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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.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Daily Drift

Some of our readers today have been in:
Manchester, England
Cairo, Egypt
Paris, France
Kiev, Ukraine
Manila, Philippines
Guayaquil, Ecuador
Sargodha, Pakistan
Ankara, Turkey
Davao, Philippines
Cape Town, South Africa
Soma, Turkey
Port-Of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Belgrade, Serbia
Skopje, Macedonia
Bogor, Indonesia
Rabat, Morocco
Sofia, Bulgaria
Dhaka. Bangladesh
Slough, England
Lagos, Nigeria
Almaty, Kazakhstan
Islamabad, Pakistan
Tbilisi, Georgia
Malatya, Turky
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Lahore, Pakistan
Tuguegarao City, Philippines
Colombo, Sri Lanka

Don't forget to visit our sister blog!

Today in History

1542   The English defeat the Scots at the Battle of Solway Moss in England.
1859   Charles Darwin publishes The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. The first printing of 1,250 copies sells out in a single day.
1863   In the Battle Above the Clouds, Union Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker's forces take Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee.
1864   Kit Carson and his 1st Cavalry, New Mexico Volunteers, attack a camp of Kiowa Indians in the First Battle of Adobe Walls.
1874   Joseph Glidden receives a patent for barbed wire.
1902   The first Congress of Professional Photographers convenes in Paris.
1912   Austria denounces Serbian gains in the Balkans; Russia and France back Serbia while Italy and Germany back Austria.
1927   Federal officials battle 1,200 inmates after prisoners in Folsom Prison revolt.
1938   Mexico seizes oil land adjacent to Texas.
1939   In Czechoslovakia, the Gestapo execute 120 students who are accused of anti-Nazi plotting.
1944   American B-29s flying from Saipan bomb Tokyo.
1949   The Iron and Steel Act nationalizes the steel industry in Britain.
1950   UN troops begin an assault into the rest of North Korea, hoping to end the Korean War by Christmas.
1961   The United Nations adopts bans on nuclear arms over American protests.
1963   Jack Ruby fatally shoots the accused assassin of President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, in the garage of the Dallas Police Department.
1977   Greece announces the discovery of the tomb of King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great.
1979   The United States admits that thousands of troops in Vietnam were exposed to the toxic Agent Orange.

Non Sequitur


El Nino Unlikely Before End of Year

The phenomenon -- that often causes extreme global weather shifts -- isn't likely to occur before the end of 2012.  
  El Nino Unlikely Before End of Year

