Saturday, December 24, 2005

California Raisins Star in TV Special

Brian
This story was originally posted November 4, 1988. During the holidays, the Good Reverend is rerunning classic posts.



America's sweethearts, the California Raisins, are going to have their very own special tonight on CBS:
The special is a vehicle for the California Raisins, the widely merchandised characters Vinton introduced in 1986 in a series of commercials for the California Raisin Board. "Meet the Raisins" takes four of the anonymous little figures and gives them names (A.C., Red, Stretch and Beebop) and recognizable personalities.

The highlight of the show is a clever montage that parodies rock documentaries -- home movies, stills, clips and interviews trace the Raisins' rise to stardom from their small-time roots in a band called the Vine-yls. The animators copy the elaborate footwork of early '60s groups such as the Drifters and the Coasters with the same elan that made the original commercials so entertaining.

. . . .

"Meet the Raisins" will probably increase the characters' already phenomenal popularity: Viewers can expect to see more of them in gift shops, T-shirt stores and boutiques. Maybe one of the two additional specials in the works for next year will give audiences the opportunity to see them in a coherent story.
Link. Times critic Charles Solomon didn't think the special was very funny, but I know I'll be watching it. I just can't get enough of those little scamps. "I Heard It through the Grapevine" indeed!

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Image credits: "The California Raisins Band," courtesy Gremlin Fine Arts, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Flying Saucer Spotted over New Mexico Town

Brian
This story was originally posted July 10, 1947. During the holidays, the Good Reverend is rerunning classic posts.

Just a couple weeks ago, we brought you the story of Several Flying Saucers, seen over Mt. Rainier, in Washington. Now it appears that the Discs are migrating South for the Summer, unlike the wise Avians who prefer the fair weather of the Winter Months. New Mexico's Roswell Daily Record brings us the tale of another Flying Saucer that has apparently crashed there, and been recovered:
The intelligence office of the 509th Bombardment group at Roswell Army Field announced at noon today, that the field has come into possession of a flying saucer.

According to information released by the department, over authority of Maj.J. A. Marcel, intelligence officer, the disk was recovered on a ranch in the Roswell vicinity, after an unidentified rancher had notified Sheriff Geo. Wilcox, here, that he had found the instrument on his premises.

. . . .

Mr. and Mrs. Dan Wilmot apparently were the only persons in Roswell who seen what they thought was a flying disk.

They were sitting on their porch at 105 South Penn. last Wednesday night at about ten o'clock when a large glowing object zoomed out of the sky from the southeast, going in a northwesterly direction at a high rate of speed.
Link. It seems clear now to The Good Reverend that we are under attack by Space Men, who are angered by the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act!

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Image credits: "Flying Saucer II," courtesy Alien-UFOs, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Winter Vacation

Brian

I'll be on vacation until early January. In the meantime, I'll run classic Good Reverend posts—some of our greatest hits from the past. Have a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a wonderful Kwanzaa, a festive Saturnalia, and a generally enjoyable next couple of weeks whether you choose to celebrate a holiday or not.

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Image credits: "Children Sledding, Jewett City, Connecticut" by Jack Delano, Library of Congress.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Importing Fake Vaccine in Wartime USA

Brian

Entrepreneurism is the American way. Scratch that: it's the way of the world. And so it's not very surprising that, when an opportunity of great economic magnitude comes along, however serious, however evil, someone out there will find a way to overcome his conscience and exploit it. So as we count down to the avian flu mutating into a strain transmittable from human to human, we find, as did US customs officials, shipments of counterfeit Tamiflu sent with the aim of tricking the highest bidder into innoculating himself with a useless vaccine:
The first package was intercepted Nov. 26 at an air mail facility near San Francisco International Airport, said Roxanne Hercules, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Since then, agents have seized 51 separate packages, each containing up to 50 counterfeit capsules labeled generic Tamiflu.

The fake drugs had none of Tamiflu's active ingredients, and officials were running tests to determine what the capsules did contain. Initial tests indicated some vitamin C in the capsules, said David Elder, director of the Food and Drug Administration Office of Enforcement.

. . . .

"What we're trying to do is alert the American public that they shouldn't be buying this product because we may never be able to track down the manufacturers," Elder said Sunday. "We've anticipated the likelihood of counterfeits from the very beginning. People are trying to profit on the heightened concerns of the American public."
Link (via the Huffington Post). This is exactly like The Third Man, only without the zither theme. Oh, why not?

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Image credits: The Third Man, 1949, courtesy Varifrank, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.
Audio credits: "The Third Man Theme," from The Best of Soundtrack, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Brian
The county's budget has $728,ooo to carry over into 2006; the commissioners plan to blow it all on a shopping trip up to Binghamton.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

TheGoodReverend's Tour of Philly

Brian
Philadelphia's Santa Claus–like artist-in-residence, Isaiah Zagar, is opening up his mosaic and junk Magic Garden and studio on South Street this weekend to raise money to save the renegade art landmark:
Rarely does Zagar let people wander among the bike wheels, beer bottles, broken statues, and other strange stuff he has mortared together to form the garden's passageways, near 10th and South.

But the mystically artistic Zagar, known for tile-and-mirror mosaics that embellish many buildings near where he works and lives, is practical. The garden's curious corridors lead to his studio and gallery, where one-of-a-kind Zagar shirts go for $135, bowls for $350, and straw paintings for up to $700.

. . . .

The Magic Garden dates to 1994, when the long-haired, bushy-bearded artist bought a building at 1020-22 South St. that backed up to his Kater Street studio. Next door to the new acquisition was a derelict double lot, which he did not own.

Nonetheless, he cleaned it up and went to work. Art grew.
Link (via Philly Future). Albert "DragonBall" Yee blogs about his visit and has an excellent flickr set from which the above photo is borrowed. Zagar has a bit of a Philly tour of his own, directing visitors to each of his public installations. Between this and the Mural Arts Program, Philly has become a wonderland of quirky public art.


