Daily Archives: 21 March 2005

Danny Yee’s Wombats

Danny Yee reviews The Wombat: Common Wombats in Australia, by Barbara Triggs (UNSW Press, 1996).

Anyone who has spent much time in the bush in south-eastern Australia will have encountered the signs of the common wombat Vombatus ursinus: the entrances to their burrows are obvious and their cubical scats are the most distinctive of any Australian mammal. Being nocturnal, however, wombats are rarely seen — most commonly crossing roads at night, or as road-kill — and have not been as well studied as Australia’s other iconic mammals. In The Wombat Barbara Triggs gives an entertaining and informative presentation of what is known about them.

She begins with an overview of wombat evolution and taxonomy and distribution. There are two rarer species of hairy-nosed wombats, found in Queensland and South Australia, as well as the common wombat covered here, which is found in south-eastern Australia and Tasmania. Other related species are now extinct; the closest living relative of the wombat is the koala….

There are some fascinating and sometimes surprising details in here. One question prompted by scats found high on ridges is how wombats can survive so far from water.

“Grassy creek and river banks are popular feeding areas at all times, but a wombat rarely drinks from the stream or any other free water, except when all the grass has yellowed and lost most of its moisture. … Adult wombats rarely urinate.”

Wombats are, however, efficient swimmers over short distances.

Well, that answers at least three questions I’ve never asked myself.

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China : Taiwan (now) :: U.S. : Canada (then)

Econoblogger Brad DeLong suggests an interesting parallel between manifest destinies on two continents.

A hundred and fifty years ago it was our “manifest destiny” to own the entire North American continent. Today the desire to annex Canada is limited to us left-of-center Democrats desperate to turn the marginal voter from a guy outside of Nashville with a hound dog to a guy in suburban Toronto with a Greenpeace card. May an analogous process take place between China and Taiwan.

via Simon World

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Asashoryu Now 24-0

It’s now just over halfway through the Osaka Grand Sumo Tournament, and Asashoryu has taken sole possession of the lead, but Fukuoka favorite Kaio is just one loss behind.

OSAKA (Kyodo) Yokozuna Asashoryu unleashed his fury on Kokkai to maintain his lead with an unblemished record at the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament on Monday.

Asashoryu had little problem absorbing the burly fourth-ranked maegashira’s charge before slapping him forward onto the ring’s surface to improve to a spotless 9-0 at Osaka Municipal Gymnasium. Kokkai, who hails from the Soviet former republic of Georgia, slipped to 5-4.

Asashoryu, who is the odds-on favorite to win his 11th Emperor’s Cup after taking the New Year’s title with a perfect 15-0 record, improved his winning streak to 24. Ozeki Kaio stayed hot in pursuit of the yokozuna at 8-1.

Last year, the Mongolian grand champion won five of six tournaments and appears to be on another roll in 2005.

UPDATE, Day 13 – Ozeki Tochiazuma ended Asashoryu’s winning streak at 27-0 and postposed the yokozuna’s chance to clinch the Osaka Grand Sumo Tournament for at least one more day. He would have to lose the final two bouts for anyone else to have a chance to tie his record and force a deciding match-up.

UPDATE, Day 14 – Sure enough, Asashoryu won his very next bout to clinch the tournament at 13-1. His next closest competitor was Tamanoshim, at 11-3. His final bout won’t matter–except to start another winning streak. Russian rookie Roho has made a very respectable showing at 10-4, but the Bulgarian Kotooshu was a lousy 3-11 going into the final day, while the Korean Kasugao had a nightmare tournament, managing only one win in 14 days.

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Huge Japanese Submarine Discovered Off Hawai‘i

Sunday’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports on a new undersea discovery in waters off Hawai‘i.

During test dives Thursday, the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory’s Pisces submarines found the remains of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s I-401 submarine, a gigantic underwater aircraft carrier built to bomb the Panama Canal.

“We thought it was rocks at first, it was so huge,” said Pisces pilot Terry Kerby. “But the sides of it kept going up and up and up, three and four stories tall. It’s a leviathan down there, a monster.”

It is not the first World War II-era “monster” that the HURL scientists have found. Last year, off Pearl Harbor, they located the wreck of the gigantic seaplane Marshall Mars, one of the largest aircraft built and used as a transport plane by the U.S. Navy. Two years earlier in the same area, the HURL crew also found the wreckage of a Japanese midget sub that was sunk on Dec. 7, 1941.

The latest HURL discovery is from the I-400 “Sensuikan Toku” class of submarines, the largest built prior to the nuclear ballistic missile submarines of the 1960s. They were 400 feet long and 39.3 feet high, could reach a maximum depth of 330 feet, and carry a crew of 144.

Each carried three fold-up bombers inside a watertight hangar, plus parts to construct a fourth airplane. The bombers, called Seiran or “Mountain Haze,” [but see note below] could be made ready to fly in a few minutes and had wing floats for return landings. Fully loaded with fuel, the submarines could sail 37,000 miles, one and a half times around the world. Three were captured at the end of the war, as well as a slightly smaller test design called the I-14.

Their first mission was called “Operation PX,” a plan to use the aircraft to drop infected rats and insects with bubonic plague, cholera, dengue fever, typhus and other diseases on American West Coast cities. When the bacteriological bombs could not be prepared in time, the target was changed to the Panama Canal.

I-400 and I-401 were captured at sea a week after the Japanese surrendered in 1945. The commander committed suicide and the huge submarines’ mission was never completed.

For much, much more on the sub’s mission, see this site.

NOTE: The Combined Fleet website consistently translates Seiran (晴嵐) as ‘Mountain Haze’, ignoring the meaning (‘clear, not cloudy’) of the first character, but staying truer to the usual Chinese meaning of the second character. However, the Smithsonian’s National Aerospace Museum’s website translates it as ‘Clear Sky Storm‘, which captures the most common Japanese senses of both characters (hare ‘clear skies’ and arashi ‘storm’) and strikes me as a more natural name for a surprise attack submarine-carried bomber, perhaps implying something like ‘Bolt from the Blue’.

The Funatsu Aviation Instrument Museum’s website gives a guide to the naming conventions of Japanese naval warplanes. Fighters were named after strong weather (-fuu/-puu ‘-wind’, -rai ‘-thunder’); (high-altitude) bombers after constellations (-sei ‘-star’); reconnaissance planes after clouds (-un); attack (dive?) bombers after mountains (-san/-zan); patrol planes after seas (-kai); transports after skies (-kuu); trainers after plants (-giku ‘chrysanthemum’, -gusa ‘grass’), and others after scenery. This is helpful except that Seiran appears under the Other category in one listing, and under the Attack Bomber category elsewhere.

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