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

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Daily Drift


Some of our readers today have been in:
Randburg, South Africa
Dusit, Thailand
Oxford, England
Warsaw, Poland
Liberty, Philippines
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Berea, South Africa
Bandar Seri, Begawan, Brunei
Islamabad, Pakistan
Zagreb, Croatia
Newcastle, England
Cape Town, South Africa
Bayan Lepas, Malaysia
Sampaloc, Philippines
Athens, Greece
Lagos, Nigeria
Panama, Panama
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Guayquil, Ecuador
Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
Makati, Philippines
Maribor, Slovenia
Kiev, Ukraine
Medan, Indonesia
Ankara, Turkey
Baku, Azerbaijan
Manila, Philippines
Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Mykolayiv, Ukraine
Somerset, England
Tunis, Tunisia
Bekasi, Indonesia
Kangar, Malaysia
Davao, Philippines
Bordeaux, France
Santiago, Chile
Bangkok, Thailand
Odessa, Ukraine
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Jakarta, Indonesia
Varna, Bulgaria
Vilnius, Lithuania
Lahore, Pakistan
Jawa, Indonesia

Today is Fruitcake Toss Day

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Today in History

1872 Russian Grand Duke Alexis goes on a gala buffalo hunting expedition with Gen. Phil Sheridan and Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.
1879 The British-Zulu War begins. British troops — under Lieutenant General Frederic Augustus — invade Zululand from the southern African republic of Natal.
1908 A wireless message is sent long-distance for the first time from the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
1913 Kiel and Wilhelmshaven become submarine bases in Germany.
1915 The U.S. Congress establishes Rocky Mountain National Park.
1926 U.S. coal talks break down, leaving both sides bitter as the strike drags on into its fifth month.
1927 U.S. Secretary of State Kellogg claims that Mexican rebel Plutarco Calles is aiding communist plot in Nicaragua.
1932 Oliver Wendell Holmes retires from the Supreme Court at age 90.
1938 Austria recognizes the Franco government in Spain.
1940 Soviet bombers raid cities in Finland.
1943 Soviet forces raise the siege of Leningrad.
1952 The Viet Minh cut the supply lines to the French forces in Hoa Binh, Vietnam.
1962 The United States resumes aid to the Laotian regime.
1973 Yassar Arafat is re-elected as head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
1982 Peking protests the sale of U.S. planes to Taiwan.
1991 The U.S. Congress gives the green light to military action against Iraq in the Persian Gulf Crisis.

Non Sequitur


Treasury says it will not produce platinum coins to avert debt crisis

The U.S. Treasury building is seen in Washington, September 29, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Bourg  
The U.S. Treasury Department said on Saturday it will not produce platinum coins as a way of generating $1 trillion (620 billion pounds) in revenue and avoiding a battle in Congress over raising the U.S. debt ceiling. The idea of minting $1 trillion in platinum coins has gained some currency among Democrats in recent days, with repugicans threatening to hold up an increase in the debt ceiling unless deep spending cuts are made.
The United States is expected to reach its debt limit in February.
"Neither the Treasury Department nor the Federal Reserve believes that the law can or should be used to facilitate the production of platinum coins for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the debt limit," said Treasury spokesman Anthony Coley in a statement.
Congress' refusal in 2011 to raise the debt ceiling unless the White House agreed to large spending cuts brought the United States close to the brink of a debt default and dealt the weak recovery a setback.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that with the platinum coin question resolved, the pressure is on congressional repugicans now to act to raise the debt ceiling.
"Congress can pay its bills or they can fail to act and put the nation into default," he said. "When congressional repugicans played politics with this issue last time, putting us at the edge of default, it was a blow to our economic recovery, causing our nation's credit rating to be downgraded."

