Monthly Archives: May 2013

A Mammoth Discovery

Now you’re talking! (courtesy of PhotoBucket)

Scientists from the Northeast Federal University in Yakutsk just made an awesome discovery on the Lyakhovsky Islands off the northeastern coast of Russia.

Buried in the ice was a female mammoth dating back 10,000 years.

“We suppose that the mammoth fell into water or got bogged down in a swamp, could not free herself and died,” explained Semyon Grigoriev, the leader of the expedition and head of the university’s Mammoth Museum.

And let me tell you, we are lucky this ancient beast died in such a manner. Its entire lower body was packed into pure ice and, as a result, researchers found something incredible when they poked the carcass below the belly.

Thick, dark blood flowed out of it. Mammoth blood.

The implications of this discovery are numerous, but number one on the list has got to be cloning. Finding mammoth blood is like John Hammond discovering dinosaur blood in the bodies of amber-encased mosquitoes and using it to stock Jurassic Park with prehistoric creatures.

Hey, Woolly Bully (courtesy of Discovery)

We have mammoth DNA and we have the technology, so I guess it’s only fitting that someone try to recreate this amazing animal. And it looks like that someone is none other than Hwang Woo-suk, the disgraced scientist who claimed to have cloned human stem cells in 2004 but soon admitted to faking his results.

Woo-suk now heads up the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which will work jointly with Grigoriev to clone a woolly mammoth. For the latest developments in this ongoing story, stay tuned to National Geographic by going HERE.

So there’s the first big implication for this amazing discovery: we may someday go to a zoo whose main attraction will be the once-extinct woolly mammoth. Crazy, but there is another reason to celebrate this historic find, I think.

When the Russian researchers poked the mammoth’s belly and saw blood leak out, they noted that it was still in liquid form. How could this be possible in sub-zero-degree weather, you ask? The answer is cryoprotectant.

And no, that isn’t some kind of Eskimo deodorant, in case you were wondering.

Biology Online defines cryoprotectant as a “substance that is used to protect from the effects of freezing, largely by preventing large ice crystals from forming.” Some amphibians and fish that live in extremely cold climates—primarily near the poles—have this substance in them to minimize tissue damage from freezing temperatures.

Which brings me to my question: Could this same substance be genetically engineered into humans someday?

Jack could have used some cryoprotectants (courtesy of Warner Brothers)

Doing so would allow human beings to survive in much colder environments, which could come in handy if climate change leads to another ice age—or war leads to nuclear winter—whatever the case may be. At the very least, we could branch out into frozen wastelands and offer more convenient parking at the new Wal-Mart Antarctica location.

I guess what all this boils down to is a vision… a vision of myself on some uncharted and frozen tundra… wearing only shorts and a t-shirt thanks to the cryoprotectant running through me… riding on a nice, warm woolly mammoth the South Koreans made for me… enjoying the crisp, clean air and placing footsteps where they have never before existed.

Ah, the dream of a science nerd. But you have to admit that it is at least possible now, and all because some Russians stumbled across an old, hairy elephant in the ice.

Coincidence? I wonder…

The New Immortals

Vampires stake their claim (property of Anton Brand)

Vampires have always fascinated me. And no, this fascination did not begin with TwilightIf anything, that horrible movie franchise only served to strengthen my love of bloodsuckers.

After all, if I can survive Kristen Stewart‘s terrible acting and vampires who suffer more from teen angst than blood lust, I can handle anything, right?

What I love most about vampires—or the idea of vampires, since we all know they don’t exist (we hope)—isn’t the ability to transform into mist, a bat or even a wolf. It isn’t even the dark, brooding coolness you obtain the moment you turn into the undead.

It’s the immortality. That’s what appeals to me the most.

I know what you’re thinking: Why would anyone want to live indefinitely? Doomed to pay taxes, endure stupidity and otherwise suffer through the banality of a life that never ends? And what’s more, why would anyone choose to live eternally only at night?

