Welcome to ...

The place where the world comes together in honesty and mirth.
Windmills Tilted, Scared Cows Butchered, Lies Skewered on the Lance of Reality ... or something to that effect.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Daily Drift

Twenty-three Days To Go ....

Carolina Naturally is read in 194 countries around the world daily.
Go, Mutt ... !
Today is - National Mutt Day

Don't forget to visit our sister blog: It Is What It Is

Some of our readers today have been in:
The Americas
Tipitapa and Managua, Nicaragua
Santiago De Los Caballeros and Santo Domingo, Domincan Republic
Sherbrooke, Blainville, Kenora, Mississauga, Britannia, Ottawa, Pikangikum, Lansing, Guelph, Dryden, Sioux Lookout, Vancouver and Joliette, Canada
Ecatepec, Mexico
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Cali, Colombia
Wahiawa, Hampstead, Montara, Roswell, Mustang, Spokane and Menasha, United States
San Juan, Puerto Rico
The Valley, Anguilla
Gistrup, Niva and Kongens Lyngby, Denmark
Friedrichshain and Widdern, Germany
Cadiz and Madrid, Spain
Dublin, Ireland
Reykjavik, Iceland
Cavallino, Cusano Milanino, Padova, Rome and Ivrea, Italy
Sarajevo and Hadzici,  Bosnia and Herzegovina
Rouen, Paris and Lyon, France
Slemmestad and Oslo, Norway
Kista, Sweden
London and Oxford, England
Chelyabinsk, Russia
Athens, Greece
Porto and Vilamoura, Portugal
Newport, Wales
Zhovti Vody, Ukraine
Riga, Latvia
Nicosia, Cyprus
Helsinki, Finland
Kavaje, Albania
Luqa, Malta
Ranau, Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh, Malaysia
Thiruvananthapuram, Krishnanagar, Kolkata, Trichur, Vishakhapatnam, New Delhi, Bhubaneshwar, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai, India
Colombo and Moratuwa, Sri Lanka
Shanghai and Beijing, China
Sendai-Si and Osaka-Si, Japan
Petah Tikva, Israel
Tehran, Iran
Seoul, Korea
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Hanoi, Vietnam
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Islamabad, Pakistan
Jakarta, Indonesia
Kabul, Afghanistan
Cagayan De Oro and Cebu City, Philippines
Homebush and Sydney, Australia

Today in History

1804 Napoleon Bonaparte crowns himself Emperor of France in Notre Dame Cathedral.
1805 Napoleon Bonaparte celebrates the first anniversary of his coronation with a victory at Austerlitz over a Russian and Austrian army.
1823 President James Monroe proclaims the principles known as the Monroe Doctrine, "that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintained, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by European powers."
1863 General Braxton Bragg turns over command of the Army of Tennessee to General William Hardee at Dalton, Ga.
1864 Major General Grenville M. Dodge is named to replace General William Rosecrans as Commander of the Department of Missouri.
1867 People wait in mile-long lines to hear Charles Dickens give his first reading in New York City.
1907 Spain and France agree to enforce Moroccan measures adopted in 1906.
1909 J.P. Morgan acquires majority holdings in Equitable Life Co. This is the largest concentration of bank power to date.
1914 Austrian troops occupy Belgrade, Serbia.
1918 Armenia proclaims independence from Turkey.
1921 The first successful helium dirigible, C-7, makes a test flight in Portsmouth, Va.
1927 The new Ford Model A is introduced to the American public.
1932 Bolivia accepts Paraguay's terms for a truce in the Chaco War.
1942 The Allies repel a strong Axis attack in Tunisia, North Africa.
1944 General George S. Patton's troops enter the Saar Valley and break through the Siegfried line.
1946 The United States and Great Britain merge their German occupation zones.
1964 Brazil sends Juan Peron back to Spain, foiling his efforts to return to his native land.
1970 The U.S. Senate votes to give 48,000 acres of New Mexico back to the Taos Indians.
1980 A death squad in El Salvador murders four US nuns and churchwomen.
1982 Dentist Barney Clark receives the first permanent artificial heart, developed by Dr. Robert K. Jarvik.
1993 NASA launches Space Shuttle Endeavor on a mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
1999 UK devolves political power in Northern Ireland to the Northern Ireland Executive, the administrative branch of the North Ireland legislature.
2001 Enron files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, one of the most complex bankruptcy cases in US history.

Non Sequitur


Xmas Countdown Xmas Stories

The Elves and the Shoemaker
A shoemaker, by no fault of his own, had become so poor that at last he had nothing left but leather for one pair of shoes. So in the evening, he cut out the shoes which he wished to begin to make the next morning, and as he had a good conscience, he lay down quietly in his bed, commended himself to God, and fell asleep. In the morning, after he had said his prayers, and was just going to sit down to work, the two shoes stood quite finished on his table. He was astounded, and knew not what to say to it. He took the shoes in his hands to observe them closer, and they were so neatly made that there was not one bad stitch in them, just as if they were intended as a masterpiece.
Soon after, a buyer came in, and as the shoes pleased him so well, he paid more for them than was customary, and, with the money, the shoemaker was able to purchase leather for two pairs of shoes. He cut them out at night, and next morning was about to set to work with fresh courage; but he had no need to do so, for, when he got up, they were already made, and buyers also were not wanting, who gave him money enough to buy leather for four pairs of shoes. The following morning, too, he found the four pairs made; and so it went on constantly — what he cut out in the evening was finished by the morning, so that he soon had his honest independence again, and at last became a wealthy man.
Now it befell that one evening not long before Christmas, when the man had been cutting out, he said to his wife, before going to bed, "What think you if we were to stay up to-night to see who it is that lends us this helping hand?" The woman liked the idea, and lighted a candle, and then they hid themselves in a corner of the room, behind some clothes which were hanging up there, and watched. When it was midnight, two pretty little naked men came, sat down by the shoemaker's table, took all the work which was cut out before them and began to stitch, and sew, and hammer so skilfully and so quickly with their little fingers that the shoemaker could not turn away his eyes for astonishment. They did not stop until all was done, and stood finished on the table; and then they ran quickly away.
Next morning the woman said, "The little men have made us rich, and we really must show that we are grateful for it. They run about so, and have nothing on, and must be cold. I'll tell thee what I'll do: I will make them little shirts, and coats, and vests, and trousers, and knit both of them a pair of stockings, and do thou, too, make them two little pairs of shoes." The man said, "I shall be very glad to do it;" and one night, when everything was ready, they laid their presents all together on the table instead of the cut-out work, and then concealed themselves to see how the little men would behave. At midnight they came bounding in, and wanted to get to work at once, but as they did not find any leather cut out, but only the pretty little articles of clothing, they were at first astonished, and then they showed intense delight. They dressed themselves with the greatest rapidity, putting the pretty clothes on, and singing,
"Now we are boys so fine to see,
Why should we longer cobblers be?"
Then they danced and skipped and leapt over chairs and benches. At last they danced out of doors. From that time forth they came no more, but as long as the shoemaker lived all went well with him, and all his undertakings prospered.

Holiday Traditions We Should Stop Pretending to Enjoy

Cracked runs down some holiday traditions that aren't worth the effort that some folks put into them. I went there hoping to find something I can actually shed from my busy holiday schedule, but I found that I don't pretend to like any of them. In fact, the only one I actually participate in is the Thanksgiving leftovers -and I honestly LOVE having a refrigerator full of prepared foods that at least someone in the family likes and will eat. That means I won't be cooking again for quite some time. And the secret to making a good turkey sandwich is the generous use use of Miracle Whip. Anyway, the other traditions are kind of annoying, like the office Secret Santa gift exchange.
It's an innocent enough idea, but if you deny the fact that it also turns any office into a melting pot of paranoia, resentment, and frustration, you probably invented the concept and aren't willing to acknowledge the hell you've unleashed upon the rest of the world.

The problem is, your workplace is filled with a wide range of personalities, a lot of them of the awful variety. Inevitably, those personalities start to shine through in the gifts people give.
That's just one -the rest of the not-so-fun-traditions are just as odd.

Something Extra

Origins of English: Nightmares

In many cultures, dreams are considered part of the spiritual world. Dreams are a time when human souls can talk directly with all of creation. In many traditional animistic cultures, dreams are a time for learning, a time for understanding the past, present, and future. In many cultures, prophecies come from dreams.
Not all dreams are pleasant: dreams can sometimes be uncomfortable, perhaps even terrifying. In English we often use the word “nightmare” as a designation for these dreams. At first glance, “nightmare” seems to be composed of two words: “night” and “mare.” “Night” seems appropriate, but what about “mare” which usually refers to a female horse?
The etymology of the “mare” in “nightmare” shows that this is not the “mare” that refers to a horse. Instead “mare” in this context comes from the Old English “maere” (also spelled “moere”) which refers to a female spirit who visits sleepers and sits upon their chests causing feelings of anxiety, suffocation, and/or oppression.
The Old English “maere” is a bit different from the Latin “incubus” which comes from the verb “incubare” meaning “to lie upon.” “Maere” is a female spirit while an “incubus” is a male spirit. They both sit upon sleeping people, but the “incubus” seems to be more interested in sexual intercourse, often for the purpose of fathering a child. In Latin, “succubus” is the female counterpart of incubus.
In Old English, the “maeres of the night” brought about disturbing visions and this evolved into our modern “nightmare” referring to dreams which are unpleasant, disturbing, and/or frustrating.
The modern English word “night” comes from the Old English “niht” (West Saxon “neaht” and Anglian “naeht”) which comes from the Proto-Germanic “*nakht” which comes from the Proto-Indo-European “*nekwt.”
Note: the * indicates that the Indo-European or prehistoric word has been reconstructed by historical linguists.

JP Morgan's "Twitter takeover" seeks questions from Twitter, gets flooded with critiques of banksterism #AskJPM

Tomorrow's Q&A is cancelled. Bad Idea. Back to the drawing board.

When JP Morgan's Twitter account announced last month that "VC Jimmy Lee" take questions from the net with the #AskJPM hashtag, they should have been able to predict what was coming next: a stream of hilarious, vicious critiques of late-stage capitalism, banksterism, and financial corruption. One day later, the Q&A was cancelled. The astonishing thing isn't how predictable this was, but how anyone at JP Morgan failed to see it coming -- the greatest irony isn't the questions raised, it was the hubris in thinking that these questions wouldn't be raised at all.
The fiasco is being called one of the worst social media disasters in corporate history, and has spawned lots of creativity, including this video of Stacy Keach and a sock puppet performing the tweets and a Matt Taibbi-sponsored haiku contest.

What's the best way to get blood stains out of a clown suit?

Downtown Josh Brown @ReformedBroker
I have Mortgage Fraud, Market Manipulation, Credit Card Abuse, Libor Rigging and Predatory Lending AM I DIVERSIFIED?

