Thursday, August 30, 2012

Posts resume Saturday

Taking tomorrow off to do some Labor Day preparation stuff for Monday...

Will get it all done on Friday, and Saturday will get back to posting in this blog.

Hope all my readers have a good Labor Day weekend!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Goodbye to “Primitive America”: An Interview With Jon Jarvis

From National Geography:  Goodbye to “Primitive America”: An Interview With Jon Jarvis

National Park Service director Jon Jarvis came to Rocky Mountain National Park on August 24 to join in the BioBlitz. But he also came to release a report, prepared at his request by a committee of scientists, that outlines a new strategy for the Park Service as it approaches its centennial in 2016. Called Revisiting Leopold, the report is modeled, right down to its 23-page length, on a 1963 report drafted by ecologist A. Starker Leopold. The Leopold Report became a lodestar for a generation of ecologically minded rangers, including Jarvis—but Jarvis says it no longer fits the world we live in.
Jarvis is well-cast as ranger-in-chief: he’s trim and fit, gray-haired and mustachioed, with sparkling eyes and a good-natured smile even when he’s talking about disturbing trends. A gusty wind probed his ranger hat as we spoke, standing at 11,700 feet on squishy tundra, above the sea of beetle-killed trees that laps all the slopes in the park. In the distance, across Forest Canyon, we could see a couple of shrunken glaciers.
Tell me why the Leopold Report was so important. What was the context when it appeared in 1963?
There was a general concern at the time that we were managing wildlife with old school techniques. Predators were being eliminated. We were particularly efficient at killing mountain lions and wolves and bears.
Leopold stood all that on its head. He said we really shouldn’t be judging one kind of wildlife as good and one as bad, but managing for the ecosystem. Retain all the wildlife and let them act out their normal and natural relationships. Bring fire back into the system. Protect these places as what he called “vignettes of primitive America”— what they would have been when European man showed up on the landscape.
Selecting what the first white men saw as what we’re going to preserve—wasn’t that kind of arbitrary?
Today we understand much more about Native American effects on the environment. The environment that most European settlers saw was a manipulated environment, through Native American fire, Native American control of wildlife, introduction of species. It had already been changed.
Nevertheless, Leopold’s was a good standard to work with. We’ve been using that report for 50 years as really the foundation of the National Parks, to define what we mean by “unimpaired.” Our Organic Act (the 1916 law that established the Park Service) says to manage these places “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
So why is Leopold out of date?
The problem is these parks are changing before our very eyes from anthropogenic influences—climate change, air transport of pollution, exotic species being introduced, habitat fragmentation. They’re all having direct impacts on national parks. To say that you’re going to achieve “unimpaired” by managing to the standards that Leopold gave us is really not accurate anymore.
Is the new report saying it’s not possible to preserve parks as they are?
We can’t freeze them in time. They are going to change. And we need to manage that change using the precautionary principle—in other words, being as conservative as possible. Be cautious in any decision that you make about retaining all the parts.
And the second piece is—Leopold confined his recommendations to the park itself. What this team says is you need to think of the park as the anchor within a larger ecosystem. The parks are too small to be an entire ecosystem, and therefore you need to think and act at the ecosystem scale, looking at the park as the core of that.
What would be a good example of a Park Service policy that might change under the new standard?
One of my favorite examples is our control of exotic species. If you take the framework of “vignettes of primitive America,” that means the species that were here when Europeans showed up are the only species that we would allow to be here. We would not allow any species to migrate in.
Under the new, revised Leopold, we are recognizing that climate change is driving species to seek refuge in environments where they can persist. Under the old policy, if a species shows up here in this park that is driven here by climate change, we would still treat it as an exotic and eliminate it. But it might be its last refuge, the only place it can survive into the future. We need to be willing to embrace it.
What if giant sequoias leave Sequoia National Park, or Joshua Trees leave Joshua Tree National Park…
Or glaciers melt in Glacier National Park?
Would you ever consider decommissioning a park?
No. Very few of these parks were set aside for one reason. They’re set aside for multiple reasons. It would be a tragic loss to lose a keystone species, but I don’t see decommissioning as a result of that.
Even in order to recommission elsewhere? Some Australian researchers suggested recently we could just sell off a few parks that aren’t doing much in terms of biodiversity conservation, and use the money elsewhere to better effect.
Not on my watch.
Not on your watch because…?
I think that’s very shortsighted. I don’t believe that we’ve set aside enough areas. In this country we have a lot of lands that are in agriculture, a lot that are in private hands, and they’re being managed for the economic benefit of this country—that’s fantastic. But we also need lands that are managed for their ecosystem value. Even if that ecosystem is changing, that doesn’t devalue them.


Monday, August 27, 2012

UGA geography head observes Greenland's ice sheet, finds 97 percent of ice sheet experienced melt

From Red and  UGA geography head observes Greenland's ice sheet, finds 97 percent of ice sheet experienced melt

