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Archive for March 2012

Biologists find a genetic mutation in van Gogh’s sunflowers — how cool is that?

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Biologists from the University of Georgia have figured out the exact genetic mutation that was depicted in Vincent van Gogh’s iconic series of sunflower paintings.

We normally think of sunflowers as having a large disc of tiny florets, surrounding by a brilliant frame of yellow petals. But in van Gogh’s paintings — such as Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers — he’d often include a “double-flowered” variant, with big ruffles of golden petals around a small disc of internal florets.

Researchers from Georgia wanted to find the gene and mutation that led to van Gogh’s favoured flower, and used techniques from Gregor Mendel — the forefather of genetics, and a contemporary of the post-Impressionist painter — to track them down.

Plant biologist John Burke, and colleagues, began by cross-breeding traditional sunflowers with a variety of the bushy, double-flowered one like the paintings. The offspring suggested that a single, dominant gene was responsible for creating the double-flowered mutation.

The team then sequenced the flowers and indentified the guilty mutation in the HaCYC2c gene. They then looked for it in hundreds of sunflower varieties including wild, double-flowered and tubular types. Burke and co found that the mutation was always in the fluffy variety, but never in the the common sunflower…

“All of this evidence tells us that the mutation we’ve identified is the same one that van Gogh captured in the 1800s,” said Burke. “In addition to being of interest from a historical perspective, this finding gives us insight into the molecular basis of an economically important trait.”

No doubt your supplier of flower seeds will be able to tell you if they offer the Van Gogh sunflower seeds. And will only charge you double the usual price.

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Written by Ed Campbell

March 31, 2012 at 10:00 pm

19th Century Newcastle upon Tyne

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A secondhand clothes seller at Newcastle cloth market reads as customers inspect her goods. A set of original glass negatives showing street scenes of 19th century Newcastle has been found by Aaron Guy, who works at the city’s Mining Institute.

I love great historic photos. A record frozen in time by one of the most useful inventions in the last couple of centuries. They needn’t be of great events, a history-making dialectic. The ordinary captures my attention, teaches me as much as the so-called important moments. This is one that is so sharp and representational I feel myself slipping back into Newcastle in the 19th Century.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 31, 2012 at 6:00 pm

A coal-fired power plant, cancer and a small town in Georgia

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Robert Maddox is a bulky man with gray hair, a deeply lined face, squinty eyes and a thick Southern accent. He lives in Juliette with his wife, Teresa. The two of them invested their life savings building their home. It’s a large ranch house on several acres, and the plan was the two of them would leave it for their sons and grandchildren. They gave up that dream after Maddox’s mother developed a rare form of ear cancer and died after living at the home for three years.

“I’m not going to bring my grandchildren up in this,” Maddox says. “Anybody who does would be a fool, I think.”

The problem, Maddox explains, is now he and his neighbors are getting sick. For Maddox, the first signs of trouble would come in the middle of the night, when he would wake up with nose bleeds mixed with clear mucus. Then his muscles started twitching, and then he got kidney disease, and then sclerosis of the liver.

His doctor wondered whether Maddox was an alcoholic.

“I don’t drink,” Maddox says dismissively before ticking off his other health problems…

The neighbor who used to live in the now-empty next door house has abdominal cancer. In the house two doors over, a once healthy woman has a form of dementia that’s left her “unrecognizable,” according to Maddox.

“Besides us all being sick, we’ve all been approached by Georgia Power, with them looking to buy us out” Maddox says. “And in that house next door, [Georgia Power] has sealed the well…”

Y’know it’s coming from over there,” he says, nodding in the direction of one of the largest coal plants in the world, right across the two lane highway where Maddox collects his mail.

RTFA for a pretty typical tale of an environment distorted and made lethal by a power generation juggernaut. Georgia Power has been able to take the relatively easy way out of the death and disease they brought to Juliette, Georgia – in the name of electrification and profit. Buying folk’s homes, moving the people out of the way of any class action is always cheaper than law and justice.

But, then, this is Georgia and the concept of law, justice and politicians challenging a wealthy public utility is pretty much laughable.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 31, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Teratogenic Effects of Pure Evil in Ursus Teddius Domesticus

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Oh, the horror!

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Written by Ed Campbell

March 31, 2012 at 10:00 am

Republican Governors try to rescue Pink Slime

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Would you trust this man to protect you from food poisoning?

Governors of three states got up close with “pink slime” Thursday, touching and examining treated beef at a plant and eating hamburgers made with it in a bid to persuade grossed-out consumers and grocery stores the product is safe to consume…

“If you called it finely textured lean beef, would we be here?” asked Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Several other leaders echoed his comments as they tried to smooth over consumer concerns about the product.

