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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Britain's most dreaded literary prize

I had never heard of it until The Guardian published the news this morning.

But Britain has a prize for the most awful sex scene in a novel.

Describing itself as “Britain’s most dreaded literary prize”, the Literary Review’s Bad sex in fiction award has unveiled this year’s shortlist, which ranges from Elizabeth Gilbert, the bestselling author of Eat Pray Love, to the acclaimed French novelist Didier Decoin.
Dreamed up in 1993 by the Literary Review’s the editor Auberon Waugh and critic Rhoda Koenig, the award is for “the year’s most outstandingly awful scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel”. It is intended to draw attention to “the poorly written, redundant, or downright cringeworthy passages of sexual description in modern fiction”.

And here are the passages chosen for their sheer awfulness (parental guidance recommended).

The River Capture by Mary Costello
He clung to her, crying, and then made love to her and went far inside her and she begged him to go deeper and, no longer afraid of injuring her, he went deep in mind and body, among crowded organ cavities, past the contours of her lungs and liver, and, shimmying past her heart, he felt her perfection.
The Office of Gardens and Ponds by Didier Decoin
The earthy taste surprised her. When he was alive, when it swelled inside Miyuki’s mouth, Katsuro’s penis had tasted of raw fish, of warm young bamboo shoots, and of fresh almonds when she finally released its juices. Now it was insipid and muddy to her tongue, like the pools of the temples of Heian Kyō when the Office of Gardens and Ponds had them drained for cleaning.
Miyuki had loved this man. Not that he was a very good lover – but what did she know, after all, since she had experienced no one but him? He used to upset her by the way he silently loomed up behind her and took her by the shoulders, his nails scratching her flesh, his strong breath enveloping her neck, a smell of ripe fruit and poorly tanned leather, his knee pushing against her lower back to open her tunic and expose a portion of naked flesh against which he would then rub his organ as if he were furtively making omelette rolls. He did not derive his pleasure without her, but in front of her, and differently.
Pax by John Harvey
She gave a yet deeper, moaning sigh. Like breathing in he saw the word he had said shiver and expand inside her. Her arms moved now, and flexed: out of here, Venus de Milo. He watched the death-life fill her growingly. She grabbed and caressed him with more muscle, more zest, than ever before. Her long lean arms were spider arms, while her kisses roved and dug.
‘I see it,’ he said. ‘You are the female praying mantis, devouring her mate.’
‘I am. You are. I shall eat every shred of you.’
‘Mouthful by mouthful.’
‘Exactly. Ah. But boy, you taste good.’ She licked her lips, and pulled him close, but now he was clasping too. It was a kind of slow wrestling, they were knitting each other into a loose slipping knot. He was upside down over her, loving her bush and lick-kissing like eating her inner thighs. Till at last they loved fully and later lay back. She did not chatter. Their arms stirred in a luxurious desultory twining.
The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith
The actual lovemaking was a series of cryptic clues and concealed pleasures. A sensual treasure hunt. She asked for something, then changed her mind. He made adjustments and calibrations, awaited further instruction.
For most of the proceedings he felt his own desire as if it were tethered to a wire, a bright red balloon floating in his peripheral vision, but eventually he burst through. It was toward the end, as their breathing quickened. Her stage directions had stalled out into silence. He looked to his right and noticed the scene in the smoky lens of the mirror above the bureau, saw his own body move with the steady rhythm of a bellows blowing air at the base of a fire. It brought back the early experiments at the photographic society in Paris, the wiring of a bird’s feet to a cameragun, the mounting tension and uplift before a surge of exasperated flight. His own face looking back in the mirror – open-mouthed, flushed, euphoric – was a wild, strange thing to him. A beguiled stranger he’d never met, held in place by an infinite loop. Then his eyes locked on Sabine’s in the mirror and he could see that she was pleased with her staging, with her hair fanning across the pillow, with the way her ankles locked about his calves so that her long white feet formed a perfect V. And it was the act of looking back at the filmstrip juddering above the bureau that sent her into a final boisterous delirium. She bit his shoulder, then whispered into the mirror, Nous voilà, catching her breath, There we are.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

