After the failure of their three best options for stopping the stream of oil into the Gulf of Mexico which also happen to sound like deviant sex acts – the top hat, the hot tap, and the junk shot – BP is officially out of ideas and just making shit up at this point.

The latest – a robot with a hacksaw attached to it will saw off a length of the pipe so BP can place a dome over it, a tactic those of you who have been paying attention will recognize as shit that didn’t work the first fucking time. And if that doesn’t work, BP also has a small army of little Dutch boys at the ready, and they are prepared to drown as many small children as they need to to avoid paying a monetary fine that will inevitably be whittled down to something like ten minutes worth of profits in the coming years.

Meanwhile, in even dumber news regarding the oil spill, one of the many cleanup options being considered by BP is a centrifuge designed by Kevin Costner while he was on the set of Waterworld, which promises to be to science what Waterworld was to cinema – the awesomest thing ever.

For those who aren’t aware, I have been a Washingtonian for long enough that, aside from a few loyalties in the sporting world that are so deeply ingrained and despair inducing that they can safely be considered genetic disorders, I have pretty much gone native. It’s a mostly laid back corner of the country, which suits me just fine, because I tend to be a fairly tense sort of chap, and the green and grey backdrop and relaxed atmosphere cut that just enough that I’m not intolerable to those around me. For the most part.

Which is why it was a touch off putting to hear material concerning my mostly sleepy state all over the news today, starting with the big business story of the day out of Redmond. Microsoft and Yahoo have finally consumated their on again romance, and like so many drawn out courtships, the moment of truth was a touch anti-climatic. Microsoft, unsurprisingly, gets the sweet end of the deal, with Yahoo bowing out of search and to handle advertising sales as Microsoft takes over search and data analysis for both companies, with the recently launched bing powering Yahoo searches from here on out. And while the deal moves Microsoft into the clear number two position in the  search industry, it’s a distant number two, in which the competition, whose name is synonymous with finding information online, has a stranglehold on 70% of the market.

In other words, Microsoft is right now in the best position it’s ever going to be in to challenge Google’s online search and advertising supremacy. But with the Chrome OS launching in just a few months on netbooks, Google is giving as good as it gets. And if this thing turns into a two front war for domination of operating system software and online technology, I’d put my money on the more nimble young ‘un from Santa Clara County.

And while Steve Ballmer and company might not be at the top of their game, they’re still faring better than the killer whales of the Puget Sound. Harassment by whale watching vessels looking to give tourists that perfect close up is hampering efforts to help the regions fragile orca population recover, so federal regulators are proposing doubling the distance that pleasure boats must stay away from the whales to 200 yards. Which is a nice thought, until you realize that the main problem seems to stem from ships that are not obeying the current guideline that aims to keep a 100 yard barrier between whales and whale watchers. With that in mind, it’s hard to see how doubling a barrier that no one is acknowledging helps preserve orca populations.

Shane Aggergaard, who heads the Pacific Whale Watch Association, a group of whale watch tour companies throughout Washington and British Columbia, may have demonstrated the attitude of tourism companies earlier today, when said in an interview with KUOW that “…we love to educate people regarding these animals so they can further protect them. It will be much more difficult to do that at 200 yards…” Again, this sounds good until you think about it – it’s more or less like arguing that we can’t outlaw shooting people in the face, because if we do, then how will people know that being shot in the face is a terrible, terrible thing?

And oh yeah, the anarchists are up in arms in the Evergreen State, as the anti-war organization Olympia Port Militarization Resistance accused a civilian employee of Washington’s Fort Lewis of COINTELPRO style shenanigans. The group, made up of members of groups like Students for a Democratic Society, Wobblies and self styled anarchists claim that a man going by the name John  Towery posed as an anarchist for two years, reporting back to military sources on the groups members and planned activities, such as staging port blockades.

And as these so called anarchists try to peacefully resist and do some good in the world, 38 year old Jeff Monson is keeping it real, doing all the things a good lone wolf anarchist should do. Like cage fighting. And spray painting anarchy symbols on the state capitol building. And then posing with the graffiti for ESPN The Magazine.

