Monday, September 21, 2015

Apple #719: People Leaving Syria

Like most of you, I've been hearing more and more news reports about the refugees who've left Syria.  I was kind of taking it in, kind of not. Then I heard one news report on the radio say that an estimated 5,000 people are leaving per day. Each day.  That number stunned me so much, I decided to find out more.

My big question was, if you were in charge of a country where people were so desperate to leave that 5,000 people each day would rather abandon their homes, the places they grew up, the food and the customs and the music and their friends and their family and their places of worship and the places where family members are buried -- they would rather leave all that, and put themselves in the hands of complete strangers to guide them into completely foreign lands and risk being taken advantage of, kidnapped, raped, or left to suffocate in a truck, or who knows what else -- 5,000 people each day would  rather risk all of that than to stay in your country, wouldn't you start to think that maybe something's wrong with the way you're running your country?

Mm, apparently not if you're the guy in charge of Syria.

Syrians in a refugee tent in Nizip, Turkey in 2013.  Apparently, Bashar Al-Assaad would rather blow up his country than have these people stay in it. Just look at those threatening children.
(Photo from Reuters, sourced from PRI)

I don't want to give you a history of all that's happened in Syria.  Lots of other sources out there have done a much better job of that than I could (see Sources at the end of this entry).  Instead, I'm going to give you some facts here & there that you might not know (I didn't know these things).  Because everybody's saying this is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

In reading about the refugee situation, I discovered I got kind of tone deaf to all the numbers being tossed around. They're all so big, it doesn't take long before they start to get meaningless.  I had to find reference points for those numbers so I could get a picture of just how big they are.  So I'll give you some of those numbers along with the reference points, too.

I know this map is hard to read, and it's outdated from 2012, but my point is the arrows. They're pointing to all countries on all sides of Syria. Meaning that people are taking any and every route possible to get out of the country.
(Map from somewhere on News Aggregator)

The Numbers

  • Syria is about the size of Arizona. 
  • Arizona's total population is about 6.7 million people.
  • Syria's total population -- difficult to estimate given how many people are leaving -- is somewhere around 22 million people.
  • 22 million people is everybody who lives in Florida plus everybody who lives in Iowa.
  • Since 2011 when the civil war started, an estimated 2 to 3 million people have left Syria.  That's somewhere between all of Houston leaving the country, or all of Chicago leaving the country.
  • Millions more people have not left Syria but have been displaced from their homes. This is a nice way of saying their houses got bombed or destroyed, or their farmland was burned, or there's no longer any usable water, or for some other drastic reason they had to leave home and find someplace else to live.
  • That number is estimated to be anywhere from 4 million to 11 million people.
  • 4 million people is all of Los Angeles plus more.  11 million people is all of New York City plus all of Chicago.  Looking for someplace else to live, all at once.
  • Imagine everyone in all the five boroughs of New York leaving their homes and looking for someplace else to live. Because all five boroughs have been bombed or destroyed or have otherwise become unlivable. Oh, plus all of Chicago too.
  • Another way to think of that 11 million is that it equals half of the entire country's population. 

One of the refugee camps specifically for those who have left Syria. This one is in Za'atari, Jordan, as of 2013. The camp is 30,000 square meters and can hold up to 113,000 people. Over 600,000 refugees from Syria have come to Jordan.
(Photo from the US State Department, sourced from Wikipedia

What's So Terrible?

  • For that many people to leave, things must be pretty bad.
  • The dude who runs Syria, Bashar Al-Assad, is pissed off and he is bombing his own people.

Looks like your basic nerd, doesn't he, with the sleeves of his jacket too long and everything. He was trained to be an ophthalmologist.  But apparently this is what a desperate villainous dictator looks like.
(Photo from Bashar Al-Assad's personal website)

  • He rules his country in one of those pseudo-democracies that are really dictatorships that also have a religious component.  Since he's in charge, his religion is the only acceptable one to practice, and he denies various rights to or persecutes people who practice religions other than his.
  • His religion is a small branch of Islam (Alawite).  Other Islamic branches which have more people, both in the world and in his country, his government has repressed in some way.  
    • For example, political parties that are allied with one of the unacceptable Islamic religions or some other religion are illegal, and if you're found doing political things associated with those illegal parties, you could be jailed or worse. People have been beaten, kidnapped, disappeared, etc.
  • So in 2011, a bunch of people attempted their own Arab Spring and rebelled against his government.
  • His father used to be in charge of Syria, and when his father faced an uprising from another Islamic group, he dealt with that by destroying entire neighborhoods where that group was centered. I mean, he leveled everything like a tornado.

This is Bashar's dad, Hafez. How many people must suffer because of Bashar's daddy issues?
(Photo from Bashar Al-Assad's personal website)

  • So Bashar tried to do the same thing. He got his army to kill or kidnap or "disappear" the people involved in that revolutionary effort.  But when he tried his dad's technique, it didn't work. His attempt at repression backfired.  It only made the rebels fight back harder.  And then so did he.
  • He's bombed his own cities, he's burned people's farms, he's had people kidnapped or murdered, his army has raped women and killed children, and then of course you remember the sarin gas incidents when he gassed his own people.  
  • He got rid of the sarin after the international community made all kinds of threats, but reports say he's now using chlorine and ammonia.  Plus, he's recently gotten funding from Russia so he's dropping even more bombs -- including barrels full of ammunition dropped from helicopters -- onto places that may or may not house rebel forces.  So he's killing or injuring lots of civilians in the process.
  • Meanwhile, ISIS has seen this chaos and destruction as a prime opportunity for them.  So they've moved into Syria and they're conducting their brutal recruitment tactics with their lovely beheadings and so on, forcing those people whose heads they have not cut off to join them.  
  • Hospitals have been destroyed, water lines have been blown up so there's not much clean water, in some towns there aren't enough people to bury the dead, and as for food, even before the war people were having to smuggle things in through underground tunnels and now those tunnels have been blown up in places so it's very hard to get decent food, or for anyone to deliver supplies to them.

Syrian residents in a refugee camp within Damascus waiting for food to be distributed. These are people who have left their home somewhere in Syria and come to this camp for the displaced in Damascus. The food aid being given out is not from their own government but from the UN and other relief agencies.
(Photo from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency / Getty, sourced from US News)

  • There have been attempts at a peace agreement, but the rebels don't believe that Bashar will keep any agreement he makes, so nothing sticks.
  • With no end of the destruction in sight, more and more people are saying, Time to GTFO.

The Initiating Event

  • What triggered all of this?  What was  the event that set all this in motion?  
  • Some teenagers painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall.
  • The teenagers were arrested and beaten and tortured.  Always the appropriate response to graffiti.
  • Demonstrators protested.
  • Government security forces shot at the protestors and killed several.
  • That only led to more demonstrations, and ultimately thousands of people filled the streets demanding Bashar's resignation.
  • But of course Bashar would not give up his power.  Apparently he would rather destroy his entire country than give up his power.
  • All this from some words that some teenagers painted on a wall.  
  • What did they write? "The people want to topple the regime" and "It's your turn, doctor."

This graffiti, painted in 2011 during the initial uprisings, says "Down with Bashar."
(Photo from jan Sefti on Flickr, sourced from Wikimedia)

Syrian children in a refugee camp in Za'atari, Jordan
(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell / Getty)

This page lists all the organizations (primarily US) that are providing some form of aid or support to Syrian citizens or refugees.

