Lazy Saturday Reads: Will Roger Goodell’s Handling of #DeflateGate Be the Final Straw for NFL Owners? And Other News . . .

 cat on radiator1

Happy Saturday!!

I’m so tired of being cold. The Boston area tends to get a lot of snow–especially late in winter–but we rarely experience the frigid temperatures we’ve had this year. We usually get a lot of sun and temperatures in the 20-30+ range in the winter months. This year we have had many gloomy days in the teens and nighttime temperature in the single numbers. My house isn’t particularly well-insulated, and my furnace isn’t powerful enough to keep the house at 70 degrees when it’s that cold. Fortunately we enter February tomorrow and spring is on the way, even though it doesn’t feel like it yet.

On mornings like this one, I wish I could drape myself over a radiator and sleep for 16 hours a day like a cat. Honestly, I have to admit I’ve been taking a lot of catnaps lately to deal with a cold that isn’t all that bad but just keeps hanging on. Between that and following the buildup to the Super Bowl, I’ve been kind of ignoring politics for the time being. The 2016 race will begin to heat up soon enough, and the antics of the GOP Congress are just too depressing for me to want to know the gory details.

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I haven’t written anything yet about the recent attacks on my beloved New England Patriots, but since it’s the Saturday before the Super Bowl, I’m going to write a little about it today.

I understand that most people around the country hate the Pats for the same reasons everyone hated the Yankees when I was a kid. They always seemed to be winning, and we got so sick of having to watch them in the World Series. Not to mention that their fans were unbearably arrogant and obnoxious. Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, I learned to root for the underdog.

At the beginning of the football season this year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was in hot water over the mild 2-game suspension he handed out to Ray Rice after the league learned that the Baltimore Ravens running back had punched his then-girlfriend Janay Palmer in the face in a Las Vegas elevator in February 2014, knocking her unconscious. Rice was arrested and charged with aggravated assault.

After video surfaced of the incident, Goodell turned around and suspended Rice indefinitely (this arbitrary decision was later overturned). After that the media began calling attention to other cases of domestic violence by NFL players, and many people called for Goodell to be fired. At the time, Patriots owner Robert Kraft was one of the few team owners to publicly support the commissioner. Goodell survived and the controversy died down temporarily.

Now Goodell has made an enemy of Kraft. Will a silly controversy about deflated footballs lead to Goodell’s final downfall? I’m not going to get into the details of “Deflate Gate,” but I’ve followed the story closely, and at this point I’m convinced that whole thing is ridiculous.

At first I was stunned by the accusations and then I began to believe that the Patriots must have done something wrong. But over time, I’ve concluded that the whole thing was a tempest in a teapot, and I’ve reached the point where I’m embracing the hatred and laughing about the whole thing.

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I’m not a huge fan of the Super Bowl, but to me it seems stupid that this year’s game has been overshadowed by this ludicrous controversy. I think it’s time for Roger Goodell to go, and now that he has lost the support of one of the NFL’s most powerful owners–and one of Goodell’s bosses–it might actually happen. As former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told CQ Magazine, Goodell doesn’t seem to understand the value of treating the players like adults and working for peace and understanding rather than enraging everyone.

Tagliabue also said that Goodell hasn’t spoken to him since the former commissioner vacated Goodell’s ridiculously over-the-top punishment of another winning team–the New Orleans Saints–for supposedly paying bounties to players for big hits during games in 2011. This practice was common around the league and none of the hits by Saints players had lead to serious injuries. Tagliabue felt that it was unfair to penalize one team so harshly for behavior that was widely tolerated around the league, and he overturned the punishment after Goodell asked him to review the case.

Why would the NFL commissioner want to tear down winning teams? It doesn’t make sense unless you understand that the NFL doesn’t like dynasties. Here’s a piece from the Bleacher Report from 2009 about another scandal involving the New England Patriots.

Cat basking in the radiator

The Truth About Spygate: Punishing Success and Promoting Parity.

Excellence isn’t against NFL rules—at least not yet.

 But, the league punishes success anyway.

 They punish success to achieve parity among the teams. In theory, when more teams have a chance to win it all, the ratings are higher. That means more advertising dollars for the networks and bigger TV contracts for the league.

 Twelve games into the season and your team has four wins and eight losses?

 Keep watching.

 They still have a chance, just like the 2008 Chargers.

 Current rules allow scenarios where nine win teams make the playoffs and go to Super Bowls, while 11 win teams miss the playoffs….

