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

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Daily Drift

You, got that one right ...!   
Carolina Naturally is read in 193 countries around the world daily.
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Today in History

337 Constantine's three sons, already Caesars, each take the title of Augustus. Constantine II and Constans share the west while Constantius II takes control of the east.
1087 William the Conquerer, Duke of Normandy and King of England, dies in Rouen while conducting a war which began when the French king made fun of him for being fat.
1513 King James IV of Scotland is defeated and killed by English at Flodden.
1585 Pope Sixtus V deprives Henry of Navarre of his rights to the French crown.
1776 The term "United States" is adopted by the Continental Congress to be used instead of the "United Colonies."
1786 George Washington calls for the abolition of slavery.
1791 French Royalists take control of Arles and barricade themselves inside the town.
1834 Parliament passes the Municipal Corporations Act, reforming city and town governments in England.
1850 California, in the midst of a gold rush, enters the Union as the 31st state.
1863 The Union Army of the Cumberland passes through Chattanooga as they chase after the retreating Confederates. The Union troops will soon be repulsed at the Battle of Chickamauga.
1886 The Berne International Copyright Convention takes place.
1911 An airmail route opens between London and Windsor.
1915 A German zeppelin bombs London for the first time, causing little damage.
1926 The Radio Corporation of America creates the National Broadcasting Co.
1942 A Japanese float plane, launched from a submarine, makes its first bombing run on a U.S. forest near Brookings, Oregon.
1943 Allied troops land at Salerno, Italy and encounter strong resistance from German troops.
1948 Kim Il-sung declares the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
1956 Elvis Presley makes his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show; cameras focus on his upper torso and legs to avoid showing his pelvis gyrations, which many Americans—including Ed Sullivan—thought unfit for a family show.
1965 US Department of Housing and Urban Development established.
1965 Hurricane Betsy, the first hurricane to exceed $1 billion in damages (unadjusted), makes its second landfall, near New Orleans.
1969 Canada's Official Languages Act takes effect, making French equal to English as a language within the nation's government.
1970 U.S. Marines launch Operation Dubois Square, a 10-day search for North Vietnamese troops near DaNang.
1971 Attica Prison Riot; the 4-day riot leaves 39 dead.
1976 Communist Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung dies in Beijing at age 82.
1990 Sri Lankan Army massacres 184 civilians of the Tamil minority in the Batticaloa District of Sri Lanka.
1991 Tajikstan declares independence from USSR.
1993 The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) officially recognizes Israel as a legitimate state.
2001 Two al Qaeda assassins kill Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.
2001 A car bomb explodes outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta, killing 10 people.

Non Sequitur


Did you know ...

That it costs $350 to make an artificial hip. It will cost you $30,000 to get one

That the parking garage where Deep Throat met Woodward may soon be demolished

That last person to see Adolf Hitler alive dies at age 96

North Carolina Hospital Will Shut Down In Six Months Because The State Won’t Expand Medicaid

by Sy Mukherjee
Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven, NC will shut its doors within six months.
Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven, NC will shut its doors within six months.

On Wednesday, residents of Belhaven, North Carolina got a taste of how stubborn repugican opposition to the Affordable Care Act can affect them personally when executives at Vidant Health System unanimously voted to shut down the local Vidant Pungo Hospital within six months. Vidant officials said the move was necessary as a consequence of North Carolina’s refusal to participate in Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion.
Belhaven is a small town of 1,688 where more than 55 percent of the population is African-American and approximately 28 percent of residents live in poverty. Vidant Pungo bills itself as “a private, not-for-profit 49-bed acute care hospital on the waterfront in Belhaven” that “provides medical care to patients in eastern Beaufort and Hyde counties, serving approximately 25,000 people with a service area of approximately 1,260 square miles.” In those counties, more than 19 percent and 25 percent of residents respectively live below the poverty level, according to the latest census data.
Since safety-net hospitals that serve regions with high numbers of poor and uninsured people often have patients who can’t afford to pay for their care, they usually have to rely on the government to pick up some of the tab for uncompensated medical treatment to stay financially viable. But Obamacare reduced reimbursements to these so-called “disproportionate share hospitals” (DSHs) — one of which is Vidant Pungo — since the law originally intended all states to expand Medicaid for every American living up to 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. If things had unfolded that way, these hospitals wouldn’t need the additional government payments since their patients would finally be able to pay for their own care through Medicaid.
But the Supreme Court ruled the expansion to be optional last summer. That’s why hospitals have intensely lobbied state officials to expand Medicaid, since the combination of uninsured patients and reduced federal reimbursements could spell financial doom for them. Unfortunately, at least 21 states with repugican governors or legislatures — including North Carolina — opposed to the health law have refused generous federal funding to expand Medicaid eligibility.
The federal government took steps in May to soften the blow to DSHs by tying how much states’ reimbursements for uncompensated care will be cut with their uninsurance rates — i.e., the larger uninsured population a state has, the less its DSH funding will be cut. But this is merely a fiscal band-aid, not a permanent solution. And as Vidant Pungo’s imminent shuttering demonstrates, some hospitals simply aren’t willing to risk the uncertainty.
Expanding Medicaid would cut North Carolina’s uninsurance rate by more than 48 percent.

Wendy Davis Wins Legal Case Against Texas repugicans’ Racist Gerrymandering

by Randa Morris 
On Wednesday, September 4th, a San Antonio, Texas Federal District Court of three judges which has been hearing the case challenging Texas redistricting legislation, entered a final judgment in the law suit.  In its ruling, the Court determined that Wendy Davis and other plaintiffs won their case against  the new redistricting maps for Texas Senatorial elections . The decision will stop the racist redistricting plans laid out by Texas repugicans, which would have disenfranchised  thousands of eligible voters, mostly minorities, across the state.
The judges ruled that discriminatory intent was found in two of the three proposed plans for redistricting in the state of Texas. The redistricting plan, which cost the state’s tax payers millions of dollars to defend in Federal Court, were found to be in violation of the United States Voting Rights Act.
Greg Abbott, who has announced his bid for governor of the state of Texas in 2014, showed remarkable levels of incompetence and partisanship in the handling of the redistricting plans. Abbott, who originally advised the legislature on the drawing and adoption of the new Senate redistricting maps, also served as primary legal counsel to the State of Texas at the time that the legislature was considering adopting the new redistricting plans. Abbot went on to defend the plans in federal court, a move which drew negative attention from across the US and ultimately served to embarrass both himself and the entire Lone star state on the national stage.
According to the Judges ruling, the redistricting plans showed clear intent to deny voting rights to  the Lone star state’s Hispanic, African American and Democratic voting population. The complaint, filed by Senator Wendy Davis, Marc Veasey and several other Plaintiffs, alleged that the the state’s Senate redistricting plan was draw “with the purpose and has the intent of minimizing and reducing the voting strength of minority populations the Tarrant and Dallas County areas of North Texas.” Davis’s complaint went on to state that the “Intentional fracturing and dismantling of the coalition of minority voters in Senate District 10 constitutes unlawful vote dilution and discrimination” both of which are unlawful under the United States Constitution as well as the US Voting Rights Act.
“FINAL JUDGMENT This Court previously ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECREED: that Plaintiffs’ request for declaratory relief was granted to the extent that Senate plan S100, the benchmark plan, violates the one-person, one-vote requirements of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and will not be used for any further elections; that Plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief was granted such that Senate plan S148, the 2011 enacted plan, has been permanently enjoined from implementation and no elections have been or will be held thereunder…”
The judges ruling also allows that the Plaintiffs in the case, Davis, Veasey and others who brought the suit, are to be reimbursed for their legal costs, as part of the final decision.
“…as prevailing parties, Plaintiffs are awarded their reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.
Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(2) and W.D. Tex. Rule CV-7(j), Plaintiffs may file their applications for attorneys’ fees and costs no later than twenty days after entry of judgment. If the application is opposed in whole or in part, a response in opposition shall be filed no later than ten days after the filing of the application. SIGNED AND ENTERED this 4th day of September, 2013.”
Watch Richard Fowler explains Texas Redistricting plan designed to disenfranchise minorities and create additional funding sources for white candidates in Texas

