Saturday, May 2, 2009

Virgin Mary appears on diner griddle.

I wonder if they were using extra virgin mary olive oil. From the Miami Herald:
CALEXICO, Calif. -- The hottest thing on the griddle at the Las Palmas restaurant these days isn't the food - it's the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that a cook says she saw on the griddle.

Restaurant manager Brenda Martinez says more than 100 people have flocked to the small town of Calexico on the California-Mexico border to gaze at the likeness of the Virgin Mary since it was discovered as the griddle was being cleaned.

Among the awe-struck was a group of masked Mexican wrestlers who arrived Thursday for an exhibition at a nearby swap meet.

One, known as Mr. Tempest, says: "This is amazing. It's a true miracle."

Since the discovery, the griddle has been taken out of service and placed in a shrine in a storage room.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Panel: US has no clear policy to respond to cyberattacks.

From the NY Times:
The United States has no clear military policy about how the nation might respond to a cyberattack on its communications, financial or power networks, a panel of scientists and policy advisers warned Wednesday, and the country needs to clarify both its offensive capabilities and how it would respond to such attacks.

The report, based on a three-year study by a panel assembled by the National Academy of Sciences, is the first major effort to look at the military use of computer technologies as weapons. The potential use of such technologies offensively has been widely discussed in recent years, and disruptions of communications systems and Web sites have become a standard occurrence in both political and military conflicts since 2000.

The report, titled “Technology, Policy, Law, and Ethics Regarding U.S. Acquisition and Use of Cyberattack Capabilities,” concludes that the veil of secrecy that has surrounded cyberwar planning is detrimental to the country’s military policy.

Another study shows booze adds years to your life.

From Yahoo! News:
Men who regularly drank up to a half a glass of wine each day boosted their life expectancy by five years, Dutch researchers report.

Light, long-term consumption of all types of beverages, whether wine, spirits or beer, increased life by 2.5 years among men compared with abstention, the researchers found. By "light," they meant up to 20 grams, or about 0.7 ounces a day.

While numerous other studies have found similar benefits, study author Martinette Streppel, of the division of human nutrition at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said 40 years of follow-up is noteworthy for many reasons.

"The main strength of our study was the collection of detailed information on the consumption of different alcohol beverages at each of seven measurement rounds," Streppel said.

The long-term, regular follow-up, Streppel added, enabled the researchers to study the effect of long-term alcohol intake on mortality.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

British forces end combat operations in Iraq.

From Yahoo! News:
The Iraq war formally ended for British forces on Thursday as America's main battlefield ally handed control of the oil-rich Basra area to U.S. commanders and prepared to ship out most of its remaining 4,000 troops.

A U.S. flag was raised over the British base outside the southern city of Basra in a ceremony held after a memorial for the 179 British military personnel who died in more than six years of warfare.

"Today marks the closing chapter of the combat mission in Iraq," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in London after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

At the height of combat operations in the months after the U.S.-led invasion, Britain had 46,000 troops in Iraq. Washington still has about 130,000 troops in Iraq and has shifted units south ahead of the British pullout.

American troops operate alongside Iraqi soldiers who have taken over many front-line roles in the strategic Basra area, the hub of British military operations for years.

British commanders have been gradually handing over responsibility of the Basra region to the U.S. military since March and have been withdrawing troops from the country in phases. Nearly all of its troops are expected to be withdrawn by May 31, British military officials have said.

Couple caught having sex on Queen's lawn.

Is there no greater aphrodisiac than outdated monarchy? From The Guardian:

Tourists enjoying a day of sightseeing at Windsor Castle got more than they bargained for today when a couple were caught having sex on the Queen's lawn.

Ignoring signs asking visitors to Please Keep Off The Grass, the man and woman, said to be in their early 30, selected a spot near the castle's Garter Tower and stripped off in full view of hotels, pubs and shops.

An employee at the Harte and Garter Hotel, which overlooks the castle, said guests went out to observe the scene and could not believe their eyes. The woman, who asked not to be named, said: "People were shouting things like 'what are you doing?' but the couple didn't seem to care at all. It was going on for about 10 or 15 minutes, which is quite a long time, considering the location."

Another witness, Mark Robinson, 44, said the couple carried on until police intervened. He said: "The officers told them to stop and the sight of the uniforms seemed to snap them out of it. They were unsteady on their feet and the guy pulled his trousers up and helped the girl put hers back on."

Birds show off their dance moves.

Cockatoos rule. Check out the video of Snowball's hot dance moves here.

Some birds have a remarkable talent for dancing, two studies published in Current Biology suggest.

Footage revealed that some parrots have a near-perfect sense of rhythm; swaying their bodies, bobbing their heads and tapping their feet in time to a beat.

Previously, it was thought that only humans had the ability to groove.

The researchers believe the findings could help shed light on how our relationship with music and the capacity to dance came about.

One bird, Snowball, a sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita eleanora ), came to the researchers' attention after YouTube footage suggested he might have a certain prowess for dance - especially when listening to Everybody by the Backstreet Boys.

Woman ran blood-stained gun in dishwasher.

I like that the husband had three gunshots to the face and it was initially ruled a suicide. Well done, Sherlock. From NY Post:

The gun used to kill a Staten Island fire marshall had no blood on it even though it was fired just inches from his face -- an indication that prosecutors say his wife cleaned the weapon, according to testimony today.

Jeffrey Buszka, an investigator with the city Medical Examiner's Office, testified in Staten Island Supreme Court that the 9mm Smith and Wesson prosecutors claim Janet Mercereau, 39, used to kill her husband on Dec. 2, 2007, inside their Oakwood home had no blood on it.

"I would expect to find blood on that gun," Buszka said.

He also testified that she fired three shots -- one to the temple and two to his jaw -- about two to four inches from Douglas Mercereau's face.

