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

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Daily Drift

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Today in History

Crusaders under Peter the Hermit reach Sofia in Hungary.
William III defeats the allied Irish and French armies at the Battle of Aughrim, Ireland.
British Admiral Lord Nelson loses his right eye at the siege of Calvi, in Corsica.
The Confederation of the Rhine is established in Germany.
Moscow is bombed by the German Luftwaffe for the first time.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposes a highway modernization program, with costs to be shared by federal and state governments.
The U.S. surgeon general, Leroy E. Burney, reports that there is a direct link between smoking and lung cancer.
G. Gordon Liddy, John Ehrlichman and two others are convicted of conspiracy and perjury in connection with the Watergate scandal.
Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale chooses Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate.

Warlord sentenced to prison for recruiting child soldiers

The recruitment of kids to fight wars is not new, but prosecuting someone who does this is very new. Hopefully this is the beginning of a trend to lock of adults who take advantage of kids to do their dirty work with guns or for sex.

 The Guardian:
The international criminal court has handed down its first sentence, jailing for 14 years a Congolese warlord who recruited and used child soldiers.

Thomas Lubanga was found guilty in March of abducting boys and girls under the age of 15 and forcing them to fight in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's eastern Ituri region in 2002-2003.

Lubanga, 51, is the first person convicted by the permanent war crimes tribunal.

The prosecution had asked for a "severe sentence" of 30 years. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, then chief prosecutor, said it was seeking the punishment "in the name of each child recruited, in the name of the Ituri region".

Dropped infected USB in the company parking lot as a way of getting malware onto the company network

Workers at the Dutch offices of DSM, a chemical company, report finding USB sticks in the company parking lot, which appeared to have been lost. However, when the company's IT department examined the sticks, they discovered that they were loaded with malware set to autorun in company computers, which would harvest employee login credentials. It appears that criminal dropped the keys in the hopes of tricking a employees into getting them into the company network. Cybercriminelen doen poging tot spionage bij DSM
Cybercriminals do attempt to commit espionage at DSM (Google Translate)

So, Do You Believe in Global Warming Now?

More than 2,000 highest max temperature records across the USA were
broken in July 2012. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Climatic Data Center)

No, I won't ask whether it's hot enough for ya, as I'm sure you've heard that many times before. But how about if we ask you the next best thing: so, do you believe in global warming now?
Bryan Walsh of TIME Magazine wrote:
This isn't to say that climate change is directly causing the extreme heat that's been suffocating much of the U.S. this summer. Fingerprinting a single extreme weather event as evidence of global warming — be it a heat wave, a major storm, a drought or a flood — take years of intensive study, though researchers are beginning to make those connections. A 2011 study in Nature made waves by linking rising instances of extreme precipitation in the second half of the 20th century to man-made global warming — the kind of large-scale survey that needs to be done to make the climate change case authoritatively. The sheer number of factors that influence individual weather events is immense. But we do have a pretty good idea of what climate change will look like in the years to come — if it continues uninterrupted — and it will look a lot like this summer, this spring and this winter. "The frequency of hot days and hot periods has already increased and will increase further," says Oppenheimer. "What we're seeing fits into the pattern you would expect."

Fracking all the way to the bank

Governor Andrew Cuomo, you have some company.

It turns out that New York is not the only state selling its soul to the natural gas industry this summer. Good ol’ North Carolina is joining the fracking bandwagon, too, and opening up its landscape to the unlovely risks of mini-earthquakes, water pollution and disease dissemination.

This past week, just in time to mark our nation’s birthday, repugicans in the North Carolina state legislature overrode a veto by Governor Beverly Purdue to give a green light to hydraulic fracturing. Drill, baby, drill!

Still, the vote was a close-run thing. The repugicans only prevailed because a veteran Democratic lawmaker, Becky Carney, mistakenly cast the deciding vote after a marathon legislative session late Monday night. She opposes fracking but inadvertently gave the repugicans the votes it needed to override the governor’s veto.

She cried when she realized her mistake – and with good reason. The industry has too much political juice to give its opponents room for error. The wider the fracking debate spreads, in fact, the more it becomes clear that conflicts of interest abound at every turn.

According to The Institute for Southern Studies, North Carolina state lawmakers took two fact-finding trips to Pennsylvania to investigate the issue. Their guide was a gas company facing multiple federal and state investigations into possible fracking-related violations, Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy. No prizes for guessing which “facts” they found.

One of Chesapeake’s business practices, according to a Reuters investigation, is to conspire with its top competitor, Encana Corp of Canada, to avoid bidding against each other in land-purchasing deals, all the better to keep prices artificially low. According to the piece:
In one email, dated June 16, 2010, [CEO Aubrey] McClendon told a Chesapeake deputy that it was time "to smoke a peace pipe" with Encana "if we are bidding each other up." The Chesapeake vice president responded that he had contacted Encana "to discuss how they want to handle the entities we are both working to avoid us bidding each other up in the interim." McClendon replied: "Thanks."
Shocker, that is not the only price-fixing natural gas scandal out there. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW, where I worked for years as the Deputy Director) has asked the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division to initiate an investigation into whether large natural gas producers, including Chesapeake and ConocoPhillips, are illegally conspiring to limit their production in a bid to raise demand and increase prices.

