I’m having difficulty getting started today. I’ve been dealing with a stomach virus since the weekend. I’m nauseated, have no energy, and feel weak an wobbly on my feet. I spoke to a doctor’s assistant at my health clinic who told me the stomach viruses going around now can last up to two weeks. She just told me to call back if I get any respiratory symptoms. Anyway, I’m not enjoying reading the news these days. I’ll just share some stories that caught my depleted interest this morning.
How about a little archaeology to start out?
The Times of Israel: Huge Kingdom of Judah government complex found near US Embassy in Jerusalem.
One of the largest collections of royal Kingdom of Judah seal impressions has been uncovered at a massive First Temple-period public tax collection and storage complex being excavated near the new United States Embassy in Jerusalem. The main Iron Age structure is exceptional in terms of both its size and architectural style, said Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Neri Sapir, who co-directed the excavation.
Uncovered only three kilometers (1.8 mile) outside the Old City, the compound is believed by Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists to have served as an administrative center during the reigns of Judean kings Hezekiah and Menashe (8th century to the middle of the 7th century BCE).
Over 120 jar handles stamped 2,700 years ago with ancient Hebrew script seal impressions were discovered at the site, clearly indicating the location’s use as a storage and tax center, according to an IAA press release Wednesday. Prevalent among the stamped inscriptions is “LMLK,” “LamMeLeKh,” or “Belonging to the King,” a way of marking that the foodstuffs stored in the jars had been tithed to the Judean ruler.
This trove of LMLK seal impressions adds to the over 2,000 similar seals previously discovered at excavations and allows archaeologists to rethink the administrative and tax collection systems of the Kingdom of Judah.
“This is one of the most significant discoveries from the period of the Kings in Jerusalem made in recent years. At the site we excavated, there are signs that governmental activity managed and distributed food supplies not only for shortage but administered agricultural surplus amassing commodities and wealth,” said IAA excavation co-directors Sapir and Nathan Ben-Ari in a press release Wednesday.
There’s much more fascinating information at the link.
Back in the 21st Century, American democracy is still threatened by a moron who thinks he’s brilliant and aspires to be dictator for life.
During a private campaign meeting in the Cabinet Room in early June, Trump brought up the test unprompted. In an extended riff, he talked about how well he had done — boasting that he’d been able to remember five different words, in order — and suggested challenging Biden to take the assessment, saying he was certain the former vice president would not fare as well.
Since then, the president has been speaking about the test publicly, telling Fox News’s Sean Hannity in a July 9 phone interview that he’d “aced it,” and again on Sunday, when he told the network’s Chris Wallace that he doubts Biden could answer all of the questions. On Wednesday evening, in another Fox News interview, Trump couldn’t resist revisiting what he said was the hardest part of the test — repeating the five words, in order.
Trump said he was first asked to repeat a set of words — “person,” “woman,” “man,” “camera,” “TV,” he said, offering a hypothetical example — and then, later in the assessment after some time had elapsed, he was again asked whether he remembered those same words, in order.
“And they say… ‘Go back to that question, and repeat them. Can you do it?’ ” Trump said, mimicking the doctors administering the exam. “And you go, ‘Person, woman, man, camera, TV.’ They say, ‘That’s amazing. How did you do that?’ I do it because I have, like, a good memory, because I’m cognitively there.”
But, as those of us with normal cognitive abilities know, the “test” Trump “aced” is routinely given to people who are suspected of having brain damage, dementia, or other cognitive deficits. It’s not a test of intelligence, as Trump seems to think. Back to the WaPo story:
Experts say the president’s fixation on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment — or MoCA, as it is sometimes called — is particularly puzzling because the test is normally administered only if someone is concerned that they or their loved ones may be experiencing dementia or other cognitive decline. Getting a perfect score — as Trump has repeatedly claimed he did — merely signifies that the test-taker probably does not have a cognitive impairment as measured by the exam.
“It’s not meant to measure IQ or intellectual skill in anyway,” said Ziad Nasreddine, the neurologist who created the test. “If someone performs well, what it means is they can be ruled out for cognitive impairment that comes with diseases like Alzheimer’s, stroke or multiple sclerosis. That’s it.”
Nasreddine continued: “The reason most people take the test is they or others start noticing mental decline. They forgot where they parked the car, can’t remember what groceries to buy by the time they get to the store. They keep forgetting to take their medication.”
Yesterday Federal agents in Portland, Oregon tear-gassed the city’s mayor.
The New York Times: Federal Officers Hit Portland Mayor With Tear Gas.
The mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, was left coughing and wincing in the middle of his own city Wednesday night after federal officers deployed tear gas into a crowd of protesters that Mr. Wheeler had joined outside the federal courthouse.
Mr. Wheeler, who scrambled to put on goggles while denouncing what he called the “urban warfare” tactic of the federal agents, said he was outraged by the use of tear gas and that it was only making protesters more angry.
“I’m not going to lie — it stings; it’s hard to breathe,” Mr. Wheeler said. “And I can tell you with 100 percent honesty, I saw nothing which provoked this response.”
He called it an “egregious overreaction” on the part of the federal officers, and not a de-escalation strategy….
But the Democratic mayor, 57, has also long been the target of Portland protesters infuriated by the city police’s own use of tear gas, which was persistent until a federal judge ordered the city to use it only when there was a safety issue. As Mr. Wheeler went through the crowds on Wednesday, some threw objects in his direction, and others called for his resignation, chanting, “Tear Gas Teddy.”
After a large wave of tear gas sent Mr. Wheeler away from the scene, some protesters mocked him, asking how it felt. Mr. Wheeler said that joining the protesters at the front of the line was just one way he was going to try to rid the city of the federal tactical teams.“
A lot of these people hate my guts,” Mr. Wheeler said in an interview, looking around at the crowd. But he said they were unified in wanting federal officers gone.
Also at The New York Times, Gary Hart has an op-ed about presidential power: How Powerful Is the President?
We have recently come to learn of at least a hundred documents authorizing extraordinary presidential powers in the case of a national emergency, virtually dictatorial powers without congressional or judicial checks and balances. President Trump alluded to these authorities in March when he said, “I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about.” No matter who occupies the office, the American people have a right to know what extraordinary powers presidents believe they have. It is time for a new select committee to study these powers and their potential for abuse, and advise Congress on the ways in which it might, at a minimum, establish stringent oversight.
Secret powers began accumulating during the Eisenhower years and have grown by accretion ever since. The rationale originally was to permit a president to exercise necessary control in the case of nuclear war, an increasingly remote possibility since the Cold War’s end. An obscure provision in the Communications Act of 1934 empowers the president to suspend broadcast stations and other means of communication following a “proclamation by the President” of “national emergency.” Powers like these have been deployed sparingly: A few days after the Sept. 11 attacks, a proclamation declaring a national emergency, followed by an executive order days later, invoked some presidential powers, including the use of National Guard and U.S. military forces.
What little we know about these secret powers comes from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School, but we believe they may include suspension of habeas corpus, surveillance, home intrusion, arrest without a judicial warrant, collective if not mass arrests and more; some could violate constitutional protections.
A number of us have urged immediate congressional investigations concerning what these powers are and why they have been kept secret. Public hearings should be held before the November elections, especially with rumors rife that the incumbent president might interfere with the election or refuse to accept the result if he felt in jeopardy of losing.
Please read the rest of this important piece at the NYT.
More stories to check out:
Politico Magazine: State Department Insiders Ask: What Is Susan Pompeo Really Up To?
Jacksonville.com: RNC plans in jeopardy as Jacksonville council president opposes city bill.
Bloomberg City Lab: Philadelphia’s Top Prosecutor Is Prepared to Arrest Federal Agents.
The New York Times: Tracking the Real Coronavirus Death Toll in the United States.
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Shumer had dinner with Trump last night and some kind of “deal” was worked out, but no one can figure out what it was. Trump has been sending conflicting tweets about it and saying confusing things about it in Florida this morning.
The Washington Post: Trump, top A Democrats agree to work on deal to save ‘dreamers’ from deportation.
Democratic leaders announced late Wednesday that they agreed with President Trump to pursue a legislative deal that would protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and enact border security measures that don’t include building a physical wall.
The president discussed options during a dinner at the White House with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that also included talks on tax reform, infrastructure and trade. Trump has showed signs of shifting strategy to cross the aisle and work with Democrats in the wake of the high-profile failures by Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
We’re working on a plan for DACA,” Trump said as he left the White House on Thursday for a trip to survey hurricane damage in Florida.
Trump said that he and Congress are “fairly close” to a deal and that Republican leaders Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) are “very much on board” with a deal that would address DACA. The agreement must include “massive border security,” Trump said in response to shouted questions about whether he had reached a deal on the terms Schumer and Pelosi had described.
“The wall will come later” [link to Axios added] he said, apparently confirming a central element of the Democrats’ account.
There was instant backlash from Trump’s Cro-Magnon supporters, and the White House quickly tried to walk back whatever Trump agreed to when his handlers weren’t around.
Earlier Thursday, amid backlash from conservative supporters, Trump had sought Thursday to reach out to his GOP base with messages claiming his agenda would remain intact on signature issues such as the border wall.
In a series of tweets, Trump wrote that “no deal” was made on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era program that has allowed 690,000 dreamers to work and go to school without fear of deportation. He further wrote that agreements on “massive border security” would have to accompany any new DACA provisions, and insisted that “the WALL will continue to be built.”
I guess we’ll find out what’s going on eventually. It would certainly be a good thing if Congress can get its act together and do something to keep the Dreamers in the U.S.
Manu Raju of CNN had a great scoop last night that makes Devin Nunes look like even more of an idiot than ever before: Exclusive: Rice told House investigators why she unmasked senior Trump officials.
Former national security adviser Susan Rice privately told House investigators that she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year, multiple sources told CNN.
The New York meeting preceded a separate effort by the UAE to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House.
The crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, arrived in New York last December in the transition period before Trump was sworn into office for a meeting with several top Trump officials, including Michael Flynn, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his top strategist Steve Bannon, sources said.
The Obama administration felt misled by the United Arab Emirates, which had failed to mention that Zayed was coming to the United States even though it’s customary for foreign dignitaries to notify the US government about their travels, according to several sources familiar with the matter. Rice, who served as then-President Obama’s national security adviser in his second term, told the House Intelligence Committee last week that she requested the names of the Americans mentioned in the classified report be revealed internally, a practice officials in both parties say is common.
Rice’s previously undisclosed revelation in a classified setting shines new light on a practice that had come under sharp criticism from the committee chairman, California Rep. Devin Nunes, and President Donald Trump, who previously accused Rice of committing a crime.Ja
Once again, Trump people were caught trying to communicate secretly with Putin, because of course foreign visitors are routinely monitored by the intelligence community.
In other Russia news, Michael Flynn’s son is now a subject in the investigation. NBC News reports:
Michael G. Flynn, the son of President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, is a subject of the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, according to four current and former government officials.
The inquiry into Flynn is focused at least in part on his work with his father’s lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group, three of the officials said. It’s unclear when the focus on Flynn began.
Barry Coburn, who said he is serving as the younger Flynn’s legal counsel, said he couldn’t comment on the matter.
Flynn’s status as a subject of the Russia investigation widens the publicly known scope of the probe. NBC News has reported that those under investigation have included the elder Flynn and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Others under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller include Carter Page, a Trump campaign ally; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser; and the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr.
Yesterday White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that James Comey committed a crime when he leaked his personal memos about interactions with Trump to The New York Times, and called on the Justice Department to investigate him. She also called on ESPN to fire a reporter who tweeted that Trump is a white supremacist. In any other White House, Sanders herself would be fired by now. The White House is not supposed to get involved in decisions by the DOJ and the White House calling for the firing of a journalist for dissing POTUS is wildly inappropriate.
From Politico, a response to the recent attacks on Comey by the Trump crowd: The Hapless Smear Campaign Against Jim Comey.
From the moment Steve Bannon stated in his 60 Minutes interview that President Donald Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey was the biggest political mistake in modern presidential history, there simply was no chance that this week would proceed without a fair amount of political insanity. The fact that the president’s former chief strategist would publicly and brazenly disparage that decision was bound to result in a fierce White House pushback. And so it has. But over the past three days, the White House has repeatedly advanced flawed and in some instances preposterous legal arguments that don’t stand up to informed scrutiny.
The hijinks began on Monday, when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that information divulged after Comey was fired served as retroactive justification for the president’s decision. She alleged, among other things, that Comey had given “false testimony” and leaked “privileged information to journalists.” On Tuesday, Sanders did not repeat the “false testimony” claim, but she did reiterate the assertion that Comey had “leaked privileged government information” and speculated that his actions “could have been illegal.”
In Wednesday’s news briefing, reading from what appeared to be prepared notes, Sanders explained what she meant by “illegal”:
“The memos that Comey leaked were created on an FBI computer while he was the director,” she said. “He claims they were private property, but they clearly followed the protocol of an official FBI document, leaking FBI memos on a sensitive case regardless of classification violates federal laws including the Privacy Act, standard FBI employment agreement and nondisclosure agreement all personnel must sign.”
These talking points were presumably provided to Sanders by the White House Counsel’s Office, but as a litigator with considerable experience representing government officials and contractors (including whistleblowers) of all ideological persuasions, trust me: They are nonsense.
Click on the link to read the explanation.
Have you heard the latest outrage from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his trophy wife Louise Linton? The Washington Post reports: ‘The moochin’ Mnuchins’: Treasury secretary again is fodder for rich humor.
Just based on a quick Google search, the August exchange between Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and a critic of Linton’s fashion-bragging, mean-girl Instagram post seemed to be fading, along with memories of the eclipse, which the couple was lucky enough to have observed at Fort Knox.
But it all came rushing back when ABC News reported Wednesday evening that the Treasury Department had in fact requested a government jet for Mnuchin’s European honeymoon in Scotland, France and Italy. If the request had been granted, the plane would have cost the taxpayers roughly $25,000 per hour to operate.
A Treasury Department spokesman said in a statement that the request was made so that Mnuchin, who is a member of the National Security Council, would have access to secure communications as he traveled abroad.
Remember Linton’s attack on the woman who criticized her Instagram post after the Mnuchins used a government plane to fly to Fort Knox so they could watch the solar eclipse from the rooftop?
As the news rushed across social media, so did the memory of the Instagram episode, with one line in particular standing out among the now-regretted post by Linton:
“Adorable! Do you think the U.S. govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol.”
Now for a change of pace, I thought you might like this archaeology story. The AP via The Toronto Sun: Well-preserved Viking sword found in Norwegian mountains.
COPENHAGEN — A Norwegian archaeologist says a well-preserved, if rusty, iron sword dating to the Viking erahas been found in southern Norway.
Lars Holger Piloe says the nearly one-metre-long sword was found slid down between rocks with the blade sticking out, and may have been left by a person who got lost in a blizzard and died on the mountain from exposure.
Piloe said Thursday the sword, dating from about 850-950 A.D., was found in Lesja, some 275 kilometres north of Oslo.
Piloe said the sword’s preservation was likely due to the quality of the iron, as well as the cold, dry conditions. It was found in late August by two men who were on a reindeer hunt some 1,640 metres above sea level.
What else is happening? What stories are you following today?
Yesterday, J.J. said to me in a comment:
“Your post yesterday was good. I shared it with my family. It just made it so difficult for me to do anything else the rest of the last 24 hours but lie down and stare at the ceiling.”
Boy do I know that feeling. Believe me, writing about what’s happening is mind-numbing too. I just can’t do it today, so this is going to be T#@%p-free post. Of course we can talk about *it* in the comments, but I don’t want to do that to myself or anyone else today. So here are some stories I found that aren’t as horrifying as what’s going on in our daily reality.
The Christian Science Monitor: Buried treasure: huge statue of Egyptian king unearthed in Cairo neighborhood.
A team of Egyptian and German archaeologists has discovered a towering 26-foot statue in a Cairo slum, a presumed depiction of Pharaoh Ramses II, Reuters reports on Thursday.
The colossus found submerged in mud in where the ancient city of Heliopolis once stood is “one of the most important discoveries ever,” according to the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry.
The massive quartzite figure is “most probably Ramses II,” Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani told Reuters on Thursday at the site of the statue’s unveiling, adding that the identity would have to be later confirmed once more of the statue is uncovered.“On the discovered portions there is no inscription found that would make it possible to determine which king it is,” Mr. Anani explained in a Facebook post on Thursday. “But its discovery in front of the gate of the temple of Pharaoh Ramses II suggests that it is likely him.
In addition to the larger-than-life statue researchers also found a life-sized limestone statue of Pharaoh Seti II, Ramses II’s grandson.
More background and links to explore at the CSM.
The Atlantic: Can Humans Coexist With Big Cats?
On a clear evening this past June, in rural Collier County, Florida, an endangered panther crossed a street and was hit by a man driving home. The driver, making out a tawny, crumpled form, called a hotline. The job of retrieving the animal fell to Mark Lotz, a panther biologist with the state Fish and Wildlife Commission. Lotz called me to see if I wanted to come.
I had flown into Fort Lauderdale at the beginning of the week, renting a car and heading west across the state through what remains of primordial wetlands. Tall metal fences flanked the road, like a dull, gray hermetic seal meant to keep human traffic in and wildlife out. The fences are just one of many measures to protect fewer than 180 Florida panthers alive today, all of them in the state’s southern tip.
