Italy hosts its first divorce fair

Italy is holding its first divorce fair, offering services such as life coaching and beauty advice to a booming number of separating couples in the Catholic country.

The organizers said the fair, which will be held in Milan on May 8-9, aims to help divorcing people start a new, happier life.

Smiling is key to this fair, which also offers serious, practical advice for often dramatic situations,” Franco Zanetti, who created the event, told Reuters.

The services include divorce planning, anti-stalking help, and “new look” tips, the organizers said.

Echoing similar initiatives in the United States and elsewhere in Europe, visitors will also be able to subscribe to divorce gift lists at department stores in Milan.

Growing up in a “good Catholic state” I still remember happiness when we finally kicked out the worst examples of a state legislature entirely at the beck and call of the Dark Ages.

When I had my vasectomy, the urologist asked me to swear I had it done the next state over. I lived only five blocks from the pharmacist arrested for displaying condoms for sale – who had to go to the Supreme Court to win the right to sell contraceptive devices.

Good for you, Italy. Nice to see another nation climbing out from under the cross of state.

Iowa trial begins in slaughterhouse child labor case


Awaiting sentencing on federal fraud, money-laundering charges

Jury selection has begun in the trial of a former kosher slaughterhouse owner and four workers accused of thousands of child labor violations, such as allowing teenagers to use meat grinders and exposing children to dangerous chemicals.

The trial begins as the former manager of the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Sholom Rubashkin, awaits sentencing on 86 financial fraud convictions. Prosecutors asked a federal judge at a sentencing hearing last week to give Rubashkin 25 years in prison…

The state filed the charges in September 2008, about four months after an immigration raid at the plant led to the arrest of 389 workers…

“Throughout their employment, these children were exposed to dangerous and/or poisonous chemicals including … dry ice and chlorine solutions,” Assistant Attorneys General Thomas H. Miller and Laura Roan wrote in the original complaint.

That complaint also claimed that children under 16 were allowed to use meat circular saws and power washers…

He also claimed the plant asked for workers’ driver’s licenses and birth certificates, and it wasn’t the company’s fault if people lied.

Roan, the assistant attorney general, wrote in her response that Billmeyer, Althouse and Freund “reasonably knew” that the information provided to them was false. Their guilty pleas to charges related to the hiring of illegal immigrants showed this, prosecutors said.

I’ve posted on the topic before. Meatpackers are the archetypical example of union-busting and sleazy practices – using undocumentados to cut wages and benefits.

RTFA. This is an industry where average wages were better than $18/hour twenty years ago. And, now, underage workers risk life and limb for $7.50/hour – without public complaint.

New stem cells will reduce the need for animal testing

Powerful stem cells made by reprogramming adult tissue could reduce the need for animal testing of new drugs, according to a scientific pioneer of the technology.

Jamie Thomson, of the University of Wisconsin, told The Times that “in-vitro trials” based on so-called induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells would refine pharmaceutical development so that fewer animal experiments would be required.

The cells were already being used as a source of human tissue for testing candidate drugs for safety and effectiveness, he said. As a result, fewer unworkable drugs would advance to animal studies, and some animal tests may become unnecessary.

“If what we are doing is successful it will dramatically reduce animal testing, and maybe towards the end of our lifespan actually eliminate it for some things,” Professor Thomson said. “I think we will have much better models for these things…”

Human tissue grown from IPS cells may even provide a better laboratory model than animals, Professor Thomson said. “I trained as a veterinary pathologist, and the correlation [between results in animal and humans on trials] is not that great at the end of the day,” he said.

One more step forward. Nice knowing we need not spend all of our political efforts defending against a government marching in lockstep with superstition and ignorance.

Three innocents dead as Greece protest turns into riot


Marfin Bank where three died in fire
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

At least three people have been killed in the Greek capital as protesters set fire to a bank during a general strike over planned austerity measures.

The bodies were found inside the Marfin Bank in Athens. The Greek prime minister said it was a “murderous act”.

The protest became violent, with petrol bombs thrown at police who responded with pepper spray and tear gas.

Protesters are angered by spending cuts and tax rises planned in return for a 110bn euro (£95bn) bail-out for Greece.

A police spokesman said the three victims – two women and a man – were among 20 people working in the Marfin bank branch on Stadiou Avenue in central Athens when the petrol bomb was thrown…

As the demonstration gained momentum, a group of protesters rushed up a flight of steps at the parliament building in Syntagma Square, taunting MPs to come out and calling them “thieves”…

Riot police forced them back, but right next to parliament, other groups set buildings on fire – including a department of the finance ministry in charge of the the austerity programme as well as an office of the Athens prefecture…

Correspondent say it is not clear whether shock over the deaths will have the effect of diminishing the protests – but the fear is that the campaign to defeat the government will escalate.

