Archive | Researchers RSS feed for this section

Wanna Know Who You Really Are? Spit Here.

5 Jun

by Roger White                                                                              

 

So the wife finally convinced me to do this ancestry DNA thing you’ve probably heard or read about. Ya know, you send in your DNA sample to this mad scientist type place somewhere in Utah and a few months later you get to find out you’re not Scotch-Irish like you’ve been told since you were 3 but are in fact one-fifth Bosnian-Herzegovinian with a touch of Latvian Orthodox and a slight dusting of the Saskatchewan Moose Jaw Clan. Which is probably why your family just said you were Scotch-Irish and left it at that. Much simpler.

Anyway, one day the wife hands me this cardboard box and excitedly proclaims, “Here’s your kit! Time to provide your sample!”

I was instantly horrified. The only “samples” I’ve ever had to provide for medical/research purposes involved either (a) needles, blood, and pain; (b) sitting alone in a room with a tiny container, some tissues, and a “men’s” magazine while trying hard to think sexy thoughts; or (c) forcibly going to the bathroom and then, while completely mortified, placing my uncomfortably warm “sample” into a tray in the wall of my examination room while praying to God no one opens the tray from the other side of the wall while I’m providing my uncomfortably warm “sample.”

To my great relief, I found out that the ancestry guys just wanted my spit. For a moment, as I self-consciously began earnestly trying to hock up a nice loogie, I eyed Ralph asleep on the floor and pondered what the results would be if I gave them a vial of elderly long-haired dachshund saliva. “Dear Mr. White,” I envisioned, “from your unique DNA sample, our labs have concluded that you are eight-tenths Old World German with a family history of hunting badgers and an unusual tendency toward heartworm. For long-term health, you may consider drinking less from the toilet and going for ‘walkies’ at least three times a week.”

But no, I diligently hocked up my sample, sealed my little vial, and we both shipped off our DNA data in hopes of discovering if great-great-great-great-great grandpappy was perhaps Nebuchadnezzar II or Spike Jones or whoever.

We have since been in the “waiting phase,” while—according to the company literature—the DNA lab experts and biochemists in white labcoats spend arduous weeks attempting to deconstruct our respective spittles down to the double-helix level and painstakingly extract our ancestry information. A substantial part of me thinks that in reality, there’s a big basement room in Provo somewhere with a giant wall map of the world and a bunch of guys in t-shirts and sweatpants armed with darts.

“OK,” a rotund guy yells out, still munching a pizza crust, slouched at his chair. “Watch out. This one is for, let’s see, this dude’s name is ‘White.’” He reaches into a coffee can full of darts, takes a dart and heaves it at the wall. “Rocko,” the guy yells. “Where’d that hit?”

Rocko takes a swig of Miller Lite from a longneck bottle and shuffles over to the map. “It’s in the middle of the damn ocean. Try again.”

The rotund “lab expert” sighs and throws another. “Bingo!”

Rocko burps and leans down to inspect the dart’s landing zone. “Bolivia. Somewhere in the middle of Lake Titicaca. Wow.”

“How ’bout that? Bet the guy never knew he was one-quarter Titicacan. OK, watch out, here goes again…”

I’m hoping that’s not how it goes, but the cynic in me can’t help but think the whole thing is at least a little bit scammy. I did read somewhere that the results aren’t 100 percent accurate and that some folks tend to be over-identified Scandinavian for some reason. I guess Scandinavian is the default heritage, kind of like on the Magic 8 Ball how more times than not the answer is “Results Hazy. Try Again Later.”

 

Roger White is a four-sevenths Scandinavian freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely six-elevenths Creole wife, two half-Sri Lankan daughters, a full-blooded Obesian dachshund, and a cat that refuses to provide a sample. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

Advertisements

A Cautionary Tale from the Planet Retha

27 Jul

by Regor White

 

Sit down, kids, and I’ll share a tale. Mikey, don’t sit so close to the fire. Your Keds are starting to melt. That’s it. OK, good.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (turn right at Andromeda, second star cluster on your left), there was a planet called Retha. The dominant species on the planet Retha were beings known as Nahums. Now, to energize their transport Planet Rethapods and to heat their dwelling units, for many years the Nahums of the good planet Retha used a substance known as ilo—a gooey byproduct of gigantic decayed creatures (called oarsiduns) that lived long before the Nahums.

As time went on, technology developed rapidly—as did the burgeoning population of Retha. The great thinkers and scientists of the planet began to wonder and worry about the safety and the continued availability of the resource ilo. They found, you see, that ilo gave off foul emissions when consumed for energy—and common sense told the thinkers that only so much ilo could be used before it was all gone. Furthermore, the thinkers had found wondrous ways to harness Retha’s natural, reusable energy—such as her great winds and the heat from her nearest star—to fulfill all of the planet’s power needs.

Alas, the influential and powerful Nahums who owned the ilo reserves resisted violently any consideration of these new energy discoveries. They intimidated the thinkers, employed their own so-called scientists to refute and discredit the thinkers, and they paid great sums to Retha’s lawgivers—an unscrupulous class Lopiticiansknown as Lopiticians—to ensure that laws and edicts quashed any and all acceptance of this upstart “renewable energy.”

Disaster followed disaster regarding use and transport of the volatile substance ilo—such as the great ilo spills in the waters of Oximec and Askala that killed all manner of creatures and fouled the once-healthy waters.

The strained rationalizations and twisted logic of the ilo elite reached the pinnacle of absurdity, however, when a process known as farcking became widespread in the Retha region known as North Aricema. Farcking was a procedure invented by the ilo industry to reach deep into Retha’s crust and force out pockets of ilo and its sister substance (called natural sag) by injecting great quantities of high-pressure liquid. This farcking process and the resultant injection of the mass quantities of farcking waste into Retha caused violent tremors—planet rumbles known as rethaquakes—where there had seldom ever been such tremors before.

In the North Aricema provinces of Sexta and Olkamoha, for example, where there had been an average of only one measurable rethaquake per year for decades, they began experiencing an average of 100 of these tremors per year since widespread farcking began there. Yet the pawns of the very wealthy ilo industry quakes!claimed there was no connection—no “concrete proof” of what was patently obvious.

Even after scientific journals all across Retha proved a definite link between the flurry of rethaquakes and the farcking procedures, the province of Sexta went so far as to forbid the governments of its very own villages to ban these rethaquake-inducing processes.

Under the guise of scholarship, ilo industry propagandists, such as the Institute for Policy Doublespeak in the village of Sallad (an ilo stronghold of the Sexta provincmr merrille) produced stories blaming geology itself for the uptick in rethaqakes. A Nahum named Merrill Swetmath, a “resident scholar” of the Doublespeak Institute, even wrote that the high-pressure injection of farcking wastes might be to blame, not the farcking itself. The ridiculous premise of this argument, of course, was that the waste-water injection WAS a basic component of the farcking process! Astounding, no?

Well, you probably know the outcome here, kids. The Lopiticians refused to listen to the scientists and true thinkers who were looking out for the future of Retha. The great and powerful ilo industry reigned supreme over the land—until, that is, swarms of rethaquakes ruined the landscape, and the ilo reserves eventually ran out, throwing an unprepared population into a new Dark Age. Poor Retha.

Thank goodness Earth is no Retha. Eh, kids?

 

Regor White is a freelance Nahum living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely spousal Nahum, two precocious offspring units, a very obese dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com. Or not.

Sours for Albert’s Mom

16 Apr

by Roger White

Day 1

Dr. Keys says I should keep a log about how I feel and react to the medications for the next fortnight, so here goes. You see, my gentle flock, living in Austin, as festive and cool and hipster casual as it may appear, comes with a price. I’m not referring specifically to the Venusian triple-digit summers or the wanna-be Stevie Rays hanging out smelly and rudely insistent on every corner—although that does get tiresome. All of south downtown carries a constant aroma of stale beer and lax hygiene these days.

But no, the harshest penalty for residing deep in the pancreas of Texas, for us of the hypeallergiesrvigilant immune system ilk, is allergies. Cedar fever, hay fever, molds, oak, elm, ash—you name it, we have it in spades. My suffering of late has grown beyond the reach of OTC meds and even my allergist’s happy hypodermic, so with doc’s cautious approval, I signed up for a 10-day medical trial of Lerjistan. Sounds like an outlaw country in the Caucasus region, I know, but it’s apparently the latest wave in histamine blockers and vascular inversion and other medico-technical jargon that I don’t even begin to understand except for the fact that Dr. Keys believes it may ease my slobbering, sneezing symptoms.

