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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.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Daily Drift

Hey, wingnuts, yeah, you're one and the same ...!
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Today in History

1072   Robert Guiscard and his brother Roger take Palermo in Sicily.
1645   The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, is beheaded on Tower Hill, accused of acting as an enemy of the British Parliament.  
1724   King Philip V shocks all of Europe when he abdicates his throne in favor of his eldest son, Louis.  
1811   An uprising of over 400 slaves is put down in New Orleans. Sixty-six blacks are killed and their heads are strung up along the roads of the city.
1847   General Stephen Kearny and Commodore Robert Stockton retake Los Angeles in the last California battle of the Mexican War.  
1861   Florida secedes from the Union.  
1863   London's Underground begins operations.
1870   John D. Rockefeller and his brother William establish the Standard Oil Company of Ohio.  
1899   Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo renounces the Treaty of Paris, which annexed the Philippines to the United States.  
1901   The Automobile Club of America installs signs on major highways.
1903   Argentina bans the importation of American beef because of sanitation problems.  
1911   Two German cruisers, the Emden and the Nurnberg, suppress a native revolt on island of Ponape in the Caroline Islands in the Pacific when they fire on the island and land troops.  
1912   The world's first flying-boat airplane, designed by Glenn Curtiss, makes its maiden flight at Hammondsport.
1917   Germany is rebuked as the Entente officially rejects a proposal for peace talks and demands the return of occupied territories from Germany.  
1918   In Washington, the House of Representatives passes legislation for women's suffrage.
1920   The Treaty of Versailles goes into effect.  
1923   The United States withdraws its last troops from Germany.  
1940   German planes attack 12 ships off the British coast; sinking 3 ships and killing 35 people.
1941   The Soviets and Germany agree on the East European borders and the exchange of industrial equipment.
1946   Chiang Kai-shek and the Yenan Communist forces halt fighting in China.
1964   Panama breaks ties with the U.S. and demands a revision of the canal treaty.  
1984   The United States and the Vatican establish full diplomatic relations for the first time in 117 years.  
1985   Sandinista Daniel Ortega becomes President of Nicaragua, vowing to continue the country's transformation to a socialist state with close ties to the USSR and Cuba.  
2007  A general strike begins in Guinea; eventually, it will lead to the resignation of the country's president, Lansana Conte.

Want to Be More Creative?

If you're careful about not being so bored that you lead yourself down dangerous paths, boredom can actually have fantastic mental benefits, spurring ideas and creativity as you're pushed by the dullness to do something.

No flight of fancy ...

Athena-in-flightNo flight of fancy: A robot wings its way to Germany

Can robots fly? The unequivocal answer is yes. Well, sort of. On Dec. 15, a humanoid robot named Athena flew economy class with other passengers from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, […]

Random Celebrity Photos


Betty Grable
Betty Grable

Democrats Mock the Glaring Emptiness of Boehner’s Defense of Steve Scalise

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is not impressed with John Boehner's (r-OH) defense of Steve Scalise's (r-LA) racist neo-Nazi sympathizing. …
Steve Scalise

The repugican House leadership held an awkward press conference Wednesday morning, in which they dismissed Steve Scalise’s white supremacist, neo-Nazi sympathizing as not being in his “heart” and blamed Obama for being President while taking credit for his veterans’ jobs bills. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
To the surprise of no one, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is not impressed with John Boehner’s (r-OH) defense of Steve Scalise’s (r-LA) racist neo-Nazi sympathizing. They pointed out years of Scalise’s racist policies, which aren’t erased by Scalise announcing that he doesn’t have bigotry in his heart.
Boehner also insisted that Scalise had a good heart. Boehner added, “He’s a decent person who made a mistake, we’ve all made mistakes.”
Scalise announced that it’s not in his heart to be a bigot. He also informed the press that the story of his sympathizing with neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers and racists is over. Sure, he’s the number 3 in leadership in the House, but this story is over.
That doesn’t sound like an apology. It sounds like a dismissal and a lot of privilege, which is the opposite of the tone he should be adopting in public.
This gave the DCCC a great opener to wonder in a statement, “What is actually in repugican Steve Scalise’s Heart?”
Because of course, this isn’t just about the one time Scalise spoke to a white supremacist group meeting that David Duke founded and attended. That is a symptom of Scalise’s years of racist policies, and policies matter. They matter more than what he tells us is in his heart.
The DCCC listed a few problems for Scalise:
Just now, John Boehner again defended embattled repugican Steve Scalise (whose nom de plume is David Duke without the Baggage). Boehner said “I know what’s in his heart” in defense of Scalise’s decision to troll for votes at a White Supremacist David Duke rally.
So let’s look at what’s in repugican Scalise’s heart…
  • And, as has been widely reported, Scalise chose to speak at a White Supremacist rally sponsored by known Neo Nazi David Duke.
As pointed out during the presser, “Everything is emotions with the repugican cabal. What does Scalise’s heart have to do with racist policies he’s pushed?” Because really, even though repugicans tried to pass Scalise’s pallin’ around with neo-Nazis as a “mistake”, at that point in time David Duke was an international embarrassment and was well known as “toxic” to his own repugican cabal in his home state of Louisiana.
Scalise knew what he was doing, but an apology has not been forthcoming. Instead we are being treated to his special privilege as a member of the repugican cabal — he is forgiven for his “mistakes” because he, unlike others (see Obama), has “a good heart.” We are to presume only the best of his intentions, in spite of his actions to the contrary and the record of his actions.
The real problem for repugicans is that Scalise could unveil to the general public the way repugicans have been using the Southern Strategy to get suckers to support policies that harm them, by stoking the fires of racism in the hearts of Americans. They’ve been doing this for over 40 years and it’s how they manage to serve the 2% and still get elected.
No one knows what is in Scalise’s heart, and I for one do not care. I care what he does as a lawmaker and elected official. His policies and the racism he has consistently used to push them is beneath the dignity of a U.S. Congressperson.

