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

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Daily Drift

The Daily Drift

Boy, is it ever ...! 
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Lefties party on! ...

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Today in History

Today in History
1521 Cortes captures the city of Tenochtitlan, Mexico, and sets it on fire.
1630 Emperor Ferdinand II dismisses Albert Eusebius van Wallenstein, his most capable general.
1680 War starts when the Spanish are expelled from Santa Fe, New Mexico, by Indians under Chief Pope.
1704 The Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Austria defeat the French Army at the Battle of Blenheim.
1787 The Ottoman Empire declares war on Russia.
1862 Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest defeats a Union army under Thomas Crittenden at Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
1881 The first African-American nursing school opens at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.
1889 The first coin-operated telephone is patented by William Gray.
1892 The first issue of the Afro American newspaper is published in Baltimore, Maryland.
1898 Manila, the capital of the Philippines, falls to the U.S. Army.
1910 British nurse Florence Nightingale, famous for her care of British soldiers during the Crimean War, dies.
1932 Adolf Hitler refuses to serve as Franz Von Papen's vice chancellor.
1948 During the Berlin Airlift, the weather over Berlin becomes so stormy that American planes have their most difficult day landing supplies. They deem it 'Black Friday.'
1961 Construction begins on Berlin Wall during the night.
1963 A 17 year-old Buddhist monk burns himself to death in Saigon, South Vietnam.
1978 Bomb attack in Beirut during Second Lebanese Civil War kills more than 150 people.
1989 The wreckage of a plane that carried U.S. congressman Mickey Leland and others on a humanitarian mission is found on a mountain side in Ethiopia; there are no survivors.
1993 US Court of Appeals rules Congress must save all emails.

Non Sequitur

Daily Comic Relief
The Truth Hurts

Did you know ...

Did You Know ...
That thanks to recycling, Sweden has run out of garbage

That Trader Joes proves low worker pay is a choice, not a necessity

Jim DeMint Says the repugican cabal Will Destroy America To Stop Obamacare

Lunatic Fringe
DeMint's remedy for Obamacare is like burning down your house to stop a leaky pipe from flooding your bathroom.…
Jim DeMint
The repugicans seem to be aware that their obsession with killing the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, is unpopular and damaging to their cabal. Certainly, most everyone else is. Forty votes to repeal a healthcare overhaul based on a repugican healthcare overhaul and not a single jobs bill since 2008. Former Sen. Jim DeMint (r-SC), whom you might remember dropping out of politics in April to go into…a more lucrative, seven figure form of politics with the Heritage Foundation, told Newsmax TV  that the repugican cabal should be willing to destroy America if that is what it takes to get rid of medical care for the American people.
Interestingly, DeMint says Obamacare is more damaging to America “than anything I’ve seen pass in my lifetime.”
Obamacare apparently being more damaging than a repugican destruction of America itself. So what he is saying is that the repugican cabal must be willing to do more damage to America than the most damaging thing they’ve seen so far, in order to stop the second-most damaging thing done to America.
That’s like burning down your house to stop a leaky pipe from flooding your bathroom.
Yes, Jim DeMint is a lackwit and he thinks Americans are lackwits too. And he’s right about some of them. Those we call the tea party.
Listen to what he had to say to Newsmax:
The key to saving our country, to turning things around and really putting the government on the right track, is getting people informed, engaged all over the country. If Americans decide that they want to stop this unfair and unaffordable bill called Obamacare, they can do it, but the congressmen and senators themselves will not do it. They’ll not take that kind of risk unless the American people rise up and effectively tell them that’s what they want to do.
I’ve been to about 45 cities, meeting with a lot of advocates, a lot of tea party folks, independent groups, just talking about what we need to do as a people to turn our country around, but we’re going to focus on this Obamacare bill, which increasingly people know is unfair. Congress is getting special favors — big unions, big corporations are getting waivers, and it looks like it’s the little guy that’s going to get stuck with the bill.
People are getting notices that they’ll either lose their insurance or it’s going to cost more. We tell people that if the House passes a government funding bill that doesn’t include Obamacare, we can stop this bill in its tracks.
Oh, well, tea party folks…yeah, there’s a meaningful constituency. These are the people who hurled racist slurs against Obama recently in Arizona. These are the people who wave Confederate flags and send postcards of the White House surrounded by a watermelon patch. They hate Obamacare, DeMint says.
The problem is that they hate black people, even black people they themselves say are only “47 percent Negro.”
That’s Jim DeMint’s constituency at the Heritage Foundation. The problem isn’t Obamacare and it was never Obamacare. The problem for these crackers is that Obama is a black man in a big white house.
But DeMint, like his fellow bigots, tries to make it all about Obamacare and he has a problem with any repugican who thinks the cost of stopping Obamacare is too high, not only for the repugican cabal but for America:
Since when do Americans not fight for what is right because they’re afraid they might lose?
We all know this is a terrible bill, and the more we learn about it the more we understand it’s going to hurt people, it’s going to hurt our country. This may be our last chance to stop it, and the only way to stop it when Republicans control only the House is to fund the government but not to include any funding for Obamacare.
Now if the president decides he’s not going to accept government funding and allows the government to shut down, then it’s going to become apparent that he’s letting the government shut down because he wants to save this failed bill.
So this is an argument that we can win with the American people. If we tell people the truth about the bill, more people are going to blame the president when all is said and done.
If Americans don’t see repugicans fighting for something they promised to fight for, that’s going to do much more damage than the risk of possibly taking on the president and not getting everything we want.
That’s actually kinda funny. The repugicans said they were going to fight for jobs too, but they’re too busy trying to repeal and defund Obamacare to create one single job for Americans. Too busy robbing women of the rights to their own bodies to create one single job for Americans. Too busy disenfranchising minority voters to create one single job for Americans.
These fiscally responsible clowns didn’t even keep their budget promises!
Yeah, we can see promises mean quite a bit to the repugican cabal.
One of the primary things they were tasked to do is to stop Obamacare. That’s the issue we hope that Speaker [John] Boehner and Mitch McConnell will focus on right now — recognizing we made a promise to the American people to stop this very destructive bill. That’s what we need to do before it’s implemented in October.
If Obamacare is not worth fighting for and risking losing a battle for, I don’t think there is anything worth fighting for anymore. This bill will do more damage to America, hurt more people personally, than anything that I’ve seen pass in my lifetime.
Of course, none of this is true. Obamacare is helping Americans. But having invested so much in fear-mongering, the repugican cabal can hardly take a step back now and say, “Ooops, we were wrong.”
No, they have doubled down on the rhetoric, getting louder as the evidence against their case grows, and they are willing – almost eager – to take America down with their party, as though to say, if we can’t have America, you won’t have it either.

