30 June 2015

What's really warming the world?

StumbleUpon has an article by Eric Roston and Blacki Migliozzi from Bloomberg Business about global warming, but Rico says there are a lot of charts and graphs like the above, so go there to read it.

Remembering the derivation of the word

Rico says that assassin (see the movie review of 13 Assassins, below) is one of those words that everyone knows, but no one knows where it comes from:
Assassin: a member of the Nizari branch of Ismaili Muslims at the time of the Crusades, when the newly established sect ruled part of northern Persia (1094 to 1256). They were renowned as militant fanatics, and were popularly reputed to use hashish before going on murder missions.

Rico says it doesn't sound much different than today, does it?

Movie review for the day: Assassins

Rico says if you want to see why samurai swordplay was so deadly, watch 13 Assassins:

Likely story

Rico says he called Great Fun to cancel his membership (because it wasn't) and got the inevitable Indian-accented customer service guy with the unlikely name of Kevin...

Ocean for the day

William Broad has an article in The New York Times about the mysterious things that live in the sea:
Habitats on land— rain forests, steppes, woodlands, deserts, alpine meadows, all well explored over the centuries— make up less than one percent of the planet’s biosphere. Why so little? The band of life is narrow. Fertile soil goes down only a few feet, and even the tallest trees stretch up only a few hundred feet. Birds can fly higher, but must return to the surface for nourishment.
Water, however, is a different story. It covers more than seventy percent of the earth’s surface and goes down miles. Scientists put the ocean’s share of the biosphere at more than 99 percent. Fishermen know its surface waters and explorers its depths. But in general, compared with land, the global ocean is unfamiliar.
Which helps explain why scientists have only recently come to realize that the bristlemouth— a fish of the middle depths that glows in the dark and can open its mouth extraordinarily wide, baring needlelike fangs (photo)— is the most numerous vertebrate on the earth.
“They’re everywhere,” Bruce H. Robison, a senior marine biologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Monterey, California, said of the bony little fish. “Everybody agrees. It’s the most abundant on the planet.”
By human standards, the brute is tiny— smaller than a finger. But this strange little fish makes up for its diminutive size with staggering numbers, as well as a behavioral trick or two. It starts life as a male and, in some cases, switches to become a female. Scientists call it protandrous— that is, a male-first hermaphrodite— a phenomenon also seen in certain worms, limpets, and butterflies.
John C. Avise, the author of Hermaphroditism, said the adult male bristlemouth tended to be smaller than the female and had a better developed sense of smell— apparently, he said, to find mates in the darkness. “They occupy an environment that’s hard to access,” Dr. Avise said of the fish, so there is “precious little information” about their behavior.
A slightly repulsive means of adding to that information has been to inspect the stomach contents of larger fish. Predators of the bristlemouth turn out to include dragon fish and fangtooths, denizens of the abyss with daggerlike teeth.
Though the portrait of the bristlemouth is incomplete, scientists know enough to confidently assert that it far outstrips all other contenders for the title of most common vertebrate on the planet.
William Beebe was the first scientist to view bristlemouths in their dark habitat, in the early 1930s off Bermuda. He descended in a bathysphere designed by Otis Barton.
He put the planetary figure at 24 billion. In contrast, ichthyologists put the likely figure for bristlemouths at hundreds of trillions— and perhaps quadrillions, or thousands of trillions.
“No other animal gets close,” said Peter C. Davison, a fish scientist at the Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research in Petaluma, California. “There are as many as a dozen per square meter of ocean.”
The bristlemouths are a rapacious family of deep-sea fishes that include the wildly successful genus Cyclothone— Greek for “circular,” in apparent reference to the creature’s gaping mouth. They are also known as roundmouths.
The genus has thirteen species, such as the shadow bristlemouth. The main distinguishing features are subtle differences in the fins and luminous organs. All members wield bristlelike teeth. Over all, the fish are one to three inches in length, tan to black in color, and at times display a kind of ghostly translucence.
The first hints of the fish’s ubiquity came during the voyage of the HMS Challenger, a British ship that sailed the globe from 1872 to 1876 and helped lay the foundations of oceanography. It lowered nets at dozens of research sites and hauled up the creatures from as deep as three miles.
The expedition’s thick reports described the tiny fishes as having rows of luminous organs, conspicuous jaws, and sharp teeth. The studies noted different species but said little else. Just learning of the fish’s existence was hard enough.
The first scientist to view the animals in their dark habitat was William Beebe. In the early 1930s, Beebe, a senior explorer of what is now the Wildlife Conservation Society, plunged into the depths off Bermuda in a spherical submersible, gazed through its porthole — and saw aliens.
“Numberless little creatures” raced through his light beam, he wrote in his 1934 book, Half Mile Down. They turned out to be bristlemouths. A color plate in the book shows a group with jaws wide open while chasing a school of copepods, tiny crustaceans with long antennas.
Increasingly, bristlemouths won the abundance title as more and more nets and divers explored the deep. By 1954, N.B. Marshall, a distinguished marine biologist at the British Museum and author of Aspects of Deep Sea Biology, called them “the commonest fishes in the ocean.”
But a mystery proceeded to cloud the claim.
During the Cold War, the Navy puzzled over a global phenomenon known as the Deep Scattering Layer. It reflected sound waves back to the surface so effectively that, at times, it was mistaken for the seabed.
Biologists judged that it was composed of hordes of living things, because it migrated up near the surface at night and back down in daylight. The Navy wanted to better understand the layer to improve its tracking of enemy submarines, as well as hiding from them.
Research showed the region to be made of many creatures— krill, squid, and long, gelatinous animals known as siphonophores. It also harbored many fish, but apparently few bristlemouths, which managed to avoid the nightly swim to the surface.
If the most common fish in fact had little to do with the teeming layer, had its abundance been overstated? Ocean textbooks from the 1970s to the 1990s said little about Cyclothone, the main genus of bristlemouths. Quietly, the king had been dethroned.
Then came a new wave of research, centering on careful trawls of the deep ocean with a new generation of nets in which the mesh was much finer. No matter how far the nets plunged, up came vast numbers of bristlemouths.
A team that trolled the Atlantic down to a depth of more than three miles reported in 2010 that the tiny fish “dominated the catches”.
Dr. Davison of the Farallon Institute, when he was a graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, worked with colleagues there to plumb the Pacific off Southern California, doing so repeatedly from 2010 to 2012. Again, the little fish ruled.
Last year, oceanographers from Spain, Australia, Norway, and Saudi Arabia reported on a research cruise that circumnavigated the globe to probe the life densities of the inky depths. It, too, reaffirmed the new wisdom, calling bristlemouths of the genus Cyclothone “the most abundant vertebrate on earth.”
For decades, Dr. Robison of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute has used robots to explore the Monterey Canyon, a deep gorge in California’s coastal seabed that goes down more than a mile. Unlike most ocean scientists, he has closely observed swarms of the little creatures in their native habitat. “They have a swimming pattern that’s really unfishlike,” he said in an interview. “In smaller ones, the whole body gets involved, wiggling and wriggling through the water. It’s not a typical swimming behavior with the fin.”
Dr. Robison added that bristlemouths have very small eyes that in the dim habitat seemed to play little or no role in finding prey. Instead, like many aquatic vertebrates, the fish apparently relies on its lateral line— a system of sense organs that can detect movement and vibration in the surrounding water. The organs run lengthwise down both sides of a fish’s body from the gill region to the tail.
And the rows of glowing dots on the bristlemouth’s abdomen? Dr. Robison said they appeared to be camouflage that helped the creature hide from predators.
In the ocean’s twilight zone, where little sunlight falls, it is hard for predators to see downward but, in daytime, possible for them to observe things above, which appear as silhouettes. To avoid giving away their presence, some prey species use bioluminescent spots to blend in with the surrounding light, a strategy known as counter-illumination.
Dr. Robison said bristlemouths appeared to “counter-illuminate so their shadows won’t be seen.” He said scientists had shown experimentally that ocean creatures could make their silhouettes disappear, and that the intensity and wavelength from their glowing organs could shift to exactly match the surrounding light.
“But nobody,” Dr. Robison said, has yet been able to prove that the ruse of counter-illumination “can fool a predator”.
It has taken roughly a century and a half, but science has finally come to know the bristlemouth and its ranks of trillions fairly well, even if questions remain. Not so other creatures of the deep. If the tortuous route to identifying the dominant fish is any indication, it will take longer still for science to learn about the uncommon forms of life that roam the sunless depths— the planet’s main biosphere.
“We keep seeing lots of different critters we haven’t seen before,” Dr. Robison said of voyages in the Monterey Canyon and beyond. He added: “The deeper you go, the stranger things get.”
The current tally of animal species on the planet runs to about two million, including the bristlemouths. Dr. Robison said the global ocean might harbor a million more species unknown to science.
“It’s at least a million,” he said. “That’s because there’s so many places we haven’t looked.”
Rico says he's sure that his father, a Scripps oceanographer, knows most of these people...

