Malaysia pair killed in ritual “health cure”

A Malaysian couple have been beaten to death by four close family members in a ritual apparently intended to help one of them stop smoking.

They reportedly smashed the husband and wife’s heads on a table, and beat them with broomsticks and motorbike helmets at a house in Kuala Lumpur. The couple’s 14-year-old daughter was also injured and taken to hospital…

Mohamed Ibrahim was seeking help to stop his smoking habit, while his wife was suffering from asthma and a liver ailment.

Following this, a 23-year-old male relative suggested that the couple undergo a ritual which involved all family members joining forces to beat up the couple to rid them of their ailments.

Well, it certainly was effective. Worked as well as any other superstitious crap medication.

They ain’t smoking anymore. Or breathing.

India bars smoking in public places – again

India imposed a new ban on smoking in public places four years after a largely ignored earlier prohibition saw people continue to puff away in restaurants, clubs and bars.

One in three Indians smokes some form of tobacco, officials say, and a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February this year said one in every 10 deaths in India from 2010 would be smoking-related.

The government has made smoking a top issue, with Bollywood stars urged by the health minister to stub out their cigarettes, on-screen smoking forbidden and health workers telephoning residents in the capital offering help to quit.

The new ban increased the areas included in the prohibition, roping in educational institutions, bars and discos, hospitals, offices and libraries. It also directs establishments to appoint anti-smoking officers who will be liable if people smoke.

That cleared the way for the new ban to take effect on October 2nd, the birthday of ascetic peace icon Mahatma Gandhi, who did not smoke, drink alcohol or eat meat.

I quit smoking 48 years ago. It wasn’t easy. I was smoking two-and-a-half packs of cigarettes a day at the time.

But, I quit in the middle of a pack, in the middle of a carton. Smartest thing I ever did back in the day.

TK Maxx stops selling hooded jacket with free knife

The discount clothing store chain TK Maxx has stopped selling a hooded jacket with a free knife after a customer outcry.

The jacket has a chain attached to the lining which leads to an inside pocket, where the 2.5in blade penknife is concealed.

Steve Gale, a shopper in Farnborough, Hampshire, found one of the coats in his local store. He told the Sun: “I pulled the chain and out came this knife. I couldn’t believe it. It was actually part of the coat.”

It is illegal to market a blade in a way likely to encourage violence or to sell knives to under-18s.

A TK Maxx spokesman said it supported and enforced “all laws and regulations with regard to the sale of knives in stores”.

He said the chain had instructed its stores to remove the Strellson coat after it found out it came with a pocket penknife “as a promotional gift”.

Hampshire police declined to comment.

I can guess what the Hampshire coppers had to say – about the idiots at T.K.Maxx. It just ain’t fit to print.

Microsoft packages XP, Office on Portuguese schools laptop

Jose Socrates and Craig Barrett

Microsoft has launched a software package for a Portuguese ultra-cheap laptop for school children that the government hopes will boost the country’s technological edge in education…

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled the software package called “Suite Magellan” to go with the laptops, which will include Windows XP and Office in addition to development applications, free email and instant messaging.

Portuguese Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates has made boosting poor education standards and technology at schools a priority of his government…

The government hopes the Magellan project, named after the 16th century Portuguese explorer, will raise computer access at schools to two students per computer by 2010, up from five now…

While the computer will be assembled in Portugal by a company called JP Sa Couto, it is based on Intel’s Classmate PC, a cheap computer that has been adopted in various formats in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez signed an agreement to buy 1 million Magellan laptops for Venezuelan schools. The computers also went on public sale in Portugal last week for 285 euros ($394).

How can you go wrong expanding educational opportunities for the children of your nation?

Meanwhile, Microsoft keeps running down this blather about XP being an end-of-life product. At the same time, they treat it as a useful, portable package they can distribute worldwide. Cripes!

Billions of Pork in Wall Street bailout bill

While crafting a bill intended to rescue the U.S. economy this week, lawmakers couldn’t stop themselves from adding billions of dollars in tax breaks that have little to do with restoring confidence in financial markets.

Senators quietly tucked a number of earmarks into the tax package of the 451-page bill that was passed Wednesday night and is expected to be put to a vote in the House today: a $2 million tax benefit for makers of wooden arrows for children; a $100 million tax break to benefit auto racetrack owners; $192 million in rebates on excise taxes for the Puerto Rican and Virgin Islands rum industry; $148 million in tax relief for U.S. wool fabric producers; and a $49 million tax benefit for fishermen and other plaintiffs who sued over the 1989 tanker Exxon Valdez spill…

The tax earmarks were scarcely noticed during the Senate debate over a bill that featured a $700 billion bailout package and a $112 billion tax package, including the renewal of popular tax breaks for businesses and renewable energy projects and a one-year effort to shield at least 20 million Americans from paying the alternative minimum tax.