The repugican cabal in meltdown ...

Lunatic Fringe 
Republican Meltdown:GOP Strategist Tells Immigrant Hating Rep. Steve King To Get Therapy

  ... as repugican strategist tells immigrant hating Steve King to get therapy

The repugican cabal is in full meltdown mode over immigration reform as repugican strategist Ana Navarro told repugican Steve King (r-IA) to get therapy for his racist immigrant bashing.Transcript:
KING: This proposes to legalize a lot of people that will include the people who are drug smugglers up to the age of 35. You cannot do a background check on people that don’t have a legal existence in their home country…
NAVARRO: First of all, I think Congressman King should get some therapy for his melon fixation. I think there might be medication for that. I think he’s a mediocre congressman with no legislative record and the only time he makes national press is when he comes out and says something offensive about the undocumented or Hispanics…. There are other voices who are the adults in the room and who are working hard towards a reform. and I think it’s going to happen. I’m more optimistic than most.
GREGORY: Before I let him go, he just heard that. Congressman King, do you want to respond to that in terms of what actually is going to get accomplished?
KING: Well, I would say this. First of all, I spoke only of drug smugglers. If Ana understands the language, she should know that. I didn’t insult her or other repugicans and I didn’t -
NAVARRO: I’m not undocumented. I vote, Congressman.
KING: So we should look at this from the big picture. There are people in America who are dying today because of our immigration policy and our open border. They’re part of this debate, too. where’s your compassion for the families who have lost their children and family members that are buried today because we didn’t enforce immigration law? You understand that 80% to 90% of the illegal drugs consumed in America come from or through Mexico. Terrorists infiltrate through that border. We need to secure the border first, restore the rule of law. Then we can have this discussion you want to get to without insulting people in the process.
NAVARRO: You’re going to talk to me about insulting people, congressman?
The repugicans like Ana Navarro are trying to paint King as a bad apple who doesn’t represent the views of the rest of the repugican cabal, but the truth is that King’s views are how a sizable number of repugicans view Hispanics. Many repugicans automatically assume that every Hispanic they see is an undocumented immigrant. The repugicans like Navarro are the minority in their own party.
King’s views are nothing new. The exact same things that King is saying today were being said by a majority of his party when the shrub tried to get comprehensive immigration reform passed in 2007. The repugicans can trot out Marco Rubio and pretend that the overt racism of Steve King is an isolated incident, but these sorts of attitudes have been dominating the repugican position on immigration for years.
What this dispute between Navarro and King was really centered around was the question of how to win elections. Navarro is a repugican strategist who sees reaching out to Hispanic voters as the key to taking back the Senate and White House. King sees the path to victory as continuing to court the white only vote, while suppressing the votes of all others.
Steve King was flat out promoting racism, and he probably does need therapy, but King can say horrible things about Hispanics because their is a huge group of repugicans that share his point of view.
The repugican cabal is once again coming apart at the seams over immigration reform. There is no party unity on this issue. If Democrats keep pushing immigration reform, I suspect the repugican cabal will be in complete disarray by the 2014 election.

The repugican cabal’s tea party Astroturf Has Sprouted Roots and Grown Into Fringe Crazy

Lunatic Fringe
When the tea party emerged four summers ago, many of us dismissed them as a corporate-seeded astroturf movement. We were wrong. The repugican cabal’s grassroots are the fringe. Talking Points Memo‘s Tom Kludt reported that Rep. Robert Pittenger (r-NC) was grilled by tea party activists at a town hall meeting on Monday night:
The exchange was captured and posted by the tea party website ConstitutionalWar.org. A man off camera can be heard asking Pittenger about the defunding effort spearheaded by Sen. Mike Lee (r-UT).
“Do you want the thoughtful answer?” Pittenger asked.
“I want yes or no,” the man said.
Pittenger then said “no,” a clip that the tea party website re-played in slow-motion.
The lawmaker then had a back-and-forth with the man and a woman, who was also off camera.
“Do you think Harry Reid is going to pass that in the Senate?” Pittenger asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” the man fired back.
“We need to show the American people we stand for conservative values,” the woman shouted, drawing a smattering of applause.
Conspiracy theories about conspiracy theories
ConstitutionalWar.org describe themselves as:
… a website and grassroots organization focused on saving lives, protecting our freedoms, pushing for lower taxes, demanding smaller government, and defending the Constitution of the United States of America. Our mission is to bring every freedom loving group together to meet these goals. Unanimity is not required.
The site also includes a dead link to the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory that began on the far-right fringe, then made its way into the 2012 repugican Platform, and fueled by a fear-mongering bestseller by Glenn Brick.
Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones authored a conspiracy theory of corporate-backed anti-environmentalist groups manipulating the conservative grassroots into believing the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory. That fits the a common progressive pattern, like the oft-repeated claims that the tea party is an astroturf movement funded and run by the Koch brothers and other conservative organizations. The Guardian and even Paul Krugman joined the chorus. But progressives should be as skeptical of our astroturf conspiracy theories as we are of wingnuts’ absurd tales of George Soros as The Liberal Puppet-Master.
The like-minded fringe
As we’ll see this week in discussing Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, the radicalization of today’s Republican Party is not a top-down, corporate-funded and -run movement. It is instead the predictable result of our increasingly ‘sorted’ society and the 30-year process of wingnut repugicans moving to wingnut repugican communities while progressive Democrats moved to progressive Democratic communities.
Clusters of like-minded people produce what social scientists call group polarization, holding ideas that become increasingly extreme over time:
Political extremism is often a product of group polarization and social segregation is a useful tool for producing polarization. In fact, a good way to create an extremist group, or a cult of any kind, is to separate members from the rest of society. The separation can occur physically or psychologically, by creating a sense of suspicion about non-members. With such separation, the information and views of those outside the group can be discredited, and hence nothing will disturb the process of polarization as group members continue to talk. [...]
So why do like-minded people go to extremes? The most important reason for group polarization, which is key to extremism in all its forms, involves the exchange of new information. Group polarization often occurs because people are telling one another what they know, and what they know is skewed in a predictable direction. When they listen to each other, they move.
Standing out while fitting in
It’s tempting (and comforting) to believe that movement toward extremes is pushed by the stories the group are hearing from elected leaders and partisan pundits. But the research shows groups don’t need a top-down push. Members of like-minded groups will migrate toward extremes, all on their own, through a process of standing out while fitting in.
Let’s say you’re a member of the Green Tribe, opposed by the Orange Tribe. You want to prove yourself as not just a middling member but a stalwart of your tribe. You want to stand out while fitting in. But how do you do that?
Well, you certainly won’t do it by advocating a position that is more Orange than your tribe’s norm. You would stand out, but you wouldn’t fit in. Fellow Green Tribe members might wonder if you’re really one of them. But what if you take a position that is More Not-Orange and thus More Extremely Green. Advocating that position lets you both stand out and fit in, proving your bona fides.
So let’s say you’re a conservative Republican in a community of conservative Republicans, a local Red Tribe. And let’s say you want to be a stalwart and prove your bona fides to your local Red Tribe. If you know progressive Democrats advocate renewable energy, better urban planning, mass transit, and other policies for more environmentally sustainable communities … then you can stand out while fitting in by telling stories that describe renewable energy, urban planning, mass transit, and other such policies as part of an evil, Blue Tribe conspiracy.
Your original story may be vague, but if the idea feels true to other members of your local Red Tribe, they’ll help fill in the details. In fact, other members who want to stand out while fitting in will supply details that are more extreme than you had in mind. Renewable energy, better urban planning, mass transit, and such policies are not just a Blue Tribe conspiracy, but an international plot to destroy the U.S. Constitution and put the world under the totalitarian thumb of the United Nations. And stalwart that you are, you’ll probably agree …
… and that becomes the new ‘middle’ position for your local Red Tribe. People in your Red Tribe then share that idea with other Red Tribes on the internet, talk radio, etc. Eventually some fossil fuel executive hears about this new idea and recognizes that it fits his agenda, even if he doesn’t believe the details. So he puts believers who tell the best stories in touch with conservative think tanks and pundits, and finally Republican party leaders hear the story bubbling up from their grassroots base.
Astroturf … or the grassroots fringe?
If you only hear about the story once that last sentence has happened – and as a member of the Blue Tribe, you probably won’t hear the story until then – it’s easy to assume the story was astroturfed: that fossil fuel executives, conservative think tanks and pundits, and Republican Party leaders duped the grassroots into believing this bizarre and ridiculous tale.
But the social science suggests that’s what not usually true. The fringe ideas begin in the grassroots and grow as homogenous, local political tribes push each other ever farther into that fringe through group polarization. And if Republican Party leaders try to respond sensibly – as Rep. Pittenger did Monday night – you see the reaction.
That’s not astroturf. That’s the actual grassroots … at the fringe.

