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Archive for February 2012

Dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia among aging criminals

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Secel Montgomery Sr. stabbed a woman in the stomach, chest and throat so fiercely that he lost count of the wounds he inflicted. In the nearly 25 years he has been serving a life sentence, he has gotten into fights, threatened a prison official and been caught with marijuana.

Despite that, he has recently been entrusted with an extraordinary responsibility. He and other convicted killers at the California Men’s Colony help care for prisoners with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, assisting ailing inmates with the most intimate tasks: showering, shaving, applying deodorant, even changing adult diapers.

Their growing roster of patients includes Joaquin Cruz, a convicted killer who is now so addled that he thinks he sees his brother in the water of a toilet, and Walter Gregory, whose short-term memory is ebbing even as he vividly recalls his crime: stabbing and mutilating his girlfriend with a switchblade…

Dementia in prison is an underreported but fast-growing phenomenon, one that many prisons are desperately unprepared to handle. It is an unforeseen consequence of get-tough-on-crime policies — long sentences that have created a large population of aging prisoners. About 10 percent of the 1.6 million inmates in America’s prisons are serving life sentences; another 11 percent are serving over 20 years.

And more older people are being sent to prison. In 2010, 9,560 people 55 and older were sentenced, more than twice as many as in 1995. In that same period, inmates 55 and older almost quadrupled, to nearly 125,000, a Human Rights Watch report found.

While no one has counted cognitively impaired inmates, experts say that prisoners appear more prone to dementia than the general population because they often have more risk factors: limited education, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, depression, substance abuse, even head injuries from fights and other violence…

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Written by Ed Campbell

February 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm

New hope for older women having a baby using IVF

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Older women hoping to conceive through IVF have been given new hope by research which shows age is not the key factor in the technique’s success. A study has found that some women aged 40 could have the same or better chances of having a baby via fertility treatment as a woman in her early thirties.

The findings will be used for a new test, which will assess up to 20 factors affecting fertility before giving couples a percentage rating of their chance of having a baby via IVF.

Although many of the factors which affect fertility are closely associated with ageing, biological age itself is not the best predictor of success or failure, according to the results of the study – which analysed the outcomes of more than 5,000 IVF treatments.

Measurements of hormone levels and the quality of embryos produced in the early stages of fertility treatment were found to give a better indication as to whether it would work, researchers said. Other factors, such as the thickness of the woman’s womb lining, her weight, lifestyle, the number of eggs produced by a woman under stimulation and the quality of the man’s sperm will all be used in new tests to assess the likely success of IVF…

Dr Mylene Yao…said: “After applying a sophisticated analysis programme to factors governing IVF success, we found that a woman of 40 could have the same or better chances of having a live baby as a woman in her early thirties.”

The former professor at Stanford University added: “This is a very important development as we want to get people away from thinking that probability is totally centred on age.

An important study for lots of folks. As much time as I spend battling for individual rights to choose what happens with your body and your life – because most of today’s conservatives and so-called libertarians would take away that right – there is a significant portion of our population equally patronized by nutballs who say you shouldn’t involve science in conception either.

What is it about this consistency in oppression?

Written by Ed Campbell

February 26, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Adam Sandler leads the pack for Razzie nominations

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Comedy actor Adam Sandler is leading the charge at this year’s Razzie awards with 11 nods, the highest number of nominations in a single year. The spoof prizes, formally known as The Golden Raspberrys, are handed out to celebrate the worst films of the year.

Sander’s cross-dressing comedy Jack & Jill led the pack with 12 nominations. His romantic comedy Just Go With It got five, and Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star, for which Sandler wrote the screenplay, notched up six nods.

Sandler received a worst actor and actress nomination, for Jack & Jill, in which he plays both the male and female roles…

In the female category Sandler was not the only male to be up for playing a woman, as Martin Lawrence was also nominated for Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was also singled out for playing herself in Sarah Palin: The Undefeated…

The year the awards, which are usually handed out the day before the Oscars, will be presented on 1 April.

