Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A reason to watch opera rather than just listen to it

More from the Daily Mail: a babe who is into the arts (really), not a girlfriend or wife of a soccer player. I'm going to have to do more research on her, including actually LISTENING to her.

Has the Welsh soprano [Katherine Jenkins] gone platinum in a bid to crack the States?

Katherine Jenkins, Welsh soprano, goes blonde at Wimbledon

Amazing new digital elevation map from space

Not everything at the Daily Mail is about babes in bikinis, Simon Cowell, and Cheryl Cole:

Nasa satellite map reveals 99% of Earth's land surface for first time

An astonishing new map has revealed the elevation of nearly every place on Earth.

ASTER digital elevation map

Very impressive coverage of the Earth's surface. But ASTER isn't really a satellite, it's an instrument on the Terra satellite. Oh well.

Krugman goes hard on climate change skeptics

Paul Krugman, writing in the NY Times, said in part that the declaration by Georgia Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change science was a hoax perpetrated by the scientific community was so crazy that it was "unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists", because to believe it requires believing in vast amounts of fabricated and adjusted data of all kinds, and that everybody is in on the conspiracy so that they are getting all those peer-reviewed papers published.

OF course, if you read a host of climate change skeptical sites, that's exactly what the regulars responding to the propagandic posts believe. And they blame "leaders" like James Hansen and Al Gore.

It's sad. Still, I expect these sites to find fault with Krugman getting it wrong about what will get released from melting permafrost (that would be methane, not CO2, but methane eventually converts to CO2 in the atmosphere), and of course he'd be in on the conspiracy, too, because of that error. Welcome to the club, Paul!

I truly wonder how many people on the Titanic denied that the "unsinkable" ship wasn't sinking until there was a noticeable slant to the deck. And I also wonder how many of those of that opinion were sailing first class. Sometimes money and power (and even a good education, in the wrong subjects) get in the way of ascertaining what is actually happening in your local environment. Which today is the globe itself.

"Nearer my God to thee", my friends.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tall athletes and the lovely petite women who love them

Couldn't think of any other subject to post about so I went with the height-challenged couple. First off, Australian pop singer Candice Alley and husband, super distance swimmer Grant Hackett (who because of the popularity of swimming Down Under, is a rich superstar). They're married and having twins around September -- hope that goes well -- and they are quite different in height, as you can see.

Our second couple is footballer (soccer player for you folks in the U.S.) Peter Crouch and upcoming supermodel Abbey (or Abigail) Clancy. They had to order a special bed for 6-foot-7 Crouch. I have to say, even though she's relatively new to the modeling world, her body of work is already quite impressive.

They make a nice pair, don't they?

Oh, here are Peter and Abbey together.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fisheries imperiled (but there's still a chance)

The recovery of the world's fisheries probably requires global governance, because the world has to be patrolled for poaching and a lot of areas would have to be set aside as reserves for stock recovery. The chances of that happening are bleak. The article linked below lays out the sad situation.

How Can The World's Fisheries Be Sustainable?

"The world's fisheries are one of the most important natural assets to humankind," says lead author Camilo Mora, a Colombian researcher at Dalhousie University and the University of California San Diego. "Unfortunately, our use of the world's fisheries has been excessive and has led to the decline or collapse of many stocks."

"The consequences of overexploiting the world's fisheries are a concern not only for food security and socio-economic development but for ocean ecosystems," says Boris Worm, a professor at Dalhousie University and co-author of the paper. "We now recognize that overfishing can also lead to the erosion of biodiversity and ecosystem productivity."

"The different socioeconomic and ecological consequences associated with declining fish stocks are an international concern and several initiatives have been put forward to ensure that countries improve the way they use their marine resources," explains Mora.
That's great. But the initiatives have to implemented -- and continued. Is that going to happen?

The House actually passed Waxman-Markey

The conservative side is screaming and calling for heads to roll for the passage of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. They're wasting their breath. For one thing, to get this through the Senate is going to take a lot of even more added provisions and riders -- so much so that I think it's likely that the host of Democrats and Republicans that held their noses and voted for this pig won't be able to vote for it again when it comes back in revised form -- even if it manages to get past Inhofe's Last Stand.

Part of the conservative problem is that they've been misled -- another way of saying it is lied to -- by the obfuscatory skeptics who keep trotting out the same old tired canards time and again, packaged differently (such as the EPA memo that got rightly routed right back to the authors as irrelevant). The bad science, pseudoscience, and biased science practiced by the skeptical horde is making good people nuts because they don't understand it. We ARE suffering from a crisis of scientific illiteracy in this country, and the apex of the salient is the global warming issue. When people can trot out Ian Plimer's new book as useful, or keep citing "The Great Global Warming Swindle as a reference, the lack of comprehension of what constitutes good, reasoned science is really messing up our ability to do anything reasonable.

A few other perspectives on human (mis)behavior

After writing yesterday's post on silverbacking, there was more opinion around the Internet on this. This perspective was one of those opinion pieces, and suggested a few names I missed before; notably Vitter, Edwards, and of course Gary Hart.

Analysis: Why do politicians cheat?

A quote, relevant to my commentary:

"Political life — with its long hours, frequent travel and endless stream of new acquaintances — also can be a strain on even rock-solid marriages. At times, the lifestyle almost seems to invite unfaithfulness.

"There's lots of temptation," [Fred] Greenstein added." [professor emeritus of politics, Princeton]

NOW, there's also the French way of doing this. The French aren't like us Puritan-influenced Americans.

French women don't just tolerate their husbands' affairs - they expect them


And, over the years, I came to see her point. French couples - the educated middle classes at least - have no trouble accommodating affairs. In fact, they regard adultery as an occupational hazard

They believe that everyone has a right to enjoy sex, with or without love. If you're lucky enough never to get bored with your partner, great. If not, there's no shame in looking for sex outside your marriage. It works in France because the French don't expect total honesty from their partners. In fact, they believe honesty can be downright destructive. In Laurent's circle, anyone who cheats on their partner would be regarded as cruel and petty for confessing to it. I suspect that, in a funny way, these discreet affairs help sustain marriages.

It can't be a coincidence that, while plenty of my English friends are divorcing, I know only one divorced couple in Laurent's circle - and the wife is American. Unlike the French, we have a very puritanical view about honesty. We see a relationship with secrets as a flawed one, and so any affair ends up mired in guilt and recrimination.

Often it's the guilt and deceit, not the sex itself, which destroys the marriage. Put bluntly, we regard affairs as sordid. The French see infidelity as natural. For many, good sex is the most satisfactory way to escape drudgery and stress.

Wine, women, probably some song too -- if this works, being French has its perks.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Reflections on silverbacking

... but first an acronym. AFAA: Aerobics and and Fitness Association of America, or
Automatic Fire Alarm Association.

But yet anyways...

what to make of Senator Ensign, Governor Sanford, and Father Cutie (the latter being a good-looking hunk of a priest from Miami, with a couple of publications to boot)?