The truth hurts

Du bist Papier bitte

Judge rejects secret "no-fly" evidence barring ex-Stanford student from returning to US

The SF Chronicle reports that a federal judge in San Francisco has "indignantly rejected" the TSA's attempt to use secret evidence to thwart the efforts of a former Stanford student to understand why she's apparently on a secret "no-fly" list. The government must stop its "persistent and stubborn refusal" to follow the law, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said this week.
Rahinah Ibrahim's name on the confidential no-fly list has barred her and one of her four children from returning to the United States for nearly eight years. She was a Stanford graduate student in January 2005 when she was first stopped at San Francisco International Airport and prevented from boarding a flight to her native Malaysia.
She was arrested and jailed briefly by San Francisco police but was allowed to take the flight the next day, with her 14-year-old daughter. When Ibrahim tried to return two months later, however, she was again stopped and told she was subject to arrest. The U.S. Consulate later said her student visa had been revoked under a terrorism law.

Did you know ...

That more soldiers took their own lives than died in combat during 2012

"I'm not racist, but..." yes, you are

About he sharp, sudden decline of America's middle class

Look it's a giant rubber ducky in Sydney harbor!

A man was arrested in Texas for filming cop

That Arizona's anti-immigration bill is losing the state millions

That it pays for states to raise the minimum wage

That workers digging subway tunnels have discovered emperor Hadrian's poetry and arts amphitheater under Rome

That the repugicans are losing the debt ceiling fight

About the silencing of the science on gun safety

The number of veterans who die waiting for benefits skyrockets

Hooray! It's the manhatten museum of mathematics!

The truth be told

The Incredible Beauty of Thailand's Loi Krathong Festival

Stand mesmerized as Thailand's people illuminate the river and night sky with beautiful lights... More

Key witness in Berlusconi sex trial to testify on Monday

A combo shows file photos of Karima El Mahroug of Morocco posing in Milan, and Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi waving in Brussels 
The nightclub dancer who is the main witness in the sex trial of Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is to testify on Monday, her lawyer said on Saturday. Karima El Mahroug, better known by her stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer", was due to testify in the Milan court in December but failed to show up, telling her lawyer she was on holiday in Mexico.
"Karima will be present in the courtroom on Monday," her lawyer Paola Boccardi told Reuters, adding that Mahroug had returned to Italy on Friday.
Berlusconi, 76, who is seeking a fifth term in government in a parliamentary election on February 24-25, is accused of paying Mahroug for sex when she was under 18, which is the minimum legal age for prostitution in Italy.
The billionaire media mogul denies all charges and Mahroug, a Moroccan who is now 20, has said she never had sex with him.
In December, a judge set February 4 as the date for the final hearing in the trial, making a verdict possible before the election.
However, one of his Berlusconi's lawyers said he was considering asking for the trial to be suspended until after the election.
A poll by the SWG company published on January 11 put the center-left about 10 points ahead of Berlusconi's center-right.
The trial, in which dozens of aspiring showgirls have described so-called "Bunga Bunga" parties at Berlusconi's residences, is the most sensational of his legal cases and has received huge media attention in Italy and abroad.
Berlusconi is also accused of abusing his powers when he was still prime minister to have Mahroug released from police custody when she was briefly held over theft allegations.
Berlusconi could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison, but he would not serve time unless he also lost the two appeals allowed by Italian law, usually a lengthy process.
Berlusconi, who controls Italy's biggest private broadcaster Mediaset, was driven from office as prime minister in 2011 at the height of the financial crisis.
His People of Freedom party backed the technocrat government of Mario Monti for a year before bringing it down by withdrawing its support last month.

Antique Camera Contains Undeveloped Film From World War I

Soldiers hold a bomb in what is likely the wreckage of an ammunition site.
A camera collector from San Diego named Anton Orlov purchased a French stereoscopic camera at an antique shop. He soon discovered the camera contained eight undeveloped photographs shot in France during World War I. Amazingly, this was not the first incidence of Orlov finding historical treasures in old cameras.

Read more about Anton's finds and see the rest of his fascinating photographs at his blog The Photo Palace.

Eleven Bizarre and Dangerous Items Sold by Sears in 1902

Long before Amazon, there was Sears and Roebuck. If you lived anywhere the postal service delivered to, you could order everything from farm tools to lingerie to opium. The opium has since been dropped from the catalog. Mental_floss has a look at some of the more bizarre items you could have ordered in 1902. Shown here are the magical Arsenic Complexion Wafers that would improve “even the coarsest and most repulsive skin and complexion." I first thought it was a bar of soap, but its likely that these were sold to be ingested. More


Texaco Wrecker by Edmund Garman on Flickr.

Sampling Lake Vostok

Russian drilling operations at Lake Vostok, Antarctica, have succeeded in collecting a core sample of water frozen into the borehole from the 20 million-year-old lake they cracked into last year.

Psst! Wanna Buy a Launch Pad?

vWith the shuttle program over, NASA is hoping to recoup some of its investment and shed property no longer needed by selling it off. Several facilities are for sale.
Among them: Launch Pad 39A, where shuttles were launched; space in the Vehicle Assembly Building, the iconic 526-foot-tall structure first used to assemble Saturn V-Apollo rockets; the Orbiter Processing Facilities, essentially huge garages where the shuttles were maintained; Hangar N and its high-tech test equipment; the launch-control center; and various other buildings and chunks of undeveloped property.

A lot of the stuff needs to be transferred by the end of 2013, when federal maintenance money will run out. When it does, machinery will start to rust, and buildings will deteriorate in the harsh coastal-marsh environment of Cape Canaveral.
NASA is allowing bids and proposals to be submitted quietly, and will take plans for the properties into account as well as the amounts of the bids. More

Curious Things That Fall From The Sky

Rain and snow aren't the only things to fall from the sky. Throughout history rare occurrences have been recorded of other less expected and surprising forms of deluge. In 2001, parts of India were showered with mysterious red particles that were thought to contain alien microbes. Here are some more examples of this bizarre phenomenon.

Thousands Of Unknown Ancient Structures Seen From Space

Thousands of huge ancient structures made of stone are clearly visible from the air. Their age is estimated to thousands of years and their purpose remains unknown. These puzzling wheel-shapes, and straight lines, stretch all the way from Syria to Saudi Arabia. Some call this area the Middle East's own version of the Nazca Lines.

It is only recently, with help of satellite images, that archaeologists have been able to explore this region in more detail. As a result, the resolution of available images is now generally high enough to conduct reliable, general archeological surveys.

What's the biggest thing in the universe?

What's the biggest thing in the universe? That would be a cluster of quasars so large it would take a vehicle traveling at the speed of light 4 billion years to cross.


Astronomers using the European Herschel Space Observatory have discovered something a little unsettling: asteroid 99942 Apophis is actually bigger than we thought.
Apophis will not -- I repeat, will not -- hit Earth in 2036. 

Go ahead ...

Imagine you are on a spaceship hurtling through space with all the things you need to survive one board ...

Half of the world’s food goes to waste

by Chris

This stunning report out of the UK points the fingers at all groups along the food chain. While consumers throw away a lot of food, stores also refuse to purchase food unless it has a certain look.Unfortunately for everyone, refusing food because it has the wrong appearance has led to new variations of food that taste no better than the old products. In France it’s now common to see coeur de boeuf (I think these are “beefstake” in the US) tomatoes in the normal grocery stores. They have the “ugly” look that everyone associates with the tasty tomatoes that we find in the country during the summer, but in fact, they’re as tasteless as the other tomatoes in the big city stores.
food produce 
Last summer I spent a week cycling in the apricot region of France (or at least, the best apricot region) and I would pass through farms that were full of harvested trees, but there were still plenty of apricots in the trees. They just didn’t look good enough for buyers. (Some people caught on and I did notice some people collecting the abandoned fruit in the early morning when few people other than older cyclists are out.)
The point is, people want good products and many have been falling for the “ugly” tomatoes, in hopes of having a good product. At the same time, there are plenty more shoppers who want every zucchini and peach to look exactly the same. Part of that “look” that shoppers want involves maintaining the appearance after shipping.
It’s a tough challenge, but someone will eventually figure this out, or at least how to minimize the waste. NBC News:
The world produces about four billion metric tonnes of food a year but up 2 billion tonnes is never eaten, the global study by the London-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers said.
The organisation lays the blame at every step of the food chain, from farming practices to consumers.
It says retailers reject millions of tonnes of crops because of the physical appearance of fruit and vegetables, fearing shoppers will not buy them unless they look perfect.
I’ve mentioned this group before, but there’s a fantastic organization here in France that helps promote small farmers and their products, Le Petit Producteur. The products are not cheap, but the quality is high, almost as high as you get out in the country where farmers operate. The produce isn’t always the most beautiful – though it’s still attractive – but the taste is far superior than what you typically find in the city.
While on vacation with friends last summer, my 3 year old goddaughter and her twin sister couldn’t stop eating the local fruits and vegetables that we bought at the farmers market. None of it had the shiny, perfect look that you find in Paris markets but the taste was unbeatable. Our friends were amazed with how much the girls were eating, since at home, they hardly touched the same products because they had no taste.
Will the next generation of farmers find a way to bring back taste, rather than look and ability to be transported? That could go a long way towards solving this food problem.

USDA: Drought cut corn crop by about one-fourth

In this July 2012 photo, corn stalks struggling from lack of rain and a heat wave covering most of the country are seen in Farmingdale, Ill. Despite the U.S. enduring its worst drought in decades, a The U.S. Department of Agriculture report to be issued on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 is expected to show a harvest that's smaller nationally but still surprisingly strong considering the lingering drought. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) 
For farmers like Earl Williams, last year couldn't have started out better or ended much worse as a warm, sunny spring that let him plant early gave way to record heat and drought that devastated his corn.
Williams ended up with about two-thirds of the crop he expected, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Friday showed most corn farmers didn't fare much better. The final report on the 2012 growing season showed farmers harvested 10.78 billion bushels of corn, less than three-fourths of what the agency predicted last spring.
While the report covers many other crops, much of the attention has been on corn, which is widely used as an ingredient in many foods, provides feed for livestock and is mixed with gasoline as ethanol. The crop also was the hardest hit by the drought that settled in just as the plants were maturing.
Williams, 62, usually gets 150 to 160 bushels per acre on his 1,000-acre farm near Rockford in northern Illinois. Last year, he got about 100, and he's been looking at the sky ever since, hoping for heavy rain or snow to break the drought that still grips the region.
"I've yet to run into anyone around me that wasn't ready for 2013 to come," he said.
Yet things could have been worse. Because demand remained strong and corn prices remained high — above $7 a bushel for much of the summer and fall — the 2012 crop was the most valuable ever produced, with a value of around $85 billion, said Chad Hart, an agriculture economist with Iowa State University.
The harvest also was the eighth largest in U.S. history, a reflection of a big increase in recent years in the number of acres planted and crop technology that has improved plants' ability to withstand drought.
"We learned that corn plants can build roots very, very deep," said Brent Wilson, technical services manager for DuPont Pioneer, a major seed company.
In some areas, farmers got yields that require 40 percent more water than was available in the top few feet of their soil, Wilson said. That means plant roots were driven deeper to reach the subsoil.
While the drought eventually spread to cover two-thirds of the nation, its impact varied widely from one region of the corn belt to another. Some Iowa farmers saw decent results, while those in parts of Illinois and Indiana could only watch as plants withered and died after months of drought.
Friday's reports showed that Illinois, typically the nation's second-largest corn producer, fell to fourth place behind Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota.
Iowa, coming off of its driest year since 1989, remains the largest corn producer with 1.87 billion bushels, down 20 percent from the year before. Minnesota was second with 1.37 billion bushels, followed by Nebraska with 1.29 billion and Illinois with 1.28 billion.
Corn production in Illinois fell 34 percent from 2011 and Nebraska's production was off 16 percent. Minnesota, where the drought was not as severe as in other states, produced 14 percent more corn last year than the year before.
The USDA had predicted a record average yield of 166 bushels per acre of corn when warm weather got farmers in the fields early. But the government began scaling back estimates as the drought spread across two-thirds of the nation. The year-end average was 123.4 bushels per acre.
While Williams and other farmers were eager to say goodbye to last year, they still have reason to be anxious. The U.S. Drought Monitor's weekly updates have shown few signs the drought is relenting. Sixty percent of the continental U.S. is still in some form of drought, and climatologists say it would take an absurd amount of snow for conditions to change much during the winter.
"For us, winter's just not a time of year to make much progress with drought," said Harry Hillaker, Iowa's state climatologist. "Our next hope is a wetter spring."
And even that wouldn't guarantee an end to drought, Hillaker said: "In a nutshell, one hot, dry summer tends to be followed by another year on the dry, warm side of normal."

With almonds' rising revenues, land values soar

FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2011 photo, bees pollinate almond trees at an orchard near Bakersfield, Calif. In 2011, for the first time ever, the value of the California almond crop surpassed the state’s iconic grape industry to move into second place, behind dairy, making almond producing land one of the highest priced and most sought-after in the region. The demand for almonds is driven largely by the newly-minted money-spending middle classes in China and India. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka, File) 
Bill Enns, a central California real estate agent specializing in farmland, fields dozens of calls every week from potential buyers. Many want almond, pistachio or walnut orchards — or any land suitable for growing nut trees.
This summer in Merced County, Enns brokered the sale of 1,200 acres of open ground lacking a good source of water. Listed at $12,500 per acre, the land attracted dozens of buyers and sold within a month for a whopping $15,000 per acre. The buyer will plant it with almond trees, a notably water-intensive crop.
"It was one of the highest sales per acre that we've seen for that kind of land," said Enns, vice president of the Farm Lands Department at Pearson Realty. "We've seen some numbers that would just blow your mind."
In recent years, farmers in California's Central Valley have seen record-high revenues, buoyed by high demand for fruits, nuts and vegetables in the U.S. and abroad. Investors both foreign and domestic have taken notice, buying up farmland and driving up agricultural land values in a region with some of the highest residential foreclosure rates.
California's almond industry, which grows about 80 percent of the global almond supply and 100 percent of the domestic supply, saw the most dramatic growth — powered by strong demand from new money-spending middle classes in India and China. The growth has prompted a rush for almond-growing land and pushed almond land values through the roof.
Farmland prices have been mostly rising for the past decade throughout the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But over the past three years, despite the recession, they reached record highs.
"A lot of people thought values in farmland would drop like the values in housing," said Allan Barros, a Fresno-area appraiser. "But the sellers ... sat on their properties and farmland values didn't budge. Everybody gave a sigh of relief."
Then land values went sharply up, Barros said, pushed by rising agricultural revenues. In this region with the highest farm receipts in the nation, prices for most commodities rose dramatically. Revenues for almonds and walnuts increased by 30 percent between 2010 and 2011, and revenues for grapes rose by 20 percent, according to the USDA. California's agricultural exports during that time grew by more than $3 billion.
In 2011, for the first time, the value of California's almond crop surpassed the state's iconic grape industry to move into second place, behind dairy, as the state's top commodity. Almond producers increased their productivity and their orchard sizes, and shipments more than doubled over the past 10 years, according to the California Almond Board. During the 2011-2012 crop year, California farmers brought in $3.9 billion in revenue.
Almonds also became the top export, outpacing dairy and wine, mostly due to increased demand from Asia and a weak dollar, almond producers say. Two-thirds of the almonds produced today are shipped overseas.
Real estate experts say farmers and other investors wanting to cash in on that growth quickly cleared the inventories of available nut land. With little else to buy, they ripped out vineyards and other crops to plant almond orchards. Almonds — which grow from Red Bluff to Bakersfield — increased by over 100,000 acres since 2008, to 760,000 total bearing acres today, according to the Almond Board.
Scarcity of available almond land is also pushing some investors to plant trees in areas with a poorer water supply or less appropriate soil. Since nut trees take several years to mature, time will tell whether the risks were worth taking, said Barros, the appraiser.
New investors range from local farmers trying to expand their orchards to international companies seeking high returns on prime almond farmland, experts say. Pension funds, insurance companies and retirement funds also are investing portions of their portfolios into agriculture. Olam International, a Singapore-based commodities supplier, farms 7,000 acres of almonds in California.
Nut land — almond, pistachio and walnut — is now the highest valued type in every county throughout the valley, according to the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers' California chapter.
In Fresno County, almond land was valued at up to $18,000 per acre in 2012, and pistachio land at up to $25,000 per acre. That's higher than citrus, grape, or tree fruit land —and much higher than the $7,200 average per acre farm real estate value in California last year, according to the USDA.
Putting money in farmland pays off, said Biff Ourso, portfolio manager at the New York-based financial services firm TIAA-CREF, because it can generate an income and appreciate over time. But it also brings much-needed diversification.
"Farmland doesn't behave in the same pattern as other traditional asset classes," Ourso said, which means it reduces the risk for investors in case of a market downturn.
Investing in agriculture is attractive in the long term, he said, because of the growing world population, expanding middle classes and the fact that farmland is a finite resource. The company — which manages about 140,000 acres of farmland in the U.S., including almonds in California — leases its farm properties to farmers.
Local almond operators say heightened interest from investors spells out a bright outlook.
"There's lots of excitement in the industry," said Jim Crecelius, CEO of Montavista Farming Company based in Hanford.
Crecelius, an almond farmer, also processes the nuts for investors throughout the Valley and markets them in Asia. "We have never been able to completely supply every almond that our customers need," he said.
Some worry that the almond investment boom could lead to overproduction and hurt local farmers.
"Everybody in the industry is continually asking: are we in a bubble or is this a change of economies?" said Chuck Nichols, who farms over 1,000 acres of almonds and pistachios in Tulare and Kings counties. "We don't know the answer to that."