Active duty millitary overcharged, 18 homes stolen from them. Why is JPM still allowed to exist? : http://www.cnn.com/2011/POLITICS/02/10/congress.military.mortgages/ 


The Media Is Forced to Admit That The Obamacare Website is Fixed

Little by little the media is finally realizing what many of us have known for weeks, the ACA website is fixed and people are signing up.
The New York Times is reporting that the ACA website is much improved,
As the Obama administration’s weekend deadline for a smoothly functioning online marketplace for health insurance arrives, more than a month of frantic repair work is paying off with fewer crashes and error messages and speedier loading of pages, according to government officials, groups that help people enroll and experts involved in the project.
Although the administration has postponed a December marketing campaign, fearful that the site would collapse under a surge in traffic, five weeks of repair work have clearly made the exchange better. From last Sunday to Tuesday, nearly 20,000 users managed to enroll in insurance plans, the most for a three-day period, according to people familiar with the project. By comparison, fewer than 27,000 users picked an insurance plan on the federal site in the entire month of October.
And pages that once took an average of eight seconds to load now show up in a fraction of a second. The rate at which a user sees an error message has also dropped from about 6 percent to 0.75 percent.
The Washington Post also reported that, “Administration officials have established a capacity goal of 80,000 consumers per hour being able to register and 320,000 people per hour who already have accounts being able to log in, according to federal officials familiar with this aspect of the project who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal details. The team has not yet attained its target of cutting the average load time across the site to no more than half a second, officials said, though it is running faster than before.”
None of these real live news reports will stop the media narrative that there is high drama surrounding the health of the ACA website. Expect the Sunday talk shows to be loaded with breathless Beltway insiders proclaiming that, “The deadline is here, and it’s make or break day for the ACA and Obama’s presidency.”
Not a single one of these reports will be accurate, true, or even close to reality. Republicans will throwing their propaganda out there that the website is doomed, and cable news will be happily lapping it up. MSBNC has been particularly galling with their ability to pretend that the healthcare website will never, ever, EVER work, so the Democratic Party is doomed. You can expect more of this kind of “reporting” from the supposedly liberal network.
As the vastly improved enrollment numbers come in, the media will have no choice but to admit that the ACA is working. Once they admit that people do want access to affordable health insurance, they will never talk about it again.
There is an onslaught of mainstream media hand wringing coming, but the truth is that people are getting and liking their Obamacare. The repugican cabal and our disgraceful mainstream press were both wrong.
The ACA could be the crowning gem of Barack Obama’s presidential legacy.

Absurdity Born of Religion Is On The Cusp of Legally Policing Morality

This is 21st century America and absurdity borne of religion is on the ascendance and on the cusp of legally policing morality.…

Fact vs. Myth

Hey repugicans, STFU on the Filibuster

Nobody tells it like the Rude Pundit

You reap what you have sown, motherfuckers. And now you get at least a year of eating shit on judges and executive branch appointees. Why? Because you were such unbelievable dickheads for the last three years and the government can't function when a minority of one house of one branch can stall everything. Frankly, this should have been done all the way in January 2009, with no exception for bills and Supreme Court justices, and then we'd have real heath care reform, Gitmo closed, and more.

Just fucking stop with the outrage and the promise that you're gonna do even more evil cuntery if you ever get the majority and the presidency again. C'mon. You know and so does everyone else that, no matter if Reid went nuclear or not, you were gonna change the filibuster the first chance you got. And that's because you're dishonorable scumfuckers who won't stand to let the black man president have his way.

But, no, really, go ahead and pretend that you give a shit about anything. Go ahead and pretend, as your priggish tortoise leader says, that this was about distracting from the fuck-ups of the Affordable Care Act rollout. Please, motherfuckers, please. After filibustering hundreds of bills in Obama's first couple of years, after filibustering nominee after nominee for the last five, you have the stones to act like you're the aggrieved victims here?

...and then he got graphic. 


Voting Against Their Own Interests

The Common Story of the repugican Voter

I want to tell you the story of Susie Q. Wingnut.
Susie’s parents were from the rural South.  They were raised in households that had strong religious beliefs, opposed sex education and preached waiting till marriage before having sex.
Of course, as it is with many young people, Susie’s parents didn’t wait till marriage.  They were young, in love and one night just after graduating high school, one of their sexual encounters resulted in an unplanned pregnancy.
Coming from the background which Susie’s parents came from, abortion was never an option.  Instead, these two young individuals got married and prepared for their upcoming baby.
Susie’s father decided to drop out of college to work more, but still struggled to make enough to pay all of their bills.  Susie’s mother worked for a short time, but after a few months into her pregnancy, health issues became a factor and she was no longer able to work.  This left Susie’s father as the lone bread winner, which made financial situations even tougher for the couple.
Susie’s parents had no choice but to seek out government programs to help them pay for prenatal care, medical expenses and even food. Unable to afford 2 vehicles, and being that Susie’s dad was always traveling to work (on public roads), her mother relied on public transportation to often run errands and get to her doctors appointments.
Then the day arrives when Susie is born.  While still on cloud nine after the birth of their daughter, Susie’s parents quickly realize the financial burden of being new parents to an unplanned baby is overwhelming.  They turn to Medicaid to help pay medical expenses and utilize almost all means of welfare available for low-income new parents.
Luckily for them, having a child provides them with a plethora of tax deductions Susie’s parents can utilize to gain incredible tax breaks for their family.
After a few years, Susie is now ready to start school.  Her mother hasn’t been able work since she was born due to the incredibly high costs of daycare, but she has managed to take a few classes thanks to Pell Grants she received.
Susie attends public school her entire pre-adult life, where she usually rode the bus to school and received free meals for lunch.  Soon after Susie started school her mother worked on finishing an Associates Degree from a local community college and eventually got a job with the city.
Her father continued to work for a blue-collar wage, only a few dollars more per hour than he made when she was born.  He’s an honorable man who should be paid more than he is, yet his lack of an education — due to the fact he’s had to constantly work his whole life because he fathered a child at a young age — prevented him from ever getting an education.
Finally, Susie is off to college.  She first attends the same community college her mother attended, qualifying for Pell Grants due to her family’s extremely low level of income.
After 2 years, she transfers to a state university where she continues to use Pell Grants, as well as federal student loans, to help pay for her educational expenses and her cost of living.
While away at school, Susie uses Interstate Highways to travel back home to visit her parents.
During her senior year of college her dad suffers a tragic accident at which he is left disabled and unable to work, relying only on disability benefits to survive.
Soon after graduation, Susie gets a decent paying job working for the state and becomes involved in politics.
One day, Susie is asked to give a speech which went like this:
“I, Susie Q. Wingnut, stand before you today an independent woman.  A woman who sees the evils of the invasive government.  I see the liberal agenda which seeks to make Americans dependent on the system and replaces hard work with a government handout.  I stand before you today a self-made individual.  Through hard work and dedication I made it to where I am today on my own.  I’ve never once needed a government handout nor asked for a free ride.  Our government spends too much and far too many depend on the system instead of taking personal responsibility for themselves.  It’s time we stand up to government and declare once and for all, “We can do it on our own, we don’t need your help!”
Susie—doesn’t understand a damn thing.

What's wrong with this picture?

Study shows removing DRM increased music sales

Intellectual Property Strategy and the Long Tail: Evidence from the Recorded Music Industry [PDF], a new working paper from University of Toronto Strategic Management PhD candidate Laurina Zhang documents the rise in sales experienced by the music industry following the abandonment of DRM in digital music offerings. The paper compares sales of 5,864 albums from 634 artists from before and after the music industry eliminated DRM, and finds an average rise of 10 percent in overall sales (though back-catalog experienced more of a lift compared to front-list titles). As TorrentFreak reports, "This effect holds up after controlling for factors such as album release dates, music genre and regular sales variations over time."
“Relaxing sharing restrictions does not impact all albums equally; it increases the sales of lower-selling albums (the “long tail”) significantly by 30% but does not benefit top-selling albums. My results are consistent with theory that shows lowering search costs can facilitate the discovery of niche products.”
According to Zhang, the 30% sales increase for lower-selling albums can be explained by the fact that DRM-free music makes it easier for consumers to share files and discover new music. The finding that removing DRM from top-selling albums has no effect on sales makes sense in this regard, since the discovery element is less important for well promoted musicians.
While DRM is still prevalent in the book industry and elsewhere, most of the major labels are now in agreement that it’s not a good fit for music.

The NSA's Porn-Surveillance Program: Not Safe for Democracy

Its targets extend beyond suspected terrorists—and some rhetoric that the First Amendment would protect is singled out.
Let's think through the troubling implications of the latest surveillance-state news. "The National Security Agency has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches," Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim report.NSA apologists would have us believe that only terrorists have cause to be worried. A surveillance-state spokesperson told the Huffington Post, "without discussing specific individuals, it should not be surprising that the US Government uses all of the lawful tools at our disposal to impede the efforts of valid terrorist targets who seek to harm the nation and radicalize others to violence."
As the story notes, however, the targets are not necessarily terrorists. The term the NSA uses for them is "radicalizes," and if you're thinking of fiery orators urging people to strap on dynamite vests, know that the NSA chart accompanying the story includes one target who is a "well known media celebrity," and whose offense is arguing that "the U.S. perpetrated the 9/11 attacks." It makes one wonder if the NSA believes it would be justified in targeting any 9/11 truther. The chart* shows another target whose "writings appear on numerous jihadi websites" (it doesn't specify whether the writings were produced for those websites or merely posted there), and whose offending argument is that "the U.S. brought the 9/11 attacks upon itself." That could be a crude description of what the Reverend Jeremiah Wright or Ron Paul thinks about 9/11.
The article quotes another defender of the program as follows:
Stewart Baker, a one-time general counsel for the NSA and a top Homeland Security official in the Bush administration, said that the idea of using potentially embarrassing information to undermine targets is a sound one. "If people are engaged in trying to recruit folks to kill Americans and we can discredit them, we ought to," said Baker. "On the whole, it's fairer and maybe more humane" than bombing a target, he said, describing the tactic as "dropping the truth on them."
Any system can be abused, Baker allowed, but he said fears of the policy drifting to domestic political opponents don't justify rejecting it. "On that ground you could question almost any tactic we use in a war, and at some point you have to say we're counting on our officials to know the difference," he said.
That is a stunning quote. If the history of the FBI and NSA teach us anything, it is that officials cannot be counted on to know the difference between legitimate surveillance and abuses of power. Constant checks on the judgment of insiders is vital. As well, the characterization of targets as people "engaged in trying to recruit folks to kill Americans" isn't necessarily accurate. The chart appears to set forth targeting criteria that go well beyond people trying to recruit killers of Americans.
"The NSA is using its considerable resources to repeat J Edgar Hoover’s tactics," Marcy Wheeler writes. "But it also shows that it is deploying such efforts against men who may not be the bogeymen NSA’s apologists make them out to be." Here's what I see:
1) The NSA is conducting surveillance on the porn habits of individuals, which means that the NSA is developing expertise in discrediting people with their online behavior. It's that same expertise that led to serious surveillance abuses in the past.
2) The people targeted aren't necessarily terrorists. They aren't necessarily terrorist recruiters either, even though NSA defenders talk as if they're the only targets.
3) It's unclear exactly what makes one a target, which is troubling, especially since the chart in the story includes rhetoric that would be protected by the First Amendment. Do we trust the NSA to decide what makes someone a radicalized? It isn't clear what, if anything, would stop the NSA from targeting someone illegitimately.
4) One target is identified as a "U.S. person," so that clearly isn't off-limits.
5) Apart from the propriety of this program, there is a question of its effectiveness. The NSA is responsible for intercepting intelligence that tips us off to the next Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Is it really an effective use of time and resources to monitor the pornography habits of "radicalizes" in a bid to discredit them by proving them hypocrites? I wonder what the NSA would point to as successful cases, if they revealed such things, and whether the benefits outweighed the costs.
In my estimation, it is folly to empower a secretive, unaccountable national-security bureaucracy to discredit people with their private sexual habits, because that is exactly the sort of program that humans seem unable to run without perpetrating abuses. NSA defenders talk as if past abuses of very similar programs are irrelevant. "I think we can describe them as historical rather than current scandals," Baker said. What he didn't explain is why history won't repeat itself. Human nature hasn't changed. The tendency of secretive national security bureaucracies to expand the sorts of people it targets and violate civil liberties hasn't changed. Jameel Jaffer is right: "The NSA has used its power that way in the past and it would be naïve to think it couldn't use its power that way in the future." The sketchy information we have suggests that the NSA does not have narrowly defined criteria for what makes legitimate targets, and it is unclear how abuses would be flagged.
The need for reform is clear.
*As an aside, I wonder why this chart was shared with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

