30 May 2013


EQUALITY.  As presented in Ms. Magazine's blog, here are 10 things that American women could not do before the 1970s ~

1.  Keep her job if she was pregnant.  Until the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, women could be fired from their workplace for being pregnant.

2.  Report cases of sexual harassment in the workplace.  The first time that a court recognized sexual harassment in the workplace was in 1977, and it wasn't until 1980 that sexual harassment was officially defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

3.  Be acknowledged in the Boston Marathon.  Women could not don their running shoes until 1972.

4.  Get a credit card.  Until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, women were not able to apply for credit.  In 1975, the first women's bank was opened.

5.  Refuse to have sex with her husband.  The mid-70s saw most states recognize marital rape and in 1993 it became criminalized in all 50 states.  Nevertheless, marital rape is still often treated differently from other forms of rape in some states.

6.  Compete as a boxer in the Olympics.  It wasn't until the 2012 London Olympics that women could compete in boxing.  This was marked by the amazing victory by Britain's Nicola Adams.

7.  Get a divorce with some degree of ease.  Before the No Fault Divorce law in 1969, spouses had to show the faults of the other party (such as adultery), and could easily be refuted by recrimination.

8.  Celebrate International Women's Day.  In 1980 President Carter declared one week in March to be National Women's History Week, including International Women's Day on March 8th.

9.  Have a legal abortion in most states.  The Roe v. Wade case in 1973 protected a woman's right to abortion until viability.

10.  Read Ms. Magazine.  Ms. was launched as a sample inset in New York Magazine in 1971.

(It happens that I bought the very first newsstand issue of Ms., and became a subscriber.  Later I minored in Women's Studies at the University of Arizona, until switching my major and minor.  We've come a long way since the second wave of the feminist movement.  But we still have a long way to go to reach full gender equality.  Disparate wages for the same work, hiring discrimination, and sexist attitudes persist ~ not to mention sex trafficking, violence against women, and other social ills.  Is the next generation ready and able to receive the torch?  I believe it is.)

SEX.  Stereotypes regarding gender and sex have been around forever, it seems, and some stereotypes are persistent.  A recent study confirmed what previous studies had found ~ that when asked about the number of sex partners they've had, women and men both exaggerate, but in opposite directions.  Women tend to under-report the number of prior partners, while men tend to over-report.  When hooked up to a lie detector, however, both genders revealed true numbers which approximate each other.  Why would they lie?  Apparently women don't want to be perceived as being promiscuous, while men want to be perceived as being experienced.  Perhaps one day everyone will realize that one's own reality is more legitimate than someone else's perception.

BREASTS.  Kara Maria Ananda, a women's health writer, sings the praises of one of my favorite parts of female anatomy (who am I kidding ~ all parts of the female landscape are my favorites) in Viva La Boobies!  7 Things To Know About Breasts.  As a teaser, here are the headers for the positive information she shares ~

  • Breasts want freedom.
  • Breasts need massage.
  • Breasts are hot.
  • Breastmilk has a gazillion medicinal uses.
  • Breasts are energy centers.
  • Breasts are a lot like canaries.
  • Breasts are beautiful.
Yes, they are ~ as are the bold, smart, resourceful, sexy, resilient, and creative women to whom they belong.

29 May 2013


An anonymous researcher has published a research paper in which he produced the most thorough and detailed map to date of Internet usage.  According to Motherboard"Not only does it show where people are logging in, it also shows changes in traffic patterns over time with an impressive amount of precision.  This is possible, of course, because the researcher hacked into nearly half a million computers so that he could ping each one, charting the resulting paths in order to make a complex and detailed map.  Along those line, the project has as much to do with hacking as it does with mapping.

" .... However, these were not sophisticated attacks.  The researcher explains in his paper that his so-called 'Carna Botnet' (named after the Roman goddess of physical health) targeted only essentially unprotected computers ~ that is, devices that required only an 'admin' log-in and a blank password field, or no log-in at all ~ that he set his code to run at lowest possible priority in the infected device to avoid interference, and also left a note behind explaining to the computers' owners that he'd used their computers for this research.  He even left them an email address in case they had any questions about the project.

" .... The resulting map isn't perfect, but it is beautiful.  Based on the parameters of the researcher's study, the map is already on its way to becoming obsolete, since it shows only devices with IPv4 addresses.  (The latest standard is IPv6, but IPv4 is still pretty common.)  The map is further limited to Linux-based computers with a certain amount of processing power.  And finally, because of the parameters of the hack, it shows some bias toward naive uses who don't put passwords on their computers.

" .... The research [intentionally] serves as another much-needed warning about Internet security.  'A lot of devices and services we have seen during our research should never be connected to the public Internet at all.  As a rule of thumb, if you believe that 'nobody would connect that to the Internet, really nobody', there are at least 1000 people who did,' says the report.  'Whenever you think 'that shouldn't be on the Internet but will probably be found a few times', it's there a few hundred thousand times.  Like half a million printers, or a million webcams, or devices that have 'root' as a root password." 

The image above (click to enlarge) is a static map of the research botnet, with concentrations of its 420,000 nodes represented by different colors.  Note that the greatest numbers of unprotected computers are (a) in China and India, and (b) in large cities around the globe.  Africa has the fewest numbers of computers of any kind.

You can also view an animation showing the rise and fall of computer usage as daylight sweeps around the world ~ here.  The image is high-resolution, and with so many data points, it may take a few moments to load.

28 May 2013


The project ~ over the course of a year, geotag every tweet in the U.S. in which hate speech was directed against gays, other races, or the disabled.  Then, map those tweets so that the viewer can interactively see where particular prejudices, and even specific hate speech, occurs.  Finally, present the map on a readily accessible website.

