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

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Daily Drift

The injustice of it all!

Some of our readers today have been in:
Szczecin, Poland
Kluang, Malaysia
Paris, France
Cape Town, South Africa
Seremban, Malaysia
Warsaw, Poland
Sampaloc, Philippines
Puchong, Malaysia
London, England
Gdansk, Poland
Hanoi, Vietnam
Kiev, Ukraine
George Town, Malaysia
Wroclaw, Poland
Mirzapur, Bangladesh
Lahore, Pakistan
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Moscow, Russia
Poznan, Poland
Makati, Philippines
Istanbul, Turkey
Kuching, Malaysia
Vilnius, Lithuania
Islambad, Pakistan
Belgrade, Serbia
Sofia, Bulgaria
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Ljubjana, Slovenia
Brussels, Belgium
Copenhagen, Denmark
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
Vancouver, Canada
Sao Palo, Brazil 

Don't forget to visit our sister blog!
Editor's Note: You may have noticed that we have posted later in the day for the past few days. This is due to life being, well, life and our schedule has changed so we are posting later in the day as a result.

Today in History

331BC Alexander the Great decisively shatters King Darius III's Persian army at Gaugamela (Arbela), in a tactical masterstroke that leaves him master of the Persian Empire.
1273 Rudolf of Hapsburg is elected emperor in Germany.
1588 The feeble Sultan Mohammed Shah of Persia, hands over power to his 17-year old son Abbas.
1791 In Paris, the National Legislative Assembly holds its first meeting.
1839 The British government decides to send a punitive naval expedition to China.
1847 Maria Mitchell, American astronomer, discovers a comet and is elected the same day to the American Academy of Arts—the first woman to be so honored. The King of Denmark awarded her a gold medal for her discovery.
1856 The first installment of Gustav Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary appears in the Revue de Paris after the publisher refuses to print a passage in which the character Emma has a tryst in the back seat of a carriage.
1864 The Condor, a British blockade-runner, is grounded near Fort Fisher, North Carolina.
1878 General Lew Wallace is sworn in as governor of New Mexico Territory. He went on to deal with the Lincoln County War, Billy the Kid and write Ben-Hur. His Civil War heroics earned him the moniker Savior of Cincinnati.
1890 Yosemite National Park is dedicated in California.
1908 The Ford Model T, the first car for millions of Americans, hits the market. Over 15 million Model Ts are eventually sold, all of them black.
1942 The German Army grinds to a complete halt within the city of Stalingrad.
1943 British troops in Italy enter Naples and occupy Foggia airfield.
1944 The U.S. First Army begins the siege Aachen, Germany.
1946 Eleven Nazi war criminals are sentenced to be hanged at Nuremberg trials—Hermann Goring, Alfred Jodl, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachin von Ribbentrop, Fritz Saukel, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Julius Streicher, and Alfred Rosenberg.
1974 Five Nixon aides–Kenneth Parkinson, Robert Mardian, Nixon's Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell–go on trial for conspiring to hinder the Watergate investigation.


The World's First One Ton Pumpkin

oThe Topsfield Fair, near Boston, Massachusetts, has an annual giant pumpkin weigh-off and has for years offered a $10,000 bonus for the first one-ton pumpkin. Ron Wallace of Greene, Rhode Island, has delivered that pumpkin. His entry weighed 2,009 pounds!
A throng of press and spectators gathered around as Wallace celebrated at the end of Friday night’s weigh-off. All night, people posed with the behemoth that sat at the far end of the fairground’s arena, with members of the New England Pumpkin Growers Association and others saying measurements were off the charts and foretold this could be the big one.

“It’s a great world record,” said the general manager of America’s oldest agricultural fair, James O’Brien. “Topsfield has had a lot of world records, but this one is special. This is absolutely one of the top sites in the country where you can come and weigh-off a pumpkin.” There have been seven world record giant pumpkins weighed at Topsfield in the last 15 years, O’Brien said.
The previous world record pumpkin was 1,843.5 pounds, set just a day before Wallace's weigh-in. Wallace won $5,500 for this year's competition and the $10,000 bonus, too. More

Non Sequitur


State probe looms for firm registering repugican voters

Questionable registrations in Fla. prompt N.C. leaders to fire firm amid election officials’ review
By Elisabeth Arriero
A company hired by the North Carolina repugican cabal to register voters is under review by state election officials after the firm was accused of submitting questionable registration forms in Florida. The state repugican cabal has fired the firm and the state may decide this week whether to launch a full investigation.
Strategic Allied Consulting, which worked for the repugican national cabal and the state repugican cabal in North Carolina, Florida and several other states, was fired by the rnc and the repugican cabal in at least three states after it turned in 106 questionable voter registration forms in Palm Beach County, Fla.
“We take any threat to the voting process very seriously,” said Rob Lockwood, the communications director for the North Carolina repugican cabal in an email. “We have terminated our relationship.”
The North Carolina board of elections is contacting local boards of elections in the state to see if they have found any discrepancies or questionable forms being submitted by Strategic Allied. The board will decide whether to launch an investigation, said board Director Gary Bartlett. “Right now, we’re looking to see if there’s been any impropriety,” he said. “No one yet has brought to my attention that there is something wrong here, but I asked my investigator to see if we have a problem. And if we do, we will deal with it.”
In Florida, a worker with the Palm Beach County elections office notified officials after discovering that several voter registration forms had similar handwriting and signatures, as well as other discrepancies.
The initial report spawned a larger investigation that found 106 new registration forms were suspected of being fraudulent, the Miami Herald reported last week.
Officials with the company said the fraudulent forms were all tied to the same Strategic Allied employee, who was terminated. But shortly after the initial incident, more Florida counties from across the state reported similar irregularities with voter registration forms. All were traced to the repugican cabal of Florida.
State repugican cabal officials said the party would not accept any hint of irregularity in voter registration. “We have zero tolerance for any threat to the integrity of elections,” said Sean Spicer, communications director for the rnc, in a statement.
Under ‘quality control’
Officials would not give any details of Strategic Allied’s work for the repugican cabal in North Carolina. Robin Hayes, chairman of the state repugican cabal, referred questions about the company to Lockwood, who issued a statement Sunday but could not be reached for further comment.
Hayes said that the state party organization hired the company on the recommendation of the rnc. He said he was not aware of state party leaders investigating the company’s past on their own after that recommendation. “There are good people running the rnc, and I have a lot of confidence in them,” he said.
Strategic Allied Consulting was incorporated in June, according to the Herald, but its affiliated companies have been around for nearly a decade, the firm’s website said.
A representative with Strategic Allied could not be reached Sunday, but, according to its website, the firm and its affiliated companies have registered more than 500,000 voters across the country during the past eight years. It has also conducted voter registration and grass-roots projects in more than 40 states.
“The reason we have quality control measures in place is because we recognize that with projects this large, there will be isolated incidents of individuals trying to cheat the system,” a statement on the company’s website read. “Our quality control measures and the clear intent of our culture (do) not tolerate fraud.”
Records indicate that at least seven states have worked with Strategic Allied Consulting in recent months.
But in the wake of the incident in Palm Beach County, at least three – North Carolina, Colorado, and Virginia - have fired the company, according to media reports.
The rnc paid the firm $2.9 million this year, according to elections records. Strategic Allied Consulting was the only vendor the rnc hired to register voters.
Strategic Allied Consulting was formed in June by Nathan Sproul. Sproul is a repugican consultant who has been investigated in the past for voter fraud in other states. An attorney for the firm, Fred Petti, told the Herald that those investigations turned up no evidence of fraud.
A ‘disturbing’ effort
Bob Hall, executive director of the nonpartisan election reform group Democracy North Carolina, criticized the decision to hire the group. “It’s disturbing that the (NC) state party would hire this firm to begin with knowing the reputation it had for misdeeds and wrongdoings and now it’s also beyond ironic that the party that wants to make fraud a big issue is itself engaging in fraud, at least in Florida.,”
Still, Hall noted that North Carolina has several safeguards in place to prevent voter registration fraud from escalating to actual voter fraud.
For instance, voters must provide either the last four digits of their social security number or their driver’s license number during registration. They also must provide a birth date.
The board of elections also sends postcards to registrants to verify their personal information. “Our county boards of elections are pretty good at reviewing applications and sorting out those with problems,” Bartlett said. “I’ve got to really give them credit for doing a great job.”
Bartlett said third-party advocacy groups such as Strategic Allied Consulting are not required to register with the state’s board of elections.
Although the board is available to help such groups make sure they comply with state law, not every group seeks that guidance, he said.
“We’ve never had a more intense focus on getting out the vote. This was one facet of that but there are hundreds of people volunteering,” said N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis. “Those will continue.”