Iran for the day

The BBC has its usual non-bloggable video by journalist Mohamed Madi, and a mini-article:
International negotiations on Iran's nuclear program are rapidly approaching their deadline. The negotiations aim to see limits placed on Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for the removal of international sanctions.
However there are still several issues to reconcile before a deal can be reached.
Rico says this one's not gonna end well... (Hopefully Rico can get his book, Armageddon, out before the whole thing self-destructs...)

History for the day

On 29 June 1995, the shuttle Atlantis and the Russian space station Mir docked, forming the largest man-made satellite (photo) ever to orbit the Earth.

Flora Scissorhands

Rico says our cat, Flora, the polydactyl, has taken to urging him to wake up by extending her many claws and poking him (gently, it's true, but they are sharp) to wake up at oh-dark-thirty to feed her and Bud (who prefers just stomping around on Rico to achieve the same effect)...

29 June 2015

Fuck a duck...

Marie McCullough and Maria Panaritis have an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about the Tall Ships duck:
The duck is dead. Deflated. Done.
After three frenzied days of working to repair and re-inflate the world's largest known rubber ducky for the Tall Ships Festival, crews gave up on her Sunday, saying it was time to send the badly wounded waterfowl to the "duck doctor".
Mama Duck's entourage dashed revelers' hopes for resuscitation just hours before the fireworks extravaganza on the Delaware River waterfront in Camden and Philadelphia.
The sixty-foot-tall nylon creation was to have been a major draw to the four-day festival but suffered grave wounds on Thursday and was nowhere to be seen for most of the weekend.
Officials thought they had finally repaired the duck enough to bring her out Sunday. They even inflated her. But strong winds, combined with a touch of flimsy engineering, remained her mortal foe.
"Some of the sailboats were concerned that, if it got loose, it would blow a hundred-thousand-dollar mast," said Marc Burr, the self-styled "commander" of the inflatable behemoth, built two years ago by Draw Events of Duluth, Minnesota. "We tried," said Burr, "and then we just pulled the plug."
The monstrous rubber ducky was making its second world appearance in Philadelphia, after debuting last year at a West Coast port of call. But instead of quacking people up while floating up and down the Delaware, the eleven-ton duck spent most of the weekend in intensive care, being sewn back together at Camden's Wiggins Park marina.
"It's going back to the factory," a deflated-sounding Burr said Sunday evening. "To the duck doctor."
Her grim fate was a cruel contrast to the warm, breezy weather that emerged Sunday, delighting crowds who flocked to the festival's music, food, and tours of tall ships, including the Coast Guard vessel Barque Eagle and Canada's Barque Picton Castle. The intermittent sunshine was a welcome change after the torrential Saturday evening rains that forced festival organizers to postpone the scheduled fireworks until Sunday night.
The duck's trouble had started Thursday afternoon, the first day of the festival, when she was part of the "parade of sail" of ships on the river. She proudly bobbed atop a giant, specially-designed, inflatable pontoon boat that formed her base when suddenly "we heard a kind of 'pop', " Burr recalled. The pontoon boat had sprung a leak. It started taking on water, sucking the attached duck into the depths of the Delaware with it. "We put a noose around the duck's neck," Burr said.
But rather than keep her from sinking, it gashed her even more. The ducky suffered a sixty-foot tear. "We sewed it up early Saturday morning before the rains," said Burr, a funeral home director in Chardon, Ohio, who travels with the duck as a hobby. "We got her re-inflated for about fifteen minutes." Then, buffeted by heavy winds at Wiggins Marina and mangled by makeshift rigging that lashed her to the ground, Mama Duck suffered a fresh, twenty-foot rip. She spent Saturday night on the ground in a heap at least fifty feet in diameter that became weighed down with pockets of rainwater. The water had to be manually swept and dumped off the duck before she could be surgically repaired and lashed to new ballasts; three-foot-square bags of calcium chloride trucked in from Home Depot.
"It's still been fun staying up until 3 am, your feet soaking wet," Burr said.
The giant duck debuted, without mishaps, last year at the Tall Ships festival in Los Angeles, California. It immediately became an iconic, if surreal, attraction. But, in Los Angeles, she bobbed atop a sturdier steel platform. The inflatable base that sprang a leak? New to her Philadelphia trip, Burr said.
Around 6 pm on Sunday, Heather Miscavage of Royersford and her children, David, 9, Ruby, 7, and Georgia, 2, had just arrived at Penn's Landing to settle in for the fireworks. They were mildly disappointed that the duck was nowhere in sight. "They're huge rubber-ducky fans. We have a lot at home," Miscavage said. "But, hey, we'll have fun. It's all good."
Rico says it's too bad; that would've been fun...