Greenland, despite what the name might suggest, is topped by an ice sheet that covers 90 percent of its surface area. At its thickest, this ice is two miles deep and at its highest is over two miles above sea level.
During July, 97 percent of this ice sheet experienced melt — meaning that 97 percent of the surface area had experienced some form of snow or ice melt, not that 97 percent of the total had melted.
“There’s enough ice in Greenland to raise global sea level by 7 meters. If we had 97 percent of the ice sheet melt away, there’d be a lot of coastal areas that’d be underwater right now,” said Tom Mote, professor and department head of geography at the University.
On a typical summer day, around 25 percent of the ice sheet sees melt. Temperatures this summer led to some remarkable conditions, Mote said. Scientists recorded that 40 percent of the sheet’s surface was getting melt when a ridge of warm air stagnated over Greenland — the catalyst for the big melt.
Mote became aware of the melt when a Rutgers University colleague called from the coast of Greenland. She was working near Kangerlussuaq, towards the southwestern tip of the island, when a 60-year-old bridge over the Watson River washed out because of floods caused by the massive melt.
Mote, who normally waits to review the melt data until the end of the season, contacted associates at NASA. Mary Albert, a professor at Dartmouth, joined the conversation by satellite conference from the summit of the ice sheet. She reported visual confirmation that there was melt even at the highest elevation.
“We haven’t seen any other summer that’s produced as much melt through the end of September as we’ve already seen in early August," Mote said. "Granted, we don’t see much in September anyway, so if you’re going to break it, you’re probably going to break it in August. The entire summer has been really remarkable."
Mote has produced a visual representation of the ice melt this year from January through July (image to the left). The colors with hatch marks represent melt: note the flair on July 11 and 12, the peak of the melt for this season so far.
Scientists estimate that the last time a melt occurred on this scale was in 1889, based on ice samples.
“You can drill into the ice, and you can look at it just like looking at tree rings and count back in time. We think the last time this occurred was 1889, and prior to that we think the last time this occurred was 680 years before,” Mote said.
While scientists have seen more melts at higher temperatures during the past few decades, Mote emphasized that this melt was just one event.
“And that’s the way I would describe it: a very unusual weather event that caused really extensive melt embedded within this changing climate over Greenland that has led to more frequent and intense melting along the edge of the ice sheet,” he said
More frequent and intense melting has led to other changes besides coastal floods like the one seen on the Watson River.
Moulins are glacial lakes. As ice melts, these lakes can fill and empty in the course of hours. Marco Tedesco of the City University of New York is another colleague of Mote’s. He made a video documenting one of these moulins. As temperatures warm, the formation of these lakes becomes more frequent.
Mote has been studying the ice sheet since the 1990s. His attention in that area waned when there seemed to be no general interest and there were few comparable data sources. With the introduction of new satellite technology and global interest in climate change, Mote has picked up the research again over the last five to 10 years.
“We’ve had some really remarkable things going on over the ice sheet that have attracted a lot of interest in this again,” Mote said.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Patagonian Fjords Expedition: Headed Home Happy

From National Geographic:  Patagonian Fjords Expedition: Headed Home Happy

Follow along as NG Grantee Rhian Waller explores the surprisingly diverse corals that dwell deep in the fjords of the southern tip of South America, and discover what they can tell us about the rest of the ocean as well.
A misty morning for our last day of diving in the Comau Fjord. Photo by Rhian Waller.

It seems like only yesterday we were embarking from Boston to southern Chile, eager to start the science, eager to see “deep-sea” corals in a habitat shallow enough that we could reach by SCUBA diving. And yet here we are, two weeks later, sitting in Santiago airport, taking stock and finishing up writing dive logs and lab notes.
The dive team on this expedition - Dan Genter, myself, and Chris Rigaud (Left to Right). Photo by Rhian Waller.

The last few days of diving and sampling were a whirlwind. Bad weather and sites where corals had perished unbeknownst to us meant that coming back from Pumalin Park it was a scramble to get another site cataloged and sampled and a logger deployed.
Walking to the dive locker each morning makes you feel like you're living in a tree house! Photo by Rhian Waller.

The primary objective of this study is to find out how Desmophyllum dianthus (a cold-water, and usually deep-sea, hard coral) reproduces – vital information we just don’t know. To be able to investigate reproduction well, you need samples from different seasons in the same year. This is a luxury we deep-sea biologists rarely get because of the remoteness of deepwater sites; because it’s hard and expensive to get ship time and submersible time; and because the open-ocean environment rarely stays calm enough to work through 12 months of the year.
The Patagonian fjords however provide the almost perfect natural laboratory for such a study – they house a deep-sea species living shallow enough for researchers to sample without using expensive submersibles and robots, and protected enough within a fjord so you can sample in every season. Why and how these species (that usually live below 1500m) exist here we’re not sure, but the high and low latitude fjord systems provide a habitat similar to the deep sea: cold all year, dark, and with little competition from photosynthesizing organisms like algae.
Prevalent in the fjord region, salmon farms like this one can sit just meters away from a coral population. Photo by Rhian Waller.

A secondary objective is to pick three populations in different environments (two different fjords and a site close to a salmon farm), and look at how their reproduction changes in these different areas. Returning from Reñihué Fjord, I had two sites down – Liliguape, at the end of the Comau fjord, open to the Gulf of Ancud, well flushed with oceanic water; and Reñihué, further within a fjord, but a healthy population, growing tall and large. The next step was to find a site close to a salmon farm, though everywhere we’d looked, there were not enough living corals to start this part of the study (you need enough so you can sample and not impact the population by taking individuals away for analysis).
One of the unpredictables of working in the field - we returned to our sample site and found this sea star had draped its arm right across the light meter's sensor! Photo by Rhian Waller.

So Dan Genter, Chris Rigaud and myself began the search at a few sites close to the Huinay Scientific Field Station – easily resampled by the station’s technicians over the next year before I return. With luck we found an area quickly, deeper than we really wanted (close to 100ft), but with enough live corals to sustain the study, and close enough to a salmon farm that the corals must be bathed in run-off. With two dives our goals were accomplished: deploy the logger (measuring temperature, salinity and light), perform photographic transects, and collect specimens to send back to my laboratory.
The site close to the field station - Desmophyllum corals sit within a crack in the walls of the fjord, with urchins, coralline algae and sea stars abundant. Photo by Rhian Waller.

This left us with just one day to spare, and we were lucky enough to have the station’s director, Vreni Haussermann, take us on a dive to another coral area to collect not live corals, but fossil corals for a collaboration with a geochemist friend of mine.
This was possibly one of the most beautiful dives of my life, and it was instantly apparent why the station’s scientists are preserving this site (no live corals are ever taken from this area). At 90ft depth and going back into the bedrock for over 15ft was a cave, the ceiling covered in Desmophyllum corals as far as flashlight would shine. Even a stray air bubble would be enough to knock these fragile creatures from the ceiling above. We set to work in the tall piles of fossil corals lying at the bottom of the cave, showing just how long these deep-sea creatures have been living in the fjords. An amazing site, and an amazing last dive of this expedition.
Fossil corals collected from below a cave. These corals will be used to look at paleoclimate data, and may tell us how long this species has been living within the fjord. Photo by Rhian Waller.
With a little sadness we returned to the station and began packing equipment and samples for the long ride home.
But I’ll be back next year – to collect the loggers and download their valuable data, to inventory the samples the assistants at the Huinay Scientific Field Station will have collected for me, and to dive once again in fields of (usually) deep-sea corals.
Heading home through the Comau fjord towards Hornopiren. It's been a very successful expedition, and we look forward to next year! Photo by Rhian Waller.

