Friday, June 29, 2007

Wages of War

At what point will more US personnel have been killed in the Iraq war than were killed in the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon? It must be getting close because figures I saw yesterday suggest the US Iraq toll now stands at 3,560. It's not overwhelmingly surprising that US support for this aspect of the "War on Terrorism" is waning. (No doubt Iraqi support is too - especially as some research has suggested the death toll for non-combatant Iraqis, aka civilians, over the four years of the war is already over half a million lives lost.)

On the hunt for ...

It's a shame there wasn't some kind of visual recording medium in Noah's day. That way there might have been a comprehensive record of the animals that were herded on to the Ark and researchers in Michigan who are about to mount an expedition in search of BigFoot would know if they were likely to be as lucky as 27 out of 30 previous expeditions who have had a sighting or some other "evidence" of the normally elusive (or perhaps just shy) BigFoot. It's not clear if places on the expedition are available to amateur cryptozoologists. But if you are after something to do you may want to answer a recent call by the European Space Agency for volunteers to help scientists study the effects of long-term space travel. Alas the volunteers won't actually get to go into space but will be confined for some 17 months in an enclosure to simulate a long-range space vessel aka an isolation tank. The plan is that the volunteers would not be released until the end of the experiment/trial! (Hmm - sounds very like Big Brother.) They do have a few requirements though: 25-50, in good health, up to 185 cm tall; no smoking or other addictions (but does this include video games?) - and a working knowledge of both English and Russian would be a plus.


It's not often that you have a chance to realise just how deeply gender stereotyping is ingrained. I was referred to a new doctor and this morning, when I arrived for my appointment, I checked the Tenant Board to make sure I was off to the correct floor. I was amazed (shocked!) to see the doctor's first name was "Alice". I hadn't for a moment considered that the doctor would be a female - and I was extremely happy that I had found out before I saw her - especially as no-one could ever accuse me of having a poker face! This is not to say that I was at all concerned about having a female doctor - it was my preference but as my first choices (recommendations from mates in the medical area) were unavailable, I had made an appointment with one of their "associates" - and with the neutral term of "Doctor" had, without giving it another moment's thought, assumed it would be a male doctor. What did I say ... ingrained!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cover up

It's still raining in Sydney and a thought has occurred to me. How many umbrellas go missing from the umbrella holder at the front door of cafes? Will my wonderful rainbow umbrella (a splash of colour amid the usual sea of black) still be there when I'm ready to leave. Or will a passer-by without wet weather cover see it as a better alternative than purchasing one. (Or is this just paranoia ...?)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Simpson trials

Homer Simpson, of cartoon fame and soon to be a movie star, has been cast in fibreglass along with the rest of his family. Which is how two Malaysian students were able to "lift him" from a cinema there. But thanks to the vigilance of a bystander, the perpetrators were tracked through their vehicle number plate - and Homer has been returned, unharmed, to his rightful place on the couch. Not so lucky is another Homer in Sydney - who is now armless after someone made off with his arm (complete with remote control - or was it a block of chocolate?) While Homer's arm has since been returned by an unknown man, Bart who was also taken, remains at large - or at least "life-sized" as reported in The Daily Telegraph - although I'm not quite sure what constitutes life-sized for a cartoon character.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The cost of friendship

A man is dead after coming to his friend's aid after he accidentally hit a girl with his car in a parking lot in Texas. When the driver got out to check the girl, a group of people from a festival being held in the park across the road set upon him. That was when his friend stepped in to help and was himself attacked by the mob who beat him to death. The killing is being investigated by local Homicide police.
The young girl was taken to hospital with "non-life threatening" injuries. The driver managed to escape relatively unharmed by driving away - and when the reports say "unharmed" you have to add your own "physically" because it's sure to have left him psychologically traumatised.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Frog chaser

