Sic Semper Socktopi

Welcome to my Autohagiography.

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If you haven't seen Fox News' and arch-nutjob-Creator of 24's lame attempt at making a conservative Daily Show, consider yourself warned. Blogger John Rogers, cowriter of the Catowman screenplay, offers some genine insight into why it is so bad and provides some clips.


What made ancient Egyptians think cats were divine? Why would God pee on my couch?

For the record, Re: Geoff Pullum or Want to hear about how intuitive my cat is?

Earlier today BoingBoing discussed an African Grey Parrot that is said to know 950 words. Later the post was updated to mention a rebuttal by Geoffrey K. Pullum.

As a former student of Professor Pullum, I think it is important to note that he is in my experience, a speciesist. I guess most people are. But when evaluating his opinion about non-human intelligence, in addition to considering that he is a well regarded linguist, it is relevant to consider that he is also someone who is entirely critical of the possibility of non-human intelligence. Maybe it's not a secret; he writes: "I am prepared to voice doubt that there has ever been an example anywhere of a non-human expressing a single opinion, or even asking a question, ever."

Now I kinda think that when my cat paws at the cabinet where I keep his food and meows in a way that I interpret as "beckoning" and doesn't stop meowing until I come and give him food, he does so because he knows the food is there and he wants me to give him some. When I ignore my cat, his meowing changes in a way that seems to me to say "Why? Why won't you feed me? Ohh the humanity!" And when I then offer him a Craisin, and he stops meowing, sniffs it, and then looks at me and starts meowing again, he is expressing an opinion akin to "This food sucks. Give me the food I want."

But Professor Pullum doesn't see it this way at all. After class one day I overheard him having a conversation at the front of the room. Another student had asked him his opinion about apes and chimps that have been taught sign language. These animals often know hundred of signs, combine them in seemingly novel ways, and are said to use them to communicate with their trainers. One such animal even started teaching the other animals in the enclosure some signs.

Now, I think this kind of research is pretty remarkable, if true. But Professor Pullum was not impressed. In his opinion, the results of these studies were pretty boring because the apes only ever wanted to talk about food and sex. "Koko wants a banana" and "Koko likes bananas" and so on. "They don't have anything to say," he complained. Ergo, the whole thing is no big deal.

Now, I know lots of animals that only talk about food and sex: They are humans, and I don't think the fact that they mostly talk about those things is a good basis for killing them, or enslaving them, or writing off the entire species as a bunch of dolts. But this is Geoffrey Pullum's attitude towards all non-human animal life on this planet.

So when considering if Professor Pullum's critiques of animal intelligence hold merit, let it be known that in addition to being a perfectly swell guy and noted linguist (he debunked the whole Eskimo words for snow thing, afterall), he's a speciesist, and that his speciesist bias may color his interpretation of the validity of a parrot's ability to talk. In the same way that you should know I am vegan, and support animal rights, and that may influence my interpretation of an ape's ability to sign.

Cats don't have trouble expressing opinions, we just have trouble understanding them.

Third and Final Biodivirsity of the Stomach

About a week ago, in response to Micheal Pollan's concern that two-thirds of our calories come from four plants, I undertook a project to catalog the different species I was eating with the general goal of eating as many different species as possible, and counting how many species that was. Doing this has given me some insight into the issue, and after thinking it over for a few days, I think there are some other flaws with this whole thing.

What would be a better ratio of calories to species if 66% from 4 isn't good enough? Already this is only 15% to 17% of calories from each plant if they are evenly distributed. Would 66% of calories coming from 6 plants be any better? What it comes down to is that it is very difficult to design a diet that include a diverse source of calories: There just aren't very many nutrient dense plants. So maybe you add oats and potatoes, or eat a can of mixed nuts every day, or start juicing. But even then you aren't really doing much better. Even if you exclude soy, corn, wheat, and rice, completely, you'll still be getting 2/3 of your calories from orange juice, oatmeal, walnuts, and french fries. Is that better than the 4 plants we lean on now? Maybe a little.

Doing this project has made me realize I just don't buy the initial premise: that there is anything wrong with getting most of your nutrition from just a few different plants. The important part isn't the rice, it's what you have on top of it. That is, the other 1/3 of your calories which can come from all sorts of fun and often calorie sparse foods. My conclusion: Eat more weeds!

And by the way, I tottaly ate like 50 species and none of them were coconuts.


Biodivirsty of the Stomach progress report

The problem with trying to eat a lot of calories from plant sources other than Wheat, Soy, Corn, and Rice, is that things like parsnips don't have a lot of calories, and are kind of gross.


I'm not sure if this story is more Hunter S Thompson or more William S Burroughs, that is to say, mostly fiction or mostly non-fiction. Either way, it is one of my favorites: Confessions of an eBay Opium Addict.


The other six sins I understand, but this one doesn't make any sense to me.

Thank you. Thank you. I'll be here for the rest of my life.

Biodiversity of the Stomach

This Michael Pollan NYT article closely represents my own current understanding of, and philosophy of, nutrition. You should check it out.

I'm a big fan; Pollan's earlier book The Botany of Desire was fantasticly mind warping and I'm getting ready to read his newer tome The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Inspired by Pollan's shocking, though murky claim:
Today, a mere four crops account for two-thirds of the calories humans eat. When you consider that humankind has historically consumed some 80,000 edible species, and that 3,000 of these have been in widespread use, this represents a radical simplification of the food web.
I'm beginning a project today to record what I eat with the aim of counting how many different species I consume over, let's say, a month.

The four crops that make up most of our diet today are Soy, Corn, Wheat, and Rice. I think Pollan's numbers are misleading, or at least require further explanation. Does the 80,000 edible species include animals? Consider that there are more than a million described species of animals out of perhaps 10 million animal species total, including 30,000 known crabs and lobsters, 15,000 known clams and oysters, 23,000 known fish, and 9,000 described birds, plus 4,000 mammals and 4,000 frogs. Don't even get me started on the insects. If the 3,000 number includes animals, the number of species of plants eaten by all humans historicaly must dwindle dramaticly.

Most tribal people probably ate less than 100 species or plants and animals, and excluding the animals, I wouln't be surprised if an even higher percentage of their plant calories came from even fewer sources than in our diets today. We get wheat and rice and corn, but until 500 years ago, each of those crops was the sole staple of different regions. Mayans ate corn, probably a lot of it, and Japanese ate cart loads of rice, and Europeans subsisted on bread. Yes they also collected weeds from the field, but as a source of nutrients a cartload of rice and a cartload of weeds add up to a diet based almost entirely on rice.

Therefore, I propose that despite the radical indutrialization of our food supply, we eat a more diverse number of plants than ever before in human history. Only 100 years ago, no human had ever eaten a mango and an avocado on the same day. And yet I eat those all the time. Plus cherries and blueberries, and sometimes dragon fruit and kiwano melons.

But I personaly eat more (plant) species than the average bear, and while it's important to acknowledge that even the Emperor of China probably ate no more than 100 different plants in his life, it is also important to note that the rich and poor often lived sickly miserable lives because of their diets, so maybe we shouldn't emulate them.

Personally, I'd like to eat more species, and maybe eat a little less of the Big Four crops. I think it sounds fun, and I'm curious just how many species I can manage to digest. So, I'm starting a list. Between breakfast and lunch I'm already at 10 (counting wheat and soy).

How many plant species do you eat? Keep in mind that cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, collard greens, and kale only count as 1 species, even if you do eat that cool fractal cauliflower. There is also the question of counting plants marginaly consumed, like annatto for color or licorice root in herbal tea. I think my arbitrary cut off will be if I eat at least 10 calories of it, it counts. So If i have one glass of chamomile, no go, but if I have a cup of chamomile every night, then it's in. Otherwise I could just brew a big pot of chai with all the herbs in my pantry and boil a pot of rice and presto! I had 36 species for lunch! And that's not really the point. The point is to get fewer calories from rice and more calories from dandelions, and have some adventure while doing it.

On this topic, I could clearly ramble on forever. I mean, are yams and potatoes different species, or derived from the same source? I'd write a book about this stuff if anybody would read it, but that's not likely, and Michael Pollan is doing it better anyway, so I'll stop here.


Is it wrong to like the songs in iPod commercials? Warning: Catchy embeded music.


Corporations are people too

Oakland artists Isabel Reichert and Sean Fletcher formed a corporation and then hired their corporation, complete with time-clock, board of directors, and quarterly reports, to manage the budget for their daily lives. It's not the first performance piece by the couple either.
Fletcher and Reichert's first collaborative life-art piece featured them having couples therapy with a counselor in front of an art gallery audience. After Isabel became pregnant, they tried to sell the naming rights of their unborn child on eBay in a piece they called "Bait." (No one took the bait, so they named her Lucy.) In the past year, they hired a paparazzo to stalk them as if they were movie stars, and take their photos doing mundane things like drinking coffee at Starbucks. They also secured a patent for a totally useless invention called a "dust reorganizer" that takes dust and blows it around.

You can check out the great paparazzi photos here. and buy a piece of the now defunct corporation, like the time clock ($250), used time cards (3 for $60), stock certificates ($50), or a signed and numbered quarterly report to shareholders ($50), here.


Why does my CD player even have an "Anti-Skip" On/Off switch? It might as well come with a switch marked WORK-WELL/DON'T-WORK-AT-ALL.