The image above (click to enlarge) is the map of all the homophobic tweets deemed hateful.  At the original interactive map, viewers can see similar maps for racist and ableist tweets, and even parse the data to examine the geographic distributions of individual words.  Those words include ~

homophobic ~ dyke, fag, homo, queer

racist ~ chink, gook, wetback, nigger, spick

disability ~ cripple

The color scale indicates the presence of more hate tweets as one progresses from pale to dark blue, and even more from dull to vivid red.  The distribution is influenced by population density, and by the degree to which residents use Twitter.  Where there are more people, there is more potential for bigotry.

The results are instructive, both nationally and regionally.  For instance, the most frequent occurrence of hate tweets in my home state of Montana appears in Helena, the state capitol ~ a disquieting prospect.

27 May 2013


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Love and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe ~
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch ~ be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

by John McCrae

Though my father served during World War II, and I served during the Vietnam War, I don't assume a militaristic interpretation of McCrae's poem, except to this extent ~ "the foe" might not be an enemy army.  The foe might instead be any entity which seeks to deprive others of possessions or freedom ~ dirty energy industries, Wall Street banks and the politicians who serve them, big pharma, or any nation or religion which would impose its sterile, oppressive beliefs on others.  

Today is devoted to those who died in service to their nation.  We each understand a different meaning for "nation", yet we can unite in common cause to honor those who have fallen.  Any time I've wandered a battlefield ~ Valley Forge, Gettysburg, the Little Big Horn ~ or any time I visit a military cemetery or war memorial, if it a quiet day with few people around, I can sense the presence of warriors now dead.  They do not sleep.

I pay equal respect to those on opposing sides ~ Yankee or rebel, cavalryman or Native American, Ally or German.  In the end, each fought and died alone.  His or her last thoughts were rarely on patriotism or ideology.  More often, as breathing fled, they thought of loved ones.  

As will we all.

26 May 2013


An orrery is a mechanical device that demonstrates the relative positions and motions of the planets, moons, and sun in a solar system, usually in heliocentric fashion.  The original term, dating back thousands of years, was planetarium.  In 1704 the term orrery came into its own, and over time a planetarium was understood to be a darkened indoor theater on whose arched black ceiling tiny lights representing stars could be projected.

An orrery can be simple, showing only a few planets, or complex, showing an entire solar system.  The intricate arrangement of gears and levers makes the orrery resemble nothing so much as an astronomical clock ~ which in fact it is.

Because they can be used to predict the motions of celestial bodies, orreries have played significant roles in at least two movies ~ the fantasy film The Dark Crystal in 1982, and the science fiction film Pitch Black in 2000.

With the advent of computers and the Internet, an orrery need no longer be mechanical.  Here is a marvelous animated, interactive orrery.  If you look closely, in each of the four outer corners are faint gray prompts ~

  • upper left ~ speed slider, help, and music control
  • upper right ~ set the date, and switch between months and the zodiac
  • lower left ~ show/hide moon phase insert
  • lower right ~ switch between Copernican (heliocentric) and Tycho Brahe (geocentric) views
Note that the model does not attempt to present the planets, moons, and sun in their true size relationships, nor their true distance relationships from each other.  But it does faithfully show positions and motions.  It is fun to play with, and presents learning possibilities for young (and not so young) minds.

Happy orbits.

25 May 2013


Dateline Phoenix, Arizona ~ 24 May 2013 ~ a federal judge ruled that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio "violated the constitutional rights of Latino drivers in his crackdown on illegal immigration,  and ordered him to stop using race as a factor in law enforcement decisions."

Throughout his tenure, Arpaio ~ who calls himself "America's toughest sheriff" ~ has been a lightning rod for controversy.  Inmates in his jail receive two meals a day of contaminated food.  Overflow prisoners are housed in a secured tent city, with no cooling for relief from outdoor temperatures which regularly soar above 100 degrees Farenheit.  (On one July day in 2011 when the temperature in Phoenix hit 118 degrees, the temperature in the tent city was measured at 145 degrees.)

Arpaio is responsible for the re-establishment of chain gangs in Maricopa County, and has repeatedly defended his oppressive policies.  His methods have been criticized by the United States Department of Justice, Amnesty International, the ACLU, and others.

The ruling against Arpaio came "in response to a class-action lawsuit brought by Hispanic drivers that tested whether police can target illegal immigrants without racially profiling U.S. citizens and legal residents of Hispanic origin.  U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow ruled that the sheriff's policies violated the drivers' constitutional rights and ordered Arpaio's office to cease using race or ancestry as grounds to stop, detain, or hold occupants of vehicles .... [Snow] added that race had factored into which vehicles the deputies decided to stop, and into who they decided to investigate for immigration violations.

" .... Cecilia Wang, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project and plaintiffs' counsel, called the judge's ruling 'an important victory that will resound far beyond Maricopa County.  Singling people out for traffic stops and detentions simply because they're Latino is illegal and just plain un-American,' Wang said after the ruling was made public.  'Let this be a warning to anyone who hides behind a badge to wage their own private campaign against Latinos or immigrants, that there is no exception in the Constitution for violating people's rights in immigration enforcement.' "

I've been a critic of Arpaio since he was first elected in 1992.  His attitude is that if you make the jail environment miserable enough, no one will re-offend after release.  There is no credible research to support this perception, and plenty of research and court rulings which hold that even society's prisoners retain their essential rights to safety, housing, food, health care, and the assumption of the possibility of reform.  Arpaio's policies are straight out of the Spanish Inquisition.

The infamous tent city resembles nothing so much as a concentration camp in the desert.  It is reprehensible that our nation's jails and prisons are filled to overflowing as a result of the vindictive and misguided "war on drugs".  Adding law enforcement and detention officials who harbor racist attitudes further poisons the mix.  The fact that Arpaio has been elected five times is stark testimony to the repressive nature of Arizona politics.

