29 June 2010

A grave in the Libyan desert

"Carefully chosen light and dark stones mark the isolated grave of a herder who died between 5,000 and 3,000 years ago."
A very evocative photograph by George Steinmetz, published by National Geographic, via Titam et le Sirop d'Erable.

American football is coming...

A blog called "Cake Today" is stealing my content

I noticed this some time ago when a post I wrote showed up at this other blog - horribly mistranslated.  It seemed as though it had gone through two or more translators finally ending up back in fractured English.

I posted a comment on the blog asking what was happening.  I received no reply, and I see now that my comment wasn't even posted there.

Virtually everything I post is showing up there, and instead of a link it has a "read more" link that goes to Amazon cake sales page.  The amazing thing is how fast it happens - just minutes after I posted the "Mail Train" item below it was on "Cake Today" with the mangled text.  So it's a bot rather than a human that's processing the posts.

It doesn't "hurt" me in any financial sense, but it pisses me off.  What do I do?

"The Night Mail"


The process of delivering mail via fast train in Great Britain in 1936 is shown in this documentary (this is part 3).  The poetry being recited in the second part of the film clip is by W. H. Auden.

The mechanism for the mail exchange is shown in the schematic below:
Via Kottke.

Man ties knots in a woman's severed arteries

A man with no medical training managed to save a young woman’s life when both her legs were severed by a train and he managed to tie the protruding arteries of her legs into knots.

The woman was reportedly hoping to spend Sunday night under the stars with her boyfriend as they jumped onto a slow-moving freight train near Jonquière, northeast of Quebec City.  According to authorities, the 20-year-old woman lost her footing and fell under the wheels.

Local jeweller Roger Saulnier was walking his dog when he heard someone shouting for help.  He rushed to her side and saw two stumps gushing blood.

“I tried to plug the arteries, but they wouldn’t plug,” he said. “So I made knots in the arteries.”

... Saulnier said he has never received any medical training but his profession gave him something else he could rely on.

“My talent as a jeweller is I have agile fingers,” he said. “It’s fortunate I’m good with my hands. That’s how I was able to save her life.”
I will guarantee you that was not a simple thing that he did.  The full story is at The Star (Toronto).

"Cooking... your dog"

From a collection of about a dozen "price tag fails."

Mayflies

That's not me.  That's the blogger who writes Naturespeak showing the recent situation on the shores of Lake Erie.  I remember being on the south shore of Lake Erie and being swarmed by ladybugs, but ladybugs bite and mayflies don't.

His post reminded me of summer days at Leech Lake in northern Minnesota when the mayflies would emerge en masse and cover the docks, boats, cabin, trees, cars.  We didn't even bother to go fishing those days because the fish would be so glutted with mayflies and unlikely to care about minnows.

Pleasant memories.

Photo credit wykesgerald's Flickr photostream.  See also this post re mayfly swarms seen on radar.

"What are you doing in my country?"

When Coral Avilez went to school on June 11, the seventh-grader knew two things: She would get to watch Mexico play South Africa on TV that day, and she would get to wear the Mexico shirt she had bought while on vacation earlier in the year...

The game was already on when Coral walked into performing arts class at Big Bear Middle School in Big Bear, Calif. As she sat and watched, her teacher saw her shirt emblazoned with the Mexican colors and, in front of the entire class, asked if she supported Mexico, according to Leroy Martinez, the vice president of the local League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

According to Martinez, Coral thought she was being asked a soccer question, and answered yes.

“Then what are you doing in my country?” the teacher asked, according to Martinez.

Stunned, the American-born student asked, “Why?”

“Because people like you make me pay higher taxes and make my insurance rate go up,” the teacher replied, according to Martinez.

Confused and hurt, Coral then ran out of the class crying.
I'll defer commentary (although I am confused as to why a "performing arts class" would spend their school time watching a World Cup game on television (?)).  Depending on your worldview and level of sophistication, you can read comments at FOXNews or at Reddit.

High-definition map of the world's gravity

The Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (Goce) is at the front of this armada of scientific and environmental monitoring spacecraft.

Launched in 2009, the sleek satellite flies pole to pole at an altitude of just 254.9km - the lowest orbit of any research satellite in operation today.

The spacecraft carries three pairs of precision-built platinum blocks inside its gradiometer instrument that sense accelerations which are as small as 1 part in 10,000,000,000,000 of the gravity experienced on Earth.

This has allowed it to map the almost imperceptible differences in the pull exerted by the mass of the planet from one place to the next - from the great mountain ranges to the deepest ocean trenches.

Dennis Kuchinich comments on the cost of the war


I know I'm going to catch a lot of flak in the comments for posting anything by this guy, but I'll just note that this is the second post about him out of about 6500 posts.  So get over it already.

"Jackie the Lion" is now "Leo the Lion"

Five different lions have been used for the MGM logo.  Pictured above is the filming of Jackie, who replaced Slats in 1928.   Slats only looked around; he never roared (in part because his four years of stardom were during the era of silent movies).  Jackie's roar was played to silent movie audiences through the use of a gramophone.  Jackie was followed by Tanner, then by George (also referred to as "Bob"), and finally by the current Leo.

