Thursday, March 31, 2016

Shall we dance?

I came across this fascinating little bit of info about a fascinating little bird.  Now, I'm not generally much of a bird person, but this bird is something else.

This is a Manikin.  It's described as a 'compact stubby bird, with short tails and a big head', and they're found in Mexico and South America.

Hmmm.. doesn't really look like anything special, does it?
But wait -- because it's not this bird's appearance that caught my eye, it's what this bird can do.

Yes, yes, yes, we've all seen video of male birds hopping around in order to attract the attention of female birds.  But what the Manikin does is no ordinary hopping.  When the male manikin sees a potential mate, he kind of skitters to the side, and then hops forward, and then jumps back, and then does more skittering.

Sound familiar?  Well, it should.  This little bird looks like he's doing Michael Jackson's moonwalk, except many times faster.  And just in case the fancy footwork isn't enough to catch the eyes of the ladies, the Manikin emits these weird buzzing and clicking noises, that are created by the vibration of his wing tips.

I can sense your skepticism, and I fear that my description fall short.  So check it our for yourself. Just a short little video.  If you want to see more, you can find longer clips from NatGeo Wild, and from the BBC, on YouTube.

There...  leaves you kind of speechless, doesn't it?  I've already watched the video many times, but it still fascinates me.  I think I'll make another cup of tea, and then come back and watch this again.

Monday, March 28, 2016

What's with all these butterflies?

Earlier this month, the world of scientists had some breaking news.  Scientists -- well, lepidopterists, specifically - discovered a new species of butterfly.  What's kind of interesting is that they didn't find the butterfly because it landed on someone's arm.. but rather because some scientist organizing specimens for a butterfly exhibit in a Florida museum, found a butterfly specimen that didn't quite match the tag.

So.. with a bit of a bugle fanfare.. let me introduce to you...  The Tanana Arctic!
Photo by Andrew Warren

Not impressed?  Well let me tell you more.   This pretty little butterfly lives in Alaska.  Not only does it live in Alaska, but that is the ONLY place it lives.  To be honest, I had no idea that there were any butterflies living in Alaska.  Although, in all fairness, it's not much of a life. The Tanana Arctic... I'll call her Ana for short ...  emerges in late May... sips nectar for a month or so and dies off by July. 

By now, you're probably thinking that something must have happened recently -- global warming or something similar - - to create this new species... So let me set you straight.  Scientists have proof that Ana has been around since at least the mid 1950s... but the general concensus is that Ana evolved from a rare hybrid resulting from a butterfly mating that took place some time prior to the last ice age.  Ana was able to remain undercover for so long, because of a striking similarity to other butterfly species... but DNA testing has proven that the two similar butterflies are indeed different.  Which means that instead of about 20,000 different types of butterflies, now we have about 20,001 different types of butterflies.

So now, you're thinking .. Wow.. I guess butterflies must be much more hardy and durable than I'd realized.  And once again, you would be wrong.  One reason why scientists are so excited about this new discovery is because butterflies are sensitive to climate changes, and react rapidly to those changes.  So if we start seeing Ana in places other than Alaska that means... hmmmm, well I'm not quite sure what it means, but it's important.

I know I don't normally share news from the world of science with you.. but I received a message from a friend on Sunday morning, alerting me to this  (thank you, Gail!)... and then messages from a number of other people later in the day, and into today.. telling me of this new discovery.  

Why are people flocking to share this news with me?

Because - also earlier this month - I published a science fiction novel entitled The Weatherman.  The cover of the book has some large monarch butterflies on it, and the short summary on the back of the book includes the line "What's with all these butterflies?"  

No, I don't intend to use teapot musings as a billboard... but this is quite an amusing coincidence.  

So I'll sit here, and drink my tea, and ponder the significance of the factual discovery of Ana, at the same time I published the fictional The Weatherman.  Hmmm... maybe I'll have to give Ana a starring role in the sequel.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Donald Trump's head

I don't consider myself a very political person.  Over the decades, while I always vote, I've never attended a political rally, I don't like to discuss politics, and I typically don't share my thoughts and opinions on politics.  But there are just some things I can't keep to myself.

