European prince fights to retain power

Tiny Liechtenstein, the diminutive landlocked alpine nation of 36,000 located between Switzerland and Austria, gets little international attention due to its size, or lack thereof.

However, the principality has been rattled by a war of words between activists who want to revoke the royal veto and the hereditary prince, who has threatened to quit if they do, according to Agence France-Presse.

“Liechtenstein owes its very existence as a principality to its royal family and their princes, who have ruled it as an autonomous monarchy since the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806,” according to the wire service.

But current ruler Prince Alois von und zu Liechtenstein has threatened that his 900-year-old family will drop its royal duties if Liechtenstein passes a referendum eliminating the prince’s veto, a power enshrined in the constitution.

“The royal family is not willing to undertake its political responsibilities unless the prince … has the necessary tools at his disposal,” Alois said in a speech to parliament on March 1.

“But if the people are no longer open to that, then the royal family will not want to undertake its political responsibilities and … will completely withdraw from political life.”

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John Milton: great writer, bad bargainer

On this date in 1667 English writer John Milton sold the copyright for Paradise Lost for the seemingly insignificant sum of £10.

Even more galling in retrospect, given that Paradise Lost is now considered one of the greatest literary works in the English language, is that Milton didn’t even get all his money up front.

He received £5 outright and a further £5 to be paid each time a print run of between 1,300 and 1,500 copies sold out, as the blog Armchair Anglophile points out.

Given that Milton died in 1674 as a second edition was being planned, he therefore reaped but one extra payment of £5.

In fairness, that’s worth a total of about £15,000 today, but given that millions of copies of Milton’s book have been printed over the centuries, it still seems like a paltry sum.

The Toronto Globe and Mail called Milton’s rendering of the Fall of Man “the greatest epic poem in the English language, the anvil of words on which every subsequent poem has been forged, the only contender to Shakespeare’s greatness, (and) quite possibly the most profound meditation on good and evil ever written.”

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British crawfish falling victim to US rival

It appears Britain’s only native species of crawfish is tad more snobbish than its American cousin, and it’s proving a definite hindrance to its survival.

American signal crawfish are not only less fussy about what they eat than Britain’s white-clawed crawfish but it’s also are more resistant to parasites.

Researchers from the University of Leeds in England have published a study in the online journal PLoS One that looks at why signal crawfish – or “crayfish,” as non-Southerners like to refer to the crustacean – have been gaining the upper hand over white-clawed crawfish in Great Britain since the former’s introduction from the US in the 1970s.

Among other things, the study compares how the two species deal with food.

“The American signal crayfish ate up to 83 per cent more food per day than did their native cousins,” according to Underwatertimes.com.

“The research also showed that white-clawed crayfish are much more choosy about what they eat, preferring particular types of prey, while the signals eat equal amounts of all prey,” it added.

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Search for the great white (killer) whale

Call them Ishmael.

A group of Russian scientists plan to embark on a journey next week to find the only all-white, adult killer whale ever seen.

But unlike Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s classic Moby-Dick, researchers from the universities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg simply want to study the rare and elusive mammal.

Nicknamed “Iceberg,” the alabaster orca was sighted near the Commander Islands in the North Pacific in August 2010, living in a pod with 12 other family members, according to Agence France-Presse.

Judging from its towering, six-foot dorsal fin, Iceberg was deemed to be at least 16 years old, said Erich Hoyt, co-director of the Far East Russia Orca Project.

“This is the first time we have ever seen an all-white, mature male orca,” Hoyt told the wire service. “It is a breathtakingly beautiful animal.”

The scientists refrained from releasing photographs of Iceberg until they were able to study him further, “but we have been looking for him ever since,” said Hoyt.

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Deaths of blacks during Civil War pondered

Last week, this blog wrote about a recent study that estimates some 750,000 Americans died during the War Between the States, rather than the 620,000 figure that’s generally been accepted as gospel for more than a century. 

However, James Downs of Oxford University Press highlights an important distinction: J. David Hacker, the Binghamton University SUNY historian who compiled the study, included only soldiers in his calculations, failing to reflect the mortality of former slaves during the war. 

“If former slaves were included in this figure, the Civil War death toll would likely be over a million casualties,” he writes at OUPBlog

Hacker published a paper late last year in Civil War History revealing the new 750,000 figure based on demographic methods and sophisticated statistical software he used to study newly digitized US census records from 1850 to 1880. 

The calculations yielded the number of “excess” deaths of military-age men between 1860-1870 – the number who died in the war or in the five subsequent years from causes related to the war. 

Given the margin of error, deaths from the 1861-65 conflict could have ranged from 617,877 to 851,066. Hacker split the difference and settled on an estimate of 750,000 dead, 21 percent higher than the long-accepted figure. 

In Hacker’s study there is only a passing reference to former slaves’ mortality, Downs writes. 

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Kudzu bug threatening Southern exports

Some Latin American countries that trade with Southeastern states are worried that kudzu bugs may be headed south of the border, Southeast Farm Press reports.

In February, officials in Honduras discovered dead kudzu bugs in a shipping container from Georgia. This led the country to step up inspections of cargo from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama, according to the publication.

The kudzu bug only arrived in the Western Hemisphere in 2009, coming into Atlanta from Asia. But since then it has spread across at least 230 counties in four states.

It’s now found in all 46 South Carolina counties, more than 140 counties in Georgia, more than 40 North Carolina counties, along with parts of Alabama. Entomologists have been astounded by the insect’s rapid movement.

The bugs, known in most parts of the world as bean plataspids, look like boxy brown ladybugs and emit a foul-smelling secretion when threatened. While they are known to eat kudzu, they can also ravage soybeans, along with other legumes, according to the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

University of Georgia researchers scheduled an informational meeting late last month to share with Latin American officials what they have learned about the kudzu bug since its arrival in the Southeast.

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Huge Great White shark landed in Mexico

One of the largest Great White sharks ever recorded was caught this past weekend off the coast of Mexico, a 20-foot monster that weighed approximately 2,000 pounds. 

The Great White was hauled up by two commercial fishermen in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, apparently in a net, according to local news reports. 

The fishermen had no idea they’d captured the massive shark until it was brought to the surface, believing instead they had merely netted a large haul of smaller fish, one of them said in an interview with Pisces Sportfishing, which is located in the Baja California resort city of Cabo San Lucas. 

The publication identified the two fisherman as only Guadalupe and Baltazar.

The shark was dead when it was brought to the surface. 

“The fishermen, whose skiff measures 22 feet and is powered by a 75-horsepower outboard, required an hour to tow the carcass two miles to the coast,” according to GrindTV.com. “About 50 people helped drag the behemoth onto dry sand. 

The Great White was measured at six meters long, or 19.8 feet. 

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