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Archive for January, 2010

My dear friend, Grasshopper, posted this cartoon on his facebook page this morning and kick-started a mental process that’s been lingering through a frustrating day of hoop-jumping, so I’m grateful.

Being a big fan of experiencing deja vu all over again, sentimental longings attached to wistful recall are some of my fav paths to wander, and since I’ve been either blessed or cursed … pick one … with a frighteningly prodigious capacity for reconstituting memories in accurate detail and proportion, those trips down the M Lane are frequently called for.

Those who know me well used me often in the recent past as a depository … repository? … suppository? … of shared memories, keeping their own brains free of the flotsam and jetsam and thereby roomier for present-day experiences, realizing how much easier it would be to phone me when needing to reconjure anything from our childhood phone number to the name of the dog who played the dog on “Topper” and all the words to the theme song from “Mr. Ed”.

As the comic strip suggests, however, there’s now some social media online for everything but the phone number … and maybe even that, soon. It’s a huge leap in consciousness for our species when decades past are clickable and common experiences of one generation leak into the next.

Although my puny human brain can almost grasp the concept of non-linear time, such easy access to pivotal past moments is a bit disconcerting, and I do rather long for the days when I could long for the days …

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There is so much cool stuff going on in the science news today that I’m giving myself a break and not going anywhere near the flap over face veils in France and the UK. Not that I don’t have an opinion or twelve. I’d simply so much rather focus on little tiny hairs in bat ears and such.

For a population of animals known for acute hearing, the bats in my jack fruit tree have been raising a ruckus audible to an aging rocker with major ear damage, but these, of course, are fruit batsPteropus seychellensis seychellensis, locally known as sousouri … not their smaller insectivorous cousins.

Since fruit tends to hang around rather than flit furtively, sousouri haven’t been working on their echolocation skills, but it’s looking like a couple of parallel universes have managed convergent evolution.

Scientists have found a striking similarity in the DNA that enables some bats and dolphins to echolocate.

A key gene that gives their ears the ability to detect high-frequency sound has undergone the exact same changes over time in both creatures.

The researchers report their findings in the journal Current Biology.

It may be the first time that identical genetics has been shown to underpin the evolution of similar characteristics in very different organisms.

And how cool is that?

Although most of us would find a sudden gift of echolocation more than a bit distracting, the hearing we do have comes in very handy, even when what we’re listening to is a load of bollocks.

Seems a tendency to keep it short is an evolutionary choice made by many primates, and although the article is flawed, it is interesting.

Scientists found that macaques use short calls far more often than lengthier vocalisations.

Humans also do this: the words that we use most often, such as “a”, “of” and “the”, do not take long to say.

The fact that we both share this vocal trait could shed more light on the origin of human language, the team writes in the journal Biology Letters.

Although the report on the study must oversimplify … and with the research credited to Dr. Semple, I suppose that makes sense … I will assume that the work went much deeper and resulted in more less-obvious science than is written by the BBC.

For a new turn on the old “monkey see, monkey do”, take a look at what happens when monkey shoots.

The world’s first film shot entirely by chimpanzees is to be broadcast by the BBC as part of a natural history documentary.

The apes created the movie using a specially designed chimp-proof camera given to them by primatologists.

The film-making exercise is part of a scientific study into how chimpanzees perceive the world and each other.

My hat is off to whoever managed to make a chimp-proof camera!

And just because common wisdom says that sex sells … and I do like drawing readers to the blog … I’ll end with the world’s most promiscuous bird, proving size really doesn’t matter …

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Baby octopus on Bird Island. Photo credit: Greg Berke

Since my twice-daily drive to town taking the kids back and forth to school gets grindingly dull as I pass the same stunningly beautiful scenery time and time again .. azure seas, white sand beaches, verdant forest, ho hum … I frequently offer lifts to neighbors waiting for busses, and although ensuing conversations too often consist of tedious discussions of the three most popular topics here — a limited range of weather (all tropical), fish (also tropical), or sex (not as steamy as you’d think) — occasionally something gets me thinking.

