Sunday Reads: It’s a Fluff Piece!

Good Morning!

As the title suggests, today’s morning reads are going to be mostly fluff…

Late last night I was sitting in our local Banjoville Mickey D’s, it was around midnight and the only people in the joint were a group of cheerleaders from the night’s football game and my family. What a scene…On the TV screen was Fox News, which is no surprise given the conservative “Christian” clientele…the TV was on mute, the CC subtitles were on, but the sound system was playing a medieval Gregorian chant.  And they had that music turned way up!

They must have it going for a reason…perhaps to make sure the good ol boy country folks won’t linger after they eat their burgers. So here we sit in this empty fast food restaurant, and my mother begins to talk about the book she is reading, The Brothers Karamazov. Only she called it The Brothers Kamikaze, and she didn’t catch the slip.

It was like a surreal episode from an early Twilight Zone…I felt completely detached, as if I was watching the scene like a spectator. And all the while, the monks are singing in Latin, Fox news has this guy with way too much Botox in his brow and forehead…jabbering on about the difference between Mormons and the real Jesus loving Christians, and my mother going on about the cruel nihilist characteristics of the Kamikaze brothers…

That is a perfect description of how I feel about this morning’s post, it is going to be a mix of links that don’t really add up to anything substantial.

First let’s get the soundtrack started, no not monks… but piranhas. New Study Finds Piranhas Talk To Each Other via Barking | Geekosystem

Red-bellied piranhas are already scary enough, but it turns out that these hyper-aggressive carnivorous fish are also quite the talkers. Using hydrophones to record the fish in captivity, Eric Parmentier from Belgium’s Université de Liège recorded a series of sounds that suggest the fish have a lexicon of audio signals produced in a rather unique way. The study has recently been published in The Journal of Experimental Biology.

The researchers were able to identify three distinct sounds, or “barks,” produced by the fish. In their research, they found that these barks were repeated in similar situations, suggesting that the sounds carry some kind of meaning. For instance, a low grunting sound seemed to signal other piranhas to keep their distance from the barking fish. A rhythmic thud bark, the researchers found, was associated with circling and fighting other fish. Lastly, chasing and nipping fish seemed to be the final level of signaling with a soft creating sound produced by their gnashing their teeth.

But here is the kicker, the fish are using their swim bladders to produce sound…for some reason when I read this I immediately thought of a beginning bag pipe player.

Previous piranha projects had revealed that the fish’s swim bladder — the organ that allows fish to adjust their boyancy in the water — was used to produce sound.

Using the swim bladder as a starting point, Parmentier’s team found that stimulating the muscles around the organ produced sound. Once the stimulation ceased, so did the sound. This is significant since it showed that the muscles were creating the sound and the bladder was not resonating, in which case the sound would have continued after the muscles ceased moving. It also showed that the frequency and pitch of the barks were determined entirely on the muscle contractions.

There is a link to a National Geographic video of the fish making the sounds…neat stuff.  I especially like the subtitles…Get away…Let’s Fight… I’m gonna kick your ass…and Hey Baby, let’s get it on.

On to the latest study that asked the question:  Did Columbus Cause Europe’s Little Ice Age? | Informed Comment

This story is irresistible for a world historian interested in climate change. Richard Nevle, a geochemist at Stanford, argues that the European advent in the New World, which killed 90% of the 80 million native Americans, caused the Little Ice Age.

The native peoples of the New World burned a lot of wood. When they largely didn’t exist anymore, because they suffered high mortality from a host of European diseases to which they had no immunity, they stopped putting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Instead, forests grew rapidly since they weren’t being chopped down anymore, and land wasn’t being cleared for agriculture. Forests take in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, plus they fix some carbon dioxide in the soil. They are what is called a “carbon sink,” though not a really efficient one, since much of the carbon they take out of the atmosphere eventually finds its way back there. I suspect the dramatic fall-off in the burning of fossil fuels was the much more important cause here.

Less carbon dioxide reduces the “greenhouse effect” making the earth cooler.

An alternative theory is that reduced solar activity contributed to the cooling in the 1600s and 1700s. And the warming period of 900-1300 may have already been reversed in part by the Black Death in Europe and the Middle East, which wiped out one third of the population and would have reduced carbon emissions. Of course all these causes could have operated together.

And when you think of what the little ice age caused, it is clear that climate does affect out history and our future.

During the Little Ice age in Britain, people used to go ice skating on the Thames in the winter. Agriculture was badly hurt by shorter growing seasons, causing famines and violent competition over resources– i.e. wars and revolutions. Scandinavia, which had been a major player in world affairs during the warm centuries 900-1300– ruling Ireland and Sicily (where Vikings fought Arabs) and discovering North America– rapidly declined in significance as it froze over. Famously, there were bread famines in France in the 1780s that likely contributed to the outbreak of the French Revolution.

Give the article a read, Cole goes on to discuss other historical wars and famine and exploration that may find its sources in climate changes. I remember when the Egypt rising was taking place, there were articles talking about how the age of a population relates to various uprisings, wars and revolutions throughout history. It makes me think of this young group of people who have started a global occupation protest against austerity and big banksters. Interesting isn’t it?

Moving on from global warming and cooling, to salt.  Decadent Meal Made Entirely From Salt | Geekosystem

This monochromatic tableau is part of a new exhibition featuring the work of Ken and Julia Yonetani called Sense of Taste, currently on display at the GV Art gallery in London. Modeled after a traditional still life painting, this sculpture presents a decadent meal of cheese, fruit, wine, fresh fish, and lobster. However, it is made entirely out of salt.

Beautiful…what a picture. Click that link for some more cool images of sculptures made of salt and a quick description of how they do it.

I have more gorgeous images for you, this time pictures of movie legend Carole Lombard.  She Blogged By Night: Carole Lombard


Lombard really was beautiful and compelling, wasn’t she?

Oh yes, she sure was. More pictures at the link above.

From Minx’s Missing Link File:  Sticking with the movie theme, some of you may have seen The Ides of March this weekend, here is a review that I thought many of you would appreciate.  The Ides of March Has A Woman Problem | Mediaite

I went in to The Ides of March wanting to like it. I really wanted to! It has West Wing-esque political drama, following a candidate and his campaign for the Democratic nomination for President. It boasts a stellar cast including George Clooney and (feminist!) Ryan Gosling. It has already garnered significant Oscar buzz and is seen as a potential Best Picture contender. But five minutes in, it became glaringly obvious that even the combined star power of Clooney and Gosling couldn’t save this film from its major problem: the women.

In a cast full of all-star talent, there are two women in this movie and both characters are vapid, one-dimensional, and function only to prop up the male characters. As the film opens, the first female character (Evan Rachel Wood) is bringing coffee to a team entirely of men – she’s an intern. From what I can see in the film she is the only woman working on the entire campaign – was it really necessary to make her an intern?

Comparing this movie to The Social Network, which I thought showed women in a negative light, this movie is about a subject that is definitely a mans world, but the ceiling has received a few cracks in the last election…

And while American politics is still largely dominated by men – it has come a long way in the last several years, farther than the all-dude environment in Ides would lead you to believe. There have been dozens of prominent women running for office and even more working on campaigns in the last few election cycles: there have been Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin, and countless others. Patti Solis Doyle ran the Clinton campaign in 2007 and Donna Brazile ran the Gore campaign in 2000, to name just a couple. Yet nowhere in do the writers even consider the possibility that women may have had something worthwhile to contribute to politics.

Yes, wasn’t there a female president on West Wing? Maybe I am just thinking about something else. Even this election cycle, it seems plain to me that the US still isn’t ready for a female president. And if the war against women escalates, it will only make it harder for us to have that Madame President in the White House.

Easy Like Sunday Morning Link of the Week:  This article in Salon really spoke to me, and since we’ve been talking about moving pictures…it is the perfect way to end this fluff post.  R.I.P., the movie camera: 1888-2011 – Salon.com

Cecil B. DeMille

Cecil B. DeMille  (Credit: doctormacro.com)

Major manufacturers have ceased production of new motion picture film cameras; cinema as we once knew it is dead

We might as well call it: Cinema as we knew it is dead.

