30 June 2016


The Washington Post has an article by Joel Achenbach about scientific dissent:
More than a hundred Nobel laureates have signed a letter urging Greenpeace to end its opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The letter asks Greenpeace to cease its efforts to block introduction of a genetically-engineered strain of rice that supporters say could reduce Vitamin-A deficiencies causing blindness and death in children in the developing world:
"We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against GMOs in general and Golden Rice in particular," the letter states.
The letter campaign was organized by Richard Roberts, chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs and, with Phillip Sharp, the winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, for the discovery of genetic sequences known as introns. The campaign has a website, supportprecisionagriculture.org, that includes a running list of the signatories, and the group plans to hold a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington.
“We’re scientists. We understand the logic of science. It's easy to see what Greenpeace is doing is damaging and antiscience," Roberts told The Washington Post. “Greenpeace initially, and then some of their allies, deliberately went out of their way to scare people. It was a way for them to raise money for their cause."
Roberts said he endorses many other activities of Greenpeace, and said he hopes the group, after reading the letter, would "admit that this is an issue that they got wrong and focus on the stuff that they do well."
Greenpeace responded early Thursday in a statement (below). It is hardly the only group that opposes GMOs, but it has a robust global presence, and the laureates, in their letter, contend that Greenpeace has led the effort to block Golden Rice.
The list of signatories had risen to more than a hundred names by Wednesday morning. Roberts said that, by his count, there are almost three hundred living laureates.
Nobel laureate Randy Schekman, a cell biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, told The Washington Post that “I find it surprising that groups that are very supportive of science when it comes to global climate change or even, for the most part, in the appreciation of the value of vaccination in preventing human disease, can be so dismissive of the general views of scientists when it comes to something as important as the world’s agricultural future.” 
The letter states:
Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.
Greenpeace has spearheaded opposition to Golden Rice, which has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency, which has the greatest impact on the poorest people in Africa and Southeast Asia.
The World Health Organization estimates that a quarter billion people, suffer from VAD, including forty percent of the children under five in the developing world.  Based on UNICEF statistics, a total of one to two million preventable deaths occur annually as a result of VAD, because it compromises the immune system, putting babies and children at great risk. VAD itself is the leading cause of childhood blindness globally affecting up to half a million children each year. Half die within twelve months of losing their eyesight.
The scientific consensus is that that gene editing in a laboratory is not more hazardous than modifications through traditional breeding, and that engineered plants potentially have environmental or health benefits, such as cutting down on the need for pesticides. A report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, released in May of 2016, said there is no substantiated evidence that GMO crops have sickened people or harmed the environment, but also cautioned that such crops are relatively new and that it is premature to make broad generalizations, positive or negative, about their safety.
Opponents of GMOs have said these crops may not be safe for human or animal consumption, have not been shown to improve crop yields, have led to excessive use of herbicides, and can potentially spread engineered genes beyond the boundaries of farms.
Greenpeace International's website states that the release of GMOs into the natural world is a form of "genetic pollution". The site states that:
Genetic engineering enables scientists to create plants, animals and micro-organisms by manipulating genes in a way that does not occur naturally.
These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can spread through nature and interbreed with natural organisms, thereby contaminating non 'GE' environments and future generations in an unforeseeable and uncontrollable way.
Virtually all crops and livestock have been genetically engineered in the broadest sense; there are no wild cows, and the cornfields of the United States reflect centuries of plant modification through traditional breeding. Genetically modified crops started to become common in the mid-1990s; today, most of the corn, soybeans, and cotton in the country have been modified to be resistant to insects or tolerant of herbicide, according to government statistics.
Opponents of GMOs have focused a great deal on the economic and social repercussions of the introduction of lab-modified crops. Greenpeace has warned of the corporate domination of the food supply, saying that small farmers will suffer. A Greenpeace spokesman referred a reporter to a Greenpeace publication titled Twenty Years of Failure: Why GM crops have failed to deliver on their promises.
This debate between mainstream scientists and environmental activists isn't new, and there is little reason to suspect that the letter signed by the Nobel laureates will persuade GMO opponents to stand down.
But Columbia University's Martin Chalfie, who shared the 2008 Nobel in chemistry for research on green fluorescent protein, said he thinks laureates can be influential on the GMO issue. "Is there something special about Nobel laureates? I’m not so sure we’re any more special than other scientists who have looked at the evidence involved, but we have considerably more visibility because of the prize. I think that this behooves us, that when we feel that science is not being listened to, that we speak out."
Roberts said he has worked on previous campaigns that sought to leverage the influence of Nobel laureates. In 2012, for example, he organized a campaign to persuade Chinese authorities to release the human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Roberts said he decided to take on the GMO issue after hearing from scientific colleagues their research was being impeded by anti-GMO activism from Greenpeace and other organizations. He said he has no financial interest in GMO research. 
Here is Greenpeace's response, datelined Manila, 30 June 2016, from Wilhelmina Pelegrina, campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia
“Accusations that anyone is blocking genetically engineered ‘Golden’ rice are false. ‘Golden’ rice has failed as a solution, and isn’t currently available for sale, even after more than twenty years of research. As admitted by the International Rice Research Institute, it has not been proven to actually address Vitamin A Deficiency. So, to be clear, we are talking about something that doesn’t even exist.
“Corporations are overhyping ‘Golden’ Rice to pave the way for global approval of other, more profitable, genetically-engineered crops. This costly experiment has failed to produce results for the last twenty years and diverted attention from methods that already work. Rather than invest in this overpriced public relations exercise, we need to address malnutrition through a more diverse diet, equitable access to food, and eco-agriculture.”
On alternative solutions:
“The only guaranteed solution to fix malnutrition is a diverse healthy diet. Providing people with real food based on ecological agriculture not only addresses malnutrition, but is also a scaleable solution to adapt to climate change. We’ve documented communities across the Philippines that continue to express concerns about using genetically-engineered golden rice as a solution. It is irresponsible to impose genetically-engineered golden rice as a quick remedy to people on the front lines who do not welcome it, particularly when there are safe and effective options already available.
Greenpeace Philippines is already working with NGO partners and farmers in the Philippines to boost climate resiliency. There’s a real chance here for governments and the philanthropic community to support these endeavors by investing in climate-resilient ecological agriculture and empowering farmers to access a balanced and nutritious diet, rather than pouring money down the drain for genetically-engineered ‘Golden’ rice.”
Rico says that, unfortunately, once we know if they're a bad thing, it'll be too late...

