Saturday, February 28, 2009

Placentas Found In Illinois Sewage System

HuffPo:"CHICAGO — Someone is disposing of placentas in a central Illinois sewage system and authorities want it to stop. Workers in Urbana on Thursday found a placenta in a filter that keeps large objects out of the sewage treatment plant _ the third such find this year. So police have enlisted medical experts. "It was one of the weirdest calls I've ever received," said Julie Pryde, who heads the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
Urbana Police Lt. Bryant Seraphin remembered: "She said, 'You found a WHAT in the WHERE?'"
The unprecedented finds have officials wondering if a midwife or veterinarian, stressed by economic woes, has been avoiding the expense of paying for a medical waste disposal service.
Police aren't aiming for an arrest, Seraphin said, and nobody suspects foul play. The umbilical cords, still attached, were cut clean.
Placentas are potentially infectious, although health officials said the risk to the public is low. They just want the dumping to stop and hope publicity will achieve that. They are keen on solving the mystery.
Storm sewers and toilets drain to the system, so those seem to be the likeliest routes, Pryde said, "but I don't think my personal toilet at home would be able to flush a placenta."
Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said the placentas could be from home births, but he's not ruling out hospitals.
"We don't believe they were specimens kept for research or testing," Northrup said. "They appear to be fairly fresh, so to speak.""

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bizarre fish poisoning sparks alarm

Grouper, like this open-mouthed coral variety, are among reef fish known to harbor ciguatera, a fish-borne food illness that can cause strange symptoms and lingering illness in humans.
Little-known ciguatera infection switches victims' sensations of hot and cold
The fish was delicious, no doubt about it.

Perfectly seasoned and cooked just right, the broiled grouper on the Texas menu last summer tempted Donna Schroeder to eat every bite.

The only problem? It was poisoned, tainted with a hard-to-detect toxin that produces symptoms so bizarre, they put peanut-linked salmonella infections to shame.

Story continues below ↓
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“It’s horrible, I’m telling you,” said Schroeder, 65, a retired Beaumont, Texas, realtor, who is only now recovering from the worst symptoms of ciguatera fish poisoning, an exotic foodborne illness that health officials say may be dramatically under-recognized in the United States.

The malady afflicts at least 50,000 people a year worldwide — and the real number may be 100 times that many. While ciguatera fish poisoning is largely unknown in most of the U.S., several recent cases have attracted growing concern, officials say. They hope a greater awareness will help alert consumers and doctors and improve treatment of the incurable illness caused by coral algae toxins that accumulate in large tropical reef fish.

Within hours of the July dinner, Schroeder was stricken not only with typical nasty food poisoning symptoms — diarrhea, vomiting and fatigue — but also with a dangerously slow heart rate and neurological problems that caused her hands and feet to tingle painfully and, oddest of all, reversed her sense of hot and cold. Some patients also say they feel like their teeth are falling out — and the symptoms can linger for years.

“Whatever I touched, if it was hot, it would feel cold. If it was cold, it felt hot,” Schroeder recalled. “I couldn’t walk on the tile floor. It felt like it was burning me.”


Brandon Gothier Photography
Donna Schroeder, 65, of Beaumont, Texas, had to diagnose ciguatera fish poisoning herself after doctors failed to recognize the illness.

That should have been a clue to emergency room crews and doctors, but it wasn’t, said Schroeder, who was sent home with a general diagnosis of food poisoning, but nothing to explain the odd reactions or why they lingered so long.

”Doctors don’t even know what it is,” she said. “How sad is that?”

Ciguatera fish poisoning often is missed, even though it is the most common seafood-toxin illness reported in the world, said Richard Weisman, a toxicologist and director of the Florida Poison Information Center.

“If you go to the Caribbean Islands, you can’t find anybody who hasn’t had it,” he said.

Residents there and in other tropical places — Hawaii, Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico — know that large, predatory fish caught by sport fishermen on coral reefs are common sources of ciguatera fish poisoning.

The actual toxin is produced by microscopic sea plants, which are eaten by smaller fish that are, in turn, eaten by larger fish such as barracuda, grouper, sea bass and snapper. The toxins become increasingly concentrated as they move up the food chain.

Ciguatera risk?
The following species may pose a danger of ciguatera fish poisoning:

— Moray eel
— Barracuda
— Grouper
— Kingfish
— Jacks
— Snapper
— Surgeonfish
— Parrot fish
— Wrasses
— Hogfish
— Narrow barred Spanish mackerel
— Coral trout
— Flowery cod
— Red emperor
Recent outbreaks
In the continental U.S., reported cases have been rare, typically confined to tourists who become ill after returning home from tropical vacations or to fishermen sickened by their own deep-sea catches.

Recently, however, worries about the illness increased after it cropped up in unexpected places. In 2007, 10 people in St. Louis who ate imported fish at two restaurants were sickened with ciguatera.

Last year, several unspecified outbreaks of ciguatera linked to grouper and amberjack compelled the federal Food and Drug Administration to expand guidelines warning about the risk of ciguatera in fish caught in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

And just last month, food safety inspectors in Canada issued a health hazard alert for ciguatera-tainted frozen Leatherjacket fish after two people became ill in that country.

Symptoms mistaken for multiple sclerosis
Part of the problem is that ciguatera fish poisoning is hard to detect for seafood suppliers and consumers alike, said Melissa Friedman, a neuropsychologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami who studied victims of the illness.

“You can’t tell from the way it looks. You can’t tell from the way it tastes. There’s nothing you can do in terms of storage. There’s nothing you can do in terms of cooking,” she said.

Instead, people simply eat the toxic fish and become ill. Baffled doctors often confuse ciguatera symptoms with those of multiple sclerosis, or else they come away empty-handed, Weisman said.

“There are people having CT scans, MRIs, all these tests.” he said. “They do million-dollar workups, but no test will ever come back positive.”

Three-day window for best treatment
That can delay one of the only treatments for the illness: an intravenous dose of a drug called mannitol, which can reduce or prevent the neurological symptoms. The drug is most effective, however, within the first 72 hours of illness, Weisman said.

The worst of the illness usually lasts for a week or two, and it's rarely fatal. But in some victims, the effects linger much longer, or never really go away. Many patients find that certain foods such as other fish, nuts or alcohol trigger relapses, and that overexertion can send the symptoms flooding back.

One of the most pressing problems with ciguatera is that, although the illness has been chronicled since Christopher Columbus' crew ventured to the New World, there is no baseline data about incidence — or prevalence.

Between 1998 and 2002, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention logged only 16 foodborne outbreaks of ciguatera affecting 73 people in the U.S., a 2006 summary showed.

But only 2 percent to 10 percent of ciguatera fish poisoning cases are reported to authorities and many health officials don’t realize it’s a reportable condition, said Dr. Lora Fleming, a ciguatera expert from the University of Miami. Using data from Dade County, Fla., where about 50 to 60 cases are reported a year, experts estimate that for every single case of ciguatera detected, between 10 and 100 cases go unreported.

Just last month, the CDC launched the Harmful Algal Bloom-related Illness Surveillance System, a monitoring system that will track ciguatera in people and animals, among other things. First results aren’t expected for a year, however, said Lorraine Backer, a scientist with the National Center for Environmental Health.

One outcome of the project may be to further discussions of whether global climate change is influencing ciguatera outbreaks, Backer said. Some scientists believe that ciguatera is moving north as ocean waters warm, and that increased numbers of hurricanes and tropical storms may cause disturbances in coral reefs that make them more hospitable to the toxic algae.

'More prevalent than we think'
In the meantime, it’s hard to convince victims like Donna Schroeder that ciguatera is not a serious, growing and misunderstood problem. She only discovered she had ciguatera poisoning by asking her daughter to research fish-borne food illnesses on the Internet and then matching her bizarre symptoms to those listed online.

“I feel it’s more prevalent than we think,” Schroeder said. “There’s a lot more of it and people are getting sicker.”

Schroeder has filed a lawsuit against the place where she ate the meal, the Stingaree Restaurant in Crystal Beach, Texas, and against Katie’s Seafood Market of Galveston, Texas, which supplied the seafood.

The legal action was inspired mostly by a desire to raise awareness about the illness, Schroeder said. “I really wanted to get the word out about this fish,” she said.

ROURKE'S DOG TAG DAMSEL


Queens girl Betina Wassermann may have been the biggest winner on Oscar night - and she's never been in a movie.

When Mickey Rourke walked the red carpet in his white Jean Paul Gaultier suit, he was wearing an eye-catching accessory - a necklace charm that featured a picture of his Chihuahua, Loki, who recently died at age 17.

Wassermann, a full-time marketing manager who does crafts on the weekends, designed Rourke's chic canine locket.

"I'm just some girl from Queens who crafts on the weekends. When I saw it at the Oscars and Ryan Seacrest commented on it, I thought I was going to have a heart attack," said Wassermann. "That necklace got more press than frickin' Fred Leighton million-dollar diamonds!"

