Funny or Die made a four-video parody of Captain Planet staring Don Cheadle as Captain Planet. To be honest, it’s not particularly funny, but I thought episode two was the strongest of the series.
Office Worker 1: I heard you went insane.
Captain Planet: I heard you’re broccolis.
Office Worker 2: Hey, I thought you could only turn people into trees.
Captain Planet: I’m starting to… branch out.
Who comes up with these lines?!
The four videos waste no more than 20 minutes of your life combined. That’s worth seeing Don Cheadle as a psychopathic Captain Planet.
Garlicky Avocado Grilled Cheese with Tomato Pesto
I don’t usually post food porn on my Tumblr, but this…
Google Doodle celebrating Earth Day (22 April 2014).
From top to bottom, these are the animals on Google Doodle that are wishing you a Happy Earth Day:
Earlier this month, the Krulwich Wonders depicted the story of whales “farming” the ocean with their iron-rich poop. Below is the full text, complete with drawings, of "The Power of Poop: A Whale Story". Krulwich Wonders is an NPR blog, by science correspondent and Emmy winner Robert Krulwich, featuring simple writing and drawings about nature and science.
Enjoy, and Happy Earth Day.
The Power of Poop: A Whale Story
This, I would think, should be self-evident: Generally speaking, big creatures eat smaller creatures that, in turn, eat even smaller creatures, like this …
And just as obviously, one would expect the food chain to be pyramid-shaped: a few big creatures at the top eating more middle-sized creatures in the middle, that eat many, many, many little creatures at the bottom, like so:
Which brings me to a curious exception — a real life mystery — discovered a few years ago. A marine biologist, Victor Smetacek, was thinking about giant whales — blues, humpbacks and especially the baleens. Baleen whales eat lots of krill, little crustacean critters that look like itty-bitty lobsters. Krill, in turn, eat even smaller, almost microscopic varieties of plankton, diatoms and zooplankton.
So that follows the classic “biggies eat the littlies” pattern. But what about the few-to-many pyramid? Well, here, when Smetacek looked closely, something wasn’t right.
The problem was with the middle group — the krill.
We know how much whales eat today. We know that a hundred years ago, there were lots more whales in the southern oceans. We can guess what the whale population was in 1910. If we multiply the number of whales back then times the size of their meals, we can imagine how much krill had to be in the ocean. It comes out to 1.5 billion tons of krill. As it turns out, that’s a whole lot of krill.
Too much for Professor Smetacek.
Krill need iron to grow and multiply. Given what we know about ocean chemistry, Smetacek wrote, there’s not enough iron in the southern ocean water to support that many krill. So either the whales had smaller meals a century ago, or somehow the oceans got an extra kick or boost of iron to create more krill.
Nobody was willing to consider a food pyramid that looked like this:
… with too many big animals on top, and not enough animals in the middle.
The ‘Whale Poop Hypothesis’
And that’s when Smetacek proposed what he delicately called in his paper, the whales’ extra nutritious “manuring mechanism.” (Or, as it’s come to be known, his “whale poop hypothesis.”) It begins with this obvious observation: Whales poop. In fact, they poop mightily.
Smetacek proposed that because baleen whales prowl the seas consuming immense quantities of krill, they might, during digestion, concentrate their food into iron-rich deposits which, when the time comes, they eject back into the ocean. Nobody had looked closely at whale poop, but following Smetacek’s article, marine biologist Stephen Nicol found, to quote him, “huge amounts of iron in whale poo.”
Poop With 10 Million Times More Iron
Nicols’ team analyzed 27 fecal samples from four species of baleen whales, reported New Scientist. “He found that on average whale faeces had 10 million times as much iron as Antarctic seawater.” Basically, that’s iron concentrate. And strategically emitted — which would have to be up near the ocean surface, where the sun shines — that extra iron would create blooms of phytoplankton, which would then be eaten by krill, leading to a boost in the krill population, leading to … yes … bigger whale dinners!
And this led Smetacek to think you could start with an enormous population of plankton, a few whales and a few krill, and slowly but surely the whales will multiply, pooping more iron into the ocean to produce more krill, which produces more whales, then more krill, then more whales, then more krill, until you could support an ocean teeming with whales.
Then, if something nasty were to happen, like ocean-going terrestrials invent boats, harpoons, trawlers, nets and kill masses of whales — instead of the krill population expanding (“Hooray! Those giants who eat us are gone — let’s multiply!”), the krill population might shrink. (“Oh no! Those big animals who gave us iron are gone! We’re going to starve.”)
And guess what? When Antarctica’s great whales were nearly destroyed in the 1960s, the krill population, instead of expanding, collapsed, by some 80 percent.
Smetacek got it right. Whales do, in fact, garden the ocean, fertilizing the seas to grow their own food.
