May 24, 2016
Superflares could prevent manned missions to Mars
by Brett Smith
Upon returning to Earth after spending nearly a year on the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly unequivocally stated that a manned mission to Mars was “doable,” but new research suggests that the solar activity could be an unexpected obstacle to such a journey.
Writing in the June-July issue of the journal Acta Astronautica, Lawrence Townsend, a radiation physicist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and his colleagues explained that if the sun were to produce a rare but possible “superflare,” such as one that occurred about 1,200 years ago, it would have a devastating impact on astronauts making the journey to the Red Planet.
That superflare, which the study authors said has recently been confirmed to have occurred on or around the year 775, would produce potentially lethal doses of radiation that would exceed safety limits at all elevations on Mars. Exposure would likely result in acute radiation syndrome effects and would drastically increase the probability of astronauts developing a lethal cancer.
“An event of this magnitude would likely be catastrophic if it were to occur during a transit in deep space,” Townsend explained to Space.com earlier this week. “On the surface of Mars, or the moon for that matter, substantial shielding would be needed, probably in a cave or lave tube if such were available, and preferably at a location deep within the Martian atmosphere.”
So what are the odds of such a catastrophic event taking place?
While Townsend noted that superflares are “infrequent,” he said, one similar to the one that took place in 775 was detected in October and November 2003. It produced massive X-ray levels that were “beyond anything observed before or since,” he said, but it only peripherally affected Earth, “similar to being near but not actually in the path of a Category 5 hurricane.”
The risk is serious enough to explore the importance of so-called “storm shelters” to help protect astronauts against radiation exposure, the researchers said. Furthermore, Townsend explained to Space.com that it would be wise to establish habitats “in a narrow canyon, or next to a large cliff with an overhang” on Mars. “Anything to reduce the exposed area through which particles could enter from deep space,” the UT-Knoxville physicist explained.
He and his colleagues believe that future studies could investigate to see how often these events occur, and to find out whether or not there are early warning signs that could help astronauts and scientists prepare for these superflares. Townsend told Space.com that he did not want to sound like “an alarmist, or to sidetrack future human explorations in deep space,” but that he hoped that his work would inspire a desire to “better understand these events, their ramifications for future spaceflight and what is needed to protect crews from them.”
Townsend’s team used the HZETRN radiation transport code, originally developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, as well as Computerized Anatomical Male and Female human geometry models to estimate exposure levels for several different aluminum shield areal densities such as those provided by spacesuits, landers or permanent habitats.
Sunday night, be dazzled by a bigger, brighter Mars
Mars is reaching its closest point to Earth in a over a decade, offering spectacular nighttime views.
By Lonnie Shekhtman, Staff May 25, 2016
This weekend brings a spectacular cosmic show for stargazers, who will be able to see Mars, with or without a telescope, as it makes its way to its closest distance from Earth in more than a decade.
Early Sunday morning, Mars, the next planet out from the sun after Earth, reached “opposition” with Earth, which means it aligned in a straight line with our planet and the sun on its path in a wide, elliptical orbit about the sun. This weekend, and over the next few weeks, is the best time to see Mars, which will appear bigger and brighter in the night sky.
During opposition, Mars and the sun flank Earth on opposite sides, so the Red Planet will appear to Earthlings to rise in the East just as the sun sets in the West, making the sun-facing side of the orange-reddish planet luminous all night long.
There will be a rare chance on May 30 at 6 p.m. EDT (22:00 GMT) to view the planet at its closest point to Earth since November 2005, when it will be 46.7 million miles away.
Besides offering rare close-up views of Mars, opposition events are also a boost for space agencies such as NASA, which time the launch of rovers and orbiters to Mars around oppositions, as National Geographic points out, as the proximity of the planets saves money on fuel and time on travel.
Given its further distance from the sun and the different forces of gravity influencing it, Mars orbits the sun much more slowly and on a different plane than does Earth. For this reason it reaches opposition only once every 26 months, when it happens to briefly sync up with Earth’s tighter orbit around the sun.
The shape of Mars’s path around the sun is also more elliptical than Earth’s – and actually elongating over the centuries – so the distance between the two planets changes. This means that some oppositions bring the worlds closer together than others.
As NASA points out, this is because an opposition can happen anywhere along Mars's orbit. When it happens while the Red Planet is closest to the sun, which is called "perihelic opposition," Mars is especially close to Earth.
The last close encounter of this type was in August 2003, when Mars was 35 million miles from Earth, the closest the two planets had been in almost 60,000 years. Unfortunately for today’s stargazers, this won’t happen again until 2287.
Here is advice from Space.com on where in the sky to look for Mars during this month’s opposition:
The exact time when Mars will be above the horizon depends on your location. For example, in New York, Mars rises in the East at 8:10 p.m. EDT and sets in the West at 5:35 a.m. EDT, so it is above the horizon for 9 hours and 25 minutes. Farther south, it will be visible longer, and farther north, for a shorter time.
The easiest way to spot Mars this weekend is to go out when the Red Planet is highest in the sky, close to midnight local time. Remember that if you live in a part of the world that is on daylight saving time, that "sweet spot" of viewing times will be close to 1 a.m. your local time.
If you live anywhere north of the equator, Mars will be due south at midnight local time. If you live south of the equator, Mars will be high overhead.
on: May 25, 2016, 04:58 AM
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on: May 25, 2016, 04:56 AM
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May 24, 2016
Scientists solve the ‘Faint Young Sun Paradox’
by Chuck Bednar
Powerful solar eruptions that took place four billion years ago, when the sun was only about 75 percent as bright as it is today, may have warmed the planet enough to allow simple molecular life to form into complex compounds such as RNA and DNA, a new study reveals.
