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Windmills Tilted, Scared Cows Butchered, Lies Skewered on the Lance of Reality ... or something to that effect.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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Today in History

1520   The Spanish explorer Cortes is driven from Tenochtitlan and retreats to Tlaxcala.
1609   The Catholic states in Germany set up a league under the leadership of Maximillian of Bavaria.
1679   The British crown claims New Hampshire as a royal colony.
1747   Persian ruler Nadir Shah is assassinated at Fathabad.
1776   The statue of King George III is pulled down in New York City.
1778   In support of the American Revolution, Louis XVI declares war on England.
1850   Millard Fillmore is sworn in as the 13th president of the United States following the death of Zachary Taylor.
1890   Wyoming becomes the 44th state.
1893   Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performs the first successful open-heart surgery, without anesthesia.
1925   The trial of Tennessee teacher John T. Scopes opens, with Clarence Darrow appearing for the defense and William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution.
1940   Germany begins the bombing of England.
1942   General Carl Spaatz becomes the head of the U.S. Air Force in Europe.
1943   American and British forces complete their amphibious landing of Sicily.
1945   U.S. carrier-based aircraft begin airstrikes against Japan in preparation for invasion.
1951   Armistice talks between the United Nations and North Korea begin at Kaesong.
1962   The satellite Telstar is launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, beaming live television from Europe to the United States.
1993   Kenyan runner Yobes Ondieki becomes the first man to run 10,000 meters in less than 27 minutes.

An annual shooting spree in North Carolina

In certain parts of the United States (including Birmingham, Alabama) shooting guns into the air is one way that some locals celebrate major holidays, like the 4th of July.
For those of us who didn't grow up with celebratory gunfire, this cultural practice can be difficult to understand—especially given the fact that it is dangerous. Bullets that go up come back down, and they can injure and kill people. It's unclear exactly how risky the practice is. If you're hit by a falling bullet, your chances of death are significantly higher compared to a normal gunshot wound. And a study of celebratory gunfire injuries in Los Angeles turned up 118 victims, including 38 deaths, between 1985 and 1992. But I wasn't able to find a good analysis that put deaths into perspective with shots fired. (So, for instance, for every x shots fired into the air, x number of people are injured. Without that, it's hard to tell whether celebratory gunfire is really, really dangerous or only kind of dangerous sometimes. But either way, when you do it, especially in urban areas, you're taking a risk of killing someone.)
Usually, though, when we talk about celebratory gunfire, we're talking about unorganized huzzahs fired off with impromptu vigor in backyards and at family gatherings. In Cherryville, North Carolina, however, the whole thing is a lot more official ... and safer. Starting at midnight on New Year's Eve, the Cherryville New Year's Shooters go door to door throughout a three-county area singing traditional New Year's shooting songs, and calling residents out to shoot with them. It's a lot like going caroling, but with weaponry. Thankfully, it's all done with blanks these days.
For more than 18 hours, and through three different counties — Gaston, Lincoln, and Cleveland — the shooters follow the route bringing ceremony and good tidings to neighbors. At each stop along the way, a crier recites the “Chant of the New Year’s Shooters,” and then participants fire their muskets, one by one, each loaded with black powder, no bullets allowed. The noise of the musket is thought to drown out evil spirits and bad luck; while the chant — part poem, part speech, and part song — asks for peace and prosperity in the New Year.
Joyce Green sent this story in to me. While she was raised in one of these communities—Shelby, North Carolina—she would like you to know that, "I never wake up on New Year’s day and think, 'I’d better get on down to the nursing home and fire off a couple of shots to bring in the New Year right.'"
Read more about the Cherryville New Year's Shooters
Read more about the dangers of celebratory gunfire that involves real bullets.

Oregon man barricades himself in Belmont hotel, demands pizza and to marry Paris Hilton

Fredrick Denney (Credit: Gaston County Sheriff's Office)

Police said an Oregon man barricaded himself in a Belmont hotel on Saturday and demanded pizza and to marry celebrity Paris Hilton.
He was eventually taken into custody.
Authorities said 61-year-old Fredrick Denney barricaded himself inside his room at the Hampton Inn, threatening to shoot at police.
Several agencies, including the Regional SWAT Team, responded to the scene on Cecilia Alexander Drive. Officials shut down the second floor of the hotel as they talked to Denney. After hours of negotiating, he was pepper sprayed and taken into custody.
Authorities say he’s had several run-ins with SWAT Teams in other states. According to the Gaston County records, Denney is from Roseburg, Ore.
He was taken to the hospital for a mental evaluation. His bond was set at $90,000. He’s now facing several charges including “intoxicated and disorderly.”

Demands for pizza and marriage to Paris Hilton caused hotel stand-off

An intense situation unfolded inside of a Belmont, North Carolina, hotel on Saturday. Authorities say 61-year-old Fredrick Denny barricaded himself inside his room at the Hampton Inn threatening to shoot at police.

According to officials, Denny caused a disturbance at the hotel earlier on Saturday morning.

Multiple agencies including the Regional SWAT Team responded to the scene on Cecilia Alexander Drive. Officials shut down the second floor of the hotel as they tried to reason with Denny.

His demands included pizza and to marry Paris Hilton. After hours of negotiating, he was pepper sprayed and taken into custody. Authorities say he’s had several run-ins with SWAT Teams in other states. He was taken to the hospital for a mental evaluation.

Oregon set to vote on legalizing marijuana in November

It's time to recognize that the "war on drugs" has been an expensive waste of time. It's also been an enormous failure that has done nothing to slow down the sale of drugs. The political class is lagging far behind public opinion and facts on this issue.
Oregon will soon qualify as the third U.S. state to ask voters in November to legalize marijuana for recreational use in a move that could put the state on a collision course with the federal government, proponents said on Friday.

Backers of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act said they have collected 165,000 signatures on petitions seeking to put the measure on the ballot, nearly double the 87,000 they were required to submit by Friday's deadline to qualify.

"We believe we're going to make it easily," said Paul Stanford, the chief petitioner and founder of the Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, which runs medical marijuana clinics in several states.

The truth hurts

Weimar America

Four major ways we're following In Germany's fascist footsteps

Weimar America 
What happens when a nation that was once an economic powerhouse turns its back on democracy and on its middle class, as wealthy right-wingers wage austerity campaigns and enable extremist politics?
It may sound like America in 2012. But it was also Germany in 1932.

Most Americans have never heard of the Weimar Republic, Germany’s democratic interlude between World War I and World War II. Those who have usually see it as a prologue to the horrors of Nazi Germany, an unstable transition between imperialism and fascism. In this view, Hitler’s rise to power is treated as an inevitable outcome of the Great Depression, rather than the result of a decision by right-wing politicians to make him chancellor in early 1933.
Historians reject teleological approaches to studying the past. No outcome is inevitable, even if some are more likely than others. Rather than looking for predictable outcomes, we ought to be looking to the past to understand how systems operate, especially liberal capitalist democracies. In that sense, Weimar Germany holds many useful lessons for contemporary Americans. In particular, there are four major points of similarity between Weimar Germany and Weimar America worth examining.
1. Austerity. Today’s German leaders preach the virtues of austerity. They justify their opposition to the inflationary, growth-creating policies that Europe desperately needs by pointing to the hyperinflation that occurred in 1923, and which became one of the most enduring memories of the Weimar Republic. Yet the austerity policies enacted after the onset of the Depression produced the worst of Germany’s economic crisis, while also destabilizing the country’s politics. Cuts to wages, benefits and public programs dramatically worsened unemployment, hunger and suffering.
So far, austerity in America has largely taken place at the state and local levels. However, the federal government is now working on undemocratic national austerity plans, in the form of so-called “trigger cuts” slated to take effect at the end of 2012. In addition, there’s the Bowles-Simpson austerity plan to slash Medicare and Social Security benefits along with a host of other public programs; and the Ryan Budget, a blueprint for widespread federal austerity should the Republicans win control of the Congress and the White House in November.
2. Attacks on democracy. Austerity was deeply unpopular with the German public. The Reichstag, Germany’s legislature, initially rejected austerity measures in 1930. As a result, right-wing Chancellor Heinrich Brüning implemented his austerity measures by using a provision in the Weimar constitution enabling him to rule by decree. More notoriously, Hitler was selected as chancellor despite his party never having won an election — the ultimate slap at democracy. Both these events took place amidst a larger backdrop of anti-democratic attitudes rampant in the Weimar era. Monarchists, fascists and large businesses all resented the left-leaning politics of a newly democratic Germany, and supported politicians and intellectuals who pledged to return control to a more authoritarian government.
Democracy is far older in the United States today than it was in Germany during the early 1930s. But that doesn’t mean that democracy is actually respected in practice today; it only means that attacks on it can’t be as overt as they were in Weimar Germany. From the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling to Republican voter ID laws to austerity proposals that bypass the normal legislative processes (remember the Supercommission?), American democracy is under similar direct threats now.
3. Enabling of extremists. Well before Hitler was made chancellor in 1933, leading conservatives and business leaders had concluded that their interests would be better served by something other than the democratic system established in 1919. During the 1920s, they actively supported parties that promoted anti-democratic ideologies, from monarchism to authoritarianism. Nazis were just one of the many extremist groups that they supported during the Weimar era. In fact, initially, many on the German right had attempted to exclude the Nazis from their efforts; and as chancellor, Brüning had tried to marginalize the Nazi party. However, his successor, the right-wing Franz von Papen, believed he could control Hitler and needed the support of the Nazi members of the Reichstag. Conservative German leaders ultimately decided their hunger for power was more important than keeping extremists at bay — and their support finally gave the Nazi Party control of the country.
Tea Party activists aren’t Nazis. But with roots in the 20th century radical right, the Tea Party’s attack on the public sector, on labor unions, on democratic practices, and on people who aren’t white mark them as the extremist wing of American politics; and they bear many of the hallmarks that characterize fascist movements around the world. In recent years, Republican leaders have been enabling these extremists in a successful bid to reclaim political power lost to Democrats in 2006 and 2008. We don’t yet know where this enabling is going to lead the country, but it’s hard to imagine it will be anywhere good.
4. Right-wing and corporate dominance. One of the the most prominent German media moguls in the 1920s was Alfred Hugenberg, owner of 53 newspapers that reached over a majority of German readers. The chairman of the right-wing German National People’s Party, Hugenberg promoted Adolf Hitler by providing favorable coverage of him from the mid-1920s onward. Major German corporations such as Krupp, IG Farben and others spent money in the 1920s and early 1930s to support the rise of right-wing political parties, including the Nazis, as part of a strategy to undermine democracy and labor unions. Even if Hitler had never taken power, that strategy had already achieved significant returns on their substantial investment.
Here in the United States, one only needs to look at Charles and David Koch, Fox News and other right-wing funders and their media outlets to see the analogy. By funding right-wing politicians who promote austerity, undermine democracy and support extremism, they are active agents in the creation of Weimar America.
The Road Not Taken
None of this means that the United States is about to fall victim to a fascist coup d’etat as Germany did in January 1933. Remember that no outcome is inevitable. Nor would it be accurate to say that the United States is repeating the exact same events and taking the same course as Germany did during the 1930s, because many other important details are different. For example: Germany was a nation saddled with huge debts and lacking the global political power it needed to reverse its situation; but even with today’s high unemployment rates, the United States remains the globe’s largest economy, and therefore doesn’t face the same fiscal constraints Weimar Germany faced. In fact, a better current analogy may be Greece, which is in a far more similar predicament now.
Yet the underlying similarities ought to be troubling — and are enough to give us pause. The combination of austerity and well-funded right-wing political movements hostile to democracy destroyed Weimar Germany. And Spain and Italy both experienced a similar situation in their slide into authoritarianism in the 1930s. In those cases — and in ours — as people saw their own financial position weaken, and as their democratic rights were increasingly limited in favor of giving more power to the large corporations, the future of a democratic society with a strong middle-class was increasingly jeopardized. Fascism is what happens when right-wing plutocrats weaken the middle class and then convince it to turn its back on democracy.
Will Weimar America face the same disastrous fate Weimar Germany did? On our current path, democracy and shared prosperity are both in serious trouble. We owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to our world to look to the lessons of history, find a way to change course, and get to work building something better.
Robert Cruickshank is a political activist and historian, and a senior advisor to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. The views expressed here are his own.
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Cellphone companies got 1.3m requests for subscriber info from law enforcement in 2011

It sounds like a lot - it is a lot - but the second paragraph I quote, below, raises the point that in every crime you'll probably find a perp or a victim who had a cell phone on them. That could make quite useful evidence. It would be nice to see a larger breakdown of just what kind of requests these are, what they're for, etc.  NYT:
In the first public accounting of its kind, cellphone carriers reported that they responded to a startling 1.3 million demands for subscriber information last year from law enforcement agencies seeking text messages, caller locations and other information in the course of investigations.
“At every crime scene, there’s some type of mobile device,” said Peter Modafferi, chief of detectives for the Rockland County district attorney’s office in New York, who also works on investigative policies and operations with the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The need for the police to exploit that technology “has grown tremendously, and it’s absolutely vital,” he said in an interview.

America's ISPs set to spy on your network access to help entertainment industry

Douglas Rushkoff writes on CNN about the new US "six strikes" copyright regime, an unholy alliance between the major entertainment companies the the nation's largest ISPs, which gives your ISP carte blanche to spy on all your private Internet traffic on the off chance that you might be interfering with Universal Music's profit-maximization scheme. If you attract enough unsubstantiated copyright accusations, you and your family -- or your business -- could lose your Internet access.
As I understand the new agreement and subsequent comments, which are about as cryptic as a copy-protected DVD, ISP's have agreed to implement a standardized "graduated response plan" through which offending users are warned, restricted and eventually cut off from the Internet for successive violations. The companies are supposed to be developing systems that keep track of all this, so that the letters and usage restrictions happen automatically. The fact that they are all agreeing to participate makes it harder for any one company to win the disgruntled customers of those who have been disciplined by another.
But now that they're free from individual blame, there's also the strong possibility that the ISPs will be doing the data monitoring directly. That's a much bigger deal. So instead of reaching out to the Internet to track down illegally flowing bits of their movies, the studios will sit back while ISP's "sniff" the packets of data coming to and from their customers' computers. While they're simply claiming to be protecting copyright holders, ISPs have a lot to gain from all this as well.
For instance, in many cases the Internet subscriber might have no knowledge of the infraction that the ISP detects. A houseguest might log onto one's home network simply to check e-mail. Because his sharing software might be running in the background (even when he's not downloading files himself) he is in effect sharing his own movie files wherever he goes. Your ISP sniffs the packets, so you are nabbed. The same is true for those of us who run "open networks" so that neighbors and others nearby can get free Internet access when they need it. (In the old days, that used to be considered polite.)
Will your Internet provider be spying on you?

ACTA IS BACK: Leaked docs show Canada/European Commission trying to sneak ACTA into Canada & back into Europe

Michael Geist writes,
Last week, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to reject ACTA, striking a major blow to the hopes of supporters who envisioned a landmark agreement that would set a new standard for intellectual property rights enforcement. The European Commission, which negotiates trade deals such as ACTA on behalf of the European Union, has vowed to revive the badly damaged agreement. Its most high-profile move has been to ask the European Court of Justice to rule on ACTA's compatibility with fundamental European freedoms with the hope that a favourable ruling could allow the European Parliament to reconsider the issue.
While the court referral has attracted the lion share of attention, there is an alternate secret strategy in which Canada plays a key role. According to recently leaked documents, the EU plans to use the Canada - EU Trade Agreement (CETA), which is nearing its final stages of negotiation, as a backdoor mechanism to implement the ACTA provisions.
The CETA IP chapter has already attracted attention due to EU pharmaceutical patent demands that could add billions to provincial health care costs, but the bigger story may be that the same chapter features a near word-for-word replica of ACTA. According to the leaked document, dated February 2012, Canada and the EU have already agreed to incorporate many of the ACTA enforcement provisions into CETA, including the rules on general obligations on enforcement, preserving evidence, damages, injunctions, and border measure rules. One of these provisions even specifically references ACTA. My post includes a comparison table of ACTA and the leaked CETA chapter.
Go read the rest. The European Commission -- a gang of unelected technocrats in the pockets of multinational corporations -- are hell-bent on seeing ACTA turn into European law, even if the elected chamber rejects it. They can't imagine why treaties that will impact everything we do on the Internet (which will be everything we do, shortly) shouldn't be negotiated in secret with a bunch of corporate bums who're looking to line their pockets at public expense.
The Canadian government is almost certain to go along with this -- a more textbook example of corporate lickspittles you will never find. It's up to Europeans to save Europe from its bureaucrats and Canada from its politicians.
ACTA Lives: How the EU & Canada Are Using CETA as Backdoor Mechanism To Revive ACTA

Following Barclays scandal, British customers moving from banks

When (not if) the Libor scandal reaches the US shores, there's a high likelihood of US customers shifting away from banks and into credit unions, again. The previous wave involved millions of customers shutting down their accounts with the mega-banks and moving over to smaller credit unions. Hopefully action groups are preparing for the next wave of disgust with the corruption of big banks because we're getting very close to a lot more news of blatant corruption within that putrid industry.
If you are banking with one of the big banks, chances are very high that you're only enabling bad behavior by giving them business. It's a hassle to change, but why help the corrupt?

The Guardian:
Angry bank customers have been voting with their wallets and bombarding co-ops, building societies and credit unions with applications for current accounts over the past week, after the NatWest computer meltdown and the Barclays rate-rigging scandal.

Data compiled by the campaign group Move Your Money UK shows an explosion in requests to switch from large high street banks to smaller alternatives that consumers hope will take a more ethical approach. Charity Bank, which lends its savers' money to charities, has seen a 200% increase in depositors; the Ecology Bank has had a 266% jump in applications; and Triodos, a Bristol-based "sustainable bank", a 51% increase.

Credit unions, which are often small institutions investing people's savings in their local economy, have seen week-on-week increases of at least 20%, some of them up to 300%. Evidence of the growing number of switchovers comes as Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, on Sunday calls on the government to make it easier for consumers to switch to another bank or building society. Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Balls will say that while people are increasingly dissatisfied with their banks, it is still too difficult for customers to switch accounts. He told the Observer: "Ministers are dragging their feet on reforms to improve competition and consumer choice in the banking sector. Consumers must come first. It's time for action."

Did you know ...

NJ slimeball Christie vetoes tax increase for millionaires for the third year in a row

Protesters demonstrate outside of Koch fundraiser for Romney

An internet troll disses girl geek icon Felicia Day; the internet strikes back

Now it's funny: Archie out of context

And R.I.P. Quentin Michale and Marty, character actor Ernest Borgnine dies at 95

Raising Minimum Wage: A Help Or Harm?

Wendy Brown of Schenectady, N.Y., holds a sign before an Occupy Albany rally pushing for a raise in New York's minimum wage on May 29, 2012.
Wendy Brown of Schenectady, N.Y., holds a sign before an Occupy Albany rally pushing for a raise in New York's minimum wage on May 29, 2012.

