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Friday, April 5, 2013

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Today in History

1242   Russian troops repel an invasion by Teutonic knights.
1614   Pocahontas marries English colonist John Rolfe.
1792   George Washington casts the first presidential veto.
1843   Queen Victoria proclaims Hong Kong a British crown colony.
1861   Gideon Wells, the Secretary of the Navy issues official orders for the
1865   As the Confederate army approaches Appomattox, it skirmishes with Union forces at Amelia Springs and Paine's Cross Road.
1908   The Japanese Army reaches Yalu River as Russians retreat.
1919   Eamon de Valera becomes president of Ireland.
1930   Mahatma Ghandi defies British law by making salt in India instead of buying it from the British.
1941   German commandos secure docks along the Danube River in preparation for Germany's invasion of the Balkans.
1943   The British 8th Army attacks the next blocking position of the retreating Axis forces at Wadi Akarit.
1951   Americans Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are sentenced to death for espionage.
1955   Winston Churchill resigns as British prime minister.
1986   A bomb explodes in a West Berlin disco packed with American soldiers.

Non Sequitur


The Worst Parade to Ever Hit the Streets of Boston

In Boston in 1774, tensions were building up that would lead to the Revolutionary War. The colonies were chafing under British rule, and the British were exerting their authority by clamping down on rebellious communities. This was the atmosphere in which John Malcom, a bad-tempered loyalist customs official, was found yelling at a young boy in the street. One thing led to another, and Malcolm hit a townsman in the head. Later that night, a mob gathered to give Malcolm what for.
After a stop at a nearby wharf to pick up a barrel of tar (at some point, down-filled pillows, perhaps taken from Malcom’s own house, were also collected), the crowd, which now numbered more than a thousand people, hauled Malcom through the snowy streets to the center of town, where after three “Huzzas,” they loaded him into a cart parked in front of the Customs House. Almost four years before, this had been the site of the Boston Massacre, and as a consequence the building was now referred to as Butchers’ Hall. Bonfires were common in this portion of King Street, a 60-foot-wide plaza-like space in front of the Town Hall paved with seashells and gravel where the stocks and whipping post were also located. One of these fires may have been used to heat the stiff and sludgy pine tar (a distillation of the bituminous substance that bubbled from a smoldering pine tree) into a pourable black paste.
It was one of the bitterest evenings of the year. Boston Harbor had frozen over two nights before. Malcom was undoubtedly trembling with cold and fear, but this did not prevent the crowd from tearing off his clothes (dislocating his arm in the process) and daubing his skin with steaming tar that would have effectively parboiled his flesh. Once the feathers had been added, Malcom was clothed in what was known at the time as a “modern jacket”: a painful and mortifying announcement to the world that he had sinned against the collective mores of the community. Tarring and feathering went back centuries to the time of the crusades; it was also applied to the effigies used during Pope Night; several Boston loyalists before him had been tarred and feathered, but none could claim the level of suffering that Malcom was about to endure.
The story of John Malcolm's torture at Smithsonian also describes the political background of the incident, and the mob mentality that eventually was harnessed as a tool for the Revolution. More

New York KFC and McDonald's workers to strike

Workers want better pay, right to organize without retaliation, intimidation McDonald's  
Naquasia LeGrand, who gets paid $7.70 an hour at a KFC in Brooklyn, N.Y., recently got her full-time hours cut by more than a third. She said the reduced pay isn't enough to pay her bills.

Le Grand is joining fast food workers across New York City on Thursday in protest. Organizers are expecting workers at 70 of the city's McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and Yum Brands-owned Pizza Hut and KFC locations to join. The protests are being organized by a coalition of labor, community and clergy groups called Fast Food Forward.
Dozens of workers walked off work Thursday morning at a McDonald's location near Times Square, according to Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, one of the main sponsors of the protest. He said that a Burger King on Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn had trouble opening on time in the morning because so many of its workers had walked off.
Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The group is asking employers to pay workers a minimum of $15 an hour, and for the right to organize without retaliation and intimidation. Currently, the median pay for the nearly 50,000 fast food workers in New York City is $9 an hour, or $18,500 a year, according to the New York Labor Department. That's about $4,500 lower than Census Bureau's poverty income threshold level of $23,000 for a family of four.
LeGrand, 21, said she lives with her grandmother, aunt and cousin because she can't afford her own place.
"I have to decide whether to get a MetroCard or eat," she said.
This is not the first time LeGrand is joining a protest.
In November, she joined 50 fast food workers in Manhattan, who walked off their shifts calling for similar rights.
Shortly after, Le Grand got a 20 cent raise, but her hours were cut to 24 from 38 per week. Within five months, she was working only 11.5 hours.
"My manager said she was hiring new workers and that's why my hours were cut," she said. She believes it had to do with her participating in the November protests.
KFC didn't respond to a request for comment on LeGrand's allegation. KFC spokesman Rick Maynard said: "Our restaurants in the area are franchise-owned."
Under the National Labor Relations Act, workers are protected from retaliation as long as they work in concert with at least one other employee to try to change their working conditions. However, they can be permanently replaced if they strike for purely economic reasons.
The protest organizer Westin said that more workers were participating Thursday, because the November protests raised awareness of their labor rights.
"The protestors in November showed that workers were able to look their managers in their faces and say they deserve better," he said. "Other workers were emboldened and the numbers are continuing to grow."
The walk outs were scheduled to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was shot in Memphis on April 4, one day after he delivered his famous "I've been to the mountaintop" speech in support of striking sanitation workers.
"To think that in 2013 we're having the same discussion about gaining a respectable wage and the right to organize as we had in 1968 is ludicrous," said Minister Kirsten John Foy, a civil rights activist at the National Action Network in Brooklyn who is participating in the protests.
Labor experts say there have been scattered attempts to organize over the last several decades, but very little in the fast food industry has stuck. Many say that's because there is a high turnover rate of labor in the industry.

The US is halfway to Obama's 5-year export-doubling goal

FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama waves as he arrives before speaking at the Rodon Group, which manufactures over 95% of the parts for K’NEX Brands toys, in Hatfield, Pa. Suddenly outsourcing is on the way out and insourcing on the way in as the U.S. trudges unevenly toward the president's goal of doubling American exports around the world by the start of 2015. So far, export levels are about halfway to his mark. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)  
Suddenly outsourcing is on the way out and insourcing on the way in as the U.S. trudges unevenly toward President Barack Obama's goal of doubling American exports around the world by the start of 2015. So far, export levels are about halfway to his mark.
Obama set the five-year target in his January 2010 State of the Union address and recently has hastened his drumbeat, telling his export advisory council last month the nation was "well on our way" to his goal. "The question now becomes: How do we sustain this momentum?"
While economists and industry leaders generally expect the ambitious target to be missed, impressive gains already booked in American manufacturing and exporting suggest such a miss may not be by that much.
Why the optimism toward a manufacturing comeback? Here are five reasons:
— Cheap U.S. natural gas and other increased energy production are helping to power U.S. factories more efficiently, with gas especially providing inexpensive raw materials for U.S. manufacturers of plastics, tires, certain pharmaceuticals and other petrochemical products.
— Higher wages in China and other foreign export markets are making outsourcing less profitable to U.S. firms.
— Congressional approval in 2011 of trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama and other agreements being negotiated now with Asia and Europe are promising to open more foreign markets to U.S. products.
— High U.S. unemployment is relieving pressure on factory owners to increase wages, helping to make U.S. labor costs more globally competitive.
— Major technology advances have steadily boosted factory efficiency and worker productivity.
Yet while many industries are doing more with fewer workers, more than half a million new manufacturing jobs have been added in just the past few years.
Of course, some big bumps lie in the road. Europe is mired in recession, the American economy continues to expand at a snail's pace and the jobless rate sits at a stubbornly high 7.7 percent almost four years after the 2007-09 recession ended.
Obama's starting point was 2009 exports of $1.57 trillion. Since then, they've climbed to a record $2.19 trillion in 2012 — about 48 percent toward his goal of some $3.14 trillion a year by the start of 2015.
But 2012 exports, while a record, grew just 5.5 percent from those in 2011, down from a 15.9 percent surge from 2010 to 2011. The rate would have to pick up sharply again this year and next to meet Obama's target.
"Some of the headwinds we faced last year have started to improve," said Chad Moutay, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers. "And I think energy is a game-changer. We definitely have increased the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing."
U.S. manufacturers posted a fourth consecutive month of expansion in March. While the rate was a bit below February's gain, the overall trend is still up.
Some critics argue that Obama set the bar artificially low by using recessionary 2009 numbers as his starting point.
Alan Tonelson, an official with the U.S. Business and Industry Council, said Obama also "has the wrong goal" by focusing on exports and not the other part of the trade equation: still-huge import levels and resulting trade deficits.
The U.S. imported $540.4 billion more in goods and services last year than it exported, down only slightly from the $559.9 billion trade deficit in 2011.
"We racked up a pretty impressive export performance over the last few years. But the main reason that we may not reach the Obama doubling-export goal is the world economy is slowing down," said Tonelson, whose organization represents nearly 2,000 mainly family-owned U.S. manufacturing companies.
Obama shrugs off such skepticism, suggesting the recent manufacturing gains speak for themselves.
"What's happening here is happening all around the country," the president said during a recent visit to a flourishing engine-part factory in Ashville, N.C. "Just as it's becoming more and more expensive to do business in places like China, America is getting more competitive."
Federal legislative "Buy America" restrictions on certain recent government contracts— considered protectionist by many economists — are also being credited with helping to spur some recent U.S. manufacturing gains.
The U.S. now makes about 18 percent of the world's goods, down from nearly 40 percent right after World War II. Clearly, many manufacturing jobs will never come back.
"The U.S. had manufacturing trade surpluses until around 1980 (but) has run big deficits since then," said Martin Baily, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and co-author of a new Brookings study of U.S. manufacturing.
The study showed that high trade deficits, especially with China, and high U.S. business tax rates are combining to keep U.S. manufacturing from rebounding more strongly.
Manufacturing "still remains a very important sector and one that I think we need to foster and that needs to flourish," Baily said. "So we need to expand manufacturing in order to reduce that trade deficit. We can't just do it on services alone."
Republicans have long clamored for lower corporate tax rates to stimulate business growth. At a nominal top rate of 35 percent, the U.S. has the highest corporate tax of the world's industrialized nations.
While few U.S. companies actually pay the full rate due to various deductions and credits, U.S. tax bites dissuade foreign companies from setting up shop here while providing incentives to U.S. multinational companies to keep large sums overseas, repugicans argue.
Obama largely agrees and has proposed lowering the top rate to 25 percent for manufacturers, even lower rates on income from still-undefined "advanced manufacturing" and 28 percent for all other corporations.
Laura D. Tyson, who was President Bill Clinton's chief national economic adviser and served on Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, said there are big barriers to getting a significant reduction in corporate rates. Among them: "The country desperately needs more tax revenues" and "there are huge vested interests" to protect existing loopholes, she said.
"At the end, I would like to get rid of the corporate tax," Tyson said. "That's probably not going to happen."