The Flushing gal had sent the double-sided photo charm, made out of glass and silver, to the actor's New York publicist on a whim.

She was inspired to create the necklace by the loss of her own pooch - and wears a similar one every day.

"I lost my dog, Igor, four months ago, and I'm still crying myself to sleep. I need to see a psychiatrist," said the 40-ish designer of her Chinese crested.

"So when my colleague told me Loki died, I knew I had to make one for him. I knew how much he loved his dog and it was so horrible to lose her right before the Oscars."

She was on a mission.

After a mass e-mail to her friends and copious Google searches, someone turned up the contact information for Rourke's publicist. Off went the necklace. And a day later, she got a voice mail that she would play over and over for all her friends.

"He says, 'Hi, I'm Mickey Rourke,' and I thought I was going to throw up," she recalled. "Then he said that was such a kind gesture and then he says, 'I got it on and I ain't takin' it off.' "

And he didn't.

Rourke wore the necklace to the Independent Spirit Awards and the Oscars.

"This gift was meant purely because I love dogs," Wassermann said. "It means, 'I love you, Mickey Rourke . . . and I just lost a dog, so this is all about good karma.' "

Wassermann isn't in the jewelry business just for fun. She sells her $30 glass-and-silver necklaces at local flea markets and craft fares and, about one a month, on her Web site, wickedworld.etsy.com.

"Now I'm getting orders for everyone's deceased pooch," she said. "It's ridiculous!"

Long hours link to dementia risk

Long working hours may raise the risk of mental decline and possibly dementia, research suggests.
The Finnish-led study was based on analysis of 2,214 middle-aged British civil servants.
It found that those working more than 55 hours a week had poorer mental skills than those who worked a standard working week.
The American Journal of Epidemiology study found hard workers had problems with short-term memory and word recall.
Lead researcher Dr Marianna Virtanen, from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, said: "The disadvantages of overtime work should be taken seriously."
It is not known why working long hours might have an adverse effect on the brain.
However, the researchers say key factors could include increased sleeping problems, depression, an unhealthy lifestyle and a raised risk of cardiovascular disease, possibly linked to stress.
The civil servants who took part in the study took five different tests of their mental function, once between 1997 and 1999, and again between 2002 and 2004.
Those doing the most overtime recorded lower scores in two of the five tests, assessing reasoning and vocabulary.
Cumulative effect
The effects were cumulative, the longer the working week was the worse the test results were.
Employees with long working hours also had shorter sleeping hours, reported more symptoms of depression and used more alcohol than those with normal working hours.
Professor Mika Kivimäki, who also worked on the study, said "We will go on with this study question in the future.
"It is particularly important to examine whether the effects are long-lasting and whether long working hours predict more serious conditions such as dementia."
Professor Cary Cooper, an expert in workplace stress at the University of Lancaster, said it had been long established that consistently working long hours was bad for general health, and now this study suggested it was also bad for mental functioning.
He said: "This should say to employers that insisting people work long hours is actually not good for your business, and that there is a business case for making sure people have a good work-life balance.
"But my worry is that in a recession people will actually work longer hours. There will be a culture of "presenteeism" - people will go to work even if they are ill because they want to show commitment, and make sure they are not the next to be made redundant."
Harriet Millward, deputy chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said: "This study should give pause for thought to workaholics.
"We already know that dementia risk can be reduced by maintaining a balanced diet, regular social interactions and exercising both our bodies and minds. Perhaps work-life balance should be accounted for too."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Swimming Sisters



A Mark B. requested post:

Sisters Rebekah, Ruth and Elisabeth, ages 54, 47 and 45, respectively, have been swimming together for years and continue to support and push one another to set and accomplish goals in the water. Swimming runs in the family of these sisters, who have seven other siblings. Frank K. Elliot, Rebekah, Ruth and Elisabeth's father, was an All-American swimmer and world record holder in the 200-yard freestyle relay in 1940 and encouraged all 10 of his children to swim. Rebekah, the eldest of the sisters, learned to swim at the age of 6 and at 14 passed the legacy on to her sister Elisabeth by teaching her how to swim; Elisabeth was 5 years old. Because of the age difference between the sisters, as well as the rest of the siblings, no two siblings were ever fiercely competitive with one another, however the Elliott swimmers made up the better part of the age group swimming program. We held our own in our respective age groups," shares Rebekah.

Sasha Obama Keeps Seeing Creepy Bush Twins While Riding Tricycle Through White House

The Onion: "WASHINGTON—A little more than a month after the first family's move to the White House, reports of strange happenings have continued to surface, with Sasha Obama confirming Tuesday that she had once again been visited by the eerie specter of the Bush twins.
Sasha, who was playing in the East Wing of the executive mansion so as not to disturb her busy father, reported seeing the former first twins while riding her Big Wheel tricycle down the Cross Hall corridor. The frightening apparitions, the 7-year-old said, emerged out of thin air and were dressed in identical outfits consisting of spaghetti strap tank tops and denim skirts.
"At approximately 4:36 p.m., we received a detailed account from Sasha Obama about a series of manifestations in the White House," press secretary Robert Gibbs announced. "However, a thorough search conducted by security officials has thus far uncovered nothing."
Added Gibbs, "Whatever grotesque and haunting images the president's youngest daughter thought she saw must have been a figment of her imagination."
According to White House security documents, Sasha told Secret Service agents that the ghostly twins spoke to her in unison and repeatedly beckoned her by chanting the phrases "come play with us," "come play with us, forever," and "Daddy's making fajitas."
White House officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, also detailed a disturbing vision experienced by Sasha, who at several points during her encounter suddenly saw the twin girls lying motionless in a pool of spilled strawberry margaritas.
"She said they kept whispering 'we want to party' over and over again," said one Secret Service agent, who comforted Sasha following the incident. "God, it's so horrifying."
With her father often tied up with work for hours on end, this is not the first time Sasha has reported seeing malevolent spirits while exploring the 132-room mansion. Earlier this week, the 7-year-old was startled to find an angry, silver-haired woman named Barbara in the Map Room, and on Monday, the first daughter saw what appeared to be former attorney general John Ashcroft lying naked and unconscious in a bathroom tub.
As disturbing as her encounters have been, Sasha claimed that the sounds of incessant typing emanating from the Oval Office in recent days are what worry her the most.
While some White House staffers believe the visions to be nothing more than a child's plea for attention, others are less skeptical, claiming that the building's last resident committed horrible atrocities.
"There's just something about this place—maybe it's the long hours spent isolated in the Oval Office—but it gets into a man's head and eventually becomes too much to bear," White House gardener Emery Canter said. "We don't like to talk about what happened around here with the last occupant. We just want to put those bad memories behind us.""

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Report: Steve Jobs has logged off

It takes him nine paragraphs to get to it, but there’s a nugget of Apple (AAPL) news in Robert X. Cringely’s latest column, “Where’s Steve?,” published Saturday.

Cringely, the pen name of former InfoWorld and PBS columnist Mark Stephens, sets it up with a quote from Oscar Wilde (”The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”) and a leisurely discourse on how Steve Jobs, after his bout with pancreatic cancer (link), shifted from skillfully managing the press to skillfully avoiding it.

Then Cringely drops his little bombshell:

“A friend of mine has for years been one of Steve Jobs’ Internet chat buddies. And as such his chat client has – again for years – shown as Steve came online each day and remained there for hours and hours as you’d expect a Silicon Valley mogul to do. And it’s a trend that continued well past Jobs’ announcement that he was taking a six-month leave of absence to get well. But then Steve started logging-on less and less. And several weeks ago he stopped logging-on at all.” (link)

But Cringely goes one further and asserts, without further evidence, that Steve Jobs has completely stopped using his computer.

Of course, not logging on to chat doesn’t necessarily mean any such thing, as several readers were quick to point out in the I, Cringely comment stream. It could mean that Jobs is concentrating on getting better, as he said he would. He might also, as another reader suggests, have changed his chat name or de-listed his friend’s ID.

And perhaps, as several commenters assert with some heat, Steve Jobs’ health issues are none of Cringely’s — or any of our — business. “Who the [unprintable] cares?”

To which Cringely replies:

“I knew that this would be a polarizing column but that, in itself, is not a valid reason to avoid it. And if the commenters are Apple shareholders, then I’m really surprised. If they aren’t Apple shareholders, then I’m not at all surprised they don’t care. But no major company in the computer industry is guided more personally than is Apple by Steve Jobs. Not even Microsoft under Bill Gates and it was Bill Gates who told me that, admiringly. So his condition IS material and he can change that by resigning and nothing else. I’m not calling for that, by the way. But if he wants to take his name off my map that’s what it will require.

