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  • Bozvotros - Palin goes after the Anti Christmas crowd as if they were baby harp seals.

    Once again, the delightful Ms. Palin takes dead aim at the lie-beral straw men she places just inches away from her laser sighted wolf rifle and empties clip after clip into them. In this timely tome she skewers godless heathen liberals who have no use for the true meaning of Christmas or even Santa. She identifies the socialist hoodlums who attempted to unionize the elves and mocked Santa when he was forced to relocate due to flooding from the global warming hoax. Ms. Palin clearly enjoys hunting these progressive punks and the reader feels her white hot snark on nearly every page. And you can tell she is an astute student of history when she compares the secret War on Christmas to the persecution of Joe McCarthy, the demonization of the Abu Ghraib hazings, the Nazi Blitzkrieg, the Holocaust and the Stalinist purges. Its not all anti commie rants either. She makes us burst with pride as she nearly bursts the buttons of her snug fitting bodice vigorously waving Old Glory and kneeling at the Manger with the 3 wise men, Reagan, Rush and Rushdoony. If you can't go out and kill a commie for Christ you can do the next best thing and read this book and watch this tough old broad do it for you.

  • xaosdog "xaosdog" - Not for the faint of heart or nervous of temperament...

    Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex, writes with all the authority of a practicing parasitologist, despite the fact that he is actually a science journalist. In addition, and invaluably, his account is heavily informed by his deep understanding of the processes and mechanisms of natural selection. Evaluating Parasite Rex purely as a knowledge-delivery device, it is simply not subject to criticism.

    But the book is so much more than that. Zimmer is a very Stephen King of pop science, by which I do not mean to damn him with faint praise; Parasite Rex kept this reader on the edge of his seat, in an agony of suspense and terror, for the weekend it took to devour it from cover to cover. Zimmer knows what he is doing.

    The first sections of the book relate a series of parasite life histories, examples of the complex, delicately-balanced, highly-specialized strategies modern parasitic organisms have evolved. The organizing principle behind these stories is clear, and it isn't based on the taxonomies, strategies, or environments of either parasites or hosts -- Zimmer has selected these particular accounts, and the order in which he relates them, in order to bring the reader efficiently to a crescendo of visceral horror.

    Most people tend to experience a strong reaction of disgust and aversion when presented with information about parasites; apparently we cannot help but empathize with an infested host, and to sympathize accordingly. Zimmer lays the examples on so thick, each more horrifying than the last, that reading his book becomes a sort of intellectual equivalent of hunkering down in a war zone.

    My own particular favorite is the parasite Sacculina carcini, which makes its home inside a crab. It begins by sterilizing its host if it is female, and if the host is male, both sterilizing it and forcing it to produce hormones that render it behaviorally female. It then begins to infiltrate and replace the crab's body, including much of its brain. The crab continues seeking food, which it feeds directly to its parasite. When Sacculina reproduces, it places its offspring in a pouch where the crab's offspring would go (if the host is male, the parasite forms a pouch in the appropriate location). The crab acts to protect the parasite's offspring just as it would its own -- and even carefully disperses them when it is time to do so, just as it would carriers of its own genetic heritage. This is the stuff of science fiction, a parasite that takes over everything and leaves only its host's outer shell intact.

    Nevertheless, it is perhaps still more horrifying to learn that many parasites of vertebrate hosts have evolved to produce (or cause their hosts to produce) neurotransmitters that tend to create behavior patterns that serve the parasite's interests far more than the host's. For example, if a parasite lives in a fish in one stage of its life cycle, but wants to be in a bird for the next, it makes its piscine host less afraid of shadows on the water, and more interested in feeding near the surface. Indeed, psychologists have found distinct behavior patterns -- different in males and females -- associated with being a human host to cysts of the parasite Toxoplasma. Toxoplasma wants its host to be eaten by a predator, so it makes males tend to be loners who resent authority, and makes females tend to be outgoing and overly-trusting. By the way, if, like me, you grew up with cats, you almost certainly host Toxoplasma yourself.

    Having shattered his audience with such ghastly memes as these, Zimmer next begins to put some of the pieces back together. He mitigates the naked horror of the first chapters with an exploration of the role parasites and parasitism have played in the evolution of multi-cellular organisms. To a degree he overstates his case; if it is true that parasites are a third and in many ways causal factor in the well-known phenomenon whereby wolves cull the weak out of the caribou herd, it is not accurate to claim that the parasites are "the" drivers of evolution. It is, however, accurate to say that parasites co-evolved with both caribou and wolf, and that the role parasites generally have played in all natural selection has been consistently and systematically over-looked and under-considered in the evolution literature.