Which is a shame.  I lived in southern Arizona for twenty years, and many of my best friends live there.  I cannot grasp the meanness which infects reactionary conservatives.  Nor do I wish to.  Thankfully, constructive immigration reform appears imminent in the U.S. congress.  But racism and xenophobia are only two facets in the complex psychosis which rules Joe Arpaio.  He is not fit to hold public office.

24 May 2013


I have a very personal interest in child psychology.  For five years in a suburban Philadelphia private residential school, I served as both teacher and counselor for teenagers who had been removed from their families by the courts, for reasons of neglect or physical, emotional, psychological, and/or sexual abuse at home.  All my students attending regular therapy sessions, and the majority of them were on psychoactive medications.

I later spent four years as a security officer and de facto counselor at an eastern Tennessee boys' group home, where convicted juvenile felons who'd served their time were placed in a halfway house setting to prepare them for re-entry into society.  None of my boys had access to therapy, but some were on meds.

Finally, I am the proud grandparent of a boy who has been diagnosed with ADHD.  I recognized the potential significance of his sometimes-manic behavior when he was only two years old, long before he was formally diagnosed.  Now 11 years old, he sometimes struggles to control his impulses, especially angry ones.  But I'm not entirely convinced that an easy diagnosis and daily medication are the answer.

Family therapist Dr. Marilyn Wedge is an author and columnist who makes the case against labeling and medicating children, and for effective alternatives for treatment.  In a recent article in Psychology Today, she compared the differences in diagnosis and treatment between the U.S. and France.  Her thoughts bear consideration ~

"In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications.  In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than 0.5%.  [Why has] the epidemic of ADHD ~ which has become firmly established in the United States ~ almost completely passed over children in France?

"Is ADHD a biological-neurological disorder?  Surprisingly, the answer to this question dependds on whether you live in France or in the United States.  In the U.S., child psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes.  The preferred treatment is also biological ~ psychostimulant drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall.

"French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes.  Instead of treating children's focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress ~ not in the child's brain but in the child's social context.  They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling.

" .... To the extent that French clinicians are successful at finding and repairing what has gone awry in the child's social context, fewer children qualify for the ADHD diagnosis.  Moreover, the definition of ADHD is not as broad as in the American system, which tends to pathologize much of what is normal childhood behavior.

" .... The French holistic, psycho-social approach also allows for considering nutritional causes for ADHD-type symptoms ~ specifically the fact that the behavior of some children is worsened after eating foods with artificial colors, certain preservatives, and/or allergens .... In the U.S., the strict focus on pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD, however, encourages clinicians to ignore the influence of dietary factors on children's behavior.

"And then, of course, there are the vastly different philosophies of child-rearing in the U.S. and France.  These divergent philosophies could account for why French children are generally better-behaved than their American counterparts.  Pamela Druckerman highlights the divergent parenting styles in her recent book, Bringing Up Bebe .... From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre ~ the word means 'frame' or 'structure'.  Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want.  Mealtimes are at four specific times of the day.  French children learn to wait patiently for meals, rather than eating snack foods whenever they feel like it.

" .... French parents, Druckerman observes, love their children just as much as do American parents.  They give them piano lessons, take them to sports practice, and encourage them to make the most of their talents.  But French parents have a different philosophy of discipline.  Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure.  Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer .... Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word 'no' rescues children from the 'tyranny of their own desires'.

" .... As a therapist who works with children, it makes perfect sense to me that French children don't need medications to control their behavior, because they learn self-control early in their lives.  The children grow up in families in which the rules are well-understood, and a clear family hierarchy is firmly in place."

Regular readers will recall that I reviewed Druckerman's book a year ago ~ very favorably.  At the time, I closed with the following ~

"I was struck by the parallels between Pamela Druckerman's journey as a parent and my own.  Even though I didn't have the cultural or parenting resources of Paris, I was similarly committed to finding a gentler, more nurturing alternative to America's obsession with raising boys and girls to fit into gender roles.  I hoped that I could make my son's childhood as androgynous as possible, recognizing the overwhelming influence of the surrounding culture and even well-intentioned relatives and friends.  The degree to which I succeeded is a story for another time.  What's important is that parents (and children, and grandparents) seek out every resource they can find, in order to open up their thinking and question their assumptions.  I do wish that this book had been around in 1977, when my son was born, or in 2002, when my grandson was born.

"But it is around now, and I highly recommend it to anyone wishing insight into parenting which produces calm, confident, curious, cheerful, respectful, and motivated children."

23 May 2013


Wendy and Caroline

No, neither of my cats is missing (whew).  The post title refers to Lost Cat ~ A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology, a book I finished a few days ago, and cannot recommend highly enough.  It was a quick read, but perhaps that is because I could not put it down.  Anyone whose attachment to her/his pet approaches the symbiosis between parent and child will read Caroline Paul's book (illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton) with an easy, instant identification.  I smiled, I wept, I nodded in empathy as the tale unfolded.

I won't be giving anything away by quoting from the book liner ~

"Caroline Paul was recovering from an accident and thought things couldn't get worse.  But then her beloved cat Tibia disappeared.  She and her partner, Wendy MacNaughton, mourned his loss, but weeks later, Tibia waltzed back into their lives.  His owners were overjoyed.  But they were also ... jealous.  Their shy, anxious cat had become a swashbuckling adventurer.  Where had he gone?  And, more important, did he love someone else more?  Caroline and Wendy were determined to find out.

