Saturday, June 19, 2010

Japanese woman randomly breaking babies' legs.

Japan is so strange. From Japan Times:
UTSUNOMIYA, Tochigi Pref. (Kyodo) A woman under arrest for breaking a 3-month-old girl's legs at a children's goods shop in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, in May was served a fresh warrant Saturday on suspicion of breaking the left leg of another infant at the store about 20 minutes earlier.

Yuko Sotome, 28, has owned up to the assault, saying she was "envious of families who looked happy," local police said.

In addition to assaulting the 3-month-old, Sotome, who lived in the city, allegedly twisted and broke the left leg of a 2-month-old boy at the shop on the morning of May 26 after asking the mother to let her hold the child.

Sotome allegedly told the mother, "Your baby is adorable, let me hold your baby," and assaulted him during the roughly five minutes she spent holding him.

Zombie Watch: German nobles created their own mummies.

From Der Spiegel:
When they died, Germany noble families of the 18th century did what the Egyptians had done before them: They had themselves mummified. As an increasing number of such well-preserved corpses are found, scientists are trying to find out why.

Baron von Holz had a difficult lot. During the Thirty Years' War, von Holz fought in the Swedish army as a mercenary, but he was not granted a hero's death on the battlefield. He was cut down, rather less heroically, at the age of 35 by either the flu or blood poisoning. And it was only in death, that his situation really improved.

His family dressed his mortal remains in precious calf-leather boots with nailed soles. The warrior was then laid out in a kind of luxury crypt under the castle of Sommersdorf near Ansbach, in modern-day Bavaria. In those vaults von Holz's corpse was privileged with an honor previously reserved primarily for Egyptian pharaohs: His body did not decompose.

More than 370 years after his untimely death, the nobleman still lies in his casket, well preserved. Von Holz was a giant of a man, standing 1.80 meters (around 5'10"), at a time when most humans were far shorter. To this day, his feet are still shod in those smart leather boots that his clan had made for him almost four centuries ago.

Study shows direct link between circadian clock in pancreas and diabetes.

Interesting stuff. Item!
The pancreas has its own molecular clock. Now, for the first time, a Northwestern University study has shown this ancient circadian clock regulates the production of insulin. If the clock is faulty, the result is diabetes.

The researchers show that insulin-secreting islet cells in the pancreas, called beta-cells, have their own dedicated clock. The clock governs the rhythmic behavior of proteins and genes involved in insulin secretion, with oscillations over a 24-hour cycle.

The findings, which will be published June 18 by the journal Nature, shine a light on a system that hasn't been recognized as having a strong effect on the process of glucose homeostasis.

"This is the first evidence of how the circadian clock may affect the development of diabetes," said Joe Bass, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine and of neurobiology and physiology at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. "The biological programs in animals for harvesting energy -- much like the photosynthesis of plants -- are under control of the clock. Our findings will help us figure out the causes of glucose abnormalities, but we still have a lot to learn."

The research, led by Bass and Biliana Marcheva, a doctoral candidate in Bass' lab and first author of the paper, represents many years of work and involved key collaborators Louis H. Philipson of the University of Chicago, Joseph S. Takahashi of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Seth D. Crosby of the Washington University School of Medicine.

In their study, the researchers knocked out the clock genes in islet beta-cells in mice and found the animals developed impaired glucose tolerance and abnormally low levels of insulin and went on to develop diabetes. The clock of the beta-cell coordinates glucose management, and the loss of the clock inhibited the cells from secreting insulin.

Children with home computers likely to have lower test scores.

O RLY??? OMGPON1ES!1! From EurekAlert:
Around the country and throughout the world, politicians and education activists have sought to eliminate the "digital divide" by guaranteeing universal access to home computers, and in some cases to high-speed Internet service.

However, according to a new study by scholars at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, these efforts would actually widen the achievement gap in math and reading scores. Students in grades five through eight, particularly those from disadvantaged families, tend to post lower scores once these technologies arrive in their home.

