The Gift Of Metta – Loving Kindness – Pass It On
My friend Sandy always finds very soothing and peaceful videos and passes them on. Here’s the latest one. Sandy is “Thinking Out Loud” on my blogroll. This video has a high-quality viewing option.
Monthly Archives: March 2009
The Gift Of Metta – Loving Kindness – Pass It On
A recent television report about the Bermuda Triangle gave me the shivers. (See video below.) I love the Bermuda Triangle spookiness because it validates my dislike of flying in small planes and sailing out of sight of the shore. Hey, you could lost out there!
Some people love to get goosebumps about the weird and the unexplained. Others get their thrills from explaining it all. No matter what camp you’re in, you have to agree that the ocean is an amazing and dangerous place. Even without supernatural explanations, there’s plenty to worry about — Rogue waves, tsunamis, hurricanes, wandering changes in magnetism, massive methane gas bubbles, gigantic squid, sharks and even pirates. They all give me the chills. It’s a good thing I live in Kansas where we only have blizzards, ice storms, tornadoes, a few poisonous snakes and spiders and the New Madrid Fault to worry about.
One evening over the Christmas holidays at a family gathering in 2004, for some reason out of the blue I began talking about rogue waves and tsunamis. We were in the middle of Kansas, so this was unlikely to affect any of us in the near future and I certainly didn’t have the tiles in my Scrabble tray to spell out tsunami. My brother across the Scrabble table raised an eyebrow. Crazy sister. The next morning when we turned on the television, we saw the report of the tsunami in Thailand…… Be sure to take the poll below.
I’m envious. Janelle of “What Makes Me Laugh” won a trip to Australia for herself and her husband by writing an essay about Jurlique products, based in Adelaide. Her niece told her: Get your butt to Australia before my college year abroad ends (or something like that…) So with only a few months to spare, Janelle figured out a free way to get to Australia by the deadline.
I’ve wanted to go to Australia for thirty years, but I just made my first trip there in January — and it wasn’t free. I tried the contest method (the 25th caller will win a chance to be in the drawing), but can you believe it, no one drew my name! Janelle really did it the smart way, literally. (The link to how she did it is at the bottom.)
One week of her trip will be spent driving around Tasmania, which is one of Australia’s states. I’m avidly reading her posts as she travels. I’ve become a Tasmaniac. I never even thought to go there until my friend Anita suggested we include Tasmania on our itinerary. Now I’m enthralled with this island at the bottom of mainland Australia. (Tasmania is an archipelago of one main island the size of West Virginia and almost 300 much smaller ones.) The following is going to sound like an advertisement for Tasmania, and I’m not even getting paid. What kind of fool am I!
Tasmania is a wild and beautiful place, a combination of pastoral scenes and unspoiled wilderness. It boasts four mild seasons, 1,000 mountain peaks and about the cleanest air in the world. There are wild rivers and a wide range of forests from pine to eucalyptus to tree ferns and myrtle. It has 2,000 species of native Australian plants, 200 of which are found only in Tasmania. Forty percent of Tasmania is a park or nature reserve, but Tasmania is also a top world producer of lavender oil and medicinal opium poppies. Vineyards and wineries thrive there. Sheep and cattle graze in picturesque meadows.
There are scores of fascinating animals, such as Tasmanian Devils, poisonous tiger snakes, duckbill platypus and fairy penguins. You can see many of these animals in nature parks. You might find a wallaby lounging in a rutabaga (or swede) field. Tasmania’s unique plants included some of the world’s oldest and tallest trees. Flowers flourish in the mild climate.
Thousands of boats are anchored along its rugged, gorgeous coastline. Australia’s oldest bridge still in use is in Richmond, Tasmania. In one northeastern area, you can tour a Chinese tin mining museum, buy locally made cheese made from the cattle pasturing in a nearby field and visit the 295-foot-tall St. Columba Falls, which tumbles into a dense rain forest of tree ferns, myrtle, blackwood and sassafras. Charles Darwin noted many interesting plants and animals when he visited Tasmania in 1836 while on his voyage on the Beagle — nothing like he’d seen anywhere else.
The swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn was born in Hobart, Tasmania, the charming capital city situated on a beautiful harbor. A modern Tasmanian is Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark.
One of Australia’s the first penal colonies was established at Port Arthur in Tasmania. It’s now one of Tasmania’s top tourist destinations. It’s a park-like area now, with tours, gardens, restored buildings, a museum with cafe (of course!) and a cruise on the harbor, where we saw a fur seal fanning its flippers. I could go on and on (as I usually do….) but I’ll spare you…..this time. You can check out the links and watch this space for more Taz Mania, including our encounter with the highly venomous tiger snake while on a bushwalk. Crikey!
Here’s a plug for my two posts on Tasmanian Devils. I’m a Friend of the Tasmanian Devil and More Deviltry. I’m re-reading a book I first read twenty years ago called, “The Fatal Shore, The epic of Australia’s founding” by Robert Hughes. It includes a lot of history about Tasmania, including a tale of some convicts who escaped from the prison at Port Arthur and their grisly end.
IMAGINE THIS SCENE: A man and a woman are watching ”Country Calendar” on the television in their house on a lonely sheep station near Lake Wakatipu in New Zealand. The woman gets up from the couch to get some tea. She hears a fainting tapping on the front door.
“John,” she calls out, a little alarmed. “There’s someone here.”
She peers through the door’s sidelight window and sees a bloody hand smearing the glass. “Oh, my God, John.”
John rushes to the front hall. “What is it?”
“A man. He’s hurt. He needs help.”
John looks through the window. “Jill don’t open the door.” He gets a cricket bat from a closet. He motions to his wife to get back as he opens the door.
The stranger struggles to stand on the porch. “They took it,” he snuffles miserably. He weakly lifts his arm. His shirt cuff is shredded.
“What did they take?”
“My Rolex,” he cries, collapsing on the porch. ”My wife. Oh, my God, my wife. They took her jewelry. Her gold earrings. She’ll die without those. We didn’t have insurance.”
“Who did this?” John walks out onto the porch to help the man to his feet.
“They’re coming. Don’t let them in.” The stranger puts his hands over his head, whimpering. “I saved for months for that watch. It was so cooool. Now it’s gone…….It isn’t right. They don’t even need to tell time.”
An eerie sound pierces the air. ”Keaaah! Keaaah!” Seemingly out of nowhere, a flock of green birds swoops in, a flash of red under their wings as they dive toward the open door.
“John, John!” Jill yells, terrified. John starts flailing at the birds.
A few birds swoop toward Jill. She barely gets the door closed in time. The birds flap at the window for a few moments, and then they disappear. John and Jill help the stranger to a chair. “It’s too late,” the stranger says. “You can’t escape them. They won’t stop until they get it all.”
“You’re safe now,” Jill soothes, heading toward the kitchen. “I’ll get some tea.”
The two men hear a noise, something rustling. Wings. Screeching. They hear Jill scream, “Oh, my God, the kitchen window is open!”
“Cut,” the director calls out. The actors are relieved. Those Kea really play their parts well. (It’s all acting, folks! Keas do like shiny objects, though.)
The birds retreat to their perches, where they get the star treatment they deserve — plenty of mango, figs and even spoonsful of honey.
Wouldn’t this be a great scene for the remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” ? A new version of “The Birds” is in the works and scheduled for release in 2011, maybe in 3-D, with Naomi Watts and George Clooney. The Kea parrots of New Zealand would be the perfect birds to star with A-listers in the dramatically beautiful country of New Zealand. Super producer Michael Bay, are you listening!
A flock of these cheeky, brilliant, mischievous and curious parrots could almost take over the world, if they wanted to. They work well in teams to solve puzzles. (See videos below.)
Keas are clownishly adorable and pose no real threat to humans. Fortunately, Keas are more likely to run off with your sandwich, snatch a gold earring or rip the rubber edging from your car. There are so few Keas now — 1,000 to 5,000 — they are in serious danger of disappearing altogether. They’d have to be replicated by computer generated images to produce enough Kea parrots to create a menancing flock. There were tens of thousands of them as recently as forty years ago. They were named Kea by the Maori for the “Keaa!” cries they make.
