Monday, March 3, 2014

The Oscars and Stinky Pee

March is the season of the March hare, the Mad Hatter, and 
the Academy Awards. 

Asparagus is in season. We put the pot on to boil as Matthew McConaughey and 
his mom strolled the red carpet. 
We were munching the savory stocks as Pink sang “Over the Rainbow,” 
and by the time Steve McQueen defied Gravity with his serious jumps, 
an acrid aroma wafted from the white throne in the ground-floor bathroom.

What is it about asparagus and stinky pee?

Where to begin? Queen Anne’s physician, John Arlbuthnot, called it “a foetid smell” in 1731. Fifty years later, Benjamin Franklin was more reserved, calling it an “disagreeable odor.” Polish scientist Marceli Nencki was the first to apply science to the stink. He identified a compound called methanethiol as the cause in 1891. Research reved up when disco, and the mosh pits of punk rock hit the scene. Asparagus, sweaty dancing. You get the picture.

When an asparagus stalk falls and nobody is there to smell it, does it still stink?

22-50% of the population reports strange smelling pee from asparagus.

This is 2014 and DNA is the big story 
in everything from hair color to where God lives.

Erica Chan (2013) defines two distinct DNA camps. One camp proposes that some of us lack the DNA to break asparagus down into it’s sulfurous components. The other camp feels that some of us simply cannot smell sulfur because we lack some sort of olfactory DNA. Scientific evidence weighs in on both sides. 

Some pee just doesn’t stink. Waring et al. (1987) found that some people who ate asparagus did not produce stinky urine; others did. Using gas chromatography, they found five sulfur compounds in the stinky urine, and none in the non-stinky urine.

Some noses don’t get it. Lison et al. (1980) found that some people can smell asparagus in the urine, and others cannot. They used a clever device in their research - they created varying degrees of dilution, and found a variation in the ability of “smellers” to detect the odor. Then, they took it a step further and had all 328 of their subjects eat asparagus. Every one of them had the stink. Not all of them could smell it. So, they concluded that if an asparagus stalk falls in the woods and there is nobody there to smell it, it will still smell.

What, exactly, is that smell?

Yes, it smells. But, you say, it does not smell like sulfur. I agree. The odor has a metallic ring to it, something like the vapor that wafts from a newly opened bottle of B 

To be sure, asparagus does contain sulfur. The formula for asparagusic acid is S2(CH2)2CHCO2H. ( Dear Mr. Lindsey, my 11th grade science teacher, I know the “2” should be in subscript but I lack the typographic skills.) 
The urine smell, however, comes from the way our bodies digest and metabolize asparagus. Cecil Adams (1985) opined that the smell comes from metabolized thioesters. Like several other writers, Adams cites Robert H. White (1975), a chemist at the University of California at San Diego, who used gas chromatography to pin down several compounds known as 
S-Methyl Thioesters as the culprits.
In our tummies, the sulfur in asparagusic acid displaces hydroxy molecules in alcohol to become thiol. For English speaking readers, we will break this down later. If you’re sober and wondering how alcohol got into your belly, then simply recall that all sugars take on hydroxy molecules while digesting, which is very similar to 
fermentation. Thiols have strong odors resembling garlic. One form is used to scent bottled gas so we can know if our BBQ gas is leaking. 

Chemistry 101: Molecules & stinky pee

Our stomach acid combines with thiols to form S-methyl thioesters, specifically S-methyl thioacrylate and S-methyl 3-(methylthio)thiopropionate. 
That’s what you’re smelling when you pee after asparagus.

The thioacrylate recipe is: CH2=CHC(=O)SCH3
The thiopropionate is: CH3SCH2CH2C(=O)SCH3

Let’s break this down. 

1. Asparagus contains asparagusic acid.
2. During digestion, asparagusic acid breaks down into thiols.
2.1 Thiols are a portmanteau of the Greek thion (sulfur) + alcohol. 
2.2 Thiols happen when sulfur replaces the hydroxy (OH) molecule in alcohol
3. Thiols combine with stomach acids to form thioesters
3.1 Thioesters are the product of esterification between a carboxylic acid and a thiol.
3.2 Esterification means two reactants (here, an alcohol and an acid) form an ester as the reaction product
3.3 Esters often have a characteristic pleasant, fruity odor. This leads to their 
use in the fragrance and flavor industry, which is why your raspberry flavor comes from 
beaver glands...but I digress.