Summaries of the Conflict
BBCNews, Syria: The story of the conflict, March 12, 2015
BBCNews, Syria's war
The Washington Post, 9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask, August 29, 2013
The Numbers
CIA World Factbook, Syria
World Population Review, Syria Population 2015
CNN, War has forced half of Syrians from their homes. Here's where they've gone, September 11, 2015
The Situation
The New York Times, For Those Who Remain in Syria, Daily Life is a Nightmare, September 15, 2015
The Economist,  Syria's Humanitarian Crisis, June 8, 2015
Newsweek, Syrian Refugees: All You Need to Know, September 17, 2015
The New York Review of Books, Syria's Refugees: The Catastrophe, October 10, 2013
The Spark
The New York Times, A Faceless Teenage Refugee Who Helped Ignite Syria's War, Februrary 8, 2013
CNN, Daraa: The spark that lit the Syrian flame, March 1, 2012
Open Doors, Graffiti on a Wall Sparked Syrian Conflict, March 9, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

Apple #718: Why Am I Hungry if I'm Fat?

Dear Apple Lady,

My body has rather obvious stores of fat available to it. How come when I'm hungry, it doesn't just burn that extra fat?  How come my body wants me to eat more food, when it's already got a lot of food stored up in the fat?

Asking for a friend,

Well, A.L., I had to read up on this one because I've had that very same question for a long time (imagine that).  Based on what I've read, the answer is: fat don't work like that.

Fat cells very nearly have a mind of their own. They don't work the way other cells do and they don't take direction from many other parts of the body. They will keep getting bigger in spite of other processes going around them which should otherwise direct them not to.
(Diagram from QMP's Plastic Surgery Pulse News)

  • Fat cells in your body are like rich people.  You know how when people start to amass wealth, you would think they'd have that much more they'd be willing to share? (This was the theory behind Reagan's idea of trickle-down economics.) But in fact what happens is people raise their bar for what they consider to be the minimum amount of money they need to live on.  The more they have, the more they feel they need to protect.
  • Fat is like that.  The more fat you have, the more your body is going to give you the prompt to eat more. As one recent New York Times article put it, "We get hungrier because we're getting fatter."
  • For quite a while now, the prevailing wisdom about obesity has been that if you're overweight, you've simply eaten too much.  Too many calories in, not enough burned. That simple.  So all you have to do is un-do that equation.  Eat less and exercise more.
  • Problem is, this is a big fat lie.

This, on the other hand, is not just a joke, it's the truth.
(someecard sourced from All-species fitness)

    • Suppose you've been invited to a really phenomenal dinner. Your friends are going to prepare the best foods you've ever tasted in your life. It is going to be one great big spread of super-deliciousness. They tell you to "Come hungry." What do you do?
    • My answer was that I wouldn't eat much during the day prior to the dinner. Someone in the audience said, "Exercise." You know, "work up an appetite." 
    • Right, Gary said. To make sure you're good and hungry and ready to eat a lot, you eat less and exercise more.
    • So why are we telling obese people that the way to lose weight is to do the very thing we know will trigger us to eat a lot?
  • He does a lot more debunking of the conventional obesity theories and advice. So let me pause a moment here and say, it's time we quit blaming people for being overweight and obese, and started figuring out what we don't understand about how our bodies use food and get to fixing it.
  • Taubes debunks our current thinking about obesity in order to figure out the real answer behind how obesity works. If we know what's causing it, then we can know how to treat it or stop it.
  • The deal is that fat doesn't work the way we think it does.  We've been told that our body stores extra food as fat and then when it doesn't have enough food available, it will burn off the fat.  But it's more complicated than that.
  • Fat cells want to keep their fat.  Fat cells have a membrane that lets stuff in and keeps things from going out.  What is allowed in are fatty acids.  Some fatty acids that you may have heard of are
    • Omega-3
    • Omega-6
    • Prostaglandins
    • Palmitic acid
    • Stearic acid
  • There are all kinds of them.  These are what you get when you eat foods that contain fats. Meat or fish or nuts, for example.
  • The membrane around the fat cell lets the fatty acids in. Then the fat cell combines these with a type of sugar called glycerol to make triglycerides. This is the form in which fats and sugars are stored in your body. More triglycerides in the fat cell, the fat cell gets bigger, and you get fatter.
  • Once the fats & sugars are stored in the form of triglycerides, your fat cell does not want to let that triglyceride out. The holes in the membrane are too small for the triglycerides to pass through, for one thing, so the triglycerides can't get out on their own.

A representation of a triglyceride. Three fatty acids plus glycerol. This makes for a big, complex molecule -- too big to get back out through the fat cell membrane.
(Image from

Another depiction of a triglyceride being made from 3 fatty acids and glycerol, and then being stored in the fat cell of a prairie dog, I think that is.
(Diagram from The KetoDynamic Antidote)

  • In order for the fat and sugar locked in your fat cells to get out, the triglycerides have to be broken down again into their fatty acid and sugar components, and then those can pass back out through the membrane.  
  • But your fat cells do not want the triglycerides to be broken up.  Your fat cells are like, "I worked hard to get these triglycerides. You are not getting these out of me just because you skipped lunch today. Uh-uh. No, sir."
  • When you get hungry, your body doesn't really see the fat stored in your body as available food. Because the stuff it needs is all locked up in those triglycerides. Think of it this way: When you get really hungry, are you going to take the time to dress and roast and baste a turkey? Or are you going to reach into the cupboard and grab the already-made container of pudding and scarf that down in 30 seconds? You are going for the 30-second pudding.

Literally everything in you says EatthepuddingEatthepuddingEatthepudding.
(Photo and recipe from Fine Cooking)

  • Your body is the same way.
  • Your body is like, I'm not going through all the hassle of breaking down those triglycerides. I'm not opening up the fat cell cupboard and mixing up spices and butter and roasting and basting and who knows what else for who knows how long. I need something in my blood, and it's got to be easy for me to get energy out of it because I'm hungry right now!
  • What's the easiest and fastest thing for your body to break down? Sugars. Highly processed carbohydrates. The ready-made pudding.
  • As long as your body can get its bloody little fingers on some simple sugars, it is not even touching what's in those fat cells.
  • So that is why you still get hungry when you're fat.
  • In fact, it's even likely that when you have a lot fat stored up, your body will tell you to eat more often because of it. Because your body has gotten very good at storing sugar, there's even less of it in your bloodstream, so you'll get the hunger prompt more often.
  • How are you supposed to get out of this vicious cycle?  How are you supposed to burn fat when all fat wants to do is store up more of itself?  
  • It seems like the answer ought to be involved in breaking up those triglycerides, which will make the fatty acids and the sugars available again and deplete those fat stores. But how do you break up those big triglycerides?
  • The answer is in a hormone.
  • Various hormones regulate the calorie-burning, food-intaking, fat-storing process. Think about how a child eats a lot and grows bigger. Or how when you hit puberty, if you were a girl, your body started storing fat in places it hadn't before -- breasts and hips -- and that was a good thing. Or if you were a boy, you ate a lot and got taller and also developed muscles. So something is telling your calorie/fat/food-using processes to use food in a certain way when your body was growing versus how it handles food and fat once your body has reached adulthood.
  • The main thing directing the food/fat traffic is hormones. Different hormones turn on certain processes and turn off others. We typically think of hormones as estrogen and testosterone, and it's true, those are two pretty important ones. But another hormone that is very important in the food/fat process is insulin.  
  • Insulin is not the only hormone working inside the fat cells, but it is the big policeman on the block, so to speak.
  • Insulin is the traffic cop directing fatty acids and sugars out of the blood into the fat cell. Insulin is the policeman who is locking the fatty acids to the glycerol and putting them in the triglyceride jail. And when the triglycerides want to bust out of jail, insulin is the guard who tries to keep them from busting out.

This is a very complex diagram that includes things not discussed in this entry, but the main point is to notice all the green boxes which contain the word Insulin and the one red box containing the word Insulin. This shows in how many fat-storing processes insulin is involved.
(Diagram by Keith Frayn, sourced from The Eating Academy)

Insulin. The police officer that does not let the triglycerides out of fat jail.

