Snakes NOT on a plane – Indonesian style

Indonesian customs officials have arrested two men suspected of trying to take 40 snakes on to a flight to Dubai.

The two were about to enter the departure area at Jakarta airport when X-rays showed their bags were filled with sedated pythons…

The two suspects told investigators they planned to sell the animals to collectors in the United Arab Emirates, the AP news agency reports…

“People often use the flights to Dubai to smuggle illegal animals,” an official at Jakarta airport told AFP news agency.

For the sake of flight safety and security, no animals are allowed to be brought on to aircraft without permission and special handling,” the official, Salahudin Rafi, added.

And if they get loose on the plane, it’s a remake of a not-very-good movie.

Healthcare Reform helps businesses – who still won’t admit it

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

When President Barack Obama signed his healthcare overhaul into law a year ago, some U.S. companies were quick to flag — and write down — the millions of dollars they stood to lose as a result of one aspect of the measure.

A year later, data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows the business community is one of the biggest beneficiaries of a separate provision of the overhaul, which provides billions of dollars in assistance to employers that maintain medical coverage for early retirees.

Hundreds of U.S. companies — including some that took writedowns last year that critics cited as proof of the new law’s burden on business — are participating in the program, which has paid out $530 million in the first seven months and is authorized to spend as much as $5 billion through 2014.

But while companies were quick to bemoan a potential headwind created by the overhaul, which eliminated a double subsidy they had enjoyed on certain drug expenses, no one seems keen to alert shareholders to the tailwind the companies are enjoying thanks to another aspect of the law.

The program, known as the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program, was designed to encourage health-plan sponsors — companies, labor unions, nonprofits and state and local governments — to continue to provide coverage to employees who retire before they qualify for Medicare, the government healthcare program for people aged 65 and over…

The plan is scheduled to sunset in 2014, when the health insurance exchanges created by the Obama law are scheduled to open, providing affordable insurance to everyone. But in the four years ERRP is around, it can put as much as $240,000 per early retiree back in the pocket of a company…

So far, about one-fifth of the $530 million that was dispersed in the first seven months of the program has gone to private U.S. businesses. The actual amounts each company received are not yet available.

But the official list of companies participating in the program includes half the members of the Dow Jones industrial average.

Reuters contacted the three biggest firms on that list, AT&T, Caterpillar and John Deere asking what they had told their shareholders about the benefits received from this aspect of healthcare reform. They either offered no comment – or said they’re still evaluating data.

Counting the money is more like it.

In educated secular democracies religion is set for extinction

A study using census data from nine countries shows that religion there is set for extinction, say researchers.

The study found a steady rise in those claiming no religious affiliation.

The team’s mathematical model attempts to account for the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives behind being one. The result, reported at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US, indicates that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.

The team took census data stretching back as far as a century from countries in which the census queried religious affiliation: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland…

Dr Wiener continued: “In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%.”

The team then applied their nonlinear dynamics model, adjusting parameters for the relative social and utilitarian merits of membership of the “non-religious” category.

They found…that those parameters were similar across all the countries studied, suggesting that similar behaviour drives the mathematics in all of them. And in all the countries, the indications were that religion was headed toward extinction.

However, Dr Wiener told the conference that the team was working to update the model with a “network structure” more representative of the one at work in the world.

“Obviously we don’t really believe this is the network structure of a modern society, where each person is influenced equally by all the other people in society,” he said. However, he told BBC News that he thought it was “a suggestive result”.

Overdue. Not that I think philosophical idealism will vanish. We have a few too many genes that need to update before that could happen. But, so-called organized religion appears to be working as diligently as possible to become a force for regressive, even reactionary behavior. Probably, because those who profit the most from incumbency fear the only way to maintain power and profit is by drawing back into fundamentalism for protection.

That educated societies choose to assume greater individual freedoms – especially in those areas where organized religion declares that only “revealed” word must govern, e.g., women’s rights, bigotry, racism, war, political power should only be assumed by the “chosen” – individuals learn from experience that a life governed by reason instead of religion proves to be a better life for all.