But hey, it could be weirder, I guess. I could live in Alabama, where they taser deaf people, don’t they?

And oh, yeah – Dave Reichert is an idiot and a jerk – more on that tomorrow.

The heartening news for the day is this: even in the midst of a worldwide crisis in which amphibian species are being lost at a staggering rate, researchers across the world are discovering new species of frogs all over the world. Following the discovery of nine new frogs and a previously unknown salamander in Colombia in February of this year, this summer has been lousy with croaking, chirping, hopping amphibians never before described by science.

May saw Conservation International document three new species of frogs in Papua New Guinea, as well as a few dozen new species of jumping spiders. Sadly, that frog news was overshadowed by the nearly 200 new species of frogs discovered in Madagascar last month, a number which doubles the number of known amphibian species inhabiting the island.

After a spate of finds like that, you’d think that would be it in new frog news for a while, right? I mean, 203 new species – that’s a lot, right? We can take a break from the new frogs, right?

Well, no, not if  the Zoological Survey of India has anything to say about it. The survey released data earlier this week showing that 2008 found more than a dozen new frogs were discovered in the country, as well as 14 new insect species. You can check out great pictures of some of the new species on Cryptomundo here. Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Ecuador is getting in on the act.  News broke just a couple days ago of 12 new species discovered along the country’s mountainous border with Peru, including – you guessed it – 4 new species of frogs. All of which are larger than the Noble’s Pygmy Frog, which was discovered in the Peruvian Andes in March and is, for reference, about this big:

And the less heartening news for the day? Well, as I mentioned earlier, it remains a bad time to be an amphibian pretty much anywhere on the planet, newly discovered or not.

According to a recent review of research, same sex relationships are recorded among almost every conceivable species of animal. From the lowly fruit fly to dolphins, bonobos, and of course, penguins, it appears that if you watch enough examples of a species for long enough, chances are you’re going to run across one that swings the other way.

Animals seems to begin same sex relationships for different reasons – bottlenose dolphins seem to engage in homosexual antics for the sake of strengthening bonds among members of the same pod, a practice not dissimilar to that exhibited by the common North American frat boy.

Examples of  same sex mating behavior in albatross and penguins, meanwhile, is more often based around the rearing of a young bird that may have lost one or both parents, proving that even in the wilderness, it’s love that makes a family.

But whatever the variety of reasons, the existing scientific evidence seems to bear out that homosexuality is a perfectly normal, if uncommon, sexual behavior in species throughout the animal kingdom. And sure, that fact is unlikely to change the opinions of die hard homophobes. Then again, who gives a damn what they think anyhow?

Researchers at the British Antarctic Survey are using novel landmarks to track penguin populations in Antarctica. Using satellite imagery, BAS scientists are able to find the flightless birds breeding colonies by first finding the massive feces stained fields that accompany them. Despite documentary films depicting the penguins lifestyle and overwhelming cuteness, the birds breeding colonies remain hard to find and little researched.

But by following the reddish brown guano trails from space, scientists can finally get a accurate count of just how many penguins make up the emperor penguin breeding colonies and more realistically monitor changes to these populations. The first numbers, although astonishingly preliminary and general, are already in, with ten new colonies discovered by the new mapping procedure. Unfortunately for fans of nature’s most adorable seabird, six existing colonies, all of which were found on the same latitude, have seemingly vanished, hinting at trouble for the birds future.

For more on what’s new with maps and all things mapping related, visit a friend of mine who knows the subject pretty much infinitely better than I do.

Scientists at the Smithsonian and the Natural History Museum in London have officially taken on the herculean task of describing every form of life, everywhere in the world. If that sounds a touch on the ambitious side, it is, as there are one hell of a lot of different types of life on earth. That’s why researchers want you to pitch in. 

The “macroscopic observatory,” which is just in it’s inception, will eventually provide identification information, range maps and genetic information about every plant and animal on the planet. But scientists don’t want the project to just be the most comprehensive field guide to every part of the planet, even though it will be that too. 

