Friday, August 13, 2010

Fortean / Oddball News - 8/13/2010

The Age of Austerity Challenges Stonehenge

nytimesThe prehistoric monument of Stonehenge stands tall in the British countryside as one of the last remnants of the Neolithic Age. Recently it has also become the latest symbol of another era: the new fiscal austerity.

Renovations — including a plan to replace the site’s run-down visitors center with one almost five times bigger and to close a busy road that runs along the 5,000-year-old monument — had to be mothballed in June. The British government had suddenly withdrawn £10 million, or $16 million, in financing for the project as part of a budget squeeze.

Stonehenge, once a temple with giant stone slabs aligned in a circle to mark the passage of the sun, is among the most prominent victims of the government’s spending cuts. The decision was heavily criticized by local lawmakers, especially because Stonehenge, a Unesco World Heritage site, was part of London’s successful bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games.

The shabby visitors center there now is already too small for the 950,000 people who visit Stonehenge each year, let alone the additional onslaught of tourists expected for the Games, the lawmakers say.

“It’s a disgrace,” said Ian West, a Wiltshire councilor. “The visitor facilities are definitely not fit for purpose.”

Alan Brown, who was visiting from Australia this week, agreed. “They should really treat this site as the best prehistoric site,” Mr. Brown said. “There is so much more they could do to improve it.”

Stonehenge is the busiest tourist attraction in Britain’s southwest, topping even Windsor Castle. But no major improvements have been made to the facilities there since they were built 40 years ago.

For now, portable toilets lead from a crammed parking lot, via a makeshift souvenir shop in a tent, to a ticket office opposite a small kiosk that sells coffee and snacks.

The overhaul was scheduled for next spring. Plans by the architectural firm Denton Corker Marshall would keep the stone monument itself unchanged. But the current ticket office and shop would be demolished and a new visitors center would be built on the other side of the monument, about two and a half kilometers, or 1.5 miles, from the stones.

The center would include a shop almost five times the size of the current one, a proper restaurant, three times as many parking spots and an exhibition space to provide more information about Stonehenge’s history.

A transit system would shuttle visitors between the center and the stones while footpaths would encourage tourists to walk to the monument and explore the surrounding burial hills. The closed road would be grassed over to improve the surrounding landscape.

Last year, the £27 million project won the backing of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. After more than 25 years of bickering with local communities about how and where to build the new center, planning permission was granted in January. Construction was supposed to start next year and be completed in time for the Olympics — but the economic downturn has changed those plans.

The new prime minister, David Cameron, has reversed many of his predecessor’s promises as part of a program to cut more than £99 billion annually over the next five years to help close a gaping budget deficit. The financing for Stonehenge fell in the first round of cuts, worth about £6.2 billion, from the budget for the current year, along with support for a hospital and the British Film Institute.

“We are frustrated and disappointed,” Peter Carson, head of Stonehenge, said, standing in a windowless office at the site surrounded by boxes filled with toys and other souvenirs from the gift shop. It is now unclear whether someone else may step in to pay for the new visitors center.

English Heritage, a partly government-financed organization that owns Stonehenge and more than 400 other historic sites in the country, is now aggressively looking for private donations. But the economic downturn has made the endeavor more difficult.

Gary Norman, a tourist from Phoenix, said it was obvious that the visitors center was too small, but he acknowledged that “right now, with a global recession, £10 million is a lot of money.”

Hunched over architectural renderings of the new center, Loraine Knowles, Stonehenge’s project director, said she was disappointed that the government had withdrawn money while continuing to support museums in London, like the Tate and the British Museum.

But Ms. Knowles said she was hopeful that English Heritage could raise the money elsewhere. Stonehenge, she said, could then also become “a shining example of how philanthropy could work.”


Oregon's Monster Mushroom Is World's Biggest Living Thing

independent - The largest living organism ever found has been discovered in an ancient American forest.

The Armillaria ostoyae, popularly known as the honey mushroom, started from a single spore too small to see without a microscope. It has been spreading its black shoestring filaments, called rhizomorphs, through the forest for an estimated 2,400 years, killing trees as it grows. It now covers 2,200 acres (880 hectares) of the Malheur National Forest, in eastern Oregon.

The outline of the giant fungus stretches 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometres) across, and it extends an average of three feet (one metre) into the ground. It covers an area as big as 1,665 football fields.

The discovery came after Catherine Parks, a scientist at the Pacific Northwest Research Station in La Grande, Oregon, in 1998 heard about a big tree die-off from root rot in the forest east of Prairie City.

Using aerial photos, Ms Parks staked out an area of dying trees and collected root samples from 112. She identified the fungus through DNA testing. Then, by comparing cultures of the fungus grown from the 112 samples, she determined that 61 were from the same organism, meaning a single fungus had grown bigger than anything anyone had ever described before.

On the surface, the only evidence of the fungus are clumps of golden mushrooms that pop up in the autumn with the rain. "They are edible, but they don't taste the best," said Tina Dreisbach, a botanist and mycologist with the US Forest Service in Corvallis, Oregon. "I would put lots of butter and garlic on them."