Why is asparagus good for you? 

For one thing, (2.2) it changes alcohol into stinky pee. That’s an easier burden to bear than a DUI arrest. It could come in handy on St. Patrick’s Day. 

For another, thions are known as “mercaptans” from the Latin mercurium captans (capturing mercury.) So, digested asparagus may free mercury and send it into the toilet in a safe, bound form, rather than as a nerve-shattering agent that can make you a Mad Hatter.


Adams, Cecil, The Straight Dope (August 30, 1985

Chan, Erica, Daily Californian (APRIL 17, 2013)

Lison, M., S. H. Blondheim, and R. N. Melmed. 1980. A polymorphism of the ability to smell urinary metabolites of asparagus. British Medical Journal 281: 1676-1678.

Waring, R. H., S. C. Mitchell, and G. R. Fenwick. 1987. The chemical nature of the urinary odour produced by man after asparagus ingestion. Xenobiotica 17:1363-1371.
White, Robert H. (1975), a chemist at the University of California at San Diego, None of the article writers can state a specific citation, nor can I. So, you’ll just have to take our word for it. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dogs and Spiritual Materialism.

As the world goes increasingly mad, humans are losing the ability to connect with each other in deep and meaningful ways.  That, my friend, is why there is so much dog shit on the sidewalk these days.

Humans resist the moment.  Dogs embrace it. Dogs lack a cerebral cortex, the “thinking brain” that distinguishes humans from other species. It makes life simpler. I entertain no doubt that dogs are well-connected to The One. All they need is a little sniff, and they befriend each other. They do not have a human brain that gets in the way. As poet Robert Sward puts. “In a world of NO, Dogs are YES.” (Shelby the Dog

Heidi, who has never been locked in a trunk.
We have all heard someone say, “That’s bullshit. My dog is smart. He can think. He knows just how I feel, and he knows just what I want him to do.” That is a fact.  Dogs are the ultimate co-dependent companions. They will play into whatever racket their masters harbor in those semi-conscious vaults where they hide their “stuff.” Dogs will play emotional games that stable friends and lovers simply will not play.  “Lock your wife and your dog in the trunk of your car. After an hour, who's happy to see you?” (Unattributed)

For the most part, a human can gain complete control over a dog, and the dog will not develop a resentment.  Resentments are a uniquely human characteristic. A dog will express anger when its fear button is pushed.  So will a human.  But, a dog will not make up a story about the anger.  He will not act on anger in unrelated ways. A dog does not take hostages, take momma’s machine gun to the local elementary school and kill children. He does not run red lights, rape and kill his girlfriends children, or seduce his neighbor’s mistress because he is angry about the cost of a new set a tires for his pickup truck. He just bares his teeth and growls. Or, he poops on the rug. We humans are not allowed to do that. We go shopping instead.

Dogs do have some human characteristics. They will decide on an arbitrary enemy and attack. Ask any mail carrier. Unlike humans, dogs do not justify their attacking with religious, economic, or political principles. They just go for the juicy leg. Dogs do not have political arguments. They do not kill for Jesus or for Mohammed. Dogs do not buy up all the water packets in the Front Range, or start wars in the Middle East to control the price of oil. They just snap at anything that comes between them and their food. Dogs practice what Brad Blanton calls Radical Honesty.
Why do humans find honesty so difficult? Perhaps it has something to do with "original sin." Lots of old-time scholars see the apple of Adam and Eve as “knowledge,” or “consciousness.” Eve bit the forbidden fruit, and so began the mental processing that has resulted in all human accomplishments, and all human failures. Mental processing has given us many wonderful things. I am particularly fond of the motorcycle. My good friend Kamala has four cell phones and two computers. Many of us stay in touch through social media, like FaceBook. However, we cannot deny that the world is going increasingly mad. As a species, we may have stretched our nerves past the breaking point. So, we become interested in finding our way back to what is simple and enduring. We want to nestle into our spiritual center, so we seek the stairway to enlightenment, which, by the way, is the subtitle of David. R. Hawkins’s wonderful book, Transcending levels of Consciousness.

