Monday, July 28, 2008
I wonder because of this report in today's NYT:
NEW DELHI — Over the past several years, terrorist attacks in India have become an everyday presence in everyday places. The targets seem to have nothing in common except that they are ordinary and brazenly easy to strike.
In eastern Varanasi, a deadly explosion interrupted Hindu devotees as they lighted oil lamps to Hanuman, the monkey god, one Tuesday at dusk. In southern Hyderabad, a homemade bomb planted inside a historic mosque killed worshipers on a Friday afternoon. In Mumbai, India’s largest city, nearly 200 commuters on packed city trains died in a series of blasts.
And, in the most recent attack, 17 back-to-back explosions struck shoppers and strollers on Saturday evening in Ahmedabad in western India, and then two blasts hit the very hospitals where the wounded and their relatives rushed for help, killing 49 people and wounding more than 200.
In a country long familiar with sharply focused violence — whether sectarian or fueled by insurgencies in Kashmir in the 1990s — the impersonal nature of the latest violence is new and deeply unsettling.
“This is different, because for the first time it’s everyday, it’s utterly anonymous, it’s excessive,” said Shiv Vishvanathan, a professor of anthropology in Ahmedabad. “The familiar becomes unfamiliar,” he said. “The apple seller you meet might be carrying a bomb. It creates suspicion. It’s a perfect way to destabilize society.”
Sounds like some men just want to watch the world burn! You may be forgiven for thinking that perhaps Somini Sengupta wrote the above too soon after watching The Dark Knight, with the Joker's anarchy too fresh in her mind. But then she cites a chilling statistic:
A report last year by the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington concluded that from January 2004 to March 2007, the death toll from terrorist attacks in India was 3,674, second only to that in Iraq during the same period.
...followed by this really bizarre bit:
An obscure group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen warned Saturday that an attack was about to take place “in revenge of Gujarat,” plainly referring to the 2002 killings. The statement was sent in an e-mail message, written in English, to television stations just before the first blasts.
The police in Mumbai traced the e-mail back to the Internet protocol address of an American citizen living in Navi Mumbai, a satellite city across the water from India’s commercial capital. They identified him as Kenneth Haywood, a general manager of an executive training firm called Campbell White. The firm’s Web site said it offers “accent neutralization, cultural comprehension and verbal/non verbal communication.”
The Mumbai police said that he had been questioned but not arrested and that they were still investigating whether he could have been involved or whether his e-mail account had been hacked. “He is a suspect, yes,” said a police officer involved in the investigation. “He may not be a suspect as well.”
The Times of India reported that it had reached Mr. Haywood and that he had denied sending the message.
An unidentified man who answered a Campbell White phone number in Bangalore said he could not comment. The United States Embassy in Delhi and the consulate in Mumbai declined to comment as well, citing American privacy laws.
Forgive me for belaboring this, but Holy Batman!! WTF is going on?!
And if that doesn't fill you with enough despair about where India is going, how about this in the same newspaper of record?
Somehow, this video seems rather apropos given the rehashing of The Two Cultures going on over on ScienceBlogs these past few days. Which one of them is Wingdings, I wonder... or are the two camps of academia stuck using that font in trying to talk to each other? Will Comic Sans be able to rescue the text and context there too?
Friday, July 25, 2008
Yes, it seems (at least one hopes so) that the the city of Angels, that megalopolis in the Cadillac Desert, may actually be beginning to live down its thirsty (Chinatown) past and doing a teeny little bit to address its sins when it comes to profligate water use. If you don't know much about LA's water history, a good starting place is Mark Reisner's excellent book on water use and abuse throughout the southwestern US, Cadillac Desert. And if you haven't even seen Chinatown you really should see it! For now, let's start with this overview video:
And here's another one about what the growth of LA meant for the Owens valley, and the Paiute people who had lived there for a long time:
That should give you enough background to appreciate this story in yesterday's Los Angeles Times about the gradual recovery of the Mono Lake ecosystem - and yes, even that print newspaper offers the following video to accompany the report!
Go read the rest of the story, which is a bit more cautious in its optimism than the video. After all, we are in a drought, and this is LA we are talking about, at a time when other water wars are already brewing elsewhere in California. So the Mono Lake Committee clearly still has its work cut out to ensure that the lake gets its supply of fresh water.
And now the committee may have an unlikely ally in the LA Department of Water & Power, the lake's nemesis! Because, according to this column, also in yesterday's LA Times, the DWP is trying to sell its citizens on the idea of recycling water within the city. i.e., treating wastewater really really well till it is safe enough to drink (and the technology exists to do that now). This is something other cities are already doing, at least to use the treated water to water lawns and such if not directly for drinking, because people may balk at that. I hope the DWP can win the PR campaign to support its new treatment plant this time around (it failed when first proposed in the 1990s). After all, how can you argue with this?
Where do you all think the water that you drink now is coming from, anyway? Angels' butts? It comes from far and wide, and even from places that may recycle wastewater themselves. San Diego is planning its own wastewater reclamation, and as the City Council president told the Wall Street Journal, "the Colorado River is not filled with Dasani."
So if you live in LA (heck if you live in any city living beyond its water means (that would be most cities, I think!), get behind your politicians and start pushing them (if they aren't moving in this direction already) to bring such wastewater treatment plants to your city!
If politicians believe it, they've got to sell it. No one sold it better than B.T. Collins. He was Gov. Jerry Brown's Conservation Corps director when the state was spraying malathion to stop Mediterranean fruit flies. Collins was so eager to convince Californians that malathion was harmless that he drank a glass of it in front of 900 corps members.
Nahai promised me on the radio last week that he would drink the first glass of reclaimed water to come out of DWP pipes. Antonio Villaraigosa promised me the same thing this week. One glass, two straws, please.
As for the rest of you -- suck it up, L.A. How do you like it: on the rocks, or straight up?
