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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, August 17, 2015

The Daily Drift

Welcome to the Monday Edition of  Carolina Naturally.
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Today in History

1743 By the Treaty of Abo, Sweden cedes southeast Finland to Russia, ending Sweden’s failed war with Russia.
1812 Napoleon Bonaparte’s army defeats the Russians at the Battle of Smolensk during the Russian retreat to Moscow.
1833 The first steam ship to cross the Atlantic entirely on its own power, the Canadian ship Royal William, begins her journey from Nova Scotia to The Isle of Wight.
1863 Union gunboats attack Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, for the first time.
1942 Marine Raiders attack Makin Island in the Gilbert Islands from two submarines.
1943 Allied forces complete the conquest of Sicily.
1944 The mayor of Paris, Pierre Charles Tattinger, meets with the German commander Dietrich von Choltitz to protest the explosives being deployed throughout the city.
1945 Upon hearing confirmation that Japan has surrendered, Sukarno proclaims Indonesia’s independence.
1960 American Francis Gary Powers pleads guilty at his Moscow trial for spying over the Soviet Union in a U-2 plane.
1978 Three Americans complete the first crossing of the Atlantic in a balloon.
1987 93-year-old Rudolf Hess, former Nazi leader and deputy of Hitler, is found hanged to death in Spandau Prison.
1988 Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq is killed in an airplane crash suspected of being an assassination.
1998 President Bill Clinton admits to the American public that he had affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
1999 A 7.4-magnitude earthquake near Izmit, Turkey kills over 17,000 and injures nearly 45,000.
2005 Israel begins the first forced evacuation of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, as part of a unilateral disengagement plan.
2012 Moscow’s top court upholds ban of gay pride events in Russia’s capital city for 100 years.

The Link Between Sarcasm and Creativity

The next time you hear sarcasm or express it yourself, consider that it may actually be stimulating your brain toward creativity and smarts. 

How Much of the Money in Circulation Is Fake?

Thanks to counterfeiters, you could be walking around with bogus cash in your pocket. Are you just unlucky, or is there a lot of funny money out there?

The Real Housewives of Ancient Egypt Had 8-Foot-Long Prenups

A 2,480-year-old scroll, now at Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, is a beautiful artifact of an ancient time. Is it a religious text? A government edict? No, this scroll is a legal contract, delineating what compensation would be paid in case a particular marriage didn’t work out. In other words, it’s a prenup. Egyptologist Dr. Emily Teeter explains,
"Most people have no idea that women in ancient Egypt had the same legal rights as men," says Teeter. Egyptian women, no matter their marital status, could enter into contracts, sue and be sued, and serve on juries and as witnesses. They could acquire and own property (and fairly often, they did: a fragment of papyrus from 1147 B.C, denoting thousands of land holdings names women as the owners of about 10 percent of the properties listed).
This particular prenup awarded the woman silver pieces and bags of grain for life if the marriage fell apart. It’s not the only ancient Egyptian pre-nup that survives, nor is Egypt the only land that did this. Read more about ancient marriage contracts that were enshrined in legal documents at Atlas Obscura.

New Zealand Will Choose a New Flag from 40 Possible Designs, Including These

The current flag of New Zealand is the British Union Flag in a corner with four stars on a blue field. These symbols represent the nation's origin as a British colony and the constellation of the Southern Cross.
The government is ditching this flag for something that represents the nation's present and future, not just its past. And it's putting the matter to a national vote. Here is a gallery of 40 designs that citizens have to choose from. The swirly one at the top of this post is particularly eye-catching. Daniel and Leon Crayford of Auckland designed it. They explain its meaning:
This unfurling pikopiko koru is about vibrancy and energy contained in a small space. By using the Māori spiral design and applying the colors of the 1902 New Zealand flag, it honors both the indigenous and colonial cultures.

