Category Archives: environment

Odd Balls of Fire


Following on from the last post on “possessed foods”, comes more discussion about the strange and wonderful.  I have always had an interest in the weird, the odd, the unusual and the paranormal.  I was fated to be a fan of the X-files as I was of Kolchak -the Night Stalker, which was its predecessor and according to X-file creator, Chris Carter, an inspiration for the series.

I haven’t abandoned my scientific sensibilities and try to look at each of these reported phenomena objectively.  At the same time, I don’t dismiss all paranormal phenomena as bogus hocus pocus and hoaxes, believing instead that where there is smoke, there is fire.  I don’t believe in aliens creating crop circles, for example, as it can easily be done by pranksters.  However, other phenomena may appear strange but may be scientifically verified and explained when properly scrutinised.

To my great satisfaction, two of my favorite strange phenomena from my youth have now been more or less been properly documented and there are now plausible scientific theories to explain them.  These are the phenomena of “spontaneous human combustion”  and “ball lightning”.

Spontaneous human combustion refers to cases where humans are believed to burst into flames such that the bodies are discovered burnt to ashes with the exception of parts of the hands or legs.  However, there maybe minimal damage to the surroundings such as the bed or chair.   An interesting literary  side-note is that Charles Dickens killed off one of his characters, Krook, in Bleak House by this means.

The “wick” theory seems to adequately explain all the different aspects of the phenomena and has been successfully demonstrated using pig carcasses. The theory  basically says that a low grade fire caused by, for example, a cigarette lighting a blanket,  can be fueled by melting body fat.  The blanket may take up the oil and the oil may burn but the blanket would only char just as in a lit candle where the wick does not burn.  In this way, the body is consumed with little damage to the surrounding and the parts of the body with least fat, i.e. hands and legs, are not consumed.

Then there is ball lightning.  Ball lightning have been reported for hundreds of years.  They are basically charged luminous spheres which can move around for short periods.  In some cases, they appear capable of going through surfaces like walls but in other cases they explode on contact. They can kill people in the same way normal lightning can.  One of the earliest well documented case involved a 2.4 m diameter ball of fire that entered a church in Devon, England in 1638 which killed 4 people.

For many centuries, science tended to ignore ball lightning as an unreliably reported phenomena.  There was no theory then that could explain electricity or lightning behaving in this strange manner.  However, many scientists today accept ball lightning as a rare but naturally occurring phenomena and while it is still unclear what really happens in nature, similar glowing spheres have been successfully created in laboratory experiments.

These luminous spheres can be created by discharging a high voltage capacitor in a tank of water; or by using microwaves on certain compounds and objects; or by the oxidising of silicon vapours.  The microwave experiments produce “plasma balls” which adequately demonstrates all the know properties and behavior of ball lightning.

Strangely, one of the things that seems to produce plasma in a microwave is a cut grape (as seen in the video below).  I wonder how that was discovered.  Probably some bored scientist putting everything he/she could find in the kitchen into the microwave for entertainment.  Anyway, don’t try this at home.  Apparently the fumes produce are toxic and the gases can get so heated up that it can shatter glass.  You have been warned.

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Anyway, this post is meant to whet your appetite for the strange and unusual cause next week I will share with you one strange X-file that this humble squirrel was indirectly involved in.  Till then. Too doo, too doo, too doo too doo……. (theme from Twilight Zone).

Surrogate Critter


Sorry folks but the Lone Grey Squirrel is off to attend a Christian Youth Camp for the next few days where I am suppose to share wisdom with the next generation on the topics of “Freedom” and “Self Esteem”.  In between, I might be expected to participate in all manner of wild, whacky and energetic youthful games and sports.  Please pray that I survive this encounter with youth.

Anyway, I am literally packing for my trip but I was worried that regular readers may come by this blog and be perturbed by the silence and miss the sound of little scampering paws.  Therefore at great expense, I have brought in a surrogate critter to scurry around here for your entertainment.  Many thanks to Termites of Sin  who first alerted me of this wonderful creatures.   For scurrying and scampering, please play the video below.

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Applause, Please, for the Mob


I am a Canadaphile.  Canadian society stands out for me in a very positive way.  Of course no society is perfect and without its blemishes.  Yet as a whole I like the way Canadians exhibit a sense of moral and social integrity; generally willing to stand together for what is right and what is good and yet finding imaginative and non-confrontational ways of being a positive influence.

