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Windmills Tilted, Scared Cows Butchered, Lies Skewered on the Lance of Reality ... or something to that effect.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Daily Drift

Coke Float

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Today in History

357 Constantius II visits Rome for the first time.
1282 Villagers in Palermo lead a revolt against French rule in Sicily.
1635 Virginia Governor John Harvey is accused of treason and removed from office.
1760 French forces besieging Quebec defeat the British in the second battle on the Plains of Abraham.
1788 Maryland becomes the seventh state to ratify the constitution.
1789 The crew of the HMS Bounty mutinies against Captain William Bligh.
1818 President James Monroe proclaims naval disarmament on the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain.
1856 Yokut Indians repel an attack on their land by 100 would-be Indian fighters in California.
1902 Revolution breaks out in the Dominican Republic.
1910 The first night air flight is performed by Claude Grahame-White in England.
1916 British declare martial law throughout Ireland.
1919 Les Irvin makes the first jump with an Army Air Corps parachute.
1920 Azerbaijan joins the Soviet Union.
1930 The first organized night baseball game is played in Independence, Kansas.
1932 A yellow fever vaccine for humans is announced.
1945 Benito Mussolini is killed by Italian partisans.
1946 The Allies indict Tojo on 55 counts of war crimes
1947 Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl and five others set out in a balsa wood craft known as Kon Tiki to prove that Peruvian Indians could have settled in Polynesia.
1953 French troops evacuate northern Laos.
1965 The U.S. Army and Marines invade the Dominican Republic.
1967 Muhammad Ali refuses induction into the U.S. Army and is stripped of boxing title.
1969 Charles de Gaulle resigns as president of France.

Non Sequitur


Did you know ...

That here's a simple plan to improve voting, stop fraud and save money

That 40% of wall street trades are hidden from regulators in 'dark pools'

About these 10 tax dodges that help the rich get richer

That the volcanic magma reserve under Yellowstone park is at least 50% larger than previously thought

The shrub's legacy keeps getting worse

That in the laboratory of democracy, some experiments are blowing up

That Kansas manages to find a way to enshrine sexual discrimination

That Russian bears huff jet fuel to get high

Reality Bites ...


Shameful chapters in American history

Sen. John McCain last Sunday blasted President Barack Obama and other top administration officials for failing to intervene on behalf of rebels in Syria, calling it "one of the most shameful chapters in American history."
Yes it is.  It began with ruinous wars started by the shrub, the worst president ever in American history, continued with John McCain as a nominee for president by the repugican cabal, went further by McCain including Sarah Palin on the ticket, a shameless candidate of whom even McCain was ashamed, and continues now with McCain pandering to his party's desperate and ubiquitous, often pointless and dishonest attacks on the president.  No matter what the news, some repugican crook will appear on television to denounce President Obama for it.  Check the pollsEven repugicans now hate the repugican cabalThere's a reason for that.  McCain is a big part of that reason.


A few words on the defeat of the Senate bill on background checks

From The Political Carnival...
[Read more by clicking on the link]

U.S. Senate: "Yellow-bellied cowards, gutless craven chicken-hearted invertebrates. More comfortable with guns than books."

by the one, the only, Will Durst:


And now for a few choice words about the recent Senate vote which scuttled universal background checks on gun purchases. And the first three of those words are… Yellow- Bellied Cowards. Here's a couple more. Gutless Craven Chicken- Hearted Invertebrates. Dastardly Lily- Livered Spineless Jellyfish with the moral compunction of inbred Piranhas crowded into a too- small tank filled with liquid meth.

That giant arrogant pimp known as the NRA should be laughing hysterically after its lackeys trashed the ephemeral spirit of compromise that had settled over Washington like a soft dawn mist. 90% of Republicans voted against an issue 90% of the American people support. A bipartisan bill that was so watered down, it was translucent. Leaked moisture all through the Senate chamber to a depth of a half- inch. Would have easily supported 2 schools of guppies.

How the NRA made it harder to investigate the Boston Marathon bombing

Taggants.  They’re back in the news, after two young men named Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev used homemade bombs, including gunpowder, to blow up nearly 200 people at the Boston Marathon last week. It took investigators until a few days ago to find out where the Tsarnaev’s got the gunpowder from – a fireworks store in New Hampshire.  Why did it take so long?  Because gunpowder doesn’t contain taggants, a special identifier that can be slipped into gunpowder and which enables federal authorities to track when and where the explosive was made.
But gunpower in the United States doesn’t include taggants.  Why?  Because the NRA and its stooges in Congress have been saying “no” for twenty years.
Now, you might think it odd that the NRA, which normally concerns itself with panicking over any effort to diminish America’s gruesome gun violence, should care about explosives.  Ah, but you see, it’s all about the slippery slope.  First they come for the terrorists, then they come for Uncle Huckleberry and his bazooka.  The NRA also claims the taggants are dangerous.  Uh huh.
And that, sadly, is exactly what happened.  For twenty years the NRA and its friends in Congress have been saying no, and they’ve made it easier for terrorists to get away with murder by making it more difficult for federal authorities to figure out where the explosives came from in the first place, not to mention the time wasted doing such a search when a taggant would permit that time to be spent elsewhere.
As this article from 1995 points out, the NRA didn’t even want the government doing research on taggants. So they blocked that too.
And as NPR noted earlier this week, those taggants could have helped identify the Boston Marathon bombers a lot sooner, which could have helped thwart their planned attack on Times Square, that we learned about today.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has just introduced legislation to run background checks on anyone buying explosive powder.  The Hill notes that “under current law, people can buy up to 50 pounds of explosive ‘black powder’ with no background check, and can buy unlimited amounts of other explosive powders, such as ‘black powder substitute and ‘smokeless powder.’”
Greg Sargent asked four lead Senators who filibustered gun background checks what they think of having background checks for all explosives.  Three of them got back to him and said they’d have to look it over, a fourth didn’t even bother responding.
It’s one thing for the NRA to be de facto defending the Second Amendment rights of Islamic terrorists to buy the necessary components for a weapon of mass destruction, it’s another for members of Congress to get away with it.  Perhaps it’s time one of our advocacy groups started getting in the face of these members of Congress, and asking them why they want to help the next Tsarnaev-wannabes kill even more people.

