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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.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Daily Drift

Something like that ...

Carolina Naturally is read in 191 countries around the world daily.

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Today in History

1296   Edward I defeats the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar.
1509   Pope Julius II excommunicates the Italian state of Venice.
1565   The first Spanish settlement in Philippines is established in Cebu City.
1773   British Parliament passes the Tea Act.
1746   King George II wins the battle of Culloden.
1813   American forces capture York (present-day Toronto), the seat of government in Ontario.
1861   President Abraham Lincoln suspends the writ of habeas corpus.
1861   West Virginia secedes from Virginia after Virginia secedes from the Union.
1863   The Army of the Potomac begins marching on Chancellorsville.
1865   The Sultana, a steam-powered riverboat, catches fire and burns after one of its boilers explodes. At least 1,238 of the 2,031 passengers–mostly former Union POWs–are killed.
1909   The Sultan of Turkey, Abdul Hamid II, is overthrown.
1937   German bombers of the Condor Legion devastate Guernica, Spain.
1941   The Greek army capitulates to the invading Germans.
1950   South Africa passes the Group Areas Act, formally segregating races.
1961   The United Kingdom grants Sierra Leone independence.
1975   Saigon is encircled by North Vietnamese troops.
1978   The Afghanistan revolution begins.
1989   Protesting students take over Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China.

Non Sequitur


Rare Blue Diamond Fetches Record $9.6 Million

A stunning blue diamond broke a world record, fetching a price of 6.2 million British pounds, or about $1.8 million per carat.

Tax-free Internet shopping in jeopardy

Senate voted 63-30 to advance bill that would impose state, local sales taxes on purchases made over Internet

In this Oct. 18, 2010, file photo, an Amazon.com package is prepared for shipment by a United Parcel Service (UPS) driver in Palo Alto, Calif. States could force Internet retailers to collect sales taxes under a bill that overwhelmingly passed a test vote in the Senate Monday, April 22, 2013.   AP Photo / Paul Sakuma, file
Internet shoppers are moving closer to paying sales taxes for their online purchases. But the fight is far from over.
The Senate voted 63-30 Thursday, April 25, to advance a bill that would impose state and local sales taxes on purchases made over the Internet. An agreement among senators delayed the Senate’s final vote on passage until May 6, when senators return from a weeklong vacation.
Opponents hope senators hear from angry constituents over the next week, but they acknowledged they have a steep hill to climb to defeat the bill in the Senate.
Their best hope for stopping the bill may be in the House, where some repugicans consider it a tax increase. President Barack Obama supports the bill.
The bill would empower states to reach outside their borders and compel online retailers to collect state and local sales taxes for purchases made over the Internet. Under the bill, the sales taxes would be sent to the states where a shopper lives.
Under current law, states can only require stores to collect sales taxes if the store has a physical presence in the state. As a result, many online sales are essentially tax-free, giving Internet retailers an advantage over brick-and-mortar stores.
“We look forward to passing this landmark bill in 11 days and call on the House to stand up for America’s Main Street businesses with us,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said shortly after Thursday’s vote.
Senate Democratic leaders wanted to finish work on the bill this week, before leaving town for the recess. But they were blocked by a handful of senators from states without sales taxes.
Oregon, Montana, New Hampshire and Delaware have no sales taxes, though the two senators from Delaware support the bill.
“I think it’s going to be interesting for senators to get a response from constituents over this upcoming week,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “I’m not sure that the country knows that something like this coerces businesses all around America to collect other people’s sales taxes.”
The bill pits brick-and-mortar stores like Wal-Mart against online services such as eBay. The National Retail Federation supports it. And Amazon.com, which initially fought efforts in some states to make it collect sales taxes, supports it, too.
Retailers who have lobbied in favor of the bill celebrated Thursday’s vote.
“The special treatment of big online businesses at the expense of retailers on Main Street will soon be a thing of the past,” said Bill Hughes of the Retail Industry Leaders Association. “The overwhelmingly bipartisan support for leveling the playing field is rare in today’s political environment and paves the way for a level playing field once and for all.”
Supporters say the bill is about fairness for local businesses that already collect sales taxes, and lost revenue for states. Opponents say the bill would impose complicated regulations on retailers and doesn’t have enough protections for small businesses. Businesses with less than $1 million a year in online sales would be exempt.
Many of the nation’s governors — repugicans and Democrats — have been lobbying the federal government for years for the authority to collect sales taxes from online sales.
The issue is getting bigger for states as more people make purchases online. Last year, Internet sales in the U.S. totaled $226 billion, up nearly 16 percent from the previous year, according to Commerce Department estimates.
The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that states lost $23 billion last year because they couldn’t collect taxes on out-of-state sales.
Anti-tax groups have labeled the bill a tax increase. But it gets support from many repugicans who have pledged not to increase taxes. The bill’s main sponsor is Sen. Mike Enzi, a wingnut repugican from Wyoming. He has worked closely with Durbin, a liberal Democrat.
Enzi and Durbin say the bill doesn’t raise taxes. Instead, they say, it gives states a mechanism to enforce current taxes.
In many states, shoppers are required to pay unpaid sales taxes when they file state tax returns. But governors complain that few people comply.
Under the bill, states that want to collect online sales taxes must provide free computer software to help retailers calculate the taxes, based on where shoppers live. States must also establish a single entity to receive Internet sales tax revenue, so retailers don’t have to send them to individual counties or cities.