“And yes, he might have changed his chat name after many years, he might have disowned my source, might have done any of a number of other things mentioned BUT HE DIDN’T. You think I don’t check these things out? I’ve had this for 10 days and wouldn’t have published on a Saturday except it took that long to confirm.” (link)

A source known to have Steve Jobs on his Internet chat client declined to confirm — or deny — that Jobs has gone offline. Apple has yet to return a request for comment.

Oops: Microsoft Asks Some Laid Off Workers To Send Back Part Of Their Severance

by Jason Kincaid on February 21, 2009

Talk about adding insult to injury. Apparently Microsoft has inadvertently overpaid severance to some of its recently laid off employees, and is now asking for some of the money back. It’s unclear how many of the 1,400 employees laid off last month were affected, but we’ve confirmed that it wasn’t a single isolated incident (we’ve contacted Microsoft for a response). We’re also hearing that some employees may have been underpaid as well.

While the payroll error must be irritating in and of itself to these laid off workers (severance is a sensitive subject), it appears that Microsoft HR isn’t even bothering to explain how it happened (employees are instructed to call the office, which is closed for the weekend, if they want to know the details). Given that it was Microsoft HR that screwed this up in the first place, you’d think they’d at least include the calculations they made and point out where the error took place.

9021-Ouch: Recession trickling up to Beverly Hills

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The Lamborghinis and Bentleys still cruise Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

Beverly Hills officials say they expect tax revenues to drop by about $24 million over the next 16 months.
1 of 2

But these days, visitors to California's most famous ZIP code are more likely to take note of the empty storefronts and deep-discount signs.

Call it recession, 90210 style.

Fewer sales have meant fewer tax dollars even for this well-funded city.

City officials say they expect tax revenues to drop by about $24 million over the next 16 months. They say, as far as they know, that's the biggest single blow to the city budget in Beverly Hills' 93-year history. Budget cuts being considered to cover the shortfall include reducing police overtime.

Extreme wealth often cushions cities, just as it does individuals, during recessions. But Beverly Hills business owners say they're feeling the impact this time.

Jordan Tabach-Bank owns The Beverly Loan Co., which bills itself as "Pawn Shop to The Stars." Since the 1930s, three generations of his family have offered socialites, businesspeople and celebrities confidential loans for precious jewels and artwork.

He says now he's giving more loans and they're bigger than ever, including ones to local business owners needing money to cover payroll and keep their businesses afloat.

Nearby, boutique owner Parvin Yonani said she's slashed prices by as much as 85 percent. She says tourists are staying home and Beverly Hills residents are holding on to their money.

She cut the price on a pair of shoes from $1,800 to $245.

"Still I couldn't sell it," she said. "I paid about $800. So you're taking a loss."

Another local business owner, Thomas Blumenthal of Geary's Beverly Hills, said there are still signs of life in the West Coast mecca of the well-to-do. He's had to trim some of his employees' hours, but hasn't made any other major changes, he said.

"The wealthy still have money," he said. "We're still seeing people coming in, spending money on new homes, redoing their homes, buying new jewelry and statement pieces.

"It's just not happening as much as it was last year."

Jerry Nickelsburg, an economist at University of California, Los Angeles, said that considering measures like home foreclosures, the downturn hasn't been as bleak in Beverly Hills as other cities.



But he said that in one crucial way, this recession cuts across income lines. He said a collapse in consumer spending last September has continued until now.

"That collapse in consumption was widespread and based on a fear -- uncertainty -- about the future," he said. "So that really crossed all income classes."

Sisters attend Oscars for four decades


By Jacque Wilson
CNN

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Sandi Stratton wanted to see a Dodgers game. Babe Churchill wanted to go to the Academy Awards. Babe won that small argument -- and the decision affected them both for many years to come.

Sandi Stratton (left) and Babe Churchill will attend their 40th Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday.

"Sandi didn't want to come, and now I can't get her to quit," Babe, of Escondido, California, said with a laugh.

The two sisters have been coming to Los Angeles for the Academy Awards for 39 years. On Sunday, they'll celebrate their 40th ceremony.

On that Tuesday morning in April 1970, they parked their car, walked to the bleachers near the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where the awards were held, at 10 a.m. and sat down. No one else showed up until noon. (The Dodgers, incidentally, got shut out by Gary Nolan and the Cincinnati Reds, 4-0.)

Now, the sisters get invitations direct from the Academy to sit in the bleachers on the red carpet at the Kodak Theater.

"It's a tradition," said Sandi, of Chino, California. "It's just so much fun, and it's a getaway for all of us."

Their group includes Sandi's daughter, Danielle Johnson, of Culver City, California, who has been coming with her mom and aunt every year since she was 19.

"The rule was, you can't go until you're out of high school and you can pay your own way," Danielle remembered.

They try to keep costs down by staying in an inexpensive hotel and bringing lots of food. For years before the Academy started hand-picking attendees, the family camped out in line -- sometimes for up to 10 days.

"We don't laugh as much all year as we do during this week," Danielle said. "While we were camping out ... it was like, this is so boring. I can't believe I'm doing this. And then when it's over you're like, this was the best week of my life."

Sandi and Babe have seen stars like George Clooney, Will Smith and Matt Dillon up close. They've also seen Hollywood royalty such as Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman.

"I'm 79 years old this year," Babe said with a laugh. "All the old stars are mine. Half of [the celebrities now] I don't even know anymore."

This year, the two are hoping to catch a glimpse of Brad Pitt. They saw him briefly only one time before when he was dating Gwyneth Paltrow.

The sisters are also looking forward to seeing their red carpet friends, especially since they only get to see them once a year.

Plus, they know their tradition will continue for years to come. Danielle has two little girls that will be able to attend once they've graduated high school and can pay their own way.

"They'll be pushing grandma in a wheelchair," Sandi said

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems

NYTimes.com: "BEHIND the cash register at Smoke Shop No. 2 in downtown San Francisco, Sam Azar swipes a customer’s credit card to ring up Turkish cigarettes. The store’s card reader fails to scan the card’s magnetic strip. Azar swipes again, and again. No luck.
As customers begin to queue, he reaches beneath the counter for a black plastic bag. He wraps one layer of the plastic around the card and swipes it again. Success. The sale is rung up.
“I don’t know how it works, it just does,” says Mr. Azar, who learned the trick years ago from another clerk. Verifone, the company that makes the store’s card reader, would not confirm or deny that the plastic bag trick works. But it’s one of many low-tech fixes for high-tech failures that people without engineering degrees have discovered, often out of desperation, and shared.
Today’s shaky economy is likely to produce many more such tricks. “In postwar Japan, the economy wasn’t doing so great, so you couldn’t get everyday-use items like household cleaners,” says Lisa Katayama, author of “Urawaza,” a book named after the Japanese term for clever lifestyle tips and tricks. “So people looked for ways to do with what they had.”
Popular urawaza include picking up broken glass from the kitchen floor with a slice of bread, or placing houseplants on a water-soaked diaper to keep them watered during a vacation trip.
Today, Americans are finding their own tips and tricks for fixing misbehaving gadgets with supplies as simple as paper and adhesive tape. Some, like Mr. Azar’s plastic bag, are open to argument as to how they work, or whether they really work at all. But many tech home remedies can be explained by a little science."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

UCSD staff, faculty claim hazardous work environment

San Diego Union-Tribune: "LA JOLLA — A group of UC San Diego staffers and faculty members marched on campus Tuesday to protest what they call a hazardous work environment in the university's Literature building.
Between 2000 and 2006, there have been eight reports of breast cancer among women who worked in the building, which also houses the Visual Arts and Third World Studies departments and the Dean of Arts and Humanities. Two of those women have died.
A June report commissioned by the university concluded the incidence of breast cancer among women working in the building was four to five times higher than would be expected in the general population of California.
The study, authored by UCSD epidemiologist Dr. Cedric Garland, said there is “a possibility of a mild to modest increase in risk of breast cancer” associated with working near electrical and elevator equipment rooms on the first floor.
Those who organized Tuesday's protest said they are worried about the health of faculty members, staffers and students, and alarmed at the university's lack of action to reduce the risk attributed to the high-current electricity.
“We need to be protecting people rather than ignoring the signs that women are at heightened risk of cancer,” said Nina Zhiri, who has taught literature at UCSD for 16 years."

