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

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Daily Drift

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Today in History

363 Roman Emperor Julian dies, ending the Pagan Revival.
1743 English King George defeats the French at Dettingen, Bavaria.
1833 Prudence Crandall, a white woman, is arrested for conducting an academy for black women in Canterbury, Conn.
1862 Confederates break through the Union lines at the Battle of Gaines' Mill–the third engagement of the Seven Days' campaign.
1864 General Sherman is repulsed by Confederates at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.
1871 The yen becomes the new form of currency in Japan.
1905 The crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin mutinies.
1918 Two German pilots are saved by parachutes for the first time.
1923 Yugoslav Premier Nikola Pachitch is wounded by Serb attackers in Belgrade.
1924 Democrats offer Mrs. Leroy Springs the vice presidential nomination, the first woman considered for the job.
1927 The U.S. Marines adopt the English bulldog as their mascot.
1929 Scientists at Bell Laboratories in New York reveal a system for transmitting television pictures.
1942 The Allied convoy PQ-17 leaves Iceland for Murmansk and Archangel.
1944 Allied forces capture the port city of Cherbourg, France.
1950 The UN Security Council calls on members for troops to aid South Korea.
1963 Henry Cabot Lodge is appointed U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam.
1973 President Richard Nixon vetoes a Senate ban on the Cambodia bombing.
1985 The U.S. House of Representatives votes to limit the use of combat troops in Nicaragua.

Non Sequitur


America's Top 10 Climate Change Polluters

The top 100 air polluters in America list recently was released by the University of Massachusetts – Amherst.

Did you know ...

About how to fix your job

Joe Gandelman tells us about bigotry and America's got talent

What could be more democratic than spying on everybody?

Supreme Court strikes down Defense of Marriage Act in 5-4 vote

"The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others." — from the Supreme Court's decision invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act. As per usual this week, SCOTUS Blog is your best source, and they're live-blogging.

Supreme Court alters the Voting Rights Act

Despite what you may have gathered from some of the overwrought headlines I've seen on social media, the Supreme Court did not invalidate the Voting Rights Act Tuesday. But it did make some key changes to the way the Act currently functions. Here's Amy Howe of the SCOTUS Blog, explaining the ruling in plain English (as opposed to legal speak, which is kind of a different language):
Today the Court issued its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the challenge to the constitutionality of the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. That portion of the Act was designed to prevent discrimination in voting by requiring all state and local governments with a history of voting discrimination to get approval from the federal government before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures, no matter how small. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts that was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, the Court did not invalidate the principle that preclearance can be required.
But much more importantly, it held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which sets out the formula that is used to determine which state and local governments must comply with Section 5’s preapproval requirement, is unconstitutional and can no longer be used. Thus, although Section 5 survives, it will have no actual effect unless and until Congress can enact a new statute to determine who should be covered by it.
Basically, this is the court saying that the parts of the country that needed preclearance applied to them in 1964 might not be the same parts of the country that need it today, and they've kicked the law back to Congress to decide how to deal with that.
In theory, this could be a good thing. Obviously, racism still exists. But it's also reasonable to assume that the practical application of racism on voting rights might look different than it did half a century ago. Some places that had big issues with this in the 20th century might not today, and vice versa.
The downside, though, is the reality that the Supreme Court just handed the ball to Congress — that is to say, it's now the responsibility of a spectacularly fractured institution that can't seem to get even basic budgetary measures passed, let alone something as inevitably controversial as new rules for Voting Rights Act preclearance. And, without that, the whole part of the VRA that is supposed to prevent discrimination in high-risk areas is dormant. It just sits there — a nice idea, and one the Supreme Court says they technically agree with, but now completely lacking any power.
It's not the same as completely wiping out the VRA, but it does change the way the VRA works (at least until Congress acts) in ways that make it harder to prevent voter discrimination. People can still challenge local changes to voting districts or rules under the VRA, but now it's their job to prove that the VRA has been violated — rather than the state or district's job to prove that it has not.

