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06 October 2005

a Gator goes from Possum Trot to Stockholm!

Pogo Possum, a famous opossum
who lives in Okefenokee Swamp
(a real, and a real big swamp)

A Gator -- short for Alligator -- is what you call a graduate of or a football player for the University of Florida at Gainesville.

A Possum is USA shorthand for the small North American marsupial (carries her newborn babies around in a pouch) mammal the opossum. Australia is lousy with all sorts of native marsupials; the possum (Didelphidae didelphis) is the only North American marsupial. Marsupials are believed to be the oldest surviving family of mammals. (See Vleeptron's many previous posts about Intelligent Design and Natural Selection.)

I've never been to Possum Trot, Kentucky, but using my amazing powers of Remote Viewing, I see a verrrrrrry small town. If you go here, you can see a tornado touching down in Possum Trot, Kentucky in April 2003. Nobel Chemistry Laureate Robert Grubbs got out just in time. (He's in New Zealand right now. They got volcanos there. If it's not one thing, it's another. Flee for your lives!)

I'm sure Gators will be happy to eat Possums. So will human beings who live in the rural areas of the USA South and the Appalachian Mountains. Possum Stew is a hunter's dish that certainly goes back to Colonial times.

Possums aren't very bright, they have lousy eyesight, and they're very bad at crossing highways. While I've been moving fast, I've seen lots of possums who'd stopped moving entirely. I personally have never killed one by accident or on purpose, and to the best of my knowledge I've never eaten one. (It would be safe -- opossums have very robust immune systems and harbor fewer disease organisms than most other wild creatures.)

Even worse (for the Possum), this recipe poster notes that the possum is one of the few edible wild critters that a person can catch with his bare hands.

The last time the USA got all Paranoid about Evil Sneaky Enemies Threatening Us from Everywhere (under the bed was a common place to look) was during the Red Scare of the 1950s, when a cabal of Republican politicians, most famous US Senator Joseph McCarthy and then-Congressman Richard M. Nixon, decided they could boost their careers by frightening the shit out of everybody and destroying the lives and careers of many thousands of Americans by tainting them with accusations -- usually very light on Evidence or Due Process -- that they were Communists, or had friends who were Communists, or had ridden in a car with a Communist, or had once spelled "communist" correctly in a school spelling bee.

Nearly everyone in politics and the media was terrified to criticize these self-appointed Commie-Hunters and Saviours of America, because the quickest way to get your own life destroyed and to have to exile yourself and your family overseas or to end up serving time in federal prison was to dare to speak out publicly against McCarthy, Nixon, HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee), and the anti-Communist amateur Blacklisters. (When the Watergate burglars were arrested and arraigned in court the next morning, one of them told the judge he was a professional Anti-Communist.)

One of the only national figures who had the cojones to attack McCarthy publicly was the newspaper cartoonist Walt Kelly, in his daily comic strip "Pogo Possum." Pogo and his animal friends (Albert Alligator, etc.) lived in Okefenokee Swamp, and a particularly nasty, evil-looking swamp neighbor who was always scaring the shit of everybody in the swamp was a bobcat named Simple J. Malarkey, who looked remarkably like Senator McCarthy. "Pogo" used to get censored in American newspapers as often as "Doonesbury" gets censored these days.



Possum Recipes

We don't encourage the routine killing of opossum for food. However, it is considered acceptable to cook and eat any possum found lying dead along the road after recently being hit by a car. In military survival training we are taught to never kill a possum just for the fun of it because they are one of the few animals in the wild that a man can catch with his bare hands-well, you'll need a stick or a rock too. (Porcupines and snakes are in similar category.)

Of course, if you really need the meat for your family, that's a whole 'nother story.

Mothman Possum Stew

1 possum, cut-up

1/2 cup oil
2 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium onion, sliced
4 carrots, cut in thick slices
8 ounces tomato juice

1/4 cup white vinegar

10 drops Tabasco

salt and pepper to taste
5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced

Brown possum in oil in a dutch oven or heavy skillet. Add all ingredients except potatoes. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Add potatoes. Simmer another 30 minutes.


