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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Daily Drift

Twenty-one Days To Go ....

Carolina Naturally is read in 194 countries around the world daily.
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Today in History

771 With the death of his brother Carloman, Charlemagne becomes sole ruler of the Frankish Empire.
1861 The U.S. Senate, voting 36 to 0, expels Senator John C. Brekinridge of Kentucky because of his joining the Confederate Army.
1861 Queen Victoria of Britain forbids the export of gunpowder, firearms and all materials for their production.
1862 Winchester, Va., falls into Union hands, resulting in the capture of 145 Southern soldiers.
1863 Seven solid days of bombardment ends at Charleston, S.C. The Union fires some 1,307 rounds.
1872 The U.S. brigantine Marie Celeste is found adrift and deserted with its cargo intact, in the Atlantic Ocean between the Azores and Portugal.
1900 The French National Assembly, successor to the States-General, rejects Nationalist General Mercier's proposal to plan an invasion of England.
1914 The first Seaplane Unit formed by the German Navy officially comes into existence and begins operations from Zeebrugge, Belgium.
1918 France cancels trade treaties in order to compete in the postwar economic battles.
1941 Operation Taifun (Typhoon), which was launched by the German armies on October 2, 1941, as a prelude to taking Moscow, is halted because of freezing temperatures and lack of serviceable aircraft.
1942 U.S. planes make the first raids on Naples, Italy.
1947 Tennessee William's play A Streetcar Named Desire premieres on Broadway starring Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy.
1950 The University of Tennessee defies court rulings by rejecting five Negro applicants.
1952 The Grumman XS2F-1 makes its first flight.
1959 Peking pardons Pu Yi, ex-emperor of China and of the Japanese puppet-state of Manchukuo.
1981 President Ronald Reagan broadens the power of the CIA by allowing spying in the United States.
1985 Robert McFarland resigns as National Security Advisor. Admiral John Poindexter is named to succeed.
1991 The last American hostages held in Lebanon are released.

Non Sequitur


Xmas Countdown Xmas Stories

The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker Ballet
The Nutcracker Ballet
Act I
It’s a cozy Christmas Eve at the Stahlbaum’s house. Their house is decorated with Christmas ornaments, wreaths, stockings, mistletoe and in the center of it all, a majestic Christmas tree. As the Stahlbaum’s prepare for their annual Christmas party, their children, Fritz and Clara, wait anxiously for their family and friends to arrive. When the guests finally appear, the party picks up with dancing and celebration. A mysterious guest arrives dressed in dark clothing, nearly frightening Fritz, but not Clara. Clara knows he is Godfather Drosselmeyer, the toymaker. His surprise arrival is warmly accepted and all the children dance and carry on with laughter. The celebration is interrupted again when Drosselmeyer reveals to the children that he has brought them gifts. The girls receive beautiful china dolls and the boys receive bugles. Fritz is given a beautiful drum, but Clara is given the best gift of all, the Nutcracker. Fritz grows jealous, snatches the Nutcracker from Clara and plays a game of toss with the other boys. It isn't long until the Nutcracker breaks. Clara is upset, but Drosselmeyer fixes it with a handkerchief. Drosselmeyer’s nephew offers Clara a small make-shift bed under the Christmas tree for her injured Nutcracker.
The party grows late and the children become sleepy. Everyone generously thanks the Stahlbaum’s before they leave. As Clara’s family retires to bed, she checks on her Nutcracker one last time and ends up falling asleep under the Christmas tree with the Nutcracker in her arms.
At the stroke of midnight Clara wakes up to a frightening scene. The house, the tree and the toys seem to be getting larger. Is she shrinking? Out of nowhere large mice dressed in army uniforms, lead by the Mouse King, begin to circle the room while the toys and Christmas tree come to life. Clara’s Nutcracker groups the soldier toys into battle formation and fights the mouse army. The Mouse King traps the Nutcracker in the corner, but the Nutcracker can’t overcome the Mouse King’s strength. Clara makes a desperate move to save her Nutcracker from defeat and throws her slipper at the Mouse King. She hits him directly in the head! The Nutcracker is able to overcome the stunned Mouse King and claims victory. The mice army quickly carries away their King.
Clara falls onto the Nutcracker’s bed, over-whelmed by the moment. As angels and delightful music hover over their heads, the bed turns into a magical sleigh, floating higher and higher. The Nutcracker is transformed into a human prince (who looks strikingly similar to Drosselmeyer’s nephew). He gets on Clara’s sleigh and drives through a snowy forest where the snowflakes turn into dancing maidens.
Act II
After their magical journey through the snow forest, they come to their destination in the Land of Sweets. Clara can’t believe her eyes; ladyfinger mountains topped with whipped cream whiter than snow, sweetly glazed flowers and butter-cream frosting everywhere she looks. Upon their arrival, they are greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy. As they reenact the night’s events, the Sugar Plum Fairy becomes impressed with Clara’s bravery and the Nutcracker’s heroism. In their honor, the Sugar Plum Fairy takes them inside the Candy Castle and throws a lavish festival. They are treated like royalty and presented with every imaginable sweet. Shortly thereafter, the dancing begins.
Hot coco dances to the lively music of trumpets and castanets of the Spanish fandango. The women of coffee dance in veils and move their bodies like rising steam to an Arabian song, while Mandarin tea dances to an exotic Asian flute chorus. Matroishkas (Russian dolls) follow the Mandarin tea leaping and dancing to an invigorating Russian Trepak.
To Clara’s enjoyment there is still more to be seen. A giant gingerbread house, known as Mother Ginger, dances onto the Sugar Plum Fairy’s court. She opens her skirt and eight little gingerbread children come dancing out circling around her. After the Mirliton dance is over, the children quickly file back into the large gingerbread house and Mother Ginger leaves the room. Soon after Mother Ginger exits, the dancing flowers enter to the tune of the harp. Perhaps the most beautiful waltz she has ever heard, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince watch with amazement. The flowers dance in beautiful mesmerizing patterns as a single Dewdrop floats above them.
Silence quickly follows the end of their dance. Clara doesn’t know what to expect next. A handsome Cavalier enters the scene and escorts the Sugar Plum Fairy to the center of the room. They dance to the most recognizable song in the entire work. The captivating pair dance lighter than air. This beautiful dance completes Clara’s most perfect evening. The festival concludes when everyone comes together on the court and bids Clara and the Nutcracker Prince farewell. She tells the Nutcracker she wishes the adventure would never end and he tells her it won’t for those who have an eye to see it.
Clara wakes up the next morning under the Christmas tree with her Nutcracker still in her arms.