"Using GPS technology, cat cameras, psychics, pet detectives, and animal communicators, the authors of Lost Cat embarked on a quest to discover what their cat did when they weren't around.  Told through writer Caroline Paul's rich and warmly poignant narrative and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton's playful and astute four-color illustrations, Lost Cat is a book for animal lovers, pet owners, and anyone who has ever done anything desperate for love."

Over the years I've been owned by one horse, three parakeets, six dogs, and nine cats.  The closer the bond, the more intense the confusion and pain when one dies or disappears.  But this is not a maudlin book.  It brims with wit and charm, and illuminates the best in us.

22 May 2013


I've been an instrumental and vocal musician since I was 6 years old.  My tiny country school, under the guidance of Mr. Perkins, encouraged all early-grade students to participate in the recorder-and-triangle-and-cymbal band (complete with snazzy uniforms).  During this same time, during the school bus ride home from school, I would spontaneously start humming a song I'd heard on the radio (e.g. "The Happy Wanderer"), and gradually my volume would increase until I was singing loud enough to startle birds flying by.  The bus driver, Mr. Green (behind whom I sat, thus affording me a captive audience) would eventually tell me over his shoulder to quiet down.  And the cycle would repeat itself.

Several years and a bigger school later, after mercifully brief attempts at the clarinet and baritone horn, I settled on the Baroque curves and muted sensuality of the French horn, and prospered.  By my senior year in high school, I was performing in no fewer than sixteen different vocal and instrumental ensembles and solos.  The time devoted to rehearsals and concerts (and to girls) distracted me from academics, to the detriment of my GPA.

Performing and listening have continued through college and all my adult life.  I've learned to play classical guitar, dulcimer, djembe, and a tiny bit of keyboards ~ not to mastery, but for my own enjoyment of the process and the transformative power of music.

It turns out that being both a musician and a loving listener may have enhanced my absorption of knowledge and new skills, academic and otherwise.  A recent Memolition set of illustrations demonstrates music's effect on learning with the following observations ~

Music and the brain.  Playing and listening to music works several parts of the brain ~

Ways music improves learning.
  • Listening to music helps recall memories.
  • Listening to music may increase productivity.
  • Playing music increases memory and language skills ~ musicians possess more gray matter, more neural pathways, have greater working memory capacity, and better distinguish between sounds than non-musicians.
Best music to study to.
  • Classical 
  • Jazz
  • Music without repetition
  • Silence
Now, 60 years later, I no longer perform (though nothing is stopping me).  I can accurately replay in memory the complex instrumentation and progressions of entire symphonies or choral works, and I regularly play classical music during my morning workouts.  My two cats approve ~ they both settle into a comfortable repose and appear to go into a trance while listening, usually facing the stereo speakers.  I'm bringing them up right.  And boy, are they smart.

21 May 2013


Here are two nifty references to add to your toolkit ~

Google Translate ~ when your high school French fails you, or when you just have to have that perfect word in Finnish.  This app translates back and forth among 70 languages, plus you can store key phrases in your very own phrasebook.

Audubon Online Bird Guide ~ alas, this is not free, but is available as an app for your iPad, iPhone, Kindle, Nook, etc., for $4.  The guide includes tips for beginning birders, bird anatomy, identification field markings, range maps, and a section dedicated to conservation and endangered species.

19 May 2013


Over the years, my exercise regimen has steadily evolved ~ standard calisthenics in high school ~ boxing, fencing and swimming at my first university ~ the Army's daily dozen ~ bicycling and jogging ~ karate and weight training at my second university ~ and more recently a daily 40-minute physical therapy workout culled from exercises for sprained ankles, a separated shoulder, elbow-shoulder-ankle tendonitis, arthritis, and a herniated lumbar disk, injuries which I've accumulated over a long and active life.

While the current PT routine keeps me limber (I can once more do the Plow position, and can touch my toes without bending my knees), it does little to further cardiovascular fitness or to build up muscle mass.

With this in mind, my attention was piqued by a NYTimes article which summarizes a 7-minute daily workout developed by two sports training professionals at the American College of Sports Medicine.  Their workout compresses a normal fitness routine (extended weight and cardio exercise) into 12 exercises organized in a sequence which alternates among all major muscle groups, with 30 seconds devoted to each exercise, interspersed with 10-second recovery intervals.  The routine can be performed one or several times per day, and requires no special equipment beyond a chair, a wall, and one's own body weight.

I highly recommend reading the original ACSM article for a more complete understanding of the research, methods, and goals of the workout.  Below is a description with illustrations (courtesy of the ACSM website) of a sample 12-station HICT (high intensity circuit training) program.

"The exercise order allows for a total body exercise to significantly increase the heart rate while the lower, upper, and core exercises function to maintain the increased heart rate while developing strength.  Exercises are performed for 30 seconds, with 10 seconds of transition time between bouts.  Total time for the entire circuit workout is approximately 7 minutes."  (Click on any image to enlarge.  The entire circuit is depicted above, and individual exercises are shown below.)

Jumping jacks ~ total body

Wall sit ~ lower body

Push-ups ~ upper body

Abdominal crunch ~ core

Step-up onto chair ~ total body

Squat ~ lower body

Triceps dip on chair ~ upper body

Plank ~ core

High knees/running in place ~ total body

Lunge ~ lower body

Push-up and rotation ~ upper body

Side plank ~ core

Caution ~ unless you already exercise daily, it is advisable to consult your doctor before starting a new fitness program.  Monitor your breathing and pulse initially.  With practice you'll be able to judge how hard to push, bearing in mind that the target is a sustained elevated pulse rate during the entire circuit.  Good luck, and have fun!

18 May 2013


NOTE ~ the image series begins with planet Earth,
then adds more and larger elements,
providing perspective on the size of 
objects in our universe.