No Right to Remain Silent

by  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
    The Supreme Court handed down a decision on June 17 that has been ignored by most media outlets, despite its devastating effect on one of the most fundamental rights protected by the Constitution.
    In a 5-4 ruling, the justices ruled that a person no longer has the right to remain silent as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. In relevant part, the Fifth Amendment mandates that no one “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”
    Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Salinas v. Texas, that part of the Bill of Rights has been excised — and has joined the list of so many other fundamental liberties that now lie on the scrap heap of history.
    Here’s a little background of the circumstances of the Salinas case, as told by Slate:
    Two brothers were shot at home in Houston. There were no witnesses — only shotgun shell casings left at the scene. Genovevo Salinas had been at a party at that house the night before the shooting, and police invited him down to the station, where they talked for an hour. They did not arrest him or read him his Miranda warnings. Salinas agreed to give the police his shotgun for testing. Then the cops asked whether the gun would match the shells from the scene of the murder. According to the police, Salinas stopped talking, shuffled his feet, bit his lip, and started to tighten up.
    At trial, Salinas did not testify, but prosecutors described his reportedly uncomfortable reaction to the question about his shotgun. Salinas argued this violated his Fifth Amendment rights: He had remained silent, and the Supreme Court had previously made clear that prosecutors can’t bring up a defendant’s refusal to answer the state’s questions. This time around, however, Justice Samuel Alito blithely responded that Salinas was “free to leave” and did not assert his right to remain silent. He was silent. But somehow, without a lawyer, and without being told his rights, he should have affirmatively “invoked” his right to not answer questions. Two other justices signed on to Alito’s opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia joined the judgment, but for a different reason; they think Salinas had no rights at all to invoke before his arrest (they also object to Miranda itself). The upshot is another terrible Roberts Court ruling on confessions. In 2010 the court held that a suspect did not sufficiently invoke the right to remain silent when he stubbornly refused to talk, after receiving his Miranda warnings, during two hours of questioning.
    Consider the ripple effect of the Salinas decision. Specifically, imagine how this ruling will alter the entire landscape of rights — including Miranda — and how they are applied (or not applied) to those accused of serious crimes. Here’s one potential application singled out by the Atlantic:
    You know what's a much more recent wrinkle to the potential precedent effect of today's ruling? A case like that of the younger Boston Marathon suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who reportedly sat through 16 hours of questioning before he was read his Miranda rights. Had Tsarnaev, who was recovering from serious injuries at the time, remained silent during questioning without explicitly invoking his Fifth Amendment, prosecutors could, under the Salinas ruling, now use that silence to their advantage.
    Guilty or not, suspects in the United States no longer have the right to remain silent. If they remain silent, moreover, that silence will now be interpreted as guilt and will indeed — despite what you see on television court and cop dramas — be used against that person in a court of law. Even, in fact, the highest court in the land.
    Another terrifying twist to the Salinas decision is that it imposes on a suspect the necessity of invoking specific language before law enforcement will honor the basic civil liberties of a person who is (or historically, was) innocent until proven guilty.
    Justice Breyer recognized how this novel necessity places a nearly insuperable barrier to invoking one’s right to remain silent. Writing for the dissent, Justice Breyer asked, “How can an individual who is not a lawyer know that these particular words [“I expressly invoke the privilege against self incrimination”] are legally magic?”
    Breyer goes on to propose a “far better” way to protect a person’s right to not incriminate himself.
    Can one fairly infer from an individual’s silence and surrounding circumstances an exercise of the Fifth Amendment’s privilege? The need for simplicity, the constitutional importance of applying the Fifth Amendment to those who seek its protections, and this Court’s case law all suggest that this is the right question to ask here. And the answer to that question in the circumstances of today’s case is clearly: yes.
    In the black-is-white-up-is-down world that we live in, it is no longer surprising to see constitutionally protected liberties being championed by the “liberal” bloc of justices, while the so-called “conservatives” chisel away at the bedrock of freedom.
    Our Founding Fathers understood how vital the right against self-incrimination was to the pursuit of justice. Consider the following defense of that right offered by imminent Founding Era jurist Joseph Story:
    This also is but an affirmance of a common law privilege. But it is of inestimable value. It is well known, that in some countries, not only are criminals compelled to give evidence against themselves, but are subjected to the rack or torture in order to procure a confession of guilt. And what is worse, it has been (as if in mockery or scorn) attempted to excuse, or justify it, upon the score of mercy and humanity to the accused. It has been contrived, (it is pretended,) that innocence should manifest itself by a stout resistance, or guilt by a plain confession; as if a man's innocence were to be tried by the hardness of his constitution, and his guilt by the sensibility of his nerves. Cicero, many ages ago, though he lived in a state, wherein it was usual to put slaves to the torture, in order to furnish evidence, has denounced the absurdity and wickedness of the measure in terms of glowing eloquence, as striking, as they are brief. They are conceived in the spirit of Tacitus, and breathe all his pregnant and indignant sarcasm. Ulpian, also, at a still later period in Roman jurisprudence, stamped the practice with severe reproof.
    In one day the Supreme Court of the United States now dispenses with a right defended by Cicero over 2,000 years ago.
    Finally, read the warning issued by Abraham Holmes during the Massachusetts ratifying convention in January 1788:
    There is nothing to prevent Congress from passing laws which shall compel a man, who is accused or suspected of a crime, to furnish evidence against himself, and even from establishing laws which shall order the court to take the charge exhibited against a man for truth, unless he can furnish evidence of his innocence.
    I do not pretend to say Congress will do this; but, sir, I undertake to say that Congress (according to the powers proposed to be given them by the Constitution) may do it; and if they do not, it will be owing entirely — I repeat it, it will be owing entirely — to the goodness of the men, and not in the least degree owing to the goodness of the Constitution.
    In the Salinas case, it was as Holmes wisely predicted: The goodness of the Constitution was not enough to protect one of our most fundamental and cherished liberties from the assault by an almost all-powerful federal government.

    The truth hurts

    The Battle for 2014 Begins Today

    What we need to do now is to look at the totality of what has just happened at the Supreme Court. And for those heartbroken over what happened to the Voting Rights Act whose minds are still somehow so narrow that they can’t celebrate the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act because it is a victory for gays, they need to understand that these two decisions are intertwined. Like it or not. And then when you add the heroic actions of Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis, who led an 11-hour filibuster which forced the defeat of  a bill that would have closed nearly all the abortion clinics in that state,  you can begin to see the rise of the progressive troops.
    This is war, folks, and the battlefield is the year 2014. Progressives and Democrats sat on their hands pouting in 2010 because too many believed President Barack Obama wasn’t being progressive enough for their tastes. Yeah, well, we all see where that got us. Next year is the year we cannot afford to lose come November, because if we do then it’s hard to calculate the extent of the damage coming our way.
    Yesterday the Supreme Court delivered a hammer blow to more than a half century of civil rights progress when they effectively neutered the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has stood as the centerpiece of what the movement was about. When African Americans finally got the right to vote, thanks in large part to some ingenious legislative maneuvering and arm-twisting by President Lyndon Johnson, it said that black people were equal citizens just like everyone else, and that we had a right to equal representation in government just like everyone else. We helped build this country, so we deserved to have our voices heard in how it was governed. Yesterday the Supreme Court said that all is now well in the year 2013, so no more need for civil rights protections. Immediately the voter suppression machine kicked into gear, revving up to disenfranchise all those voters in 2014 that it couldn’t legally keep away in 2012. This was what they were waiting for.
    So yes, that decision hurt like hell. But then came the next day, and thousands of gay Americans were finally recognized as human beings, and even the conservative SCOTUS recognized that the institution of marriage really didn’t need to be defended from anyone because it was never under attack. When two people who love one another want to be married and spend the rest of their lives together, that is what defends the sanctity of marriage. Meanwhile, in Texas, one lone female State Senator stood her ground in the face of a room full of knuckle draggers and ankle biters to defend the right of women to choose. But then wait, she wasn’t really alone was she? Because right there in the room with her during the closing hours were hundreds of protesters chanting “shame, shame” who lodged what was called a “people’s filibuster’ in support of  Sen. Davis, helping her to keep the vote from taking place before the clock struck midnight. They succeeded, and the bill failed to become law.
    From the Huffington Post:
    Lawmakers had to vote on Senate Bill 5 before the special session’s end at 12 a.m. local time. However, more than 400 protesters halted the proceedings 15 minutes before the roll call could be completed with what they called “a people’s filibuster,”The Associated Press reported.
    The crowd of demonstrators in the capitol cried “Shame! Shame!” when Davis’ filibuster was halted by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who ruled that her discussion of mandatory ultrasound testing was off-topic. Then the protesters roared after state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte asked, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”
    People stood up. And when people stand up and refuse to take it any longer, things change. History has proven that, especially here in America, time and time again. And what that proves is that this is still our country and will always be our country. But only for so long as we are willing to fight for it. And then fight some more.

    The truth always comes out

    The Reality Of Who Actually Works For Minimum Wage Will Shock You

    If you add up the totals in these charts, 75% of minimum wage earners are adults. Let that sink in for a minute. 70% have at least a high school degree, and some have had at least a year or two of college. 
    Take a look at the size of the big blue slice in the first pie chart — that represents adult women who are working for minimum wage, almost half of the total. This is why raising the minimum wage would make a huge difference for tons of families, especially those in which women are the primary breadwinners or single moms.

    John Cornyn and the Government Teat

    From Crooks and Liars

    You know how Texas Senator John Cornyn just hates, hates, hates government? But even worse how he hates people who get "entitlements" like social security and Medicare?

    Not so much in his own feedlot.

    Come to find out, the man is triple-dipping the government retirement teat.

    $48,807- is from the Judicial Retirement System of Texas. He served on the state Supreme Court from 1991 to 1997.

    $10,132 in retirement benefits last year from the Employees Retirement System of Texas because he was Attorney General for three years.

    $6,444 retirement distribution from the Texas County and District Retirement System because he was a district court judge for three years.

    So, my math ain't perfect but he gets about $65,000 a year retirement for 12 years of work. That's probably better than your average social security retiree. Probably.

    The republicans Reject The Concept That Every American Deserves Unalienable Rights

    The concept of equality for all transcends, or should transcend, any political ideology not founded in fascism, but it has been a hard tenet to impress on all Americans over the nation’s history. Perhaps it is human nature, or a sense of superiority, but throughout American history a disturbingly large segment of the population fought against equality and supported inequality despite their claim of allegiance to the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. Scholars and academics from around the globe have cited Thomas Jefferson’s self-evident truths that all human beings deserve unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as one of the most profound humanistic statements of all time that both political parties claim to embrace. However, repugicans continue providing evidence that they reject the concept that every American deserves those unalienable rights, and are diligently working toward restricting them from an ever-increasing segment of the population.
    The repugicans’ conception of unalienable rights is a far cry from an environment where every American enjoys “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and former presidential candidate Rick Santorum explained the repugican cabal’s penchant for eliminating equal rights. He said, “the idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire,”  and apparently it includes when there is no harm to anyone.  Santorum was expressing his abhorrence of an individual’s right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness in the privacy of their bedroom, but repugicans are attempting to deny a growing number of Americans their unalienable rights in Congress, state legislatures, and where those fail they appeal to the wingnut stacked Supreme Court.
    The idea of all Americans having the same equal rights under the Constitution is obviously out of the realm of possibility for repugicans who are fighting to undo hard-fought victories of past generations to give every American the same opportunities of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Two of the cases the Supreme Court is deciding, marriage equality and voting rights are the result of repugican efforts to deny a large segment of the population their equal right to vote, or to marry the person they chose as a life partner. Yesterday the High Court refused to rule on whether all Americans deserve the right to equal educational opportunities that necessitated affirmative action laws preventing discrimination based on race. Just the idea that America needed a law to give all Americans equal rights to an education reveals that equality in America was sorely lacking.
    The repugicans oppose equal voting rights for all Americans, and failing to achieve their discrimination based on race, they appealed to the conservative High Court to restrict minorities from exercising their equal right to vote. Conversely, repugicans demand equal rights for corporations and wealthy individuals to spend unlimited amounts to elect candidates and lobby legislators while restricting the liberty of people by making voter access more difficult if not impossible. The idea of using the Supreme Court to restrict equal rights is a tactic that exceeds restricting the right to vote or marry the person one loves, and conservatives have been quite open as to their intentions to deny more Americans their equal rights and liberty on a variety of issues by appealing to wingnuts on the High Court.
    It is no secret the anti-choice crowd in states are helping repugicans pass abortion bans for the sole purpose of taking a court case all the way to the Supreme Court to strike down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The rush of personhood laws, forced medical procedures, closing abortion clinics, and attempts to ban contraception all restrict women’s equal right to choose, and anti-choice groups clamor for a High Court appeal to finish off their forty year assault on women’s reproductive rights. Every year evangelical preachers openly defy the IRS mandate that tax-exempt churches refrain from campaigning from the pulpit, and their stated purpose is taking the IRS to court if they enforce the law to strike down the separation of church and state in  the first amendment. After the Affordable Care Act became law, states sued in federal courts and appealed to the High Court because the idea of all Americans having equal access to health care is unfathomable to repugicans.
    In the U.S. Congress and repugican-controlled states there is an ongoing effort to restrict Americans’ right to a fair wage and equal pay for equal work because they claim corporations and big business’s right to unrestricted profits supersede the labor  force. In Virginia, the attorney general is appealing a decision that prevents the state from restricting Virginians from their pursuit of happiness and right to privacy because it offends his personal religious beliefs. In several repugican states the right of students to have a religion-free education is being restricted by including religious-based teaching in science, as well as imposing prayer during school-sponsored sporting events. It is curious that repugicans are adamant that religious liberty of their supporters is never challenged, and yet they have no problem abusing the right to freedom from religion.
    The list of repugican assaults on equal rights is unending, and it is not solely about enriching the wealthy or pandering to religion, but like everything repugicans represent, it is about taking everything the American people have; including their equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What Americans are witnessing in repugican policies are extreme right-wing, authoritarian, and intolerant practices that are the hallmarks of fascism that depends on inequality, loss of freedom, and suppression of the opposition by restricting voting rights, personal privacy rights, and economic rights. The repugicans lack the power to enforce their fascist policies through military might, but they are using the next best thing in the wingnut stacked Supreme Court to quash resistance to their stringent socioeconomic controls and centralized authority under cover of religion and no demographic is immune to their intents.
    The Founders were aware that given the opportunity, a dictatorial power structure could, and would, gain control of the nation, and the people, so they included protections in the Constitution that have been amended time and again to assuage the next attempt to subvert equality and Americans’ unalienable rights, and repugicans have turned to the High Court to eliminate those rights they failed to achieve in state legislatures. It is sad indeed that after 237 years and several amendments to ensure all Americans have equal rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, an extreme lunatic fringe group of authoritarian wingnuts are openly attempting to dismantle and eliminate what the Founding Fathers and generations of equal rights activists have fought to achieve. Throughout this nation’s history, there have been different groups who were restricted from enjoying their unalienable rights guaranteed in the Constitution, but never before has the majority of the population faced an all-out attack on their equal rights that repugicans make no attempt to conceal. Tragically, with funding  from a few wealthy fascists, moral support of religious fascists, and a wingnut stacked Supreme Court backing their bloodless coup d’état’ it is only a matter of time before the concept of equality will be something millions of immigrants once thought of America.

