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Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Daily Drift

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Today in History

1617   The Treaty of Stolbovo ends the occupation of Northern Russia by Swedish troops.
1734   The Russians take Danzig (Gdansk) in Poland.
1788   Connecticut becomes the 5th state.
1796   Napoleon Bonaparte marries Josephine de Beauharnais in Paris, France.
1812   Swedish Pomerania is seized by Napoleon.
1820   Congress passes the Land Act, paving the way for westward expansion.
1839   The French Academy of Science announces the Daguerreotype photo process.
1841   The rebel slaves who seized a Spanish slave ship, the Amistad, in 1839 are freed by the Supreme Court despite Spanish demands for extradition.
1862   The first and last battle between the ironclads U.S.S. Monitor and C.S.S. Virginia ends in a draw.
1864   General Ulysses Grant is appointed commander-in-chief of the Union forces.
1911   The funding for five new battleships is added to the British military defense budget.
1915   The Germans take Grondno on the Eastern Front.
1916   Mexican bandit Pancho Villa leads 1,500 horsemen on a raid of Columbus, N.M. killing 17 U.S. soldiers and citizens.
1932   Eamon De Valera is elected president of the Irish Free State and pledges to abolish all loyalty to the British Crown.
1936   The German press warns that all Jews who vote in the upcoming elections will be arrested.
1939   Czech President Emil Hacha ousts pro-German Joseph Tiso as the Premier of Slovakia in order to preserve Czech unity.
1940   Britain frees captured Italian coal ships on the eve of German Foreign Minister, Ribbentrop's visit to Rome.
1956   British authorities arrest and deport Archbishop Makarios from Cyprus. He is accused of supporting terrorists.
1957   Egyptian leader Nasser bars U.N. plans to share the tolls for the use of the Suez Canal.
1959   The Barbie doll is unveiled at a toy fair in New York City.
1964   The first Ford Mustang rolls off the Ford assembly line.
1967   Svetlana Alliluyeva, Josef Stalin's daughter defects to the United States.
1968   General William Westmoreland asks for 206,000 more troops in Vietnam.
1975   Iraq launches an offensive against the rebellious Kurds.
1986   Navy divers find the crew compartment of the space shuttle Challenger along with the remains of the astronauts.

Non Sequitur


The first novel written on a Word Processor

In 1968, novelist Len Deighton's personal assistant had a problem. She had to retype chapter drafts for his book in progress dozens of times over. Thankfully, IBM had something that could help:
A few weeks later, Deighton stood outside his Georgian terrace home and watched as workers removed a window so that a 200-pound unit could be hoisted inside with a crane. The machine was IBM’s MTST (Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter), sold in the European market as the MT72. “Standing in the leafy square in which I lived, watching all this activity, I had a moment of doubt,” the author, now 84, told me in a recent email. “I was beginning to think that I had chosen a rather unusual way to write books.”
Today, of course, many—surely most—fiction writers work with computers, laptops, and word processors just like the rest of us. Literary scholarship generally credits Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi with being the first manuscript submitted to a publisher in typewritten form. Would it be possible, I wondered when I began my research into the literary history of word processing a year and a half ago, to locate a corresponding first for the digital age? The answer turns out to be the book Deighton published in 1970 with the aid of the MTST: a curiously apropos novel about World War II, titled Bomber
Matthew Kirschenbaum of Slate has the story: Here.

What 10 Quirky Indicators Tell Us About Today's Economy

Some observers eager for an insightful edge on the economy forgo readouts and graphs, favoring instead men’s underwear, women wearing only underwear and the Super Bowl.

Oddball economic indicators abound. Many more seemed to be coined during the financial crisis, a period in which economists wanted as much insight as possible about the market’s ills.

Leave it to the professionals? If the past is any measure, these zany precursors are as good as any chart worshiper’s divinations. What’s more, the ones that tend to be most accurate signal a bull market ahead.

