Don’t Drink That Coffee. It Can Kill You. (Maybe)

Most of us these days can tout the benefits of coffee, from a ward against cancer to a way to make yourself more productive. But we aren’t blind. We know that too much coffee, and caffeine, can make your stomach upset and and keep you up at night. Yet can this drink kill you? Advertisers a century ago would have people believe just that.

I could only find a photo of Instant Postum (from 1911)

I could only find a photo of Instant Postum (from 1911)

In 1895, Postum created Postum Coffee Food (yes, that was the name). It was roasted cereal with a molasses glaze. How the heck did this imitator kick coffee’s butt? Advertising. Mr. Post (yes the fella behind Grapenuts) knew how advertise. He culled together all the negative aspects of coffee and went hyperbole on them.

coffee-and-provocation-postum-food-coffeeThis add touts that coffee slowly destroys your stomach and nerves. Okay, this is reasonable. I don’t know if roasted cereal is any better.

coffee-provocation-postum-brain-fagCheck out the fine print: Coffee causes Heart-Failure, Dyspepsia (a fancy word for Indigestion), Brain-Fag (I think short of Brain Fatigue) and Nervous Prostration (total nervous exhaustion). Most are reasonable, but heart failure? Wow. That’s servere.

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Okay, this one wasn’t for Postum, but I thought is was great. If you choose the wrong coffee, you get a spanking. Bad, bad wife.

The Postum Food Coffee diminished after the government truth in advertising pointed out that roasted cereal wasn’t, and never will be, coffee. Finally,  in 1911, Coca Cola went to trial over its product being a “killer brain tonic”. The main focus was caffeine. When Coca Cola won this case, it brought coffee back into focus. It also helped  that coffee folks learned to advertise.

Tim Kane

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There is No Peace Treaty with the Ant Kingdom

The ants go marching, not two by two, but hundreds by hundreds.

My house has been ant free for years. Yet this summer’s heatwave has sent them in droves. And they’re crazy. They start by running up drains and cracks. Scrambling around the bathroom sink where they’re no food. I’ve set traps, but the insects ignore them. They somehow know the difference between real peanut butter and the laced with poison type. I’m limited with the types of sprays I use. I have a young daughter and a dog.

The warriors loyal to Achilles were called Myrmidons or ants. They swarmed the beaches of Troy for ten years. Is that how long I must battle?

Brad Pitt as Achilles in Troy with his loyal ant warriors, the Myrmidons

A friend recommended I sign a peace treaty with them. Fat chance. There are only three species on the planet that practice the art of war. That is, violence not for the sake of territory, but simply to show dominance over a foe. These species are humans (obviously), chimpanzees, and ants. Ants will tear the legs off their opponents. They are beyond viscous. As Edward O. Wilson, the most famous myrmecologist in the world, said “If ants were given nuclear weapons, the world would be destroyed within a week”.

Then there’s the strange situation we have in California. I’ve heard people say that San Diego is build on one giant anthill. I thought they were exaggerating. Then I did the research. Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) have taken over California, forming a gigantic super colony. It’s known as the “California Large.” Normally ants would attack each other, but those who live in a super colony tolerate each other (much like humans living in cities). They have millions of queens, but all work together. What’s freaky is the same colony exists in California and Japan. That means if you took ants from San Diego and brought them to Japan, the two groups wouldn’t fight.

When I see ants in my kitchen or house I kill them. Not only for the sake of my sanity. I mean I’ve had to turn to preparing food on the dining room table. The ants swarm that quickly. But also, killing individual ants is tantamount to giving a dog a haircut. It does nothing to the colony as a whole. Even killing the queen won’t stop a super colony. A new queen and colony will come to take it’s place.

So it’s all out war, with no end in sight. Sometimes I feel like Kilgore in Apocalypse Now: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

The horror. The horror.

Tim Kane

How to Transform Your Household Chemicals into Super Assassin Poisons

Ok, when I was a kid, a friend and I would grab whatever household liquids we could find (usually from under the sink) and mix them together. We thought we were chemists. Yet the concoctions we brewed up smelled horrid. It’s dumb luck we didn’t create chlorine gas and kill ourselves. (We usually mixed outside.)