Day 3

Scary thing is that this trial involves sequestering myself away in this sanitarium-like dorm for the entire 10 days, while men and women in white antiseptic attire, under the watchful eye of the gangly and bookish Dr. Daniels, take my blood pressure and my blood and walk around smiling a little too sincerely. But heck, I actually get paid for my guinea pig services, so I figure I should relax, take the oblong red pills with my meals and catch up on my Andy Griffith shows.

There are five other men in the facility with me, five others desperate for relief or rent money. Regardless of the motive, we all receive the same regimen, and we’ve all been given the same caveat: though the expected efficacy of Lerjistan is high, initial side effects noted in earlier trials may necessitate tweaking of its chemical recipe. Mental side effects, The Friendly StaffDr. Daniels said. Hence the signing of copious waivers, generous compensation, and the carefully monitored quarantine. Everyone’s friendly and professional, but I keep expecting Nurse Ratched to come around any corner. Symptoms have already begun to ease, but I do feel oddly stimulated. Almost giddy at times.

Day 7

Albert, the guy rooming with me, is an odd duck. Heavy and covered with a permanent sheen of forehead perspiration, he hoards just about everything he gets his hands on: ketchup packets, creamer, sugar, napkins. They’re stashed in his bedside drawer like treasure. He buys packages of cherry sours from the vending machines in the cafeteria and stuffs them in his drawer. He never eats them. He has at least thirty packages of Sourscherry sours. They’re for his mom, he says. She loves them and can’t find them anywhere in town anymore. “Truth is,” Albert said today, “I don’t even have allergies. Lied about it. I need the dough, man. My mom’s kicking me out of the house if I don’t get a job soon.” I asked Albert if he feels strange at all when he takes his pills. “Yeah, a little,” he said. “Like I’m speeding my ass off.”

I have discovered, from information gleaned from four outstanding medical and pharmaceutical web sites, that Lerjistan contains a ketamine alkaloid derivative. Ketamine, in its pure form, produces an out-of-body-like experience and heightened brain wave patterns. Interesting. Allergy symptoms have all but disappeared, and I feel strangely powerful. Alive.

Day 9

Time has ceased, but what is time but a manmade construct? I can explain only by degrees, for only by the most minuscule of degrees is the veil lifted for me. I have immersed myself in the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, and I now know that the astronomers and scientists are mistaken. It is not by winds aloft that this magnificent vortex operates. This awesome spiral, as large as the Earth itself, manifests from below, spawned from a tumultuous whirlpool of the nitrogen-methane sludge that comprises the ocean-like surface of this titan planet. I’ve inspected the moons of Saturn, upon two of which Life thrives, unlike Life at all that meets our egotistical definition. Baby steps only, my friends. But I must start somewhere. The galaxy is rife with puzzle pieces that, in full context, fit in the answersuch spectacular perfection. Then, of course, the Universe itself. Pointless to explore, for it is one of a billion billion such constructs, all connected in a grand Mobius strip of creation that simply leads back to point of origin. To be correct, there is no point of origin – like holding a rubber ball and attempting to divine the beginning. There is no Universe; there are no sprawling oaks outside my window; there is no window. Albert has no cherry sours. Everything and everyone are but specters – thoughts in the great mind of That Which Is All. I don’t use God; it is inadequate. And the word conjures religion, and religion is useless. Crowd control only, means for power, gain, self-serving rationalization. Similarly, there is no death. Death of the human form, absolutely the same as a green leaf plucked from its living branch, merely moves the inhabitant life force on to that Mobius strip, where further experience, greater knowledge, takes us closer to That Which Is All. This that has been revealed to me is preface only. There is a vast store of which I’ve yet to comprehend. The great Truth I glimpse now I can scarcely recount, the enormous majority of which I know I lose when I return to my dormitory room. Unfathomable revelations are brought forth with every journey, yet for reasons beyond my grasp they are veiled from my consciousness. They are placed deep in my soul, as they surely are in everyone and everything, but they are curtained for this time.