Just Like Your Deadbeat Uncle, Poormouthing States Have Money Stashed Away

'High' Finance
State legislators often cry "no more money" prior to laying off public employees such as teachers, firemen and police. That's pure baloney!…
In the typical red state and many blue ones, budgets are stripped-down skeletons swinging from fiscal trees with skinny, rotting branches and precious few green money leaves. As a consequence, schools do without, teachers, firemen and cops are shown the door and many thousands of other dedicated public employees become publicly unemployed. There’s no money for the poor, Medicaid expansion (even when it’s initially free) or other health care services. Bridges collapse while potholes widen. BOO HOO!!!
A couple of observations here. Strange, isn’t it that when the biggie German car companies float across the pond to backward ‘right to work’ states, the incentive money is ALWAYS there. BMW pays a buck a year to lease their South Carolina land and the local water folks are picking up an $800,000 tab as a favor to another global giant.
Boeing has gamed the South Carolina incentive system for well over a billion bucks and when the Pro Golfers Association (PGA) was threatened with sponsor loss for the Heritage Classic as Verizon’s money evaporated after the 2010 competition, the state legislature galloped to the rescue. All public utterances poor-mouthing the budget notwithstanding, and with many of the state’s neediest citizens barely scraping by, along comes a pack of millionaires whose singular skill rests in hitting a little dimpled sphere, weighing an ounce-and-a-half or so, with an assortment of engineered sticks with a bulky head affixed to the end. And this bunch wanted $10 million pronto to keep the sponsor-challenged Heritage thing puttering (pardon the pun) along.
It took the state reps and senators little time to shake loose the 10 million to hand over to the PGA. “Why that tournament brings in many millions into struggling Hilton Head Island” they exclaimed. Harbour Town Links is the site of the action. The average island home value is $320,000. It was closer to a half-million before the housing mess. Besides, the PGA promised to pay it back in 5 years (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). The repugican dominated House found the money in a sketchy little insurance reserve fund. At the same time, in another proud move, the legislators voted to cut ALL HIV/AIDS funding, the only state in the union to do so.
The state is blessed that Heritage has now found a sponsor (RBC/Royal Bank of Canada) and the field of young to middle-aged golf pros will continue to spend an April week in luxury with the winner (this year it was Graeme McDowell, an affable Irishman) pocketing $1,044,000 out of the total purse of $5,800,000. The irony is that the big golf names seldom appear given the Heritage date of the week following the Masters.
So mysterious budget anomalies strike again. No money, then a bunch of money for the right person, place or thing. Nobody really knows how much money resides in their state’s secretive coffers. I want to go back over a dozen years to a source of state money nobody thinks about, but is very much a reality. It stems from something called the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). After spending huge money on smoking-related hospital care and follow-up, the states finally decided to go after the companies causing all that physical and financial pain and suffering. Attorneys General set their sights on the 4 Tobacco companies that controlled 97% of cigarette sales at the time: Phillip Morris Inc. R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard.
Four states jumped the gun on an eventual national settlement and brokered their own deals. After a pissing contest with Congress and assorted debated options, 46 states settled on an MSA that included nearly $13 billion out of the gate. Our friends at WIKI calculated the sourced numbers that included yearly payments commencing in April of 2000 for the states involved. A Strategic Contribution Fund of $8.61 billion covered the years 2008-2017. Assorted other contributions approximated $3 billion and change in two ten-year payments, one four-year payment and a one-time payment. There was also an agreement to fund a $1.5 billion anti-smoking campaign.
The total to the states is at least $206 billion over a 25-year period with some payments stretching into perpetuity. That’s a decent chunk of change that is rarely publicized. Of course, it should surprise no thinking human that the big four are trying to screw the states out of money and have held back a percentage of what they owe from 2006-2010. Yes, they were entitled to withhold some bucks as a condition of a lost market share adjustment because Non-Participating Manufacturers (NPM) tobacco companies had captured more business. These amounts, however, are being called into serious question. NPM’s are also obliged to kick in a certain percentage to the states.
Though dating back to 2010, this Website gives a pretty good overview of the issues in question. It’s a complicated brew that includes the MSA, NPM’s, state taxes on cigarettes, elements of state Medicaid programs (the entities that brought the original lawsuits) and other considerations.
Large states like California and New York have received over $100 million for a single year. While contributions are diminishing, there are still enough in each eligible state to cover a percentage of critical expenses in health care and other citizen necessities. Philadelphia’s school workforce suffered initial layoffs of 3,783 personnel (see the August 19/25 issue of The Nation). Another must-see is Governor Tom Corbett’s home page where this public education destroyer has the gall to feature a bandaid “Investing in Education” on the Governor’s Website.
The most cursory of research will uncover endless examples of states (especially red ones) crying wolf over budgetary constraints. Yet, there isn’t a state in the union that can’t access tens of millions of dollars (or more; do tax-free bonds ring a bell?) if one of those giant multinationals demand that the state and/or local governments pay for everything from its land and infrastructure to tuition for the CEO’s kid and grandma’s bus fare. Otherwise, said global money glutton will locate either in a third-world country, or a Southern third-world right-to-work state.
HuffPost Business recently reported that Exxon Mobile made almost $45 billion in profits in their last fiscal year. Last years revenues for the top 30 global companies exceeded $30 TRILLION. And yet smarmy right-wing politicians excuse these greedy corporate hogs from all but the most benign of taxes. Granted, profits on that 30 trill were reported as a fiscal speck at $1.5 trillion. That means that these companies used every manipulative, bookkeeping (and off the books and two sets of books), off-shore, backroom, tax-evasion, creative write-offs, exaggerated depreciation, screwing with corporate bond numbers and every other accounting trick in the books to phony up their bottom lines. Real profits were most likely 5 to 10 times the reported number.
Remember, Multinational Corporations and corruption are oft-times interchangeable.

