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Troubled Waters

Not to be a wet blanket or anything, because I know we already get enough depressing news every day, but these stats about how much water is used in various processes really blew me away. the first part is from

The recipe for modern Coca-Cola is still a closely held secret, but known ingredients include sugar, caramel coloring, caffeine, vanilla, and, of course, carbonated water. About 79 billion gallons of carbonated water are used worldwide each year to make Coke, while a further 8 trillion are used in manufacturing plants involved in the process of getting Coke to market.
   As Coke is bottled and sold in over 200 countries around the world, the company has come under severe criticism concerning its water use. Almost 800 million people in the world do not have access to clean water and this situation is exacerbated in regions where groundwater is used and polluted by industry.

Under Dome

And speaking of alternative homes (see post directly below this one), how much would someone have to pay you to do what these six people are doing? Or would you do it, as this group is, for science? In order to help NASA plan for a manned flight to Mars, they are living for one year in a dome that is approximately 36 feet in diameter by 20 feet high. It's on the northern slope of Hawaii's Mauna Loa, surrounded by absolutely nothing other than red volcanic dirt and rocks. Each person has his/her own room, big enough for a sleeping cot and desk. Whoever wants to go outside has to suit up, just as one would on an extraterrestrial planet. And "food" consists of things like powdered cheese and canned tuna:
   Sue Ann Pien is one of the people who have volunteered for Mars One, a privately funded attempt to establish a colony on the red planet. It's a series of one-way trips, with the first scheduled to take off in 2026. Knowing that she may be doing this has had its effects, both positive and negative, on her life, Pien says, but she believes in the mission and the importance of being part of it. "The population is rising, there's global warming and we're using up resources," she explains. "We've got to look at ways to continue our civilisation for the next thousand years and beyond":

Four Walls and a Roof

life in a greenhouse, Hanover, Germany                                                                   Julia Schoppe
Most of us live in traditional homes that we try our best to personalize with paint and decorative items. Others live in homes that are themselves the embodiment of their owners' personalities and style. Almost anything can be turned into a home ~ a barge, a windmill, a shipping container ~ but it takes a special kind of person to want to do what it takes to fix them up for actual habitation. The rest of us can learn and borrow from their process (slideshow):

Gentrification vs. Revitalization

Dom Dada
vs. demographic inversion, as Alan Ehrenhalt calls "the rearrangement of living patterns across an entire metropolitan area, all taking place at roughly the same time" ( I've posted about the phenomenon known as gentrification before (, because even though it's not really a new force, it is a growing concern. Part of what makes this transformation of neighborhoods such a difficult issue to deal with is the inevitability of its nature and its myriad ramifications, which are both negative and positive. Benjamin Grant, urban design policy director at the civic planning organization SPUR, believes that the problem is not gentrification per se, but displacement, where it exists, and that the answer lies in updating public policy. “We need to understand that in many cities we have a serious housing crisis — a shortage that is a result of us not providing adequate housing, particularly in the kind of urban, walkable, amenity-rich neighborhoods that people increasingly want to live in,” he says. “I think it’s important to note that this broader process is a side effect of a very positive change in American cities where, after 85 years of abandoning our cities, people want to live in cities again”:

Greek Palace Bears Gifts

Greek Ministry of Culture
Unearthed palace dates back to 17th century? That's nice, but not ... oh! 17th century BC, you say? Well, that's different. Greece may have its financial woes these days, but it is beyond rich in world history, as this 10-room palace near Sparta proves. In addition to objects of worship, clay figurines, bronze swords, and mural fragments, the palace has revealed to archaeologists its inscriptions, which date back to the Mycenaean Age. A hope is that this find may help historians understand why this civilization, which became prominent around 1700 BC, mysteriously collapsed 500 years later:

Doctoring the Printer

Dr. Tarek Loubani                                   
Talk about necessity being the mother of invention! This whole 3D printing thing is pretty amazing. People are making clothes, shoes, (guns ...), bicycles, musical instruments, even food ( But it's when these printers are used to save lives that their real value becomes apparent. Prostheses have been made, and now, in an area where medical supplies are almost impossible to come by, a Canadian doctor who works in the Gaza Strip has used a 3D printer to make a functioning stethoscope for 30 cents. "The goal here is self-sufficiency, and so the plan for Gaza and other underserved areas is to have 3D printers there," Dr. Tarek Loubani explained. "It would cost about as much for a 3D printer as to buy a new Littmann stethoscope." Loubani heads up a project whose goal is to make just such medical devices, inexpensively. He has already created a loom for weaving gauze and an otoscope. All plans are published online for anyone to use:

The Little Princes

"The Princes in the Tower," by Samuel Cousins
They were held in the Tower of London and then smothered with a pillow. That's the story we've always heard about the princes 12-year-old Edward V and his little brother, 9-year-old Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. But that may not be what happened at all, contends historian and screenwriter Philippa Langley, and she's committed to unraveling the true story. “I have three key lines of investigation–two that have never been investigated before,” she said. “There are a couple of European lines of inquiry that are looking very interesting." She doubts the usually accepted tale that Richard III (whose remains were found a few years ago under a parking lot: and had the boys killed so that he could become king, saying that his motive would have been shaky and the evidence is only circumstantial (story, slideshow):

What It Was When It Was

By now, we've become a little more inured to the tragedy of the world's beautiful historic monuments being destroyed by religiously fanatical conquerors. Actually, as a practice, it's nothing new: Invading armies have stomped on defeated countries' links to their past ever since such links existed. The thing is, way back when, those links weren't so ancient. But nor were they as well-photographed and -documented as they fortunately are now. So at least there's that. The latest of these devastations was of the Baal Shamin temple in the ancient city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in almost the very center of Syria. And one can't discuss this event without paying homage to the brave Syrian archaeologist Khaled Asaad (1934-2015), head of antiquities for Palmyra, who very literally gave his life while trying to save his country's historical treasures ( Now might be a good time to learn a little about this city and what made it great, because it was.
   One of those things was its location at a crossroads, which made it a melting pot of cultures and ideas. "Palmyrene merchants grew wealthy through taxing and protecting caravans that made their way across the Syrian desert to the Euphrates River and down to the Persian Gulf, ferrying gems and spices to the markets of the Mediterranean in return for precious metals, glass, and other luxury materials that have been found as far away as India," this article tells us. "Along with the caravans came a wealth of cultural influences, and among the thousands of inscriptions recorded at Palmyra are dedications to gods and goddesses from Phoenician, Babylonian, Arab and Canaanite traditions":

Magnificent Maven of Mystery

Christie in 1921, the year she published her first novel
There was a year, a loooong time ago, when my brother, a friend, and I read every Agatha Christie book we could get our hands on. Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, DBE (1890-1976), for those who may not know, was the creator of some of our most-loved detectives, like Hercule Poirot (he of the "little grey cells") and those charming young adventurers Tommy and Tuppence, not to mention the elderly small-town spinster Miss Marple. All told, Christie wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short-story collections. Our friend lived in England, and our fascination started when our families vacationed together one summer. Returning home, we continued reading and sent books back and forth, often with secret messages hidden in their pages. Our friend adopted the moniker "Black Hand" and sent us a deck of personalized playing cards. Well, all this is to say that, this year, we celebrate what would have been the Queen of Crime's 125th birthday. Part of that celebration is "Agatha Christie: Unfinished Portrait," photographs from the prolific English author's own collection, accompanied by quotes from published and unpublished letters:
   FYI, September 11-20 will see the International Agatha Christie Festival in her birthplace, Torquay, Devon, England. You may want to book your flight now:

The Man Who Makes Mazes

The Beatles Maze at the 1984 Liverpool International Garden Festival                        Adrian Fisher
When was the last time you were in a maze, and when you were, how many wrong turns and I've-been-here-befores did it take before you started to wonder just what kind of twisted mind could come up with this circle of hell? Meet Britain's Adrian Fisher, maze-maker extraordinaire. Over his 36 years in the biz, Fisher has designed and built about 700 mazes all over the world. That's quite impressive for someone who got his start rather by accident. Inspired by a speech made by the Archbishop of Canterbury in which he likened the path to heaven to a maze, Fisher wrote a letter to The Times on the history and magic of mazes. The letter so impressed a former lady-in-waiting to the queen that she asked Fisher to build a maze for her. “A maze, to my mind," says Fisher, "should be a joyful thing. Ideally, you need to get properly lost, but find your way out at the point just before you've had enough—during the period in which fun and disorientation are still operating hand in hand”:

The Mind's Eye

Ellen Rixford Studio
How well can you imagine things ~ and by "imagine," I mean really picture them in your head? As with so many abilities and characteristics, it now seems we all have varying levels of this competency. At the lowest end, the total inability to form mental pictures, is aphantasia, and at the opposite end is hyperphantasia. A brief questionnaire will give you a feel for where you sit on this spectrum ~ and just taking it is rather eye-opening if you've never really thought about it before:

01001011 01110101 01100100 01101111 01110011!

Never got the hang of binary code and now your 5-year-old is asking you what it is? You're in luck, because it just so happens that the fine folks at NPR's Science Friday (which, btw, is one awesome radio show) will happily explain it to you. More than that, they've put together a UTF-8 (which, I learned, stands for "Unicode Transformation Format 8-bit") cheat sheet that your 10-year-old can use to write semi-secret texts to a best friend ~ or even to you. Better yet, memorize it and let them think you're a genius:
   Even if you still don't quite understand it, you'll probably find this amusing:

Just Because: 'August'

Lizette Woodworth Reese (1856-1935) was born in Maryland to a German immigrant and a Confederate soldier. She taught English for 50 years and published nine volumes of poetry, two narrative poems, two memoirs, and an autobiographical novel. She was named poet laureate of Maryland in 1931. Her poem Tears is considered by many to be her best, but as it's August and as this is also a lovely poem ... (from poem-a-day):

No wind, no bird. The river flames like brass.
On either side, smitten as with a spell
Of silence, brood the fields. In the deep grass,
Edging the dusty roads, lie as they fell
Handfuls of shriveled leaves from tree and bush.
But 'long the orchard fence and at the gate,
Thrusting their saffron torches through the hush,
Wild lilies blaze, and bees hum soon and late.
Rust-colored the tall struggling briar, not one
                                                                 Rose left. The spider sets its loom up there
                                                                 Close to the roots, and spins out in the sun
                                                                 A silken web from twig to twig. The air
                                                                 Is full of hot rank scents. Upon the hill
                                                                 Drifts the noon's single cloud, white, glaring, still.

Entropy By the Sea

Christopher Jobson for Colossal
Can't get over to the seaside resort of Weston-super-Mare, England, to see Dismaland before it closes on September 27? Then skip the live lines (which, by all accounts, are daunting) and enjoy it online, through photos and videos. Banksy's (remember him?) pop-up art exhibition masquerading as "the UK's most disappointing visitor attraction" is an amalgam of artworks from 58 artists from around the world. But wait! There's more! "In addition to art," explains writer Christopher Jobson, who should know because he helped set part of it up, "you’ll also find functional a terrifying carousel, a mini golf park, a ferris wheel, and some ludicrously impossible fair games (like ‘topple the anvil with a ping pong ball’ by David Shrigley), roving occupy protests, and a Star Wars stormtrooper who sulks around the exhibition in a state of complete misery. The park is staffed by morose Dismaland employees who are uninterested in being helpful or remotely informative. Entrance to the event requires an uncomfortably awkward NSA-esque security screening, and of course you get to exit through the gift shop" (story, lots of pix, video):
   (story, more pix, video):

Ring the Doctor

Investigación y Desarrollo
Will wonders never cease? Hardly ~ and here's one of the latest: a ring that diagnoses four of the major STDs. It's the brainchild of Mexican mechanical engineer Ernesto Rodríguez Leal but is really a very international product, developed in a Mexican startup in Silicon Valley with the help of a Kazakh biotechnologist and a Russian finance expert. Here's how it works: The ring goes on the thumb, and with the press of a button, an electrical pulse anesthetizes the area, a tiny needle punctures the skin, and a drop of blood is drawn up by capillary action to a chip that analyzes it. The results are sent to a smartphone or tablet:

The Watermelon Story

It can be traced back thousands of years, the watermelon can ~ 5,000, to be more or less exact ~ but, not surprisingly, it wasn't quite the same back then as the fruit we enjoy today. In fact, it was all but inedible, by all accounts. Like the rest of us, that thing we now call the watermelon was born in Africa (precisely where is in dispute, but watermelon seeds were found in a 5,000-year-old settlement in Libya) and, over the centuries, traveled north to the Mediterranean area and from there to Europe. Along the way, it was cultivated, selectively bred, and slowly transformed. But why was such a bitter-tasting, unattractive fruit chosen for cultivation in the first place? Harry Paris, a horticulturalist at Israel's Agricultural Research Organization, has been studying the watermelon and its history. His answer to that question has to do with how much water it has always contained. The ancient Egyptians, for example, placed watermelons in their tombs. “These Egyptian pharaohs," explains Paris, "when they died they had a long journey ahead of them so they needed a source of water—and what would that source of water be?”:

The New Sound of Music

Görkem Şen and his yaybahar
Never heard of a yaybahar? That's probably because it was invented only about six years ago, in Turkey. Its creator, Görkem Şen, explains that his inspirations were the didgeridoo, the ney (a Turkish instrument), and the thunder drum. It took him a lot of adjusting and fine-tuning, not to mention practice, but the result is worth the effort. “When you listen live this is really effective, really good mood and really good frequencies on the air,” Şen says. “It’s really delicious for ears.” (In the video, if you want to skip to the chase, try starting at 2:10.) (story, link to audio version, video):

Denim and Decay

The story of how two immigrants, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis, came up with the first blue jeans is legend. But where did the fabric itself originate? Apparently, southern France and Italy. In fact, the name "denim" is thought to come from "de Nîmes" ("from Nîmes"), and "jeans" from "Gênes" (the French word for Genoa). Well, since then, the fabric has changed a bit here and there, as the styles of the garments made from it keep up with the times. The latest of those tweaks, also in line with at least some consumers' priorities and concerns, is ~ get this ~ actual compostable jeans! Completely. Except for the metal buttons, which can be unscrewed and reused:

Women in an Islamic State

members of IS's al-Khansaa Brigade: can you say 'Stockholm syndrome'?
Women ~ don't really want to live with 'em, can't establish a caliphate without 'em. We're all appalled, angered, and/or disgusted by the cruelty and callousness of the Islamic State. They take xenophobia to new lows and only one thing lower: misogyny. (While it's almost certainly more complicated than those labels would imply, for all intents and purposes, that's pretty much what it comes down to.) But IS has a problem that al-Qaeda and the Taliban don't. Their goal is a state that will grow and last for generations, if not forever, and for that, they need women. They need women to marry the fighters, to bear and bring up their children, to tend the home fires, and maybe most importantly right now, to recruit more women ~ or, rather, girls ~ to the cause:
   Girls who emigrate to IS from the West use social media to recruit, give advice, and post about their new lives:

The Better To Smell You With, My Dear

It was with a growing sense of dread that I half-smiled and grimaced my way through this article on "old person smell." Hard to read, but totally fascinating. Turns out, there really is such a thing, and it has a biological cause. "The specific chemical that gives old folks their unique odor, scientists suspect, is a compound called 2-nonenal," according to the article. "Created by the oxidative breakdown of other chemicals over time, it produces what’s described as an 'unpleasant greasy and grassy odor' in people and is also responsible for some of the 'cardboard' flavor of stale beer." The kind of backhanded good news here, if it can be considered such, is that, on its own, the odor is not thought of as offensive. It's apparently the context that makes it less appealing:

Excuse Me While I Swim the Sky

There are architectural wonders and creative ideas in this world, and then there's this ~ a glass swimming pool connecting two buildings, 10 stories up, in London. It and the rest of the development have provoked their share of controversy, mostly having to do with whether they really will reinvigorate the area, as Mayor Boris Johnson plans. Still, one must admit that the pool is an amazing idea. "We set out to create places and spaces that are more than just bricks and mortar," explains the company's founder and chairman ~ and the one who came up with the concept. "The pool is testimony to this philosophy and gives the development a unique character." No kidding:

What Not To Do

This story about common U.S. practices that don't go over well elsewhere probably would have been better placed at the beginning of summer, when most people still have their vacations ahead of them (though, for a disconcerting yet somehow not surprising story about Americans and our vacations, see below). So, if you've already been abroad, you can entertain yourself with memories of which of these things you did, and if you haven't yet been abroad, well, try to memorize those rules that apply to your particular destination (story, graphic):
   This kind of story pops up every once in a while, not always having to do with vacations but sometimes with sick days or pregnancy leave or just days off in general. The basic idea is always the same, though. Americans get less of all that than the citizens of every other advanced nation. And according to the latest stats, even more us are getting ~ or rather, taking ~ vacations. As in, 10 million fewer people have had a vacation in the last 12 months than a year ago. It comes down to this: “Americans have very low expectations about vacation time when compared with the rest of the world.” So concludes Kathleen Gerson, a sociology professor at New York University:

It's in the Blood

Amazingly, it seems that the activity of some genes changes when an individual is seriously considering taking his/her own life, and a new blood test based on that finding, along with a questionnaire, predicts the risk with a high level of accuracy. Because the number of suicides in the general population is low, the test wouldn't be effective there, but it could be useful for those already receiving psychiatric care. One of the identified genes indirectly affects the network of systems in the brain that has to do with impulse and negative thoughts. Another helps to regulate the brain's pH, which is linked to panic and anxiety attacks:

Almost Bostlandia

Probably every schoolchild in Oregon knows this story, but for the rest of us ... Portland, it seems, has a coin to thank for its name, because it was almost the second Boston. Portland, Maine, for which is was named, on the other hand, was known as Machigonne, then as Falmouth before it became Portland and the inspiration for the other Portland. from

Portland, Oregon's name was determined by a coin flip.
   Portland is the largest city in Oregon, with a population of about 600,000 as of 2013. The city was named in 1845. Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove had to make the decision, as they both owned the area. They had their hometowns in mind for potential names. Lovejoy was from Boston, Massachusetts, while Pettygrove was from Portland, Maine.
   Finally, a coin toss decided whether Oregon's largest city would be named Portland or Boston. Lovejoy and Pettygrove tossed a coin three times and Pettygrove won two times out of three. The Oregon Historical Society Museum displays the coin believed to have been used.

Reading List

no. 1
no. 100
All those who dare to compile lists of the "best" or "worst" of anything take their egos into their own hands. There will always be critics with an opposing list, right or wrong, of the items that were supposedly missed. One of the toughest lists to organize is also one of those that have been created most often: the best books. A recent entrant into this arena is Robert McCrum, whose qualifications make his list of "The 100 Best Novels Written in English" worth a look. McCrum is an associate editor of The Guardian's Observer, having been its literary editor for 12 years. He was also editor-in-chief of the publishers Faber & Faber and is co-author of The Story of English. Each title is linked to his explanation of why he chose it:

Just Because: 'The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm'

Since I mentioned this book (see second post down), I thought I ought to share the beginning of it. Honestly, I'm surprised I haven't done so earlier. But, then, there are so many good books! I probably wouldn't have known about this one at all if I hadn't found it to read to my son at bedtime every evening when he was about 6 or 7. (He probably still doesn't know that I skipped over certain of the more frightening or disturbing passages so he wouldn't have bad dreams.) As I said before, it's by Nancy Farmer.


Someone was standing by his bed, a person completely unlike anyone Tendai had ever met. In the predawn light his features were unclear. He was simply a presence of darker blue than the sky behind him. But there was about him a scent of woody smoke and new leaves and the honey of far-off, unseen flowers. The presence pointed at Tendai and said, "You!"
   The boy woke up at once. The first rays of dawn were sliding over the garden wall, and the window was empty. What a strange dream, thought Tendai. He pulled the sheet over his head as he tried to remember it better. The image faded away, leaving a strange sense that something important was about to happen. His ancestors must have felt this way before a big hunt.
   Tendai imagined them lying on the warm earth of their huts, feeling it tremble with destiny. Their shields and spears lay ready by the door. Not like me, he thought. He snuggled into a soft bed in one of the finest mansions in Zimbabwe. Around the house were a large garden and a wall studded with searchlights and alarms. The automatic Doberman growled as it made a last tour of the lawn before retiring to its kennel.
   Any tremble of destiny would have had to struggle through the concrete foundations of the house. It would have had to work through inlaid wooden floors and thick carpets, to creep up the grand staircase to the second floor. Only a whisper could have found its way to his waiting ear.
   Yet find him it did.

School Board

A class on skateboarding? Srsly? It's oxymoronic. And yet, you knew it had to happen sooner or later. "Want to keep up with your kids at the skate park?" asks one ad geared toward adults learning, or relearning, the once-alternative method of transportation-turned-sport-turned extreme moneymaker. And all of a sudden, something that, aside from courage, gracefulness, and a sense of balance, takes only practice on a safe street or empty parking lot (or, later in the game, swimming pool!) is turned into a methodical course of study. Never has the phrase "just do it" made more sense (story, video):
   Here's a trailer for the very fine documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, which is definitely worth renting if you're at all interested in the history and/or sociology of the sport ~ or just in good docs in general (video):

A New Détente

it started out optimistically enough (sign in Miami harbor                               GRAP/Getty Images
There has been talk about normalizing relations with Cuba off and on for a long time. It was on our president's list of the things he wanted to do if elected. He was elected, and he made it happen. Of course, this is just the first step. The embargo continues in place for now, but measures are in progress that may make life a little easier on the island. So, Why now? There are several factors that led to this move at this particular time, one of which was the deteriorating health of detainee Alan Gross. This article looks at other factors and gives an overview of the process and probable consequences:

The Ear, the Eye on the Arm

Australian performance artist Prof. Stelarc shows off his third ear                                screen shot
There is something new under the sun. There are apparently those among us who enjoy the idea of having superpowers so much that they are willing to implant, modify, and inject. This story is not for the squeamish, but it is for the curious. If you're both, consider yourself warned. I've posted about this topic before (, and the caveat I wrote there applies here as well: the videos are disturbing. In addition to the individual in the picture above, there's Gabriel Licina, who had a chemical mixture dropped on his eyes that turned them black but allows him to see in the dark, to a certain extent, and Jerry Jalava, who replaced the finger he lost in an accident with a USB stick (story, videos):
   The title of this post is a slight modification itself ~ of a great science fiction novel called The Ear, the Eye and the Arm. It's by Nancy Farmer and, I guess, would officially be placed in the Young Adult section, but don't let that stop you.

Words Worth Knowing

One of my favorite words, and one I had pretty much forgotten until reminded by an email from


1. a misinterpretation of a word or phrase that has been heard, especially a song lyric.
One of the reasons that “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” substituted for Jimi Hendrix’s “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” remains one of the most widely reported mondegreens of all time can be explained in part by frequency. It’s much more common to hear of people kissing guys than skies.
-- Maria Konnikova, "Excuse Me While I Kiss This Guy," The New Yorker, December 10, 2014
Mondegreen is itself a mondegreen. The term was coined by Amercian writer Sylvia Wright in a 1954 article for Harper's in which she explained that as a child, she'd misinterpreted a line of a Scottish ballad; instead of “And laid him on the green” she heard “And Lady Mondegreen.”

Meanwhile, in Central America ...

Hondurans take to the streets
They call themselves los indignados (the outraged). They've had enough and they're not going to take it anymore. They are the protesters of Honduras and Guatemala, two countries ~ both U.S. allies, btw ~ that have seen their share of corruption and strife. Ariel Varela, one of the organizers of the recent marches in Honduras, puts it this way: “This is our Central American spring.” “Without major political reform, elections will just be about choosing the next group of thieves,” says Manfredo Marroquín, head of the Guatemalan NGO Acción Ciudadana. So far, the U.S. has continued its support of Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina and Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández, but also has shown support for the Guatemalan protesters. The marches continue, and hope is in the air:

Open House ~ UPDATE

Kakoschke, his partner, left, and roommate          Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson/NPR
It's not easy to feel good about the world and the direction we're all headed in, but a story like this does give one hope. So far, 780 Germans have signed up to host refugees with Jonas Kakoschke and Mareike Geiling's Refugees Welcome (see original post below). That may not sound like a lot, given the thousands of immigrants needing help, but other EU countries now want in on that action, and apparently, thousands of Icelanders have offered accommodations. In Munich, the police have been flooded with donations for refugees:
   According to a 2014 UN Global Trends report, there have never been as many refugees in the world as there are now.  And, as always and everywhere, not everyone is happy to see them. It's sad yet understandable. People worry about running low on resources, and throughout history, humans have evinced an inherent fear and/or distrust of strangers. Fortunately for some of the displaced landing in Germany, there is at least one person working against that trend. Jonas Kakoschke created a kind of

Those Entrepreneurial Communists

former presidents Mohamed Morsi, Egypt, center left, and Hu Jintao, China, center right Ng Han Guan/AP
We Americans like to think we're particularly entrepreneurial, and we are. But how's this for enterprising? Chinese businesspeople have cornered the market on sexy lingerie in ~ where else? ~ Upper Egypt. It seems that, while, as one woman put it, "The minds are closed," the pocketbooks definitely aren't. It's a thriving market ~ so much so that one dealer in Cairo imports 10 shipping containers of women's undies per year, and that's in addition to the articles he makes in his factory. One couple that owned such a shop noticed that plastic water bottles piled up in the streets and added a recycling business. The mix of the two nationalities seems to work very well, for the most part. The Chinese don't care to judge, and the Egyptians are happy not to be judged. There's just one problem: The business owners have found that Egyptian women are better employees. "The men here in Egypt are too restless; they like to move around. They can’t focus,” says Xu Xin, who started a cell-phone factory. But few women are allowed to work, and those who are do so only until they get married:

All Right on the Left

Nothing sinister here. It's just a date to remember: International Left-Handers Day on August 13. The date was consecrated as such in 1992 by The Left-Handers Club, which itself had been founded in London two years before. According to the site, "in the U.K. alone there have been more than 20 regional events to mark the day in recent years." These have included left-handed tea parties (no, not the political kind, although ... ) and the establishment of special "Lefty Zones" nationwide. Interesting things one can learn on the site include the fact that 4/5 of the original designers of the Mac were lefties, as were 1/4 of the Apollo astronauts (website):