Professor Encourages His Students to Cheat in Order to Teach Them Game Theory

testPeter Nonacs, professor of biology at UCLA, teaches Game Theory in his Behavioral Ecology course. He told his students that for an upcoming exam, they could do anything that would normally be considered cheating:
A week before the test, I told my class that the Game Theory exam would be insanely hard—far harder than any that had established my rep as a hard prof. But as recompense, for this one time only, students could cheat. They could bring and use anything or anyone they liked, including animal behavior experts. (Richard Dawkins in town? Bring him!) They could surf the Web. They could talk to each other or call friends who’d taken the course before. They could offer me bribes. (I wouldn’t take them, but neither would I report it to the dean.) Only violations of state or federal criminal law such as kidnapping my dog, blackmail, or threats of violence were out of bounds. [...]
Once the shock wore off, they got sophisticated. In discussion section, they speculated, organized, and plotted. What would be the test’s payoff matrix? Would cooperation be rewarded or counter-productive? Would a large group work better, or smaller subgroups with specified tasks? What about “scroungers” who didn’t study but were planning to parasitize everyone else’s hard work? How much reciprocity would be demanded in order to share benefits? Was the test going to play out like a dog-eat-dog Hunger Games? In short, the students spent the entire week living Game Theory. It transformed a class where many did not even speak to each other into a coherent whole focused on a single task—beating their crazy professor’s nefarious scheme.
On the day of the hour-long test they faced a single question: “If evolution through natural selection is a game, what are the players, teams, rules, objectives, and outcomes?”
Most students responded by working together:
One student immediately ran to the chalkboard, and she began to organize the outputs for each question section. The class divided tasks. They debated. They worked on hypotheses. Weak ones were rejected, promising ones were developed. Supportive evidence was added. A schedule was established for writing the consensus answers. (I remained in the room, hoping someone would ask me for my answers, because I had several enigmatic clues to divulge. But nobody thought that far afield!) As the test progressed, the majority (whom I shall call the “Mob”) decided to share one set of answers. Individuals within the Mob took turns writing paragraphs, and they all signed an author sheet to share the common grade. Three out of the 27 students opted out (I’ll call them the “Lone Wolves”). Although the Wolves listened and contributed to discussions, they preferred their individual variants over the Mob’s joint answer.
In the end, the students learned what social insects like ants and termites have known for hundreds of millions of years. To win at some games, cooperation is better than competition. Unity that arises through a diversity of opinion is stronger than any solitary competitor.
But that wasn't the end of of Prof. Nonacs's instruction:
But did the students themselves realize this? To see, I presented the class with one last evil wrinkle two days later, after the test was graded but not yet returned. They had a choice, I said. Option A: They could get the test back and have it count toward their final grade. Option B: I would—sight unseen—shred the entire test. Poof, the grade would disappear as if it had never happened. But Option B meant they would never see their results; they would never know if their answers were correct.
“Oh, my, can we think about this for a couple of days?” they begged. No, I answered. More heated discussion followed. It was soon apparent that everyone had felt good about the process and their overall answers. The students unanimously chose to keep the test. Once again, the unity that arose through a diversity of opinion was right. The shared grade for the Mob was 20 percent higher than the averages on my previous, more normal, midterms. Among the Lone Wolves, one scored higher than the Mob, one about the same, and one scored lower

Did you know ...

That a former Romney intern was arrested for using nude pics to blackmail 15 women

Is nature-deficit disorder a real thing?

For scientists, an exploding world of pseudo-science

Want to avoid marrying your cousin in Iceland? there's an app for that!
That you cannot make a good argument for cutting social security

That a high schooler files injunction against her principal for slut-shaming and threatening her

That the personal computing market worse than ever...is windows 8 to blame?

That Alec has such a bad reputation it doesn't want to be called 'Alec' anymore

CISPA is dead! (again) (for now)

After months of activist agitation and a crushing disappointment from the cowards in the House of Representatives, the US senate has effectively killed CISPA, a sweeping Internet surveillance proposal. This is astoundingly great news! But CISPA died once before, and came back from the dead, and it will not likely stay dead this time around either. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, etc etc etc:
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said in a statement on April 18 that CISPA's privacy protections are "insufficient."
A committee aide told ZDNet on Thursday that Rockefeller believes the Senate will not take up CISPA. The White House has also said the President won't sign the House bill.
Staff and senators are understood to be "drafting separate bills" that will maintain the cybersecurity information sharing while preserving civil liberties and privacy rights.
Rockefeller's comments are significant as he takes up the lead on the Commerce Committee, which will be the first branch of the Senate that will debate its own cybersecurity legislation.
Michelle Richardson, legislative council with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the publication she thinks CISPA is "dead for now," and said the Senate will "probably pick up where it left off last year."

Paul Ryan intern charged with sextortion

(he may have also dressed up as Newt's elephant)

The FBI has indicted Adam Paul Savader for "sextortion," alleging that he hacked women's computers, plundered compromising photos of them, and then threatened them with public embarrassment unless they performed private sex shows for him over their webcams. Savader was Paul Ryan's sole campaign intern in the 2012 elections, and Gawker reports that he also served on the 2011 Gingrich campaign, dressing up as Ellis the Elephant, a mascot for the campaign.

