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E.g., 11/26/2015
E.g., 11/26/2015

Trump v. Carson and other headlines

10/26/15 08:02AM

Trump questions Carson's Seventh-Day Adventist faith. (Washington Post)

Despite what Trump tweeted, Ford still building a massive plant in Mexico. (Washington Post)

Hillary Clinton accused of revising history on DOMA. (Bloomberg Politics)

Joe Biden explains why he didn't run. (New York Magazine)

GOP tries to head of Sharron Angle senate bid. (Politico)

Strong earthquake in Afghanistan shakes region. (AP)

Lenin statue in Ukraine turned into Darth Vader. (New York Times)

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Yellow-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus africanus)

Week in Geek: Avian vampires edition

10/25/15 01:43PM

Your choice of vampire Halloween costumes just got more interesting: vampire birds are a thing and they sound kind of terrifying.

With the exception of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," I can really think of any other instances where smaller, everyday birds are painted as the terrifying predator. But now that I've learned about vampire finches and oxpeckers, I might never look at my backyard the same.

Let's start with the vampire finches first. They are flying bloodsuckers with razor sharp beaks which they use to stab the necks of their victims so they can quench their evil thirsts. Vampire finches actually feed mostly on OTHER BIRDS that for some reason let them. Luckily they can only be found in the Galapagos Islands (for now), but they don't sound like anything I'd want migrating towards the mainland anytime soon.

And now the oxpeckers. These equally smallish birds inhabit deserts and seem just as nefarious as their island brethren. Scientists used to think oxpeckers had more of a mutual relationship with other species; namely they would hang around herds of savannah mammals and eat their ticks and parasites. However, it turns out they don't always stop pecking after consuming the external pest, but they continue to peck away at the host itself.

To learn more about these terrifying species and watch a video of oxpeckers going to town on a giraffe, check out this piece by Jason Bittel.

Here are some more geek from the week:

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Florida Senator Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Donald Trump on the stage  in the Republican presidential primary debate, Aug. 6, 2015. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

This Week in God, 10.24.15

10/24/15 08:29AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an alarming quote from the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, who thinks it may be possible for the United States government to close houses of worship, the First Amendment notwithstanding.
Mother Jones reported this week on Donald Trump exploring the limits of his anti-ISIS strategy, when he raised the possibility of unprecedented action.
In an interview on Fox Business, host Stuart Varney asked Trump whether, if elected president, he would follow the anti-ISIS lead of the British government, which has revoked the passports of people who traveled to fight alongside extremists, and has planned to close mosques that are "used to host extremist meetings or speakers."
"I would do that, absolutely, I think it's great," Trump responded. Varney pressed Trump on whether he even could close a mosque, citing religious freedom as a possible roadblock.
Trump conceded he wasn't sure, but he was open to the possibility. "It depends, if the mosque is, you know, loaded for bear, I don't know," the GOP candidate said during the on-air interview. "You're going to have to certainly look at it."
An official for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a written statement, explaining, "Donald Trump's apparent willingness to close down American mosques that he deems 'extreme' is totally incompatible with the Constitution and our nation's cherished principles of religious freedom."
CAIR's statement has the benefit of accuracy, though Trump was not without supporters. American Family Radio’s Bryan Fischer told his audience this week that the First Amendment only protects Christians -- a constitutional interpretation with no foundation in reality -- which in Fischer's mind means a Trump administration "can constitutionally close down mosques in the United States of America.”
First, reality and constitutional law appear to point in a very different direction. Second, when this election cycle eventually ends, and we take stock of the degree to which some candidates relied on anti-Islam messages to advance their ambitions, keep this incident in mind.
Also from the God Machine this week:
Clinton sees value in (some) investigations

Hillary Clinton sees value in (some) investigations

10/23/15 10:05PM

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton talks with Rachel Maddow about the importance of investigations into attacks on U.S. installations abroad, both to honor those lost in the attacks and to learn how to avoid future attacks, but laments that the current House Select Committee on Benghazi is not serving that goal. watch

Could Syria go the way of Libya?

Could Syria go the way of Libya?

10/23/15 09:28PM

Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, Democratic candidate for president, talks with Rachel Maddow about whether Syria runs the risk of following the chaotic model of Libya if Bashar al-Assad is deposed. watch

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow interviews Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Oct. 23, 2015. (Photo by Ilya Savenok/MSNBC)

Hillary Clinton: 'I want to build on' Obama-era progress

10/23/15 06:19PM

Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton sat down with Rachel Maddow today for her first interview since yesterday's 11-hour hearing with the House Republicans' Benghazi Committee. Rachel asked the question on the minds of many: "What does a person do after 11 hours of testimony? You're the only human being I know of on Earth who has done 11 straight hours. What did you do after?"
Clinton laughed and responded, "Well, I had my whole team come over to my house and we sat around eating Indian food and drinking wine and beer. That's what we did. It was great."
Asked if she's jealous of Vice President Biden, whose decision to skip the 2016 race means he won't have to endure the difficulties of a national campaign, Clinton joked, "That's a good question!" Speaking more generally about the Obama/Biden era, the former Secretary of State said something that struck me as important:
"I want to build on the progress that they are leaving behind. I feel very strongly about that. I want to go further, but I think the real point of this election is whether or not the Republicans are going to be able to turn the clock back and rip away the progress that has been made. So I want to support what the president and the vice president have accomplished."
This dovetails in striking ways with the comments Clinton made during last week's debate. Confronted with concerns about representing "Obama's third term," the leading 2016 Democrat didn't shrink from the last seven years, and Clinton still isn't. Biden said this week, "Democrats should not only defend this record and protect this record, they should run on the record," and there's every reason to believe Hillary Clinton intends to do exactly that.

Friday's Mini-Report, 10.23.15

10/23/15 04:33PM

Today’s edition of quick hits:
* Terrifying: "Hurricane Patricia became the strongest storm ever measured on the planet early Friday, with experts warning it could trigger 40-foot waves along southwestern Mexico and 'life-threatening' flash flooding."
* Iraq: "Friday morning, the Pentagon released the name of the first American serviceman to die in battle in the latest round of U.S. military involvement in Iraq: Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, age 39, killed during a raid by Kurdish and American commandos on an Islamic State prison near the town of Hawija that reportedly freed 70 hostages who were soon to be summarily executed."
* Another school shooting: "One person was fatally shot and two others were wounded in a dispute over a dice game on the campus of Tennessee State University in Nashville late Thursday, police said."
* The resignation won't negate the criminal charges: "New Mexico's embattled Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who in late August was indicted on dozens of criminal charges, has resigned, an email attributed to a top staffer in her office says."
* ISIS: "FBI Director James Comey said Friday that federal authorities have an estimated 900 active investigations pending against suspected Islamic State-inspired operatives across the country."
* Bad news for Chris Christie, Part I: "The New Jersey Senate voted on Thursday to override Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of a gun control bill, the first time state lawmakers had mustered enough votes in more than 50 attempts at undoing one of his vetoes."
* Bad news for Chris Christie, Part II: "The health care worker who sharply criticized being quarantined at a New Jersey hospital last year because she had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa said in a lawsuit filed Thursday that Gov. Chris Christie and the state health department illegally held her against her will."