Ai Weiwei's New Life in Europe

'Nobody Has Endless Strength'
by Bernhard Zand
'Nobody Has Endless Strength': Ai Weiwei's New Life in Europe
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was finally given his passport back and immediately left the country to join his family in Germany. But he is unsettled by his newfound freedom and he is searching for a new role.  More

Master teacher suing New York state over ‘ineffective’ rating is going to court

by Valerie Strauss 
A veteran teacher suing New York state education officials over the controversial method they used to evaluate her as “ineffective” is expected to go to New York Supreme Court in Albany this week for oral arguments in a case that could affect all public school teachers in the state and even beyond.
Sheri G. Lederman, a fourth-grade teacher in New York’s Great Neck public school district, is “highly regarded as an educator,” according to her district superintendent, Thomas Dolan, and has a “flawless record”. The standardized math and English Language Arts test scores of her students are consistently higher than the state average.
Yet her 2013-2014 evaluation, based in part on student standardized test scores, rated her as “ineffective.” How can a teacher known for excellence be rated “ineffective”? It happens — and not just in New York.
The evaluation method, known as value-added measurement (or modeling), purports to be able to predict through a complicated computer model how students with similar characteristics are supposed to perform on the exams — and how much growth they are supposed to show over time — and then rate teachers on how well their students measure up to the theoretical students. New York is just one of the many states where VAM is one of the chief components used to evaluate teachers.
Testing experts have for years been warning school reformers that efforts to evaluate teachers using VAM are not reliable or valid, but school reformers, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, have embraced the method as a “data-driven” evaluation solution championed by some economists.
Lederman’s suit against state education officials — including John King, the former state education commissioner, who now is a top adviser to Duncan at the Education Department — challenges the rationality of the VAM model used to evaluate her and, by extension, other teachers in the state. The lawsuit alleges that the New York State Growth Measures “actually punishes excellence in education through a statistical black box which no rational educator or fact finder could see as fair, accurate or reliable.”
It also, in many aspects, defies comprehension. High-stakes tests are given only in math and English language arts, so reformers have decided that all teachers (and, sometimes, principals) in a school should be evaluated by reading and math scores. Sometimes, school test averages are factored into all teachers’ evaluations. Sometimes, a certain group of teachers are attached to either reading or math scores; social studies teachers, for example, are more often attached to English Language Arts scores, while science teachers are attached to math scores. An art teacher in New York City explained in this post how he was evaluated on math standardized test scores and saw his evaluation rating drop from “effective” to “developing.”
A teacher in Florida — which is another state that uses VAM — discovered that his top-scoring students actually hurt his evaluation. How? In Indian River County, an English Language Arts middle school teacher named Luke Flynt told his school board that through VAM formulas, each student is assigned a “predicted” score — based on past performance by that student and other students — on the state-mandated standardized test. If the student exceeds the predicted score, the teacher is credited with “adding value.” If the student does not do as well as the predicted score, the teacher is held responsible and that score counts negatively toward his/her evaluation. He said he had four students whose predicted scores were “literally impossible” because they were higher than the maximum number of points that can be earned on the exam. He said:
“One of my sixth-grade students had a predicted score of 286.34. However, the highest a sixth-grade student can earn earn is 283. The student did earn a 283, incidentally. Despite the fact that she earned a perfect score, she counted negatively toward my valuation because she was 3 points below predicted.
Hard to believe, isn’t it?
In 2012-13, 68.75 percent of Lederman’s New York students met or exceeded state standards in both English and math. She was labeled “effective” that year. In 2013-2014, her students’ test results were very similar, but she was rated “ineffective.” Dolan, the superintendent, said in an affidavit:
As superintendent of the GNPS, I have personally known Dr. Lederman for approximately 4 years. I have had the opportunity to meet with her personally. I have also reviewed her record of teaching, particularly the performance of her students on New York State assessment tests. I can personally attest that she is highly regarded as an educator by the administration of GNPS. Her classroom observations have consistently identified her as an exceptional educator. She is widely regarded in the GNPS as someone who brings out the best in her students. She has taught for seventeen (17) years in the GNPS and her record is flawless.
Affidavits of numerous experts supporting Lederman have been filed — including from Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond — and you can see them here. Oral arguments are scheduled to be heard Wednesday, Aug. 12. Should Lederman successfully challenge the New York teacher evaluation system, state officials might have to revamp it.

