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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, June 22, 2013

The Daily Drift


Resting in Central Valley California, 1954. 
Chillaxing in 1954
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Today in History

1558   The French take the French town of Thioville from the English.
1772   Slavery is outlawed in England.
1807   British seamen board the USS Chesapeake, a provocation leading to the War of 1812.  
1864   Confederate General A. P. Hill turns back a Federal flanking movement at the Weldon Railroad near Petersburg, Virginia.  
1876   General Alfred Terry sends Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer to the Rosebud and Little Bighorn rivers to search for Indian villages.  
1910   German bacteriologist Paul Ehrlich announces a definitive cure for syphilis.  
1911   King George V of England crowned.  
1915   Austro-German forces occupy Lemberg on the Eastern Front as the Russians retreat.  
1925   France and Spain agree to join forces against Abd el Krim in Morocco.  
1930   A son is born to Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  
1933   Hitler bans political parties in Germany other than the Nazis.  
1938   Joe Louis floors Max Schmeling in the first round of the heavyweight bout at Yankee Stadium.  
1940   France and Germany sign an armistice at Compiegne, on terms dictated by the Nazis.  
1941   Under the codename Barbarossa, Germany invades the Soviet Union.  
1942   A Japanese submarine shells Fort Stevens at the mouth of the Columbia River.  
1944   President Franklin Roosevelt signs the "GI Bill of Rights" to provide broad benefits for veterans of the war.  
1956   The battle for Algiers begins as three buildings in Casbah are blown up.  
1970   President Richard Nixon signs the 26th amendment, lowering the voting age to 18.  
1973   Skylab astronauts splash down safely in the Pacific after a record 28 days in space.  
1980   The Soviet Union announces a partial withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan.  
1981   Mark David Chapman pleads guilty to killing John Lennon.  
1995  Nigeria's former military ruler Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo and his chief deputy are charged with conspiracy to overthrow Gen. Sami Abacha's military government.

Non Sequitur


County plans statues to commemorate squirrel stampedes of the 1800's

It is not unusual for a city or county to build statues to important people or events commemorating its past, but Hamilton County, Indiana, may be on the verge of a first.
They're constructing statues of squirrels to mark an event in Indiana history. Dave Heighway knows all about it.

As the Hamilton County historian, he's been educating all who will listen about the 1822 and 1845 stampedes where migratory squirrels destroyed cornfields as they trekked across Indiana.

He told the Hamilton County Leadership Academy and members secured a grant to start work on a mockup for a fiberglass squirrel. The group would like to see half a dozen of these in all eight Hamilton County communities. The fiberglass statues are expected to cost between $500 to $1,000 each to produce.

Art Pope’s North Carolina Digital Gestapo

While repugicans in DC are busy passing important laws that no one cares about and don’t address any of our problems, the Koch Republic of Pope (formerly known as North Carolina) is busily establishing libertea lovers laws like making corporations tax free,   or repealing the Racial Justice Act  which in essence provides people on death row with a basis to appeal if racial bias played a role in their convictions, and basically anything else that amounts to a political orgasm for the tea party.
According to the State’s governor Pat McCrory  (aka Art Pope’s puppet)
Nearly every person on death row, regardless of race, has appealed their death sentence under the Racial Justice Act,” McCrory said in a statement Wednesday. “The state’s district attorneys are nearly unanimous in their bipartisan conclusion that the Racial Justice Act created a judicial loophole to avoid the death penalty and not a path to justice.
Right, there was never no racial bias in any case at all.  That’s why the previous governor, Democrat Bev Perdue, who also supports the death penalty,  vetoed previous attempts to repeal this law.
At the time, Perdue said it’s important the death penalty be given “fairly and that the process not be infected with prejudice based on race.”
Needless to say, the voter suppression laws  endorsed by freedumb loving Art Pope got the NAACP’s attention, not to mention civil libertarians and others who have the radical idea that all American citizens should have a right to vote.  Their weekly protests, dubbed “Moral Mondays” are peaceful (sans shotguns or signs saying “We didn’t come armed this time” and have resulted in arrests. This is because in the Koch Republic of Pope freedom means understanding that attacks on the basic principles of a free society are good for the corporation. If it’s good for the corporation, it’s good for everyone.
Sounds creepy enough right?  It gets creepier of the Civitas Institute collecting pictures and data of Moral Monday protestors and posting them on their website variety. Even creepier, The Civitas Institute is part of the Art Pope political machine via the foundation named for Pope’s late father.
The Civitas Institute decided it’s going to dedicate its investigative prowess to the Moral Monday protestors who constitute a much bigger threat to  freedumb in the Koch Republic of Pope than say Art Pope, who bought the government, is part of the government and is now using his extensive propaganda machine to intimidate anyone who challenges his government’s policies. Of course, since Pope owns The Civitas Institute, the odds that he’ll be investigated are non-existent.
In the name of investigating just who these protestors are and holding the short attention span of Faux fans, the website contains the following sections dedicated to their investigation:  Introduction  Pick the protestor game  (perhaps designed for the literacy challenged website visitor) the all-important protestor database  with more info available on the average protestor than on the average KRP lawmaker, Protestor facts and figures (comes with neat graphs too)  and the endlessly useful Anatomy of a Protestor  section designed to identify the traits associated with people who are defending the voting rights of all citizens regardless of race, political orientation or financial status.
Oh, you’ll just love their mission statement:
The vision of the Civitas Institute is of a North Carolina whose citizens enjoy liberty and prosperity derived from limited government, personal responsibility and civic engagement. (by which they mean only people who agree with them can enjoy freedom and are encourage to civilly engage.)
Of course, the Civitas Institute will claim it’s their right to post this information. Freedom of speech you know. (wink wink)
This is one of those 501 3 c groups dedicated to social welfare and have absolutely nothing to do with politics. According to Open Secrets, Civitas’ human handler, Clark Reimer,  gave money to North Carolina’s repugican Executive Committee.  Right, so this organization really is about social welfare and doesn’t have nuttin to do with politics or political parties or party politics.
Besides, transparency means knowing anything real or imagined about protestors, while shadowy politicians financed by dark money continue the important work of making their Empire more business friendly.
Of course, we also know this tactic. Extremists in the anti-Life movement who advocate using violence to further their cause on their websites use it.  Names, pictures of abortion providers, abortion clinics etc. are provided for any wacko to do their bit for “the cause”.
Granted, part of Civitas’ agenda may be simply to mock the protestors, as “hippies” or “takers” in the current Tea Party nomenclature. Equally as certain is the likelihood that publishing identifiable information about protestors is a less than subtle means to intimidate them and possibly motivate the Bubbas with shotguns to help the protestors see the error of their ways and just stop with this nonsense.
When exploring their investigation of Moral Monday protestors, the first words that came to mind were “digital gestapo”.   There’s just something fascistic about a group of 1, owned by a powerful member of the government, professing to believe in freedom, posting pictures and other information about protestors (which even if true) is irrelevant – at least in the United States of America.   Your age, your occupation (or lack thereof) your race and whether you have a criminal record or not is irrelevant to whether or not you get to have an opinion about government policies.
By “sharing” this information with the probable visitors to the website, this organization is in reality, attempting to discredit both the protestors and the reasons they are protesting.  They are using that same us/them propaganda tactic that the wingnuts used in an effort to discredit Occupy Wall Street.  It’s the sort of tactic that was used in another time and in another country, in the name of branding their followers as the proverbial good people and opponents of their agenda as the proverbial bad people.
This is what North Carolina has turned into.  This is what happens when “conservatives” get control over all branches of government and also use their “freedom’ to intimidate opponents of the corporate owned government’s policies.

Did you know ...

That Great Lakes shipping falters as water levels fall

About the wingnut guide to how to argue with Liberals on twitter: 2013 edition

That the Illinois county repugican cabal chairman resigns after calling a biracial republican "streetwalker"

That there is more wealth than ever - but most don't feel it

The Big Lie ...

