Banana attacks gorilla

Round up the usual suspects.

The manager of a northern Ohio cellphone store told 911 dispatchers that his gorilla mascot had been attacked by a banana.

Wireless Center manager in Strongsville said his main advertisement involves using a employee to sit at a curbside in a gorilla suit.

Manager Brandon Parham said he was looking outside and saw a kid dressed as a banana emerge from the bushes behind the store mascot and tackle the man in the gorilla suit…

I think it’s a cheap publicity stunt… but sometimes those should be rewarded. Here go.

Germany approves genetic testing of human embryos

Germany’s parliament agreed in a conscience vote on Thursday to allow the limited use of genetic testing of human embryos.

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) — in which a cell or two are extracted from a developing embryo to test for genetic disorders — has divided governments around the world, with many people opposing it on religious and ethical grounds, or arguing that it would let parents choose a “designer baby.”

The new law will allow screening embryos of parents who have a predisposition to severe genetic disorders, where a pregnancy would be likely to result in either stillbirth or miscarriage.

Existing German law did not fully regulate PGD and the German high court last year ruled that parliament should take up the issue with respect to serious genetic defects…

Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen, from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party, told ARD television before the vote that concern over the issue of “designer babies” was unfounded.

“So-called ‘designer babies’, which would be musically gifted or athletic or have blue eyes, are a fantasy,” said von der Leyen, a physician and mother of seven. “It’s about severe illness of individual cases…”

Kerstin Janich, a woman from near Munich whose four-year-old son Louis died of a genetic disease, told Reuters Television in a recent interview there was little public understanding of why some parents who struggle to have children go through screening.

“It’s not about allowing a ‘designer baby’ with blond hair and blue eyes or a sick child not deserving to live,” she said. “It’s about the suffering of an entire family, for siblings and relatives and friends.”

Under the new law, parents will have to undergo counseling and an ethics panel must approve the procedure to select a developing embryo that tests negative for certain anomalies before it is implanted in the womb.


Like so many questions of choice the weight of science and freedom to choose come down on the same side. First, because individuals must always have access to the greatest weight of information to make an informed decision. Second, their own life precedes the results of any choice. Those who wish to rule out choice because it may prevent a life from forming and growing are only defending a “what-if”, giving legal precedence to an idealized possibility over an individual’s right to direct their own life.

Once again, the political nannies camp on the Right Bank of the river of life no matter how loud they may declaim their commitment to liberty. The only surprise – for an American looking over the pond – is witnessing a broad coalition from Liberal to Libertarian willing to take leadership.

“If I die on Sunday, it will be in a free country”

Photograph: Xan Rice for the Guardian

The freedom suit is tan, single-breasted and has three buttons. It hangs in Charles Mamur’s tent, covered by a black bag to protect it from the dust that blows in from the dirt streets of South Sudan’s capital, Juba.

Mamur bought the suit two years ago for about £50 but he has never worn it. He was keeping it for a special occasion, a time that he had dreamed of since the day nearly 50 years ago when, as a 10-year-old boy, he took up arms against the Arab government in Khartoum in the north.

I never believed that the moment of freedom would come,” Mamur, 58, said this week, unzipping the bag to show off his suit, as well as the yellow tie and black shoes he picked to go with it. “But I wanted to be well dressed if it did.”

The moment has now arrived. At around noon on Saturday in the swelter of Juba, a besuited Mamur will be among tens of thousands of South Sudanese and foreign dignitaries, including the British foreign secretary, William Hague, and the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who will watch as the flag of Sudan is lowered. Then, a giant South Sudan flag, six metres by four metres, will be raised on a 32-metre electronically operated flagpole that was installed this week by Chinese contractors who claim it is the tallest on the continent.

Six years after the end of Africa’s longest-running civil war – and one of its deadliest – its largest country will be officially split in two. The Arab-dominated north under President Omar al-Bashir will remain Sudan, only with much less territory and oil. The ethnically African, non-Muslim south, governed by former rebel Salva Kiir, will become the 193rd country to join the United Nations – the Republic of South Sudan.

RTFA. Long and filled with anecdotes from the history of this struggle for independence.

Scholars and students of history can step back and analyze the pros and cons of secession, of independence for nations from another. There are historic definitions – and damned few reasonable, successful examples.

As a general rule, I rarely support the politics behind secession. This time, I think the joy of self-rule will be worth the political toil that follows the bitter civil war that preceded the founding of the nation of South Sudan.

Snake on a Japanese bullet train

A bullet train was halted in Japan the beginning of the week after a snake was found coiled on a passenger seat.

The red and black snake, measuring three feet in length, was discovered by a surprised conductor shortly before 9am on board the Kodama 642 bullet train just outside Kyoto in Shiga prefecture.

Staff immediately halted the train before a worker from a nearby animal protection centre was sent to the scene to remove the snake from the seat.

The reptile is currently being treated as lost property by police, who suspect it may be the escaped pet of a rail passenger. They are currently searching for its owner…

The animal is believed to be a Honduran milk snake, which is commonly bred in captivity and has become a popular pet choice due to its distinct colouring.

Bullet train operators normally request that passengers do not bring animals other than small birds or fish in containers on board their vehicles.

There are so many delightful differences in culture delivered on our cyber-doorstep in this article. We start by boarding a bullet train – something we’ll probably not see in the United States in the next couple of decades.

You peer across the sea at a culture that considers a companionship relationship with creatures other than human beings perfectly normal for adults – any kind of living critter – not just “acceptable” dogs and cats.

Then we see transportation staff treating the incident as lost goods from a perfectly ordinary passenger. Stateside, there could be a search of the train for poisonous snakes deliberately planted as part of a terrorist plot – eventually leading to a Congressional mandate for increased spending on searching train passengers – accompanied, of course, by a matching bill to reduce research in herpetology to keep the budget balanced.

Polar Bear origins trace all the way back to an Irish Momma Bear

All living polar bears can trace their genetic lineage back to a single, female ancestor — a brown bear from Ireland, who lived around 20,000 to 50,000 years ago.

Thanks to climate change in the North Atlantic ice sheets around the time of the last ice age, the two types of bears would have periodically overlapped. In Ireland, it appears that they interbred, leading to a hybridization event that plopped maternal DNA from brown bears into polar bears.

This event probably led to a fixation of the modern polar bear’s mitochondrial DNA, where a drastic reduction in genetic variation meant the entire gene pool was flooded with just one form of a particular gene, from just one female bear.

Researchers can figure this out thanks to that oh-so helpful-mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). This is a maternal part of the genome that is — unlike most of the nuclear DNA — passed down exclusively from the mother to her offspring. The sperm’s tiny cache of mtDNA, on the other hand, is destroyed upon fertilization.

This allows us to connect the maternal lines and trace back a species’ genetic lineage through the mother’s line. We’ve done it with humans too, and found that all living humans descend from one woman in Africa — we call her Mitochondrial Eve… Cripes. Here we go upsetting the bible-thumpers, again

In all, 242 brown bear and polar bear mitochondrial lineages throughout the last 120,000 years and across multiple geographic range were sampled. They found that the fixation of the mitochondrial genome likely occurred during or just before the peak of the last ice age, possibly as early as 50,000 years ago, and near present-day Ireland.

Those Irish brown bears are, of course, now extinct. They died out roughly 9,000 years ago.

The geneticist Mark Thomas says this contradicts the vulgate idea that hybridisations diminish the strength and capabilities of the hybridized species. He sees potential similarities to this in humans.

The same processes have resulted in long-term benefits in botany. I don’t see any special reason for denying the potential in chordate meat.

Republican House orders the death of Hubble telescope successor

Legislators seeking to rein in government spending have put the troubled James Webb Space Telescope up for cancellation, saying the successor to NASA’s Hubble observatory is haunted by poor management and out-of-control costs…

Developed as the replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope, JWST is a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency. With a 21.3-foot-diameter primary mirror, the telescope is designed to peer back in time almost to the Big Bang, giving astronomers a glimpse of infant galaxies as the universe cooled after its formation.

The proposal to terminate JWST came from the House Appropriations Committee’s panel overseeing NASA. The committee released their 2012 spending bill Wednesday, calling for more than $1.6 billion in cuts to NASA’s budget from this year’s levels…

The bill also terminates funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management,” lawmakers said in a press release…

The independent review team concluded JWST was making steady technical progress despite the budget issues. About three-fourths of the telescope’s hardware is already in production, according to Northrop Grumman Corp., JWST’s prime contractor…

Scientists are also finishing work on JWST’s four research instruments designed to peer deep into the cosmos and unravel how the infant universe formed and evolved.

Given that a significant portion of the House of Representatives believes that those little twinkling lights out there in space are reflections from angel’s halos – I don’t hold out much hope for anything to do with NASA or space research. Republicans and Blue Dog cowards will gnaw away at space programs as part of their jihad against science.

Tie that with the clusterfrack of voodoo economics that is the spine for Kool Aid Party ideology – and the solution for an oft mismanaged bureacracy and sloppy cost estimates ends up being termination of spending altogether on non-military aeronautics.