Florida’s Fraudulent Voting Witch Hunt Produces a “Shocking” Number of Cases — All repugican

The issue of voter fraud and new restrictive voter ID laws has taken this country by storm the last couple of years.  The repugican legislatures all across the country have taken “a stand against voter fraud” and passed highly restrictive new laws which they claim will reduce the possibility of fraudulent voting.
It just so happens that Florida, with their repugican Governor Rick Scott, is one of these states claiming strict voter ID laws are needed to prevent the possibility of rampant voter fraud.
Well, an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has concluded, and their findings are absolutely stunning.
Upon concluding their investigation, they reported a staggering—two cases of voter registration fraud.
Yes, after several months of investigation following the 2012 elections, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found a whopping two cases of actual voter registration fraud.
Oh, and the kicker?  The two cases consisted of two voter registration forms fraudulently filled out by a man who worked for the repugican cabal.  He admitted to stealing the identity of his former girlfriend’s ex-husband and filling out the two forms.
Well, the number of cases might increase considering two more cases do remain open, though it’s clear Governor Scott has moved on from this investigation.
I guess that’s what happens when you try to invent a problem that has never existed.
And this pattern of not finding “rampant” evidence of voter fraud isn’t just in Florida — repugicans all across the country are having trouble finding evidence that fraudulent voting is a threat to our election process.
But repugicans haven’t let these kinds of facts stand in their way of passing highly restrictive new voting laws in numerous repugican-controlled states which they claim will reduce the number of cases where people have tried to vote or register to vote illegally.
Though, let’s be honest.  Anyone with even a shred of common sense is well aware that these laws have nothing to do with “voter fraud” and everything to do with keeping people who often don’t vote for repugicans from being able to vote at all.
Because even if there are a handful of cases each election cycle where some sort of voting fraud is found, it pales in comparison to the tens of thousands (if not millions) of Americans who will be disenfranchised due to these highly restrictive voter ID laws.
So while repugicans claim they’re trying to solve one problem, which we all know is a blatant lie, they’re actually creating a problem in their efforts to keep those they wished wouldn’t vote from actually voting.
Because wingnuts know that their best chance at “winning” isn’t having better policies than Democrats — it’s simply doing all they can to keep Democrats from being able to vote.

Here we go again ...


Boehner Spirals Deeper Into Irrelevancy as He ‘Leads’ a cabal That Refuses to Follow

He was totally irrelevant to begin with anyway
boehner smug 
The Washington Post’s latest whip count on the resolution to authorize force in Syria reveals just how irrelevant Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have become in the repugican dominated House. While the two men are the nominal leaders of the repugican cabal House caucus, the word “leaders” at this point is simply a technical term to define two politically impotent figure heads, as neither man is capable of exercising any real leadership over the recalcitrant repugican cabal members in the House. Boehner and Cantor head one direction, the rest of the party lurches the other way.
The upcoming Syria resolution vote illustrates in stark terms how inept the supposed leaders of the repugican caucus have become. Boehner and Cantor were quick to support Obama’s call to action on Syria, putting partisan politics aside for a common national purpose. Yet, they have demonstrated that they have lost control of their own caucus, because the number of repugican representatives who have chosen to join them in support of the policy can almost be counted on one hand. Of the 232 House repugicans not named Cantor or Boehner, a grand total of six of them, have joined in expressing support for the authorization of force in Syria.  Bohner and Cantor no longer preside over the House repugican Caucus, they merely preside over half a dozen repugican men- Tim Cotton (AR), Adam Kinzinger (IL), Luke Messer (IN), Mike Pompeo (KS), Mike Rogers (MI),  and Peter King (NY).  Boehner and Cantor lead three little known congressional back benchers, Rogers, Cotton and the rabidly islamophobic Peter King.  While 62 repugican House members are still listed as undecided, 164 of them are firm no votes or leaning no votes. So the score is Cantor and Boehner 6, the forces of cabal mutiny 164.
While the vote has not been held yet, it is pretty clear at this point that  an overwhelming  majority of the repugican House is poised to vote against their cabal’s House leadership on the Syria resolution. The tea party mutiny is underway once again. Boehner has struggled to corral his caucus on bipartisan measures time and again.
Earlier this year he failed to bring immigration reform to the floor because a majority of his caucus was opposed and he chose not to violate the so-called “Hastert Rule”, which is invoked to prevent bringing legislation up for a vote if more repugicans will vote against a bill than for it. On three other occasions, Boehner has brought votes to the floor that have failed to gain a majority of repugican support in the House chamber. For example, when Boehner agreed to bring re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) up for a vote, 138 repugicans voted “no” while only 87 (including Boehner) voted “yes” to pass the bill designed to curb domestic violence against women.
Boehner lost control of the repugican caucus long ago. The upcoming Syria vote is simply confirmation of what is already well known in Washington. The repugican cabal House leadership has completely squandered their control over the repugican caucus, and as the mutiny spreads within the repugican ranks, Boehner and Cantor are spiraling deeper and deeper into political irrelevancy.

Where Were You When They Stole Detroit’s Democracy?