  • If you can control the insulin, you can control the fat.  More insulin equals more fats and sugars in the triglyceride jail. Less insulin means the triglycerides can bust out and be free.
  • But you do still need insulin, right? Don't people with diabetes have to inject insulin to regulate their blood sugar?
  • Yes. People with Type 1 diabetes don't have insulin being made in their bodies so they have to supply it. People with Type 2 diabetes have had so much insulin pulsing through their blood, their cells are desensitized to it and don't know it's there and so can't control the sugar in the blood. 
  • So, yes, we do need insulin, but as with most things, we don't want too much of it or too little of it.  What's the thing that results in too much insulin? Sugars. Carbohydrates.
  • Here's the process broken down:
    • You get hungry
    • You eat & start digesting food
    • Sugar shows up in the blood
    • Pancreas makes insulin to deal with the sugar
    • Some sugar gets burned as energy right away
    • Insulin ferries leftover sugar & fat to the fat cells
    • Insulin makes sure the sugar & fat (now triglycerides) are not getting out
    • Sugar levels in blood drop
    • You get hungry
    • It all starts over again
  • Of course it's more complex than that, but that's what we need to know for our purposes at the moment.
  • If we could have less insulin locking up the sugar & fat, it would stay in our blood longer and we'd have it available to burn. We don't want that stuff lingering in our blood too long because that's how you get heart attacks and nasty things like that.
  • So maybe we do something else to change the mechanism at the beginning of the process. Maybe we make the body work a little harder to get the nutrients it needs. Instead of letting it scarf down the container of ready-made pudding, maybe we make it reach for a turkey sandwich.

Now this is the kind of turkey sandwich I can get into. Not the slimy, weensy, sliced turkey from a plastic package, but hunks that have been cut off the roasted bird, with a healthy amount of mayonnaise and butter and some cheese too, on whole-grain bread. This one is made with roasted red peppers and pesto and fontina cheese.
(Photo and recipe from inspired2cook)

  • I'm being too metaphorical here. Let me get to the point. The best way to disable this fat-accumulating process is to eat fewer sugars and simple carbohydrates. 
  • When you put more easy-access sugar into your blood, you speed up the whole insulin-making, fat-jailing process. Once the fat is in the jail, your body has practically forgotten it's there, so it asks for more food. If you give it a lot of sugar -- way more than it can burn right away, which is true of those all those sugary processed things like candy bars and soda pop and doughnuts and pudding and children's cereal and most of the things in the mid-section of the grocery store -- if you give it more free sugar than your body can use, it's only going to lock more of it up in the fat jail. It's not going to bust out that stored-up fat, and it is certainly not going to do that if you keep giving it more free sugar.
  • The only way to break the fat-storing cycle is to quit giving your body more free sugar. You have to make it work for its food. Only then will the insulin police let the triglycerides break up and get out of jail. Only then will you start burning the stored-up fat.  Only then will you start losing weight.
  • So the short answer is: want to lose weight? Eat less sugar.

A good way to help yourself eat less sugar is to follow this map of a grocery store layout. Stick to the outer regions. Avoid the pre-made stuff in boxes in the center aisles. Except for the nuts. I'll go into the center aisles for the nuts.
(Diagram from Medicine in Plain Words)

P.S. When I couldn't eat sugar for a while -- and I mean I had no sugar at all. Not just the typical things you'd think of like ice cream or cookies, but also no bread. No ketchup. No tomatoes. It was intense. I ate almost exclusively protein and vegetables. -- I held to the restriction for about 3 months. And I lost 28 pounds. I wasn't even that much overweight to begin with.

When the problem that precipitated this drastic diet went away, I started eating some sugar again. I gained back the weight I'd lost and then some. :(  But I am proof that if you want to lose weight, don't eat the sugar.

P.P.S. I also learned, though another source, that if you're trying to change your behavior, it's much harder to achieve a Don't than it is to achieve a Do. So I'll say that while you're not eating sugar, Do eat proteins. Do eat vegetables. Do eat crunchy, complex things. Do add spice.

Salt & pepper. Two of the best anti-sugar aids ever.
(Photo from Gizmodo)

David S. Ludwig and Mark L. Friedman, Always Hungry? Here's Why, The New York Times, May 16, 2014
Berit Brogard, Does the Body Burn Fat When You Are Hungry?  Jillian Michaels
Encyclopedia Britannica, Fatty Acid 
American Diabetes Association, Insulin Basics
My Wellness Center, The Importance of Insulin

Monday, September 7, 2015

Apple #717: Ginkgo Trees

Yesterday, I was sitting outside a coffee house with my friend, let's call her Kiki Malone, and she noticed that the tree that was shading our table was a ginkgo tree.  I turned and looked at the leaves.  Seeing the distinctive fan shape, I said she was right, it was a ginkgo.

Only the ginkgo tree has leaves with a fan shape.
(Image from The Anecdotal Goat)

She said, "It's the oldest living tree in the world."  Then she added, "I think.  A person has to be careful saying things like that around the Apple Lady."

I said it had to get annoying, being friends with someone who often says, "Actually, according to what I learned when I did a Daily Apple on that topic. . . ."  Kiki was very gracious and said it wasn't like that at all.  She also said many positive and appreciative things about this here Daily Apple blog as a whole.

So, as a thank you to Kiki for saying so many nice things about the Daily Apple, here is an entry for you on ginkgo trees.  And let me begin by saying: You were correct.

  • The Ginkgo biloba is the oldest living species of tree in the world.
  •  Fossils of ginkgo trees have been found going as far back as 250 million years plus. 
  • That puts the ginkgo as having been alive in the Triassic period, which suffered a massive extinction event along with enormous volcanic eruptions.  Then the dinosaurs whose names most of us know showed up, and they went through their massive extinction event.
  • Ginkgo trees survived all of that.

Artist's rendering of what the Triassic period and its dinosaurs might have looked like. There should be some ginkgo trees in there somewhere. . . .
(Wallpaper from National Geographic)

  • The following characteristics may be why this tree has been able to survive for so many millennia:
    • No insects like to eat it or damage it
    • It suffers from no serious diseases
    • While it prefers moist, sandy soils, it will grow in just about any type of soil, even alkaline, or acidic, or compacted and not well-drained soils
    • It isn't bothered much by road salt, or air pollution, or occasional high temperatures

This particular ginkgo tree is a 1,400 year-old female. She lives in Jonichiji, Japan.
(Photo by Atsuko & Kunihiko Kato, on The Ginkgo Pages)

  • The ginkgo is singular in many other ways as well:
    • It is the only tree with a fan-shaped leaf
    • A single ginkgo tree can live to be 3,000 years old
    • While there are several varieties, it is the only tree in its species
    • While it is the only tree in its species, its classification confounds botanists
  • Some botanists say that the ginkgo is a deciduous conifer -- a type of tree with needles and cones, but which also has leaves that drop in the fall.  True deciduous conifers include several species of larches, bald cypresses, the Chinese swamp cypress, and the Pond Cypress, and the Dawn redwood.  These are also really old species of trees.
  • Some botanists argue that ginkgos are not really conifers, and so therefore are not a decidous conifer.  These botanists say the ginkgo is more closely related to cycads, which is another very old group of plants, of which only some 250 species survive. These live in tropical places and they have leaves that grow out in a radiating circle from the central branch.  They look like palm trees.
  • Still other botanists say the ginkgo is neither a conifer nor a cycad, but completely its own thing.
  • Apparently, botanists have a lot more to figure out when it comes to the ginkgo.
    • The seeds are another really unusual thing about this tree.  The female ginkgo produces a fruit, inside of which is a nut in a shell, and the nut is edible in small amounts.  But I need to break down each of these elements bit by bit.

