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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.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Daily Drift

We've all been there ...

Some of our readers today have been in:
Baku, Aberbaijan
Puchong, Malaysia
Slough, England
Pretoria, South Africa
Valdivia, Chile
Tawau, Malaysia
Sofia, Bulgaria
Manila, Philippines
Abu Dahbi, United Arab Emirates
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Erbil, Iraq
Chisinau, Moldova
Caracas, Venezuela
Mykolayiv, Ukraine
Bordeaux, France
Panama, Panama
Shah Alam, Malaysia
Panevezys, Lithuania
San Jose, Costa Rica
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Johannesburg, South Africa
Leeds, England
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Belgrade, Serbia
Bangkok, Thailand
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Today in History

167 Polycarp, a disciple of St. John and bishop of Smyrna, is martyred on the west coast of Asia Minor.
1542 Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, is beheaded for adultery.
1689 British Parliament adopts the Bill of Rights.
1692 In the Glen Coe highlands of Scotland, thirty-eight members of the MacDonald clan are murdered by soldiers of the neighboring Campbell clan for not pledging allegiance to William of Orange. Ironically the pledge had been made but not communicated to the clans. The event is remembered as the Massacre of Glencoe.
1862 The four day Battle of Fort Donelson, Tennessee, begins.
1865 The Confederacy approves the recruitment of slaves as soldiers, as long as the approval of their owners is gained.
1866 Jesse James holds up his first bank.
1914 The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) is founded.
1936 First social security checks are put in the mail.
1945 The Royal Air Force Bomber Command devastates the German city of Dresden with night raids by 873 heavy bombers. The attacks are joined by 521 American heavy bombers flying daylight raids.
1949 A mob burns a radio station in Ecuador after the broadcast of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds."
1951 At the Battle of Chipyong-ni, in Korea, U.N. troops contain the Chinese forces' offensive in a two-day battle.
1953 The Pope asks the United States to grant clemency to convicted spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.
1968 The United States sends 10,500 more combat troops to Vietnam.
1970 General Motors is reportedly redesigning automobiles to run on unleaded fuel.
1972 Enemy attacks in Vietnam decline for the third day as the United States continues its intensive bombing strategy.
1984 Konstantin Chernenko is selected to succeed Yuri Andropov as Party General Secretary in the Soviet Union.

