Stand-up comedy course as prisoner rehab? WTF?

A stand-up comedy course for maximum security prisoners was branded “totally unacceptable” by the justice secretary, Jack Straw. The minister forced managers at Whitemoor prison to cancel the lessons immediately because funding them with taxpayers’ money could not be justified.

According to the Sun, course candidates included the al-Qaida terrorist Zia Ul Haq, who had plotted bomb attacks on London.

Straw said: “Prisons should be places of punishment and reform, and providing educational, training and constructive pursuits is an essential part of this. But the types of courses available – and the manner in which they are delivered – must be appropriate in every prison…”

Most inmates in UK prisons have access to educational courses. Many of these are designed to help inmates return to employment when they leave prison.

Comedy classes, which organisers say foster team work and communication skills, have been available since 1998.

Since 1998? So, no one noticed.

Does this mean officials in Britain don’t ever get out to comedy clubs? Or – more likely – none of the course graduates ever made anyone other than their cellmates larf?

Blood test reveals cancer that kills 50,000 Americans a year

People are often reluctant to undergo a routine but painful colonoscopy ― but the consequences can be fatal. According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third most common cancer found in American men and women and kills about 50,000 Americans every year.

“85% of those who develop colon cancer have no symptoms or family history,” says Prof. Nadir Arber. “Generally speaking, it’s much harder to get these people to comply with taking the test.”

To convince more people to undergo the potentially life-saving colonoscopy, Prof. Arber has developed a simple early-warning test that can detect colon cancer in the blood. Using biomarkers, it is the first test on the market that can detect cells of colon polyps the precursors to colon cancer in the blood, with a very high degree of sensitivity and accuracy.

This painless, non-invasive and inexpensive test could very well be a breakthrough of the decade.

A small fraction of the cost – and no pain? I guess that would make a difference to most people.

Motrin moms – take on Big Pharma – and win

Hell apparently hath no fury like a Motrin mom scorned. It began innocently enough—a painkiller ad targeted to aching moms. But seems the spot touched a nerve in the ever-growing blogging mom community, drawing heat for claims that ibuprofen (brand name Motrin) could help cure the pain in the neck, not to mention back and shoulders, caused by carrying a baby in a sling, wrap or “schwing.”

Scores of angry moms took to Twitter to slam the ad’s flip tone (the narrator brags that toting her baby “close to the bod … totally makes me look like an official mom”). A number of Twitterers took offense at the spot’s lament: “And so if I look tired and crazy, people will understand why.” A typical response echoed this one posted by homemakerbarbi: “I love my front carrier, and don’t appreciate being told I look ‘crazy’ for baby-wearing. Bad job this time, Motrin.”

McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the maker of Motrin, responded by taking the ad down from the Motrin Web site. Marc Boston, McNeil’s director of communications, read a prepared statement when contacted by phone, apologizing for “any concerns raised” by the advertisement.


GOP takes another image hit

Image, as the ad says, is everything and the Republican Party has an image problem in the United States, results from a Gallup Poll indicate.

Only 34 percent of Americans who participated in the survey say they have a favorable image of the Republican Party, down from 40 percent in mid-October. The 61 percent who suggested an unfavorable view of the party is the highest Gallup said it has recorded since 1992, when it began taking the image measurement.

In contrast, the Democratic Party maintained the positive image it had after the Nov. 4 election, the Princeton, N.J., polling agency said. Fifty-five percent of Americans polled said they have a favorable view of the Democratic Party and 39 percent an unfavorable view, results indicate.

Here’s the Gallup Poll in more detail. Whiners may wish to open a new box of paper hankies for their tears. Crocodile or otherwise.

Unemployed autoworker? Volkswagen is hiring – in Tennessee

Megasite for Volkswagen Factory
Daylife/AP Photo

Amid a sluggish national economy and angst in the American auto industry, Volkswagen is ramping up construction of its $1 billion assembly plant in Chattanooga.

Just days away from pouring the project’s first concrete, about 50 VW, Hamilton County and state officials stood on a gravel pad Wednesday at what will become the plant’s body shop, eyeing the Enterprise South site.

“Everything’s perfect,” said VW Plant Manager Frank Fischer.

While an official groundbreaking ceremony won’t take place until January, Mr. Fischer said the paint shop will be the first building to be constructed, and it will be larger than planned.

We’re building it for 1,000 cars per day,” he said, adding the work is “coming along very well. We’re very happy about it.”

Despite a slowing American auto market, Mr. Fischer said VW’s board is dedicated to the Chattanooga project, which is to start vehicle production by 2011 and employ 2,000 people.

I know I bore you all when I say this – but, I wish they’d build me a mid-sized diesel pickup truck.

This award won’t do ’em any harm either.

GM upland rice doubles crops in drought conditions

Upland rice harvest in Mindanao

Jerome Bernier, a PhD student in the University of Alberta Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, has found a group of genes in rice that enables a yield of up to 100 per cent more in severe drought conditions…

Bernier’s research began four years ago and focused on upland rice, which, unlike the majority of rice crops, grows in non-flooded, dry fields. “If drought hits, the yield can drop to almost nothing,” Bernier said. He conducted his research at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, in conjunction with scientists there and in India.

He started with 126 genetic markers and narrowed his search to a group of genes that had the desired impact. In very severe drought conditions, rice strains with the new genes were shown to produce twice as those strains that did not have the genes. The new genes stimulate the rice plants to develop deeper roots, enabling it to access more of the water stored in the soil.

I realize my Luddite friends would rather “encourage” deeper roots by talking to the rice plants. Or just leave the already-hybridized species to slower methods. Similar modifiactions probably could be achieved in a decade or so.

After all, people dying of starvation in Asia and Africa isn’t sufficient imperative to adopt scary, modern research in agriculture.

British boy killed by his deodorant

Runaway, runaway!

A coroner has testified that a 12-year-old boy died in the British city of Nottingham after using too much deodorant.

Consultant pathologist Dr. Andrew Hitchcock told Derby Coroner’s Court this week his postmortem examination of Daniel Hurley’s body found the boy had suffered a cardiac arrhythmia after using too much of the spray deodorant.

It seems the presence of a volatile agent caused the cardiac arrhythmia. Daniel copiously used deodorant in the bathroom,” Hitchcock said during the official inquest into the Jan. 7 incident.

Hurley died five days after the incident at the Queen’s Medical Center and officials ruled the incident an accidental death.

Cripes! The kid died from accidental huffing.

Judge rules more prisoners held in Guantánamo must be freed

Daylife/AP Photo by Brennan Linsley

A US judge has ruled that five Algerian prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay must be set free, in a decision with far-reaching implications for the remaining detainees at the base in Cuba.

District court judge Richard Leon ruled in a Washington DC court that there was no legal basis to keep the five in prison. It is the first verdict in more than 200 habeas corpus petitions being brought before the US courts. The petitions challenge the American government to prove that there is evidence to justify keeping the men in Guantánamo Bay. The judge, known for his conservative views, said the US government should not appeal.

“The decision by Judge Leon lays bare the flimsy basis on which Guantánamo has been founded – at best, slim evidence of dubious quality, at worst, nothing,” said Zachary Katznelson, legal director of Reprieve, the British legal action charity whose lawyers represent 33 Guantánamo prisoners. “This is a tough, no-nonsense judge. If he found there wasn’t evidence to justify holding the men, you can be sure it wasn’t there…”

Judge Leon’s ruling on the detainees is the first since the US supreme court ruled in June that every prisoner in Guantánamo had the right to contest his imprisonment in the civilian courts.

The egregious and corrupt politicians running the United States have diminished our reputation as a nation which stands for freedom – more than any deliberate plot to do so. All the worse because the population in general didn’t give a damn.

Excepting small, consistent bands of freedom-fighters – almost exclusively on the Left side of American politics – Americans accepted the rationales of God and Country over any consideration of decency and justice.

UK faces conflicts between British law and Islamic justice

The woman in black wanted an Islamic divorce. She told the religious judge that her husband hit her, cursed her and wanted her dead.

But her husband was opposed, and the Islamic scholar adjudicating the case seemed determined to keep the couple together. So, sensing defeat, she brought our her secret weapon: her father.

In walked a bearded man in long robes who described his son-in-law as a hot-tempered man who had duped his daughter, evaded the police and humiliated his family.

The judge promptly reversed himself and recommended divorce.

This is Islamic justice, British style. Despite a raucous national debate over the limits of religious tolerance and the pre-eminence of British law, the tenets of Shariah, or Islamic law, are increasingly being applied to everyday life in cities across the country…

But ever since the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, called in February for aspects of Islamic Shariah to be embraced alongside the traditional legal system, the government has been grappling with a public furor over the issue, assuaging critics while trying to reassure a wary and at times disaffected Muslim population that its traditions have a place in British society.

I’m not going to try to knock this article down into a coupe of paragraphs. The article is good. The topic is current and appropriate.

It focuses mostly on the UK; but, include the US and Canada, as well. RTFA, enjoy and analyze.

Deadly attacks on officials in Japan

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

The suspected murder of a former vice health minister and the stabbing of the wife of another, both with careers tied to Japan’s ailing pension system, has prompted Japanese police to tighten security for officials.

The attacks follow a series of scandals involving pensions and health care for Japan’s rapidly aging population, including the mishandling of millions of pension records. The introduction of a medical insurance scheme that forced some elderly citizens to pay more also angered the public.

A former vice health minister and his wife were found dead at their home on Tuesday from what appeared to be multiple stab wounds, police said.

The wife of another former vice health minister was later stabbed at her home by a man disguising himself as a delivery man. Her wounds were not fatal…

The Health Ministry late on Tuesday alerted its top officials and gave the National Police Agency names and addresses of former senior officials so it could step up security around their homes.

One thing to blame political hacks for crimes against the people committed on their watch. We still don’t get to be judge, jury and executioner. The honest political battle lies in getting the courts to do their job.