Day 10

Whew. Strange dreams I’ve been having. They took us off the pills yesterday, and I feel shaky but back to normal. Dr. Daniels said they’ll likely play around with Lerjistan a bit more before deciding on its general release. Probably wise. Damn, my allergies are coming back. I bought a pack of sours for Albert’s mom, but doc told me he was gone.

“Gone? You don’t mean…”

“Yes. Gone. He checked out early. And swiped our coffee pot, the bastard.”

“Oh.”

So I ate the candy. My head hurts.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

They’ll Take My Lawn Darts When They Pry Them from My Cold, Dead Hands

26 Nov

by Roger White

Every Christmas season, right on cue, under the guise of “the public interest,” some Grinch-worshiping cults masquerading as nonprofit research groups publish their annual lists of the most dangerous, evil, and malicious child-eating toys of the year. I have a toy bone to pick with these guys—not a large toy bone, just a small one. In fact, it’s small enough to lodge in the throat and necessitate a trip to the emergency room. But nevertheless…

Don’t misunderstand, I acknowledge the need for watchdogs in our society, especially when it comes to the safety and well-being of our tiniest community members. There is surely no call for manufacturing and marketing such items as Mister Mickey’s Mini-Molotov Cocktail Set or Captain Smiley’s Fun with Asbestos Removal. But some of the selections for the naughty toy list are a bit nitpicky, if you ask me.

Take this year’s U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety, for example. The PIRG Nerds spent all of their time from September through November hanging out in toy stores and malls playing with all the toys, games, and gadgets. (Side note: I want a job at PIRG.) According to the PIRG report, “Our investigation focused on toys that posed a potential toxic, choking, strangulation, or noise hazard.” The report mentioned nothing about all the obnoxious, overly-sexed, street-walker-dressed dolls aimed at the preteen set—but then, maybe I’m being a prude.

 

No, PIRG’s pet peeves involved amounts of lead, tiny magnets in toys, little toy pieces that kids could swallow, loud toys, and toys that contained something called phthalates. Not only do I not have the foggiest idea what phthalates are, I don’t even know how to pronounce them. Trying to pronounce phthalates produces enough spittle as to discourage me from even investigating them, and I recommend the same for you. This is the “if you can’t pronounce it, it can’t hurt you” school of consumer protection. I will note that the PIRG study reported that the state of Washington had the toughest phthalate protection laws on the books—they went as far as making toy manufacturers that used phthalates spell out the amount of phthalates on the toy. This, I’m sure, caused toy manufacturers in Washington to increase the size of their toys just so the word phthalates could appear on the toy.

As for the rest of the hazards on the list, come on. We’ve become a nation of coddlers. As far as lead goes, I found out after the fact that all of my beloved Hot Wheels cars of the late 1960s were slathered in lead paint. I never ate one of my Hot Wheels cars. I crashed them a lot, maybe even burned one or two to see how neat it would look, but I don’t recall ever licking or munching my toy cars. And I turned out fine. No, really, I did. The dangers of magnets, choking, poking, burning, toxins, all that? Let me just say that when I was a tyke, we had Creepy Crawlers (basically an open hot plate used to cook plastic goo); giant lawn darts, which my pals and I would use as WWII bombs on our toy tanks and soldiers (we wore makeshift helmets on the battlefield); BB guns, which we would fire at each other to reenact famous battles throughout history; stingray bikes with no safety helmets or silly pads; and junior chemistry sets complete with instructions on what to do if you caught fire. And we all somehow made it through to adulthood with nary a scratch.

Well, I wouldn’t say nary a scratch. There was that incident with Jimmy Peterson’s left eye. And, oh, yeah, Bobby Scoggins never could catch a ball again after that one time—and jeez, I forgot all about poor Stevie Blackwell. He was a fun guy, rest his soul. OK, OK, never mind. I suppose some of the old toys are best left in the old days. Who’s up for some Slip ’n’ Slide?!

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Discovery of ‘Dad Particle’ a Significant Scientific Breakthrough

6 Jul

by Roger White

Ponca City, Oklahoma (AP)—In a culmination of 50 years of theoretical speculation and weeks of intense media frenzy, two teams of researchers at the Fatherhood Institute for Research Nerds (FIRN) recently announced they had independently discovered evidence for the long-sought elementary particle that dictates behavior by dads and thus significantly impacts the family universe—the elemental unit popularly known as the “Dad Particle.”

