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BREAKING: Jury Sentences Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to Death

| Fri May 15, 2015 3:19 PM EDT

Update: They sentenced him to death.

They are reading the verdict right now. The jury only has two choices: sentence him to life in prison or death.

Here's a live stream from NECN:

 

 

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Bonus Friday Cat Blogging - 15 May 2015

| Fri May 15, 2015 1:00 PM EDT

It's been a traumatic week for Hilbert. He and Hopper were upstairs chasing each other around when he made the fateful decision to climb onto the bathroom counter and then leap to the top of the shower door. Why? Who knows. But he did it, and immediately discovered that the shower door railing is only about an inch wide. So he tumbled into the bathtub, and was then faced with an even bigger problem: my sister keeps the shower doors closed when they're not in use.

A good deal of piteous meowing ensued until Karen investigated and found poor Hilbert trapped in the bathtub. She let him out—after taking a picture, of course—and reports that he spent the rest of the evening cuddled on her lap recovering from the indignity of it all.

Karen now leaves the door open and says that the bathtub has quickly become the final resting place for a succession of cat toys. This is probably Hopper's doing. Either that or Hilbert got over his trauma mighty fast.

Weird Tales and Trade Treaties

| Fri May 15, 2015 11:59 AM EDT

Watching the political fight over the TPP trade treaty has been kind of interesting. FWIW, two things strike me as a little odd:

  • Historically, it's been Republicans who bitch and moan about how treaties are invasions of American sovereignty. And of course they are. If you sign a treaty with another country, there has to be some kind of neutral mediator that can decide if the treaty has been breached, and this is ipso facto an infringement of sovereignty for both countries. Democrats usually laugh this off, since it's an obvious feature of any treaty (would you sign a treaty with Pakistan where Pakistan unilaterally gets to resolve all disputes?). This time, however, the worm has turned and it's Democrats who are loudly objecting to something called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, which sets up a special tribunal to adjudicate disputes brought by corporations against rules that they think violate the TPP. Republicans don't care much.

    I don't have any big point to make here. It's just kind of interesting to see the two sides switch.
     
  • I'm a little puzzled about why Republicans are so gung-ho to get TPP passed in the first place. Sure, they're generally in favor of trade treaties, but it's not exactly one of their hot button issues. And yet, they seem to be going out of their way to help President Obama get it passed. Given their recent track record, I'd expect them to yawn and tell Obama he's on his own to whip the votes he needs. Is there some deeper strategy here that I'm not getting? Do they truly think this is going to rip the Democratic Party to shreds with months of vicious infighting? Or what?

Anyway, it looks to me like TPP is going to pass. These things nearly always do after a bit of grandstanding followed by some face-saving compromises. It might be close, but it will pass.

The Thrill Is Gone. RIP B.B. King.

| Fri May 15, 2015 6:26 AM EDT

Legendary blues guitarist B.B. King died late Thursday in Las Vegas. He was 89.

Hailed as the "King of the Blues," King was born Riley B. King on September 16, 1925 on a Mississippi cotton plantation. Introduced to music through gospel, King ascended through the ranks as one of the greatest blues artists of all time. The 15-time Grammy winner seemingly never retired, continuing to perform for over seven decades. King had been suffering from diabetes and was recently in hospice care.

RIP.

 

Important Advice From the CDC: Don't Poop in the Pool

| Thu May 14, 2015 5:04 PM EDT

On Thursday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a very important message for anyone planning to swim this summer: Don't poop in the pool. Also, try not to be in a pool where someone else has pooped. At least, if you can avoid it, don't swim with your mouth open in a pool if you, or someone else, has pooped nearby.

These are just a few of the ways you can try to avoid getting norovirus—a nasty and highly contagious stomach virus that sometimes makes its way onto cruise ships—as you enjoy all sorts of aquatic activities that are not limited to pools. Lakes have high levels of poop-related-risks it seems, as the CDC announcement describes how some people in Oregon swam in a lake last year and ended up getting the virus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea. The outbreak ended up sickening 70 people, some of whom didn't even swim in the lake (state health officials found, however, that swimmers were over twice as likely to get sick). 