Time for us all to suck it up, and learn to better share this planet's limited natural resources with all the other lifeforms that have evolved here with us!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Wow, that's a tough one, huh! What do you think?
And what answer do you expect to hear from one of the most powerful people in Washington DC (he wishes!), head of one of the leading members of the insidious fighting treehuggers lobby?
I missed this interview last night (been writing a grant proposal; submitted today, so I'm catching up with these fun things!) but Stephen was in such excellent form that I can't help but share a second video from his show today:
That there, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a Species-Scape, a graphical depiction of the relative diversity of species among various taxonomic groups on earth, where the relative size of each representative organism drawn is roughly proportional to the number of known species in that group (thus accurately depicting the creator's inordinate fondness for beetles!). Here's another version. The above image is flash-based, so go ahead and click on the different taxa for an informational blurb, or (if your eyes are as tired as mine) visit the larger original info-graphic on Cornell's cool Beetle Science website for more fun stuff.
Our own puny little species, so full of itself, is part of that tiny little Elephant lurking under those big mushrooms in the middle of the picture. And think about how many kinds of organisms there are that we haven't even discovered and catalogued yet! We mammals are only going to shrink in that picture relative to everything else!! Does that give you some pause, some sense of perspective, as you go about your important business?
Reminds me of a camping trip I went on, in Rajaji National Park, about a decade ago when I last visited my alma mater. My friend Charu and I were lying under a clear sky on a warm night, listening to the sounds of the nocturnal creatures around Dholkhand, and gazing in open wonder at the milky way shimmering above us, when I couldn't help but let my inner stargazer come out. As is wont to happen under such circs, I felt compelled to share my limited knowledge of the night sky, the stars, the constellations, and the milky way, etc.! After a while I remember him telling me to shut up or he wouldn't be able to sleep - for I was going on about how far everything was, and how long the light from some patch of sky had travelled to reach the earth! Imagine the vastness of the universe and how puny we are, I said. And it totally freaked him out!!
Kinda like stepping into Douglas Adams' clever invention, the Total Perspective Vortex, which the above Species-Scape also brings to mind. And speaking of which, wouldn't you know it? Someone on the dang internets (and from my other alma mater too, if you can believe it!) has gone and implemented it in Flash. Go on, take a deep breath, and dive into the Vortex, which awaits you below the fold! Find out if you really do you have Zaphod Beeblebrox's cojones! I dare you... click on "OK" of you are up to the challenge:
And don't tell me I didn't warn you, as you try to duck from those repeated blows in the latter half of the above video - it does get a bit heavy!
In case you hadn't heard, under the Bush administration, human life (well, at least that of Americans) has become about a million dollars cheaper (according to their own agency, the EPA)! Here's a clear explanation of why this is so great, in terms of environmental risk management:
Surely you don't want society to spend more money protecting your health and environment any more than what the EPA thinks you are worth, do you? And by this calculus, it must make perfect sense for the cries of the Bhopal victims to go unheeded, for what are they worth, exactly, if even American lives are being devalued?
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I certainly hope not, based on the feedback I've had here at Fresno State, although some eyebrows are occasionally raised at how much time people think I spend on blogging. It certainly didn't hurt John Hawks who just got tenure at the University of Wisconsin - Congratulations Prof. Hawk! He has begun sharing his experience of blogging while on the tenure-track in a four-part series:
This is the first of a four-part series on blogging and tenure. Each installment covers a different portion of the tenure process, from starting and establishing the tone of your blog, up to documenting your blog for your tenure dossier. I don't guarantee anything, and I certainly don't have all the answers, but I worked hard to develop some strategies in my tenure chase, and you may find some of them helpful.
The full story is divided into four parts. In the final installment, which may be most useful to current bloggers, I will describe the specific strategies that I applied to quantify my blog's role as a service to the field and to the public. Over the next two weeks, I'll be discussing strategies to build a blog's reputation and readership in the years leading up to tenure review, and some ways to integrate research with blogging.
Today, I weigh the pluses and minuses of starting a blog on the tenure track, including the key question of anonymity. This will be especially relevant if you are newly on the tenure track and considering starting a blog. You may also find some of it useful if you have a blog already and are considering shedding a pseudonym and making a blog part of your academic life.[From How to blog, get tenure and prosper: Starting the blog | john hawks weblog]
I sure could have used Hawks' advice in the above post (especially where he says, "don't do it"!!) a couple of years ago when I was contemplating dipping my toe into the blogosphere, but its too late for that now! I will, however, certainly wait for that final installment, especially the promised tips on quantifying a blog's impact, as I begin to round the turn heading towards the final stretch of my own tenure-track here. Wish me luck!
I'm also looking around to see how many of my colleagues at Fresno State blog (e.g., TheAnthroGeek, Cakeypal, and Cakeypal) whether for fun or academic discourse. Perhaps it is time for us to network internally...
(Hat-tip: John Lynch at Stranger Fruit)
I hear it goes well with "Fuck a Cuttlefish zhai" (know someone who might like that one?)! Or perhaps you want to try "Fuck a Fish Head" instead?
No, I'm not offering these lovely dishes to or directing the 4-letter word against those upset over some of my recent writings on this blog. Well, I might offer them the food (peace offer) if it facilitates dialog, come to think of it.
As for the 4-letter words, they come courtesy of some peculiar mistranslations on Chinese restaurant menus owing to the linguistic tangles we all get ourselves into these days:
The Language Log and Effect Measure have the rest of this appetizing story of what can be gained and lost in translation. Now how would that menu sound if Chinese take-out places were to outsource their order-taking phone to India, I wonder?
A color-enhanced image of the delta in Jezero Crater, which once held a lake. Researchers led by CRISM team member and Brown graduate student Bethany Ehlmann report that ancient rivers ferried clay-like minerals (shown in green) into the lake, forming the delta. Clays tend to trap and preserve organic matter, making the delta a good place to look for signs of ancient life.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/Brown University.
