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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.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Daily Drift

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Today in History

97 To placate the Praetorians of Germany, Nerva of Rome adopts Trajan, the Spanish-born governor of lower Germany.
1553 Michael Servetus, who discovered the pulmonary circulation of the blood, is burned for heresy in Switzerland.
1612 A Polish army that invaded Russia capitulates to Prince Dimitri Pojarski and his Cossacks.
1791 President George Washington transmits to Congress the results of the first US census, exclusive of South Carolina which had not yet submitted its findings.
1806 Emperor Napoleon enters Berlin.
1809 President James Madison orders the annexation of the western part of West Florida. Settlers there had rebelled against Spanish authority.
1862 A Confederate force is routed at the Battle of Georgia Landing, near Bayou Lafourche in Louisiana.
1870 The French fortress of Metz surrenders to the Prussian Army.
1873 Farmer Joseph F. Glidden applies for a patent on barbed wire. Glidden eventually received five patents and is generally considered the inventor of barbed wire.
1891 D. B. Downing, inventor, is awarded a patent for the street letter (mail) box.
1904 The New York subway officially opens running from the Brooklyn Bridge uptown to Broadway at 145th Street.
1907 The first trial in the Eulenberg Affair ends in Germany.
1917 20,000 women march in a suffrage parade in New York. As the largest state and the first on the East Coast to do so, New York has an important effect on the movement to grant all women the vote in all elections.
1922 In Italy, liberal Luigi Facta's cabinet resigns after threats from Mussolini that "either the government will be given to us or we will seize it by marching on Rome." Mussolini calls for a general mobilization of all Fascists.
1927 Fox Movie-tone news, the first sound news film, is released.
1941 In a broadcast to the nation on Navy Day, President Franklin Roosevelt declares: "America has been attacked, the shooting has started." He does not ask for full-scale war yet, realizing that many Americans are not yet ready for such a step.
1954 Benjamin O. Davis Jr. becomes the first African-American general in the US Air Force.
1962 American U-2 reconnaissance plane shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Cuba, killing the pilot, Maj. Rudolf Anderson, the only direct human casualty of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
1962 Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev offers to remove Soviet missile bases in Cuba if the U.S. removes its missile bases in Turkey.
1964  The political career of  Ronald Reagan is launched when he delivers a speech on behalf of repugican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
1971 The Democratic Republic of the Congo renamed Zaire.
1986 London Stock Exchange rules change as Britain suddenly deregulates financial markets, an event called the Big Bang.
1988 US President Ronald Reagan decides to tear down a new US Embassy in Moscow because Soviet listening devices were built into the structure.
1997 Stock markets crash around the world over fears of a global economic meltdown.

Kurdish Women vs ISIL

An all-female army from Syria is fighting the Islamic State -- and succeeding! It's killed more than 100 ISIL members and continues to be one of the few volunteer militias on the frontlines of the conflict. Who are these brave women?

From Germany to Iraq One Yazidi Family's War on Islamic State

by Özlem Gezer
From Germany to Iraq: One Yazidi Family's War on Islamic State
A Yazidi family from Iraq had finally found peace in Germany, but now the father has headed back to fight Islamic State and the son is waging his own war at home. Although they've both become heroes in the community, their story may not have a happy ending.  More

Why Costco pays its retail employees $20 an hour

by Aaron Taube
Businessweek reports that Costco's hourly employees earn more than $20 an hour.
Costco SupermarketLast week, we wrote about The Container Store and its "1 = 3" theory, which says that one "great" employee is just as productive as three workers who are only "good."
Kip Tindell, the company's CEO and founder, says this rule allows him to pay his retail employees an average salary of nearly $50,000 a year — almost twice the retail industry average.
Of course, The Container Store isn't the only major retail chain that professes a commitment to paying its workers a livable wage.
At Costco, hourly workers make an average of more than $20 an hour — well above the national average of $11.39 for a retail sales worker — according to a 2013 Businessweek story. For employees who put in 40 hours per week, that works out to about $43,000 a year.
In addition, Businessweek reports that 88% of Costco's 185,000 employees have company-sponsored healthcare.
The Container Store uses its high salaries to lure and retain elite talent. Costco is primarily focused on making everyone who works at one of the company's 663 warehouses happy. The idea is that a more pleasant workplace will lead to lower employee turnover and a more productive workforce.
"I just think people need to make a living wage with health benefits," CEO Craig Jelinek tells Businessweek. "It also puts more money back into the economy and creates a healthier country. It's really that simple."
To that end, the company's turnover rate is a measly 5% for employees who have been there more than a year.
Nonetheless, some argue that not every retail company would be successful offering its workers such high wages.
In fact, the industry group The National Retail Federation has said that raising the minimum wage from its current $7.25 an hour pay would make it harder for stores to maintain current staffing levels.

