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

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Daily Drift


Here’s one cub reporter who could bearly contain herself as she watched a wildlife photographer at work. As Dean Swartz took pictures of a black bear family in Minnesota, America, he noticed one juvenile bear watching him very closely. After about 45 minutes the bear decided to have a go as well and ambled over to the tripod. Backing off, Dean used another camera on his shoulder to carry on taking pictures as the animal investigated his expensive equipment.  Picture: Dean Swartz / National News and Pictures
Stay curious

Some of our readers today have been in:
Port-Of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Cape Town, South Africa
Eskisehir, Turkey
Klang, Malaysia
Gibraltar, Gibraltar
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Warsaw, Poland
Waterloo, Canada
Santa Cruz, Philippines
Seremban, Malaysia
Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Aberdeen, Scotland
Cairo, Egypt
Zagreb, Croatia
Ankara, Turkey
Sampaloc, Philippines
Douala, Cameroon
Doha, Qatar
Lodz, Poland
Istanbul, Turkey
Olongapo, Philippines
Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Oranjestad, Aruba
London, England
Lahore, Pakistan
Bogota, Colombia
Today is National Chocolate-Covered Anything Day

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Today in History

1431 Henry VI of England is crowned King of France.
1653 Oliver Cromwell takes on dictatorial powers with the title of "Lord Protector."
1773 To protest the tax on tea from England, a group of young Americans, disguised as Indians, throw chests of tea from British ships in Boston Harbor.
1835 A fire in New York City destroys property estimated to be worth $20,000,000. It lasts two days, ravages 17 blocks, and destroys 674 buildings including the Stock Exchange, Merchants' Exchange, Post Office, and the South Dutch Church.
1863 Confederate General Joseph Johnston takes command of the Army of Tennessee.
1864 Union forces under General George H. Thomas win the battle at Nashville, smashing an entire Confederate army.
1930 In Spain, a general strike is called in support of the revolution.
1939 The National Women's Party urges immediate congressional action on equal rights.
1940 British troops carry out an air raid on Italian Somalia.
1944 Germany mounts a major offensive in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. As the center of the Allied line falls back, it creates a bulge, leading to the name–the Battle of the Bulge.
1949 Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung is received at the Kremlin in Moscow.
1950 President Harry Truman declares a state of National Emergency as Chinese communists invade deeper into South Korea.
1976 President Jimmy Carter appoints Andrew Young as Ambassador to the United Nations.
1978 Cleveland becomes the first U.S. city to default since the depression.
1998 The United States launches a missile attack on Iraq for failing to comply with United Nations weapons inspectors.

Non Sequitur


Celebrating Winter Solstice

A Powerful Moment of Annual Turning

In many cultures, traditions associated with the winter solstice on December 21—marking the longest night and shortest day of the year—spark celebrations. But with all the winter holiday to-dos and fewer daylight hours, this fun time of year can also be draining. Rituals can help us remember that life, like the sun, is cycling itself to rebound with strength. We can recognize the solstice as a powerful moment of annual turning by lighting a candle or burning a Yule log, in keeping with ancient traditions. It’s a time to seek warmth by surrounding ourselves with friends and family dear to our hearts. It’s a time to bring mistletoe, holly, ivy and piney evergreens home, gather around the table, laugh over shared stories, read poetry and renew our spirits with photographed memories of recent vacations.
Solstice brings a time of stillness and reflection. Placing seeds such as acorns into an offering bowl serves as a gentle reminder of nature’s empowering renewal of life through rebirth. Children will enjoy venturing outdoors to look at the stars through a telescope. Stargazing on a clear night is a humbling experience that can shift and lift our mood and perspective.