Mississippi man linked to ricin letters charged with biological weapons use

A Mississippi martial arts instructor was charged on Saturday with attempting to use a biological weapon after a ricin-laced letter was sent to President Barack Obama earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Everett Dutschke, 41, was arrested at his Tupelo home shortly after midnight by FBI agents following searches of the residence and a former business as part of the ricin letter investigation.
He was later charged with "developing ... and possessing" ricin and "attempting" to use it "as a weapon," according to a joint statement by the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Mississippi and the head of the FBI's Mississippi office.
Ricin is a highly lethal poison made from castor beans.
If convicted, Dutschke faces maximum possible penalties of life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
His arrest came several days after U.S. prosecutors dropped charges in the case on Tuesday against another Mississippi man, Kevin Curtis, who was released from jail after a search of his home revealed no incriminating evidence.
Dutschke's name first surfaced when Curtis' attorney suggested in a court hearing that her client had been framed by someone, and mentioned a running feud between Dutschke and Curtis.
Saturday's announcement did not specify if Dutschke was being charged in relation to the ricin letters, but it noted that the investigation had been conducted by several federal agencies including the U. S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Capitol Police.
Dutschke's attorney, Lori Basham, did not return calls seeking comment, but she told Reuters earlier in the week that her client denied having anything to do with the ricin letters.
Dutschke is expected to appear in U.S. District Court in Oxford, Mississippi, on Monday.
Federal agents initially targeted Curtis, an Elvis impersonator, in their efforts to find who sent the letters laced with ricin.
Letters addressed to Obama and Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, were retrieved last week at off-site mail facilities before reaching their intended victims. A Mississippi state judge also received a ricin-laced letter.
Discovery of the letters fueled more national anxiety in the days after the bombing at the Boston Marathon.
The case also brought extra scrutiny for the FBI almost 12 years after a 2001 letter-borne anthrax attack that killed five people and puzzled investigators for years. The anthrax investigation came in the wake of the September 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks on the United States.
Federal agents in unmarked vehicles were stationed in streets surrounding Dutschke's home on Friday afternoon and all evening.
Agents from the FBI and members of an anti-terrorist response team from the Mississippi National Guard, some wearing hazardous material suits, had searched the home on Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as the premises of a former martial arts studio Dutschke ran in the city.
Dutschke was cooperating with federal officials during the searches this week, his attorney said.
Suspicion had originally fallen on Curtis because of wording contained in all three ricin letters, which included his initials "KC."
Dutschke has told local media that he knew Curtis but had only had contact with him three times, and not since 2010.
Curtis, 45, told the Northeastern Mississippi Daily Journal that he believed Dutschke deliberately sabotaged his career as a performer by calling sponsors and telling them about Curtis' numerous prior arrests. "I lost 12 really big shows in 2011 and eight in 2012 directly linked to him," Curtis told the newspaper.
Dutschke, who fronted a two-man blues band in Tupelo called RoboDrum, ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate in 2007 against Stephen Holland, a Democratic state representative from the Tupelo area. Holland's mother, Sadie, is the judge to whom one of the ricin-tainted letters was mailed this month.
Curtis's brother and fellow Elvis impersonator, insurance agent Jack Curtis, worked for a time with Dutschke and said he believed the feud with Dutschke was related to his brother's efforts to publicize allegations about a black market for body parts at a local Mississippi hospital.
Kevin Curtis was fired as a janitor from North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo after raising questions about body parts he said he observed there. The hospital strongly denied the allegations.
Dutschke faces other charges related to an April 1 indictment for fondling three children between ages 7 and 16, from 2007 to 2013, according to court records.
The FBI said on Thursday that more tests may be necessary to determine the potency of a granular material identified as ricin contained in the letters.
An FBI agent testified in court in Mississippi that the ricin found in the letters was in a crude form and looked like castor beans ground up in a blender, according to media accounts. Experts have said ricin in that form would have a low potency.
Castor bean plants are grown as ornamental shrubs in the Southern United States, but there is no domestic castor oil production and it is mostly imported from India and China.
Milton Leitenberg, senior research scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at the University of Maryland, said the vast majority of ricin cases since the 1960s had involved crude ricin preparations made from recipes published in manuals and on the Internet.
"You could ingest this crude stuff, swallow a couple of tablespoons and you'd probably vomit, but not much more," Leitenberg said in a telephone interview.
A material like that described in the ricin court hearing would pose little danger, Leitenberg said.

On the Monsanto Protection Act

And how we got it...

John Boehner Tries to Blame President Obama For The Sequester Flight Delays That He Caused

Speaker of the House John Boehner put out a statement that blaming Obama for the fight delays that he caused that might have been funny if it wasn’t so sad and pathetic.
Boehner responded to the passage of the bill fixing the flight delays that his caucus caused with the sequester cuts by blaming President Obama for the furloughed air traffic controllers.
Speaker Boehner said,
The disruption to America’s air traffic system over the past week was a consequence of the administration’s choice to implement the president’s sequestration cuts in the most painful manner possible. It’s unacceptable that the FAA chose not to plan for sequestration or utilize the flexibility it already has. Americans were rightly fed up, and it’s unfortunate that the House and Senate were forced to step in and fix the problem when the President chose not to act.
With this solution, Americans will no longer be burdened by President Obama’s flight delays and our economy will not take an unnecessary hit. This fix will prevent furloughs of air traffic controllers and do so without any new revenue and without adding to the debt. Just like we’ve done here in the House, the administration must learn how to do more with less. Sequestration is bad policy. That’s why the House voted twice to replace it with smarter cuts. But while it is here, the president has an obligation to implement these cuts in a way that respects the American people, rather than using them for political leverage.
Speaker Boehner seems to have completely forgotten that House repugicans like Paul Ryan had been championing the sequester since 2004. Boehner has apparently wiped from his memory that President Obama has had a sequester replacement on the table since December 2012. The Speaker incorrectly claimed that the American people wouldn’t feel any pain from the sequester cuts, and even though he referred to the situation as the president’s sequester cuts, during a March 21 interview on CNN, Boehner admitted that the didn’t want the sequester cuts.
The truth is that Speaker Boehner is responsible for all the negative impacts of the sequester, because he refused to allow any sequester replacement bills to be voted on in the House. Boehner continues to lie to the American people by claiming that the House passed replacement cuts, but the sequester replacement that they passed occured in the 112 Congress, not the current 113th. Because the bill passed during the 112th Congress did not pass the Senate, it died when the current Congress was sworn in. Thus Speaker Boehner has not passed a sequester replacement bill.
As the impacts of the sequester becomes more severe, the House repugican game plan is to blame Obama for the cuts, while they portray themselves as heroes for rushing in to fix their own mistakes. It is a cynical, and pathetic political ploy that House repugicans are using to cover up their corrupt agenda and complete lack of concern for 98% of the country.
It’s just more of the pin the blame on the president finger pointing that we have come to expect from the worst Speaker in recent history.

The repugicans Rush to Fix Airport Delays, But Will Let Sequester Make 140,000 Families Homeless

The repugicans rushed to fix the sequester airport delays that were about to impact them, but they refuse to reverse the sequester cuts that will push 140,000 low income families into homelessness.
The Senate voted by unanimous consent last night to restore funding that was cut by the sequester to the FAA, so that they could afford to bring back furloughed air traffic controllers, and the House quickly followed suit today by passing the Senate bill, 361-41. House repugicans are claiming victory, without acknowledging that they were wrong on two counts. They claimed that Obama was exaggerating the impact of the sequester, and they told America that the sequester would be painless.
It’s amazing how quickly Congress can act when something impacts them. (Another example of this was their stealth repeal of the Stock Act.)
The repugicans in Congress refused to allow flight delays disrupt their then upcoming nine day long vacation, but they are happy to ignore the larger problems that are looming thanks to their sequester cuts. Meals On Wheels and Head Start are both facing drastic cuts, but the sequester could also mean homelessness for 140,000 low income families.
According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “Most agencies will likely continue to shelve vouchers so long as their monthly housing assistance costs exceed their monthly renewal funding allocations from HUD, in light of the risk that the funding cuts could extend into 2014. As a result, we estimate that by early next year, agencies’ voucher programs are likely to shrink by approximately 140,000 households — primarily seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children.”
Congressional repugicans are perfectly fine with pushing seniors, children, and low income families into homelessness, but they absolutely refuse to wait at the airport. (I am singling out Congressional repugicans here, because that is where the hypocrisy is. Congressional Democrats and the president have working for months to avoid/replace the sequester.)
The repugicans voted to shift $253 million in the FAA budget to bring the air traffic controllers back, but they can’t find $938 million to keep 140,000 households from homelessness. Actually, it isn’t that they can’t find the money. They won’t find the money, because they don’t care.
The only message that can be taken from their selfish vote to fix the flight delay issues is that they could do something to help people, but they won’t.
It’s that simple. I am sure that many repugicans view these people as Democratic voters. They see the nation’s poor as a part of Romney’s 47% who vote Democrat because they want free stuff. If these people are homeless they may not be able to vote, so some repugicans might see this as a win/win for them.
The repugicans want to sell their votes yesterday and today as problem solving, but the message they are really sending is that they don’t care about you.

Cancer is inconvenient, but missing your flight is death

The sequester has caused US members of Congress to face flights delays, and it’s caused seniors to be turned away from chemotherapy. Guess which one the US Senate fixed last night? The sequester is finally starting to take a bite out of programs and services that regular Americans have come to depend on, be it cancer treatment for elderly patients paid for by Medicare, or TSA employees responsible for security in airports. Both have faced cuts, both are already having significant repercussions.
In the case of Medicare, thousands of Medicare patients are being turned away from one set of cancer clinics in the New York area alone because of sequester-related cuts in Medicare benefits. The center has been forced to stop providing chemotherapy to a third of its senior cancer patients, over 5,000 people.  And that’s just one company.  Imagine the impact nationwide.
In the case of the TSA, cutbacks are leading to growing lines and delays at airport security checkpoints, and the next shoe that was getting ready to drop was cutbacks in air traffic control personnel, which would have led to major delays nationwide for months on end.
Guess which one the US Senate fixed late last night?
I’ll give you a hint: Not her.
Elderly Patient via Shutterstock

Let’s take a little quiz:
How many Senators are currently undergoing chemo and having it paid for by Medicare? I don’t actually know the number, but it’s far less than the next number I’m going to give you.
And how many Senators rely on air transportation for much of their job, to the point that they practically live at DC’s National Airport? 100, in other words, all of them.
Yep. Your Senators in Washington didn’t do jack for the elderly chemo patients. But they fixed the lines at the airport because it’s a problem for them personally.
The United States Senate put its own personal pork ahead of the needs of people dying of cancer.
But hey, everyone knows that while cancer is inconvenient, a delayed flight is death.