End exemptions for religions

Mark Oppenheimer has a Time article about an unpopular notion:
Two weeks ago, with a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on the way, Senator Mike Lee of Utah introduced the First Amendment Defense Act, which ensures that religious institutions will not lose their tax exemptions if they don’t support same-sex marriage. Liberals tend to think Senator Lee’s fears are unwarranted, and they can even point to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in the case, which promises “that religious organizations and persons [will be] given proper protection.”
But I don’t think Senator Lee is crazy. In the 1983 Bob Jones University case, the court ruled that a school could lose tax-exempt status if its policies violated “fundamental national public policy.” So far, the Bob Jones reasoning hasn’t been extended to other kinds of discrimination, but someday it could be. I’m a gay-rights supporter who was elated by Friday’s Supreme Court decision — but I honor Senator Lee’s fears. I don’t, however, like his solution. And he’s not going to like mine. Rather than try to rescue tax-exempt status for organizations that dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality, we need to take a more radical step. It’s time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses.
The Federal revenue acts of 1909, 1913, and 1917 exempted nonprofits from the corporate excise and income taxes at the same time that they allowed people to deduct charitable contributions from their incomes. In other words, they gave tax-free status to the income of, and to the income donated to, nonprofits. Since then, state and local laws nearly everywhere have exempted nonprofits from all, or most, property tax and state income tax. This system of tax exemptions and deductions took shape partly during World War One, when it was feared that the new income tax, with top rates as high as 77%, might choke off charitable giving. But whatever its intentions, today it’s a mess, for several reasons.
First, the religious exemption has forced the IRS to decide what’s a religion, and thus has entangled church and state in the worst way. Since the world’s great religion scholars can’t agree on what a religion is, it’s absurd to ask a bunch of accountants, no matter how well-meaning. You can read part of the IRS’ guidelines for what’s a bona fide religion here; suffice it to say that it has an easier time saying what’s not a religion. The site gives the example of the rejection of an application from an “outgrowth of a supper club … whose primary activities were holding meetings before supper, sponsoring the supper club, and publishing a newsletter” but which professed a religious doctrine of “ethical egoism”.
On the other hand, the IRS famously caved and awarded the Church of Scientology tax-exempt status. Never mind that the Scientology is secretive, or that it charges for its courses; or that its leader, David Miscavige, lives like a pasha. Indeed, many clergy have mid-six-figure salaries— many university presidents, seven-figure salaries— and the IRS doesn’t trouble their tax-exempt status. And many churches and synagogues sit on exceedingly valuable tracts of land (walk up and down Fifth Avenue in New York City to see what I mean). The property taxes they aren’t paying have to be drawn from business owners and private citizens; in a real sense, you and I are subsidizing Mormon temples, Muslim mosques, and Methodist churches.
 We’re also subsidizing wealthy organizations sitting in the middle of poor towns. Yale University has an endowment of about $25 billion, yet it pays very little to the city of New Haven, which I, as a resident, can assure you needs the money. At the prep school I attended (current endowment: $175 million), faculty houses, owned by the school, were tax-exempt, on the theory that teachers sometimes had students over for dinner, where they talked about history or literature or swim practice.
Meanwhile, although nonprofits can’t endorse political candidates, they can be quite partisan and still thrive on the public dole, in the form of tax exemptions and deductions. Conservatives are footing the bill for taxes that Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit, doesn’t pay, while liberals are making up revenue lost from the National Rifle Association. I could go on. In short, the exemption-and-deduction regime has grown into a pointless, incoherent agglomeration of nonsensical loopholes, which can allow rich organizations to horde plentiful assets in the midst of poverty.
Defenders of tax exemptions and deductions argues that, if we got rid of them, charitable giving would drop. It surely would, although how much, we can’t say. But of course government revenue would go up, and that money could be used to, say, house the homeless and feed the hungry. We’d have fewer church soup kitchens, but countries that truly care about poverty don’t rely on churches to run soup kitchens.
Exemption advocates also point out that churches would be squeezed out of high-property-value areas. But if it’s important to the people of Fifth Avenue to have a synagogue like Emanu-El or an Episcopal church like St. Thomas in their midst, they should pay full freight for it. They can afford to, more than millions of poorer New Yorkers whose tax bills the synagogue and church exemptions are currently inflating.
So yes, the logic of gay-marriage rights could lead to a reexamination of conservative churches’ tax exemptions (although, as long as the IRS is afraid of challenging Scientology’s exemption, everyone else is probably safe). But when that day comes, it will be long overdue. I can see keeping some exemptions; hospitals, in particular, are an indispensable, and noncontroversial, public good. And localities could always carve out sensible property-tax exceptions for nonprofits their communities need. But it’s time for most nonprofits, like those of us who faithfully cut checks to them, to pay their fair share.
Rico says he couldn't agree more; but this will not go over well with the religious... (And if it seems to violate that spurious 'separation of Church and State' thing, so what? The churches have never balked at interfering with government when it suits them...)