Photo found at The Mopo, via.

Librarian vs. Texas Ranger. Librarian wins.

But not without a struggle.  This is a remarkable story of how a librarian in El Paso defended the privacy of ordinary citizens against a Texas Ranger and a city mayor.
Shortly after the September 11 attacks in 2001, two men came into the El Paso (Tex.) Public Library where Brey-Casiano was (and still is) director. One man, wearing a white cowboy hat and a huge belt buckle, identified himself as a Texas Ranger. He told her a threat had been sent recently from one of the library computers and demanded to see the sign-up sheets. Brey-Casiano replied that she could not release patron records without a court order and that, in any case, the sign-up sheets were shredded every night. The ranger’s sidekick began citing the USA Patriot Act as authority, but she reminded him that it was a federal law, which cannot be invoked by a state law enforcement official.

The two men left, but the next morning a court order arrived asking for specific sign-up sheets—ones that could not be handed over because they had already been shredded. The following Monday, Brey-Casiano got a call from the mayor of El Paso, who accused her of withholding information (a felony in Texas) and told her he was putting her on administrative leave. Knowing her rights, she insisted she had done nothing wrong and followed proper legal procedures. The mayor admitted it was out of his hands, since the Texas Ranger had filed the complaint. He agreed to let her stay on the job as long as she told no one about the situation—effectively a gag order—during the course of an official investigation of her actions...

“The investigation was more far-reaching than I could ever have imagined,” Brey-Casiano told the audience. “Police interrogated all 140+ of my staff members, asking about my character but without saying why they wanted to know. Some of them came to me in tears, and others refused to answer any questions at all.”

Finally, after months of this intimidation the El Paso police chief (whom she considered a friend) gave her some reassuring signals, and Paco called to say that the District Attorney had decided not to prosecute her for withholding information. She found out later the decision was due largely to the response of her staff, all of whom had said, “Carol would not do that.”
The full story is at American Libraries magazine.  Via Reddit, where there is a discussion thread, including "Upvoting because there's something about a librarian protecting your interests better than Texas Rangers that is very telling of the sad state of this country."

The Gulf situation, a la M.C. Escher

Title: “After Escher: Gulf Sky and Water” by Bob Staake.   The New Yorker.

Cat and mouse

Artist: Margaret Shepherd, Via Lushlight.

Here's an example of how newspaper writing has changed

This weekend my wife handed me a section of the local Sunday paper (Wisconsin State Journal), and asked me to read an article.  It was from a section entitled "What We Said... 145 Years Ago," reproducing an editorial from the paper in 1865.  It's not available to link to on the 'net, so I'll reproduce it here in its entirety.  Below a photo of two black Civil War soldiers was this text:

"Recognizing manood and loyalty, not color"

"There are strong grounds for doubting the wisdom of conferring the right of suffrage at once and indiscriminately upon the negroes in the South; there are still stronger grounds, in our opinion, for doubting the wisdom of conferring the right of suffrage upon a people who have but just ceased waging internecine war against the Republic, and who are still full of animosity and bitterness.

There is no doubt but the negroes are as well if not be better fitted to vote, loyalty as well as intelligence being taken into account, as the whites, but a period of probation, during which order may be restored and some degree of intelligence and sound sentiment diffused, will work no hardship to either class, and will conduce to the best interests of the nation, and its permanent peace and prosperity.

When the Southern States reappear by their representatives in the National Legislature, we trust it will be as free States, recognizing manhood and loyalty, not color, as the basis of suffrage."

--Wisconsin State Journal editorial, June 27, 1865

The sentiment of the article is reasonably progressive for the time, but what struck both of us was the grammar, the vocabulary, and the complex sentence structure.  Three sentences averaging 56 words each.  The "reading level" for that editorial must be quite high; I would doubt that anything approaching that degree of sophistication would be published in any newspaper nowadays.

28 June 2010

June 28 - "perfect" day

"This date is the only date each year where both the month and day are different perfect numbers (June 6 being the only date where the month and day are the same perfect number)."

The American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis)

[This post is a compilation of three articles I've written over the past two months about the life cycle of the American Lady; I decided it made more sense to combine them into one megapost.]

American Lady butterflies (Vanessa virginiensis) are not uncommon; the real challenge is to document an entire life cycle, starting with the egg.  To do that, one has to locate one of the food plants for the caterpillars - Pussytoes, Pearly Everlasting, or Burdock.  Here in Wisconsin there's lots of burdock, but in the early spring it's also easy to spot Pussytoes (Antennaria spp.) because they thrust their fuzzy cats-paw-like flowers above the other vegetation on long stems. 

