Paint explosions: Spectacular Sony Bravia ad

[From Bravia-advert]:

70,000 litres of paint
358 single bottle bombs
33 sextuple air cluster bombs
22 Triple hung cluster bombs
268 mortars
33 Triple Mortars
22 Double mortars
358 meters of weld
330 meters of steel pipe
57 km of copper wire

Full high-def video here


Man sleeps through gunshot to the head

Michael Lusher apparently is a sound sleeper. A small-caliber bullet struck the 37-year-old Altizer man in the head as he slept Sunday morning, but he didn’t realize it until he awoke nearly four hours later and noticed blood coming from his head, said Cpl. R.H. McQuaid of the Cabell County Sheriff’s Department.

The bullet that struck him was one of five that someone sprayed across his mobile home and truck at about 4:20 a.m. Sunday, McQuaid said. The one the struck Lusher apparently lost velocity as it traveled through two walls.

“We’re just glad he didn’t suffer any life-threatening injuries with a head wound,” he said.

Lusher came home from a night on the town about an hour before he was shot while lying in bed, McQuaid said.

He remained hospitalized at St. Mary’s Medical Center on Monday. His condition was not immediately available. [AP]

Smithsonian alters exhibit on climate change in fear of angering the Bush administration

The Smithsonian Institution toned down an exhibit on climate change in the Arctic for fear of angering Congress and the Bush administration, says a former administrator at the museum.

Among other things, the script, or official text, of last year’s exhibit was rewritten to minimize and inject more uncertainty into the relationship between global warming and humans, said Robert Sullivan, who was associate director in charge of exhibitions at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Also, officials omitted scientists’ interpretation of some research and let visitors draw their own conclusions from the data, he said. In addition, graphs were altered “to show that global warming could go either way,” Sullivan said.

“It just became tooth-pulling to get solid science out without toning it down,” said Sullivan, who resigned last fall after 16 years at the museum. He said he left after higher-ups tried to reassign him.

Smithsonian officials denied that political concerns influenced the exhibit, saying the changes were made for reasons of objectivity. And some scientists who consulted on the project said nothing major was omitted.

Sullivan said that to his knowledge, no one in the Bush administration pressured the Smithsonian, whose $1.1 billion budget is mostly taxpayer-funded.

Rather, he said, Smithsonian leaders acted on their own. “The obsession with getting the next allocation and appropriation was so intense that anything that might upset the Congress or the White House was being looked at very carefully,” he said.

White House spokeswoman Kristen Hellmer said Monday: “The White House had no role in this exhibit.”

In recent months, the White House has been accused of trying to muzzle scientists researching global warming at NASA and other agencies.

The exhibit, “Arctic: A Friend Acting Strangely,” based partly on a report by federal scientists, opened in April 2006 – six months late, because of the Smithsonian’s review – and closed in November, but its content remains available online. Among other things, it highlighted the Arctic’s shrinking ice and snow and concerns about the effect on people and wildlife.

This is not the first time the Smithsonian has been accused of taking politics into consideration.

The congressionally chartered institution scaled down a 1995 exhibit of the restored Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, after veterans complained it focused too much on the damage and deaths. Amid the oil-drilling debate in 2003, a photo exhibit of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was moved to a less prominent space.

Sullivan said the changes in the climate-change exhibit were requested by executives who included then-museum Director Cristian Samper and his boss, former Undersecretary for Science David Evans. He said several scientists whose work was used in the exhibit objected to the changes.

Samper, now acting Smithsonian secretary, said he was not aware of scientists’ objections, and he emphasized there was no political pressure to change the script. “Our role as a museum is to present the facts but not advocate a particular point of view,” Samper said in an e-mail.

Evans refused to comment.

Randall Kremer, a spokesman for the natural history museum, said atmospheric science was outside the Smithsonian’s expertise, so the museum avoided the issue of what is causing the Arctic changes.

Many leading scientists have come to believe that human activity is contributing to warming of the planet.

“I see it in some ways as similar to the sort-of debate that has taken place with regard to the science of evolution,” said Professor Michael Mann, director of Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center. “Just as I would hope that the Smithsonian would stand firmly behind the science of evolution, it would also be my hope that they would stand firmly behind the science that supports influence on climate. Politically, they may be controversial, but scientifically they are not.”

Some curators and scientists involved in the project said they believed nothing important was omitted. But they also said it was apparent that science was not the only concern.

“I remember them telling me there was an attempt to make sure there was nothing in there that would be upsetting to any politicians,” said John Calder, a lead climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who consulted on the project. “They’re not stupid. They don’t want to upset the people who pay them.”

One consultant, University of Maryland scientist Louis Codispoti, said he would have been less cautious. “I’ve been going to the Arctic since 1963, and I find some of the changes alarming,” he said. [AP]

10 Animals That May Go Extinct in the Next 10 Years

Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus The world’s most endangered cat species, the Iberian lynx once thrived in Spain, Portugal and southern France. Today, its numbers have dwindled to some 120 individuals divided between small populations in Spain’s Andalusia region. Habitat destruction, collisions with vehicles, poaching and a collapsing rabbit population have all contributed to the decline of this feline. As part of a conservation effort, the Spanish government has decided to release rabbits (the lynx’s favorite cuisine) into the wild. If the Iberian lynx disappears, it will be the first feral cat species to go extinct in some 2,000 years.