    The truth be told

    Ten Food Lies We've All Been Fed

    Recently, we learned that as spaghetti and meatballs are actually not true Italian food, which got us thinking about what other things we've accepted as truths are actually damned lies. Well, here's what we found out:
    1. Baby Carrots Are Actually Made from Grown Up Carrots
    Mike Yurosek with baby carrots 
    In 1986, California farmer Mike Yurosek got tired of having to throw away imperfect carrots at his packing plant. In some loads, as much as 70% of the carrots had to be thrown away because they were twisted, knobby, or otherwise deformed (he couldn't even feed them all to pigs because after a while, "their fat turned orange," he said.)
    One day, Yurosek bought an industrial green-bean cutter from a frozen-food company that was going out of business, and cut the carrots into 2-inch pieces. Then he loaded them up into an industrial potato peeler to smooth down their edges. What he got was what we now know and love as baby carrots (technically, "baby-cut" carrots).
    Oh, and here's the best part about the whole baby carrot business: they sell for much higher price than regular carrots, despite that they actually started as carrots destined for the trash heap.
    2. Portabello Mushroom is Actually Just Mature Brown Crimini Mushroom
    Portabello and button mushrooms

    You pay a hefty premium for large portabello mushrooms at the grocyer store, but did you know that you're actually buying mature brown crimini or button mushrooms? Yep, they're the same thing.
    3. You Won't Find Fortune Cookies in China
    Fortune cookie
    Eat in any Chinese restaurant in America, and you'll be served with a plate of fortune cookies at the end of the meal. Fortune cookies are so quintessentially Chinese ... yet you won't find them in China.
    The origin of the fortune cookies is controversial, but food researchers pointed to its origin as distinctly Japanese (the modern version of the fortune cookie was supposedly invented by Japanese bakers who immigrated to the United States).
    And here's the kicker: In the early 1990s, Wonton Food, the largest fortune cookie manufacturer in the United States, attempted to introduce fortune cookies to China, but gave up because the cookies were considered "too American" by the Chinese.
    4. General Tso Didn't Invent General Tso's Chicken ...
    General Tso 
    ... but he did quell a few rebellions in which millions of people died!
    General Tso Tsun-t'ang, the man whom General Tso's chicken was named after, was a real general* in the late Qing Dynasty, China. He didn't invent the chicken dish in question - or any Chinese food at all, for the matter.
    *Unlike Colonel Sanders, for example, who wasn't a real colonel in the military. Sanders was a Kentucky Colonel, a title of honor given by the Governor of Kentucky.
    5. You Haven't Tasted Real Wasabi
    Wasabi root
    Wasabi root
    Unless you've eaten sushi in Japan, or at a very expensive sushi restaurant elsewhere, you haven't tasted real wasabi. That pungent glob of green stuff swimming in soy sauce that you think is wasabi is actually a combination of horseradish, mustard and green food dye.
    Real wasabi is made from wasabi root. It is traditionally grated with a piece of sharkskin stretched over wooden paddle.
    6. Two Words: Meat Glue
    If you thought pink slime in your burger was bad, wait till you hear about meat glue in your steak.

