May 12, 2016

Miguel’s cousins, emulating pigeons


This Day In History: May 12, 1215

“No free man shall be arrested or imprisoned save by the lawful judgment of their equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.”

The Magna Carta is one of the most famous and revered documents in the world. It’s the basis of many future legal documents ensuring individual rights and accountability of those in power. For a declaration that was intended to apply to the elite as a practical measure to solve a temporary problem, its staying power and influence has been remarkable.

The spark that led to the Magna Carta occurred on May 12, 1215 when King John’s nobles rose in rebellion against him. King John took the whole “divine right of kings” thing very seriously. He taxed his barons to the point of extortion and doled out royal justice as he saw fit until his misrule became unbearable. …

Trump’s false claim that ‘there’s nothing to learn’ from his tax returns

“There’s nothing to learn from them.”

— Donald Trump, explaining why he won’t release his tax returns, in an interview with the Associated Press on May 11, 2016

Donald Trump has a history of promising to release his tax returns — and then not doing so.

In 2011, when Trump was spearheading the movement questioning whether President Obama was born in the United States, Trump told ABC News that he would release his tax returns if Obama released his long-form birth certificate. “I’d love to give my tax returns,” he said.

But once Obama released his birth certificate, Trump hedged. “At the appropriate time I’m going to do it,” he said. The appropriate time never came.

Then, in 2012, Trump criticized Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for being slow to release his tax returns. He was asked by Fox News if he’d ever have a problem releasing his returns.

“No,” Trump said. “I actually think that it’s a great thing when you can show that you’ve been successful, and that you’ve made a lot of money, that you’ve employed a lot of people. I actually think that it’s a positive.”

But apparently, that was then. …

Ted Cruz Files Papers For Continued Public Humiliation

Ted Cruz, bless his heart, has been out of the public eye for more than a week now. But it’s just a temporary reprieve: He’ll be back out brutally owning himself on the campaign trail soon.

Just how stir crazy is he going with just his family and his soup to keep him company? So far he’s already held strategy meetings to exert influence over the national convention and floated the idea of unsuspending his presidential campaign even though no one wants to vote for him. And today, according to CNN, the most hated man in the Senate also filed papers to run for re-election in 2018. …

10 Ridiculous But Surprisingly Fascinating Scientific Research Studies

Fueled by unquenchable curiosity, some scientists embark on studies that appear to be ridiculous, obvious, or insignificant. These scientists often face criticism and mockery from inside and outside the scientific community. However, if you look closely, this seemingly wacky research is also meaningful and even provocative.

10. Fruit Bats Love Oral Sex

Animals have sex primarily for reproduction rather than pleasure. The male inserts his penis into the female’s vagina, and after a minute or two, the deed is done.

Sex among animals is so basic and boring that it’s fascinating to know that certain mammals engage in sexual activities that are associated with humans and pleasure, such as fellatio and cunnilingus.

In 2009, researchers from the Guangdong Entomological Institute in Guangzhou, China, accidentally discovered that short-nosed fruit bats engage in oral sex. During the study, the scientists expected to see typical animal behavior such as grooming. Instead, they observed that female fruit bats licked the male’s penis during sex. …

Saudi officials were ‘supporting’ 9/11 hijackers, commission member says

First serious public split revealed among commissioners over the release of the secret ‘28 pages’ that detail Saudi ties to 2001 terrorist attacks

A former Republican member of the 9/11 commission, breaking dramatically with the commission’s leaders, said Wednesday he believes there was clear evidence that Saudi government employees were part of a support network for the 9/11 hijackers and that the Obama administration should move quickly to declassify a long-secret congressional report on Saudi ties to the 2001 terrorist attack.

The comments by John F Lehman, an investment banker in New York who was Navy secretary in the Reagan administration, signal the first serious public split among the 10 commissioners since they issued a 2004 final report that was largely read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia, which was home to 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11.

“There was an awful lot of participation by Saudi individuals in supporting the hijackers, and some of those people worked in the Saudi government,” Lehman said in an interview, suggesting that the commission may have made a mistake by not stating that explicitly in its final report. “Our report should never have been read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia.” …

Is America Engaged In A ‘Vicious Circle’ Of Jailing The Poor?

According to a report by the Vera Institute for Justice, there are more than 3,000 local jails in America, holding more than 730,000 people on any given day. Nancy Fishman, a project director at the Vera Institute, tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that jails “have impacted a huge number of Americans … many more than are impacted by state prisons.”

The Vera Institute’s report documents that there are almost 12 million admissions to local jails each year, representing about 9 million people. Most of those jailed, she says, are being held for low-level offenses, such as drug misdemeanors, traffic offenses or nonviolent property crimes. And, she adds, the majority are poor.

Fishman notes that most of the people in jail are pretrial, which means that they have not yet been convicted of anything. “They are legally innocent,” she says. “One of the great travesties, frankly, of jail admissions right now is that we have people sitting in jail for long periods simply because they can’t afford to pay [bail].” …

10 Bizarre Ice Creations

The weather’s warming up, and what better way to escape the worrisome prospect of trudging out into the sun-baked wasteland that was once your front yard than a refreshing, ice-cold list? Kick your feet up and chill with this collection of bizarre and ingenious items made from (almost) nothing but ice.

10. Soda Bottles

It’s an idea so obvious that’s it’s amazing no one dreamed it up sooner—a self-cooling soda bottle made entirely of ice. Available only in Colombia, Coca-Cola created the inventive vessels in an effort to guarantee customers an ice-cold beverage while also cutting back on waste.

Made from silicon molds filled with filtered water, the bottles have proven extremely popular with Colombia’s beachgoers. Some vendors have reported selling as many as 265 bottles an hour. After the Coke has been consumed, the bottle simply melts away, leaving the drinker with a small souvenir—an elastic grip, sporting the Coca Cola logo, that can be worn as a bracelet. …

The Cognitive Science Behind Repeating Mistakes

Being constantly late, losing your phone, spending too much money, dating the same inadvisable people—these are all errors that human beings make over and over again. But it has more to do with how the brain is wired than with a lack of discipline. In attempting to understand where we went wrong, our brains create “mistake pathways,” ruts that we get into when we try not to make another misstep. In this short video, staff writer Olga Khazan explains the psychological reasons why it’s so hard not to keep repeating mistakes.

Hyperloop One succeeds at first of many much-hyped tests

Development of the nearly supersonic transportation system known as the hyperloop reached a new milestone Wednesday as entrepreneurs propelled a small sled about 100 yards at half its eventual targeted speed.

The demonstration before reporters in the north Las Vegas desert is the latest hype-building event for the hyperloop, a concept that business mogul Elon Musk made fashionable in 2013. Two Los Angeles companies, students across the country and others worldwide are trying to develop the propulsion, autopilot and safety technologies that would underpin a hyperloop system.

Hyperloop One Inc.’s Nevada showcase is expected to be among many from the industry as the downtown Los Angeles company and its competitors zip toward a full-scale test. That would happen by the end of the year in a best case scenario, said Hyperloop One, which had been called Hyperloop Technologies until Tuesday. …


Today in History: May 12, 1932

The remains of little Charles Lindbergh Jr., son of pioneering aviator hero Charles Lindbergh and writer Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were discovered on May 12, 1932, over two months after the toddler had been snatched from his family’s mansion in Hopewell, N.J.

On the night of March 1, 1932, baby Charlie’s nurse went to check on him around 10 p.m. and made the horrific discovery that the child was gone. Charles Lindbergh rushed into his son’s room to see two heart-breaking, ominous sights – an empty crib and an envelope. The envelope contained a poorly written ransom note that read:

Dear Sir,

Have 50,000$ redy 25000$ in 20$ bills 15000$ in 10$ bills and 10000$ in 5$ bills. After 2-4 days will inform you were to deliver the Mony. We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the Polise the child is in gut care. Indication for all letters are singnature and 3 holds.

Air pollution rising at an ‘alarming rate’ in world’s cities

Outdoor pollution has risen 8% in five years with fast-growing cities in the developing world worst affected, WHO data shows

Outdoor air pollution has grown 8% globally in the past five years, with billions of people around the world now exposed to dangerous air, according to new data from more than 3,000 cities compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Annual mean concentration of fine particulate matter (2.5 micrometres or less) in micrograms per cubic metre for 3,000 towns and cities around the world

While all regions are affected, fast-growing cities in the Middle East, south-east Asia and the western Pacific are the most impacted with many showing pollution levels at five to 10 times above WHO recommended levels. …

Where does America’s e-waste end up? GPS tracker tells all

High above the Pacific Ocean in a plane headed for Hong Kong, most of the passengers are fast asleep.

But not Jim Puckett. His eyes are fixed on the glowing screen of his laptop. Little orange markers dot a satellite image. He squints at the pixelated terrain trying to make out telltale signs.

He’s searching for America’s electronic waste.

“People have the right to know where their stuff goes,” he says.

Dead electronics make up the world’s fastest-growing source of waste. The United States produces more e-waste than any country in the world. Electronics contain toxic materials like lead and mercury, which can harm the environment and people. Americans send about 50,000 dump trucks worth of electronics to recyclers each year. …

Did You Donate Your Body To Science? Maybe Don’t Read This.

Ever consider donating your body to science? Your sad little meat suit could advance the cause of human knowledge! Sure, maybe you were a “callow reprobate” in life (the judge’s words, not ours), but in death you serve a higher function. Well, unless science decides to use your carcass for one of these things …

WARNING: The following images will disturb you. (Unless you’re a hardcore Slayer fan.)

#5. Scientists Tested The Punching Proficiency Of Severed Arms

Our fancy fingers and opposable thumbs are one of the advantages that separate us humans from the lower beasts. Well, that and flamethrowers. Once the wolves develop flamethrower technology, it’s all over. But there’s at least one man — David Carrier, a biology professor at the University of Utah — who doesn’t completely buy into the whole “civilized dexterity” thing. He poses another theory: Our hands evolved as they did so that we could more effectively punch each other in the face.

So he gathered up some dismembered arms and started figuring out how to make them deliver haymakers. You know, as one does.

Dead men tell no tales, but they sometimes knock your ass out cold.

Researchers attached the arms to a pendulum and tied fishing line to the tendons of the forearm muscles, allowing them to be controlled by guitar tuners like marionettes straight out of a Hellraiser puppet show. …

FDA to Redefine What ‘Healthy’ Food Really Means

How is it possible a sugary cereal could be considered healthy but not almonds, avocados and salmon?

Because the science of healthy eating has changed since the Food and Drug Administration wrote the current guidelines in the 1990s. Believe it or not, none of those foods would be considered “healthy” under the FDA’s current guidelines.

“We used to believe that sugary cereals were fine, as long as they were fortified with vitamins and minerals,” Katherine Tallmadge, a nutritionist, told NBC News. “Now we want people to eat the whole food — whole grains.” …

Why do we get fat?

A new study has found that many competitors on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” leave the show with a slower metabolism. Kai Hibbard, shown here, was a contestant on the program in 2006.

Dieting doesn’t cure obesity. That’s not news, although it was reconfirmed last week in a particularly mediagenic fashion in a study published by National Institutes of Health researchers. The researchers followed contestants from the “The Biggest Loser” television show as these formerly obese contestants proceeded to regain most of the massive amounts of weight they had lost on the show.

As reported in the journal Obesity, these “Biggest Loser” contestants were the victims of “metabolic compensation.” As they tried to keep their weight under control, their bodies remained particularly resistant to expending energy. The findings implied that to maintain their weight loss they would have to remain hungry and calorie-deprived for the rest of their years, and they might still regain the weight they’d lost and then some. For anyone with weight to lose, the message was dismal.

The hoopla the study generated, and the study itself, was missing the answer to an important question. It described what happened to the “Biggest Loser” contestants but not the most important aspect of why: What had made these people fat to begin with? What established the weight they seemed fated to return to? How did the problem get started? …

10 Ignored Warnings That Were Tragically Deadly

We humans have experienced an uncountable number of deadly disasters, both natural and man-made, that led to massive loss of life and property since time immemorial. Many such disasters also caught those affected unaware, even though they certainly didn’t just come out of the blue. There were warnings, which were clearly ignored.

