Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Good Afternoon Ladies & Gentlemen,

The softball season is over now… but we did end off our dreadful year with our first BIG WIN of the year, second overall. How did we do it? It may have had something to do with having a full gamut of players to where I was the extra hitter and not needed in the field. It may have had something to do with us working together as a team and feeling like we had nothing to lose (or gain) and just going out there and having fun (and plenty of drinks during & afterwards). It surely wasn’t my going 0-for-3 including grounding into two double plays (though I did get an RBI off a groundout and a walk which I eventually ran in). So yeah, we won 18-12 or something like that. Not bad. Then a few of us had drinks at the Fifty Fifty Brewery and talked about everything from the Jersey Shore (the real area not that god awful TV show) to work to the possibility of a basketball team. Stay tuned… Other than that, not a whole lot going on as far as I know. I keep hearing rumors that my brother will be coming… but no idea when (it happens when my mom’s in charge). So yeah… I’ll just get to the news…

Sudanese Cities – You know that I’m always on the pulse of events Mother Afrika and want to keep you posted on the rare levity and the seemingly endless plight of the motherland. Well, this… kind of has both. Southern Sudan has unveiled ambitious plans to remake its capital cities in the shapes found on their state flags, and an official says the government is talking with investors to raise the $10 billion the fanciful communities would cost. The plan in the war-torn region comes ahead of a scheduled January referendum on independence, which most people here believe will lead to the creation of the world's newest country ($tevonia?). The south is rich in oil, but poverty and hunger is high throughout the region, which is struggling to recover after a civil war more than two decades long. The $10 billion concept will take decades to carry out, officials concede, though it may never escape the planning stages. The southern government's own 2010 budget was only $1.9 billion, and the U.N. says more than 90% of Southern Sudan's population lives on less than $1 a day. The plans have evoked bemused smiles (or outright laughter) in Juba, a town that until two years ago barely had any paved roads. What are the proposed plans? Well, if you can’t tell from the picture, or remember the Sudanese flag, it is designing cities to be shaped like a giraffe, rhino, even a f**king pineapple. "It doesn't seem like the (Government of Southern Sudan) should be using its resources or staff time when the people of Southern Sudan lack basic services like health care and water," Nora Petty, an aid worker in Juba with the Malaria Consortium. Government officials concede that a lot of money is needed to finance the project, which includes a plan to transform two state capitals into the shapes of a giraffe and a pineapple. Juba — the capital of Southern Sudan — is to be reshaped into a compact rhino with two pointy horns. The new area will be called "Rhino City." I am not joking. This is the proposition… but keep in mind we have states called New Hampshire & New Jersey, that are basically named after farm animals. Officials said the plan would bring order to the city's chaotic layout (and strike fear into alien invaders). "Juba is made up of slums," said Jemma Kumba, the minister of housing and physical planning. Detailed architectural drawings of Rhino City show that Central Equatoria's police headquarters would be situated at the rhino's mouth, an amusement park at the ear (yes, an amusement park), an industrial area along the back and residential housing throughout the four legs. "It's very innovative. That's our thinking. It's unique. It's the Ministry of Housing thinking you have to be unique to attract the people," said Daniel Wani, undersecretary of Southern Sudan's Ministry of Housing and Physical Planning. If the animal-shaped towns come to be, they will join other famously shaped cities around the world. Dubai created several palm-shaped residential islands off its coast. In Argentina, planners shaped the town of Ciudad Evita into the form of Eva Peron, an actress and wife of former President Juan Peron who was known as Evita. Of course, per capita income in the United Arab Emirates, where Dubai is located, is around $42,000 a year. In Sudan, it's just $2,300.And unlike well-developed Dubai, Southern Sudan still lacks basic infrastructure such as roads to connect its state capitals. Outside the southern capital Juba, structures aside from mud huts are rare, and in Juba, services such as electricity and sewage are a luxury. The Minister of Roads and Transport, Anthony Makana, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he needed up to $6 billion to pave 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) of roads in the south. Makana said the project would connect all of the southern state capitals, but he noted that funding is a concern, given that the government has not finished paying the contractors who built 4,350 miles (7,000 kilometers) of red clay and gravel roads since 2005, when the landmark peace accord between the north and south was signed. So we shall see if these animal cities comes to pass… but now I’m curious about that Eva Peron shaped city in Argentina. Brings about ideas for the infrastructure of Dollywood… I’m also pretty sure that’s why, thanks to strip mining, the city of Butte, Montana has a giant hole in the middle of it.