Finding the eggs is a challenge.  The upright stems do have small clasping leaves, but the American Lady prefers to oviposit on the rosette of basal leaves next to the ground, and those leaves tend to be obscured by grasses and low vegetation.
The egg is tiny and well-camouflaged, because it is green and almost translucent.  Most of the ones I have seen have been single, on top of the leaves, in the midline, and about a cm from the tip - like the one in the photo above.  At the Butterfly Garden forum at Gardenweb I've read reports of Ladies ovipositing on the flower stem or head, but have never seen a photo of such or found one myself; it would be a real challenge to locate an egg in that complex flower structure.

On closup view the egg looks like a little gooseberry -
- with some vertical striations that resemble the old-fashioned candy root-beer barrels, similar to those of another Vanessa (the Red Admiral), whose eggs are shown here.
The photo above shows a pair of eggs on two leaves of a small pussytoes plant.  After the first instar emerges, he may eat the eggshell itself:
I've not observed that process, but it's a well-known phenomenon with other species.  The first instar has a semi-translucent body and is very difficult to see except for that black head.  Without the aid of a macro lens, the first obvious evidence of hatching is a "scraping" of the superficial layer from the leaf:
The caterpillars of many (?most) species eat through the leaf, typically from the edge.  The American Lady cat leaves a layer of cells, as can be seen when the leaf is backlit:
If the cat leaves the leaf (or is killed by a predator), the superficial lesions heal to leave small scars:
At the scraping site, the early instar also instinctively begins its classic self-defense; it creates a roof of silk above its eating site.  The frass remains inside the notoriously messy "nest."
The caterpillar rarely comes out during the daytime.  The later instar in the photo below is beginning to display the rather striking spines that will be more evident as it grows.  When it reaches this size, it also becomes capable of actually pulling the edges of the pussytoes leaf together to make a more secure nest. 
I believe this is facilitated in part by some natural curvature of the leaf, but the final product is really quite striking, and easily visible when you walk past a patch of pussytoes.
Within that nest the caterpillar continues to scrape the inner surface of the leaf for its nutritional needs.  This is a leaf I unfolded from an empty "nest":
The later instar's intact nest is quite a formidable defense against the spiders and parasitic flies that plague the insect world
I find it interesting that when several leaves are stitched together, the larger gaps are filled not just with silk, but with some white patchy material that doesn't appear to be silk; I suspect it is some of the detritus scraped off the leaf surface.  It almost looks like a decorative lace.
Addendum:  Later in the summer I encountered this fellow, whose "nest" was comprised of only a lace-like roof.  Considering his/her large size and the small size of the available leaves, I presume the cat wasn't physically able to approximate the sides of the leaves, and thus had to settle for this more open-air arrangement.
 Like other photographers and butterfly enthusiasts, I've been reluctant to open these nests to get photos of the middle and late instars, because the cat invests so much energy in creating the nest, one doesn't want to disturb it.  But they do sometimes wander out...
and in doing so they display their other defenses - an array of spines and hairs that are visually quite formidable.
Whether they are toxic to touch or not, I do not know (haven't tried).  There is more information on the American Lady caterpillars in these three posts at the GardenWeb Butterfly Garden Forum.

I have only a few photos of the caterpillars because as a whole I saw them very seldom. I eventually became suspicious about the lack of apparent activity and opened one of the nests…
This cat has been parasitized; I don’t know whether this occurred before I collected him, or whether the fly/wasp/whatever penetrated our screen porch and the tulle covering the container. I should have saved this specimen to see what eventually hatched, but I discarded it, so if anyone reading this can give me insight re the identity of the parasite, I would be quite interested.

The scene was replicated in a couple other nests, and a couple more were just empty, with no sign of the cat. I finally decided that some “skins” I had seen earlier and had assumed were shed during molting were probably desiccated bodies of parasitized cats.

Eventually two cats successfully formed their chrysalises on the tulle; I used a bit of dental floss to tie them to a stick for more stability:
I was at first intrigued by the striking difference in color in the two chrysalises. I’ve seen variable color in BST chrysalises and thought this was natural variability – until I happened to turn the stick so that it was backlit…
The pale chrysalis is obviously almost empty. That cat also had been parasitized, or at least had shriveled and died for some reason. That left me with just one chrysalis to complete this documentation of the cycle. I kept my fingers crossed.

The last chrysalis finally turned quite dark one evening. The next morning I moved it to my breakfast table and kept it by my side while I started the NYT Sunday crossword. I was planning to get some pix of the eclosion, but the process was of course silent and I was engrossed, so when I finished the puzzle and looked up, she already had her wings fully inflated -
A closeup of her pattern beneath the wings shows the characteristic two eyespots and the delicate “cobweb” pattern in the proximal wing. The colors combine some beautiful shades of brown and sort of a russet and a subtle blue (all these photos will supersize with a click)...
When she became restless I moved her to some rattan. Her resting pattern looked like this –
- and when I startled her with the camera she raised her forewing to display her hidden beautiful rose pattern -
Maybe it was a coincidence that she did this when I got close to her, but it seemed as though she were using the rose spot for a sort of defensive purpose to “startle” a potential predator.  This was within a couple hours of eclosion, so she was still docile enough to climb onto my finger and display her upper wing pattern when I put her in direct sunlight –
The American Lady is supposed to show a characteristic small white dot inside the large orange cell by the upper wing margin. This particular butterfly didn’t have such a spot. After another hour or so in the sun she was ready to go, so I took her outside on the deck and she flew off over the treetops.  BTW,  I’ve been calling this butterfly “she” because of her name, but to be honest I have no idea whether this is a male or a female; I’d appreciate any information on how to make that distinction.

These are common butterflies that range coast-to-coast and Canada-to-Mexico in the United States, and for that reason I suspect the delicate beauty of their wing patterns is not fully appreciated.  Try supersizing the photos with a click...

27 June 2010

The American Lady chrysalis and butterfly

[The content of this post has been combined with two others, and is now available at this link.]

Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)


I watched this movie last night.  It tells the story of an older couple, parents of five children, who because of illness and the poor economy lose their home to foreclosure.  The children are unable to accommodate both parents together, so after 50 years of marriage he has to leave on a train for California, while she has to move in to an old people's home.

The was made in 1937, so by today's standards it is rather slow-paced, predictable, and sometimes tedious.  But the ending (embedded above) is quite well done.

The effect of the Gulf disaster on Midwestern birds


As black crude continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, contaminating some of the continent's richest wildlife habitat, officials fear an oily death could await untold numbers of the state's beloved 12,000 loons and other commonly seen birds in Minnesota such as great blue herons, white pelicans, spotted sandpipers, egrets and ducks when they migrate south in a few months...

An estimated 13 million ducks and 1.5 million geese winter along the Gulf Coast. Blue-winged teal and wood ducks will begin flying south from Minnesota as soon as August. Sandpipers start migrating next month. Loons depart in late October or November...

"It's like a slow-moving train wreck, and the brakes haven't been applied,'' said Doug Inkley, senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation in Washington, D.C. "This is a disaster in which we're almost helpless to do anything.''

"We are bracing for what could be a catastrophe,'' said Stacy Craig, LoonWatch Program coordinator in Wisconsin.

Is it "raining oil" in Louisiana??


This video (and a couple others at YouTube) claims to show oil on the ground inshore from the Gulf as a result of rain.  While it seems unlikely that oil itself could be vaporized and recondense as oil, there are allegations that the dispersants applied in the Gulf change the dynamics.

I've written the title of this post as a question because it's also possible that the videos are faked or are misrepresenting the situation.  TYWKIWBI gets several hundred visitors/week from Louisiana.  Can anyone there confirm (or refute) the observations in this video???

Behind the unrest in Kyrgyzstan

When I posted the video of the man being burned alive, I postulated that there was probably more to the unrest in Kyrgyzstan/Uzbekistan than simply "ethnic strife."  Now I've run across an article at The Nation that offers a more logical basis for the conflict:
Unaddressed stereotypes have allowed tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks to fester ever since the only previously reported conflict between the two groups, in 1990. These typecasts were a breeding ground for the surge of rumors—spread by Internet chat rooms, text messages and word of mouth—that helped provoke the attacks: “Uzbek men raped a group of Kyrgyz girls”; “young men brawled over a restaurant bill”; “Uzbeks, in their efforts to declare autonomy, had armed themselves.”

But frictions between the two groups aren’t the result of some ancient ethnic hatred. They have waxed and waned for only a generation, as local elites, manipulating economic grievances, vie for control of resources. In recent times, that has meant Afghan heroin. In place of a functioning state, southern Kyrgyzstan has become a network of trafficking routes controlled by narco-barons and their extended families...

...the most likely explanation is a mafia power struggle gone horribly wrong. A third of Afghan narcotics pass through Central Asia en route to Russia, and a majority of those through Osh. As weapons and drugs tend to travel along the same routes, lack of government oversight since Bakiyev’s overthrow has prompted widespread fears that the country has become overrun with guns...
And of course it's even more complex than that; more details at the link.

Transport-related energy consumption...

...graphed against urban population density on the x-axis. 

Source:  United Nations Energy Programme (Newman et Kenworthy, 1989; Atlas Environnement du Monde Diplomatique 2007), via Sharp as Teeth and Stars.

A tribute to Manute Bol


I'm not a fan of professional basketball, but a column at Midwest Sports Fans caught my eye.  Manute Bol died last month; most of the items written about him seem to have focused entirely on his astounding height (7 feet 7 inches - the tallest man ever to play professional basketball) and the fact that he was the first African to play in the NBA.  Here are some excerpts from a column which focuses instead on the man's life after basketball:
For example, Bol started the Ring True Foundation in an effort to deliver aid to his poor countrymen. Most of the $3.5 million Bol made playing basketball went to support Ring True. Bol also used his celebrity and peoples’ curiosity with his size to make extra money after his playing career was over. There was the celebrity boxing match with The Fridge as well as the time he suited up for the Indianapolis Ice of the Central Hockey League. In both cases the money he made went back to the Sudan...

