Close Encounters

A Brush With Three
Magnificent Whales

A visual dialogue between a Big Blue and a man longing to understand it. A dead Pygmy ashore, and a two-million year old puzzle. And an eye-to-eye with a giant Right whale. As the alarms sound all across the land, deep underwater these mysterious creatures remain elusive.
While only a minority among us has managed to touch them, soon enough not even that will be possible. The Requiem is about the biggest animal on Earth on a fast track to disappearance. The dead one was not supposed to be around. And a Right one comes up close and personal.
As awareness grows about the impossibility of keeping in captivity wild animals em general, and marine mammals in particular, we face a quandary: how to reintroduce them back into their natural habitat, when it’s already depleted and has been steadily shrinking?
As we learn more about these stupendous creatures, we realize how inadequate zoos and seawater resorts are to provide for the wild life under their care. Dwindling funds and business constraints have often turned these facilities into the main factor conspiring against the animals’ own survival.
The case of cetaceans, specially, is particularly tragic. Despite their huge brains, and their presence on Earth for millions of years, we remain ignorant about basic facts concerning their evolutionary traits, social organization, and, let’s face it, how many of them are out there?
It’s been known for a while that some species are already in rapid decline, possibly due to our increasing occupation of their habitats. That’s what makes the occasional discovery of a new species, or a specimen of a kind thought to be extinct long time ago, so baffling.

A FLYING BLUE WHALE
The Dutch actor Rutger Hauer and film director Sil van der Woerd have created a stunning tale, Requiem 2019, that imagine the colossal mammoth floating about, its skin playing back bloody scenes of whalers on the hunt, while it closely observes a semi-paralyzed, and embarrassingly little, man on the ground.

The species, said to be reduced now to less than 10,000 individuals, from a couple of hundred thousand in the 1900s, has dwarfed every creature that has ever lived on this planet, including dinosaurs and other little-known species, felled by adverse evolutionary conditions.
They beat them all, but unfortunately met mankind. In the relative (more)

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Read Also:
* Thinking With Tentacles
* The Whale Report
* The Saddest Song

Continue reading

Close Encounters

A Brush With Three
Magnificent Whales

A visual dialogue between a Big Blue and a man longing to understand it. A dead Pygmy ashore, and a two-million year old puzzle. And an eye-to-eye with a giant Right whale. As the alarms sound all across the land, deep underwater these mysterious creatures remain elusive.
While only a minority among us has managed to touch them, soon enough not even that will be possible. The Requiem is about the biggest animal on Earth on a fast track to disappearance. The dead one was not supposed to be around. And a Right one comes up close and personal.
As awareness grows about the impossibility of keeping in captivity wild animals em general, and marine mammals in particular, we face a quandary: how to reintroduce them back into their natural habitat, when it’s already depleted and has been steadily shrinking?
As we learn more about these stupendous creatures, we realize how inadequate zoos and seawater resorts are to provide for the wild life under their care. Dwindling funds and business constraints have often turned these facilities into the main factor conspiring against the animals’ own survival.
The case of cetaceans, specially, is particularly tragic. Despite their huge brains, and their presence on Earth for millions of years, we Continue reading

Beneath the Waves

High Noon at Big Blue: Menopausal
Whales & Jellyfish-Murdering Robots

They stand far apart in the immense liquid yonder enveloping the planet. One massive and rare, the other transparent and quasi immaterial. Whales and jellyfish have been around for millions of years, but as one’s likely to outlive us, we miss the other already.
They’re both beautiful, no mistake about it. But while the Medusa and the Man of War are growing strong around the oceans, the majestic blue and the singing humpback, harmless as they are, are swimming to oblivion, and may not get to meet your great-grandchildren.

It doesn’t help that we know so little of either one, and that the very world they inhabit, from which we all draw our sustenance, is on the verge of collapse, victimized by pollution, climate change and overfishing. While we multiply, marine life dwindles, and it’s the fragile among us that’s going first.
For when it comes to survival, size may be a liability. Ours is in the numbers; the whales’ is in the scope of their physicality. Aliens on earth and sea stand a better chance: viruses, bacteria, bugs and jellyfish have proven way more adaptable to beat even a formidable foe as all species have found in us.
The ocean is in fact so broken that a new study found out that an annual ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico, which last year was the size of New Jersey, will continue for several decades.
These areas, which occur when there isn’t enough oxygen in the water to support marine life, are spreading out throughout the oceans and their cause is attributed to nutrient runoff, from agricultural fields which are heavily fertilized during spring.
As these areas grow, marine life recedes, and the natural diversity of the seas becomes severely depleted, even if eventually reasonable levels of oxygen return. Like a change of guard from hell, living creatures, turtles, dolphins, sharks, whales, and their accompanying flurries of feeding birds, are being quickly replaced by plastic, garbage, synthetic rope, and polystyrene foam: the new fruits of the sea.

BLOOD IN A SMALL POND
Blackfish is a documentary about the late Tilikum, an orca whale who spent her 25-plus years in captivity at SeaWorld, which ‘accused’ her of having killed or being involved in the deaths of three of its trainers. The documentary, which in the U.S. became a public television hit, was an indictment on the brutal conditions such wondrous animals are kept in this class of for-profit enterprises.
Forced to a gruesome routine of non-stop training and performing, the 12,000 pound bull, who lived most of her life in a tank the size of bus, had the typical signs of physical and mental deterioration that plague captive animals. The documentary fought SeaWorld to free Tilikum, but she died last year without ever returning to the open sea.
A powerful reason that should’ve ended enslaving whales as toys is the fact that they do share common traits with much smaller-brained humans. They live in highly complex societies, and now researchers found that they also can reach menopause, just like grandma, as one of the few species that live longer than their reproductive years.
A team at the universities of Exeter and of York is undertaking a long-term study to find out exactly how orcas organize themselves (more)
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Read Also:
* Close Encounters
* Eerie Impersonation
* The Saddest Song

Continue reading

The Whale Report

An Albino, Granny & the
Lonely One, Plus an Arabian Pod

For residents of a planet covered by water, we know little about the sea, and arguably, even less about the creatures that live in it. Not even whales, the biggest of them, – a mammal like us, and a former land animal – we know much about. We should hurry up, though.
Centuries of whaling have cut down their population. Pollution and human habits may finish them off. Before that happens, though, you must learn about three unique individuals, and a very odd pod, still swimming the oceans and challenging all assumptions about them.
To be sure, it’s not easy to study animals who live in another element, plus, there are species so secluded and hard to observe in natura that our only hope to gather insights about them is when their carcasses wash ashore. We’re still to catch a live giant squid, for instance.
In fact, we’re so desperate to know more about whales that we’ve been studying everything we can grab from them: their songs, their breath, their earwax, their vomit, even their poop. Each has shed some light on their behavior, history, even their perception about our presence.
We know now that they can live up to 110 years, possibly more, and that they’re sociable beings. Thus many may have stored somewhere within their giant brains, the memory passed along from previous generations, of how we used to hunt and slaughter them mercilessly.
But even without that memory, they have plenty of reasons to fear and mistrust us. Right now, nine companies are lobbying to use seismic air blasts to look for oil and gas off the Eastern Seaboard, a practice that’s been found to be harmful to Cetaceans and marine life.
We can’t list here all the wrong things about that. But it does make the more urgent to introduce our guests today: a rare Albino humpback; an 103-year-young grandmother Orca; the world’s loneliest whale, and a group that’s been genetically isolated from all others for 70,000 years.

THE BIG ALBINO FELLA
When Herman Melville wrote about the white whale that became Capt. Ahab’s obsession and ruin, he echoed centuries of fear about these giants. It also helped that Moby Dick was loosely based on a terrible event, the 1820 wreck of the Whaleship Essex by a sperm whale.
But Migaloo, a rare white whale that’s been pictured frolicking (and singing) around, is a humpback and has done nothing to inspire fear. Not the sole Albino out there, he’s the only one with no spots, though, and his gregarious personality has delighted those who’ve observed it.
Scientists know that it’s a male because it sings, and his name, the Aboriginal word for ‘white fellow,’ does him justice: at the estimated ripe age rage of 22-25, he’s still growing and may survive another half century. That is, if pollution, human presence, air blasts, etc, etc.

GRANNY DID IT AGAIN
Marine biologists only realized Granny, a matriarch of a pod of Orcas that live in the Pacific, is the oldest known of her species because they’ve followed her, and her calf, Ruffles, since the 1970s, helped by her distinctive patches. She must have been in her 60s, then, they say.
To determine age is not an exact science (rings formed in their earwax offer a more precise picture), and it’s silly to link her to human events (oh, she was born before the Titanic sank, some said). Still, Orcas, also known as killer whales, have had a troubled history with humans.
Organizations such as SeaWorld insist in apprehend them for profit and entertainment, and ignore that they need the vastness of the ocean to thrive. Granny was spotted on an 800-mile trek within just a few days. Thank goodness she was born as free as she should be.

