PRATIE PLACE

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Cane Toads Full of Plaster



The picture, from the National Geographic, is of cane toads which an Australian taxidermist is recycling by filling them with plaster and turning them into paper weights.

There are way, way too many cane toads in Australia, the right number would be zero.
Originally from South America, the cane toad was introduced by the sugar industry in 1935 in a misguided attempt to control two sugarcane pests: the Grey Backed cane beetle and the Frenchie beetle.

Unfortunately, no one noticed that the toad doesn't generally eat these bugs, though it successfully devoured other native insects and micro-fauna to the point of extinction.

Adding insult to ecosystem injury, the poisonous toad instantly kills any predator that attempts to eat it, particularly the quoll, Australia's marsupial cat, and giant native lizards. Its population continues to proliferate, outcompeting native amphibians and spreading disease. More.
A Cane Toads: An Unnatural History is a great movie. I gave it five stars! I particularly liked footage of a cane toad eating all the food out of a dog's bowl as the dog, indignant and terrorized, hovered nearby.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

On this site will be located...



... the sleepy little fishing village of Puerta Alba.

New Yorker, 1980s

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Hippo and tortoise

I know these pictures are everywhere, but I had to have them here, too, so I could go "aww" any time I wanted.

Tsunami-orphaned hippo adopted by 100-year old tortoise (August 19, 2005) - via Ambivablog.


NAIROBI (AFP) - A baby hippopotamus that survived the tsunami waves on the Kenyan coast has formed a strong bond with a giant male century-old tortoise, in an animal facility in the port city of Mombassa, officials said.

The hippopotamus, nicknamed Owen and weighing about 300 kilograms (650 pounds), was swept down Sabaki River into the Indian Ocean, then forced back to shore when tsunami waves struck the Kenyan coast on December 26, before wildlife rangers rescued him.

"It is incredible. A-less-than-a-year-old hippo has adopted a male tortoise, about a century old, and the tortoise seems to be very happy with being a 'mother'," ecologist Paula Kahumbu, who is in charge of Lafarge Park, told AFP.


"After it was swept away and lost its mother, the hippo was traumatized. It had to look for something to be a surrogate mother. Fortunately, it landed on the tortoise and established a strong bond. They swim, eat and sleep together," the ecologist added. "The hippo follows the tortoise exactly the way it follows its mother. If somebody approaches the tortoise, the hippo becomes aggressive, as if protecting its biological mother," Kahumbu added.

"The hippo is a young baby, he was left at a very tender age and by nature, hippos are social animals that like to stay with their mothers for four years," he explained.



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Language Log

Via nominations for the 2005 Weblog Awards I found Language Log, where they are currently musing over our president's "growing disfluency."

I liked two posts on the awful prose of Dan Brown - it astonishes me how many people happily plowed through The Da Vinci Code. I found it unreadable, infuriatingly so.

(Which just goes to show, yet again, that I can't keep up. As an opinionated slip of a lass visiting MacDonald's for the first time, I confidently exclaimed: "Oh, this is a stupid idea, and these hamburgers are bad. This will never succeed.")

I also liked a post called Dave Barry, linguist. It reminded me how, even in dark times, Barry used to make Zed and me laugh ourselves silly.

Ask Mr. Language Person...




QPlease explain the correct usage of the phrase "all things being equal."
AIt is used to make sentences longer.
WRONG: "Earl and myself prefer the Cheez Whiz."
RIGHT: "All things being equal, Earl and myself prefer the Cheez Whiz."
QPlease explain the expression: "This does not bode well."
AIt means that something is not boding the way it should. It could be boding better.

WRITING TIP FOR PROFESSIONALS: To make your writing more appealing to the reader, avoid "writing negatively." Use positive expressions instead.
WRONG: "Do not use this appliance in the bathtub."
RIGHT: "Go ahead and use this appliance in the bathtub."

TODAY'S BUSINESS WRITING TIP: In writing proposals to prospective clients, be sure to clearly state the benefits they will receive:
WRONG: "I sincerely believe that it is to your advantage to accept this proposal."
RIGHT: "I have photographs of you naked with a squirrel."

GOT A QUESTION FOR MISTER LANGUAGE PERSON? That is not our problem.



The critical question now facing the scientific community is: WHY do herring break wind? Scientists quoted in the article speculate that the herring might be using these sounds -- which they make mainly at night -- to communicate with each other.

This raises another question: What, exactly, would a herring need to communicate? I mean, we're talking about creatures with roughly the same IQ as a Tic-Tac. They are not down there discussing Marcel Proust. My guess is they're probably breaking wind to convey extremely simple messages such as: "Hey, it's dark!" "I know! The same thing happened last night!" "Who said that?" "Me!" "Who are you?" "A herring!" "Wow, that's amazing! I'm also a herring!"


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Monday, November 28, 2005

Pattern Language, in practice

Amen, mom. I am convinced that one major element contributing to my workplace stress is my office situation. I share an office with another person. This would not be so bad, except that all day, I sit with my back to her. She can see me out of her peripheral vision, as I am to her right, but since I face the wall, I can't see her at all. This can give a person the subconscious feeling, all day, that she might be attacked unawares. Particularly if said person is a little bit behind in her work.

By the way, the rugelach recipe is fantastic. I made it two days ago for my airplane trip yesterday, and by the time I got home, all the rugelach were gone. We made it with figs not dates but it seemed to work just fine.

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More from the "Pattern Language"

Somebody who read about my Adventure With Lite-Form e-mailed to ask why I'd put that inverted bay, with those pesky 45-degree angles, in my house design.

It was because I crush on Christopher Alexander's "Pattern Language." See his website for much, much more. Here are the ideas which led me to this choice:

  1. POSITIVE OUTDOOR SPACE (#106)

    Positive spaces are partly enclosed, at least to the extent that their areas seem bounded ... the "virtual" area which seems to exist is convex.

    We put forward the following hypothesis. People feel comfortable in spaces which are "positive" and use those spaces; people feel relatively uncomfortable in spaces which are "negative" and such spaces tend to remain unused.

    When a person looks for a place to sit down outdoors, he rarely chooses to sit exposed in the middle of an open space - he usually looks for a tree to put his back against; a hollow in the ground, a natural cleft which will partly enclose and shelter him.

  2. LONG THIN HOUSE (#109)

    In small buildings, don't cluster all the rooms together around each other; instead [for privacy and light] string out the rooms one after another, so that distance between each room is as great as it can be.

  3. LIGHT ON TWO SIDES OF EVERY ROOM (#159)

    When they have a choice, people will always gravitate to those rooms which have light on two sides, and leave the rooms which are lit only from one side unused and empty.

    In a room lit on only one side ... the part furthest from the window is uncomfortably dark ... the interior wall immediately next to the window is usually dark, creating discomfort and glare.

Alexander points out that, if you build a scalloped outside wall, spaces are created on the inside for windows, and on the outside, for pleasant sheltered spaces to sit.

So I built a brick patio in the scooped-out (south-facing) area. The 45-degree angles let extra light into the house. The narrow window on the 45-degree wall in my bedroom, for instance, at this time of year lets in the beautiful golden late-afternoon light.

I highly recommend Alexander's book if you ever have the opportunity to design a living space. Some of his ideas are a bit loony but some are so "right" they will make you gasp in instant recognition.


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Best of Me Symphony is up at "The Owner's Manual."

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Humility

Here's a rerun of one of my favorite jokes:
A bishop, a priest, and a peasant were in a great European cathedral.

The bishop approached the altar rail, beat on his chest and declared, "I am nothing! I am nothing!" Then the priest approached the altar rail, beat on his chest and declared, "I am nothing! I am nothing!"