Supreme Court to consider workplace harassment rules

People line up for admission at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington October 1, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Cameron  
The Supreme Court on Monday will hear arguments in a case that could determine when a company is liable for harassment by its employees.
The case turns on the definition of a single word - "supervisor" - under a federal civil rights law that prohibits racial, religious or sexual harassment in the workplace.
Under previous Supreme Court rulings, an employer is automatically responsible if a supervisor harasses a subordinate. The employer is not liable if the harassment is between two equal coworkers, unless it was negligent in allowing the abuse.
Since those rulings, a rift has developed between federal appeals courts over exactly who is a supervisor. On one side, three circuits say supervisors are those with the power to hire, fire, demote, promote or discipline. Three other circuits have adopted a broader standard, one that also includes employees who direct and oversee a colleague's daily work.
In the current case, Maetta Vance was the sole black catering worker at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. After filing numerous complaints with the university over racially charged incidents at work, she sued the university in federal court in 2006. She claimed that several white coworkers used racial epithets, references to the Ku Klux Klan and veiled physical threats against her.
In trying to hold Ball State liable, Vance's lawyers argued that one coworker, Saundra Davis, was a supervisor because she had the power to direct her day-to-day activities. Davis did not have to record her time, like other hourly employees, Vance argued. But the district court dismissed the case before a trial, finding Davis lacked sufficient authority over Vance. It also found that Ball State had taken corrective action and had not acted negligently.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Chicago, reached the same conclusion, reasoning that Davis did not have the power to change Vance's employment status, and therefore the university was not liable for Davis's conduct.
Vance petitioned the Supreme Court.
Before deciding whether to hear the case, the Supreme Court asked the Justice Department for the government's position, as it does in some cases. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli agreed with Vance that the 7th Circuit's narrow interpretation was wrong, but also argued that this wasn't the best case to decide the issue, given what it saw as weak facts that Davis was Vance's supervisor. Vance presented no evidence of tasks or instructions Davis gave her and even said she was uncertain whether Davis was her supervisor, the government's brief said.
The Supreme Court accepted the case anyway.
Ball State has made the same argument as the government. Davis "would fail to qualify as Ms. Vance's supervisor even under the broader interpretation of that term applied by certain courts of appeals," university spokesman Tony Proudfoot said in an email, citing the Solicitor General's brief.
But Daniel Ortiz, a lawyer for Vance, said that under the broader standard there is evidence Davis was a supervisor.
Davis, who Vance believed was her supervisor, "taunted her with racial epithets, slapped her at one point and made her life a living hell," Ortiz said.
Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, have filed briefs supporting the narrow definition of supervisor used by the 7th, 1st and 8th Circuits.
Adopting the narrower definition allows employers to easily identify employees who would trigger automatic liability so they can be screened, trained and monitored, the business groups argue.
The open-ended definition, used by the 2nd, 4th and 9th Circuits, offers little guidance or incentive to undertake prevention efforts, the U.S. Chamber said in its brief.
Camille Olson, a lawyer at Seyfarth Shaw who represents companies, said if the Supreme Court adopts the more expansive definition, employers will be potentially liable for the conduct of a much larger pool of employees.
"The expanded definition of whose conduct binds the employer will significantly increase litigation for employers," said Olson, who is not involved in the latest case. Employees may also have less incentive to report harassment promptly and to get any immediate issues fixed, opting instead for litigation, she said.
The broad definition of supervisor would also conflict with a narrower one used in the Fair Labor Standards Act and National Labor Relations Act, creating confusion, she added.
On the other side, plaintiffs' lawyers say the stricter standard ignores the practical reality of the workplace and allows discrimination and harassment to go unpunished.
"The ones most likely to engage in harassment are the ones who deal with their coworkers day-to-day but may not have the special power to hire, fire, promote or demote," said Matthew Koski, an attorney with the National Employment Lawyers Association, a group for lawyers who represent workers.
Supervisors who make final employment decisions may be in a different office or a different state, he said.
The case is Vance v. Ball State University, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-556.

Strapped to the roof of his own karma: Romney ends up with 47% of vote

With ballots still being counted (ballots are still being counted?) in Maryland, New York and California, Mitt Romney’s share of the popular vote will dip below 47.5 percent, and round down to the now-infamous 47%.Cue the irony.
Says Greg Sargent:
At risk of piling on, a 47 percent finish would represent a perfect conclusion to the Romney political saga. If Romney ran a campaign of unprecedented dishonesty and lack of transparency, virtually all of it was geared towards misleading people about the true nature of his — and his party’s — actual beliefs and governing agenda. This was the case on multiple fronts, from Romney’s dissembling about the size of the tax cut he’d give to the rich, to his evasions about the overhaul he and Paul Ryan planned for the safety net, to the obscuring of the massive upward redistribution of wealth represented by the Ryan agenda — the repugican’s central governing blueprint for nation’s fiscal and economic future.
Mitt Romney
This entire election cycle I’ve felt something almost surreal about Mitt Romney.
He struck me as the caricature of everything people hate about politics. He was born to wealth and power, groomed his image to the point of being uncomfortably slick, buried his opponents in dark money, said absolutely whatever he felt necessary, lied, cheated, bullied and compromised whatever other principles he may have had for the sake of winning an election.
It’s only fitting that such a storybook villain of a candidate get a storybook villain’s comeuppance to end his campaign.
They say the arc of history bends towards justice.  It also has a way of kicking you on the way out.

Staffers for millionaire/wrestling magnate/failed repugican Senate candidate say they were stiffed, got bad checks and condoms: "you're screwed"

Linda McMahon (a wrestling magnate who built up the WWE with her husband Vince McMahon) is a failed repugican Senate candidate in Connecticut with a reported net worth of $500M, who has spent a reported $100M on a pair of failed Senate bids. She has also reportedly stiffed her staffers, who claim that they were sent bounced checks from the campaign, and, when they complained, were sent more rubber checks, along with a condom and a message saying "you're screwed."