    Meat glue, or an enzyme called transglutaminase, binds protein together. It is often used in the food industry to stick together scraps of meat into prime cuts of steak. After the meat is cooked, you can't tell the difference.
    7. The First Caesar Salad Was Made From Scraps
    Caesar Cardini 
    From its name, you'd think that Caesar salad is a salad fit for Roman emperors, but did you know that the first Caesar salad was made from scraps?
    In 1924, chef Caesar Cardini (yes, the salad was named after him), ran out of food in his restaurant's kitchen, so when a customer asked for a salad, he made do. Cardini put together bits of lettuce with olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, egg, garlic, croutons and Parmesan. He then added the dramatic flair of tossing the salad "by the chef" at the table-side. The crowds loved it, and the Caesar salad was born!
    8. Salmon Gets Dyed Pink
    Wild salmon got its nice pink color from eating red-hued krill, but farmed salmon don't get a chance to eat that. Instead, they're fed ground up fish meal and oils that turn their flesh a dull gray color. So, to make up for that color deficiency, farmed salmon are fed pink pigments.
    Salmon farmers can even choose how pink is pink enough with this nifty SalmoFan. It's just like looking at paint swatches at the hardware store!
    9. Chilean Sea bass isn't Chilean. It isn't even a Sea bass.
    Chilean sea bass sounds quite nice, doesn't it? That's exactly why it's called that instead of the fish's real name: Patagonian toothfish (man, what an ugly fish!)
    Patagonia Toothfish or Chilean sea bass
    Patagonian toothfish AKA Chilean sea bass
    In 1977, a fish wholesaler named Lee Lantz wanted to sell Patagonian toothfish to the American market, but realized that nobody wanted to eat a fish with such an unappetizing name. So he tried "Pacific sea bass" and "South American sea bass" before settling on "Chilean sea bass."
    The clever name isn't the only problem with Chilean sea bass: according a 2011 DNA analysis by Peter Marko of Clemson University, 15% of Chilean sea bass sold with eco-labels weren't actually from approved, sustainable stock. Worse, 8% were actually different species of fish altogether!
    10. You Can't Tell the Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Wine
    Ah, the sweet nose of lies that is wine tasting. If you ever thought that pretentious wine tasting experts are full of it, you'd be right.
    Psychologist Richard Wiseman of the Hertfordshire University conducted a blind test in which he asked 578 regular people to tell the difference between a variety of wine, ranging from cheap £3 wines to expensive £30 bottles:
    The study found that people correctly distinguished between cheap and expensive white wines only 53% of the time, and only 47% of the time for red wines. The overall result suggests a 50:50 chance of identifying a wine as expensive or cheap based on taste alone – the same odds as flipping a coin.
    So, in other words. They guessed.
    Ah, but that's regular people, oenophiles said. What about experts? Well, the results aren't much better: In 2001, Frédéric Brochet at the University of Bordeaux tested 54 wine experts to rate 2 glasses of red and 2 glasses of white wine. The experts couldn't even tell that the red wine was actually the same as the white wine, but colored by red dye.
    If that's not bad enough, wait till you hear what Brochet did next. He took a middling bottle of wine and served it in two different bottles. One bottle had a fancy grand cru label and the other one had an ordinary table wine label. The experts gave the same two wines opposite descriptions: they praised the "grand cru" wine and dismissed the ordinary one as less favorable.

    Obesity Affecting America's Laboratory Animals

    Obesity has grown into such a big problem that it's even seen in laboratory animals that live under controlled conditions. David Berreby writes in Aeon:
    [...] over the past 20 years or more, as the American people were getting fatter, so were America’s marmosets. As were laboratory macaques, chimpanzees, vervet monkeys and mice, as well as domestic dogs, domestic cats, and domestic and feral rats from both rural and urban areas. In fact, the researchers examined records on those eight species and found that average weight for every one had increased. The marmosets gained an average of nine per cent per decade. Lab mice gained about 11 per cent per decade. Chimps, for some reason, are doing especially badly: their average body weight had risen 35 per cent per decade. Allison, who had been hearing about an unexplained rise in the average weight of lab animals, was nonetheless surprised by the consistency across so many species. ‘Virtually in every population of animals we looked at, that met our criteria, there was the same upward trend,’ he told me.
    It isn’t hard to imagine that people who are eating more themselves are giving more to their spoiled pets, or leaving sweeter, fattier garbage for street cats and rodents. But such results don’t explain why the weight gain is also occurring in species that human beings don’t pamper, such as animals in labs, whose diets are strictly controlled. In fact, lab animals’ lives are so precisely watched and measured that the researchers can rule out accidental human influence: records show those creatures gained weight over decades without any significant change in their diet or activities. Obviously, if animals are getting heavier along with us, it can’t just be that they’re eating more Snickers bars and driving to work most days. On the contrary, the trend suggests some widely shared cause, beyond the control of individuals, which is contributing to obesity across many species.

    Woman Drinks Only Soda for 16 Years

    The 31-year-old woman's heart suffered from the long-term soda drinking but her health was restored after she quit drinking it for a week.

    Ten Days in a Mad House

    Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum New York World 1887 Nellie Bly (real name Elizabeth Jane Cochran, above) was a 23-year-old journalist without a job when she walked into the offices of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World in 1887 and was given the daunting assignment of exposing the horrors of the Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum. She rehearsed feverishly. She played mad. “Undoubtedly demented… a hopeless case,” said one of the doctors who admitted her. But inside the asylum she chronicled the awful food and awful conditions that spurred reform.

    The World's Most Iconic Lighthouses

    Lighthouses mark dangerous coastlines, hazardous shoals, reefs, safe entries to harbors, and can also assist in aerial navigation. Once widely used, the number of operational lighthouses has declined due to the expense of maintenance and replacement by modern electronic navigational systems.

    Here's a list of the world's most iconic lighthouses.