And here is where I expect to go all stream-of-consciousness, and say things I could get in trouble for. If anybody was actually reading this, of course. But nobody is, so I can say anything I want. Which I've said before.

In case you haven't been paying attention, Ensign, SAnford, and Cutie broke their vows. Ensign and Sanford's were to their wives (but remember that Christ's bride was the church, and that's how you're supposed to treat your wife), and Cutie's vows, notably of celibacy, were actually to the church -- which would be the Holy Roman Catholic Church, of course. In response to the clear pictorial evidence of his transgressions, Cutie has gone Episcopalian.

And each of them broke 'em. Each of them committed adultery (well, I don't know what the technical term for a priest having a girlfriend/lover is, but I assume it's similar).

We haven't seen many pictures of the "other women" in the Ensign and Sanford sagas -- well, maybe in the Ensign saga. The thing is, Senator Ensign's wife is pretty attractive, the other woman -- not as much. Sanford -- we don't know yet. But the first thing I thought when I heard Argentina was "The Girl from Ipanema", and if you do a search for "Helo Pinheiro", prepare to be amazed. (Especially if you've got your preferences set in a particular way.) I may comment on the amazingness of Michelle Pfeiffer at her certain age, but the Helo is well, HELLO.

But Father Cutie's cutie is cute. Her name is Ruhama Buni. Check out the evidential linkages (these are safe, by the way:

In the pew

Becoming Episcopal (she's the woman in the middle)

So what are we to make of this? If you've been following one of the themes of fascination in my blog (which would be amazing because nobody is really reading it, but speaking theoretically), it is about silverbacks -- which in the human realm I'm defining generally as wealthy, accomplished, successful, men who are noted for their success or in roles defined by success -- such as being an elected politician, which requires the success of winning an election, and which by doing so makes one a designated leader of the human tribe. And silverbacks are defined by one particular noteworthy activity, which is, the dating, mating and bedding -- not necessarily in that order -- of much younger, commonly attractive, sometimes highly desirable, women. In many cases, the pairing of the much younger lovely with the elderly gent strikes us as peculiar, or off-putting, or just plain "sick"; we think of dirty old men, or lechers, or men not acting their age.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I commented briefly very early on when I started this on the evolutionary aspects of this, and they are still in the forefront. Silverbacks are leaders. They are the ablest, strongest, wiliest, most noble warriors for the tribe; they don't just lead and look out for the welfare of the tribe, they defend it. They establish their position testosteronically, through ascendancy and battle (and this is not just for gorillas from whence cometh the designation "silverback", but alpha males of many different species: wolves, mountain goats, lions, elephant seals, and birds of extraordinarily different types and plumages) -- chicks dig the brightest, biggest, toughest, LUCKIEST, handsomest, smartest male.

It's evolution at its best and worst: babes want the best genes, and they figure that the leader of the pack and the man with the mostest has got them. And the silverbacks and alpha males and top dog and ahem, biggest rooster take what is offered and expect to get it. It's really part of their duty for the good of the tribe, pack, pride, flock, herd, school -- whatever group they lead, to father progeny, for as long as they can and with as many as they can, until supplanted.

Now, they are some things different with humans, such as a prevalence of monogamous relationships in societies around the world (but not all of them), as well as the well-noted hidden estrus. When animal babes want to get fertilized (and are capable of it), there is no doubt about it, and the cognizant males are virtually hormonically helpless to resist. And they don't. They shouldn't. Again, it's their duty to take what's offered. Their have been theories about the linkage between hidden estrus and monogamy, most centered on uncertainty in parentage as well as the extended period of dependency of human offspring. The not-so-weird thing is, there have also been studies showing that the optimum time for relationships and marriages to go bust is about four years into them -- which is about the time it would take for a human offspring to become capable of foraging on its own, or at least capable of doing it with less adult supervision. Thus, at the time it is genetically and evolutionarily advisable to get a new mate, and mix up the gene pool.

So where I am going with this? When you get situations like this, be they Ensign, or Sanford, or Cutie, or Clinton, or Livingston or Gingrich or Gibson (Mel) or Laliberte or Dumbledore (the actor, really) or Tony Randall or Kevin Costner or Trump or Sarkozy or Thomas Jefferson or Harrison Ford or ... get the picture? And there are hosts of professional athletes and musicians of all genres and bankers and Hamptonites and top-notch cyclists (recently discussed here) that have all done the same thing. Which is ... done what comes naturally. Acted like leaders; acted like silverbacks.

So who's to blame? Well, here's where I get a little bit controversial (as if anyone cares, I remind myself). Is it the guy, or is it the girl? The boy or the babe? The male or the female? OK, I'm going to point the evolutionary finger of blame at the babes. Before any women would theoretically get all ticked-offnut on that, I get a chance to explain. It does take two to tango, we know that. But somebody has to get the dance started. And it is entirely and excusably natural for a woman (or women) to react to the presence of a silverback by, well, indicating interest. Demonstrating availability. Even though estrus is hidden, using their feminine wiles to make every sign that the mating light is "on". It could be wider pupils, redder makeup, better shaking and shimmying (remember that study which showed strippers make more money in tips when their at the peak of their reproductive cycle?), fuller lips, fuller breasts, and even a scent of a woman that they can't entirely control. And there is definite demonstration that woman do this consciously -- we've heard of groupies, the girls on the bus, the girls that wait outside the locker room exit for the team on the road trip. It happens, be it the mating response or the sexual response or both. Women are genetically programmed to want to get it on with the team captain, the top gun, the sheik, the king (and I've commented on the Tudors too, already, I note).

And the silverback does sniff around. It's his due, his role as the strong and charismatic leader. The king expects his courtesans and concubines, the sheik his harem girls, the quarterback his cheerleaders. And if there is availability, there is reaction and response. He picks up on the signals, determines that the status is capable and the field is ready to be plowed, and despite all the socio-political standards that he breaks, the rules, the regulations, the potential damage to family and career and many of the measures of his success (say goodbye to a LOT, Mel) -- he gets it up, gets it on, and also does what comes naturally.

And that's why it happens, so often that it's a pattern we recognize in all of its manifestations, be it the adulterer, the May-October age difference, the multiplicity of fatherhood with multiple baby mamas. To say all this does not excuse or condone the irresponsibility and recklessness of the behavior, the damage it does to families and kids and stability, and the laws it breaks, be they societal or religious laws -- saying all this just basically says we're humans, naked apes, still subject to the primitive instincts that roil just beneath our civilized veneers.

And that, truly, is probably why I like pretty girls too.

[And I'm sorry Michael Jackson died.]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Another bad effect of global warming

One of the world's great oceanic mass migrations is threatened by global warming (like a lot of other things in the waning natural world):

Warmer ocean brings fewer fish in SAfrica's sardine run: scientist

"In winter, when the ocean's temperature dips below 20 degrees (68 Fahrenheit), millions of sardines travel 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) along the coast up as far as the port city of Durban.