Beef Products, the main producer of the cheap lean beef made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts, has drawn scrutiny over concerns about the ammonium hydroxide it treats meat with to change the beef’s acidity and kill bacteria. The company suspended operations at plants in Texas, Kansas and Iowa this week, affecting 650 jobs, but defends its product as safe.

The politicians who toured the plant…all agree with the industry view that the beef has been unfairly maligned and mislabeled and issued a joint statement earlier saying the product is safe…

The officials asked about the added ammonia, which Letch said is used as an extra safety precaution against E. Coli…

The officials donned hard hats, hair nets and goggles for a brief walking tour through the facility. Workers manned conveyor belts of meat cuts that ran from one side of the room to the other in the chilled room; the ammonium hydroxide treatment process was not visible; plant officials say that’s because it binds with moisture in the meat in an aerated process.

Afterward, Perry, Branstad and others ate burgers made from the plant’s meat at a news conference…

National Meat Association spokesman Jeremy Russell…said the outcry has already hurt BPI and other meat companies, and could eventually hurt the price that ranchers and feedlots receive for cattle.

And we all know that’s more important than any other factor in the equation.

RTFA to hear the predictable rationales – including backup from the backslapping yahoos in the USDA. There’s another clot of flunkies ready to spend their time after 20-and-out working for the Feds to follow the bureaucrats favorite career path of double-dipping in the industry they were supposed to be regulating.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 31, 2012 at 6:00 am

George Galloway hails ‘Bradford spring’ as he kicks Labour butt

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Here’s George Galloway sticking a finger in the eye of our Congressional liars and hypocrites
 
George Galloway has said his surprise victory in the Bradford West by-election showed the “alienation” of voters from the main political parties. The Respect Party politician said his win also reflected concerns about jobs and the economy – and was not just based on the support of Muslim voters.

Labour’s Ed Miliband said the loss of the seat was “incredibly disappointing”…he said “local factors” were partly to blame but pledged to “learn lessons” from the defeat.

But the BBC’s chief political correspondent Norman Smith said the poll, coming at the end of a difficult week for the coalition government, should have been a “stroll in the park” and that there were questions whether the Labour leadership could connect with its core supporters.

Mr Galloway, expelled by Labour in 2003, won the by-election by 10,140 votes, in the process of overturning a Labour majority of more than 5,000 at the 2010 general election.

He told the BBC that his win represented a “peaceful democratic uprising” against the established political parties and their leaders…

How did he win? Firstly, he appears to have galvanised some who feel ignored, even disenfranchised by the main political parties…

For others, in a multi-ethnic constituency, the call for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan was appealing.

For others still, this was a mid-term by-election. It wasn’t about choosing the next government, but sending a powerful message, selecting a noisy, high profile advocate to represent them.

Handing George Galloway a 10,000 vote majority certainly does that

The Conservatives, who came third in the by-election with 2,746 votes, also saw their vote fall by more than 20%…

The Lib Dems came fourth and lost their deposit.

Bravo, George. One of the noisier independent voices for ordinary working people in British politics. Someone who stuck to his guns during the years of Blair/Bush bedsitters.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 31, 2012 at 2:00 am

I’m not an owl — I’m a ceramic insulator

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A Little Owl imitates a ceramic insulator on a telegraph pole. The bird was spotted by wildlife photographer Mircea Costina in Dobrogea, Romania – but only after another bird gave its position away.

Delightful. A little smartass bird.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 30, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Osama bin Laden fathered four children after 9/11 while “on the run” from George Bush’s vengeance

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Osama bin Laden fathered four children as he hid out in Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks, his youngest wife told interrogators, according to a police report.

Amal Abdulfattah’s account provides rare details of the al-Qaeda leader’s life from when he fled Afghanistan in late 2001 until his death aged 54 last May during a US Navy SEAL operation in Abbottabad, in Pakistan.

Abdulfattah, from Yemen, was arrested by Pakistani authorities following the US raid on bin Laden’s compound near the Pakistani capital Islamabad, along with two of his Saudi wives, and her five children…

The report, from the office of the inspector general of police in Islamabad, recommended Abdulfattah and her children be immediately deported.

After arriving in Pakistan in July 2000 on a three-month visa, in the company of her sister and brother-in-law, Abdulfattah travelled to Kandahar, in neighbouring Afghanistan, at the time capital of the Taliban regime.

The date of her marriage to bin Laden was not specified, but the police report said afterwards she moved in with him and his other two wives.