Surely there is more to see in the light of the sun than in the glow of the moon.

Yes, I believe there is, but it’s the experience that vampires gain along the way that attracts me to them. Think of all the things they see—even after sunset—that transform our world: new technology, historical events, natural disasters, even evolutionary shifts. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of years of human development, right there at your fingertips.

And every so often, an actual human beneath your hungry fangs, blood warm and salty sweet, as you steal their life to sustain your own cursed existence.

Do you really want immortality? (property of Chrysallis)

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Alas, it will never happen, but there are other ways to taste immortality. And these days, they don’t come from superstition or folk-lore; they come from science.

Among many science fiction geeks—including me—there is a dream… sort of a fantasy… about having your brain or at least your consciousness transferred to a robot, android or synthetic human. In this vessel, and free from the expiration date of human meat, you can live forever, at least theoretically.

Well, fellow geeks and science nerds, we are one step closer to realizing that dream. Check this out.

It all began in 1998 with a couple of neuroscientists—Matthew Botvinick of Princeton University and Jonathan Cohen of Cornell University—who developed an experiment known as the rubber hand illusion.

The researchers showed their subjects a rubber hand being stroked by a paintbrush. At the same time, they performed the same action on the subject’s hand, which was hidden from sight. After a while, the subjects began to think of the rubber hand as their own.

In other words, their brains were tricked into thinking that artificial body parts were their own bodies. See where I’m going with this?

You just wait.

Flash forward to present day and Mel Slater, a computer scientist at the University of Barcelona who decided to take the rubber hand illusion one huge step forward.

Slater and his team used virtual reality to determine if the human mind could be fooled into thinking a computer-generated body was its own. Subjects wore head-mounted displays that allowed them to look down at their virtual bodies. These bodies came in one of two varieties: either they looked similar to their real bodies or were gross distortions of them.

I could get used to this look (courtesy of REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Next, Slater introduced cooling devices and had his subjects place their hands on them. Using slight temperature changes—both real and virtual—he noticed something very interesting: subjects with more realistic “avatars” seemed to consider their virtual hands as their own—they experienced temperature changes in the virtual world that did not exist in reality.

What this means is that the real bodies and the virtual bodies of these subjects merged into a single perception. Their minds accepted the artificial vessels, and that’s what makes this so important in realizing “The Dream.”

I know we don’t have brain transplants and haven’t figured out how to upload someone’s consciousness to a computer or artificial being yet, but this new development at least shows that our minds could handle it. And that, my nerdy friends, brings us one step closer to immortality.

Techo-immortality, I suppose, but immortality nonetheless.

Get the Lead Out

Here’s lead in your eye (courtesy of Brant Nicholason/Flickr)

At a recent medical conference, doctors from Aachen University Hospital in Aachen, Germany discussed a case about an Afghan man who suffered for years with no clear medical explanation for it.

His malaise included frequent headaches, deteriorating vision and colds, more than most “normal” people experience.

By the time he turned 24—and after living with these issues for more than 15 years—the Afghani finally sought medical help and was immediately sent for an x-ray.

What it revealed would change his life forever and improve his condition almost overnight.

Lodged in a series of cavities behind his right eye was a small, 4-inch pencil. He has no idea where it came from, but suspects it resulted from a terrible fall he took as a child.

Doctors in Aachen removed the misplaced writing implement in 2011 and, as far as I know, the man recovered completely.

Of course, now he uses only crayons. Okay, I made that up, but it is possible!

Greatest Hits: 10 things that suck about being a guy

Originally posted on July 27, 2012. Featured on Freshly Pressed in July 2012 and Best of Freshly Pressed 2012.

Trying to convince a woman that being a guy isn’t a cake walk usually ends with two examples of feminine woe: menstruation and childbirth. You might also hear gripes about how guys can pee standing up and need not worry as much about dirty toilet seats, empty toilet seat cover receptacles and butt rash. Of course, being male isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and here are some reasons why.

