Monthly Archives: March 2006

Show Me The Money

Well hopefully I will be getting my tax refunds before too long. The 9th District Court threw out Attorney General Doug Moylan’s lawsuit against Governor Camacho’s attempts to secure over $400 million on the bond market to pay GovGuam’s debts. A large chunk of that money is slated to pay for several years of tax refunds. Since I am still waiting for two years of refunds, this is welcome news. The bond issue has been tied up for three years thanks to the Attorney General and his grandstanding. Of course Moylan vowed to appeal the case to the Supreme Court, promising to bring several more years of suffering among people and companies that are owed millions by GovGuam.

Eat Drink Be Merry

I just read an interesting piece in the Harvard Magazine from a couple years ago; The Way We Eat Now. It addresses the problems of obesity and diet in our civilization and it is well worth reading.

One of the ideas mentioned in the Harvard article is how humanity is, for want of a better term, cookivores. We like our food, whether it be meat, vegetable, cereal or fruit, cooked. Indeed it was cooking food that allowed our species to ascend to dominance, because cooking renders food digestible, allowing people to spend less time chewing food to ingest more calories.

In a funny synchronicity, I came across a flurry of stories over the weekend about the Magdalenian Girl. Turns out the 15,000 year old female is actually older than anthropologists suspected. For decades she was called the Magdalenian Girl and estimated to be about 18 at the time of her death. A series of x-rays revealed her secret though; impacted wisdom teeth. And since wisdom teeth generally erupt on ce people are in their twenties, the Magdalenian Girl is not as young as originally thought. She was probably somewhere between 25 and 35 years old when she died.

What’s this got to do with the Harvard article? Well, cooked food is softer and requires less energy to chew. The reduced need for muscle mass and chewing strength led to smaller jawbones in our forebears, making mouths too small for all those teeth. The Magdalenian Girl’s impacted wisdom teeth show that cooked foods were prevalent 15,000 years ago among humans, much earlier in the Paleolithic than previously thought.

The Magdalenian Girl is on exhibit at the Field Museum in a new permanent exhibit on evolution, an exhibit that unabashedly excludes any kowtowing to creationists.

Impact Events

Came across two stories this week on asteroid impacts; one a do it yourself guide to finding impact craters with Google Earth, and the other about a recently identified crater in Iraq that is of historical interest.

The first story talks about how a curious amateur managed to locate a couple impact craters in Libya and Chad with nothing more than a casual scanning of the globe in Google Earth. Talk about serendipitous discoveries.

The second story about asteroids concerns an impact crater in Iraq that was discovered several years ago. The crater was submerged beneath a lake until Saddam’s genocide against the Marsh Arabs drained their homeland, revealing the 2 mile wide crater. This is interesting because the crater is about 4,000 years old, placing it within recorded human history. Several civilizations across the Near East collapse around this time; the Old Kingdom in Egypt, the Akkadian Empire in Iraq and numerous settlements in Israel and Lebanon. Perhaps this impact played a part in the regional collapse of civilizations. The area was covered by a shallow sea at the time of impact, and probably generated immense tsunami throughout the Persian Gulf. Could this event be the inspiration for the legends of the Sumerian and Biblical floods? At the very least, the impact would have changed the climate with ash fall and cooling temperatures, leading to crop failures and widespread collapse of cities. I dunno, the whole story seems rather sketchy to me.

Taking a cue from that first story I plugged the coordinates provided into Google Earth, and I don’t see anything but sand and salt. More importantly, linking the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Egypt (around 2100 BC) with the rumored fall of Akkad (around 1800 BC) to climatological ice core data indicating cooler temperatures (around 1600 BC) makes me suspect other forces were involved. The Old Kingdom managed to collapse five centuries before the plummeting temperatures in 1600 BC. This makes me suspect other, more terrestrial forces were involved. War, famine, disease. The researchers are caught up in that inherent human desire for apocalypses. I think we are quite capable of destroying ourselves without any help from heaven or hell.