A population this size will birth between 60 and 110 kittens each year. But recently, adult panthers have been dying in droves: most after being hit by a car on unfenced roads, occasionally after being mauled by another panther in a territorial skirmish. In 2013, 20 of the endangered cats were killed; then 33 the next year; then 43 in 2015 and 2016….
The story that drew me down to Florida is a classic Anthropocene motif. Thanks to people, a charismatic species starts vanishing from its range, lingering only in certain areas before fading there, too. Extinction looms, until conservationists make a concerted effort to save it. And then—well, it’s not clear what happens next.
The first humans to reach North America found a continent crawling with terrifying big cats: an American cheetah, an American lion (bigger than those in Africa today), and the saber-toothed tiger. But at the end of the Pleistocene, around 12,000 years ago, they all vanished along with the bulk of New World megafauna. Nobody knows why, exactly. Maybe it was climate change, or maybe the direct and indirect consequences of hunting.
It turned out the panther was injured, but still alive. Read all about it at the link.
Interested in the sociology of strange religious practices? Check this one out from December 2016:
Sunday morning, May 1 of this year, was Father Amorth’s 91st birthday, but he had no plans to celebrate. He awoke just after dawn, said his usual morning prayers and one to Joseph of Cupertino, a 17th-century saint, and another to the late Father Candido Amantini, his mentor. Clutching a walking aid, he shuffled from his cell-like room to the dining room on the third floor of the Paulist Fathers residence, south of Rome’s historic center.
After his usual breakfast of caffè latte and biscotti, Father Amorth returned to his room, which had a tall window, a hospital bed, two chairs, and a wooden desk cluttered with pictures of the Virgin Mary and Padre Pio, a priest-mystic who experienced stigmata—bleeding wounds, corresponding to those inflicted on Jesus Christ on the Cross. For the next six hours, Father Amorth reviewed the mail requesting his services from around the world. Each letter contained tragic questions and appeals from people who knew Amorth only by name and reputation. He answered the letters, writing with a fountain pen, licking the envelopes and stamps himself. At two P.M., he knelt again to pray, then arose with difficulty, took up his walking aid, and made his way to an elevator, which took him to the first floor, where the small room dedicated to his work was located. The hallway was empty and dark. Whispering voices and footsteps could be heard, as from a tomb.
His old adversary was waiting.
At exactly three P.M. he began to conduct the ritual of exorcism. The possessed woman, Rosa, was in her late 30s, tall and slender, with raven-black hair. She was as dark and attractive as an Italian movie star—Sophia Loren or Silvana Mangano, with a quiet demeanor. She had a college degree but couldn’t work because of the fits and behavioral changes that came over her, most severely on the Christian holidays, such as Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Easter, and Pentecost. This was her ninth exorcism with Father Amorth. As with traditional psychiatry, the patient is usually not “cured” after the first session. Father Amorth had been exorcising one man for 16 years.
Imagine spending your entire life believing in stuff like this? It does say that:
Father Amorth insisted that anyone who came to him first seek the help of traditional medicine and psychiatry. “Out of a hundred people who seek my help,” he explained, “one or two at the most may be possessed.”
The article is actually quite fascinating, because it discusses the pathology of people who experience the bizarre symptoms of “possession.”
What about the possibility of life on other planets?
The Washington Post: Harvard theorists: How sailing aliens could have caused fast radio bursts.
In 2007, a West Virginia University astrophysicist named Duncan Lorimer detected a brief yet intense signal while combing through archival data from the Parkes Observatory telescope in Australia. The signal was quick. The spurt of radio activity, originating from a source other than our galaxy, lasted fewer than 5 milliseconds. And it was furious. To generate such a burst would require 500 million times the power of our solar system’s sun. The unknown source of the signal prompted intense speculation.
One proposal, to be published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, may be the wildest yet: Sailing aliens.
“An artificial origin is worth contemplating and checking,” said Avi Loeb, a theorist and author of the paper at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a statement on Thursday.
A decade ago, Lorimer and his mentor, Matthew Bailes, described the phenomenon as a fast radio burst, or FRB. “Duncan Lorimer and I were just completely gobsmacked,” said Bailes, a professor at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, to The Washington Post. “The day we discovered the first FRB we couldn’t sleep.” Astrophysicists have detected only 25 other FRBs since Bailes and four other astronomers published their groundbreaking report in 2007, he said.
But the origin of FRBs remained an open question. The problem proved to be at once formidable, resilient and brain twisting. Some scientists proposed that FRBs were the fault of massive neutron stars, suns that had collapsed into dense cores. Perhaps there existed stellar flares capable of spitting out a radio wave that traveled across half of the known universe. Or maybe vanishing black holes spewed the FRBs our way.
Here’s a cute baby animal story.
San Luis Obispo.com: Abandoned Monterey sea otter finds a new home (and a new friend) in New Orleans.
The Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans has welcomed its newest resident: a rescued juvenile sea otter from Monterey.
The Audubon Nature Institute said in a statement that the 18-month-old female sea otter arrived at the aquarium Wednesday. She joins Clara, an 8-year-old sea otter, in the aquarium’s 25,000-gallon sea otter habitat.
The juvenile otter was found as an abandoned day-old pup in September 2015 by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. After several unsuccessful attempts of releasing her back into the ocean, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials determined she wouldn’t survive on her own.
The otter traveled for nearly a day just to find her new home, and she brought along her favorite toy – a red ball – to play with during the journey, according to a video from Inside Edition.
The aquarium is conducting an online poll to name the otter, which can be found on its website. The winning name will be announced March 16 on Audubon’s Facebook page and website.
A story about some scientists attempting to recreate the Ice Age. What could go wrong?
One more from The Atlantic: Welcome to Pleistocene Park.
