Evil invertebrate vs. good vertebrate: who you got?

The BBC has a report that the squeamish will find most disturbing: Invertebrates such as spiders and centipedes feasting on vertebrates, including birds, snakes and turtles.

Among incidents included in the story: A tarantula eating 15-inch snake that it had apparently subdued and killed last year in Brazil; a dragonfly catching a hummingbird in midair and eating it in 1977 in Canada; and Scolopendra centipedes, which regularly scales walls to either grab bats as they swoop past or pluck them from roosts while they sleep. The centipedes also eat birds, mice, lizards, frogs and snakes.

Even animal lovers can find this sort of behavior unnerving – after all, vertebrates typically eat invertebrates, not the other way around.

“Most of us are happy to watch vertebrates hunting vertebrates; if lions kill a giraffe, we might feel sadness but not revulsion, and we cheer when the baby iguana escapes the racer snakes. Similarly, if a vertebrate hunts an invertebrate, that seems normal: an early bird catching the worm is simply being enterprising,” according to the BBC. “But invertebrates eating vertebrates is another matter. We find ourselves horrified by crabs preying on baby turtles, wasps targeting nestling birds, or a giant centipede munching on a bat. Somehow it seems wrong, as if the natural order has been turned on its head – but why?”

The BBC surmises that the reason may be that we instinctively recognize that we are much more akin to other vertebrates than we are to invertebrates.

“We might not use the word “vertebrate,” but a dog is clearly more similar to us than a giant centipede,” it writes. “Not only does the dog have hair and the same number of limbs, it also behaves in understandable ways, displaying familiar emotions like happiness and anger.

“ … we cannot understand invertebrates in the same way that we understand dogs, lions or eagles,” the BBC added. “They are just too alien, their behavior too strange and their bodies too dissimilar. They do not have waggy tails and their eyes are never big and soulful.”

Or, as one of my daughter said when I asked why she didn’t like spiders: “Too many eyes, too many legs!”

If you’ve ever seen a frog swarmed over and stung to death by fire ants, or a lizard being stung repeatedly by a hornet, it does appear that things sometimes go amiss in the animal kingdom.

And while Scolopendra gigantea, also known as the Amazonian giant centipede, has yet to make its way to the US from South America, that’s one creepy-crawly I can foresee showing up in my nightmares.

(Top: I chose an image of a pug eating a sprinkled donut for this story because, well, the other photos, while interesting, would have undoubtedly upset lovers of baby turtles, small birds and other cute animals which happened to have fallen into the clutches of voracious invertebrates.)

As crisis worsens, Venezuela becoming more isolated

simon bolivar airport

Venezuela’s implosion continues.

Amid hyperinflation, massive unemployment, social unrest, political oppression and shortages of food and medicine, the South American nation is on the verge of general anarchy, a legacy of Hugo Chávez’s years of mismanagement, along with that of successor Nicolás Maduro.

So it’s hardly surprising that airlines such as Lufthansa and LATAM Airlines are crossing the country off their schedules.

The pair joins Air Canada, American Airlines and Alitalia which in recent years have scaled back or suspended Venezuelan operations, according to The Economist.

But it isn’t just unrest or political chaos that’s driving airlines to divert flights elsewhere.

Venezuela, seeking to avoid yet another devaluation of its currency or outright repudiation of debt, which would cut off credit to the ailing oil industry, has tightened currency controls introduced by Chávez in 2003.

The restrictions make it almost impossible for companies such as international airlines to convert the Venezuelan currency, bolívares, into dollars.

This has made it difficult for international airlines, who typically charge customers in local currencies, to repatriate their profits.

That isn’t surprising given that Chávez initially implemented currency controls after capital flight led to a devaluation of the currency.

“Lufthansa has written off the more than $100 million it says it is owed; LATAM says it is due $3 million,” according to The Economist. “The International Air Transport Association, the airlines’ trade body, estimates that Venezuela’s government is withholding $3.8 billion of airline revenues.”

A Lufthansa spokesman told Agence France-Presse that the country’s difficult economic situation and “the fact that is it is not possible to transfer foreign currency out of the country,” is behind the company’s decision.

Lufthansa is scheduled to quit service to the country this week; LATAM, Latin America’s largest airline group, has said it will stop flights to Venezuela by Aug. 1.

