Why we are, as we are

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

In Why we are, as we are, The Economist takes the 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of Species as an opportunity to ask how Darwin’s insights can be used profitably by policymakers:

Philosophers have preached that there exists between man and beast an unbridgeable distinction. Sociologists have been seduced by Marxist ideas about the perfectibility of mankind. Theologians have feared that the very thought of evolution threatens divine explanations of the world. Even fully paid-up members of the Enlightenment, people who would not for a moment deny humanity’s simian ancestry, are often sceptical. They seem to believe, as Anne Campbell, a psychologist at Durham University, in England, elegantly puts it, that evolution stops at the neck: that human anatomy evolved, but human behaviour is culturally determined.

The corollary to this is the idea that with appropriate education, indoctrination, social conditioning or what have you, people can be made to behave in almost any way imaginable. The evidence, however, is that they cannot. The room for shaping their behaviour is actually quite limited. Unless that is realised, and the underlying biology of the behaviour to be shaped is properly understood, attempts to manipulate it are likely to fail.

I’ll share just this tidbit on the evolutionary roots of crime, as studied by Martin Daly and Margo Wilson:

That murderers are usually young men is well known, but Dr Daly and Dr Wilson dug a bit deeper. They discovered that although the murder rate varies from place to place, the pattern does not. Plot the rate against the age of the perpetrator and the peak is the same (see chart). Moreover, the pattern of the victims is similar. They, too, are mostly young men. In the original study, 86% of the victims of male killers aged between 15 and 19 were also male. This is the clue as to what is going on. Most violence (and thus most murder, which is simply violence’s most extreme expression) is a consequence of competition between young, unemployed, unmarried men. In the view of Darwinists, these men are either competing for women directly (“You looking at my girl, Jimmy?”) or competing for status (“You dissing me, man?”).

Wal-Mart’s Worst Nightmare

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Apparently British mega-retailer Tesco is Wal-Mart’s Worst Nightmare:

British retailer Tesco entered the U.S. market only last year but already it has managed to put Wal-Mart, the world’s No. 1 retailer, on the defensive. Tesco fired the first salvo, in a battle that retailing analysts expect will intensify, by launching Fresh & Easy, a chain of 10,000-square-foot convenience stores, in cities across California, Nevada, and Arizona in November 2007. Eleven months later, Wal-Mart returned fire, taking on Tesco in Arizona with the debut of the similar-size Marketside, its first new store format in a decade.
Back home in Britain, Tesco has long outpaced the Wal-Mart-owned discount chain Asda. The British giant currently has 34% market share, nearly double that of Asda. In a quarterly trading update on Dec. 2, Tesco reported that despite the economic slowdown, group sales rose 11.7% for the 13 weeks ended Nov. 22, compared to the same period the previous year, due in large part to the strength of Tesco’s international operations. While like-for-like sales in Britain rose a paltry 2%, the slowest growth rate in 15 years, Tesco’s international operations posted revenue growth of 28%. Analysts at Citigroup expect sales for the full fiscal year ending Feb. 28 to rise 13.6%, to $82 billion.

Tesco’s international momentum is expected to continue. A recent report from the Institute of Grocery Distribution, a British food industry group, forecasts Tesco will continue to grow at an average of 11% annually through 2012, enabling it to overtake France’s Carrefour to become the world’s second-largest retailer by 2012.

I thought this was WalMart‘s key strength:

Analysts say that Tesco’s big advantage over major international rivals, which also include Germany’s Aldi and Lidl, is its unrivaled ability to manage vast reams of data and translate that knowledge into sales.

Tesco’s strength lies just outside of Tesco actually:

While data crunching may sound dull, it has given Tesco two major advantages: an unmatched ability to operate multiple retail formats — ranging in size from convenience stores to hypermarkets — and the market knowledge to offer what many analysts say is the best and broadest range of house brands from any retailer.

Tesco uses information gleaned from Dunnhumby, a British data mining firm of which it has majority control, to manage every aspect of its business, from creating new shop formats to arranging store layouts to developing private-label products and targeted sales promotions. In 2003, U.S. supermarket chain Kroger copied Tesco’s example, setting up a joint venture with Dunnhumby in the U.S. Since then, Dunnhumby also has signed deals with a number of other U.S. retailers including Home Depot, Best Buy, and Macy’s.

