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

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Daily Drift

Fucking idiots   ...

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Today in History

1601 The Treaty of Lyons ends a short war between France and Savoy.
1746 Charles Edward Stuart, the young pretender, defeats the government forces at the battle of Falkirk in Scotland.
1773 Captain James Cook becomes the first person to cross the Antarctic Circle.
1819 Simon Bolivar the "liberator" proclaims Columbia a republic.
1893 Queen Liliuokalani, the Hawaiian monarch, is overthrown by a group of American sugar planters led by Sanford Ballard Dole.
1852 At the Sand River Convention, the British recognize the independence of the Transvaal Board.
1912 Robert Scott reaches the South Pole only a month after Roald Amundsen.
1939 The Reich issues an order forbidding Jews to practice as dentists, veterinarians and chemists.
1945 The Red army occupies Warsaw.
1963 Soviet leader Khrushchev visits the Berlin Wall.
1985 A jury in New Jersey rules that terminally ill patients have the right to starve themselves.

Non Sequitur


Did you know ...

That pro-business red states see lowest economic opportunity in America

That Americans prefer Democrats in congress, according to poll

That christians fear teaching critical thinking because "our children will use it"

That the man who won contest to watch 'breaking bad' finale with the cast was arrested for possession of synthetic narcotics

One Down 49 to Go

Progressives boot the Koch boys out of New Mexico
Progressives scored a big win in New Mexico as the Koch Brothers have laid off staff and closed down their Americans For Prosperity political operation in the state.
A new report by ProgressNow New Mexico has found that the Koch Brothers have shut down their political arm, laid off staff, packed up and left the state.
According to ProgressNow New Mexico,
A new ProgressNow New Mexico investigation has discovered that only a little over a year after setting up shop in our state Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the far-right special interest front group bankrolled by the Koch brothers, is saying “adios” to the Land of Enchantment.
Pam Wolfe, AFP’s Field Representative in New Mexico, confirmed late last week that AFP was in fact “reallocating their AFP NM FAILresources elsewhere” and will no longer have any “boots on the ground” in New Mexico.
News of the Koch brother-backed organization’s downsizing their investments in a critical state for the conservative movement is the first news of any reconsideration or pulling out of any state by the billionaire wingnut funders. It raises questions of whether similar pull backs are also underway in other states.
The Koch brothers spent over $6.1 million in New Mexico in 2012, including $500,000 on a failed attempt to defeat a bill that would raise the minimum wage in Albuquerque. New Mexico was one of 34 states where the Kochs tried to build a field organization to support the repugican agenda.
The Koch effort was a complete failure. Besides the minimum wage, the Kochs also lost on marriage equality, and two attempts to ban abortions. They didn’t have any success at all as a wave of liberalism has swept through the state.
There are no signs that the Kochs are going to stop spending millions of dollars to support repugican candidates, but their days of astroturf activism have come to an end in New Mexico. New Mexico’s Democrats and progressives beat the Koch brothers with unity and superior organization.
Just as the Kochs failed to buy themselves the presidency in 2012, they failed to buy themselves a state in 2013. There are limits to what money can buy. Superior organization and the will of the people will always trump a wingnut billionaire’s checkbook.
If it happened in New Mexico, it can happen all across the country. It is time to give Charles and David Koch the boot nationwide.

John Boehner Lies and Blames President Obama for West Virginia Chemical Spill

At a press conference Boehner lied and blamed President Obama for the West Virginia chemical spill by accusing the president of not enforcing the regulations and doing his job.
Boehner was asked if more regulations were necessary after a chemical spill in West Virginia left 300,000 people without safe drinking water.
He answered, “The issue is this: We have enough regulations on the books. And what the administration ought to be doing is actually doing their jobs. Why wasn’t this plant inspected since 1991? I am entirely confident that there are ample regulations already on the books to protect the health and safety of the American people. Somebody ought to be held accountable here. What we try to do is look at those regulations that we think are cumbersome, are over the top, and that are costing the economy jobs. That’s where our focus continues to be.”
The repugican cabal has waged a decades long war on the EPA and environmental regulations, but Boehner wants the American people to believe that the chemical spill in West Virginia was President Obama’s fault. Boehner knows full well that the company that owned the tank that ruptured, Freedom Industries, was exempt from both state and federal inspections because they don’t produce chemicals.
Instead of admitting that chemical spills like the one in West Virginia are a logical consequence of what happens when environmental regulations are repealed, Boehner lied and blamed Obama.
The truth is that the EPA could not have inspected the tank, because the tank was exempt from inspection. repugicans will never admit that their agenda of regulatory rollback is hazardous to the health of the American people. They prefer to pass the buck with nonsensical lies, and hope that the American people don’t notice the danger present in their deregulatory zeal The West Virginia chemical spill isn’t an example of presidential failure. It is a textbook demonstration of what happens when repugicans get their way, and the nation has less government regulation in critical areas.
West Virginia is the perfect example of how electing reckless repugican ideologues can literally put lives at risk.

