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The place where the world comes together in honesty and mirth.
Windmills Tilted, Scared Cows Butchered, Lies Skewered on the Lance of Reality ... or something to that effect.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Daily Drift

The Daily Drift
Today's horoscope says:
It's just one of those days -- or nights, as the case may be -- where whatever it is you're doing, suddenly something else sounds more appealing.
If you're out and about, the cozy comforts of home will likely start calling to you; if you're nesting, a little stir-craziness could set in.
Solo time might sound perfect, then you're on the phone chitchatting for an hour; or if you're with someone, you may want to be alone.
Keep your plans loose and your options open.

Some of our readers today have been in:
Perth, Western Australia, Australia
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Sorel, Quebec, Canada
Bremen, Bremen, Germany
Wiesbaden, Hessen, Germany
Sittard, Limburg, Netherlands
Bangkok, Krung Thep, Thailand
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Madrid, Madrid, Spain
Annecy, Rhone-Alpes, France
Paris, Ile-De-France, France
Stoke-On-Trent, England, United Kingdom

as well as Bulgaria, Israel, Finland, Austria, Norway, Georgia, Mexico, Peru, Kuwait, Serbia, Bangladesh, Latvia, Greece, Scotland, Hong Kong, Denmark, Wales, Iran, Singapore, Poland, Taiwan, Sweden, Afghanistan, Belgium, Tibet, Croatia, Pakistan, Romania, Paraguay, Sweden, Vietnam, Argentina, Cambodia, Egypt, France, Estonia, Puerto Rico, Brazil, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, Slovenia, China, Iraq, Ecuador, Nigeria, Colombia, Chile, Honduras, Paupa New Guinea, Moldova, Venezuela, Germany, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, New Zealand, Czech Republic and in cities across the United States such as Travelers Rest, Palo Alto, Mays Landing, New Orleans and more.

Today is:
Today is Tuesday, December 21, the 355th day of 2010.
There are 10 days left in the year.

Today's unusual holiday or celebration is: 
National Haiku Poetry Day.

It also happens to be the Winter Solstice and Yule!

Don't forget to visit our sister blog!

Happy Yule

The best in Yuletide Greetings

Happy Solstice


Solstice Lunar Eclipse

Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse from William Castleman on Vimeo.
In case you couldn’t stay up all night and watch it, or you are  someplace where it wasn’t visible, here is the video of last night’s  lunar eclipse. Four hours of moonlight are compressed into two minutes.  The video was captured over Gainesville, Florida by professor William  Castleman.

See rare eclipse in photos

A winter solstice treat nearly 400 years in the making transforms the moon into a vivid red disk. 

The year in photos, 2010

The Big Picture has chosen its best photos of the year for 2010.  

Old photos of New York City

The Museum of the City of New York has put a sizable chunk of their photography collection up on their web site.
This photo is 220 Spring St from 1932, from right near Sixth Avenue:
Photo credit: 220 Spring Street by Charles Von Urban.
From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Scotland: Then and Now

Click your way through Scotland's changing landscape

Wizard of Id


Top five last-minute gifts

Family recipes and homemade gifts can mean more than pricey purchases.

Avoid a holiday heart attack

You're more likely to have heart trouble on Christmas or New Year's than on any other day.  

Best U.S. bread bakeries

One Massachusetts institution has been called a national treasure since opening in 1986. 

Credit Card Knife

Nice: CardSharp.
CardSharp a superlight and supersharp utility knife, the same size as a credit card.
Just three ingenious folding operations metamorphosise the card into an elegant pocket utility tool. Slimmer and lighter than an ordinary knife.
There's a video that shows how it works.

Too much Egg Nog?


The Evolution Of The Blogger

In the dark ages of the early 1990s, internet users sought to make their stamp on internet history by forging a new type of voyeurism and narcissism. In 1994, the blog was born, and since then, human interaction has never been the same.

The International Institute Of Not Doing Much

Don't like to work under stress and pressure? Think life is rushing you and you want some more rests, relaxation, and recreation? Join the International Institute of Not Doing Much. Here's their manifesto.
We shall not flag or fail. We shall slow down in the office, and on the roads. We shall slow down with growing confidence when all those around us are in a shrill state of hyperactivity. We shall defend our state of calm, whatever the cost may be. We shall slow down in the fields and in the streets, we shall slow down in the hills, we shall never surrender!