10. The Eruption Of Mount Vesuvius

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24, AD 79, killed a number of people and totally destroyed the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. All of the victims of the eruption were caught unaware, though that shouldn’t have been the case, as the mountain had given several warnings, all of which went completely ignored.

Pompeii was not the first town to be destroyed by the eruption of mountain Vesuvius. There had been at least two previous towns, both of which were completely destroyed. Leading up to the day of the eruption, Pompeii experienced series of tremors caused by an increase in the molten rock below Mount Vesuvius. The Romans didn’t know the relationship between such quakes and an impending eruption, so they can’t be blamed for that. On the more superstitious side, Romans believed that sighting giants roaming around a town was an early warning of an impending disaster. Many people living in Pompeii reportedly sighted giants, but no one bothered to find out why. …

Archiving a Website for Ten Thousand Years

After shutting down, an online community plans to preserve its data on a laser-etched metal plate.

The Rosetta Disk, an archive of human languages micro-etched in nickel

In May 1940, Thornwell Jacobs, the president of Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, dedicated a 2,000-square-foot Crypt of Civilization intended to be sealed until May 28, 8113 C.E. He picked that date as the marker of a duration into the future equal to that which had passed since the oldest surviving recorded history, some 6,200 years prior. The crypt contained about 640,000 pages of text reproduced on microfilm. It also housed technological artifacts and bric-a-brac, along with a windmill-powered generator to play back audio and film recordings., a website that allows its users to post “moments” with a photo and annotation, plans a similar trip to the distant future. The operators, Craig Mod (who has also previously written for The Atlantic) and Chris Palmieri, announced today that the site will freeze service in September 2016. However, all posts present in the site’s database at that time will be microprinted onto a two-by-two-inch nickel plate. The entire site—2,000,000 words and 14,000 photos—should fit on a single disk. Several copies will be made and distributed across the globe; the Library of Congress has already been secured as a repository. The plates have a lifespan as long as 10,000 years, and they may be viewed with a 1,000-power optical microscope. …

An Update From the Astronomers Who Proposed the Alien Megastructures

Where the quest to understand the most mysterious star in the galaxy stands today.

The constellation Cygnus

As first reported in this magazine, there is a star in the constellation Cygnus that behaves like no other. During the years-long stare of the Kepler space observatory, this otherwise run-of-the mill star—a bit hotter and more massive than the Sun—exhibited an extraordinary series of dimming events, as though briefly and occasionally eclipsed by an irregular series of large, opaque objects, the nature of which can only be guessed.

Discovered by citizen scientists scouring data publicly available through the crowdsourced Planet Hunters effort, these dimming events kicked off a years-long effort by a team led by Tabetha Boyajian at Yale to figure out what was going on with the star. After working with NASA to rule out technical issues that might have caused the oddities, they scrutinized the star itself for evidence that it might be unusually young, as very young stars have disks of warm dust, gas, and rocks orbiting them that can create all sorts of strange behavior.

The star proved to be completely pedestrian: Not only does it appear to be mature and lack any disk of material, it showed no other signs of peculiarity, either. If not for the Kepler data, the star would attract no attention at all.

But attract attention it has. …


A running joke, a conspiracy, a challenge, a raspberry to authority and (at least formerly) an exclusive club, the members of the Order of the Occult Hand are those journalists who have successfully snuck the meaningless phrase “occult hand” past their editors and into published newspaper articles.

How did this all start? According to two of its founding fathers, Joseph Flanders and R.C. Smith, in the fall of 1965, a group of Charlotte News reporters, while purportedly enjoying a few alcoholic beverages, began to critique a recent piece written by their colleague, the aforementioned Joseph Flanders. Into a “complicated story of evil-doing,” Flanders had placed the phrase “It was as if an occult hand had reached down from above and moved the players like pawns upon some giant chessboard.”

One of the contingent supposedly teased, “Now that is what I call prose.” …

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