The Gainesville (Florida USA) Sun
Thursday 6 October 2005

A Gator wins Nobel in chemistry

By JANINE YOUNG SIKES, Sun staff writer

For only the second time, a University of Florida alumnus has been awarded a Nobel Prize.

Robert Grubbs, who earned a master's degree in chemistry from UF in 1965, jointly received science's supreme honor Wednesday for work that has revolutionized the plastics and pharmaceutical industries.

The man from Possum Trot, Kentucky, now will head to Stockholm, Sweden, in December for the award for chemistry and $1.3 million, both of which he shares with Richard Schrock, a chemistry professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Yves Chauvin with the French Petroleum Institute in France.

Chauvin figured out in 1971 how a key chemical process known as metathesis works and what types of metal compounds act as catalysts for the reaction, providing a crucial "recipe" for making it practical, the Nobel committee said. In 1990, Schrock produced the first efficient metal catalyst for the process. Two years later, Grubbs developed "an even better catalyst, stable in air, that has found many applications," the committee said.

Grubbs, who later earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University, has been teaching at the California Institute of Technology since 1978.

Reached by e-mail in New Zealand, where he is attending a four-day conference, Grubbs credits UF -- and one man in particular -- with launching his career in chemistry.

Grubbs headed to UF, the state's large land-grant university, to study agriculture. That was short-lived.

"An outstanding young professor (at the time), Merle Battiste, allowed me to become involved in research in organic chemistry," Grubbs wrote.

"His guidance and support started me on my career. So yes, because of Merle, the foundation for my career was set at the U of F. Go Gators."

Battiste, now 72, was Grubb's research advisor and remembers a "cooperative, enthusiastic" young man who enjoyed gabbing about chemistry. The two remain close friends.

"He and I would stay up late in my office and talk about chemistry," said Battiste, who retired two years ago as a professor emeritus from UF. "We convinced him to change his major."

It was only a matter of time before the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences took notice Grubbs' achievements, he said.

"I'm tickled pink," Battiste said. "I don't want to claim much of the credit, It's about his research within the last 20 years. But I was glad to be there at the beginning."

Robert Hanrahan, father of Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan, was there at the start, too.

Grubbs was one of only a handful of students selected for an honors course in general chemistry, Hanrahan recalled Wednesday evening.

"Bobby Grubbs showed promise even as a freshman," Hanrahan said. "He was brighter and more intense than the typical student."

UF's only other graduate to go on to receive a Nobel Prize was Marshall Nirenberg. In 1968 he was honored for his investigations with the National Institutes of Health that led to the demonstration that messenger RNA (ribonucleic acid) is required for protein synthesis and can be used to decipher various aspects of the genetic code.

He graduated with a bachelor's degree in biology in 1948 and went on to receive a master's degree in zoology four years later.

There are no Nobel Prize winners on UF's faculty.

Grubbs and his colleagues' work in a process known as metathesis is equally revolutionary.

Under this, a catalyst is used to slice through the bonds of carbon-based molecules, enabling them to re-form in different ways and thus create new compounds.

The process has myriad applications and has been employed commercially by the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, agricultural and plastics industries to produce drugs, advanced plastics, herbicides, fuel additives and other substances.

''The achievements of the laureates have given us fantastic opportunities for producing new molecules,'' said Academy Secretary General Gunnar Oequist in making the announcement in Stockholm.

Researchers have recently begun using the process to try to develop new medicines for diseases including hepatitis C, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis and AIDS, the academy said.

''Metathesis is thus an important weapon in the hunt for new pharmaceuticals for treating many of the world's major diseases,'' the committee said.

Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2005, The Gainesville Sun


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Possum Trot is easy to miss.
A few grubbs affiliates have already met the enemya and wea know it is us.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

"We have met the enemy, and he is us."

-- Pogo Possum


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