Well, the year 2014–if that’s how you count years–is upon us. More than anything else, I’m hoping this year goes down as the year the Tea Party goes into the correct bag and we dispose of it. It’s time to look back with regrets and hope that things change for the better. Let’s start with the Sleaziest Pols of 2013. Here’s my pick of the list for ickiest pol this year.
Bob Filner is not the first politician to commit sexual harassment. In fact, he’s not even the first politician to serially harass and grope women. But he’s almost certainly the first one to count a former admiral in the U.S. Navy among his victims. Filner spent 20 years in Congress as a relatively obscure Democrat representing much of San Diego. Then, he became mayor of San Diego and the scandal floodgates opened. At least 18 women came forward and Filner was eventually forced to resign as mayor, pleading guilty to one felony and two misdemeanors related to his serial harassment.
Some times things need an explanation. The Economist always does this with something in its weekly issues. Here’s The Explainer article in 2013 that I found most compelling. What makes a language difficult?
Ranking languages on a universal scale of difficulty is itself difficult and controversial. Some languages proliferate endings on verbs and nouns, like Latin and Russian. Such inflection can be hard for learners who are not used to it. Several years ago, two scholars found that smaller languages (those with less contact with other languages) tended to have more inflection than big ones. By contrast, creole languages—which arise between groups that do not share a common language—are thought by scholars to be systematically simpler than other languages, even after they become “normal” languages with native speakers. They typically lack heavy inflection.
But inflection is only one element of “hardness”. Some languages have simple sound systems (such as the Polynesian languages). Others have a wide variety of sounds, including rare ones that outsiders find hard to learn (like the languages of the Caucasus). Some languages (like English) lack or mostly lack grammatical gender. Some have dozens of genders (also known as “noun classes”) that must be learned for each noun. Languages can have rigidly fixed or flexible word order. They can put verbs before objects or even objects before subjects. Yet it is not clear how to rank the relative difficulty of exotic consonants, dozens of genders or heavy inflection. Another recent approach sought to go around the problem by finding languages that had the most unusual features, skirting the question of whether those features were “hard”. Comparing 21 feature parameters across hundreds of languages, they ranked 239 languages. Chalcatongo Mixtec, spoken in Mexico, was the weirdest. English came in place number 33. Basque, Hungarian, Hindi and Cantonese ranked as among the most “normal”. The researchers did not find any larger similarities between “weird” and “normal” languages.
As you know, I’m obsessed with digging up ancient stuff. So, no list of 2013 outliers of mine would be complete without looking at the top archaeological finds of 2013 and picking one that fascinated me. One of the most disturbing events in history on my list was the destruction of the Great Library and the absolute purging of all kinds of ancient wisdom during the Crusades and the onset of the spread of dogma by the “Holy Roman Empire”. I love it whenever we recover something that these self-righteous destroyers ruined. So, in that spirit, I’m glad some of the ancient writing mediums were reused. We know have the technology to recover the good stuff that’s buried under the propaganda.
Ancient Philosophical Writings Found Hidden Beneath Medieval Text A group of scientists and historians made an incredible discovery relating to some writings made on parchments that were produced in medieval times. Using cutting-edge technology, the researchers found that the parchment had once contained ancient philosophical writings that had later been washed off and over-written. Using multispectral imaging, scientists were able to recover the original text, shedding new light on the history of philosophical education in the late antiquity. The uppermost layer of text dates to the thirteenth century and comprises the Prophetic Books of the Greek Old Testament. However, through an amazing stroke of luck, it was discovered that beneath this text there had originally been some writing by the well-known ancient Greek writer, Euripides, and an unknown ancient commentary on Aristotle, which dated back to the fifth century. “The discovery of this work is of inestimable value for the history of philosophical education in the late antiquity”, said the discoverer of the manuscript, Dr. Chiara Faraggiana di Sarzana from Bologna University. The research being undertaken, named the Palamedes Project, aims to create a critical edition of the two important manuscripts featuring the newly discovered and unexplored Greek texts, made readable using the latest forms of technology.