Japan’s debt: 1,000,000,000,000,000 Yen

'High' Finance
What does a quadrillion look like? Right now, it looks like the sum of Japan’s national debt, as John Schwartz writes in the New York Times.
A quadrillion is a million billion, putting it into the kind of language used by middle schoolers to describe really humongous sums, along with gazillion and bazillion. Measuring any currency in quadrillions brings to mind the hyperinflation of Germany between the wars, or Zimbabwe in the last decade. But a country with a real currency?

NSA, on US soil, systematically searches Americans' cross-border communications without warrants

Nations Behaving Badly
In the New York Times today, Charlie Savage has another new, important story on the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. He reports:
The National Security Agency is searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country, hunting for people who mention information about foreigners under surveillance, according to intelligence officials. The N.S.A. is not just intercepting the communications of Americans who are in direct contact with foreigners targeted overseas, a practice that government officials have openly acknowledged. It is also casting a far wider net for people who cite information linked to those foreigners, like a little used e-mail address, according to a senior intelligence official.
Read the full story here. This reporting was sparked by Edward Snowden's leaks, which, by the way, the New York Times' editorial board more or less condemned.  

Retailers keeping tabs on consumers' return habits

Corporations Behaving Badly
Mari Torres, 39, poses for a picture in her office in Springfield, Va., Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. Each year, consumers return about $264 billion worth of merchandise, almost nine percent of total sales, according to industry estimates, but many people are not aware that some of their returns are being monitored at stores that outsource information on shoppers who return merchandise to a third-party company. “I had absolutely no idea they were doing that,” said Torres. "I honestly think it’s an invasion of privacy,” she says. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) It's not just the government that might be keeping tabs on you. Many retailers are tracking you, too — or at least your merchandise returns. The companies say it's all in the name of security and fighting fraud. They want to be able to identify chronic returners or gangs of thieves trying to make off with high-end products that are returned later for store credit.
Consumer advocates are raising transparency issues about the practice of having companies collect information on consumers and create "return profiles" of customers at big-name stores such as Best Buy, J.C. Penney, Victoria's Secret, Home Depot and Nike.
The practice led to a privacy lawsuit against Best Buy that eventually was tossed out.
Each year, consumers return about $264 billion worth of merchandise, or almost 9 percent of total sales, according to industry estimates.
Many buyers aren't aware that some returns, with and without receipts, are being monitored at stores that outsource that information to a third-party company, which creates a "return profile" that catalogs and analyzes the customer's returns at the store.
"I had absolutely no idea they were doing that," said Mari Torres of Springfield, Va., during a shopping trip with her daughter at the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, Va. "I honestly think it's an invasion of privacy."
Torres, 39, says she's a responsible shopper and she'd like to know what kind of information retailers keep on her, with whom they may be sharing it, and how long they keep it.
One company that offers return tracking services, The Retail Equation (TRE) in Irvine, Calif., says it doesn't share information in the profiles it creates with outside parties or with other stores.
For example, if TRE logs and analyzes returns from a Victoria's Secret customer, TRE only reports back to Victoria's Secret about the return activity. It does not then also share that information with J.C. Penney or other retailers that use TRE.
Even so, consumer advocates don't like it.
"There should be no secret databases. That's a basic rule of privacy practices," says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "Consumers should know that information is being collected about them."
The retail industry says it's not about monitoring the majority of its shoppers, but fighting theft.
Lisa LaBruno, senior vice president of retail operations at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, says organized retail crime is costing retailers tens of billions of dollars each year.
LaBruno says the problem goes way beyond the small-time shoplifter and involves organized groups of criminals that make a living from the large-scale theft of merchandise. For example, they might switch the UPC code on a $600 faucet with a lower-cost code that rings up at $50. They buy the faucet, then replace the fake UPC tag with the original, higher-priced code, and return the faucet to the store without the receipt for a $600 store credit, which can later be sold online.
"It's not to invade the privacy of legitimate customers at all," LaBruno said in an interview. "It's one of many, many, creative solutions out there to help combat a really big problem that affects retailers, honest customers, the entire industry and the public at-large."
The problem, says government privacy experts, is disclosure, or lack of it in many cases.
People need to be aware when they make a purchase that if they return it, some information from the transaction may be stored, according to the experts.
"Most people think when they hand over a driver's license that it's just to confirm identity and not to be kept to be used for future transactions," says the Federal Trade Commission's Bob Schoshinski, assistant director at the agency's division of privacy and identity protection. "It shouldn't be that a third party is keeping a profile on someone without them being informed what's going to happen when they hand over their driver's license or some other information to a retailer."
In some cases, the disclosure by retailers is conspicuous. In others, not so much.
At Best Buy, a sign at each cash register states the return policy, and it's also on the back of the receipt, telling consumers that returns are tracked and an ID is required. The disclosure adds: "Based on return/exchange patterns, some customers will be warned that subsequent returns and exchanges will not be eligible for returns or exchanges for 90 days. Customers who are warned or have been denied an exchange/return may request a copy of their 'Return Activity Report'" from The Retail Equation by contacting the company.
At Victoria's Secret and Bath and Body Works, disclosures at the cash register said nothing about The Retail Equation's tracking returns.
Home Depot spokesman Stephen Holmes says the return tracking isn't just about money.
"This isn't only about protecting our bottom line," Holmes said in an interview. "It's about protecting our communities, too. We know from working with law enforcement at the state and federal levels that organized retail crime is feeding other crimes, such as drug trafficking and even terrorism, in some cases."
The Retail Equation says more than 27,000 stores use its services. Best Buy, Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Victoria's Secret, Bath and Body Works, and Nike are among its clients. TRE would not say how long the profiles on consumers are kept in its database; it varies from retailer to retailer. But a recent "return activity report" obtained by one consumer turned up returns to The Sports Authority dating to 2004.
Here's how the tracking works.
—A consumer buys an item at Best Buy and later returns it. Even if the shopper has the original receipt and is within the time frame when returns are permitted, store policy requires that Smith provide a photo ID, such as a driver's license. Other stores, such as Home Depot, only require the ID if there's no receipt or if the item was purchased with a store credit.
—The ID is swiped and then some information from the transaction is sent by the store to The Retail Equation. The company says the information captured from the ID typically includes the identification number, name, address, date of birth and expiration date.
—The Retail Equation catalogues return activity by the shopper and creates a "return activity report" on him with his returns at the store. If TRE determines that there's a pattern of questionable returns that suggests potential fraud, it would notify Best Buy, which could then deny returns by that shopper at the store for a period of time.
The threshold for too many returns is determined by each retailer. TRE says the vast majority of returns — about 99 percent — are accepted.
In a 2011 lawsuit in Florida against Best Buy, Steven Siegler complained after the magnetic strip on his driver's license was swiped for a return. He wanted the manager to delete the information. His suit said Best Buy refused. He alleged that Best Buy violated privacy law when it swiped the license. But a federal appeals court agreed with a lower court ruling that the Driver's Privacy Protection Act didn't apply in the case.