Other important tips include not peeing in the water, not vomiting in the water, and maybe skipping swimming that day if there's a chance you might do any of those things.

This important message comes in honor of Healthy and Safe Swimming week and is mostly geared toward children (or parents of children) who are not only more at risk for norovirus but are also prime suspects of doing things in water that one shouldn't do. They also, apparently, are bad at swimming with their mouths closed. Per the CDC's press release:

"Children are prime targets for norovirus and other germs that can live in lakes and swimming pools because they’re so much more likely to get the water in their mouths," said Michael Beach, Ph.D, the CDC's associate director for healthy water. "Keeping germs out of the water in the first place is key to keeping everyone healthy and helping to keep the places we swim open all summer."

This Is What Classic Pieces of Art Would Look Like if the Prudes at Fox 5 News Had Their Way

| Thu May 14, 2015 3:04 PM EDT

On Monday, a Picasso painting titled Women of Algiers (Version O) fetched a record-setting $179.4 million at a Christie's auction, beating out Francis Bacon's Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which just two years prior had sold for $142 million, as the most expensive piece of artwork ever sold.

The sale price for the Women of Algiers (Version O) marked the latest entry into a world so mind-numbingly wealthy and closed off to the general public. It's the perfect illustration of privilege consolidating into the hands of so few, for no one else to appreciate.

New York's senior art critic Jerry Saltz has tackled this issue at large on numerous occasions. But this time around, Saltz identified something perhaps even more outrageous than the $179.4 million price tag:

This is pathetic. In anticipation of a piece inevitably shattering another sale record and this Fox affiliate being right there to cover it—both journalistically and visually—here are a few examples of how that coverage might look like:

Henri Matisse, Dance (1)
 
Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses), Paul Cézanne
Katsushika Hokusai's The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife
Michelangelo's David

An abominable peek into the dark arts.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said it was Fox News that had blurred the Picasso painting. This has since been corrected to say it was a Fox affiliate in New York. 

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Lunatic Conspiracy Theories Aren't What They Used to Be

| Thu May 14, 2015 2:35 PM EDT

As you may recall, a couple of weeks ago there was a minor hoorah over a military training exercise called Jade Helm, scheduled to take place this summer in various states in the southwest. A few lunatics in Texas got wind of this, along with a map or two, and decided that Jade Helm was really just a pretense for President Obama to take over Texas.

Sadly for me, this all happened while I was near the bottom of my chemotherapy regimen and I barely had enough energy to make an occasional run to the bathroom, let alone write blog posts about stuff like this. Today, however, the fine folks at PPP have given me a second bite at the apple. They polled a bunch of Republicans about Jade Helm, and then broke down the answers by which candidate they currently support. Here are the results:

Apparently a full third of the Republican base believes that President Obama plans to order the military to take over Texas. Booyah! And supporters of Ted Cruz and Rick Perry—who are probably mostly from Texas—believe this idiocy by 60-70 percent.

So what do we take from this? I think there are two main interpretations:

  • Fox and Rush and the rest of the conservative media have driven conservatives into such a frenzy that a third of them really, truly do believe that President Obama plans a military takeover of Texas.
  • Poll questions like this no longer have any real meaning. This is basically little more than a survey of mood affiliation that tests how much you hate and distrust President Obama. That is to say, a yes answer has little or nothing to with Jade Helm. It just means you really hate and distrust Obama.

I'm inclined to the second interpretation myself. It's all good fun, but no, I don't think that a third of Republicans really believe this nonsense. It's just their way of showing that they're members in good standing of the political faction that believes Obama is capable of anything in his power-mad struggle to turn the United States into a socialist hellhole. The rest is just fluff.