Emperor Aurelian (270-275CE) blended a number of Pagan solstice celebrations of the nativity of such gods as Apollo, Attis, Baal, Dionysus, Helios, Hercules, Horus, Mithra, Osiris, Perseus, and Theseus into a single festival called Sol Invictus, the "Birthday of the Unconquered Sun" on December 25th. At the time, Mithraism and christianity were fierce competitors. Aurelian even declared Mithraism the official religion of the Roman Empire in 274 CE. christianity won out by becoming the new official religion in the 4th century CE.
The metaphor of the birth of the sun worked well for christians celebrating the birth of the son of god, who brings light to the world. christ's birth was first celebrated on January 6th, then moved in 336CE to December 25th. This change was not popular with everyone. The christians of Edessa accused the church in Rome of idolatry and "sun worship." Some biblical scholars believe that christ was actually born in the fall after the harvest or in spring after the birth of the new animals, both the most likely times for taxation. Shepherds don't 'tend their flocks by night' in the high pastures in the dead of winter. If one wishes to use the new testament as historical evidence, this reference may point to sometime in the spring as the time of jesus' birth. This is because the lambing season occurs in the spring and that is the most likely time when shepherds 'watched their flocks by night' -- to make sure the lambing went well. Knowing this, the Eastern half of the cult continued to reject December 25, preferring a 'movable date' fixed by their astrologers according to the moon.
In 563CE, the Council of Braga forbade fasting on Xmas Day, and four years later the Council of Tours proclaimed the twelve days from December 25 to Epiphany as a sacred, festive season. This last point is perhaps the hardest to impress upon the modern reader, who is lucky to get a single day off work. Xmas, in the Middle Ages, was not a single day, but rather a period of twelve days, from December 25 to January 6. The Twelve Days of Xmas, in fact.
Polydor Virgil, an early British christian, said "Dancing, masques, mummeries, stageplays, and other such Xmas disorders now in use with christians, were derived from these Roman Saturnalian and Bacchanalian festivals; which should cause all pious christians eternally to abominate them." In Massachusetts, puritans unsuccessfully tried to ban Xmas entirely during the 17th century, because of its heathenism. The English Parliament abolished Xmas in 1647 for a time. Some contemporary christian faith groups still do not celebrate Xmas.
Although Christmas Dec 25th is a major holiday in Ireland, it is not widely celebrated in Scotland. Some historians have suggested that the reason Xmas is downplayed in Scotland is because of the influence of the Presbyterian cult or Kirk, which viewed Xmas as a "papist", or catholic event. As a result, Xmas in Scotland tends to be a somber event, in direct contrast to the next Celtic festival, Hogmany, held on January 1. January 6 is the day of the feast of the Epiphany. It is called "Little Xmas" in Ireland, Nollaig Bheag in Gaelic. Little Xtmas, the Day of the Epiphany, is sacred as a celebration of god's manifestation to us in human form.


