Saturday, January 4, 2020

SPIT featured on Salimetrics

I am so honored to have my book featured on Salimetrics' website. Salimetrics is an international company that delivers the most accurate salivary (spit) assays for scientific researchers in many different fields. These assays are designed to detect and measure hormones, such as cortisol (the stress hormone), enzymes and other substances in saliva. Salimetrics' role as a leader in standardizing salivary bioscience testing methods allows researchers to deliver the best results and drive salivary bioscience research forward. Thank you, Salimetrics.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

More to Spit than just Drool

                                                                                         Photo by Matt Rogers
I am honored by the great reviews coming in for my new book, SPIT: What's Cool About Drool.
School Library Journal calls it "Well researched and intriguing, the book delves into the scientists who studied saliva, examines current research about what spit can tell us about our ancestors and how it can help diagnose illnesses, and relays impressive tales of how other animals use their spit to communicate, defend themselves, or spread disease. The combination of full-color photographs, humorous cartoons, short chapters, and a disgustingly fun topic will especially appeal to reluctant readers."

From the Canadian Review of Materials: "This drool-worthy nonfiction book rigorously defends the intriguing thesis that spit “is actually the unsung hero of our time – or at least of our mouths.” Early chapters outline the important jobs spit (“or slobber, drool, saliva or whatever you like to call it”) perform in the human body, from helping to speak to aiding in digestion. The healing and life-saving properties of spit are explained in the “Spit for Your Health” section that delves into saliva screenings used for hepatitis C and HIV detection. Other chapters explore creatures, like snakes, llamas, and the slow loris (the only venomous primate), who wield their spit like a deadly weapon."

Kirkus says: "Along with dipping into the biota and biology of spit, venom, and related substances, the author introduces relevant scientists and others, from Ivan Pavlov to baseball spitballer Elwin Charles “Preacher” Roe, as well as a host of animal spitters, including snakes, mosquitoes (“the only creatures that can suck and spit at the same time”), and venomous shrews. Saliva’s roles in both healing and in spreading disease also come in for look overs, and a final chapter gathers up competitive spitting events involving not just watermelon seeds, but also crickets and kudu poop." 

As a child I was disgusted by an uncle who chewed tobacco and was constantly spitting into a brass spittoon next to his chair. I knew from observing him and watching baseball games that men especially like to spit. The more I looked into the subject, the more fascinated I became with the antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral properties of spit.

Dentists have been pioneers in the study of saliva. Spit tests can tell whether you're more likely to develop cavities. They can also tell if people and other mammals are suffering from stress. Zookeepers and vets use spit tests to check the health of animals, including dogs, elephants and gorillas. Some coaches use spit tests to tell whether certain elite athletes are stressed from over-exercising, which might impair their immune systems. Spit tests can replace some blood tests.

Animals and insects use spit in all sorts of ways, such as keeping blood from clotting to using it as a weapon.

Attitudes toward spit differ from culture to culture. In the United States, men spat wherever and whenever they wished, including offices, churches, even the halls of Congress. After 1896 when New York passed the first spitting ban, spittoons were as common as trashcans in bars, banks, offices and other public places. Not all states banned public spitting. It was women who called for an end to the habit. Some men protested the ban as an assault on their "right to spit." Each Supreme Court justice had his (only men were on the court at that time) personal cuspidor behind the bench, but they are now used as wastebaskets.

People like to spit so much that they spit for sport in a variety of contests with watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds, olive pits, date pits, cherry pits, and even crickets. The most unappetizing contests involve spitting antelope and sheep poop.

Whatever your attitude toward spit, be happy if you can drool. In private, of course.

SPIT is available from your local bookstore or from

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Brainless as Beetles

I originally wrote this essay in 2012. It was published in The Smithfield Times and on my blog March 27, 2012. But it's time to update it and publish it again. I am incensed that a bunch of primarily old white Republican men are continuing to use government to control women's bodies. Every woman and every decent, enlightened man in the U.S. should share my outrage and commit to doing everything they can to kick these men--and sadly a few women--out of Congress and state legislatures. With every legislative snip of women's constitutional reproductive rights, these men are taking our country backwards into a pre-scientific era when both women and men lived at the mercy of their gonads.
Above is a beetle. Beetles and other insects do everything they can to subvert female choice. Men who criminalize reproductive choice, as the Alabama legislature just did a few weeks ago, are no better than male bugs. What pathetic specimens they are, their manhood so fragile, they need to subjugate women in order to feel like big men!

