Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mother loses children to swine flu

Six months ago, Katrina McIntosh had probably never heard of H1N1 flu or swine flu.

Now, the emerging virus has claimed the lives of both the Dearborn County, Ind., woman’s children.

Mindy McIntosh, 26, died Monday at University Hospital from the virus.

Her brother, Matthew, 19, died July 5 of swine flu.

Mindy McIntosh, who worked as a cashier at the Dillsboro, Ind., IGA, had been showing signs of improvement just two weeks ago after spending weeks on a ventilator.

But her condition deteriorated rapidly as the infection took hold. An autopsy will determine how, exactly, she died, her mother said Tuesday.

“She was funny,” Katrina McIntosh said of her daughter. “She was a little shy. She wasn’t as outgoing as Matt. She was very witty. She made friends just instantly.

“She was a good kid,” she said.

The McIntosh family was working on funeral arrangements for Mindy McIntosh on Tuesday.

Visitation was planned for Thursday evening at the family’s church in Greendale, Ind., with the funeral service likely set for Friday.

The siblings, who lived with their parents in rural Dearborn County, fell ill in late June.

Matthew McIntosh, the drummer for a local band, was found unconscious in the family’s barn.

It’s not clear how the two were exposed to H1N1, which emerged in April in Mexico before spreading throughout North America and around the world.

Concern over the risk that H1N1 flu will kill more healthy young adults like the McIntoshes is prompting the rush to develop a vaccine against the emerging flu strain, said Judith Feinberg, a University of Cincinnati infectious disease expert.

Feinberg called the McIntosh deaths “an incredible tragedy. Their loss is just unimaginable.”

Normally, influenza is most dangerous in the very young and the very old, whose immune systems just aren’t strong enough to fight off the infection, Feinberg said.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Study: Tanning beds as deadly as arsenic - Cancer-

Study: Tanning beds as deadly as arsenic - Cancer-"LONDON - International cancer experts have moved tanning beds and other sources of ultraviolet radiation into the top cancer riskcategory, deeming them as deadly as arsenic and mustard gas.

For years, scientists have described tanning beds and ultraviolet radiation as "probable carcinogens."

A new analysis of about 20 studies concludes the risk of skin cancer jumps by 75 percent when people start using tanning beds before age 30. Experts also found that all types of ultraviolet radiation caused worrying mutations in mice, proof the radiation is carcinogenic. Previously, only one type of ultraviolet radiation was thought to be lethal."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Drought turning Texas as dry as toast

Farmer Michael Schaefer of St. Hedwig, Texas, says small ears on his yellow field corn show the effect of drought. ‘‘It’s pretty bad...and the 105-degree temperature doesn't help either,’’ Schaefer said.
DALLAS - Off-duty police officers are patrolling streets, looking for people illegally watering their lawns and gardens. Residents are encouraged to stealthily rat out water scofflaws on a 24-hour hot line. One Texas lake has dipped so low that stolen cars dumped years ago are peeking up through the waterline.
The nation's most drought-stricken state is deep-frying under relentless 100-degree days and waterways are drying up, especially in the hardest-hit area covering about 350 miles across south-central Texas. That's making folks worried about the water supply — and how long it might last.
"The water table's fallin' and fallin' and fallin,' like a whole lot of other people around here," said Wendell McLeod, general manager of Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. and a 60-year resident of the town northwest of Austin. "This is the worst I can recall seeing it. I tell you, it's just pretty bleak."
There are 230 Texas public water systems under mandatory water restrictions, including those in and near San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and Austin. Another 60 or so have asked for voluntary cutbacks. Water levels are down significantly in lakes, rivers and wells around Texas.
Liberty Hill's Web site urges its 1,400 or so residents in all-red letters to stop using unnecessary water with this plea: "If we follow these strict guidelines, we may have drinking water." The town's shortage eased some with the arrival this week of 35,000 gallons a day from a nearby water system, but residents are still worried.
77 Texas counties in severe drought
According to drought statistics released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 77 of Texas' 254 counties are in extreme or exceptional drought, the most severe categories. No other state in the continental U.S. has even one area in those categories. John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist at Texas A&M University, said he expects harsh drought conditions to last at least another month.
In the bone-dry San Antonio-Austin area, the conditions that started in 2007 are being compared to the devastating drought of the 1950s. There have been 36 days of 100 degrees or more this year in an area where there are usually closer to 12.
Among the most obvious problems are the lack of water in Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan near Austin, two massive reservoirs along the Colorado River that provide drinking water for more than 1 million people and also are popular boating and swimming spots. Streams and tributaries that feed the lakes have "all but dried up," according to the Lower Colorado River Authority.
Lake Travis is more empty than full, down 54 percent. All but one of the 12 boating ramps are closed because they no longer reach the water, and the last may go soon. The receding waters have even revealed old stolen cars shoved into the lake years ago, authorities said.
There's no threat to the area's drinking water supply, Rose said, but there are increased boating hazards from the "sometimes islands" that pop up when the water's low, increased risk of wildfires, and more interactions between humans and wildlife.
"We're seeing deer and armadillo and other animals in places we don't typically see them," he said. "They're starving for water and food."
At the Oasis, a popular restaurant with a deck overlooking Lake Travis, the islands are even starting to grow heavy vegetation.
"You can see all the white on the rocks where the waterline used to be," said Becca Torbert, a server at the restaurant who says the boat traffic is down, but the water is down even more.
San Antonio policing water offenders
San Antonio, which relies on the Edwards Aquifer for its water, is enduring its driest 23-month period since weather data was recorded starting in 1885, according to the National Weather Service. The aquifer's been hovering just above 640 feet deep, and if it dips below that the city will issue its harshest watering restrictions yet.
The city's not just sitting around, though. A total of 30 off-duty officers and other employees are working overtime to patrol the city looking for people illegally watering. Since April, about 1,500 people have been cited and ordered to pay fines ranging from $50 to over $1,000. Residents also are encouraged to rat out water scofflaws on the 24-hour Water Waste Hot Line.
"We don't go out in a car with sirens blazing or anything like that, but we do take the report and send out a letter saying 'You've been reported for not following water rules,'" said Anne Hayden, spokeswoman for the San Antonio Water System.
There have been smatterings of light rain in the area this week, but not enough to make much difference. But hopefully, the end is in sight. Victor Murphy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said an El Nino system is developing in the Pacific Ocean. That phenomenon is usually followed by increased rainfall in Texas in the fall.
McLeod, from Liberty City, hopes his little town can hang on till then.
"I don't know how we can," he said. "I try not to look too far ahead."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Strange Eye-Shaped Galaxy Has Black-Hole Iris "Not to be outdone by the 10th anniversary of its sibling, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope delivered this crazy looking eye-shaped galaxy image.
The iris of the eye is actually a ring of stars surrounding the area around an enormous, invisible black hole that is around 100 million times the mass of the sun and far larger than our galaxy’s central black hole. The stars show up white and the space around the black hole is blue in this color-coded infrared image.
“The ring itself is a fascinating object worthy of study because it is forming stars at a very high rate,” Kartik Sheth, an astronomer at NASA’s Spitzer Science Center, said in a press release."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Artificial brain '10 years away'

BBC NEWS" A detailed, functional artificial human brain can be built within the next 10 years, a leading scientist has claimed.
Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project, has already built elements of a rat brain.
He told the TED global conference in Oxford that a synthetic human brain would be of particular use finding treatments for mental illnesses.
Around two billion people are thought to suffer some kind of brain impairment, he said.
"It is not impossible to build a human brain and we can do it in 10 years," he said.
"And if we do succeed, we will send a hologram to TED to talk."
The Blue Brain project was launched in 2005 and aims to reverse engineer the mammalian brain from laboratory data.
In particular, his team has focused on the neocortical column - repetitive units of the mammalian brain known as the neocortex.
The team are trying to reverse engineer the brain
"It's a new brain," he explained. "The mammals needed it because they had to cope with parenthood, social interactions complex cognitive functions.
"It was so successful an evolution from mouse to man it expanded about a thousand fold in terms of the numbers of units to produce this almost frightening organ."
And that evolution continues, he said. "It is evolving at an enormous speed.""

