Archive for April, 2007

My good pal Low-Tech Redneck on Ricecop today links a fascinating little item from North Carolina. Hosted on a blog called Jeff Kay’s West Virginia Surf Report, it purports to be an exchange between a resident and that neighborhood’s Homeowners Association. It concerns the presence of a gargoyle lawn ornament on the resident’s property:

We are a congregate group of good Christian and God fearing people. The display you have set up on the outer section of your lot has us a bit concerned as the statue appears to be a type of Pagan worshipping symbol, unlike the other lawn decorations in our neighborhood. Shirley Whitley, a neighbor of yours says that this is a Satanic being and that you may be involved in the Occult. We have all noticed strange goings on around the neighborhood. There are flashing lights in the sky and numerous dead animals in the road. We understand that you are a homeowner, but if you will read your declaration of restrictions, obscene or vulgar displays on your property are not allowed. We insist that you remove this questionable display at once. Our children are not to be influenced by Devil worship and deviant behavior.

Jeff Kay’s West Virginia Surf Report displays the following picture, which I presume is the pagan worship symbol in question:

boone_gargoyle.jpg

To quote Reverend Lovejoy from The Simpsons, “And it goes on like this.” Now I don’t know whether this is true or not. Naturally one has to take a certain amount of humor on the internet with a grain of salt. But a number of the details do appear to be valid.

I did find a listing for someone named Ardna Rash in Boone, NC with a birthdate in 1958, which would make her about the right age for this kind of nosiness. Presumably Rash is her maiden (or formerly-married) name.

There is an airport in Boone, and as the resident indicates in his response, it is a very, very small one. It is not “Boone International Airport” as the HOA claims. It is, in fact, “Boone Airport, Inc.“, a privately owned airstrip. As the Watauga County website states:

The airport features a paved strip 40 feet wide and 2,650 feet long. The elevation is 3,120’. Advance notice is not required for use of the airport. Landing fees are modest $5.00 for single engine aircraft, $12.00 for twin-engine aircraft and overnight parking fees on the grass are $5.00.

That ain’t no international airport. That’s somebody’s backyard. I’m with the resident in expressing disdain for what anyone landing at that airstrip thinks of his Christmas lights. Personally I find a big Christmas light display in a rural area to be very cool and in the spirit of the season.

At any rate, my research on the “airport” mentioned in the letters is intended to show that the HOA representative in question, a certain Ardna Tyne, is a busybody who takes her role in the HOA much too seriously. The neighborhood is probably an otherwise sleepy place where no drama occurs with any regularity.

notre-dame-gargoyles.jpg
Gargoyle waterspouts on Notre Dame cathedral

Regarding the issue of a gargoyle as a Satanic symbol, this is just another example of how far removed from anything like “education” and “historical context” a lot of religious fanatics are. Gargoyles are prominent architectural features on a number of famous Catholic cathedrals throughout the world, including Notre Dame and the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford, England.

The word “gargoyle” derives from the Old French gargouille, which means “throat” (also the derivation of the word “gargle”). There is a legend about a dragon named La Gargouille that lived in the river Seine, who was tamed by a saint. The dragon’s firebreathing head and throat would not decay, so it was mounted on the town wall and thus became the model for future such “decorations”.

In architecture, gargoyles typically were designed as waterspouts for drainage on buildings, much the way gutters and downspouts work in modern construction. The term “gargoyle”, therefore, often refers specifically to this plumbing feature. The modern term for such constructs is “grotesques” if they serve only a decorative purpose.

M16.1Gryps.jpg
Greek griffin

Gargoyles as fantastic monsters or animal-human hybrids, however, go back much farther than Christianity. Greek architecture often features griffins, which were the guardians of treasures and riches.

gods_thoth.jpg
Ibis-headed Egyptian god Thoth

In Ancient Egypt, the gods themselves were depicted as animal-human hybrids. Thoth had the head of an ibis bird, Anubis the head of a jackal, Ra the head of a falcon, and so on. The corresponding animals were considered sacred aspects of the gods.

griffin_drawing.jpg

Of course, the “origin” of gargoyles is not known for certain, although one theory is that they were inspired by prehistoric fossils of dinosaurs and the like. It may be that it is simply one evolution of an ancient concept of monstrous creatures that serve as guardians of special places.

It is alleged in some circles that gargoyles do have a Pagan origin, or at least a Pagan shared ancestry. If so, it would make sense that the Church would absorb the symbol and incorporate it into Christian iconography in order to facilitate the conversion of Pagans to Christianity.

I suppose that someone sufficiently righteous could refer back to the symbol’s origin as an “evil” symbol, but that would be analogous to declaring a Christmas tree evil (it, too, is originally a heathen symbol that was incorporated into the Christian holiday).

As a native Tennessean, I always read about narrow-minded folks like this HOA woman with a desire to pimp-slap them for making Southerners look bad and perpetuating the stereotype of ignorant, nosy, Satan-obsessed, inbred freaks.