There was a sensation occurring here that I didn’t even know could occur. I took the sharpest inhale of my life, and I’m not sure I let my breath out for another 10 minutes. I do feel that I lost the ability to see and hear for a while, and that something might have short-circuited in my brain – something that has probably never been fully fixed since. My whole being was astonished. I could hear myself making noises like an animal, and my legs were shaking uncontrollably (not that I was trying to control them), and my hands were gripping down so hard over my face that I left fingernail divots in my own skull.
Then it became more.
And after that, it became even more still.
Then I screamed as though I were being run over by a train, and that long arm of his was reaching up again to palm my mouth, and I bit into his hand the way a wounded soldier bites on a bullet.
And then it was the most, and I more or less died.
Oh dear, oh dear.  I wonder what they were drinking when they wrote it.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Trump's White Whale

Maureen Dowd uses the image from Melville's Moby-Dick so neatly (and it also contains such neat new words), that I cannot resist blogging it.

Donald Trump is a rodomont. Not to mention a grobian. And, of course, a Sinon suffering from proditomania.
With Trump firmly lodged in our heads, it is understandable if we have all become a little conspiracy-minded.
Case in point: A few weeks ago, someone signed me up for A.Word.A.Day email from Soon I began to detect a pattern.
Friday’s word was vulgarian, following close after bareknuckle. Others included rodomont (a vain boaster), grobian (a buffoonish person) and Sinon (one who misleads and betrays). Also chirocracy (a government that rules with a heavy hand) and froward (difficult to deal with or contrary).

Sound like anyone you know?
Since this is a town of fevered conspiracists now, theories abound about why the president went to Walter Reed military hospital last Saturday. But nobody here buys that it was a spontaneous desire to do Phase 1 of a physical.
As Trump himself said Friday about it, “A lot of things are a matter with me.” But we do know the name of one severe malady the president has: proditomania. A.Word.A.Day defined it as the feeling or belief that everyone is out to get you.
Trump believes that paranoia can be useful. He sees the world as vicious and life as a battle for survival.
As we draw closer to Trump getting a lump of coal in his Christmas stocking, with Nancy Pelosi implacably heading toward a holiday impeachment, his proditomania is revving up.
Even Steve Doocy looked a little bemused during Trump’s shambolic 54-minute call into “Fox & Friends” on Friday.

No matter how many experts — including the gloriously bracing Fiona Hill — explain that it is Russia that interfered with our elections and that Russia has been scheming to deflect blame to Ukraine, Trump keeps rambling about that D.N.C. server.
“The F.B.I. went in, and they told them, ‘Get out of here, we’re not giving it to you,’” he said on Fox. “They gave the server to CrowdStrike, or whatever it is called, which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian. I still want to see that server.”
Trying to justify why he had ousted and smeared the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, he claimed that she was “an Obama person” who had refused to hang his picture in the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. (A lawyer for Yovanovitch said the portrait had been hung immediately.)
“This was not an angel, this woman, O.K.?” Trump sneered, adding that when he complained that the dignified and well-respected former ambassador was being treated too gently, he was told: “Well, sir, she’s a woman. We have to be nice.”
It was peak Trump pique.
After climbing up in politics by putting down Barack Obama as an illegitimate president, Trump is so terrified of being seen as an illegitimate president that he acts out in ways that cause more people to see him as an illegitimate president.
His presidency began with him obsessing on his inauguration crowd size and carrying around his 2016 electoral map.
He can’t get past it and it’s intensifying, playing out on the world stage with national security implications. It’s debilitating to his presidency, and the rest of us are hostages to his insecurities.