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Buzz Aldrin punches Moon Landing conspiracy theorist in the face

So great! Soooo great!

Host of "African American Lives" Erroneously Arrested - Charges Dropped

Prosecutors dropped a disorderly conduct charge Tuesday against prominent black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., who was arrested at his home near Harvard University after a report of a break-in.

The city of Cambridge issued a statement saying the arrest "was regrettable and unfortunate" and police and Gates agreed that dropping the charge was a just resolution.

"This incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department," the statement said.

Supporters say Gates – the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research – was the victim of racial profiling.

Officers responded to the home Gates rents from Harvard after a woman reported seeing two black men trying to force open the front door. Gates' lawyer, fellow Harvard scholar Charles Ogletree, said the professor had returned from a trip overseas, found his front-door jammed and had to force it open.

Police said the 58-year-old Gates was arrested after he yelled at an officer, accused him of racial bias and refused to calm down after the officer demanded Gates show him identification to prove he lived in the home.

Gates declined immediate comment Tuesday, and Ogletree did not immediately return a request to comment on the charge being dropped.

Jimmy Carter: ‘The words of God do not justify cruelty to women.’

Former President Jimmy Carter, who in 2000 officially severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention after the SBC declared its opposition to female pastors and reiterated its calls “for wives to be submissive to their husbands,” condemned the mistreatment of women by religious leaders, writing that “the words of God do not justify cruelty to women.” In an opinion piece published last weekend, entitled “Losing my Religion for Equality,” Carter said that a “twisted interpretation of the word of God” taught by male religious leaders has been used to justify the oppression of women:

The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

Although Carter severed ties with the SBC in a 2000 letter mailed to 75,000 Baptists, the former president “continued to serve as a deacon and Sunday school teacher at his local church” in Plains, GA, an SBC affiliate that in 2006 ordained former first lady Rosalynn Carter as a deacon. President Carter, a member of a group of retired statesmen formed by Nelson Mandela called “The Elders,” said last month that the group had concluded that religion has been “a basic cause of the foundational excuse” for “other dominant males to persecute or abuse or deprive women of their justifiable rights.”

Think you have food allergies? Think again

Los Angeles Times: "Allergies were far from Christie Littauer's mind when she fed creamed spinach to her son Jack for the first time. The 6-month-old had already eaten peas and green beans. Why not try something more exciting?
"A few bites into it, he started wheezing," says Littauer, of Henderson, Nev. "He got bright red. Something was obviously wrong."
After a scary ambulance ride, Littauer later discovered that her little boy was allergic to dairy in the spinach, making him one of a growing number of people with known food allergies.
Follow-up tests pointed to a bunch of other allergies too, putting Jack in another large category: those who think (or whose parents think) they're allergic or intolerant to foods they can handle just fine.
For 2 1/2 years, Jack was shielded from a wide array of foods, until more accurate testing proved he could eat quite a few of them, including wheat and fish. That opened a menu of possibilities for Jack -- bread, pasta, even chicken nuggets.
With a glut of nonspecialist doctors now offering allergy testing to patients, results that can be difficult to interpret, symptoms that can be wide-ranging and people's insatiable need to find explanations for whatever ails them, foods are frequently blamed for crimes they did not commit.
Though allergies or intolerances (and recognition of them) do appear to be on the rise, there are far more people who erroneously think they have problems with specific foods.
"Every study has shown that the perception of having a food allergy is more often wrong than right," says Robert Wood, a pediatric allergist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "Only about 25% of people who think they have a food allergy will actually have one.""