The colors may be false in this image, but the fact seems to be that once upon a time Mars had flowing rivers (carrying martian silt) and lakes with diverse local environments potentially capable of supporting some form of life!! Read the rest of the story behind this fascinating image at NASA's website.
Meanwhile, the European Space Agency's orbiter, the Mars Express craft, may have found traces of Ammonia in the Martian atmosphere, potentially indicating life on Mars too!
My take on the India Neutrino Observatory has apparently upset a number of people opposed to the INO, as you might see from the comments on my response to the Hindu article and the INO's rejoinder; the tone of some comments is unlike anything I have seen in the brief history of this blog, too! I've even had a friend warn me that I am on thin ice - although what that means is not clear! In re-reading what I wrote, I can't quite figure out where that thin ice is, and why I should be worried about whatever lurks underneath! For merely writing what I thought of the project on my blog? Nevertheless, I welcome further comments, because the more we talk about these issues, and the more we get past name-calling, the more likely are we to find a solution - and I should remind those upset with me that while I have some sympathy towards my physicist colleagues, and curiosity about what they might discover at an INO, I have placed the burden of protecting the environment (and proving that they can indeed do so) squarely on the INO's shoulders! And I have not ruled out forcing the INO to shut down or go elsewhere - although I suspect similar issues will arise wherever they go in India, so the core environmental concerns will need to be addressed no matter where they go.
Now an organization called the Nilgiri Biosphere Alliance has posted a detailed response to the INO scientists' rejoinder. This is a more considered critique than the screed in the original Hindu article, and the issues raised cannot be easily brushed aside by the INO, so I hope they jump in to establish further dialog. For it seems to me that there is a real problem of a lack of communication between physicists, biologists, and local conservationists on the issues.
I do stand corrected on the status of Mudumalai - it apparently is now a Tiger Reserve, having recently been notified as such; Project Tiger clearly needs to update its website and map to reflect this! Knowing the rich wildlife (esp. megafauna) of the area, and having spent some happy moments watching elephants (and some exciting moments being charged by them) near Masinagudi, I am happy that Mudumalai will now get greater attention and resources under Project Tiger. I am also apprehensive about the talk of relocating people because of the tiger reserve notification, but that's another story unrelated to the INO. And here I still have some questions to which I would appreciate answers from anyone who knows more:
- What, exactly, is the legal status of the TNEB-leased land (under PUSHEP) that is the proposed site of the INO tunnel excavation, under the new Tiger Reserve?
- Where is the INO site in relation to the new Tiger Reserve boundaries, and how does that impact whether an activity like the INO tunnel-digging may or may not be permitted there?
- If the site is within the Tiger Reserve, and will have unmitigatedly disastrous environmental consequences as feared by many, surely it ought to be easier to shut it down, no?
- Has anyone initiated any legal steps, using any tiger reserve notification, to probe further into, or stall, the INO?
Meanwhile, I am also still waiting for any physicist to respond to the concerns I raised in my initial post on this subject. I hope they do, for I would like to hear from them. How about sharing that EIA report to begin with?
Did you know that since late last february, when the US Fish & Wildlife Service (under the Bush administration) decided to remove the Gray Wolf population in the Northern Rockies from the Endangered Species List, over 100 of these animals have been slaughtered? That's roughly one gray wolf killed per day because some people (esp. those in power) in Wyoming, Idaho, & Montana are afraid that the big bad wolves will slaughter their cattle and sheep. I would be very surprised if the wolves, which were reintroduced to the area in 1995 after earlier extirpations, actually killed anywhere near 100 livestock animals during the same period! Yet, in this developed nation - which considers itself the leader of the free world, one of the richest and most powerful - this big sky country region of c.842782 sq. km (325400 sq. miles) with a total population of under 3 million people cannot find a way to coexist with some 1500 wolves! The same wolf which people from all over the world come to see (and spend money seeing) in places like Yellowstone National Park; the same wolf which plays a significant part in Native American lore and spiritual life; and the very same wolf which has co-evolved with the regional ecosystem as a top predator - that very poor beast now cannot find room in a vast region simply because our species occupies the land at a density of barely 3.6 people/sq. km!!
REALLY??!! Give me a fracking break!!
Can you imagine what this glorious nation would have done if it had India's population density (329 people/sq. km) sharing its land with Tigers, Elephants, Leopards, Bears, Lions, and Wolves (to name just a handful of the megafauna that threaten agriculture, livestock, and human lives back home)? How many of these species would have survived into the 21st century?
And yet, many of my American colleagues won't hesitate to lecture (in their Conservation Biology classes) about the horrors of human population growth and how it is the ultimate cause of biodiversity loss, with India being a prime example, of course! Heck, I'm sure many in India bemoan population growth too, as the root cause of biodiversity loss. And so many of us in India too turn to the US for advice, leadership, and, of course, funds to help conserve our megafauna. What's wrong with this picture?
While I don't pretend to know the answer to the above puzzle, it was refreshed in my mind by this court decision which (at least temporarily) reinstates the Gray Wolf's endangered species protections:
Gray wolves in the northern Rockies regained endangered-species protections Friday when a federal judge in Montana granted a preliminary injunction to environmentalists, who had challenged the wolves' delisting.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials announced in February that gray wolves would be removed from the endangered species list after what they termed a successful 20-year effort to reestablish the wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Environmentalists sued.
The judge's ruling nullifies plans by Montana, Wyoming and Idaho to hold wolf hunts this fall.
In a strongly worded 40-page order issued late Friday, U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy of Missoula, Mont., called the wolves' delisting arbitrary and capricious, and said it "demonstrated a possibility of irreparable harm" to the species.