As Hill succinctly noted about the inability in the Trump era to separate fictional narratives from objective realities: “Our nation is being torn apart. Truth is questioned.”
Vladimir Putin hit the jackpot with Trump. He makes a perfect sucker for the former K.G.B. spy.
“Thank God nobody is accusing us anymore of interfering in the U.S. elections,” Putin gloated Wednesday at an economic forum in Moscow. “Now they’re accusing Ukraine.”
The president seems like even more of a crackpot, given the New York Times story on Friday revealing that, even as Republican lawmakers vociferously defended the president, they received a briefing “that Russia had engaged in a yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election.”
Julian E. Barnes and Matthew Rosenberg reported that the Kremlin succeeded in spreading discord among its adversaries and sluicing false claims about Ukrainian meddling into Republican talking points. A lot of Republicans have dirtied themselves defending Trump, and their party will not easily recover from perverting its values.
Trump is blustering about impeachment and wanting a Senate trial and calling Pelosi — who has his presidency in a vise grip — “totally incompetent” and “crazy as a bedbug.”
But those who know him believe that he’s genuinely unnerved and even hurt at the prospect of impeachment.
One of his tweets Thursday, as he headed toward being the third president to be impeached, seemed to reflect a rare hint of vulnerability. “I never in my wildest dreams thought my name would in any way be associated with the ugly word, Impeachment!” he wrote.

It recalls a prescient moment from September when the president’s former homeland security adviser, Thomas Bossert, appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and warned that Trump had to let go of his conspiracy theory linking CrowdStrike, Ukraine and the D.N.C. server.
“If he continues to focus on that white whale,” Bossert said, “it’s going to bring him down.”
But, like Ahab, Trump can’t ever let go. He’s hellbent on harpooning himself, chasing that which will sink him.
Seppuku. My word of the day.
Seppuku, a Japanese word of deep meaning, refers to ritual suicide.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

MSC cruise line to become carbon-neutral

Well, I am sure I don't quite understand this buying and selling of carbon credits, but it seems, according to a story published in, that MSC is heading in the right direction.

MSC Cruises will be the first major cruise company to become carbon neutral.
Starting on January 1, 2020, MSC Cruises will buy enough credits from companies that absorb carbon dioxide to offset all of the carbon emissions from its 17 ships throughout the year, the company announced Friday. That amounts to 2.2 million tonnes. The credits will only cover activities at sea.
Executive Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago said the announcement is 10 years in the making. The company is still figuring out in which projects it will invest, but plans to prioritise "blue credits", which finance projects in coastal communities.
"It's not just a question of buying credits, but we also want to make it more tangible," Vago said. "The blue credit is a way where we want to invest through the MSC Foundation to create farming in the sea through kelp and algae, which have proven to be one of the best CO2 absorbents today."
Geneva-based MSC Cruises is the world's fourth-largest cruise company; its US headquarters are located in South Florida. MSC plans to build a new US$300 million cruise terminal and headquarter office at PortMiami, with completion by 2022.
The company's decision to pay to offset its environmental impact comes as the industry is trying to reduce its overall emissions. Cruise companies are working to make ships more energy-efficient by redesigning hulls to prevent friction, installing LED lighting and fitting ships with shore power - the capability to plug into local electrical grids while at port and eliminate emissions.
Every MSC ship launched since 2017 has shore power, including two that are currently based in Miami. But, Miami-Dade county's PortMiami does not allow for shore power, meaning the zero-emission technology is wasted as those ships idle their engines next to downtown.
As the industry continues to experiment with the goal of zero-emission cruising, carbon offsets present an opportunity to mitigate the damage in the meantime. They can be a bridge between now, say experts, when nearly all cruise ships rely on a technological workaround to continue using one of the world's dirtiest fuels despite stricter pollution standards, and a future where all transportation is emissions-free.
"We understand the intention is to have a zero-emission society, zero emission maritime industry," Vago said. "We also understand the technology that is available doesn't allow us to commit to totally zero-CO2 performance."
MSC's competitors, Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, have dabbled in carbon offsets, but none of the others have achieved carbon neutrality.
Offsets allow a company to pay a certain amount to even out the amount of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide it emits into the air. Companies like oil-and-gas giant Shell pay to plant trees, which store carbon, to make up for some of its production of global warming-inducing fossil fuels.
Carbon offsets also fund renewable energy plants that displace fossil fuel energy on the grid, like the wind farm Royal Caribbean plans to use to offset up to 12 per cent of its emissions - or 525,000 metric tonnes - beginning in April 2020.
Offsets have become popular across a number of industries. A 2016 report from Forest Trends' Ecosystem Marketplace tracked nearly 250 companies buying offsets, including Delta Air Lines, JPMorgan & Chase and Exxon Mobil.
"They see the real need. A lot of these oil-and-gas and energy companies, they can't just shut off the valve tomorrow," said Stephen Donofrio, director of the Ecosystem Marketplace and founder of Greenpoint Innovations. "What can we do in the meantime while technology and our economics kind of catch up to where our economy is today?"


