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From “Findings” in the August 2009 Harper’s.
Scientists made graduate students provoke spitting cobras into attacking them, coordinated assaults on humans by mockingbirds, induced regret in monkeys, and tickled five young bonobos, four young chimpanzees, five young gorillas, seven young orangutans, and one young siamang. They cured floppy-baby syndrome in mice, prevented honeybees from forming long-term memories, and punished with quinine bees who made bad choices. They inaugurated a $2.6 million U.S. government study to see whether Chinese prostitutes can be less drunk while working, and reported that female ducks and geese acquire “wonderfully devious” vaginas, which include forbidding spirals and culs-de-sac, only if a species’ males have penises large enough for rape. They determined that spiderwebs have just the right amount of stickiness, but they still did not know why giraffes have long necks or what fingerprints are for. After studying the fall of 64,000 individual raindrops, they found that some small raindrops fall faster than they ought to. They made plans to suppress fire-ant populations by spreading parasitic flies whose larvae take control of and eventually eat the ants’ brains. They found that 34 percent of scientists admitted to questionable research practices.
Model Liskula Cohen sued Google in January in the hope of forcing the company to reveal the person responsible for allegedly defamatory comments on a blog called Skanks in NYC, which was hosted by Google’s Blogger service. “I would have to say the first-place award for ‘Skankiest in NYC’ would have to go to Liskula Gentile Cohen,” the anonymous blogger wrote. “How old is this skank? 40 something? She’s a psychotic, lying, whoring, still going to clubs at her age, skank.” Cohen, who is actually 37, believed the posts were defamatory but was forced to take action against Google in order to unmask the blogger’s identity before she could take further action. –“Model Forces Google to Reveal ‘Skank’ Blogger’s Identity,” Asher Moses, the Sydney Morning Herald (via)
In some respects, a zombie “plague” resembles a lethal, rapidly spreading infection. The researchers say the exercise could help scientists model the spread of unfamiliar diseases through human populations. In their study, the researchers from the University of Ottawa and Carleton University (also in Ottawa) posed a question: If there was to be a battle between zombies and the living, who would win? Professor Robert Smith? (the question mark is part of his surname and not a typographical mistake) and colleagues wrote: “We model a zombie attack using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies. We introduce a basic model for zombie infection and illustrate the outcome with numerical solutions.” –“Science Ponders ‘Zombie Attack’,” Pallab Ghosh, BBC News
Silver pocketwatch found 130 years later (via);
“it is estimated that between 95-99% of all Japanese silent films are lost (with almost none before 1923 owing to the destruction of the Nikkatsu film store in the Tokyo earthquake)”;
Roman punch, the summer refreshment of Popes
The ornate pharaonic tombs in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings are doomed to disappear within 150 to 500 years if they remain open to tourists, the head of antiquities has warned. Zahi Hawass said humidity and fungus are eating into the walls of the royal tombs in the huge necropolis on the west bank of the Nile across from Luxor, which is swamped daily by several thousand tourists. Poor ventilation and the breath of the hordes of visitors are causing damage to the carvings and painted decorations inside the tombs, he told journalists on a tour of the royal necropolis yesterday. –“Pharaohs’ Tombs ‘Could Disappear’,” The Australian
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”