Did you know ...

The consumer financial protection bureau gets refunds from Discover card for services fraudulently sold to customers

That Obama's lead among women is immense

That Jimmy Carter had an 8 point lead over Reagan before the debates? Well, maybe not...

That psychopaths have a poor sense of smell

Why CEO's are not presidential material

There's nothing sexier than librarian tattoos

Here's where crazy wingnut memes are invented

About the fantasy world of the persecuted rich

And I Quote

Romney’s “André the Giant” moment in Wednesday’s presidential debate

Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post:

Man in Black and Fezzik fight in the “Princess Bride.”
The one-on-one dynamic: In “The Princess Bride”, one of the Fix’s all-time favorite movies, Andre the Giant plays a henchman named Fezzik. When faced with fighting a single person after years of battling groups of men all at once (he was Andre the Giant, after all), Fezzik struggles. “You use different moves when you’re fighting half a dozen people than when you only have to be worried about one,” he explains. 

Romney has spent his entire debate life — in his career as a national politician — debating on stage with a group of people, most of whom were trying to gang up on him. Obama’s most recent debate experience, on the other hand, comes from his three general election debates against McCain and, before that, a one-on-one debate with then-New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary.
Debating— like fighting—one person is different than doing it against a group. Let’s see how Romney adjusts.
And the group Romney fought was pretty lame.  Bachmann, Gingrich, Santorum, Perry?  None of them hold a candle to Obama’s intellect and poise.
But Romney has other problems as well. While the conventional wisdom is that he simply needs to exceed expectations (so if he sets expectations really low, he wins no matter what), we’re way past that at this point.  Romney needs to take Obama down and out in that first debate this coming Wednesday, and it’s not entirely clear how he does that.
Romney will certainly want to focus on the economy, but of course, polls are showing that consumer confidence is increasing as people’s outlook on the economy improves. So it’s not clear the economic message works any more, or at least works sufficiently.
The economy isn’t key for Romney, looking presidential is. He has to come off as a viable alternative to the sitting president, and then some.  Up until now, Romney’s come off rather Keystone Cops-ish, not ready for prime time. And if past is prologue, Romney doesn’t react well when he’s attacked during a debate. He gets all prickly, and prissy. That $10,000 bet comes to mind.
People already think Romney is a bit of an ass and a buffoon.  Perhaps the buffoon part isn’t hard to overcome in a debate (assuming the man isn’t as daft as he often appears), but once people think you’re an ass, it’s not something you live down easily.  Even flip-flopping endlessly on health care reform may not be enough to convince the people to love the man who knew too little.

Daily Comic Relief

Quant: leaving finance made me happy, you should try it

Cathy "Mathbabe" O'Neil is a former finance-industry quantitative analyst who escaped her former career and has advice for other quants looking to do something better with their lives. She works in a startup now, and offers a fascinating study of the contrasts between finance culture and startup culture:
First, I want to say it’s frustrating how risk-averse the culture in finance is. I know, it’s strange to hear that, but compared to working in a start-up, I found the culture and people in finance to be way more risk-averse in the sense of personal risk, not in the sense of “putting other people’s money at risk”.
People in start-ups are optimistic about the future, ready for the big pay-out that may never come, whereas the people in finance are ready for the world to melt down and are trying to collect enough food before it happens. I don’t know which is more accurate but it’s definitely more fun to be around optimists. Young people get old quickly in finance.
Second the money is just crazy. People seriously get caught up in a world where they can’t see themselves accepting less than $400K per year. I don’t think they could wean themselves off the finance teat unless the milk dried up.
Telling people to leave finance

Investors eye the 'cliff' as Obama gains in polls

As President Barack Obama widened his lead over Mitt Romney in polls this month, traders at hedge funds and investment firms began shooting emails to clients with a similar theme: It's time to start preparing for an Obama victory.

