So Rich, So Soft


News and Site Updates Archive 2009/06/29

China is a big country, inhabited by many Chinese.

- Charles de Gaulle

29 Jun '09 - I found the following photos on an astonishing site, China, one photo every day.  (Luckily enough days have gone by that there are 100s of photos up by now.)  These are a few I found impressive.  Each photo denotes in which of China's 22 provinces (Anhui, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guizhou, Hainan, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Jilin, Liaoning, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, Zhejiang) it is located.  For your information, there are 23 provinces if you count Taiwan, and also 5 Autonomous Regions - Guangxi Zhuang, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia Hui, Tibet and Xinjiang Uyghur; 4 Municipalities - Beijing, Chongquig, Shanghai, and Tianjin; and 2 Special Administrative Regions - Macau and Hong Kong.  Oddly, in none of the 100s of photos did I see a single piece of trash, a hovel or a billboard.  Click photo for a larger image, info, and a link to the source.

If you want to search only for recent information on Google, first go to and search as usual.  Next, just add &as;_qdr=d to the end of the URL and press ENTER.  (The &as;_qdr=d has to be added to the URL, NOT the Google search term.)  This triggers a Google dropdown box to appear which allows you to select a time filter for limiting the search (via TYWKIWDBI).

An expenditure of $250 - $500 billion on improved rail infrastructure would get 83% of long-haul trucks off US highways by 2030, while also delivering ample capacity for high-speed passenger rail.  If high-traffic rail lines are electrified and powered in part by renewable energy sources, the investment would reduce the US's carbon emission by 39% and oil consumption by 15% and leave the economy 10% larger by 2030 than it would otherwise be.  Despite this astounding potential, virtually no one in Washington talks investment in freight rail capacity.  Instead, it's about roads and highway bridges - projects made necessary by America’s over-reliance on pavement-smashing, traffic-snarling, fossil-fuel-guzzling trucks for the bulk of domestic freight transport.  This could be a mistake.  Powered by overhead wire or 3rd rail, electric locomotives don’t have to lug fuel around with them, making them 2½ - 3 times more efficient than diesels, more powerful, cheaper to maintain, longer lasting, faster accelerating, and they have higher top speeds.  Trains carrying containers at 100 miles per hour are possible.  Also, when electric locomotives brake, they generate electricity, which is fed back into the grid to power other trains.  One braking down one side of a mountain sends energy to another struggling up the other side.  With these advantages, electric railroads are 20 times more fuel efficient than trucks - but the nation’s rail network is just 94,942 miles, less than ½ what it was in 1970; still, it hauls 137% more freight.  This means extreme congestion and longer shipping times.  Wiring the 36,000 miles of mainline track on the highest-density routes would cost a mere $72 billion and take only 6 years.  Wake up, America!...  Are knitted naked suits obscene?  Technically, maybe.  Are male suits more obscene than the female suits?  What about the hybrid suits (near the right in the photo)?  Or the droopy "old" lady on the far right?  Would it be more obscene if the models were obese?

Would naked suits be more obscene if the little girl is shown playing with Daddy's funny appendage?  Somehow, perhaps because the suits are so goofy and the subjects so clearly delighted, this scenario manages not to be creepy.  Actually, families of various configurations don the same suits and pose for conventional portraits, so sometimes the "Daddy" is a women in a man suit when the couple is of the same sex; children sometimes wear suits of the opposite sex so they can see what it feels like to become someone new...  Awkward family photos - some are silly, some sad, some strange and some made me laugh out loud. The one shown here is a member of the strange set, in case you were wondering...  A couple of supernovae go off in our galaxy every century.  To have serious consequences for Earth, one would need to be roughly within a 10-light-year radius.  Certain star explosions, called hypernovae, have much greater reach because they're 10 times more powerful and are the source for long-duration gamma ray bursts (GRBs).  A GRB can travel 6,500 light-years and still inflict terrific damage here.  Gamma rays and X-rays can't penetrate very far into Earth's atmosphere, but can still have a long-lasting impact.  The high-energy radiation breaks apart nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the stratosphere, allowing them to reform as nitric oxide (NO), which destroys ozone in the same way chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) do.  The effect is like an ozone hole spread over the globe.  Ozone protects life from the sun's ultraviolet rays.  By shattering this atmospheric shield, an astrophysical blast could lead to higher rates of DNA and protein damage in organisms due to greater sunlight exposure.  A relatively close GRB could destroy 75% of the ozone in certain regions, with a globally averaged depletion of around 35 - 40%.  In contrast, the current ozone hole over Antarctica is at most 60% depleted but only accounts for a globally-averaged depletion of 3 - 5%.  Ozone destruction would begin as soon as the radiation hits, and continue for years, taking the earth more than a decade to recover its ozone shield.

