Monday, October 17, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
According to the Cumberlink Sentinel, a Carlisle, Pennsylvania man faces felony charges after police said he was seen eating raw meat from off the shelf of a Walmart store.
Police say that the man, Scott T. Shover, 53, opened packages of raw ground beef and raw stew beef in the store, ate some of it, placed the opened packages back on the shelf, and then walked out of the store without paying for any of the meat. "Shover was arrested at Taser point without any further issues," according to police.
Shover's record showed that he had four previous retail theft convictions.
Across parts of Australia, reports have been pouring in of strange voices chattering high in the treetops -- mysterious, non-sensical conversations in English. But while this phenomenon is certainly quite odd, its explanation isn't paranormal. It turns out that escaped pet birds, namely parrots and cockatoos, have begun teaching their wild bird counterparts a bit of the language they picked up from their time in captivity -- and, according to witnesses, that includes more than a few expletives.
Jaynia Sladek, an ornithologist from the Australian Museum, says that some birds are just natural mimickers, able to acquire new sounds based on things they hear around them. For birds kept as pets, these sounds tend to mirror human language -- but that influence doesn't cease even after said birds escape or are released back into the wild.
Once back in their natural environments, these chatty ex-pets eventually join with wild birds who, in turn, start picking up the new words and sounds. The remnants of that language also eventually gets passed along to the escaped birds' offspring, much like it does for humans.
"There's no reason why, if one comes into the flock with words, [then] another member of the flock wouldn't pick it up as well," Sladek said in an interview with Australian Geographic.
According to the report, 'Hello cockie' is one of the most commonly heard phrases feral birds are teaching in the wild, along with a host of expletives -- perhaps the last words those escapees heard after their frantic owners realized they were making a break for freedom.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
A married lawmaker, pressured to resign after he was reportedly caught 'arranging' a gay sex tryst via Craigslist, has admitted paying a male teen.
However, Indiana state Rep Phillip Hinkle claims he is not gay and can’t explain why he set up the meeting.
The Indianapolis Star reported two weeks ago that Kameryn Gibson, 18, posted the ad for a ‘sugga daddy’ and got a response from Hinkle, 64.
Mr Gibson claimed Mr Hinkle offered him $140 for 'for a really good time.'
The paper published emails between Hinkle, 64, and Gibson, 18, as they set up a meeting at a downtown Indianapolis hotel.
One of them said: 'Cannot be a long time sugar daddy, but can for tonight. Would you be interested in keeping me company for a while tonight?'
The email offered 'to make it worth [your] while' in cash, and offers a personal description: ‘I am an in shape married professional, 5'8", fit 170 lbs, and love getting and staying naked.'
On Tuesday, Hinkle admitted meeting Gibson and giving him $80 for his time, but denied a sex act or any other wrongdoing took place.
The Republican said: 'I went to the edge, but I didn't fall over the edge.'
Mr Gibson claimed he changed his mind about sex when he found out Hinkle was a state rep, but Hinkle wouldn't let him leave the hotel room.
When Gibson called his sister for help, he said she threatened to call the cops and the media, and Mr Hinkle offered to 'give you whatever.'
After hanging up, Mr Gibson alleges that Mr Hinkle grabbed his buttocks, dropped the towel he was wearing and sat naked on the bed.
When Megan arrived later, they said Mr Hinkle gave them his BlackBerry, iPad and $100 cash to keep them quiet.
The siblings also claimed Mr Hinkle's wife also offered them money when she called the BlackBerry.
Megan Gibson told the Star: 'I was like, "Your husband is gay," and then she was like, "You have the wrong person."'
When Gibson began reading the emails and the address they were sent from, she said Barbara Hinkle told them not to call the police and later offered them $10,000 not to tell anyone.
In Mr Hinkle's version of the events, he claims he was the one victimized by the hotel encounter.
He says he came out of the bathroom at one point to find his money clip, business card holder, his BlackBerry, his iPad and Gibson - gone.
He also denied his wife spoke to Kameryn or Megan Gibson.
Mr Hinkle told the paper: 'Anybody who knows my wife knows she would not pay $10 to keep a mistake I made quiet, let alone $10,000.'
The Gibsons said they contacted The Star because she thought Hinkle's actions were 'creepy,' especially for a lawmaker.
The lawmaker said he is now working with his attorney to find hotel security tapes that back up his claim that he never met Megan Gibson.
Mr Hinkle, a strong opponent of gay marriage, denied he has homosexual tendencies.
He told the Star: 'I say that emphatically. I'm not gay.'
The news comes as pressure mounts from the Indiana Statehouse for Mr Hinkle to step down from the post he has held since 2000.
House Speaker Brian Bosma said he met with the embattled rep last week, and told him he should focus on his personal life in the 2012 session.
Mr Bosma, a fellow Republican, called the alleged scandal 'a detriment to the continuing work of the legislature.'
But Hinkle won't budge, telling the Star: 'Those people didn't elect me. The constituents did.'
Mr Hinkle, who boasts that he co-sponsored the creation of 'In God we trust' license plates in Indiana, has voted in favor of a gay marriage ban.
Indiana Gov Mitch Daniels called the situation a 'tragedy.'
TOKYO — Japan took steps on Wednesday to help its economy ride out a surge in the yen, which has battered the country’s export-led economy.
The government announced a $100 billion loan fund to spur Japanese spending on corporate acquisitions and resources overseas, according to a statement released by the Finance Ministry. The ministry also said it would step up monitoring of currency markets by asking financial institutions to report on positions held by their currency dealers.
“Taking into account that there is a lopsided rise in the yen, I felt that swift measures were needed,” Yoshihiko Noda, the finance minister, told reporters.
But the action had little immediate effect on the yen and could underscore just how difficult it might be for the government to sway the huge foreign exchange market. A strong yen hurts Japanese exporters because it makes their goods less competitive and erodes the value of their overseas earnings when repatriated into yen.
Under the loan program, the government will send foreign currency reserves to the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, which will then make loans to commercial banks so they can help companies with overseas investments. By spending yen for dollars and other currencies, the ministry hopes that the currency will weaken somewhat.
The yen was little changed, with the dollar trading at 76.96 yen late in New York, up slightly from 76.64.
The second part of the government’s action is an effort to curtail speculation that officials think might be contributing to moves in the yen. Mr. Noda has indicated recently that the government will act against speculators seeking short-term profits.
The Bank of Japan issued a statement in support of the measures.
“The Bank of Japan will continue to carefully monitor the effects of developments in the foreign exchange market on the future course of economic activity and prices,” it said.
The government’s announcement came hours after Moody’s Investors Service, the credit ratings agency, lowered Japan’s credit rating, warning that frequent changes in administration, weak prospects for economic growth and its recent natural and nuclear disasters have made it difficult for the government to pare down its huge debt.
Moody’s lowered Japan’s grade by one step to Aa3, the fourth-highest rating, the company said in a statement.
The downgrade brings Moody’s rating for Japan in line with that of Standard & Poor’s, which lowered the country’s grade by one notch to AA– in January, the fourth-highest on its scale. Moody’s had put Japan on review for a downgrade in May.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Awesome: Lottery wins come easy if you can spot the loopholes.
D'oh: Three self-delusions that influence your decisions and productivity.
Yipes: Kate Winslet escapes fire at Richard Branson's luxury island retreat.
ZombieWatch: Cat urine turns rats into zombie prey.
Nearly 30 years after making the sci-fi cult classic "Blade Runner," British director Ridley Scott has agreed to direct a new installment, the producers have said.
The new "Blade Runner," produced by Alcon Entertainment, will not be a remake but rather a follow-up or a prequel to the original. Scott has yet to decide between the two options, the company said in a statement.
"It would be a gross understatement to say that we are elated Ridley Scott will shepherd this iconic story into a new, exciting direction," said producers Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson.
"We are huge fans of Ridley's and of the original 'Blade Runner'." This is once in a lifetime project for us," they added.
No casting decisions have been made as of yet, and no release date has been fixed.
