July 2012 Oddments

Sundry items of interest dredged up from the profundity of the interwebs during the month of July:


  • Mexico is the world’s largest per capita consumer (127 gallons per year) of bottled water. [link]
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that “employment services,” which includes temporary labor, will remain among the fastest growing sectors through 2020. In 1989 only 1 in 43 manufacturing jobs were temporary. By 2006, 1 in 11 were. [link]
  • College-educated Americans are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay. Less-educated women are growing less likely to marry at all. Unmarried mothers are now the majority of new moms under 30 and they don’t vote much. [link]
  • Families paid for college on average $20,902 in 2011-2012, which is down from $24,097 in 2009-2010. Parents are paying less and grants and scholarships are covering less, but student loans and work are on the rise. The most common cost-saving measures include living at home or adding a roommate, reducing spending by parents and students, students working more hours and families shifting from four-year public schools to less expensive two-year public schools. [link]
  • A Stanford computer scientist has predicted that within 50 years there will be only 10 universities remaining in the world. That’s probably exaggerated, but clearly the pressure is on. [link]
  • In the last decade Microsoft’s stock barely budged from around $30, while Apple’s stock is worth more than 20 times what it was 10 years ago. In December 2000, Microsoft had a market capitalization of $510 billion, making it the world’s most valuable company. As of June it is No. 3, with a market cap of $249 billion. In December 2000, Apple had a market cap of $4.8 billion and didn’t even make the list. As of this June it is No. 1 in the world, with a market cap of $541 billion. [link]
  • Contrary to its grimy image, Detroit is playing host to a renaissance in urban agriculture with more than 1500 farms within the city limits ranging from vacant lots to a seven-acre spread on the West Side planted by the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. [link]
  • The history of economics can be viewed rather like the regular sequence in the Peanuts cartoon strip, whereby Lucy snatches the football away every time that Charlie Brown tries to kick it. Just when economists have reached a consensus, events in the real world proved them wrong. [link]


  • It says something about America today that emergency personnel now pride themselves in coping with mass shootings. [link]
  • The Brady Campaign’s list of mass shootings in America since just 2005 is 62 pages long. A disclaimer states that the list “is not comprehensive.” [link]
  • In the US, not surprisingly, the South is more violent than the rest of the country, by some distance. All of the U.S. regions have higher average rates of death from assault than any of 24 OECD countries. The Northeast, the least violent region in the US, still comes relatively close to the upper end of the most violent countries in the OECD group. Depressingly, Blacks die from assault at more than three times the U.S. average, and between ten and twenty times OECD rates. [link]
  • For the first time, women from all 204 national Olympic committees will be competing in the Summer Olympics. Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar had been the final holdouts. The 529-member American delegation featured more women, 268, than men, 261. Roughly 45 percent of the 10,500 athletes taking part in the London Games will be female. All 26 sports on the Olympic program will feature female competitors. Boxing will feature female competitors in three weight classes. [link]
  • According to United Nations projections, the world’s population — now 7 billion — will rise to 9.3 billion by 2050 — the equivalent of adding another India and China to the world. This an optimistic scenario assumes the worldwide average birthrate, now 2.5 children per woman, will decline to 2.1. About 80% of the world’s civil conflicts since the 1970s have occurred in countries with young, fast-growing populations, known as youth bulges. Of the 2 billion or more people who will be added to the planet by 2050, 97% are expected to be born in Africa, Asia and Latin America, led by the poorest, most volatile countries. [link]
  • Finnish facts: Finland is now the last eurozone country to hold a triple-A credit rating. Finns drink nearly 12kg of roasted coffee ground per person per year. Finland actually has 187,888 lakes, that’s roughly one lake for every 26 people. [link]


  • A report in the journal of the German Medical Association suggests that the side effects of some drugs, and the discomfort of certain medical procedures, may be inadvertently intensified by doctors and nurses trying to keep patients fully informed about the possible complications of a proposed treatment. The culprit behind this phenomenon is the so-called nocebo effect, a patient’s pessimistic belief and expectation that a drug will produce negative consequences. [link]
  • A small group of patients with HIV in France have been able to stop taking Aids drugs without any resurgence of the virus in their bodies. They were all given antiretroviral drugs to control the virus soon after becoming infected with HIV, but then stopped after about three years. The existence of people who do not become ill even though they are infected with HIV – the so-called “HIV controllers” – is already known. However, what is encouraging with the French group is that medical intervention seems to have brought about similar results. [link]
  • A review of studies covering over two million people found that, compared to regular daytime workers, shift workers had a 24% higher risk for coronary events, a 23% higher risk for heart attack, and a 5% higher risk for stroke. Night shift workers had the highest risk for coronary events (41%). [link]
  • Worldwide, there are about 6,000 mammal species, each with its own unique milk, but Americans get at least 97 percent of all their dairy products from cows (the rest is mostly from goats and sheep). Abroad, various foreigners drink the milk of the camel, the yak, the water buffalo, the reindeer, the elk, and a few other animals. Camel’s milk contains insulin and can improve quality of life for diabetics. [link]