Testosterone is a bitch

I touched on this in my post “The Trials and Tribulations of the Testosterone-Fueled Male.” As a heterosexual man—and despite having a wife I would never consider cheating on—I still find myself instinctively “checking out”  women of all shapes and sizes. And whether I like it or not, my thoughts sometimes turn into sexual fantasies about the most attractive ones. And I’m not talking about women that society would deem attractive, but those I personally find myself drawn to. It’s not that I’m shopping around for a better mate or even think I would have a chance to bed any of these lovely ladies. Testosterone just takes over and I simply can’t control myself. The difference is that I won’t act on these feelings. And being able to think with the head above my shoulders certainly helps.

Pee where you please

Yes, men are able to pee standing up, which makes us much more mobile when the urge to go arises. However, this also opens us up to some serious errors in judgment, like peeing in public and maybe even being ticketed for public urination. This wouldn’t happen if we had to find a bathroom every time our bladder filled up.

Let it all hang out

Women are fortunate that their “plumbing” is internal because having everything hanging out can be a real challenge. And yes, I am talking about penises and, more importantly, scrotums (I decided that ball sacks sounded too crude). And if you ask any man to rank his most excruciating pains, being hit in the nuts is always going to be in the top three. And don’t even get me started on zippers. Whoever thought that having a metal set of interlocking teeth on the front of guy’s pants obviously never zipped up his balls accidentally.

Popping up

The penis is a very strange and unpredictable appendage. At the worst possible times—usually in public—it decides to stand at attention, lifting your pants in the process and basically forcing you to remain seated while thinking about non-sexual, non-arousing topics. I normally focus on football or some other sports-related theme. The scary thing is that it doesn’t always work, which confuses me and can be quite awkward. I’m kidding!

One and done

If properly stimulated, most women can and will experience multiple orgasms. Such is not the case with men, save for some very talented porn stars, of course. For most of us, one is the magic number and a second orgasm can only be generated after a period of rest, fluid consumption and maybe a snack. By then, however, we’ve likely lost interest or simply become distracted by the latest installment of “Sportscenter.”

Slapping the salami

Related to uncontrollable levels of testosterone is the fact that most men turn to masturbation at an early age and never look back. Some call it “training” for the time they finally find a willing female participant, but it’s really more of a necessity. You see, many women won’t “give it up” when we’re young, so we have to depend on bra ads in newspapers or Sears catalogs to get the job done. And bless the internet for bringing porn to the masses because that opened up a whole new realm of masturbatory pleasure for men around the world. The kind that doesn’t involve barnyard animals or scat parties, I mean (and some dudes even find these things stimulating… freaky).

Hair be gone

Baldness is another disadvantage to being a man, and you don’t see many—or any—bald women walking around out there. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with hair that continues to grow like a weed at 41 years of age, but some of my friends weren’t so lucky. I know guys who started going bald in high school and today have only remnants of the fine hair civilization that once called their craniums home. Of course, hair restoration medicine and surgery are much more effective these days—unlike hair plugs and toupees from back in the day. And if all else fails, I suppose you could have the hair from your ass transplanted to your head. Just make sure no one accidentally uses the short and curlies instead.

Women and children first

Although I agree with this when an emergency occurs, it still means that guys will be the first to perish if things get really bad. Take the sinking of the Titanic, for instance. Women and children found space in lifeboats while men fought each other for any remaining seats, which they obviously didn’t find. 103 women died in this terrible tragedy, but so did 1,347 men. I don’t particularly care for those odds.

Crying..

Cry me a river

If a man is caught crying, then he’s normally considered to be some kind of pansy unless he has a very good explanation for it (like the death of a loved one or the Super Bowl loss of a favorite football team). In almost every other situation, this is frowned upon. Of course, this can come back and bite us in the ass later when women describe us as being incapable of expressing our feelings. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, ladies. Or can you?

Footing the bill

These days, women are much more likely to pay the tab on a date or at least split the check with you. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really happen at the club or bar, where most women I’ve seen end up drinking for free. And yes, it’s because some horny guys pick up the tabs in the hope that more intoxicated women might actually sex them up later. Isn’t it enough that they get ushered into clubs while guys have to stand out in the cold, hoping to be deemed worthy by some bald-headed bouncer who only seems interested in the ladies anyway? Maybe not, but don’t listen to me. I was always the guy who stood on-line the longest.

By now, I hope you’re convinced that being a guy can really blow sometimes. Sure, we don’t have monthly visits from Aunt Flo, cottony plugs to shove into our dark orifices or basketball-sized puppies to push out, but being male is no picnic. Trust me on this.

Goodbye, Sparkly Devil

Sparkly Devil works them for the crowd (courtesy of Johnny Crash Photography)

Every Memorial Day weekend sees its share of traffic jams, fender benders and, sadly, highway fatalities. And this past weekend was only different in the sense that one of its victims was none other than the performer Penny Starr Jr. called “the original bad girl of burlesque”: the sexy and infamous Sparkly Devil.

Sarah Klein, 36, was parked along a highway just south of San Francisco with her husband Raul Padilla, 43, when a party bus suddenly slammed head-on into their car.

Padilla’s red Honda impacted a center divider on US 101, spun around and came to rest facing oncoming traffic. Fortunately, the seat belt he was wearing saved his life (for now) and he was rushed to Stanford Hospital in critical condition. No word yet on whether he will survive or if he was under the influence at the time of the accident—there have been a few rumors to that effect from various news sources.

Sadly, Klein was not wearing her seat belt and was killed instantly. A tribute has been planned for her this Thursday evening at an annual convention in the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Snapping photos backstage (courtesy of Sparkly Devil)

Sarah Klein came to California in 2006 from Detroit, where she worked as a culture editor for the weekly Metro TimesShe landed in San Francisco and quickly became one of the city’s most celebrated performers and engaged community leaders.

Klein worked to commemorate the “golden age” of burlesque from the 1950s and 1960s and to promote the museum in Vegas, but she was best known for her incendiary performances on stage. Here is a quick blurb from her website:

“Sparkly Devil is a glittering collision of sass, class, ass, and over-the-top vaudevillian entertainment. She first cut her rhinestone-encrusted teeth in Detroit’s vibrant cultural underground over a decade ago, and quickly became a glittering diamond in the rough, having graced (and disgraced) stages across North America since 2000.”

And believe me. Sparkly Devil was very good at what she did.

After receiving first runner-up as Best Burlesque Act in a 2008 readers’ poll conducted by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Sparkly bounced back to win the Golden Pastie Award for “Performer Most Likely to End Up in Bangkok Missing a Kidney” at the 2009 Burlesque Festival in New York.

In other words, her star was just beginning to go supernova when it was suddenly and unfairly snuffed out. Did alcohol play a role in this terrible accident? Was it negligence? Coincidence?

Who knows… and seriously, who cares?

It took the Sparkly Devil away from us, and that is all that matters. Farewell, Sarah. And may you be the first devil in Heaven, sister.

Columbine Inspires Student

Acord wanted to “one up” Columbine (courtesy of ABC News)

In 1999, teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold marched into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado with guns, ammunition and homemade bombs, intent on killing as many people and destroying as much property as possible. And by the time the smoke cleared and the young gunmen lay dead from self-inflicted gunshot wounds, they had done just that.

A total of 13 people died in the attack and another 24 were injured. Counseling for victims was needed and the school itself sustained somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million worth of damage. The price tag for everything that happened that fateful day?

Roughly $20 million + emotional trauma for years—maybe decades—to come.

It’s hard to believe something like this could happen in America—even though more recent events have carried larger body counts and more extensive damage (see Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook)—but what’s worse is that Columbine also served as inspiration for another emotionally-disturbed student.

His target: West Albany High School (courtesy of KOIN 6 News)

17-year-old Grant Acord attends West Albany High School in Albany, Oregon. And on Thursday evening, he was arrested for planning to bomb his school in true Columbine fashion, only with additional planning to make this massacre more successful than the Harris-Klebold attack.