Previously on TheGoodReverend's Tour of Philly . . .

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Image credits: DSC_5206 by dragonballyee, acquired through Creative Commons license.

Great Hitters See Baseball as Bigger

Brian
New scientific evidence suggests that the better you are at hitting, the larger you perceive the ball to be:
After hitting a 565-foot home run, Mickey Mantle once said, "I just saw the ball as big as a grapefruit." During a slump, Joe "Ducky" Medwick of the St. Louis Cardinals said he was "swinging at aspirins."

. . . .

After games at several softball fields in Charlottesville, Va., the researchers asked 47 players to pick from eight different-sized circles the one that best represented the size of the ball they had been trying to hit.

"Only people who hit .500 or above pointed at the big circle," said Jessica Witt, a cognitive psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Virginia.
Link. I wonder whether it also helps to perceive your bat as a tennis racquet, the outfield wall as ten feet away, and your biceps as on steroids. I also wonder whether the same principle applies to football, because I bet it would help players to perceive themselves as Walter Payton in Tecmo Bowl on the old NES.


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Image credits: (1) Bumble Bee Man from The Simpsons, courtesy Last Exit to Springfield, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes; (2) Tecmo Bowl, courtesy Sport Planet, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Software Says Mona Lisa 83 Percent Happy, 9 Percent Disgusted

Brian

The Dutch have put their cutting-edge emotion-recognition software to good use by scanning the Mona Lisa:
The result showed the painting's famous subject was 83 percent happy, 9 percent disgusted, 6 percent fearful and 2 percent angry. She was less than 1 percent neutral, and not at all surprised.

. . . .

Harro Stokman, a professor at the University of Amsterdam involved in the experiment, said the researchers knew the results would be unscientific —the software isn't designed to register subtle emotions. So it couldn't detect the hint of sexual suggestion or disdain many have read into Mona Lisa's eyes.

In addition, the technology is designed for use with modern digital films and images, and subjects first need to be scanned in a neutral emotionless state to accurately detect their current emotion.
Link. Unfortunately the software could not determine how Mona Lisa felt about secretly being Leonardo da Vinci.

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Image credits: L.H.O.O.Q. by Marcel Duchamp, 1919.

Lovecraft Family Circus

Brian

Finally a comic strip that asks the much needed question, what if H.P. Lovecraft had written the Cthulhu Mythos as a series of captions on Family Circus cartoons? (Submitted by Mars.)

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Is Our Government Prepared for a Bigfoot Discovery?

Brian
In 1977, the Fish and Wildlife service asked what our government would do if suddenly Bigfoot or someother famous cryptid were found to exist:
Undisputed proof of a Bigfoot might cause an immediate, short-term problem no law could handle. Word of its discovery would be flashed around the world within hours, Hysteria, fear, or panic might accompany the news in the area where the creature was located. The throngs of curiosity seekers, would-be captors, and others wishing to find Bigfoot would not only create a serious threat to the animal itself, but to public safety as well. Some officials doubt whether any State or Federal action short of calling out the National Guard could keep order in the area within the first few hours or days of the creature’s discovery. This could be essential until a team of scientists could do the necessary things to ensure the creature’s survival.

The key law in preservation of a species is the Endangered Species Act, which pledges the United States to conserve species of plants and animals facing extinction. This broad, complex law protects endangered species from killing, harassment, and other forms of exploitation. The Act prohibits the import and export of, and interstate commerce in, endangered species. American citizens cannot engage in commercial traffic in endangered species between nations, even when the United States is not involved. Scientists wishing to study endangered species are required to have a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But before a creature can receive protection under the Endangered Species Act, a number of actions normally must occur which involve recommendations from the public, scientists, and State and foreign governments where the species exists.
Link to Cryptomundo post, link to GPO pdf. Essentially, the ESA would allow the Secretary of the Interior to immediately list Bigfoot as endangered and give it Fish and Wildlife Service protection pending further information. Phew.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Random Movie Quote Thursday

Brian
You're five feet nothing,
A hundred and nothing.
And you've got hardly a speck of athletic ability.
You hung in with
the best college football team in the land for two years!
And you're gonna walk out of here
with a degree from Notre Dame.
In this life you don't have to prove
nothing to nobody except yourself.
And after what you've gone through,
if you haven't done that by now
it ain't gonna never happen.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Meat-Eating Sponges?

Brian
The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting little piece on the efforts of marine biologists to take a census of ocean life:
They've discovered, for instance, meat-eating sea sponges, and they've tracked a blue-fin tuna as it crossed the Pacific three times in less than two years.
Link. Hold the phone—meat-eating sponges? If one of those things got loose, not even Steve McQueen would be able to save us. Especially since he's been dead for twenty-five years.

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Image credits:
The Blob Movie Poster, available at Fortune City, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Does Icing the Kicker Work?

Brian
My helmet is equipped with a tiny face mask
What it possibly could protect I do not know
The other guys on the team like to make fun
of my little shoulder pads
And also like to hide the special shoe I need to kick in the snow

People think it's so easy
To kick a field goal from the 30 yard line
They forget to add seven yards for the snap
And 10 more 'cause the goal posts are pushed way back

In 1974, the uprights were right on the goal line
But some of the players were running into them and getting hurt
So screw the kicker
Who cares about the kicker?
-Sandler

The NFL has a long and storied tradition of "icing" the opposing team's kicker: when the other team and kicker line up for a field goal at a crucial moment, calling a time-out to force the kicker to back down from his position and attempt to stay loose but ready for two minutes. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this treatment might just be a waste of a time-out:

Cincinnati's Shayne Graham said the effect of being "iced" is negligible. He is 3-for-3 on game-deciding kicks over the last three seasons, and last Sunday made a 37-yarder on the final play to beat Cleveland. In that game, the Browns had run out of timeouts, but the Bengals stopped the clock with 1 second remaining.

