Feline “First Citizen” Passes, Leaving Townfolk Appawled

stubbs_the_cat

Stubbs poses on a car in a 2006 photo. (Jenni Konrad / Flickr)

Legend has it that Stubbs, the ginger-haired, long-time feline “mayor” of tiny Talkeetna, Alaska, rose to stardom fairly early in his 20-year, three-month lifespan, shortly after he was found in a box by employees of the Nagley’s General Store.

Talkeetna, a historic district without an annual mayor, long ago accepted Stubbs as honorary “first citizen” who, thanks to Nagley General Manager Lauri Stec and others, had run of the store and a good deal of the town, according to a 2013 Wall Street Journal profile. (Paywall.)

Stubbs died earlier in July, quietly, in his sleep, according to a statement from the family that has owned Nagley’s and the West Rib Cafe Pub for two and a half years.

Unlike many modern-day politicians, he was universally beloved by the town he led for more than 18 years. And the people of Talkeetna, population 900, deeply mourned the death of the four-legged fellow they called mayor.

“He was a trooper until the very last day of his life,” Stubb’s human family’s statement said.”Thank you, Stubbs, for coming into our lives for the past 31 months; you are a remarkable cat and we will dearly miss you.”

The cat was embraced by residents of the area as a tourist attraction – Talkeetna is a Smithsonian.com “Best Small Towns of 2017” pick – and beloved figure of local pride. “We don’t know what we’d do without him, really,” local resident Leah Vanden Busch told Jim Carlton in the Wall Street Journal profile. Politically too, he was widely approved of. “He hasn’t voted for anything I wouldn’t have voted for,” resident Peg Vos told Carlton.

That year, however, a mauling by a local dog left Stubbs in need of surgery. He soon resumed his mayoral duties, which mainly consisted of wandering around the town, drinking catnip-laced water from margarita glasses, and of course, sleeping a lot.

Stubbs was even drafted for a last-minute campaign as a write-in candidate in 2014 for Alaska’s U.S. Senator race, though he was unsuccessful in his bid.

In the last few years, however, reports Charles Levin for CNN, Stubbs began to come to the general store (his “mayoral office”) less and less, preferring to hang around the home of his owners.

“Stubbs did a couple TV shows and more than a handful of interviews, but was not fond of the camera and all the people; it had gotten to be too much for him,” his owners said in a statement.

The end came peacefully last week, reports Chris Klint for KTVA News, with Stubbs dying in his sleep.

The mayoral post is vacant for the first time in a long time, but it likely won’t be for long, reports Levin. The fittingly named Denali, one of two kittens taken in a couple of years ago by Stubbs’ family, may soon step into the power vacuum.

 

Advertisements

Chile Broke Nazi Plot to Bomb Panama Canal

panama_canal

USS Ranger traverses the Panama Canal during World War II.  (Wikimedia Commons)

More than 70 years after the end of World War II, several South American nations are continuing to deal in how they accepted, or at least turned a blind eye to, Nazis among them. Chile had a special unit called Department 50 that, according to newly declassified reports, neither ignored nor accepted the presence or activities of some of the most evil individuals to ever walk the earth: They went after them, with a vengeance.

One of the plots they foiled, Deutche Welle has reported, included an intended mission that could have altered the shape of the war and the world: The aim was to “destroy” the Panama Canal. The Germans clearly had figured out how critical that passageway was to the war effort, as it enabled the Americans the move troops, ships, and materiel westward, to stock the Pacific Theater, as the war intensified and, ultimately, reached its final conclusion there.

The rise of Department 50 marked an about-face for Chile, which resisted, until 1943, declaring war against the Axis (Germany-affiliated) nations. Deutche Welle said that South America-based spy rings monitored, on behalf of the Germans, Allied merchant ships, monitored Chilean naval communications and otherwise acted on behalf of Axis interests.

Prensa Latina reported this week that the newly-released documents “reveal the assistance provided by Nazi sympathizers in Chile by sending information to Germany about the routes followed by the Allies’ merchant ships.” Fortunately, the play to bomb the Panama Canal was thwarted – and two spy rings were broken up as a result of Department 50’s efforts. Prensa Latina said Chile eventually had 22 agents dedicated to working against the Nazis.

