California shark attacks: fear and facts

california shark attacks

Those afraid to so much as set a toe in the ocean for fear of sharks are often told that far more people die annually from reactions to stings from insects than are claimed by the bite of Jaws.

Indeed, the average number of fatalities worldwide per year between 2001 and 2010 from unprovoked shark attacks was 4.4, according to the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Conversely, between 1979 and 1990 there were 718 venomous deaths – mostly from bees and wasps – in the United States alone, according to the World Health Organization. That’s nearly 60 deaths annually in that period, according to the Toledo Blade.

Yet, as the Blade pointed out, no one talks about death, or potential death, from the sting of bees, hornets or even fire ants, all of which can bring on anaphylactic shock for those with allergies to insect venom.

And while shark attacks can occur just about anywhere in the coastal United States, California seems to get its fair share of publicity as a hotspot for such incidents.

But as the above map shows, there have been relatively few shark attacks in California over the past 160-plus years, particularly when one considers the millions of people who flock to the Golden State’s beaches each year to swim, surf, snorkel and whatnot in its waters.

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Speaking up for ‘Silent Cal’

calvin coolidge

Book reviews, when done well, can provide useful history lessons in and of themselves.

Take The Economist’s review of Coolidge, Amity Shlaes’ new biography of the underappreciated 30th US president.

“Mr. Coolidge’s hallmark was distrust of government. He saw it as an entity that uses ‘despotic exactions’ (taxes) that sap individual initiative and prosperity across the board …” according to publication.

“Coolidge learned at first towards the surging progressive movement, which supported state intervention and union involvement in the economy,” the review adds. “But his views shifted when he saw what those ideas meant in practice.”

The Economist is not noted for being a publication of a particularly libertarian bent by any means, but it recognizes Coolidge’s achievements during his five-and-a-half years as president, during which American debt fell by one-third, the tax rate by half and unemployment dropped precipitously. It’s unfortunate that more Americans haven’t taken note of Coolidge’s accomplishments.

While no means perfect, Coolidge offers an interesting counterbalance to FDR and his New Deal approach.

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For Sale: One very noteworthy Nobel Prize


We’ve all struggled with the annual Father’s Day conundrum: What to get for the man who’s hard to shop for? Another tie? Aftershave? A video of the NHL’s greatest fights?

How about a Nobel Prize?

The Nobel Prize awarded to Francis Crick in 1962 for his work in discovering the structure of DNA is being auctioned by his family, along with one of his lab coats, his books and other memorabilia.

It is believed to be the first Nobel Prize put up for auction in more than 70 years and the opening bid is set for $250,000, according to Heritage Auctions.

Crick is noted for being a co-discoverer of the structure of Deoxyribonucleic acid in 1953, together with James D. Watson. Crick, Watson and Maurice Wilkins were jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.”

Their discovery played a crucial role in deciphering DNA’s double helix, according to Live Science.

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16th-century Basque galleon to be resurrected

Basque whalers in labrador

Spanish maritime experts plan to reconstruct a 16th-century Basque whaling galleon, creating a replica of the oldest shipwreck ever found in Canada.

The 90-foot, three-masted San Juan sank in Red Bay in Labrador 450 years ago, just offshore of a 1560s-era whaling station in the Strait of Belle Isle.

The ship was part of a fleet that brought millions of barrels of whale oil to Europe, a treasure every bit as valuable at the time as the gold taken by Spanish conquistadors from more southerly parts of the Americas, according to Postmedia News.

Now plans are in place for the San Juan to be resurrected by a Spanish team which is seeking to construct a full-scale, seaworthy model of the original vessel.

Archaeologist Robert Grenier discovered the wreckage in 1978 and said the reconstruction project will be one of the world’s first, according to the CBC.

“Transforming these 3,000 pieces of wood we found in Red Bay, Labrador, into a very fateful, precise scientific replica of the original – this is more than a dream come true for me,” he said. “This will be the first time that the Spanish or Basque galleon is reconstructed that way in the world.”

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Old plate found on English wall brings $880K

1540 Italian maiolica plate

A glazed plate that had sat in a make-shift frame hidden behind a door in an English cottage for years was recently discovered to be worth far more than its owner knew.

The 16.5 inch Italian maiolica plate was “uncovered” by an auctioneer who been asked to assess some items in the unidentified woman’s home in Dorset, England.

Only about two inches of it were visible when appraiser Richard Bromell caught a glimpse of the plate behind a door.