Tesco’s other strength is its private-label goods:

While U.S. retailers have struggled to convince shoppers that supermarket brands are as good as big-name counterparts, Tesco’s private-label products account for as much as 60% of sales in many countries. According to the company, private-label products also account for more than 70% of Fresh & Easy’s sales. “Wal-Mart and France’s Carrefour are lucky to get 35% of sales from private label,” Flickinger says. The reason, he says, is that Tesco has a range of house brands to cover every price point. In fact, some of its premium-range products, such as Tesco Finest chocolate or yogurt, even sell at up to a 50% premium to established brands such as Cadbury and Danone.

Sharks have wimpy bites

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Sharks have wimpy bites — for some definitions of wimpy:

“Pound for pound, sharks don’t bite all that hard,” Daniel Huber of the University of Tampa in Florida, who led the study, said in a telephone interview.

Huber and colleagues had trouble collecting data for their study, “due to the experimental intractability of these animals,” they wrote dryly in their report, published in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology.

“The vast majority of the data that went into this study was biomechanical models,” Huber said.

They also measured the bites of small sharks such as sand sharks, and tested larger sharks by knocking them out and using electricity to stimulate the jaw muscles.

Their conclusions? Sharks can do a lot of damage simply because their teeth are so sharp and their jaws are so wide.

“Our analyses show that large sharks do not bite hard for their body size, but they generally have larger heads,” they wrote.

A 20-foot (6-meter) great white shark can “bite through anything that you come across,” he adds.

Many must use a sawing motion to break apart their prey, said Huber, whose team studied 10 different species of shark. Mammals have evolved much more efficient jaw muscles, he noted.

Colbert, SpongeBob may go dark on Time Warner

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Colbert, SpongeBob may go dark on Time Warner:

Media giant Viacom Inc. said its Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and 16 other channels will go dark on Time Warner Cable Inc. at 12:01 a.m. Thursday if a new carriage fee deal is not agreed upon by then.

The impasse over carriage fee hikes would mean “SpongeBob” and other shows like “The Daily Show” will be cut off to 13 million subscribers, said spokesman Alex Dudley, a vice president at Time Warner Cable. The nation’s second-largest cable operator primarily serves customers in New York state, the Carolinas, Ohio, Southern California and Texas.

Viacom has asked for fee increases of between 22 percent and 36 percent per channel, an amount that could increase customers’ cable bills, Dudley said. Viacom spokeswoman Kelly McAndrew said the requested increase was in the very low double-digit percentage range.

“The issue is that they have asked for an exorbitant increase in their carriage fees and their network ratings are sagging,” he said. “Basically we’re trying to hold the line for our customer.”

Viacom said the increases would cost an extra 23 cents a month per subscriber — which works out to $35.9 million more in total. It said that Americans spend a fifth of their TV time watching Viacom shows but its fees make up less than 2.5 percent of the Time Warner cable bill.

Infrastructure: Roads and The Smart Grid

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Alex Tabarrok talks about Infrastructure:

The first thing people think about when someone says “infrastructure” is roads and bridges. That’s unfortunate because we already spend over $100 billion a year on transportation infrastructure and the truth is we don’t need that much more. Peter Orzag, President-Elect Obama’s choice for OMB estimated — when Director of the CBO — that an additional $20 billion in spending, mostly to maintain current transportation infrastructure, would achieve 83% of the net benefits to be had from more transportation infrastructure spending. Moreover, in many cases, congestion pricing would be both greener and more efficient than greater spending. A better program would be to follow Germany and several innovative state programs to get congestion pricing using GPS technology up and running, especially for trucks.

Even more valuable than transportation infrastructure would be greater investment in electricity infrastructure, a smart grid. Consider that in 2003 a massive, widespread, power outage threw 50 million people in the Northeastern states and Ontario, Canada out of power — disrupting lives and the economy. Why did this happen? Because of a failure to “trim trees” in Eastlake, Ohio — now that’s a dumb grid. And remember that only a few years earlier, the most innovative, high-tech industries in the world were shut down by blackouts caused by our primitive electricity grid. Overall, blackouts cost the U.S. on the order of $100 billion a year.

The smart gird is a not one idea but many technologies such as real-time pricing (smart meters), superconductive smart cable, and plug-n-play architecture that combine to produce a grid that is decentralized, self-healing, robust, and smart for both producers and consumers. Decentralized power, for example, makes it easier to isolate problems, “route” power to different areas, and maintain robustness in the face of falling trees and other problems. Plug and play architecture means that new technologies such as electric cars can be automatically used as both consumers and producers (via storage) of electricity, as needed, on the fly. Plug-n-play, the open-source of electricity infrastructure, will also open the field of electricity generation and storage to far greater innovation than is possible now.

Useful references include the Department of Energy’s somewhat breathless introduction for the layperson, The Smart Grid, The National Energy Technology Laboratory’s The Modern Grid Strategy, the Smart Grid newsletter and papers by Kiesling and also Dismukes in Electric Choices (a book I had a hand in).

The smart grid did not receive prominent attention in Obama’s infrastructure speech but the campaign called for matching grants to investment in smart grid technology and support for smart meters and real-time pricing. An investment tax credit for smart grid technologies and more foresighted regulation (price regulation has limited investment in needed infrastructure) could encourage the construction of much-needed electricity infrastructure while maintaining private investment incentives and promoting innovation.

Passive Houses

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Elisabeth Rosenthal examines the new German Passive Houses, which “get all the heat and hot water they need from the amount of energy that would be needed to run a hair dryer”:

Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants’ bodies.

And in Germany, passive houses cost only about 5 to 7 percent more to build than conventional houses.

Decades ago, attempts at creating sealed solar-heated homes failed, because of stagnant air and mold. But new passive houses use an ingenious central ventilation system. The warm air going out passes side by side with clean, cold air coming in, exchanging heat with 90 percent efficiency.

A market has developed in Germany for the sophisticated windows and heat-exchange ventilation systems needed to make passive houses work properly, but they are not readily available in the United States yet — and US residential building tend not to even have ventilation systems.

The Skinny on Big TVs

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Cringely suggests that The Missing Link in home theater adoption — and thus sales — is an industry standard for wireless speakers.

But I found this prelude to his main point more interesting:

Something unanticipated happened that has driven LCD and plasma TV sales higher than expected. The fact that these new sets are skinny and can be hung on a wall has changed the way we buy televisions, not just in the U.S. but globally.

There has for almost a century now been a space carved out in most American living rooms for a piece of consumer electronic furniture. Originally it was a console radio complete with gleaming wooden cabinetry. Later the radio was replaced with a TV of comparable size or larger. We positioned our furniture to help us see or hear better, changing the social dynamics of our living spaces. Rooms came to be sized with televisions in mind. And the biggest analog TV screen in my era were 21-23 inches measured diagonally, a size dictated both by the economics of glass blowing and by the maximum cabinet depth the manufacturers thought they could get away with.

Bigger sets were rare because they were expensive but also because they required bigger rooms. Projection sets went into American homes as a result, rather than into homes in Europe or Asia with their generally smaller rooms. And because the size of the market was limited in this way, so too were limited the economies of scale that could be enjoyed by the projection TV makers. Big sets were not only more expensive — they were a LOT more expensive.

Then along came plasma and then LCD displays, which could be hung on a wall taking no floor space at all. Wonder of wonder, when these TVs started selling in Japan most of the buyers were replacing smaller sets with ones that were substantially larger. You could put a honking-big TV in a tiny room if you liked — especially if it was a tight-grained 1080p set. Japanese customers started buying bigger sets, economies of scale began to kick-in so those sets got cheaper so people bought sets that were bigger still. The size effect happened everywhere, too. People the world over are buying bigger sets than ever because they can hang them on a wall.

Divided States of America

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Russian academic Igor Panarin predicts that the US will become the Divided States of America — but the real news is that he’s being taken seriously:

Prof. Panarin, 50 years old, is not a fringe figure. A former KGB analyst, he is dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s academy for future diplomats. He is invited to Kremlin receptions, lectures students, publishes books, and appears in the media as an expert on U.S.-Russia relations.
“There’s a 55-45% chance right now that disintegration will occur,” he says. “One could rejoice in that process,” he adds, poker-faced. “But if we’re talking reasonably, it’s not the best scenario — for Russia.” Though Russia would become more powerful on the global stage, he says, its economy would suffer because it currently depends heavily on the dollar and on trade with the U.S.

Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces — with Alaska reverting to Russian control.

Mr. Panarin’s résumé includes many years in the Soviet KGB, an experience shared by other top Russian officials. His office, in downtown Moscow, shows his national pride, with pennants on the wall bearing the emblem of the FSB, the KGB’s successor agency. It is also full of statuettes of eagles; a double-headed eagle was the symbol of czarist Russia.

The professor says he began his career in the KGB in 1976. In post-Soviet Russia, he got a doctorate in political science, studied U.S. economics, and worked for FAPSI, then the Russian equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency. He says he did strategy forecasts for then-President Boris Yeltsin, adding that the details are “classified.”

In September 1998, he attended a conference in Linz, Austria, devoted to information warfare, the use of data to get an edge over a rival. It was there, in front of 400 fellow delegates, that he first presented his theory about the collapse of the U.S. in 2010.
He based the forecast on classified data supplied to him by FAPSI analysts, he says. He predicts that economic, financial and demographic trends will provoke a political and social crisis in the U.S. When the going gets tough, he says, wealthier states will withhold funds from the federal government and effectively secede from the union. Social unrest up to and including a civil war will follow. The U.S. will then split along ethnic lines, and foreign powers will move in.

Ford has grabbed the fuel-economy crown

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Ford has grabbed the fuel-economy crown, Martin Zimmerman notes, just in time for the lowest gas prices in years:

Ford said today that its new 2010 Fusion hybrid has been certified by the EPA at 41 mpg/city and 36 mpg/highway, with a combined rating of 39 miles per gallon. That beats the hybrid versions of its competitors in the mid-sized sedan segment (at least based on their 2009 EPA ratings): the Toyota Camry (33 city/34 highway); Chevy Malibu (26/34); and the Nissan Altima (35/33).

In fact, based on the competition’s ’09 ratings for combined city and highway driving, the new Fusion hybrid beats every widely sold vehicle in America except the Toyota Prius hybrid (46 mpg combined) and the smaller Honda Civic hybrid (42 mpg combined).
With a suggested list price of about $27,000, however, the Fusion hybrid costs $1,500 more than the ’09 Chevy Malibu hybrid and $1,000 more than a Camry hybrid, based on retail price information from Edmunds.com. The federal hybrid tax credit should eliminate that gap with the Camry, which is no longer eligible for the credit.

A tougher sell may be convincing consumers to pay the $8,000 premium over a basic Fusion (20 MPG city/28 highway) at a time when gas prices are tumbling. The current price in California for a gallon of regular is $1.806, according to AAA. That’s down 60% from its high last summer. And in New York trading today, gasoline futures fell to December 2003 lows.

Ford’s marketing spin is completely ludicrous:

“Fuel economy will never go out of style,” Ford spokesman John Clinard said. “No matter what the price of gas is, people always want to save money at the pump.”

All those Hummers and Explorers plying area freeways may belie that statement.

From Hyena’s Belly to Canadian Bitch

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Gary Brecher (War Nerd) reviews Notes from the Hyena’s Belly: An Ethiopian Boyhood, explaining that to understand bush wars you need to understand that violence doesn’t “come to” these places:

Being an African, Nega tells his childhood stories real cheerfully, but they’re way creepier and weirder than you’d expect. That’s why these stories are worth reading: to understand bush wars you need to understand that violence doesn’t “come to” these places like the bleedingheart reporters say. Violence is a daily fact for everyone, from toddler-hood on up. The way Nega tells it, growing up Amhara means being thrown into a horrible stew of weird Christian superstitions and ultra-violence from the moment you’re born. If you want to make warriors, the child-rearing theories they work with in the Horn are perfect. Oprah might not approve, though, because this is definitely not “positive-reinforcement stuff.”

Every part of Africa has some weird magic goin’ on, but the Amhara diagnoses in this book take the juju cake. When Nega’s uppity sister Almaz beats up a local drunk for abusing his wife, a friend of hers, the medicine men reach total consensus on the medical basis for the problem: “Your daughter has crossed the path of the devil at the garbage dump during the high sun.” You can’t argue with science.