Effects of stress on the body

by Dr Nisreen Nakhoda
From tension headaches, ulcers to blood pressure and diabetes, stress effects your body in numerous ways. So it’s time you took action!
Stress – what it does to your body!
Stress is stressful not just for our minds but also for our bodies. We know some of the problems stress can accelerate, but it’s important to be aware of all of them. So here’s a comprehensive list of all the possible negative effects stress can have on us – phew! Brace yourself, the list runs long.
  • Bad for your immunity. Stress decreases your immunity and makes you prone to infections. When you are stressed out, your immune system becomes weak and hence you are prone to picking up an infection, which may not happen when your resistance is good. Common colds, the flu and even the progression from HIV positive to full-blown AIDS can be blamed on stress.
  • Makes you tired. Stress can make you fatigued and you may complain of various muscle pains. This is basically the body’s way of making you sit up and take notice. Your body is telling you to stop; pain is the language the body uses to get your attention to its sad state and clear up the mess.
  • Stress and ulcers. Ulcers in the oesophagus and stomach can be caused or exacerbated due to stress. This is because stress causes the release of hydrochloric acid from the stomach, which contributes to acidity and in the long run may cause peptic ulcers to form.
  • Stress headaches. Stress causes blood vessels in the head region to constrict and thereby leads to headaches. The most common type is the ‘tension headache‘ but stress can even trigger a migraine in those susceptible to it.
  • Lead to chronic illnesses. Chronic illnesses, like asthma, which causes narrowing of the air passages in the lungs and some skin conditions like eczema (extremely dry skin associated with itching) have been linked to stress.
  • Hormone imbalances. Stress affects the hormones in the body and a common effect is hyperthyroidism. In this condition the thyroid gland produces excess thyroid hormones, which lead to symptoms like palpitations, tremors and insomnia.
  • The rise of lifestyle diseases. Lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes mellitus and hypertension are all related to stress. To deal with stress you may reach out for unhealthy and high-calorie foods, which leads to obesity; stress affects insulin production by the pancreas which in turn controls blood sugar; and stress causes the blood pressure to go higher thus causing uncontrolled hypertension.
  • Bad for your sex life. A stressful lifestyle is definitely to blame for lack of desire for sex, erection problems and low sperm count, which may lead to infertility in the long run.
  • Not good for the heart. Stress may directly or indirectly contribute to heart ailments. Direct stress may be a cause for heart attacks while indirectly stress may cause heart failure and arrhythmias (irregular heart beats).
  • It even affects arthritis. Stress also plays a role in arthritis. Most people having arthritis will remember a stressful event that brought the ailment on or a stressful event at the time they were diagnosed.
  • Mouth sores. Stress is blamed for poor oral hygiene which in turn may cause dental plaque formation and gum disease. Mouth sores may also result from undue stress.
  • Stress and hair loss. Hair loss increases during stressful times. Male pattern balding or alopecia areata, as well as telogen effluvium — where multiple hair cells enter the resting phase and cause significant hair loss are both associated with stress.
  • Bad for your stomach. A stomach ache which comes on and off and interferes with the daily functioning of one’s life can be pinpointed to stress.
  • Keep you up at nights. Stress interferes with normal sleep patterns and may keep you tossing and turning in bed.  You may be unable to go to bed or may wake up earlier than normal because of the stress.
  • Stress and poor breathing. Stress hampers your breathing and, therefore, the amount of oxygen entering your body. Lack of oxygen to the brain leads to inability to concentrate and focus on mental tasks and productivity at work may suffer.

Bioprinting Human Liver

Need a liver? In the future, you can 3D Bioprint one. Keith Murphy of biotech company Organovo presented advances in the process of bioprinting human liver tissues:
The liver is incredibly tiny -- just half a millimetre thick and four millimetres wide. Yet this minute organ, with little visual resemblance to the real thing in its petri dish home, manages to replicate key processes done by the real thing. It produced the protein albumin and synthesised plasma glycoproteins fibrinogen and transferrin. These are all vital in getting nutrients, hormones and drugs to the blood and the rest of the body. It also generated fat-carrying cholesterol. For its detoxification functions, the liver also needs to produce certain enzymes including CYP 1A2 and CYP 3A4 -- which this tiny organ precursor also did. Its albumin production was between five and nine times more than in 2D flat cell structures engineered.
Liat Clark of Wired UK has the story: here.

Daily Comic Relief

Saturday, April 27

A scary event on the New York Stock Exchange

On Tuesday, a fake Tweet caused a brief movement in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  The Wall Street Journal summarizes the episode:
The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged within minutes early this afternoon, after somebody hacked an AP Twitter account and posted a bogus tweet saying the White House had been attacked.

The Dow, which had been up about 130 points, fell into the red within two minutes, and then bounced back just as quickly as it became obvious that the “news” was false, and a prank.
Why did I put the word "scary" into the title?  Not because of an evanescent 140-point drop (I lived through the crash of 1987).  No.  Here's what scares me, from a separate WSJ article:
[T]raders employing so-called algorithms that automatically buy and sell shares after scanning news feeds—including posts on social media sites such as those run by Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. —had already taken action...

In an echo of the May 2010 "flash crash," when the Dow lost 600 points in a matter of minutes, market participants say liquidity—a measure of traders' ability to sell stock positions quickly—dried up while the market was falling...

Some said the episode revealed the influence of computer-driven, high-frequency-trading hedge funds, which by some measures account for as much as half of U.S. stock market volume. The computer programs some of them use have expanded their reach to social-media platforms such as Twitter.
Note that it wasn't the traders who were scanning the news and then activated defensive algorithms - it was the computers that read the news feeds and - without human analysis  or authorization - initiated trading strategies.

I understand why these systems are set up - traders and investment companies want an edge, they want in before and out before the broad public, they want an edge of pennies times millions of shares.  And I see the advantage (necessity) of having computers scan patterns and search trends - but when the computers are capable of triggering buy and sell orders on their own, I sense a recipe for disaster.  It's only a matter of time.

How to Retire at 30 Without Winning the Lottery

Most of us dream about retiring early and living a long, happy life with complete financial security doing what we love. But can that be done without winning the lottery or getting millions from selling your dotcom?
The answer is yes, according to Mister Money Mustache, who's living proof that one can retire at 30 years old after working regular jobs with regular salaries.
In an interview with Kelly Johnson of The Washington Post, he told us how he did it:
Embrace challenge and shun convenience for its own sake. Ask, “Will this really make me happier in the long run?” about all life decisions. Realize that happiness comes from accomplishment and personal growth, rather than from luxury products. Seek out voluntary discomfort as a way to become stronger, rather than running from it. Develop a healthy sense of self-mockery, and acknowledge that you are a wimp in many ways right now (and only by acknowledging it can you improve). Practice optimism. And of course, ride a bike.
That’s pretty high-level stuff. If you just want the meat and potatoes: Live close to work. Cook your own food. Take care of your own house, garden, hair and body. Don’t borrow money for cars, and don’t drive ridiculous ones. Embrace nature as the best source of recreation. Cancel your TV service. Use a prepaid cellphone. And of course, ride a bike!
He wrote on his blog MrMoneyMustache:
For almost two years, I’ve been preaching a different brand of financial advice from what you see in the newspapers and magazines. The standard line is that life is hard and expensive, so you should keep your nose to the grindstone, clip coupons, save hard for your kids’ college educations, and save any tiny slice of your salary that remains into a 401(k) plan. And pray that nothing goes wrong in the 40 years of career work that it will take to get yourself enough savings to enjoy a brief retirement.
Mr. Money Mustache’s advice? Almost all of that is nonsense: Your current middle-class life is an Exploding Volcano of Wastefulness, and by learning to see the truth in this statement, you will easily be able to cut your expenses in half – leaving you saving half of your income. Or two thirds, or more.

Woman Swallows Diamond at Charity Event

vThe Tampa Woman's Club held a fundraising event in which 400 flutes of champagne each held a gem. All but one were cubic zirconiums, and one lucky participant was to get a $5,000 diamond. However, when the champagne was gone, the real diamond could not be found.
Then, an elderly woman came forward and said she accidentally swallowed what was in her flute.

"I thought someone will win this and I won't have to tell them," Miriam explained.

Miriam immediately went to an area hospital for an x-ray only to find out diamonds don't show up on x-ray.

The very next day, Miriam went in for a routine colonoscopy.  When she arrived at the doctor's office she gave him some special instructions.

"Be on the lookout for it in case," she recalled telling her doctor.

Her doctor ended up finding the elusive diamond.
An appraisal determined that it was indeed, a real diamond. The jeweler she took it to would have preferred that she cleaned it first. More

Too-big-to-fail banks implicated in $500 trillion fraud: biggest price-rigging scandal in history

In Rolling Stone, the amazing Matt Taibbi documents a breaking price-rigging scandal involving the world's biggest banks. The $500 trillion conspiracy to game the interest-rate swaps victimizes every city, town, state and nation that uses bonds to raise money, diverting an unimaginable sum from tax coffers to the pockets of mega-rich bankers. If you've been staring around at the empty storefronts, closed libraries and schools, homeless and breadlines since 2008 and wondering "Where did all the money go?" then wonder no longer.
Though interest-rate swaps are not widely understood outside the finance world, the root concept actually isn't that hard. If you can imagine taking out a variable-rate mortgage and then paying a bank to make your loan payments fixed, you've got the basic idea of an interest-rate swap.
In practice, it might be a country like Greece or a regional government like Jefferson County, Alabama, that borrows money at a variable rate of interest, then later goes to a bank to "swap" that loan to a more predictable fixed rate. In its simplest form, the customer in a swap deal is usually paying a premium for the safety and security of fixed interest rates, while the firm selling the swap is usually betting that it knows more about future movements in interest rates than its customers.
Prices for interest-rate swaps are often based on ISDAfix, which, like Libor, is yet another of these privately calculated benchmarks. ISDAfix's U.S. dollar rates are published every day, at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., after a gang of the same usual-suspect megabanks (Bank of America, RBS, Deutsche, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, etc.) submits information about bids and offers for swaps.
And here's what we know so far: The CFTC has sent subpoenas to ICAP and to as many as 15 of those member banks, and plans to interview about a dozen ICAP employees from the company's office in Jersey City, New Jersey. Moreover, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, or ISDA, which works together with ICAP (for U.S. dollar transactions) and Thomson Reuters to compute the ISDAfix benchmark, has hired the consulting firm Oliver Wyman to review the process by which ISDAfix is calculated. Oliver Wyman is the same company that the British Bankers' Association hired to review the Libor submission process after that scandal broke last year. The upshot of all of this is that it looks very much like ISDAfix could be Libor all over again.
"It's obviously reminiscent of the Libor manipulation issue," Darrell Duffie, a finance professor at Stanford University, told reporters. "People may have been naive that simply reporting these rates was enough to avoid manipulation."
And just like in Libor, the potential losers in an interest-rate-swap manipulation scandal would be the same sad-sack collection of cities, towns, companies and other nonbank entities that have no way of knowing if they're paying the real price for swaps or a price being manipulated by bank insiders for profit. Moreover, ISDAfix is not only used to calculate prices for interest-rate swaps, it's also used to set values for about $550 billion worth of bonds tied to commercial real estate, and also affects the payouts on some state-pension annuities.
So although it's not quite as widespread as Libor, ISDAfix is sufficiently power-jammed into the world financial infrastructure that any manipulation of the rate would be catastrophic – and a huge class of victims that could include everyone from state pensioners to big cities to wealthy investors in structured notes would have no idea they were being robbed.

Belgians urged to return stolen cash that was thrown from getaway car

Police are urging people from a small town in Belgium to return tens of thousands of euros in cash that were thrown out of a speeding car by thieves attempting to make a getaway.
The incident occurred in the Flemish town of Zedelgem after the thieves stole a safe from a nearby house. The thieves threw the safe out of the car to distract police officers. It broke open and passers-by grabbed 50, 100 and 200-euro notes that were scattered.

The thieves are still on the run. One man said he had picked up two rolls of 5,000 euros only to have a police officer grab them back. Another said it was as if it was "raining money".

The local prosecutor says it was "self service" as passers-by filled their pockets with the scattered cash. While some have returned the money, a considerable sum is yet to be recovered. Anyone keeping the cash could face up to two years in jail, officials say.

German actor who played TV sleuth Derrick was member of feared SS unit during WWII

Reports that the late German actor Horst Tappert, best known for his longtime role as dapper TV sleuth Stefan Derrick, served in a feared Nazi SS unit prompted at least one European broadcaster to announce Saturday that it would drop the show's reruns from its schedule. Dutch TV station MAX pulled reruns of the show, which was produced from 1974 to 1998, after daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published documents Friday showing the actor had been in the SS during World War II. "Derrick" was one of the most widely syndicated German TV shows, broadcast in over 100 countries including China, Australia, France and Norway. "We are not going to honour an actor like this who has lied about his past," Dutch public broadcaster NOS quoted MAX chairman Jan Slagter as saying. Tappert had spoken of his wartime service as a medic in an interview 10 years before his death in 2008. But he didn't mention that his unit was part of the elite SS Armored Infantry Regiment 1, nicknamed the "Skulls" after the emblem they wore. The SS is known to have committed atrocities during World War II but it was unclear from the newly discovered documents whether Tappert was directly involved. Peter Grune, a spokesman for German public broadcaster ZDF that co-produced the show's 281 episodes, said nobody at the station had known of Tappert's SS past. "Stories like these come up now and again," he said. "For us it's not an urgent matter because he's dead." The hidden history of prominent Germans' involvement in the war has become a subject of public debate again in recent years, after being largely ignored for decades. In 2006, German Nobel literature laureate Guenter Grass admitted in an autobiography that he had been a member of the SS in the final months of the war. The revelation hurt Grass' image as one of the 'moral consciences' in post-war Germany. Earlier this year ZDF broadcast a three-part drama about the war, accompanied by a publicity campaign that urged Germans to seek out survivors of the Nazi period and ask them about the role they played at the time.

Zombies probably smell like oleic acid

Excerpts from an interesting column at BBC Earth News:
When animals die, their corpses exude a particular "stench of death" which repels their living relatives... Corpses of animals as distantly related as insects and crustaceans all produce the same stench, caused by a blend of simple fatty acids.

The smell helps living animals avoid others that have succumbed to disease or places where predators lurk. This "death recognition system" likely evolved over 400 million years ago. The discovery was made by a team of researchers based at McMaster University, near Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and is published in the journal Evolutionary Biology...

The fraction that was so off-putting to other cockroaches contained nothing but simply fatty acids, with oleic and linoleic acids the two main components... They have found that terrestrial woodlice use the same chemistry to recognize their dead, using it to avoid both crushed woodlice and intact corpses. As do two unrelated species of social caterpillar, which usually gather in large numbers...

And because insects and crustaceans diverged more than 400 million years ago, likely from an aquatic ancestor, it is likely that most subsequent species all recognize their dead in a similar way...

"Evolution may have favored recognition of such cues because they are so reliable and exposure to risks of contagion or predation are so important." 

Saudi Arabia’s oldest man dies aged 120 leaving behind 98-year-old son and 446 other progeny

Saudi Arabia’s oldest man died at the age of 120 years, leaving behind 447 children, grand children and great grand children, including his 98-year-old eldest son.

Sheikh Awad bin Abdul Aziz bin Saifi Al Qarni died of old age at his house in the central village of Al Badadha although he was in a good health just before his demise.

The chief of his tribe for most of his life, Sheikh Awad left behind 24 sons and daughters from various wives, including his eldest son, 98, youngest 22-year-old son and his eldest grandson aged around 65 years.

