Piaggio ready to offer low-polluting 3-person car

Italy’s Piaggio is preparing to launch a small city three-person, four-wheel car, including a hybrid-powered version, for use in Asian and European cities to overcome traffic congestion, said its Chairman Roberto Colaninno.

Best known for its Vespa scooters, Piaggio plans to launch the low-consumption, low-polluting vehicle on the market in the next three years but has so far made no decisions on where to produce the vehicle, nor where it will start selling, nor the price, Colaninno said at the presentation of prototypes at a motorbike show.

I know, I know. Smoke and mirrors – so far.

“We have not thought of the Nano for India even less the Smart,” Colaninno said, asked about possible competitors produced respectively by India’s Tata Motors and Germany’s Daimler AG.

The prototypes shown on Piaggio’s stand at the show resemble both these two other small vehicles, though the unnamed Piaggio vehicle has two seats behind and a single driver’s seat upfront.

Times/Sunday Times online – paywall drives away 87% of readers!

More than 100,000 people have paid to go behind the Times and Sunday Times’ new online paywalls but visits to their websites have fallen by about 87%.

Times Online was registering about 21 million unique users a month to its front page earlier this year but the figure fell to 2.7 million last month…

Times editor James Harding said the papers were “hugely encouraged“…

The subscription figures have been eagerly awaited by publishers and advertisers since the two papers went behind an online paywall four months ago…

BBC media correspondent Torin Douglas said many people in the industry had been sceptical about the paywall move, and that there would be intense analysis and debate over the significance of the figures…

The interviews with Rupert Murdoch flunkies toe the party line, e.g., anything for “free” is economic suicide. Someone really must explain that to Google or, say, Saatchi & Co..

Shooter waited a day to turn himself in – had to keep a date with his mom to go gambling!

A man accused of shooting an 80-year-old man in the head and stuffing the body into the trunk of his own car waited to tell police so he could spend a day gambling with his mother, according to court documents.

Robert L. Johnson, 40, of Byers, is being held without bond at the Arapahoe County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder. The body was found in a car trunk Saturday as police searched a vehicle, parked at the Arapahoe County Justice Center, for a bomb.

Johnson had arrived at the justice complex at about noon Saturday to turn himself in on a failure to appear warrant out of Denver. While there he asked to talk to someone privately because he “wanted to confess to a murder,” according to the arrest affidavit…

Johnson told investigators that he had called the 80-year-old man and told him his truck wouldn’t start. The victim came in his vehicle to help, opened the trunk to get a tow rope and Johnson, who was standing directly behind him, shot the man in the back of the head, the court document said.

The victim fell half way into the trunk and Johnson shoved the body in the rest of the way, closed the trunk and wiped up some blood…

After the shooting, Johnson drove to the victim’s home in Byers and fed the man’s cat. Johnson, according to the affidavit, “opened several cabinet and dresser drawers to make it look like a robbery took place,” but decided that it was a “dumb thing to do and closed everything back up.”

He had wanted to tell authorities about the shooting on Thursday, but he waited so he could go gambling with his mother on Friday…

On Saturday morning Johnson went by the victim’s home and fed the cat again before heading out to the Arapahoe County Jail.

OK. There are dumb murderers. There are strange murderers. Then, there are dumb, strange, truly weird murderers.

Sugary crap beverages still widely available in American schools

Despite efforts to limit their availability, public elementary school students in the United States have more outlets to buy unhealthy beverages at school…

Over a three-year period ending in 2009, more students could buy sweetened beverages like sodas, higher-fat milk and sports beverages from vending machines and school stores… Such drinks are a major source of calories, and removing them from schools could help curb the nation’s obesity epidemic.

“Elementary school students are still surrounded by a variety of unhealthy beverages while at school,” said Lindsey Turner of the University of Illinois at Chicago…

Although U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines say schools should not provide sweetened beverages in government supported cafeteria meals, students can buy these items in vending machines or school stores — known as competitive venues because they compete with the government meals…

During the three years of the study, they said the number of vending machines remained stable, but access to stores or snack bars or a la carte cafeteria lines rose significantly.

By 2009, 61 percent of students could buy high-calorie drinks from vending machines or school stores compared with 49 percent just two years prior…

Too much sugar not only makes people fatter, but is also a key culprit in diabetes, heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association…

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group based in Washington, urged Congress to pass the U.S. lawmakers to pass the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act when it returns for the lame duck session.

Sounds way too principled for Congress – lame duck or otherwise.

Faced with a choice between aiding kids to have a healthier diet vs. optimizing profits for crap-drink corporations, which side do you think our politicians will choose, eh?

Google sues Feds for bid-rigging

Google has filed suit against the U.S. government, alleging that the process by which a government agency evaluated a request for a new software suite unfairly gave preference to Microsoft.

In 2009 the Department of the Interior sought a new collaboration and messaging suite for its approximately 88,000 employees. Google sought to join the process, but was allegedly rebuffed by the bureaucratic process.

Because of Microsoft’s long history of providing government solutions, the suit alleges that the DOI established Microsoft Office as a departmental standard, which was affirmed in an updated decision in July 2010

Microsoft had submitted its Microsoft BPOS-Federal Suite, consisting of hosting services, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Office Communications Online. Google wished to challenge Microsoft with its Google Apps, a hosted service that Google said could be implemented more cheaply and effectively than Microsoft’s service. In July, Google won FISMA certification for Google Apps for Government, a hosted version of Google Apps that Google said met the DOI’s requirements.

Google asked the court to bar the Department of the Interior from going forward with the requisition process, including a planned 5,000-user pilot process for Microsoft’s products.

Bid-rigging is a time-honored part of American government. How dare Google challenge our traditions?

What 1st Amendment?


The Schneiders with Siobhan Reynolds
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Last week, I asked a lawyer from a libertarian group for a copy of a brief it had filed in a First Amendment case. Sounding frustrated and incredulous, he said a federal appeals court had sealed the brief and forbidden its distribution.

“It’s a profound problem,” said the lawyer, Paul M. Sherman, with the Institute for Justice. “We want to bring attention to important First Amendment issues but cannot share the brief that most forcefully makes those arguments.”

The brief was filed in support of Siobhan Reynolds, an activist who thinks the government is too aggressive in prosecuting doctors who prescribe pain medications.

The Institute for Justice does not represent Ms. Reynolds, and it is not a party in the case. Its submission, made with a second libertarian group, Reason Foundation, was an amici curiae — or friends of the court — brief. It relied only on publicly available materials.

But it was sealed by the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, citing grand jury secrecy rules. The court then denied the groups’ motion to unseal their own brief. That ruling itself is sealed, too, but I have seen parts of it…

The brief paints an unflattering picture of the United States attorney’s office in Kansas, which may have overreacted to Ms. Reynolds’s adamant public defense of two medical professionals, Stephen J. Schneider and his wife, Linda K. Schneider, who were indicted in 2007 for illegally distributing prescription painkillers to patients who overdosed on them.

In 2008, Tanya J. Treadway, a federal prosecutor, asked the judge in the Schneiders’ case to prohibit Ms. Reynolds, who is not a lawyer and had no formal role in the case, from making “extrajudicial statements.” In the vernacular, Ms. Treadway asked for a gag order.

Judge Monti L. Belot of Federal District Court in Wichita denied that request, saying Ms. Treadway was seeking an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech…

RTFA. An amazing tale of the lengths a prosecutor can and will go to to impose a gag order.

Ms. Reynolds has not only been gagged – and subject to daily fines – the gag has been upheld by a secret court hearing. The grand jury procedure was used to silence critics and maintain secret proceedings.

The merits of the original case are not the question. Judges and prosecutors who hold their actions as above the law and sacrosanct are at cross-purposes to free speech and transparency.

Gay campaigners plan Kiss-In for the Pope’s Barca visit


Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Gay rights activists are planning a homosexual kissing protest in front of Pope Benedict XVI when he visits Barcelona this weekend.

Organisers plan for same-sex couples to gather and kiss in a so-called flashmob protest when the Pope arrives to consecrate the city’s Sagrada Familia church and celebrate mass in Spain on November 7.

“We are hoping for a crowd of people of the same sex who will kiss each other for two minutes in front of the Pope,” said Marylene Carole, one of the organisers.

“After two minutes, the flashmob will finish and each participant will leave as if nothing happened,” she said.

The organisers, a group of half a dozen friends who say they are not affiliated to any association, are inviting people via Facebook, Twitter, and a blog to take part…

“The reason is to show our unhappiness with an institution which for a long time has been against the sexual and emotional rights of many people who do not practice exclusively reproductive sex or people who do not love each other in the way that the institution thinks is right,” Ms Carole said.

The idea for the protest was completely spontaneous, Mr Perez said. He added that the idea was to make a symbolic and completely peaceful protest.

Rock the Pope!