We were driving through a remote forest in Eastern Siberia, just north of the Arctic Circle, when it happened. The summer thaw was in full swing. The undergrowth glowed green, and the air hung heavy with mosquitoes. We had just splashed through a series of deep ponds when, without a word of warning, Nikita veered off the trail and into the trees, ramming us into the trunk of a young 20-foot larch. The wheels spun for a moment, and then surged us forward. A dry crack rang out from under the fender as the larch snapped cleanly at its base and toppled over, falling in the quiet, dignified way that trees do.I had never seen Nikita happier. Even seated behind the wheel, he loomed tall and broad-shouldered, his brown hair cut short like a soldier’s. He fixed his large ice-blue eyes on the fallen tree and grinned. I remember thinking that in another age, Nikita might have led a hunter-gatherer band in some wildland of the far north. He squeezed the accelerator, slamming us into another larch, until it too snapped and toppled over, felled by our elephantine force. We rampaged 20 yards with this same violent rhythm—churning wheels, cracking timber, silent fall—before stopping to survey the flattened strip of larches in our wake.
“In general, I like trees,” Nikita said. “But here, they are against our theory.”
Behind us, through the fresh gap in the forest, our destination shone in the July sun. Beyond the broken trunks and a few dark tree-lined hills stood Pleistocene Park, a 50-square-mile nature reserve of grassy plains roamed by bison, musk oxen, wild horses, and maybe, in the not-too-distant future, lab-grown woolly mammoths. Though its name winks at Jurassic Park, Nikita, the reserve’s director, was keen to explain that it is not a tourist attraction, or even a species-resurrection project. It is, instead, a radical geoengineering scheme.
“It will be cute to have mammoths running around here,” he told me. “But I’m not doing this for them, or for any other animals. I’m not one of these crazy scientists that just wants to make the world green. I am trying to solve the larger problem of climate change. I’m doing this for humans. I’ve got three daughters. I’m doing it for them.”
Pleistocene Park is named for the geological epoch that ended only 12,000 years ago, having begun 2.6 million years earlier. Though colloquially known as the Ice Age, the Pleistocene could easily be called the Grass Age. Even during its deepest chills, when thick, blue-veined glaciers were bearing down on the Mediterranean, huge swaths of the planet were coated in grasslands. In Beringia, the Arctic belt that stretches across Siberia, all of Alaska, and much of Canada’s Yukon, these vast plains of green and gold gave rise to a new biome, a cold-weather version of the African savanna called the Mammoth Steppe. But when the Ice Age ended, many of the grasslands vanished under mysterious circumstances, along with most of the giant species with whom we once shared this Earth.
Nikita is trying to resurface Beringia with grasslands. He wants to summon the Mammoth Steppe ecosystem, complete with its extinct creatures, back from the underworld of geological layers. The park was founded in 1996, and already it has broken out of its original fences, eating its way into the surrounding tundra scrublands and small forests. If Nikita has his way, Pleistocene Park will spread across Arctic Siberia and into North America, helping to slow the thawing of the Arctic permafrost. Were that frozen underground layer to warm too quickly, it would release some of the world’s most dangerous climate-change accelerants into the atmosphere, visiting catastrophe on human beings and millions of other species.
Real baby mammoths? Yikes! I hope this doesn’t turn out like Jurassic Park. Click on the link for lots more interesting reading.
Have a great weekend everyone. I’ve decided to turn off the TV and read a book.
There was another suspicious death of an African American in police custody–and this time it’s a woman named Sandra Bland.
“What Happened to Sandy?”
Demonstrators in Texas on Friday staged a protest outside the county jail where a black woman was found hanged in her cell, three days after she was arrested following an altercation stemming from a stop for a minor traffic infraction.
About 150 people gathered at the Waller county jail, at a building that also houses the sheriff’s office, then marched the half-mile distance to the courthouse in the small town of Hempstead, near Houston.
Some carried posters asking: “What happened to Sandy?” The official account is that Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old from Chicago who had just moved to Texas to take up a college job, asphyxiated herself in her cell on Monday morning using a plastic bag.
But her family called that conclusion “unfathomable” in a news conference in Chicago on Thursday. And it was not a version of events that protesters found credible, especially in the context of recent high-profile examples of African Americans being killed by law enforcement nationwide. And not in Waller County, which has a long history of racial tension.
Sandy was stopped for failing to signal before a lane change. What was she doing in jail three days later?
Bland drove down from Chicago last Thursday, arriving in Waller County on Friday for a job interview at the university, her alma mater. She dropped off her bags at his house. Her elation at being offered the post turned to anger, he said, after she was pulled over by police in what turned into a confrontation that saw her being pushed to the ground and charged with assault of a public servant.
They spoke on the phone on Friday night at 10.25pm, Mosley said. Bland said she was slammed to the ground during the incident.
She reportedly posted a video on Facebook in March in which she described herself as battling depression, but Mosley said that was not a reliable indicator of her mindset when she arrived in Texas. Nothing in her personality or behaviour suggested she would take her own life, and she had not been clinically diagnosed as depressed, he said.
“I talked to her on Friday night. She was upbeat, looking forward to posting bond and moving forward,” he said. “This is a girl who had a thirst for life … she did not exhibit any suicidal characteristics.”
More from Sandra’s friend at ABC News.
From DallasNews.com crime blog: DPS: Violations of agency procedures found in Sandra Bland traffic stop.
AUSTIN – The state Department of Public Safety has found violations in the agency’s “procedures regarding traffic stops and the department’s courtesy policy” in the recent stop that resulted in the arrest of Sandra Bland in Waller County.
The department on Friday announced those preliminary findings, saying the trooper involved in the stop has been “assigned administrative duties” until the investigation is complete. The trooper was identified by the Houston Chronicle as 30-year-old Brian Encinia.
Bland, a 28-year old black woman, was found dead Monday in the Waller County Jail from an apparent suicide. She had been arrested last Friday — as a result of the traffic stop — on a charge of assault on a public servant….