The repugicans Go Silent After President Obama Gives Back 5% of His Salary

obama pointing
Oh, dear. President Obama is going to be writing the government a check every month for 5% of his salary as a show of unity with federal workers impacted by the repugican sequester. That’s $20,000 a year. If repugicans are so concerned about the deficit that they were willing to allow the sequester to kick in, surely they will step up to follow the President’s fiscal example.
CNN reported today:
Obama, whose $400,000 annual salary is set in law and can’t officially be changed, will write a check made out to the U.S. treasury every month beginning in April. Since the mandatory across-the-board spending cuts went into effect March 1, his payment for last month will be paid retroactively.
“The president has decided that to share in the sacrifice being made by public servants across the federal government that are affected by the sequester, he will contribute a portion of his salary back to the Treasury,” the official said.
According to the Constitution, the President’s salary can’t be changed during his/her term: “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”
But just in case anyone was wondering (like a few of the super outraged conservative sites), the Budget Control Act of 2011 contained an exemption that elected members of Congress (and the President, but that’s sort of redundant given the Constitution)  won’t have their salary or pension reduced.
A check of John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Rand Paul’s websites reveals not a single statement or mention of the president’s decision to return 5% of his pay. Apparently, these repugicans believe that their talk of budgetary belt tightening applies to you, not them.
In February of this year, repugicans happily proposed reducing the federal workforce through attrition to avoid sequestration this year. They didn’t ask for cuts to federal contractors. They asked for cuts to employees who have already sacrificed  $103 billion in the name of deficit reduction since 2011, according to Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA).  They left for break after approving reduced funding for their committees, but not for themselves.
While Senator Lindsey Graham (r-SC) made pretty PR by authoring an amendment for a fund to which Congress could choose to donate 20% of their pay , USA Today points out that it was part of a non-binding vote to the budget resolution, and thus does not have the force of law.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter already volunteered their salaries before the President did. So far,  two Democratic Senators have also risen to the challenge: Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) stepped up to the plate and will be returning a portion of his salary,  ”We need to be making responsible cuts wherever we can and there is no reason that members of Congress shouldn’t feel the pinch like everyone else.” And Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-O)  has also pledged to return a portion of her salary. Not a peep from a repugican yet.
Meanwhile, as the President shows solidarity with American workers, in the House, Eric Cantor (r-VA) is pushing a bill to gut rules governing overtime pay for the American workers.
It’s ironic that the people claiming to be so concerned about the deficit and so eager to cut pay for some people are unwilling thus far to step up to the plate and cut their own pay even by 1%. Tick tock repugicans. Put your money where your mouth is.

The repugicans' hypocrisy on display

Right to bear arms? Absolute!  Right to free speech? Not so much.
From Crooks and Liars...