Contrast the current situation with that of 40 years ago, when Venezuela’s oil wealth attracted business travelers – and airlines – from all over the world.

At present, just a handful of foreign airlines continue to serve the troubled nation, including Air France and United Airlines.

But both are public companies and it seems unlikely either can or will stand for having their revenues tied up by a banana republic.

(Top: Air France plane show in foreground at Simon Bolivar Airport, near Caracas, Venezuela.)

Venezuela: Continuing down the rabbit hole of ineptitude

venezeula inflation

Unbridled inflation tends to wreak havoc with economies, but one would think that if any industry were to benefit from rampant rising prices it would be that of paper currency manufacturers.

A country which is churning out billions of bank notes has got be good for the folks who run the printing press, right?

Leave it to Venezuela to botch that line of business, along with just about everything else.

As the country’s hard currency reserves sink to critically low levels, Venezuela’s central bank is paying foreign paper currency providers so slowly that the latter are beginning to back off on taking on additional contracts. In addition, it was disclosed recently that one company under contract to print money for the South American nation was owed more than $70 million.

Venezuela began its downward spiral with Hugo Chavez’sBolivarian Revolution,” which involved nationalizing different industries, implementing price controls and expropriating farmland.

Today Venezuela’s inflation is the highest in the world; it’s expected to rise to nearly 700 percent this year.

Adding to the nation’s fiscal difficulties is the fact that it takes a boatload of money for even the most basic transactions. Venezuela’s largest bill, the 100-bolivar note, barely pays for a loose cigarette at a street kiosk, according to Bloomberg.

Venezuela differs from other countries that have struggled with hyperinflation because it hasn’t reacted to raging prices by printing bank notes of astronomical denominations, such as the $100 trillion note produced by Zimbabwe not too long ago.

As inflation skyrockets and hard currency reserves plummet in Venezuela, paper currency manufacturers find themselves reluctant to commit sizeable resources as the nation’s ability to repay dwindles daily.

“The first signs of the currency shortage date back to 2014 when the government began increasing shipments of bank notes as wallet-busting wads of cash were already needed for simple transactions,” according to Bloomberg.

Today, Venezuelans spend hours waiting in line for consumer staples, lining up first at banks and cash machines, and often carrying money in backpacks and gym bags to pay for dinner out.

In 2015, the nation’s central bank selected companies in the United Kingdom, France and Germany to produce 2.6 billion bank notes. Before the delivery was even completed, the companies were approached by the central bank seeking even more notes.

UK-based De La Rue, which handles work for more than 150 nations, took the lion’s share of the order and enlisted Ottawa-based Canadian Bank Note Company to ensure it could meet a tight end-of-year deadline.

How big an order are we talking about?

Once printed, they arrived in Venezuela in dozens of 747 jets and chartered planes, according to Bloomberg. Under cover of security forces and snipers, it was transferred to armored caravans where it was spirited to the central bank in the dead of the night.

Even as the cash was still arriving authorities began planning for 2016. In late 2015, the central bank more than tripled its original order, offering tenders for some 10.2 billion bank notes.

But currency manufacturers began to grow concerned.

“According to company documents, De La Rue began experiencing delays in payment as early as June,” Bloomberg reported. “Similarly, the bank was slow to pay (Germany’s) Giesecke & Devrient and (France’s) Oberthur Fiduciaire. So when the tender was offered, the government only received about 3.3 billion in bids, bank documents show.”

Just last month, De La Rue sent a letter to the central bank complaining that it was owed $71 million and would inform its shareholders if the money were not forthcoming.

(Top: Even simple transactions require stacks of paper currency in Venezuela, thanks to massive inflation.)

Chile plans new investigation into death of Pablo Neruda

Pablo_Neruda_(1966)

More than 40 years after noted poet, diplomat and politician Pablo Neruda died, Chilean officials say they will begin a fresh inquiry into his death.

Neruda, a Nobel Prize winner considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, died on Sept. 23, 1973, less than two weeks after the military coup that ushered Gen. Augusto Pinochet into power.

Government spokesman Francisco Ugas said there are indications that Neruda could have been poisoned.

Neruda’s body was exhumed in April 2013 and tests conducted on his remains, but no indication of poison was found at that time. However, more tests are planned with scientists looking for traces of inorganic or heavy metals, according to the BBC.

The upcoming investigation will seek to detect cellular or protein damage caused by chemical agents. Previous tests  focused specifically on the discovery of toxins, according to the BBC.