"The temperature along the KwaZulu-Natal coast is rising just above what sardines can tolerate," O'Donoghue told AFP.

"We are really at the limit. If the temperature gets warmer with the global warming... sardines are unlikely to come as far up the coast," he said.

That just makes me upset.

Remember the Crystal Springs Reservoir?

OK, quick, why is the Crystal Springs Reservoir a trivia question for movie buffs? Examine this picture:

NASA Radar Provides 3-D View of San Andreas Fault

Thinking, thinking...

It was a plot element in the James Bond movie "A View to a Kill".

I told you I liked esoterica!

The Daily Mail is on top of things

More Kelly Brook, which is rarely a bad thing (the caption on the last picture is amusing):

Kelly Brook and Danny Cipriani are reunited... on yet another holiday

(OK, what DOES this girl do for a regular income?)

Poor Rachel Hunter (and yes, I do feel sorry for her; this is pretty crass behavior, but boys will act like boys, I guess):

Rachel Hunter devastated as ice hockey player fiancé calls off wedding SEVEN WEEKS before big day

Mississippi Dead Zone expands

Researchers predict that the Mississippi River dead zone, the area of low oxygen or no oxygen in bottom waters, could be the biggest ever observed (since 1985).

2009 Forecast
of the Summer Hypoxic Zone Size, Northern Gulf of Mexico

They do not that stirring from a couple of storms could make this better, but it's hard to wish for a hurricane to hit the northern Gulf Coast, isn't it?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Radical thinking

Making a significant impact on the global warming trajectory will require radical thinking. Now, making an impact is not so difficult -- conservation measures, if implemented radically, will have an impact. But ultimately we need more sources of lots of power. That's why the following article made me feel pretty good that people (and groups and businesses) are actually thinking about what it would take to stop sucking on the petroleum teat.

Solar Collectors Covering 0.3 Percent of the Sahara Could Power All of Europe

I prefer this picture from the movie "Sahara" to illustrate this post:

Ohh, sorry, wrong picture. Actually, I only found one very small image of the solar thermal power plant from "Sahara", and I figured Penelope Cruz generates plenty of heat by herself.

But anyway, getting back to the original subject of this post, below is an image of a solar thermal power plant.

The plan for the Sahara desert is pretty ambitious, and requires an estimated $400 billion dollars to get going. But I thought about this for a minute, and said to myself: Why aren't the Saudis and other petro-nations thinking about the future? They can invest their petro-dollars now in projects like this, get them online, and as the cost of oil field development and extraction goes higher and higher, then they can start selling power from the other source of power that they have plenty of: abundant sunlight.

Monday, June 22, 2009

This is just plain outlandish

Haumea, weirdest object in the extended solar system

And that includes Hyperion:

And Iapetus:

I wonder if someone was reading Hal Clement's "Mission of Gravity" when they discovered Haumea:
"Haumea is the fastest spinning object in the solar system. The object's odd shape is a direct result of the spin. "Because of this spin, it pulls itself outward" at the equator in a bulge, Brown explained. The Earth has a less pronounced version of this bulge for the same reason. The hyperactive spin of Haumea means that if you were standing on its surface, "your gravity would be very different," Brown said. Specifically, it would hold you down with much less of a grip than the Earth."

Hubble is going to take a look at Haumea in a few weeks/months. That'll be interesting.

If Singapore can do this, maybe there's still hope

Singapore, not exactly blessed with abundant natural resources (how can it be, when it's a city on the end of a peninsula? Locator graphic) has become a place learning how to do more with less -- water, in this case. And apparently they have lessons for the rest of us.

Tropical Singapore an oasis for water research

Just a couple of eye-opening excerpts:

"The government has turned two-thirds of the island into a massive catchment for the abundant rain that falls all year round to supplement the water piped in from Malaysia. A 7,000-kilometre (4,340-mile) drainage network directs rainwater into 15 reservoirs, a number that will increase to 17 next year."

and also this:

"The turning point for Singapore came in early 2000 after improvements in membrane technology made it possible and affordable to treat sewage water on a massive scale, Khoo said. The technology refers to a variety of processes using semi-permeable filters rather than chemicals or energy to separate untreated water from its contaminants and impurities. The resulting product is safe to drink and use in the high-end semiconductor factories that are the engines for Singapore's economy."

Waste not, want not -- and lots of drops to drink.

The article said this, too:

"Initially the butt of many jokes, NEWater will account for 30 percent of Singapore's needs by next year, but this can easily be increased if the need arises."


A few short sports comments

Short sports comment #1: Wimbledon preferences -- I'd like Federer to get upset to make it really interesting. Wouldn't that guarantee somebody winning it for the first time with Nadal out? It'd be great if Murray made the final; the tension from the watching Brits would be great. On the women's side, I'd like to see Sharapova get back in good form and make a run. Why? Well, because she's Sharapova -- and I like comebacks.

Short sports comment #2: Lance Armstrong and his new girlfriend/betrothed Anna Hansen just had a baby -- the natural way. Everything's functional, apparently, in Lance's male system. Now, Anna seems like a genuine nice girl -- a social worker with kids with cancer. Now Lance, hmmm... young silverback tendencies. Sheryl Crow, Kate Hudson, Ashley Olsen (or was it Mary Kate? anyways, one of 'em) -- let's hope he can settle down after Le Tour and stop trying to build the harem.

Short sport comment #3: FINA really blew it with the swimsuit non-call.

What do they do with all the records likely to fall in Rome? Retroactively revoke them if they disapprove the suits worn to set them?

I used to think that swimming was such a pure sport. I still do. I hope FINA finds the path to purity.

Short sports comment #4: Darned Mickelson dashed my hopes again. The guy just does not know how to be a great story when he has a chance. Still, they were showing (and showing and showing and showing) the story about Payne Stewart. Coming in second that time; the fates were aligned.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Acronym hunting, part 1

When I log on to Blogger to post, I have to type something in the Google search box to get to the little "sign in" link. I've taken to typing in a random stretch of letters and then hitting "Search". You'd be amazed at what acronyms are in use today.

AAASA: South Australian Region of the Australian Alpaca Association

LPAA: either the Louisiana Property Assistance Association
or the Life Participation Approach to Aphasia

TCGA: The Cancer Genome Atlas

JJLA: John Jarrold Literary Agency

SSLA: Studies in Second Language Acquisition

HHIA: Hanford Health Information Archives
or Holly Hills Improvement Association

Now, I know hardly anyone reads my blog. But feel free to leave a comment if you come up with an unusual referent to a random acronym.

plop-plop fizz-fizz at this scale is probably not an option

Oceans are suffering:

Ocean acidification is MUCH harder for climate change skeptics to deny than global warming, because measurements show it's happening and it's obviously going to get worse as CO2 in the atmosphere goes up. And there are a lot of ocean problems that aren't directly related to CO2 and warming, as well. The oceans are clearly in a pickle; it will take concerted international action (gee, where have I heard that one before?) to make any mitigation and corrective processes. For a little of areas, salvaging what is currently the situation is about all that might possible be done; restoration to even what was there 50 years ago is probably beyond hope.