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Thursday, July 28, 2011
AUSTIN, Texas - U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors returned 33 Mexican soldiers on Tuesday who inadvertently crossed over the Rio Grande river into Texas, authorities said.
The soldiers, packed into four Humvees, crossed over the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge into south Texas at around 2 p.m., said Felix Garza, a spokesman for CBP in Pharr, Texas.
"They crossed the boundary line on the bridge. Once they did that they were forced to continue traveling to our primary inspection area," Garza told Reuters.
"They were processed according to protocols, and they were released and returned to Mexico without incident or charges," he added, declining to say whether the troops were armed.
In a statement late Tuesday, the Mexican military said the troops "unintentionally" crossed over the bridge while they were carrying out reconnaissance on the border.
After clarifying the error with U.S. authorities, they returned to Mexico and continued their "routine activities," it said.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
A man wielding a screwdriver and screaming someone wanted to kill him tried to hijack a subway train by forcing his way into a motorman's cab, cops, a witness and the motorman said Monday.
The terrifying 10-minute ordeal on a crowded northbound No. 5 train happened Friday and prompted panicked passengers to rush to the conductor's defense.
"I had some passengers helping me, so thank God for them," said motorman Darryl George, 36. "There are still good people in New York City."
Suspect Richard Arrocho, 42, is accused of entering George's front-car cab by climbing through its open side window from a wall alongside the tracks near the 149th St. station in the Bronx.
"I had opened my window to see what the situation was," George said. "He said someone with a gun was trying to kill him."
As George turned his back to radio a supervisor, Arrocho clambered inside.
"I was shocked," George said. "I couldn't believe it - he was inside my cab.
"He said, 'Move the train or I'm going to f-----g kill you,'" George added. "He wouldn't let me open the door. He pulled a screwdriver and tried to stab me.
"I started to move the train slowly," George added. "He pulled my hand off and pushed the control to make the train go faster. I told him, 'If we keep moving at this speed, we're going to hit something.' It didn't make any difference to him. "
"It was crazy," said witness Ronald Baker, 60, of the Bronx, who shot dramatic video of the 3:40 p.m. incident. "People were screaming, passengers were pounding on the [motorman's] door, trying to get the guy to put down his screwdriver."
Baker's video shows George wrestling with Arrocho and briefly getting the suspect in a headlock as the train rumbled down the tracks. The train stopped once it reached the Jackson Ave. station. George managed to open the door and run out, leaving Arrocho in the cab alone.
The video shows two passengers initially helping George try to keep the suspect locked in the cab. Apparently believing he might commandeer the controls, George and a passenger pushed open the door and attempted to get Arrocho to calm down.
"Someone's trying to kill me!" Arrocho yelled.
Court records show Arrocho claimed someone was trying to kill him in retaliation for a previous robbery. When cops arrived at the Jackson Ave. station, Arrocho surrendered without incident.
"He may have seen 'Taking of Pelham 123' one too many times," said a law enforcement source, referring to the 2009 remake staring John Travolta as the hijacker of a No. 6 train in the Bronx.
The source said Arrocho has a history of mental illness and spent time in a psych ward. He was charged with felony attempted assault, menacing, harassment and criminal possession of a weapon - a pointy Phillips-head screwdriver. He was being held on $2,500 bail.
He has been arrested at least 40 times since 1985 on charges ranging from robbery to petty larceny, records show.
"I could have lost my life over this," George said. "You don't expect something like this to happen when you go to work."
10. Michigan: Passed a martial law bill that would end democracy during tough financial times.
8. Ohio: Ohio Republicans had a fetus testify on the floor of the legislature.
7. Montana: Made sure homosexuality is still a crime.
And lots more.
An unconscious South African man, presumed dead by relatives, had a rude awakening Sunday when he came to his senses in a morgue, officials said.
His cries for help terrified employees at the mortuary in the Eastern Cape province of Libode.
"Two workers heard screaming from the refrigerators," Sizwe Kupelo, a spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Health Department, told ABC News. "They thought it was a ghost and they ran for their lives."
The man, who did not want his name released but is described as a grandfather in his 60s, had apparently suffered an asthma attack and fell unconscious.
"The family called a private undertaker who took what they thought was a dead body to the morgue," Kupelo said, according to South Africa's News24.
Relatives did not call paramedics, but instead phoned the mortuary, assuming he was dead. The morgue's owner told The Associated Press that the worker who picked up the supposedly dead man "examined the body, checked his pulse, looked for a heartbeat, but there was nothing."
Ayanda Maqolo was there when the elderly man woke up and started screaming after having been in the refrigerator with other corpses for at least 21 hours.
"He asked, 'How did I get here?'" the owner recalled the man saying. The owner added that the chilling experience even gave him "nightmares."
"I couldn't sleep last night," he told AP. "But today I'm much better."
Thursday, July 21, 2011
A South Carolina couple claims to possess one heckuva of a saintly sales slip--a Wal-Mart check-out receipt with the face of Christ on it.
Gentry Lee Sutherland and Jacob Simmons got the blessed bill of sale upon paying for the development of 11 photos June 12 at a Wal-Mart store in Travelers Rest, S.C.
"People are going to believe what they want to believe," said Sutherland.
"There's tons of people who will say, 'Oh, we're in the Bible Belt,' but here's my question to the doubters, who else has the power to put their face on a check-out receipt but Jesus?"
It wasn't until three days after they paid for the photos that Sutherland and Simmons divined the two eyes and bushy beard and hair that is now so evident when they look at the receipt.
In Rio de Janeiro, bold bands of marauding monkeys are turning to a life of looting and mischief. By the dozens, young capuchin monkeys have been descending the nearby hills to sneak into homes and steal fruit and other food from unsuspecting residents -- wreaking havoc in the process. "They come in, make a mess, break and throw everything onto the floor," says one distraught resident of Rio's primate-sacked South Zone. But local experts say that kind-hearted humans may be to blame for unleashing this proverbial barrel of monkeys.
Sure, in still-photos and wildlife documentaries, capachin monkey are undeniably adorable and seem rather harmless,but the recent slew of break-ins and thefts have familiarized locals with their more cunning qualities. In fact, an investigation from Jornal Floripa recorded some surprisingly well-orchestrated incidents of looting. By mimicking a birdcall, one monkey alerts countless others hidden that the latest home invasion will soon be underway.
Friday, July 15, 2011
It started with a single monkey coming down with pneumonia at the California National Primate Research Center in Davis. Within weeks, 19 monkeys were dead and three humans were sick. Now, a new report confirms that the Davis outbreak was the first known case of an adenovirus jumping from monkeys to humans. The upside: the virus may one day be harnessed as a tool for gene therapy.
Adenoviruses are relatively large DNA viruses—as opposed to many other viruses that replicate using RNA—that commonly cause colds and respiratory infections in humans. They're also responsible for a variety of illnesses in cattle, dogs, horses, pigs, and other animals, but scientists thought the viruses and their ailments couldn't jump between species.
Then, on 14 May 2009, a healthy adult male titi monkey—a small, reddish-brown species that calls much of South America home—came down with a cough at the Davis primate center and soon became lethargic and wouldn't eat. Staff members gave the animal intravenous fluids and antibiotics, but its condition worsened, and after 5 days staff members euthanized him. Four weeks later, another titi monkey came down with the same symptoms. Then another. And another. Within 2 months, 23 of the 65-strong population had become sick, and 19 eventually died. A team led by infectious diseases researcher Charles Chiu of the University of California, San Francisco, analyzed lung tissue samples from the dead monkeys and identified a never-before-seen adenovirus, which they named titi monkey adenovirus (TMAdV).
But where did the virus come from? It's unlikely it originated in the titi monkeys themselves, Chiu says: "Hosts that are that susceptible to a disease are not likely to be its originators." So the researchers asked whether any lab workers had been sick during that period. One person, who had had close daily contact with the monkeys, reported coming down with a fever, chills, a headache, a dry cough, and a burning sensation in her lungs—hallmarks of the kinds of respiratory infection commonly caused by adenoviruses. Two of her family members reported similar, though less severe, symptoms in subsequent weeks.