My choice for best beat down of an urban myth this year–other than the NYT’s article that should shut the Republicans up on Benghazi– is this one about coffee stunting your growth. It turns out that there’s no evidence that coffee is bad for a kid’s growth. That idea was put in our heads by the makers of POSTUM because they didn’t want to lose customers.
Modern concerns about coffee’ health effects in the U.S. can be traced to C.W. Post, an 1800s-era food manufacturer most well known for pioneering the field of breakfast cereal. He also invented a grain-based breakfast beverage called Postum, advertised as a caffeine-free coffee alternative, that was popular through the 1960s (and is still in production).
“Postum made C.W. Post a fortune, and he became a millionaire from vilifying coffee, and saying how horrible it was for you,” Pendergrast says. “The Postum advertisers had all kinds of pseudoscientific reasons that you should stay away from coffee.” Among the “evil effects” of coffee for adults, according to Post: it depressed kidney and heart function, it was a “nerve poison,” it caused nervousness and indigestion, it led to sallow skin.
Even after Post died in 1914, his company’s ads continued their attack on coffee, highlighting its effects on youth in particular and marketing Postum as a kid-friendly hot beverage. Postum’s ads claimed that that coffee should never, under any circumstances, be served to children, for a number of reasons—it made them sluggish, irritable and sleepless, it robbed them of “rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes,” it led to failing grades and, as the 1933 ad above claims, “it hampers proper development and growth.”
Over time, it seems, the belief that coffee is unfit for children—and, specifically, that it stops them from growing—slipped into the country’s cultural consciousness and took root, despite a total lack of scientific evidence.
Happily, Postum is now mostly forgotten, and coffee reigns. Virtually all of coffee’s supposed ills have been debunked—including the idea that coffee stunts growth. On the whole, scientists now believe that the health benefits of drinking two to three cups of coffee per day (a reduced risk of developing dementia, diabetes and heart disease) outweigh the costs (a slight increase incholesterol levels, for instance).
Of course, you might have your own very legitimate reasons for not letting kids drink coffee that have nothing to do with growth. A big concern is sleep, and how crucial it is for developing children—they need more of it than adults, and there’s evidence that sleep disturbances could be linked with childhood obesity—so the fact that coffee packs more caffeine than tea or soda is an issue.
Then there are the more prosaic problems that could result from giving kids coffee. “My biggest concern is that caffeine is addictive,” Pendergrast says. “And there is a lot of evidence that if you’re addicted, and you don’t get your caffeine, you suffer quite exquisite headaches, among other symptoms.”
Fox says the NYT’s research on Benghazi is wrong. They’d probably be fighting a faux war on coffee for kids if the ad dollars from Coffee aren’t so huge these days compared to POST cereal and POSTUM. It’s just really dismaying to see how a media outlet that basically exists to lie to people gets to pass itself off as news.
There were a lot of kewl science events this year. Some of the Best Space Photos include my one of my favorite science stories this year. The compelling voyage of Comet ISON that started some where around the time our ancestors were learning to walk upright ended this year in a battle with our Sun. Comets cemented the Law of Gravity and have contributed to knowing our timing and place in our universe for some time. ISON may have disappointed some. But, I really got hung up in the last days of ISON.
After Comet ISON made its spectacular hairpin turn around the Sun on Thanksgiving, as seen in online images taken by the SOHO and STEREO spacecraft, it was unclear if enough of the comet had survived for it to become widely visible in the night sky. By the time it exited SOHO’s field of view a few days later, ISON had faded dramatically, even as it became larger and diffuse. Many astronomers believed the comet had disintegrated, melted by the fierce heat of our star and/or ripped apart by tidal forces. Unfortunately, it seems they were right.
ISON was to have been at its best in early December, had it lived up to its more optimistic projections: A beautiful sight with a long tail extending up into the predawn sky. But nothing of substance emerged from the solar glare. Several of the world’s most skilled comet observers reported sightings of a large, faint smudge at the comet’s approximate position around December 8, but no photographs were able to confirm this, and such sightings have ceased. Last week, both the Arecibo giant radiotelescope dish and the Hubble Space Telescope attempted to find remnants of ISON, but they were unable detect anything near the comet’s expected position. All that’s left of ISON is a ghost: an expanding dust cloud, faded into invisibility.