... America’s Middle Class Far From Richest Middle Class In The World

Middle Class Wealthy Poor
I wrote the blog post titled “Al Gore Questions Capitalism – Decimation of Working Middle Class Missed.” The basic tenet of the article is that the current implementation of capitalism was leaving the middle class behind.
I woke up this morning and found the most prescient post on one of my Facebook friend’s wall. She is a community activist that continues to work hard to promote equal access to upward mobility. This friend of mind is likely in the top 5% or 2% but her liberal morals dictated that those opportunities are afforded to everyone.
I provide the above preamble because many think that those that recognize the systemic problems in our economy articulate them and fight to get them changed are encouraging “takers trying to get something not earned from the makers.” The reality is that the poor and middle class in America are those that have afforded the wealthy the wherewithal to be wealthy. Who has more worth, the poor person who can live off the land and be self-sufficient or the person with capital/wealth who have servants to do all the things needed for said wealthy person to survive.
One must listen to the blog post “Nick Hanauer TED Speech–Wealthy Do Not Create Jobs–The Middle Class Does”. This multimillionaire acknowledges the fact that it is the middle class and the poor that contribute most to the economy and gives a select few that ability to monopolize capital.
But I digress, my friend posted the article “Big Lie: America Doesn’t Have #1 Richest Middle-Class in the World…We’re Ranked 27th!” It blows the myth that as the richest country this planet has ever seen that somehow it translates to the most prosperous middle class as well. This article debunks the myth. The author states the following.
America is the richest country on Earth. We have the most millionaires, the most billionaires and our wealthiest citizens have garnered more of the planet’s riches than any other group in the world. We even have hedge fund managers who make in one hour as much as the average family makes in 21 years!
This opulence is supposed to trickle down to the rest of us, improving the lives of everyday Americans. At least that’s what free-market cheerleaders repeatedly promise us.
Unfortunately, it’s a lie, one of the biggest ever perpetrated on the American people.
Our middle class is falling further and further behind in comparison to the rest of the world. We keep hearing that America is number one. Well, when it comes to middle-class wealth, we’re number 27.  [source]
The article goes into to the reasons why the middle class is struggling and assigns blame duly on the financial sector and its shenanigans. The article is a call to action that every working middle class, poor, and moral enlightened wealthy person must heed.

The Cruel and Unusual Slappy

Our stupidest judge is also the meanest
The cruelties of the self-loathing, self-pitying Clarence Thomas were on display again this week when he provided the deciding vote that had the Supreme Court managing to turn the right to remain silent against the accused, and using that silence as evidence of incrimination.

Thomas will never miss a chance to stick it to defendants. This is the justice who has no problem executing the mentally ill: he was among the three dissenters voting for such executions in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002.

This is the justice who decided that prison guards at Louisiana’s Angola state prison, kicking an inmate while he’s handcuffed and shackled, punching him in the mouth, eyes, chest and stomach while another guard held him in place, did not amount to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. He was in a 7-2 minority on that one, joined only by Antonin Scalia, whose wood never travels far from Inquisition-vintage
punishments. When the case was argued, even the shrub and his deputy solicitor general at the time, John Roberts, now the chief justice, were on the inmate’s side. Not Thomas. Never Thomas.

Perhaps Slappy greatest crime is, after making it due to Affirmative Action, once HE made it thru the door, he slammed it shut for those behind him.


More NSA leaks ...