    The items in these four bowls all come from the fruit. What they call "berries" is the fruit of the female ginkgo. Inside the fruit is the nut in a hard white shell, almost like a pistachio shell. Inside the shell is the nut, which is best roasted. Once that's done, peel the outer layer off the nut to get to the glistening, green nut meat.  But don't eat too many of them, or you'll get a stomach ache.
    (Photo from Hot Topix Suburban Foragers)

    What the fruit looks like on the ginkgo branch. These look a little too yellow; might need some more time to ripen.
    (Photo from Kennesaw State University)

    • The fruit looks like a small, yellow plum, but it stinks like crap.  Literally.  Some people say it smells like vomit.  Others say it smells like sulfur.  Still others say it smells like sour milk. Let's just say it reeks bad.
    • It stinks so bad, scientists can't figure out what animal would want to eat that fruit and thus disperse the seed.  They speculate that maybe the animal that used to eat it has since died out and the tree has outlived its disperser.  There are records that badgers used to eat them, but no current evidence of such today.  But somehow the seeds are still getting dispersed.
    • It could be that humans are now the ginkgo's greatest disperser because we now depend on this tree like crazy.  Since it will grow in spite of conditions that threaten other trees, and it has no pests and no diseases that go after it, it's become enormously common, especially in cities. Lots of cities have lined their streets with ginkgo trees.

    A tree-lined street in Mie prefecture, Japan
    (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

    • But here again, we run into the stink problem.  People find the stink of the fruit to be so disgusting, they've asked that the ginkgo trees be removed.  In various cities like Easton, PA, and Bloomington, MN, and Lexington, KY, they've done just that.
    • They haven't removed all ginkgos, only the stinky females.

    Catalpa Road  in Lexington, KY lined with ginkgos. Why they didn't call it Ginkgo Road, I don't know.
    (Photo from Panoramio)

    • But there's a small problem: it takes 30 years for a ginkgo to reach its reproductive years. And it is nearly impossible to tell whether a tree is male or female before that time. So the cities that are trying to get rid of the females aren't even sure they've got them all.
    • And then a funny thing happens.  Very occasionally, about 1 out of 100 male ginkgos will mysteriously transform.  It will become female and start producing the stinky fruit.
    • This thing is doggoned determined to reproduce.  I can almost hear those those ginkgo trees giggling at us and saying, "Silly humans. We have lived on this planet for millions of years.  It's going to take a helluva lot more than you puny humans digging up a few of our females to wipe us out."
    • But even that is not all there is to say about the stinky fruits.  They have the same toxin as poison ivy or poison oak.  So if you want to harvest them for the nut inside, you'd better wear rubber gloves.
    • Also, the fruit contains a tannin which will stain your clothes or your shoes. One guy who lives on a street in Pennsylvania lined with ginkgos had to get his car re-painted twice because of the ginkgo stains.
    • Oh, and one more thing.  People say the nut, when roasted, tastes like a cross between edamame, a pine nut, and a potato.  Quite tasty, in other words.  In various countries in Asia, the nut is considered a delicacy and is sprinkled on desserts, or in soups, or served with meats.  Only problem is, the nut carries another kind of toxin which will make you throw up if you eat too much of it.

    I can practically hear all the laughter from the ginkgos up and down this tunnel of them, in a park outside Tokyo.
    (Photo from Maxi's Comments)

    • About the name.
    • The tree is native to China, and then it was brought to Japan. Its name is an Anglicized rendering of the Japanese version of the Chinese name yin-hing, where yin = silver and hing = apricot. 
    • The tree was brought to Europe by a Dutch surgeon in 1727, and then to what is now the US -- Philadelphia, actually -- by William Hamilton in 1784.  A few years later, he suggested to Thomas Jefferson that he might like three of them in his gardens at Monticello. 
    • So the tree is pretty cool.  But I can't talk about the tree without mentioning the supplements.
    • There are all sorts of claims out there about the health benefits of the ginkgo.  In China, they say it's the seeds that have the health benefits. In the US, it's the leaves. Either way, such claims include but are not limited to the enormous list below. 
    • The 3 with the asterisk are ones where there has been some good scientific evidence that may suggest some positive result. The rest are pretty much fluff.
      • Brain / Memory
        • Improves memory
        • Improves brain health
        • Reduces severity of migraines
        • Reduces symptoms of dementia*
        • Reduces effects of aging
      • Other Mental health
        • Benefits people with ADHD
        • Benefits people with autism
        • Benefits people with generalized anxiety disorder *
        • Benefits people with schizophrenia *
      • Respiratory
        • May reduce asthma symptoms 
        • Treats scar tissue on lungs
      • Circulatory / cardiovascular
        • Improves blood circulation
        • Helps reduce high blood sugar
        • Helps in recovery from strokes
        • Reduces the number of attacks associated with Reynaud's disease (blood circulation)
      • Diabetes or related
        • Benefits people with retinopathy (diabetes-related eye damage)
        • Benefits people with kidney dysfunction, especially for diabetics
      • Eyes
        • Improves eye health and vision
        • Treats eye allergies
      • Ears / Balance
        • Treats chronic ear disorders
        • Aids in treating tinnitus
        • Treats altitude sickness
        • Reduces vertigo
      • Cancer
        • Prevents cancer
        • Shrinks stomach cancer tumors
        • Reduces effects of chemotherapy
      • Musculoskeletal
        • Improves performance in athletics
        • Assists in treating multiple sclerosis 
        • Improves quality of life for people with fibromyalgia
      • Other
        • Reduces cocaine dependence
        • Treats erectile dysfunction
        • Reduces toxicity of radioactive iodine used to treat thyroid disorders
        • Treats hemorrhoids
        • Reduces symptoms of PMS
        • Gel form reduces wrinkles
    • Boy, one plant that can do all of that, treat everything from headaches to old age to wrinkles and schizophrenia and cancer?  That sure must be some wonder drug!
    • (^sarcasm)

      Shelf after shelf of dietary supplements, or herbal supplements, or natural supplements. This is code for "bullshit."
      (Photo from Fake Food Watch)

      • One trial that asked people to take ginkgo supplements could not prove anything because they didn't get enough data. This is because the "natural" supplements that people were taking turned out to have less than the required minimum 24% ginkgo extract. The pills didn't have enough ginkgo in them to have an effect. Those "natural supplements" were, in effect, snake oil.
      • If traditional medicine is stumped, do you really think some nutjob with a pile of ginkgo pills is going to know something they don't?  Don't let them suck the money out of you. Smile and nod, and keep on walking. 
      • You know who's getting the last laugh, don't you? The ginkgo trees.  They're like, look at those idiots. Thinking my nuts are doing all kinds of wonderful things for them. All they're doing is dispersing my seeds. Disperse on, humans, disperse on.

      This ginkgo lives at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, CA.
      (Photo by Nathan Zanon)

      Yale Environment 360, Ginkgo: The Life Story of the Oldest Tree on Earth, May 1, 2013
      Missouri Botanical Garden, Ginkgo biloba
      Arbor Day Foundation, Ginkgo
      Harvesting ginkgo fruits: Breaking the stink barrier, The Washington Post,  October 12, 2010
      The Morning Call, No flowery expressions: Easton trees just reek, April 24, 2008
      Gingko [sic] Trees That 'Smell Like Vomit' Causing Trouble Nationwide, The Huffington Post via AP, March 18, 2010
      UBC Botanical Garden Forums, How many Deciduous Conifer's [sic] are there?
      about home, What Are Deciduous Conifers?
      University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Deciduous Conifers
      The Jefferson Monticello, Ginkgo

      As an herbal supplement
      Fransen et al., Assessment of health claims, content, and safety of herbal supplements containing Gonkgo biloba, Food Nutr Res. 2010; 54:10
      May Clinic, Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
      Target, Walmart Selling Fake Ginkgo, Garlic, Ginseng Thanks to Political Loophole, Fake Food Watch, February 5, 2015

      Monday, August 17, 2015

      Apple #716: Cicadas

      The air is buzzing with the noise of cicadas.  Which makes me realize, I know next to nothing about them.  I'm not a fan of their appearance, but I'm very curious about the loud noise they make. So what's the deal with cicada sounds?