Scientists: Global warming has already changed oceans (not exactly the best title for the main subject matter)

"We must start to realize that there can be no standalone policies, especially as they relate to our water resources," [Alexandra] Cousteau said. "Energy, transportation, climate change, infrastructure, agriculture, urban development: this is where our ocean policy must begin. It is all interconnected."

Caribbean coral reefs flattened

"Published online on Wednesday June 10 by the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers found that the vast majority of reefs have lost their complex structure and become significantly flatter and more uniform. The most complex reefs have been virtually wiped out."

Nemo is running out of places to hide.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Why do we need humans in space if we don't need them on the sea floor?

Put these two together:

Kosmas and Posey Urge House Committee to Restore Human Spaceflight Funding

Nereus Soars to the Ocean's Deepest Trench: New hybrid deep-sea vehicle descends 6.8 miles in the Challenger Deep

If robot manipulators capable of doing dangerous work in the deep-sea without humans being right there to be "hands-on", do we really need humans in space?

Now, there is some argument for the human factor. Spirit is currently stuck to its hubcaps on Mars -- a human could have sidestepped the sand trap or more likely realized that it wasn't a good place to step, OR easily devise many different ways to extricate oneself. Plus, Spirit's power budget problems could have been easily fixed with a lightly-applied whisk broom. Nereus is connected to the surface by a hair-thin fiber-optic cable, which I would think is likely snappable unless care is constantly paid. Plus, on the ISS, a bank of experiments might need human supervision; but computer-coupled robots are routinely doing hundreds of biochemical experiments and tests in labs around the world without much human supervision.

Still, the costs of keeping humans in space, particularly the logistics, are so high that I'd like to see the budget numbers on intelligent robots to find out where break-even is. Part of the problem is that NASA is so cutting-edge that they keep trying to be more sophisticated and more complicated, when in some cases just making copies of what works would be VERY sufficient. (As well as cost-effective.) Where's Danny Goldin when you need his advice?


Funding threatens US return to moon by 2020: lawmaker [Senator Bill Nelson]

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Laliberte the silverback

Just to followup on my Stardance post regarding Cirque du Soleil founder and super-rich guy Guy Laliberte, he has five kids, with two different (young) wives. That's the dictionary definition of a harem, human-style; definitely silverback behavior. A couple of supporting links on that:

Here's what the mother of two of the five kids, pictured at right, has to say (from the NY Post, and an unauthorized biography):

" "Guy thinks he is larger than life. He would be out all night partying with young girls while I stayed at home watching the kids. He had so many women behind my back," Laliberté's former girlfriend, Rizia Moreira, is quoted by author Ian Halperin in "Guy Laliberté: The Fabulous Story of the Creator of the Cirque du Soleil," out in June from Transit Publishing. "He tried to hide it, but I caught him each time . . . I confronted him, and he didn't know what to say. He made my life miserable."

Moreira tells Halperin: "He'd come home after sleeping with other women and have sex with me... (so the harem extends beyond the females who are bearing his progeny)

Speaking of whom is bearing his progeny:

This is Guy with Claudia Barilla, mother of the other three kids, though Wikipedia says it's the other way around.

Lest it seem like I'm being critical, I'm really not (but I don't think anyone should sleep around promiscuously, particularly on a wife and mother, in the age of HIV). But Laliberte is also sponsoring a program called ONE DROP, which is attempting to make sure that everyone (particularly kids) in the world) have access to clean water. And he kicked in $100 million of his own cash to finance it. And he got a humanitarian award in 2007 for doing that. So I guess what or who he does in his personal life doesn't detract from that. He's a classic silverback -- a leader, and a harem keeper. That's how it works.

Is this pestilence, or just a preview?

The swine flu -- hasn't gone away. It's infecting people around the world, and because it's new, it's transmissible. I.e., if you get exposed, you'll probably get it. Fortunately, it doesn't seem like it's much of a killer; that is scant comfort for the families of someone who has died from it.

Swine flu spreads to 73 countries with over 25,000 infected (this was as of June 8, which was ten days ago; I'm a little slow on this one)

Here's a sobering update with newer numbers:

What can we learn from past pandemics?
"Flu viruses can change quickly, but at the moment the WHO says that swine flu is roughly as contagious as seasonal flu. As of 15 June 2009, 35,928 people worldwide had been confirmed to have swine flu by laboratory tests." (10,000 more in a couple days less than two weeks, assuming the June 8 article was written with numbers a couple of days old)

Back in the beginning of this blog, I posted on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; one of them is Pestilence. Because the swine flu (in its current form) is not much of a threat, it doesn't seem to be as dangerously pestilential as one of the horsemen would be feared to be. But what it does show is that in a world with lots of people and extraordinarily fast transportation between what once were far-flung corners of the world, something easily transmissible spreads extraordinarily fast -- and that would be a trait of true Pestilence. As it is, the relatively slow spread due to fairly good response from world governments (and who says that international organizations are a BAD thing?) is giving the world time to develop a vaccine.

The other problem with Pestilence is deviousness. Flu is notorious for grabbing new DNA and incorporating it into its threat matrix. Bird flu is still out there -- and a hybrid would not give sweet dreams to the people at CDC or WHO.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Stardance on the future horizon?

If you like sci-fi and good writing, Spider and Jeanne Robinson's "Stardance" is top-notch. (And has something to say about humans in space, too). The Hugo Award-winning novella was fabulous; the novel was pretty good as well. Spider does get into a little about non-PG rated zero-G activities that are very likely still only sci-fi speculations at this point; I'll leave to thine imaginations.

The authors actually have a site called The Stardance Project (And I confess I never have read the other two books in the trilogy.) There's a movie in development but somebody is going to have to be a REALLY good dancer to make it work.

Anyhow, the recent announcement that Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte was going into space: Cirque du Soleil founder going to space: spokesman made me think that Stardance isn't so far away, after all. According to what I could find out, Laliberte was a street performer gymnast. Seeing what the Cirquesters can do under gravity does make me wonder what they could do in an environment lacking it.

I'll have a followup on the silverback tendencies of the super-rich Laliberte. But still, it will be interesting to see if he can do a few flips and twists on the ISS.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Mountains of the Moon" losing snow and ice cover

It's inevitable, really, as the globe warms: rare tropical mountain ice fields will fade into memory.

Lifestyle melts away with Uganda peak snow cap

A bit of history:
Where are the Mountains of the Moon?

