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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.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Daily Drift

 The oldest living thing on earth - the Bristlecone Pine?

Some of our readers today have been in:
Lima, Peru
Cape Town, South Africa
Sampaloc, Philippines
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Panevezys, Lithuania
Puchong, Malaysia
Fort-Of-France, Martinique
Warsaw, Poland
Surabaya, Indonesia
Ankara, Turkey
Cartago, Costa Rica
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Zagreb, Croatia
Shah Alam, malaysia
Szczecin, Poland
Cayenne, France
San Salvador, El Salvador
Muar, Malaysia
Salcedo, Phlippines
Cheras, Malaysia
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Baghdad, Iraq
Klang, Malaysia
Karachi, Pakistan
Worongary, Australia
Hanoi, Vietnam
Montana, Bulgaria
Port-Of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Muscat, Oman
Abucay, Philippines
Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Medan, Indonesia
Kamloops, Canada
London, England
Jakarta, Indonesia

Today is National Kazoo Day 

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Today in History

28 The Roman Emperor Nerva names Trajan, an army general, as his successor.
1547 Henry VIII of England dies and is succeeded by his nine-year-old son Edward VI.
1757 Ahmed Shah, the first King of Afghanistan, occupies Delhi and annexes the Punjab.
1792 Rebellious slaves in Santo Domingo launch an attack on the city of Cap.
1871 Surrounded by Prussian troops and suffering from famine, the French army in Paris surrenders. During the siege, balloons were used to keep contact with the outside world.
1915 The U.S. Coast Guard is founded to fight contraband trade and aid distressed vessels at sea.
1915 The German navy attacks the U.S. freighter William P. Frye, loaded with wheat for Britain.
1921 Albert Einstein startles Berlin by suggesting the possibility of measuring the universe.
1932 The Japanese attack Shanghai, China, and declare martial law.
1936 A fellow prison inmate slashes infamous kidnapper, Richard Loeb, to death.
1941 French General Charles DeGaulle's Free French forces sack south Libya oasis.
1945 Chiang Kai-shek renames the Ledo-Burma Road the Stilwell Road, in honor of General Joseph Stilwell.
1955 The U.S. Congress passes a bill allowing mobilization of troops if China should attack Taiwan.
1964 The Soviets down a U.S. jet over East Germany killing three.
1970 Israeli fighter jets attack the suburbs of Cairo.
1986 The space shuttle Challenger explodes just after liftoff.

Non Sequitur


North Carolina’s Magic Mountains

In the early 20th century, people from all over the world came to Asheville seeking wellness. Today, they still do.
Winyah Sanitarium in Asheville, N.C. 
Before the advent of modern medicine, many incurable diseases proved fatal. Until the antibiotic streptomycin came along in 1944, one in seven people died of tuberculosis — widely known as “consumption” because it literally consumed the body from within.
“If the importance of a disease for mankind is measured by the number of fatalities it causes, then tuberculosis must be considered much more important than those most feared infectious diseases, plague, cholera, and the like,” wrote German physician Robert Koch, who discovered the bacterium.
Physicians soon began recommending a stay in Asheville to their convalescing patients, and, from about 1880 to 1930, the town became a destination for wellness.

‘Healthful atmosphere’

According to a 1915 pamphlet published by the United States Public Health Service, North Carolina had the world’s largest number of tuberculosis patients. Rob Neufeld, columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times, has explored and written about the mountain town’s history. He estimates that tens of thousands of TB patients relocated to the area during that roughly 50-year span in hopes of a cure.
“The healthful atmosphere had a huge impact,” says Neufeld. “Consumption cure was all about the fresh mountain air. Physicians noted things like ‘the pine-scented air,’ and ‘air pressure at 2,100 feet above sea level matching pulmonary pressure.’ It supposedly brought about the least stress.”
The number of patients who came to the area, along with the doctors who treated them, added significantly to the population over a short period of time. In 1880, Asheville’s population was a little more than 2,600. Ten years later, that figure had jumped to more than 10,000. And by 1930, more than 50,000 called the town home.
A number of wealthy and famous Americans came to Asheville seeking a cure. George Vanderbilt accompanied his ailing mother, Maria. He found the region so enjoyable that he decided to build a home here. He formally opened Biltmore House to his family and friends during Christmas 1895.
St. Louis entrepreneur Edwin W. Grove, the multimillionaire inventor of such cure-alls as the elixir “Tasteless Chill Tonic,” came to Asheville searching for a cure. In 1913, he completed construction of the Grove Park Inn, which remains an internationally famous resort. Thomas Wolfe, an Asheville native, succumbed to tuberculosis in 1938, but not before he wrote four successful books, among them the critically acclaimed Look Homeward, Angel. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who believed he was a carrier of TB, spent a great deal of time in Asheville during his wife Zelda’s hospitalization for mental illness.
Most people who came to Asheville, however, were average citizens, and they found several options awaiting them. There were sanatoriums that dealt specifically with TB, such as Oteen, Winyah, Gatchell, and Mountain. And a number of privately owned homes — many of those in the Montrose neighborhood — were specifically equipped with sun porches, which were considered necessary for a TB patient’s recovery.
At the time, the physicians and health care workers who flocked to the area were on the cutting edge of TB treatment. The first sanatorium was established here in 1871 by Dr. Horatio Page Gatchell. Dr. Joseph Gleitsmann established the next one, Mountain Sanatorium.
“I think one of the most important figures to make a contribution during that time was Dr. Karl von Ruck,” Neufeld says. “He introduced many new practices, kept journals on patients, and actually went to Germany to get the serum when it was first introduced.”