Back in 1912, Massachusetts became the first place in America to introduce a minimum wage, but it would take another quarter century before a national minimum wage was set.
President Franklin Roosevelt made it law in 1938, that any hourly worker had to be paid at least 25 cents an hour. It was revolutionary, and very few countries had anything like it.
Every few years, the federal minimum wage would go up, helping millions of Americans inch closer to a middle-class lifestyle. Something changed in the early 1970s, however, and since then, the minimum wage has fallen by around 25 percent.
Fast-forward to today. The minimum wage is currently $7.25. But in 1968, you'd make the equivalent of $10 an hour in today's money.
"Think about the people that in 1968 got the minimum wage, [and] then think about the group today," says Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. "It's basically the same group, but they have 30 percent less buying power."
Harkin, a Democrat, has introduced a bill in Congress to raise the minimum wage to $9.88 an hour. For millions of Americans, an increase in the minimum wage could make a huge difference, but the battle has not been easy.
Fighting For More
In 2008, President Obama campaigned on a promise to raise the minimum wage. He hasn't. Mitt Romney has said he supports pegging minimum wage to inflation, but recently backtracked, and he now opposes an increase.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, if Harkin has his way and the minimum wage was actually raised to $9.88 an hour, it would increase wages for 30 million Americans — 10 percent of the country.
Harkin tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that his proposed increase would give hourly wage earners more spending money to help improve the economy.
"People who are making the minimum wage, basically they're spending just about all their money because they don't have much left," Harkin says. "So if you give them a raise, it means more for our gross domestic product."
$5,000 a year is significant ... [It] may not get them out of poverty, but it makes life better.
Harkin estimates that his minimum wage increase would mean about $25 billion more for GDP, 100,000 more jobs and 28 million Americans would get a raise.
To those that say raising the minimum wage would actually increase unemployment, Harkin says there's simply no proof of that. He says they've found that when minimum wages were increased, employment actually went up.
Harkin says he's not "Pollyannish" about the prospects of the bill, and doesn't think Republicans will let it go through. But it is important, he says, to bring it up so that Americans will know where Democrats stand on an issue as fundamental as keeping the minimum wage at a level that provides a decent support for people that are very poor.
"If my proposal went through, a $15,000 a year worker will make $20,000 a year," he says. "You know $5,000 a year is significant to someone in that category. [It] may not get them out of poverty, but it makes life better."
Surviving On Minimum Wage
Every morning at 1 a.m., 50-year-old Margaret Lewis rolls out of bed to start the workday. She works as a transporter for the disabled at O'Hare International Airport making minimum wage. Compared to a lot of hourly workers, however, she's lucky. In Illinois, the minimum wage is a dollar higher than the national rate.
Lewis lives in one of the roughest parts of Chicago's South Side — Englewood — with four of her children in a modest, three-bedroom apartment. All of her children who live at home are in school, and that's the reason she took the early shift — to make sure her kids are fed and get to school.
Lewis works full time and works hard, but even with tips, her annual salary about $18,000 — is still about $10,000 below the U.S. poverty level for a household her size.
It takes an entire paycheck, she tells Raz, to cover back-to-school shoes for the kids. Clothes come from thrift stores, food stamps help a lot, and her monthly rent is $850.
"I never can pay a whole rent," Lewis says. Her family covers the remaining rent by doing work for the landlord. "We do janitor work around [and] keep the grass cut. In the winter, we make sure the porch is shoveled."
In the past year, two people have been killed on her block. In the morning, when her kids have to get themselves off to school, she worries. She says the last shooting was a few months ago and unfortunately it happened at the same time her son was leaving the block going to school, when the bullets rained out.
"That was the most scariest moment of my life," she says. "You know it's not the greatest neighborhood, but if I move, it'll be in the neighborhood of this [type] as well because that's where the most affordable rent that fits my budget will be in."
A $1 increase an hour would mean more than $2,000 a year for someone like Lewis.
"It might not sound a lot to most people, but to me that much in a year would make a big difference in my household," she says.
The Business Of Minimum Wage
Opponents of Harkin's minimum wage bill point to jobs, saying that with such high unemployment, an increase in the minimum wage will make a bad situation worse.

Related NPR Stories

Joe Olivo owns a small printing press in New Jersey that employs 47 people. Olivo tells Raz that a higher minimum wage basically raises the whole wage scale and would force him to make cuts.
"What happens is the employee who's been here for 3 years and has more experience than a person making an entry-level wage, they will rightfully want more for their seniority," Olivo says. "So what it does to me as a business owner, by pushing up wage scale, it increases my expenses."
Olivo says that means he either has to increase revenues — difficult in the current economy — or he must find ways to cut expenses: cutting employees, not hiring new employees or bring in new technology to decrease the number of employees he needs.
"So it really hurts my current employees and it also prevents me from bringing on new ones," he says.
Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a group that lobbies against increasing the minimum wage, says that every dollar an employee gets comes out of somebody's pocket. He says it's not logical that raising the minimum wage will add more spending money to the economy.
"It's not the job of businesses to turn themselves into social service providers and pay in excess of value to the firm," Dunkelberg says. "We do have something called the earned income tax credit, where we provide supplemental income to people who are working but need more money."
Right now, 18 states have set minimum wage rates slightly higher than the national level, while four states actually have exemptions and even lower minimums.

For sale: Volcano House - $750,000

The perfect lair from which to hatch your evil plans for global domination.
Screen Shot 2012 07 08 at 3 33 23 PMWhile many a volcano has flared up lately with maddening consequences, the cinder cone that hosts the “Volcano House” in Newberry Springs, Calif., offers nothing but cosmic, barren beauty. The creation of architect Harold J. Bissner Jr., the dome house has been sitting atop a 150-foot conical hill of volcanic fragments since 1968 and is now for sale, at $750,000. The 1,800-square-foot home—guarded by two caretakers whose faces have been sculpted by desertic whim—and its adjoining 60 acres belong to Huell Howser, the host of California’s Gold, the travel show for PBS affiliate KCET that highlights places of interest in California, often along remote paths. Howser became so popular that Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, featured a “Howserian” character named Howell Huser in two episodes. Somehow HH also ended up on a bottle of Broguiere’s milk.

Is that a forest downtown?

Forget open land. Actual wild space is returning to cities -- and these new swamps and wetlands might save money 