Turns out, over the past few months, natural gas prices have dropped to a ten-year low while inventories have increased dramatically. Clearly, it’s in the companies’ business interests to reverse that. The question is whether they are violating antitrust laws in the process – and whether the state legislatures they are so effectively targeting for new business even care.

What is so galling about all these anti-competitive practices by the natural gas industry is that on the one hand they conspire to push gas prices higher by reducing production and on the other they attack President Obama and the Democrats for not agreeing to give them more wells to drill.

The companies want government both ways – active on their behalf and inactive on everyone else’s. Our legislators should be smart enough not to fall for it.

Mapping the Politics of the Social Web

The folks at Engage used an analysis of Facebook likes to plot the political leanings of the users of various social networking sites. Its accuracy is anyone’s guess, but it is kind of interesting to see who cares more about what. You can click the graphic twice at the site to see the full-size version. here

Is your member of Congress on the House Judiciary Committee?

We need you to fight the return of SOPA! 
As we wrote yesterday, Rep Lamar "SOPA" Smith is trying to sneak through another variation on SOPA in the form of the the Intellectual Property Attache Act, which was steaming through Congress without any public scrutiny or debate.
Now it's begun to stumble, and TechDirt reports that "support for the bill is wavering. Some of the named co-sponsors have made it clear that they're just as unhappy that the bill was being rushed out this way without public comment and were uncomfortable with some of the specifics in the bill -- and that these concerns mean that the bill may actually be delayed."
Many of our American readers will be constituents of the Congresspeople on the House Judiciary Committee, where the Intellectual Property Attache Act originates. If you do, please take a moment to call your Congressperson's constituency office and let them know that this isn't how you want your country's Internet policy made, nohow.
Let The Judiciary Committee Know That Creating A Mini-SOPA Without Public Participation Is Unacceptable

Five more corps—HP, Deere, CVS, MillerCoors, BestBuy—abandon ALEC

This is what winning looks like.
Remember the methodology; we explained it here, while writing about the goals of an Effective Progressive Coalition:
The anti-ALEC campaign is a great example of moving the ball. It's also an example of targetting the branding, this time of corps. A group with "position" — Color of Change — painted ALEC support-corporations, one by one, in big bold Trayvon Martin colors. And that color said "racist."

They had timing and position — see why this is the right group to front this? — and ALEC is now branded as racist. The corps are fleeing, since race is still a bridge too far for them. (Nice to know that, by the way. Stash that one for later.)

The anti-ALEC campaign is a one-off, but it works. The groups running it are implicitly following the rules (do you see any violations?) and I don't expect them to stray. Great work.
Persistence works. While we were watching other bright things (sorry, scandals like LIBOR), the good folks at Color of Change — and each of their progressive associates — kept hitting the corps with an attack that works.

That attack — Are you still a supporter of the racist group ALEC?

Why stop something that works?

Now five more corps have joined the "I don't want to appear racist" group — HP, Deere, CVS, MillerCoors and BestBuy. I know, some of these groups are troglodytes from way back (I'm looking at you, Coors Family) but still, these are wins and should be celebrated.

The International Business Times:
Five more companies, including Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), the No. 1 computer maker, have left the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) since the Feb. 26 killing of Trayvon Martin, 17, in Sanford, Fla.

ALEC is a Washington, D.C.-based group that lobbies for laws in state legislatures, including the "stand your ground" law. George Zimmerman, 28, who's been charged with second-degree murder in the case, has cited the law as part of his defense.

The others to resign are CVS Caremark (NYSE: CVS), Deere & Co. (NYSE: DE), private MillerCoors LLC and BestBuy (NYSE: BBY), respective giants in drugstores, tractors, beer and electronics retailing.

Last month, Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), the No. 3 PC maker, quit ALEC after the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and other liberal groups launched anti-ALEC activities. Nearly 30 companies and nonprofits have quit by now.
Color of Change and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee deserve huge props for their work.

Here's what caputulation looks like. From the article:
In a letter to ColorOfChange, part of the coalition, HP's deputy general counsel, Gregg Melinson, wrote: "Although HP appears to have worked with ALEC in the past, HP is not currently a member of the organization."
Weasels. But weasels that did what we needed them to do.

How did we win? By using force; by threatening something these companies needed — the appearance of standing against racism.

We can win with Democrats the same way, you know. We just have to want to.

Would you like to say Thank You to Color of Change? Click here. Would you like to help them? Go here.

And thanks!

"Mitt Romney wants you to show your papers, but he won’t show us his"

Biden to Latinos about Romney's missing tax docs 
The Democrats have been doing quite a good job in focusing non-stop of Mitt Romney's mysterious finances.

Here is Biden this weekend:

And this is a man who says President Barack Obama is out of touch. Out of touch with the needs of the American people. This coming from a man who until recently had a Swiss bank account and millions of dollars invested in the Grand Cayman Islands beyond security – beyond scrutiny. And President Obama is out of touch?