Eliminating Poverty Is More Than Just Putting Dollars In The Pockets Of The Poor

An implicit goal of the War on Poverty was to make the US a true meritocracy, and in this sense, it missed its target.…
The series that PBS produced entitled, “America’s War on Poverty,” is stellar. One of the segments, “Given a Chance,” tells the story of Mississippi Head Start workers attempting to start their Head Start programs for the first time in 1965. They met with roadblock after roadblock. First, when they invited both poor white and poor black children, each was eager to participate. However, when the white families found out the black families were going to be attending, they dropped out. Then, Senator John Stennis, a segregationist Southern Democrat, heard rumors that Head Start workers were using program funds to *gasp* push for civil rights. Since this was several years prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, there was still a great deal of activism at this time. He demanded that an investigation be instigated, and in the meantime, funds would be pulled from his state’s Head Start programs. His demands were met, and just before children were to start school, every site lost funding. Of course, the rumors were false. Yes, the Head Start workers were agitating for Civil Rights. No, they were not using Head Start funds to do it. Undaunted, the Head Start workers put together volunteer donations of food and other supplies from the community and held their classes anyway. But, they couldn’t hold out forever. Eventually, they took busloads of children directly to Washington, DC to protest for reinstatement of their Head Start funds. The national embarrassment led Senator Stennis to relent and the programs were refunded. So, even a program as innocuous as Head Start was racialized and nearly undermined in one state. This is but one example of the headwinds anti-poverty activists faced when trying to institute grassroots change in local level social and power dynamics.    
One dissertation by Ken Oldfield, “VISTA Program: Political Alteration of a Poverty Program,” later published in the Journal of Volunteer Administration, and exceptionally difficult to access, tells the story of how anti-poverty programs were quickly neutered even as they began. His own work focused on the defanging of VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), which many of us know today as AmeriCorps. At its inception, the program was run by young college students, of course in the 1960s, a time of student radicalization. These students took the mandate of the War on Poverty seriously: maximum feasible participation (and leadership) by the poor.  Alongside the poor, these volunteers were political, demanded change, and worked on behalf of the rights of poor people. Quickly, the leaders and power structure of various cities where VISTA volunteers protested and disrupted reacted in alarm. They did not care to see poor people making demands. They liked things just as they were. Very quickly, poor people were taken out of positions of power in VISTA and program administrators recruited retired people rather than young radical college students as volunteers. The goals of the program were transformed from systemic change like addressing slumlords and dangerous neighborhoods to teaching people how to read. While noble, it was easier to bog poor people down in their constant battle for literacy. Mastering the achievement gap would be a never-ending, attention-sucking goal, making radical and immediate changes to things like policing patterns in the ghetto, unsafe housing, or inferior schools a distant, unattainable vision to this day.
Community organizers have hundreds of tales of similar containment of the poor. The famous organizing “school” at Highlander, the notorious antics of Saul Alinsky, and the work of countless others was aimed at changing more than just how many dollars the poor had. They wanted to see the nation actually build a meritocracy. They wanted to ferret out injustice. Keeping the poor in their place became increasingly important in the 1970s. Recently, Igor Volsky at Think Progress wrote an excellent piece on how Republicans have fought against the war on poverty since its inception using racism, sexism, and anti-government rhetoric. In his article, he describes how Richard Nixon tried to blame race riots on the War on Poverty. This was no accident. He wanted to associate public protests with riots thereby neutering the power of the community organizers.
Today, we see remnants of the community organizing era that characterized the 1960s, and to a lesser extent, the 1970s. Wingnuts have managed to marginalize their work by associating them with radicalization and belief systems that fall outside the mainstream. They continue to fear the power of an organized mass of poor people. The efforts to smear President Obama for being a community organizer are in keeping with this tradition. We may be seeing a renewed period of organizing centered on inequality. If so, it will represent a renewal of a true War on Poverty.

