Lazy Saturday Reads: No Bad News Allowed

Reading can be fun

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday, J.J. said to me in a comment:

“Your post yesterday was good. I shared it with my family. It just made it so difficult for me to do anything else the rest of the last 24 hours but lie down and stare at the ceiling.”

Boy do I know that feeling. Believe me, writing about what’s happening is mind-numbing too. I just can’t do it today, so this is going to be T#@%p-free post. Of course we can talk about *it* in the comments, but I don’t want to do that to myself or anyone else today. So here are some stories I found that aren’t as horrifying as what’s going on in our daily reality.

The Christian Science Monitor: Buried treasure: huge statue of Egyptian king unearthed in Cairo neighborhood.

A team of Egyptian and German archaeologists has discovered a towering 26-foot statue in a Cairo slum, a presumed depiction of Pharaoh Ramses II, Reuters reports on Thursday.

The colossus found submerged in mud in where the ancient city of Heliopolis once stood is “one of the most important discoveries ever,” according to the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry.

The massive quartzite figure is “most probably Ramses II,” Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani told Reuters on Thursday at the site of the statue’s unveiling, adding that the identity would have to be later confirmed once more of the statue is uncovered.

“On the discovered portions there is no inscription found that would make it possible to determine which king it is,” Mr. Anani explained in a Facebook post on Thursday. “But its discovery in front of the gate of the temple of Pharaoh Ramses II suggests that it is likely him.

In addition to the larger-than-life statue researchers also found a life-sized limestone statue of Pharaoh Seti II, Ramses II’s grandson.

More background and links to explore at the CSM.

Injured Florida panther

The Atlantic: Can Humans Coexist With Big Cats?

On a clear evening this past June, in rural Collier County, Florida, an endangered panther crossed a street and was hit by a man driving home. The driver, making out a tawny, crumpled form, called a hotline. The job of retrieving the animal fell to Mark Lotz, a panther biologist with the state Fish and Wildlife Commission. Lotz called me to see if I wanted to come.

I had flown into Fort Lauderdale at the beginning of the week, renting a car and heading west across the state through what remains of primordial wetlands. Tall metal fences flanked the road, like a dull, gray hermetic seal meant to keep human traffic in and wildlife out. The fences are just one of many measures to protect fewer than 180 Florida panthers alive today, all of them in the state’s southern tip.

A population this size will birth between 60 and 110 kittens each year. But recently, adult panthers have been dying in droves: most after being hit by a car on unfenced roads, occasionally after being mauled by another panther in a territorial skirmish. In 2013, 20 of the endangered cats were killed; then 33 the next year; then 43 in 2015 and 2016….

The story that drew me down to Florida is a classic Anthropocene motif. Thanks to people, a charismatic species starts vanishing from its range, lingering only in certain areas before fading there, too. Extinction looms, until conservationists make a concerted effort to save it. And then—well, it’s not clear what happens next.

The first humans to reach North America found a continent crawling with terrifying big cats: an American cheetah, an American lion (bigger than those in Africa today), and the saber-toothed tiger. But at the end of the Pleistocene, around 12,000 years ago, they all vanished along with the bulk of New World megafauna. Nobody knows why, exactly. Maybe it was climate change, or maybe the direct and indirect consequences of hunting.

It turned out the panther was injured, but still alive. Read all about it at the link.

Interested in the sociology of strange religious practices? Check this one out from December 2016:

Father Amorth

Vanity Fair: The Devil and Father Amorth: Witnessing “the Vatican Exorcist” at Work.

Sunday morning, May 1 of this year, was Father Amorth’s 91st birthday, but he had no plans to celebrate. He awoke just after dawn, said his usual morning prayers and one to Joseph of Cupertino, a 17th-century saint, and another to the late Father Candido Amantini, his mentor. Clutching a walking aid, he shuffled from his cell-like room to the dining room on the third floor of the Paulist Fathers residence, south of Rome’s historic center.

After his usual breakfast of caffè latte and biscotti, Father Amorth returned to his room, which had a tall window, a hospital bed, two chairs, and a wooden desk cluttered with pictures of the Virgin Mary and Padre Pio, a priest-mystic who experienced stigmata—bleeding wounds, corresponding to those inflicted on Jesus Christ on the Cross. For the next six hours, Father Amorth reviewed the mail requesting his services from around the world. Each letter contained tragic questions and appeals from people who knew Amorth only by name and reputation. He answered the letters, writing with a fountain pen, licking the envelopes and stamps himself. At two P.M., he knelt again to pray, then arose with difficulty, took up his walking aid, and made his way to an elevator, which took him to the first floor, where the small room dedicated to his work was located. The hallway was empty and dark. Whispering voices and footsteps could be heard, as from a tomb.