Obama Drops The Veto Hammer On The repugican Plot To Take Healthcare Away From Millions

obama veto 40 hour work week
The White House announced that President Obama will veto a repugican plan that will take away health insurance from one million Americans by restoring the 40-hour work week.
In a statement, the White House said,
The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 30, the Save American Workers Act, because it would significantly increase the deficit, reduce the number of Americans with employer-based health insurance coverage, and create incentives for employers to shift their employees to part-time work – causing the problem it intends to solve. Rather than attempting once again to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act, which the House has tried to do over 50 times, it is time for the Congress to stop fighting old political battles and join the President in forwarding an agenda focused on providing greater economic opportunity and security for middle class families and all those working to be a part of the middle class.

This legislation would weaken a provision of the Affordable Care Act designed to maintain employer-based health insurance coverage, protect their employees, and prevent employers’ health benefit costs from being shifted to taxpayers. According to the July estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, it would increase the budget deficit by $45.7 billion over the 2015 to 2024 period, reduce the number of people receiving employer-based health insurance coverage, and increase the number of individuals who are uninsured. While the Administration appreciates the concerns that result from the current 30-hour definition of full-time work, there is no evidence that this has caused a broad shift to part-time work to date. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since the Affordable Care Act became law, more than 90 percent of the increase in employment has been in full-time jobs, and over that time, the economy has added 10.8 million private-sector jobs. Furthermore, by moving the threshold to 40 hours, this legislation could cause the problem it claims to solve by greatly increasing the number of workers for whom employers may have an incentive to reduce hours to avoid the requirement.

The Affordable Care Act gives people greater control over their own health care. Since 2013, estimates show that about 10 million Americans have gained health coverage. Nearly 6.5 million have renewed or newly signed up for health insurance coverage through the Federally-facilitated Health Insurance Marketplaces to date, and open enrollment continues through February 15. Because of the Affordable Care Act, Americans who have previously been denied coverage due to a pre-existing medical condition now have access to coverage. Additionally, the law allows millions of young Americans to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26, and provides access to free preventive care like cancer screenings that can catch illness early on. Equally important, the Affordable Care Act has contributed to the slowest growth in the prices of health care goods and services in 50 years.
While the Administration welcomes ideas to improve the law, H.R. 30 would shift costs to taxpayers, put workers’ hours at risk, and disrupt health insurance coverage.

If the President were presented with H.R. 30, he would veto it.
A newer CBO estimate than the one cited by the White House found that the Republican bill would increase the deficit by $53 billion.
In February of 2014, the CBO found that the repugican plan to “restore the 40 hour work week” would take away health insurance from 1 million workers. Since the CBO analysis was done almost a year ago, the number of people likely to lose their insurance is higher today.
The real world impact of what Boehner and McConnell are trying to do is take away health care from 1 million or more Americans, half of which would have to get coverage through Medicaid, CHIP, or the health insurance exchanges. The other 500,000 people would be left without access to healthcare. The repugicans do not have the votes to override a presidential veto, which means that two of their first three pieces of legislation will be killed by President Obama.
Obama isn’t just threatening to veto the repugican agenda. He is dropping the veto hammer on the repugican cabal in a rapid fire manner. The message to Boehner and McConnell is clear. They obstructed this president for six years. It is payback time, and anything that the repugicans want to pass will have to go through President Obama.