Non Sequitur


Syrian air base falls, Assad forces under pressure

A Free Syrian Army fighter walks in the old city of Aleppo February 11, 2013. Picture taken February 11, 2013. REUTERS/Aref Heretani  
Syrian opposition fighters captured a military airport near the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday in another military setback for President Bashar al-Assad's forces which have come under intensifying attack across the country.
The airport is the latest military facility to fall under rebel control in a strategic region situated between Syria's industrial and commercial center and the country's oil- and wheat-producing heartland to the east.
The opposition said an army base situated near Aleppo Airport, which is both civilian and military, was overrun by rebels seeking to neutralize Assad's air power, which has been instrumental in preventing the rebels from taking over major urban centers.
The Syrian authorities have banned most independent media from the country, making verification of events on the ground difficult.
A Middle East-based diplomat following the military situation said the opposition "appears to be making significant advances" in Aleppo and along the Euphrates River to the east.
The diplomat said opposition fighting units have encroached on central Damascus by breaking through the ring road and establishing footholds in areas near the historic heart of the city of 2 million people.
Fighting in the nearly two-year-old conflict has intensified in the three weeks since the political leadership of the opposition offered to negotiate a departure for Assad.
In the first direct government response, Syria's minister for "national reconciliation", Ali Haidar, said he was willing to travel abroad to meet Moaz Alkhatib, the Cairo-based president of the Syrian National Coalition opposition group.
Authorities previously had said they would talk to the "patriotic opposition" - figures who have not allied themselves with the armed rebellion. But most centrist opposition figures have left the country since Abdel-Aziz al-Khayyer, a proponent of dialogue and non-violence, was arrested last year.
"I am willing to meet Mr Khatib in any foreign city where I can go in order to discuss preparations for a national dialogue," Haidar told the Guardian newspaper.
But he said the authorities rejected any dialogue that aims "to hand power from one side to another" and insisted that formal negotiation must take place on Syrian soil.
The main push for talks is coming from U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who helped mediate an end to civil war in neighboring Lebanon and warned that Syria could become a failed state.
The Syrian uprising is the bloodiest of the Arab revolts that toppled four autocrats in Libya, Egypt, Tunis and Yemen.
With the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, dominating power in Syria, the conflict has deepened the Shi'ite-Sunni divide in the Middle East.
Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Tuesday the death toll in Syria is likely approaching 70,000 with civilians paying the price for the U.N. Security Council's lack of action.
In the capital Damascus, residents and activists said the army had moved tanks to central Abbasid Square to shore up its defensive lines after rebels breached it last week and then struck several security targets in the heart of the capital.
Jets bombarded rebel held areas in the east of the capital and in an expanse of farmland and urban areas known as Eastern Ghouta, from where rebels have launched an attack to cut off the loyalist supply lines.
"The bombing has been terrible. The center of Damascus is shaking. You can hear the jets from here," said one woman.
Despite a large military arsenal - opposition activists reported several Scud missiles being fired at unknown targets from an army base north of Damascus - Assad's forces appeared to be on the defensive in many parts of the country.