In recent years, Bol has remained active in delivering aid to the Sudan and in building awareness for the horrific living conditions faced by so many. He was involved in the Sudan Freedom Walk, an event aimed at bringing awareness to human rights violations in the Sudan...

Manute Bol has seemingly always fought with every bit of his strength to make the Sudan a better place for the people that he left behind – but certainly never forgot – when he moved to the United States. In fact, Bol never really left the Sudan behind. He clearly carried the burden of his nation’s plight during every step along his path to the NBA and, much like Dikembe Mutombo after him, used his God-given height to play a game that would pay him well and afford him the opportunity to make a difference on a continent that so desperately needs difference makers.
The 7-minute video embedded above is part 1 of three parts; the other two parts are at the link.

This little pig went to market...

From a collection of similar (unattributed) photos, via.

Is the brainstem depicted in a Sistine Chapel fresco??

Michelangelo was a conscientious student of human anatomy and enthusiastically dissected corpses throughout his life, but few of his anatomical drawings survive. This one, a depiction of the human brain and brain stem, appears to be drawn on the neck of God, but not all art historians can see it there...

God, clothed in flowing red robes, is viewed from below and foreshortened, and seems to be rising into the sky. His arms are raised above his head, and he faces up and to his right, exposing his neck and the underside of a short beard. It is here that the study’s authors, the medical illustrator Ian Suk and Dr. Rafael J. Tamargo, a neurosurgeon, believe that Michelangelo concealed a drawing of the underside of the brain and the brain stem, with parts of the temporal lobe, the medulla, the pons and other structures clearly drawn...
To me it looks more like a depiction of a thyroid cartilage, larynx, and upper trachea - but I suppose this is in "the eye of the beholder."  Further discussion at the New York Times.  Original source at Neurosurgery 66: 851-861, 2010.

See also my previous post: Brain images hidden in Renaissance art?

26 June 2010

Pensacola Beach, Florida


Previously advertised as "The World's Whitest Beaches."
The beach is covered in oil tonight. I walked for two hours from near Peg Legs west about one mile past the Fort Pickens gate and saw nothing but oil everywhere and maybe a dozen clean up people half of which were working.
There are additional relevant videos at CitizenTube.   Here's an old postcard I found at Flickr:

Goat bridge


TYWKIWDBI has previously posted photos of a goat tower and cat ladders.  Here's a "goat bridge." Res ipsa loquitur.

Via Neatorama.

In defense of a sexual offender

This letter was posted at the Psychology Today blog:
My husband is on the sex offender registry in Illinois, for 15 years for having a consensual relationship with me, his wife, when I was 16. He is lumped in with pedophiles, rapists and the worst kind of perverts. We have three children and my husband cant keep a job (he has a P.H.D), he cant pick up our kids from school, we've been thrown out of our home twice because we live by a school and police monitor our home. Why in Gods name isn't any common sense prevailing around this issue and when do we start letting people off the registry who are not a public threat? This is destroying our family, our children's well-being and my father in law (a decorated war veteran) has depleted his pension supporting us. We have testified before Illinois congress, had several favorable articles on us from the Chicago Tribune, yet they wont let my husband - Mark - off the registry. He only has a misdemeanor for being with me, his devoted wife of 5 years now. We were married by the same judge,(Thomas E. Nowinski,) who gave Mark the misdemeanor. Please, please someone help us. Neighbors stare at our home; people think a rapist lives in the home. Mark's oldest son (from a previous marriage) was assaulted in Hyde Park, defending Mark from fellow classmates calling Mark a rapist!! This is ruining my children's welfare and I, the "victim" am begging some one to take his name off the sex offender registry!!. To verify what I've said, look Mark Perk up on Google...we live in Crestwood IL, zip code 60445. Please, someone help my family from this horror. We have been pulled over by police and Mark detained (while our children scream in the car) so many times I can't count. This is profoundly unfair. We need your help immediately, please help us!!!!! This law (Megan's laws) was designed to protect children, not ransack and destroy families and put a Scarlet Letter around someone's neck who does not deserve to be labeled as a sex offender. Someone please, please help us. The ACLU completely ignores cases like this. You are our last hope!!!!
There is a response and a thread of 73 comments at the link.

Volkswagen commercial


Remember their "Piano Stairs advertisement?"  And the "world's deepest trash bin?"  This ad is in the same vein.

Via within the crainium.

The speed of a sidewinder


Regular snakes can be impressively fast on the ground; videos I've seen before of sidewinders showed them moving slowly as at the start of this video.  Later in the segment he appears to be moving down the dune, but in any case the speed is remarkable.

Via Arbroath.

Why they hate us

Excerpts from an outstanding article at New Statesman:
During lunch, as my hosts casually pointed out the various places in the village where the British had been massacred in 1842, I asked them if they saw any parallels between that war and the present situation. "It is exactly the same," said Anwar Khan Jegdalek. "Both times the foreigners have come for their own interests, not for ours. They say, 'We are your friends, we want democracy, we want to help.' But they are lying."

After the jirga was over, one of the tribal elders came over and we chatted for a while over a glass of green tea. "Last month," he said, "some American officers called us to a hotel in Jalalabad for a meeting. One of them asked me, 'Why do you hate us?' I replied, 'Because you blow down our doors, enter our houses, pull our women by the hair and kick our children. We cannot accept this. We will fight back, and we will break your teeth, and when your teeth are broken you will leave, just as the British left before you. It is just a matter of time.'"

Now as then, the problem is not hatred of the west, so much as a dislike of foreign troops swaggering around and making themselves odious to the very people they are meant to be helping. On the return journey, as we crawled back up the passes towards Kabul, we got stuck behind a US military convoy of eight Humvees and two armoured personnel carriers in full camouflage, all travelling at less than 20 miles per hour. Despite the slow speed, the troops refused to let any Afghan drivers overtake them, for fear of suicide bombers, and they fired warning shots at any who attempted to do so. By the time we reached the top of the pass two hours later, there were 300 cars and trucks backed up behind the convoy, each one full of Afghans furious at being ordered around in their own country by a group of foreigners. Every day, small incidents of arrogance and insensitivity such as this make the anger grow...

Now as then, there have been few tangible signs of improvement under the western-backed regime. Despite the US pouring approximately $80bn into Afghanistan, the roads in Kabul are still more rutted than those in the smallest provincial towns of Pakistan. There is little health care; for any severe medical condition, patients still have to fly to India. A quarter of all teachers in Afghanistan are themselves illiterate. In many areas, district governance is almost non-existent: half the governors do not have an office, more than half have no electricity, and most receive only $6 a month in expenses. Civil servants lack the most basic education and skills.

This is largely because $76.5bn of the $80bn committed to the country has been spent on military and security, and most of the remaining $3.5bn on international consultants, some of whom are paid in excess of $1,000 a day, according to an Afghan government report. This, in turn, has had other negative effects. As in 1842, the presence of large numbers of well-paid foreign troops has caused the cost of food and provisions to rise, and living standards to fall. The Afghans feel they are getting poorer, not richer...
Via The Daily Dish.

For my take on the events of 1842, see this post (and Kipling's poem in the comments).

Faux paws

By now, most websurfers have seen the above photo of Oscar, a cat who survived a farm implement accident and underwent corrective surgery to have prosthetic paws placed on his hind limbs.

The full story is at Pioneer Press, along with the inspired headline "Bionic British cat gets faux paws."

On the use (and non-use) of nuclear weapons

From a PBS/Frontline interview with General Charles Horner, Commander of the U.S. Ninth Air Force on the topic of the Gulf War:
Q: ...We shouldn't have pulled any punches, they've got tactical nuclear weapons, the Republican Guard are parked in the desert, why not use them to take them out?

Horner: American people, in particular, like simple answers to complex problems and one of the answers might be why don't you just nuke 'em? Well the answer to that is you've got to study weapons effects and what can happen, it would take a lot of nuclear weapons to get one tank division and I don't think the American people are going to stand for two/three hundred nuclear weapons going off in the desert, plus the fact you get 'em more efficiently by using laser guided bombs, so nuclear weapons are only good against cities and they're only good against civilian populations.
That link was sent to me by a friend in Indiana.   When I emailed back a question, he sent this interesting reply:
They impressed upon us in ROTC that nukes are neither 'magic wands" that make all your problems go away, nor are a bunch going off necessarily 'world-killing", short of a full scale exchange. Consider that tactical nukes are, I forget, but maybe 5-10 kilotons, whereas strategic nukes get up into the megatons; missile silos and C3 sites are so hardened that we (and the Soviets) had to task multiple megatons per target to ensure a high PK (Probability of Kill). (Scale tests of the silo for the MX missile indicated that it could survive all but a direct hit from a strategic nuke.)

Most people do not know that before Desert Storm, and after the wall came down, that in the first Bush Administration that Cheney (then SecDef) was drawing up plans to start scrapping our nukes. Nukes are financially expensive to build, store, and maintain, and expensive politically. Cheney, et al., knew what "smart" conventional weapons were capable of and had the goal to retire all but a few strategic nukes, replacing the rest with precision-guided weapons. That is because massively increasing gigajoules only slightly increases PK, whereas small increases in accuracy yields disproportional greater PK. The only thing was that fielding the new precision-guided weapons would initially be as expensive as maintaining nukes, though the cost would plummet after they were produced and the nukes were gone.

Women with no children

One in five women aged 40 to 44 reported that they’ve never had children. Meanwhile, just 41 percent of Americans say having children is necessary to a good marriage, compared to 65 percent in 1990.
More graphs and discussion at Sociological Images.

