A Colombo-South African Mystery: Calling All Whimsey Eyes

Thursday, February 21, 2008

  I have an international mystery for which I would very much like some visitor from South Africa to help me. On February 8, I posted this picture of a Colombian crab spider, and titled my post The Epicadus heterogaster of whimsey. Suddenly on February 19, I began to get hits from South Africa (15 so far), all from people who had Googled "whimsey eyes." I did mention in my post that Charles Darwin thought this spider had ten eyes, but I cannot believe this is the reason for the sudden South African interest in Colombian crab spiders. Is Whimsey Eyes a new band in South Africa? Or a new song? I would love for one of my South African visitors to leave a comment and explain this mystery.

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The sexy Psecas (Salticidae)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I’ve mentioned before that jumping spiders often come in beautiful colors. Yet even I haven’t seen anything that topped this pair of Psecas sp. The male (right, May 1988) impresses me as an Elvis impersonator, looking like he’s poured into those iridescent bands of blue and red, and with his high collar pulled up behind the head to add bulk to the shoulders and neck. The female (left, June 1995) takes the same colors and sends them in a different direction, achieving a little less flash, but more elegance. I need to admit that I posed them on handy vegetation. I have since read that at least some Psecas show an affinity for Bromeliads, unlike most Salticidae who will stroll around whatever plant-life presents itself. At the time I photographed them, I didn’t know what to call them. Now I can identify the genus, but this Colombian species may not have a name yet. It closely resembles pictures of a Psecas from Brazil, but that one lacks a name, as well. Similar members of the genus are found from Central America to Argentina.
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A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On

Friday, February 15, 2008

A little over two years ago, I stumbled upon a USGS site that gives a real-time earthquake map of California and its near-neighbors. It presents a one-week history of whatever has been shaking. I find it so interesting that I give it a brief check several times a day. I’ve even taken to keeping a file of the maps that I might want to refer back to at some later date. During most of that time, the totals for a week’s worth of quakes have run from a low of 342 (Jan 31, 2008) to a high of 651 (May 31, 2007), but suddenly, the number has shot up, and this afternoon hit 1018.

Most of the recent activity has been just across the border into Baja California, at Guadalupe Victoria. In honor of Vicki’s birthday, they had a 5.4. Three days later they had a 5.1 and then a 5.0. They’ve also had a constant jiggling of fourzies, threezies, twozies, and onezies. Middle Son, living in La Jolla, reports he hasn't felt any of them. But they sure look impressive on the map.
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I can afford to watch all these earthquakes with some emotional distance. I live in the eye of the storm. In all the time I’ve been watching, this is the closest an earthquake has come to Visalia, a 1.8 in Lindsay (19 miles away; the bigger quake was a 3.0 at Kettleman City, 54 miles away).
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It's Starting to Look Like Spring

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Daffodils look like it's Spring.
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The Crocus look like it's Spring.
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  The Miner's Lettuce looks like it's Spring
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The avocado looks like it's almost Spring.
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Posted by Brian at 9:45 PM 1 comments  

California Primary Aftermath — One Week Later

I continue to marvel at this, the most interesting election cycle in my half-century of personal memory. Turn-outs continue heavy in both parties. If Democracy’s most dangerous enemy is apathy, then our Democracy is healthier today than at anytime I can remember.

The earlier California primary, as part of Super Tuesday, no doubt helped increase turnout here. For at least the last five or six cycles, the candidates had already been crowned by the time California voted. I’ve always voted anyway, but it’s more tempting to be ornery with one’s vote when the contest has already been settled. I don’t think a national primary is the answer. Success for a candidate like Mike Huckabee (or on the other side, a Bill Richardson or Dennis Kucinich, if one of them had lit a fire) is only possible when the opening rounds of the cycle can be contested without the massive amounts of money that would be required for a national campaign. I like the first primaries to be in very small states—not necessarily Iowa and New Hampshire—but states where a lesser-known and poorly funded candidate can invest time and meet thousands of voters in less scripted environments.

Money will always be a factor in politics, as will media favoritism. Somehow, our system must include Iowa/New Hampshire style contests early in the cycle, where real voters can sit down and study the candidates up close. Perhaps this responsibility should be distributed by lottery to other small, compact states.

This year, more states have moved away from winner-take-all primaries and to proportional awarding of delegates. That improves the chances of the people’s preferences actually being heard.

If there’s another change I’d like to see, I’m not convinced that a caucus system serves as well as a secret ballot, and I know our current ballots don’t serve as well as an Australian-style ballot. Let’s say, for example, I’m a California Republican and of the original handful of candidates, the field has been narrowed to four (Huckabee, McCain, Romney, and Paul). On an Australian ballot, I can indicate that my 1st choice is Huckabee, 2nd is McCain, and 3rd I might even have put Sam Brownback, who had already dropped out, but who earned my support through long years of leading the campaign against legalized abortion. In counting those votes, in my congressional district, it would be recorded that 16.3 % of the voters made Huckabee their first choice. However, since that ranked him in third place, each of those ballots would then be retabulated according to the voters’ second choices. In my case, I had already guessed that Huckabee was not a contender in my district. Therefore, I voted for my 2nd choice as my only choice. In the end, my district was still one of only two that Romney took from McCain (36.1 % to 35.7 %, a mere 216 votes), but McCain did well enough elsewhere to become the presumptive candidate, and Huckabee did well enough to be the last challenger standing. (Ironically, having run a low budget campaign from the beginning, Huckabee was ready to carry on when the burn-rate got too expensive for the high-budget campaigns.)