THE LONELIEST SONG
We’ve told you about 52 Herz, the whale who may never find a mate because her songs are sung in a much higher frequency of all other whales. We’ve known about this mysterious creature since 1989 but so far, have failed to capture her on camera.
Judging by her migration patterns, she seems to be a baleem whale, a species to which belong the largest animal that has ever lived, the blue whale, and the fin whale. But because

Continue reading

Beneath the Waves

High Noon at Big Blue: Menopausal
Whales & Jellyfish-Murdering Robots

They stand far apart in the immense liquid yonder enveloping the planet. One massive and rare, the other transparent and quasi immaterial. Whales and jellyfish have been around for millions of years, but as one’s likely to outlive us, we miss the other already.
They’re both beautiful, no mistake about it. But while the Medusa and the Man of War are growing strong around the oceans, the majestic blue and the singing humpback, harmless as they are, are swimming to oblivion, and may not get to meet your great-grandchildren.

It doesn’t help that we know so little of either one, and that the very world they inhabit, from which we all draw our sustenance, is on the verge of collapse, victimized by pollution, climate change and overfishing. While we multiply, marine life dwindles, and its the fragile among us that’s going first.
For when it comes to survival, size may be a liability. Ours is in the numbers; the whales’ is in the scope of their physicality. Aliens on earth and sea stand a better chance: viruses, bacteria, bugs and jellyfish have proven way more adaptable to beat even a formidable foe as all species have found in ours.
The ocean is in fact so broken that a yachtsman from Newcastle, sailing from Melbourne to Osaka, was startled by an odd sight, or lack thereoff: in the middle of his trip, he couldn’t see or hear a single bird, Continue reading

Thinking With Tentacles

Mad Penguins & Whale Accents
in the Court of the Octopus King

Research into the natural world has been a reliable way of gauging our walk on this planet, and where we’re probably heading to. But a new approach, devoid of any rancid anthropomorphism, has offered fresh insights into animal intelligence. The results are remarkable.
Heard the one about whales with a Caribbean accent? Or penguins having sex parties wilder than drunken priests? But no one was ready to witness an octopus opening a jar from inside, or sneaking out at night to feed on crabs nearby, before returning to its tank. Who’s observing whom here?
What these and other animals prove is that cognitive ability is not a human monopoly. In fact, whenever the need to compare them with us is subtracted from the equation, crows, cephalopods, and pigeons, to name a few, can outsmart a thinking bloke often in a radical way.
Evolution has proposed alternatives to some species so far from our own, that they could be almost E.T.s raised in Pluto for all we know. Since we no longer equate physiology with identity, it’d be better get acquainted with mental prowess that owes nothing to rationality.
Not that we’re even that rational, or have the natural gift of logic. Far from it. But elephants have always cried of sadness, and chickens do side up with individuals in danger. We were just too busy turning animals into slaves that we oftentimes eat too to pay any attention.

ADÉLIES JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN
Let’s get this out of the way: penguins are not humans, thus morality is not an issue, even if a colony, in the distance, looks like a black-tie cocktail party. And for belting out loud, the Adélies have nothing on the singing lady Adele. But when it comes to parties, theirs do get wild.
During Capt. Scott‘s second, and doomed, trip to Antarctica, between 1910-13, George Murray Levick wrote of widespread necrophilia, males sexually coercing young chicks, before killing them, and shock, having sex with other males. To him, it was “depravity,” and his notes (in Ancient Greek, to harden access to them) went missing.
Till now: they’ve been uncovered and bad “science” journalism have ensued, of course. But five years ago, the biggest Adélie news had nothing to do with sex. In Feb 2016, it was reported that 150,000 penguins had died, landlocked by the fracture of a giant iceberg.
But that was a hoax, better researched stories confirmed. Neither sex fiends nor massacred by climate change, yet, penguins are just, once again, being victims of bad reporting. Why we care has nothing to do with humanity either: they just look like us. We’re already changing their history. Time to tell their stories way better, too.