Hot on the heels of frog juice comes news of the hagfish, considered an aphrodisiac in South Korea. The fish itself isn't a great looker ... the Yahoo report I read described it thus: The hagfish is a bottom feeder so repulsive it had a cameo on TV's "Fear Factor." It slimes its enemies, has rows of teeth on its tongue, and feeds on the innards of rotting fish by penetrating any orifice. For more, and pictures of the slime (which can goop up a bucket of seawater in moments), go to the Oceanlink entry for hagfish*
So back to its medicinal qualities. Hagfish has a "modest" following among older Korean men who reportedly savor it as an appetizer broiled in sesame oil, sprinkled with salt and accompanied by a shot of liquor. Yummm ... enough to have over 9 million pounds of hagfish consumer there each year!

*And be sure to follow the link at the bottom of the page to "to learn more about the uses and properties of hagfish slime".

Unkindest cut

A 93-year-old man in England has "fatally knifed himself". Granted, this might not seem as dramatic as the man who recently decapitated himself with a chainsaw after allegedly inflicting fatal injuries (not with the chain saw) on his father - but it does make you wonder why he would want to do it? Was it accidental? Intentional? And is it possible that the police finding (that the man, who was found on a communal grassy area with a knife a yard away from him, was not attacked by some-one else) was correct.

I just called to say ...

It seems quite easy these days to pick up the phone and call someone - but have you ever wondered about the "Hot Line" (not sure of its official title but it's usually depicted in movies with a red telephone*) between the Kremlin and the White House? When/why was it instituted between two countries who were locked in a '"Cold War". Did it really help communications between the leaders of the two countries? And if it had been in place before 1963, would the Cuban Missile Crisis - after which the hot line was instituted - have been averted? Of course, the "hot line" wasn't a telephone until the 1970's. Before that it was a teletypewriter - and messages still had to be translated, typed, transmitted - and then undone at the other end.
* The US referred to it as the "hot line", the Russians referred to it as the "red telephone".

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Common theme?

What do Harry Potter and Charles Dickens have in common? Theme parks. Dickens World opens soon in the UK, and a theme park based on the adventures of the young wizard is slated to open in the States in 2009.

Juiced up

What natural substance supposedly cures asthma, bronchitis, sluggishness and low sex drive? If you didn't say "frog juice" first, you're probably not alone, but that's the current thinking in some Andean cultures. Of course, they don't usually drink it neat. One recipe calls for ladles of hot, white bean broth, honey, raw aloe vera plant, maca (an Andean root) to be placed in a blender - and then for a frog to be banged against something hard to kill it, make two incisions along its belly, and off with its skin ... and then drop the frog in the blender as well. A blender burl later and voila - frog juice which supposedly stings a little as it goes down but, as one of the people interviewed for the Topix story is reported as saying "it gives you power".

Man in the moon

... or moon in the man? Scientists are apparently investigating the possible threat posed to astronauts from inhaling lunar dust. Question is: how? Surely the de-contamination system they put into the lunar modules had a way of blowing the dust off their space suits before the astronauts climbed back in after frolicking on the lunar surface? Or maybe not.

Crossing over

There's been a lot in the media today about the Vatican's release of a set of "10 commandments" for motorists to promote safer driving. Included in the commandments are calls for respecting speed limits, refraining from drinking before driving, and, of course, no cussing. But most interesting is a suggestion for road rage - Roman Catholics are urged to make the sign of the cross before setting out - so prevent them getting cross on the road.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What's in a name