Neither the lab worker nor her family members sought medical attention, and all recovered within 4 weeks, after which it was too late for researchers to swab for traces of the adenoviruses directly. Instead, they examined the patients' blood for antibodies and compared them with those found in the infected monkeys. The lab worker and one of her family members showed a match, suggesting that the monkeys gave the virus to the lab worker or vice versa. But when the team tested a representative set of 81 blood samples from donors in the western United States, none had antibodies. That suggests humans weren't the source of the outbreak either.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Games of chance give lucky people the opportunity to win almost anything, from a goldfish at a carnival to millions of dollars. Now a charity in Britain is giving one couple the chance to have a baby.
To Hatch, a charity that offers fertility treatment advice, will sell £20 raffle tickets to couples who want a chance to win £25,000 worth of in vitro fertilization treatments. This controversial lottery, set to launch July 30, has been received with some criticism.
Anyone can enter to the contest and can give the prize to someone else if they win, according to the Telegraph.. If IVF treatments fails, then the charity will offer a surrogate, donor eggs or surgery.
To Hatch founder Camille Strachan said the lottery comes at a time when the National Health Service, Britain’s publicly funded health care system, has undergone budget cuts: “We hope the To Hatch Lottery can ease the burden on the NHS and reduce the stress slightly on some of those who are struggling.”
Josephine Quintavalle, director of the Comment on Reproductive Ethics, told the Telegraph the lottery “demeans the whole nature of human reproduction.” She also questioned the legality of the practice to Sky News.
“This latest initiative, turning the process of reproduction into a buy-your-ticket lottery, is absolutely unacceptable and quite possibly breaks European Law on the commercialization of human tissue,” she said. “It is in this area where an immediate investigation should be demanded. It is surely not legal to pay £20 to have access to another woman’s womb?”
The charity’s Web site was down Wednesday shortly after the announcement went viral. A message on the site read, “To Hatch is currently offline for site-wide maintenance, it will be up and running shortly.” It was later changed to, “Due to overwhelming demand the To Hatch website is currently offline for site-wide maintenance. It will be back up and running as soon as possible.”
Breaking with longstanding concerns that officially memorializing military suicides might encourage them, President Obama announced on Wednesday that he would begin sending letters of condolence to the families of troops who kill themselves in combat zones.
“This decision was made after a difficult and exhaustive review of the former policy, and I did not make it lightly,” the president said in a statement. “This issue is emotional, painful and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely. They didn’t die because they were weak.”
As the number of military suicides has surged since 2001, the issue of presidential letters — which are sent to the families of every service member killed in action — has become a source of great dismay among families of suicides. Some organized letter-writing campaigns and prodded members of Congress to introduce legislation to overturn the policy, which has existed for several administrations.
In 2009, the Obama administration demurred, citing widespread concerns among veterans groups and senior military officers that such letters might be construed as sanctioning suicide. But on Wednesday, citing an 18-month review of the policy, Mr. Obama said he had concluded that by recognizing certain suicides, he might destigmatize the problem of mental illness within the military and thereby encourage service members to seek counseling.
“The fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change,” the president’s statement said. “Our men and women in uniform have borne the incredible burden of our wars, and we need to do everything in our power to honor their service, and to help them stay strong for themselves, for their families and for our nation.”
The new policy, which was first reported by CBS News, will apply only to troops who commit suicide in officially designated combat zones, mainly Afghanistan and Iraq. The letters will differ from those sent to troops killed in combat, though the White House declined to say precisely how.
In recent years, the military suicide rate has been above the rate for the general population, a reflection, experts say, of the stress of rapid-tempo combat operations and multiple deployments. But a majority of those suicides, 295 last year among active-duty personnel, have been committed outside combat zones, mostly in the United States.
Friday, June 24, 2011
A woman died from a heart attack caused by shock after waking up to discover she had been declared dead - and was being prepared for burial.
As mourning relatives filed past her open coffin the supposedly dead woman suddenly woke up and started screaming as she realised where she was.
Fagilyu Mukhametzyanov, 49, had been wrongly declared deceased by doctors but died for real after hearing mourners saying prayers for her soul to be taken up to heaven in Kazan, Russia.
The coconut (the fruit of the palm Cocos nucifera) is the Swiss Army knife of the plant kingdom; in one neat package it provides a high-calorie food, potable water, fiber that can be spun into rope, and a hard shell that can be turned into charcoal. What’s more, until it is needed for some other purpose it serves as a handy flotation device.
No wonder people from ancient Austronesians to Captain Bligh pitched a few coconuts aboard before setting sail. (The mutiny of the Bounty is supposed to have been triggered by Bligh’s harsh punishment of the theft of coconuts from the ship’s store.)
So extensively is the history of the coconut interwoven with the history of people traveling that Kenneth Olsen, a plant evolutionary biologist, didn’t expect to find much geographical structure to coconut genetics when he and his colleagues set out to examine the DNA of more than 1300 coconuts from all over the world.
“I thought it would be mostly a mish-mash,” he says, thoroughly homogenized by humans schlepping coconuts with them on their travels.
He was in for a surprise. It turned out that there are two clearly differentiated populations of coconuts, a finding that strongly suggests the coconut was brought under cultivation in two separate locations, one in the Pacific basin and the other in the Indian Ocean basin. What’s more, coconut genetics also preserve a record of prehistoric trade routes and of the colonization of the Americas.
The discoveries of the team, which included Bee Gunn, now of the Australian National University in Australia, and Luc Baudouin of the Centre International de Recherches en Agronomie pour le Développement (CIRAD) in Montpellier, France, as well as Olsen, associate professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, are described in the June 23 online issue of the journal PLoS One.
A scathing review led to a Taiwanese blogger being sent to prison and ordered to pay compensation to the restaurant she criticised.
The Taichung branch of Taiwan High Court on Tuesday sentenced the blogger, surnamed Liu, to 30 days in detention and two years of probation and handover NT$200,000 for her harsh review of the 'salty beef noodles'.
The blogger writes about a variety of topics, giving her opinion on food, health and interior design, and has received more than 60,000 hits on her website.
After visiting a Taichung beef noodle restaurant in July 2008, where she had dried noodles and side dishes, Liu wrote that the restaurant served food that was too salty, the place was unsanitary because there were cockroaches and that the owner was a 'bully' because he let customers park their cars haphazardly, leading to traffic jams, according to the Taipei Times.
The restaurant’s owner, surnamed Yang, learned about Liu’s blog post from a regular customer, and filed charges against her, accusing her of defamation.
The Taichung District Court ruled that Liu’s criticism of the restaurant exceeded reasonable bounds and sentenced her to 30 days in detention, a ruling that Liu appealed.
The High Court found that Liu’s criticism about cockroaches in the restaurant to be a narration of facts, not intentional slander, the news website reported.
However, the judge also ruled that Liu should not have criticized all the restaurant’s food as too salty because she only had one dish on her single visit.
Health officials who inspected the restaurant did not find conditions to be as unsanitary as Liu had described, so the High Court also ruled that Liu must pay NT$200,000 to the owner for revenues lost as a result of her blog post.
Liu has apologized to the restaurant for the incident.
Yang said he filed the charges because Liu’s negative comments about his restaurant led to many customers calling him to ask if her review was true.
He said he hoped the case would teach her a lesson.
Huang Cheng-lee, a lawyer in Taichung, said that bloggers who post food reviews should remember to be truthful in their commentary and supplement their comments with photographs to protect themselves.
He also said bloggers should be objective and fair in their writing.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
NEW LONDON, Conn. – Officials in New London, Conn., turned off the water at the city's new waterfront fountain over the weekend, because people have been using it as a toilet.
The fountain was activated last month and features a sculpture of a whale's tail with water spilling over it, which visitors are encouraged to run through.