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Swimming pool 1951 - Marilyn Monroe
    Swimming pool 1951 - Marilyn Monroe

    New Human Ancestor Discovered

    Picture of Russian cave Denisovan excavation

    The Case of the Missing Ancestor

    DNA from a cave in Russia adds a mysterious new member to the human family.

    by Jamie Shreeve
    In the Altay Mountains of southern Siberia, some 200 miles from where Russia touches Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan, nestled under a rock face about 30 yards above a little river called the Anuy, there is a cave called Denisova. It has long attracted visitors. The name comes from that of a hermit, Denis, who is said to have lived there in the 18th century. Long before that, Neolithic and later Turkic pastoralists took shelter in the cave, gathering their herds around them to ride out the Siberian winters. Thanks to them, the archaeologists who work in Denisova today, surrounded by walls spattered with recent graffiti, had to dig through deep layers of goat dung to get to the deposits that interested them. But the cave’s main chamber has a high, arched ceiling with a hole near the top that directs shimmering shafts of sunlight into the interior, so that the space feels holy, like a church.
    In the back of the cave is a small side chamber, and it was there that a young Russian archaeologist named Alexander Tsybankov was digging one day in July 2008, in deposits believed to be 30,000 to 50,000 years old, when he came upon a tiny piece of bone. It was hardly promising: a rough nubbin about the size and shape of a pebble you might shake out of your shoe. Later, after news of the place had spread, a paleoanthropologist I met at Denisova described the bone to me as the “most unspectacular fossil I’ve ever seen. It’s practically depressing.” Still, it was a bone. Tsybankov bagged it and put it in his pocket to show a paleontologist back at camp.
    The bone preserved just enough anatomy for the paleontologist to identify it as a chip from a primate fingertip—specifically the part that faces the last joint in the pinkie. Since there is no evidence for primates other than humans in Siberia 30,000 to 50,000 years ago—no apes or monkeys—the fossil was presumably from some kind of human. Judging by the incompletely fused joint surface, the human in question had died young, perhaps as young as eight years old.
    Anatoly Derevianko, leader of the Altay excavations and director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, thought the bone might belong to a member of our own species, Homo sapiens. Sophisticated artifacts that could only be the work of modern humans, including a beautiful bracelet of polished green stone, had previously been found in the same deposits. But DNA from a fossil found earlier in a nearby cave had proved to be Neanderthal, so it was possible this bone was Neanderthal as well.
    Derevianko decided to cut the bone in two. He sent one half to a genetics laboratory in California; so far he has not heard from that half again. He slipped the other half into an envelope and had it hand-delivered to Svante Pääbo, an evolutionary geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. It was there that the case of the Denisovan pinkie bone took a startling turn.
    Pääbo, a transplanted Swede, is arguably the world’s leading expert in ancient DNA, especially human DNA. His milestones are many. In 1984 he became the first person to isolate DNA from an Egyptian mummy. In 1997 he accomplished the same feat for the first time with a Neanderthal, a kind of human that vanished more than 25,000 years before the Egyptian pharaohs. That secured his scientific reputation.
    When Pääbo received the package from Derevianko, his team was hard at work producing the first sequence of the entire Neanderthal genome—another feat that had once seemed impossible and that was occupying most of his attention. His lab also had a backlog of other fossils to test from all parts of the globe. So it wasn’t until late 2009 that the little Russian finger bone drew the attention of Johannes Krause, at the time a senior member of Pääbo’s team. (He’s now at the University of Tübingen.) Like everyone else, Krause assumed the bone was from an early modern human. He had developed a method for distinguishing the DNA of such a fossil from that of the archaeologists, museum workers, and anyone else who might have handled and therefore contaminated it.
    Krause and his student Qiaomei Fu extracted the finger bone’s mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), a small bit of the genome that living cells have hundreds of copies of and that is therefore easier to find in ancient bone. They compared the DNA sequence with those of living humans and Neanderthals. Then they repeated the analysis, because they couldn’t believe the results they’d gotten the first time around.
    On a Friday afternoon, with Pääbo away at a meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, Krause called a meeting of the lab staff and challenged anyone to come up with a different explanation for what he was seeing. No one could. Then he dialed Pääbo’s cell. “Johannes asked me if I was sitting down,” Pääbo remembers. “I said I wasn’t, and he replied that I had better find a chair.”
    Krause himself recalls that Friday as “scientifically the most exciting day of my life.” The tiny chip of a finger bone, it seemed, was not from a modern human at all. But it wasn’t from a Neanderthal either. It belonged to a new kind of human being, never before seen.
    In July 2011, three years after Tsybankov unearthed the bone chip, Anatoly Derevianko organized a scientific symposium at the archaeological camp a few hundred yards from Denisova cave. At an opening night dinner punctuated with frequent toasts of vodka, Derevianko welcomed the 50 researchers, including Pääbo, who had come to see the cave and share their views on how the mysterious new human fit into the fossil and archaeological record for human evolution in Asia.
    The year before, two other fossils had been found to contain DNA similar to that of the finger bone, both of them molars. The first tooth had turned up among the specimens from Denisova housed at Derevianko’s institute in Novosibirsk. It was bigger than either a modern human or a Neanderthal tooth, in size and shape resembling the teeth of much more primitive members of the genus Homo who lived in Africa millions of years ago. The second molar had been found in 2010 in the same cave chamber that had yielded the finger bone—indeed, near the bottom of the same 30,000-to-50,000-year-old deposits, called Layer 11.
    Remarkably, that tooth was even bigger than the first, with a chewing surface twice that of a typical human molar. It was so large that Max Planck paleoanthropologist Bence Viola mistook it for a cave bear tooth. Only when its DNA was tested was it confirmed to be human—specifically, Denisovan, as the scientists had taken to calling the new ancestors. “It shows you how weird these guys are,” Viola told me at the symposium. “At least their teeth are just very strange.”
    Pääbo’s team could extract only a tiny amount of DNA from the teeth—just enough to prove they came from the same population as the finger, though not from the same individual. But the finger bone had been spectacularly generous.
    DNA degrades over time, so usually very little remains in a bone tens of thousands of years old. Moreover, the DNA from the bone itself—called endogenous DNA—is typically just a tiny fraction of the total DNA in a specimen, most of which comes from soil bacteria and other contaminants. None of the Neanderthal fossils Pääbo and his colleagues had ever tested contained even 5 percent endogenous DNA, and most had less than one percent. To their amazement, the DNA in the finger bone was some 70 percent endogenous. Apparently, the cold cave had preserved it well.
    Given so much DNA, the scientists easily ascertained that there was no sign of a male Y chromosome in the specimen. The fingertip had belonged to a little girl who had died in or near Denisova cave tens of thousands of years before. The scientists had no idea, at first, what she looked like—just that she was radically different from anything else they had ever seen.
    For a while they thought they might have her toe too. In the summer of 2010 a human toe bone had emerged, along with the enormous tooth, from Layer 11. In Leipzig a graduate student named Susanna Sawyer analyzed its DNA. At the symposium in 2011 she presented her results for the first time. To everyone’s shock, the toe bone had turned out to be Neanderthal, deepening the mystery of the place.
    The green stone bracelet found earlier in Layer 11 had almost surely been made by modern humans. The toe bone was Neanderthal. And the finger bone was something else entirely. One cave, three kinds of human being. “Denisova is magical,” said Pääbo. “It’s the one spot on Earth that we know of where Neanderthals, Denisovans, and modern humans all lived.” All week, during breaks in the conference, he kept returning alone to the cave. It was as if he thought he might find clues by standing where the little girl may have stood and touching the cool stone walls she too may have touched.