Limited-Government Idaho Wingnuts Don't Want You To See Pre-Marital Sex on TV
 by Nicole Belle

It's amazing how little their stated beliefs actually align with their actual actions. Wingnuts purport to be against big government; they sneer at the nanny state they claim Liberals want. But when all is said and done, it seems like wingnuts have no problem expanding government when it comes to your bedroom:

    A number of Idaho lawmakers are targeting a topic they say should be taboo on television: premarital sex.

    And they're taking a symbolic stand.

    Lawmakers are against references to premarital sex in dramas, comedies, reality and talk shows as well as advertisements.

    "We need to take a stand and stand up for for the morality of what is best for the citizens of Idaho," said Rep. Darrell Bolz, (r-Caldwell).

    The measure that easily passed the house state affairs committee would urge the federal government and the FCC to prohibit the portrayal, even implied, or even the discussion of premarital sex on TV between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Leave it to repugicans to not understand the basic concept of the First Amendment. If only these repugicans felt as squeamish and horrified at the sight of ignorance, poverty and violence, and expended some energy trying to alleviate them in real life -- instead of just pretending something doesn't exist.

It's Dimbulb verses O'Really

The repugican civil war heats up
The person who did more than anyone else to make birth control an issue in 2012, of course,
was Lush Dimbulb, who called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute”
after she testified in support of requiring insurance companies to cover contraception. O’Really
would never have done that, not because he refrains from savaging obscure individuals with
whom he disagrees, but because he never goes after a sympathetic target. Dimbulb and O’Really
both see themselves as four-star generals in America’s culture war. The difference is that Dimbulb
launches kamikaze missions. O’Really never yells charge unless he has the infantry massed on his side.

You can see the difference in the way the two men respond to people perceived as wingnut extremists.
Dimbulb embraces them; O’Really disses them. After 2008 O’Really peddled nasty reports from former
McCain staffers about Sarah Palin. This enraged Dimbulb, who asked, “Why’s Faux allowing itself to be
used like this?” and defended Palin as “the one person in this campaign that brought the repugican base
back into the fold, that fired them up, that inspired them.” Similarly, this February, O’Really criticized
Michele Bachmann for claiming that President Obama has been living extravagantly in the White House.
Calling Bachmann’s charges “trivial,”


What's more fun than a repugican civil war?

No More Free Rides

Judge Orders Birther to Pay $177k for His Delusions
 birther fail
American taxpayers are getting their wish to have birthers forced to pay for their frivolous delusions. In Brooklyn, Judge Arthur Schack condemned birther Christopher Earl Strunk to pay $177,000 for wasting the court’s time with his ‘frivolous’ lawsuit, New York Daily News reported Wednesday.
The judge didn’t spare any feelings, calling Schack’s suit  ’fanciful’ and ‘delusional.’ Read the full order here.
“If the complaint in this action was a movie script, it would be entitled ‘The Manchurian Candidate Meets the Da Vinci Code,’” wrote Schack.
Strunk’s suit, which he filed in order to have President Barack Obama removed from the 2012 ballot, was based on his paranoid delusion that a “massive conspiracy to defraud American voters was perpetrated by hundreds of individuals, at the behest of the Roman catholic cult and especially the Jesuits.”
Oh, yes. The Roman catholic cult ordered Obama to be President and hid his real birth certificate from American voters. You can tell by the way they pushed Mitt Romney in 2012. What a ruse!
Strunk has filed over 20 lawsuits naming various governmental agencies as the defendant (he also included the New York Province of the Society of Jesus in one suit), furthering the notion that birthers don’t mind wasting taxpayer money on their delusions — it’s just feeding the poor that they find so morally objectionable.
The head of the Alabama Democratic Party got so sick of the Birther nonsense that he threatened that he might start to demanding legal fees after he wrapped up one case only to be sued again within two hours for the exact same birther claim.
They have the right to be crazy, but they don’t have the right to force us to pay for their craziness. Of course, you can lead a birther to reality but you can’t make them deal with it.  Christopher Earl Strunk seems unwilling to operate within the confines of the real world.
The New York Daily News reported Strunk is still delusional. He believes, “I’m going to have this thing overturned and I’m not going to pay a dime.” The Birther scorecard begs to differ with him
How’s that rebranding effort going again?

We deserve to know which companies track & sell our location and sexual orientation

California is considering a landmark “Right to Know” privacy law that As much as technology continues to evolve, privacy legislation, especially in the US, continues to lag further and further behind. Political lobbying from Facebook, and other online powers that make money from your digital details, has made protecting privacy a non-issue in Washington (and America), until now.
If you’re not already following the Electronic Frontier Foundation, you really should, because they do good work, including alerting people to important legislation such as this out of California. It’s a complicated issue, but in a nutshell, California law already permits you to contact businesses and ask them to provide you a list of which other companies they provided (sold) your personal data to (basically for direct-marketing purposes), and what kind of data they gave them.
Computer via Shutterstock
The new proposal would go much father.  The ACLU fact sheet on this says that current California only covers older styles of telemarketing, such as mail, email and phone calls.  The new law would include direct marketing via online advertisers, data brokers, and third party apps.
Another good thing the new proposal would do is update the laws listing of what kind of personal information the company would have you that it’s keeping on, and selling about, you.  For example, under the old law they’d have to tell you if they’re selling your name, address, and phone number.  But under the new law companies would have to tell you if they’re keeping track of, and selling, data about your sexual orientation, location, associations, and buying habits.
It really is scary what these companies know about us, and how much we don’t even know about what information they already have, and what they’re doing with it.  (Also scary is how much our own ignorance, or lack of caring, contributes to our lost privacy.)
General Wesley Clark 
It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven year since John Aravosis bought General Wesley Clark’s cell phone records for $89.  While John’s admirable stunt finally got that problem fixed, it’s going to take a lot more stunts to convince our government, and big business, to take our privacy seriously.
It’s not unreasonable for consumers to know how their personal data is being sold and used. And as EFF notes in their piece, these protections already exist overseas, so these companies already know how to pull this data.
Another important point that the EFF makes is that storing some of this data is not necessary. We all know how secure stored data is – not very – even when organizations have extensive security infrastructures. Store it and they will come, if you will.
Sadly, a number of large companies have banded together with the Obama administration to block efforts to improve privacy protections for several years now.  Dana Liebelson at Mother Jones wrote a few weeks ago about how Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Amazon and eBay are working with the Obama administration to fight European Union efforts to increase privacy protections across the Atlantic.
Facebook’s spending on lobbying is up 196%.  Google’s is up 70%.  And while some of that work is “good,” others, like their work to derail privacy legislation, is not.
Mark Zuckerberg’s sister Randi deserves the same privacy protections that Europeans enjoy.  It’s time for the US to take privacy seriously, and California’s proposed Right to Know law is a giant step in the right direction.

Attacks on punks and goths are now hate crimes in Manchester

Manchester, England has expanded its hate-crime laws to include attacks on the basis of dress or an "alternative sub-culture identity." The expansion follows on the fatal 2007 attack on Sophie Lancaster, whose attackers chose her because of her goth identity.
"People who wish to express their alternative sub-culture identity freely should not have to tolerate hate crime," Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said.
Manchester police said the change would enable officers to give more support to victims of anti-punk or anti-Goth crime. But it won't necessarily mean tougher sentences.
Although British judicial guidelines call for people convicted of hate crimes to receive tougher sentences, the Manchester decision has not been recognised nationally.

Sibling dispute involving frying pan, machete and gun ends with brother and mother jailed

A dispute between twin brothers in Flagler County, Florida, involving a frying pan and machete ended with one possibly wounded and put in jail after a shot was fired and their mother charged with filing a false police report.
Franklin and Daniel Goggans, both 27, had been arguing outside a Palm Coast home on Tuesday morning when Daniel Goggans went inside and came back out with the frying pan, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office said. He stood on his brother’s truck and tapped on his windshield with the skillet as his brother sat inside.

He then retrieved a machete and told his brother, who had got out of the truck, that he would “cut him up,” the Sheriff’s Office report said. Franklin Goggans returned to his truck to leave but found that his keys were missing, prompting him to grab his gun. Pointing the gun at his brother, he warned him to stay away then fired two shots toward the ground, telling deputies one of the shots may have hit his sibling.

Deputies said it appeared that Daniel Goggans sustained a foot wound but he would not tell the them how he was injured. He was charged with domestic violence assault. The Sheriff’s Office said the men’s mother, Lajuana Goggans, 55, denied that any shots were fired and interfered with the investigation, resulting in her being jailed along with her son.

Woman who lived with brother's mummified corpse until it skeletonized tried to throw it away with household garbage

A Japanese woman who lived for years with her brother's mummified corpse tried to dispose of him with the household rubbish when she finally realized he was dead, police say.

The woman, 49, told officers she discovered the desiccated cadaver of Masao Tadano as she and another sister tried to move house last November.

It's not known how many years Tadano, who would have been 48 at the time, had been dead, but it was long enough for his body to have become skeletonized. Tadano lived with his two sisters in an old house in northern Hokkaido but confined himself to his room and had not communicated with his family for many years.

