Prehistoric ancestor of ants discovered in Amazon rainforest

An ancient ancestor of ants has been discovered living in the soils of the Amazon rainforest. The species, named Martialis heureka, or “ant from Mars”, because of its unusual features, is a pale-bodied, blind predator that uses oversized jaws to capture prey.

Ants evolved 120m years ago from wasp-like ancestors and rapidly adapted to living in soil, trees and leaf litter. Genetic tests on the 3mm-long species show it emerged at the very earliest stages of ant evolution, said Christian Rabeling at the University of Texas at Austin.

I think the cousin of one of those ran up my pants leg the other day – and bit me.

Israeli city uses DNA to track down dog poop

An Israeli city is using DNA analysis of dog droppings to reward or punish pet owners.

Under a six-month trial program launched this week, the city of Petah Tikva, a suburb of Tel Aviv, is asking dog owners to take their animal to a municipal veterinarian, who then swabs its mouth and collects DNA. The city will use the DNA database it is building to match feces to a registered dog and identify its owner.

Owners who scoop up their dogs’ droppings and place them in specially marked bins on Petah Tikva’s streets will be eligible for rewards of pet food coupons and dog toys.

But droppings found underfoot in the street and matched through the DNA database to a registered pet could earn its owner a municipal fine.

Sooner or later, governments will figure out a rationale to do this with people, as well.

The Fed bails out AIG with $85 billion loan

Looking for a new sponsorship deal?

In a stunning turn, the Federal Reserve Board is lending as much as $85 billion to rescue crumbling insurer American International Group, officials have announced.

The Fed authorized the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to lend AIG (AIG, Fortune 500) up to $85 billion. In return, the federal government will receive a 79.9% stake in the company…

The bailout marks the most dramatic turn yet in an expanding crisis that started more than a year ago in the mortgage meltdown. The resulting credit crunch is now toppling not only mainstay Wall Street players, but others in the wider financial industry .

The line of credit to AIG, which is available for two years, is designed to help the company meet its obligations, the Fed said. Interest will accrue at a steep rate of 3-month Libor plus 8.5%, which totals 11.31% at today’s rates. AIG will sell certain of its businesses with “the least possible disruption to the overall economy.”

Taxpayers will be protected, the Fed said, because the loan is backed by the assets of AIG and its subsidiaries. The loan is expected to be repaid from the proceeds of the asset sales.

Doesn’t it feel great to be so “protected”?

Mexican Independence fiesta struck down by grenade attack

At least eight people have been killed in a grenade attack on a crowd celebrating Mexican independence in the city of Morelia…

Two explosions ripped through the crowd of around 30,000 people minutes after they listened to the local governor giving the traditional Grito, or cry of independence.

The authorities did not immediately identify who they thought was to blame, but many observers assumed the involvement of Mexico’s drug cartels…deeply immersed in inter-gang wars for the control of trafficking routes, local markets and production.

They are also battling against a nationwide military-led offensive, aimed at reining them in, which began in Michoacan, the central state, of which Morelia is the capital, almost two years ago…

Nevertheless last night’s attack on a crowd of families, many of them with small children, would be a major scaling up of the traffickers’ challenge to the government. They have so far focused on attacking rivals or members of the security forces.

Thugs, gangsters this despicable, deserve to have the whole nation of Mexico turn their backs on them. Violence perpetrated upon civilians is the hallmark of cowards and criminals, the lowest common denominator of terrorist vermin.

The politicians and police on drug gang payrolls in Mexico deserve no more mercy than do the gangsters. That is – none at all.

Not-Real-Lawyer faces fraud trial

Howard O. Kieffer, 53, is director of Federal Defense Associates, of Santa Ana, California, which promises clients “specialized, creative and tenacious criminal defense, post-conviction representation and zealous Bureau of Prisons advocacy.”

But Kieffer doesn’t plan to exercise his right to defend himself. He pleaded not guilty to mail fraud and making false statements charges during his arraignment…

Court records say Kieffer represented a number of clients, including a former St. Louis Blues hockey player who pleaded guilty to plotting to kill his agent, and a Colorado woman who was convicted of soliciting the murder of her former husband.

He was granted permission in March 2007 to practice law in North Dakota’s federal courts. He did not handle any North Dakota cases, but is accused of using his “good standing” in the state to get permission to practice in other federal jurisdictions. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland ordered Kieffer disbarred last month.

What is with North Dakota?

Connecticut used to allow the practice of law even if you hadn’t graduated law school – if you passed the State Bar exam. But, Chris Dodd’s famous daddy closed that loophole after losing a case or two to civilian talent. Still, North Dakota should have required at least that level of qualification.

Sony not willing to commit smartphones exclusively to Microsoft

Future Sony Ericsson phones launched under its new Xperia brand may not be based on Microsoft Windows, the handset maker said at the launch of its digital marketing campaign for the Xperia X1.

The X1, which will be the premium phone in Sony Ericsson’s portfolio when it starts shipping later this month, is Sony Ericsson’s first smartphone powered by Windows Mobile and was seen as boosting Microsoft’s presence in the smartphone market.

But the loss-making joint venture of Japan’s Sony and Sweden’s Ericsson was reluctant to reveal any details of future models that may be launched under the Xperia brand, of which the X1 is the first.

