Education Rebellion

As a writer and a fan of wolves, I tend to get nitpicky when I see generalizations and misconceptions about wolves in stories. One thing that I’ve see a few times from different places are people that get free of a wolf’s jaws so easily. Whether they wiggle free or manage to get the wolf to release its grip by hitting it on the nose or knocking it unconscious. My personal opinion…these types of situations would be fairly uncommon.

First, let’s take a look at a little of a wolf’s anatomy. Average-sized wolves run between 4.5 to 6.5 feet in length (females being around the 4.5-6 feet and males 5-6.5 feet), and their weight can range from 50 lbs all the way to a hefty 130 lbs. The jaw and skull of a wolf has a denser/thicker bone structure than the rest of their body which makes their jaws very heavy. Their skulls also have an extreme predator trait that prevents the jaw from having any movement from side-to-side (adapted to prevent the predator’s jaw from dislocating while gripping prey that wiggles around a lot plus it’s an evolutionary trait because most wolves are true carnivores, so they don’t need to move their jaws from side-to-side to grind up their food). These combine to make sure a wolf’s jaw remains closed when it bites down…and it can even remain clamped down when unconscious.

Now for the fun part…it’s estimated that these heavy jaws can exert over double the pressure of a standard German shepherd police dog…and over five times what a human can. Those strong wolf jaws can crack through thick bones of large game animals with just a half dozen bites.

Doesn’t sound like the odds would favor any human that had those jaws clamped down on their forearm, does it? Yet, I see some writers treat wolves like dogs. Sure, you might be able to wriggle free from most dogs out there, but then, dogs are domesticated creatures. If you have a wolf latched onto you, you’re food…and that wolf isn’t letting go until it’s taken you down to be eaten. And think about this…if a kicking, bucking 1500 lb. moose has difficulty shaking a wolf loose, what chance does the average human have?

Writers…if you plan on having characters interact with animals, be sure to read up on your creatures first…don’t rely on what you’ve seen in movies, what you’ve seen on TV, or what you’ve heard from your friend’s cousin as he tried to recall a Discovery channel story he saw six months ago. Get the facts for yourself and keep those critters in character…

Well, I’d planned to dedicate this week of Education Rebellions to my favorite animal, the wolf, but I got sidetracked with a project for the past few days. So (coincidentally enough), here’s a quick article that showed up in Science Daily yesterday:

The Lost Genetic Legacy of American Gray Wolves

You can read up a little more on wolves here, and tomorrow, I plan on going over some of the aspects of wolves that often get overlooked in writing/storytelling.

Ahh, Thanksgiving’s over, and now shopping’s in the air. Referred to as “Black Friday,” the Friday after Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday shopping season (and it’s called “black” because of stores getting in the black saleswise for the year…and not because of the hordes of sale-hungry, barbaric shoppers charging to the stores today).

But there have been a number of other “Black Friday” events over the past 135 years:

Friday, September 24th, 1869–a stock market crisis in the U.S. caused by a group of speculators with a plot to corner the gold market…a market that came crashing down when Ulysses S. Grant ordered the sale of $4 million in government gold (the price of gold to tanked as soon as this gold hit the market).

Friday, January 31, 1919–not happy with their standard 54-hour work week, Scottish workers went on strike to get those hours cut back a little. 50,000 striking workers gathered in the streets of Glasgow and well…when you put together that many overworked, frustrated people, it doesn’t take much to launch a riot.

Friday, May 13, 1927–you just know at least one of these was gonna occur on Friday the 13th. This “black friday” signalled the collapse of the German stock market.

Friday, January 13, 1939–On this day (another Friday the 13th), Australia encountered one of the worst fires in it’s history. Over 12,000 square miles burned to the ground killing 71 people and destroying several towns. Forests of Ash was a book published in 2002 that discusses this area before the fires, the fire, and the effects this fire had (if you can manage to find a copy in a library sometime, give it a look sometime).

Friday, September 8, 1978–mass protests broke out in Tehran and the military (under the Shah’s declaration of martial law) used a lot of force to break up the demonstrations (killing hundreds of protesters).

Friday, April 2, 1982–Argentine launches a successful invasion of the Falklands that kicks the Falklands War into high gear.

What is sassamanash? I’ll give you some hints…it’s commonly seen around Thanksgiving…it usually comes out of a can…tends to maintain that can shape…and it’s red.

Yep, Sassamanash is one of the Native American terms for cranberry…the can-shaped food that seems to get slumped into the Thanksgiving spread almost as an afterthought. And that’s such a shame because there are so many different ways to use cranberries in your Thanksgiving feast aside from the simple cranberry sauce.

For example, we’ll be serving cranberry salsa with our Thanskgiving feast. It’s amazing some of the things you can do with cranberries to give your turkey day meal a little extra zing:

Cranberry Gorgonzola Appetizer Tarts
Cranberry Cocktail Meatballs
Wild Rice and Cranberry Stuffing
Cranberry, Sausage, and Sourdough Stuffing
Cranberry Glazed Beets
Crunchy Cranberry Slaw
Baked Cranberry Squash
Cranberry Pumpkin Bread
Cranberry Bread Pudding
Apricot Cranberry Cheesecake Bars
Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

And that’s just a quick sample of some of the interesting cranberry recipes out there, so if you feel like adding a little extra something to your feast this holiday season, forgo the chilled can of cranberry sauce plopped into a serving dish and try something new with cranberries.

Well, we’re closing in on Thanksgiving, where many people will eat too much and slump down into the couch feeling good and feeling sleepy. I’ve heard talk time-and-again about how eating all that turkey causes you to feel sleepy because of its high levels of tryptophan. Let’s take a closer look at that…

First off, tryptophan is just a biological precursor used to derive the neurotransmitter serotonin (which gives you that “feel good” feeling) and the hormone melatonin (which helps regulate your circadian rhythms…and cause drowsiness because of that).

So, why does the body derive these from tryptophan? Why not produce and/or take them straight up? Well, the body has this little thing known as the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from chemicals (hormones and such) floating around in the blood. The barrier is difficult to get through…serotonin, melatonin and other similar substances can’t make it through this barrier (which is why taking serotonin orally to get that good [and anti-depressant] feeling out of it doesn’t work because it can’t pass from the blood to the brain to have any effect).

That’s where tryptophan comes in…it can get through this barrier through the use of a transport molecule. But (always a “but,” isn’t there?), there’s a slight problem…these transport molecules are shared with other amino acids. If thiese other (highly abundant) amino acids use up the transport molecules (which they do most of the time), the tryptophan from foods we reach won’t really get to the brain in any significant amounts.

So, what makes our Thanksgiving turkey so special to induce our sleepy, happy feeling? Nothing.

That’s right…nothing. There’s nothing special about the tryptophan in turkey. In fact, mushrooms, lobster, crab, shrimp, soy protein, quail, pork, goat, and even spinach have high levels of tryptophan in them as well (in some cases, much higher than turkey). That’s right…Popeye could have been feeling good because of all that spinach he ate. Could have been. Taken by themselves, the body will only utilize a very low percentage of tryptophan. It needs one other ingredient to make it all work…


Yep, think of all the carbs that go alongside that turkey…stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, rolls, and lots of pie. These carbohydrates produce insulin, which snatches up a lot of amino acids in the blood…but not tryptophan. This essentially clears the way for tryptophan to have a clean run at the majority of the transport molecules to get through the blood-brain barrier. Thus, allowing the brain to manufacture its natural happy, sleepy drugs.

And that’s a really quick run-down on the subject from someone who’s definitely rusty in his biology, but at least now when you’re lying nearly comatose on your couch after the holiday feeding frenzy, you’ll know. Tryptophan…it’s not just in your turkey, and it doesn’t really affect you until you toss in some carbs.

From the European Space Agency, comes an intriguing tale of speed…and green…and green speed…in a white race car.

And talk about being a green car…fueled by liquified petroleum gas, lubricated with sunflower oil, and insulated by a heat wrapping material normally used in Ariane launchers (the space age wrapping prevents the 1832 degree (F) exhaust system from overheating the engine and/or igniting any minor gas leaks that might occur in the engine).

And since it’s the Space Agency designing this car, they also added in some extras like an Ariane thermal shield to protect the fuel tank in case of a fire…a fuel tank constructed of a special lightweight titanium…and even automated internal fire extinguishers. It’s an environmentally friendly space car. I can see the TV spinoff now…”Tune in next time to Space Car as our vehicular hero takes on the misguided Industrial Pollution Monger!”

And I hope everyone’s enjoying these educational snippets called the “Education Rebellion.” I’m trying to get them back on track for the weekdays here at the site, and I’m thinking about doing a different theme each week (maybe I’ll take suggestions for the themes). The theme this week turned out to be…speed (of course). I’ll kick off another one on Monday…until then, you’ll just have to self-educate (don’t worry, it’s perfectly legal).

Via Science Daily, there’s an article from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council about what makes a fast race horse.

An interesting factoid from the article (also mentioned at the Wikipedia) was that 80% of modern thoroughbred racehorses have the 18th century horse, Eclipse, in their pedigree (Eclipse’s claim to fame was winning 18 races in 18 starts). 80%…that’s gotta be one hellacious family tree.

But what was so special about Eclipse? According to researchers, Eclipse may have been a speedy horse because of his average size:

Using portraits of Eclipse and contemporary accounts of the horse running the researchers reconstructed one of its legs and have discovered that its legendary speed may have been due to its ‘averageness’. Dr Wilson said, “Analysis shows that Eclipse’s body shape and everything about him seems to have been right in the middle of the normal range, suggesting that all the factors for speed were perfectly matched.”

Yesterday, a NASA (unpiloted) aircraft testing out its experimental scramjet engine hit a speed of Mach 9.7. To give that a little perspective, the Concorde generally cruised right around a meager Mach 2 and the SR-71 ran around Mach 3.

The upside of this research is a good one…flight from New York to Tokyo or Sydney in 2-3 hours. But then, you’d also be traveling at 100 times faster than you’d travel in your car on the highway…and over 10 times the speed of a 747. A crash at hypersonic speeds like that could be devastating. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops (I’ve been keeping an eye on it for a while) and see what kind of safety hoops it’ll have to jump through before going commercial.

New York Times x-43A article
Popular Mechanics Hyper-X article (2001)

Well, it looks like it was a light day on the supidity front over at Stupidity Reigns with only one thing for me to comment on.

The Topic: Slander
The Culprits: The Italian legal system.
The Issue: The phrase, “You are nobody.”

DarkOra’s Response: Way back in the day, there was a talented essayist by the name of Philip Dormer Stanhope. He was the 4th Earl of Chesterfield and is commonly referred to as Lord Chesterfield. He wasn’t the greatest man in the world (often considered a selfish man and a bit of a ridiculer), but his collected Letters to his Son contains some tidbits of wisdom and clever observation, including this lovely quote:

“If you are not in fashion, you are nobody.”

A phrase Italy should be familiar with since they have the likes of Versace, Armani, Prada, Gucci, Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana, and tons of other fashion designers.

And there’s our Education Rebellion for the day. I’d like to mention that even though we’re not that bad here in the U.S. there are some problems, so support the organizations out there trying to hold on to as much free speech as they can. In comics, you can support the cause by helping out the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. You could become a member, pick up a copy of Even More Fund Comics, or buy a t-shirt like this classic from Frank Miller: