Saturday, July 29, 2006


They've found King Tut's Penis!

When King Tut was found in 1922, he had his penis. In 1968, however, x-rays detected that the mumified Egyptian king's member was missing. Speculation was that it had been stolen and sold. Happily enough, King Tut's main vein wasn't missing enough, a new study says. It merely fell off and was found in the sand beside his body. While no longer attached, it "remains intact."
Sounds like a good story to me, like the folks who steal yard orniments and take pictures of it around the world. Imagine kidnapping Tut's penis and traveling with it around the world as a prank. I think I'll strive for that!


This is not just a bug blog

One of the benefits of being able to tolerate a heat index of 105 degrees with 70 percent humidity is that you get to see things going on that others who are hiding out in the air conditioning cannot. Such as this cicada that was caught and was about to be eaten by a preying mantis. I find cicadas mildly annoying, perhaps because their noise indicates the impending demise of summer. So I let the mantis chow down. Spock would call it the prime directive. I call it entertainment.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Trees in danger!

From today's Daily Southtown:

The threat of the emerald ash borer

Thousands of trees in the Chicago area could succumb to the little green bug

Friday, July 21, 2006

By Paul Eisenberg

World War II had just ended and a full-scale housing boom was in progress. Everywhere in the south suburbs, new neighborhoods were sprouting, and municipal planners were scrambling to spruce up those new streets with rows of shade trees.

Oaks, while stately and beautiful, were ruled out because they took too long to grow. So, most areas instead turned to maple, chestnut, elm and ash trees.

The American chestnut trees were the first to go, stricken with a fungus so pervasive that it nearly eradicated the entire species and removed it from the suburban landscape. Next came Dutch elm disease, which continues to ravage American elm trees, eliminating them from area parkways.

In many cases, those diseased and dying chestnuts and elms were replaced by ash trees, a suitable substitute because of its quick growth, statuesque height and aesthetic appeal.

Today, as many as 30 percent of trees in the area may be ashes. And they could be the next to succumb to a foreign invader, leaving giant gaps in the suburban landscape, as well as the American psyche. After all, ash wood is used for, among other things, baseball bats and flooring.

The culprit is a little green beetle, no larger than a penny, which is so voracious it can kill a century-old ash tree in just a few years. And it has been spotted in the Chicago area.

An outbreak was discovered this spring in the northwest suburbs, and just last week, 16 trees in Wilmette were found to be harboring the pests.

On Wednesday, Kane County imposed a quarantine on 51 square miles after a beetle was discovered there.

Randy Knutson, a wildlife biologist for the National Park Service stationed at the Indiana Dunes, said one of the things that make the emerald ash borer so dangerous is it's difficult to detect.

"One of the best ways to find them is to cut down the tree and look for S-shaped galleries under the bark," he said.

The problem is that by the time an infected tree shows outward signs of distress, the damage has been done.

"By the time we discover the infestation, the beetles have usually moved on," he said.

Another sign is the beetle's D-shaped exit holes in the bark, Knutson said. Those small holes aren't easily noticeable, though, because the insects often start near the top of a tree.

The emerald ash borer, an Asian native, was first discovered in America near Detroit in 2002. Since then, it has killed more than 20 million ash trees in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.

Knutson said an early strategy for dealing with it was to cut down all ash trees within a half-mile of an infested tree. At Warren Dunes State Park in Michigan, more than 4,000 ash trees were removed from the campground area, resulting in "a dramatic change to the area landscape and the appearance of modern campsites," according to the facility's Web site.

But that strategy didn't halt the beetles' westward journey.

"Now, we're concentrating on firewood," Knutson said. "People are moving it around in their firewood."

That's probably how an ash tree in the northwest suburbs of Chicago became infested, said Emily Kenny, of the Irons Oaks nature center in Olympia Fields. This past spring, an emerald ash borer was found in a spider web on a dying ash tree in St. Charles.

"Michigan is the place with the biggest problem," she said, "and for it to jump all the way over to the west suburbs, we'd be seeing a lot more trees (here) with problems.

"But we're waiting for it."

Likewise, while Indiana has reported infestations in South Bend, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore area has not had an infestation yet, Knutson said. There, they are advertising the problem, asking campers to not bring firewood in from out of state and advising them to burn all of the wood they bring in.

Officials in Wisconsin are getting worried as well, passing a law this year banning firewood from other states. But regulating the transportation of wood is merely a delaying tactic, Knutson said.