So, you ask, how do dogs help humans overcome the impediment of spiritual materialism? The Human Brain, or cerebral cortex, requires that we humans find a stairway to enlightenment. Dogs, who lack this particular bit of grey matter, are born enlightened. The thinking brain is the very thing that enables us people to feel separate from The One, or whatever name you wish to call it. I’m here. God is over there somewhere. The old poets, like Rumi, Hafiz, and Ib'n Arabi knew that all desire is a sublimation of the desire to reunite with The One. It’s the essence of the hole in the doughnut. Although any dog will eat a doughnut, they are not at all interested in the hole. The dog is one with everything simply because it does not bear the burden of a human brain. 
Spiritual materialism is a by-product of the Age of Marketing. One of the Great Follies of our time, The New Age, has packaged the stairway to enlightenment in many high-profit forms. For a price, we can fill the hole in the doughnut with crystals, magick, mantras, workshops, retreats, forums, cards, runes, Enneagram readings, books, vision quests, sweat lodges, Sufi dancing, cabala lessons, witchcraft, raw food, enemas and a dozen other hipster raves.  This idea, that one can buy methods for using the very tool that separates us from The One – the human mind - to find our way back, is called “Spiritual Materialism.”  If you pay attention to corporate media, you have noticed that Madison Avenue has discovered the trick. We can get a transcendental experience from driving fast in an expensive car on the right tires. We will find love if we buy the right toothpaste. We can find a soul-mate who looks like an unshaven gay underwear model or an airbrushed Playmate if we fly XYZ airlines to a vacation destination on some island in an azure blue sea. Non-profits have picked up the idea of spiritual materialism as well. We can save the world by donating to starving children, well-digging missions, Green Peace, politically-correct lobbyists.  It’s crazy-making.

That’s why so many people go ga-ga over dogs now. Humans resist the moment. Dogs embrace it. Humans are seduced by nerve-wracking technology. Dogs get excited when a food bag rattles. Humans have to work hard to buy excitement. Dogs simply sniff. Humans are desperate to find enlightenment. Dogs are there already.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


 In truth, Smiley is a tribute to significant eras of my past.

The 1991 Airhead, whom I have fondly named “Smiley,” looks great sitting in the garage. Smiley has a shiny blue paint job, sleek lines, a low-slung elegance with a moderne sheen. He has some power, but nothing like the K bikes or the Oilhead.  Cracking a ton is an effort.  Although Smiley is a monoshock model, he simply does not handle like a modern bike. He will go the distance, but he lacks the adjustable ergonomics of the later models.  The windscreen tilts manually, but not enough to block the turbulent flow, even with a nifty re-curved after-market screen. The seat is in a fixed position, nearer the pegs than on the Oilhead. 

 My first BMW was a basket case /5, which permanently cured me of Triumphs. Whilst living in California, I formed a significant relationship with The Airheads, a group of scalawags centered in San Diego, CA.  The editor of their magazine, one B. Jan Hoffman, penned a column named “The Luddite Screed,” which, in two words, describes the Airhead Attitude. 

When I fled California just before the turn of the century, I encountered the New England Branch of the Airheads, personified by Siouxzanne Harris. Like every other male BMW rider in New England, I was smitten with her. The feeling deepened when I visited Buzzard’s Crest a decade later, discovered a steel building full of Airheads, and a treasure trove of tools and parts assembled by Sioux’s late husband Voyle. 

During the current century,  I’ve owned several K bikes, an Oilhead named “Butch,” and an F650 Dakar named “Felix.” While riding the more modern machines, I’ve encountered Sioux and her retinue of Airhead admirers at rallies across the country. Merriment always ensues. Now that I have returned to the Airhead fold, Siouxzanne informs me that she will be riding an R1200 GS. Well, at least she’ll be able to keep up with me now.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Last Deming Gathering

A familiar voice assails me. “They’ll let anybody in here!” Paul Glaves smiles and shakes my hand. Paul is a mechanic’s mechanic.  He writes a monthly article, “Bench Wrenching,” for the BMW Motorcycle Owners Association magazine. If a rider does a search for information on mechanical issues with a Beemer, Paul’s name shows up. He’s a feisty character, quick witted, with stories that never stop. If Paul is around, the Woman in Red is too.  Voni Glaves is the heart and soul of the BMW riding community. She has a shock of blond hair, a ready smile, and a hug for everyone. I’ve tried to introduce a dozen friends to Voni this past season, but each time they say, “Oh of course, we know each other.”