What Is The World Running Out Of?

Would you believe it is chocolate? Or sardines? And yes, even bacon. While the unsustainable pressure we're putting on our natural resources prompts visions of oil, fresh water, and coal, you'd be surprised at how many of our creature comfort commodities are dwindling just as quickly.

While the following may not be quite as crucial as, say, potable water, they're still an integral part of our day to day lives. So let's take a moment to appreciate some of these seven mainstays of the modern world that you'd better enjoy while you still can.

Ranodom Celebrity Photos

The tea party Will Likely Try To Manipulate Voting Machines in 2014 and 2016

Extremists in state legislatures have passed anti-voter bills. Voting machines are next on their agenda to guarantee wins in 2014 & 2016. …
Dear readers: You do understand that the teapugicans will do anything to capture the presidency, Congress and every state legislature and governorship in the country in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, don’t you? Good; now let us proceed.
Defining the most important term so there are no misunderstandings; “anything” means ANYTHING!!!
All issues, personalities, controlled media and giant corporate and billionaire money notwithstanding, there is one element that is imperative to winning public office. Without it, no matter how commanding the other considerations may be, a political party cannot win a single office. That’s why it’s vital that beginning now, we track the process that decides whether America is going to continue it’s divisive path to mediocrity or if the Democrats are going to get a chance to right the Ship of the Republic that the repugican wingnuts are threatening to sink.
That critical element is the vote. And in every corner of this fine nation, especially red state corners, there is a history of voting hardware irregularities, “mistakes”, oversights and other warning signs that cannot be ignored. There’s also a legislative development in states that I find hopeful in some locales and highly bothersome in others.
The Brennan Center for Justice profiles state efforts to either expand or restrict voter access to the polls. At this point it appears to be a statistical tie. I’m concerned that just enough states will opt for restrictions, no matter what the ethical and moral costs, to guarantee outcomes that maintain or gain political tea party power in the states and Washington DC. The highly partisan Supreme Court is doing it’s part with their last voting rights decision.
Let’s start at the beginning. Magicians have a cunning gimmick that has been an endemic part of their craft since the beginning of magic. They call it misdirection. While pointing out the big yellow hat worn by the lady in the front row, they snatch your wallet as your attention wanders to the hat.
That’s what the wingnut are doing with voter repression. While progressive attention is rightly focused on draconian anti-voter laws, excused by wingnuts as legislative reactions to so-called “voter fraud” that borders on non-existent, the real fraud may just be at the polling place in the form of the computerized hardware and software used to cast legitimate votes. It doesn’t take much to turn a close election. A manipulated memory card or some localized hacking can easily do the trick.
What is really disturbing to people of integrity is the cozy relationships among the ownership of voting hardware and software used in most elections. The owners mostly support repugican candidates. Follow the bouncing political ball for some prime examples. Let’s begin at the beginning; with current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, a repugican, who was a corporate and oil-owned, homophobic, anti-environment, budget-hawk while serving two Senate terms from Nebraska. Hagel also had a sketchy background as a substantial investor in a voting hardware and software company. He served as Chairman of American Information Systems leading to strong business and personal friendships with a major player in the voting machine business who skews strongly repugican.
It took some outstanding investigative work in 2002 by Bev Harris (blackboxvoting.org) to expose Hagel’s role in a company called Election Systems & Software (ES&S), previously known as American Information Systems. According to a 2009 report in Huffpost Politics, Hagel’s public documents revealed a stake in ES&S to the tune of $1 to 5 million. ES & S machines were the only voting system used during Hagel’s candidacies for two Senate terms.
Hagel’s 2002 opponent, Charlie Matulka, raised a stink, insisting that Hagel was guilty of a conflict of interest given his ties to ES&S. Website “Scoop” later reported that state election officials showed no inclination to listen to Matulka’s concerns and did nothing. On the basis of machine malfunctions, Matulka requested a hand count. Again, no dice insofar as Nebraska had a law, hot off the presses, prohibiting poll workers from looking at paper ballots. Only ES&S could count votes. And you thought Cornhuskers were hicks!
You might be interested (or terrified) to learn that ES&S was once owned by the Ahmanson family, the christian reconstructionists who would like to see the bible used as the basis for all federal law. In any event, the Ahmansons sold ES&S to the McCarthy group headed by Michael McCarthy for whom Hagel once served as president of an investment firm McCarthy owed. McCarthy, in turn was Hagel’s campaign finance manager. He’s always been a big repugican. See how that ball bounces.
ES&S subsequently merged with Diebold a few years ago and controls well over half of all U.S. voting machines and according to Huffpost, three-quarters of all vote-counting, ballot tallying and tabulation of vote mechanisms. And ‘fox in the henhouse’ Hagel cavorts in the deepest recesses of Government. In addition to ES&S, the McCarthy Group features several subsidiaries, including AutoMark software, that add to the right-leaning mix.
Indiana is one of the states really diddling around with the voting process. It is establishing voting centers and relying heavily on the ES&S iVotronic machine for their DRE (Direct-recording Electronic) Touch screen machines for casting a ballot. The state has selected ES&S subsidiary, AutoMark software, to handle assorted services demanded of a major election. Some ES&S states have the optional paper-trial printer, South Carolina, Texas and Pennsylvania are included in those that do not.
Can the theft of the 2014 and 2016 elections actually happen? Progressive Website ‘firedoglake’ certainly thinks so given this 2012 expose’ of the 2004 shurb/Kerry presidential race. According to the site, victory was snatched from Kerry in an action masterminded by Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.
Fortunately the site’s fears about Romney were unfounded in 2012, but with ’04 we’ve been forewarned. Hart Intercivic provides voting machines and tallies a massive number of the state and local votes cast election night. We can look forward to wild west 2014 and 2016 elections. For the record, votes go directly into computer memory. This could be done via diskette, a memory cartridge or even a smart card. The last time I checked ES&S memory was programmed in Omaha. Click here for more really scary stuff.
Try to station computer-savvy progressives at every stage of the process. Observers or poll watchers are allowed in most polling places. Election boards also include Democratic members. At the very least get your election guy or gal to check out the source code. You’ll have to catch the sleazoids red-handed because an embarrassing percentage of the voting machine innards are black-boxed and ‘proprietary’ and they won’t let you get at them.
This is my civic version of an “Early Warning System.”