Their numbers have fallen drastically for a number of reasons, including a bounty that was once placed on them because they do take a bite out of livestock now and then. They also killed by poison set out to kill possums. Keas, now protected, are an endangered bird on the South Island of New Zealand, the only place in the world where they naturally occur. They live in the harsh conditions of the New Zealand Alps, eating a wide range of food from fruit and seeds to other birds and carrion.
New Zealand’s spectacular scenery, already featured in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, would be a perfect location for this new version of “The Birds”. Naomi Watts is rumored to be in “talks” to take the role originally played by Tippi Hedren in the Alfred Hitchcock version of the Daphne Du Maurier short story, originally set in Cornwall. Watts has already starred in King Kong in New Zealand under LOTR director Peter Jackson, so she’s familiar with the terrain. And who wouldn’t want to visit New Zealand again?
- Kea Conservation Trust, information about the Kea Parrot.
- About the Kea parrot.
- On a related topic, Kiwibloke talks about the Kakapo parrot, the world’s only flightless parrot.
The third video is one I took at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, New Zealand.
In January, Ulysses S. Grant VI discovered a photograph in his great-great-grandfather’s album of President Abraham Lincoln standing next to the White House. Lincoln is especially “hot” right now, because his birthday was 200 years ago this year. A collector paid Grant $50,000 for the tiny photograph, which is thought to be the last one taken of Lincoln. (See story at the bottom.)
I’ve been looking through old family photographs, too. My mother just acquired a stack of old sepia and black and white photographs left by relatives who’d died. Are they worth anything? Heck, yes! They have enormous sentimental value. Monetary value? Unlikely. (We do have a blurry photograph of President Dwight Eisenhower. Collectors?)
Some are duplicates my parents made for my grandparents, including photographs of my young parents holding me at various tourist spots in the Washington. D.C. area, where we lived. I don’t remember seeing these photographs before. It’s great to see my parents in their youth before I really knew them.
Others are of long-dead relatives, but who are they? Why aren’t there any names or dates? Even if I don’t know who they are, I can’t toss these portals into the past. There are First Communions (twin brothers solemnly holding lit candles and prayerbooks), weddings, family reunions (Hey, I recognize those eyebrows!), school groups and a group shot of the band at Fort Meade, South Dakota, in 1898.
Through the years, photographs pile up — a record of people our descendants never knew and may not care about. Tossed in a box, the photographs curl in the damp basement or fade in the attic. Worse, they might appear on some comical greeting card!
How many millions and millions of old photographs are out there? If you laid them end to end would they reach to the moon? Digital cameras make it so easy to document every event, no matter how trivial or ridiculous (I’m guilty!). Even your phone is a camera. Most of these digital shots don’t make it into print and are almost as ephemeral as the moments they captured. Maybe this is a good thing, some would say. Live in the moment, save some trees and chemicals. As for me, I’m glad to visit these moments frozen in time.
WASHINGTON – A collector believes a photograph from a private album of Civil War Gen. Ulysses S. Grant shows President Abraham Lincoln in front of the White House and could be the last image taken of him before he was assassinated in 1865.
If it is indeed Lincoln, it would be the only known photo of the 16th president in front of the executive mansion and a rare find, as only about 130 photos of him are known to exist. A copy of the image was provided to The Associated Press.
Grant’s 38-year-old great-great-grandson, Ulysses S. Grant VI, had seen the picture before, but didn’t examine it closely until late January. A tall figure in the distance caught his eye, although the man’s facial features are obscured.
He called Keya Morgan, a New York-based photography collector and Lincoln aficionado, who helped identify it as Lincoln.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know who this is, Keya,’” said Grant, a Springfield, Mo., construction business owner.
Although authenticating the 2 1/2-by-3 1/2-inch photo beyond a shadow of a doubt could be difficult, several historians who looked at it said the evidence supporting Morgan’s claim is compelling and believable.
Morgan talked Grant into taking the photo out of the album and examining it for clues, such as the identity of the photographer.
“Not knowing who the photographer is is like not knowing who your mother or father is,” Morgan told Grant.
Grant carefully removed it and was shocked to see the handwritten inscription on the back: “Lincoln in front of the White House.” Grant believes his great-grandfather, Jesse Grant, the general’s youngest son, wrote the inscription.