      The Magicicada septendecim emerges every 17 years.
      (Photo from Crockett Facilities Services)

      • There are about 3,400 species of cicada in the world, and over 190 species and sub-species in North America alone. So talking about cicadas in general means you're generalizing about a lot of different species, each with slightly different characteristics. But generalizing is what I'm going to do anyway.
      • In most cicada species, it's the males who make the noise, and the noise they're making is a mating song.  
      • Females make their own sound by flicking their wings, which sounds similar to a light switch being flipped on and off.  In some species, females make this sound in response to the males' mating song.
      • Cicadas make other sounds too, such as distress alarms when a predator is attacking, or warm-up calls before the males launch into their big production.  But we have a harder time hearing those other calls and distinguishing them from each other.  So most of the time when people are talking about cicada noises, they mean the loud mating call of the males.
      • If you think it sounds like thousands of cicadas are making the same noise together, you're not wrong.  Males will synchronize their songs with each other so they are all going off at the same time. This establishes a "chorusing center" and works to attract large numbers of females to the same place, increasing everybody's odds of finding a mate.
      • Exactly how each cicada makes his song isn't entirely understood.  What we do know is that each cicada has two bumps on either side of their abdomen.  The bumps are called tymbals.  Special muscles inside the abdomen make the tymbals contract and make a popping noise, and then the muscles pop the tymbals back out again to make another popping noise.  

      Close-up of one tymbal relaxed, then contracted. Popping the tymbal in and out makes a popping noise.
      (Diagram from The Robinson Library

      • They work a lot like those metal clicker toys you may have played with when you were a kid, popping the metal up and down to make a clicking sound.

      • The difference is a male cicada can make those tymbals pop in and out 100 to 500 times per second. 
      • The other difference is the echo.  The tymbals are housed in the cicada's exoskeleton. Beneath the tymbals, the body of the abdomen is mostly hollow.  So the clicking of the tymbals at rapid-fire speed gets echoed again and again, and the echoes echo each other.

      Cross-sections of a cicada's abdomen. You can see the largely empty abdomen and how much space there is for the noise of the tymbal to create an echo. 
      (Diagram from The Robinson Library

      • Making the tymbals pop in and out would be, for us, like making our entire rib cage collapse and expand over and over again 100 to 500 times a second.
      • But on the cicada, it looks like it's shaking its tail like a rattlesnake.

      • Knowing this much about how the process works, you would think scientists would be able to replicate the sound.  Nope.  
      • Naval researchers have tried for years to figure out how to do what the cicada does, in order to create a very loud sound that will travel a long way through water, produced using very little power. "We're still working on it," researchers say.
      • Perhaps the most mysterious part of the process is exactly why it's so loud.  But it definitely is loud -- deafening, in fact.
      • One species of cicada in Australia is said to produce a call that exceeds 120 decibels at close range. At this level, sounds reach the deafening point.  Other things that hit 120 decibels: fireworks displays at close range. Thunder. A passing freight train -- louder even than that.
      • The loudest cicada in North America was recorded by the University of Florida at 108.9 decibels. This is just slightly less loud than that passing freight train. 
      • The video below is of this species of cicada, the Neotibicen pronotalis walkeri (formerly Tibicen pronotalis walkeri), or the Walker's Cicada.  It lives in 28 of the 50 states, mainly in the Midwest and the South.

      • Even the cicadas have to protect themselves from their own noisy mating songs. On either side of their head, both males and females have large membranes called tympana. Yup, they're like ears. A short tendon connects each tympana to the auditory organ in the cicada's head. When the male sings, that tendon retracts, pulling the middle of the tympana inward, creasing it so that it will not absorb his own sound. 
      • In a manner of speaking, he's putting ear plugs in to protect himself from the decibels of his own song. (Pete Townshed, eat your heart out?)
      • The males also tone it down a bit when an interested female approaches.

      Life Cycles and Brood Cycles

      • The female lays her eggs in the roots or branches of a tree. After the eggs hatch, the young cicadas are pale little worm-like things. They live underground, in the tree roots, drinking the tree's xylem (nutritional fluids). They are too small to damage the trees they live on, even in high numbers.
      • In some species, the young stay down there for two or three years before they crawl up to the surface, shedding their nymph exoskeleton on the way, to begin their life as an adult.  In other species, the young may stay underground as long as 17 years. 
      • Still other species emerge each year, but every several years, enormous numbers of them will surface at once.  
      • Once the adults are above ground with their new skin, wings inflated and ready to go, they fly up into the trees where the males start their songs and the females commence their clicking.
      • One genus, the Magicicada, has species such as the septendecim that emerge every 17 years (Latin lovers will notice the word for "seventeen" in the name) or 13 years. 
      • There are pockets of Magicicada in various places around the U.S. One pocket, or brood, emerged this year in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.  In 2016, another 17-year brood is due to emerge in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. (To see a chart of brood cycles across the country, check out Cicada Mania)
      • The fact that this species has broods across several states that each emerge at different times, plus the fact that there are many other species that emerge annually or close to that is why it seems like there are a ton of cicadas in some part of the country each year.

      Distribution map of the 17-year Magicicada species populations.

      Distribution map of the 13-year Magicicada populations.
      (Map from Sanborn & Phillips, Biogeography of the Cicadas, Diversity 2013)

      • As adults, cicadas live only about 4 to 6 weeks before they die.

      The life cycle of a cicada
      (Diagram from The

      Cicadas Are Not Locusts

      • It is important to note that cicadas are not locusts, which are migratory grasshoppers.  It is tempting to think there's a plague of cicadas when you see them in enormous numbers singing their crazy loud songs to each other. But that is simply not true.
      • Cicadas do very little damage to the trees they live on, either as adults that we can hear and see all over the place, or as nymphs underground.  Some younger trees might struggle with the effects of large numbers of cicadas, but older trees do just fine. 
      • They don't bite or sting people. They're not interested in people at all.  They just want to get it on, give up the ghost, and that's it. 

      Bonus Fact

      • Small cicadas make their songs at a pitch higher than what humans can hear. But dogs and other animals can hear them, and if they're close enough, the high-pitched song can be loud enough to make the dog wince or whine in pain.

      Cicada Mania
      The Robinson Library, Family Cicadidae
      Howstuffworks, How Cicadas Work
      Colorado State University Extension, Cicadas
      National Geographic, Cicada 
      Science Daily, Secrets of the Cicada's Sound, May 30, 2013

      Monday, August 3, 2015

      Apple #715: Fan on High vs. Fan on Low

      Let me tell you a little story about fans.  Well, two stories, actually.  Maybe three, if you count the cows.

      Recently, a friend of mine was visiting.  We'll call him Montgomery.  We went to an all-day event and when we came back to my house, we discovered the A/C was not working.  Broken. Busted.  No go, Charlie.  It had been in the 90s most of the day and very humid.  So it was really hot & stuffy in my house.

      I got out one of my trusty box fans and Montgomery turned it on while I tried to see if the reason the A/C wasn't working was anything I could fix.  Turned out, no, the motor was dead.  Nothing I could do about that except put in a call for a repair man.  After doing that, I sat down on the couch in front of which Montgomery had placed the fan and turned it on.

      This is very like the box fans I own.  Mine are also Lasko Weather Shield models.  They do the job, and they don't rattle. You can buy this fan from Amazon for about $39.  I got mine from Target for about $10 less, if memory serves.