The World's Most Amazing Trees

Most common trees look fantastic but some are just spectacular. Like the Rainbow Eucalyptus, the Divi Divi, or the Tetrameles nudifloras. Here are some of the world's most amazing trees.

Why Yosemite Is A Photographer's Nirvana

For over a century Yosemite Park has been a destination for families and everyone who enjoys the outdoors. With over 750,000 acres of stunning beauty, it doesn't matter what time of year you are there, everything is beautiful. Enjoy these 26 photos of Yosemite and see what it's a top destination for photographers.

Random Photo

Banded mongooses structure monosyllabic sounds in a similar way to humans

Animals are more eloquent than previously assumed. Even the monosyllabic call of the banded mongoose is structured and thus comparable ...
Continue Reading 

Snake hitched ride on wing of plane

Passengers on a Qantas flight from Cairns in Australia to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea who looked out the window of their airborne aircraft early on Thursday morning saw a 3m snake clinging to the wing. There was nothing anyone could do to help the amethystine python in the chamber just a short distance from Qantas's famous flying kangaroo logo.

Altitude was taking its toll as well as freezing temperatures and the high speed of the aircraft. Passengers could only watch on as the animal's tail was whipped against the rear end of the plane, the impact creating a blood trail on the plane's fuselage.

The python was dead on arrival when QF191 touched down at Port Moresby at 7.44am with 40 passengers and four crew on board. A crew member said that when the python's presence was first reported the initial reaction was "you gotta be kidding?'' The crew member said there was a lot of commotion on the ground after the plane landed.

YouTube link. Alternative video link.

"The python didn't quite make it out alive, especially with some flap extension for landing,'' he said. Qantas said hitchhiking pythons were not an everyday occurrence. "We have never heard of this happening before,'' a spokesperson said. "The python must have taken refuge on the exterior of the aircraft at Cairns Airport overnight before take off.'' The python was handed over to quarantine officials in Port Moresby.

Animal Pictures

Sly by Pete Zeke on Flickr.