His dismembered body was discovered by demolition workers in a number of plastic bags left with household rubbish when the family moved out, police reported. The woman, whose case has been sent straight to prosecutors without her being arrested, told police she "did not want to be criticized and thought it would be gotten rid of in the rubbish'', an investigator said.

Seven Social Classes

Where Do You Belong?
 New survey in the UK shows that the traditional social class categories of working, middle, and upper class are outdated - there are actually 7 social classes:The new classes are defined as:

Elite - the most privileged group in the UK, distinct from the other six classes through its wealth. This group has the highest levels of all three capitals
Established middle class - the second wealthiest, scoring highly on all three capitals. The largest and most gregarious group, scoring second highest for cultural capital
Technical middle class - a small, distinctive new class group which is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital. Distinguished by its social isolation and cultural apathy
New affluent workers - a young class group which is socially and culturally active, with middling levels of economic capital
Traditional working class - scores low on all forms of capital, but is not completely deprived. Its members have reasonably high house values, explained by this group having the oldest average age at 66
Emergent service workers - a new, young, urban group which is relatively poor but has high social and cultural capital
Precariat, or precarious proletariat - the poorest, most deprived class, scoring low for social and cultural capital
The BBC has more: Here.

Words That Are Their Own Opposites

Oh, English. The language we all know and love, the lingua franca of a large part of the world, is filled with many beloved idiosyncrasies. Judith Herman of mental_floss dug up 14 of English words that are their own opposites.
For example:
1. Sanction (via French, from Latin sanctio(n-), from sancire ‘ratify,’) can mean ‘give official permission or approval for (an action)’ or conversely, ‘impose a penalty on.’
2. Oversight is the noun form of two verbs with contrary meanings, “oversee” and “overlook.” “Oversee,” from Old English oferseon ‘look at from above,’ means ‘supervise’ (medieval Latin for the same thing: super- ‘over’ + videre ‘to see.’) “Overlook” usually means the opposite: ‘to fail to see or observe; to pass over without noticing; to disregard, ignore.’
3. Left can mean either remaining or departed. If the gentlemen have withdrawn to the drawing room for after-dinner cigars, who’s left? (The gentlemen have left and the ladies are left.)
4. Dust, along with the next two words, is a noun turned into a verb meaning either to add or to remove the thing in question. Only the context will tell you which it is. When you dust are you applying dust or removing it? It depends whether you’re dusting the crops or the furniture.
5. Seed can also go either way. If you seed the lawn you add seeds, but if you seed a tomato you remove them.

Mars missions scaled back in April because of sun

This artist rendering provided by NASA shows the positions of the sun, Earth and Mars, at left. Radio communications between Earth and Mars are limited during this planetary alignment, which occurs in April. Spacecraft in orbit around Mars and on the surface will not receive new commands during this period. Next month, Mars will be passing almost directly behind the sun, from Earth's perspective. The sun can easily disrupt radio transmissions between the two planets during that near-alignment. (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech)  
It's the Martian version of spring break: Curiosity and Opportunity, along with their spacecraft friends circling overhead, will take it easy this month because of the sun's interference. For much of April, the sun blocks the line of sight between Earth and Mars. This celestial alignment — called a Mars solar conjunction — makes it difficult for engineers to send instructions or hear from the flotilla in orbit and on the surface.
Such communication blackouts occur every two years when the red planet disappears behind the sun. No new commands are sent since flares and charged particles spewing from the sun can scramble transmission signals and put spacecraft in danger.
Mission teams prepared by uploading weeks of scaled-back activities beforehand.
"They're on their own," said Rich Zurek, chief Mars scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The rovers are banned from driving. Instead, they take a staycation and study their surroundings. The orbiting Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter continue to listen for the rovers and make their own observations, but for the most part will transmit data once Mars is in view again.
Opportunity, Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the European Space Agency's Mars Express have survived previous bouts of restricted communications. It's the first for Curiosity, which landed last year near the Martian equator to hunt for the chemical building blocks of life.
Beginning Thursday and through May 1, Curiosity can only check the weather every hour, measure radiation and look for signs of water below the desert-like surface. The limited chores are a departure for the active six-wheeler, which is used to driving, drilling and zapping its laser at rocks.
Before the sun got in the way, Curiosity made its biggest discovery yet: From a drilled piece of rock, it determined that its crater landing site was habitable billions of years ago, possessing some of the basic ingredients necessary to support tiny microbes.
Scientists must wait until next month to drill into another rock and start the long-delayed trek to a mountain where Curiosity will search for the elusive organic molecules that are fundamental to life as we know it. The road trip was supposed to have started last year, but longer-than-expected science experiments put Curiosity behind schedule.
Odyssey, circling Mars since 2001, has experienced half a dozen blackout episodes with no problem. This time, it will try something new. There are plans to radio Earth every day even if calls are dropped, mostly to keep engineers updated on Curiosity's health. The rover is also programmed to send daily beeps to ground controllers.
By contrast, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will record and store information onboard its computers and beam it back after the hiatus. Opportunity, which parked itself in a clay-rich spot, will use the down time to study a rock and track the amount of dust in the sky.
With Mars missions on autopilot, many scientists and engineers planned to take vacation while a small crew remains on duty.
"We've been through this before," Zurek said. "We're not expecting to have any problems during this period. Let's hope it stays that way."

