Archive for March, 2008

Mandrake and Womandrake

Posted in Cinema with tags , , , on March 31, 2008 by davehurwitz

mandrake1A man named Fan spotted a perfect, anatomically correct, couple crafted from the root of a Chinese fleeceflower. He bought the anthropomorphic tuber in a vegetable stall in China’s eastern Shandong province, paying 600 yuan (about $20).

Now I don’t know about you, but this sounds like the mythical mandrake root. This legendary vegetable borders on the animal kingdom. It will shriek when removed from the ground, driving the listeners mad. It sprouts where the semen of a hanged man drips to the earth. I’m not quite sure why it’s a hanged man and not a man beheaded or dispatched any other way. Perhaps the length of time the body rots has something to do with it. Also, perhaps I’m over thinking this, but aren’t most men hanged clothed? I mean, how will the semen dribble to the ground? Along the pant leg? Assuming a decent amount of absorption from the fabric, that would be a monumental amount of semen.

mandrake2The actual root looks rather benign, not as striking as what the Chinese shopper picked up. Of course it’s used in all sorts of magic rituals. The word mandrake means “love fruit” in Hebrew. There are supposedly male and female versions. The male is white and the female is black.

Another fruit gained the name “love apple”, though this boasts no anthropomorphic features whatsoever. The tomato, staple of Italian pizzerias the world over, was mistakenly lumped into the nightshade family alongside the mandrake. It seems the wise Renaissance botanists thought the tomato, which arrived from the New World, was poisonous. It was primarily used as decoration because heaven forbid you actually taste one. Those savages from the Americas had no idea what they were doing.

Interestingly the Italian name for tomato is pomo d’oro, or golden apple because the first to reach Europe was the yellow variety. Again, this sparks my memory of the Golden Apple and Paris’ rather daunting dilemma. Perhaps the yellow color reminded Italians of upsetting the gods, or at least the goddesses. This would jive with the aspect of love. Paris’ love, or at least serious infatuation, with Helen led him to kidnap the Spartan princess. Now that I think of it, you can’t blame the Italians for not taking a bite.

However you can eat the root of the Chinese fleeceflower, no matter how odd it looks. It’s boiled and used to reduce cholesterol and fight heart disease. Fan won’t be setting tuber to pot anytime soon. People have come from miles around to see his foot-long pornographic plant.

Information on Fan’s fantastic discovery comes from the Daily Mail (January 26, 2008). Other information derived from Wikipedia.

Chris Kalidor

Will bugs eat you if you’re not actually dead?

Posted in Rotten with tags , , , on March 24, 2008 by davehurwitz

Here’s the situation: You’re out hiking in mountains alone. You slip and fall off a moderate cliff and break your back. You’re not dead, but you can’t move either. Your cell phone and flare gun are useless because all your limbs are paralyzed. Will the bugs that consume dead bodies try and consume you?

I’ll give you the good news first. Many of the bugs that live on dead flesh are attracted to organic decay itself. The beetles that do the bulk of the eating sense dead animals in a way that is still poorly understood. They are not likely to drool over a live human, immobilized or not. Other bugs, generally referred to as “cheese-skippers” prefer the more advanced stages of decay, after your own digestive juices have gone work on you. The bottom line? If you aren’t stinky rotten, some bugs just aren’t interested.

Now for the bad news. Flies don’t care if you’re dead or not. Neither do ants. Flies will settle and lay eggs on any unmoving animal within twenty minutes. (There’s a pizza delivery joke in there somewhere, but I’ll resist.) Their favorite place to lay eggs? Open wounds. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, actually. Maggots eat necrotic flesh, and a good maggot infestation can actually save you from septicemia and gangrene. Just don’t get them in your eyes. Not all ants will eat flesh, but those that will don’t care if you’re dead or not. Hell, ants don’t care if you wiggle or not, so long as you can’t get away.

This sort of thing happens more often than you might think. Not just to hikers, but to botched suicides and the victims of amateurish murder attempts. But the most frequent subjects of unwanted insect infestation are the elderly and the ill. The most likely causes? Abuse and neglect.

So never hike alone, boys and girls. And choose Granny’s nursing home carefully.

Note: Many off the facts in this entry come from a lecture by David Faulkner, Forensic Entomologist. Any errors are my own.

David Hurwitz

Circle of Sheep and Giant Spider Webs

Posted in Rotten with tags , , on March 23, 2008 by davehurwitz

Sheep CircleWe all know the stories about sheep and sheep herders. At least I have. Something about greasing up the mutton chop and pushing it over a fence (wink wink).

What I’ve never seen is a circle of sheep. Apparently it does happen. On January 25, one Russell Bird snapped this photo of 100 sheep in a near perfect circle in Hertfordshire, England. The circle lasted ten minutes, ending when a farmer drove a tractor into the field. Perhaps they were following the leader, who in turn followed the end of the line.

Spider Web This is a real spider web in Texas. No, William Shatner will not save you from this one. If you haven’t seen Kingdom of the Spiders I urge you to. The movie is awful, but watchable. You have Shatner’s acting (or over acting) and the scene where he changes the fuse is especially good. Also the opening scene showcases the best actor in the film: the cow. There are three reaction shots where the cow “senses” the spiders coming to attack her. Astounding.

Anyway, the spiders in Texas have been busy. In late August, 2007, heavy summer rains created perfect feeding conditions for spiders. Typically these critters consume their rivals, so they’re not much on cooperation. In this case the food supply was abundant — an all-you-can-eat buffet if you will. The spiders worked collectively to spin a web that covered 600 ft along the trail at Lake Tawakoni State Park (about 45 miles east of Dallas). This super-web started out a pristine white, but soon was covered in so many wriggling mosquitoes that it turned brown. Park superintendent, Donna Garde, said, “…you can literally hear the screech of millions of mosquitoes caught in that web.”

Chris Kalidor