All symbols and practices associated with Xmas are of Pagan origin: holly, ivy, mistletoe, yule log, the giving of gifts, decorated evergreen tree, magical reindeer, and others.
In the Celtic language, Mistletoe means "All Heal". The ancient Celts believed Mistletoe possessed miraculous healing powers and held the soul of the host tree during the winter months. It was believed to have miraculous power of healing diseases, making poisons harmless, giving fertility to humans and animals, and as protection against evil spirits. Mistletoe was collected by the Druid in a very special ceremony held five days after the New Moon following winter solstice. The Druid priests would cut mistletoe from a holy oak tree with a golden sickle. The branches had to be caught before they touched the ground. The priest then divided the branches into many sprigs and distributed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and other evils. In fact, it was considered so sacred that even enemies who happened to meet beneath a Mistletoe in the forest would lay down their arms, exchange a friendly greeting, and keep truce until the following day. From this old custom grew the practice of suspending Mistletoe over a doorway or in a room as a token of good will and peace. Mistletoe was one of the casualties of early christian celebrations, and for centuries it was forbidden to display the plant on christian altars. Mistletoe found its way back into acceptance as the Victorians revived the ancient ritual of kissing under the Mistletoe as a sign of love, romance and good luck.
"Here were kept up the old games of hoodman blind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the white loaf, bob apple, and snap dragon; the Yule-clog and Xmas candle were regularly burnt, and the mistletoe with its white berries hung up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids."
So Washington Irving, in "Xmas Eve," relates the typical festivities surrounding the Twelve Days of Xtmas, including kissing under the mistletoe. To understand the full practice of kissing under the mistletoe, he adds a note.
"The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Xmas, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases."
The folklore, and the magical powers of this plant, has blossomed over the centuries. A sprig placed in a baby's cradle would protect the child from faeries, as an example.
Today, Holly conjures up images of Xtmas wreaths, but actually had religious significance long before it's adoption by christianity. There are around 400 natural types of holly in the world, but the one people are most familiar with is Ilex aquifolium, or "English/Xmas Holly". It is a coniferous evergreen plant that can be found in many parts of the world. English holly grows best in moist soil in direct sunlight, but it can tolerate partial shade as well. Holly was important in Pagan/Druidic religion and customs. It was placed around dwellings during winter, intended as a kindly and hospitable gesture so that the fairies could come into their homes and use the holly as shelter against the cold. This may actually have had some basis in fact, as holly growing in the wild is often used as shelter by small animals, primarily insects. It was holly's evergreen nature that made it special. The Druids believed that it remained green to help keep the earth beautiful when the deciduous trees such as the sacred oak shed their leaves. The holly berries were thought to represent the sacred menstrual blood of their Goddess. In some rights, holly was used for protection, decorating doors and windows to ward off evil spirits before they could enter the house. As the British Isles began to convert to christianity, the early christians continued the tradition of decorating their home with holly. The significance of the berries changed so that they now symbolized the blood of christ and holly gradually solidified its position as a Xmas tradition.
The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the early winter festival. In accordance to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from the householder's land, or given as a gift. It must never have been bought. Once dragged into the house and placed in the fireplace, it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour, perhaps even with a small outlined human figure before set ablaze by a piece of last year's log. The log would burn throughout the night, then smolder for 12 days before being ceremonially put out. Ash is the traditional wood of the Yule log. It is the sacred world tree of the Teutons, known as Yggdrasil. An herb of the Sun, Ash brings light into the hearth at the Solstice.
For most of the modern christian world, the Xmas season is a time of joy, of family, of giving, of love, of peace. A time to celebrate the birth of love and forgiveness. A time to celebrate the birth of their Lord.
Whether you are christian, wiccan or pagan, look to the Yule as a period of enlightenment and renewal of spirit.

'Jedi' Is Most Popular Alt Faith

The Force seems to be with 176,632 people in England and Wales. Read more 'Jedi' Is Most Popular Alt Faith: DNews Nugget

A Wise Man’s Gift for Arthritis Sufferers

An Age-old Herbal Remedy

Frankincense, an aromatic resin obtained from Boswellia trees native to Africa, is an age-old herbal remedy that may help alleviate the pain of arthritis, according to scientists at Cardiff University, in Wales. “The search for new ways of relieving the symptoms of inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis is a long and difficult one,” says Dr. Emma Blain, who led the research with coinvestigators Professor Vic Duance, from Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, and Dr. Ahmed Ali, of the Compton Group. The team believes they have been able to demonstrate that treatment with an extract of Boswellia frereana—a rare frankincense species—inhibits the production of key inflammatory molecules and helps prevent the breakdown of cartilage tissue that causes the condition.
The African Somali people have long used extracts of frankincense as a traditional remedy for arthritis. “Our research achieved the use of innovative chemical extraction techniques to determine the active ingredient in frankincense,” says Ali. “We will now be able to further characterize the chemical entity and compare its success against other anti-inflammatory drugs used for treating the condition.”

The Song Remains The Same ....

Boehner offers millionaire tax hike

Signaling new movement in "fiscal cliff" talks, House Speaker John Boehner has proposed raising the top rate for earners making more than $1 million, a person familiar with the negotiations said.

Millions face higher taxes real soon without fix

http://l3.yimg.com/bt/api/res/1.2/O2h4z1iHdw564vpggtJb_g--/YXBwaWQ9eW5ld3M7Zmk9ZmlsbDtoPTM0NTtweW9mZj0yNTtxPTg1O3c9NjMw/http://media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/ap_webfeeds/48820f705175e023230f6a70670002d6.jpgMillions of families and businesses will get hit by big tax increases a lot sooner than many realize if Congress and the White House don't agree on a plan to skirt the year-end fiscal cliff of higher tax rates and big government spending cuts.

In fact, they already have.

More than 70 tax breaks enjoyed by individuals and businesses expired at the end of 2011. If Congress doesn't extend them retroactively back to the beginning of this year, a typical middle-class family could face a $4,000 tax increase when it files its 2012 return in the spring, according to an analysis by H&R Block, the tax preparing giant.
At the same time, businesses could lose dozens of tax breaks they have enjoyed for years, including generous credits for investing in research and development, write-offs for restaurants and retail stores that expand or upgrade, and tax breaks for financial companies with overseas subsidiaries.
Even if Congress does act, last-minute changes to federal tax laws could make it difficult for taxpayers to figure out their 2012 tax bills.
"We're really expecting this upcoming tax season to be one of the more challenging ones on record," said Kathy Pickering, executive director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block. "For your 2012 returns there's so much confusion about what will be impacted."
Much of Washington is consumed by negotiations over how to address automatic tax increases scheduled to take effect next year. That's when tax cuts first enacted under the shrub, and extended under President Barack Obama, are scheduled to expire. A temporary reduction in the Social Security payroll tax is set to vanish as well.
Obama wants to let the shrub-era tax cuts expire on incomes above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples, while extending the tax cuts for people making less.
House Speaker John Boehner and other repugicans have said they are open to more tax revenue through reducing or eliminating unspecified tax breaks. But Boehner, r-Ohio, late last week moved toward the president's position, proposing raising top rates for people earning more than $1 million in exchange for deeper spending cuts, particularly in health care and other mandatory spending programs.
Obama has not accepted that offer, according to people familiar with the talks, but Boehner's offer suggests that the negotiations are being renewed after appearing stalled just days ago.
Lost in the debate is a big package of tax breaks that already expired for 2012. Lawmakers in both parties say they expect those tax cuts to be addressed in any deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff." But they don't want to deal with them separately because that would reduce pressure to reach a broader budget agreement.
The biggest tax increase facing individuals for this year is the alternative minimum tax, or AMT. The tax was first enacted in 1969 to ensure that wealthy people can't use tax breaks to avoid paying any federal taxes. The AMT, however, was never adjusted for inflation, so Congress routinely does that to keep it from imposing hefty tax increases on millions of middle-income families.
Congress last adjusted the AMT in 2010, and about 4 million taxpayers paid it 2011. Without a new adjustment for the 2012 tax year, the AMT would reach an additional 28 million taxpayers, increasing their tax bill by an average of $3,700.
The tax would affect individuals making more $33,750 and married couples making more than $45,000, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Other expired tax breaks include deductions for college expenses, deductions for state and local sales taxes, and a $250 deduction for teachers who buy classroom supplies with their own money. The sales tax deduction is geared toward taxpayers in states without state income taxes: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.
The tax increases could vary greatly, depending on how much money a person makes and which deductions they qualify for. For example, a single man making $65,000 who paid $6,000 in college tuition and fees would get a tax increase of $837, mainly because he would lose a deduction for college expenses, according to the H&R Block analysis.
A married couple with two young children and a $100,000 income could face a tax increase of more than $6,600, if they live in a state that doesn't have a state income tax. Most of that increase — about $4,015 — would come from the AMT. The AMT would also reduce their tax credits and they would lose a deduction for paying state and local sales taxes.
The AMT is expensive to fix. A two-year adjustment passed by the Senate Finance Committee last summer would save middle-income taxpayers a total of $132 billion in 2012 and 2013, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the official scorekeeper for Congress. The bill addressed many of the tax breaks that expired for 2012, and the committee passed it with bipartisan support. But the full Senate never considered it.
The AMT adjustment also includes a rule that affects the way tax credits are calculated for millions of taxpayers, even if they don't have to pay the AMT, the IRS said. These taxpayers may not necessarily face a tax increase, but there could be delays in processing their returns.
Congress has always adjusted the AMT in the past, and the IRS is preparing as if lawmakers will do so again, acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller said in a recent letter to members of Congress. If lawmakers don't address the AMT, about 60 million taxpayers, nearly half of all individual filers, would have to wait until late March — if not later — to file their returns while the IRS reworks its systems, Miller said.
"Essentially, IRS has said it will be chaos — chaos! — trying to make it work," said Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

And a child shall lead them ...

TSA holds 12 y.o. girl in wheelchair for 1 hour, for ‘explosives’

TSA wouldn’t let mom comfort crying daughter throughout ordeal.
The TSA has done a mostly good job lately of staying out of the news for being complete idiots, but with the holiday season approaching, we may be hearing more soon. In this case, the TSA held a young girl – away from her parents – for an hour while trying to figure out why she tested positive for explosives.For the millionth time, everyone wants to be safe, but is this type of behavior doing anything positive for the process? Common sense needs to play a much more important role with the TSA.
Was this really necessary?
The girl suffers from brittle bone disease and was flying to Tampa, Florida, for treatment on Sunday. But the TSA detained her in Terminal A of DFW Airport after randomly selecting her for an explosives test.
When a screener swabbed Walser’s palms and fingers, Daniels said her daughter tested positive for explosives…
Daniels said she couldn’t comfort her crying daughter because screeners ordered her to keep back during the hour it took bomb experts to settle the situation.
It’s interesting that the story cleans up the language of the TSA official talking to the young girl. Here’s what they say the official said:
“It’s okay, you didn’t do anything wrong, we’re going to get you on your way,” an official said to Shelbi Walser, 12, as she cried on a video her mother recorded.
Not quite. Here’s what he actually said:
“It’s okay, you don’t do nutt’n wrong.”
I raise this because it speaks to the level of training and education.
Video | News | Weather | Sports
Thu Dec 13 20:26:52 PST 2012

Parents criticize TSA for handling of girl in a wheelchair

"I am by no means undermining our safety in the air. After 9/11, by no means am I doing that. But when it comes to children, common sense is not in a textbook," said Tammy Daniels, reacting the TSA’s handling of her daughter in a wheelchair. view full article

Domino's founder sues feds over health care law

The founder of Domino's Pizza is suing the federal government over mandatory contraception coverage in the health care law.

The truth be told

Teacher becomes heir to gold fortune

A substitute teacher from California was found to be the only heir to a fortune of gold coins discovered by a cleaning crew in the home of a reclusive cousin who quietly stashed away a treasure of more than $7 million before he died this year.

Florida woman to be sentenced in husband's New York killing

A Florida woman convicted of arranging the killings of her millionaire husband and mother-in-law will hear her sentence Monday — if she's in the courtroom.
A disgusted Narcy Novack, apparently certain she'd be found guilty, decided not to attend in June when a federal jury's verdict was read.
"We all wondered, 'Where's Narcy?'" one juror said.
She and her brother, Cristobal Veliz, were convicted of hiring hit men to carry out the 2009 beating deaths of Ben Novack Jr. in a suburban New York hotel room and Bernice Novack at her Fort Lauderdale, Fla., home.
Ben Novack was the son of the man who built the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach, which appeared in the movies "Scarface" and "Goldfinger."
FILE - In this 2010 file photo provided by the Broward Sheriff's Office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Narcy Novack is shown. Novack, of Fort Lauderdale, is to be sentenced Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, at federal court in White Plains, N.Y., for her part in the murder of her millionaire husband and his mother in 2009. She faces decades, if not life, in prison. (AP Photo/Broward Sheriff's Office, File)The sentence will be bad news too — the U.S. attorney's office has asked Judge Kenneth Karas to send Novack to prison for life, and her own lawyer is suggesting a 27-year stretch. He argues that she had only a minor role in Bernice Novack's death and was "substantially less culpable than other participants."
He also said her crime-free background and her age should be considered.
Veliz's lawyer has not submitted a sentencing recommendation.
Novack, 56, an Ecuador native who lived in Fort Lauderdale, would likely die in prison even under the 27-year scenario, defense attorney Howard Tanner said. But it would give her at least "a chance of reformation and rehabilitation."
"She would be released from prison an elderly woman with virtually no possessions or home," he told the judge. "Her future is in all respects bleak and limited."
Prosecutor Elliott Jacobson said it should stay that way forever. He told the judge in court papers that Novack and Veliz "engaged in the very worst criminal conduct imaginable."
"They are evil; they are dangerous; they are remorseless; and they are relentless," he wrote. He said the killings "involved particularly cruel, sadistic and gratuitous savagery seldom seen in the annals of crime."
Prosecutors said Novack feared that her husband, who was having an affair, would divorce her, and that a prenuptial agreement would bar her from the multimillion-dollar family estate.
She recruited her brother and he hired a group of thugs who testified about slamming Bernice Novack in the teeth and head with a plumber's wrench and beating Ben Novack with barbells and slicing his eyes with a knife.
Veliz denied any involvement and blamed Narcy Novack's daughter for the killings. Her two sons stand to inherit the bulk of the family estate, which includes Ben Novack's large collection of Batman memorabilia.
Narcy Novack did not testify. But before her arrest she gave police a striking account of her marriage, including that her husband had a fetish for amputees. She also said she once went into a hospital to have a broken nose repaired and awoke with breast implants she hadn't requested.
In addition to the murder charge, the defendants were convicted of domestic violence, stalking, money laundering and witness tampering.

"Chicken-footed" building

A Sami storehouse
Traditional raised Sami storehouse, displayed at Skansen, Stockholm. A similar structure, the izbushka, is mentioned in Russian children stories as a house with chicken feet.
I haven't found any further information on this design.  The izbushka is mentioned in a Wikipedia article on Baba Yaga:
He journeyed onwards, straight ahead [...] and finally came to a little hut; it stood in the open field, turning on chicken legs... Ivan walks for some time before encountering a small hut identical to the first... After walking for some time, Ivan eventually finds the chicken-legged hut of the youngest of the three sisters turning in an open field.
There are a number of images of chicken-legged huts retrievable at Google Images, most of them related to the Baba Yaga tale.

I would have to assume that the Sami structure is a practical rather than a whimsical creation, developed in response to the types of wood/driftwood available and probably the presence of a difficult-to-penetrate (frozen) ground or unstable (thawing) tundra and the need to elevate the storehouse above predators.

No time to look it up now.  Some readers may wish to pursue the matter on their own.

Addendum: Note the similarity to English "staddle stones":

...originally used as supporting bases for granaries, hayricks, game larders, etc. The staddle stones lifted the granaries above the ground thereby protecting the stored grain from vermin and water seepage. In Middle English staddle or stadle is stathel, from Old English stathol, a foundation, support or trunk of a tree...

The staddle stones usually had a separate head and base which gave the whole structure a 'mushroom' like appearance. Different areas in the United Kingdom had different designs. The base varied from cylindrical to tapered rectangular to near triangular. Flat topped cone shaped staddle stones are to be found in parts of the Isle of Wight. The tops are flat to support the beams, however some variation does exists, such as square tops, fluted designs, slate tops, etc.

Old land deeds in northeastern United States often refer to Oak Staddle or Walnut Staddle. These deeds are from the late 18th century to the middle 19th century. Either the owners would cut a tree leaving the stump and request that the surveyors measure to it, or the surveyor would measure out to the location of a new lot corner and a staddle would be inserted into the ground like a boundary stone.

Prehistoric lyre bridge discovered

Archaeologists excavating the High Pasture Cave on the Isle of Skye have discovered a wooden fragment that they believe came from a lyre or similar stringed instrument. The fragment was burned and part of it broken off, but you can clearly see the carved string notches that identify it as a bridge. It was discovered in the rake-out deposits of the hearth outside the entrance to the cave. The deposits date to between 550 and 450 B.C., which would make the bridge a fragment of the oldest stringed instrument found in Europe...

Musical instruments from Iron Age Europe were not the luxury models of ancient Sumer nor did they have the advantage of a dry, hot environment to preserve the wood. Even Roman-era instruments are so hard to come by that we have to rely on literature, mosaics and frescoes to learn about them, or carvings on altars like the one unearthed in Musselburgh in 2010 which until now was the earliest representation of a musical instrument ever found in Scotland. Finding a piece of an instrument that is centuries older than any previous discoveries and is so clearly recognizable as a piece of an instrument (the bridge is probably the single most recognizable part of a lyre because of its shape and the string notches) is therefore enormously significant to our understanding of ancient music and poetry in Europe.
Text and image from The History Blog, where there is more information and additional relevant links.