The army and a plethora of security forces remain entrenched in fortress-like bases in Damascus and the provincial capitals, where their advantages in air power and heavy weaponry have kept the opposition from taking over the major cities.
Jarrah air base, 60 km (40 miles) east of Aleppo, came under the control of rebel units who have been surrounding it for weeks, and the highway linking Aleppo to the east of the country is in opposition hands, the Sham News Network said.
Video footage showed fighters from the Islamic Free Syria Movement inspecting the airport. Several fighter jets were shown on the ground at the airport and in concrete shelters.
Abu Abdallah Minbij, one of the opposition commanders who planned the attack, said by phone that two operational MiG jets and ammunition were found intact at the base, along with 40 disused fighter jets.
"The airport was being used to bomb northern and eastern rural Aleppo. By capturing it, we have cut the regime's supply line from Aleppo to the east," Minbij said.
He said the army will now struggle to send reinforcements to stop a rebel advance in the adjacent Raqqa province, where rebels have captured the country's largest hydro-electric dam this week.
"The airports have been a source of aerial bombardment and indiscriminate shelling on rural Aleppo and on the city itself," activist Abu Louay al-Halabi said by phone from Aleppo.
He said rebels have hit planes on the ground in the airport of Minbij, 70 km (45 miles) northeast of Aleppo and overran several buildings in Nairab airport, which is adjacent to the city and remains in government hands.
"Once the airports are neutralized, the opposition's grip on Aleppo will become less tenuous and the fighters can concentrate on taking the whole city," Halabi said.

President Obama Terrifies repugicans by Calling for Federal Minimum Wage Increase to $9.00/hr

A wave of terror is certainly spreading through the repugican cabal as President Obama has embraced the politically popular issue of raising the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.
The president said,
We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.
Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.
The only thing that repugicans hate more than the minimum wage is a call to increase the minimum wage. The reason why repugicans hate the minimum wage as a political issue is that it is incredibly popular. The minimum wage is a gigantic winning issue for Democrats. When the minimum wage is on the ballot, Democrats win.
Rachel Maddow pointed out in 2010 that nothing gets Democrats to the polls more than the minimum wage, “If you had a secret decoder ring for democratic electoral success, the minimum wage is what your ring decodes to. Whenever minimum wage is on the ballot, it blows up. In 2006, minimum wage initiative passed in Nevada by 38 points. Minimum measure in Arizona passed by 32 points. Two years earlier one passed in Florida by 44 points. Montana, Montana! Democratic senator Jon Tester of Montana elected in 2006, when was that minimum wage ballot initiative ballot wage on the ballot? 2006. This is the code for Democrats. When minimum wage is an issue, not only does it win, Democrats win alongside issue, too. Quoting Congressional Quarterly, “In 2006, voter motivation and reported interest in the election was disproportionately high among democratic-based voters, especially where minimum wage initiatives were in play.”
Obama is going to be heavily involved in helping Democrats in their attempt to retake the House in 2014, and his centerpiece issue in that campaign looks like it will be the minimum wage.
House repugicans are already scared out of their minds that Obama is coming after them in 2014, and last night, he just gave House Democratic candidates the issue that could win them the election.

An $11 million annual salary is “modest,” says bailed-out bankster Chairman

Only in the banking world could you expect to hear such nonsense as the chair of a bank suggesting that an $11 milion dollar annual salary (including bonus) is “modest.”The Royal Bank of Scotland Chairman is trying to suggest that because other bank CEOs are paid even more, his CEO’s salary of nearly $2m a year, and potential bonus of over $9m, are “modest.”
I wonder how the RBS CEO’s salary compares to other bank CEOs who weren’t bailed out by the state and thus lost their jobs when their banks dissolved into nothing?  I’m guessing that $11 million compared to “nothing” is a bit better than “modest.”
Royal Bank of Scotland
Let’s face it, others in the banking industry (including AIG after it was rescued with $180 billion and then threatened to sue the government that bailed it out) have pretty much said the same thing. They’re so delusional that they probably even believe what they’re saying. The banking bubble they all live in precludes them from seeing the destruction that they caused around them, such as trillions of dollars of government handouts, millions of job losses, plus the damage to a number of national economies, including the UK’s, due to post-recession austerity measures.
But no, when talking to the banks in the plastic bubble, none of that matters. It’s always about them, to hell with everyone else. In the case of RBS, it’s 82% owned by British taxpayers after the bailout, and the bank was just fined  $600 million over manipulating Libor rates.  Oh yeah, and the folks in the bank who got them into the Libor trouble are soon getting $400 million in bonuses.
How’s that for modesty?

After His Failed Sequester Blame Game, Boehner Says the President Lacks Guts

John Boehner thumbs up
Speaker Boehner is very upset about President Obama’s “liberal agenda” (read: popularity with the American public).
The repugican from Ohio is also so nervous about the upcoming sequester that he tried once again to blame the President for the sequester, even though his plan to launch “Obamasequester” failed miserably.
With the strained hope of selling a lemon to a dubious press, Boehner accused Obama of failing to find agreement with repugicans because he lacks “courage” and “guts”. Yes, it couldn’t be that repugicans are impossible to deal with these days, and that the tanking of their approval ratings leave them little doubt that the American public is fully aware of their failures.
Oh, no. Obama lacks the courage to do what it takes, says Boehner. “To do the kind of heavy lifting that needs to be done, I don’t think he’s got the guts to go do it. He doesn’t have the courage to take on the liberal side of his own party. I’m sorry but it’s just clear as a bell to me.”
We call this projection. The poor man can’t admit that it’s he who can’t take on the tea party. Boehner’s attempts to deal with the President were undermined not by Obama, but by his own party in a humiliating defeat that left most pundits wondering why Obama would waste time dealing with Boehner, when the Speaker has no sway with his own party, let alone the House. Former Speaker Pelosi has had to step into the Boehner leadership void on numerous occasions.
It’s like the Speaker is looking into a very dim, dirty mirror, and the scary specter of defense cuts stares him down from behind the transparent stains of the repugican cabal’s talking points.
While blaming Obama for the sequester, Boehner dug his heels in and refused to compromise with the Democrats. Boehner’s deflections are taking on a shrill aura. He claimed that Democrats got their tax revenue now it’s repugicans turn. Only, repugicans got trillions in cuts already from the President, so technically, if I can stop the game for a second, it’s Boehner’s turn to give a little. Also, we wouldn’t even be here were it not for John Boehner’s failure to manage his House.
“I’ve tried repeatedly to come to agreement with the president. Every time I’ve gotten burned,” said Boehner. Insert tea party instead of President, and the light of truth will begin to dawn.
What repugicans refuse to discuss is the fact that their debt ceiling stunt cost us 18.9 billion dollars — a fact that doesn’t lend a lot of credence to their “spending” mantra.
Since leaders from both parties agreed to the sequester as a part of the Budget Control Act in 2011, and the House and Senate both voted to pass it, including Speaker Boehner, the repugicans’ attempt to blame the President are ill-conceived at best.
Additionally, John Boehner admitted that he walked away from the Grand Bargain, a deal that only came about because his tea party caucus refused to raise the debt ceiling until they got what they wanted. In response to that failure, lawmakers came up with the sequester, which hits defense spending hard (a nudge to repugicans to force them to finally come up with a solution other than ALL THEIR WAY OR NOTHING).
Back then, Boehner was crowing the press about how he got 98% of what he wanted and he walked away from the President. Now he’s trying to rewrite history, but who can blame him. Boehner can hardly go tell the defense industry that he’s super duper sorry, but he can’t control his tea caucus. Meanwhile, the pressure is on Boehner from the defense industry to not let the sequester happen. But Boehner claims he’s unwilling to make the compromise needed (revenue) to avoid the sequester. Rock, hard place, tea.
Tough times for the Speaker. No matter how many times repugicans try to blame Obama for this, even NBC news sees through it. It’s just not happening.
Obamaquester never got off the ground, and even Eric Cantor’s smugness couldn’t save Humpty Dumpty last Sunday. Now, all they have left is name-calling on the preschool playground. “It’s his fault, he started it! He doesn’t have any guts!” So says the party that cannot face its paymasters given the result of their irresponsible deployment of weapons of economic destruction.
Expect the whine factor to reach Defcon 5 tonight, as the President is expected to use the State of the Union address to argue against automatic spending cuts and for more revenue. You’ll know how desperate repugicans are by the number of times they try to deploy the word “liberal” as if it’s the political bomb it used to be. Yes, they’re slow, but what do you expect from people who get their news from Fox and still don’t understand why they shouldn’t be skewing polls for the imaginary majority of right leaning Americans.
The cabal that lacks the courage to admit that revenue is a rather important part of a balanced budget points their fingers outward once again.

Sheriff Arpaio hired former employee, convicted child-sex criminal, for armed school “posse”

We wrote in December about how, following the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, GOP Sheriff Joe Arpaio was going to have his 3,000-strong gun-toting “posse” of volunteers patrolling Arizona’s schools, just like the NRA wanted. Today we find out that the posse reportedly included at least one man convicted of sex crimes against children.  And even worse, and what no one has apparently yet realized: The convicted child sex criminal posse member worked for Arpaio for years in the Sheriff’s office until he was arrested in 2009.
Are we to believe that Arpaio had no idea who this guy was?
Armed child-sex criminals roaming Arizona’s schools.  What could possibly go wrong?
What’s worse is that Arpaio has been facing heavy criticism for his alleged laxity on prosecuting sex crimes, particularly sex crimes against children.  From the NYT:
Sheriff Arpaio, the top law enforcement official in sprawling Maricopa County, is perhaps best known for his hard-nosed treatment of prisoners and his aggressive raids aimed at illegal immigrants. But it is his department’s approach to more than 400 sex-crimes cases that has Sheriff Arpaio in trouble.
His deputies failed to investigate or conducted only the sketchiest of inquiries into hundreds of sex crimes between 2005 and 2007, investigations by Arizona law enforcement agencies have shown. Many of those cases involved molested children.
And only today we find out that after a lengthy five-year investigation, Arpaio has decided that no particular person is to blame for “hundreds of botched sex-crime investigations by the Maricopa County sheriff’s special-victims unit.”  From the Arizona Republic, today:
A five-year investigation that produced nearly 10,000 pages of documents draws no clear conclusion on who is to blame for hundreds of botched sex-crime investigations by the Maricopa County sheriff’s special-victims unit.
The Sheriff’s Office on Monday released results of its long-running probe into why the unit mishandled sex-crime cases. It concluded that no single person was responsible for systemic failures that resulted in hundreds of cases being reopened.
Last year, an Arizona Republic investigation into the 400-plus reopened cases revealed that the Sheriff’s Office failed to adequately investigate reports of sex abuse and assault — in some cases never interviewing suspects or running background checks on known offenders.
Some sex-crime complaints were completely ignored. In other cases, files were later found gathering dust in a drawer or in a deputy’s garage. Those shortcomings, combined with lengthy delays in resolving cases, left alleged predators free to find other victims — sometimes for years.
So what happens?  The sheriff accused of having lax standards for investigating sex crimes against children didn’t do a sufficient investigation to weed out a school posse member who had a record of sex crimes against children.
The controversial sheriff has teamed up with actor Steven Seagal to teach his “posse” how to handle school shooting incidents, and liquor story robberies.  (Despite being 60 years old, actor Seagal claims to have “hundreds of thousands if not millions of hours into my weapons training.” I did the math.  A million hours would make Segal 114 years old.)  One presumes Seagal will be showing the fat old men how to do Aikido, when they’re not beating their wives, getting high, or committing sex crimes against children.
Arpaio's posse via CBS 5 video.
Arpaio’s fit and nimble posse via CBS 5 video.
Courtesy of CBS, let’s meet one of the members of Joe Arpaio’s posse patrolling Arizona’s elementary schools:
And then there was Jacob Cutler. According to a Flagstaff police report, Cutler threw his girlfriend to the ground and choked her while trying to sexually assault her in 2008. When she didn’t cooperate, he allegedly threatened to call police and said they would side with him, because he “has a badge.” He was a member of Arpaio’s posse at the time.
Oh but it gets better.  CBS reports again:
But then there’s Dominic Boulter, arrested in 2009 for crimes against children, and a year later he was sentenced.  We found him still on the posse roster.
Arpaio posse member Dominic Boulter .
Arpaio posse member Dominic Boulter .
We did some googling, and we found an article from 2009 about Mr. Boulter’s arrest. The photo of Boulter is the same as above.
According to an arrest report, Boulter began using an online service called Phonezoo.com in early 2005 to meet young girls between 13 and 17 years old. Boulter ultimately exchanged nude photos and text messages with at least eight underage girls from around the country. Boulter also suggested that he meet the girls in person to engage in sex acts and to get married, according to court documents.
During the encounters, Boulter told the girls he was 15 years old, 27 years old and 32 years old, according to the document.
Boulter admitted to detectives that he had sent harmful images to one underage girl and that he chatted with another via text message and Web cam as he encouraged the child to masturbate, according to court documents.
And the best part?  Boulter worked in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office as a detention officer for seven years.  And who was the Sheriff?  More from AZCentral:
Sheriff Joe Arpaio declined to comment on the case.
We’re to believe that Sheriff Arpaio didn’t realize that his own employee was a posse member and/or that the employee had been convicted of a sex crime with children.  That’s one hell of an oversight.  Just how many employees did Arpaio have who were convicted of sex crimes?
Even creepier yet, following his conviction Boulter wasn’t permitted near children without supervision:
Boulter has been placed on an electronic-monitoring system and is not allowed to have unsupervised contact with minors.
Yet, Arpaio gave Boulter a job where he was put in charge of the safety of minors, and possibly armed.
If Arpaio wasn’t able to figure out that his own former employee was a sex criminal, how good a job is he going to do filtering out the other criminals he’s putting in and around Arizona’s elementary schools?
Apparently not that good a job.  The local TV station checked out 2,000 of the 3,000 members of Arpaio’s posse and they found 60 or so with criminal records.  Why didn’t Arpaio find them first?  He’s the Sheriff.  Doesn’t he have more resources than the local TV station when it comes to finding convicted criminals, not to mention, ones who used to work for him?

Did you you ...

That the Koch brothers started the tea party way back in 2002

And speaking of new lows, lakes Michigan and Huron record lowest water levels ever

About the busting the myth that christians are more generous than non-believers

That a mother chambers round in semi-automatic handgun during argument at Chuck E. Cheese

The truth hurts

Birth order linked to increased risk of diabetes, metabolic disorders

Long a source of sibling rivalry, birth order may raise the risk of first-born children developing diabetes or high blood pressure, according to a recent study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM). First-born children have greater difficulty absorbing sugars into the body and have higher daytime blood pressure than children who have older siblings, according to the study conducted at the University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute in New Zealand. The study was the first to document a 21 percent drop in insulin sensitivity among first-born children.
“Although birth order alone is not a predictor of metabolic or cardiovascular disease, being the first-born child in a family can contribute to a person’s overall risk,” said Wayne Cutfield, MBChB, DCH, FRACP, of the University of Auckland.
With family size shrinking in many countries, a larger proportion of the population is made up of first-born children who could develop conditions like type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, stroke and hypertension. The research findings may have significant public health implications for nations like China, where the one-child policy has led to a greater segment of the population being composed of first-born children.
The study measured fasting lipid and hormonal profiles, height, weight and body composition in 85 healthy children between the ages of 4 and 11. The 32 first-born children who participated in the study had a 21 percent reduction in insulin sensitivity and a 4 mmHg increase in blood pressure.
The good news for oldest and only children? The study found they tended to be taller and slimmer than their later-born counterparts, even after the height and body mass index of their parents was taken into account.
The metabolic differences in younger siblings might be caused by physical changes in the mother’s uterus during her first pregnancy. As a result of the changes, nutrient flow to the fetus tends to increase during subsequent pregnancies.
For this study, researchers focused on children because puberty and adult lifestyle can affect insulin sensitivity.
“Our results indicate first-born children have these risk factors, but more research is needed to determine how that translates into adult cases of diabetes, hypertension and other conditions,” Cutfield said.
Other researchers working on the study include: A. Ayyavoo, T. Savage, J. Derraik and P. Hofman of the University of Auckland.
The article, “First-born Children Have Reduced Insulin Sensitivity And Higher Daytime Blood Pressure Compared To Later-born Children,” appears in the March 2013 issue of JCEM.

Woman Drank Herself to Death with Coca-Cola

A New Zealand woman's 10-litre (2.2 gallon) a day Coca-Cola habit was a major factor in her death.

Random Celebrity Photo

Exploring Symmetry In Mirrored Imagery

Photographer Traci Griffin devoted nearly four years to completing her photography series entitled 'Mirrors.' The concept behind the series is the baffling issue of symmetry, and how symmetry does not exist in nature.

For her project, Traci photographed trees in various locations, and then mirrored the branches. The result is a stunning, yet eerie compilation of photographs.

The onna-bugeisha

“An onna-bugeisha (女武芸者?) was a female warrior. Members of the samurai class in feudal Japan, they were trained in the use of weapons to protect their household, family, and honor in times of war.”

Tea Time

An estate owned by descendants of the 19th century British aristocrat for whom Earl Grey tea was named is turning history on its head by selling English tea to China. The Tregothnan estate in the southwestern English county of Cornwall started selling tea from its tiny plantation in 2005 and last year produced about 10 tons of tea and infusions.

Current owners of Tregothnan, Evelyn and Katharine Boscawen think they've found a niche to exploit in exporting English tea to China and India. The long history of immersing tea leaves in hot water for a refreshing drink is not lost on the Boscawens. Tregothnan has projected 2013 sales to be $3.14 million, a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the world's largest black tea exporter, Kenya, predicting $1.33 billion in sales for 2013.

Paradise Lost

The Crumbling English Manor House Where John Milton Once Lived 
This once-grand country home, abandoned for a quarter of a century and beginning to decay, stands on the site of a manor house formerly lived in by the poet John Milton.

Phugtal Gompa

The Buddhist monastery known as Phugtal Gompa was built around a cave system on the sheer cliff of a Himalayan mountain in northern India. The monastery was founded around 1100 CE, although the structure itself took an awful long time to build. Now it is a tourist attraction, 3800 feet up the cliff, and still houses around 70 monks. Read about it and see more pictures at Urban Ghosts .

Amateur Astronomers Help Find Galaxy's Arms

Citizen scientists aid observations made by space telescopes to discover previously unseen treasures.