Is that a forest downtown? 
 Since 1979, Eddee Daniel has been hiking Milwaukee’s Cambridge Woods, part of an 800-acre swath of wilderness now called the Milwaukee River Greenway. Back then, the forest, which cuts straight through Wisconsin’s most crowded ZIP code, was largely shunned by the public. “There were vandals and drug dealers,” says Daniel. “It’s changed in a big way, and mostly in a healthy way.”
Today, on any given summer weekend, the Greenway teems with hikers, canoers and mountain bikers. But it’s still more wilderness than anything, with few of the accouterments of an organized park. In it, you can see one of modern urbanism’s most unexpected traits unfolding: a renewed appreciation for wild space in cities — not just “green space,” but actual swamps, forests, wetlands and streams.
Part of this is the result of changing demographics — the growing number of “urbaneers” dragging kayaks into aqueducts, the same city dwellers who prompted REI to open a giant store in Manhattan. But it’s also part of a growing realization that the earth’s natural processes can be harnessed in ways that benefit even the most urbanized area.
Tim Carter, director of the Center for Urban Ecology at Butler University, talks about these benefits as “ecosystem services” — ways that mother nature can help cities by doing what she does anyway. For example: “We’ve typically used pipes to drain our urban lands of water,” says Carter. “But a more highly engineered wetland could do the same job as greener infrastructure.” Los Angeles has been experimenting with this. In February, it opened its second engineered wetland in South L.A., a boggy, weedy marsh on the site of a former MTA bus yard. Pools of rainwater filled with naturally occurring bacteria scrub storm water clean before it makes its way to city drains. The spot doubles as a park, even as it serves its practical purpose.
This double-use ideal — a pretty green space that’s also productive — may become less novel and more imperative in places where resources are stretched thin. “Depending on where you are and what you’re talking about, all this interest in urban green space can actually be a disservice,” says Carter. “By increasing green spaces based on people’s preferences you can create problems with water demand. You don’t necessarily want a big lawn in the middle of Phoenix.”
What Carter is suggesting is both radical and practical. “Nature and urban need to become one and the same,” he says. “There’s this idea that where humans are, nature isn’t. But now that half the world is urbanized, we can’t continue to have that philosophy and expect sustainable outcomes. We talk about the ecology of plants and animals, and then we talk about the ecology of the city as separate. What we need to talk about is, how does it all function as an ecosystem, as a whole?”
Take oysters and urine. Those briny little Wellfleets you’re shelling out $32 a dozen for are world-class water purifiers, each one filtering 30 gallons per day. In a place like Boston Harbor, that kind of filtering is needed — even with major reductions in sewage overflow over the past 20 years, the harbor still gets inundated with fish-suffocating nitrogen from the city’s urine runoff. A nonprofit group called the Massachusetts Oyster Project started reintroducing oysters into the harbor in 2008, decades after they were killed off by pollution, to see if they could clean up that runoff by simply being there. It seems to be working; though it’s too soon to see measurable results, the oysters are growing and are now big enough to reproduce on their own.
The first time many people ever thought about urban ecology (even if they didn’t know the phrase) was in the aftermath of 2005′s Hurricane Katrina, when news stories explored the issue of New Orleans’ disappearing cyprus-tupelo swamps, which had long acted as a natural speed bump that slowed down hurricanes before they reached the water’s edge. The levees surrounding the city — the same ones that failed — helped to erode these swamps, leaving the city exposed to storms. It was a perfect, horrific example of natural systems’ importance to cities.
In the seven years since, cities have made strides in respecting the power of ecology. In New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers is moving toward restoring the swamps, though progress is slow. Brooklyn Bridge Park, a traditional manicured green space, incorporates natural elements like salt marshes and dunes, a small gesture that might not have been made a few years ago. Ambitious tree-planting programs have been launched to combat the urban heat island effect. And even the greening of shrinking cities like Detroit — not by park planners, but by the growing earth itself retaking the land — has widened our perspective of how nature can be integrated into cities, especially in formerly industrial areas.
The new awareness has led to the discovery of entire new species. In March, scientists unearthed a previously unknown species of frog in the grassy meadows of Staten Island, of all places. Ken Leinbach, executive director of Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center, says they’ve discovered two new species of bats in the city proper, and hundreds of Butler’s garter snakes, which are threatened in Wisconsin. “We did not expect to find them in an urban area,” he says. Now developers who want to build in Milwaukee have to conduct a snake survey, and if they’re disrupting a snake habitat with their construction, potentially create a replacement on their own dime.
You can imagine the look on that contractor’s face. As much as people might like urban nature in theory, something about prioritizing snakes over people in cities feels like an affront to urbanism. New Yorkers may be obsessed with watching their red-tailed hawks on camera, but as soon as those hawks start dropping rat carcasses on their doorsteps, the love affair ends. “There’s development pressure absolutely everywhere now,” says Leinbach. The more cities densify — especially in areas that used to be sparsely populated — the more such conflicts are likely to arise.
It can get awkward. When Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park was created in 1890, the 1,750-acre national park sat on the fringe of the city. Today, it’s surrounded by dense urban neighborhoods, and not everyone’s thrilled about living in such close proximity to its wildlife. “I think they need to totally get rid of the deer now,” said one resident who had barricaded her home from the beasts with mesh fencing. At Kennedy Airport in New York, perched on the edge of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, bird strikes have become a growing concern as the bay, once a fetid sewage receptacle, has been brought back to life. A year ago, a bale of diamondback terrapin turtles clambered out of the water and shut down a runway for an hour. And even the Boston Harbor oysters, potentially toxic once they’ve been in the marina’s fouled waters, have raised fears that they’ll be illegally fished and sold to unsuspecting restaurants.
“Wherever you have a strip of land in an urban environment someone wants to make a buck off it,” says Leinbach. And better urban ecology only makes that land more sought after. The dirt under Milwaukee’s Greenway has gone from “almost worthless to a million dollars an acre” as the river has revitalized. But that just makes it all the more important to trumpet the tangible value of cities’ natural systems.
In many cases, compromises will need to be made. In Cambridge Woods, the scraggly dirt path that Eddee Daniels has been hiking for over three decades is now being widened, straightened and paved with gravel to make it wheelchair accessible. Civilization, perhaps inevitably, is creeping into what was once an improbable undomesticated back country.
“Some people think [the wheelchair path] is going a little too far,” says Daniels, a bit apologetically. “I preferred the woods when it was neglected. But I appreciate the fact that we all have different needs.”
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Yasser Arafat Poisoned?

Autopsy Approved By Palestinian President
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has given his permission for the exhumation of the remains of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, a top aide said Monday, days after a Swiss institute reported finding elevated traces of a radioactive substance on the late leader's belongings.

Four Myths About Your Ideal Weight

By Liz Vaccariello

Losing It With Liz

Have you put on your bathing suit yet--or shorts, or tank top, or other summer clothing?  If you're feeling down about how you look, then this blog is for you! I recently read this list of myths from my fellow editors at Best Health magazine. Don’t we all fall for these at one point or another?

Myth 1: My ideal weight was when I graduated college, or before I had kids. 

If you’re hoping to get back to what you weighed a few years ago, fine. But if you’re looking at 10 or more years down memory lane, stop. Many people put on weight as they get older, and a slower metabolism makes it all the harder to slim down as easily or as quickly as you did in the past. Don't live in the past! Set a goal that works for the way you live now.

Myth 2: I'll find my ideal weight on a standard height and weight chart.

Many factors play a role in determining your weight, such as your body type, the number of fat cells you have, how muscular you are, et cetera. The numbers on a standard body mass index (BMI) chart are just approximations, and may not be the best gauge of good health. Studies show they may undercount some women as overweight by not measuring body fat and overcount others who have a higher ratio of muscle to fat.

Myth 3: My ideal weight is the lowest number I’ve hit on past diets.

The fact that you’re dieting again means that you’ve gained some, if not all, of the weight back. If you set a weight-loss goal that’s too low to maintain, you’ll get caught in an unhealthy vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting. Such repeated weight loss and regaining can alter your body composition, lowering the amount of muscle mass you have. This, in turn, can slow your metabolism and lower your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. So what's your best weight goal? The one you can actually live with.

Myth 4: The less I weigh, the healthier I’ll be.