"In the 2nd Century, C.E. Greek geographer Ptolemy wrote of the existence of snow capped mountains near the Equator in Africa. The idea seemed preposterous. Yet, for centuries the rumour of these mountains – which Ptolemy named Lunae Montes or Mountains of the Moon – persisted. However the search for the mountains of the moon proved futile. That was until one day in the late nineteenth century when Henry Stanley – who won fame for finding Dr. David Livingstone – happened to be in the right place at the right time. Normally cloud cover would obscure the mountains from onlookers, but this day the clouds began to dissipate and Stanley was given a glimpse of a group of snow capped mountains. Stanley had found the Mountains of the Moon. He referred to them, however, by the name that the native Africans knew them by – Ruwenzori or ‘Rainmaker.’ "

I tried to find a picture of the snow-capped peaks from at least a little distance: the one below is OK. Remember it, because in a few years it won't look like this any more.

Ruwenzori snow (the image has a watermark; oh well)

The Price is Nackt

Guilty pleasure/confession time: I've been a fan of the actress Lindsay Price since she was on "All My Children" very briefly (and she was very young) back in the early 1990s. Then she was on "The Bold and the Beautiful" for awhile, did a lot of episodic television, landed on "Beverly Hills 90210" for a pretty good run (which I saw very little of), then tried to make it in prime-time; she was warm in "Coupling", but that faded fast; I had high hopes for "Lipstick Jungle", but that got canceled earlier this year; she will be in a new ABC show called "Eastwick" (loosely based on "The Witches of Eastwick") come fall.

Part of the reason I'm a fan is that she's just so gosh-darned pretty. See evidence provided below. She also has a vivacious acting style; she's easy to watch as any character. (And not just because she's pretty; she's got energies of all kinds).

Anyway, Internet being what it is, occasionally I check to see if there's new glamor or promo shots of Lindsay available. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that she'd fairly recently posed starkers. Which is to say, sans garments. Which is to say, as nature intended. The results were quite fetching and one could always wish for more, but there apparently isn't any more. Sigh.

Now, it's not exactly "safe", but you'd see more if she was wearing a very small bikini. It has always bothered me that when a starlet or model (of some fame) decides to go for all the glory and show all her glory, that sometimes they actually don't, and keep a couple things under cover. Now, we know what's under there and they're just very attractive milk conduits, ultimately; but our puritan society treats them SO special. They aren't anything out of the ordinary on most Euro beaches. So, my immodest advice, starlets and models, is that if you're really going to take it all off, then don't settle on these contrived poses that don't allow for a full appraisal. It detracts from the artistic verisimilitude. (Now, I know that the magazine she posed for, Esquire, probably required the modest rather than immodest pose. Well, Lindsay, there's still time.)

Nonetheless, as I said, the results are fetching. Be cautious if necessary.

There's actually two articles about her "first time", because it apparently was, for both Lindsay and the photographer. The first linked article features the fetching results.

What it feels like (Lindsay's perspective)

What it feels like (photographer's perspective)

Butter vs. margarine

No, this is not about using foodstuffs as lubricants.

I was driving home yesterday when a commercial for "I Can't Believe It's Butter" came on. They were basically touting the health benefits of the spread over butter, pointing out that it has no trans fats and 70% less saturated fat than butter.

This made me chuckle for a couple of reasons. ONe, almost anything you compare butter to is going to have a lot less saturated fat than butter, because butter is ALL saturated fat. Right? (Actually no, it's about 65% saturated fat.) Why not compare it to other leading spreads? Well, then that wouldn't be so impressive, it might have 20% less than Country Crock, or 20% more, or who knows? Part of the reason that any of these spreads has less saturated fat than butter is because they have a lot more water.

Two, who uses butter day-to-day anymore, anyway? Butter is hard to use right out of the refrigerator -- hard as a rock, and it devastates your muffin or toast if you try to spread it when it's still solid. So you have to wait (I've discovered if your at a hotel buffet that you can melt the solid butter rocks under a heat lamp, that helps a little -- that's also about the only place I put butter on my breakfast anywhere). Margarine melts faster and goes on smoother. (Maybe I should try whipped butter.)

I've discovered that Smart Balance actually cooks more like butter than any other margarine, because it has a lower water content and a little higher saturated fat content than other margarines.

There's a pretty complete comparison table here:
Margarines spread it on thick: some margarines and spreads claim to contain more heart-healthy fats, but fat calories are still fat calories

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Never heard of her until wow, er, now

Believe it or not, this was on the Fox News Web site, entertainment section:

Nicola 'The Bod' Mar Picks Her Favorite Jungle-Themed Swimsuits

and it sayeth in part: "Her all-natural physique and perfect proportions add up to no retouching on photo shoots, earning her the nickname "The Bod."

That was something which could not be overlooked. Surprisingly there isn't much publically available on her; though she does have her own Web site. Which is not surprising a bit.

Nicola Mar: BODY

She's even got the Cindy Crawford beauty-mark thing working for her. Everything else works for her, too.

It does happen!

Yes, though the odds are, ahem, astronomical, humans do get hit by meteorites.

Boy Hit by Meteorite

The boy wasn't hurt and the meteorite (which was recovered) was about the size of a pea. Back in 2004, a much larger meteor became a lot of meteorites that hit Park Forest, Illinois (a close-in suburb of Chicago), which the article alludes to.

Park Forest meteorite

Flashes were even caught on video; check out the references at the bottom of the page linked above.

People could have been hurt by that. And both incidents are reminders that the Big One could happen anytime -- and we aren't exactly prepared for it. "Rendesvous with Rama", anyone?

If you're ever in Bakersfield, CA...

If you're ever in Bakersfield, CA, and you like fossils, it's possible (if you know the right people, which unfortunately I don't) to dig in Sharktooth Hill.

The Secret of Sharktooth Hill
(sounds like a Nancy Drew mystery) has recently been exposed. I originally had the impression that Sharktooth Hill was something that had recently been discovered, but that isn't the case. The paleontologists have just finally determined that it's a place where a lot of marine fossils got all collected into one area.

Bone Bed Tells Of Life Along California's Ancient Coastline

"This deposit, if properly developed, would look just like Dinosaur National Monument," said Lipps, referring to a popular park in Colorado and Utah. "(Sharktooth Hill) is actually much more extensive, and the top of the bone bed has complete, articulated skeletons of seals and other marine mammals."

[That'd be quite cool. I've been to DNM. Very impressive.]

And here's the big SECRET!

"The team's conclusion is that the climatic conditions were such that currents carried sediment around the bone beds for 100,000 to 700,000 years, during which time bones remained exposed on the ocean floor and accumulated in a big and shifting pile."

Then it got buried. Case closed!

Here's an example of what's found at Sharktooth Hill:


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Quick hitters

1. A few posts back I said about the cash-for-clunkers law:

So if someone trades in a clunker, they'd better get at least $10K for it toward a hybrid, or this plan will be DOA.

So here's a little bit more about the law being discussed in Congress:

Cash for clunkers deal moves ahead

"The “cash for clunkers” proposal, which would give consumers a tax credit of up to $4,500 for switching from their gas guzzlers..."