The humble peasant was moved to imitate the bishop and the priest, so he approached the altar rail, beat on his chest and declared, "I am nothing! I am nothing!"

The priest turned furiously and hissed into the bishop's ear, "Who the hell does he think he is?"

UPDATE: I noticed after posting this joke that the author had spelled "altar" as "alter." This clue reinforced my suspicion that, despite the personnel and the location, what we have here is actually a Jewish joke.


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Tar Heel Tavern is up...

... at Slowly She Turned. Among many other things, you can find a link to Buy Nothing Christmas. Thanks, Laurie!

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The Atheists' Code

Via ambivablog, at whose site a hearty discussion has occurred in the comments, but originally from I Am An Atheist:

As an atheist you have a number of rights and responsibilities. These include (but are not limited to):

  1. Have no gods.
  2. Don't worship stuff.
  3. Be polite.
  4. Take a day off once in a while.
  5. Be nice to folks.
  6. Don't kill people.
  7. Don't fool around on your significant other.
  8. Don't steal stuff.
  9. Don't lie about stuff.
  10. Don't be greedy.
Remember, theists will condemn you for living by this code because you are doing it of your own free will instead of because you're afraid that if you don't a supreme being will set you on fire.

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Fooling with "Jans Painter 25"

I downloaded Jans Painter 25 and stayed up way too late fooling with it! It has a non-intuitive setup (for me) and a scanty help file - and trying to mess with colors is incredibly cumbersome - but it's a tiny efficient little program and lots of fun.

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Buy Nothing Day

I really like the idea of Buy Nothing Day and plan to have as many such days as possible through the holiday season. (And I like this elephant so much it's been added to my sidebar as a sort of anti-advertisement.)

I'm spending my money on Zed's education and sending as much to the world's many disaster areas as I can. (That includes first and foremost the Nature Conservancy, because actually the whole world is a disaster.)

Even though my young friend Menticia would have preferred to go out to dinner and a movie yesterday, she enjoyed a 1-1/4 hour walk with me, followed by reading, learning how to make animated .gif files, and a dinner of Thanksgiving leftovers.

Here are extracts from Treehugger's charming article on the subject.

By Ruben Anderson of Vancouver, BC:
Buy Nothing Day is a holiday dear to my heart.

So what is my plan to reduce consumption? It's simple, have more perogie parties. I went to my first perogie party three years ago, and I can't stop talking about it.

We started with about a dozen people, none of them particularly close friends, at least not at first. The host was Norman Nawrocki, former Perogie King of Montreal.

The instructions were easy, bring one perogie ingredient and one bottle of vodka for every two people. I scoffed at the amount of alcohol, thinking it would be impossible to drink that much.

The first thing the Perogie King taught us was a little Polish song. We sang the song whenever we achieved anything of even the tiniest significance.
  1. We scrubbed the potatoes, sang the song and did a shot of vodka (a small shot, admittedly).
  2. We chopped the potatoes, sang the song and did a shot of vodka.
  3. We cooked the potatoes, sang the song and did a shot of vodka.
  4. We mashed the potatoes, sang the song and did a shot of vodka.
  5. By 8:45 we were running out to catch the liquor store before it closed.
We repeated this pattern for everything, grating cheese, mixing dough, rolling dough, cutting it into circles. This story ends in a bleary haze, eating one the most delicious meals I have ever had. Subsequent experience shows that the party is just as fun without the vodka.

Cooking, weeding, strawberry picking, and all the other chores that I hated when I was a teenager are a lot more fun when you do them with your friends. I have never bought anything, never seen a movie, never driven anywhere that gave me as much pleasure as that perogie party.

So, here is the perogie recipe. Supply your own friends and beverages.
Dough:

3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 egg

Filling: Use anything your little heart desires. Mashed potato and cheese is always good. Also potato and broccoli. My next one is going to be mashed potato with caramelized onion and blue cheese. I also like to add some fresh-ground pepper to the dough.

Mix flour and salt. Combine egg and milk. Stir into flour mixture. Knead 2-3 minutes on lightly floured counter, until dough feels elastic. Cut dough into six balls. Roll each ball out thin. Use in a plastic perogie maker (I got mine in a thrift shop for 99 cents) or cut out circles with an empty can. Put a tablespoon of filling in center of each circle, fold and seal (it may help to wet the edges slightly). Boil the perogies until they float, then fry with onions and veggie dog slices (or bacon).
 


Here's another good recipe for Pierogi (pirohy is another spelling).

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Friday, November 25, 2005

An excellent joke

From Richard Lawrence Cohen...

Old lady in the Bronx: "Did you see what’s happening in Poland?"
Second old lady: "I don’t see nothing, I live in the back."

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Thanksgiving Welding Update



Melina's fans will no doubt be anxious to see the product of her first welding experience, and here I satisfy their longing. This piece was influenced by "War of the Worlds" and also by the daddy longlegs which was hanging around the patio and got too near the spray paint operation.

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Our Thanksgiving

Trying to avoid the misery of childhood Thanksgivings (my mother, shouting and eventually sobbing: "I got up at dawn to fix this damn turkey! I've been slaving over the stove all day!") I have devised a very stress-free method of assembling a fine home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner.

One secret is to avoid making "traditional" foods that nobody actually wants (for instance, creamed onions) and to eschew labor-intensive gourmet versions of things which exist in a perfectly satisfactory simple form. Zed prefers the canned cranberry sauce - he likes it expelled from the can so that the ridges are preserved - and we all like Pepperidge Farm stuffing. We like steamed vegetables better than gluey fancy casseroles. Also, I do things ahead when possible. I keep cleaning the kitchen as I go along.

Yesterday, however, I wondered if perhaps our dinner was so stress-free that it hardly counted.

Yes, we had a delicious (and very expensive) organic turkey with real gravy, stuffing, cranberry, real mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, not-overcooked broccoli, and my perfect pumpkin pie and lemon meringue pie, but was it -- too easy? Were we too relaxed? Is it really Thanksgiving if nobody is shouting or crying?

Zed and I saw a funny episode of Cosby Tuesday night: Dr. Huxtable was trying to teach his daughter's boyfriend how to simulate cooking. You get a lot of pots with boiling water going on the stove - throw spices and "sticks and leaves" into the pots - wipe your forehead often, whip the lids off the pots, waft the smell of the sticks and leaves around, slam the lids back on the pots, stalk back and forth a lot, whip the lids off the pots again - perhaps that's what I'll try next year.

After the meal, everybody immediately fell asleep and then, after naptime, as night was falling, our guest the neuropsychiatrist (my singing student and pal) showed Zed and Melina how to use the oxyacetalyne torch and there was much welding and burning of holes in aluminum cans. A fine time was had by all except, perhaps, Melina's boyfriend, who might have preferred to watch football.















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Thursday, November 24, 2005

"Stupid Off-field Injuries" via GQ

Zed arrived home with the new collection of National Geographic best-of photos - his favorite was the leaping armadillo. Melina and her boyfriend arrived with GQ, giggling over this article (I think the claim of "stupidest" is rash - surely stupider things than this have happened).

Happy Thanksgiving!

GQ's "Stupidest Off-field Injuries of All Time"



Wade BoggsBruised ribsFell onto couch while attempting to pull on cowboy bootsOne start
Darren BarnardAnkle ligament damageSlipped in puppy urineFive months
Lionel SimmonsTendinitisGame Boy tendinitisTwo games
Freddie LjungbergInflamed lymphatic glandInfected tattooONe month
Glenn HealyDeep cut to left thumb, requiring ten stitchesCut himself while disassembling vintage bagpipesOff-season


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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The jello turkey



Find out how to make your own jello turkey.

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The Jefferson Bible

A friend in Atlanta sent me the following, partially his own and partially extracted from an article by Erik Reece, entitled Jesus Without the Miracles, in the December issue of Harper's.

Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson took a pair of scissors to the King James Bible and cut out the virgin birth, all the miracles, and the Resurrection. He then pasted together the parts that were left and called it The Philosophy of Jesus. Jefferson kept his version mostly private, fearing that the established church would find it further evidence of his atheism. In the years since, Jefferson's redaction has come to be known as The Jefferson Bible.

Jefferson's compilation demanded that we be much better people than most of us are. Jefferson objected to the prevailing orientation of Christianity that was far more concerned with the promise of eternal salvation from this world that with a desire to practice the teachings of Jesus while we are here on Earth.

A clarification of what those teachings are reads like this:
  • Be just; justice comes from virtue, which comes from the heart.
  • Treat people the way we want them to treat you.
  • Always work for peaceful resolutions, even to the point of returning violence with compassion.
  • Consider valuable the things that have no material value.
  • Do not judge others.
  • Do not bear grudges.
  • Be modest and unpretentious.
  • Give out of true generosity, not because you expect to be repaid.

In all of his teachings, the Jesus that Jefferson recovered had one overarching theme--the world's values are upside down in relation to the kingdom of God.

  • Material riches do not constitute real wealth;
  • Those whom we think of as the most powerful, the first in the nation-state, are actually the last in the kingdom of God;
  • Being true to one's self is more important than being loyal to one's family;
  • The Sabbath is for persons, persons are not for the Sabbath;
  • Those who think they know the most are the most ignorant;
  • The natural economy followed by birds and lilies is superior to the economy based on Caesar's coinage or bankers who charge interest.
Seems that Jefferson's Jesus was a socialist, and a Green.

As we head into the Christian holiday season ... I take a small measure of comfort knowing that Christianity as practiced did not have to turn out as it has. Deciding which direction to follow is always a choice.

UPDATE
There's also Jefferson's Cheese.
And also Jefferson's Decalogue of Canons.


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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Snapping Turtles in the Ganges

Zed told me about this. India's River Ganges is polluted by innumerable sources along its length. Grotesquely, so many corpses are dumped into the very area where pilgrims drink and bathe in the holy waters that snapping turtles have been released into the river by the tens of thousands in hopes they will eat the corpses.

In 2004 a report by Dr. Sudhirendhar Sharma, a water expert attached to the Ecological Foundation in New Delhi, was published after a chapter of "Eco-Friends" fished 60 floating human corpses from a 10-kilometer stretch of the Ganges on the eve of a religious festival. Between 1997 and 2004 Eco-Friends had removed 1000 human corpses from that area. Extracts:
While inability to afford the cremation expenses accounts for one-third of the floating corpses, another one-third is entirely due to the strong belief that immersing the dead brings moksha or salvation. Ironically, the remaining one-third is composed of those unclaimed bodies that the police conveniently dump into the river.

Even the flesh-eating turtles released in the Ganga to munch the dead bodies have failed to make any significant impact. Released into a stretch of river at Varanasi in the late 1980s, poaching may have accounted for a better part of their promised appetite.

In 1992 a somewhat optimistic spin was put on the problem in an article called Ganga Ecology Getting Better After 8-year Effort: Treatment Plants and Turtles Lessen Pollution. Extracts:
The high country Ganga deep in the granite folds of the Himalayas still runs with its emerald color of purity and cleanliness. But down in the factory-laden and urbanized plains the Ganga runs brownish pea-green with silt and pollution: sewage, industrial waste and corpses.

Dr. Veer Bhadra Mishra ... a professor of hydrologic engineering at Banares Hindu University and a priest at one of Benares' temples, performs his daily ablution in the Ganga dutifully, but not without squirming a bit at the river's foulness. Two of his disciples wade into the water before him, attempting to clear away foam and debris. ... He disputes the Ganga Directorate's figures of the river project's first-phase purity, and is demanding a new system of pollution evaluation.

North of Banares is another concern of Mishra's: new housing developments. Despite policing of the Ganga shoreline through Banares, dumping of waste still gushes in huge quantities. Banares is a city of 1 million with 1 million pilgrims bustling in each year. Of 655 million gallons of waste water produced every day, only 436 million gallons are treated.

Electric crematoriums [are] helping to reduce the half-burnt corpse problem. They do a complete job of burning, cost 10% of the wood-fueled pyre and are becoming extremely popular ...

In one of the most snappy and controversial efforts to rid the Ganga of partially cremated bodies (or whole bodies illegally dumped up stream), thousands of 3-foot long snapping turtles have been bred to devour the problem. Out of the original $140 million allocated for Ganga cleanup, $32 million alone have gone into turtle farms outside Banares.

There are about 20,000 to 30,000 bodies cremated in Banares every year and thousands more float in from up river.

Since 1990, 24,000 turtles have been released. The assistant manager of the farm says they are raised on a diet of dead fish from infancy, conditioning them to go for rotten flesh in the river, but not for living bodies. When people bring a body in a bag, the turtles charge up to the shore and sometimes drag the bag off. No bitings have been reported. But there are still corpses daily floating on by.

While some Hindu scientists are combating Ganga pollution, others are examining the river's baffling antiseptic properties. At the Malaria Research Center in New Delhi the Ganga water from its upper reaches didn't host mosquito breeding, and prevented breeding in any water it was added to. Water from other sacred rivers was soon filmed over with mosquito eggs.

Other research demonstrated that cholera germs die within hours of immersion in Ganga water. The Ganga water has an extraordinarily high rate of oxygen retention, allowing it to remain fresh during long storage periods. Other studies indicate that pathological bacteria do not fare well in Ganga water. Some scientists conjecture this is due to naturally radioactive minerals present in the water, and organisms that kill germs.

Finally, extracts from a 1996 report by Payal Sampat for World Watch:
The [Ganges] symbolizes purification to millions of Hindus the world over, who believe that drinking or bathing in its waters will lead to moksha, or salvation.

According to ... environmental engineer D.S. Bhargava ... the Ganges decomposes organic waste 15 to 25 times faster than other rivers. ... This finding has never been fully explained.

A map of South Asia reveals an intricate web of tributaries that flow into and branch out of the Ganges. Through this web, four of the world's most densely populated nations - China, Nepal, Bangladesh, and India - empty their waters and wastes into the Ganges each day, adding to the load that comes directly from the region's residents.

Municipal sewage constitutes 80 per cent by volume of the total waste dumped into the Ganges, and industries contribute about 15 percent ... only a handful of towns process their waste at all.

To the raw sewage and factory effluents are added the runoff from more than 6 million tons of chemical fertilizers and some 9,000 tons of pesticides.

And finally, the Ganges becomes the last resting place for thousands of dead Hindus, whose cremated ashes or half-burnt corpses are put into the river for spiritual rebirth.

In southern Nepal and the Garhwal hills of India, developers clearing forests and building roads to meet the needs of tourists add to the already heavy natural erosion. By the time the Ganges reaches its mouth, it will have picked up 340 million tons of sediment each year.

Watered by the monsoons, this silt-enriched land produces a significant portion of the rice, wheat, millet, sugar, and barley needed to feed the world's second most populous nation. The rain feds the land, dilutes the river's muddy stream, flushes out excess sediment and suspended matter, and revitalizes the river where its flow was sluggish. The Ganges can swell a thousand-fold during the monsoons. This force brings destruction further downstream in the Indo-Bangladesh delta, where increasing development has shorn the coast of its flood-buffering mangrove forests.