To thunderous applause from a standing-room-only crowd of domestic behaviorists, journalists, and several unknown men from the soup kitchen across the street gathered at FIRN—as well as from other groups of fatherhood researchers around the world watching by webcast—the leaders of the two teams said they had definitely observed a particle they termed a “Riggs bison,” so named because this sub-atomic speck of matter found deep within the brains of fathers, interestingly enough, greatly resembles one-time tennis great Bobby Riggs riding an American bison.

 

“We have now found the missing cornerstone of fatherhood physics,” said Rolf Molf, FIRN’s director general. “We indeed have a discovery. We have observed a new particle common to all fathers. This astounding breakthrough will give wives, mothers, daughters, sons, and anyone else who might give a rat’s behind some answers as to why fathers old and young do some of the amazingly dimwitted things they do. As to why this particle looks like Bobby Riggs riding a buffalo, we have no idea.”

“Bison,” interrupted Assistant Director General Haye Seed.

“Whatever,” Molf said.

If there proves to be one and only one Riggs bison, its discovery would provide confirmation of the so-called Standard Model for Behavior of Dads (SMBD). “It appears to us that this ‘Dad Particle’ determines fundamental fatherhood characteristics, such as affinity for lying horizontal on couches during weekends, slipping an extra fiver to a grounded daughter, and watching reruns of old football games ad nauseum,” said Molf. “On test subjects, we removed the Riggs buffalo and within days these men were shopping with their wives, asking directions from service stations, and actually limiting their beer intake to one or two cans on the weekend. It was remarkable.”

“Bison,” insisted Seed.

In 1964, two groups of dad theorists each proposed that the brain of the average American father is pervaded by a molasses-like field, now called the Riggs bison field. As fermions (father-like thoughts) pass through the field, they acquire mass. And a quite tasty molasses-like flavor, at that. Without this Riggs bison field, a dad’s tendency to, say, hog the remote, would literally fall apart; even a father’s boisterous belch would no longer exist.

One of the “fysicists,” (shortened from “fatherhood physicists”) Peter Short of the University of North Ponca City, predicted that if this field were hit by the right amount of estrogen energy, it would produce a unique phenomenon, which came to be known as the “knockdown dragout.” Short was present at the FIRN announcement and said afterward: “For me, it is an incredible thing that has happened in my lifetime. Now, dads everywhere can point to this discovery and say, ‘See? It’s not my fault.’”

Discovery of the “Dad Particle” was made possible by the FIRN super collider, which took approximately an hour and a half to construct. Built atop the running track at Ponca City High School’s Wildcat Stadium, the super collider sends two dads, mounted on tricycles, in opposite directions on the 400-meter track. When the dads collide, at super-slow speed, their heads are then immediately examined via MRI. The MRI results are then X-rayed, and the result is then mimeographed and faxed to the press box.

“It was there, in the Wildcat Stadium press box, where speculation first took hold that the Riggs buffalo may have been found,” Molf said. “I still have goose bumps.”

“Bison,” Seed corrected.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Here’s Your Chance to Win Five Easy Dollars. I’m Not Joking. Maybe.

19 Aug

by Roger White

It’s that time again, kids! No, not International Slinky Races Day, as exciting as that is. It’s time once again to play Spot the True Story. I know, I know, NPR Radio has its version of this shtick, but I’ve been doing it for 31 years now, so if anyone has a case against anybody, it’s me. Against them. About this. But I love NPR, and only lawyers win when you sue, and who needs wealthier lawyers? Not me, pal. Which reminds me of a joke:

Q: What do you call it when you have 100 lawyers buried up to their necks in cement?  A: Not enough cement.

