Friday, October 26, 2007

Achtung! Waschbaeren!


Previously on this blog, I have referred to Alfred Crosby's concept of the Columbian Exchange - the exchange of plants, animals, microorganisms, and humans between the Old World and the New that accompanied and followed Columbus's voyages. As Crosby observed, the transfer of species was almost entirely one-way: Eurasia and Africa contributed far more people, pathogens, and animals to the Americas than the reverse. The only American species to flourish in the Old World were domestic crop plants - maize, potatoes, and cassava in particular - one disease organism, treponema (which causes syphilis), and a few small animals, such as gray squirrels.

To the last group, we may now add one of the most distinctive small American mammals, the raccoon. Introduced to Germany during World War Two, procyon lotor is now flourishing in that nation's woods and cities. This article, while a bit old, tells the story - and features the best headline I've seen since I started this weblog. This article, from May 2007, observes that many Germans have adopted raccoons, or "wash-bears," as pets (one 80-year-old woman had 50 of them in her home), and that they have now spread into France and Belgium and as far east as Chechnya. It now seems only a matter of time before the Nazi raccoon invasion of Britain begins.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

October 4, 1957


"One day in 1957 everybody in the United States was minding his or her own business when suddenly the Russians launched a grapefruit-sized object called Sputnik (lierally, "Little Sput") into Earth orbit, from which it began transmitting back the following potentially vital intelligence information (and we quote): "Beep." This came as a severe shock to Americans, because at that point the best our space scientists had been able to come up with was a walnut-sized object that went: "Moo."
(Dave Barry Slept Here, pp. 139-140 [1989 edition].)