“Sheikh Awad was born in 1893…he witnessed three centuries and all the kings of Saudi Arabia…he was known by his tribe and many other people as nice, wise and frank man and for this reason, he was loved by all,” Sabq newspaper said.

Odds and Ends

Not your great-great-grandfather's consumption —

Tuberculosis — aka, the reason everybody in 19th century literature is always coughing up blood, escaping to the countryside for "better air", or dying tragically young — is back. And this time, it's evolved a resistance to antibiotics. In fact, in a handful of cases, tuberculosis has been resistant to every single antibiotic available to treat it. Tom Levenson explains what's happening and why it matters at The New Yorker.

Download a dinosaur (or 17) —

Now you can download 17 digital versions of dinosaur bodies created by scientists at the UK's The Royal Veterinary College, Hatfield, and other institutions. The bodies were made for a study of the biomechanics of dinosaurs — essentially, an attempt to reverse engineer some knowledge of how dinosaurs moved and how body shape and movement changed as dinosaurs got closer to becoming birds. I don't really know exactly what you might do with these files, but they're free and available to anyone. And, I figure, if somebody is going to come up with a fantastic use for digitized dinosaurs, it's you guys. 

How animals pass disease to humans —

Given the ongoing outbreak of H7N9 flu in China (and, now, also Taiwan), this is a good time to listen to a fascinating podcast discussion with David Quammen. Quammen recently published a FANTASTIC book, Spillover, about zoonoses — the diseases that humans contract from animals. This includes bird flus like H7N9. It also includes AIDS and a whole host of familiar viruses and bacteria. Bonus: Scary disease girl Maryn McKenna has a cameo in the podcast, discussing the way news media (in China and the US) are covering H7N9 and what you can do to better understand what's happening

Why the most horrible apple in the world is also the most grown —

Despite almost universal agreement that basically defines "so boring as to become disgusting", the Red Delicious apple continues to be the most-grown variety in the US. More than 50,000 bushels of the vile things are turned out every year. This story by Rowan Jacobsen in Mother Jones explains the Red Delicious' undeserved success and follows the stories of entrepreneurs who are trying to bring back varieties of apple long lost to the consumer market.

List of British words not widely used in the United States —

Here's a nifty Wikipedia entry: List of British words not widely used in the United States. One must be very careful not to confuse one's "bell-ends" with one's "fag ends." 

An app with which to track gunfire from your smartphone —

"A team of computer engineers from Vanderbilt University's Institute of Software Integrated Systems has made such a scenario possible by developing an inexpensive hardware module and related software that can transform an Android smartphone into a simple shooter location system." 

Student wrongly linked to Boston bombings (by Reddit users) found dead —

The body of 22-year-old Sunil Tripathi was "pulled from the water off India Point Park in Rhode Island," reports USA Today. Sunil was the student mistakenly linked to the Boston bombings by users on Reddit. "It was not immediately clear when Tripathi, who was last seen March 15, died," nor has a cause of death been determined. 

In Japan, a new hairdo idea: "Ripe Tomato"

Brian Ashcraft at Kotaku blogs about a neat idea for a hair style from a stylist in Japan. It's called "Ripe Tomato" ("kanjuku tomato" or 完熟トマト), and was created by "Hiro" at a salon in Osaka called "Trick Store", in the trendy Amemura district. Read: You'll Never Forget Japan's Tomato Hairdo.

The Charm of Low Budget Special Effects

The realism of special effects in modern movies is unprecedented. With computer imagery and multimillion dollar budgets, they should be! But B-movie buffs appreciate the genius required in creating monsters, spaceships, and giants on a shoestring budget. It takes real imagination and creativity to film a movie in ten days for $500, even back in the days when $500 was real money. For example, Stephen King describes how the spider was done in the movie The Giant Spider Invasion.
 “In spite of the title, there is really only one giant spider,” King writes, “but we don’t feel cheated because it’s a dilly. It appears to be a Volkswagen covered with half a dozen bearskin rugs. Four spider legs, operated by people inside this VW spider, one assumes, have been attached to each side. It is impossible to see such a budget-conscious special effect without feeling a wave of admiration.”

As it turns out, King guessed right. The spider was indeed mounted on a Volkswagen with eight people moving the legs inside the car. Richard Albain, who went on to create the FX in John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and The Fog, was the man who built the VW spider.

“We had to physically make this thing move, so the quickest, cheapest way is to buy a Volkswagen bug,” he says. “It’s low to the ground, the engine’s in the back, and we can put everything on the frame on the front. We built off it, we welded everything to the body. We used it as a mode of transport, of making it move, and it was low enough to the ground where we could hide it. That way we could drive it up over the hill, and into the city. And the same time we’re rowing the legs, and trying to keep everybody in synch!”
Ed Wood might be known as the worst director in history, but he actually cranked out movies that were shown in theaters. Godzilla is a guy in a suit, but that's the way we know Godzilla. And even though Jaws had a decent budget, it wouldn't have been so suspenseful if Spielberg weren't forced to work around the fact that the shark didn't work. Read about the creativity of limitations at Jamie & Adam Tested.