The Truth Be Told

The repugicans Are Still Blaming Obama for Iraq and Afghanistan

But it was not Obama who invaded Iraq on a fabricated pretext and with an army designed to fight not an insurgency but World War III.…
The repugicans have an unusual sense of history and again and again misdeeds and errors of the shrub junta have been attached to the Obama administration. It was bad enough they publicly planned and then shut down the federal government and blamed Obama.
Ill a deed as that was, remember how “A Third Of Louisiana repugicans Blame Obama For Hurricane Katrina Response Under the shrub“? Remember when Afghanistan was called “Obama’s War”? But most disconcertingly of all, President Bill Clinton was blamed for the 9/11 attacks and how repugicans have consistently denied that any terrorist attacks took place on U.S. soil while the shrub was the pretender (Faux News’ Eric Bolling here; New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani here; shrub press secretary Dana Perino here).
Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely (ret.), who has already called for Barack Obama’s forced removal from office, is now blaming the president for the shrub’s failed strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Wing Nut Daily relates, the fault is with Obama’s counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN):
Essentially, Obama’s counterinsurgency, or COIN, doctrine is a form of warfare that makes soldiers trained to fight tank battles shift to a combat style that emphasizes politics, cultural awareness and protecting the local population from insurgent attacks, Vallely said.
The result looks like failure, he said.
“Today Iraq, which is still wracked by violence and heavily influenced by Iran, has provided no victory for America, and Americans do expect victory when the U.S. expends great losses of life and thousands of wounded and dead troops,” Vallely said.
Vallely faults Obama but in fact, as Peter L. Bergen argued in his book The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda (2011), the United States pursued a misguided obsession with Iraq, conducted incompetently, which undermined its efforts to defeat bin Ladin and al-Qaeda. Making the innocent country of Iraq his main target (where al Qaeda was not), the shrub made a half-hearted attempt at Afghanistan (where al Qaeda actually was). That was still enough to topple the Taliban regime that was giving shelter to bin Laden and AQ but it was not enough to destroy either AQ or its mastermind.
“Many mid-level officers and non-commissioned officers voiced many and varied new doubts about the Army’s battlefield performances and senior leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan,” WND reports Vallely saying, “regarding the feedback he’s heard.”
Yet it was not Obama, but General David Petraeus who “authored the U.S. Army counterinsurgency manual” and who “tough[ened] Afghan rules of engagement.” Why did he write this manual? Because the U.S. Army entered Iraq and Afghanistan without even the idea of a counterinsurgency manual. When the shrub began his wars, no thought at all had been given to counterinsurgency or to tactics or doctrine to deal with what is called asymmetrical warfare.
As we wrote in 2011,
The shrub made the critical error of fighting an ideological war. His ideological neowingnut aims blinded him to the pragmatic considerations essential to the rapid and successful conclusion of the conflict. One need only read Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City (2006) to see just how out of touch with reality the neowingnuts crusaders were.
It was this manual that governed the rules of engagement under Petraeus’ predecessor in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal was Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) from June 15, 2009, to June 23, 2010. Petraeus was nominated by President Obama to succeed McChrystal on June 23, 2010 and confirmed by the Senate on June 30. He served in this role until July 18, 2011.
President Obama extricated America from Iraq and is in the process of doing the same with Afghanistan. These are wars Americans are overwhelmingly eager to put behind them. And they are unmistakably Bush’s wars.
Significantly, it was not Obama who invaded Iraq on a fabricated pretext and with an army designed to fight not an insurgency but World War III. Significantly, it was not Obama who lacked either a plan for administering the country once Saddam Hussein was removed from power, nor a long-term exit strategy. Those failing were those of the shrub, Dick Cheney, and  Donald Rumsfeld. These men were more concerned about enriching themselves and their friends than about managing a war or its aftermath.
Vallely complains that “In Afghanistan…a surge of more than 30,000 U.S. troops has produced a stalemate that leaves soldiers counting down to withdrawal at the end of 2014.” This is opposed, I suppose, to the defeat the U.S. was facing before the surge.
It is apparently Obama’s fault that the U.S. was not able to leave behind in Afghanistan a stable democracy. But The Washington Post reported in 2008 that,
[C]onversations with several Obama advisers and a number of senior military strategists both before and since last Tuesday’s election reveal a shared sense that the Afghan effort under the shrub junta has been hampered by ideological and diplomatic constraints and an unrealistic commitment to the goal of building a modern democracy — rather than a stable nation that rejects al-Qaeda and Islamist extremism and does not threaten U.S. interests.
If we look at actual facts rather than invented memories, it turns out that the shrub actually succeeded in Afghanistan, at least initially. However, again he lacked for plans and ideas about what to do when he had overthrown the Taliban, and he let that victory, too, slip away from him – along with Osama bin Laden. Despite the experience of insurgency in Vietnam, the United States bungled the insurgency in Afghanistan – and that long before Barack Obama was elected president.
Had there been some strategic thinking or effective tactics on display from 2001 to 2008, President Obama would have inherited the shrub’s bungled “war on terror” and two actual economy-shattering and unfunded wars.
The repugicans had no plans, apparently, beyond a vision of endless war in both countries, with a permanent U.S. military presence (remember John McCain in 2005? “Not only because of our appreciation of Afghanistan, but also we believe there will be vital national security interests in this region for a long time”).
It is difficult to conceive in any way Obama prosecution of either war might have fallen short of repugican “accomplishments.” Again, in point of fact, it was President Barack Obama who eliminated Osama bin Laden, a man, for whatever obscure reasons, the shrub seemed reluctant to apprehend or to kill despite the pomp and belligerence of 2001. The shrub gave us “”Mission Accomplished” in 2003: “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” he told the crowd. “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” This was despite the fact that the mission was just beginning.
It was Obama who ended this mission in December 2011. It was Obama who oversaw the killing of Osama bin Laden in May of that year. And it is Obama who will end the long nightmare in Afghanistan in 2014.
The repugicans mistake defeat for victory, ignore the shrub’s existence when they can, and blame those failures they cannot ignore on Obama. But the American public must not let itself be confused by invented memories. Americans must not let themselves be deceived. They must remember history accurately, and vote accordingly in 2014 and 2016.