I would like to thank the fantastic help and assistance given to this expedition from all those at the Huinay Scientific Field Station – this expedition and valuable science could not have been done without you – Muchas Gracias!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mexico's Murder Rate Tripled Under Calderon, INEGI Reports

24 murders per 100,000 people is not that bad...I actually thought it was a lot higher...

From Fox News: Mexico's Murder Rate Tripled Under Calderon, INEGI Reports

Mexico registered 27,199 murders in 2011, or 24 per 100,000 people, three times the murder rate since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, or INEGI, said Monday.

The murder rate was higher than the 23 per 100,000 people registered in 2010, the 18 per 100,000 people in 2009, the 13 per 100,000 people in 2008 and the eight per 100,000 people registered in 2007, the first full year of Calderón's term, the INEGI said in a statement.

The INEGI figures are based on preliminary death statistics compiled by the 4,723 civil registry offices and 1,096 federal Attorney General's Office bureaus in Mexico's 31 states and the Federal District.

The statistics are based on death certificates issued by coroners without specifying whether or not organized crime members were involved in the killing.

The Calderón administration does not plan to update the figures on deaths linked to Mexico's drug war, the Mexico City daily Reforma reported last week.

The overall murder rate aside, the death toll in Mexico’s bloody drug war has been hotly debated since outgoing President Calderón declared an offensive on the country’s drug cartels back in 2006.

The Mexican government, human rights groups and the media argued over the actual body count, until most media outlets finally settled on 50,000 as an approximate number for those killed in violence. However, a border and Latin American specialist at the New Mexico State University Library posits that the actual number is much higher…by almost double.

The drug war murder figures were only an approximate number and an "experiment" that raised questions among members of the Security Cabinet, prompting officials to stop compiling these statistics, National Public Safety System Executive Secretariat Information Center director Jaime López Aranda told the newspaper.

The latest report was released by the federal government in January and showed that 47,515 people had died in drug-related violence from Dec. 1, 2006, when Calderón took office, to Sept. 30, 2011.

The Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, which was founded by human rights activist and poet Javier Sicilia, puts the death toll from Mexico's drug war at 70,000.

More Statistics from INEGI Report
The number of murders in 2011 was up 5.59 percent in absolute terms, compared to the previous year.
The murder rate last year was 2.7 times higher than in 2005, the last full year of former President Vicente Fox's administration.

The states with the most murders were Chihuahua, with 4,502; Mexico state, with 2,613; Guerrero, with 2,425; Nuevo Leon, with 2,177; and Sinaloa, with 1,988.

Chihuahua was Mexico's most violent state, with 131 murders per 100,000 people, but the homicide rate was down 30 percent from 2010, when a turf war between rival drug cartels was raging in the border city of Ciudad Juárez.

Guerrero and Sinaloa states were next, with 71 murders per 100,000 people, followed by Durango (65), Nayarit (53) and Nuevo Leon (46).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Isolated and Under-Exposed: Why the Rich Don't Give

Okay, not strictly a geography-related article, but the Atlantic is starting to piss me off. They've published articles claiming that Republicans desire to have voters be able to show a Picture ID is an assault on civil rights . Crap. If the people fighting this law had taken all the money they'd spent on the fight, and just used it to get poor people and minorities IDs - they'd all have IDs by now and lawyers would be a lot poorer.

Now they're trying to show that wealthy people, while they donate money to charities, don't donate at the same percentage of their income that average people do.

Well, there's a couple of common-sense explanations for that.

1. Wealthy people want to stay wealthy. So they invest a percentage of their icome. From what's left over, they donate to charities.

2. Wealthy people see a lot of their tax money already going to goverment-funded charities, so why should they double-dip into their income.

3. There's donating to charities, and then there's participating in charities. Many wealthy women donate their time to running charity drives. If they donate their time, should they have to donate money as well?

Look at t his headline: Why the rich don't give. Yet the article itself gives the lie to the headline - they do give.

The Atlantic: Isolated and Under-Exposed: Why the Rich Don't Give

In terms of charity, the rich in America give a lot. But they're not giving the most. According to a new study out from The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which analyzes charitable giving at the ZIP code level, the richest neighborhoods are donating much smaller shares of their discretionary income than lower-income neighborhoods. Only nine of the 1,000 biggest-giving ZIP codes are among the richest 1,000 ZIP codes.
Rich people are certainly giving a lot. Those with annual incomes of $200,000 or more represent 11 percent of the tax returns but account for 41 percent of the money donated, according to the report. But as a share of their income, the richest people in the U.S. are giving at a significantly lower rate than the less affluent.
The study looked at tax returns for people with reported earnings of $50,000 or more from the year 2008 – the most recent year for which data was available. The report found that for people earning between $50,000 and $75,000, an average of 7.6 percent of discretionary income was donated to charity. For those earning $200,000 or more, just 4.2 percent of discretionary income was donated.
Turns out lower giving among the rich likely has much more to do with where they live and who they live near.
As this accompanying article from the journal notes, when the rich are highly concentrated in wealthy enclaves, they're less likely to give as compared with the rich living in more economically diverse neighborhoods. The report found that in neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of taxpayers reported earning $200,000 or more, the average giving was just 2.8 percent of discretionary income.
In other words, concentration of wealth is also isolation from the less fortunate.
Paul Piff, a postdoctoral scholar in psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, says he has conducted studies showing that as wealth increases, people become more insulated, less likely to engage with others, and less sensitive to the suffering of others.
There's also an element of geography. The researchers found that in 1,906 ZIP codes where at least 10 taxpayers earned $200,000 or more and at least one household itemized its returns, none of the wealthy residents reported any charitable giving. Of these, 79 percent of the ZIP codes are located outside of major metropolitan areas – areas of far lower populations and densities that would also result in isolation from the problems of the less fortunate. And while philanthropy is not only focused on poverty and poor people, it does tend to have a focus on community betterment in all its various forms. Those farther out from metropolitan areas may be less focused on or concerned with such community development.
It's not too shocking that some people give less than others, even among the rich. But it's interesting to see how neighborhood location and composition can limit the power of the wealthy to give.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