My passenger this afternoon was an octopus diver, which is to say he puts food on the table by hunting, then selling, octopi for the tables of others. Since Sam has recently started snorkeling, we’ve been on the hunt ourselves for a sight of an eight-armed wonder, but they’re bloody hard to find.

Having access to an expert, I sought some advice, but ended up getting more questions than I asked. Knowing that I spend much of my time online, he asked if I could do a bit of research on the tasty cephalopods, then report back.

Asking about the lifespan of an octopus started the wondering, since Stephen has no idea if the creature he finds, stabs in the eye, then pots has been around for five months of fifty years.

Turns out, the fifty year thing isn’t possible. According to the octowiki, these amazingly intelligent, bilaterally symmetric dudes aren’t around for long at all … and they can blame that on sex (which we knew we’d get around to eventually).

Octopuses have a relatively short life expectancy, and some species live for as little as six months. Larger species, such as the North Pacific Giant Octopus, may live for up to five years under suitable circumstances. However, reproduction is a cause of death: males can only live for a few months after mating, and females die shortly after their eggs hatch. They neglect to eat during the (roughly) one month period spent taking care of their unhatched eggs, but they don’t die of starvation. Endocrine secretions from the two optic glands are the cause of genetically-programmed death.

According to the octopus hunter in my car, there are plenty of octopuses that are hard as hell to find, and since they breed by the zillions and don’t last long, I’m not too fussed about the occasional curry I enjoy.

I am, however, a bit bothered about dining on someone so much smarter than a cow.

Octopuses are highly intelligent, likely more so than any other order of invertebrates. The exact extent of their intelligence and learning capability is much debated among biologists, but maze and problem-solving experiments have shown that they do have both short- and long-term memory.

In laboratory experiments, octopuses can be readily trained to distinguish between different shapes and patterns. They have been reported to practice observational learning, although the validity of these findings is widely contested on a number of grounds. Octopuses have also been observed in what some have described as play: repeatedly releasing bottles or toys into a circular current in their aquariums and then catching them. Octopuses often break out of their aquariums and sometimes into others in search of food. They have even boarded fishing boats and opened holds to eat crabs.

Thanks to my car companion du jour, I now have a bit of an idea where to start looking for an octopus to share with Sam in the sea instead of over dinner, and I can’t wait until he catches sight of his first as it suddenly appears, moves, settles, then disappears in the flash of color morph that perfectly mimics its new spot.

Side note: a sack of dead octopuses is a pulsating bag of color … fascinating and sad, but when I come across the option I usually buy one for dinner.

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Like the conundrum “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?”, the following quote from the president of the Royal Society and Astronomer Royal in this article about “discovering” life on other planets serves to underline the arrogance of humans:

It would change our view of ourselves and our place in the cosmos, he said.

It is too true that many people assume our puny species holds primo place in the universe, that we are either an end result of evolution that worked beautifully or were designed in an image of a god who intentionally set out to put us in charge of everything.

Back in the days before ships began sailing the globe, it was well accepted that each little pocket of humanity was a stand-alone example of perfection, and when other little pockets were “discovered”, they were considered less by the “discoverers” who were simultaneously deemed weird by the newly “discovered”.

Even with the widely accepted knowledge that our universe is huge and filled with billions upon billions of stars, billions and billions of which have planets going around them, our little brains don’t quite have the oomph to project far enough to grasp with certainty the fact that we are not alone.

Nope. We won’t change our view of ourselves and our place in the cosmos until we sit down over a turkey dinner and compare notes.

Earthnocentricity has us looking for the familiar, because that’s what we can deal with.

“Technology has advanced so that for the very first time we can actually have the realistic hope of detecting planets no bigger than the earth orbiting other stars.

“(We’ll be able to learn) whether they have continents and oceans, learning what type of atmosphere they have.

“Although it is a long shot to be able to learn more about any life of them, then it’s tremendous progress to be able to get some sort of image of another planet, rather like the earth orbiting another star.”

Because we need continents and oceans, others must, too? That strikes me as more than a bit limited in imagination. Who’s to say that gaseous balls don’t support intelligent beings comprised of light or heat equipped with gaseous balls for reproduction?

Lord Rees touches on this a bit, but drops the ball …

“I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms that we can’t conceive.