Cold War in the Pacific

China Escalates Tensions with Neighbors

by Hans Hoyng, Wieland Wagner and Bernhard Zand Cold War in the Pacific: China Escalates Tensions with Neighbors
Beijing's recent establishment of a new air defense zone in the East China Sea is exacerbating long-running disputes with its neighbors Japan and Taiwan -- and threatens to draw the US military into a larger regional conflict. More

Did you know ...

That the number of young people who move hits a 50 year low

The anti-gay headline of the day

About how seniors are getting screwed by social security

That more than 600,000 Americans are homeless on any given night

Here's a Statistic for You

CIA's "Intelligence Art Collection" now on public display

Image Did you know the CIA has a gallery of artworks based on important moments in the history of US intelligence? You can't easily get in to see them, though some of the work is viewable online. And now you can check out reproductions of almost all of the paintings at the Southern Museum of Flight near Birmingham Airport in Alabama. The exhibit is titled "Shadow Gallery, The Art of Intelligence."
From the Associated Press:
One print depicts a B-26 bomber flying over Cuba during the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961, when Alabama National Guard pilots flew for the CIA in a bid to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro. Another print shows World War II spy Virginia Hall tapping out code in occupied France, another a sunken Soviet submarine being lifted off the ocean floor during a secret 1974 operation.
Above, James Dietz's oil painting of an early operation against al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. Below: Keith Woodcock's oil painting of a 1968 operation during which Air America helicopter pilots shot down a North Vietnamese biplane on its way to destroy a US radar base; and Dru Blair's illustration of the A-12 OXCART secret plane's first flight in May 1967. Image
Image 1

Husband shot and killed wife after argument over him wearing her late father's shoes

A dispute over a pair of shoes ended with a Tennessee man fatally shooting his wife after she allegedly threatened him with a kitchen knife, a Maury County official said. Sheriff’s deputies responding to a 911 call found Patricia M. Cothran, 59, still breathing but unresponsive inside the couple’s Culleoka home between 8-9pm on Thursday. She stopped breathing while emergency health workers attempted to render aid, according to a deputy’s report.
The woman’s husband, 70-year-old James L. Cothran, told deputies he shot his wife with a .22 magnum revolver after she retrieved a large knife from the kitchen and threatened him with it, Capt. Jimmy Tennyson said. Investigators questioned James Cothran at the criminal investigation department office, but he was later released based on a self-defence claim, Tennyson said. No charges were filed. James Cothran told investigators the couple had been sitting alone in their living room watching television when his wife asked him to take off the shoes he was wearing.
The shoes had belonged to her father, who died 30 years ago. When he refused to take off the shoes, James Cothran said his wife went into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and began walking toward where he was sitting. “Ms. Cothran told Mr. Cothran that she should just knock his eye balls out and leave him sitting there,” according to the deputy’s report. The couple continued to argue for about 30 minutes and James Cothran said he got between two chairs and that his wife “had a crazy look in her eyes.” He then grabbed the revolver, which had been on the floor next to his chair and fired it at her.