... how the NSA bends the truth about spying on Americans while insisting it doesn't spy on Americans

The Guardian has published two more top-secret NSA memos, courtesy of whistleblower Edward Snowden. The memos are appendices to "Procedures used by NSA to target non-US persons" (1, 2), and they detail the systems the NSA uses to notionally adhere to the law that prohibits them from spying on Americans.
More importantly, they expose the "truth" behind NSA director James Clapper's assertion that "The statement that a single analyst can eavesdrop on domestic communications without proper legal authorization is incorrect and was not briefed to Congress." This turns out to be technically, narrowly true, but false in its implication, as Declan McCullagh explains on CNet:
Clapper's statement was viewed as a denial, but it wasn't. Today's disclosures reveal why: Because the Justice Department granted intelligence analysts "proper legal authorization" in advance through the Holder regulations.
"The DNI has a history of playing games with wording, using terms with carefully obscured meanings to leave an impression different from the truth," Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who has litigated domestic surveillance cases, told CNET earlier this week.
This is important in the context of McCullagh's earlier story about Rep. Jerrold Nadler allegedly saying that the NSA listens in on Americans' phone-calls, a statement he later denied. As the Guardian's publications make clear, the NSA operates under a baroque and carefully engineered set of guidelines that allow it to spy on Americans while insisting that it's not spying on Americans.
For example, as Glenn Greenwald writes:
However, alongside those provisions, the Fisa court-approved policies allow the NSA to:
• Keep data that could potentially contain details of US persons for up to five years;
• Retain and make use of "inadvertently acquired" domestic communications if they contain usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted, or are believed to contain any information relevant to cybersecurity;
• Preserve "foreign intelligence information" contained within attorney-client communications;
• Access the content of communications gathered from "U.S. based machine[s]" or phone numbers in order to establish if targets are located in the US, for the purposes of ceasing further surveillance.
On Ars Technica, Dan Goodin goes further into the documents, showing how people who use encryption and proxies, such as Tor and PGP mail, are especially targeted for spying and data-retention, even when it is clear that the communications originate with, and are destined for, US persons:
While the documents make clear that data collection and interception must cease immediately once it's determined a target is within the US, they still provide analysts with a fair amount of leeway. And that leeway seems to work to the disadvantage of people who take steps to protect their Internet communications from prying eyes. For instance, a person whose physical location is unknown—which more often than not is the case when someone uses anonymity software from the Tor Project—"will not be treated as a United States person, unless such person can be positively identified as such, or the nature or circumstances of the person's communications give rise to a reasonable belief that such person is a United States person," the secret document stated.
And in the event that an intercepted communication is later deemed to be from a US person, the requirement to promptly destroy the material may be suspended in a variety of circumstances. Among the exceptions are "communications that are enciphered or reasonably believed to contain secret meaning, and sufficient duration may consist of any period of time during which encrypted material is subject to, or of use in, cryptanalysis."
Other conditions under which intercepted US communications may be retained include when it is "reasonably believed to contain evidence of a crime that has been, is being, or is about to be committed."
The document, dated July 28, 2009, bears the signature of US Attorney General Eric Holder.
And as Goodin notes, some of the heaviest users of PGP-encrypted email are lawyers handling confidential, privileged attorney-client communications, meaning that the US Attorney General is deliberately targeting privileged communications between US persons for extra surveillance and retention, an act of galling lawlessness.

The truth be told

NSA boss wants companies to be immunized from liability if they follow illegal orders from the NSA

General Keith Alexander, who is in charge of the NSA, has asked Congress to pass legislation immunizing companies from liability if they break the law following NSA spying orders. While on its face this seems reasonable -- if the government orders you to do something, it seems unfair for its judicial branch to prosecute you -- it's really a tacit admission of NSA lawbreaking. Much more reassuring would be a promise from Alexander that his agency will limits its requests of companies to strictly lawful behavior, and a Congressional law immunizing companies that turn down NSA requests if they have a good faith basis for believing that the NSA is asking them to break the law.
Otherwise, as Mike Masnick points out, this is an invitation for companies and the NSA to conspire together for a campaign of lawless, criminal spying:
And, of course, rather than narrowly target this immunity, it appears that Alexander would like it as broad as possible.
One former White House aide told POLITICO that Alexander has been asking members of Congress for some time to adopt bill language on countermeasures that’s “as ill-defined as possible” — with the goal of giving the Pentagon great flexibility in taking action alongside Internet providers. Telecom companies, the former aide said, also have been asking Alexander for those very legal protections.
Given the revelations of the past few weeks, this seems like the exact wrong direction for Congress to be heading. We should want companies to push back against overaggressive demands from the government for information. Giving them blanket immunity would be a huge mistake and only enable greater privacy violations.