When the first organisms emerged, the sun was so weak that the Earth “should have been an icy ball,” study lead author Vladimir Airapetian, a solar scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, explained in a statement. “Instead,” he noted, “geological evidence says it was a warm globe with liquid water. We call this the Faint Young Sun Paradox.”
Now, thanks to observations made by NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, Airapetian and his colleagues believe that they have come up with an explanation for this apparent paradox. They found other stars, roughly the same age as the sun when life first emerged on the Earth, that were far more active than their older counterparts, Space.com reported Monday.
These stars, which are only a few million years old (much younger than our 4.6 billion year old sun), were found to produce clouds of superheated plasma called coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and bursts of radiation in the form of solar flares far more frequently than older stars. If our sun was this active during its youth, it would have had a dramatic warming effect on the Earth.
Changes to atmospheric chemistry may have been a difference maker
In fact, as Airapetian’s team reported in the latest edition of the journal Nature Geoscience, the sun currently produces a “superflare,” a rare and enormous solar eruption, once ever century or so. Younger stars, meanwhile, produce up to 10 such events each day, the Kepler data revealed, and the flares are more frequent and stronger than the sun’s.
Furthermore, NASA said, Earth’s current magnetic field is far stronger than it was billions of years ago. Today's magnetic field prevents many dangerous solar rays from reaching the surface, but this wasn't the case during Earth's infancy. In fact, the study authors believe that space weather particles would have traveled down the magnetic field lines, colliding with nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere and causing chemical changes to occur.
The molecular nitrogen content of the early Earth’s atmosphere was higher than it is now (up to 90 percent of the atmosphere was nitrogen, versus 78 percent today), NASA scientists explained, and as particles from solar activity slammed into these molecules, the impact would have caused them to break down into individual nitrogen atoms, which then collided with carbon dioxide and caused those molecules to be broken down into carbon monoxide and oxygen.
The now free-flowing nitrogen and oxygen particles would have combined to form nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas that would have warmed the planet significantly. If the atmosphere was filled with less than one percent as much N2O as CO2, the agency explained, it would have been enough to warm the planet such that liquid water would be able to exist on the surface, and may have provided enough energy to make complex chemicals to form the molecules that went on to seed life.
“Our new research shows that solar storms could have been central to warming Earth,” Airapetian told Space.com. “Changing the atmosphere's chemistry turns out to have made all the difference for life on Earth.”
on: May 25, 2016, 04:54 AM
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May 25, 2016
Scans show Pawpawsaurus depended on sense of smell
by Brett Smith
A cousin of the tank-like Ankylosaurus, Pawpawsaurus didn’t have the club-like tail of its more famous relative.
However, the lesser-known dinosaur did have a strong sense of smell it likely depended on, according to a new study in the journal PLOS ONE.
The new study is based on the first-ever CT scans of Pawpawsaurus's fossilized skull.
"CT imaging has allowed us to delve into the intricacies of the brains of extinct animals, especially dinosaurs, to unlock secrets of their ways of life," study author Louis Jacobs, a professor of archeology at Southern Methodist University, said in a news release.
Although Pawpawsaurus’s olfaction was inferior to Ankylosaurus, the study team said, it was still better than some predatory dinosaurs like Ceratosaurus.
"Pawpawsaurus in particular, and the group it belonged to—Nodosauridae—had no flocculus, a structure of the brain involved with motor skills, no club tail, and a reduced nasal cavity and portion of the inner ear when compared with the other family of ankylosaurs," said Ariana Paulina-Carabajal, researcher for the Biodiversity and Environment Research Institute, San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina. "But its sense of smell was very important, as it probably relied on that to look for food, find mates and avoid or flee predators.
"The CT scans revealed an enlarged nasal cavity compared to dinosaurs other than ankylosaurians,” Paulina-Carabajal continued. “That may have helped Pawpawsaurus bellow out a lower range of vocalizations, improved its sense of smell, and cooled the inflow of air to regulate the temperature of blood flowing into the brain."
Finding new uses for CT scanners
In humans, a CT scan can record a 3-D image bones, blood vessels and tissues. For fossils, a stronger serving of radiation than could be tolerated by humans is used to grab 3-D images of the fossil interior. Scientists can then digitally model the brain and inner ear to reveal tantalizing details.
"Once we have the 3D model, we can describe and measure all its different regions," Paulina-Carabajal said. "We can then compare that to existing reptile brains and their senses of hearing and smell. Hearing, for example, can be determined from the size of the lagena, the region of the inner ear that perceives sounds."
She noted that Pawpawsaurus sense of hearing was likely similar to that of modern crocodiles.
For sense of smell, researchers looked at the size ratio of the olfactory bulb in the brain to the cerebral hemisphere.
"In Pawpawsaurus, the olfactory ratio is somewhat lower than it is in Ankyloxaurus, although both have high ratios when compared with most carnivorous dinosarus," Paulina-Carabajal said. "They are exceeded only by carcharodontosaurids and tyrannosaurids. The olfactory ratios of ankylosaurs in general are more or less similar to those calculated by other authors for the living crocodile."
on: May 25, 2016, 04:50 AM
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May 25, 2016
Ancient faint galaxy uncovers how the ‘cosmic dark ages’ ended
by Brett Smith
Using a telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, an international team of scientists has detected the faintest early-universe galaxy ever, according to a report published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Seen it as it was 13 billion years ago, the galaxy could help scientists solve one of the greatest mysteries in astronomy: how a period referred to as the "cosmic dark ages" came to an end.