Power Corrupts ... the Brain

Did You Know ...
"Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." We're sure you've heard the saying, attributed to English historian Lord Acton, before, and chances are, you've seen it firsthand in a friend who is a bit less friendly after getting a bit of fame or power. But why is that?
Neuroscientist Sukhvinder Obhi and his colleagues at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, may have the answer: power fundamentally changes a person's brain. In their study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, the researchers put participants in the mindset of either being powerful or powerless, then they monitored the mirror system, the part of their brains linked with empathy.
It turns out, feeling powerless boosted the mirror system — people empathized highly. But, Obhi says, "when people were feeling powerful, the signal wasn't very high at all."
So when people felt power, they really did have more trouble getting inside another person's head.
"What we're finding is power diminishes all varieties of empathy," says Dacher Keltner, a social psychologist at University of California, Berkeley ...
Full story by Chris Benderev over at NPR.


Daily Comic Relief
Oh, The Horror!

High School Tribes

Did You Know ...
Were you a jock, nerd, druggie, goth, or a plastic in high school? Students are often labeled by the crowd they hang with, or by their activities, or by their choice of fashion or music. Educational psychologist Bradford Brown has been studying adolescent social labels since the 1980s, and talks about how those terms have changed over time. For one thing, as schools get bigger, there are more labels.
We also know that crowd labels in middle school differ from those in high school. Early in middle school, kids call each other names like “the runaround crowd,” “the door crowd,” “the skip rope crowd”—a map of concrete activities that go on at recess. But, Brown said, by the time they’re in high school, they use their relatively more mature brains to map their social worlds in more abstract terms. The result are true crowd labels—“jocks,” “punks,” “brainiacs”—that don’t refer to actual individuals in the lunchrooms and hallways, but to categories that teenagers carry in their heads. Using a crowd label as a kind of mental shorthand explains why idiosyncratic ones might not happen that often—the more generic the name, the more usable it is.
My high school was so small that we each had to wear more than one label. Read about the research into high school tribes and their labels at The Morning News.

Head of DC Comics: "We don't publish comics for kids. We publish comics for 45-year-olds"

Comics: They Ain't For Kids
This remarkable quote is reported by Paul Pope, describing how a pitch of his was rebuffed by an un-named executive.
Asked by Yang if he had tried to do an all-ages book with a franchise character, Pope said he did test the waters, only to be knocked back. "Batman did pretty well, so I sat down with the head of DC Comics. I really wanted to do 'Kamandi [The Last Boy on Earth]', this Jack Kirby character. I had this great pitch… and he said 'You think this is gonna be for kids? Stop, stop. We don't publish comics for kids. We publish comics for 45-year olds. If you want to do comics for kids, you can do 'Scooby-Doo.' And I thought, 'I guess we just broke up.'"

The 90-Year-Old Paperboy

Odds and Sods
We don't know whether Martin Teel of Christopher, Illinois, delivers newspaper on Easy Street, Middle Road, or Hard Way, but we do know that he's proof that you're never too old to deliver the newspaper. You see, he's 90 years young:
Imagine biking three miles a day, rain or shine. Now imagine doing that when you're 90-years-old. There is one paperboy in southern Illinois who doesn't let anything stand in his way.
Every afternoon Marvin Teel of Christopher heads out on his daily route. "I have about three miles to cover all over town," said Teel. "(It) takes about an hour and a half."
Kadee Brosseau of KFVS12 has the story

A Bartender at Work in Antarctica

Odds and Sods
Phil Broughton got sick of his job in Silicon Valley and decided to get away--as far away as possible. That led him to job managing liquid nitrogen and helium supplies at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, an American base located at the geographic South Pole. While there, he became the base's unofficial bartender. Mr. Broughton described the experience in The Guardian:
The bar there, probably the most remote on Earth, was called Club 90 South. Despite being surrounded by ice for 800 miles in every direction, and 8,000 miles away from the local bars I knew, it seemed completely familiar to me: there were six bar stools, a scattering of tables and couches, a pool table, TV and music.
One Saturday night soon after I arrived, I walked in and the seat behind the bar was the only one free. Someone said, "Hey, can you get me a beer?" "Do I look like a bartender?" I asked. "Well," he said, "you're behind the bar. Do you know how to mix anything?" I was 26, and had picked up a few tricks at parties. "As a matter of fact, I do," I said. And there I stayed for the rest of the year.
On special occasions, I combined the new role with my job and served what I called "cryogenic cocktails". The first one I made was for a boss who came to a party one evening and asked for a martini. I poured in some nitrogen, blew away the fog and scooped out all the frost-distilled water that was left floating in it, taking the proof of his cocktail up to about 130% abv. He downed it, disappeared and returned with a brace of Swedish researchers. "I want you to make them what you made me," he said. [...]
I wasn't just a detached observer, though; I was as enthusiastic a drinker as most of the patrons. One drawback was the hangovers: after a particularly heavy session, I would have to nip outside to be sick. Any liquid that came into contact with the ice froze immediately and, if left alone, it would remain so for ever. It was a point of honour to clear up after yourself, which meant chipping away with a pickaxe.