Abraham Lincoln's cached check

Stored in bank vaults belonging to Huntington Bancshares:
The collection includes checks for as little as $1.56 (from Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and as much as $10,000 (from Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain). The Abraham Lincoln check—made out in the amount of $800 to "Self" and dated April 13, 1865—was perhaps the president's last check. By the end of the next day, he was shot.
The stamp affixed to the left side of the check is an orange 2c Bank Check revenue stamp from the first issue of 1862.  Eight hundred dollars was a lot of money in 1865; I wonder what Lincoln needed it for - perhaps to cover one of his wife's notorious shopping sprees?

Porsche hybrid (1900)

Porsche rolled into the New York Auto Show with Semper Vivus, a meticulous $750,000 reproduction of the series hybrid Ferdinand Porsche built in 1900. The car provided a nice contrast to the $95,000 Panamera S Hybrid making its North American debut at the show.

Semper Vivus, Latin for “always alive,” works a lot like the Chevrolet Volt. Batteries provide juice to the hub-mounted motors, and a pair of tiny single-cylinder engines step in to drive two 2.5-kilowatt generators that keep electricity flowing when the batteries go kaput.

The specs are impressive, even by today’s standards. The batteries have a range of 40 kilometers (25 miles). Once the 3.5-horsepower engines fire up, Semper Vivus can go another 160 kilometers (100 miles). Top speed is 35 mph, quite quick for its day. One cool bit: the tires were chiseled from solid blocks of rubber, the only way to support the weight of the car. Semper Vivus weighs 3,700 pounds.
And this comment from the Wired source last year: "There will be some debate as to which looks better."

Is Light Subject to Gravity?:

What happens when everything you thought about the world changes during a two-minute video? 
Find out. Read more
  Is Light Subject to Gravity?: Gotta-See Video

Curiosity Goes MAD

The Mars rover will be celebrated in the Dec. 18 edition of the famed humor magazine. Read more Curiosity Goes MAD: DNews Nugget

Titan's 'Nile River' Discovered

The Cassini spacecraft has detected a 250 mile-long river on the Saturnian moon with a striking resemblance to the Nile.
  Titan's 'Nile River' Discovered

NASA’S Hubble Provides First Census of Galaxies Near Cosmic Dawn

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have uncovered a previously unseen population of seven primitive galaxies that formed more than ...

Continue Reading 

Astronomical News

First Planetary Flyby Occurred 50 Years Ago

Mariner 2 zoomed to within 21,564 miles of Venus on Dec. 14, 1962. Read more
First Planetary Flyby Occurred 50 Years Ago

Chinese Probe Buzzes Asteroid Toutatis

The Chinese Chang'e 2 probe has completed flyby of asteroid Toutatis, a five-kilometer-long space rock that recently had a "close" encounter with Earth. Read more
Chinese Probe Buzzes Asteroid Toutatis

Will NASA Boldly Go to Europa?

Researchers are developing a mission that would assess the habitability of the icy satellite. Read more
Will NASA Boldly Go to Europa?

Kamikaze Probes to Smash into Lunar Mountain

The two NASA GRAIL robotic moon satellites will make the suicidal and dramatic plunge into a lunar mountain on Monday. Read more
Kamikaze Probes to Smash into Lunar Mountain

Andromeda's Bling: Tiny Greedy Quasar Found

That's right, the nearby spiral galaxy Andromeda is strutting some quasar bling -- the first microquasar discovered beyond our own galaxy. Read more
Andromeda's Bling: Tiny Greedy Quasar Found

Hubble Detects Furthest Oldest Galaxy... Again?!

It seems like every other day astronomers have discovered the "oldest most distant galaxy" -- but this new record breaker is really very old, and extremely distant. Read more
Hubble Detects Furthest Oldest Galaxy... Again?!

Random Photo

Frostbitten elephants saved by two cases of vodka in Siberian freeze

Two elephants have been saved from the deadly Siberian cold by drinking vodka, Russian officials say. They say the animals had to be taken out into the bitter cold after the wooden trailer they were travelling in caught fire in the Novosibirsk region.
The elephants, aged 45 and 48, suffered frostbite to the tips of their ears amid temperatures of -40C (-40F). But they were warmed up by two cases of vodka mixed with warm water. "They started roaring like if they were in the jungle! Perhaps, they were happy," the official said.

The animals continued their recovery in a heated garage of a local college where they were taken by a truck under police escort. The elephants belong to a Polish circus, which has been touring the region, reports say.

Like with humans, alcohol can make animals feel warmer but it actually lowers their core body temperature, scientists say. Novosibirsk zoo director Rostislav Shilo said that the elephants were not harmed or intoxicated by the vodka, and that without it they would have died of hypothermia or pneumonia.

The Discus Fish Nurses Its Young

discus fish
The discus fish doesn't have mammary glands, but the parents secrete mucous and allow their young to eat it:
Jonathan Buckley from the University of Plymouth, UK, explains that discus fish young feed on the mucus that their parents secrete over their bodies until they are big enough to forage. [...]
During the first 3 days after hatching, the fry remained attached to the cone where the parents laid their eggs, absorbing the yolk and gaining strength until all of the fry were able to swim independently. Then they left the cone en masse and began feeding on their parents' mucus, feeding for up to 10 min by biting at the parent's side until the parent expertly ‘flicked’ the shoal over to its partner to continue feeding. The parents diligently fed their young intensely for 2 weeks. However, 3 weeks after hatching the parents' behaviour began to change as they started swimming away from their young for brief periods. At the same time the fry began biting their parents less and investigating other food sources. By the fourth week the parents were actively swimming away from their brood for the majority of the time and the fry barely bit them at all.
The mucous, like a mammal's milk, is highly nutritious and just what a young discus fish needs:
Monitoring the composition of the parents' mucus before they spawned and through to the end of their parental responsibilities, Buckley found a huge increase in the mucus's antibody and protein levels when the parents laid their eggs, similar to the changes seen in mammalian milk around the time of birth. The protein and antibody levels remained high until the third week and returned to pre-spawning levels during the fourth week after hatching. Buckley suspects that the sudden increase in protein levels at spawning is hormonally regulated, much like the changes in mammalian milk, and is keen to find out more about the hormones that regulate the fish's mucus supply as they care for their young.

Blind cat fish species discovered

Blind catfish  
The discoverers say species like this play key roles in subterranean ecosystems

A new species of blind cat fish has been discovered by scientists working in south India.
This, along with other new animals, were identified in an old deep well in the southern Indian state of Kerala.
The new blind cat fish, which is blood red in color, has an elongated body measuring about 3.8cm in length.
The scientists say the find sheds light on hitherto unexplored subterranean habitats in India.
The new species of blind cat fish has been named Horaglanis abdulkalami after former Indian President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
It was meant as a tribute to his contributions to science and science education, the discoverers said.
The unique character of H. abdulkalami is it's red blood color. The scientists say the fish are able to feed on minute organic matter in the soil.
Kerala's wetlands provide an ideal habitat for such animals. Species like the catfish are key to maintaining these ecosystems, since their feces provide sustenance to other species.
The researchers are working to sequence the catfish's genome, to determine whether it might be related to any other species within India or in other countries.
"We gave done the basic morphology of the species, but we are still going into the molecular characterization to trace their ancestors and their evolutionary links," Dr Bijoy Nandan from Cochin University of Science and Technology told the BBC Tamil Service.
The same team also discovered a new species of blind eel in the area.
It has been named Monopterus trichurensis after the district of Trissur (formerly Trichur) where the discovery was made.
Scientists say that because of the endemic distribution and scarcity of these two species should be treated under the threatened list of IUCN.
"Our observations from various studies indicate they could live for a couple of years," said Dr Nandan.
But he added that further studies would have to be carried to determine the longevity of the animals.

Animal Pictures