Why US economy is flashing conflicting signals

By Christopher S. Rugaber
FILE-In this Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011, file photo, a worker sits atop a steel beam at the Love Field modernization project construction site in Dallas. Anyone puzzled by the most recent U.S. economic data has reason for feeling so as the numbers sketch a sometimes contradictory picture of the economy. People are more confident but aren’t spending much. Fewer people are losing jobs, but not many are being hired. Home and stock prices are up, but workers’ pay is trailing inflation. This is what an economy stuck in a slow-growth rut can look like. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Anyone puzzled by the most recent U.S. economic data has reason for feeling so: The numbers sketch a sometimes contradictory picture of the economy. We've learned that:
Consumers are more confident but aren't spending much. Fewer people are losing jobs, but not many are being hired. Home and stock prices are up, but workers' pay is trailing inflation. Auto sales have jumped, but manufacturing is faltering.
This is what an stuck in a slow-growth rut can look like, and it's a focal point of the presidential campaign. The U.S. economy grew at a scant 1.3 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter — too weak to reduce high unemployment. And most economists foresee little if any improvement the rest of the year.
Many Americans are reducing debt loads instead of spending freely. Builders are borrowing less and constructing homes at a modest pace. Businesses are being cautious about hiring and expanding.
In the long run, reduced debts and rising home and stock prices will help rebuild household wealth, boost consumer spending
and spur job growth. But it's taking time. "The U.S. outlook could best be described as one of near-term weakness and long-term strength," says Chris Jones, an economist at TD Bank.
Here are some of the mixed signals recent economic reports have sent with the election now five weeks away:
After plunging when the housing bubble burst, home prices are finally rising steadily, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index. The index rose in July compared with a year earlier. That was the second straight year-over-year gain. Still, the annual pace of new-home sales dipped in August from a two-year high in July. At the same time, sales were nearly 28 percent above the level a year earlier.
The Good News: For most Americans, a home is their most valuable asset. As its value increases, homeowners grow wealthier and typically feel more confident. That tends to spark more consumer spending — the U.S. economy's main fuel. Rising prices also lead more people to sell homes, further energizing the housing market. More sales would likely spur further homebuilding.
The Bad News: Home construction now plays too small a role in the economy to provide much lift. It made up only 2.4 percent of the economy in the April-June quarter. That compares with a peak of 6.3 percent at the end of 2005 and a longer-run average of just under 5 percent. "Housing would therefore need to be on steroids to provide a major boost to growth," Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics, said in a note to clients.
Looking Ahead: Record-low mortgage rates are likely to keep homes affordable. The Federal Reserve's decision to spend $40 billion on mortgage bonds each month until the recovery accelerates should keep rates low and increase home sales. Rising builder confidence also suggests that construction will keep growing. But many Americans lack the credit to qualify for a mortgage. Or they can't afford the larger down payments now required.
Americans are feeling better about the economy despite chronically weak job gains and pay levels that lag inflation. The private Conference Board's index of consumer confidence is at a seven-month peak. A survey of consumer sentiment by the University of Michigan has reached its second-highest point in nearly five years. Both surveys found that consumers are lukewarm about current economic conditions but more optimistic about the future.
The Good News: When consumers are confident, they're generally more likely to spend. Both surveys also found that consumers expect hiring to pick up.
The Bad News: You can't spend confidence. Rising confidence doesn't always lead to higher spending. And when an economy is healthy, consumer confidence
is usually much higher than it is now. Looking Ahead: Without more hiring and stronger pay raises, the recent gains in consumer confidence might not last.
Businesses appear to be less confident than consumers. A survey of chief executives of large U.S. companies has found their outlook to be at its most pessimistic level since the fall of 2009 — just after the recession officially ended. Orders for long-lasting factory goods plummeted in August. In part, that reflects Europe's financial and economic crises, which have reduced demand for U.S. exports. Six European countries are in recession. More are expected to follow.
The Good News: A plunge in orders for commercial aircraft caused most of the drop in demand for factory goods. That category of orders fluctuates from month to month. It will likely rebound. In the meantime, orders that reflect business investment plans are up.
The Bad News: Business spending on equipment and software has been a big source of economic growth in recent years. Orders for such goods have dropped sharply in the past three months, threatening to further slow U.S. growth.
Looking Ahead: Many corporate executives lack confidence in part because of fears that the U.S. economy will fall off a "fiscal cliff" early next year. That's when tax increases and deep spending cuts will take effect unless Congress reaches a budget deal. Those changes could throw the economy into recession. But business spending and hiring could pick up if the budget issues are resolved.
Americans spent more in August. But that was mainly because they had to pay more for gas and some other items. Adjusted for inflation, consumer spending barely rose in August. That's been true for most of this year.
The Good News: Americans were willing to spend more, even if much of it went in the gas tank. Consumers were even willing to save less in order to spend more. That's another sign of confidence.
The Bad News: Income failed to keep up with inflation, which is why consumers had to dip into savings. That isn't sustainable for very long. The national average retail price for gas is $3.79 a gallon, nearly 50 cents higher than in early July and a record for late September. If gas prices stay high, Americans would have less to spend on other goods, from cars and furniture to electronics and vacations, that fuel economic growth.
Looking Ahead: Spending will likely grow sluggishly without bigger increases in workers' pay and perhaps a moderation in gas prices.
The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell sharply in the week ending Sept. 22. That suggests that the weak job market could strengthen. Employers added just 96,000 jobs in August — barely enough to keep up with the growth of the working-age population. The unemployment rate did fall to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent. But that was because many people gave up looking for work, so they were no longer counted as unemployed.
The Good News: Weekly applications for unemployment benefits track layoffs. So the drop indicates that companies aren't laying off many people.
The Bad News: Falling layoffs aren't translating into healthy job growth. The pace of layoffs in July was the lowest in a decade — even lower than when the economy was booming. Yet employers are hiring at a subpar pace.
Looking Ahead: The September jobs report will come out Friday. Economists think the economy will show a modest gain of about 100,000 jobs. Given employers' anxiety about the U.S. fiscal cliff and Europe's economic crisis, few expect a significant pickup in hiring soon.

US builders boost housing spending, cut elsewhere

By Martin Crutsinger

U.S. builders spent more to construct homes in August, further evidence of a housing rebound. Still, the increase couldn't offset cuts in public projects and commercial real estate. Overall construction spending dipped 0.7 percent in August from July, the Commerce Department reported Monday. It was the second straight monthly decline.
The decline lowered construction spending to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $834.4 billion. That's nearly 12 percent above a 12-year low hit in February 2011 and roughly half of what's considered healthy.
Spending on residential projects rose 0.9 percent in August. That pushed residential spending to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $273.5 billion, nearly 18 percent above the level from a year ago.
Spending on single-family homes increased in August for the fifth straight month, while apartment construction spending rose for the 10th month in a row.
Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist for Capital Economics, said the increase in residential spending "provides more evidence that the housing recovery is gathering pace. Unfortunately, the housing sector is not large enough to set the overall economy alight."
Spending on office buildings, commercial projects such as shopping centers and hotels all fell in August. That lowered private nonresidential activity 1.7 percent to an annual rate of $288.7 billion, or 7.2 percent higher than a year ago.
Government construction activity dropped 0.8 percent in August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $274.9 billion. That's down 3.5 percent from a year ago. State and local activity fell 0.9 percent in August, while federal projects edged up 0.3 percent.
Though new homes represent less than 20 percent of the housing sales market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
Construction of single-family homes rose last month to the fastest annual rate in more than two years. Sales of newly built and previously occupied homes are up compared to last year, helped by the lowest mortgage rates on record.
While the housing market has strengthened this year, the broader economy has languished. High unemployment and weak wage growth have kept consumers from spending more freely. Manufacturing has stumbled, and businesses are investing less.
The Federal Reserve is hoping to drive mortgage rates lower to make home buying more affordable, and therefore help the economy grow. Earlier this month, it said it would spend $40 billion a month to buy mortgage-backed securities until the job market shows substantial improvement.
The broader economy is likely to benefit from a stronger housing market. When home prices rise, people typically feel wealthier and spend more. Consumer spending drives nearly 70 percent of economic activity.