Investigators recovered a knife located on the floor in front of where Mrs. Cothran was found sitting and a revolver located on top of a kitchen cabinet. Tennyson said sheriff’s deputies had been called to the couple’s home at least a dozen times within the past year for domestic disturbance issues, but no arrests or injuries were ever reported. He said evidence collected at the scene and information obtained from James Cothran will be turned over to the Maury County District Attorney’s office for further review. Mrs. Cothran’s body was taken to Nashville for an autopsy.

Historical Pictures


My Grandmother and Grandfather
by Heidi Thomas
The first cowgirls, like my Grandmother Olive May “Tootsie” Bailey in Montana, helped on their family ranches out of necessity. At an early age they learned to ride horses, rope cattle, and stay in the saddle atop an untamed bronc. They competed with the men in those early ranch gatherings and continued to do so at the organized roundup events.
source: http://heidiwriter.files.wordpress.com
The first cowgirls, Olive May “Tootsie” Bailey in Montana, helped on their family ranches out of necessity. At an early age they learned to ride horses, rope cattle, and stay in the saddle atop an untamed bronc. They competed with the men in those early ranch gatherings and continued to do so at the organized roundup events.

Purity Pride

Germany Wants World Heritage Status for Its Beer

by David Crossland
Purity Pride: Germany Wants World Heritage Status for Its Beer
Germany's brewers are so proud of their 500-year-old beer purity law, which states that it must consist only of water, malt, hops and yeast, that they want it inscribed in UNESCO's World Heritage list -- alongside the pyramids, the Taj Mahal and Flamenco dancing. More

A Very Crooked Street

Lombard Street

With eight sharp hairpin turns down steep Russian Hill, Lombard Street in San Francisco has been reputed as the most crooked street in the world. This famous one-way brick road situated between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets was designed out of necessity to reduce the hill's natural 27% incline, which is steeper than most vehicles are capable to climb.

Funnily, the lane is actually reserved for vehicles traveling downhill. It's often known as the most crooked street in the world, however Ripley's Believe it or Not has bequeathed that title to neighboring Snake Alley in Burlington, Iowa.

Messy children make better learners

Attention, parents: The messier your child gets while playing with food in the high chair, the more he or she is learning. Researchers at the University of Iowa studied how 16-month-old children learn words for […]



To boost concern for the environment, emphasize a long future, not impending doom

Looking back on a nation’s past can prompt action that leads to a greener future, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The research, conducted by […]

Hurricane Bust

Thirteen tropical storms formed since early June in the Atlantic but only two, Ingrid and Humberto, reached hurricane strength.

Barcodes for trees: researchers identify genetic fingerprints of endangered conifers

In the tropics and subtropics, many evergreen conifers are endangered. Biologists at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) have collected the world's largest Podocarpaceae collection. Together with colleagues from The New York Botanical Garden, they sequenced characteristic parts of the DNA of these conifers in order to generate a "DNA barcode" for each species. With the help of this genetic fingerprint, unknown individuals can be assigned to the respective Podocarpaceae species, which are often very similar in appearance. Thus, individuals of endangered populations can be identified more easily. The team reports in the journal PLOS ONE.
Barcodes for trees: researchers identify genetic fingerprints of endangered conifers
Retrophyllum minus is native to New Caledonia and has adapted perfectly to living in water.
It is listed as endangered in the Red List [Credit: © RUB/Knopf]
Many Podocarpaceae are difficult or impossible to identify

"The distribution ranges of many Podocarpaceae are very small and often inhabited by only a few scattered individuals -- unlike our native European conifer forests that cover large areas," says Dr Patrick Knopf from the RUB Department of Evolution and Biodiversity of Plants. "There are only about ten individuals left of one species native to Fiji." In order to protect the few rare representatives of the endangered species, it is necessary to identify the species first. "In case of Podocarpaceae, it is difficult or even impossible to identify them only by their appearance," explains the RUB biologist Dr Christian Schulz. "That's why we've launched the DNA barcoding project."

Propagating and exchanging of endangered species

The researchers from Bochum collected 320 individuals from 145 Podocarpaceae species on field trips to South America, South-East Asia, Australia, New Caledonia and Fiji. At the Botanical Garden's Pfizer Plant Research Laboratory, they worked with Garden scientist Dr. Damon Little to generate DNA barcodes for all of the individuals, which they subsequently provided on the online platform "GenBank." In addition, they created a living Podocarpaceae collection in the Botanic Garden of the Ruhr-Universität which promotes the protection of rare and endangered species. The Bochum team propagate the species and pass them on to other botanic gardens worldwide.