If it happens here, it certainly won’t end here. The threat to Detroit’s democracy is a threat to everyone who values their right to vote, but especially to those whose vote is their only avenue toward effective representation in government. Not everyone can start a Super PAC. In fact most of us can’t. For most of us, the vote is our best way to let the powers-that-be know what we think, what we want, and to let them know that we will hold them accountable if they don’t act appropriately. Take away that vote, and you’re left with Gov. Rick Snyder’s America. Down here on the ground in Detroit, it has never been unusual as a part of random conversation you might have with a neighbor , friend,  or  perhaps even somebody you met at a bar, to wind up discussing the topic of what ‘they’ had planned for our city. What’s next for Detroit,  who will be determining what’s next – and who won’t – has been a constant topic that I have heard off and on throughout the city in more than a few social circles pretty much ever since I moved here nearly 20 years ago. There has always been that underlying sense that somewhere there was a plan brewing to steal Detroit back from Detroiters. It was only a matter of time before ‘they’ took our city from ‘us’ unless ‘we’ put up one hell of a fight. Not many would say out loud that they feared a conspiracy, but that feeling was there nevertheless. The feeling that someone or something is coming, and whoever/whatever it is isn’t interested in making life better for us.
“You know they want that water department.”
“They’ve been wanting back into this city for a long time.”
“”They’re about to take it back. You watch.”
Although there has never been a definitive definition for who ‘they’ are, the generally accepted understanding, especially as it relates to this particular topic of swirling conspiratorial rumors about what may be planned for Detroit’s future, is the predominantly white powers-that-be in government and business, spurred on by their predominantly white constituencies outside of the city,  who (the belief is) have been angry for a long time that Detroit has become a predominantly African American city, and that it has become a broke and dysfunctional city as a direct result of that fact. All you have to do is read the comment section of either the Detroit Free Press or the Detroit News on any given day when there is a story about something broken in Detroit to view some predictably ugly reader commentary detailing how black folks are to blame for all that is happening to them in Detroit and for the rapid decline of Detroit from its perch as a once great American city.
I have always said up front that Detroit itself does bear some responsibility for its current circumstances as a whole. We are not a city of victims, and we did play a role in how we got to where we are. We made some bad choices, we sometimes neglected to make the right ones when they were staring us in the face, and now we’re paying the price for that. But it’s also pretty difficult to ignore history, and the history of this city shows clearly that for nearly four decades Detroit has been slammed again and again by a never-ending perfect storm of catastrophic socio-economic events that were beyond our control, and that would have destroyed a city with a weaker heart. And as bad as things are, let the record show that Detroit’s heart is still beating.
I’m not one to believe in conspiracies too readily when it comes to Detroit, but the willingness of our own Gov. Rick Snyder, aided by the repugican-dominated Michigan Legislature, to steal democracy from Michigan’s largest city in broad daylight doesn’t make it easy to put those conspiracy theories to rest. Because ever since the voters of Michigan voted to repeal the state’s onerous Emergency Manager law last November, only to see Gov. Snyder collaborate with his crew to give the finger to his constituents by using highly questionable legal means to keep the law alive and shove it back down our throats, the fate of democracy in Michigan has been an open question. The new Emergency Manager law, passed within weeks of the old law’s defeat, is what gave Detroit EM Kevyn Orr, an illegitimate appointed kingpin, the power to file for bankruptcy with Snyder’s approval. Currently the entire new law, PA 436, is being challenged in Federal Court, essentially on the grounds that even a Governor should not be allowed to disregard the will of his own voters and reinstate a law that they rejected at the polls.
But what is not  in question is the likelihood that if Snyder is allowed to get away with this theft, then it will serve as a model to the repugican leadership of other poorer communities for how they can seize control from the people. In other words, this thing could go viral. Which means that those of us who support the return of democracy to Detroit need to go viral too. The mainstream media is focusing on bankruptcy as the big story, some even suggesting that this could be a good thing. Most seem to have forgotten – or ignored – that the entire process which permitted this to happen was illegitimate. And that is the story that needs to go viral.

Four secret taxes on the poor

With governments struggling to raise revenue, you won’t believe what they’re charging for now 
by Leah A. Plunkett
4 secret taxes on the poor
It’s been well documented that local and state governments are having a hard time making ends meet. But what’s less discussed is how they’re going about addressing it: in many cases, the problem has gotten so bad that governments are raising revenue by quietly taxing a group even more cash-strapped than they are: the poor.
You probably haven’t noticed this particular government bailout program taking place, but odds are good it’s happening somewhere near you. How is it possible that counties and states nationwide are going after all this money without most people noticing? By sending out bills for services that are often involuntary.
A close look at these bills shows that these are fees disproportionately levied on the least politically powerful: charging directly for the costs of certain governmental services traditionally paid for by the public as a whole. Here’s how it generally works: when misdeeds or misfortunes happen, people are often required to use services the government supplies to fix the situation somehow. They have no choice about whether or not to accept these services: the government may either require acceptance (e.g., in the case of alleged misdeeds: criminal justice services), or circumstances may make it a necessity (e.g., in the case of misfortune: emergency services).
Once services have been used, the government then bills the user for their cost. If payment isn’t made in full and on time, the user’s debt will likely grow through the addition of interest, late fees, and other penalties. The government may report non-payment or late payment to credit bureaus, which affects a user’s credit rating. And a bad credit score can make it very difficult to get jobs, housing, and loans to fulfill financial obligations— including the debt to the government.
Billing individual users for traditional public services hits the poor harder in two ways. First, they will likely have a more difficult time paying these debts than those with more means, which may result in them actually paying more money over time or experiencing serious negative consequences if they can’t pay. Second, poor people are more likely to be required to use certain types of services than wealthier citizens are, so this new billing system makes them disproportionately responsible for these services that used to be everyone’s responsibility. The effect is lower-income people being taxed not in spite of their poverty but because of it.
Here are four common types of “poor taxes”:
1. Emergency Response Services: A trip in the ambulance or a visit from the fire department can now result in bills for thousands of dollars. Some insurance plans will foot these bills, but not everyone has such good coverage — or any, for that matter.
2. Unemployment Benefits: Many workers who lose jobs are entitled to draw some support from state unemployment compensation funds to tide them over until their next job can be found. But states may make access to this money quite expensive when benefits are provided on debit cards with hefty fees attached that users have to pay.
3. “Pay-to-Stay” Programs: Counties nationwide are charging inmates for the cost of their own room-and-board while they’re in prison. Some counties are very aggressive about collection, pursuing inmates who don’t pay for years even after their release. Depending on the county, inmates may also be held responsible for other costs related to their own prosecution and punishment, such as reimbursing the government for the cost of their public defender — the lawyer appointed to represent them because they were found to be too poor to hire their own attorney.
4. Parental Reimbursement Programs: Parents of kids who get into trouble with the law are often required to foot the bill for the government’s attempts to rehabilitate their children. Attempts at rehabilitation can take many forms, including locking kids up in secure detention facilities. And when parents don’t make parental reimbursement required by courts, this failure can be grounds for being locked up themselves — and getting saddled with a “pay-to-stay” bill for their own time behind bars.
It bears repeating that all of these “poor taxes” are going to pay for services that support all of us: preserving life and property, keeping our workforce intact, criminal justice and reforming troubled kids. By placing the burden on those least able to afford it, it’s not only a system devoid of compassion, but also common sense.