Some environmentalists criticise offsets as "greenwashing" by companies, a way to say the organisation is doing something about climate change while not changing the parts of the core business model that warm the world. The criticism hits hardest in the transportation sector, which makes up the biggest slice of all carbon emissions worldwide.
The cruise industry in particular has been the target of pushback from environmentalists who say the industry's carbon footprint is less excusable than the shipping industry because it's non-essential. Vago called concerns "fake news".
"A lot of people in this part of the world in Europe have been saying cruise ships are not environmentally friendly. That's the fake news I'm referring to," he said.
The type of credits MSC purchases will determine whether the impact is real.
Research shows that offset programmes often have a poor track record of living up to their hype. A 2017 investigation from a UK-based environmental group found one such programme continued to take money from firms like Virgin Atlantic to protect forestland that was instead developed and sold off.
"It's really completely dependent on what they do," said Timothy Searchinger, a Princeton University research scholar. "They should recognise that offsets have generally been mostly not real. But there have been chances to do better."
MSC's other commitments to lower its carbon footprint include building five new ships that run on liquid natural gas, a cleaner fuel than most ships use currently. But it comes with risks: if leaked into the atmosphere, LNG is much more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.
Smaller cruise companies have been able to make more substantial advancements toward zero-emission cruising than the big players. Expedition cruise company Lindblad, based in Zurich, began offsetting this year the 50,000 metric tonnes of carbon emitted by its 13 ships, all land excursions, employee travel and offices in New York and Seattle, Travel Weekly reported. Norwegian cruise company Hurtigruten launched the first hybrid-electric powered ship this year. Notably, Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam told Travel Weekly, the company will not join Cruise Lines International Association, the industry's lobbying arm, saying the group is not doing enough to address climate change.
CLIA announced this year that the industry plans to cut the rate of global emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, which means each ship gets more efficient, even as the cruise lines continue to increase their total carbon footprint by adding new ships to the fleet.
Cruise ships are expected to draw 30 million cruisers this year on 365 ships, up from 23 million cruisers on 308 ships in 2015, according to CLIA. More than 40 new cruise ships are expected to launch in the next four years.
- Miami Herald

Having watched a fascinating program about the MSC ship Meraviglia last night, in the very good series "Mighty Ships," I cannot help but fear for the future of the cruise ports that have to face the descent of huge crowds, let alone the power demands of those ships that are fitted to take shore power

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Moby-Dick and the sinking of the Essex


On a clear, bright morning in November 1820, a giant bull whale rammed and sank the 238-ton American ship Essex, stranding the 20-man crew in a remote tract of the equatorial Pacific, 2250 kilometres (1400 miles) from the nearest land.

This kind of disaster, while certainly unusual, was not unknown.  Alexander Starbuck, the great 19th-century chronicler of American whaling, itemised six instances of vessels being sunk by whales.  Three factors lifted the Essex disaster out of the common run of such incidents, however.

First, the whale’s attack was a deliberate act of revenge for the harpooning of three members of his pod.  “He came directly from the shoal which we had just before entered — and in which we had struck three of his companions,” wrote the first mate, Owen Chase, “as if he were fixed with revenge for their sufferings.”

Second, five survivors of the appalling three-month whaleboat voyage that followed kept themselves alive by eating the bodies of dead companions — one of whom was shot after lots had been drawn to determine who would be sacrificed to feed the rest.

Third, the Essex incident provided much of the inspiration for the dramatic ending of Herman Melville’s epic novel, Moby-Dick.

It was not just the ending that gave the novel its resonance with the reading public, however.  The descriptions, incidents, and characters that populate the book were inspired by Melville’s own experiences on the whaleship Acushnet, and the tales he heard from whalemen on other ships and in shoreside taverns.  And it was through this that he achieved something remarkable. 

Up until 1851, when Moby-Dick was published, the  whaling business had been largely ignored by the American public. If they knew anything about it at all, they regarded it as dirty but necessary work, and that the people involved in it were equivalent to common laborers (unless, of course, you were in Nantucket or New Bedford, where money, oil, and religion were the three tenets of the town).

Melville’s novel changed all that, because he made people aware of the sheer scope of the whaling venture — the immensity of the oceans traversed, the long months of waiting for prey, the frictions of life on board the small, cramped vessel, the brute strength, stamina and courage required to harpoon and kill great whales, and the grinding hard work and stench of turning those whales into oil for lamps and machinery, and elastic bone for buggy whips and corset stays.

Up until then, it would be fair to say that whaling had been glamorized, with its promise of adventure and tropical isles.  Melville, instead, told the truth — that whaling in the days of sail was a grim and primitive struggle, which tested men to the limit.  He did not have to describe the small-boat ordeal of the survivors of the sinking of his fictional Pequod, because he had already made his point.

Illustrations by Ron Druett

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

What is Moby-Dick worth today?

Though Melville didn't give precise dimensions, Moby-Dick was definitely a very large whale.  While sperm whales measuring over 100 feet (30 meters) have not been recorded these days, back in 1841, when Melville crewed on the Acushnet, "100-barrel" whales were common. 

The whaleman's barrel was a rather vague figure, but it was generally reckoned that one foot of whale equaled one barrel, so a 100-barrel whale was one hundred feet long, give or take a few inches or more.  So that means that Moby-Dick was the same length as the fictional Pequod, whaleships being generally one hundred feet long, give or take another few inches.

So, if Moby-Dick was ever killed and then flensed of its thick coat of blubber, and that blubber turned into oil, the oil would fill one hundred barrels, again with some give and take, barrels not being all the same size and shape aboard ship.  How many gallons were in one barrel was another fairly vague figure, but experts tend to agree that it was thirty-three.  So Moby-Dick would have boiled out 3300 gallons.  And, on the New York market at the time, good spermaceti oil fetched $1.77 a gallon.

So Moby-Dick was worth $5,841.00 in the currency of the time.  Today's equivalent is $204,601.54 in good hard modern cash.

No small sum.  Today, however, it is claimed that Moby-Dick would be worth much, much more, as a carbon sink.  About three million dollars, in fact, according to a fascinating article posted in

A great whale is worth US$2 million (NZ$3.1 million).
The size of that number so terrified Ralph Chami, the economist who appraised the whales, that he sought refuge in a church for the first time in 30 years. Inside St. Matthew's Cathedral here, a few blocks from Chami's office at the International Monetary Fund, the economist said he had "a conversation with the Maker. I said: 'If you aim to humiliate me, there are other ways of doing it.' "
Chami had, after all, veered outside his lane to make a first-of-its-kind claim. He studies macroeconomic policies in developing countries, not ecology. After deleting his whale calculations three times, and three times arriving at the same answer, Chami enlisted an IMF researcher, Sena Oztosun, as well as two outside economists, Thomas Cosimano and Connel Fullenkamp. They consulted whale scientists and research papers. The world population of whales is worth more than US$1 trillion, the researchers concluded in a recent report, due to whale tourism, the nutrients whales disperse and the carbon captured by their massive bodies.
"They didn't get cute with the problem. They made the perfectly sensible suggestion that, as a store of carbon, whales ought to be valued when alive on the basis of their carbon content," said Partha Dasgupta, an environmental economist at the University of Cambridge who was not involved with this work. Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is a greenhouse gas, but carbon stored in a whale body does not contribute to climate change.
"It's really exciting and a really creative approach," said Andrew Pershing, a climate change ecologist at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Pershing and his colleagues calculated, in a 2010 study, that the restoration of great whale populations to preindustrial levels would be equivalent, in tons of carbon captured, to the growth of a forest the size of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Climate change separates wildlife into survivors, including vines that thrive when carbon dioxide levels rise, and victims, such as bird species that are threatened by habitat loss and other disruptions. A few species are emitters, such as methane-belching cattle. Great whales occupy another category: sequesterers. An average great whale, a hypothetical animal that blends the characteristics of large baleen whales and sperm whales, traps 33 tons of carbon dioxide in its body, Chami said. A car releases about 4.6 tons of carbon dioxide a year.
"These animals are really good at pulling carbon out of the environment and storing that in tissues, in blubber," Pershing said. Demand for carbon-dense whale oil helped fuel the commercial whaling industry. During its height, between 1900 and 1999, 2.9 million whales were killed.
Three years ago, Chami, who counts naturalist David Attenborough as a childhood hero, travelled to Mexico's Sea of Cortez to volunteer with an organisation called Great Whale Conservancy. At night, after spending days at sea on a research boat following blue whales, the conservationists introduced Chami to the marvels of whale ecology.
"Some people call the baleen whales the first farmers on Earth," said Michael Fishbach, the Great Whale Conservancy's executive director. Whale excrement is so rich in iron and nitrogen that whale bowel movements trigger blooms of microscopic phytoplankton. Krill eat the plankton, whales eat the krill, the whales poop, the phytoplankton bloom and the cycle continues.
Long-distance transfers are key. "What's really special about whales is they live a life on this grand, global scale," Pershing said. If a whale feeds in the same place where it digests and excretes, the ecologist said, "it's not really adding to the system." But whales are mixers. They shift nutrients up the water column, a process called the whale pump. They shuttle across latitudes, from their feeding zones at the poles toward the equator, where whales give birth. (Even their placentas stimulate local ecosystems.)
And when whales die, they sink.
Most whale carcasses drop to the sea bed because whales with emptied lungs are slightly negatively buoyant. That process, known as a whale fall, delivers carbon to the ocean depths.
An ecosystem blossoms from the whale's flesh and bones. "By dying, they're creating something new - a new kind of life," said Craig Smith, a University of Hawaii marine biologist and whale fall expert.
Obscured by the deep ocean, whale falls are rarely spotted by humans. Scientists have observed only about 75 of them, Smith said, including experimental whale falls (in which beached whales are towed to sea, weighted and sunk). The Navy found eight in the 1990s while searching for a lost missile off the California coast.
Smith and his colleagues predict whale falls are actually abundant, considering whale mortality rates and the persistence of whale remains. Bones, jutting from an otherwise flat ocean bottom, can serve as habitats for decades. "There are clearly hundreds of thousands of whale fall ecosystems on the bottom of the ocean," Smith said.
On October 16, marine biologists aboard the research vessel Nautilus discovered a whale fall. "There was a lot of screaming, and loud voices exclaiming 'Whale fall!' and gasps," said the cruise's lead scientist, Chad King, a research coordinator at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The vessel's underwater robot located the whale, which came to rest on the underwater slope of an extinct volcano named the Davidson Seamount. It was a baleen whale, which had died a few months ago, about 18 feet (5.4m) long.
The whale left a fatty halo in the sediment. A bed of worms and bacteria surrounded the body. Fish, squat lobsters and other scavengers picked at the carcass. Red bone worms bored into the whale's ribs. Octopuses, perhaps hunting snails and crabs, mobbed the scene. When the Nautilus crew hoisted the robot out of the water, its casing was slick with whale oil, King said.
"At last count, there were at least 100 species that we find in great abundance on whale falls and don't find anywhere else," Smith said. Worms named Osedax mucofloris, which roughly means "bone-eating snot-flower", were discovered on the body of a experimentally sunk minke whale in 2004. The worms are such specialised scavengers, they don't have stomachs; instead, they leach fat and protein from whale bones via acid secretions and digestive bacteria.
The carbon and its consumers will remain at the seabed for years to come. Whale falls in the Southern Hemisphere could trap 70,000 tons of carbon annually, according to Pershing's 2010 study, if whale populations returned to historical size.
In exchange for data on whales and carbon, Chami and his economist colleagues have provided scientists with a weapons-grade talking point. Dollar values persuade policymakers in ways that appeals to biodiversity cannot, Chami said.
The valuation of whales was a conservative minimum, the authors of the report emphasised. "The results we have now are based more or less on a composite whale. We're looking to break this down by species," said Fullenkamp, an economist at Duke University.
"Even if they got the details not quite right, their estimate seems right as a ballpark figure," Dasgupta said. Notably, a living whale is valued "far higher than the market price of whales when dead".
The price of a whale as a public good will also rise with the price of carbon. IMF recently proposed taxing carbon at US$75 per ton. At that value, a whale jumps to US$5 million or US$6 million, Chami said.
The reception to this approach has been so positive that conservationists asked him to calculate the value of wild elephants and British salt marshes. Earlier this year, Chami received a letter. The whale appraisal "is a potent and valuable revelation", the note read. "I shall most certainly quote it whenever it seems appropriate." It was signed by Attenborough.
Originally published in the Washington Post. Illustrations by Ron Druett