City Councilor Michael Buscetto III tells The Day of New London that since the fountain opened, police have responded to calls of people urinating, defecating and showering in the fountain water. He said some people who have cut themselves have also used the fountain to rinse off blood.
City Manager Denise Rose says police are developing a plan to better keep an eye on the area.
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Two Canadians died instantly in a freak accident when a car hit a 440-pound (200-kg) black bear and sent the animal flying straight through the windshield of an oncoming vehicle, local media said Wednesday.
The bear's body hit the 25-year-old driver and a 40-year-old man sitting behind her and then shot out of the back window. The bear also died.
The accident happened Monday night in a rural area about 25 miles north of the federal capital Ottawa.
"We don't see (this) often, even if we live in the country. Lots of deer, but collisions with a bear and two people died? That's really rare," local police spokesman Martin Fournel told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Collisions between vehicles and animals are common in Canada, which has a healthy population of large wild animals such as moose and deer.
WTF: 12 arrested for feeding the homeless in Orlando.
Lame: Woman-hating Santorum says abortion exception to protect mother's health is "phony."
PSA: Citibank confirms hacking attack.
Science: Periodic table adds two new superheavy elements.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
A superstitious Russian man died after burying himself alive in the hopes it would bring him "good luck."
The 35-year-old computer programmer told friends that spending a night underground would bring him good fortune for the rest of his life.
"According to his friend, the man wanted to test his endurance and insistently asked his friend to help him spend the night buried," police official Alexei Lubinsky told the BBC.
The victim dug a hole in his garden in the eastern city of Blagoveshchensk and created an improvised coffin with pipes for air.
With a cell phone and a bottle of water in hand, he hopped in and had his friend cover the coffin with about eight inches of dirt.
Heavy rain fell overnight and when the friend returned the next morning, his pal was dead.
Police suspect the rain somehow blocked the air supply.
A similarly bizarre fate met a another man in Russia last summer after pals buried him. They found him dead an hour-and-a-half later, crushed by the weight of the dirt.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
It was the biggest sting operation in Little Italy since the Gambinos were driven off.
Crowds of people stopped to gape at a bizarre bee swarm (left) yesterday at a mailbox on the corner of Mulberry and Grand streets, snapping cellphone pictures and calling friends to marvel at the little bit of country in the midst of the big city.
Andrew Cote, president of New York City Beekeepers, said there was nothing to worry about, as the buzzers are as sweet as honey when they travel in packs.
"Bees are most docile when they swarm," he said.
"They have no hive to protect, and they pose absolutely no threat."
A beekeeper from his group helped the NYPD move the bugs to a safe location, he said.
"People keep bees in New York City, and it's not unusual for them to swarm," Cote said.
"It happens many times. I just picked up a swarm in The Bronx."
But another beekeeper, Chet Crowl, said it's lucky the insects were quickly moved, because "the longer they stay, the more aggressive they get."
Last year, the New York City Board of Health lifted a ban on beekeeping.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
A Massachusetts man used a forklift to attack his girlfriend's car, hoisting the vehicle off the ground with the woman inside, cops said.
Then the angry boyfriend slammed the car down on the street several feet away.
Brian Hurley, 41, of Springfield, Mass., began fighting with his girlfriend over money as she dropped him off at work at New England Warehousing Inc. on Saturday morning, police said.
The victim, who was not identified, told cops that Hurley slapped her and then hopped out of her car and began kicking it, causing several dents.
The enraged beau then jumped into the cab of a nearby forklift, steered the forks underneath her car and lifted it into the air.
Hurley split before police arrived, but was later busted when cops found him banging on the door of his home, Springfield's WWLP television reported.
He was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, and damaging a car.
The woman wasn't seriously injured.
Six months after predicting his own murder, a leading rainforest defender has reportedly been gunned down in the Brazilian Amazon. José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo, are said to have been killed in an ambush near their home in Nova Ipixuna, in Pará state, about 37 miles from Marabá.
According to a local newspaper, Diário do Pará, the couple had not had police protection despite getting frequent death threats because of their battle against illegal loggers and ranchers.
On Tuesday there were conflicting reports from about whether the killing happened on Monday night or Tuesday morning. A police spokesperson said there were reports of a "double homicide" at the settlement called Maçaranduba 2.
In a speech at a TEDx event in Manaus, in November, Da Silva spoke of his fears that loggers would try to silence him. "I could be here today talking to you and in one month you will get the news that I disappeared. I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment … because I denounce the loggers and charcoal producers, and that is why they think I cannot exist. [People] ask me, 'are you afraid?' Yes, I'm a human being, of course I am afraid. But my fear does not silence me. As long as I have the strength to walk I will denounce all of those who damage the forest."
Roberto Smeraldi, founder and director of the environmental group Amigos da Terra, who worked with Da Silva in the Amazon, said he had been in a meeting with Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, discussing changes to the forest code when the news broke of Da Silva being killed. "He was convinced he would be killed one day," Smeraldi said. He added that Da Silva had been "very active" in the fight against illegal forest burning and logging. According to Brazilian media reports, Rousseff has asked her chief of staff, Gilberto Carvalho, to offer support to the murder investigation.
"We now have another Chico Mendes," said Felipe Milanez, an environmental journalist from São Paulo, referring to the Amazonian rubber-tapper who became an environmental martyr after his murder in 1988. Milanez said that in a recent phone conversation with Da Silva's wife she had suggested the situation was "getting very ugly". Milanez added: "He knew the threats were very real. He was scared."
A 2008 report compiled by Brazilian human rights groups listed Da Silva as one of dozens of Amazon human rights and environmental activists "considered at risk" of assassination.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Hey guys, if you’re on the prowl, you can drop the nice guy act.
By a wide margin, women really do find bad boys more attractive than their kind and happy counterparts, a new University of British Columbia study says.
“That’s very much what we found,” says UBC psychologist Jessica Tracy, the lead study author.
The study, which involved about 1,000 people split evenly between men and women, had subjects view pictures of opposite sex individuals displaying expressions of pride, shame, happiness or a neutral demeanour.
The participants were then asked to rate their attractiveness on a scale of one to nine.
For women, Tracy says, a proud physical expression made males most alluring. But close behind, those men who had sagging shouldered shame written large on their faces were given surprisingly high attractiveness ratings.
“What we didn’t expect was that women would find happy men really, really unattractive,” says Tracy. “And that’s exactly what we found. It was the least attractive thing men could show.”
The study was released Tuesday by the American Psychological Association journal Emotion.
While a proud man’s attractiveness to women may be easily explained on an evolutionary level, the allure of the bad boy is more elusive, says Tracy, who specializes in physical expressions of emotion.
“Pride conveys high status, strength, power (and) these are all pretty good things to have in a mate,” she says.
Bad boys, depicted in the photo arrays with “brooding” expressions, may well elicit a desire in women to both forgive the guy and to fix him up, Tracy says.
To earn their Girl Scout Bronze Award four years ago, Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva set out to study orangutans.
Instead, they wound up investigating Thin Mints, Trefoils and Samoas.
What they uncovered soured them on the sweets and has put the Michigan teens at odds with Girl Scouts of the USA. Now they're on a march to change the recipe for Girl Scout cookies.
Their target: palm oil, which can come from places the primates live.
The girls, who have been scouts since they were five, have rallied troops across the country. Scouts sold 198 million boxes of cookies last year, but now some say they're done. Scouts and leaders have criticized their nonprofit organization on Facebook and Twitter.
"My troop is up in arms," says Nicole Bell, a Lansing, Kan., leader and former scout. "They do not want to sell cookies next year."
The Girl Scouts organization says its bakers have told them there isn't a good alternative to palm oil that would ensure the same taste, texture and shelf life. "Girls sell cookies from Texas to Hawaii and those cookies have to be sturdy," says Amanda Hamaker, product sales manager for Girl Scouts of the USA.
[...] Hoping to help orangutans, the Michigan teens want the Scouts to either remove palm oil entirely from cookies, or use sustainably grown palm oil.
Friday, May 20, 2011
The next time a decaying corpse approaches you in the street, you'll know what to do.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted guidance telling people what to do in a ‘zombie apocalypse’ - and they don’t advise shooting the walking dead.
A light-hearted blog post by the organisation said U.S. citizens should prepare an emergency kit and then look for a zombie-free refugee camp.
But the Zombie Apocalypse campaign has a serious side as it intends to familiarise Americans with disaster preparedness techniques for the hurricane season.
‘There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for,’ wrote infectious disease specialist Dr Ali Khan. ‘Take a zombie apocalypse for example.
‘You may laugh now, but when it happens you'll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you'll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.’
The blog post drove so much traffic that it crashed the website on Thursday, and it came just days before an evangelist’s prediction of the May 21 ‘Judgment Day’.
‘If you prepare for the zombie apocalypse, you'll be prepared for all hazards,’ a CDC spokesman said.
The CDC said disaster preparedness involves putting together an emergency kit, coming up with an emergency plan and having two meet-up spots.
It recommends an emergency kit should include water, food, medication, battery-powered radio, a utility knife and vital documents.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that almost 18% of US teens are obese. Although most experts agree that our growing obesity "epidemic" is driven by both inadequate physical activity and excessive caloric intake, implementing solutions is extraordinarily difficult. One area that has caught the attention of health researchers is the observation that trends in video game playing parallel obesity rates on a population basis. Furthermore, several studies have documented a positive association between how much time a child plays video games and his or her chance of being obese. However, correlation does not necessarily imply causality, and controlled intervention studies are required to test whether playing video games causes children to increase their food intake and/or decrease their energy expenditure. In the first such study of this kind, Canadian and Danish researchers tested their hypothesis that video game playing is accompanied by increased spontaneous food intake.
"This study is an especially important piece of the scientific puzzle in this arena because it went beyond simply simultaneously documenting the relationship between video game playing and food intake in kids," said Shelley McGuire, PhD, American Society for Nutrition spokesperson. "Instead, it actually studied the same group of children during two separate, experimentally-administered periods of rest and video-game play, and then used gold-standard methods to measure important outcomes such as food intake, energy expenditure, and feelings of hunger and appetite. Consequently, the results can be used with a high degree of confidence to suggest that playing virtual soccer can affect food intake. Very interesting! Given our current obesity "crisis" in kids, I will be curious to follow the results of follow-up studies. For instance, do violent games or educational games have the same effect as sports-related games?"
An Amtrak train made an unexpected stop Sunday, as a woman was escorted off for speaking loudly on her cell phone.
Lakeysha Beard, 39, was charged with disorderly conduct after she wouldn't stop talking on the 16-hour trip from Oakland, California, to Salem, Oregon. The train was stopped short of its destination.
Train operators called police due to passenger complaints, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Beard's car was designated a "quiet car."
Beard told Portland's KATU News that she felt "disrespected" by the incident.
Chinese farmers discovered how science can go bad after fields of watermelons exploded like "land mines" after being over-pumped with growth chemicals.
The chilling chemistry calamity struck after a group of 20 farmers in Jiangsu Province used a growth accelerator for the first time during a period of heavy rains.
That caused hundreds of groaning melons to pop like balloons, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
"On May 7, I came out and counted 80 but by the afternoon it was 100," said farmer Liu Mingsuo. "Two days later I didn't bother to count anymore."
The chemical involved is legal and is often used in the U.S. with kiwis and grapes, but underscores China's recent troubles with the unregulated use of chemicals in the nation's food supply.
Monday, May 9, 2011
BABYLON, N.Y. — Police were investigating how a car accelerated across a parking lot and into the water near a Long Island boat basin.
State park police said the driver was able to swim to safety.
Police said the car hit several motorcycles and a parked car but no one was injured.
Witnesses told Newsday that the driver was standing talking with dozens of people at the Captree State Park auto show when the car started to run away from him. The driver managed to jump inside the car when it took off again.
Witness John Rodriguez said the car went airborne about 7 to 8 feet and then hit the water.
The driver was only identified as a 30-year-old man from West Islip. He was taken to a hospital for undisclosed injuries.
New research has revealed how infection by a parasitic fungus dramatically changes the behavior of tropical of carpenter ants (species Camponotus leonardi), causing them to become zombie-like and to die at a spot that has optimal reproduction conditions for the fungus. The multinational research team studied ants living high up in the rainforest canopy in Thailand. A paper describing the research was published in the BioMed Central open-access journal BMC Ecology on May 9.
"The behavior of these infected zombie ants essentially causes their bodies to become an extension of the fungus's own phenotype, as non-infected ants never behave in this way," said David P. Hughes, the first author of the research paper and an assistant professor of entomology and biology at Penn State.
Using transmission-electron and light microscopes, the researchers were able to look inside the ant in order to determine the effect of the fungus on the ant. They found that the growing fungus fills the ant's body and head, causing muscles to atrophy and forcing muscle fibres to spread apart. The fungus also affects the ant's central nervous system. The scientists observed that, while normal worker ants rarely left the trail, zombie ants walked in a random manner, unable to find their way home. The ants also suffered convulsions, which caused them to fall to the ground. Once on the ground, the ants were unable to find their way back to the canopy and remained at the lower, leafy understory area which, at about 9 or 10 inches (25 cm) above the soil, was cooler and moister than the canopy, provided ideal conditions for the fungus to thrive.
The scientists found that at solar noon, when the Sun is at its strongest, the fungus synchronised ant behavior, forcing infected ants to bite the main vein on the underside of a leaf. The multiplying fungal cells in the ant's head cause fibres within the muscles that open and close the ant's mandibles to become detached, causing "lock jaw," which makes an infected ant unable to release the leaf, even after death. A few days later, the fungus grows through the ant's head a fruiting body, a stroma, which releases spores to be picked up by another wandering ant.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
As the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the 14th Dalai Lama says he practices compassion to such an extent that he tries to avoid swatting mosquitoes "when my mood is good and there is no danger of malaria," sometimes watching with interest as they swell with his blood.
Yet, in an appearance Tuesday at USC, he appeared to suggest that the United States was justified in killing Osama bin Laden.
As a human being, Bin Laden may have deserved compassion and even forgiveness, the Dalai Lama said in answer to a question about the assassination of the Al Qaeda leader. But, he said, "Forgiveness doesn't mean forget what happened. … If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures."
US INTELLIGENCE officers have discovered unpublished statements from Osama bin Laden amid “a treasure trove” of computer hard drives, CDs, DVDs and papers seized from his safe house in Pakistan, an American government official claimed yesterday.
They believe they may also have found communications between al-Qaeda lieutenants and bin Laden which could reveal information about potential targets, strategic guidance of the terror network, and the whereabouts of its leadership and operatives.
US Navy Seals who raided the Abbottabad compound on Sunday and shot bin Laden and two others dead took away a range of “removable media” such as computer disks. The US government believes some of the hardware could have been used to get messages to and from bin Laden in the absence of an internet or phone link to the hideaway, a two-hour drive from Islamabad, the official said.
White House counter-terrorism chief John Brennan, in a briefing yesterday, said: “What we’re most interested in is seeing if we can get any insight into any terrorist plot that might be under way so that we can take the measures to stop any type of attack planning. Secondly, we’re trying to look and see whether or not there are leads to other individuals within the organisation, or insights into their capabilities.”
An urgent priority will be to find any evidence of attacks which bin Laden might have ordered in the event of his death, according to British sources familiar with the find. “The data could also help to clarify just how candid the Pakistanis have been about the knowledge of his movements,” a UK source said.
Another central question which the cache may help answer is the whereabouts of Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, and the extent to which bin Laden continued to communicate with the outside world on both strategy and operations.
The US official familiar with the intelligence operation stressed the process of analysing documents was at an early stage, and would not say yet whether the bin Laden statements found were written or recorded on audio or video, or how recent they were – except to say they had not been seen before.