'Nuff read. That's not enough $$$. Later on:

"A group of senators, led by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, is backing an alternative proposal that imposes tougher mileage limits on the trade-in program. Feinstein’s bill mandates that the old vehicle must get 17 mpg or less, and new passenger cars with at least 24 mpg are eligible for vouchers. To receive the full $4,500 voucher, the new vehicle must get at least 13 miles to the gallon more than the old car."

Maybe better than the marginal House bill, but still not enough money to get wary consumers back in the showroom in droves. They need more cash to make this work!

2. Giant lobster roll: was it worth it?

Giant lobster roll rolls into Portland, Maine

My question: was all (or at least most) of the lobster roll eaten? Or was it a waste of fine sea-dwelling organisms (48 pounds worth of lobster meat) for the sake of a stunt? I hope not. This sentence: "A local roller derby team helped carry the sandwich to the festival, where it was cut into sections and sold to raise money for a youth association", makes it sound like it was consumed.

3. Envisat works -- keep it working

ESA Extends Envisat Satellite Mission

"ESA Member States have unanimously voted to extend the Envisat mission through to 2013."


"The decision to extend the Envisat mission operations, taken during the last ESA Earth Observation Programme Board meeting, is a recognition of the success of the mission, in terms of the wide number of scientific and operational users served and the good technical status of the satellite after seven years of operations," Envisat Mission Manager Henri Laur said."


"Another reason the mission was extended is the need for scientists to be able to access data over long periods of time in order to identify and analyse long-term climatic trends and changes (such as greenhouse gas concentrations, sea surface temperature, sea levels, sea-ice extent)."

This is nothing but good news. Keep up the good work, Envisat.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Uncle Sam wants you to join the National Climate Service

House Committee on Science and Technology Passes National Climate Service Bill

"Yesterday, the House Committee on Science and Technology passed H.R. 2407, the National Climate Service Act of 2009 by a vote of 24 to 12. H.R. 2407 was introduced May 14, 2009 by Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN). As amended, the bill would establish a Climate Service Program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and it outlines an interagency process to establish a National Climate Service.

(more) "The legislation places emphasis on the important role that stakeholders should play in the development of climate services at NOAA and other federal agencies. H.R. 2407 requires agencies to consult with state, local and tribal governments and with all outside stakeholders. Federal agencies are also required to survey the users of climate products and information to provide information to Congress about the needs of different stakeholders for information that will assist them to respond to climate variability and change."

Indoctrination rider (that's what the skeptics will call it): "Amendments offered by Research and Science Education Subcommittee Vice Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) expanded the outreach and education components of the legislation. Rep. Fudge's amendment established a clearinghouse and web portal to be managed by NOAA in response to recommendations of witnesses at the Subcommittee's hearing on May 5th for a single point of contact for information on climate. Rep. Johnson's amendment establishes a summer institutes program to be conducted in cooperation with the Regional Climate Centers and the university community to provide middle school and high school teachers and undergraduates an opportunity to interact with climate scientists."

Here's the National Weather Service logo. What should the National Climate Service logo look like?

I suggest putting this in the middle, superimposed on an image of the planet:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Quick thoughts on R. Federer and T. Woods

Two pretty amazing things happened this past week over the past four days. Let's not forget that a golf tournament is not won on the final day and neither is a tennis tournament. You have to get there first. Then, when you get there...

you can either a) show off incredible skills to win (Woods), or

b) finally grab the trophy you've been seeking for years, and never let go (Federer).

Federer didn't exactly steamroll his way to the French Open title until the final; after surviving Haas and a tougher-than-it-looked match with Monfils, he had to survive another five-setter against Juan Martin del Potro that was even 3-3 in the fifth. Federer didn't just win the tournament, he won it valiantly. Much more appetizing than when he DID steamroll everyone in the draw. OK, maybe they pay too much money to pro athletes (but compared to golf, tennis players work a lot harder to get a lot less), but Federer -- someone called him "Lord of the Swings" -- works for me -- showed real heart, real skill, real athleticism, and deserved the career slam.

Which brings me to Woods. Again, phenomenal skill -- more money than Garth Brooks? (well, maybe not) -- gorgeous wife who he'd better not step out on (I tend to doubt he would or could) -- and what I admire about him despite all he's got is the level of skill he can muster when he needs it. He performs under pressure, tremendous pressure, and has to be able to make very fine adjustments to do what he does. I can't imagine being able to do anything with that level of skill, 'cause I'm just an average Wolf.

So, it's amazing that we can see two athletes of this caliber doing what they do best at their best over the same four days. Vulnerable, struggling -- then champions.

Cheryl Cole follow-up

Teeny-tiny waist

She looks happy here.

Changes in the solar spectrum might influence climate change

Found this on the Sun Blog: Trends in solar spectral irradiance

"As is well known, the TSI (Total Solar Irradiance) varies directly with the Sun’s activity level, with an amplitude of about 0.1%. The Sun is about 0.1% brighter at activity maximum than at minimum. SORCE carries an instrument called TIM (Total Irradiance Monitor) that measures just this, but it also includes another intrument called SIM, the Spectral Irradiance Monitor. This instrument measures solar variability in six different wavelength bands, and SIM has turned up something very interesting."

"Part of Figure 1 from the Harder et al. paper. This shows two of the six wavelength regions the SIM observes, from 2004 to 2008. During this time, solar activity has declined to its current minimum between cycles 23 and 24. The key observational point is that while the UV irradiance has decreased (purple line, 201-300 nm), there has been an increase in the visible (green line, 400-691 nm). Other increases in the infrared are offset by declines in the red and near IR (691-972 nm) and near UV (300-400 nm)."

THAT connected me to THIS:

Solar Variability: Striking A Balance With Climate Change

"The fluctuations in the solar cycle impacts Earth's global temperature by about 0.1 degree Celsius, slightly hotter during solar maximum and cooler during solar minimum," said Thomas Woods, solar scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder. "The sun is currently at its minimum, and the next solar maximum is expected in 2012."

and THIS:

Stronger Evidence For Human Origin Of Global Warming

"Verdes, now at Novartis Pharma, examined data on temperature anomalies, the strength of the radiation emitted from the Sun, and volcanic activity. The relatively recent increases in solar radiation, combined with reduced volcanic activity, contribute to the increase in world temperatures. However, Verdes' analysis demonstrates that these natural causes do not completely explain the observed warming.

Verdes calculated the amount of non-natural influence required to match the increases in temperature observed in the last 150 years. He plotted the influence over time. Then, he compared it to the evolution of greenhouse gasses, taking into account the cooling due to aerosols. With allowances for error, he found that influences attributable to greenhouse gasses mirror the graph of non-natural influence needed to explain the observed temperature increase of recent decades.

