Friday, September 24, 2010

DC overrun with stink bugs.

I remember when they used to be called "congressmen." From NBC:
Smelly, pesky bugs known as stink bugs have been swarming the Washington, D.C. area -- and when you try to kill them, they just smell worse.

"When you try to kill them, before death, they stink," said Michael Raupp, an entomology professor at the University of Maryland. "They want to find a place to chill out for the winter. They're not coming in for warmth, they're coming in for refuge.

"They'll invade your attack and come in for the winter time. But on a nice warm day in February, they're going to say, 'Oh, spring,' and come down and be all over your windows and your baseboards and things like that."

Some frustrated area residents have gone as far as using their vacuum cleaners to combat these stinky critters. Scientists call their kind halyomorpha halys. They smell so badly because when threatened, they release a smelly defensive chemical.

Bush team obsessed with Iraq from the start.

Almost 5,000 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq. From Raw Story:
Former president George W. Bush's advisers focused on toppling Saddam Hussein's regime as soon as he took office and discussed how to justify a war in Iraq shortly after invading Afghanistan in 2001, official documents showed Wednesday.

A few hours after the September 11 attacks in 2001, then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke of attacking Iraq as well as Osama bin Laden, according to notes of a meeting on that day, newly declassified papers show.

Rumsfeld told a Pentagon lawyer to go to his deputy to get "support" showing a supposed link between the Iraqi regime and Al-Qaeda's founder, according to the papers posted by the Washington-based National Security Archive, an independent research institute.

The US government has since acknowledged that Saddam's regime had no role in the 9/11 attacks.

In June and July of 2001, senior administration officials seized on intercepted aluminum tubes as proof that Iraq was pursuing nuclear weapons, even before a preliminary assessment of the tubes, according to two State Department memos to then secretary of state Colin Powell.

One memo states the US government's interest in "publicizing the interdiction to our advantage" and "getting the right story out" about the tubes, which were soon found to have no nuclear connection.

Confronting Iraq was also the focus of a July 2001 memo to the national security adviser at the time, Condoleezza Rice, with Rumsfeld urging a high-level meeting on policy towards Baghdad.

Voicing concern that sanctions were proving a failure and that Iraq's air defenses were improving, Rumsfeld warned: "Within a few years the US will undoubtedly have to confront a Saddam armed with nuclear weapons."

Forecasting an optimistic outcome far from the result the Iraq war produced, Rumsfeld said that Washington's image in the region and the world would benefit from toppling Saddam.

"If Saddam's regime were ousted, we would have a much-improved position in the region and elsewhere," he wrote. "A major success in Iraq would enhance US credibility and influence throughout the region."

Another document shows Rumsfeld discussing war plans for Iraq just two months after the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan.

In a meeting with the then head of US Central Command, General Tommy Franks, the defense chief tells him to ready forces for the "decapitation" of the Iraqi regime.

In talking points dated November 27, Rumsfeld lists possible triggers the Bush administration could use to start a war, including Iraqi military action against the US-protected enclave in northern Iraq, discovery of ties between Saddam and 9/11 or recent anthrax attacks and disputes with UN weapons inspections.

In a December 18, 2001 memo, the State Department's analytical unit warns that France and Germany will likely oppose an invasion of Iraq without concrete proof that Baghdad was behind the 9/11 attacks.

The same memo warns that British support for a US war would come at a political cost for the prime minister, Tony Blair, and could trigger a backlash from the country's Muslim population.

Backing the US war "could bring a radicalization of British Muslims, the great majority of whom opposed the September 11 attacks but are increasingly restive about what they see as an anti-Islamic campaign," the memo states.

The documents posted Wednesday were released under a Freedom of Information request.

Rampant drug use, random gunfire at Blackwater's Baghdad parties.

From Raw Story:
Blackwater employees in Baghdad held wild parties featuring large amounts of cocaine and hash, where armed personnel would sometimes fire randomly at nearby buildings housing Iraqi civilians, says a former contractor for the security company.

Howard Lowry, a Texas businessman who worked in Iraq from 2003 to 2009, made the allegations in testimony he gave in a whistleblower trial aimed at Xe Services, the company formerly known as Blackwater.

"I feel that numerous families of individuals of Blackwater employees that have been killed on the job are not getting the true story," Lowry said in the deposition, which was obtained by The Nation's Jeremy Scahill.

Scahill reports that Lowry alleges he bought at least 100 AK47 machine guns for Blackwater guards on Baghdad's black market, as well as large quantities of steroids.

Lowry says some of the steroids he purchased went to guards protecting L. Paul Bremer, the man the Bush administration appointed to run Iraq's provisional government following the invasion in 2003.

"The use of steroids and human growth hormone, testosterone, were pretty endemic to them and almost company-wide," Lowry said.

"Not only did I purchase the pharmaceuticals, but I was also given money and asked to acquire syringes and other forms or modes of injection as well," Lowry stated in his deposition. He alleges the drugs were purchased with Blackwater money.

Lowry described Blackwater guards' parties at Baghdad's al-Hamra Hotel as a "frat party gone wild." He says he saw copious amounts of cocaine and hashish at the events.

"One of the suites would be absolutely packed with gentlemen running around with either no clothes on, no shirt on. It was like a frat party gone wild. Drug use was rampant. There was cocaine all on the tables. There were blocks of hash, and you could smell it in the air...walking up to the door," Lowry said in his deposition.

On occasion, Blackwater personnel at these parties would go out on the balcony with machine guns and "would just spray the building next door, which housed Iraqi civilians," Lowry alleges.

Texas considering to rid schools of "pro-Islam" books.

Texas: Screwing up national education through bullying and bigotry. From BBC:
The Texas school board is set to vote on a resolution urging publishers to keep "pro-Islamic/anti-Christian" language out of textbooks in the state.

Among other complaints, the non-binding decree says some textbooks devote more lines to Islam than to Christianity and print "whitewashes" of Islamic culture.

Critics say it relies on a flawed reading of books that are out of use.

In May, the panel adopted guidelines that critics said injected conservative political ideas into the curriculum.

Texas is one of the largest textbook markets in the US, and a vote in favour of the resolution could carry considerable weight in the publishing industry, supporters say.

The measure, on which the Texas Board of Education will vote on Friday in the state capital of Austin, is drafted by Randy Rives, a businessman and former school official in the Texas city of Odessa.

Supporters say the resolution is needed to warn textbook publishers not to print "anti-Christian" books if they want to sell them to Texas schools.

"It's the pro-Islamic, anti-Christian teachings in these books, that is what we are concerned about," Mr Rives told the BBC.

"We're teaching double the beliefs and specifics about another religion than we are about Christianity, which is the foundation of our country."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New study finds higher-than-expected human exposure to toxic BPA.

From the University of Missouri:
Researchers have discovered that women, female monkeys and female mice have major similarities when it comes to how bisphenol A (BPA) is metabolized, and they have renewed their call for governmental regulation when it comes to the estrogen-like chemical found in many everyday products.

A study published online in the Sept. 20 NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives ties rodent data on the health effects of BPA to predictions of human health effects from BPA with the use of everyday household products. The study was authored by researchers at the University of Missouri Division of Biological Sciences, Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab (VMDL) and the department of Biomedical Sciences, in collaboration with scientists at the University of California-Davis and Washington State University.

“This study provides convincing evidence that BPA is dangerous to our health at current levels of human exposure,” said Frederick vom Saal, Curators’ professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri. “The new results clearly demonstrate that rodent data on the health effects of BPA are relevant to predictions regarding the health effects of human exposure to BPA. Further evidence of human harm should not be required for regulatory action to reduce human exposure to BPA.”

BPA is one of the world’s highest production-volume chemicals, with more than 8 billion pounds made per year. It can be found in a wide variety of consumer products, including hard plastic items such as baby bottles and food-storage containers, the plastic lining of food and beverage cans, thermal paper used for receipts, and dental sealants. The findings in the current study suggest that human exposure to BPA is much higher than some prior estimates and is likely to be from many still-unknown sources, indicating the need for governmental agencies to require the chemical industry to identify all products that contain BPA.

Several states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, New York and Oregon, have passed bills to reduce exposure to BPA, and similar legislation is pending in the U.S. Congress.

“For years, BPA manufacturers have argued that BPA is safe and have denied the validity of more than 200 studies that showed adverse health effects in animals due to exposure to very low doses of BPA,” said Julia Taylor, lead author and associate research professor at the University of Missouri. “We know that BPA leaches out of products that contain it, and that it acts like estrogen in the body.”

“We’ve assumed we’re getting BPA from the ingestion of contaminated food and beverages,” said co-author Pat Hunt, a professor in the Washington State University School of Molecular Biosciences. “This indicates there must be a lot of other ways in which we’re exposed to this chemical and we’re probably exposed to much higher levels than we have assumed.”

The research team at the University of Missouri includes Taylor, vom Saal and student researcher Bertram Drury in Biological Sciences, as well as Wade Welshons in Biomedical Sciences and George Rottinghaus in the VMDL at MU.

Inner voice plays role in self control.

From EurekAlert:
Talking to yourself might not be a bad thing, especially when it comes to exercising self control.

New research out of the University of Toronto Scarborough – published in this month's edition of Acta Psychologica – shows that using your inner voice plays an important role in controlling impulsive behaviour.

"We give ourselves messages all the time with the intent of controlling ourselves – whether that's telling ourselves to keep running when we're tired, to stop eating even though we want one more slice of cake, or to refrain from blowing up on someone in an argument," says Alexa Tullett, PhD Candidate and lead author on the study. "We wanted to find out whether talking to ourselves in this 'inner voice' actually helps."

Tullett and Associate Psychology Professor Michael Inzlicht, both at UTSC, performed a series of self control tests on participants. In one example, participants performed a test on a computer. If they saw a particular symbol appear on the screen, they were told to press a button. If they saw a different symbol, they were told to refrain from pushing the button. The test measures self control because there are more "press" than "don't press" trials, making pressing the button an impulsive response.

The team then included measures to block participants from using their "inner voice" while performing the test, to see if it had an impact on their ability to perform. In order to block their "inner voice," participants were told to repeat one word over and over as they performed the test. This prevented them from talking to themselves while doing the test.

"Through a series of tests, we found that people acted more impulsively when they couldn't use their inner voice or talk themselves through the tasks," says Inzlicht. "Without being able to verbalize messages to themselves, they were not able to exercise the same amount of self control as when they could talk themselves through the process."

"It's always been known that people have internal dialogues with themselves, but until now, we've never known what an important function they serve," says Tullett. "This study shows that talking to ourselves in this 'inner voice' actually helps us exercise self control and prevents us from making impulsive decisions."

Fugitive monkey retires to Florida.

From NY Daily News:
The fugitive monkey that went on the lam after biting a Queens woman's face is living out his final days in a Florida home for wayward monkeys.

Benjamin the cantankerous capuchin turned up at Jungle Friends habitat in Gainesville, Fla., weeks after he bit Parvin Hajihossini while she was snapping his picture during a July stay at a Catskill, N.Y., resort.

Recent tests showed the 17-year-old monkey has cancer and a few months to live, said Jungle Friends owner Kari Bagnall.

Bagnall says Benjamin's owner, renowned painter Allen Hirsch, stayed with him at the 12-acre sanctuary for several weeks before leaving for Venezuela last month. At the time, Greene County, N.Y., health officials were hunting for Benjamin to check him for rabies - a test that requires the animal be euthanized so the brain can be dissected.

Bagnall said this isn't Benjamin's first stay at the habitat: Hirsch brought him there several years ago after he attacked someone else, she said.

"They're not pets," she said. "They're wild animals.... It's not a matter of if they'll bite, it's when. I don't know of any monkeys that don't bite."

Benjamin spends his days alone in a cage, surrounded by 120 other rescued monkeys in cages.

Most are ex-pets banished from homes after attacking humans -or retired research monkeys.

Hajihossini, 53, is suing Hirsch in Queens Supreme Court to recover damages for her injuries.

A scar that snakes down her left cheek left her so disfigured that she hasn't returned to work as a hairdresser.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dead man in car slapped with parking ticket.

From NY Daily News:
A Queens man was slapped with a parking ticket as he lay dead in the driver's seat of his car, cops and family said Wednesday.

Nicholas Rappold, 21, of Flushing, was slumped across the front seat of his Jeep Cherokee on 165th St. near 35thAve. Tuesday morning when a traffic agent wrote him up for being illegally parked during street sweeping, cops and family said.

"It's really messed up," the young man's cousin Patrick Hill told the Daily News. "While he was dead in his car, a New York City traffic agent gave him a ticket."

An hour after the ticket was issued, a friend whose house Rappold had left in the middle of the night spotted his buddy's vehicle still parked outside, sources said.

The curious pal went to see why the SUV was still there and found Rappold's cold body, sources said.

Investigators interviewed the traffic agent but found no wrongdoing. "He had heavily tinted windows," a police source said in defense of the postmortem ticket. "It was hard to see inside."

But family argued that the officer could have seen Rappold, who had recently been in rehab for pill abuse.

"She could have at least knocked on the window to see if he was all right," Hill said.

The cause of death is still to be determined by the medical examiner, but investigators believe Rappold died hours before the ticketing from an overdose.

Police voided the parking summons after they released the vehicle to the family.

Girl calls off party after 21,000 reply to Facebook invite.

Damn, that's a lot of cupcakes. From The Independent:
A teenage girl who included her address in an invitation to her birthday party on Facebook was alarmed when 21,000 people confirmed their attendance.

The bash was called off when the school pupil was swamped by RSVPs from unwanted would-be guests on the social networking site.

The girl had reportedly only intended to invite 15 friends to her 15th birthday party and did not mean to make her address public.

Hertfordshire Police said officers would be patrolling the area in Harpenden on October 7 - the date it was planned for - in case large numbers turned up anyway.

Harpenden Neighbourhood Sergeant Lewis Ducket said: "We are aware of this and have been assured that the event is no longer taking place.

"I would urge people who may be planning to come to Harpenden for the party to make other plans.

"We will have officers on patrol in the area on October 7 to provide a reassuring presence and who will be able to deal with any issues, should they arise."

Although the original invitation was removed from the site, a new version was visible to all Facebook users today.

The event was not created by the girl herself but her address was again posted on the site for all to see and 19 people had confirmed their attendance.

Other linked events were also still visible to all users of the site, including a "cleaning up party" the following day, which had 80 confirmed guests.

The incident follows criticism of Facebook's privacy settings, with concerns being raised that they are too complicated.

A spokeswoman stressed that the privacy settings available for events created on the site are separate to those for users' profiles, on which they post information about themselves.

When someone creates an event on Facebook they can tick a box saying "anyone can view and RSVP (public event)".

If this is ticked then it is a public event, meaning anyone can view the content and respond.