“If they had prospered in their objectives, it could have changed not only Chile’s history, but the history of the whole world,” said Hector Espinosa, the director general of the investigations police, during a ceremony to hand over the reports to Chile’s National Archives.

But much of Chile and South America’s past with the Nazis is less heroic. Christopher Klein at History.com reports that high-ranking Nazis, including Adolf Eichmann and Dr. Josef Mengele, found refuge in South America, along with at least 9,000 Nazi officers and collaborators who fled to Argentina, Chile and Brazil.

The Nazi connection to Argentina has also been in the spotlight recently. Just last week police found 75 significant Nazi-related artifacts in a hidden room in Argentina. Photographs indicated some of them may have even been owned or used by Hitler himself.

Yellowstone Grizzly Bears Coming Off ‘Endangered Species’ List

grizleys

In what the U.S. Secretary of the Interior has called “one of America’s greatest conservation successes,” Yellowstone grizzly bears have so significantly increased in population in the past 40 years that, earlier this month, they wee removed from the “endangered species” list. All 700 or so of them – up from an estimated 135 in 1975 in the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The New York Times noted that, “The action will not affect the protected status of the other major population of grizzlies in the lower 48 states, those that live in and around Glacier National Park of Montana, which number about 1,000. However, experts say this population, too, could soon be delisted. Several small, isolated populations would remain protected.

Not everyone has favored so-favoring the Yellowstone grizzleys – not a specific subspecies of grizzleys, but so-named because they inhabit the area within and surrounding Yellowstone National Park in Montana.

Environmental groups intend to sue to stop the de-listing and local Native American tribes also object to the move. “Grizzly bears are the slowest reproducing mammal on the planet, and a population decline can take decades to reverse,” Endangered Species Coalition field representative Derek Goldman told Colin Dwyer at NPR. “Therefore we have been calling on Fish and Wildlife Service and the states to develop adequate management plans for grizzly bears before any de-listing is finalized.”

This is not the first time the move has been attempted. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed de-listing the Yellowstone grizzly. But a massive batch of 650,000 public comments led to a delay in the decision, Karen Brulliard at The Washington Post, reported. The FWS also proposed the bear for de-listing in 2007 Robbins said, but that plan was halted by a court over concerns that insects were destroying white bark pine in the region, a major food source for the bears.

Chris Servheen, FWS’s former grizzly bear recovery coordinator who managed the program for 35 years, tells Brulliard the bears are resilient enough to survive de-listing and that they could still thrive under a well-managed hunting program. But he believes the population should stay about the size it is now to remain ecologically viable. But he adds, “a managed population decline post-delisting is not biologically defensible. We didn’t recover them to drive the population down.”

Israeli Court Knocks El Al For Gender Discrimination

el al plane photo

In a case that almost didn’t get brought to court, Israel’s national airline, El Al, has been convicted of gender discrimination when a woman was asked to take a different seat because an ultra-orthodox man didn’t want to sit next to her.

That once-common practice, which caters to a whim of someone from a sect with otherworldly-strict beliefs, was brought down by a suit filed by a holocaust survivor who originally intended to ignore the affront. But a couple of weeks after her flight from Newark to Tel Aviv was marred by the incident, Renee Rabinowitz, 81, attended an event where a representative of the Israel Religious Action Center discussed IRAC’s campaign against airlines’ practice of accommodating what Rabinowitz described as “a Haredi-looking [ultra orthodox] gentleman”. Such individuals are members of a group representing the social and cultural interests of fervently religious Jews. Created in response to escalating assimilation and secularization within worldwide Jewry, they aim to preserve and maintain Torah-bound Judaism, both on the individual and collective level.

But in refusing to sit next to a woman on, for example, an airplane, “a passenger asking to move their seat because of their gender will qualify as discrimination, and as such will be prohibited,” the Israeli court said in an English-language statement.

