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Monday, August 30, 2010

AP: A Mongolian cabinet’s photo op in the scorched Gobi Desert. And not one but two fire tornadoes

AP: A Mongolian cabinet’s photo op in the scorched Gobi. And not one but two fire tornadoes

by Charlie Petit, Knight Science Journalism Tracker, August 30th, 2010

Coming easy off a vacation at the beach. I’m still there, but half time, the morning’s all tracking. Oddities and fragments are catching the eye first. Maybe it’s the grit between my toes talking but I have to comment on the AP’s placement of, on its science feed, a piece from its correspondent in Mongolia, Ganbat Namjilsangarav. The reporter describes the 12-member cabinet of that nation’s ministries sitting down in formal ranks of desks set upon the stark gravel of the Gobi. They all wore hats that say “save our planet.” There is, for all that, not much science here. It’s purely a political show. But, one easily infers, Namjilsangarav bounced along in a jeep for 15 hours with the government reps to get to the site. One must salute that. Anything for a story, and to back up a fine picture – redistributed by the AP from the Xinhua news agency. One expects Namjilsangarav did not attend the recent meeting at (if not atop) Mount Everest by officials in Nepal, are on the bottom of a lagoon in the Maldives by that country’s officials, but he mentions them. Good – one should always look in the archives to put today’s news in context. Photos of those three confabs would make a good triptych.

Speaking of threes, and weather and drought and the lurking anxiety over changes in their patterns, fire tornadoes hit the news the last few days. The two biggies, with videos:
These things crop up in the news regularly. Each time, it appears from this evidence, they are treated as something rare, and special. One thinks they are not particularly so. Just check the archives.

My third news example is from a few years back, re a fire in Los Angeles’s Griffith Park. Here’s a video sampling at a site called Metacafe with a tune I, being an old fart, do not recognize. But it’s got the apocalypsos drumming and bass line to match the swirling fire’s nervous frenzy.

Messing around with search engines I discover fire tornadoes already have attracted the attention of science museum curators. The clip’s site doesn’t tell me where the demonstration occurred (Germany is my guess), but if you’d like to see one under controlled conditions, it’s here. Artists harness them too: lookie here.

There is no logical, only a visceral, way to connect fire tornadoes and the Mongolian cabinet’s semi-desperate stunt. If you’d prefer a logical, calm discussion of fire tornadoes and their history and some notable, destructive examples, read it at the usually oddball, catch-all Examiner news site. It is by Johnny Kelly:  Rare fire tornadoes captured on video in Brazil and Hawaii over the past weekThis is good, useful reporting on what most news outlets took as mere diversion and eye-candy.

Charlie Petit

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