"I can kind of understand the thought process of the way they do it, but I really don't know that I've ever seen it work — not just myself, but other teams," he said. "I've had it done to me almost every game-winner I've ever had. In high school and college and pro, it's happened every time. I don't think it's had any effect on it."

Graham and [New York Giants kicker Jay] Feely agreed the extra time would have little impact on a veteran kicker, but that a younger kicker might succumb to jitters.

"For a young kicker, time can be a dreaded commodity," Feely said. "They don't want that time to think and worry about the implications. The biggest thing is just to focus on the present."

Link (via Fark). Statisticians, however, believe it can work:
Using this model, [Scott] Berry and [Craig] Wood obtained results using the 2-season data that matched certain expectations. A kick made indoors is more likely to be successful. Clouds also have a small beneficial effect on kicks. Rain or snow, on the other hand, reduces the chances of success. High winds also reduce the probability of success, but not as much as rain or snow.

In pressure situations, the odds of success change very little (a mean decrease of 1.8 percent). However, icing the kicker in such a situation has a pretty strong negative effect.

Using their model, Berry and Wood calculate that, for an average kicker, the estimated probability of a successful 40-yard kick in sunny weather is 0.759. The estimated probability under the same conditions for an average kicker who has been iced is 0.659.

"Reducing the probability of a successful kick from 0.759 to 0.659 is a very important difference," Berry and Wood report.
Link. Unfortunately, either these statisticians or the journalist covering them forgot the one important precept I recall from Statistics 101: correlation does not equal causation. There's a chance that the reason the rate is lower for kickers who have been iced is some confounding factor, like the youth of the kicker, that makes it more likely both that the opposing team will call a time out and that he misses the field goal. The jury is still out.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Skydiver Whose Chutes Fail Hits Ground and Survives

Brian
When I was a kid, I had a discussion with my younger cousins wherein I argued that nothing, technically speaking, is impossible. Though somethings are highly improbable, my immature rudimentarily quantum physics–grasping mind reasoned, there is a slight possibility, however small, of every event imaginable actually happening.

They on the other hand maintained that some things are simply not possible. Their primary example was the observation that "you can't jump out of a plane and fall to the ground without a parachute and live."

I always found this example a bit disappointing. Of all the highly, highly unlikely events one might conceive of in an attempt to refute the argument put forth by thirteen-year-old me, they picked one that not only is possible but also, from time to time, actually happens. Case in point, Ms. Shayna Richardson of Joplin, Missouri:
Her main chute and her reserve failed to open properly, and she spiraled out of control, falling thousands of feet.

Her fall was caught on tape by a camera in her instructor's helmet.

She landed face-first in a parking lot and lived to tell about it.

. . . .

It's estimated Richardson was going 50 mph at impact.
Link (via Fark). Ms. Richardson was also, unbeknownst to her, two weeks pregnant at the time, and her embryo survived impact as well. Totally extreme!

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Let Them Sing!

Brian
It'd not often I pronounce something "hours of fun for the entire family," but that's exactly what this (via the Volokh Conspiracy) is.

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Philadelphia the Next Williamsburg?

Brian
It was only a few months ago that the New York Times was calling Philadelphia New York's "sixth borough," but now CNNMoney has this to say:
"Philadelphia is the new Williamsburg" has become the hot, hip saying around artistic circles.
Link. Philebrity picks apart this observation and does the hip thing by railing on hipsters. I have little to add, other than to ask what the basis for comparison is. I mean, I know we have founding father impersonators in Old City, but we're not that much like a colonial settlement.



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Image credits: Fife & drum corps 01 by John Gevers, acquired through Creative Commons license.

Haunted Places in Pennsylvania

Brian
Shadowlands has a directory of haunted spots in Pennsylvania, which was apparently last updated in July 2005 despite looking like a webpage from 1996. Although its prose is a bit scatterbrained, the site is breathtaking in its comprehensiveness, and its matter-of-fact tone is a little unnerving:
Philadelphia - James Martin School - This used to be a hospital and nursing school.. and at times you could see bloody hands and people in the mirrors. In the blocked off attic section you can look in the window from the outside and SEE a face. There are a few stories behind it. 1. The boys were cutting school and got stuck in the attic. 2. A mental patient went crazy and through himself out the window. 3. Mental patients went up into the attic and slit each others wrist. They ARE all possible reasons BUT there is something there AND THEY are all the reason for the man or woman in the window.
Link. I really don't understand the emphasis in that last sentence, but I have to admit it is effective in communicating urgency.

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Dragons and Other Fantastic Creatures

Brian

Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges's Book of Imaginary Beings offers a helpful guide to dragons:
The Chinese Dragon, the lung, is one of the four magic animals. (The others are the unicorn, the phoenix, and the tortoise.) At best, the Western Dragon spreads terror; at worst, it is a figure of fun. The lung of Chinese myth, however, is divine and is like an angel that is also a lion. We read in the Historical Record of Ssu-ma Ch'ien that Confucius went to consult the archivist or librarian Lao-tzu, and after his visit said: Birds fly, fish swim, animals run. The running animal can be caught in a trap, the swimmer in a net, and the flyer by an arrow. But there is the Dragon; I don't know how it rides on the wind or how it reaches the heavens.
Link. His knowledge might come in handy in discerning what precisely in depicted in this photo taken from a plane above the Himalayas:


The Epoch Times, anyway, thinks that we're seeing the rear ends of dragons:
Looking at the photo, these two objects appear to have the characteristics of crawling creatures: The bodies seem to be covered by scales, the backs have spine-like protuberances, and also they have gradually thinning rear ends. Although the photo caught only a portion of the entire scene, it was sufficient to create the appearance of two gigantic dragons flying in the clouds.
Link. But maybe we won't have to call up the late Borges for this one. At least a couple people are convinced these dragon tails are just glaciers:

Dragons or glaciers, take your pick. Either way, it seems like we're seeing a lot fewer of them these days.

