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Archive for January 2009

Must Libraries test books for lead content – or just ban children?

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“Put on your rubber gloves!”
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Librarians across the United States are making noise about new federal restrictions on lead that could take books out of the hands of children. Children’s books are covered by federal regulations on lead in items made for children.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission Improvement Act requires all products, including books intended for children younger than 12, to meet new standards calling for lower lead content…Paper, ink, covers and glues would need to pass lead content standards.

“While we understand the process the CPSC must carry out in order to ensure this law is properly enforced and that the safety of our nation’s children is protected, we believe the commission is wasting time and resources by zeroing in on book publishers and libraries,” said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association Washington office.

“It is our hope that this matter will be resolved soon, so that libraries can continue their efforts to serve children without the threat of closing their doors.”

Well, the CPSC postponed a lot of the crap regulations. This could give politicians a chance to write sensible legislation. What are the odds of that happening?

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Written by Ed Campbell

January 31, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Man killed family, shoveled driveway, emailed father-in-law…

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Then he shot himself.

A Whitehall man found dead along with his wife and two children Wednesday already had shot his family when neighbors saw him shoveling his driveway that morning, police said.

“I saw him around 11 a.m. and he seemed fine,” neighbor Stephanie Grunkemeyer, 37, said. “I’m shocked. They’re just your normal family. We didn’t hear anything until the police arrived…”

Forty minutes after neighbors say they saw Meeks clearing snow, he sent a three-paragraph e-mail to his father-in-law, Jim Dallas, 73, of Westerville.

“In the e-mail he didn’t come out and say what he was going to do,” Brown said. “But the information would lead the reader to believe that something was going to happen in the home or had happened.”

Dallas didn’t open the e-mail until shortly before 2 p.m., at which point he called the police and asked them to check on the well-being of the family, Brown said.

Officers found Meeks and his wife dead on the floor of the master bedroom in their ranch-style home at 918 Beechwood Rd. The children, who were home from Etna Road Elementary for a snow day, were found dead in their beds.

“We would like to believe that the children were asleep,” Brown said. “But we’ll really never know.”

Sad enough, alienated enough to have been written by Camus. The saddest kind of suicide is always the demented fool who decides he’s “taking his family with him” – to nowhere.

Written by Ed Campbell

January 31, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Culture, Earth

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Smithsonian Wants Aretha’s Hat, But Don’t We All?

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There’s just something about that hat.

The famous hat that Aretha Franklin wore to Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration is now of interest to The Smithsonian Institution.

The Smithsonian Institution has asked Franklin if she would donate the now iconic inaugural hat to the museum to become apart of an exhibit dedicated to Obama’s inauguration.

“I am considering it. It would be hard to part with my chapeau since it was such a crowning moment in history,” said Franklin. “I would like to smile every time I look back at it and remember what a great moment it was in American and African-American history.

I like the hat. I like Aretha Franklin. An AJC reader remarked, “”I bought a hat like Aretha had on Tuesday, and wear it around the house. I swear my TV reception is better!”

Written by K B

January 31, 2009 at 4:00 pm

How garlic gets to be good for you

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Daylife/AFP/Getty Images

It was widely believed that the organic compound, allicin – which gives the pungent vegetable its aroma and flavour – acts as an antioxidant. But until now it hasn’t been clear how allicin works, or how it stacks up compared to more common antioxidants such as Vitamin E and coenzyme Q10, which stop the damaging effects of radicals.

We didn’t understand how garlic could contain such an efficient antioxidant, since it didn’t have a substantial amount of the types of compounds usually responsible for high antioxidant activity in plants, such as the flavanoids found in green tea or grapes,” says Dr. Derek Pratt. “If allicin was indeed responsible for this activity in garlic, we wanted to find out how it worked.”

The research team questioned the ability of allicin to trap damaging radicals so effectively, and considered the possibility that a decomposition product of allicin may instead be responsible. Through experiments with synthetically-produced allicin, they found that sulfenic acid produced when the compound decomposes rapidly reacts with radicals.

“While garlic has been used as a herbal medicine for centuries and there are many garlic supplements on the market, until now there has been no convincing explanation as to why it is beneficial,” says Dr. Pratt. “I think we have taken the first step in uncovering a fundamental chemical mechanism which may explain garlic’s medicinal benefits.”

Interesting to learn that a variable like the rate of decomp governs the production of sulfenic acid. Raises questions about imparting a similar mechanism to other alliums? We’re getting to where genomics has such capabilities.