GPS in your DNA: Genetics can reveal your geographic ancestral origi

From Science BLog:  GPS in your DNA: Genetics can reveal your geographic ancestral origin

While your DNA is unique, it also tells the tale of your family line. It carries the genetic history of your ancestors down through the generations. Now, says a Tel Aviv Universityresearcher, it’s also possible to use it as a map to your family’s past.

Prof. Eran Halperin of TAU’s Blavatnik School of Computer Science and Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, along with a group of researchers from University of California, Los Angeles, are giving new meaning to the term “genetic mapping.” Using a probabilistic model of genetic traits for every coordinate on the globe, the researchers have developed a method for determining more precisely the geographical location of a person’s ancestral origins.

The new method is able to pinpoint more specific locations for an individual’s ancestors, for example placing an individual’s father in Paris and mother in Barcelona. Previous methods would “split the difference” and place this origin inaccurately at a site between those two cities, such as Lyon.
Published in the journal Nature Genetics, this method has the potential to reveal the ancestry, origins, and migration patterns of many different human and animal populations. It could also be a new model for learning about the genome.

Points of origin
There are points in the human genome called SNPs that are manifested differently in each individual, explains Prof. Halperin. These points mutated sometime in the past and the mutation was then passed to a large part of the population in a particular geographic region. The probability of a person possessing these mutations today varies depending on the geographical location of those early ancestors.

“We wanted to ask, for example, about the probability of having the genetic mutation ‘A’ in a particular position on the genome based on geographical coordinates,” he says. When you look at many of these positions together in a bigger picture, it’s possible to group populations with the same mutation by point of origin.

To test their method, Prof. Halperin and his fellow researchers studied DNA samples from 1,157 people from across Europe. Using a probabilistic mathematical algorithm based on mutations in the genome, they were able to accurately determine their ancestral point or points of origin using only DNA data and the new mathematical model, unravelling genetic information to ascertain two separate points on the map for the mother and father. The researchers hope to extend this model to identify the origins of grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on.

The new method could provide information that has applications in population genetic studies — to study a disease that impacts a particular group, for example. Researchers can track changes in different genomic traits across a map, such as the tendency for southern Europeans to have a mutation in a gene that causes lactose intolerance, a mutation missing from that gene in northern Europeans.

A closer look at migration
The researchers believe that their model could have also relevance for the animal kingdom, tracking the movement of animal populations. “In principle, you could figure out where the animals have migrated from, and as a result learn about habitat changes due to historical climate change or other factors,” says Prof. Halperin.

For more information, visit the project’s website at:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Iran Supreme Leader: Israel will vanish from the 'landscape of geography'

And Iran wonders why we don't believe them when they say they're building their nuclear facility for peaceful purposes?

From Haaretz:  Iran Supreme Leader: Israel will vanish from the 'landscape of geography' 

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that Israel will disappear from the "landscape of geography," adding that its land will be returned to the Palestinians. 

The comment was the last of a string of remarks made by both Israeli and Iranian officials amid continued debate over the possibility of a military resolution to the ongoing nuclear standoff between Iran and the West. 

Referring to growing discussion over nuclear crisis earlier this week, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren stressed in an interview to MSNBC that the Israeli clock "is ticking faster." 

Oren said Israel appreciated U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's reiteration that the U.S. is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but mentioned the "structural differences between the United States and Israel which we can't ignore." 

On Tuesday, Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi dismissed Israeli threats against his country as psychological warfare

The semi-official Mehr news agency on Tuesday quoted Gen. Ahmad Vahidi as saying Israeli leaders are resorting to "psychological war" against Iran. 

However, the war of words continued on Wednesday, with Mehr quoting Iran's Supreme Leader, in an apparent reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

According to Mehr, Khamenei said that the "light of hope will shine on the Palestinian issue, and this Islamic land will certainly be returned to the Palestinian nation, and the superfluous and fake Zionist [regime] will disappear from the landscape of geography." 

The remark was reportedly made during a meeting with Iranian veterans of the Iran-Iraq war.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Honey Trap

From  The Honey Trap

A beehive is the urban roof accessory du jour, even more popular than its eco-friendly cousins, solar panels or greenery. New York City’s Waldorf Astoria hotel is only the most recent to join a trend that includes roofs from the Paris Opéra to Chicago’s City Hall, as high-end chefs, locavores, and urban homesteaders alike enjoy the taste of honey made from trees and flowers in their own neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, in the UK, rising lead prices have led to a sharp rise in churches losing their roofs to theft. A report in The Telegraph captures the scale of the problem, describing organised gangs that use Google Earth to plan raids that strip the lead from church roof after church roof:
One church was reportedly hit 14 times in 2011 alone as thieves returned again and again to take the new lead each time it was replaced. 2010 was the third worst year on record for the theft of metal from churches, with 1,484 claims costing the insurer more than £3 million.

IMAGE: A partially stripped British church roof. Photo courtesy Ecclesiastical Insurance, via English Heritage.
Curiously, you can unite these two trends with fantastic results.
A church in York, the victim of repeated lead thefts, has done exactly that. In a recent letter to The Times, architect Hugh Petter explains that “the flat roofs of this historic building are now the home of bees,” and that “since the hives were installed on the church [...] there has been no further trouble.”
In what seems to be an extremely clever solution, would-be thieves are effectively dissuaded without the intrusion and expense of alarms and security guards. Meanwhile, the congregation can be kept sweet and/or future repairs subsidised through the gift or sale of holy honey.

