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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.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Daily Drift



Canyon after Canyon

A storm over the Grand Canyon

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Today in History

2348 BC Biblical scholars have long asserted this to be the day of the Great Deluge, or Flood.
1863 Union ends the siege of Chattanooga with the Battle of Missionary Ridge.
1876 Colonel Ronald MacKenzie destroys Cheyenne Chief Dull Knife's village, in the Bighorn Mountains near the Red Fork of the Powder River, during the so-called Great Sioux War.
1901 Japanese Prince Ito arrives in Russia to seek concessions in Korea.
1914 German Field Marshal Fredrich von Hindenburg calls off the Lodz offensive 40 miles from Warsaw, Poland. The Russians lose 90,000 to the Germans' 35,000 in two weeks of fighting.
1918 Chile and Peru sever relations.
1921 Hirohito becomes regent of Japan.
1923 Transatlantic broadcasting from England to America commences for the first time.
1930 An earthquake in Shizouka, Japan kills 187 people.
1939 Germany reports four British ships sunk in the North Sea, but London denies the claim.
1946 The U.S. Supreme Court grants the Oregon Indians land payment rights from the U.S. government.
1947 The Big Four meet to discuss the German and European economy.
1951 A truce line between U.N. troops and North Korea is mapped out at the peace talks in Panmunjom, Korea.
1955 The Interstate Commerce Commission bans segregation in interstate travel.
1963 The body of assassinated President John F. Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
1964 Eleven nations give a total of $3 billion to rescue the value of the British currency.
1986 As President Ronald Reagan announces the Justice Department's findings concerning the Iran-Contra affair; secretary Fawn Hall smuggles important documents out of Lt. Col. Oliver North's office.

Non Sequitur


Obama buys books to promote independent shops

President Barack Obama, with daughters Sasha, far right, and Malia, center, goes shopping at a small bookstore, One More Page, in Arlington, Va., Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Barack Obama made a quick trip to a Virginia bookstore for some Christmas shopping.
The president took his daughters, Sasha and Malia, to One More Page Books in Arlington, Va., on Saturday afternoon.
The White House says Obama was promoting an effort called "small business Saturday" to encourage shoppers to patronize mom-and-pop businesses after Thanksgiving.
At the store, Obama held up his BlackBerry, apparently looking up a book title as he spoke with shop owner Eileen McGervey. He said "preparation" was the key to his shopping.
Obama brushed off a reporter's question about the looming "fiscal cliff," saying "we're doing Christmas shopping."
The White House says Obama bought 15 children's books that will be given as Christmas gifts to family members.

Now, here's scary thought ...

Did you know ...

About the six most bizarre wingnut freak-outs over Obama's re-election

and about these 5 signs the right is losing it completely

Speaking of criminals ...

Putting it into perspective

Singers continue long Wisconsin tradition of protest

In this Sept. 7, 2012 photo, dozens of singers gather in the state Capitol rotunda for the 455th consecutive Solidarity sing along in the wake of a crackdown on protests without a permit by new Capitol Police Chief David Erwin. Most of the demonstrations against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ended a long time ago. But every weekday at noon, a few dozen people still gather inside the state Capitol and sing protest songs for an hour. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart)
Every weekday as the clock strikes noon, dozens of demonstrators pass out songbooks inside the Wisconsin Capitol. Office workers who know what's coming scramble to close their doors, and several police officers take up watch from a distance. Then the group begins to sing, the voices echoing throughout the cavernous rotunda. The first song might include the lyrics, "Hit the road, Scott, and don't you come back no more." The next tune could say, "We'll keep singing 'til justice is done. We're not going away, oh Scotty."
Most of the protesters who hounded Gov. Scott Walker for his collective-bargaining law got on with their lives long ago. But one group still gathers every day to needle the state's leading repugican — a tactic they promise to continue even as supporters suggest there are more effective ways to influence politics.
"We're not just protesting," said Brandon Barwick, a 28-year-old student and musician who is the unofficial leader of the sing-along. "We're advocating for a way of governing, a way of living that preserves our freedoms, our rights."
Madison has a long, proud tradition of public protests, from a famous civil rights march in 1969 to violent clashes with police during the Vietnam era. More recently, Walker's law to strip most public employees of their union rights drew massive protests in 2011 and sparked an effort to oust the governor earlier this year. He survived a recall election in June.
But the Solidarity Singers won't accept defeat. Walker's attack on Wisconsin workers was so severe, Barwick said, that he deserves constant reminders of the damage he caused.
Their efforts might seem puzzling. Protests generally persist only as long as there's a chance to bring change. It can be hard to sustain that energy when there's no clear goal or realistic chance of success.
That's what happened with the Occupy movement, which grew out of anger at Wall Street and a financial system perceived to favor the richest 1 percent. The movement grew too large too quickly for organizers to keep up. Without leaders or specific demands, it eroded into an amorphous protest against everything wrong with the world and eventually fell apart.
State Sen. Fred Risser, the nation's longest-serving state lawmaker, is no stranger to protests. The 85-year-old Democrat, who was first elected in 1956, remembers when a Milwaukee priest and "welfare mothers" took over the state Assembly chamber in 1969 to protest proposed welfare cuts. Risser also recalls violent clashes between Madison police and Vietnam War protesters.
The confrontations of the past make him grateful that the Solidarity Singers are nonviolent. But he doubted their singing would make a difference.
"I don't know of any legislators who are changing their views because of that," Risser said. "If their goal is to change the law, that's not going to happen. But I think their goal is to express concern, to have the feeling of participating in peaceful demonstrations."
Walker said the move to limit collective bargaining was necessary to fix the state's $3.6 billion deficit. Democrats took it as a direct assault on unions, one of their core constituencies. Democrats responded by organizing a series of recalls efforts, including one targeting Walker. When the governor cruised to an easy victory, though, most opponents accepted their fate and went home.
But not the Capitol singers. Anywhere from 25 to 50 people — usually a handful of students joined by mostly middle-aged or retired people — still gather every day to sing protest songs for an hour.
Police initially reacted with a hands-off approach, arresting only a handful of belligerent protesters loosely associated with the group. However, the new Capitol police chief has begun cracking down by issuing scores of citations to group leaders, largely for failure to obtain a permit.
Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said virtually every other group that uses the Capitol has complied with the permit policy. She said the agency couldn't make an exception for the singers.
But Barwick and others refuse, saying they shouldn't need the government's permission to protest the government.
On a recent day, Barwick led about 50 people in song, singing selections that included "When We Make Peace," sung to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In," and "Scotty, We're Comin' for You."
Some people who work in the Capitol call the singing an unwelcome distraction that can be heard even through a closed door. And some protesters with loose ties to the singing circle have been arrested for screaming at employees. One protester regularly stood outside the Capitol press room, berating reporters and shouting insults about one reporter's recently deceased father.
Barwick, who says his group doesn't condone that sort of activity, said he can't control fringe participants who engage in harassing or criminal behavior.
State Sen. Robert Jauch, a 66-year-old Democrat, defends the singers' music as "the sweet sound of democracy." He said he too remembered the civil rights movement and anti-war movements of the 1960s and '70s, and how songs of those eras helped people sustain their causes.
But repugican state Rep. Stephen Nass said the singers have worn out their welcome with the endless noise.
"They come in and take over the rotunda and argue that it's free speech," he said. "But when they're disrupting visitors and school groups, that's not free speech. They should have to adhere to the same rules as everyone else."

Syrian rebels capture air base near Damascus

The director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman, says rebels seized control of the Marj al-Sultan base on the outskirts of Damascus on Sunday morning.