The bill was approved easily, 74-25, winning support even from lawmakers who have crusaded against earmarks – including Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, who warned last week that he might oppose a bailout bill if it included more pork-barrel spending.

“It is completely unacceptable for any kind of earmarks to be included in this bill,” he said in a speech in Freeland, Mich. “It would be outrageous for legislators and lobbyists to pack this rescue plan with taxpayer money for favored companies. This simply cannot happen.”

But, of course, it did.

Paulson’s original proposal was 3 pages long. The Senate passed on 451 pages. The House version is over 1,000 pages. Do you think it has less Pork than the Senate version – or are they all greedy bastards?

Thanks, Cinaedh

Pope reaffirms Church opposition to contraception

Pope Benedict XVI on has reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s condemnation of artificial birth control, a position that has driven millions of people away from the faith.

Contraception “means negating the intimate truth of conjugal love, with which the divine gift (of life) is communicated,” the leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics wrote on the 40th anniversary of a papal encyclical on the controversial topic.

The message came two months after an appeal for a retraction by some 60 Catholic groups who said the Church’s stance had been “catastrophic” for the world’s poorest and weakest.
Continue reading

Ig Nobel Prizes awarded

The Igs have become an irreverent highlight of the academic calendar, an annual exercise to celebrate research that makes people laugh first and think later. They are timed to coincide with the rather more lucrative and legitimate Nobels, which are awarded in Stockholm next week.

The ceremony is hosted by the tongue-in-cheek journal, Annals of Improbable Research, and is attended by real Nobel prizewinners and a 1,000-strong audience. This year’s recipients were given 60 seconds to deliver their acceptance speech, a time limit enforced by an eight-year-old girl.

David Sims of the Cass Business School in London, whose paper You Bastard: A narrative exploration of the experience of indignation within organisations, won the literature prize, said: “I’m delighted. The whole ethos of the Ig Nobels is a wonderful way to make people think.” The paper examines how people construct roles as clever bastards, devious bastards or bastard ex machina, and goes on to examine the mixture of joy and guilt of labelling someone as such.

The complete list of award winners is here.

My personal favorite: Dan Ariely at Duke University for demonstrating that expensive placebos are better painkillers than cheaper ones. I blogged about that research when it was published.

Pakistani leader repeats a long debunked hoax – or was it?

Afghan insurgent firing Sidewinder missile – a present from the CIA

The president of Pakistan apparently believes an Internet hoax alleging that Oliver North warned of the dangers posed by Osama bin Laden 20 years ago.

President Asif Ali Zardari, in an interview with the Fox News Channel that was televised Tuesday, said that North, the former White House aide at the heart of the Iran-Contra controversy, installed a security system for his home in the late 1980s “because he was scared of Osama bin Laden.”

That rumor emerged on the Internet shortly after the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. It has been thoroughly debunked by a number of reliable sources, including the U.S. Senate’s Web site and North himself…

In the interview, which was recorded Saturday in New York, Zardari said that his wife, Benazir Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister who was assassinated last year, had called President George H.W. Bush to complain about bin Laden, who was reported to have bankrolled a no-confidence vote against Bhutto.

According to Zardari, the phone call was placed on a secure line at the U.S. Embassy. He said Bhutto had “complained that why is an operator who is supposed to be an American destabilizing my government?”

Bush “hadn’t even heard of the name Osama bin Laden,” Zardari added, before repeating the claim about North’s testimony.

I can’t answer to whether or not Bush the Elder knew about Bin Laden in 1989. He certainly should have.

Cripes, I knew about Bin Laden in 1986. The occasional bit of reading, the odd conversation with visitors returning from North Africa and South Asia, made it quite clear what a dangerous fanatic Bin Laden was.

It takes more than a grain of salt to make all the tales of ignorance half-palatable.

McCain bails out of Michigan

Republican presidential candidate John McCain is withdrawing staff and resources from Michigan in order to concentrate on other states where his prospects are stronger.

McCain had harbored hopes of winning the state, but three polls in the last week has had Democrat Barack Obama with a double-digit lead in the Midwestern state, which has gone to the Democratic candidate the last two elections.

“Certainly, Michigan was going to be a challenge for any Republican in this climate,” said the McCain campaign official.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the McCain camp was happy to have spent enough time and money there to force Obama to defend the state.

McCain got himself into trouble for saying the fundamentals of the U.S. economy were strong, a statement that was proved wrong by the Wall Street financial crisis. He also was perceived by many Americans as having lost his first debate with Obama last week.