As it is with ISON, so it is with 2013. There was a lot of gas, speculation, and hooplah that ended.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today? And, any thing that stands out in my lists our any others that you’ve found that grab your fancy?
Yes, it may be a bit late…but at least I remembered that I was bringing you this morning’s reads! With Dak making a trip to the cloudy territory of the Northwest…Boston Boomer and I have switched days for the weekend post. So here are your morning reads for this Mid-November Saturday.
Hillary had a great speech this past week. I know that I can’t bring you the special kind of “Hillary Post” that Mona is so well know for, I would not even attempt it…but just look at some of the things our Hillary had to say:
The latest in a series of high-profile honors and speeches, Hillary Clinton said America must set an example on the global stage with women at the forefront of conflict negotiations and in leadership roles.
“Too many women around the world still face ceilings that hold them back from participating fully in every aspect of life, which, in turn, holds back entire societies,” the former secretary of state said at an event in Washington on Thursday. “And the great unfinished business of the 21st century is helping women and girls break through those ceilings, once and for all.”
“Over and over, in country after country, women have proven themselves a powerful source for peace, even in places where their political power is slight or nonexistent,” she said. “They’re often the ones who are saying ‘to end conflict we need to think about jobs and housing and schools and policing’ – all the things we know to be critical to any stable society.”
She is wonderful.
Clinton pointed to women’s’ involvement in instances of crucial crisis management throughout history – from protecting civil rights in post-apartheid South Africa to working across ethnic lines to help survivors of the Rwandan genocide.
Clinton will join Secretary of State John Kerry and former first lady Laura Bush for an event at Georgetown University on Friday focused on sustaining progress for women in Afghanistan after American troops withdraw next year.
“We cannot afford to stand by silently while the hard-won gains of the past decade are squandered and the United States must stand firmly for the rights of all afghans, women, first and foremost,” she said.
And at that event yesterday…Kerry’s advice on how to marry women like Clinton
Appearing at Georgetown University on Friday with predecessor Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry gave some tips to the men at the school, where former President Bill Clinton also studied. “For all the men…who sat in or who sit in classrooms where Bill Clinton sat so many years ago, my advice to you is this: Study hard, go to Oxford, become governor of your state, and then maybe you can marry one of the country’s remarkable Secretaries of State,” he joked.
Kerry was full of praise for Hillary Clinton after she introduced him at the event, which focused on progress made by women in Afghanistan. Referring to her as “Madam Secretary slash Senator slash First Lady slash everything,” Kerry thanked her for her work in advocating for women and girls.
That was pretty much all there was to say about the events over at the CNN blog where those two links are from, and it was fortunate that the comments were closed early…allowing under 25 idiots to make their usually remarks.
This next link is from The New Statesman, by Samira Shackle: Can you be a Muslim and a feminist?
It is astonishing that “Muslims”, and Muslim women, are so frequently spoken about as a monolithic block. If you actually listen to what Muslim women have to say on the subject, you find that many of them have no difficulty reconciling their faith with their conviction that they, as women, should be equal citizens.
You should read the article, it is not very long, but a couple of paragraphs to note:
There is a particular breed of internet troll whose favoured technique is to take selective quotes from the Qur’an or to answer any article on Islam with “The Prophet married Aisha when she was a child!!!”. Yet this cherry-picking proves nothing. The Prophet lived in the 6th Century, and the advent of Islam vastly improved the situation for women in pre-Islamic Arabia. Moreover, most religious texts contain misogynistic elements. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam respectively originated 3,000, 2,000, and 1,450 years ago, and elements of the scripture and lore of all three reflect the times they were written in. The Torah, Bible, and Qur’an all agree that women are unclean during menstruation. The Bible says that “a woman should learn in quietness and full submission”. This is not to play tit-for-tat, but to point out that it is intensely reductive to claim that any single religion is inherently woman-hating. The Bible and the Torah are comparable to the Qur’an in their statements on women; yet one does not commonly hear that “Judaism and feminism are a contradiction in terms” or that “you cannot be a Christian and a feminist”.