The Golden Dawn

The Golden Dawn used to come out only at night. For a street-fighting fascist gang turned ascendant political party, with all the weary symbolism of flame-waving and puffed-up synchronized shouting, individual members of Greece's ultra-right thug club were curiously reticent to attack immigrants and people of color before nightfall—until now. Now, they’re killing in daylight.
They come out in clutches of three, four or more and attack in the streets, usually under the cover of darkness. But lately they have been growing bolder, emerging during the daytime, in full view of a police force that nobody trusts to intervene. Many areas of Athens have become, in the past year, suspended street-battles. People with darker skin are afraid to go out alone.
“I came here from Bangladesh six and a half years ago, and in the last two years a lot has changed,” says Arif, 28, a marketing student living in central Athens. While racist violence was a sporadic problem, “Now the Golden Dawn come out in large numbers and openly, they have public meetings, speeches saying we don’t want immigrants in our country, and they beat up people right in front of the police, who do nothing,” he says. Arif is shy and slight, stacking chairs in the restaurant where he works, but as he describes what it is like to be Asian in Greece, he slams the chairs down hard and speaks louder.
“For sure, I’ve been afraid,” he says. “When I first came here, I was going out almost every day and coming back at two or three in the morning, but now those groups are bigger. They draw their marks around Attica Square. They’re not afraid of anyone.”
Eighty per cent of Europe’s immigrants arrive in Greece, the port of the Mediterranean, and due to a quirk of EU legislation all asylum seekers and refugees have to stay in the country where they first arrived. In the past year, the flow of migrants swelled as families and individuals from the Middle East fled the tumult of the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain. They came from Turkey, Africa and the Gulf, arriving in the port city of Patras.
Omonia is a poor area of central Athens where refugees and migrants arriving from ports across the country concentrate. They are no more able to find livable work than any native Greek. It’s where the police raids have started, where the worst of the racist violence takes place after dark. And yet, according to New Democracy officials, it is the ordinary citizens of Omonia who are the real problem.
One soon suspects that New Democracy, Greece's main center-right party, sees political advantage in fostering racial tension and allowing violence towards migrants to continue. When you learn that international human rights organisations condemned Greek police for letting racist attacks go unpunished, even as 1,600 migrants were deported in the first of many public raids, the suspicion becomes nauseating reality. The new deportation policy is named for Zeus Xenios—the Greek god of hospitality—because we have come to the end of the age of irony. These days, state power is the bully in the corner, daring you to laugh in its face.
At the rally in Nikaea, the police who line both sides of the street in formation and in full battle armor look like an occupying army. It is likely that at least some of them voted for the fascist party that these protesters have come out together to decry. Exit polls in the last elections suggested that 50% of police officials in urban areas cast their votes for the Golden Dawn, a party whose mimicry of the postures of democracy is not yet efficient enough to prevent its representatives physically assaulting socialists on live national television.
Thanks in part to its defenders in the police force, the Golden Dawn won 18 seats at the last elections with an agenda openly hostile to migrants and people of color. It pursues the standard route for far-right extremist groups seeking to exploit economic hardship in Europe: appeals to nostalgia and patriotism combined with a scantily-clad agenda of violence.
"I know many [who have been attacked by Golden Dawn members]" says Malick Abdul, a middle-aged Pakistani community leader in Nikaea. "Only a month ago there was a case where seventeen people were beaten in a bus station. The bus driver and steward, after dragging them off the bus, called Golden Dawn and they all attacked the group of Pakistanis. This happened in Pyrgos. I’ve been in Greece for 23 years now and it wasn’t like this before. We were having a wonderful time here. But in the last 4 years the atmosphere changed and things like that started happening. I have a shop here. My children were born here."
Just days later, Human Rights Watch released a report, "Hate on the Streets," (PDF) making official the naked desperation in the square at Nikaea: Pakistanis, immigrants and non-native Greeks are afraid to go out alone because of racist violence, and the police do nothing.
"The police don't come here anymore," Malick continues. "They just stopped. Buses, as well. They attack us everyday, even today, just before the demonstration. And the police blocked all the buses that were coming to bring more people to the demo from around Athens. All the streets were blocked, and the buses were turned around."
"I was attacked and stabbed here, about a year ago." says another man, interrupting him, "It was a group of seven. Golden Dawn."
Two hours before dusk, the speeches end and the march sets off. The streets are narrow, the tarmac coated in hot dust. The demonstrators, chanting in unison, pour down a throughway. It's the same chant, over and over—pote ksana fasismos!—fascism, never again. Not just never, but never again. In continental Europe, in a suburb where the grandmothers leaning over balconies to watch the drama have clear and potent memories of the 1967–1974 military junta, the distinction is important.
"The nazis came here to shut down the shops of the Pakistani immigrants," says Petros Constantinou, "and this is a united action against them.” Like many people at this march, he uses the term ‘Nazi’ freely to describe the Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn say that they are not Nazis. It is, in fact, the main thing that they say in public. Nonetheless, the hairs on the back of your neck rise the first time you see the Golden Dawn’s insignia. It looks like an unravelled swastika.
A boy, no older than eight runs ahead of the demonstration. Darting in and out of the crowd, he sits on low steps while the adults, straining behind an enormous anti-fascist banner, catch up. His skin is dark and freckled, his eyes are blue, and his baseball cap is pulled down tight over his head. I give him the thumbs up, and he sticks out his tongue. I stick mine out further. He pulls a face. He laughs and runs away, and then runs back. Somewhere in the crowd a few of his relatives chant— Fascism, Never Again.

Four arrested in VFW shooting in Florida

In this Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012 image made from video and provided by WKMG-TV, authorities investigate the scene of a shooting, in Winter Springs, Fla. Authorities in central Florida say two members of a motorcycle club died and a third was critically injured when gunfire erupted in the parking lot of a Veterans of Foreign War post Sunday morning as a charity ride was getting under way. (AP Photo/WKMG-TV)
Four men were charged in a shooting at a Veterans of Foreign War post in Florida that killed two people and critically wounded another, authorities said Monday. The gunfire happened after a fight Sunday morning in the VFW's parking lot as a motorcycle club gathered for a charity ride. Police have not said whether the men arrested or the shooting victims were VFW members or with the motorcycle club, known as the Warlocks.
Police confiscated several weapons. Authorities have not said what started the fight or how the shooting unfolded. A news conference was planned for Monday afternoon.
Killed in the gunfire were Harold Liddle and Peter Schlette, police in Winter Springs said. David Jakiela was hospitalized in critical condition.
The parking lot at the post, located in central Florida, was taped off. A nearby senior center had to be evacuated after the shooting.
The men arrested were each charged with two counts of homicide and one count of attempted homicide. Police have not released their names.
Police said members of the Pennsylvania Warlocks motorcycle club came to Florida to establish a chapter in Seminole County a few months ago, but said they are not associated with the Florida Warlocks, the first chapter established for a club that has grown since it was founded more than four decades ago, according to the group's website.
"We're still trying to figure out the pieces here and figure out what really happened," said Joe Gault
of the Florida VFW.
The Florida VFW started a motorcycle rider's group last year, but stressed it is not a motorcycle club. Several years ago, there were occasional scuffles with different biker groups around central Florida and Tampa VFW chapters, but Gault said the organization hasn't had any problems lately.
"This is a complete and utter shock to me that this happened," said Gault, a Quartermaster with the VFW.

SWAT team found marijuana farm, guns and a guard pig

A police SWAT team that searched a home in south Modesto, California, on Friday morning found marijuana, several firearms, pit bulls and an aggressive pig. Anonymous tips about a suspected outdoor marijuana grow led officers to the 100 block of Glenn Avenue, said interim Police Chief Gene Balentine.

Officers using a loudspeaker instructed the residents to leave the house. At least two men and two women came out. One of the women was allowed to go back inside to retrieve her child, Balentine said. A relative who wouldn't give his name said a man, woman and 4-year-old boy live in the home. The adult residents were detained and taken away in handcuffs. Martin Martinez, 51, later was arrested on suspicion of marijuana cultivation, possession for sale and weapons charges.

