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Current location: Georgia
Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

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Mesmerizing Aurora in Dramatic Landscapes of Fire, Ice, and Shadow

Aurora are beautiful, but the fire and smoke of Bárðarbunga step it up to gorgeous. The weekend kicked off with the Earth putting on a glorious display of green, blue, purple, and red, and countless photographers braved varied terrain to capture the ephemeral light for your viewing pleasure.



The Biggest Robbers In America Are Employers

The amount of money employers had to pay because they were found guilty of wage theft is nearly three times greater than all the money stolen in robberies, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

EPI gathered figures of money recovered for victims of wage theft — which occurs when an employer has workers perform tasks off the clock or pay for their own uniforms, violating labor laws — from the Department of Labor, state labor departments, state attorneys general, and research firms. In 2012, $933 million was paid in back wages for wage theft violations, although that figure is an under-count because there were six state departments of labor and five attorneys general the organization couldn’t contact.

Compare that to the less than $350 million stolen in all robberies, including from banks, residences, stores, and on the street in 2012. That’s not just the figure for those that were solved, but for any robbery simply reported to the police.

Even the nearly $1 billion collected is likely an under-count of the problem given that most victims don’t contract lawyers or file complaints. Relying on a study of low-wage workers in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, which found that workers were losing nearly $3 billion to wage theft, EPI generalized to the rest of the country and estimated that it’s robbing people of more than $50 billion each year. And even that may be a low figure, given that the three-city study found that two-thirds of workers experienced at least one form of wage theft each week, yet a recent poll of workers nationwide found nearly 90 percent of fast food workers had experienced it.


The Banking Industry might beg to differ on that title….

GOP plans to fast-track TPP agreement if they win majority in November

Republicans are putting together an agenda for the first 100 days of 2015 in case they win control of the Senate.

Authorizing the Keystone XL oil pipeline, approving “fast-track” trade authority, wiping out proposed environmental regulations and repealing the medical device tax top their list.

“Those would all be positive things. You could come up with a list of very positive things and all of us are thinking about those,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who is poised to become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee under a GOP takeover.
Other Republicans echoed Corker.

“Those are four things that could happen that I believe would be great for the economy and enable us to move forward on a bipartisan basis,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said during a Thursday breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.



Wendy Davis: ‘My stand on abortion showed women what we could achieve’


Wendy Davis

Early on the morning of Tuesday 25 June 2013, I awoke to prepare for what I knew would be a difficult day. In a few hours, with the help of my Democratic colleagues, I would attempt to kill Senate Bill 5 – a bill which, if passed, would impose on Texas women some of the most sweeping abortion restrictions in the US. If things went according to plan, I would have to be out on the senate floor by 11:11am to filibuster the bill, talking it to death for 13 hours until midnight, when the clock would run out on the 83rd session of the Texas senate.

The roots of the word “filibuster” can be traced, in different forms, back to Dutch (vrijbuiter) and Spanish (filibustero), but the common meaning was the same –“piracy”– a fitting word. Filibusters in the Texas senate are rare, not just because they can take place only on the last day of a senate session, but because they truly are a test of endurance. Unlike filibusters in the US senate, the rules in Texas are very strict: You may not touch your desk. You may not lean on your desk. You may not have a sip of water. You may not leave the floor for any reason, to eat or to go to the bathroom. You may not even have a stick of gum. On top of that, there’s the three-strike rule: if a senator is called for three points of order for not staying on topic, the filibuster can be ended.

Needing moral support, I spent the night before the big day with my boyfriend, Will. I bathed while listening to Bruce Robison’s What Would Willie Do, as I often do on days that I know will be tough. Its lighthearted lyrics remind me that I can overcome any challenge with the right attitude. At 6:30am, a young female doctor arrived to fit me for a catheter. Knowing why she’d been summoned, she was warm and encouraging. Unfortunately, though, she had not brought a urine-collecting “leg bag” with her but instead a large bag that hospital patients use. The length of tubing was close to six feet, and I knew that getting all of it wrapped around my leg in a way that could be disguised under my clothing was going to be a challenge.

