Fossil shows 48-million-year history of zombie ants

A 48 million-year-old fossilised leaf has revealed the oldest known evidence of a macabre part of nature – parasites taking control of their hosts to turn them into zombies.

The discovery has been made by a research team led by Dr David P Hughes, from the University of Exeter, who studies parasites that can take over the minds of their hosts.

All manner of animals are susceptible to the often deadly body invasion, but scientists have been trying to track down when and where such parasites evolved…

“This leaf shows clear signs of one well documented form of zombie-parasite, a fungus which infects ants and then manipulates their behaviour.”

The fungus, called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, appears to take over the mind of infected ants – causing them to leave their colonies and head for a leaf which provides the ideal conditions for the parasite to reproduce.

When the ant gets there it goes into a ‘death grip’– biting down very hard on the major vein of a leaf. This means that when the ant dies, its body stays put so the fungus has time to grow and release its spores to infect other ants.

The death grip bite leaves a very distinct scar on the leaves…After studying leaf fossils from the Messel Pit, a site on the eastern side of the Rhine Rift Valley in Hesse, Germany, they found clear evidence of the death grip bite in a 48 million-year-old leaf specimen.

Questions of parasites which may become symbiotes – and vice versa – is convoluted enough to waste the rest of the weekend on.

But, it might be interesting, eh?

Muslim prayers welcome at Pentagon chapel

Less than 100 feet from where a hijacked airplane slammed into the Pentagon, Muslim military personnel bring prayer rugs on weekday afternoons for group worship.

On Fridays, a local imam conducts a service in the Pentagon Memorial Chapel built after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks by al Qaeda that killed 184 people at the U.S. military headquarters.

The chapel, with stained-glass windows, burgundy carpeting and a wooden altar, provides a place of prayer and religious observance for anyone regardless of faith or culture.

Its welcoming calm and nondenominational culture are in stark contrast to the emotional debate over plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque two blocks from ground zero in New York City, where planes flown by al Qaeda hijackers destroyed the World Trade Center, killing more than 2,700 people…

“I’ve never had a question about it” in four-plus years at the Pentagon, Army spokesman George Wright said…

“We’re very tolerant here of one another and our faith,” he said. “We don’t keep track of who comes in.”

Of course, what’s “normal” in the political life of the United States of America doesn’t have as much to do with tolerance or freedom – as it does with power and control.

Bears guard Canadian marijuana farm

Police raiding a marijuana farm in western Canada were astonished to find black bears apparently guarding it.

However initial alarm wore off when officers realised the 10 or so bears did not behave aggressively and were in fact docile and tame.

Police believe dog food was used to attract the animals onto the farm in British Columbia…

Or they were stoner bears.

Two people were arrested in the raid.

The five police who went to the farm near Christina Lake, close to the US border, to dismantle the marijuana plantation were amazed when the bears loped into view.

They were tame, they just sat around watching. At one point one of the bears climbed onto the hood of a police car, sat there for a bit and then jumped off,” said Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant Fred Mansveld.

In Canada, feeding bears is illegal as it leads to bears associating food with humans and increases the likelihood of bears coming into towns and cities to look for food.

Especially if they have the munchies.

Celebrity ‘skin artist’ was a scam artist

The woman who Jennifer Aniston, Cher, Melanie Griffith and other stars have trusted with their skin allegedly couldn’t be trusted with their credit cards.

Federal agents arrested Beverly Hills spa owner Gabriella Perez on charges of using her celebrity clients’ credit card information to make fraudulent purchases totaling at least $280,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles…

Chez Gabriela Studio is “the temple of beauty” for Beverly Hills, its website said.

Gabriela is my favorite ass kicking facialist,” the website quoted Cher saying. “She is the Michelangelo of skin care!”

The criminal complaint named actress Liv Tyler as a major victim, with $214,000 in allegedly fraudulent charges made by Perez on her American Express card last year.

High-end jewelry designer Loree Rodkin was the first client to alert federal investigators, the complaint said.

The complaint alleges Perez “fraudulently charged numerous times on her (Rodkin’s) Visa credit card from the studio.”

When Rodkin’s lawyer tried to resolve the charges with Perez, she allegedly offered her $25,000 in services in exchange for the $68,000 in allegedly fraudulent charges, the complaint said.

How do you negotiate your way out of credit card fraud?

OTOH, how do you let a couple hundred thousand dollars be added to your credit card account – without noticing? Sheesh!

Internet access helps your love life

Adults who have Internet access at home are much more likely to be in romantic relationships than adults without Internet access, according to research to be presented at the 105th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

“Although prior research on the social impacts of Internet use has been rather ambiguous about the social cost of time spent online, our research suggests that Internet access has an important role to play in helping Americans find mates,” said Michael J. Rosenfeld…lead author of the study, “Meeting Online: The Rise of the Internet as a Social Intermediary.”

According to the study, 82.2 percent of participants who had Internet access at home also had a spouse or romantic partner, compared to a 62.8-percent partnership rate for adults who did not have Internet access…

In addition to finding that people are more likely to be in romantic relationships if they have Internet access in their homes, Rosenfeld and study co-author Reuben J. Thomas…found that the Internet is the one social arena that is unambiguously gaining importance over time as a place where couples meet…

The study also found that the Internet is especially important for finding potential partners in groups where the supply is small or difficult to identify such as in the gay, lesbian, and middle-aged heterosexual communities.

Now, who didn’t know this?

Stolen Valor Act is declared unconstitutional

Criminalizing speech is a tricky business, but Congress seemed to think it had found the right balance in 2006 when it overwhelmingly enacted the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a crime simply to lie about having received a military medal or service badge.

But the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit begs to differ. In a decision released on Tuesday, the three-judge panel, based in San Francisco, declared the law unconstitutional because it infringed on the defendant’s freedom of speech, even if it was false. That defendant, Xavier Alvarez, had claimed to be a Marine and a winner of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award. He was neither.

In a 2-to-1 ruling, the appellate court said that if the law were held constitutional, many everyday lies could become criminal acts. “There would be no constitutional bar to criminalizing lying about one’s height, weight, age, or financial status on or Facebook, or falsely representing to one’s mother that one does not smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, is a virgin, or has not exceeded the speed limit while driving on the freeway,” Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr., wrote for the majority. “The sad fact is, most people lie about some aspects of their lives from time to time…”

“We have no doubt that society would be better off if Mr. Alvarez would stop spreading worthless, ridiculous and offensive untruths,” the ruling said. “But, given our historical skepticism of permitting the government to police the line between truth and falsity, and between valuable speech and drivel, we presumptively protect all speech, including false statements.”

If we made all liars into criminals, we wouldn’t have a standing politician left to run for re-election.