Mitch McConnell Tries To Take Credit For The 11 Million Jobs That President Obama Created

Mitch McConnell (r-KY) tried to rewrite his history of obstruction and failure by taking credit for the economic growth that has occurred under President Obama.
On the Senate floor, McConnell tried to hijack Obama’s record on jobs.
McConnell said, “After so many years of sluggish growth, we’re finally starting to see some economic data that can provide a glimmer of hope. The uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama administration’s long tenure in Washington: The expectation of a new republican congress.”
Democrats could not contain their laughter. DNC Communications Director Mo Elleithee said, “Hahahahahahahahahahaha. That Mitch McConnell is one funny guy. He likes to remind people all the time that he’s not a scientist. Now we know he’s not a mathematician or an economist either. The fact is, under President Obama we’ve had 57 straight months of private sector job growth leading to nearly 11 million jobs added. All repugicans have given us is a government shutdown that cost the economy $24 billion. I get why he wants to take credit for the economic recovery. But maybe he should first do something to help contribute to it.”
The reality is that the economy gained 11 million jobs in spite of McConnell’s best efforts to keep the recession going. Unless McConnell believes that the economy started growing because the American people anticipated in 2011 that repugicans would steal control of Congress in 2014, his point makes absolutely no sense. The repugicans have no positive economic achievements of their own to tout, so they are trying to take credit for what President Obama has done.
As Boehner and McConnell realize that they aren’t going to be able to pass much legislation that will be signed into law, one should expect to hear a lot more of this sort of accomplishment hijacking. The repugicans have done little that is worthy of praise, so they will try to justify their majority by taking credit for Obama’s accomplishments. The repugicans like Mitch McConnell have been predicting gloom and doom for the economy since President Obama took office.
Instead of owning their mistakes, repugicans are trying to rewrite history in order to take all of the credit. Mitch McConnell’s policies remain the biggest threat to the economy that the American people and President Obama have worked so hard to build.

The repugicans On The Defensive Over Defunding Homeland Security After Paris Terrorist Attack

defund homeland security
Just hours after repugicans filed their first action to defund parts of homeland security in order to stop President Obama’s executive action on immigration reform, a terrorist attack in Paris has them running away from themselves again.
In the wake of the Paris magazine attacks that have reportedly killed 12 people including journalists and police, Lindsey Graham (r-SC) is backing away from repugican threats to defund Homeland Security as their way to defeat President Obama’s executive actions on immigration reform.
John Harwood, who covers Washington and national politics for CNBC and the New York Times, tweeted:
the repugicans only passed short term funding for the Department of Homeland Security in December, hoping to defund the agency in order to stop Obama from acting on his executive privilege with actions on immigration.
At the close of last year, Graham tried to have it both ways blaming Senate Democrats for his refusal to defund the DHS, “Anybody who believes that we are going to successfully attack the executive order of the president by cutting off funding with a Democratic-controlled Senate is not attached to reality politically,” Graham said. “The best way to attack these executive orders is next year when we have majorities in both the House and Senate.”
But Martha Roby (r-AL) opened the new congress with a bang, introducing a bill on Tuesday called the “Prevention of Executive Amnesty Act of 2015″, which allegedly avoids defunding Homeland Security by applying a “none of the funds” clause to the upcoming appropriation for the Department. The bill is supposedly intended to stop any spending on the President’s executive actions on immigration, while funding the rest of Homeland Security.
The problem with this is that Congress does not fund the agency that will carry out President’s executive actions, which are funded by fees.
None other than the House Appropriations Committee informed repugicans of this fact last November, according to The Hill:
“This agency is entirely self-funded through the fees it collects on various immigration applications,” the committee said in a statement. “Congress does not appropriate funds for any of its operations, including the issuance of immigration status or work permits, with the exception of the ‘E-Verify’ program. Therefore, the appropriations process cannot be used to ‘defund’ the agency.”
What part of “We cannot, literally cannot, defund that agency in an appropriations bill because we don’t appropriate that agency. That agency is entirely fee-funded” did repugicans not understand? It’s looking like House repugicans are starting the new Congress off with their specialty: useless showboating.
The only leverage repugicans have is shutting down the government, and that is why they left the DHS unfunded past February 27, 2015. But in light of the $1.4 billion bill repugicans stuck the American taxpayers with last time they shut down the government in yet another useless poutfest, repugicans keep adamantly denying that they are going to shut down the government.
What this bill and Graham’s quick dodge away from the repugican position really indicate is that repugicans are nervous about being blamed for the results of their defunding actions and anxious to set a very different tone with the new Congress. So this isn’t good press. Explaining that they weren’t going to defund Homeland Security, really, even though they have been talking about defunding Homeland Security and deliberately failed to fund it past February so they could hold it hostage is not good press.
It’s yet another one of those awkward moments when repugicans were on the verge of a defunding pouftest with nary a care to the consequences. After years of repugicans loudly declaring that any disaster that arouse had nothing to do with the massively careless and reckless defunding of government that they’ve enacted in a rather desperate effort to derail President Obama, the fact that at the close of the last Congress they carefully funded areas surrounding controversies they are currently blaming Obama for said a lot.
The repugicans were hoping to use a for show only defunding of executive actions show bill to further their narrative that Obama is the problem, but instead they got egg on their faces and a harsh reminder that playing politics while the real world continues on can be costly.