The clouds above are known as billow clouds, shear-gravity clouds, or Kelvin-Helmholtz billows.  The rolling eddies seen at the top of the layers are usually evenly spaced and easily identifiable.  The clouds are named for Lord Kelvin and Hermann von Helmholtz and they're often indicators of atmospheric instability and the presence of turbulence for aircraft.  The clouds above are over Jervis Bay, NSW, Australia (by Giselle Goloy) - one of the best examples I've seen. A fire whirl, colloquially fire devil or fire tornado, is a rare phenomenon in which a fire (depending on air temperature and currents) can acquire a vertical vorticity, forming a whirl or tornado-like effect of vertically-oriented rotating air.  They may be separate from flames, either within the burn area or outside it, but may contain flames themselves (via TYWKIWDBI).  Fire tornadoes are unpredictable, usually alighting in dry, heated, windy weather associated with intense bush fires.  Also known as "the devil’s whirl", they are usually 200 feet tall and when they hit populated areas, can be devastating.  In 1923, one killed 38,000 people in less than 15 minutes in Tokyo.
A misty morning in Terneuzen Holland. Moving with the speed of an airplane, this appeared over Moscow about 2am one May morning in 2009.

Pedro Alonso Lopez was one of the most prolific serial killers of all time with more than 300 victims.  Called the "Monster of the Andes" in 1980 when he led police to the graves of 53 of his victims in Ecuador, all girls between 9 and 12 years old, he was found guilty in 1983 of murdering 110 young girls in Ecuador alone and confessed to a further 240 murders of missing girls in neighbouring Peru and Colombia.  In the 1970s, after killing around 100 tribal women in Peru, he was apprehended by tribal forces who prepared him for execution - but unfortunately they were convinced by an American missionary to take him to the police instead.  Police released him, after which he travelled to Columbia and later Ecuador, where he killed 3 to 4 girls a week.  He later claimed that girls in Ecuador were "more gentle and trusting, more innocent."  This continued until his apprehension in 1980 when an attempted abduction went wrong and he was trapped by market traders.  He confessed to over 300 murders; however, the police only believed him when a flash flood uncovered a mass grave of many of his victims.  (Lopez must have been an unusually charismatic man.)  Also unfortunately, the Ecuadorian government released Lopez in 1998, deporting him to Columbia.  Lopez allegedly bragged that he had been released for "good behaviour."  Interpol issued an advisory for his re-arrest by Colombian authorities over a fresh murder in 2002...  Sarah Palin was recently named the most popular figure in the GOP, according to a new Pew Research Center poll.  The poll surveyed leading GOP politicians' favourability among both Republicans and the general public.  Palin scored highest, with a whopping 73% of Republicans giving her a favorable rating.  Not surprisingly, Palin's favorability ratings was split nearly in half among the general public: she received 45% of favourable votes versus 44% unfavourable.

Thousands of large, round "forest rings" dot the boreal landscape of northern Ontario.  From the air, these light-coloured rings of stunted tree growth are clearly visible, but on the ground, you could walk right through without noticing them.  They range in diameter from 30 metres to 2 kilometres, with the average ring measuring about 91 metres across.  Over 2,000 have been documented, but scientists estimate the actual number is more than 8,000.  What causes these near-perfect circles?  One theory says they are naturally occurring electrochemical cells — big centres of negative charges (called reduced chimneys) frequently situated over metal or mineral deposits or methane (a natural gas source) - huge natural electrical batteries with a negative charge in carbonate soil and surrounded by oxygen that carries a positive charge.  The current from the batteries — the negative charge — travels outward and where it meets the positive charge, acidic conditions are created that eat away at the carbonate soil, causing it to drop in a circular depression around the natural battery...  The International Space Station took this photograph above erupting Sarychev Peak on Matua, a remote Russian island in the North Pacific.  The round hole in the clouds is thought to have been caused by the shockwave of the initial explosion.  At the centre lies the billowing mushroom tower of grey and brown ash capped with a captured layer of smooth white cloud - like a layer of snow on a mushroom...  Ailurophilia means love of cats.  If you hate them, you're an ailurophobe; æstivate means to summer somewhere.  It also serves as the antonym of hibernate.  Desert amphibians aestivate in the summer for the same reason bears hibernate in winter — to avoid seasonal extremes...  I used to buy my kids mylar balloons when they were young because these balloons hold helium for days.  I assumed they were harmless.  But a mylar balloon floated up underneath power lines in Sacramento, California, causing electricity to arc down to the ground, which ignited a 2-alarm fire that burned several acres.  Given the right conditions, perhaps nothing is completely harmless.