Acting on information they received that “associated Acord with manufacturing a destructive device with the intent of detonating it at a school,” police apprehended the young man, searched his home and discovered a secret compartment underneath the floorboards in his bedroom.

Inside the compartment were several different types of explosives, including pipe/drain cleaner bombs, Molotov cocktails and homemade napalm. Basically enough explosives to wreak serious havoc and hurt a lot of innocent people.

Acord will now be charged “as an adult with attempted aggravated murder,” according to District Attorney John Haroldson. He will also face charges related to making bombs and possessing deadly weapons with the purpose of using them against others.

Is it me, or do they have a long, drawn-out name for every possible criminal charge?

Anyway, Albany police are now spending their Memorial Day with bomb-sniffing dogs at the high school, trying to clear it of any danger before students return on Tuesday.

Harris and Klebold during their attack on Columbine (courtesy of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department)

And how bizarre will that be—returning to school after a holiday weekend only to realize it could have been your last Memorial Day had Acord’s plan not been foiled?

I shudder at the thought.

Of course, what I find especially disturbing isn’t the fact that another misguided teenager plotted to attack his school; it’s that he used a previous attack—in this case Columbine—not only as inspiration, but also as a launching point for his own improved attack.

What this means is that somewhere in America, another teenager is hearing about Acord’s plan and trying to find a way to improve upon it, too.

Oh God. I hope this article didn’t give anyone ideas…

Another Soldier Attacked

Parisian police investigate the crime scene (courtesy of Remy de la Mauviniere/AP)

Early Saturday evening, a 23-year-old French soldier on patrol with several squad mates—part of France’s Vigipirate anti-terrorism plan—was attacked from behind and stabbed in the neck, most likely with a box cutter.

His attacker is described as a tall, bearded man in his mid-thirties, possibly of North African descent given the tunic he was wearing at the time. Unfortunately, the search for the blade-wielding madman has produced few leads or results, at least at the moment.

This comes only days after a British soldier was struck with a car and hacked to pieces by two Muslim extremists in broad daylight on the streets of London. In that particular case, though, the perpetrators stayed put to record cell phone messages and confront the police once they finally arrived.

Both men were of course shot and now reside under armed guard in local hospitals.

The good news in the Paris attack is that the young French soldier is stable and should recover fully from wounds described as “non-life-threatening.” And although his assailant remains at large, we all know it’s only a matter of time before he is apprehended by authorities.

This most recent attack obviously forms something I was hoping would not be formed after hearing about the slaughter in England: a pattern. For some reason, Muslim extremists are lashing out at soldiers throughout Europe and will likely continue to do so in the coming weeks. It appears to be some kind of protest, and one with deadly and often gruesome results.

Terrorists new weapon of choice? (courtesy of The Tribune)

Personally—and I know this isn’t the most popular view where the American government is concerned—I think we need to get the hell out of the Middle East and let people fend for themselves. I’m not opposed to humanitarian aid, mind you, just military support, the deployment of American troops and all the innocent people who die as a result of these military actions.

At some point, people just have to learn to govern themselves. And those that struggle should get the support they need, just not from a nation half way around the world. Why not keep things local for a while and see how that works? Yes, those countries that threaten or seek to conquer others need to be dealt with, only by someone on their own block.

We have enough problems stateside to keep us busy, that’s for sure.

Live from DC!

Kicking it in the Capitol!

Kicking it in the Capitol!

Blogging can be fun, rewarding, exciting, demanding, confusing, overwhelming, frustrating, life-altering and a million other things. At least that’s what I’ve gathered in nearly a year of blogging daily, sometimes multiple times each day. Of course, blogging can also be extremely difficult. And I’m not even talking about the act of writing itself; I’m talking about finding the time to blog.