So I’m feeling pretty good about our Democracy these days. At this time last year, the money and the media were telling us that Clinton and Giuliani would have it all sewed up by this time, unless Romney’s personal fortune gave him traction against Giuliani. However, the voters in each party have decided to take things into their own hands. I can understand the states with later primaries feeling resentful that the decisions may have been made before they get to vote (though the Clinton/Obama race looks like it will go to the wire). As a Californian, I’ve felt that way often. Perhaps we need a lottery system that apportions the fifty-some primaries at two-to-ten per week over a ten-week period of time.

I am also feeling very good about my choices for November. At this point, I would like to see a McCain/Huckabee ticket. It can even be in that order. Good men, both of them.

The Epicadus heterogaster of Whimsy

Friday, February 08, 2008

In Colombia, whenever I stumbled upon a female Epicadus heterogaster (THOMISIDAE), I would stop and marvel at God’s infinite whimsy. Even a fairly diligent stumbler, like myself, will only see females, as the ladies may outweigh the gents by a factor of one hundred. The males stroll around their mate’s bodies with all the romantic status, I suppose, of body lice.

The females, meanwhile, try to pass themselves off as flowers, orchids specifically. Hence one of their common names: 'Flower Mimicking Crab Spider.' I know, you weren’t immediately put in mind of a corsage when you saw my photograph, but then, properly posed in a bouquet of similarly colored flowers, she only has to fool an occasional fly.

To the naked eye, they seem to have two eyes, due to the 'mascara effect.' Actually, there are eight eyes, four hidden in each of the two streaks of eye shadow. Charles Darwin thought he counted ten eyes when he captured one in Rio de Janeiro, in 1832. He records “Abdomen encrusted & with 5 conical peaks.” In my own mind, I remember it having three. Yet “The strange orchid-mimicking South American arachnid Epicadus Heterogaster (sic on the capitalized 'H') is commonly known as the Seven-Spined Crab Spider” I learned this as fact number 324 (out of 693), on a page titled “77 facts about the number 7.”

(Note this alternative: If your first language is Japanese, ‘カニグモ科’ may be translated back into English as "Seven-spinned Crab Spider").

The whimsy just keeps coming.

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California Primary Countdown – Three days

Saturday, February 02, 2008

First a little humor:
This morning I stumbled upon a site which combines a Latino viewpoint with a little whimsical irreverence. For example European Non-Girly Man In Charge Of Huge, Basically Mexican Hacienda Sin Bandera State Expected To Endorse Panamanian For Casa Blanca That, of course, refers to our Austrian-born Governator who recently came out for McCain (born while his father was a U.S. navy officer stationed in Panama) over Romney (whose father was born in Mexico of Mormon missionary parents). Or this one in a similar vein: Cubans Choose Panamanian Over Mexican American to be Next President Outlived by Fidel Castro

Yesterday I saw my first yard poster (Romney). As far as I’ve been able to see, my Huckabee bumper sticker (that I mailed away for, Jan 18th) is the only bumper sticker in Tulare or Fresno Counties, for any candidate, in either party. I don’t watch television, so maybe that’s where all the action is.

On January 19th, I signed up as the 8th member of the Tulare County for Mike Huckabee Meetup. I am still the newest member. No meetings are scheduled. On the Huckabee national website, the pre-Super Tuesday action all seems to be in Georgia, with maybe some spillover into Tennessee or Alabama. In news stories, the spin seems to be that by staying in the race, Huckabee is stealing away the conservative votes that rightfully belong to Romney.

Well, no. I was grateful to the voters of Florida for eliminating Giuliani, who had been my worst case scenario for most of last year, but that pops up Romney as next on my list. I’m not one of these people who hammer a politician for changing an occasional position (for example, slamming McCain because he now supports keeping a tax cut that he voted against six years ago). Goodness, do we want a leader who’s not allowed to rethink anything? On the other hand, Romney wants us to believe he rethought everything—that the only thing he retains from the first 25 years of his adulthood is his ability to handle money. On everything else, he’s done 180º.

I could still change, but if Huckabee isn’t contesting California, this social conservative is voting for McCain.

新年快乐 (Xin Nian Kuai Le!)

Friday, February 01, 2008

I want to wish a very Happy New Year (and a warm place to sit by a window and look out at the beautiful snow) to all of my shivering friends in China. I have been reading the emails and news reports. Yuting tells me it has been over ten years since they last had snow in Chongqing. I’ve also been watching video reports on the hundreds of thousands (400,000 to 600,000?) people camped out at the Guangzhou Railway Station in Guangdong province, waiting for the trains to start running so they can get back to their families for New Years. (Oooops, when I first wrote this, I was confusing Guangzhou [where I have not been] with Guiyang [where I did go], so I'm removing some of my original post. Now, however, I am particularly concerned about my school-teacher friend Suyun, who would have needed to pass through Guangzhou to get home for the holiday.) It is hard to imagine half a million people waiting in line for trains, camped out in weather that turned suddenly cold. Today’s reports say the trains have finally begun to move. I hope everyone gets home quickly, and that the holidays with family make it all worth while.

Ever since I began this blog in 2004, I have hoped to find a way it could be viewed from inside China. With many thanks to Middle Son, I believe my Chinese friends can now visit here as often as they like. This certainly makes visiting easier than having to ride 20 hours on a hard seat train, or waiting several days in the cold outside a train station! So I welcome my Chinese friends, and wish you all 新年快乐. Please leave a message, so I know who stopped by to visit.

(P.S., This post receives more traffic than any other post I have written. It draws some all year long, but heavy traffic during December, January, and February. It comes especially from Singapore, UK, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, UAE, and the European continent. After this 2011 firestorm, I wrote about it here.)