China claims victory in scrubbing the Internet

FILE - In this Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 file photo, computer users sit near a display with a message from the Chinese police on the proper use of the internet at an internet cafe in Beijing, China. The Chinese government has declared victory in its recent campaign to clean up what it considers rumors, negativity and unruliness from online discourse, while critics say the moves have suppressed criticism of the government and ruling Communist Party. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
The Chinese government has declared victory in its recent campaign to clean up what it considers rumors, negativity and unruliness from online discourse, while critics say the moves have suppressed criticism of the government and ruling Communist Party.
Beijing launched the campaign this summer, arresting dozens of people for spreading rumors, creating new penalties for people who post libelous information and calling in the country's top bloggers for talks urging them to guard the national interest and uphold social order. At the same time, government agencies at all levels have boosted their online presence to control the message in cyberspace.
"If we should describe the online environment in the past as good mingling with the bad, the sky of the cyberspace has cleared up now because we have cracked down on online rumors," Ren Xianliang, vice minister of the State Internet Information Office, said during a rare meeting this week with foreign journalists.
A study by an Internet opinion monitoring service under the party-owned People's Daily newspaper showed the number of posts by a sample of 100 opinion leaders declined by nearly 25 percent and were overtaken by posts from government microblog accounts.
"The positive force on the Internet has preliminarily taken back the microphone, and the positive energy has overwhelmed the negative energy to uphold the online justice," said Zhu Huaxin, the monitoring service's general secretary, according to a transcript posted by state media.
Observers say the crackdown has noticeably curtailed speech by suppressing voices and triggering self-censorship, with the country's more liberal online voices being more ginger in their criticism and posting significantly less.
Even Zhu suggested the campaign might have gone too far. In one example, Web users refrained from reposting information and commenting on the government response to a severe flood in the eastern city of Yuyao in early October. A year ago, they were garrulous in questioning Beijing's drainage system when a rainstorm ravaged the city. "It is a reminder that we must strike a balance between crushing online rumors and ensuring information flow," Zhu said.
Some critics say the moves may backfire by eliminating an effective conduit for the public to let off steam.
"If there's no channel for the public to express themselves, they may take to the street," said historian and political analyst Zhang Lifan, whose online accounts were recently removed without warning — possibly because he had shared historic facts that the party did not find flattering.
"The governments also can take pulse of the public opinion, but if no one speaks up, they will be in darkness," Zhang said. "It is so odd they are covering up their eyes and blocking their ears."
The rise of the Internet in China has always been followed by Beijing's efforts to rein it in, and the latest challenge has been the explosive growth in social media, particularly microblogging, which has allowed users to share firsthand accounts and opinions with great speed. Advocates of free speech have applauded the technology as a strong boost to their cause.
As of June this year, China's microblogging services had more than 330 million users, and WeChat, a mobile phone-based instant messaging service that allows users to share information with circles of friends or subscribers, had more than 300 million users, Ren said.
"The unexpected growth has caught people by surprise," Ren said.
Chen Ziming, a Beijing-based political analyst, said Beijing's apparent success in grabbing control of social media is a big setback for free speech.
"They have always been able to control newspapers, radios and TV stations, but there have been some holes in the Internet, and the microblogging was the last hole," Chen said. "They have achieved their goal. When 10 percent of the accounts are banned, additional 20 to 30 percent of the users will not speak."
Authorities in recent months have been arresting microbloggers on the charge of spreading rumors or disrupting the public order, including a teenager boy who raised some questions over a murder case online. Many intellectuals, writers, and journalists have seen their blogging and microblogging accounts removed altogether. A Chinese-American businessman with a strong online following was arrested for soliciting prostitutes and paraded on state television in a campaign to discredit him.
Chinese propaganda officials have always seen the media — new or old — as a crucial tool to support state rule and are wary of cacophony.
"The ecosystem for public opinion online has noticeably improved, and that has created a good environment conducive to the overall work of the party of the government," Ren said, in touting the benefits of well-managed public discourse.
But the historian Zhang said Beijing has failed to play by rules when it shut down critical but law-abiding microblogging accounts. "They see critics as opponents," Zhang said. "That's a stupid thing to do."
Despite claiming preliminary success in taking control of the Internet, Beijing is likely to roll out more regulations. In a guiding document for the next five or even 10 years, China's senior leaders have mandated that the state must set the perimeters and the tone for online opinion with "positive guidance" and "management" and that the state should "standardize" how online communication unfolds.
Political analysts say they predict the heavy-handed control will continue. "They are still pretty nervous about preserving stability," said Steve Tsang, a political scientist at the University of Nottingham. "Given the political environment, I don't see any relaxation."
But known for their ingenuity to circumvent censorship, members of the Chinese public may again push for more room in speech, said Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
"I think the cat and the mouse game will go on. People might be afraid now, but after a while, the old pattern will resume."

Inside The Zumwalt Destroyer

The U.S. Navy's Zumwalt destroyer, the most technologically advanced warship ever built and the first of its eponymous class, was set to be christened October 19, but then politics intervened. Late last month, the U.S. Navy finally launched the Zumwalt from a shipyard in Maine (though without a baptismal spray of champagne).

The Poor Batman of Rio City

The Argentine photography collective M.A.F.I.A. (Movimiento Argentino de Fotógrafxs Independientes Autoconvocadxs) posted a gallery of Batman in his down-and-out period.
Bruce Wayne Do Santos. Ex-millonario. Ex-propietario de latifúndios subterráneos. Ex-superamigo. Removido, desalojado, desterrado, vagando por Rio City.
Una cruda mezcla de performance, comics y arte callejero.

Bruce Wayne Do Santos. Ex-millionaire. Ex-owner of underground estates. Ex-superfriend. Dismissed, homeless, landless. Wandering the city of Rio. A raw mixture of performance, comics, and street art.
There are many more pictures in the gallery at Facebook.

Random Photos

Elderly man fearing the end of the world kept huge arsenal of weapons and explosives

An elderly man from Barrie, Ontario, Canada who feared the end of the world has pleaded guilty to keeping an arsenal of weapons and explosives hidden in his home and in a backyard bunker. William Feldhoff, 76, was initially faced 84 charges, but they were paired down to 16 offenses involving the possession of dozens of explosive devices, explosive chemicals and restricted weapons at his home in July 2012.
Bombs, booby traps, chemicals used in warfare, rat traps set to detonate explosions, and an arsenal of rifles and guns caused enough alarm that police had to evacuate his entire street for weeks. About 60 neighbors were removed from their homes while local police, firefighters, RCMP officers and bomb experts converged on Feldhoff's quiet east-end home.

They uncovered weapons, chemical explosives, bombs with remote-control detonation devices and booby traps stashed in his home and a backyard bunker. Even walls within his home had to be busted down when bomb experts discovered several weapons were hidden within.
The unusual case came to the attention of police when Feldhoff’s son, Donald Feldhoff, 54, alerted police to his father’s dangerous collection. The Crown is asking for a 10-year sentence, which would could mean that Feldhoff, who is in poor health, would likely spend the rest of his life behind bars. Police have not yet decided if the house will be completely torn down. As Feldhoff was lead away in handcuffs, he waved to his elderly wife, who waved back and blew her husband a kiss. A sentencing hearing will be held Dec. 13.

Mexican drug cartels now make money exporting ore

Mexican drug cartels looking to diversify their businesses long ago moved into oil theft, pirated goods, extortion and kidnapping, consuming an ever larger swath of the country's economy. This month, federal officials confirmed the cartels have even entered the country's lucrative mining industry, exporting iron ore to Chinese mills.
Such large-scale illegal mining operations were long thought to be wild rumor, but federal officials confirmed they had known about the cartels' involvement in mining since 2010, and that the Nov. 4 military takeover of Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico's second-largest port, was aimed at cutting off the cartels' export trade.
That news served as a wake-up call to Mexicans that drug traffickers have penetrated the country's economy at unheard-of levels, becoming true Mafia-style organizations, ready to defend their mines at gun point.
Three Michoacan state detectives were wounded in an ambush earlier this week when they were traveling to investigate a mine taken over by criminals. When reinforcements arrived, those officers were also ambushed, part of a string of attacks on police in Michoacan on Wednesday and Thursday that left two officers dead and about a dozen wounded.
The Knights Templar cartel and its predecessor, the La Familia drug gang, have been stealing or extorting shipments of iron ore, or illegally extracting the mineral themselves and selling it through Pacific coast ports, said Michoacan residents, mining companies and current and former federal officials. The cartel had already imposed demands for "protection payments" on many in the state, including shopkeepers, ranchers and farmers.
But so deeply entrenched was the cartel connection to mines, mills, ports, export firms and land holders that it took authorities three years to confront the phenomenon head-on. Federal officials said they are looking to crack down on other ports where drug gangs are operating.
"This is the terrible thing about this process of (the cartel's) taking control of and reconfiguring the state," said Guillermo Valdes Castellanos, the former head of the country's top domestic intelligence agency. "They managed to impose a Mafia-style control of organized crime, and the different social groups like port authorities, transnational companies and local landowners, had to get in line."
Valdez Castellanos said that even back in 2010, the La Familia cartel would take ore from areas that were under concession to private mining companies, sometimes with the aid or complicity of local farmers and land owners, then sell the ore to processors, distributors and even, apparently, foreign firms.
Mexico's Economy Department said the problem was so severe that it prompted the government to quietly toughen rules on exporters in 2011 and 2012 and make them prove they received their ore from established, recognized sources.
Many exporters couldn't. In 2012, the department denied export applications from 13 companies, because they didn't meet the new rules. And the problem wasn't just limited to Michoacan, or the Knights Templar cartel.
"Since 2010, evidence surfaced of irregular mining of iron in the states of Jalisco, Michoacan and Colima," the department said in a statement to The Associated Press.
"That illegal activity was encouraged by the great demand for iron by countries such as China, to develop their industries," according to the department. "Many trading companies began to build up big stockpiles of legally and illegally obtained iron (ore), that was later shipped out for export."
A Mexican federal official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said the cartels would use a combination of threats and outright theft to get the ore from mines. He said the nexus between the cartels and export companies was key.
"They extort the merchandise from mining companies and then export it through legal companies, or they rob trucks full (of ore) that later turn up in a legal manner," the official said.
Ofelia Alcala, a resident of the Michoacan mining village of Aquila, said that since 2012, the Knights Templar cartel has demanded residents hand over part of the royalty payments from a local iron ore mine operated by Ternium, a Luxembourg-based consortium. Alcala, a member of a self-defense group that rose up in arms in Aquila this summer to kick the cartel out, said the cartel also had been hiring people to extract the ore without permits, and then exporting it through another Pacific coast port, Manzanillo.
"They weren't content with getting our money and robbing our trucks, so they began secretly extracting our minerals," said Alcala.
Ternium said in a statement that it has received reports of irregular mining near its operations in Aquila.
"Those have been passed on to the appropriate authorities," the company said in a statement.
Government figures show the amount of iron ore being exported to China quadrupled between 2008 and the first half of 2013, rising to 4.6 million tons per year, precisely during the period the La Familia cartel and later the Knights Templar cemented their control over Michoacan.
In 2008, Lazaro Cardenas handled only 1.5 percent of Mexico's iron ore exports to China; by mid-2013, the seaport was shipping out nearly half.
In 2010, the attorney general's office estimated the cartels shipped 1.1 million tons of illegally extracted iron ore abroad that year.
Officials said the export scheme may have involved other sea ports, and that more military takeovers may be necessary.
The cartel mining issue also resurfaced last year in the coal-mining state of Coahuila bordering Texas. The former governor, Humberto Moreira, called a press conference to claim that Heriberto Lazcano, leader of the Zetas cartel, was running illegal coal mining ventures and partnering with legitimate ones. So far, none of the accusations have been proven.
The only known arrests related to cartel mining operations occurred in Michoacan in 2010, when Ignacio Lopez Medina, an alleged member of La Familia, was accused of selling ore illegally to China, the federal Attorney General's Office said at the time.
But the arrest apparently came to little; the Attorney General's Office could not say whether Lopez Medina had been tried or convicted of that crime, nor could The Associated Press determine if he is represented by a lawyer or is still in custody.
The Chinese Chamber of Commerce did not immediately respond to requests for information on companies that have been involved in buying ore from cartels, knowingly or otherwise.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry declined to comment on whether China had any measures in place to ensure the legal provenance of such imports.
The iron ore, meanwhile, has both swelled the cartels' bankrolls, giving them more money to buy guns and bribe officials, and fed the hunger of Asian steel mills.
And it may be a two-way trade: Precursor chemicals the cartel uses to make methamphetamines often arrive from China at both the Lazaro Cardenas and Manzanillo ports.

Cage fighter who faked his own death to escape drug debt caught out after robbing a gun store

Charles Rowan's family and friends thought he had died in a car crash before he was arrested for the armed raid

Jailed: Charlie Rowan and Rosa Martinez
Jailed: Charlie Rowan and Rosa Martinez
An American cage fighter who faked his own death to escape a debt to his drug dealer has been jailed for a maximum of 40 years - after pleading guilty to an armed robbery when he was supposed to be dead.
Charles Rowan, 26, admitted robbing a gun store in Michigan while family and friends believed he had died in a car crash.
The New York Times reports that they had believed his girlfriend, Rosa Martinez, when she told them he had been killed, and even organised charity fights in his memory.
But his fake death was an elaborate hoax as Rowan tried to free himself of an $80,000 drug debt.
During the raid on the gun store - which Rowan carried out with Martinez and a friend - Rowan hit the shop's 75-year-old owner with a hammer, before making off with eight handguns.
They were arrested two days later, and he has been told he must serve between 17-and-a-half and 40 years in prison.
Martinez was also jailed, for between 70 months and 30 years.

Man escaped from prison to seek dental treatment

A man escaped from a Swedish prison simply to visit the dentist, and was then slapped with an extended sentence when he returned to the jail.

"My whole face was swollen. I just couldn't stand it any more," said the 51-year-old who was a prisoner at the minimum security Östragård facility in the municipality of Väners­borg, in south-western Sweden.
The prisoner, who was serving a one-month sentence, had asked for medical care for the pain in his tooth but to no avail, so he decided to take matters into his own hands.

After leaving the grounds, he tracked down the nearest dentist, had his inflamed tooth removed, then reported himself to police who then drove him back to Östragård. Upon arrival, guards gave him a warning and extended his sentence by a day.

Doctor removed tenacious dandelion growing in girl's ear

A dandelion seed that had sprouted and had been growing in the ear of a 16-month-old Chinese girl was removed on Monday by a doctor who said the roots had embedded themselves in the toddler's ear canal.

The parents of the girl, who live in the Tongzhou District in Beijing, went to see an ear, nose and throat specialist at the Capital Institute of Pediatrics.
The parents said something like a seed fell into the left ear of their daughter about four months ago, but they didn’t pay too much attention to it until recently, when the girl started scratching the ear.

It took Gu Qinglong, director of the department, about 10 minutes to remove the plant with the help of several assistants. The dandelion seed was tenacious and not easy to remove, the doctor said. Gu reminded parents that they need to pay attention to all parts of a child's body to spot problems before they become serious.



Chinese archaeologists uncover 4,000-year-old fortifications

Archaeologists said fortifications of the largest neolithic Chinese city ever discovered were excavated on Wednesday and Thursday in northwest China's Shaanxi Province.
Chinese archaeologists uncover 4,000-year-old fortifications
A bird's eye view of the Shimao site in Shaanxi Province [Credit: Xinhua]
The ruins of two square beacon towers, once part of the city wall of the 4,000-year-old Shimao Ruins in Shenmu County, have been uncovered, according to Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology.

One of the towers is 18 meters long, 16 meters wide and four meters tall, while the other is 11.7 meters long, about 10 meters wide and three meters tall, said Su Zhouyong, deputy head of the institute.

Sun said the discovery is a breakthrough and contributes greatly to archaeological research on ancient Chinese fortifications.

The Shimao Ruins were first found in 1976 in the form of a small town, and archaeological authorities only identified the ruins as part of a much larger city -- the largest of its kind from neolithic time -- last year after measuring the exact size of the ancient stone city.

The city was found to have a central area, and inner and outer structures. The walls surrounding the outer city extended over an area of 4.25 square kilometers.

Archaeologists said it was built about 4,300 years ago and was abandoned roughly 300 years later during the Xia Dynasty, the first dynasty in China to be described in ancient historical chronicles.

Lakes discovered beneath Greenland ice sheet

The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, discovered two sub-glacial lakes 800 meters below the Greenland Ice Sheet. The two lakes are each roughly 8-10 km2, and at one point may have been up to three times larger than their current size.
Lakes discovered beneath Greenland ice sheet
Isfjord, Ilulissat, Diskobay, West Greenland Credit: Michael Haferkamp/WikiCommons]
Sub-glacial lakes are likely to influence the flow of the ice sheet, impacting global sea level change. The discovery of the lakes in Greenland will also help researchers to understand how the ice will respond to changing environmental conditions.

The study, conducted at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) at the University of Cambridge, used airborne radar measurements to reveal the lakes underneath the ice sheet.