The scientists made the discovery utilizing an effect known as gravitational lensing to see the extremely faint object, which was created right after the Big Bang. First predicted by Albert Einstein nearly a century ago, gravitational lensing has the same effect as a glass lens that distorts an image behind it due to the bending of light.
According to the study, the massive galaxy known as MACS2129.4-0741 created three different images, via gravitational lensing, of the faint galaxy behind it.
Leftovers from the cosmic dark ages
After the Big Bang, the universe cooled and expanded. During this process, protons ensnared electrons to create hydrogen atoms, resulting in the universe becoming opaque to radiation. This began the period known as the cosmic dark ages.
"At some point, a few hundred million years later, the first stars formed and they started to produce ultraviolet light capable of ionizing hydrogen," study author Tommaso Treu, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA, said in a press release. "Eventually, when there were enough stars, they might have been able to ionize all of the intergalactic hydrogen and create the universe as we see it now."
That course of action, known as cosmic reionization, occurred approximately 13 billion years ago, but researchers have thus far been incapable of finding out if there were enough stars to do it or if unique sources, like gas falling onto supermassive black holes, may have been the reason.
"Currently, the most likely suspect is stars within faint galaxies that are too faint to see with our telescopes without gravitational lensing magnification," Treu said. "This study exploits gravitational lensing to demonstrate that such galaxies exist, and is thus an important step toward solving this mystery."
on: May 24, 2016, 10:27 AM
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Real-life jungle books – how feral children raised by animals continue to fire the imagination
24 May 2016 at 10:10 ET
I recently became a first-time mother. In addition to my daughter, Myrtle, I share my home with a motley collection of rescued animals including dogs, cats, horses, chickens and pigs. This multi-species, multi-generational co-habitation – along with the release of a new adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book – left me thinking about the phenomena of feral children, a topic I had considered in my book about human-animal interactions more generally. Certainly in some exceptional circumstances I can now appreciate how it might be possible for a human child to be cared for by a non-human surrogate.
In Kipling’s original The Jungle Book, published in 1894, the “man-cub” Mowgli is taken in by a wolf pack after he is separated from his human parents by Shere Kahn, the tiger. The choice of wolves as parental stand-ins for the lost human toddler is arguably more plausible than him being taken in by the Indian rock python Kaa, who, contrary to portrayal on screen as a villain, is one of Mowgli’s friends and mentors in the book – although there are some documented cases of children being befriended by benevolent pythons.
The canidae family, which include wolves, dogs, and foxes, are the classic surrogate carers for feral human children, featuring regularly in mythological as well as historical and ethnographic accounts. The alleged ability of these animals to raise human children has ancient antecedents in the legends surrounding the foundation of Rome when twins Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf.
Throughout history, accounts of so-called “feral children” have captivated the attention of public and academic audiences alike. The “wolf children of Midnapore” ( http://www.midnapore.in/wolf-children-of-midnapore/wolf-children-of-midnapore1.html ) is a particularly well-known historical case, where two young girls were found living with a she-wolf and her cubs. The girls did not speak (but howled), moved on all fours, and when they were taken to a local orphanage, preferred the company of the resident dogs to the other children. The persistence of isolated but documented instances of humans raised by or alongside animals continues to fuel our interest: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20151012-feral-the-children-raised-by-wolves
Take John Ssebunya who, as a three-year-old child in Uganda in 1988, ran away from home after witnessing his father murder his mother: http://www.theguardian.com/world/1999/oct/10/euanferguson.theobserver. Ssebunya was “adopted” by a troop of vervet monkeys and taught by them how to forage. What makes his story different from many of the other accounts is the fact that he had some human socialisation prior to his incorporation into a non-human social group, and was able to communicate his experiences on his reincorporation into “humanity”.
Like primates, wolves and dogs are highly social and all members of the pack will participate in the care of puppies or cubs. Wolves can also enter into friendships with animals who would, in other contexts, represent appropriate prey. An example dating back to 2007 but which did the rounds on social media recently told the story of an unlikely friendship which developed between a captive wolf and the decrepit donkey who was introduced into the enclosure as live prey. According to some of the people involved in rescuing the pair from their incarceration, the wolf was terrified and the donkey had taken on the role of protector: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/donkey-and-wold-best-friends/
In The Jungle Book stories, Mowgli is taught about how to survive in the wild by Baloo, the bear, and Bagheera, the leopard. While such a trio might seem unlikely friends, again there are examples of similar cross-species friendships. For example, the case of a lioness at the Lewa wildlife reserve in Kenya who has repeatedly “adopted” Oryx calves over a period of several years.
Another arresting example, documented by wildlife filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, was the leopardess who they named Legadema, and her cub. After Legadema’s first baboon kill a small baby baboon was left attached to the dead body of its mother. Rather than killing it or ignoring it to eat her meal, Legadema picked up the infant when it reached out to her and carried it up a tree where she groomed it, carrying it higher each time it cried. The pair eventually curled up together and slept, but the baby died in the night and it was only then that Legadema returned to the mother baboon’s body to eat.
Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugi4x8kZJzk
Such examples might be dismissed as the exceptions that prove the rule and we don’t know what would have happened in the long term. However, there is a clear and well documented case of inter-species adoption, by primatologists, in which a baby marmoset was taken in and cared for into adulthood by a group of wild (but provisioned) capuchins.
The ability (or even inclination) to (attempt to) raise the young of another species suggests the possibility of inter-species communication and empathy. Legadema might just have been responding to an innate maternal instinct. But the fact that she engaged with the baboon as a “baby” as opposed to a potential food source was the result of some form of mutual understanding between them; the baby reached out to her, and she responded to its request for comfort.