A couple weeks ago, I was watching Meet the Press.  Chuck Todd was speaking with several of the candidates, including the 'undisputed Republican front runner', Donald Trump.  During his interview with Trump, Todd played a clip from a 2002 episode of the Howard Stern radio show.  After the clip, he asked Trump what he'd meant by one of his statements.  I'm not even going to get into the details of what Trump said in 2002, because that's not my concern, it's not my point. My concern revolves around what Trump said in 2016.

When Todd asked Trump what he'd meant by that statement, Trump replied

"Well, what I meant by that is that it almost shouldn't have been done..... and you know, I don't even really know what I meant, that was a long time ago, and who knows what was in my head."

Oh sure, people may argue that I'm  twisting his words. In fact, as I sat here at my desk composing this post, I began to worry that I had done just that -- so I found the broadcast - the entire, unedited broadcast -  and played it back several times.  Those are the real words.  I've added nothing; I've left nothing out.

Others may argue that I'm taking things out of context, which is precisely why I haven't even shared the subject of the 2002 statement... because it doesn't matter.

Here's my concern.  2002 was 14 years ago.  True, it's not 4 years... but it's also not 40 years.  I'm not sure I'd consider 14 years "a long time ago"... but let's leave that point alone for the moment.  I don't have a problem with people - politicians or otherwise - changing their positions over time.  I certainly don't have the same positions and opinions that I did 14 years ago.  But that's not what Trump said happened.

And - depending on the importance of the issue - I'm even kind of ok with someone forgetting what they said 14 years ago.  While I remember saying "I do" -- far more than 14 years ago -- I certainly don't remember what I ate for breakfast 14 years ago, and I might not remember where I went on vacation 14 years ago, and I might have to take a moment to figure out which car I was driving 14 years ago.  But the audio clip was played for Trump.  Todd wasn't asking him to remember what he said -- he was providing a clear and unequivocal reminder of what he said.

Donald Trump didn't say that the audio clip was unfair, or was taking things out of context.  And he didn't deny making the statement.  He said "who knows what was in my head".  Well, Mr. Trump, if you don't know what was in your head, you certainly can't expect the rest of us to know.

But it's even worse that that.  Any time that someone establishes a time frame, you have to wonder exactly where the line is drawn.  As I already pointed out, 14 years is not 4 years, but it's also not 40. But what about 12 years, or 10 years, or even 8 years?  Does Mr. Trump know what was in his head 8 years ago?  While it's true that less than 1/3 of US presidents are re-elected to a second term... it's certainly possible.  And while I have no problem with a president changing his/her mind or changing his/her strategy.. especially if other relevant factors come to light, or available information changes... I do have a problem with the notion of a president who doesn't even know what was in his head, 8 -- or even 14 -- years ago.

Yes, this country has problems.  Yes, I would like to see changes.  But Mr. Trump --  if you don't know what was in your head a mere 14 years ago... then I most certainly do not want you as head of this country..... ever.

All of this political nonsense has left a bad taste in my mouth.  I need a good cup of tea.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Super Tuesday

In case you've been a juror on a major trial, or for some other reason you've been sequestered away from all the national news, let me be the first to tell you that this is Super Tuesday.

What's so super about it, you might ask...  good question, I've been asking myself the same thing.

Oh sure, I understand that - as a registered voter in one of the states that is included in Super Tuesday, today is the day that I get to vote in the national primary election.  But that doesn't make it super.. at least not for me.

But it's not just me... it's really not 'super' for any other primary-election voter.  As in most elections for anything, anywhere, each of us will get one vote.  My one primary vote is no more 'super' than the primary vote of someone living in New Hampshire who voted last month, or the primary vote of someone living in Montana who will vote in a few months from now.  The fact that my state votes on Super Tuesday in 2016  (the states included in  Super Tuesday change from one election to the next), doesn't mean my vote is any more super than the votes of those who live in North Dakota -- one of the last states to hold a primary.

Turns out  that it's the media, and the political parties who've dubbed this Super Tuesday.  Turns out that in some years, there are multiple Super Tuesdays.  Turns out that it's really not Super at all.. that's an arbitrary tag attached to one primary day out of about twenty.  Tne only real super thing about it is that the politicians and the pundits and the reporters get to say "Super Tuesday".

Am I going to vote?  Of course I am.  Do I feel very super?  Not in the least.  Will it change the tea I drink?  Of course not.  Super Tuesday or not, I always vote for Typhoo tea.