Monday, April 24, 2023

 Longevity Stats 

    My maternal grandfather lived to 103 and my father lived to 98. Both were healthy throughout their lives. I’m hoping I’ve inherited their durable genes, even though I’ve not lived as common-sensibly as they did.

    The oldest known human was Jeanne Louise Calmet, who made it to 122 with only nineteenth- and early twentieth-century medical care available (1875-1997).

    Other earth’s fauna live lives of widely varying longevity. That last lobster you savored might have been 100, but that’s nothing compared with an Ocean quahog clam, which could be over 500 years old before it’s served up on your plate. If you prefer Mahi-mahi (Common dolphinfish), it cannot have lived more than 4 years when caught and grilled. Pink salmon live only 3 years, while a rougheye rockfish can live 205 years.

    The shortest-lived vertebrate on our planet is the Pygmy goby fish, at eight weeks. Waaaay over at the other end of the longevity spectrum is the Immortal jellyfish, which can reverse its life cycle back to a polyp over and over. The life of a single Hexactinellid sponge can date back an incredible 15,000 years, to a time when the earliest people arrived in North America.

    Here’s a selection of other creatures’ life spans:

          House mouse 4 yrs

          Mountain cottontail rabbit 7.4 yrs

          Red squirrel 9.8 yrs

          Buff-bellied hummingbird 11 yrs

          Guinea pig 12 yrs

          Common quail and Giant armadillo 15 yrs

          Domestic cattle, American crow, and Giant manta ray 20 yrs

          Red fox and Cheetah 21 yrs

          Tiger and Blue jay 26 yrs

          Domestic dog and King penguin 27 yrs

          Domestic cat 30 yrs

          Panda 37 yrs

          Gray heron 38 yrs

          Giraffe and Whooping crane 40 yrs

          Great white shark 50 yrs

          Bottlenose dolphin 52 yrs

          Gorilla 60 yrs

          Chimpanzee 68 yrs

          American alligator 77 yrs

          Asian elephant 80 yrs

          Killer whale 90 yrs

          Blue whale 110 yrs

          Eastern box turtle 138 yrs

          Aldabra tortoise 175 yrs

          Bowhead whale 211 yrs

          Greenland shark 392 yrs

    All the creatures on the above list survive with no medical help whatsoever. No procedures, therapies, dieting, yoga, psychological counselling, gym memberships, supplements, or pills, yet the last five of them far outlive any of us. But, on the other hand or paw or flipper, none of them consume double bacon cheeseburgers or fries or Twinkies or loaded pizzas or alcohol or nicotine or soft drinks. And they get plenty of daily exercise.

    Maybe we’ve a few lessons to learn from them.


Source: National Geographic

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Monday, April 17, 2023

Storm Visitor

     You’re not supposed to begin an account with a worn-out weather cliché, but it was a dark and stormy night some years back as we fought our way south through rough seas well off notorious ship-killing Cape Hatteras. The boat’s owner, Pete, had hired me and another licensed captain, John, to help him move his immaculate 62-foot sailing yacht from Newport to Florida for the winter. We had to travel offshore and take turns standing watches because the 87-foot-tall mast wouldn’t make it under fixed bridges along the protected Intracoastal Waterway. During this night, we heard the owner of a catamaran that was taking on water radio a Mayday to the Coast Guard, but we never learned that boat’s fate.

     Our own situation was deteriorating, and we were all awake trying to sort it out. The bow hatch had sprung a leak, the storm wind had ripped a seam loose on the cockpit overhead canvas dodger, and waves had broken one of the two heavy steel davits suspending the dinghy crossways aft of the stern. We rigged a stout line from a heavy electric sail winch to brace the davit somewhat.

     In the gray pre-dawn light, a small brown songbird fluttered aboard and settled on a cockpit cushion. The wind must have blown it out to sea, and it had obviously exhausted itself trying to fly back to land. By then, we were somewhat worn down ourselves. We fed it some bread and water and soon it perked up enough to fly below and explore the yacht’s layout. Its ordeal had evidently eclipsed any fear of us, and at one point it perched atop John’s ball cap visor for a time, looking ahead through the windshield into the mist.

     South of the Cape, as we drew closer to Beaufort inlet, heading for the town docks where we could make repairs, the wind abated, and sunlight was lancing through the scudding clouds.

     Our small brown visitor spotted the dunes and darted away, leaving us with a nice uplifting memory.


Check out the latest suspense novel, Dawn Light, starring yacht delivery captain Dent Stedman. It’s on Amazon in your choice of print or Kindle.