They don’t want dominant teams. They want mediocrity. They don’t want dynasties.

They want to spread the wealth.

So, the league punishes successful teams, hoping to weaken them, and rewards bad teams, hoping to strengthen them.

Read the rest of that article to learn why the Patriots were punished with a trumped-up scandal over something every other team was doing.

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So far the strategy has worked with the Saints, but maybe they can still turn it around. I hope so. After “spygate,” the Patriots refused to lie down and die. They just kept winning, and Goodell and some other team owners and coaches resented it. I think Goodell’s ham-handed strategy for promoting parity is bullshit. There have to be other ways of doing it than ruining the NFL’s most important event–the Super Bowl–and humiliating players and coaches who have worked their asses off to achieve excellence.

Rhode Island sportswriter Tom E. Curran has followed the Patriots since the late 1990s. At the beginning of “deflategate,” he thought that the Pats had cheated, but he gradually learned that the NFL had zero evidence to show any wrongdoing by the team;  and yesterday after Roger Goodell gave his “state of the NFL” speech, Curran wrote a scathing response.

Goodell Deflategate stance shows he’s a fraud.

Congrats, Roger. You successfully debased your marquee event.

You allowed one of your marquee franchises to be devalued.

You allowed the legacies of a Hall of Fame quarterback and coach to be battered.

You watched with disinterest as one of the league’s visionary owners and most influential proponents had his influence siphoned and his investment diminished.

Your NFL has bookended the 2014 season with two perfect embarrassments.

First, the wink, wink “investigation” into Ray Rice punching his fiancee into unconsciousness which exploded on the Monday morning after the season openers.

Now, a vindictive, self-important, spare-no-expense investigation into footballs being less than 12.5 PSI during the AFC Championship.

And there you were Friday, Roger, on a rainy morning in Phoenix – two days before the best two teams in the NFL will play a game that’s been terribly overshadowed – puffing out your chest.

Read about Curran’s evolution on the deflategate issue at the link.

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Here’s his conclusion:

The NFL had to know it had no numbers written down before Monday dawned. But the leaks of leaky balls flowed. The NFL had a choice. Step up and say, “Look, this is standard stuff, we frequently do a review of procedures and we are not alleging any wrongdoing by anyone. We just have to make sure our footballs aren’t defective.” Or do nothing and let the whisper campaign turn into a full-throated, planetary roar that the Patriots are cheaters.

The NFL chose the latter.

And everybody’s paying for it.

The league itself. The players. The coaches. The fans.

The revenue streams keep cascading and because of that, Goodell’s 32 bosses can go to sleep every night knowing that, no matter how bad it gets, it will never slow to a trickle.

Still, he’s got to be congratulated for finding a way to let the Super Bowl be overshadowed. Seemed impossible.

The only thing that can save the week now will be the game itself. I think it will.

What will save the reputation of Roger Goodell? Nothing.

We’ll find out about the game tomorrow night. Goodell may stick around for a little while, but I think his goose is cooked.

I’ll end this diatribe with a hilarious video that finally dissolved all my resentment over what has happened over the past two weeks of deflate gate hype.

Now that I’ve bored you stiff with my obnoxious Boston fan routine, here are some other stories you may find interesting.

Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone: While Deflategate and Chaitgate Rage, America Quietly Robs Its Elderly.

NYT: Support Waning, Romney Decides Against 2016 Bid.

WaPo: Up to foot of snow possible for Midwest, Northeast.

OMG!! CNN: Mary Cheney: Why is drag ‘socially acceptable’ and blackface isn’t?

Raw Story: Drag queens respond to Mary Cheney’s question of why drag is acceptable if blackface isn’t

Reihan Salam at Slate: The Upper Middle Class Is Ruining America. And I want it to stop.

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Michael Moore on Facebook: The Day Clint Eastwood Said He Would “Kill” Me, 10 Years Ago This Week.

Michael Schiavo at Politico: Jeb ‘Put Me Through Hell’.

Talking Points Memo: Jeb Bush’s Former Classmates Say He Was A Hash-Smoking Bully.

Nina Burleigh at Newsweek: What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women.

Talking Points Memo: The Sounds of Solidarity: Remembering Pete Seeger at Selma.

From The New Yorker, April 10, 1965: Letter from Selma, by Renata Adler.

RedOrbit via Raw Story: ‘Horrific’ pre-historic shark makes a rare appearance in Australian waters.

Georg Gray: Rare Historic Photos You’ll Never Forget.

What else is happening? Let us know in the comment thread and have a fabulous Super Bowl weekend!

 


April Fools Day Evening Thread

Originally published in the April 1st, 1995 issue of Discover magazine. The Hotheaded Naked Ice Borer is a fictional animal invented by Discover magazine as an April Fool’s Day joke. A short article on the Hotheaded Naked Ice Borer first appeared in the April, 1995 issue of Discover magazine. The article was written by Tim Folger, then an editor at the magazine.

Good Evening

Today is one of the most annoying days on the internets…of course, I am talking about the April Fool “pranks” played on the “unsuspecting” public on the world wide web. It used to be fun, way back in the day of print magazines. National Geographic and Discovery Magazine had some spectacular ones.

<———You may remember this gorgeous fellow in the picture from Discovery Magazine.

Here is a link to NatGeo’s history of April Fool’s Day: April Fools’ Day Mystery: How Did It Originate?

For the eager prankster, nothing beats the centuries-old tradition of April Fools’ Day.

“A lot of people think [April Fools’ Day] is just obnoxious, and just wish it would stop,” said Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes in San Diego, California. (Read an April Fools’ Day Q&A with the Museum of Hoaxes curator.)

“But people who love pranks really love the day and refuse to give up the tradition. They’re the ones who keep it alive.”

Boese notes, however, that the number of pranks in the home and at the office has decreased in recent years in the United States, and has been replaced by large institutionalized media hoaxes, he said.

(Related: “April Fools’ Day Special: History’s Hoaxes” [April 1, 2003].)

April Fools’ Day Origins a Mystery

The origins of April Fools’ Day are shrouded in mystery, experts say.

The most popular theory is that France changed its calendar in the 1500s so that the New Year would begin in January to match the Roman calendar instead of beginning at the start of spring, in late March or early April.

However word of the change traveled slowly, and many people in rural areas continued to celebrate the New Year in the spring. These country dwellers became known as “April fools,” the story goes.

Mr. Boese does not think this is the case, but you can read the rest of the history of April Fools Day at the link.

I do have two places you can go to check out what internet pranks were pulled today:

Internet April Fools Jokes – Google Search

April Fools’ Day On The Web : 2013

The “perfect pet” became the perfect April Fools’ Day prank in 1984, when the Orlando Sentinel ran a story extolling the merits of the “Tasmanian mock walrus”—including a picture that actually featured a naked mole rat (pictured). According to the paper, the four-inch-long (ten-centimeter-long) creature resembled a walrus, purred like a cat, and was as tractable as a hamster, the Museum of Hoaxes website said. This ideal pet—which had supposedly been smuggled in from Tasmania, an island state of Australia—also never needed to be bathed, used a litter box, and munched on cockroaches. Dozens of people called the Sentinel seeking to get their own Tasmanian companion, according to the museum’s website. Unfortunately, real-life naked mole rats don’t live up to the newspaper’s hype.

(BTW, I remember that 1984 prank distinctly. A hairless hamster who eats roaches? Cool! But I didn’t remember that it used a litter box.)

With all that being said…I have a couple of cat stories for you.

Boston Boomer sent this to me last night. I don’t think it is a joke, because it seems fair to me that back in the middle ages, a monk who spent his days as a scribe, had a pet cat that wanted a little attention….Curious Cat Walks Over Medieval Manuscript.

This article was published on March 26th, so if it is a joke…its a damn good one.

A medieval manuscript showing cat paw tracks across the pages.

Inky paw prints presumably left by a curious kitty on a 15th century manuscript.

While thumbing through the medieval manuscript in July 2011, Emir O. Filipović, a teaching and research assistant at the University of Sarajevo, discovered pages of the book stained with the inky paw prints of a cat and snapped a picture—something he planned on sharing with colleagues and students for a laugh.

“I never could have imagined the attention that those prints would subsequently receive,” Filipović wrote in an email.

Filipović sent the photo to fellow historian Erik Kwakkel via Twitter in September 2012, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that the paw prints saw a flurry of reblogging, retweeting, and sharing.

“It’s not very often that a researcher can come across curious things while sifting through monotonous and dull archival registers,” Filipović said. But the more time spent scouring manuscripts, the better the chances of stumbling across oddities.

