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Archive for April 2011

Cockroach infestation in Orlando, Florida schools

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Inspectors have found infestations of German cockroaches in or near the cafeterias or kitchens of 22 Orange County public schools.

Students at many of the schools are eating cold lunches prepared in a central kitchen while the facilities are cleaned and debugged. While the cafeterias are closed, students at 12 of the schools have been eating under outdoor tents or in their classroom, said district spokeswoman Kathy Marsh…

Unacceptable” levels of bugs at 22 schools were found during nighttime inspections of all 188 Orange schools Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Most infestations were in the kitchen, the cafeteria or both, but a few schools had bugs in a storage room or bathrooms near the cafeteria…

The school district began the inspections after WKMG-Channel 6 in Orlando took administrators an undercover video of cockroaches at Pineloch Elementary. Principals began sending Connect Orange messages about the bugs to parents his week. Rock Springs Elementary had to postpone its sock-hop dance so the cafeteria could be debugged.

Admittedly, critters like this are always tough to deal with completely and successfully in southern climates. It’s their natural turf. But – still – it ain’t impossible, folks.

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Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Drug gangs “self-rule” Mexican prisons

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SALTILLO, Mexico — The Zetas have the run of the prison in this industrial city 190 miles southwest of Lardeo, Texas, in what is known as autogobierno or self-rule. It dates back decades and forms of it exist in correctional facilities the world over.

But self-rule has become more of a problem in Mexico recently as prison populations swell with suspects detained in the ongoing crackdown on organized crime and the country’s drug cartels seize power behind bars.

The most recent prison report from the National Human Rights Commission shows self-rule on the rise. Drug cartels and their affiliated gangs are among those increasingly seizing control, say prison observers…

Security experts such as Vicente Sánchez, professor at the College of the Northern Border in Tijuana, say self-rule exists mostly in state-level facilities. It took hold over the past four decades due to corruption, neglect and underfunding, he says, as prison mafias got involved in everything from peddling drugs to charging for the right to sleep on bunks.

It’s an expression of the enormous corruption that there is in these kinds of public security fields,” he says.

David Ordaz, investigator at the National Criminal Sciences Institute, of the Attorney General’s Office says the cartels want to maintain their status and replicate power structures formed on the outside. Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, ombudsman for the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission in Ciudad Juarez, says that wardens have cut deals with prison mafias over the years – mafias now controlled by the cartels.

Self-rule, he says, “Means having total control over an inmate population,” along with “the ability to communicate with the outside without restrictions…”

Los Zetas…now operate stores and charge the inmates to use workshops. They even opened a strip joint that serves shots of whiskey under the Los Zetas brand.

Does anyone think the war on drug gangs will get anywhere when the rest of the corrupt infrastructure of Mexico remains untouched? Time in prison is spent resting up for the return to action.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Obama seeks end to oil industry subsidies

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President Barack Obama on Saturday kept pressure on the Congress to end tax breaks for oil and gas companies, saying they were enjoying huge profits, as he sought to limit political fallout from rising gasoline prices…

“When oil companies are making huge profits and you’re struggling at the pump, and we’re scouring the federal budget for spending we can afford to do without, these tax giveaways aren’t right,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. “They aren’t smart. And we need to end them.”

Oil companies posted sharply higher first-quarter earnings this week with oil prices above $100 a barrel on unrest in the Middle East and growing global demand for energy.

Leading the way, Exxon Mobil, the world’s most valuable publicly listed company, beat analysts’ forecasts by posting a 69 percent rise in earnings to $10.65 billion, its biggest profit since the third quarter of 2008.

Obama insisted he remained committed to “safe and responsible oil production here at home” but said the money from oil industry tax subsidies would be better invested in developing alternative energy sources…

There’s the usual CYA crap in the middle of the article offering up Republican rationales for their butts belonging to Big Oil. Read it if you like collecting ancient propaganda.

Obama has insisted there is no “magic bullet” for bringing down gas prices. But the White House is worried that if gas prices continue rising, the issue could drown out the economic recovery message at the heart of his re-election strategy.

There is no sanity to providing subsidies and tax breaks to the wealthiest corporations in the world. Obviously Republicans presume a kickback from the Oil Patch Boys to fund their 2012 electoral campaigns. That’s pretty much a given. And in states mostly beholden to fossil fuel profits both wings of the Tired Old Party, Democrats and Republicans alike will siphon funds from that deep dark fuel tank.

The only surprise in this process is the number of Americans willing to accept the same old lies, the same foolishness about helping our economy with trickle-down voodoo economics. The only time anything trickles down the legs of Oil Companies results from fear and trembling at the prospect of paying their own way.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Just in case you wonder how “Har!” made it into my vocabulary?

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There is nothing quite like a bit of spring sunshine for raising the spirits. It seems instantly to chase away the gloom that has descended during the dark winter days, and most of us will have been invigorated by this year’s Easter sunshine.