It’s easy to understand these misogynist Republican men if you view them in the context of the animal kingdom. Males, from fruit flies to men, have an anatomical limitation. They cannot produce eggs, and if they’re mammals like us, they cannot get pregnant or give birth. This biological limitation drives some men crazy. Their only contribution to reproduction is sperm. And sperm must leave a male’s body in order to fertilize an egg. Bye, bye! In the act of mating, males lose control of their most precious biological product, their sperm. Once sperm leave a male’s body, they are under the control of the female. She can eject them, kill them, block them or allow them to fertilize her eggs. Females are scary creatures!

Among waterfowl, where rape is common, females have evolved vaginas with dead-end sacs, a kind of internal burial ground for an unwanted male’s sperm.

The only way males can try to control their sperm investment is by controlling the recipients—females! And males—insects to humans—do anything and everything they can to exert control and subvert female choice. (Of course there are many wonderful liberated men who think with their brains instead of the instrument below their belt, but those who want to make women’s bodies property of the state are as backward as slime molds.)

Subversion tactics are seen most clearly in insects. Female insects mate with several males and store sperm in their sperm-storage chamber. Scientists have discovered that female choice goes on internally in the female’s reproductive tract. It is within the changing climate of this internal environment that hidden or “cryptic” female choice takes place, perhaps at the level of the ovum itself, in determining which sperm of which male, if any, will be allowed to penetrate the egg’s membrane to achieve fertilization. Such internal female choice may be going on in women, too! Oh, mercy! Sex for men is fraught with peril.

So males across species engage in sperm competition and mate guarding to ensure that only their sperm fertilize their mate’s eggs and sire her offspring. Among insects, some bizarre tactics for ensuring confidence of paternity have evolved. One tactic is the copulatory plug, a gluey substance secreted by the male to block the female’s genital opening, preventing a rival’s sperm from getting inside. The male damselfly has a kind of scooper on the end of his penis that he uses to scoop out previously deposited sperm before mating with a female. Some male fruit flies inject toxic semen, which thwarts rivals but also hastens the female’s death.

Men don’t use genital glue or sperm scoopers but they do use religion, laws and politics to achieve the same end – controlling women’s reproductive biology. The use of mutilating genital surgery in some 28 countries of Africa and the Middle East wounds about three million young girls every year.

The current profusion of ultrasound and “personhood” bills passed by Republican male legislators across the U.S. are the human equivalent of insects’ copulatory plugs. These men are probably no more aware they are acting out such a primitive biological scenario than are male insects. They are caught up in a form of mass hysteria reminiscent of medieval witch hunts and persecution of women. Indeed, the attempt to vilify Planned Parenthood is similar to medieval persecution of women who gave advice on preventing births. Some self-righteous men have recently called for jailing women who get abortions. Some sickos would jail women who miscarry. Some call for banning birth control!

If the current misogynist movement led by Republican men, including the current president, were not so dangerous and harmful to women and our entire society, it would make an interesting anthropological field study. It’s unprecedented in U.S. history, to see males, primarily in one major political party, using the legal process and available medical technology to turn back the clock, prevent access to, and even ban medical advances that benefit men as well as women. Yes, there are some women who still accept patriarchy. But would they if they understood that from a biological perspective, these men are acting as brainless as beetles? With this difference: Male insects are out to protect their individual sperm investment, and they have no choice in the matter. Their reproductive behavior is genetically hard-wired. Humans have choices. This makes it all the more astounding that the male fanatics are turning their backs on centuries of scientific and social advances and espousing the most primitive level of the human species’ animal nature. The anti-choice movement is functioning as a mass sperm protection society, with Republican men like the self-righteous gang who dominate Alabama’s senate, Catholic bishops and sniveling evangelical pastors clamoring to protect any man’s sperm investment by preventing women from exercising reproductive choice.