In writing this article, my intention is not to detract from the very real problems suffered by many Muslim women, or to argue that sexism in Islam does not exist. It does exist, as threats against women activists in Asia and the Middle East demonstrate. As is often the case, the conservative minority shouts the loudest and essentially drowns out the liberal voices. But by saying that “Islam and feminism cannot co-exist”, you are handing a victory to that conservative faction. My intention – and this may be too nuanced for the trolls who I can already hear queuing up – is to point out that Islam and feminism are not mutually exclusive. To claim that they are is – far from “saving” these victims – to deny women their voices all over again.
Trolls…like the ones trolling those Hillary blog post over at CNN.
Anyway, that was not the only point of Shackle’s piece, but it connected to me at least, as Hillary was talking about the importance of women succeeding in the very areas that Shackle mentions.
Alright. The rest of this will be quick.
Be sure to look for the Comet ISON…I know that we have talked about this thing since last year. Comet ISON Visible To Naked Eye After Outburst Of Activity, Observers Say
Get ready for a stellar show. The much-anticipated Comet ISON is now visible to the naked eye according to reports from many observers.
Comet ISON — the potential “comet of the century” — has suddenly brightened in an outburst of activity with just two weeks to go before it literally grazes the surface of the sun.
In recent months, Comet ISON has repeatedly befuddled forecasters trying to anticipate just how bright it will ultimately become. But earlier this week, the comet’s brightening trend again seemed to sputtering and stalling, but more recent observations suggest a sudden and radical upsurge in brightness. [Photos of Comet ISON: A Potentially Great Comet]
An hour before sunrise on Monday morning, November 18, catch a sight of the elusive planet Mercury, with brightening Comets ISON and Lovejoy as a bonus.
Comet ISON lightens up, literally
Comet ISON is now in full outburst mode, becoming many times brighter over just the past few days. Astronomers measure the brightness of objects in the night sky as magnitude, in which the brighter an object is, the lower its magnitude number. The human eye can perceive objects as faint as magnitude +6.5.
According to veteran comet observer, John Bortle, Comet ISON was shining only at magnitude +8.5 on Monday (Nov. 11) morning — more than six times too dim to be visible to the unaided eye. But by Wednesday morning, the comet’s brightness had increased three-fold brightening to +7.3. [8 Essential Facts About Comet ISON]
Before dawn, use binoculars to see if you can spot Comet ISON near Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. Finally, as darkness begins to give way to dawn, watch the planet Mercury finally climb above the horizon.
Did you all hear about this survey from Pope Francis? Pope Francis sends out survey to ask Catholics about gay sex, abortion and contraception (Shame there was nothing there about pedophile priest and cover-ups but..)
Pope Francis is urging members of the Catholic church to fill in a survey on the Vatican’s current teachings regarding contraception, homosexuality and access to communion for the divorced, to see how hard it is to practice what the church preaches in a modern day world.
The unique questionnaire, launched earlier this month, aims to determine how Christians feel about issues such as gay marriage and whether they feel such teachings are practical.
Feedback is expected to highlight the difference between Church teachings and the behaviour of its followers.
Read more details about the survey at the link.
Which is funny when you see what Bill Maher does with it:
Sarah Palin made some provocative remarks about how liberal the Pope is this week, and despite her apology, Bill Maher found the whole thing way too amusing, and proceeded to show off a mock Twitter feud between Pope Francis and the former Alaska governor.
Video at that link…
Or, you can read about it at this link…Maher: If Palin thinks the Pope is too liberal, ‘wait until she sees what Jesus has been saying’ | The Raw Story But this “tweet” from the Pope to Palin is perfect:
“Dear Sister,” Maher’s Pope replied, “how about a little more silent meditation from you? #AmIRightPeople?”