The wildlife service "provides no new evidence or research to support its change of course," Molloy wrote. "Congress does not intend agency decision-making to be fickle. When it is, the line separating rationality from arbitrariness and capriciousness is crossed."
The injunction will "ensure the species is not imperiled," reinstating endangered species protections while the case continues to be litigated, the judge wrote.
But there is a loophole, which may allow the slaughter to continue:
But his order also will trigger a federal rule that was modified in January to allow the wolves to be killed if they threaten "property." That allows ranchers to shoot wolves when they believe their livestock are at risk.
Wildlife officials said the rule was revised so that states or ranchers could deal with wolves that were affecting livestock if delisting was tied up in court.
The reprieve may be temporary, of course, because the case is still ongoing, and both federal and state wildlife agencies are reportedly disappointed with this injunction, promising to pursue other legal avenues!
"At this point in time, the court hasn't seen the administrative records, they haven't seen the briefs on the case, there is a lot of legal work to be done and a lot of information the court isn't even aware of," said federal biologist Ed Bangs, who led Fish and Wildlife's wolf-recovery effort. "So the fact that the injunction ruling went against our position is disappointing, but it's not too surprising." That information could be presented as the case progresses.
In granting the injunction, Molloy pointed to the recovery criteria cited by the wildlife service in 1994. Those criteria include "genetic exchange between subpopulations" -- crossbreeding among scattered groups of wolves -- so the species would be genetically viable in the long term.
"Genetic exchange has not taken place" and is in fact rare, the judge wrote. He cited a 2007 study commissioned by the wildlife service itself.
"Genetic exchange that has not taken place between larger subpopulations under [Endangered Species Act] protections is not likely to occur with fewer wolves under state management," Molloy wrote.
State officials expressed disappointment over the order and said they would examine legal options. Bangs said the government would consider an appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Wonderful, isn't it, when a judge seems to interpret issues of population and genetic viability better than a federal biologist charged with protecting the endangered species in question?! Is there another political story behind that, I wonder?
So the Gray Wolf is not out of the woods just yet, but there may be hope (I hope) if the political winds change in this country next January - even the wolves must be holding their breaths for that to happen, no? Maybe... but what about changing the mindset of people so that they become willing to share this planet with some of these other species?
Thursday, July 17, 2008
... and shining from the sun, and rumbling 'neath the earth! The challenge is to harvest some of all that energy in the blowing wind, the shining sun, and the rumbling earth - just enough to power all of American's energy needs - and to get there within the next 10 years! Imagine if we could have heard this challenge (which likens itself to Kennedy's challenge to put a man on the moon in 10 years, fulfilled in just over 8) issued from the White House! Would CNN then have dared ask if the man issuing the challenge was still relevant? Instead, we got this.
UPDATE: Video excerpts of the speech are now available:
Audio of the complete speech is available at NPR where you can also listen to an hour long discussion of the subject from Talk of the Nation.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Wonder what Nobel Laureate Al Gore is up to now? Well, and email I received today tell me he is about to throw down the gauntlet and "issue a major challenge, essentially pressing the "reset" button on how we think about energy and climate, and how we can create prosperity in America.". The email came from the We campaign. What could they mean, by getting us all excited like that? What challenge is he bringing us? Could it be offshore drilling?!
I guess we'll find out when he gives a major speech to be given in Washington DC tomorrow. Since I am so far from DC, and am not sure whether the mainstream media will carry it (is anybody in the mainstream media paying much attention to Gore anymore? especially since he stayed out of the Democratic primary race?) I'll probably have to wait for the video to appear on the We website. I'm thinking: this had better be good, coming in the middle of a presidential campaign season turning increasingly disappointing; so I am bracing for more disappointment, but curious nonetheless, for Gore, at least, seems to have risen beyond politics lately (or has he?). What should one call this state I'm in? Cautious optimism? No... hopeful pessimism? How about hopeful cynicism? We shall see! Meanwhile, I have the press release below the fold, if you want details:
For immediate release: July 14, 2008
Press contact: Gabe Roth, 202-295-0125, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gore to Lay Out Unprecedented Challenge on Energy and Climate
Address Will Set National Goal for Clean Energy Future
Washington, DC – Former Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore will outline his bold vision for the future of America’s energy needs at D.A.R. Constitution Hall this Thursday, July 17. The speech will be hosted by the “We” Campaign, a fast-growing organization focused on solutions to the climate crisis.
The speech will offer a new way of thinking about our energy production and consumption and a new sense of what is possible when we choose to work together. It will propose a means of tapping America’s innovative skills to build a more secure energy future.
Who: Former Vice President Al Gore
What: A discussion on the future of America’s energy needs
Where: D.A.R. Constitution Hall – 1776 D St., NW, Washington, DC
When: Thursday, July 17 at 12:00 p.m. EDT:
Media should plan to arrive at least an hour before the speech begins.
Additional notes for broadcast media:
Pre-set: 10 a.m.-12 p.m. EDT
Final access: 12 Noon EDT
Press entrance: D Street entrance (between 17th St. and 18th St.)
Throw: 60 feet
Satellite truck parking: Directed on site
Cable run: 350 feet
Power, mult box to be provided on riser
About the “We” Campaign:
The “We” Campaign is a commercial-scale organizing and mobilizing effort using paid advertising, grassroots partnerships and online activation to build strong support for solutions to the climate crisis. The scale of the campaign is unprecedented: it is on track to be the largest public policy advocacy campaign ever and expects to reach 10 million members within three years. “We” is the work of the Alliance for Climate Protection, a nonprofit group founded by Al Gore, who currently serves as the chairman of the bipartisan board of directors. For more information, please visitwww.wecansolveit.org.
I hope you are enjoying reading the Oekologie carnival hosted right here. If you are hankering for even more good blog reads, here are a couple more carnivals for you:
And Bora introduces a brand new heavy-weight carnival with the first edition of The Giant's Shoulders hosted at A Blog Around the Clock. This new monthly carnival is definitely one to keep your eyes on because it is focused entirely on blog posts about classic papers. And the first one is fantastic, with posts going all the way back to Vesalius (1543) - how cool is that!!
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Welcome to the summer 2008 edition of Oekologie, the monthly blog carnival of ecology and environmental science. And for those of you on edge because you didn't get your Oekologie fix last month, this is a special double-issue! As such, you might get extra helpings of your (current or soon to become) favorite blogger's writings for I am also relaxing the one-post-per-blog rule.
I often get asked what Reconciliation Ecology is all about, as a discipline. My one-line response is at the top right of this blog, while some graduate students have subjected themselves to the entire semester-length graduate seminar version! I've also written a draft essay on the subject I might post to this blog one of these days. For now let me share this visual illustration I came up with for a talk some time ago, to describe the framework of my thinking about ecology, and demarcate this carnival's layout:
To me, Reconciliation Ecology requires thinking about and studying processes occurring throughout this framework (within each interacting circle in the above diagram, and at their intersections), across ecological and evolutionary time scales, and, ultimately, applying what we learn to help reconcile our species' boundless creative and destructive energy with all the other lifeforms we share this precious planet with. So, with that framework, and those signposts, in mind, you are now free to virtually stroll about this carnival as you please. And, of course, feel free to wander off the carnival grounds entirely, to explore other corners of this blog, if you haven't been in this neck of the blog-o-woods before!
Natural VariationMy experience of nature through my childhood and youth was strongly shaped, more than anything else, by that incredible weather phenomenon, the Indian Monsoon. Growing up outside Bombay, I loved to watch the massive phalanx of dark clouds pour forth across the sky, darkening the world even as we sweated in the stifling summer heat soon after our final exams were over, waiting for that first cloudburst. And for that first rain, we had license to go running (and dancing!) out in the streets soaking in the downpour, an annual ritual that I very much miss in the temperate aridity of the American southwest. That, and mangos! Later, in college, monsoon was the favorite season to go hiking in the Sahyadri mountains, when one didn't have to worry about getting too hot or having to carry water, and the joy of soaking one's bare feet in the soft mud of the mountain trails and sliding up and down waterfalls more than made up for having to eat wet sandwiches! Now, as I endure a heat wave in central California, I have to thank Pankaj at-crossroads for sharpening my longing for the monsoon and its renewal powers, with his evocative words, and images of the monsoons in the Andaman Islands.
Meanwhile, here in America, Kevin Zelnio lauds the coolness of the US Senate in granting legal recognition to soil as a natural resource!! About time, some of you may say, even as others like Kevin and me scratch our heads and go "hmmm... never quite thought of that!". This led some folks over on Ecolog-L to immediately ask: can we now have a Clean Soil Act please, like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts? That would be cool - but how on earth does one set any standards for a natural resource like soil which varies so damn much from place to place?
Interactions make individuals: genetics, physiology, behavior
To start us off at the small scale of the gene, 96well pushes at the boundaries of what might be appropriate for this carnival (but heck, its a carnival, so boundaries must be stretched, right? and these are really brief posts!) by pointing to new approaches for heavy metal detection with reporter genes, and goes on to urge researchers excited about detecting endocrine disruptors using mammalian cell reporter gene assays to stop with the new cell lines and focus instead on studying interactions in vivo - now that's something we ecologists understand!
Shaheen Lakhan shares an article from Brain Blogger (which Lakhan edits) on Multiple Sclerosis, which turns out to have "a variety of seemingly independent factors associated with its development. In addition to the usual suspects - genetics, sex, and poor health habits such as smoking - MS is also linked to what appear to be unrelated and uncontrollable factors such as birth place and birth month." Aren't gene-environment interactions cool? I don't suppose one could easily do controlled transplant (or common-garden) experiments to sort out these interactions in the case of MS in humans, but the article does point to case studies of immigrant families like mine as throwing much light - but also kicking up some dust - in the study of this disorder. But what's up with that birth month correlation?!
Moving on to whole organisms, we have Delson Roche's photo-essay on the >Spot Billed Pelican, followed by two thoughtful and informative articles from the urban wildlife watcher DN Lee: on the flight mechanics of Flying Squirrels (must be nice to live in a city with those, no?) and on watching Fireflies in the backyard.
Mama Joules points out the importance of being right side up for young (as in embryonic) organisms of all sorts, from plants to crocodiles, who cannot right themselves if someone plants them upside down, to frogs who can figure out gravity! Cool, huh?! She also shares some thoughts on how some wild animals are attracted to humans at feeding time, even as others prefer to hunt their own prey.
Interactions within populations & between species
Ever wonder about the population genetics underlying all those diverse dog breeds? Head over to Greg Laden's blog for a detailed commentary on a recent PLoS paper about dog genetics.
Spidery action speaks louder than words in Amila Salgado's amazing slideshow, but he does fall back on words to describe the butchery of beautiful Shrikes on Mannar Island in NW Sri Lanka, which shares interesting biogeographic affinities with Deccan fauna of southern India (a region dear to my own heart for having spent a decade chasing warblers and lorises within it).
In other late-breaking (and I mean really laaate) predator-prey news, Jennifer Pinkley of the Infinite Sphere gives us a nice overview of research (in light of another recent paper in PLoS) on the huge question: What killed the mammoths?.
The other big class of interspecies interactions is, of course, parasitism, and here we have a report from Shaheen Lakhan on clinical trials on a new vaccine for the H5N1 bird flu, even as the Indian Council of Indian Council of Agricultural Research is proposing a research center to breed avian-flu resistant poultry at a new research center to be located on some uninhabited islands in the Andamans!