One of my favorite history blogs is called Got Medieval, which takes a look at the Marginalia that is found in medieval manuscripts. Here is a little cat found in the margins that you tickle you…If You Give a Cat a Necklace (Mmm… Marginalia #30) — Got Medieval


I’m not 100% sure on this one, but I believe this is an illustration of an old medieval folk-tale. It goes thus:

If you give a cat a necklace, he’ll want to throw a party.If the cat throws a party, he’ll want to invite over all the dogs who used to chase him to lord it over them.

If he wants to lord his necklace and party-throwing panache over those dogs, he’ll have to hire some entertainment to play music to set the mood.

If he hires entertainment to play mood-setting music, he’ll have to go with the bagpipe playing fox, who is the only one available on such short notice.

If he goes with the bagpipe playing fox, his groupies the geese will come too. They go everywhere with him.


If the geese come, the owl will follow behind, but he’ll mostly keep to himself at a table alone.If the owl stays at a table by himself, they’ll probably call up the flute-playing monkey in hopes of cheering him up.

If they tell the monkey who plays the flute, he’ll come, but he’ll be totally disinterested in the cat’s party and only make things more awkward–for the owl and for everyone else.

If the monkey acts like he’s above the party, the cat will be filled with an impotent self-loathing.

If the cat is filled with an impotent self-loathing, he will forget he is anthropomorphic, throw his necklace away, and feast on the tender flesh of a mouse who just came to the party to get a cookie…

Why, heartless, foolish world, why did you give the cat a necklace? Now a poor defenseless mouse is dead and the king of the cats has forgotten how to sit at the table and use a knife and fork. And all because you gave a cat a necklace.

It’s either that, or we’ve got a medieval-version of the Goofy/Pluto problem on our hands here. While all the other characters are anthropomorphized animals, the King of Cats’ pet cat is still a non-anthropomorphic cat. Perhaps this is why the monkey looks so pensive. If there are non-anthropomorphic cats in his marginal world, is it possible that he is just a normal monkey, and not an anthropomorphic one?

Well, who would have thought the best damn party in the world would come from giving a cat a necklace….

I had to go to my neurologist in Atlanta today, so I won’t be around the internet much. Please be sure to share some pranks you may come across during the day…

This is an open thread.


Lazy Caturday News and Open Thread

Good Morning All!

The 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in is coming up on June 17. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein published a piece about it in yesterday’s Washington Post.

Today, much more than when we first covered this story as young Washington Post reporters, an abundant record provides unambiguous answers and evidence about Watergate and its meaning. This record has expanded continuously over the decades with the transcription of hundreds of hours of Nixon’s secret tapes, adding detail and context to the hearings in the Senate and House of Representatives; the trials and guilty pleas of some 40 Nixon aides and associates who went to jail; and the memoirs of Nixon and his deputies. Such documentation makes it possible to trace the president’s personal dominance over a massive campaign of political espionage, sabotage and other illegal activities against his real or perceived opponents.

In the course of his five-and-a-half-year presidency, beginning in 1969, Nixon launched and managed five successive and overlapping wars — against the anti-Vietnam War movement, the news media, the Democrats, the justice system and, finally, against history itself. All reflected a mind-set and a pattern of behavior that were uniquely and pervasively Nixon’s: a willingness to disregard the law for political advantage, and a quest for dirt and secrets about his opponents as an organizing principle of his presidency.

Long before the Watergate break-in, gumshoeing, burglary, wiretapping and political sabotage had become a way of life in the Nixon White House.

What was Watergate? It was Nixon’s five wars.

The Post also provides links to it’s coverage of the Watergate Scandal back in the good old days when the press believed in exposing government corruption. Today, the Post admits that “investigative journalism is at risk.”

Remember this?

The sad thing about Watergate is that if it happened today there wouldn’t be any investigation or arrests. We’d be told to move along, look forward not backward.

To see how things work today, you can read the White House e-mails that detail President Obama’s sellout to the pharmaceutical industry on health care. Apparently this one was leaked by House Republicans. Down With Tyranny has some good commentary.

um…huh? Must have dropped off for a second there. Let’s see what else is happening.

At the San Francisco Chronicle, Jeff Brinkley, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, now a Professor of Journalism at Stanford University finds Mitt Romney’s foreign policy positions deeply disturbing. He thinks it’s highly problematic that Romney has no experience and seemingly no knowledge about foreign policy. Brinkley notes that Obama already had to learn on the job, and now the Republicans have nominated another foreign policy naif who may be even less prepared than Obama was.