Prosecutors have said that detergent was found on the now-partially rusty gun.

Earlier in the day, prosecutors said they believe she put the gun in the dishwasher. The jury did not hear this theory.

An autopsy later ruled out suicide in the death of the 12-year FDNY veteran.

During a presentation, Buszka showed the jury gory photos of the blood-soaked bed and sheets.

The blood had also "projected in multiple directions" -- so much so that it had splattered on the walls, he added.

Marching band girl beats muggers with her baton.

Awesome. From FOX News:
QUARTZ HILL, Calif. — Don't mess with the marching band.

That's what California authorities are saying after a 17-year-old girl used her marching band baton to beat back two would-be muggers.

Los Angeles County sheriff's Deputy Michael Rust says the Quartz Hill girl was walking to school April 24 when two men approached her from behind, tried to grab her coat and demanded money.

Instead, one got a punch in the nose and the other a kick to the groin. Rust says the girl then beat both of them with her band baton before she ran away.

The men had not been caught. But Rust says there's a clear message to take from the encounter:

"The moral to this story is don't mess with the marching band girls, or you just might get what you deserve. Final score: marching band 2, thugs 0."

Invisibility cloak edges closer.

From BBC:

Scientists have rendered objects invisible under near-infrared light.

Unlike previous such "cloaks", the new work does not employ metals, which introduce losses of light and result in imperfect cloaking.

Because the approach can be scaled down further in size, researchers say this is a major step towards a cloak that would work for visible light.

One of the research teams describes its miniature "carpet cloak" in the journal Nature Materials.

This "carpet" design was based on a theory first described by John Pendry, from Imperial College London, in 2008.

Michal Lipson and her team at Cornell University demonstrated a cloak based on the concept.

Xiang Zhang, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, led the other team.

"Essentially, we are transforming a straight line of light into a curved line around the cloak, so you don't perceive any change in its pathway," he explained.

Candidate for Georgia governor admits to sex with mule, would kill son to secede.

Well, he's certainly tied up the mule-raping, son-killing vote. From Raw Story:

A longshot Georgia candidate for governor who’s already admitted having sex with a mule before finding God says he’s ready to sacrifice his own son in an effort to get his state to secede from the union.

Neal Horsley made national headlines when he posted the names, phone numbers and addresses of abortion doctors online. His “Nuremberg Files” website also crossed off the names of doctors as they were killed.

Now he’s ready to make new news. In an interview by Dylan Otto Krider published late Wednesday, he indicated he’d kill his own son to dissolve the United States (in an effort to overturn Roe v. Wade).

Asked if he was ready to sacrifice his own son in a national insurrection, Horsley recounts a fight with his son where he almost killed him.

“I was one foot from killing my own son, or hurting him really, really bad,” Horsley told Krider. “If he would have attacked me again, I would have stuck him. Or cut him or sliced him or done something to stop him. That’s the point, your hypothetical has literally already been worked out with me, and that’s what makes me different from the other candidates for Governor."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Winery offers $60,000 job to eat, drink, twitter.

From FOX News:
Murphy-Goode Winery in California is willing to pay $10,000 a month for six months to a wine fanatic to tweet, blog and keep a photo and video Web log for their company, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

A meet-and-greet event kicking off the two month hiring process drew hundreds of people to San Francisco, including wine enthusiasts from the opposite side of the country.

"This would be a dream-come-true job for me," said Hardy Wallace, who flew in for the event from Atlanta. "I have unbelievable enthusiasm, and I love to share what I'm passionate about."

The 35-year-old, who was laid off in January from Kodak, was the first in line.

In addition, the new hire will also learn and talk about wine, eat food prepared at the winery and live rent free, the Chronicle reported. Oh, and the applicant must also be willing to play the occasional game of poker.

"I'm busy trying to turn grapes into wine, so what I don't know, really, is Web 2.0," Murphy-Goode winemaker Dave Ready Jr., told the Chronicle.

Scientists spot oldest ever object in universe.

...and it's yo mama! From CNN:
Edo Berger got an alert early last Thursday morning when a satellite detected a 10-second blast of energy known as a gamma ray burst coming from outer space.

Telescopes around the world swiveled to focus on the explosion, soon picking up infrared radiation, which travels more slowly than gamma rays. Berger waited for the visible light which he expected to come next.

It never arrived.

"We were kind of blown away. We immediately knew what that meant," Berger said.

What it meant was that he was looking at the oldest thing ever spotted -- an enormous star exploding 13 billion years ago.

"At that point the age of the universe was only 600 million years," he said. In other words, Berger said, he was looking "95 percent of the way back to the beginning of time."

The star which exploded was 30 to 100 times larger than our own sun, and when it died, it gave off "about million times the amount of energy the sun will release in its entire lifetime," Berger told CNN by phone from Harvard University, where he is an assistant professor of astronomy.

Its death throes produced so much energy that "momentarily, we can essentially see it anywhere in the universe," Berger said.

Hundreds of animals laid off from the Bronx Zoo.

From The Guardian:

The crisis on Wall Street has claimed its most exotic victims to date, with unemployment notices being extended to those with bushy tails, spiny backs and horns.

The Bronx zoo, the oldest city zoo in America, has succumbed to a multimillion dollar hole in its budget and ordered the shipping of hundreds of animals to other institutions. The list of species that will be banished from the park include lemurs, porcupines and antelope.

The sacking of the animals follows a decision to close four exhibits, chosen because of a combination of how maintenance costs and relatively low public appeal. Animals that also include deer, bats and foxes will be shifted to other zoos and aquariums around the country.

Steven Sanderson, head of the zoo, said the changes were forced by a combination of the global economic downturn and challenges facing wildlife conservation. "The new plan will make us stronger and more flexible in an uncertain world," he said.

