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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.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Daily Drift

Yeah, what he said.

Some of our readers today have been in:
Sofia, Bulgaria
Pretoria, South Africa
Salcedo, Philippines
Waterloo, Canada
Paka, Malaysia
Pasig, Philippines
Samarinda, Indonesia
Rawalpindi, Pakistan
Cape Town, South Africa
Bayan Lepas, Malaysia
Santiago, Chile
Del Monte, Philippines
Hanoi, Vietnam
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
George Town, Malaysia
Poznan, Poland
Aquadilla, Puerto Rico
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Panevezys, Lithuania
Bangi, Malaysia
London, England
Manila, Philippines
Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Warsaw, Poland
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Cali, Colombia
Panama, Panama
Islamabad, Pakistan
Angeles City, Philippines
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Pekanbaru, Indonesia
Paris, France
Belgrade, Serbia
Kangar, Malaysia
Jakarta, Indonesia
Johannesburg, South Africa
Tbilisi, Georgia
Istanbul, Turkey
Butterworth, Malaysia
Lahore, Pakistan
Tallinn, Estonia
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Bangkok, Thailand
Puchong, Malaysia
Centurion, South Africa
Dublin, Ireland
Hamburg, Germany
Sao Paulo, Brazil

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Today in History

1512 The laws of Burgos give New World natives legal protection against abuse and authorize Negro slavery.
1831 HMS Beagle, with Charles Darwin on board, departs from Plymouth. It will eventually visit the Galapagos Islands where Darwin will form his theories on evolution.
1862 Union General William Rosecrans' army begins moving slowly toward Murfreesboro.
1913 Charles Moyer, president of the Miners Union, is shot in the back and dragged through the streets of Chicago.
1915 In Ohio, iron and steel workers go on strike for an eight-hour day and higher wages.
1932 Radio City Music Hall opens.
1933 Josef Stalin calls tensions with Japan a grave danger.
1939 A series of vicious earthquakes take 11,000 lives in Turkey.
1941 Japanese bombers attack Manila, despite its claim as an open city.
1944 General George S. Patton's Third Army, spearheaded by the 4th Armored Division, relieves the surrounded city of Bastogne in Belgium.
1945 The International Monetary Fund and the Bank for Reconstruction and Development are created.
1947 The new Italian constitution is promulgated in Rome.
1950 The United States and Spain resume relations for the first time since the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.
1956 Segregation on buses in Tallahassee, Florida is outlawed.
1968 The United States agrees to sell F-4 Phantom jets to Israel.
1979 President Hafizullah Amin of Afghanistan is ousted and murdered in a coup backed by the Soviet Union, beginning a war that will last more than 10 years.
1983 President Reagan takes all responsibility for the lack of security in Beirut that allowed a terrorist on a suicide mission to kill 241 Marines.
1984 Four Polish officers are tried for the slaying of Reverend Jerzy Popieluszko.

Non Sequitur


Obama's Governace

President Obama falls short on our progressive meter, but he has had a VERY tough time of it. Consider some of  what he has had to tolerate...

US economy could handle short fall over 'cliff'

AP: US economy could handle short fall over 'cliff'
The economic threat that's kept many Americans on edge for months is nearing reality - unless the White House and repugicans cut a budget deal by New Year's Day.

Huge tax increases. Deep cuts in domestic and defense programs. The likelihood of sinking stock prices, reduced consumer spending and corporate layoffs. The risk of a recession within months.

Still, the start of 2013 may turn out to be far less bleak than feared. For one thing, the two sides may strike a short-term agreement before New Year's that postpones spending cuts until spring. President Barack Obama and members of Congress return to Washington Thursday.

Even if New Year's passed with no deal, businesses and consumers would not likely panic as long as some agreement seemed imminent. The tax increases and spending cuts could be retroactively repealed.

And the impact of the tax increases would be felt only gradually. Most people would receive slightly less money in each paycheck.

"The simple conclusion that going off the cliff necessarily means a recession next year is wrong," says Lewis Alexander, an economist at Nomura Securities. "It will ultimately depend on how long the policies are in place."

It's always possible that negotiations between President Obama and repugican congressional leaders will collapse in acrimony. The prospect of permanent tax increases and spending cuts could cause many consumers and businesses to delay spending, hiring or expanding.

Without any agreement at all for months, the fiscal cliff would cause the U.S. economy to shrink 0.5 percent in the first half of 2013 and fall into recession, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

But most economists expect a deal, if not by New Year's then soon after. Businesses and consumers will likely remain calm as long as negotiators seem to be moving toward an agreement.

"The atmosphere is more important than whether the talks spill" into next year, said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.

Here's why many are optimistic that a brief fall over the cliff wouldn't derail the economic recovery:

- Though the fiscal cliff would cost the economy an estimated $671 billion for all of 2013, the tax hit for most people would be slight at first. The expiration of Social Security and income tax cuts would be spread throughout 2013. For taxpayers with incomes of $40,000 to $65,000, paychecks would shrink an average of about $1,500 next year but an average of just $130 in January, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

- About a third of the tax increases wouldn't touch most Americans. Some would hit businesses. Others, such as higher taxes on investment income and estates, and the expiration of middle-income tax credits, wouldn't come due until Americans filed their 2013 taxes in 2014.