It is at Rishikesh that the defilement begins, as raw sewage is dumped into the river along with hydrochloric acid, acetone, and other effluents from large pharmaceutical companies, and heavy metals and chlorinated solvents from electronics plants. The electronics industry, like any other that uses heavy machinery, consumes large amounts of hydraulic fluid and heat transfer fluids that contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are highly toxic compounds that concentrate in the higher links of the food-chain and are resistant to breakdown, and accumulate in the environment and body tissues.

Perhaps the worst assaults occur at the city of Kanpur, where the hides of horses, goats, and cattle are brought to factories for tanning. Some 80 tanneries operate here, consuming and discharging large quantities of water as skins go through an extensive chemical treatment ... chromium lends a greenish hue to the drinking water the city draws from the river. Organic wastes - hair, flesh, and other animal remains - are thrown into the river, giving it a fetid stench ... they mingle with the effluents of some 70 other industrial plants - mainly sugar factories - that disgorge a thick molasses-like substance, and textile companies that throw in various bleaches, dyes, and acids. Kanpur also contributes to the river about 400 million liters of sewage each day.

Runoff that carries soil back into the river also carries farm chemicals. Organochlorine pesticides, such as aldrin, benzene hexachloride, and DDT (banned in the United States for its dangers to human and environmental health) are used extensively in the basin.

Farms in these plains consume 35 percent of the fertilizer used in India, and the large quantities that wash off into the Ganges promote the growth of algal blooms and phytoplankon...

About 150 kilometers east of Allahabad, the Ganges reaches Varanasi, the place most associated with the river by its devotees. ... Its antiquated septic system does little more than pipe raw sewage into the river. Varanasi is also where large quantities of crematory ash, along with thousands of dead bodies, are immersed in the river by the devout.

At the same time, multitudes of pilgrims come to Varanasi to bathe in the Ganges and drink its water, convinced of its purifying qualities - and undissuaded by the fact that coliform bacteria levels here far exceed the limits considered safe.

Not surprisingly, water-related ailments like amoebic dysentery, gastro-enteritis, tape-worm infestations, typhoid, cholera, and viral hepatitis are extremely common ... One person in the region dies of diarrhea every minute, and eight of every 10 people in Calcutta suffer from amoebic dysentery each year.

Its final inputs downstream from Varanasi are the by-products of a diesel works, coal yards, and a number of distilleries and sugar factories. The last two are among the worst degraders of dissolved oxygen, as they discharge huge quantities of organic wastes; they also consume large supplies of water.

Further downstream, the large oil refinery at Barauni is notorious for piping huge amounts of oily sludge into the river. Ten years ago at this location, a two kilometer stretch of the river caught fire and burned for 16 hours. [Burning for 16 hours? That beats the Cuyahoga River Fire for sure.]

Fossil fuel burning produces polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), known carcinogens which have low water solubility. Instead of flushing out, therefore, the PAHs lodge in sediments - which the Ganges carries in abundance - and settle to the bottom, where they accumulate in aquatic life.

A short distance downstream from Barauni, at the point where the Bata shoe factory dumps its waste, water quality has deteriorated so badly that fish put in the water here in the early 1980s survived only 48 hours, according to a report by the Center for Science and the Environment in New Delhi. A little further on, at the McDowell distillery's mixing zone, fish could survive only five hours.

About 150 large industrial plants are lined up on the banks of the Hooghly at Calcutta. Together, these plants contribute 30 percent of the total industrial effluent reaching the mouths of the Ganges. Of this, half comes from pulp and paper industries, which discharge a dark brown, oxygen-craving slurry of bark and wood fiber, mercury and other heavy metals which accumulate in fish tissues, and chemical toxins like bleaches and dyes, which produce dioxin and other persistent compounds. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has set a standard for suspended solids at 100 particles per liter of water, but the count in the Hooghly is over 6,000. Much of this consists of oily effluents from the port, where ships empty their bilge.

The population of the basin is projected to reach almost a billion people in the next generation - more than the population of the entire world at the beginning of the 19th century.

Nearly 70 percent of India's available water is polluted. Waterborne diseases like typhoid and cholera are responsible for 80 percent of all health problems and one-third of all deaths in India ... Only 7 percent of India's 3,000 cities have any kind of sewage treatment facilities.

The link between the river's health and that of the region it sustains has been given short shrift by policymakers. In 1985, the Indian government launched an Action Plan to clean the river, but it failed abjectly - due to pervasive corruption, mismanagement, and technological bungling - and was duly abandoned. Under the plan, a number of waste treatment plants were built, but virtually none of them remain functioning today.


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Monday, November 21, 2005

Lite-Form and Me

Looks like Fred at "Fragments from Floyd" is building the foundation of his room addition using a material I am extremely fond of: Lite-Form. Just seeing his picture made me squeak happily and go look for my album of pictures I took while building my house here in 1996.

Trip Renn, who is now a big contractor around town, was framer and general consultant for my job. He agreed with me that the odd reverse bay in my home-made design - a section of wall with 45-degree angles - would tax the computational abilities of your average mason.

He, however, as a carpenter, wouldn't build my foundation. Carpenters are not happy until the job has risen out of the dirt.


So I did a bunch of research and discovered that with Lite-Form I could do it myself.

This picture (right) was given to me at the time by my ex-husband, who found the process amusing.

I made a house-building photo album with commentary for my son Zed, who at the time was 8 or 9 years old. The album has gotten very faded and discolored, as have the pictures. Here's what it said, and a few of its pictures ...


Trip and Mike did not enjoy working on my foundation, but Trip was curious about Lite-Form and knew it would be wise to keep an eye on it (and me).

Here the two of them are morosely measuring off rebar. It didn't fit very well. I was not yet used to how often things taking place at your construction site are not the way you want them to be. I guess that applies to more than just construction sites.

It's too bad I don't have a picture of Leonard O'Brient, the short, tough old guy with very blue eyes who had dug and supervised the pouring of this foundation using only a milk jug full of chalk. How'd he do that?

Then John Wilson the Lite-Form guy arrived from West Virginia with stacks of 2" thick by 8' long insulation "logs" of styrofoam with lots of little plastic ties and what he called a "saw-saw" blade, two hacksaw blades duct-taped together. I thought he would stay and see me through, but it started to rain and he left.

This is the only picture I have of Loye's truck. He loves it. He carries pictures of his antique trucks (mostly Mack) in his wallet instead of pictures of grandbabies. If you're not careful he'll stand there for half an hour and talk to you about transmissions and stuff.

(Loye continued to work for me for many years until he had quadruple bypass surgery and his wife made him sell all his trucks.)


I sure wish there were a picture of me putting this stuff together. I had bronchitis and it rained almost all the time. I sat in the rain - and sometimes snow - coughing and fitting these styrofoam logs together, day after day. I gotta tell you, I loved it.

However, I discovered it's very hard to fit the pieces together when they are covered with ice and snow. I also found that ice on the north side of the Lite-Form melts much more slowly than the ice on the south side. Go figure. Then I got pneumonia. By the way, I read that recently researchers have discovered that getting chilled can help make you sick. Honestly, who could ever have guessed such a thing?

This is Zed, probably supervising.

I was very proud of my handiwork.

I noticed that, at first, Trip agonized over 1/16" here and there. He gave me grief when my corners deviated even slightly. Later, though, very much larger discrepancies - like porch posts only sitting halfway on their piers - did not seem to call for an adjustment in his estimation.