Sumatran Orangutan Pongo abelii There are no more than 7,500 Sumatran orangutans left in the world, and they are declining at a rate of roughly 1,000 per year, says Adam Tomasek, director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Borneo and Sumatra Program. At this rate, the species will be wiped out within a decade. The primary cause of this population slide is rampant habitat loss from logging, fires and other human activities.

Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat Lasiorhinus krefftii Wombats are Australian marsupials with burly builds, stocky legs and powerful claws for burrowing underground tunnels. The northern hairy-nosed variety is the largest wombat, growing as long as one meter and as heavy as 40 kilograms. It also has exceptionally soft fur and a clumsy, waddling gait (yet can run as fast as 40 kilometers per hour). A mere 100 individuals survive in a small, protected area in Queensland.

Wild Bactrian Camel Camelus bactrianus This shy ancestor of domesticated camels lives in the arid Gashun Gobi region of the Gobi Desert in northwestern China and southwestern Mongolia. Unlike Arabian camels, which are distinguished by one prominent hump, Bactrian camels have two humps. Although the camel survived a 45-year period of nuclear testing in China’s Gashun Gobi, it may not be able to withstand current pressures, which include mining, hunting, wolf predation, industrial development and genetic mixing with domestic camels. There are only about 650 individuals remaining in China and 350 in Mongolia, according to John Hare, chairman of the U.K.-based Wild Camel Protection Foundation. Some experts predict an 84 percent population decline by 2033.

Dama Gazelle Gazella dama This antelope species is on a fast track to extinction. In the last decade, some 80 percent of the wild population vanished, primarily the result of unbridled hunting and habitat destruction. Populations of no more than 100 are sprinkled throughout north Africa—in Chad, Niger and Mali. Life does not appear to be improving for these gazelles, as caravans of foreign hunters continue to cross borders and mow them down with automatic weapons.

Seychelles Sheath-Tailed Bat Coleura seychellensis There may be only 50 to 100 of these furry flying mammals left on the planet. They are endemic to Silhouette, Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, islands in the Seychelles archipelago, located in the Indian Ocean northeast of Madagascar. Researchers believe that only two substantial roosts remain, both in boulder caves on Silhouette Island. The Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles is monitoring these populations closely.

Chinese Alligator Alligator sinensis This secretive mini-alligator, which rarely grows longer than two meters or heavier than 40 kilograms, dwells in the wetlands of the lower reaches of the Yangtze—the same river that sheltered the rare and probably now extinct Chinese river dolphin. The Chinese alligator spends a great deal of its time burrowing tunnels, much to the chagrin of local farmers. Although thousands of Chinese alligators have been bred in captivity, experts estimate a mere 150 to 200 individuals persist in the wild, making this reptile the most endangered crocodilian species in the world.

Black Rhinoceros Diceros bicornis Black rhinos, like their larger white cousins, are actually grayish in color. Their horns are highly valued for use as ornaments and for their “medicinal” properties, even though they are simply made of keratin, the same protein found in fingernails and hair. At the start of the century there may have been hundreds of thousands of Black rhinos roaming Africa but now there are only few thousand. Among the four Black rhino subspecies, the west African is the most threatened and may have already gone extinct in the wild. Poaching and habitat loss continue to threaten the species’s survival.

Pied Tamarin Saguinus bicolor Often called the “bare-faced tamarin” for its hairless face and ears, the pied tamarin inhabits only a small area of land surrounding Manaus, a city of two million in northwestern Brazil. Urban expansion, cattle ranching and agriculture have eroded much of the tamarin’s rain forest home, which extends no farther than 40 to 50 kilometers from Manaus. Worse, the monkeys are being out-competed by their close relative, the golden-handed tamarin, in areas where the two species overlap.

Leatherback Turtle Dermochelys coriacea Leatherbacks are the largest of all sea turtles, measuring as long as eight feet and weighing as much as 2,000 pounds. They are also the deepest divers, plunging to depths as great as 1,200 meters as they hunt for jellyfish. Leatherbacks are distributed in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, as far north as British Columbia and as far south as Argentina. They migrate between continents, making both transatlantic and transpacific journeys between feeding and nesting sites. Populations have crashed over the last two decades—the result of poaching for egg and meat consumption, destruction of nesting sites from beachfront development, disorientation of hatchlings from the artificial lighting created by those developments, accidental capture by commercial fisherman and other factors. In 1980 the global population of nesting females was estimated at 115,000. Now that number has dropped to between 26,000 and 43,000.

[Via ScientificAmerican]

The Birth Control of Yesteryear

[From DamnInteresting] Approximately 2,600 years ago– around 630 BCE– the Greek island of Thera was plagued by drought and overpopulation. According to legend, an assortment of settlers were selected to sail south to establish a colony in more hospitable climes. The men and women apprehensively put to sea, and the gaggle of enterprising Greeks eventually erected the city of Cyrene on Africa’s northern tip. There, the settlers encountered a local herb which would ultimately bring them and their progeny fantastic wealth.

The prized plant became such a key pillar of the Cyrenean economy that its likeness was stamped upon many of the city’s gold and silver coins. The images often depicted a regal-looking woman sitting in a chair, with one hand touching the herb and her other hand pointing at her genitals. The plant was known as silphium or laserwort, and its heart-shaped fruit brought the ancient world a highly sought-after freedom: the opportunity to enjoy sex with very little risk of pregnancy.