Monday, April 3, 2023

A Cat’s Interactive Channel

     Naomi and I had never seen our 14-year-old cat, McKenzie, pay the slightest attention to TV, until one recent day when we were watching and listening to various songbirds on YouTube. He loped into the room and not only became riveted by the screen, but also began interacting with it. Even weirder, some of the featured birds seemed to be interacting with him.

     So, it wasn’t that he never could comprehend the TV all those years.

     Evidently, he’d simply scorned our choices of programming.

     I’ll let you know if he figures out how to use the remote now.

     Please share this post with the cats in your world.

McKenzie and a bold jay stare each other down.

Check out Phil’s half-dozen acclaimed suspense novels on Amazon in your choice of print or Kindle. Money back if you don’t love them.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Inventing Words

     The practice goes back, of course, to the earliest global emergence of languages, when cavepersons presumably felt the need to say things like, “pass me that rock,” or “let’s call this bright stuff fire,” or “anybody seen my favorite club?”

     Shakespeare, apparently not satisfied with the several thousand words available to him then, made up lots of new ones, among them: dauntless, lackluster, lonely, swagger, bandit, dwindle, uncomfortable, unreal, and unearthly. He used the un prefix liberally, tacking it onto over 300 words.

     Slang has long forced dictionarians (a real word) to officially add new ones: groovy, rad, shiner, bummer, switchblade, jeepers, ducktail, dork, spaz, nerd.  

     The tech world has recently gifted us hundreds more new words: Google, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, meme, blog, vlog, podcast, bingeable (as in a pop TV series), dumbphone (no frills).

     And how about all those anonymous souls who labor in the depths of the pharmaceutical dungeons inventing slick words for the thousands of drugs that overflow our medicine cabinets?

     There are a handful of words I would prefer to see erased from our language or at least severely usage-restricted by law: awesome, like, and committed top that list. And does anyone know what the devil woke means?

     Between 800 and 1,000 new words get added to the Oxford Dictionary every year. In 2022, these included influencer, ankle-biter, sharenting (parents sharing info about their children on social media), and trequartista (in soccer, a position between midfielders and strikers). In 2023, new words already include: nearlywed (nicer than shacked up), hellscape (Congress?), cakeage (a charge for bringing your own cake to a restaurant party), talmbout (conjunction of talking and about), selfcoup (or autocoup; what Putin did to secure power for life), and petfluencer (a person who gains social media followers by posting vids and photos of pets).

     We’ve advanced considerably from those cavepersons squatting around a fire and trying to come up with something clever to say. The Oxford Dictionary now gives us more than 170,000 English words with which to spellbind readers of fiction and poetry, obfuscate political debating, slant the news, confuse legal documents, sell a billion different items to hapless consumers, and delight Scrabblers.


P.S.  My six novels and short story collection represent about three quarters of a million words that I’ve tried my best over recent years to select and string together in a laborious attempt to engage and move readers. If you’d care to sample a hundred thousand or so for less than you’d pay for a fast-food meal, they’ll all available in print or Kindle on Amazon. You might even discover a few words I’ve made up myself.


Monday, March 6, 2023

Learning English

     Because I like the culture and the music and the people, I’m slowly learning Spanish through a daily Duolingo lesson. Many words are similar to those in English, which helps. Spanish does have a perplexing penchant for genderizing everything, though. Why, for example, is university feminine (la universidad) while skirt is masculine (el falda)?

     This has caused me to wonder how a foreigner must struggle to learn our oft-irrational and confuddling English.

     Many words, for example, are spelled the same but can be pronounced differently with different meanings, like:

     The nurse wound a bandage around the wound.

     A farm produces produce.

     No time like the present to present a present.

     A dove dove into a bush.

     Do you object to the object?

     An invalid’s insurance was invalid.

     If you want to lead, get the lead out.

     You need to wind in the sail in a high wind.

     The soldier decided to desert in the desert.

     The tear in her dress made her shed a tear.

     The bass angler plays a bass drum in a band.

     Unfortunately for the poor frazzled English student, there are many more examples of such craziness.

     Consider that there is no egg in eggplant, or pine in pineapple, or ham in hamburger. A guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor a pig. English muffins weren’t invented in England, nor were French fries in France. We ship by truck but send cargo by ship. Why do a fat chance and a slim chance mean the same darned thing? An alarm goes off by going on. Our noses run but our sneakered feet smell. When the stars come out in the dark, they’re visible, but when a bulb goes out in a dark room, it’s invisible. Why shouldn’t Buick rhyme with quick? Why is the plural of goose geese when the plural of moose is not meese? Sweetmeats are candies but sweetbreads are unsweet meat. Does a hammer ham?

     Few words in English work so hard as the modest little word up:

     We wake up in the morning, wash up, heat up coffee, get dressed up, lock up, go outside to find out if it’s clouding up or clearing up, and show up at work. We speak up at a meeting, finish up some project, look up several files, load up on carbs at lunch, write up a report, use up the day, work up an appetite, go home to warm up leftovers, call up a friend and maybe drink up a nightcap.