Behind the plan is a budget shortfall of $15m caused largely by a drastic fall in philanthropic donations to the zoo since the downturn began to bite last autumn. The reduction in charitable income accounts for about $13m of the shortfall, with a further $1.7m of cuts being passed onto the zoo from New York city, which is facing its own budget crisis.

Giant tortoise found in Bronx backyard.

The shelled uprising has begun! From Newsday:
A Bronx woman found an unusual visitor in her Baychester home Tuesday when she discovered a giant tortoise in the backyard.

The female tortoise, which has been named "Shelly," measures in at 30 inches and 60 pounds, and its origin is a mystery.

The giant tortoise species can grow to be four feet long and up to 660 pounds, and are generally living in remote areas of the world. Experts are unsure of how it has been able to survive on its own in the Bronx.

Shelly is currently being cared for at the Animal Care and Control Center.

Terrorists can legally buy guns under US federal law.

Suspected terrorists on the watch list can buy all the guns they want in the US, but I still have to take off my shoes at the airport. From the NY Post:

NEW YORK -- FBI data shows that suspects on the watch list for terrorists and violent gang members make hundreds of gun purchases every year that are totally legal.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's anti-gun group on Wednesday highlighted the little-noticed figure that was included in an FBI report released last weekend.

The FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System Operations report said there were 230 legal purchases in 2006 by people on the watch list. There were 220 such purchases in 2005.

Under existing federal gun law, those buys are legal. Being on the watch list is not among the nine factors that disqualify someone from purchasing a gun -- like a felony conviction.

Bloomberg's group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, is lobbying to close that loophole.

Egypt to slaughter every pig in its country.

This is really sad. Even if you don't feel bad for the pigs and feel it's a terrible waste of their lives, think about all the farmers who will suffer. (Chicago Tribune)
CAIRO (AP) — The Egyptian government says it has begun slaughtering all pigs in the country as a precautionary measure against the possible spread of swine flu.

The Health Ministry says the slaughter of the country's 300,000 pigs will begin immediately.

The ministry has stated several times that there are no cases swine flu in the country, however neighboring Israel has reported two.

Cruise tourist fends off pirates with deck chair.

This guy rules. From Fox News:
A British vacationer is being hailed a hero after he thwarted gun-toting pirates attacking a cruise ship — by throwing a deck chair at them.

Wyn Rowlands was celebrating his 62nd birthday with a dream cruise onboard the MSC Melody near the Seychelle Islands when he spotted armed pirates in a speedboat trying to clamber on to the vessel.

Quick-thinking Wyn, a retired engineer from Bangor-on-Dee, picked up a deck-chair and flung it down at the gang before raising the alarm.

The ship’s captain, Ciro Pinto, was then able to out-manoeuvre the pirates to prevent them boarding the cruise ship.

The MSC Melody and its 1,000 passengers and 500 crew were 600 miles off the coast of Somalia — notorious for pirate attacks — when the incident happenedon Sunday evening.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Missing planets suggests stars eat their young.

Kind of an obvious science item, but I like the article title. From New Scientist:

Exoplanets that venture near their host stars are doomed to premature deaths – even before they get close enough to be ripped apart by the stars' gravity, two new studies suggest.

A star's gravity can put a nearby planet on a 'fast track' to spiralling into the star and may also cause the planet to lose much of its atmosphere, the studies say. The research may help explain why few exoplanets have been found right next to their host stars.

More than 300 exoplanets have been catalogued to date. Many are situated close to their host stars, where it is thought to be too hot for gas and dust to collapse into planets in the first place. That implies that the planets came from farther away and migrated inwards.

Army tells Sikh officers to change appearance.

From Army Times:

Torn between their Sikh faith and their military duty, two soldiers are fighting Army policy that requires them to shave their beards, cut their hair and remove their turbans.

“I don’t think it’s fair for anybody to ask me to choose between my religion and my country,” Capt. Kamaljeet Kalsi said. “Shaving my beard and taking off my turban — these are part of my body. It’s part of my being.”

Kalsi, a doctor trained in emergency medicine, and 2nd Lt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist, were first recruited for the Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program. Kalsi said the recruiters with the Army Medical Corps gave assurances that wearing a beard and turban — mandatory articles of the Sikh faith — would not be a problem. And during several years of graduate school and medical training, Kalsi and Rattan both said their beards and turbans drew no concerns.

Now facing active duty in July, Kalsi and Rattan said their superiors are no longer accepting of their religious accommodations. As a result, the soldiers, through a civil rights group called the Sikh Coalition, recently filed formal complaints with the Army Inspector General’s Office and the Defense Department.

The Goldblum DESTROYS Law & Order.

By all accounts, The Goldblum awesomified Law & Order: Criminal Intent, as he is wont to do. From Videogum:
Last night was Jeff Goldblum's debut on Law And Order: Criminal Intent, and the entire show was HILARIOUS, not just because of Jeff's quirky, nerd-weirdo character, but because the plot was about a bunch of Williamsburg hipsters living in a huge loft and killing each other off in an effort to take over each other's spots in a shitty band. AND there's a red herring about how the murders could be caused by minorities in the neighborhood who think the hipsters are displacing them. It's ripped from the 2002 headlines! Jeff Goldblum had a bunch of really funny lines, but I'm going to have to say this exchange, with the parents of the first dead hipster, was his best work on his first episode:

(Link with video here)
Thanks JenK!

GE's new disc can hold 100 DVDs.

From NY Times:
General Electric says it has achieved a breakthrough in digital storage technology that will allow standard-size discs to hold the equivalent of 100 DVDs.

The storage advance, which G.E. is announcing on Monday, is just a laboratory success at this stage. The new technology must be made to work in products that can be mass-produced at affordable prices.

But optical storage experts and industry analysts who were told of the development said it held the promise of being a big step forward in digital storage with a wide range of potential uses in commercial, scientific and consumer markets.

“This could be the next generation of low-cost storage,” said Richard Doherty, an analyst at Envisioneering, a technology research firm.

The promising work by the G.E. researchers is in the field of holographic storage. Holography is an optical process that stores not only three-dimensional images like the ones placed on many credit cards for security purposes, but the 1’s and 0’s of digital data as well.

Study: Conservatives don't know Stephen Colbert is joking.

Study excerpted on Huffington Post:
This study investigated biased message processing of political satire in The Colbert Report and the influence of political ideology on perceptions of Stephen Colbert. Results indicate that political ideology influences biased processing of ambiguous political messages and source in late-night comedy. Using data from an experiment (N = 332), we found that individual-level political ideology significantly predicted perceptions of Colbert's political ideology. Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements. Conservatism also significantly predicted perceptions that Colbert disliked liberalism. Finally, a post hoc analysis revealed that perceptions of Colbert's political opinions fully mediated the relationship between political ideology and individual-level opinion.

Suspect escapes police after officer nods off during questioning.

From the Daily Yomiuri:

MITO, JAPAN--A 24-year-old man escaped from Mito Police Station on Friday after a senior policeman fell asleep while questioning him on suspicion of theft, having consumed tea that was later found to contain a sleep-inducing drug.

The police said Saturday they had detected traces of a sleep-inducing drug in the urine of the officer and in the tea remaining in his cup, but the officer denied taking any sleeping pills.

The senior policeman said he lost consciousness suddenly, and the police are investigating how the sleep-inducing drug came to be mixed into the tea.

Blind, one-armed golfer hits hole-in-one.

What was his handicap? From Ananova:
A nearly blind, one-armed golfer has overcome his disabilities to hit his first hole-in-one.

Bomb blast victim Alan Perrin, 45, had to quit the Royal Marines in 1992 after suffering horrific injuries in a training exercise explosion.

But he fell in love with golf, despite being left partially blind in his remaining eye, reports the Daily Mirror.

And he defied the odds to hit the amazing 160-yard shot at his local Exminster Golf Club, near Exeter, Devon.

After hitting the one-handed drive, Mr Perrin and his partner thought the ball was lost after there was so sign of it on the green.

He explained: "We spent five minutes looking but didn't want to hold up the next group so we moved on. When those behind us saw the ball in the hole. I was stunned."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pedophile cult leader escapes prison in helicopter.

I never understood the appeal of cults until I felt the fizz of Koo Koo Cola. From Breitbart:
A cult leader jailed for sex attacks on children escaped in a helicopter from a prison on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion on Monday, the regional administration said.

Juliano Verbard, who was serving a 15-year term for rapes and sex assaults on children, and two of his jailed followers were hauled on board a chopper hijacked by three accomplices, said senior official Jean-Francois Moniotte.

[...] The helicopter landed on waste ground a few hundred metres (yards) away and the gang escaped in a van that had been waiting for them, he said. The two crew members were unhurt and are assisting police.

Earlier, the hijackers had boarded the chopper pretending to be tourists, before seizing control and directing the pilots to Domenjod prison, where it landed in the exercise yard and took on the escapees.

White House idiotically terrorizes NYC.

Completely moronic. Even Bush wasn't this stupid. From CNN:
A White House official apologized Monday after a low-flying Boeing 747 spotted above the Manhattan skyline frightened workers and residents into evacuating buildings.

The aircraft was a White House plane taking part in a classified, government-sanctioned photo shoot, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

"Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision," said Louis Caldera, director of the White House Military Office. "While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption."

Witnesses reported seeing the plane circle over the Upper New York Bay near the Statue of Liberty before flying up the Hudson River. It was accompanied by two F-16s.

"I was here on 9/11," said iReporter Tom Kruk, who spotted the plane as he was getting coffee Monday morning and snapped a photo. Kruk called the sight of the aircraft low in the sky "unsettling."

The incident outraged many New Yorkers, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"First thing is, I'm annoyed -- furious is a better word -- that I wasn't told," he said, calling the aviation administration's decision to withhold details about the flight "ridiculous" and "poor judgment."

"Why the Defense Department wanted to do a photo op right around the site of the World Trade Center defies the imagination," he said. "Had we known, I would have asked them not to."

Linda Garcia-Rose, a social worker who counsels post-traumatic stress disorder patients in an office just three blocks from where the World Trade Center towers once stood, called the flight an "absolute travesty."

"There was no warning. It looked like the plane was about to come into us," she said. "I'm a therapist, and I actually had a panic attack."

Garcia-Rose, who works with nearly two dozen post-traumatic stress disorder patients ages 15 to 47, said she was inundated with phone calls from patients Monday morning.

"They're traumatized. They're asking 'How could this happen?' They're nervous. Their anxiety levels are high," she said.

Garcia-Rose is considering filing a class-action suit against the government for sanctioning the plane's unannounced flight. "I believe the government has done something really wrong," she said.

Capt. Anna Carpenter of Andrews Air Force Base said local law enforcement agencies and the Federal Aviation Administration had been given notice of the exercise.

New York Police Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne said the department had been alerted to the flight by the federal agency "with directives to local authorities not to disclose information about it."

Sen. Chuck Schumer echoed the mayor's sentiments in a separate news conference Monday afternoon, saying the Federal Aviation Administration should have notified the public to avoid panic.

"It is absolutely outrageous and appalling to think that the FAA would plan such a photo shoot and not warn the public, knowing full well New Yorkers still have the vivid memory of 9/11 sketched in their minds," the New York Democrat said. Schumer said the FAA's decision to not announce the fly-by "really borders on being either cruel or very very stupid."

Building evacuations also took place across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey.

RUW: Computer program to take on Jeopardy!