A final case which brings us back to human children and canines was documented in 2015. A malnourished and neglected two-year-old child was found by authorities in Chile being breastfed by a neighbour’s dog: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/malnourished-two-year-old-found-being-breast-fed-by-dog-in-chile-10487943.html
Stories of feral children are widely disputed by academics and are also seen as sensationalist by popular audiences. This is because the ability of other animals to raise human children calls many long-standing assumptions about human uniqueness and superiority into question. However, our knowledge of the capabilities of other animals is increasing rapidly. As a result we are forced to recognise that they too are capable of many behaviours and actions previously thought to be exclusively human. Also increasing are documented cases of animals from a variety of different species showing empathy towards vulnerable others. Or rescuing them from a range of different circumstances. And so the stories of feral children become more plausible.
Samantha Hurn, Lecturer in Anthropology and Programme Director for MA and PhD Anthrozoology, University of Exeter
on: May 24, 2016, 09:08 AM
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Incredible Moment Little Boy Risked His Life to Save Fawn Trapped in Deadly Flood (PHOTOS)
May 24, 2016
Sometimes, people go to incredible lengths to save another life. In that incredible moment, all fear and worry take a back seat and bravery takes over.
That’s exactly what happened for this young boy from Noakhali, Bangladesh, who risked his life to save a baby deer from drowning. The deer had been separated from its family during flood rains and was struggling in the water. Seeing the deer on the brink of death, the boy, Belal, dove into the water to rescue the fawn. He could have died in the process, but managed to save the deer from a terrible fate.
A wildlife photographer, Hasibul Wahab, who happened to be on site during Belal’s courageous act, told the Daily Mail, “He was such a brave boy–the river was so full of water and it was high tide so we thought he might drown.”
He continued, “My friend was even ready to jump into the river to save the boy. But he made it, and when he returned, we thanked the boy.”
And we know the deer must have thanked him as well, as he was finally able to reunite with his family!
We’re constantly inspired by the bravery and selflessness shown by everyday people. Stories like this remind us that we all have the power to be heroes!
All Image Source: Hasibul Wahab/Caters News Agency
on: May 24, 2016, 06:28 AM
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A Cougar's Thousand-Mile Quest to Find a Mate
The cougar who undertook this epic journey was looking for a female like this one, photographed in Wyoming's Gros Ventre mountains with one of her kittens.
Photograph by STEVE WINTER, National Geographic
By Simon Worrall
PUBLISHED May 22, 2016
In the late summer of 2009, a young male cougar set off from the Black Hills of South Dakota to look for a mate. And kept going—east across the Great Plains to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and on to New England, through backyards and parking lots, across highways and railroad tracks, driven by the most powerful force on earth. Wherever he appeared, he caused a mixture of awe and panic. Along the way, like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs, he left a genetic trail—tufts of fur, scat, leftover kills—that would eventually confirm what no one believed possible.
William Stolzenburg chronicles the mountain lion’s epic journey in Heart of a Lion: A Lone Cat’s Walk Across America. Speaking from his home in Reno, Nevada, he explains why cougars have a bad rap; how anyone in South Dakota with a $28 hunting license can shoot one; and how, with more tolerance and some adjustments to our lifestyles, we can happily coexist with these magnificent animals.
One of my favorite children’s books was The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford. This cougar’s odyssey across America was even more incredible, wasn’t it?
As far as we know, he started out from the Black Hills of South Dakota sometime in the late summer of 2009. At that time he was probably about one and a half years old, a young male just coming into adulthood. As most young males do, he set off in search of a mate. But instead of going west, as most lions in that part of the country do, he headed east into the Great Plains. Over time he showed up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota and in Wisconsin. He disappeared for a couple months, then shows up almost two years later, 30 miles from Manhattan, in Greenwich, Connecticut. In all he probably traveled 2,000 to 5,000 miles, enough to cross the country twice. He forded all the major rivers of the East, navigated highways and an international boundary. It was one of the most spectacular journeys by an animal ever recorded.
Cougar expert Chris Spatz called the lion’s journey “an epic of tragic love.” Do we know why he set off—and what made him go on?
Young male cougars come from a society in which they are portioned out by territories. Big males control big territories encompassing several females. So the young males have a choice: try to fight the reigning males, in which case they’re likely to get killed; or head out and look for another place that has females. This guy was looking for love. He went all that way searching, but not finding it. And that’s the tragedy of this epic.
You write that his journey began in the “the most idyllic and dangerous piece of lion habitat for 2,000 miles.” Put us on the ground in South Dakota.
Unfortunately, for the most part, the people in charge of the cougar in South Dakota are not sympathetic to the cause. They have a constituency of ranchers who haven’t had cougars in their midst for a century and don’t want them back. In the eastern plains in South Dakota, there is a hunting season 24-7, 365 days a year. A cougar that wants to leave the Black Hills has to run one of the most dangerous gauntlets imaginable. Anyone with a $28 hunting license can shoot a cougar. Even if they don’t have a license, they can shoot one, then claim they were threatened by that animal and no one will prosecute. Others are simply killed under the motto of “shoot, shovel, and shut up.”
Give us a brief history of the American cougar—and the hysteria it has generated among the public.
Cougars are one of the most successful big cat species. They occur all the way from the northern territories of Canada to Patagonia. But they’ve gone through some pretty tough times. When early European settlers arrived in this country, they rapidly started eradicating cougars, pushing them westward with the settlement of the country.
Cougars were given a lot of colorful names: painter, ghost cat, Indian devil cat.
The common misconception was that these animals were out to kill people. So the cougar became a creature of legend—jumping out of trees onto horseback, chasing people, and even breaking down doors. All this has been disproven by science. But that’s the way the animal was perceived. It was almost regarded as a duty by America’s early white settlers to kill any cougar they saw.
There was a significant uptick in lion attacks in the 1970s, which fueled public fears about cougars. Describe a few of these incidents—and why you think this increase occurred.
We don’t really know. It first came on the radar in the '70s and '80s. But it was in the '90s and early 2000s that we had some of the most graphic and publicized attacks. Two occurred in one day in Southern California, both on mountain bikers. One was a woman named Annie Hjelle, who was thrown from her bike by an attacking cougar, then gripped like prey. Her friends came running and started pelting the animal with rocks. The cougar had a hold of her face but she finally managed to free herself and, after many plastic surgeries, she’s healthy again and speaks nothing bad of the cat. That same day, they found another mountain biker who, it is believed, was killed by the same cougar.
It’s not completely clear why this happened. One reason is that we are moving into their habitat so there are more opportunities for these bad encounters. We are also killing thousands of cougars every year, and this is creating chaos in their societies and promoting some of these aberrant individuals. As a result of these graphic incidents, states that have cougars started to rethink the way they manage them. They make the cougar appear as a looming threat, something that has gotten out of hand and needs to be severely dealt with. But attacks have actually gone down since then. We haven’t had a human death since 2008.
These radio collars were removed from cougars killed during South Dakota's hunting season.
Photograph by STEVE WINTER, National Geographic Creative
Writing in Harper’s Magazine, author Jay Kirk called the cougar “the most metaphysical mystery in American natural history.” Is there really a “cougar cult”?
[Laughs] There is a kind of cult out there. Many people believe not only have they seen cougars but that cougars are living among us in the East, in places where science has not yet documented them, like supernatural beasts! Not only do they believe in them, they are out looking for them and supposedly gathering thousands of sightings. [Laughs] But when experts go out and look at these sightings, they find the tracks of a golden retriever or flush a house cat out from under a barn. There are also a lot of pranksters, who love to use Photoshop to spread this idea that cougars are all over the place. In fact, most of these pictures come from the West. It’s a bit like UFOs. Laughs..
From Minnesota the cougar crossed Wisconsin into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he faced one of his greatest obstacles. Describe that part of the journey.
He came to the St. Marys River, which is also the international boundary between Ontario and the U.S. It appears that instead of crossing the river in the most treacherous place, he went downstream to a little archipelago of islands on the rushing river. We think we know this because scientists have done winter tracking by airplane over that same area and seen all sorts of tracks of wolves, coyotes, and other animals.
In the movie Bringing Up Baby, Katherine Hepburn famously says to Cary Grant, “There aren’t any leopards in Connecticut, are there?” Now there was a cougar. Tell us about his amazing re-entry onto the scene—and his tragic death.
Laughs.. It had been months since his last sighting in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Then, all of a sudden one June afternoon, he shows up in southern Connecticut, in Greenwich of all places. He walks through somebody’s backyard! [Laughs] The guy is just amazed. He has a quick look at the animal, then runs back inside. The animal circles his house and then heads down a path. The man got a picture, which didn’t come out very well, but it hit the news pretty soon thereafter. People started going crazy. They put a lockdown on a boys’ school; the American Cancer Society, which was having a fund raising walk, shut 700 competitors inside a gymnasium out of fear of this animal.
The next time he showed up was at night, as a woman was driving on the Wilbur Cross Parkway, outside of Milford, Connecticut, about 40 miles from Greenwich. In her headlights, she saw what she thought was a deer. She didn’t have time to stop and the two collided. She pulled over to the side of the road and called the state police. A trooper came out and shined his flashlight light on our cougar.
DNA tests revealed “an unprecedented forensic odyssey.” Explain how the science worked.
After the cougar was killed, he was taken to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. They looked him over and sent samples of flesh from his tongue to a genetics lab in Missoula, Montana, which has the country’s largest database of cougar DNA. During his journey, he had left signs of himself, like bread crumbs, all along his route: bits of hair, places where he bedded or had gone through a thorn bush, feces, blood. As he was leaving these signs, he was being tracked by a trail of biologists, who sent this evidence back to the lab in Missoula. It was like his genetic fingerprint. And when they ran a screening, five DNA samples matched. Everybody was stunned.
You say, “Along the way the lion had quietly disarmed those who would grab for their guns.” Is the future for the cougar looking brighter?
That remains to be seen. We did see a lot of support for this animal along the way. We were also reminded of the fear that is still out there. All it takes is one person with a gun. These animals are going to need help to re-establish themselves on the East Coast, because the Connecticut lion is one of dozens who’ve tried that trip but failed. What you need for these animals to re-establish a population are females. But females have never made such a long trek and those that have tried have been killed en route.
What can National Geographic readers do to protect the cougar?
It’s a matter of tolerance. We’ve learned that these animals are pretty good neighbors, even in really crowded conditions. In California, for example, cougars are living right under people’s noses and they’re doing pretty well there. But it takes tolerance and adjustment. If you’re living in a rural area that has cougars, you may need to bring your pets in at night or guard your livestock a bit better—things that are not asking a whole lot of society but which will make it a lot easier for these animals. Tens of thousands of cougars remain in the U.S., which sounds pretty good, but quite a few are being killed every year. The idea that they are running rampant everywhere is simply not true.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Simon Worrall curates Book Talk. Follow him on Twitter or at simonworrallauthor.com.
on: May 24, 2016, 06:18 AM
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U.S. Elections ...
