Unmasking False Right-Wing Accusations Against the President

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President George W. Bush took 879 days of vacation time during the eight years he was in office — an astounding 30% of his presidency. According to the Washington Post, as of August 15th Barack Obama had taken 138 days of vacation in the five years and seven months he has been president, or roughly 7% of his presidency.

Using second grade addition and subtraction skills, anyone can determine for themselves that Obama is at least 719 days behind George W. Bush in his bid to become the most vacationing president ever. And he’d better hurry up if that’s really his goal, because he only has 880 days left in office.

It never fails to amaze me that the Republicans find no irony in accusing this administration of the same corruption, abuses of power, and slothfulness that helped define the administrations of presidents representing their party.

No the President has done nothing as bad as Watergate, or the Iran-Contra fiasco.

No this President has not written more executive orders than any other President in the last fifty years. In fact, he ranks 19th among the 44 presidents, and the only twentieth or twenty first century president with fewer is George H.W. Bush who only served one term.

And no this President has not gone on more vacations more than his predecessors. Not even close.

Dangerous Parasite

There is a parasite out there that can infect virtually any warm-blooded creature on Earth. It’s found just about everywhere, and approximately 33% of humans are infected. It’s mysteriously linked to people committing suicide and brain cancer, and it’s most commonly found in cats.



Known as Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite can cause a disease aptly called toxoplasmosis in virtually any warm-blooded creature it infects. Luckily for us, toxoplasmosis is rarely, if ever, fatal in any species.


That said, it is still a very major concern to the scientific and medical community. As noted in a work sheet released by Stanford University, toxoplasmosis has a very high mortality rate when people with a weaker immune system, such as patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, are infected with it. The disease is also noted as being very dangerous to infants and other, otherwise immunocompromised patients.



So how do you catch it? Well, there are several well documented and universally agreed upon ways in which an ordinary person can come into contact with the parasite, and hence the disease.
• Raw, undercooked meat.
• Unpasteurized milk.
• Raw/unwashed vegetables.
• Cats.

The link between eating uncooked meat and the parasite was conclusively proven when scientists in Paris fed orphans nearly raw beef, horse and lamb meat to test the hypothesis that the parasite could be transmitted in this way. If you’re hoping that this happened hundreds of years ago, it took place in 1965.

In regards to cats, they are noted as being the “definitive host” of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. In fact, it can only sexually reproduce when it is inside of a cat. However, it can asexually reproduce and live “indefinitely” inside the body of virtually any warm-blooded host, like a human. Since Toxoplasma gondii parasites can’t complete their life-cycle inside of us though, we are defined as being “intermediate hosts”.

About 40% of people in the U.S. have been exposed to the parasite at some point, often in unwashed vegetables or undercooked meat, and about 15% of people in the U.S. have the telltale cysts in their heart, nervous system tissues, and skeletal muscle, with each cyst containing many thousands of the parasite.

The symptoms of toxoplasmosis in ordinary, healthy people are usually mild.  If any symptoms do show up, it generally only happens when you first acquire the parasite, and these are simply mild flu-like symptoms that last a couple weeks.



Despite the fact that a third of the world is infected with this parasite, unless you have a crippling disease that’s ravaging your immune system, are getting an organ transplant, or are a tiny baby, it will probably never bother or affect you in definitive way.

Again, we say “probably” because there is a growing, but as yet unproven concern that the parasite can cause a number of mental health problems. For example, research conducted by the Maryland School of Medicine found that women infected with the parasite were “1.5 times more likely to attempt suicide”.  Other studies have linked the parasite to even more alarming health issues such as schizophrenia and even brain cancer.



By far the most fascinating thing about the parasite, however, is its apparent ability to control the mind, or at least the behavior of certain of its hosts. Specifically, rats infected with the parasite will become unusually attracted to the scent of cat urine, a scent they’d usually avoid like the plague. Terrifyingly, the parasite seems to accomplish this by completely and permanently overriding the rat’s natural fear of cats and their distinctive odor.  Instead, the rat becomes intensely sexually attracted to it instead. Needless to say, this makes it much more likely that the rat will be eaten by a cat, which allows the Toxoplasma gondii to get inside its preferred host.



In the end, our own immune system keeps the majority of symptoms at bay. When it doesn’t, for example in immune deficient people, the subsequent disease often results in death, with initial complications including encephalitis and pneumonia.

A Very Strange Hobby

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58-year-old oil investor Richard Gibson has one of the weirdest collections in the world. Since 1978, he’s been meticulously saving all his toenail clippings in glass jars.