The is nothing new or novel about demonstrations led into the blind alley of violence. Whether agents provocateurs or anarchists took the lead the result is the same. Innocent people died. Firms providing employment were damaged or destroyed. Government offices normally providing simple day-by-day administrative functions have been rendered useless.

None of this aids any reasonable cause. None of this aids working people or ordinary citizens.

I have supported revolutionary war, wars of national liberation, civic struggles against injustice in many places on this globe. I never have supported terror and violence against civilians and never will. Those who murdered these people are as criminal as Al Qaeda..

You never realized a salad spinner was a centrifuge?

A simple salad spinner will save lives this summer, if everything goes as planned by two Rice University undergraduates.

The spinner has been turned, so to speak, into a rudimentary centrifuge that medical clinics in developing countries can use to separate blood without electricity.

Rice sophomore Lila Kerr and freshman Lauren Theis will take their Sally Centrifuge abroad for nearly two months this summer as part of Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB), Rice’s global health initiative that brings new ideas and technologies to underdeveloped countries. Kerr will take a spinner to Ecuador in late May, Theis will take one to Swaziland in early June and a third BTB team will take one to Malawi, also in June. Such field testing is important to Rice students as they develop a range of tools to enhance global health.

Kerr and Theis are minoring in global health technologies and took the Introduction to Bioengineering and World Health class taught by Rebecca Richards-Kortum…director of Rice 360˚: Institute for Global Health Technologies…

“We were essentially told we need to find a way to diagnose anemia without power, without it being very costly and with a portable device,” added Theis, a political science major and native of San Antonio, Texas.

They found that a salad spinner met those criteria. When tiny capillary tubes that contain about 15 microliters of blood are spun in the device for 10 minutes, the blood separates into heavier red blood cells and lighter plasma. The hematocrit, or ratio of red blood cells to the total volume, measured with a gauge held up to the tube, can tell clinicians if a patient is anemic. That detail is critical for diagnosing malnutrition, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria…

The centrifuge, assembled using plastic lids, cut-up combs, yogurt containers and a hot-glue gun, costs about $30 in parts, including the spinner.

Bravo! Another successful field expedient.

My kid wouldn’t do that…

It can be difficult for parents of teenagers to come to terms with the fact their kids may have sex, particularly given widespread concerns about the consequences of teen sexual activity. In fact, a new study from North Carolina State University shows that many parents think that their children aren’t interested in sex – but that everyone else’s kids are.

“Parents I interviewed had a very hard time thinking about their own teen children as sexually desiring subjects,” says Dr. Sinikka Elliott, an assistant professor of sociology at NC State and author of the study. In other words, parents find it difficult to think that their teenagers want to have sex.

“At the same time,” Elliott says, “parents view their teens’ peers as highly sexual, even sexually predatory.” By taking this stance, the parents shift the responsibility for potential sexual activity to others – attributing any such behavior to peer pressure, coercion or even entrapment…

These beliefs contribute to stereotypes of sexual behavior that aren’t helpful to parents or kids.

“By using sexual stereotypes to absolve their children of responsibility for sexual activity, the parents effectively reinforce those same stereotypes,” Elliott says.

Parents’ use of these stereotypes also paints teen heterosexual relationships in an unflattering, adversarial light, Elliott says and notes the irony of this: “Although parents assume their kids are heterosexual, they don’t make heterosexual relationships sound very appealing.”

Elliot has a paper describing the study…in the May issue of Symbolic Interaction. And he has a book on the topic – Not My Kid: Parents and Teen Sexuality – arriving in bookstores this year.

Sounds like it’s worth a read. Especially by parents of teenagers.

Constitution overrules student-led prayer at H.S. graduation

A judge late has granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting Greenwood High School from permitting student-led prayer at its May 28 graduation ceremony.

School officials said they won’t appeal U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker’s decision, effectively ending the dispute.

In the ruling, Barker wrote that “the process in place permitting a student-led prayer at Greenwood represents a clear violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, as does the delivery of a specific prayer set to occur as the result of that process during the upcoming 2010 graduation ceremony.”

Greenwood Superintendent David Edds said he was not completely surprised by the ruling…

“The reality is there is a precedent, and the case law that preceded the case today made our challenge difficult,” he said.

ACLU-Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk said he was happy about the judge’s ruling. The ACLU had filed the suit on behalf of valedictorian Eric Workman, who claimed the graduation prayer violates the First Amendment provision of the separation of church and state.

This is what the Constitution demands in this instance,” Falk said of the ruling. “I would hope that the judge was quite clear in court. She viewed it as a teaching opportunity. I hope everyone understands the scope of the Constitution here.”

People who usually ignore democracy in it’s suppression – like in the U.S. Senate – are always willing to trot out a semblance of that special freedom when it serves a reactionary cause. One of the reasons for having a judiciary that understands constitutional law and how it may be used to support progress.

Which, of course, is the essential reason why reactionaries try to load the Supreme Court with ideologues.