"The strategy is to slow it down and limit the spread," he said. "We want to give researchers some time to develop detection methods and control these pests."

As far as the individual homeowner is concerned, there is little to be done except keeping an eye out for D-shaped exit holes in the bark of ash trees, and planning for the future by planting a variety of trees, rather than relying upon one species, such as the ash.

Anyone who spots a suspicious bug or exit hole should contact the University of Illinois Extension service, he said. Beyond that, "There's not a lot you can do, except figure out how to take the tree down and plan on replanting something there," Knutson said.

"That's what's tough about it."

Still, Kenny and others at Irons Oaks are enlisting a small army of "beetle busters" to catch any south suburban infestation in its early stages. Children who participate in programs at the facility are learning about all the signs of emerald ash borer infestations and what to do if they spot one.

"They're the ones climbing and playing in the trees," she said.

While the alarm has been sounded, Kenny said she values the ash tree so much that she would still plant one, if the spot was right.

"If it's a good location for that tree, then go for it," she said. "It grows faster than an oak, and the seeds are small and easier to deal with (than a maple's). It's got a great yellow color in the fall, and it's a really good tree for this area."

For more information on the emerald ash borer, go to To contact the University of Illinois Extension office in Matteson, call (708) 481-0111.


And yet another story down the hatch- about obesity!

This has not been published yet, but will be soon in a magazine in Northwest Indiana. Can't wait to see how they illustrate it!

By Paul Eisenberg

In 1947, Europe was recovering from the continent-wide ravages of World War II. Paris, just a few years removed from Nazi occupation, was regaining its foothold as one of the world’s great cities with the help of local fashion designer Christian Dior.
Dior’s revolutionary “New Look,” in a drastic change from the severity of wartime fashions, emphasized a feminine look, which included a constricted waist. Suddenly, all over the world, girdles and other mechanisms with which to bind up bulging bellies were in vogue.
Fast forward to 2006: Indiana is entrenched as one of the country’s fattest states, consistently ranking in the top 10 in terms of obesity. But two European doctors my have taken a cue from Dior’s fashion sense to devise a new procedure that can help the severely overweight tackle their problem.
Donna Kettle, bariatric coordinator at Methodist Hospitals, compared the area’s problem with obesity to an epidemic.
“We’re currently raising the first generation of children who have a lower life expectancy than their parents,” she said. “And the reason is obesity.”
It’s scary news, but there’s a simple remedy for the problem: diet and exercise. But for some, that’s not enough. That’s when doctors can recommend bringing out the big guns. Gastric bypass surgery, a procedure which involves rerouting the digestive organs, has been around for a while, and is an invasive and moderately painful process. But a new procedure known as Lap-Band surgery, is a relatively new alternative that promises less invasive techniques and side effects that aren’t as severe as those associated with gastric bypass surgery.
Lap-Band surgery was pioneered by doctors Guy-Bernard Cadiere of Belgium and Franco Favretti of Italy, and was introduced to Northwest Indiana by the Methodist Hospital's Center for Weight Loss Surgery in 2003. Unlike gastric bypass, Lap-Band is an outpatient procedure that involves constricting the upper part of the stomach with an inflatable ring. The ring limits the amount of food the stomach can contain, while allowing food to flow from the smaller stomach area to the rest of the digestive tract normally.
That allows patients to feel comfortably full from a small amount of food, while the controlled release of food from the stomach to the digestive tract keeps patients feeling full for longer amounts of time, reducing the urge to eat between meals.
Lap-Band surgery involves about five tiny incisions in the abdominal wall of about five to 10 millimeters, and leaves the digestive organs intact, as opposed to gastric bypass, which involves rerouting intestines. With Lap-Band surgery, there is no cutting or stapling of the stomach.
“It’s significantly less invasive,” Kettle said.
And Lap-Band surgery can be tailored to the needs of each patient, as the inflatable ring can be adjusted to allow more or less food in the stomach. Plus, the Lap-Band is removable.
While the Lap-Band sounds like a miracle cure for obesity, Kettle said those considering the surgery must still be prepared to make changes to their lifestyle. In fact, to even be eligible for the surgery, one must meet body mass index criteria that equate to being about 100 pounds overweight or be experiencing serious medical problems related to obesity, such as severe diabetes or heart disease.
And patients must also adhere to an extensive followup program once the procedure is completed, lasting as long as 18 months to three years. That program includes exercise and nutrition classes. One of the points driven home in the classes is that eating high-calorie food can defeat the Lap-Band. Patients also receive a regimen of nutritional supplements, vitamins and calcium, which help make up for anything lost by eating less food.
Patients are also warned against returning to old eating habits, Kettle said.
“If you overeat, it can be painful and cause you to vomit” she said.
But the results speak for themselves.
“We had one gentleman come in to talk (to new patients), and about 14 months out of surgery, he had lost 115 pounds,” she said. “We’ve had others who have lost more than 100 pounds, but in nearly every case, they were highly motivated.”
The drawback to Lap-Band surgery as opposed to gastric bypass or other weight loss surgeries is the longer timeframe involved. With gastric bypass, weight loss is rapid, while with the Lap-Band, “weight loss is slower but steady.” On the positive side, patients can eat nearly anything they want to with the Lap-Band, while gastric bypass patients who eat sugary foods may invite an onset of the aptly-named “dumping syndrome.”
Since performing the area’s first Lap-Band procedure in 2003, Methodist Hospitals have performed about 100 more, Kettle said. Initially, getting insurance companies to cover the costs was difficult.
“Over the last three years, insurance companies have been more responsive,” she said. “Still, though, most insurance companies require a patient to attempt more conventional weight loss strategies first. Most won’t cover it initially.”
Prospective patients also must undergo a psychiatric evaluation designed to detect such obesity causes as eating disorders.
Still, Kettle said the Lap-Band surgery is a new weapon in the war against the growing problem of obesity, and it’s arriving just in time. The battle against fat is a hard one because of the very nature of our society.
She said it’s worse, even, than the fight against smoking tobacco.
“People don’t have to smoke, but they have to eat,” she said. “Everything about our society is food-related. We celebrate with food. If you threw a birthday party and didn’t provide any food, everybody would probably leave.”
It’s a battle that needs to be fought, she added, because the problem can be devastating to those who suffer through it.
“Obesity touches people in so many ways,” she said. “It can cause psychological problems, social and relationship problems, and health problems.”
To that end, the hospital offers informational seminars on weight loss surgeries throughout the area several times a year.
Had the information and procedure been around in 1957, Christian Dior, whose designs may have inspired the Lap-Band pioneers, may not have died overweight of a heart attack at age 52.
More information on Lap-Band surgery and other weight loss techniques is with the Methodist Hospitals Center for Weight Loss Surgery at 219-738-3500.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Holy Moses!