Meanwhile, Jennifer Pinkley went looking for a mysterious fungus that is now killing off large numbers of bats in the eastern US, by giving them White Nose Syndrome. Is this the start of another global epidemic? And are humans, somehow, responsible?
Interactions make communities & ecosystems
Before we get into the more serious trouble caused by our own species, how about a little break, with some nature travelogues? I've been sent some nice ones from India: an ode to picturesque Talawe by k.v.subramanian; and Arunava Das' travelogue written on the basis of real life experience at Nagerhole National Park, Coorg, Karnataka, India.
Adding to my longing for a monsoonal hike, Amila confesses to peak-dodging while describing various wonderful critters he encountered in the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, "the only wilderness area in Sri Lanka with attitudinally-graded rain forests ranging from lowland rain forests-up to 1,000m, sub-montane forests from 1,000-1,500m & montane aka cloud forests above 1,500m". Now I'll have to go visit some day! (and an aside to Amila: yes, I did enjoy the Mendis magic, painful as it was to watch the Indian crickets dance in that unpredictable rain; but do you have to rub it in? :-))
Getting back to more sciencey news, James Millington shares the Michigan UP Seedling Experiment, a post about some recent fieldwork in Michigan's Upper Peninsula: "One of the main issues we will study with our integrated ecological-economic landscape model is the impact of whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) herbivory on tree regeneration following cutting."
And Jeremy Cherfas presents some News from the front at Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog, which should be your key stop for agricultural ecology news.
Over at Deep Sea News, Peter Etnoyer tells us about satellite-tagging studies of endangered Hawksbill Turtles, while Kevin Zelnio alerts us that the world's oceans are being taken over by Hydromedusa in a Ninja style stealth invasion! Yikes!!
Malcolm McCallum, editor of Herpetological Conservation & Biology is so alarmed by his calculation that global amphibian extinctions are currently occurring at a rate 211 times the background extinction rate, and so keen to make sure the world knows about it that he share's someone else's blog post on the subject even though they don't cite his paper with the original calculation!
if that doesn't bring you down, how about Phil for Humanity's cheerful declaration that natural Evolution is Dead in this human-dominated world?! And to round off on the reality checks for Americans, he tosses in the suggestion that the American Independence Day, 4th of July, is by far the most polluting day of the year!
In an Earth Week post at Guadalupe Storm-Petrel Barn Owl addresses a specific kind of pollution, by organochlorine contaminants, and how they end up in Sea Lions and Seals.
Lisa Spinelli then brings up everybody's favorite planetary interaction in an article entitled Global Warming: Fact or Fiction = Democrat or Republican, saying, "Forget that scientific research totally supports it, and the rest of the world is trying to find ways to combat it: In the United States, global warming is debatable." Sad, but true, although the tide may have turned. And Phil for Humanity is there too, urging us to accept that global warming is ruining the earth, and that "No, we cannot stop global warming", so we better buck up and start finding other ways of doing business. Of course, Al Gore thinks we can solve it, and is apparently about to toss us an "Unprecedented Challenge on Energy and Climate" this thursday (according to an email to bloggers from the "We" campaign)!
Human interactions sculpting the world
If you think that planting trees on a global scale is one sure-fire good thing any individual can do to save our planet, you must pause to read Mike Bergin's historical account of the ecological havoc wreaked by National Arbor Day (sorry this one got missed in the shuffle, Mike - but better late than never, right?). You can't just go planting trees willy-nilly wherever you are, surely!
But setting aside Protected Areas will save other species, right?! Well, don't get your hopes up too high on that one either, for Jeremy Cherfas argues the perils of protected areas at Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog. At the same time, laments Prashanth, your life may be even worse if you are a poor forest dwelling human on the edge of one of these protected areas, especially in the tropical developing countries. Tigers vs. people is the classic conflict in India, and in the midst of it have jumped some physicists hunting for neutrinos, as I observed last week. Now it is Science vs. Tiger, and the drama never ends!
Lest you collapse in complete despair, however, Amy L. offers at least some modicum of control over our own habitat (if you can afford it) with suggestions for Creating a Butterfly Garden. And Sarah chimes in with tips on organic weed control methods for your garden.
Interactive solutions: finding ways to reconcile
First off, Kevin Zelnio argues in favor of keeping scientific information available freely on the internet because that too helps conservation! The onus is on us scientists to keep pushing on that front. Meanwhile we better start using the good information that is already available.
What else can we do to reconcile our human "development" with biodiversity conservation so that we leave some room for other organisms on this shared lonely planet, and also improve our own habitats and lives?
We could start by reading Samir Bhardwaj's environmental parable "The Yellow Rubber Ducks Now Live Down on the Farm". Then read Spencer Tweedy's >new look at trash. And consider taking Timothy Morton's premise that the catastrophe has already happened as your starting point! That just might free you from the paralysis of overwhelming despair, so you can start tackling the real problems. Watching Wall*E might help you get going too, either with renewed hope or anger!
Whatever you choose to do, you'll have to start by getting past your dependence on fossil fuels. Even airlines are finding new ways to cut corners to save on gas money, says Ave Maria. You can go one better: dream about the new E85 Ethanol Vehicles, the 100 m.p.g. car, or others using plain water as fuel, and whatever you do, listen to Vikram Bhatt and stave off the temptation to buy one of the new Tata Nanos just launched in India!
If you like lists to keep your efforts organized, then let's go by the numbers:
1. SpiKe suggests 7 ways we can stop wasting food and help save the Earth.
2. Heather Johnson gives us 8 ways to save energy around the house; and,
3. Victoria E presents 10 ways to Green Your Pet!
Remember that sometimes, we can also simply let nature push back at us, and enjoy Jeremy Bruno's sense of peace.
Finally, whatever you choose to do, keep some perspective about your place in the grand scheme of the universe and try not to get too full of yourself! And, like this carnival's founder, realize that there is more to life than blogging!
I hope you enjoyed this special double issue of Reconciliation Oekologie. Join us again, perhaps by title="Submit an entry to “oekologie”"
>submitting your own blog article to the next edition of Oekologie which will be hosted by Seeds Aside.
Monday, July 14, 2008
(Photo taken by Raghu Rai sometime in the 1960s)
Four decades ago two young American men took a seminal trip (one walked, the other took a taxi) through the teeming bazaars of Old Delhi in India. The sensory overload of what was (and still is) a typical morning commute for a Delhiite awakened something profound in both young men, who went on to write about the experience famously in ways that resonate till this day.
Idealistic Youth #1:
“As we crawled through the city, we encountered a crowded slum area. The temperature was well over 100, and the air was a haze of dust and smoke. The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, and screaming… People, people, people.”
Idealistic Youth #2:
"Small animals were not the only beings in great abundance. So were people. Along one long sidewalk, I saw hundreds of wooden shelves about the size of a refrigerator lying on their sides. Each served as home for at least one person. Even less fortunate souls lay on the grass or in the brown dirt with a tattered blanket serving as their only shelter. Some had only rags to protect themselves from the elements. About a block from the YMCA, an old man grunted as he squatted and defecated in the gutter. A little further on, a bony couple engaged in mechanical sexual intercourse while two children sat beside them, taking little notice of their parents as they played in the dust. Millions in India live out their lives on the public streets awash in the dried mud. There they are born, and there they bathe, eat, sleep, excrete and copulate. As attested by the teeming population, the one thing they seem to do best is breed."
Can you guess who the famous authors of these passages are?
All right, let me give you just the names - and see if you can identify who wrote which passage above: Paul Ehrlich and David Duke.
Surely the ghost of Thomas Malthus must've been actively patrolling those alleys of Old Delhi back in those days, seeking out idealistic young white tourist souls to pounce upon! And yet, how different the paths that ghost led them down...
The mind... it boggles!! At the ambition of India's Central Zoo Authority:
Govt moots captive breeding for tigers
New Delhi, July 13: In addition to the tiger relocation programme in Sariska Reserve in Rajasthan, the government has chalked out an innovative plan for captive breeding of "pure stocks" to increase the population of the majestic striped cat.
The plan is the fallout of a recent census which revealed that the tiger population in the wild has reached an alarming low of 1,500 animals only.
Towards realising the plan, the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) has recently identified six zoos in New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar, Chhatbir, Chennai and Bhopal as coordinating centres to raise at least 100 physically, genetically and behaviourally healthy endangered species.
"No doubt the tiger relocation in Sariska Reserve has been a first major step towards tiger conservation measures besides declaring tiger reserves for the animal's protection in the country. But as exigency measures, it has been decided to augment the depleting population of the stripped animal in zoos.
Such managed zoo populations will serve as a 'genetic reservoir' in case of future need to supplement wild tiger populations or reintroduce tigers in areas from where they have vanished," B R Sharma, member secretary of CZA said.
Besides tigers, at least 50 other critically endangered wild species with less than few hundreds or less than 2500 individuals left in the wild will also be raised in the protective environment.
"And given that the number of stripped animal has declined to as low as 1,500 as estimated by Wildlife Institute of India and the predators' crucial position in the ecosystem, its breeding is high on our agenda. The reservoir will help sustain their population in forests as well in zoos," Sharma said.
There are around 255 captive tigers in various zoos across the country monitored by the CZA, an autonomous body of the Environment Ministry that will fund the project.
Only "pure stock" tigers whose single sub-species ancestry can be traced back through written records will be included in conservation breeding programmes, he said.
"At least 25 tigers having known lineage generation from each identified zoo will be bred with the opposite sex and the cubs will be reared under the guidance of experts for future exigencies.
"Though in the past, release of endangered animals like red panda in Darjeeling in the wild have been successfully conducted, no similar experiments have been tried so far with the tiger," Sharma said.
For genetic fingerprinting of the animals, assistance from laboratory for conservation of endangered species (Lacones) in Hyderabad will be taken.
World wildlife bodies such as world association of zoos and aquariums, conservation breeding specialist group (CBSG)/ SSC/IUCN have also been requested to be engaged in the activity, Sharma said.
Some of the other endangered species to be bred are snow leopard, clouded leopard, asiatic cheetah, golden cat and pangolin.[From Zee News - plan for tiger population]
This is what it all comes down to??!! After 35 years of Project Tiger, heck - 25 years of my alma mater, the Wildlife Institute of India which was set up to (among other things) "build up a body of scientific knowledge on the wildlife resources of the country", not to mention dozens of graduate dissertations, research reports, books, and papers published on the behavioral ecology of the wild tiger (and a few even on those other 50 or a 100 species casually mentioned in the above report), the only way out now is for us to build a version of the frigging Noah's Ark to save our tigers (and other wildlife)??
Or is the title of the news report telling a different story? Surely this ark must be moot, if the government mooted it, no? For the verb form of "moot" (meaning "put forward for discussion" according to ye olde Oxford) must surely take on a different meaning when the Indian bureaucracy moots something, as in "render it moot (adj. deprived of practical significance : made abstract or purely academic"? For who else knows more about depriving something of practical significance? As for purely academic... well, the literature on re-wilding captive-bred mega-carnivores (from what little I know of it) also, surely, tends to make this project moot?
Saturday, July 12, 2008
My all time favorite video snippet of the great Richard Feynman! Give me all of his famous lectures on physics - and let me wash it all down with the orange juice!! Lovely to find it on the YouTube!
Friday, July 11, 2008
Another blog carnival of note for the weekend for my birder friends: I and the Bird just went home yesterday for its third anniversary! Now we can look forward to the more fun parts of toddlerhood, I suppose! Go congratulate Charlie for keeping it going for 3 years, and enjoy this collection.