(Click on image to enlarge)

17 May 2013


The nation's most prominent conservation groups observe today as Endangered Species Day, with emphasis on public education and activism.  Among them ~

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) also recognizes the observance, no small irony since  it is precisely that agency which proposes removing the gray wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act in all the contiguous 48 states, even though wolves have re-populated only a small fraction of the wild territory which could sustain them.  

In the three Rocky Mountain states (ID, MT, WY) and the several Great Lakes states (MI, WI, MN) where wolves have already been prematurely delisted, prompt state-licensed wolf hunting and trapping seasons have decimated wolf populations, which were just beginning to stabilize.  The irrational fervor for killing wolves has interrupted the scientific studies needed to determine whether they should even be considered for delisting, since many of the victims were adults wearing radio collars used to keep track of movement and numbers.

As with our perturbation of climate, so with our protection of endangered species ~ we caused the problem, and we need to take a considered, scientific approach to solving it.  Alas, there are virtually no scientists in Congress, and the state and federal agencies tasked with protecting wildlife are more concerned with "harvesting" wildlife, bowing to pressure from hunters and ranchers, who do not represent the public interest.

The gray wolf is only one example among hundreds, perhaps thousands of endangered mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, and plants which humans have driven to the brink of extinction.  It is incumbent upon each of us not to be content with thinking "Oh, that's a shame."  Each of us must ACT ~ by joining one or more conservation groups, by signing petitions, by writing or calling our elected representatives on behalf of the creatures who have no voices.  Here is one place to get started.  Here is another.  And here is why the Endangered Species Act still matters 40 years after it was signed into law.

Part and parcel of activism is getting out into nature, and spending quiet time noticing the creatures who live there, and how they interact.  Your destination might be true back-country wilderness, miles from any road or house, or it might be a nearby park, wetland, or other habitat with sufficient plant growth and water to attract birds and animals.  When you come to regard such areas as part of your home, it becomes more natural to want to care for it.  Enjoy.

16 May 2013


From the website UndergroundHealth ~

"Do you feel like your sex drive just isn't what it used to be?  You aren't alone ~ many people feel that way at some point in their lives.  In some cases, a decrease in libido may be due to a medical issue.  For many people, however, the situation may be remedied without resorting to dangerous medications or other harmful supplements.  These foods are natural, safe, and effective libido boosters.

1.  Oysters ~ Oysters have long been suspected as a love drug.  Cleopatra and Casanova had one thing in common, they loved oysters.  Legend has it that Casanova ate dozens of oysters per day.  The Venetian romancer once seduced a vestal virgin by seductively sliding an oyster from his mouth to hers.  If that doesn't get you in the mood, I don't know what will.  In fact, current research proves our suspicion.  Oysters improve dopamine levels, which boosts libido in men and women.  Oysters are also high in zinc, which is vital for testosterone production and healthy sperm.

2.  Watermelon ~ Some experts have called watermelon the new Viagra.  Bhimu Patil, researcher and director of the Fruit and Vegetable Improvement Center at Texas A&M University, stated that eating watermelon delivers Viagra-like effects on blood vessels throughout the body, and may increase libido.  This cool refreshing fruit contains the amino acid citrulline, which is good for the cardiovascular system and helps relax the blood vessels that increase sex drive.  If you want to get in the mood, make a watermelon sorbet and share it with your partner.

3.  Chocolate ~ All chocolate comes from the cacao bean.  In its processd form it is known as cocoa.  The Aztecs referred to cacao as nourishment of the gods.  Modern foodies know raw cacao in its pure unadulterated form as a superfood.  It has more antioxidants than green tea or red wine.  It also contains a stimulating chemical known as phenethylamine, which stimulates the sense of excitement and well-being.  The Journal of Sexual Medicine published a study that found that women who enjoyed a piece of chocolate every day had a more active sex life than those who didn't.

4.  Asparagus ~ Known for its suggestive shape, asparagus is high in a B vitamin known as folate that aids in increasing the production of histamine.  Histamine is important for a healthy sex drive in men and women.  The most delicious asparagus is just picked.  Grow your own or buy it fresh and organic at your local farmers market.

5.  Avacado ~ A recent report stated that organic Sicilian avacados are taking Europe by storm.  Apparently the Europeans can't get enough of them.  The ancient Aztecs' term for avacad was "ahuacatl", or testicle because of the fruit's shapely form.  Catholic Spanish priests found avacados so sexy that they forbade them to their parishioners.

6.  Maca ~ Maca is known by many as Peru's natural Viagra.  Apparently this natural root has been known throughout Peru's history as a sex-enhancing root passed down by the Incas.  According to Discovery Health's medicine hunter Chris Kilam, the maca plant is used by the Peruvian culture to increase strength, stamina, energy, fertility and libido.

7.  Pumpkin seeds ~ Like oysters, pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, which is essential for healthy sperm production and preventing testosterone deficiency in men.  The seeds are also loaded with libido vitamins and minerals like vitamins B, E, C, D, K and minerals including calcium, potassium, niacin and phosphorus.  The next time Halloween comes around, now you now what to do with those left-over pumpkin seeds.  Roast those babies.

8.  Chili peppers ~ The stuff that makes chilis (see image above) taste hot, capsaicin, can actually rev up your libido.  Have you ever noticed a natural high when eating chilis?  Capsaicin promotes the release of chemicals that can raise your heart rate and trigger the release of endorphins that give you a natural high, which pumps your libido.

9.  Figs ~ Legend has it that figs were one of Cleopatra's favorite foods.  According to Dr. Nalini Chilkov, figs have been prized as a sensual food for their resemblance to the female sex organs.  The ancient Greeks valued figs as more precious than gold, and man cultures associated figs with fertility.