Also included was the date 1865, the seal of photographer Henry F. Warren, and a government tax stamp that was issued for such photos to help the Civil War effort between 1864 and 1866.
Morgan recalled the well-documented story of Warren’s trip to Washington to photograph Lincoln after his second inauguration in March 1865. Lincoln was killed in April, so the photo could be the last one taken of him.
Warren, a commercial photographer from Massachusetts, enticed Lincoln into his frame shortly after the inauguration by taking pictures of young Tad Lincolnand asking the boy to bring his father along for a pose, according to the book, “Lincoln in Photographs: An Album of Every Known Pose,” by Charles Hamilton and Lloyd Ostendorf.
“This is the first act of paparazzi ever toward a president,” Morgan said. “Lincoln is not too happy at all.”
Historians say it has been decades since a newfound Lincoln image was fully authenticated. And in the Grant photo, it’s not obvious to the naked eye who is standing in front of the executive mansion.
You can see the White House, a short gate that once lined the building, and, on the lawn, a Thomas Jefferson statue that was later replaced with a fountain. Five people can be seen standing in front of the building. The tall man’s face is obscured, but zooming in on the image with a computer reveals a telling beard.
“Once you scan it and blow it up, you can see the whole scenario — there’s a giant standing near the White House,” Morgan said.
At 6-foot-4, Lincoln was the tallest U.S. president.
Morgan, who has sold photographs of Lincoln and other historical figures to the Smithsonian Institution, the White House and others, said he purchased the image from Grant for $50,000 in February. It will be added to Morgan’s $25 million collection of Lincoln artifacts and original images.
Several historians say Morgan has a good case.
Will Stapp, who was the founding curator of the National Portrait Gallery‘s photographs department and who now appraises fine art and photographs, said he’s usually cynical about such claims. But he said he was “very satisfied that it’s Lincoln” in the picture.
“It looks to me like Lincoln’s physique,” he said. “I can see his hairline. I can see the shadow of his beard.”
White House curatorWilliam Allman said the photo appears to include Lincoln. “I guess there’s always an element of doubt,” he said. “It feels pretty likely, though.”
Even if it’s not Lincoln, it would be among the oldest photographs of the White House.
Lincoln artifacts have recently been hot commodities leading up to the 200th anniversary of his birth, and President Barack Obama has evoked his memory several times for his work to unify the nation.
The significance of the photo is difficult to judge, Stapp said. It does show the relative freedom Lincoln had compared with presidents today, and offers a unique view of the White House from the 1860s, he said.
“We don’t so much think of (Lincoln) as living at the White House,” Stapp said. “In that respect, I think it’s an important find.”
Keya Morgan Collection: Lincoln Images.
A friend’s recent soggy — and fruitless – quest to see a Resplendent Quetzal in Panama reminded me of my own rained-out effort two years ago in Honduras.
My husband and I went with our long-time friends Michael and Anita, who know their birds. Even their son when he was three could fire off the names of all of the birds in Florida, not just pelicans and flamingos but anahingas, wood storks and roseate spoonbills and other (probably less flashy) birds I don’t even remember. I’m a haphazard birder with no particular bird identification skill, no life list, no great spotting ability and a weakness for seeking out flashy birds. Still, I love to watch any kind of bird. It’s calming.
On our quetzal quest, Michael, Anita, my husband and I stayed overnight at an inn and brewpub near Lago de Yojoa, Hondura’s largest natural lake, which lies in a depression formed by ancient volcanoes. Bird-watchers flock to the area around the lake, which is home to more than 375 species of birds. We planned to hike up the Santa Barbara mountainside with a guide to look for the gorgeous Resplendent Quetzal.
The sky was overcast. We asked the innkeeper/brew pub owner about the weather forecast. He laughed. “Can you see the top of Santa Barbara?”
“That means rain.” The innkeeper, kind of a gruff guy originally from Oregon, was an old hand at lowering expectations. It rains a lot at Lago de Yojoa. This innkeeper had the right idea when he started brewing beer for his rain-captive guests.
We crossed our fingers. Maybe there would be only a sprinkle?