Canada Post claims exclusive use of the words "postal code"

Canada Post -- a failing, state-owned Crown Corporation -- not only claims a copyright on the database of postal codes (a collection of facts, and not the sort of thing that usually attracts copyright). They also claim a trademark on the words "postal code," and have sent legal threats to websites that use the words factually, to describe actual postal codes.
Canada Post disagrees. The crown corporation now argues that the very term “postal code” is subject to a trademark owned by Canada Post. Anyone using the term “postal code,” therefore, does so at their own risk.
“Canada Post has adopted and used Canadian Official Mark POSTAL CODE,” the statement of claim reads. “The Defendants have passed off their wares and services as and for those of Canada Post contrary to section 7(c) of the Trade-marks Act.”
What this means is Canada Post is changing direction in their lawsuit against Geolytica.
Geolytica has argued since the lawsuit began that they did not copy the Canada Post postal code database, but instead built their own based on the feedback of their own users. They crowd-sourced it. This makes Canada Post’s original copyright claim trickier, even if you set aside the facts vs. intellectual property argument.

The SEC Is In A Position to Deal a Major Blow to Citizens United

Most Americans embrace the idea of accountability in governance, and it is difficult to believe any taxpayer would not want to know exactly where and why their tax dollars are being spent, as well as what politicians stand to gain when they allocate funds. In the corporate world, shareholders and investors with any business or common sense would demand, and deserve, an accounting of where the corporation spends its money, and what stockholders can expect in return, because every expense reduces investors share of company profits. Over the past six months, there have been increasing calls for publicly traded corporations to start disclosing to shareholders where, and how much, of company assets are spent on political campaigns, and because of the secretive nature of corporate campaign spending, corporations, Republicans, and America’s largest trade associations are gearing up for a major battle to keep secret campaign donations secret.
In what could be a major blow to the unspeakably horrendous Citizens United decision, it appears it well may be the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that deals a body blow to secretive campaign donations that has polluted the electoral process in America. An alliance of shareholder activists and pension funds have swamped the SEC with calls to initiate a disclosure rule requiring publicly traded companies to report to shareholders all of their political donations. The prospective rule has united major business groups to oppose the SEC’s rule-making ability, and their repugican lackeys are already taking steps to halt any SEC action with legislation making it illegal for the SEC to issue regulations holding companies under their jurisdiction accountable to their shareholders. Three weeks ago, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable sent a letter to CEOs of Fortune 200 companies martialing support to oppose the SEC and wage war against shareholder and investor resolutions and proposals demanding to know where corporations are sending their investments.
The coming battle will test the S.E.C.’s chairwoman, Mary Jo White, who faces fierce opposition from Charles and David Koch’s organization, Americans for Prosperity, as well as repugicans and U.S. Chamber of Commerce on behalf of corporate leaders. It is another sign that America’s shadow government, corporate America, will not tolerate their dominion being challenged or their coup d’état thwarted by a government regulatory agency, and House repugicans made the pre-emptive strike introducing legislation prior to the SEC issuing a new ruling. The proposal is the result of a petition with over a half a million commenters calling for corporate accountability to their shareholders who argue they have a right to evaluate CEO oversight over a company’s resources, but repugicans, the Chamber of Commerce, and Koch brothers will not allow it.
The law professor who assisted writing the petition said, “Shareholders have been demanding this information for some time. It’s a basic precept of American securities law that shareholders should be given the information they need to evaluate their companies,” and it is not out of the SEC’s purview because they already issued regulations requiring executive compensation disclosures to shareholders. One of the shadow government’s prime activists, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, claims the SEC is impotent to impose rules and regulations, and claim that such a disclosure rule violates a corporation’s 1st amendment freedom of speech rights and damages shareholder values regardless it is shareholders demanding to know where their money is being spent.  A spokeswoman for the Chamber of Commerce said, “The Chamber believes that the funds expended by publicly traded companies for political and trade association engagement are immaterial to the company’s bottom line,” and added that the shareholders’ “apparent goal is to silence the business community by creating an atmosphere of intimidation under the cover of investor protection.”
The repugicans claim the shareholders’ petition was an open invitation to regulatory overreach, and head of the House government oversight committee, Darrell Issa, demanded copies of all correspondence between the SEC and shareholders supporting the proposed disclosure rule as well as how  many hours SEC staff worked on the proposal. Another repugican who chairs the subcommittee overseeing the SEC said he co-sponsored legislation banning new disclosure rules after hearing complaints from the Chamber of Commerce and corporate leaders and stated, “The role of the S.E.C. is investor protection, not to engage in a political foray,” and ignores the simple fact that shareholders demanding accountability for their investment expenditures is a request for protection from the SEC.  The proposed rule will have no effect whatsoever on privately held companies which make up the lion’s share of contributions to repugican PACs that already accept and spend unlimited amounts of money on repugican campaigns.
As it is now, hardly any public corporations spend directly on political campaigns, a practice permitted under the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, but corporations are still banned from giving money directly to federal candidates. However, they do give freely to trade groups and tax-exempt organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s group, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, that spends on advertising campaigns on business’s behalf. The groups are tax-exempt because they claim their spending is educational in nature and therefore exempt from any disclosure requirements that normally apply to candidates, super-PACs, and the Republican Party.
The S.E.C. officials hinted they could propose the new disclosure rule by the end of this month, and with Republicans already proposing legislation banning them making rules that will transform the world of secret campaign spending, it is likely a major war is on  the horizon. The opposing sides read like a David and Goliath story with individual investors and pension funds going up against America’s powerful shadow government of the Koch brothers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Fortune 200 companies, and repugicans in the employ of corporate America. The very idea that CEOs and large companies will be held accountable to their shareholders is about as likely as repugicans being held accountable for crashing the economy and killing jobs, but shareholders and investors are undeterred and demand an accounting from companies they trust with their investments.
Any new disclosure rules will not spell an end to the insane Citizens United ruling, but it will inform shareholders and pension funds where their hard-earned investments are being spent and especially if donations are going to candidates vowing to block financial reform laws protecting their investments. Shareholders are already agitated they have been shut out of knowing where their money is being spent, but they should be incensed that repugicans, the Koch brothers, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce claim they are protecting shareholders while they fight to conceal where CEOs spend shareholders’ money. Although Citizens United will remain a potent weapon against democracy for Kochs and big business, an SEC disclosure rule will signal to publicly traded companies that they will be accountable to their shareholders, and inform the Kochs and Chamber of Commerce that their Citizens United project is not invulnerable. It also is a sign that when it comes to their money, Americans are beginning to demand accountability and that prospect alone should frighten repugicans because today it is accountability to shareholders, and with an SEC ruling, Americans may demand repugican accountability to taxpayers.

