together could perhaps both lighten the load on the bladder sphincter and help you feel a little more in control. It's probably not very effective, but it might fool your brain into thinking things aren't so bad. Another idea is that when we're in a tough psychological situation, we look for solace in anything outside of the pain we're in. Squirming can help temporarily override the discomfort. 
     The most likely theory is a psychological one...rhythmic displacement behavior. When faced with conflict, it's in our nature to move in a rhythmic way. When we're faced with two strong but contradictory urges, anxiety can cause us to perform little repetitive movements like nail biting, head scratching and pee-pee dancing. We experience this conflict in the form of the urge to pee right now and the necessity of waiting.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Verizon Wireless (Lack of Customer) Service

    About two weeks ago I lost my new cell phone and called Verizon Wireless to report it. The customer service rep turned on the Family Locator which showed it was located in an apartment building a half mile down the street. As there was no chance of getting it back I had the phone deactivated and my credit card was charged $265 to pay for the lost phone and at the same time an order was put in for a replacement to be shipped via UPS.
     The next morning when I went out back of the house to feed the birds there was the phone lying on the deck; it was not a half mile away. I called Verizon to cancel the order, but the phone had already been shipped. Somehow Verizon contacted UPS and had the phone shipped back to the warehouse which received it about 5 days later.  
     Initially I was informed by customer service that it would take 24-48 hours after they got the phone back for the charge to be removed from my credit card, but when that didn't happen I called back and was told it would take 3-4 days and when that didn't happen I was told it would take 5-7 days.
     Finally, after two weeks my credit card was credited for only $16. That generated another call to Verizon and I was informed they had used the $265 to pay off my current phone and the refund was for an installment payment for the new phone that I had already made! I carefully explained that was not what I wanted. I wanted the $265 removed from my credit card and I would continue to pay for the new phone by monthly installments.
     Customer service informed me the change would be made and to give it 2-3 days to to show up as a credit on my credit card. When I told the rep that was what I was told last time and it didn't happen, she said it could take 4-5 days. When that didn't happen I made another call and was told give it 5-7 days. When that didn't happen, in another call customer service told me it might take one or two billing cycles!! Not happy with that answer, the customer service person straight up told me she did not have the authority to do anything except write it up.  She also advised that if the charge didn't come off my credit card “in a few days” visit the Verizon store and maybe they could help.
     So, that's where I'm at now, still waiting. If the charge shows up on my credit card bill next month I will write a letter to the credit card company and dispute the charge. Verizon wireless customer service people have all been very nice people, but they don't know what they are doing and they have absolutely no power to actually do anything.   
     No matter how good a company’s products or services may be, if employees are not given authority to make decisions, the company will have serious problems. This is especially true if instead of giving general direction, the company micromanages its employees.
     Micromanaging is a method of management in which an individual closely observes or controls the work of an employee. The result is that efficiency, creativity, trust, communication, problem-solving, and the company’s ability to reach its goals are all hampered. I know. I worked for a company that micromanaged. The solution is to hire/train competent people and let them do their job without constantly looking over their shoulder. 

3-6 Followup. Eventually I talked to a very nice lady at Verizon customer service who agreed that I should not be having so much trouble resolving this issue. She promised to take care of it and volunteered to be my point of contact so I would not have to deal with a different customer service representative every time I called. She also promised to followup on my complaint and even supplied me with her e-mail in case there were problems or questions and advised me to give it 5 days.

At the end of 5 days the $265 was still on my credit card, but my Verizon bill showed my account was credited for that amount. As a result, I did not owe them anything for the month and the balance would be applied to my bill the following month. i.e. instead of paying Verizon for the next couple of months, I pay the credit card company.

That is not the solution I was looking for, but it works. I am happy to report that Verizon has at least one customer service representative that actually provides service. I emailed her back thanking her and requested she supply me with her supervisor's email so I can make sure she gets credit for a job well done.