Nature & Environment

  • The guillemot, a black and white bird of the northern seas, is apparently monogamous but regularly unfaithful. [link]
  • The extinction rate of species today is alarmingly high with some 30 % of amphibians, 21 % of birds and 25 % of mammal species at risk. The fight against desertification is also being lost, with the percentage of degraded land area rising from 15 % in 1991 to 24 % in 2008. [link]
  • Scientists have bioengineered the world’s first artificial jellyfish made from heart cells of rats and silicone, with the heart cells giving it pumping action and the silicone an elastic structure that enabled motion. Scientists then covered the membrane with a protein arranged in the same pattern as a jellyfish’s muscle assembly. An electric zap brought the jellyfish alive. By better understanding muscular pumps, scientists hope that this “silicone cyborg” may one day lead to new therapeutic devices, such as pacemakers, made from organic substances. [link] [video]
  • To many people “vanilla” is synonymous with “plain” or “boring”, but real vanilla, which comes from orchids of the genus Vanilla that are native to Southeast Mexico and Guatemala, is the second most expensive spice after saffron. Not surprisingly, by one estimate, 97% of the vanilla used today is artificial, usually derived from wood fibers. With the discovery of hand pollination, vanilla cultivation spread beyond its native soils, with Indonesia and Madagascar now accounting for over 50% of global production. [link]
  • The surface of Greenland’s massive ice sheet has seen unprecedented melting this month that took place over a larger area than has been detected in three decades of satellite observation. Melting even occurred at Greenland’s coldest and highest place, Summit station. The thawed ice area jumped from 40% of the ice sheet to 97% in just four days from 8 July. [link]
  • An iceberg twice the size of Manhattan recently broke away from the Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland. It’s not clear that this “calving event” is a consequence of the increased atmospheric warming that’s been taking place over Greenland in recent decades, but it’s certainly more likely to take place as a consequence of that warming. The Petermann glacier’s margins have now retreated to a point not seen in the last 150 years. [link]
  • The arctic wilderness is facing pollution threats as oil and gas companies are moving in while the ice is melting far faster than predicted. Global temperatures have risen 0.7C since 1951. In Greenland, the average temperature has gone up by 1.5C. Its ice cap is losing an estimated 200bn tonnes a year as a result and global powers are beginning to look to the region also for minerals, fish, sea routes and tourist potential. The consequences for the planet will be grim. Without the white brilliance of the ice to reflect sunlight back into space, it will warm even more. [link]
  • Shark mating behavior is so violent that it often leaves a female with her skin raw or bleeding. Female nurse sharks will stay in shallow water with their reproductive openings pressed firmly to the sea floor. Otherwise they risk falling prey to roaming bands of males who will take turns inserting their claspers into her. A litter of fifty pups will have anything from two to seven fathers. A number of shark species even practice oophagy, or uterine cannibalism. Sand tiger fetuses eat each other in uteri. A female sand tiger gives birth to a baby that’s already a meter long and an experienced killer. Speaking of killing, there were 75 verified shark attacks (or encounters, as marine biologists prefer) world-wide last year, and 12 fatalities. Meanwhile, to supply the shark fin soup trade alone, an estimated 73 million sharks are killed each year. [link]
  • As I already suspected, careless laziness is a way to help a family prosper. [link]


  • Language extinction is happening faster than species extinction (1 per 14 days). Over half of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken on the planet may disappear by the end of the century. Eighty percent of the endangered languages are African. Eighty percent of the world’s population now speak just 1.1% of its languages. [link]
  • German word of the month: Vermorgung. Lit. ‘morningization’, aka procrastination. [link]

Odds and Ends

  • Ernest Hemingway’s first cat, Snowball, was given to him by a ship’s captain and was six-toed. His former home in Key West, Florida, currently houses nearly a hundred descendants of Snowball, about half of whom are polydactyl — an inadvertent lab for inbred genetic mutation. [link] Also: [link]
  • Tango originated in the working class districts of Buenos Aires in the late 19th Century, but it has also conquered Finland. A five-day festival has been going for nearly 30 years and attracts over 100,000 tango-mad Finns. The Finnish version is slower and simpler – melodies taken from old Finnish and Russian waltzes are weaved throughout. The accordion replaces the Argentine bandoneon. The dance is also different. No fancy flicks of the legs from the women but the Finns dance closer, bodies pressed firmly together. [link]
  • Parsley loves garlic, and their marriage rarely fails to be a happy one. Very finely chopped parsley combined with very finely chopped raw garlic is known in French cuisine as persillade. Add some finely grated lemon zest to the basic persillade mix and you get the Italian gremolata. [link]
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