The truth be told

Friday, April 26

Syrian officials deny use of chemical weapons

Two Syrian officials denied Friday that government forces had used chemical weapons against rebels, Damascus' first response to U.S. assertions that it had.
image: Syrian officials deny use of chemical weapons 
On Thursday, the White House and other top Obama administration officials said that U.S. intelligence had concluded with "varying degrees of confidence" that the Syrian government has twice used chemical weapons in its civil war.
In the Syrian capital however, a government official said President Bashar Assad's military "did not and will not use chemical weapons even if it had them." He instead accused opposition forces of using them in a March attack on the village of Khan al-Assad outside of the northern city of Aleppo.
Both sides have accused each other of the deadly attack.
The official said the Syrian army had no need for using chemical weapons "because it is capable of reaching any area in Syria it wants" without them. He spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements.
Sharif Shehadeh, a Syrian lawmaker, said the Syrian army "can win the war with traditional weapons" and has no need for chemical weapons.
Syria's official policy is not to confirm nor deny it has chemical weapons.
Shehadeh called the U.S. claims "lies" and likened them to false accusations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction - a claim U.S. policymakers had used to justify the invasion of that country in 2003.
"What is being designed for Syria now is similar to what happened in Iraq when Colin Powell lied in the Security Council and said Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction prior to the U.S. invasion and occupation of that country," he said.
President Barack Obama has said that the use of chemical weapons would be a "red line" that could result in a significant military response. But the administration said on Thursday that the new revelation won't immediately change its stance on intervention.
On the streets of Damascus, the two-year old conflict dragged on Friday, with government troops pushing into two northern neighborhoods, triggering heavy fighting with rebels as they tried to advance under air and artillery support, activists said.
The drive was the latest in a dayslong offensive by government forces in and around the capital, an apparent bid to secure Assad's main stronghold against rebel challenges.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting between rebels and soldiers backed by pro-government militiamen was concentrated in the Jobar and Barzeh areas. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said troops also bombarded the nearby neighborhood of Qaboun with mortars and multiple rocket launchers.
State-run news agency SANA said troops killed five rebels in clashes near the main mosque in Jobar. It added that many other "terrorists," the term the government uses for rebels, were killed in the area and the nearby neighborhood of Zamalka.
The regime has largely kept the rebels at bay in Damascus, although opposition fighters control several suburbs of the capital from which they have threatened the heart of the city. Last month, government troops launched a campaign to repel the opposition's advances near the capital, deploying elite army units to the rebellious suburbs and pounding rebel positions with airstrikes.
The Observatory also reported clashes in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest, between rebels and Kurdish gunmen in the contested Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood. It also said there was fighting around the sprawling Abu Zuhour air base in the northwestern Idlib province.
Syria's conflict started with largely peaceful protests against Assad's regime in March 2011 but later degenerated into a civil war, which has left an estimated 70,000 dead.

Fertilizer that fizzles in a homemade bomb could save lives around the world

A Sandia engineer who trained U.S. soldiers to avoid improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has developed a fertilizer that helps plants grow but can’t detonate a bomb. It’s an alternative to ammonium nitrate, an agricultural staple [...]

Big clothing brands, retailers reject union safety plan as Bangladesh factory deaths mount

A Bangladeshi woman weeps as she holds a picture of her and her missing husband as she waits at the site of a building that collapsed Wednesday in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, April 26, 2013. The death toll reached hundreds of people as rescuers continued to search for injured and missing, after a huge section of an eight-story building that housed several garment factories splintered into a pile of concrete.(AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
A Bangladeshi woman weeps as she holds a picture of her and her missing husband as she waits at the site of a building that collapsed Wednesday in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, April 26, 2013. The death toll reached hundreds of people as rescuers continued to search for injured and missing, after a huge section of an eight-story building that housed several garment factories splintered into a pile of concrete.

