Stingrays: A face only a mother could love


A Florida fisherman recently reeled in a 14-foot stingray so old it had barnacles on it.

The 800-pound behemoth was snared in the waters off Miami Beach and was initially touted as a hookskate, a little-known deep-water skate that inhabits depths of between 1,000-3,000 feet.

However, George H. Burgess of the Florida Museum of Natural History on Monday identified the creature in question as a roughtail stingray, according to The Big Blue blog.

Captain Mark Quartiano, a charter boat operator, posted a picture of the catch over the weekend.

“I’ve caught one like it before, but never that size, not in the last 30 years I’ve been doing this,” Quartiano told ABC News. “It’s a very rare fish. It’s like a big gigantic whipping stingray. It’s a dinosaur.

“It was very old. It had barnacles all over it,” added Quartiano, who caught the stingray while shooting a series of TV shows for a Japanese network.

He released the fish shortly after tagging it.

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The brutal reality of Medieval warfare


Anyone who questions the brutal nature of medieval warfare need only read The Economist’s description of the fate of a Lancastrian soldier killed at the Battle of Towton during England’s bloody War of the Roses:

The soldier now known as Towton 25 had survived battle before. A healed skull fracture points to previous engagements. He was old enough – somewhere between 36 and 45 when he died – to have gained plenty of experience of fighting. But on March 29th 1461, his luck ran out.

Towton 25 suffered eight wounds to his head that day. The precise order can be worked out from the direction of fractures on his skull: when bone breaks, the cracks veer towards existing areas of weakness. The first five blows were delivered by a bladed weapon to the left-hand side of his head, presumably by a right-handed opponent standing in front of him. None is likely to have been lethal.

The next one almost certainly was. From behind him someone swung a blade towards his skull, carving a down-to-up trajectory through the air. The blow opened a huge horizontal gash into the back of his head – picture a slit you could post an envelope through. Fractures raced down to the base of his skull and around the sides of his head. Fragments of bone were forced in to Towton 25’s brain, felling him.

His enemies were not done yet. Another small blow to the right and back of the head may have been enough to turn him over onto his back. Finally another blade arced towards him. This one bisected his face, opening a crevice that ran from his left eye to his right jaw. It cut deep: the edge of the blade reached to the back of his throat.

Though relatively unknown today, the Battle of Towton has been described as “probably the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil.”

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Southern cotton, hit by rains, late to mature

cotton clarendon county 003

A recent drive through rural South Carolina shows evidence of a healthy cotton crop, albeit one that was late to mature.

Cotton pickers and module builders are just now ramping up in the Carolinas, Georgia and many other parts of the Deep South, the result of a growing season slowed by unusually large amounts of rain this year.

Much of South Carolina, for example, has received 50 or more inches of rain in 2013, anywhere from 8 to 18 inches above average precipitation levels. The same appears to be the case across the region.

In years past, lack of rain has been an issue for cotton farmers, particularly in Texas, a major cotton-growing area, so why is excessive rain an issue?

It’s a factor for several reasons, according to Mark Crosby, Emanuel County (Ga.) extension coordinator:

Heavy rainfall caused excessive erosion on sloping fields and in places in fields where the water puddled, the cotton plants stood in water. The worst fields had areas where the cotton drowned, but, in much of the cotton land, the plants stood in soggy, wet soil for weeks and weeks.

Examination of the crop roots showed very little tap root development and shallow feeder roots. Shallow feeder and tap roots limited the plants ability to take up fertilizer because of a lack of oxygen in the soil.

As soils become more and more saturated and eventually became waterlogged, the effects on cotton plants included yellowing, reduced shoot growth, reduced nutrient uptake, altered hormone levels, and other problems. Some fields of cotton had symptoms of reddening leaves and stems being too wet, as well as typical nitrogen deficiency symptoms.

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Russian billionaire opens Fabregé egg museum

fabrege egg

A Russian billionaire opened a museum Tuesday to display his collection of Fabergé eggs, the famed creations jeweler Carl Fabregé made for the Russian royal family in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Viktor Vekselberg’s museum, called the Fabergé Museum, is located in the Shuvalov Palace in the center of the former imperial capital of Saint Petersburg

The museum features nine Fabregé eggs, originally made for the Russian Czars Alexander III and Nicholas II as Easter gifts for their wives and mothers, as well as thousands of jeweled objets d’art.

Vekselberg bought the collection of eggs from the estate of the Malcolm Forbes, the late publisher of Forbes magazine, in 2004, vowing to bring them back to Russia, according to Agence France-Presse.

The jeweled eggs with enamel and painted details include one given by Nicholas II to his mother, Maria Fyodorovna, which is decorated with his portrait as well as that of his heir, Alexei.

Another egg made in 1895 to celebrate the first anniversary of Nicholas II’s coronation has a surprise inside: a model of a tiny gold carriage. Others contain a gold hen and an enameled rosebud.

Nicholas, Alexei and the rest of the immediate royal family, along with the family’s medical doctor and several servants, were executed by the Bolsheviks in July 1918.

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Satchel Paige: One of a kind, unfortunately

Satchel Paige

Clarence “Ace” Parker died earlier this month at age 101. Parker was not only the oldest-living member of the NFL Hall of Fame, he was also one of the oldest-living former Major League baseball players.

Parker, who would gain fame on the gridiron between 1936 and 1941, and again after World War II in 1945, played under Connie Mack for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1936 and 1937.