This article from National Geographic News indicates in the lead that:
Moses may have received some geological assistance when he parted the Red Sea to let the Israelites through, according to the Bible.
Following the conventional rules of journalism, which tell writers to always use the active voice, especially in the lead, the sentence could be corrected to say:
The Bible says Moses may have received some geological assistance when he parted the Red Sea to let the Israelites through.
Turns out it was just scientists, not the Bible, who said that. Their "study" suggests that an injection of hot underground magma is splitting apart the Nubian and Arabian tectonic plates, and it has been for the past "30 million years". But at times, like last September, the molten rock thrusts upwards explosively into a vertical crack called a dyke. Above the dyke, "several camels and goats fell into the open fissures." Plus, thousands of people were displaced.

So 2000 years ago, God (may have) injected his hot magma into the dyke and parted the Red Sea. Nowadays, God is now using his power to (perhaps) have the earth swallow camels and goats and displace Ethiopians.
Just goes to show: God hates us now. (maybe)


A busy July afternoon

I had the chance ot spend a half hour in the back yard observing things yesterday, and it was an amazingly busy place.
There was an attack by red ants on a nest of black ants. I first saw the red ants swarming towards the black ant colony under my maple tree. I hadn't previously known about the black ants in that location, as they never built any kind of hill. But the red ants were aware of it. Thousands of them swooped through my pond area and descended upon the black ant holes, removing lots of black ant eggs. Some even pulled the black queen out, but she escaped. Only 20 minutes later, the red ants were nowhere to be seen, having taken their plunder back home. I followed the victorious ants to their home in a neighbor's back yard, where I saw them bringing the eggs into their holes. Interestingly enough, there were lots of black ants outside of the red ant colony, tending the holes and removing grass and doing other chores. These, I suppose, are slaves, eggs garnered from previous raids on the ants in my yard.
As the third picture attests, not all the red ants escaped unscathed. Some, like that fellow, fell into the pond and were gobbled up by goldfish, or in this case, eaten by a water strider.

Monday, July 17, 2006


one of my latest stories

A kid's paradise

Safe, accessible — playgrounds are changing with the times

Anna Boomsma (left) and her sister Cally hang from new playground equipment at in South Holland on June 23.