- The Internal Revenue Service has delayed any increases in tax withholding that would otherwise kick in. Without a deal, the top income tax rate for single people with taxable income between about $36,000 and $88,000 would rise from 25 percent to 28 percent. But that won't start to reduce Americans' paychecks in early January, even if no deal is reached by then.

- About $85 billion in spending cuts to defense and domestic programs would take weeks or longer to take effect. That means government agencies wouldn't cut jobs right away.

If a short-term agreement is struck, some taxes would probably still go up. These would include a 2 percentage point cut in Social Security taxes that's been in place for two years. Its expiration would cost the typical household about $1,000. With income gains sluggish, that could dampen consumer spending.

A temporary deal that delays some hard decisions could reduce business and consumer confidence. It would also mean:

- Extended unemployment benefits would end for 2 million people. The federal government's program pays for about 32 weeks of extra benefits, on average, on top of the 26 weeks most states provide. Weekly unemployment checks average about $320 nationwide.

- The stock market would probably drop, though maybe not by much. Many Wall Street analysts expect a partial deal of some kind. "There is starting to become a little bit of an acceptance that we fall off the fiscal cliff," said J.J. Kinahan, a strategist for TD Ameritrade.

- The expiration of the Social Security tax cut and the end of emergency unemployment benefits would likely shave 0.7 percentage point off economic growth next year, the CBO estimates. The economy is now growing at about a 2 percent annual pace.

If no deal at all was reached by January and budget talks dragged on, many businesses might put off investment or hiring. That's why most economists say it would be crucial to reach a deal within roughly the first two months of 2013.

Higher taxes would hit poorer people particularly hard. That's partly because many tax cuts and credits aimed at lower-income households would end. Even modest tax increases take a bigger toll on those with less income to begin with. For a married couple with an income between $20,000 and $30,000, taxes would rise $1,423 next year, according to the Tax Policy Center.

In addition, many more people would be affected if something called the alternative minimum tax isn't fixed.

The financially painful AMT was designed to prevent rich people from exploiting loopholes and deductions to avoid any income tax. But the AMT wasn't indexed for inflation, so it has increasingly threatened middle-income taxpayers. Congress has acted each year for a decade to prevent the AMT from hitting many more people.

If it isn't fixed again, roughly 33 million taxpayers, including married couples with income as low as $45,000 - down from $74,450 in 2011- could face the AMT. Previously, only 5 million taxpayers had to pay it. Taxpayers subject to the AMT must calculate their tax under both the regular system and the AMT and pay the larger amount.

The IRS has said it assumes Congress and the White House will fix the AMT in a deal to avoid the cliff. If they don't, the IRS will need weeks to reprogram computers and make other adjustments. In the meantime, about 100 million taxpayers couldn't file tax returns early next year because they couldn't determine whether they owe the AMT. Refunds would be delayed.

The gravest scenario would be if the budget talks collapsed and the tax increases and spending cuts appeared to be permanent.

In that case, Macroeconomic Advisors warns that the Dow could plunge up to 2,000 points within days. Businesses would turn gloomier in anticipation of Americans paying higher taxes and spending less.

The economy would shrink at an annual rate of 0.6 percent in the first three months of 2013, estimates Joel Prakken, an economist at Macroeconomic Advisors. That compares with an estimated 1.9 percent growth rate if a deal is reached. CBO forecasts that the unemployment rate would rise to 9.1 percent from the current 7.7 percent.

Last week, Obama and House Speaker John Boehner narrowed their differences on income tax increases and spending cuts. But with the two sides deadlocked, Boehner scheduled a vote on a bill to prevent taxes from rising on those earning less than $1 million a year. Opposition from anti-tax conservatives, and Democrats, forced him to cancel the vote.

The gridlock caused stocks to fall Friday. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 121 points.

Obama called for a vote on a stripped-down agreement that would raise taxes only on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans and extend emergency unemployment benefits. Automatic spending cuts would be postponed.

Whatever the outcome, some trends could offset part of the economic damage. The average retail price for gasoline has dropped 15 percent this fall, for example. Lower gas prices give consumers more money to spend elsewhere.

And if the crisis is resolved, as many expect, the boost to business and consumer confidence would encourage more hiring and spending.

"We could end up with a much more robust recovery than anybody's envisioned" if a deal is reached, said David Cote, CEO of Honeywell International.

Reality always wins!

Politics these days are very interesting.
The world of reality is in a battle to the death with the world of crazy, and it seems the reality is winning because crazy is collapsing in on itself. What crazy doesn't realize is that reality always wins.
There is no power in the universe that can go up against reality.

I feel that we as a nation choose reality over crazy in the last election and that members of both parties
need to make a commitment to the American to put reality first. Let us all agree, no matter what party
we identify with, to insist on a reality first process for determining what is the right thing was a country
should do. That we choose reality and say no to crazy!