Chinese children tackle 70m cliff climb on school route

Children from a remote village in southern China face a treacherous journey home from school, up 230-foot ladders that stand against a vertical cliff.

The children, who go to school 35 kilometers away from their remote village in Sangzhi County, Hunan Province rarely have the opportunity to go home.

When they do have the chance to visit their parents, they must first navigate a rocky mountain path, before climbing up rickety wooden ladders to reach their destination.

The children are not the only ones who are forced to use the vertigo-inducing access route - anyone who wants to reach Zhangjiawan Village must undertake the hair-raising climb, and that includes pets.

Odds and Ends

Some extra flab on your bones can have a helpful cushion effect in traffic accidents, finds a study.
A new baseball season means six months of excitement for fans but what feels like an eternity of frustration for some struggling hitters.
Environmental factors are expected to worsen suffering from allergens.

Archeaology News

Child and adult bones suggest ancient humans and Neanderthals crossed paths there.

Earth News

The massive melt of Greenland's glaciers last year resulted partly from thin, low-lying clouds that, as Goldilocks would say, were "just right." 
Oil spills around or near residential areas are uncommon. But when they happen, they can be expensive and devastating.
Melting ice around the Antarctic may paradoxically be preventing ice melt on the ocean surface.
The Alaska Volcano Observatory is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Climate scientist James Hansen is retiring from NASA this week to devote himself to the fight against global warming.
During this year's cicada swarmageddon, make a cicada smorgasbord by selecting the tastiest bugs from the richest cicada hunting grounds.
Advanced cameras helped scientists spot the phenomenon.

Astronomical News

If we're planning on colonizing other worlds, perhaps terraforming -- recreating Earth's conditions on another world -- may be a good way to go about it.
A NASA satellite has imaged the Mars rover's parachute over five months to reveal it being blown around by the thin Martian air. 
A $2 billion particle detector attached to the International Space Station has detected the potential signature of dark matter annihilation in the Cosmos.
It's time to throw on your T-shirts and point your 'scope at these astronomical beauties!
Astronomers have watched the sudden brightening of a galaxy and realized it can mean only one thing: a supermassive black hole has "woken up" and feasted after a long period of hibernation. 

Random Celebrity Photo


Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe

Hagfish Slime

Clothes of the Future?
That's slime from the hagfish. Take a good look, because you may be wearing it one day. Anna Rothschild of PRI's The World files this report over at the BBC about how hagfish slime may just be the fabric of the future:
The slime is composed of thread-like fibers.
“When you stretch the fibers in water and then dry them out they take on properties that are very silk-like,” says Douglas Fudge, who heads this research project at the University of Guelph.
Hagfish fibers are incredibly thin and extremely strong, and that gave Fudge and his colleagues an idea.
For years, scientists have been looking for natural alternatives to synthetic fiber like nylon and spandex that are made from oil, which is a nonrenewable resource. [...]
No one has made a spool of hagfish thread yet, but Fudge and his team see a future where hagfish slime or similar proteins could be turned into high-performance, eco-friendly clothing. The fibers might be used for stockings or breathable athletic wear or even bullet-proof vests.

Cows Are Cool

No really! Cows are cool!

Weird Crafty Fish Can Make Itself Invisible

And We Don't Know How

The pirate perch (Aphredoderus sayanus) is a very strange creature: it's a small fish, only 5.5 inches long at most. Its cloaca (sort of a combination waste and reproduction opening) is right under its chin, it breeds by secretly dropping eggs into a mass of tangled wood, it'll eat anything in your fish tank (hence its name), and now it's exhibiting some exceedingly odd predatory behavior.

Crypsis is a method taken by animals to conceal themselves; in other words, they use camouflage. The pirate perch, though, isn't doing that. In fact, the researchers weren't really sure what the pirate perch is doing. The researchers suggest that it could be producing some chemical that blocks other animals from sensing it, which would make it the only known animal to use chemical crypsis.

Animal News

A weapon used in the 19th century could hold clues to the disappearance of a native shark.
A truck driver is the latest person to report seeing a mysterious "alien black cat" in the English countryside.