The desperation of civilians in wartime

In this Dec. 4, 1950 file photo, residents from Pyongyang, North Korea, and refugees from other areas crawl perilously over shattered girders of the city's bridge, as they flee south across the Taedong River to escape the advance of Chinese Communist troops. (AP Photo/Max Desfor)
And imagine doing this while carrying on your back the only things you will be able to keep from your former life.

From a gallery of 48 photos of the Korean War at The Big Picture.  Click to magnify.

"Suicidal menopausal aphids"


The video above shows how aphids defend themselves against ladybird beetle larvae (and presumably other predators) by secreting glue-like droplets:
As the ladybird approaches, aphids pour out of the gall and grab the predator by their jaws and legs. It’s a suicide defence. The aphids secrete massive amounts of waxy liquid from their bodies, which quickly solidifies and glues the ladybird to the plant. Unable to walk or bite, the ladybird dies and the aphids go with it.
Found at Not Exactly Rocket Science, which has more details (and congratulations to that blog for winning the "Top Quark" award for best science writing in 2010.

Camouflage

A Palestinian leaned against a pile of watermelons for sale in a Ramallah, West Bank, market Thursday. (Tara Todras-Whitehill/Associated Press).  Source:  WSJ.

25 June 2010

Musical instruments as weapons of war

Illustrated above is the carnyx, a Celtic instrument.
The carnyx (plural: carnyces)... was a Celtic-Dacian variant of the Etruscan-Roman lituus and belongs to the family of brass instruments.  It was an ſ-shaped valveless horn made of beaten bronze and consisted of a tube between one and two meters in length, whereas the diameter of the tube is unknown.  Archaeological finds date back to the Bronze Age, and the instrument itself is attested for in contemporary sources between ca. 300 BC and 200 AD. The carnyx was in widespread use in Britain, France, parts of Germany, eastward to Romania and beyond, even as far as India, where bands of Celtic mercenaries took it on their travels...

The sound of the carnyx was described as lugubrious and harsh, perhaps due to the loosened tongue of the bell...  The carnyx was held vertically so that the sound would travel from more than three meters above the ground...

In addition the bronze jaw of the animal head may have been loosened as well in order to produce a jarring sound that would surely have been most dreadful when combined with the sound of a few dozen more carnyces in battle.  The demoralizing effect of the Gallic battle music must have been enormous: When the Celts advanced on Delphi under Brennus in 279 BC, the unusual echoing effects of the blaring horns completely overawed the Greeks, before even a single fight could commence...

Brass instruments were regularly used as a means of communication during battle, relaying orders for troop positioning, movement and tactics...
Text from Ancient Celtic Music at Citizendium, via Uncertain TimesImage credit.

Will BP file for bankruptcy?

There is a reasonably high chance that BP could file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the next few years, or even months, and the result would be an "absolute horror" for the government, according to a bankruptcy expert...

The specter of Chapter 11 bankruptcy terrifies Gulf residents because it could allow BP to delay, or even avoid, paying billions of dollars to businesses and individuals affected by the Gulf spill. The chapter is specifically for companies in temporary financial trouble who can reemerge as viable if they receive new funding, cancel burdensome contracts and delay, restructure, or wall off repayment obligations...

BP has a lot of cash and the ability to generate huge amounts of cash. But remember, just because BP can pay claims doesn't mean they should, or that they will, given that their primary obligation is to their shareholders...

They could cut loose BP America and it could be BP America that files for bankruptcy. My presumption is that it's BP America that's responsible for the spill. They can wall off the non-BP America assets from the Gulf -- which is about 50% of the company's net value --and try to reorganize BP America. That's likely to take a very long time, and BP would not make good on its promise for the 20 billion [in the escrow fund]...

It would be a mistake, in my judgment, to view BP as a political piñata that can be beat around the head repeatedly without consequences. It's not reasonable to expect BP to pay unlimited liabilities and face criminal charges, and the United States needs to understand the size of the gun BP can pull...
More at The Atlantic.

This is not the house from "Up"

It looks like the same situation, but the outcome in this case was not as happy for the owner, who reportedly kept holding out for more and more money until the real estate bubble burst, and now no one wants to buy the house.

Full story at the StarTribune.

What you can catch if a walrus sneezes on you

... a 35-year old guy started feeling a pain in his eye and went to his doctor. The doctor looked under his eyelid and ... found - and removed - a single mite of the species Orthohalarachne attenuata... that normally is found in the nasal passages of fur seals, sea lions, and walruses. In seals, the mites can be both prevalent (as in almost every single seal has them) and abundant (as in more than 1000 mites per seal and in a few cases in one study, more than 2000!). These incredibly high infestations can cause problems for the seal's breathing, but can also do damage in the lungs and leave the seals susceptible to other infections, too. Transmission between seals occurs by -- sneezing on each other, of course. So, how did this young guy in California get a nasal mite in his eye? Turns out that two days before his first doctor's visit, he had visited Sea World - where he stood too close to some walruses and got sneezed on.
 Photo: Mike Kinsella.  Found at Parasite of the Day, via Not Exactly Rocket ScienceOriginal report at J. Parasitology.