Monday, July 20, 2009

Henry Louis Gates Arrested "BOSTON (AP) -- Police responding to a call about ''two black males'' breaking into a home near Harvard University ended up arresting the man who lives there -- Henry Louis Gates Jr., the nation's pre-eminent black scholar.
Gates had forced his way through the front door because it was jammed, his lawyer said. Colleagues call the arrest last Thursday afternoon a clear case of racial profiling.
Cambridge police say they responded to the well-maintained two-story home after a woman reported seeing ''two black males with backpacks on the porch,'' with one ''wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry.''
By the time police arrived, Gates was already inside. Police say he refused to come outside to speak with an officer, who told him he was investigating a report of a break-in.
''Why, because I'm a black man in America?'' Gates said, according to a police report.
Gates -- the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research -- initially refused to show the officer his identification, but then gave him a Harvard University ID card, according to police."

Saturday, July 18, 2009


1816 was the "year without a summer." There were several causes of the abnormally cold weather that year, as this source recounts:

The year 1816 is still known to scientists and historians as "eighteen hundred and froze to death" or the "year without a summer." It was the locus of a period of natural ecological destruction not soon to be forgotten. During that year, the Northern Hemisphere was slammed with the effects of at least two abnormal but natural phenomena. These events were mysterious at the time, and even today they are not well understood.
First, 1816 marked the midpoint of one of the Sun's extended periods of low magnetic activity, called the Dalton Minimum. This particular minimum lasted from about 1795 to the 1820s. It resembled the earlier Maunder Minimum (about 1645-1715) that was responsible for at least 70 years of abnormally cold weather in the Northern Hemisphere. The Maunder Minimum interval is sandwiched within an even better known cool period known as the Little Ice Age, which lasted from about the 14th through 19th centuries.

But the event that most severely shaped 1816's cold phenomena was the cata-strophic eruption the previous year of Tambora on the island of Sumbawa, in modern-day Indonesia. The ash clouds and sulfur aerosols spewed by this volcano were widespread, chilling the climate of the Northern Hemisphere by blocking sunlight with gases and particles.
If this account is correct, the "year without a summer" played a role in the development of the American Midwest:

In 1816, it snowed in June in the United States and Europe. Crops failed, there was starvation, people lost their farms, and it touched off the wave of emigration that led to the settlement of what is now the American Midwest. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands more starved around the world.
New England and Europe were hit exceptionally hard. Snowfalls and frost occurred in June, July and August and all but the hardiest grains were destroyed. Destruction of the corn crop forced farmers to slaughter their animals. Soup kitchens were opened to feed the hungry. Sea ice migrated across Atlantic shipping lanes, and alpine glaciers advanced down mountain slopes to exceptionally low elevations.

I don't think things are quite so bad this year, but if something doesn't change pretty soon 2009 may go down in history, in some parts of the U.S. at least, as another year with barely any summer. Here in Minnesota and across the Midwest, temperatures are abnormally cold. I don't know whether the phenomenon is world-wide--data that will answer this question have probably not been assembled, and may not be honestly reported--but the current low level of solar activity suggests that the cooling trend could indeed be universal.
Here in Minneapolis, the temperature never reached 70 degrees today--rather astonishing for the middle of July, our hottest month. Most days recently, it hasn't been comfortable to be outdoors in the evening without a fire and a sweatshirt. It feels more like October than July. Thankfully, and unlike 1816, it hasn't snowed; the worst consequence we fear is not getting any ripe tomatoes.

Today, walking down the street in downtown Minneapolis at 5:30, en route from my office to my parking ramp, I saw something I've never seen before: a man wearing a winter coat in July. Well, maybe not quite a winter coat, but definitely a fall/winter semi-parka with an unzipped, faux-fur lined hood. He was carrying a briefcase and looked like a businessman who was tired of being cold every time he went outdoors. In the summer.

I personally don't think that we (all of humankind, let alone we Americans) can control the weather, but for those who do think we possess that Godlike power, here's a request: can we turn the thermostat up a little?