Before SWAT team members entered the residence, they set off a flash-bang grenade to get the attention of anyone else who might be inside. At least 16 surveillance cameras surrounded the property, mounted on the home and trees in the front and back yard. Two pit bulls acted as guard dogs, but neither was as aggressive as a large pig found on the property. "I've been doing this a long time and I have never seen a guard pig, but it was a pretty vicious pig," Balentine said.

The pig was tranquilized, but still lashed out at officers. It took six SWAT team officers to carry the pig to an animal control vehicle. It was later euthanized; the dogs were taken to the animal shelter. Inside the home, officers found an AK-47 assault rifle, two .45-caliber handguns and two shotguns, Balentine said. After SWAT officers cleared the home, the department's street narcotics team and street gang unit moved in and started cutting down about 20 large marijuana plants, Balentine said.

TSA protects America from mom packing a PB&J

Does this taste Muslim to you?

Whew! Did the TSA deliver on it’s promise to protect America or what?
Nothing says “danger” like a traveling family with two toddlers that are armed with dangerous peanut butter and jelly. Obviously the jelly is safe but peanut butter? Oh heavens no! It must be stopped!
Though the TSA did complete its mission to save American flyers from some suspicious peanut butter by confiscating the jar, they showed some common sense when they reimbursed the family $3.99 for the confiscated jar. See? The TSA is not the bunch of heartless fools you thought they were.
Lambert was traveling with her husband, a 6-month-old and a 2-year-old on an ungodly early flight in June, and arrived at the airport about 5 a.m. She was flying from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh, and she needed the usual bag of distractions and food to keep her kids — and other passengers — sane during the trip. But, she says, her efforts to ensure a smooth flight were foiled when a TSA agent with a bad attitude singled out her family for additional screening. After the usual pat-downs and questions, discussion centered on the jar of peanut butter.
“He just really fixated on the peanut butter and a jar of apple sauce I had,” she said. “I keep saying, ‘It’s not a liquid; it’s pureed apples,’ but we went around and around. He also screened my husband multiple times. I asked to speak to the terminal manager, but he never arrived. … We were there 30 minutes.”
Eventually, the screener let the apple sauce (and the jelly) go, but he drew the line on the peanut butter.
Now that “peanut butter -gate” is over, the TSA can get back to harassing senior citizens.

Next cold war?


Gas drilling boom rattles Russia

The Kremlin is watching, European nations are rebelling, and some suspect Moscow is secretly bankrolling a campaign to derail the West's strategic plans.
It's not some Cold War movie; it's about the U.S. boom in natural gas drilling, and the political implications are enormous.
Like falling dominoes, the drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is shaking up world energy markets from Washington to Moscow to Beijing. Some predict what was once unthinkable: that the U.S. won't need to import natural gas in the near future, and that Russia could be the big loser.
"This is where everything is being turned on its head," said Fiona Hill, an expert on Russia at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington. "Their days of dominating the European gas markets are gone."
Any nations that trade in energy could potentially gain or lose.
"The relative fortunes of the United States, Russia, and China — and their ability to exert influence in the world — are tied in no small measure to global gas developments," Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government concluded in a report this summer.
The story began to unfold a few years ago, as advances in drilling opened up vast reserves of gas buried in deep shale rock, such as the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania and the Barnett, in Texas.
Experts had been predicting that the U.S. was running out of natural gas, but then shale gas began to flood the market, and prices plunged.
Russia had been exporting vast quantities to Europe and other countries for about $10 per unit, but the current price in the U.S. is now about $3 for the same quantity. That kind of math got the attention of energy companies, and politicians, around the world.
Some European governments began to envision a future with less Russian natural gas. In 2009, Russia had cut off gas shipments via Ukraine for nearly two weeks amid a price and payment dispute, and more than 15 European countries were sent scrambling to find alternative sources of energy.
The financial stakes are huge. Russia's Gazprom energy corporation, which is state-controlled, had $44 billion in profits last year. Gazprom, based in Moscow, is the world's largest producer of natural gas and exports much of it to other countries.
But last month Gazprom halted plans to develop a new arctic gas field, saying it couldn't justify the investment now, and its most recent financial report showed profits had dropped by almost 25 percent.
The U.S. presidential campaigns have already addressed the strategic potential.
A campaign position paper for Republican Mitt Romney said he "will pursue policies that work to decrease the reliance of European nations on Russian sources of energy."
In early September, President Barack Obama said the U.S. could "develop a hundred-year supply of natural gas that's right beneath our feet," which would "cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone."
Poland's Ministry of the Environment wrote in a statement to The Associated Press that "an increased production of natural gas from shale formations in Europe will limit the import via pipelines from Algeria and Russia."
The issue has reached the highest levels of the Kremlin, too.
Hill, of the Brookings think tank, heard President Vladimir Putin speak in late 2011 at a Moscow gathering of academics and media. She said in a blog post that "the only time I thought that he became truly engaged was when he wanted to explain to us how dangerous fracking was."
But one top Gazprom executive said shale gas will actually help the country in the long run. Sergei Komlev, the head of export contracts and pricing, acknowledged the recent disruptions but predicted that the U.S. fuels wouldn't make their way to Europe on any important scale.
"Although we heard that the motive of these activities was to decrease dependence of certain countries on Gazprom gas, the end results of these efforts will be utterly favorable to us," Komlev wrote in an email to the AP. "The reason for remaining tranquil is that we do not expect the currently abnormally low prices in the USA to last for long."
In other words, if the marketplace for natural gas expands, Russia will have even more potential customers because it has tremendous reserves.
Komlev even thanked the U.S. for taking the role of "shale gas global lobbyist" and said Gazprom believes natural gas is more environmentally friendly than other fossil fuels.
"Gazprom group generally views shale gas as a great gift to the industry," he wrote. When natural gas prices rise, "it will make the U.S. plans to become a major gas exporter questionable."
Whether exports happen involves a dizzying mix of math, politics and marketplaces, along with the fact that U.S. natural gas companies — and their shareholders — want prices to rise, too.
James Diemer, an executive vice president for Pace Global, an international consulting company based in Virginia, believes that shale gas costs more to extract than the current market price. Pace, which recently released a report called "Shale Gas: The Numbers vs. The Hype," has been studying shale gas for Gazprom and other clients.
"The capital will stop flowing" to U.S. shale gas, and the price will go up, Diemer predicted. He would not divulge the kind of work Pace is doing for Gazprom. Pace is owned by Siemens, a German company.
Pace's work for Gazprom has raised some eyebrows in Washington, and Hill noted that industry watchers in Europe already believe Russia is bankrolling environmental groups that are loudly opposing plans for fracking in Europe, which could cut down on Russia's natural gas market.
"I've heard a lot of rumors that the Russians were funding this. I have no proof whatsoever," she said, noting that many critics give the rumors credence because Gazprom owns media companies throughout Russia and Europe that have run stories examining the environmental risks of fracking.
Gazprom dismissed such conspiracy theories, saying that "nothing could be more out of touch with Gazprom's inherent interests," because the shale boom promotes gas as an abundant, affordable energy source.
Many U.S. media outlets, including the AP, have run stories about shale gas and the environment. Regulators contend that overall, water and air pollution problems are rare, but environmental groups and some scientists say there hasn't been enough research.
U.S. energy companies are eager to export natural gas products. The issue is sensitive enough that the Obama administration has delayed a decision on export permits until after the election. In April, the Sierra Club sued to block one plan for exports, saying it would drive up the cost of domestic natural gas and lead to environmental damage.
But just the potential for exports could allow others to seek lower prices from Russia, said Kenneth Medlock III of the James Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston.
"It changes the position at the bargaining table for everybody," Medlock said. "You stack all that up, and you start to realize, 'Wow.'"
There's one enormous unknown with the shale gas bounty in the U.S., Hill said. Unlike in Russia and some other countries, neither the government nor any one private company can really control or direct it.
"The question is, can the U.S. do what the Russians do, which is use this as a political tool?" she said.