10.  Garlic ~ Eating raw garlic may make your partner turn the other way in bed, but it can certainly stir up your sexual desire.  The heat in garlic is what stirs up your libido.  Garlic contains allicin, which is thought to increase blood flow to sexual organs.  This trick doesn't work overnight, however.  Apparently you need to consume it for about a month to reap its rewards.  If you can't stand raw garlic, go for the capsules found at your local natural food market.

15 May 2013


When I was an undergrad in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, one of the more creative classes I took was a two-semester course in scientific illustration.  The first semester was devoted to manual illustration ~ freehand sketching, painting with acrylics and oils, and drawing using draftsman's tools.  The second semester concentrated on photography, using film cameras of various sizes, and developing our own prints in the darkroom.  Bear in mind that this was 30 years ago, so the methods and materials we had at our disposal did not include computers or digital photography.  Nevertheless, I'm still proud of the two portfolios I produced that year.

Recently a pictorial article by Megan Gambino in Smithsonian online captured my aesthetic and technical attention.  She writes about the work of architect and scientific illustrator Macoto Murayama, who achieves a rare confluence of art and science in his "inorganic flora" project.  The artist buys or collects specimens, then "carefully dissects each flower, removing its petals, anther, stigma and ovaries with a scalpel.  He studies the separate parts of the flower under a magnifying glass, and then sketches and photographs them.

"Using 3D computer graphics software, the artist then creates models of the full blossom as well as of the stigma, sepals, and other parts of the bloom.  He cleans up his composition in Photoshop and adds measurements and annotations in Illustrator, so that in the end, he has created nothing short of a botanical blueprint."  (see image above, click to enlarge)

This is not art in the traditional Monet. O'Keefe, or Picasso sense.  Murayama's work is an intentional blend of art and science.  A representative of the gallery which represents the artist describes it thus ~ "The transparency of this work refers not only to the lucid petals of a flower, but also to the ambitious, romantic and utopian struggle to see and present the world as a transparent object ~ completely seen, entirely grasped."

You can see more examples of Murayama's art here.

14 May 2013


Award-winning actor and director Angelina Jolie published an op-ed piece in today's New York Times, announcing that she has undergone preventive double mastectomy surgery.  (Jolie's mother, Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer at the age of 56.  As a carrier of a "faulty" BRCA1 gene, Jolie's own risk of developing ovarian cancer was determined by her doctors to be 50 percent, and her risk of breast cancer, 87 percent.  A mother of six children, Jolie elected to act now, before any diagnosis of cancer.)

In addition to her physical beauty and her acting talent, Angelina Jolie is highly regarded for promoting humanitarian causes.  Among other commitments, she is a Special Envoy and former Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.  Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker writes that "Jolie's medical decision says again what shouldn't need re-saying ~ that a woman's body is hers, that breasts are for something other than ogling, and that hard choices are made for strong reasons.  Her decision to make her choice public is bold and brave and admirable."

Here is a CBS news interview, which includes an instructive animation of the mastectomy and reconstruction procedure ~ the results are light years more natural in appearance than has been true with previous technology and procedures.

In her Times piece, the 38-year-old Jolie explains ~ "I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience.  Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people's hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness.  But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action."

I can attest to that feeling of powerlessness.  As a result of baking myself without skin protection for twenty years in the southern Arizona sun, I've had dozens of pre-cancerous growths which were either frozen or removed for biopsy from my skin.  Several were carcinomas in the early stages of development.  Skin cancer means that I'll be visiting my dermitologist for the rest of my life.

But as I'm certain Angelina Jolie understands, early prevention is preferable to the alternative.

12 May 2013


A chemical engineer and fan of the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien (in particular the epic Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) has painstakingly organized the numerous races and characters into a chart modeled on the periodic table of the elements ~ each entry is complete with a unique symbol and number, dates of birth and death, and a special notation for wearers of the One Ring.

Here is the link to Emil Johansson's Periodic Table of Middle Earth (shown above, click to enlarge).  Browse through the remarks and conversation threads beneath for Tolkien minutia and general geekiness, including a couple of bonus periodic tables ~ one on Star Wars, and one on science fiction in general.

Just another lazy Sunday.

11 May 2013

YOU ARE HERE ~ 400 ppm

As reported in the NYTtimes and numerous other sources yesterday, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, reached an average daily level of 400 parts per million (ppm).

"The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.

" .... Virtually every automobile ride, every plane trip and, in most places, every flip of a light switch adds carbon dioxide to the air, and relatively little money is being spent to find and deploy alternative technologies.  China is now the biggest emitter, but Americans have been consuming fossil fuels for far longer, and experts say the United States is more responsible than any other nation for the high level.

" The new measurement came from analyzers atop Mauna Loa, the volcano on the big island of Hawaii that has been ground zero for monitoring the worldwide trend on carbon dioxide.  Devices there sample clean, crisp air that has blown thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean, producing a record of rising carbon dioxide levels that has been closely tracked for half a century.

" .... From studying air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice, scientists know that going back 800,000 years, the carbon dioxide level oscillated in a tight band, from about 180 ppm in the depths of the ice ages to about 280 ppm during the warm periods between.  The evidence shows that global temperature and CO2 levels are tightly linked.

"For the entire period of human civilization, roughly 8,000 years, the carbon dioxide level was roughly stable near that upper bound.  But the burning of fossil fuels has caused a 41 percent increase in the heat-trapping gas since the Industrial Revolution, a mere geological instant, and scientists say the climate is beginning to react, though they expect far greater changes in the future.  (See graph below, click to enlarge)

"Indirect measurements suggest that the last time the carbon dioxide level was this high was at least three million years ago, during an epoch called the Pliocene.  Geologic research shows that the climate then was far warmer than today, the world's ice caps were smaller, and the sea level might have been as much as 60 or 80 feet higher."

