Thursday, September 28, 2006

"Maggie the sea lion paints for fish"


PITTSBURGH - Some artists suffer for their work. Maggie, an 11-year-old sea lion at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, gets to eat dead fish for hers. Kesha Phares, a zoo trainer, has been teaching the animal to paint since last year.

"It's, in a way, enriching," Phares told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review for Wednesday's editions. "Sea lions are very smart animals, and painting keeps their minds active."

So, how brilliant and artistic is this sea lion?
It took three months to get the animal to hold a paint brush and touch the bristles to paper.

This is astounding drivel that only proves animals can be trained and humans can be duped.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"Mars rover reaches rim of deep crater"

Opportunity finally reaches Victoria crater, and the scientists are happy.
"We made it!" said rover principal scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University.
It's been a long journey for the Mars rovers, but the trip has greatly improved our understanding of the red planet. Let's hope future space endeavors will be as fruitful.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Exposing the "Face" ...

... for the mountain that it is.

BERLIN - For decades, photos of what appeared to be a huge, face-shaped rock formation on Mars — or even a statue of Elvis — fueled theories of intelligent life on the Red Planet.

But high-resolution stereo cameras from the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter have debunked that myth with the clearest pictures yet of the region where the so-called face was found, ESA has said.

"The face remains a figment of human imagination in a heavily eroded surface," the agency said in a statement.

Why do I have a nagging feeling that this news will in no way at all deter those who think this is a sign of extraterrestrial intelligence? Oh, yeah, I forgot; there's a conspiracy to cover up the "truth" about the "face".

Monday, September 25, 2006

"PETA upset at Six Flags roach contest"

Somehow, I don't think PETA's gonna garner too much sympathy with this one.

GURNEE, Ill. - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants Six Flags Great America to scrap its Halloween-themed cockroach-eating promotion.

A spokeswoman for the animal rights organization says the contest at the amusement park's FrightFest is "gratuitously cruel."

The park in Gurnee, Ill., is joining other Six Flags parks in offering unlimited line-jumping privileges to anyone who eats a live Madagascar hissing cockroach. The bugs are up to three inches long.

Well, at least PETA's being fairly consistent. They are defending a vile animal as much as they defend cute ones. But does anyone else think the animal rights organization has jumped the shark yet? C'mon, roaches? Is that any way to win someone over to your side, by speaking out for nasty insects?

I suppose we should love wasps and scorpions, too.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fighting panda extinction

Well, it looks as if the evolutionary dead-enders known as pandas can still fight back. Now, if they can just breed as well as they brawl.

Zhang Xinyan, from the central province of Henan, drank four jugs of beer at a restaurant near the zoo before visiting Gu Gu the panda on Tuesday, the Beijing Morning Post said.

“He felt a sudden urge to touch the panda with his hand,” and jumped into the enclosure, the newspaper said.

The panda, who was asleep, was startled and bit Zhang, 35, on the right leg, it said. Zhang got angry and kicked the panda, who then bit his other leg. A tussle ensued, the paper said.

“I bit the fellow in the back,” Zhang was quoted as saying in the newspaper. “Its skin was quite thick.” ...

No one ever said they would bite people,” Zhang said. “I just wanted to touch it. I was so dizzy from the beer. I don’t remember much.” [emphasis added]

Sounds like them cute, cuddly creatures got sharp teeth.

Oh, and by they way, this story illustrates the danger of athropomorphizing wild animals too much: people forget that they are wild and that they will attack you and kill you if the need arises. And, it doesn't matter how much you love them.

Remember what happened to Steve Irwin.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"Scientists: Make invasive carp zoo feed"


ST. LOUIS - Voracious carp that can literally throw themselves right into boats and pose a major ecological threat to Midwestern rivers and lakes could someday be a meal at the local zoo. ...

There's little profit for commercial fishermen in harvesting the fish. But the St. Louis Zoo may have a partial answer to that problem, as a team of researchers seeks to create a carp product to feed to animals.

"We want to make good food of bad fish," said Ellen Dierenfeld, staff nutritionist at the zoo.

University of Missouri-Columbia food scientist Andrew Clarke has developed a "carp cake" made from raw, ground fish.

Carp are crap. Feed 'em to the fish-eaters at the zoo, and get 'em out of our lakes. They are an imported species that poses all kinds of dangers to local ecosystems. And, they can hurt you, too.

The high-jumping fish can be so dangerous that Missouri Department of Conservation staff wear head gear for protection while motoring on fast-moving boats. Some have protective netting around the driver area and across the bow.

"They can break your nose or knock you out of the boat," said Duane Chapman, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who is part of the team working on the feed project.

Grind 'em up, I say.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Demoting a planet

Well, poor Pluto is just a number now.

On Sept. 7, the former 9th planet was assigned the asteroid number 134340 by the Minor Planet Center (MPC), the official organization responsible for collecting data about asteroids and comets in our solar system.

The move reinforces the International Astronomical Union's (IAU) recent decision to strip Pluto of its planethood and places it in the same category as other small solar-system bodies with accurately known orbits.

That's fine. I never thought Pluto -- excuse me, 134340 -- was that special anyway. Now, let's never mention that name again in conjunction with The Planets, a true masterpiece.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"NASA craft settles into Mars orbit"

Good for NASA.

PASADENA, Calif. - The most powerful spacecraft ever sent to Mars has settled into a nearly circular orbit, a move that allows scientists to begin studying the planet in unprecedented detail, NASA said Tuesday.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter fired its thrusters for 12 minutes Monday to adjust to its final position six months after it arrived at the planet. Its altitude ranges between 155 to 196 miles above the surface. ...

Over the next several months, the orbiter will deploy its 33-foot antenna and remove a lens cap from one of its instruments. It will begin collecting data in November, and scientists expect the resolution of those images to be nine times higher.