I first observed this when I volunteered at a soup kitchen in Ottawa and learned more about what was being done for the homeless.  It was much more than I could have imagined.  I was similarly impressed by how well a single mother I knew was being supported by local services.  Social services in many countries seem by comparison to be still in the Dark Ages.  I also witnessed first hand what great efforts were made to enable a young woman who was paralysed from the neck down to regain a semblance of independence and to become a productive member of society (Locked In).  For me, much of all this reflected the principle of “going the extra mile” which Jesus taught (Matthew 5: 41; “41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”)

Well, I came across two videos that demonstrate this Canadian attitude once again.   Both of them show the clever and imaginative use of the flash mob phenomenon to convey and reaffirm important social messages.

Wikipedia describes a flash mob as “a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire.”

I am sure that after seeing the videos that in these two cases, fun was certainly had by all participants and also spectators but they also accomplished something far more than mere entertainment.

The first video educates and encourages us to recycle and what an affirming way to do it.  I wish we would see this happen again and again.  I  came across this video over at Laura’s “The Mindful Merchant” who also does a great job on promoting green living with very practical tips and suggestions.

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The second video was a collaboration of two schools in Vancouver where the kids came together to show their support and respect for individuals as part of an Anti-Bullying Day activity.  I wish they taught this sort of thing in schools over here; constructive anarchy.  Love it.  Hope you do too.

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Tsunami – Japan 2011


The Great Wave Off Kanagawa By Katsushika Hokusai

This blog has observed a week of silence in respect for the thousands who lost their lives in the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami that hit Sendai and the surrounding area in Japan on the 11th of March 2011.  My thoughts and good wishes to the people of Japan in this terrible time.  My prayers too that the nuclear reactor incident at Fukushima does not become a full blown nuclear disaster.

Japan, perhaps among all nations, are best prepared to face earthquakes and tsunamis but this incident reminds us the limit of our abilities to determine our own fate and our helplessness in the face of such powerful natural forces.

The Year So Far (2011)


I had earlier joked about how a tough year this was going to be with the evil Rabbits in charge (Beware the Year of the Rabbit).  But the humor seems very flat as the year has indeed turned out to be a tumultuous one thus far and it’s not even the end of February yet.  In an earlier post, “Feeling Flat“, I wondered about the unprecedented floods in Queensland, the uber powerful cyclone Yasi, the drought in New South Wales, the flooding in Victoria and the forest fires around Perth.  Australia was reeling under the combination punches.  There was also the political turmoil, starting with the ouster of President Ben Ali in Tunisia and then the “who would have thought possible” ouster of President Mubarak of Egypt by popular uprisings.  That chain of events is not over yet with the on-going protests in Libya, Yeman, Bahrain, Iran etc.  There was also the issue of religious freedom and oppression which I covered in “Say no to Intolerance“.  Did I say that it isn’t even the end of February yet?

In Malaysia too, the news has been less than encouraging and upbeat.  In no particular order, here are a few.  First, there has been a rash of very public suicides and murder-suicides (mother kills child and then commits suicide).  This was followed by a recognition that Malaysian suicide rate per 1000 pax is at least as high as that of the USA and is most likely under-reported.  Then, there is the continuing saga of the inquiry into the suspicious death of a political aide, Teoh Beng Hock, where justice still seems to be wanting.  The latest is that the family and the state of Selangor has withdrawn from participating in a Commission of Inquiry after there objection to the fact that there is a conflict of interest had been rejected.  The conflict arises as the officers of the commission were also officers of the Attorney General’s office and the AG’s office is currently making a court appeal to have Teoh’s death declared a suicide.  How can officers of an organisation which is pursuing a particular judgment be also the impartial officers of a supposedly “independent” commission of inquiry?  It is just the latest of a series of things that Teoh’s family has had to suffer.  Meanwhile, there has been a rash of  deaths of young people taking part in National Service Camps.  In each case, the deaths were reported as sudden and mysterious onset of illnesses.  I think it warrants an “independent inquiry” but I don’t have much faith in that either.  This morning, I read that an “anti-establishment” student political group had all 33 of their student council delegates (both those who won and those who lost in recent student council elections) disqualified immediately after the election.  This was based on one un-investigated complaint.    After, student protests, the decision was rescinded.  But instead of taking the University officials to task for trying to tamper with an election and for breach of protocol and procedure, the authorities are trying to appear magnanimous by saying that they do not intend to “punish their naughty children”, i.e. the students, for their protests.   Well, now that I think about it, this sort of news in Malaysia  isn’t unique to  2011.  No, it’s same ol’, same old.  It’s tiring and life sapping though.