Here is an interactive map on which you can choose location and sea level rise, then observe the effect.

The Times report is conservative in implying that reaching the 400 ppm threshold is a moment of sudden illumination.  In fact, we have been steadily approaching that threshold for decades, and since at least the early 1980s climate scientists have issued warnings about the rising global temperatures, melting glaciers and ice caps, rising sea levels, and unpredictable severe weather events which we are already witnessing.

Further, other sources reveal that according to research reported in the journal Science, "Unchecked burning of fossil fuels has driven carbon dioxide to levels [at which] temperatures were 14.4 degrees Farenheit higher than today, lush forests covered the tundra, and sea levels were up to 40 meters [131 feet] higher than today."

It is a regrettable trait of our species (and of American culture in particular) to react to crisis, rather than thinking ahead or behaving proactively.  A prime example ~ the United States failure to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which set binding obligations on industrialized nations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.  191 nations and the European Union are members of the protocol.  Had we done so, American industries would have had a head start in developing the technology needed to operate cleanly.  Further, we have lagged behind other nations in deploying alternative, renewable energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal), and in reducing or eliminating our heavy reliance on polluting fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas).

So what is to be done, now that we face the monster we've created?  A climate research website called Climate Nexus published a timely graph which portrays four alternatives ~

1.  No action

  • Catastrophic and unpredictable impacts on entire human population.
  • Emissions continue indefinitely.  Temperatures rise more than 6 degrees Celsius (more than 16 degrees Farenheit).
2.  Delayed action
  • Mass migrations from areas that are now uninhabitable.
  • Very worst heat waves now widespread.
  • Mass extinctions.
  • Carbon dioxide concentrations rise past 700 ppm, with a warming impact of 4.5 degrees Celsius (12 degrees Farenheit).  Global emissions do not peak until 2080.
3.  Some action
  • Extreme heat waves and high summer temperatures become much more common.
  • Oceans acidify, harming corals and shellfish.
  • More extreme weather, with damages costing much more than mitigation.
  • Carbon dioxide concentration stabilizes at 550 ppm, with a warming impact of 3.6 degrees Celsius (10 degrees Farenheit).  Global emissions peak in 2040.  This could happen if all country pledges are met.
4.  Decisive action
  • Extreme weather events increase in frequency and intensity.
  • Sea level rise threatens some coastal cities.
  • Carbon dioxide concentration eventually stabilizes around 350 ppm (considered a safe level by many) and temperature rises less than 2 degrees Celsius (3-4 degrees Farenheit).  Global emissions peak in 2020.  This would require most new energy investments to go to clean energy, and fossil fuels to be phased out.
So.  Here we are, at 400 ppm carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.  Should we continue merrily in denial, playing Russian roulette with the planet and all its life forms?  Or should we get serious in our role as stewards of the planet, and take decisive action?  I'm for the latter.  If you are too, it's time to become a militant activist.   Start by using this link to contact your elected state and federal officials, explain the urgency of the problem (the Climate Nexus graph makes a good reference), and demand that addressing climate change be placed at the top of every legislative and executive priority list.

If you wish to engage in civil protest to call attention to the damage being done by existing and proposed coal, oil, and natural gas projects, that is your right.

09 May 2013


As a long-time aviation enthusiast, I'm interested whenever a new concept design appears in the news.  I've posted in the past about various such craft, including personal jets, flying motorcycles, wingsuits, gyrocopters, and flying cars.  Of these, the consumer model which has actually received FAA approval and which will be available next year is the Terrafugia Transition, a roadable airplane which has a flight range of just under 500 miles at a cruising speed of 107 mph, and can travel on roads up to 70 mph.  It's folding wings allow it to be parked in a garage.

It happens that the same company is developing a new concept called the TF-X ~ a car with twin tiltable rotors which allow it to take off vertically like a helicopter, then transition to level flight like an airplane (see image above).  When at rest on the ground, the rotors fold into storage position and voila! ~ a car again.

The TF-X is less bulky and more sleek-looking than the Transition, and as versatile transport, it's hard to imagine anything more fun.  Here's a video of the TF-X in all modes of flight.  

Paraphrasing the video caption ~ "Terrafugia animation of its TF-X concept for a four-seat, hybrid-electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) flying car.  The wing unfolds, and 600hp electric motors and battery packs power the propellers.  The rotor prop blades unfold and nacelles tilt upwards for vertical take-off.  The nacelles then tilt down for forward flight, and a 300hp engine driving a rear ducted propeller takes over propulsion and recharges the batteries.  The rotor prop blades fold back, allowing the vehicle to reach 200 mph and fly for 500 miles.  Vanes in the rear prop duct provide flight control.  For landing the electric motors restart, the rotor props unfold, and nacelles tilt upwards.  Vertical take-off and landing are automatic."

08 May 2013


Last night I watched two episodes of the excellent TV series The West Wing on DVD.  I'm partial to dramas which feature intelligent writing, challenging issues, and a talented ensemble cast (above) whose characters are compelling and fallible.  The West Wing had all that, in spades.  During seven seasons it won a total of 3 Golden Globe Awards, 26 Emmy Awards, and high praise from critics, political science professors, and former White House staffers.

Quite often among the characters, there is an exchange or a remark which deeply resonates with one's intellect or emotions.  There came a moment during the episode "Dead Irish Writers" in which a nuclear physicist (played by Hector Elizondo) is making the case for funding his project, a particle accelerator (more specifically a super-collider).  Time is of the essence, for reasons of legislative deadlines and also because the physicist has developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  A White House staffer (a former student of the physicist) and a balking senator argue over the monetary costs of such an endeavor, and then stall over the practical benefits or applications.