Kids Nowadays – Have you ever looked at school age kids and think “We’re f**ked!!! How did these kids get so stupid?”? Don’t feel bad. I do all the time. Now there’s evidence to support your negative view on children. Most young Americans entering university this year can't write in cursive, think email is too slow, that Beethoven's a dog and Michelangelo is a computer virus, according to an annual list compiled by two academics at a US college. To students who will get their bachelor's degrees in 2014, Czechoslovakia has never existed, Fergie is a pop singer, not a duchess; Clint Eastwood is a sensitive movie director, not Dirty Harry; and John McEnroe stars in TV ads, not on the tennis court, Beloit College's "Mindset" list says. The Mindset list was first compiled in 1998, for the class of 2002, by Beloit humanities professor Tom McBride and former public affairs director Ron Nief. It was intended as a reminder to faculty at the university that references quickly become dated, but quickly evolved to become a hugely popular annual list that gives a snapshot of how things have changed, and chronicles key cultural and political events that have shaped a generation. In the first Mindset list, McBride and Nief found that youngsters born in 1980 had ever known only one pope - Polish-born John Paul II, who was elected to the papacy in 1978 and died in 2008. For the class of 2003 -- born in 1981 (which I am a part of) and featured on the 1999 Mindset list -- Yugoslavia never existed and they were puzzled why Solidarity was sometimes spelled with a capital S. For classmates of mine who don’t know, Solidarity with a capital S was the first and only independent trade union in the Soviet bloc. It was created in 1980 and went on to negotiate in 1989 a peaceful end to communism in Poland, making the country the first to escape Moscow's grip. Nief and McBride take a year to put the list together, gathering outside contributions and poring over journals, literary works, and the popular media from the year of the incoming university students' birth. "Then we present the ideas to every 18-year-old whose attention we can get and we wait for the 'mindset moment' -- the blank stare that comes back at you that makes you realize they have no idea what you're talking about," Nief told AFP. Those moments make it onto the list. The class of 2005 -- born in 1983 -- thought of Sarajevo as a war zone, not an Olympic host, and had no idea what carbon paper was (and probably wonder what cc means on their email). Apartheid never existed in South Africa for the class of 2006 (except in Lethal Weapon 2 – “FREE SOUTH AFRICA YOU DUMB SON OF A B**CH!!!”), and for the class of 2007, "Banana Republic has always been a store, not a puppet government in Latin America." Okay, I didn’t even know that reference. The list is a mirror of how rapidly perceptions can change: to the class of 2013, boxer Mike Tyson was "always a felon" but to students who graduated five years earlier, Tyson was "always a contender." They’re both right. The list makes some people feel old, like those who remember what Michael Jackson looked like when he was singing in the Jackson Five or recall the days when there were only a handful of channels on television. Few students in the class of 2009 knew how to tie a tie and most thought Iran and Iraq had never been at war with each other (or that they’re a typo away from being the same country). And for US students who got their bachelor's degrees this year, Germany was never divided, professional athletes have always competed in the Olympics, there have always been reality shows on television and smoking has never been allowed on US airlines. So please… read a history book. Okay, so that’s not really the kind of research I was hoping for to support my despise for today’s youth… but here’s something that might cheer you up about them…