North Carolina repugican Senate Candidate: Food Stamp ‘Goodies’ Enslave Recipients

NC repugican US Senate candidate Greg Brannon wants to abolish the Department of Agriculture because he thinks food stamps are slavery. …
North Carolina repugican US Senate candidate Greg Brannon wants to abolish slavery. Well actually he wants to abolish the Department of Agriculture which he thinks enslaves people. In a rambling interview response Brannon argued:
We’re taking our plunder, that’s taken from us as individuals, [giving] it to the government, and the government is now keeping itself in power by giving these goodies away. The answer is the Department of Agriculture should go away at the federal level. And now 80 percent of the farm bill was food stamps. That enslaves people. What you want to do, it’s crazy but it’s true, teach people to fish instead of giving them fish. When you’re at the behest of somebody else, you are actually a slavery to them [sic]. That kind of charity does not make people freer.
Brannon has the endorsement of  Kentucky Senator and repugican 2016 presidential hopeful Rand Paul, and like many repugicans he appears to hold nothing but contempt  for the working poor.  On the one hand he accuses food stamps of being lazy, and yet on the other hand he argues that they are slaves.  Historically slaves were people who worked extraordinarily hard without compensation, and as such they were the antithesis of laziness. The majority of food stamp recipients who are able to work (those who are not disabled, elderly or children) do work. Therefore, nobody is receiving “goodies”. The SNAP program is merely in place so the working poor, the disabled and their children are able to eat.
Feeding people is not a form of slavery. Ironically, if it were a form of slavery, Brannon might just look more favorably upon the SNAP program. After all, last year Bannon co-sponsored a rally with the League of the South, a secessionist group that wants to nullify federal law and create a separate Southern Republic. He also claims his hero is the Prince of Darkness Jesse Helms, the ardent Segregationist Senator who represented North Carolina for many years. Maybe if we can convince Brannon that food stamp aid will bring back the institution of slavery, he might actually support funding the program. Absent that, he again reminds Americans that the repugican cabal has become mean-spirited and that Republicans have no interest in helping the poor

Bernie Sanders Tells Democrats To Go Nuclear and Break the repugican cabal’s UI Benefits Filibuster

Sen. Bernie Sanders has a solution to ending the repugican filibuster of the unemployment benefits extension. He thinks Democrats should go nuclear and pass the extension with just 50 votes.
Alex Wagner asked Sen. Sanders if he thought that Democrats had done something wrong in opening the door to pay fors or if this was just the cost of doing business with the repugicans.
Sen. Sanders answered,
Well, I think as you’ve just indicated, and everybody’s got to understand, when the shrub was pretending we extended long term unemployment on five separate occasions. The repugicans at that point did not ask for any offsets at that time, and that should be what should be what we are doing right now. This is a state of emergency. 1.4 million people who have very little to live upon.

My own view, and it’s a fairly radical view here within the Senate, is that what we should do is say you know what? We’re going to require 50 votes, a majority. We’re going to overcome the Republican filibuster. We don’t need to have to get 60 votes for every single piece of legislation designed to help working families. Whether it’s extending unemployment benefits or raising the minimum wage, majority should rule.
It isn’t a coincidence that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hinted at something very similar to what Sen. Sanders suggested recently. While appearing on the January 5th edition of CBS’ Face The Nation, Reid left the door open to eliminating all filibusters if Republicans don’t stop obstructing everything. The more Senate repugicans obstruct common sense things like helping the unemployed, the louder the calls are going to get for Democrats to permanently end the Republicans’ tactic of filibustering legislation.
Sanders’ idea isn’t as radical as he thinks it is. Rationality and negotiation have both failed with these repugicans so Democrats need to speak the language of brute force.