The day before the big cement pour Zed helped me put the plastic bags over the cardboard Sonotubes because it was going to rain (again). Trip called them "Sondoms."


This boy, Michael, was a UNC student recommended by Loye to help out with the foundation work. Michael and I spent a couple days together in the trench around the house shoveling drainage gravel. But then he got arrested for "pointing a gun at passing motorists" and being "armed to the terror of the people." He was arrested in the front yard of his Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house and, surprise, did not come back to the site, so I finished shoveling the gravel by myself.

This last picture is of Tripp pouring the concrete, and my friend Mark behind him whacking the concrete to eliminate air pockets. Trip had been very nervous about all this, and was a very good sport, considering that he hates foundation work - every bit of concrete in my substantial foundation (which includes a partial basement) traveled through his hands or over his shoulder that morning.

I went out after a while and bought about twenty barbeque sandwiches for everybody at Allen & Son just down the road - but some of us were too anxious to eat.

Trip built about a thousand vertical braces, not trusting the Lite-Form, and it turns out that was a very good thing, because when the concrete truck showed up I had to sign a form saying the concrete company was not responsible for anything that might go wrong.

Laughing, the driver told me he'd done a Lite-Form pour once and the styrofoam had floated right up on top of the concrete and the concrete had slumped out from underneath it, all over the site. Since he had then high-tailed it out of there he didn't know what happened next.

Tie down your Lite-Form, Fred!


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Harriet Miers cartoons

I laughed at these Doonesbury cartoons, prepared before the Miers confirmation hearings were yanked. Go have a look...

Miers strips...

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Tar Heel Tavern #39

Welcome to the 39th week of the Tar Heel Tavern, blogging from or about the Triangle area. Maybe because the list of hosts was confused, I only got three actual entries this week - so I went fishing at NC Blogs.com - the site aggregates new postings from local blogs (beware, there are a lot of dead or rarely-updated blogs on the sidebar).

First, from two longtime loyal supporters of the Tavern, and somebody making her first submission:
  • Bora at Science And Politics tells us how to Turn your your blog archives into a book (and sell it):
    So, you've been writing a blog for quite some time now. You are proud of some of your work. You are particularly proud of some of your old stuff, now burried deep in the archives never to be seen again. Who reads archives, after all? You don't want to repeat yourself over and over again, and have never felt at ease with constantly linking back to your old posts (I never had such qualms). So, what can you do to make your old stuff more accessible and available? ... Well, now you can turn it into a book form - yup, the real, physical book - and sell it through your blog, as well as through all the regular online booksellers.
    Details. And prizes!

  • Dear Jane submits R & R?
    I spoke to my mother on the phone and she told me I would benefit from some psychiatric counseling. I knew I should have checked the caller ID before I answered the phone. Just to prove her right and completely lose my mind, we decided to pack up the wild banshees and drive to the beach for the weekend. It had been such a horrid week, that I figured why not cap it off with 3 screaming children confined in a small enclosed space with wonderful acoustics for several hours...

  • At Ogre's Politics and Views youo'll find a review of
    the Carolina Renaissance Festival:
    I was wondering what it was about this fair that made it so much fun..

    ... It's amazing, but one of the biggest things that you do not see in this atmosphere is fear. I've thought about it, and that is the biggest difference between your every day life and a festival like this. Everywhere you go, everything you do in life today is primarily motived by fear.

    The news media cannot report anything unless it is designed to scare you. Most advertising is based on fear -- fear of rejection, fear of dying, fear of SOMETHING -- if you don't buy what they're selling.

    Everyone is just whoever they are, and no one else attacks you for who you are. No one is battling to be heard over the crowd so that you will give them special rights or permissions. No one is trying to take anything away from you. No one is trying to tell you what you should and should not do with your life. You can just be who you are and no one complains about it.

Ogre had collected a couple of entries for the Tavern and gave them to me to use here.
  • An impressive photo display by 2sides2ron. One of the best things about North Carolina really is the scenery. Ron provides an impressive array of fall photographs. ... Be sure to note the impressive blue sky in the background. Any of you residing in the northern states may want to bookmark that page so you can remind yourself what they sky really looks like, since you're unlikely to see it again for many months...

  • Erin over at Poetic Acceptance is having a real rough time with a publisher. But she tries to keep things in order, realizing what's really important. Erin, I hope things get better for you real soon!
Thanks, Ogre! Here are some more posts from around the area.
  • arse poetica wrote Another Crooked Republican, Oh My!
    Report Says Ex-Chief of Public TV Violated Federal Law.

    Investigators at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting concluded today that its former chairman repeatedly broke federal law and its own regulations in a campaign to combat what he saw as liberal bias.

    The corporation's former chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, who was ousted from the board two weeks ago ... [according to a report issued by CPR] violated federal law by being heavily involved in getting more than $4 million in money for a program featuring the conservative editorial writers of The Wall Street Journal. ... The report said investigators found evidence that "political tests" were a major criteria used by Mr. Tomlinson in recruiting the corporation's new president, Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee and former senior State Department official.

  • Unwonderful had a surly post called The Broom Whiffer about being dragged to church by Mom:
    When my foot hit the first step, I thought about how much I hate my front door neighbor's guts. He rides on a bicycle, hands off, while reading a book.

    Shoo, it sure smells Baptisty in here. Chewing gum breath, carpet dye and live flowers cleanse you from smoky pool rooms ... After a guilt wrenching service about us hanging by a cobweb with God holding scissors to plunge us into a place with no shine buckles and No More Tears, I left unsaved.

  • At Pam's House Blend, Hell freezes over - the left and right take on Target:
    Both the Left and the AmTaliban are shunning the red bullseye (for different reasons). After Target defended its lame-brained, illogical practice of allowing pharmacists to deny women emergency contraception on ethical or religious grounds, pro-choice forces called for action (my post here).

    Now, the American Family Association is calling for stepping up its boycott of Target during the holiday season because it has, again, refused to have Salvation Army representation in front of its stores.

  • AMCP Tech Blog has a post on the Sony malware fiasco: Sony Calls Back Infected CDs:
    Because of the huge uproar from the tech community, Sony is now allowing you to exchange your infected CD (yes, the one with that dreaded rootkit on it), for another one...

    This all comes after Sony releasing CDs with "Copyright Protection" built-in. The CD required you to install the rootkit and it was later found out that it would "call home", meaning make contact with Sony's servers and could tell Sony what song you were listening to and even the time.
    You can read this continuing story in blistering detail at BoingBoing (here is just the most recent post).

  • A harried mom at Clothed [in joy], in Here, PLAY WITH THIS!, says:
    Shopping on a Saturday afternoon, is the best form of birth control. EVER.

    "Mommy, can I have it? Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please.

  • You can see a very very mean and very funny duck triptych called Bad Parenting at White Noise.

  • I got a good giggle from the Engineers Explained post at Justaskjudy. Here's one:
    Two engineering students were crossing the campus when one said, "Where did you get such a great bike?"

    The second engineer replied, "Well, I was walking along yesterday minding my own business when a beautiful woman rode up on this bike. She threw the bike to the ground, took off all her clothes and said, "Take what you want."

    The second engineer nodded approvingly, "Good choice; the clothes probably wouldn't have fit."

  • At GreeneSpace, a report on Afro-Celts and other cultural cross-currents:
    Celtic heritage is not reserved exclusively for 'white' people," argued Michael Newton in a fascinating lecture yesterday sponsored by the Center for the Study of the American South...