Costco Will Be Closed On Thanksgiving Because Employees ‘Deserve The Opportunity’ To Be With Family

by Bryce Covert
Costco is among the companies that will choose to remain closed on Thanksgiving Day, a spokesperson confirmed, None of the nearly 127,000 people who work for the company will have to come in on the holiday.
In explaining why it decided to stay closed, the spokesperson said, “Our employees work especially hard during the holiday season and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families. Nothing more complicated than that.”
That makes at least five chain stores that have decided to resist the new trend of beginning Black Friday sales a day early, thus ensuring that a large number of employees will have to come to work. Dillard’s, Burlington, REI, and American Girl all told ThinkProgress they will remain closed on the holiday, and Dillard’s explained that its decision was part of its “longstanding tradition of honoring of our customers’ and associates’ time with family.”
Other stores have let the holiday shopping craze creep into workers’ Thanksgiving meal time. Macy’s announced this year that it will open at 6 p.m. on the holiday, while Walmart will be open all day, requiring nearly 1 million people to show up to work. The trend really took off last year, with at least 12 major brands deciding to open on Thanksgiving itself and thus require at least some people to be at work during mealtime.
Retail employees may not have a lot of choice about whether they come to work that day. Although many stores say shifts have been filled by volunteers, they may be volunteering because their unstable schedules don’t normally give them enough hours to live on. And many likely aren’t guaranteed any holiday time off, as the United States is the only developed country without a national requirement, leaving nearly a quarter of private sector workers and 45 percent of service workers without the benefit. Last year a few workers reported that their requests to take the day off were denied.

The Zombie System

How Capitalism Has Gone Off the Rails
by Michael Sauga
The Zombie System: How Capitalism Has Gone Off the Rails
Six years after the Lehman disaster, the industrialized world is suffering from Japan Syndrome. Growth is minimal, another crash may be brewing and the gulf between rich and poor continues to widen. Can the global economy reinvent itself?  More

Corporate Greed Forces First City In California To Run Out Of Water

Most intelligent human beings on Earth pay heed to statements or events that indicate impending danger, a serious problem, or other unpleasant situation; particularly if a warning originated from several credible sources. It is really an epic shame that most Americans are not remotely the “most intelligent human beings” on Earth, because their stupidity prohibited them from heeding the decades-long warning from hundreds, if not thousands, of credible sources (climate scientists) that the wanton use of fossil fuels drives anthropogenic climate change. What is stunning is that despite the mountain of scientific research and empirical data, real extreme weather events, and devastating drought conditions, there are still climate change deniers and their repugican heroes who oppose steps to reduce the effects of climate change all in the name of corporate greed. For several California cities, that corporate greed is finally paying dividends, and not the good kind, leaving them without water.
For the past year meteorological experts, NASA, and hydrologists have been warning that the exceptionally severe mega-drought plaguing California would dry up the state’s water supply within two years. One California town began running out of water in May and is now bone dry and many more are following suit. In an area with the most fertile soil in America’s most productive agricultural region, the city of East Portersville is without water, and over 500 wells supplying the life-sustaining necessity for residents and farmers have completely dried up. Residents now have to drive to the local fire station, hand-pump water into barrels, and take it back home to drink, bathe, and flush the toilet; this in an area near what was at one time the largest freshwater lake west of the Great Lakes.
The county announced that it may be several years and cost $20 million before a new groundwater management program, which includes a hookup to other water systems, goes into effect. It will certainly be far too little too late because the other water systems will dry up long before any new program can be completed. In fact, dozens of communities report they are “on the verge of running out of water,” and many say their water supply will be exhausted within 60 days; if they are lucky. There are also 14 communities on California’s “critical list” that have started trucking in water and expect that what precious little they have will not last much longer. Across California, all 154 of its reservoirs are below 50% of their historic average and that estimate is being extremely generous according to images of the state’s lakes and reservoirs.
To make matters worse, as if that is possible, what little water the state has available is being poisoned by the oil industry due to fracking; particularly in the Central Valley where East Porterville is located. This past July state regulators shut down eleven fracking wastewater injection wells because they were suspected of being responsible for contaminating water wells and shrinking aquifers with toxins and carcinogens; particularly in highly productive agricultural areas. After the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) ordered a report to assess potential damage to groundwater supplies, they revealed that the oil industry did poison the dwindling water supply for agriculture and human consumption with no regard for the health and well-being of the people; or financial devastation to agriculture. Agriculture, by the way, that is responsible for providing food for a large portion of America and the world’s population, and as their water supply dries up, food costs are going to rise exponentially.
Adding to the loss of water due to oil industry greed and pollution, is the corporate greed driving Nestlé’s extraction and bottling of Californians’ water; water they sell back to parched consumers and the state to distribute to Californians in poorer rural regions. It is tantamount to water-theft because unlike farmers, individual Californians, and every municipality in the state, Nestle is exempt from complying with state water-saving efforts or regulations because they are pumping water on Native American reservations. Nestlé’s disregard for Californians’ water needs was expressed by the former CEO and current Chairman who exhibited the mindset driving corporate greed.
According to Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, water is not a basic human right, and that if human beings get thirsty they have to pay Nestlé for bottled water. It takes the term corporate greed to a new level to, on the one hand, pump California’s water supply dry, bottle it, and then sell it back to thirsty Californians. Nestlé has a history of going into rural areas and extracting groundwater to sell in bottles “completely destroying the water supply without any compensation.” In one rural area of California suffering from the drought, Corporate Watch documented that Nestle “actually makes rural areas foot the bill” for taking the water and selling it back to consumers; most likely in the California towns where the wells are drying up.
Although California’s “exceptionally severe” drought is only in its fourth year of at least a decade long duration, it was predicted more than three decades ago. Climate scientists have been warning for thirty years that if fossil fuel emissions were not curtailed, ocean temperatures would rise, weather patterns would change, and one of the worst effects would be devastating droughts. Still, the oil industry and corporate greed funded successful attacks on environmental and climate scientists’ warnings they claimed were “liberal hoaxes” and “attacks on the oil and gas industry.” The result has been no action to reduce carbon emissions driving anthropogenic climate change responsible for California and the Southwestern U.S. droughts.
The repugicans are as responsible for California’s drought as the oil industry and corporate greed because not only do they still deny climate change is driving the drought conditions they are campaigning to roll back environmental regulations; particularly those reducing carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. They are also adamant that America needs to help the Koch brothers, American oil exporters, and a Canadian company increase its profits, and climate change’s damage, by building the KeystoneXL pipeline. It is a rupture-prone pipeline that will traverse America’s agricultural heartland, over critical aquifers, and through areas suffering droughts in the Southwest en route to the Gulf Coast.
California may not be the first state to suffer from the effects of global climate change, but the effects on agriculture will be felt across the nation as food prices increase; and they will increase. However, for the California cities watching their wells dry up and no prospect for even an average rainfall, food is not their primary concern; water to bathe, drink, and cook with is. While they are forced to use hand pumps and use containers to carry their water like tribal people in poverty-stricken third-world villages, one hope they reflect on why they consistently voted for repugicans whose devotion to satisfying corporate greed is why they have no water.