Science literacy reveals the ridiculousness and primitiveness of the current wave of misogyny. Not surprisingly, this gang is also anti-science. Facts just get in the way of their hateful anti-woman campaign. The fact that this extremist movement appeals to so many people demonstrates the urgent need for improving science education before America becomes the most socially backward country in the Western world. We’re already on our way.

Want to read more? Check out my book: Sexual Strategies: How Females Choose Their Mates

Friday, December 28, 2018

Free Book

Through January 1, 2019, you can get my e-book, HOW TO HAVE SEX IF YOU'RE NOT HUMAN, for free.
Here's link

Enjoy being a voyeur in the nonhuman world of sex-changing fishes, hermaphroditic snails, and walking sticks. Everything alive has evolved some amazing ways of "doing it"!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Protecting Patriarchy

We’ve seen this play before--Republican men scurrying like rats on steroids to ram through a Supreme Court nominee without a full investigation of women’s allegations of sexual misconduct. The old white boys club is circling their patriarchal bully sticks around one of their own--Brett Kavanaugh--who has, in his various opinions, displayed the same anti-woman bias that binds them to a past when women were considered men’s property and had no rights except those dispensed by their fathers or husbands. Make no mistake, confirming Kavanaugh to the high court, would shift the balance to the far right and take women back to a pre-scientific era when there was no respect for women’s personhood, no reproductive health, no reproductive choice.

Thankfully this is a different world. The old white male supremacist ship is not going to make it out of its patriarchal harbor. Because of the #MeToo movement, male Republicans’ rhetoric is a bit different from 1991 when Anita Hill testified that Clarence Thomas subjected her to sexual harassment. Two of the same committee members, Hatch and Grassley, who vilified Ms. Hill in 1991 are now choosing their words more carefully. They say Dr. Christine Blasey Ford deserves a hearing but they aren’t convincing. The smear-mongers mobilized faster than a swarm of bees, calling Dr. Blasey Ford “confused,” “mistaken.” It couldn’t have happened because she didn’t report it years ago. Haven’t they noticed? Victims of sexual abuse, whether by priests or politicians, don’t report for many years. Some never report. For her bravery in coming forward, Dr. Blasey Ford received death threats and had to move out of her home for her and her family’s safety. Senator Diane Feinstein, who released Dr. Blasey Ford’s letter, has received threats to her staff. Patriarchy in full vicious display. Such big men.

As of September 23, 2018, a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, has come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh. It turns out that Republicans on the Judiciary Committee knew about the second woman last week but only speeded up their efforts to confirm Kavanaugh without a full investigation. Senate czar Mitch McConnell proclaimed that Kavanaugh would be confirmed. The clear message here is that sexual misconduct by a rich white boy should just be shrugged off as “boys-will-be-boys behavior,” nothing to make such a fuss about. But they aren’t going to get away with it this time.

Senator Feinstein and other senators are again calling for a full investigation. With two sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh, and possibly more, an investigation must be held. A full investigation. With witnesses who are waiting in the wings.

This is about more than the constitutional right to obtain an abortion. Yes, that right is critical to women’s health and must be protected. But more is at stake here. The sex-abuser-in-chief and his servile courtiers are all out to reinstate power and control over women, body and soul. While decrying large government, these smarmy male hypocrites have no problem using every legal tool at their disposal to allow government to invade the most intimate orifices of women’s bodies. If Roe v. Wade is gone, women’s bodies once again become, in effect, property of the state. The use of physical force to overpower women is rape. The use of laws to control women’s bodies is legislative rape. Kavanaugh is one of their boys.

Imagine installing a man who called birth control “abortion-inducing drugs” on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh sounds like someone left over from the age when dispensing birth control was considered witchcraft. He has already argued in a 2015 case, Priests for Life v. HHS, and in the earlier “Hobby Lobby case,” that religious organizations should not be forced to provide contraception. Obamacare required employers to provide birth control to employees. Women’s health is unthinkable without contraception. Enlightened men whose sense of masculinity doesn’t ride on women’s backs know this is true. These are the decent men whose masculinity doesn't depend on an erect penis or a loaded gun.