Not true. In fact, many studies show that if you’re overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight is all you have to do to reap the bulk of the health benefits associated with weight loss: lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. 

Random Celebrity Photo

Meet The Girl Who Inspired 'Alice in Wonderland'

One hundred and fifty years ago a young mathematician by the name of Charles Dodgson, better-known as Lewis Carroll, boarded a boat with a small group, setting out from Oxford to the nearby town of Godstow, where the group was to have tea on the river bank. The party consisted of Carroll, his friend Reverend Robinson Duckworth, and the three little sisters of Carroll's good friend Harry Liddell - Edith, Alice, and Lorina.

Entrusted with entertaining the young ladies, Dodgson fancied a story about a whimsical world full of fantastical characters, and named his protagonist Alice. So taken was Alice Liddell with the story that she asked Dodgson to write it down for her, which he did when he soon sent her a manuscript under the title of Alice's Adventures Under Ground.

Chinese Men Busted for Cheating on Japanese Driver's License Exam

Some Chinese men living in Japan thought they were going to take the easy way out of an exam to get their driver's licenses.

Indian street youth develop model banking system

A group of youngsters in a shelter for homeless children in New Delhi have a few lessons for the world's international bankers. They have invented a financial system of their own to save for a brighter future.
­In a shelter for homeless runaway teens in New Delhi, a tiny, self-starting democracy has sprung up. The residents have created an unlikely society where everything from healthcare to banking has been initiated, implemented and executed by the kids themselves.

“There are children who have a job and they deposit their money in our bank and even the children who go to school save their money,” explained bank manager Satish Kumar. Satish Kumar’s peers elected him to be bank manager of this branch of the children’s development 'khazana' (Indian for 'treasure') that serves around 9,000 street children across South Asia and has 77 branches in the region.

Many of the runaway teens now have a place to safely keep their money, save for the future and take out development or welfare advances to invest in starting businesses or buying books for school.

Locals vow revenge for Afghan woman's execution


Sayed Jalal furrowed his eyebrows in anger as he vowed to avenge the public execution of a woman in front of a large crowd not far from Kabul, brazen violence that spurred shock and sharp condemnation from Afghan authorities and the United States.
The Taliban denied involvement in the killing in Parwan province, in which an unnamed woman's head and body were riddled with bullets at close range in punishment for alleged adultery.
Authorities in Kabul directly blamed the Islamist group.
"We will take revenge for this. Their brutality and such inhumane acts are why we hate the Taliban," said the 42-year-old shopkeeper in Charikar, provincial capital of Parwan about 25 km (15 miles) south of Shinwari, where the killing took place.
The execution was recorded in a three-minute video, obtained by Reuters, which shows a woman in a shawl being repeatedly shot in front of around 150 men perched on a hill, who cheer and praise the attackers, calling them "mujahideen", a term the Taliban call themselves.
NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, U.S. General John Allen, called the killing "an atrocity of unspeakable cruelty".
Others in Charikar, from where a dirt road leads to Shinwari through rough terrain, lamented what they described as the Taliban's increasing sway over their once relatively peaceful area, about an hour's drive west from Kabul.
"The Taliban are creating fear and trying to rule us through terrorism but they will never succeed," said Charikar resident Najibullah, 30, prompting approving nods from a crowd of men who had formed around him in a busy outdoor market.
The Taliban dismissed the claims: "We have no operational update about this," spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. Parwan's governor Basir Salangi said the Taliban carried out the killing in his province eight days ago.
Despite the presence of over 130,000 foreign troops and 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police, the Taliban have managed to resurge beyond their traditional bastions of the south and east, extending their reach into once more peaceful areas like Parwan.
"This was a brutal act against the Afghan people by the Taliban," Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said.
"They will be punished as they were punished 10 years ago and we will continue our struggle to eliminate them," he told Reuters, referring to their ousting from power in late 2001 by U.S.-backed Afghan forces after an austere five-year rule.
The condemnation came on the day of a major donors' summit in Tokyo, where $16 billion in development aid was pledged for Afghanistan over the next four years as they try to prevent it from sliding back into chaos once most foreign troops have left by the end of 2014.
In a declaration by summit participants, the importance of promoting women's rights was stressed repeatedly.
The U.S. embassy in Kabul, condemning the public execution in the "strongest possible terms", said the hard-won gains of Afghan women made in the last 10 years must be protected.
But Shah Jahan Yazdanparast, head of women's affairs in Parwan, which is connected to the Kabul ministry, said such naked violence as the woman's execution "will only increase our fear and concern as women in Afghanistan".
Afghan women have won back basic rights in education, voting and work since the Taliban were ousted from power but fears are mounting both at home and abroad that such freedoms could be traded away as Kabul seeks peace talks with the group.
"Afghan women and girls were looking to the international community to protect the progress they have made in the last decade and they have been let down," Oxfam Afghanistan's head of policy and advocacy, Louise Hancock, said on Sunday after the close of the Tokyo summit.
Violence against women has increased sharply in the past year, according to Afghanistan's independent human rights commission. Activists say there is waning interest in women's rights on the part of President Hamid Karzai's government.
Authorities blamed the Taliban for the stoning to death of a young couple in northern Kunduz province two years ago in a crowded bazaar, days after a pregnant widow was flogged and killed in western Baghdis province. The Taliban denied involvement.


Male villagers cheered as Taliban executed Afghan woman accused of adultery.
Disturbing video has emerged of a woman being executed by the Taliban in the middle of a village. The woman was accused of adultery. After she was killed, male villagers cheered..

Awesome Pictures

“Clearing Storm at the Falls” by ScottD75 on Flickr.

The Roberts health care reform ruling is no precedent

Not only did the Roberts ruling save healthcare, it has provided endless employment for journalists and legal scholars as they speculate on the 'precedent' set. In the week since, we have been told that the Roberts ruling will stop defunding of planned parenthood, enable states to lower the drinking age and many other projects. And of course we have been told that this is really a victory for the right.
But all this analysis overlooks the rather obvious fact that the far right of the Supreme Court is only going to consider something precedent when it suits their politics. As with 'original intent' (remember that?) the new 'precedent' on the Commerce clause and attaching strings to federal grants is going to prove remarkably flexible. Corporations are people my friend, but not unions.

In their moments of supreme hackery, even the right wing partisan judges recognize what they are. The ruling in Bush vs Gore even has a disclaimer to state that no precedent is set, just in case they might want to reverse the ruling to let a Republican get a recount in the future.