I can't wait for the pictures. Until then, there's these.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Fighting panda extinction

Despite humanity's best efforts, the evolutionarily-challenged panda still seems intent on slouching into extinction.

Reuters reports:

BEIJING (Reuters) -Staff at a zoo in southwest China are in mourning after a sleep-deprived panda dropped her two-day-old baby and crushed it to death, local media reported on Friday. ...

Ya Ya, a seven-year-old panda and new mother of twins, "appeared tired" when nursing the younger cub in a patch of grass, the paper said.

Her head sagged, her paws separated and her baby fell to the ground next to her. The panda then rolled on to her side and crushed her baby beneath her.

The tragedy [!] occurred because she hadn't slept or eaten properly since giving birth, Guo [Wei, panda department chief at Chongqing city zoo] said, adding that Ya Ya lacked motherhood experience. ...

Pandas who lose their young tend to be depressed for a month or so," Guo said, adding that the zoo would assign people to care for her and provide special food to improve her mood.

Somehow, I think there are humans who will mourn longer than Ya Ya. [You don't think it's a tragedy when a panda cub dies tragically? --ed.] I think there are people who want us to think it is, and those people seem to be replete in the media. They seem to suggest that anytime the panda suffers a setback in its struggle to survive then all mankind should feel sufficiently morose. [You don't? --ed.] No!

Animals simply die, and they do their darndest to kill each other if you let them. I can understand if a zookeeper feels disappointment when losing an animal, but, really, an entire zoo "in mourning"? That's a bit too much of the anthropomorphization.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Fighting panda extinction

Good news for lovers of the evolutionary dead-enders known as pandas:

ATLANTA - After seven years of trying and hoping, Zoo Atlanta officials announced a rare giant panda birth Wednesday, one of only a few in the United States.

Lun Lun delivered her first cub just before 5 p.m., zoo spokeswoman Jennifer Waller said. The zoo planned a news conference for later in the evening. ...

Zoo Atlanta artificially inseminated the 8-year-old Lun Lun at the end of March with semen taken from her partner, Yang Yang. They had tried for years to successfully mate the pair naturally.

But they had success time and time again in unsuccessfully mating the pair naturally.

Criticizing just about everybody

This article from Reuters addresses some criticism directed toward Steve Irwin following his strange death by stingray. The observation, from "feminist academic" Germaine Greer, basically goes along the lines that Irwin exploited animals for entertainment, much the same as traditional circus acts, and he should not be celebrated for his actions.

“It’s no surprise that he came to grief,” Greer told Nine Network television.

“We now have enough respect for lions to be embarrassed if we see someone trying to crack whips at them and wave chairs at them. Jumping all over crocodiles is the same kind of thing.”

Greer may have a point, but I can't really buy her argument. She seems to me to be a bit of a misanthrope, and she apparently finds fault with just about all humans.

Greer, an award-winning author, is a frequent critic of personalities like British soccer star David Beckham and social trends like reality television.

In 2003 she criticized J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy for attracting “spaced-out hippies, environmentalists, free-market libertarians, social conservatives, pacifists, new-age theosophists, sexists and racists the world over.”

That's quite a lumping of disparate viewpoints into one all-encompassing despisal, which suggests that she doesn't like people in general. I, on the other hand, do. So, I happily conclude that Greer is wrong.

Irwin may have been foolhardy, but I think he honestly loved his animals and cared about them. I didn't particularly care for his style, but I think Irwin's main goal was education through entertainment, not entertainment as an end in itself. And that is a laudable effort.

And I disagree with Greer's assessment of the ability of Tolkien to appeal to so many different kinds of people. That is a good thing, especially when the author is one as learned as Tolkien. This distinguished gentleman was a scholar, a teacher, and a damn good writer. His works are not to be sneered at, and his fans are not to be derided simply for loving his works.

Since I disagree almost completely with Greer's outlook, I dismiss her argument. Her assessment of Irwin is rubbish.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"European probe smashes into Moon after successful mission"


PARIS (AFP) - One of the most innovative missions in space exploration has come to a dramatic close as Europe's first probe to the Moon crashed into the lunar surface giving stargazers around the world an astronomical fireworks display.

The European Space Agency's (ESA) revolutionary probe known as SMART-1 smashed into a plain called the Lake of Excellence on the southwestern side of the
Moon's face, "producing a more intense flash than expected", the mission's chief
scientist Bernard Foing said from ESA's base in Darmstadt, Germany. ...

Over the past three years, operating with a full-time staff of just seven and a total budget of just 120 million euros (151 million dollars), the little probe has been patiently testing new technology that one day could help put Man on Mars.

Scientists also say that the 20,000 extremely detailed photos transmitted by the craft will yield a fresh look at the Moon, revealing Earth's satellite as a place of surprising complexity and promise rather than a lifeless rock with little to offer except grey dust.

Congratulations are due to the ESA.

"Army reaches retention goal with Fort Campbell Soldier"

Seems like the Army is doing fine.

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (Army News Service, Aug. 31, 2006) – The active Army reached its fiscal 2006 retention goal one month early today when a Fort Campbell Soldier reenlisted.

Staff Sgt. Michael Obleton, a truck driver assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, became the 64,200th reenlistment since Oct. 1, 2005. Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Richard Cody presided over the ceremony.

“What a commitment. Our Army has been at war longer than we fought in World War II. Soldiers still reenlist knowing full well the dangers, knowing full well the sacrifice,” said Cody.

Obleton, of Columbus, Ga., joined the Army in 1997 at age 27. "I had a job, but I was looking for more," he said. "I was looking for a challenge.”

The Army will definitely give you that.

Good luck to him, his familly, and his fellow soldiers.