Wait, isn't Alex Trebek already an evil robot? From NY Times:
I.B.M. plans to announce Monday that it is in the final stages of completing a computer program to compete against human “Jeopardy!” contestants. If the program beats the humans, the field of artificial intelligence will have made a leap forward.

I.B.M. scientists previously devised a chess-playing program to run on a supercomputer called Deep Blue. That program beat the world champion Garry Kasparov in a controversial 1997 match (Mr. Kasparov called the match unfair and secured a draw in a later one against another version of the program).

But chess is a game of limits, with pieces that have clearly defined powers. “Jeopardy!” requires a program with the suppleness to weigh an almost infinite range of relationships and to make subtle comparisons and interpretations. The software must interact with humans on their own terms, and fast.

Indeed, the creators of the system — which the company refers to as Watson, after the I.B.M. founder, Thomas J. Watson Sr. — said they were not yet confident their system would be able to compete successfully on the show, on which human champions typically provide correct responses 85 percent of the time.

“The big goal is to get computers to be able to converse in human terms,” said the team leader, David A. Ferrucci, an I.B.M. artificial intelligence researcher. “And we’re not there yet.”

The team is aiming not at a true thinking machine but at a new class of software that can “understand” human questions and respond to them correctly. Such a program would have enormous economic implications.


Creepy: Global warming just got scarier (tick-related).

Politics: Taliban deride "worthless" truce with Pakistan.

Sad: Climate change forces Eskimos to abandon village.

Misc: Air France plane with "no-fly" passenger refused entry into US. (No-fly passenger is a journalist writing about the CIA. Hmm.)

Politics: Sri Lanka army to end the air strikes they've been denying for weeks.

Science: Dinosaurs lived in the Arctic.

Awesome: Cool photos from the World Sand Sculpture Festival.

Awesome: More atheists are "coming out."

Science: Bleach might help treat eczema. (Read first and don't try at home.)

Science: Asteroids didn't kill dinosaurs, geologists find.

In first 100 days, Obama flips Bush Admin's policies.

Sure, it's the economy, stupid. But Obama's first 100 days get an A for sticking to his campaign promises and overturning some nasty Bush-era stuff. Here's a good summary from ABC News. Some excerpts:

Signaling a drastic shift in the Bush administration's policies on drugs, Obama's appointed Attorney General, Eric Holder, said federal agents will relax their enforcement of marijuana laws and go after only those distributors who violate both state and federal law.
Gay Rights:
On March 18, the Obama administration formally endorsed a United Nations statement urging world leaders to decriminalize homosexuality, a declaration that less than three months ago Bush refused to sign.

More changes to Bush's rules on homosexuality are likely to come in the next four years. Obama promised in his campaign to overturn the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that stemmed from the 1993 law that forbade homosexuals from serving in the U.S. military.
Stem Cell Research:
In his latest rollback of Bush administration policies, President Obama signed an executive order Monday lifting the 7½-year ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and a memorandum covering all scientific research. In a less-than-subtle criticism of Bush's ban, Obama said, "In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent," the president added before signing the order.
Global Gag Rule:
The debate on whether U.S. government should fund international family planning groups that provide abortions or related services has been brewing for decades.

Obama overturned the policy on Jan. 23, just days after he took the oath of office. "For the past eight years, [the restrictions] have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries," Obama said in a statement.
Patients Rights:
Breaking with Bush on health care, Obama wants to give more power back to the patients on whether health care providers should provide controversial services. The administration revoked the Bush-era "Provider Conscience" rule that created more regulations to prevent those who refuse to hire doctors and nurses opposed to abortion rights from receiving federal funds. The move was applauded by abortion rights advocacy groups, who say the limits restricted patients' rights.
In his first major step in office, Obama signed an executive order closing down the detainee center at the Guantanamo Bay military facility within a year, and established new guidelines on interrogation methods and the treatment of detainees. In another order signed on the same day, Obama mandated all U.S. interrogators in all agencies to adhere to rules in the Army Field Manual, and the president also called for the shut down of CIA detention centers around the world.
Withdrawing Troops from Iraq:
Partially fulfilling one of his major campaign promises that probably is one of the sharpest reversals from Bush's policy, Obama ordered the drawdown of troops in Iraq at a late February pit stop in Camp Lejune, N.C. "Let me say this as plainly as I can: by Aug. 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," the president said on Feb. 27 in a gathering of troops.
Endangered Species Act:

The president authorized full scientific reviews of projects that might harm endangered wildlife and plants. Obama's memorandum overrides the Bush administration regulation that limits scientific reviews of projects that could harm endangered species.

While signing the act on March 3, Obama chided Bush's policies, saying that "For more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our nation's most threatened wildlife. We should be looking for ways to improve it, not weaken it."
Oil & Gas Drilling Near National Parks:
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced in February that the government would withdraw oil and gas leases that were offered on 77 parcels of public land for drilling near national parks in Utah by the Bush administration and that are currently in court. "In its last weeks in office, the Bush administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our nation's most treasured landscapes in Utah," Salazar said. "We need to responsibly develop our oil and gas supplies to help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we must do so in a thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and cultural resources in places like Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon, for future generations."
Labor Laws & Equal Pay:
Only ten days in office, Obama signed three executive orders that he said would "level the playing field" for labor unions and that would make unions easy to organize. Obama reversed a Bush order requiring federal contractors to post notice that workers can limit financial support of unions serving as their only bargaining representatives. Additionally, in undoing Bush's policies, Obama ordered that federal contractors offer jobs to current workers when contracts change and that federal contractors be prevented from being reimbursed for expenses meant to influence workers deciding whether to form a union and engage in collective bargaining. Obama's first law signed was also labor-related. The Equal Pay for Equal Work Bill was signed into law Jan. 29 and sought to end pay disparities between men and women.
Restrictions on Cuba:
The president relaxed travel, commerce and mail restrictions on Cuba, allowing American-Cuban families unlimited visits to the island and no restrictions on the amount of remittances they can send back. The White House also plans to expand telecommunications networks that link the United States and Cuba, as well as export of humanitarian items. President Bush tightened restrictions on Cuba in 2004, which been under U.S. embargo since 1962.
Also: Released torture memos, dropped term "War on Terror," lifted the ban on casket photos, and looking to allow states to set their own stricter fuel efficiency standards.

