Sunday, May 4, 2008

Overnight - A roundup of news items that you might have missed

Seven Votes That was the margin of victory for Obama in yesterdays Democratic primary in Guam, in which 4,500 votes were cast. See? Every vote does matter. Now hows about we let Guam vote in November? They host a huge, strategically important naval installation and live with the consequences of our electoral process. Why not let them have full participation?

Arkansas Starts the task of cleaning up after as many as 25 devastating tornadoes destroyed property, created homelessness and killed seven people. If you have it to spare, show the Red Cross some love. We are all just one catastrophic event from a really ugly social equality, and the Red Cross is always there to step in and keep us from seeing what human beings are really, truly capable of when desperate.

Finally, a conservative who can win: Boris Johnson has won the race to become the next mayor of London - ending Ken Livingstone's eight-year reign at City Hall. The Conservative candidate won with 1,168,738 first and second preference votes, compared with Mr Livingstone's 1,028,966 on a record turnout of 45%. He paid tribute to Mr Livingstone and appeared to offer him a possible role in his new administration. (Something that would never happen here, of course.)

Oh, crap! From PZ Myers-- I love bats — they're almost as glamorous as squid. So I am greatly dismayed to learn that there is a virulent bat illness spreading out of the northeast US, a serious die-off that has as one of its symptoms a fungal growth that has led to calling it "white nose syndrome". Bats are behaving oddly, starving to death, and dropping dead. Earlier I was complaining about the limited imaginations of television executives, who do such a poor job of translating science to the screen. Here's a story full of drama and tragedy, with photogenic stars (the bats!) and scientists doing real, serious investigative work to solve a mystery. Wouldn't that make for great television if done well?

Yes, but is it legal? A popular teen hang-out in Largo Maryland is changing its rules and that means the usual crowd could be on its way out. Starting next month, if you want to hang out at 'The Boulevard at the Capital Centre' after 9 p.m., you have to be 16-years-old or have adult supervision. The goal is to cut down on violence at the Prince George's County mall. The change comes after four murders in three years; including the superbowl shooting at Uno's Chicago Grill that killed three people and an incident where a 15-year-old was charged with beating a man to death. Though that February shooting did not involve teens, the mall considers it a security issue.

This will take you on a flight of fancy: Four decades after scientists showed that migratory birds use Earth's magnetic field to orient themselves during their seasonal journeys, researchers have at last found a molecular mechanism that may explain how they do it. If the hypothesis is true, the planet's magnetic field lines -- which arch around Earth from north to south -- may be plainly visible to birds, like the dashed line in the middle of a road. The work, described online yesterday in the journal Nature, was conducted in a test tube and does not prove that birds actually use the mechanism. And researchers aligned with a competing model say they are not convinced. But by identifying for the first time a molecule that reacts to very weak magnetic fields, the experiments prove the plausibility of a long-hypothesized method of avian navigation that has had a credibility problem because no one had ever found a molecule with the required sensitivity. "This is a proof of principle that a chemical reaction can act as a magnetic compass," said Peter Hore of the University of Oxford, who with fellow chemist Christiane Timmel led the research.

As public policy goes, we're one step away from having to find another Teddy Roosevelt to smash the monied interests and stick it to the industrialists in this country: According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, income for the bottom half of American households rose six percent since 1979 but, through 2005, the income of the top one percent skyrocketed - by 228 percent. Explain to me again why we need to fret when someone "suggests" raising taxes on the rich? You could raise taxes on the rich by ten percent, and it wouldn't phase them, if you take into account what they've been making since the late 1970s. That sure would take care of some infrastructure needs in this country, wouldn't it? Oh, but wait--I'm a communist for suggesting that. My bad.