Belgian politicians propose banning full-face veils

A Belgian parliamentary committee has voted to impose a nationwide ban on wearing face-covering veils in public…The ban includes any clothes or veils that do not allow the wearer to be fully identified, including the full-face niqab and burqa.

If passed, the measure would be the first clampdown of its kind in Europe…

With the governing parties and opposition in agreement, officials expect the full house to easily endorse the draft law…

This is a very strong signal that is being sent to Islamists,” said Denis Ducarme, a French-speaking deputy from the centre-right Reformist Movement that proposed the bill. Ducarme said he was “proud that Belgium would be the first country in Europe which dares to legislate on this sensitive matter”.

“We have to free women of this burden,” said his colleague Corinne de Parmentier.

The vice-president of the Muslim Executive of Belgium, Isabelle Praile, warned that the move could set a dangerous precedent. “Today it’s the full-face veil, tomorrow the veil, the day after it will be Sikh turbans and then perhaps it will be mini skirts,” she said.

Well, the question as proposed to parliament is one of identification. I’m not certain mini-skirts are hiding much of anything – including recognition.

If endorsed, the vote would see the ban imposed in streets, public gardens and sports grounds or buildings “meant for public use or to provide services” to the public.

Exceptions would be allowed for certain festivities like carnivals if municipal authorities decide to grant them.

I think it appropriate to place all religious symbolism in carnivals.

Inquiry rules secrecy crippling – but, science remains legitimate

MPs…strongly criticised the University of East Anglia for not tackling a “culture of withholding information” among the climate change scientists whose private emails caused a furore after being leaked online in November.

The parliamentary science and technology select committee was scathing about the “standard practice” among the climate science community of not routinely releasing all its raw data and computer codes – something the committee’s chair, Phil Willis MP, described as “reprehensible”. He added: “That practice needs to change and it needs to change quickly.”

There was no evidence to challenge the “scientific consensus” that global warming is induced by human activities…

• On peer review, “the evidence we have seen does not suggest that Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process” and academics should not be criticised for “informal comments” on papers, MPs said…

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment said the report, “does not really shed any more light on the controversy surrounding the emails … and will not stop the conspiracy theories being spread by so-called ‘sceptics’.

Of course not. Skepticism not founded on reasonable peer-reviewed science is political balderdash, nothing more.

Prof. Jones resigned when this blew up – and the parliamentary committee has recommended he return to the University and resume his research and teaching.

Criminal probe targets ex-GOP chief in Florida

Florida has launched a criminal investigation into the state Republican party’s recently ousted chairman and a company he secretly hired to raise donations…

The investigation targeted Jim Greer, who resigned as state party chairman in January amid accusations that he misspent party funds, a political source confirmed.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement did not identify Greer by name but said in a statement that it was investigating “possible criminal activity surrounding a former senior official of the Republican Party of Florida and Victory Strategies, LLC.”

The Orlando Sentinel newspaper reported that Greer was the majority owner of Victory Strategies and that the company benefited from a secret contract that paid it commissions on money raised for the party

The investigation comes at a time when the party is already dealing with embarrassing revelations about spending by the Republican National Committee, which spent thousands of dollars at lavish hotels and paid $1,946 for meals at a West Hollywood nightclub featuring topless dancers and bondage themes.

Students of history will recognize many of the symptoms of political thugs in decline. Whether they identify best with Louis XVI – or Caligula – the reign of Cheney, Rove and Bush left behind sufficient despot-pretenders to make the Mafia blush.

Electronic prescribing reduces medication errors by seven-fold

Medication errors are cut by seven-fold when doctors use an electronic system to write prescriptions, compared with scrawling prescriptions by hand, reports a new study by physician-scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC), published online recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

We found nearly two in five handwritten prescriptions in these community practices had errors,” says Dr. Rainu Kaushal, the study’s lead author… “Examples of the types of errors we found included incomplete directions and prescribing a medication but omitting the quantity. A small number of errors were more serious, such as prescribing incorrect dosages…”

“Although most of the errors we found would not cause serious harm to patients, they could result in callbacks from pharmacies and loss of time for doctors, patients and pharmacists,” says senior author Dr. Erika Abramson, assistant professor of pediatrics at WCMC. “On the plus side, we found that by writing prescriptions electronically, doctors can dramatically reduce these errors and therefore these inefficiencies…”

The study noted that, without extensive technical support, it is difficult for physician practices to achieve high rates of use of electronic prescribing and subsequent improvements in medication safety.