Video taken after the raid inside the house appeared to show broken computers in one room which had been stripped of hard drives. The discovery of the cache is being treated as a coup in intelligence circles, which could prove to be a vital reference document on al-Qaeda for years to come.
It is understood British computer forensics experts are on standby to help sift through what one US official described to the US Politico.com news website as “the motherlode of intelligence”.
Pakistan's prime minister says spy agencies worldwide share the blame for his country's failure to capture Osama Bin Laden, who was killed by US forces.
"We have intelligence failure of the rest of the world including the United States," PM Yousuf Raza Gilani said.
Pakistan has been criticised for not locating Bin Laden, who was living near the country's main military academy.
The CIA head has said the US did not tell Islamabad of the raid in advance, for fear it would be jeopardised.
[...] Speaking to reporters during a visit to Paris on Wednesday, Mr Gilani said: "There is intelligence failure of the whole world, not Pakistan alone."
He added that Pakistan needed "the support of the entire world" to combat militants.
"We are fighting and paying a heavy price," he said, adding that his government was "fighting not only for Pakistan but for the peace, prosperity and progress of the whole world".
Earlier his foreign minister questioned the suggestion by CIA Director Leon Panetta that Pakistan could not be trusted with details of the operation.
Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir told the BBC that this view was "disquieting" and his country had a "pivotal role" in tackling terrorism.
He said the compound in Abbottabad where Bin Laden was shot dead had been identified as suspicious some time ago by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
But it took the greater resources of the CIA to determine that it was the al-Qaeda leader's hiding place.
[...] The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Abbottabad says that if Bin Laden had been there for as long as five years, it raises questions about the Pakistani authorities.
Either they were incredibly incompetent or were harbouring the al-Qaeda leader, our correspondent says.
A rights group has published satellite images of what it says are North Korea's political prison camps, saying they appear to be growing in size.
In a linked report, Amnesty International also provides new witness testimony to shed light on the conditions in the camps.
The document details accounts of torture, starvation and mass executions of political inmates.
Amnesty has urged the secretive state to immediately close all the camps.
It also calls on Pyongyang to publicly admit the existence of the camps.
The North Korean government - which has denied the existence of mass political prison camps - has not publicly commented on the report's findings.
The new images show four of the six camps occupying huge areas of land in vast wilderness sites in the provinces of South Pyongan, South Hamkyung and North Hamkyung, Amnesty says.
A comparison of the latest pictures with satellite imagery from 2001 indicates "a significant increase in the scale of the camps", it adds.
"These are places out of sight of the rest of the world, where almost the entire range of human rights protections that international law has tried to set up for the last 60 years are ignored," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty's Asia Pacific director.
"As North Korea seems to be moving towards a new leader in Kim Jong-un and a period of political instability, the big worry is that the prison camps appear to be growing in size."
Amnesty says its report is also based on testimony from 15 former inmates and prison guards and a number of other people.
The former prisoners at one camp at Yodok said they were forced to work in conditions approaching slavery and were frequently subjected to torture and inhumane treatment.
Kim, a former prisoner in Kwanliso 15 at Yodok, says: "Everyone in Kwanliso witnessed executions. All those who tried to escape were caught. They were interrogated for two to three months and then executed."
Amnesty also says it has been told of several accounts of people in the camps eating rats or picking corn kernels out of animal waste purely to survive amid severe food shortages.
Dr. Don Huber did not seek fame when he quietly penned a confidential letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in January of this year, warning Vilsack of preliminary evidence of a microscopic organism that appears in high concentrations in genetically modified Roundup Ready corn and soybeans and "appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals and probably human beings." Huber, a retired Purdue University professor of plant pathology and U.S. Army colonel, requested the USDA's help in researching the matter and suggested Vilsack wait until the research was concluded before deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa. But about a month after it was sent, the letter was leaked, soon becoming an internet phenomenon.
Huber was unavailable to respond to media inquiries in the weeks following the leak, and thus unable to defend himself when several colleagues from Purdue publicly claiming to refute his accusations about Monsanto's widely used herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) and Roundup Ready crops. When his letter was finally acknowledged by the mainstream media, it was with titles like "Scientists Question Claims in Biotech Letter," noting that the letter's popularity on the internet "has raised concern among scientists that the public will believe his unsupported claim is true."
Now, Huber has finally spoken out, both in a second letter, sent to "a wide number of individuals worldwide" to explain and back up his claims from his first letter, and in interviews. While his first letter described research that was not yet complete or published, his second letter cited much more evidence about glyphosate and genetically engineered crops based on studies that have already been published in peer-reviewed journals.
The basis of both letters and much of the research is the herbicide glyphosate. First commercialized in 1974, glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world and has been for some time. Glyphosate has long been considered a relatively benign product, because it was thought to break down quickly in the environment and harm little other than the weeds it was supposed to kill.
According to the National Pesticide Information Center, glyphosate prevents plants from making a certain enzyme. Without the enzyme, they are unable to make three essential amino acids, and thus, unable to survive. Once applied, glyphosate either binds to soil particles (and is thus immobilized so it can no longer harm plants) or microorganisms break it down into ammonium and carbon dioxide. Very little glyphosate runs off into waterways. For these reasons, glyphosate has been thought of as more or less harmless: you spray the weeds, they die, the glyphosate goes away, and nothing else in the environment is harmed.
But Huber says this is not true. First of all, he points out, evidence began to emerge in the 1980s that "what glyphosate does is, essentially, give a plant AIDS." Just like AIDS, which cripples a human's immune system, glyphosate makes plants unable to mount a defense against pathogens in the soil. Without its defense mechanisms functioning, the plants succumb to pathogens in the soil and die. Furthermore, glyphosate has an impact on microorganisms in the soil, helping some and hurting others. This is potentially problematic for farmers, as the last thing one would want is a buildup of pathogens in the soil where they grow crops.
Friday, April 29, 2011
Karaoke Kills: Karaoke killer gets 54 years to life.
Karaoke Kills: Neighborhood pulls together to reject restaurant's request for karaoke license.
Awesome: Scott Pilgrim finally comes to Japan.
On Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court sided with AT&T in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion -- a decision with devastating consequences for consumer protection and civil rights. In essence, AT&T asked the court to allow it to use the fine print of contracts to eliminate class actions, a practice that flouts the laws of 20 states. In a 5-4 decision, the court granted AT&T's request.
The case's potential impact is breathtaking. Corporations can now prevent consumers and small business owners from exercising what is often their only real option for challenging companies that defraud them by millions or even billions of dollars: banding together to file class action lawsuits. The case could be equally devastating to millions of non-union employees, who need class actions to challenge systemic discrimination by their employers. The Supreme Court has given major corporations the green light to engage in nearly limitless wrongdoing against others, so long as they do it in relatively small dollar amounts, which ensures that no one can afford to challenge the misconduct without a class action.
A sudden demise of class actions will shock the markets and the legal system. It will dramatically increase the market power of major corporations over ordinary Americans and small business owners, who are already outmatched. Innumerable laws that protect the public will become irrelevant because few people can enforce them.
Yet for all these far-reaching implications, AT&T's achievement is remarkably ordinary. The company has secured a state of lawlessness similar to the one that allowed banks to foreclose on millions of homeowners without showing evidence that they had the right to do so. It has achieved a deregulatory regime similar to those that tanked the economy and destroyed millions of jobs, devastated the Gulf of Mexico with oil, allow thousands of preventable workplace deaths every year and threaten untold upheaval through climate change. Like the big banks, the oil and coal companies and the mine operators, AT&T simply wants to write its own rules. It's doing just that, through a practice that has become so ordinary we hardly notice the absurdity and injustice anymore: writing one-sided contracts and imposing them on others.
Why corporations are permitted to do anything important through standard-form contracts is somewhat of a mystery. Companies hire armies of lawyers to draft and redraft these contracts, claiming every new advantage they can wring out of legal developments. They secure "consent" by holding our credit cards or cell phones for ransom, saying we must submit to the new terms or immediately stop using them. Some companies even do this with people's jobs, telling employees they must sign new contracts or be fired (never mind that contract law is supposed to be based on mutual consent).