God, I love that joke. Anyway, those of you who are faithful followers of my weekly epistles know that every 20 years, rain or shine, I present Spot the True Story. How it works is this: I give you, dear reader, three news reports from around the globe. However, only one of them is—you guessed it—true. Your job is to determine which one. First one to e-mail me the correct answer at rogdude@mail.com wins five real U.S. dollars. No kidding. Second place wins three bucks; third place, one genuine American dollar. Fourth through sixth place wins a nifty fridge magnet of my choosing; seventh through ninth earns a hearty “Thanks for Playing Our Stupid Game!!!!!” from yours truly. Taxes on winnings are sole responsibility of individual winners. Void where prohibited. Prohibit where voided. Violators will be prosecuted. Prosecutors will be etc. etc.

If you don’t want to play this time around, worry not. You’ll get another opportunity in August of 2031. So here goes. Spot the True Story:

1. Researchers in New Hampshire have apparently discovered a duck-billed platypus that displays a unique ability to detect exaggerated campaign promises by presidential candidates. Working in his Concord lab, wildlife biologist Myron Glunden and his team observed that a female platypus named Gigi, when shown videotapes of every successful presidential candidate’s speech since the Kennedy Administration, nods slowly and issues a soft snort when a promise later confirmed to be kept is spoken by a presidential hopeful. However, when a promise later verified to be either exaggerated or completely false is delivered by a candidate, Gigi lays an egg and flaps her tail vigorously until exhausted.

Glunden reported, for example, that when Gigi watched George H. W. Bush’s “read my lips—no new taxes” promise, she produced 13 eggs and had to be sedated after severely spraining her tail.

This, of course, explains why you’ve never seen a duck-billed platypus anywhere near a political campaign bus.

2. Researchers in Germany are reporting that dogs can “smell” cancer. That’s right, a report from Stuttgart claims that canines are able to whiff the organic compounds linked to cancer in humans. The report’s author, Enole Boedeker, claims that two German shepherds, an Australian shepherd, and a Labrador retriever were trained to signal when they smelled the presence of cancer in lab samples.

Specifically, the dogs smelled test tubes containing the breath of approximately 200 people. Some had lung cancer, and some didn’t. The dogs were then trained to lie down and touch their noses to the tubes that contained the cancer cells. Boedeker said the dogs successfully identified the cancer-containing test tubes in a startling 71 out of the 100 people who had the disease.

I suppose the lesson here is to pay attention when your dog sniffs you a little more than usual. Then again, dogs spend an inordinate amount of time smelling certain things; so if you’re prone to panic, you might mistake a simple friendly greeting as a canine warning of colon cancer or something.

3. Scientists in Pamplona, Spain, have discovered that Siamese cats can “see” when you’ve been drinking. According to a report from the Navarre Regional Association of Veterinary Research, a seven-year study on the peculiar visual structure of the Siamese breed (which sometimes manifests as crossed eyes) shows that these cats can distinguish between the perspiration of a person who has a moderate level of alcohol in his system and a person who does not.

The study was originally intended to determine if Siamese are less active at night than most cats due to the fact that their blue eyes lack a tapetum lucidum, a structure that amplifies dim light in the eyes of other cats. The mutation of this structure in the Siamese cat has been found to produce abnormal neurological connections between the eye and the brain.

Researchers also found, quite by accident, that this mutation apparently allows the Siamese to detect alcohol vapors in human perspiration. Following a social gathering, a team member who came into the research lab one evening noticed the peculiar behavior of the Siamese cats, who eyed with great curiosity the man’s sweat-soaked T-shirt he discarded—even though the cats were separated from the researcher by a pane of glass. Acting on a hunch, the researcher later repeated the scenario, using a “sober sweat” T-shirt as a control measure; the cats again reacted to the shirt moistened by “vodka sweat,” as he termed it.

Following publication of these findings in a popular local magazine, pet shops across the greater metropolitan Pamplona area quickly ran out of Siamese cats, besieged obviously by wary bosses, housewives, and local temperance movement advocates. The Pamplona PD also instituted a pilot “SSC” (Siamese Sobriety Check) program, in which a cat rides along on each patrol. Tiny, little policeman’s caps were made, but the cats kept brushing them off and chewing on them.

Good luck, players! And keep your hands where we can see them.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Ever Wonder What’s in Your Belly Button?