From CBS:
Campaign staffer Twaine Don Gomes was reportedly among the first to make the matter of the bad checks public knowledge through local news media – an action which allegedly inspired the campaign to send a second check with something extra.
“Basically he handed me a check with a condom in it, told me I was screwed,” Gomes told WTNH. “That’s the rudest gesture you can ever do to a person, it’s like spitting in a person’s face.”
Checks Issued By McMahon Campaign Bounce

How Walmart uses medicaid and foodstamps to avoid paying its workers a living wage

The combined worth of the 6 Walmart heirs and heiresses is greater than that of the bottom 41% of American families (48.8 million households). How do the grinning kids of Sam Walton stay so rich? By paying their employees slave wages and not providing benefits, forcing them to use food stamps and medicaid. Above, a poster by Miel Macassey that shows how Walmart siphons money from taxpayers so it can pay its workers (which represent 1% of the American workforce) an average of $8.81 an hour without having them and their kids drop dead of starvation.

Hostess making off with the mostess

Hostess benefited from government assistance. ("free stuff") will the $125,000/month CEO refund the taxpayers?  Ho-ho, ah no. you probably don't want to hold your breath...
Over $1.28 billion in taxpayer subsidies went to junk food ingredients, bringing the total to a staggering $18.2 billion since 1995. to put that figure in perspective, $18.2 billion is enough to buy 2.9 billion Twinkies every year - 21 for every single American taxpayer. More

Man left child in car to shop

Police say a Springfield, Massachusetts man left his girlfriend's 2-year-old son in a car while he went shopping for Black Friday bargains, then went home with his new 51-inch flat screen television and left the toddler behind.
Alerted by store security, the police found the boy asleep in the vehicle in a K-Mart parking lot at about 1:30 a.m. Friday.

They forced their way into the car and took the boy to the hospital as a precaution.

Meanwhile, they tracked the man to his home.

He told police he lost the boy while shopping, panicked, and called someone else for a ride. The boy's mother was working.

The 34-year-old man was not arrested and not immediately charged, but police say they expect to charge him with reckless endangerment to a child.

Woman guilty of racism for calling New Zealand born neighbor a stupid fat Australian

A woman racially abused her New Zealand-born neighbor by calling her Australian. Czech-born Petra Mills, 31, called Chelsea O’Reilly a ‘stupid fat Australian’ during a drunken tirade. The insult was witnessed by police officers who Mills herself had called after a domestic incident with her husband. Mills, formerly of Bridge Street, Macclesfield, denied racially-aggravated public disorder but was found guilty after a trial at Macclesfield magistrates court.

Miss O’Reilly, who is a British/New Zealand dual national, said she had been offended and insulted by Mills’ behavior. Iain Mutch, prosecuting, told the court that Miss O’Reilly had heard banging and drilling. He added: “Then there was screaming from Petra and a lot of running up and down the stairs before the front door slammed.” The court heard that Mills fled her home and called the police from a phone box at the top of the road. When she arrived back home, police had arrested her husband, Michael, who was later released without charge.

Miss O’Reilly told magistrates that Mills then stormed around to her house while she was making a statement to police. She said: “She called me a stupid fat Australian bitch. Because of my accent there can be some confusion over my nationality. She knew I was from New Zealand. She was trying to be offensive.” The court was told that two police officers heard Mills use the word ‘Australian’ during her drunken rant. Mills said: “Yes, I shouted at her but it had nothing to do with racism. I did not used the word Australian. I used to live with an Australian person. She was very nice.”

Trevor Feehily, defending, said the offense was motivated by Mills’ anger at O’Reilly ‘snooping’ and not her nationality. Chairman of the bench Brian Donohue said: “You were in an emotional and inebriated state. The word Australian was used. It was racially aggravated and the main reason it was used was in hostility.” Mills also admitted assaulting one of the police officers by kicking him. Mills was fined £110 for racially aggravated public disorder and £200 for assaulting a police officer. She was also ordered to pay both her victims £50 compensation and £500 court costs.

Saudi Arabian women tracked at the border with system that SMSes their husbands when they leave the country

Saudi authorities have rolled out an electronic surveillance system for women, which tracks their movements and alerts their husbands by SMS when they attempt to leave the country.
The husband, who was traveling with his wife, received a text message from the immigration authorities informing him that his wife had left the international airport in Riyadh.
“The authorities are using technology to monitor women,” said columnist Badriya al-Bishr, who criticized the “state of slavery under which women are held” in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
Women are not allowed to leave the kingdom without permission from their male guardian, who must give his consent by signing what is known as the “yellow sheet” at the airport or border.