Tucker Boomsma sits on a new, safer version of the old monkey bars — a climbing web, at Veterans Park in south suburban South Holland, Ill.

There was a playground in south-suburban Flossmoor, Ill., that was a kid's paradise. Called "Timber Town," it had several wooden, fort-like structures connected by narrow gangplanks that sat four or five feet off the ground.

Further west, a park in Homewood was notable for its cable system, which allowed children to grab a trapeze and take a ride down the hill.

Another Homewood park sported a giant kite with two swings attached. Another landmark playground, this one in Chicago Heights, contained an enormous metal rocket ship structure with several tall slides emerging from it.

All are now gone, either replaced over the last two decades with smaller-scale plastic playground structures, or eradicated altogether. Along with those specific structures went most of the notable parks and playgrounds of the 1970s and '80s throughout the Southland.

These days, one has to look long and hard to find a tall, metal slide, or even a seesaw, relics of a time when kids didn't wear helmets and knee pads when riding bicycles, and got to ride in the front seat without car seats.

Jill Bartholomew, superintendent of recreation for the Homewood/Flossmoor Park District, has worked at the district for 26 years, and has watched as the parks of the past came tumbling down.

"Parks might not be like they used to be, but the equipment is now much safer," she said.

The tall metal slides that, when hot, could nearly take the skin off the backs of one's legs, she noted, and even swing sets that allowed children to strive to loop all the way over the top bar are things of the past.

"You can't do those things anymore," she said. "Safety plays a part in everything."

But, she said, though today's playgrounds may look like homogenized masses of plastic, similar to nearly every park in the region, there are a lot of distinctive properties to recently built parks.

She cited Patriots Park, on 187th Street in Homewood.

"It's got a circus theme," she said. "There are animal prints in the ground, and when a child steps on one, it makes that animal's noise."

Millennium Park on Western Avenue in Homewood has a "splash pad," where kids can run through an array of water features.

"There are at least one or two different playground features at each of our parks," Bartholomew said.

She said that accessibility has also played a role in replacing older playground equipment.

"In years past, a person with a wheelchair, or a grandparent wasn't able to play on the equipment," she said. "Now they too can play with everyone else, on low bridges and larger platforms."

Like Flossmoor's former Timber Town, Veterans Park on South Park Avenue in South Holland was once filled with wooden structures that dated back to the 1970s. But as of this spring, the old wooden playground was replaced with a new metal and plastic facility, making it one of the region's newest.

Wally Widelski, parks director for South Holland, said the new equipment is safer and will be easier to maintain. Plus, he said, it should be really fun.

One new playground structure in Veterans Park has 35 "play stations," not to be confused with Sony Playstations, which probably keep more kids away from parks in general. Rather, the stations are slides, swings, climbing areas and other features.

"There's a thing called the spider web that took the place of the old monkey bars," he said. "The spider web is more flexible. On the old monkey bars, if you lost your grip and fell, you ended up hitting all the bars below you and breaking your arm. On this, you'd roll down it into the rubber mulch."

Both Widelski and Bartholomew said playground surfaces have come a long way in the last two decades. Along with the old equipment went gravel and asphalt playground surfaces, and a lot of skinned knees along with them. Now, most playgrounds have wood or rubberized mulch at their bases, creating a soft and safe surface to absorb falls.

But while the old equipment continues to have fans among parents who frequented area parks when they were young, Widelski said maintenance became another issue.

"When some of the wood (in Veterans Park) would break or deteriorate, we couldn't get replacement parts," he said. "You have to be careful when you talk about manufacturing your own parts to fix things. So if things are deteriorating, we take it down and replace it.

"Why put a child in jeopardy? As a parent myself, I know safety is the first and foremost thing. I would never want anyone to be injured on any of our equipment."

To that end, not only is older park equipment replaced, but South Holland, Homewood/Flossmoor and most other park districts or departments regularly inspect the equipment.

Some tests are conducted weekly.

And while today's parents might have fond memories of the parks of yesteryear, Widelski and Bartholomew both said today's children are busily making their own memories. In fact, the newer parks in the area are drawing children not only away from their video games, but from other towns as well.

Homewood's splash pad has become such an attraction that there is now a small charge for participants who come from outside the district.

And in South Holland, Widelski said, it's not uncommon to find children from several towns away playing on the "spider web."

"I ride out there and talk to some of the parents," he said. "We've got a nice looking, shiny, clean, bright and safe destination."


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