DEEP SONGS & ACCENTED CLICKS
Since at least the 1970s, news about whales is always surprising, even as their numbers keeping receding towards extinction. The size of their brains, rich social lives, their songs, complex and uniquely identified with their pods. And then there’s the loneliest of them all.
The fact that research into these massive but elusive species has reached such a level of sophistication is, in itself, (more)
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Read Also:
* Beneath the Waves
* Eerie Impersonation
* The Saddest Song
Continue reading

Wild in the City

New Backyard Attractions:
El Jefe & the Lion King of L.A.

Behind the string of wild animal sightings roaming major urban centers is our destructive appetite for the land and resources of their natural habitats. Thus when a mountain lion takes residency in a public park, or a jaguar is caught on tape close to a highway, it’s urgent to study them before they disappear.
Seeing bears, coyotes, alligators, tigers, and many others is becoming common in American and world cities. But there’s something new about P-22, a puma who lives in L.A., and El Jefe, of Tucson and possibly the only jaguar living in the U.S.: the much we’ve already learned about their incredibly rich individual sagas.

No offense to the remarkable little tiger that roams your living room, but these magnificent cats’ ability to adapt and survive offers invaluable insights into our efforts to slow down the extinction their species and of so many others face. Even if, as it goes, their close proximity also shames us to no end.
The ongoing massive man-made extermination of wildlife, which took evolution millions of years to perfect, is not just a tragedy on a planetary scale; it may also turn out to be the gateway to our own quick demise. Good riddance, some of them would say if they could or were born for that sort of thing.
For too long, developed nations have blamed poor (our apologies, Africa) continents for being lax about natural resources and their native animals. But what the fate of P-22 and El Jefe brings home is the hypocrisy of such an attitude, as it exposes our own lack of commitment for protecting the planet.

CEO OF THE UNDOCUMENTED
The footage of El Jefe, whose name was chosen by students at a Tucson school, was is a highlight in a decades-long program to restore a clear path for jaguars between North and South America. So there was due credit given when a remote camera captured glances of the elusive cat for the first time.
But it also happens during a particular hard time for U.S. immigrants. As a misguided administration engages in mass deportations, it also plans to build a wall at the border with Mexico, which would be disastrous to that recover strategy. That is sad but fitting, though, as El Jefe is believed to be a Mexican by birth too.
How it’ll play out may determine whether current efforts to prevent the extinction of species is headed to success or failure. That’s because any effective preservation strategy has to allocate, and protect, large swaths of land, where they can thrive without human direct interference. And that’s tough.
By the way, tough is also the jaguar bite: 2000 pounds per square inch, which relative to its weight is the stronger than all other cats, and also bears, gorilas and hippos. It can crush a turtle shell and it’s no wonder the Amerindian word Yaguar means ‘he who kills with one leap.’

THE BOSS OF HOLLYWOOD
The case of P-22 is similar in what the cat’s endurance is also the result of a carefully laid out plan to drive up the numbers of a genetically diverse population in the U.S. That’s another component of a successful recovery strategy, as it increases their odds to survival.
Centuries of hunting, inbreeding, and the perils of navigating diminishing wilderness patches squeezed by miles and miles (more)
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Read Also:
* Farewell to a King
* Pachyderm Skills
* Sleep With the Fishes

Continue reading

Honey, We’ve Shrunk the Bees

The Unbearable Silence of
Disappearing Pollinators

Be quiet for a moment. Can you hear it? Probably not, but it’s not all your fault. The sound that is missing is the buzzing of billions of bees, that have been disappearing at an alarming rate lately. And the deafening silence from most people, who remain aloof to all of it.
They’re up to a rude awakening, however. Managed care of honeybees, used to pollinate a third of U.S. foods, is on the verge of collapsing, in synch with the insects’ own collapse because of, you guessed it, our own doing. And the proposed solution won’t be enough to stop it.
Consider the Obama administration’s plan, announced this week, to counter a 42% loss of colonies reported last year by U.S. beekeepers. It’s been greeted with dismay by environmentalists because it doesn’t address the key factor that may be single-handedly causing their demise: a new class of pesticide.
Neonicotinoid insecticides were developed by Shell and Bayer as a milder alternative to other pesticides. Instead, soon enough they too became linked to even worse environment effects, top among them, the honeybee colony collapse disorder. That’s why their use is already restricted in European Union nations.
Thus, it’d be logical to expect that the EPA, underfunded as it is, would be charged with controlling and enforcing its phasing out, given the alarm sounded by apiaries. Not so fast, apparently; despite a year worth of petitions to ban neonicotinoids, the new proposal simply ignores it.
But it’s not all bad. Even critics cite the restoration of seven million acres of bee-friendly areas, lost to urbanization, as a positive step included in the plan. It’ll all depend on the bees, however, since as it happens, they seem now prone to get addicted to other sources of sweets. In that case, we’re all doomed.
Or not. Many doubt that the eventual disappearance of bees will bring about such an apocalyptical scenario. They think it’s too melodramatic. Then again, they don’t usually care for fruits. Or vegetables. Or, what the hell, nature. Neither they see a problem when dolphins die, so you do the math.
We could do without so much sweets (or repeats, for that matter) but we do value the fruits and veggies undocumented immigrants and their families work their asses off to bring to us. So if not for the birds and the bees, then at least for the humans who may be breathing neonicotinoids too, let’s say it’s time.
It’d be dumb to discard the stunning beauty by which pollinators and specially bees grace this world, on behalf of our pedestrian mores. Between them and us, it’s hard to say which is the clear favorite. And speaking of repeating ourselves, here’s a post we’ve published over a year ago on the subject.