When his father was a candidate for president in 1968, his father released 12 years of tax returns because he said, and I quote, “One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show,” end of quote. That was his father. His son has released only one year of his tax returns, making a lie of the old adage, “like father, like son.” He wants you to show your papers, but he won’t show us his. It’s kind of fascinating. So many questions.
Here's more on Romney's mysterious taxes from ABC News' Jonathan Karl:
KARL: We've looked back and found every presidential nominee in both parties over the last three decades has released more tax returns. Romney says he'll release his 2011 return when he finishes it, but that's it. It's not that he doesn't have more returns handy. When he was under consideration to be John McCain's running mate four years ago, he gave McCain 23 years of tax returns, noting at the time quote, “I'm a bit of a packrat so I had them all.” The Romney campaign calls all this attention to his personal finances a distraction—an effort they say by the Obama campaign to divert attention from the President's failed economic record. Diane.
This is the same thing the repugicans did with Sarah Palin. They were mortified as to what a simpleton she quickly turned out to be that they hid her from public scrutiny. Palin was only permitted to parrot scripted lines, and most certainly was not permitted to interview with the real media.

A similar thing is taking place with Mitt Romney's taxes. Something's wrong, the repugicans know it, and they hope to hide it from the public until the election has passed. They're trying filibuster transparency because the truth, the repugicans have found, has a liberal bias. So they either lie, or simply hide the truth all together.

Man tells Romney he won't vote for a mormon

OK, while not voting for Romney is a great thing because he is a lying sack of horseshit repugican.
But not voting for him because he is a member of an idiotic cult is another matter - then again being a repugican is being in an idiotic cult ... never mind.

The repugican plan to gerrymander the Electoral College

And folks, it would be legal. Here's what you need to know to understand the plan:
■ The Electoral College elects the president, not the American people.

■ Each state sends "electors" to the Electoral College based on a formula determined by that state via its legislature (plus the governor, who has to sign the bill).

■ Most states have a winner-take-all system of allocating Electoral College votes. The candidate who "wins the state" wins all Electoral College votes for that state.

■ The number of electors per state = the number of congressional districts (one for each district) plus two (one for each senator).

■ Because of the gerrymandering of congressional districts, it's possible for one party to dominate the state vote generally, but for the other party to win more congressional seats.

See where this is headed?

Did I mention that each state legislature determines how its Electoral College votes are allocated? (I think I did.) Did I mention that many state legislatures and governors' palaces are dominated by radicals devoted to constitutional coup? (Not yet.)

See where this is headed? Your constitutional coup in action.

From the good Nick Baumann at Mother Jones, an article last September:
The repugican's Genius Plan to Beat Obama in 2012

The repugican state legislators in Pennsylvania are pushing a scheme that, if repugicans in other states follow their lead, could cause President Barack Obama to lose the 2012 election—not because of the vote count, but because of new rules.

That's not all: There's no legal way for Democrats to stop them.

The problem for Obama, and the opportunity for repugicans, is the electoral college. Every political junkie knows that the presidential election isn't a truly national contest; it's a state-by-state fight, and each state is worth a number of electoral votes equal to the size of the state's congressional delegation. (The District of Columbia also gets three votes.) There are 538 electoral votes up for grabs; win 270, and you're the president. ...

Currently, 48 states and DC use a winner-take-all system in which the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state gets all of its electoral votes.

[But under] the repugican plan—which has been endorsed by top repugicans in both houses of the state Legislature, as well as the governor, Tom Corbett—Pennsylvania would change from this system to one where each congressional district gets its own electoral vote. (Two electoral votes—one for each of the state's two senators—would go to the statewide winner.)
If you — and by "you" I mean repugicans, because you Democrats only play not to lose — have no conscience about how to win, because you have a note from jesus in your wallet ... well, all you need to do is subvert the popular vote by dominating the Electoral College.

Thus if you — soulless repugicans, of course — own all elements of state government involved in redistricting, you can win that state for Mitt Romney.

Or for any other wingnut retainer you wish to elevate to the throne. For as long as you wish to. (Unless Democrats decide to stop losing and change the rules back, but that's a different problem.)

This is what Baumann calls the "redistricting trifecta" — both houses of the state legislature and the governor's box. That's all it takes to execute this plan.

Can it work? Baumann again:
This could cost Obama dearly. ... Pennsylvania repugicans get to draw the boundaries of the state's congressional districts without any input from Democrats.

Some of the early maps have leaked to the press, and Democrats expect that the Pennsylvania congressional map for the 2012 elections will have 12 safe repugican seats compared to just 6 safe Democratic seats.
So Obama could win the state, and lose 12 of Pennsylvania's 18 electoral votes.

Besides Pennsylvania, three more large states — Michigan, Ohio, and (perhaps) Wisconsin — are in play for this manÅ“uver; the repugican constitutional coup is well under way in those states, and Obama took all three in 2008 (back in those old-school winner-take-all days).

Depending on the closeness of the election, this move could definitely swing it.

What's the remedy? According to the article: "For now, the Democrats'—and Obama's—only real way of fighting back is political."

Not exactly leading with our strength, is it.

Watch for this move — I'd be shocked if they didn't try it everywhere they can.