An article at the moviemaking technology website Creative Cow reports that the three major manufacturers of motion picture film cameras — Aaton, ARRI and Panavision — have all ceased production of new cameras within the last year, and will only make digital movie cameras from now on.  As the article’s author, Debra Kaufman, poignantly puts it, “Someone, somewhere in the world is now holding the last film camera ever to roll off the line.”

This is heartbreaking, and makes me think of the time when vinyl records went with the wind…

…Cinema is not just a medium. It is a language. Its essence — storytelling with shots and cuts, with or without sound — will survive the death of the physical material, celluloid, that many believed was inseparably linked to it. The physical essence of analog cinema won’t survive the death of film (except at museums and repertory houses that insist on showing 16mm and 35mm prints).

But digital cinema will become so adept at mimicking the look of film that within a couple of decades, even cinematographers may not be able to tell the difference. The painterly colors, supple gray scale, hard sharpness and enticing flicker of motion picture film were always important (if mostly unacknowledged) parts of cinema’s mass appeal. The makers of digital moviemaking equipment got hip to that in the late ’90s, and channeled their research and development money accordingly; it’s surely no coincidence that celluloid-chauvinist moviegoers and moviemakers stopped resisting the digital transition once they realized that the new, electronically-created movies could be made to look somewhat like the analog kind, with dense images, a flickery frame rate, and starkly defined planes of depth.

But let’s not kid ourselves: Now that analog filmmaking is dead, an ineffable beauty has died with it. Let’s raise two toasts, then — one to the glorious past, and one to the future, whatever it may hold.

Well, that is all I can do this early morning. (It is almost 3 am here in Banjoland and I am barely keeping my eyes open.) So what are you reading about today? I bet there is some real hard news in this cycle, let’s hear about some articles you have found this morning…


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!! Once again, the Osama bin Laden story is eclipsing just about everything else. Nevertheless, I’ll do what I can to search out a few non-Osama links for your reading pleasure. But first, the latest on the the media obsession du jour.

You’ve probably heard about the reports that bin Laden was first captured alive and then shot execution style in front of his 12-year-old daughter. At least that is how she described the events to Pakistani officials who are currently holding her and other survivors of the raid. From the Guardian:

The girl, who was found at the scene of the raid by Pakistani security services, is being cared for at a military hospital having been wounded in the attack. She has been questioned about the sequence of events during the raid last weekend.

The official said Pakistani intelligence services, who are holding 11 other survivors of the deadly raid on Bin Laden’s Pakistani hiding place, would not allow their interrogation by US officials.

“That would occur only if there was written assent from their country of origin. We are yet to receive any request to my knowledge, but given the [critical] statements coming out of Washington and the fact that [the raid] was not an operation we were involved in, we would not accept,” he said.

Hmmm…sound like the Pakistani official is slightly miffed about the way the U.S. handled this.

At least 10 people were left alive at the end of the attack, which saw Bin Laden killed in an upstairs room of the three-storey house where he had been living. Hamza, one of the al-Qaida leader’s sons, was killed. His body was removed with that of his father by the assault teams.

The survivors include eight children and two adults, both women. One is Bin Laden’s fifth wife, a 29-year-old Yemeni, Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah who married the al-Qaida leader around 11 years ago in Afghanistan. The other is understood to be a Yemeni doctor in her 30s whose passport indicates that she arrived by legal means in the region sometime between 2000 and 2006, when the document expired.

I still haven’t heard any word about what happened to the son’s body. Have you? It does seem the administration still has some explaining to do. Justin Elliott of Salon tried to get some clarification.

Legitimate doubt has been cast on the official narrative of the raid ever since the Obama administration changed major details of what it claims happened. (A Pentagon official, for example, said Monday that bin Laden was firing a gun at U.S. forces from behind a human shield when he was killed. Now the White House says he was not armed and there was no human shield.)

