Monday, April 30

Lying With Statistics

I recently received the following e-mail:
You know how the Democrats castigate George Bush for the military deaths in Iraq?

Did you know that some 4,417 soldiers died -- in peacetime -- from
1993-1996? I believe that about 3,100 soldiers have died in Iraq so far.

Sort of lends some perpective, doesn't it?
The e-mail cites this blog.

The thing about this is that there's a difference between the total number of soldiers who died and the total who died in military conflict.

More specifically, if you download the PDF at: -- a pdf which is cited at the url above -- you'll find an interesting result-- a total of 5,187 soldiers dying JUST from 2001-2004.

Furthermore, from 1993-1996, you get 237 military deaths due to hostile action.

From 2001-2004, you get 1,102.

Funny how the e-mail didn't include that information.

Friday, April 27

Friday Bird Blogging: Broad-Winged Hawks Return

New England is prime breeding grounds for broad-winged hawks, who disappear to South America en masse for the Winter. In the Fall, you can watch huge flocks flocks of them ("kettles") using pockets of hot air ("thermals") to spiral up into the air so they can get better altitude for their migration flight (which averages out to around 4,000 miles!). In the Spring, they return in scattered groups to their breeding grounds and all of a sudden, you see these great little hawks hanging out on utility wires.

Aside from color, you can generally tell a broad-wing by the length of its tail. If you see a hawk on a utility wire that's got a tail which is about the same length as its wings or not much longer, it's probably a broadie. If it's got a much longer tail, you're more likely dealing with a cooper's hawk or a sharp-shinned.

As usual, the picture is a thumbnail, linking to a picture double its size.

Friday, April 20

Friday Bird Blogging: Brants

Imagine that you're trying to find a bird you've never seen before and go chasing after a small group of them only to find a group of over fifty further down the beach. These Brants showed up out of nowhere, to my significant delight. I have to admit to not knowing very much about them, but I love this shot of a group of them fighting over a piece of seaweed.

As usual, the picture links to a larger shot.

Friday, April 13

The Onion Goes After Birders

Check out the Onion's piece, The Sibley Guide To Birds Has Clearly Misidentified The Dark-Eyed Junco. This is truly one of the funniest things I've ever read about birders.

Friday Bird Blogging: Fox Sparrow

Before I saw a Fox Sparrow, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to identify it, making sure I knew the field marks, etc., so I didn't mistake it for a song sparrow.

Turns out this was a bit of a wasted effort on my part-- after weeks of sorting through song sparrows asking myself "could this be a fox sparrow?" I finally saw one and it is unmistakable for a song sparrow. True, the basic form of it is similar, but it's much larger (probably at least 50% bigger) and while the song sparrow has a dominant white with brown & black mixed in, the fox sparrow, when seen from above, is much more brown. In short, if you see a bird which looks like a big, fat, brown song sparrow, you've probably got a fox sparrow in your sights.

As usual, the thumbnail links to a larger picture.

Thursday, April 12

Kurt Vonnegut: Dead at 84.

A few months back, Vonnegut appeared on "The Daily Show" and was a riot, even though it was clear that he was having trouble getting the words out.

When I was in high school, I had a teacher who snuck me a copy of "Slaughterhouse Five." She had 30 copies of the book that she wasn't allowed to use in lessons per order of the school board (it makes a reference to [*gasp*] sperm) but she thought I'd really enjoy it.

She was right.

Sunday, April 8

Pearls Before Breakfast

The Washington Post has an absolutely fascinating article about how we recognize and identify art. Here's an excerpt from the opening:
HE EMERGED FROM THE METRO AT THE L'ENFANT PLAZA STATION AND POSITIONED HIMSELF AGAINST A WALL BESIDE A TRASH BASKET. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.
Each passerby had a quick choice to make... do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation...? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn't you? What's the moral mathematics of the moment?

On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged... as an experiment in context, perception and priorities -- as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?
So, what do you think happened?
click here to read the rest

Friday, April 6

Friday Bird Blogging: American Kestrel

Kestrels are small colorful falcons which can be seen throughout the US. They're a little smaller than a pigeon in length, and considerably smaller in overall size. They hunt through a variety of fashions, including an approach similar to a kingfisher, which involves hovering over prey and then diving straight down to grab it. Though this isn't their most common form of hunting, it's by far the most entertaining to watch.