As Bangladesh reels from the deaths of hundreds of garment workers in a building collapse, the refusal of global retailers to pay for strict nationwide factory inspections is bringing renewed scrutiny to an industry that has profited from a country notorious for its hazardous workplaces and subsistence-level wages.After a factory fire killed 112 garment workers in November, clothing brands and retailers continued to reject a union-sponsored proposal to improve safety throughout Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry. Instead, companies expanded a patchwork system of private audits and training that labour groups say improves very little in a country where official inspections are lax and factory owners have close relations with the government.
In the meantime, the number of deaths and injuries has mounted. In the five months since last year’s deadly blaze at Tazreen Fashions Ltd., there were 40 other fires in Bangladeshi factories, killing nine workers and injuring more than 660, according to a labour organization tied to the AFL-CIO umbrella group of American unions. Manufacturers dispute that there have been that many recent incidents.
Wednesday’s collapse of the Rana Plaza building that killed more than 300 people is the worst disaster to hit Bangladesh’s fast-growing and politically powerful garment industry. For those attempting to overhaul conditions for workers who are paid as little as $38 a month, it is a grim reminder that corporate social responsibility programs are failing to deliver on lofty promises.
More than 48 hours after the eight-story building collapsed, some garment workers were still trapped alive Friday, pinned beneath tons of mangled metal and concrete. Rescue crews struggled to save them, knowing they probably had just a few hours left to live, as desperate relatives clashed with police.
“Improvement is not happening,” said Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation in Bangladesh, who said a total of 600 workers have died in factory accidents in the last decade. “The multinational companies claim a lot of things. They claim they have very good policies, they have their own code of conduct, they have their auditing and monitoring system,” Amin said. “But yet these things keep happening.”
What role retailers should play in making working conditions safer at the factories that manufacture their apparel has become a central issue for the $1 trillion global clothing industry.
The clothing brands say they are working to improve safety, but the size of the garment industry — some 4,000 factories in Bangladesh alone —means such efforts skim the surface. That opaqueness is further muddied by subcontracting. Retailers can be unwittingly involved with problematic factories when their main suppliers farm out work to others to ensure orders are filled on time.
“We remain committed to promoting stronger safety measures in factories and that work continues,” Wal-Mart said in a statement after the Rana Plaza collapse. The world’s largest retailer says there was no authorized Wal-Mart production in the building. One of the Rana Plaza factories, Ether Tex, listed Wal-Mart as a customer on its website.
Labour groups argue the best way to clean up Bangladesh’s garment factories already is outlined in a nine-page safety proposal drawn up by Bangladeshi and international unions.
The plan would ditch government inspections, which are infrequent and easily subverted by corruption, and establish an independent inspectorate to oversee all factories in Bangladesh, with powers to shut down unsafe facilities as part of a legally binding contract signed by suppliers, customers and unions. The inspections would be funded by contributions from the companies of up to $500,000 per year.
The proposal was presented at a 2011 meeting in Dhaka attended by more than a dozen of the world’s largest clothing brands and retailers — including Wal-Mart, Gap and Swedish clothing giant H&M — but was rejected by the companies because it would be legally binding and costly.
At the time, Wal-Mart’s representative told the meeting it was “not financially feasible … to make such investments,” according to minutes of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press.
After last year’s Tazreen blaze, Bangladeshi union president Amin said he and international labor activists renewed a push for the independent inspectorate plan, but none of the factories or big brands would agree.
Siddiqur Rahman, former vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, denied the factories are responsible for killing the plan, saying the problem was that buyers did not want to pay for it.
“We welcome anything that is good for the garment industry and its workers here,” Rahman said. He also disputed several union groups’ figures of dozens of factory fires since November, saying there had been only one.
This week, none of the large clothing brands or retailers would comment about the proposal.
Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner did not directly answer questions about the unions’ safety plans in replies to questions emailed by The Associated Press. H&M responded to questions with emailed links to corporate social responsibility websites.
In December, however, a spokesperson for the Gap — which owns the Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic chains — said the company turned down the proposal because it did not want to be vulnerable to lawsuits and did not want to pay factories more money to help with safety upgrades.
H&M also did not sign on to the proposal because it believes factories and local government in Bangladesh should be taking on the responsibility, Pierre Börjesson, manager of sustainability and social issues, told AP in December.
H&M, which places the most apparel orders in Bangladesh and works with more than 200 factories there, is one of about 20 retailers and brands that have banded together to develop training films for garment manufacturers.
Wal-Mart last year began requiring regular audits of factories, fire drills and mandated fire safety training for all levels of factory management. It also announced in January it would immediately cut ties with any factory that failed an inspection, instead of giving warnings first as before.
And the Gap has hired its own chief fire inspector to oversee factories that produce its clothing in Bangladesh.
But many insist such measures are not enough to overhaul an industry that employs 3 million workers.
“No matter how much training you have, you can’t walk through flames or escape a collapsed building,” said Ineke Zeldenrust of the Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign, which lobbies for garment workers’ rights.
Private audits also have their failings, she said. Because audits are confidential, even if one company pulls its business from a supplier over safety issues, it won’t tell its competitors, who will continue to place orders — allowing the unsafe factory to stay open.
The Tazreen factory that burned last year had passed inspections, and two of the factories in the Rana Plaza building had passed the standards of a major European group that does factory inspections in developing countries. The Business Social Compliance Initiative, which represents hundreds of companies, said the factories of Phantom Apparels and New Wave Style had been audited against its code of conduct which it said focuses on labor issues, not building standards.
“The audits and inspections are too much focused on checklists,” said Saif Khan, who worked for Phillips Van Heusen, the owner of brands Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, in Bangladesh until 2011 as a factory compliance supervisor.
“They touch on broader areas but do not consider the realities on the ground,” he said.