Bee Friends Ask Lovers of Roses
& Chocolate to Help Save Colonies

A number of environmental groups have chosen Valentine’s Day week last year to remind everyone in general, and lovers in particular, that the massive disappearance of bees continues on but, as far as we now know, it can still be halted.
Their timing is appropriate. That mostly shopping holiday, treasured by precious few but still feverishly cheered by many, is a major sales day for roses and chocolate, and neither will be around for the taking for too long, if pollinators are to die off.
As a matter of fact, nor will human folk, if Albert Einstein was right in his grim prediction. Whether the quote is apocryphal or not, $30 billion worth of U.S. crops face the catastrophic threat of not surviving many more winters without enough bees to assure their pollination.
If that happens, it wouldn’t be for lack of warnings, just like climate change and the annual extinction of Continue reading

Horned & Endangered

Attacking Hippos, Upside Down
Rhinos & One Depressed Elephant

And you thought vegetarians were not aggressive. Tell that to a charging 6.000 pounds angry herbivore. It happens all the time.
In other news, there’s a novel way to relocate rhinos. Hint: it’s off the ground. Is that why elephants get depressed?
What’s about hippopotamuses, rhinoceros and elephants that makes us see them as kindred spirits? Their weight, size and diet? Social organization? Or just our plain ignorance?
Despite all we now know about these three species, they each preserve a certain mysterious quality and intelligence, evident in the ways they interact with each other and with us.
They still fight viciously among themselves in the wild, of course. Still, somehow gentleness is a word generally associated with, at Continue reading

Extra! Extra!

Morning Blur

(Mind Still Out of Commission;
Service to Be Restored Shortly)

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Curtain Raiser


31/12/2012

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The Day After

Ops, Not Quite There Yet;
Please Come Back Later

12/26/2012

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X-Rated Fruit

When a Passion Fruit
Has a Suggestive Shape

These penis-shaped passion fruits are the current favorite conversation topic in São José de Ribamar, Brazil. No one can explain how come the fruits of a tree Maria Rodrigues de Aguiar Farias planted two years ago came out so suggestively formatted. But everyone seems eager to taste it.
Dona Maria, as she is locally known, wasn’t even sure whether this was indeed a passion fruit tree, a favorite in the tropics, eaten by cutting a little hole on its top and sucking its juices. But she’s been very busy fielding requests from neighbors who want the seeds to plant in their own land. “It really looks so much like THAT,” said her neighbor Maria Elizabeth da Cruz, who’s credited for having helped water the plant.
Even agronomists with the Maranhão’s agribusiness state agency (AGED) got involved and concluded in their analysis that the tree underwent some rare genetic mutation, that may or may not have been caused by its main pollinator, a type of beetle.
As for its popularity, it’s still growing, fueled by media attention and local artists who have written odes in verse and rhyme, inspired by the penis-shaped fruit. According to the state agronomists’ studies, its unusual shape may also determine it to taste differently from your run-of-the-mill passion fruit.
It’s entirely up to you, of course, to come up with any original or obvious jokes about the name and shape of this honest-to-god, dead-serious funny tree. As for us, our agenda of things to do in São José de Ribamar the next time we visit just got its first obligatory stop: “Get a taste of that fruit.” (Thanks, Jorge Keller)

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No Kidding

Teddy Bear
Blood Bag

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Before & After?

Chocolate, Roses
& Bleeding Hearts

From the Catholic Church saints that named it to the Hallmark cards that oversell it, the holiday dedicated to lovers is a bonanza for restaurants and pubs in big cities around the world. It’s one of the hardest dates to book a table in any restaurant worth its napkins, and it’s very likely the saddest in bars and watery holes across the land.
Many people propose to their sweet hearts on February 14 but no statistics confirm whether this is such a great idea. It’s a high pressure time for lovers trying to impress their loved ones, and disappointment is always a possibility when stakes are so high.
If the police has any data on the number of crimes of passion committed on this date, they are not telling. In the end, there’s just one historical fact associated with it, and sorry, it’s not pretty: on February 14, 1929, Al Capone and his minions gunned down seven members of a rival gang, in what became the most reviled event of the Prohibition Era.
It remains a fact, though, that regardless the commercialism linked to Valentine’s Day, it does mark a tribute to the affection and romantic ideals lovers share and expect from their partners. Which means that, if you’re not impressed with anything mentioned above, you do deserve to spend the most perfect day with your soul mate. Enjoy it.

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Broken Hearts

Museum of What’s Left
When Romance Is Over

We don’t want to rain on anyone’s Valentine’s, but in Zagreb there’s a museum about an interesting theme: it’s called the Museum of Broken Relationships. It exhibits a variety of objects that once were beloved mementos of promising relationships, and that now tell the story of their breakup.
You may find a half-smashed gnome, said to have been thrown in fury at some ungrateful soul, for example, or a Teddy Bear that remained when everything else about that particular liaison went into oblivion. Even an ax (careful, now) is part of the collection but it was used to destroy furniture, not what you were thinking, you psycho.
In any case, seeing the objects and reading about their story it’s an entertaining way of visiting somebody else’s misery, with a bit of caution thrown in. After all, just look at the cell phone someone was given to call her lover “more often.” Unlike the relationship itself, it’s still intact.

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Mushroom Car

Auto Industry’s Hunger for Viable
Future Threatens World Food Supply

This is a story that won’t get much mileage for a while, but it’s already covering a lot of road, nevertheless. As car designers try to find more sustainable and less costly ways to outfit their models, they’re looking into some forms of food to replace petroleum-based fuel and car parts.
The trend has already something of a track record. What started with the use of ethanol and cooking oils as fuel, has evolved to incorporate replacement materials in the manufacturing of soft foam seats and dashboards. As much as 10 percent of car parts typically made from petroleum plastics can now be made from soy-based polyurethane foams or “bioplastic.”
For some in the industry, that’s the future knocking on their door. But there’s still a long way to go. The “green” soy-based foam, for example, although takes less energy to make, is not yet biodegradable.
Scientists are also experimenting with mushroom roots and other plant matter, like wheat straw, to put it into a mold shaped like a car part. And with avian feathers, which cooked at just the right temperature, can turn into high-tech hydrogen storage devices.
It’s a promising field within an industry that has seen its ups and downs but it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. But, as with the increasing adoption of grains traditionally used for food diverted for fuel, the recent developments are not without its flaws and critics.
In the case of ethanol, for example, besides its brutal environmental impact, widespread adoption is starting to seriously compromise global supplies of food. Producers are switching vast portions of land for food to the more profitable fuel production.
So if the search for alternatives to the use of petroleum and petroleum-based products for consumer goods is commendable, it also represents risks to the stability of the global production of food commodities. At the end of the day, it does matter whether this soybean or that mushroom will be used to build another car or to feed another mouth.

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A Horse With a Name

Mr. Basil Will Have His Pint
Now, Thank You Very Much

Every Sunday, a pub in Burton, Staffordshire, hosts a special regular: Basil the horse, who’s known to love a pint after a refreshing ride. The nine-year old steed has been coming in for years and never once made a fool of himself.
In fact, he became a hit among the locals, who enjoy his company and admire his restrain. Now, just look around the pub you’re at right now and think about how many of the presents you could say the same.
As for that old saying, you can lead a horse to the water but you can’t make him drink, it’s got it all wrong. Never mind the water; just make sure to invite Basil for an ale that he’ll drink it, no fuss about it.