Confirmation to the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment. Whoever becomes a justice could be on the Court for the next 30 years. Clarence Thomas, confirmed without full investigation of Professor Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual misconduct, has served on the Court almost 27 years. The process of confirming a lifetime appointment must take whatever time is needed for a thorough investigation, not hustled through committee like fast-food. Women--and the American people--deserved better than Clarence Thomas. Now we deserve better than Brett Kavanaugh. No more male use of the law to control women. No more protecting white patriarchy at women’s expense. No more!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Declare Your Independence with Your Vote

Last night I watched the local fireworks celebrating our country’s declaration of independence from a tyrannical king. Ironically we now have a tyrannical president who, with the compliant political party he owns, is working as hard as he can to undo some of the values and rights so many of our forebears fought and died for.

I re-read the Declaration of Independence. These are the key passages: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Let’s analyze these precious lines in today’s context. According to the wannabe dictator who is sometimes in the White House when not on one of his golf courses, there are no truths. He speaks and tweets more lies than a shark has teeth. In case you didn’t know, sharks continually replace their teeth throughout their lives. The Trumplicans (I cannot call this once respectable party Republican any longer.) have replaced truth with “alternative facts,” following the Nazi dictum that the repetition of lies conditions the less discerning masses to believe them as truths.

Since taking office, hardly a day has passed without Trump’s vilification of the press, most recently calling it the “enemy of the people.” This drumbeat, along with his repeated rhetorical incitements to violence, recently had tragic consequences--the murders of five journalists at the Maryland newspaper, Capital Gazette.

Then there’s the passage about all men (women weren’t recognized as full citizens in 1776) being created equal. Equality was a radical concept to the wealthy white men who signed the Declaration. Some of them, including Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration, owned slaves. They did not practice what they dared to preach, but they left the noble concept of equality that we are still trying to live up to. And we were making progress until the current administration took office and began working to take us backwards and resurrect the worst abuses in our racist history. With slave-master cruelty, this administration is empowering white supremacists. It has violated every tenet of moral decency by wrenching children from immigrant parents and holding them in cage-like internment camps.

Appealing to hatred and prejudice against people of color, this tyrannical president calls immigrants of color “criminals,” “animals,” and “rapists.” He never mentions he is the son of immigrants. His wife is an immigrant. But they’re white. So they’re OK. He called Haiti, El Salvador and African countries "shit holes."

With respect to the Declaration’s “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” the Trumplicans are doing as much as they can, as fast as they can, to strip those rights from everyone except the privileged 1 percent of the wealthiest Americans. To avoid any ambiguity about the Trumplicans' position on people's rights, the United States has withdrawn from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Trumplican denial of decades of scientific evidence for climate change poses an unprecedented threat not only to national security but also planetary security. Climate change has already started creating extreme storms, flooding, heat waves, and other conditions that will make it difficult if not impossible for many people to enjoy life, liberty or any kind of happiness. On the home front, we have an EPA administrator whose Trumpian-endorsed goal is to weaken hard won environmental protections of clean air and water and conservation of our wild national parks.

Trumplicans worked hard throughout the two Obama administrations to trade patriotism for power. For eight years they worked only to destroy a presidency rather than work on behalf of the American people. In my book, that was treason. Their shameful efforts to deprive millions of people of health care have endangered life, liberty and the health necessary to pursue any kind of happiness.

Trumplicans wage war against women. Apparently they never recovered from the fact that women can vote. This gang of men vow to take women backwards into a pre-scientific era by taking away women’s fundamental liberty to make their own reproductive choices. Repeatedly these men try to enact legislation that would enable the government to control women’s bodies as if they were commodities.

Trumplicans have a problem with that last passage: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Representative democracy is only as good as the education of its citizens. Trumplicans know that and are doing all they can to promote ignorance--ignorance of science, the U.S. Constitution, complex thinking, and basic educational skills. Under slavery, reading was banned among slaves. Anyone who taught a slave to read could be punished. Nobody has dared suggest that reading be banned, but the current education secretary is doing everything she can to destroy public schools.

Trumplicans do not want an educated people who can think critically. In order to stay in power, they need a people who will follow them without question or criticism. And this leads to the most insidious action of all -- suppressing the vote, especially among voters of color, through voter suppression tactics, including gerrymandering of districts to favor one party. In the 2016 election, governmental officials close to Trump and members of his family, even reached out to a foreign government to interfere in our election. Some of these officials have already been indicted on criminal charges.