Ex-N.C. lawmaker faces more charges

Additional charges have been filed against a former North Carolina state legislator accused of theft and money laundering related to federal funds loaned to his company.An updated federal indictment now accuses ex-Rep. Stephen LaRoque of Kinston of four more charges, raising the counts against him to 12.Prosecutors now allege the Republican filed false 2009 and 2010 tax returns and hid details about a scheme to benefit personally from loans designed to help rural communities. LaRoque already is accused of funneling $300,000 to another company he owned to help family members.LaRoque attorney Joe Cheshire said Wednesday the additional charges issued last week were expected, and LaRoque is preparing to defend himself against all counts. Cheshire has said LaRoque is innocent.

A trial won't begin until at least mid-February.

How the Party of Budget Restraint Shifted to ‘No New Taxes,’ Ever Cabal

On a Saturday afternoon in October 1990, Senator Pete V. Domenici turned from a conversation on the Senate floor, caught the eye of a clerk by raising his right hand and voted in favor of a huge and contentious bill to reduce federal deficits. Then he put his hand back into his pocket and returned to the conversation.
It was the end of an era, although no one knew it then. It was the last time any Congressional repugican has voted for higher income taxes.

Faux News claims Fred Phelps’ anti-gay wingnut hate group is “left wing”

When’s the last time you met a gay-hating, Obama-hating (they think he’s literally the anti-christ), muslim-hating, catholic-hating (lunatic baptists think catholics worship Satan) wingnut baptist cult that was full of Democrats?  Oh yeah, they also really really don’t like jews.  Well, if you believe Faux News (your first mistake), Fred Phelps’ Westboro baptist cult is really a bunch of liberals.  Albeit, liberals who hate gays, Obama, muslims, jews and have the same view of catholics as the repugican-loving religio-wingnuts.Other than that, very liberal.
This story is a perfect example of why Faux News is not a “news” network, but rather, is little more than a propaganda arm of the repugican party.  And the far right wing of the repugican cabal, at that.
As you may know, the wingnut anti-gay activists at the Westboro baptist cult in Kansas regularly picket the funerals of gay people.  They’re the kind folks who operate the “god hates fags” Web site (those are also generally the type of signs they hold at their protests).  Over the last several years they’ve started to picket the funerals of non-gay people as well, including US service members, though it’s not entirely clear why, other than as a means of getting attention.
Well, this time they’re picketing the funeral of the dead children in Newtown, Connecticut.  Anonymous hacked the church’s Web site after the protests were announced, and it’s still rather difficult to pull the site up – I was finally able to get to their home page: godhatesfags.com.  Here it is, in all of its “left wing” glory:
God Hates Fags home page
godhatesgags.com home page of Fred Phelps’ Westboro baptist cult.
Hmm… Let’s see. The Democratic party is on the record supporting gay marriage. The repugican cabal is on the record opposing gay marriage. And the baptist “god hates fags” cult is virulently opposed to gay marriage. Let’s all guess which political party is more like to garner their sympathies.  But that didn’t stop Faux News.  Faux thrives on the fact that their viewers are dumb, unaware of the facts, and awfully gullible. Nothing better than a gullible blank slate if you’re trying to peddle lies.  So here is how Faux News describes Phelps’ cult when it was protesting the funerals of the children mass-murdered by a gun nut in Newtown, Connecticut (check the description under the photo):
Fox News says Fred Phelps is "left wing"
From Faux News’ Web site, Faux Nation.
Did you catch that?
“Bikers turn out to protect Newtown mourners from left-wing Westboro cult”
Left-wing Westboro cult.
Uh huh.
This is how Faux News operates.  You can argue that MSNBC has a bias, and the network does – now, and in response to Fox.  But while MSNBC has a liberal bias, Fox just lies.
Now, as Kerry Lauerman points out in this Mother Jones piece from 1999, Fred Phelps was a Democrat before he went bonkers over 20 years ago.  Yeah, and I was a repugican back then as well.  I’m not a repugican now.  And it would be factually incorrect to call AMERICAblog a “right-wing Web site” because its founder was a repugican over twenty years ago before his political views shifted markedly.  Same goes for Fred Phelps, who was a Democrat over twenty years ago, before he ventured into anti-gay crazyland, but then turned on Democrats when he saw the party embracing gays in the 1992 presidential election. That’s when Phelps’ anti-gay animus exploded.
But don’t tell that to Faux News.  Faux News isn’t about nuance. Faux News isn’t about the truth.  Faux News is the propaganda wing of the repugican cabal, and truth isn’t their goal.  Electing repugicans is their goal.  At all costs.  That’s why their viewers are routinely found to be the most uninformed of any, and why studies have found that you’ll be more informed on the issues if you simply don’t watch Faux News.

Wal-Mart Guns Sales Hot

Making money before the funerals

Prices for handgun magazines are surging on EBay and semi-automatic rifles are sold out
at many money-grubbing Wal-Mart stores.

Wal-Mart, the world's biggest whore, said yesterday that it would continue to sell guns, including rifles like the one used to kill 20 children in Newtown. By contrast, decent companies like Dick's Sporting Goods suspended sales of similar guns at its more than 500 stores.