Just wondering ...

Daily Comic Relief
Makes you wonder, it does.

Ancient Pennsylvania dwelling still divides archaeologists

Scientific Minds Want To Know
In this photo made on Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, a video display showing the exterior of the shelter is seen is seen above the archeological dig at the Meadowcroft National Historic Site where native Americans stayed as they travelled through the area thousands of years ago in Avella, Pa. A fluke rainstorm has brought Mercyhurst University professor Jim Adovasio back to do new work at the site that launched a furious debate in 1973 over when the first humans came to the Americas. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)  
A fluke rainstorm at an ancient rock shelter in western Pennsylvania has brought a renowned archaeologist back to the site of where a furious debate was launched in 1973 over when the first humans came to the Americas.
As a young archaeologist, Jim Adovasio found radiocarbon evidence that humans had visited the Meadowcroft site 16,000 years ago. To archaeologists it was a stunning discovery that contradicted the so-called Clovis first theory, which dated the first settlement in the Americas to New Mexico about 13,000 years ago.
The question is important because it ties into bigger questions on how and why so many different cultures developed in the Americas, and whether they all descended from one group that came across from Asia or arrived in multiple waves.
On that question, Adovasio's theory of multiple visits has mostly won out since other pre-Clovis sites have been discovered in North and South America.
The picture of early humans in the Americas "is so much more complicated than we ever thought it was 40 years ago," said Adovasio, a Mercyhurst University professor who returned to Meadowcroft after a decayed tree root let heavy rain flow into a part of the enclosed dig area in late July. The damage was unfortunate but presented an opportunity to re-examine the site, he said.
Meadowcroft is located on the banks of a small stream, about 7 miles upstream from the Ohio River. The overhanging sandstone ledges provided a perfect place for roving band of early humans to shelter from the elements.
"It has all the attractions of a prehistoric Holiday Inn, and that's why they used it," Adovasio said, noting that some early groups stayed for only a few days, but the spot was passed down through oral histories and people returned, eventually for longer periods.
The site was discovered when local historian Albert Miller found artifacts in a groundhog hole on family land in 1955, and he sought out professional archaeologists to investigate.
Dennis Jenkins, a leading archaeologist from the University of Oregon, agrees with Adovasio's broader points about the Clovis debate, but said some still have questions about Meadowcroft's exact age.
Jenkins said the main concerns are whether the earliest plant remains that helped date the Meadowcroft site are accurate, but he added that it looks like Adovasio "has done very meticulous work at Meadowcroft."
A recent poll of archaeologists found that opinions on Meadowcroft are still divided, with about 38 percent agreeing with Adovasio's dates, the same number unsure, and about 20 percent saying it isn't that old, according to a study published last year in the Society for American Archaeology.
Regardless, it is clear Meadowcroft has helped to change the way some younger archaeologists think. Instead of holding onto Clovis, they're open to multiple possibilities.
"I like archaeology because it keeps changing," said Anne Marjenin, the 28-year-old director of the Mercyhurst Archaeological Center lab, as she recorded details of the new Meadowcroft dig last week. "I don't think we should just dismiss any kind of evidence because there may not be a lot of it."
At Meadowcroft, archaeologists scrape away at layers of sand and dirt with razor blades, bagging each layer for separate laboratory analysis.
The current dig is examining the flood-damaged section in hopes of uncovering more details about the layers of the site that date from roughly 3,000 to 7,000 years ago, Adovasio said.
But the bigger message is that even as archaeologists learn more about Meadowcroft, other possibilities beckon.
Adovasio said there are other prehistoric sites near Meadowcroft, and he believes some of them have evidence of very early visits, too.
The Meadowcroft site is a National Historic landmark and is open to the public from Wednesday through Sunday during the summer. Visitors can watch the dig from a special observation platform built around the site.

Ancient well could solve questions about indigenous groups

Scientific Minds Want To Know
An archaeological discovery made earlier this summer could show that indigenous people in the St. Augustine area once built and used wells before ever being exposed to European influence.
Ancient well could solve questions about indigenous groups
City archaeologist Carl Halbirt looks at an area of one of his digs off May Street on Thursday, where he believes he has uncovered a Timucuan Indian well that is more than 500 years old [Credit: Peter Willott]
Local archaeologists previously assumed that the Timucuan indians, who settled in the area before the Spanish arrived, received fresh water from “seeps” in nearby embankments.

“We’ve never found an example like that, that predates the European settlement here,” city archaeologist Carl Halbirt said. “It gives us an idea of where the indigenous population possibly obtained their water.”

What appears to be a walk-in well was discovered on a property near the Francis and Mary Usina Bridge in June, as part of a city ordinance which requires certain properties to be investigated for archaeological deposits before construction.

Halbirt said the city has extracted more than a ton of shell, mostly oyster shell, and “tens of thousands” of animal bones, primarily from small fish.

“From that evidence, this is going to give us a really good idea of what their subsistence was like during that time period,” Halbirt said. “Most of the [bones are] fish, but we also have deer, turtle, water birds, and I think we have alligator.”

The goal now is to determine what the site’s primary and secondary purposes were. Since there were very few signs of European influence discovered there, Halbirt believes it was a Timucuan well.

That would make it the first well discovered in the area that was built before the arrival of the Spanish settlers.

“Here, because we have found no evidence of historic occupation other than a few olive jar shards, we can say this site is primarily prehistoric,” Halbirt said, defining prehistoric as any time before writing was invented, or before colonization in Florida’s case.

Halbirt thinks the site eventually adopted a secondary purpose.

“Originally a source for potable water,” he said, “and later a convenient spot to toss their trash.”