Why wingnuts Opt for Propaganda Over Reality

by Amanda Marcotte
Wingnuts are consuming a wingnut media full of lies and misinformation, whereas liberals are more interested in media that puts facts before ideology.
Pew Research set out to find what’s behind what it considers the increasing political polarization of the United States; why the country is moving away from political moderation and becoming more and more divided between liberals and wingnuts. Its first report on the phenomenon, which examines where people are hearing news and opinion in both regular and social media, shows that this is happening for very different reasons among people moving to the right than for people moving to the left.
Or that’s the charitable way to put it. The less charitable way is to say Pew discovered that wingnuts are consuming a wingnut media full of lies and misinformation, whereas liberals are more interested in media that puts facts before ideology. It’s very much not a “both sides do it” situation. Wingnuts are becoming more wingnut because of propaganda, whereas liberals are becoming more liberal while staying very much checked into reality.
That this polarization is going on isn’t a myth. Previous Pew research shows the percentage of Americans who are “mostly” or “consistently” wingnut has grown from 18% in 2004 to 27% in 2014. During that same period, the percentage of Americans who are “mostly” or “consistently” liberal stayed a little more consistent, growing from 33% to 34% in 10 years. (These statistics don’t measure what you call yourself, but what you rate as on a scale of beliefs about various issues.) While liberals became more liberal, wingnuts both became more numerous and more rigidly wingnut over time. What gives?
Enter wingnut media, which has a nifty trick of convincing audiences it’s the other guys who are the liars, all while actually being much less trustworthy in reality. From wingnut screaming about the “media elite” to Faux News’s old slogan “(not)Fair and (un)Balanced,” wingnut media is rife with the message that everyone is out to get you, wingnut viewer, and only in the warm blanket of wingnut propaganda will you be safe.
The message, the Pew research suggests, has really taken hold. Pew researchers gave respondents a list of 36 popular media sources and asked how much they trusted each one. Some were liberal, like The Daily Show or ThinkProgress. Some were wingnut, like Lush Dimbulb or Faux News. Most of them are fairly straightforward news organizations with no overt political agenda, like NPR, various network news, CNN, and the New York Times.
The findings were astounding. Out of the 36 news sources, consistent liberals trusted 28, a mix of liberal and mainstream news sources. Mostly, liberal respondents generally agreed, holding out a little more skepticism for overtly ideological sources like Daily Kos or ThinkProgress, but not actually distrusting them, either. The only news sources liberals didn’t trust, generally, are overtly wingnut ones, such as Faux News, the Blaze, Breitbart, or Lush Dimbulb’s show.
Wingnuts, on the other hand, saw betrayers and liars around every corner. Consistent wingnuts distrusted a whopping 24 out of 36 outlets and mostly wingnut respondents distrusted 15 and were skeptical of quite a few more. The hostility wasn’t just to well-known liberal sources like MSNBC. Weak-minded wingnuts hated all the network news, CNN, NPR, and the major national outlets, except the Wall Street Journal.  Respondents who are mostly wingnut fared better, but were still hostile to the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as skeptical of mainstream organizations like CBS and NBC News.
The fact that wingnuts are this paranoid should be alarming enough, but it becomes even more frightening when you consider who wingnuts do trust in the media. Consistent wingnuts only trusted 8 media sources--compared to the 28 liberals trusted--and of the eight, only one has anything approaching respectable reporting or reliable information. And that one, the Wall Street Journal, has good straight reporting but has an op-ed page that is a train wreck of right-wing distortions and misinformation. Most wingnut people were a little more open-minded, trusting USA Today and ABC News, but still were supportive of openly distorting sources like Faux News or the Drudge Report.
The trust wingnuts put in wingnut media is utterly misplaced. For instance, both consistent and mostly wingnut people love Glenn Beck, though he’s a well-known purveyor of outrageous conspiracy theories that percolate up to him from fringe characters. Breitbart and Sean Hannity also rated high, despite their shared history of championing wingnut lunatic fringe characters like Cliven Bundy.
But what is really frightening is the reach of Faux News. Faux News rated as the only real news source for consistent wingnuts, with 47% of them citing it as their main source of news. Nothing even came close to touching it, as the second most common answer, “local radio” was cited by only 11% of consistent wingnuts. Eighty-eight percent of consistent wingnuts trusted Faux News. Mostly wingnut and even “mixed” people also liked Faux News.
The problem with this is watching Faux News actually makes you less informed than if you don't watch any news at all. In a 2012 study, Faux News viewers rated the absolute lowest in ability to correctly answer questions on a quiz about recent news events. People who didn’t take in any news programs at all did better on the quizzes. NPR listeners rated the best. Consistent liberals in the Pew research were big fans of NPR, by the way. It was the second most common outlet cited as a favorite by consistent liberals, topped only by CNN.
Faux News is one of the main factors, possibly the main factor, driving political polarization in this country. Huge chunks of this country listen mostly or solely to a relentless stream of misinformation coming from Faux News, coupled with warnings, implied or even baldly stated, to avoid listening to other, more factually accurate news sources. Unsurprisingly, then, more people are becoming wingnuts and people who were already wingnute are becoming more hardline about it. If you have any Faux viewers in your family, you probably already suspected this, but now Pew has given us the cold, hard facts to confirm your suspicions.

Press the Panic Button

Yeah, what he said

Stolen chicken wing led to man being knocked unconscious by pool ball and stabbing

Police officers in Collier, Florida, say a man who stole a chicken wing from another diner was knocked out when another patron threw a pool ball at his head.