Searches of five kinds of semi-automatic rifles on Wal- Mart's website showed them to be out of stock at stores in five states, including Pennsylvania, Kansas and Alabama. Wal-Mart doesn't sell guns online, instead asking customers to input a zip code to see if their local store carries a specific child-killing weapon.

"We remain dedicated to the safe and responsible sale of firearms because we love profit,"
David Tovar, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, seemed to say. 


Woman accused of lying to cops in New Hampshire student death

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the New Hampshire State Police shows 19-year-old Kathryn McDonough of Portsmouth, N.H., scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, on charges related to the October 2012 disappearance and death of University of New Hampshire student Elizabeth Marriott of Westborough, Mass. (AP Photo/New Hampshire State Police, File)  
A New Hampshire woman lied to investigators about her whereabouts and involvement in the disappearance and death of a college student her boyfriend is accused of killing, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Kathryn McDonough is charged with conspiracy and hindering the apprehension or prosecution of those responsible for the death of 19-year-old Elizabeth "Lizzi" Marriott in October. McDonough, also 19, appeared in Derry District Court via a video link from jail, where she has been since her arrest Christmas Eve.
Judge John Coughlin set bail at $35,000 and set a condition of McDonough's release that she live with her parents in Portsmouth.
Marriott, a University of New Hampshire sophomore from Westborough, Mass., who was living with relatives in Chester, vanished Oct. 9 after telling family members she was going to visit friends in Dover and would return home before midnight. Her cellphone was last used just after 10 p.m. that night. Her body has yet to be found.
Four days after Marriott was last heard from, 30-year-old Seth Mazzaglia of Dover was charged with second-degree murder in her death. Prosecutors say he either strangled or suffocated Marriott.
In arguing Wednesday to continuing holding McDonough on a $50,000 cash bond, Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley said Marriott's body still has not been found "in no small part because of Ms. McDonough's participation in the alleged conspiracy."
Hinckley said McDonough made "an intentional attempt to disrupt the criminal process."
McDonough and Mazzaglia conspired to give investigators a false alibi about their whereabouts the night of Oct. 9 and told them they had no interaction with Marriott that night, prosecutors said in court documents.
The arrest warrant affidavits for both McDonough and Mazzaglia remained sealed and Hinckley would not elaborate Wednesday on the alibi they provided or other details of the investigation into Marriott's death.
Prosecutors won't say what evidence they have to support their convictions that Marriott is dead and that Mazzaglia killed her.
Hinckley said McDonough was Mazzaglia's girlfriend at the time of Marriott's disappearance.
McDonough's lawyer, Ryan Russman, who sat alongside his client during the arraignment, said she is "obviously concerned. Who wouldn't be?" Her parents, Peter and Denise McDonough, declined to comment when they left the brief court hearing.

Kentucky sheriff, state police clash on cold cases

In this Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, photo, Trigg County Sheriff Ray Burnam stands in front of the sheriff’s department in Cadiz, Ky. When Burnam offered $1,000 of his own money as a reward for information leading to a conviction in three unsolved murder cases in western Kentucky county, law enforcement issued a court order demanding Burnam turn over his findings in one case and claimed he had gone "rogue". AP Photo/Bruce Schreine  
Ray Burnam ran for sheriff on a pledge to do whatever he could to settle three unresolved slayings in this tranquil corner of Kentucky. He even dangled his own money as a reward, pledging $1,000 for information leading to a conviction in any of the cases.
What the sheriff got in return was a court order demanding he turn over his findings in one case and claims he's gone "rogue" as part of a spat with state police. The bad feelings may date back to Burnham's own departure from the state force, have erupted with tense words in open court and, a prosecutor argues, could jeopardize efforts to prosecute one of the cases. It's an unusually public dispute between law enforcement agencies.
Burnam, who was elected Trigg County sheriff in 2010, sounds unapologetic about his efforts, driven by his desire to make sure the killers "get what's coming to them."
"I made a promise that if people elected me I was going to do my job," he said. "I've done my job, I've done what I said I would do, and I'll continue to do my job."
Relatives of the victims say they're grateful for the sheriff's offer. Around Cadiz, a small town in a recreational lake region about 200 miles west of Louisville, residents praise him for putting his money behind his promise.
"He's a man living up to his word," Michael Powell said while tending his mother's downtown antique store.
But his maverick style brought a backlash, creating the unusual drama of a sheriff clashing with another law enforcement agency and a local prosecutor.
Commonwealth's Attorney G.L. Ovey was so concerned that Burnam was doing his own investigation, separate from state police, that he filed a subpoena motion against him.
A judge agreed to order the sheriff to turn over his file in the case of Chantell Humphries. The 33-year-old mother of three was gunned down a decade ago, her body found in a cow pasture. Burnam, then a trooper with state police, was among the first law officers on the scene, and he says he remains haunted by the gruesome scene.
The conflict between the sheriff and prosecutor intensified when Burnam drew gasps from courtroom observers last month by saying the findings might somehow implicate the prosecutor.
Ovey, visibly shaken, called it "the most ridiculous thing" he had ever heard.
When pressed by the judge, the sheriff said he wasn't implicating the local prosecutor in the actual killing but offered no other details.
The sheriff says he will comply with the judge's order and give his file to Ovey.
Burnam has acknowledged he conducted recent interviews in the Humphries case after being contacted by people he wouldn't identify.
His involvement in the case has agitated state police.
State police Lt. Brent White accused his one-time colleague of "rogue behavior" by pursuing his own investigation separate from state police.
"He was taught better than this," said White, who attended police academy with Burnam. "This is not a territorial dispute. This is about doing what is correct procedure."
The sniping comes against the backdrop of a looming murder trial in the Humphries case. Claude Russell, a 36-year-old local farm worker, is set to stand trial for a second time Aug. 19. The trial date was set at the same hearing that took up the subpoena motion.
A mistrial for Russell was declared earlier this year after jurors reported twice they had reached an impasse.
Ovey says Russell and Humphries were lovers but he doesn't have a motive.
Ovey worries that competing police investigations left unchecked could raise due-process problems that could threaten the case.
"I'm not saying that the sheriff wouldn't receive information in his capacity as sheriff," Ovey said. "All I ask is that he turn it over to me or the state police. That's not unreasonable."
Russell's attorney has raised his own concerns, including the sheriff's reward offer.
"Is the sheriff telling us that he's having a reason to believe my client is ... innocent?" asked John W. Stewart, the defense attorney.
Burnam hasn't said publicly what he's found out about any of the unsolved cases. But he told White in an email that he must be getting close to "finding out something that someone doesn't want me to know" because he was getting death threats. The email surfaced during the subpoena fight, exposing the strain between the sheriff and state police.
"You can no longer pull me off a case or tell who I can and cannot investigate," Burnam wrote. Also in the email, he agreed to "back off" leads he claimed to have in the unsolved 2008 slaying of Harvey Choat, then added, "please do not make me regret it."
Burnam said he sent the email, dated Nov. 28, after receiving a call from White.
Burnam resigned from state police in early 2010 to run for sheriff. At the time, state police were transferring him to nearby Livingston County, which would have uprooted him from his home in Trigg County. Burnam said the transfer played a role in his run for sheriff.
He handled road patrols and had an investigative role during his tenure with KSP, which started in 1998 but included absences when he was called up for active duty with the Air Force. But he was not given an investigative role in the Humphries case. That didn't keep him from asking people if they knew anything about the slaying.
"People talked to me and I listened," he said, adding that he passed whatever information he got to his superiors.
Russell was first indicted on a murder charge in 2003 in the Humphries case, but prosecutors dismissed the case citing a lack of evidence. Ovey recalled that Burnam criticized him "almost relentlessly" at the time for the dismissal.
Russell was indicted again in 2011. Ovey said he was subjected to more criticism from Burnam, this time because he would be prosecuting the case.
Relatives of the victims are simply focused on the pursuit of the killers.
"I'd rather have closure than anything else in the world, to have peace of mind," said Michael Ladd, whose brother, Kenneth, was gunned down while working an overnight desk shift at Lake Barkley State Resort Park.
For Ladd's family, the reward offer is more than a gesture — it's a sign that someone with a badge hasn't given up.
"You can't change nothing, but justice ought to be done," said Philip Ladd, another of Kenneth's brothers.
Ladd was three days away from turning 23 when he was shot twice in the head and once in the heart with a rifle. Investigators pointed to theft as the motive and said $1,775 had been taken. He was home from college, holding down a job to scrape together enough money to return to Western Kentucky University, where he was pursuing a business degree.
State police arrested Michael Lee Cunningham, charging him with capital murder and armed robbery. But early in 1981, a local jury acquitted Cunningham of all charges.
In the other unsolved case, the 64-year-old Choat was gunned down in the home he built himself and settled into retirement. No one has been charged in the slaying.
Carrie Baker, Humphries' sister, said she's more concerned about the outcome of her sister's case than the conflicts involving the sheriff, prosecutor and state police.
"I just wish everybody could be in accord," she said. "We just want closure just to put her at peace. Every year it's tougher and tougher."

Chinese man drives car into students, injuring 13

A waiter wearing a winter outfit waits for customer outside a restaurant in Beijing Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
A man angered by a court ruling in the murder of his daughter rammed a car loaded with a gas tank and firecrackers into a group of middle schoolers, injuring 13 in the country's latest attack on students.
The man ran down 23 students at Fengning No. 1 Middle School in northern China's Hebei province on Monday, the official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday, citing local police.
Xinhua said the man, identified as 48-year-old Yin Tiejun, later lit a bottle of diesel in an attempt to set his car on fire.
Police put out the fire and found the gas tank and firecrackers in the trunk of the car, but Xinhua said Yin told police in an interrogation later that the materials were not meant for an attack.
Yin has been detained on charges of endangering public safety, Xinhua said.
Xinhua described Yin as having been upset for years that a court did not sentence to death all four assailants involved in the murder of his daughter three years ago. The report did not give further details of the murder but said the children hurt in Monday's car crash were not tied to the case.
Xinhua said the man did not act under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Students were hospitalized with injuries that included skull fractures and crushed feet, Xinhua said.
The local Fengning county government confirmed the incident in a written statement and said Yin was driving a Geely sedan.
Citing eyewitnesses, the Beijing-based state-run Jinghua Times said the accident occurred when students were leaving school for noon break and that the car accelerated and knocked down students, many of whom were on bikes.
On Dec. 14, a Chinese man took a kitchen knife and went on a stabbing spree that left 23 students wounded in an elementary school in Henan province.
China has seen more than a half-dozen school attacks in less than three years, though the death tolls have been mostly in single digits, largely because knives have been the most-used weapon. China largely prohibits private ownership of guns.
Several of the attacks have been sparked by grudges, which some experts say shows that the violence stems from simmering and widespread frustration over the growing wealth gap, corruption and too few legal channels for people who have grievances.