Last week, on TCM showing of Chapter 11: The story of Film one of the people interviewed was screenwriter/poet Javed Akhtar who co-wrote the famous epic Sholay with Salim Khan. He was talking about the film and innovation and he said something so poignant, poetic and simple that it gave me goosebumps. I tried to find the clip, but I could not…however I did find someone who must have felt that his description of art was as powerful as I did.
excerpted from an interview with writer Javed Akhtar in Mark Cousins’ documentary “The Story of Film” (2011)
“You must have seen children playing with a string and a pebble. They’re tying a string to a pebble and they start spinning it over their head. And slowly they keep leaving [makes motion of lowering grip] the string, and it makes bigger and bigger circle. Now, this pebble is the revolt from the tradition. It wants to move away. But the string is the tradition, the continuity of the tradition. It is holding it. But if you break the string, the pebble will fall. If you remove the pebble, the string cannot go that far. This tension of tradition and revolt against the tradition are in a way contradictory but as a matter of fact it is a synthesis: you will always find the synthesis of tradition and revolt against the tradition together in any good art.”
I wish you could hear him say it…it makes it even more beautiful.
Let us end with some pictures that show Beauty in the Everyday from the Lens blog at the New York Times
There is something so poignant about Saul Leiter’s work that looking at it can feel like taking a dart to the heart. Drenched in luxuriant, saturated colors, the images instantly transport the viewer into the photographer’s shoes: peeping from beneath an awning to a snow-swept street, or through a befogged cafe window, weeping with condensation, to a man taking pause on a wintry sidewalk. Intimate and empathetic, Mr. Leiter’s photographs relay what all New Yorkers know about their roaring, daunting home: that life in the city is filled with stolen glimpses and fleeting, quietly personal and often gorgeous moments.
Flipping through a book of Mr. Leiter’s work about seven years ago, Tomas Leach, a commercial film director based in London, fell in love with the pictures. Though many of the images were more than a half-century old, Mr. Leach was struck by their timelessness and “curious, encrypted feel.”
He assumed that Mr. Leiter was a “recognized giant of photography,” but instead discovered that Mr. Leiter, now 89, was an elusive artist whose work was not widely known outside the photography world. “I was amazed,” Mr. Leach recalled. “There was nothing about this guy who’d done this clearly amazing, beautiful work.”
Be sure to take a look at that gallery of images, and have a wonderful day!
The heat is unbearable, so I hope that you are keeping as cool as you can.
I will only put up a couple of links for you tonight, remember that comet which is making a quick trip around the sun? Comet ISON: A Timeline of This Year’s Sungrazing Spectacle | Space.com
The sungrazing Comet ISON could put on a dazzling display when it slingshots around Earth’s star this November.
If the icy dust ball doesn’t get ripped apart by extreme solar forces, some astronomers have said it could be the “comet of the century,” possibly shining brightly enough to be seen during the daytime.The Hubble Space Telescope captured this view of Comet ISON, C/2012 S1 (ISON), on May 8, 2013 as it streaked between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars at 48,000 mph. This annotated view shows the comet’s scale and direction of motion.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)ISON began its dangerous journey toward the inner solar system about 10,000 years ago, when it left a distant band of icy space rocks in the Oort cloud. But scientists and skywatchers only became aware of ISON last year. Here’s a look at what scientists have learned about the comet since then, and what to expect in the months and days ahead. [Photos of Comet ISON: A Potentially Great Comet]
There is a video explaining the comet’s trip and why it is expected to shine so brightly in the sky if it does survive its slingshot around our sun. So please be sure to go to that Space.com link and look at the time line and the other video that discusses the comet’s journey through our solar system.
There was another scientific news story I wanted to share with you, Down’s syndrome cells ‘fixed’ in first step towards chromosome therapy | Science | The Guardian
Scientists have corrected the genetic fault that causes Down’s syndrome – albeit in isolated cells – raising the prospect of a radical therapy for the disorder.
In an elegant series of experiments, US researchers took cells from people with DS and silenced the extra chromosome that causes the condition. A treatment based on the work remains a distant hope, but scientists in the field said the feat was the first major step towards a “chromosome therapy” for Down’s syndrome.
“This is a real technical breakthrough. It opens up whole new avenues of research,” said Elizabeth Fisher, professor of neurogenetics at UCL, who was not involved in the study. “This is really the first sniff we’ve had of anything to do with gene therapy for Down’s syndrome.”
Around 750 babies are born with DS in Britain each year while globally between one in a 1000 and one in 1100 births are DS babies. Most experience learning difficulties.
Despite advances in medical care that allow most to live well into middle age, those who have the disorder are at risk of heart defects, bowel and blood disorders, and thyroid problems.