IMAGE: The Rosslyn Chapel hives. Photo courtesy The Times, via BLDGBLOG.
Of course, it’s possible that the canny folk of York were not the first to come up with this idea. Certainly, while reading the letter, I was reminded of the 2010 discovery of two stone beehives carved into a pinnacle on the roof of Scotland’s fifteenth-century Rosslyn Chapel. The BBC reported that the manmade hives, which the bees could enter through a hole in a carved stone flower, had been inhabited until “a canopy was put over the chapel during renovation works,” and that the bees would likely return when the repairs were finished.
At the time, architect Malcom Mitchell told the BBC that the hives as “unprecedented,” because they “were never intended to be a source of honey.” Instead, he speculated, the stone hives seemed to be put there “purely to protect the bees from our inclement weather.”
Scotland does indeed enjoy a climate that is frequently both wet and cold, and perhaps metal theft was not quite as pressing a concern in the middle ages. Nonetheless, with burglary deterrence to add to their gifts of honey and pollination services, sharing our roofs, religious or otherwise, with bees seems like a pretty sweet idea.


Q: What is the approximate population of the world's newest country, South Sudan?

Answer: 10 million people

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Question 1: What is the smallest country in the world by area?

Answer: Vatican City, an independent city-state that covers just 0.17 square miles, is considered the world's smallest country by many sources, including the CIA.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

60 is the new 40

On August 10, 2012, the Cheyenne chapter of the AARP hosted a seminar called Gray Matters - which was free and provided a free lunch - unfortunately fish and cheesecake, blech - from 4 to 6 was a reception for all travelers who had come in for the AARP National Spelling Bee to be held on the 11th.

I attended that and it was a lot of fun. The emcee introduced a few folks, we talked about words, there was a "mock" spelling bee (which only consisted of about 20 people getting up and being questioned on one word...) and so on. And there were finger foods there - Chinese food to be precise. Don't know where they got it from or if they cooked it on site (Little America is a hotel and resort where people come to play golf among other things) but it was delish.

The spelling bee started at the ungodly hour of 8:30 am (Well...8:30 is not so ungodly but I had to get up at the ungodly hour of 6:30 to get there in time for registration, etc.) It started with 4 rounds of 25 words each - which was a Written Test.

The first 25 words were extremely easy. They asked words like "Greetings" and "Navel" and "Mince." I suppose a few might have been considered difficult... "Animus" and "Lacuna."

The second 25 words were equally easy, but I did miss MUGWUMP.

I assume they did this just to help everyone settle the nerves and get new people used to what was going on. People had trouble hearing some of the words (hey, they were all over 50 and most over 60) and the Pronouncer  would come down and tell them the word face to face and have them say it back, etc. Indeed, the Pronouncer did an excellent job.

Third round was where they started asking the difficult words.

I missed:

The fourth round was the real killer. I only got 12 out of 25 right. I missed:


I then stayed for the Oral rounds and was joined by one of my friends from my Scrabble Club. (I think an audience could have assembled for the Written rounds, too. There were chairs there and family were in them...but I think most people only wanted to come see the Oral rounds where you actually saw the speller's faces as opposed to their backs, etc.)

Two of the people I met last night at the reception made it to the Orals. One of them it was his first trip to the Bee and he was successful his first time out. Made it through about 10 rounds. (In the Orals, you miss two words and you're out.) Another one was an elderly woman from Minnesota who also got through about 10 rounds before being knocked out.

There were three sisters and a brother who had come as a sort of family reunion. The eldest sister made it to the Oral rounds but was bounced after only two rounds. This was too bad and it was because she was a bit unlucky - she got two 6-syllable words in a row while some of the others were getting much easier ones (but still, not ones I could have spelled). But she was disqualified along with several other people in the same round, so hopefully she didn't feel too bad.

The words in the Oral Rounds were extremely difficult. Several times more difficult than the toughest words in the final round of the Written.

But, had I studied for a year, I think I could have handled them.

And it is my intention to study for a year and  get into the Orals next year.

So, why is the title of this blog entry 60 is thenew 40?

Because it is.

People are living longer. You don't want to outlive your money and more importantly you don't want to outlive your sense of enjoyment of life. And learning new things every day is enjoyment and keeps the mind active.

The AARP Spelling Bee is held every year, and it gives you an excellent reason to travel to Cheyenne and see The Cowboy State. You'll meet lots of interesting people.

You do have to study.

I studied very desultorily for about a month...combine all the time I studied and it was about 10 hours. Not nearly enough, but then, I'm a good speller so the Written Rounds were relatively easy - except for that killer last round.

Why learn words that you'll never, ever say in real life?Well, because they're interesting. And the concepts of what you'll learn, you can apply in other areas. So it's a win win.

So start planning to live a long, healthy, active, intellectual life, and do it now, however old you might be!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Posts resume Monday

I'm participating in the AARP Cheyenne Spelling Bee today, Saturday, and need to recover Sunday....

So Monday, posts resumes.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Geography of Where American Olympic Athletes Live

From Geography Travels Blog:  Geography of Where American Olympic Athletes Live

The Atlantic has an article on the geography of hometowns and residences of Summer 2012 Olympic athletes.  The article is a good read but I was fascinated on the breakdown of where athletes currently live.  There are several cores but California seems to be the place where summer fun becomes summer sports gold (silver and bronze).

An excellent take away:

The map above takes a second cut, charting the metros where America’s Olympic competitors currently live. 

Los Angeles is again tops, but now it boasts an even greater concentration of athletes: 68 Olympians, 15 percent of the U.S. team, currently call it home. Nearby San Diego is second with 38 or 8.5 percent of Olympic athletes. Colorado Springs is third with 21 or 5 percent.  These athletes are clustered around Olympic training facilities in Chula Vista near San Diego and Colorado Springs.
Other metros with significant numbers of Olympians include: San Francisco with 19 or 4.3 percent; Trenton-Ewing, New Jersey (which includes Princeton) with 17 or 3.8 percent; and Oklahoma City, Austin, and Miami, each with with 13 or 2.9 percent. California boasts 146 Olympians – which would make it the 19th largest national Olympic team.