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Image credits: (1) The Chinese Dragon by students at the Vakalo School of Art and Design in Athens, available at the Book of Imaginary Beings, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes; (2) Above the Himalayas, courtesy Epoch Times, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes; (3) Glaciers from above, courtesy Digital Globe, available at solid07, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Did Early Americans Come from Australia and Africa?

Brian
We were all taught in school that the earliest inhabitants of North and South America, ancestors of Native Americans, came across a land bridge from Siberia. Now scientists are suggesting that there is strong evidence in the form of skulls from Brazil refuting that theory:
While the skulls of Native Americans and Northern Asians—the descendents of the early Siberian settlers—generally feature short, wide crania, a broader face, and high, narrow eye sockets and noses, this collection was remarkably different.

The skulls belonging to the earliest known South Americans—or Paleo-Indians—had long, narrow crania, projecting jaws, and low, broad eye sockets and noses. Drastically different from American Indians, these skulls appear more similar to modern Australians, Melanesians, and Sub-Saharan Africans.

This indicates that these skulls—which date to 7,500 to 11,000 years ago—were not merely anomalies but rather were the majority, supporting the hypothesis that two distinct populations colonized the Americas.
Link. For decades, a vocal minority have argued that the Olmec heads, monuments from one of the earliest civilizations in Mexico, one of which is pictured above, possess facial features resembling Africans and suggested that the heads were evidence of early contact between civilizations in Africa and the New World. Now real human heads might support the same theory.

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Image credits: Massive Olmec Head by Mexican Wave, acquired via Creative Commons license.

Did You Know . . .

Brian

. . . she's not even interested in this guy at all?

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Image credits: Coffee available at Wicked Good Art, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Strange but True Missed Connections

Brian
The Time: 12:25 in Rittenhouse.

You: The brown feather-coated beauty who decided to venture into metro life, swoop down, and kill and eat a pigeon today in the park... perched just low enough that everyone could see the beautifully gory details.

Me: Um, the boy wishing that you were my pet hawk, to launch at unsuspecting hipsters and cabbies who swerve into the bike lane.


Here's hoping we meet again.

PS. When we made eye contact, when your head swivveled around, well, let's just say I think we had a moment... you and me could run this town.

Link (via Philadelphia Will Do).

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Orcas Have Become Lubricated, Pest Resistant, and Flame Retardant

Brian

Killer whales are finding better living through chemistry:
Killer whales are the most toxic mammals in the Arctic, riddled with household chemicals from around the world, the environmental pressure group WWF said on Monday.

Scientists found that the blubber of killer whales, or Orcas, taken from a fjord in Arctic Norway was full of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides and even a flame retardent often used on carpets.
Link. As long as we don't sap and impurify all of their precious bodily fluids . . .

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Image credits: killerwhale by Protection Island, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Men, Bees, Flowers, and Face Recognition

Brian

A new study in the Journal of Experimental Biology suggests that honeybees can be trained to recognize human faces:
In the bee study, [lead researcher Adrian G.] Dyer and two colleagues presented honeybees with photos of human faces taken from a standard human psychology test. The photos had similar lighting, background colors and sizes and included only the face and neck to avoid having the insects make judgments based on the clothing. In some cases, the people in the pictures themselves looked similar.

The researchers, with Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, tried to train the bees to realize that a photo of one man had a drop of a sugary liquid next to it. Different photos came with a drop of bitter liquid instead.

. . . .

The bees learned to distinguish the correct face from the wrong one with better than 80 percent accuracy, even when the faces were similar, and regardless of where the photos were placed, the researchers found. Also, just like humans, the bees performed worse when the faces were flipped upside-down.
Link (via BoingBoing). There is speculation that the bees are using the same pattern-recognition abilities that allows them to distinguish between species of flowers. Since they don't possess human brains, odds are they aren't using the same functions people have at their disposal, which are intriguing in their own right:
A team from University College London says the first [neurological stage of facial recognition] assesses a face's physical aspects.

The second decides if it is known or unknown. If it is a recognisable face, the third part puts a name to it.

. . . .

The researchers say analysing how we respond to the stages of "morphing" a recognisable figure such as Margaret Thatcher into Marilyn Monroe gives clues as to how we process the facial features we see.

. . . .

A face that was 60% Marilyn Monroe and 40% Margaret Thatcher will be identified as an older version of Marilyn Monroe.

But an image which is 40% Marilyn and 60% Maggie will be seen as the "sexier" side of Margaret Thatcher, say the researchers.
Link. Personally, I'd take an older Marilyn over a "sexy" Margaret Thatcher any day of the week.


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Image credits: (1) Honeybee inspecting a face, courtesy the
Journal of Experimental Biology, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes; (2) Marilyn Monroe morphing into Margaret Thatcher, courtesy Nature Neuroscience, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Is Extreme Prejudice a Mental Illness?

Brian

The Washington Post discusses the possibility of adding "pathological bias" to the next DSM:

Advocates have circulated draft guidelines and have begun to conduct systematic studies. While the proposal is gaining traction, it is still in the early stages of being considered by the professionals who decide on new diagnoses.

If it succeeds, it could have huge ramifications on clinical practice, employment disputes and the criminal justice system. Perpetrators of hate crimes could become candidates for treatment, and physicians would become arbiters of how to distinguish "ordinary prejudice" from pathological bias.