Though a full treatment is still many years off, the work will drive the search for therapies that improve common symptoms of DS, from immune and gastrointestinal problems, to childhood leukaemia and early-onset dementia.
“This will accelerate our understanding of the cellular defects in Down’s syndrome and whether they can be treated with certain drugs,” said Jeanne Lawrence, who led the team at the University of Massachusetts.
“The long-range possibility – and it’s an uncertain possibility – is a chromosome therapy for Down’s syndrome. But that is 10 years or more away. I don’t want to get people’s hopes up.”
This certainly is something that would be a “miracle” for many people…I know it is something that my mother still talks about, in fact she was the one that mentioned this article to me earlier today, and when she told me about it, it was in terms of…”you know how I always wondered if there was a way to fix the gene that causes Down syndrome.” Isn’t it nice to think that one day we may be able to do just that?
This is an open thread.
I guess my self imposed break from writing the evening reads post is over…I’ve got a few links that I have saved over the last couple weeks, so away we go!
This photograph is of the Milky Way seemingly falling into a waterfall, from the Telegraph picture of the day gallery…click image to see more cool pictures.
In connection with our Milky Way, you may find this interesting…2013 should be the year of the Comet, or comets: ‘Brighter than a full moon': The biggest star of 2013… could be Ison – the comet of the century
At the moment it is a faint object, visible only in sophisticated telescopes as a point of light moving slowly against the background stars. It doesn’t seem much – a frozen chunk of rock and ice – one of many moving in the depths of space. But this one is being tracked with eager anticipation by astronomers from around the world, and in a year everyone could know its name.
Comet Ison could draw millions out into the dark to witness what could be the brightest comet seen in many generations – brighter even than the full Moon.
The Comet Ison will show it’s brilliance in November of 2013. But…there is another comet making an appearance earlier in the year.
Another comet, called 2014 L4 (PanSTARRS), was discovered last year and in March and April it could also be a magnificent object in the evening sky. 2013 could be the year of the great comets.
Now some cartoons, this are focused around the gun-control debate.
Okay, moving on…to a few links that have absolutely nothing to do with “politics.”
One about a new Tower of London Raven, named Jubilee: Tower of London’s Jubilee raven released
Seven of the tower’s eight ravens were supplied by the Somerset breeder
A raven given to the Queen to mark the Diamond Jubilee has been released at the Tower of London.
“Raven Jubilee is doing very well and has now been trained to come out of his cage and meet all the visitors,” Chris Skaife, the tower’s raven master, said.
“But it takes years for the birds to really get to know members of the raven team and for us to get to know them and their idiosyncratic ways.”
He added: “They are the most pampered birds in the country – and one of the most intelligent.
“They gang up on small children with crisps at the tower – but they don’t like cheese and onion – so they’ll open the packet and dip the crisps in water to get rid of the taste.”
One about study habits in relation to success in mathmatics: Motivation, study habits—not IQ—determine growth in math achievement
It’s not how smart students are but how motivated they are and how they study that determines their growth in math achievement. That’s the main finding of a new study that appears in the journal Child Development.[…]“While intelligence as assessed by IQ tests is important in the early stages of developing mathematical competence, motivation and study skills play a more important role in students’ subsequent growth,” according to Kou Murayama, postdoctoral researcher of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (who was at the University of Munich when he led the study).
A titan arum is displayed at the Inhotim Art Institute and Botanical Garden in Belo Horizonte on December 26, 2012 Enlarge A titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as “corpse flower” or “corpse plant” due to its odor, is displayed at the Inhotim Art Institute and Botanical Garden in Belo Horizonte, in the Brazilian southern state of Minas Gerais, on December 26, 2012. Hundreds of visitors are flocking daily to the garden to watch the rare blooming of the world’s smelliest and largest tropical flower. Hundreds of visitors are flocking daily to a botanical garden in southeastern Brazil to watch the rare blooming of the Titan arum, the world’s smelliest and largest tropical flower. Also known as the “corpse flower” because of a smell likened to rotting flesh, it began blooming on Christmas Day and is already beginning to close, botanist Patricia Oliveira told AFP.