February 27, 2009

Extremely Rare Bongos Found in Kenya Forest

A small group of these rare, shy animals (no, not bongo drums), has been sighted in Kenya's Eburu Forest.
A bongo in the Nashville Zoo
Photo by Joanne Merriam

Researchers believe that the group includes about 20 or so rare mountain bongos. Fewer than 140 of these animals are alive in the wild according to the Union for Conservation of Nature. There are more in captivity than in the wild. Such small numbers put the bongo, already so close to extinction, at risk for hereditary diseases caused by inbreeding. In other words, there may already be too few of them for the species to survive.

The bongo is critically endangered member of the antelope family. According to Nick Wadhams for National Geographic, "The bongo is an extremely shy creature, with a dozen or so thin white stripes running up and down its chestnut-colored flanks. Larger than any other forest-dwelling antelope, a male can grow to nearly 900 pounds (408 kilograms)." With a range that is limited to the forests of a few rugged Kenyan mountains: Eburu and Mount Kenya, as well as peaks in the Aberdare and Mau ranges, bongos have suffered from habitat loss due to logging and burning.

February 26, 2009

"Psychedelic" Blue-Eyed Fish is New Species

Tentatively named "Psychedelica," this new species of frogfish is covered in elaborate yellow and peach stripes from it's blue eyes to its off-center tail. With fins that have evolved into something like legs, this amazing animal bounces along the sea floor like a fist-sized rubber ball.
Photo of the psychedelic frogfish
courtesy of David Hall / seaphotos.com

The fish was discovered last year by SCUBA diving instructors working for a tour company in Indonesia. They contacted Ted Pietsch, lead author of a paper published in this month's edition of the journal Copeia. Pietsch submitted DNA work that identified the fish as a brand new species. Smile for the camera, psychedelic little frogfish.


Is This the World's Biggest Freshwater Fish?

The largest giant stingray ever was caught and released on January 28, 2009, as part of a National Geographic expedition in Thailand.

The stingray's body reportedly measured 6.6 feet (2 meters) wide by 6.9 feet (2.1) meters long minus the tail. The expedition team couldn't weigh the fish, but reported an estimated weight in the range of 550 to 990 pounds (250 to 450 kilograms).

"It's clear that the giant stingray has the potential to be the largest freshwater fish in the world," said University of Nevada Biologist Zeb Hogan.

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Canada May Have the World's Soundest Banks

According to a survey conducted by the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2008-2009, Canada has the world's soundest banking system primarily due to not participating in the sub-prime loan feeding frenzy. Canada is closely followed by Sweden, Luxembourg and Australia. Britain, which once ranked in the top five, slipped to 44th place behind El Salvador and Peru, after a £50-billion (US$86.5-billion) pledge in 2008 by the government to bolster bank balance sheets. The United States, with some of the biggest financial fallout, ranked in 40th place, behind Germany and Barbados, Estonia and Namibia. The ranking index was released in late 2008 just as central banks in Europe, the United States, China, Canada, Sweden and Switzerland slashed interest rates in attempts to end panic selling on markets and restore trust in the shaken banking system. That short-term fix didn't work in Japan in the 90s, and doesn't work now.

Here are the World Economic Forum's top 20 ranked countries for sound banking, in order:

1. Canada 2. Sweden 3. Luxembourg 4. Australia 5. Denmark 6. Netherlands 7. Belgium 8. New Zealand 9. Ireland 10. Malta 11. Hong Kong 12. Finland 13. Singapore 14. Norway 15. South Africa 16. Switzerland 17. Namibia 18. Chile 19. France 20. Spain

10 Bits of Wisdom from Immanuel Kant

Kant (1724-1804) was a renowned German philosopher whose ideas continue to enlighten and inspire. In these trying times, he can remind us all of the immeasurable value of honor, wisdom, kindness, and integrity.
  1. "Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life."
  2. "Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end."
  3. "Act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world."
  4. "Seek not the favor of the multitude; it is seldom got by honest and lawful means. But seek the testimony of few; and number not voices, but weigh them."
  5. "If man makes himself a worm he must not complain when he is trodden on."
  6. "In law a man is guilty when he violates the rights of others. In ethics he is guilty if he only thinks of doing so."
  7. "Even philosophers will praise war as ennobling mankind, forgetting the Greek who said: 'War is bad in that it begets more evil than it kills.'"
  8. "All the interests of my reason, speculative as well as practical, combine in the three following questions: What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope?"
  9. "It is not necessary that whilst I live I live happily; but it is necessary that so long as I live I should live honourably."
  10. "To be is to do."

February 24, 2009

Deep Sea Fish With Transparent Head

Pacific Barreleye, photo courtesy of MBARI
This photo was taken in 2004, but only released on Monday, February 23rd, 2009. With it's soft, transparent head, the Pacific Barreleye (Macropinna microstoma) fish shows off its highly sensitive, barrel-like eyes topped by green, orblike structures. Humans have known of the deep-sea fish since 1939, but only from badly mangled specimens dragged to the surface in nets. This is the first intact specimen of the fish and measures 6 inches (15 centimeters) long. It was discovered alive in the deep water off California's central coast by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and photographed by a remote submersible. MBARI is also involved in the Google Earth Ocean project.