Gates and Slim Join Forces to Rid the World of Polio in Six Years

Billionaires Bill Gates and Carlos Slim said in an exclusive interview with Efe that they planned to join forces to eradicate polio in six years.
Gates, the founder of U.S. tech giant Microsoft, said it was not often that you received a letter proposing to wipe out one of the most harmful diseases of the 20th century, especially when that missive was sent by the world’s richest man to the holder of the globe’s second-largest fortune.
Gates and Slim Join Forces to Rid the World of Polio in Six YearsSlim, the world’s richest person, and Gates discussed their plans with Efe in the first-ever joint interview they have granted.
The moguls said they would work together to achieve one of the philanthropic goals set by Gates, the world’s second-richest person.
Slim will contribute $100 million to a project to eradicate polio within six years.
Why so much money and energy to fight an illness that affected just 223 children last year and is a problem in only three countries?
“With polio, there are two possibilities - either we redouble our work and really end it, saving ourselves the cost of vaccinations, or we halt this great effort and polio could start spreading once more and infecting hundreds of thousands of children,” Gates said.
Tremendous progress has been made in fighting this disease in the past 25 years, thanks to the immunization campaigns launched around the world.
Polio has gone from paralyzing 350,000 children a year in 125 countries to being a problem in just Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The toughest problem, paradoxically, will be reaching zero cases.
Slim and Gates are businessmen with no desire to hide it, and they are taking a business-like approach to fighting polio.
The Mexican and American billionaires agree that the worlds of philanthropy and business are “surprisingly similar” and have a hard time choosing one over the other.
“Perhaps the only difference is in the goals. In business, your goals are a bigger market share, profitability .. But in both places you seek efficiency, organizing what you do well and that your human capital be the best,” Slim said.
“If we do not have success with polio, it would be a tremendous setback not just for global health, but also for optimism about what men can do when they work together. If we are successful, it will make us stronger and remind us that together we can do amazing things,” Gates said.

Yoga Changes Gene Expression, Improves Immunity

You're probably not thinking about gene expression while stretching into downward dog, but your genetic expression may in fact be changing for the better.

Waves in the Desert

The Wave is the popular name of a series of rock formations in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, a nature preserve on the Colorado-Utah border. If there is any hope of surfing on dry land, this is the place to try it.

It's about jobs, stupid!

4.7 million American workers have been unemployed for at least six months.
Only four...count them 4...congresscritters showed up to talk about long term unemployment.
Of course, all four were Democrats.
with the nation’s unemployment rate at 7.6 percent, members of congress are fond of saying that they are focused on nothing but jobs. and yet, when Minnesota sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) scheduled a joint economic committee hearing on one of the biggest jobs-related crises facing the united states, just four of the committee’s 20 members bothered to show up. - think progress

Reality Bites ...

Friday, April 26

Millions can't afford to go to the doctor

Affordable Care Act provisions take effect in 2014 Prescription Doctor
A growing number of Americans are skipping needed medical care because they can't afford it.

Some 80 million people, around 43% of America's working-age adults, didn't go to the doctor or access other medical services last year because of the cost, according to the Commonwealth Fund's Biennial Health Insurance Survey, released Friday. That's up from 75 million people two years ago and 63 million in 2003.
Not surprisingly, those who were uninsured or had inadequate health insurance were most likely to have trouble affording care. But 28% of working-age adults with good insurance also had to forgo treatment because of the price.
Nearly three in 10 adults said they did not visit a doctor or clinic when they had a medical problem, while more than a quarter did not fill a prescription or skipped recommended tests, treatment or follow-up visits. One in five said they did not get needed specialist care.
And 28% of those with a chronic condition like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and asthma who needed medication for it reported they did not fill prescriptions or skipped doses because they couldn't afford to pay for the drugs.
Even those with coverage find themselves shelling out more for deductibles and co-payments. The share of Americans with deductibles greater than $1,000 more than tripled between 2003 and 2012, reaching 25%.
"Costs of health care have gone up faster than wages," said David Blumenthal, president of The Commonwealth Fund.
The survey also found that 84 million people, nearly half of all working-age adults, went without health insurance for a time last year or had such high out-of-pocket expenses relative to their income that they were considered under-insured. That's up from 81 million in 2010 and 61 million in 2003.
One bright spot in the report is that fewer young adults, those ages 19 to 25, were uninsured. The share fell to 41% in 2012, down from 48% two years earlier. That's due in large part to the Affordable Care Act, which allows young adults to stay on their parents insurance until age 26.
All of those numbers should improve going forward as more health reform provisions take effect in 2014 -- primarily the state-based insurance exchanges, which are intended to offer affordable plans to those without work-based coverage.

Psychedelics eyed for mood disorders

Greg Miller writes that the study of psychedelics has recovered after "Timothy Leary really screwed things up for science", and is emerging from dormancy.
“The antics of Timothy Leary really undermined the scientific approach to studying these compounds,” psychopharmacologist Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University told the audience. But the times they are a-changin’. In recent years, a small cadre of scientists has cautiously rekindled the scientific study of psychedelics. At the conference, they reported new findings on how these drugs scramble brain activity in ways that might help explain their mind-bending effects. They’re also slowly building a case that these drugs might help people with depression, anxiety and other disorders.
Translation: drug companies need new products, badly.

Ten Dangerous Drugs Once Marketed As Medicine

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, people suffering from any number of diseases and bodily discomforts could find what were touted as cures at their local pharmacy. Chloroform, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine were offered as solutions for everything from sore throats and toothache to coughs, insomnia and depression.

These substances were often highly addictive, dangerous, and sometimes deadly. Most are now restricted - if not banned from the market. Take a look and see what the field of medicine was like not so very long ago.

The Voice of Alexander Graham Bell

vAlexander Graham Bell worked with sound, tinkering with gadgets to help his wife, who was deaf, communicate. He is known as the inventor of the telephone. He gave the Smithsonian more than 400 discs and cylinders of his audio experiments, but until recently there was no way to play them back.
As a result, says curator Carlene Stephens of the National Museum of American History, the discs, ranging from 4 to 14 inches in diameter, remained “mute artifacts.” She began to wonder, she adds, “if we would ever know what was on them.”

Then, Stephens learned that physicist Carl Haber at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, had succeeded in extracting sound from early recordings made in Paris in 1860. He and his team created high-resolution optical scans converted by computer into an audio file.

