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Archive for March 7th, 2011

New Zombie ant fungi discovered in Brazilian rainforest

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A stalk of the newfound fungus grows out of a “zombie” ant’s head

Originally thought to be a single species, called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the fungus is actually four distinct species—all of which can “mind control” ants—scientists announced Wednesday.

The fungus species can infect an ant, take over its brain, and then kill the insect once it moves to a location ideal for the fungi to grow and spread their spores.

All four known fungi species live in Brazil’s Atlantic rain forest, which is rapidly changing due to climate change and deforestation, said study leader David Hughes, an entomologist at Penn State University.

Hughes and colleagues made the discovery after noticing a wide diversity of fungal growths emerging from ant victims, according to the March 2 study in the journal PLoS ONE.

“It is tempting to speculate that each species of fungus has its own ant species that it is best adapted to attack,” Hughes said.

“This potentially means thousands of zombie fungi in tropical forests across the globe await discovery,” he said. “We need to ramp up sampling—especially given the perilous state of the environment.”

Now, if the stalks extending from the skulls of zombie ants could be used to communicate, produce a hive mentality like some kind of ant-Borg, we could produce a film scary enough, profitable enough, to fund studies for quite a while.

Thanks to wok3

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Written by Ed Campbell

March 7, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Dangerous drivers made to work as traffic police in India

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Bharti Arora, the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Gurgaon, has launched a new scheme to let some of the city’s worst drivers know how it feels to try to manage the chaos by forcing them to work as traffic cops.

She told The Daily Telegraph she had adopted a new approach because on the spot fines of a hundred rupees for jumping red lights were not working.

“We were fining them, but it wasn’t really helping, because a fine is just 100 Rupees. The worst of the chaos is six hours of jammed traffic because some vehicle has over-turned, construction is going on, narrowing the lanes.

We decided to let them see how it is to work as a traffic constable. It’s not an easy job.” she explained.

Offenders at the IFFCO Chowk junction are now pulled to one side, issued an on-the-spot fine, and then told to join the constable in trying to direct the chaos they have helped create.

“They do it for half an hour or longer. Some are hostile, some are willing, and some say it has changed their attitude,” she said.

In a country where roads are choked by elephants, horses, camels, cycle rickshaws, teetering overloaded trucks, and child acrobats, its drivers regularly jump red lights, cut in front of fellow highway users without warning, never keep apart two chevrons, and only very rarely ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre.’

Sounds like Santa Fe. Except for the elephants and camels, cycle rickshaws.

We also miss other qualities some folks think are necessary: drivers licenses, insurance, safety and smog checks.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Brits say electric car nanny warning system too noisy

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Late last year, Nissan unveiled its “Approaching Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians” (VSP), a technical name for the noise-adding system found on the automaker’s Leaf electric vehicle. Introduction of a pedestrian warning system on near-silent vehicles like the Leaf has been the subject of much debate, but with the U.S. House and Senate passing a measure that requires hybrids and plug-in vehicles to emit an audible sound to warn pedestrians, these noise-making setups will soon become standard on all electric-drive autos sold in the U.S.

However, over in the UK, the Nissan Leaf’s pedestrian warning system has reportedly been deemed illegal, forcing the automaker to either remove or disable it.

A Nissan spokeswoman told The Northern Echo that…an intermittent beeping noise is fitted as standard to commercial vehicles such as buses and lorries, but UK law states that the sound must be capable of being disabled between 11:00 pm and 6:00 am. The audible system on the Leaf did not allow for that to be done, so the beeping sound is being removed entirely before the cars can be driven on roads in the UK.

How many things are wrong with this silly-ass situation?

Only the congenitally stupid – which means Congress – think electric cars are too quiet and need “warning” systems to keep from flattening pedestrians. Cars have horns to use when you see some cretin stepping out into the street in front of your vehicle.

And there are beaucoup cars already as quiet as anything electric, anyway. Will they be retrofitted or required to do the same? Anyone demanding that every Rolls be fitted with a cowbell?

Then, there’s the UK law requiring beepers. I imagine this is like the everpresent backup beeper on damned near everything used on construction sites or government transportation. Drives every construction worker nuts. Assumes no one is capable of looking where they’re walking or driving. A device invented to please lawyers.

And consider our friends at Nissan who can’t figure out how to put in an inline switch which turns the stupid noisemaker on or off at the driver’s whim. I suppose that is yet another rule from Congress. To stop us independent drivers from exercising our own minds and choosing between horns and beepers.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 7, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Indian Court rules that comatose life can be ended passively

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In a path-breaking judgement, the Supreme Court today allowed “passive euthanasia” of withdrawing life support to patients in permanently vegetative state but rejected outright active euthanasia of ending life through administration of lethal substances.