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Mass Overdose

Shrinking Budgets, Malpractices
May Be Behind Homeopathy Backlash

Hundred of thousands took the streets all over the world this past weekend. No, not just to support the Egyptian people’s right to self determination. Many were just demonstrating against the use of homeopathy, the alternative health system created by Samuel Hahnemann in the 1700s.
They ingested thousands of bottles of homeopathic medicines in front of stores that sell them in the U.S., England, Australia, and South American and Asian countries. Neither anyone died of overdose, nor we heard a word so far from the estimated 500 million worldwide users of homeopathy.
If you wonder whether you’re missing something about this issue, after two hundred years of relatively peaceful coexistence between homeopathy and conventional medicine, you’re excused; you were probably distracted by the events in the Middle East.
For the 10:23 campaigners though, there’s no turning back: homeopathy is a ripoff and a waste of everybody’s time. It’s as effective as a sugar pill or placebo and, they say, there’s no justification to include it any country’s medical program and budget.
In case you’re wondering, the 10:23 figure is a nod to Italian chemist Avogadro‘s number determining the amount of molecules in a given solution (ok, enough of your questions for now). The rallies were coordinated by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, who promises not to let this issue go away.
According to its defenders, homeopathy works on the principle of ‘similia similibus curentur’, or let ‘likes be cured by likes’ which means that what will cause, will cure. Which means, well you got the idea. Just like antidotes work, a detached party would say. We’re not repeating here what its detractors would say of it, though.
But somehow in these times of dwindling budgets for social programs, combined with a resurgence of religious objections to the theory of evolution, not seen since, well, the 1700s, maybe homeopathy is just being singled out as the scapegoat for its lack of affiliation with science.
The medical establishment, apparently absent of this debate, nevertheless has a lot to gain from it, of course. Medical research and drug development pipelines are in the front lines of any scientific research, and a successful drug can make billions to the laboratories that create them.
Since drug research is in the realm and interest of public health, enormous resources are routinely channeled to the big medical conglomerates, which often profit even before their products reach the market. Disease, as dying, will always be a booming business.
So, it’d be just natural that in one way or another, they’d protect their turf with all the determination (and the best lawyers) money can buy. For there are many factors that may threaten their bottom line. A successful, alternative line of healing products, the kind that don’t require costly approval from government agencies, would be definitely a contender. Specially if words such as “natural,” “organic” and “healing powers” grace their labels, regardless how loosely they’re using them.
Another one is the increase in medical malpractice suits. When that involves one of their brands, it can risk the ability of so-called big pharma to meet profitability targets shareholders demand. That explains the countless provisions in their financial reports related to potential lawsuits.
Ultimately, the backlash against homeopathy may be heavy handed in what chooses to attack one of the cheapest industries in the market today, compared to multimillion dollar concerns that commercialize “natural” products and effectively compete against the big laboratories.
But it may be marking a turning point of the public opinion, after the onslaught of faith-based healing and other “magical” recovering systems pitched by snake-oil salesforces with no qualms about milking the economies and trust of impoverished, god-fearing communities.

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Only in Rio

Man Makes His Bed
On the Side of a Wall

Housing is not easy to find, no matter where you are on earth. Specially if you’re penniless. Some wind up living under a bridge. Some are forced to a park bench. All are subjected to daily harassment and the indignities typical of street life.
Yet there are those who come up with unusual solutions and, taking a page from the public performance art book, make their beds where no one else would.
Take this Carioca, for example (that is how a Rio de Janeiro dweller is called). He chose one of the city’s busiest arteries, Rua Luis de Camoes, to set up his bedroom. Not on the street itself, mind you, but on a vertical wall.
There’s his bed, his little set of drawers, an old fashioned record player, even a hammock for quiet afternoon readings. He obviously has no problem with heights. Or public exposure.
He seems to have everything he needs, this side of outdoor plumbing and private toilets. Street lights are doing just fine for him and other amenities can be easily arranged.
It’s all for show, of course, and it looks. But it’s pretty, nonetheless. Passers by are known to stop and stare, even if just for a minute, on their way to work or to their own not so special bedroom.
It may be the summer. After all, it’s Rio and Carnival is right around the corner, so one shouldn’t be too surprised. But it certainly beats the below freezing temperature we’ve been having in the North. (Thanks, Norton.)

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Keep an Eye

Last Glass Eye Maker
Sees Waning Demand

For two hundred years, there was nothing more esthetically acceptable for those who’d lost an eye than to wear one made of glass. Although slightly disturbing to children and small animals, it was a superior alternative to the pirate patch and, depending on the lighting, almost undetectable. Except, of course, to prying eyes.
Jost Haas, a German native based in London, is considered one of the last glass eye makers still active in the market today. His technique manufacturing them goes back two centuries, with a lot of artistry and dedication only someone who’s devoted his whole life to the metier would master. This short, understated video shows it how.