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

"Unknown" Captain Cook portrait snares record price


rare portrait of Captain James Cook has sold at auction for $227,621.
Christie's, the famed London auction house, had estimated it would fetch between £100,00 and £150,000 (NZ$200,000-$300,000).
The price includes the 25 per cent buyer's premium, meaning the £112,500 price was lower than hoped.
Christie's asserted the oil painting was by John Webber, the official expedition artist on Cook's third and final Pacific voyage. It's thought he finished the portrait in London after the voyage was over and Cook was dead.
But he knew Cook "intimately", according to Christie's, and the portrait may depict the true man compared to Cook merchandise painted later.
The painting was owned by wealthy California collector Richard Kelton. The identity of the new owner was not disclosed.
The portrait was unknown until Christie's sold it in 1998.
At the time, the auctioneer didn't think it was by Webber but experts detected his "hand" in Cook's face.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Storm shifts boat stranded at Niagara Falls for more than a century

She was just a humble coal-carrying scow.  Then she became part of a world-famous natural venue.  She was stuck at Niagara Falls.  But still, she was pretty well forgotten.  Until Halloween, 2019.

From USA Today, as reported by

A boat that has been grounded in shallow rapids near Niagara Falls since 1918 became dislodged on Halloween night and moved downriver about 50 metres.
The development was reported by Niagara Parks, an agency of the government of Ontario, Canada, in a video posted to social media on Friday. At the time, the boat was again grounded in a new location.

The agency says the boat, an iron dumping scow, became stuck after an incident on August 6, 1918, where the barge broke loose from a tugboat.
Two men were rescued in a joint effort between the US Coast Guard and local authorities. The men opened dumping doors in the bottom of the barge in a successful attempt to slow the boat from being carried away by the current, the agency says.
Since then, the boat has been remained about one-third of a mile from the edge of the Horseshoe Falls and about one-tenth of a mile from Canadian shores, according to the agency.
That is, until the night of Halloween, 2019.
Overnight severe weather and heavy currents resulted in the boat being "turned and twisted," according to Jim Hill, Senior Manager of Heritage for Niagara Parks Commission. He said the boat had also flipped on its side.
"We think it's about 50 metres downriver from its original location," he said.
The boat had been deteriorating badly, he said. The commission extensively documented it last year to mark the 100th anniversary of the rescue and grounding of the scow.
As for how long the boat will remain in its new location: "It's anyone's guess," Hill said.