If you have an inkling to delve into chemistry, don’t start with the stuff in your sink, or garage, or plain anything  that’s not edible. You’re more likely to make yourself sick. That said, here are five nasty household poisons.

Batteries
Most don’t think twice about the old coppertops, but these are filled with a chemical known as sodium hydroxide, better known as lye. What’s that, you say? Well, if you’ve ever seen Fight Club, you’ll know that its an extremely corrosive alkali used to create soap (traces remain to kill the bacteria in on your hands when you wash). So, a word to the wise, don’t crack open an energizer to see what’s inside.

Edward Norton receiving his lye burn in Fight Club

Dishwasher Soap and Fabric Softener
Both of these contain cationic detergents. This stuff, when swallowed, will cause vomiting, corrosive damage to the esophagus, convulsions, comas and possible death. After ten minutes, the body’s cells begin to absorb this chemical, which interferes with normal cell functions.

Window Cleaner
We all know not to clean our contact lenses with Windex, right? (Please say you said yes to that one.) But one of the ingredients in most window cleaners is isopropanol (a relative to ethyl alcohol).  Basically, this stuff evaporates quickly (for that streak free shine). However, it’s also poisonous if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. It depresses the nervous system leading to a coma. It’s like getting massively drunk, only this stuff will kill you.

Turpentine
This chemical is awesome for dissolving paint and irritating your skin. In fact, this stuff tastes so bad, few people would ever swallow it. However, breathing the fumes can cause dizziness, accelerated heartbeat and breathing, convulsions, and unconsciousness. Eventually, the chemical could shutdown your kidneys.

Perfumes
They smell nice, but often they contain methanol (another cousin to ethyl alcohol). This chemical is also found in paint thinners and solvents. When ingested, the body transforms methanol into formaldehyde (you know, the stuff they use to preserve dead bodies). So drinking it will actually pickle you. Literally. This stuff also causes permanent blindness along with a long list of symptoms ending in death.

The next time you yearn to play household chemist, try baking instead. At least then, when you mess up, you can eat the results.

Tim Kane

Four Types of Produce That Could Kill You

We’ve all walked into to the grocery store to pick up some produce. Who knew that it could kill you. Apparently many common fruits and vegetables are deadly. Check out this guide to the more nefarious elements of the vegetable kingdom.

  1. Potatoes
    Yes, Irish Gold. The harbinger of French Fries and mashed potatoes is actually a member of the nightshade family. (Tomatoes are part of that family too, just not poisonous). The spud contains a toxin called solanine, a plant defense. It causes nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, burning of the throat, headache and dizziness. In rare cases, this poison can bring on a coma or even death. I know what you’re thinking. “I’ve eaten plenty of potatoes, and haven’t gotten sick yet.” True, but how many raw potatoes have you eaten? It seems that cooking the spud kills most of the solanine. I wonder how many chefs experimented with raw potatoes before figuring that one out?
  2. Corn
    This hardy side dish turns out to be deadly when it turns into a main course. When corn becomes most of a person’s meal (as it did with early settlers), then something akin to scurvy develops. You see, the niacin in corn is very hard to absorb by the body. Traditional recipes added lime to aid the absorption of niacin. What’s the big deal, you say. Well, without enough niacin, people develop pale skin that blisters when exposed to sunlight. Folk have dementia that keeps them up all night. Digestive problems keep them from eating normally. Pretty much all the symptoms of vampirism. That’s what people in Europe thought after importing corn.
  3. Cashew
    Ever wonder why every other nut can be sold with its shell except the cashew? This nut is in the same family as poison ivy. The shells have the same irritating oil, urushiol. The nut is safe to eat. But the shell will create a rash in various parts of the body (imagine chewing on poison ivy). The worst part, even if the outside of the shell touches the nut, it could transfer the poison. Purveyors of this nut steam the little buggers open, thus all cashews are partially cooked (and a bit more pricey).
  4. Red Kidney Beans
    Eating only a few of these beans raw will bring on severe nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. The poison is called phytohaemagglutinin (this stuff is in most beans, but especially high in the red kidney variety). Just like potatoes, these beans are completely healthy when properly cooked.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s cook your food well, and have some variety in your diet. Otherwise, you could end up sick or dead.

Tim Kane