Reality is ...

Friday, June 21

How Many Nazis Are Left?

War criminals are getting older, but legal changes may mean more trials.

Feds thwart KKK member's plot to create mobile death ray to kill "undesirables"

Federal officials say two men in New York state are charged in a bizarre plot to develop a mobile X-ray "death ray" machine to silently and remotely kill people flagged as "undesirable." Glendon Scott Crawford, 49, and Eric J. Feight, 54, were arrested on Tuesday after an operation by Albany's FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Glendon Scott Crawford, an industrial mechanic and  member of the tea-party group Americans Demanding Liberty and Freedom and of the United Northern & Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, is said to have walked into a synagogue in Albany last year and "announced his intention to build a weapon that could help Israel kill its enemies while they slept." He sought financial backing. The synagogue members told him to get lost, according to prosecutors, so he asked a Ku Klux Klan leader in North Carolina, who also apparently told him to get lost.
Both groups told authorities about the man. He kept building his dream machine anyway. He planned to use it to kill Muslims, according to the criminal complaint unsealed in Federal District Court in Albany, and described it as "Hiroshima on a light switch."
From the New York Times' account:
Mr. Crawford, who the authorities say works for General Electric in Schenectady and lives in Galway, N.Y., believed the device would enable him to secretly poison people with lethal doses of radiation from a safe distance, the authorities said. On Wednesday, federal prosecutors charged Mr. Crawford, 49, and an engineer, Eric J. Feight, 54, of Hudson, N.Y., whom the authorities described as a co-conspirator who works in industrial automation, with conspiring to provide support for the building of a weapon of mass destruction. The authorities say Mr. Crawford relied on Mr. Feight to design the weapon. Mr. Crawford, the authorities said, conceived of a powerful X-ray device that could be placed in a truck and driven near a target. The driver would park, leave the area and activate the device, “killing human targets silently and from a distance with lethal doses of radiation,” the complaint against the men stated.
Mr. Crawford, in a conversation in January at a restaurant with a federal informer, described his plan as “Hiroshima on a light switch,” and said that whoever wielded the device could kill with little chance of being caught, according to the complaint. As for motive, Mr. Crawford told two undercover agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation: “I am in this for my kids. I don’t want money.”
He added: “You know what? After this last election, the electoral process is dead.”
From the Times-Union's account:

An FBI affidavit indicates that as many as eight unidentified people may have been assisting Crawford, including a fellow GE employee described as "Person C." The complaint implies that some of those individuals may have known at least elements of what Crawford was trying to do. During the meeting at the Scotia restaurant a year ago, Crawford described his plan to an undercover informant to construct a powerful industrial X-ray machine that would be powered by a makeshift, 2,000-watt battery. The plan included an attempt by Crawford to find part-time work in a metal shop where he would have access to X-ray tubes containing radioactive materials, the complaint states.
"Crawford also told the (source) that the target of his radiation emitting device would be the Muslim community," the complaint states. "Crawford described the device's capabilities as 'Hiroshima on a light switch' and that 'everything with respiration would be dead by the morning.'"
Crawford ended the meeting by stating "how much sweeter could there be than a big stack of smelly bodies?"

A 52-year-old French woman disguised herself as her 19-year-old daughter to sit for an exam

A mother who wanting to ensure the best result for her child sitting the English Baccalauréat LV1 exam has been questioned by police after disguising herself as her daughter in order to sit an English exam in her place.
The 52-year-old woman, known only as Caroline D., reportedly dressed in Converse baseball boots, low cut jeans and a lot of makeup, managed to be admitted to an exam hall in the the Bossuet-Notre-Dame school in Paris instead of her 19-year-old daughter, Laetitia. Because the exam center was not at her daughter's high school and because some adult students also sit the exams, she made it into the hall easily, laid out her pens and settled down to begin work on the three-hour English composition exam.

An invigilator who wandered up the rows of desks glancing at the candidates' ID cards noticed the imposter straight away, having seen the daughter sitting a philosophy exam two days before. She notified the head of the exam center but, not wishing to disturb the other students, did not evict the mother straight away. Only after she had been writing her exam paper for two hours did four plain-clothes police officers arrive and wait outside the exam hall. An invigilator gently asked the woman to leave.

"Thankfully, she left with no difficulties," a lycée representative said. "The 20 or so other candidates present didn't notice anything." The woman was taken to a police station in Paris's 10th arrondissement for questioning. Caroline D. reportedly admitted impersonating her daughter to try to improve her English results. She will be summoned to court at a later date. It was not clear what sanctions the mother and daughter could now face, ranging from a fine to the daughter being barred from sitting exams for a period of years.

Charges unlikely for burglar who bumped into dead body hanging in the dark

A burglar who discovered a dead body hanging in a Hamilton, New Zealand, house is unlikely to face charges for the break-in. The 26-year-old man made the grisly discovery early on Wednesday morning while attempting to burgle the vacant house in the suburb of Fairfield.

Hamilton Police city tactical coordinator Senior Sergeant Freda Grace said the burglar, who called police himself to raise the alarm, had been arrested but not charged. Mrs Grace said the man was released after helping police with their inquiries. The incident unfolded in the early hours when the burglar stumbled across the dead body hanging in the dark.

His screams alerted neighbors who also phoned police. It's understood they thought the screaming was a domestic dispute. Mrs Grace said the victim had died hours before the burglary but if not for the break-in he may not have been found for days. She said the death of the man, whose age is unknown, was not being treated as suspicious and had been referred to the coroner. The burglar was known to police and Mrs Grace hoped the "weird" circumstances would alter his behavior.

"Hopefully there will be a positive out of it and that he will decide it's not the thing to do. I would be taking that as pretty bad karma." Mrs Grace said the whole situation was incredibly sad. "It's sad for the guy who felt so bad that that's what happened to him. Really the whole set of circumstances are just horrid."

The Blotter

Colorado police launch excessive force investigation after naked man tasered, another man dies at music festival

At the Sonic Bloom Colorado music festival, a naked guy was tasered by police. Onlookers charge that the police used excessive force. Another man at the festival died in a separate incident.

Man arrested for throwing spear at car

NewImageThis gentleman is Jeffrey Allen Jones, 56, who was arrested in Sacramento this week for assault with a deadly weapon. He allegedly thew a spear at a passing car. More

Daily Comic Relief

Friday, June 21

Introverts and Extroverts Have Different Brains

Everyone's personality is different. Some like constant interaction. Others prefer a more solitary existence. It turns out this behavior goes beyond personality

Scientists see memories as they light the corners of the mind

Oscar Wilde called memory “the diary that we all carry about with us.” Now a team of scientists has developed a way to see where and how that diary is written. Led by Don Arnold [...]

Archaeology News

The vast size of the recovered city's remains suggest it may have been a seat of government between 600 and 900 A.D. 
Pyramidal structures, palace remains, ballgame courts, plazas and sculpted monuments have been uncovered in the Mexican jungle.

Pineapple Fields Forever

The pineapple: we eat them fresh, cooked, juiced, and preserved but probably with little thought about where they come from or how, in fact, they grow. The often vast plantations on which the fruit is propagated can be something of a revelation. Welcome to the world of the pineapple.

Plants and Quantum Physics

Plants 'seen doing quantum physics'Plant vascular tissue

Researchers pin down the contentious notion that ideas from the strange world of quantum mechanics underpin plants' skill at harvesting sunlight.

How did 3rd radiation belt appear in the Earth’s upper atmosphere?

Since the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts in in the Earth’s upper atmosphere in 1958, space scientists have believed that these belts consisted of two doughnut-shaped rings of highly charged particles — an [...]