Since the study concerned educated secular democracies, the United States obviously has little need to fear a change.

Festo creates flying robotic seagull

Festo has added to its robotic menagerie with the creation of a robotic seagull that weighs just 450 g and boasts a wingspan of 1.96 metres. Dubbed the SmartBird, the ultralight flying robot was inspired by the herring gull and can take off, fly and land autonomously, without the help of any additional drive systems.

In creating the SmartBird, Festo says it has succeeded in deciphering the flight of birds. The robot’s wings not only beat up and down, with a lever mechanism increasing the degree of deflection to increase from the torso to the wing tip, but also twist at specific angles along their length in the same way that a real bird’s do so that the leading edge is directed upwards during the upward stroke.

Directional control is achieved through the opposing movement of the robot’s head and torso sections, which is synchronized by means of two electric motors and cables. This enables it to bend aerodynamically, with simultaneous weight displacement, and is responsible for the SmartBird’s agility and maneuverability.

As with a real bird, the SmartBird’s tail isn’t just for show either. It produces lift and functions as both a pitch elevator and yaw rudder. In addition to stabilizing the robot in a similar way to an aircraft’s conventional vertical stabilizer, the tail also tilts to initiate left and right turns and rotates about the longitudinal axis to produce yaw.

Packed inside the SmartBird’s torso are the battery, engine and transmission, the crank transmission and control and regulation electronics. Wing position and torsion can be monitored via two-way ZigBee protocol radio communication and can be adjusted and optimized in real time during flight.

There’s a bit more technical analysis and benefits Festo says they’ve acquired from studying their seagull – in the article. “Another plus is that it won’t try and steal your chips at the beach.”

Book prize: Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way

A book advising dentists on how to run their practices Mongolian warlord style has won the Diagram prize for oddest book title of the year.

Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way, by former dentist Michael Young, offers a guide on how to build an empire in the dentistry field. It includes chapters on managing conflict situations, team building and “planning for disaster”…

In his book, Young argues that despite the western world viewing the legendary warrior in negative terms, his warmongering tenacity is required to build a successful business.

Its closest rival was 8th International Friction Stir Welding Symposium Proceedings, which details the development and application of friction stir welding at a German symposium last May…

This year’s other shortlisted titles were What Colour Is Your Dog?, The Italian’s One-Night Love-Child, Myth of the Social Volcano and The Generosity of the Dead.

Previous winners of the prize include Living with Crazy Buttocks, Greek Rural Postmen and their Cancellation Numbers, How to Avoid Huge Ships and Highlights in the History of Concrete.

Rock on Michael Young. I can’t wait to see if my dentist has read this, yet.

Jesuit order to pay $166+ million for sexual abuse claims

John Morse – the worst offender

A US Jesuit order has agreed to pay $166.1 million to compensate nearly 500 victims of decades-long “horrific” sexual and psychological abuse by priests in five US states…

The US Northwest chapter of the Rome-based Society of Jesus agreed to the payout — which lawyers said is the biggest by a religious organization in the United States — as part of bankruptcy proceedings.

Most of those abused by priests from the Oregon Province — the Jesuit order which covers the states of Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana — were Native Americans at mission schools on Indian reservations.

“This settlement recognizes that the Jesuits betrayed the trust of hundreds of young children in their care, and inflicted terrible atrocities upon them,” said lawyer Blaine Tamaki.

“These religious figures should have been responsible for protecting children, but instead raped and molested them,” he added…

Forty-nine of the victims represented by Tamaki were sexually abused when they were eight or younger.

The settlement also asks the Jesuits to provide a written apology to the victims, and share documents of importance to victims, such as their personal medical records, he said.

The abuse took place from the 1940s and continued through to the 1990s

The Jesuit Chapter is in bankruptcy court – claiming the Catholic order can’t afford to compensate the victims of their priests.