History for the day: 1997: Hong Kong finally goes Chinese

On 30 June 1997, the Union Jack was lowered for the last time over Government House in Hong Kong, as Britain prepared to hand the colony back to China after ruling it for 156 years.

Trump for the day

From The New York Times, an article by Janathan Martin about the latest from The Donald:

Trump Institute offered get-rich schemes with plagiarized lessonsThe institute, to which Donald J. Trump lent his name in 2005, was owned by a couple accused of fraud, and its educational materials had been lifted from an old real estate manual.
Rico says it certainly looks like Trump is saying the f-word, but probably not...

New phrase for the day

From a Wired article about disaster VR: Immersive disaster porn

Rico says it'll never catch on like real porn...

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Jacket charges devices

Travel & Leisure has an article about an amazing new device:

Imagine traveling and never having to worry about the battery on your phone again, no matter how much you text, tweet, or post photos to Instagram. A new clothing line just might make that possible.
Baubax, the company behind the World’s Best Travel Jacket (that’s the actual name), has announced a clothing line that could revolutionize traveling in the digital age. These clothes and bags will wirelessly charge your phone, smart watch, or bluetooth headset while tucked inside your pocket.
Each of the jackets, shirts, vests, shorts, pants, and wallets in the line comes outfitted with a thin wireless charging pads stitched inside the article of clothing. Simply tuck your phone into the pocket or purse, and your device is charging. So instead of begging a waiter at a local café to charge your phone (and waiting around for an hour while it powers up), you can simply go about your vacation.
With an idea this good, there has to be a catch (and there are a couple): The product doesn’t exist yet. Instead, Baubax has returned to Kickstarter, where they crowdfunded their travel jacket to great success. The jacket garnered more than nine million dollars, and becoming the most-funded article of clothing on Kickstarter yet. Baubax is now trying to replicate that success and raise money for the new line of wireless charging clothes.
Of course, that power has to come from somewhere. The clothing works with battery packs that can be charged on BauBax' charging pads or with a micro USB cable.
So far the campaign has raised about $5,000 of its $100,000 goal. If the project doesn't reach its goal, wirelessly charging your phone while it's tucked in your pocket as you wander the streets of Dallas or Dubai may simply remain a daydream.
Rico says that, without winning the lottery, he probably can't afford one, but he wants one...