Relevance in the timber industry and cancer research

Podocarpaceae constitute the second-largest conifer family. They grow mainly in mountainous regions in the Southern hemisphere. The timber of many of the 198 species is of great economic interest because of its excellent insect and fungus resistance. Certain substances in their leaves, moreover, are playing an increasingly important role in cancer research. The Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN) currently includes 27 Podocarpaceae species. In total, 86 species are endangered.

Controversy over the use of Roman ingots to investigate dark matter and neutrinos

The properties of these lead bricks recovered from ancient shipwrecks are ideal for experiments in particle physics. Scientists from the CDMS dark matter detection project in Minnesota (USA) and from the CUORE neutrino observatory at the Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy have begun to use them, but archaeologists have raised alarm about the destruction and trading of cultural heritage that lies behind this.
Controversy over the use of Roman ingots to investigate dark matter and neutrinos
Bou Ferrer shipwreck with roman lead ingots [Credit: De Juan /
D. G. de Cultura - Generalitat Valenciana]
Two thousand years ago, a Roman vessel with ingots of lead extracted from the Sierra of Cartagena sank across the waters from the coast of Sardinia. Since 2011, more than a hundred of these ingots have been used to build the 'Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events' (CUORE), an advanced detector of neutrinos -- almost weightless subatomic particles -- at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy.

In the 18th century, another ship loaded with lead ingots was wrecked on the French coast. A company of treasure hunters retrieved this material and, despite problems with French authorities, managed to sell it to the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS) team. This detector located in a mine in Minnesota (USA) looks for signs of the enigmatic dark matter, which is believed to constitute a quarter of the universe.

These two examples have served as reference for the discussion that two researchers have opened between archaeologists, worried by the destruction of underwater cultural heritage, and particle physicists, pleased to have found a unique material for research on neutrinos and dark matter.

As Elena Perez-Alvaro from the University of Birmingham explains: "Roman lead is essential for conducting these experiments because it offers purity and such low levels of radioactivity -- all the more so the longer it has spent underwater -- which current methods for producing this metal cannot reach."
Controversy over the use of Roman ingots to investigate dark matter and neutrinos
Bou Ferrer shipwreck - a roman lead ingot [Credit: De Juan
/D. G. de Cultura - Generalitat Valenciana]
"Lead extracted today is naturally contaminated with the isotope Pb-210, which prevents it from being used as shielding for particle detectors," adds physicist Fernando González Zalba from the University of Cambridge.

The two researchers have published a study in the journal Rosetta, also commented upon this month in 'Science', which poses a dilemma: Should we sacrifice part of our cultural heritage in order to achieve greater knowledge of the universe and the origin of humankind? Should we yield part of our past to discover more about our future?

"Underwater archaeologists see destruction of heritage as a loss of our past, our history, whilst physicists support basic research to look for answers we do not yet have," remarks Perez-Alvaro, "although this has led to situations in which, for example, private companies like Odyssey trade lead recovered from sunken ships." This is the company that had to return the treasure of the frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes to Spain.

Dialogue between underwater archaeologists and particle physicists

The underwater archaeologist and the physicist are encouraging dialogue between both collectives, as well as developing legislation that regulates these kinds of activities, without limiting them exclusively to archaeologists, and including scientists. "Recovery for knowledge in both fields, and not merely for commercial reasons," the scientists stress.
Controversy over the use of Roman ingots to investigate dark matter and neutrinos
Roman lead ingots from the Bou Ferrer shipwreck
[Credit: Jose A. Moya - UA]
The jury is still out. In the case of the CUORE detector, for example, in principle the lead from the least well-preserved Roman ingots is used, although their inscriptions are cut and preserved. Some archaeologists also suggests that there are other pieces of valuable metal, such as anchor stocks, rings or tackles for fishing that we should assess whether or not to "sacrifice for science." The problem is that they are protected by UNESCO's 2001 Convention on the protection of underwater cultural heritage if they have been under water more than 10 years and the 2003 Convention for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage.

Regarding the habitual use that Romans made of these ingots, Pérez Álvaro points out that there are many theories, "but they were generally used as water-resistant material for pipes, water tanks or roofs, but also in the manufacture of arms and ammunition."

A special case are the large lead bricks recovered from the largest Roman ship of the excavation of the Mediterranean, the wreck of the Bou Ferrer, which sunk very close to the port of La Vila Joiosa (Alicante). A series of engravings enable specialists to determine that their owner was the Emperor of Rome himself, probably Caligula, Claudius or Nero.