Side note — As I watch this rolling coup, and also watch heart-rending videos of "ordinary Americans" on the losing end of the battle against the corp-enabled CEO Class, I'm torn by sadness, mixed with other feelings.

On the one hand, the pain is palpable. It hurts to see one's fellows go down hard. I always keep fighting, but this one we could seriously lose. And if we lose, we will all lose.

On the other hand, I can't keep myself from asking — Which of these suffering "ordinary Americans" voted for Reagan, for either Bush, for McCain? For Wisconsin's Scott Walker?

Which of them lived with their girlfriends while hating the hippies?

It is a puzzlement, these emotions. I confess to all of them.

Is Romney's line of "my trustee follows all US laws" enough?

People like Mitt Romney really don't get it. Part of the problem for millions of Americans is that Wall Street and people like Romney enriched themselves in ways that were technically legal, but unfair. Wall Street was deregulated, bankers gambled and lost costing taxpayers trillions yet they all received a bailout. It was legal, but was it fair?

While most Americans struggle to put away $5,000 or $6,000 per year for their IRA, Mitt Romney somehow managed to build a $100 million IRA. Allegedly legal, but is it fair? Time after time, we see the 1% with extreme benefits of knowing the tricks and games of the system because they have the money and access to know. It's legal, but is it fair?

Americans facing declining wages, fewer services, higher college fees for their kids, less unemployment if they need it, yet the wealthy 1% people are wading in benefits. The class warfare discussion of 2008 overlooked the reality that yes, there was class warfare and the rich won the war they wanted by a mile. It's not even close.

To listen to Mitt Romney give a response that his tax hideouts around the world are legal according to US law desperately fails to address the real issue of fairness. Why can the 1% get away with this yet Americans who have to work for a living are blocked from similar benefits?

Even if you take Romney's word on the legality of his posh bank accounts, we won't know how legal or how fair they are until we see proof. Wasn't it Reagan who said "trust, but verify" many years ago? Or are we only allowed to repeat Reagan history when it is convenient?

Legal or fair?
Mitt Romney said there is "nothing hidden" in his tax returns that have yet to be released, responding to a question during a radio interview set to air later today regarding an onslaught of criticism from Democrats - including President Obama - on his refusal to be more transparent with his financial records.

"I don't manage them. I don't even know where they are," said Romney in an interview with Iowa Radio. "That trustee follows all U.S. laws. All the taxes are paid, as appropriate."

"All of them have been reported to the government," said Romney, adding, "There's nothing hidden there."

The truth be told


And, you wonder why they do it ...

25% of Wall Street execs believe you need to cheat to win
Surprise! Is it any wonder we have a serious corruption and ethics problem on Wall Street? What's worse is that these are the people who are writing the laws of the land and preventing the US and Europe from economic recovery.
In a survey of 500 senior executives in the United States and the UK, 26 percent of respondents said they had observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace, while 24 percent said they believed financial services professionals may need to engage in unethical or illegal conduct to be successful.

Sixteen percent of respondents said they would commit insider trading if they could get away with it, according to Labaton Sucharow. And 30 percent said their compensation plans created pressure to compromise ethical standards or violate the law.
To be fair to Wall Street, they're above the law and they know it.

Wages fail to keep up with inflation

But the 1% still have their tax cuts and corporate profits are setting new records, so how can this be a problem? The naysayers might complain about how US consumers make or break the economy but since those middle class consumers don't count as much as corporate lobbyists, why is this a problem?

The corporate giants who continue to pummel the US system can just sell to each other and ignore the consumer. By the look of their actions, that's obviously what the political class thinks so there shouldn't be any problems with this.

Who needs 'em anyway, right?
Earlier this year, some 20,000 salaried workers of Ford, mainly in the United States and Canada, got their first hike in base pay in two years. It wasn't much: a raise of 2.7 percent, on average. But the Dearborn, Michigan, automaker threw in some bonuses in 2011 and again this year.

These days, that looks downright generous.

The annual pay raise — something workers could once rely on — has become a lot more iffy in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Despite rising corporate profits, average wage hikes aren't keeping pace with inflation. Some new workers are being paid less than they would have been five years ago, by some estimates. Hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers rose so little in the fiscal year ending in May that their growth rate tied a 47-year record low, government data show. Given the tight labor market, even those who have kept their jobs have had limited bargaining power on wages and benefit.

Economic Mobility Across Generations in the USA

The Great Recession notwithstanding, can you still bootstrap yourway to success in America? After all, America is built on the idea of equal opportunity, regardless of economic status at birth. If you work hard enough, even if you were born in poverty, you too can be rich.
But is that reality? Analysis of intergenerational income and wealth by the Pew Center on the States revealed that even though most Americans have higher family income than their parents did, it's still tough to climb that economic ladder for some:
Pursuing the American Dream: Economic Mobility Across Generations, the latest research from The Pew Charitable Trusts, shows opportunity is not the same for everyone. While 84 percent of Americans have higher family incomes than their parents did at the same age, those born at the top and bottom of the income ladder are likely to stay there as adults.
"The ideal of the American Dream is complex and we see again that one’s ability to achieve it is impacted by race, education, and family background,” said Erin Currier, manager of Pew’s Economic Mobility Project.
Pursuing the American Dream uses the most current data to measure mobility by family income and family wealth, furthering the project’s understanding of how closely tied a person’s place on the economic ladder is to that of his or her parents. The research shows that:
- African Americans are still less likely to exceed their parents’ income and wealth than are whites and they are more likely to be stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder across a generation.
- A four-year college degree promotes upward mobility from the bottom and prevents downward mobility from the middle and the top.
- Most sons are meeting or exceeding the earnings of their fathers at the same age. However, the sons’ earnings represent a smaller proportion of family income than did men’s earnings in the fathers’ generation.

America: Land of the Anxious and Home of the Stressed

You'd be excused if you're feeling a bit anxious given today's economic outlook, but worrying has become a popular pastime for many Americans, even in good times.
Taylor Clark, the author of Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool noted that Americans are five times more likely to have anxiety than Nigerians, who face much more basic life-necessities problems.
But why?
In this article over at The Atlantic, Maura Kelly explores the reason why we've become a nation of worrywarts: you can blame our (broken) system of meritocracy!
The meritocratic pressure-cooker
The idea that we can accomplish anything we put our minds to is so pervasive that we often have a lot on our minds. We feel pressure to take on more responsibilities and to make the "right" choices -- and we beat ourselves up when we fail, as Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former director of policy planning for the State Department, wrote in this month's Atlantic cover story. "Millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot)," she wrote. And unsurprisingly, perhaps, women suffer from a number of anxiety disorders -- including generalized anxiety and panic attacks -- at a rate twice as high as that for men.
But men feel the heat, too. As McNamee puts it: "A reasonable argument could be made that the race to get ahead in America is particularly stressful. If Americans believe that individuals 'get what they deserve' based on their merit (innate abilities, having the right attitude, working hard, playing by the rules), then distain for the unsuccessful is seen as warranted." Comedian D.L. Hughley makes a similar point in his forthcoming book, I Want You to Shut the F#ck Up: How The Audacity of Dopes is Ruining America: "There's this American idea that we're a meritocracy, that people reach the top through the virtue of hard work and perseverance. But the flipside to that thinking is that the poor ... must be flawed, lazy, stupid, or whatever other terrible adjective you would like to use. They didn't work hard enough in some kind of way but had every opportunity."

Crackpots, geniuses, and how to tell the difference

Over at Download the Universe, Ars Technica science editor John Timmer reviews a science ebook whose science leaves something to be desired. Written by J. Marvin Herndon, a physicist, Indivisible Earth presents an alternate theory that ostensibly competes with plate tectonics. Instead of Earth having a molten core and a moveable crust, Herndon proposes that this planet began its existence as the core of a gas giant, like Jupiter or Saturn. Somehow, Earth lost its thick layer of gas and the small, dense core expanded, cracking as it grew into the continents we know today. What most people think are continental plate boundaries are, to Herndon, simply seams where bits of planet ripped apart from one another.
The problem is that Herndon doesn't offer a lot of evidence to support this idea.
Once the Earth was at the center of a gas giant, Herndon thinks the intense pressure of the massive atmosphere compressed the gas giant's rocky core so that it shrunk to the point where its surface was completely covered by what we now call continental plates. In other words, the entire surface of our present planet was once much smaller, and all land mass.
I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation of this, figuring out the radius of a sphere that would have the same surface area as our current land mass. It was only half the planet's present size. Using that radius to calculate the sphere's volume, it's possible to figure out the density (assuming a roughly current mass). That produced a figure six times higher than the Earth's current density — and about three times that of pure lead. I realize that a lot of the material in the Earth can be compressed under pressure, but I'm pretty skeptical that it can compress that much. And, more importantly, if Herndon wants to convince anyone that it did, this density difference is probably the sort of thing he should be addressing. He's not bothered; the idea that the continents once covered the surface of the Earth was put forward in 1933, and that's good enough for him.
Herndon's book came out with the help of a vanity publishing house and Timmer uses it as an example of why peer review is important—it forces scientists with interesting ideas to actually present evidence and go through a process of answering questions about and explaining holes in that evidence. Even though peer review can be flawed, it's a much better system than not having any kind of vetting process available.
I noticed something else here, as well: The similarities in the way different kinds of badly done science often work. Even though Herndon can't present evidence supporting his theory, he can tell a good story about it. If I'm honest, the idea that, once upon a time, Earth was a gas giant is pretty appealing. As a story. It makes our planet seem more impressive. It gives a sense of a secret history known only to a few. It connects to familiar sounding things: Gas giants and Earth. And, if you don't know all the astronomical background that Timmer does, it sounds plausible.
That reminds me of something Pesco posted about recently: Creationist textbooks that teach kids that the Loch Ness Monster might be a surviving dinosaur and therefore evolution must be wrong. I learned high school biology from one of these textbooks. (In fact, that such arguments exist is one of those facts I have forgotten is not widely known information. My reaction when Pesco posted that story was to think, "Oh, right. I guess most of our readers don't know that already, do they?")
In a lot of ways, the Loch Ness Monster hypothesis is a lot like Herndon's Gas Giant Earth hypothesis. They both have storytelling appeal, especially a great sci-fi hook. They both offer access to secret knowledge. They both propose a connection between familiar ideas—a tactic that makes these hypotheses seem more accessible to lay people than the ideas they propose to replace. They both do a lot of hand-waving and mumbling when you start asking questions about the details.
I think that it can be legitimately really hard to tell the difference between science and pseudoscience. We want to know about the world around us. We often need scientific data to make useful decisions in our lives. But we can't just go out and do all the research ourselves because we have other stuff to do. We're each busy with our own area of expertise and don't have time to become experts in every question we're ever going to need an answer for. Specialization of labor is a bitch like that. At a certain point, we have to trust people who are experts in a given field to tell us what they've learned.
So how do we know who to trust?
I don't think I have a perfect answer for that, but looking at books like Herndon's and those Creationist biology texts, I have a couple suggestions:
1) If it makes a really nice story, ask for the details. (Good science usually makes a bigger deal out of the evidence than it makes out of the story. In fact, that's actually a problem many legit scientists have—they're better at talking about the details and data then they are at telling stories. But most of us respond to stories better than we respond to details and data.)
2) If the proof seems self-evident (i.e., it's just good common sense), ask more questions.
3) If believing the idea will make you smarter than the official experts, be suspicious. Experts aren't always right. But they do know their fields and experience does matter. Chances are, you're an expert in something. Say you knew how to bake pies really well. You'd be pretty suspicious if somebody who didn't bake (or didn't even really cook much) told you that you were making pies all wrong—and that they had a secret pie recipe that was better than yours. They might be right. It's worth taking a look at their evidence. But it also worth being skeptical.
4) If the studies used to prove it are really old, or if there's only a few of them, dig deeper. What looks like truth when you look at five research papers can very quickly become completely untrue when you look at 500. What sounds like a good idea when presented by it's originator can turn out to be terrible when you talk to a few other people. Try to get a sense of what the bulk of evidence is saying.
5) If you're told you can't trust any other sources of information (especially because of Big Conspiracy, or because so-and-so expert is a bad person in other areas of his or her life), be cautious. Replication is a powerful tool. It helps us get past accidental and intentional biases to see something closer to the truth. Suppressing replication is also powerful, because it leaves you with no way to check against bias.
Obviously, all these rules come with caveats. But I think they're a good place to start.

Odds and Ends

Without IDs from home, Mexicans struggle in US
She was born in Mexico and lives in the United States, but Laura Rocio Ordonez does not officially exist in any country.

Reality: While even one sunburn may double the chance of eventually developing melanoma , your kids are still at risk even if they never burn.

Boomers are going to be hurting for mental health care
Getting older doesn't just mean a risk for physical ailments like heart disease and bum knees: A new report finds as many as 1 in 5 seniors has a mental health or substance abuse problem.
Artificial sweeteners no silver bullet for weight loss
You've got a sugar craving but don't want to put on more pounds, so you turn to alternative sweeteners.

Higgs Boson "set to music, plays like a jaunty tango."

The data set which revealed the existence of the Higgs Boson may be represented as musical notation.

XKCD reveals your visual perception quirks

Today's XKCD, "Visual Field," is a terrific mind-bender: a series of optical experiments to try with your computer's screen and a rolled-up piece of paper that demonstrate the quirks of your visual field: your blind-spots, your ability to perceive detail, night vision, the ability to perceive polarization, sprites and floaters, color perception and so on.
Visual Field

Artificial Retina for the Blind

Carnegie Mellon professor has developed a retinal prosthesis that restores sight to the blind:
"My group has created a micro-fabricated thin film that is inserted behind the retina of the human eye. From this thin plastic film, the width of an eyelash, flexible electrodes send stimulating current signals to retinal nerves. A miniature microchip located in a titanium package generates these stimulating currents. That package is attached to the patient's eye, and receives image signals from specially designed glasses worn by a visually impaired patient. My device works very much like a camera, replacing the function of the rods and cones of the human eye," Kelly said.
To the novice, the eye operates on the same principle as the camera - the only machine directly modeled on a sense organ. The eye, however, takes two simultaneous pictures, one in black and white, the other in color. Cells in the retina, called rods, register black and white only; they are so sensitive they can detect light as faint as 100-trillionth of a watt. Other retinal cells, the cones, are affected by color and are most abundant at the fovea, the place where the image falls when the eye focuses. The blind spot, lacking both rods and cones, is where the optic nerve leaves the retina, carrying the pictures for the brain to see.
It looks better than having a tooth planted in your eye: More

Why Airline Food is So Salty

That's a scanning electron micrograph of dissolved salt by Signe Emma, who used it to illustrate the reason airline food (remember that? You'd have to travel abroad to eat airline meals nowadays) is so salty:
At 30.000 feet the cabin humidity drops by 15%, and the lowered air pressure forces bodily fluids upwards. With less humidity, people have less moisture in their throat, which slows the transport of odours to the brains smell and taste receptors. That means that if a meal should taste the same up in the air, as on ground it needs 30% of extra salt.

Girls Have More Math Anxiety Than Boys

If the thought of a math test has you breaking out in sweats, you'd be glad to know that it's actually a medical condition called "mathemetics anxiety" and that you're not alone.
Math anxiety is a vicious circle: having math anxiety hurts performance in math, which makes the sufferer even more anxious and so on.
Now, new research shows that girls have more math anxiety than boys:
"These results might suggest that girls may have had the potential to perform better than boys in mathematics, however, their performance may have been attenuated by higher levels of (mathematics anxiety)," the research team from the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford write online today (July 9) in the journal Behavioral and Brain Functions. [...]
They found that test anxiety was also linked to poor mathematics performance, but this link was stronger for girls than boys.
Wayne Parry of LiveScience explains: here

Baseball cards in Ohio attic might fetch millions

Karl Kissner picked up a soot-covered cardboard box that had been under a wooden dollhouse in his grandfather's attic.

Indrani and Her Palace

Model and photographer Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri leads a charmed life of luxury, fame, and jet-setting. Yet she turned her 300-room ancestral mansion in India into a school for poor children, with special emphasis on boosting the potential of girls.
Attacking this problem has been a lifelong pursuit, Indrani says. To that end, she recently shot a short film called The Girl Epidemic, depicting a futuristic world in which girls are treated like an infectious disease. Shot in the slums of Mumbai, the film is the brainchild of New York ad agency Strawberry Frog, which produced the film for a nonprofit group, Project Nanhi Kali, that works to raise awareness for the plight of Indian girls. “We created a metaphor,” Indrani says of the film, which shows men in white masks, swooping up girls and whisking them away from their homes. “The real situation is much more diabolical.”
Indrani used the money she earned as a teenage model to open the school. Her father returned to India to run the facility full-time. Read more about Inrani and her work at The Daily Beast.

Random Photo

Polygamous sect accused of sending cat buried alive in concrete

A man who found a kitten encased in concrete at his home fears it was sent as a threat from a polygamist Mormon sect. The tiny cat was discovered alive but audibly in pain, inside a tube in the back yard of Isaac Wyler, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Andrew Chatwin, who has also abandoned the FLDS, claimed it was intended as a warning to Mr Wyler to stop speaking out against the church.

The FLDS achieved notoriety when its leader Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison last year for sexually assaulting two underage girls he had 'married'. Mr Chatwin, who left the church in 1999 and has since criticised its polygamist beliefs, told said that FLDS members frequently left dead animals on Mr Wyler's property. In the latest case, six weeks ago, a cat was found buried up to its neck in concrete in a metal tube being used to construct a shade for horses in Mr Wyler's yard in Colorado City, Arizona.

It was mewling incessantly and appeared to be struggling to escape in a video filmed by Mr Chatwin and a friend. They took down the pipe and cut off the metal, leaving just a lump of concrete with the kitten's head sticking out. They then took a hammer to the concrete and hacked it off, but had to leave lumps still sticking to the fur of the terrified animal.

Contains graphic footage.

LiveLeak link.

Mr Chatwin handed the cat over to a local rescue charity, but sadly it died a few days later. When he reported the apparent abuse to a Colorado City sheriff who is allegedly a member of the FLDS, he received little help. 'He kind of chuckled and laughed a little bit and then he said that if it was up to him, he'd just throw dirt on it,' Mr Chatwin said.

Twenty Weird and Fantastic Fungi

Fungi are simply amazing in general, but these 10 species are so uniquely fascinating, they’re certainly worth reading about. For example, the false morel may look brainy like a morel and taste unbelievable when prepared correctly, but when it’s cooked wrong, the results  can be deadly.

Runaway crocodile on the loose in German lake

A small crocodile is on the loose in a Bavarian lake popular with bathers and has so far eluded a team of 12 police divers. The aquatic reptiles aren't indigenous to any part of the European continent, but that hasn't stopped an apparent stray creature from adding a bit of summer suspense at the lake.
There have been two sightings already this month, including a dramatic encounter with a 44-year-old woman who was swimming in the Klausensee lake on July 1 and collided with the reptile, sustaining a 7 centimeter (2.75 inch) scratch in the process. "The woman said she was swimming to retrieve her air mattress, which had drifted off along the shore when she was suddenly covered in earth and an animal swam over her, it had a long tail and was about a metre (three feet) long," police in the town of Schwandorf said in a statement.

"She fled out of the water calling for help and described what had happened to her son who had come rushing towards her. But he could only see bubbles in the water." Police have been scouring the large lake with binoculars and have banned people from swimming or approaching its shore, but so far the Schwandorf community hasn't descended into a Jaws-style panic.

"I don't think it's a life-threatening crocodile, it's only a meter long and the tail will take up a lot of that, so it's snout is unlikely to be huge," police spokesman Michael Rebele said. "An aggressive dog would pose a bigger threat. This animal doesn't appear very aggressive. The claws and teeth could cause injuries though." The crocodile was last reportedly sighted at around 8 p.m. last Saturday by a man walking along the shore.

A Plant Makes Mice Spit Out its Seeds

Spiny Mouse
Plants develop tasty fruit mainly because the animals that eat it help disperse the seeds. The berry plant Ochradenus baccatus takes this a giant step further, with an enzyme and catalyst formula that causes mice to do its bidding. You know, like those drain cleaners that mix two chemicals to become extra-powerful for a short time. Read all about it and other examples of symbiosis at Environmental Graffitti.

Funny Pictures

Good memories

Baby’s Best Friend by Preventing Infections

The Dog
Woof! New research shows that a dog is not only man's best friend, it can also be a baby's best friend ... by preventing infections:
The study, posted online Monday and based on 397 children who lived in rural and suburban parts of Finland, examined whether contact with dogs and cats during a baby's first year offers any protection from respiratory tract infections, such as colds and resulting common ear infections. "The children having dogs at home were healthier, they had less ear infections and they needed less antibiotics," said Eija Bergroth, the study's lead author and a pediatrician affiliated with Kuopio University Hospital in Kuopio, Finland. [...]
One theory is dogs that spend a lot of time outside likely bring more dirt and bacteria inside the home compared with dogs and cats that spend more time indoors, she said. Researchers believe that exposure to dirt and bacteria builds up babies' immune systems.
Jennifer Corbett Dooren of The Wall Street Journal has the post: here

Why Dog Loves to Chew Bones

Why do dogs love to chew bones? Because they've got the jaws to do it, a new research studies confirmed. Joao Munoz-Doran of the National University of Colombia explains:
"And after many generations of this grouping behaviour, there are new selective pressures on their [skull shape]," said the researcher.
This pressure meant that animals with larger teeth and stronger jaws were more likely to succeed in hunting, and to survive to pass on their large-toothed, strong-jawed genes to the next generation.
"They developed strength in their muscles - especially the muscles that close their mouth," said Dr Munoz-Doran.
"And bones that are more resistant to bending, so they could support the mechanical strains of biting the prey.
"Over time, they became adapted to be 'hypercarnivorous'."
The researcher pointed out that domestic dogs had "very good evolutionary reasons to enjoy chewing a bone".
"They have the tools to do that," he told BBC Nature, "and they want to use their tools."
Victoria Gill of BBC Nature has the story: here

Baby giant panda's death in Tokyo sparks grief

The death of a baby panda in Japan stopped regular television programming and brought a Tokyo zoo director to tears on Wednesday, a week after its birth sent ripples of excitement across the nation.

Spacefaring Worms Live Longer

Want to live longer? The good news is that all you have to do is move about 50 miles. The bad news? Straight up into space.
That is, if these scientific findings on the nematode C. elegans hold true for humans:
Spacefaring worms undergo genetic changes associated with longer lives in their Earth-bound cousins, research has shown.
A number of Caenorhabditis elegans worms were carried aboard a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and brought back for study.
Researchers found reduced activity of five genes in the worms that, when suppressed in the species on Earth, lead to longer lifetimes.

Rare black tiger spotted in India

A very rare melanistic or black tiger has been photographed in the core area of the Similipal National Park in Odisha. "We have physical evidence on existence of black tiger inside the core area of the tiger reserve in the Similipal National Park," Forest and Environment minister Debi Prasad Mishra has said. Stating that the picture of the rare species was captured on camera, Mishra said, "We have not heard of the existence of the black tiger anywhere in the country."

He was speaking after the first governing body meeting of Similipal Tiger Conservation Foundation. Explaining the difference between an ordinary tiger and a black one, Regional Chief Conservator of Forest, Similipal, Anup Nayak said "The melanistic tiger also belongs to the Royal Bengal Tiger species and same in size as yellow ones. The difference between the black and common type of tigers is that the former has wide black patches, while the black color is prominent in the melanistic tiger," he said.

While there was a difference of opinion between the state government and the Center over the population of tigers at Similipal, Mishra said, "We have installed 68 cameras in the core area where density of tigers is more. A total of 200 cameras will be fixed in the tiger reserve area to count the exact number of tigers at the onset of winter," he said.

The state government in consultation with National Tiger Conservation Authority, Ministry of Environment and Forest has also decided to raise a Similipal Tiger Protection Force, the minister said. The force would comprise an assistant conservator of forest, three forest rangers, 19 foresters and 90 special tiger forest guards, he said. Out of the 90 special tiger forest guards, 63 would be regularly recruited and 27 from among local forest dwellers.

Crustacean species is newly named after Bob Marley

Reggae legend Bob Marley has something in common with Barack Obama and Elvis Presley now: All three men are have biological species named after them. "In Marley's case, it's a small parasitic crustacean blood feeder that infests fish in Caribbean coral reefs, now known as Gnathia marleyi."

Scientists have certainly stirred it up some with this: they've named a parasite that feed on blood after the reggae legend Bob Marley.
Paul Sikkel, an assistant professor of marine ecology and a field marine biologist at Arkansas State University, discovered and just named after Marley a "gnathiid isopod"--a small parasitic crustacean blood feeder that infests certain fish that inhabit the coral reefs of the shallow eastern Caribbean. Sikkel named the species Gnathia marleyi. [...]
Sikkel said, "I named this species, which is truly a natural wonder, after Marley because of my respect and admiration for Marley's music. Plus, this species is as uniquely Caribbean as was Marley."
Were he alive today, we have to imagine his reply: "Um, thanks?"

Animal Pictures