Georgian grape pickers show government's challenge

The green grapes that Temuri Dolenjashvili and his wife snipped from the vines Sunday and emptied by the bucket into the back of their truck provide the only income for their extended family of five.

Ikea deleted women from Saudi version of catalog

Ikea is being criticized for deleting images of women from the Saudi version of its furniture catalog, a move the company says it regrets. Comparing the Swedish and Saudi versions of the catalog, free newspaper Metro on Monday showed that women had been airbrushed out of otherwise identical pictures showcasing the company's home furnishings.
The report raised questions in Sweden about Ikea's commitment to gender equality, and the company released a statement expressing "regret" over the issue.
"We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalog is in conflict with the IKEA Group values," the company said.
Women appear only infrequently in Saudi-run advertising, mostly on Saudi-owned TV channels that show women in long dresses, scarves covering their hair and long sleeves. In imported magazines, censors black out many parts of a woman's body including arms, legs and chest.
When Starbucks opened its coffee shops in the conservative, Muslim kingdom, it removed the alluring, long-haired woman from its logo, keeping only her crown.
Ikea's Saudi catalog, which is also available online, looks the same as other editions of the publication, except for the absence of women.
One picture shows a family apparently getting ready for bed, with a young boy brushing his teeth in the bathroom. However, a pajama-clad woman standing next to the boy is missing from the Saudi version.
Another picture of a five women dining has been removed altogether in the Saudi edition.
Swedish equality minister Nyamko Sabuni noted that Ikea is a private company that makes its own decisions, but added that it also projects an image of Sweden around the world.
"For Ikea to remove an important part of Sweden's image and an important part of its values in a country that more than any other needs to know about about Ikea's principles and values — that's completely wrong," Sabuni told The Associated Press.
Ikea Group, one of the many branches in the company's complicated corporate structure, said it had produced the catalog for a Saudi franchisee outside the group.
"We are now reviewing our routines to safeguard a correct content presentation from a values point-of-view in the different versions of the IKEA Catalog worldwide," it said.

She's Had Her Skull Bone Transplanted Twice

hiltonFormer Idaho beauty queen Jamie Hilton suffered brain swelling after a devastating fall in June. Doctors removed a large chunk of her skull to allow the swelling to heal, then replaced it a few weeks later. In the meantime, where did they store the skull? In her abdomen.
Doctors removed 25 percent of her skull and surgically zipped it into her stomach, where it would remain as her brain swelling subsided.

"It was pretty shocking," laughed Hilton. "I didn't know they did that."

The mother of three was in a medically induced coma for several days, then woke to find her head shaved and stitched shut, a protrusion in her stomach.

"There was just this bulge," she said. And her head "was Frankenstein-style."
Hilton is recovering well, and has chronicled her ordeal on her blog. The family did not have health insurance when Hilton was injured. Here's the story. Here's Hilton's blog.

Replacement ear grown on an arm

A woman whose exterior ear was removed during her fight with cancer has grown a replacement ear made from starter-tissue harvested from her rib, which was cultured and scaffolded on her arm. Once the ear was ripe, it was removed from her arm and affixed to the side of her head.
“I thought of this exact strategy many years before and really was looking for the right patient to try it on,” said renowned plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Patrick Byrne.
Byrne used cartilage from Walters’ ribs to stitch together a new ear matching her right ear. He then implanted it under the skin of her forearm, where it grew for months.
..Byrne later surgically attached the ear and its blood vessels. Then surgery Tuesday added shape and detail to the ear.
Hopkins Doctors Grow New Ear On Woman’s Arm

Mummies for your health

The medicinal uses of powdered mummy
by A.S. Kaswell, Improbable Research staff

Nowadays, powdered mummy may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for many years it was just what the doctor ordered. That’s one of the takeaway messages of Richard Sugg’s study “’Good Physic but Bad Food’: Early Modern Attitudes to Medicinal Cannibalism and its Suppliers.”

Dr. Sugg is a Research Fellow in Literature and Medicine at Durham University. He begins his monograph with an astute observation: “The subject of medicinal cannibalism in mainstream western medicine has received surprisingly little historical attention.”

Sugg tells us that mummy, generally in powdered form, “having originally been a natural mixture of pitch and asphalt, came in the twelfth century to be associated with preserved Egyptian corpses.” It then “emerged as a mainstream western medicine” and remained a standard-issue drug until “opinion began to turn against it in the eighteenth century.”

Physicians pre-scribed powdered mummy for diverse ailments. An English pharmacopeia published in 1721 specifies two ounces of mummy as the proper amount to make a “plaster against ruptures.” Ambroise Paré, royal surgeon to sixteenth century French kings, proclaimed mummy to be “the very first and last medicine of almost all our practitioners” against bruising.

Dr. Paré harbored doubts about the drug’s efficacy, lamenting that “wee are ... compelled both foolishly and cruelly to devoure the mangled and putride particles of the carcasses of the basest people of Egypt, or such as are hanged.” But Dr. Paré was an unusually driven doubting Thomas — he lamented having “tried mummy ‘an hundred times’ without success.”

The Sugg study explains that “mummy was an important commodity. It is often seen in long lists of merchants’ wares and prices.” The marketplace attracted counterfeiters. Sugg supplies an anecdote: “Tellingly, when Samuel Pepys saw a mummy it was in a merchant’s warehouse; while ‘the abuses of mummy dealers in selling inferior wares’ were especially widespread and notorious by the end of the seventeenth century.”

The best suppliers maintained high standards. The presumably admirable recipe used by 17th century German pharmacologist Johann Schroeder included: “the cadaver of a reddish man (because in such a man the blood is believed lighter and so the flesh is better), whole, fresh without blemish, of around twenty-four years of age, dead of a violent death (not of illness), exposed to the moon’s rays for one day and night, but with a clear sky. Cut the muscular flesh of this man and sprinkle it with powder of myrrh and at least a little bit of aloe, then soak it.” And so forth.

This study removes some, if not all, of the horror from the Stephen Sondheim musical “Sweeney Todd,” in which a London barber of yesteryear murders his customers and recycles them as stuffing for yummy meat pies. Thanks to Dr. Sugg’s research, the play’s main love song gains a soupçon of innocence, especially in its cheerful refrain: “The history of the world, my sweet, is who gets eaten and who gets to eat.”

Mummy Powder and Shakespeare

Louise Noble of the University of New England looked at how Shakespeare looked at mummy medicine. Her 2003 study “‘And Make Two Pasties of Your Shameful Heads’: Medicinal Cannibalism and Healing the Body Politic in Titus Andronicus” presents copious details and analysis.

Noble’s 2003 study about Shakespeare’s take on mummy powder.