I actually touched on this in my April 23rd post entitled “A Blog a Day,” but it warrants repeating since this time around, I have a different obstacle standing in my way… one we all long for and, if we’re lucky, most of us get at least once a year: vacation!

When you finally get the time, money and wherewithal to pack up your shit, arrange for your pets to be cared for and head out of town for a much-needed break, the last thing on your mind—if your vacation is going well, that is—is blogging. Granted, I put tons of pressure on myself to post something daily, but that’s only because I set that goal for myself, at least in the beginning. My plan is to ease off at some point, though. Most bloggers I know average about a post each week, so I know I’m pushing myself a bit too hard. What’s sad is that I can’t help it. Blogging finally got me writing again on a regular basis, so I guess I’m afraid that if I do ease off, I may never return. Stupid, I know, but like I said, I can’t control it.

Things change a bit on vacation, though.

The Elephant of Natural History

The Elephant of Natural History

At the moment, I am visiting my sister and her family in our nation’s capital, the amazing Washington, D.C. Home of Obama, political bipartisanship, the Redskins, the Smithsonian, Watergate, lobbyist kickbacks… it’s got everything. And what’s more, my sister and her husband are likely the best hosts you will ever meet. My son and I have wanted for nothing—food, drinks, souvenirs, even basic household supplies. They covered all their bases and, since I make quite a bit less in my career—which is rewarding in many other ways, I assure you (even though some extra Benjamins here and there certainly wouldn’t hurt)—they’re picking up most of the tab. Sure, I try to contribute where I can, like buying lunch or helping out around the house, but they normally beat me to the punch. Family is great that way, isn’t it? Those who have the means cover those who don’t, at least until circumstances change. Too bad all people can’t do that more often, huh? After all, we are one big human family, at least from a species perspective.

Sorry. I tend to drift off a little more when I’m on vacation. I told you blogging under these conditions was tough.

So here I sit in Columbia Heights, a relatively affluent neighborhood in old Washington not far from the $27 million dollar Rockefeller compound and a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the Washington Zoo—a place we’re actually planning to visit in a few days. Tomorrow is a Nationals baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies—I’m a Yankees fan, so tomorrow I’m putting 110% behind the home team—followed by dinner at a nice restaurant and an evening of books, coffee and music at a little place where an African friend of my brother-in-law’s is performing. It should be awesome, especially since the evening activities include a babysitter for the kids—after dark is strictly for the adults.

As it should be, I think. Bear in mind, though, that this is coming from a man who hoofed around museums and crowds of Memorial Day tourists all afternoon, three young kids in tow the entire time, complete with all the bells, whistles and tantrums. Fortunately, moods and attitudes were easily improved with junk food from all over the world, as evidenced by the line of food trucks with international flavors supreme lining the streets around the national mall. Snowballs, chicken tenders, ice cream… that’s like crack for kids, let me tell you.

The perfect day for kiting... is that really a word?

The perfect day for kiting… is that really a word?

Today centered primarily around the Museum of Natural History—we had to see some dinosaur bones or my son would never let me live it down—as well as time outside on the mall, which was bustling with people. There was a carousel, tons of food (see “food trucks”” from a moment ago), lovely ladies—sorry, but I couldn’t help dropping that in—and construction, construction, construction. Not sure what that was all about—aside from the Washington Monument being repaired, of course, which I’d heard about—but it made for some tough moments when the wind kicked up and blew dirt everywhere. Felt like I was in a sandstorm or something, but only for a  few seconds here or there. Not enough to ruin anyone’s good time, and who am I to complain anyway? I’m getting the baby sister/bro-in law hookup here!

A few snapshots are obviously included for anyone who’s interested.

Uh oh. It looks like this evening’s festivities are about to commence. Some local friends I know from my sister’s wedding are here with their kids for a holiday cookout—steaks on the grill and all sorts of other goodies tossed in. And yes, plenty of wine and beer are on the menu, too, so it could be a long couple of hours for someone. I would say a long night, but let’s face it… we are all a bit older and when kids are involved, you have to squeeze your “responsible” good time into a few hours and then get the kids to bed so you can unwind, reload and start it all over again tomorrow.