      Normally I turn my trusty box fans immediately to the highest possible speed (3 out of 3).  Montgomery had set it to 2.  I thought, of course at the higher speed the fan will cool things off faster, or more, or better.  So I turned the fan up to 3.  Much to my great surprise, the higher speed did not feel better.  In fact, it kind of felt worse.  Like it was blowing warmer air on us, or the higher speed air was battering us but not really cooling things off.  So I put it back down to 2, and instantly it felt better.  We felt more of a cooling effect, and the speed was gentler and more lulling.  We sat in front of the fan on medium speed and talked for a long time, and felt pretty comfortable, in spite of the hot stuffiness elsewhere in the house.

      I vowed to remember this lesson and try it on my own another time.  So I did and now we come to my second story.  In both senses of that phrase.

      My bedroom is upstairs, and the A/C even when it is working properly does a poorer job of cooling things off up there.  So usually at night I turn on one of my trusty box fans -- exact same kind as the one Montgomery & I had used -- aimed at where I sleep in the bed.  I keep the fan positioned a fair ways away from the bed, over by the closet, because that's where the A/C vent is.  My theory is the fan will blow the cool air that comes out of the A/C vent in my direction where I'm sleeping in bed.  It is this fan that I always turn up to 3.

      I also put my box fan on a chair so it's roughly the same height as my bed.  Not as high as on the stool shown in this photo.  But a similar idea.
      (Photo from Lennbob on Flickr)

      But after Montgomery's visit, I tried out the fan at level 2 instead.  I thought that, as with my experience with Montgomery, the fan on the lower setting would feel cooler and more gentle and pleasant, and I would save energy besides.  So I lay in my bed, waiting to feel the gentle cooling of the medium setting.  Instead, I did not feel cooled off enough.  I tried this on three different occasions, and each time, I had to get up and turn the fan up to 3.  Then I could feel the cool breeze and drop off to sleep.

      So what gives?  Why did the fan work better on level 2 in one instance, and level 3 in another?  You've probably already guessed the answer.  But first, let me tell you a few things I learned about fans.

      • The little truism people like to say is: Fans cool people, not rooms.  They churn the air, and the motion of the air over your skin causes the sweat your body produces to evaporate that much more quickly, and thus your body cools off more quickly as a result.  Fans, in essence, create wind chill.
      • So a fan will help you cool off more quickly.  But it doesn't do much to change the temperature of the room.
      • There's kind of an asterisk to that statement which is the case of ceiling fans.  Ceiling fans move the air just as a box fan does, but since it's situated on the ceiling and since cooler air wants to sink while hot air wants to rise, a ceiling fan will create an entire column of air that is about the height of the room.  You will feel the breeze of the moving column of air, but that column also puts in motion the hot air at the top of the room, causing it to cool slightly and descend.  So a ceiling fan does cool the air in a room a little bit.

      How a ceiling fan distributes the air and therefore regulates the air temperature.
      (Diagram from the Fan Doctor)

      In the summer, turn on your ceiling fan so it rotates counter clockwise and pushes the air downward beneath the fan. In winter, reverse the fan so it rotates clockwise and moves air upward beneath the fan. 
      (Diagram from the Fan Doctor)

      • Former stock car racer and inventor Walter Boyd got the idea to maximize this principle when he invented the High-Volume Low-Speed fan, specifically to keep dairy cattle cool.
      • He had invented all sorts of things, from modifications to improve the safety and performance of race cars to a machine that improves the way roofing materials are applied, to a machine that raises the Jumbotron.  So I guess somebody asked him, hey, guy who is good at inventing improvements to things, can you figure out a better way to keep my cows cool?
      • The reason this is important is because if dairy cows get too hot, they don't produce milk.  They are rather sensitive creatures, it turns out, and their threshold for temperature comfort is lower than people might have guessed.  If you're putting all your dairy cows in the milking barn and it's a warm day, the dairy cows are going to get too hot to give as much milk, or maybe some won't give any milk at all, and nobody's going to be very happy about that.
      • Farmers were using fans in their cattle barns but the fans weren't doing enough to keep the cows chill (no, regular reader Jason, that is not a typo. No need to correct me).  They needed a better solution that would not cost a lot.

      A dairy cattle milk barn. Note the box fans suspended above the cows.
      (Photo from Modern Farmer

      • So Boyd thought about fans.  He noticed that if a fan is on too high, sometimes that's not comfortable.  Sometimes the speed of the fan does not make you cooler.  So it probably wouldn't solve the problem to speed up the fans the dairy farmers were already using.
      • He also knew that these dairy barns are huge, and it's of little use to have a relatively small fan in front of only one or two cows.  What you really need is to get all the air in that huge cattle barn moving.  You don't have to get it moving fast, but you have to get it moving.  So he came up with a giant fan that would move a lot of air in a large room: the high-volume low-speed fan.

      Example of a high-volume low-speed fan (HVLS).
      (Photo from Nelson Equipment)

      • These HVLS fans are attached to the ceiling, so they're taking advantage of that principle of moving an entire column of air.  The blades of the fan are enormously long so they'll move a lot of air.  They're also modeled after airplane propellers, not only in the materials with which they're constructed but also in the sense that the angle at which the blades are tilted will maximize the amount of airflow their motion can generate.
      • These fans were regarded as a great innovation because they did help cool those dairy barns at relatively little cost.  So dairy farmers all over the place started buying and installing these things left & right.  If you've ever been in a great big barn-like room, you've probably seen one of these.  They are installed in most of the buildings in my state's fairgrounds, for example.  
      • The HVLS fans did improve things, but not quite enough, it turns out.  The dairy farmers conducted more research over the years and discovered if they attached water spray nozzles to the HVLS fans so the cows get sprayed with a fine mist of water while the fans move the air and therefore also distribute that mist, then the cows would stay cool enough even in very hot weather to keep producing milk.  
      • Hey, nobody wants an unhappy cow.

      (Photo from Apple Guardians

      • But the point of this HVLS story is that this Boyd guy knew that low-speed fans can sometimes be more effective than a high-speed ones.
      • There are also various laws of aerodynamics that suggest that a low-speed fan may be more effective. For example:
        • In order to 2x the speed of a fan, you have to 8x the power of the motor.  A higher-powered motor will generate more heat by its action so now you have a high-speed fan pushing the hot air it's creating as well as the hot air in the room.
        • (I also read a lot of things about mass air flow vs. volumetric air flow, but I don't feel that I understand the difference well enough to explain it to you.  Suffice to say, it led me to the conclusion that moving a lot of air slowly could be more effective than moving a little air quickly.)
      • So why the heck, if all those things are true about slow-moving fans, wasn't my box fan just as effective or even more effective at the slower speed?
      • The answer, I think, is distance.  When Montgomery was here, we were sitting very close to the fan on level 2.  Like, maybe 2 feet away from it at most.  The fan I keep up in my room I have maybe 6 or 7 feet away from the bed.  If I'd moved it closer, the level 2 speed might have felt more comfortable than the level 3 speed.  
      • But since I want the fan to move the cool air from the A/C vent in my direction, and since the moving air has to travel a lot farther to accomplish that, I need the fan to have a higher speed so it can create more force to move the air farther.  
      • (I really hope my high school physics teacher, Mr. Wisz, would agree.  No joke, that was his name.  He was the best.)