Friday, July 17, 2009

The 10 Most Dangerous Foods to Eat While Driving " has come up with a list of the 10 most dangerous things eat behind the wheel. Seriously. Topping the list is the one thing we’ve all shoved into our faces during the morning commute.
Before we get to that, though, we should explain why thought this was important enough to investigate. Hagerty Classic Insurance, the folks who let you cover that ‘57 Chevrolet Bel Air or 1935 Dusenberg SJ in your garage, ran an applicant through the DMV. It discovered the guy had a restraining order barring him from having food within his reach while driving. Apparently the guy had been in several accidents while stuffing his maw.
Wait, it gets better (and by that we mean infuriatingly worse). decided to draw up a list of things you absolutely, positively should not sip, slurp, chomp or chew behind the wheel. Here from the home office in Cleveland are the ” The 10 Most Dangerous Foods to Eat While Driving”.
It should be said this is by no means scientific; it’s a rundown of things actuaries don’t think you ought to have in your hand (or mouth) when driving. That said, the list is more frightening than the repair bill we got when our Jag needed a transmission rebuild.
1. Coffee. It’s hot. It can spill. That’s bad. That said, we’re guilty of this. So are you. Admit it.
2. Hot soup. It’s hot. It can spill. That’s bad.
3. Tacos. Very messy.
4. Chili. It’s hot. It can spill. That’s bad. And it’s very messy.
5. Hamburgers. Greasy hands and a steering wheel do not mix.
6. Barbecued food. Um, that should go without saying.
7. Fried chicken. You think burgers are greasy?
8. Jelly or cream-filled donuts. Ever bitten into one and not had it squirt all over the place?
9. Soft drinks. Big threat of spillage, says, and unacceptable risk of “fizz up your nose.” Huh?
10. Chocolate. It melts on your fingers, which makes a mess on the steering wheel."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The calorie delusion: Why food labels are wrong

New Scientist: "STANDING in line at the coffee shop you feel a little peckish. So what will you choose to keep you going until lunchtime? Will it be that scrumptious-looking chocolate brownie or perhaps a small, nut-based muesli bar. You check the labels: the brownie contains around 250 kilocalories (kcal), while the muesli bar contains more than 300. Surprised at the higher calorie count of what looks like the healthy option, you go for the brownie.
This is the kind of decision that people watching their weight - or even just keeping a casual eye on it - make every day. As long as we keep our calorie intake at around the recommended daily values of 2000 for women and 2500 for men, and get a good mix of nutrients, surely we can eat whatever we like?
This is broadly true; after all, maintaining a healthy weight is largely a matter of balancing calories in and calories out. Yet according to a small band of researchers, using the information on food labels to estimate calorie intake could be a very bad idea. They argue that calorie estimates on food labels are based on flawed and outdated science, and provide misleading information on how much energy your body will actually get from a food. Some food labels may over or underestimate this figure by as much as 25 per cent, enough to foil any diet, and over time even lead to obesity. As the western world's waistlines expand at an alarming rate, they argue, it is time consumers were told the true value of their food.
Calorie counts on food labels around the world are based on a system developed in the late 19th century by American chemist Wilbur Olin Atwater. Atwater calculated the energy content of various foods by burning small samples in controlled conditions and measuring the amount of energy released in the form of heat. To estimate the proportion of this raw energy that was used by the body, Atwater calculated the amount of energy lost as undigested food in faeces, and as chemical energy in the form of urea, ammonia and organic acids found in urine, and then he subtracted these figures from the total. Using this method, Atwater estimated that carbohydrates and protein provide an average of 4 kcal per gram, while fat provides 9 kcal per gram. With a few modifications, these measurements of what is known as metabolisable energy have been the currency of food ever since.
We know these values are approximate. Nutritionists are well aware that our bodies don't incinerate food, they digest it. And digestion - from chewing food to moving it through the gut and chemically breaking it down along the way - takes a different amount of energy for different foods. According to Geoffrey Livesey, an independent nutritionist based in Norfolk, UK, this can lower the number of calories your body extracts from a meal by anywhere between 5 and 25 per cent depending on the food eaten. "These energy costs are quite significant," he says, yet are not reflected on any food label."