Several experts said they are unsure whether bias can be pathological. Solomon, for instance, is uncomfortable with the idea. But they agreed that psychiatry has been inattentive to the effects of prejudice on mental health and illness.

"Has anyone done a word search for 'racism' in DSM-IV? It doesn't exist," said Carl C. Bell, a Chicago psychiatrist, referring to psychiatry's manual of mental disorders. "Has anyone asked, 'If you have paranoia, do you project your hostility toward other groups?' The answer is 'Hell, no!' "

. . . .

"I think it's absurd," said Sally Satel, a psychiatrist and the author of "PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine." Satel said the diagnosis would allow hate-crime perpetrators to evade responsibility by claiming they suffered from a mental illness. "You could use it as a defense."

Link. This raises fascinating social questions regarding the implications of recognizing a particular trait as a mental illness. For starters, it's interesting that we've gone from including "homosexuality" as a disorder a few decades ago to pondering the inclusion of homophobia today.

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Image credits: Detroit, Michigan. Riot at the Sojourner Truth homes, a new U.Sn federal housing project, caused by white neighbors' attempt to prevent Negro tenants from moving in. Sign with American flag "We want white tenants in our white community," directly opposite the housing project, by Arthur S. Siegal, 1942, Library of Congress.

Ghosts of Tombstone

Brian

So run you cur. And tell the other curs the law is coming. You tell 'em I'm coming! And Hell's coming with me, you hear? Hell's coming with me!
    - Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, Tombstone (1993)
In a corner of the Southwest not far from my native city is a town that was once so central to the Wild West that it could have been Arizona's state capital. Now, if it weren't for the tourists who've seen the movies and heard the stories, Tombstone would be a ghost town. Or maybe, in a sense, it already is:
Modern Tombstone, which owes its livelihood to tourism, makes sure visitors take notice: Stroll through Boothill Graveyard, where graves are marked with narratives such as "Margarita, Stabbed by Gold Dollar" and "Here lies Lester Moore, four slugs from a .44. No Les, No More." Or walk down Allen Street, where signs denote murder locations: "Curly Bill Brocius killed Marshal Fred White here on Oct. 28, 1880."

Given that so many of Tombstone's former inhabitants met a violent end, it's not surprising that shadowy tales of apparitions and phantoms swirl on the desert wind.

"A lot of people came to live here 100 years ago and never left," said Bill Huntley, chuckling. "They're all still here, no doubt about it." Huntley, who has lived in Tombstone for 64 years, owns the Bird Cage Theatre, one of the few remaining original buildings in town. Some say the spirits of its bawdy past still celebrate there.

A parapsychology team from Duke University in Durham, N.C., studied Tombstone's haunted sites nearly half a century ago, Huntley said. Others, including the History Channel, which recently released a DVD called Haunted Tombstone, have conducted paranormal studies since.
Link (via the Anomalist). Of course, if I lived in Tombstone, I wouldn't be as worried about the ghosts as about the thunderbirds.

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Image credits: Tombstone in Boothill Cemetery, Tombstone, Arizona by Russell Lee, 1940, Library of Congress.

Meanwhile in Montrose . . .

Brian
Extra, extra: Santa brings smiles!

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Lehigh Sophomore Class President Arrested for Bank Robbery

Brian
In the little town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Lehigh sophomore Greg Hogan, who happens to be his class's president, was arrested Friday on armed robbery charges:
The robbery occurred at the Wachovia Bank at 943 Union Blvd. at 3:02 p.m. Hogan handed the teller a note that demanded money and said he had a weapon. Police haven’t confirmed if he had a weapon.

Hogan confessed to the police that he robbed the bank.

According to police, Hogan then left the bank with $2,871 and entered a black Ford Explorer owned and driven by Student Senate President Kip Wallen. Hogan was arrested Friday at 8:30 p.m. at Sigma Phi Epsilon -- both are brothers there.

. . . .

Scott said Hogan came from a wealthy background.

“His school was really rich,” Scott said. “Greg used to say that some of the richest people in the Midwest would send their kids to his high school."
Link (thanks, Adam A). When you're searching for meaning, it's always best to break out the Spider-Man quotes:
Colin Hewko, ’07, was astounded when he heard about the story. He said he doesn’t feel like the typical Lehigh student could rob a bank. He said Hogan disgraced the university if this is true.

“When you have power, you have responsibility, especially if you’re a campus representative,” he said.
I don't know about you, but my bells and whistles went off when I hit the part about the robber and getaway car driver being frat brothers. Those crazy Lehigh Sig Ep kids. Will they ever learn?

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Americans and Brits Smile Differently

Brian
The impression you have that Americans are cocky cowboys and Englishmen sensitive milquetoasts might have some biological merit, if the New York Times Magazine is to be trusted:
Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, contends that Americans and the English smile differently. On this side of the Atlantic, we simply draw the corners of our lips up, showing our upper teeth. Think Julia Roberts or the gracefully aged Robert Redford. "I think Tom Cruise has a terrific American smile," Keltner, who specializes in the cultural meaning of emotions, says. In England, they draw the lips back as well as up, showing their lower teeth. The English smile can be mistaken for a suppressed grimace or a request to wipe that stupid smile off your face. Think headwaiter at a restaurant when your MasterCard seems tapped out, or Prince Charles anytime.
Link (via BoingBoing). I wonder if this has goes anywhere toward explaining how awesome the idea of Hugh Grant as James Bond is. No? Okay then.

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Philadelphia City Hall-idays

Brian

The good people at Philadelphia's Center City District decided to gingerbread house–ify the largest and tallest masonry building in the world, City Hall:

I asked Moore College of Art and Design professor Moe Brooker, who chairs the Basics Department and is an expert on two-dimensional art, to meet me at Dilworth Plaza to eyeball the thing.

Brooker looked up and smiled. "I like it. I like it very much. I like the combination of colors," beamed Brooker, who's never seen my Hawaiian shirts.

"I like that it illuminates and defines more clearly certain aspects of the building," such as recesses and statues, "which you don't normally see when it's a stark-white building."

Like retired art teacher [Mina] Smith-Segal, Brooker believes it's best reserved for special occasions. "I think I would get bored with it 365 days a year."

That won't happen, but Paul R. Levy, president of the sponsoring Center City District, lusts to expand it to more buildings next year.

Link. The feat is apparently accomplished with projected slides of color mapped onto a photo of the building.

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Image credits: DSCF7761 by miss plum, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes. I've also taken pictures of this, but they sucked. Blame it on the camera battery dying and on a bad photographer.

"Integrity" Is the Top 2005 Dictionary Lookup

Brian
in·teg·ri·ty \in-'te-grə-të\ n [ME integrite, fr. MR & L; MF integrité, fr. L integritat-, integritas, fr. integr-, integer entire] (14c) 1 : firm adherence to a code of esp. moral or artistic values : INCORRUPTIBILITY 2 : an unimpaired condition : SOUNDNESS 3 : the quality or state of being complete or undivided : COMPLETENESS syn see HONESTY
That's the definition, searched for by 200,000 people, most frequently looked up in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary in 2005:
"I think the American people have isolated a very important issue for our society to be dealing with," [Merriam-Webster president John] Morse said. "The entire list gives us an interesting window that opens up into what people are thinking about in their lives."
Link. For reasons unknown, Morse also announced that the dictionary was presently and forever removing the definition of "gullible" from its pages and website.

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

CIA's Tips on Making Mayhem and Overthrowing the Government

Brian

In the 1980s, when trying to overthrow the leftist Nicaraguan government, the CIA published a pamphlet instructing sympathetic Nicaraguans on effective, illegal sabotage techniques for bringing down the system. The above picture, which incidentally looks like my high school Spanish textbook, is just the tip of the iceberg. In this country, even advising someone to do such things could lead to criminal charges. So, don't do this stuff. Just read about it.

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Death Row Inmate Was Defending Himself from Wrongful Invasion

Brian
Cory Maye is a black man who was—surprise, surpise—unjustly convicted by an all-white jury in Mississippi:
Sometime in late 2001, Officer Ron Jones collected a tip from an anonymous informant that Jamie Smith, who lived opposite Maye in a duplex, was selling drugs out of his home. Jones passed the tip to the Pearl River Basin Narcotics Task Force, a regional police agency in charge of carrying out drug raids in four surrounding counties. The task force asked Jones if he'd like to come along on the raid they'd be conducting as the result of his tip. He obliged.

On the night of December 26, the task force donned paramilitary gear, and conducted a drug raid on Smith's house. Unfortunately, they hadn't done their homework. The team didn't realize that the house was a duplex, and that Maye -- who had no relationship with Smith,-- rented out the other side with his girlfirend and 1-year-old daughter.

As the raid on Smith commenced, some officers - including Jones -- went around to what they thought was a side door to Smith's residence, looking for a larger stash of drugs. The door was actually a door to Maye's home. Maye was home alone with his young daughter, and asleep, when one member of the SWAT team broke down the outside door. Jones, who wasn't armed, charged in, and made his way to Maye's bedroom. . . . Maye, fearing for his life and the safety of his daughter, fired at Jones, hitting him in the abdomen, just below his bulletproof vest. Jones died a short time later.

Maye had no criminal record, and wasn't the target of the search warrant. Police initially concluded they had found no drugs in Maye's side of the duplex. Then, mysteriously, police later announced they'd found "traces" of marijuana and cocaine. I talked to the attorney who represented Maye at trial. She said that to her knowledge, police had found one smoked marijuana cigarette in Maye's apartment. Regardless, since Maye wasn't the subject of the search, whether or not he had misdemeanor amounts of drugs in his possession isn't really relevant. What's relevant is whether or not he reasonably believed his life was in danger. Seems pretty clear to me that that would be a reasonable assumption.
Link (via Ex Parte). Maye is now sitting on death row for his crime. The Agitator has extended coverage here and here. I'm outraged, but I can't say I'm shocked. What does that tell you?

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Mystery Creature Photographed in West Virginia?

Brian
Is that bright orange thing in the center of the picture a leaf, a fire, the back end of a deer . . . or a Bigfoot-like bipedal cryptid looking for love?

Mr. [Frederick B.] Gerwig writes: "I think I mentioned earlier that this camera is unmanned as to not disturb the animals that come in to feed. There are many rock overhangs and crevices in this area that this thing might be using for shelter. In fact, approximately 100 ft in the direction in which the entity is walking there is a large rock overhang we used to get under to get out of the rain when I played in these woods as a child. It looks straight over my parents house. Behind the entity is an incline to the ridge line of the mountain and a large rock wall with a drop of several hundred feet. P. S. - In case I failed to mention in the initial email, my father’s property is posted for no trespassing, very few individuals are permitted to be in those woods."

Braxton County, West Virginia, is the site of the "Braxton County Monster" reports of September 12, 1952, otherwise known as the "Flatwoods Monster" or "Green Monster" encounter.

Less well-known is an encounter in this general area that took place in 1960. At 11:00 P.M., Friday, December 30, 1960, bakery deliveryman Charles Stover rounded a curve on a lonely, backwoods road near Hickory Flats, West Virginia - between Braxton and Webster Counties - and saw a "monster, standing erect, with hair all over its body." Stover said that he almost hit the thing and stopped his bakery truck a short distance away to look back. The hairy, six-foot-tall, man-shaped figure stood beside the road watching him. He stepped on the gas and finally stopped at a restaurant-filling station where he told his story to a group of men. They immediately armed themselves and went to the spot. They found strange marks on the ground and a large rocks had been overturned by something. But the creature was never found.