But diagnosis is small-time stuff. It’s in the cures that the Amhara genius for mixing insane superstition and horrible pain really comes into its own. For example, say you’re a worried parent and your lively little son has done something naughty. Little Nega gets mad at his teacher and says he’ll burn down the teacher’s barn. Of course he didn’t mean it, but you have to teach the brat a little manners, right? So instead of just beating the crap out of him, which is what Nega’s teacher, an insane blind monk, does when anybody forgets his lessons, Nega’s mom and dad decide to invest in their child’s future in a way that’s pure Amhara craziness: they buy a goat, hire a couple of off-duty soldiers to kill and skin it—carefully saving up all the bile and piss and shit from the goat’s guts. Then the soldiers pour all those nice smelly juices from the goats’ bowels into the skin. Then they grab little Nega, and stuff him inside the skin, and sew the skin shut, with Nega marinating inside the raw fresh goat skin along with all that shit and piss and bile. I’ll let Nega himself take it from there:

“I was too shocked to put up much of a fight. Once inside…I tried to keep myself from suffocating by poking my head up for air. But the soldiers pushed me down, adding water to the unsightly mix until I was completely drowned….Millenia passed and I was still inside that goat skin.”

Nega thinks this is such a great story that he does a lot of comedy riffs on it, talking about all the hallucinations he had while he was sewn into the goat skin. It’s light comedy to him. That’s how you toughen up a warrior of the Horn.

Every time Nega describes some straight-outta-Hell torture or murder ritual, he reminds you that it’s one of those “time-honored traditions.” For instance, guess how a young fella from the Adal tribe has to prove he’s a good marriage prospect, a real Bachelor #1. He doesn’t have to buy a Boxster or flash his pecs. He just has to kill a man from another tribe, any other tribe, and come home with the dude’s penis on a stick. Seriously. The bigger the penis, the better the eager little date-bait’s prospects. And those Adal girls are real sticklers, apparently:

“Not every penis is the right candidate. The victim has to be an adult from a different tribe, and the penis has to be of a convincing size. In cases where the penis could be mistaken for that of a boy, the bridegroom must skin the part of the pelvis attached to the pelvis….” What Nega is getting at here is what Ali G. said kinda more concisely about da age of consent: “If there’s grass on the pitch, let’s play.” Except it’s kind of for all the marbles when the Adal play. One game is your career, like those Aztec ball-players who ended up served on corn tortillas if they lost.

As Brecher notes, when you grow up in a place like that, you’re ready for war, but not for Canada:

So at the end of the book when Nega talks about what happened when he finally immigrated to Canada, he had some adjusting to do. My favorite example of Canuck culture-shock comes when he reads a a newspaper clipping about a guy getting jail for torturing his cat. He’s not falling for that! He actually cuts out the story to show his friends he gets the joke. Jail? For a little good clean cat-torture! Very funny! He describes his shock when his killjoy Canuck friends told him it wasn’t a joke at all, and was in fact a very serious crime in the Canadian Criminal Code. Nega tries to be a good animal-rights greenie in his new squeamish homeland but it’s not easy — not when you’ve been raised Amhara-style.

Tiny $10 Microscope

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Researchers at Caltech have created a high-resolution, lens-free microscope that fits on a dime-size chip, and this tiny $10 microscope could broaden access to imaging technology — or be incorporated into large arrays, enabling high-throughput imaging in biology labs:

The Caltech device uses a system of tiny fluid channels called microfluidics to direct cells and even microscopic animals over a light-sensing chip. The chip, an off-the-shelf sensor identical to those found in digital cameras, is covered with a thin layer of metal that blocks out most of the pixels. A few hundred tiny apertures punched in the metal along the fluid channel let light in. As the sample flows through the microscope, each aperture captures an image. One version of the microscope uses gravity to control the flow of the sample across the apertures. Another version, which allows for much better control, uses an electrical potential to drive the flow of cells.

The 100 to 200 images are then combined using simple image-processing software. The processing power in a PDA is more than sufficient to perform the calculations, says Caltech engineer Changhuei Yang, who designed the microscope. The microscope must be illuminated from above, but sunlight is sufficient. The resolution of the microscope is similar to that of a conventional light microscope — about one micrometer — and is limited by the size of the apertures.

2020 vision

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

Oxford University physics professor Josh Silver’s 2020 vision is to help one billion of the world’s poorest see better by removing the need for a trained optometrist:

Silver has devised a pair of glasses which rely on the principle that the fatter a lens the more powerful it becomes. Inside the device’s tough plastic lenses are two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe attached to either arm of the spectacles.