‘Now Hang Up On Me, Just Like That, Hang up On Me Darling’ is just one of Mark Khaisman’s amazing pieces of art made entirely out of packaging tape.

The Ukraine-born resident of Philadelphia builds up layers of tape on a plexiglass sheet to create a range of opacity.

The sheet is then mounted on a light box. Mark’s subjects range from suits or armour and chairs to people.

Cheneys Death Squad

The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh was mocked in March when he referred to Dick Cheney’s secret squad of CIA assassins. Now, he talks to The Daily Beast about the next shoe to drop.

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh raised eyebrows back in March when he told an audience at the University of Minnesota that Dick Cheney ran a secret hit squad that he kept hidden from congressional oversight.
"Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on," Hersh said at the time. He added: "Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us."

Some observers accused him of rumor-mongering and a top former military official threw cold water on the story, but with the recent news that the CIA allegedly kept Congress in the dark on a covert program, Hersh's words suddenly look more and more prescient. Yesterday, The New York Times reported the hidden program in question was a death squad authorized by Dick Cheney without congressional approval.
Now, there are key differences between Hersh's reporting and the Times' latest piece. Hersh suggested that the assassination ring was conducted out of the Joint Special Operations Command rather than the CIA. Moreover, according to Hersh's sources, the program was operational, leaving a trail of bodies, while the Times cited officials saying that the CIA hit squad never actually carried out a mission. The Times and Hersh could conceivably be reporting two distinct squads.

The Daily Beast tracked down Hersh in South Asia, where he says he has not been able to read the New York Times piece but has received calls buzzing about the report. Asked about the officials quoted in the Times' report who claimed that Cheney's assassination ring never became operational, Hersh offered a skeptical response.
"I said what I said, they can always say what they say," Hersh told The Daily Beast. "The last time they said the government doesn’t torture; this time it's the government doesn’t assassinate."
Hersh said that his words in Minnesota were exaggerated in the press, because he had previously reported on covert operations that he alleged were out of Congress' view. In February 2005, he published a report that the president had authorized Donald Rumsfeld to organize special operations in South Asia and the Middle East without going through the CIA, and thus not having to report them to Congress. In July 2005, he wrote that the White House circumvented Nancy Pelosi to organize covert operations led by retired CIA officers and non-government personnel to influence the Iraqi elections.
"In my reporting for this story, one theme that emerged was the Bush administration’s increasing tendency to turn to off-the-books covert actions to accomplish its goals," he wrote in the July 2005 piece. "This allowed the administration to avoid the kind of stumbling blocks it encountered in the debate about how to handle the elections: bureaucratic infighting, congressional second-guessing, complaints from outsiders."


Some 911 centers can’t keep tabs on cell phones "Donnie and Sharon Leutjen and their 15-year-old granddaughter, Taron Leutjen, were found June 9. They had been shot to death, and their bodies had lain in their home in Cole Camp, Mo., for about two days.
Authorities know approximately when the Leutjens were shot because they got a 911 call on the night of June 7.
On the tape of the call — which investigators examined after the worried inquiries of someone who knew the family led to the bodies' discovery — “one of the male voices was directing Sharon Leutjen to sit down (and) put her arms behind her,” the sheriff’s office in Benton County, in central Missouri, said in court documents.
“At least two threats to shoot her and the other two victims” could be heard, the sheriff’s office said.
So why didn’t deputies rush to the scene as soon as they got the call?
They couldn’t. They didn’t know where it came from. Whoever made the call used a cell phone, and Benton County’s technology isn’t advanced enough to take advantage of location services that are standard features of nearly all cell phones sold today.
Benton County isn’t an isolated example. Cell phones may lure us with the promise of immediate help in an emergency, but depending on where you live, that promise can go unkept because of inadequate technology at one or both ends of a 911 call.
“Access to 911 from cell phones is very different from wired phones and also varies greatly around the country,” said the National Emergency Number Association, or NENA, the nonprofit industry group that works with governments to promote and institute 911 programs across North America.
In places that haven’t upgraded their 911 centers to the latest technology, “this presents life-threatening problems due to lost response time” if callers are unable to speak or don’t know where they are, the organization said.
That’s why emergency officials and wireless industry leaders say every household should have a centrally located, easily accessible land line for emergency calls. But increasingly, Americans are dropping their land lines and going wireless-only."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Man Charged 23 Quadrillion Bucks For Pack Of Cigarettes