What happens when we sunburn

The biological mechanism of sunburn – the reddish, painful, protective immune response from ultraviolet (UV) radiation – is a consequence ...
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Red Sunburn is RNA Damage

Did you get a sunburn this summer? Know this: that redness you got is actually RNA damage to skin cells.
Using both human skin cells and a mouse model, Gallo, first author Jamie J. Bernard, a post-doctoral researcher, and colleagues found that UVB radiation fractures and tangles elements of non-coding micro-RNA -- a special type of RNA inside the cell that does not directly make proteins. Irradiated cells release this altered RNA, provoking healthy, neighboring cells to start a process that results in an inflammatory response intended to remove sun-damaged cells.
We see and feel the process as sunburn.
"The inflammatory response is important to start the process of healing after cell death," said Gallo. "We also believe the inflammatory process may clean up cells with genetic damage before they can become cancer. Of course, this process is imperfect and with more UV exposure, there is more chance of cells becoming cancerous."

Human Clones and Fetal Faces

Will We Clone Humans Soon?

The technology exists to clone humans, but will we? Should we? Read more
Will We Clone Humans Soon?: Gotta-See Videos

How Does a Fetal Face Form

How does a face form in the womb? Read more
How Does a Fetal Face Form: Gotta-See Videos

FLIP, The Vertical Ship, Turns 50

A unique vessel that can go from horizontal to vertical is celebrating 50 steady years.
  FLIP, The Vertical Ship, Turns 50

World’s Oldest Purse Decorated with a Hundred Dog Teeth

Photo: Klaus Bentele/LDA Halle
Talk about a biting sense of style. Researchers have discovered the world's oldest purse, decorated with hundreds of dog teeth:
Excavators at a site near Leipzig (map) uncovered more than a hundred dog teeth arranged close together in a grave dated to between 2,500 and 2,200 B.C.
According to archaeologist Susanne Friederich, the teeth were likely decorations for the outer flap of a handbag.
"Over the years the leather or fabric disappeared, and all that's left is the teeth. They're all pointing in the same direction, so it looks a lot like a modern handbag flap," said Friederich, of the Sachsen-Anhalt State Archaeology and Preservation Office.

World Heritage Sites in Danger

UNESCO has a list of 38 World Heritage Sites that are endangered. The reasons vary, from political to environmental to financial. National Geographic News shows us five sites that have been recently added to the list, and two that have been removed as their condition and security has improved. Two of the newly-listed sites are in Mali.
The World Heritage Committee’s decision to add Timbuktu to the danger list reflects growing international concerns about the looting and destruction of its historical sites after the city was taken over earlier this year by the armed groups MLNA and Ansar Dine.
According to Voice of America, Ansar Dine said the shrines at Timbuktu are idolatrous and un-Islamic.
In June, UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova expressed dismay over reports that three sacred tombs at Timbuktu had been destroyed.
Shown here is the 500-year-old Tomb of Askia in Mali. More

Odds and Ends

The World's Most Expensive Pizzas
When ordering pizza, coupons are your best friend. Unfortunately, coupons don’t exists for the world’s most expensive pizzas, and they certainly don’t offer a buy one get one free option. Here are six of the most expensive pizzas throughout the world.

NY man nears 3 millionth mile in Volvo
It just keeps going, and going, and going. No, it's not a battery. It's Irvin Gordon's 1966 Volvo P1800S.

Anniversary of Roswell UFO crash
Sixty five years ago Sunday, a legend was born out of Roswell New Mexico. The infamous Roswell UFO.

Not Coverd News

Has ‘organic’ been over-sized? - organic food has become a wildly lucrative business for big food and a premium-price-means-premium-profit section of the grocery store. the industry’s image — contented cows grazing on the green hills of family-owned farms — is mostly pure fantasy. or rather, pure marketing. Big Food, it turns out, has spawned what might be called big organic

Toxic health dumping scandal. - the dangerous disposal of hazardous substances including liquid uranium and contaminated objects, the dumping of the confidential records of patients and the mishandling of asbestos have exposed a culture of mismanagement in Sydney hospitals

Texas seeks new water supplies amid drought. - the punishing seven-year drought of the 1950s in texas brought about the modern era of water planning. but the drought of 2011 was the hottest, driest 12 months on record there.

Showing vultures a little love. - think of a giraffe lying on the serengeti plain. he has just died, maybe of disease, maybe he was killed by a pride of lions, but now he's a 19-foot-long, 4,000-pound mound of meat, which very soon is going to stink and rot and muck up the neighborhood.

Rising temperatures and drought create fears of a new dust bowl. - triple-digit days. weeks with little to no rain. soil crumbling away. stunted corn stalks. right now the fertile fields of the u.s. midwest are experiencing corn-killing weather, with parts of five corn-growing states in the region experiencing severe or extreme drought

Torrential rain wreaks havoc across Britain. - more than 200 flood warnings and alerts were issued by the environment agency on Saturday as torrential rain swept the country, causing havoc in many areas - the guardian

Scores killed in Russia floods. - severe flash floods in Russia's southern Krasnodar region have killed at least 99 people and affected nearly 13,000 in the area's worst natural disaster in decades, officials say. 

U.S. drought sets record. - more of the nation is in the grip of drought than at any time in the past 12 years, including over half of the contiguous united states, according to the u.s. drought monitor. - orange county register

Ocean acidity major reef threat

In this Jan. 23, 2006 file photo provided by Centre of Marine Studies, The University of Queensland, fish swim amongst bleached coral near the Keppel Islands in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

Lobster Glut Means Lobster Overdose

A glut has driven down lobster prices in Maine - bringing cheer to lobster-loving consumers at the start of the state's tourist season but gloom among lobstermen.

Oystapacolypse now

This is not good news for oyster lovers ... and our planet.
 a disturbing nationwide decline in oysters and the life-giving reefs that they build is particularly dramatic in California, where the once-abundant native species has been virtually wiped out, according to a recent scientific study.
the report, published in the scientific journal proceedings of the royal society b, said Olympia oysters, once an integral part of the native American diet and a staple during the San Francisco gold rush, are functionally extinct. 
"essentially, today, the number of oyster reefs is zero," said Rob Brumbaugh, restoration director for the nature conservancy and co-author of the study. "It's the complete elimination of a key species and habitat on the west coast." - More

Deer-hunting "mansions" on public land

How much comfort and ease does a hunter need? In St. Louis Country forest, shooters are not only building "deer stands" larger than some houses, but cutting down swathes of forest to make it easier to nail their targets. John Myers writes:
“We’re getting over-built. We’re seeing mansions out there — basically hunting shacks on stilts,” Bob Krepps, St. Louis County land commissioner, told the News Tribune.It’s not just a couple of boards slapped into a tree, but tree houses with stairways, decks, shingled roofs, commercial windows, insulation, propane heaters, carpeting, lounge chairs, tables and “even some with generators so they have electricity,” Krepps said.
St. Louis County foresters say deer stands, tree-cutting and food plots are getting out of hand on county land

Animals are even smarter than we thought

A researcher's recent surprises include learning that apes can set goals and follow through with them.
The more we study animals, the less special we seem.
Baboons can distinguish between written words and gibberish. Monkeys seem to be able to do multiplication. Apes can delay instant gratification longer than a human child can. They plan ahead. They make war and peace. They show empathy. They share.
“It’s not a question of whether they think; it’s how they think,” Duke University scientist Brian Hare says.