    Newton's interest is in the Highland Scots, many of whom ended up settling along the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. Having come here as a result of the Highland clearances--harsh forced migrations as their lands were claimed by the British crown--they settled into lives that looked a lot like that of other white European southerners, including, sometimes, ownership of slaves. But white culture had its hierarchies too, and so the Highland Scots, like the Irish, were often considered by the Anglo-Saxon establishment (including lowland Scots) as no better than blacks or Indians.
    I heard this man on "The State of Things." He said there were places in North Carolina where sizeable black populations spoke perfect Gaelic, and maintained the language after many of the white Scots descendants had abandoned it. Fascinating!

  • NC Conservation Network Blog asks: If a sonar sounds in the sea, but turtles can't hear, does it make a sound?
    The Navy held a hearing in Morehead City last night about their plans to bulid an anti-submarine sonar training range off the NC coast. According to a Raleigh News & Observer article, 150 people attended the hearing and none spoke in favor of the proposal...

  • Opinions Nobody Asked For writes about The Budget Bill, And Things That Just Annoy Me In General:
    The House passed spending cuts that will cut money from such unnecessary programs as food stamps, student loans, child support, and Medicaid. It won't cut anything from Medicare. This is perfectly logical, since it's far more important to take care of rich old people than poor kids. And nothing is more important than making sure the rich don't have to pay more taxes. Yes, there are kids that need their insulin and want to go to college, but Mr. Throckmorton has to afford that fourth house somehow.

  • And right here at Pratie Place, I enjoyed reflecting on Terry Teachout's All in the Dances and also learned how to make an animated .gif so I could include a self-braiding challah illustration in my challah recipe.

  • Late entry: Laurie at Slowly She Turned mulled over her favorite charities deciding which to support with payroll deduction. Her list at Worthy Causes is excellent and this was her first choice (but visit to see the others):
    On a national level, American Farmland Trust has "three strategies for saving American farmland:
    • Protect the best land through publicly funded agricultural conservation easement programs;

    • Plan for growth with agriculture in mind through effective community planning and growth management;

    • Keep the land healthy for farmland through encouraging stewardship and conservations practices.

    With the recent budget cuts that skewered the Conservation Security Program, AFT has its work cut out for them.

That's it for this week!

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Haveil Havalim (carnival of posts on Jewish subjects) is up at Mirty's place...



I saw this at In and Out of Confidence but Tamarika says it came from Yblog Za. It makes me so sad.



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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Omagh, Bluegrass, the Sacred Harp, and Bollywood

Real Bollywood movies are so, so much better than that travesty recently perpetrated on us - Bride and Prejudice - which has the awful cross-over quality of sweet-and-sour chicken made with ketchup.

I had the satisfaction of finally seeing, this week, the last 20 minutes of the longest running Bollywood movie of all time, a three-hour extravaganza made in 1995: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

I had seen the first 2-1/2 hours on an Air India trip from London to Dulles after the United flight we had originally been booked on was "delayed 24 hours" - have you ever heard this euphemism for "cancelled" ?

My travel companions and I were returning from a gig at the Ulster-American Folk Park in Omagh, Northern Ireland, site of a lovely open-air museum:
The museum tells the story of emigration from Ulster to America in the 18th & 19th centuries and provides visitors with a "living history" experience on its outdoor site. Costumed demonstrators go about their everyday tasks in the traditional manner in authentically furnished Old and New World buildings.

The Ship and Dockside Gallery features a full-size reconstruction of an early 19th century sailing ship of the type which carried thousands of emigrants across the Atlantic and a major indoor exhibition "Emigrants" complements the outdoor site. The Centre for Migration Studies can assist those who wish to find out more about emigration history and the way of life of emigrants and settlers.
I found it a little disappointing that, as someone who spent 15 years fiddling and singing in an Irish/Celtic/British Isles band called the "Pratie Heads," I got my first opportunity to sing in Ireland at a bluegrass festival.

The Omagh Appalachian & Bluegrass Music Festival is held every year and in the fall of 2004 the promoters hired our ad hoc Sacred Harp group to go over and sing for them.

Sacred Harp (also called shape-note hymns) became quite popular in Ireland after the movie Cold Mountain came out. We were told that many Irish emigrants had fought in the Civil War and that family members who had remained behind in Ireland had followed the war with intense interest and now, so many years later, are still fascinated by its history and are nuts for shape note music - "Idumea" really got to them.

They have daily Civil War re-enactments at the Ulster Folk Park. I guess it all makes some kind of sense.

Well, I don't really care for bluegrass music much - although I was kind of amused to hear the European bands like the Bluegrass Boogiemen (right) from the Netherlands - but I loved wandering the park.

It was the Mellon family which brought many old buildings - from humble stone one-room huts which had housed 10-member families to weaver's studios and churches - to be reassembled at this lovely park.


The Mellons are descendants of Thomas Mellon who, at the age of 5, in 1818, emigrated with his family from their humble farm (left) in Omagh to the United States. The Mellons settled on a small, rocky farm they called "Poverty Point," about 20 miles east of Pittsburgh.

When I got home I bought Thomas Mellon and his Times.

At 14 young Mellon was transfixed by the "Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin."
Here was Franklin, poorer than myself, who by industry, thrift and frugality had become learned and wise, and elevated to wealth and fame. ... I regard the reading of Franklin's Autobiography as the turning point of my life."
Mellon wanted to continue his education, but his dad thought it would be a waste, and that it would be far less risky for him to stay there on Poverty Point and be a farmer.

When Thomas was 17, his father was moseying to town with a neighbor who was selling out; Thomas's father was buying this adjacent property for his son. After they left, Thomas realized if that farm were purchased, his life's course would be set.
The utter collapse of all my fond young hopes...nearly crazed me. I could stand it no longer. I put on my coat, ran down past the house, flung the axe over the fence into the yard, and without stopping made the best possible time on foot for the town. My father had taken the only available saddle horse, but my feet were light under the circumstances.
He ran all the way to town and caught up with the two older men as they were having a smoke before entering the courthouse to sign the deed. He arrived in time to stop the purchase.

He finished school, taught Latin, went to law school, spent 20 years as a lawyer and then ten years as a judge, all the while investing in Pittsburgh real estate. When he retired in 1870 he opened the Mellon Bank.

Mellon's eight children included bankers Andrew W. Mellon, secretary of the Treasury under presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover and founder of the National Gallery of Art, and Richard B. Mellon, who became president of Mellon Bank. By 1936, one generation after Thomas Mellon's death, the Mellons had become one of the four wealthiest families in the United States, along with the Rockefellers, DuPonts and Fords.

I think the choice not to take up farming on Poverty Point was a successful one.

Anyway, back in Omagh - we shape-note singers had had a good time singing and the area was beautiful for long walks. However, the food in Ireland was absolutely awful.

The best meal I had while I was gone was the lunch served on Air India on the way home.

The flight was ok, but I almost shouted in frustration when their videotape of Dilwale Dulhania wheezed to an untimely end.

What preposterous plot turns were going to save our busty heroine (raised in London by a Punjabi emigrant) from having to move back to the Punjab and marry the womanizing son of her father's best friend - a slimy though handsome young man never seen without his gun - when she in fact she loved the chubby obnoxious (but cute) only son of an Indian who had - somewhat like Thomas Mellon - become a millionaire after emigrating to London?

To finish the story where I began: our Air India flight landed with no further incident, though we had to go to Chicago instead of Dulles. There is a story about an orange I will save for another time. And my luggage went to Singapore and stayed there for a week before it got back to the Raleigh-Durham airport.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Pumpkin squares (for the piecrust challenged)

Personally I love making piecrust but if it frightens you, this recipe tastes just like the old pumpkin pie recipe on the can, but without the rolling pin etc.