Stephens contacted Haber. Early in 2011, Haber, his colleague physicist Earl Cornell and Peter Alyea, a digital conversion specialist at the Library of Congress, began analyzing the Volta Lab discs, unlocking sound inaccessible for more than a century. Muffled voices could be detected reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy, sequences of numbers and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

In autumn 2011, Patrick Feaster, an Indiana University sound-media historian, aided by Stephens, compiled an exhaustive inventory of notations on the discs and cylinders—many scratched on wax and all but illegible. Their scholarly detective work led to a tantalizing discovery. Documents indicated that one wax-and-cardboard disc, from April 15, 1885—a date now deciphered from a wax inscription—contained a recording of Bell speaking.
You can hear that recording and read more about it at Smithsonian.

Menswear Named After Real Men

No one can live forever, but having a garment named in your honor ensures that, in a certain sense, you're still walking around years after your demise. Here are some of the historical origins of your favorite closet staples.

Is Your Antique Windsor A Fake?

What goes on behind-the-scenes in the antiques world? Maureen Stanton, who wrote the book 'Killer Stuff and Tons of Money,' talks about a master carpenter she calls 'Wesley Swanson,' who builds new Windsor chairs and goes through extraordinary measures to pass them off as valuable antiques.

He's creating what appears to be chairs of 300 years of age so he can sell them for $5,000 a piece. He's even fooling the top auction houses. How does Wesley Swanson create believable Windsor chairs?

Pirate Ship for Sale

If you've ever wanted your very own pirate ship, the Gypsy Rose can be yours for the discounted price of $79,000! Captain Tim operates pirate cruises on the Mississippi River, and is selling an older model.
Built on 50′ 1988 Gibson houseboat. Brand new twin 454s, Kohler generator, V drives. Holds 30 people, looks like a Hollywood set! Great as a live aboard…and an AWESOME party boat! 2 bedrooms and 2 baths. Just surveyed for $110,00, will sell for $79,000 – trades considered.
See interior pictures and a video at Laughing Squid.

Ten Real Life Fairytale Islands

The approximate definition of a real life fairytale island would be that it is a small island often covered with lush vegetation, from which emerges a magnificent ancient building. When people say that a place is like something from a fairy tale often they are exaggerating, but that is not the case with these charming islands listed here.

Here's 17 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The Wizard Of Oz

Back in 1939, when The Wizard of Oz hit theaters, people were amazed at the color and the special effects. Little did the producers know that many years later, we would have home video, so we could watch the movie as many times as we wanted. Then with computers, everyone gained the ability to manipulate movies. Now with animated gifs, we can get a very close look at each individual shot and see things the audience was never intended to see. Those make up a lot of the 17 Things You Probably Didn't Know About The Wizard Of Oz at Buzzfeed.

Yoda Had a First Name: Minch

But that's Mr. Yoda to you. Don't get too familiar with your teacher. If George Lucas had kept with his original plan, our favorite Jedi master would be known as Minch Yoda. Matthew Jackson of blastr writes:
George Lucas originally intended "Yoda" to be the character's surname. His first name was going to be ... wait for it ... Minch. That's right, the coolest Jedi of them all was originally going to be a dude known as "Minch Yoda."
Luckily for all of us, Lucas eventually pared down the name, adding to Yoda's ever-present mystery. The name "Minch" did end up making a Star Wars appearance, though. Minch was another Jedi master, also of Yoda's species, who lived 700 years before the Battle of Yavin and first appeared in the story "Heart of Darkness" in the Dark Horse comic Star Wars Tales #16, first published in 2003. So, in the end, we got a Minch and we got a Yoda, but we avoided a Minch Yoda.

Yoda's Hut. How Much Is It Worth?

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there existed a unique fixer-upper opportunity for home buyers: the house that once belonged to legendary Jedi Master Yoda. Read on to find out about the first evaluation of a property from the world George Lucas first brought to life on movie screens in 1977.

Random Celebrity Photo


Marilyn Monroe

Archaeology News

A new archaeological discovery predates similar sites in Central America.

Earth News

From the dawn of the Roman Empire until the late 19th century, a recent study suggested that the average surface temperatures on Earth gradually cooled up until the 20th century.
Earth's internal engine is running hotter than previously measured, providing a better explanation for how the planet generates a magnetic field.

Three Years Of Sun In Three Minutes

In the three years since it first provided images of the sun in the spring of 2010, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory has had virtually unbroken coverage of the sun's rise toward solar maximum, the peak of solar activity in its regular 11-year cycle. This video shows those three years of the sun at a pace of two images per day.

Einstein's Theory Passes Extreme Gravity Test

An extremely mismatched pair of stars -- a massive rotating neutron star coupled with a white dwarf -- has put Einstein's General Theory of Relatively to its most challenging test.

