Thieves steal 120 tons of salt

Cops can pretty much rule out a rogue pretzelmaker or a bartender planning an out-of-control margarita party.

When thieves made off with 120 tons of salt from an Aurora storage facility over the last few weeks, the sheer quantity suggested that somebody who plows and spreads salt on winter pavement was seeking to cut costs through crime.

The theft from a warehouse in the far west suburban city would fill six semi-trucks and require heavy equipment to load, experts say. It’s enough to last a suburban village through the winter. And the crime hit at a time of shortages and skyrocketing salt costs…

“We’ve had somebody take a bag of salt from us here and there, but nothing of this magnitude,” said Tovar vice president Eric Hartmann. “It’s obviously happening because of the salt shortage this year.”

Police have not ruled out an inside job.

Hartmann offers “common sense” wisdom – and an alibi for whoever stole the salt – when he says, “The salt price being three to four times what it was last year, it’s turning good honest businesspeople into opportune criminals.”

“Balderdash!”, I say. You don’t mysteriously go through a phase-shift in your brain and slide from honest to dishonest. Not enough to tempt the greedy bone in the brain of most.

6 weeks after Hurricane Ike, FEMA is a still a nightmare


Standing where their home once stood
Photo by Daylife/AP Photo David J. Phillip

Six weeks after Hurricane Ike ravaged Southeast Texas, federal officials have approved only about 13 percent of requests for money to repair damaged houses or replace ruined belongings.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has received more than 710,000 requests statewide, has provided almost $300 million for housing and other needs to more than 92,000 households.

Yet the agency continues to find the overwhelming majority of applicants ineligible, prompting widespread concerns that applicants are discouraged by unwieldy procedures and that the agency’s staff and contractors don’t always follow its publicly stated policies.

FEMA’s newly assigned Harris County station chief, Philip Parks, said last week that he would review the reasons for the low approval rate, which include insufficient damage to homes and errors on applications that may be as minor as an omitted middle initial. Parks noted that many families denied assistance could reverse those decisions through appeals.

Now, there’s a hack’s solution. Let’s spend another month-and-a-half trudging through more offices, hearings and paperwork.

But local members of Congress and other elected officials, whose offices field calls daily from people struggling to navigate the assistance process, said FEMA and other relief agencies are moving too slowly and helping too few families.

FEMA has doubled up – on paperwork. Not on assistance.

Bureaucrats, who’ve multiplied like rats under the Bush Administration, have committed themselves to saving money the old-fashioned way: drive people fracking crazy with forms when they need help.

To counter problems of global hunger, try spuds


Chinese farmer harvesting potatoes in Ningshan
Photo from Daylife/Getty Images

With governments having trouble feeding the growing number of hungry poor and grain prices fluctuating wildly, food scientists are proposing a novel solution for the global food crisis: Let them eat potatoes.

Grains like wheat and rice have long been staples of diets in most of the world and the main currency of food aid. Now, a number of scientists, nutritionists and aid specialists are increasingly convinced that the humble spud should be playing a much larger role to ensure a steady supply of food in the developing world.

Poor countries could grow more potatoes, they say, to supplement or even replace grains that are most often shipped in from far away and are subject to severe market gyrations…

A decade ago, the vast majority of potatoes were grown and eaten in the developed world, mostly in Europe and the Americas. Today, China and India – neither big potato-eating countries in the past – rank first and third, respectively, in global potato production. And in 2005, developing countries produced a majority of the world’s potatoes for the first time.

“Increasingly, the potato is being seen as a vital food-security crop and a substitute for costly grain imports,” said NeBambi Lutaladio, a roots and tubers specialist at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. “Potato consumption is expanding strongly in developing countries, where the potato is an increasingly important source of food, employment and income.”

Well, there’s an advantage and a disadvantage – which can be turned to advantage.

They are cheap and easy to grow. I have kin who make roughly half their annual income from potatoes. For six generations or so, here in the New World.

Global warming ain’t going to help storage and related problems since spuds don’t do as well in warmer climates. But, that’s all the more reason to support emphasis on local sourcing for produce. If you’re not shipping them off for a 5,000-mile boat ride, shelf life becomes less of a problem.

¡Obámanos!

The most popular slogan for early voting here in northern New Mexico is the Obama Democrats’ “Obamanos“. Popular enough, that I’ve met Republicans – both of them – who use the word, too.

Hope you voted early in your neck of the prairie. After 4 tries, we finally succeeded in finding a polling place on a day with less than a 2-hour wait in line.

Your doctoral thesis is read by a dozen or so – companion video gets 6 million hits on YouTube

Last December, Johnny Chung Lee, then a doctoral candidate, posted a five-minute video on YouTube that became an Internet sensation.