Romney…declared a couple of months ago that “Russia is America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe.” What nonsense. The U.S.-Russia relationship is a bit strained, but what about Iran, North Korea, Pakistan? Every one of those states poses a strategic threat that Russia does not.

“Immediately, speculations surfaced that the former governor of Massachusetts continues to live in a Cold War world and has few, if any, insights about American foreign policy,” Klaus Larres, a German American academic, wrote for the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. And former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Romney to use his head and “check the time. It’s now 2012, not the mid-1970s.”

His advice on Afghanistan has been no better. Repeatedly he has called the plan to gradually withdraw forces “misguided” and “an extraordinary admission of failure.”

In the past, Romney has asserted that the United States and NATO need to defeat the Taliban before leaving. That has been the goal for nearly 11 years, and NATO is no closer today. The most recent National Intelligence Estimate asserts that the war is unwinnable as long as the Taliban maintains a safe haven in Pakistan and the Afghan government continues its corrupt, malevolent and counterproductive ways.

I wonder if Romney knows that one-third of the Western forces killed in Afghanistan so far this year died at the hands of Afghan soldiers they were training or leading.

There’s lots more at the link.

Charles Pierce is talking about “PUMA-ism” again, but I’ll forgive him because of this description of Obama’s defensive behavior of late:

In many ways, this president reminds me of the truck drivers in The Wages of Fear, trying to get the nitroglycerine over the mountains with blowing themselves all to hell and gone. In so many ways, he is still outside of things. In so many ways, he is still the flyer the Democratic party took in 2008. In so many ways, the path he has to walk to re-election is similar to the path he has had to walk through his life. It was hard not to notice the subtext present in all those earnest warnings about hurting the fee-fees of our financial titans. The president was stepping out of his place. The president was being uppity again.
This is also the case with what is perhaps the most noxious idea out there: that Barack Obama “failed” in his promise to “bring the country together,” and that he is now — Glorioski! — campaigning like he wants to be president all over again. He is engaging in politics. Mother of mercy, I swear David Brooks is just going to break down and go all to pieces on PBS some evening over the president’s betrayal of his role as the country’s anodyne black man and, of course, his upcoming role as black martyr to incivility and discord. It is his duty, dammit, to be all the things that people like Brooks wanted him to be so that he could lose, nobly, and then the country could go back to its rightful owners.

The Wages of Fear: now that was a great movie!

At Time, Tim Pagett has an excellent piece called The Catholic Contraction.

If you want some perspective on just how benighted the Roman Catholic Church looks today on the subject of women, consider Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard was a German Benedictine nun in the 12th century and a leading feminist writer of her time. But even though that time was the 1100s, the Vatican rarely hassled her for asserting that men and women are equal — that God’s true nature, in fact, is maternal — or that nonprocreative sexual pleasure is O.K.

In the 21st century, however, Hildegard would no doubt receive the same censure that Sister Margaret Farley is facing this week after the Vatican denounced her book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Farley, a Sisters of Mercy nun, a retired Yale divinity professor and a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, condones practices that have been morally acceptable to most U.S. and European Catholics for quite a while, including divorce, homosexuality, nonprocreative intercourse and masturbation. But Rome’s doctrinal bulldogs are sternly reminding her that those acts are “disordered,” “deviant” and “depraved.”

Sadly, it’s the church that’s looking unhinged these days. The Vatican was apparently just warming up in 2010 when it declared, astonishingly, that ordaining females into the all-male Catholic priesthood would be a “grave sin” on par with even pedophilia. Since then, as if scapegoating women for the escalating dissent among Catholics toward its hoary dogma, the church seems to have embarked on a misogynist’s crusade. Its legal assault on the Obama Administration’s requirement that Catholic institutions like colleges and hospitals make contraception available to female employees as part of their health coverage is, ultimately, less about religious freedom than about women’s freedom. Then there’s the U.S. bishops’ absurd probe of whether the Girl Scouts are selling feminist theology as well as fattening thin mints — and Rome’s accusation of “radical feminism” within the Leadership Conference on Women Religious (LCWR), which represents most of the U.S. nuns doing genuinely Christ-inspired work with the poor and the sick.

In science news,

NASA has discovered "a massive algae bloom under the slowly diminishing Arctic ice."

The same year that NASA researchers launched the Icescape expedition to the Arctic — the project that resulted in NASA’s astounding new discovery — there was a dire report on the world’s phytoplankton.

A Canadian team said in the journal Nature, as The Times reported in July 2010, that the world’s phytoplankton had been disappearing at a rate of about 1% a year for the previous 100 years.

