Friday, December 05, 2008

Cool stuff


This has to be my favorite news story from the past couple of years. Certainly it was the coolest, because it reminds me of a typical James Bond movie opening.

February 22, 2008

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Two clowns were shot and killed by an unidentified gunman during their performance at a traveling circus in the eastern Colombian town of Cucuta, police said Wednesday.

The gunman burst into the Circo del Sol de Cali Monday night and shot the clowns in front of an audience of 20 to 50 people, local police chief Jose Humberto Henao told Reuters. One of the clowns was killed instantly and the second died the next day in hospital.

"The killings had nothing to do with the show the victims were performing at the time of the incident," Henao said in a telephone interview. "We are investigating the motive."

With an entrance fee of under 50 U.S. cents, Circo del Sol de Cali attracts mostly poor Colombians. It pitched it tents in Cucuta, near the border with Venezuela, earlier this month.

"The clowns came out to give their show and then this guy came out shooting them," one audience member told local television. "It was terrible."

Does that sound like the opening scene to a James Bond movie or what? Who were those clowns? Intelligence officers? Narcs? Members of a rival cartel? There’s something incredibly sick, but, in an awful way, funny, about shooting clowns. I wonder if the show went on.


On 4/30/07 I posted on chimeras, mostly imaginary, comprised of parts of more than one animal. I don’t know why, but something about chimeras and hybrids fascinates me (and no, I don’t drive a hybrid). The namesake chimera itself was part lion, part goat and part snake. Here’s another animal which is seemingly a mythological chimera.

Madagascar is an immense California sized (and sort of California shaped too) island off the southeast coast of Africa. It is a nation now and like many African countries desperately trying to support its population amongst enormous odds and political callousness.

It is also possibly the most bio-diverse place on earth. Or, maybe it used to be. Geographically diverse as well, including mountains, deserts, forests and so on, it was once covered in a tropical jungle. There lived tens of thousand of unique animals, many long gone now.

The most famous of these is the lemur, suspected by some scientists of sharing a common ancestor with man. They are adorable, unique, magnificent creatures, but they are not our story. Their nemesis is.

Deep in the jungle, high in the mountains, in the plains and the river valleys, in fact in the small part of Madagascar which is still wilderness lives a ferocious beast, so small it can be easily carried by a woman or child and so agile it can leap about in trees like a squirrel. The males grow up to six feet long from their nose to the tip of their tail, has long sharp claws and most closely resembles a mountain lion with a long fluffy tail held high like a lemur.

It is Madagascar’s version of the bogey-man, keeping the for Madagascarian kiddies up at night. It is the fiercest animal on the island (yes, I know, not including man – that’s so trite though I cringe as I write it) in a land where there are almost no other non-human predators. It strikes me strange that Madagascar has no poisonous snakes and where I live in Virginia is home to at least 3 poisonous ones, not too mention much larger predators.

Despite its fierce reputation, it appears to completely untrue that this creature is a man or cattle killer. But, it can tear a lemur, a chicken or other small animal to shreds in a matter of seconds. It is just too small for larger creatures, although it could do considerable damage, and certainly kill an infant easily. Some scientists reckon it is, pound for pound, the most ferocious mammal in the world, although, off the top of my head, that is a reputation shared with wolverines, badgers and Tasmanian devils.

For a long time it was presumed to be a cat. It even has retractable claws which they sharpen on trees like a cat and a barbed penis like felines. Yet, it is not related to a mountain lion or, for that matter, a lemur, or a giant squirrel. Its closest relative appears, despites its looks and size, to be a mongoose, which is certainly a lightning quick and ferocious animal itself.

Its name is a fossa, pronounced with a long “o,”. It recently reached the western world in animation, featured as the dreaded “foosa” in the Disney movie, Madagascar. They are quite rare in captivity. In fact, they are exhibited in only a few North American zoos, and those fossas are all related. San Diego, the Bronx and San Antonio have them, among a few others.

In spite of their unusual skills, they sometimes have another bizarre quality, although not entirely unheard of in the animal kingdom; the females sometimes have genitals which mimic the males. Hey, it’s the 21st century; there are transexuals everywhere.

Like many animals in Madagascar, they are endangered. Probably less than 3,000 exist in the wild. Efforts to tag them are slow. They are hard to catch and often rip off the collars placed on them quickly.

Why do I bring fossas up? Because they are cool, and I like cool stuff.


One of my favorite chimeras is mechanical. It’s an airplane, but it can move around like a helicopter, take off and land vertically, and is just so freakin’ cool that they featured it in the movie True Lies. Actually, Schwarzenegger flew it from keys in Florida all the way to NYC, hundreds of miles further than the plane can go on a tank of gas.

The first time I ever saw a Harrier Jet was when I was a kid at an air show. We watched in awe as the plane lifted up without a runway, and then flew away until it was a dot, and then came rushing back so fast that if you blinked it was on top of you already.

I didn’t understand why they stopped building these super hero like planes that seemed like they would be the ultimate weapon. Finally, I did some research which I can promise you I never would have done if not for the internet. Here’s why they just weren’t as good as they seemed.

For one thing, they were designed with only one engine. It flew and did its vertical landing thingee with the same engine. If that engine ever failed -- splat. It was also really hard to land. Sometimes it would tip forward and smash the cockpit head first. And, since it was dropping down on to its landing gear, they didn’t last too long either.

Worse, since that single jet generated so much power, unlike a helicopter, it could only land on reinforced pads. So, if it couldn’t get to a ship or base ready for it, it would probably destroy whatever it landed on.

For all these reasons, it is the most dangerous military plane – to our own troops, and is known as the widowmaker.

Not to mention, they were just the most ridiculous fuel hogs. One version of the plane burns half its fuel in the first three seconds during lift off. There's a story that when they finally got around to sending one on a mission in Iraq, and it had to fly it further than they initially thought, they had to send it without even the one bomb it could carry on the lesser long journey it was going to make, or it wouldn’t have made it home. Don't know if it's true. Actually, during that war the Harriers were extremely active, making 3,380 sorties.

So, you won’t be surprised, they moved on to other stuff. Doesn't matter. It was still a really cool plane.

And, that's a wrap.


  1. Anonymous6:42 AM

    The Harrier is a cool plane. Probably one of the few advanced weapons the US borrowed from the UK. However, its replacement, the F-35 is pretty cool too. In actuality, both planes are used mostly as STVOL (short takeoff and vertical landing) and not TVOL (takeoff and vertical landing) to conserve fuel.


  2. It's about time those freakin' clowns got what was coming to 'em! They've been scaring little kids for what, OVER a hundred years, and finally, finally, someone put a stop to it. Shudda'been done long ago.... two thumbs up for the hit-man! Bul-yah!

  3. Thanks for your comments.

    The F-35 seems like an awesome plane from the little I've read about it. Look forward to it intimidating our enemies.

    I can see from Bear's comment I wasn't the only little kid having nightmares about those frightening things.

  4. Anonymous4:00 PM

    I'm pretty sure Madagascar is also the home a pretty large group of Chupucacbras..some pretty tough goat suckers..

  5. You know, I'm not even going there.

  6. Anonymous4:44 PM

    You disappoint me. I expect more from a man of your knowlege and experience.

  7. Oh, chupucabras. Why didn't you say so? Never heard of them before I saw a description of a cable show on them a few minutes ago. Suck the blood from livestock, eh? Well, that might describe a fossa, but, they tend to tear there prey to shreds rather than go L'estat on them.


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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .