Jul 31, 2010

NM governor considers pardon for Billy the Kid

The showdown between Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid has fascinated the American public for nearly 130 years with its classic, Old West storyline of the frontier lawman hunting down the notorious gunslinger.

As it turns out, the feud isn't completely over.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is considering granting a posthumous pardon to Billy the Kid, angering descendants of Garrett who call it an insult to recognize such a violent outlaw.

Three of the late lawman's grandchildren sent a letter to Richardson this week that asked him not to pardon the outlaw, saying such an act would represent an "inexcusable defamation" of Garrett.

"If Billy the Kid was living amongst us now, would you issue a pardon for someone who made his living as a thief and, more egregiously, who killed four law enforcement officers and numerous others?" the Garrett family wrote.

The issue has resurfaced because Richardson asked a New Mexico columnist earlier this year to check with historians to measure their support for issuing a pardon. The governor plans to meet with Garrett family members next week to discuss the issue.

Read more at Yahoo! News

Jul 30, 2010

Better busy than doing nothing, scientist proves

Keeping the mind occupied with tasks - no matter how meaningless - staves off negative emotions, the study found.

However, the bad news is that humans seem hard-wired to be lazy in order to save energy, according to Professor Christopher Hsee, a behavioural scientist at Chicago University.

In a study 98 students were asked to complete two survey. After they had completed the first they were made to wait 15 minutes to receive the next one.

They were given a choice of either handing in the first survey nearby or at a more distant location they had to walk to. Whichever option they chose, they received a chocolate bar.

Two-thirds (68 per cent) chose the lazy option.

Those who had taken the walk reported feeling happier than those who had stayed put.

Prof Hsee concluded keeping busy helped keep people happy.

He said the findings, reported in the journal Psychological Science, had policy implications.

"Governments may increase the happiness of idle citizens by having them build bridges that are actually useless", he proposed.

At the individidual level, he advised: "Get up and do something. Anything. Even if there really is no point to what you are doing, you will feel better for it."

Read more at The Telegraph

Antarctica Experiment Discovers Puzzling Space Ray Pattern

A puzzling pattern in the cosmic rays bombarding Earth from space has been discovered by an experiment buried deep under the ice of Antarctica.

Cosmic rays are highly energetic particles streaming in from space that are thought to originate in the distant remnants of dead stars.

But it turns out these particles are not arriving uniformly from all directions. The new study detected an overabundance of cosmic rays coming from one part of the sky, and a lack of cosmic rays coming from another.

This odd pattern was detected by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, an experiment still under construction that is actually intended to detect other exotic particles called neutrinos. In fact, scientists have gone out of their way to try to block out all signals from cosmic rays in order to search for the highly elusive neutrinos, which are much harder to find.

Yet in sifting through their cosmic-ray data to try to separate it from possible neutrino signals, the researchers noticed the intriguing pattern.

"IceCube was not built to look at cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are considered background," said University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher Rasha Abbasi in a statement. "However, we have billions of events of background downward cosmic rays that ended up being very exciting."

Previous studies have found a similar lopsidedness (called anisotropy) in the sky over the Northern Hemisphere, but this was the first time scientists saw that the pattern extended to the southern sky visible from Antarctica.

Read more at Yahoo! News

Jul 29, 2010

Ship lost for more than 150 years is recovered

Canadian archeologists have found a ship abandoned more than 150 years ago in the quest for the fabled Northwest Passage and which was lost in the search for the doomed expedition of Sir John Franklin, the head of the team said Wednesday.

Marc-Andre Bernier, Parks Canada's head of underwater archaeology, said the HMS Investigator, abandoned in the ice in 1853, was found in shallow water in Mercy Bay along the northern coast of Banks Island in Canada's western Arctic.

"The ship is standing upright in very good condition. It's standing in about 11 meters (36 feet) of water," he said. "This is definitely of the utmost importance. This is the ship that sailed the last leg of the Northwest Passage."