      Another demonstration of the fact that distance matters.  The ceiling fan people are saying that when a room's ceiling gets higher, and thus farther away from you, you don't want to get a ceiling fan that goes really fast to make the moving air travel farther. Instead, you make sure the fan is positioned closer to you so you can better feel its effects.
      (Diagram from

      • But the point for all you fan-running folks out there is this: Don't necessarily assume that putting your fan on the highest possible speed will give you the best results in all situations.  There are lots of variables -- distance from you to the fan being one of them, but also the size of your fan, the level of humidity (air density), how much heat your fan creates in doing its job, and who knows what else.  The number of ice cream sundaes in the room.  
      • Try your fan out at a lower speed first.  Give it a few minutes, see if that's sufficient.  If it's not, then turn the thing up.  You might be surprised to find that the lower speed was better.  Or maybe not.

      (Photo from FarmTek)

      • Bonus question: why are fans made to go OFF HI MED LOW as opposed to OFF LOW MED HI?
      • Answer: to overcome impedance (like resistance but in an electrical current), the voltage of the fan has to be high enough to get the thing going.  Then it can be turned to a lower setting.

      P. S. Here's another trick I used to use in an apartment that did not have air conditioning: put a bowl of ice cubes in front of the fan. Here, they're using those freezer pack things.  Probably a better idea as they stay frozen longer.

      (Photo from The Good Human)

      Sources and Stuff I Read
      Howstuffworks, How do fans make you feel cooler?
      Mental Floss, How Does a Fan Work to Cool You Off?
      Electronics Cooling, All You Need to Know about Fans, May 1, 1996
      Lasko, Create a wind chill in your home with help from electric fans
      SF Gate, The Direction & Speed of Ceiling Fan Rotation in the Winter & Summer
      Spoke, Walter Boyd 
      Architectural Record manufacturer-sponsored article, HVAC for Large Spaces: The Sustainable Benefits of HVLS Fans, December 2009
      Plant Services, Walter Boyd talks about HVLS fan technology, March 25, 2011
      Private University Products and News, Big Fans Improve Comfort and Efficiency across Campus
      J. W. Worley and J. K. Bernard, Cooling Effectiveness of High-Volume Low-Speed Fans Versus Conventional Fans in a Free-Stall Dairy Barn in Hot, Humid Conditions, The Professional Animal Scientist, 24 (2008): 23-28 (pdf)
      Wikipedia, High-volume low-speed fan
      Hudson Products Corporation, The Basics of Axial Flow Fans (pdf)
      Teledyne Hastings Instruments, Mass Flow versus Volumetric Flow
      The Vacuum Lab, The Difference Between Volume Flow and Mass Flow (pdf)
      Tangent Labs, Volumetric Flow vs. Mass Flow (pdf)
      UC Boulder, Density, Mass Flow Rate, & Volumetric Flow Rate  (video)
      Emerson Network Power, Achieving Energy-Efficient Data Center Cooling: Does Reducing Fan Speed Always Result in Energy Savings? (pdf)

      Monday, July 13, 2015

      Apple #714: Quaaludes

      So unless you've been keeping your TV and your internet turned off for a few weeks, you have by now heard that Bill Cosby got quaaludes in the 1970s for the purpose of giving them to women he wanted to have sex with.  He made this admission in a court case in 2005, but in the light of multiple accusations that have been made by multiple women that he drugged them to insensibility and raped them, this admission seems very damning.

      Then last night I read a disturbing account in The Huffington Post of the rape and humiliation of Jackie Fuchs (a.k.a. Jackie Fox) by the band's creepazoid manager in front of a room full of people, when she was in the Runaways with Joan Jett in 1975.  She was given somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 quaaludes which made her immobile, but though she was drugged, she was aware of what was being done to her.  She was 16 years old at the time.

      The Runaways, L to R: Lita Ford, Joan Jett, Jackie Fuchs, Sandy West, Cherie Currie.  They were all somewhere around 15 to 17 years old.
      (Photo from Consequence of Sound)

      So, what's the deal with quaaludes?

      Prescription bottle for Quaaludes, manufactured by Rorer in the 1970s. Quaaludes are now illegal in this country because they are extremely addictive and dangerous.
      (Image from The Paris Review)

      • First, you can't get Quaaludes in the U.S. anymore.  They were banned in 1984 in the United States and in several other countries because they were too powerful, too addictive, and too many people were dying or going into comas from taking them, especially when taken with alcohol.  
      • I tell you this first because I want you to keep the fact of their dangerousness in your mind as you read the other stuff about them.
      • Quaalude is the trade name for methaqualone.  The drug was originally developed in 1951 (some say 1955) by a researcher in India who was trying to prevent and/or treat malaria.  It turned out it didn't do that, but they discovered it was a powerful sedative.  They ran it through some tests and it seemed like it was non-habit-forming, so bingo, they've got a magical drug that can treat insomnia and help those pesky nervous housewives relax, and no worries!
      • So doctors started prescribing it freely all over the place. It didn't take long for people to figure out if they kept themselves awake past that initial 15-minute window of intense sleepiness, they would enter the realm of the high.  They felt relaxed, calm, a sense of well-being, little or no pain, numbing or tingling in the limbs, increased self-confidence, euphoria, and a ramped-up sex drive.
      • That's a nerdy way of saying that some people who took quaaludes (and did not pass out) felt fantastic.  People who took them back in the day say there's no high like a quaalude high, and they say this with a kind of dreamy sadness for something lost.
      • The drug caught on first in Germany and Japan, and then it became popular in the UK where it was called Mandrax, before it caught on in the United States. 
      • In 1965, a US drug company William H. Rorer started making & selling the drug in the US.  The needed a brand name for the methaqualone, but instead of calling it Qualone, they came up with something else.  They borrowed the double A idea from Maalox (Maalox was a flagship product of theirs, so named for the fact that it is either MAgnesium or ALuminum hydrOXide), and the rest of the name was supposed to remind you of quiet interlude, which was what this sedative would give you. Hence, Quaalude.
        • The pills were stamped with the number 714, so some people refer to them as 714s.
        • Keith Richards named a speedboat that he bought in 1971 Mandrax
      • By the mid- to late-1970s, "Doctors were essentially giving them out like candy," and they were a huge hit, especially among musicians, artists, and club-goers.
      • People were "luding out"--taking enough of the quaaludes until they passed out, like a dunk black-out.  Because it was a sedative, this was pretty easy to do, especially if you mixed them with liquor.
      • Some people took quaaludes to help them come down from a coke high.  Frank Zappa's "Pygmy Twylyght," talks about a guy who's "crankin' an' coke'n'," and "hurtin' for sleep in the quaalude moonlight."  
      • Other people took it, or gave it to others, because of the way it made them want to have a lot of sex.  The Tubes' lead singers' onstage persona -- their version of Ziggy Stardust -- was called Quay Lewd.  Band members from the 70s said if you gave a girl ludes, "she'd be all over you" within minutes.  Hugh Hefner used to give quaaludes to his live-in girlfriends or to women who visited his mansion--every night.  

      Billboard in Venice, CA, 1976. I think maybe that was originally an ad for Bacardi and Coke, but somebody changed it.
      (Photograph by Anthony Friedkin

      • Shel Silverstein, in addition to writing songs and poems for children, wrote some other songs that were for adults only.  In 1980, he wrote this little ditty:
      Quaaludes Again

      She's doin' quaaludes again.

      She fumbles and stumbles
      And falls down the stairs,
      Makes love to the leg of the dining room chair.
      She's ready for animals, women, or men.

      She's doin' quaaludes again.

      A band called Naked Grape also has a Quaalude song. Theirs is called Rorer, Or Rorer

      Rorer, oh Rorer, where did you go?
      You left without warning, how could I know
      That many years later, I'd sit back and dream,
      of doing the nasty, on seven fourteens

      Rorer, oh Rorer, you were Rock 'n' Roll,
      I woke up with strangers I did not know
      Had you stayed longer, my death I would see,
      but you went first Rorer, so for now, R.I.P.