His friend, who was also involved in the ensuing brawl, had to be flown to the hospital for serious injuries after he was stabbed. 
 Deputies arrested Amaury Perez, 28, of East Naples, on Tuesday.

According to reports, Perez and four others were at Bowland Beacon on Sept. 28 when they noticed people at another table were calling them names. 
 One of the victims walked by Perez and his friends and took a chicken wing off of their table.
 Perez and his friends threw a pool ball at a man who fell unconscious.
The group then beat up a second victim and stabbed him in the leg and abdomen. 
 Number plates from the suspects’ car were recorded as they fled the bowling alley. Deputies later tracked them to Perez, who is the only one to be arrested in the incident so far.

Chipotle Accused Of Stealing From Its Workers

by Bryce Covert
Chipotle Mexican Grill is being sued by workers in Colorado and Minnesota who accuse it of violating labor laws by purposely underpaying them.
Earns ChipotleIn a September 22 complaint in Colorado, the chain is accused of having “devised and implemented general policies and practices to deprive its hourly paid restaurant employees of the compensation to which they are entitled.” The practices allegedly include making employees work off the clock without pay through a number of mechanisms, one of which was using devices that automatically punched them off the clock even as they kept working. The attorneys for the different workers decided to collaborate when they realized all the workers were reporting the same problem.
Chipotle denies the charges, telling the Denver Business Journal that its policies are compliant with the law and, “The filing of a lawsuit is nothing more than allegations and is proof of absolutely nothing on its own.”
Chipotle isn’t the only fast food chain being sued over wage theft practices. Last week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued Papa John’s franchisees in New York for “significantly underpaying” more than 400 delivery drivers. The suit says the owners failed to pay them the minimum wage, paying as little as $5 an hour; failed to pay overtime; shaved hours off their paychecks; and required them to buy equipment for their jobs, such as bicycles and safety gear, with their own pay.
The lawsuit came out of a year-long investigation into the franchisees’ pay practices and is the first to emerge from several probes into fast food pay practices. Schneiderman is seeking more than $2 million in backpay, damages, and interest. Papa John’s didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment and the franchisees could not be reached.
The lawsuits are just the latest accusations of unlawful pay practices in fast food. For an industry that already pays poorly — the average hourly full-time worker makes less than $19,000 a year — workers aren’t even guaranteed their full check. Nearly 90 percent of fast food workers nationwide say they have experienced wage theft. Lawsuits and actions have been brought against McDonald’s, Subway, and Jimmy John’s, to name a few.
But they are not the only ones who have their pay stolen by employers. It’s estimated that employers rob their workers of more than $50 billion each year, more than triple the $14 billion taken from the victims of all robberies, burglaries, larcenies, and car thefts in 2012. The problem is getting worse, not better, as the number of wage theft cases filed in federal court increased from 5,000 in 2008 to nearly 8,000 last year.
These practices all violate the Federal Labor Standards Act, but to try and reverse the trend, some cities and states have enacted ordinances to crack down harder.

Delicious Popsicles Shaped Like Deadly Microorgamisms

From left to right, you can see MRSA, influenza, chicken pox, e. coli, and HIV.
Go ahead and take a lick! They're perfectly safe. Artist Wei Li made these popsicles just look like deadly pathogens. They're part of a project that he calls Dangerous Popsicles. Li explains that he wants to create a confusing sensory experience:
Before tasting with your tongue, you first taste with your eyes and mind. The popsicles are nothing but water and sugar, but ideas of deadly viruses and the spikiness of cacti are enough to stimulate your senses, even before your first taste.
He used a 3D printer to build models, which he then used to create popsicle molds.
In addition to the microorganisms, Li also created several cacti. They might not kill you, but you should check for spines before eating.

This Highly Realistic Bacon Scarf Looks Good Enough to Eat

Although it looks like thinly sliced bacon ready to slide into your skillet, this is actually a silk scarf designed by Natalie Luder. She calls it Fou Lard, which means "insane bacon." It's about 6 feet long and 1 foot wide. Luder composed this story about its origin:
About 1500 years ago a Chinese silkworm found his way to France to produce silk in Europe. In the country of the « bon vivants » it accidently landed in a butcher’s shop on top of a slice of bacon. Hmm, so soft and tasty, thought the vegetarien with surprise and with verve started to build a cocoon.
As the cocoon grew more and more the butcher’s wife, a sophisticated lady, catched an eye on it. Is this bacon going insane, she thought but shortly after she spotted the little worm who found itself in a new paradise. I will make the most beautiful scarf from your silk, she promised and kept feeding the silkworm with the best bits of bacon she could find. After three month she was wearing proudly the most shiny silk scarf that she would call with affection my „foulard“.