This is the last Deming Gathering. Don & Marylou Cameron started inviting loyal customers from their BMW Motorcycle shop (years) ago. The event turned into a Veterans Day Gathering for up to 150 people. November 12, 2001, one hundred and ninety souls have turned up.  Many are from the long distance riding community, Some compete in Iron Butt Rallies, some belong to the LD Group, others of us ride long distances simply because we love it, and have no identifying affiliation. We do, however, recognize something in each other.  This thing is most akin to the resonance one detects in people who meditate regularly. It is a spiritual quality that comes from long periods of focus and concentration, a quiet power developed over hundreds of thousands of miles moving across the face of Earth at relatively high speeds. This summer, Voni Glaves and Austin’s Ardys Kellerman became the first two women to pass the 1,000,000 mile mark on Beemers.

360 pounds of sirloin, 13 hours
The Camerons’ large two-story home, a few miles northwest of Deming, New Mexico, is surrounded by five acres of open ground. Don has built a garage that any avid reader of Popular Mechanics would envy. Antelope graze in a field across the way. A flat shoulder along that road is wide enough to park hundreds of motorcycles. Today, they stretch almost to the horizon. Behind the house, a large windmill fills a 1500 gallon tank with water. To one side, a solar array provides all the electricity they need. One the other side, three huge barbeque pits belch wood smoke.  They are filled with 360 pounds of sirloin. Two dozen tables set up under a sturdy awning await the feast.

Craig Littlefield, the man who handles all the invites and accounting work, greets me as I stroll onto the grounds. Deryle Mehrten recognizes the IBMWR logo on my shirt, and introduces himself. “Nice to put a face with the name,” he says. This is one of those special honors that are peculiar to the cyber age. I’ve used Deryle’s on-line articles to repair my bikes, and I’ve cited him when making mechanical points on technical user lists. We sometimes correspond via e-mail.  But, here we are in person. As we talk, we realize we’ve probably met at rallies across the southwest. This will happen over and over again as I meet men, like Steve Aiken, and women, like Cletha Walstrand who I recognize from internet user groups. I recognize other riders from this summer's rallies, like Bohdi and Cheryl Anderson, who sport the Sober Riders colors. Still others, I've know for some time. John Ryan, a record holding long distance rider, tacks up red white & blue bunting. I met John with Melissa Holbrooke Pearson at breakfast one morning near Johnsonburg Tennessee.  I had no idea who he was, nor that Melissa was writing a book about him – The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing: Long Distance Motorcycling's Endless Road, recently released by W.W. Norton & Co.Another author, Mary Lou Dobbs offers a hug. She came into the fold a couple of years ago with her book, Repotting Yourself. Mary Lou found herself near the end of a successful corporate career, feeling as though she were root-bound, unable to grow.  Then, one day, she took a ride on a motorcycle.  She hasn’t stopped riding, and, if my observations are correct, her spirit has blossomed. 

Steve Brooks recognizes the MIA/POW patch on my riding jacket and introduces himself. Steve organizes the Tour of Honor, a season-long, self-directed ride to memorials and monuments honoring fallen soldiers and peace officers covering all 50 states. Steve introduces me to a group of Honor Riders, several of whom are from Texas. As we talk, all heads swing to a position behind me. A beautiful woman filling a powder blue sweater is saying something to us. “I was looking for a bald head.” Several of us whip off our hats. Then, I recognize Kitty Wolfe, who has recently switched to riding BMWs. We stroll over to see Kitty’s new F800 ST. Voni Glaves joins us. She notes Kity’s side stand is sinking into the shoulder, reaches into a bag on her Million Mile Red F800S, and gives Kitty a trademark red side stand puck. John Ryan marches up and asks, “What’s going on here?” What was going on was a beautiful thing that one rarely witnesses, the passing of an icon from an honored veteran to a new member of the clan.
As the sun goes down, someone pulls out a trailer and mounts it to announce the closing ceremony.Speeches are given, awards are bestowed, and everyone offers profound thanks to Don and Marylou. Soon after, a familiar exhaust note fills the night, and we are homeward bound, filled with good barbeque and memories of The Last Deming Gathering.

Voni Glaves

Beth & Mary Low Slow Race

No, really, that's how it happened!
Hillbilly Horse Shoes