Mitch McConnell Laughs at the Unemployed as He Promises to Vote No on UI Benefits

In a recent radio interview, Sen. Mitch McConnell laughed at the unemployed who recently lost their benefits as he promised to vote no on any UI extension. Here's how heartless the Senate repugican leader really can be.
Lars Larson: I hope you vote no on extending unemployment benefits…
McConnell: ha ha ha ha

Larsen: …at least for the long term unemployed, I appreciate it.
McConnell [still slightly laughing]: ya.
McConnell: Thanks Lars.
At the 8:21 mark of the audio, McConnell finds it funny that he is going to vote no on extending unemployment benefits. McConnell has so little compassion for the 1.3 million long term unemployed workers and their families that to him voting no and throwing them into poverty is a tickle the funny bone moment.
Politico ran a story today that highlighted the hard choices that these decent people are facing, “Some who lost their benefits say they’ll begin an early and unplanned retirement. Others will pile on debt to pay for school and an eventual second career. Many will likely lean on family, friends and other government programs to get by.”
Mitch McConnell finds it funny that he is forcing people into early retirement, or making them pile up debt in the hopes of going back to school to find a second career, or even worse, forcing them to rely on public assistance to survive. The unemployed aren’t lazy. They aren’t undeserving. They are hard working Americans who lost their jobs because of the kind of Wall Street and big bank greed that Mitch McConnell is a staunch defender of.
If Sen. McConnell is so completely devoid of empathy and compassion that he laughs at jeopardizing the economic well being of millions of Americans, he doesn’t belong in the United States Senate. Mitch McConnell is so far inside the beltway conservative bubble that damaging the lives of millions is a moment of high comedy. This isn’t the behavior of a leader, a senator, or a decent caring human being.
18,000 Kentuckians lost their unemployment benefits on December 30, and Mitch McConnell is laughing at them. Kentucky needs a senator that understands and empathizes with the struggles of the folks back home. Kentucky and the United States of America will both benefit if voters decide to ditch Mitch this November.
Sen. McConnell’s disturbing lack of compassion is hurting this country, and it is time for him to go.

Alison Grimes Hammers Mitch McConnell for Heartlessly Laughing at the Unemployed

The campaign for Alison Lundergan Grimes released a statement slamming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his stance on the extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.…
On Tuesday morning, the campaign for Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Democratic candidate for US Senate running against repugican incumbent, and Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, released a statement slamming McConnell for his stance on the extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. The statement, attributable to campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton, is as follows:

“It is shameful that after failing for nearly 30 years to offer a credible plan to put Kentucky back to work, Mitch McConnell has the audacity to laugh in the faces of more than 18,000 unemployed Kentuckians, including 1,200 coal miners in Pike County. The people of Kentucky deserve a Senator they can be proud of — not one who offensively looks down upon our people and is an embarrassment to the values we hold dear. We take care of our own in this state. As Senator, Alison Lundergan Grimes will never turn her back on the hardworking men and women of the Commonwealth.”
On Monday, during a radio interview, McConnell was caught laughing  about the plight of the unemployed in his state who are suffering and left with nothing due to benefits being cutoff. With a vote being held in the Senate on Tuesday afternoon on the extension of the UI benefits, it is obvious that McConnell is going to vote no, even though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has given the repugican cabal what it wants, which is offsetting the new spending with cuts elsewhere. Still, McConnell will heartlessly and callously vote against the extension.
The thing is, as McConnell is trying to maintain his lunatic fringe cred in his upcoming primary battle with tea partier Matt Bevin, he needs to realize that he is becoming more and more unpopular with the residents of Kentucky. By trying to be as wingnut as possible, he might be able to shake off the tea party and win the repugican cabal primary. Yet, by supporting highly damaging, unpopular and unsympathetic policies, he is killing himself ahead of the general election. As it stands now, he is tied in the polls with Grimes. At this rate, on the road he’s traveling on, it is looking like he will lose to her in a landslide. And that will be a good thing for the people of Kentucky.

Nun faces 30 years in prison for exposing security lapses in nuclear weapons program

Mike from Mother Jones sez, "Josh Harkinson writes about the upcoming sentencing of Megan Rice, an elderly nun and Plowshares activist who broke into the Y-12 enriched uranium facility with two fellow aging activists. The incident, which exposed glaring security flaws and was deeply embarrassing to the feds, could get the trio a maximum 30 years in federal prison. Harkinson writes:"
"The security breach," as the Department of Energy's Inspector General later described it, exposed "troubling displays of ineptitude" at what is supposed to be "one of the most secure facilities in the United States." At a February hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, multiple members of Congress thanked Rice for exposing the site's gaping vulnerabilities. But that didn't deter federal prosecutors from throwing the book at Rice and her accomplices...
Even if the judge gives Sister Rice a more lenient sentence, as seems likely, she could still end up spending the rest of her life behind bars. "It's of absolutely no consequence to her," says her friend Ralph Hutchinson, coordinator for the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. "As a nun she believes strongly that she is called to be a servant of God wherever she is."