The mystery of the female orgasm

The BBC has an article by Linda Geddes about a mystery, revealed:
On my washing machine, there is a lock. To activate it, you must hold down the start button for a particular length of time at just the right intensity; too soft and nothing happens, too hard and the machine beeps angrily at you. Once you’ve mastered the technique, it’s easy; the lights switch on, things start moving and the cycle ultimately climaxes in a shuddering whirling crescendo of noise. Finally, an entangled heap of damp but refreshed clothes tumbles out at the other end. But for the uninitiated, it’s a perplexing mystery.
Consider now the female orgasm. JD Salinger once wrote that “a woman’s body is like a violin; it takes a terrific musician to play it right”. Pressed or caressed the right way, a woman can be transported to such ecstasy, that for a few seconds, the rest of the world ceases to exist.  But get it wrong and pain, frustration, or dull nothingness can ensue. It’s a stark contrast to a man’s experience; so long as they can get an erection, a few minutes of vigorous stimulation generally results in ejaculation.
Why are orgasms so intensely pleasurable? How come women can experience multiple orgasms? And does the fabled G-spot even exist? These are some of the most enduring mysteries of medicine. “We are able to go to the moon, but we do not understand enough about our own bodies,” says Emmanuele Jannini at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, one of those who has spent his career trying to unravel it. Recent years have seen a flurry of studies by these real-life Masters of Sex, and they are finally getting some answers.
Perhaps the scientists’ greatest skill is in persuading women to sweep aside their inhibitions, and masturbate, or even copulate, under the full glare of scientific research, including the uncomfortable environment of the fMRI scanner. One of the leaders of this research has been Barry Komisaruk at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who wanted to probe whether brain differences can explain why women and men experience sex so differently.
It turns out that, despite their varied experiences, both men and women show roughly the same neural activity during orgasm. “The similarities between men and women at orgasm are far greater than the differences,” says Komisaruk. “What we see is an overall activation of the brain; basically it’s like all systems go.”
This may explain why orgasms are so all-consuming; if the whole forest is blazing, it’s difficult to discriminate between the different campfires that were there at the start. “At orgasm, if everything gets activated simultaneously, this can obliterate the fine discrimination between activities,” Komisaruk adds. It is maybe why you can’t think about anything else.
There are hotspots in this furnace, however. One is the nucleus accumbens, a brain region that deals in pleasure and reward through the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Given the choice, rats will choose electrical stimulation of this brain region over food to the extent that they would allow themselves to starve to death. Besides sex, it’s also activated by cocaine, amphetamine, caffeine, nicotine, and chocolate. No wonder orgasms make you want to keep on going back for more.
After orgasm, however, some important differences do emerge, which might begin to explain why men and women react so differently after climax. Komisaruk, with Kachina Allen, has found preliminary evidence that specific regions of the male brain become unresponsive to further sensory stimulation of the genitals in the immediate aftermath of orgasm, whereas women’s brains continue to be activated: this may be why some women experience multiple orgasms, and men do not.
If these brain scans have generated some controversy, it has been nothing compared to the attempts to pin down the anatomy of the orgasm. The penis has just one route for carrying sensations to the brain, the female genital tract has three or four. At the seat of female sexuality is the clitoris: familiar to most as a small, pebble-shaped nubbin, plonked in an awkward position, a centimeter or so in front of the vaginal opening. Precisely who discovered the importance of this structure is up for debate. Ice-age clay models, known as Venus figurines, depict a faceless woman with large breasts, a rounded belly, a prominent vagina and labia and, on one model, a clitoris.
It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that the clitoris began to be described as a distinct physical structure, common to all women, with the function of inducing pleasure. In his book, De re anatomica, published in 1559, Realdo Columbo described the clitoris as “the seat of a woman’s delight”. Yet, in subsequent centuries, female pleasure took a back seat, and the clitoris was largely forgotten, at least by anatomists and physicians. It re-emerged in the twentieth century, but was still regarded as inferior by many.  Though Sigmund Freud at least acknowledged that women can experience orgasm, he believed that clitoral responsivity is superseded by vaginal orgasm in mature women. The inability to experience vaginal orgasms is associated with psychosexual immaturity, he wrote. If that were true, then there would be an awful lot of women out there who just aren’t realising their sexual potential.  Between thirty and forty percent of women claim never to have experienced an orgasm through vaginal penetration alone, though many more can orgasm through clitoral stimulation.
The suggestion that the vaginal orgasm is somehow superior has irked many feminists. It sounds as if women who don’t experience vaginal orgasms just aren’t trying hard enough. So should vaginal orgasms be a rite of passage for all women, or just a privileged few? Is it even possible to have an orgasm in the absence of a clitoris?
Barry Komisaruk took the first steps to answering these questions by chance, while he was studying mating behaviors in rats. One day, while inserting a rod into a female rat’s vagina, he triggered a bizarre response: “As soon as I touched the cervix, the rats would become rigidly immobile,” he says. Not only that but, during this kind of stimulation, the rats became apparently insensitive to pain. Soon afterwards, he switched his rats for women, and noticed the same thing: vaginal stimulation blocked the transmission of pain. But how?
To find out, Komisaruk conducted a study with Beverly Whipple that looked at women with varying degrees of spinal cord injury. They found that, even when their injuries blocked the known nerve pathways in the spinal cord from the genitals to the brain, these women could still feel when their vagina and cervix were being touched. Some even experienced orgasm from it, despite the pudendal nerve  which carries sensations from the clitoris to the brain being cut. “Women with spinal cord injury who could not feel their clitoris, nevertheless had orgasms from vaginal stimulation,” says Komisaruk. “That’s probably the best evidence that vaginal orgasms exist.”
The reason is that from the vagus nerves, which are situated outside the spinal cord, carry sensations from the vagina to the brain. “Women describe clitoral orgasms as more localized and external, and vaginal orgasms as being internal and involving the whole-body; that’s probably because the nerves that carry sensations from the clitoris are different from the nerves from the vagina,” Komisaruk adds.  And as for the puzzling fact that vaginal orgasms can block pain, the nerves connected to the spinal cord may inhibit the release of the neurotransmitter involved in pain perception. Once signals reach the brain, they could also trigger the release of neurotransmitters like endorphins that also relieve pain.
So if different nerves can carry sensations from different regions of the female genitalia, and both can trigger orgasm, are some regions of the vagina more sensitive than others? Where should couples go hunting for the elusive vaginal orgasm?
The famed “G-spot” was, for a long time, the prime target. The term was first coined in the early 1980s, for the German obstetrician and gynecologist, Ernst Gräfenberg. In 1950, he described an erogenous zone on the anterior, or front wall of the vagina, which correlated with the position of the urethra on the other side of that wall. Subsequent studies revealed a complex of blood vessels, nerve endings and remnants of the female prostate gland in the same area; and suggested that in a minority of women, particularly those with strong pelvic floor muscles, stimulation of this area could trigger powerful orgasms and the release of a small amount of fluid from the urethra that was not urine.
Word soon began to leak out about this magic button on the front wall of the vagina. Couples invested time, and often fruitless effort into finding it. Some feminists, meanwhile, claimed that the publicity surrounding the G-spot was an attempt by men to recoup the importance of vaginal penetration, after the spotlight had shifted to the clitoris during the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s.
Evidence to support or refute the existence of the G-spot is patchy, and often overhyped. One study ‘disproving’ the existence of a G-spot was based on an MRI scan of just one woman. The debate is further obscured by a dispute about the correct terminology for the various inner regions of women’s private parts, and also where one structure starts and another ends.
However, there do seem to be physical differences between women who claim to experience vaginal orgasm and those who don’t. In 2008, Jannini published a study involving nine such responders, and eleven who said they’d never climaxed during penetrative sex alone. Ultrasound scans revealed a thicker area of tissue in the space between the vagina and the urethra in those that could.
At the time, Jannini concluded that this might well be evidence for the fabled G-spot. But further studies have prompted a rethink. “The word spot suggests a button; something that you can push to obtain an orgasm or pleasure,” he says. “It implies a concrete structure that’s either there or it’s not. No one has been able to clearly describe such a structure as a spot.”
So if it’s not a button, what else could it be? For a growing number of researchers the answer is simple: the clitoris. Although to most people, the clitoris is just a pea-shaped bobble under the surface of the skin, recent MRI studies suggest that the clitoris is far from diminutive. They reveal a large, bulbous structure around nine centimeters in length, which somewhat resembles a wishbone. It snakes its way around the outside of the vagina and up inside the pelvis alongside the urethra.
At the head of that wishbone is the glans, the external part that most people feel as the clitoris, and the most sensitive part. But the legs straddle the vaginal opening and extend into the labia.
It could also be described as a two-headed penis. Both the clitoris and the penis are derived from the same embryonic tissue; a swelling called the tubercle which emerges during the early stages of embryogenesis and then branches into either the clitoris and vulval tissue in girls, or the penis and scrotum in boys. But there are important differences; for one thing, the penis doesn’t grow in response to hormones like testosterone once puberty ceases, whereas the clitoris does. “It is not simply a little penis,” Jannini says. The vagina also responds to hormones, including oestrogen, which helps explain why women’s sexual response varies throughout their lives.
This complexity may explain why it has been so difficult to prove or disprove the existence of the G-spot; it’s not easy to stimulate the frontal wall of the vagina in isolation. You’re also likely rubbing up against the internal portions of the clitoris and the urethra as well.
Indeed, further research by Jannini and Odile Buisson at the Centre d’échographie in Saint Germain en Laye, France, has demonstrated this. They persuaded three women to either stimulate the front wall of their vaginas using a lubricated tampon, or use their fingers to stimulate the external parts of their clitoris while using ultrasound to image what was happening beneath the skin. Vaginal penetration caused the internal parts of the clitoris and the tissue around the urethra to move and become engorged, whereas during manual masturbation, only the external parts of the clitoris were stimulated.
It gets even more complicated; in yet other women, vaginal penetration might simultaneously be stimulating both the external and the internal parts of the clitoris.
In 2009, a 42-year-old woman presented at the clinic of Rachel Pauls, a urogynecologist based in Cincinnati, Ohio. The woman had been born without a bladder, and had undergone extensive reconstructive surgery to correct some of these problems. There is a silver lining to this cloud, however; “she has incredible orgasms,” Pauls says. Indeed, she told Pauls that she averages two orgasms every time she has sex, one through manual stimulation of her clitoris; the other through vaginal penetration alone. Pauls was particularly fascinated by her story, because the women’s urethra, and therefore the associated bundle of nerves and structures usually labelled the G-spot, wasn’t in the usual place. Additionally, the woman’s clitoris was positioned on the very edge of her vaginal opening. “It seemed likely that this was part of why she had such good orgasms,” Pauls says. The penis would brush against it with every thrust.
This sparked an idea. Pauls wondered if the size and location of the clitoris in healthy women might influence the ease with which they orgasm during penetrative sex. So she and her colleagues recruited ten women who claimed rarely or never to achieve orgasm during sexual encounters, and twenty women who said they climax almost every time, and used an MRI scanner to take a detailed look at their clitorises. They found that the smaller the size of the pea-shaped glans, and the further the clitoris was from the vagina, the harder they found it to achieve orgasm.
Taken together, these studies imply that there are multiple routes by which women can experience an orgasm, be it through vaginal stimulation, clitoral stimulation, or both at once. Further studies by Komisaruk have revealed that projections from different regions of the female genitals and indeed the nipples all converge on the same general region of the brain, albeit in slightly different areas. “There’s a good neuro-anatomical basis for different types of orgasms and different types of sensations,” Komisaruk says. “This could account for why combining clitoral, vaginal, and cervical stimulation seems to produce these more intense, complex and pleasurable orgasms that women describe.”
As for women who find it difficult to climax during penetrative sex or, indeed, any sex, the message is simple: experiment. “Women come to see me as patients and they’ll say ‘I can’t have vaginal orgasms, so there must be something wrong with me’. There’s nothing wrong with them. Everyone is a little different, so some women will have a lot of clitoral stimulation during sex, while for others it’s a little harder so their partner may have to use their hands or a toy. But women should know that if they don’t have orgasms with straight out vaginal penetration, then that that’s normal.”
Jannini has an additional message for women: “Not only enjoy sex, but also enjoy knowing yourself and understanding who you are today, because probably tomorrow you will be different.” And don’t underestimate the infinite variety that’s on offer. “Do not think of the female body as a machine that can always deliver the same,” he says.
Rico says there's nothing more wondrous than watching one happen, especially if you've been responsible for it happening...

