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Smog sits over the river in tourist town Fenghuang on Jan. 14, 2013. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Smog sits over the river in tourist town Fenghuang on Jan. 14, 2013. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

SOCIAL STUDIES

Where are China’s rivers going? Add to ...

China’s missing rivers

“More than half the rivers previously thought to exist in China appear to be missing, according to the 800,000 surveyors who compiled the first national water census, leaving Beijing fumbling to explain the cause,” writes Tyler Cowen for MarginalRevolution.com. Only 22,909 rivers were located, compared with the more than 50,000 in the 1990s. “Officials blame the apparent loss on climate change, arguing that it has caused waterways to vanish, and on mistakes by earlier cartographers. But environmental experts say the disappearance of the rivers is a real and direct manifestation of headlong, ill-conceived development, where projects are often imposed without public consultation.”

The deadliest predator?

“African lions roar and strut and act the apex carnivore, but they’re lucky to catch 25 per cent of the prey they pursue,” says The New York Times. “Great white sharks have 300 slashing teeth and that ominous soundtrack, and still nearly half their hunts fail. Dragonflies, by contrast, look dainty, glittery and fun … Yet they are also voracious aerial predators, and new research suggests they may well be the most brutally effective hunters in the animal kingdom. When setting off to feed on other flying insects, dragonflies manage to snatch their targets in midair more than 95 per cent of the time, often wolfishly consuming the fresh meat on the spur without bothering to alight. ‘They’ll tear up the prey and mash it into a glob, munch, munch, munch,’ said Michael May, an emeritus professor of entomology at Rutgers.”

Who invented the Internet?

“To answer that seemingly simple question,” writes Matt Novak in Pacific Standard magazine, “you have basically two options: you can go on for hours explaining the hundreds of people and institutions that contributed crucial advancements to the way that the Internet operates, or you can just say Vint Cerf. Or Leonard Kleinrock. Or Tim Berners-Lee. … In reality, the Internet was invented by thousands of people.”

Thwarting Nazi pigeons

Britain’s MI-5 recently released its pigeon files, says The Times of London, revealing the hitherto unsung role of Flight Lieutenant Melville Walker, head of its top secret pigeon section. “In 1944, Walker came up with the great pigeon deception scheme. Himmler, he reported was a pigeon fancier and controlled the German Pigeon Federation. Walker theorized that he could infiltrate ill-disguised British pigeons into German pigeon lofts, the Nazis would work out that their lofts had been penetrated and Himmler would order the destruction of the entire German Pigeon Service. The so-called Pigeon Contamination Plan was launched just before D-Day. Several hundred second-rate British pigeons with German wing markings were dropped into occupied France in the hope that they would stray into enemy lofts. There is absolutely no proof that the plan worked, but it was a brilliant idea.”

How to go to hell?

A “gate to hell” has emerged from ruins in southwestern Turkey, Italian archeologists have announced. “Known as Pluto’s Gate – Ploutonion in Greek, Plutonium in Latin – the cave was celebrated as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman mythology and tradition,” says Discovery.com. “Historic sources located the site in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis, now called Pamukkale, and described the opening as filled with lethal mephitic vapours. ‘This space is full of a vapour so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. Any animal that passes inside meets instant death,’ the Greek geographer Strabo (circa 64 BC-24 AD) wrote. ‘I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.’”

Thought du jour

“The one thing more difficult than following a regimen is not imposing it on others.”

Marcel Proust, French novelist (1871-1922)

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