Why do these photos bother me so much?  Perhaps because the change occurred in my lifetime, reminding me of life's impermanence?
Partly.  But the devastation, pointlessness, and waste of war enters into it as well.  This is Paghman Gardens, Kabul Afghanistan taken 40 years apart.
If the gardens had been destroyed because a new highrise was about to be built, it would be sad, but not tragic.  This is tragic.

These two faces are perceived as male and female, though both are actually versions of the same androgynous face - one created by increasing the contrast and the other by decreasing it.  Oh?  Since the eyes look the same in each picture, there must be more to it than that.  I took these images into Photoshop and used levels, filters and curves on them trying to bring them back into sync.  I concluded that it can't be done.  Perhaps the creator could've included the androgynous face he started with?  Because it seems to me he has fiddled with much more than merely increasing the contrast.  Oversimplifying the description of the procedure used is really unnecessary as the results are impressive enough to stand on their own no matter how they were achieved.  Applying filters to the two faces emphasizes the masculine/feminine differences in a striking way.  It occurs to me that a female could use a "map" like this to show her where the absolute minimum of makeup would need to be applied for maximum feminising effect.  This would be less debilitating on both her skin and her pocketbook.  I had always thought women instinctively wore makeup so they would look younger - but I now realise that looking more feminine may be just as important...  Since the ‘60s we’ve added roughly 3 billion people to the planet but we’ve actually seen a decrease in food output.  Indeed, worldwide arable land per person has essentially halved from 0.42 hectares per person in 1961 to 0.23 hectares per person in 2002.  In 1985 the average Chinese consumer ate 44 pounds of meat per year.  Today, it’s more than doubled to 110 pounds - when you consider that it takes 17 pounds of grain to generate one pound of beef, you begin to see how grain demand can rise exponentially to population growth with even modest changes to diet.  Agriculture is at the beginning of a major multi-year bull market - rapidly growing demand, reduced production, and decade low inventories mean prices will begin to spike.  At some point in the not-so-distant future, food prices will go up - WAY up.

This glass fireplace is by Bloch-Design.  The fire is contained within a glass enclosure.  It comes in pyramid or rectangular shape, clear or tinted glass.  Goes great with white marble and alabaster.  I really like this - but you may need to hire a housekeeper to keep it clean.  I'm not sure if the logs are real or fake...  Pentimento is a painter's term for the evidence in a work that the original composition has been changed.  Often the opaque pigment with which the artist covered a mistake or unwanted beginnings will, with time or injudicious cleaning, become transparent, and a revelation of original intentions will become visible through the finished composition.  A celebrated example is The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, National Gallery, London 1434.  Among other changes, the man's face was higher by about the height of his eye, hers was higher, and her eyes looked more to the front.  Each of his feet was underdrawn in one position, painted in another, and then overpainted in a third.  These alterations are seen in infra-red reflectograms.  Some artists (such as Rembrandt, Titian and Caravaggio) composed straight onto the canvas.  The number of pentimenti found in the work of such masters naturally tends to be higher.  (What could these artists have made of Photoshop or a 3D modelling programme?)...  Australia stands out as an island of calm amid the global economic storm, an international business confidence survey shows; 1 in 5 international businesspeople cited Australia as the country best surviving the recession in a survey of 7,500 people in more than 24 nations.  Australia placed first in the survey, ahead of China, with India and Singapore in equal 3rd place.  New Zealand also fared well, ranking 9th.  (Let's hear it for NZ!)  I know that in the past month, the exchange rate between $US and $NZ saw the NZ dollar take a sizeable increase in value against the greenback...  1 in 5 Britons admits that they happily jet overseas to holiday destinations they cannot pinpoint on a map.  Around 2% of the 2,000 adults polled admitted going to the wrong hotel, or even the wrong destination, after booking a trip abroad.  The Thai capital of Bangkok proved a mystery to a quarter of the interviewees, who could not find it on a map.  Others easily confuse Palma, in Mallorca, and La Palma, in the Canaries.