Among the most useful signs: coupon usage. When the economy is bad, shoppers look to save anyway possible. Things get better, coupon demand decreases. The volume of coupons rose until 2010–peaking at more than 178 billion coupons just for consumer packaged goods. That’s about 570 coupons for each American.  Coupon issuance then slackened in 2011 and 2012. Volume was off 8% through last June. True, you can argue the recovery has roots in 2010, but it only recently picked up any speed–just as shoppers seemed less reliant on coupons. Psst. No one tell Ron Johnson at J.C. Penney.

There are other indicators with decent records. Help-wanted ads act as a measure of employment. Diapers offer a signal of consumer strength. As do the proceeds from the Napa Valley Wine Auction. All three show recent increases.

Even the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and the Super Bowl hold up, though perhaps they’re more suited for the rabbit-paw owners among us. Bespoke Investment Group research concluded an American on the nudey cover almost always portends a bull market. Good news! Supermodel and Michigan native Kate Upton is back on the cover this year. And as for the Super Bowl, a winner from the old NFL (today’s NFC division) suggests the market will increase. How accurate is it? About 80%. More good news. The Baltimore Ravens, which dates back to the old division in Cleveland, captured the 2012 crown.

Other indicators haven’t proven as useful. Lipstick and cosmetics sales, for example, have trended higher for a decade, through at least a handful of recoveries and recessions. Another example, divorce rates, lack a clear correlation. Still others point to the Hot Waitress Theorem: Attractive females who’d normally work as models or put out their shingle as starlets instead turn up as Hooters hostesses. To us, this one requires much more extensive field research before a credible conclusion.

Here are 10 quirky economic indicators:

1. Super Bowl Winner

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty ImagesIndicator Explained: Root for the NFC Division team. A win from an old NFL team (today's NFC)
portends a market increase for the rest of the year 80% of the time. Trend stretches all the way back to when the AFL and NFL played for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Bullish Or Bearish In 2013? Bullish. This is a bit confusing, but it's because this year's champs, the AFC Division Baltimore Ravens, were actually a NFL team in Cleveland.

2. Coupons

Indicator Explained: When the economy is bad, shoppers look to save any way possible. Things get better, coupon demand decreases. The volume of coupons rose until 2010 – peaking at more than 178 billion coupons just for consumer packaged goods. That's about 570 coupons for each American.

Bullish Or Bearish In 2013? Bullish. After demand hit highs in 2010, coupon volume has fallen. Coupon issuance was down about 8% through last June (the latest figures available).

3. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition

REUTERS/Carlo AllegriIndicator Explained: Bespoke Investment Group research has proven that an American on the nudey cover portends a bull market.

Bullish Or Bearish In 2013? Bullish. Supermodel and Michigan native Kate Upton graced the cover again this year.

4. Men's Underwear

AP Photo/H&MIndicator Explained: Rarely seen, rarely replaced. When men start shopping for these long-lasting garments, consumer confidence seems higher.

Bullish Or Bearish In 2013? Bearish. Men’s underwear was 3% of the overall menswear industry in 2008. It has since shrunk to 2.2%, and it is expected to contract further during the next five years.

5. Divorce Rates

Indicator Explained: Financial problems strain a marriage, and make it more likely to break apart.

Bullish Or Bearish In 2013? Unclear. The latest accurate figures are outdated (from 2009), but show an overall decrease in divorce, regardless of the economy.

6. Help-Wanted Ads

Indicator Explained: More help-wanted ads, more demand by employers. This means employers are hiring, likely a sign of greater business and consumer spending. It’s a measure valued enough to be tracked by the Conference Board, which distributes some of the most widely read reports, like the Consumer Confidence Index and Leading Economic Indicators Index.

Bullish Or Bearish In 2013? Bullish. There were more than 5 million help-wanted ads posted in January, up 15% from a year earlier.

7. Napa Valley Wine Auction

AP Photo/Eric RisbergIndicator Explained: Held in luscious Northern California, samplings of prime vintages and dainty finger-foods help pry dollars from the attendees of this annual event. During more prosperous times, the event raises more money. A 2003 study by wine industry consulting firm Motto Kryla Fisher found overwhelming correlation between increases in auction proceeds and the Dow Jones industrial average.