Drunk People Have Higher Chance of Survival in Accidents

You've heard how drunken people survive horrific accidents that should've killed them. But it's not just folk belief - scientists revealed that the higher the blood-alcohol level, the higher the chance of survival after a serious injury:
"After an injury, if you are intoxicated there seems to be a pretty substantial protective effect," said Lee Friedman, the author of the study and an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at UIC, in a statment issued by the school. "The more alcohol you have in your system, the more the protective effect." [...]
Friedman analyzed all 190,612 patients treated at Illinois' trauma centers between 1995 and 2009 who were tested for blood-alcohol content, with levels ranging from zero to 0.5 percent at time of admission. (Blood-alcohol levels above about 0.35 percent can be fatal.) He found that with the exception of burn injuries, the mortality rates of all types of traumatic injury decreased as the blood-alcohol content of victims rose.
The conventional wisdom is that drunk people are more limp and relaxed during the accident, but Friedman's results showed that's not the case. Eli MacKinnon of LiveScience has the explanation: here.

The Death Experience Room

To Be Reborn, First You Have to Die
 Various methods of treatment involve being "reborn," but don't you have to die first to be born again? Perhaps this will help: a psychotherapy in Shenyang, China, simulates death for patients by putting them in a coffin inside a "death experience room":
People who suffer from psychological problems or heavy pressure can be "reborn" by simulating death with the help of psychologists, according to Tang Yulong, a consultant of a psychological counseling center.
There is a coffin in a 5-square-meter "death experience room" at the center.
According to Tang, someone using the therapy should write down his or her last words before lying in a coffin covered by a white cloth, and "the deceased" can hear the dirge. Five minutes later, a sound of a baby crying will break the "serene time", and the consultant will open the coffin with a festive song.
China Daily has more: here.

The World's Largest Indoor Beach

It's the world's largest indoor beach with 400 sunloungers - and not a cloud in sight. Yet with up to 6,000 visitors allowed in at a time, there are bound to be towel-fights over them. The Tropical Island Resort in Krausnick, south of Berlin, Germany, also boasts the largest indoor pool, a 50,000-plant forest - and enough space to fly a hot air balloon inside.

The former aircraft hangar has been transformed into a paradise offering tourists a tropical escape, if you can ignore the fact that you are miles from any ocean - or the tropics, for that matter.

Curiosity Rover's Secret Historic Breakthrough?

Much of the internet is buzzing over upcoming 'big news' from NASA's Curiosity rover, but the space agency's scientists are keeping quiet about the details. A report from the Rover's principal investigator, geologist John Grotzinger of Caltech, says that Curiosity has uncovered exciting new results from a sample of Martian soil recently scooped up.

The mystery will be revealed shortly, though. NASA will hold a press conference about the results during the 2012 American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco from December 3 to 7. Because it's so potentially earth-shaking, the Rover team remains cautious and is checking and double-checking their results.

Around $300,000 worth of gold dust found in home during HVAC installation

Sacramento homeowners called for what was going to be an expensive new heating and air system but ending up striking gold.
Workers installing the equipment found a secret gold stash hidden away in the house. They pride on customer service at Clark & Rush, but this is one guarantee they say they can’t make, finding gold on every house call.

The total value of what they found was $300,000 worth of gold. The total cost of the HVAC installation was around $6,500. After hundreds and hundreds of HVAC installations, Steve Ottley said the jackpot discovery was one of a kind. “I still can’t believe it today,” he said. “It’s unreal. We kind of just looked at each other and said ‘wow’.”

Back in September, beneath the floor grille of an older home, Steve and his partner discovered 12 baby food jars filled to the brim with gold dust. “I looked at it and said, ‘I think that’s gold,’” he said. Clark & Rush has been in Sacramento for 50 years and they’re celebrating their golden anniversary. But don’t expect a guarantee of “gold after every installation.” 

YouTube link.

“That’s one promise we can’t make, but I can say this, the integrity and professionalism of Clark & Rush, every time we find this type of thing, we are always trustworthy and upfront,” Mark Thyne said. Where the gold came from is still a mystery. The lucky homeowners didn’t want to be part of the story, but we’re told they’re handling their new gold just fine.

Chinese Nail Houses

Luo Baogen and his wife must have felt they were sitting pretty when they rejected government compensation for their apartment, saying it wouldn't cover the cost of rebuilding somewhere else. In any other jurisdiction their intransigence would probably trigger a lengthy court battle. But this was in China.

The government forged ahead and built a four-lane highway, lapping the asphalt on either side of the five-storey apartment building in Xiazhangyang, a village in Zhejiang province. These structures are known as nail houses.

Honeywell's Kitchen Computer

The 1969 behemoth that didn't sell a single unit
Wired's Daniela Hernandez has an in-depth history of the Honeywell Kitchen Computer, a minicomputer that could track recipes and offer meal plans, which was listed in the 1969 Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog, though none ever sold. Not only were the technical challenges associated with installing one of these were formidable, they were also pitched for solving a problem that wasn't really much of a problem.
I always imagined the design meeting for this going something like:
"I bet rich people would love to have the bragging rights you'd get from having a computer in their house, it'd be like having your own personal Apollo mission."
"Yeah, but what would they use 'em for? Let's ask Poindexter if he's got any ideas."
"Mrr, yes gentlemen, well, you see, computers are very good at tabulating long columns of numbers, solving differential equations, and managing 'data-bases', these being complex records, such as those used for human resources departments to keep track of the various attributes of employees and such..."
"So, uh, these data-bases, is that something you know, normal people might use? Something you'd keep around the house?"
"Oh yes! Your Christmas card list on 3x5 cards, or a list of recipes --"
"Recipes, you say?"
And off they went. Of course, in trying to improve things that worked well already (and without any input from the people whose problems they were notionally solving), Honeywell fell into the pit of "insufficient weirdness" -- imagining a future that was much like the present, only moreso. Computers that organized recipes, not computers that let you take pictures of your lunch and instantaneously share them with friends around the world.
Without a teletype, a programmer would need to enter software into the Honeywell using the 16 buttons on the front panel, each of which corresponds to a bit. A pressed button represented a one, and un-pushed button signaled a zero. “The chances that you would get a program right doing it one bit at a time like that were so low,” Spicer said. “The first peripheral people bought for [the Honeywell] was a teletype so they could speak to it.”
Now try to imagine all that in late 1960s kitchen. A full H316 system wouldn’t have fit in most kitchens, says design historian Paul Atkinson of Britain’s Sheffield Halam University. Plus, it would have looked entirely out of place. The thought that an average person, like a housewife, could have used it to streamline chores like cooking or bookkeeping was ridiculous, even if she aced the two-week programming course included in the $10,600 price tag.
If the lady of the house wanted to build her family’s dinner around broccoli, she’d have to code in the green veggie as 0001101000. The kitchen computer would then suggest foods to pair with broccoli from its database by “speaking” its recommendations as a series of flashing lights. Think of a primitive version of KITT, without the sexy voice.
Before the iPad, There Was the Honeywell Kitchen Computer

Library of Congress shows diaries from The War Between the States

This undated handout image provided by the Library of Congress shows a letter written by Mary Todd Lincoln to Julia Ann Sprigg, May 29, 1862, which is part of an exhibit at the Library of Congress of letters and diaries saved for 150 years from those who lived through the Civil War that offer a new glimpse at the arguments that split the nation. The Library of Congress holds the largest collection of Civil War documents. It has pulled 200 items from its holdings for a new exhibit to reveal both private and public thoughts from dozens of famous and ordinary citizens who lived in the North and the South. (AP Photo/Library of Congress)
 Letters and diaries from those who lived through the Civil War offer a new glimpse at the arguments that split the nation 150 years ago and some of the festering debates that survive today. The Library of Congress, which holds the largest collection of Civil War documents, pulled 200 items from its holdings to reveal both private and public thoughts from dozens of famous and ordinary citizens who lived in the North and the South. Many are being shown for the first time.
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, for one, was grappling with divided federal and state allegiances. He believed his greater allegiance was to his native Virginia, as he wrote to a friend about resigning his U.S. Army commission.
"Sympathizing with you in the troubles that are pressing so heavily upon our beloved country & entirely agreeing with you in your notions of allegiance, I have been unable to make up my mind to raise my hand against my native state, my relatives, my children & my home," he wrote in 1861. "I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army."
Lee's handwritten letter is among dozens of writings from individuals who experienced the war. They are featured in the new exhibit "The Civil War in America" at the library in Washington until June 2013. Their voices also are being heard again in a new blog created for the exhibition.
For a limited time in 2013, the extensive display will feature the original draft of President Abraham Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and rarely shown copies of the Gettysburg Address.
Beyond the generals and famous battles, though, curators set out to tell a broader story about what Lincoln called "a people's contest."
"This is a war that trickled down into almost every home," said Civil War manuscript specialist Michelle Krowl. "Even people who may seem very far removed from the war are going to be impacted on some level. So it's a very human story."
Curators laid out a chronological journey from before the first shots were fired to the deep scars soldiers brought home in the end.
While some still debate the root causes of the war, for Benjamin Tucker Tanner in 1860, the cause was clear, as he wrote from South Carolina in his diary.
"The country seems to be bordering on a civil war all on account of slavery," wrote the future minister. "I pray God to rule and overrule all to his own glory and the good of man."
A personal letter from Mary Todd Lincoln in 1862 was recently acquired by the library and is being publicly displayed for the first time.
In the handwritten note on stationery with a black border, Mary Lincoln reveals her deep grief over the death of her son Willie months earlier. Krowl said Mary Lincoln's grief is also evident in the new movie, "Lincoln."
"When you read this letter ... you just get a palpable feeling of how in the depth that she's been and she's now finally coming out of her grief, at least to resume public affairs," Krowl said.
All the documents in the exhibit are original. They include a massive map Gen. Stonewall Jackson commissioned of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to prepare for a major campaign.
The library also is displaying personal items from Lincoln, including the contents of his pockets on the night he was assassinated, and the pocket diary of Clara Barton who would constantly record details about soldiers she met and later founded the American Red Cross.
Some of the closing words come from soldiers who lost their right arms or hands in battle and had to learn to write left-handed. They joined a left-handed penmanship contest and shared their stories.
"I think this exhibition will have a lot of resonance for people," said exhibit director Cheryl Regan. "Certainly soldiers returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are going to be incredibly moved by these stories."
 This undated handout image provided by the Library of Congress shows John F. Chase. who lost his right arm and left eye at Gettysburg, which is part of an exhibit at the Library of Congress of letters and diaries saved for 150 years from those who lived through the Civil War that offer a new glimpse at the arguments that split the nation.  The Library of Congress holds the largest collection of Civil War documents. It has pulled 200 items from its holdings for a new exhibit to reveal both private and public thoughts from dozens of famous and ordinary citizens who lived in the North and the South. (AP Photo/Library of Congress)

Smithsonian gathers best art of War between the States era

This undated handout image provided by the Smithsonian American Art Museum Eastman Johnson's 1859 oil on linen, "Negro Life at the South," part of a major exhibition on how artists represented the war and how the war changed art. It's on view in Washington through April and then moves to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. (AP Photo/Smithsonian American Art Museum)
Paintings and photographs depicting the raw reality of the Civil War marked a major change in American art that tossed out romantic notions of war.
Some of the finest artists of the day, including Winslow Homer, Eastman Johnson, Frederic Church and Sanford Gifford, painted landscapes and scenes of everyday life to show how the war transformed the nation. Their best works, along with some of the first photographs of soldiers killed on the battlefield, have been gathered by the Smithsonian American Art Museum for a major exhibition on how artists represented the war and how the war changed art. "The Civil War and American Art" is on view in Washington through April and then moves to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Curator Eleanor Jones Harvey spent years researching the project and borrowing many of the 75 works featured in the show. It features Civil War scenes from Washington, Baltimore, New York, and points south at Fort Sumter, Charleston, S.C., Georgia and Virginia.
Rather than make portraits of war generals and heroes, however, artists of the day focused on the common man. There was a realization that "art that presents normal human beings, rather than celebrities and luminaries, carries more lasting weight."
One painting in the show, Gifford's 1862 painting "Preaching to the Troops," depicting a scene near Washington, was displayed in the Oval Office for 13 years.
Photographs had perhaps the greatest impact on art of the era. Battlefield photographs by Alexander Gardner showing piles of dead soldiers and images by George Barnard showing Charleston in ruins destroyed any romantic notions of war being a heroic adventure. Such images were shown in art galleries in the Northeast during the war and made people realize "this is not what I signed up for," Harvey said.
"Photographs from Antietam make it stunningly impossible for anyone associated with the New York art world to make romantic pictures of the war because they look like lies," Harvey said.
Art also changed the rhetoric about war by depicting gruesome reality. Raw imagery shown to President Abraham Lincoln likely influenced the words he drafted for his Gettysburg Address, Harvey said.
"There's a realization that this is a war that left nobody unscathed," she said. "As a result, as rich as you are, there is no insulation from the impact of the war."
Landscape paintings reflected the mood of the nation. Artists depicted scenes of nature and weather to represent the war's destruction and impact. There are layers of coding in such paintings, Harvey said, as with Church's depiction of ice as Northern fortitude, an erupting volcano to represent slavery and the tropics to represent the South.
At the same time, Homer and Johnson addressed slavery and emancipation with scenes of ordinary people, including a slave family escaping to freedom on horseback and a slave man reading from the Bible.
In postwar America, Homer painted a scene of former slaves meeting with their former mistress, renegotiating their relationship to involve wages. "Homer is saying, 'until this gets fixed, we're not done,'" Harvey said.

Vikings' Barbaric Bad Rap Beginning to Fade

It is no wonder that the Vikings have a reputation for mindless savagery. Since the Vikings were unable to write, much of their history was recorded by British and French clergy—the very people who fell victim to the Viking raids.

But were the Vikings merely primitive plunderers?

Far from it, say scholars. Using archaeological and other evidence, researchers have in recent years been piecing together a more complex picture of the Vikings that sharply contradicts the stereotype of the Vikings as mere barbarians.

"The Norsemen were not just warriors, they were farmers, artists, shipbuilders, and innovators," said Ingmar Jansson, a professor of archaeology at Stockholm University in Sweden. "More than anything, they were excellent traders who connected peoples from Baghdad to Scandinavia to the mainland of North America."

Scholars say the Viking raids were about survival, not conquest, and were prompted primarily by a shortage of land. In most cases individual Viking chieftains gathered followers and set off on raids. Wherever they went, the Vikings lived off the land, often driving the locals out and taking whatever valuables they could get their hands on.

But the Vikings were also driven by a pioneering spirit. Their most spectacular trek took them across the Atlantic Ocean to Iceland, Greenland, and eventually North America. Around A.D. 1000, hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World, the Vikings landed in Newfoundland, Canada, a land they reportedly named Vinland.

"The Vikings reconnected humanity and made the world a smaller place by traveling huge distances," Fitzhugh said. "We look back to the Vikings as the origin of this kind of human endeavor to find new horizons, use new technology, meet new people, and think new thoughts."

Breaking a 18th C cipher reveals hidden history of Freemasonry and freethought

Noah Shachtman's long Wired feature "They Cracked This 250-Year-Old Code, and Found a Secret Society Inside," tells the intriguing story of the cracking of the "Copiale" cipher, a strange text left behind by a mid-18th-century secret society called the Oculists. The Oculists had formerly been remembered as being concerned with performing and perfecting eye surgeries, but the Copiale cipher revealed them to have been either spies within Freemasonry, or Freemasons who'd formed another secret society to record and safeguard Mason rituals in the face of persecution from the Catholic church. I was particularly intrigued by the parallels Shachtman draws between members of secret societies and contemporary online secret groups, both using cryptography to guard their freethought from intolerant state snooping.
Hundreds of thousands of Europeans belonged to secret societies in the 18th century, Önnerfors explained to Megyesi; in Sweden alone, there were more than a hundred orders. Though they were clandestine, they were often remarkably inclusive. Many welcomed noblemen and merchants alike—a rare egalitarian practice in an era of strict social hierarchies. That made the orders dangerous to the state. They also frequently didn’t care about their adherents’ Christian denomination, making these orders—especially the biggest of them, Freemasonry—an implicit threat to the authority of the Catholic Church. In 1738 Pope Clement XII forbade all Catholics from joining a Masonic lodge. Others implied that the male-only groups might be hotbeds of sodomy. Not long after, rumors started that members of these orders actually worshipped the devil.
These societies were the incubators of democracy, modern science, and ecumenical religion. They elected their own leaders and drew up constitutions to govern their operations. It wasn’t an accident that Voltaire, George Washington, and Ben Franklin were all active members. And just like today’s networked radicals, much of their power was wrapped up in their ability to stay anonymous and keep their communications secret.
After reading the Oculists’ cipher, Önnerfors suggested that it described one of the more extreme groups. Forget the implicit threats to the state or church. In part of the Copiale, there’s explicit talk about slaying the tyrannical “three-headed monster” who “deprive[s] man of his natural freedom.” There’s even a call for a “general revolt.” Remember, Önnerfors told the code-breakers, this book was written in the 1740s—30 years before the Declaration of Independence. “To someone at the time,” he added, “this would be like reading a manifesto from a terrorist organization.”
They Cracked This 250-Year-Old Code, and Found a Secret Society Inside