Corrupt John Boehner Conspires With Foreigners Against America’s Best Interests

Boehner has enlisted a foreign corporation (TransCanada), the Canadian Prime Minister, and a foreign energy department to put pressure on America, and particularly its President, to approve construction…
If a person is deemed pathological, it means they have an obsessive or persistent tendency to some kind of untoward behavior such as lying or stealing that they cannot, and will not, stop regardless the consequences; to other people. Obviously, if a person’s pathological behavior such as lying and unethical conduct, resulted in adverse or negative consequences to themselves, whatever the behavior was would not become a profitable compulsion. The reason the preponderance of repugicans are generally pathological liars is because they are never called to task, or suffer consequences, for their tendency to lie either for their campaign donors’ benefit or their own political power.
Although the repugican cabal is rife with unethical and pathological liars, it is likely none are as pathological as John A. Boehner (r-OH). For the past three-and-a-half years, Boehner has lied through his teeth about a foreign corporation’s pet project its home country will not let them build due to the existential damage to their nation’s environment, air quality, and water supply. Now, Boehner has enlisted a foreign corporation (TransCanada), the Canadian Prime Minister, and a foreign energy department to put pressure on America, and particularly its President, to approve construction of a pipeline Canada is well aware is an environmental and ecological disaster.
When it was first exposed that just before taking control of the House in 2011, John Boehner purchased stock in seven different Canadian tar sand companies, his blatant conflict of interest became glaringly evident and raised suspicion regarding his lack of ethics. Primarily because he began pushing the foreign pipeline’s construction across America’s agricultural heartland as creating “hundreds-of-thousands,” and maybe a million, jobs. Boehner knew he was lying because the foreigners that owned the pipeline, and the tar sand,  told  investors the project would create no more than 1,500 temporary jobs for about two years, and only 15-25 permanent jobs after that. Boehner also lied prolifically that building the Canadian pipeline would guarantee America’s energy independence when he knew full well that TransCanada intended on exporting every last drop of the Canadian refined oil to Japan, China, and Europe. Not only would the oil never reach Americans’ gas tanks, the Kochs would need to siphon off Midwest reserves of diesel oil to facilitate the corrosive tar to flow through the Korean-made pipe; farmers and truckers would see their fuel costs rise by about 20 cents a gallon. Again, Boehner knew all of this information because it came directly from the foreign corporation lusting to build the pipeline across American soil.
Now, because the Koch brothers bought control of the Congress, repugicans are on the verge of passing an unconstitutional effort to subvert the Executive Branch and State Department’s purview over the permitting process.  Now joining Boehner’s filthy lie-filled conspiracy, foreigners TransCanada, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Ottawa Canada, and the Canadian Natural Resources minister are repeating Boehner’s lies that “Keystone should be approved immediately because it is a job creation bonanza and will provide America with energy independence. As if it was not bad enough repugicans in the Koch-Congress are going all-in with the bovine excrement that “Keystone is a major job generator,” Boehner has a cabal of  Canadian foreigners lying to Americans for Boehner’s, the Koch’s, TransCanada’s, and the oil export industry’s profits. And, because President Obama is not swayed by the liars, Boehner had the temerity  to accuse the President of being “hopelessly out of touch with reality for threatening a Keystone veto.”
What is curious, indeed, is that if the Canadian corporation, Canadian Prime Minister, Ottawa Canada, and the Canadian Natural Resources minister are so incredibly certain the pipeline is safe, provides energy independence, and a major job generator; then why in dog’s name are they not immediately building the pipeline across Canadian soil? Is it because a short TransCanada pipeline span already ruptured and destroyed the ecosystem 12 times within its first year? Or is it because every stinking drop of that refined oil is slated for export to Europe, China, and Japan? Or because Canada enjoys full  employment and has no need for a “major job generator?” Also; since when are repugicans, John A. Boehner, the Koch brothers, or a bunch of foreigners and a foreign corporation so deeply concerned about America’s energy independence or its jobs situation?
John A. Boehner is a corrupt and unethical pathological liar and now he has a cabal of foreigners doing his and the Koch brothers bidding to the detriment of Americans health, the nation’s largest aquifer, private landowners, farmers and trucking industry, and the world’s climate. It is long past time to hold Boehner accountable for his preponderance of unethical behavior. He has already been referred to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for his KeystoneXL lies about jobs to manipulate tar sand stock prices, and MoveOn started a (still active) petition demanding the corrupt repugican resign and face House Ethics Committee charges. There is nothing anyone can do to the lying Canadians, although their recent campaign on behalf of the Kochs and John A. Boehner certainly are despicable. Including, by the way, TransCanada advertising on this column that the KeystoneXL pipeline is environmentally friendly, safe, provides American energy independence, and a “major job generator.”
What is often lost in the “controversy” over building a foreign corporation’s rupture-prone pipeline over American soil, aquifers, and private landowners’ property is the devastating impact on the world’s climate. Real scientists not affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, or the Koch brothers have screamed for five years (at least) that developing the million-plus square acres of Koch-controlled tar sand fields in Canada means “game over the Earth’s climate,” and even if Boehner and his foreign cabal’s claims were true; is it worth decimating the world’s climate? Obviously, in the pursuit of profits, John A. Boehner, the Koch brothers, and Canada’s Prime Minister, Ottawa, and Canada’s Natural Resources minister think so.
Not surprisingly, many seriously ignorant Americans think so as well and it is all down to the perpetual pathological lies spread over three-and-a-half years by unethical John A. Boehner. Lies, that President Obama can beat down with a thirty second national television address telling American idiots exactly what he told Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report about KeystoneXL; It is Canada’s oil, it is for export, it does not create jobs, and it is a certain ecological and environmental disaster waiting to  happen. They are true facts that those foreigners doing Boehner and the Koch brothers’ bidding in Canada’s government know to be true or they would have already built that dirty rupture-prone abomination on Canadian soil and not America that just goes to prove they have about as much regard for America’s interest as the pathological liar and unethically corrupt John A. Boehner.

CBO: the repugican Obamacare bill would increase deficit and uninsured rate

by Joan McCarter
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington June 17, 2014. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR3UAWO
The "Save American Workers Act," repugicans attempt to make it easier for employers to exploit their workers, gets a vote in the House this week. The bill is another attack on Obamacare, a "fix" that would change the definition of full-time work in the bill from 30 hours per week to 40. The employer mandate in the law says that employers with 50 or more workers has to either provide insurance to 95 percent of their full-time employees or pay a fine. The repugicans like to pretend that this means bosses will cut their workers' hours, and they'll fix that when in reality their bill will allow employers to get 39.5 hour work weeks out of their employees without having to shell out for benefits. It wouldn't just hurt workers, though. The Congressional Budget Office says it would create a $53 billion hit to the deficit and increase the uninsured rate.
The agency thinks that 1 million fewer people would get health insurance at work: an employer might decide not to offer coverage to someone who works 35 hours per week, for example, because they no longer face a penalty. Some of these people would just be out of luck — a bit fewer than 500,000 people, CBO says, would end up uninsured. More would end up on government programs: between 500,000 and 1 million people would join Medicaid or enroll through the exchanges (maybe with a federal subsidy, if they earn less than 400 percent of the poverty line) after losing their employer coverage.
As a result, CBO estimates that the federal government would end up spending $53.2 billion more on the Affordable Care Act.
Remember when the deficit was the only thing that (supposedly) mattered to repugicans?
McConnell says CBO estimate that 40 hour bill adds to deficit doesn't bother him. "It will be on the floor." #ACA
The White House issued a veto threat (let the year of the veto commence), saying the bill "would shift costs to taxpayers, put workers' hours at risk, and disrupt health insurance coverage." For repugicans, that's a feature rather than a bug.

FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force Investigating Explosion Near Colorado NAACP Office

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating an explosion that was detonated near a Colorado Springs NAACP office on Tuesday. The explosion was detonated outside Mr. G’s Hair Design Studio which is next door to the NAACP office. Investigators are not yet certain whether the NAACP office, or the hair salon, was the intended target. The salon caters to a mostly African-American clientele. Investigators have identified a person of interest wanted for questioning regarding the incident. The person of interest is identified as a balding white male in his 40s who drives a dirty, older model pickup truck.
Fortunately, nobody was injured in the blast. Property damage was minor. A gas can left near the detonation failed to ignite or the consequences could have been far more serious. Sandra Young, Denver chapter president of the NAACP, declared the explosion an “act of domestic terrorism”. Colorado Springs chapter president Henry Allen Jr was reluctant to speculate about whether or not the bombing was a hate crime, but he did say his organization would not be deterred by the explosion.
Investigators have not determined if the NAACP was the intended target, but they do believe the bombing was deliberate. The NAACP is no stranger to violence and intimidation. On December 25, 1951 a bomb exploded underneath the bedroom floor of Florida NAACP founder Harry T Moore and his wife, Harriette. The bombing killed both of them. Not only was the explosion on Christmas Day, but it was also the Moores’ 25th wedding anniversary.
On June 12, 1963, NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers was murdered in his Jackson, Mississippi driveway by Ku Klux Klan member Byron De La Beckwith. Outrage over Evers’ assassination helped galvanize the civil rights movement. The following year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law.
Luckily, the Colorado Springs bombing did not result in any injuries to members of the NAACP or to patrons and employees of Mr. G’s Hair Design Studio. As more information about the case becomes available, we may gain insight about the motives of the perpetrator. The NAACP was a frequent target of hate crimes in the 20th century. Hopefully, we are not witnessing a rebirth of violent bigots who fought the civil rights movement with bombs and bullets, leaving their bloody imprint on the American landscape in the 20th century.