The agency said Friday that the video footage will be “shared with the public as soon as possible.” DPS and the Waller County District Attorney have also asked the FBI to conduct a “forensic analysis of the videos” related to the Bland case.
Mother Jones reports: The Texas County Where Sandra Bland Died Is Fraught With Racial Tensions.
Whether or not it was suicide, Bland’s death comes amid an ongoing national conversation about race and criminal justice in America, and casts a spotlight on a county apparently rife with racial tensions. In 2007, Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith was suspended—and eventually fired by city council members—while serving as police chief in Hempstead, a city in Waller County, following accusations of racism by community members. Less than a year after his firing, Smith was elected county sheriff. When asked about the accusations on Thursday, Smith said his firing in 2007 was “political,” and denied that he was a racist.
The history of Waller County’s racial tensions doesn’t end there. In 2003, the Houston Chronicle reported that two prominent black county officials, DeWayne Charleston and Keith Woods, claimed they were the target of an investigation by the county’s chief prosecutor because of their race. Charleston had been accused of keeping erratic hours and falsifying an employee time-sheet record, according to the Houston Chronicle. Charleston and Woods claimed the Concerned Citizens of Waller County was behind those accusations, and said that the group was conducting a Ku Klux Klan-like campaign against black officials:
Charleston, the county’s first black judge, said a county grand jury has interviewed him, although he declined to elaborate. And Woods, the four-term mayor of Brookshire, is facing questions about his role in the last city election.
“I do believe race plays a big part in what DeWayne and I are facing,” Woods said. “I feel that way because we’re the ones obviously not being given the benefit of the doubt (when) we face contrary decisions by the district attorney.”
Kitzman, 69, a retired state district judge, denies any racist implications in his interest in the two men. He says he’s simply doing his job by looking into complaints brought to him by residents.
Houston Chronicle reporter Leah Binkovitz also pointed out that a disproportionately high number of lynchings have been recorded in Waller County. According to the advocacy group Equal Justice Initiative, the county saw 15 lynchings of African Americans between 1877 and 1950.
News for Fat-Shamers
Here’s some food for thought for all the fat-shamers out there–if they can find time to think about anything other than judging other people’s bodies.
Weight loss can be a battle for everyone. But a large new study says that for obese people, the odds of reaching normal weight are near impossible.
The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, shows the odds of a clinically obese person achieving normal weight without surgical interventions are just 1 in 210 for men and 1 in 124 for women in a given year. Among the most morbidly obese, the chances were even worse.
People in the study were somewhat more successful at managing enough weight loss to improve their health, defined as dropping at least 5 percent of body weight. But they often did not maintain the lower weight.
“What our findings suggest is that current strategies used to tackle obesity are not helping the majority of obese patients to lose weight and maintain that weight loss,” lead researcher Alison Fildes, a research psychologist at University College London, told HealthDay.
The study was based on analysis of more than 278,000 people from the UK’s Clinical Practice Research database, tracked between 2004 and 2014, and it highlights the difficulty obese people face in trying to achieve sustained weight loss through diet and exercise alone.
Much more on the study at the link.
And from The Washington Post: One chart shows why it’s nearly impossible to lose weight and keep it off.
In a given year, the average obese woman has roughly a 1 in 124 chance of returning to a normal weight. And for obese men, the odds are even worse: 1 in 210. As if that weren’t bad enough, obese men and women have very low odds attaining even a 5 percent weight loss in a given year: 1 in 10 for women, and 1 in 12 for men.
Those are the main findings of a new study out today in the American Journal of Public Health, which analyzed electronic health records of over 278,000 people living in England over a nine-year period. “For patients with a BMI of 30 or greater kilograms per meters squared, maintaining weight loss was rare and the probability of achieving normal weight was extremely low,” the study’s authors conclude. “Research to develop new and more effective approaches to obesity management is urgently required.”
Among the people who lost five percent of their weight or more, more than half had gained it back within two years’ time. In a statement, Professor Martin Gulliford, a study author from King’s College London, said: “Current strategies to tackle obesity, which mainly focus on cutting calories and boosting physical activity, are failing to help the majority of obese patients to shed weight and maintain that weight loss.”
Maybe fat people should be forced to eat bacon flavored seaweed as punishment.
The Christian Science Monitor: Bacon-flavored seaweed: Better than kale? (+video).
In a bizarre marriage of the best of both food worlds, a team of scientists at Oregon State University have developed a new strain of dulse, an edible seaweed with twice the nutritional value of kale – and an arguably more palatable bacon-like flavor.
The newly developed strain resembles translucent red lettuce and is chock full of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and protein, researchers say.
Dulse, which rhymes with pulse, has been consumed in powder and flake form for centuries in Northern Europe, where it’s added to smoothies or other foods by health-conscious people. But the new strain developed at OSU can be farmed and eaten fresh.
I think I’ll stick with real bacon when I want bacon-flavored food, thank you very much.
Mystery Ship Found
The Washington Post reports on an interesting find off the coast of North Carolina: The mysterious, pre-Civil War shipwreck just discovered off the North Carolina coast.
The Marine scientists didn’t set out to find a shipwreck. But when they deployed their underwater equipment off the North Carolina coast, there it was, lying nearly a mile beneath the surface: a ship carrying an iron chain, red bricks and glass bottles.
Those artifacts suggest the ship could date to the Revolutionary War or the early 19th century. The team of Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of Oregon scientists announced their discovery Friday.
Scientists found the wreck using sonar. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will now try to identify the mysterious ship, including how old it is and its country of origin.
“Lying more than a mile down in near-freezing temperatures, the site is undisturbed and well preserved,” Bruce Terrell, chief archaeologist of NOAA’s Marine Heritage Program, said in a statement. “Careful archaeological study in the future could definitely tell us more.”