Written by Ed Campbell

January 31, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Health, Science

Tagged with , , , ,

National Buy a Newspaper Day – WTF?

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buynewspaper

As the economy continues to deteriorate, one of the industries that is going to be most severely affected is the American newspaper industry.

The fact of the matter is that the biggest chains are deeply in debt. Major cities that have had at least two daily newspapers for more than a century, such as Chicago and Seattle, might soon find themselves with only one source of news. Other papers, such as those in Detroit are no longer providing daily home delivery. If things get really bad, some experts say that some small towns might not have any paper by 2010.

And that’s a shame. Unlike radio which has become dominated by opinion or TV news which only looks for the 30 second sound bite, the local newspaper digs deep every day to get you, the reader, the full story on what’s happening in your town.

The newspaper is heavily focused on local news. It keeps you informed about events in your town and keeps local government in-line.

So for one day, Monday, Feb. 2, 2009, please make it a point to pick up your local newspaper (reading it online doesn’t count).

We’ve had no shortage of discussion about the incompetence of American newspapers – especially when it comes to living on the Web, competing with what’s new on the Web. That graphic up top is from my own local newspaper. One of the oldest locally-owned papers in the country – and just as backwards as the rest.

They hired a few great folks to build a web presence. They succeeded well – award winners on an annual basis for what they produced. So, when times started to get tough – and the newspaper’s owners had borrowed millions to expand the print side of the NEW MEXICAN – they decided to cut expenses exactly like the big boys at the Tribune Group. They fired talent – including the original staff who had built the online edition to the best in the region.

I’m not going into lots of detail. I still have home delivery of the Sunday edition. I drop by the online site a couple times a week just to bust balls on a few local reactionaries. I’ve ended all other participation in their online projects.

As far as I can see, these hard times plus the general decline of print vs online news presents an opportunity. Journalism can be learned. Site development gets easier by the day. News gathering is the crux of the question; but, I’m certain our local, big and little newspapers will be making more talent available for that task. Looks like time to start a local online newspaper.

Written by Ed Campbell

January 31, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Business, Culture, Geek

Tagged with , , , ,

Darwin Award: Man flees courtroom, drowns in river

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Seconds after a Broward circuit judge ordered John Ross to jail Friday morning, he escaped the courtroom, evaded deputies, jumped into Fort Lauderdale’s New River and drowned.

The 29-year-old’s body was recovered by Fort Lauderdale police Friday afternoon and taken to the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office…

Dorothy Springer, Ross’ mother, said her son had no idea he was going to be ordered into custody when he arrived in court.

He was under the impression that everything was going to be dropped,” she said.

Ross had been arrested for a June incident in which he was charged with aggravated battery with a firearm. The judge said he violated his bond terms when he was caught with cocaine and charged with intending to distribute.

Ross raced down seven flights of stairs, stripped off his polo shirt, went out the courthouse’s back exit and across Southeast Third Avenue. He jumped onto the deck of a yacht, then springboarded into the river.

Ryan Fitzgerald [from the yacht] grabbed a life preserver to try and aide Ross, then ran along a brick path on the river’s south side. Trailing behind Ross were two deputies from the Broward Sheriff’s Office who jumped into the water to try to pull him out.

Hours later, Fort Lauderdale police recovered his body.

The Darwin Award aside, he saved the state of Florida some money, as well.

Written by Ed Campbell

January 31, 2009 at 10:00 am

Hubble’s Next Discovery — You Decide

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hubblechoose

Hubble’s Next Discovery — You Decide” is part of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s observations. People around the world can vote to select the next object the Hubble Space Telescope will view. Choose from a list of objects Hubble has never observed before and enter a drawing for one of 100 new Hubble pictures of the winning object. The winning image will be released between April 2 and 5, during the IYA’s 100 Hours of Astronomy, a global astronomy event geared toward encouraging as many people as possible to experience the night sky. Vote by March 1 to swing Hubble toward your favorite target.

The Hubble site is one of my favorites – as are their video podcasts at iTunes. The contest is a gas [primordial or otherwise] – so, get on board.

Written by Ed Campbell

January 31, 2009 at 8:00 am

Posted in Personal, Science

Tagged with , , , ,

Six-year-olds fingerprinted by Brits. Terror suspects?

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Two months ago, the UK Borders Agency began fingerprinting foreign children over six years old, from outside the European Economic Area and resident in Britain. At the time Jacqui Smith was congratulated for her tough line on issuing identity cards to foreign residents and no one, not even parliament, noticed that the biometric requirements applied to children of six. And parliament didn’t know because it was never asked to approve the policy.

When asked why – the Home Office itself offers a solid defence: that the EU requires it. What it does not admit is that the British government is almost alone in pushing the EU to ensure that the age when fingerprinting can start is so low. Home Office officials pushed the EU to establish a standard age of six, despite opposition within other European governments. The next time you hear a government official support the EU, it is not just because it is a vehicle for “peace, prosperity and freedom”, but also because it is a vehicle to push through policies that the UK government would prefer not to pursue through the legislature at home.

The Bush administration rejected the contemplation of fingerprinting children, even within the controversial US-VISIT program that fingerprints visitors to the United States. The Department of Homeland Security is prohibited from fingerprinting children under 14, though it may well consider lowering it…

The British government is surveillance happy they will fight tooth-and-nail to keep the elected portion of the Establishment from ever having a say on what is done in the nation’s name. As Gus Hosein concludes, “Just as Britons are powerless at the border of another country, they are also powerless within their own country.”

Written by Ed Campbell

January 31, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in Politics

Tagged with , , , ,

Nude hikers will face fines in Switzerland

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Naked alpine ramblers have been warned to keep their clothes on this spring or face fines under new legislation introduced by Swiss authorities intended to clamp down on a growing pastime. The Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden has said it will slap fines of 200 francs on holidaymakers going naked in the Alps.

“We were forced to introduce the legislation against this indecent practice before the warm weather starts,” said Melchior Looser, the justice and police minister of the canton.

He said that until now the naturist walkers – sometimes referred to as “boot-only hikers” – had been free to wander naked because there was no law to prevent them from doing so. The new law is expected to come into force on 9 February in time for the start of the hiking season.

According to one naked hiker website, nacktwandern.de, the trend goes back to the start of the 20th century and has much to do with the new access it gives people to nature.

Abandoning unpractical clothes enables a direct contact with the wind, sun and temperature“, the site said. Some hikers even abandon footwear.

A 58-year-old German lawyer and naked hiker called Dietmar, who declined to give his last name, said he was sad to hear of the Swiss changes. “We simply try to tune into nature,” he said. “It’s the most harmless pursuit possible.”

There really is nothing new about this. Just some reactionary stiffs worried about grabbing enough Euros from people without pockets.

I occasionally bumped into groups or individuals hiking in the altogether in the Alps during my first trips to the region back in the 1970′s. Thought it made enough sense so that friends and I often adopted the same style in the Catskills and Adirondacks. No one ever had trouble with anything more than flies and other stinging critters.

Written by Ed Campbell

January 31, 2009 at 2:00 am

Posted in Culture, Earth

Tagged with , , , , ,

Who delivers the cash to the pirates? And who else profits?

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Piracy off the coast of Somalia is big business. Last year alone pirate gangs were paid an estimated £35m from holding scores of ships and hundreds of crew members to ransom.

Securing their release is the responsibility of a hidden mini-industry of lawyers, negotiators and security teams based nearly 7,000km (4,200 miles) away, in London, UK, the business capital of the world’s maritime industry…

When a ship’s owner discovers one of their fleet has been hijacked, the first port of call for them is normally to a lawyer like Stephen Askins, whose firm is one of the few that deals with kidnaps and ransoms at sea.

“We would expect to be called early,” says Mr Askins. “And how you then deal with the negotiations will be a team decision…”People will do it in different ways,” says Mr Askins, “but at the end of the day it’s somebody from the owner’s side talking to someone from the pirate’s side, negotiating their way to a final settlement.”

No two kidnaps are the same but the proliferation of attacks off the coast of Somalia in the past year means a pattern has been established where the pirates see it as a business. They may be armed and dangerous but, Mr Askins says, money is their chief motivation.

“They are negotiating for money, therefore anybody who has been on holiday and has tried to bargain with an Egyptian [market trader] for a carpet will understand how difficult it is to negotiate a conclusion. But we don’t have the option of walking away, we have got to keep negotiating.”

Somali piracy is different. Paying a ransom is not illegal under British law, unless it’s to terrorists. And while governments have failed to clamp down to hijackings, a precedent of paying up has been established. So, as soon as pirates set foot on a ship they know pay day is only a matter of time.

The going ransom rate is $1m-$2m, but getting to a final figure is like a “tense boardroom negotiation” he says…

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Written by Ed Campbell

January 30, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Posted in Business, Crime

Tagged with , , , , ,

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