Collecting toenails is a strange hobby, but Richard says that he didn’t consciously decide to do it, it just sort of happened as a result of his curiosity, and he just never stopped.

He happened to be clipping his nails one day 36 years ago, and instead of throwing them out, he just put them in a manicure box. He then started doing it repeatedly, just to see how long it would take to fill up the box. That took two years, and by then he was pretty much hooked. So he moved his collection to a large glass jar, which is what now uses to put the clippings in.

“I have no idea how many nails are in the jar,” Gibson admitted. “It’s well into the thousands.”

Assorted Facts

Assorted Facts

Driest year in recorded history for many areas of California: 2013

Percentage by which California Gov. Jerry Brown asked Californians to voluntarily reduce water use in January 2014: 20

Actual percentage reduction in water use in California between January and May 2014: 5

Amount Americans are projected to spend per day eating out in restaurants in 2014: $1.8 billion

Percentage of American adults who don’t know how to cook as of 2011: 28

Percentage of all adult American consumers at least 18 years old who report still calling their moms for cooking advice: 35

Number of rubber ducks in the world’s largest collection at the last official count in April 2011: 5,631

Number of nonfatal violent and property hate crimes against persons 12 and older in 2012: 293,800

Percentage of children ages 3–5 below the federal poverty level with untreated tooth decay: 25

Percentage of children ages 3–5 above the federal poverty level with untreated tooth decay: 10.5

Percentage of coffee growing area affected by leaf rust in Central America, highest since first appearance in 1976: 53

Value of Central American unroasted coffee imported to the United States in 2013: $1 billion

Drop in ocean’s pH level since start of Industrial Revolution: 0.1

Percentage increase of acidity represented by this drop: 30

Percentage of acidity increase by the end of this century if current carbon emissions continue: 150

Percentage of Americans without health insurance as of September 2013, the highest since Gallup began tracking the statistic in 2008: 18

Percentage of Americans without health insurance as of June 2014, the lowest since Gallup tracking began: 13

Total number of newly insured Americans since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law: 15 million

Sugar’s Adverse Effects and Our Overuse of It In Our Diets

Studies over many years have pointed to sugar as, at the very least, an accomplice, if not the main reason, behind many of the health ills of modern civilization. Obesity and diabetes are the obvious candidates caused by over-consumption of the sweet stuff. The obesity epidemic has been written about exhaustively for years, and obesity’s good friend, Type 2 diabetes, has increased threefold in the past three decades, coinciding with the explosion of sugary products, both obvious and hidden. However, there is a plethora of other illnesses and conditions that have lesser-known connections to sugar. The list is long, but include: high blood pressure, hypoglycemia, depression, acne, headaches, hardening of the arteries, fatigue, violent behavior, hyperactivity, aching extremities, and of course, tooth decay.

It seems we pay a heavy price for our sweet tooth. Not only do we eat a lot of sugar and make ourselves ill, but it has no nutritional value at all. No vitamins, no minerals, no enzymes, no fiber.

Sugar tastes good. Our DNA is hardwired to crave sweet foods. “Sugar is a deep, deep ancient craving,” Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University recently told Business Insider. Early humans looked for sweet fruits and vegetables because they contained the natural sugars that give us energy. Of course, cavemen were never tempted by Ding Dongs or Snickers bars. How badly do we crave sugar? Here are some of the shocking statistics:

1. Americans consume, on average, 765 grams of sugar every five days. To put that in perspective, in 1822 we consumed on average 45 grams every five days. That is equal to one can of soda. Now we consume 17 times that, or the equivalent of 17 cans of soda.

2. The average American consumes 130 pounds of sugar every year. Our 1822 predecessors ate under 10 pounds of sugar a year. 130 pounds a year means about three pounds a week. That equals about 3,550 pounds in an average lifetime, more than one and three quarter tons of sugar.

3. More on that last one: 130 pounds of sugar equals about 1,767,900 Skittles. That’s enough to fill an industrial sized dumpster with Skittles.

4. The American Heart Association recommends we consume less than 10 teaspoons of sugar a day. The average American gobbles down on average 22 teaspoons a day. And the average child? 32 teaspoons.