Noble introduces her subject by reprinting this “astonishingly explicit” recipe from Oswald Croll’s 1609 book Bazilica Chymica and Praxis Chymiatricae or Royal and Practical Chymistry (translated by John Hartman in 1670), which no doubt inspired Dr. Schroeder:
Chuse the Carcase of a red Man (because in them the blood is more sincere, and gentle and therefore more excellent) whole (not maimed) clear without blemishes, of the age of twenty four years, that hath been Hanged, Broke upon a Wheel, or Thrust-through, having been for one day and night exposed to the open Air, in a serene time. This Mumy (that is, Musculous flesh, of the Thighs, Breasts, Armes, and other parts) from the two Luminaries, once illuminate and constellate, cut into small pieces or slices and sprinkle on them Powder of Myrrh, and of Aloes, but a very little (otherwise it will be too bitter) afterward by Macerating, Imbibe them for certain days in Spirit of Wine, hang them up a little, and again imbibe them, then hang them up to dry in the Air, this so dryed will be like Flesh hardned in Smoak, and be without stink.

At the end of her study—which after all centers on the play Titus Andronicus—Noble concludes that

The elaborate rhetorical juggling of medicine and cannibalism in the play is an inevitable consequence of a cultural behavior, wherein the socially accepted medical consumption of human bodies and the foreign, abjected, and forbidden act of eating human flesh are profoundly implicated in one another.

Images to make perfectionists suffer

Are you a perfectionist? Do you like everything "just so"? Do you pick lint from others' clothes? Do you alphabetize your spice rack? Are you a masochist? If you answered yes to that last question and any of the previous ones, this Imgur blog is for you!

Why Do We Use A QWERTY Keyboard?

We don't all use a QWERTY keyboard. There's also AZERTY which is used by most French speakers. There's also the German QWERTZ layout. But most people use QWERTY.

Does the arrangement of letters on a keyboard baffle you? Well, it's been that way since Christopher Sholes invented the typewriter in 1868. Though there seems to be no logical reason why our keyboards bear such a weird matrix of letters, QWERTY keyboards have quite a rich history, and the layout is something we've grown accustomed to.

Random Photo

Bonnie, Clyde guns stay together after high bidder pays $500,000

By Jason McLure
Two pistols, shown in this RR Auction photograph, found on the bodies of famed Depression-era outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow after they were killed by a posse in 1934 have sold at auction for a total of $504,000at an auction in Nashua, New Hampshire on September 30, 2012. REUTERS/RR Auction/Handout
Two pistols found on the bodies of famed Depression-era outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow after they were killed by a posse in 1934 have sold at auction on Sunday for $504,000.
A snub-nosed .38 special found taped to the inside of Parker's thigh with white medical tape fetched $264,000 at an auction in Nashua, New Hampshire
. A Colt .45 recovered from the waistband of Barrow's pants was purchased for $240,000.
The guns owned by Parker, who died at age 23, and Barrow, who was 25, were purchased by a Texas
collector who wished to remain anonymous.
"They're still iconic and their love story kind of resonates," said Bobby Livingston
, vice president of RR Auction, the company that conducted the sale. "We have a romanticized vision of Bonnie and Clyde." The hunt for the outlaw lovers captured the nation's imagination during the depths of the Great Depression. The duo were believed to have committed 13 murders and numerous bank robberies, kidnappings and car thefts during a cross-country crime spree from 1932 to 1934. Their fame was heightened by their practice of leaving glamorous photos of themselves at crime scenes, including one of Parker smoking a cigar.
A popular 1967 movie, "Bonnie and Clyde," a somewhat romanticized account of the couple's career starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway
, was critically acclaimed for its frank presentation of sex and violence.
Among other crimes, the two are thought to have killed police officers in Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma. They were also suspected of staging a prison break in Waldo, Texas, that left two prison guards dead in 1934.
A posse of Texas Rangers
and Louisiana police killed the two in an early morning ambush in northern Louisiana in May of that year.
The guns auctioned off came from the estate of memorabilia collector Robert Davis, who had purchased them in 1986 for about $50,000 each, Livingston said.
A gold pocket watch found on Barrow's body sold for $36,000. Other items included a 1921 Morgan silver dollar taken from Barrow's jacket fetched $32,400, and one of Parker's silk stockings, taken from the couple's car after their death, which went for $11,400.

Ten of the Most Famous Photo Hoaxes Throughout History

Photographic evidence has been an act of faith since the 1830s! The first photo hoax was perpetrated by a competitor of Louis Daguerre, whom daguerrotype was named for. Then there was William Mumler, who made a living taking "spirit photographs," like the image here of Mary Todd Lincoln with her late husband's ghostly arms around her. See ten such photo hoaxes at Flavorwire.  

The 1903 Ford Model A Rear-Entry Tonneau

From a large private collection, the oldest car sold by the Ford Motor Company known to remain in existence, the 1903 Ford Model A Rear-Entry Tonneau, chassis number 30. Originally sold in 1903 to Herbert L. McNary, a butter maker at a creamery in Britt, Iowa. The car is one of the most important cars in the commercial history of the auto industry.

Fire & Ice: Hindenburg And Titanic

Fire & Ice: Hindenburg and Titanic is an innovative exhibit that brings together two marvels of transportation. Both the Titanic and Hindenburg served demands for rapid worldwide communication and transportation. Both operated as the world's largest mobile post offices. Each in its day promised the fastest possible worldwide mail service. Each offered onboard gentility and opulence. Each met a tragic end.

Robert Frost mused in his immortal poem Fire and Ice, Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice.... After enjoying the magnificence offered by the legendary ships and opportunities to post correspondence at various exotic sites, thousands of unprepared travelers met their tragic ends, as Frost said, in either fire or ice. Fire & Ice celebrates the splendors of both vessels and commemorates their calamities.

What Happened to the Star Dust?

In 1947, the British South American Airways plane Star Dust took off from Buenos Aires, Argentina, with eleven people aboard, destined for Santiago, Chile. But it never arrived.
The passenger list certainly does its part to set the stage for conspiracy theories: A Palestinian returning to Chile from visiting a dying relative, two British businessmen, a high-ranking associate from the Dunlop tire company, a British civil servant delivering important documents to an embassy, and a German-born Chilean resident who had been stranded in Germany during the war.

The flight departed Buenos Aires at 1:46 p.m. on August 2nd, headed over the Andes mountains. Before the airliner’s disappearance, the flight was uneventful. The final transmission from the Star Dust to Santiago’s airport was a Morse code transcription, S-T-E-N-D-E-C, the meaning of which has been debated by experts since 1947. Santiago’s Morse operator asked for clarification, and twice more S-T-E-N-D-E-C came through the wire.

There are many interpretations of the meaning; one hypothesis is that STENDEC was an acronym (Starting En-Route Descent or Severe Turbulence Encountered Now Descending Emergency Crash-landing). Others suggest perhaps the Santiago Morse operator misheard and thus mis-transcribed the code. Still others point out that STENDEC is an anagram of DESCENT. To this day, no one can definitively say what the Star Dust’s Morse operator was intending to say. What is known, is that the Star Dust would not be heard from again.  
A search turned up no clue as to what happened to the Star Dust. In fact, it was a half-century before any wreckage was found at all. Read the story of the the Star Dust and how the mystery was solved fifty years later, at Sometimes Interesting.


A Medieval Fortress Village In Georgia
The village of Shatili squats on the northern slope of the Greater Caucasus mountains in Georgia. Even today the area is considered isolated and remote but in centuries past the villagers could not rely on distant authorities to afford them protection.

In early medieval times the villagers of Shatili hit on a solution which was to shield them from their enemies for hundreds of years. They made their village in to a fortress.

Tell me ... Why There's So Much Sand in the Sahara

Or... who ate the cedars of Lebanon?
In the vast Sahara, seas of sand ripple for miles. They rise up in wavelike dunes that can crest at over 1,000 feet. With temperatures that have been known to reach 136°F (58°C), the desolate Sahara covers most of North Africa and over a third of the African continent. It's the world's largest desert, home to over three million square miles of dust, stone, and sand.
In the sweltering Sahara, a cool vision of waving grass and shining lakes can seem like a mirage (or the first signs of heat exhaustion), but it's a glimpse into the Earth's astounding past. Hard to believe, but this hostile ocean of sand was once an earthly Eden. Fish swam in ancient lakes; giraffes, elephants, and gazelles roamed grassy savannahs; and hippos wallowed in ponds and mud.
And people had a great time, too. Prehistoric rock painting show ancient Saharans feasting and drinking and -it's true!- swimming. They had steady jobs, first as fishermen and hunters, later as shepherd, cattlemen, and farmers. But that was in the old days, around 5,500 years ago. But 2,000 or so years later (just a wink of the geological eye), the lakes had dried up, the vegetation and animals were gone, and farmers were forced to leave a land where nothing could grow. So what happened?
Over thousands of years, as rainfall lessened and temperatures rose, what little rain there was eroded the soil and dissolved it, leaving grains of silica sand. Wind slammed sand into rocks, wearing those rocks away, which created more sand. Hot days and freezing nights subjected rock outcroppings to extreme temperature changes. This daily expansion and contraction eventually shattered mineral crystals in the rocks so that the cliffs broke into boulders, boulders shattered into pebbles, and pebbles crumbled into sand.
But what caused the climate to change in the first place? Why did drought transform the Sahara from a wet wonderland to a desert badland? Explanations involve everything from the tilt of the Earth to the apetite of the humble goat.
Up in space and completely unaware of giraffes, hippos, or swimming Saharans, Jupiter's gravity combined with Venus's gravity to influence the tilt of the Earth's axis. Nine thousand years ago, when the Sahara was blooming, Jupiter and Venus kept the Earth's tilt at 24.14 degrees, compared to the 23.45 degrees it is today. The perihelion (when the Earth is closest to the Sun) occurred at the end of July -now it occurs in early January. This means that a very long time ago, the Northern Hemisphere basked in much more summer sunlight, and the summers in Africa were hotter.
Hotter? So what's the problem? Well, ironically, hot summers meant water for North Africa and lots of it. When the African landmass is much hotter than the Atlantic Ocean, the temperature contrast increases the number of summer monsoons that rain on the Sahara. As the Earth incrementally wobbled into its current axis, the summers grew cooler, the African monsoons grew weaker, abd the cool, moist Sahara became hot, dry, and eventually sandy.
As rainfall decreased, plants died. The death of vegetation in turn increased the drought. Plants hold moisture in the soil and summer sun evaporates the moisture into the atmosphere, where it's converted to rain. Barren land with no plants or trees holds less moisture, so the surrounding atmosphere produces less rain. Plants absorb sunlight, whereas bare land and bright sandy deserts reflect the sun's heat, which leads to fewer clouds and less rain.
The drought cycle picked up momentum until finally the desert took over fertile ground. And remember the rock paintings showing the farmers, shepherds, and cattle drivers? It may be that these folks helped the drought cycle along, turning their heavenly little Eden into the hot hell of the Sahara.
Some scientists believe that ancient man was the victim of the climate change, but others think he was responsible for it and that poor farming practices, as well as overgrazing and deforestation, contributed to drought, barren land, and the eventual creation of deserts. In fact, a famous scientific study suggests that deforestation along the southern coast of West Africa could cause a complete collapse of the Sahara's dwindling monsoon system.
Even in ancient times the loss of forests was a problem. A famous example involved the great cedars of Labanon, which were nearly decimated not just by lumbermen but also by heards of goats that chomped on the bark and devoured young saplings. And guess what? Even today, widespread exploitation of those same cedars -goats or not- has contributed to increasing deforestation, which leads to soil erosion, which leads to sand ...and lots of it.
Today, there's controversy over whether human activity is causing the Sahara's size to increase. Critics of the idea argue that satellite photos show the desert fluctuating in size, but not steadily growing larger. Nevertheless, people living on the edge of the great desert, in places like Niger, Chad, and Mali, complain that the Sahara has steadily encroached on their precious farmland.
What about turning back the clock? Can more rain and rivers and even lakes return to the Sahara? Can we help nature re-create an Eden in North Africa? Scientists believe that replanting trees and vegetation, as well as conserving groundwater and runoff, could reverse the desert's drought cycle. Some theorists even propose that global warming (if it increases the heat of the African land in summer) will eventually increase the amount of monsoons. With the help of humans, the desert just might bloom again, but since a reversed drought cycle could take a couple of centuries to work, don't hop your camel just yet.

Ten Amazing Google Earth And Maps Discoveries

A shipwreck, a lost forest, a Roman villa, an ancient crater, pyramids and yes, even Atlantis.

Crickets causing a stink in Texas city

Several businesses in the Central Texas town of Waco are dealing with a smelly problem that won't go away: decaying cricket carcasses.

Mouse has salamander-like regenerative abilities

A small African mammal with an unusual ability to regrow damaged tissues could inspire new research in regenerative medicine, a ...
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Animal News

Climate change 'may shrink fish'Haddock from the North Sea

Fish species are expected to shrink in size by up to 24% because of global warming, say scientists.

Greater Horseshoe batLunar phobic bats dodge moonlight

Moonlight scares bats into hiding in the shadows, new research suggests. BBC Nature

Polar bear attacked drunken lady with chicken legs

A polar bear attacked a woman who, after drinking too much alcohol, decided to feed the "clumsy" bear with chicken legs. The incident took place in the Chaunsky district of Chukotka, Russia's Far East. A policeman, who heard cries for help, saved the compassionate lady from the claws of the bear.

The incident occurred in the village Yanranay. Sergei Terekhov, an assistant to police precinct, heard the screams. The man grabbed a gun and ran out into the street. He saw a polar bear dragging the victim to the side of the tundra,.

The police officer wounded the animal with his first shot. The woman then managed crawled a few meters away from the predator. This made it possible to make another shot, which killed the bear. The woman was immediately sent to hospital. Doctors said that her life was out of danger: several bite wounds had been treated and stitched.

The villagers had been warned of possible appearance of polar bears in the area. A few days ago, a bear roamed into the village, but was driven out of the settlement. Local residents were asked to have their weapons at the ready, and not to go out unless necessary. However, the woman did not listen to the recommendations. Moreover, having spotted the polar bear among garbage bins, she decided to feed chicken legs to the bear.The victim admitted that she had taken alcohol prior to the incident "so the inadequacy of her behavior was understandable.