Sunday, February 19, 2017

appears, seems, may be ... media in retreat

If I had to guess, I think I'd say U.S. President Donald Trump is scoring a big, fat W -- a winning hand in his attacks on the media. The media are wussing out and caving in and might aptly be accused by those with less polite minds than my own if being the very lackluster pussies Trump accuses them of being.

Consider The Guardian (my more-often-than-not-favorite news source) and it's lede on a story today:
Donald Trump appeared to invent a terrorist attack in Sweden during a campaign-style rally in Florida on Saturday, inviting questions that he may have confused the nation with a city in Pakistan. (emphasis/color added).
At the beginning of every day, I scan several news wires. The Guardian, BBC, Associated Press (who edits their stuff any more???), Reuters, and occasionally the Washington Post. The journalistic arrogance of the New York Times/Boston Globe, in parallel with Fox and family,  is outside what I can tolerate early in the day. As expected, the major outlets huddle together like impoverished masses, covering the same story ... sometimes, but not often, with varying facts. But what I think I am seeing is an increasing willingness of a particular outlet to doubt its assessment ("appeared to invent" instead of the more factual "invented." It doesn't matter if invention were the intent. What matters is whether the fabrication were true.)

This is minor stuff, some may say. All language is only approximate, some may say. But something can be labeled wrong when it is wrong and the apologies can be reserved, if necessary, for later. I sense an increase in Ph.D. pseudo-courtesies like "it appears," "it seems," and other nieceties that doff a media cap in Trump's direction... an exercise he seldom acknowledges and, as far as I know, never mimics. Check it out yourself in the news stories you read. Maybe I'm all wet.

I'm not doing much of an analysis, here ... I just sense that the media are caving in and Trump is as much responsible as dwindling advertising revenues. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

the power of chicken yodeling ... who knew?

Passed along in email:

California rainin'

Ryan Maue, a meteorologist for WeatherBell Analytics, told the LA Times 10 trillion gallons of rain would fall on California in the next week, enough to fill 15 million Olympic-sized swimming pools or to power Niagara Falls for 154 days.
Several stories about the torrential rain in California make it sound serious and spooky from afar. One story noted that all of the diminished reservoirs had been refilled. "After five years of drought, a series of storms have filled state reservoirs. California's Sierra Nevada mountain range is also loaded with snow. Runoff from its snowpack normally supplies about a third of the state's water."

Apocalyptically abundant fire and water -- often the journalistic menu for Calif. -- and I keep waiting for the oy-veh Christians who prophesied meteorological calamity due to Roe v. Wade or other blasphemical adventures ... how come they're not out there saying "See??? We told you so! And YOU'RE going to be left behind...!!!"

Maybe they all got washed out to sea, but that hardly seems fair after all their dutiful, hymniferous caterwauling.

Perhaps their updated warning looks like this?

Friday, February 17, 2017

and the winner is....

A golden eagle grabs a flying drone during a military training exercise at Mont-de-Marsan French Air Force base, Southwestern France, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

"why should Americans trust you?"

Finally, the news media starts to do its job: At an impromptu news conference (if it can be called that), President Donald Trump was asked face to face yesterday:
"Why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information they've received of being fake when you're providing information that's not accurate?" the TV correspondent asked.
Trump seemed to blame his staff. “I was given that information,” he replied. “Actually, I’ve seen that information around.” Trump then called on another reporter.
There were enough trusting -- or perhaps 'skeptical' is a better word -- Americans to elect Donald Trump president. Many of these people were described as feeling left out of the American process ... jobs, health care, education ... they were described as feeling neglected. And many of them spoke of the trust they felt for Donald Trump. Politicians and media fell in line.

But why? On what basis? I suppose you can buy fealty and sycophancy, but you can't buy trust. I do hope someone will repeat that question in future.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

being who you were, I guess

It has been a long time since the word "camp" or "campy" crossed my mind in the particular context, but the following story about a Peruvian man brought back the usage....
From the Partridge Dictionary of Slang: 
campy, adjective, melodramatically and blatantly homosexual US, 1965
Besides being slightly crazed, there is something frou-frou and devoted in the tale -- just off-the-wall enough to be utterly true and credible and human in the activity depicted. Homosexuality doesn't interest me in this instance.
Peruvian artist and photographer Christian Fuchs is obsessed with his illustrious ancestors and spends months painstakingly recreating portraits of them, posing for them himself whether the ancestors were men or women.
It's an unusual way to get close to your forefathers, but it works for Christian Fuchs.
The walls of his elegant apartment overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Lima's bohemian Barranco district are covered with paintings of his aristocratic European and Latin American ancestors.

court favors burger queen

A Canadian court has awarded a former Burger King cook $46,000 ($35,000 USD, £28,000) in damages after she was fired for taking home a fish sandwich, fries and beverage....
At the time of her dismissal, in January 2014, she was earning $21,000 a year and working full-time. Her husband is physically disabled and she also supports an adult daughter with a mental disability. She is the sole earner in her household....
When Ms Ram walked out with a fish sandwich, medium fries and orange soda without paying, Ms Salman reported her to Mr Mohammed. After applying the employee discount, the value of the fries and drink taken by Ms Ram was about 50¢. 
PS. Today was also the day when "Immigrants around the U.S. stayed home from work and school Thursday to demonstrate how important they are to America's economy and way of life, and many businesses closed in solidarity, in a nationwide protest called A Day Without Immigrants."

Leokadia and Donald

Skimming the obits today, I was suddenly struck by the thought that a feather-weight bully like Donald Trump should be put in a position to care for and improve a nation in which Leokadia Z. Rowinski, 93, (and those like her) once lived. This was a person of substance, like so many others ... a person with, as my father used to say, "sand." Here's just the intro to the obit that calls so utterly for respect:

Leokadia Z. Rowinski

She was born in Warsaw, Poland, the daughter of Kazimierz and Zofia (Kunert) Grzeslak. In 1939, after the Nazis occupied Poland, Leokadia secretly continued her education even though this was a crime punishable by death. She joined the Polish Home Army and as a member of the Underground Resistance received intensive training as a war nurse and later as a communication technician, acquiring knowledge of radio, field telephone, map reading and use of firearms. Captured after the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, she spent six months in three German POW camps. The last of these, Oberlangen, was liberated in April of 1945 by the First Polish Armored Division under British command.
The rest of the obit is quiet as perhaps Mrs. Rowinski was ... family, work, death ... a person who was a substantive person. No doubt she could have pissy moments, but I trust her where she puts her feet on the floor.

That a man like Donald Trump might presume even to praise her is somehow off-key ... and possibly revolting. What a difference between "grasp" and "give."

Leokadia Z. Rowinski
Leokadia Z. Rowinski

Leokadia Z. Rowinski

heeeeere's Gandalf!

An Indian photographer has travelled New Zealand taking pictures of Gandalf the wizard from The Lord of the Rings movies with his stunning images revealing the mystical side of Middle Earth.
Akhil Suhas, 21, spent six months touring New Zealand and documented his 15,000km journey by featuring locals and tourists dressed up as the wizard Gandalf in every photograph. [The Guardian]

no immigrants

Activists are calling on immigrants to protest President Donald Trump's tough stance on immigration by staying home from work or school on Thursday, not shopping and not eating out, in an effort to highlight the vital role they play in U.S. society.
"A Day Without Immigrants," which has been largely driven by word of mouth on social media, arose in response to Trump's vows to crack down on illegal immigration and his executive order, since suspended by a federal judge, to temporarily block entry to people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Where I am weak,
Just place my ashes
Where the world
Is strong.

Where I am strong,
Just place my ashes
Where the world
Is weak.

In this way, children
And adults
Will have a little
Nighttime reading.

Sanity does not matter
So much, but a
Single flower beside the path
Forever makes sense
Of the lovers' kiss.

lying around

A bit of disconnected blither:

Largely in the last year, as it seems to me, lying has attained a whole new status in the human agenda. Or perhaps I'm just making it up that the presidential race was so full of misdirection and self-absorbtion and downright lying that no one cares much if you know they're lying to you ... the liars know you are unlikely to check the data. That used to be the job of the news program ... finding out what is true -- imagine that!