      • The thing was, a whole lot of abuse went along with the quaaludes.  The lead singer of the Bay City Rollers, Les McKeown, says a man gave him quaaludes and raped him when he was 19. Perhaps most famously, Roman Polanski is accused of giving champagne and quaaludes to a 13 year-old girl before raping and sodomizing her.  
      • Then of course there is Jackie Fuchs' story.  One night in 1975, after she was given several quaaludes until she had to lie down on a bed because she couldn't stand up, her manager, Kim Fowley (male), asked a roadie if he wanted to have sex with her, and when that guy said no, Fowley undressed her in front of a room full of people and ultimately raped her.  
      Jackie tried to protest, but she was frozen. “You don’t know what terror is until you realize something bad is about to happen to you and you can’t move a muscle,” she says. “I can’t move. I can’t speak. All I can do is look him [the roadie] in the eye and do the best I can do to communicate: Please say no. ... I don’t know what it looked like from the outside. But I know what was going on inside and it was horror.” [Jason Cherkis, The Lost Girls, The Huffington Post]
      Jackie Fuchs (or Jackie Fox as she was called then), 1976 
      (Photo by Neal Preston, sourced from Rock n Roll Icons)

      • There is actually no evidence that quaaludes have aphrodisiac properties.  The drug may have earned the nickname "the love drug" because of the way it reduces inhibitions.  Or maybe it's only that it was used to knock people out prior to raping them.
      • It was the Rohypnol of its day, except it was worse, if that's possible.  Because the drug was also enormously addictive. It took effect extremely quickly for something you swallow--within about 20 minutes--and the body absorbs nearly all of it.  Doctors and researchers were reporting that people were showing signs of addiction after taking the drug for only two weeks.  Two weeks!
      • Here's one little tale of ludes and addiction, though it's about Iggy Pop, and he's been addicted to all sorts of stuff.  A member of a band the Dead Boys tells a story about a band-mate who was going to meet Iggy Pop for the first time and took a couple of quaaludes to calm himself down. But the quaaludes were too strong and the guy passed out in his soup.  Literally.  His face went splat in his bowl of soup while they were at dinner.  But Iggy, who'd been a long-time addict himself -- this was after Lust for Life -- was only interested in was getting his hands on some of this guy's quaaludes. He went through the guy's suitcases while he was passed out, looking for some he could take.
      • Someone who remembers taking them in the late 70s said, "I knew a guy who used to steal them from his mom, who was dying of cancer." [Angela Serratore, Free of One's Melancholy Self, The Paris Review]
      • The other problem was that the drug was downright dangerous, especially when mixed with alcohol.  One of the drug's effects was to make your limbs tingle or go numb.  People who took it a lot would discover that the tingling or numbness did not stop when the drug wore off.  They vomited, stopped eating, they fell into depression or anxiety or paranoia, and taking more quaaludes only made it worse.  People were getting seizures and convulsions and cardiac arrest.  People who drank and took quaaludes fell into a coma and died.
      • David Bowie's song "Time" mentions quaaludes and red wine -- the fatal combination that claimed the life of "Billy Dolls," or Billy Murcia of the New York Dolls.

      Billy Murcia, drummer for the glam band New York Dolls, died of an accidental Quaalude overdose in 1972, at age 21, after only a year of being in the band.
      (Photo from The Shit)

      • In 1978, Rorer sold the drug to a different company, Lemmon, and they kept making them and stamping them 714.  This is why some people call quaaludes Lemmons or Lemmon 714s.  
      • The name "Quaalude" was actually trademarked, but it had become a word like Kleenex or Coke, where people use the brand name to mean the whole category.  Lemmon did not like it that other companies were calling their methaqualone quaaludes.  That was one of their biggest headaches at the time, mis-use of the brand name.  Priorities, right?
      • Doctors and researchers were reporting a sharp increase in the number of people dying from taking quaaludes. This was a prescribed drug at the time, remember.  Just like you can still get oxycontin today by prescription, even though we know damn good and well by now how enormously dangerous and destructive it is.  
      • In the 10 years from 1971 to 1981, 246 people died due to having taken quaaludes. One-third of those deaths were car crashes.  The majority of those 246 deaths involved some kind of fatal trauma, including suicide or homicide.  Doctors were basically begging the powers that be to tell people to stop prescribing it.
      • In 1984, President Ronald Regan signed legislation making methaqualone a Schedule I drug, which means it is illegal to manufacture or sell it in the United States.
      • After that, it mostly disappeared from this country.  
      • It is still made and sold illegally in some countries, including Colombia, India, Pakistan, and South Africa, where it is called the British trade name Mandrax--and where it wreaks a whole lot of havoc.  In most cases, things made today that are called quaaludes or Mandrax are some combination of barbiturates (Valium is one kind of barbiturate) or barbiturates plus some small amount of illegal quaalude.  Quaaldues are not technically a barbiturate, so this is why people say that the stuff you get today that's called quaalude isn't the same thing.  But it is still addictive and very dangerous.

      One of the incarnations of Mandrax sold in South Africa today. It is usually crushed, mixed with dagga (marijuana) and then smoked in a broken neck of a bottle.  It's extremely addictive, and people who are hooked on it often steal to support the habit.
      (Photo from Drug Aware South Africa)

      • Some black market quaaludes that are smuggled into this country from Colombia through Florida are being sold in the US today, though it is rare compared to something like heroin (illegal and enormously destructive) or oxycontin (legal and just as destructive).
      • So the quaaludes that Cosby gave the women he raped?--er, allegedly raped.  In the cases of those who say he drugged and raped them in the 70s, most likely he bought the quaaludes legally, by prescription.  Judging from the number of women who've come forward, some doctor was giving Cosby a lot of ludes.  

      (Composite image from WKYT)

      • Maybe at first, Cosby didn't think there was anything wrong with it.  Back then, lots of celebrities were taking quaaludes to loosen up, have sex.  Maybe at first, he fooled himself into thinking the women wanted to take the drug, wanted to have sex with him.  Maybe the same way people have a drink to get past their nervousness, the women took a lude, or he offered it to them.  Maybe him offering the quaaludes turned into him giving it to them without their knowledge.  Or maybe he straight-up drugged them all without their knowledge from the start.  Hard to say what was in his mind.  
      • But my point is, given the stories that have emerged about quaaludes, it seems like giving people that drug without their knowledge in order to rape them was something that was not all that uncommon in the 1970s when quaaludes legal and popular. That doesn't mean it wasn't wrong, of course.
      • As for the other cases that happened more recently--Andrea Constand, for example, said she was drugged and raped in 2004--either Cosby hung onto some of his ludes, or he bought today's version of quaaludes illegally, or he used something else like a high dose of Valium.  Regardless, I don't think the "everybody's doing it" situation applies for the more recent violations.
      • One last thing.  I want to point out that the company that first started making this drug, a drug which causes addiction, depression, loss of feeling, seizures, comas, death, and which was used to facilitate the rape of an unknown number of people--that company named this drug so it would sell like Maalox--a medication that treats heartburn.

      Angela Serratore, Free of One's Melancholy Self, The Paris Review, January 28, 2014
      The Vaults of Erowid, Methaqualone
      PubChem Open Chemistry Database, Methaqualone
      Jason Cherkis, The Lost Girls, The Huffington Post, undated
      Eliza Gray, Why Bill Cosby Admitted Under Oath to Getting Drugs to Have Sex With Women, Time, July 9, 2015
      Harry Low and Tom Heyden, The rise and fall of Quaaludes, BBC News Magazine, July 9, 2015
      Larisa Epatko, What are Quaaludes, and how do they work? PBS NewsHour, July 7, 2015
      wiseGEEK, What are Quaaludes?
      Justin T. Gass, Ph.D., Quaaludes, New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008
      Bay City Roller Les McKeown has been living a secret gay life, Daily Mirror, February 18, 2009