Pumpkin Squares

2 cups flour
1 cup oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup (or a bit less) melted butter
pinch salt

1 15-1/2 ounce can pumpkin (that's the small size)
1 can (13-1/2 oz) evaporated milk
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 ts salt
1 ts cinnamon
1/2 ts ginger
1/2 ts cloves

Mix the first five ingredients and press into a non-stick lasagna pan. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes.

Mix the rest of the ingredients, pour them over the crust, and bake at 350 for about half an hour more. It will puff up and look and smell and taste just like pumpkin pie.


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On Global Warming

From WashingtonPost.com via Gristmill:

Extracts from
Climate Shift Tied To 150,000 Fatalities
Most Victims Are Poor, Study Says

by Juliet Eilperin for the Washington Post
Thursday, November 17, 2005

Earth's warming climate is estimated to contribute to more than 150,000 deaths and 5 million illnesses each year, according to the World Health Organization, a toll that could double by 2030.

The data, being published today in the journal Nature, indicate that climate change is driving up rates of malaria, malnutrition and diarrhea throughout the world.

"Those most vulnerable to climate change are not the ones responsible for causing it," said Jonathan Patz, a professor at the [University of Wisconsin at Madison] Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and its department of population health sciences. "Our energy-consumptive lifestyles are having lethal impacts on other people around the world, especially the poor."

The regions most at risk from climate change include the Asian and South American Pacific coasts, as well as the Indian Ocean coast and sub-Saharan Africa. Patz said that was because climate-sensitive diseases are more prevalent there and because those regions are most vulnerable to abrupt shifts in climate. Large cities are also likely to experience more severe health problems because they produce what scientists refer to as the urban "heat island" effect.

Just this week, WHO officials reported that warmer temperatures and heavy rain in South Asia have led to the worst outbreak of dengue fever there in years. The mosquito-borne illness, which is now beginning to subside, has infected 120,000 South Asians this year and killed at least 1,000, WHO said.

Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, a scientist at WHO's Department of Protection of the Human Environment, said its initial estimates of global warming-related deaths are conservative in light of Europe's massive 2003 heat wave and new research linking climate change to more intensive hurricane activity.

Climate change can contribute to such diseases as diarrhea, malaria and infectious illnesses in a number of ways. In warmer temperatures the parasite that spreads malaria via mosquitoes develops more quickly, for example, and a 2000 study conducted in Peru found that when the periodic El Nio phenomenon boosted temperatures there, hospital admissions of children with diarrhea increased exponentially.

Researchers have also documented an association between rising temperatures and deaths stemming from air pollution, since warmer, sunnier days trigger atmospheric reactions that worsen harmful smog.

Patrick L. Kinney, a professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, was the co-author of a study last year in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives that predicted global warming alone could prompt the rise of smog-related deaths in the New York City region by 4.5 percent by the middle of this century, compared with the 1990s.


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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Being not the boss

There's a problem with being competent and having energy and a lot of ideas: you end up being boss. For the last quarter-century I've been boss or manager of almost everything musical in my life. I found the repertoire, made the arrangements and/or transcriptions, bought the source recordings, did the musical library research. When I thought it was time for a Christmas Revels type annual show here in the Triangle, I started one. I auditioned singers and created two (why did it have to be two??) choirs. I found instrumentalists, I arranged rehearsals and wrote publicity and got photos taken and took comps to the radio station and did interviews. I sent the promo packages and made the phone calls.

I chose the music for the cds, and arranged for the recordings, helped the engineer and did the mixing and post-production. I either arranged for album covers or did them myself, I wrote the liner notes and negotiated with the suppliers and paid the bills.

As performances approached, I'd be driving around delivering keys, picking up extra mic stands, renting equipment; moving sound systems; putting up posters I'd designed and printed.

Sometimes I was in the backyard at night fall happily making gigantic ass's heads (or Boar's Heads) out of paper maché or sewing medieval garb and making hennins, several at a time, at a furious pace. Sometimes making props was the best part.

The night of a show I'd be watching anxiously as the crowd trickled in. Would the people who told me they'd be sure to come actually do it? I took every empty seat personally. Often, often I moaned to myself: "Why do I do this?"

I sometimes felt jealous of, for instance, Ken, who often said:

"Just tell me where to show up and what instruments to bring."

Or Robbie, who would say:

"Just tell me what the first chord of the song is."

However, when Zed got sick five years ago, all of this stopped. I lost interest in making things happen for my band Mappamundi and since then we've just floated along, limply, enjoying whatever opportunities still come along of their own accord.

When Zed went off to college this fall, I developed a new goal: "to be involved in some musical activity of which I'm not the boss."

One day there was a listing on Craig's List for an a cappella early music group and so I joined the Duke Collegium Musicum.

I don't work at Duke any more so on rehearsal nights I stand outside the door knocking till somebody in the music building lets me in. I am almost the only non-music student there and am older than all the singers - and older than the conductor (who has a multiply-pierced ear), too.

I've enjoyed watching this nice conductor struggle with the same problems I have with my Triangle Jewish Chorale. She never knows who will be at any given rehearsal, for instance. Only at ONE rehearsal was everybody present!

She gets thrown when people complain, even little itsy-bitsy complaints. She says, with a stricken voice, "Oh, I'm sorry, I can't do anything right." I've thought this wretched thought so often! And I, too, agonize pointlessly over little kvetches.

She has trouble figuring out how to say "LEARN YOUR PARTS, YOU LAZY SLOBS!" in a nice peaceful way. I have that problem too.

Saturday night we presented a concert of music by William Byrd. I got to stand in the back row amongst the basses and tenors. This is the place to be: the cute young lads in the back row have strong young voices, strong and beautifully in tune, it's Perfect-Fifth City back there, ahh they made me so very happy.

Reasons why not being boss is great:
  • You can stand in the back row with the basses and tenors;
  • No need to prepare the score, just learn your own part;
  • Other people who haven't learned their parts are not your problem;
  • You just have to show up for rehearsals and performances. No worrying about publicity and interviews and photo shoots. No worrying about whether other people show up on time.
  • If the crowd is scant, not your problem;
  • Don't have to buy the treats for the post-concert party.
As an example, here's the Duke Collegium Musicum's very out-of-date website - I pointed out to the conductor that it hadn't been updated since 2003 and she looked vague and worried, and told me she doesn't know how to fix it - but that's just one more thing which is not my problem!

This is a very successful experiment. And the music was beautiful.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

My challah recipe

Cause some folks asked...
Challah

2 T yeast
1-1/2 c warm water
1/4 c sugar or honey
6+ cups flour (can be part whole wheat)
2 ts salt
1/2 c melted butter or oil
3-4 large eggs

Put yeast in the warm water with honey and 2 cups of flour (if you're using part whole wheat, use that now). Beat with a wooden spoon 100 times and let sit for twenty minutes.

Then add the eggs (more eggs makes a more tender and rich dough), melted butter or oil, and salt. Add 5+ cups flour and knead, knead, knead.

Add additional flour cautiously - softer dough results in a more tender challah - but if it's too soft the braids will melt together.

(Sometimes I use three eggs and one yolk in the dough and save the egg white of the fourth egg for glazing.)

Let the dough rise an hour or more - punch down - let it rise again.

Punch down one more time and divide into twelve little balls as even as possible.

Turn them into ropes, letting them rest if they get too rubbery to stretch out. Braid.



Repeat with the other six ropes. Glaze with egg white and sprinkle sesame seeds or poppy seeds if you are inclined.

Bake at 350 for, hmm, about 35 minutes? Look at it and you'll know.

And here is my excellent rugelach recipe...

