California sunflowers take root in Carolina

sunflowers 010

The staple crop of the family ranch in California has long been canning tomatoes but to keep the soil from being depleted, other crops are rotated in on a regular basis, including wheat, lima beans, alfalfa and sunflowers.

The above example of Helianthus annuus was grown from seeds raised at the family ranch, but planted by yours truly in South Carolina.

It’s only about half the size of the sunflowers raised at the California reach, partly because I didn’t plant it until early July, and partly because the soil at my home has too much clay and isn’t nearly as good as that found in the Sacramento Valley.

Still, I figured I had a pretty good chance of getting plants to come up no matter the quality of the soil given that the sunflowers raised in California are grown for seed, to be sold and planted in Europe.

Note the bumblebee on the lower part of the flower. I’ve seen hundreds of sunflowers up close and most all, at least before they darken and die, will have a bumblebee or three on or around them. I can’t remember ever seeing a honeybee on or near a sunflower, however.

Researchers unlock mystery behind Terracotta Army

 

terracotta army

China’s Terracotta Army has fascinated millions since its discovery 40 years ago, near present-day Xi’an. Built by Qin Shihuang, China’s first emperor, the Terracotta Army was massed below ground, to protect a spectacular underground palace complex that was based on Qin’s imperial capital.

To create his Terracotta Army, Qin “issued instructions that his imperial guard be replicated, down to the finest details, in red-brown terracotta clay, poised to do battle,” according to Science China Press.

When the army was uncovered in 1974, thousands of these imperial guards were initially discovered, with some containing patches of pigment that had survived 22 centuries buried underground, along with minute remnants of binding media that had aided in the creation of this polychrome Terracotta Army, the publication added.

Since then, efforts to conserve these figures from China’s First Empire have been hindered by scientists’ inability to discover the binding material used in applying pigments to Qin Shihuang’s underground army.

However, recent research has revealed “the surfaces of the terracotta warriors were initially covered with one or two layers of an East Asian lacquer … obtained from lacquer trees,” according to Hongtao Yan and Jingjing An, scientists at the College of Chemistry and Materials Science, Northwest University, in Xi’an.

“This lacquer was used as a base-coat for the polychrome layers, with one layer of polychrome being placed on top of the lacquer in the majority of cases,” according to an article co-authored by Tie Zhou, Yin Xia and Bo Rong, scholars at the Key Scientific Research Base of Ancient Polychrome Pottery Conservation, the State Administration for Cultural Heritage, which is connected with the Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang‘s Terracotta Army.

Qin (260-210 BC) united China in 221 BC and ruled as the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty from 220 to 210 BC. The approximately 8,000 terracotta warriors found in Qin’s underground palace were to protect the emperor in the afterlife.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization described the site in glowing terms more than a quarter century ago: “Qin … is buried, surrounded by the famous terracotta warriors, at the center of a complex designed to mirror the urban plan of the capital, Xianyang. The small figures are all different; with their horses, chariots and weapons, they are masterpieces of realism and also of great historical interest.”

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Asked to risk lives overseas, many veterans can’t get help at home

No matter what one’s opinion of US involvement in the Middle East it would seem a no-brainer that the men and women called upon to serve their nation in danger zones deserve competent medical treatment once they’re back home.

As numerous reports have shown, that’s not the case.

A 2012 Suicide Data report estimated 22 veterans commit suicide every day in the United States. Thousands more suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder which leaves many unable to handle the basics of everyday life.

Unfortunately, it appears the Veterans Administration and US Department of Defense are often exacerbating soldiers’ problems, rather than alleviating them.

Last month during a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing, a panel of parents asserted that failures in the VA and the Department of Defense contributed to the mental pressures that led their sons to kill themselves.

Jean and Dr. Howard Somers, the parents of Army Sgt. Daniel Somers, detailed their son’s experience navigating the VA system in Phoenix, according to a report by ABC News.

“He presented there in crisis, he said he needed to be admitted to the hospital,” Jean Somers said, having to finish for his wife who had started the story but broke into tears. “He was told by their mental health department that they had no beds, and he was told there were no beds in the emergency department.

“The fact is that he went in to the corner. He lay down on the floor. He was crying. But he was told you can stay here and when you feel better you can drive yourself home.”

Daniel, 30, had largely condemned his experience with the system in his suicide letter published by Gawker 12 days after his death.

“Thus, I am left with basically nothing,” wrote Somers, 30. “Abandoned by those who would take the easy route, and a liability to those who stick it out – and thus deserve better.”

Also at the hearing was Peggy Portwine, the mother of deceased Army veteran Brian Portwine. She blamed the VA and Department of Defense for clearing her son for redeployment after multiple traumatic combat experiences, ABC News reported.

“Upon returning from the second deployment in 2010, Brian was diagnosed with PTSD, TBI (traumatic brain injury), depression and anxiety,” Portwine said. “I never knew of his conditions. He deteriorated quickly from December 2010 to May 2011 when he took his life. If the DOD and VA assessed Brian for high suicide risk, it was their duty to treat him, but he received nothing.”

This blog doesn’t normally post music videos, but the above clip by the group Five Fingered Death Punch, titled “Wrong Side of Heaven,” includes a number of staggering statistics regarding veterans: 300,000 are homeless, 1.4 million are at risk of becoming homeless, an estimated 460,000 veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and 5,000 commit suicide each year.

Also included at the end are the names of several military-support organizations the band supports. The group has also launched the website www.5fdp4Vets.com where more contact information for veterans with PTSD can find support.

(HT: North Carolina Union Volunteers; Jitterbugging for Jesus)

Amid ruins of Soviet dystopia, an avant-garde gem shines

There’s not a whole lot going for Karakalpakstan, the sparsely populated autonomous republic that occupies the whole northwestern end of Uzbekistan.

Once home to the Soviet Red Army’s research labs and testing sites for chemical and biological warfare, it’s a Grade A ecological disaster area.

In addition, the region suffers from extensive drought, largely due to exploitation of the Amu and Syr Darya rivers in the eastern part of Uzbekistan. As a result, the Aral Sea has all but dried up and crop failures in Karakalpakstan have deprived tens of thousands of their livelihood. If that weren’t enough, shortages of potable water have created a surge of infectious diseases

While the name Karakalpakstan may not ring a bell, you likely have seen the desolate pictures of the dry Aral Sea, which features grounded rusty Soviet-era ships, desert-like conditions and overall desolation.

To get an idea of how much damage the Soviets wreaked on the region, consider this description from the blog The Travel Lust:

The Aral Sea, situated in the Karakalpakstan State of Uzbekistan, was once the world’s fourth-largest in-land sea, it has since shrunk by 90 percent, the rivers that feed it were largely diverted in a failed Soviet cotton production project. The disaster had ruined the once-robust fishing economy around Moynaq town and left fishing trawlers stranded, … impoverishing the whole area. The whole area lost so much water that the whole area has turned into a salty sandy wasteland.

Added the website Strange Maps, “The former lakebed is the birth chamber of countless toxic sandstorms plaguing the region, keeping local life expectancy in check.”

Strange Maps adds, perhaps unnecessarily, that the capital of Nukus doesn’t exactly rank high on the list of the discerning tourist – or any tourist, for that matter:

Calum Macleod and Bradley Mayhew, authors of The Golden Road to Samarkand, one of the best introductions to Uzbekistan, describe Nukus as ‘a grim, spiritless city of bitter pleasures whose gridded avenues of socialism support a centerless town, only to peter out around fading fringes into an endless wasteland of cotton fields punctuated by the random, surreal exotica of wild camels loitering in neglected apartment blocks.’ Even those trying to talk up the tourist potential of Karakalpakstan ruefully admit that the Tashkent Hotel in Nukus is ‘abysmal … certainly a prime candidate for the worst hotel in the world.’

Apparently, the area does have one thing going for it: It’s home to the Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art, the world’s second-largest collection of Russian avant-garde art, after the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg.

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Wine cup belonging to Greek statesman Pericles found

pericles cup

A wine cup believed to have belonged to one of the greats of ancient Greece has been found near Athens, according to published reports.

A cup thought to have been used by Classical Greek statesman Pericles was recently found in a pauper’s grave in the northern Athens suburb of Kifissia, the Greek newspaper Ta Nea reported.