Professors Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd analyzed responses to computer-use questions included on North Carolina's mandated End-of-Grade tests (EOGs). Students reported how frequently they use a home computer for schoolwork, watch TV or read for pleasure. The study covers 2000 to 2005, a period when home computers and high-speed Internet access expanded dramatically. By 2005, broadband access was available in almost every zip code in North Carolina, Vigdor said.

The study had several advantages over previous research that suggested similar results, Vigdor said. The sample size was large -- numbering more than 150,000 individual students. The data allowed researchers to compare the same children's reading and math scores before and after they acquired a home computer, and to compare those scores to those of peers who had a home computer by fifth grade and to test scores of students who never acquire a home computer. The negative effects on reading and math scores were "modest but significant," they found.

"We cut off the study in 2005, so we weren't getting into the Facebook and Twitter generation," Vigdor said. "The technology was much more primitive than that. IM (instant messaging) software was popular then, and it's been one thing after the other since then. Adults may think of computer technology as a productivity tool first and foremost, but the average kid doesn't share that perception." Kids in the middle grades are mostly using computers to socialize and play games, Vigdor added, with clear gender divisions between those activities.

Vigdor and Ladd concluded that home computers are put to more productive use in households where parental monitoring is more effective. In disadvantaged households, parents are less likely to monitor children's computer use and guide children in using computers for educational purposes.

The research suggests that programs to expand home computer access would lead to even wider gaps between test scores of advantaged and disadvantaged students, Vigdor said. Several states have pursued programs to distribute computers to students. For example, Maine funded laptops for every sixth-grader, and Michigan approved a program but then did not fund it.

Love ballads make women more likely to give you their number.

Well, now I know to stop trying to serenade girls with Cannibal Corpse's "Butchered at Birth." Item!
If you're having trouble getting a date, French researchers suggest that picking the right soundtrack could improve the odds. Women were more prepared to give their number to an 'average' young man after listening to romantic background music, according to research that appears June 18 in the journal Psychology of Music.

There's plenty of research indicating that the media affects our behaviour. Violent video games or music with aggressive lyrics increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviour, thoughts and feelings -- but do romantic songs have any effect? This question prompted researchers Nicolas Guéguen and Céline Jacob from the Université de Bretagne-Sud along with Lubomir Lamy from Université de Paris-Sud to test the power of romantic lyrics on 18-20 year old single females. And it turns out that at least one romantic love song did make a difference.

Guéguen and Jacob were part of a research team that had already shown how romantic music played in a flower shop led to male customers spending more money. This time the researchers used questionnaires to pinpoint agreed-upon neutral and romantic songs. They chose 'Je l'aime à mourir', a well-known love song by French songwriter Francis Cabrel, and the neutral song 'L'heure du thé', by Vincent Delerm. A group of young women separate from the main study rated 12 young male volunteers for attractiveness, and the researchers picked the one rated closest to 'average' to help with the experiment.

The researchers then set up a scenario where the 87 females each spent time in a waiting room with background music playing, before moving to a different room where the experimenter instructed her to discuss the difference between two food products with the young man. Once the experimenter returned, she asked them to wait for a few moments alone, and this gave the 'average' male a chance to use his standard chat up line: "My name is Antoine, as you know, I think you are very nice and I was wondering if you would give me your phone number. I'll phone you later and we can have a drink together somewhere next week.'

The love song in the waiting room almost doubled Antoine's chances of getting a woman's number -- 52% of participants responded to his advances under the influence of Francis Cabrel, whereas only 28% of those who had heard the 'neutral' song by Vincent Delerm offered their details.

Ocean changes to have dire impact on humans.

Hey everyone, have a great weekend! PS - We're all going to die. From ScienceDaily:
The first comprehensive synthesis on the effects of climate change on the world's oceans has found they are now changing at a rate not seen for several million years.

In an article published June 18 in Science magazine, scientists reveal the growing atmospheric concentrations of man-made greenhouse gases are driving irreversible and dramatic changes to the way the ocean functions, with potentially dire impacts for hundreds of millions of people across the planet.