If you'd tried to throw a Frisbee 51 years ago, you would have been out of luck. It had been invented - based some say on the Frisbie Pie Co. pie plate - but it was not totally aerodynamic - and it went by the name of Pluto* Platter. Toy company Wham-O Inc. successfully made it fly better and changed the name of the mini flying-saucer 50 years ago this week. Credit for the work was given to Ed Headrick, who died in 2002.
In an interview in 2001 (as reported by Reuters) Headrick acknowledged the special power of the Frisbee: "I felt the Frisbee had some kind of a spirit involved. It's not just like playing catch with a ball. It's the beautiful flight," Headrick said.
"We used to say that Frisbee is really a religion -- 'Frisbyterians,' we'd call ourselves," he said. "When we die, we don't go to purgatory. We just land up on the roof and lay there." Which may in fact be where part of Headrick is right now. Word was that after his death, it was planned to have Headrick's ashes moulded into a limited number of "memorial flying discs" which would be distributed to family and friends, and sold to help fund a future Frisbee/disc golf history and memorabilia museum.
* And speaking of Pluto, following its demotion from planet status a little while ago (read "too xxxx to look up when that was"), it has recently lost its status as "biggest dwarf plant" - a position now filled (not literally of course) by newcomer Eris.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Squirrel goes nuts

Three people were attacked in Passau, Germany, last week ... by a squirrel. The first reported victim was a 70-year-old woman, who was attacked from behind and bitten on the hand. Initially unable to shake the squirrel off, she ran into the street where it then scampered onto a building site and onto a construction worker who was injured on the arm and hand. Using a measuring pole, the construction worker was able to dislodge the squirrel which then ran into the garden of a 72-year-old man where it attacked him on the arm, hand and thighs. Then, said the report I read on Reuters, the man "killed it with his crutch." Motives for the attack have not been released although experts are reported as saying that it could have been linked to the mating season or perhaps the squirrel was ill. The latter would be my guess - because it certainly doesn't seem like the actions of a well squirrel. (Rabies shots anyone?)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Laugh and the world laughs with you

- well that's what they say - and now it appears to have been borne out with research. Apparently our brains are wired so that we laugh when other people do. Which could be the reason for canned laughter on television shows - or perhaps it's because they know they're just not funny.

Bee Sting

I wish I could remember when I copied this item from the RSS feeds: Snopes - Einstein on Bees. Did Albert Einstein predict that if something eliminated bees from our planet, mankind would soon perish? This is interesting because recent items on some of the feeds have told of the death of large numbers of bees in the US. The cause was unknown. So what was Einstein's bee prediction? You'll have to go to Snopes to find out.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Shoot first

A Sydney woman suffered fatal mauling injuries earlier this week - the question is whether the 11 dogs savaged the woman after she had already received life-threatening injuries - or died. Reports as to when she did die are unclear - in some she was still alive when she reached the hospital; in others she was alive when found but deceased by the time the ambulance arrived. In any case, even if it is found that the dogs attacked post-mortem, it will do them no good as they have already been destroyed. (If you were a crime writer there could be a story here somewhere, possibly about inciting the dogs to attack the woman to conceal other injuries.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Word play

One of the clues in today's crossword was "Mouselike animal". Surprisingly the answer was "Shrew". I was puzzled especially as I have never thought of shrews (as in Taming of The ...) as "mouselike". Quite the opposite in fact - more an " ill-tempered scolding woman". It's funny how words work.

Watch this

Well, was President Bush's watch stolen during a "meet and greet" in Albania as has been suggested - and later denied by the White House - or did the President put his hand behind his back and have his minders take his watch off, or did he himself take it off and put it in his pocket. And if either of these alternate scenarios did happen - why? Was it because President Bush was concerned that his watch would be stolen? Hmmmm.

Friday, June 08, 2007

On a roll

If you're at all tempted to buy a pair of those shoes that have rollers built in you may want to first consider news from the US that the shoes contributed to 1,600 injuries last year - and that's only the ones that made it to the emergency ward.