If you can slow down when all around you are speeding up, then you're one of us. Be proud that you are one of us and not one of them. For they are fast, and we are slow. If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing slowly. Some are born to slowness - others have it thrust upon them. And still others know that lying in bed with a morning cup of tea is the supreme state for mankind.



The truth be told


A Qur'an "etched in Saddam Hussein's blood"

Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur'an. But since the fall of Baghdad, almost eight years ago, it has stayed largely out of sight - locked away behind three vaulted doors.
The very existence of this item is creating some ethical dilemmas for Iraqi authorities, discussed at the Guardian link.
"It was wrong to do what he did, to write it in blood," says Sheikh Samarrai. "It is haraam [forbidden]."

You are being monitored

Here are some excerpts from a thought-provoking article at the Washington Post.  This one is part of a series called Top Secret America - "a project two years in the making that describes the huge security buildup in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Today’s story is about those efforts at the local level, including law enforcement and homeland security agencies in every state and thousands of communities."
Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation's history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.  The government's goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States.

Other democracies - Britain and Israel, to name two - are well acquainted with such domestic security measures. But for the United States, the sum of these new activities represents a new level of governmental scrutiny...

"The old view that 'if we fight the terrorists abroad, we won't have to fight them here' is just that - the old view," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told police and firefighters recently...

The total cost of the localized system is also hard to gauge. The DHS has given $31 billion in grants since 2003 to state and local governments for homeland security and to improve their ability to find and protect against terrorists, including $3.8 billion in 2010. At least four other federal departments also contribute to local efforts. But the bulk of the spending every year comes from state and local budgets that are too disparately recorded to aggregate into an overall total...

Napolitano has taken her "See Something, Say Something" campaign far beyond the traffic signs that ask drivers coming into the nation's capital for "Terror Tips" and to "Report Suspicious Activity."  She recently enlisted the help of Wal-Mart, Amtrak, major sports leagues, hotel chains and metro riders. In her speeches, she compares the undertaking to the Cold War fight against communists...

Now, instead of having to decide which license plate numbers to type into a computer console in the patrol car, an officer can simply drive around, and the automatic license plate reader on his hood captures the numbers on every vehicle nearby. If the officer pulls over a driver, instead of having to wait 20 minutes for someone back at the office to manually check records, he can use a hand-held device to instantly call up a mug shot, a Social Security number, the status of the driver's license and any outstanding warrants...

At the same time that the FBI is expanding its West Virginia database, it is building a vast repository controlled by people who work in a top-secret vault on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. This one stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime. What they have done is appear to be acting suspiciously to a town sheriff, a traffic cop or even a neighbor...

As of December, there were 161,948 suspicious activity files in the classified Guardian database, mostly leads from FBI headquarters and state field offices. Two years ago, the bureau set up an unclassified section of the database so state and local agencies could send in suspicious incident reports and review those submitted by their counterparts in other states. Some 890 state and local agencies have sent in 7,197 reports so far...

And in Pennsylvania this year, a local contractor hired to write intelligence bulletins filled them with information about lawful meetings as varied as Pennsylvania Tea Party Patriots Coalition gatherings, antiwar protests and an event at which environmental activists dressed up as Santa Claus and handed out coal-filled stockings...

Since there hasn't been a solid terrorism case in Memphis yet, the equipment's greatest value has been to help drive down city crime. Where the mobile surveillance cameras are set up, criminals scatter, said Lt. Mark Rewalt, who, on a recent Saturday night, scanned the city from an altitude of 1,000 feet.

Flying in a police helicopter, Rewalt pointed out some of the cameras the DHS has funded. They are all over the city, in mall parking lots, in housing projects, at popular street hang-outs. "Cameras are what's happening now," he marveled...
There are eight pages of text at the WaPo link, and from there you can access previous stories in the series.

Instructions For Nuclear Attack

Attention please: U.S. Rethinks Strategy for the Unthinkable.
Suppose the unthinkable happened, and terrorists struck New York or another big city with an atom bomb. What should people there do? The government has a surprising new message: Do not flee. Get inside any stable building and don’t come out till officials say it’s safe.
The advice is based on recent scientific analyses showing that a nuclear attack is much more survivable if you immediately shield yourself from the lethal radiation that follows a blast, a simple tactic seen as saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Even staying in a car, the studies show, would reduce casualties by more than 50 percent; hunkering down in a basement would be better by far.
Here's how I was trained to handle the big one:
nuclear attack