Computerized ‘Rosetta Stone’ reconstructs ancient languages

University of British Columbia and Berkeley researchers have used a sophisticated new computer system to quickly reconstruct protolanguages – the rudimentary ancient tongues from which modern languages evolved. The results, which are 85 per cent accurate when compared to the painstaking manual reconstructions performed by linguists, will be published next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We’re hopeful our tool will revolutionize historical linguistics much the same way that statistical analysis and computer power revolutionized the study of evolutionary biology,” says UBC Assistant Prof. of Statistics Alexandre Bouchard-Côté, lead author of the study.
573px PepiII DecreeOfOfficialExactionForTempleOfMin MetropolitanMuseum 286x300 Computerized Rosetta Stone reconstructs ancient languages 
“And while our system won’t replace the nuanced work of skilled linguists, it could prove valuable by enabling them to increase the number of modern languages they use as the basis for their reconstructions.”
Protolanguages are reconstructed by grouping words with common meanings from related modern languages, analyzing common features, and then applying sound-change rules and other criteria to derive the common parent.
The new tool designed by Bouchard-Côté and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley analyzes sound changes at the level of basic phonetic units, and can operate at much greater scale than previous computerized tools.
The researchers reconstructed a set of protolanguages from a database of more than 142,000 word forms from 637 Austronesian languages–spoken in Southeast Asia, the Pacific and parts of continental Asia.
Most protolanguages do not leave written records–but in some instances reconstructions can be partially verified against ancient texts or literary histories. A notable exception is well-documented Latin, the protolanguage of the Romance languages, which include modern French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan and Spanish.
For examples of protolanguage words reconstructed by the UBC tool, visit: http://www.publicaffairs.ubc.ca/?p=80805.

Baltimore hair stylist tries her hand at archaeology

Here's a nice reminder that an expert is only "an expert" in their specific, narrow field, and (more importantly) everybody in an expert in something. A Baltimore hair stylist has helped archaeologists better understand how Roman and Greek women achieved some of the complicated, towering hairdos depicted in sculpture and paintings. How? She experimentally demonstrated that the word most scientists had been translating as "hairpin" probably should be translated as "needle and thread".

Random Photo

Five Incredible Jellyfish Clouds

Beautiful, unusually shaped clouds drift through this list, looking like they belong in the deep blue sea, not the sky. Gorgeous virga cloud formations great the eye. More

Meteorological News

Higher and colder clouds over the Pacific during El Nino years can create weather anomalies over the United States.
One of the ocean's weirdest currents is the Great Whirl, a giant clockwise eddy that emerges every summer off the coast of Somalia.

Amazing Ocean Facts

Nat Geo TV published a series of comics from Dr. Byron Beekle containing interesting facts about the ocean and the creatures that live in it. As the series progressed, the "facts" became more personal and the artist progressively more unhinged, until the comic was suddenly cancelled -on April Fool's Day. You can read the entire series at the NatGeo Wild TV blog.

You've Been Drawing T-Rex Wrong Your Whole Life

Cornell University blames out-of-date textbooks for the continued misrepresentation of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

It's a tie: 2012 Ties Worst Year for US Shark Attacks

In 2012, shark attacks in U.S. waters tied the record of 53 unprovoked attacks set in 2000. 

Elephant News

African elephant and its calf (image: AP)Mothers shape elephants' future 

An African elephant mother's ability to feed and care for its calf has "long-lasting consequences" into adulthood, a study suggests.

Mutant cane toads swamp Australian town

A concerning rate of "mutant toads" with extra limbs and missing eyes are being found in the industrial Queensland city of Gladstone. Scott Wilson from Central Queensland University said up to 20 per cent of cane toads in certain areas in Gladstone were found with "malformations", compared with 1 per cent of the population in non-urban areas.

On average, between 6 and 8 per cent of 10,000 cane toads examined across the Gladstone region have been found with abnormalities in the past three years. Cane toads have been found with a fifth leg growing from their chest, while others have been found with missing limbs. The toads are caught for environmental research by a council-run team of Gladstone Toadbusters. The group catches as many as 500 toads in an hour.

Gladstone is home to a coal-fired power station, two aluminum refineries, and a developing liquefied natural gas industry. But Dr Wilson said the city's heavy industry was not necessarily to blame for malformations in the toads. "In fact I did some preliminary work in Sydney with native frogs and found abnormalities in around 6 to 8 per cent of the population there," Dr Wilson said. The mutations in Gladstone's cane toads could therefore spell problems for native frogs in the region too.

"Cane toads are to the fresh water environment, what canaries were to coal mines," Mr Wilson said. High exposure to ultraviolet radiation and parasites, as well as chemical runoff and airborne pollution can contribute to abnormalities in the amphibians. "There are a multitude of potential causes," Dr Wilson said. "What might be happening at one site could be different to what's happening at another." He said further funding was crucial for continued analysis.

Animal Pictures