Bee Die-Offs Are Worst Where Pesticide Use Is Heaviest

| Thu May 14, 2015 1:34 PM EDT
Dancestrokes/Shutterstock

The nation's honeybee crisis has deepened, with colony die-offs rising sharply over last year's levels, the latest survey from the US Department of Agriculture-funded Bee Informed Partnership shows. A decade or so ago, a mysterious winter-season phenomenon known as colony-collapse disorder emerged, in which bee populations would abandon their hives en masse. These heavy winter-season losses have tapered off somewhat, but now researchers are finding substantial summer-season losses, too. Here are the latest numbers.

Chart: Bee Informed Partnership/University of Maryland/Loretta Kuo

Note that total losses are more than double what beekeepers report as the "acceptable rate"—that is, the normal level of hive attrition. Losses above the acceptable level put beekeepers in a precarious economic position and suggest that something is awry with bee health. "We traditionally thought of winter losses as a more important indicator of health, because surviving the cold winter months is a crucial test for any bee colony,” Dennis vanEngelsdorp, University of Maryland entomologist and director for the Bee Informed Partnership said in a press release. But now his team is also seeing massive summer die-offs. "Years ago, this was unheard of," he added.

And here's a map a map depicting where losses are heaviest:

Chart: Bee Informed Partnership/University of Maryland/Loretta Kuo

The survey report doesn't delve into why the nation's bees are under such severe strain, noting only, as USDA entomologist and survey co-coordinator Jeffrey Pettis put it, "the need to find better answers to the host of stresses that lead to both winter and summer colony losses."

A growing weight of science implicated pesticides—particularly a ubiquitous class of insecticides called neonicitinoids, as well as certain fungicides—as likely factors.

Here are US Geological Survey maps of where two major neonics, imidacloprid and clothianidin, are grown. Note, too, the rapid rise in their use over the past decade.

Chart: USGS

 

 

Chart: USGS

A 2013 paper co-authored by the USDA's Pettis and the University of Maryland's vanEngelsdorp found that lows levels of two particular fungicides, chlorothalonil and pyraclostrobin, "had a pronounced effect" on bees’ ability to withstand a common pathogen. Here are the USGS's maps for them.

 

Chart: USGS

 

 

 

Your Weak Handshakes Are Slowly Killing You

| Thu May 14, 2015 12:17 PM EDT

The life of someone with a weak handshake, already burdened with the stereotypes of being passive and awkward, just got much worse. According to a new study published in The Lancet, a weak hand grip may be strongly correlated to an increased chance of being diagnosed with a cardiovascular disease and even a premature death.

"We think it fits the measure of someone's frailty, and frailty can be thought of as your ability to withstand having a disease," the study's lead author Dr. Darryl Leong explained, according to CTV News.

The study, which focused on roughly 140,000 adults across 17 countries, asked participants to squeeze objects as hard as they could. After measuring their grip strengths, those who demonstrated a lack of muscular strength were shown to be at a far greater risk of having a heart attack.

While previous studies have shown similar links, the new findings are the first to show that handshakes can be a reliable indicator of premature mortality. But the study did not establish whether illnesses were the consequences of reduced muscular strength or if the diseases were already present. From the Economist:

If the former is true, then building up strength through exercise might avert early death. If it is the latter, a person’s cards are probably marked irreversibly. Most likely, it is a bit of both, with muscle strength being a good marker of "real" ageing—in other words, of generalised biochemical decrepitude—which correlates only imperfectly with someone’s calendar age.

You can read the study in its entirety here.

Bad News for Simpsons Fans

| Thu May 14, 2015 8:20 AM EDT

Harry Shearer, the iconic voice of countless "Simpsons" characters including Mr. Burns and Ned Flanders, sent out a pair of ominous tweets last night signaling he may be exiting the show due to what appears to be a contract dispute with executive producer James L. Brooks:

Fox recently renewed the show for another two seasons to last till 2017, but Shearer was reportedly still trying to work out his contract. Judging by the tweets sent out last night, it looks an agreement couldn't be reached. We're still hoping for the best, but for now, we leave you with this clip: