Army suspends germ research to figure out inventory?

Army officials have suspended most research involving dangerous germs at the biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, which the FBI has linked to the anthrax attacks of 2001, after discovering that some pathogens stored there were not listed in a laboratory database.

The suspension, which began Friday and could last three months, is intended to allow a complete inventory of hazardous bacteria, viruses and toxins stored in refrigerators, freezers and cabinets in the facility, the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The inventory was ordered by the institute’s commander, Colonel John P. Skvorak, after officials found that the database of specimens was incomplete. In a memorandum to employees last week, Skvorak said there was a high probability that some germs and toxins in storage were not in the database…

One scientist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, said samples from completed projects were not always destroyed, and departing scientists sometimes left behind vials whose contents were unknown to colleagues.

Now, that’s reassuring. A scavenger hunt.

Intel to invest $7 billion in the heart of the recession

Intel, the world’s largest processor maker, is vowing to spend more money than ever before on new manufacturing technology despite a sharp downturn in its profits.

Indeed, the company is holding itself up as a model for others in the United States to follow by increasing capital spending during a deep economic slump. Paul Otellini, Intel’s chief executive, detailed how his company would spend $7 billion over the next two years on its chip plants.

Intel…has already said it would continue pouring money into a series of chip plants, which can cost more than $1 billion each. It made that announcement shortly after saying sales of the company’s chips had tumbled 23 percent, while its net income fell by 90 percent. Intel also began laying off at least 5,000 workers and closing down older chip plants in Asia and the United States.

But Otellini struck an optimistic note. “We’re investing in America to keep Intel and our nation at the forefront of innovation,” he said in a statement provided ahead of the speech. “These manufacturing facilities will produce the most advanced computing technology in the world.”

Over $2 billion is being spent here in New Mexico on upgrading their Fab in Rio Rancho to produce 32nm chips. That’s over 1500 high-paying technical construction jobs carrying through the heart of this recession.

Giant white horse to tower over UK countryside

A sculpture of a giant white horse taller than the Statue of Liberty is set to tower over the countryside as part of an unusual scheme to help revive the fortunes of a depressed region of England.

The 50-meter equine artwork was Tuesday announced as the winner of a competition to design a landmark to dominate the skyline of the Ebbsfleet Valley, set to be a new stop on the Eurostar London-to-Paris rail link.

Designed by artist Mark Wallinger — whose previous work has included dressing in a bear suit and wandering around a gallery in Berlin — the £2 million horse will be one of the largest artworks in the UK.

Wallinger’s horse — which echoes ancient white horse symbols carved into hillsides around Britain — beat a shortlist of designs that included a tower of stacked cubes and giant steel nest.

Ancient chalk horses was the first thing that struck my mind when I saw this headline. This critter fits perfectly into the history of the region.

Of course, it wil be controversial. But, art controversy is truly a great deal of fun. Aside from the ignorant who get to chime in – the educated and involved can be just as silly as anyone else who’s convinced that only their own opinion matters.

It’s a favorite local sport in my neck of the prairie.

FDA finds ‘natural’ diet pills laced with drugs

Grady Jackson, a defensive tackle with the Atlanta Falcons, said he used the weight-loss capsules. Kathie Lee Gifford, a former talk show host, was enthusiastic about them on the “Today” show. Retailers like GNC and the Vitamin Shoppe sold them, no prescription required.

But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration now says those weight-loss capsules, called StarCaps and promoted as natural dietary supplements using papaya, could be hazardous to your health. In violation of the law, the agency has found, the capsules also contained a potent pharmaceutical drug called bumetanide which can have serious side effects.

And StarCaps are not the only culprits. In a continuing investigation that has prompted consumer warnings and recalls by some distributors, the FDA has determined that dozens of weight-loss supplements, most of them imported from China, contain hidden and potentially harmful drugs. In the coming weeks, the agency plans to issue a longer list of brands to avoid that are spiked with drugs, an FDA spokeswoman said.

Besides StarCaps, which were made in Peru and which Balanced Health Products, the American distributor, has voluntarily withdrawn, the agency’s warning list includes more obscure pills sold under the names Sliminate, Superslim and Slim Up, among many others. So far, the FDA has cited 69 tainted weight-loss supplements…

Enacted in 1994, the main law on dietary supplements gives the FDA jurisdiction only after the products go on the market. Rather than reviewing the supplements and approving them for sale, as the agency does with drugs, the FDA is limited to spot-checking manufacturers and distributors, and testing products already on store shelves. Even the FDA acknowledges there may be hundreds of other drug-contaminated weight-loss supplements for sale that the agency does not have the resources to identify.

Courtesy of the way Congress drafted that legislation – with the kind assistance of lobbyists from OTC pharmcos – the FDA doesn’t have the authority to issue an instant recall. Even if the crap is harmful.

Google getting into electricity smart metering

Daylife/AP Photo

Google has announced its entry into the small but growing business of “smart grid,” digital technologies that seek to both keep the electrical system on an even keel and reduce electrical energy consumption.

Google is one of a number of companies devising ways to control the demand for electric power as an alternative to building more power plants. The company has developed a free Web service called PowerMeter that consumers can use to track energy use in their house or business as it is consumed.

Google is counting on others to build devices to feed data into PowerMeter technology. While it hopes to begin introducing the service in the next few months, it has not yet lined up hardware manufacturers.

“We can’t build this product all by ourselves,” said Kirsten Olsen Cahill, a program manager at, the company’s corporate philanthropy arm. “We depend on a whole ecosystem of utilities, device makers and policies that would allow consumers to have detailed access to their home energy use and make smarter energy decisions…”

It also might be useful for plug-in hybrid cars, which will draw significant amounts of energy, perhaps doubling the electric demand of a small household. A smart grid would recognize the car wherever it was plugged in, the way a cellphone network recognizes a mobile phone when it is turned on.

The grid could bill the owner of the car for recharging the battery no matter where the car was plugged in. It would charge the owner a rate based on the time of day or night. If the car were left plugged in, the grid could decide when to charge it at the lowest rate.

Sounds like something I need to research further. Our statewide power utility – rarely less than a half-century behind the rest of the world – has installed a number of electric meters in the community with wireless capability. Mostly to keep their meter readers from scaring horses or being bitten when they do something dumb like climbing over a gate.

Mexican Army raids Cancun police department

Daylife/AP Photo by Israel Leal

Mexican troops have detained the police chief and 36 other officers in the resort of Cancun in connection with the murder last week of an ex-army general. Soldiers swooped on the police HQ and took police chief Francisco Velasco to Mexico City for questioning.

Former general Mauro Enrique Tello, who had just taken command of an elite squad to tackle in Cancun, was tortured and shot by suspected traffickers.

In a surprise operation, dozens of heavily armed soldiers swarmed on the police station in the municipality of Benito Juarez, which includes Cancun. Soldiers stripped the police chief and his officers of their weapons to check the registration of the guns. Chief Velasco was flown to the capital for questioning in connection with Gen Tello’s murder.

Gen Tello, who retired from the army earlier this year, had been sent to Cancun to lead a new force intended to break up the influence of drugs cartels.
He and two other men with him were abducted on a local main road, then driven to a remote location where they were tortured and then shot.

The BBC correspondent in Mexico, Stephen Gibbs, says the general’s death, the day after he arrived to take up his new job, is being blamed squarely on corrupt police and drugs cartels.

The extent of corruption and bribery in Mexico seems to have no boundaries. Not exactly a surprise after all the years of “governance” by a so-called revolutionary party that was useless except for getting Cousin Ernie a job if you paid someone off.

“Army of Lord Ram” targeted by pink undies attack

Indians outraged at an attack on women for drinking in a bar have gathered together to send a provocative gift of underwear to right-wing activists. More than 5,000 people, including men, have joined the Facebook group, which calls itself the Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women.

The group says it will give the pink underwear to Sri Ram Sena (Army of Lord Ram) on Valentine’s Day on Saturday.

Pramod Mutalik, who heads the little known Ram Sena and is now on bail after he was held following the attack, has said it is “not acceptable” for women to go to bars in India.

He has also said his men will protest against Valentine’s Day on Saturday.

The Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women, which was formed on Facebook last Thursday, has also exhorted women to “walk to the nearest pub and buy a drink” on Valentine’s Day.

Laughing at reactionaries, fundamentalist and similar extremists – can be the best medicine. Opportunist politicians may rely on them as a guaranteed voting bloc. It’s as important to point out that the hacks who depend on them are as laughable and cowardly as the nutballs.

Justice Department to review all state secrets rulings

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered a review of all claims of state secrets used to block lawsuits into warrantless spying on Americans and the treatment of foreign terrorism suspects.

Holder…directed senior Justice Department officials to review all Bush-era claims of state secrets to make sure they are invoked only in legally appropriate situations.

“It is vital that we protect information that, if released, could jeopardize national security. But the Justice Department will ensure the privilege is not invoked to hide from the American people information about their government’s actions that they have a right to know,” spokesman Matt Miller said.

The U.S. government has in some cases invoked state-secret claims that allowing a lawsuit to proceed could jeopardize national security. Such cases include legal challenges to the domestic spying program using wiretaps that President George W. Bush began after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

We ain’t gonna win ’em all; but, at least we have a fighting chance to reclaim the Constitution.

I hope there ain’t too many folks out there who actually believe Democrats are qualitatively more honest than Republicans.

Professor flees Thailand after alleged insult to king

Don’t say anything about the hat, either

A prominent academic facing 15 years in prison for allegedly insulting the Thai monarchy has fled to England, saying that he did not believe he would receive a fair trial.

Ji Ungpakorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, was charged last month under a Thai lèse-majesté law over a book about the country’s military coup in 2006. His case is the latest in a spate of prosecutions and increased censorship of Web sites deemed to be critical of the royal family.

“There is no justice in Thailand,” Ji said in an e-mail sent to The Associated Press. “The regime seems to be inching toward a police state.”

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but has severe lèse-majesté laws, mandating a prison term of 3 to 15 years for “whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent.”

“When the last king is strangled…” may be a little extreme. But, the whole world would be a better place without inherited government.