HuffPo: "MANCHESTER, N.H. — A New Hampshire man says he swiped his debit card at a gas station to buy a pack of cigarettes and was charged over 23 quadrillion dollars.
Josh Muszynski (Moo-SIN'-ski) checked his account online a few hours later and saw the 17-digit number – a stunning $23,148,855,308,184,500 (twenty-three quadrillion, one hundred forty-eight trillion, eight hundred fifty-five billion, three hundred eight million, one hundred eighty-four thousand, five hundred dollars).
Muszynski says he spent two hours on the phone with Bank of America trying to sort out the string of numbers and the $15 overdraft fee.
The bank corrected the error the next day.
Bank of America tells WMUR-TV only the card issuer, Visa, could answer questions. Visa, in turn, referred questions to the bank."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Good Idea

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced Monday that it would seek to ban many routine uses of antibiotics in farm animals in hopes of reducing the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans.

In written testimony to the House Rules Committee, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs, said feeding antibiotics to healthy chickens, pigs and cattle — done to encourage rapid growth — should cease. And Dr. Sharfstein said farmers should no longer be able to use antibiotics in animals without the supervision of a veterinarian.

Both practices lead to the development of bacteria that are immune to many treatments, he said.

Dow runs scared from water - Yes Men

Plans to contribute to climate action in lead-up to Copenhagen begin to take shape

London - A new, beautifully-designed line of bottled water - this time not from the melting Alps, nor from faraway, clean-water-deprived Fiji, but rather from the contaminated ground near the site of the 1984 Bhopal catastrophe - scared Dow Chemical's London management team into hiding today.

Twenty Bhopal activists, including Sathyu Sarangi of the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, showed up at Dow headquarters near London to find that the entire building had been vacated.

Had they not fled, Dow employees could have read on the bottles' elegant labels:

B'eau-Pal: Our Story

The unique qualities of our water come from 25 years of slow-leaching toxins at the site of the world's largest industrial accident. To this day, Dow Chemical (who bought Union Carbide) has refused to clean up, and whole new generations have been poisoned. For more information, please visit

The launch of "B'eau-Pal" water came as Bhopal prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal catastrophe, and coincides with the release of an official report by the Sambhavna Trust showing that local groundwater, vegetables, and breast milk are contaminated by toxic quantities of nickel, chromium, mercury, lead, and volatile organic compounds. The report describes how a majority of children in one nearby community are born with serious medical problems traceable to the contamination.

The attractive yet toxic product, developed by the Bhopal Medical Appeal and the Yes Men with pro-bono help from top London creative design firm Kennedy Monk (making-of video here), highlights Dow's continued refusal to take responsibility for the disaster. (Five years ago, the Yes Men impersonated Dow Chemical live on BBC World Television and announced that after 20 years, the company was finally going to clean up its mess in Bhopal. That hoax, which temporarily knocked two billion dollars off Dow's share price, is featured in the Yes Men's new movie, The Yes Men Fix The World, which opens in UK cinemas on August 11.)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Dan Froomkin Becomes Latest Refugee at Huffington Post

The trail between the Washington Post and Huffington Post is becoming something of a pipeline: ousted liberal WaPo columnist Dan Froomkin has landed at Arianna Huffington's well-funded website. His new home may be worse than the old one.

At least Froomkin will be around other ex-Posties. He joins former WaPo investigations editor Lawrence Roberts, who joined HuffPo's new investigative fund in May, and Thomas Edsall, the longtime WaPo reporter who joined as titular political editor two years ago. Then there's Nicholas Graham, a Huffington Post associate editor and member of the family that owns the Washington Post.