But, the latest earth-shaking  incident (literally), was the earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand and the surrounding area at around 1 pm on Tuesday 22nd February.   My condolences to the people of Christchurch and New Zealand.  Every loss of life is a tragedy and there have been many lives lost in this incident.  With the rest of the world, I await news of the rescue operations going on and celebrate with each news of someone pulled out alive.  For many, their lives will have forever changed by injury or by loss of loved ones.  I am glad to report that Marja of Dutchcorner is well as is her immediate family.

For now, the most important thing is still the on-going search for survivors but after that will come the task of cleaning and re-building.  It will be a long and difficult task.  I have heard that some survivors are experiencing severe mental stress especially as strong aftershocks are still occurring regularly but the trauma may extend deeper than that.  Christchurch  has always been a charming and small close-knit community.  If I were to volunteer a couple of words of description, I would say “tranquil” and “safe”.  Now something big and ugly has appeared to shatter that cocoon of safety and tranquility and the scars of fallen and damaged buildings will be around for a long time to remind them of this threat and vulnerability.

Still, New Zealanders are definitely tough and resolute people and I am sure that they will rise from this despite the difficulties.  I had wanted for a long time to post on New Zealand and Christchurch which I had visited twice before, but I had procrastinated.   Here below is a picture of Christchurch which typically exemplifies the safety and tranquility of the city.  Here is a salute to a wonderful city and an inspiration to rebuild and to regain what has been damaged.

Oh, and the year so far?  It sucks.

 

Peace and Tranquility (photo by LGS)

 

Feeling Flat


 

Who Let THe Air Out?

 

Both 2011 and the Year of the Rabbit have barely begun but doesn’t it seem like the world is somehow off-kilter.  The public demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen in quick succession has already toppled the leader in one country and placed the remaining leaders in a precarious situation.  Nature too seems to have gone extreme.  The landslides in Brazil, the snowstorms in Europe and USA (extending all the way to Texas), the floods that led to the inland sea in Queensland, Australia has now been topped by the most powerful cyclone to have ever hit Australia (Cyclone Yasi).  What phenomena has raised the blood pressure in the Middle-East and stirred up the weather systems around the world?  Would that  be the El Loco and the El Nino effects?

Like many, I have been following the drama in Egypt these last two weeks that has already claimed about 300 lives.  I know little about the politics and the situation there in Egypt but happily, Malaysia has been able to evacuate some 10,000 Malaysian citizens and students out from that volatile situation.   I am also  glad that the Egyptian family of a friend are safe even though they are concerned about safety from mobs and are concerned about the food supply situation.  I certainly hope that the Egyptians will be able to achieve a resolution to the situation without further violence and loss of life.

Meanwhile Australia has been hit by the combination right – left hook of massive state-wide flooding in Queensland and now by the monster storm Cyclone Yasi – the strongest and biggest storm ever to hit the country.  The latest is that the remnants of Yasi is causing flooding in Victoria in the south.  Yet New South Wales in the east is suffering from water shortage and there are forest fires near Perth in the west.  The people and the businesses are reeling under the punches.  Insurance companies are really having a bad time.  Now will this become a regular and even possibly an annual occurrence due to climate change?

It’s enough to take the wind out of our sails.

Still, dear reader, let’s not get ourselves down yet.  Let’s be hopeful that the year can only improve from this point.  Every one think “bunnies” now.

Bear Neccessities


Recently I posted about the Orang Utan at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre on Borneo island.  However, I was privileged to have had a peek on he new conservation effort being carried out there – sun bears. Sun bears (Ursus malayanus), also known as honey bears, are found only in South-east Asia and are the smallest bear in the world.  adult bears stand only at about 1.2 metres.  Like the Orang Utan, many sun bears are displaced by forest clearing for development, orphaned by poachers or were kept as pet and later abandoned when they got too big.

I met Mr. X who was the assistant keeper who enthusiastically explained how they were trying to rehabilitate the bears so that they could be successfully returned to the wild.  Before they can be released, the young bears must be re-accustomised to the forest environment, must learn how to dig for food, climb trees and make nests to sleep in.   Mr. X also fondly explained the varied and fascinating character of his charges.

The bears are kept in cages either in small groups or singly.  Those in the cages by themselves are basically too grumpy to share a cage with other bears – there would be fighting.  I suppose it is no surprise that these loners were all male.   There was one cage with 4 young girls who all got on well with each other but even here there was a range of  personalities.  There was one girl who could be called the femme fatale cause she will appear friendly but go too close and she finds delight in ripping your trouser leg with her claws (too bad if you don’t wear trousers).  Mr. X had various scars to demonstrate that he learned all this the hard way.  On the other hand, there is Miss-Happy-go-lucky who seems to have a dumb smile for you in any situation.

Then I was introduced to two males who shared a cage.  These two get long together like best of pals but it is like the Odd Couple.  There is Mas who is quite bold where as Ah Chong is very timid.  Each cage has a door that opens outside into a fenced enclosure.  The door is opened for a few hours each day to encourage the bears to re-acquaint with the outdoors and forest.  Ah Chong was probably abused badly so he feels safe only in his cage.  Mas however, happily goes out as soon as the door opens and digs around for bugs to eat.  When Mas is gone, Ah Chong gets very anxious and hovers near the door to keep an eye out for his cage mate.  Later when Mas returns, Ah Chong gives him a bear hug and pushes Mas away fro the door and tries to keep Mas from going out again.  Interesting, no?

This work is in its infancy.  Hopefully the work will succeed though.  This squirrel would like to thank everyone who works hard to rehabilitate traumatized animals, including squirrels.

Bear Climbing - See the Characteristic White Marking and Those Long Claws
The Teenage Girls
Snooze Time

Cold, Wet, Hot


This is a composite post on three rambling thoughts which should not be confused with (although related) to my earlier post entitled “Wettest, Coldest, Hottest”.  This post is not as superlative as the previous one.

My first rambling thought was about the cold.  Have you noticed the new look of the blog with the picture of snow crystals and the aurora borealis?  It seems a number of my blogging friends are feeling the winter blahs.  That’s quite normal.  In fact last Monday is supposed to be the official Bluest Winter Day  (as in “singing the blues” and  not “the bluebird of happiness”) or so I read on someone’s seasonally affected blog.  Hence, I decided to try to bring some cheer by reminding all you good folks that winter can also be so beautiful. Feeling cabin fever?  Go out and watch the stars at night.  Enjoy a soak in a hot tub.  Run naked through your neighborhood in the cold.  (not necessarily in that order).

Ooo! Ooo! I just thought of another great idea.  Work out all your frustrations with an exciting game of ……….curling.  Why, it’s perfect.  Played with brooms and stones………..reminds me of “sticks and stones will break my bones”.     Yes, definitely an X-treme sport.

Speaking of order; it is fine when the bitter cold stays in Canada, greets Scandinavia or covers Siberia but as I said in the previous post, it is not natural for Texas to be colder than Canada.  Climate Change!!!!  The latest is that hundreds of people in North Vietnam had to be hospitalised due to a cold snap which has also killed hundreds of buffaloes.   Okay, rambling again.  To summarize this point – winter can be pretty but should stay where it belongs.

My second rambling thought is on how wet this start of the year has been.  Australia has already suffered “floods of biblical proportion” in Queensland and now the flooding has spread to Victoria and according to the newspapers, the experts anticipate even more floods to come in what is now being called the “once-in-two-hundred-years flood”.  This is already by far the costliest disaster suffered by the Australians.  And they were not alone, in the last two weeks, there were abnormal floods in Sri Lanka, Philippines, Brazil and Sweden amongst others.  The tragedy of the mudslide in Brazil which has killed at least 600 people with many more still missing was caused by a downpour that deposited one months rainfall in one hour.  Malaysia too is having floods and our neighbor Thailand had serious flood last month.  It’s been a very wet period.  Again, water brings life as long as it stays where it belongs.

Now you might think that my third rambling thought would be also about the weather.  But you would be wrong cause I am a squirrel and I have eaten one too many bad nuts.  So, this last thought is about fire – to warm all you frigid northerners and about the supernatural – to send chills down your spine. Mwahahaha (<- evil mad scientist laugh).

There is a story coming from a house in a village in the north of West Malaysia, very close to the border with Thailand.  The owner of the house is a 73 year old woman who lives there with her family including two grandchildren.  The house is built on land belonging to the Islamic Affairs Department and she has lived there for more than 30 years.  However, starting just before the new year, the occupants have been plagued by unexplained mini fires that appear to break out spontaneously all around the house.   The fires have burned clothing, prayer mats, furniture and even set the gas cooker on fire.    Reporters from one of the national dailies went to interview the family and while they were there, they witnessed five such fires.  There have been as many as twenty such incidents in a day.

Fourteen Islamic priests came to exorcise the fire-starting spirit.  They performed prayers, chants and rituals.  The leader of the group noted that the owner had a collection of ancient daggers and he believed that the spirit or spirits were attracted to these ancient artifacts.  However, despite their efforts, the fires resumed the next day.

The home owner has even now resorted to invite a well known Chinese kung fu master to carry out an exorcism.  This will be the next stage in the story.  As you can imagine, the whole family is in a terrible state.  How can you rest or sleep when you are expecting another unexplained fire?  These things are alive and well in Malaysia.  This tale has been brought to you by Spooky Squirrel.  Any theories my skeptical friends?

Innocent or …….?

Wettest, Coldest, Hottest


I was working on something while having the TV on in the background.  It happened to be on CNN and my alert squirrel ears picked up something that seemed odd and just a little bit funny.  The announcer was saying that the temperatures in southern USA was about 6-7 degrees Celsius colder than Canada.  Colder than Canada?

Now you have to admit that this is just not the natural order of things when Texas is colder than Canada.

This unusually cold weather and heavy snowfall also hit most of northern Europe disrupting air, rail, and road travel around year’s end for the second year in a row.  Should we expect regular yearly massive disruption of airport and rail schedules by extremely bad weather from now on?

In India, the winter has  also been  colder than they have been used to , resulting in deaths and NGO’s giving out thin sheets of bubble wrap to help the homeless fight off the cold.  Meanwhile, Northern Australia is suffering terrible flooding which may have killed many  already and in  many places, the floods come on the heels of severe drought.

The last 14 years including 2010 all fall within the 15 hottest years on record. 2010 was the third wettest year on record for Australia.  For the UK, December 2010 was the coldest in 100 years and in Northern Ireland burst frozen pipes left large sections of the population without water and resulted in senior water officials having to resign.

The climate change theory predicts for such extreme weather events.  Are there still those who doubt?

If the above data isn’t enough for the nay-sayers, perhaps the following research by observant squirrels will supply the final proof.

Can You Imagine If This Carries On For Another 20 Years?

The Sky is Falling….


 

It’s too late. Chicken Little was right.  Like Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned, we collectively have wasted our time politicking and in self delusion until now, climate change and its impact on Earth and mankind has become a certainty.  The world will definitely change within the next 30 years.

In a study by the consultancy firm Maplecroft, the five main threats of climate change were looked at.  These are flooding, drought, storms, rising sea levels and changes to ecosystems.  The data was then analysed in a number of ways and  its impact on countries was assessed.

Most at Risk to Suffer Climate Change Effects (Maplecroft 2009)

Based on their current vulnerability and ability to cope , the worst countries are Somalia followed by Haiti, Afghanistan, Sierra Leonne, Burundi, Guinea, Rwanda, the Gambia, Chad and Nigeria.  Africa would seem to be the area of highest risk.  Least at risk is Norway followed by Finland, Japan and Canada.

Most Vulnerable to Climate Change Effects (Maplecroft 2010)

This list was a revision of the 2009 list above and placed a greater emphasis on a countries ability or lack of ability to respond to the effects of climate change.  This list has as most vulnerable, Bangladesh followed by India, Madagascar, Nepal, Mozambique, the Philippines, Haiti, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Myanmar.  Least vulnerable was Norway, Finland , Iceland and Ireland,

Most Vulnerable to Natural Disasters

Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Sudan, Mozambique, Haiti, the Philippines and Columbia are most at risk from natural disasters.

Most Vulnerable to Food Crisis

Afghanistan, DR Congo, Burundi, Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, Angola, Liberia, Chad and Zimbabwe.  Least vulnerable are Finland followed by Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

The message is clear. A pattern is forming and  in the interest of self preservation, I think I had better brush up on Norwegian and Finnish.

God dag. Kunne du trykk inn en vennlig flyktning ekorn hvem er skinn fra klimaet endre?”  (Norwegian)

Hei te antaa kotona ystävällinen pakolainen orava joka on häipyä polveutua ilmanala”  (Finnish)

“Hello.  Could you let in a friendly refugee squirrel who is fleeing from climate change?”  (English)

Sucking Up to Norwegian Immigration