The wreck was found near the Gulf Stream, which was used as a popular trade route to ports in North America, the Caribbean and South America. “Violent storms sent down large numbers of vessels off the Carolina coasts, but few have been located because of the difficulties of depth and working in an offshore environment,” Marine Heritage Program director James Delgado said in a statement.
Other News, Links Only
Voice of America: Frozen Plains Glimpsed on Pluto.
New York Times: Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While White (WARNING: may make you gag).
Charles Pierce: Here’s Some Stupid for Lunch: David Brooks’ American Dream.
New York Times: Chattanooga Attacks Claim a Fifth Service Person’s Life.
Naomi Klein at The New Yorker: A Radical Vatican?
Huffington Post: A Note About Our Coverage of Donald Trump’s ‘Campaign.’
Boston Globe on Massachusetts cold cases: Baby Doe is not alone.
A real shocker from the Washington Post: This man filmed a fatal car crash instead of helping. Then, Ohio police arrested him.
Did you hear about the speech John Boehner gave on Tuesday? He was talking to the International Franchise Association. He warned owners of McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and other franchise businesses that Obama’s NLRB is out to destroy them. My goodness! If these one-percenters were forced to pay their employees something approaching a living wage, it would be a nightmare! From The Hill, Boehner warns biz: NLRB is ‘coming right at you’.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), lamenting the rise of “arrogant agencies” he said is threatening the American dream, warned the franchise industry on Tuesday that a politically motivated National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is intent on unionizing its workers.
In brief but forceful remarks to the International Franchise Association, Boehner called the NLRB a “political horse,” controlled by Republicans when they occupy the White House and by unions when a Democrat is president.
“They’re going to do everything they can to try to change the rules and try to find a way to organize your businesses,” Boehner told the group.
He cited the NLRB’s recent finding that the McDonald’s corporation has joint-employer status, along with its franchises, over the chain’s thousands of workers.
The designation, if upheld, could force corporate managers to the table in collective bargaining discussions and expose them to claims of labor rights violations from workers at chain stores and businesses.
Horrors! Because everyone knows the American Dream is about a few rich assholes getting richer on the backs of millions of minimum wage workers who can barely feed their families.
But here’s the good part. During his remarks, Boehner complained about the Republican “knuckleheads” he has to deal with as Speaker of the House. The Hill reports:
“On any given day, 16 of my members decide they’re going to go this way, and all the sudden I have nothing,” he said. “You might notice I have a few knuckleheads in my conference.”
As a result, Boehner claims he only has a “paper majority.”
A group of the most conservative Republicans has frequently plagued the Speaker and upended plans for votes, most recently in July when GOP leaders were forced to pull a vote on their bill responding to thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border.
In April, Boehner mocked some members of his conference for being reluctant to vote on immigration reform. “Here’s the attitude: ‘Ohhhh. Don’t make me do this. Ohhhh. This is too hard,’ ” he said.
Boehner added in his comments on Tuesday that “dealing with Democrats is one thing, dealing with the knuckleheads is another.”
A specialized sort of barometric collapse hit Washington, D.C., last night: a sudden knowledge that the capital’s stocks of Merlot and unfiltered cigarettes had been depleted, and Speaker John Boehner was turning surly. And the target of his abuse, yet again, were the very specimens over whom he attempts to leverage power: the House Republicans conference.
Boehner, speaking to the International Franchise Association (read: people who don’t want to pay their fast-food workers more), described the House majority over which he lords as a “paper majority,” and then went on to label a dissident faction within his conference as “knuckleheads.” ….
Newell mentions Boehner’s complaint about House Republicans who are afraid to vote for an immigration bill (see above in The Hill piece), and an earlier rant by the Speaker from 2012.
“We got some of the smartest people in the country who serve here, and some of the dumbest. We got some of the best people you’d ever meet, and some of the raunchiest. We’ve got ‘em all.”
Why don’t Democrats pull together a bunch of these Boehner quotes and use them in the Midterm campaigns, Newell asks. As for Speaker Boehner,
Why was Boehner insulting members of the House GOP less than two months ahead of an election? Because he’s a strange dude, for starters. Gets his Irish up sometimes, as Paul Ryan would say. But Boehner’s comments were also part of an elaborate pitch to the assembled franchisees to elect more House Republicans this November. He has a “paper majority” in which a few wiseacres can separate themselves from the herd and force the House leadership to pull legislation from the floor. Pity the speaker.
It’s a midterm election cycle in the sixth year of the Obama administration, so the odds are that any new members added to the speaker’s Republican roster this November will be natural fits for the Knucklehead Caucus. The problems Boehner has had (not) moving pieces of legislation these past four years won’t go away, because they’re problems with Boehner’s leadership style. He’s too tentative to threaten the knuckleheads’ committee assignments and access to party campaign cash. He’s abandoned earmarks. And his members know that, except in a handful of cases, his threats to pass legislation with Democratic votes are bluffs. The new knuckleheads will find him just as easy to roll as the previous ones have.
We’ve talked many times here about the differences between liberals and conservatives, and how hard it is for us to understand right-wingers’ thought processes. Well, did you know that liberals and conservatives even smell different?
From The Washington Post, Study: Liberals and conservatives sniff out like-minded mates by body odor.
According to a study published this month in the American Journal of Political Science, people can literally sniff out ideology — and this may explain why so many couples share political beliefs. Or, as the study’s title says, “Assortative Mating on Ideology Could Operate Through Olfactory Cues.”
Researchers led by Brown University political scientist Rose McDermott found that, to a small but significant degree, people prefer the body odor of those who vote as they do.
Previous studies showed long-term mates are more similar when it comes to politics than anything else besides religion. Researchers set out to determine whether this is a purely socially driven phenomenon, or whether biology plays a role.
To test the link between smell and party affiliation, researchers rounded up 146 people aged 18 to 40 from “a large city in the northeast United States.” They used a seven-point scale to determine where they fell on the political spectrum. They sent 21 of these —10 liberals and 11 conservatives — home with fragrance-free soap and shampoo and a gauze pad taped to their armpit. The subjects were told not to smoke, drink, use deodorant or perfume, have sex, eat fragrant foods, sleep with people or pets or linger near strong odors.
