Raw Meat Punches Holes in Your Brain


European friends often mock me for my aversion to raw meat. 'So American', they say, fingering their monocles and twirling their mustaches. But I defend my disgust for raw animal flesh. Mankind realized fire made meat good thousands of years ago -- forgoing cooked meat makes as much sense as trying to live without wheels. You wouldn't decapitate a pig and drink the blood spurting from its arteries, so why would you bite into its raw muscle? Besides, raw meat is full of bacilli, viruses, cysts, spirochetes, worms -- you name it.

Yet the Europeans, disdaining my advice, continue to eat it raw. Germans in the form of Mettwurst (seen above spread on a roll -- würg), the French in the form of steak tartare. Generally, they survive. The key, they will tell you, is freshness and quality.

But no matter how fresh the meat, it still contains nasty brain-changing parasites, says this fascinating article in The Atlantic about toxoplasmosis:

The parasite, which is excreted by cats in their feces, is called Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii or Toxo for short) and is the microbe that causes toxoplasmosis—the reason pregnant women are told to avoid cats’ litter boxes. Since the 1920s, doctors have recognized that a woman who becomes infected during pregnancy can transmit the disease to the fetus, in some cases resulting in severe brain damage or death. T. gondii is also a major threat to people with weakened immunity: in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before good antiretroviral drugs were developed, it was to blame for the dementia that afflicted many patients at the disease’s end stage. Healthy children and adults, however, usually experience nothing worse than brief flu-like symptoms before quickly fighting off the protozoan, which thereafter lies dormant inside brain cells—or at least that’s the standard medical wisdom.

But if Flegr is right, the “latent” parasite may be quietly tweaking the connections between our neurons, changing our response to frightening situations, our trust in others, how outgoing we are, and even our preference for certain scents. And that’s not all. He also believes that the organism contributes to car crashes, suicides, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia. When you add up all the different ways it can harm us, says Flegr, “Toxoplasma might even kill as many people as malaria, or at least a million people a year.”

You can avoid toxoplasmosis by not eating cat parasites. So far, sounds pretty simple. But not eating cat parasites is harder than it might seem:

After an infected cat defecates, Flegr learned, the parasite is typically picked up from the soil by scavenging or grazing animals—notably rodents, pigs, and cattle—all of which then harbor it in their brain and other body tissues. Humans, on the other hand, are exposed not only by coming into contact with litter boxes, but also, he found, by drinking water contaminated with cat feces, eating unwashed vegetables, or, especially in Europe, by consuming raw or undercooked meat. Hence the French, according to Flegr, with their love of steak prepared saignant—literally, “bleeding”—can have infection rates as high as 55 percent. (Americans will be happy to hear that the parasite resides in far fewer of them, though a still substantial portion: 10 to 20 percent.) Once inside an animal or human host, the parasite then needs to get back into the cat, the only place where it can sexually reproduce—and this is when, Flegr believed, behavioral manipulation might come into play.

The rest of the article details the mind-breaking human behavior changes caused by those hundreds (thousands? millions?) of toxoplasmosis cysts in your brain, including reduced attention, risk-taking, even changing your reaction to smells.

Germans, I've found something new for you to be terrified of. You're welcome!

Sexy Communists are Sexy

Open Culture looks at a documentary (above, NSFW) on East German sex:

The documentary proposes that, for all its deficiencies, the German Democratic Republic actually put forth a remarkably progressive set of policies related to such things as birth control, divorce, abortion, and sex education — a precedent to which some non-communist countries still haven’t caught up. However forward-thinking you might find all this, it did have trouble meshing with other communist policies: the state’s rule of only issuing housing to families, for instance, meant that women would get pregnant by about age twenty in any case. We must admit that, ultimately, citizens of the showcase East Germany had a better time of it than did the citizens of Soviet Socialist Republics farther east. And if the Ossies had a better Cold War between the sheets than did the Wessies, well, maybe they just did it to escape their country’s pervasive atmosphere of “unerotic dreariness.” Still, one likes to believe in the possibility of a better world. Back in Los Angeles, I recently attended Competing Utopias, a show of East German household artifacts at Richard Neutra’s idealistic VDL House — now I just wonder what must have gone on in the bedrooms.

You can find Do Communists Have Better Sex? (2006), shot by André Meier, in our collection of 200+ Free Documentaries Online.

I have a copy of one of the premier works by East German sexologists on the question of sex in East Germany and it tends to confirm that East Germans indeed had a pretty exciting time of it.