Bullish Or Bearish in 2013? Bullish. The auction took more than $8 million last year, up from $7.3 million a year earlier. This year’s event will take place in May.

8. Lipstick

Indicator Explained: Leonard Lauder is something of a wannabe economist, in addition to being a former executive of the eponymous cosmetics company. He posited that women tended to buy more lipsticks and makeup during tough economic times—a more cost-conscious way to maintain a glamorous appearance than, say, splurging on a new handbag.

Bullish Or Bearish in 2013? Bullish. Lipsticks sales are indeed set to rise again this year. But lipstick sales have seemed fairly recession-proof in the last two decades. Plus, not all cosmetics companies reported results in the past few years, making it hard to draw a clear correlation.

9. Diapers

Indicator Explained: Parents in past recessions went without and still managed to keep up spending on their children. Not so during the latest financial crisis. Diaper sales fell during the financial crisis, as seemingly essential goods became luxuries.

Bullish Or Bearish In 2013? Bullish. The diapers industry is expected to continue to grow, reaching $5.4 billion. For perspective, the industry totaled more than $5.7 billion just four years ago.

10. Hot Waitresses

AP Photo/Matt YorkIndicator Explained: In hard times, attractive females who'd normally work as models or try to put out their shingle as starlets instead turn up as Hooters hostesses.

Bullish Or Bearish In 2013? Unclear. We suggest you perform your own field research on this. Lunch break!

The truth be told

The Bill to Fund the Government Is the Latest Bit of Stand-up Comedy From House repugicans