The Apple Detective

vThe article at Mother Jones is titled Why Your Supermarket Only Sells 5 Kinds of Apples, but it barely touches on that question (the answer seems to be "because agribusiness"). It's really about John Bunker and his quest to cultivate heritage apple varieties before they are lost forever. See, apples are hard to breed. If you want more apples like the ones on a certain tree, you need to clone it by grafting.
Even when abandoned, an apple tree can live more than 200 years, and, like the Giving Tree in Shel Silverstein's book, it will wait patiently for the boy to return. There is a bent old Black Oxford tree in Hallowell, Maine, that is approximately two centuries old and still gives a crop of midnight-purple apples each fall. In places like northern New England, the Appalachian Mountains, and Johnny Appleseed's beloved Ohio River Valley—agricultural byways that have escaped the bulldozer—these centenarians hang on, flickering on the edge of existence, their identity often a mystery to the present homeowners. And John Bunker is determined to save as many as he can before they, and he, are gone.
Bunker is an apple detective, who looks for such old fruit-bearing trees in order to preserve their genes by grafting. Read about his work, and the history of apple cultivation in America. More

Swedish customs workers grew cannabis plants at work 'to find out how fast they grow'

Two Swedish customs workers have been reported to the police after growing cannabis plants at work, an act the pair claims was purely for research purposes.

The staff members were working at the Swedish customs offices in Helsingborg, where they grew marijuana plants behind closed doors on the premises. The pair were reported for professional misconduct after growing a small number of plants.

"In itself, it's no serious narcotics crime, it's not exactly like they had an amphetamine lab," prosecutor Mats Eriksson said. "The serious thing is that this occurred at Swedish customs and that it was during working hours." The suspects claimed that they were only cultivating the plants as an experiment "to find out how fast they grow".

Authorities at Swedish customs have refused to comment on the find, and have not indicated whether the employees have been fired. However, the two men have been temporarily replaced and had their keys confiscated. An investigation has been launched by Malmö police.

Britain's oldest oak tree has become windfall

The tree was blown down during galeforce winds on Wednesday night. The oldest oak in Wales – and probably one of the oldest oak trees in northern Europe – has grown in the Ceiriog Valley near Chirk, north Wales, since 802 and measured 12.9m in girth. Legend states that the Welsh prince Owain Gwynedd rallied his army under the tree in 1157, before defeating the English King Henry ll at the nearby battle of Crogen, and that the tree was spared when Henry had his men cut down the Ceiriog woods in 1165.
Text and image from The Guardian.  Photo credit Rob McBride.  Related stories at the BBC and at the Globe and Mail highlight efforts underway to preserve and protect some of Britain's other historic trees.

Did an Earthquake Destroy Ancient Greece?

Geologists investigate whether an earthquake ended Mycenaean culture.

Random Photo


Ellen von Unwerth

Sea surface temps highest in 150 years

Sea surface temperatures in the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem during 2012 were the highest recorded in 150 years, according to the latest Ecosystem Advisory issued by NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). These high [...]

The "Big Dipper" is an "asterism" - not a constellation

This grouping of stars is one of the few things that has likely been seen, and will be seen, by every generation. The Big Dipper is not by itself a constellation. Although part of the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major), the Big Dipper is an asterism that has been known by different names to different societies.
Text and image from NASA's Astronomy Photo of the Day.
Asterisms are sub- or supersets of constellations which build a constellation itself, or a group of stars, physically related or not.
Here is a list of dozens of asterisms (such as the "belt of Orion.")

New Clues Behind Antimatter Mystery Found by LHC

How the modern universe is primarily composed of matter and not antimatter has foxed astrophysicists for decades, but a result from an LHC experiment has uncovered a new clue behind the matter-antimatter asymmetry mystery.

How To Photograph Landscapes

You might be wondering how the beautiful landscape photographs shown in magazines are shot. The colors are so vibrant and the compositions are always interesting, the way they guide your view from the foreground to a main subject to the background. Everything is sharp in focus.
How do they do that?

Milky Way Over Crater Lake

We've featured many Milky Way photos on Carolina Naturally but this one is probably the most beautiful: Photographer Ben Coffman took this panorama over snowy Crater Lake, Oregon:
You can see a few Lyrids in the photo (3 small ones on the left, in the Milky Way, and one larger one in the top right of the Milky Way). Andromeda can be seen near the tree to the left.
EarthSky has the larger pic: Here.

Baboons raise pet dogs

David Mizejewski writes:
The video below shows some fascinatingly odd animal behavior that I've never heard of before: baboons stealing stray puppies from their mothers and raising them as part of their troop. This kind of interspecies interaction where one species raises another species specifically for companionship and protection--in other words, keeping pets--is behavior that is typically attributed only to humans. To see it happening with baboons and dogs is nothing short of amazing.

Spectacular Seahorses And Seadragons

Seahorses and seadragons are stunning tiny sea creatures. With a long face like a horse, they have an almost mythical appearance, but are far from immortal as none of the seahorse family are strong swimmers and they often die during storms.

They excel at camouflage and many can change colors to hide themselves in their natural underwater surroundings. Bizarrely, seahorses, leafy and weedy sea dragons and even pipefish males are responsible for childbearing. Here are some fun facts and sensational shots of seahorses and seadragons that are truly spectacular.

Humpback Whales Learn New Tricks By Watching Their Friends

Whatever you do is not innate or instinctive, it's learned - it’s a cultural tradition, however mundane. Apparently, humans (and other primates) are not alone in this. Whales have multiple cultural traditions, too.

Humpback whales mimic their fellows' novel feeding strategies, passing them on to new generations, according to a new analysis. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's one of only a few examples of non-primates using this type of learning, called cultural transmission. Humpbacks are maintaining and sharing cultural traditions they have developed over time.

Animal Pictures

Grizzly in Glacier National Park.