The possibility that bin Laden was captured was raised in a report by an Arab news agency citing Pakistani officials describing an interview with bin Laden’s young daughter, who was apparently at the compound:

The daughter has claimed that she watched as her father was captured alive and shot before being dragged to a US military helicopter, Arabic news network al-Arabiya quoted Pakistani officials as saying.

Elliott also notes that President Obama said during an appearance on Monday night that the top secret operation had “resulted in the capture and death of Osama bin Laden.” He got no answers from the White House, but the CIA told NBC that the 12-year-old’s eyewitness testimony is completely wrong. They deny that bin Laden was “captured” before being killed and they deny putting his son’s body in a helicopter and taking it away.

More problems for the administration: The Telegraph reveals that there is no live video of the attack on the bin Laden compound.

A photograph released by the White House appeared to show the President and his aides in the situation room watching the action as it unfolded. In fact they had little knowledge of what was happening in the compound.

In an interview with PBS, Mr Panetta said: “Once those teams went into the compound I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on. And there were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information.

“We had some observation of the approach there, but we did not have direct flow of information as to the actual conduct of the operation itself as they were going through the compound.”

Mr Panetta also told the network that the US Navy Seals made the final decision to kill bin Laden rather than the president.

Hmmm….that’s a bit troubling.

At FDL, David Swanson is very troubled by the killing of Osama bin Laden. According to him, Osama bin Lynched. I’ll say one thing for Swanson: the guy can write. I recommend reading his blog just for the pleasure of reading some good writing, if nothing else.

Here is some more evidence that our government is being run by silly adolescents. Several media outlets have reported that a number of Senators, including Saxby Chambliss, Kelly Ayotte, and Scott Brown, claimed to have seen the graphic photos of Osama bin Laden’s dead body. It turns out all they saw was the same fake doctored photo that everyone else saw all over the internet yesterday. The Boston Globe reports:

US Senator Scott Brown said in several televised interviews today that he had seen perhaps the most controversial and closely guarded photos in the world: those showing Osama bin Laden’s dead body.

Brown, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggested he had viewed them as part of an official briefing, and he argued that they were too graphic to be released to the public and could enflame terrorists.

Oops.

Brown later acknowledged that he had fallen victim to a hoax, apparently the same doctored images that were making the rounds on the Internet.

‘‘The photo that I saw and that a lot of other people saw is not authentic,’’ the senator said in a one-sentence statement issued hours after the interviews aired.

Meanwhile, President Obama is protecting all of us by keeping the photos under wraps along with the torture photos he is hiding. Whatever. I have no desire to see bin Laden’s dead body. But then why did they release all the other bloody photos that are everywhere on the internet? Like we haven’t all seen worse in the Movies and on TV.

BTW, if you don’t want to hear Obama explain why we’re all too fragile to see the dead terrorist, avoid watching 60 Minutes on Sunday, because POTUS will be making a campaign stop on the show this week.

Of course we all know that photos can be faked, doctored and even staged by our government. Reuters explains:

Reuters White House photographer Jason Reed describes how the president made his speech to a single TV camera, then immediately after finishing, he pretended to speak for the still cameras.

Reed writes:

“As President Obama continued his nine-minute address in front of just one main network camera, the photographers were held outside the room by staff and asked to remain completely silent. Once Obama was off the air, we were escorted in front of that teleprompter and the President then re-enacted the walk-out and first 30 seconds of the statement for us.”

That means the photograph that appeared in many newspapers Monday morning of Obama speaking may have been the staged shot, captured after the president spoke. This type of staging has been going on for decades.

I never knew that before. Kind of creepy, if you ask me.

Here are couple more humorous Osama anecdotes from Raw Story. A reporter from the St. Petersburg Times, Meg Laughlin, says she saw bin Laden is Islamabad in 2002.

On a quick run to the grocery store with photographer Carl Juste and a driver/translator, Juste pointed out the window and said, “Look! There’s Osama bin Laden!” Laughlin wrote in a first-person account of the incident published Tuesday in the St. Petersburg Times.

“We couldn’t believe our eyes,” she wrote. “There, in front of us was the most wanted man in the world, the face on countless posters offering a reward of $25 million for information on his whereabouts. There was no mistaking him. Towering over the men with him, he was lanky with olive skin and that scraggly long beard, those sad brown eyes and that splayed nose.