The ceramic wine cup, smashed in 12 pieces, was found during building construction. After it was pieced back together, archaeologists were astounded to find the name “Pericles” scratched under one of its handles, alongside the names of five other men, in apparent order of seniority.

Experts are “99 per cent” sure that the cup was used by the Athenian statesman, as one of the other names listed, Ariphron, is that of Pericles’ elder brother.

“The name Ariphron is extremely rare,” Angelos Matthaiou, secretary of the Greek Epigraphic Society, told Ta Nea.

“Having it listed above that of Pericles makes us 99 per cent sure that these are the two brothers,” he said.

The cup was likely used in a “wine symposium” when Pericles was in his twenties, and the six men who drank from it scrawled their names as a memento, Matthaiou said.

Apparently, the youthful Pericles and/or his companions imbibed rather heavily on that particular occasion.

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Last member of Enola Gay crew dies at age 93

Van kirk tibbets

The last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan near the end of World War II, has died.

Capt. Theodore Van Kirk, who served as the navigator aboard the Enola Gay on Aug. 6, 1945, died Monday of natural causes at the Park Springs Retirement Community in Stone Mountain, Ga. He was 93.

Kirk, called “Dutch,” was 24 years old at the time of the famous flight, piloted by Col. Paul Tibbets, in which their B-29 Superfortress bomber dropped an atomic bomb code-named “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, killing 140,000 people.

Three days later, the US would drop a second atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. On Aug. 15 the Japanese surrendered, ending the Second World War.

Van Kirk navigated the Enola Gay from Tinian in the Mariana Islands to Hiroshima, on the Japanese island of Honshu, a six-and-a-half hour flight, within a few seconds of its original estimated time of arrival.

The New York Times described the ensuing moments in its obituary of Van Kirk:

Major (Thomas) Ferebee released the bomb, known as Little Boy, and 43 seconds later, at 1,890 feet above ground zero, it exploded in a nuclear inferno, leaving tens of thousands dead or dying and turning Hiroshima into scorched devastation.

Colonel Tibbets executed a diving turn to avoid the blast effects, but the Enola Gay was buffeted by a pair of shock waves. A flash of light that Mr. Van Kirk likened to a photographer’s flashbulb engulfed the cabin.

‘The plane jumped and made a sound like sheet metal snapping,’ Mr. Van Kirk told The New York Times on the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima raid. ‘Shortly after the second wave, we turned to where we could look out and see the cloud, where the city of Hiroshima had been.’

He added: ‘The entire city was covered with smoke and dust and dirt. I describe it looking like a pot of black, boiling tar. You could see some fires burning on the edge of the city.’

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It’s a dry heat, like the inside of a baker’s oven

feels like

Given the above comes courtesy of the military-oriented blog Bring the heat, Bring the Stupid, it’s likely that the reading was taken at a US military base somewhere in the Middle East.

My first reaction was, well, it only feels like it’s 106.

Somehow, that’s likely small consolation to folks in that area of the world, particularly if they’re dressed in uniform and lugging around gear and weapons.

Note also there’s absolutely no hint of a breeze. Conditions more akin to the inside of an oven than, say, an inhabitable planet.

I’ve experienced temperatures as high at as 111 degrees (44 Celsius), in California’s Sacramento Valley – not a lot of fun, even for someone who revels in heat. I couldn’t image what another 10 degrees without any wind whatsoever would have been like.

Local TV news: Exploiting the exploitable since 1955

suspicious flashlight

It has been said that television news is for crabby old white people who are afraid of everything outside their yards, but that’s likely too narrow a definition. TV news instead appears to be geared toward the easily scared of all ages and races, with its ultimate goal being to so paralyze viewers with fear that they’ll be afraid to move and change the channel.

Take a news story from Savannah, Ga., television station WTOC which detailed a Georgia man’s battle with Necrotizing Fasciitis, or, as the station hypes repeatedly, the dreaded “flesh-eating bacteria.”

According to the story, Joseph Allen was fishing in the Ogeechee River last week when he had to get into the water to fix a problem with his boat. He apparently had a sore on his arm and it became infected with Necrotizing Fasciitis. Allen is now in critical condition.