Refusing mercy killing of Aruna Shanbaug, lying in a vegetative state for 37 years in a Mumbai hospital, a two-judge bench of justices Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra, laid a set of tough guidelines under which passive euthanasia can be legalised through high court monitored mechanism.

The apex court while framing the guidelines for passive euthanasia asserted that it would now become the law of the land until Parliament enacts a suitable legislation to deal with the issue…

The apex court said though there is no statutory provision for withdrawing life support system from a person in permanently vegetative state, it was of the view that “passive euthanasia” could be permissible in certain cases for which it laid down guidelines and cast the responsibility on high courts to take decisions on pleas for mercy killings.

Overdue. Not only in India, of course; but, most civilized nations should have reached palliative conclusions on such questions by now. Only interference from those whose devotion to religion outweighs consideration for human beings generally oppose humane alternatives to a lingering death.

This woman’s body has been kept alive in a vegetative coma for 37 years. Absurd. This may illustrate what an efficient piece of meat machinery the human body is. It has little bearing upon life and consciousness, sanity or civil health.

One more instance of why you should take care of establishing a living will before the choice is removed from you or your loved ones.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 7, 2011 at 10:00 am

Americans know how to solve deficits – is Congress listening?

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A new University of Maryland study finds that when average Americans are presented the federal budget in some detail, most are able to reduce the budget deficit dramatically and resolve the Social Security shortfall.

Through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, on average, respondents cut the discretionary budget deficit projected for 2015 by seventy percent. Six in ten solved the problem of the projected Social Security shortfall through adjustments in payroll taxes, premiums, and benefits. The projected Medicare shortfall was also dramatically reduced…

Unlike conventional polls [Program for Public Consultation] PPC consults with the public by first presenting respondents with information on policy issues and a range of options for addressing them. “When given information and a chance to sort through their options, most Americans do a pretty good job of dealing with America’s budget problems – better than most politicians,” says…Steven Kull, who directs PPC…

On average respondents made net spending cuts of $145.7 billion. The largest cuts included those to defense ($109.4 billion), intelligence ($13.1 billion), military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq ($12.8 billion) and the federal highway system ($4.6 billion) – all of which were cut by majorities.

On average respondents increased revenues by $291.6 billion. The largest portion was from income taxes which were raised by an average of $154.8 billion above the levels currently in place. Majorities increased taxes on incomes over $100,000 by five percent or more, and increased them by 10 percent or more for incomes over $500,000.

Majorities also increased corporate and alcohol taxes, and turned to new sources of revenue, including a tax on sugary drinks, treating ‘carried interest’ income as taxable (also known as the hedge fund managers’ tax), and charging a crisis fee to large banks. A plurality (49 percent) favored a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. But a sales tax was rejected by 58 percent of respondents…

Most respondents also successfully dealt with the problem of Social Security. Respondents were presented eight possible steps for dealing with the Social Security shortfall that will occur as the baby boom generation retires.

Six in ten respondents selected enough steps to resolve the problem. This was the case even though many of them also chose to make the problem more difficult by increasing benefits to low income retirees.

This parallels the study done by readers of the NY TIMES a little while ago. Time after time, when Americans are presented with simple objective information about taxes and policies they come up with common sense solutions that escape the petty analyses of our payola politicians.

Meanwhile, if you’re one of those amazing human beings who actually reads stuff, here’s a link to the full report.

The Americans surveyed suggested increased spending on education and social security. The total deficit reduction was over $437 billion.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 7, 2011 at 6:00 am

Does Guinness beer taste better in Ireland?

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A new study in the Journal of Food Science provides some limited scientific evidence to support the theory among beer enthusiasts that Guinness tastes much better in Ireland than other parts of the world.

Over a period of one year, four researchers of different nationalities traveled to 14 countries and visited 71 Guinness serving establishments in 33 cities to collect data for 103 tastings.

Tasting scores for pints of Guinness were generally high all around the world, yet tastings in pubs in Ireland scored significantly higher.

This difference remained statistically significant after adjusting for researcher, pub ambience, Guinness appearance, and the sensory measures of mouthfeel, flavor and aftertaste. Please note that results are subject to further verification because of limitations in the study design.

Please notify me when the study group is ready to expand into New Mexico.

If they’re willing to pay for the grog and transport, I’ll even let them send me anywhere – just to sit and drink Guinness.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 7, 2011 at 2:00 am

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