Afghan leader might make rape illegal again.

From NewsDaily:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Monday the Justice Ministry was amending a controversial law which contains harsh provisions on women that critics have called a step back toward Taliban-era controls.

The law, which applies to Shi'ite Muslims who make up about 15 percent of Afghanistan's population, requires women to satisfy their husbands' sexual desires. Opponents say this could be used to justify marital rape.

Other controversial passages require wives to get permission when leaving the home unless for employment, education or medical reasons, and allow a man to order his wife to wear make-up.

Karzai said the law would be changed to bring it in line with the constitution, which guarantees equal rights for women, and international treaties the country has signed.

"The law is under review and amendments will take place," Karzai told a news conference with visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

"I assure you that the laws of Afghanistan will be in complete harmony with the constitution of Afghanistan, and the human rights that we have adhered to in our constitution and in the principles of the international treaties," he added.

The legislation sparked an outcry from leaders of Western countries with troops in Afghanistan, including U.S. President Barack Obama who called it "abhorrent."

Cruise ship shoots back at pirates.

From Yahoo! News:

NAIROBI, Kenya – The small white skiff approached the Italian cruise ship Melody after dinnertime as it sailed north of the Seychelles, the pirates firing wildly toward the 1,500 passengers and crew on board.

What the pirates didn't expect was that, in the darkness, the crew would fire back.

In a new twist to the increasing scourge of Somali pirate hijackings, the private Israeli security forces aboard the MSC Cruises ocean liner fired on the pirates Saturday with pistols and water hoses, preventing them from clambering aboard, the company's director Domenico Pellegrino said.

"It was an emergency operation," Pellegrino told The Associated Press. "They didn't expect such a quick response. They were surprised."

Passengers were ordered to return to their cabins and the lights on deck were switched off. The massive vessel then sailed on in darkness, eventually escorted by a Spanish warship to make sure it made it to its next port.

"It felt like we were in war," the ship's Italian Commander, Ciro Pinto, told Italian state radio.

None of the roughly 1,000 passengers were hurt and by Sunday afternoon they were back out on deck sunning themselves, Pellegrino said.

RUW: Philadelphia surrenders to our future robot masters.

From an alarming Philadelphia Inquirer piece, "Advantage: Robots":
Robots are gaining on us.

Thanks to exponential increases in computer power - which is roughly doubling every two years - robots are getting smarter, more capable, more like people.

Matching human skills and intelligence, however, is an enormously difficult, perhaps impossible, challenge.

Nevertheless, robots guided by their own computer "brains" now can pick up and peel bananas, land jumbo jets, steer cars through city traffic, search human DNA for cancer genes, play soccer or the violin, find earthquake victims, or explore craters on Mars.

At a "Robobusiness" conference in Boston last week, companies demonstrated a robot firefighter, gardener, receptionist, tour guide, and security guard.

You name it, a high-tech wizard somewhere is trying to make a robot do it.

A Japanese housekeeping robot can move chairs, sweep the floor, load a tray of dirty dishes in a dishwasher, and put dirty clothes in a washing machine.

Raindrops splash before they hit the ground.

More proof that rain comes from the tears of angels. From New Scientist:

When does a raindrop splash? Surprisingly, the process begins before it makes contact.

A liquid drop hitting a surface often flattens into a thin sheet that then bounces to form a crown shape. Previous experiments have suggested the surrounding air plays a role: a droplet doesn't splash so easily when the air pressure is low, instead spreading out into a thin pancake.

Shreyas Mandre of Harvard University and colleagues ran computer simulations of liquid drops hitting a solid surface, accounting for factors such as air pressure and the drop's surface tension. Their results showed that a typical raindrop - roughly 2 millimetres wide and travelling at a few metres per second - compresses air in front of it a few microseconds before hitting a solid surface. This creates an air cushion that causes the raindrop to flatten and spread out, which the team believe would be less likely if the drop was striking a higher friction surface, and may help the splash evolve into a crow.

Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to fight UFOs.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Charlie Rose had the former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz on his program this past Tuesday night. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Gorbachev got a laugh when he said he wasn’t all that impressed with Reagan’s historic challenge to “tear down this wall”. But went on to say that he believed Reagan “was a great president.”

Shultz was talking about the Lake Geneva summit and mentioned the two leaders ducked out of a meeting to take a walk to a nearby cabin.

“I wasn’t there…,” Shultz said before Gorbachev cut him off.

“From the fireside house, President Reagan suddenly said to me, ‘What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?’

“I said, ‘No doubt about it.’”

“He said, ‘We too.’”

“So that’s interesting,” Gorbachev said to much laughter.

He then said to Shultz, “I’m sorry for having interrupted you, but it was an interesting moment.”

Japan unveils 11-point initiative for nuke-free world.

Who needs nukes when you've got tentacle monsters? From Breitbart:
Japan unveiled an 11-point initiative Monday to achieve a nuclear-free world, including a call for the imposition of "effective global restrictions" on North Korea's ballistic missile development and a plan to hold an international conference in Japan early next year on global nuclear disarmament.

In a speech titled "Conditions towards Zero -- 11 Benchmarks for Global Nuclear Disarmament," Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone urged China and other nuclear powers to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons and to ensure transparency regarding their arsenals, which he described as "vital" for advancing global nuclear disarmament.

"Without transparency in its strategic direction, China is continuing to modernize its nuclear arsenals and has undertaken no nuclear arms reduction until today," Nakasone said. "Nor does the country disclose any information on nuclear arsenals."