The Investigator was one of many American and British ships sent out to search for the HMS Erebus and the Terror, vessels commanded by Franklin in his ill-fated search for the Northwest Passage in 1845.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice said the British government has been notified that one of their naval shipwrecks has been discovered, as well as the bodies of three sailors.

Read more at Yahoo! News

Music may harm your studying, study says

“If you’re studying for a test, putting on background music that you like may seem like a good idea. But if you’re trying to memorize a list in order – facts, numbers, elements of the periodic table – the music may actually be working against you, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff, United Kingdom, looked at the ability to recall information in the presence of different sounds. They instructed 25 participants between ages 18 and 30 try to memorize, and later recall, a list of letters in order. The study authors are Nick Perham and Joanne Vizard, and the study will appear in the September 2010 issue of Applied Clinical Psychology.

Participants were tested under various listening conditions: quiet, music that they’d said they liked, music that they’d said they didn’t like, a voice repeating the number three, and a voice reciting random single-digit numbers.

The study found that participants performed worst while listening to music, regardless of whether they liked that music, and to the speech of random numbers. They did the best in the quiet and while listening to the repeated “three.”

Music may impair cognitive abilities in these scenarios because if you’re trying to memorize things in order, you may get thrown off by the changing words and notes in your chosen song, the authors speculate.”

Read more at CNN Health

Jul 28, 2010

Old wives' tales: the fertility myths

As research reveals that women living near the Cerne Abbas Giant are more fertile than the national average, here are five other unlikely remedies to boost fertility.

Boxers vs Briefs

One of the most commonly feted pearls of wisdom relating to fertility is that a man should wear boxer shorts rather than briefs to boost his sexual potency.

The circulation of air around the reproductive organs, it is suggested, boosts sperm production by preventing the area from overheating – an idea dismissed out of hand as a myth by fertility experts.

Herbs or hoaxes?

Natural remedy enthusiasts claim a whole host of herbs can enhance one's fertility, from the humble stinging nettle to the aptly-named Dong Quai, a Chinese plant that supposedly improves the chances of embryo implantation.

Other remedies suggested by advocates of alternative medicine, which many mothers swear by, include False Unicorn Root, which allegedly stimulates ovulation, and Raspberry Leaf, which is claimed to "tone" the uterus.

Grapefruit juice

Grapefruit juice is said to have a thinning effect on cervical mucus in the same way that cough syrup clears the throat, therefore clearing the sperm's passage to the egg.

Clinical evidence to support this notion may be somewhat lacking, but the juice is high in vitamins so it's a winner either way.

Read more at The Telegraph

Why Money Makes You Unhappy

“Money is surprisingly bad at making us happy. Once we escape the trap of poverty, levels of wealth have an extremely modest impact on levels of happiness, especially in developed countries. Even worse, it appears that the richest nation in history – 21st century America – is slowly getting less pleased with life. (Or as the economists behind this recent analysis concluded: “In the United States, the [psychological] well-being of successive birth-cohorts has gradually fallen through time.”)

Needless to say, this data contradicts one of the central assumptions of modern society, which is that more money equals more pleasure. That’s why we work hard, fret about the stock market and save up for that expensive dinner/watch/phone/car/condo. We’ve been led to believe that dollars are delight in a fungible form.

But the statistical disconnect between money and happiness raises a fascinating question: Why doesn’t money make us happy? One intriguing answer comes from a new study by psychologists at the University of Liege, published in Psychological Science. The scientists explore the “experience-stretching hypothesis,” an idea first proposed by Daniel Gilbert. He explains “experience-stretching” with the following anecdote:

I’ve played the guitar for years, and I get very little pleasure from executing an endless repetition of three-chord blues. But when I first learned to play as a teenager, I would sit upstairs in my bedroom happily strumming those three chords until my parents banged on the ceiling…Doesn’t it seem reasonable to invoke the experience-stretching hypothesis and say that an experience that once brought me pleasure no longer does? A man who is given a drink of water after being lost in the Mojave Desert may at that moment rate his happiness as eight. A year later, the same drink might induce him to feel no better than a two.

What does experience-stretching have to do with money and happiness? The Liege psychologists propose that, because money allows us to enjoy the best things in life – we can stay at expensive hotels and eat exquisite sushi and buy the nicest gadgets – we actually decrease our ability to enjoy the mundane joys of everyday life. (Their list of such pleasures includes ”sunny days, cold beers, and chocolate bars”.) And since most of our joys are mundane – we can’t sleep at the Ritz every night – our ability to splurge actually backfires. We try to treat ourselves, but we end up spoiling ourselves.”

Read more at Wired

Jul 27, 2010

Khyra Ishaq: social services 'more worried about careers than child's wellbeing'

The report, by the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board (BSCB), comes more than two years after Khyra Ishaq died at her Birmingham home.

Following months of starvation and cruelty at the hands of her mother and stepfather, Khyra died in May 2008 when her body succumbed to an infection.

But the report - published in full today - found that her death could have been prevented, and occurred after the authorities ''lost sight'' of her.

Social workers became reluctant to get more heavily involved in the case after Khyra's mother, Angela Gordon made a complaint of harrassment, the report said.

The report concluded: ''Whilst a number of agencies and individuals sought to deliver effective services to the child... there were others who lost sight of the child and focused instead upon the rights of the adults, the adults' behaviours and the potential impact for themselves as professionals.''

Hilary Thompson, chairwoman of the BSCB, said: ''The serious case review concludes that although the scale of the abuse inflicted would have been hard to predict, Khyra's death was preventable.

''The report identifies missed opportunities, highlighting that better assessment and information-sharing by key organisations could have resulted in a different outcome.''

Read more at The Telegraph

Why Does God Reveal Himself to Some People and Not to Others?

“Doesn’t it seem likely that the reason all of us can’t see God is because there is no God?

If God exists… why isn’t his existence obvious?

And is “free will” a good answer to this question?

A few weeks ago, in this very publication, I posed the question, “Why did God create atheists?” If God reveals himself to religious believers, in visions or revelations or other spiritual experiences… why doesn’t he do it with everyone? Why are those revelations so contradictory — not to mention so suspiciously consistent with whatever the people having them already believe or want to believe? And why doesn’t everyone have them? If God is real, I asked — if religious believers are perceiving a real entity with a real effect on the world — why isn’t it just obvious?

Why is God playing hide and seek?

When I wrote that piece, I addressed (and dismantled) two of the most common responses to this question: “God has revealed himself to you, you’ve just closed your heart to him,” and, “God doesn’t care if you’re an atheist — as long as you’re a good person, he doesn’t care if you believe in him.”

But I neglected to address one of the most common religious answers to this question:

Free will.”

Read more at AlterNet

Jul 26, 2010

Faith healing in Oregon: A picture worth a thousand words

“We’ve talked long enough about faith healing in Oregon. We’ve shared countless earnest conversations about religious liberty and parental rights.

The time for words is over. Now it’s time for pictures.

Another couple from the Followers of Christ church in Oregon City stand accused of criminal mistreatment for deliberately withholding medical care from their child. Timothy and Rebecca Wyland of Beavercreek believe in treating sickness with prayer rather than medicine, even when prayer doesn’t work.

Their infant daughter, Alayna, has a serious eye problem, which they chose not to treat. Someone notified authorities and the state intervened, and now the Wylands are trying to regain custody of their daughter.

Those are the words, wholly inadequate.

Only the pictures do the story justice.”

Read more at Oregon Live

Jul 25, 2010

World's Oldest Dog Debated

Every dog has its day, but that day took more than 14,000 years to dawn for one canine. A jaw fragment found in a Swiss cave comes from the earliest known dog, according to scientists who analyzed and radiocarbon-dated the fossil.

Dog origins remain poorly understood, however, and some researchers say that dog fossils much older than the Swiss find have already been excavated.

An upper-right jaw unearthed in 1873 in Kesslerloch Cave, located near Switzerland's northern border with Germany, shows that domestic dogs lived there between 14,100 and 14,600 years ago, say archaeology graduate student Hannes Napierala and archaeozoologist Hans-Peter Uerpmann, study co-authors at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

"The Kesslerloch find clearly supports the idea that the dog was an established domestic animal at that time in central Europe," Napierala says.

Researchers have also found roughly 14,000-year-old dog fossils among the remains of prehistoric people buried at Germany's Bonn-Oberkassel site.

Older fossil skulls recently identified by other teams as dogs were probably Ice Age wolves, Napierala and Uerpmann argue in a paper published online July 19 in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. That includes a 31,700-year-old specimen discovered more than a century ago in Belgium's Goyet Cave and reported in 2009 to be the oldest known dog.

Read more at Discovery News

Every black hole may hold a hidden universe

WE COULD be living inside a black hole. This head-spinning idea is one cosmologist's conclusion based on a modification of Einstein's equations of general relativity that changes our picture of what happens at the core of a black hole.

In an analysis of the motion of particles entering a black hole, published in March, Nikodem Poplawski of Indiana University in Bloomington showed that inside each black hole there could exist another universe. "Maybe the huge black holes at the centre of the Milky Way and other galaxies are bridges to different universes," Poplawski says. If that is correct - and it's a big "if" - there is nothing to rule out our universe itself being inside a black hole.

In Einstein's general relativity (GR), the insides of black holes are "singularities" - regions where the density of matter reaches infinity. Whether the singularity is an actual point of infinite density or just a mathematical inadequacy of GR is unclear, as the equations of GR break down inside black holes. Either way, the modified version of Einstein's equations used by Poplawski does away with the singularity altogether.

Read more at New Scientist

Invisibility Cloak Made of Glass

“From Tolkien’s ring of power in The Lord of the Rings to Star Trek’s Romulans, who could make their warships disappear from view, from Harry Potter’s magical cloak to the garment that makes players vanish in the video game classic Dungeons and Dragons, the power to turn someone or something invisible has fascinated mankind. But who ever thought that a scientist at Michigan Technological University would be serious about building a working invisibility cloak?

That’s exactly what Elena Semouchkina, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Michigan Tech, is doing. She has found ways to use magnetic resonance to capture rays of visible light and route them around objects, rendering those objects invisible to the human eye.

Semouchkina and colleagues at the Pennsylvania State University, where she is also an adjunct professor, recently reported on their research in the journal Applied Physics Letters, published by the American Institute of Physics. Her co-authors were Douglas Werner and Carlo Pantano of Penn State and George Semouchkin, who works at Michigan Tech and Penn State.

They describe developing a nonmetallic cloak that uses identical glass resonators made of chalcogenide glass, a type of dielectric material (one that does not conduct electricity). In computer simulations, the cloak made objects hit by infrared waves—approximately one micron or one-millionth of a meter long—disappear from view.

Earlier attempts by other researchers used metal rings and wires. “Ours is the first to do the cloaking of cylindrical objects with glass,” Semouchkina said.”

Read more at Physorg

Stone Age Discovery: Ancient Swedish Sex Toy?

OK, let's not be shy about this. Swedish archeologists have uncovered a prehistoric artifact made out of antler bone that looks like a modern dildo.

The phallic-shaped object, which may be as much as 6,000 years old, measures twelve by two centimeters. But deciding what exactly they came up with is the hard part for archeologists.

Compared with findings at other Stone Age sites in Europe, experts say it is more common to find female fertility symbols, according to Gsran Gruber of the National Heritage Board in Sweden. In contrast, he noted, male fertility symbols are relatively rare.

Another Swedish archaeologist, Martin Rundkvist, cautioned that there were "many non-dildoish uses for which it may have been intended."

Still, he wrote on his blog "without doubt anyone alive at the time of its making would have seen the penile similarities just as easily as we do today. If it is actually a pressure-flaker for fine flint knapping, then this would tell us something about how such work was conceptualized in terms of gender."

Read more at CBS News