ACT Scores Down but… - Average scores on the ACT college entrance exam inched downward this year, yet slightly more students who took the test proved to be prepared for college, according to a report released Wednesday. The findings sound contradictory. But the exam's authors point to a growing and more diverse group of test-takers — many are likely scoring lower overall, but more are also meeting benchmarks used to measure college readiness. Last spring's high-school seniors averaged a composite score of 21.0 on the test's scale of 1 to 36, down slightly from 21.1 last year and the lowest score of the last five years. At the same time, 24% of ACT-tested students met or surpassed all four of the test's benchmarks measuring their preparedness for college English, reading, math and science. That is up from 23% last year and 21% in 2006. Although that still shows three in four test-takers will likely need remedial help in at least one subject to succeed in college, ACT officials are encouraged to see improvement as ever-larger numbers of students take the exam. "It's slow progress," said Cynthia Schmeiser, president and chief operating officer of ACT's education division. "We are headed in the right direction." Schmeiser highlighted slight gains in math and science readiness, traditional weak spots for U.S. students. The number of students prepared for college-level biology, for example, has risen from 21% to 24% in five years. On the not-so-encouraging front, ACT-takers prepared for college English have dropped from 69% to 66% in that span. Still, English remains a strong suit for ACT test-takers compared to other subjects (I’ll bet Spanish has improved over the past few years). To measure whether students are ready for college, the ACT sets minimum scores in a subject area test to indicate a 50% chance of getting a B or higher or about a 75% chance of getting a C or higher in a first-year college credit course. The courses include English composition, algebra, biology and introductory social science courses like Psychology 101. The ACT report found a combined total of 43% of test-takers met either none (28%) or only one (15%) of the four college readiness benchmarks. A record 1.57 million students, or 47% of this year's high school graduates, took the ACT. That's a 30% increase from five years ago. The SAT remains the most common college entrance exam, though the rival ACT has nearly caught up in popularity. Most colleges accept either, and a growing minority no longer requires either one. Now tell me one thing… do these numbers scare you just a little bit too? Just checking… want to know what else scares me?

Mind Controlling Parasites – I know what you’re thinking, “$teve, you’ve been watching too many stupid late night horror flicks again.” Granted, mind control by parasite does sound like the stuff of science fiction, but not only have scientists revealed that IT IS REAL across a range of animals - including perhaps humans - they now even have fossil evidence suggesting it has taken place for millions of years. An unnerving variety of parasites have evolved the ability to control the brains of victims to help the parasites spread. For instance, the protozoan known as Toxoplasma gondii (sounds like a mix of Slimer from Ghostbusters & a famous Pacifist) makes rats love cat urine so that it can spread among its feline hosts - and it may influence human culture as well, making people more prone to certain forms of neuroticism (explains “American Idols” popularity?). Another case of parasite mind control involves the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, which essentially turns ants into zombies. It maneuvers the insects into biting down on the major veins of the undersides of leaves just before they die - the fungus then rapidly grows a stalk from their victims' heads, releasing spores to infect more ants. Creepy sh*t, right? Now scientists have discovered what might be ancient evidence of such mind-control-induced death grips - scars on a roughly 48-million-year-old leaf. "I thought it was a very, very long shot to find such a fossil, but indeed, as luck would have it, two paleobotanists, Conrad Labandeira at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and Torsten Wappler at the Steinmann Institute in Bonn, were sitting around wondering how that particular damage type might be explained," said researcher David Hughes, a behavioral ecologist at Harvard University. The leaf fossil came from what once were subtropical forests around a lake in Germany. The leaf bears 29 dumbbell-shaped scars centered around its veins. These differ from the kinds of snips resulting when insects drink plant sap, and match telltale scars made nowadays by the death grips of carpenter ants (Camponotus leonardi) infected with the mind-controlling fungus O. unilateralis. "We are now realizing that half of life on Earth is parasitic -- each free-living organism has at least one parasite (try not to dwell on that too much). But very few manipulate behaviors and there is a reason for that -- it is likely very costly. The fossil now challenges us to think of what past environments acted as selective forces for such cool tricks to evolve." Hughes, Labandeira and Wappler detailed their findings online August 18th in the journal Biology Letters. Pretty weird stuff, right? Just another thing for you to obsess about with the forthcoming Apocalypse. You know me, I only mention things on this blog usually pertaining to snakes… occasionally bears… and then just weird stuff that interests me like mind controlling parasites. I don’t even mention equally disturbing environmental things like the serious depletion of plankton (the ocean’s top food resource) or the fact that coral reefs in Indonesia are being bleached because the temperature of ocean is 93 degrees. Seriously, that’s not even a warm bath, that’s a hot tub… in the ocean. Think about it. Mmm… I sure am… it’s been a long time since I was in a hot tub… and the water here is f**king freezing.

Anyway, that’ll do it for today. Just over three weeks until I’ll be visiting the family in Utah again. Can’t wait to see my niece & nephew… and of course my mom & dad… and maybe my brother if I have to… and all the peeps back in the Beehive State. Let me know if you want to meet up during my stay. Have a great day everybody!!!

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