‘Pest houses’

While the city benefited economically from the influx of people, natives eventually came to resent the ill. “It was an infectious disease,” Neufeld says. “People generally weren’t comfortable with it all.”
In 1913, several laws were introduced to hold down the increasing tuberculosis population. New regulations outlawed unlicensed facilities, prohibited tuberculosis patients from staying anywhere other than places sanctioned for treatment, required reporting of any known individuals with tuberculosis, and fined people for spitting on streets and sidewalks.
Despite the fact Wolfe died from tuberculosis, his mother publicly said she would accept no tuberculosis at her Asheville boarding house, known as “The Old Kentucky Home.”
Hoping to turn the city into a vacation getaway, Grove, of The Grove Park Inn, attempted to close down the privately owned boarding houses for tuberculosis patients. Residents had begun to refer to the boarding houses as “pest houses.”
During the 1920s and early ’30s, larger hospitals offering multiple care techniques began to replace sanatoriums and private facilities. In the 1940s, researchers discovered streptomycin as a cure for tuberculosis, and a chapter in Buncombe County history closed.
Asheville, however, never lost its appeal as a wellness retreat. Today, the region’s reputation as a center for New Age spiritualism and holistic medicine still brings people to its magic mountains.
It seems fitting, then, that a place Native Americans once esteemed for its healing properties, where physicians once looked to cure a deadly illness, now attracts a new generation of people in search of better health.

President Obama Calls Out Lush Dimbulb and Faux News for Creating a Toxic Partisan Environment

President Obama is calling out Faux News and Lush Dimbulb by name for creating a toxic environment that makes bipartisanship impossible.
In an interview with The New Republic, Obama brought up the role of wingnut media in killing bipartisanship,
One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a repugican member of Congress is not punished on Faux News or by Lush Dimbulb for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it.
I think John Boehner genuinely wanted to get a deal done, but it was hard to do in part because his caucus is more wingnut probably than most repugican leaders are, and partly because he is vulnerable to attack for compromising repugican fantasies and working with Obama.
The same dynamic happens on the Democratic side. I think the difference is just that the more left-leaning media outlets recognize that compromise is not a dirty word. And I think at least leaders like myself—and I include Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in this—are willing to buck the more absolutist-wing elements in our party to try to get stuff done.
The odds of Faux News and Lush Dimbulb not punishing repugicans who work with Obama are exactly zero, because Faux and Lush make their money by keeping a large segment of the repugican base ignorant and outraged. They have a financial incentive to keep the partisanship high, and the national discourse toxic.
What the president didn’t discuss was the fact that congressional repugicans have empowered Dimbulb and Faux News to punish them. Wingnut media only has as much power as the repugican congressional caucus is willing to give it. Congressional repugicans are paying the price for the decision to allow the most powerful members of the right wing media establishment to fill their party’s leadership vacuum. It doesn’t seem to matter to these repugicans that Dimbulb and Faux News have little impact on elections. They are afraid of the wrath of Lush and Faux, so many of the members of the repugican majority in the House rigidly toe the conservative media line.
A secondary issue is that much like their base many congressional repugicans are grossly misinformed because they rely on Faux News, talk radio, and right wing websites for their information. It is nearly impossible to forge a bipartisan consensus on any issue when a segment of the legislative branch is getting their information from an alternate universe where any and all facts that are not partisan talking points are questioned.
The president was dead on about the difference between liberal and wingnut media. The vast majority of the left understands compromise. There is a segment of the left that like the right makes their living off of fanning the flames of perpetual outrage, but the difference is that the professionally outraged left isn’t running the Democratic Party. (In fact, one of the reasons why they have gotten so angry is that many of the white male progressives who used to be viewed as the voices of the left have been replaced by less white and less male Obama Democrats.)
Obama’s remarks explain why it is a mistake to ignore what Limbaugh and Fox are up to. They are the guiding forces in the repugican Cabal right now. Pretending that they don’t exist would be the equivalent of ignoring the problem and hoping that it goes away.
The president avoided false media equivalencies and understands that our national dialogue will continue to be poisoned as long as repugicans continue to empower their right wing media complex.
Until Republicans stop following Faux News and Lush Dimbult off the cliff, there is little hope that our toxic political environment will be cleaned up.
Obama and the Democrats get it, which is why they keep winning elections.

The truth be told

House repugican Congresswoman Argues Guns Have Nothing to Do With School Shootings

House repugican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn claimed that guns aren’t part of the root problem of school shootings. Rep. Blackburn tried to argue that guns have nothing to do with school shootings.

Transcript from CBS News:
BLACKBURN: My take is first of all, we need to make certain we keep children safe. And that’s what we want to do. But I’ve got to tell you, when I hear some of this conversation, I think that we’re looking at symptoms, we’re not looking at the root causes. And I’ve talked with a lot of teachers, classroom teachers after the Sandy Hook situation, and they say, look, we need to be looking at mental health. We need to be looking at the root causes, some of these psychotropic drugs, and not let this be about the weapon, but let’s talk about some of the root causes in these issues. And I understand the senator’s passion for this, but I got to tell you, an assault ban is not the answer to helping keep people safe.

SCHIEFFER: I agree with you, Miss Blackburn, that I think mental health needs to be a part of this. I think it’s got to be a comprehensive plan of some sort. But I also wonder — I mean, don’t we have to find some way just to reduce this access to guns that some of these people have? I mean, you know, if the guy had walked into the Connecticut school with a baseball bat, he could have put some bumps on a couple of people’s head, but I don’t think that many people would have been killed.
BLACKBURN: Well, you know, I think that there, again, you look at the safety issue. Some of the school districts in my congressional district are looking at resource officers, and how they secure that environment. But, you know, the speaker is right. You look at what is actually causing the problem. This means you look at the weapons that are there. You do some hearings that are on, that have occurred in some of these areas like Chicago, where they have a problem. You look at the mental health issues. You look at the psychotropic and psychiatric drugs that a lot of the youth are taking that individuals that have committed these crimes are taking. You look at the violence that is there in entertainment, in video games, and don’t just go say, “we’re going to do an assault weapons ban, and that’s going to solve the problem,” because it is not going to get to the root of the problem.
Bob Schieffer brought up the completely rational point that the shooter in Newtown would have done a lot less damage with a baseball bat, and was met with the rare combination of insanity and NRA talking points that can only come from a House tea partier. From the point of view of the paid through campaign contributions NRA congressional stooge, the problem with school shootings isn’t the gun, or even easy access to guns. The problem is mental illness. It’s not the gun’s fault that people are crazy. Why are we blaming the poor innocent gun for SHOOTINGS? This is part of the Republican talking point that we need to meet in the middle, and have a discussion about keeping our children safe. However, guns have nothing to do with the problem. This type of absolutism mixed with irrationality is why this nation can’t have a sensible conversation about the role of guns in gun violence.
No one wants to take guns away from anyone, but the moment guns are brought up the far right immediately refuses to discuss the role that access to guns plays in our culture of violence. Video games and television shows don’t kill people, but mentally ill individuals who have easy access to guns and hear politicians fearmongering about threats to their Second Amendment rights might.
The idea that easy access to guns isn’t part of the root cause of school shootings is flat out insane. Mental illness is an issue that needs to be dealt with, but a mentally ill person without a gun is a lot less dangerous to society. If we want to do something about the mental illness problem in our society, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (r-TN) would be a great place to start.

Federal Judge Orders Orly Taitz to Prove She Didn’t Lie to the Court

orly taitz
While Orly Taitz is trying to get President Obama arrested in Connecticut, a California federal judge in Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse ordered her to show cause for why the failed Senate candidate should not be sanctioned for lying to the court. The court thinks Taitz may have failed to report any “pending ethical, disciplinary, or related matters.”
Taitz wasn’t quite up front about pending issues, claiming that she only faced a minor discovery sanction. But it turns out that “Taitz is being sued for allegedly making a series of false, defamatory statements about private individuals as well as for planting invasive spy software on the computers of visitors to her various websites.”
So, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford ordered:
On October 22, 2012, the Court ordered the parties to “inform the Court immediately of any actions taken on pending ethical, disciplinary, or related matters.” On January 14, 2013, the Court was alerted to a possible unreported sanction against Orly Taitz. Taitz said in Court that the sanction was for discovery. The parties have since subjected the Court to a flurry of papers, which the Court dismisses as irrelevant except for the sole issue now of whether Taitz lied to the Court when she said the sanction was for discovery. Some evidence has been presented to the Court that the sanction involved far more than discovery.
The Court therefore now ORDERS Taitz to show cause in writing why she should not be sanctioned for lying to this Court. Taitz, and any other party, may file by February 4, 2013, papers on this order to show cause not exceeding 10 pages each in total. Particularly helpful would be documentary proof of the nature of and reasons for the subject sanction previously ordered against Taitz.
Taitz has to respond by February 4th and she must provide proof of her innocence. Guilford has a reputation for being stern and strict. He isn’t taking Orly’s crazy in stride as others have done and if she can’t prove that she didn’t lie, she may find herself in real trouble.
This is fresh on the heels of her most recent fail to keep the President from being sworn in. U.S. District Court Judge Morrison C. England, Jr. was compelled to school the alleged lawyer on the law in that case, “Plaintiffs have failed in the Courts, and will undoubtedly continue to fail in the Courts, because they ask the Court to supplant the legislative branch and disregard the fundamental doctrine of separation of powers.”
Meanwhile, as California hopes “Dr. Taitz” doesn’t flood them with reams of crazy, that isn’t stopping her from trying to raise money off of her birther cult so that she can have President Obama arrested for using a “stolen” Social Security number. (Not linking to her site because she is being sued for putting invasive spyware on visitors’ computers.)
It wasn’t so long ago that Orly was meeting with staffers for repugicans like Representatives Steve King and Allen West, and Senators Jim Inhofe and Marco Rubio or that birther Donald Trump was happily endorsing and meeting with Mitt Romney on the campaign trail.
All “Dr.” Taitz needs is for the easily fooled to shell out a few of their Social Security dollars for her mission, and their dreams will come true! If only Orly isn’t arrested in California first. Tick tock, birthers.

And I Quote

Consumer alert: new health care markets on the way

In this Jan. 8, 2013 photo, business developer Robert Schultz poses for a photo outside his home office in Newton, Mass. Buying your own health insurance will never be the same. This fall, new insurance markets called exchanges will open in each state, the long-awaited and much-debated debut of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Schultz is a Boston-area startup business consultant who got his MBA in 2008, when the economy was tanking. Yet he was able to find coverage when he graduated and hang on to his insurance through job changes since. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) 
Buying your own health insurance will never be the same.
This fall, new insurance markets called exchanges will open in each state, marking the long-awaited and much-debated debut of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
The goal is quality coverage for millions of uninsured people in the United States. What the reality will look like is anybody's guess — from bureaucracy, confusion and indifference to seamless service and satisfied customers.
Exchanges will offer individuals and their families a choice of private health plans resembling what workers at major companies already get. The government will help many middle-class households pay their premiums, while low-income people will be referred to safety-net programs they might qualify for.
Most people will go online to pick a plan when open enrollment starts Oct. 1. Counselors will be available at call centers and in local communities, too. Some areas will get a storefront operation or kiosks at the mall. Translation to Spanish and other languages spoken by immigrants will be provided.
When you pick a plan, you'll no longer have to worry about getting turned down or charged more because of a medical problem. If you're a woman, you can't be charged a higher premium because of gender. Middle-aged people and those nearing retirement will get a price break: They can't be charged more than three times what younger customers pay, compared with six times or seven times today.
If all this sounds too good to be true, remember that nothing in life is free and change isn't easy.
Starting Jan. 1, 2014, when coverage takes effect in the exchanges, virtually everyone in the country will be required by law to have health insurance or face fines. The mandate is meant to get everybody paying into the insurance pool.
Obama's law is called the Affordable Care Act, but some people in the new markets might experience sticker shock over their premiums. Smokers will face a financial penalty. Younger, well-to-do people who haven't seen the need for health insurance may not be eligible for income-based assistance with their premiums.
Many people, even if they get government help, will find that health insurance still doesn't come cheaply. Monthly premiums will be less than the mortgage or rent, but maybe more than a car loan. The coverage, however, will be more robust than most individual plans currently sold.
Consider a hypothetical family of four making $60,000 and headed by a 40-year-old. They'll be eligible for a government tax credit of $7,193 toward their annual premium of $12,130. But they'd still have to pay $4,937, about 8 percent of their income, or about $410 a month.
A lower-income family would get a better deal from the government's sliding-scale subsidies.
Consider a similar four-person family making $35,000. They'd get a $10,742 tax credit toward the $12,130 annual premium. They'd have to pay $1,388, about 4 percent of their income, or about $115 a month.
The figures come from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation's online Health Reform Subsidy Calculator. But while the government assistance is called a tax credit and computed through the income tax system, the money doesn't come to you in a refund. It goes directly to insurers.
Obama's law is the biggest thing that's happened to health care since Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. But with open enrollment for exchange plans less than 10 months away, there's a dearth of consumer information. It's as if the consumer angle got drowned out by the political world's dispute over "Obamacare," the dismissive label coined by Republican foes.
Yet exchanges are coming to every state, even those led by staunch GOP opponents of the overhaul, such as Govs. Rick Perry of Texas and Nikki Haley of South Carolina. In their states and close to 20 others that are objecting, the exchanges will be operated by the federal government, over state opposition. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has pledged that every citizen will have access to an exchange come next Jan. 1, and few doubt her word.
But what's starting to dawn on Obama administration officials, activists, and important players in the health care industry is that the lack of consumer involvement, unless reversed, could turn the big health care launch into a dud. What if Obama cut the ribbon and nobody cared?
"The people who stand to benefit the most are the least aware of the changes that are coming," said Rachel Klein, executive director of Enroll America, a nonprofit that's trying to generate consumer enthusiasm.
"My biggest fear is that we get to Oct. 1 and people haven't heard there is help coming, and they won't benefit from it as soon as they can," she added. "I think it is a realistic fear."
Even the term "exchange" could be a stumbling block. It was invented by policy nerds. Although the law calls them "American Health Benefit Exchanges," Sebelius is starting to use the term "marketplaces" instead.
Polls underscore the concerns. A national survey last October found that only 37 percent of the uninsured said they would personally be better off because of the health care law. Twenty-three percent said they would be worse off in the Kaiser poll, while 31 percent said it would make no difference to them.
Insurers, hospitals, drug companies and other businesses that stand to benefit from the hundreds of billions of dollars the government will pump in to subsidize coverage aren't waiting for Washington to educate the public.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, for example, are trying to carve out a new role for themselves as explainers of the exchanges. Somewhere around 12 million people now purchase coverage individually, but the size of the market could double or triple with the new approach, and taxpayers will underwrite it.
"Consumers are expecting their health insurance provider to be a helpful navigator to them," said Maureen Sullivan, a senior vice president for the Blues' national association. "We see 2013 as a huge year for education."
One goal is to help consumers master the "metals," the four levels of coverage that will be available through exchange plans — bronze, silver, gold, and platinum.
Blue Cross is also working with tax preparer H&R Block, which is offering its customers a health insurance checkup at no additional charge this tax season. Returns filed this year for 2012 will be used by the government to help determine premium subsidies for 2014.
"This tax season is one of historical significance," said Meg Sutton, senior advisor for tax and health care at H&R Block. "The tax return you are filing is going to be key to determining your health care benefits on the exchange."
Only one state, Massachusetts, now has an exchange resembling what the administration wants to see around the country. With six years in business, the Health Connector enrolls about 240,000 Massachusetts residents. It was created under the health overhaul plan passed by former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney and has gotten generally positive reviews.
Connector customer Robert Schultz is a Boston area startup business consultant who got his MBA in 2008, when the economy was tanking. Yet he was able to find coverage when he graduated and hang on to his insurance through job changes since. Schultz says that's freed him to pursue his ambition of becoming a successful entrepreneur — a job creator instead of an employee.
"It's being portrayed by opponents as being socialistic," Schultz said.. "It is only socialistic in the sense of making sure that everybody in society is covered, because the cost of making sure everybody is covered in advance is much less than the cost of putting out fires."
The Connector's executive director, Glen Shor, said his state has proven the concept works and he's confident other states can succeed on their own terms.
"There is no backing away from all the challenges associated with expanding coverage," Shor said. "We are proud in Massachusetts that we overcame what had been years of policy paralysis."

Hey, don't laugh ...

Liberated Malians celebrate, French-led forces clear Timbuktu

Residents of Mali's northern town of Gao, captured from sharia-observing Islamist rebels by French and Malian troops, danced in the streets to drums and music on Sunday as the French-led offensive also drove the rebels from Timbuktu.The weekend gains made at Gao and Timbuktu by the French and Malian troops capped a two-week whirlwind intervention by France in its former Sahel colony, which has driven al Qaeda-allied militant fighters northwards into the desert and mountains.
In Gao, the largest town in the north where the Islamist insurgents had banned music and smoking, cut off the hands of thieves and ordered women to wear veils, thousands cheered the liberating troops with shouts of "Mali, Mali, France, France".
French special forces backed by Rafale fighter jets and Tiger helicopters had helped capture the town early on Saturday.
Among the celebrating Gao crowds, many smoked cigarettes, women went unveiled and some men wore shorts to flout the severe sharia Islamic law the rebels had imposed for months. Youths on motorcycles flew the flags of Mali, France and Niger, whose troops also helped secure the ancient town on the Niger River.
"Now we can breathe freely," said Hawa Toure, 25, wearing a colorful traditional African robe banned under sharia for being too revealing. "We are as free as the wind today. We thank all of our friends around the world who helped us," she said.
French and Malian troops also arrived at the weekend at the fabled Saharan trading town of Timbuktu, more than 300 km (190 miles) to the west of Gao, and were working to restore government control over the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A Malian military source said the French and Malian troops had met no resistance up to the gates of Timbuktu and controlled the airport. They were working on flushing out any Islamist rebel fighters still hiding in the city, a labyrinth of ancient mosques and monuments and mud-brick homes between alleys.
"Timbuktu is delicate, you can't just go in like that," the source, who asked not to be named, said.
A third northern town, the Tuareg seat of Kidal, in Mali's rugged and remote northeast, remains in rebel hands.
The United States and Europe are backing the U.N.-mandated Mali operation as a counterstrike against the threat of radical Islamist jihadists using the West African state's inhospitable Sahara desert as a launch pad for international attacks.
Fighters from the Islamist alliance in north Mali, which groups AQIM with Malian Islamist group Ansar Dine and AQIM splinter MUJWA, had destroyed ancient shrines sacred to moderate Sufi Moslems in Timbuktu, provoking international outrage.
They had also applied amputations for thieves and stoning of adulterers under sharia law.
As the French and Malian troops push into northern Mali, African troops from a continental intervention force expected to number 7,700 are being flown into the country, despite delays due to logistical problems and the lack of airlift capacity.
France sent warplanes and 2,500 troops to Mali after its government appealed to Paris for help when Islamist rebels launched an offensive south towards the capital Bamako early in January. They seized several towns, since retaken by the French.
In the face of the two-week-old French-Malian counter offensive, the rebels seemed to be pulling back north into the trackless desert wastes and mountain fastnesses of the Sahara.
Military experts fear they could carry on a grueling hit-and-run guerrilla war against the government from there.
A leader of Mali's main Tuareg insurgent movement, MNLA, whose initial separatist rebellion in the north was hijacked by al Qaeda and its local Malian allies, offered help from his group's desert fighters to the French-led offensive.
Speaking at Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh said the MNLA was preparing to attack the withdrawing al Qaeda-allied Islamist forces and its leaders, whom he said were hiding in the Tidmane and Tigharghar mountains in Kidal region.
At Konna, 500 km (312 miles) southeast of Gao and recently recaptured from the rebels, some people were still afraid.
"No-one believes the rebels will give up without resisting. They may be regrouping for an attack, there is fear of a guerrilla war," said Salou Toure, a middle-aged resident of Timbuktu who had fled that town three months ago.
In Gao, the atmosphere was jubilant. Malian army Colonel Didier Dacko declared the town "liberated"."I thank France and all friendly nations for helping Mali," he told the crowds.
Gao Mayor Sadou Diallo, who had taken refuge in Bamako during the Islamist occupation, was triumphantly reinstalled.
Around a dozen "terrorists" were killed in the taking of Gao, while French forces suffered no losses or injuries, France's defense ministry said.
Youths in the city said there were still some rebels and rebel sympathizers around, but they were being found. "Yesterday, even, we found one hiding in a house. We cut his throat," one man said, asking not to be named. "Today we found another and we brought him to the army."
Human rights groups have expressed fears of violent reprisals being taken against lighter-skinned Malians suspected of sympathizing with the Islamist rebels, who have many Tuaregs and Arabs in their ranks.
At an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, outgoing AU chairman Thomas Boni Yayi, president of Benin, criticized Africa's slow response to the Islamist insurgency in Mali.
"How could it be that when faced with a danger that threatens its very foundations, Africa, although it had the means to defend itself, continued to wait," Yayi said.
Around 1,900 African troops, including Chadian, have been deployed to Mali so far as part of the planned U.N.-backed African intervention force, known as AFISMA. Burkina Faso, Benin, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Niger and Chad are providing troops. Burundi and other nations have pledged to contribute.
The United States and Europe, while providing airlift and intelligence support to the anti-militant offensive in Mali, are not planning to send in any combat troops. Washington agreed to fly tankers to refuel French warplanes.
The AU is expected to seek hundreds of millions of dollars in logistical support and funding for the African Mali force at a conference of donors to be held in Addis Ababa on January 29.
European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs told Reuters in Addis Ababa he believed enough funds would be offered to sustain the African troop intervention for a year.
Piebalgs added the latest estimated cost of the operation he had seen was 430 million euros ($579.42 million).

Some never learn ...

A Humorous Tale

            Queen Elizabeth was visiting sick children in a Scottish hospital, and after performing her planned duties, she wandered off to other parts of the hospital.  Walking into an unidentified ward, she went up to a patient in bed and asked him how he was doing.  He replied:
"O, my luve is like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June.
O, my luve is like the melodie,
That's sweetly played in tune....."
Finding the response somewhat inappropriate she wished him good day and moved down the ward to a room where another man was sitting quietly.  In response to her inquiry, he began singing:
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min' ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o' lang syne ?"
            Somewhat baffled by this sequence of events she found a third room, where her greeting was met with:
"Wee, sleekit, cowrin', tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie ...."
            She gave up, and left the ward.  On her way out, she encountered the head nurse.  "Is this the psychiatric ward?" she asked.
            "No, your majesty," the nurse replied.  "It's......the Burns unit."

So, you think your relatives are bad ...

The Classics

The State of Franklin

In 1784, residents of western North Carolina, feeling isolated by the mountains surrounding them, formed their own independent state.
On a frigid afternoon in February 1788, Col. John Sevier, a Revolutionary War hero and political leader in the mountains of western North Carolina, spurred his horse toward a farm on the banks of a stream called Sinking Creek.
With him were more than 100 armed men. As they reached the homestead, Sevier ordered them to fan out and encircle the house. Inside, Col. John Tipton, another prominent Revolutionary War veteran, watched the force surround his home. Trapped with him were his family and his own group of armed men — but, far outnumbered, they were too few to break through Sevier’s lines.
The two sides locked into a siege, muskets trained on one another across the frozen ground. Demands for surrender passed both ways, but all were rebuffed. The standoff would end only with the roar of gunfire.
The siege on Sinking Creek brought to a climax a strange and little-remembered episode in our state’s history. Sevier and Tipton, former compatriots in the war against the British, were now implacable foes, the principal adversaries in the struggle over an enclave carved out of northwestern North Carolina that its supporters sought to make the new nation’s 14th state — “the lost state” of Franklin.

Tipping point

After the smoke of the Revolutionary War had cleared and the giddiness of newly won independence had faded, North Carolina faced numerous challenges, not the least of which was crushing debt. One partial solution was to cede the western part of the state — which ran all the way to the Mississippi River — to the federal government. The state legislature (many of whose members, not coincidentally, stood to gain financially from the transaction) voted in the spring of 1784 to cede the land west of the Appalachians to the United States. The action proved the tipping point for many of the residents of the remote region. Independent by nature and separated from the rest of the state by the nearly impassable mountains, many felt they were North Carolinians in name only, and that the costs — that is, taxes — of being within the state outstripped the benefits.
Some were calling to establish an independent state that could provide the region better services and stouter protection in conflicts with the Cherokee. When North Carolina cut the region free by ceding it to the federal government, supporters of statehood seized the opportunity to determine their own destiny.
In August 1784, a gathering of prominent residents, including Sevier and Tipton, met in the town of Jonesborough and voted to begin the process of creating a free and independent state.
The effort nearly failed before it was born when the North Carolina legislature, its balance of power altered in recent elections, reversed course and repealed the Cession Act, again claiming dominion over its western lands. North Carolina had no intention of letting the rough-hewn mountain counties go their own way.
But once lit, the fires of independence were not easily doused. The leaders of the breakaway region met again in December 1784 and, after strenuous debate, voted to establish the new state. They named the new entity Franklin, in honor of Benjamin Franklin (although some called it the similar-sounding “Frankland,” which meant, through a bit of a linguistic stretch, “Land of the Free”). Sevier, the most prominent of the delegates, initially opposed the statehood movement. A descendant of the French Huguenots, he rose to prominence as an American Indian fighter, political leader, and hero of the Revolutionary War battle at Kings Mountain.
But Sevier was soon persuaded of the rightness of independence, and, in early 1785, Franklin’s delegates elected him to be its first — and only — governor. Once committed, Sevier took to the cause with fervor.
Sentiment for statehood was by no means unanimous, especially after North Carolina’s repeal of cession, and Franklin’s declaration of independence split the region into two factions. As Sevier took up the standard for statehood, Tipton rose to lead the opposition.
Like Sevier, Tipton was a well-known veteran and political leader, and he, too, changed sides early in the debate over the new state, transforming from initial support to fierce opposition.
Convinced that the repeal of cession rendered independent statehood moot, Tipton offered his services to North Carolina. The mother state accepted, and he set himself on a mission to destroy Franklin and return the region to the state’s fold.
Meanwhile, Franklin set about the heady business of independence. Under Governor Sevier, the fledgling state held elections, established a legislature, and adopted a constitution (after rejecting an earlier version that would have been truly revolutionary — it would have barred lawyers, among others, from being elected to public office). Franklin established a judicial system, set taxes, annexed land, incorporated new counties, and made treaties with the Cherokee.

Parallel governments

Back east, the North Carolina government did not look kindly upon these developments. Gov. Alexander Martin warned Franklin’s leaders to end their “revolt” and acquiesce to the authority of the mother state.
Nevertheless, the state declined to send troops across the mountains to enforce its rule. The state instead exerted its authority by establishing its own legislative, judicial, and economic systems within the region.
The result was a bizarre arrangement of parallel governments. In any given settlement there was likely to be a Franklin court and a North Carolina court, a Franklin sheriff and a North Carolina sheriff, a Franklin justice of the peace and a North Carolina justice of the peace. Small wonder that residents felt divided. To which state did they owe their allegiance, not to mention their tax dollars? To which courthouse should they go to get married or file a land deed?
The competing bureaucracies exacerbated rising tensions between the Franklinites and the Tiptonites, as the state’s opponents were called. The political differences between Sevier and Tipton hardened into a bitter personal feud, and the rift between the two factions grew wider and more adversarial. Tipton led raids on Franklin courthouses, seizing court papers and booting out judges; Sevier and his supporters retaliated in kind. On one occasion, their rivalry erupted in fisticuffs, and the two leaders brawled until they were pulled apart.
At the same time, a war of correspondence and speech was under way, as Franklin appealed to North Carolina to let it go in peace, and North Carolina sought to reclaim the region without bloodshed, offering amnesty and other incentives if Franklin would abandon its quixotic quest.
Franklin sought support from all quarters, including a peculiar dalliance with Spain. Everywhere it was disappointed. Its petition to Congress seeking admission as the country’s 14th state fell short of the two-thirds majority needed. The state’s namesake, Benjamin Franklin, declined to offer his blessing, as did Thomas Jefferson. If it succeeded, Jefferson wrote, “Our states will crumble into atoms by the spirit of establishing every little canton into a separate state.”
Franklin was in limbo, able to count on security and assistance from neither North Carolina nor the United States. Alone and wrought by internal divisions, the new state found its never-solid foundations growing increasingly wobbly. Political turmoil, bloody clashes with the Cherokee, and the failure to win external support threatened to bring Franklin crashing down.

Final collapse

The crisis came to a head in February 1788. Tipton, determined to bring Sevier to heel, ordered Sheriff Jonathan Pugh to seize Sevier’s slaves and livestock as payment for taxes owed to North Carolina. He had Pugh secure the seized assets at Tipton’s own homestead.
Sevier was preparing to lead an expedition against the Cherokee when he got wind of what had happened. He immediately led his force of Franklin militia to Tipton’s farm and surrounded it.
For two days the sides faced each other, frozen in stalemate, until February 29, when a large party of Tiptonite militia from Sullivan County rode to rescue the besieged leader. They pitched into the outer ring of Sevier’s troops, and Tipton and his men broke from the homestead and launched a supporting attack. Sevier’s command crumbled, and his men fled.
Several men, including Pugh, died in the fight, and several others were injured. Tipton captured two of Sevier’s sons and threatened to hang them before cooler heads prevailed.
Sevier escaped, but a warrant for his arrest for treason was issued. In November 1788, Tipton caught up with him in Jonesborough and arrested him.
Upon Sevier’s defeat, the state he led finally collapsed. It took awhile for the last few embers of independence to die out, but by 1789 the rebellious region was once again firmly under North Carolina’s control.
In the aftermath, North Carolina showed leniency. Sevier was pardoned and soon was elected to the legislature to represent the very region he had led in secession.
North Carolina again ceded the western territory to the United States, and in 1796 the counties that had formed the state of Franklin, along with the lands stretching westward to the Mississippi, finally were admitted to the Union as an independent state — Tennessee.
The victor in the struggle over Franklin, John Tipton, was subsequently elected a state senator in Tennessee. The new state’s first governor? John Sevier.

New York’s Real Speakeasies of the 1920s and ’30s

New York City's nightlife was hopping even during Prohibition. The clubs of the '20s and '30s ranged from glamorous to seedy to dangerous. The most famous had stories to tell, of celebrities, mobsters, and murder.
El Fey owner Larry Fay’s other venture, the Casa Blanca Club, was a haven for gangsters that started to lose popularity in 1931. On New Year’s Day in 1932, Fay announced to his staff that they’d be getting a 30% pay cut. The doorman wasn’t too pleased, and came at Fay that night with a gun, shooting him dead and putting a permanent end to Fay’s bootlegging and racketeering career.
Some of those nightclubs are still open today. Read about ten of them at Flavorwire .

"Beaker vessels" for drinking holly extract

Coffee had not yet arrived in Europe from southern Arabia when Spanish explorers came to the southeastern United States and discovered that Native Americans were already drinking a highly caffeinated beverage. Called Black Drink, it was made from the toasted leaves of two species of llex (holly) and was used by many tribes as part of purification rituals that also included fasting and vomiting...

By analyzing residue left in the beaker vessels dating to as early as A.D. 1050 from which Black Drink was consumed, Crown’s team has shown that the local population of Cahokia, the largest pre-Columbian site north of Mexico, had in fact been imbibing the potent potable 500 years earlier than previously thought.

The 6000 year old kiss

A 6000 year old kiss. Hasanlu, Iran.

Random Photo

Billions in gas drilling royalties transform lives

In this Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 photo, Shawn Georgetti climbs out of his John Deere tractor on his 167-acre family dairy farm in Avella, Pa. With royalties from a Range Resources gas well on his property, Georgetti has been able to buy newer farm equipment that's bigger, faster, and more fuel-efficient. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) 
Private landowners are reaping billions of dollars in royalties each year from the boom in natural gas drilling, transforming lives and livelihoods even as the windfall provides only a modest boost to the broader economy.
In Pennsylvania alone, royalty payments could top $1.2 billion for 2012, according to an Associated Press analysis that looked at state tax information, production records and estimates from the National Association of Royalty Owners.
For some landowners, the unexpected royalties have made a big difference.
"We used to have to put stuff on credit cards. It was basically living from paycheck to paycheck," said Shawn Georgetti, who runs a family dairy farm in Avella, about 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.
Natural gas production has boomed in many states over the past few years as advances in drilling opened up vast reserves buried in deep shale rock, such as the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania and the Barnett in Texas.
Nationwide, the royalty owners association estimates, natural gas royalties totaled $21 billion in 2010, the most recent year for which it has done a full analysis. Texas paid out the most in gas royalties that year, about $6.7 billion, followed by Wyoming at $2 billion and Alaska at $1.9 billion.
Exact estimates of natural gas royalty payments aren't possible because contracts and wholesale prices of gas vary, and specific tax information is private. But some states release estimates of the total revenue collected for all royalties, and feedback on thousands of contracts has led the royalty owners association to conclude that the average royalty is 18.5 percent of gas production.
"Our fastest-growing state chapter is our Pennsylvania chapter, and we just formed a North Dakota chapter. We've seen a lot of new people, and new questions," said Jerry Simmons, the director of the association, which was founded in 1980 and is based in Oklahoma.
Simmons said he hasn't heard of anyone getting less than 12.5 percent, and that's also the minimum rate set by law in Pennsylvania. Simmons knows of one contract in another state where the owner received 25 percent of production, but that's unusual.
By comparison, a 10 to 25 percent range is similar to what a top recording artist might get in royalties from CD sales, while a novelist normally gets a 12.5 percent to 15 percent royalty on hardcover book sales.
Simmons added that for oil and gas "there is no industry standard," since the royalty is often adjusted based on the per-acre signing bonus a landowner receives. While many people are lured by higher upfront bonuses, a higher royalty rate can generate more total income over the life of a well, which can stretch for 25 years.
Before Range Resources drilled a well on the family property in 2012, Georgetti said, he was stuck using 30-year-old equipment, with no way to upgrade without going seriously into debt.
"You don't have that problem anymore. It's a lot more fun to farm," Georgetti said, since he has been able to buy newer equipment that's bigger, faster and more fuel-efficient. The drilling hasn't caused any problems for the farm, he said.
Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said the Oklahoma-based company has paid "well over" $1 billion to Pennsylvania landowners, with most of that coming since 2008.
One economist noted that the windfall payments from the natural gas boom are wonderful for individuals, but that they represent just a tiny portion of total economic activity.
For example, the $1 billion for Pennsylvania landowners sounds like a lot, but "it's just not going to have a big impact on the overall vitality of the overall economy," said Robert Inman, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school. "I think the issue is, what difference does it make for the individual families?"
7/87/87/8Pennsylvania's total gross domestic product in 2011 was about $500 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Inman noted that total gas industry hiring and investment can have a far bigger effect on a state or region, and companies have invested tens of billions of dollars just in Pennsylvania on pipelines, infrastructure, and drilling in recent years.
For example, in North Dakota the shale oil and minerals boom contributed 2.8 percent of GDP growth to the entire state economy in 2011, according to Commerce Department data.
Another variable in how much royalty owners actually receive is the wholesale price of gas. That has dropped significantly over the past two years even as production has boomed in Pennsylvania and many other states. Average wholesale prices went from about $4.50 per unit of gas in 2010 to about $3 in 2012. For many leaseholders, that meant a decline in royalties.
The boom in natural gas royalties has even led to niche spinoff companies that look for lease heirs who don't even know they're owed money.
Michael Zwick is president of Assets International, a Michigan company that searches for missing heirs.
"It was an underserved niche," Zwick said of oil and gas leases. When a company can't find an heir to lease royalties, the money often goes to state unclaimed property funds.
Zwick said he has found a few dozen people whose gas lease money was being held in escrow, including one who was owed about $250,000 in drilling royalties. But the average amount, he said, is far lower.