The findings of the report emerged from a synthesis of recent research on the world's oceans, carried out by two of the world's leading marine scientists, one from The University of Queensland in Australia, and one from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in the USA.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, lead author of the report and Director of The University of Queensland's Global Change Institute, says the findings have enormous implications for mankind, particularly if the trend continues.

He said that the Earth's ocean, which produces half of the oxygen we breathe and absorbs 30% of human-generated CO2, is equivalent to its heart and lungs. "Quite plainly, the Earth cannot do without its ocean. This study, however, shows worrying signs of ill health.

"It's as if the Earth has been smoking two packs of cigarettes a day!"

He went on to say, "We are entering a period in which the very ocean services upon which humanity depends are undergoing massive change and in some cases beginning to fail," says Prof. Hoegh-Guldberg. "Further degradation will continue to create enormous challenges and costs for societies worldwide."

He warned that we may soon see "sudden, unexpected changes that have serious ramifications for the overall well-being of humans," including the capacity of the planet to support people. "This is further evidence that we are well on the way to the next great extinction event."

The "fundamental and comprehensive" changes to marine life identified in the report include rapidly warming and acidifying oceans, changes in water circulation and expansion of dead zones within the ocean depths.

These are driving major changes in marine ecosystems: less abundant coral reefs, sea grasses and mangroves (important fish nurseries); fewer, smaller fish; a breakdown in food chains; changes in the distribution of marine life; and more frequent diseases and pests among marine organisms.

Organic labels trick dieters into eating more.

So much for my organic, vitamin-fortified hotdog-shoved-in-a-Twinkie idea. From LiveScience:
The "organic" label skews people's perceptions about food in ways that might promote obesity, a new study finds.

The results show people sometimes assume organic foods are lower in calories and so it's OK to indulge in organic cookies more often than regular ones. Exercise was also deemed less necessary after eating organic desserts.

The findings are in line with previous work showing food labels can spur misperceptions. For instance, labeling a food as "low fat" can lead people to infer that it also has fewer calories, and foods marked as having "low cholesterol" can be judged as having less fat. Also, there is a strong tendency for Americans to associate the concept of "organic" with healthiness, the researchers say.

70,000 mozzarella cheese balls confiscated.

The blue cheese shroud of Turin... From HuffPo:
ROME (AP)-- Italian police confiscated some 70,000 balls of mozzarella in Turin after consumers noticed the milky-white cheese quickly developed a bluish tint when the package was opened, authorities said Saturday.

Agriculture Minister Giancarlo Galan ordered ministry laboratories to investigate what he called a "disturbing" development.

State TV said a woman in Turin called police after noticing that the mozzarella, made in Germany for an Italian company, turned blue after contact with air, and that several merchants in Turin had received similar complaints. Later in the day another consumer, in Trento, a city 200 kilometers (125 miles) to the east in northern Italy, made a similar discovery, authorities said.

Samples were sent to laboratories that normally deal with anti-doping testing in sport to see if they could detect any foreign substances.

Results were expected in a few days.

Health Minister Ferruccio Fazio alerted German authorities and the European Commission to the apparently tainted mozzarella, the health ministry said.

No cases of illness were immediately reported.

Who watches the watch list?

Erich Scherfen served in the Army Infantry for 13 years as a helicopter pilot, but a year after he traded his guns for a commercial airline pilot badge, he found himself on the opposite side of national security.

For reasons that are still unclear to him, Scherfen, a Gulf War veteran and a Muslim, was added to the terror watch listed in April of 2008.

"It was a shock," he told "To think I had flown helicopters loaded with rockets at one time for the U.S., and then was listed."

The terror watch list was designed to prevent attacks by keeping a close watch on suspected terrorists. But some critics question how well it is being managed by intelligence officials, arguing it has too many "false positives" like Scherfen.

Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said federal agents are biased toward adding people to the list and against removing those who are later found to have been included mistakenly.

"Nobody ever lost a job from putting someone on the list — even if they're innocent," he said. "But God forbid you don't put someone on the list and they are guilty. You could lose your job."

An FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the list is constantly updated to remove false positives.

"[People on the list] are constantly reviewed on a day-to-day basis to make sure the right people are watch-listed," said the official, who works as a national security officer at TSC. "There's no benefit to watch-listing innocent people."

FBI Terrorist Screening Center officials have argued that the watch list "is one of the most affective counterterrorist tools for the U.S. government."

In an address before the House Judiciary Committee in March, TSC Director Timothy Healy said the center and watch list protect "the American public from terrorist threats while simultaneously protecting privacy and safeguarding civil liberties."

It's hard to know how effective the program is due to the secrecy around it.

A 2009 audit by the Inspector General found the nomination process flawed, saying the FBI did not "consistently update or remove watch list records when appropriate."

Auditors found that 35 percent of the names and identities were associated with outdated FBI codes or were totally unrelated to terrorism and that false positives were often not removed until months later.

The audit also criticized "non-investigative" nominations, where agents put any name or identity they believe is a threat to national security on the list without opening an investigation.

The Inspector General said the procedure was too "vague" with "weak or nonexistent" controls. These "non-investigative subjects," it said, weren't subjected to adequate review and were rarely examined for potential removal from the list.

Calabrese said those watch-listed would certainly find it difficult to get a public job working for the government or any government-paid position that requires a background check.

In Scherfen's case, he didn't lose his job, but he almost did. He was suspended without pay by his employer, Colgan Air Inc., but was later reinstated after Scherfen's lawyers threatened a lawsuit.

Pentagon revives Bush-era domestic spying unit.

From Raw Story:
The Pentagon's spy unit has quietly begun to rebuild a database for tracking potential terrorist threats that was shut down after it emerged that it had been collecting information on American anti-war activists.

The Defense Intelligence Agency filed notice this week that it plans to create a new section called Foreign Intelligence and Counterintelligence Operation Records, whose purpose will be to "document intelligence, counterintelligence, counterterrorism and counternarcotic operations relating to the protection of national security."

But while the unit's name refers to "foreign intelligence," civil liberties advocates and the Pentagon's own description of the program suggest that Americans will likely be included in the new database.

FICOR replaces a program called Talon, which the DIA created in 2002 under then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as part of the counterterrorism efforts following the 9/11 attacks. It was disbanded in 2007 after it emerged that Talon had retained information on anti-war protesters, including Quakers, even after it was determined they posed no threat to national security.

DIA spokesman Donald Black told Newsweek that the new database would not include the more controversial elements of the old Talon program. But Jeff Stein at the Washington Post reports that the new program will evidently inherit the old Talon database.

Vatican blesses Blues Brothers.

From the NY Post:
They really were "on a mission from God."

In a stunning move by the Vatican, the classic Dan Aykroyd-John Belushi comedy film "The Blues Brothers" was declared a "Catholic classic" alongside more pious films such as "The Ten Commandments" and "The Passion of the Christ."

The announcement was made in the Vatican's official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, corresponding with 30th anniversary of the release of the film.

"As a former altar boy from age 6 . . . but a somewhat lapsed Catholic, I was delighted with the endorsement," Aykroyd said in a message to The Post yesterday.

"My local monsignor will immediately be receiving a check for parish needs."

L'Osservatore editor Gian Maria Vian praised the flick for its plot, in which Jake Blues (Belushi) and his brother Elwood (Aykroyd) battle cops, neo-Nazis and crazed country fans in a bid to save the Catholic orphanage where they were raised.

"For them, this Catholic institution is their only family," Vian wrote. "And they decide to save it at any cost."

L'Osservatore's editorial lavishes praise on the 1980 comic romp, in which Aykroyd and Belushi say that they're "on a mission from God." The writers call it "incredibly shrewd" noting that in one scene a picture of Pope John Paul II could clearly be seen.

Friday, June 18, 2010

One million dogs to be slaughtered in Iraq.

So sad. From Mother Jones:
Amid its struggles with Sunni jihadists, Shiite radicals, and Kurdish separatists, the Iraqi government is training its sights on a new enemy: dogs. According to the UK's Daily Mail, Iraq is spending 35 million dinars—about $30,000—to send 20 shotgun-wielding squads out to hunt down the capital's strays. Their goal: Killing one million canines. So far, they've scratched 42,000, and they're averaging 2,400 a day. "We could consider this the biggest campaign of dog execution ever," Baghdad's chief veterinarian, Mohammed al-Hilly, told the newspaper.

Put so bluntly, it sounds heinous, perhaps even criminal. It's also a tough pill to swallow for many US servicemembers in Iraq, who find comfort in adopted Iraqi pets that wandered in from the wild. But the dog-eradication program is incredibly popular among Iraqis, and could even enhance the government's standing with its discontented populace. And it's not unprecedented: Saddam Hussein used to sponsor dog roundups, and the US military is currently waging its own campaign against the country's feral dogs.

Wild animals also pose special problems for American service members in Iraq. Despite the fortifications at the US coalition's largest bases—mazes of walls, cameras, guns, checkpoints—coyotes and cats slip through at will, often crossing soldiers' paths in the dusty dark of night, catching fish on base lakes and moats, or tracking rats underneath the soldiers' sleeping trailers. Rabies is an ever-present concern, as is the general nastiness of the feral animal population. Plus, military working dogs are ubiquitous in Iraq, and keeping them away from wild animals is a paramount concern. Units that rely on working animals have rules of engagement empowering them to kill any creature that ventures too close to their dogs.

The US military command also forbids soldiers to own pets. It's right there in General Order No. 1, the master document regulating military and contractor behavior: "Adopting as pets or mascots, caring for or feeding any type of domestic or wild animal" in the Iraqi war zone is a crime, on a par with using illegal drugs, distributing pornography, drinking liquor, keeping war spoils, or selling your gun. The military doesn't just ban contact between soldiers and animals; it's contracted with KBR—yes, that KBR—to provide "vector control" on big installations like the Victory Base Complex on Baghdad's outskirts. The company's employees roam those bases, rounding up any animals they find, especially those being sheltered by the troops. All the animals are destroyed.

"No one involved in the animal control program enjoys the task," Lt. Colonel Raymond F. Dunton, chief of preventive medicine for the US military in Iraq, told the AP. "Unfortunately, it is critical that we continue this work to protect the health and safety of our service members."

"We are in the prevention business. We try to prevent problems," said Gary Orsack, manager of KBR's vector control program on the Victory Base Complex, which surrounds Baghdad International Airport. All the animals caught on VBC are taken to a clinic on an adjacent outpost, where they are euthanized. The name of the post where that clinic is located: Camp Slayer.

Prison inmate uses invisible ink, Sudoku to hatch helicopter escape plan.

Not that I want this murderous a-hole on the loose, but who doesn't love an intricate escape plan? From BBC:
A murderer's plot to escape from jail by helicopter has been foiled by prison guards and the police.

Brian Lawrence, 67, from Berkshire, planned to escape from Parkhurst last week using helicopter flights at the Isle of Wight Festival as cover.

He communicated with his accomplices using lemon juice as invisible ink and codes hidden in sudoku puzzles, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has revealed.

Lawrence is serving life for murder and for plotting two further killings.

The MoJ said he drew maps and gave encrypted instructions for his plan to bring a helicopter into part of the prison grounds not protected by nets.

It is believed Lawrence targeted the festival as members of the public would be less suspicious of a helicopter due to the air movements associated with the music event.

He intended to fund the escape using the sale of a quarry in Newbury, Berkshire, then flee to Spain.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Southwest intercepts package containing dozens of human heads.

Try not to lose your head when you travel. From MSNBC:
Dozens of human heads were intercepted by a Southwest Airlines employee last week, the airline confirmed Thursday.

The heads, which were intercepted in Little Rock, Ark., were handed over to local officials who are now investigating whether or not the heads were properly obtained.

Southwest officials said the airline refused to ship the package because it was not labeled correctly. "And then when we found out what was in the package, we contacted local authorities and they contacted the coroner," said airline spokesman Marilee McInnish.