Randy & Evi Quaid have gone bonkers

Randy Quaid and his wife Evi are on the run and living out of their Prius in Canada because they fear the "Hollywood Star Whackers", a group they blame for the deaths of Heath Ledger, David Carradine, and maybe even Michael Jackson. No, really!
People started noticing there was something seriously amiss with the Quaids about three years ago, when Randy left the Broadway-bound musical Lone Star Love and was then banned for life from the Actors' Equity Association, the stage union, for physically and verbally abusing his fellow performers. Then came the arrests and the couple's bizarre appearances at various court dates: They wore pink handcuffs. Evi carried Randy's Golden Globe and had a "valid credit card" affixed to her forehead.
By the time they arrived in Canada, calling themselves "refugees" and claiming they were targets of an assassination plot, the Quaids had gone viral.
I asked them when they believed their troubles began. They said it was in Marfa, Texas, the rural artists' community where Giant was shot. They said they had traveled there in the summer of 2009 to "look at ranches and stuff" and erect a "Randy Quaid museum." (They'd been fixing up a building in the middle of town-reportedly without the proper permits.)
Already, Evi said, "something really weird had started happening with Randy's mail. His royalty and residual checks weren't coming. We were really, truly panicked." Adding to their unrest was the recent demise of the actor David Carradine, a friend of Randy's whose death from apparent auto-erotic asphyxiation in Thailand the Quaids believed to be suspicious.
"They" -- the aforementioned Hollywood Star Whackers -- "decide, O.K., if we knock off David, then what we can do is simply collect the insurance covering his participation in the television show he was working on overseas," Evi said. "It's almost moronic, it's so simple."
She said she also suspected Jeremy Piven's falling ill from mercury poisoning was another sign of a dastardly plot by the Broadway producers of Speed-the-Plow to collect insurance money. "It was an orchestrated hit," she said. "They could have put mescaline in his water bottle." Jeffrey Richards, one of the producers of the play, declined to comment.

Bad Cops

Dash-cam video released under court order offers audio of Washington cop's instant killing of partially deaf man who was whittling as he walked

Probation for Texas cop who threw un-charged motorist face-first into a concrete highway divider, leaving her with a deep gash in her chin

Missouri police officer is sentenced to 27 months in prison for his role in the police towing scandal

Arizona ex-cop faces charges related to five bank robberies in 2006

Fired California police officer gets 4 years in prison for sex assaults on illegal immigrants

Fired Florida deputy gets 30 years for raping prisoner



Advances In Firing Techniques

Merry Christmas: Drugmaker Lays Off 1,700 Via Conference Call Ahead Of Holidays
sanofi-aventis-logo On Nov. 30, employees at Sanofi-Aventis pharmaceuticals, the world's fourth-biggest drugmaker, received an email from the company wishing them a happy Thanksgiving and telling them to check their email again at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 2.
Everybody received one of two different emails.
Both emails contained a code, an 800-number and a call time, either 8:00 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. The employees who were instructed to call in at the earlier time were told they could keep their jobs, but the 1,700 employees who called in at 8:30 a.m. weren't so lucky: They were laid off by a voice on the other line that told them to stop working immediately, and had no opportunity for question or comment.
Employees didn't like it.
"The way they did this was so brutal and inhumane. We were each assigned an employee number when we started working there -- an 'NM' followed by five digits -- and that's how I felt that day. Like a number, rather than a valued human being with feelings."

Corporate Illogic


Best and worst cities for jobs

In the top spot, 22% of firms expect to hire; other places will be less rosy for job seekers.  

True and scary tales of identity theft

These people were stunned to see what crooks bought by stealing personal data. 

Top IRS audit triggers

Home “offices” that aren’t, hobby losses, and math goofs can get your tax return flagged.

Smart year-end money moves

You have only days to tackle these tasks ― or risk losing benefits that can't be replaced.  

Non Sequitur


Best science of 2010

Science magazine has named their top scientific breakthroughs of 2010 and the insights of the decade. The quantum paddle deservedly took the top spot:
"This year's Breakthrough of the Year represents the first time that scientists have demonstrated quantum effects in the motion of a human-made object," said Adrian Cho, a news writer for Science. "On a conceptual level that's cool because it extends quantum mechanics into a whole new realm. On a practical level, it opens up a variety of possibilities ranging from new experiments that meld quantum control over light, electrical currents and motion to, perhaps someday, tests of the bounds of quantum mechanics and our sense of reality."

Fun With Gas

Mythbuster's Adam Savage demonstrates the effects of both helium and sulfur hexafluoride.

Socializing may improve mental function

But only if it's friendly chat...competitive conversations don't result in the same improvement.  (Words With Friends  doesn't count either...)
They found that engaging in brief (10 minute) conversations in which participants were simply instructed to get to know another person resulted in boosts to their subsequent performance on an array of common cognitive tasks. But when participants engaged in conversations that had a competitive edge, their performance on cognitive tasks showed no improvement.
"We believe that performance boosts come about because some social interactions induce people to try to read others' minds and take their perspectives on things," Ybarra said. "And we also find that when we structure even competitive interactions to have an element of taking the other person's perspective, or trying to put yourself in the other person's shoes, there is a boost in executive functioning as a result."

Healing With Color

For health care professionals and amateurs: Color Healing Chart.
The Color Healing Chart is designed to suggest links between colors, body energies, color effects, chakra centers, and crystals. The original seven colors of the spectrum have been expanded to include shades, as well as rays like silver.
Guided by the way you feel, you will be able to choose the appropriate colors to help you, as well as select useful crystals. Some of these correspondences may be surprising. Black, for example, often has an undeserved negative association, but it can have quite a different meaning.
healing chart

If you feel cold and lacking in energy, you will see that red is a warming color and garnets are suggested. You can either find some red in your wardrobe, or try wearing the crystal or meditating on it.
If you're afraid of change, try wearing or meditating with labradorite. If you want to expand a relationship, wear amber colors or wear the stone.
If you find yourself using a lot of one particular stone or color, then that chakra clearly needs energizing.

Blue-green algae tested for treating ALS

Nutritional supplementation with Spirulina, a nutrient-rich, blue-green algae, appeared to provide neuroprotective support for dying motor neurons in a mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease …

The fifteen Most Bizarre Brain Experiments

The real final frontier isn't in outer-space or inner-particle. It's in the space between mankind's ears. That strange, mysterious and awesome mass of gray matter is more powerful and creative than any supercomputer. But science wants to make it even better and, if these 15 experiments are any indication, it might just succeed.



The Oracle of Delphi

Hon. John Collier : Priestess of Delphi (1891)
In the painting, “Priestess of Delphi” by The Honorable John Collier, a priestess - the Pythia - is depicted in a trance state, seated over a fissure in the rock through which vapors rise from the underground stream. In her left hand is a sprig of laurel - in Greek mythology, Apollo’s sacred tree - and in the other hand a bowl meant to hold some of the water from the stream containing the gases.
Apollo spoke through his oracle: the sibyl or priestess of the oracle at Delphi was known as the Pythia; she had to be an older woman of blameless life chosen from among the peasants of the area. She sat on a tripod seat over an opening in the earth. When Apollo slew Python, its body fell into this fissure, according to legend, and fumes arose from its decomposing body. Intoxicated by the vapors, the sibyl would fall into a trance, allowing Apollo to possess her spirit. In this state she prophesied. It has been postulated that a gas high in ethylene, known to produce violent trances, came out of this opening, though this theory remains debatable.  While in a trance the Pythia "raved" – probably a form of ecstatic speech – and her ravings were "translated" by the priests of the temple into elegant hexameters. People consulted the Delphic oracle on everything from important matters of public policy to personal affairs. The oracle could not be consulted during the winter months, for this was traditionally the time when Apollo would live among the Hyperboreans. Dionysus would inhabit the temple during his absence.

The World's Biggest Cave

See that little bitty guy in the center, with the light shining from his helmet?

Yeah, it’s hard to see one man in a cave chamber that big -but there is a bigger version of the picture to help you out.

National Geographic is covering an expedition to Vietnam last year that unearthed what may be the world’s largest cave -Son Doong, hidden in the thick jungle but big enough to stuff cities inside!

There’s a television special (it aired Monday night), and a full article about Son Doong in the January issue of National Geographic Magazine.

Neatorama has a collection of gorgeous photographs of the cave and its surroundings on their Spotlight Blog, courtesy of National Geographic.

Evidence of other universes

Cosmologists have discovered evidence that our universe has been "bruised" by collisions with other universes.
Today, another group says they've found something else in the echo of the Big Bang. These guys start with a different model of the universe called eternal inflation. In this way of thinking, the universe we see is merely a bubble in a much larger cosmos. This cosmos is filled with other bubbles, all of which are other universes where the laws of physics may be dramatically different to ours.
The findings are currently difficult to reproduce, but with better data on the way, scientists are hoping to get to the bottom of the matter in the next few years.