The video showed, in a few easy steps, how the Nintendo Wii remote controller – known as a Wiimote – could transform a normal video screen into a virtual reality display, with graphics that seemed to burst into the living room. So far, the video has been viewed more than six million times…

When he completed his degree this year at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute of Carnegie Mellon, he received “lots of offers from all the big places,” said Paul Dietz, who persuaded Lee to join him in the applied sciences group of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division. “When we told Bill Gates we were trying to recruit Johnny, he already knew about his work and was anxious to bring him to Microsoft,” said Dietz, a research and development program manager.

Contrast this with what might have followed from other options Lee considered for communicating his ideas. He might have published a paper that only a few dozen specialists would have read. A talk at a conference would have brought a slightly larger audience. In either case, it would have taken months for his ideas to reach others.

After writing a paper on his invention, Dietz wanted to test the concept in the market. His first step? He posted a video on YouTube.

The power of internet communications is amazing.

We’ll have another hundred Marshall McLuhan-types show up and blather about the medium being the message and all. But, the truth remains that – longterm – the quality and relevance of the message is what sticks.

Which comes first: depression or being religious?

Those who worship a higher power often do so in different ways. Whether they are active in their religious community, or prefer to simply pray or meditate, new research out of Temple University suggests that a person’s religiousness – also called religiosity – can offer insight into their risk for depression.

Lead researcher Joanna Maselko, Sc.D., characterized the religiosity of 918 study participants in terms of three domains of religiosity: religious service attendance, which refers to being involved with a church; religious well-being, which refers to the quality of a person’s relationship with a higher power; and existential well-being, which refers to a person’s sense of meaning and their purpose in life.

In a study published on-line this month in Psychological Medicine, Maselko and fellow researchers compared each domain of religiosity to their risk of depression, and were surprised to find that the group with higher levels of religious well-being were 1.5 times more likely to have had depression than those with lower levels of religious well-being.

Maselko theorizes this is because people with depression tend to use religion as a coping mechanism. As a result, they’re more closely relating to God and praying more.

Maselko admits that researchers have yet to determine which comes first: depression or being religious, but is currently investigating the time sequence of this over people’s lives to figure out the answer.

This ain’t just chicken or egg, folks. Take it back to genes which helped you get through the night, worrying whether the fire at the mouth of the cave was enough to protect you?

10 worst ads of the political season

Politico asked campaign operatives on both sides to nominate their favorite commercials of the cycle — and by favorite, we mean the most memorably bad.

This was a bipartisan exercise. Offered anonymity, some Democrats nominated Democratic ads and some Republicans chose GOP ads.

Ineptitude, as we discovered, knows no party.

Politico rated this advert as #3 on the stinker scale. My #1 choice as characteristic of those who favor an “Imperial” Texas.

Carter’s baby clothing may cause rash

Fall 2007 label

The government is warning parents about Carter’s Inc. baby garments with tag-less labels after about 400 babies who wore the clothing developed rashes on their backs.

The warning applies to the fall 2007 line, which includes about 110 million garments, said Mary Drayna, a manager for the Atlanta, Georgia, company. The Consumer Product Safety Commission said that children should stop using these garments if they develop a rash, but the agency did not announce a recall of the product line…

The garments were made in various foreign countries, and they were sold at Carter’s retail stores and at department and national chain stores, according to CPSC. The clothing appeared on the market in fall 2007 and could still be on retail shelves…

The company’s online announcement said it had received reports that some babies with sensitive skin could be allergic to the heat-transferred, or tag-less, labels used in baby clothing.

You have to love lawyer-speak when they say that you needn’t worry that the “rash is anything beyond a rare allergic reaction to an otherwise safe product.” WTF!

Here’s Carter’s free phone number for Info: 888-282-4674

Zeppelins return to the sky over San Francisco


Daylife/AP Photo by Eric Risberg

Zeppelins, the giant floating airships used to carry passengers and drop bombs until the 1930s, haven’t been seen in American skies for more than 70 years.

Now, a California company is bringing the iconic aircraft back to the United States, with plans to offer aerial tours of the San Francisco Bay area in a newly built zeppelin. It’s one of just three in the world; the others are in Germany and Japan.

Airship Ventures zeppelin arrived in the Bay Area on Saturday, passing over the Golden Gate Bridge en route to its new home at Moffett Field, a former naval air station in Mountain View, about 40 miles south of San Francisco.

Fifteen feet longer than a Boeing 747, the 246-foot-long Zeppelin NT (New Technology) was built in Hamburg, Germany, and transported by container ship to Beaumont, Texas, before a cross-country flight to California.

Starting Friday, Airship Ventures will offer rides that provide a bird’s-eye view of Napa and Sonoma wine country, the Big Sur coastline, San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area. The cabin holds 12 passengers and two crew members, and tickets start at $495 per person for an one-hour ride.

Certainly not in my budget; but – surely looks like fun.