that's a big bird

Bird with 21-foot wingspan could be the largest to ever live

July 7, 2014

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a bird the size of a (really small) plane!

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, paleontologist Daniel Ksepka describes the extinct Pelagornis sandersi as having a wingspan nearly 21 feet across, making it the largest flying bird ever found. The fossil was discovered in 1983 near the Charleston Airport in South Carolina, but sat in a drawer at the Charleston Museum for almost three decades before Ksepka stumbled upon the bones. He ended up naming the bird after Albert Sanders, the now-retired museum curator who collected the fossils.

Pelagornis sandersi likely lived 25 million to 28 million years ago, and had sharp tooth-like cones on its beak. The larger a bird is the heavier it gets, which makes it difficult for the muscles to propel it into the air. In the case of the Pelagornis, Ksepka thinks it's entirely possible it was able to fly despite its gigantic size, due to the bird's body being pretty small in proportion to its extremely long wings. Because of that, it was probably able to glide at 39 miles per hour.

This discovery will "raise the ceiling for birds — we increase the upper limit of how large we knew birds could get in terms of wingspan," Ksepka told the Los Angeles Times. "It's just another example where the fossil record can tell us something about biology that we might not be able to know from what we have around today."

Business

CEO of McDonald's stepping down

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McDonald's CEO Don Thompson announced Wednesday he is retiring, effective March 1.

"It's tough to say goodbye to the McFamily, but there is a time and season for everything," he said in a statement. The 25-year veteran of the company will be replaced by Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer Steve Easterbrook. After the news was announced, McDonald's stock went up three percent to $91.50. Last quarter, profits were down 21 percent to $1.13 per share, missing estimates of $1.23 per share, and revenue fell 7 percent, Forbes reports.

survey says

Survey: 3 in 5 Americans support Charlie Hebdo

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Three in five Americans who heard of the recent terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo support the French satirical magazine's cartoons depicting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.

Those surveyed by Pew Research who supported the publication cited reasons like press freedom, harmlessness, and a belief that all religions get lampooned. Opponents of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons, numbering 28 percent, argued for respect for religious beliefs, offensive images, and their possibility of provoking violence. The remaining participants familiar with the news didn't take a side.

Overall, out of 1,003 adults surveyed, 75 percent were familiar with the attack. Check out the full report here.

$$$$$

Fed will wait to raise interest rates, citing 'solid' economic growth

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The U.S. Federal Reserve will remain patient in raising interest rates, waiting until at least June, the Federal Open Market Committee hinted in its report Wednesday.

The report said economic activity has been "expanding at a solid pace," in what The New York Times called "its most upbeat economic assessment since the recession." However, it did also mention that inflation is weak, reflecting drops in energy prices.

Quotables

Rand Paul to drone fliers: 'Beware, because I've got a shotgun'

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) spent part of his Wednesday on Snapchat, taking questions in what the company is calling its first legislator interview.

During the interview, the potential 2016 contender said drones should be used only according to the Constitution, then added that drone operators near his house "better beware, because I've got a shotgun."

The lawmaker also fielded the inevitable question: Will he run in 2016?

"Maybe. They may have to make the fence and guard the fence a little bit better than they have been doing lately." —Julie Kliegman

put down that cigarette

E-cigarettes labeled a 'health threat' in California report

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Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

A new study by the California Department of Public Health released Wednesday declares that e-cigarettes and their secondhand aerosols are indeed health hazardous, despite the popular belief that they are significantly less harmful than regular cigarettes. Among other things, the report found that e-cigarettes emit chemicals that are known to cause cancer and birth defects, and that their effectiveness in helping users quit smoking traditional cigarettes is unclear. 

Though California outlawed the sale of e-cigarettes to minors years ago, the report also claims that they put youth at greater risk than traditional cigarettes. This is mainly because e-cigs aren't bound to the same marketing restrictions — flavored e-cigs are legal, while flavored cigarettes are not, for example — that traditional cigarettes are.

This just in

Supreme Court orders Oklahoma to halt executions over lethal injection drug

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the executions of three Oklahoma men due to concerns about the controversial drug cocktail the state uses for lethal injections.

The move was widely expected after the Justices agreed last week to hear the inmates' legal challenge that the drug, midazolam, causes intense suffering and thus violates the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Lawyers for the petitioners pointed to Oklahoma's botched execution last year of  Clayton Lockett as proof the drug should not be administered.

Though the state initially opposed staying the executions, it changed course on Monday and asked the high court to intervene.

This is sad

1 in 5 U.S. children live off food stamps

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Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The economy may have picked up, but children are still struggling to get enough to eat. New statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau have revealed that about 16 million U.S. children — roughly one in five — received food stamps last year.

The number of children on food stamps is higher than it was at the start of the recession in 2007, when nine million children — about one in eight — were on food stamps.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the data is "the latest evidence of how little America's less-advantaged groups — children, but also young adults, the poor, minorities, the middle class — have benefited from an economic recovery whose gains have gone disproportionately to the affluent." Forty-seven percent of children on food stamps live only with their mothers, but the rate of children with married parents who are on food stamps has doubled since 2007, too.

Numbers don't lie

Government budget cuts hit red states the hardest

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A new Reuters analysis found that recent budget cuts may demonstrate the politicization of public spending.

The findings suggest that governmental budget cuts after a 2011 budget deal hit Republican states harder than swing states or Democratic states. Funding for discretionary grant programs has fallen 40 percent in red states, versus just 25 percent in purple and blue states. The funding cuts affected programs including Head Start preschool education and anti-drug initiatives.

"In the context of the Obama administration, swing states and blue states are doing better than red states," John Hudak, a federal spending expert who worked with Reuters on the analysis, said in a statement.

Reuters notes that the disparity "only shows up in federal aid that is most directly controlled by the administration." Even controlling for factors like population, economy, and the number of research universities, "red states still came up short."

Take your gun to town

D.C. issues concealed carry permits — but it's not very easy to get one

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Out of the 69 people who applied for concealed handgun carry permits in the District of Columbia, eight have been approved and 11 have been denied, the Washington Free Beacon reports.

Although The District's previous ban on gun permits was deemed unconstitutional over the summer, applying for a permit even now is no simple task. The city council's "may issue" law requires applicants to get 18 hours of training, pay $110 worth of application fees, and prove that their need to pack heat is legitimate. Applicants then must wait 90 days for the city to review the application.

Despite denying more applicants than they've approved, the Beacon reports that the city has upped the number of certified trainers to teach the required 16 hours of classroom instruction and 2 hours of range training from one trainer to six.

Job well done

Ted Cruz praises Michelle Obama for refusing to wear headscarf during Saudi Arabia trip

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First Lady Michelle Obama made headlines yesterday when she chose not to wear a headscarf while visiting Saudi Arabia, as the country is one of the few with strict religious laws that expect women to keep their heads covered. While the tradition is not required of foreign visitors, the first lady's decision drew criticism from many Muslims on Twitter.

Mrs. Obama, however, had an unlikely ally Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who tweeted:

Strange bedfellows, indeed.

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