When we control for population, the Trenton-Ewing, New Jersey, metro comes out on top, with a whopping 4.7 Olympic athletes per 100,000 people. Colorado Springs (3.5) is second, followed by Athens, Georgia (2.3) and Eugene, Oregon (2.0). The predominance of college towns makes sense: many Olympians come from their programs and train at their facilities.

One thing that's notable is the pronounced clustering of athletes in individual sports. L.A., for example, is home to six of 10 beach volleyball players, with two more from nearby Santa Barbara and Oxnard. Nearly half of America's fencers (7 of 16) live in New York. More than three-quarters of female rowers - 16 out of 21 of them - live in a single city, Princeton, New Jersey, while a large number of their male counterparts live in Chula Vista and Oklahoma City. 

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal suggests that the U.S. gains advantage from its more decentralized system for identifying and developing young athletes. Still, America’s Olympic athletes do cluster, especially around training facilities and locational centers of excellence. Mirroring the talent clustering that defines so many other dimensions of economic and social life, they also gain from training with, competing against, and being around each other.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Geography of America's Music Scenes

From The Atlantic:  The Geography of America's Music Scenes

Major summer music festivals — like this past weekend's Lollapalooza in Chicago, as well as Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee; Coachella near Palm Springs, California; Summerfest in Milwaukee; and the Newport Folk Festival, to mention just a few — bring fans together to specific locales to listen to bands from all over the world.
But where are America's leading centers for musicians and the music industry? It's an intriguing question since musicians are mobile with little to tie them down, even compared to high-tech industries and workers which tend to grow up around universities, advanced industries and centers of venture capital.
Numerous U.S. cities have staked claims as leading music centers. Seattle had its grunge, Chicago has electric blues, and Nashville its twang. Detroit was the birthplace of both Motown and the hard-edge distorted indie rock of The White Stripes. Austin has Stevie Ray Vaughn, Willie Nelson, and a host of legendary singer-songwriters. Then there's of course New Orleans jazz, brass, and funk; San Francisco’s psychedelic sound; and the reverb-soaked rockabilly that is inextricably associated with Memphis’s Sun Records.
To better understand the geography of music in America, my Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Charlotta Mellander analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics figures on the concentration of musicians and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis stats on music and recording industry business establishments, and combined the results into a Metro Music Index. It is important to point out that we are measuring the concentration of musicians and music-related businesses, not the vibrancy or impact or quality of artists to emerge from a regional scene. Ongoing MPI research is utilizing other unique data sources, including a huge amount of data culled from MySpace, to measure the diversity and richness of music scenes (more on that in future posts).

The map above by MPI’S Zara Matheson charts the results for U.S. metros. The slideshow below shows the top 10 highest scoring large metros (those with more than a million people) on the index (complete list below).

1. Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN | Index: 1.00

Full Screen
Topping the list is Nashville. Its concentration of music, musicians, and recording and music publishing businesses is nothing short of astounding — America’s one-time capital of country music is now its music leader across the board, and the home base of superstars from Taylor Swift to Jack White and his Third Man Studios, as I have written about here. Photo: ckramer /Flickr via Creative Commons
The rest of the top 20 includes: Orlando (home to Disney World, which gave rise to boy bands); Austin, with its legendary singer-songwriter and blues scenes (Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Spoon); San Diego, Pittsburgh (Billy Eckstine, drummer Kenny Clarke, Donnie Iris, Rusted Root, GirlTalk, Wiz Khalifa); Milwaukee (which spawned Woody Herman and Liberace in decades past and The Violent Femmes and Rico Love more recently); Miami (everything from Gloria Estefan to Rick Ross, Flo Rida, and Pit Bull, not to mention the jazz program at the Frost School of Music which launched such alums as Ben Folds and Pat Metheny); Chicago, with its rich legacy of blues and rock 'n' roll; Indianapolis (home to jazz’s legendary Montgomery brothers and R&B’s Babyface); Dallas (the home town of both Meat Loaf and T-Bone Walker); and Denver (a folk and classical music powerhouse).
Atlanta, a major center for hip-hop and R&B, ranks 22nd among large metros. Greater Washington, D.C., which gave us go-go and the post-hardcore punk of Fugazi, is 26th. Despite Boston's two conservatories, a notable symphony, and having been the launching pad for countless major label artists (J. Geils Band, Boston, Aerosmith, the Cars, New Kids on the Block), the metro ranks just 31st among its larger peers. Detroit, Memphis, and Philly rank 37th, 35th and 45th among large metros — a sign of how much the music scenes there have shifted to other centers.
A variety of small metros do surprisingly well, such as Kingston, NY, which ranks sixth overall when small metros are included in the index. It most likely owes its high standing to nearby Woodstock, home to innumerable well-known musicians including jazz’s Carla Bley, the late rock-legend Levon Helm, and studio stalwart (and ex-King Crimson) bassist Tony Levin. Honolulu, another major tourist destination, ranks seventh overall.
Several college towns stand out. Eugene, Oregon — the hometown of Tim Hardin, Robert Cray, and Mason Williams — ranks 5th among all metros. Boulder, with its lively jam band and bluegrass scene, is 25th. Madison, Wisconsin is 27th, Ann Arbor 40th.  Unfortunately, data are not available for college scenes like Athens, Georgia, legendary home to R.E.M., the B-52s, Widespread Panic, and The Drive-By Truckers, or Charlottesville, Virginia, birthplace of Dave Matthews Band.
Other smaller metros that do better than expected are Kalamazoo, Michigan (the former home of the Gibson guitar factory, founded in 1902, and the site of some major classical music festivals) at 8th overall, and Albany, New York, at 14th. California's Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Salinas all rank highly. Asheville, North Carolina — a sophisticated vacation and arts center — is 23rd overall.
While radio and the recording business have become much more corporate and standardized, musicians still cluster more in some places than others. This is interesting because musicians are mobile, and do not require a lot of capital, access to raw materials, or even proximity to anchor institutions like universities. They come to some places because there are lots of venues, clubs, conservatories, and recording studios, and they can make a living and stake out a career. Bigger metros like New York and L.A. do well because of their larger markets and scope of their talent and firms. And not just in music: Related MPI research finds that the "entertainment sector as a whole and its key subsectors are significantly concentrated in these two superstar cities ... far beyond what their population size (or scale effects) can account for, while the pattern falls off dramatically in other large regions" like Chicago.
But size is not everything, as Nashville's dominance and the performance of other smaller metros show. Smaller places can develop significant clusters of musicians and the music industry. The key here, as it is in so many other fields, is the clustering of talent, as talented musicians are drawn to and cluster around other talented musicians. Doing so, they generate a human capital externality of a musical kind — competing against each other for new sounds and audiences, combining and recombining with each other into new bands — a Darwinian process out of which successful acts rise to the top and achieve broad success.
In this way, through the clustering of talent and combination and recombination, cities with vibrant music scenes mimic the process of innovation more broadly. Cities with flourishing music scenes often have underlying creative economic systems that are also supportive of technology and entrepreneurialism. Music clustering can provide a powerful lens not only into popular culture, but into the mechanisms that power our increasingly idea-based and talent-driven economy.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Olympics parade of nations reveals lack of geographic knowledge