In 'United States Of Paranoia,' It's Not Just You

The United States of Paranoia 
 Weekend Edition gets a lot of emails that start like this: "Why don't you tell the truth about ..." The Kennedy assassination, Sept. 11, the Lincoln assassination, the birthplace of Barack Obama or John McCain, Pearl Harbor, Area 51, black helicopters or the moon landing — fill in the blank however you like.
Conspiracy theories are everywhere, and they're more widely believed than many people think. In The United States of Paranoia, Jesse Walker, a senior editor at Reason magazine, suggests that paranoid political arguments are as American as apple pie. Walker tells NPR's Scott Simon about the popularity of conspiracy theories, the long history of paranoia and how pop culture is shaped by revelations of real conspiracies.
Interview Highlights  
On how conspiracy theories are more popular than commonly claimed
"The classic essay that everyone cites on conspiracy theories is Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," and he says in there that the paranoid style is a marginal phenomenon — they're popular among marginal movements. But in fact, even among the things that we usually think of as conspiracy theories, opinion polls show a great deal of Americans — in some cases a majority of Americans — believing in secret cabals."
On conspiracy theories from America's Colonial period
"Obviously the Salem witch trials are a famous one, although it's not as well-known the extent to which, you know, people suspected that — tried to draw connections, I should say — between the invisible forces that were imagined in Salem and the more visible forces that were surrounding the colony: the fear of Native American conspiracies. And also just the beginning of 'King Philip's war,' which began with the mysterious death of an Indian who came to warn the settlers that 'King Philip' [son of Massasoit and chief of] the Wampanoag tribe was plotting an assault on them. The death was believed to be an assassination — now, to this day we don't know if it was an accident or an assassination, and if it was a murder we don't know if Philip was behind it. It's one of those great open questions that will never be solved."
Jesse Walker is a senior editor at Reason magazine.
Jesse Walker is a senior editor at Reason magazine.  
On how paranoia in the 1950s extended beyond McCarthyism
"Obviously there was the Red Scare of the time, and McCarthy is sort of the person who becomes the symbol of that in retrospect. But for one thing the Red Scare built on what historians call the 'Brown Scare' of World War II and immediately before then, which was similar to the Red Scare in that there was this understandable fear of the agents of a totalitarian power — in this case Nazi Germany — but which then spread to a lot of conservative commentators who were not at all sympathetic to fascism.
"Also there was going on what the historian David Johnson has called the 'Lavender Scare,' which was this great fear of gays and lesbians in the civil service, and one result of this was this massive purge. I mean, the director of the CIA in testimony described gays and lesbians as a, quote, 'government within the government' — very paranoid rhetoric. And more people were fired during this period for being gay or allegedly gay than were fired for being Communist or allegedly Communist. Which makes sense, because, you know, there's always been more gays than Communists in America."
On how pop culture reflects different eras' paranoia
"I have a chapter on the 1970s and the way that culture was transformed in the post-Watergate investigations ... the very real conspiracies. And then I look at the effect of this in popular culture, and I contrast an episode of My Three Sons, from the '60s, with an episode of Good Times, from the 1970s. ... They're both about a family that falls under federal surveillance. But in the My Three Sons episode, it's, you know, benign, and we sort of chuckle along as the spies have to listen in on the son, one of the three sons, having this sort of halting courtship over the phone. ... [Fred MacMurray, the father] is working on a top-secret project, so they're, you know, watching them for everyone's own good.
"And then at the end of the episode, Fred MacMurray turns to the camera and says, 'Well, I guess I can tell you what it is now, it's — ' and then they bleep out what he says. They scramble it. And you watch it now, it's incredibly chilling. It's like the secret state is in our living rooms, blocking the television set. But at the time that it aired, they just sort of ran it with a laugh track — it's just another joke.
"Contrast that with the Good Times episode just a little over a decade later — and this episode also ends with the father and the family looking at the camera, because he's gotten his job back, it's been resolved. But he looks at the camera and says 'I have a feeling that somewhere out there there's still a file with my name on it.' And this time there's no laugh track. It's a chilling moment that's supposed to be a chilling moment, and it really shows how much the American culture changed from the early '60s to the mid-'70s, what with all the revelations that had come out."

Daily Comic Relief


Indian teacher wades across river every day to get to his students

Abdul Mallik a 40-year-old primary school teacher in Malappuram, Kerala has no ordinary commute. Every weekday morning he wades across a river with an inner tube tied around his waist, shoes in one hand and clothes in a bag just to reach the primary school where he has been employed for 20 years.
"If I go by bus, it takes me three hours to cover the 12-kilometre distance, but swimming through the river is easier, faster and I reach school on time," he says, after he emerges from the river 15 minutes later. 
He then changes into a dry set of clothes on the river bank, and treks uphill for 10 minutes before he reaches the school. An average salary for government teachers like him is around Rs. 25,000 (£250, $380). The compensation, he says, lies elsewhere.

A staunch environmentalist, he often takes his students swimming, hoping the field trip will impress upon them the need to save the river, swirling with filth, that he navigates every day.

White magic practitioner summoned after possibly cursed coconut found in the Maldives

Police summoned a white magic practitioner to evaluate a young coconut believed to have been cursed by a black magic spell, after it was found near the Guraidhoo Island presidential election polling station in Kaafu Atoll. Police said they took the coconut into their possession at around 7:05am on Tuesday after receiving a report that the suspicious ‘kihah’ (immature coconut) was located near the Guraidhoo Island School – the island’s polling station for the September 7 presidential election.

The coconut was discovered near the school where the polling station is to be set up, Island Council Vice President Abdul Latheef Ahmed said. “The police brought a ‘ruqyah’ practitioner (white magician) to examine the coconut, who said it was a fake,” a police source said. “Because it’s a fake the police are not worried,” the source added. No arrests have been made in the case.
“The four-inch coconut had a Sura [Qur'anic verse] written in Arabic and was lying on the ground near the school, easy for the public to see,” said a source from Guraidhoo with knowledge of the incident. “When school students saw the coconut they called the principal, who then contacted the police,” he continued. “It was not really ‘fanditha’ (black magic) on the coconut. If it was fanditha, there would have been Arabic letters and numbers written, not a Sura,” he explained.

“It seems like it was a joke, just a prank, so that people will become aware, learn the moral, and not do it again,” he noted, suggesting the coconut was a lesson for islanders not to practice black magic in an attempt to influence voting, and that the polling area would be closely monitored to prevent such activities from occurring. “Now the police and school officials are more aware and police are patrolling the school at night, so magicians can’t practice real black magic at the school,” said the Guraidhoo source. On Wednesday a second possibly cursed coconut was found. Currently nine police are stationed on Guraidhoo for the upcoming election. Normally only five officers are present.

A History Of 'Meh'

Meh is an interjection, often used as an expression of indifference or boredom. It can also be used as an adjective (meaning mediocre, boring, or apathetic. Some have speculated that meh's origin is Yiddish because of its similarity to the interjection 'feh.'

The problem with tracing meh over time is that it's terribly underrepresented in the linguistic and lexicographical literature. A variant of meh, namely mnyeh, famously appears in the works of the late academic and humorist Leo Rosten. But Rosten's work is often disparaged by experts in Yiddishology, and, in any case, there's no evidence that mnyeh is even a Yiddish word.

Stylish Pilots of the Early 20th Century

The men and women who became pilots in the earliest days of airplane flight all had something in common -they were brave, adventurous go-getters. Many of them became quite famous, too, which means we have pictures of them to admire. Pictured here is British World War I flying ace Albert Ball. Check out more of those daring pilots from the early 20th century at  Flavorwire.