You cannot poison an opossum

As we established last week, marsupial biology is freaking crazy.Here's more proof. For this, you don't even need to go to exotic Australia. The common American opossum produces a protein called Lethal Toxin-Neutralizing Factor (LTNF). This protein does pretty much what the name implies—seeking out potentially deadly poisons and neutralizing them. The benefit: Opossums are all-but immune to the venom of poisonous snakes. (Including the venom of snakes native to continents where the common American opossum does not live.) But it gets weirder, as Jason Bittel explains on the BittelMeThis blog:
So they took some rats and injected them with LTNF, then pumped them full of otherwise lethal doses of venom from Thailand cobras, Australian taipans, Brazilian rattlesnakes, scorpions and honeybees. But the rats just laughed in their faces.
“Dude,” said one scientist, “we have to kill these rats. Do you watch AMC’s Breaking Bad?” The other scientists nodded of course because everybody watches Breaking Bad. So next they tried to kill the rats with ricin, an extremely lethal poison made from castor beans. (How lethal? Just ask Georgi Markov, the real-life Bulgarian defector killed by a ricin umbrella gun. That’s right, I said ricin umbrella gun.)
Alas, the ricin was a no-go. The now-snooty rats danced Ring Around the Rosie.
“That’s it!” screeched the lead scientist. “It’s time to release the botulinum toxin. Surely this will conquer the awkward opossum’s super serum!” But after many maniacal laughs and a few bolts of lightning, the rats were still alive.
(The paper does not mention what became of the super rats. I can only assume they went on to write “The Secret of Nimh” while the evil scientists lost their rat-killing grant.)
Read the research paper
Read the rest of Jason Bittel's story on the strange and wonderful biology of opossums

Kayaker Has Close Encounter with Great White

Walter Szulc Jr., in kayak at left, looks back at the dorsal fin of an approaching shark at Nauset Beach in Orleans, Mass.

Kayaker who was tailed by great white shark: ‘I paddled like there was no tomorrow’

Novice kayaker Walter Szulc Jr. says the man on the paddleboard told him about the shark that was tailing him. “To actually see it, to see the fin come out of the water behind me, it was a moment, almost like I was watching it happen to me,” he said.
Walter Szulc Jr. was kayaking about 50 yards off Nauset Beach in Orleans on Saturday when he noticed a man on a standup paddleboard pointing at something just behind him.
When he turned to look, it was every swimmer’s worst nightmare: a great white shark.
He said he could see the fin coming out of the water and the long shadow, but not the head. That’s because, he said, the head was underneath him.
“To actually see it, to see the fin come out of the water behind me, it was a moment, almost like I was watching it happen to me,” he said. “It’s hard to explain.”
What he does know is that he never looked back again. “It all happened so quick and I knew I had to react,” he said. “I had a deep swallow, that ‘Oh my God’ moment, then I just paddled.”
Szulc, 41, of Manchester, N.H., had never been in a kayak before that day, and he said he did not notice the commotion on the shore from beachgoers who had spotted the shark. That’s because he was looking for his two teenage children, wanting to showoff to them that he had finally figured out how to land on the beach without falling over in the waves.
The photo of Szulc being pursued by the long shadow has become an Internet sensation, and while he’s had a chance to reflect on it now, he said the chase – he estimates it lasted 60 to 90 seconds before the shark turned away – was all about reactions.
“I had my own little moment with God. I thought, ‘Is this it? Is this the way it’s going?’ All I could sense is that I should paddle, that I should put my part in here. I just knew that I didn’t want to end up in the water. And paddling-wise, I turned into a professional kayaker all of a sudden. I paddled like there was no tomorrow, like my life depended on it, and it’s quite possible that was the case.”
Just as he was approaching the wave break, the spot where he had already overturned several times that day, he said he saw the shark shadow turn away to the right. And, seconds later, he did tip, but he was in water shallow enough that he felt safe. Szulc said that he has always liked watching sharks on TV, but has no desire to get in the water with one again.
No shark activity has been observed in the Orleans area today, according to the harbormaster’s office.
Both spotter planes and patrol boats have been monitoring the area since the shark approached Szulc.
Although the waters are safe to swim in, beachgoers are encouraged to stay away from seals, which are a primary food source for sharks.

Blue whale gathering off Monterey nothing short of spectacular

By: Pete Thomas

Blue whales have flocked to Monterey Bay in what some off the Central California port are calling the most phenomenal showing of the endangered mammals in recent history. As many as 100 of the planet's largest creatures have congregated to gorge on tiny shrimp-like krill, and joining in the feast are dozens of smaller but more animated humpback whales, along with numerous other marine mammal species.
"Everywhere you go you just see blows," Nancy Black, owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Black said the phenomenon represents "a once-in-a-lifetime chance" for tourists to witness the splendor -- and gluttony -- of mammals that can measure 100 feet and weigh up to 150 tons.

What's incredible is the sheer numbers of blue whales -- there are only about 10,000 worldwide -- but also feeding behavior that's occurring at the surface and unusually close to shore. (Generally, krill remains lower in the water column and beyond sight of boaters.)

This includes horizontal and vertical lunge-feeding by whales that are capable of ingesting vast quantities of krill in single gulp.

"People get to see the world's largest mouth," said researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger, explaining that a blue whale's mouth is about one-quarter of the size of a mammal that consumes up to four tons of krill per day.

Krill, of course, is key to the blue whales' existence. About 2,000 blue whales spend the summer off the West Coast fattening up on the inch-long crustaceans, before migrating to southern waters in the fall. Some of the whales feed along the coast but much of it occurs beyond the range of whale-watching fleets.

Krill feed on phytoplankton and when conditions are prime in a given area, generally after an upwelling of cold water and nutrients, krill blooms can fill vast portions of the water column.

For the last two summers, Southern California boasted the most consistent blue whale sightings. But for now Monterey Bay is the great gathering place for the ocean giants, but also for smaller cetaceans present for the feast.

On Thursday's morning trip alone Monterey Bay Whale Watch reported sightings of 12 blue whales, 40 humpback whales, 400 Risso's dolphins, 300 northern right whale dolphins, 250 Pacific white-sided dolphins and two minke whales.

It just doesn't get any better than that.

--Note: Video was filmed by Mike Merlo aboard the Sea Wolf II out of Monterey Bay Whale Watch. Top photo shows a blue whale surfacing close to the boat. Second image shows an upside-down whale lunge-feeding, with throat pleats in full view.

Animal Pictures