From My SA:  Olympics parade of nations reveals lack of geographic knowledge

Kiribati and Benin and Comoros, oh my!
As the athletes from more than 200 nations entered the Olympic Stadium in London last week, I couldn't help but feel my knowledge of global geography was a bit lacking. More than that, I felt like an idiot. Sure, I knew the majors. I can find Greece, Ireland and Germany on a map. China and Japan are easy. I am pretty good with North America, because I live there, and I can identify most parts of South America, thanks to Mrs. Bornstein's high school Spanish class. But as the pomp and pageantry went on, I was hard-pressed to recognize several dozen nations that, frankly, sounded made up.

Vanuatu? Tuvalu? Nauru? I was a tad embarrassed when my daughters would ask, "Where's that, Daddy?" I couldn't get to Google fast enough.

As an American, I tend to not think about other countries unless we are at war with them, fighting a war with them or they are a location featured in commercials for Sandals Resorts. I am sure I would be quite familiar with Lesotho if there was a Disney Resort there. If the Burkina Faso tourist board ran commercials on TVLand in the middle of the night, I know I would be able to find it on a map.

I often marvel at the size of the United States on the globe. You can cover it with your thumb, but basically, it is all I know. I often think of myself as well traveled because I have been in all 50 states, but watching 200-plus nations parade in with their flags was a jarring realization that I really haven't explored our world at all. Not even in books.
The combination nations (the ones with "and" in the middle) sounded like cover bands. Saint Kitts and Nevis, São Tomé and Príncipe, Antigua and Barbuda all sound surprisingly similar to Prince and the New Revolution. If you were to ask me, if I had ever heard of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, I would have sworn they used to play at Cooter Browns back in the '80s.

Some of the nation names are fun to say. From now on, whenever I am feeling down, I will yell out, "Djibouti," "Azerbaijan" or "Belarus" and smile. Some of the nations, I simply can't pronounce. Doesn't matter if Kyrgyzstan or Côte d'Ivoire are fun to say because my American tongue cannot begin to handle them. The former could use a few more vowels, while the latter simply has too many. Perhaps they could work out some sort of trade.

The beginning of any knowledge journey often begins with the realization that you don't know as much as you thought you did. Such is the case with the Olympic nations. For the duration of the games, I am going to have my laptop in front of me so that I can identify the nations of the world and pick up a fact or two about their cultures. Might even look into a visit. I wonder if there is a Club Med in Mauritania?


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Where is Bolivia?

First, the article t hat inspired my question.
From RT:  End of capitalism': Bolivia to expel Coca-Cola in wake of 2012 Mayan 'apocalypse'

n a symbolic rejection of US capitalism, Bolivia announced it will expel the Coca-Cola Company from the country at the end of the Mayan calendar. This will mark the end of capitalism and usher in a new era of equality, the Bolivian govt says.
“December 21 of 2012 will be the end of egoism and division. December 21 should be the end of Coca-Cola,” Bolivian foreign minister David Choquehuanca decreed, with bombast worthy of a viral marketing campaign.
The coming ‘end’ of the Mayan lunar calendar on December 21 of this year has sparked widespread doomsaying of an impending apocalypse. But Choquehuanca argued differently, claiming it will be the end of days for capitalism, not the planet.

“The planets will align for the first time in 26,000 years and this is the end of capitalism and the beginning of communitarianism,”
said Choquehuanca as quoted by Venezuelan newspaper El Periodiquito.
The minister encouraged the people of Bolivia to drink Mocochinche, a peach-flavored soft drink, as an alternative to Coca-Cola. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez followed suit, encouraging his country to ditch the American beverage for fruit juice produced in Venezuela.


Last year, Bolivia became the second Latin American country not to have a single McDonald’s. The fast food giant finally gave up on Bolivia after being unable to turn a profit in the country for over a decade.
Following this failure, the monolithic multinational released a documentary titled ‘Why McDonald’s failed in Bolivia.’ Referencing surveys, sociologists, nutritionists and historians, the company came to the conclusion it was not their food that was the issue, but a culturally driven boycott.
Bolivian President Evo Morales has a reputation for controversial policies similar to the Coca-Cola ban. Morales pledged last month to legalize the consumption of coca leaves, one of the main ingredients of cocaine.

“Neither the US nor capitalist countries have a good reason to maintain the ban on coca leaf consumption,”
said Morales.
The coca leaf was declared an illegal narcotic by the UN in 1961, along with cocaine, opium and morphine. The consumption of coca leaves is a centuries-old tradition in Bolivia, strongly rooted in the beliefs of various indigenous groups.
 From Wikipedia:
Bolivia is a landlocked country in central South America. It is bordered by Brazil to the north and east, Paraguay and Argentina to the south, Chile to the southwest, and Peru to the west.