Redneckus Americanus


Ding Dong - Avon Calling by Rescue Furdaddy on Flickr.
You might be a Redneck ... if your doorbell is a deer's arse

To tell the truth

Teachers embroiled in test-taking fraud

In this photo taken Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, Neal Kingston, director of the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas, talks about testing fraud in his Lawrence, Kan., office. “There’s a never-ending war between those who try to maintain standards and those who are looking out for their own interests," says Kingston. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
It was a brazen and surprisingly long-lived scheme, authorities said, to help aspiring public school teachers cheat on the tests they must pass to prove they are qualified to lead their classrooms.
For 15 years, teachers in three Southern states paid Clarence Mumford Sr. — himself a longtime educator — to send someone else to take the tests in their place, authorities said. Each time, Mumford received a fee of between $1,500 and $3,000 to send one of his test ringers with fake identification to the Praxis exam. In return, his customers got a passing grade and began their careers as cheaters, according to federal prosecutors in Memphis.
Authorities say the scheme affected hundreds — if not thousands — of public school students who ended up being taught by unqualified instructors.
Mumford faces more than 60 fraud and conspiracy charges that claim he created fake driver's licenses with the information of a teacher or an aspiring teacher and attached the photograph of a test-taker. Prospective teachers are accused of giving Mumford their Social Security numbers for him to make the fake identities.
The hired-test takers went to testing centers, showed the proctor the fake license, and passed the certification exam, prosecutors say. Then, the aspiring teacher used the test score to secure a job with a public school district, the indictment alleges. Fourteen people have been charged with mail and Social Security fraud, and four people have pleaded guilty to charges associated with the scheme.
Mumford "obtained tens of thousands of dollars" during the alleged conspiracy, which prosecutors say lasted from 1995 to 2010 in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Among those charged is former University of Tennessee and NFL wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, who is accused of employing a test-taker for a Praxis physical education exam. He was charged in late October with four counts of Social Security and mail fraud. He has pleaded not guilty and is out of jail on a $10,000 bond. He has been suspended by the Memphis City Schools system.
If convicted, Mumford could face between two and 20 years in prison on each count. The teachers face between two and 20 years in prison on each count if convicted.
Lawyers for Mumford and Wilson did not return calls for comment.
Prosecutors and standardized test experts say students were hurt the most by the scheme because they were being taught by unqualified teachers. It also sheds some light on the nature of cheating and the lengths people go to in order to get ahead.
"As technology keeps advancing, there are more and more ways to cheat on tests of this kind," said Neal Kingston, director of the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas. "There's a never-ending war between those who try to maintain standards and those who are looking out for their own interests."
Cheating on standardized tests is not new, and it can be as simple as looking at the other person's test sheet. The Internet and cell phones have made it easier for students to cheat in a variety of ways. In the past few years, investigations into cheating on standardized tests for K-12 students have surfaced in Atlanta, New York and El Paso, Texas.
