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    Thursday
    Sep182014

    Praying Mantis

    Here's a picture of a little praying mantis I found in my Aunt's garden in San Francisco.

    Sunday
    Sep072014

    Blackfish

         One of the coolest parts of Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary Blackfish is at the 24 minute point, when Orca Researcher Howard Garrett and Neuroscientist Lori Marino speak of the highly evolved social behaviors and intelligence exhibited by orcas.  (The transcription of what they said is below.)

        The entire film is quite fascinating, and examines how orcas in captivity act erratically and unnaturally as a result of their tortured lives.  One significant point that is made is that many captive orcas will experience dorsal collapse – when their dorsal fins become limp and fold over – a phenomena which is seen in less that one percent of wild orcas.  The film makes clear that orcas should not be kept in captivity, that SeaWorld needs to stop capturing and breeding them, and that they are beautiful creatures that should be allowed to flourish in the wild.

    Howard Garrett – Orca Researcher:

    “If you go back only thirty-five years, we knew nothing, in fact, less than nothing.  What the public had was superstition and fear.  These were the vicious killer whales, you know, that have forty-eight sharp teeth that would rip you to shreds if they got a chance.  What we learned is that they’re amazingly friendly and understanding and intuitively want to be your companion.  And to this day there’s no record of an orca doing any harm to any human in the wild.”

    “They live in these big families and they have lifespans very similar to human lifespans – the females can live to about a hundred, maybe more; males to about fifty or sixty, but the adult offspring never leave their mother’s side.”

    “Each community has a completely different set of behaviors.  Each has a complete repertoire of vocalizations with no overlap.  You can call them languages – the scientific community is reluctant to say any other animal but humans uses languages – but there’s every indication that they use languages.”

    orca3
    Image from: http://www.grindtv.com/outdoor/nature/post/orcas/

    Lori Marino – Neuroscientist:

    “The orca brain just screams out intelligence, awareness.  We took this tremendous brain and we put it in an magnetic resonance imaging scanner.  What we found was just astounding: they’ve got a part of the brain that humans don’t have.  A part of their brain has extended out right adjacent to their limbic system – the system processes emotions.  The safest inference would be that these are animals that have highly elaborated emotional lives.”

    “It’s becoming clear that dolphins and whales have a sense of self, a sense of social bonding that they’ve taken to another level – more much stronger, much more complex that in other mammals, including humans.  We look at mass strandings, the fact that they stand by each other.  Everything about them is social, everything.  It’s been suggested that their whole sense of self is distributed among the individuals in their group.”

    Monday
    Aug182014

    Ravenswood Pond

           In Menlo Park there is a dried-up salt marsh called Ravenswood Pond.  The stagnant pools and dessiccated streams contain mountains of salt crystals and the water is red due to the iron content.  It's a walk in the park compared to the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolvia, but if you've got two hours to kill while waiting for your brother to get out of a job interview in Menlo Park, and you don't want to waste your time at Facebook headquarters, head to Ravenswood Pond. 

    Tuesday
    Aug122014

    Greenland from Way Up

        From the window of a plane flying 30,000 thousand feet high in the daytime sky, the coast and interior landmass of Greenland is a fantastic sight to behold.  Upon the deep blue water, giant shelves of ice drift away into the sea and break apart like shattered glass.  The shallow bases of many icebergs are visible beneath the surface of the clear water, and the white ice contrasted against the blue water produces a brilliant turquoise hue.  On the coast, immense mountain-valley glaciers lay sculpted and carved by snowmelt rivers that slowly run across the frozen juggernauts and spill out into an ivory sea.  Lagoons of crystal blue water glisten upon the ice fields like gems, glowing like fluorescent coolant.  To the southwest, the land is stark and exposed – towering mountain islands rise up from jade seas, and the sediment from the summer rivers flows into clear water like dust.   

     

          Seeing Greenland by plane is quite a trip – right up there with lightning storms and forest fires.   If you want to read a beautiful and informative book about the arctic, check out the book Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez.  Also, Cormac McCarthy offers an incredible fictional passage about a polar hinterland in his monumental novel, Suttree

    Monday
    Aug042014

    The East Slovak Museum 

           The East Slovak Museum in Kosice, Slovakia features an impressive array of dead things.  It’s a space-age throwback of a museum, and possesses an eerie serenity on a quiet Saturday afternoon.   The taxidermy displays are most impressive, and due to the fact that the old lady who sells tickets sleeps at her desk half-way across the museum, and the security guard functions more like the guy from Weekend at Bernie’s, one can easily disregard the “do not touch” signs and climb aboard the taxidermy beasts, pretending you’ve teleported back to the land before time, to a bygone epoch where Neanderthal men rode dinosaurs and hunted wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers, and women wore sexy cheetah outfits and cooked and cleaned in the caves.  

     

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