Grandmother found $50,000 drug stash in her suitcase four years after cruise

A grandmother from Auckland in New Zealand opened her suitcase four years after her last overseas trip to discover $50,000 worth of amphetamine stashed in a side pocket. Gillian Rodgers, 74, dug out her old suitcase on Saturday for a trip and found a tightly-packed bag of white powder, about the size of a packet of cigarettes. "I was clearing it out and I saw this packet of white stuff and I thought, 'wow what's that?' I thought it was something to keep the suitcase dry. It was like a plastic packet, about three inches by two inches, and it was solid, like a cushion."

She had padlocked every pocket on her bag except the one in which the drugs were found, she said. Not knowing what the package was or where it came from, Ms Rodgers took it to the Albany police station to be examined. Police have praised Ms Rodgers and started an investigation. "I couldn't believe it when the policewoman rung me back and said it was [amphetamine]. She said it was $50,000 worth. I didn't for one minute expect it to be drugs even though we were joking about it that it might have been."
Ms Rodgers last used the suitcase four years ago when she made a month-long cruise around Australia with a friend before flying home to Auckland from Sydney. She suspects someone put the drugs into her suitcase pocket and that she was being used as mule to get the package into the country. "I'm baffled. Of course I didn't see anybody put it in there. The only time I was not in my possession of my luggage was when it was on the carousel and when I put it on the X-ray machine. I still can't believe it was drugs. I wonder if they were going to try to retrieve it. I'm sure they would have wanted it back. I wonder if they followed me."

It was only luck she wasn't caught with the drugs at Auckland Airport, she said.  "I could've been picked up at the airport. Or if I'd gone through somewhere like Bali or Thailand with that in my bag ... terrifying." The discovery has raised questions about the screening process at the airports on both sides of the Tasman. Customs spokeswoman Nicky Elliott said the airport protocols were sound. "There is no way to determine where and when the drugs were placed in the suitcase," she said. "This could have happened anytime since she last used the suitcase."



Born without fingerprints

Adermatoglyphia jpg 800x600 q85 crop Adermatoglyphia is a very rare genetic condition causing you to be born without fingerprints. In 2011, a small group of researchers pinpointed the genetic mutation behind it. One of them, dermatologist Peter Itin, was drawn to the mystery after he was contacted by a Swiss woman who found trouble at the US border when immigration agents couldn't take her prints… because she doesn't have any. "Adermatoglyphia: The Genetic Disorder Of People Born Without Fingerprints"

Tennis pro collapses after seeing Snoopy on the court

Canadian tennis pro Frank Dancevic collapsed on the court during the Australian Open yesterday when temperatures went above 105 degrees fahrenheit. "I was dizzy from the middle of the first set and then I saw Snoopy and I thought, 'Wow Snoopy, that's weird,'" Dancevic said. He was actually volleying with Woodstock. Dancevic called the conditions "inhumane." 

The Crumbling Ancient Texts That May Hold Life-Saving Cures

Seven hundred years ago, Timbuktu was a dream destination for scholars, traders, and religious men. At the southern edge of the Sahara desert in what is now Mali, travelers met in the bygone metropolis to exchange gold, salt, and ideas. Timbuktu is also know for its large number of historically important manuscripts that have been preserved for centuries in private households.

Bundled in camel skin, goat skin, and calf leather, the manuscripts remaining from Timbuktu's heyday come in an array of sizes. Subjects in the collections, spanning the 13th through 17th century, include the Koran, Sufism, philosophy, law, medicine, astronomy, and more. The books might also contain information about cures for maladies that persist today.

Why Do You Hate The Sound Of Your Own Voice?

'We hate it because it is so foreign,' said Dr. William Cullinan, dean of the College of Health Sciences at Marquette University in Wisconsin. You hear your voice differently than others hear it, because the vibrations that produce sound from your vocal chords travel to your ears through bone vibrations and other internal conduits as well as through the air.

When you hear a recording of your own voice, it isn't that the sound quality is poor - it sounds strange because you are hearing it as others do, as sound transmitted only through the air. It sounds higher in pitch.