Quote for the day

From an article in Wired about making VR movies:
Mooser says "if people are going to talk about the refugee crisis because Susan Sarandon was standing on the beach, let them. We're not saying 'Look at this, Kim Kardashian is working with the refugees and here's some sideboob."
Darg interjects: "Though that would work."

Antonov An-2, The Plane That Can Fly Backwards!


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History for the day: 1936: Gone with the Wind published

History.com has this for 30 June:

Gone with the Wind published
Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, one of the best-selling novels of all time and the basis for a blockbuster 1939 movie, is published on this day in 1936. In 1926, Mitchell was forced to quit her job as a reporter at the Atlanta Journal to recover from a series of physical injuries. With too... read more »
American Revolution
Congress impugns Parliament and adopts Articles of War »
First Corvette built »
Civil War
Fighting continues in the Seven Days' Battles »
Cold War
Truman orders U.S. forces to Korea »
A first-time offender ends up on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List »
Fire breaks out at New Jersey pier »
19 firefighters die in Arizona blaze »
General Interest
Spanish retreat from Aztec capital »
Daredevil crosses Niagara Falls on tightrope »
Night of the Long Knives »
Soviet cosmonauts perish in reentry disaster »
Do the Right Thing released »
Make Way for Ducklings author Robert McCloskey dies »
Cher marries Greg Allman »
Old West
Soldiers are evacuated from the Little Big Horn by steamboat »
Madison makes urgent call to commission more officers to fight the British »
Sandy Koufax pitches first no-hitter »
Vietnam War
Thieu becomes president »
Cooper-Church Amendment passes in Senate »
World War I
European powers maintain focus despite killings in Sarajevo »
World War II
Operation Cartwheel is launched »

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A woman’s terrifying night in the Chesapeake

The Washington Post has an article by John Woodrow Cox about a woman's ordeal in the Chesapeake:

Lauren Conner (photo) laughed when she first slipped off the boat. She, her boyfriend, and another couple had spent Sunday afternoon drinking in sunshine and cold beer on the Sassafras River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. They began heading to the dock shortly before nightfall but, as the Yamaha motored north through the Chesapeake at forty mph, the hull struck a wake so hard that Conner fell off the stern.
She immediately popped to the surface, unharmed but embarrassed that perhaps she’d drunk a few too many bottles of Flying Dog lager. Conner, 32, expected some teasing from her companions as she watched the boat stop and turn back toward her. At any moment, she was sure, they’d find her. No more than forty yards away, she screamed through the stiff wind. When that didn’t work, she stripped off her white shorts and waved them.
Her boyfriend, Scott Johnson, frantically scanned the surface, but the fading sun betrayed him. The low light flashed across every wave, creating a kaleidoscope of false hope. Minutes passed, and he began to fear that she’d hit her head and sunk. Johnson called 911 and remained on the phone to navigate rescuers toward his position. He lit a flare and held it up as clumps of the fiery red substance dripped off, scorching his hand and head.
Meanwhile, Conner, now aware she was in serious danger, eyed a wide yellow buoy and swam toward it, hoping she could cling to the sides until help arrived.
Just as Conner realized that its shell was too slick to grip, the rescue boats drew near. She could see their blue lights flickering in the distance and pulled off her maroon tank top to flap in the air. By then, though, it was too late. Darkness surrounded her.
With a dozen boats and a helicopter unable to find his girlfriend, Johnson began to fear he’d never see her again and blamed himself. “What,” he thought, “am I going to tell her kids?”
In so many ways, though, the life she’d endured, one consumed by chaos and death, had prepared Conner for the most harrowing night of her life. Her will, she knew, would not easily break, because Conner is a survivor.
She faced a choice: tread water and hope she’d be rescued, or swim toward a strip of green on the horizon. Conner still held the tank top from her CrossFit gym in her hand. An image of a warrior appeared on the back. The shirt was her favorite. She let it go.
Lauren,” she said aloud, “you are not going to die out here.”
Conner, now only in a bikini, headed for land, helped by a current that was drawing her toward it. Still, she had no idea that the beach was about two miles away or whether her legs would give out before she reached it. She recalled what she’d long told her children in moments of fear: “As long as you can float, you will not drown.” So she rolled onto her back and started to kick.
Few things were consistent in her youth, other than the water. Both of her parents struggled with addiction, and her mom spent many nights in jail because of it.
Not long ago, Conner tried to remember how many different places she had lived as a kid. She quit counting around forty. One of six children, Conner had slept at times in cars, foster homes, her dad’s office. Always, though, she would find her way to a pool or a river, a lake, or a bay.
Her twin sister, Stefanie, thought of that, too, as she consoled Conner’s eleven-year-old son, Ethan Simpson. Much of the family had gathered after word spread about Lauren’s disappearance. Stefanie had vomited when she first got the call, but knew she couldn’t let Ethan see her break down. She reminded him what Conner always said: just keep floating. “What if she’s not floating?” he asked her. “What if she’s under the water and they can’t see her?”
Beneath a deep purple sky, Conner sang a tune from Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming”, because it helped her focus on one stroke at a time. She joked to herself about how absurd the situation was, because jokes had always provided comfort in the worst times. She pleaded with Jesus to save her, because she believed He was listening. Mostly, she thought about the four kids she calls her own: Ethan and his fifteen-year-old sister, her seventeen-year-old stepdaughter and Johnson’s five-year-old girl. “I cannot let these kids down,” Conner told herself, because she knew what it felt like to be let down.
She’d raised hell in her childhood, often because no one was around to stop her. But she changed as adulthood approached.
At fifteen, a year before she had her first child, Conner’s father was walking home from a bar in Baltimore, Maryland when he fell from a train track and broke his neck.
At eighteen, soon after Conner had taken custody of her two younger siblings, her mother overdosed on heroin.
Conner didn’t give up, even when people expected her to, because she couldn’t let her kids down.
She went to cosmetology school and, in 2007, became a hair stylist. For the past seven years, she’s worked for herself and now runs her own chair at a salon in Bel Air, Maryland.
“You just do what you have to do to survive,” Stefanie said. “That’s just the attitude we’ve always had.”
But there were moments on the water, Conner said, when survival felt unlikely.
Her energy waning, she turned over at one point to see how far she was from land.
“I’m not even close,” she thought.
As Conner paddled on, the waves grew, pushing her head beneath the surface and forcing water into her mouth. In brief moments, Conner sensed that she was drowning.
Then, suddenly, the tips of her left foot’s toes felt something: Mud.
About midnight, Johnson said, Maryland Natural Resources­ Police brought him on shore, where he filled out an incident report.
About an hour later, he said, officers sent him home. By that point, at least four agencies were searching for Conner.
When he pulled up to their house in Aberdeen, Maryland, the lights were still on. He sat in his truck for twenty minutes, unaware that Stefanie had already picked Ethan up. Johnson couldn’t bear to face him.
He knew, too, that Conner’s family was struggling to understand his explanation about what had happened. How, if she’d just fallen off, had no one found her?
“This is on me,” he thought. “One hundred percent, this is on me.”
He spent a sleepless night in their bedroom, her photo on the night table, her painted coconut from their trip to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic nearby, her Jeep Compass in the driveway outside his window. Johnson answered every call from a number he didn’t know, expecting to hear a voice tell him that Conner’s body had been found.
About five miles away, Stefanie sat in the driveway of a friend’s house and smoked a cigarette. She typed out a text that she’d begun to doubt her sibling would ever read.
“Lauren. Sister,” she wrote. “My twinny. My inspiration. My best friend. I love you.”
She couldn’t recall ever being more distraught. “We lost our mom. We lost our dad,” Stefanie said later. “That was nothing compared to this.”
Conner had reached Spesutie Island’s beach overwhelmed with relief, but still unsure of her fate. Rusted white signs warned that the area, which is part of the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, is used to test weapons.
Hoping to find someone, she walked north, climbing barefoot over rocks and fighting off swarms of horseflies. Exhausted, she made a bed of leaves, her “bird’s nest”, on a concrete slab. Conner shivered so violently that her jaw hurt.
The moment reminded her of a winter in Baltimore when, around fourteen, she slept one night in an abandoned building.
At sunrise, she walked back toward the beach. With no boats in view, Conner was heading into the brush when she spotted a raspberry bush. It was a good omen, she thought. One of her favorite childhood memories was picking them at her grand­mother’s home in Pennsylvania. Conner trudged farther inland, finally reaching a path that led to a road. Certain that her family believed she had died, Conner was desperate to reach them.
Minutes later, she spotted an orange truck driving toward her. Then the tears came.
Candy Thomson, spokeswoman for the Maryland Natural Resources Police, had been up for about an hour by then. As she made her coffee, Thomson formulated in her mind how she would announce the news of the year’s sixth boating fatality.
Then a text from an investigator arrived.
“Girl found,” the message said. “Can u believe it?”
Rico says that's one tough cookie...