5. Our sugar consumption is both in plain sight and hidden, ingested from the most unlikely places. Sugar in cookies seems obvious. Sugar in potato chips not so much. And ketchup and TV dinners and soup and crackers and just about every other processed food out there. Who are the biggest sources of sugar? Soft drinks lead the list at 33% of our sugar consumption. Drink water instead of coke and you’ve already made a huge dent. Candy and other obvious sweets, 16%. Baked goods like cookies and cakes, 13%. Fruit drinks 10%. Sweetened yogurt, ice cream and milk almost 9%.

6. One can of Coke, 12 ounces, contains 10 teaspoons of sugary goodness. That’s more sugar than two Frosted Pop Tarts with a Twinkie thrown in.

7. The average American consumes 53 gallons of soda a year. Let’s do the math. 128 ounces in a gallon times 53. That’s 6,784 ounces. Or just to simplify it, that’s 565 cans of soda a year.

8. If you took away all the sugar in an average American diet, you would subtract 500 calories a day. Of course, since we are not taking it away, that means sugar adds 500 calories a day to our diet. That is like eating 10 strips of bacon a day. Even bacon-loving Americans might stop short of that.

9. So, given all the bad stuff: Diseases, bad teeth, expanding waistlines. Zero nutrition. Why do we keep consuming sugar? Well, there is that DNA connection. Sugar is how we are wired for energy, but evolution never took processed sugar into account. Sweets eaters survived because they ate more energy-efficient fruit and veggie sugar that metabolizes slowly and doesn’t kill us.

Sugar is as addictive as cocaine. Brain scans after sugar consumption, are very similar to those of a cocaine user after ingesting the drug. Dopamine floods the brain and, boy, do we feel good.

So what can we do to improve our consumption? We can start by being conscious of the sugar we are using. The stuff comes in many disguises. Sugar, cane juice, cane syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, honey, molasses, malt syrup. Those are its favorite masks. If we are at least aware of what we are ingesting, we have a fighting chance. Increase your water intake, decrease the soda intake. Check out the ingredients on the labels. Opt for reduced sugar products. Awareness is a good start. As Daniel Lieberman said: “We need to realize that our bodies are not adapted to the amount of sugar that we are pouring into them and it’s making us sick.”

Action Comics #1 Auction Update

Updating an earlier posting, this is what this copy of a classic comic book finally brought on an eBay auction. It’s unbelievable.

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A copy of Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman which revolutionized the industry, in almost perfect condition has sold on eBay for $3,207,852, shattering the previous record price of $2.16 million set in 2011 by Nicholas Cage’s famously purloined copy. It is the first comic to pass the three million dollar mark. The buyers are Metropolis/ComicConnect, renown vintage comic dealers who in fact sold the Cage copy. It is not known if they were acquiring it for a private collector or for themselves.

Given a Certified Guaranty Company universal grade of 9.0 with White Pages, this copy is considered the finest Action Comics #1 ever graded.

The previous record-holder was a 9.0 as well, but this one is a stronger 9, with glossy front and back covers, more brilliant colors and those perfect white pages. There is no yellowing whatsoever. It looks like it came fresh off the presses, with only two spine stress marks testifying to its ever having been opened at all. Only one other copy of this comic was graded Perfect White Pages, and that one had a mere 2.5 CGC grade.

Its condition is so astonishing that the first dealer who got his hands on it thought it might be a later reissue he didn’t know about. He had never seen a copy that was so flat with such white pages. The reason it was in such impeccable condition was that the while the first owner bought it for 10 cents from the newsstand in 1938 like 200,000 other people did, unlike most everyone else he lived at fairly high altitude in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia and when he finished reading it, he put the comic in a cedar chest where it remained virtually untouched for four decades. The cool, dark, dry environment of the cedar chest froze time for this comic.

In the late 70s, comics and collectibles dealer Joe Mannarino got a phone call from the son of the original owner. He had seen an ad Mannarino put in a local paper offering to buy vintage comics and wanted to sell the stack of comics in his father’s hope chest. There were about 35 comics in the collection, an eclectic mish-mash that included most notably Action Comics #1, Action Comics #2 and Planet Comics #2. Mannarino bought the books for several thousand dollars.

He decided to store his pristine new Action Comics #1 exactly as it had been stored all these decades: in a cedar-lined chest. A few years later he sold it to another dealer who kept its existence secret for 30 years until this year when he decided to sell it to Darren Adams of Pristine Comics. It’s Adams who sold it on eBay on Sunday, with 1% of the proceeds going to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation in honor of Reeve’s iconic Superman.