They returned the stinky armpit pads 24 hours later. Then 125 participants sniffed the stinky pads, taking a break between whiffs to cleanse their nasal palate with the aroma of peppermint oil. The sniffers, who never saw the people whose smells they were evaluating, then rated the attractiveness of each armpit sample on a 1 to 5 scale.
The subjects found the smell of those more ideologically similar to themselves more attractive than those with opposing views.
Read about the conclusions researchers drew from these results at the WaPo.
How about some archaeology news? German archaeologists have discovered a “long lost Roman fort.” dating to the 1st Century. From Science Daily:
In the course of an educational dig in Gernsheim in the Hessian Ried, archaeologists from Frankfurt University have discovered a long lost Roman fort: A troop unit made up out of approximately 500 soldiers (known as a cohort) was stationed there between 70/80 and 110/120 AD. Over the past weeks, the archaeologists found two V-shaped ditches, typical of this type of fort, and the post holes of a wooden defensive tower as well as other evidence from the time after the fort was abandoned.
An unusually large number of finds were made. This is because the Roman troops dismantled the fort and filled in the ditches when they left. In the process they disposed of a lot of waste, especially in the inner ditch. “A bonanza for us,” according to Prof. Dr. Hans-Markus von Kaenel from the Goethe University Institute of Archaeology. “We filled box after box with shards of fine, coarse and transport ceramics; dating them will allow us to determine when the fort was abandoned with greater accuracy than was possible before.”
Up until now, little was known about Roman Gernsheim, even though findings from the Roman era have been cropping up here since the 19th century. “Previously, the only thing that seemed certain based on the finds was that an important village-like settlement, or “vicus,” must have been located here from the 1st to the 3rd century, comparable with similar villages which have already been shown to have existed in Groß-Gerau, Dieburg or Ladenburg,” explained dig leader Dr. Thomas Maurer. He has been travelling from Frankfurt to South Hessia for years and has published his findings in a large publication about the North Hessian Ried during Roman imperial times.
“It was assumed,” continued Maurer, “that this settlement had to have been based on a fort, since it was customary for the families of the soldiers to live outside the fort in a village-like settlement.” “We really hit the jackpot with this excavation campaign,” said a delighted Prof. Dr. Hans-Markus von Kaenel. “The results are a milestone in reconstructing the history of the Hessian Ried during Roman times.” For almost 20 years now, von Kaenel has been studying this area with the help of his colleagues and students using surveys, digs, material processing and analyses. The results have been published in over 50 articles.
Read the rest at the link.
There was more bad new for the NFL yesterday. Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer (pictured in cuffs at right) was arrested for two domestic violence incidents that happened in July. Dwyer reportedly attacked his wife and caused a bone fracture in one incident, and in the other he threw a shoe at his 18-month old son. He is also charged with preventing his Kayla from calling 911 for help. Fortunately, Kayla immediately took the child and left the state. The New York Daily News reports, Arizona Cardinals shut down running back Jonathan Dwyer over domestic violence charges.
Police said Dwyer hit his wife, causing a fracture. It was not immediately clear if the shoe hit their baby, Jonathan Jr.
Officers went to Dwyer’s home on July 21 after neighbors reported a domestic disturbance. His wife brushed cops off, but later told detectives Dwyer was there when authorities were looking for him, but hid in a bathroom until police left.
The following day, Dwyer snatched a cell phone from his wife’s hand and threw it from the second floor of their home to prevent her from calling the cops, Crump said.
Dwyer is also accused of sending his wife text messages threatening to harm himself if she reported the assaults.
The Cardinals immediately deactivated Dwyer. They really had no choice after what happened with the Vikings and Adrian Peterson.
“We became aware of these allegations this afternoon when notified by Phoenix police and are cooperating fully,” the Cardinals said in a statement. “Given the serious nature of the allegations we have taken the immediate step to deactivate Jonathan from all team activities.”
One local Boston sports station has nominated Dwyer for “biggest asshole in the NFL.” I’ve been listening to the two Boston sports stations and ESPN radio quite a bit, and I’ve been really heartened by the reactions of the male program hosts and callers. One host said yesterday that he had read a parenting book over the weekend. He has never hit his kids, but he was so shocked by Adrian Peterson’s reported behavior that he wanted to know more about good parenting. Another host said that he had been beaten as a child, and for the first time he has begun to understand that his parents abused him.
Also yesterday, attorney Gloria Allred held a press conference in Atlanta with the best friend and the father of Rasheeda Watley, a survivor of abuse by Chicago Bears player Brandon Marshall and called for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to step down. WSB TV Atlanta:
At a news conference Wednesday, Allred detailed the case of Rasheeda Watley, who claimed then-boyfriend Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos had physically abused her….
Allred was joined by Watley’s father and best friend, who both said they reported the abuse to the NFL and Goodell but nothing was done.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of family violence issues has come under fire in recent weeks after a video was released showing former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancee Janay Palmer twice inside the elevator of an Atlantic City casino in February.
Allred said the investigation process is flawed within the NFL organization and it needs to change.
“Our focus is on the process and we want the process to be fair. We want the investigation that is conducted in the future, investigations, of NFL players to afford due process to victims as well as NFL players,” Allred said. “The present process is obviously not fair.”
According to Watley’s father, no one from the NFL even talked to himself, his daughter, or any witnesses of the abuse.
I need to wrap this up, but I want to mention one more article from Bloomberg Businessweek, Roger Goodell at the 50-50 Yard Line. It’s a fairly long read that explains why Goodell’s job is not yet on the line. He has made tons of money for NFL owners, and–let’s face it–money is all they really care about.
So . . . what else is happening? Let us know in the comment thread, and have a great Thursday!