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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.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Daily Drift

No, that it is not!

Some of our readers today have been in:
Nicosia, Cyprus
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Istanbul, Turkey
Minsk, Belarus
Puchong, Malaysia
Cape Town, South Africa
Reykjavik, Island
Makhambet, Kazahistan
Pretoria, South Africa
Montevideo, Uruguay
Sanaa, Yemen
Slough, England
Panevezys, Lithuania
Tunis, Tunisia
Sejny, Poland
Makati, Philippines
Belgrade, Serbia
Szczecin, Poland
Davao, Philippines
Manama, Bahrain
Tirana, Albania
Lagos, Nigeria
Cheria, Algeria
Swarzedz, Poland
Bangor, Wales
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Bordeaux, France
Chorzow, Poland
Johannesburg, South Africa
Tawau, Malaysia
Jakarta, Indonesia
Ankara, Turkey
San Jose, Costa Rica
Randburg, South Africa
Sandakan, Malaysia

Today is World Nutella Day

Don't forget to visit our sister blog!

Today in History

1556 Henry II of France and Philip of Spain sign the truce of Vaucelles.
1631 A ship from Bristol, the Lyon, arrives with provisions for the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
1762 Martinique, a major French base in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies, surrenders to the British.
1783 Sweden recognizes U.S. independence.
1846 The first Pacific Coast newspaper, Oregon Spectator, is published.
1864 Federal forces occupy Jackson, Miss.
1865 The three-day Battle of Hatcher's Run, Va., begins.
1900 The United States and Great Britain sign the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, giving the United States the right to build a canal in Nicaragua but not to fortify it.
1917 U.S. Congress nullifies President Woordrow Wilson's veto of the Immigration Act; literacy tests are required.
1918 The Soviets proclaim separation of church and state.
1922 The Reader's Digest begins publication in New York.
1922 William Larned's steel-framed tennis racquet gets its first test.
1945 American and French troops destroy German forces in the Colmar Pocket in France.
1947 The Soviet Union and Great Britain reject terms for an American trusteeship over Japanese Pacific Isles.
1952 New York adopts three-colored traffic lights.
1961 The Soviets launch Sputnik V, the heaviest satellite to date at 7.1 tons.
1968 U.S. troops divide Viet Cong at Hue while the Saigon government claims they will arm loyal citizens.
1971 Two Apollo 14 astronauts walk on the moon.
1972 It is reported that the United States has agreed to sell 42 F-4 Phantom jets to Israel.
1974 Patty Hearst is kidnapped at gunpoint.
1985 U.S. halts a loan to Chile in protest over human rights abuses.

Non Sequitur


While Leading the Laziest House in History, John Boehner Tells Obama To Do His Job

Boehner confused
John Boehner leads one half of the most unproductive Congress in history; yet, today he told President Obama to do his job.

In the ultimate blame Obama statement, Boehner said:
For the fourth time in five years this White House has proven it does not take trillion-dollar deficits seriously enough to submit a budget on time. In contrast, repugicans will meet our obligations and pass another budget in the coming weeks that addresses our spending problem, promotes robust job creation, and expands opportunity for all Americans. The president’s Senate now must pass a budget this year for the first time in nearly four years, or lose its pay. It’s long past time for the president to do his job. This week, the House will act on a measure requiring the president to submit a balanced budget, and we hope he uses this opportunity to offer the American people his plan to do that.
John Boehner leads a House of Representatives that is one half of the most unproductive Congress in the history of the country. The nation might be able to get things done if the House was in session for more than 124 days this year, and House repugicans would stop passing bills that have no hope of surviving the Senate.
Speaker Boehner and his fellow House repugicans are the equivalent of the lazy relative who is living on your couch and eating all of your food. Except, these moochers on our national couch are costing the taxpayers millions of dollars in salary and benefits each year.
The terrible advice that John Boehner is currently following is coming from Paul Ryan. Rep. Ryan (r-PX90) is the one telling House repugicans that they need to focus on the budget and the deficit. In reality, all of this budget babble coming from the House is all about trying to find something to blame on President Obama.
However, telling the president to do his job while you are leading a legislative body that has accomplished absolutely nothing is a strategy that is destined to highlight the House repugicans’ own ineptitude.
While Obama is trying to make immigration reform and gun control a reality, John Boehner is leading a body that recently tried to repeal Obamacare for the 34th time.
Apparently, irony is completely lost on Speaker Boehner.

Anonymous publishes login, contact info, for 4,000 top US bankers

“Anonymous” to Mexican drug lords: Release kidnapped hacker or we’ll publish your secret operatives

Anonymous’ move was, in part, a response to the suicide of hacker Aaron Swartz.

From ZDNet we learn that the group Anonymous seems to have struck a blow in retaliation, in part, for the suicide of hacker Aaron Swartz.  Anonymous reportedly published online log-in information, and cell phone numbers, among other information, belonging to 4,000 top American bankers.
From ZDNet:
Following attacks on U.S. government websites last weekend, Anonymous seems to have made a new “Operation Last Resort” .gov website strike Sunday night.
Anonymous appears to have published login and private information from over 4,000 American bank executive accounts in the name of its new Operation Last Resort campaign, demanding U.S. computer crime law reform.
A spreadsheet has been published on a .gov website allegedly containing login information and credentials, IP addresses, and contact information of American bank executives.
If true, it could be that Anonymous has released banker information that could be connected to Federal Reserve computers, including contact information and cell phone numbers for U.S. bank Presidents, Vice Presidents, COO’s Branch Managers, VP’s and more.
We’d written about Swartz’s case earlier:
On January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested by federal authorities in connection with systematic downloading of academic journal articles from JSTOR. Swartz opposed JSTOR’s practice of compensating publishers, rather than authors, out of the fees it charges for access to articles. Swartz contended that JSTOR’s fees were limiting public access to academic work that was being supported by public funding.
Swartz subsequently committed suicide.  Many believe it was instigated, in part, by his over-zealous prosecution.
This is the latest high-profile move by the amorphous, secretive Internet group.

Americans overwhelmingly prefer raising payroll taxes & increasing Social Security benefits

This should come as no surprise, but the data is now in. While 'Our Betters' have converged on the idea of lower taxes for themselves and benefit cuts for recipients of social insurance programs — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid — the people they govern have converged on just the opposite idea.Americans overwhelmingly want to increase payroll taxes and sweeten the benefits paid out.

Via NASI, the National Academy of Social Insurance:
Americans support Social Security and are willing to pay more to preserve and even improve benefits, according to a new survey released today by the nonpartisan National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI).
The new study, Strengthening Social Security: What Do Americans Want? (pdf), finds a sharp contrast between what Americans say they want and changes being discussed in Washington, such as cutting benefits by using a “chained” Consumer Price Index to determine Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
Large majorities of Americans, both repugicans and Democrats, agree on ways to strengthen Social Security — without cutting benefits. Fully 74% of repugicans and 88% of Democrats agree that “it is critical to preserve Social Security even if it means increasing Social Security taxes paid by working Americans.”
When asked the same question about increasing Social Security taxes for better-off Americans, 71% of repugicans and 97% of Democrats agree. Social Security taxes are paid by workers and their employers on earnings up to a cap ($113,700 in 2013). About 5% of workers earn more than the cap.
That “5% of workers” who earn more than the salary cap are, of course, our wealthiest workers — and also the beneficiaries of the post-Reagan economic policies.
From the report itself (page 1), we find:
■ Americans don’t mind paying for Social Security because they value it for themselves (80%), for their families (78%), and for the security and stability it provides to millions of retired Americans, disabled individuals, and children and widowed spouses of deceased workers (84%).
84% believe current Social Security benefits do not provide enough income for retirees, and 75% believe we should consider raising future Social Security benefits in order to provide a more secure retirement for working Americans.
■ 82% agree it is critical to preserve Social Security for future generations even if it means increasing Social Security taxes paid by working Americans, and 87% want to preserve Social Security for future generations even if it means increasing taxes paid by wealthier Americans.
The consensus is stunning. For the following “package of changes” …
Gradually, over 10 years, eliminate the cap on earnings that are taxed for Social Security. This would mean that the 5% of workers who earn more than the cap ($110,100 in 2012; $113,700 in 2013) would pay into Social Security throughout the year, as other workers do.
Gradually, over 20 years, raise the Social Security tax rate that workers and employers each pay from 6.2% of earnings to 7.2%. A worker earning $50,000 a year would pay about 50 cents a week more each year.
Raise Social Security’s basic minimum benefit so that someone who paid into Social Security for 30 years can retire at 62 or later and not be poor.
Increase Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to more accurately reflect the level of inflation experienced by seniors.
… this is the consensus that prefers it (Figure 1, page 2):
Support for SS Perferred Package (NASI report, fig 1)
The bipartisan desire to sustain and grow this program is real, and Mr. Obama and other Democratic “entitlement” fetishists better understand that. This is still the third rail of American politics.

Centrism 101 — There are two “centrist” positions, not just one

I’ll keep this short, since it should be obvious. Let’s call it Centrism 101. People who perform on TV are fond of talking about the “centrist” position, or the “bipartisan consensus” on various economic matters. This presumes a vertical left-right divide with some kind of center between them.
The real divide in this country is not Left versus Right — it’s the Rich versus the Rest. It’s the horizontal division between the people taking all the money they can, and those they’re taking it from.
Among the rich, there’s a widely-agreed center position — more for us, less for everyone else on the planet.
As the poll above makes very clear, there’s also a widely-agreed center position among the rest of us — keep your stinking hands off of our last protection against poverty.
Oddly, those positions seem to be in conflict, but they are still both “centrist” positions. You just have to ask “the center of what?” The rich agree with each other on money matters; they just don’t agree with us.

Did you know ...

That ending corporate tax dodging would cut the deficit twice as much as raising medicare age.

The truth be told

The NRA: Beholden to Gun Manufacturers and Betrayers of Their Country

guns Teabagger
An error stemming from ignorance, misinformation, or sheer delusion is sometimes labeled a formal fallacy or simply an invalid argument, and in America, it is the identifying feature of a segment of the population steeped in paranoia that government tyranny threatens their existence. Most sane human beings rightly categorize paranoid anti-government advocates as delusional, and hardly consider them a threat to society, but after the tea party inflicted damage on the nation over the past two years, most Americans realized political power in the hands of lunatics is as great a threat to America as a foreign invader. The 2012 election gave voters an opportunity to marginalize the tea party, but instead of reconsidering the efficacy of their anti-government rhetoric and tempering their outrage, they have embraced the National Rifle Association’s “tyrannical government” oratory and are threatening armed resistance against the government.
Since the Newtown school massacre in December, the national gun control discussion incited the tea party to ignore the immigration and budget debate in Congress leaving just one thing on their agenda; guns. The idea of background checks, limiting access to assault weapons, and high-capacity magazines to reduce gun violence is adding fuel to the teabaggers’ fallacy their rights are being trampled and is increasing the anti-government paranoia that drove the movement in 2009. Around the country, tea party leaders are using the gun debate as a new rallying cry for the movement’s anticipated resurgence with a wave of protests to decry “tyranny of the Obama Administration” that drives teabagger anti-government rage.
The NRA leadership droning on that the Obama Administration is waging a war on the Second Amendment has led disaffected patriots across the nation to believe they face an existential threat that fuels their “If we don’t fight, we’ll lose our rights” sentiment. The single most absurd 2nd Amendment fallacy, and deliberately promoted NRA lie to incite opposition to President Obama, is “the Second Amendment is there to protect us from losing the rest of them.” That sentiment, by a teabagger with his 3-year old daughter in one arm and a rifle in the other, is driving the tea party’s tyrannical government narrative and inflaming those waiting for a reason to begin a war against the government. Regardless the historical record that the Second Amendment was to ensure a “well-regulated Militia” was available to put down insurrections and uprisings against the government, extremist conservatives hold that the right to keep and bear arms is to fight government tyranny. Only a fool would believe that America’s Founders adopted the Second Amendment because they wanted an armed population that could battle the U.S. government, and yet this is a widely held notion among gun fanatics.  It is insane on its face and a fallacy of epic proportion fueling the growing threat from gun-fanatics that “this is the fundamental issue on the founding of our nation, and job one of ours–to protect gun owners from the assault on the Constitution. Might we have to have to take up arms against the government? Yeah.”
All of this anti-government sentiment did not begin with the gun debate, but with provocation by the NRA and patriot groups, it represents a threat all the same. It is fortunate that the tyranny rhetoric is not overwhelming the sanity of an ever-growing number of Americans, including NRA members, who dispel the Republican and conservative myth that the public does not support stronger gun laws to keep Americans safe. In a comprehensive poll conducted by repugican Frank Lutz seven months before Newtown, 87% of NRA members agree that support for Second Amendment rights goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. 74 percent of NRA members and 87 percent of non-NRA gun owners support requiring criminal background checks of anyone purchasing a gun, and yet the NRA and repugicans in Congress vehemently oppose them today. If the tea party is depending on a wave of support because they champion armed conflict over requiring background checks, they are incredibly delusional.
Despite widespread support for stricter gun control laws, repugicans in Congress and state legislatures embolden the gun-crazed crowd by pandering to the gun lobby (NRA) and giving credence to the teabaggers’ belief that their rights are being trampled with little option but to take up arms against the government. Mitch McConnell, Wayne La Pierre, and wingnut talking heads have attempted to use fear to garner support against gun controls, and although they are successful with gun fanatics, they are losing favor with the public and the tea party is gullible if they think their ticket to electoral victory rests with threatening violence against the government. The greatest allies gun control advocates have are not necessarily President Obama and Democrats, but crazed fear mongers like La Pierre, McConnell, and wingnut talking heads that even Faux News and liberal critics challenge publicly as insane.
Last week, La Pierre said “I think without any doubt, if you look at why our Founding Fathers put (the Second Amendment) there, they wanted to make sure that these free people in this new country would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny,” but most Americans, including NRA members, do not equate gun control with tyranny. The entire “tyranny rhetoric” is a straw man for opposition to an African American President and began long before the current gun control debate, and calls for violence predicated on “tyranny” are cover for racism. In fact, no so-called patriot can cite one instance of tyranny or assault on the Constitution, but it is politically incorrect to call for violence because an African American is President, as evidenced by similar calls during the healthcare reform debate.
The rising calls for civil or revolutionary war are the result of President Obama’s re-election. Nearly a year ago, Virginia repugicans called for a revolution if the President was re-elected and the gun crowd is answering their call. Teabaggers carried signs during the healthcare reform debate that read, “We came unarmed this time,” and they are fulfilling their promise at tea party gun rallies across America today. Their tyranny rhetoric, guns, and calls for war will never garner widespread support, but with NRA, Republican backing, and a cause based on a fallacy, a well-armed group of lunatics cannot be taken lightly.

In The News

According to the official numbers released Monday, the Austrian parachutist known as "Fearless Felix" reached 843.6 mph.

Women In Paris Told They Can Wear Trousers
A 200-year-old order preventing women from "dressing like a man" is no longer valid, a French government minister says.

Penelope Soto may have been blowing off steam when she gave a judge the middle finger , but he didn't take it kindly.

Parole board recommends release of 70-year-old Manson follower, in prison for 40 years

Bruce Davis was 30 years old when he was convicted of participating in two murders at the behest of Charles Manson. Forty years later, the California Board of Parole Hearings sent its recommendation to Governor Jerry Brown that he be released from prison.
If he is freed, Davis will go to transitional housing associated with religious groups in Los Angeles County.
Davis became a born-again Christian in prison and ministered to other inmates, married a woman he met through the prison ministry, and has a grown daughter. The couple recently divorced.
Davis also earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in philosophy of religion.

Preliminary hearing begins for man accused of killing woman he met online

John Meredith Hodges is charged with first-degree murder in the death last September of Franchesca Brown, a South Carolina pediatrician he had met on a dating website in 2008.

Franchesca Brown felt excited about traveling to Overland Park last September.
http://www.topix.com/bigpic/mini-545404eb76c0e2f4dcf8d1b2c1db6d6dProfessionally, Brown, a pediatrician from Myrtle Beach, S.C., was preparing for a big career step. Personally, she was ready to take another big step in her relationship with a man she had met online.
But when her sisters went to the airport a week later to greet her on her return, Brown, 39, never got off the plane.
Johnson County prosecutors on Monday alleged that the man who accompanied Brown on that trip used a computer to research how to strangle or suffocate someone.
Four days after those searches happened, Brown’s family reported her missing. Authorities later found her body near the College Boulevard hotel where she had stayed.
The man who had accompanied her on the trip later was arrested after traveling to South America.
On Monday, that man, John Meredith Hodges, appeared in Johnson County District Court for a preliminary hearing on a charge of first-degree murder in Brown’s death.
Hodges, 45, tried to waive the hearing, but District Attorney Steve Howe objected and began presenting evidence to District Judge James Franklin Davis, who will decide whether Hodges will go to trial.
With members of Brown’s family looking on, Hodges spent most of the afternoon with his face buried in his hands while sitting with his attorney, District Defender Michael McCulloch.
Before the hearing began, Hodges told Davis that he wanted to make a statement to his “extended family” in Colombia. He then delivered a short statement in Spanish.
Key testimony came from an analyst with the Heart of America Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory who examined a laptop that Hodges had with him when he was arrested in Colombia.
James Schneider, a detective with the Lawrence Police Department, testified that on Sept. 4, several Google searches were done on the computer using such terms as “How long does it take to choke someone to death?” and “How long does it take to suffocate someone?”
Schneider testified that those searches were done early Sept. 4.
The next search on the computer was about 90 minutes later, when someone entered terms that included “How to wrap a dead body not to smell,” Schneider testified.
That day, the computer had used a wireless connection at the Hawthorne Suites in Overland Park, Schneider testified. That was where Brown was staying, according to earlier testimony.
Kendria Dickens-Carr, a doctor who said she and Brown were best friends, testified that Brown met Hodges in 2008 on the website MillionaireMatch.com.
Brown dated another man for several years before she and Hodges reconnected in August.
“He told her that he loved her. He told her over and over again,” Dickens-Carr testified. “She felt they had a lot of chemistry.”
Dickens-Carr said Brown called Hodges “Charleston” because the only other time they met in person was in the South Carolina city.
Dickens-Carr said that after not hearing from Brown for several days, she texted her friend and asked, “Are you alive?” Brown responded that she was OK and said Hodges told her he had a surprise for her.
Dickens-Carr said that was the last time she heard from her friend.
Brown’s sister Carla Brown testified that when her sister was in Kansas, she texted that she and Hodges were planning to get a house together in South Carolina. Franchesca Brown also said she was going to bring Hodges to the family’s Thanksgiving dinner.
“She had never, ever done that,” Carla Brown said.
Overland Park police detective Jesse Rollwagen was one of the officers who traveled to Colombia to bring Hodges back to Kansas to face charges.
In response to questions from Hodges’ attorney, Rollwagen said Hodges talked about abusing prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin and Percocet.
“He said he was eating 20 Percocet a day,” Rollwagen testified.
Testimony in the preliminary hearing is scheduled to continue today. Besides first-degree murder, Hodges also is charged with eight counts of identity theft, computer crime and two counts of criminal use of a credit card. He is being held in the county jail on a $25 million bond, according to court records.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/02/04/4049127/preliminary-hearing-begins-for.html#storylink=cpy

Lingerie-clad men beat up and robbed man in motel room

Two men dressed in women's lingerie robbed a man at a New Orleans motel on Airline Highway on Friday at about 7:25am, according to the NOPD. Police said the man met with two women - or so he thought - in a motel room.
Once the man realized the lingerie-clad pair were in fact men, he tried to leave the room, police said.

That's when a third person came out of the motel room's bathroom, and all three suspects beat the victim, ransacked his pockets, and fled with his cash, credit cards and cell phone.

One of the suspects, Herbert James Bickham of Marrero, is known to wear women's clothing and wigs, police said. He tends to frequent the Airline Highway motel and another motel in the area. Police would not say how Bickham was identified, saying that information is part of the ongoing investigation.

Conflicting accounts by Egypt man dragged naked

Egyptian riot police beat a man, after stripping him, and before dragging him into a police van, during clashes next to the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. Protesters denouncing Egypt's Islamist president hurled stones and firebombs through the gates of his palace gates on Friday, clashing with security forces who fired tear gas and water cannons, as more than a week of political violence came to Mohammed Morsi's symbolic doorstep for the first time. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)  
An Egyptian man who was beaten and dragged naked by riot police during a violent protest changed his story on Sunday, telling prosecutors that security forces harmed him — a day after he accused protesters of undressing and assaulting him.
The beating was caught on camera by The Associated Press, and the video was broadcast live on Egyptian television late Friday as protests raged in the streets outside the presidential palace. The AP video showed police trying to bundle the naked man into a police van after beating him.
The beating prompted a rare statement of regret from the Interior Ministry, which promised to investigate the attack. The president's office said it was pained by the images and called the assault "shocking."
A new video emerged online Sunday of Hamda Saber in a hospital bed telling activists that police apologized for any wrongdoing. A male and female are heard urging him to speak honestly and not to accept any payments for absolving police in any abuse.
Saber was receiving treatment at a police hospital when he told prosecutors that protesters undressed him during clashes, denying police assaulted him. Later, speaking in a telephone interview to the Egyptian satellite channel al-Hayat, Saber said he changed his story to blame police after pressure from family and friends.
State prosecutors have since moved him to a public hospital.
"I said police are the ones who beat me," Saber tells the TV presenter. "By the time I reached the armored car, they had undressed me and my pants and were still dragging me."
On Sunday a 20-year-old man wounded in Friday's clashes died in a hospital. He was the second to die from the violence that night. The Health Ministry said both were shot in the head and chest.
Activists and the opposition accuse the police of using excessive force against protesters, some of whom have attacked government facilities and policemen.
Saber said police were beating him and ordering him to stand up and that he was unable to because of a bird shot injury to his foot. He told the TV presenter he was scared to be arrested and thrown into the armored vehicle.
Saber then said that his family, including his children, threatened to shun him unless he told the truth about the police attack.
"After becoming a hero, I was being ridiculed online and on Facebook and being accused of not being a real Egyptian and of taking money."
"I tell everyone at the presidential palace and Tahrir (Square) that I am sorry."
He said the officials at the police hospital treated him well, and that he was not pressured to distort what happened. He said he initially gave incorrect testimony to try to avoid more problems.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim angered activists Saturday when he told reporters that initial results of the state prosecutor's investigation showed that police were absolved of direct abuse and that protesters were the ones who undressed Saber.
The march on the palace Friday evening, where President Mohammed Morsi was not present, was part of a wave of demonstrations in cities around the country called by opposition politicians, trying to wrest concessions from Morsi after around 60 people were killed in protests, clashes and riots over the past week.

Mali's soccer victory caps Timbuktu's post-Islamist rebirth

Mali's captain Seydou Keita (12) celebrates with his teammates following their victory over South Africa during their African Cup of Nations (AFCON 2013) quarter-final soccer match at the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban, February 2, 2013. REUTERS/Rogan Ward  
For months, Salaha Najim would discreetly put up a satellite dish banned by the Islamist rebels in dusty Timbuktu, close the shutters of his house and turn on the television to watch soccer with the sound turned down. On Saturday, the windows were open wide again and the volume was unashamedly loud as Mali's national team, the Eagles, beat South Africa in a penalty shootout to reach the semifinals of the African Nations Cup.
Timbuktu's residents poured into the streets to chant and honk horns at the end of an extraordinary week that began with French troops ending the 10 months of harsh Islamic rebel rule and finished with football triumph and thousands cheering a visit by French President Francois Hollande.
"The Islamists banned everything," said Najim, beaming as he watched the game with two friends in his brown, flat-roofed house nestled in Timbuktu's warren of streets. "But now I can watch games as loud as I want."
A lightning three-week offensive by French air and ground forces has swiftly ended the occupation of Mali's northern towns by a loose alliance of Islamist rebels linked to al Qaeda's North African wing, AQIM.
Across Timbuktu, French and Malian flags now hang side-by-side to celebrate the liberation and residents cheer the French military convoys that regularly pass by. The town was for centuries a hub in trans-Saharan trade and a center of Islamic learning before becoming a tourist magnet in recent decades.
Street markets bustle as residents try to replenish store cupboards run down during months of isolation. But uncertainty lingers over whether Mali's weak government and army can keep the Islamists at bay once French forces leave.
Months of conflict have also deepened rifts in the population. Most light-skinned Arabs and Tuaregs have fled Timbuktu after reprisal attacks against those accused of backing the Islamists.
"I will only say they are gone forever once I'm told they've been hunted down," said Moussa Djikke, an elderly resident sitting in the shade of a tree between the Sankore mosque and the Baba Ahmed Institute, two pillars of the town's heritage.
The fleeing Islamists prompted an international outcry when they ransacked 2,000 ancient manuscripts from the Institute, compounding their destruction of Timbuktu's sacred Sufi mausoleums, which they considered idolatrous.
Most of the city's 300,000 ancient texts remain intact, however. "Our culture was being attacked. We were imprisoned. But now we are free," said Djikke, fingering his prayer beads.
Today the town's residents proudly flout the strict sharia laws the Islamists imposed on them.
Men no longer wear trousers rolled up to just beneath their knees, in imitation of the Prophet Mohammed. Women are free to appear unveiled in bright traditional African dress, and people of both sexes mingle in the streets as they want.
Outside a streetside stall, residents gather to listen to songs by Haire Arbi, a popular local singer who fled last year when the Islamists banned music. Nearby, cigarette sellers are doing brisk trade.
The Hotel Colombe, whose corridors adorned with pictures of local tourist spots were shut off for months, sprang to life overnight.
"The day (the Islamists) came into town, they forced us to shut and destroyed our alcohol," said employee Mahamane Toure.
Under the Islamist occupation, Toure spent his days drinking tea and reading novels, punctuated only by visits to the mosque. His beard grew so long it reached almost to his belly button and he shared what little food he could find with his neighbors.
Then French armored vehicles rolled into town on January 28 and he opened his doors to the wave of foreign journalists who followed, filling the hotel's 50 long-abandoned rooms.
"When I woke up that day, I had no idea it would change so quickly," he said, juggling phone calls. One was an urgent appeal to a relative in Bamako to dispatch beer as stocks dug up from the desert, where they had been hidden for months, were already running ran dry.
Amid the relief, the scars of occupation remain. Black and white billboards bearing Islamist messages still stand by the roadside. One, at the gates of the town, welcomes residents to the seat of the application of sharia.
The Malian Solidarity Bank has the word "Police" scrawled on its beige walls. It served as the headquarters of the Islamic police, which meted out punishments including whipping and amputation to those accused of breaking Islamic law.
Residents said the booth for the bank's cash dispenser had been used to detain female prisoners, sometimes dozens at a time.
Down the road at a sandy junction, nicknamed "Afghanistan" by locals after it became a gathering point for heavily armed militants, there are signs of the ethnic divisions exacerbated by the conflict.
The doors of shops belonging to Arab traders, accused of having links with the Islamists, are broken open: looted in the days since the Islamists' departure.
"We used to like the Arabs. We thought they were good. But we no longer trust them," said Albert Toure, a 28-year-old who makes leather shoes. "We are tired. What we now need is security."

French planes pound Islamist camps in north Mali desert

Malian soldiers stand guard before the arrival of France's President Francois Hollande at Independence Plaza in Bamako, Mali February 2, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney  
French warplanes pounded Islamist rebel camps in the far north of Mali on Sunday, military sources said, a day after French President Francois Hollande was hailed as a savior during a visit to the West African country. Thierry Burkhard, spokesman for the French army in Paris, said the overnight raids targeted logistics bases and training camps used by the al Qaeda-linked rebels near the town of Tessalit, close to the Algerian border. "These were important air strikes," Burkhard told Reuters.
Tessalit, some 200 km (125 miles) north of the regional capital Kidal, is one of the main gateways into the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains where the rebels have sought refuge after fleeing major towns.
France says the rebels are also holding hostage in these mountains seven of its citizens, seized in recent years in the Sahara region.
Malian military sources said French and Chadian troops had clashed with members of the Ansar Dine militant group in the region around Kidal on Saturday.
French attack helicopters and transport planes carrying special forces left the city of Gao to reinforce the French and Chadian contingent stationed at the airport in Kidal.
The town of Kidal itself is under the control of the pro-autonomy MNLA Tuareg rebel group, which occupied it after Ansar Dine fighters fled six days ago.
France has deployed 3,500 ground troops, fighter jets and armored vehicles in the three-week-old Operation Serval (Wildcat) which has broken the Islamists' 10-month grip on the towns of northern Mali, where they violently imposed sharia law.
"Never has a foreign intervention in Africa been as popular as the French one in Mali," the president of neighboring Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, told Radio France International on Sunday, asking France to maintain its military presence.
"The object of this war should be not just to liberate Mali but to free the whole Sahel from this menace, which threatens not just us but also Europe, France and the world."
Cheering, grateful Malians mobbed Hollande during his one-day visit to Mali on Saturday, when he congratulated French forces and pledged that they would finish the job of restoring government control in the Sahel region state.
Thousands of residents in the capital shouted "Thank you France!" as Hollande addressed the crowd. "Hollande Our Saviour" read one banner.
"There are risks of terrorism, so we have not finished our mission yet," Hollande told a news conference at the French ambassador's residence in the capital Bamako.
He said France would withdraw its troops from Mali once the West African country had restored sovereignty over all its national territory and a U.N.-backed African military force, which is being deployed, could take over from the French.
"We do not foresee staying indefinitely," he said, but he spelled out no specific timeframe for the French mission.
The United States and the European Union are backing the Mali intervention to counter the threat of Islamist jihadists using the lawless Sahara as a launch pad for attacks.
They are providing training, logistical and intelligence support, but have ruled out sending their own ground troops.
Malian Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly welcomed the success of France's military operation but added his voice to those urging the former colonial power not to scale back its mission.
"Faced with hardened fighters whose arsenals must be destroyed, we want this mission to continue. Especially as the aerial dimension is very important," he told France's Journal Du Dimanche newspaper.
Paris has pressed Bamako to open negotiations with the MNLA, whose uprising last year triggered a military coup in Bamako in March, as a step toward political reunification of north and south Mali.
The MNLA seized north Mali in April, before being pushed aside by a better-armed Islamist alliance composed of al Qaeda's north African wing AQIM, splinter group MUJWA and Ansar Dine.
Coulibaly played down the possibility of direct talks with the MNLA but said it was clear that there needed to be a greater devolution of power from the mainly black African south to northern Mali, an underdeveloped region home to many lighter-skinned Tuaregs and Arabs.
He called for northern armed groups to lay down their weapons before peace negotiations could begin and said Mali would press ahead with national elections scheduled for July 31.

Calcium supplements may be bad for a man's heart

Research out today shows that a high intake of calcium from supplements is correlated with an increased risk of death from heart disease, such as heart attacks, for men, but not for women.

Science Puts Fear in Fearless Person's Heart

Fearless? Not if science can help it! Science can scare anybody, even those who are born with a rare genetic disorder that make them fearless.
But first, let's talk about the amygdala, a small almond-shaped structure deep inside the brain that's been dubbed "the seat of fear." Patients with Urbach-Wiethe disease have atrophied amygdalas, and as a result, they experience no fear.
Justin Feinstein of the University of Iowa and colleagues posited that because these patients don't have the necessary brain structure for fear, they'd be immune to things that would scare a normal person:
One situation in which the amygdala triggers fear and panic attacks is when it detects unusually high concentrations of carbon dioxide — a sign of possible suffocation — by sensing increased acidity in the blood. This may occur even if CO2 is inhaled in concentrations that are not lethal. Feinstein and his colleagues therefore predicted that patients with damaged amygdalas would not feel fear after inhaling the gas.
To test this, they asked S.M. [a patient], two other patients with Urbach-Wiethe disease, and 12 healthy controls to inhale 35% carbon dioxide through a mask. To their surprise, the researchers found that the brain-damaged patients did experience fear immediately after inhalation — and, in fact, became even more fearful and panicky than did the healthy volunteers.
“The patients experienced significantly more fear and panic than the controls,” says Feinstein. In interviews conducted afterwards, all three patients reported feeling scared of suffocating and dying while inhaling the gas. For S.M., this was the first time she had experienced fear since childhood.

Gurunsi Earth Houses Of Burkina Faso

The Gurunsi are a set of ethnic groups like the Bwa, Ko, Lele, Nuni, and Sissala in Burkina Faso. The small country near the border to Ghana may not have many resources or economic wealth, but with the plentiful raw materials available the people make some of the most culturally rich and architecturally beautiful villages.

The Skull of Richard III

Since the discovery of a grave under a parking lot in Leicester, England, presumed to be that of King Richard III, we've been waiting for further news. Well, the University of Leicester has just released the image of a skull, the first photo of human remains that may be that of the monarch:
"In order to determine whether this individual is Richard III we have built up a biological profile of its characteristics. We have also carefully examined the skeleton for traces of a violent death," Appleby said.
Appleby and colleagues had good reasons to think the remains came from the famous king, best known through William Shakespeare's fictional account of him in "Richard III." For instance, not only was the skeleton male, it was found in the church choir area where historical records would suggest Richard III was buried. The skull also showed signs of being wounded, as if it were cut clean off his body with an axe or sword, something consistent with a battle death.
Scientists also found a barbed arrowhead in the skeleton's spine, which showed signs of scoliosis. Such an abnormally curved spine would've made its owner's right shoulder sit higher than the left, matching contemporary portrayals of Richard III.
LiveScience has more: Here.

What Blinded Mary Ingalls?

vIt was a jarring moment when generations of young readers got to the fourth book in the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and saw that it opened with the simple statement that her sister Mary had gone blind from scarlet fever. Ingalls wrote her remembrances late in life for young readers, and many believe they were heavily edited by Rose Wilder Lane, but what made it into print left a distinct and frightening impression. But it turns out that scarlet fever doesn't cause blindness. Dr. Beth A. Tarini deduced, after a decade of research, that Mary probably went blind in 1879 due to viral meningoencephalitis. But why does it matter so many years later?
“When I’m in clinic,” Dr. Tarini said, “and I tell parents their child has scarlet fever, I see their eyes widen. In my mind, it’s no different than a strep throat with a rash, but the specter of history colors their reaction.” Those emotional words describing Mary’s lost vision still carry weight with the parents who read and remember “By the Shores of Silver Creek” and all the books that came before and after it.

“We’re taught to find out what’s wrong and give a patient a diagnosis,” Dr. Tarini continued, “but that’s only one of the things the patient needs. If I say ‘scarlet fever’ and a mother is thinking, ‘Mary Ingalls’ then if I don’t know to pull that out, I’m not doing my job.” It matters to pediatricians if it matters to their patients.
Read more about Tarini's research at the New York Times. More

Australia's Other Amazing Anatine Attraction

The Flying Duck Orchid
The Caleana is more often known as the Duck Orchid - and for fairly obvious reasons. It looks like a duck in flight, its wings swept back, head and beak held high and proud.

This attractive yet amusing addition to the orchid genus is a native of Australia, famed perhaps more for its marsupials than its mallards. Yet as a result of the shape of its labellum (or lip) its anatine association will be that by which it is always remembered.

Scientists Create Living Crystals

Sometimes, science follows science fiction. Take, for example, the case of "living crystals," which sounds like a race of alien beings. But thanks to science, they're now real.
Physicists Jérémie Palacci and Paul Chaikin of New York University had created microscopic cubes of hematite - a compound consisting of iron and oxygen, sheathed in a spherical polymer coat with one corner exposed - that behave as if they were alive.
Under certain wavelengths of blue light, hematite conducts electricity. When the particles are placed in a hydrogen peroxide bath under blue light, chemical reactions catalyze around the exposed tips.
As the hydrogen peroxide breaks down, concentration gradients form. The particles travel down these, aggregating into crystals that also follow the gradients.
Random forces pull the crystals apart, but eventually they merge again. The process repeats again and again, stopping only when the lights go out.
The ultimate goal of the work is to study how complicated collective behaviors arise from simple individual properties, perhaps informing molecular self-assembly projects, but it’s hard not to think about the origin-of-life implications.
“Here we show that with a simple, synthetic active system, we can reproduce some features of living systems,” Palacci said. “I do not think this makes our systems alive, but it stresses the fact that the limit between the two is somewhat arbitrary.”
Chaikin notes that life is difficult to define, but can be said to possess metabolism, mobility, and the ability to self-replicate. His crystals have the first two, but not the last.
I, for one, welcome our new crystal overlords!
Brandon Keim of Wired has the story and video clip: Here.

Oldest Spider Crabs Discovered in Fossil Reef

A new species of spider crab dating back 100 million years is found in a quarry in northern Spain. 
Above, a modern-day spider crab. 
The remains of eight new species of crustaceans, including the oldest known spider crabs that lived 100 million years ago, have been uncovered in a fossil reef in northern Spain, scientists report.
The fossils were found in the abandoned Koskobilo quarry alongside other species of decapod crustaceans (a group that includes crabs, shrimp and lobsters). The two oldest-known spider crabs, named Cretamaja granulata and Koskobilius postangustus, are much older than the previous record holder, said study author Adiël Klompmaker, a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.
"The previous oldest one was from France and is some millions of years younger," Klompmaker told LiveScience, referring to the spider crabs. "So this discovery in Spain in quite impressive and pushes back the origin of spider crabs as known from fossils."
C. granulatawas about 0.6 inches (15 millimeters) long and showed distinctive features to suggest it was a spider crab, including two diverging spines coming out of its rostrum (the extended portion of the carapace, or shell, in front of the eyes) and a somewhat pear-shaped carapace. The fossil spider crab also sported spines on its sides at the front of the body.
The reef where they were found seems to have vanished shortly after these creatures lived. "Something must have happened in the environment that caused reefs in the area to vanish, and with it, probably many of the decapods that were living in these reefs," Klompmaker said. "Not many decapods are known from the time after the reefs disappeared in the area," added Klompmaker, who details the findings in a forthcoming issue of the journal Cretaceous Research.
With a team of researchers from the United States, the Netherlands and Spain, Klompmaker collected fossils in the Koskobilo quarry in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
"We went there in 2008, and in the first two hours found two new species," Klompmaker said in a statement. "That's quite amazing — it just doesn't happen every day."
With the new findings, some 36 decapod species are known to have existed at the abandoned quarry, making it one of the most diverse localities for decapods during the Cretaceous period (145 million to 66 million years ago), Klompmaker said.
The researchers also found there were more diverse ancient decapods living within the reefs — where they fed, mated and sought shelter — than in other parts of the ocean.
"One of the main results of this research is that decapod crustaceans are really abundant in reefs in the Cretaceous," Klompmaker wrote in an email. "The presence of corals seemed to promote decapod biodiversity as early as 100 million years ago and may have served as nurseries for speciation."
Last year, Klompmaker reported finding fossils of tiny lobsters huddled together in the seashell of an extinct mollusk known as an ammonoid. The "embracing" lobsters, found in a rock quarry in southern Germany, suggested these fearsome-looking crustaceans were sociable as long ago as 180 million years, when the little crustaceans lived.
"This is the oldest example of gregarious behavior for lobsters in the fossil record — and not just lobsters but the entire group of decapods, which includes lobsters, crabs and shrimp," Klompmaker, who was at Kent State University, said at the time. "What this tells us is that this type of behavior of grouping together may have been very beneficial early on in the evolution of these crustaceans."
Klompmaker was also part of a team that discovered a new hermit crab at the same quarry, naming it after Michael Jackson (Mesoparapylocheles michaeljacksoni), as it was found around the time the singer died.

Peru Seeks To Save A Little Fish With Big Impact

The ocean off Peru boasts the world's richest fishing grounds, but Taurino Querevalu is returning to port empty again after a hunt for Peruvian anchovy, cursing his empty nets and an increasingly stingy sea.

Sea Urchins Chalk Up Global Warming Win

Sea urchins are providing scientists with a way to turn carbon dioxide into harmless chalk. ->

How Do Corals Survive In The Hottest Reefs On The Planet?

Coral reefs are predicted to decline under the pressure of global warming. However, a number of coral species can survive at seawater temperatures even higher than predicted. In the Arabian/Persian Gulf, corals survive seawater temperatures of up to 36° Celsius (96.8° Fahreheit) every summer, heat levels that would kill corals elsewhere.

In their study, the NOCS team worked closely with NYUAD researchers to select and characterise model corals from the Arabian/Persian Gulf, which will facilitate future molecular-scale investigations into why they can tolerate heat stress.


Wearing a halo of golden nanoparticles is a survival technique for one species of bacterium.

Spider's Brain is So Large It Overflows to Its Legs

The brains of tiny spiders are SO large that they fill their body cavities and overflow into their legs:
“The smaller the animal, the more it has to invest in its brain, which means even very tiny spiders are able to weave a web and perform other fairly complex behaviors,” said William Wcislo, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. “We discovered that the central nervous systems of the smallest spiders fill up almost 80 percent of their total body cavity, including about 25 percent of their legs.”

Animal Pictures


Wolverine by djsime on Flickr.