Nakasone made the pitch ahead of Prime Minister Taro Aso's two-day visit to China from Wednesday.

The speech came amid a growing mood for nuclear disarmament around the world after U.S. President Barack Obama laid out an ambitious vision April 5 for a world without nuclear weapons, saying Washington has "a moral responsibility to act" as the only power to have used a nuclear weapon.

Physics of pizza tossing finally discovered.

No word yet on the psychology behind the pineapple and ham topping combination. From EurekAlert:

Monash University scientists have unlocked the physics of the perfect pizza toss and will use it to design the next generation of micro motors thinner that a human hair.

Mr Daniel (Kuang-Chen) Liu, a PhD student supervised by Associate Professor James Friend and Senior Lecturer Leslie Yeo, videotaped a professional pizza tosser at work. The team from Monash's Micro/Nanophysics Research Laboratory, then calculated how best to describe the way the dough travels through the air – including how much the dough rotates, how quickly it spins, its stability and the energy efficiency of the toss itself.

The result is a set of nonlinear differential equations that captures the art of pizza tossing.

"In brief, if you toss a pizza dough one toss at a time – that is, if you toss then catch – your hands should move in a helical fashion, like they are moving along a spiral, a curved line laid along a cylinder," Associate Professor Friend said.

"If you are tossing the pizza continuously, not stopping to catch it and stop every time, then your hands should move in circles."

The model could help researchers to design the next generation of standing wave ultrasonic motors (SWUMs), which operate on similar principles as pizza tossing.

Zombie Watch: Spiders resurrect after drowning.

Zombie spiders we can take. But Zombie WOLF Spiders?!! We are doomed.

From National Geographic:
Like zombies, spiders in a lab twitched back to life hours after "drowning"—and the scientists were as surprised as anyone. The spiders, it seems, enter comas to survive for hours underwater, according to a new study.

The unexpected discovery was made during experiments intended to find out exactly how long spiders can survive underwater—a number of spiders and insects have long been known to be resistant to drowning.

[...] Scientists at the University of Rennes in France collected three species of wolf spider—two from salt marshes, one from a forest. The team immersed 120 females of each species in seawater, jostling the spiders with brushes every two hours to see if they responded.

As expected, all the forest wolf spiders (Pardosa lugubris) apparently died after 24 hours. The two salt marsh-dwelling species took longer—28 hours for Pardosa purbeckensis and 36 hours for Arctosa fulvolineata.

After the "drownings," the researchers, hoping to weigh the spiders later, left them out to dry. That's when things began to get weird...

Oklahoma governor intervenes in Flaming Lips flap.

From Breitbart:
Oklahoma lawmakers who voted against making a Flaming Lips tune the official state rock song represent a minority of "small-minded religious wackos," the band's lead singer says.

Most state House members voted for a resolution recognizing 2002's "Do You Realize??," but conservatives who said they were offended by the band's clothing and language mustered enough votes to keep it from being adopted.

"Me, I just say look, it's a little minority of some small-minded religious wackos who think they can tell people what kind of T-shirts and what kind of music they can listen to, and the smart, rational, reasonable people of Oklahoma are never going to buy into that," frontman Wayne Coyne told Tulsa World in an interview Friday.

Gov. Brad Henry resolved the issue by announcing he would sign an executive order proclaiming "Do You Realize??" the official rock song of Oklahoma. The song earned more than half of the 21,000 votes cast in an online contest.

The Grammy-winning group, formed in Norman in 1983, is known for its psychedelic rock and lyrics.

Obama shook hands with swine flu victim who soon after died.

Damn you, swine flu! From the Daily Mail:

A man who shook Barack Obama's hand in Mexico died the next day from symptoms similar to those of swine flu.

The White House insisted the President's health was not in any danger, but he was said to be taking the threat of an epidemic 'very seriously'.

The President's health advisers were already concerned about his visit south of the border after learning the contagious virus first struck in Mexico City on April 13 - three days before Mr Obama flew in to meet government officials.

Their alarm grew after learning that Felipe Solis, director of the National Anthropology Museum, had died from pneumonia.

Taxpayers, unions to own General Motors.

I think I'd rather own a flat tire than any part of GM. From CNN:
General Motors announced plans Monday to cut 23,000 U.S. jobs by 2011, drop its storied Pontiac brand and slash 40% of its dealer network in its latest bid to stay out of bankruptcy.

The new restructuring proposal will leave the Treasury Department, and thus U.S. taxpayers, owning a significant stake in GM. Treasury would accept GM stock, rather than cash, for repayment of about $10 billion that the government has already lent to GM.

Trust funds controlled by the United Auto Workers union would also hold a significant stake in the company. Between them, Treasury and the unions would own 89% of GM.

Man in 40s shot 10 times, still survives.

Whoa. The last middle-aged guy to take 10 bullets and still live is Jack Bauer every week. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

A man was shot ten times and survived the attack, which occurred after he argued with three other people late Sunday in the Calumet Heights community on the Far South Side.

The incident began when the victim became involved in an argument with three “offenders” on the 9100 block of South Oglesby Avenue, according to South Chicago District police.

At 9:08 p.m., ten shots were fired and the man -- who is in his 40s -- took ten bullets, four in the buttocks and six in the left leg, according to police.

The man was taken in serious condition to Advocate Trinity Hospital, but he was later “stabilized,” according to police.

A motive was not known and Calumet Area detectives are investigating.

Clog show canceled due to bad feng shui.

Having to wear wooden clogs does seem to be bad luck... From Breitbart:
One of Hong Kong's tallest skyscrapers has refused to host an exhibition of clogs put on by a Dutch charity because of worries the clunky footwear will bring bad luck, a report said.