Rising greenhouse gases profoundly impact microscopic marine life

The prolonged, extensive emission of greenhouse gases over the next several decades could have significant impacts on ocean life, according to a study by UC Merced marine biologist Michael Beman.


Hubris - mankind has it in spades

Rodents were diverse and abundant in prehistoric Africa when our human ancestors evolved

Rodents get a bad rap as vermin and pests because they seem to thrive everywhere. 
They have been one of the most common mammals in Africa for the past 50 million years.
From deserts to rainforests, rodents flourished in prehistoric Africa …

World's richest ape set to slum it after owner learns she has lost her entire £40million fortune

The world’s richest ape has learned that it is now 'practically penniless' as its aristocrat heiress owner revealed that she is has lost her entire fortune. Kalu the Congolese chimpanzee was estimated to be worth around £40million as one of the main heirs to eccentric owner Patricia O’Neill’s inherited millions. However, Mrs O’Neill, 85, has revealed that her fabulous wealth has been ‘stolen from under her nose’ and that she is now ‘penniless’.

While Kalu is still in the aristocrat’s will, the ape is likely to receive practically nothing on her owner’s death. Mrs O’Neil is the daughter of the Countess of Kenmore and the ex-wife of Olympic medal winning Australian swimmer Frank O’Neill. The British aristocrat lives with Kalu the chimp, 30 dogs and 11 cats in a sprawling estate near Cape Town, South Africa. Her closest relationship, however, is with her beloved chimp, which she found tied to a tree outside the home of the Argentinian Consul General in war torn Zaire. She took the animal back to Broadlands, her Cape Town estate. Although she said that the animal initially seemed 'terrified and traumatized,' she soon settled in.

Brought up in Britain, she has spent the past 30 years living in the wealthy farming community near Cape Town, where she is at the centre of an aristocratic social circle. However, while she continues to live a life of luxury, she yesterday told a South African newspaper that thanks to ‘a crooked advisor’ she is down to her ‘last £100,000'. She said: 'I was accustomed to a lavish lifestyle. I didn’t have to worry about money. Whatever I wanted then I got. If I wanted a new car I’d get a new car. But things have changed.' She added: 'I’m a woman who does not really know about money. I’m not good with dates and figures.'

Mrs O’Neill revealed that since she discovered her precarious financial situation earlier this year, she has had been living off donations from wealthy friends. She has also been forced to auction off some of her valuable jewellery. Until Mrs O’Neill’s revelation, Kalu, 25, was widely thought to be the second richest pet in the world. The richest is thought to be a German Shepherd dog called Gunther IV, believed to be worth around £90million which he inherited from his father, Gunther III, who had in turn been the sole heir of the German countess Karlotta Liebenstein.

Female Chimps Play With Dolls

Female chimpanzees treat sticks and small logs as dolls by cuddling them, creating games and even putting them to bed, new research finds. 
Since young male chimps were less inclined to play dollies, the authors say their study presents the first evidence of an animal species in the wild in which play differs between males and females.

Sick Kitten

G.A, Smith made this film in 1903 and it is quite possibly the first precursor to the 'cute cat videos' that are all the rage on the internet today.

Upping the cute factor


Injured dog's selflessness draws tears

She was a young, homeless single mother trying to raise a family of five, but true to the spirit of the season there was room for one more. Esperanza had been badly injured when she was hit by a car, but the young shepherd-cross with the thick white coat was still caring for her newborn puppies - and a kitten - when she was found on a central Alberta reserve.

Criss Gerwing, who runs a small animal rescue group, discovered the dog earlier this month and couldn't believe it when the canine led her to her blended brood. "I cried because she was in such bad condition with her leg, but she was obviously nursing her puppies and this kitten," Gerwing told a media outlet.

Gerwing took the entire family to the Edmonton Humane Society, where veterinarians thought they'd have to amputate the mother dog's bad leg. But local vet Dr. Milton Ness volunteered to do a special surgery that saved Esperanza's hind quarter. He calls her a "special soul."

Shawna Randolph at the humane society couldn't agree more. "She is such a sweet, sweet dog. She has such a wonderful personality," Randoph said. "It's amazing when you think about it. You have this dog who is just so giving of herself, caring for these newborn puppies and the kitten, making sure they were cared for even though she was obviously in a lot of pain."

Underwater world

Manatee (Image: David Fleetham/ Bite-back.com)
Underwater photographers bring together their best images in the name of marine conservation.