The Classic Horror Works of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, Available For Free Online

The writings of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe played a part in laying the groundwork for tales of modern horror. Stephen King called Lovecraft "the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale." Both Poe and Lovecraft's real life hardships lent to their ability to delve into darkness.

Poe, born in 1809, was a predecessor of Lovecraft, and an influence on his writing. As a child, Poe was abandoned by his father and a year later, his mother died of pulmonary tuberculosis (referred to then as consumption). He was taken in and raised by another couple, John and Frances Allan. His relationship with the former was stormy. Poe enjoyed success from his writing during his lifetime, unlike Lovecraft. An early success was his celebrated poem "The Raven."  Poe married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia when he was 26 years old. She died of tuberculosis at age 26. Poe's already present alcoholism worsened after the death of his wife, at times leading to professional setbacks and failures. Poe died at age 40 of unknown causes, though a number of explanations including complications of alcoholism, heart failure, cholera, syphilis and even rabies have been suggested.

Lovecraft, born in 1890, was only three years old when his father had a psychotic episode and was committed to a mental asylum for the remainder of his life. Once his father was committed, Lovecraft was raised primarily by his domineering mother, with help from two maternal aunts and his maternal grandfather, all of whom lived with the mother and son. Lovecraft, though a prodigy, was prone to ill health, anxiety and night terrors as a child, and suffered from anixiety and self-imposed isolation at times throughout his life. His mother was eventually committed to the same institution as his father after suffering mental health problems of her own. Like Lovecraft's father, his mother died in the asylum. H.P. Lovecraft died of cancer, nearly penniless, at age 46. Unfortunately, his talent wasn't duly recognized until after he died.

Lovecraft and Poe are today highly acclaimed for their macabre tales of horror, of which there are too many notable titles to name. Luckily for those interested in becoming more familiar with the works of both Poe and Lovecraft, many can be accessed online. These stories are perfect for the time of year when darkness comes early and there's much talk of the horror found upon midnights dreary.

Visit this link for the works of Edgar Allan Poe

Visit this link for the works of H.P. Lovecraft

Our Redheaded Ancestors: Maybe Not

Ancient humans found with red hair weren't necessarily redheads in life, but may have acquired their carrot tops after death, a new study finds.

120 arrested, 1,300 relics seized in Zhejiang's ‘biggest ever’ tomb-raiding case

by James Griffiths
Police in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province have arrested more than 120 people and seized around 1,300 relics in relation to 144 cases of tomb raiding.
Authorities there described it as the “biggest ever” case of tomb raiding and artifact trafficking in the province’s history.
Shaoxing plays host to hundreds of ancient tombs, some of which are thousands of years old. Archaeologists researching the burial sites first tipped off police to the tomb raiders’ activity, after which a task force was set up to track them down.
More than 800 officers from across Zhejiang took part in the investigation, which eventually resulted in the arrest of 124 people and the recovery of 1,335 cultural relics.
One such relic was a large bronze mirror, dating back to the Jin dynasty over 1,800 years ago.
“There may still be some pieces of national heritage in the relics, identification of them is still ongoing,” an investigator told the Qianjiang Evening News.
The majority of the tomb raiders were from the nearby area, police told reporters.
“They tend to have a good understanding of the history of Shaoxing, they know where to find the tombs,” an officer with the Shaoxing municipal public security bureau told the Evening News.
Police said thieves used the so-called ‘Luoyang shovel’ to find the graves. Invented in 1923 by a grave digger from Luoyang, Henan province, the shovel allows for its user to extract a long section of earth without disturbing the soil structure or digging a large hole. This allows the grave robber to analyze the soil for any bits of pottery, metal or masonry that might indicate an underground tomb.
Grave robbery is endemic across China; posing what experts say is a very real risk that priceless historical artifacts will be lost or stolen. One researcher estimated in 2012 that as many as 100,000 people across the country were involved in the crime.
“We used to say nine out of 10 tombs were empty because of tomb-raiding, but now it has become 9.5 out of 10,” Professor Lei Xingshan, an archaeologist at Peking University, told the Guardian.