    Pääbo grew up in Stockholm with his single mother, a chemist, and on certain days with his father, a biochemist named Sune Bergström, who had another, legitimate family and would later win a Nobel Prize. Pääbo’s own first passion was Egyptology, but he switched to molecular biology, then fused the two interests in 1984 with his work on mummy DNA. Once anchored in the study of the past, he never let go. He is 58 now, tall and lanky, with large ears, a long, narrow head, and pronounced eyebrows that arch up and down animatedly when he’s excited—about Denisova, for instance.
    How had all three kinds of human ended up there? How were Neanderthals and Denisovans related to each other and to the sole kind of human that inhabits the planet today? Did their ancestors have sex with ours? Pääbo had a history with that kind of question.
    The Neanderthal DNA he had made headlines with in 1997 was utterly different from that of any person now alive on Earth. It seemed to suggest that Neanderthals had been a separate species from us that had gone extinct—suspiciously soon after our ancestors first migrated out of Africa into the Neanderthals’ range in western Asia and Europe. But that DNA, like Krause’s first extract from the Denisovan finger, was mtDNA: It came from the mitochondria, the energy-producing organelles inside the cell, and not from the cell nucleus, where the vast bulk of our genome resides. Mitochondrial DNA includes only 37 genes, and it’s inherited only from the mother. It’s a limited record of a population’s history, like a single page torn from a book.
    By the time of the Denisova symposium, Pääbo and his colleagues had published first drafts of the entire Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes. Reading so many more pages allowed Pääbo and his colleagues, including David Reich at Harvard University and Montgomery Slatkin at the University of California, Berkeley, to discover that human genomes today actually contain a small but significant amount of Neanderthal code—on average about 2.5 percent. The Neanderthals still may have been swept into extinction by the strange, high-browed new people who followed them out of Africa, but not before some commingling that left a little Neanderthal in most of us, 50,000 years later. Only one group of modern humans escaped that influence: Africans, because the commingling happened outside that continent.
    Although the Denisovans’ genome showed that they were more closely related to the Neanderthals, they too had left their mark on us. But the geographic pattern of that legacy was odd. When the researchers compared the Denisovan genome with those of various modern human populations, they found no trace of it in Russia or nearby China, or anywhere else, for that matter—except in the genomes of New Guineans, other people from islands in Melanesia, and Australian Aborigines. On average their genomes are about 5 percent Denisovan. Negritos in the Philippines have as much as 2.5 percent.
    Putting all the data together, Pääbo and his colleagues came up with a scenario to explain what might have occurred. Sometime before 500,000 years ago, probably in Africa, the ancestors of modern humans split off from the lineage that would give rise to Neanderthals and Denisovans. (The most likely progenitor of all three types was a species called Homo heidelbergensis.) While our ancestors stayed in Africa, the common ancestor of Neanderthals and Denisovans migrated out. Those two lineages later diverged, with the Neanderthals initially moving west into Europe and the Denisovans spreading east, perhaps eventually populating large parts of the Asian continent.
    Later still, when modern humans ventured out of Africa themselves, they encountered Neanderthals in the Middle East and Central Asia, and to a limited extent interbred with them. According to evidence presented by David Reich at the Denisova symposium, this mixing most likely occurred between 67,000 and 46,000 years ago. One population of modern humans then continued east into Southeast Asia, where, sometime around 40,000 years ago, they encountered Denisovans. The moderns interbred with them as well and then moved into Australasia, carrying Denisovan DNA.
    This scenario might explain why the only evidence so far that the Denisovans even existed is three fossils from a cave in Siberia and a 5 percent stake in the genomes of people living today thousands of miles to the southeast. But it left a lot of questions unanswered. If the Denisovans were so widespread, why was there no trace of them in the genomes of Han Chinese or of any other Asian people between Siberia and Melanesia? Why had they left no mark in the archaeological record—no distinctive tools, say? Who were they really? What did they look like? “Clearly we need much more work,” Pääbo acknowledged at the Denisova symposium.
    The best of all possible developments would be to find Denisovan DNA in a skull or other fossil with distinctive morphological features, one that could serve as a Rosetta stone for reexamining the whole fossil record of Asia. There are some intriguing candidates, most from China, and three skulls in particular, dated between 250,000 and 100,000 years ago. Pääbo is working closely with scientists at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing and has set up a DNA testing lab there. Unfortunately DNA does not preserve well in warmer climates. To date, no other fossil has been identified as Denisovan by the only way Denisovans can be known: their DNA.
    In 2012 Pääbo’s group published a new version of the finger bone’s genome—astonishingly, one that in accuracy and completeness rivals any living human’s genome that has been sequenced. The breakthrough came from a German postdoc in Pääbo’s lab named Matthias Meyer. DNA consists of two interlocking strands—the familiar double helix. Previous methods for retrieving DNA from fossil bone could read out sequences only when both strands were preserved. Meyer had developed a technique for recovering short, single-stranded fragments of DNA as well, greatly increasing the amount of raw material to work with. The method produced a version of the Denisovan girl’s genome so precise that the team could discriminate between genetic information inherited from her mother and that from her father. In effect, they now had two highly accurate Denisovan genomes, one from each parent. These in turn opened a window on the entire history of their population.
    One immediate revelation was how little variation there was between the parents’ genomes—about a third as much as there is between any two living humans. The differences were sprinkled across the genomes, which ruled out inbreeding: If the girl’s parents had simply been closely related, they would have had huge chunks of exactly matched DNA. The pattern indicated instead that the Denisovan population represented by the fossil had never been large enough to have developed much genetic diversity. Worse, it seemed to have suffered a drastic decline sometime before 125,000 years ago—the little girl in the cave may have been among the last of her kind.
    Meanwhile the ancestral population of modern humans was expanding. Myriad fossils, libraries full of books, and the DNA of seven billion people are available to document our subsequent population history. Pääbo’s team discovered a completely different one inside a single bone chip. The thought tickles him. “It’s incredibly cool that there is no one walking around today with a population history like that,” Pääbo told me, his eyebrows shooting up.
    And yet the Denisovans also have something to say about our own kind. With virtually every letter of the Denisovan genetic code in hand, Pääbo and his colleagues were able to take aim at one of the profoundest mysteries: In our own genomes, what is it that makes us us? What defining changes in the genetic code took place after we separated from our most recent ancestor? Looking at the places where all living humans share a novel genetic signature but the Denisovan genome retains a primitive, more apelike pattern, the researchers came up with a surprisingly short list. Pääbo has called it the “genetic recipe for being a modern human.” The list includes just 25 changes that would alter the function of a particular protein.
    Intriguingly, five of these proteins are known to affect brain function and development of the nervous system. Among them are two genes where mutations have been implicated in autism and another that’s involved in language and speech. Just what those genes actually do to make us think, act, or talk differently than Denisovans, or any other creature that has walked the Earth, remains to be seen. The lasting contribution of studying Denisovan DNA, Pääbo says, “will be in finding what is exclusively human.”
    But what of the little girl herself? The tiny bit of bone that is all we ever had of her—or at least the half that went to Leipzig—is gone now. In pulling DNA from it, Johannes Krause and Qiaomei Fu eventually used it all up. The little girl has been reduced to a “library” of DNA fragments that can be exactly copied again and again forever. In the scientific paper discussing the history of her population, Pääbo and his colleagues did mention, almost in passing, a few facts about her that they had gleaned from that library: She probably had dark hair, dark eyes, and dark skin. It isn’t much, but at least it sketches in broad strokes what she looked like. Just so we know whom to thank.