More specifically, The Jerusalem Post reported, “Requesting a seat change on an airplane before or after takeoff, based on a passenger’s gender, constitutes a breach of the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, [Services and Entry into Public Places Law],” ruled Judge Dana Cohen-Lekach of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

The JP website added, “The phenomenon of ultra-Orthodox men insisting on not sitting next to unrelated women on air flights has developed into a familiar pattern in recent years, with such demands frequently causing problems and delays for airlines due to the refusal of such men to take their seats before takeoff.”

El Al has said it will take the ruling seriously, and the airline is expected to modify its rules and retrain flight attendants within the 45-day period specified by the court.

The Guardian quoted the airline as saying, “The sides reached an agreement that the airline’s procedures would be clarified to its employees. The court validated this agreement and the company will respect the verdict.”

Ladybugs’ Wing-Folding Technique Uncovered! New-Style Umbrellas Could Result

ladybug_takes_flight

A Ladybug takes flight.  (Photo: U. of Tokyo)

Ladybugs are beautifully colored little creatures that, like bumble bees, seem to defy nature in that they fly with bodies far larger than logic, or perceived aerodynamic rules, would enable a living entity to become airborne under its own power.

Odd as that is, scientists have long pondered another mystery about the ladybug, a type of beetle: How they manage to corral fairly substantial wings into extremely tight folds, making them – the wings – virtually invisible when the, um, bugs are at rest.

Mystery solved! Not only have Japanese scientists at the University of Tokyo figured out how that’s done, they’ve suggested that the ladybug’s wing-folding system could give rise to a change in the shape of umbrellas, the design of which had essentially remained unchanged for more than 1,000 years.

Sarah Knapston, Science Editor at The Telegraph in London, described the finding recently. In a nutshell, it boils down to the fact that the folding wing lies beneath the colorful one that shields and protects the former.

To arrive at their conclusion, the Japanese scientists replaced the spotted forewing, known as an elytron, with a transparent piece of resin. What they learned could help engineers design foldable solar collectors or even a new type of umbrella.

Kazuya Saito, Assistant Professor at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science, designs foldable structures—so insect wings are a natural interest. “Compared with other beetles, ladybugs are very good at flying and frequently take off,” he tells Bryson Masse at Gizmodo. “I thought their wing transformation systems are excellent and have large potential for engineering.”

He and his team tried several methods to figure out how the ladybug folded its wing. They took high-speed images of the insect opening and closing its wings, but still couldn’t see the actual folding process under the opaque spotted forewings. They attempted to 3D print an artificial wing, but they couldn’t make one that was transparent enough to see thorough.

As Masse reports, the researchers’ secretary was the one who came up with a solution: clear nail art resin. After crafting the wing out of the resin, the team was able to observe how the insect folded and unfolded its wings.

The creatures use the edge of the elytron and abdominal movements to fold the wing along creased lines. Examination of the wings using a CT scan also revealed that they have springy veins similar to a tape measure that are rigid enough to allow the insects to fly, but elastic enough to fold up.

Saito tells Masse that the wings are unusual because “transformable structures” usually involve moving parts and joints. But the ladybug’s wing lacks those complications, completing a relatively complex task through flexibility and elasticity. The paper appears in The Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

While the structure of ladybug wings may have applications for things like foldable solar panels for satellites and space ships, Saito seems most excited about its application to something much more domestic. “I believe that beetle wing folding has the potential to change the umbrella design that has been basically unchanged for more than 1000 years,” he tells Knapton. Collapsible umbrellas usually have multiple parts and are easily broken at the joints. But the ladybug umbrella could be made from”seamless flexible frames,” he says, making it indestructible in strong wind and quick to deploy using “stored elastic energy.”

Saito admits that he doesn’t have a design for the umbrella yet, but perhaps it will look something like this.


A Worm Enzyme Might Help Rid World of Some Thrown-Away Plastic

henderson_island--plastic

Henderson Island beach. Photo: Jennifer Lavers, University of Tasmania

It is widely believed that is possible to rid ourselves of plastic items we no longer want by throwing them away. A study of Henderson Island, a 14.4 sq mile (37.3 sq km) spit of land in the Pitcairn Islands, which are far from anywhere else in the far reaches of the South Pacific, has demonstrated with frightening certainty that, as an old saying has it, “there’s no such place as away.”