Solar Impulse passes 'point of no return'

The BBC has an article by Rebecca Morelle about another try by the sun-powered airplane:
A solar-powered plane (photo) has passed the "point of no return" in its second bid at making a record-breaking flight across the Pacific Ocean. Solar Impulse took off from Japan's Nagoya Airfield at 18:03 GMT on Sunday. The journey to Hawai'i is expected to take approximately 120 hours.
The team spent nearly two months waiting for clear weather to cross the Pacific, and a developing cold front forced the plane to make an unscheduled landing in Japan earlier this month.
"Andre Borschberg has passed the point of no return and must now see this flight through to the end," Solar Impulse said on its website. The pilot now no longer has the option to turn around and return to Japan, if the weather forecast changes.
The first attempt to fly over the ocean was cut short after a change in the forecast forced an unscheduled landing. Another attempt to take off last Tuesday was cancelled at the last moment because of concerns about weather conditions.
If the pilot succeeds, it will be the longest-duration solo flight in aviation history, as well as the furthest distance flown by a craft that is powered only by the Sun.
The Pacific crossing is the eighth leg of Solar Impulse's journey around the world. But this stage has proven to be the most difficult, and has been hit by weeks of delays.
null The plane had to make an unscheduled landing in Japan after its first attempt to cross the ocean
Swiss pilot and Solar Impulse co-founder Andre Borschberg, who is flying the experimental single-seater craft, was initially supposed to begin his journey to Hawai'i from Nanjing in China. But he spent weeks there, with his ground-support team, waiting for the right flying conditions to present themselves.He finally took off on 31 May, but a deterioration in the forecast a few hours into the mission meant that he had to divert to Japan. The rainy season in Nagoya has meant another long wait there but, after the false start last week, meteorologists are now confident they have found a weather window to make the five-day, five-night crossing to Hawai'i.
A spokesperson said that the plane would be heading straight out across the Pacific.
The experimental craft, which has seventeen thousand solar cells, is powered only by the Sun. Once over the ocean, if it fails to soak up enough rays to fully charge its batteries and make it through the night, the pilot could be forced to bail out. Borschberg has been trained for that eventuality. He has a dinghy and enough supplies for several days while he waits for the team to identify a vessel to go pick him up.
But, of course, the team hopes none of this will be necessary.
Borschberg will spend the duration of the flight strapped into his seat in a cockpit that is about the same size as a telephone booth. He will only be allowed to take twenty-minute cat-naps, but says he will use yoga and meditation to make his journey comfortable.
If this flight succeeds, the plane will continue its journey around the world, with Bertrand Piccard taking the controls for the next Pacific crossing from Hawai'i to the US mainland. The plane will then continue across North America, before attempting to fly over the Atlantic. However, the build-up of delays could impact on the later stages. Ideally, the plane needs to cross the Atlantic before August, when the hurricane season reaches its peak.
Rico says he hopes they make it this time...

28 June 2015

Movie review for the day: ZtBS

Rico says that there's nothing quite like a Zatoichi movie, and Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman was no exception.
When you get tired of seeing people cut down by very sharp blades, there's the interminable (this being a very Japanese movie) mass dancing (in clogs, no less; sort of like Death Wish meets A Chorus Line) to make you long for some snappy swordplay...

Calling tech support

Rico's friend Mike forwards this:

Study these three photos closely. This is India; it's where you call when you have a technical problem with your computer...


Rico missed it, alas

Cartoon for the day

Rico's friend Kelley forwards this:

History for the day

On 28 June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed (photo) in France, ending World War One.

27 June 2015

The biggest gun

Rico's friend Kelley, also a military history junkie, sends this:

More about Malta:

Racism for the day

Rico's friend Brian, from the Delaware Blues, sent this snide comment:

Yep, the Confederate flag stands for racism and hatred, like this example.

Carlin on men and women

Rico's fiancé sent him this cogent discussion of the problem, by George Carlin:

Bang on the Fourth

Stacy Cowley has an article in The New York Times about changes in the law:
After stocking up on sparklers and flaming fountains, Don Eason (photo) couldn’t resist adding one more impulse buy to his incendiary items: a Fiery Frog, which promises to erupt in a column of crackling, multicolor sparks. “Daddy’s getting you a green thing, too,” he told his three-year-old twin sons (photo).
“Green!” Devine said enthusiastically, as his brother, Daylan, waved a box of sparklers and shouted, “Fireworks!”
For the first time in more than a century, shoppers like Eason can legally buy some small, consumer-grade fireworks in parts of New York State. They remain banned in New York City, but, in November, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation allowing limited sales in counties that choose to permit them. More than thirty of New York’s sixty-two counties opted in, allowing “sparkling devices,” as the law refers to them, to be sold and used within their borders.
New York’s law is the latest outcome of a nationwide movement toward relaxing fireworks restrictions. Only three states— Delaware, Massachusetts, and New Jersey— still ban all consumer sales, and this year, Georgia expanded its law, allowing a broader range of products to be sold.
The wave of legalization began in earnest in 2000, when Connecticut passed a limited law allowing only the sale of sparklers and fountains, said Julie L. Heckman, the executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association. Following that model, at least half a dozen states that previously had forbidden all sales changed their laws to allow residents to buy and use some types of fireworks. “The states are all competing for revenue,” Heckman said. “Especially in the past several years, because of the tough economy, they got tired of the general public crossing state lines, purchasing products and bringing them back in.”
Keeping residents’ cash within the state was a big motivation for New York’s change. The bill’s sponsor, Michael F. Nozzolio, a Republican state senator from the Finger Lakes region, estimates that New York could collect two million dollars in tax revenue on sales this year.
New York’s rules remain stricter than those in many other places. Consumer fireworks can be sold only during two annual time periods — June 1 through July 5, and Dec. 26 through Jan. 2 — and only ground-based and hand-held devices are allowed. Projectile fireworks that launch aerial displays remain off limits.
Continue reading the main story
Fireworks on display on Sherman Avenue in Inwood in 2012.Manhattan’s Illegal Fireworks, a Tradition of Boom and BustJULY 3, 2014
Crowds watching the fireworks at Brooklyn Bridge Park on the Fourth of July last year.Brooklyn and Queens to Gain Views of July 4th FireworksMAY 20, 2015
Merchants say plenty of shoppers are undeterred by those restrictions.
“People are just so delighted to buy sparklers,” said Camille Esposito, the owner of July 4 Ever, a fireworks company in Walden, N.Y., that she runs with her husband, Anthony. “They’ve been our biggest seller. Everyone picks up a box or two.”
July 4 Ever is a display fireworks business that specializes in weddings and celebrations, but the Espositos jumped into consumer sales as soon as they became legal, opening four temporary shops. Their flagship location, in the parking lot of the Orange County Choppers supermarket in Newburgh, is packed with fountains, snappers, snakes, smoke bombs and all the other fireworks that New York allows.
For the first time in more than a century, New York State is allowing the sale of certain types of consumer-grade fireworks. Credit Fred R. Conrad for The New York Times
Continue reading the main story
Continue reading the main story
Continue reading the main story
Customers are often surprised that they cannot get all of the firepower available in Pennsylvania, which restricts fireworks use within the state but allows out-of-state visitors to buy more powerful pyrotechnics.
“You got blockbusters? M-80s?” Jason Beams asked on Thursday as he looked over July 4 Ever’s selection. Ms. Esposito shook her head. “How about bottle rockets? Jumping jacks?”
Mr. Beams settled for some sparklers and smoke bombs, which his 5-year-old son immediately opened to inspect. Like many in the area, Mr. Beams remembers playing with fireworks when he was younger.
Although New York had a ban on the books as far back as 1909, enforcement throughout the state waxed and waned over the years. In New York City, illegal sales became rarer after 1995, when Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani formed a task force to seize shipments brought into the city.
Some shoppers are not interested in the tamer offerings, Ms. Esposito acknowledged, but most make at least a few purchases. “My No. 1 sales pitch is: ‘You’re doing this legally. You can’t get in trouble. Why would you jeopardize that by going to Pennsylvania?’ ” she said.
TNT Fireworks, one of the nation’s largest fireworks distributors, said its sales in New York had been 20 to 25 percent higher than in any other state during the first year of sales. Across the industry, this season is shaping up to be strong. Consumer fireworks sales were a record $695 million last year, according to the industry’s trade group, and this year will most likely top that, in part because the Fourth of July is falling on a Saturday and turning the holiday into a three-day weekend.
“People are in a mood to celebrate,” said William A. Weimer, the vice president of Phantom Fireworks, a national retailer with more than 1,200 seasonal locations. “The economy has picked up a bit, and we’ve had pretty good weather so far, except way out West.”
Half of New York State’s 62 counties now permit sales of sparklers and fountains, but firecrackers and projectiles that launch aerial displays remain banned. Credit Fred R. Conrad for The New York Times
New York’s unusual patchwork law, with sales legal in some counties but not in others, has been a frustration for some businesses. Majestic Fireworks, a family-owned display company and wholesaler, is based in Clinton, N.Y., where consumer sales are banned. It set up a retail tent in neighboring Madison County, about a 15-minute drive from the company’s headquarters.
“I would definitely have preferred to put my tax dollars in Oneida County and stayed home,” said Tami Seaman, a company manager.
At July 4 Ever, Ms. Esposito has a list posted of which parts of the state allow fireworks. Consumer education has been a big part of her job.
Some shoppers are surprised to learn that any fireworks at all are legal, and many are unfamiliar with the kinds of sparkling fountains and ground devices that New York allows. She steers buyers toward some of her favorites, like the Firecracker One, a $10 plane that whistles and rolls, or the Komodo 3000, a $70 fountain that lasts about four minutes.
Bob Kramarik, a retailer in Big Flats, N.Y., said he was surprised that small items were selling better than flashier ones. His average sale so far is around $30, a figure he hopes will increase closer to Independence Day.
“I think a lot of people are preshopping,” he said. “They’re getting some things, taking them home and playing with them, and then coming back. We’re starting to see some repeat customers.”
Selling fireworks is a financially risky experiment for Mr. Kramarik, who owns Bobby K. Entertainment, a company that provides staffing and equipment at events. His retail tent is just 10 miles from the Pennsylvania border, and people in town are accustomed to going there to buy “the huge stuff,” he said. He invested several thousand dollars in setup costs, including $250 for a state license and $180 for a specialized fire extinguisher, and hired two seasonal workers.
Will it pay off?
“I ask myself that every day,” he said. “It’s very hard to tell until we get down to the Fourth. One thing I know: We’re going to be very aggressive in our pricing the day after.”
Rico says WHAT

A hundred years of blockbusters

Rico says they're all here:


Will Robinson has a Time article about Joni Mitchell:
There hasn’t been an update on singer Joni Mitchell’s condition in a while, but friend David Crosby gave one recently. Speaking to HuffPost Live, the 73-year-old answered a Twitter question concerning the health of his friend, who was hospitalized on 30 March 2015 after being found unconscious in her home.
“To my knowledge, she is not speaking yet. She is home, she is in care, she is recovering,” he said. “She took a terrible hit. She had an aneurysm, and nobody found her for a while. And she’s going to have to struggle back from it the way you struggle back from any traumatic brain injury.”
Crosby and Mitchell’s friendship dates back to the 1960s music scene in Los Angeles, California. The two dated for a period. As he continued talking, Crosby came off cautiously optimistic concerning her outlook. “She’s a tough girl and very smart,” he said. “So, how much she’s going to come back, and when, I don’t know, and I’m not going to guess.”
Her team has posted updates about the 71-year-old’s recovery to her website with the most recent being on 28 April 2015, stating that “a full recovery is expected”.
See Crosby’s full interview about Mitchell above.
Rico says he had a similar brain bleed; hopefully she'll recover, too.

Lucky find

Alexandra Sifferlin has a Time article about a nice thing to find:
A very lucky Colorado woman found an 8.52 carat diamond this week at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas.
Bobbie Oskarson of Longmont, Colorado discovered the diamond after only twenty minutes of searching. According to the park, it’s the fifth largest diamond discovered by a visitor since the state park was established in 1972. The diamond is about three-quarters of an inch long and is as wide as a Number Two pencil.
Oskarson is calling her find the Esperanza Diamond, which is her niece’s name as well “hope” in Spanish. She found the diamond in an area of the park called the Pig Pen, because it’s one of the muddiest spots. She currently plans to keep it.
Oskarson’s eight-and-a-half-carat diamond is absolutely stunning, sparkling with a metallic shine, and appears to be an unbroken, capsule-shaped crystal. It features smooth, curved facets, a characteristic shared by all unbroken diamonds from the Crater of Diamonds,” said Park Interpreter Waymon Cox in a statement.
Rico says it'll be smaller if she gets it cut; better to mount it as is...

Disney, leading the way

Eric Dodds has a Time article about a timely ban:
Walt Disney World announced that selfie sticks would be banned from its theme parks, in the wake of an incident that stalled a roller coaster at Disney California Adventure on Wednesday.
Previously, the elongated rods designed to facilitate picture-taking had been allowed in the parks themselves, but banned from rides and attractions.
“We strive to provide a great experience for the entire family, and unfortunately selfie-sticks have become a growing safety concern for both our guests and cast,” Disney World spokeswoman Kim Prunty said.
The incident in California earlier this week, which halted the California Screamin’ roller coaster for nearly an hour, may finally have convinced Disney of the myriad problems the sticks can cause if allowed into parks.
Selfie sticks will join a list of restricted items that include skateboards, shoes with built-in wheels, and wagons, presumably both covered and not covered.
Rico says the Pope can get away with it, of course...

One down, one to go

The New York Times has an article by William Rashbaum and Benjamin Mueller:
Richard W. Matt (photo), one of the convicted murderers who staged an elaborate escape from New York's largest prison nearly three weeks ago, was fatally shot on Friday.

Scam for the day

Rico says, yes, the ladyfriend has EZ-Pass for the vehicle, but it ain't in Rico's name, and it's auto-pay anyway...
Pay for driving on toll road, invoice #0000659122
From: E-ZPass Agent
Fri, 26 Jun, 2015 at 23:37
Notice to Appear:
You have a unpaid bill for using toll road.
Please service your debt in the shortest possible time.
The invoice is attached to this email.
Kind regards,
Willard Harvey,
E-ZPass Agent
Rico says the attachment was a gibberish file.

26 June 2015

More on the Confederate flag

Rico says it's becoming a tiresome argument...

That mythical Jeep in a crate

War History Online has an article about something World War Two junkies dream of:
During World War Two, Ford and Willys produced over six hundred thousand Jeeps as light utility vehicles. The bulk of these, nearly four hundred thousand units, were Willys MB models
No one disputes the legendary origins of the Jeep. The versatile 4×4 helped change the tide of the war, and won the affections of GI’s and civilians everywhere. By the time World War Two ended, more than six hundred thousand Willys MB’s and Ford GPW’s had been built. The Jeep accounted for over fifteen percent of \ total wartime military vehicle production.
Before the first GI’s were shipped home, Willys began looking for way to capitalize on the popularity of the Jeep. They began by offering the first CJ (Civilian Jeep) in 1946 as the CJ2A. The quarter-ton 4×4 was designed as the go anywhere & do anything vehicle: it was a tractor, it was a truck, it was a power plant, it was a wagon. Soon others looked to capitalize of the phenomenon. Ads began popping up in magazines like Popular Science and Boy’s Life, advertising Jeeps in a Crate for as little as fifty bucks.
Like most surplus ads run today, scammers sought to take advantage of consumers by promising them great deals like fifty dollar Jeeps in exchange for twenty dollars and a self-addressed stamped envelop. The advertisers, of course, were selling free public information concerning government auctions. The truth is that, even though thousands of MB’s and parts were auctioned off, the vast majority were scrapped following the war.
The “cheap surplus Army jeep” story was reinforced by ads that ran for decades in the back of Popular Mechanics and other magazines. They promised to tell you, for a fee, how to buy government surplus. The ads usually featured a headline reading: Jeeps $50 over a stock drawing of an Army jeep. The text said the publication would open the door on fabulous surplus bargains, including jeeps, trucks, power tools, and other desirable goods.
If you actually sent in your money and bought their publication, it was just a copy of a pamphlet— available for free from the government— that explained how to bid on surplus property; basically, it was a scam that preyed on people’s lack of knowledge.
Near the end of World War Two, Popular Science ran a contest in their March of 1945 issue. The public was asked to write in with their ideas on How I’ll Use Surplus War Goods. While everything from Quonset huts and B-29 fuselages to carbines and chain saws were mentioned, the humble Jeep was the number one item on everyone’s mind. Fully one-third of all the letters received by Popular Science listed the Jeep, many from farmers and ranchers who saw immediate utility in the small vehicle long before the civilian recreational 4×4 was dreamed of. In an article published in Popular Science in October of 1945, reviewing their surplus contest, they said:
And jeeps, of course, are still at the very top of the list, both among men still in the service and among civilians.
Later in the same article they caution:
... most of the surplus jeeps will have taken a beating and will be in considerably less than first-class condition.
No one was discouraged by the warning. 
Jeeps were produced and packed in crates for shipment to US forces, and countries like England and the Soviet Union, who the US supplied during World War Two. At the Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Richmond, California, about seventy percent of production was crated, due to their close proximity to the port of San Francisco.
Crating up a jeep was expensive and time consuming, so it was only done when absolutely necessary. Jeeps that were crated were complete vehicles, not a box of parts; windshields were folded, wheels taken off, and a few other things done to minimize the cubeage. Very few, if any, of these crated jeeps remained in the United States, even during the war. After more than sixty years, there are probably none left. Several organizations and dealers have had a substantial reward offered for years for anyone who can produce one and no one has claimed the money.
Rico says he wouldn't want one, but knows why others would...

The Ant and the Grasshopper, redux

Rico says his father forwards The Ant And The Grasshopper, the 2015 version:

The traditional version :
The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up  supplies for the winter.
The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.
Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed, but the grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he dies out in the cold.
The moral of the story:  Be responsible for yourself

The current version:
The ant works hard in the withering heat and the rain all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.
The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.
Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well-fed, while he is cold and starving.
CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, and ABC show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home, with a table filled with food. America is stunned by the contrast. How can this be that, in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?
Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper, and everybody cries when they sing,
It's Not Easy Being Green.

Occupy the Anthill stages a demonstration in front of the ant's house, where the news stations film the SEIU singing We Shall Overcome.

Then the Reverend Al Sharpton's assistant has the group kneel down to pray for the grasshopper while he damns the ants. (Reverend Al can not attend, as he has contractual commitments to appear on his MSNBC show, for which he is paid over two million dollars a year to complain that rich people do not care.)
President Obama condemns the ant and blames President Bush 43, President Bush 41, President Reagan, Christopher Columbus, and the Pope for the grasshopper's plight..
Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid exclaim in an interview on The View that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and both call for a tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.
Finally, the EEOC drafts the Economic Equity & Anti-Grasshopper Act, retroactive to the summer.
The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the Government Green Czar and given to the grasshopper .
The story ends as we see the grasshopper and his free-loading friends finishing up the last bits of the ant's food, while the government house he is in (which, as you recall, was the ant's old house) crumbles around them because the grasshopper doesn't maintain it.
The ant has disappeared in the snow, never to be seen again.
The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident, and the house, now abandoned,
is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the ramshackle, once-prosperous and peaceful neighborhood.  
The entire nation collapses, bringing the rest of the Free World with it.

The moral of the story is this: be careful how you vote in 2016.

Pass this on to other ants, but don't bother sending it to grasshoppers, they wouldn't understand it.