Astronomers play snap and remap the sky

44 million stars and counting

Tens of millions of stars and galaxies, among them hundreds of thousands that are unexpectedly fading or brightening, have been cataloged properly for the first time.
44 million stars and counting: Astronomers play snap and remap the sky
The Cygnus constellation [Credit: NASA]
Professor Bryan Gaensler, Director of the ARC Center of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) based in the School of Physics at the University of Sydney, Australia, and Dr Greg Madsen at the University of Cambridge, undertook this formidable challenge by combining photographic and digital data from two major astronomical surveys of the sky, separated by sixty years.

The new precision catalog has just been published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. It represents one of the most comprehensive and accurate compilations of stars and galaxies ever produced, covering 35 percent of the sky and using data going back as far as 1949.

Professor Gaensler and Dr Madsen began by re-examining a collection of 7400 old photographic plates, which had previously been combined by the US Naval Observatory into a catalog of more than one billion stars and galaxies.

The astronomers then set out to painstakingly match all the objects in this catalog with more modern measurements from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Using very stringent criteria to be absolutely sure of a match, Professor Gaensler and Dr Madsen produced a final catalog of 44 million stars and galaxies that had definitely been seen twice: both in old photographs and with modern cameras.

"Thanks to clever computer algorithms, we thankfully didn't need to inspect all billion stars and galaxies individually," said Professor Gaensler. "But even so, processing the data and then testing everything to make sure we got it right took us more than a year."

"This cosmic game of Snap provides two important breakthroughs. First, it gives far more accurate measurements of the brightness of each individual star than had ever previously been possible. Second, by comparing two photographs of each star taken up to sixty years apart, it becomes easy to identify stars whose brightness has slowly changed."

The researchers found that approximately 250,000 objects in their new catalog, or about 0.6 percent of all the stars in the sky, change in their brightness by quite large amounts over a human lifetime.

Some of these discoveries appear to be new cases of stars known as 'Mira variables': red giants in a late stage of stellar evolution that pulsate in brightness before collapsing into a dense white dwarf. Other stars are likely to be exhibiting rare and unusual behavior that has never previously been identified.

"What is special about this catalog is that it carefully combines historical data with modern measurements. This is a unique way to study objects that gradually change over years or even decades," says Dr Madsen.

The researchers are making their entire catalog public on the internet, in the lead-up to the next generation of telescopes designed to search for changes in the night sky, , such as the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System in Hawaii and the SkyMapper telescope in Australia.

"This catalog comes at just the right moment for the next generation of telescopes. Using our measurements, astronomers who find interesting new stars in the sky can essentially go back in time, and see what the object they're studying was doing 60 years earlier," said Professor Gaensler.

Daily Comic Relief


Five Astounding Animal Automaton

From man-eating tigers to the most elegant of robotic birds, some of the earliest automata were tributes to the wonders of the animal kingdom.

Here are five of the most astounding mechanical animals from around the world, some centuries old. Be sure to watch the videos to see these bestial objects spring into surprising life.

RIP Elwood, formerly the ugliest dog in the world

Elwood, the Chihuahua and Chinese Crested mix whose unusual appearance won him the 2007 title of World's Ugliest Dog, has died unexpectedly at the age of 8, his owner has said.
"It was very sudden," said a tearful Karen Quigley, 52, of Sewell, New Jersey, who adopted Elwood in 2006. The homely but lovable 5-pound (2.3-kg) canine died on Thursday. "He was in my arms," Quigley said. She said the veterinarian believed he might have had some kind of cancer.
Elwood was practically hairless - except for a tuft of white hair on his forehead - and had a long, protruding tongue. A breeder had deemed Elwood too ugly to sell and was planning to euthanize him, but he was taken in by one of the breeder's friends. Quigley adopted him in when he was 9 months old.

After winning the annual "World's Ugliest Dog" contest held in California, he developed a legion of fans who sent him letters and postcards. This led Quigley to write "Everyone Loves Elwood," a children's book about self-acceptance. Elwood had "a magical power to make people smile and laugh" that made him very attractive, especially to children, said Quigley.

Studying Sea Monsters

“Wow, that’s one big fish!” That was the reaction of everyone at UCLA’s Translational Research Imaging Center when a monster fish story became reality in the form of a rare 14-foot, 250-pound oarfish, whose snake-like […]

Animal News

Cute little seahorses are DEATH MACHINES! Anthony shares new research into how this adorable super killer does its deadly work.
An estimated 22,000 elephants were illegally killed across Africa last year.

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