Bottom line (supported by several other studies) -- the climate of the 20th and 21st centuries can't be explained without the increasing influence of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, particularly CO2 concentrations

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Too late to heed my advice

A couple of days ago I blogged a letter of advice to Tony Parker, husband to the divineva Longoria. I was going to start a series of occasional postings regarding international birdwatching, meaning discoveries of fine-looking women from locations other than the United States. I was going to lead this off with a note about Cheryl Cole, singer for Brit group Girls Aloud, and judge on the Simon Cowell show "X Factor". I discovered Cheryl from this article:

X-Factor audition

Below are some links to some fairly nice portrayals of Cheryl Cole's international attractiveness:

As Cheryl Tweedy

Sundae in the park with Cheryl

Not to be missed

Concert outFIT

Nice dress

But when researching this, I discovered that Cheryl, formerly Cheryl Tweedy, was/is married to a footballer (we in the States call them soccer players) named Ashley Cole. And apparently, not understanding his extreme good fortune in the manner of Tony Parker, Ashley has been guilty of transgressions, documented below:

Raging Cheryl Cole sends cheating husband Ashley packing

But they tried again: Cheryl Cole has forgiven cheating husband Ashley Cole

Latest incident: Exhausted Cheryl Cole eyes showdown with husband Ashley after conquering Mount Kilimanjaro

Given that this was only three months ago, I don't know their current status.

To which I can only say: some guys apparently do not get it when they substantially have an inordinate amount of luck in the pulchritudinous wife department. (I can say this for sure about the two guys, David Justice and Eric Benet, who were married to Halle Berry!)

Friday, June 5, 2009

News from Antarctica

1. Blog science vs. actual science: the tension comes to a head on Real Climate

If you follow the climate change discussion in the public media, you'll quickly find that there is a determined bunch of skeptics trying to take potshots at the legitimate practice of climate science. (This is not really news.) The tactics are to find a few flaws, or apparent errors, or possible errors, or even just methodological uncertainties -- blast away at them with quick, simple analyses -- and then proclaim quite loudly that a significant study has been "refuted", "debunked", "overturned", "broken", "disabled", etc. (This gets amplified politically and think-tankally.) Findings of minor and easily correctable errors are touted as evidence of incompetence, conspiracy, or both. Even if such errors are quickly corrected and demonstrated to have been clearly minor; even if the quick, simple analyses are shown to have been too quick and too simple, the propagandists put the claims into the mill, grind out press releases and blog postings, and feed the need for support for misguided and misled viewpoints in certain sectors of the political spectrum. Thus, even when the Inhofe machine can claim there are now 700 scientists disputing man-made global warming, I can venture with virtual certainty that 3/4 of those scientists probably don't understand the science sufficiently to have a respectable opinion. (Reading this press release, I noticed that Climatologist and Paloeclimate researcher Dr. Diane Douglas, who has authored or edited over 200 technical reports is going to release a "major new paper". Well, only a bit of checking indicated that Dr. Douglas graduated from the School of Geographical (not Geological*) Sciences at Arizona State University, and she works for the URS corporation, who among other things, "we provide the full range of engineering and environmental services to FORTUNE 500 companies worldwide, including clients in the oil and gas, chemical and pharmaceutical, manufacturing, mining, and pulp and paper industries". Well, isn't that special!)

* really studying paleoclimatology legitimately generally requires a degree in geology, geochemistry, oceanography, or physics (the physics can be environmentally flavored, like atmospheric dynamics, but that is decidedly NOT meteorology).

But I'm straying off topic. What's really interesting is the dialogue taking place in the thread at Real Climate:

On overfitting

In this, and to be brief, the first author of a paper on the general warming of the Antarctic continent, Eric Steig, a paper that has come under critical attack from the climate skeptic howler monkeys of the blogosphere, takes them on. One of them happens to actually be respectful and circumspect, and reasonable points are exchanged. But what's clear -- very very clear -- is that there is much more to the science in a paper than just the statistical analyses of the data in the paper. And that's why that in this new era of science-on-the-fly, scientists really doing the hard, diligent work are getting more than a little peevish when people ask for their code and their data so they can do some "auditing". When the "auditors" find "errors", they usually make a fairly large deal about it. (Occasionally they find things that need to be fixed. Most of the time they don't.) Notwithstanding, scientists should make data and their analytical methods available so that other scientists can examine their methods and conclusions. But they don't have to prostrate themselves to every Dick and Mick who thinks that statistical expertise is a reasonable substitute for climate science expertise. A point Eric makes.

It'll be interesting to see what falls out of this exchange, and if anybody learns to mind their manners better.

2. Finding penguins through poop

This is all over the Internet, because it is so much fun -- and yet it still has important climate change ecological implications. Scientists looking at remote sensing imagery have been able to locate new emperor penguin colonies around the coast of inhospitable and remote Antarctica by finding poop stains on the ice the emperors left behind, using images from satellites, particularly the plucky Landsats. What's also interesting (and less noted) is that while they found several new colonies, they also noted the disappearance of others -- all at the same general latitude. This *might* be climate change related (see above).

So here's one of the many articles about this:
Scientists Map Penguins From Space By Locating Their Feces

This includes a nice map showing the newly-found colonies and also the lost colonies.

Now where I might slightly trump the other blogs picking this up is by pointing to actual images of penguin poop on the ice!

Guano on the ice

Nice argument for continuation of high-quality, high-resolution, publically-acessible remote sensing data. Thus the LDCM.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A message for Tony Parker

Dear Mr. Parker:

You are a skilled athlete. You are paid millions of dollars to play basketball, which is a fun game to play, and you get PAID for it. And you do it very well.

Every night if I had your skills, I would thank God (or my lucky stars, or divine Providence, or just the luck of the life lottery) that I had these skills to play this game and make millions of dollars, and even win the championship of the NBA with my team.

But there's more.

Not only are you a skilled athlete, and apparently a nice man with exemplary tastes and a wide range of interests (I guess because you are a French man it's easier for you to do that than us roughnecks) -- well, on top of all that, you are married to a divinely gorgeous woman, who also happens to be a fine actress, Eva Longoria. This level of fortuity goes beyond reasonable, sir: so you'd better not forget how lucky you are.

Case in point: Eva Longoria makes a splash in St Tropez as she continues her epic European holiday

Particularly: Lusciously speaking


Now that's a privileged view

So, Mr. (or is it Monsieur?) Parker -- if I EVER hear about a confirmed case of your forsaking your vows of fidelity in favor of a 20-years-old or so bimbette cheerleader, I will indignantly and immediately send you a strongly worded letter basically and prosaically inquiring: What the h*ll were you thinking?

Now, of course, you might end up having one of those unfortunate undefined "irreconcilable differences" bust-ups; but I personally would have to have a lot irreconcilable to bust up with her. I.e., I'd be reconciling just about everything I could reconcile, if possible. I hope you don't. But please: not for a cheerleader. I mean, for goshsakes, you're married to Eva Longoria.