Froomkin, who many supporters believe was ousted over the aggressive tenor of his reporting, will head HuffPo's Washington bureau, overseeing four reporters and an assistant editor. He'll thus learn first hand how deeply involved Arianna Huffington is the publication of her website, from arranging the front page to spiking articles for running afoul of her preferred political paradigm. Get ready for some fun, long phone calls, Dan. Try not to break any desks or strain your vocal chords.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Crossing Heaven's Border

*I watched this documentary yesterday afternoon about North Korean defectors, and it really put "freedom" and "independence" into perspective. I mean really. Words fall short. Take a moment and watch this heartbreaking and inspiring film, available at the link above.

In the past decade, up to 100,000 defectors have crossed the waters of the Tumen and Yalu Rivers into northeast China to escape from North Korea, the world’s last closed Communist state. In Crossing Heaven’s Border, WIDE ANGLE tells the moving and dramatic stories of a few of them.
Crossing Heaven’s Border reveals the plight of North Korean defectors from the point of view of intrepid South Korean journalists who risk their lives filming undercover for ten months to capture the haunting stories first-hand. The reporters introduce us to a mother working in China as a tour guide to support her six-year-old son who is sick with cerebral palsy and in dire need of medical attention. And we follow the grueling ten-day journey of a teenage girl and a little boy smuggled overland across China and Laos into Thailand, where North Korean defectors can request asylum at the South Korean embassy.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Ledge

"CHICAGO (AP) — Visitors to the Sears Tower's new glass balconies all seem to agree: The first step is the hardest.

The balconies are suspended 1,353 feet in the air and jut out four feet from the building's 103rd floor Skydeck. Their transparent walls, floor and ceiling leave visitors with the impression they're floating over the city.

"It's like walking on ice," said Margaret Kemp, of Bishop, Calif., who said her heart was still pounding even after stepping away from the balcony. "That first step you take — 'am I going down?'"

Kemp was among the visitors who got a sneak preview of the balconies Wednesday. "The Ledge," as the balconies have been nicknamed, open to the public Thursday. Visitors are treated to unobstructed views of Chicago from the building's west side and a heart-stopping vista of the street and Chicago River below — for those brave enough to look straight down.

John Huston, one of the property owners of the Sears Tower, even admitted to getting "a little queasy" the first time he ventured out. But 30 or 40 trips later, he's got the hang of it.

"The Sears Tower has always been about superlatives — tallest, largest, most iconic," he said. "Today is also about superlatives. Today, we present you with 'the Ledge,' the world's most awesome view, the world's most precipitous view, the view with the most wow in the world."

The balconies can hold five tons, and the glass is an inch-and-a-half thick, officials said. Sears Tower officials have said the inspiration for the balconies came from the hundreds of forehead prints visitors left behind on Skydeck windows every week. Now, staff will have a new glass surface to clean: floors.

"It's very scary, but at the same time it's very cool," said Chanti Lawrence of Atlanta, adding that she's made her first step toward overcoming her fear of heights."

Iraqi "independence day" arrives

BAGHDAD — A convoy of the Iraqi Army's Romanian-built tanks stretches out along the road to the Baghdad airport, ready to roll should the June 30 festivities — billed as a new Iraqi independence day — not go entirely as planned.
On Abu Nuwas street near the river, members of the Iraqi Communist Party are cheerfully putting up banners on a wire fence celebrating the "Day of National Sovereignty" — Iraq’s newest national holiday.
There is no shortage of symbolism in Tuesday’s date — the deadline in the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement for the withdrawal of American combat forces from the cities. U.S. and Iraqi officials are milking it for all that it’s worth.
“We are on the threshold of a new phase,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said this week.
It’s a turnaround for the U.S., which long insisted on a conditions-based withdrawal of its forces rather than a deadline. Top military commanders now say those conditions have been met — that Iraqi security forces are more competent than they were a year ago, and that the military surge which helped dramatically cut attacks in Baghdad has laid the groundwork for sustained security.