I've noticed this sort of pattern of relaxed attitudes to sex in many Eastern European countries. In my armchair-sociologists' view, it can be explained by 4 factors: (1) Official atheism and pro-female policies largely expunged the shame and anguish attached to sex; (2) in these economic backwaters, there wasn't very much else interesting to do; (3) conservative social attitudes survived even under Communism, meaning that men openly appreciated attractive women and women were socialized to attract and please men; and (4) where people lived packed into thin-walled high-rises like sardines, there's little privacy and much temptation. Even a 4-year-old knows what Mommy and Daddy are up to when it's happening 1 meter away through a wall that's functionally cardboard.

The Exaggerating Nun

The usual suspects (feminists and Christians) are lobbying for Germany to ban prostitution. They're not likely to get very far -- the current government is only contemplating punishment for men who knowingly hire women who have been forced into prostitution. How you're supposed to prove that is anybody's guess. As usual in these debates, nobody seems to even acknowledge the existence of male prostitution, or the possibility that men might be forced into selling their bodies. When it comes to human dignity and exploitation, apparently gays get a free pass!

The politics of prostitution in Germany are interesting: the educated urban bourgeoisie (EUB) is generally against it, likely because (1) that's the position of many (if not all) German feminists; and (2) prostitution involves capitalism, for which German EUB-types are expected to evince a genteel disdain (they aspire to high-prestige government jobs with excellent benefits). Yet being anti-prostitution puts them in the same boat with American puritans and conservative Catholics, two perennial bugaboos of the EUB. 

What to do? Most seem to favor banning or limiting prostitution. Which means when a German journalist interviews an anti-prostitution campaigner (just as when they interview an anti-GMO, anti-death penalty, or anti-nuclear activist), the questions are softballs and not even the craziest claim is challenged. Not to put too fine a point on it, German reporting on these issues is riddled with outlandish claims and bare-assed lies (GMOs cause cancer! Fukushima engineers died by the dozens!) passed on uncritically by cheerleading journalists.

Case in point, a nun named Sister Lea Ackermann, who heads a group called Solwodi (g), short for Solidarity with Women in Distress -- doubtless an extremely worthwhile organization. In this interview (g) Sister Lea says she wants Germany to combat prostitution by making it a crime for men to buy sex from women, as some Scandinavian countries have done. Note that she doesn't seem to have any opinion on whether men who buy sex from other men shoud also be punished. At one point in the interview, she makes a rather startling assertion about 'flat-rate' bordellos (my translation):

Heuer: [So you want to ban] things that violate human dignity such as 'flatrate-sex'. The governing coalition wants to ban that as well.  

Ackermann: Yes! Why haven't they done this long ago? A woman, a beer and a sausage for €8.90. Can you imagine anything worse?

Heuer: No, I can't. I find it exactly as horrible as you do. But the question is whether such things can be banned by law. How would you be able to enforce it?

When I read this, I nearly did a spit-take. Are there places where you can actually get a beer and a sausage and a sex act for €8.90 (about twelve bucks)? That sounds shriekingly implausible, yet the interviewer lets Sister Lea assert it without a shred of proof. And it fails the bullshit test on many levels. For one thing, given Germans' love for beer, sausages, and most of all bargains, there would be a line of men (and perhaps even a few women) stretching halfway across Germany to get into this place.

Just a few seconds' searching on the Internet reveals that this horror scenario is fake. Since prostitution is basically legal in Germany, bordellos can advertise openly, with price lists (Here's the Wikipedia entry for Pascha, a bordello in Cologne that's Europe's largest). I won't link to any here, since this is a family-friendly blog, but you will find that even the cheapest German house of joy literally won't even let you in the door for less than 25 Euros, and the costs surely mount quickly (so to speak) once you're inside. The average price for a 1-hour visit to an 'entertainment lady' (to translate the German phrase literally) seems to be between 80 and 150 euros, depending on what services are on offer.

By all means debate the proper policy on prostitution, German journalists, but don't treat your readers like idiots.

Why Are Americans so Cold-Resistant?


Over on Facebook, Dan asks in a comment:

'Gibt es eine Theorie, warum Amerikaner weniger kälteempfindlich sind? Diese eiskalten klimatisierten Räume überall. Im Sommer nie ohne Schal in die USA reisen. Bei 15°C rennen sie mit T-Shirt rum.'

In English, 'Is there any theory why Americans are less sensitive to cold? These ice-cold air-conditioned rooms everywhere. Even in summer, always take a scarf to the US. They run around in T-shirts when it's 15°C/59°F.'