Still, most of the recent test-taking scandals involved students taking tests, not people taking teacher certification exams. Cheating scams involving teacher certification tests are more unusual, said Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.
Schaeffer notes that a large-scale scandal involving teacher certification tests was discovered in 2000, also in the South. In that case, 52 teachers were charged with paying up to $1,000 apiece to a former Educational Testing Services proctor to ensure a passing grade on teacher certification tests.
Teachers from Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi took tests through Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., in 1998. The college was not accused of wrongdoing.
Educational Testing Services also writes and administers the Praxis examinations involved in the Memphis case. ETS spokesman Tom Ewing said the company discovered the cheating in June 2009, conducted an investigation and canceled scores. The company began meeting with authorities to turn over the information in late 2009, Ewing said.
"These cases are rare, but we consider them to be very serious and something we have to guard against happening for all the honest test-takers, students and teachers," Ewing said.
Ewing said ETS observes test-takers and reviews test scores to try to root out cheaters. ETS also has received anonymous tips that have led them to cheaters, Ewing said.
Prosecutors in the Mumford case say he, the teachers and test-takers used the Internet and the U.S. Postal Service to register and pay for the tests, and to receive payment. The indictment does not say how much he allegedly paid the test-takers.
An experienced educator, Mumford was working for Memphis City Schools when the alleged scam took place. Authorities say Mumford defrauded the three states by making the fake driver's licenses.
"What happens at many testing centers is that a whole bunch of test-takers show up simultaneously, early on a Saturday morning, and the proctors give only a cursory look to the identification," Schaeffer said. "It's not like going through airport security where a guy holds up a magnifying glass and puts our license under ultraviolet light to make sure it has not been tampered with."
Mumford was fired after news of the investigation came out, and others, like Wilson, have been suspended. But at least three teachers implicated in the scandal remain employed with their school district.
Kingston, the university professor, said prospective teachers may not be confident in their knowledge base to pass the test. Or, the cheaters may believe they are smart enough to pass on their own but also know they are poor test takers.
Kingston said his research has shown that cheating on exams is getting more prevalent.
"The propensity to cheat on exams both through college and for licensure and certification exams seems to be increasing over time," said Kingston. "People often don't see it as something wrong."
The pressure of passing the test could make people do things they normally would not do. And it could take a while for authorities and test-taking services to catch up with the cheaters.
"When people come up with a new method for cheating, it takes some time for folks to figure it out, partly because this has been an understudied area in the field of assessment," Kingston said.
Nina Monfredo, a 23-year-old history teacher at Power Center Academy in Memphis, has taken Praxis exams for history, geography, middle school content, and secondary teaching and learning.
Monfredo, who passed all her tests and is not involved in the fraud case, said the exams she took were relatively easy for someone who has a high school education. She said some people use study aids to prepare, but she didn't. And she didn't feel much pressure because it was her understanding that she could take the test again if she did not pass.
"If you feel like you can't pass and you hire someone it means you really didn't know what you were doing," she said. "I think it would be easier to just learn what's on the test."

Some states preserve penmanship despite tech gains

Alexia Herrera practices writing in cursive at St. Mark’s Lutheran School in Hacienda Heights, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012. Bucking a growing trend of eliminating cursive from elementary school curriculums or making it optional, California is among the states keeping longhand as a third-grade staple. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
The pen may not be as mighty as the keyboard these days, but California and a handful of states are not giving up on handwriting entirely.
Bucking a growing trend of eliminating cursive from elementary school curriculum's or making it optional, California is among the states keeping longhand as a third-grade staple.
The state's posture on penmanship is not likely to undercut its place at the leading edge of technology, but it has teachers and students divided over the value of learning flowing script and looping signatures in an age of touchpads and mobile devices.
Some see it as a waste of time, an anachronism in a digitized society where even signatures are electronic, but others see it as necessary so kids can hone fine motor skills, reinforce literacy and develop their own unique stamp of identity.
The debate comes as 45 states move toward adopting national curriculum guidelines in 2014 for English and math that don't include cursive handwriting, but require proficiency in computer keyboarding by the time pupils exit elementary school.
Several states, including California, Georgia and Massachusetts, have added a cursive requirement to the national standards, while most others, such as Indiana, Illinois and Hawaii have left it as optional for school districts. Some states, like Utah, are still studying the issue.
Whether it's required or not, cursive is fast becoming a lost art as schools increasingly replace pen and paper with classroom computers and instruction is increasingly geared to academic subjects that are tested on standardized exams. Even the standardized tests are on track to be administered via computer within three years.
Experts say manuscript, or printing, may be sufficient when it comes to handwriting in the future.
"Do you really need to learn two different scripts?" said Steve Graham, education professor at Arizona State University who has studied handwriting instruction. "There will be plenty of kids who don't learn cursive. The more important skill now is typing."
Cursive still has many proponents who say it benefits youngsters' brains, coordination and motor skills, as well as connects them to the past, whether to handwritten historical documents like the Constitution or to their parents' and grandparents' letters.
Longhand is also a symbol of personality, even more so in an era of uniform emails and texting, they say.
"I think it's part of your identity and part of your self-esteem," said Eldra Avery, who teaches language and composition at San Luis Obispo High School. "There's something really special and personal about a cursive letter."
Avery also has a practical reason for pushing cursive — speed. She makes her 11th grade students relearn longhand simply so they'll be able to complete their advancement placement exams. Most students print.
"They have to write three essays in two hours. They need that speed," she said. "Most of them learned cursive in second grade and forgot about it. Their penmanship is deplorable."
For many elementary school teachers, having children spend hours copying flowing letters just isn't practical in an era of high-stakes standardized testing.
Third-graders may get 15 minutes of cursive practice a couple times a week, and after the fourth grade, it often falls off completely because teachers don't require assignments to be written in cursive. When children write by hand, many choose to print because they've practiced it more.
Dustin Ellis, fourth-grade teacher at Big Springs Elementary School in Simi Valley, said he assigns a cursive practice packet as homework, but if he had his druthers, he'd limit cursive instruction to learning to read it, instead of writing it. Out of his 32 students, just three write in cursive, he noted.
"Students can be just as successful with printing," he said. "When a kid can text 60 words a minute, that means we're heading in a different direction. Cursive is becoming less and less important."
It also depends on the teacher. Many younger teachers aren't prepared to teach cursive or manuscript, said Kathleen S. Wright, national handwriting product manager for Zaner-Bloser Publishing, which develops instructional tools.
To remedy that, the company has developed a computer program that shows kids how to form letters.
Students say virtually nobody writes in cursive except teachers and parents. School assignments are required to be typed, and any personal note, such as thank yous and birthday cards, are emails, said Monica Baerg, a 16-year-old junior at Arcadia High School.
Baerg said she learned cursive in third grade, but has never used it and has difficulty deciphering her parents' handwriting. When she has to write by hand, she prints and never has a problem with speed.
"It was kind of a waste. No one ever forced us to use cursive so it was a hassle to remember the letters," she said. "It's not necessary to write in cursive. Whatever you write in, you say the same thing."
At St. Mark's Lutheran School in Hacienda Heights, cursive remains a core subject. Students are required to write in cursive through middle school so they become fluent at it, as well as work on computers, but increasingly transfer students arrive without longhand skills, said Linda Merchant, director of curriculum and instruction. They're given a book to study and practice at home.
"We're pretty committed to keeping it," Merchant said. "There's always going to be situations when you're going to have to present your own writing."
Graham, the professor, noted that the case for cursive is becoming harder to make, due to the benefits word processing offers such as spellcheck and cutting and pasting text, but he noted there are benefits to ensuring good handwriting. "People form judgments about the quality of your ideas based on the neatness of your text," he said.
For kids, the only practical purpose for learning cursive is to sign their names.
"They should teach it just for that purpose," said student Baerg. "Everybody wants a cool signature with all the fancy loops."

Random Photo

Combination Flashlight/Handgun, c.1922

Many modern handguns come with rails for mounting accessories, including lights. This object, patented by S.P. Cottrell & Son, is an early attempt to provide both illumination and protection. It's a .22-caliber 7-shot revolver built onto a heavy flashlight. The trigger is folded along the bottom.

Going Retro: 1910s America In Color

We often perceive the past in black and white - after all, the vast majority of photographs from the 1910s through into the 1930s and 40s are monochrome. Yet a color photography process called the Autochrome Lumière was patented in 1903. It remained the foremost color process until the second half of the 1930s.

The pictures you are about to see are mostly dated about 1915-18 with some earlier and a few from the 1920s.

People of the Russian Empire

You are going to see a big collection of photo postcards featuring people and mode of life in the Russian Empire of the end of the nineteenth - beginning of the twentieth centuries. So what was the Russian type? More

What Does It Mean to Live In Moldova?

Moldova is the poorest country in Europe. But every tourist who comes there decides by himself/herself if it is true or not. However it has been called "the poorest" for some years by mass media. You are about to travel along the remote places of Moldova, its villages and cities. More

Vampire on the loose fears boosts garlic sales in Serbia

Sales of garlic are booming in western Serbia after the local council issued a public health warning that a vampire was on the loose. The warning came after an old ruined mill, said to once have been the home of notorious vampire Sava Savanovic, collapsed. Savanovic was said to have lived in the old watermill on the Rogacica river, at Zarozje village in the municipality of Bajina Basta where he drank the blood of anybody that came to mill their grain.
The watermill was bought by the local Jagodic family, and they were too scared to use it as a mill - but discovered it was a goldmine when they started advertising it to tourists.  But the family were worried about carrying out building work on the mill because they were scared they might disturb the vampire or unleash his wrath if his home was messed around with - and now the property has collapsed through lack of repair.

For locals it has sparked rumors that the vampire is now free once again. Local mayor Miodrag Vujetic admitted: "People are worried, everybody knows the legend of this vampire and the thought that he is now homeless and looking for somewhere else and possibly other victims is terrifying people. We are all frightened."

He added that it was all very well for people who didn't live in the area to laugh at their fears but he said nobody in the region was in any doubt that vampires do exist. He confirmed that the local council had advised all villagers to put garlic on their doors and windows to protect them from the vampire as it was well known they can't stand the smell. He added: "We have also reminded them to put a Holy cross in every room in the house."

Domus de Janas

On the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, cave tombs were cut into the rocky hills around 5,000 years ago by the Ozieri people. The nickname "house of fairies" is modern nickname; they are officially named Domus de Janas, derived from the Roman goddess Diana. The 2,000 tombs come on all sizes.
Although now mainly used by shepherds as sheep pens, the caves cut into the rock faces of the mountains were once sealed and elaborately adorned with red paint and bulls’ heads, representing male fertility and regeneration. Vague outlines of horns and spirals still remain on the walls of some of the Domus, although the reuse of the tombs for burials into Roman times and the Middles Ages has left few of the original sites undisturbed.
See more pictures, including an interior view, at Atlas Obscura.

Machu Picchu

In 16 Gigapixels no less
Photographer Jeff Cremer captured the highest-resolution photo ever shot of Machu Picchu, the most popular tourist destination in Peru and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Unlike other gigapixel projects this one is very well documented, offering an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how these gargantuan images are made.


The Last Laughing Death

aFifty years ago, Dr. Michael Alpers went to Papua New Guinea to investigate kuru, a horrible sickness that killed many of the native Fore people, and no one knew why. He ended up devoting his life to solving the mystery of the disease. Today, the decades of research by many scientists have added mightily to the body of biological knowledge. Kuru was not spread by bacteria, nor by a virus, nor any distinct species, but by something completely new to the scientific community: prions, indestructible self-propagating proteins that change shape and attack the body. And that was just part of the mystery. How did the Fore people become infected, and why did some contract it while others did not? Could it possibly be spread by the ritual of eating their loved ones who died?
“We made a list, Carleton and I, and there were lots of changes. The introduction of new foods, new animals, the cessation of certain activities. But the one that was biologically the most relevant was the mortuary practices, at least in my view.” A couple of years later, field surveys confirmed the disease had died out in children younger than 10 — which fitted with the kiaps effectively administering new rules of behaviour through the district. The rules were, says Alpers, “No fighting, build roads, no cannibalism, no child marriage, and plant coffee. And they did it.”

When Alpers put his data together for a presentation in Washington in 1967 “the argument for cannibalism — and I don’t use that term anymore, but it was used then — was compelling. Everything fitted. Why did women and children get the disease? Because they were the ones that carried out the practice — the men didn’t. It explained why it was dying out in young children — because the kiaps had proscribed cannibalism. You could also conclude that the disease was not being transmitted vertically from mother to child. No one born since 1960 was coming down with kuru. The penny dropped”.

The humbling lesson for scientists and doctors was that while their labours might have helped solve the puzzle, they had not halted the disease. The honour for the life-saving intervention belonged to the officers, both black and white, who administered the new laws of the land.
And the research into kuru continued, because Alpers wanted to know how the disease began, and why some who were exposed seemed to be immune. And he's just now winding down, by getting all 2,700 of his case files in order. The story of Dr. Alpers' battle against kuru is condensed into a fascinating article at The Global Mail.

To Stay Awake

cAnna Sumner craved sleep, and therefore figured she must need sleep. She slept more and more from the time she was a teenager until it interfered with her job as a lawyer, sometimes for days at a time. After Sumner was diagnosed with "hypersomnolence," neurologist David Rye of Emory University and his team looked for the cause, but only got a clue from the reactions of different drugs that were prescribed to help her stay awake.
Rye’s group and several others around the world had also noticed that flumazenil had positive effects on some people with hypersomnolence. But in the wake of the scandal, Rye put this line of research on hold. “People got a very bad taste in their mouths,” he says. The general feeling in the field was “we got duped on this one, and that’s not going to happen again.”

But when Anna Sumner came along, Rye’s team at Emory thought it was time to dust off the old theory. In May 2007, they gave her a spinal tap, an invasive procedure that collects cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the clear substance that’s produced in the middle of the brain and flows down the spinal cord. CSF protects the brain mechanically, by keeping it buoyant, but it’s also chock-full of proteins and chemicals involved in brain-cell communication.

Sumner’s CSF was quantifiably abnormal. It contained a high level of a substance that, like benzodiazepines, activates the chemical messenger GABA. This neurotransmitter acts as a shutdown switch in the brain, dialing down consciousness so we can sleep. Sumner, it seemed, was carrying a bona fide endozepine.

Andy Jenkins, an anesthesiologist at Emory working on Sumner’s case, joked with her that if another woman were carrying around the same amount of GABA-activating sedative, she could practically be operated on. “That’s what I was walking around with on a daily basis,” Sumner says.
Scandal? Yes, researchers thought they'd identified an "endozepine," or naturally-occurring benzodiazepine (drugs used in sleeping pills) produced by the brain before, in a case from Italy in the 1980s. That research was exposed as useless, a turn down the wrong alley, and it only made Rye's newer discovery harder for the scientific community to swallow. Meanwhile, Sumner and other sufferers of hypersomnolence had to pay the price for less-than-rigorous research from decades earlier, as the effective medicine (flumazenil) is not easy to obtain or to administer. After years of rigorous research, Rye and his team still cannot fully identify the chemical compound that caused Sumner's sleepiness, but what they do know has finally been published. Finding the exact brain chemical that causes hypersomnolence may lead to more effective sleeping aids, better help for insomnia sufferers, and yes, big profits for pharmaceutical companies. Read the fascinating story of Sumner and her malady at The Last Word On Nothing.

Experiments That Keep Going And Going And Going ...

A biologist who has been watching a dozen bottles of bacteria evolve for nearly a quarter of a century is hoping he can find someone to keep his lab experiment going long after he dies. Meanwhile, just by coincidence, a botanist who works across campus is carefully tending an experiment that started before he was born, all the way back in 1879.

These two researchers, both at Michigan State University in East Lansing, represent different sides of an unusual phenomenon in science: experiments that outlive the people who started them. Most researchers design studies to churn out results as quickly as possible. But because nature can work on vast time scales, some questions can take longer to answer than any one scientist's career.

Random Beauty


Martin Amm

Paleontological News

Diatryma/ Gastornis giant flightless birdGiant bird was 'gentle herbivore'

Footprints made by the giant bird Diatryma indicate it was a "gentle herbivore", not a fierce carnivore, scientists say. BBC Nature

Great white shark returns to SC coast

A two-ton great white shark is spending the holiday feasting off South Carolina's shores.
The Post and Courier of Charleston reports that a satellite tag on the 16-foot-long shark named Mary Lee pinged repeatedly on Thanksgiving Day. It's believed she's feeding on streams of bait fish moving offshore with the Gulf Stream.
The pings show Mary Lee circled about five miles off Hunting Island, across St. Helena Sound from Edisto Beach.
Trackers believe the great white shark came close to the Isle of Palms earlier this month and might have ventured into Charleston Harbor. She traveled as far south as Florida before turning back.

Animal pictures