You can see how incredible the copy looks in this video that leafs through every page on the CGC website. The photographs of the covers and pages aren’t as high resolution as I would like them to be for optimal reading, but it’s still legible and conveys clearly what a special copy of Action Comics #1 this is.

The Sunday Sermon

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A minister decided that a visual demonstration would add emphasis to his Sunday sermon.

Four worms were placed into four separate jars. 

The first worm was put into a container of alcohol. 
 

The second worm was put into a container of cigarette smoke. 
 

The third worm was put into a container of chocolate syrup.


The fourth worm was put into a container of good clean soil. 

At the conclusion of the sermon, the Minister reported the following results:
 
The first worm in alcohol . . . Dead. 
The second worm in cigarette smoke . . . Dead.
 Third worm in chocolate syrup . . . Dead. 
Fourth worm in good clean soil . . . Alive!
 


So the Minister asked the congregation, “What did you learn from this demonstration?”
 


Bella was sitting in the back, quickly raised her hand and said . . . “If you drink, smoke and eat chocolate, you won’t have worms!”

New Discoveries At Stonehenge

A groundbreaking new survey of Stonehenge and its surrounds has revealed fifteen previously unknown Neolithic monuments underground, according to a new report released by the Smithsonian Institute. The results show that there is a lot more to Stonehenge than meets the eye.

It has long been known that Stonehenge was not just an isolated monument in an unspoiled landscape, but was part of a much bigger complex.  This is evidenced by the scattering of mounds, ditches, burials, and other significant monuments, such as Woodhenge, Coneybury, the Cursus monument, and Amesbury Long Barrow, all within a short distance of the famous stone circle. Now a new research project using magnetic sensors to scan landmarks in Wiltshire have found even more evidence of human activity, which have lain hidden underground for thousands of years.

The Stonehenge Hidden Landscaped Project is a four-year collaboration with the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria. The team has conducted the first detailed underground survey of the area surrounding Stonehenge, covering around four square miles (six kilometres). What they discovered was startling.

Using the latest in high-tech equipment, the team of experts detected evidence of ancient digging and buildings, including other henges, barrows, pits, and ditches, which are believed to harbour valuable information about the prehistoric site.

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“This is among the most important landscapes, and probably the most studied landscape, in the world,” archaeologist Vince Gaffney of the University of Birmingham told the Smithsonian Magazine. “And the area has been absolutely transformed by this survey. It won’t be the same again.”

One of the findings was the identification of a large gap in the Cursus monument, which is a 3 kilometre long and 100 metre wide ditch and earthworks in the near vicinity of Stonehenge. Dating back to around 3,500 BC, the Cursus barrier is roughly aligned east-west and is orientated toward the sunrise on the spring and autumn equinoxes. The discovery of a large break in the monument, suggests an area used by people to enter and exit the monument. While scientists are still unsure of the true purposes of the Stonehenge Cursus, Professor Gaffney believes it acted as a gateway for worshipers as well as a marker for the passage of the sun.

Another significant discovery was two pits at either end of the Cursus strip, located around 1 metre underground and measuring 4.5 metres in diameter. Professor Gaffney told Smithsonian that on the longest day of the year, the pits form a triangle with Stonehenge, marking sunrise and sunset. Gaffney speculates that the pits may have been used for ritual fires or as markers of some kind. Since the pits have only been identified using scanning technology, it is hoped that they will eventually be excavated, which will provide further clues as to their use and purpose.

Previous studies of the Stonehenge environs have revealed that the landscape has been inhabited for some 10,000 years, meaning either the area was of considerable significance for thousands of years before Stonehenge and other monuments in the region were built, or Stonehenge is much older that currently believed.

Humans have marveled at the majesty of Stonehenge for thousands of years, and archeologists, geologists, and astronomers have been studying it for decades, but the original purpose of the enigmatic stone circle has remained a mystery. It is known that the area was used for burials, that the stones are aligned in astronomically important ways, and that people travelled great distances to be there, but no one knows with certainty why.

As Ed Caesar from Smithsonian writes:
“Those vast stones, standing in concentric rings in the middle of a basin on Salisbury Plain, carefully placed by who-knows-who thousands of years ago, must mean something. But nobody can tell us what. Not exactly. The clues that remain will always prove insufficient to our curiosity. Each archaeological advance yields more questions, and more theories to be tested. Our ignorance shrinks by fractions. What we know is always dwarfed by what we can never know.”

However, as this latest research project has shown, Stonehenge has not yet given up all its secrets, and the development of technology in the field of archaeology may one day help to finally solve the mystery.