     Of course, you have to open up a drain if it gets stopped up.

     Lots of businesses open up in the morning and close up at night.

     People stir up trouble, think up excuses, line up for events, fix up the car, clean up the kitchen, straighten up the living room, get mixed up, get held up, and even sometimes just flat give up.

     Time for me to shut up.


Check out the latest suspense novel, Dawn Light, about a yacht delivery captain, which is up on Amazon in print or Kindle.

Monday, February 27, 2023


The Cost of Climate Change     

     Is climate change real?

     If so, are human activities contributing?

     Well, we know this much is true:

     hundred thousand daily global flights stitch contrails across our fragile atmosphere now, burning so much jet fuel it runs through pipelines to major airports. A million flights every ten days. 

     Two million plus coal-fired power plants belch their waste gasses, double the number that existed in 2000.

     One point two billion gasoline and diesel vehicles add their exhausts to the noxious mix. Electric vehicles are only making an insignificant dent, and even they depend on coal-fired plants for recharging.

     Fifty thousand huge ships ply the global seas daily with their copious diesel exhausts.

     There are thirty-five hundred oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico alone, each constantly flaring off unrefined natural gas. Thousands of other wells and refineries worldwide add their pollutants.

     Seven point eight billion people inhale oxygen and exhale CO2 constantly while ongoing slash-and-burn agriculture eats deeply into our planet’s lungs.

     This is not conjecture. These are not conspiracy theories. Not political rhetoric. They are unarguable facts, unprecedented to such an extent in all human history.

     More and more scientists agree that it’s madness to pretend all this is not affecting our climate, not inexorably warming it. And there are blatant evidences of creeping overall climate change for all of us to see. Cities like Beijing and New Delhi and Los Angeles are choking on their own smog, creating a litany of sad and expensive health problems. Seas are choking on plastics, polluting as they slowly degrade. Summers everywhere are scorching. There are more frequent and more severe storms. Raging wildfires proliferate. Areas of severe drought are spreading. Crops are failing. Glaciers and icecaps are melting. Sea levels are slowly rising.

     Look at any recent year. The thousands who’ve lost their homes and businesses to vast wildfires in California and Australia and elsewhere, or whose homes and businesses recent severe hurricanes and typhoons have stripped away, as in ravaged Florida, will not be paying taxes anytime soon, while governmental relief and mitigation of these events has been costing the diminishing tax base ever more billions of dollars.

     Logically, obviously, we have only two choices:

     We can bear the cost of adequate climate action now, up front and very soon, creating environmental jobs in the process and improving overall human health and safety worldwide.

     Or we can pay heavily for our inaction later.


Monday, February 20, 2023

Balloon Wars

     The UFOs that have lately appeared over Alaska and Canada and been shot down by American fighters have revived those tired old fringe speculations about possible visitation by alien creatures—that whole Area 51-with-its-persistent-aura-of-nefarious-secrecy nonsense.

     Let’s think for a minute about the likelihood of such stuff happening.

     From even a relatively short distance away from our planet, let’s say another one of our solar system’s inner group of planets, Mars, we appear as no more than an insignificant faintly bluish speck, just as Mars is no more than a faintly reddish speck from our point of view. From any cosmic perspective farther away, let’s say from the nearest star outside our system, Proxima Centauri, which is 4.3 light years distant (24 thousand billion miles). From there, our entire solar system is but a tiny white spec among trillions of other specs strewn across the Universe in every direction. This means that any alien species would first have to single out our system from that almost unimaginable multitude of specs as somehow extra special, then would have to travel for 4.3 years at the speed of light, which moves at 186,000 miles per second, to get here. But achieving lightspeed is virtually impossible. At some much more likely fraction of lightspeed, the journey would take at least hundreds of our years. This would constitute a stupendous technical achievement, making such a journey intuitively unlikely. It would be further unlikely to think that such a species would accomplish that journey only to then keep it a tantalizing semi-secret from us. Why?

     It is intuitively likely that there is other life in the Universe in other systems, simply because we see the exact same electromagnetic spectrum and the exact same list of chemical elements everywhere we look, and we see a proliferation of other solar systems and their attendant planets everywhere, as well, many in that zone from their suns that allows liquid water.

     Only our arrogance would make us think there is no other sentient life out there. Such life is even logically prolific, given the possibility statistics.

     But would aliens, who would be clearly vastly superior to us in technology, travel some vast distance here, then hang back, perhaps lurking behind Jupiter, and start floating observation balloons in our skies?

     You think what you want.

     I think not.