Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When Ambition Meets Meat: There Will Be Gravy

I'm not sure what the story is behind this photo...but I'm fervently hoping that it's a promotional still for an upcoming sequel to 2007's fascinating drama, There Will Be Blood. Is that not Daniel Plainview (compare to below) ecstatically bathing himself in his latest gusher—a mushroom-gravy well? I can only imagine how There Will Be Gravy takes up the story...

...After beating Eli to death with a bowling pin, the unstable and reclusive Daniel Plainview craves a new endeavor to satisfy his greed. With the Roaring Twenties in full boom and the American standard of living higher than at any point in its history, Plainview realizes that people can afford to eat better than ever before. And eating better means eating wetter—why have turkey dry when they can afford succulent gravy? Why gag on leathery beef when they can soak it in broth?

As unscrupulous and relentless as ever, Plainview devises a piping system to siphon off gravy boats and corner the California gravy market. And now even the Golden State's richest families must come to him, lest they endure the unpalatability and indignity of dry meals.

"I drink your gravy. I drink it up!" he mocks a Los Angeles magnate before beating him to death with a drumstick.*

* This idea based loosely on Upton Sinclair's 1929 novel Gravy!

Let's hope that I'm right and that, just in time for Thanksgiving...There Will Be Gravy!

(Gravy photo copyright Picture It Now; photo of Daniel Plainview copyright Paramount Pictures.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Come and Knock on Their Door—And Bring the SWAT Team!

Last night, The Discovery Channel aired a fascinating program called Jack the Ripper in America, in which a former police detective and "cold case" expert proferred strong evidence that the infamous serial killer continued his grisly spree in New York and other American cities in the 1890s. The program made a convincing argument that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, James Kelly, one of the original suspects in the case, whom the London police lost track of after the Ripper's last confirmed victim. Kelly, who had escaped Broadmoor Insane Asylum shortly prior to the first Ripper killing—incarcerated there for stabbing his wife to death in the neck—strangely showed up at the asylum forty years later and offered a detailed account of his whereabouts during the previous four decades. His travels took him to many cities and locales throughout America where various prostitutes had been horribly mutilated during the same time frames that Kelly documented. Additional forensic evidence makes for a strong case that James Kelly was indeed Jack the Ripper.

However, Ripper "experts" have never asked for my theory of Jack's true identity. And I believe I know whose it is.

Are you ready, Scotland Yard?

The real Jack the Ripper must be none other than...

People's Exhibit A: Jack Tripper → Jack Tripper → Jack T. Ripper → Jack the Ripper.

People's Exhibit B: Many of the females with whom Jack Tripper consorted vanished without a trace:

» Roommate Chrissy Snow
» Roommate Cindy Snow (Chrissy's cousin)
» Lana Shields, his flirtatious middle-aged neighbor
» Linda Page, Jack's one-time girlfriend
» Helen (and Stanley) Roper, his original landlords

People's Exhibit C: Jack Tripper achieved a degree in the culinary arts. As a chef, Jack Tripper was an expert with knives and had unlimited access to them.

People's Exhibit D: Posing for years as a gay man, Jack Tripper would not have been perceived by women as a misogynistic threat, some of his eventual victims possibly even befriending and confiding in him. Such an elaborate ruse would, in the eyes of many, remove Jack Tripper from the realm of suspects.

People's Exhibit E: Jack Tripper had a criminal record and spent an unknown amount of time in jail. Even though those bars look as flimsy as a garden lattice, the fact that Jack Tripper was previously incarcerated lends support to a tendency toward violence and a complete disregard for civil behavior. His argyle jumper further suggests that Jack Tripper may have visited Great Britain—and possibly even the Whitechapel district of London, where the murders occurred.

People's Exhibit F: Like the Ripper's fifth victim, Mary Kelly, roommate Chrissy Snow's face was horribly mutilated...albeit with pie ingredients, which caused no permanent injury or disfigurement.

People's Exhibit G: Jack Tripper frequented the Regal Beagle. The modern beagle is an English breed and was highly prized as a hunting dog in 19th-century England—note Darwin's HMS Beagle as an example of the breed's status. As a quintessentially English pub, the Regal Beagle surely was a hangout for expatriated Brits in Santa Monica, a gathering place where English gentlemen could enjoy a pint of bitters while discussing the latest cricket match or ghastly murder. That Jack Tripper spent much time at the Regal Beagle lends strong credence to his possible English heritage.