    Ancient Roman Road Found

    The worn-down flat stones of the ancient road date to around 1,800 years ago.

    Chinese Space Station Silhouetted against the Sun

    space stationFrench astrophotographer Thierry Legault had perfect timing. He captured an image of the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 crossing the path of the sun. At Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait writes:
    In this picture, you can see the station silhouetted against the Sun’s face; it’s the H-shaped object between the sunspots. Right now, the Shenzou-10 spacecraft is docked to Tiangong-1; each is one half of the H.
    Perspective is funny; the two spacecraft together are about 20 meters across but don’t look much smaller than the sunspots … which are as large as our entire planet! But, of course, they’re a wee bit farther away. Like, 500,000 times farther.

    Daily Comic Relief

    Tuesday, June 25

    Stray dog comes to the rescue of woman in car crash

    Hero was a stray when he came to the rescue of a woman in a car crash Shannon Lorio crashed her car on a rural road in Georgia. Her life was in danger, but she received help from an unlikely hero. As she lay in her wrecked vehicle, a stray dog approached from out of the woods and came to her aid. The dog kept her awake and pulled her out of the car, dragging her over 100 feet back to the road. She was able to flag down a passing car before she collapsed unconscious. After saving Shannon's life in 2010, the stray dog was taken to the Humane Society where he was adopted by canine search and rescue trainer Heidy Drawdy. He was appropriately named Hero. In the video below, Shannon recounts the events around her rescue by Hero that fateful day.

    Woman called 911 about brawling squirrel and snake on her patio

    A Gold Canyon, Arizona, woman called 911 and told the dispatcher there was brawl on her back patio between a gopher snake and a ground squirrel.
    When firefighters arrived the two had been going at it for a half hour with no plans of stopping. The squirrel took every opportunity to gnaw on the snake's body. Tangled in the arm of the chair the snake only managed to get in a couple of strikes.

    Firefighters had to step in and break up the brawl. The snake had a few nicks when it was released back into the desert but firefighters said it looked like it would be just fine.

    "Typically the ground squirrel is food for a snake so it was kind of interesting to see the tables turned a little bit," said Firefighter Ryan Philips. Philips said he believed the squirrel had a nest nearby.

    A History Of Daring Red Panda Escapes

    Don't be fooled by its fluffy, clumsy amble. The red panda is a master escape artist. Red pandas may look like terrestrial animals but they're arboreal - they're awkward and clumsy on the ground, which is misleading. They're designed for life in the trees, with super-sharp claws for climbing.

    They might not be great jumpers, but that's about their only weakness as far as escaping goes; they're excellent swimmers as well as climbers. That plus an energetic, curious, and playful personality and metabolism makes them one of the best jailbreakers at the zoo.

    Loud, Red-Headed Bird Species Discovered

    A red-headed bird with a call that sounds like a cell phone ringing has just been discovered in a Cambodian jungle. 

    Animal Pictures