The city will send the site’s discoveries to a lab for radiocarbon testing and will probably know within a month how old the structure is. Halbirt said he expects the range to be between 450 and 750 years ago, which would place it in the prehistoric time leading right to the arrival of the Spanish. After the city is done, the property will be backfilled for development, with some of the well left intact for future archaeologists.

“This is what makes it exciting is that you do have that potential for finding an aspect of prehistoric life that really no one expected,” Halbirt said. “Here we literally do have some type of something that we have never found before.”

Ancient dagger molds from Japan linked to northern China

Scientific Minds Want To Know
Ancient molds for daggers with a double-ringed pommel and a straight blade, which have no precedent in Japan or even the nearby Korean Peninsula, have been unearthed at an archaeological site in this western city, cultural property officials said.
Ancient dagger molds from Japan linked to northern China
These molds for daggers with a double-ringed pommel were unearthed from the Kami-Goten archaeological site in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture [Credit: Ryo Kato]
The Shiga Prefectural Association for Cultural Heritage said Aug. 8 the finds from the Kami-Goten site likely date from between 350 B.C. and A.D. 300.

Japanese archaeologists were astonished by the discovery as the artifacts bear a striking resemblance to finds in far-flung areas of northern China.

The two siltstone molds, each 30 centimeters long, 9 cm wide and 4 cm thick, were found overlapping each other. The designs allowed bladesmiths to cast both the handle and the blade as a single piece.

Each mold has two rings, each measuring 2.3 cm across, at the end of the handle that is decorated with saw-tooth and herringbone patterns. Both of those geometrical patterns are commonly seen on the surface of bronze bells unearthed in Japan.

The daggers would have had a straight blade and no guard.

The saw-tooth patterns on the handle led Harutaro Odagi, an associate professor of archaeology at Tenri University, to suggest the molds must have been fashioned in Japan.

"The artifacts, likely modeled after bronze daggers of northern China, were probably made in Japan, although how the design got here is a mystery," Odagi said.

Ancient dagger molds from Japan linked to northern China
A research assistant points to the area where molds for daggers with a double-ringed pommel were unearthed at the Kami-Goten archaeological site in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture [Credit: Ryo Kato]
According to the prefectural cultural heritage association and other archaeologists, Japan in the distant past specialized in one type of dagger: the "slender bronze dagger," introduced from Korea, although some of them were much larger and intended for ritual use.

Slender bronze daggers trace their origins to weapons called Liaoning bronze daggers and made during China's Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period (770 B.C.-221 B.C.) in areas covering today's Korea and northeast China.

Bronze daggers of that type have been unearthed in Japan, most notably in northern Kyushu and areas around the Inland Sea. A characteristic of those weapons is a narrow part in the middle of the blade. The blades and handles were cast separately.

By contrast, the latest finds resemble "Ordos daggers," or bronze artifacts manufactured and used during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period by equestrian nomads in areas to the north of China, which cover today's northern Hebei province, northern Beijing and central and southern Inner Mongolia.

Ordos daggers have straight blades, are cast as a single piece, and have two pommel rings that imitate a pair of birds facing each other.

Ancient dagger molds from Japan linked to northern China
An artist's rendition of daggers the molds would have produced
[Credit: Shiga Prefectural Board of Education]
Hiroshi Yoshida, an Ehime University associate professor who is an expert on ancient bronze daggers, noted that the archaeological site is close to the sixth-century Kamo Inariyama burial mound, which has produced a multitude of gilded-bronze ornaments in a style that is clearly from Korea.

"The forces governing that area may have had Korean and Chinese connections since Japan's earliest days," Yoshida said.

Kazuo Miyamoto, a professor of East Asian archaeology at Kyushu University, noted that a slender bronze dagger influenced by Ordos design, cast as a whole and with a double-ringed pommel, has been unearthed in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture.

"People probably learned from the overall design and attempted to make similar things on their own," Miyamoto said.

The molds show no trace of having been used. Also, no daggers have been unearthed there.

"The artifacts were probably not for practical use or were flops," said Yoshinori Tajiri, an associate professor of archaeology at Kyushu University.

The Tufa Towers Of Mono Lake

Planet Earth
Mono Lake in California is a strange place to say the least. However, unlike many bizarre places in the world this strange environment is caused by us. In the early 1940s the city of Los Angeles was growing quickly. The Second World War was in full flow and when it came to the environment it was felt that some things could be neglected.

The LA Department of Water and Power began diverting the lakes streams 350 miles to the south. The damage to the environment would be untold. Paradoxically it would leave the area eerily beautiful - like some alien backdrop from an episode of Star Trek.

Catch the Falling Stars: Perseid Meteor Shower 2013

Astronomical News

Every year in August, the Perseid meteor shower gives us a light show like no other, as our planet travels through the debris left by comet Swift-Tuttle. Peak visibility should be in the middle of the night Sunday night and Monday night -or very early Monday and Tuesday, if that's how you want to remember it. Phil Plait has tips on getting the best view of the falling stars.
1) Find a place that's dark. Some meteors are bright and easy to spot, others fainter. The darker the spot you find away from house and city lights, the better.

2) You don't really need to face Perseus (to the northeast); in fact your best bet is to have as much sky visible as possible. The more heavenly real estate you can see, the better your chances of seeing more meteors.

3) Be outside after local midnight - literally, halfway between dusk and dawn. The geometry of the shower makes it more likely to see meteors at that time. To use the car and bugs analogy again, you see more splattered arthropods on your front windshield than the rear one because you're driving forward into the swarm. After midnight, you're on the part of the Earth facing into the direction of the Earth's travel around the Sun, so you'll see more meteors then.
There's more you can read at Bad Astronomy. I recommend lying down. Take a friend who you can talk to, and relax on your back on a blanket, facing up and talk. I spent many nights when I was young doing just that and saw plenty of shooting stars even when there wasn't a meteor shower expected. More

Newly Discovered Pink Exoplanet on the Lighter Side

Scientific Minds Want To Know
A pink exoplanet.
 by Jane J. Lee

There is a pink exoplanet circling a star very much like our own, 57 light-years away from Earth. But its origins are a mystery. 
In a new study announcing the magenta gas giant, researchers were able to directly image this exoplanet using the Subaru telescope on Hawaii. The color of this blushing body indicates it has less cloud cover than other observed exoplanets, meaning researchers can peer even deeper into its atmosphere to divine its components. (Related: "For First Time, Astronomers Read Exoplanet's Color.")