I’ll be curious to see how this plays out, and whether the HOA understands that this incident has the attention of people on the internet and therefore shuts her trap. I’m kind of doubting it, since people like this bask in the attention and never think they are in the wrong.

The determination of living things to survive is truly amazing. I’m the manager of a self storage facility in Santa Cruz, California. Today while doing my walk around of the lot, I discovered a couple of plants that had actually pushed up through the asphalt from underneath. These plants weren’t here 10 days ago, as that was around the last time I closely checked this corner of the lot. As you can see in the pictures below, the pavement they displaced is freshly disturbed, and still present. I was so awed by this that I had to take pictures.

And here’s one that’s about to come up but hasn’t pushed through yet:

A recent news item that has been receiving muted attention is the widespread contamination of dog and cat food that is currently unfolding in North America. The first identified source of the contaminated food was Menu Foods, which has initiated a massive product recall of dog and cat food under nearly 100 brand names, including house brands such as Food Lion, Winn Dixie, Publix, and Meijers, and prominent brands such as Iams, Eukanuba, Mighty Dog, and Nutro.

Menu Foods is not the only company to issue a food recall. Nestle Purina Pet Care Co. has just announced a recall of all sizes and varieties of Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy in a certain date code range. Hill’s Pet Nutrition has also announced a recall on some of its Prescription Diet m/d Feline dry cat food after finding it is contaminated.

The pets that have become ill or died from eating this food have shown signs of renal failure, so whatever it is, it’s affecting the kidneys. Cats in particular are vulnerable to this.

Now I am thinking: Is this a dry run for a terrorist attack on our food supply? And if not, should we view this event as a cautionary?

There are two things about this event that have attracted my attention:

1) The contaminant has not been identified. The common element in all of these foods appears to be wheat gluten supplied by a particular company, Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd., in China. However, the only unusual ingredient detected in the wheat gluten is melamine, which is used in plastics manufacture and found in some pesticides. Contrary to earlier reports, the presence of aminopterin (rat poison) in the pet food has not been verified.

Problem is, melamine is only toxic in animals in stupidly high doses. It isn’t considered toxic to humans at all. USAToday reports that the discovered levels of melamine in the pet food do not appear to be significant:

Levels for the melamine were as high as 6.6% of the wheat gluten, FDA’s Sundlof says.

That would mean if a wet pet food contained even 5% wheat gluten, it would have 3,300 parts per million melamine, Hansen says.

But a study on dogs in 1953 fed them 30,000 parts per million of melamine for one year and “nothing happened,” says James Popp, president of the Society of Toxicology.

2) The scope of affected animals is being underreported. According to USAToday, the FDA has officially registered 14 animal deaths so far from this contamination (13 cats and 1 dog). More than 8,800 calls from pet owners have been received, but have not yet been fully investigated.

However, Pet Connection reports that so far, more than 2,900 pet deaths have been reported to them. They are self-reported cases, as Pet Connection points out, but I agree with them that it suggests that the real numbers are much, much higher than the official confirmed deaths. There is a Yahoo! Group, MenuFoodsClassAction, calling on people whose pets have been affected to organize into a class action lawsuit against the pet food manufacturers.

If we accept that melamine is not, in itself, toxic enough to cats and dogs to cause these deaths, then another scenario is suggested (Kyle posited this one):

Toxicologic Synergy: two or more chemicals that are not normally toxic by themselves combine to form a toxic effect on an organism.

The hypothetical scenario goes like this:

1) Chemical substance A1 is not toxic to cats and dogs by itself. But it does linger in the body for several months before being fully metabolized and flushed out. A1 is introduced into the pet food supply chain for a period of time, and then withdrawn, such that later testing will not reveal its presence.

2) Chemical substance B1 is not toxic to cats and dogs by itself. But when combined with A1 and metabolized in a cat or a dog, it becomes lethal for about 25% of the animals that ingest it, 70% become ill but do not die, and 5% show no ill effects.

So what if we are seeing the results of B1 being introduced into the pet food supply? A1 has already been introduced but is no longer detectable in the food because it has since been removed, but it lingers in the animals, waiting for a synergist to combine with it?

The above scenario is entirely hypothetical, and the numbers are merely examples, but this sort of strategy could be used to contaminate a food supply in a way that was not noticeable until many people (or cats and dogs) had died or become ill. Such an attack on the human food supply would not kill a lot of people, in terms of raw numbers, but as a terror weapon, it would be very effective and cause widespread panic.

Personally I think that the pet food contamination was probably accidental, although I will be interested to see if the actual contaminant responsible is identified. Melamine is known to form crystals in certain circumstances, and perhaps crystal formation in the kidney filtration system is responsible for the pet deaths. But this event should be scrutinized closely for what it may teach us about protecting our human food supply from similar contamination, whether accidental or deliberate.