“And there could, of course, be forms of intelligence beyond human capacity, beyond as much as we are beyond a chimpanzee,” he added.

Considering how much DNA we share with chimps, those from other worlds would very likely consider us one species while we’re busy thinking that bright flicker in the corner was nothing but a power surge.

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We knew it was coming, and here it is, just as predicted a few days ago when I wrote:

There is no shortage of arrogant pinheads ready to scream “cultural genocide” and insist that any kid removed from Haitian hellfire is being robbed of his birth right, will suffer lifelong from the loss of said culture, and just may have some blood relatives still alive somewhere who are not too busy bleeding and killing and looting to take in an extra child or ten. In other words, demanding a hands-off-Haitian-children and leave-them-to-rot policy to rule.

At the top of the leave-’em-to-rot hit parade, as always, UNICEF, with their advisor in comfortable, safe Geneva coming out with this …

“We know the problem with trade of children in Haiti and many of these trade networks have links with the international adoption market.”

Of course UNICEF knows the problems with children in Haiti, but what they’ve done to alleviate those over the years is, shall we say, unimpressive. They do good counts of dead kids and can usually tell us how many are undernourished, but how helpful is that to the actual children? Not so much.

And that bit about “links with the international adoption market” is nothing but a dirty swipe with a tarred brush meant to divert attention and cast adoption in the negative light UNICEF is so fond of.

Save The Children is jumping on this one, too; a natural response from an organization that supports its very large staff through donations to kids stuck in poverty and misery.

“Taking children out of the country would permanently separate thousands of children from their families – a separation that would compound the acute trauma they are already suffering,” said Save The Children’s chief executive Jasmine Whitbread.

The children being “rushed” out of Haiti are those who should have been home in the safety of their adoptive families long ago, having been cleared for adoption, abandoned or orphaned, paperwork ready, and held in orphanages simply because organizations like UNICEF demand they wait and wait and wait.

Several of the children arriving in France had been resident in a nursery that was severely damaged in last week’s earthquake but “not a single child was injured and not a single adoption file was lost,” said French consul in Haiti, Jean-Pierre Gueguan.

The children left the school on Thursday where they had taken shelter after the destruction and headed to the Port-au-Prince airport.

Each had a Haitian passport with the family name of their adoptive family but also their birth family’s surname.

For many, it’s impossible to comprehend a mindset that condemns the idea of families welcoming children into the fold, but the anti-adoption steamroller was bound to plow over Haiti’s disaster. As the press hops on for the ride, read well for motives … and look hard for anyone who bothers to ask the kids how they feel.

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I know I’ve been ranting a lot lately … sorry ’bout that … and am happy to excuse anyone tired of my seemingly-constant diatribes from bothering to read me.

BUT …

When shit like this pops up in front of me on a Thursday morning, I simply can’t help myself.

The number of people killed in a decade of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo may be half of the accepted toll of 5.4 million, a study has suggested.

First thought …

Ah … less than 3 million dead people? No prob, then, heh?

Second thought …

How much did this study cost?

Then paragraph number five makes me want to grab that hair brush again.

The BBC’s East Africa correspondent Peter Greste says the initial figures shocked the world into action.

Sorry, but does anyone recall the world being “shocked” into “action” in Congo?

The country is a mess, and the “action” touted has been about as useless as international “action” usually turns out to be.

“Military operations have not succeeded in neutralising the FDLR and have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis.”

Anyone questioning the uselessness would be welcome to ask any of the thousands of child soldiers forced into killing just how helpful all the “shock” and “action” have been.

It seems about time that we stopped buying the PR spin that absolves some guilt, perhaps, but in reality does so little, so late, and admit that the “world” really doesn’t give a shit.

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Striking me in today’s news is a prevalence of stories on religion from a few different angles, and if it weren’t the BBC I was reading this morning … and if I looked at things a bit differently … I might say ‘different angels’.

The first gives an historical perspective, considering that it’s a temple to a cat god found in Egypt that’s reported upon.

Archaeologists found statues of Bastet, worshipped by the Greek-speaking Egyptians as the moon goddess.