“A global decline of this magnitude? It’s quite shocking,” Daniel Boyce, Dalhousie University marine scientist and lead author of the 2010 study, told The Times.

Phytoplankton — the basis of the marine food chain — “are key to the whole ecosystem,” he said. “In terms of climate changes, the effect on fisheries, we don’t know exactly what these effects will be.”

Could his latest discovery of a mass of phytoplankton in the Arctic signal a turnaround for this crucial organism?

The jury’s out. But it’s a question scientists will be pursuing, according to Paula Bontempi, NASA’s ocean biology and biogeochemistry program manager in Washington.

I think I need another little break.

Okay, back. Wouldn’t you know it? Addicting Info: Koch Brothers Linked To Florida Voter Purge

Former Secretary of State Kurt Browning worked with [Gov. Rick] Scott on the purge. Just before Scott selected Browning as Secretary in 2011, Browning led a group, Protect Your Vote Inc., which was created to oppose fair redistricting. One of the biggest checks that Browning’s organization received for $100,000 in 2010 was from the Center To Protect Patients’ Rights. At the time of the donation, the source of the money was cloaked in secrecy.

Last month, Republic Report exclusively reported that Center To Protect Patients’ Rights is part of a collection of front groups funded by David and Charles Koch as well as other billionaires as part of an election-influencing effort. The Koch Brothers plan to use these front groups to finance $400 million of a $1 billion campaign in outside money to defeat President Obama as well as defeating congressional Democrats. Mitt Romney’s Super Pac and many other nonprofits run by Karl Rove will supply the other $600 million needed to accomplish their goal.

Here’s Here’s something I missed this week: 

Pranksters ‘Jiggly Puff,’ ‘Weedlord Bonerhitler’ sign anti-’Obamacare’ petition.

When the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) set about thinking how to engage the Internet in new and unique ways, it probably did not occur to them that sometimes, the Internet tends to engage you right back.

That misunderstanding apparently led to an NRCC petition drive this week seeking to trump up the number of people who want to see “Obamacare” repealed. Unfortunately for them, it all went horribly, hilariously awry on Thursday night after they hooked an office printer up to the Twitter hashtag #IWantRepeal, then turned on a live video stream.

It was not long before NRCC staff completely lost control and were forced to pull the plug.

In almost no time at all, their printer was spitting out pages of petitions signed by “Weedlord Bonerhitler,” “Jiggly Puff,” “Boner Junkmonkey,” “Pointless Empty Gesture,” “Turd Sniffer,” “Like 20 more boners” and “HelpI’mStuckInThisPrinter,” among many, many others. Screen shots of this Twitter debacle and links to the live video began circulating almost immediately.

Okay, I’ll sign off with this:

“How we behave toward cats here below determines our status in heaven.” – Robert A. Heinlein


Friday Evening Reads: Scientific Discoveries, Cats from Hell, and Romney Reads

Good Evening Sky Dancers! I’m filling in for Minkoff Minx tonight. I’m a little weary of all the nonsensical arguments fomented by the right wing nuts and the red beanie pedophile enablers, so I’m going to avoid those issues in tonight’s roundup. Instead, I’m going to go with some odds and ends that piqued my fancy today.

Russian scientists have finally reached Lake Vostok in Antarctica.

Opening a scientific frontier miles under the Antarctic ice, Russian experts drilled down and finally reached the surface of a gigantic freshwater lake, an achievement the mission chief likened to placing a man on the moon….

Lake Vostok could hold living organisms that have been locked in icy darkness for some 20 million years, as well as clues to the search for life elsewhere in the solar system….

The Russian team made contact with the lake water Sunday at a depth of 12,366 feet (3,769 meters), about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) east of the South Pole in the central part of the continent.

Scientists hope the lake might allow a glimpse into microbial life forms that existed before the Ice Age and are not visible to the naked eye. Scientists believe that microbial life may exist in the dark depths of the lake despite its high pressure and constant cold — conditions similar to those believed to be found under the ice crust on Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

That sounds pretty amazing. Read the whole article to learn about the possibilities and goals of the study.

Did you ever wonder why Zebras have stripes? To be honest, I never did, but now that someone has discovered the likely reason, I do find the answer kind of interesting. It turns out that zebras have stripes because they discourage horseflies.