Virtually every available surface, and too many buried ones to count on Henderson Island, are covered with bits of plastic, much of it from China, significant amounts also from Japan and Chile, according to scientists from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, and the Centre for Conservation Science, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, in the UK. Some 37 million pieces in all have made Henderson Island one of if not the largest homes globally for parted-with plastic.

The scientists’ report, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States, said the plastics debris density on Henderson Island is higher than anywhere else on earth. While its accumulated 37 million pieces of discarded plastic is but a drop in the proverbial bucket of the 5 trillion plastic pieces – some 250,000 tons worth – littering the world. And its presence in this once pristine piece of property makes a mockery of the island’s status as a UNESCO-designated “World Heritage” site, as “one of the few atolls in the world whose ecology has been practically untouched by a human presence.”

That declaration was made as recently as 1988 – a mere 29 years ago.

Not only is the accumulated plastic an eyesore to those rare souls who approach close enough to uninhabitable Henderson to see it, it’s a real risk to wildlife on and near the island. As the plastic drifts closer to Henderson, which sits amidst what’s called the South Pacific’s ocean gyre, an enormous area comprising one of half a dozen major circulating areas for ocean currents, water from vast areas on either side of the Pacific contribute trash as well as water from diverse sources. (That’s why Henderson’s plastic comes from so far afield.) Sea creatures ingest or get tangled in plastic materials, which either kill them quickly or slowly choke the life out of them. Land animals, too, often become victims of plastic materials eaten because they smelled or appeared edible.

These problems are destined to become more widespread unless mankind, collectively, takes steps to reduce the creation and use of plastic materials.

That and finding, in the guts of a certain species of wax worms, the enzyme that enables it to “eat” plastic:That such an enzyme exists stems from findings of a part-time Spanish beekeeper, a day-job researcher who found that the worms, whose caterpillar parents like to munch on beeswax inside his hives, were able to eat their way out a plastic bag he’d put some in.

plastic-eating worm

A hole eaten through a plastic bag by a wax worm. (Photo: Federica Bertocchini, Paolo Bombelli, and Chris Howe

Great scientific answers, and solutions, have been launched from less auspicious starts than that! Who knows? In time a wax worm enzyme could, if replicated on a large enough scale, take a bite out of the world’s plastic waste problem. But don’t hold your breath: That kind of advance isn’t likely to happen with this, or even the next, decade or three.


This blog and its stable-mate, FoodTradeTrends.com, have been seen, in 18 months, in no fewer than 85 countries!

		

Child- and Gang-Rapes Are Running Rampant in India

indian_rape_protest

The family of a five-year-old girl who was raped stage a protest on Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road seeking treatment for her at a private hospital in Gurgaon, India, and fast disposal of the case.

Of all the many and oh-so-varied cultures in the world, India’s seems to be among the least appreciative of the concept enshrined in the US Declaration of Independence, that: “All men are created equal.” Women there, only second to the second-class treatment of women in predominantly Moslem countries, far too often are made victims of brutal rapes. Even, even more sadly, when they are but children.

Two recent reports on Newser (and here) paint a horrid picture of the problem: A 10-year-old being raped, made pregnant, then having to struggle to get (as she finally did) permission to get aborted, and another couple of women getting gang raped – one in a moving car (the mind boggles!) – in a culture that, in too many instances, still also accepts revenge killings.

I am not a religious person, and I have trouble getting my mind about how, and why, practitioners of various religions – any of them – faithfully accepting, as they do, what they do.

My wife and I watched a “Law & Order” show recently about a case where a super-religious girl was taken advantage of – raped, in short – by a fellow believer in her ‘faith’ that him having sex with her – “curative sex” – would free her of her desire for another woman. Guess what? The spiritual leader who encouraged his flock to so behave, ended up, as the encourager of illegal actions, in prison. So, of course, did the rapist. And the saddest news what, they both believed they did nothing wrong.