While he enjoyed minimal success in the big leagues, at his passing he was noted for being one of just two individuals still alive who played on the same major league baseball field as Yankees great Lou Gehrig and the last living person to play on the same field as Rogers Hornsby, another baseball Hall of Famer.

Hornsby, who began his career in 1915 for the St. Louis Cardinals and would go on to compile the second-highest career batting average in Major League history at .358, was playing for the St. Louis Browns in one of his last games on May 7, 1937, when he took the field against Parker’s Athletics.

Hornsby, nicknamed the Rajah, made it back to the majors more than a decade and a half after his last game when he was hired by the inimitable Bill Veeck to manage the woeful Browns in 1952.

Among players that Hornsby, a cantankerous sort who didn’t smoke, drink or go the movies because he believed they could harm a batter’s vision, had on his roster in St. Louis was Satchel Paige, the former Negro Leagues star who, despite being in his mid-40s, was still quite effective.

Paige was the antithesis of his manager in just about every respect.

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Mauritania: A good time was had by none

Mauritania desert

If one does any bit of traveling it becomes apparent that most any region of the world has its positives and negatives. Your perspective often, but not always, depends on your financial wherewithal.

It’s usually the case that the more money you have at your disposal, the more you’re able to enjoy that which a foreign country has to offer.

However, there ain’t enough lipstick in the world to pretty up some pigs. Case in point is Mauritania, which seems like an utterly miserable locale.

Among other selling points, the West Africa nation has the world’s highest proportion of people in slavery.

An estimated 140,000 to 160,000 of the nation’s 3.8 million people live in slavery, according to the Walk Free Foundation.

Many of the enslaved inherited that status from their ancestors, according to the charity’s Global Slavery Index.

Other estimates are higher: Up to as much as 20 percent of the nation’s population, or nearly 700,000 people, are enslaved, according to CNN.

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Amid a national calamity, tragedy strikes

Trevelian StationAs the US continues to recognize the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States it’s increasingly apparent that a significant number of Americans see the bloody four-year conflict as little more than a few key events: Fort Sumter, First Manassas, Gettysburg, the Emancipation Proclamation, Appomattox and Lincoln’s assassination.

While we sometimes recognize the terrible toll the war took in terms of lives lost, that figure has become an abstraction. With current figures of dead from the 1861-65 conflict now estimated to top more than 700,000, many today can’t or won’t attempt to comprehend the war’s impact on American society a century and a half ago.

Many History Channel historians tend to think only of the victories and of the final success of the Union army; or, in the South, of the valiant, if doomed, tenacity of the Confederacy.

But the war was, if nothing else, millions upon millions of tragedies bundled up into the form of a tremendous calamity.

For every man in uniform who was killed in action or died of disease, dozens, scores or even hundreds of others were touched, some at the front, others at home.

And the tragedies weren’t always the result of the death of men in uniform, either.

On this date, 150 years ago today, an officer in a South Carolina cavalry regiment got perhaps the worst news of his life.

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Fossil hunter donates major collection to school


A South Carolina businessman recently donated one of the most impressive private fossil collections in the world – totaling more than 1,500 specimens – to the College of Charleston.

Mace Brown of Mt. Pleasant, SC, began collecting fossils when he was in his early teens; today his collection, valued at more than $1.6 million, includes complete skeletons of such creatures as a giant armadillo, a cave bear and a saber-toothed cat, along with Tyrannosaurus rex teeth and Triceratops horns.

The collection focuses on North American land and sea creatures. More than 90 percent of the fossilized creatures in the collection inhabited South Carolina over a 400-million-year span, according to a College of Charleston press release.

“I wanted the collection to be in Charleston, in a location where fossils were the focus and a place where the public could see the specimens up close, not stored in cabinets out of the sight of the public,” said Brown, renown as an international fossil collector.

Brown’s passion for collecting and recording fossils was sparked by a rock collection when he was 13. By age 45, he had amassed more than 87 species of shark teeth.

Over the next decade and a half, Brown expanded his collection with fossils from around the world.

The collection, which will be housed in the Mace Brown Natural History Museum at the College of Charleston, also features saltwater mosasaurs with snakelike detaching jaws; skeletons of a warthog-looking, buffalo-sized pig; and a dog-sized horse and camel.

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How ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ came to be

dewey defeats truman

The legendary image of a smiling Harry Truman holding up the front page of the Chicago Tribune emblazoned with the headline DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN is among the most famous in American history.

The photo was taken 65 years ago today as Truman, traveling by rail to Washington two days after winning the election, had stopped in St. Louis and stepped to the rear platform of the train.

He was handed a copy of the Tribune with the erroneous headline and eagerly held it up while photographers snapped away.

The Tribune, in a rather gracious mea culpa, explained in 2008 how one of journalism’s greatest gaffes came to be.

The problem began in the weeks leading to the November 1948 presidential election, as polls and pundits all predicted Truman would be trounced by Republican candidate Thomas Dewey, the governor of New York.

“Critically important, though, was a printers’ strike, which forced the paper to go to press hours before it normally would,” according to the 2008 story by the Tribune. “As the first-edition deadline approached, managing editor J. Loy “Pat” Maloney had to make the headline call, although many East Coast tallies were not yet in.

“Maloney banked on the track record of Arthur Sears Henning, the paper’s longtime Washington correspondent,” the Tribune continued. “Henning said Dewey. Henning was rarely wrong. Besides, Life magazine had just carried a big photo of Dewey with the caption ‘The next President of the United States.’”

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