    There is much of interest in the evolution section which I will not discuss here; rather I will confine myself to the final punchline: since medical science has begun successfully eradicating many kinds of parasites from the post-industrial human experience, new disorders have begun to emerge to replace the "missing" organisms.

    Many parasites have the ability to reduce their hosts' immune responses. If the presence of such parasites was, on average, an evolutionary constant, then we can expect humans to have evolved immune systems that operate optimally only when the chemicals these parasites produce are present. Remove the parasites and the human immune system becomes too strong for its own good, and begins treating harmless material as pathogenic (consider the epidemic of allergies in post-industrial countries versus the nonexistence of allergies in the third world) or begins attacking its own body (i.e., newly-developed bowel ailments such as Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome).

    The reader is obliged in the end to adjust to life with the relatively abstract and alloyed horror induced by the knowledge that we in principle should not seek to eliminate parasites from the human experience. We might engineer them, subvert them to serve our interests just as they have done to us for millennia, but we ought not to eliminate them. Every gardener knows that it is clearing an area of its naturally-balanced flora that creates an opportunity for hyper-infestation of weed species; let's hope medical science doesn't continue forcing us to learn the same lesson with our own bodies.

  • Jon D - Wicked socks! ...You see what I did there? That's a pun :)

    These are the absolute best wicking socks I've ever worn!
    I've been working construction for the past month and I've been wearing these liners under some other cheapo socks. That means being physically active all day outside, wearing big safety boots. Yet with these liner socks, my feet never feel sweaty, clammy, or gross. When I'm home, my feet literally feel better in these socks than if they're bare. When I'm barefoot on a hot day, my feet often get clammy. When I'm wearing these liners, however, my feet remain dry and cool all day. It really is unlike any other sock I've ever worn!
    I'll be the first to admit that they look ridiculous, but keeping the toes separate really does make them more comfortable once you get used to it. Besides, when you're using them as liners, you can't even tell they're toe-socks.

    The trade-off:
    -These socks do take longer to put on (it helps to keep your toenails trimmed)
    -They may take a bit more effort to properly fold after laundering
    -Due to the lightweight fabric, they do not seem very durable. I have yet to put a hole in any of them, but they are starting to wear out a bit in some places (and I have not worn any pair more than maybe a dozen times).
    -Not the manliest-looking socks
    -Expensive (especially with shipping to Canada, plus duties)

    That being said, I still think they're totally worth it. I will be buying more soon.

    I will be embarking on a week-long walking pilgrimage next month. I usually get tonnes of blisters on these trips. I'm looking forward to seeing how these fare under such circumstances - hopefully I can avoid blisters this time. I will update this review when I get back.

    As for shipping to Canada (just outside Toronto) from Amazon, I was actually surprised how quickly they arrived. It was a while ago, so I can't remember the exact amount of time, but I know it was quicker than Amazon's estimate (I think they took about a week). My only gripe was that Fed Ex was not very helpful when trying to coordinate with the delivery person, so I had to pick it up. Then they sent me a bill a few weeks later for duty charges, rather than charging me COD. I'm trying to see if I can find a Canadian supplier this time.

    One last thing, I was pretty annoyed by the 4-pair limit too.

    EDIT:
    There actually appears to be two different versions of these socks. The socks I originally bought (the ones I wrote about in the above review) had a little red tag on top with the Injinji logo. I liked them so much that I decided to buy more a few months later. The second shipment I got had the Injinji logo printed on top of the actual sock (as pictured by amazon). I guess it's probably a newer edition. There are a few more differences, though. I thought I should mention them.
    The older version (tag) were longer, despite them both being crew length. Also, the newer version is significantly thicker and sturdier. As a result, I'm sure the newer ones will be more durable, but they are also not nearly as cool and comfortable in hot weather. My older ones have now run through with some minor holes between some of the toes.
    Personally, I greatly prefer the older ones even though they're not as durable. I only wear these socks when comfort is a priority. I think that a shorter lifespan is worth it for such comfort if it is really necessary.

    That brings us back to that pilgrimage I went on. I am happy to say that my TOES did not blister up at all this time, thanks to my liners. However, my boots did still create hot-spots on the backs of both my heels. To counteract this, midway through the pilgrimage I started to tie my boots SUPER tight in the front and looser at the top. This relieved the pressure from the back of my heal but created a lot more pressure on my toes. Consequently, my toes were sore at the end of each day, but they still did not blister thanks to these socks!

    Bottom line: If you can find the older ones (with the logo on a little red tag instead of printed on the sock), and if you do not insist on durability, then I highly recommend them. As for the newer ones, I'm less enthusiastic.