For thousands of years the Egyptian Pharaohs believed Bastet was a lion-headed goddess, a relative of the sun-god Ra and a ferocious protector.

But her influence waned as the Pharaohs declined, and the Hellenistic Egyptians resurrected her as the equivalent of the ancient Greek deity Artemis.

Seems somehow fitting that concepts of a moon goddess could wax and wane over the centuries.

On a modern note, this story about biblical references to Jesus marked on gunsights of weapons “widely used by the US and British military in Iraq and Afghanistan” should give much pause for thought for the thinking.

The company that makes the sights says it runs to “Biblical standards” … an interesting idea in the manufacture of items designed to make killing easier, and considering the fact that the US DOD expenditure for 2009 alone on these “aim in the name” items was around $66 mil, that’s a whole lot of John 8:12s out there.

The issue has been thrust into the spotlight by the US Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) – an advocacy group that seeks to preserve the separation of church and state in the military.

On 14 January, the MRFF received an e-mail, purportedly from a Muslim US Army infantryman, complaining about the markings.

“Many soldiers know of them and are very confused as to why they are there and what it is supposed to mean.”

The email adds: “Everyone is worried that if they were captured in combat that the enemy would use the Bible quotes against them in captivity or some other form of propaganda.”

And I can’t help wondering what Jewish soldiers think training their eye down the barrel of the New Testament . The very idea that we need a group like the MRFF, given the US constitution and all, shows just how tenuous freedom can be. “Fanaticier than thou” is not where anyone should be going, especially when armed.

The last I have the time for today is titled Why does God allow natural disasters? and asks the question of a few.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu said he had “nothing to say to make sense of this horror”, while another clergyman, Canon Giles Fraser, preferred to respond “not with clever argument but with prayer”.

How helpful.

But not as blatantly moronic as:

Less reticent is the American evangelist Pat Robertson. He has suggested Haiti has been cursed ever since the population swore a pact with the Devil to gain their freedom from the French at the beginning of the 19th Century.

Or, how about this circular thinking … ?

The second century saint, Irenaeus, and the 20th Century philosopher, John Hick, appeal instead to what is sometimes called soul-making. God created a universe in which disasters occur, they think, because goodness only develops in response to people’s suffering.

In contemplating all this, one thing comes to mind …

It occurs to me that cats move in mysterious ways.

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Okay. Before I go any farther, I will freely admit that I am in a foul mood. I could very happily rip someone’s head off about now, stick it on a pike, then beat the crap out of it with a hair brush … almost anyone would do … so perhaps, just perhaps, I am not reacting quite the way I should to today’s news.

Whatevahhhhhh …

It’s this story that has me spitting spikes for this post.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the move would allow children eligible for adoption in the US “to receive the care they need”.

Other nations said they were speeding up the process to allow Haitian children to join adoptive families.

Fuckin’ ‘ell …

First bit of vitriol that rises is directly attached to this, from Sacramento, my old town … a story about family waiting to bring their child home from Haiti closing in on the end run of what had to have been a very long process.

The current time frame is 6 to 12 months for a referral, once your dossier arrives in Haiti. Two trips are required for families adopting from Haiti. The first trip occurs shortly after referral, and travel to pick up your child typically occurs between 12 and 18 months after you receive a referral (for childless couples) or 18-24 months (for families with other children).

Yep … kids and parents waiting from one and a half to three years.

Was Haiti a garden spot before the quake? A safe haven for small children? Uh … nope.

It was a dirt poor, drastic place where bad things routinely happened to innocent people, where starvation and disease took thousands of lives and children were victims of horrible events on a daily basis.

Now that rotting dead are piled like cord wood, someone gets the bright idea that maybe kids should get the hell outta Port-a-Dodge. Great. This is what it takes to make international adoption look like a good idea?

Which brings me to the next thing pissing me off … those who will line up to spout off on just what a bad idea rushing kids away from hell is.

There is no shortage of arrogant pinheads ready to scream “cultural genocide” and insist that any kid removed from Haitian hellfire is being robbed of his birth right, will suffer lifelong from the loss of said culture, and just may have some blood relatives still alive somewhere who are not too busy bleeding and killing and looting to take in an extra child or ten. In other words, demanding a hands-off-Haitian-children and leave-them-to-rot policy to rule.