D-Day vet's tale parallels mortgage meltdown

msnbc.com: "CERRITOS, Calif. - Questions linger here, as ripe and nagging as the odor that once wafted over this former dairy capital: Who is trying to seize the home of Ray Vargas, child of the Great Depression, D-Day veteran and loving husband who just wanted to do right by his dying wife? And are they entitled to it?
In bankruptcy court documents, the party attempting to foreclose is identified as Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc., or MERS, a small Vienna, Va.-based company employed by lenders to streamline the resale of mortgage loans and servicing rights. In that role, MERS claims an interest in tens of millions of U.S. home loans and the legal right to foreclose on those in default.
But MERS never gave Vargas a loan. It never collected money from him or recorded his payments. It had no ability to modify his loan.
What it did have was a copy of a document that named it a “beneficiary” of the mortgage on his home and a “nominee” for the lender and “lender’s successors and assigns.” But it has never identified the current holder of the loan."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Alien life 'may exist among us'

BBC NEWS: "Never mind Mars, alien life may be thriving right here on Earth, a major science conference has heard.
Our planet may harbour forms of "weird life" unrelated to life as we know it, according to Professor Paul Davies, a physicist at Arizona State University.
This "shadow life" may be hidden in toxic arsenic lakes or in boiling deep sea hydrothermal vents, he says.
He has called on scientists to launch a "mission to Earth" by trawling hostile environments for signs of bio-activity.
Weird life could even be living among us, in forms which we don't yet recognise, he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Chicago.
"We don't have to go to other planets to find weird life.
"It could be right in front of our noses - or even in our noses," said the physicist.
"It is entirely reasonable to expect we will find a shadow biosphere here on Earth.
"But nobody has actually taken the trouble to look."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

How a Surfer Dude Stunned the World of Science With the 'Theory of Everything'





(This is great! Darcy & Reid must read. Darcy, he has his PhD from UCSD. Reid, he has a lifestyle to aspire to.)



A laid-back surfer has just drawn up a new theory of the universe that is blowing the establishment’s socks off. His theory is seen by some as the “Holy Grail of physics”, and is earning rave reviews from distinguished scientists. In fact, his model appears to be the elusive overarching explanation to unite all the particles and forces of the cosmos, which has been the most baffling riddle of modern physics—stumping even Einstein.

Garrett Lisi, 39, may be operating outside of the scientific mainstream, but he’s no idiot. In fact, he’s a beach bum with a doctorate degree. But with almost no money, no university affiliation and no real responsibilities, Lisi spends most of his time surfing in Hawaii, where he occasionally does stints as a hiking guide and bridge builder, sleeping in a jungle yurt. In the winter, he spends the majority of his time snowboarding in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

With a lifestyle revolving around riding wave and snow drifts, The Daily Galaxy had one burning question for Lisi: “How on Earth did you have the time to come up with the “Theory of Everything” in between so much snowboarding and surfing?”

Lisi’s chill response was, “I don't watch TV. Miraculously, this gives me plenty of time to surf, contemplate the secrets of the universe, and keep my girlfriend happy.”

But it’s not as if he didn’t put ANY effort into possibly solving the biggest mystery in the entire universe. Lisi admitted to the The Daily Galaxy that, “Between surfing and physics, I alternate days.”

While this kind of life sounds fun—solving the biggest mystery in the universe one day, hitting the waves the next—it does have its downside Lisi points out. "Being poor sucks. It's hard to figure out the secrets of the universe when you're trying to figure out where you and your girlfriend are going to sleep next month."

Fortunately, Lisi pulled it off anyway, and his proposed theory is nothing short of genius. Part of the excitement is that it does not require highly complex mathematics to understand. In the arcane world of particle physics, a simplified theory that actually makes sense, is a fine rarity indeed. Many scientists have speculated through the years that when the “Holy Grail” of physics was found, it would be beautiful, simple and easily understood. “The simplest answer is usually the correct answer,” goes the popular restatement of Occam's razor.
(full article at link above)

Wearable Computer from MIT

Chinese Death Bus: A Rolling Execution Studio?


Overpopulation and rampant crime has led the Chinese to develop a rolling lethal injection bus complete with a live video feed of the killings. Details inside.

Jinguan Auto, a popular Chinese ambulance manufacturer, has developed a rolling execution studio. Convicts are strapped to a power sliding stretcher that extends out of the rear of the bus as it's allegedly "too brutal" to haul people on board for their final cocktail. The executions are broadcast to local law enforcement authorities to make sure they are conducted up to code.

This trumps the traditional firing line-style executions as small cities do not need to build expensive specialized death structures. We thought you just needed a stained wall, a blindfold and a pack of cigarettes to dole out the harshness, but it seems this is a new, caring China. The lethal injections are supposedly much more humane than having someone kneel and play catch the bullet with their brain.

Not so fast with the China lovin', though. The Chinese have gotten in trouble in the past for harvesting the organs of their prisoners to sell to Westerners in need of a transplant. Critics claim that the new death bus simply makes it much easier to harvest organs in secret while they're still usable instead of rushing some bleeding guy into the back room for a hasty slicing. Nobody is allowed to view the bodies of prisoners before they are cremated, so this rumor could prove to be true.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Maggots in Your Mushrooms

NY Times: "THE Georgia peanut company at the center of one of our nation’s worst food-contamination scares has officially reached a revolting new low: a recent inspection by the Food and Drug Administration discovered that the salmonella-tainted plant was also home to mold and roaches.
You may be grossed out, but insects and mold in our food are not new. The F.D.A. actually condones a certain percentage of “natural contaminants” in our food supply — meaning, among other things, bugs, mold, rodent hairs and maggots.
In its (falsely) reassuringly subtitled booklet “The Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of Natural or Unavoidable Defects in Foods That Present No Health Hazards for Humans,” the F.D.A.’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition establishes acceptable levels of such “defects” for a range of foods products, from allspice to peanut butter.
Among the booklet’s list of allowable defects are “insect filth,” “rodent filth” (both hair and excreta pellets), “mold,” “insects,” “mammalian excreta,” “rot,” “insects and larvae” (which is to say, maggots), “insects and mites,” “insects and insect eggs,” “drosophila fly,” “sand and grit,” “parasites,” “mildew” and “foreign matter” (which includes “objectionable” items like “sticks, stones, burlap bagging, cigarette butts, etc.”).
Tomato juice, for example, may average “10 or more fly eggs per 100 grams [the equivalent of a small juice glass] or five or more fly eggs and one or more maggots.” Tomato paste and other pizza sauces are allowed a denser infestation — 30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams or 15 or more fly eggs and one or more maggots per 100 grams.
Canned mushrooms may have “over 20 or more maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid” or “five or more maggots two millimeters or longer per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid” or an “average of 75 mites” before provoking action by the F.D.A."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New Lincoln Pennies Unveiled


The first of four new pennies chronicling Abraham Lincoln's rise from a small Kentucky cabin will be put into circulation Thursday to honor the 16th president's 200th birthday.

The coin's front is unchanged, but the reverse depicts a tiny log cabin, representing the one-room dwelling where Lincoln was born near Hodgenville, Kentucky.

The new one-cent piece is being unveiled by the U.S. Mint as part of Lincoln's bicentennial celebration, being held Thursday morning near his birthplace.

The remaining coins, set for release later this year, show other phases of Honest Abe's life: a young man reading while sitting on a log during his formative years in Indiana; Lincoln the state legislator speaking in front of the Illinois capitol; and the unfinished dome of the U.S. Capitol.

Illinois celebrates Lincoln's 200th birthday

By Jay Jones, Reporting from Springfield, Ill.

OK, put on your thinking caps. It's time for a very short -- but very appropriate -- pop quiz.

Question 1: On what day is Presidents Day celebrated?

Question 2: When is Abraham Lincoln's birthday?

That's it. Pencils down, please.

Presidents Day is observed the third Monday in February. Also known as Washington's Birthday, it's been a federal holiday on this date since 1971.

Feb. 12 is the correct answer to Question 2. You're forgiven if you got that one wrong. Unless, that is, you grew up in Illinois, as I did.

Heck, even the less studious kids -- those who didn't give a hoot about history -- knew that Lincoln was born Feb. 12. His birthday was -- and still is -- a state holiday (read: a day off from school in Illinois).

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. All across Illinois -- where the official state slogan is "Land of Lincoln" -- folks are holding a year-long party. Visitors are welcome to join in by tracing the footsteps of Illinois' favorite son.

Yes, I know that Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky and that he spent his youth in Indiana. (I paid attention in class.) Still, it's Illinois that zealously lays claim to Honest Abe. He moved here when he was 21 and stayed until departing for Washington -- and the White House -- 30 years later.

Planning your trip to Springfield, Ill.

Springfield is celebrating the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth with a variety of events, including candlelight tours of the Old State Capitol and a production of "Our American Cousin," the play Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated. A comprehensive list of events can be viewed online at www.lincoln200.net. More information, including lodging and dining options, is available at the convention and visitors bureau website, www.visit-springfieldillinois.com.

As a lawyer and a politician, Lincoln left his mark in towns and cities across the state, but nowhere more so than in Springfield, about three hours southwest of Chicago. Here, his name seems to be everywhere. His home for nearly a quarter of a century, Springfield is a good place to capture the essence of one of America's greatest leaders. You can visit newer sites, such as his presidential library and museum, as well as several historic ones, including his home, the only house Lincoln ever owned.

"Lincoln cut his political teeth in Springfield," says Tim Townsend, historian at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Long before being elected president in 1860, he served four terms in the state legislature and one in Congress.

"As a politician in central Illinois, you had to try to win the votes of a diverse audience," Townsend adds, pointing to Springfield's mix of Southerners and Yankees.

Lincoln himself weighed in on his feelings about Springfield as he boarded his inaugural train in February 1861.

"To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything," he told well-wishers.

The train station from which the president-elect departed is one of the many sites in and around Springfield where visitors can walk in Lincoln's shoes. The depot looks much the same today as it did in Lincoln's day.

Other Lincoln sites include:

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Opened in 2004, the nation's biggest and most-visited presidential museum portrays Lincoln's life both in the Midwest and in Washington. High-tech special effects -- including animated holograms -- take guests back to the 19th century to witness history in the making, from Abe's teenage years in Indiana through his presidency and the monumental struggles of the Civil War and slavery; (800) 610-2094, www.alplm.org.

The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices. Lincoln practiced law here from 1843 to about 1852. After visiting the gallery and theater, guests take a guided tour that interprets Lincoln's legal work; www.illinoishistory.gov.

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site. "The house is where Lincoln was a husband and a father," observes Townsend. This is where, according to printed accounts, he wrestled on the floor with his sons and was scolded by his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, when he was late for supper; (217) 391-3226, www.nps.gov/liho.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stimulus plan put into perspective

by Gene Lyons

Maybe the best way to get some perspective on President Obama's $800 billion economic stimulus plan is to compare it with a couple of his predecessor's noteworthy adventures in the art of governance.

Faced with a mild recession in 2001, George W. Bush contended that "a warning light is flashing on the dashboard of our economy, and we just can't drive on and hope for the best. We need tax relief now." His answer was a $1.35 trillion tax cut targeted largely at the wealthy, i.e.. more than 50 percent larger than the Obama initiative.

Enacted with numerous Democratic votes, the Bush tax cuts were supposed to invigorate a sluggish economy. Eight years later, with the aid of a chart prepared by thinkprogress.org, the results are clear. Unemployment has grown from 4 to 7.6 percent and continues to increase frighteningly fast. The economy lost 3.6 million jobs last year, and 600,000 in January alone. The number of persons living in poverty has risen from 12.7 to 17 percent. In 2001, 17 million Americans relied on food stamps; today, 30 million do.

Contrary to GOP dogma, Bush's tax cuts also failed to pay for themselves. As Obama pointed out during his Feb. 9 news conference, the national debt doubled on his predecessor's watch. The Iraq war alone cost several times more than Obama's stimulus plan. Republicans like Sen. John McCain who voted to spend billions rebuilding Iraqi roads, schools and power plants now call it "criminal" to rebuild them here at home.

GOP politicians stood quietly by when Bush's Coalition Provisional Authority air-lifted $12 billion in cash, 363 tons of crisp, shrink-wrapped $100 bills, to Iraq. Then reportedly couldn't account for almost $9 billion of it. As in, the money vanished. Permanently. Odd how quiet the allegedly liberal media's been about it, don't you think? Imagine the uproar had a Democratic administration done that.

The point is the dashboard light is not blinking anymore. The U.S. economy's broken down at the side of the road with black smoke pouring out from under the hood. Fire extinguisher? Completely unnecessary, Republicans chant. Why, Rush Limbaugh says if we'd just cut taxes again, Americans could afford to rotate the tires. The fire will die out eventually. Anything else would be socialism!

Enter the "centrists," consisting of three Republican senators from the northeast who fear that siding with the GOP's Confederate wing would result in their becoming former senators, and several red-state Democrats whose constituents remain in thrall to what used to be called Reaganomics, although the patron saint of contemporary conservatives was far more pragmatic than the second President Bush. Yes, Ronald Reagan cut income taxes; he also nearly doubled Social Security and Medicare taxes.

That's why it's nonsense to object because workers who pay little or no income tax get tax credits under the Obama plan. According to Bloomberg News, "The average tax rate paid by the richest 400 Americans fell by a third to 17.2 percent through the first six years of the Bush administration and their average income doubled to $263.3 million, new IRS data show." Meanwhile, payroll taxes paid by minimum-wage employees are almost 16 percent.

Any questions?

Together, the centrists slashed billions from the stimulus in a ham-fisted fashion. Several cuts strike most economists as shortsighted. Broadly speaking, the more cash Obama's plan puts into the hands of people certain to spend it, the more stimulus it provides the broader economy.

Mark Zandi at Moody's economy.com, a former adviser to McCain's presidential campaign, has produced a chart estimating how much bang for the buck the stimulus provides: Every dollar spent on unemployment benefits should generate $1.64 increase in Gross Domestic Product, a dollar on food stamps $1.73, etc. Least effective are income tax cuts for people who won't spend it.

States whose constitutions forbid deficit spending need money for unemployment benefits and increased Medicaid costs, and to pay the salaries of state employees who administer the programs. It's not alarmist to warn of laid off teachers, firefighters and cops in hard-hit states such as Ohio, California and Florida. It's already happening. That's why Republican governors such as Florida's Charlie Crist and California's Arnold Schwarzenegger have sided with Obama. Unlike GOP senators and representatives performing Washington political theater, governors have payrolls to meet.

Cutting $20 billion for school construction and another $8 billion to make federal government buildings energyefficient also makes no sense whatsoever. We're talking about a million jobs in the construction trades, not to mention better education and cost-saving energy efficiency.

But hey, it's definitely bipartisanship, and Obama asked for it, didn't he? Moreover, this is exactly how the American system was designed to work. And any way you look at it, passing the stimulus bill is a huge accomplishment for a president during his first month in office.

That chicken dinner? It might make you sick

MSNBC: "Jenelle Dorner, 32, of Bloomington, Indiana, doesn’t eat chicken. In fact, she hardly eats anything. “Each night while I sleep, I’m fed nutrients and fluids by IV,” says the married mother of one. Eight years ago, Dorner developed gastroparesis, a condition that delays or prevents food from reaching the intestines, where nutrients are absorbed. The possible cause? A hearty helping of bacteria-ridden chicken she ate at a restaurant 14 years ago.
Her story is an extreme one, but poultry can make you sick as easily today as it did to Dorner when she bit into her destructive dinner. In fact, there is a 50 percent chance that the bird you bring home from the grocery store will contain Campylobacter (known as campy for short), the bacteria that was lurking in Dorner’s undercooked entrée. The pathogen, found in a chicken’s intestinal tract, causes no harm to the animals, but it can make humans very ill, sometimes fatally, if high cooking temperatures don’t kill it. Seeing as how the average American puts away more than 42 pounds of poultry per year (equal to 222 chicken breasts), your chances of getting sick are considerable. An estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illness occur each year in the United States, and during the past decade, poultry has caused more cases than any other individual food group, including vegetables, fruit, seafood and beef, according to data from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a food and health watchdog group in Washington, D.C.
“Infections of campy are so common that many of us have probably already had it at least once,” says Robert Tauxe, M.D., deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases in Atlanta.
Dorner’s ordeal began in 1995, when she was a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her father took her to a restaurant to celebrate her 19th birthday, and she ordered chicken. “I remember thinking it was slightly pink, but other than that, it seemed fine,” she says. Three days later, Dorner began vomiting and experiencing stomach pains and diarrhea. Doctors at the student health center suspected a virus and sent her home with instructions to stay hydrated. But her condition worsened. “I was running a fever, couldn’t keep anything down and had bloody diarrhea,” Dorner recalls. She returned to the health center, where they took a stool sample and admitted her to the hospital. Dorner’s lab work revealed that she had contracted campy. After taking the antibiotic Cipro, she felt better, but her digestive system was never the same. In 2001, Dorner began having severe abdominal pain and couldn’t eat a meal without vomiting, the first signs of her gastroparesis. During the next five years, her condition progressed to full-blown digestive failure. “My doctors won’t ever be certain, but they believe that my campylobacter infection 14 years ago could have weakened my digestive system and set the stage for the gastroparesis,” Dorner says. “I was completely healthy until I had that meal.” "

Worst American Birthdays, Vol. 47

Let’s say it’s mid-August 2008. You’re a nationally unknown governor from a geographically large, demographically insignificant state. It's true, of course, that you possess comically errant beliefs about science and the environment, and your reputation as a "maverick" has been oversold by half.

But you’re young and chipper, you’re overwhelmingly popular with your constituents, and you have a bright political horizon before you. In the very least, you're a dead-lock for re-election as your weird state's chief executive, and you might even be looking forward to an eventual move to the US Senate one day. Or perhaps you might even vault to the US House when your state's only representative is eventually remanded to federal custody. Your reputation as a clean-government reformer has been dented somewhat by summertime allegations that you fired a state commissioner after pressuring him to fire someone you didn’t like. But you’ve pledged to cooperate with the investigation, and — let’s be honest — even if you’re judged to have abused your office, very few people are likely to hold any of this against you in 2010.

Then let’s say you receive a surprising offer to serve as the vice presidential running mate for a very old man with a history of health problems. You earn this opportunity in no small part because a group of pathetic, right wing men met you on holiday a year earlier and sprouted chubbies in their shorts. Fulfilling the role that traditionally suits the vice presidential nominee, you agree to be the campaign’s attack dog; though you lack the information to develop original broadsides against your opponents, you’re competent with a teleprompter and are capable of cracking wise about pit bulls and lipstick and such. You fib mightily about your record as governor; you struggle with your native tongue in media interviews; you complete a televised debate, using occasionally-complete sentences but treating facts and figures as if they’re foreign objects to be dislodged as quickly as possible from your throat. You wink and smile. Mooseburger, hockey, maverick — drill, baby, drill. And then, as your campaign slips farther behind in the polls, you resort to portraying the other party’s candidate as a consorter with terrorists and as a scary (cough, negro, cough) man with alien values and a loathing for the country he seeks to lead.

Let’s say you do all these things while refusing to cooperate with a legislative investigation at home. You allow your running mate to send a squadron of lawyers to manage the state’s executive branch in your absence. You allow them to describe a former commission head as a backstabbing “rogue” who deserved his professional head upon a platter; you allow them to misrepresent the nature of the investigation; you allow them to portray the legislature as a hive of Obama supporters. You issue a report clearing yourself of any wrongdoing. When the legislature releases its own report, you pretend that it clears you as well.

You lose the election. You are a laughing stock. You'll probably be back in four years, and you'll probably lose again. Meantime, you'll earn at least $11 million from the labors of a ghostwriter.

But why sweat the little stuff? Today, on the third anniversary of the Great Quail Hunt, America wishes you a happy 45th birthday.

Have a safer dinner tonight

Minimize your risks when you’re shopping, cooking or ordering off a menu
Feeling chicken about chicken? We spoke to public health experts to find out how you can minimize your risks when you’re shopping, cooking and ordering off a menu.
In the meat aisle
Choose frozen. Freezing kills some campy in chicken, says Robert Tauxe, M.D., of the CDC, so buying poultry that’s already on ice may help reduce the bacteria you bring into your kitchen. But salmonella survives the deep freeze, so follow package instructions when cooking prepared products such as stuffed breasts or chicken cordon bleu. A slew of salmonella cases in 2008 was attributed to frozen chicken that consumers failed to cook thoroughly. The most common mistake? They assumed the meat was precooked and used the microwave to heat their meals instead of the oven.
Pick clean packages. Look closely at the meat case. If a package of chicken appears leaky, drippy or sticky on the outside, skip it. “It is very likely to be contaminated, and if it leaks, the bacteria will get on other foods or on children in your grocery cart,” Dr. Tauxe says. And regardless of the package you select, use a plastic bag from the produce section to grab it to keep bacteria off your hands and other food in your basket.
At home
Become a germophobe. Chicken pathogens, especially campy, are easily transferred from one food to another. “If you cut up raw chicken, don’t wash your hands, then make a salad — you can guarantee there will be campy in that salad,” Dr. Tauxe says. “I handle chicken as if it were a hazardous material,” says Felicia Nestor, senior food policy analyst at Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer-safety group in Washington, D.C. Follow her lead: Unwrap raw chicken in the sink, transfer it to a pan or cutting board, then scour the sink, counter and board with hot soapy water. Wash your hands with hot water and soap. Clean dishes that have touched raw chicken in the dishwasher.
Take your chicken’s temp. In a whole chicken, stick a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh to be sure it’s cooked through. In boneless breasts or ground-chicken patties, aim for the fattest part.
Freeze for later. If you won’t be eating the chicken you bought before it expires, freeze it for up to nine months.
Eating out
Be a food snob. Forget four stars; the restaurant rating you should be most interested in is from the health department. Not all counties require eateries to post it, but in those that do, look for a 90 or higher or a grade of A.
This rating indicates the restaurant has procedures in place that render the kitchen an unwelcome area for bacteria.
Eye your meat. When relying on strangers, trust what you see. If the chicken is at all pink, or the juices don’t run clear, send it back.
Don’t fear fast food chains. At least when it comes to foodborne illness. The meat you order at the drive-through or counter may be less likely to contain pathogens or be undercooked than meat at a sit-down restaurant. Unfortunately, many fast food meats might not score as well when it comes to arsenic. In the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s 2006 arsenic report, all of the fast food samples tested contained detectable (but not dangerous) levels. Those with the lowest? KFC and Subway.

America's Most Miserable Cities

KURT BADENHAUSEN
Forbes.com
Detroit Relinquished its 2007 Crown of Most Miserable City
Chicago would seem to be on quite a roll these days. The city is a leading contender to host the Summer Olympics in 2016. The hometown Cubs had the most wins of any team in the National League last year and are one of the early favorites to win the 2009 World Series. And, of course, one of its own just became the most powerful person in the world (we're not talking about Oprah either, but she's close).

So with all of the good vibes coming out of Chicago, how does it show up as the third worst city on our second annual list of America's Most Miserable Cities?

Lousy weather, long commutes, rising unemployment and the highest sales tax rate in the country are to blame for the Windy City being near the top of our list. High rates of corruption by public officials didn't help either.

Misery was up around the country in 2008. Market meltdowns, bank blowups and bailouts and cratering home prices often overshadowed the incredibly positive stories of 2008 like the Beijing Summer Games and the historic election of Barack Obama. The highly watched Misery Index spiked as the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate surged to 9.6 in 2008, up from 7.5 the previous year. It was the highest annual level since 1993.

Our own Forbes Misery Measure saw a shuffling of the deck among the top 10 cities, with five new candidates getting a failing grade this year. Topping the charts is Stockton, Calif., which was the runner-up on our list last year.

The Most Miserable City

Stockton ranks in the bottom seven in four of the nine categories we looked at: commute times, income tax rates, unemployment and violent crime. Only New York City has a higher income tax rate than what Stockton, and all California residents, are forced to pay.


Stockton was ground zero for the housing boom and now the subsequent bust. Home prices more than tripled between 1998 and 2005 and then came crashing down last year. Stockton had the country's highest foreclosure rate last year at 9.5%, according to RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosed property. Things are not looking much brighter in 2009 as housing prices are expected to fall another 36% on the heels of a 39% drop in 2008. Also, unemployment is expected to jump to 13.3% from 10.4%, according to economic research firm Moody's Economy.com.

Monday, February 09, 2009

thoughts

So, back in October, we spend 700+ billion dollars (its actually more like a trillion according to things I've read) without getting told a SINGLE thing about where or what the money would go to. In fact, they blatantly said will will NOT tell you what its for, we just need a lot of money very quickly.

Now, President Obama has to go on every media outlet and beg like a salesman to get the same amount of money, even though we've heard so many things about where the money will go, who it will affect, etc.

And, its all because the banks we bailed out our being tight-fisted with the money WE gave them.

Tell me how that makes sense.


But on a sidenote, its so amazing to see a presidential news conference. Its like a novelty - wait a second, we can ask you a question, and you will just answer us, just like that? No run around, no press secretary to go through? Hhmmm. What a concept, dialogue.

This is why you're fat


Pictures of ridiculous food, like corn dog pizza and Turbaconucken. Via Dlisted

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Obama 'Hope' Artist Arrested In Boston

The controversial street artist who gained fame with his red, white and blue posters of President Barack Obama was arrested in Boston Friday night, Boston police said.

Shepard Fairey, 38, was arrested on two outstanding warrants as he was about to enter an exhibition of his work at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Fairey was charged with damage to property for having painted two Boston area locations with graffiti, spokesman James Kenneally said.

Fairey told the Los Angeles Times last year that his "Obey Giant" street art campaign had led to his arrest many times.
Boston police said he had painted his "Andre The Giant" graffiti near an entrance to the Massachusetts Turpike and the Boston University bridge across the Charles River.
"Other locations within Boston have been located with the suspect’s ‘Obey' variations. Those locations are under investigation," Kenneally said.

My Children Made Me Do It

By STEPHEN AMIDON
Greenfield, Mass.

MY father didn’t leave me much when he died.

Although he was at one time a fast-rising executive in a multinational company, a combination of corporate skullduggery and his own personal demons meant he had little in the bank when he died in 2001, a few days before his 70th birthday.

There was nothing for his four children except a small array of personal items, including a particularly sturdy hairbrush I was astute enough to claim. I still own it, in fact, and use it daily to tame my rapidly thinning hair, which is probably coming unglued due to worry about what sort of inheritance I will be able to provide my own four children.

I got to thinking about that brush when I read that a colleague of Tom Daschle had said that his tax woes — not to mention the lucrative private-sector temptations he gave into — may have stemmed from his desire to make enough money to lay a fat nest egg for his children.

It is hard to see how riding in a free limo benefits future generations, but even if I give Mr. Daschle the benefit of the doubt, I cannot help but note the paradox here. A man’s desire to provide his progeny with a big score has resulted in him saddling them with a very different sort of inheritance — a legacy of embarrassment.

Instead of being remembered as the savior of the nation’s health care system or even as just a middling health secretary, their father will now forever be known as the guy who hitched a ride with some private-equity hot rodders and then neglected to chip in for the gas. Most sons and daughters I know would gladly forgo a portion of their birthright in order to be invited to pool parties at the Obama White House and not to have a dad serving as fodder for late-night television wisecracks.

Inheritances can be tricky things. Even those given with the best of intentions can often go awry. Just ask King Lear. He simply wanted to turn Britain over to his daughters so he could enjoy the medieval equivalent of retirement in Boca Raton, but wound up starting a bloody civil war that brought ruin on his family.

On the other end of the ancestral give-and-take, there’s Richard Carstone, who appears in Dickens’s “Bleak House.” Richard was a nice enough boy who caused his own destruction by obsessively pursuing a share of a disputed legacy.

At the bottom of the barrel, there’s Bernard Madoff, who is reported to have planned to dispense a desk full of booty to his relatives to keep the family fortune one step ahead of the law. Sure, everybody wants to get a surprise bequest from their Uncle Bernie, but probably not if it comes with a co-conspirator rap attached.

56-year-old first woman to swim Atlantic


Jennifer Figge poses for a picture after her arrival to Chacachacare Island, in Trinidad on Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009. The Aspen, Colo. resident is the first woman to swim across the Atlantic Ocean, after leaving the Cape Verde Islands off Africa on Jan. 12, swimming roughly 2,100 miles.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Jennifer Figge pressed her toes into the Caribbean sand, exhilarated and exhausted as she touched land this week for the first time in almost a month.

Reaching a beach in Trinidad, she became the first woman on record to swim across the Atlantic Ocean — a dream she’d had since the early 1960s, when a stormy trans-Atlantic flight got her thinking she could don a life vest and swim the rest of the way if needed.

The 56-year-old left the Cape Verde Islands off Africa’s western coast on Jan. 12, battling waves of up to 30 feet and strong winds.

David Higdon, a friend of Figge who kept in touch with her via satellite phone, said she had originally planned to swim to the Bahamas, but inclement weather forced her to veer 1,000 miles off course to Trinidad, where she arrived on Thursday.

Figge plans to continue her odyssey, swimming from Trinidad to the British Virgin Islands, where she expects to arrive in late February. The crew won’t compute the total distance Figge swam until after she completes the journey, Higdon said.

Then it’s home to Aspen, Colo. — where she trained for months in an outdoor pool amid snowy blizzards — to reunite with her Alaskan Malamute.

“My dog doesn’t know where I am,” she told The Associated Press on Saturday by phone. “It’s time for me to get back home to Hank.”

The dog swirled in her thoughts, as did family and friends, as Figge stroked through the chilly Atlantic waters escorted by a sailboat. She saw a pod of pilot whales, several turtles, dozens of dolphins — but no sharks.

“I was never scared,” Figge said. “Looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can always swim in a pool.”

Her journey comes a decade after French swimmer Benoit Lecomte made the first known solo trans-Atlantic swim, covering nearly 4,000 miles from Massachusetts to France in 73 days. No woman on record has made the crossing.

Figge woke most days around 7 a.m., eating pasta and baked potatoes while she and the crew assessed the weather. Her longest stint in the water was about eight hours, and her shortest was 21 minutes. Crew members would throw bottles of energy drinks as she swam; if the seas were too rough, divers would deliver them in person. At night she ate meat, fish and peanut butter, replenishing the estimated 8,000 calories she burned a day.

Figge wore a red cap and wet suit, with her only good-luck charm underneath: an old, red shirt to guard against chafing, signed by friends, relatives and her father, who recently died.

The other cherished possession she kept onboard was a picture of Gertrude Ederle, an American who became the first woman to swim across the English Channel.

“We have a few things in common,” Figge said. “She wore a red hat and she was of German descent. We both talk to the sea, and neither one of us wanted to get out.”

Figge arrived on Trinidad’s Chacachacare Island, an abandoned leper colony, at 5:20 p.m. She plans to leave Trinidad on Monday night.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Snake bursts after gobbling gator


An unusual clash between a 6-foot (1.8m) alligator and a 13-foot (3.9m) python has left two of the deadliest predators dead in Florida's swamps.
The Burmese python tried to swallow its fearsome rival whole but then exploded.
The remains of the two giant reptiles were found by astonished rangers in the Everglades National Park.
The rangers say the find suggests that non-native Burmese pythons might even challenge alligators' leading position in the food chain in the swamps.

Clearly, if they can kill an alligator they can kill other species
Prof Frank Mazzotti
The python's remains were found with the victim's tail protruding from its burst midsection. The head of the python was missing.
"Encounters like that are almost never seen in the wild... And here we are," Frank Mazzotti, a University of Florida wildlife professor, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.
"They were probably evenly matched in size. If the python got a good grip on the alligator before the alligator got a good grip on him, he could win," Professor Mazzotti said.
He said the alligator may have clawed at the python's stomach, leading it to burst.
"Clearly, if they can kill an alligator they can kill other species," Prof Mazzotti said.
He said that there had been four known encounters between the two species in the past. In the other cases, the alligator won or the battle was an apparent draw.
Burmese pythons - many of whom have been dumped by their owners - have thrived in the wet and hot climate of Florida's swamps over the past 20 years.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Starbucks job fantasy comes to bitter end

Mary Schmich
February 6, 2009
I don't personally know anyone who quit a good job to work at Starbucks, but I know a lot of people who've fantasized.

Was your current job too stressful? Was it eating up your life with the ferocity of a starving dog? Even if you liked your job, was it time you spent more time painting, writing, cooking, woodworking, traveling, nurturing others and at least reading "1000 Things to Do Before You Die?"

In the Starbucks fantasy, you would toss off those old shackles, slip into a green Starbucks apron and be happy ever after saying, "Room for cream?"

That American dream took a hit last week. In its latest round of bad news, Starbucks announced it was cutting 6,700 jobs worldwide and closing 300 stores. Pop, pop, pop. From the skyline of Seattle, across the Midwest plains to the shores of Tampa Bay, you could hear the fantasies burst.

Starbucks was the great American backup plan. The emergency exit. The parachute. You could tell yourself that when you were ready to bolt your job—or your employer kicked you out—you could land softly at Starbucks, padded by the promise of part-time employment, a pleasant workplace, health care and free coffee.

It would be a simpler life. You would serve, you would smile. You would perfect your cappuccino foam. When you got sick—a big piece of the fantasy—you'd be covered. No taking the job home. When you clocked out of work, your mind would clock out too.

Simplicity. Security. A little style. That was the Starbucks dream.

Michael Gates Gill fed the Starbucks fantasy in his 2007 best-seller "How Starbucks Saved My Life." He was a blueblood executive who had lost his PR job, gotten a divorce and discovered he had a brain tumor. Starbucks, the story went, healed his soul.

Gill's tale spoke to Starbucks fantasists everywhere. Happiness really did lie in climbing down the ladder of success. Tom Hanks signed on to make the movie.

In reality, life on the backside of the espresso bar might not be so rosy. It didn't matter. Fantasies don't require fact-checkers. What mattered was that a prosperous Starbucks company let people envision a simpler, happy work life.

Starbucks is still a huge company, but as it struggles, its status as a fantasy shrinks, in which case it might be good to point out all the reasons you never wanted to work there anyway. In search of some, I phoned my friend Jane Corey Holt, former Starbucks barista, store manager and sales rep.

"I can't say much that dispels the myth," she said. "You're not going to get rich, your hours are irregular and it's retail so people are grumpy and demanding."

But she liked the job's simplicity, which came with just enough intensity. Making 200 drinks an hour, she said, focuses the mind. She also liked the people, the health benefits and the free pound of coffee every week. She fantasizes sometimes about going back.

Since a fantasy is just a fantasy, there's no reason a person can't keep the Starbucks dream. But the luster is off. Now a dreamer needs a backup to the backup fantasy.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Army official: Suicides in January 'terrifying'

CNN: "WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One week after the U.S. Army announced record suicide rates among its soldiers last year, the service is worried about a spike in possible suicides in the new year.
If reports of suicides are confirmed, more soldiers will have taken their lives in January than died in combat.
The Army said 24 soldiers are believed to have committed suicide in January alone -- six times as many as killed themselves in January 2008, according to statistics released Thursday.
The Army said it already has confirmed seven suicides, with 17 additional cases pending that it believes investigators will confirm as suicides for January.
If those prove true, more soldiers will have killed themselves than died in combat last month. According to Pentagon statistics, there were 16 U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq in January.
"This is terrifying," an Army official said. "We do not know what is going on."
Col. Kathy Platoni, chief clinical psychologist for the Army Reserve and National Guard, said that the long, cold months of winter could be a major contributor to the January spike.
"There is more hopelessness and helplessness because everything is so dreary and cold," she said.
But Platoni said she sees the multiple deployments, stigma associated with seeking treatment and the excessive use of anti-depressants as ongoing concerns for mental-health professionals who work with soldiers.
Those who are seeking mental-health care often have their treatment disrupted by deployments. Deployed soldiers also have to deal with the stress of separations from families.
"When people are apart you have infidelity, financial problems, substance abuse and child behavioral problems," Platoni said. "The more deployments, the more it is exacerbated."
Platoni also said that while the military has made a lot of headway in training leaders on how to deal with soldiers who may be suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, "there is still a huge problem with leadership who shame them when they seek treatment."
The anti-depressants prescribed to soldiers can have side effects that include suicidal thoughts. Those side effects reportedly are more common in people 18 to 24.
Concern about last month's suicide rate was so high, Congress and the Army leadership were briefed. In addition, the Army took the rare step of releasing data for the month rather than waiting to issue it as part of annual statistics at the end of the year."

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

In Kitchen, ‘Losers’ Start From Scratch

NY Times: "NOTHING is off-limits on “The Biggest Loser,” the reality show that pits morbidly obese people against one another to see who can lose weight the fastest and win the $250,000 prize.
Contestants endure tearful, grueling workouts and submit to public weigh-ins wearing only bike shorts (and for the women, sports bras). They cry. They vomit. They backstab.
The one thing they almost never do on camera is eat.
“The food that you’re used to, you can’t have, and the food you can have, you do not want,” said Vicky Vilcan, a 5-foot-6-inch finalist from Houma, La., who weighed 246 pounds at the beginning of the last season. Now at 145 pounds, she eats broccoli and spinach but says she was “repulsed” by most vegetables when she was on the show. “I wouldn’t eat a string bean that wasn’t smothered in bacon and onions.”
Watch an episode of “The Biggest Loser,” now in its seventh season on NBC, and see the pitfalls of the American diet written extra-large: cheap, high-calorie snacks everywhere, days spent in cars and cubicles and a near disappearance of home cooking.
The contestants are avatars for every slothful viewer on the sofa, waging the epic battle between willpower and waffle fries. While exercising 6 to 10 hours a day and fighting off the doughnuts and pizza that diabolical producers put in their paths may be difficult, the biggest challenge, and the one that will determine whether they remain thinner, is to permanently change their relationship with food.
First, they literally redevelop the sense of taste. “The food that got them to this point is salty, sweet, fatty, crunchy,” said Bob Harper, a trainer on the show since the first season in 2004, describing the fast food and snacks that are the steady diet of most contestants. “They lose their taste buds, they lose their hunger cues and they want what they want when they want it.”
Second, they learn fundamental cooking skills that they — like many Americans — have lost, or never had.
“Most of them do not have the basic ability to cook a meal at home and very little understanding of how much fat and salt is in restaurant food,” said Cheryl Forberg, the show’s nutritionist, “even on the supposedly healthy part of the menu.” While the show has been criticized as presenting a dangerous and unsustainable level of weight loss, recipes from it are sensible enough and have been collected in two cookbooks. Given the program’s popularity, it’s not surprising that both are in the top 10 on the Amazon best-seller list for cookbooks. Together, “The Biggest Loser Cookbook” and “The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook” have sold more than two million copies."

Pranks with electronic road signs stir worry

Latest breach came during morning rush hour near Collinsville, Illinois
Jan. 28: Drivers in Texas were warned to use caution behind the wheel, not because of road construction, but for the living dead?
COLLINSVILLE, Illinois - Pranksters in at least three states are messing with electronic road signs meant to warn motorists of possible traffic problems by putting drivers on notice about Nazi zombies and raptors. And highway safety officials aren't amused.

The latest breach came Tuesday during the morning rush hour near Collinsville, Ill., where hackers changed a sign along southbound Interstate 255 to read, "DAILY LANE CLOSURES DUE TO ZOMBIES."

A day earlier in Indiana's Hamilton County, the electronic message on a board in Carmel's construction zone warned drivers of "RAPTORS AHEAD — CAUTION."

And signs in Austin, Texas, recently flashed: "NAZI ZOMBIES! RUN!!!" and "ZOMBIES IN AREA! RUN."

Officials in Illinois are concerned the rewritten signs distract motorists from heeding legitimate hazards down the road. The hacked sign on Tuesday originally warned drivers of crews replacing guardrails.

"We understood it was a hoax, but at the same time those boards are there for a reason," said Joe Gasaway, an Illinois Department of Transportation supervisory field engineer. "We don't want (drivers) being distracted by a funny sign."

Authorities haven't figured out how pranksters access the signs. Gasaway believes the Illinois sign was changed remotely, and Austin Public Works spokeswoman Sara Hartley suspected the hackers there cut a padlock to get into the signs' computers.

Some Web sites, such as Jalopnik.com, have published tutorials titled "How to Hack an Electronic Road Sign" as a way to alert security holes to traffic-safety officials. Jalopnik urges its readership of 2.6 million a month not to put its lesson to practice.

"Hacking generally is about showing where there are holes in security systems, and I think this is a great example of that," the site's editor-in-chief, Ray Wert, told The Associated Press by telephone Wednesday. "I'm sure there are all sorts of ways to use that information in a way that's inappropriate, but we're trying to make clear this is an issue that needs to be confronted by traffic safety and transportation officials."

Wert said he had no immediate plans to take down Jalopnik's how-to guide.

In Illinois, tampering with an official traffic control device is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $250 fine — half what a culprit might have to pay in Texas if caught. If convicted in Indiana, a culprit faces up to a year in jail and $5,000 in fines.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Tiny charges on bank cards could presage bigger problems

"The mystery of a tiny charge on credit and debit cards is heightening to one of anticipation - of when the other shoe is going to drop.
Fraud experts are concerned about these charges - from 21 cents to 48 cents - that have appeared on cardholders' accounts in at least 46 states. The fear is someone is trying to find usable card numbers so that they can use the cards to make bigger charges at some future date.
The small charge, showing up as being from either Adele Services or GFDL, is designed to try to fly under the radar of credit card companies' fraud detection programs. Those companies appear to be fictitious.
"More than likely, the perpetrators are attempting to test the waters," said Jeremy Cannon of the National White Collar Crime Center. "They are relying on their assumption that the victim will not be vigilant in monitoring their banking and credit statements."
The scope of this scam has caught the attention of the companies and the national Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov), run by the National White Collar Crime Center and the FBI. The site registered 800 formal complaints about the scam as of last week and officials issued a warning to consumers.
Separately, the consumer finance site Mint.com notified 800 of its customers that a scan of their databases detected those charges on their credit or debit statements. Consumer complaint experts say those who complain tend to represent a tiny portion of those affected, particularly in cases such as this where many would not even know they had been affected.
Ben Woolsey of CreditCards.com warns: "Consumers who have seen these micro charges should be doubly vigilant in monitoring their statements.
It might also be prudent for consumers who experience these charges to report their card as lost and request that a new card with a new account number be issued by their bank" rather than just requesting that the 25 cents be reversed."

Monday, February 02, 2009

Google Earth lets user explore oceans, Mars

Version 5.0 can explore 3-D images of the underwater terrain

SAN FRANCISCO - Google Inc. is launching a new version of Google Earth that will let users explore the oceans, view images of Mars and watch the Earth's surface change over time.

The new features on Google's popular geography program were unveiled Monday at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, where former Vice President Al Gore was among the speakers.

Users of Google Earth 5.0 can now dive beneath the ocean's surface, explore three-dimensional images of the underwater terrain and view articles and videos about marine science.

The Historical Imagery feature lets users see archive satellite images of a single location over time.

And Google Mars 3-D features high-resolution images of the Red Planet.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Tandem instructor dies mid-jump; other man survives

News & Observer: "CHESTER, S.C. -- A 49-year-old skydiving instructor died of an apparent heart attack Saturday afternoon, seconds after jumping out of a plane with a first-time diver.
The pair were attached to the same parachute in a form of skydiving known as a tandem-jump.
The men's identities were not immediately available.
When they landed on the ground, the diver tried unsuccessfully to revive his instructor using CPR. But the heart attack occurred about a minute into the jump, and too much time had elapsed for the instructor to have any chance of surviving, said Chester County Coroner Terry Tinker.
The instructor worked for Skydive Carolina Parachute Center, a business located next to the Chester County Airport. Reached late Saturday afternoon, an employee declined to comment.
Tandem-jumping is the company’s most popular program, according to its Web site. Divers take a 30-minute safety course.
“You will accelerate to over 120 miles per hour for up to 60 seconds,” the Web site says. “Then you can pull the ripcord and enjoy a breath taking five minute flight under your parachute built for two. Yes, these parachutes truly fly and you get to assist your instructor in steering.”"