A man is burned alive

I'm going to alter my normal formatting for this post to put this warning at the top, and embed the video below, in hopes that everyone will read this text before clicking (or not clicking) on the video.

The video comes from the Kyrgyzstan/Uzbekistan conflict area.  It is low-resolution (probably camera phone), but sufficiently clear to show a man being burned alive after having been soaked with some flammable fluid.  This event takes place in a street or plaza with a group of people standing by, watching, and seemingly cheering.

I'm not going to identify the Kyrgyz-or-Uzbek affiliations of either the perpetrators or the victim.  To my mind that's not the important take-away message.  I've tried to do a little reading (maps here) about the Kyrgyz/Uzbek conflict, but I can't hope to understand it well.  The knee-jerk explanation of events like these is that they are the result of "ethnic tensions," but I think we grossly oversimplify world geopolitics by using that phrase, because many of these wars/conflicts arise from simple economics, greed, political power moves, resource access etc., and although different ethnicities may be evident, they have probably coexisted for generations and have no reason to fight now until/unless some other trigger was activated.

In any case, the important thing to know about the video is that it is ruthlessly and disturbingly graphic.  Decide for yourself whether viewing such an event is appropriate for your mindset and your emotional well-being.

Video source link. Via Reddit, where there is a discussion thread.

The dark history of phosphorus matches

These red phosphorus matches were made by the Salvation Army as an attempt to provide an alternative to the more commonly available matches made with white or yellow phosphorus. Working with the vapors of white or yellow phosphorus caused deposits of phosphorus to build up in the workers jaw bones, killing the bone and resulting in its decomposing and falling apart. The affected bones would also give off a green glow as they were eaten away. Removal of the jaw bone could save the affected persons life, otherwise death from organ poisoning was the most likely result. This condition was common enough among workers in match factories that it became known as “Match Maker’s Leprosy” as well as “Phossy Jaw”.
 Found at Centuries of Advice and Entertainment, which has links for additional information.

Diego Garcia

From a photoessay of eighteen "strange military bases" posted at Popular Mechanics.  The controversies and history of the island are summarized at Wikipedia.  If I had to be stationed somewhere, I wouldn't mind a locale with a huge central tropical lagoon.

24 June 2010

Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis


I heard an excerpt of this today as background music in a video about Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated voyage to Antarctica, posted at Scribal Terror. It's a haunting melody; here's the full (17-minute) composition. You can play it while scrolling further down the blog.

I chose this version because I used to work for Indiana University (though not at the Music School).

Reposted from January of 2009.

Abraham Lincoln's suit and hat

The suit and hat worn by Lincoln on the night of his assassination. Photograph made by the Smithsonian, circa 1890. 
Credit John McNab, via Turn of the Century.

"Somewhere a dog barked"

Selections from an interesting essay by Rosencrans Baldwin at Slate:
Novelists can't resist including a dog barking in the distance. I've seen it happen across the spectrum—Jackie Collins, William Faulkner, and Chuck Palahniuk: "There was no more rain, just an eerie stillness, a deathly silence. Somewhere a dog barked mournfully." (American Star) "She did not answer for a time. The fireflies drifted; somewhere a dog barked, mellow sad, faraway." (Light in August) "This is such a fine neighborhood. I jump the fence to the next backyard and land on my head in somebody's rose bush. Somewhere a dog's barking." (Choke)

Having heard the dog's call, it seemed like I couldn't find a book without one. Not The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Not Shadow Country. Not Ulysses. Not Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men, or Monica Ali's Alentejo Blue, or Stephen King's It or Christine. Not Jodi Picoult's House Rules. If novelists share anything, it's a distant-dog impulse...

Look at (Pulitzer Prize-winning) To Kill a Mockingbird: "Ripe chinaberries drummed on the roof when the wind stirred, and the darkness was desolate with the barking of distant dogs." Look at (National Book Award winner) Let The Great World Spin: "The street throbbed around me. Nobody's fault but my own. The bark of a dog flew by." Indeed, look at Martin Amis in his latest novel, The Pregnant Widow: "Keith closed his eyes and searched for troubled dreams. The dogs in the valley barked. And the dogs in the village, not to be outdone, barked back."
More at the link.

The (extraordinarily) long hair of a Hindu holy man

Sukhdev Baba Shanti, a Hindu holy man, at Kamakhya temple in Gauhati, India.
With all due respect to the gentleman, I can't help but suspect that perhaps his hair may have had some extensions braided in.

Addendum: A big hat tip to Joe, for offering the following totally logical (and undoubtedly true) explanation: "The extensions would be added naturally as they grow. Individual hairs grow for a while, then fall out and after a bit another hair will begin to emerge. Once the hairs are locked the fallen ones would be entwined with the still growing ones ensuring a continuous extension all the way back to the scalp."

Photo: Anupam Nath/AP, via Found Here.
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