The Outrageous Ascent of CEO Pay

by Bill Moyers
The Securities and Exchange Commission approved a rule last week requiring that large publicly held corporations disclose the ratios of the pay of their top CEOs to the pay of their median workers.
About time.
For the last thirty years almost all incentives operating on American corporations have resulted in lower pay for average workers and higher pay for CEOs and other top executives.
Consider that in 1965, CEOs of America’s largest corporations were paid, on average, 20 times the pay of average workers. 
Now, the ratio is over 300 to 1.
Not only has CEO pay exploded, so has the pay of top executives just below them. 
The share of corporate income devoted to compensating the five highest-paid executives of large corporations ballooned from an average of 5 percent in 1993 to more than 15 percent by 2005 (the latest data available).
Corporations might otherwise have devoted this sizable sum to research and development, additional jobs, higher wages for average workers, or dividends to shareholders – who, not incidentally, are supposed to be the owners of the firm.
Corporate apologists say CEOs and other top executives are worth these amounts because their corporations have performed so well over the last three decades that CEOs are like star baseball players or movie stars.
Baloney. Most CEOs haven’t done anything special. The entire stock market surged over this time. 
Even if a company’s CEO simply played online solitaire for thirty years, the company’s stock would have ridden the wave.  
Besides, that stock market surge has had less to do with widespread economic gains that with changes in market rules favoring big companies and major banks over average employees, consumers, and taxpayers.
Consider, for example, the stronger and more extensive intellectual-property rights now enjoyed by major corporations, and the far weaker antitrust enforcement against them. 
Add in the rash of taxpayer-funded bailouts, taxpayer-funded subsidies, and bankruptcies favoring big banks and corporations over employees and small borrowers.
Not to mention trade agreements making it easier to outsource American jobs, and state legislation (cynically termed “right-to-work” laws) dramatically reducing the power of unions to bargain for higher wages.
The result has been higher stock prices but not higher living standards for most Americans.
Which doesn’t justify sky-high CEO pay unless you think some CEOs deserve it for their political prowess in wangling these legal changes through Congress and state legislatures.
It even turns out the higher the CEO pay, the worse the firm does.
Professors Michael J. Cooper of the University of Utah, Huseyin Gulen of Purdue University, and P. Raghavendra Rau of the University of Cambridge, recently found that companies with the highest-paid CEOs returned about 10 percent less to their shareholders than do their industry peers.
So why aren’t shareholders hollering about CEO pay? Because corporate law in the United States gives shareholders at most an advisory role.
They can holler all they want, but CEOs don’t have to listen. 
Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, received a pay package in 2013 valued at$78.4 million, a sum so stunning that Oracle shareholders rejected it. That made no difference because Ellison controlled the board.
In Australia, by contrast, shareholders have the right to force an entire corporate board to stand for re-election if 25 percent or more of a company’s shareholders vote against a CEO pay plan two years in a row.
Which is why Australian CEOs are paid an average of only 70 times the pay of the typical Australian worker.
The new SEC rule requiring disclosure of pay ratios could help strengthen the hand of American shareholders.
The rule might generate other reforms as well – such as pegging corporate tax rates to those ratios.
Under a bill introduced in the California legislature last year, a company whose CEO earns only 25 times the pay of its typical worker would pay a corporate tax rate of only 7 percent, rather than the 8.8 percent rate now applied to all California firms.
On the other hand, a company whose CEO earns 200 times the pay of its typical employee, would face a 9.5 percent rate. If the CEO earned 400 times, the rate would be 13 percent.
The bill hasn’t made it through the legislature because business groups call it a “job killer.” 
The reality is the opposite. CEOs don’t create jobs. Their customers create jobs by buying more of what their companies have to sell.
So pushing companies to put less money into the hands of their CEOs and more into the hands of their average employees will create more jobs.
The SEC’s disclosure rule isn’t perfect. Some corporations could try to game it by contracting out their low-wage jobs. Some industries pay their typical workers higher wages than other industries.
But the rule marks an important start.