The brand is not tied into any specific technical platform,” said Magnus Andersson, product manager for the X1.

Asked how much pressure Xperia was under, given Sony Ericsson’s shrinking range of must-have products, Andersson said: “I think there is a lot of hope riding on everything Sony Ericsson does.”

Geek experts commenting on the model and it’s future in the U.S. market – not likely to debut before November – felt that AT&T’s networks best-suited the X1. Uh, OK.

Hong Kong remains number one for economic freedom

A Canadian think tank on Tuesday hailed Hong Kong as a bastion of economic freedom, despite concerns about restrictions on foreign investors that want to buy into companies listed on the city’s stock exchange.

The Vancouver-based Fraser Institute said Hong Kong has now taken top spot in its annual Economic Freedom of the World report for three decades.

The honour is “a tribute to the importance of letting people get on with their lives,” said Mark Mullins, executive director of the Fraser Institute, during a luncheon at the Conrad Hotel in Hong Kong. More than a decade after Britain handed Hong Kong back to China, it is “a terrific example for the world,” Mr. Mullins added.

Of course, the folks writing the article contradict themselves with the canard about “fears still remain, blah, blah”. If anything, those fears have diminished in the eyes of investors since independence from the Brits.

Beijing is accused in some quarters of favouring domestic interest groups over foreign companies looking to expand into Asia, including mergers and acquisitions of Hong Kong-listed mainland businesses…

Mr. Mullins said Beijing must resist being “tempted” to policies that restrict the freedom of Hong Kong’s market. “This sort of transaction in Hong Kong in the past would have gone through,” he added.

There are more than few working families in North America and Europe that wish for a government that cared a bit more for that tiny bit of regulation that might encourage domestic jobs and enterprise.

‘Texting’ may be the clue to LA train crash

Investigators studying last Friday’s train collision in California are examining whether one of the engineers was distracted by his mobile phone.

An engineer on a train carrying 222 passengers apparently ignored a red signal, causing it to hit a freight train, rail company Metrolink has said.

Local TV has reported that the engineer sent a text message before the crash.

At least 24 people were killed and 80 hurt in the collision – the deadliest train accident in the US in 15 years…

Two teenage train enthusiasts who befriended the engineer aboard the passenger train have told local TV station KCBS-TV they received a text message from him just before the crash.

NTSB board member Katy Higgins said the inquiry was focusing on the engineer’s reaction to the red signal. “The question is, did he see it as red? Did he see it as something else? Did he see it at all?”,

I’ve been holding off on posting this for a few days even though the suspicion of cellphone texting has been prominent since the kids came forward with their information. My guess is that the NTSB is sitting on revealing their determination – even though phone company records should be clear.

The silliness and stupidity of what people will do – inattention while driving or operating dangerous machinery – ain’t anything new. Metrolink – operator of the commuter train line – bans cell phone use at work; but, that sounds like just another safety regulation being ignored.

Former U.S. secretaries of state call for talks with Iran

AP Photo by Charles Dharapak

Former US secretaries of state urged the next US president to work closely with key allies, engage with Iran, and avoid ruptures with awkward partners Russia and China.

Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher, James Baker and Henry Kissinger gave advice at a panel [at George Washington University] that often appeared closer to the views of Democratic candidate Barack Obama than to Republican John McCain.

On Iran and Syria, both Republican and Democratic former secretaries backed engagement when they spoke at a panel at George Washington University. McCain slammed Obama earlier in the campaign for taking a similar stand.

“Let’s get together and talk about nuclear weapons… Start a dialogue at a low level and let it grow over time,” said Powell, who served President George W. Bush in his first term.

While serving for President George H.W. Bush in the 1990s, Baker recalled that the elder Bush’s administration offered to meet with Iran at the highest diplomatic level, but Iran refused for its own political reasons.

Kissinger, who served under both Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, said: “I’m in favor of negotiating with Iran.” The US aim would be to achieve a stable Middle East, he said.

Baker, Christopher and Albright also backed engagement with Syria.

All of these people understand and have experience with international diplomacy. And of course the Republicans in the group are traditional American conservatives – not the neocon nutball flavor of the month.

Ice Core studies confirm accuracy of climate models

An analysis has been completed of the global carbon cycle and climate for a 70,000 year period in the most recent Ice Age, showing a remarkable correlation between carbon dioxide levels and surprisingly abrupt changes in climate.

The findings, just published in the online edition of the journal Science, shed further light on the fluctuations in greenhouse gases and climate in Earth’s past, and appear to confirm the validity of the types of computer models that are used to project a warmer climate in the future, researchers said.

“We’ve identified a consistent and coherent pattern of carbon dioxide fluctuations from the past and are able to observe the correlation of this to temperature in the northern and southern hemispheres,” said Ed Brook, an associate professor of geosciences at Oregon State University. “This is a global, interconnected system of ocean and atmosphere, and data like these help us better understand how it works.”

The analysis was made by studying the levels of carbon dioxide and other trace gases trapped as bubbles in ancient ice cores from Antarctica.

Being a cranky old geek, this won’t mean as much to me as it may to you.

Honestly – I wish I could be around just to point a finger at the dweebs who cling to 99¢ rationales as a serious alternative to years of measured, peer-reviewed results from empirical tests and experiment.