Sixteen skulls found on streets in Prague

Police in Prague say 15 human skulls have been found in a wooden box found on a street, and another was found in a garbage bin. Spokeswoman Jana Roesslerova says police found the 15 skulls Thursday morning near a garbage container after they were alerted by a telephone caller. Roesslerova says each skull was numbered. She says another skull, also bearing a number, was found in a garbage bin Wednesday by a homeless person.
Police say it is not clear whether the two cases are connected. They have asked experts to help in their investigation.

Evidence of Iron-Age massacre at Ham Hill

Excavations in Somerset have revealed a gruesome glimpse of Iron-Age Britain. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of a massacre involving hundreds, if not thousands of people, with some of the slaughtered bodies being stripped of their flesh or chopped up.
Evidence of Iron-Age massacre at Ham Hill
Excavated remains of the heads and necks of three late Iron Age individuals
thrown into an enclosure ditch [Credit: PA]
Human remains unearthed from an ancient site near Yeovil have cut marks, often in multiple rows, and occurring at the ends of important joints. “It is as if they were trying to separate pieces of the body”, according to Dr Marcus Brittain, the Cambridge archaeologist and head of a major excavation of Britain’s largest Iron-Age hill fort, Ham Hill.

Defleshing signs have been found on other Iron-Age human remains, but the scale of the evidence at this site is particularly dramatic, he said.

Ham Hill is so vast – the size of 123 football pitches surrounded by Iron-Age ramparts – that only a small part has so far been excavated. It is clear from the remains discovered that there are “hundreds, if not thousands of bodies” buried in the site, Dr Brittain told The Independent. “It’s unusual to find this number of bodies on any site, let alone from the Iron Age.”

They are thought to date from the 1st or 2nd century AD, although the site had been occupied for thousands of years. Hill forts generally date from the first millennium BC to the Roman Conquest and are rarely excavated because they are protected ancient monuments.

However, the Ham Hill site contains one of the most important stone materials in southern England, used in the conservation of historic buildings in the region. So, special permission was granted to extend the Ham Hill stone quarry on condition that it funded an important archaeological investigation by the universities of Cambridge and Cardiff.

Its picturesque setting in “green and pleasant lands” jars with the number of human remains found, Dr Brittain said. “It could not be more different to the hill fort’s modern serenity of picnics and dog-walkers.”

The massacre remains unexplained, but it occurred around the start of the Roman invasion. Evidence of Roman military equipment – large ballista bolts – has been found among the bodies. The bolts are heavy and sharp, like arrowheads – “but a hell of a lot bigger,” Dr Brittain said. “They would have been fired by catapult.” One theory is that the Romans executed people in policing and keeping order between indigenous tribes, but it’s unlikely that they did the defleshing because the gruesome practice is rarely associated with them.

Defleshing was linked to Iron Age Britons who often put polished skulls in doorways.

Christopher Evans, director of the Cambridge Archaeology Unit, said that the excavations raised more questions than answers. Further inside the hill fort’s interior, evidence of domestic life from earlier phases of its occupation was found, at a time when people lived in wood and daub houses.

Apart from Iron-Age and Roman pottery, the finds include ritualistic burials – arrangements of human skulls as well as bodies tossed into a pit, left exposed and gnawed by animals. Many of the bodies are predominantly women. “It is weird, there is no doubt,” Dr Brittain said.

Random Celebrity Photos


Tom Mix
Tom Mix

Understanding US Water Flows

Streamer is a new way to visualize and understand water flow across America. With Streamer you can explore America's major streams by tracing upstream to their source or downstream to where they empty.

You can also see a Stream Trace Report. The report provides information about the water bodies, streams, and streamflow measuring stations along the routes that you trace using the Streamer map. It also identifies places (states, counties, cities) your trace encounters as it moves downstream or upstream.

Here Comes the Story of No Hurricanes

Scientists don't know everything about hurricanes and global warming. 

But they know one big thing.