His old adversary was waiting.

At exactly three P.M. he began to conduct the ritual of exorcism. The possessed woman, Rosa, was in her late 30s, tall and slender, with raven-black hair. She was as dark and attractive as an Italian movie star—Sophia Loren or Silvana Mangano, with a quiet demeanor. She had a college degree but couldn’t work because of the fits and behavioral changes that came over her, most severely on the Christian holidays, such as Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Easter, and Pentecost. This was her ninth exorcism with Father Amorth. As with traditional psychiatry, the patient is usually not “cured” after the first session. Father Amorth had been exorcising one man for 16 years.

Imagine spending your entire life believing in stuff like this? It does say that:

Father Amorth insisted that anyone who came to him first seek the help of traditional medicine and psychiatry. “Out of a hundred people who seek my help,” he explained, “one or two at the most may be possessed.”

The article is actually quite fascinating, because it discusses the pathology of people who experience the bizarre symptoms of “possession.”

What about the possibility of life on other planets?

An artists’s concept of what a deployed solar sail space probe may look like. One capturing the power inferred by mysterious fast radio bursts would be on the scale of several planets.

The Washington Post: Harvard theorists: How sailing aliens could have caused fast radio bursts.

In 2007, a West Virginia University astrophysicist named Duncan Lorimer detected a brief yet intense signal while combing through archival data from the Parkes Observatory telescope in Australia. The signal was quick. The spurt of radio activity, originating from a source other than our galaxy, lasted fewer than 5 milliseconds. And it was furious. To generate such a burst would require 500 million times the power of our solar system’s sun. The unknown source of the signal prompted intense speculation.

One proposal, to be published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, may be the wildest yet: Sailing aliens.

“An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking,” said Avi Loeb, a theorist and author of the paper at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a statement on Thursday.

A decade ago, Lorimer and his mentor, Matthew Bailes, described the phenomenon as a fast radio burst, or FRB. “Duncan Lorimer and I were just completely gobsmacked,” said Bailes, a professor at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, to The Washington Post. “The day we discovered the first FRB we couldn’t sleep.” Astrophysicists have detected only 25 other FRBs since Bailes and four other astronomers published their groundbreaking report in 2007, he said.

But the origin of FRBs remained an open question. The problem proved to be at once formidable, resilient and brain twisting. Some scientists proposed that FRBs were the fault of massive neutron stars, suns that had collapsed into dense cores. Perhaps there existed stellar flares capable of spitting out a radio wave that traveled across half of the known universe. Or maybe vanishing black holes spewed the FRBs our way.

“I am not exaggerating when I say there are more models for what FRBs could be than there are FRBs,” Cornell University astronomer Shami Chatterjee told The Washington Post in January.

A juvenile sea otter who recently found a new home with the Aubudon Aquarium in New Orleans plays with her favorite toy, a red ball. Inside Edition

Here’s a cute baby animal story.

San Luis Obispo.com: Abandoned Monterey sea otter finds a new home (and a new friend) in New Orleans.

The Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans has welcomed its newest resident: a rescued juvenile sea otter from Monterey.

The Audubon Nature Institute said in a statement that the 18-month-old female sea otter arrived at the aquarium Wednesday. She joins Clara, an 8-year-old sea otter, in the aquarium’s 25,000-gallon sea otter habitat.

The juvenile otter was found as an abandoned day-old pup in September 2015 by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. After several unsuccessful attempts of releasing her back into the ocean, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials determined she wouldn’t survive on her own.

The otter traveled for nearly a day just to find her new home, and she brought along her favorite toy – a red ball – to play with during the journey, according to a video from Inside Edition.

The aquarium is conducting an online poll to name the otter, which can be found on its website. The winning name will be announced March 16 on Audubon’s Facebook page and website.

A story about some scientists attempting to recreate the Ice Age. What could go wrong?

One more from The Atlantic: Welcome to Pleistocene Park.

We were driving through a remote forest in Eastern Siberia, just north of the Arctic Circle, when it happened. The summer thaw was in full swing. The undergrowth glowed green, and the air hung heavy with mosquitoes. We had just splashed through a series of deep ponds when, without a word of warning, Nikita veered off the trail and into the trees, ramming us into the trunk of a young 20-foot larch. The wheels spun for a moment, and then surged us forward. A dry crack rang out from under the fender as the larch snapped cleanly at its base and toppled over, falling in the quiet, dignified way that trees do.I had never seen Nikita happier. Even seated behind the wheel, he loomed tall and broad-shouldered, his brown hair cut short like a soldier’s. He fixed his large ice-blue eyes on the fallen tree and grinned. I remember thinking that in another age, Nikita might have led a hunter-gatherer band in some wildland of the far north. He squeezed the accelerator, slamming us into another larch, until it too snapped and toppled over, felled by our elephantine force. We rampaged 20 yards with this same violent rhythm—churning wheels, cracking timber, silent fall—before stopping to survey the flattened strip of larches in our wake.