The three of us began screaming, ‘It’s Osama bin Laden! Osama bin Laden!'”

Honestly, Bush and Cheney could have caught the guy anytime they wanted to. Republicans should be ashamed for trying to give them credit. Not that Republicans are capable of shame….

This is really good. CNN reporter Nic Roberts found something interesting growing next to the compound where bin Laden and his family and friends were living.

Among the various vegetable crops growing alongside the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a row of marijuana plants was also discovered by CNN reporter Nic Robertson.

It begs the question: was Osama bin Laden a pothead?

Of course, the answer to that is in no way clear. The plants very well could have been for one of the other individuals who stayed at the compound, or another local entirely. Reports from the scene indicated that as many as three dozen people shared the three-story house, including as many as 23 children.

Some have speculated that the al Qaeda leader may have been using the marijuana as a medicine. If he was indeed on dialysis, as an unnamed U.S. intelligence source told Asiaweek back in 2000, then he could have used marijuana as a painkiller.

If we’re already getting silly stories like this one, I hate to think what trivial morsels we’ll be seeing served up by the media in a couple more days. They are going to milk this story for all it’s worth and then some.

Poor Muammar Gaddafi has been nearly wiped off the front pages by the Osama blockbuster news. But he’s still up to his old tricks. Yesterday, he bombed a humanitarian relief vessel as it was trying to evacuate foreign citizens Libyan civilians from Misrata. But it looks like the UN is going to indict Gaddafi for war crimes and try to arrest him.

The question then arises as to which organisation should carry out the arrest. Under the 1998 Rome Statute on which the court was built, that duty falls first to the national government in question, and there is at least a faint hope among western governments that the issuing of ICC arrest warrants would provide a trigger and a legal justification for any remaining waverers in the Gaddafi camp to move against him.

If not, the UN security council has to decide what to do. The job could be passed to Nato, but that would require a resolution, which Russia and China could well object to. They already believe that the February resolution allowing “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians has been exploited by Nato to wage war on the side of the rebels.

To further complicate the situation, the Obama administration might also object, as it would involve sending troops into Tripoli, something that Washington has sworn not to do.

The council could instead restate the court’s demand for the Libyan leaders to turn themselves in.

It sounds like Gaddafi should be a little bit nervous right now, but according to Fox News, this probably won’t have much effect on his behavior. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister of Turkey is calling on Gaddafi to step down “for the sake of the country’s future.”

The Guardian has an op-ed by Alaa al-Ameri arguing that NATO forces would be justified in targeting Gaddafi personally.

Various commentators have declared that the deaths [allegedly of Gaddafi’s son and possibly others] prove Nato has overstepped its mandate, and has violated international law by targeting Gaddafi personally. This is based on their definition of Gaddafi as a head of state, and their belief that the UN mandate is confined only to the establishment and maintenance of a no-fly zone. Both these premises are false.

Gaddafi is not a head of state. He is a warlord in control of a personal army that he has tasked with the mass killing and terrorising of Libyans for the crime of wishing to live as free human beings. There is no meaningful Libyan government structure or decision-making body besides Gaddafi himself and his sons.

Which logic or legal principle underlies the notion that while militia in the act of aggression against a civilian population may be attacked, the leader of that militia – actively engaged in directing the violence – is off limits? What claim to special rights and privileges can be made by a man who uses rape as a weapon of war? Which principle of international law would be eroded by his death?

Despite assertions to the contrary, UN resolution 1973 does not confine Nato action to a no-fly zone. The now familiar central clause authorises member states “to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”. Some critics of Nato’s action have interpreted this so narrowly as to assert that it allows no more than “a protective cordon around Benghazi”.

Another author Robert Barnidge Jr. makes a similar argument at Politico. He claims that killing bin Laden was “lawful,” and killing Gaddafi would likewise be “lawful.”

Some now argue that it is unlawful to target Qadhafi. NATO has been put on the defensive. But it shouldn’t apologize. The law is on its side.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 reaffirmed that the situation in Libya threatened international peace and security. Crucially, the resolution, in paragraph 4, authorized member states to “take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” subject only to some procedural requirements.

International law prohibits states from threatening or using force in their international relations — with two exceptions: when states act in self-defence, and when the Security Council authorizes it under chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. Resolution 1973 is an example of the latter.

Given that Resolution 1973 is a legal instrument, the question is what paragraph 4 permits — and what it forbids. For example, both sides in the debate about the lawfulness of the 2003 invasion of Iraq largely agreed that “all necessary measures” would mean the use of force. The debate with Iraq was whether Security Council Resolution 1441 (2002) had “revived” this language in the earlier Security Council Resolution 678 (1990). (Resolution 678 used the language “all necessary means” — but there is no significant legal difference between “measures” and “means.”)

The government of Syria is still doing ghastly things to its citizens.

Amnesty International said it has received first-hand reports of torture and other ill treatment from detainees held in Syria, as a wave of arrests of anti-government protesters intensified over the weekend.

Amnesty International said “widespread, arbitrary arrests” had taken place in towns across the country in recent days. At least 499 people were detained Sunday during house-to-house raids in Daraa, a key location for pro-reform protests, the group said, adding that most were being held at unknown locations without access to lawyers or their families.

The rights group also said it had the names of 54 people killed last Friday, which brought to 542 the number of people killed during a month and a half of protests in Syria. Amnesty International stated in a report that the high number of deaths can be attributed to tactics by Syrian security forces.

The group gave the accounts of two men detained last month in the coastal city of Banias.

One detainee said he was forced to “lick blood off the floor” after being stripped and beaten, Amnesty International said in a statement. The man told the group that he and and others detained with him had been beaten with sticks and cables as well as kicked and punched.

The rights organization said the detainee also reported being held for three days without food and being forced to drink dirty water from a toilet.

Actor Jackie Cooper died on Tuesday. He was one child actor who grew up to be a successful adult actor as well.

Before the heydays of Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney, young Jackie, a ragged urchin with a pout and a mischievous half-winked eye, was dreaming up schemes in “Our Gang” comedies and Wallace Beery pictures, like “Treasure Island,” that Hollywood churned out for the rialto.

As Americans flocked to escapist movies, he made $2,000 a week, toured the nation and hobnobbed with Bing Crosby, Tallulah Bankhead and Joan Crawford. At 9 he became the youngest Oscar nominee for best actor (a record that he still holds), in “Skippy” (1931). Later he dated Lana Turner and Judy Garland, and spent weekends on the yacht of MGM’s boss, Louis B. Mayer.

By his late teens, though, he seemed washed up, just another fading child star bound for oblivion and the life of drugs, booze and anonymity that became the fate of many of Hollywood’s forgotten children.

But he got into television in the 1950s, starring in the sitcoms “The People’s Choice” and “Hennesey,” and later became an Emmy-winning director of “M*A*S*H” and other hits; was introduced to a new generation of moviegoers as Perry White, editor of The Daily Planet, in four “Superman” films; and earned his star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Have you heard about the new study that shows eating a lot of salt isn’t associated with heart problems? It was just published in the JAMA.

Jan A. Staessen, MD, PhD, of the University of Leuven, Belgium, led a study that measured urinary sodium levels in 3,681 healthy, 40-ish people and then followed their health for about eight years.

Their finding: People with the highest sodium levels had a significantly lower risk of dying from heart disease than did people with the lowest sodium levels.

“Our current findings refute the estimates of computer models of lives saved and health care costs reduced with lower salt intake,” Staessen and colleagues conclude in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “They do also not support the current recommendations of a generalized and indiscriminate reduction of salt intake at the population level.”

Repeat after me: “Correlation does not equal causation.” Every single one of the studies of diet and disease you hear about is based only on correlations (associations). Guess what? Heart disease (and cancer, and many other illnesses) run in families. There is nearly always a genetic component. I’d rather have good genes any day that trust the results of the countless studies that claim certain foods or behaviors are bad for me.


That’s it for me. What are you reading and blogging about today? Lay it on me!