Digging into the roots of an affected tree, something that looks like white latex paint can be seen. These are mats of mycelium, which draw water and carbohydrates from the tree to feed the fungus and interfere with the tree's absorption of water and nutrients. The long rhizomorphs that stretch into the soil invade tree roots through a combination of pressure and enzyme action.

In 1992, another Armillaria ostoyae was found in Washington state covering 1,500 acres, near Mount Adams, making it the largest known organism at the time.

"We just decided to go out looking for one bigger than the last claim," said Gregory Filip, associate professor of integrated forest protection at Oregon State University, and an expert in Armillaria. "There hasn't been anything measured with any scientific technique that has shown any plant or animal to be larger than this."

He said scientists want to learn to control Armillaria because it kills trees, but they also realise it has served a purpose in nature for millions of years.


Silk 'Invisibility Cloak' Created By Scientists

telegraph - At the moment the cloak only works for light outside the visible spectrum, in the terahertz band between radio and infrared. But its developers, at Boston University and Tufts University, believe that it could be made to work at far smaller wavelengths, possibly even including visible light, according to Discovery News.

The researchers hope it will have applications in medical science, as well as opening the possibility of making people or objects invisible.

The "metamaterial" is made of silk covered in tiny gold structures, each a tiny spiral known as a "split ring resonator" or SSR. SSRs have fascinating effects on light - they can absorb, or reflect, all the light at a given wavelength, or bend that light around an object. The silk metamaterial has 10,000 SSRs per square centimetre.

Normally, terahertz waves would pass through silk unaffected. But the new meta-silk resonated when the light struck it.

Since silk is "biocompatible" - it doesn't spark an immune reaction when implanted in the human body - the meta-silk can be used widely in medicine. Fiorenzo Omenetto, one of the Tufts researchers, told Discovery: "This is an unusual angle for a metamaterial because of silk's ability to interface with the human body."

While the researchers say it could be used for Harry Potter-style invisibility cloaks for whole people, the medical angle is its most promising one. Radiologists could cloak organs in the material, allowing them to see past to the hidden parts behind. It could also be used as a blood glucose sensor for diabetes sufferers: as the levels of glucose change, so will the metamaterial. The change can be transmitted as radio (or other) waves and detected by a mobile phone.

Last year, British researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Southampton were given a £4.9 million grant to investigate metamaterials and their possible applications in medicine, defence, security and communication.


Thousands Of Dead Fish Line Jersey Shore

nbcphiliadelphia - Tens of thousands of dead fish are lining the Jersey Shore -- as far as the eye can see -- beginning at High’s Beach along the Delaware Bay in Middle Township Wednesday.

“Once you figured out what it was, the smell hit you,” Flavia Scotto of Burlington, N.J. said about the bizarre fish kill.

Believed to be peanut bunker fish -- a bait fish -- each measures about three-inches long and they all appear to be the same species.

“It looked like a foam coming in and then I said, ‘Oh, a few fish,’ then, ‘No! It’s all fish,’” Christine Cummings said about her 7 a.m. walk on the beach Wednesday.

The thousands of stinky corpses washed up over night, as there was no sign of them Tuesday.

“It’s scary,” Cummings said. “We were swimming in this since last week and it was wonderful. Nice and clean.”

The N.J. Department of Environmental Protection has launched an investigation into the kill. Officials say initial water tests show no sign of toxic phytoplankton like red tide. They are still measuring oxygen levels.

While the DEP investigates, area residents and renters wait to see what explanation officials will have for them. But until then, they must hold their noses.


California Surfer Films Great White Sharks Circling His Board

Me my Shark and I from Chuck Patterson on Vimeo

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With a video camera attached to a 9-foot pole, surfer Chuck Patterson filmed two huge great white sharks measuring 9-fet and 7-feet, respectively, circling beneath his surfboard in the waters off San Diego.


Madness in the Fast Lane

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Clcik for video 3

Click for video 4

In 2008, BBC cameras filmed two Swedish sisters throwing themselves into traffic on the M6. When it was shown on BBC One, nearly 7 million viewers were glued to their screens, and millions more watched it later on YouTube.

The footage was shocking. One previewer wrote "On no account miss this documentary. It opens with what is perhaps the most extraordinary footage I've seen on TV".

But this amazing footage was only part of an even more incredible story, one which could not be told at the time for legal reasons.

Now, two years later, this documentary reveals the full story of the hours just before the cameras captured that motorway footage, and the even more chilling story of what happened over next 72 hours, which left one of the sisters fleeing the scene of a crime, after she had stabbed a man through the chest.

Those who were at the centre of this fascinating legal case, including the police and Crown prosecution service, reveal the complex issues involved in both bringing charges and taking this disturbing case to trial.

A leading criminal psychiatrist, Dr. Nigel Eastman, explains the difficulties the judicial system has in achieving justice and deciding punishment when dealing with mental illness.

Fortean / Oddball News - 8/13/2010
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