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Sleep Apnea can cause strokes

I have friends with this problem and I'm quite worried about it.

Sleep Apnea Can Cause Strokes --
Disorder More Than Doubles Risks, Yale Researchers Say

Tape-Recording Your Sleep
By Robert Tomsho For The Wall Street Journal
November 10, 2005

Searching for the causes of deadly strokes, medical researchers say they have identified a culprit in the bedroom: sleep apnea.

The disorder, often undiagnosed for years, causes sleeping people to temporarily stop breathing. A number of studies have found links between sleep apnea and serious cardiovascular disease.

A Yale University study ... found that the most common form -- so-called obstructive sleep apnea -- more than doubles the chances of a stroke or death. The Yale study also found that severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea can more than triple the risk of stroke or death. ... the higher incidence of stroke and death remained even after researchers adjusted for other traditional stroke-risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

A study by University of Toronto researchers earlier this year indicat[ed] patients with severe sleep apnea were as many as four times as likely to suffer strokes.

An estimated one in five American adults suffers from at least mild forms of sleep apnea ... Common symptoms include loud snoring, choking or gasping during sleep and daytime drowsiness... The disease often strikes those who have hypertension or are overweight. A 2003 study of 300 National Football League players found that 14% of them had sleep apnea, and the disease is believed to have played a role in the sudden death in 2004 of former Green Bay Packer great Reggie White.

Treatments include a mask-like device that is worn over the nose and mouth during sleep. The device is attached to a pump that pushes air through the mask to keep the upper air passage open. ... One big question raised by the Yale study, however, is whether treating sleep apnea will reduce the incidence of strokes.

Some researchers advise people to seek a doctor's help if their sleep partners notice that they stop breathing repeatedly during the night. For those who live alone, symptoms to watch for include difficulty concentrating, mood swings and falling asleep at inappropriate times during the day. Another strategy: Turn on a tape recorder at night and listen to how you breathe while sleeping.



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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"All in the Dances"

After our afternoon at the Carolina Ballet, Terry Teachout sent me his book, All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine.

It seems I'm a member of the very group he wrote it for: people new to ballet. I read it all in one afternoon - couldn't put it down - recommend it highly, although it was quite sad.



It's a beautiful-looking book with a satiny matte black jacket; the well-chosen cover photos almost sum up Balanchine's life in themselves.

Since "mere words, no matter how precise or evocative, can do little more than suggest the emotional effect produced by looking at one of his ballets," one yearns to see these ballets after reading about them.

The book is written simply and warmly. It slips by, an informal reflection - in galloping fast forward - of the blossoming and fading of a great man, and of the fragile young ballerinas for whom, around whom, because of whom he built his masterpieces. Balanchine was always aware that his art was evanescent, that his dancers were mortal, that moments of beauty are precious and can never be retrieved.

It's this side of the story that really struck me...

"Love is a very important thing in a man's life, especially toward the end ... more important than art." Ballets, he had always said, were like butterflies: "A breath, a memory, then gone."

Balanchine was born in Russia in 1904. The day he was sent out to enroll in the Naval Academy, it was full -- so he trailed off behind his sister and enrolled in ballet school instead.

The rest of his family moved to Finland, and then in 1917 to Georgia; he never saw his mother or sister again. He lived a lonely and austere life in the ballet school barracks. "Balanchine's ballets, early and late, are full of unsettling images of loss ... Balanchine took for granted that earthly love must end in separation."

He married the first of his four ballerina wives in 1922 and fled the Soviet Union in 1924. In 1929, having barely survived pneumonia and tuberculosis, "he determined ... to spend the rest of his days living in the present. It was a resolution from which he never wavered."

Of all his oft-repeated refrains, the most familiar was Do it now! 'Why are you stingy with yourselves?' he would ask his dancers. 'Why are you holding back? What are you saving for - for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now.'

Balanchine was brutal with his many lovers, and with his other dancers too - he took their roles away, and fell out of love with them, when they were "too old." There would, naturally, always be more: "You look around, and there are so many marvelous women."

"It was Balanchine's habit to fall in love not with creatures of flesh and blood but with fantasies of his own devising. Like most such romantic idealists, he was aroused by pursuit and disillusioned by capture, and no sooner did he marry his latest muse and capture her essence in a new ballet than he started looking elsewhere for inspiration."

"In 1954 he choreographed Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker for New York City Ballet and appeared on the cover of Time. From then until his death in 1983 ... he was one of the best-known artists in America. ... those were the days of the 'dance boom,' the dizzy quarter-century-long interlude when Edward Villella danced on the Ed Sullivan Show ... and the defections of Rudolf Nureyev and Michail Baryshnikov were front-page news..."

He had decades-long collaborations with Igor Stravinsky and Jerome Robbins. He revolutionized choreography. His work is revered everywhere. But, like a lot of driven men, he had a restless, selfish love-life.

One dancer "noticed that his major romances all lasted for roughly seven years, and that he usually married the women in question when they were twenty-one years old. Only one thing had changed: they were as young as ever, but he was growing older..."

His last great obsession was with Suzanne Farrell, forty-two years younger than he.

"It's hard to talk to young women when you're not so young, when you're over fifty ... If they're seventeen, they want seventeen-year-old friends. Of course, you can be philosophical about it, ... but it can still annoy you, especially if you don't want to make a nice impression but are seriously attracted."

Pathetically, Balanchine choreographed in 1965 a Don Quixote in which young Farrell played Dulcinea and he himself played the Don, "dancing a pas de deux in which he pursued her on his knees."

Eventually Balanchine's heart failed. He also suffered, astonishingly, from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (related to mad cow disease), probably caused by "rejuvenating injections of sheep-placenta extract ... such treatments were the Viagra of their day ..." He died in 1983.

Balanchine felt his legacy would not be long-lived. "Choreography is like cooking or gardening. Not like painting, because painting stays. Dancing disintegrates. Like a garden. Lots of roses come up, and in the evening they're gone."

For the rest - read the book...

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Procrastination

Extracts from
Fans of Procrastination Say It Boosts Control, Preserves Self-Esteem
Jared Sandberg for the Wall Street Journal
February 9, 2005

Paul Kedrosky claims to be among the world's worst procrastinators. "I literally circle topics like a dog trying to tromp down a nice place to sleep," says the 39-year-old high-tech executive. "I try to figure out how to do something without, you know, doing it."

That means that Mr. Kedrosky sometimes has to play a game of chicken with a new assignment. "I take this approach of trying to outlast the obligation," he says. If and when that tactic fails, he can switch gears and become completely deadline driven.

But that doesn't mean someone can arbitrarily assign him an early deadline and he'll fall for it. "I want to know when the wheels are going to fall off," he says.

For Mr. Kedrosky, it's all part of "this nagging suspicion that a lot of the things that I get asked to do I don't actually have to do." He's particularly wary, he says, because the advent of e-mail means that managers no longer have to look you in the eye when they tell you to do something, allowing for the rise of what he calls "drive-by obligations."

... procrastinators aren't so much lollygaggers as they are people who fear failure, or success, or being controlled ... some people seek a ready-made excuse for not doing the job as well as it could have been done. ... Other dawdlers worry that if they're successful, they'll be required to produce more ... Finally, procrastination in the workplace can be a way of saying, "You can't make me do it" without uttering those risky words.

A Redmond, Wash., software executive says he has a long list of ways he likes to procrastinate. The list includes checking sports scores, news sites and blogs on the Internet; instant messaging friends; reading and deleting chain e-mails from his mother; and searching for old friends and video clips on the Web. "Someday," he says, "I might even write a grant proposal to start an international foundation for hungry children."



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