More importantly, the database will provide researchers with an invaluable tool for tracking developments in the global biosphere. With input constantly pouring in from contributors all over the world, the massive online database will remain dynamic, allowing researchers to watch changes in climate and environment and how these changes affect not only overall populations but also behaviors like flowering times in real time. Interested parties will also be able to participate in more pragmatic research, like following the spread of invasive species more closely and coming to a better understanding of how agribusiness affects and farming affects existing environments.

While you can’t start contributing just yet, stay tuned to the Encyclopedia of Life site for details on how you can become a contributor or take over a page to curate in the near future.

This week’s big winner is University of Colorado professor Chris Greene, whose theories that a Rydberg molecule could be formed were finally proven correct this week. The extremely weak molecular bond, in which a Rydberg atom, with just one electron in its outermost orbit, bonds for a matter of microseconds with a normal atom, forming a Rydberg molecule. The trick to forming the bond is getting conditions cold enough for the Rydberg atom to interact with it’s standard partner – University of Stuttgart researchers who successfully formed the molecule only did so at a temperature of negative 273 degrees Celsius.

Greene is joined on the podium by cow farmers everywhere, for whom the decoding of the cow genome earlier this week means that mucking about with the fundamental makeup of the animals they make their living on just got that much easier. An unlocked genome means that farmers can produce new strains and breeds of cow which will be optimized to produce more and better quality milk and meat. Future generations of gene tinkered bovines could even go to the slaughterhouse with smiles on their eager to be murdered faces. And wouldn’t that be nice?

Speaking of people with smiles on their faces, anti-depressant manufacturers are looking pretty giddy lately, and it’s not because they’ve been dipping into their own stash. Rather, the recent news that a ban on teenage anti-depressant use has not affected suicide rates among teens in the United Kingdom calls into question the perceived link between depression medication and teenagers taking their own lives. That’s right – teenagers killing themselves is actually good news for pharmaceutical companies. Try and act surprised.

Medication isn’t the only treatment for depression, though. For some people suffering from depression, a couple of hours in front of the TV can relieve the feelings of loneliness and isolation, imbuing viewers with a sense of belonging that may be missing in their lives.

‘Clean coal’ supporters also won big this week as Energy Secretary Steven Chu threw the backing of the United States behind the industry, which depends on technologies like carbon capture and gasification to provide energy from coal that doesn’t wreak havoc on the environment. The good news – these technologies may even exist and be effective. The bad news – well, they also may not, but we’re going to use them anyhow.

Cause for optimism remains, though. For evidence that things aren’t always as bad as we think, look no further than the Great Barrier Reef, one of the most astonishing natural wonders of the planet. After spending years teetering on the broink of devastation, the reef has either started one of the most amazing comebacks on record or dodged a bullet, depending on who you ask. Either way, chalk one up in the win column.

That’s not to say optimism is always warranted, as thinkers of happy thoughts are also inaugurating our losers section this week. The reason? Well, it turns out that people possessed of the rosiest outlook for the environmental future of the planet are also those who have the least notion of what’s going on. Of course, the study was performed using 15 year old subjects, so take it for what it’s worth, but remember – these are the people who will be making decisions that impact all life on earth in the coming decades, and if this study has proven one thing, it’s that not knowing how things work makes them happy.

On the other hand, unrestrained pessimists don’t look to be faring any better. News that people who think they will lose their memory as they age tend to experience far worse memory loss than individuals who don’t buy into senior moment stereotypes has Grumpy Gusses the world over settling angrily into the losers column this week. Doesn’t that just figure?

In other unsurprising news, ugly kids are among this weeks losers. A University of Miami study released this week linked physical attractiveness and good grooming in high school with not only higher grades, but also long term financial success. While this may be less than newsworthy, it does support the notion that every film strip you ever watched in elementary school was exactly right about everything, and if that doesn’t terrify you, you’re a stronger person than me.

Among this weeks other losers are Vietnam veterans, because they certainly haven’t had to put up with enough crap already. A study due out in the May issue of The British Journal of Urology International found that prostate cancer patients who had been exposed to Agent Orange  had a 50 percent higher risk of the cancer recurring than others, and that their instances of recurrence were significantly more aggressive than those of other patients.

