On humor (and bad medical advice).

On humor (and bad medical advice).

Back when she lived in town with us, Auntie Ferret would often accompany me to the public library to work.  We would sit in the linoleum tiled area near the magazines.  I would type.  She would draw.

Of course, the process of creating artwork, at least in every field I know about, seems to involve several-fold more time spent taking in new information, researching, appreciating at other people’s work, etc., than time actually spent creating.  In my case, the timing usually breaks down to about two hours per day spent typing, six hours spent reading.  Auntie Ferret, because hers is a more time-intensive craft, probably spends equal time drawing and reading.

All well and good.  The problem, from the perspective of someone sitting near her to work, is that Auntie Ferret is a very effulgent reader.  Which can be distracting.  She occasionally saunters to the magazine rack to scoop up another armful of bodybuilding magazines, then chortles with gusto as she read them.  And then, of course, she reads the passage aloud.

CaptureA typical conversation between us:

FC: Huh.  Yeah.  That’s pretty horrible.  But I should get back to work.

AF: Okay, okay… but wait!  Wait, listen to this.  On ViperPRO, I was so vasculated I thought I’d EXPLODE!

An hour might pass and I’d get nothing done.  Whereas the time qualified as research for her.  Her webcomic features a hearty dose of meat-head satire.

Eventually I learned my lesson.  No, not to sit somewhere else, although I imagine that’s what a more timid ferretwrangler might do.  Instead I realized that I should incorporate her research into my own work.

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THIS SHIT SAVED MY LOVE LIFE

There’s lots of dating advice out there.  Tips on what stereo system to buy, which records to play, what wine to drink, which celebrity cologne smells like you.  Lifting guides for omnivores and for vegans and for the gluten-free, for those who augment their training stacks with GHB and those who wanna stick with anabolic steroids alone.  And detailed instructions for how to act — secret secrets of the world’s best pickup artists! — although until they invent a hieroglyphic language that women can’t read, publication inevitably weakens those once-secret strategies.

I read the guides.  Seemed like a lot of common sense.  Maintain eye contact.  Ply her with drinks.  Initiate unwanted touching.  Belittle her relentlessly.  Act like the abusive ex-boyfriend you’d someday like to be.  But, let’s face it, some of us are sensitive dudes.  When there’s an opportunity for a killer neg, we compliment our interlocutor on her witty banter.  Then wreck the moment when we ask before lunging in for a snog.

Does this sound like you?  Striking out cause you don’t have that flirtatious take-no-prisoners attitude?  Are you thinking to yourself, sensitive dudes would enjoy the occasional sexual encounter, too?

Well, I am here for you, man.  I was in that situation.  But I fixed it.  This shit worked for me, and I swear it can work for you.

You need to eat more cat feces.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stalkerr/134280257Not for the fun of it, mind you.  You need to eat cat feces to increase your exposure to Toxoplasma gondii.  It’s a microscopic parasite that evolved to control mammalian behavior.

Maybe that sounds bad.  Parasitic mind control?  That’s some freaky shit, right?  But, let me ask you: do you wanna get laid, or not?

See, there’s mind control like Frank Sinatra zonked by a playing card and realizing it’s time to blow somebody’s brains out, and then there’s mind control like toxo.  What’s it do?  It makes you bolder.  More confident.  It boosts testosterone.  Makes you happier, by helping you synthesize dopamine.  Ever wonder why those gel-heads always duck to the back and snort coke before they make a move?  Dopamine.  But with toxo, you won’t need blow.

Dudes with toxoplasmosis are taller that dudes without.  They’re consistently rated more attractive on Tinder-style image-only surveys.  Ingest enough of this parasite to get cysts throughout your brain and you’ll be a handsome, aggressive, risk-taking sex machine.  And, get this: toxo makes you smarter, too!

(Note: to date, intellectual enhancement has been observed only in females infected with Toxoplasma gondii.  In males, the opposite effect is seen.  Toxo invariably makes males into slower, dumber studmuffins.  But, you’re still with me, right?  What good is your brain if you’re sitting up alone at night, staring at a computer screen, not getting laid?)

Of course, not every cat has toxo.  If you adopt a dud, you’re wasting your time.  Masticating those slimy colon-prints for nothing.  Which, right, here’s something else you should know: cranberry juice.  Nothing else washes out the taste.  Even cranberry juice doesn’t work that well.

Eat a few scoops of feces from some defective no-parasite cat, let me tell you, you’re gonna be pissed.

That’s why my little brother and I are starting this company where we’ll ship you fresh excrement from known toxoplasma-bearing felines.  Each turd guaranteed >100 cyst-forming-units or your money back!, that’s what the packaging will say.  We’re not open for business yet — FDA approval is such a bitch that we might give up on it altogether and market our product as a nutritional supplement — but we’ve already registered the domain name www.toxrocks.com.

Check us out.  Like our shit on Facebook.  And if you can’t wait till our little operation is up and running, go find yourself a parasite-riddled cat and start gobbling that shit up.  Which is advice I’m willing to give gratis, cause I care about my fellow man.

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Doling out terrible medical advice isn’t necessarily funny… what if people actually follow your advice?  But my thinking is, the world’s full of medical advice a good deal more harmful than this.  And that’s all given sincerely.  At the playground one day, a mother nodded approvingly at my daughter’s bare feet and told me, “It’s good you’re letting her get rid of some of those excess electrons.”

I was puzzled.  Later I found out that some people believe that wearing shoes all the time makes them build up an appreciable electric charge.

Or the bodybuilding magazines.

Capture

Interspersed with articles like a dude recounting the time he tackled his brown-skinned buddy on New Year’s because the buddy was counting down in a foreign language and so dude thought he was a terrorist (hilarious, bro!) are advertisements for all variety of untested chemicals.  Or there’s the self-generated schemes, like the claim, “I’ve got a pitbull and he’s f___in’ ripped.  And I figured, he looks like that on dogfood?  So that’s all I eat now, too.”

Um, I’m gonna go stand over there now, thank you.

Plus, I think it makes a difference whom bad advice is targeted toward.  I’m not a huge fan of machismo bodybuilding culture.  And I don’t know if you’ve seen many modern dating guides (a la Neil Strauss’s The Game, or the sort of thing that won’t be funded through Kickstarter ever again), but I think it’s reasonable to suggest to readers of such guides that they oughta eat more cat feces.

On toxoplasma.

On toxoplasma.

cat-throwing-bridesI was talking to K and she pointed out that I missed the point of this whole “internet” thing.  Apparently the goal of writing for the internet is not to sound like a pedantic stuff-bucket?  This is something I hadn’t yet realized – I mostly use the internet to watch videos of Louis Scott Vargas playing Magic cards, since I don’t have much time to play myself these days.

So she told me, you should write this next thing as though you’re just writing an email to somebody, telling them some weird stuff about toxoplasma.  And, yeah, put in references.  But you’re not writing a critical essay here.  Even if you were, I’m not sure you’d want to sound so stiff.

What can I say: I’m just a real formal dude?  But here goes: wacky information about toxoplasma.  Which I was researching as part of a general interest in mind control – the book has a fair bit about identity and how your brain works, so the idea that a parasite can exert a big influence on (mouse, documented in controlled studies, and human, possibly, suggested by observational studies comparing otherwise similar people who are and are not infected) the mammalian brain seemed pretty wild.

So, what does toxoplamsa do?

Well, fine: I guess it might be worthwhile to mention briefly what toxoplasma is.  Parasite.  Forms cysts in the brain.  Lives part of its life cycle in a variety of mammals, including mice and humans, and part of its life cycle only in cat gut: it can’t complete the whole cycle without getting into a cat.  It can also be transmitted from mothers to unborn children, and probably from males to females during sex.

In rats, toxoplasma makes its host less afraid of cat smell.  If you compare the amount of time spent exploring a sandy maze dribbled with rabbit urine to a sandy maze dribbled with cat urine, a normal rat will spend most of its time in the rabbit area.  A rat with a chronic toxoplasma infection will hang out in the cat section.

So that seems normal enough, right?  The parasite has to get into cats, it makes rats not fear cats.  Or at least stop avoiding cat smells.  Which in theory should make the rat more likely to be gobbled up.

But it’s not just a change in response to cat smells.  Rats infected with toxoplasma behave more recklessly in general – one test you can use is “open arm exploration,” which is less grisly than it might sound.  Build a play space with a roof over some parts and no roof over others, and monitor the fraction of time that the rat spends in the open area.  Theoretically being out in the open should make the rat feel scared, so it won’t do it much.  A toxoplasma-infected rat will hang out in the open more.  Why?  Well, one possible explanation is that the parasite increases dopamine production in the brain – this is speculation, but perhaps the extra dopamine makes exploration more pleasurable, and therefore worth doing even when there are risks involved.

And here’s one last set of bonus curiosities – wacky things to consider for a parasite that seems to be sexually transmitted (which I guess I didn’t actually explain above.  Sexual transmission seems to happen in humans, but hasn’t been experimentally verified because that would be evil, and definitely can occur in dogs, goats, sheep… ).  Would it be reasonable to expect that the parasite would increase a male carrier’s chance of sexual coupling?  Perhaps, right?  But this is difficult (but not impossible, obviously) to assess – I’m no expert in rodent attractiveness.  Are you?

The goofy thing is, toxoplasma can infect a wide variety of mammals.  Not just rats.  And mammals are pretty similar to each other.  Toxoplasma presumably only evolved to control rats, because any particular toxoplasma gene requires ingestion by a cat in order to propagate.  But some of the mechanisms that toxoplasma evolved in order to manipulate rats may well function in other species: it seems to have an effect on the perception of cat urine smell in humans.  And infected human males are taller and reputedly better-looking than uninfected males, presumably due to higher testosterone levels.  Perhaps the same mechanism makes male rats appear more alluring?

Still, toxoplasmosis is a disease.  People can get sick and die from it, especially babies and AIDS patients.  But other than that whole “risk of death” thing, problematic, sure, the next biggest negative consequence of toxoplasma infection is that it seems to increase your chances of being eaten by a cat.  Especially if you are a rat.  Slower reaction times, sunnier outlook on life with that increased dopamine, less risk aversion.  Perhaps a bit more fooling around, although that’s not really related to being eaten, that might be an evolved consequence of the potential for sexual transmission of the infection.

But, weighing all of that, there is a chance that you, if you are a human male reading this, unlikely to be eaten by a cat, might want to be infected by toxoplasma.  Personally I don’t – I find the whole parasitic mind control thing creepy – but it’s not as though there are zero traits that could be considered positive externalities.  If you are a human female reading this, then, yes, there is a chance that the infection could be passed to a fetus if you ever happen to want biological children.  But there is also observational data suggesting that toxoplasma infection increases female intelligence (it is suggested that the infection makes men less intelligent – more daring, more sexually alluring… dumber.  Can’t have everything, can you?).

Anyway, that’s some information about toxoplasma.  What a wacky little protist.

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