John Boehner (Rep. R-OH) - Republican Clown
By now you’ve surely heard of the much-ballyhooed passage of HR 933. It’s the legislation that, with the cooperation of the Senate, will supposedly prevent a government shutdown of federal agencies come March 27th delaying that possibility until the end of the fiscal year on September 30th. The bill also somewhat lessens the pain of immediate cuts of $85 billion.
I read the bill, 269 pages of skillful deception. Make no mistake, the primary purpose of this bill is to perpetuate the bloat of the defense budget and decimate domestic programs. It doesn’t get to the non-defense sections until page 224 with the exception of a few lines forbidding federal ACORN funding.
Here are some of the multi-billion dollar defense particulars that caught my eye. HR 933 provides over $50 billion in R & D. A total of $33 billion is set aside for Department of Defense Health Care. There’s also about $300,000,000 for Israel, mostly for missile defense and $120 million for a purpose that I’ll explain in subsequent submissions. It’s an ongoing potentially explosive psychological confrontation you’ve not heard much about.
Funding for active and retired Army personnel hits the $42 billion mark. For the Navy, $27 billion; the Marines get $12 ½ billion; The Air Force, $28 billion. Gadzooks! We’re already at $192 billion. There are the respective reserve memberships and National Guard funding adding enough to get us to $200 billion. Then there’s something called “Operation and Maintenance” for all the branches. I guess none of the 200 bill in original appropriations could possibly address such contingencies. Ca-Ching! Your abacus should have spit out another $40 billion.
I followed these calculations to what were undoubtedly the most interesting and mind-boggling lines of the entire legislation. There’s some huge hidden money squirreled away in the defense budget. It’s stuffed deep into the ledger crevices that go by the nom de guerre of Confidential Military Purposes (whatever those are). For the Army Secretary, there’s a generous $35,409,260,000 of taxpayer money in that clandestine pot.
I know what you’re thinking, but there are distinctly separate intelligence, global terrorism and “pay off the snitches in Afghanistan and buy off the Taliban leaders” line items. Just what are “Confidential Military Purposes” (CMP) that carry that kind of a price tag? Are we in a Bond movie here?
The Navy’s CMP line is home to $41,614,453,000 of your dollars. And it ain’t over yet. The Air Force Secretary has $34,780,406,000 at his disposal. That’s a total of almost $112 billion most taxpayers haven’t heard about. I doubt even most House members have a clue. The question is, are these yearly additions to the CMP totals or just replacement amounts for a total that remains within narrow parameters? A scrambling of
CMP money alone could easily make up for the estimated 47 billion sequester loss in FY 2013.
But on with the Jody calls. Here’s another interesting cache that begs for abuse. There’s money for expenses not “otherwise provided for, but necessary for the operation and maintenance” of the different branches of the Armed Forces. Bear in mind that the operations and maintenance payouts covered what wasn’t included in the basic funding for each branch. So we’re stacking one funding source on top of the other. There’s a name for that; P…O…N…For example, the Marines pick up an extra $6 billion for the Gods know what up to the end of the fiscal year, September 30th. The Navy plumped up their bottom line by $3.5 billion; the Air Force, $3.2 billion. Some funding extends beyond the current fiscal year, but is still included in the bill.
The procurement budget is a Chinese water torture drip of a billion here, 17 billion there, adding up to a hefty $63 billion. Frankly in studying 933 in its totality, there doesn’t seem to be a smidgeon of sacrifice on the defense side and that $112 billion still has my head spinning.
Let’s just say domestically, the Obama administration is forced to operate at 2012 levels while Defense luxuriates at 2013 levels. In twisting real events, 933 suggests that if sequestration is “ordered” by the president, the departments and agencies to which this section applies are the following: 933 then goes on to lists 31 departments and agencies. In other words, just about all that exist in Washington DC. That’s deep cuts in consumer access and services while the Defense/Corporate crowd escapes virtually unscathed.
Apparently seeking bi-partisan counsel, the President dined with a dozen Senate repugicans Wednesday night at the pricey Plume restaurant in the Jefferson Hotel (the menu matches the reported dinner orders). South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham, trying to read his state’s tea party leaves might think it’s a good play to attract Independents. New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte was there. Palin and Santorum helped the former state Attorney General’s Senate campaign. She’s has nothing politically in common with the president.
Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey was in the chow line. He was once President of the notoriously right-wing extremist Club for Growth. Seat-filler, John the bomb McCain was there. He’s everywhere these days. Who cares? Saxby Chambliss stuffed his face on the taxpayer dime as well. Chambliss. In 2002. Chambliss repeatedly questioned the patriotism of opponent Max Cleland who left three of four limbs in Nam. Mike Johanns attended. He was a big supporter of a nihilist “march for jesus” day while Nebraska Governor. Fortunately both he and Chambliss have announced they’re not running again.
Tom Coburn, Oklahoma’s homophobic, anti-RU 486, war on women, guns in national parks, climate change denier, Baptist Deacon esthetic is balanced by occasional shots at Faux News and an unlikely friendship with the President. He’s also the only Senate doctor, which may have accounted for the invite. North Dakota’s Hoeven is an NRA puppet, Indiana’s Dan Coats was a lobbyist between terms. Nuff said. North Carolina’s Richard Burr is another homophobic gun and pollution whore who voted no to expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Ron Johnson is a Wisconsin tea party radical. Probably wore ear plugs to the fete.
Bob Corker is a Tennessee wingnut and one of the sponsors of “The Commitment to American Prosperity Act” (CAP) that calls for a ten-year binding cap on all federal spending to such a radical degree that on close read would pretty much financially bomb the fed services back to the financial stone age. Interestingly, 7 or 12 Obama guests were co-sponsors of CAP. The only other place you’d see these 12 together would be the upcoming CPAC.
Cooperation from this bunch? ROTFLMAO! Get the veto pen ready my friend.

The truth hurts

Waitress Asks for ID, Gets Handed Own Stolen Driver's License

Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, who has served as an al Qaeda spokesman, was captured and has been brought to the United States, two administration officials and a federal law enforcement official said Thursday.

