Mozzarella outsourced to Germany – turns blue!

A batch of about 70,000 mozzarella balls which turned blue upon opening has been confiscated by food authorities in Italy.

The health ministry said it had activated the European “rapid alert” system to warn of possible contamination, and announced emergency control measures on the cheese.

The cheese – made in Germany for an Italian company – has been removed from shelves and samples sent for testing…

The tainted mozzarella was spotted by a shopper in Turin, who noticed it take on a bluish tint when it was exposed to the air…

Initial tests at an institute in Turin found the colouring to be caused by a bacteria, rather than toxic contamination, AFP reported.

Analysts suggested the colouring could also indicate the presence of copper, nickel or lead in the milk used to make the cheese, or the solution used to preserve it.

The cheese was made for an Italian company, which distributed it to discount supermarkets in the north of the country. Neither the German producer nor the Italian company involved have been named.

Just one more cheapskate company trying to “optimize profits” at the expense of consumers.

Preservatives in mozzarella? Crap. About all a boiled milk cheese [like mozzarella] needs is a dip in chlorinated water or some other O₃ source to prevent mold forming.

If you’re one of those wimps afraid of moldy cheese?

Latest stupid fatwa says dogs are “unclean”

A senior Iranian cleric has decreed dogs are “unclean” and should not be kept as pets — a move aimed at discouraging Western-style dog ownership in the Islamic state.

Dogs are considered “unclean” under Islamic tradition but, while relatively rare in Iran, some people do keep them as pets.

By issuing a fatwa — a religious ruling — Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi has sent a clear message that this trend must stop.

Friendship with dogs is a blind imitation of the West,” he was quoted as saying in Javan daily. “There are lots of people in the West who love their dogs more than their wives and children.”

Guard dogs and sheep dogs are considered acceptable under Islamic law but Iranians who carry dogs in their cars or take them to public parks can be stopped by police and fined…

The anthropology and evolution of dogs alongside humans is something long established. Accepting their companion role is common to many cultures, especially those that have progressed beyond poverty.

Nutballs like this Grand Ayatollah – pampered, aggrandized by a niche in a state religion – are diminishing as any retrograde species of ideologue should.

I look forward to the day when human beings have the chance to visit a museum of extinct ideologies and peer at a diorama featuring a theocratic dead end like Shirazi.

Bring the dog!

Debt management firms sink people deeper in despair

For the companies that promise relief to Americans confronting swelling credit card balances, these are days of lucrative opportunity. So lucrative, that an industry trade association, the United States Organizations for Bankruptcy Alternatives, recently convened in Palm Beach in the oceanfront confines of the Four Seasons Resort to forge deals and plot strategy…

The debt settlement industry can afford some extravagance. The long recession has delivered an abundance of customers — debt-saturated Americans, suffering lost jobs and income, sliding toward bankruptcy. The settlement companies typically harvest fees reaching 15 to 20 percent of the credit card balances carried by their customers, and they tend to collect upfront, regardless of whether a customer’s debt is actually reduced.

State attorneys general from New York to California and consumer watchdogs like the Better Business Bureau say the industry’s proceeds come at the direct expense of financially troubled Americans who are being fleeced of their last dollars with dubious promises.

Consumers rarely emerge from debt settlement programs with their credit card balances eliminated, these critics say, and many wind up worse off, with severely damaged credit, ceaseless threats from collection agents and lawsuits from creditors…

Last year, within the industry’s two leading trade associations — some 250 companies collectively had more than 425,000 customers, who had enrolled roughly $11.7 billion in credit card balances in their programs.

As the industry has grown, so have allegations of unfair practices. Since 2004, at least 21 states have brought at least 128 enforcement actions against debt relief companies, according to the National Association of Attorneys General. Consumer complaints received by states more than doubled between 2007 and 2009, according to comments filed with the Federal Trade Commission.

The industry’s not legitimate,” said Norman Googel, assistant attorney general in West Virginia, which has prosecuted debt settlement companies. “They’re targeting a group of people who are already drowning in debt. We’re talking about middle-class and lower middle-class people who had incomes, but they were using credit cards to survive…”

RTFA.

These creeps say they’re the “little guys” in the credit business. Yup. Just as are loan sharks, payday and paycheck loan companies.

Parasites, leeches, greedy creatures who surround the fiscally wounded, ready to consume the few remaining assets of those who didn’t succeed at building any sort of asset firewall to defend against an erratic economy. Especially after the Bush Congress bled bankruptcy laws white.

Well done. The first of a series.

College fires its chaplains – and no one notices


For those who miss a sabbath day of reflection

In May 2009, Jennifer Walters, dean of religious life at Smith College, closed a budget gap by laying off her only three practicing chaplains, representatives of the American trinity of religious tradition: Protestant, Catholic and Jew…For the first time since 1935, there will be no chaplains at Smith.

According to Dr. Walters, the end of the chaplaincy was not just a matter of money.

On a weekly basis, “less than 100 students were actually participating in regular religious services provided by the college,” Dr. Walters said. “Maybe close to 50 total, to be honest.”

It is hard to tell who cares, or how much.

Since Smith’s decision was reported in April, there have been unhappy letters to The Daily Hampshire Gazette, the local newspaper. The Facebook group Save the Smith Chaplains has 213 members, although it is not clear whether all have a connection to Smith. And in the student newspaper, The Sophian, several undergraduates argued the chaplains’ importance…

On a campus of 2,600 students, more than 50 Smith women, even more than 100, must think about God or spirituality. Upon enrolling, students fill out a religious affiliation card. About 40 percent profess no religious affiliation. But many surely have some religious yearning, and the other 60 percent have at least a nominal religious identity.

Yet they no longer seek answers in the Helen Hills Hills Chapel (yes, Hills Hills)…

“Smith has a wellness director, so we have been working with her on self-care,” Dr. Walters said. “Writing workshops to reflect on their life, a sunrise hike where students get up at 4 or 5 o’clock and walk to Mount Skinner and watch the sun rise — is that a religious program?”

It’s about as much or more than is needed to aid a closeness to nature, natural life. Students whose parents think they are duty-bound to find some Dark Ages straightjacket to cram their thoughts and emotions into – can go to town.

Modern high-tech navies take on Somalia’s pirates


Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

How do you tell the difference between a Somali pirate in a small boat and a largely identical but innocent fisherman? It all comes down to the ladders.

Pirates often take fishing gear out with them into the deep waters of the Indian Ocean to help feed themselves, and fishermen from the lawless country often carry AK-47s for self protection. Grappling hooks can be easily hidden out of sight.

But if naval officers see a small boat with long metal ladders lashed to the deck, they say they know for sure the occupants have set to sea with only one thing in mind…

You can see the giveaway signs that this is a pirate gathering,” says Andreas Kutsch, a German naval officer working as an assistant chief of staff for the EU’s anti-piracy task force, using a laser pointer to show the ladders among the brightly colored plastic containers for spare fuel and water. “Fishermen don’t need ladders…”

On any given day, the United States estimates that some 30 to 40 warships are involved in counter piracy efforts from the EU, NATO and the United States as well as emerging Indian Ocean players China, Russia, India, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan…

There is no overall commander although the navies meet once a month in Bahrain and coordinate through an Internet chat room…

RTFA. Lots of details. Many avenues of interest and discussion.

Poisonally, I’m glad to see any modern navy doing something useful. Yes, I realize the political arrivals and departures from harbors foreign to the flag of a military vessel does some good. But, it’s nice to see productive use of hardware that, after all, is designed to interdict global lawbreakers.