Lead author Dr Steven Palmer, formerly of SPRI and now at the University of Exeter, stated: "Our results show that sub-glacial lakes exist in Greenland, and that they form an important part of the ice sheet's plumbing system. Because the way in which water moves beneath ice sheets strongly affects ice flow speeds, improved understanding of these lakes will allow us to predict more accurately how the ice sheet will respond to anticipated future warming."

The lakes are unusual compared with those detected beneath Antarctic ice sheets, suggesting that they formed in a different manner. The researchers propose that, unlike in Antarctica where surface temperatures remain below freezing all year round, the newly discovered lakes are most likely fed by melting surface water draining through cracks in the ice. A surface lake situated nearby may also replenish the sub-glacial lakes during warm summers.

This means that the lakes are part of an open system and are connected to the surface, which is different from Antarctic lakes that are most often isolated ecosystems.

While nearly 400 lakes have been detected beneath the Antarctic ice sheets, these are the first to be identified in Greenland. The apparent absence of lakes in Greenland had previously been explained by the fact that steeper ice surface in Greenland leads to any water below the ice being 'squeezed out' to the margin.

The ice in Greenland is also thinner than that in Antarctica, resulting in colder temperatures at the base of the ice sheet. This means that any lakes that may have previously existed would have frozen relatively quickly. The thicker Antarctic ice can act like an insulating blanket, preventing the freezing of water trapped underneath the surface.

As many surface melt-water lakes form each summer around the Greenland ice sheet, the possibility exists that similar sub-glacial lakes may be found elsewhere in Greenland. The way in which water flows beneath the ice sheet strongly influences the speed of ice flow, so the existence of other lakes will have implications for the future of the ice sheet.

Daily Comic Relief



Physicists have come up with a new way to gaze longingly at some of the weirdest matter on Earth — the super-cold, super-calm gas called a Bose-Einstein condensate. While scientists have been able to steal quick glimpses of the unusual gas, until now, simply snapping a picture of a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) often destroyed it by adding extra energy from light.
"The absorption of a single photon (the smallest packet of light) is enough to break one," lead study author Michael Hush, a physicist at the University of Nottingham said.
By creating a new computer model, detailed on Nov. 28 in the New Journal of Physics, the researchers have figured out a way to re-route this heat and keep BECs chilled even during long imaging sessions.
In principle, Hush said, the proposal "could allow a BEC to be imaged indefinitely, during which we will be able to directly look at the BEC and even control it using feedback."
"Being able to play around with a quantum object close to absolute zero right then and there is really exciting," he added.
Bose-Einstein condensates are atoms or other particles, such as photons, chilled to nearly absolute zero. The atoms are so languid they behave strangely, as a single, bloblike mass. The slow-moving nature of the particles means scientists can easily track and study atomic processes, such as atomic spins, by studying Bose-Einstein condensates. (They are named after Albert Einstein and the Indian theorist Satyendra Nath Bose.)
For more than a decade, physicists have peered at BECs with off-resonant photons, a type of laser imaging that tends scatter its energy off the super-chilled atoms instead of adding heat. But even this method will work for only a few tries, eventually destroying the condensate after a handful of images, Hush said.
To improve the imaging technique, Hush and his colleagues built a sophisticated computer model that simulates both off-resonant light and the weird behavior of Bose-Einstein condensates. The model revealed a never-before-seen heating effect caused by off-resonant imaging.
"The particular discovery presented in this paper was actually first thought to be a bug in our code," Hush said. "We thought this because simpler descriptions of BECs did not predict this heating."
Via their model, the researchers have devised a filter that removes the heating effect and feeds the extra energy back into the magnetic coils used to trap and chill the condensate, which will help keep the atoms cooled for longer periods. Now, when inquisitive viewers want to watch the atoms sit around, such picture-snapping would send more energy into the chill-inducing coils, actually making the condensate even colder.
The next step is trying out the filter in a real-world experiment.
"Once we had isolated what was causing the heating it was easy to come up with the feedback to correct it," Hush said. "Results like this are very promising, and make me hopeful that an experimental demonstration of feedback with a BEC may be possible in the near future."

Cryptic new species of wild cat identified in Brazil

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on November 27 have identified a cryptic new species of wild cat living in Brazil. The discovery is a reminder of just how little scientists still know about the natural world, even when it comes to such charismatic creatures. The findings also have important conservation implications for the cats, the researchers say.
Cryptic new species of wild cat identified in Brazil
The tigrina is actually two separate species, say researchers [Credit: Tadeu Oliveira]
Scientists had thought that there was a single species of house-cat-sized Brazilian tigrina. However, the molecular data now show that tigrina populations in northeastern versus southern Brazil are completely separate, with no evidence of interbreeding between them. As such, they are best described as two distinct species.

"Our study highlights the need for urgent attention focused on the Brazilian northeastern tigrinas, which are virtually unknown with respect to most aspects of their biology," says Eduardo Eizirik of Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, noting that much more is known about the cats living in the southern part of the country.

The new study by Eizirik, Tatiane Trigo of Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, and their colleagues further revealed a complicated set of relationships between the tigrinas and two other species of Neotropical cats. That evolutionary history includes ancient hybridization and movement of genes between the pampas cat and the northeastern tigrinas (Leopardus tigrinus). In contrast, southern tigrinas (newly recognized as Leopardus guttulus) continue to hybridize with Geoffroy's cats, leading to extreme levels of interbreeding between the species along their contact zone. Those patterns add to evidence that hybridization can and does occur between distinct animal species.

As for the two tigrina species, the researchers suggest that they may be suited to different habitats, with the northeastern cats living primarily in savannahs, as well as dry shrub lands and forests, and the southern species living in denser and wetter Atlantic forests.

"Such distinct habitat associations provide a hint to potentially adaptive differences between these newly recognized species and may have been involved in their initial evolutionary divergence," Trigo says. Moreover, Eizirik adds, "all four species are threatened, and we need to understand as much as possible regarding their genetics, ecology, and evolution to be able to design adequate conservation strategies on their behalf."

Animal Pictures