Obama Approval Rating Jumps To 3 Year High As GOP Argument For White House Evaporates
By Jason Easley on Mon, May 23rd, 2016 at 5:53 pm
The Republican argument that voters should elect Donald Trump to be the next president was seriously wounded by a new poll that showed President Obama’s job approval rating hitting its highest level since his second inaugural.
NBC News reported on the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll:
Fifty-one percent of registered voters say they approve of the job Obama is doing as president, compared to 46 percent who disapprove.
The last time more than half of the electorate gave Obama a thumbs up in the poll was in January 2013, when Obama took the oath of office after his successful re-election campaign against Republican Mitt Romney.
Obama’s approval rating remains dismal with self-described Republicans, who disapprove of his performance by an 88 percent to eight percent margin. It’s nearly the inverse image for Democrats, who approve of the job Obama is doing by 88 percent to 11 percent. And more than half – 54 percent – of independents give Obama high marks, compared to 44 percent who do not.
Donald Trump’s entire argument for why he should president is that America is no longer great, but with President Obama holding an approval rating that Trump can only dream of, it’s clear that the majority of the Americans don’t share the presumptive Republican nominee’s view of the current state of the country.
The only people who share Trump’s outlook are his fellow Republicans, and there aren’t enough of them to win a general election against Hillary Clinton. The fastest way for Trump to lose will be if he continues to talk about Obama like he is from some parallel universe where George W. Bush never happened, and Barack Obama is responsible for the economic crash, ISIS, and the Iraq war.
Obama’s popularity guts the Republican change argument. Presidents aren’t popular just because they are nice people. Presidents are popular when they do a good job. Obama’s growing popularity is concrete proof that a majority like what he is doing in office. Obama’s popularity, Trump’s unpopularity, and Hillary Clinton’s competence leave Republicans with only one road to run on.
Republicans are going to have run a dirty smear fest of personal attacks against Hillary Clinton, but this tactic is just as likely to backfire on Republicans than it is to help.
Obama is more popular than he has been in years, which is why Republicans could be facing an impossible uphill fight to win the White House in November.
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Sanders And Clinton Supporters Come Together In Ohio To Unleash Hell On Trump
By Jason Easley on Mon, May 23rd, 2016 at 1:44 pm
A merging of Clinton and Sanders volunteers who came together to make calls in Ohio was an example of what the unified Democratic Party will unleash on Donald Trump.
Reid Epstein of The Wall Street Journal reported on Trump’s lagging effort to organize the state, and found evidence of unity among Democrats:
About half of the activists interviewed at the Stark County Democratic headquarters said they backed Mr. Sanders during Ohio’s primary, but each said they believe they must work to elect Mrs. Clinton.
“The difference between any Democrat and Trump is so spectacular that I had to come help,” said Tony Collins-Sibley, a 54-year-old cabinet maker from Alliance who wore a blue “Bernie 2016” T-shirt as he phoned potential Clinton volunteers. “Hillary is a boilerplate Democrat with all the traditional views.…I’ll work for her.”
Bernie Sanders supporters are not going to vote for Donald Trump. Those who supported Sen. Sanders are going to work passionately to make sure that the Republican, who is everything that they are fighting against, does not win the White House.
A Hillary Clinton win would be good for Sen. Sanders and his supporters.
A Clinton presidency will likely lead to a Democratic Senate majority, which would result in Bernie Sanders and his message becoming more powerful. The best thing outside of Sanders victory for Bernie supporters is a Democratic victory in the fall because Sen. Sanders will be in a great position if Democrats take back the Senate.
Sanders will be able to carry his message of political revolution and influence policy as a member of the Democratic majority working with a Democratic president.
Sanders supporters are not going to let Trump win. Sen. Sanders has promised that he will 24 hours a day/7 days a week to make sure that Trump does not become the next president. What happened in Ohio was the beginning of the real on the ground Clinton/Sanders coalition to beat Donald Trump.
The united forces of Clinton and Sanders haven’t even begun to unleash the kind of hell that is awaiting Donald Trump and the Republican Party this fall.
Be afraid, Republicans. Be very, very afraid.
Bad News For Trump As Democrats Are Beginning To Come Home And Follow The Election
By Jason Easley on Mon, May 23rd, 2016 at 10:10 am
The mythical Trump bump may be nearing its end as a new poll shows that more Democrats are beginning to pay attention to the election.
A new Gallup poll shows a five point increase over the past month in the number of Democrats who are following the election.
Democrats have gained a net 6 points as the gap between the number of Republicans who are paying attention, and the number of Democrats who are paying attention has gone to from a net (+14) for the Republicans (48%-34%) in April to a net (+8) for the Republicans in May (47%-39%). It is no shock that the group that has been paying the most attention is Trump’s demographic of white males over age 50. There is a lot of room for growth with two key Democratic constituencies. Only 26% of millennial voters are currently paying close attention to the election, and 27% of non-white voters are paying close attention to the election.
The new Democratic constituencies that have grown during the Obama years typically don’t pay close attention until the general election approaches. Interestingly, the presence of Sen. Bernie Sanders has not caused millennials to pay greater attention to the election.
Democrats are beginning to come home. If recent history is any guide after the Democratic convention, and as the race moves into the fall, the most likely anti-Trump voters will mobilize and get engaged. Democratic voters, outside of the hotly contested 2008 primary, have a definite trend of paying less attention early.
The fact that Democrats are beginning to pay attention and come home to their party is bad news for Republicans and Trump. The Democratic voters are coming which will result in a shift in the polls to reflect continuing demographic trends among the electorate that are expected to benefit the Democratic nominee in November.
Republicans who think that Hillary Clinton is a weak candidate are in a for a big surprise when the same voters who powered Obama to two victories show up to make their voices heard.