The package was on its way to the Fort Worth office of Medtronic, a Minnesota-based medical research and technology company, NBC's affiliate in Dallas Fort-Worth reported. Little Rock police handed the package over to the country coroner.

The coroner is currently investigating whether the heads were legally obtained.

"We've come to the conclusion that there is a black market out there for human body parts for research or for whatever reason," Pulaski County coroner Garland Camper told NBC Dallas Fort-Worth. "We just want to make sure these specimens here aren't a part of that black market and underground trade."

McInnish said it was her understanding that the heads were going to be used for educational and research purposes.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Hero: Man saves dozens of people from suicide.

Tech: Top 10 stupid Hollywood hackers.

Science: Prehistoric mammal hair found in amber.

Health: How to slow hair loss.

Gross: Woman finds mutant blob in Capri Sun.

D'oh: Sand drives army to ditch Velcro in favor of the simple button.

Lame: GOP operative embezzles $1m from Bloomberg.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mummified man found in chimney.

The mummified body of a man thought to have died 20 years ago was found in the chimney of a Finnish industrial building while it was being demolished.

Identification papers found in a wallet in the corpse's pocket indicated it belonged to a man born in 1953 who disappeared in 1991. He was declared dead in the early 2000s, local tabloid Ilta-Sanomat reported.

"The police are investigating whether the man was placed in the chimney or went there himself," criminal investigator Juha Juurinen told Finnish news agency STT.

The chimney, in a factory in the city of Vantaa near Finland's capital, was not used for decades, and the body was found Sunday as construction workers tore it down.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mother kills pregnant woman over spilled coffee.

Israel really is the place for overreaction, huh? From the Jerusalem Post:
A woman who was eight months pregnant was stabbed to death by her neighbor in Ashdod on Sunday following an argument over spilled coffee.

Tali Atar, 34, was repeatedly stabbed in the torso and neck by a 38-year-old mother of two who lived one floor below her, police said.

Atar was rushed to the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot in critical condition, where doctors battled to save her life and rescue her unborn child.

The baby was rescued by an emergency c-section operation, and is said to be in stable condition, but Atar succumbed to her wounds shortly afterwards, doctors said.

Police arrested the murder suspect after arriving at the building, and say the suspect, a mother of two, has linked herself to the stabbing.

"We arrived at the address after being notified of an incident," Supt. Meital Geref, spokeswoman of Lachish police, told The Jerusalem

Several reports said the two women had been involved in a long-standing and escalating feud, and that Atar was stabbed after being accused by her neighbor of deliberately spilling coffee outside of the suspect's apartment.

The two women allegedly met at the building's entrance, where the murder suspect produced a knife and proceeded to stab Atar.

"We are at the start of the investigation. We cannot yet confirm that there was a previous feud," Geref said.

She added that police received a report that garbage had been thrown outside of the door of the murder victim on Sunday morning.

"We had no previous complaints of violent incidents," Geref said.

Paramedics described finding Atar lying in a pool of blood outside of the building and commencing immediate attempts to save her life.

Atar, who had three children in addition to the new born baby, worked in a soup kitchen, family members said.

Strip club provides lap dances for tornado relief.

Now I know why it's called a twister... From Toledo on the Move (via CNN):
TOLEDO, OHIO -- Everyone is doing their part to help the victims of the tornadoes that roared through northern Ohio last week, including one those at a local strip club.

Marilyn's on Monroe, 715 Monroe St., will host "Lap Dances for Northwestern Ohio" this Saturday, June 5, in an effort to help residents in areas of Fulton, Lucas, Ottawa and Wood counties that were devastated by the severe weather.

All proceeds from the club's door cover between 7:00 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. will be donated to ISOH/IMPACT, a charity organization that ensures all money will be distributed to families and victims directly affected by the tornadoes.

The downtown Toledo strip club raised $1,000 for Haitian earthquake relief in February of this year during a similar event, "Lap Dances for Haiti."