"If we could travel to this giant planet, we would see a world still glowing from the heat of its formation with a color reminiscent of a dark cherry blossom, a dull magenta," said Michael McElwain, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Facility in Maryland and a study co-author, in a statement.
It's one of only five or six exoplanets whose presence has been directly imaged by a telescope, rather than inferred from observing stars, said Markus Janson, an astrophysicist at Princeton University and a co-author of the new study.
Other planets that have been directly imaged orbit much more massive stars, he added. "In that sense, [the pink planet] feels a bit closer to home." (Related: "First Pictures of Alien Planet System Revealed.")
At about 460°F (237°C), this gas giant probably wouldn't be a very pleasant place to visit. But researchers are still interested in this lightweight—it's one of the lowest-mass exoplanets found around a sun-like star using direct detection methods. (Related: "Smallest Exoplanets Found—Each Tinier Than Earth.")
It orbits about 43 astronomical units (AUs) away from its parent star, much farther out than Neptune's orbit (30 AUs) around the sun.
The wide gulf between this exoplanet and its star puts it outside the conventional area expected for planet formation.
In a mechanism called the core accretion model, bits of rock, dust, and ice in the disk of material around a young star collide and stick together until the solid lump grows to the size of a planet.
But this tends to happen close in to a star, said Janson. "Because [this planet] is so far out, it's very hard to see how it formed by core accretion."
The jostling amongst budding planets in a young solar system could have resulted in a collision that ejected the pink exoplanet out to its current orbit, said McElwain in an interview. (Related: "Youngest Planet Confirmed; Photos Show It Grew Up Fast.")
But planet formation is an evolving field, and this is just one possible explanation, he added.
So Far Away
McElwain and colleagues would also like a better sense of this magenta giant's orbit.
Something 43 AUs from its star would take more than a hundred years to complete an orbit, McElwain said.
But because of its orientation with respect to Earth, it's very possible this exoplanet is even farther away from its star.
The shape of the exoplanet's orbit would also lend further clues as to its formation. If it's on a very eccentric—or non-circular—orbit, that would support the scattering hypothesis, McElwain said.
A More Complete Picture
This is why it's important to get as complete a picture as possible on the types of exoplanets out there, said Adam Burrows, an astrophysicist at Princeton University and a study co-author.
And high-contrast imaging—the technique used to directly detect exoplanets—could really help with that. "[It] is starting to come into its own after being a secondary or tertiary means of discovering planets," he said.
Several telescopes coming online in the next year or two will be even better at picking up the faint glow given off by exoplanets, Burrows added.
Previous exoplanet-detection techniques work on bodies close in to their stars. But high-contrast imaging will tell us more about planets farther away from their parent stars, he said.

The Duplex

Daily Comic Relief
Saving the beer

Evolutionary relationships among species of “magic” mushrooms shed new light on fungi

Scientific Minds Want To Know
"Magic" mushrooms are well known for their hallucinogenic properties. Until now, less has been known about their evolutionary development and how they should be classified in the fungal Tree of Life. New research helps uncover the evolutionary past of a fascinating fungi that has wide recreational use and is currently under investigation for a variety of medicinal applications.
Evolutionary relationships among species of “magic” mushrooms shed new light on fungi
Psilocybe semilanceata [Credit: WikiCommons]
In the 19th century, the discovery of hallucinogenic mushrooms prompted research into the mushrooms' taxonomy, biochemistry, and historical usage. Gastón Guzmán, a world authority on the genus Psilocybe, began studying its taxonomy in the 1950s. 

In 1983, these studies culminated in a monograph, which is currently being updated as a team of researchers from the University of Guadalajara and the University of Tennessee collaborate with Guzmán to produce a hypothesis on how these mushrooms evolved. Some of their latest research is now published in the journal Botany.

Using new molecular and computational techniques, the team has produced the first multi-gene evaluation of the evolutionary development of Psilocybe, which constitutes a major step in classifying and naming "magic" mushrooms. Earlier work showed that species of Psilocybe did not commonly descend from a single ancestor. 

As a result, the hallucinogenic species (the genus Psilocybe) were typically separated from their non-hallucinogenic relatives (the genus Deconica). But this new work now places the two separate monophyletic -- meaning developed from a single ancestor -- groups into different families. Within Psilocybe (family Hymenogastraceae) and Deconica (family Strophariaceae s.str), the authors have discovered several strong infrageneric relationships.

According to the authors, their analysis of various morphological traits of the mushrooms suggests that these typically weren't acquired through a most recent common ancestor and must have evolved independently or undergone several evolutionary losses, probably for ecological reasons. 

Nevertheless, species of Psilocybe are united to some degree because they have the psychedelic compound psilocybin and other secondary metabolites, or products of metabolism. The authors say that former Psilocybe species that lack these secondary metabolites could also be found in Deconica.

Let's Talk About Housecats

Animal News
There are 600 million housecats in the world -give or take a few- making them the most popular pet worldwide. It wasn't always so. How did the world become so cat-obsessed? Cats as we know them are descended from the African wildcat Felis sylvestris, shown here. It doesn't look so different from a housecat, except for those dangerous-looking fangs.
There’s a very similar saying among researchers that dogs were domesticated, but cats domesticated themselves.

While not strictly true in terms of dogs (oh, I can go off on dog domestication do not get me started) this is pretty much on the money for cats. Humans didn’t grab cats and make them start hunting mice. In fact, that would be incredibly difficult, as wildcats are extremely shy. Cats simply heard the rodents squeaking around in whatever the ancient version of a silo was and went after them. And the humans certainly had no reason to discourage them (once they figured out what was going on, I presume- I imagine the first human opening a door and spotting a cat inside shrieking “THE MICE HAVE GROWN HUGE SAVE YOURSELF”)

Flight distance refers to the distance an animal is willing to let you approach it before it flees. African wildcats today have a pretty massive flight distance- you are extremely lucky if you see one before it spots you and jets. Those first cats attacking the mice in human granaries would have had a big disadvantage if they were running every time they spotted a human within thirty feet. So, they adapted. Their flight distance shrank from generation until eventually they were able to tolerate humans within feet of them. Think of the behavior of squirrels in suburban areas. They aren’t going to let you pick them up, exactly… but they’re definitely not afraid of you.
But this relationship underwent a big change when Egyptians went nuts about cats. Koryos at Newt in the Throat tells us the history of the domestic cat in an entertaining and understandable way, with lots of cute pictures. More

Up Close and Personal with the Serengeti Lion

Animal News
How do you capture video of a pride of lions up close? You send in a robot! A little video robot that will remind you of Wall-E or a roomba moved among the lions, who treated it as a kind of cat toy. Enjoy a series of looping videos of many facets of a pride's life -click to the right to start the next video at National Geographic.