Looking forward to the awards. Often more relevant, accurate – and deserving than the Oscars.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 26, 2012 at 10:00 am

Schmallenberg cattle virus – the town at ground zero – UPDATED

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Somewhere among the dairy farms and forested hillsides of Schmallenberg, a picturesque district of 26,000 people in central Germany, a deadly new virus was born.

Or at least, that’s where it was first noticed a month before Christmas by scientists who examined a dead, new-born lamb with terrible deformities, on one of the 100 or so farms in the area. As is common in the world of science, the disease was named after the locality…

In the past few years Schmallenberg has made the best of its natural advantages to market itself very successfully as a healthy place for holidays close to nature. Since 2010 the town hall has worked hard to help farmers’ wives develop a lucrative sideline in farm stays where city families can enjoy life on a real working farm.

Becoming ground zero in an international disease outbreak has put all this in doubt. At the same time the livelihood of farmers who have lost lambs has been threatened.

By no means every farm has been hit, but there have been casualties, with affected farms losing as many as one in four of their new-born lambs and in some cases even 50 per cent…

Although plenty of farmers are prepared to talk openly about the virus, nobody will say exactly where in Schmallenberg it was first detected. The mayor said he did not know which farm was the first.

The mayor proudly pointed out that his town was founded in 1244. “Not much has happened since then,” he said with a wry grin. “Until now…”

“It was November 22,” Mr Halbe said, referring to the date when the disease was named after the town. The first cases were found in August.

As the scientists examined the corpse of the first dead lamb, the initial worry was that the disease could infect humans, through contact with farm animals or eating them. To everyone’s relief, that was deemed unlikely, although health agencies in Germany are still carefully monitoring farmers and vets who come into contact with infected herds.

The disease seems to move between species. Goats have been affected, and even bison. Scientists think adult cows have suffered fever and a drastic reduction in milk production, although so far none seem to have died from it…

Nowhere do Germans hope more fervently that the virus will fade away and quickly be forgotten. Then Schmallenberg can have its name back.

RTFA for the gory details – if you care to. The sort of disease particularly disturbing because it attacks in the womb.

UPDATE: The virus has crossed France and arrived in England. 74 farms in the UK affected, so far.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 26, 2012 at 6:00 am

Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan being demolished

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Daylife/Reuters pictures used by permission

Pakistan has begun to demolish the compound where US forces killed Osama Bin Laden, in the city of Abbottabad…The al-Qaeda leader was shot dead at the compound in the north-western city near the capital Islamabad in May 2011.

Bulldozers arrived after dark to demolish the outer walls, and have been working through the night. There is heavy security around the compound, which served as Bin Laden’s hideout for more than five years.

Residents say an unannounced curfew has been placed in the area, and residents have been asked not to leave their homes, the BBC’s Ilyas Khan in Islamabad reports…

An official of the Abbottabad district administration told the BBC the operation was expected to be completed by about 22:30-23:00 GMT…

Officials say the demolition was decided soon after the 2 May 2011 raid, but it was put off when the government set up a judicial commission to investigate the operation by US forces.

“Since the commission has almost completed its work and did not need the compound for any further investigation, it was decided it should be razed,” an official said. He said the reason for the demolition was the visitors the place continued to attract, which posed a security threat to the area, located in an important garrison town.

Osama Bin Laden is said to have lived in the compound with his family for several years before he was killed.

On that day, a team of US special forces flew from Afghanistan to Bin Laden’s hiding place during the night in stealth helicopters on a secret operation. They swept through the buildings within the high-walled enclosure and shot dead a total of five people, including Bin Laden. Some 40 minutes later, they left, taking with them Bin Laden’s body and a hoard of computer data devices and other information containing intelligence about al-Qaeda and Bin Laden’s activities.