And closing out our losers is NASA. The agency is staring down a deadline to make a decision on whether to rehab or retire the current space shuttle fleet, but doesn’t have a top executive in place to make the call. Every day that the decision gets put off is a bad one for NASA, whose astronauts are already faced with the bleak prospect of hitching rides to space alongside Russian cosmonauts. With Ruso-American relations remaining icy, that’s a bad fix at best. But keeping the current shuttle fleet in operation while the next generation of ships gets ready to go up, up and away may simply be too dangerous for the agency to face.

Breast milk being the best milk may have more wisdom behind it than just a happily coincidental rhyme nowadays.

Distressingly, the simple couplet may be more pertinent not for what it provides nutritionally, but for what it leaves out of infant diets – namely perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel, which has been found in baby formula according to a study by the Center for Disease Control.

The study doesn’t name names of the 15 brands it tested, but researchers were able to say that all 15 brands contained perchlorate, and that contamination levels were highest in the most popular brands.

Particularly troubling is that most of the formulas are being combined with tap water, and almost all tap water contains perchlorate. Researchers hypothesized that up to 54% of children drinking formula could be getting a daily dose of rocket fuel ingredient above the safe limit suggested by the EPA. But with the EPA still dragging it’s feet on setting regulations for perchlorate levels in drinking water, at this point, all we can do is hope that the chemical renders children swifter and more energetic, rather than causing lasting harm.

For more info, check out the full study here.

Something must be done about all this nature garbage. As the global economy crumbles, animals from all over the world have taken it as a sign of human weakness and decided that they can do whatever they want.

Last week, for example, saw one Mrs. Oonagh Nutt of Northern Ireland besieged by squirrels who are destroying her house. While the thought of someone being attacked by squirrels, especially someone named Nutt, should be hilarious, taken as part of a larger assault on humankind by our furrier kindred, the incident merely seems disturbing.

The latest front of the new war on mankind is the Australian outback, where wild camels are stealing water from isolated desert communities. And as if thieving ungulates plundering our our water supplies isn’t sufficiently disturbing, the fact that the animals are turning the water taps on by themselves would be enough to chill the blood of even the bravest reader.

The best and worst news of the week makes it’s return. Without further ado, this week’s winners!

Eco-Conscious Motorists – From the desk of Every Little Bit Helps, this week saw a modest rise in U.S. fuel efficiency standards. It’s a small step towards halting potentially catastrophic global climate change, but hey – it’s a step, right?

Of course the big news in the greening of automotive technology came out of L.A. yesterday when automaker Tesla unveiled their Model S Sedan, a frankly beautiful roadster that promises to become the first commercially viable, all electric family automobile – when it starts rolling off production lines in earnest in 2011, that is. Check out video at SciAm here.

Bus and Train Riders – Of course, if you’re more concerned with your own health than that of the planet, your still better off not driving. That’s according to a new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia, who found that people who regularly use public transportation are three times as likely to meet minimum physical activity guidelines as those who don’t. Of course, you’re also four times as likely to have to sit next to a guy who smells like Ripple and claims to be the messiah, so you could maybe call that a wash.

This Thai KidIf you get trapped on a ledge, and Spiderman comes to save you, you’re a winner. End of story. 

If, on the other hand, you’re trespassing in Komodo National Park, fall out of a tree, and get mauled to death by komodo dragons…well, my deepest sympathies and all, but you’re inaugurating our losers category this week.

But you’re in good company this week. For instance,

Lobsters and Crabs – For as long as anyone can remember, the story on boiling crabs and lobsters alive has been “Don’t worry, they can’t feel pain, so it’s okay!” Turns out…not so much.  According to a study performed by Queen’s University, hermit crabs not only feel pain, but remember and try to avoid it, rendering the bugs of the sea more intelligent and sensitive than anyone really gave them credit for. Sadly, this new understanding of pain in crustaceans will probably not render the creatures any less delicious.

Huge Dudes – Retired NFL players have always had to deal with a plethora of health problems, but to the legions of creaking knees and aching backs, you can add sleep apnea, which is growing more prevalent among retired NFL players. It seems that linemen, those crushing walls of human flesh that can sometimes move so gracefully, are particularly susceptible to the ailment,which has been tied to obesity and heart disease, and has already been implicated in the death of one great NFL lineman.

House Republicans – There’s nothing sadder than a loser who doesn’t know it. Such is the case with House Republicans, who somehow under the impression that they still get to set policy, unveiled their budget alternative, The Republican Road to Recovery, on Thursday to a resounding chorus of barely muffled snickers. The budget plan, which at a grand total of 19 pages is so light on details that it must be tethered to the ground to keep from floating away, was roundly ridiculed by Democratic lawmakers and the media, and let’s be frank – rightly so. My personal favorite of the documents many bubble charts is at the bottom of page 10, demonstrating how the phrase “Help small businesses keep America Employed” can turn a homeless vagrant into a construction worker – just like magic! 

And cherry on top – new details of the GOP budget – things like, you know a plan, or some hard numbers, will be released…wait for it…wait for it… next Wednesday. April 1st. That’s right, April Fools Day. I swear to God, these guys just know how to take all the fun out of mocking them.

Everyone’s favorite triennial conference on the future of humanity got kicked off once more this week when the 5th World Water Forum arrived in Istanbul, Turkey. The forum brings together activists, politicians, engineers, ecologists and businesses to discuss the future of water, and by extension, continued life on this here planet Earth. 

This year’s theme is Bridging The Water Divide, as attendees confront the fact that more than a billion people worldwide are without access to safe, clean drinking water. With an oft ignored humanitarian crisis lurking just around the corner, organizers including UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon have warned that if steps aren’t taken soon, the next generation of wars will be fought over access to water supplies, with nations doing battle over river basins and glaciers.

As with any international conference, the World Water Forum opening on Monday attracted scads of protesters, claiming that the forum is a front for giant corporations intent on continuing the privatization of water supplies, a practice itself often blamed for crippling public access to water resources. When the protest turned violent, though, riot police, apparently less concerned than attendees by the growing scarcity of our most precious natural resource, promptly turned fire hoses on the crowd.

Meanwhile, as the rest of the world ponders what will happen when they run out of water, residents of the Maldives are faced with an overabundance of H2O, as rising ocean level threaten to render dry land a thing of the past for the archipelago nation, which rise just six feet above sea level at their highest point. Intent on setting an example for the rest of the world, the country has pledged to become the first carbon neutral nation. While the plan certainly beats out the prior notion of purchasing a less flood prone area and making that The Maldives, one can’t help but think that the archipelago nation might need more drastic intervention sometime soon. It may, in point of fact, be time to send in The Mariner

It’s not a good week to be something cute.

Emperor penguins look likely to go the way of so many flightless birds, from the moa (whose fossilized poo  is apparently absolutely fascinating) to the dodo. If the arctic ice shelves they depend on for breeding grounds continue disappearing at their current rate, it’s curtains for everyone’s favorite tuxedo marked, dutifully parenting menace to fish of all sorts by the end of the century. Within a few generations, the birds will be little more than a fond memory with a voice over by Morgan Freeman, and new evidence suggests that there’s sweet F.A. that we can do about it. 

Meanwhile, the human babies (which, despite popular belief, are not  in point of fact cute) just keep rolling on in. The latest set of little miracles to grab the spotlight is the veritable litter of octuplets born in California. Happily, the kids are healthy and breathing on their own. Unhappily, there are goddamn well eight of them. No word yet on whether the proud parents were using fertility drugs, but I’ll give you one guess what the answer is. Best of luck to the folks of these kids – raising me and one brother damn near killed my folks, I can only shudder in terror to think what eight simultaneous puberties will do to people made of even the sternest stuff.

And remember, kiddies, it’s never too early to start drawing straws for “who gets to go to college.” Let the race for the lettered blocks begin!

Next Page »