29 July 2010


BULLFIGHTING. Grand news !! CBS News reports that in the northeast of Spain, the parliament of Catalonia (whose capital is Barcelona) has voted to ban bull fighting. This is an unprecidented step forward, in my view. Consider that in a traditional bull fight, the animal is first pierced by the lances of mounted picadores, who aim to sever neck muscles and cause extensive bleeding. Next barbed sticks are used by banderilleros to further enrage, confuse and bleed out the bull. Finally, when the bull is exhausted and weakened from loss of blood, and after being taunted repeatedly by the motion (not the color) of a sweeping cape, the matador, if he is skilled, kills the bull with a well-aimed thrust of his sword to the spinal column. If the matador is not skilled or quick on his feet, he risks being gored by the bull. All for the blood sport of the cheering audience.

There are certain human forms of entertainment which can only be considered barbaric, cruel torture. Among them, bull fighting, dog fighting, cock fighting, and rodeos. The former three involve bloodshed and death. While rodeo usually does not, most events feature humans forcing animals into states of fear or anger, with a high risk of injury to man and beast. Once a redneck Texas cowboy challenged me on this, saying that the animals in events such as calf roping are not hurt. The biologist in me (not to mention the humanitarian) responded that for an animal to be running at full speed, then when a lariat settles around its neck and tightens, to be brought to an instant halt, so violently that the calf is jerked off its feet and somersaults to the ground, physical trauma is inevitable. I suggested that the cowboy try out the role of the calf for himself, to see what it felt like. He declined.

The last time I attended a rodeo was in my teens, at a local three day event celebrating Whoop Up Trail Days, or Whoop Up for short. The naivete of youth was shattered during a bronc riding event, along with one of the hind legs of the bucking horse -- the rear knee joint broke clean in two, leaving the lower half of his leg dangling and swinging bizarrely by only a shred of skin. The poor horse went wild with pain, careening out of control. It took event managers a full half hour to get the animal into a holding pen, contact its owner for instructions, and finally to end its misery with a gunshot to the head. During that entire time the arena air was pierced by the horse's screams. Never again.

So Parliamentarians of Catalonia, I salute you. Bullfighting is on the wane in Spain and Mexico. It cannot disappear too soon.

SPACEQUAKES. Scientists at NASA have discovered a phenomenon called spacequakes. Just as earthquakes are disturbances in the earth's crust, spacequakes are disturbances in the magnetosphere surrounding Earth (and presumably other celestial bodies). Here is a brief video illustrationg a spacequake's behavior. And here is a fuller description of the discovery.

VISUALS. Just for fun -- here is a high-speed (9000 frames per second) video of multiple lightning flashes. Slow motion takes on an entirely new meaning. And here is an article and graph on the mathematics of marriage. Analysis, far from deadening the mystery of music or poetry or literature or relationships, adds to the color and enjoyment.

BONUS. Robert Redford is more than an accomplished movie actor and director. He is also an intelligent and committed philanthropist and environmentalist, just as his close friend Paul Newman was a lifelong active humanitarian. Redford founded the Sundance Film Festival, the largest venue for independent filmmakers in the US. In a recent editorial on The Huffington Post, Redford eloquently and forcefully rebuts those Republican Senators whose cynical intransigence blocked passage of meaningful, comprehensive energy and climate legislation. Ever since the US failure to sign the Kyoto Accord in 1997, the US has been the sole developed nation to resist energy and climate reform. We are the laughing-stock of the world, due to our myopia, greed and stupidity. Obstructionist conservatives should be horsewhipped. Or perhaps be made to perform the calf's role at a rodeo.

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