While it is widely-known in the scientific community that horseflies and other insects prefer animals with dark skin to animals with white skin, a study published this week in the Journal of Experimental Biology examines evidence that zebra stripes actually discourage horseflies from biting. Prior to the study, researchers thought that the primary purpose of zebra stripes was to confuse predators. However, the study suggests that predator confusion is secondary to horsefly deterrence.

“We demonstrate that a zebra-striped horse model attracts far fewer horseflies (tabanids) than either homogeneous black, brown, grey or white equivalents,” the researchers write in the study’s abstract.

Horseflies, which can carry diseases and distract their victim from feeding or drinking, are unwelcome visitors to zebras and other animals that graze. According to Gábor Horváth, one of the study’s authors, horseflies are attracted to horizontally polarized light because the sunlight that reflects off of water is horizontally polarized. When horseflies and other aquatic insects discover water they can mate and lay eggs. The female variety of horseflies, however, are also attracted to linearly polarized light that reflects off of the hides of their victims.

Is your pet making you crazy? Do you have a cat? Then you might want to read this article at The Atlantic–or maybe not. It’s about a scientist who believes that a feline parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, is affecting his brain and altering his personality.

As a student of development, I’m familiar with this parasite, because it has to be avoided by pregnant women because it can affect the fetus and lead to severe brain damage or death. The parasite is excreted by cats, so pregnant women must not change cat litter boxes or get too close to them But Jaroslav Flegr suspects it may be causing other problems in non-pregnant humans. For one thing,

T. gondii is also a major threat to people with weakened immunity: in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before good antiretroviral drugs were developed, it was to blame for the dementia that afflicted many patients at the disease’s end stage.

Is is commonly believed that:

Healthy children and adults, however, usually experience nothing worse than brief flu-like symptoms before quickly fighting off the protozoan, which thereafter lies dormant inside brain cells…

Au contraire, says Flegr.

the “latent” parasite may be quietly tweaking the connections between our neurons, changing our response to frightening situations, our trust in others, how outgoing we are, and even our preference for certain scents. And that’s not all. He also believes that the organism contributes to car crashes, suicides, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia. When you add up all the different ways it can harm us, says Flegr, “Toxoplasma might even kill as many people as malaria, or at least a million people a year.”

An evolutionary biologist at Charles University in Prague, Flegr has pursued this theory for decades in relative obscurity. Because he struggles with English and is not much of a conversationalist even in his native tongue, he rarely travels to scientific conferences. That “may be one of the reasons my theory is not better known,” he says. And, he believes, his views may invite deep-seated opposition. “There is strong psychological resistance to the possibility that human behavior can be influenced by some stupid parasite,” he says. “Nobody likes to feel like a puppet. Reviewers [of my scientific papers] may have been offended.” Another more obvious reason for resistance, of course, is that Flegr’s notions sound an awful lot like fringe science, right up there with UFO sightings and claims of dolphins telepathically communicating with humans.

But after years of being ignored or discounted, Flegr is starting to gain respectability. Psychedelic as his claims may sound, many researchers, including such big names in neuroscience as Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky, think he could well be onto something.

eeeeeeeek! Go read the article if you dare!

The headline of that article reminded me a great show I recently saw on the Animal channel, My Cat from Hell. It’s a “reality” show that documents the adventures of an “animal behaviorist” named Jackson Galaxy. He’s a rock musician by night and helps people with crazy cats by day. I thought I’d share a couple of clips from the show with you. The first one is an introductory promo.

Here’s a clip from one of the episodes.

Here’s a video of Galaxy working with a cat from hell.

I love this show! It’s even better than It’s Me or the Dog.

I’ve got a couple of crime stories for you. First, police in Washington state searched a storage facility owned by Josh Powell, the man who recently murdered his two sons and killed himself by blowing up his house. They found a comforter that tested positive for blood.

Investigators had considered Josh Powell a person of interest since his wife, Susan Powell, disappeared in Utah in 2009. At the time, Powell said he took his two sons ice camping in subfreezing temperatures.

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said presumptive tests are conducted with a field kit and that a determination of blood won’t be confirmed until the item is examined in the lab. “Field tests are not infallible,” he said.

Lindquist said he expects the finding will be something law enforcement will share with colleagues in Utah who have been investigating Susan Powell’s disappearance.

I wonder why that storage facility wasn’t searched sooner?

In Illinois, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy pulled a gun on a pregnant woman because she had two many items in a self-serve line at Walmart. Her husband was arrested for trying to defend her.

Just one week from her due date, Nicole Thurmond said she feared for her life while checking out at a Walmart store in Oswego on a recent Sunday.