Whales recirculate the iron. Even the bits that slip down to the dark bottom get pulled back up by whales. Sperm whales dive to terrifying depths, 3,000 feet below, to hunt iron-rich prey like giant squid. Pressed by the weight of the ocean, their digestion stops; they don’t excrete. They consume the iron below, hold it in, climb back to the surface, and that’s where they poop. Every sperm whale, it is said, draws 50 tons of iron to the surface every year.
Recycling Yourself Into Abundance
So who knew? A couple of centuries ago, the southern seas were packed with baleen whales. Blue whales, the biggest creatures on Earth, were a hundred times more plentiful than they are today. Biologists couldn’t understand how whales could feed themselves in such an iron-poor environment. And now we may have an answer: Whales are extraordinary recyclers.
What whales consume (which is a lot), they give back. As science writer J.B. MacKinnon writes in his book The Once and Future World, “Whales may have been boosting the productivity of the entire ocean, making their own extraordinary abundance possible.”
We may not have noticed it, but Americans are breathing a little easier thanks to a great story for the country’s air quality.
A Rice University study concludes that states are successfully reducing a harmful air pollutant called fine particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) in diameter, which can stay suspended in the atmosphere for weeks and has been linked to chronic and fatal diseases.
In fact, the study found that state efforts have been so successful that most urban areas had already lowered PM2.5 to more stringent levels instituted in 2012 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The improvements are good enough to translate into Americans living slightly longer lives.
“The trend across the country is that air quality is improving,” says Daniel Cohan, an atmospheric researcher and associate professor of environmental engineering. “Power plants are getting better at controlling emissions. There are more industrial controls to pollution. Cars are getting cleaner.”
In the third section of the Txchnologist article, Keller writes:
“PM2.5 levels in Beijing are a few hundred micrograms per cubic meter,” says Cohan. “In the U.S. we’re attempting to bring down these levels below 12 micrograms per cubic meter. We’re talking completely different ballparks here.”
On April 13, 2013, the Wall Street Journal published an article about China’s air pollution problem. The title? "Why Leave Job in China? To Breath".
This is the reality of China today: The coal mine bosses, factory owners, land developers, as well as their corrupt government cronies and investment bank money-men, are getting filthy, filthy rich. I mean this both figuratively and literally.
In the process of accumulating this “impressive” sum of money, the wealthy micro-minority of China is complicit in contaminating China’s air, water, and soil. And they must be making a shit-ton of money, because they’re sure making a shit-ton of pollution. In fact, so much so that Chinese smog drifts over to Korea and even reaches as far as California! Although, I don’t think the in-flight movie selection on China Smog Airlines is better than United Airlines’.
The baofahu, the tuhao, and the fuerdai (various Chinese terms for the nouveau riche) spend their dirty money on luxury apartments in Boston and wine chateaus in Bordeaux. They grab brand-name clothing and trinkets off the shelf like the Chinese equivalent of hot cakes, like it’s the Great Leap Forward again. Step into any store on Fifth Avenue, and you’ll find a sales representative who speaks Chinese. For the Western retail industry, Chinese people aren’t shoppers. They’re cash cows mooing to be milked.
This is happening at the same time as when more than 150 million Chinese people—that’s half the population of the United States—live on less than $1 a day. 150 million people live on less than $1 a day, while there are more than 150 billionaires in China. What’s considered the Chinese middle class actually usually earns below or at the poverty line of America. And you thought income inequality in the U.S. was bad!
Leaving Beijing must’ve been one of the easiest decisions I’ve made in my life so far. When I explain to friends why I left Beijing, I say it’s for “health and family reasons”. When I said “family reasons”, I didn’t only mean being closer to my parents in America. I also meant at the urging of my grandparents, who still live in Beijing. When I was in Beijing, the urged me to go back to America about once a month. ”We’re too old to move”, they’d say. “But you can still save yourself”. Save myself from what? China’s toxic environment, and the equally toxic culture that brought about this.
The air quality index for PM2.5 for Newark, New Jersey in the past 5 days ranged from a 9 to 75. For Shanghai, the five-day range was 85 to 181. For Beijing, the five-day range was 74 to 220. Earlier in the winter, there were days when the air quality index for PM2.5 spiked above 500 in Beijing. I’m grateful to be able to jog outside on a regular basis, to suck in lungfuls of fresh air, without necessarily raising my risk for lung cancer. That’s something that no amount of money can buy in most of China.
Today is April 22—Earth Day. Appreciate the Environmental Protection Agency and their work. Appreciate the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s. And Happy Earth Day, everybody.
The Chance To Dance Again
by Michael Keller
We highlighted the TED talk of Hugh Herr a couple of weeks ago. But his work is too important and beautiful to leave to just one post.
The MIT associate professor of media arts and sciences is making prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons that restore function in those who have lost legs from injury or disease. This set of gifs focuses on his team’s BiOM powered ankle and foot prosthesis.
"Bionics is not only about making people stronger and faster," he said during the talk. "Our expression, our humanity can be embedded into electromechanics."
To prove his point, Herr and fellow researchers studied dance movement to replace the lower leg that professional dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis lost after last year’s Boston marathon bombing. He concluded his talk by bringing Haslet-Davis on the stage to perform a bionic rumba.
his work is too important and beautiful
The Kowloon Walled City was, before its demolition, a historical walled city that became a fantastic urban slum in Hong Kong. Below is an excerpt from "Anywhere But Here: Kowloon “Anarchy” City" by travel and world blogger “Messy Nessy”. Information and images were taken from Gizmodo, South China Morning Post, and photographers Greg Girard and Ian Lambot.
It was the most densely populated place on Earth for most of the 20th century, where a room cost the equivalent of US$6 per month in high rise buildings that belonged to no country. In this urban enclave, “a historical accident”, law had no place. Drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes lived and worked alongside kindergartens, and residents walked the narrow alleys with umbrellas to shield themselves from the endless, constant dripping of makeshift water pipes above.
Ungoverned and unregulated, Kowloon Walled City was for so many years, a stain on the urban fabric of British colonial Hong Kong. This month it has been 20 years since the city was finally demolished and to mark the anniversary, the South China Morning Post published a fascinating and detailed info-graphic, showing what life was like inside the city of darkness…
“There was a place near an airport, Kowloon, when Hong Kong wasn’t China, but there had been a mistake, a long time ago, and that place, very small, many people, it still belonged to China. So there was no law there.” – William Gibson, Idoru
The history of the Kowloon Walled City can be traced back as far as the Song Dynasty (960–1279), when it was used as an outpost for managing the trade of salt, but it wasn’t until the British colonists came knocking that Kowloon would become associated with anarchy and lawlessness. By the 19th century it was a walled military fort which the Chinese decided to hold onto after Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain in 1842– or as William Gibson puts it plainly, ‘when Hong Kong wasn’t China‘. It was China’s way of keeping an eye on the British (much to their annoyance) from a very convenient location, right in the middle of the newly colonized territory.
Kowloon ‘Walled’ City lost its wall during the Second World War when Japan invaded and razed the walls for materials to expand the nearby airport. When Japan surrendered, claims of sovereignty over Kowloon finally came to a head between the Chinese and the British. Perhaps to avoid triggering yet another conflict in the wake of a world war, both countries wiped their hands of the burgeoning territory.
And then came the refugees, the squatters, the outlaws. The uncontrolled building of 300 interconnected towers crammed into a seven-acre plot of land had begun and by 1990, Kowloon was home to more than 50,000 inhabitants. Author William Gibson continues with his notes on the city:
“An outlaw place. And more and more people crowded in; they built it up, higher. No rules, just building, just people living. Police wouldn’t go there. Drugs and whores and gambling. But people living, too. Factories, restaurants. A city. No laws.”
Despite earning its Cantonese nickname, “City of Darkness”, amazingly, many of Kowloon’s residents liked living there. And even with its lack of basic amenities such as sanitation, safety and even sunlight, it’s reported that many have fond memories of the friendly tight-knit community that was “poor but happy”.
“People who lived there were always loyal to each other. In the Walled City, the sunshine always followed the rain,” a former resident told the South China Morning Post.
But as the community began to fascinate architects, photographers and eventually the media, the embarrassment of such living conditions could no longer be tolerated. The site was raised and HK$ 2.7 billion was spent on relocating its residents.
Today all that remains of Kowloon is a bronze small-scale model of the labyrinth in the middle a public park where it once stood.
Based on the language of the blog post, I couldn’t help romanticizing Kowloon in my mind. Especially as my eyes traced the intricate details of Gizmodo's infographic. It reminded me of the picture books I used to read in elementary school that depicted cross-sections of castles and the Titanic.
But the reality is, there are people in Hong Kong who live in cages. Take a moment to think about that: Struggling young New Yorkers complain about living in cramped rooms of shared apartments in out-of-the-way neighborhoods of the outer boroughs. On the other side of the world, in the “Pearl of the East”, the elderly poor dwell in cages because real estate is so exorbitantly expensive in Hong Kong.
As adventurous and frontiers-like and cyberpunk as modern urban landscapes might seem to the imagination, the day-to-day existence of poor people in urban slums is soul-crushing. Sure, people adapt and adjust to their circumstances. But inconveniences, little and large, build up and crowd out from the lives of the poor the time and energy for them to dream and to work toward their dreams.
As I wonder in awe at the complexity, at the scale, at the diversity, at the strangeness of the urban and social ecological system that was the Kowloon Walled City—as well as others in the world, I’m reminded that the root of this tree is poverty and inequality. And the fruits, they are not sweet.
I’ve visited Sitka once, and I’ll go to Sitka again, for the zombie apocalypse.
Some of my favorite factoids about New York City from BuzzFeed:
Our memories cling to us like our skin clings to our flesh. But in time, we shed them and they become the stuff of dust.