“It had been on the wall for a number of years and you couldn’t really see it but it was hugely exciting …” he told the BBC.

When put up for sale by Charterhouse Auctioneers on Feb. 14, the plate brought $880,000, despite having a small chip.

Maiolica is Italian-style tin-glazed pottery dating from the Renaissance. It is decorated in bright colors and often depicts historical and legendary scenes.

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North Carolina to conserve Civil War flag

33rd north carolina flag

Efforts have begun to conserve a North Carolina state flag captured by Union forces during the Battle of New Bern.

The banner was carried by the 33rd North Carolina State Troops during the March 14, 1862, battle at New Bern, NC. The encounter marked one of Federal leader Ambrose Burnside’s few highlights during the war, when his troops overcame an undermanned Confederate position and captured what was a key supply point.

New Bern would remain under Yankee control for the remainder of the war.

The conservation of the 33rd North Carolina regimental flag is the latest project of the Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th Regiment North Carolina Troops, the largest group of War Between the States re-enactors in the Tar Heel State.

The 26th Regiment is working with the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh to conserve the 150-year-old standard; the effort will cost an estimated $7,500 to $10,000.

The 33rd North Carolina State Troops was organized in Raleigh in September 1861 and saw its first action at New Bern, according to the New Bern Sun Journal.

During the battle, the 33rd North Carolina suffered the greatest number of casualties of the six Confederate regiments engaged, with 32 men killed, 28 wounded and more than 100 taken prisoner, including its commander, Col. Clarke Avery.

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Longleaf pines making comeback in Southeast

longleaf pines

The perfume of longleaf pine pitch is one of the Southeast’s inherent charms.

The wonderful fragrance is particularly evident on hot summer days, evoking an aromatic reminder of an era when forests of Pinus palustris were found throughout the region, before clear-cutting reduced longleaf populations by more than 95 percent, to be replaced by faster growing pine species.

Today, about 3 million acres of longleaf pines remain in the region. The good news is the trees and their environment are making a slow but steady comeback.

“Many Southeastern landowners have converted parts of their farmland to use for contract hunting, fishing, camping and even bird-watching. The ecosystem supported by native longleaf pines fits perfectly into the business plan for such rural enterprises,” according to Southeast Farm Press.

In addition, timber from longleaf pines is very desirable because it tends to be long, straight and has tight growth rings, the publication added.

Not only does longleaf pine timber tend to bring a premium price compared to pines species such as the loblolly, but longleafs also produce a huge amount of pine straw, which can also be sold to help offset the costs associated with the latter’s longer growing period.

Longleaf ecosystems have other benefits, as well. These include being home to 26 federally listed endangered or threatened species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise and flatwoods salamander.

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Remembering a great, great president

Sigma Nu Maine

In honor of Presidents’ Day I’d like to recognize the greatest president in the history of the University of Maine’s Sigma Nu fraternity, Joseph “Pig Iron” McGraw.

Pig Iron, was served as commander of our chapter from 1986 to 1988, could chug a 16-ounce beer in just under three seconds – tops in the tri-state region.

He knocked out his four front teeth when he tried to ski off the top of our three-story fraternity house (above) one sunny February afternoon, and managed over the course of 11 semesters to amass a sparkling 2.46 grade-point average.

Pig Iron once even attempted to fight the entire Sigma Chi fraternity located down the block, but was wisely dissuaded by cooler, less-inebriated heads.

Here’s to you, Pig Iron, in whatever distant northern Maine township you’re holed up in these days.

Update: I’ve been informed that Presidents’ Day it is meant to honor and remember the past presidents of the United States and their contributions to our country.

In that case, here’s to you, John Tyler.

Note to Deer: Hawaii good; West Virginia bad

The above graphic produced by State Farms shows, state-by-state, the likelihood of deer-car collision.

Any deer reading this may want to consider vacationing in Hawaii, The chances of a driver hitting a deer in Hawaii during the 2011-2012 period were 6,801 to 1, according to State Farm.

The state one was most likely to hit a deer was West Virginia, where the odds were just 40-to-1. That’s 25 out of every 1,000 people during the period recorded. The auto-body repair business must be doing very well in the Mountain State..

Given that West Virginia is a well-known hunting locale, being a deer there has got to be a real challenge.

Of course, once you’ve had you’re garden or fruit trees repeatedly ravaged by the relentless ruminants, it’s hard to have a whole lot of sympathy them.

(HT: Carpe Diem)