Link. Loren Coleman of Cryptomundo dubs him "the Braxton Beast." The creature in the picture, that is, not Frederick B. Gerwig. There are enhancements of the photo here.

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Hay Problema: Speak Spanish, Get Suspended from School

Brian
The Washington Post documents the story of a boy who dared utter two words in Spanish and got sent home for the day because of it:
"It was, like, totally not in the classroom," the high school junior [Zach Rubio] said, recalling the infraction. "We were in the, like, hall or whatever, on restroom break. This kid I know, he's like, 'Me prestas un dolar?' ['Will you lend me a dollar?'] Well, he asked in Spanish; it just seemed natural to answer that way. So I'm like, 'No problema.' "

But that conversation turned out to be a big problem for the staff at the Endeavor Alternative School, a small public high school in an ethnically mixed blue-collar neighborhood [in Kansas City, Missouri]. A teacher who overheard the two boys sent Zach to the office, where Principal Jennifer Watts ordered him to call his father and leave the school.

Watts, whom students describe as a disciplinarian, said she can't discuss the case. But in a written "discipline referral" explaining her decision to suspend Zach for 1 1/2 days, she noted: "This is not the first time we have [asked] Zach and others to not speak Spanish at school."

Since then, the suspension of Zach Rubio has become the talk of the town in both English and Spanish newspapers and radio shows. The school district has officially rescinded his punishment and said that speaking a foreign language is not grounds for suspension. Meanwhile, the Rubio family has retained a lawyer, who says a civil rights lawsuit may be in the offing.
Link. I don't understand what possible logic could justify this.

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Pooh's Christopher Robin to Become a Girl

Brian
Christopher Robin, as a boy, has worn out his welcome with the target demographic, reasons Disney:
[T]hough Winnie the Pooh became a hugely successful brand, Christopher Robin just wouldn’t sell.

“There’s only one thing to be done,” said the executives at Disney, and replaced him with a six-year-old girl.

. . . .

“We got raised eyebrows, even in-house, but the feeling was that these timeless characters really needed a breath of fresh air that only the introduction of someone new could provide,” Nancy Kanter, of the Disney Channel, told USA Today.

Disney says that the series will target preschool children. “The young character will elicit physical, cognitive and emotional responses from the viewing audience and will also address them directly,” said a spokesman.
Link. So apparently C-Rob stand-in will be not only a girl, but also a scary experimental electrical probe. Sign me up!

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Image credits: Winnie the Pooh illustration by E.H. Shepard.

Asteroid to Destroy Earth in Thirty-One Years

Brian
This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a . . . really, really big bang:
Apophis[, the ancient Egyptian] spirit of evil and destruction[, was a] fitting name, astronomers reasoned, for a menace now hurtling towards Earth from outerspace. Scientists are monitoring the progress of a 390-metre wide asteroid discovered last year that is potentially on a collision course with the planet, and are imploring governments to decide on a strategy for dealing with it.

. . . .

Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer from Queen's University Belfast, said: "When it does pass close to us on April 13 2029, the Earth will deflect it and change its orbit. There's a small possibility that if it passes through a particular point in space, the so-called keyhole, ... the Earth's gravity will change things so that when it comes back around again in 2036, it will collide with us." The chance of Apophis passing through the keyhole, a 600-metre patch of space, is 1 in 5,500 based on current information.

. . . .

The favoured method is also potentially the easiest - throwing a spacecraft at an asteroid to change its direction. Esa plans to test this idea with its Don Quixote mission, where two satellites will be sent to an asteroid. One of them, Hidalgo, will collide with the asteroid at high speed while the other, Sancho, will measure the change in the object's orbit. Decisions on the actual design of these probes will be made in the coming months, with launch expected some time in the next decade. One idea that seems to have no support from astronomers is the use of explosives.
Link. Well that does it. What am I wasting time blogging for? I should go out and . . . um . . . ah well, I'll figure something out.

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Of Bats' Balls and Brains

Brian
Bats, like people, are caught in the eternal struggle between maximizing the capacity of their brains and maximizing that of their testicles:
For male bats, intelligence comes at a steep price. A new study found that bat species with large brains have smaller testicles.

. . . .

"The male who ejaculates the greatest number of sperm may win at this game, and hence many bats have evolved outrageously big testes," [biologist Scott] Pitnick said. "Because they live on an energetic knife-edge, bats may not be able to evolutionarily afford both big testes and big brains."
Link. You may or may not want to click here to get a look at what we're talking about. Don't say I didn't warn you. I'm sure as bat testicles not going to print that image on the front page.

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The Lost Lottery

Brian
Check out the Irish National Lottery Results for November 19:
4, 8, 15 . . .
Oh, dude, those are the numbers from Lost.
. . . 16 . . .
Okay now, this is freaky.
. . . 23 . . .
Whoa, man. That can mean only one thing. The final number has to be . . .
. . . 24. Bonus 19.
Oh, okay then. No coincidence after all. Carry on.