Shooter in Afghanistan insider attack is an Iranian national

The female police officer who killed a U.S. contractor in Kabul on Monday is an Iranian national, an Afghan government official said Tuesday.

UAE arrests cell planning attacks

Security forces in the United Arab Emirates have arrested a cell of UAE and Saudi Arabian citizens which was planning to carry out militant attacks in both countries and other states, the official news agency WAM said on Wednesday.The U.S.-allied UAE, a federation of seven emirates and a major oil exporter that has supported Western counter-terrorism efforts in the region, has been spared any attack by al Qaeda and other insurgency groups.
But some of its emirates have seen a rise in Islamist sentiment in recent years, and Dubai, a business and tourism hub and cosmopolitan city that attracts many Westerners, could make an attractive target for Islamist militants, analysts say.
Those arrested had acquired materials and equipment for use in what WAM called terrorist operations.
"The security authorities in the UAE, in coordination with the related security parties in Saudi Arabia, announced the arrest of an organized cell from the deviant group that was planning to carry out actions against national security of both countries and some brotherly states," WAM said without elaborating.
The phrase "the deviant group" is often used by authorities in Saudi Arabia to describe al Qaeda members.
Emirati political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdullah told Reuters he believed it was the first time the UAE had announced a suspected attack plot of regional significance.
It "looks like it is a big one, mainly because it includes Emirati citizens and is not confined to the UAE but also has a regional dimension."
In August, Saudi authorities arrested a group of suspected al Qaeda-linked militants - mostly Yemeni nationals - in Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia has arrested thousands of suspected militants since the 2003-2006 attacks on residential compounds for foreign workers and on Saudi government facilities in which were dozens of people were killed.
The United States has poured aid into Yemen to stem the threat of attacks from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and to try to prevent any spillover of violence into Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter.
In 2010, AQAP, a merger of al Qaeda's Yemeni and Saudi branches, said it was behind a plot to send two parcel bombs to the United States. The bombs were intercepted in Britain and Dubai.
The UAE has escaped the upheaval that has shaken the Arab world but moved swiftly to stem any sign of political dissent by detaining more than 60 local Islamists this year over alleged threats to state security and links to a foreign group.
Those detainees, who belong to an Islamist group called al-Islah, have confessed to setting up a secret organization with an armed force whose aim was to take power and establish an Islamic state, local media reported in September. Islah denied the accusations.
Many of the detained Islamists come from the more religiously conservative northern emirates such as Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah, which produced one of the September 11 hijackers.
In May 2002, al Qaeda militants sent a letter to UAE authorities saying continued UAE cooperation with Washington in arresting what it called holy warriors would "bring the country into an arena of conflict," according to al Qaeda documents captured by the U.S. military and published by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. military academy at West point.

Fees undermine fliers' ability to compare fares

FILE - This Dec. 21, 2012 file photo shows travelers walking to a ticketing desk at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. For many passengers, air travel is only about finding the cheapest fare. But as airlines offer a proliferating list of add-on services, from early boarding to premium seating and baggage fees, the ability to comparison-shop for the lowest total fare is eroding. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
For many passengers, air travel is only about finding the cheapest fare.
But as airlines offer a proliferating list of add-on services, from early boarding to premium seating and baggage fees, the ability to comparison-shop for the lowest total fare is eroding.
Global distribution systems that supply flight and fare data to travel agents and online ticketing services like Orbitz and Expedia, accounting for half of all U.S. airline tickets, complain that airlines won't provide fee information in a way that lets them make it handy for consumers trying to find the best deal.
"What other industry can you think of where a person buying a product doesn't know how much it's going to cost even after he's done at the checkout counter?" said Simon Gros, chairman of the Travel Technology Association, which represents the global distribution services and online travel industries.
The harder airlines make it for consumers to compare, "the greater opportunity you have to get to higher prices," said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, whose members include corporate travel managers.
Now the Obama administration is wading into the issue. The Department of Transportation is considering whether to require airlines to provide fee information to everyone with whom they have agreements to sell their tickets. A decision originally scheduled for next month has been postponed to May, as regulators struggle with a deluge of information from airlines opposed to regulating fee information, and from the travel industry and consumer groups that support such a requirement.
Meanwhile, Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Air and Southwest Airlines — with backing from industry trade associations — are asking the Supreme Court to reverse an appeals court ruling forcing them to include taxes in their advertised fares. The appeals court upheld a Transportation Department rule that went in effect nearly a year ago that ended airlines' leeway to advertise a base airfare and show the taxes separately, often in smaller print. Airlines say the regulations violate their free-speech rights.
At the heart of the debate is a desire by airlines to move to a new marketing model in which customers don't buy tickets based on price alone. Instead, following the well-worn path of other consumer companies, airlines want to mine personal data about customers in order to sell them tailored services. You like to sit on the aisle and to ski, so how would you like to fly to Aspen with an aisle seat and a movie, no extra baggage charge for your skis, and have a hotel room and a pair of lift tickets waiting for you, all for one price? You're a frequent business traveler. How about priority boarding, extra legroom, Internet access and a rental car when you arrive?
"Technology is changing rapidly. We are going to be part of the change," said Sharon Pinkerton, vice president of Airlines for America, which represents most U.S. carriers. "We want to be able to offer our customers a product that's useful to them, that's customized to meet their needs, and we don't think (the Transportation Department) needs to step in."
If airlines have their way, passengers looking for ticket prices may have to reveal a lot more information about themselves, such as their age, marital status, gender, nationality, travel history and whether they're flying for business or leisure. The International Air Transport Association, whose 240 member airlines cover 84 percent of global airline traffic, adopted standards at a meeting earlier this month in Geneva for such information gathering by airlines as well as by travel agents and ticketing services that would relay the data to airlines and receive customized fares in return.
"Airlines want, and expect, their (ticket) distribution partners to offer passengers helpful contextual information to make well-informed purchase decisions, reducing the number of reservations made based primarily or exclusively on price," said a study commissioned by the association.
Consumer advocates question how airlines would safeguard the personal information they gather, and they worry that comparison shopping for the cheapest air fares will no longer be feasible.
"It's like going to a supermarket where before you get the price, they ask you to swipe your driver's license that shows them you live in a rich zip code, you drive a BMW, et cetera," Mitchell said. "All this personal information on you is going out to all these carriers with no controls over what they do with it, who sees it and so on."
The airline association said consumers who choose not to supply personal information would still be able to see fares and purchase tickets, though consumer advocates said those fares would probably be at the "rack rate" — the travel industry's term for full price, before any discounts.
It's up to individual airlines whether they price fares differently for travelers who don't provide personal information, said Perry Flint, a spokesman for the international airline association.
The stakes, of course, are enormous. Since 2000, U.S. airlines have lost money for more years than they've made profits. Fee revenue has made a big difference in their bottom lines. Globally, airlines raked in an estimated $36 billion this year in ancillary revenue, which includes baggage fees and other a la carte services as well as sales of frequent flyer points and commissions on hotel bookings, according to a study by Amadeus, a global distribution service, and the IdeaWorksCompany, a U.S. firm that helps airlines raise ancillary revenue. U.S. airlines reported collecting nearly $3.4 billion in baggage fees alone in 2011.
One expense airlines would like to eliminate is the $7 billion a year they pay global distribution systems to supply flight and fare information to travel agents and online booking agents like Expedia. Airlines want to deal more directly with online ticket sellers and travel agents, who dominate the lucrative business travel market. Justice Department officials have acknowledged an investigation is underway into possible anti-trust violations by distribution companies.
Airlines also have been cracking down on websites that help travelers manage their frequent flier accounts. The sites use travelers' frequent flier passwords to obtain balances and mileage expiration dates, and then display the information in a way that makes it easier for travelers to figure out when it makes more sense to buy a ticket or to use miles.
"What the airlines are trying to do right now is reinvent the wheel so they can hold all their information close to their chest," said Charles Leocha, founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance. "As we move forward in a world of IT, the ownership of passenger data is like gold to these people."
By withholding information like fee prices, he said, "we are forced to go see them, and then we are spoon-fed what they want to feed us."

Marijuana as a "pain distracter"

To determine exactly how cannabis relieves pain, a group of Oxford researchers used healthy volunteers, an MRI machine and doses of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Their findings, published today in the journal Pain, suggest something counterintuitive: that the drug doesn’t so much reduce pain as make the same level of pain more bearable.

“Cannabis does not seem to act like a conventional pain medicine,” Michael Lee, an Oxford neuroscientist and lead author of the paper, said in a statement. “Brain imaging shows little reduction in the brain regions that code for the sensation of pain, which is what we tend to see with drugs like opiates. Instead, cannabis appears to mainly affect the emotional reaction to pain in a highly variable way.” 

This indicates that marijuana doesn’t function as a pain killer as much as a pain distracter: Objectively, levels of pain remain the same for someone under the influence of THC, but it simply bothers the person less. It’s difficult to draw especially broad conclusions from a study with a sample size of just 12 participants, but the results were still surprising. 

Gout study offers genetic insight into ‘disease of kings’

Scientists have shed light on why some people are more susceptible to gout than others. A study has identified 18 ...
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Roadside trees can affect traffic speed

Motorists who travel down French-style avenues feel as though they are going faster and are more likely to slow down. 
More than 200 trees were planted on the approach roads to four rural villages in north Norfolk which had a history of speeding problems...

Provisional results found that drivers reduced their speed on the roads into Martham, Horstead, Mundesley and Overstrand by an average of two miles per hour...

By strategically planting trees along the roadside the driver's perception of speed can be altered. As the car approaches the village the trees are planted closer and closer together giving the impression that the vehicle is moving faster. This encourages the motorist to slow down.  
More details at the 2010 Telegraph article.   I have no doubt about the physiology and psychology of the effect, but another consideration I've noticed when driving down avenues of trees is that, depending on time of day and orientation, the trees can generate a stobe-like effect as they block the sun from the driver's eyes.

Random Celebrity Photo

Ava Gardner, 1948
Ava Gardner, 1948

What would it mean to live forever?

Infinity has at least two meanings. 
We sometimes forget that the word is used very differently in math and in ...
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The Bloody Truth About Serbia's Vampire

vLast month, we posted a story about the Serbian village of Zarožje, when town officials issued a warning about a vampire that may have been disturbed. To get the lowdown on such superstitions, National Geographic News talked to Mark Collins Jenkins, author of the book Vampire Forensics, and forensic archeologist and anthropologist Matteo Borrini.
Is it crazy that the town council issued a public health warning?

MCJ: Historically speaking, it's not that crazy. In past centuries, outbreaks of vampire hysteria, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, often coincided with outbreaks of tuberculosis and deadly plagues. Peasants had no other way of explaining why everyone was dropping dead but by blaming it on witches and vampires or other supernatural creatures. In 19th-century New England, tuberculosis wasted entire families, one after another. Superstitious people believed that the first to die was somehow feeding on his surviving family members. (Related: "'Vampire of Venice' Unmasked: Plague Victim & Witch?")

Why did people begin believing in vampires?

MB: Especially between the 16th and 18th centuries, little was known about what happens to the body after death. During plagues and epidemics, mass graves were continually reopened to bury new dead. People sometimes exhumed the bodies of the diseased to look for possible causes. Reports about vampires describe exhumations weeks or months after death, during the body's decay.

MCJ: Bodies weren't embalmed back then. They rot, to be quite frank, in grossly different ways. If a bunch of people in the village started dying in mysterious ways, they'd dig up the first one to die, see that his corpse didn't look quite right, assume that was blood flowing down those cheeks (it's called purge fluid in modern forensics, a natural byproduct of decomposition, but it's not blood), and generally burn the body. End of vampire.  
Read the rest at NatGeo .

Awesome Pictures


Devils Tower, Wyoming

The wildest alien planets of 2012

From massive bodies that fell just short of becoming stars to the tiniest solar systems known, 2012 has brought an array of intriguing exoplanets to light.
And double-star systems that once seemed unlikely to host planets have produced a wealth of them this year.
Here's a look at some of the most exciting alien planets discovered in 2012:

Death By Black Hole Firewall Incineration It Shall Be

A controversial theory is emerging around the idea that a black hole may generate an impenetrable "wall of fire" around its singularity. Read more
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Random Photo

The bar-tailed godwit can fly 11,000 kilometers.


As reported at Science Daily in 2010:
Every autumn the bar-tailed godwit undertakes an eight-day journey from Alaska to New Zealand. The bird flies non-stop, without once breaking the journey to rest or eat. Then when spring comes, the bar-tailed godwit makes the 11,000-kilometre journey back to Alaska...

Professor of Ecology Anders Hedenström from Lund University has pondered over how this species of bird can fly so far without stopping. The distance is twice as far as previously known non-stop distances for migratory birds.

Professor Hedenström emphasises that the bar-tailed godwit is far superior to all aircraft constructed by humans when it comes to the art of flying for a long time without a break. The long-distance flight record for aircraft is held by QiniteQ's Zephyr, an unmanned solar-powered craft. It can remain in the air for 82 hours, around three and a half days, compared with the bar-tailed godwit's eight-day flight.

But what is it that makes the bar-tailed godwit able to fly 11 000 kilometres without a single break? How can these birds manage without sleep or food for eight whole days? One explanation is that they consume unusually little energy compared with other species of bird. Anders Hedenström has calculated that the bar-tailed godwit consumes 0.41 per cent of its body weight each hour during its long flight.
And this from a subsequent report:
The last leg of E7's journey is the most extraordinary, entailing a non-stop flight of more than eight days and a distance of 7,200 miles, the equivalent of making a roundtrip flight between New York and San Francisco, and then flying back again to San Francisco without ever touching down.

Since they are land birds, godwits like E7 can't stop to eat or drink while flying over open-ocean. The constant flight speeds at which E7 was tracked by satellite indicate that she did not stop on land.


Mangia! Italian Wolves Prefer Ham to Venison
Unlike the deer-devouring wolves of northern Europe, the refined palate of the Italian wolf demands pork.

Wild Dolphins Give Humans Gifts

Wild dolphins are giving precious gifts of food to humans at the Tangalooma Island Resort in Australia. Read more
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Animal Pictures