“I felt someone close behind me. He started being really rude and said, ‘Don’t you know how to count? You are holding up the whole store,” Thurmond recalled.

Thurmond said she didn’t know it at the time, but the man in plain clothes was off-duty deputy Craig French.

Thurmond’s husband had been getting eggs at the time and said he could see his wife was upset when he returned to the checkout area.

“There was a guy in her face, yelling at her,” said Jason Thurmond. “In an aggressive manner he steps toward me, and I just push him back to keep him away from my wife and myself, and before I knew it I just froze because he pulled out a gun.”

Jason Thurmond said the man didn’t show his badge, was “waving a gun in a store,” and at one point asked them if they were on welfare.

The case is now being investigated.

Well, of course you know I have to indulge my Mitt Romney obsession, so I have a few Romney reads. Have you heard that Romney “can’t wait to get his hands on Washington?” He said so at CPAC today.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Friday tried to convince attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to vote for him by reminding them of his “severely conservative” record, including preventing Massachusetts from becoming “the Las Vegas of gay marriage.”

“History will record the Obama presidency as last gasp of liberalism’s great failure and a turning point for the conservative era to come,” the candidate predicted. “I know this president will never get it, but we conservatives aren’t just proud to cling to our guns and our religion, we are also proud to cling to our Constitution.”

“As governor of Massachusetts, I had the unique experience of defending conservative principles in the most liberal state in the nation,” Romney said. “Even with a legislature that was 85 percent Democrat, I cut taxes 19 times and balanced the budget all four years. I cast over 800 vetoes and cut entire programs. … And I can’t wait to get my hands on Washington!”

Ooooooooh! He was “severely conservative.” How impressive.

This one is a little old, but it’s so funny that I had to share it. It’s a brief humor column from the New Yorker by one of my favorite writers, Calvin Trillin, called “President Romney Meets Other World Leaders.” It’s based on a New York Times article that addressed some of Romney’s “peculiar habits” on the campaign trail. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

When Mitt Romney introduces himself to voters, he has a peculiar habit of guessing their age or nationality, often incorrectly. (A regular query: “Are you French Canadian?”)
When making small talk with locals, he peppers the conversation with curious details. . . . Mr. Romney has developed an unlikely penchant for trying to puzzle out everything from voters’ personal relationships to their ancestral homelands. . . . Mr. Romney likes to congratulate people. For what, exactly, is not always clear.

And here’s just a bit of Trillin’s piece playing off that quote:

The moment President Romney entered the room where the opening reception of his first G-8 summit was being held, he was approached by a small man who shook his hand and said, “Je suis Nicolas Sarkozy.”

“Are you of French-Canadian origin?” President Romney said, smiling broadly.

“I am French,” Sarkozy replied, looking somewhat puzzled. “I am, in fact, the President of France.”

“Congratulations,” President Romney said. “Lipstick contains a substance made from fish scales.”

Before Sarkozy could reply—in fact, before he could think of anything to say on the subject of lipstick manufacturing—they were approached by Angela Merkel, of Germany, who looked eager to greet the newest leader in the G-8. President Romney peered at her briefly and then said to Sarkozy, “Your aunt? Your mother?”

“This is Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany,” Sarkozy said.

Please go read the rest–it’s very short but funny.

Here is Charlie Pierce’s latest blog on our former Governor: What the Self-Manufacturing of Romney Hath Produced

The transformation is now complete. Willard Romney, my former governor, the man who campaigned here for the Senate and lost, and who campaigned for governor here and won, has fashioned himself into the most carefully manufactured fake in the recent history of American politics. I used to call him the Piltdown Man of American politics — a candidate fashioned from a jawbone picked up here and a shinbone picked up there and whatever position on whatever issue he happened to find at hand at the time — but that may no longer be sufficient to explain him. After all, and even though it took more than 40 years, eventually they busted the Piltdown Man as a hoax. Willard’s transformation, from what he was here in Massachusetts, to what he is now, is so full and thorough that he has successfully constructed an entirely new Willard for himself. Of course, they had to hurry him off the assembly line because of the urgency injected into the race by the stunning (if remarkably delegate-free) triple play pulled off on Tuesday by Rick Santorum, who has never taken a breath in which he was not the authentically wingy wingnut that Willard has labored so hard to make of himself.

I’ll let you savor the rest at Charlie’s place. I hope everyone has a great Friday night and a fabulous weekend!