Random Photos

Reviving the Tradition of Hand-Painted Signs

Once upon a time, every new business hired a professional artist to design their signs, decorate their windows, and even cover the sides of their buildings. The sign painter was not only an artist, but a designer, typographer, marketing director, editor, and contractor. The remnants of their work from decades ago are pleasing to the eye even today. What happened to sign painters? They were replaced by technology and the do-it-yourself culture. Print shops, then mass-produced sign companies, then home computers all made custom signs faster and cheaper -not necessarily better.
But artisanal sign painters aren't extinct, just rare. Collectors Weekly talked to filmmaker Faythe Levine, who, along with Sam Macon, produced a film and book about sign painters, their craft, and how it's experiencing a sort of modern revival.
Collectors Weekly: Is the revival of hand-painted signs part of this larger trend for artisan, hand-crafted culture?

Levine: Personally, I would say yes. I think that today more people want to know where their eggs come from. People are interested in their jeans being manufactured within the same region as where they buy them. I think hand-painted signs are part of this larger change, but I also think that there’s another audience that’s into design-related things. I think when people like designers and typographers have access to the history of hand paint, they just eat it up.
They talk about the history of hand-painted signs, the craftsmanship involved, and the different kinds of artisanal signage in the interview at Collectors Weekly

Hotels With Exciting Past Lives

In their previous lives, these hotels were banks, brothels, and more. Like the Liberty Hotel in Boston (photo above). Opened in 1851, the building was originally the Charles Street Jail, home to several famous inmates, including Malcolm X and Sacco and Vanzetti. The jail officially closed in 1990 and was reopened in 2007 as the trendy Liberty Hotel.

1913: The Schilovski Gyrocar

This car isn't moving. It has two only wheels. You can enter and exit easily without it falling over. It's the Schilovski Gyrocar--an incredible car design that was never mass-produced.
Count Peter P. Schilovski of Russia was fascinated with gyroscopes. He designed one that he believed would keep a car upright. He took his idea to the Wolseley Tool and Motorcar Company in the UK, where engineers there built it with a 188 cubic inch, 4-cylinder engine and transmission brakes.

It worked. In the spring of 1914, Schilovski and the British engineers took it out on public roads. People jumped on and off without disturbing the balance of the car at all. It seemed to have a bright future.
But something else happened in 1914. Schilovski returned to Russia to help in the war effort. The Wolseley engineers likewise turned their attention toward the war. They buried the gyroscopic car underground, excavating it in 1938.

They partially restored the car and placed it in a museum. Then, in 1948, they inexplicably broke it up for scrap metal.

The Gyrocar wasn't Schilovski's only use of the gyroscope. In the early 1920s, he also designed a gyroscopically-balanced monorail. His project laid 7 miles of track for this purpose before it was shut down.

Can you run a car on what comes out of your ass?

Jason Torchinsky of Jalopnik says yes. He takes a look at the two products produced by asses: flatus and feces, and determines the harvest-able energy in each. The good news is that butt fracking is a group building exercise: "It would take you months and months to fill an 8 gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE) tank like the one in the Honda Civic CNG. Oh, and remember, of that 100 ml fart, only 30% of that (at best) is methane — so to do this right, you'd want to pool a whole community of farts. It's really the only way."
Will Jason's article usher in a resurgence in gas bag cars?

Daily Comic Relief


"Able to lift more than 850 times their own weight"

"Extinct" shark found

80-Year-Old Vintage Snake Venom Can Still Kill

In 2002, Bryan Fry, the Venom Doctor, was going through the belongings of Straun Sutherland, the founder of the Australian Venom Research Unit (AVRU), who had recently died. He found a stockpile of snake venom that had been collected by "snake men" who captured snakes for research -as much as 80 years earlier! 
“It was like opening a time capsule,” he says. “It gave me goosebumps. These were very personal samples to us. To be working with the milkings from that exact snake… these weren’t just letters on the side of the tube. They had historical and emotional value.”

They also had something that Fry did not expect—toxicity. Even though some of them were 80 years old, they could still kill.

It’s not like the samples had been carefully prepared. They had been crudely dried, kept in glass tubes with rubber stoppers, and stored at room temperature rather than in a freezer.

Still, Fry’s team found that they contained the same cocktail of proteins and had the same toxic effects as venom that had been recently collected from modern snakes of the same species. Death adder venom from the 1960s could still stop neurons from communicating with muscles. Taipan and tiger snake venom from the 1950s could still clot blood. The only vial that contained ineffective venom was also the only one where the rubber seal had eroded. Otherwise, the toxins were in great shape.
The venom may be old, but it will be used as a valuable research tool. Some of the snakes the venom came from are extinct. And using existing venom supplies is much safer than collecting it from the wild. Read more about the snake men of Australia and the work they did at Not Exactly Rocket Science. 