The Cheung Kong Center refused to give the go ahead to the show, which was organised by the Dutch consulate, because of feng shui, a diplomat told the Sunday Morning Post.

The tower's management said the wooden footwear show would cause bad luck, because the Cantonese word for shoes -- hai -- sounds similar to a sigh of exasperation, the English-language paper said.

"Cheung Kong Center rejected the exhibition because of the Chinese meaning of wooden shoes. I don't understand. It is difficult to explain as I don't know how to say shoes in Chinese," an unnamed member of staff at the consulate told the paper.

Trend Spotting: Naked hiking.

Hey baby, wanna see my Matterhorn? From BBC:

The tiny Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden has voted to prohibit the phenomenon of naked hiking.

Anyone found wandering the Alps wearing nothing but a sturdy pair of hiking boots will now be fined.

Appenzell is considered one of the most conservative regions of Switzerland; it gave women the vote only in 1990.

Locals have been outraged by an apparent upsurge in hikers who think the best way to appreciate the mountains is with their clothes off.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Yipes: Nazi cattle being bred in the UK. (video)

Duh: Nicotine takes the edge off anger.

Creepy: Scientists merge sea anemone and dog DNA, create glow-in-the-dark puppy.

Film: Neat piece on Jim Jarmusch's new one.

McCain and Napolitano repeating falsehoods that 9/11 terrorists came via Canada.

From Yahoo! Canada:
John McCain is the latest high-profile politician to repeat the diehard American falsehood that the 9-11 terrorists entered the United States through Canada.

Just days after Janet Napolitano, the U.S. homeland security secretary, sparked a diplomatic kerfuffle by suggesting the terrorists took a Canadian route to the U.S. eight years ago, McCain defended her by saying that, in fact, the former Arizona governor was correct.

"Well, some of the 9-11 hijackers did come through Canada, as you know," McCain, last year's Republican presidential candidate, said on Fox News on Friday.

The Arizona senator's remarks prompted the Canadian embassy to immediately reissue remarks made earlier this week by Ambassador Michael Wilson, who reminded Americans once again that no 9-11 perpetrators came to the U.S. via Canada.

"Unfortunately, misconceptions arise on something as fundamental as where the 9-11 terrorists came from," Wilson said.

"As the 9-11 Commission reported in July 2004, all of the 9-11 terrorists arrived in the U.S. from outside North America. They flew to major U.S. airports. They entered the U.S. with documents issued to them by the U.S. government. No 9-11 terrorists came from Canada."

The 9-11 Commission Report further points out that the only Canadian to terrorize America is Alanis Morissette.

Security problems uncovered at US bases in Iraq.

So US bases in Iraq are protected by underpaid, under-equipped, and untrained guards from poor countries? What could go wrong?
A commission investigating waste and fraud in wartime spending has found serious deficiencies in training and equipment for hundreds of Ugandan guards hired to protect U.S. military bases in Iraq, The Associated Press has learned.

The problems at Forward Operating Bases Delta and Hammer include a lack of vehicles used to properly protect the two posts, a shortage of weapons and night vision gear, and poorly trained guards. Both bases house several thousand U.S. military personnel.

Concerned the shortages leave the bases vulnerable, the Commission on Wartime Contracting alerted military officials in Iraq and at Central Command in Tampa, Fla.

“Incidents such as this are a concern in their own right, but they are a particular concern to the commission if they prove to be indicators of broader, systemic problems that impede the delivery of critical services to American military forces in a war zone,” said Bob Dickson, the commission’s executive director.

[...] A majority of the guards are from Uganda and other East African countries. Guard salaries are about $700 a month on average.

More here.

Photos to be released showing US abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan.

From Army Times:

The White House vowed Friday it will not be distracted by an upcoming disclosure sure to gain attention at home and abroad: hundreds of photos showing U.S. personnel allegedly abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan in the post-Sept. 11 environment.

The images will show mistreatment at locations beyond the infamous U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where pictures emerged in 2004 of grinning U.S. soldiers posing with detainees, some naked, being held on leashes or in painful positions. That revelation caused a huge international backlash against the U.S.

The Pentagon plans to release the latest photos by May 28 in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The move comes after the Justice Department lost its latest round in federal court and concluded that any further appeal would probably be fruitless.

The release of the photos, while underscoring President Barack Obama’s promise of transparency, poses risks for the administration.

Politically, it could again focus attention on the troubling past and prompt more calls for investigations and prosecutions. Every bit of time and energy centered on examining misdeeds of previous years could undermine the president’s ability to rally Congress and the public behind an ambitious agenda.

Sparrow's cigarette burns down store.

I think this sparrow's in cahoots with Mrs. O'Leary's cow. From Ananova:
A cigarette loving sparrow is being blamed for a fire that caused £250,000 of damage to a shop in Lincolnshire.

Paul Sheriff, 48, who runs Crescent Stores in Leasingham, was initially at a loss as to what caused the blaze, reports Metro.

But six weeks on, insurance investigators have told him that they discovered 35 cigarette ends in the roof.

Their conclusion was a sparrow must have picked up a smouldering butt to feather its nest in the roof's eaves, causing the blaze.

Mr Sheriff, a non-smoker, said: "The shop was a total mess. All the suspended ceilings came down, all the electrics were down, all the fridges were broken, it was horrendous."

A spokesman for his insurance company AXA said: "We believe it's the first case of its kind we've ever had to deal with. We had to bring in a specialist to investigate.

'I've certainly never come across this sort of thing before. It's strange to think how such a little bird armed with such a small object could cause such chaos."

Back from Spain!

Spain had no idea what was coming. I cleaned those cities out of all their tapas and wine. From henceforth I shall be known as El Matador de Jamon.

Pics and travelogue to follow, but first I gotta see what's going on in the world. Also, I just remembered I never finished my write-up on Hong Kong. Whoops.