Spider Logic Monday


Two young wolf spiders throw out lines of silk to go ballooning in the park.

Look, spiders are great. They’re an important part of the ecosystem and benefit humans by eating insects, including mosquitoes and agricultural pests. That said, many people are afraid of spiders, even the kinds that pose no risk to humans.

To those people, please, don’t read any further. Because scientists have discovered more about a process that allows some spiders to “fly” without the aid of wings. According to a study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, spiders use natural electric fields to help them travel as far as hundreds of miles.

The phenomenon of spiders seemingly floating for long distances isn’t new. Scientists have long observed spiders “ballooning,” meaning shooting out strands of silk and floating away into the air. But they have debated exactly how it works.


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Scientific Sunday

LUNAR RAINBOW CONTRAIL: Pilot and night-sky photographer Brian Whittaker has a knack for catching unusual sights from the cockpit as he flies back and forth from the USA to Europe. On July 3rd, he added “lunar rainbow contrail” to the list. “Although it was a beautiful evening seeing noctilucent clouds all night long from 38,000 feet, the coolest thing I saw was this iridescent contrail streaming from the wingtip of an Air France A380,” says Whittaker.

“We were flying east of Newfoundland, Canada, when the rising Moon lit up the contrail, creating a rainbow-colored streamer with stars sparkling above,” he says. “What a wonderful job.”

Although the contrail was rainbow-colored, it was not technically a rainbow, which requires raindrops. The contrail was filled with ice. Vortices of air that swirl behind flying wingtips create a low-pressure zone where water from humid air can condense. Sub-freezing temperatures produce crystals of ice which, in this case, split the light of the rising moon into iridescent colors.


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Fascist Scumbags Saturday


Pursuant to its “zero-tolerance” policy, the Trump administration separated some 2,300 migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico border since May 5, 2018. Widespread international condemnation ensued. On June 26, a federal judge in San Diego ordered the government to reunite the families and established a timetable for reunification.

On June 29, the Department of Justice filed a notice of compliance with the court order, but indicated its intention to indefinitely detain families together. Indefinite detention violates international law.

“The Government will not separate families but detain families together during the pendency of immigration proceedings when they are apprehended at or between ports of entry,” the Justice Department wrote in its notice of compliance.

That would amount to indefinite detention as immigration cases can last for months or even years.

A 1997 settlement called the Flores agreement requires that detained immigrant children be released after 20 days. In its notice of compliance, the Justice Department asked the court to modify the Flores agreement to allow indefinite detention of migrants.

Meanwhile, on July 2, a federal judge in Washington ordered the government to give asylum applicants a meaningful opportunity to be released. More than 1,000 applicants have been incarcerated for months or years with no resolution of their cases.

Indefinite detention violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Refugee Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.


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Mark Fiore was nowhere to be found. 😦

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Threat Thursday


THE GIANT HOGWEED is hard to miss. The monstrous plant towers up to 15 feet tall, with a crown of white flowers the size of an umbrella. They burst into bloom between the last week of June and the first week of July—just in time to be the perfect dramatic backdrop to red-white-and-blue-themed parties.

But whatever you do, don’t touch it. The giant hogweed’s toxic sap could give you third-degree burns if you don’t get out of the sun and wash it off immediately. Like an anti-sunblock, chemicals in its juices disrupt your skin’s ability to filter out harmful UV rays. Get it in your eyes and you could go blind.

In places where hogweed has been around for decades, residents know its risks well. But while the majestic flower of the hogweed adds a courtly presence to any landscape, it is an invasive species—producing up to 120,000 winged seeds at a time. In the mid-1900s it expanded across New York state, carried on the riverways it likes to grow near. It hopped into nearby Pennsylvania, Ontario, and then on into Michigan. About 15 years ago it invaded Ohio. Today it’s found sporadically in more than a dozen states—and it’s still spreading, putting more people in harm’s way.


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Birth of Megalomania Wednesday


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt directly appealed to President Donald Trump in the spring to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and name him as temporary replacement to run the Justice Department, CNN reported on Tuesday.

Pruitt, who faces ethics questions and at least a dozen investigations by the EPA inspector general, Congress and the White House, denied it.

 “This report is simply false. General Sessions and I are friends and I have always said I want nothing more than to see him succeed in his role,” Pruitt said in a statement.

CNN reported that Pruitt offered to replace Sessions for 210 days under the Vacancies Reform Act and told Trump during an Oval Office conversation that he would return to Oklahoma afterward and run for office.

Citing three unnamed people familiar with the offer, CNN reported that advisers shot down the proposal.


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FB User Data Tuesday


Facebook gave 61 businesses including Nike, Spotify, UPS and dating app Hinge special rights to access user data after blocking such access more broadly.

In written responses to the US Congress on its operations, the social network revealed it granted numerous extensions to access a user’s public profile as well as some data from their friends.

Facebook introduced stricter guidelines for third party apps in April 2014 and gave businesses a year to transition to the new rules before forcing compliance – except for the 61 firms named in the documents, 60 of which received a six-month extension. One accessibility app – Serotek – received an eight-month extension.

Other companies to receive the extension include Snap, Panasonic, Oracle, AOL, and Nissan.

The revelations contrast with previous statements from the social media giant that the function which allowed such detailed access had been shut down in 2014.


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