After I dressed, Will brought me a boiled egg. It’s his practice to draw faces on the boiled eggs he keeps in his refrigerator – a gag for his teenage daughters. On this morning Will brought me an egg with an angry grimace, its eyebrows furrowed, its eyes narrowed, its mouth set in a resolute line. I knew that this “badass” egg face was the perfect choice to help me start the day ahead. All it could have used was a penned-in pirate’s eye patch.



Noisy clarinet blamed for neighbor's alleged threat with gun

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - A western Colorado woman is accused of pointing a rifle at several children in a neighboring back yard because she was upset that an 11-year-old boy was playing his clarinet outside.

Mesa County sheriff's deputies believe 60-year-old Cheryl Ann Pifer of Clifton had been drinking before allegedly threatening the children Wednesday afternoon.

The Daily Sentinel reports that the boy told Pifer that he was practicing the clarinet as part of his homework and couldn't go back inside his grandmother's house because a baby was sleeping.

There were six other children in the back yard with him. Several of them reported that Pifer also pointed a gun at them and yelled "Fire in the hole!" as they ran away.



Controversial stem cell paper was published over reviewers’ objections

And following rejection at two other journals.

by John Timmer

Early this year, the journal Nature published two papers with some completely surprising results. Researchers had only recently figured out how to use a small set of genes to reprogram mature adult cells into a stem-cell-like state. The new papers suggested you could forgo the genetic engineering entirely; a short time in an acidic environment, followed by some carefully controlled growth conditions, could completely reprogram the cells. It was a potentially revolutionary finding.

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the wheels to fall off. Other researchers quickly pointed out possible instances of improperly manipulated figures and plagiarism, and one of the researchers involved had already had some ethical issues in the past. Initial attempts to replicate the experiments in other labs failed. By the summer, there was an official finding of misconduct; shortly thereafter, one of the researchers involved committed suicide. In July, the papers were formally retracted by the remaining authors.

That's a relatively quick resolution to a problem like this, but it leaves a rather significant question: how did these papers get published in the first place if the problems became apparent so quickly? That question only got more bewildering this week, as people have started to leak the reports of peer reviewers who had evaluated the papers.

The first leak was published yesterday by the Retraction Watch blog. It turns out that Nature was the third journal to see the drafts of the stem cell papers; by the time it got them, Science and Cell had already rejected them. Someone who had access to the reviewers' reports at Science handed them over to Retraction Watch.



Predatory dinosaur was larger than T. rex, went for swims

Red and orange bones represent either the original Egyptian find or the new skeleton. Yellow bones come from other animals. Only the blue and green bones had to be inferred based on other species.
Model by Tyler Keillor, Lauren Conroy, and Erin Fitzgerald, Ibrahim et al., Science/AAAS

The predatory dinosaur Spinosaurus aegyptiacus isn't famous, but it might have been. Discovered in Egypt in 1912, it had all the ingredients to make for a childhood favorite: enormous size, sharp teeth, and a huge, enigmatic sail running down its back. But the study of Spinosaurus suffered a serious interruption when the only bones of the creature happened to be underneath the payload of a British bomber targeting Munich.

Now, roughly 70 years later, Spinosaurus is back thanks to some additional samples discovered in Morocco. These, combined with images of the original skeleton and a handful of scattered bones found in the intervening years, appear to indicate the creature was a rarity for dinosaurs. It was adapted to an aquatic lifestyle and probably used its jaws and claws to snare fish.

The new skeletal remains include parts of the head, the spinal column, limbs, and extensive remains of the tail. It was found in a fossil bed called Kem Kem, which preserves the remains of a freshwater river system including various fish and sharks. The authors created a 3-D scan of the individual bones and, by filling in the gaps with bones scaled up or down from other samples or close relatives, created a complete model of the animal's skeleton. In total, the animal appears to have been 15 meters (nearly 50 feet) long, which would make it larger than any known Tyrannosaurus skeleton.

But it wouldn't have cut nearly as imposing a figure. The model allowed the authors to locate the animal's center of gravity, and they found that it would be quite a bit forward of its hips. This means that, on land, Spinosaurus would have been hunched over on all fours.



Koch foundation proposal to college: Teach our curriculum, get millions

In 2007, when the Charles Koch Foundation considered giving millions of dollars to Florida State University’s economics department, the offer came with strings attached.

First, the curriculum it funded must align with the libertarian, deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican political bankroller.

Second, the Charles Koch Foundation would at least partially control which faculty members Florida State University hired.

And third, Bruce Benson, a prominent libertarian economic theorist and Florida State University economics department chairman, must stay on another three years as department chairman — even though he told his wife he’d step down in 2009 after one three-year term.

The Charles Koch Foundation expressed a willingness to give Florida State an extra $105,000 to keep Benson — a self-described “libertarian anarchist” who asserts that every government function he’s studied “can be, has been, or is being produced better by the private sector” — in place.



If Republicans want full-scale war, they should say so

By Paul Waldman

While there were a few Republicans who reacted favorably to President Obama’s speech last night describing what we will be doing to combat ISIS, the reaction from most on the right was predictably negative. Which is fine — it’s the opposition’s job to oppose, after all. But when you hear what they have to say, you notice a yawning gap in their criticisms: They were missing clear articulation of what exactly Republicans would prefer that we do.

After Obama spoke, John McCain shouted at Jay Carney that everything would have been fine if we had never removed troops from Iraq, saying “the president really doesn’t have a grasp for how serious the threat from ISIS is.” He and Lindsey Graham later released a statement advocating a bunch of stuff we’re already doing, along with some language that sounded like they might be advocating waging war on the Syrian government, but it’s hard to be sure. Ted Cruz said Obama’s speech was “fundamentally unserious” because it was insufficiently belligerent and fear-mongering.

Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page: “War is hell. So go big or go home, Mr. President. Big means bold, confident, wise assurance from a trustworthy Commander-in-Chief that it shall all be worth it. Charge in, strike hard, get out. Win.” Which is about the “strategy” you’d get for defeating ISIS if you asked a third-grader.

The only one who was clear on what they would do instead, oddly enough, was Dick Cheney. He pronounced Obama’s strategy insufficient in a speech bordering on the insane, in which he essentially advocated waging war in every corner of the earth.



Doctors discover woman complaining of dizziness was missing part of her brain

By Marissa Fessenden on September 11, 2014
Nestled in the back of your head, just behind where your spinal cord attaches to your brain lies a very important region: the cerebellum. Its grooved surface looks strikingly different from the folds of your cerebral cortex. It’s responsible for coordinating movements by combining inputs from your senses via the spinal cord with information from other brain regions.

So when a 24-year old woman walked into a hospital and complained about dizziness and nausea, the doctors were shocked to discover that she was missing a cerebellum.

Neurosurgeon Feng Yu and his colleagues at the Chinese PLA General Hospital of Jinan Military Area Command in Shandong Province reported the woman’s remarkable condition in the journal Brain in late August. “Only eight living cases have been reported prior to this study,” the researchers write.

Image via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Missing a cerebellum comes with some complications, as one might expect for such a critical brain region. (The regions represents about “10 percent of the brain's total volume, but contains 50 percent of its neurons,” writes Helen Thompson for The New Scientist.) The woman’s mother reported that her daughter wasn’t able to walk until she was 7 years old, never ran or jumped, and couldn’t speak intelligibly until she was 6. Even today, she has trouble walking steadily. She also has slightly slurred pronunciation related to difficulties with the muscles involved in speech.

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