I guess the vaporous thinking comes on the heels of late-night satirist John Oliver, who recently shaped some pseudo-advertising aimed at informing and spoofing the vast ignorance (and hence dangerousness) of the current U.S. president. The ads [starting around minute 21] are several days old but the segue of comedy/satire into a direct assault that news programs or other outlets can no longer provide ... it has an exhausting quality. Somehow I wish it didn't work as well as I think it does.

 Pushing back against a wall of advancing opinion that passes for news is impossible. Righteousness is conflated with what is right. Et Voila ... the world is flat once more and I for one am out of personal steam except to the extent that -- as usual -- so many who are so ignorant will have to be hurt if not killed.

If all this sounds muddled and unfocused, it's because I am, in large part, muddled and unfocused and wish I weren't.

Yes, it's the good ole days when I was stupid enough to believe ... and to share that belief with some of my fellow Americans...

Now decency is strictly a personal matter and money ... well, I won't lie to you.

This morning, for example, I skipped over 'serious' news I might once have read considerably more closely and stopped only for the seal that beached itself on the deck of a kayak in the Firth of Forth. Somehow the physical reality -- despite the possibility of Photoshop -- carried with it a concreteness that was decent and true ... or anyway truish-er. Or maybe the Yellow Brick Road has just got its hooks into me.

For a long time, I have felt that the round-table football analysts who talk between segments of the game could move to Hawaii and not be missed. Maybe the same is true for so-called news broadcasts.

I am tired of being lied to by people who cannot seem to do their jobs and distinguish lies from truth ... or at least make a stab at it without lying down, spreading their legs, and joining the feeding frenzy.

India... one launch... record 104 satellites

India’s space agency has announced the successful launch of a record-breaking 104 nano satellites into orbit, all onboard a single rocket.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) said the milestone launch, from the Sriharikota space centre in the country’s south, overtook the 2014 Russian record of 37 satellites in a single launch.
On board was a 714kg satellite for earth observation and more than 100 smaller satellites weighing less than 10kg each. Three were Indian-owned, 96 were from US companies, and the rest belonged to companies based in Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.
Most were owned by Planet Labs Inc, a US-based Earth-imaging company.
I wonder: Once everyone knows everything, what will they know and will it be a good thing or a bad thing?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

passenger drone

A drone that can carry people will begin "regular operations" in Dubai from July, the head of the city's Roads and Transportation Agency has announced at the World Government Summit.
The Chinese model eHang 184 has already had test flights, said Matt al-Tayer.
The drone can carry one passenger weighing up to 100 kg (220 pounds) and has a 30 minute flight time.
The passenger uses a touch screen to select a destination. There are no other controls inside the craft.

talkin' slick 'n' with-it

It's just so fucking cozy and infra dig -- the latterday implementation of the word "so" to lead off an answer to any question. It is very popular these days. "What time is it?" "So ... it's 2:35." "When did the volcano erupt?" "So, I was playing video games when...."

I realize these fads come and go with women's hooker-fashion shoes or men's fruit-tight suits, but with each reuse I feel I am sinking lower and lower ... further and further behind in some third-grade quick sand.

So what makes me imagine I'd made it to the third grade ...?

poison makes a comeback?

The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-nam, has been killed with poison in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, reports say.
Malaysian police said a North Korean man waiting at the airport for a flight to Macau on Monday had fallen ill and died on his way to hospital. [Later, more speculative/analytical, story.]
"The government said Georgia had "averted a major disaster" when "Georgian police .... arrested a priest suspected of plotting to poison a top figure in the Georgian Orthodox Church.
"Prosecutors said cyanide was found in Fr Giorgi Mamaladze's luggage when he was detained at Tblisi airport on Friday, before he could fly to Germany.
"The head of the Georgian Church, Patriarch Ilia II, is being treated in hospital in Germany. Ilia might have been the target, but that is not clear.

a little Buddhist attachment

Passed along in email, a little Buddhist attachment from The Onion:
When I think back to my time on earth, I have few regrets. The path I took, the simple life of a monk, allowed me to achieve the highest state of enlightenment. As one who renounced worldly attachments, I was free to lead a contemplative existence and to then share my wisdom with others. That said, I have to admit that if I were to do it all over again, I would probably choose to have at least a few possessions.
Not too many, of course. Maybe 10 possessions—20, tops.

Monday, February 13, 2017


The BBC's explanatory information accompanying a photo-contest entry read like ... I'm not sure what:
In order to enter the priesthood in the Orthodox religion in Russia, you must first become a monk or get married. Here Vladimir marries Vittoria. This photo taken by Francesco Comello was part of a series which won third prize in Daily Life (Stories).
Among the winners of the World Press Photo 2017 contest was the picture above. I wouldn't be so confused if I simply looked things up, but since confusion -- who's married, who ain't and what difference it might make -- is more the norm these days, I think I'll leave it alone. Still, I do feel a bit as if someone had told me to become a mahout if I wished to drive in Monaco's Grand Prix.

John Oliver

Received in email:

Sunday, February 12, 2017


Much to my chagrin, fewer and fewer things have the capacity to excite my gorge. I do heartily pray that others, in full cry, will chase down and lustily maul the various forms of social inequity that come cloaked in oak-paneled rooms, modulated voices and decanters so wondrously cut. Yes, I bless their names, but for my part, I play the 'old' card.
Downing Street believes a major overhaul of existing secrecy legislation is necessary because it has become outdated in a digital age when government employees can easily disclose vast amounts of sensitive information. 
Nevertheless when England becomes the stalking horse for what any jackass can see is in the wings (in the U.S. et al) , I still get throw-uppy. If there were traffic-warning signs, perhaps they might say, "Caution -- well-coiffed twerps ahead." My unrepentant gorge responds, "I do hope you will consider chemical castration." I am sick of those whose sink-hole politics profess virtue while doing little more than vexing and impugning those who aerate a stale and self-serving closet.

But back to my gorge: England seems to have donned the veil of proposing that whistle-blower penalties (think Edward Snowden) should be radically enhanced.

I dislike it intensely -- in the U.S., in Great Britain, in Israel, in Turkey, in Russia .... -- and in all the other places where cutting "terror" down to size cannot be accomplished without sowing a new and improved terrorism.

Secret shit is often very complex. I have read books that follow its filigreed paths. I haven't got the energy for that any more. What I do have energy for is this: In any instance where a so-called whistleblower has outed information previously held secret ... will those seeking to punish such whistleblowers please demonstrate in particular who has been harmed/killed/beat up/fucked over or otherwise inconvenienced? Let's hear it. It really isn't enough to say "we can't tell you because that would harm still others" or "national security is at risk." There have been years that have passed between accusation and result ... so who, precisely, got hurt, who got helped, and is there a reason why a formal discussion cannot discern what helped and what didn't. As far as I can figure out, the damage left in the wake of whistleblowing is not demonstrated.

If someone's job is put at risk, is that enough to increase the penalties for whistleblowing?

I cannot parse the power points of secrets ... how much is personal aggrandizement and how much of it really is for the public good (as defined by those too often aggrandized?)

Anyway ... I hope the barkers will raise hell in England: Their accents always make such discussions sound more civil ... even with the puke on the floor.


Feb. 11 (UPI) -- A Spanish-language newspaper in the Dominican Republic mistakenly ran a picture of the actor Alec Baldwin from Saturday Night Live in place of a photo of President Donald Trump.
The newspaper El Nacional issued a correction Friday, but not before the image went viral online.
Elsewhere on the oops-mobile,
The United States Tennis Association (USTA) has issued an apology to their German Fed Cup opponents after singing the wrong version of their national anthem.
With so much information floating around, what is in error seems to be gaining ground fast on what is not in error. A faux Donald Trump appears to be more substantive and credible than a 'real' one.

