Bad Skeeter Thursday

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Aedes aegypti

When an Aedes aegypti mosquito bites you, she – because only the females, which need blood as nutrients for their offspring, bite – will probe your skin with her proboscis as many as 20 times. Two pairs of sharp cutting edges, the fascicle, break the skin and then search for a blood vessel, withdrawing and re-entering until a suitable target is found. When the blood starts to flow, a salivary tube delivers a protein that stops it clotting. The mosquito holds still and then begins to suck; in 90 seconds’ time, she feels full, and stops. And then, if you are in parts of South and Central America and bang out of luck, you will have Zika.

It’s a horrible idea, and one that will draw shudders from anyone who has ever been bitten by a mosquito – which is to say, just about everyone. In the entire animal kingdom, the mosquito occupies a special place as receptacle for our hatred and disgust. Even the great and generous EO Wilson, author of the touchstone argument for preserving biodiversity, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, makes an exception for anopheles gambiae, which spreads malaria in Africa. “Keep their DNA for future research,” he writes, “and let them go.”

When Wilson thus hardens his heart, he speaks for us all. Where we revere and anthropomorphise such brutal predators as sharks, tigers and bears, we view these tiny ectoparasites as worthless, an evolutionary accident with no redeeming or adorable characteristics. No one ever had a cuddly mosquito. Thanks to malaria, they have probably helped to kill more than half of all humans ever to have lived. Today, according to the Gates foundation, the diseases they carry kill about 725,000 people a year, 600,000 of them victims of malaria. They are, as such, the only creature responsible for the deaths of more humans than humans themselves; we only manage to kill about 475,000 a year. This deadly work is carried out all over the planet: mosquitoes are found on every continent except Antarctica. And now there is Zika, which can lead to microcephaly and its associated physical deformities in unborn children, and for which there is no vaccine. This new horror has prompted fresh attention to the vexed question of how to defeat them. And that consideration leads to an unsentimental thought that we would entertain about no other creature: can’t we wipe them off the face of the Earth?

@ THE GUARDIAN

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Weirdness Wednesday

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Indian scientists are investigating whether a man was killed by a meteorite, which if confirmed would be the first recorded death from falling fragments of space rock in almost 200 years.

Jayalalithaa Jayaram, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has said a bus driver at a college in her state was killed by the meteorite and awarded 100,000 rupees ($1,470) in compensation to his family.

“A meteorite fell within the college premises,” Jayalalithaa said. The man “sustained serious injuries and died while on the way to the hospital”.

Jayalalithaa, a former film star, left tight-lipped local officials struggling to explain the mystery blast at the engineering college that left a small crater and broke windows.

The bus driver was standing on a patch of grass near the college cafeteria when he was killed, while two gardeners and a student were injured, officials said. A dark blue stone resembling a diamond was found at the scene.

@ REUTERS

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The Un-Lottery

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Eat the Rich Tuesday

Lloyd Blankfein, longtime CEO of Goldman Sachs, didn’t like what Bernie Sanders said about him in early January, and he fired back on CNBC’s “Squawkbox” last week, saying Sanders’ critique “has the potential to be a dangerous moment.”

But there’s more to that story than it appears. It’s not simply that Sanders uses Blankfein as a symbol of the “greed of Wall Street” — it’s that Sanders does so while highlighting the evocative contrast between the 2008 bailout of Wall Street and Blankfein’s public advocacy for cuts to entitlements.

Sanders took offense when Blankfein, in a 2012 segment on “60 Minutes,” said, “You’re going to have to undoubtedly do something to lower people’s expectations” that they will get their full Social Security and Medicare benefits because “we can’t afford it.” Blankfein advocated an increase in the eligibility age for both programs as well as other cuts because “entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.”

Soon afterward, Sanders excoriated Blankfein in a speech from the floor of the Senate titled “The Face of Class Warfare”:

SANDERS: Sometimes there is no end to arrogance. … Lloyd Blankfein is the CEO of Goldman Sachs. … During the financial crisis Goldman Sachs received a total of $814 billion in virtually zero-interest loans from the Federal Reserve and a $10 billion bailout from the Treasury Department. … And now with his huge wealth he is coming here to Washington to lecture the American people on how we have got to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for tens of millions of Americans who are struggling now to keep their heads above water.

@ TI

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Twisted Trump Monday

1cU.S. Republican White House front-runner Donald Trump said on Sunday he would be open to harsh measures to deal with the threat from Islamic State, including going beyond the controversial interrogation tactic known as waterboarding.

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week” program, Trump discussed reviving the tactic and implementing other interrogation techniques, pointing to the recent beheadings of Christians in the Middle East as evidence of the need for stronger interrogation methods for suspected operatives of extremist groups.

“We’re like living in medieval times,” he said. “If I have to do it and if it’s up to me, I would absolutely bring back waterboardng. And if it’s going to be tougher than waterboarding, I would bring that back, too.”

When pressed by interviewer George Stephanopoulos if that meant the United States employing similar methods of beheading captors, Trump responded: “We’re going to do things beyond waterboarding,” adding, “Perhaps, if that happens to come.”

@ REUTERS

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Starry Sunday

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Click through the gallery to see this week’s helping of the best the universe has to offer. And if you need more when you’re done but can’t wait until the next one, here’s the entire collection.

@ WIRED

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Saturday Speech Salary

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Hillary Clinton’s deep ties to Wall Street are under the spotlight again following her defense of taking large speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, as well as campaign finance records showing the tens of millions her campaign and super PACs have received from the financial sector.

Her defense of the speaking fees came Wednesday night during the Democratic Presidential Town Hall hosted by CNN when Anderson Cooper asked if it “was a mistake” or “bad error in judgement” for her to take $675,000 from the investment banking giant for three speeches.

Her response: “Look, I made speeches to lots of groups. I told them what I thought. I answered questions.”

“But did you have to be paid $675,000?” Cooper asked.

“Well, I don’t know,” she said. “That’s what they offered. Every secretary of state that I know has done that.”

She added that she wasn’t committed to running at the time, and said, “They’re not giving me very much money now, I can tell you that much.”

@ Truthdig

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FReyeDay FUnNeEz

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