Wealthy caught collecting aid

Rich dude gets caught collecting aid A man and his wife living on a $1.2m yacht have been caught for applying for food stamps and other assistance. Mind you $168,000 is not a lot when you are talking about US medical costs.

Daily Comic Relief


Be Happy, Fake a Smile

It may be harder to smile, muscle-wise, than it is to frown, but smiling (even fake-smiling!) can help you to find things funnier and make you happier. Trace turns his frown upside down to recount some studies that have reached this sunny conclusion. 

"Minimally Conscious' Speaking

A man in Italy who was in what doctors call a minimally conscious state for nearly two years unexpectedly regained full consciousness and the ability to talk. 

Prostate Cancer Detection

640px-Prostate_cancer_with_Gleason_pattern_4_low_magNovel Imaging Technique Improves Prostate Cancer Detection

More accurate diagnoses could mean less invasive interventions, more surveillance In 2014, prostate cancer was the leading cause of newly diagnosed cancers in men and the second leading cause of […]

New Antibiotic Kills Drug-Resistant Germs

Scientists have discovered a new class of antibiotics that can kill a wide range of dangerous, drug-resistant bacteria. 

The Common Cold and Cold Temperatures

Winsor_McCay_-_Little_Sammy_Sneeze_(1905)_book_coverCommon cold may in fact be triggered by cold temps

The common cold virus can reproduce itself more efficiently in the cooler temperature found inside the nose than at core body temperature, according to a new Yale-led study. This finding […]

Not just rain ...

thunderstorm_DI00701_300Not just rain: thunderstorms also pour down ozone

A new study in Geophysical Research Letters offers for the first time unequivocal evidence that large storms move significant amounts of ozone from the stratosphere down to the troposphere, the […]

People in History


Bonnie and Clyde
Bonnie and  Clyde

The two-tailed lions of Bohemia

This lion decorates the most beautiful headstone of the old Jewish cemetery in Prague. Not one lion, but two, one at each end of the sarcophagus, which includes four tails all in all...

This pose of the lions and their double tail is really quite unusual in a Jewish cemetery. We have already mentioned that the lion on Jewish tombstones mostly refers to the tribe of Judah or those of Davidic descent, or the name of the deceased as Judah, Aryeh, Leb or Löw. Sometimes it supports, together with a fellow lion, the crown of the Torah, which symbolizes the protection of the faith. But it never holds a nobleman’s coat of arms – as a Jew could never have such a thing –, nor is it ever double-tailed, which has served as the heraldic device of Czech kings, ever since Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1558 1158 bestowed it, together with the title of king, upon the Czech prince Wladislaw II, for having supported his Milan campaign.
An earlier post at Poemas del rio Wang documents the extensive use of the double- or forked-tail lion in Prague and surrounding areas.
The Wikipedia entry on the Lion in heraldry depicts the basic creature and its variants: "The tail also may be knotted (nowed), forked (queue fourchée) or doubled (double-queued); as in the arms of the kingdom of Bohemia."
But why double?  Or forked?  I know of no legendary creatures with such an attribute.  If I were to bet a nickel, I would guess that the original artist drew a double tail as an artistic convention to depict a tail in motion, and thereafter the tradition was established.  Some readers with actual knowledge may be able to offer a more definitive explanation.

Mosaics at the Zeugma excavation

Zeugma was located at the only crossing place between Anatolia and Mesopotamia; it is estimated that two or three thousand houses are buried there.  A series of excavations currently underway there is revealing some startling mosaics. "The mosaics, created in the 2nd century BC, are constructed of boldly colored glass and are being covered for protection until excavation is complete."
Additional photos and an informative 25-minute video about the recovery and conservation of these art works at Laughing Squid.

Pharaonic Rock Carvings

The portrait of an unidentified pharaoh has been found in a small rock carved stela in the ancient sandstone quarries of Gebel el Sisila.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Gets His Own Late Night Talk Show

by Matt Wilstein
America’s favorite astrophysicist and host of  the rebooted Cosmos series Neil deGrasse Tyson has made numerous appearances on shows like The Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher. But this spring, he will get the opportunity to host his own late night talk show of sorts on the National Geographic Channel.
Star Talk, which is also the name of the host’s popular podcast, will be taped in front of a live audience at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium in New York City, where Tyson serves as director. It is scheduled to premiere some time in April.
Cosmos allowed us to share the awesome power of the universe with a global audience in ways that we never thought possible,” Tyson said in a statement. “To be able to continue to spread wonder and excitement through Star Talk, which is a true passion project for me, is beyond exciting. And National Geographic Channel is the perfect home as we continue to explore the universe.”

Do Mars Rover Photos Show Potential Signs of Ancient Life?

by Johnny Bontemps
Do Mars Rover Photos Show Potential Signs of Ancient Life? A careful study of images taken by the NASA rover Curiosity has revealed intriguing similarities between ancient sedimentary rocks on Mars and structures shaped by microbes on Earth. The findings suggest, but do not prove, that life may have existed earlier on the Red Planet.
The photos were taken as the Mars rover Curiosity drove through the Gillespie Lake outcrop in Yellowknife Bay, a dry lakebed that underwent seasonal flooding billions of years ago. Mars and Earth shared a similar early history. The Red Planet was a much warmer and wetter world back then.
On Earth, carpet-like colonies of microbes trap and rearrange sediments in shallow bodies of water such as lakes and coastal areas, forming distinctive features that fossilize over time. These structures, known as microbially-induced sedimentary structures (or MISS), are found in shallow water settings all over the world and in ancient rocks spanning Earth's history.
Nora Noffke, a geobiologist at Old Dominion University in Virginia, has spent the past 20 years studying these microbial structures. Last year, she reported the discovery of MISS that are 3.48 billion years old in the Western Australia's Dresser Formation, making them potentially the oldest signs of life on Earth.
In a paper published online last month in the journal Astrobiology (the print version comes out this week), Noffke details the striking morphological similarities between Martian sedimentary structures in the Gillespie Lake outcrop (which is at most 3.7 billion years old) and microbial structures on Earth.
Do Mars Rover Photos Show Potential Signs of Ancient …The distinctive shapes include erosional remnants, pockets, domes, roll-ups, pits, chips and cracks, which on Earth can extend from a few centimeters to many kilometers.
Although Noffke makes a tantalizing case for possible signs of ancient life on Mars, her report is not a definitive proof that these structures were shaped by biology. Getting such confirmation would involve returning rock samples to Earth and conducting additional microscopic analyses, a mission that isn’t scheduled anytime in the near future.
"All I can say is, here's my hypothesis and here's all the evidence that I have," Noffke says, "although I do think that this evidence is a lot."
"The fact that she pointed out these structures is a great contribution to the field," says Penelope Boston, a geomicrobiologist at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. "Along with the recent reports of methane and organics on Mars, her findings add an intriguing piece to the puzzle of a possible history for life on our neighboring planet."
A careful analysis
Do Mars Rover Photos Show Potential Signs of Ancient …"I've seen many papers that say 'Look, here's a pile of dirt on Mars, and here's a pile of dirt on Earth,'" says Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center and an associate editor of the journal Astrobiology. "And because they look the same, the same mechanism must have made each pile on the two planets.'"
McKay adds: "That's an easy argument to make, and it's typically not very convincing. However, Noffke's paper is the most carefully done analysis of the sort that I’ve seen, which is why it's the first of its kind published in Astrobiology."
The images on which Noffke drew are publicly available on the Mars Science Laboratory page on NASA’s website.
"In one image, I saw something that looked very familiar," Noffke recalls. "So I took a closer look, meaning I spent several weeks investigating certain images centimeter by centimeter, drawing sketches, and comparing them to data from terrestrial structures. And I've worked on these for 20 years, so I knew what to look for."
Noffke compared the rover pictures to images taken at several sites on Earth, including modern sediment surfaces in Mellum Island, Germany; Portsmouth Island, USA; and Carbla Point, Western Australia; as well as older fossils of microbial mats in Bahar Alouane, Tunisia; the Pongola Supergroup in Africa; and the Dresser Formation in Western Australia.
The photos showed striking morphological similarities between the terrestrial and Martian sedimentary structures.
Do Mars Rover Photos Show Potential Signs of Ancient …The distribution patterns of the microbial structures on Earth vary depending on where they are found. Different types of structures are found together in different types of environments. For instance, microbial mats that grow in rivers will create a different set of associations than those that grow in seasonally flooded environments.
The patterns found in the Gillespie Lake outcrop are consistent with the microbial structures found in similar environments on Earth.
What’s more, the terrestrial structures change in a specific way over time. As the microbial mats form, grow, dry up, crack and re-grow, specific structures become associated with them. Here again, Noffke found that the distribution pattern in Martian rocks correspond with microbial structures on Earth that have changed over time. Taken together, these clues strengthen her argument beyond simply pointing out the similarities in shape.
In her paper, she also describes alternative processes through which these could have formed. For instance, the chips, pits and cracks could be the product of erosion by salt, water, or wind.
"But if the Martian structures aren’t of biological origin," Noffke says, "then the similarities in morphology, but also in distribution patterns with regards to MISS on Earth would be an extraordinary coincidence."
"At this point, all I’d like to do is point out these similarities," she adds. "Further evidence must be provided to verify this hypothesis."
Confirmation pending
At the end of her report, Noffke outlines a detailed strategy for confirming the potential biological nature of the Martian structures. Unfortunately, one important step — returning samples to Earth for further analyses — is just not feasible yet.
Noffke also lists a series of measurements Curiosity could potentially do to strengthen the case if it came across such structures again, including looking for organic or chemical signatures using its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument.
But McKay says this likely would not work. "In principle, that instrument could tell us something about the nature of these materials biologically, if there were still large amounts of biological organics in the samples," he explains. "But these are just ancient sedimentary structures, and biology has long since left."
"What's more, in practice this instrument is restricted," he adds. "There was a contamination spill in the instrument presumably during landing. So it has a very high background contamination level."
On Earth, scientists typically confirm the biological nature of microbial sediment structures by searching for specific microscopic textures, which involves cutting rocks into thin slices and studying them under a microscope.
On Mars, this would be very difficult do from an engineering perspective, although McKay doesn’t rule out the possibility for future missions. "I don't know if it can be done, but engineers are pretty smart," he says. "If you give them a challenge, they usually find a solution."
He adds: "A sample-return mission would be the gold standard. But that's just unlikely to happen anytime soon."

Why Scientists Say We Shouldn't Save Some of Your Favorite Birds

by Emily Gertz
The resurgence of the American bald eagle seems like the perfect example of successful wildlife conservation. From fewer than 500 breeding pairs in the early 1960s, when federal law first protected the species, recovery efforts have boosted bald eagle numbers to upwards of 10,000 breeding pairs. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which terms bald eagle recovery “an American success story” and a “major achievement in conservation,” took the bald eagle off the endangered species list in 2007.
But now some scientists say it really wasn’t worth spending all that money on what they call a pretty average bird.
Why? Because from an evolutionary perspective, the bald eagle has many living relatives, which means that there are many near-matching “backups” of its genetic traits.
Compare the bald eagle to the Philippine eagle, an extremely endangered, large bird-of-prey.  It has only one or two contemporary bird relatives—making it a storehouse of all-but-irreplaceable genetic information. In fact, the Philippine eagle is eighth on a list of “evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered” (EDGE) bird species.
In a paper published in the latest issue of the U.K. scientific journal Philosophical Transactions B, a team of researchers argue that with so many birds threatened with extinction, and so little money or time available to save any of them, we should prioritize the endangered avian species that have few or no living genetic relatives.
The team developed a “cost–benefit prioritization approach for conservation” of endangered birds, with evolutionary heritage and distinctiveness as the crucial factor.
That means the critically endangered California condor—North America’s largest bird and No. 3 on the EDGE list—would be deemed worth saving. But the federally protected northern spotted owl, which sparked epic fights to save its ancient forest habitat in the 1980s and 1990s, would be considered more expendable.
The scientists found that money spent on saving the most unique species would have four times the conservation impact.
“We do not advocate the removal of existing financial support for any species that are not ranked as high priorities in our return-on-investment analysis,” states the report. “Instead, we propose a complementary method for optimizing future resource allocation for bird conservation to maximize future” preservation of evolutionary diversity.
Steve Zack, the coordinator of bird conservation with the Wildlife Conservation Society, said that while the analysis is interesting, the approach it advocates is unlikely to catch fire in the real world.
“As a practitioner of conservation, this discussion is so much more complicated,” he said. “There isn’t a single pot of conservation money, completely unrestricted as to use, where we can collectively work together in a kumbaya way to conserve species based on a single criterion.
 “We do extensively collaborate with other groups,” Zack added. “But it’s inevitable that we’re all competing for the same scarce pots of money.”
Bird conservation decisions have to incorporate evolutionary and ecological factors, Zack said, but also what’s important to donors, the desires of local communities, and effective relations with local and national governments.
In other words, saving a beautiful or popular bird may sometimes trump other considerations.
“In my world,” he said, “we’re attempting to wrestle with the recent and dramatic declines of vultures worldwide, due to poisoned carcasses, intentionally and unintentionally, throughout Asia and Africa. It’s a big, complicated, and recent problem.”
Vultures are about average in terms of evolutionary distinctiveness, he said, and many species are not charismatic. “They’re dull brown, and eating carcasses does not endear them to everyone.” But it helps keep both wild and human communities free of diseases.
“Their core assertion is that we’re ineffective and we’re misallocating funds,” Zack said. “It’s such a simplistic way to look at the important work that many do within the very strong real world constraints of wildlife conservation. And the bottom line is the bottom line: There are insufficient resources to do and succeed at conservation. We’re really racing do what we can, where we can.”