To Live and Die in Ferguson

Michael Brown's funeral                                                                                                 News One
It's been a year since 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Marches have already taken place and more are planned. For sure, many who participate will visit Michael's grave. It's number 4 in section 10, block F, lot 12. The headstone is due to arrive soon, but for now, it's marked by a square of cement on which are spray-painted the initials MB. BBC News reporter "Within a roughly 30-metre radius of Michael's grave there are at least 15 homicide victims," she reports. "The youngest was a 15-year-old. Most of them were shot. There are also deaths by suicide, cancer, car accidents, but for those under the age of 30, the predominant cause of death is homicide." Jarris Brown (no relation), Oshay Safari Caves, Keairrah Renee Johnson, and so many more ... who are these individuals about whom we know nothing? (story, videos):

In Praise of Plankton

Phaeocystis globosa                                                                                             Christian Sardet
They're the beautiful little drifters of the seas, plankton are. In fact, their name comes from the Greek word for "errant" (the singular is "plankter"). There are phytoplankton, zooplankton, and bacterioplankton, and they come in all sizes (interesting fact: jellyfish are plankton), but what they all have in common is that they go with the flow, not having their own method of propulsion or having only a very weak one. Still, they do have their place in our world ~ a very important one, as French biologist and author Christian Sardet explains. Do take a moment to watch the short video at the very end, too ~ it's eerily beautiful. from

Today's selection—from Plankton by Christian Sardet. We owe much of our ability to breathe to the microscopic plankton that permeate our oceans (and which are currently being depleted):
   "Take two breaths. For one of them, you can thank the plankton, In particular the single-celled photosynthetic drifters that comprise the phytoplankton of the world ocean. Remarkably, these elegant, microscopic cells perform nearly half of the photosynthesis and consequent oxygen production on Earth—equivalent to the total amount of photosynthetic activity of land plants combined. These tiny single cells have transformed the ocean, atmosphere, and terrestrial environment and helped make the planet habitable for a broad spectrum of other organisms, including ourselves. In many cases, blooms of phytoplankton reach such densities that they change the color of ocean surface waters and are even visible from satellites orbiting Earth. ...
   "Every schoolchild knows that baleen whales, the biggest animals in the sea, subsist on huge quantities of krill, which are small zooplankton. But ocean food webs (the linkages between predators

A Matter of Time

Did Einstein go too far with his theory of relativity? And, maybe more relevantly, can a cogent scientific theory be based on personal beliefs? For South African cosmologist George Ellis, the answer to both those questions is an emphatic Yes. And life itself is the proof, he says, though he admits, “I wouldn’t say I think it’s all tied together yet.” Ellis had one major objection to Einstein's theory, and that was that it implied that the future is set, which, essentially, cuts free will ~ and, consequently, accountability ~ out of the picture. His dissatisfaction could be traced back to his early years as the child of outspoken opponents of apartheid. So the adult Ellis, with some help from quantum mechanics, reworked Einstein's theory, keeping relativity and four-dimensional space-time but reeling in the boundary between present and future so that instead of being projected into infinity, it moves just ahead of the present. In this way, says Ellis, “Tomorrow there will be one more day in the universe than there was today,” and it doesn't already exist:


"Watson and the Shark," by John Singleton Copley, 1778
As frightening as the thought of a shark attack can be, the fact is that sharks (much like lions ...) have a lot more to fear from us that we do from them, as the following stats show. from

Approximately 100 million sharks are killed by people each year, according to 2012 findings from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, or nearly 11,500 every hour. It is estimated that between 6.4% and 7.9% of all shark species are killed annually by humans, which is thought to be a faster rate than the birth of new sharks and may leave the creatures vulnerable to a declining population over the long term.
   Sharks are generally killed by humans due to illegal hunting to keep up with the demand for shark fins, a culinary delicacy in Asia. Poachers typically remove the fins from the sharks while they are still alive, and leave them in the water to die.

More about sharks :
  • One single bowl of shark fin soup may cost as much as $100 US Dollars (USD) in Asia.