This is one of the most glaring cultural differences Europeans and Americans immediately notice when they switch continents. Europeans see Americans walking around in the cold seriously underdressed, and marvel at the fact that Americans not only don't seem to care about drafts at all, but actually generate artificial drafts with omnipresent fans and air-conditioners. Americans in Europe watch fellow-passengers in overheated cars and trains sweat into their clothes without complaint, and grimace in horror as the only open window in a stuffy bar or restaurant is shut by a draft-hating German. And many interior spaces in Germany seem over-heated to Americans. As soon as the temperature drops below 20°C or so, Germans switch on the heaters.

Now, the first thing I will say is that I think this cultural gap is narrowing -- Germany is moving towards greater acceptance of fans and air-conditioning, just as Germany first ridiculed the puritanical American idea of smoke-free bars and restaurants, then quietly adopted it wholesale. But there is still a formidable divide in how people perceive temperature. I have a few theories about the American attitude:

  1. America is a much hotter country than many Europeans imagine. The American Northeast coast has colder winters than Europe, but hotter summers. Most of the country, though, including the south and midwest, get extremely hot and humid in summer. Every state in America gets more sun each year than Germany, with the sole exception of arctic Alaska. I'd say it's basic human nature to appreciate a drastic change from temperatures that are uncomforable to most humans. And most humans feel comforable between 22 and 25 degrees Celsius. So when it's 10 degrees outside, as if often is in Germany, Germans will breathe a sigh of relief in entering a room (over)heated to 27 degrees. And if it's 32° outside, Americans will breathe a sigh of relief entering a room (over)chilled down to a comfy 19°.
  2. This also explains the prevalence of air-conditioners. But there are other factors at work here. First of all, America in the 1950s and 1960s was wealthier than war-ravaged Europe, so business and private people could afford air-conditioners. This led to a general cultural norm that most interiors would be air-conditioned. Energy costs in the U.S. were low in the 1950s and 1960s, so nobody was really that concerned about how much juice air-conditioning used. Air-conditioning also drastically improved office productivity during hot months, adding an economic argument to adopting AC. Spaniards take a siesta because it's impossible to work effectively when it's really hot inside, and they're abolishing the siesta because it's a drag on productivity. But if they really want to boost productivity, they will have to install air-conditioning, not just expect people to work when it's 35° inside and sweat is streaming down their forehead. Air-conditioning would also have reduced the death toll of 15,000 French people during the heat wave of 2003. It should surprise no-one that air-conditioners are increasingly popular in Germany (g).
  3. Americans are fat. 31.8 percent of Americans are obese, making them the 2nd-fattest nation on earth, behind Mexico but just above Syria. If you know that 1/3 of the people entering your store or restaurant are going be fat, you'll adjust the temperature accordingly to keep them happy, keep them inside, and keep them spending money. Thin people can always put on a sweater, but there's only so much clothing fat people can remove before the police have to intervene.
  4. European culture has a tradition of folk-wisdom that drafts are bad for your health. No 19th-century novel would be complete without a character blaming a draft for anything from a headache to evil nightmares to consumption. And in Germany, this belief still exists. As the German-language wikipedia article on drafts notes, there is still 'a widespread superstition in German-speaking countries that drafts can cause illnesses'. This belief is not unknown in the U.S., but it never became as widespread as in Europe.
  5. Americans do not like to sweat during nomal daily activities and are extremely concerned, if not obsessed, about personal hygiene. They spend enormous amounts of money and go to great lengths to ensure that their bodies do not emit unpleasant odors, and anyone who fails to do this will be ostracized as surely as a German crossing the street against a red light. Once again, this is a cultural norm that Germany has, in the last 20 years or so, quietly adopted. Sales of chewing gum, routinely mocked by intellectuals as mindless cud for bovine Yankees, increased by 600% in Germany between 1972 and 2012. Deodorant use in Germany skyrocketed in the 1980s and has increased notably even in the period 2010-2013, which has made train travel much more pleasant for all concerned. If you place a premium on smelling good (or at least not stinking), that means you place a premium on not sweating, which means the cooler the temperature, the better.
  6. And finally, perhaps population genetics may play a role. The majority of Americans are still white, and immigrated predominantly from Northern European countries. Although all humans can adapt to all climates, studies have shown that Europeans who relocate to hot places sweat more than indigenous people there.

Those are my theories. Feel free to dispute them or add your own in comments.

Remigius-Ekkehard Scores!