The Pakistan government says the prime reason for the demolition is to remove a point of focus, worship and reverence for the terrorist leader. Poisonally, I think it’s also a perpetual embarrassment for the Pakistan government’s inability [1] to capture Bin Laden living securely under their noses; and [2] US forces taking him out – also under the same noses.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 26, 2012 at 2:00 am

Pic of the day

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A young grizzly bear hitches a ride on his mum’s back in a bid to prevent his paws getting cold as his mum hunts for food in the freezing snow. Steve Hinch photographed the pair from a safe distance in the Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 25, 2012 at 10:00 pm

A Ponzi scheme goes to trial, resolution over religion and the law

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Sugarcreek, Ohio – This village is as sweet as its name. Main Street climbs gently from a tidy railroad crossing, past a few gift shops to the simple brick First Mennonite Church…

This postcard from a gentler and simpler America is about as unlikely a place imaginable for the news that broke in September: one of Sugarcreek’s own, a prominent member of what some people here call the Plain Community, was under arrest, accused by federal prosecutors of running a Ponzi scheme that betrayed his neighbors’ trust and wiped out more than $16 million of their savings.

The news media made the obvious comparisons…

But the most intriguing aspect of Monroe Beachy’s story is how different it seems from Bernie Madoff’s — and from almost every other story with a “Ponzi scheme” headline over the years.

While victims of Mr. Madoff’s fraud, like most Ponzi victims, condemned their accused betrayer in court as a monster, many of Monroe Beachy’s investors have said in court that it is more important to forgive him than to recover their money.

While the Madoff case and others like it have inevitably created conflict between longtime investors fighting to keep their fictional profits and more recent investors trying to recover lost principal, some Beachy investors urged that their own share of his estate should be given to those in greater need.

And while Mr. Madoff’s wife and sons instantly became social pariahs in Manhattan, Mr. Beachy’s wife and children remain at his farmstead here, living peacefully with their neighbors…

It became the forum for a rare bankruptcy court battle over religious freedom, with Mr. Beachy’s Amish and Mennonite creditors insisting that the court’s way of dealing with his downfall could not be squared with their faith or with his…They formed their own committee to resolve the crime. There were two confounding contradictions: [1] all the creditors were not members of their faith and bound by the same methods or conclusions; [2] we still live in a constitutional republic where civil law takes precedence over religious rote.

Last March, Federal Bankruptcy Judge Russ Kendig in Canton, in the federal courthouse closest to Sugarcreek, ruled that “delegating insolvency proceedings to a religious body” would be unconstitutional…

No part of this story contrasts as sharply with the real Bernie Madoff case as what happened next…

We are agreed among ourselves to accept your ruling as the will of Almighty God in this matter,” they wrote, after thanking him for considering their point of view so carefully. “If there is anything which we can do as members of the Amish-Mennonite community to facilitate the bankruptcy process and help bring it to a speedy conclusion please do not hesitate to contact any member” of the committee.

Unlike most American flavors of fundamentalist religion, these folks recognize and respect the law of the land over their religious beliefs. They call it God’s Will. An interesting way around the contradictions of their belief system; but, it leaves our constitution intact and doesn’t waste months and years trying to wear down the court system.

RTFA. It is a long and convoluted tale. One not without illustrations of every human frailty – even for folks who assay that frailty results from the supernatural.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm

U.S. spy agencies see no move by Iran to build a nuclear bomb

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Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.

Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.

…There is no dispute among American, Israeli and European intelligence officials that Iran has been enriching nuclear fuel and developing some necessary infrastructure to become a nuclear power. But the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies believe that Iran has yet to decide whether to resume a parallel program to design a nuclear warhead — a program they believe was essentially halted in 2003 and which would be necessary for Iran to build a nuclear bomb. Iranian officials maintain that their nuclear program is for civilian purposes…

Not that fact has the slightest effect on the ideology of American chickenhawks.

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Written by Ed Campbell

February 25, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Judge awards $850 to iPhone user in AT&T throttling case

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When AT&T started slowing down the data service for his iPhone, Matt Spaccarelli, an unemployed truck driver and student, took the country’s largest telecommunications company to small claims court. And won.

His award: $850.