Don't be alarmed that I too am slipping into lolspeak / Kitteh! Just a passing after-effect from the Laden Tangled Bank, let me assure you! Anyway, in the midst of working on various grant proposals, I am also preparing for your enjoyment the next edition of the Oekologie blog carnival, to be published on July 15th, 2008. So if you have written or come across any good blog posts about interactions between organisms in a system, or organisms and the environment, please send them my way. You can do so either by directly emailing me (leafwarbler [at] gmail [dot] com) or using the carnival submission form here; or you could leave a comment with a link right here too. Note that you may submit your own writing, or anyone else's that has caught your fancy. I have received a handful of submissions already, and would love to have some more. Try to get them to me by July 13th to ensure inclusion!
we are looking for posts describing biological interactions - human or nonhuman - with the environment.
Topics may include but are not limited to posts about population genetics, niche/neutral theory, sustainabilty, pollution, climate change, disturbance, exploitation, mutualism, ecosystem structure and composition, molecular ecology, evolutionary ecology, energy usage (by humans or within biological systems), succession, landscape ecology, nutrient cycling, biodiversity, agriculture, waste management, etc. The list goes on and on; I think you get the idea.
Your blog does not have to be an ecology or environmental blog itself, but the post should present an accurate representation of the field.
Now those of you who have been to this carnival before may be wondering what happened to the June 15th edition - well it is still MIA because the host had some real life issues of greater priority to deal with. I am not sure whether he managed to put anything together at all, and am trying to find the submissions he received so that I may include them in the next edition.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Bruno, the founder of this carnival, has also taken a hiatus from blogging as he ponders the meaning of it all, so there may be some cloud over the future of this carnival as well. I'll do what I can to sustain it!
Thursday, July 10, 2008
I'm bemused about the whole LOLcat meme that rages all over the internets - and now them damn LOLcats haz ur Evolution in the 109th edition of the Tangled Bank over at Greg Laden's Blog!.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
While I like the idea that gossip played a big part in the evolution of our big brains, I often wonder why it is that most of us prefer to gossip about the sordid lives (real or imagined) of vacuous celebrities, rather than the more cerebral among us. Could it be that we actually respect the scientists and thinkers enough to give them some privacy? Ha! Not bloody likely, is it?! Surely not in America... but are scientists fodder for the tabloids anywhere in the world, really? What if they were? Would you buy a rag that looked like this while waiting in the supermarket checkout line?
Then again, after looking at the fashion photos in this imagined tabloid (and pondering my own wardrobe) perhaps it is just as well that we are left alone, eh? Not so easy on the eyes (or the brains), us lot...
Monday, July 7, 2008
There really is no holding multinational corporations to account anymore - not that there ever really was, was there? Just a couple of weeks ago the US Supreme court let the Exxon Mobil corporation off the hook by drastically reducing how much it had to pay for the damage from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Instead of the $5 billion that an Alaska jury had asked them to pay initially, Exxon Mobil now gets to settle its environmental account for a mere $500 million - less than pocket-change for the giant oil company raking in record profits (>$40 billion) last year.
Meanwhile, back in the rapidly rising India, racing along towards its goal of US-like prosperity (for a US population sized chunk of its citizens), for those trampled underfoot by the multinational corporate engines of this economic boom, there isn't even the recourse to a US style jury trial, which might at least give them some temporary victories. And so yet another giant corporation, the Dow Chemical company, even as its revenues are growing in India (and other emerging Asia countries, @ 6% last quarter), gets to wash its hands off of the environmental liabilities it acquired when it bought Union Carbide 7 years ago. Yes, that same Union Carbide which caused the deadly Bhopal gas leak 24 years ago, and which left behind cesspools of untreated chemical waste that continues to contaminate the ground water to this day. Why can't the world's largest democracy with its much touted emerging massive middle-class market force the multinational to pay for remediation of the toxic waste site still festering in Bhopal? Not even when faced with an ongoing campaign of hunger strikes to bring attention to the continuing tragedy? It is simple blackmail / economic hostage-taking, apparently - here's a choice excerpt from Somini Sengupta's report in today's New York Times:
Dow, based in Michigan, says it bears no responsibility to clean up a mess it did not make. “As there was never any ownership, there is no responsibility and no liability — for the Bhopal tragedy or its aftermath,” Scot Wheeler, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail message.
Mr. Wheeler pointed out that the former factory property, along with the waste it contained, had been turned over to the Madhya Pradesh State government in June 1998, and that “for whatever reason most of us do not know or fully understand, the site remains unremediated.”
He went on to say that Dow could not finance remediation efforts, even if it wanted to, because it could potentially open up the company to further liabilities.
In a letter to the Indian ambassador to the United States in 2006, the Dow chairman, Andrew N. Liveris, sought assurance from the government that it would not be held liable for the mess on the old factory site, “in your efforts to ensure that we have the appropriate investment climate.”
The claims have divided the government itself. It is now in the throes of a debate over who will pay — a debate that might have taken place behind closed doors were it not for a series of public information requests by advocates for Bhopal residents that turned up revealing government correspondence.
It showed that one arm of the government, the Chemicals and Petrochemicals Ministry, entrusted with the cleanup of the site, has wanted Dow to put down a $25 million deposit toward the cost of remediation, while other senior officials warned that forcing Dow’s hand could endanger future investments in the country.
A senior government official, prohibited from speaking publicly on such a contentious issue, described the quandary. “Do you want $1 billion in investment, or do you want this sticky situation to continue?” the official said, calling it a stalemate.
Perhaps it is true that money can't buy you happiness - I don't know. But it sure can buy you a whole lot of get-out-of-jail-free cards, not to mention entire government bureaucracies (whether in a democracy or a dictatorship), judiciary systems, middle-class consumers, and whatever other pathetic institutions of collective governance you fancy - especially if you are a multinational corporation... er, I mean Corporate Citizen!