PS – As cool as Google Earth is, Google Mars is much, much cooler.

Cool Word Of The Day

Stumbled across this mouthful over the weekend: Apocatastasis. I think it’s one of my new favorite words. It is the believe that there will come a time when all beings share in the grace of salvation, as in everybody gets into heaven, even the devil and souls damned to perdition. It was explicitly laid out by St. Gregory of Nyssa over 1,700 years ago. Gregory was a staunch opponent of Arianism, a schism in the early church that led to the Nicene Creed which is recited at every Mass. I’m leaving out a lot of bloodshed and apostasy here, but I still like the idea that everybody gets into heaven no matter how evil and corrupt. Sort of makes the whole point of religion irrelevant don’t you think?

The Burning Season

Mountains ablaze
March has come around once again, and the fires are upon us. Fire raged along Cross Island Road yesterday afternoon, reaching into the mountains above Santa Rita last night. Over 2,800 acres burned on Sunday before firefighters brought the blaze under control.

The dry season brings brushfires every year, and while it seems a little late this year, the burning season has arrived. I went atop Mt. Lam Lam a couple weekends ago, and a large brushfire was burning along the slopes below the summit that day. The last appreciable rainfall fell on February 4th, and the swordgrass is drying out.

The rains will not return for several more months, so expect a lot more fires through March and April. Hopefully it won’t be as bad as some years. I remember 1998 was particularly bad. Seemed like the whole island was on fire that year.

When Predators Attack

Interesting little piece about predators hunting and slaying other predators. Looks like hunters prefer to pick on smaller predators and rarely take on similarly sized opponents. The reason is competition for resources, not predation. Victims are rarely eaten.

Oh course, when the competition is tough, it turns into open warfare. The wolves on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale are battling it out between three packs. Competition for food is fierce on the island because the moose population is at a 48 year low. The island currently supports 450 moose, far fewer than the 1,100 that populated the island five years ago. Scientists suspect that this is part of the aging of a ‘baby boom’ in the moose population ten years ago, compounded by changing habitat in the island’s forest. The forest’s stands of birch and and aspen are being replaced by less nutritious spruce and balsam fir. The change in trees also led to a decline in beaver populations, an alternative food for the wolf packs. And the 30 wolves on the island are feeling the pinch.

Ukiyo-e Sunday

I’m running out of ukiyoe prints to scan and post up here on Sundays. Next week will probably be the last one I do.

Katsushika Hokusai, Irises
Katsushika Hokusai, Irises, late 1820’s.

Buddha Boy Disappears

A teenager hailed as the reincarnation of the Buddha disappeared on Saturday, leaving behind his clothes in a Nepalese jungle.

Ram Bahadur Banjan was seen heading south before dawn Saturday morning. Banjan’s follower maintain the boy has not eaten or drank water in 10 months of meditation beneath the roots of a peepal tree in an impoverished region south of Kathmandu. Pilgrims and merchants alike flocked to his hermitage and set up a sprawling bazaar around his tree.

Banjan maintained that he was not the reincarnation of the Buddha, but that did not stop him from becoming the calm center of a media firestorm in war-torn Nepal. The BBC speculates that he simply retreated further into the jungle to get away from all the noise and bustle of the bazaar. It must suck having to inhale diesel fumes while trying to achieve enlightenment.

Scrapping Ships

Check out this harrowing photo essay from Foreign Policy, End of the Line. I’ve sent his before in Wired, but wow, these photos really bring home the disquieting business of dismembering hulks on the beaches of Bangladesh and India.

It should come as no surprise that this is a business fraught with danger, laced with toxic chemicals and foisted upon some of the world’s poorer countries. Another example of economic imperialism.

Oddly, looking at these decrepit vessels being torn apart to supply a 80% of a country’s source of steel makes me think of Larry Niven’s science fiction classic, Ringworld. I’d suggest reading the novel to grasp my inference, it’s quite enjoyable sf anyway. If you can’t make the jump, I’ll explain myself at some later date in the comments.