So here we are on Independence Day 2018 with a corrupt, tyrannical president who idolizes totalitarian dictators, again with the support and approval of a once respectable political party that now seems bent on destroying basic democratic institutions.

In my mind, this calls for a new declaration of independence this coming November. View your vote as your declaration of independence from the tyrant in the White House. Vote as if your life and your country depended on it, because they do.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Keep 'em In Their Place

I am a white senior citizen who grew up in the racially segregated South. Even as a child, I sensed there was something terribly wrong with the way we were living. Nothing made any sense. I felt I was getting stop and go signals simultaneously.

Love your neighbor as yourself, said the church my family attended. But I was also taught I could not love my black playmates in the full sense of love. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” said my church and school. But this, too, was not what segregated life exemplified. Blacks were not treated as whites treated themselves. Aunt Sarah and Uncle Bill, the black couple who worked for my parents on the Virginia farm where I grew up, did not sit and eat with us at the same table. Why? When I asked my mother whose sister was Aunt Sarah, she patiently explained, after recovering from the shock of my question, that “Aunt” and “Uncle” were titles of respect that white children used for older colored people (Colored was the term used in the South during the 40s and 50s.) Well, then why didn't we respect them and eat together and visit together?

I was getting more and more confused. My brother and I could play with the children of our black neighbors at home but we could not go to church or school or movies or parties together. Nobody could explain in any way that made sense to me why we were had to live a divided life--intimate friends and playmates privately but separated in all public areas of life. I would sometimes examine my skin in a mirror and I knew that if my skin were brown I would be the same person but I would not be treated the same.

Whites, some in my own family, said, “Good niggers know their place.” It was mostly men who used this language. My brother and I knew that if we used that "N" word, we would be punished as severely as if we cursed. I wondered about this “place.” What was it? Where was it? It was clear it was not the same “place” whites reserved for themselves. I later learned it was a subordinate place. But why? What had whites done to earn a place of privilege?

The answer, of course, was nothing. They believed their white skin was enough to ensure privilege. It was their security blanket. But to maintain that superstition, they had to invent laws and traditions that punished Blacks for no reason other than the fact that they were not white. Sadly that attitude is a rabid infection in our culture today. Because of the changing demographics many whites act terrified of losing the privilege they believe they own solely because they happened to have been born with white skin. Instead of working to transform society and make things better for themselves and everyone else, they are beating a militant retreat into the racist sewer.

What Roger Goodell and the NFL have done by banning the respectful taking of a knee is the equivalent of segregationalists using every tactic at their disposal to put and keep Blacks in their “place.” The NFL was already guilty of gross injustice by effectively banning quarterback Colin Kaepernick from football because he exercised his First Amendment rights in the most respectful way. Taking a knee is basically a prayerful posture. This new policy takes the NFL to the bottom of the racist barrel. It is offensive that the NFL has chosen to endorse Trump’s blatant racism rather than showing leadership and acknowledging that athletes who take a knee have a constitutional right under the First Amendment to do so. Depending on which analysis you read, Black athletes make up some 70 percent of NFL players. Without those Black athletes, football as we know it wouldn’t exist. Black athletes are in leadership positions throughout sports. The NFL’s action says loud and clear: “Put those uppity Blacks in their place.”

I can’t believe I’m writing about football. I’m not even a football fan. But this is much bigger than football. It’s about the racist dregs of white supremacy being used punitively against Blacks who dare to bring attention to a huge social problem--police violence and brutality that target and criminalize Black men and boys in particular. In a sane world, their protest would be heard, examined and lead to vigorous efforts to transform the culture that continues to criminalize and punish Blacks. It is my hope that entire teams--and spectators, too--will protest in solidarity by taking a knee on the field and off. It would be great to see a stadium of spectators take a knee when the national anthem is played. Democracy is on the line here. Its promise still has not been fulfilled. It would be gratifying to see the NFL follow the Black athletes’ heroic lead toward greater democracy rather than taking us backwards into one of the ugliest periods of our history. It is no less ugly today.