Soon it did start sprinkling. Not so bad at first, but then the downpour came. It rained as we ate our dinner of tilapia from the lake and drank the inn’s beer (four kinds!) The rain pounded all night on the tin roof of our cabin, and it was still raining in the morning. No hike for us. The closest we were going to get to a bird was the incessant clacking of toucans in the forest around us. We never saw so much as a single beak from one of those 375 species of birds!
We dashed to the covered patio, where the meals were served. Rain blew in. The innkeeper appeared as we were eating blueberry pancakes. The blueberries were from a farm down the road, he told us. The pancakes were delicious, but they couldn’t distract us from the dismal scene and the disappointment.
“Hey, I want to show you something,” the innkeeper said, beckoning us to a little shed up the hill. He was dressed in coveralls and ready to head off to his day job of digging septic tanks and swimming pools.
We squeezed into the tiny building, where the innkeeper showed us the artifacts from the ancientthat he’d found while digging trenches and holes. One by one, he removed treasures from a glass case. He trilled on a 2,000-year-old pottery whistle shaped like a macaw, let us handle a large jade ax blade and showed us brightly painted pottery.
Most magnificent was a finely polished concave slab of dark marble with a rolling pin.
“Do you know what this?” he asked.
“Does it crush corn?” someone answered.
“It’s a paper maker,” he said. He explained that the marble roller squeezed and flattened tree bark pulp on the slab’s calibrated surface.
He pushed the roller. It smoothly rocked over the slab like a perpetual motion machine. A hair, plucked from my head, was placed on the slab. The roller shuddered a little as it passed over my hair. Soon the strand was flattened to a white powder.
“You can see how the Lenca made really fine paper this way,” the man said.
It was such a magnificent and stunning object that I forgot for a moment about our dashed and splashed plans to see a quetzal or any other birds. What amazing people these Lenca were.
As we packed up the car to leave, the sun came out, and now we were heading to our next destination, the spectacular Mayan ruins at Copan. (Scarlet Macaws there.) Despite coming up short in quetzal viewing, I was glad we’d come to the lake.
Anita and Michael, who lived in Honduras at that time, decided to return the following year to Lake de Yajoa in search of quetzals again. They arrived in sunshine and hoped they’d have better luck this time.
They had just visited the impressive Pulhapanzak Falls waterfall there (which we missed on our trip), when it started to rain. This time they had chosen a hotel that looked out onto the lake. The hotel’s big veranda was a pleasant place to watch the rain, but rain wasn’t what they’d come to see.
“The rest of the evening it poured, much like the last time we were here,” she said. Prospects didn’t look good.
Fortunately, the next day was beautiful with the sun out in full force.
“We went with this eccentric British tour guide named Malcolm, with a long grey beard and hair who spent half his life in India pursuing Buddhism,” Anita said. He promised us a four-hour hike, which was really eight hours over very rugged, muddy slippery terrain. The terrain was steep, and we were often using horse trails. Coming down was almost worse than going up. We all came back covered in mud. I guess that kept the mosquitoes down.
“We saw an interesting type of toucan and a few other song birds, but there wasn’t a quetzal in sight,” Anita wrote. “The guide kept saying he just saw quetzals two weeks ago.”
Two weeks ago? I’m beginning to think that this quetzal is as mythical as the Aztec Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent.
Anita decided she’d probably never return. Sadly, I probably won’t return to a Central American rain forest to see the Resplendent Quetzal, either. Can I still brag about getting this close?
P.S. By the way, the friend Mary who missed seeing the Respendent Quetzal in Panama did see some other great birds, such as the oropendola, which make nests that look like airport wind socks. Dozens of the nests hang in a single tree.
I partied really hard yesterday on Square Root Day yesterday (03/03/09). After all, it only happens nine times a century. The next one won’t happen until 04/04/2016. However, after so much calculating, National Grammar Day today caught me completely by surprise! In fact, I’m going to make this short to minimize my chances for a grammar goof-up.