“In general, I like trees,” Nikita said. “But here, they are against our theory.”

Behind us, through the fresh gap in the forest, our destination shone in the July sun. Beyond the broken trunks and a few dark tree-lined hills stood Pleistocene Park, a 50-square-mile nature reserve of grassy plains roamed by bison, musk oxen, wild horses, and maybe, in the not-too-distant future, lab-grown woolly mammoths. Though its name winks at Jurassic Park, Nikita, the reserve’s director, was keen to explain that it is not a tourist attraction, or even a species-resurrection project. It is, instead, a radical geoengineering scheme.

“It will be cute to have mammoths running around here,” he told me. “But I’m not doing this for them, or for any other animals. I’m not one of these crazy scientists that just wants to make the world green. I am trying to solve the larger problem of climate change. I’m doing this for humans. I’ve got three daughters. I’m doing it for them.”

Pleistocene Park is named for the geological epoch that ended only 12,000 years ago, having begun 2.6 million years earlier. Though colloquially known as the Ice Age, the Pleistocene could easily be called the Grass Age. Even during its deepest chills, when thick, blue-veined glaciers were bearing down on the Mediterranean, huge swaths of the planet were coated in grasslands. In Beringia, the Arctic belt that stretches across Siberia, all of Alaska, and much of Canada’s Yukon, these vast plains of green and gold gave rise to a new biome, a cold-weather version of the African savanna called the Mammoth Steppe. But when the Ice Age ended, many of the grasslands vanished under mysterious circumstances, along with most of the giant species with whom we once shared this Earth.

Nikita is trying to resurface Beringia with grasslands. He wants to summon the Mammoth Steppe ecosystem, complete with its extinct creatures, back from the underworld of geological layers. The park was founded in 1996, and already it has broken out of its original fences, eating its way into the surrounding tundra scrublands and small forests. If Nikita has his way, Pleistocene Park will spread across Arctic Siberia and into North America, helping to slow the thawing of the Arctic permafrost. Were that frozen underground layer to warm too quickly, it would release some of the world’s most dangerous climate-change accelerants into the atmosphere, visiting catastrophe on human beings and millions of other species.

Real baby mammoths? Yikes! I hope this doesn’t turn out like Jurassic Park. Click on the link for lots more interesting reading.

Have a great weekend everyone. I’ve decided to turn off the TV and read a book.

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17 Comments on “Lazy Saturday Reads: No Bad News Allowed”

  1. MsMass says:

    I’ve been watching Planet Earth II- the episode about the jungle- just amazing. Baby spider monkey stuck on branch-daddy rescues- so cute. Highly recommend.
    Also not going out today- about zero degrees with wind chill. Brutal! Stay warm.

  2. Minkoff Minx says:

    I would love to see what mammoth fleece feels like. It would be neat to spin up some…I’d imagine it is like yak fleece.

    • NW Luna says:

      I would too! Under the guard hair, would it be like quiviut? Or mountain goat downy underfleece?

  3. dakinikat says:

    Okay, I may have to make a trip to see the new baby otter. She’s adorable!

  4. NW Luna says:

    Research from BBC Earth and the University of California has found that watching nature programmes is good for you.

    The study, part of the Real Happiness Project, discovered watching Planet Earth II, increased people’s feelings of awe, contentedness, and joy.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39218801

  5. NW Luna says:

  6. Fannie says:

    Like the toad hats! Now that our Murphy is gone, it seems like the squirrels want to take over……so Ralph, comes on our porch for seed, and makes his little clicking sounds, then bounces up to the old bird feeder, and has his mouth full. I asked Bill what should we make for him, he said an oversize mouse trap………..no Bill.

    Spring forward!

  7. NW Luna says:

  8. Magic_Myst says:

    Watched a documentary call “The Eagle Huntress” about a girl, the first girl, who has tamed a golden eagle to hunt with. She comes from a long line of eagle hunters and her father recognized her determination to have an eagle of her own. They take them from the next and return them to the wild after 7 years once they are mature. Breathtaking scenery in Mongolia and lovely story of this 13-year-old girl who became the first Eagle Huntress. She competed in their annual competition and set a record for the time it took her eagle to fly to her – shattered it in fact.

    Worth watching: https://youtu.be/Vfi5JS6HTH0

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks for the link. And thanks for all the positive stories and videos everyone!

    • NW Luna says:

      Saw pics of this earlier. Fabulous! Hope this inspires more girls in her culture to do this also. And somehow I don’t think we’re surprised that the girl has such a wonderful bond with her eagle.