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Illegal Aliens

Florida Lizards Much Prefer
Californians (Roaches, That Is)

Smuggling is one of the oldest forms of illegal trading. Since immemorial times people have been risking their lives and fortunes to transport from one place to another, precious stones, valuable metals, exotic animals, even humans.
As with any other market, demand is what drives traffic and it’s virtually impossible to list all categories of goods that have ever been apprehended by the customs agencies and border patrols of the world.
One thing remains constant, though: the market thrives wherever there are shortages of such goods. It’s what makes them profitable. But tell that to one Derek Rader (his real name), who was busted trying to smuggle California cockroaches to… Florida.
Now do you know how many roaches scurry per square feet in Florida? Neither do we, but it’s certainly a lot, right? Not enough for discriminating tastes of those who consume them, apparently. Rader and the state’s reptile population know well that.
Dubia roaches – who knows why they call them by a similar name tabloids used to call George Bush? – are two inches in size, have more meat than crickets, and once bred properly, you’ll never buy another one again, if that’s your thing. That’s the upside.
But since they’re non native to Florida and have no natural predators, their breeding with the state’s own species would mean a population explosion. A perfect crawling storm, if you would.
So Florida’s pest control agencies are always on the lookout to prevent what happened, for example, with the giant boa constrictors that began appearing in the Everglades during the 1990s.
Not exactly smuggled, for wild life officials believe that many of them were pets discarded by their inconsiderate owners, they’re now a source of permanent concerns.
They have spread throughout the state and their encounters with native species have been disastrous. A few years ago, an infamous picture made the Internet rounds: a boa which literally exploded after swallowing a huge crocodile.
Who knows what kind of hybrid would be generated by the combination of native and non native species, in the hot and humid climate of Florida. But whatever it’d be, nobody wants it. Except for Rader, who’s only in it to make a (dishonest) buck.
But one does get tickled to come up with a tabloid-style headline to illustrate it all. “Rader Roach Motel?” “Roach Rader Loses License?” or “Illegal Roach Motel Raided.” We could never match those headline editors. But nobody wants another breed of cockroaches crawling in their backyard either.

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Beatlebarry

When Bond & the Beatles
Shared Chords & the 60s

We’re not sure about you, but there was a time we thought we heard echoes of John Barry‘s famous soundtrack for the 007 film series in George Martin’s intro for “Help,” the song that named The Beatles’s second feature film. The thought arose again this past week with Barry’s passing, and it took us only a few strokes of the keyboard to find a link of sorts between the two themes.
The British soundtrack composer, who incidentally was married \to Jane Birkin at some point, created distinctive themes for some of the most successful movies of the past 40 years. But besides “Born Free,” “Midnight Cowboy” and “Body Heat,” all released before most of those reading this note were even born, he’ll be forever remembered, of course, for the James Bond movies.
The signature chord progression that opens the credits for the popular series – whose authorship Barry had to defend in court – became a sonic icon for the era and in many cases, outclassed the films it illustrated.
Just like that other indelible British contribution to popular culture: The Beatles.
In 1965, Barry had already established his credentials with a string of highly visible soundtracks, and so had the boys from Liverpool. In fact, American-born Richard Lester directed both their second feature, which was released later that year, as well as their previous one.
At the same time, he also directed “The Knack – and How to Get It,” which is set to, but completely fails to capture, a certain Swinging London spirit going on at the time. Barry signed the half-forgotten soundtrack for that half-forgotten movie. But his collaboration with Lester somehow became the link that those who simply can not live without that sort of arcana have been longing to find for years.
We’re not members in good standing of that club, but even from the sidelines we can appreciate a good ol’ apocryphal sub-plot, an undiscovered bridge if you would, between two landmarks of a bygone era. And now that we completely sucked all the oxigen from the room, what about helping yourself with the music of John and John and Paul and all the others, and lighten up with a shaken, not stirred Martini?
By the way, does anyone even talk like that?

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Village Keys

Eye Opening Facade Art Pays
Homage to Still Vital Business

The picture above depicts A) a still of the creature’s tail for the sequel to the movie franchise “Aliens”; B) a new species of marine worm, photographed for the first time at the bottom of the Hudson River; C) a New York artist’s show about the Continue reading