thank God Donald Trump's not hurting

In the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 16 families are evicted every day. Photograph: Philip Montgomery
Eviction riots erupted during the Depression, even though the number of poor families who faced eviction each year was a fraction of what it is today. A New York Times account of community resistance to the eviction of three Bronx families in February 1932 observed: “Probably because of the cold, the crowd numbered only 1,000.”...
In America, families have watched their incomes stagnate, or even fall, while their housing costs have soared. Median rent has increased by more than 70% since 1995. Meanwhile, only one in four families who qualify for housing assistance receive it, and in the nation’s biggest cities the waiting list for public housing is not counted in years but decades. The typical poor American family does not live in public housing but receives no government assistance whatsoever....The most recent version of the American Housing Survey asked people: “Do you think you’ll be evicted soon?” Renters in more than 2.8m homes said yes.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

lost and found

A 150-year-old antique wedding dress lost after a dry cleaners went bust has been located.
Tess Newall, of Morham, East Lothian, spoke of being "distraught" after discovering the dress, which belonged to her great-great grandmother, was missing.
It followed the closure of Kleen Cleaners in St Mary Street, Edinburgh.
She posted an update on social media saying the dress was found "in a crumpled heap" at the closed shop.
The 29-year-old who married Alfred Newall, 30, in East Lothian, in June, told the BBC she was "absolutely over the moon" at the discovery, and said the last 24 hours had been "surreal".
 A Chinese man who was trapped in India for more than 50 years has finally been reunited with his family.
The BBC had reported how Wang Qi, an army surveyor who says he accidentally crossed into India in 1963, had not been given the necessary documents to leave the country.
Following the report, he was visited by Chinese diplomats, who told him efforts were being made to take him back.
Mr Wang was met by family members when his flight landed in Beijing.

being a parent / parental regret

Strange to think how eventually things come around to serious consideration of what is initially posited as unthinkable and, somehow, naughty. Eg.: since I haven't lived through a war, I might as well get behind one... or how about the parents who are willing to concede they really don't want to be parents.

The 'blessing' of birthing and parenting ... that's what some, at least, are rethinking. Women catch much of the blessed flak -- they do the heavy lifting -- but I was happy to see reference to the regret men might feel in The Guardian article.
It’s tiring, often boring – and can mean a return to more traditional roles. Why some mothers (and fathers) feel they made a mistake.

Friday, February 10, 2017

washed ashore and unrequited

 In New Zealand:
"As the morning wore on, an urgent plea was issued for locals to drop work and school commitments and head to the remote beach to save the whales, bringing towels, buckets and sheets to keep them cool, calm and wet."

In the Mediterranean a similar heartbreak goes similarly unrequited. The heart asks why and weeps and yet there is no end to hell.
Men, women, children, whales ... the heart does not distinguish and yet, of course, it does.

Twerps forgather and discuss and claim to be surprised and caring where the war attains full flower.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

if the internet stopped working

Some governments also have “kill switches” that can effectively turn off the internet in their country. ....  China is rumoured to have a kill switch of its own. And American senators have proposed creating one in the US as a means to defend the country from cyberattack.
Strange, to some the shiver comes from the question of what would happen if the internet were shut off. To others the shiver comes from what would happen if the the internet were turned on.

And still the question hangs on the air: Can s/he walk and chew gum simultaneously?

movie, "Smoke"

Small bore, low key, below the ridge line and credible both in its magic and its reality ... the 1995 movie, "Smoke."

I like imaginatively-ballsy movies.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

the evaporating church

SOSNOVKA, Russia (AP) -- A village in Siberia that did not have a church until this winter is getting a lesson in faith and life's ephemeral nature.
Sosnovka resident Alexander Batyokhtin spent nearly two months building a village church entirely out of snow. The structure will vanish with the season.
Batyokhtin worked on the chapel every day, even when temperatures plunged below minus 30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit.) He used 12 cubic metres (424 cubic feet) of snow to make it.
Batyokhtin says the work wasn't difficult. His biggest challenges were fashioning the altar and a cross for the roof.
"The main thing is to say a prayer and keep a fast for some time, then just go and do it," he says.
Sosnovka administrator Yuriy Kirsh says the church "means a lot to our hearts and souls" despite being temporary.
Red emphasis added. Don't you wish, once in a while, that the 'church fathers' or whoever is running the show (religious or otherwise) would just keep it simple, keep it honest, and 'get 'er done?'

never mind the truth, be polite!