For those who live near the east coast, however, it was not a case of wall-to-wall sunshine. From time to time, there were unwelcome visits from an old friend, the haar

In Scotland, a haar is a kind of sea fog which creeps in from the North Sea to cover the area near the east coast when the rest of the country is basking in brilliant sunshine.

An east coast haar, pronounced like far, is a deeply depressing experience. It is not as if any warmth remains amidst the fog. Far from it. A haar is not only dark, dank and damp, but often so cold that it seems to penetrate your very bones. Those of us who live in haar country should be used to it by now, but it often catches us by surprise…

Sometimes the haar deals out even crueller treatment. We awake to rejoice in the brilliant sunshine – then the haar descends about mid-morning, just as we have assembled the picnic things and the beach umbrella. The sunshine that we were enjoying has been callously taken away from us…

The word haar originally referred to a cold easterly wind before it took on its cold fog meaning, and it is derived from a Low German and Middle Dutch word hare, meaning a biting cold wind. The biting cold part has stayed with us.

When I left the northeast coast of the United States – as my grandparents left the east coast of PEI – I discovered that a cold easterly wind, quite common in a New Mexico winter, often gives way to a clearing breeze from the northeast and eventually sunshine and warming. I have tempered what is a dour comment in my ethnic past with clear skies and sunlight – which is after all a sign of hope.

Har has become reasonably positive – with a remembrance of irony.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2011 at 10:00 am

Federal appeals court lifts ban on funding for stem cell research

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A federal court has given the Obama administration the go-ahead to continue funding embryonic stem cell research. The controversial 2-1 decision Friday is a victory for supporters of federally funded testing for a range of diseases and illnesses.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia lifted an injunction imposed last year by a federal judge, who said all embryonic stem cell research at the National Institutes of Health amounted to destruction of embryos, in violation of congressional spending laws.

Legislation passed in 1996 prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars in the creation or destruction of human embryos “for research purposes.” Private money had been used to gather batches of the developing cells at U.S.-run labs. The current administration had broken with the Bush White House and issued rules in 2009 permitting those cells to be reproduced in controlled conditions and for work on them to move forward…

Two scientists had brought a lawsuit to block further research. But the three-judge panel concluded in their 21-page ruling, “the plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail because Dickey-Wicker is ambiguous and the NIH seems reasonably to have concluded” that the law does not ban research using embryonic stem cells.

Yes, the Right Wing nutballs in this land can always find one or two researchers who are academically-qualified to support some crap ideology. While the course of science overall proceeds along the traditional conservative, cross-checked methods of investigation and validation that have always been root and cause of progress.

As long as we can assume a modicum of honesty in American jurisprudence there is the chance of sanity.

And then there is Congress. :(

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2011 at 6:00 am

The return of Clippy!

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If you remember “Clippy” — that googly-eyed paper clip that once hopped out of the corner of the computer screen to “help” with Microsoft Office tasks — chances are you don’t remember him fondly.

Many Office users cringed when the Microsoft cartoon delivered cheerily obvious messages like: “It looks like you’re writing a letter…”

Well, like it or not, Clippy is back.

But there’s good news: You don’t have to deal with him if you don’t want to.

After killing off the cartoon paper clip, Microsoft decided to revive him (I guess it’s a him?) in limited fashion as part of a learn-how-to-use-Office game called “Ribbon Hero 2: Clippy’s Second Chance.”

The game is just something you download to get better at using Office, if you want to. Clippy takes people through challenges in this game, but he doesn’t show up automatically in Word, PowerPoint or Microsoft’s other Office apps…

“Yes, we turned Office into a game! If you’re going to spend time immersed in the inner workings of Office, by golly it should be fun.

That’s about as much as I can take.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2011 at 2:00 am

Ruff Boy does good…

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Seventeen years old, now. Over 240,000 miles on Ruff Boy – he still does good by us. This is about the biggest load we ever stuffed into the box. We figure about 1800 lbs. in a half-ton truck, this afternoon. Phew!

Firewood for a piece of next winter.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 29, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Detroit airport Delta baggage handlers drug ring busted

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Federal agents toppled two separate drug rings today run by baggage handlers who allegedly imported marijuana and cocaine from Jamaica and Houston while working at Detroit Metro Airport.

Twelve people — including 10 baggage handlers — were arrested early today in an investigation dubbed “Operation Excess Baggage” and accused of exploiting weaknesses at several airports to run drug-smuggling pipelines since at least 2009.

Complaints filed in federal court in Detroit — where nine defendants were ordered held behind bars until at least Friday — describe intricate drug-smuggling rings that used crude tactics, an exotic locale and employee access to bypass security and transport hundreds of pounds of illegal drugs to Detroit’s streets…

The Jamaica case dates to January 2010 when a federal agent in Jamaica contacted another agent locally about the seizure of about 53 pounds of marijuana discovered inside a suitcase that was about to be placed on Northwest Airlines flight No. 2321 bound for Detroit.