The tracks of all Atlantic hurricanes from 1851 through 2012. So far, 2013 would add nothing to this image: There haven't been any hurricanes. 
From a PR standpoint, it was surely an ingenious idea: Let's name hurricanes after leading members of Congress who deny that humans are causing global warming! That's the gist of the "Climate Name Change" campaign that launched last month, and the promotional video has already garnered over 2 million YouTube views.
There's just one problem: Thus far this season, the hurricanes haven't shown up. In fact, the dearth of hurricane-strength Atlantic storms up until now, despite blockbuster pre-season forecasts, counts as downright mysterious. "We've never seen this level of inactivity with the ocean conditions out there now," says meteorologist Jeff Masters, who is co-founder of Weather Underground, a popular meteorological website. There has even been speculation that 2013 might rival 2002, a year in which the first hurricane of the season didn't form until September 11.
Meanwhile, a new scientific paper suggests that climate change will decrease, rather than increase, the likelihood that Superstorm Sandy-like storms—atmospheric black swans that take left turns towards the US East Coast—will strike in the future. And a leaked draft of the UN's forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has significantly downgraded our confidence in the idea that global warming will lead to more intense hurricanes (or, is already doing so).
It's more than enough to make a reasonable person wonder: What the heck is up these days with hurricanes—and with global warming's supposed influence upon them? And do scientists know anything for sure about this, or are they just sticking out a finger in the (very fast) wind?
Why no hurricanes so far this year? It's September, tropics! There's no getting around it. We are very near the seasonal peak of hurricane season, and we have not yet logged a hurricane. That's weird.
Indeed, the climatological peak for hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean is September 10, as you can see in this helpful image from the National Hurricane Center:
graphic depicting the seasonal occurrence of Atlantic hurricanes
Climatology of hurricanes, by date, in the Atlantic. National Hurricane Center
So what's up with this year?
There are a variety of factors that are known to make for quiet Atlantic hurricane seasons—particularly the occurrence of El Nino conditions (as occurred in 2002) in the Pacific Ocean, characterized by very warm tropical ocean waters. But this isn't an El Nino year. Meanwhile, other relevant phenomena currently out there in the atmosphere—a lot of dry air coming off the Sahara Desert, for instance, and a general sinking of air over the tropical Atlantic—don't seem as if they, alone, can account for the lack of activity. "As air sinks, it compresses, warms, and dries out," explains Jeff Masters—and that's not generally conducive to the rising air of hurricanes. "But that doesn't seem like it should be enough to explain why its been so quiet," Masters continues.
The truth is that scientists and forecasters don't really know what caused the lull during this season—which underscores the ongoing tentativeness of our understanding of what sparks individual hurricanes, and what causes their seasonal variability in general.
Hurricane Wilma from above at peak intensity
2005's Hurricane Wilma, the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, here featuring the pinhole eye characteristic of the strongest storms.
What does that say for predictions of worse hurricanes due to global warming? Given this uncertainty about a single hurricane season, maybe it's no surprise that while the relationship between hurricanes and global warming has been studied for decades, unambiguous and uncontested scientific answers have been hard to come by. For years, scientists have argued that warmer ocean waters ought to lead to more powerful hurricanes: After all, the oceans are a hurricane's energy source. It seems straightforward enough, but debates have raged nonetheless, particularly about whether we can detect any changes to hurricanes that have happened already.
And now—as Andrew Revkin reported—a leaked draft report of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's forthcoming Fifth Assessment Report seems to have downgraded the level of scientific certainty about global warming and hurricanes in a couple of ways.
Back in 2007, the IPCC said it was "more likely than not" (meaning, a greater-than-50-percent probability) that human activities—through global warming—were contributing to an observed intensification of hurricanes in at least some regions of the globe. Now, by contrast, the IPCC says it has "low confidence" that this is happening. (For the IPCC's extensive explanation of its official terminology for expressing degrees scientific certainty, see here.)
Also in 2007, the IPCC considered it "likely"—meaning, more than a 66 percent probability—that the 21st century would see more intense hurricane activity. Now, it only says that it is "more likely than not"—or more than 50 percent probability—that this will be the case, and only for some parts of the world.
How did the science get less certain? There's an intense scientific debate going on here, and new research conducted since 2007 has given indications that the hurricane picture under climate change may be more complicated than previously supposed. That's because even as warmer oceans provide jet fuel for hurricanes, changes in atmospheric wind patterns can still interfere with their formation by preventing storms from forming or, literally, tearing them apart.
In particular, the IPCC in its latest round likely took note of a major 2010 paper in the journal Nature Geoscience, authored by no less than 10 hurricane experts, finding that "it remains uncertain whether past changes in tropical cyclone activity have exceeded the variability expected from natural causes." It's also important to keep in mind how the IPCC works: There's a cut-off date for assessing the existing scientific literature to be included in each report, and work published after the deadline just doesn't get taken into account.
When it comes to hurricanes, that's quite problematic, because several papers have emerged after the deadline that do suggest that global warming will dramatically impact these mega-storms. That includes a new paper by MIT hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel, suggesting that across the globe, hurricanes will be both more numerous and also more intense under global warming. There's also a new paper by another top hurricane-climate expert, Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of his colleagues, finding that hurricanes have already shifted toward more Category 4s and 5s (and fewer Category 1s and 2s) under global warming.
"I do not support the lack of evidence for intense hurricanes in climate changes to date," said Holland in reaction to the IPCC draft. "This view is supported by more recent publications that find a significant relationship directly with human-induced climate change and the most intense hurricanes."
Fewer Sandys in the Future? Meanwhile, another scientific fog arises as a result of a new paper just out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggesting that storms like Superstorm Sandy—which has been widely linked to climate change in popular discourse—might be less likely, rather than more likely, in the future.
First, it's important to lay out the case for why global warming may have been linked to the freakishly unusual path taken by Sandy. The argument begins with the work of Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis, whose research suggests that the rapid-fire warming of the Arctic is affecting weather in the mid-latitudes through its influence on the jet stream, the gigantic river of air that flows in waves from west to east. More specifically, Francis says the jet stream is slowing down and growing more loopy and that this, in turn, is leading to what you might call "stuck" weather or blocking patterns. One such blocking pattern, a high pressure ridge over Greenland, shaped Sandy's turn toward the East Coast.  (For a detailed presentation by Francis, see our 6/6/13 "Climate Desk Live" event that featured her as a speaker.)
"It's awfully suspicious that we had a 1-in-700 year event after the summer that we had the record sea ice loss in the Arctic," explains Jeff Masters. "And we have a theory relating Arctic sea ice loss to blocking systems of the kind that steered Hurricane Sandy into the coast."
the track of Supestorm Sandy
The bizarre track of Superstorm Sandy. 
Francis's views have been contested by other researchers, however. And the new study uses a suite of climate models to suggest that such atmospheric blocking patterns will be less frequent, rather than more frequent, in the future. Francis, however, questions the latest results. “The authors acknowledge that the realism of climate models in simulating blocking patterns is uncertain and that most underestimate the frequency of their occurrence in the North Atlantic,” she commented by email in reaction to the new study.
What scientists do know. In the 1970s, when Congress was debating the safety of the proposed supersonic transport program, Maine Senator Edmund Muskie had just heard conflicting scientific testimony. “Will somebody find me a one-handed scientist?” Muskie allegedly exclaimed. That, at least, would put an end to all the “on the one hand, on the other hand.”
But we don't need any amputations to figure out some things that we can indeed say about hurricanes and global warming. Principally this: While scientists sort all this out, sea levels continue to rise due to global warming. The picture here is very clear. And that means that every single hurricane that hits land will push seawater farther inland when it does so. Or as one scientist told me in the wake of Sandy, "There is 100 percent certainty that sea level rise made this worse. Period."
And then there's the warming of the oceans, which leads to two more clear conclusions, according to Masters. Warmer oceans make hurricane seasons longer, and they also make it possible for storms to travel north. The first idea is supported by published research suggesting an increasing frequency of late-season storms like Sandy (persisting into November or later), and the latter is simply a deduction from principles of physics: If oceans are hotter, hurricanes are more likely to be able to travel north out of the tropics and still have their energy source sustained.
And that, it seems fair to say, is more than enough to worry about.

West Antarctica ice sheet existed 20 million years earlier than previously thought

The results of research conducted by professors at UC Santa Barbara and colleagues mark the beginning of a new paradigm for our understanding of the history of Earth's great global ice sheets. The research shows that, contrary to the popularly held scientific view, an ice sheet on West Antarctica existed 20 million years earlier than previously thought.
West Antarctica ice sheet existed 20 million years earlier than previously thought
Adelie penguins walk in file on sea ice in front of US research icebreaker
Nathaniel B. Palmer in McMurdo Sound [Credit: John Diebold]
The findings indicate that ice sheets first grew on the West Antarctic subcontinent at the start of a global transition from warm greenhouse conditions to a cool icehouse climate 34 million years ago. Previous computer simulations were unable to produce the amount of ice that geological records suggest existed at that time because neighboring East Antarctica alone could not support it.

The findings were published today in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Given that more ice grew than could be hosted only on East Antarctica, some researchers proposed that the missing ice formed in the northern hemisphere, many millions of years before the documented ice growth in that hemisphere, which started about 3 million years ago. But the new research shows it is not necessary to have ice hosted in the northern polar regions at the start of greenhouse-icehouse transition.

Earlier research published in 2009 and 2012 by the same team showed that West Antarctica bedrock was much higher in elevation at the time of the global climate transition than it is today, with much of its land above sea level. The belief that West Antarctic elevations had always been low lying (as they are today) led researchers to ignore it in past studies. The new research presents compelling evidence that this higher land mass enabled a large ice sheet to be hosted earlier than previously realized, despite a warmer ocean in the past.

"Our new model identifies West Antarctica as the site needed for the accumulation of the extra ice on Earth at that time," said lead author Douglas S. Wilson, a research geophysicist in UCSB's Department of Earth Science and Marine Science Institute. "We find that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet first appeared earlier than the previously accepted timing of its initiation sometime in the Miocene, about 14 million years ago. In fact, our model shows it appeared at the same time as the massive East Antarctic Ice Sheet some 20 million years earlier."