The Mayflower Gun

The Only Surviving Firearm from the Pilgrims Mayflower
This .50-caliber wheellock musket, propularly known as the Mayflower Gun, is thought to be the only surviving firearm among those that crossed the Atlantic with the Pilgrims. It has been traced back to John Alden, traditionally the first Pilgrim to step ashore at Plymouth. Preservationists discovered it in 1924:
The Alden family dwelling, like the gun, has survived for nearly 400 years. The Mayflower gun was discovered—still loaded, nonetheless—in a secret protective cubbyhole near the front door of the home during a 1924 renovation.  The Alden home, which was occupied by family members until the mid-1890’s, is currently a National Historic Landmark in Duxbury, Massachusetts.  Though it is certain that other settlers would have carried similar arms, this is indeed the only known surviving piece, likely because it was tucked away and forgotten after its years of service had ended.

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Sally Forrest
Sally Forrest

Qatar censors Piglet from Winnie the Pooh

Winnie-the-Pooh's best friend, Piglet, has fallen under the censorship axe in Qatar.

Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani officially abolished press censorship in 1995, but the government is still blacking out imagery deemed offensive to Islam, such as Piglet, who portrays an animal the Muslim religion says is unclean.

Bigfoot like creature spotted near Tunbridge Wells

A British Bigfoot has been spotted in woodland near Tunbridge Wells. Dubbed the Kentish Apeman, it is claimed he towers eight-foot tall, is covered in hair and has red demonic eyes. Skeptics may say the incidents could be down to a trick of the light, but Neil Arnold, a paranormal expert from Rochester, said he has received numerous reports of the apeman over the years.
One of the sightings took place in Dartford by a girl named Charlotte who was heading home in her car from the University of Kent. She said she saw a creature with long arms and knees which came up under its chin as it walked. She was so petrified she nearly crashed her car.

Other sightings, according to Mr Arnold, include five members of the Territorial Army in 1991 spotting the beast on Blue Bell Hill, near Maidstone, and throwing stones and shouting at it before running away.  Another sighting in Chatham by a young girl with her partner saw the apeman appear then run off into the bushes. Mr Arnold, who doesn’t believe the apeman to be a flesh and blood ‘monster’, but a paranormal figure, has also had reports from Maidstone and Hythe.

In each example the figure appears the same and Mr Arnold said tales of an apeman date back decades. He said: “It’s a very touchy subject in the sense that these things are really not normal. I get some unusual reports. There have been reports all over England, but we can never prove something paranormal.” Mr Arnold said he believes the reports could be similar to folklore tales which described ‘wild men of the woods’.

Dog adopts and nurses tiger cubs

A White Swiss Shepherd Dog is proving a life saver after she adopted three tiger cubs abandoned by their mother at a zoo in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The snow white hound named Tally is breastfeeding the tiny trio of tigers after the mother Bagheera refused to feed them herself. Keepers said the dog was producing milk for the cubs, two males and a female that were born in October, even though her own puppies have not yet been born.

They are feeding her a high protein food to make sure she has enough milk for them all. It is not the first time the tiger mum has abandoned her cubs at the zoo. This time around they had Tally lined up, and zoo spokesperson Victoria Kudlaeva said they were surprised that she had adopted the three so quickly.

YouTube link.

The cubs are also being fed goat's milk as an additional supplement. The female has been named after her adopted mum Tally - and the zoo is holding a contest to name the two males. And althought the cubs have sharper claws than puppies they have learned not to annoy their adopted mum - who nudges them away with her nose when they start to scratch or bite.

Wild Wolves Return to Berlin

More than a hundred years after Germany's "last wolf" was shot and killed by hunters, naturalists in Berlin have reasons to rejoice: they have sighted a pack of wild wolves and cubs just outside Berlin.
The German office of the World Wildlife Fund said yesterday that farmers had alerted its field workers to the existence a wolf pack which appeared to have moved into a deserted former Soviet army military exercise area near the village of Sperenberg south of Berlin. [...]
The discovery of wolves living and apparently breeding so close to a large urban conurbation like Berlin is the first since German reunification in 1990. But Mr Arnold said the areas of largely uninhabited forest in the surrounding state of Brandenburg and plenty of deer and wild boar were decisive factors.
Tony Paterson of The Independents has more: here.

Animal Pictures


Lion Stare (floridapfe)