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Recipe Friday

Brian

Today, Recipe Friday is getting back to basics:
Your Basic Marinara Sauce
I know how incredibly easy it is to go buy a jar of Prego and serve that with your spaghetti, maybe even throwing it on the stove and adding some spices and various other things, but you still can’t call that sauce your own. You can actually claim this sauce is “from scratch,” and it tastes better than that other stuff to boot.
You’ll need the following potent edibles:
  • Four green onions (or half a regular onion)
  • Five cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (make sure they put that one extra virgin in there)
  • 2 – 28 oz. cans whole, peeled tomatoes (or diced tomatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • Some basil, oregano, and parsley
You’ll also need these apparatuses:
  • Cutting board
  • Sharp knife
  • Garlic press, if you got it
  • Can opener
  • Kitchen scissors
  • Large sauce pan (3 quart)
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Skillet
  • Stove
Start, as always, but cutting things with knives:
  • Wash the green onions. Cut off the white ends and discard them, and then slice the green stalks into hundreds of little thin rings. If you are using a regular white or yellow or red onion, cut it in half, cut off the nasty knob at the end, and chop it up into bite-size morsels.
  • Wash and peel (peel and wash?) the garlic, cutting off the tiny nasty ends. If you have a garlic press, push the cloves through it onto your pile of chopped onion. If you don’t, just dice the garlic with the knife into really tiny pieces.
  • Open the two cans of tomatoes. If they are diced in the can, stop there. If they are whole, you have to cut them up into smaller pieces. The easier way to do this is with kitchen scissors. Jab the sharp end of the scissors down into the tomatoes and cut, cut, cut. Try to make sure you get all the big pieces.
To the stove!
  • Pour the 1/4 cup olive oil into the large sauce pan, and turn the heat up to medium-high. Let the oil heat for a minute or two before adding the onions and garlic.
  • Sautee the onions and garlic in the hot oil for a couple minutes until everything is tender. If things start to turn brown, you’ve gone a little too far.
  • Now add the tomatoes and stir everything up. Add the lemon juice and sugar and stir things up some more.
  • Now add the herbs. How much to add is really subjective. Everything combined equaling 1/3 of a cup, especially if they are dried and crushed herbs rather than fresh, is probably too much. A teaspoon of each is probably too little. Just add whatever makes you feel comfortable.
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low, or low, or whatever temperature, after simmering for a few minutes, is enough to make the sauce bubble a bit but not spray all over the place. Let the sauce simmer like this for about thirty minutes, which should be plenty of time to boil water and cook whatever pasta you are serving it with. Leave the sauce uncovered so some of the liquid boils off and it thickens.
Here’s a trick you can use when the pasta is finally cooked and drained:
Spoon several ladles of the sauce into a large skillet over high heat. Then add the pasta and toss it with the sauce for just a minute or two. This makes the pasta taste seven times better for several reasons:
  1. The pasta becomes infused with the flavors of the sauce.
  2. It prevents the pasta from sticking together.
  3. Various other reasons I haven’t thought of yet.
Voila! Another great thing about this recipe is that you can create lots of different variations on the sauce. Add mushrooms if you like mushrooms or peppers if you like peppers. Brown some ground beef and throw that in for a meat sauce. Grill and cut up some sausage to toss in if you’re into that sort of thing. The possibilities, they tell me, do indeed have an end, but it’s so far down the line you wouldn’t notice.

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Image credits: Farmer's Market Tomatoes by snowriderguy, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

North Pole Heads South

Brian
The north magnetic pole, which is different from our north geographic pole, is flying south toward Siberia:
Despite accelerated movement over the past century, the possibility that Earth's modestly fading magnetic field will collapse is remote. But the shift could mean Alaska may no longer see the sky lights known as auroras, which might then be more visible in more southerly areas of Siberia and Europe.

. . . .

Previous studies have shown that the strength of the Earth's magnetic shield has decreased 10 percent over the past 150 years. During the same period, the north magnetic pole wandered about 685 miles out into the Arctic, according to a new analysis by [paleomagnetist Joseph] Stoner.

. . . .

The north magnetic pole was first discovered in 1831 and when it was revisited in 1904, explorers found that the pole had moved 31 miles.
Link. This can mean only one thing: Santa is heading for Russia. Unless he lives in Spain anyway.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

German Communist Leader Inspires Contempt, Shower Gel

Brian

For as low as €2.49, you could have skin as fresh and clean as this guy, former East German communist leader Erich Honecker:
Called "East German Erich's shower gel", the product bears the communist hammer and sickle insignia . . . .

"These items are simply tasteless. They offend the victims of the SED," [Stasi Memorial director Hubertus] Knabe said, referring to the former East German communist party.

. . . .

"It is unbearable to see how such 'ostalgie' [nostalgia] glorifies a criminal regime," [Wolfgang Kockrow, who was arrested for spying by the East German regime,] said.
Link. How soon we forget the Dr. Bronner's crimes.

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Image credits: Erich Honecker, AFP/DPA file photo, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

The Border Politics of la Frontera

Brian

Slate's Judd Slivka has an excellent diary of journalistic dispatches from Arizona's border country:
I've been at the border on and off for five years, and the damage only seems to get worse. There is more garbage, more tire damage, more evidence of people. Always, always more trashed landscape.

"Trashed" has a lot of meanings down here. For Mitch Ellis, the manager of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, which sits right on the border and gets an estimated 2,000 immigrants a night moving through during peak periods, "trashed" means an area three times the size of Boston with enough smuggler roads that you could drive from New York to Omaha, a place where 3,000 of the 9,000 volunteer hours donated to the refuge last year were used to clean up immigrant trash.

For Bill Childress, the director of the San Pedro National Conservation Area, which is a few hours' drive east of the Buenos Aires and protects Arizona's last free-flowing perennial stream, "trashed" means four miles of river where the cottonwood habitat was burned out when undocumented immigrants passing through neglected to douse a campfire, which rekindled when the humidity dropped the next day. It also means that his staff picks up so much immigrant trash they get a special rate at the local landfill.

Link. The nail Slivka hits on the head has this engraved on the side of it: in Arizona, and probably in New Mexico, West Texas, and Southern California, la Frontera is the single most important political issue, affecting not only jobs but agriculture, crime, the environment, education, and foreign policy as well. It was Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldua who said, "The U.S.-Mexican border is an open wound where the third world grates against the first and bleeds." Will that wound, like Langston Hughes's dream deferred, fester and then run? Or will it explode?

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Image credits: Nogales Border Wall - 3 by detritus, acquired via Creative Commons license.