The physicist interrupts, exclaiming that there are none.  But he goes on ~

"Great achievement has no road map.  But the X-ray is pretty good.  So is penicillin.  And neither was discovered with any practical objective in mind.  When the electron was discovered in 1897, it was useless;  and now we have a whole world run on electronics.  Hayden and Mozart never studied the classics ~ they couldn't.  They invented them."

A light goes on in the staffer's eyes, and he declares, "Discovery."

Too often in this world of budget cuts and sequesters, we lose sight of that vision.  It is the same vision which propelled us into space, which fuels creativity in the arts and sciences, and which attracts the curiosity of a child.  Discovery.  We must never allow only the perceived need to predict a material advantage to be the sole guide to our lives.  Value and practical benefits occur spontaneously, in the rich soil of our imaginations.

Ask any scientist, any musician or artist, any engineer or designer.  Ask Mozart.

07 May 2013


Dateline April 25, 2013 in The Los Angeles Times ~

"Federal authorities intend to remove endangered species protection from all gray wolves in the lower 48 states, carving out an exception for a small pocket of about 75 Mexican wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, according to a draft document obtained by the Times.

"The sweeping rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would eliminate protection for wolves 18 years after the government reestablished the predators in the West, where they had been hunted to extinction.  Their reintroduction was a success, with the population growing to the thousands.

"But their presence has always drawn protests across the Intermountain West from state officials, hunters, and ranchers who lost livestock to the wolves.  They have lobbied to remove the gray wolf from the endangered list."

The Times article goes on to discuss the recent history of gray wolves in the northern Rockies and the Great Lakes region, along with the controversy aroused by the dubious science behind the proposed removal of protection across the entire continental U.S.  The FWS assertion that wolves are a rousing success story is riddled with faulty assumptions, and heavily influenced by politics rather than by biology.

For example, wolves are far from reclaiming their former range, as the map below shows (click to enlarge).  The pink area denotes wolves' historic range, while the red areas mark territory where wolves have regained a scattered, tentative foothold.  

There has been a national outcry from responsible science writers.  Noah Greenwald writes in The Huffington Post that "If it is enacted, this rule will put a tragic end to one of the most important wildlife recovery stories in America's history.  Wolves today wander just 5 percent of their historic habitat in the continental United States.  It's simply far to early to declare victory.

" .... There were once about two million wolves in North America.  Most were wiped out in the late 1800s and early 1900s as European settlements moved west and government-sponsored extermination programs were used to protect cows and sheep placed on landscapes occupied by wolves for tens of thousands of years.

" .... Following removal of protections for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and western Great Lakes in 2011, states in these regions enacted aggressive hunting and trapping seasons that are designed to drastically reduce wolf populations.  In the northern Rocky Mountains, more than 1,100 wolves have been killed since protections were removed .... It is clear that states are going to let old prejudices against wolves drive their management, and we can't rely on them to let wolves move into new areas.  That's why it is crucial that wolves continue to get the help that only the federal Endangered Species Act can give them."

Addressing hunters and ranchers, George Wuerthner points out that not only have game (prey) animals increased in number since wolf reintroduction, but also that ranchers' claims of livestock mortality are greatly exaggerated ~ in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, a total of 274,000 cattle and sheep were lost to weather, digestive problems, respiratory issues, calving and other causes.  Fewer than 225 animals were lost to wolves ~ 0.1 percent of total losses.

Non-lethal solutions exist for even this level of livestock loss ~ witness the guide published by Defenders of Wildlife.  The document is a valuable resource which includes ranchers' successful use of guard dogs, range riders, visual barriers, scare tools, and grazing site rotation.

And what about hunters?  Increasingly, investigators are concluding that hunting living creatures for sport is not only anachronistic, but weighted with the symptoms of severe sociopathic perversion.  Two short pieces make the point ~ Hunting Conditions Us to Killing and Wolf Hunters Admit It's All About the Sadistic Sexual Thrill.  

If the reader suspects hyperbole, take a look at this video taken of a hunter repeatedly kicking a crippled but living elk.  It is ugly to watch, but revealing. If this is the behavior shown toward game animals, imagine that sadism magnified tenfold when directed at top predators like wolves.  Yes, many hunters would be repelled by the images ~ even while denying that such behavior represents their own, carried to its logical extreme.

Here's the bottom line ~ the current wolf recovery is incomplete, even in the regions where they've repopulated.  Their population density has not reached the carrying capacity of their habitat (the availability of territory and sufficient prey).  Doing so will take generations, as younger wolves spread out to form new packs.  Their presence is necessary to a healthy ecosystem, since they prey upon the old and sick, keeping prey herds healthy and (equally importantly) on the move, thus allowing over-grazed plant communities to recover in density and biodiversity.

True recovery isn't measured in numbers, certainly not the wolf numbers wept over by hunters, ranchers, and their paid-for politicians.  True recovery is measured in the health of the entire biome.  It is characterized by a sine wave relationship between predator numbers and prey numbers.  As an example, if wolf numbers increase too much, elk will decline.  In response, wolves will produce fewer and smaller litters of pups, and elk herds will recover, again supporting more wolves.

This cycle has been documented across predator-prey relationships ~ lynx and rabbits in Canada, lions and ungulates in Africa, whales and krill in the ocean.  When enough time has passed that we humans can observe the cycle among wolves and their prey, only then can we claim recovery.  It will not be an occasion for a celebratory slaughter of wolves, however.  It will be an occasion or a celebratory toast to our having learned to co-exist with all of nature's children.

Toward that end, not only should the proposal to removed endangered species protection for the gray wolf be abandoned, that protection should be re-instated in all U.S. states where it was removed in 2011, and the licensed and unlicensed slaughter of wolves should cease.

FWS, take note.