In total, the authors reviewed 3,684 paper-based prescriptions at the start of the study and 3,848 paper-based and electronic prescriptions written one year later. After one year, the percentage of errors dropped to 7 percent from 43 percent for the providers using the electronic system; for those writing prescriptions by hand, the percentage of errors increased slightly to 38 percent from 37 percent. Illegibility problems were completely eliminated by e-prescribing.

Timing couldn’t be better for me. This is doctor-day for me and my first stop is with a friend and physician who has resisted putting a computer in his office for 25 years.

When his office manager called yesterday to remind me of the appointment – she couldn’t wait to tell me that Paul has finally computerized his practice.

After we finish our usual discussion of worldly affairs – like Ferrari vs. McLaren – I will try to nudge him along in his entry into the digital age.

“Spooky” creature, the aye-aye, endangered by superstition

OK, I’m still trying to figure out how it’s not just “cute”.

Although the aye-aye weighs a mere 4 pounds in the wild, this tiny animal is viewed as the harbinger of death by locals in Madagascar, the only place on Earth where you’ll find these creatures in nature.

According to legend, the aye-aye, with its dark eyes, long fingers and ghoulish appearance, is thought to sneak into the dwellings of nearby villagers and use its middle finger — considerably longer than its other fingers — to pierce the hearts of sleeping humans.

In fact, the animal uses its middle finger to find and harvest insect larvae in trees. It prowls at night, tapping its finger rapidly against tree branches to listen for hollowed-out pockets in the wood that hold grubs….

Superstitions around the aye-aye may have developed because it is apparently unafraid of humans. It will even walk right up to human passersby to take a closer look. The aye-aye’s reputation is, of course, entirely unfounded. However, because of the way the aye-aye is perceived, this perfectly harmless creature is often killed on sight.

A hallmark of superstition: If you don’t understand it, kill it. After all, the problem could not possibly be you.

“My God, it’s a human!!”

Tea Party donor sues convention organizer over splitting the take

A donor to the National Tea Party convention says in a lawsuit the convention organizer reneged on a partnership deal and spread defamatory comments about him.

Bill Hemrick, a wealthy conservative and founder of the Upper Deck baseball trading card company, filed the suit against Tea Party Nation leader Judson Phillips in Williamson County, Tenn…The suit, which seeks $500,000 in damages, comes nearly two months after the National Tea Party convention in Nashville.

Hemrick had loaned the group $50,000 toward the $100,000 speaking fee for former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, Fox said.

Hemrick’s attorney, Phillip Jones, told The (Nashville) Tennessean, his client gave the loan to forge a long-term relationship with Phillips’ Tea Party Nation. “My client takes politics very seriously,” Jones said. “And he thought they were going to be partners. But once he advanced the money, he found out that was not the case…”

Jones says he repaid the loan – with no interest – and the convention only “broke even” so there were no profits to share.


An archaeological mystery in a half-ton lead coffin

In the ruins of a city that was once Rome’s neighbor, archaeologists last summer found a 1,000-pound lead coffin.

Who or what is inside is still a mystery, said Nicola Terrenato, the University of Michigan professor of classical studies who leads the project—the largest American dig in Italy in the past 50 years.

The sarcophagus will soon be transported to the American Academy in Rome, where engineers will use heating techniques and tiny cameras in an effort to gain insights about the contents without breaking the coffin itself.

“We’re very excited about this find,” Terrenato said. “Romans as a rule were not buried in coffins to begin with and when they did use coffins, they were mostly wooden. There are only a handful of other examples from Italy of lead coffins from this age—the second, third or fourth century A.D. We know of virtually no others in this region…”

“It’s a sheet of lead folded onto itself an inch thick,” he said. “A thousand pounds of metal is an enormous amount of wealth in this era. To waste so much of it in a burial is pretty unusual…”

“It’s hard to predict what’s inside, because it’s the only example of its kind in the area,” Terrenato said. “I’m trying to keep my hopes within reason…”

One of the most rewarding ways a student, a researcher, can spend their vacation time. Volunteering for an archaeological dig is truly an adventure in time.