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Why this CEO is worth almost $1 billion but lives in a trailer park - The Washington Post


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Oops for the day: accused of faking widely-praised Everest climb

The Washington Post has an article by Adam Taylor about faking something you shouldn't:

In early June 2016, Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod told reporters that they had climbed the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest. In doing so, the two thirty-year-olds, both police officers from the Indian city of Pune, were thought to have become the first Indian couple to conquer the 29,035-foot-tall peak together.
The couple proudly told reporters that they had put off becoming parents until they made the climb. “We were committed that we would not give birth to a child until we climb Everest," Dinesh Rathod told reporters at a news conference on 5 June 2016. "With pride now, we want to become parents."
For many, it was a feel-good story. At least seventy Indian nationals had climbed the mountain over the past season, but three from West Bengal had died during their climb. The Pune police force and Ram Shinde, the minister of state for Maharashtra, where Pune is located, were among those to offer congratulations.
However, several media outlets began to question whether the couple's feat was real. Now police have opened a probe to determine whether the couple actually made it to Everest's peak or whether they faked it.
Speaking to the Hindu newspaper, Pune-based mountaineer Surendra Shelke said the timing of the climb had immediately struck many in the climbing community as unusual. “Our suspicions were first aroused owing to the time lag between the day the Rathods claimed to have reached the summit [23 May 2016 and their press conference on 5 June 2016 announcing their achievement,” Shelke said. According to Shelke, although the Rathods were seen at the Everest base camp, no one had seem them higher up the mountain. “From the people in the team who accompanied the Rathods, we gathered that the duo had not even reached what is known as the first acclimatization rotation before the main push to the summit, the Khumbu icefall at eighteen thousand feet, by 10 May ," the climber told the newspaper. "So there is no way they could have completed their climb by 23 May as they claimed."
Questions were also raised about the evidence of the trip that the Rathods had shared on social media. Buzzfeed India uncovered evidence that one photograph posted to Dinesh Rathod's Facebook page (since deleted) had been previously published on another website, and did not appear to feature the couple. Buzzfeed noted that the couple appeared to be wearing different sets of kits, boots and all, in the photographs they shared, something mountaineers like Shelke said would be almost impossible on a climb as difficult as Everest.
Climbers who knew the couple said their previous boasts were also inaccurate. The couple claimed to have completed the Aussie 10 challenge by climbing the ten highest peaks in Australia, but Anjali Kulkarni told the Hindu that she was with the couple on that trip and that their claims were "completely fake", as they had barely climbed five peaks.
The Indian media is reporting that the Pune police department is investigating the Rathods' claims after eight climbers from Maharashtra filed a complaint against the couple.
The group that organized the Rathods' climb features pictures of the couple that appear to have been taken on the summit and have disputed suggestions that the climb was faked. "I am aware of the complaint, but the Nepal Tourism Board verified the feat only after calling my two climbing Sherpas and me, along with the Indian couple, and asking detailed questions about the summit," Mohan Lamsal of the Nepali company Makalu Adventure explained. "They separately interviewed the couple and the climbing Sherpas and, after four days, officially declared the Rathods' Everest summit feat."
Speaking to the BBC, Lamsal also said that there was "some politics going on" within the climbing community about the case. The couple has mostly kept quiet except for a short statement from Tarakeshwari Rathod to the BBC saying that she and her husband had "climbed Everest".
However, some in the international mountaineering community have suggested that fake claims about reaching the Everest summit are hardly rare, although they had reduced in recent years as fewer climbers made attempts. "This all seems to point at yet another Everest fraud, indicating that things have indeed gotten back to normal," Kraig Becker, a mountaineering writer based in Tennessee, observed on his blog.
More about Everest:
A Sherpa woman, who works at a 7-Eleven in Connecticut, just climbed Everest for a record seventh time.