Magnetic Termite Mounds

In Litchfield National Park near Batchelor, Northern Territory, Australia, you can find two unusual species of termites. Amitermes meridionalis and Amitermes laurensis colonies build their mounds in elongated wedge-shaped forms. Usually these mounds are aligned along a magnetic north-south axis.
Why? To find out, one researcher nudged a few with his off-road vehicle. This tilted the mound out of alignment. The interior temperature of mound rose significantly.
So by building their mounds on a north-south axis, the termites increased the amount of surface area directly exposed to the sunlight as the sun travels from east to west across the sky and thus increased the rate of heat loss. Aligning their construction in this fashion keeps their mounds cooler.

Primates: Now with only half the calories

New research shows that humans and other primates burn 50% fewer calories each day than other mammals.
The study, published January 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that these remarkably slow metabolisms explain why humans and other primates grow up so slowly and live such long lives. The study also reports that primates in zoos expend as much energy as those in the wild, suggesting that physical activity may have less of an impact on daily energy expenditure than is often thought. Primates: Now with only half the calories
Male silverback Gorilla in SF zoo
Most mammals, like the family dog or pet hamster, live a fast-paced life, reaching adulthood in a matter of months, reproducing prodigiously (if we let them), and dying in their teens if not well before. By comparison, humans and our primate relatives (apes, monkeys, tarsiers, lorises, and lemurs) have long childhoods, reproduce infrequently, and live exceptionally long lives. Primates' slow pace of life has long puzzled biologists because the mechanisms underlying it were unknown. An international team of scientists working with primates in zoos, sanctuaries, and in the wild examined daily energy expenditure in 17 primate species, from gorillas to mouse lemurs, to test whether primates' slow pace of life results from a slow metabolism.

Using a safe and non-invasive technique known as "doubly labeled water," which tracks the body's production of carbon dioxide, the researchers measured the number of calories that primates burned over a 10 day period. Combining these measurements with similar data from other studies, the team compared daily energy expenditure among primates to that of other mammals.

 "The results were a real surprise," said Herman Pontzer, an anthropologist at Hunter College in New York and the lead author of the study. "Humans, chimpanzees, baboons, and other primates expend only half the calories we'd expect for a mammal. To put that in perspective, a human – even someone with a very physically active lifestyle – would need to run a marathon each day just to approach the average daily energy expenditure of a mammal their size."

This dramatic reduction in metabolic rate, previously unknown for primates, accounts for their slow pace of life. All organisms need energy to grow and reproduce, and energy expenditure can also contribute to aging. The slow rates of growth, reproduction, and aging among primates match their slow rate of energy expenditure, indicating that evolution has acted on metabolic rate to shape primates' distinctly slow lives.

"The environmental conditions favoring reduced energy expenditures may hold a key to understanding why primates, including humans, evolved this slower pace of life," said David Raichlen, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona and a coauthor of the study. Perhaps just as surprising, the team's measurements show that primates in captivity expend as many calories each day as their wild counterparts. These results speak to the health and well-being of primates in world-class zoos and sanctuaries, and they also suggest that physical activity may contribute less to total energy expenditure than is often thought.

"The completion of this non-invasive study of primate metabolism in zoos and sanctuaries demonstrates the depth of research potential for these settings. It also sheds light on the fact that zoo-housed primates are relatively active, with the same daily energy expenditures as wild primates," said coauthor Steve Ross, Director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. "Dynamic accredited zoo and sanctuary environments represent an alternative to traditional laboratory-based investigations and emphasize the importance of studying animals in more naturalistic conditions."

Results from this study hold intriguing implications for understanding health and longevity in humans. Linking the rate of growth, reproduction, and aging to daily energy expenditure may shed light on the processes by which our bodies develop and age. And unraveling the surprisingly complex relationship between physical activity and daily energy expenditure may improve our understanding of obesity and other metabolic diseases.

More detailed study of energy expenditure, activity, and aging among humans and apes is already underway. "Humans live longer than other apes, and tend to carry more body fat," said Pontzer. "Understanding how human metabolism compares to our closest relatives will help us understand how our bodies evolved, and how to keep them healthy."

Animal Pictures


Musk Ox