After describing Allen’s symptoms – “The arm that had the little cut on it was now purple from the wrist to the shoulder” – and including a plea from his wife to “try to get the Savannah Riverkeeper, the EPA, and government; someone involved that will clear up this river,” WTOC reported in the third-to-last paragraph that this is “at least the third case (of Necrotizing Fasciitis) reported in Georgia in the last few years.”

Wow: The third case in the entire state of Georgia – 59,425 square miles – in the past few years. And neither of the previous two cases occurred in the Ogeechee River, which stretches nearly 300 miles. I’m surprised the World Health Organization hasn’t quarantined all of North America.

Television news is great for a couple of things: Exploiting tragedies and throwing in quotes from the suffering, even if their comments add no context or visible value to the story.

If this is, as it appears, the first recorded case of Necrotizing Fasciitis in the Ogeechee River, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that there’s a major problem with that body of water. One can’t blame the anguished wife for her comments; she’s upset, is likely no expert on the ecology of the river and probably felt compelled in her time of sorrow to say something.

It’s the media’s job, however, to edit stories so the information provides value to consumers, instead of gratuitously manipulating the suffering.

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Srebrenica’s dead still being recovered, two decades later

srebrenica cemetery

The efficacy of the United Nations has long been a hot-button issue, particularly among US conservatives, but the entity’s shortcomings haven’t helped its cause.

Take the conflict in Bosnia in early- to mid-1990s: Srebrenica was a UN-protected area, but United Nations troops offered no resistance when Serbs overran the Muslim-majority town on this date 19 years ago, then rounded up and killed approximately 8,000 men and boys.

The slaughter was described as the worst crime on European soil since World War II.

Srebrenica had been attacked and besieged off and on for three years by the summer of 1995, as chaos reigned in many parts of the former Yugoslavia during the Bosnian War.

Although the UN had declared the enclave of Srebrenica in northeastern Bosnia a “safe area,” a United Nations Protection Force of 400 Dutch peacekeepers failed to prevent the Bosnian Serb army from attacking the town on July 6, 1995.

Three days later, emboldened in part by early successes and the absence of any significant reaction from the international community, the Serbs decided to press forward and take Srebrenica.

With the town’s residents weakened by siege, starvation and short on tools of resistance, Srebrenica fell quickly. Within a couple of days, the mass killings began.

Almost to a man, the thousands of Bosnian Muslims prisoners captured following the fall of Srebrenica were executed, according to the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia: Continue reading

Plymouth muscle car fetches $3.78 million at auction

1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible

The Chrysler name has taken a beating in recent years, between the automaker declaring bankruptcy, being bailed out by the US government and choosing to discontinue such venerable lines as Plymouth.

While sales have rebounded over the past few years, proof of just how high automaker once flew was evident this past weekend when a Chrysler muscle car from more than 40 years ago sold for $3.78 million.

A rare 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda convertible fetched one of the top prices ever for a muscle car June 14 at Mecum’s Seattle auction.

The $3.78 million figure makes the ’71 Plymouth the most valuable Chrysler product ever sold. The final total included an 8 percent commission for Mecum.

The Hemi Cuda was one of only two built for the US that year with a 4-speed manual transmission and a 425-hp big-block V-8 engine. Of the two, the bright blue beast sold Saturday is the only one with its original motor, according to Mecum’s.

Chrysler made just 11 Hemi Cuda convertibles in all in 1971.

1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible 2Muscle cars – the name attached to high-performance automobiles – came into prominence in the 1950s and ‘60s, with the major American automakers all producing their version of souped-up cars with powerful engines.

The segment was ultimately waylaid by rising insurance rates, the OPEC-inspired fuel crisis of the 1970s, which drove up gasoline prices, and the Clean Air Act.

According to Mecum’s, the car in question was purchased new by a “famous cartoonist” who later sold it to someone in Oregon. A few years later, however, it was confiscated in a drug bust and ended up at a police auction in 1999, where it went for the then-astonishing price of $410,000, according to Fox News.

(Photos show the 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda convertible that sold this past weekend for $3.78 million.)