But not me. I am on vacation and tomorrow, my first stop will be the ballpark. Let’s play ball, Nationals!

And if I happen to post a blog at all—or if I miss my first day in nearly a year—so be it. We all need a break, right?

Did Boston Bombing Suspect Kill Before?

Todashev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (courtesy of CNN)

Early Wednesday, FBI agents and Massachusetts State Police officers met with Ibragim Todashev in the kitchen of his Orlando, Florida home. Their objective was to question him about his relationship with Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—the men responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing last month—in an effort to determine whether or not he was involved in that horrific attack.

Like the Tsarnaev brothers, Todashev was a Chechen who was granted political asylum in the United States, his coming in 2008. He met the brothers several years ago in Boston—which has a tight-knit community of Chechens—and was a member of the same mixed martial arts forum as Tamerlan: Sherdog.com. Todashev even had Tamerlan’s number in his cell phone and, according to his friend Khasuen Taramov, had spoken with the soon-to-be terrorist just one month before the bombing.

Supposedly, though, he had no knowledge of what was to come. Not that I believe that for a second, especially given what happened later in Todashev’s interview.

At first, the conversation between the new suspect and law enforcement officials seemed to be going well. Todashev was forthright with information and even confessed to being involved in an as-yet-unsolved triple homicide in Waltham, Massachusetts two years ago. Of course, he also claimed to have had help in the brutal crime from—you guessed it—Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Terror at the Boston Marathon (courtesy of David L Ryan/AP)

From what I understand, Tamerlan and Todashev were involved in some drug deal that went horribly wrong. By the time it was all over, they had murdered three people—slitting their throats from ear-to-ear and pulling their heads back—sprinkled marijuana over their bodies as some kind of “symbolic gesture” and fled before authorities could discover their identities. Some have even claimed one of the victims was a former sparring partner of Tamerlan’s.

For years—and until the revelations of earlier this week—the Chechen killers escaped prosecution and weren’t even suspected in the unsolved crime. That obviously changed on Wednesday.

After delivering his confession to authorities—and knowing full well he would face criminal charges as a result—Todashev suddenly grabbed a knife and lunged at the officers. An FBI agent who was present had no choice but to shoot his attacker, killing him instantly and bringing the interview to a rather abrupt end.

What happens next remains to be seen, but I get the feeling this latest development is only the tip of the iceberg. Investigators are still trying to determine how involved Tamerlan Tsarnaev—and now Ibragim Todashev—were in Chechen extremist groups, especially those that engaged Russian forces in 2012 when both men were in the region. And I’m sure one clue will lead to another until an entire network of Islamist extremists is revealed.

I just hope that I’m wrong.

Surreal Slaughter in London

One of the blood-covered psychos just after the attack (courtesy of The Telegraph UK)

Some disturbing news has just come from London where a British soldier was hacked to pieces and killed by two alleged Islamic fundamentalists in broad daylight.

And it was so shocking—and so surreal—that even I couldn’t believe it at first.

The attack happened on Thursday near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, a working-class and multicultural area in the southern part of the city. The victim—whose family has asked that he not be identified—was apparently a soldier returning from duty in central London when he was suddenly struck by a car on a busy Woolwich street.

Two men armed with knives, cleavers and a gun leapt from the car, approached the injured solider and did the unthinkable before pedestrians even knew what was happening: they started stabbing, cutting and slashing him to bits. One witness said it seemed as if they were trying to remove the man’s organs.

“These two guys were crazed,” the witness known only as James explained. “They were just not there. They were just animals.”

What happened next, though, was even more bizarre.

With the bloody corpse of the dead solider still lying in the street—and with dozens of witnesses struggling to make sense of the gruesome scene—the men did not flee or even attempt to leave. Instead, one of them approached a bus and started asking people to take his picture and to film him.

An unidentified man on his way to a job interview stumbled across the scene, whipped out his phone and started filming. Before he could react, he was approached by one of the killers, who still held the cleaver and knife and was covered in blood. Of course, to say this freaked the cameraman out would be an understatement, but the killer did his best to put him at ease.

Mother of two Ingrid Loyau-Kennett tries to convince an attacker to drop his weapons (courtesy of Twitter)

“No, no, no. It’s cool,” the killer told him. “I just want to talk to you.”

At this point, the blood-soaked murderer went off on a tirade that went something like this: “You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don’t care about you. You think David Cameron is going to get caught in the street when we start busting our guns? Get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so we can all live in peace… We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone… The only reasons we killed this man is because Muslims are dying daily.”

Easy for him to say after slaughtering an innocent person in the street, but there’s more. The killer noticed some women walking by and apologized to them for having to witness such carnage. He also said, “But in our lands, our women have to see the same.”

You can view coverage from the scene by going HERE, but I warn you. The images are kind of graphic.

Police received the first call regarding this terrible crime around 2:15 p.m. and it took them nearly half an hour to respond. Once they arrived, though, the killers apparently rushed them and both men were shot and injured. They now reside in local hospitals where they are being kept under armed guard.

Authorities are investigating this horrific attack and searched an address in Lincolnshire in connection with the killing, but few details have been shared with the public. A clear motive also has not been established, but based on some of the killers’ comments, it seems they object to British interference and “warmongering” in Muslim countries and felt an extreme act like this was the only way to bring attention to this issue.

Yet another case of Islamic fundamentalism, I suppose, but one that members of the Muslim community themselves have condemned. A prominent and radical leader in the British Muslim community—Anjem Choudary—had this to say of the attack: “This was not just an attack on Britain and on the British way of life; it was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country. There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act. The fault lies solely with the sickening individuals who carried out this attack.”

The scene of this terrible attack (courtesy of Breaking News IE)

And if nothing else, this is the thing we must all remember: Islam wasn’t responsible for this slaughter; two crazy Muslims were. It’s like that old saying that “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.” From an American perspective, this is what seems to be happening in terms of our perception of Islam, but this certainly should not be the case. There are crazy people everywhere, in every country and in every religion. And it’s them we should blame when their actions harm others, not the religion they blindly follow or twist to their evil purposes.

After all, Americans like Reverend Jim Jones and David Koresh were Christians, and we know what happened to them. Jones led hundreds of his congregation members to South America and convinced them to participate in a mass suicide that claimed 908 lives.  And Koresh persuaded his fellow Branch Davidians to participate in a siege against agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, one that ended in the deaths of the cult leader, 54 adults and 28 children.

It’s the PEOPLE who bring evil into this world, not their RELIGIONS. At least that’s not what their religions intend to happen. Unfortunately, no one can control how people will act, even when those acts claim to have some basis—albeit a misguided one—in religious doctrines.

Have we learned nothing from the Crusades?

Jim Jones and David Koresh (courtesy of 49Forum)

Jim Jones and David Koresh (courtesy of 49Forum)

Believe me. As an American—one who experienced the horror of attacks like the ones on September 11th (and had friends deeply affected by the losses of loved ones they suffered on that fateful day)—it would be all-too-easy for me to blame Islam and to label every Muslim as a potential terrorist. However, doing so would not be fair and certainly would not be accurate. 

I have Muslim friends now who would never do something so terrible, especially something that would cost innocent lives. And you know why? Because they are good, decent people and because at its heart, Islam is not a religion of evil; it’s a religion of love.

In this context—and having heard nothing new in the London case (at least not yet)—I leave you with a quote from a song that may not seem to apply, but whose message is undeniably applicable to our species at large. It comes from the late, great pop superstar Michael Jackson and his duet with Paul McCartney in 1982—the hit single “Ebony and Ivory.”

There is good and bad in everyone. We learn to live, we learn to give each other what we need to survive, together alive.

It’s about time we started doing just that, don’t you think?

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