Pro-tem Judge Russell Nadel found in favor of Spaccarelli in Ventura Superior Court in Simi Valley on Friday, saying it wasn’t fair for the company to purposely slow down his iPhone, when it had sold him an “unlimited data” plan.

Spaccarelli could have many imitators. AT&T has some 17 million customers with “unlimited data” plans who can be subject to throttling. That’s nearly half of its smartphone users. AT&T forbids them from consolidating their claims into a class action or taking them to a jury trial. That leaves small claims actions and arbitration.

Late last year, AT&T started slowing down data service for the top 5 percent of its smartphone subscribers with “unlimited” plans. It had warned that it would start doing so, but many subscribers have been surprised by how little data use it takes for throttling to kick in —often less than AT&T provides to those on limited or “tiered” plans.

Spaccarelli said his phone is being throttled after he’s used 1.5 gigabytes to 2 gigabytes of data within a new billing cycle. Meanwhile, AT&T provides 3 gigabytes of data to subscribers on a tiered plan that costs the same — $30 per month.

When slowed down, the phone can still be used for calls and text messaging, but Web browsing is painfully slow, and video streaming doesn’t work at all…

Companies with as many potentially aggrieved customers as AT&T usually brace themselves for a class-action lawsuit. But last year, the Supreme Court upheld a clause in the Dallas-based company’s subscriber contract that prohibits customers from taking their complaints to class actions or jury trials.

Just in case you thought the sleazy array of Republicans added to the Supremes in the last couple of decades would never come up with decisions that affect your daily life. Add a moneygrubber corporation decision like this – to the Citizens United crap decision which says a corporation is just another person when it comes to bankrolling politicians.

Greedy bastards like AT&T can stand on one foot for a couple centuries while individuals try to take their cases through small claims court one at a time. A couple hundred bucks means a lot more to ordinary working folks than beancounters shuffling lawyers on retainer through local courts on a platoon system designed to screw us all.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 25, 2012 at 10:00 am

Three of the Republican tax plans would balloon the national debt — Ron Paul would just take us all back into the 19th Century

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The U.S. national debt will swell further under tax-cut plans floated by three of the top four Republican presidential candidates, according to an independent analysis of their fiscal policy proposals released on Thursday.

Plans put forth by Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum would pile up the largest increases in debt, while Mitt Romney’s initial plan, since revised with bigger proposed tax cuts, would increase it by a smaller amount over the next decade.

Only Ron Paul’s plan to drastically shrink government and cut taxes would produce a reduction in debt levels through 2021…He just destroys federal agencies.

Romney’s new tax plan, which matches the 28 percent top rate proposed by Santorum, promises to be revenue neutral, but does not offer any specifics on how to make up for lost revenues…

“Are they making proposals that risk making the debt problem worse?” said Alice Rivlin, a former head of the Congressional Budget Office and Federal Reserve vice chairman who now serves on the group’s board. “On that score, all of these candidates fail. They all reduce the revenue that is available to the government over time…”

The group said the middle path for Gingrich would add $7 trillion to the national debt by 2021 versus the baseline, largely because he has proposed deep tax cuts for individuals and corporations, including an alternative 15 percent “flat tax.”

This would boost debt as a share of the overall economy to 114 percent in 2021 from the current level of about 70 percent, compared with an anticipated 2021 baseline level of 85 percent.

The middle scenario for Santorum’s plan would add $4.5 trillion to the debt, also due to tax cuts…The debt-to-gross domestic product ratio would rise to 104 percent under Santorum’s plan…

The middle scenario for Paul was the only one to reduce debt below the baseline – by $2.2 trillion – largely due to spending cuts on healthcare programs and Social Security and elimination of five federal departments and many State Department programs. This would cut debt to 76 percent of GDP by 2021. And Ron Paul doesn’t need Social Security or healthcare or foreign policy to live in his accustomed style.

In other words – besides being liars – the Republican candidates don’t know diddly-squat about economics. And hope you never learn.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 25, 2012 at 6:00 am

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