In July 1838, Charles Darwin was considering whether to propose to his cousin, Emma Wedgwood.  Ever the rationalist, drew up a balance sheet:


Children (if it please God)
Constant companion (and friend in old age) who will feel interested in one
Object to be loved and played with (better than a dog, anyhow)
Home and someone to take care of the house
Charms of music and female chit-chat
These things good for one's health
My God it is intolerable to think of spending one's whole life like a neuter bee, working, working and nothing after all - no, no, won't do
Imagine living all one's day solitarily in smoky dirty London house
Picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with a good fire and books and music perhaps
Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Grt. Marlbrough St.

Not Marry

Freedom to go where one likes
Choice of society and little of it
Conversation of clever men at clubs
Not forced to visit relatives and to bend in every trifle
To have the expense and anxiety of children
Perhaps quarreling
Loss of time
Cannot read in evenings
Fatness and idleness
Anxiety and responsibility
Less money for books, etc
If many children, forced to gain one's bread (but then it is very bad for one's health to work too much)
Perhaps my wife won't like London, then the sentence is banishment and degradation into indolent, idle fool

At the bottom he wrote "Marry – Marry – Marry Q.E.D."  They were wed in January.

47% of Americans admit to one or more behaviours that contribute to an unhealthy pool - notably, 1 in 5 pee in the pool and 35% skip the pre-swimming shower.  Hygiene might be lacking in part because 63% say they're unaware of the illnesses associated with swallowing, breathing, or having contact with contaminated pool water.  Such illnesses - known as recreational water illnesses (RWIs) - have been on the rise over the last couple of decades according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  RWIs can lead to diarrhea, respiratory illness, and ear and skin infections, and can be especially dangerous for children, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.  Urine and sweat bond with chlorine to form chloramines, which can cause nasal irritation, stinging eyes and difficulty breathing — especially in indoor pools, where the chemicals may linger above the water.  That’s why it’s best to shower first.  The pool water should be clear, the side of the pool smooth, little chemical odour, and a steady sound from the pump...  A creation of Taiwanese sculptor/artist Ju Ming, this lotus pond is located at the Juming Museum, just north of Taipei City.  I was surprised to find that I rather disliked his other work.  Since he has his own apparently-successful museum, it looks like I might be in the minority...  Your body runs on about the same energy as a 100-watt bulb.  About a quarter of the energy goes to your muscles including your heart.  Another quarter goes to the liver and spleen.  Only about one-fifth is consumed by the brain.

Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is a disorder involving a build-up of spinal fluid in the ventricles of the brain, causing pressure on nerves that control the legs, balance, bladder and cognitive function.  Like babies, people with NPH walk slowly with feet wide apart, they are incontinent and have no memory.  This is a classic triad of symptoms that should alert doctors.  Yet the condition is frequently misdiagnosed as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or a spinal problem.  Or it is attributed to age — nearly all who are affected are over 55.  A programmable shunt can often fix the problem.  Some patients had suffered a severe head injury, stroke, meningitis or a brain tumour - perhaps decades earlier, which may have caused scarring or inflammation that gradually interfered with drainage of spinal fluid.  Each day the brain normally produces about two soda cans’ worth of spinal fluid.  This fluid protects the brain’s soft tissue, which floats in the skull.  Made deep in the brain, spinal fluid flows through a series of channels to the brain’s four ventricles and finally exits to outside the brain and spinal cord.  Each day the same amount of spinal fluid that is produced must be reabsorbed into the bloodstream.  But if something slows or blocks its path, it builds up.

Years pass, but Brooke Greenberg remains a toddler.  No one can explain how or why.
At about 16 pounds and 30 inches, 16-year-old Brooke has not aged significantly, physically or apparently cognitively, since she was a toddler.
Doctors hope that her case will shed light on the mysterious genetics behind aging.

Hedge funds are now investing in lawsuits.  The premise is simple: invest in one side of the lawsuit and get a share of the winnings (if, of course, they win the case).  Investors essentially "bankroll" a litigation team.  The defendant or prosecutor obviously enjoys knowing that their team has deep pockets and lawyers find comfort in the fact that they'll have no problem getting paid.  A psychiatrist blogger has suggested that hedge funds should also invest in sick people by having a single entity that amasses a large quantity of money; when people get sick, it would pay out for their health care.  If they get better, that entity would take a slice of their productivity for the remainder of their lives.  (So if you take care of yourself and never get sick, you wouldn't have to pay.)  The strategy of investing in lawsuits makes sense only if you can select a very few cases likely to win.  But investing in the sick could require no selectivity - the best outcome would be attained by covering everybody so no sophisticated analysis would be necessary.

I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, wholesome things that money can buy.

— Steve Martin

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