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was silenced in the U.S. Senate today when she attempted to read the words of Coretta Scott King (wife of civil rights icon Martin Luther King) penned in a letter assessing Jeff Sessions, the current nominee for U.S. Attorney General. A Senate rule -- widely and selectively applied -- prohibits one senator from critiquing another. And in this way, Republicans shut Warren down.
Ms Scott King's [30-year-old] letter alleged that Mr Sessions was unsuitable for that role because he had "used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters".
Ms Warren also quoted the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who called Mr Sessions a "throwback to a shameful era".
The detraction I found juciest:
 Republican Senator Orrin Hatch told NBC that Ms Warren's move was not appropriate in the chamber.
"Even if what she said was true, it wasn't the right thing to do," Mr Hatch said. "I've been appalled at the way Democrats have treated Jeff Sessions."
Is that a perfect summing up of a particular political plank? It's more important to follow the rules than it is to be truthful? If that's the case, what role, if any, does truth play in a political platform?

the tendrils of a tender fart

True or false, a fart pill has made my day today after arriving initially from the Globe and Mail and subsequently from a chum in Japan. First comes my thanks to the sender. Then comes the article itself....

Once, when I worked at the book publisher Doubleday, I fell deeply in love with a book entitled "A Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown." This was before computers. Intelligent satire was possible without apology. I knew squat about engineering and/or science and yet the series of essays that riffed seriously on various scientific genres left me giggling in very satisfying ways. I pushed and prodded and, as I remember it, Doubleday agreed to reprint "Stress Analysis...."

All this is by way of saying, I read the whole of what you sent from the Globe and Mail, never quite sure if my leg were being pulled or not, but willing to read "just a little bit more" in order to find out. Finally, I ran out of "a little bit more's" and the best I could do was try Snopes ... which told me squat.

All of this has enhanced my day. Good bullshit is hard to find, on the one hand, and, on the other, fact is stranger than fiction. I feel greatly enriched and am grateful ... you fucker! At my age and with Donald Trump in the presidential saddle, not-knowing is a soothing balm.

Thanks seriously.


How a ‘fart pill’ could potentially do wonders for human health

There is no dog to blame here.

There is, however, a small black box on the wall of each room in this little research laboratory toward the rear of the Laurentian University campus. Each box has special sensors that can, if necessary, sound an alarm.

“Fart detectors,” Dr. Rui Wang calls them.

He is laughing but not joking. The sensors are not there to catch squeakers but to protect lives. Dr. Wang and his associates deal with H2S, hydrogen sulfide, a gas that is stinky but harmless in small doses and deadly in large releases. It is the No. 1 occupational hazard for those who work in oil and natural gas.

“Protection, not detection,” he says, warmly tapping on the little black box.
While mass quantities of the gas can be a danger to human life in the energy industry, Dr. Wang believes the gas, moderated in extremely small quantities, can be harnessed to do wonders for people’s health.

His “eureka moment” dates back to 2000 when he and his colleagues were able to clone an enzyme known as CSE in vascular smooth muscle cells and then show that this enzyme has the ability to synthesize H2S in our blood vessels. The gas dilated the vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure.

Subsequent experiments on a genetically-engineered mouse strain that developed hypertension proved that H2S plays a significant role in regulating health – a role that Dr. Wang now sees could affect everything from bad breath to erectile dysfunction.

“It’s a universal solution for many things,” he says. Humans, he believes, will be able to live longer and healthier lives if a proper H2S balance can be found for them.
“No one believed H2S was a real thing,” says Dr. Wang. “People just thought, ‘You fart – that’s a bad thing.’
“Well, it’s not.”

Dr. Wang cautions that there is a significant difference between the H2S people pass – or claim they didn’t – and the minute amount of H2S produced in blood vessels. The gas that empties elevators and leads to desperate denials is produced by what he calls “bacteria in our gut,” and the concentration can be 100 to 1,000 times higher than that produced by our own cells.