Look at the German men in those photographs. Erect, athletic, courteous, stylishly-dressed, sexually chaste* and happy. They surely bore, with pride, real Teutonic names like Wolfram, Ekkehard, Adalbert, Friedhelm, Karlheinz, Ulf-Wotan, or Eike-Siegfried. Names that evoke crystalline mountain lakes, Wergeld, jousting tournaments, roving bards, sacred groves, and unmixed ancestry.

Yesterday the German men's national soccer team won the World Cup. But what sort of names did these "'Germans'" have? Per and Philipp are just barely acceptable, but Toni? Kevin? Mario? Sami? Manuel?


Did we lose a war, people?!

(picture here)


* This 1925 poster, from the collection of the German Hygiene Museum (!), reads: "Strive to remain chaste! The best way to do so is bodily exercise! Sports and games, swimming and hiking -- along with serious work, these make it easy to remain sexually continent. Continence is not harmful."

Speak for yourself, German Hygiene Council.

UPDATE: I bet these guys had Real German Names®:



A Right to be Deleted

An American legal journalists reacts to a German internet privacy ruling: 

Wow, Europe just doesn’t buy the American idea that free speech online is sacrosanct. Earlier this month, the European Court of Justice ruled in favor of a “right to be forgotten,” requiring Google to remove links to old and embarrassing articles about debts a Spanish lawyer had long since paid. And now a German court has come down on the side of a woman who wants her ex-boyfriend to delete nude pictures and erotic videos of her from his computer. This kind of claim would never fly in the United States—the First Amendment would trample it. That’s exactly why I’m glad Europe is building a different sort of online universe. Will it prove better or worse to strike a different balance between the competing values of preventing reputational harm and protecting free speech? I look forward to finding out. 


There is no right to dignity in the U.S. Constitution, much less the freedom to control the development of one’s personality, or brand. You can sue someone for slander, or the publication of private facts, if defamatory posts go up about you online. But those cases are hard to win (and sometimes even to find out the identity of the poster, if he or she acts anonymously). It is also hard to get any kind of relief if someone has nude images of you even if they took them without your consentA few states have tried to address the problem of revenge porn, but this is only an initial effort. And it confronts an entrenched American tradition of treating the right to free speech as absolute. We do cherish our First Amendment.

What if the European experiment shows little speech of value to be lost—and a lot of relief from humiliation and invasion of privacy gained? Would we ever rethink our approach in the U.S.? Cases like this one in Germany raise the questions.

We seem to be witnessing the emergence of a Europe-wide legal consensus on the right to be forgotten (or in this case, deleted, since the defendant just had photos of his ex-girlfriend on his computer and had not posted them).

There are a couple of legal issues -- antitrust enforcement, for example -- in which courts all over Europe join a bandwagon to defend specifically 'European' values against American cultural influence. Which, as this case shows, can be a very good thing indeed! If European courts continue to develop the notion of Internet privacy, Big Data will have to develop programs to implement these rights. Of course they'll protest all the way, but once the model is developed, it can be also be used in the USA, if courts go along. We'll see.

Kant's Heteronormative Othering Microaggressions Exposed


Open Culture mocks this disclaimer here. Splintered Mind points to some of Kant's microagressions unfashionable views on homosexuality (the vice so horrible it must not be named), masturbation, marriage, killing bastards, and other topics here. Interestingly, Kant had this to say on organ donation: "To deprive oneself of an integral part or organ (to maim oneself) -- for example, to give away or sell a tooth to be transplanted into another's mouth... are ways of partially murdering oneself... cutting one's hair in order to sell it is not altogether free from blame."

The Land of Poets and Thinkers and Ruthless Capitalists

A Montreal blogger got an email from a German academic publisher:

This one’s mostly for the search engines as I’m sure most of my readers don’t need to hear this.

I keep getting this spam email sent to me:

Begin forwarded message:

From: Yasmine Watson 
Date: February 2, 2012 2:15:30 AM EST
Subject: Our Publication Offer: Your end-of-studies work

Dear Essam Hallak,

Some time ago I offered you the possibility of making your academic paper
entitled «Beyond Boundaries A Philosophical Mapping of the PreModern City of
the Levant» submitted to McGill University Montreal as part of your
postgraduate studies available as printed book. Our publishing company is
interested in your subject area for future publications. Since we did not
hear back from you, I am now wondering if you received my first email.

I would appreciate if you could confirm your interest in our publishing
house and I will be glad to provide you with detailed information about our

I am looking forward to receiving a positive response from you.