Inside NYC’s New Fulton Fish Market

Think Wall Street trading is brutal? Head up to the grittiest part of the South Bronx, where cutthroat deals are made in the dead of night on a massive concrete floor that reeks of fish guts.
The New Fulton Fish Market is the nation’s largest seafood market, and second in the world to Tokyo’s. Here, in a refrigerated building the size of six football fields, fishmongers are frenetically filleting, selling and packaging seafood - 200 million pounds a year worth close to $1 billion by some estimates. It is headed for restaurant tables, stores and mouths across America.
Glistening under the fluorescent lights is just about every sea creature. Most come in by truck, but about half are flown in from the ends of the Earth: Arctic char from Iceland; mahi-mahi from Ecuador; hamachi from Japan; branzino from Greece; salmon from Scotland; cockles from New Zealand.
Experienced buyers negotiate prices in seconds, judging quality on a look, a touch, a smell and often a raw taste.
A buyer at the Fulton Fish Market."You know right away if fish is fresh. It’s like looking into a woman’s eyes - you know what’s there," says Roberto Nunez, a 44-year-old Peruvian immigrant who started out as a dishwasher and has been the buyer for more than a decade for celebrity restaurateurs Lidia Bastianich, her son, Joe Bastianich, and their partner, Mario Batali.
Five nights a week, Nunez shows up at 1 a.m. to purchase as much as $15,000 worth of seafood, enough to meet the demands of 10 restaurants. What’s available on any given night depends on a variety of often unpredictable factors, such as severe weather that keeps fishing fleets in port or a spotty catch in an overfished ocean.
"This is not like ordering tomatoes or potatoes," Nunez says. "Seafood is wild."
By 2:30 a.m., one of the key items on his handwritten list of orders - 400 pounds of striped bass - remains unfilled from among dozens of vendors.
"I’m getting nervous," he says.
The day’s hundreds of offerings - including crabs, clams, mussels, slimy squid, octopus and caviar - are spread out across the floor in ice-lined boxes, a shimmering spectrum of silvers, pinks, reds and browns. Buyers, some vying for the same, scarce items, point to a specific box and cry out, "That’s mine!"
All night, dozens of men in coats and wool caps work to the soundtrack of mini-forklifts whizzing around, honking and spewing exhaust as they move seafood-laden pallets. The smell is a mixture of the fishy and the fresh scent of the ocean.
Nunez finally spots some striped bass. But when he lifts the gills, "it’s no good; they’re brown," he says dejectedly. (The gills should be bright red). Plus the skin is dry, the eyes are cloudy, and it smells funky.
The hunt continues for the rest of his list: scallops, shrimp, squid, monkfish liver, fluke, shad roe, blowfish.
He spies black sea bass from New Jersey at $6.75 a pound. "How many do you have?"
"One hundred pounds," says vendor John Dias.
"How about $5.50?" Nunez asks.
Dias relents.
Nunez later nabs red snapper from the Gulf of Mexico. He feels the fish, smells his fingers. It’s fresh. OK, 60 pounds.
At another stall, he pops a raw Nantucket Bay scallop in his mouth, smiling. It’s $20.50 a pound compared to a normal price of, say, $16. But these are extraordinary, and fresh - "like a baby’s bottom" to the touch.
Just before 3 a.m., a vendor whispers in Nunez’s ear: Some striped bass might be on the way - maybe.
He waits around for a while, and sure enough, a box lid opens to reveal eight bass from Delaware, weighing 121 pounds. Now, where to find at least 180 pounds more? He rushes off, scouring the cavernous market. And he gets lucky, landing 100 pounds.
Not far away, Peter Panteleakis, who owns two Greek restaurants in Fair Lawn, N.J., is on a hunt of his own for the freshest seafood he can find, such as the sea scallops that still move when poked and a 21-pound piece of local halibut that a vendor slices open to reveal clean, rosy flesh.
The 66-year-old immigrant from a village near Sparta, Greece, who comes by four nights a week with his son, first set foot in the old open-air Fulton fish market in lower Manhattan more than 30 years ago. It was replaced in 2005 by the state-of-the-art South Bronx facility that’s open six nights a week.
Learning from his father, Nick Panteleakis quotes a sign on the market wall: "Good fish ain’t cheap, and cheap fish ain’t good."
When huge pieces of tuna or swordfish worth thousands of dollars come in, men carrying metal hooks and razor-sharp knives leap into action, splitting them into smaller chunks, sweating even in the regulated temperature of about 39 degrees.
At about 5 a.m., bartering slows as the sun peeks over the East River. Blood-stained gloves rest atop the counters. The forklifts are buzzing around, loading 18-wheelers outside with goods that will be trucked all over the Northeast.
What litters the floor - heads, guts and other parts - is scooped up and sold off as well, to make fertilizer, pet food, glue.
As the city awakens and New Yorkers prepare for work, the exhausted fishmongers trickle out of the South Bronx facility to the surrounding Hunt’s Point neighborhood of warehouses, truck depots, all-night bars and strip clubs. They will be back at night to do it all over again.

Animal News

The feeding technique started in 1980 and has spread throughout the population.
Many animals not only possess aspects of culture, but also pass it along.

Body Language of Elephants

Body language isn't limited to humans - according to biologists Joyce Poole and her husband Petter Granli of ElephantVoices, elephants communicate with each other through elaborate gestures as well as sound:
Over the course of thousands of hours of observations, Poole came to understand and essentially translate what elephants were communicating to one another. She was also the first to discover musth in African elephants, a state of heightened sexual and aggressive activity in males, during which they display characteristic behaviors such as the gestures classified in the database as ear-wave, trunk-bounce-drag, head-toss, chin-in, and the distinctive musth-walk, a sort of elephant strut.
The image above of an elephant burying its tusk in the ground, shows that it has a sense of humor:
Poole recalls how elephants at play used to charge her car, appearing to trip and fall while tusking the ground (tusk-ground gesture) in front of her vehicle. “I used to think that they really did trip—no longer!” Poole said. “I have seen it enough times to know that pretending to fall over in front of the car is all part of the fun. It is one of the behaviors that led me to say that elephants have a sense of self and a sense of humor. They know that they are funny.”
Read the rest over at this neat article by Christy Ullrich over at NatGeo.

Animal Pictures