Ali Farka Touré Dies

I wanted to mention this earlier this week but didn’t get around to it. Ali Farka Touré, the great blues guitarist from Mali, passed away this week after a long illness. He was in his late sixties.

Touré won two Grammys in his lifetime, one in 1994 for Talking Timbuktu and one just this year for In the Heart of the Moon. He was adamant that his blues music was African to the core, and that Delta blues was a direct descendent of his country’s musical heritage.

Although he has worked with several US blues guitarists, the “Bluesman of Africa” always insisted that the music had its roots in the traditional sounds of northern Mali, rather than the southern United States.

Malian journalist Sadio Kante says Toure was better known abroad than in his home country…

During the 1990s rebellion by the Tuareg people of northern Mali, Toure was seen as something of a peacemaker by singing in all of the region’s languages – Songhai, Fulani and the Tuareg’s Tamashek.

Many Bamako residents saw him as a northerner, rather than a national figure, says Sadio Kante.

NASA Probe Highlights

A bittersweet week in space science, as one probe begins a heralded mission, another reveals new wonders in a fantastic realm and a third is killed by NASA during a round of budget cuts that eviscerate the unmanned science programs funded by the agency.

No Fear, Still Here

For all three of you that are regular readers, my apologies for my absence this week. Things are a little hairy at work, leading to some late nights coding, and all my free time has been devoted to other activities.

Specifically, I rented Oliver Twist and Pride & Prejudice this week from Blockbuster, two movies I wanted to see last year that never played on Guam. So I snatched them up immediately and watched them on back to back nights, Monday and Tuesday. Polanski’s Oliver Twist was a good, enjoyable adaptation, but Pride & Prejudice was absolutely luminous. Most enjoyable DVD I have seen in a long time. Once it was over, I just had to go straight to the source and enjoy more time with Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. So I sat down and read Jane Austen for two nights straight. It’s been years since I read Pride & Prejudice, and it was supremely enjoyable. Then I picked up Oliver Twist and started reading about his life and times. I’m about halfway right through Dickens right now and enjoying it immensely as well. So sorry, there won’t be much more posting here until I’ve knocked off that novel.

The Tree Of Life

Over at Carl Zimmer’s excellent Corante blog, The Loom, he has posted a graphic of the Tree of Life, a phylogeny of genomic diversity. It is an amazing graphic, and it really drives home the point that most of life on this planet is comprised of things we cannot see with the naked eye. Only the slim red segment represents all eukaryotic life; plants, animals, fungi and protozoans. The rest of the tree is comprised of bacteria. And this chart doesn’t even include the even larger genetic diversity of the viral world, which are technically not alive.

Speaking about life, I recently read a fascinating piece on the origins of life. While scientists might never discover the actual origins of life, they are getting closer and closer, and making ever more educated guesses about what happened. Especially intriguing is the realization that certain kinds of RNA can function as both genetic material and synthesize protein; a ‘ribozyme’ that could have both stored information and produced reactions in the first living organisms.

The article lays out several competing hypotheses for the early environment on earth, and what conditions provided the impetus for organic molecules to self organize into coherent, reproducing structures. Many experiments have shown that amino acids, purines and other building blocks of life form readily in atmospheric conditions considered likely for the early atmosphere of our planet. It is even possible some organic molecules arrived from space on board comets or meteorites, adding to the prebiotic stew bubbling away on the planet. It is a fascinating subject, and the article mentioned above is very well done.

Snakes On A Plane!

Holy cow! This is the greatest title for a movie – ever. Snakes on a Plane! It is its own four word review: It’s Snakes on a goddamn plane! What more do you need to know? How ’bout that it stars Samuel Jackson, and he forced the producers to change the name back to Snakes on a Plane when the marketing droids thought Flight 121 Yadda Yadda Yadda was a better title. C’mon, it’s Snakes on a goddamn Plane! The name says it all.