Requiem for a Weeping, Doomed Galaxy

Astronomers have identified that the tiny galaxy IC 3418 is in the process of dying. 

Random Photo

Cat nurses orphaned pit bull puppy

A cat caring for four newborn kittens is nursing an orphaned week-old pit bull puppy in Cleveland, Ohio. Last week, the puppy was dropped off at the animal shelter without its mother. He was just one-day old.

“Pups that old without their mom … their survival rate is pretty iffy,” said Sharon Harvey, president and chief executive officer of the Cleveland Animal Protective League. The APL’s veterinarian and animal team were faced with a challenge and decided to see if a new mother cat at the agency would accept the puppy into her family.

Lurlene and her litter of four welcomed Noland with no hesitation. “Lurlene loves him,” said Harvey. “It’s so adorable.” Noland is spending about nine hours a day with Lurlene and his new siblings – eating and sleeping the day away.

Since Noland is a bit bigger, the staff at the APL is supplementing Lurlene’s milk with a bottles. He goes home at night with team member who can bottle feed him and monitor him overnight. “We need to be diligent with his care,” explained Harvey, who is optimistic about his future. Noland is going to be with us for quite awhile,” said Harvey. “We need to be really sure with him. We’ve got to focus on giving him the care he needs right now.”

When it comes to mammals, how big is too big?

Mammals vary enormously in size, from weighing less than a penny to measuring more than three school buses in length. Some groups of mammals have become very large, such as elephants and whales, while others have always been small, like primates. A new theory developed by an interdisciplinary team, led by Jordan Okie of Arizona State University, provides an explanation for why and how certain groups of organisms are able to evolve gigantic sizes, whereas others are not.
When it comes to mammals, how big is too big?
The southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina, is the largest species of the mammalian order Pinnipedia, which is the second largest order of mammals. The males weigh up to 4,000 kilograms [Credit: Nigel Voaden/flickr]
The international research team composed of palaeontologists, evolutionary biologists and ecologists examined information on how quickly an individual animal grows and used it to predict how large it may get over evolutionary time. Their research is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The new theory developed from the observation that some animals live fast and die young, while others take their time and mature much later. This is called the slow-fast life-history continuum, where "fast" animals -- such as mice -- breed very quickly, while humans mature slowly and are relatively older when they first have children. The theory proposes that those species that are relatively faster are more likely to evolve a large size quicker than slow species, and that their maximum size will be greater.

The research team tested their theory using the fossil records of mammals over the last 70 million years, examining the maximum size of each mammal group throughout that time, including whales, elephants, rodents, seals and primates. They found that their theory was very well supported.

"Primates have evolved very slowly, and never got bigger than 1,000 pounds," said Okie, an exploration postdoctoral fellow in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU. "The opposite was true of whales, which evolved their large size at the fastest rates recorded."

The theory also makes predictions about the relative risks of extinction for large animals compared to small. The maximum size of an animal is limited by the rate of mortality in the population. Because larger animals tend to breed less frequently than smaller animals, if the mortality rate doubles, the maximum size is predicted to be 16 times smaller.

"This is a really surprising finding," said co-author Alistair Evans of Monash University (Melbourne, Australia). "It points to another reason why many of the large animals went extinct after the last Ice Age, and their high risk of extinction in modern environments."

The research clarifies some of the differences among the main groups of mammals and makes further predictions about how changes in body size affect the evolutionary potential. In the future, this work will be extended to help explain how extinction risk may be reduced in changing climates.

The team was funded by a Research Coordination Grant from the US National Science Foundation. Financial support to Okie was provided by an Exploration Postdoctoral Fellowship from Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration and a National Aeronautics and Space Administration Astrobiology Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Long-horned rhino from China reveals origin of the unicorn

Although modern Indian and Javan rhinos have a single horn on their noses, the extinct one-horned rhino Elasmotherium was a source of the unicorn legend because it had a two meter-long horn on its forehead and lived [...]

Animal Pictures