The average American is deluged with hundreds of thousands of fine-print words each year that no one reads and no one understands -- but that everyone is bound by. Avoiding these contracts is impossible unless one eschews most consumer products and services. Courts uphold adhesion contracts with a breeziness that is astonishing, especially since judges themselves don't read the fine print (John Roberts, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, has said he doesn't read it). The effect is nothing short of privatization of the law, with major corporations writing the rules and imposing them on the rest of us.
If recent crises have taught us anything, it's that disaster follows quickly when companies have too little oversight. AT&T is pushing the outer limits of deregulation, seeking a world in which companies can use one-sided contracts to grant themselves immunity from accountability for a vast range of wrongdoing. Concepcion represents a giant leap toward a dystopian legal system that the Supreme Court should have rejected out of hand -- lawlessness for major corporations and corporate-made law for the rest of us.
But the Court rubber-stamped AT&T's scheme, so we need the Congress and administrative agencies to protect us. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act gives the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) the authority to eliminate abuses like AT&T's within their jurisdictions. The CFPB and SEC should get to work quickly. To solve the problem in every industry, not just financial services, Congress should pass the Arbitration Fairness Act, which Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) plan to introduce next week.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
A global health fund believes millions of dollars worth of its donated malaria drugs have been stolen in recent years, vastly exceeding the levels of theft previously suspected, according to confidential documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The internal investigation by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria comes two months into a new anti-corruption program that the fund launched after an AP report detailing fraud in their grants attracted intense scrutiny from donors.
In internal documents detailing drug thefts, officials identified 13 countries, mostly in Africa, where millions of dollars worth of malaria drugs have gone missing. According to the reports, drug theft in which donated drugs are sold on the black market "appears to be on the rise and (is) becoming increasingly sophisticated."
The reports were provided to the AP by an official with a different health organization, who did so on condition of anonymity because he was granted confidential access to the documents by a Global Fund staffer.
Global Fund spokesman Jon Liden confirmed the fund suspects $2.5 million worth of malaria drugs were stolen from Togo, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Swaziland and Cambodia, dating mainly from 2009 to 2011, but with some cases going further back. He said investigations are under way to determine how much more was stolen elsewhere.
"We take this very seriously and we will do what it takes to protect our investment," he said.
An AP report in January exposed high rates of misappropriated money in some Global Fund grants and bruised the reputation of the multibillion-dollar fund, backed by big names including Bono and Bill Gates and hailed as an alternative to the bureaucracy of the United Nations.
But the fact that these revelations have come to light at all may be due to stricter self-policing and greater transparency at the Global Fund, compared with other aid organizations.
Amphibian declines around the world have forced many species to the brink of extinction, are much more complex than realized and have multiple causes that are still not fully understood, researchers conclude in a new report.
The search for a single causative factor is often missing the larger picture, they said, and approaches to address the crisis may fail if they don't consider the totality of causes -- or could even make things worse.
No one issue can explain all of the population declines that are occurring at an unprecedented rate, and much faster in amphibians than most other animals, the scientists conclude in a study just published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
The amphibian declines are linked to natural forces such as competition, predation, reproduction and disease, as well as human-induced stresses such as habitat destruction, environmental contamination, invasive species and climate change, researchers said.
"An enormous rate of change has occurred in the last 100 years, and amphibians are not evolving fast enough to keep up with it," said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University and an international leader in the study of amphibian declines.
"We're now realizing that it's not just one thing, it's a whole range of things," Blaustein said.
"With a permeable skin and exposure to both aquatic and terrestrial problems, amphibians face a double whammy," he said. "Because of this, mammals, fish and birds have not experienced population impacts as severely as amphibians -- at least, not yet."
The totality of these changes leads these researchers to believe that Earth is now in a major extinction episode similar to five other mass extinction events in the planet's history. And amphibians are leading the field -- one estimate indicates they are disappearing at more than 200 times that of the average extinction rate.
Efforts to understand these events, especially in the study of amphibians, have often focused on one cause or another, such as fungal diseases, invasive species, an increase in ultraviolet radiation due to ozone depletion, pollution, global warming, and others. All of these and more play a role in the amphibian declines, but the scope of the crisis can only be understood from the perspective of many causes, often overlapping. And efforts that address only one cause risk failure or even compounding the problems, the researchers said.
"Given that many stressors are acting simultaneously on amphibians, we suggest that single-factor explanations for amphibian population declines are likely the exception rather than the rule," the researchers wrote in their report. "Studies focused on single causes may miss complex interrelationships involving multiple factors and indirect effects."
It's like a scene out of a sci-fi movie -- thousands, possibly millions, of king crabs are marching through icy, deep-sea waters and up the Antarctic slope.
"They are coming from the deep, somewhere between 6,000 to 9,000 feet down," said James McClintock, Ph.D., University of Alabama at Birmingham Endowed Professor of Polar and Marine Biology.
Shell-crushing crabs haven't been in Antarctica, Earth's southernmost continent, for hundreds or thousands, if not millions, of years, McClintock said. "They have trouble regulating magnesium ions in their body fluids and get kind of drunk at low temperatures."
But something has changed, and these crustaceans are poised to move by the droves up the slope and onto the shelf that surrounds Antarctica. McClintock and other marine researchers interested in the continent are sounding alarms because the vulnerable ecosystem could be wiped out, he said.
Antarctic clams, snails and brittle stars, because of adaptation to their environment, have soft shells and have never had to fight shell-crushing predators. "You can take an Antarctic clam and crush it with your hands," McClintock said. They could be the main prey for these crabs, he said.
Loss of unique mollusks could jeopardize organisms with disease-fighting compounds, McClintock said. Sea squirts, for example, produce an agent that fights skin cancer. If the crabs eat them, it could bring McClintock's research with that organism to a halt.
McClintock's chemical ecology program has published more than 100 papers on species researchers have discovered, including the compound that combats skin cancer and one to treat flu, that are being explored by drug companies.
"I am very concerned that species could disappear, and we could lose a cure to a disease," he said.
The credit card details of 77million PlayStation users could have been stolen during one of the largest Internet thefts in history, Sony admitted today.
The Japanese firm suffered a massive breach in its online video game network last week that allowed the names and addresses of the users to be stolen in a hacking attack that could cost the company billions.
Access to the PlayStation network was suspended last Wednesday, but the company only revealed the true extent of the data breach today.
A post on a Sony blog said hackers obtained user names, passwords, logins, security questions and, potentially, credit card numbers.
The online network that allows PlayStation owners to play video games against one another was shut immediately after the hacking was discovered on April 19.
A spokesman said it took 'several days of forensic investigation' after learning of the breach before the company knew consumers' data had been compromised.
Sony announced the details of the breach hours after the glitzy launch of a new tablet PC yesterday - and users reacted furiously after Sony made its hacking announcement in a low-key manner on a company blog.
One said: 'If you have compromised my credit information, you will never receive it again. The fact that you've waited this long to divulge this information to your customers is deplorable. Shame on you.'
The greater Pittsburgh area has been contending with a very annoying ninja infestation lately. If you've ever had a ninja problem yourself, you know that they're really hard to get rid of, and if you see one, you can be sure there's hundreds more where he came from.
The most recent outbreak occurred when a sword-wielding ninja was spotted breaking into eleven cars by a man named Santino Guzzo. When Guzzo confronted him, the ninja "tried to stab him." Guzzo was packing heat, however, and drew his gun. That sent the ninja running off into the cover of darkness, yet he still somehow managed to "break the rear window of Guzzo's car as he ran off."
[...] Less than two weeks prior, Ross Hurst, a resident of Scottdale (less than hour south of Pittsburgh), had left his four-year-old son sleeping alone at home — when police picked him up at 1:30 am allegedly "pretending to be a ninja."