Prior to European colonization, the Andean region of Bolivia was a part of the Inca Empire – the largest state in Pre-Columbian America. The Spanish Empire conquered the region in the 16th century. During most of the Spanish colonial period, this territory was called Upper Peru and was under the administration of the Viceroyalty of Peru, which included most of Spain's South American colonies. After declaring independence in 1809, 16 years of war followed before the establishment of the Republic, named for Simón Bolívar, on 6 August 1825. Bolivia has struggled through periods of political instability, dictatorships and economic woes.
Bolivia is a democratic republic that is divided into nine departments. Its geography is varied from the peaks of the Andes in the West, to the Eastern Lowlands, situated within the Amazon Basin. It is a developing country, with a Medium Human Development Index score, and a poverty level of 53%.

Its main economic activities include agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, and manufacturing goods such as textiles, clothing, refined metals, and refined petroleum. Bolivia is very wealthy in minerals, especially tin. Bolivia has gained global attention for its 'Law of the Rights of Mother Earth', one of the unique laws in the world that accord nature, the same rights as humans.

The Bolivian population, estimated at 10 million, is multiethnic, including Amerindians, Mestizos, Europeans, Asians and Africans. The main language spoken is Spanish, although the Guarani, Aymara and Quechua languages are also common and all three, as well as 34 other indigenous languages, are official. The large number of different cultures within Bolivia has contributed greatly to a wide diversity in fields such as art, cuisine, literature, and music.


In 2006, life expectancy at birth was 64 for males and 67 for females.A study by UN Development Programme and UNICEF reported that over 230 babies in Bolivia died per day through lack of proper care.The majority of the population has no health insurance. A significant part of the population has no access to healthcare. Demographic and Health Surveys has completed five surveys in Bolivia since 1989 on a wide range of topics.

Just a bit of economics:
The United States remains Bolivia's largest trading partner (excepting natural resources, such as natural gas). In 2002, the United States exported $283 million of merchandise to Bolivia and imported $162 million.
Agriculture accounts for roughly 15% of Bolivia's GDP. Soybeans are the major cash crop, sold into the Andean Community market. Bolivian coca growing is both economically and political important.
Bolivia's government remains heavily dependent on foreign assistance to finance development projects. At the end of 2002, the government owed $4.5 billion to its foreign creditors, with $1.6 billion of this amount owed to other governments and most of the balance owed to multilateral development banks. Most payments to other governments have been rescheduled on several occasions since 1987 through the Paris Club mechanism. External creditors have been willing to do this because the Bolivian government has generally achieved the monetary and fiscal targets set by IMF programs since 1987, though economic crises in recent years have undercut Bolivia's normally good record.
The rescheduling of agreements granted by the Paris Club has allowed the individual creditor countries to apply very soft terms to the rescheduled debt. As a result, some countries have forgiven substantial amounts of Bolivia's bilateral debt. The U.S. government reached an agreement at the Paris Club meeting in December 1995 that reduced by 67% Bolivia's existing debt stock. The Bolivian government continues to pay its debts to the multilateral development banks on time. Bolivia is a beneficiary of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and Enhanced HIPC debt relief programs, which by agreement restricts Bolivia's access to new soft loans.

The Geography of Bars and Restaurants

From the Atlantic:  The Geography of Bars and Restaurants

Some cities actually do have a bar on every corner, and real-estate website Trulia set out to find out where they are.

Jed Kolko, chief economist for the San Francisco-based firm, examined data from the top 100 U.S. metros to determine the concentration of drinking and eating out across the country, posted online today. Using the U.S. Census's County Business Patterns and 2010 demographic data, Kolko found that the coastal metros tend to have a greater concentration of restaurants, while New Orleans and Midwest metros have a greater concentrations of bars.

San Francisco tops the list by a considerable margin. The Bay Area has long been a foodie-capital, home to the influential chef Alice Waters and countless other great chefs, a wide diversity of ethnic cuisines and fusions, and numerous farmers' markets selling fresh produce from the nearby Central Valley. The Greater New York metro area claims the next three spots, with Fairfield County, Connecticut, second; Long Island, New York, third and New York City fourth (Manhattan and Brooklyn would likely rank much higher). The top ten are dominated by major cities and metros on the East and West Coasts. Seattle is fifth, San Jose (Silicon Valley) sixth, Orange County seventh, Providence eighth, Boston ninth, and Portland, Oregon tenth.

Kolko's analysis covers only sit-down restaurants ("establishments primarily engaged in providing food services to patrons who order and are served while seated (i.e., waiter/waitress service) and pay after eating"). In an email he told me that County Business Patterns also reports data for “limited-service restaurants” or fast-food restaurants where you order at counter and pay first before sitting down to eat as a separate category. "The distribution looks pretty similar to full-service restaurants," he wrote. "I wanted to compare only full-service restaurants to bars since both are places where people go to spend time as well as consume.

Now New Orleans with its vibrant nightlife scene comes in first. But much of the top ten is dominated by older, industrial Midwest metros. Milwaukee (famous for its breweries) is second, Omaha third, my hometown of Pittsburgh fourth, Toledo fifth, Syracuse sixth, and Buffalo seventh. San Francisco is 8th, followed by the tourist hotspots of Las Vegas and Honolulu rounding out the top ten.

Kolko makes it clear that this is purely a measurement of the number of bars and restaurants, so it does not convey which eating or drinking scenes might be more interesting, creative, or innovative.

But the presence of amenities, like bars and restaurants, has been found to be important to a city's economy, as Harvard's Edward Glaeser has long argued. In his book, The City as an Entertainment Machine, University of Chicago sociologist Terry Clark and his collaborators note that for people "pondering where to live and work, restaurants are more than food on their plate. The presence of distinct restaurants redefines the local context, even for persons who do not eat in them. They are part of the local market baskets of amenities that vary from place to place."