Hillary Clinton Crushes Trump’s Giant Ego With Two Simple Questions
By Jason Easley on Mon, May 23rd, 2016 at 3:54 pm
But we’re not talking about any ordinary anti-worker Republican. A lot of Republicans themselves say Donald Trump is a disaster waiting to happen to America. What little we know of his economic policies would be running up our debt, starting trade wars, letting Wall Street run wild. All of that could cause another crash and devastate working families and our country.
Trump economics is a recipe for lower wages, fewer jobs, more debt.
He could bankrupt America like he’s bankrupted his companies. I mean, ask yourself, how can anybody lose money running a casino? Really?
And that’s not all; I hear every day from families who afraid of what a Donald Trump presidency would mean for millions of immigrants who are living and working in America.
Donald Trump was able to win the Republican presidential nomination by relentlessly trolling his primary opponents with tabloid style attacks. However, it appears that Hillary Clinton is setting Trump up by pointing out that he isn’t the business person that he makes himself out to be. Donald Trump is thin skinned in general, but he is very touchy about his claims of business success.
Hillary Clinton keeps pushing that button because her campaign knows that eventually Trump will pop. Clinton did bring up a very good point. Part of the way that Donald Trump makes money is by bankrupting businesses. Trump hasn’t gotten rich by building things. He has made a lot of money by selling his name, failing, and then ducking out on his debts.
The fact that Trump could bankrupt a casino as well as a series of other failed ventures that are as long as your arm goes right to the heart of Trump’s campaign. Trump says that he can make America great, but it can be argued that Donald Trump hasn’t even made Donald Trump great.
Hillary Clinton is going to continue to stick a pin in the gigantic ego of Trump, and eventually, the billionaire is going to blow. Former Sec. of State Clinton isn’t going to play Trump’s games. What she is going to do is systematically take Trump apart piece by piece until there is nothing left on Election Day.
Fox News Poll Destroys Trump Narrative – So Trump Ignores It
By Hrafnkell Haraldsson on Mon, May 23rd, 2016 at 8:01 am
Trump isn't about to advertise that voters might trust Trump on economy and terrorism, but Clinton on foreign policy and nuclear weapons
Donald Trump advertised success in a tweet Sunday, based on a Fox News national poll (image above). Trump’s response, as though Fox is completely reliable in this, was “Thank you America! #Trump2016.”
Of course, it turns out there were things Trump wasn’t advertising, like the headline Fox News used in releasing the poll:
Fox News Poll: Voters trust Trump on economy, Clinton on foreign policy, nuclear weapons
It doesn’t stop there, of course. Two new polls showed Trump and Clinton in a virtual dead head for the first time, a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (Clinton over Trump 46-43) and a Washington Post/ABC News poll (Trump over Clinton 46-44).
Trump, well known for hypersensitivity to criticism, was quick to crow about his “success” (in a phone interview, of course) and give credit to Sanders supporters who apparently think a guy who opposes everything Sanders stands for is the next best thing to Sanders:
“I hear and I look at polls, and I hear a lot of those people are coming with us. A lot of the Bernie Sanders’ voters, they do not like Hillary Clinton. … A lot of those people will come with me.”
Right. Fox ran with that. Because picking out the selective bits of reality they like and inventing the rest is what they do.
Fox News also ran with the idea that Trump and Clinton have equally bad unfavorable ratings when in fact, the Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 53 percent viewed Clinton unfavorably and 60 percent viewed Trump unfavorably.
We can compare this to Gallup’s January polling which found that two-thirds (67 percent) have an unfavorable view of Trump, while only just over half (52 percent) have an unfavorable view of Clinton.
Well hey, 67 percent and 52 percent, and 60 percent and 53 percent, are nearly the same thing, right? USA Today solved the number problem by not actually lying but misleading:
“The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll found over 50 percent of potential voters view Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump unfavorably.”
We’ll have to remember how this “math you do as a Republican” works next time they tell us how far from grace President Obama has fallen. Because, you know, 53 percent isn’t really less than 60 percent – when looked at from a certain way.
We can take a moment to hearken back here to Election Night 2012, when Megyn Kelly turned to Karl Rove and asked, “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?”
Well…Neither Donald Trump nor Fox News are advertising McDonalds CEO Steve Easterbrook’s announcement that President Obama’s economy is a big success.
So yes. There is some math you do as a Republican going on here. After all, we have an April Associated Press-GfK poll that contradicts the Fox News poll:
“Americans trust the Democratic front-runner more than the Republican businessman to handle a wide range of issues — from immigration to health care to nominating Supreme Court justices.”
Remember Dana Perino saying as a conservative you don’t have to choose your facts? Trump naturally ignored the AP-GfK poll altogether, and here is an aspect of the Fox News poll Trump didn’t advertise on Twitter:
It’s hard to make a resounding headline out of,
“More than one-third of voters Trust Trump over Clinton with nuclear weapons!”
You won’t see that in Trump’s twitter feed.
Fox News also reports that,
Trump is the candidate voters believe will do a better job “telling the truth to the American people” (+15 points), managing tax dollars (+14 points), and restoring trust in government (+8 points).
This is interesting, because they trust a guy who refuses to pay any taxes to handle our tax dollars, and a guy who lies 9 out of 10 times he opens his mouth to tell the truth. We can thank the mainstream media for making Americans stupid enough to believe these things.
The downsides, as we’ve noted, Trump isn’t so eager to recognize, for example, as Fox News also tells us,
Trust of the candidates is about equal when it comes to using military force (Trump +1), nominating Supreme Court justices (Clinton +1), and “encouraging values you believe in” (Clinton +2).
These are biggies. Despite years of lies about Hillary Clinton, he is barely trusted more than her to use military force, and Clinton still comes away with the edge in Supreme Court justices and in encouraging values. Yes, “Crooked” Hillary is still trusted as the values candidate here over Trump.
Where are his thanks to the American people now? Americans, however misguided they might be about other things, are apparently intelligent enough to realize you don’t want to put nuclear launch codes into Trump’s hands. And clearly, they can see where Trump’s ready use of insults isn’t going to go over big on the world stage.
Trump’s selective facts cannot disguise that he isn’t as popular as he says he is, nor as honest as the mainstream media says he is. It also cannot be disguised that when all the numbers are taken together, even the endless media barrage (in Trump’s favor) hasn’t convinced voters that Trump is the best man for the job.
Not that you’d know that by listening to Trump, who has never shown himself reluctant to free himself of the reality that binds us all.
on: May 24, 2016, 06:03 AM
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UN condemns 16-year jail sentence for Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi
UN high commissioner for human rights joins chorus of international disapproval as Tehran revolutionary court finds ailing activist guilty of fresh charges
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
Tuesday 24 May 2016 07.00 BST
The international community has reacted with outrage after Narges Mohammadi, the ailing Iranian human rights activist already serving a six-year jail term, was given a further 16-year sentence by a revolutionary court in Tehran.
Mohammadi, 44, was found guilty of “establishing and running the illegal splinter group Legam”, a human rights movement that campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty. Should an upper court uphold the judgment, she will have to serve at least 10 years.
Mohammadi was arrested last May, despite concerns about her deteriorating health, to serve the remainder of a six-year sentence dating back to September 2011, when she was found guilty of acting against national security, membership of Iran’s Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC), and propaganda against the state. She had originally been sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment, but an appeals court reduced the term to six years in March 2012 and she subsequently served three months before being released on bail.
Writing from prison, Mohammadi said in a letter written to Pen International that she was in a section with 25 other female political prisoners, of whom 23 have been sentenced to a total of 177 years.
“We are all charged due to our political and religious tendency and none of us are terrorists,” she wrote. “The reason to write these lines is to tell you that the pain and suffering in the Evin prison is beyond tolerance. Opposite other prisons in Iran, there is no access to telephone in Evin prison. Except for a weekly visit, we have no contact to the outside. All visits take place behind double glass and only connected through a phone. We are allowed to have a visit from our family members only once a month.”
The UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, condemned Mohammadi’s treatment.
“We are appalled by the sentencing of a prominent Iranian anti-death penalty campaigner, Narges Mohammadi, to 16 years’ imprisonment in charges that stem from her courageous human rights work,” said Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the high commissioner. “The human rights defender is believed to have serious medical conditions and has reportedly not been granted adequate access to the specialised medical care she needs. The UN human rights office and other human rights mechanisms have long urged the Iranian authorities to release Ms Mohammadi, but to no avail.
“Her sentencing is illustrative of an increasingly low tolerance for human rights advocacy in Iran. We urge the Iranian authorities to ensure the immediate release of Ms Mohammadi and all those detained for merely exercising their human rights.”
Mohammadi, a mother of two, won the 2009 Alexander Langer award for her human rights activities, especially her efforts to end the death penalty for juvenile offenders in Iran. This year, she received the City of Paris medal for her peaceful activism.
Mohammadi has fallen foul of the authorities partly because of her links to the Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, who has been forced into exile. As deputy head of the DHRC, Mohammadi was a close colleague of Ebadi, who presided over the organisation.
After a previous arrest, in 2010, Mohammadi was kept in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin prison, where she developed an undiagnosed disease that has been likened to epilepsy and causes her temporarily to lose control over her muscles.
Since May, Mohammadi has been allowed only one phone call with her nine-year-old twins, who have been forced to live abroad. “I am left wondering how to tell Ali and Kiana, who have only heard Narges’s voice once over the past year, that their mother has got another 10 years in prison,” Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani, told Amnesty. “They are only nine and have been through hard days since they were three. But I have to prepare myself to tell them what has happened.”
The Paris-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders condemned “the ongoing judicial harassment against the arbitrarily imprisoned human rights defender”, and urged Iran to release her immediately.
Hadi Ghaemi, from the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said: “Ten years in prison for a well-respected advocate for peaceful civil activities demonstrates the Islamic Republic’s refusal to tolerate any peaceful dissent.”
Ghaemi added: “President Hassan Rouhani’s intelligence ministry is responsible for detaining and building the case for Mohammadi’s prosecution by the judiciary, and now it is President Rouhani’s responsibility to make every effort for her release and ensure Iran’s citizens that ministries under his authority will not trample on their rights and freedoms.”
Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Amnesty International, said Mohammadi’s sentence was another example of Iran’s use of “vaguely-worded national security charges” against peaceful activists.
“There’s no doubt that she’s being unjustly punished for her steadfast commitment to human rights,” he said. “The authorities have made clear their ruthless determination to silence human rights defenders and instil fear in would-be critics of their policies. Narges Mohammadi is a prisoner of conscience and the Iranian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release her and quash her conviction.”
This article was amended on 24 May 2016 to correct the length of the new jail term Narges Mohammadi has been sentenced to.
on: May 24, 2016, 06:01 AM
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How we survived: child refugees given a stage to tell their stories - in pictures
Award-winning French photographer Patrick Willocq has recreated the experiences of children who have fled Burundi and Syria using personalised theatre sets. From perilous journeys to the battle to adapt to new environments, these are their stories
Tuesday 24 May 2016 10.33 BST
Click to see all: http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2016/may/24/how-we-survived-child-refugees-syria-burundi-patrick-willocq-in-pictures