It is almost impossible now to adopt a baby. Caving into hype has created an environment in which children are forced into institutions for a year, two years, three years … more … while hopeful adoptive parents face hoop after hoop and wait after wait. It’s hard on the parents, sure, but devastating for the children.

So, it takes the end of the world to get things moving, does it? What a fucking shame.

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Back in the 1980s and 90s, I spent a lot of my time raking up exotic shit. This is no euphemism. Elephants, orang utans, lions and tigers and bears … oh my! All regularly deposit shit by the shovel-full, and much of my job description involved seeing to it that wonderful creatures didn’t have to step in any poop piles.

The Sacramento Zoo was where I passed the hours, days, weeks and months back then, and some of my happiest moments involved the animals and the people I tagged along with and cleaned up after.

Skewed toward the old side of the age range represented by my coworkers, I was well pleased when our ranks were joined by Robbie … near my own age, we had much in common and immediately and permanently became best friends.

We’d both led life on the wild side, and had the physical side effects to prove it. I was already well into the coronary artery disease that plagues many in my family, and I smoked. Robbie already had AIDS.

Almost 20 years later, Robbie and I are still around. I’m here and he’s in Atlanta, and we’re still best friends. Sadly and unexpectedly, a few of the others aren’t.

Fit, athletic, health conscious Lee died of breast cancer a number of years ago. Kevin, at least 10 years younger than me and Robbie, was dropped by a heart attack. And we just had news yesterday that another one of our group has some horrible cancers growing in horrible places. All younger non-smoking folk with no touch of HIV. (Another friend is also facing the cancer fight now … also a much younger, non-smoking careful eater.)

It’s a funny old thing, this life and death and health and illness stuff. Twenty years ago, all predictions would have had Robbie gone within a couple of years with me not too far behind, and Lee and Kevin shoveling shit till ripe old ages.

Earlier this year, my son died at the age of 38. My mother turns 78 today in hospital.

There is no moral to this post. I’m certainly not suggesting that people take up smoking and have unprotected sex, as tempting fate is exactly that. But the fates often have their own agenda, of which we haven’t a clue.

Living life while we have it seems to be the only thing that makes much sense, even if that means spending a lot of time up to our eyeballs in shit, exotic or otherwise.

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How 'annoying'

Like millions these days, I go to my computer for news of the world. I have the great good fortune of not having access to Fox News, and although Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation does air five minutes in English every day, I don’t usually bother tuning in.

No longer the news junkie I once was … I made my living off TV news for a number of years and was hooked on the stuff … I’m no longer compelled to spend hours ingesting, then digesting every horror on the planet, but I do like to keep myself somewhat informed on events, trends and whatever rash of silliness breaks out in the mass media.

When Kokonet … my ISP that is actually not two fuzzy nuts connected by a string to a bike Gilligan pedals, but might as well be … allows a reasonably stable Internet connection, I hit news pages and glean.

One site that pops in front of me regularly is the BBC. With less glitz than CNN, and less substance than the newspapers, it offers up the predigested easily and, once one twigs to the inherent bias, the information there can be a good jumping-in point. I lived in the UK long enough to be have some interest in the country’s politics, and the slant on news from the US can convey a broader picture than is possible from the homegrown variety of blather.

I just wish they’d stop with the perpetual equivocation.

So many headlines on the BBC webpage hedge bets by putting some portion in quotes … or inverted commas, as the Brits say.

Lady Gaga ‘collapses’ before gig

.

Okay … maybe "collapse" is too strong a word for a circumstance the Lady herself describes thusly: "An hour before the show I was feeling dizzy and having trouble breathing … "

So, why doesn't the BBC just use words that would not require the ambiguity of quotes? How about, "Lady Gaga Concert Canceled Due to Ill Health"?

‘Police cancel’ China gay pageant

Did they, or didn’t they? Was it the police, or just some guys that may have been police? If the police DID cancel, what’s wrong with saying that?

And …

‘Three killed’ by Pakistan drone

What the ‘fuck’ are the ‘quotes’ for in this ‘headline’?

Okay. Rant over.

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