Sports shorts

There's a lot going on in June in sports (reminding me again that I still have to write that essay on why I hate ESPN), so here's some thoughts on the sporting world.

First of all, Federer at the French. Stunned and surprised that Nadal went out, this opened the door for Roger to take the title. And he looked stunned and surprised against Haas. And this was good. Rather than being the workmanlike and boringly dominant Federer that actually made me turn off Breakfast at Wimbledon -- Bud Collins, I think, called Bjorn Borg at his finest "The Angelic Assasin" -- what would you call Roger? for awhile the King was sticking -- in that match Roger showed vulnerability, heart, guts and incredible skill in a dramatic comeback. That's what makes tennis interesting, to me -- the tight matches where individuals struggle and triumph (and across the net, fail). I was a big fan of Andre Agassi at his best because he came back, both as a player and in matches; I felt sorry for Todd Martin when he lost to a patented Agassi comeback at the U.S. Open, in what I think was Martin's only final. But Agassi deserved it.

Federer has become more interesting to watch and to root for when he started losing (and not liking it) to Nadal, and their Wimbledon and Australian Open five-setters last season were truly dramatic. Right now I hope he's done with the drama and just steamrolls his way on the clay to the French Open title. Then I hope he gets upset at Wimbledon, to make things more interesting and so I'll watch Breakfast at Wimbledon again this year. Of course, if it ends up being Nadal-Federer in the final again, I'll have to watch, won't I?

Moving on -- if you check back on my posts in March, I picked Melissa Rycroft and Shawn Johnson to "go deep" into the Dancing with the Stars competition, though I wasn't sure about the staying power of Gilles Marini (who benefited tremendously from choreographed heat dancing with a motivated and skilled Cheryl Burke). I also picked Lil' Kim as having the skills to be a contender; her surprise loss to fan favorite Ty Murray prevented an otherwise extremely tight semifinal round. So I think I picked this one pretty good. The problem with DWTS is that every season, there will be a few obvious early exiters and a few obvious contenders from the get-go. That takes a lot of drama out of the early rounds (but Rycroft's cracked rib added some uncertainty). Hey, you know what? Same goes for tennis tournaments and the NBA playoffs.

Speaking of that, it was a surprise that Cleveland lost to Orlando; I think if Lebron had managed another miracle three-pointer to square it at 2-2 (which he came very close to doing), the outcome of the series would have been different. I don't see the outcome of the Finals being unexpected: Lakers in 6. (Did a little tubing on Rafer Alston of the Magic -- he's FUN!)

National Hockey League: crossing my fingers for a Pittsburgh win in game 4 (update after I composed this: Pittsburgh erupted and won!) That will make the series pretty interesting. If Detroit goes up 3-1 I think they will dispatch the Pens with ease. What I've really found interesting is the proficiency of Hossa and Zetterberg on the Red Wings. My favorite play so far is Zetterberg diving onto the ice in the goal mouth to block a Crosby shot. (Second favorite play, now, is Pittsburgh's fourth goal in game 4 with precision passing).

Did I say in the past I don't like big-time sports? Well, I still don't, in general: they get too much air time and publicity (and money) at the expense of other sports that deserve to be seen as well. That's part of the reason I hate ESPN; they haven't shown either the minor sports or the fringe stuff (like the lumberjack competitions) nearly as much as they used to, in favor of revenue sports or junk like poker! There is no "ABC's Wide World of Sports" any more to take up the slack. OK, now, I know that if I invested in digital cable or a satellite dish I could practically see anything I wish, globally, but that would still make interesting sports a niche sideline. I'm aware that ratings are all-important these days; I just wish they weren't. BUT STILL, finally ultimately: I like playoffs and championships, because despite the money overpaid to these athletes, winning is still historic and it still means something beyond just the paycheck.

Finally, swimming. I posted a couple of times on new world records in swimming; below is a really interesting take on that. I used to think that swimming was one of the purest sports around (despite the totally unfair doping by the East Germans and the Chinese) because there wasn't much you could do to enhance speed in the water beyond shaving and a swim cap. That was before the full-body racing suits made it as technologically sophisticated as bobsledding. So the fact that FINA will finally have guidelines -- and ban suits -- should make it more fair.

The swimsuit arms race

Reason #4 makes sense. Unlike the America's cup, it shouldn't be the best-financed and most innovative hull that wins the race in the water in swimming -- it should be the best athlete.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Greenland's not a country!

OK, I actually think that I'm pretty good at geography. And despite the fact that when the former USSR broke up it splintered into a whole bunch of 'stans and 'nias (c'mon, think about it, and yes I know that not every one of the splinters fits those categories), I could keep track of the new map. I admit to still having problems calling Czechoslavakia the Czech Republic and Slovakia and forgetting which one ended up on top (northerly speaking*), and I'm sure I don't know the location of every country in the world, but I still think I'm pretty good at geography.

* just checked the map -- Czech Republic lies north and east of Slovakia; now, quick, what's the capital of Slovakia?

Which brings me to Greenland. I always thought Greenland was a country. I never really thought about it much; most of the time I kept listening to dumb climate change skeptics who thought that Greenland was named because it had enough plant growth back in the Medieval Warm Period to be called "green", which isn't true; read your Elder Eddas if you want to know how it really got named. But disregarding that, I never realized that Greenland was a semi-autonomous outpost of Denmark.

Well, it turns out that there may be many Greenlanders (not going to call them Greenies) waking up to the fact that they aren't a country either, so it's possible that in the near future my misperception of Greenland may be rectified.

Here's an article 'bout that; Google news can provide mo' and bettah.

Pro-independence party wins Greenland's election

Two little excerpts from this article:

A. "The new [self-rule] status paves the way for independence and gives the island rights to lucrative Arctic resources, as well as control over justice and police affairs and, to a certain extent, foreign affairs."

B. "The island of just 57,000 people is rife with social problems** and depends heavily on Danish subsidies. However global warming could unlock potentially lucrative revenues from natural resources under its seabed and icecap."

** unemployment, alcoholism and HIV/Aids -- I tend to think that makes sense for inhabitants of this fairly rough place to inhabit

So, to sum up:

1. Greenland's not a country yet.
2. They want to be, but they better figure out how to deal with being one.
3. Alert the climate change skeptics; Greenland is planning on a significant melt phase in coming years, no matter what the conservo-coolists think.

This also got me thinking, does a population of 57,000 qualify Greenland for world's smallest country (by population) if they go the fully-independent route?

Not even close.

Countries of the World, sorted by population

If Greenland became a country with the current population of 57K, it would come in ninth-smallest, and push Antigua & Barbuda out of the top 10. Of course, I don't think that's fair to A&B because it's hard for me to think of Vatican City as a country rather than a religiously-oriented tourist attraction in the middle of Rome with some historical and pontifical significance to a segment of the Christian community.

But now I know that Greenland isn't a country. I'm certain it qualifies for one top spot: least populous country with the most ice. For now, at least.