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Engineers are teaching computers how to feel ‘regret’ so they will operate much faster and predict events before they happen.
Researchers are developing programmes which will ask computers to try and do something only for them to be deliberately thwarted.
By understanding the difference between the desired outcome and the reality, the machines will learn a sense of ‘regret’ and how to minimise it.
Computers which experience this will be less likely to make the same mistake in the future and will run more efficiently.
It could also teach them to predict the future - by considering all possible outcomes, they work out which is the most likely to succeed before they even start.
The researchers behind the project admit that it is not quite on a par with artificial intelligence depicted in science-fiction films.
Instead, they say that it is a first step on the way to creating computers which could one day have human emotions.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Humpback whales have their own version of the hit single, according to a study reported online on April 14th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication. At any given time within a population, male humpbacks all sing the same mating tune. But the pattern of the song changes over time, with the new and apparently catchy versions of the song spreading repeatedly across the ocean, almost always traveling from west to east.
"Our findings reveal cultural change on a vast scale," said Ellen Garland, a graduate student at The University of Queensland. Multiple songs moved like "cultural ripples from one population to another, causing all males to change their song to a new version." This is the first time that such broad-scale and population-wide cultural exchange has been documented in any species other than humans, she added.
Researchers from The University of Queensland in collaboration with members of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium made the discovery by searching for patterns in whale songs recorded from six neighboring populations in the Pacific Ocean over a decade. This revealed a striking pattern of cultural transmission as whale songs spread from Australia to French Polynesia over the course of about two years.
"The songs started in the population that migrates along the eastern coast of Australia and then moved—just the songs, and probably not the whales—all the way to French Polynesia in the east," Garland said. "Songs were first learnt from males in the west and then subsequently learned in a stepwise fashion repeatedly across the vast region."
In fact, only one song ever moved to the west over the period of the study. Garland explained that the almost exclusive movement of songs to the east may be due to population size differences, because the population on the east coast of Australia is very large compared to all others in the area. The researchers suspect that either a small number of males move to other populations, taking their songs with them, or whales in nearby populations hear the new songs while they swim together on migration.
Most of the time, songs contain some material from the previous year blended with something new. "It would be like splicing an old Beatles song with U2," Garland said. "Occasionally they completely throw the current song out the window and start singing a brand new song."
Once a new song emerges, all the males seem to rapidly change their tune. Those songs generally rise to the "top of the chart" in the course of one breeding season and typically take over by the end of it.
Garland said it is not yet known why the humpbacks' songs spread in this way. In fact, why whales sing in the first place isn't fully known. Song is likely a mating display, but it is unclear whether the main effect is to attract females or to repel rival males.
Still, Garland suspects that the whales may want to stand out like a new pop song. "We think this male quest for song novelty is in the hope of being that little bit different and perhaps more attractive to the opposite sex," she said. "This is then countered by the urge to sing the same tune, by the need to conform."
Cuba is facing its worst drought in half a century, with tens of thousands of families almost entirely reliant on water trucks for essential supplies.
The drought started two years ago, and reservoirs are now down to a fifth of their normal levels.
The government is providing road deliveries of water to more than 100,000 people in the worst affected areas of the capital, Havana.
The situation in Havana is compounded by a pipe network in poor condition.
The state-run newspaper Granma says up to 70% of water pipes supplying the capital are leaking and in urgent need of repair, the BBC's Michael Voss in Havana says.
Residents are having to use buckets and bottles to fill up with water from the road deliveries.
"It's completely out of control," one resident, Ana Gomez, said. "Just imagine that you can't wash when you want to, you have to wash when you are able to."
Another, Enrique Olivera Gonzalez, said: "As there is no water, you can't wash your clothes, cook, or clean your house."
Cubans are hoping the rainy season in May and June will bring some respite.
But even a normal rainfall will not be enough to fill up the reservoirs, our correspondent says.
Duh: Civic group finds the LIRR is the least efficient commuter railroad in the nation.
Health: India emerges as world's leading vaccine producer.
Duh: US Senate probe finds Goldman Sachs knowingly misled and fleeced their investors.
Booze: Cheap wine as good as expensive wine in blind taste tests.
Monday, April 11, 2011
In the spring of 1930, a biologist named Israel Aharoni ventured into Syria on a mission. He was searching for a rare golden mammal.
Its name in Arabic translates roughly as "Mr. Saddlebags." Thanks to Aharoni, the little rodent with the big cheeks can now be found in many grade-school classrooms, running on a little wheel in a little cage.
That's right. Aharoni's big find was the hamster.
Of course, Aharoni didn't set out looking for a schoolchild's pet, biologist Rob Dunn tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. Dunn, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, wrote about the hamster's discovery in a recent article on Smithsonian.com.
One of Aharoni's colleagues, Saul Adler, thought the animal might be similar enough to humans to use for medical research. "Aharoni saw this as a chance to both to discover this organism in the wild and to bring them back to Adler so he could make major discoveries about humans," Dunn says.
Following tips from local farmers, Aharoni tracked down a litter of 11 hamsters in a Syrian wheat field. He put the little family in a box, and trouble started immediately when mama hamster ate one of her babies.
More troubles followed in the lab. There was more hamster cannibalism, and five others escaped from their cage — never to be found. Finally, two of the remaining three hamsters started to breed, an event hailed as a miracle by their frustrated caretakers.
Those Adam-and-Eve hamsters produced 150 offspring, Dunn says, and they started to travel abroad, sent between labs or via the occasional coat pocket. Today, the hamsters you see in pet stores are most likely descendants of Aharoni's litter.
A major new study has found that nitrogen pollution is costing each person in Europe around £130 - £650 (€150 – €740) a year. The first European Nitrogen Assessment (ENA) is launched at a conference today (11 April) in Edinburgh, Scotland. The 4 minute long official launch video can be watched on Youtube.
The study, carried out by 200 experts from 21 countries and 89 organizations, estimates that the annual cost of damage caused by nitrogen across Europe is £60 - £280 billion (€70 - €320 billion), more than double the extra income gained from using nitrogen fertilizers in European agriculture.
Professor Bob Watson, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), welcomed the report. He said, "The assessment emphasizes how nitrogen links the different environmental issues that we have come to know so well: climate, biodiversity, air, water, and soil pollution. It develops the vision for a more holistic approach, which is vital if we are to make progress in tackling these issues."
The ENA (available to download here) is the first time that the multiple threats of nitrogen pollution, including contributions to climate change and biodiversity loss, have been valued in economic terms at a continental scale. As well as identifying key threats the assessment also identifies the geographical areas at greatest risk of damage by nitrogen pollution. The report provides EU policymakers with a comprehensive scientific assessment on the consequences of failing to address the problem of nitrogen pollution – and outlines key actions that can be taken to reduce the problem to protect environmental and public health.
The assessment deals with ‘reactive nitrogen’ which includes ammonia, nitrous oxide (laughing gas), nitrogen oxides (NOx) which form acid rain and smog, and nitrates, as distinct from the ‘inert nitrogen’ which makes up 78% of the atmosphere.
Key messages from the assessment include:
- At least ten million people in Europe are potentially exposed to drinking water with nitrate concentrations above recommended levels.
- Nitrates cause toxic algal blooms and dead zones in the sea, especially in the North, Adriatic and Baltic seas and along the coast of Brittany.
- Nitrogen-based air pollution from agriculture, industry and traffic in urban areas contributes to particulate matter air pollution, which is reducing life expectancy by several months across much of central Europe.
- In the forests atmospheric nitrogen deposition has caused at least 10% loss of plant diversity over two-thirds of Europe.
The lead editor of the ENA, Dr Mark Sutton from the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said, “Nearly half the world’s population depends on synthetic, nitrogen-based fertilizer for food but measures are needed to reduce the impacts of nitrogen pollution. Solutions include more efficient use of fertilizers and manures, and people choosing to eat less meat. We have the know-how to reduce nitrogen pollution, but what we need now is to apply these solutions throughout Europe in an integrated way.”