Wilson and his team used a sophisticated numerical ice sheet model to support this view. Using their new bedrock elevation map for the Antarctic continent, the researchers created a computer simulation of the initiation of the Antarctic ice sheets. Unlike previous computer simulations of Antarctic glaciation, this research found the nascent Antarctic ice sheet included substantial ice on the subcontinent of West Antarctica. The modern West Antarctic Ice Sheet contains about 10 percent of the total ice on Antarctica and is similar in scale to the Greenland Ice Sheet.

West Antarctica and Greenland are both major players in scenarios of sea level rise due to global warming because of the sensitivity of the ice sheets on these subcontinents. Recent scientific estimates conclude that global sea level would rise an average of 11 feet should the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melt. This amount would add to sea level rise from the melting of the Greenland ice sheet (about 24 feet).

The UCSB researchers computed a range of ice sheets that consider the uncertainty in the topographic reconstructions, all of which show ice growth on East and West Antarctica 34 million years ago. A surprising result is that the total volume of ice on East and West Antarctica at that time could be more than 1.4 times greater than previously realized and was likely larger than the ice sheet on Antarctica today.

"We feel it is important for the public to know that the origins of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are under increased scrutiny and that scientists are paying close attention to its role in Earth's climate now and in the past," concluded co-author Bruce Luyendyk, UCSB professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Science and research professor at the campus's Earth Research Institute.

This is the Space Age

Annalee Newitz's Stop pretending we aren't living in the Space Age is a magnificent rant on the incredibly achievements of modern space programs, and a savage indictment of the lack of imagination underpinning complaints about the failure of humans to return to the moon in force.

More importantly, humans have continued the project that our grandparents and great-grandparents started in the 1950s when the Space Age began. Remember how that project got off the ground with remote-controlled satellites? Want to know why? Because that is how smart explorers do it. Believe it or not, we are actually clever enough monkeys that we are carefully doing a little reconnaissance in distant, dangerous places before we send people there. Which is why we have sent probes to Mars, the asteroid belt, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Pluto, and even to several moons and comets.
We currently have two robots on the surface of Mars that we are actually driving around. They are equipped with instruments that can do pretty sophisticated science experiments. We also have a satellite orbiting Mars, the MRO, which can take incredibly granular images of the planet's surface and do climate analysis. Using these robots and the MRO, we have discovered important things like the fact that Mars has underground ice, and once had seas on its surface. This is precisely the kind of information we need to know before we get to the planet ourselves.

Believe it or not


Sequestration is boom time for elephant poachers

Funding cuts have hamstrung the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s ability to fight wildlife trafficking
by Daniel M. Ashe
Sequestration is boom time for elephant poachers  
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials display recovered elephants tusks and illegally held firearms taken from poachers, at their headquarters in Kenya's capital Nairobi, January 16, 2013. With the increases in price and demand of ivory in South-East Asian countries, poaching activities have increased with KWS reporting the highest ever recorded loss in a single year of 384 elephants and 19 rhinos in 2012 as compared to 289 elephants and 29 to poaching in 2011.
Almost daily, it seems, there are new and credible reports about the senseless slaughter of elephants, rhinos or other endangered species by sophisticated wildlife-trafficking networks. Just this spring, news filtered in about a slaughter of forest elephants in the Central African Republic. We have video confirmation of nearly 30 elephants being killed and more wounded. It is clear that poaching is epidemic and is threatening some of the world’s most iconic and endearing species.
Although foreign species may seem like other nations’ problem, nothing could be further from the truth. The native species and ecosystems of our planet support billions of people and drive the world’s economy. Everyone has a stake in sustaining these fragile ecosystems and species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) plays an essential role in combating global wildlife trafficking. Since the federal budget sequestration took effect in March, however, our ability to carry out this mission has been diminished, just as the situation for endangered species around the globe has become increasingly critical.
The increase in danger to elephants is no surprise. Rising prices for ivory have provoked a skyrocketing level of poaching for African elephants in the wild, resulting in an unprecedented threat to the survival of the species. Thanks to conservation efforts in range countries and global restrictions on ivory trade, elephants had been staging a recovery in many parts of Africa since the 1980s. But poachers, driven by surging Asian demand for elephant ivory, are again pushing elephants toward extinction. As recently as 2008, for example, Tanzania was home to the second-largest population of elephants in Africa, with an estimated 110,000 to 165,000 elephants. By Tanzania’s own counts, however, its most significant population dropped from 70,000 in 2006 to 40,000 by 2009. Today as few as 23,000 elephants may remain.
It is a similar story with rhino populations. Rhino horn, mainly destined for Asia, has historically been used in traditional medicine, primarily as a fever reducer. Recent cultural fads, however, have convinced people in certain countries that rhino horn is an effective treatment for everything from cancer to hangovers. In some countries, objects carved from rhino horn are also regarded as economic status symbols. The result: last year poachers killed 668 of South Africa’s estimated 21,000 rhinos. This year could be worse: through August 7, poachers killed 553 rhinos. All this for a product made of the same stuff as our fingernails.


Not only animals are at risk. Last September five game scouts at Zakouma National Park in Chad were gunned down as they stood in prayer at the beginning of their workday. Poachers can even fuel the destabilization of governments in Africa, creating potential threats to U.S. national security.
One of the things that we know will curb poaching is increased enforcement of laws that prevent trading of illegally obtained wildlife. We saw this last year when we came down hard on people illegally trafficking in rhino horn. The service’s participation in Operation Crash, which is still active, told poachers in no uncertain terms that the U.S. would not tolerate their criminal greed.
The first phase of this probe, which has focused on the unlawful purchase and outbound smuggling of rhino horn from the U.S., has resulted in 14 arrests and seven convictions so far. In raids conducted in February 2012, agents seized 37 rhinoceros horns and products made from horns, such as dagger handles and libation cups. Also seized during the course of the operation were approximately $1 million in cash and another $1 million in gold ingots, as well as diamonds and Rolex watches.
The U.S. is a leader in the fight against wildlife crime. We use our wildlife laws to keep this country from becoming a significant transit point and destination for such trafficked wildlife items as elephant ivory, rhino horn, tiger bone, sea turtle shell, endangered butterflies, shahtoosh wool, and certain live reptiles, amphibians and corals.
But the federal budget sequestration is limiting our law-enforcement capability at the very time we need it most. Our Office of Law Enforcement already has 63 vacant positions for special agents—the men and women on the front lines of preventing wildlife crime. With sequestration, FWS had to cancel plans to hire a class of 24 officers to begin filling these jobs. As a result, we will be able to carry out fewer investigations of wildlife trafficking, and we may have to postpone plans to station agents overseas in countries that are either suppliers of or markets for elephant ivory, rhino horn and other contraband.
We currently have 216 special agents—about the same level as in 1978, although the job is so much harder. The number of protected species has increased more than 60 percent, and wildlife trafficking today involves well-organized criminal syndicates taking advantage of the latest technologies to operate on a global basis. We also have vacancies in our wildlife inspector ranks, which we will not be able to fill. These are the folks on the ground at ports of entry, checking imports and exports and intercepting illegal trafficking.
We are focusing the resources we have, to the best of our ability, on the actions that will enable us to achieve our conservation mission. But we could do so much more to give wildlife a chance against poachers. We must ask ourselves where our priorities lie. Is the sequestration really worth a world where the only reminders of our most spectacular and treasured wildlife are a few carved tchotchkes?