Elephant (h)ears

We all know the joke about elephants making "trunk calls" but apparently there's something else scientists now know about elephants ... although they have large ears, they apparently also use their feet for hearing calls from other herds - and they react most if the calls come from elephants they know.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Bus help

I was checking out goods at the convenience store near the bus stop this afternoon when I noticed someone - familiar but not - waving from the doorway and trying to attract my attention. It turned out to be a fellow traveller on my usual bus and she had spied the bus coming up fast and thought I might miss it - hence the warning. What a lovely person!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Not getting your goat

In Jurassic Park they used a goat to lure Tyrannosaurus Rex out. In India they're using a similar method to capture leopards which wander out ofthe jungle into villages and sometimes attack people.
But this time they're using special effects ... mobile phone ringtones of cows mooing, goats bleating and roosters crowing. Local rangers download the tones, attach their phones to speakers behind a cage then play the sound continuously until the leopard arrives, and walks into the cage looking for the animal. The method was introduced last month and already 5 leopards have been captured and released back into forest areas. Wildlife activists welcomed the new initiative saying that previous methods of trapping the cats using pits often resulted in the animals getting injured - and it wasn't very good for the goats either!

Potter power

Missing girl Madeleine McCann's parents have made indirect approaches to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling to include a bookmark with a photograph of Madeleine in the new, and last in the series, Potter book due out on 21 July. Ms Rowling is said to be considering the proposal - which is part of the ongoing attempt by the McCann's to keep their daughter's disappearance firmly in the public eye in the hope that someone may come forward with information that will reunite them with their daughter.

Corgi and mash

British artist Mark McGowan likes projects he can get his teeth into - like corgis. In a protest aimed at probably the world's most famous owner of corgis, the Queen, Mr McGowan ate meatballs made from a dead corgi to protest against animal cruelty - specifically '"that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, of which the royal family is a patron, had not prosecuted Prince Philip, the Queen's husband, for hunting and killing a fox" (Reuters & Sky News). Apparently the corgi, which is reported to have died from natural causes, may not become a favoured repast as it "tasted terrible". But hopefully his next project will remove any remnants of bad taste. He's to be buried in a box under about a metre of mashed potato. He did not say why.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Titanic - an interactive experience

... That would be the old type of interactive experience ... i.e. the wonderful world of paper engineering and pop-up books. I have somewhere in my collection two fabulous books by Jan Pienkowsi (not sure of that spelling) who does the most wonderfully detailed pop-up books. But back to the Titanic. While walking through various bookstores in Newtown today I came across the Titanic book - perfectly sized for a coffee table book with its eye-catching silver cover. As well as pop-ups throughout, including one of the ship which folds out on either end, there are un-covers and slides-ups.
Other curios seen on my bookshop trek were a watch with the numbers in randon order, a storybook for Shrek the Third including 40 images from the movie (I didn't look at this closely - I'm planning to go to the movie when it is released later this week and didn't want to spoil any of its surprises), a Moleskin City book where it comes with a map of the city eg London, and lots of blank pages so you can fill in all the details of your stay there. There was also a new version Kama Sutra (not sure if it was illustrated or not); The Erotic Museum of Berlin - which was on a shelf too high up for me to reach; a collection of old Dickens' volumes; and a talking book on Neuro Linguistic Program(m)ing. I could also have purchased a mini construction kit for my desk, or "The Writers Block" which was filled with ideas which, should they stall, would get one's creative juices flowing again. Oh, and an Itty Bitty Buddha (in a tin).

Time off

I read somewhere last week that some US prisoners currently serving life sentences want the death penalty. More detail than that would be helpful - but I can now not find reference to the article - but I do know that I read it the same day I read that Jack Kervorkian had been released from prison. This raised the question - what if Kervorkian had not been released early (for good behaviour) but had been transferred to those prisons where the long-term inmates would prefer their stay not be so "long term". Funny too that there would be such a thing as "good behaviour" if you've been imprisoned for what some consider "bad" behaviour eg assisting terminally ill people to kill themselves.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Fantastic work

It's car registration time again and this year has turned out to be easier than I could ever have imagined. Who knew that you could register on-line even if you needed a safety inspection because your vehicle is 'old'? Thankfully my mechanic did and, sure enough, by the time I logged in to the RTA site they had received details of my insurance and registration inspection. It was easy then to check details, give credit card info and rejoice in another job I wouldn't have to do on Saturday morning. Well done RTA.