The suitcase had a seemingly legitimate baggage tag bearing the name of an unidentified person who was an unwitting participant in the smuggling attempt, according to court records.

Federal agents let the plane depart for Detroit.

While in the air, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and the Homeland Security Department decided to intercept all baggage once the plane landed in Detroit before baggage handlers could touch them.

Investigators focused on five suitcases. Inside, agents found approximately 35 pounds of cocaine and almost 284 pounds of marijuana, according to court records…

The Jamaica case relied on several handlers in Detroit who were born in Jamaica.

The Houston pipeline used similar methods and operated separately, but simultaneously, according to prosecutors…[It] relied on two baggage handlers who transferred from Detroit to Texas so they could arrange the drug shipments, according to court records.

Not the toughest bit of analytics in the world. What was required was the staff and motivation. The opportunity to catch crooks like this ain’t going away anytime soon.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 29, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Is RIM the next Palm?

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Research In Motion shares fell as much as 14 percent as analysts said a reduced profit forecast hurts management’s credibility and raises pressure on the company as it heads into an annual trade show next week…

“This further damages already low credibility, making them the ‘poster boy’ for a show-me story from here,” Mike Abramsky, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto, said in a research note…

RIM is struggling to compete against Apple and Google in the smartphone market. The company, which will host the BlackBerry World conference starting on Monday, has to update its BlackBerry lineup and provide some evidence its products can do better against Apple’s iPhone and devices that run Google’s Android operating system, said Paul Taylor, chief investment officer at BMO Harris Private Banking in Toronto.

“Management needs to deliver on the product side,” said Taylor, who manages about $14.5 billion including RIM and Apple shares. “That includes competitive next-generation smartphones and building out the app library.”

Apple offers more than 350,000 software applications, or apps, and Google’s Android Market has more than 150,000, compared with more than 25,000 in BlackBerry App World…

At least four other analysts — Jefferies & Co. Inc.’s Peter Misek, Cormark Securities Inc.’s Richard Tse, Gleacher & Co. Securities’ Stephen Patel and National Bank Financial’s Kris Thompson — reduced their ratings on the stock…

The sales on their existing devices must have fallen off a cliff,” said Matt Thornton, an Avian Securities LLC analyst in Boston who has a “neutral” rating on the stock. “They are getting hit by a combination of a stale portfolio and heated competition on devices.”

Complacency, dealing with the most dynamic marketplace in the world of commerce as if it’s the railroad business in 1890 never delivers stability and long-term confidence.

I can recall emailing folks I knew inside Palm about the potential for building their OS into a fully functional operating system – keeping it small and adding needed potential while resisting bloat. Just like RIM they said, “Hey – we’re doing just fine as we are.”

Written by Ed Campbell

April 29, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Education consultant stole millions

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A cuckolded computer consultant hired to link the city’s 1,400 schools to the Internet has been charged with downloading $3.6 million into his crooked pockets.

Willard (Ross) Lanham, aided by corporate giants IBM and Verizon, masterminded the massive fraud to enjoy a life of luxury from 2002 to 2008, according to a scathing report from the special schools investigator. “Lanham effectively stole from schoolchildren so he could buy fancy cars and valuable real estate,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Prosecutors described Lanham’s greed as staggering. He was charged with looting the Department of Education while earning a $200,000 annual salary and living with his family in a sprawling, two-story Long Island home.

As he earned an illegal fortune off phony companies, inflated fees and a pair of no-show jobs, officials said, he built three luxury homes on a piece of abandoned Long Island farmland.

Once finished, Lanham even named the private street after his estranged wife, Laura Lanham.

The couple have since endured a long, angry and ongoing three-year divorce, with the wife dumping her 57-year-old husband to pursue younger men while blogging about her “cougar” lifestyle…

The probe, aided by the city Department of Investigation, found Lanham was hired to work on three major DOE projects – including the highly touted “Project Connect.”

The scam was simple: He hired contractors at low hourly rates, persuaded subcontractors to bill the city at a much higher rate and pocketed the difference, officials said.

In all, his Lanham Enterprises allegedly was paid $5.3 million for consulting work that cost his company only $1.7 million.

The accused swindler even ripped off his own brother, hiring him for a $40-an-hour consulting job while charging the city $225 an hour, a criminal complaint charged.

IBM and Verizon kept their corporate mouths shut over anything they may have noticed in the course of the fraud. I’m never surprised when systems run by elected officials are inefficient – though they needn’t be. Corporate governance should be a bit more consistent.

Verizon has said they will return any inappropriate profits. Nice of them.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 29, 2011 at 10:00 am

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