Brain-eating amoeba

by Mark Thoma, MD 

There’s a new medical mystery that reminds medical researchers of the early days of AIDS: brain-eating amoeba.
Remember when Legionnaire’s disease (Philadelphia Flu) first started unfolding? It raised a lot of interesting questions.
Why Philadelphia? Why US veterans? What was causing it? Why hadn’t it happened previously? How could it be stopped? What could we do to treat it?
Actually, upon investigation, all of those answers were uncovered in a relatively short time. It was caused by a bacterium, living in the water supply at the host hotel of the Legionnaire’s convention. It was susceptible to an antibiotic that we already had available. It had been around causing pneumonias previously but never so many in such a short time and never so well publicized (see Pontiac Fever).
Trophozoite of N. fowleri in CSF, from the CDC.
Trophozoite of N. fowleri in CSF, from the CDC.
Then AIDS happened. The causative organism was harder to identify (viruses often are). It was devastating, causing protean symptoms: skin and visceral cancers (Kaposi’s sarcoma), opportunistic infections like Pneumocystis carinii (now jiroveci) pneumonia, thrush, encephalitis, tuberculosis and others. It rapidly led to death. No effective drugs were available. How it was spread was unclear at first. It would take decades of research and public health investigations to develop treatments, isolate and identify the organism, slow its spread, educate people. And the work still continues in all of those areas.
Now there’s a “new” disease that is also incompletely understood. It’s rare, very rare. It has a very high fatality rate. Its mechanism of transmission is suspected. Until recently, no effective drug was available. While it’s not as multifaceted as AIDS, it still raises a very interesting question – why are some people stricken and others not?
You may have read some things about the “brain-eating amoeba,” Naegleria fowleri, and how it causes Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM). Some other amebas can cause similar disease, B. mandrillaris and Acanthamoeba spp., but Naegleria is the one to focus on here.
Naegleria has several species, but, so far, only fowleri has been implicated in causing PAM. These amebas are micricroscopic, motile and found in warm water. Most patients who get PAM die. Fortunately, there haven’t been many cases of PAM. In the past 10 years, only about three dozen cases of PAM have been diagnosed in the US. All were fatal. But, as awareness of the disease spreads, more cases may come to light. And men, often younger men, get PAM more often than women. Interestingly, symptoms can mimic the type of meningitis that can decimate men who have sex with men.

Location of Naegleria

Naegleria have been found in warm waters (lakes, streams, hot springs), warm-water outflow from industrial and manufacturing plants, inadequately chlorinated swimming pools, soil and may be found in warm water supplies in homes in the US, Australia and other countries. Naegleria infection is more common in states in the southern US, but, during summer as temperatures rise, infections can be seen in northern states, as well. The infection occurs when water contaminated with these amebas gets up into the nose. Two people are known to have gotten PAM after using neti pots to cleanse their sinuses. The remainder of the cases have been associated with swimming and diving. One child even got PAM from playing in a water filled ditch.
But how do the amebas get into the brain? Why are boys and young men more commonly infected? Can it be treated?

How Infection Starts

NOTE: Naegleria and PAM can NOT be acquired through drinking water contaminated with Naegleria. Only when the Naegleria-contaminated water enters the nose can infection occur.
Naegleria are commonly found in lakes, rivers and streams, yet infection is extremely rare. Well over 99.9999% of people don’t get Naegleria when swimming in waters where these amebas have been found. Boys and young men are thought to get it more often because they may be more active in swimming and diving games, and stir up the bottom sediment in lakes and streams. However, that is conjecture, not proven. But tens of millions of people swim in warm waters outdoors every year and don’t get the disease.
Some of the stages of the life cycle of Naegleria fowleri, via the CDC.
The method of infection is as follows. The contaminated water gets into the nose while swimming, diving or playing in water containing Naegleria. The amebas get to the top part of the nose, separated from the brain by a thin section of bone called the cribiform plate. There are multiple openings in the skull that allow for nerves and blood vessels to enter and leave the brain. The cribiform plate has a number of tiny holes. The reason is so that tiny nerve fibers of the olfactory nerve (Cranial Nerve I) can exit the brain and be able to sense odors brought into the nose. The olfactory nerve detects odors and sends that information to the brain. The amebas probably gain entry to the brain here. Perhaps, in the affected patients, these holes in the cribiform aren’t tightly plugged by the exiting nerve rootlets and dura mater and the amebas crawl into the brain that way. Or the amebas may actually be able to penetrate the nerve cells and follow them into the brain. Or digest their way through the nerves and dura. Perhaps there are extra holes that don’t have rootlets in place. Maybe there is a defect in the nerve structure that allows the amebas access. Perhaps the affected patients have some type of immune deficiency that allows the amebas to more easily enter their central nervous systems.
It’s difficult to know because some of these things can only be observed at autopsy or in research done on primates. These are tiny holes, tiny nerves and tiny amebas. The average Naegleria is about 8-30 microns in size. An average red blood cell is about 7-8 microns in diameter For reference, the diameter of a human hair is about 90-100 microns. In the brain, the amebas destroy and eat brain tissue. That in itself, causes some damage. However, the immune system also responds and causes even more destruction.


As mentioned previously, the symptoms can mimic bacterial meningitis (like meningococcal meningitis) that was causing an outbreak in men who have sex with men, HIV positive men and men meting other men at bars or by using smartphone apps. The symptoms are: headache, fever, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, seizures, hallucinations, confusion/altered mental status and coma. Symptoms appear from 1-7 days after exposure to contaminated water and death occurs about 7-12 days after symptoms start.


It is difficult to make the diagnosis since the symptoms are so closely related to bacterial meningitis, which is much more common. And, since the is is a rare condition, most patients and physicians don’t think of PAM in the diagnosis. The amebas can be seen in cerebrospinal fluid or in tissue specimens or from biopsies. Naegleria infections tend to occur during the warmer months, especially when water levels are lower.


When swimming, use nose clips, don’t stir up sediment, keep the head out of the water, do not irrigate nose or sinuses with unsterile solutions. Again, Naegleria infection and subsequent PAM, do not occur from drinking Naegleria containing water.


Several drugs have been tried in the past. A few drug combinations have seemed to work in a few cases.
Miltefosine, a drug that is used to treat a different kind of parasite infection, is showing promise in treating PAM. Currently, there are two children with PAM in US hospitals, both have received miltefosine treatment. One seems to be recovering. The other seems to no longer be infected with Naegleria, however he has suffered extensive brain damage and the eventual outcome may still be fatal.
As knowledge of this infection spreads, more interest is being generated in studying it – much like with Legionnaire’s disease and AIDS. More researchers, physicians and members of the public are becoming aware of it.
Unfortunately, with the sequester, government research money is decreasing, and an “orphan” disease like this may not get the funding it needs for additional study. Also, pharmaceutical companies are not interested in developing drugs that will only benefit a handful of patients. However, since miltefosine is used to treat another disease, perhaps other anti-parasite drugs, already available might be useful in treating PAM.