Rico says the false claim is classic hubris, but this is why Rico won't be going:

Oops for the day: accused of faking widely-praised Everest climb UF

Rico says it's classic hubris...


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Hillary Clinton’s email story continues to get harder and harder to believe - The Washington Post


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29 June 2016

Trump for the day

Political idiots for the day

Slate has an article by Ben Mathis-Lilley about really short-sighted politics:

A bill that included funding for Zika virus response activities has failed in the Senate because of provisions in the bill that involve Planned Parenthood and the Confederate flag, among other disputed issues. With Senate Democrats opposing the measure, a Tuesday vote to invoke cloture (thus end debate) on the bill received only 52 of the 60 votes that would have been necessary to hold a vote.
Among the problems that Democrats say they have with the appropriations bill that includes the Zika funding:
It cuts $540 million in Affordable Care Act funding.
It doesn't include money for Planned Parenthood or any other contraceptive providers. (This is a shortcoming, because Zika can be transmitted sexually.)
It doesn't include a provision passed earlier in the House to prohibit Federal funds from being used to fly Confederate flags at veterans' cemeteries.
The Zika money it does include is eight hundred million dollars less than what the Obama administration had asked for.
While a number of Zika cases in the US have been confirmed in individuals who traveled outside the country, none are yet known to have been acquired here. Hopefully that will remain true as Congress goes through the arduous process of getting its act together.
Rico says he knows that 'political idiots' is redundant, but what else are you gonna call 'em?

Ermey for the day

Rico says it'd be worth paying for the Outdoor Channel just to watch him:

Holocaust for the day

The New York Times has an article by Nicholas St. Fleur about some previously-unknown history:

A team of archaeologists and mapmakers say they have uncovered a forgotten tunnel that eighty Jews dug, largely by hand, as they tried to escape from a Nazi extermination site in Lithuania about seventy years ago.
The Lithuanian site, Ponar, holds mass burial pits and graves where up to a hundred thousand people were killed and their bodies dumped or burned during the Holocaust.
Using radar and radio waves to scan beneath the ground, the researchers found the tunnel, a hundred-foot passageway between five and nine feet below the surface, the team announced recently.
A previous attempt made by a different team in 2004 to find the underground structure had only located its mouth, which was subsequently left unmarked. The new finding traces the tunnel from entrance to exit and provides evidence to support survivor accounts of the harrowing effort to escape the holding pit.
“What we were able to do was not only solve one of the greatest mysteries and escape stories of the Holocaust,” said Richard Freund, an archaeologist from the University of Hartford in Connecticut and one of the team leaders. “We were also able to unravel one of the biggest problems they have with a site like this: how many burial pits are there?”
Dr. Freund and his colleagues, working with the PBS science series NOVA for a documentary that will be broadcast next year, also uncovered another burial pit containing the ashes of perhaps seven thousand people. That would be the twelfth burial pit identified in Ponar; known officially today as Paneriai.
From 1941 until 1944, tens of thousands of Jews from the nearby city of Vilnius, known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania, were brought to Ponar and shot at close range. Their bodies were dumped into the pits and buried.
“I call Ponar ground zero for the Holocaust,” Dr. Freund said. “For the first time we have systematic murder being done by the Nazis and their assistants.” According to Dr. Freund, the events at the site took place about six months before the Nazis started using gas chambers elsewhere for their extermination plans.
An estimated hundred thousand people, including seventy thousand Jews, died at Ponar. Over four years, about 150 Lithuanian collaborators killed the prisoners, usually in groups of about ten. In 1943, when it became clear the Soviets were going to take over Lithuania, the Nazis began to cover up the evidence of the mass killings. They forced a group of eighty Jews to exhume the bodies, burn them and bury the ashes. At the time they were called the Leichenkommando, or “corpse unit” but, in the years that followed, they were known as the Burning Brigade.
For months, the Jewish prisoners dug up and burned bodies. One account tells of a man who identified his wife and two sisters among the corpses. The group knew that once their job was finished, they, too, would be executed, so they developed an escape plan.
About half of the group spent eighty days digging a tunnel in their holding pit by hand and with spoons they found among the bodies. On 15 April 1944, the last night of Passover, when they knew the night would be darkest, the brigade crawled through the two-foot-square tunnel entrance and through to the forest.
The noise alerted the guards, who pursued the prisoners with guns and dogs. Of the eighty, twelve managed to escape; eleven of them survived the war and went on to tell their stories, according to the researchers.
Dr. Freund and his team used the information from survivors’ accounts to search for the tunnel. Rather then excavate and disturb the remains, he and his team used two noninvasive tools: electrical resistivity tomography and ground penetrating radar.
Electrical resistivity tomography is like an MRI for the ground; it provides a clear picture of the subsurface. It uses electricity to identify stones, metal and clay as well as soil disturbances like those made by digging.
“We used the tool to pinpoint the locations where people most likely tunneled through,” said Paul Bauman, a geophysicist with WorleyParsons, an Australian engineering company, who handled the tomography tool. “We’re highly confident we’ve identified exactly where the tunnel is.” With the tool, they also found a previously unknown pit which they think is the largest ever discovered in the area. They estimate that it might have contained as many as ten thousand bodies.
The other tool, the ground penetrating radar, uses FM radio waves to scan about ten feet under the surface. “What we are doing is using those FM radio waves that people listen to in their car and we’re putting them into the ground,” said Harry Jol, professor of geology and anthropology at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. “We’re getting reflections off the archaeological features or landscapes in the subsurface so we can image what’s happening.”
The team also used the ground penetrating radar to search for the Great Synagogue of Vilnius, which was destroyed by the Nazis. “The Holocaust is so overwhelming that we only really look at the end of the story, and that isn’t the whole story,” said Jon Seligman, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, who also led the team. “The whole story is the history of Jews who lived in this area for many, many centuries.”
Before World War Two, Vilnius was a bustling Jewish center of more than a hundred thousand people. When the Soviets took over Lithuania, they erected an elementary school over the rubble of the city’s Great Synagogue. Using the radar, the team uncovered artifacts from the synagogue, including its ritual bath house. “If we had never discovered the tunnel, people would have thought in another twenty years it was a myth, and they would have said: what do we really know happened?” said Dr. Freund. “This is a great story about the way that people overcame the worst possible condition, and still had this hope that they could get out.”
Rico says some Holocaust stories are still mind-boggling... (It's The Great Escape all over again...)

How Coke makes us pay more for less

Time has an article by Brad Tuttle about more shenanigans by the Coca-Cola Company:

Soda sales may be in a slump, but one sliver of the soft drink market— the segment that comes in smaller than usual sizes, including those adorably tiny 7.5-ounce cans— is booming. What’s especially curious about the trend is that sales have been taking off, even though the smaller packages offer far worse value to consumers.
This week, The Associated Press explored this odd scenario, in which consumers are clamoring to buy Coke, Pepsi, and other sodas in unconventionally smaller-sized packaging, notably the 7.5-ounce mini can that’s generally sold in eight-packs in stores.
Previously, The Wall Street Journal reported that sales of smaller Coca-Cola packages—including the mini cans, as well as 8-ounce glass bottles and 1.25-liter plastic bottles— were up nine percent through the first ten months of 2014. During the same time period, sales of regular old twelve-ounce cans and two-liter bottles were as flat as a bottle of week-old Coke.
Beyond their non-traditional size, what all of the smaller soda items have in common is that they’re “premium-priced packages”. Yes, the value proposition in the trendy category is that you not only get less product, but you get to pay more for the privilege. Coca-Cola estimates that consumers typically pay 31¢ for each traditional twelve-ounce Coke purchased in a twelve- or twenty-four-pack at the supermarket. By contrast, the average price per 7.5-ounce mini can breaks down to forty cents each.
Remember, you’re getting a lot less soda in the smaller cans. Tally up all of the soda in one of these eight-packs and it comes to sixty ounces, which is slightly less than the contents of one Double Gulp before 7-Eleven downsized it to a mere fifty ounces. On a per-ounce basis, consumers are effectively paying double for the smaller packages: 5.3¢ per ounce for Coke in mini cans, versus 2.6¢ per ounce for the same beverage in twelve-ounce cans.
What explains consumers’ willingness to pay more for less soda? One explanation is that the mini cans are simply “freaking adorable”, as one source put it when speaking to The Associated Press. She’s not the only one to think so. Last year, a marketing campaign deposited adorable mini kiosks— complete with adorable waist-high Coke vending machines selling adorable mini-Cokes— in five German cities. Here’s a look:
The result of this experiment, in addition to enough adorableness to make your head explode, was sales that were anything but small. Ogilvy & Mather Berlin, the firm behind the campaign, said that the kiosks averaged 380 cans sold daily, 278% higher than your typical Coke machine.
Mini sodas aren’t selling like crazy just because they’re cute, however. As we’ve pointed out before, consumers are attracted to small sodas— and beer— because they come with fewer calories than the regular sizes. The great (or sad) irony is that research shows that consumers tend to buy (and drink) far more sugary drinks when they’re purchased in smaller packages. Therefore, whatever health benefits may have been gained via the small size is likely outweighed by the fact that you’re consuming as many or more ounces of soda overall. In other words, as nonsensical as it seems, it may be healthier for you to buy soda in larger sizes. It’s certainly better for your wallet.

Rico says it doesn't matter what size; since (except for the Mexicans) they substituted corn syrup for sugar, it's all worthless anyway...

The crisis in Saudi Araba

Rico's friend Kelley always has much good stuff to say, and this is no exception, about this article:
I've been watching this one unfold. On the one hand, I have the feeling of "Let's you and him fight". Emotionally satisfying, but probably a bad idea. Removing any stable structure, no matter how bad, only opens the door to every flavor of Muslim crazy who wants to inherit control. The Saudis have been sowing the whirlwind for years, and the bills are coming due. They made a devil's bargain with the Wahhabis from the beginning in the early 1930's, when Abdul Azziz al-Saud stormed to political primacy. The Wahhabi's played a very large role in that but, having got the bit in their teeth, they proved nigh impossible to rein in. But every revolution must have an end, and Abdul Azziz lured them into an ambush and massacred thousands. They've not challenged the government since, but the governments owes them, big time.
Iran (aka Persia) is one of those sleeping giants. The revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeni marks the first time Iran has been in control of its own political destiny in nearly two hundred years. It was a real sea change for the Shia. As punishment for not coming to the support of Prince Ali (grandson of Mohammed) at the Battle of Karbala, the Shia have, for centuries, felt that their second-class citizenhood was deserved and (like dippy Christians) felt that this world was to be endured for a reward in heaven. Khomeni changed all that, and now they flexing their muscles. Every country in the Middle East has a Shia minority. But in some countries, like Saudi Arabia, it's a sizable minority, centered in the northwest corner of the Kingdom where we find the largest, richest oil fields, the Ghawar, and the Raz-al-Tanurah refinery, the largest refinery and shipping port). The Shia are the majority in that province.
The United States) promoted fire-breathing Islam all during the Cold War in the hope that the 'donkeys of the earth' would not hear the siren call of Communism , and we have raised up a healthy, surly junk-yard dog.
Lastly, I've been seeing articles claiming Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a struggle for the soul of Islam: the Wahhabis against the Ayatollahs. Maybe so. All-in-all, it's an interesting, if volatile, stew that we see boiling. There will be a shit storm if it blows.

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