“She further revealed that after the incident of 9/11, they all scattered and she came to Karachi with one of her daughter’s, Safia,” the report said. Safia, her first child by the al-Qaeda kingpin, was born in Kandahar in 2001. She stayed in Karachi for eight to nine months, moving between homes arranged for them by Pakistani families and bin Laden’s oldest son Saad.

Abdulfattah then met back with the fleeing bin Laden in Peshawar, in northwest Pakistan. The report suggests that the pair did not part from that moment until the raid in Abbottabad.

They stayed for eight or nine months in Swat, then for two years in Haripur, 90 minutes from Islamabad, before moving to the garrison town of Abbottabad in 2005.

During this time, Abdulfattah had four other children by bin Laden, by then the most-wanted man in the world. In Haripur, Aasia, a girl, was born in 2003 and Ibrahim, a boy, was born the next year. On both occasions Abdulfattah gave birth in a public hospital, the police report said. The other two children, Zainab, a girl, and Hussain, a boy, were born in Abbottabad in 2006 and 2008…

The continued detention of bin Laden’s wives has led to accusations that Pakistan is attempting to muzzle them to stop them from providing details that could embarrass Islamabad or add to suspicions it knew where bin Laden was.

The only debatable question is how much of the Pakistan government had knowledge of Bin Laden’s presence? And for how long?

Written by Ed Campbell

March 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Canada getting ready to get rid of pennies

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Canada is removing the penny from its currency from next year after the government announced that one cent pieces are too expensive to produce…

Each 1 cent, made from either copper-plated zinc (1997-1999 coins) or copper plated steel (2000-2012 coins) costs around 1.6 cents to produce, and scrapping them will save an estimated $11 million Canadian dollars a year…

Jim Flaherty, the Canadian finance minister, told the Canadian House of Commons: “Pennies take up too much space on our dressers at home. They take up far too much time for small businesses trying to grow and create jobs.”

The Royal Canadian Mint will produce its final penny next month, and stop providing the coin to banks and financial institutions in the autumn.

Pennies will remain legal tender, but the government said it hoped most people would turn them in to be recycled as scrap metal. Their use will become largely redundant, as companies and retailers have been told to begin rounding up sums to the nearest nickel (five cents)…

Pennies are not the only form of currency to be vanishing – Canada has already begun phasing out paper bank notes, replacing high domination bills with plastic versions.

Perish the thought we should exhibit a combination of modern thought and old-fashioned frugality inside Congress. Our elected blowhards have been prattling about doing something similar for decades. Up-to-Beltway-standard, nothing has been accomplished.

In the last 35 years or so, Phillipines, Sweden, UK, New Zealand, Mexico, Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Israel, Netherlands, Hungary, Brazil, Argentina, India, Singapore and Papua New Guinea have done something similar. By the time the United States Congress authorizes a small sensible task like this we’ll already be making money transfers by quantum mental telepathy.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Massive security breach — more than 10 million MasterCard and VISA credit cards compromised

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VISA and MasterCard are alerting banks across the country about a recent major breach at a U.S.-based credit card processor. Sources in the financial sector are calling the breach “massive,” and say it may involve more than 10 million compromised card numbers.

In separate non-public alerts sent late last week, VISA and MasterCard began warning banks about specific cards that may have been compromised. The card associations stated that the breached credit card processor was compromised between Jan. 21, 2012 and Feb. 25, 2012. The alerts also said that full Track 1 and Track 2 data was taken – meaning that the information could be used to counterfeit new cards.

Neither VISA nor MasterCard have said which U.S.-based processor was the source of the breach. But affected banks are now starting to analyze transaction data on the compromised cards, in hopes of finding a common point of purchase. Sources at two different major financial institutions said the transactions that most of the cards they analyzed seem to have in common are that they were used in parking garages in and around the New York City area.

It’s not clear how many cards were breached in the processor attack, but a sampling from one corner of the industry provides some perspective. On Wednesday, PSCU — a provider of online financial services to credit unions — said it alerted 482 credit unions that appear to have had cards impacted by the breach, and that a total of 56,455 member VISA and MasterCard accounts were compromised.

Brian Krebs is an expert on computer security with an international reputation. This is a breaking story and he’s still soliciting info about this security failure.

As usual, the banking industry worries more about scaring clients than trusting folks with information about what danger they may be in. So, very little is public yet about which credit card processor screwed up.

Keep an eye on your monthly credit card statements, folks. Watch for strange transactions. If you can access your account online – I’d suggest doing so more frequently for a spell.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 30, 2012 at 10:00 am

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