It's the weather

The Economist has an article about global warming, or not:
Early this year, touring a drought-stricken fruit farm in California, President Obama cited the state’s three-year dry spell, the worst on record, as an example of the harm that climate change can cause. Politicians like this sort of pronouncement. David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, said in 2014 that he very much suspected that climate change was behind floods in parts of the country’s south-west. In contrast, climate scientists have been ultra-cautious about attributing specific weather events to global warming. Because weather is, by its nature, variable, it is impossible to know whether climate change caused any particular drought or flood. So the scientists have steered away from making firm connections.
Until now. A new branch of climate science is starting to provide answers to the question: was this drought (or heatwave or storm) at least partly attributable to climate change? In some cases, the answer seems to be a cautious yes. As the research progresses, it could change public perceptions and government policy.
For years, the central debate of climate science has focused on how much global mean surface temperatures would rise by 2100. This is so important that a target for mean temperature rises is likely to be embodied in an international treaty to be signed in Paris later this year. The increase in the mean is the simplest way to measure the long-term impact of climate change. But it has drawbacks. It makes global warming seem like something that will happen in a hundred years’ time. Most people do not think about global temperatures, but local ones. And climate change affects ecosystems not just through increases in the mean, but also through changes in the extremes— more intense droughts, say. Extremes also have a profound impact on people: a heatwave in 2003 caused about seventy thousand premature deaths in Europe. Focusing on links between climate change and the local weather thus makes sense in terms of both science and public understanding.
In principle, attributing the weather to climate change might seem straightforward. The two are so closely related that the climate can be defined as the average daily weather over a long period (or, as Edward Lorenz, a mathematician and meteorologist, once put it, “climate is what you expect; weather is what you get”).
In practice, though, there are so many influences upon the weather— famously expressed by Lorenz’ idea of a butterfly’s wingbeat in one part of the world causing a hurricane in another— that isolating any individual factor is hard. That remains true. It is not possible to say categorically that climate change has caused any individual storm, flood or heatwave.
But scientific attribution does not require certainty; it deals in probabilities. Even now, doctors cannot be sure that a case of lung cancer has been caused by smoking (the patient might have got the disease anyway). Nevertheless, it is possible to say that smoking increases the risk of cancer by a certain amount, and that smoking causes cancer in a general sense. In a similar way, scientists are now able to say that climate change increases the risk of a particular weather pattern by a measurable amount and, in some cases, that a particular episode is almost impossible to imagine without global warming. That is as near as you can get to saying global warming caused a weather event.
The science of weather attribution started in 2003 with an article in Nature, Liability for climate change, by Myles Allen of Oxford University. It showed human contributions to climate change can be calculated by looking at what the climate would have been like if people had not increased greenhouse-gas emissions. That meant comparing observations of the weather with computer models of what might have happened without climate change. Much climate science depends on such models, which describe the complexities of the climate. By running them using different assumptions (for example, no increase in greenhouse-gas emissions, or more volcanic activity), and comparing the results with reality, it is possible to reveal the probable effects of the emissions. With lung cancer it is possible to compare groups of smokers and non-smokers; with climate change computers have to simulate the equivalent of the non-smokers.
The trouble is that weather observations are limited and climate models imperfect. Dr. Allen showed that, by quantifying the uncertainties, you can calculate the probability of a weather pattern occurring. That made it possible to say that man-made climate change made this or that weather event twice as likely, five times more likely, or less likely.
Allen argues that the study of weather attribution followed naturally from the establishment, in the 2000s, of a scientific consensus that humans are largely responsible for climate change. Heidi Cullen of Climate Central, an American research group, points out that there was also a technical contribution. The climate is global and climate models are, too. Weather, on the other hand, is local and, until recently, models were not precise enough to describe it. In the past few years, though, it has become possible to impose a finer grid on the global picture. Computers have become powerful enough, and enough data have been collected, to describe what is happening in an area as small as 25 by 25 kilometers. The result has been the development of regional climate models.
Most of the episodes that have so far come under the microscope have been large, long-lasting ones, such as Australia’s heatwave in 2013, or California’s continuing drought. But one study, by Hans von Storch of the Institute of Coastal Research in Germany, looked at a storm that passed through northern Germany and southern Denmark in 2013 and lasted less than a week. (It found no evidence of human influence.) Traditional climate research is a little like epidemiology, the study of disease at the level of the population; Dr. von Storch’s study was a bit like an autopsy.
The number of such studies is proliferating. Dr. Allen’s outfit at Oxford has put its regional climate models online so anyone can download them. Hundreds are doing so, running their own studies and making this project, called weather@home, one of the largest examples of “citizen science” in the world. The science of weather attribution now has a network of researchers and a group of institutions which shapes the studies (in addition to Oxford and Climate Central, it includes the University of Melbourne, America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute). There is also an academic journal which publishes most of them: the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS).
Though the groups use somewhat different approaches, their conclusions are strikingly similar. The strongest evidence for human influence can be seen in heatwaves, such as Australia’s “angry summer” of 2013, when average temperatures were 1.5°C above the norm for 1911-40. In a study in Geophysical Research Letters, David Karoly of the University of Melbourne argues that it is possible to say with considerable confidence that human influence increased the risk of such high temperatures fivefold, at least. The heatwave of 2013, he argues, would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change.
The most recent BAMS contained nine studies of heatwaves in 2013, including ones in Europe, China, Japan, and Korea. All showed that man-made climate change had increased the likelihood of exceptional heat. In Korea, daily minimum summer temperatures were 2.2°C above the 1971-2000 average; the study found that climate change had boosted the chance of this happening tenfold. Germany is now likely to have a summer as hot as that of 2013 about once in seven years; before industrialization, the odds were one in eighty. For Europe, the odds rose even more, by 35 times— the result of changes to ocean currents and the great Arctic melt, and to emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols (which, like the melting of Arctic ice, are influenced by natural variability, as well as humans).
You would expect more heatwaves with more global warming; they are two sides of the same coin. But climate change also seems to be contributing to droughts, though the evidence here is weaker. The link is intuitively plausible: higher temperatures speed up evaporation, reduce soil moisture and lead to drought. One BAMS study of California also found that atmospheric pressure patterns associated with droughts in the past are becoming more likely than they would be without greenhouse-gas emissions.
On the other hand, another study concluded that global warming increases the risk of drought in California in some ways but decreases it in others, leaving no net change. Forthcoming research on drought in south-east Brazil suggests other sorts of human influence, such as population growth and water consumption, also matter. Of four studies of droughts in the most recent BAMS, two showed that man-made influences were increasing the risk; two found no link or an uncertain one.
The evidence is weaker still when it comes to storms. It is often said that climate change is making hurricanes and other intense storms more frequent. But the BAMS researchers looked at three unusual storms in 2013— the one in northern Germany, a blizzard in South Dakota, and autumn snow in the Pyrenees— and found no evidence of human influence in any of them.
In an attempt to give the overall picture, a new study in Nature Climate Change by Erich Fischer and Reto Knutti, both of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, moved away from individual events to consider heatwaves and rain storms in general. They took all the heat and precipitation extremes between 1901 and 2005, defining extremes as events likely to occur once every thousand days. By running the climate models with and without climate change, they found that 0.85°C of warming (the rise since the industrial era began) has made such heat extremes four or five times more likely, roughly the same as in the Australian study. The authors attribute 75% of the heat extremes, and 18% of the precipitation extremes, to observed global warming. Worryingly, the risk of an extreme event seems to rise exponentially as mean temperatures creep up. The probability of a heat extreme is twice as great at 2°C of warming than at 1.5°C.
That does not mean, alas, that the science of weather attribution will be able to forecast particular droughts or heatwaves, only to say that more of them are likely to happen. That is a useful addition to climate science. People are routinely told about— and routinely ignore— the bad things they are doing to the climate. The attribution studies show that the climate is doing bad things back.
Rico says that some people won't believe it until all the icecaps are gone...

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