Taiwan's Meat-shaped Stone is returning home

One of Taiwan's more unusual national treasures is returning home after an exhibition drew thousands of visitors in Japan.
Nearly 84,000 people went to see the famous Meat-shaped Stone, which was on display at Japan's Kyushu National Museum in the southern city of Fukuoka, a daily average of 5,995 visitors.
One of Taiwan's most revered artifacts, the Meat-shaped Stone is a piece of jasper, carved and dyed to resemble a chunk of stewed pork. According to the National Palace Museum, the craftsman "took the rich natural resources of this stone and carved it with great precision... the veining and hair follicles making the piece appear even more realistic."
Concerns for the Meat-shaped Stone's safety mean that the Taiwanese museum has kept its travel plans a closely guarded secret. But it's known that it had to undergo a 24-hour period of motionless after it had been packed before it was allowed to travel.

Living Rock

Massive Monuments Carved In Situ
Most buildings and sculptures are made out of stone which is quarried and then taken somewhere else to be carved or used in construction. Not so these places, where the sculpting took place on site to give us some of the most remarkable sites in the world.

Learning the 'Ropes'

Eruptions on the sun's surface are probably caused by giant, unstable magnetic plasma arches, a new study reports — a discovery that brings scientists one step closer to predicting solar outbursts that can wreak havoc on Earth. 

A Sunspot with our name on it

Julian gives a primer on sunspots -- what causes them, how often they happen, and most importantly: whether or not an enormous one is set to fire straight at Earth.

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Ebola’s evolution

EBOLAEbola’s evolutionary roots more ancient than previously thought

A new study is helping to rewrite Ebola’s family history. […]

Microbe Is Key in Climate Change

Stordalen_2012_CottonGrassNewly Discovered Microbe Is Key in Climate Change

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World's Longest Snake Has Virgin Birth - First Recorded in Species

An 11-year-old reticulated python produced six babies without mating in 2012.
A photo of a baby snake who was born from a virgin mother.
This reticulated python is one of six born to a virgin mother at the Louisville Zoo.
Virgin birth has been documented in the world's longest snake for the first time, a recent study says.
An 11-year-old reticulated python named Thelma produced six female offspring in June 2012 at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky, where she lives with another female python, Louise. No male had ever slithered anywhere near the 200-pound (91-kilogram), 20-foot-long (6 meters) mother snake.
New DNA evidence, published in July in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, revealed that Thelma is the sole parent, said Bill McMahan, the zoo's curator of ectotherms, or cold-blooded animals.
"We didn't know what we were seeing. We had attributed it to stored sperm," he said. "I guess sometimes truth is stranger than fiction."
Virgin births have been observed in other reptiles before, including other pythons and snake species, said James Hanken, a professor of herpetology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Fatherless reproduction in animals that normally require two parents is called parthenogenesis.
This phenomenon occurs when polar bodies, or cells produced with an animal's egg that normally die or disappear, behave like sperm and fuse with the egg.
Optimal Conditions
The number of species known to be capable of virgin births—pythons, boas, birds, sharks, and more—has grown significantly in recent years, noted study leader Warren Booth, a biologist at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.
For instance, until now, scientists had never witnessed the phenomenon in reticulated pythons.
"Pythons are an old, ancient species. We've seen this in more advanced species like garter snakes," said Booth, adding that the discovery helps scientists learn more about the snakes' evolutionary family tree.
It's still a mystery as to why parthenogenesis happens, though Booth hypothesizes that geographic isolation from males and captivity may have a lot to do with it.
In Thelma's case, her virgin birth may have been triggered by ideal living conditions, zoo curator McMahan speculates.
"It takes a lot out of [pythons] to reproduce, and she had everything she needed. I had fed her a really big meal, 40 pounds [18 kilograms] of chicken. She was living in an exhibit larger than the typical size. There were heat pads. Everything was optimal," he said.
A photo of a mother snake who had a virgin birth.
Thelma (above) gave birth in 2012 despite having no contact with a male.
No Evolutionary Novelty
Despite having only a mother, Thelma's offspring are all half-clones.
Three of them look like her, retaining her intricate reticulated pattern. The others display a "super tiger" pattern of bright yellow with black stripes.
While the six snakes are all healthy behind glass doors, Booth doubts their ability to survive in the wild as they're "highly inbred and often die early."
Overall, the discovery reveals that there's a lot left to be discovered about parthenogenesis.
"It's something we used to consider an evolutionary novelty," Booth said, "that's much more common than we thought."

Animal Pictures