Best Regards,
Yasmine Watson
Acquisition Editor

LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing GmbH & Co. KG
Heinrich-Böcking-Str. 6-8
66121, Saarbrücken, Germany

Fon +49 681 3720-310
Fax +49 681 3720-3109

y.watson(at)lappublishing.com / www.lap-publishing.com

Handelsregister Amtsgericht Saarbrücken HRA 10752
General unlimited partner: VDM Management GmbH
Managing directors: Thorsten Ohm (CEO), Dr. Wolfgang Philipp Müller, Esther
von Krosigk

Joseph Stromberg got an email from someone 'named' Holmes at Lambert, which made him curious:

At this point, I did a bit more research into LAP Lambert and found that it’s really just the tip of the book-mill iceberg. Both it and AV Akademikerverlag GmbH & Co. KG are part of an enormous German publishing group called VDM that publishes 78 imprints and 27 subsidiary houses in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Russian, and plans to soon open up shop in Turkey and China. It has satellite offices in Latvia and Uruguay, but the majority of its English- and French-speaking staff are based in the tax haven of Mauritius, off the coast of Madagascar. Founded in Düsseldorf, Germany, in 2002 by a man named Dr. Wolfgang Philipp Müller, the company is notorious for using on-demand printing technology to package all sorts of strange content in book form and selling it online. The company declines to release financial data but claims to publish 50,000 books every month, making it, by its own accounting, one of the largest book publishers in the world.

How can it possibly churn out this many titles? Although a huge number are academic texts, hundreds of thousands result from an even stranger process: They’re built entirely from text copied from Wikipedia articles. On VDM’s own online bookstore, Morebooks.de, the listings for books like Tidal PowerPeriod (number),and Swimming Pool Sanitation (published by VDM’s Alphascript and Betascriptimprints) directly acknowledge this fact. Thousands are listed for sale on Amazon, all with the same cover design (albeit with different stock photos swapped in) and the same three names (Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, and John McBrewster) listed as the “authors.” Some go for as much as $100. Though the practice is technically legal—most Wikipedia content is published under licenses that allow it to be reproduced—critics say that it’s unethical and deceitful for the company to profit from content freely available on the Web.


But plenty of people consider the company’s strategy predatory—and in his research, Hodgkinson uncovered a curious pattern that lends credence to this view.He found that the Facebook profile of Kevin Woodmann, one of the acquisition editors, featured a “low budget royalty free” stock photo entitled “Confident middle aged man sitting and smiling in front of white background.” (The photo has since been removed from the Facebook profile.) Other acquisition editors used stock photos for profile pictures as well.

Ohm told me that after Hodgkinson’s article alerted him and other LAP Lambert management that their editors were using stock photos, they were instructed to immediately discontinue the practice and haven’t done it since. His explanation for the strange pattern is benign. “I know that not all editors, especially females, want to have their picture on Facebook,” he said. “This is especially a matter in some of our sites—for example, Mauritius—where we have Muslim and Hindu employees.”

But Hodgkinson thinks the editors’ use of stock photos—along with suspiciously Anglo-sounding names for staff that are largely based in Mauritius—are part of something more nefarious: a deceptive effort to seem more prestigious, especially for the large number of authors based in Africa, India, and other regions of the developing world. LAP Lambert doesn’t publish data on the countries of authors, but a casual search of its online bookstore and comments on blog posts reveals that a huge amount of authors appear to live in these areas. “Especially at many universities in developing countries, there are expectations or requirements that graduate students need to publish to receive a degree,” Hodgkinson told me, “and that pressure is leading them into the arms of these disreputable publishers.”

The business model, apparently, is to sell the books back to authors:

Over the next two weeks, I got three more emails from Holmes pressuring me to buy, each more aggressive than the last. She used several strategies: guilt (“We agreed to provide you free ISBN, free cataloguing of your book in thousands of bookstores, free book cover, market coverage, support and assistance. We are now offering you the opportunity to support your project.”); optimism (“You can also purchase some copies and market them in your locality or maybe even sell them at your own price, thus not only generating profit, but also getting to know your target audience and perhaps establishing valuable contacts.”); and finally, hostility (“We would have thought that you would have at least liked to have some copies of your new published book and that is why proposed this offer to you in the first place. Maybe you have not realized the importance of having some printed copies of your book in hand?”). Each warned that my window of opportunity to take advantage of the deal was rapidly closing, but I declined repeatedly.
I like the choice of (presumably) fake names for the editors: Holmes and Watson. I anticipate an email soon from June Christie.