“There is initial evidence that he was poisoned and in that sense the signs point to the intervention of specific agents,” said Ugas, who is head of the government’s human rights department.

Neruda’s death certificate says he died of prostate cancer.

Neruda was a member of Chile’s Communist Party and lawmaker who held diplomatic posts in France, Spain and Mexico. He was a staunch supporter of deposed President Salvador Allende and it was believed he would become a thorn in the side of Pinochet’s regime.

Neruda was hospitalized with cancer at the time of Pinochet’s coup. Pinochet denied permission for Neruda’s funeral to be made a public event. However, thousands of grieving Chileans disobeyed the curfew and crowded the streets.

(Top: Pablo Neruda recording his poetry at the U.S. Library of Congress in 1966. Source: Wikipedia.)

Future Einsteins disappointed man not eaten by snake

anaconda

It’s not too much of a stretch to assert that the Discovery channel has declined in quality in recent years. Like many cable channels, Discovery has shifted its focus toward more reality-based programming in an effort to compete with networks and keep down costs.

Just how far the intellectual curiosity of some of Discovery’s viewers has slipped along with the channel was made evident when a recent program, titled Eaten Alive, purported to highlight an individual being swallowed by an anaconda – albeit one in a specially designed suit – apparently didn’t meet their “rigorous” entertainment standards.

When adventurer Paul Rosolie said “no mas” after the large snake had gotten halfway through his human meal, some Discovery viewers took umbrage, voicing their displeasure via social media that they’d been cheated out of seeing a man be wholly consumed by a reptile.

One individual commented on Twitter that, “The eaten alive guy didn’t get eaten alive,” followed by the hashtag : “Disappointed”; while another tweeted,  “This dude just wasted my life away.”

Newsflash for the above commenters: Methinks you two have been doing a fine job of being disappointing and wasting your lives all on your own.

For those who had the good fortune to miss the two-hour program, viewers saw a 20-foot anaconda attack Rosolie, coil around him, then start to eat his helmet.

“That’s when Rosolie opted to call in his team to rescue him, saying his arm was being crushed,” according to Time magazine. “’I started to feel the blood drain out of my hand and I felt the bone flex, and when I got to the point where I felt like it was going to snap I had to tap out.’”

Discovery has refused to say how far the snake got before Rosolie was rescued.

Rosolie said he spent months recovering from the encounter.

So, what was originally a program slammed by animal activists for animal cruelty is now being mocked on social media for not allowing the animal to go far enough in consuming a human being.

And the bread and circuses continue on.

(Top: Filmmaker Paul Rosolie with an anaconda.)

You’re going to need a bigger boat …

MV ocean breeze

The bulk carrier MV Ocean Breeze, seen above, ran aground earlier this week near the port of San Antonio, Chile.

Chilean Navy helicopters rescued the crew of 24, but the ship was battered by massive waves after it dragged its anchor and came to rest near the beach.

The vessel, flying a Hong Kong flag, carries a cargo of wheat and soy beans.

The above image was submitted to the blog gCaptain by Captain Eric Omar Rodríguez Aracena.

More images and videos can be found of the Ocean Breeze in distress on the gCaptain blog.

(HT: Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid)

Where not to get a vacation timeshare

golden lancehead

Thirty miles off the coast of Brazil and less than 100 miles from São Paulo, one of the world’s largest and most congested cities, lies a 110-acre subtropical island called Ilha de Queimada Grande. Sounds perfect for an idyllic retreat, right?

No, not in this case. Ilha de Queimada Grande has a population of exactly zero. That would be because the Brazilian Navy prohibits anyone from landing on the island.

Even fans of limited government would have to agree that the reason is a good one: Ilha de Queimada Grande is literally infested with one of most venomous species of snakes known to man, the golden lancehead.

How infested, you ask? To the tune of one golden lancehead per square meter. For those of you who struggle with the metric system, that’s roughly one bad snake every 3-1/2 feet.

Some researchers have estimated that as many as five golden lancehead per square meter can be found on Ilha de Queimada Grande, according to Atlas Obscura. (The island, also known colloquially in English as Snake Island, is covered with jungle, hence the high density as the vipers  inhabit trees and the island floor.)

The lancehead genus of snakes is responsible for 90 percent of Brazilian snakebite-related fatalities.

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