Man says he was humiliated after store staff mistook his colostomy bag for stolen clothes

A man has spoken of his humiliation at being accused of trying to steal a pair of trousers by stuffing it up his jumper when he was actually just holding his colostomy bag. Lee Winters-Jones, 31, from Colwyn Bay, North Wales, says he felt publicly humiliated when he was confronted by an employee from the Next store in Prestatyn. The blundering member of staff appears to have become suspicious after spotting Lee Winters-Jones clutching his stomach when walking around the shop last Sunday morning.
Mr Winters-Jones, 31, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, said: “We were only in Next for a couple of minutes, but I did notice a guy had followed us down the stairs but I didn’t really think anything of it. After Next we walked to Marks & Spencer’s which is quite a long way away. I can only walk slowly and I’ve got a walking stick, but my free hand does tend to hold my colostomy bag, it’s a self conscious thing.”
After spending about ten minutes in Marks & Spencer’s, Mr Winters-Jones says he was then confronted by the same man who had followed him downstairs at the Next store. Mr Winters-Jones, who underwent a hernia operation two weeks ago, said: “He just came up to me and said that he had a reason to believe that I had stolen some suit trousers. I felt forced to show him that underneath my jumper was my colostomy bag, and I told him that he had discriminated against me, he denied this. He said a quick sorry, then he just walked off.
“It was a horrible experience, I felt very shaken up there was a lot of people in the store, it was a public shaming and I hadn’t even done something.” Lee's angry mother went back to Next and confronted a different staff member of staff who Lee said was very apologetic. “I didn’t see the point in going back,” said Mr Winters-Jones. “They have offered me compensation, £200 to start with which has gone up to £500 but this was never about the money.” A spokesman for Next said: "We would like to pass on our sincere apologies for any distress caused to Mr Winters Jones. We are currently investigating this incident as a matter of urgency and liaising with the management team both at the store and head office to ensure that something like this does not happen again."

LAPD holds pregnant woman at gunpoint

Los Angeles police hold a pregnant woman and her husband at gunpoint on Aug. 14, 2015. [KNBC-TV]
Helicopter footage shows the woman, who is reportedly expected to give birth next week, being held at gunpoint by several officers. An unidentified man who was riding in the passenger seat can be seen with his hands up standing alongside the woman’s truck.

Texas cops attack woman in her own home ...

Travis County sheriff's deputies confront Tori Thayer on Aug. 2, 2015. [YouTube]The Travis County Sheriffs Department confirmed in a statement that it was investigating the Aug. 2 encounter between the deputies and Tori Thayer, but added, “Any further statement or publication of evidence in the case, on television or social media, before a thorough investigation is completed is inappropriate and interferes with the integrity of the investigation."

Man impersonating police officer detained with his own handcuffs

A man who allegedly tried to force his way into a house in Salt Lake City, Utah, claiming he was a police officer was beaten, handcuffed and held until the real police arrived to arrest him.
Just after 6am on Monday, a man went to the back door of a home, "showed a police badge through the house window and said, 'Police!'" according to a Salt Lake County Jail report. The man was not wearing a police uniform but did have a pair of handcuffs, said Salt Lake police detective Greg Wilking. He attempted to force his way into the house.
Three people were home at the time, Wilking said. The homeowners, who had recently moved in, almost immediately suspected the man was not a real police officer. One of the occupants of the home and the intruder got into a fight. He was able to grab the fake officer's handcuffs and use them on the man, Wilking said. When Salt Lake police arrived, they found 42-year-old Reed Grover, of West Jordan, handcuffed in the driveway.
Wilking said investigators weren't sure what Grover's motive was. "He wasn't making much sense, what he was saying to (the homeowners)," Wilking said. A toy police badge was also recovered at the scene. Grover was taken to a local hospital to be treated for injuries sustained during the fight with the homeowner before he was booked into jail for investigation of impersonating a police officer, burglary, parole violation and assault.

Earth News

This year's El Nino looks to rank among the strongest on record, with potential U.S. weather impacts.
The first new global seafloor map in decades has some surprises that could help reveal how Earth regulates carbon and climate, as well as revise what we know about ancient oceans.
Peru leads South America in gold production and ranks fifth globally, but authorities say 20 percent of its exported gold comes from clandestine mines.
The Guadalupe, which runs through San Jose, is the latest casualty of the state's water woes

179 pigeons recovered from man's apartment

Animal control workers received 179 pigeons, including 15 babies, from an apartment in east Charlotte, North Carolina, over the weekend after the owner surrendered them.
The birds were covered in parasites. Many of the birds also had feces caked on their legs and feet, according to the nonprofit Carolina Waterfowl Rescue, which was given custody of the birds by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control.
The birds are of various breeds of specialty pigeons, said Jennifer Gordon, executive director of the Indian Trail-based Carolina Waterfowl Rescue. The pigeons are receiving full medical exams at the rescue, Gordon said. Some of the birds also are suffering from infections and/or abscesses, and at least one bird is blind and has no feathers.

Melissa Knicely, spokesperson for Charlotte-Mecklenburg police animal care and control, said an on-duty police found the birds, which were being held in small cages. Knicely added that the department isn’t seeking any charges against the owner because he cooperated and turned the birds over to animal control.
There's a large photo gallery here.

Despite libido enhancers shy white tiger refuses to mate

Officials at the Alipore zoo in the Indian city of Kolkata (Calcutta) say their attempts to mate a young tiger have been unsuccessful with the big cat showing little interest in mating. Vishal, the 10-year-old white tiger, has so far spurned the advances of tigress Rupa, living in the adjoining enclosure, an official said.
Libido enhancers have also failed to spur him into action, he said. Experts blame his "shyness" on the fact that Vishal has been bred in captivity. "For the past six months we've been trying to mate Vishal," Dayanarayan Banerjee, who retired as the senior veterinary officer at the zoo and is now working as a veterinary consultant there, said.
"We have de-wormed him to improve his overall health. We have given him libido enhancers, including vitamin D, A and E. But he is shy and no libido has been noticed in him," he said. Mr Banerjee said when Vishal was introduced to eight-year-old Rupa, he was "friendly enough" and "displayed no sign of hostility", but that's where the contact ended.
"Rupa was willing, but Vishal was reluctant," he added. Mr Banerjee says he is "not sure Vishal will deliver" but zoo authorities are not yet giving up on the exercise. "We are considering introducing him to Rani, she is a Bengal tigress and she has a very beautiful face. But she is in an enclosure that's far away from Vishal's and we are awaiting a decision on whether we can move her to a nearby enclosure."

Bear spotted decapitating artificial deer

Real estage agent Darlene Eager captured several photographs of a bear on Saturday morning.
The bear strolled up to a decorative deer in the yard of a home in North Brookfield, Massachusetts.
After pulling off the artificial animal’s head, the bear spent a moment posing with his prize.
Then after playing with its inedible prey for a while, the bear wandered off again.

Orange Throat

brown anole (Anolis sager)
Brown lizard shows off its fascinating orange throat
This lizard is called a brown anole, but it has one very colorful feature.

Animal News

Researchers gather the first full-altitude flight data for migrating songbirds.
A new study reveals that these insects have a 'high-definition ability' to detect tiny chemical changes in the pheromones other ants give off.
Drones are like UFO’s to bears, according to research that found the animals nearly suffer a coronary when they detect them.
Twenty friendly feral pigs have become local local sensations.
In Australia, the bird of prey takes exception to the mechanical oddity invading its airspace.

Animal Pictures