Asian carp may have reached Great Lakes

FILE - In this June 22, 2010 file photo provided by the Illinois Department of Natural resources, a 20-pound Asian carp is held after being caught in Lake Calumet, about six miles downstream from Lake Michigan. A scientific report released Thursday, April 4, 2013 says at least some Asian carp probably have reached the Great Lakes, but there's still time to stop them from becoming established. (AP Photo/Illinois Department of Natural Resources, File) 
At least some Asian carp probably have found their way into the Great Lakes, but there's still time to stop the dreaded invaders from becoming established and unraveling food chains that support a $7 billion fishing industry and sensitive ecosystems, according to a scientific report released Thursday.
Written by experts who pioneered use of genetic data to search for the aggressive fish, the paper disagrees with government scientists who say many of the positive Asian carp DNA hits recorded in or near the lakes in recent years could have come from other sources, such as excrement from birds that fed on carp in distant rivers.
"The most plausible explanation is still that there are some carp out there," Christopher Jerde of the University of Notre Dame, the lead author, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "We can be cautiously optimistic ... that we're not at the point where they'll start reproducing, spreading further and doing serious damage."
The paper summarizes findings by Jerde and other scientists from Notre Dame, The Nature Conservancy and Central Michigan University during two years of searching the Great Lakes basin for Asian carp. The fish have migrated northward in the Mississippi River and many tributaries since escaping from Deep South ponds in the 1970s. Scientists fear they will out-compete prized sport and commercial species.
Of particular concern are silver and bighead carp, which gorge on plankton — microscopic plants and animals that virtually all fish eat at some point. The carp reproduce prolifically, and the biggest can reach 100 pounds.
Between September 2009 and October 2011, Jerde and his colleagues collected more than 2,800 water samples from parts of the Great Lakes and tributary rivers. The samples were poured through microfiber filters to extract DNA, which fish shed in their excrement, scales and body slime. It's known as environmental DNA, or "eDNA."
Laboratory analysis turned up 58 positive hits for bighead or silver carp in the Chicago Area Waterway System — a network of rivers and canals linked directly to Lake Michigan — and six in western Lake Erie. Some of the Chicago DNA was found in Lake Calumet, where a live bighead carp was caught in 2010.
"I would say there's at least some evidence for Asian carp being present in southern Lake Michigan," Jerde said. "The question is how many."
More recently, sampling by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies also yielded positive results in the Chicago waterways. But while the government team acknowledges the presence of Asian carp genetic fingerprints, it disagrees that they necessarily signal the presence of live fish.
The issue is significant because it could influence the debate over whether to seal off Lake Michigan from the Chicago waterways, a mammoth engineering task that would cost billions of dollars and take years to complete. Five states sought that step in a lawsuit dismissed by a federal judge last December. Under pressure from Congress, the Army Corps of Engineers has pledged to offer options for preventing species migrations between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed later this year.
The Army Corps contends an electric barrier in a canal 37 miles from Chicago is preventing the carp from getting through, even though their DNA has turned up repeatedly on the other side. In a February report, federal agencies said the genetic material could have been transported by bird feces, fish sampling gear, barges and storm sewers.
But the Jerde team's paper, published online Thursday by the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, argues that the likeliest explanation remains the presence of live Asian carp. It's probably no coincidence that many of the positive samples have come from Chicago's Lake Calumet and western Lake Erie, where three bigheads were snagged in 1995 and 2000, the paper says.
It says the scientists found no signs of the carp in Chicago locations where they should have been abundant, such as sewer outfalls, if the alternative explanations were accurate.
The secondary alternatives are even less plausible for Lake Erie, the paper says. The DNA that was found there was more than 100 miles from waterways infested with Asian carp. So if birds were the source, it seemingly would mean they feasted on carp, flew a long distance and excreted feces within a few hours of when the researchers collected water samples.
"You're requiring all kinds of random events to happen simultaneously," said Lindsay Chadderton of The Nature Conservancy, who contributed to the paper. "It's possible, but highly unlikely."
Kelly Baerwaldt, a fisheries biologist and Asian carp program manager for the Army Corps who supports the alternative-source theory, said the new report didn't change her mind. Fish-gobbling birds such as cormorants often range over hundreds of miles, she said. And if live carp are the only source of the DNA in Chicago, why has just one been found beyond the electric barrier? (Jerde says they're notoriously hard to catch.)
"Sure, it could be live fish and it also could be these other things, because we tested them and looked at the evidence," Baerwaldt said.
The Army Corps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey continue to study the issue and hope within a couple of years to refine methods of determining the likely source of a particular DNA sample, she said.
"The bottom line is there's just a lot we don't know about eDNA," she said.

Animal Pictures