To learn more about how you can celebrate, click on National Grammar Day. You can even listen to music in the Bad Grammar Hall of Fame, including one of my favorites, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones.
| New Gene Mutation Discovery By ALS Association Consortium
is Major Breakthrough in Lou Gehrig’s Disease Research, a report from The ALS Association’s National Office Feb. 26, 2009
|In one of the most significant breakthroughs in the recent history of ALS research, a consortium of scientists organized and funded by The ALS Association has discovered a new gene, ALS6 (Fused in Sarcoma), responsible for about 5 percent of the cases of inherited ALS.The discovery will provide important clues to the causes of inherited ALS, which accounts for 10 percent of all cases, and sporadic ALS, which occurs in individuals with no family history of the disease and accounts for the other 90 percent of cases diagnosed.
“This is a momentous discovery in furthering our understanding of ALS,” said Lucie Bruijn, Ph.D., senior vice president of Research and Development at The ALS Association. “A new gene provides a new piece of the puzzle we can use to shed light on why ALS develops, and where to focus our efforts on creating new treatments and finding a cure.”The results of this groundbreaking research are published in the Friday, February 27 issue of the prestigious journal Science. The project was led by Tom Kwiatkowski M.D., Ph.D., at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Robert Brown, M.D., of the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine, and ALS Association-funded researchers Caroline Vance, Ph.D., and Christopher Shaw, M.D., of Kings College in London.The project was supported by a consortium of leading ALS researchers from around the world, formed as part of The Association’s Gene Identification Project. Their success reflects an unprecedented effort to accelerate the search for genetic mutations linked to all forms of ALS.
Dr. Brown noted, “We are particularly delighted because our trans-Atlantic consortium has pursued the chromosome 16 gene for more than six years. The ALS Association has been an all-important partner in this search. This discovery should lead to new cell and of ALS, which will accelerate drug development.” “Global partnerships between investigators and funding agencies, such as the in the United Kingdom, are crucial to making these kinds of breakthroughs,” Dr. Bruijn commented. “This finding has opened up a whole new avenue of research and has the potential to uncover a common mechanism for most forms of ALS.”
Thewere first identified by Dr. Kwiatkowski and were immediately confirmed by Dr. Vance, who also demonstrated abnormal accumulations of the mutant protein in cells cultured in the laboratory and the of people carrying FUS mutations.
The gene, called FUS (“fused in sarcoma”), normally carries out multiple functions within motor neurons. These include regulating how gene messages (called) are created, modified, and transported in order to build proteins. Some of these same functions also are performed by another gene called TARDPB encoding the protein TDP43, and mutations in the TDP-43 gene were recently linked to ALS as well.
“The fact that these two genes help perform the same function suggests that problems in this function may be critical in the development of ALS,” Dr. Bruijn said. “More research into exactly how these two genes work could ultimately lead to new treatments that are effective in slowing or stopping the progression of ALS and extending the lives of people with the disease.”
The mutations in the ALS6 gene were identified by detailed genetic sequencing in several families with an inherited form of ALS (familial ALS). Normally, the ALS6 protein works in the cell’s nucleus, but the mutations caused it to instead cluster outside the nucleus. Further work will be needed to determine precisely how this leads to ALS. With the gene in hand, scientists will be able to create cell and animal models containing the mutated gene, to examine in detail how the mutation operates and how it causes ALS.
“This suggests there may be a common mechanism underlying motor neuron degeneration,” according to Dr. Shaw. Motor neurons are nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscles. Motor neurons degenerate in ALS.
This is the second ALS-causing gene to be discovered in the past 12 months. SOD1, discovered in 1993, accounts for 20 percent of inherited cases of the disease. Mutations in the TARDP gene account for another four to five percent. The only well-defined causes of ALS are genetic. In both inherited and sporadic ALS, the disease symptoms and pathology are the same.
The possibility that ALS may be caused by several factors is the rationale for The Association’s policy of funding multiple genetic projects around the world and encouraging these leading geneticists to work together and share information to help locate disease-linked genes for faster, more accurate scientific results. By funding research on a global level, The Association helps put together “genetic pieces” of the ALS puzzle.
“Through our support of research such as this study, The ALS Association is committed to finding the causes of ALS, and using that knowledge to develop a cure as rapidly as possible,” Dr. Bruijn said. “We will build on the discovery of this new gene to carry that effort forward.”