Now I'm not saying that I've made an airtight case and that the file on Jack the Ripper should once and for all be closed...but I am saying that Vanessa just walked by my office in a thigh-high skirt and black leather boots, so I'm going to have to end this entry to make low, groaning noises...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Death From Above: No Laughing Matter

This month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Dr. Peter Barss’ landmark paper, “Injuries due to Falling Coconuts,” published in Journal of Trauma 1984;24(11):990–991. Although this paper received an “Ig Nobel Award” from the Annals of Improbable Research in 2001, its “ignominy” should not overshadow the fact that it stands as possibly the most recent literature to deal with this isolated, yet dangerous, phenomenon. Sadly, the very antiquity of Dr. Barss’ article reflects the medical discipline’s unfortunate neglect of such tragic injuries.

As Dr. Barss noted, considering the Cocos nucifera’s normal height (24–35 m) and its fruit’s weight (1–4 kg unhusked), a coconut falling at 32 ft/s2 can exert a crushing force exceeding 1 metric ton.1 With an annual yield of anywhere from 50 to 80 nuts per tree,2 it is evident that to stand in the general proximity of a coconut tree is to stand in a death zone. Personally, I wouldn’t get within half a mile of a coconut grove without donning a steel army helmet and the very latest in foam-insulated crash pads. It is a wonder that Pacific Islanders have managed to survive for millennia under such potentially lethal bombardment. Indeed, anecdotal evidence from combat soldiers at Bougainville states that the devastating effect of coconuts plunging on the enemy had as much to do with taking the island as did armored infantry. (“It was like the Japanese were sitting in an upside-down minefield,” recalled one GI. “They never had a chance.”3)

My concern is that the potential increase in coconut-related injuries and fatalities since Dr. Barss’ paper has yet to be addressed. The present population of Papua New Guinea—a segment of which on whom Dr. Barss based his data and case studies—is now 5.67 million inhabitants.4 Furthermore, the current total population of Oceania is approximately 31 million.5 Dr. Barss’ 2.5% rate of hospital admissions in Papua New Guinea for coconut-related injuries2 may seem trivial at first glance, but when extrapolated across the whole of Oceania, a region thick with coconut palms, the numbers of potential dead and injured become alarming—even pandemic.

This is not a hazard indigenous only to a far-flung corner of the world. The southern and western United States, of course, is rife with coconut trees, as is much of the Western Hemisphere in general. Transplanted coconut palms have even become abundant in such unlikely locales as Ireland, continental Europe, and Canada. Untold millions now live in close proximity to the coconut palm’s murderous canopy.

We stand at a critical juncture in the treatment and prevention of coconut-related head trauma. Perhaps for the first time in the history of medicine, we not only possess the understanding of such a natural threat to human existence, but also hold at our disposal the armamentarium to effectively strike at the root of this threat.

But to do so, we need more research into the mechanics of free-falling coconuts and their high-speed impaction into the human body. We need more awareness so that government offices will fund these studies, and so that they will educate the public as to the dangers of the apparently tranquil coconut. We need warning signs adequately lining coconut groves and, at bare minimum, first-aid stations close enough to treat unfortunate victims.

We can render nil a lethal threat in our lifetime—a medical rarity for any era. We can save untold lives and preserve life for those few who still fall prey to coconut-inflicted tragedy. But we cannot do so if we allow twenty-five years to elapse between studies and permit such threats to fade into the background until wide-scale calamity illustrates our ignorance. Let ours be the generation that stamps out once and for all the carnage of the coconut.

1. Barss P. Injuries due to falling coconuts. J Trauma. 1984;24:990–991.
2. Chan E, Elevitch CR. Specific profiles for Pacific Island agroforestry: Cocos nucifera (coconut). April 2006, v.2.1. Available at: Accessed November 2, 2009.
3. Franks M. Personal communication, June 2009.
4. WorldAtlas.Com facts and figures. Available at: Accessed November 2, 2009.
5. Caldwell J, Missingham B, Marck J. The population of Oceania in the second millennium. Paper from the Australian National University, Canberra. Canberra, Australia, September 26, 2001; p 1. Available at: Accessed November 2, 2009.

(Article cover page copyright The Williams & Wilkins Co.)