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February 22, 2009

Alaskan Coast is Rapidly Eroding

Totem pole in Alaska
Alaska is shrinking. Part of Alaska's coast is eroding away into the sea at twice the rate it has in the past, according to a new study. The increased erosion could seriously threaten wildlife and landmarks. Some stretches of the state's northern shore along the Beaufort Sea receded by more than 80 feet (25 meters) in summer 2007 alone. In the past, erosion been linked to storms, but there were no major storms in 2007. That suggests "a shift in the forces driving erosion," said lead author Benjamin Jones, a research geographer at the U.S. Geological Survey. According to the study, which was published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the main culprit is global warming.

February 16, 2009

How much do clothes REALLY cost?

Fashion Week is back, and according to Co-op Bank’s Ethical Consumerism (UK) report, the market for ethically-produced clothing will continue to climb in 2009 regardless of the economic turmoil. Fair trade fashion had a growth spurt of 79% from 2005-2006 and is still going strong. At the same time, ethically questionable clothes have never been cheaper.

However, bear in mind that an off-the-rack outfit was probably made by someone earning the equivalent of a few pennies a day, possibly handling cotton treated heavily with pesticides. Around the world, about 30 million people work in textile factories, and approximately 80%-90% of these textile workers are women. Around 25% of all the world’s insecticides and 10% of all pesticides are used to grow the cotton used to make clothes, despite the World Health Organization pointing out that blood poisoning from pesticide exposure among cotton workers accounts for 20,000 deaths every year. So if you take a moment to consider the economic, ecological, human health and life costs of cheap garments, they aren't cheap at all.

Dan Welch of Ethical Consumer magazine has expressed enthusiasm about the swelling ranks of socially aware fashion retailers, ‘They’re the kind of growth figures to make the most cynical business take note." Big-name designers and small start-ups alike are part of the popular ethical and fair trade fashion movement. ‘That said,’ Welch continues, "...there’s no simple equation between price on the rack and poor conditions in the supply chain." That means there is no guarantee that clothes sold under an expensive label have been made ethically. Now, with a global economic crisis in full-swing, there has been increased demand for well-made clothes that will last instead of disposable ‘McFashion.’ Homemade, vintage and charity store clothing sales are up, as are sales at fabric stores.

Elephant Fish and Tiger Fish Swim the Congo River

A Goliath Tiger Fish, pulled from the Congo River
While elephants and tigers roam on land in Africa, elephant fish and tiger fish cruise underwater in the deep Congo River. The Goliath tiger fish (top right) is said to grow up to 150 pounds (68 kilograms) and has terrifyingly long teeth.

The Goliath Tiger Fish is one scary-looking aquatic creature, and is a member of the species of Alestiidae. The fish is only located in the Congo River, one of the largest rivers in the world. There have been unverified reports of late that Goliath Tiger Fish have been able to kill humans that cross their watery paths. Other tiger fish, which are most commonly found in the Zambezi River, are close relatives of the Goliath Tiger Fish.

Tiger Fish are the stuff that fishy legends are made of in the area that surrounds the Congo River, and have kept many people from attempting to swim in that river's high, ocean like waves. The Congo River is also the deepest river on the planet, with its deepest region stretching more than seven hundred feet to the bottom, and is still largely unexplored by scientists. It is deeper than most lakes, which gives many of the Goliath Tiger Fish ample room to hunt, swim, and grow. Most biologists have found that Goliath Tiger Fish are usually not able to survive in smaller bodies of water, and need a large hunting area. One of the reasons why the fish has become so popular lately around the world is because of the way that it looks. It has long, pointy teeth that can be up to four inches long and are used to catch prey. Must human fatalities and injuries from the Goliath Tiger Fish are reported when the fish mistakes a hand or a finger for another river dweller. No, Goliath Tiger Fish don't hunt humans. In fact, humans often catch tiger fish with poles and nets.
An Elephant Fish pulled from the Congo River

February 15, 2009

Microsoft to Open Retail Stores

Look out Apple Store, you've got some competition. Microsoft will be opening an undisclosed number of dedicated Microsoft retail stores across the United States. Ironically, Microsoft had it's own retail stores before Apple did, but closed them. The new chain will be overseen by David Porter, formerly of Dreamworks Animation, who was hired by Microsoft this week to act as vice president of retail stores. The company hasn't disclosed exactly what it plans to sell, but it's probably safe to assume that the stores will be selling Microsoft products. A source says that there is definitely a Blue Screen/Red Ring of Death joke in all of this...he just doesn't know what it is yet.

February 14, 2009

Eat Right at College, Avoid the "Freshman 15"

The "Freshman 15" commonly refers to the average 15 pounds that college students gain during their first year living away from home. Naturally, it doesn't happen to everyone. Health experts recommend a few simple Dos and Don'ts that can help keep unwanted weight gain away.
  1. Don't eat cake with every meal! Dining halls often make a selection of high-fat cakes, pies, puddings, and more available at both lunch and dinner every day. Breakfast may include assorted pastries, donuts, etc. All-you-can-eat pastries may be difficult to resist but that is the most important thing for students to do. You can't start eating fatty, sugary deserts daily and expect to stay healthy. Once in a while is fine. Just don't exceed the quantity of these things that you used to eat.
  2. Don't eat pizza every day! Pizzas vary widely, and if you have access to a kitchen you can make some terrific varieties covered in veggies, minimal cheese, and good sauce. Pizza in Rome differs greatly from pizza in Chicago. I love them all, but it's important to limit the American-style dining hall or delivery pizza to one or twice a week at most. Your insides and waistline will appreciate it.

February 13, 2009

Anthem Blue Cross Won't Pay

This is an anonymous letter to the editor:

I recently had a health insurance claim rejected from Anthem Blue Cross because the company claimed that the form was incorrectly filled out. Instead of paying, Blue Cross sent a letter saying that the claim was missing a claim code (it wasn't). My doctor could find nothing missing, so I contacted the insurance broker, Vita. Their motto is "Excellence in Employee Benefits." (We shall see.) I have now been asked by Blue Cross to fill out a form releasing all of my past medical records to "Anthem Blue Cross and/or Anthem Blue Cross Life and Health Insurance Company and its affiliates and agents" before they will address my claim. That is ludicrous! The only documents that Anthem needs to process this claim have been submitted in full. Anything else is irrelevant and, frankly, none of Anthem's business. Also, who do I bill for my wasted time? If an insurance company won't uphold their end of our bargain by paying for their fair share, then why on earth am I paying them a monthly premium? That's a good question, if I may say so myself. I advocate adopting a system of universal health care so that companies like Anthem Blue Cross don't have carte blanche, but meanwhile I don't plan to be an Anthem Blue Cross customer much longer and am eagerly awaiting a public, not for profit health insurance option. Have you had difficulty getting Anthem Blue Cross to pay a claim? Do share.

UPDATE:
Success! Instead of releasing my medical records to Anthem Blue Cross or to the broker, my doctor and I re-submitted the original claim. He (my doc) wrote the the "missing" code in big, bold numbers, circled it, then wrote it again the margin even larger. Meanwhile, I posted the story online. Two months later, I received a reimbursement check. However, I have been reimbursed only about 50% of the actual cost of the original doctor visit from Anthem Blue Cross.

February 11, 2009

How to Stay Healthy at College

College students away from home learn a lot more than the content of their courses. They have to learn how to keep themselves physically and emotionally healthy. College life can be a terrific and valuable experience, but not having parents around to look after life's little details can be a stressful change. With that said, here are some important tips from health experts for students to stay healthy at college this term.
  1. Get enough sleep! --Students tend to put sleep low on their list of priorities. Don't do that! Make yourself get eight hours of sleep a night on a fairly regular schedule. You'll think more clearly, feel better, and get sick less often.
  2. Eat well! --Don't skip breakfast or over-indulge in junk food. That leads to the well-known pattern of college weight gain. Also, be sure to eat enough. Your body needs good food to live. Keep healthy snacks (such as granola) in your room and always leave the dining hall with some fruit in your pocket, such as a banana or two. You might be used to your parents reminding you to eat breakfast, but that's your job now. Read more about Eating Right at College and "Avoiding the Freshman 15."

February 10, 2009

Trees Packing Up, Moving North

Trees generally aren't known for their mobility, but some tree species are headed north at an average clip of 62 miles (100 kilometers) a century by distributing their seedlings northward.


At that rate, stands of yellow birch in the U.S., for example, may move well north of the Canadian border by the early 2100s.

In a paper appearing this month in the journal Forest Ecology and Management, the study authors documented the northward march of 40 major tree species in 30 states. As the climate alters, trees appear to be following the cooler weather north.

The finding confirms a link between global warming and forest migration, said lead study author Chris Woodall, of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station in St. Paul, Minnesota. "This is no longer conjecture," he said.

February 6, 2009

U.S. Economic Advisory Board Established

As the 44th president, Barack Obama has inherited the worst U.S. economic situation ever. The U.S. jobless rate has risen to 7.6% this month, and President Obama has established an economic advisory board to address both short-term and long-term economic recovery. According to a White House press release, "...the Board will meet regularly and provide advice directly to the President on the programs to jump-start economic growth and facilitate economic stability. The Board will also focus on how the response to the short-run economic crisis is laying the groundwork for the reforms necessary for longer-run prosperity." Paul Volker, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, will serve as the board's chair.

February 5, 2009

Biggest Snake Ever was Longer than a Bus

The biggest snake on earth was a massive animal, much like an enormous anaconda, that slithered through steamy tropical rain forests about 60 million years ago, according to a new fossil discovery.
Nobu Tamura/www.palaeocritti.com 

Fossils found in northeastern Colombia's Cerrejon coal mine indicate that the reptile, dubbed Titanoboa cerrejonesis, was at least 42 feet (13 meters) long and weighed 2,500 pounds (1,135 kilograms). To put that into perspective, "That's longer than a city bus and … heavier than a car," said lead study author Jason Head, a fossil-snake expert at the University of Toronto Mississauga in Canada and a research associate with the Smithsonian Institution.


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