Waitress Asks for ID, Gets Handed Own Stolen Driver's License

  driver's licenseBrianna Priddy, a waitress at an Applebee's in Lakewood, Colorado, lost her wallet one night. She began the laborious process of replacing its contents and ensuring that her identity wasn't stolen. Alas, someone used it to write hundreds of dollars in bad checks in Priddy's name.
Fortunately, her driver's license came back to her when she asked a customer who wanted to buy an alcoholic drink to show a photo ID. The patron handed Priddy her own missing driver's license:
"But I didn't say anything. I handed it back to her and said sure I'll be right back with your margarita. [I] went straight to the phone, called the cops," Priddy said.
Priddy acted like nothing was wrong.
"I put on my server smile and tried to take care of them, but I was shaking like crazy," Priddy said.
Lakewood police arrived in minutes. [...]
The woman accused of using Priddy's stolen ID faces felony charges including theft, identity theft, and criminal impersonation.

Woman kicked off train for singing

The mayor of Miami-Dade County has apologized to an 82-year-old woman who was kicked off a Metrorail train for singing.

Man wearing tin foil hat arrested for threatening to burn down four schools

Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office have arrested a man in connection with threats at four Westbank schools. Sherriff's spokesman Col. John Fortunato says phone threats to burn down the schools were received early on Wednesday morning. "Upon reviewing the numerous recordings left on the school's phone answering systems, our investigators were able to determine a phone number from where the calls originated," Fortunato said.
"Shortly thereafter, our investigators called the phone number and in turn were greeted by a subject who identified himself as Shane Kersey. When questioned relative to the threatening phone calls at the schools, Kersey admitted making the phone calls to four schools, two in Jefferson Parish and two in Plaquemines Parish."

Kersey is a 35-year-old resident of Lafitte, Louisiana, according to police. Fortuanto says Kersey told investigators, "The foil wrapped around his head secured by a baseball cap was there to prevent microwave signals from entering his head." Authorities say no threatening devices were found at the schools. 

According to police, Shane Kersey has a very extensive prior criminal history with multiple arrests for Possession of Narcotics, Simple Burglary, Aggravated Battery, Criminal Trespassing, Theft, Illegal Possession of a Weapon, along with numerous traffic related offenses. Kersey was booked into the JPCC with two counts of Terrorizing, along with being a fugitive from Plaquemines Parish on a simple burglary warrant.

Science News

Nanoparticles carrying a toxin found in bee venom can destroy human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) while leaving surrounding cells unharmed, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown. The finding is an important ...
In evolutionary biology, there is a deeply rooted supposition that you can’t go home again: Once an organism has evolved specialized traits, it can’t return to the lifestyle of its ancestors. There’s even a name ...
Malaria, the leading cause of death among children in Africa, could be eliminated if three-fourths of the population used insecticide-treated bed nets, according to a new study from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological ...
With data from 73 ice and sediment core monitoring sites around the world, scientists have reconstructed Earth’s temperature history back to the end of the last Ice Age. The analysis reveals that the planet today ...

Should You Switch to a Mediterranean Diet?

A Mediterranean diet is found to be among the healthiest -- but it doesn't just mean pouring olive oil all over your food.

Gourmet apples

Excerpts from an article in the University of Cincinnati magazine:
For nearly 200 years, Japanese farmers have fine-tuned the little-known craft of creating gourmet apples. To document their "incredibly labor- intensive efforts," Stevens spent four months in Japan last year photographing how the Japanese cultivate enormous apples with utterly unblemished skins and perfectly tinted on all sides...

The work starts in the spring when farmers thin the apple blossoms. "An average tree has 4,000 blossoms, and they cull them down to 200 to 400," she says. Each flower consists of a set of five blossoms -- one in the center, surrounded by four more, she explains. Farmers climb ladders to carefully pluck the four outer blooms, leaving only the center one. This creates fruit that is 30 percent larger than American apples, the standard size expected in Japan, she notes.

In June, while apples are still less than an inch in diameter, imperfect fruit is discarded, and the best apples are identified as ones to "bag." Farmers go back up the ladders, armed with distinctive bags made of a special opaque paper and lined with a translucent, colored wax paper, she describes. They pull a bag over each apple, pleat it in way to allow room for growth, then wire it shut so the apple receives no sunlight for three months or more. The technique keeps out pests, significantly extends the storage life and flavor of the fruit, and leaves apples a creamy white color. In the fall, farmers again climb the ladders to carefully remove the outer bag without tearing the lining...

When the wax bags are finally removed, farmers take exorbitant steps to increase an apple's exposure to the sun, thereby increasing its sugar content and giving each a uniform color. They trim branches and strip leaves from remaining branches to keep shadows off the fruit. Next, they lay silver or white mats on the ground to reflect sunlight on the bottom of the fruit. Every few weeks, they also hand-turn each piece to give all sides equal sun exposure...

For the biggest, most perfect apples, they also apply sticker-like stencils to create designs on the apples' skin. "The stencils act like a high-contrast negative," the professor notes. "Some have sayings on them, such as, 'Best wishes for a long life.' Some are negatives with pictures. One Japanese pop star put his picture on apples to give his entourage for presents."

Zimbabwe rangers catch and put down 3 killer lions

Wildlife rangers in Zimbabwe said Friday three lions that killed two people near a suburb in the northern resort town of Kariba have been caught and put down.

The 1st African American Man Dates Back 338,000 Years

A miniscule bit of DNA from an African American man now living in South Carolina has been traced back 338,000 years. ->

Stone-Age Skeletons Unearthed in Sahara Desert

The skeletons date between 8,000 and 4,200 years ago, meaning the burial place was used for millennia.

Viking Sunstone

  Legend has it that the Vikings used a navigation device called the sunstone to tell the direction of the sun, even on a cloudy day. The device was dismissed as myth ... until today:
... experiments have shown that a crystal, called an Iceland spar, could detect the sun with an accuracy within a degree – allowing the legendary seafarers to navigate thousands of miles on cloudy days and during short Nordic nights.
Dr Guy Ropars, of the University of Rennes, and colleagues said "a precision of a few degrees could be reached" even when the sun was below the horizon.
An Iceland spar, which is transparent and made of calcite, was found in the wreck of an Elizabethan ship discovered thirty years ago off the coast of Alderney in the Channel Islands after it sank in 1592 just four years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Astronomical News

Forget the Higgs boson's delusions of grandeur, the exchange particle that gives stuff mass appears to be something of a disappointment. ->
This 'Methuselah star' looks like it is 14.5 billion years old, which is impossible, scientists say.
Relatively recently, water blasted out from an underground aquifer on Mars, carving out deep flood channels in the surface that were later buried by lava flows.
Astrochemists have detected two complex molecules in interstellar space, which may provide more clues as to where life's first complex molecules came from. ->
As Comet Panstarrs makes its debut in Northern Hemisphere skies, it will be a naked eye celestial object -- here's how YOU could see it.
It’s been a long time coming, but Comet Pan-STARRS will be visible in the northern hemisphere just after twilight beginning Thursday.

The Coolest Thing About Alpha Centauri A

Alpha Centauri A has been seen to have a cool layer in its atmosphere, just above it's surface -- the first time this has been observed in a star other than the sun.

Salt Lake Tribune reports: "Mars peopled by one vast thinking vegetable!"

"The Tribune followed up this story on the very next page with one on how the English aristocracy was turning into gorillas."

'New Life'

Antarctic lake yields 'new life'Lake Vostok camp

Russian scientists say they have found a new type of bacterial life form in water from a buried Antarctic lake.

The Only Virus with Immune System

The immune system usually fights the virus, but sometimes, a sneaky virus turn the tables against the host and uses its immune system against itself:
Bacteria often carry repetitive genetic sequences called CRISPRs, which protect them against viruses.
When a bacterium is attacked by a virus, it copies a small piece of the virus's DNA and stores it among the CRISPRs. The bacterium will then be better at fighting off the virus: the bacterium can acquire resistance, just like a human acquiring resistance to a disease.
The CRISPRs are a library of diseases, storing samples of past infections. If the same kind of virus attacks again, the bacterium is ready. Any viral genes that enter the cell are quickly marked for destruction. [...]
But the war isn't over. Viruses are notoriously adaptable. According to Andrew Camilli of Tufts University in Boston and colleagues, ICP1 has managed to turn the CRISPR system to its own advantage.
Camilli discovered ICP1 in 2011, and found it to be common in cholera bacteria in Bangladesh. The surprise came when his team found ICP1 had its own CRISPRs, and genes for the Cas proteins, probably stolen from a bacterium.
Camilli looked at the genetic samples stored in the virus's CRISPRs, and found that two of them were identical to a section of the V. cholerae genome. Better still, these bits of DNA are involved in other aspects of the bacterium's immune response.
The implication is that at some point, the virus must have stolen part of the bacterium's arsenal and re-programmed it to target what was left.
Michael Marshall of NewScientist's Zoologger has the post: Here.

Oh, the Horror!

"This image may look like something dreamed up for a surreal horror movie, but it's a real horror for the tarantula in question. This unfortunate arachnid is infected with Cordyceps, a parasitic fungus that replaces its host's tissue with its own.

Cordyceps fungi invades its hosts (mainly arthropods), and its mycelium eventually replaces the host's tissue. Once the arthropod is dead, cylindrical or branching growths emerge from the creature's dead body. Some species also have mind-control capabilities, convincing the host to travel to a place where the fungus will find optimal growth conditions before the host dies."

The Cheetah Curse

vA pair of cheetah cubs born at the National Zoo in Washington have been hailed as a miracle, or at least a victory, in the science of breeding cheetahs. Since they were declared an endangered species, zoos can no longer import cheetahs from the wild, and breeding them became very important, not only for the sake of the zoos, but to help researchers keep them from disappearing altogether. Why are cheetahs so hard to breed in captivity? SciWrite has a fascinating three-part post on the history of cheetahs, their social structure in the wild, and the attempts to breed them in captivity. Oh yeah, and the story of Ally's difficult birth that resulted in the two cubs, Justin and Carmelita. From part two:
While some researchers started watching cheetahs from afar, another group took an opposite approach and starting collecting blood, urine, and stool samples. Written into the cheetah’s genes, researchers stumbled upon the cat’s dark history. Around 10,000 years ago, cheetahs nearly went extinct. An estimated 10-20 individuals survived, the ancestors of all living cheetahs today. Consequently, current “cheetahs have almost zero percent of genetic variability,” says Steve Bircher. They are “all like brothers and sisters.”

Could the lack of genetic diversity having a lingering effect? Studies of male cheetah sperm showed startlingly low sperm counts; about one-tenth the normal counts of lions, tigers, and domestic cats, according to Bircher. This was initially thought to explain low captive birth rates until it was realized that wild Namibian males with similarly low sperm counts reproduce just fine.

“Lack of genetic variability is not what has hampered the cheetah ability to breed,” says Bircher. “Quite simply, it’s how we managed cheetahs.”
Just above the title of each post the link to the next post in the series. More

Giant Anaconda Filmed Underwater

Hey, let's go for a swim! The water looks fine and I don't see any pesky snakes. Just don't let your feet touch the bottom of the river. You might disturb this 23-foot anaconda that biologist Daniel De Granville photographed in Brazil's Formoso River.

Animal News

No species has ever returned from extinction, but some animals have made amazing U-turns just before disappearing.
Caffeine-laced nectar provides bees with a memory boost and helps them find flowers. 
A study of 30,000 bees from 438 species over 140 years in the northeast US shows that bumbles are in trouble, southern bees are moving in and exotic species are on the rise. 
Tens of thousands of sharks have been spotted migrating along the Florida coast, causing beach closures.
A pointer named 'Major' was identified this week as being the first known modern breed of dog. See photos of other early dog breeds.

Prairie dogs pull up stakes and look for a new place to live when all their close kin have disappeared from their home territory–a striking pattern of dispersal that has not been observed for any ...