Distant rural areas may feel cities' heat

FILE - In this July 18, 2012 file photo, the Empire State, MetLife and Chrysler buildings are seen against a hazy backdrop in New York. Heat rising up from cities such as New York, Paris and Tokyo might be remotely warming up winters far away in some rural parts of Alaska, Canada, and Siberia. At least thatís what a surprising study suggests. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)  
Heat rising up from cities such as New York, Paris and Tokyo might be remotely warming up winters far away in some rural parts of Alaska, Canada, and Siberia, a surprising study theorizes.
In an unusual twist, that same urban heat from buildings and cars may be slightly cooling the autumns in much of the Western United States, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, according to the study published Sunday in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.
Meteorologists long have known that cities are warmer than rural areas, with the heat of buildings and cars, along with asphalt and roofs that absorb heat. That's called the urban heat island effect and it's long been thought that the heat stayed close to the cities.
But the study, based on a computer model and the Northern Hemisphere, now suggests the heat does something else, albeit indirectly. It travels about half a mile up into the air and then its energy changes the high-altitude currents in the atmosphere that dictate prevailing weather.
"Basically, it changes the flow." said Guang Zhang of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. He wrote the paper with Aixue Hu at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
This doesn't change overall global temperature averages significantly, unlike man-made greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Instead it redistributes some of the heat, the scientists said.
The changes seem to vary with the seasons and by region because of the way air currents flow at different times of the year. During the winter, the jet stream is altered and weakened, keeping cold air closer to the Arctic Circle and from dipping down as sharply, Hu explained.
The computer model showed that parts of Siberia and northwestern Canada may get, on average, an extra 1.4 degrees to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 to 1 degree Celsius) during the winter, which "may not be a bad thing," Zhang said. The effect isn't quite as much in northern North Dakota and Minnesota, where temperatures might be about half a degree warmer (0.3 degrees Celsius), and even less along the East Coast.
In contrast, Europe and the Pacific Northwest are cooled slightly in the winter from this effect. The jet stream changes prevent weather systems from bringing warmer air from the Atlantic to Europe and from the Pacific to the U.S. Northwest, thus cooling those areas a bit, he said.
The biggest cooling occurs in the fall, but Hu said he's not quite sure why that happens.
Several outside scientists said they were surprised by the study results, calling the work "intriguing" and "clever." But they said it would have to be shown in more than one computer model and in repeated experiments before they could accept this theory.
"It's an interesting and rationally carried out study," said David Parker, climate monitoring chief of the United Kingdom meteorology office. "We must be cautious until other models are used to test their hypothesis."

Shaving Cream Prank or Ship Tracks?

New image from space shows foamy tracks all over the northeastern Pacific Ocean. It looks like aliens vandalized the planet with shaving cream, but it's really ship exhaust tracks seeding clouds. Lots of clouds!

On Mars, Dry Ice 'Smoke' Carves Up Sand Dunes

The discovery reinforces the dynamic nature of the Mars surface.

Awesome Pictures

Surreal Arctic Creatures

Wired Magazine published very insightful interview with the Arctic biologist and photographer Alexander Semenov, complete with the spectacular gallery of exotic sea creatures:

Whales Adopt a Deformed Dolphin

While observing sperm whales in the Azores, ecologists Alexander Wilson and Jens Krause of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology noticed something unusual and heartwarming: a group of sperm whales adopting a deformed bottlenose dolphin.
The interaction puzzled the scientists, because sperm whales aren't known for their friendliness with other species. Are the whales protecting the dolphins from predator? Or using it to help forage for food? Wilson doesn't think so - instead, he concludes that they're friends:
“Really, it seems that, somehow, either one or both parties derive some social benefit, whether it be social play, or just some way to relax and interact with another cetacean.”
Wilson also pointed out that the dolphin’s malformed spine, similar to scoliosis, suggests he was bullied or harassed by other dolphins and sought social refuge in the group of whales.
“In dolphin groups, there are strong hierarchies, with dominant individuals and less dominant individuals. They tend to be very fast,” he said. “It just might be that this dolphin with scoliosis wasn’t as fast or was lower on the pecking order.”
He added that sperm whales may be misunderstood – perhaps they’ve just never been given a fair shot at inter-species mingling.
“It may not that sperm whales don’t normally do this type of behaviour, it may be that sperm whales don’t necessarily often encounter another species that would desire such a relationship.”
There is more: Here.

Dolphins form life raft with their bodies to help dying dolphin breathe

More amazing video of dolphins, this time working together as a group, as opposed to the video I posted the other day about a dolphin seeking help from scuba divers in Hawaii. While last time the dolphin seemed to be trying to get help from man, this time the dolphins were filmed working together to try to save a dolphin comrade’s life.
I can think of people who wouldn’t even volunteer to help someone in need, let alone “animals.”
If you like nature, click through and read it all, because it’s a fascinating article.
New Scientist:
Note the one dolphin’s snout above water – this appears to be the dying dolphin that’s being helped to stay afloat.
The other dolphins crowded around it, often diving beneath it and supporting it from below. After about 30 minutes, the dolphins formed into an impromptu raft: they swam side by side with the injured female on their backs. By keeping the injured female above water, they may have helped it to breathe, avoiding drowning (see video, above).
After another few minutes some of the helper dolphins left. The injured dolphin soon dropped into a vertical position. The remaining helpers appeared to try and prop it up, possibly to keep its head above the surface, but it soon stopped breathing, say the researchers. Five dolphins stayed with it and continued touching its body, until it sank out of sight.
“It does look like quite a sophisticated way of keeping the companion up in the water,” says Karen McComb at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK. Such helping behaviours are only seen in intelligent, long-lived socialMovie Camera animals. In most species, injured animals are quickly left behind.

Animal Pictures


steller’s sea eagle
(photo by igor shipilenok)