A chocolate a day keeps the heart doctor away

Eating as little as a quarter of an ounce of chocolate each day — an amount equal to about one small Easter egg — may lower your risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke, a new study has found. For best results, the chocolate should be dark, experts say.

Dark chocolate exhibits the greatest effects, milk chocolate fewer, and white chocolate no effects,” says the lead author of the study, Brian Buijsse…

In the study, Buijsse and his colleagues followed nearly 20,000 people for an average of eight years. The researchers surveyed the study participants about their chocolate consumption (as well as the rest of their diet), and also tracked the heart attacks and strokes that occurred in the group.

Compared with people who rarely ate chocolate (about one bar per month), the people who ate the most chocolate (slightly more than one bar per week) had a 27 percent and 48 percent reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, respectively, the researchers found…

The people in the study were part of a larger study on the effect of diet and lifestyle on cancer risk. For the current study, Buijsse and his colleagues excluded anyone with a history of heart disease or stroke, and also controlled for age, diet, lifestyle, and other factors.

Experts believe that natural compounds known as flavonoids (or flavonols), which appear to promote artery health and reduce inflammation, are responsible for the cardiovascular benefits that have been associated with chocolate consumption.

Flavonols are found in cocoa, and dark chocolate contains more cocoa than milk chocolate does.

Both the stores where we shop have a range of chocolate – and since I grew up with Euro-style chocolate in the house, I prefer the 72% super chocolate I get at Trader Joe’s. They have a small, skinny bar that’s just 1.65 ounce.

Afghan end-game: Does India get screwed?

Disquiet is growing in India that Pakistan is gaining the upper hand in a “proxy war” in Afghanistan as the two juggle for influence in an end-game that risks a political vacuum if the U.S.-led war winds down…

Last week’s high level strategic dialogue between Pakistan’s military and U.S. politicians in Washington, praise for Pakistan’s crackdown on Taliban commanders and promises of swifter U.S. aid have added to India’s sense of playing second fiddle.

Underlying this is a perception that Western powers need Pakistan more than India to broker any deal with the Taliban if there is any U.S. troops withdrawal, creating a potential flashpoint in relations between the emerging Asian economic power and the West…

Both India and Pakistan have for decades sought to secure influence in this Central Asian geopolitical crossroads and President Barack Obama’s public, if vague, time-table to start to withdraw military forces has added to an urgency to gain leverage.

With the Taliban in power during the 1990s, India lost sway in Afghanistan. Under Afghan President Hamid Karzai, India used economic clout, some $1.3 billion in aid, to up its presence with new consulates and the construction of power lines and highways.

For New Delhi, it helped guarantee Afghanistan would not become a harbor of militants who could cross over to Kashmir.

But the London conference on Afghanistan in January was a turning point for many in India. It ushered in the idea that Europe and the United States could accept getting certain Taliban commanders involved in a deal to bring stability to Afghanistan.

“There is a genuine sense of disappointment – even disbelief – that the US perspective on reconciling the Taliban evolved all too abruptly, contrary to what Delhi was given to understand,” said M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat who has worked in Islamabad and Kabul.

While a significant number of other Afghanistan watchers say the euphoria over London was overdone, and question especially whether Washington significantly softened its position on reconciliation with the Taliban, Bhadrakumar’s view is common in India.

RTFA. Long, useful – even though a portion of it relies on interviews with politicians in both India and Pakistan who are out of power. Which means they’re perfectly willing to play the fear-card to get back into office.

Poisonally, I think India can stand on their own alongside anyone in the region and not worry about going back to yclept political games.

Dutch prisons use psychics to help prisoners contact the dead

Paul van Bree, a self-styled “paragnost” or clairvoyant, has been hired by the Dutch prison service to teach prisoners how to “love themselves”.

“I tell them that dead relatives are doing well and that they love them. That brings them peace. Big strong men burst into tears,” he said.

Mr van Bree, who also publishes annual predictions of the future, claims to be from a long line of clairvoyants, including his mother and grandmother….

With my antennae I sometimes reveal more than a psychologist or a prison welfare officer,” he said. “My work can be compared to mental health care in widest sense of the words.”

The Dutch employment service has also looked beyond the normal to use “regression therapy” and tarot cards to help the jobless.

Uncooperative welfare claimants have been told they will lose benefits unless they accept the guidance of a regression therapist to help them get in touch with their past lives.

It could be worse. They could send them a priest.