10 Jul

by Roger White

Writers spend a lot of their time sitting around trying to figure out ways to make money without really working at it. This is why they are writers in the first place. I’m not implying that writing isn’t work, but let’s just say that one doesn’t develop a chiseled physique by pounding a keyboard nine to five. An office full of women that goes quietly bananas when a fire truck crammed with firemen pulls up (I have witnessed this on more than one occasion) would certainly not react in the same schoolgirl fashion if a fire truck full of writers stopped in.

“Oooh, just look at that Norman Mailer. He composes the sexiest similes.”

“That’s nothing compared to Ginsberg’s hunky hyperbole. Is it hot in here?”

I can’t actually think of a circumstance in which any fire truck anywhere would be manned by writers, but just go with it. Imagine Truman Capote desperately steering the back end of a hook-and-ladder, and you’ll see my point, whatever that may be.

Ah, yes, my point. The reason I bring this somewhat unsettling vision to mind is that as I was wrangling with the notion of writers possibly being the laziest creatures on earth, I wondered what other professions go to absurd lengths to put hamburger helper on the table without actually doing any useful labor.

You know what I came up with? No, not politicians. Researchers. Let me qualify this conclusion by noting I’m not referring to real researchers, like those earnestly looking for cures for cancer, heart disease, and other true menaces to mankind (such as Glenn Beck). No, I’m aiming at the fringe element here.

And I do mean fringe. Are you aware of some of the “research projects” out there that are receiving perfectly good grant money? For example, serious cash is being spent as we breathe on an investigation into what is in the average person’s belly button. You read it right. There is a whole team of navel nabobs working on the Belly Button Biodiversity project, in which about 100 suckers, er, volunteers agreed to have their belly buttons swabbed. I’m serious here. Being paid to contemplate one’s navel.

“We’re probably the only ones studying human belly buttons on such a large scale,” Jiri Hulcr, the head navel guy, told msnbc recently.

I would wager they’re the only ones studying human belly buttons on any scale—except maybe a few creepy old men in North Dakota basements. Hulcr, a post-doctoral candidate at North Carolina State University, reported at least 1,400 different bacterial strains in the human navel so far. I’m sure the military will get hold of this and use it somehow. “Look out! He’s got a belly button!” Rumor has it this crack team will next focus its efforts on ear wax uses, toe jam flavors, and dandruff flake tensile strength.

You think that’s bad? Take a gander at these studies (say it with me now, I’m not making this up!):

Professor Bonnie Nardi of the University of California Irvine got a fat $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the difference between how Americans and Chinese play the World of Warcraft. I’m not even sure what the World of Warcraft is—surely a video game of some sort—but according to Nardi, the Chinese are more interested in the aesthetics of the game, such as background colors and schemes, while Americans are more concerned with body count and kill ratio. Sounds about right.

Researchers Steven Stack and Jim Gundlach collaborated on the following groundbreaking and crucial report: The Effect of Country Music on Suicide. Actually, I don’t see this one as that absurd. A bit on the obvious side, perhaps, but not absurd. Stack, by the way, who has authored 219 articles on suicide, said in an interview with the medical journal The Lancet that his biggest fear is death. His second biggest fear is Johnny Paycheck. Okay, I made up that part.

How about this one? Three French types spent much time and treasure comparing the jumping performances of dog fleas versus cat fleas. Yes, flea vaulting. For those sitting on the edge of their seats, the dog flea significantly outjumped the cat flea, in both length and height of said leap. I had my money on the cat fleas, all the way. I’ve been avoiding my bookie for weeks.

I’ve saved the best, however, for last. Three intrepid psychology fellows at the University of New Mexico traded in their lab coats for low-cut polyester shirts and gold chains, filled their pockets with dollar bills, and set out to determine the effects of lap dancers’ ovulatory cycles on their tip-earning ability.

Ready for this? And I quote: “A mixed-model analysis of 296 work shifts (representing about 5,300 lap dances) showed an interaction between cycle phase and hormonal contraception use. Normally cycling participants earned about $335 per five-hour shift during estrus, $260 per shift during the luteal phase, and $185 per shift during menstruation. By contrast, participants using contraceptive pills showed no estrus earnings peak.”

Now that, my friends, is putting your tax dollars to work. I hear an intensive, exhaustive follow-up study is in the works. I’ve written UNM for a press pass to cover this next key phase of research personally, but, alas, no response so far.

Ah, well, it would probably involve a lot of work.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.