Those Ancients ~ So Deck

Léo Caillard
So, once they were nude, all those sculptures of Ancient Greece and Rome, but no more. Because some French mec from the current century dressed them up and then took their picture. And it's not the denim shirts with rolled-up sleeves, the tattered T-shirts, or the sunglasses that makes them so hip(ster), it's more that look they've cultivated on their beautiful little stone faces over the eons, the one that says they really, really couldn't care less (thanks, Mary!) (story, lots of pix):

Moving People

Dr. Galloway and friend                                                                                              screen shot
Dr. Cole Galloway is a physical therapy professor at the University of Delaware who also happens to design "rehab technology for the real world": harnesses that hang from the ceiling and allow people who have difficulty standing to do so while working traditional jobs ~ or cool, specially modified little cars that allow special-needs children to be more mobile. His whole goal, he says, is to make these things simple and inexpensive enough that they can go straight from his workshop into the wider world as quickly as possible. "We see no reason to wait for years of research to tell you that [with this device] a person who can’t stand or walk on their own has the potential to actually work in a cafe," says Dr. Cole Galloway (story, videos):

Washington Descending

Nickolay Lamm/Data: Climate Central
Why is our nation's capitol going underwater faster than any other area on the East Coast? It's a double-whammy. First there is, of course, the slow but probably inexorable rise of the oceans caused by the melting of the glaciers due to climate change. And then, there's Washington's geology and something called "forebulge collapse," which has its roots in the last ice age. "During the last ice age, a mile-high North American ice sheet that stretched as far south as Long Island, N.Y., piled so much weight on the Earth that underlying mantle rock flowed slowly outward, away from the ice," according to this article. "In response, the land surface to the south, under the Chesapeake Bay region, bulged up. Then, about 20,000 years ago, the ice sheet began melting away, allowing the forebulge to sink again." New studies are showing just how much these two conditions will affect the region, and Congress might want to take note:

For All They're Worth

That big money plays a mega-role in our political elections is such an old story that many simply accept it and do their best to read between the lines. To wade through that difficult process (made more challenging by candidates' blustering, bullying, pandering, sound bites, half-answers, and non-answers), it behooves one to know who, exactly, is paying for whom. Fortunately, PACs (super and otherwise) do have to file fundraising reports, and the first of them were recently sent in, as were candidates' own filings. Interestingly, the Republican breakdown accounts for about 9/10s of this article, as "There won't be much talk of Democrats in the presidential super PAC filings. That's because they account for less than 9 percent of the total super PAC haul so far, according to an Associated Press analysis ..." Of course, at least part of that is due to there being so many more Republicans running right now (story, videos, link to quiz about $$ in politics):
   And speaking of how many Republicans are running ~ and with our veep seemingly about to take the plunge ~ one couldn't be blamed for losing count. Enter the 2016 presidential race cheat sheet:
   Here's a brief rundown of interesting tidbits about the candidates. Be careful, though. As with so much of the information we get, the details that are left out can make a difference in how one thinks of the whole story. As an example, this guide mentions that Jeb(!) Bush passed a law in 2001 "that required single mothers to publish their sexual history." Outrageous! But a little fact-checking reveals

All Aboard for Iowa

2014's parade                                                                        Allison Ullmann, Britt News Tribune
Summer does come with its share of intriguing spectacles, and this August 3 to 9, the place to be for a good time is Britt, Iowa. The little town will be hosting, as it does every year (,, the National Hobo Convention. Why Britt? It all began in 1900, according to the site, when three residents of the town decided "to 'do something different to show the world that Britt was a lively little town capable of doing anything that larger cities could do.' " On the schedule are events including a parade (of course!), the Hobo King and Queen coronation, a 5- and 10K walk/run, an auction, and a Vagabond Craft Show. "Marching bands, queens, business floats, children, adults, and hobos all come down the streets in one long line and share the fun that only a Hobo Convention can provide," according to the site. "Following the parade, mulligan stew is available, for those willing to stand in line":

And There Was (Something We Call) Light

Ages and ages ago ~ I must have been about 10 ~ I read a book in which I came across a question that really intrigued me: How do you explain light to a blind person? I don't remember whether there was an answer, or even an attempt at one, but that question has stayed with me and resurfaces occasionally. Most recently, it did so when I saw this incredible article on the subject, on the occasion of the International Year of Light, as 2015 has been designated by the U.N. Long story short, it's a form of radiation, specifically, electromagnetic radiation, and it is carried by electromagnetic waves (it was James Clerk Maxwell's calculations that showed this). In this way, light is very similar to X-rays and radio waves ~ it's just a matter of the wavelength. But here's the interesting part. Within these waves, light travels in little energy bundles (which Einstein called photons), and this means that light is actually a particle. It behaves as both a wave and a particle at the same time. While this may sound confusing, it's actually quite a useful discovery, as we can ~ and do ~ take advantage of its duality in the ways we harness it. As explained by the Max Planck Institute's Eleftherios Goulielmakis, "We can control the light, and through it we can control matter":