The wearer adjusts a dial on the syringe to add or reduce amount of fluid in the membrane, thus changing the power of the lens. When the wearer is happy with the strength of each lens the membrane is sealed by twisting a small screw, and the syringes removed. The principle is so simple, the team has discovered, that with very little guidance people are perfectly capable of creating glasses to their own prescription.

Silver calls his flash of insight a “tremendous glimpse of the obvious” – namely that opticians weren’t necessary to provide glasses. This is a crucial factor in the developing world where trained specialists are desperately in demand: in Britain there is one optometrist for every 4,500 people, in sub-Saharan Africa the ratio is 1:1,000,000.

The implications of bringing glasses within the reach of poor communities are enormous, says the scientist. Literacy rates improve hugely, fishermen are able to mend their nets, women to weave clothing. During an early field trial, funded by the British government, in Ghana, Silver met a man called Henry Adjei-Mensah, whose sight had deteriorated with age, as all human sight does, and who had been forced to retire as a tailor because he could no longer see to thread the needle of his sewing machine. “So he retires. He was about 35. He could have worked for at least another 20 years. We put these specs on him, and he smiled, and threaded his needle, and sped up with this sewing machine. He can work now. He can see.”

The Sin in Doing Good Deeds

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

Nicholas D. Kristof reviews Dan Pallotta’s Uncharitable, about The Sin in Doing Good Deeds:

Mr. Pallotta’s frustration is intertwined with his own history as the inventor of fund-raisers like AIDSRides and Breast Cancer 3-Days — events that, he says, netted $305 million over nine years for unrestricted use by charities. In the aid world, that’s a breathtaking sum.

But Mr. Pallotta’s company wasn’t a charity, but rather a for-profit company that created charitable events. Critics railed at his $394,500 salary — low for a corporate chief executive, but stratospheric in the aid world — and at the millions of dollars spent on advertising and marketing and other expenses.

“Shame on Pallotta,” declared one critic at the time, accusing him of “greed and unabashed profiteering.” In the aftermath of a wave of criticism, his company collapsed.

One breast cancer charity that parted ways with Mr. Pallotta began producing its own fund-raising walks, but the net sum raised by those walks for breast cancer research plummeted from $71 million to $11 million, he says.

Mr. Pallotta argues powerfully that the aid world is stunted because groups are discouraged from using such standard business tools as advertising, risk-taking, competitive salaries and profits to lure capital.

“We allow people to make huge profits doing any number of things that will hurt the poor, but we want to crucify anyone who wants to make money helping them,” Mr. Pallotta says. “Want to make a million selling violent video games to kids? Go for it. Want to make a million helping cure kids of cancer? You’re labeled a parasite.”

Earth Piglet

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

Today’s dose of cute — “hideously cute” — comes from newborn aardvark Amani:

Zoo officials are awaiting DNA test results to determine the sex of its newborn aardvark, Amani (Swahili for “peace”), born at 1:05 a.m. Dec. 8 to mother Rachaael and father Mchimbaji.

The 23-inch infant arrived hairless, weighing 3 pounds, 10 ounces, with ears measuring 4 inches. “This baby can only be described as hideously cute,” said Director of Conservation and Animal Welfare Scott Carter. “Rachaael is a first-time mother and is showing great maternal instincts.”

Due to the aardvark’s clumsy nature and poor eyesight, zoo officials are assisting Rachaael with raising the fragile baby to prevent the possibility of it being injured. Since the birth, Amani has more than doubled in size. Adult aardvarks can weigh from 90 to 145 pounds and grow 5 to 6 feet in length.

The aardvark (Orycteropus afer) is an African mammal whose name derives from the Afrikaans word “earth pig.” The animal’s unusual appearance plays a part in its success as a forager. The ears point forward to enable it to listen for the sound of insects. The snout is long and filled with hair that acts as a filter, letting scents in and keeping dirt out. Strong limbs and spoon-shaped claws can tear though the sturdiest of termite mounds, allowing the aardvark to trap insects with its long, sticky tongue which can be up to 12 inches long.

Bad Day at Black Water

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Gary Brecher (War Nerd) comments on the recent Bad Day at Black Water with a joke from Apocalypse Now:

“Shit, charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.”