Not surprisingly, the genesis for his research goes back to rotten eggs. It was 1998, and Dr. Wang had returned home and thought there must be a sewage backup. The stench was horrible. He finally tracked it down and found that his elder daughter Jennifer had kept some beautifully coloured Easter eggs that she had painted at school, but the teacher had neglected to have the children first poke a small hole in the shell so that the contents could be blown out. The rotten eggs had cracked and released their smell.

Dr. Wang had completed his PhD in physiology at the University of Alberta and was studying the functions of a group of small molecules of gas known as gasotransmitters. Research into one of these gases, nitric oxide, had shown that nitrogen monoxide (NO) is made by the body in very low concentrations but serves as a signalling molecule that affects cell behaviour. Research by three American scientists revealing that it dilated blood vessels and helped regulate the immune system won the 1998 Nobel Prize in medicine.

“I started thinking that there might be another gas involved,” says Dr. Wang.
Perhaps the rotten egg smell gets a bad rap, he thought, and he wondered if perhaps there was some unknown relationship between that much-maligned smell and human health.
“It’s what you smell at hot springs,” he says. “H2S is the ‘fart’ smell. It’s very healthy. People don’t know why they go to hot springs, they just go, but it’s the H2S that they’re going for.”

When he began his research back in 2000, the presence of H2S in the vascular system was little studied, not at all understood, and certainly not appreciated. “Our body is just like an egg,” he says. “We have our body [the shell]. We have protein. We have bacteria. I looked for H2S. I wondered if we had the enzyme that produces it in the cardiovascular system. I found it. But that H2S is produced by the blood vessels, not by bacteria.”

NO relaxes blood vessel walls by activating an enzyme that resides in smooth muscle cells. H2S manages the same feat, but through an entirely different path. What H2S does is activate special proteins that control the flow of potassium ions out of smooth muscle cells, which are found in the walls of several organs. The flow has the effect of relaxing those muscles and dilating the blood vessels found there, thereby lowering blood pressure.

Dr. Wang’s research on the human fart has brought him and the school international recognition. Of the five top academic papers on H2S published in the world last year, Dr. Wang held down positions 1, 2 and 4. His output is so enormous that in 2015 he accounted for 48 per cent of Laurentian University’s total citations in academic papers and 24 per cent of that of his previous school, Lakehead University.

His $6-million Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research Unit is also home to Dr. Lily Wu, a professor in the School of Kinesiology and an expert in metabolic disorders. They met during China’s Cultural Revolution when both were sent to work in an isolated village. They came to Canada in the mid-1980s and have two daughters born here: Jennifer, a PhD student at Stanford University, and Jessica, a graduate of McGill currently working in business in Toronto.

The 60-year-old scientist knows that his research will bring laughter and he uses it as a tool. “If you don’t fart, you die,” he likes to say.

When Dominic Giroux, Laurentian’s president, was recruiting Dr. Wang to leave Lakehead University for Laurentian in 2014, one word kept coming up as he checked his references: “Hilarious.”

But there may be better reasons to smile than grade-school giggles. He believes worldwide research into the effects of adding or depleting H2S in the human body is reaching “high tide” and will lead to better protection from heart attack and stroke. If harnessed properly, the gas could keep trauma victims alive until they can undergo surgery or receive blood transfusions. Some of Dr. Wu’s research is into what H2S levels mean to the production of insulin and the treatment of diabetes. It is even possible that H2S could operate as a sort of “scavenger” in the tracking down of cancer cells.

“In five years,” Dr. Wang predicts, “you will see a breakthrough.”
He believes it “very, very possible” that before too long, a pharmaceutical company will come out with a “fart pill.” There are already garlic pills widely available and used in the treatment of high blood pressure, and garlic is known to encourage the production of H2S in the body. A dedicated H2S pill, he says, “will be much more effective.”

Beyond that, he believes, H2S could become important in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. He has unpublished data on this potential connection, and he believes there is even a link to sperm production.

“A man who farts a lot will not have reproductive problems,” he says.

Then smiles: “Don’t marry a man who doesn’t fart.”