|National Geographic Feature: Poison.
||[Apr. 23rd, 2005|02:04 am]
My mom subscribes to National Geographic.
As long as I can remember, my mom's side of the family has held a subscription to this monthly magazine. I can remember thumbing through a few of them from the 1940s.
This month, they feature "12 Toxic Tales."
Here are points I enjoyed:
1) A lot of speculation revolves around the demise of Napoleon Bonaparte (not Dynamite).
What struck me as truly noteable . . . Bonaparte lived after the exile at a place called the Longwood House. A large amount of Scheele's Green was used as part of the painting of the house. I suppose they mean that this stuff was used with wallpaper. According to Nat. Geographic, Scheele's Green is an arsenic compound called copper arsenide.
It is debated whether he was fed the poisons, but the doctors gave him a massive dose of mercurous chloride (calomel) on the day before his death. Also, he had what probably was a cancerous ulcer, which is the best explanation for why he'd hold his hand in his coat.
Yet, they don't even know if the samples of hair are actually Napoleon's. So, like the JFK murder, they'll never know for sure.
2) Those who were accused of witchcraft in the 17th century may have ingested an infected rye that could have caused the 'guilty' behavior.
Ergot is a toxic fungus that can infect rye. Symptoms include tremors and . . . you guessed it, hallucinations.
3) At the back of the magazine, it is reported that a lock of Ludwig van Beethoven's hair tested positive for lead. This is noted as a possible source of his constant ailments.
It makes you wonder, with all the lead-painted old houses in old sections of downtown, all the asbestos-lined buildings, all the arsenic-laced wallpapers . . . how easy it was (and completely unaware) for folks to become poisoned in previous ages.
4) They can now farm poison-free fugu. The theory is that the puffer fish's natural diet ingests the toxins.
As reported in the mag, the consumption of the fugu liver, ovaries, gonads, intestines, or skin leads to poisoning from tetrodotoxin, which is a neurotoxin that shuts a person down, reduced to paralysis, then death.
The Japanese can order fugu-slices in sashimi plates for about $500 a plate.
5) Near Mount Yudono in Japan, mummified Buddhist priests exist.
The priests followed the teachings of a ninth-century monk named Kukai, who belonged to the Shingon sect.
The principle they strived to follow . . . 'I suffer, so that you might live.' (Mothers might recognize that one)
The monks of this sect would, nearing the ends of their lives, follow the "thousand day training."
Basically, they'd starve themselves. They'd also sip tea made from urushi tree, which is actually toxic and used to make lacquer. They'd drink from the hot spring waters, and those waters carried high levels of arsenic (at least the first monk to do this, Daijuku Bosatsu Shinnyokai Shonin, didn't know about the poison in the water).
When the monks died, this practice would pretty much make them well-preserved.
Arsenic is, by the way, used in rare taxidermy pieces to extraordinary results in preservation.
It's one of the only chemicals that can keep something like a carcass from infestation and the natural process of decay.
The problem is . . . it's that deadly to pretty much every living thing, so if you use arsenic for anything, you have to be extremely careful.
I really enjoyed the magazine today, especially the main feature. The stuff on Einstein was pretty sweet. It's been a while since I thumbed through one of the magazines, but I can remember reading all about the Titanic in the Nat. Geo when it was discovered.