Vegan couple manages to kill their child with malnutrition

Two vegans whose 11-month-old baby daughter died from vitamin deficiency after drinking only its mother’s milk have gone on trial in northern France, charged with child neglect.

Sergipe and Joel Le Moaligou, who eat no animal products, called the emergency services in March, 2008, when their baby Louise appeared listless.

By the time the ambulance arrived at their home in Saint-Maulvis, north of Paris, she was already dead.

Louise weighed just 12lb, compared to an average 17.5lb for a child her age, and was deathly pale.

An autopsy showed that Louise was suffering from a vitamin A and B12 deficiency, which experts say increases a child’s sensitivity to infections

French prosecutors allege the vitamin deficiency may have been linked to the mother’s diet, and say that the couple also failed to follow medical advice to hospitalise the baby, who was suffering from bronchitis…

“They preferred applying clay or cabbage poultices whose recipes they found in their books. These are people who read the wrong thing at the wrong time,” said Mr Daquo.

The parents are still vegan and “are completely aware of the mistake they made,” said the father’s lawyer, Patrick Quenel. If convicted, the couple could face up to 30 years in prison.

Religious nutballs commit this sort of stupidity upon their families all the time. Because this particular couples’ motivation was the “purity” of the nutritional program they chose doesn’t excuse the death of their child.

NASA’s first pictures of Mercury taken from orbit

A spidery crater named for a French composer features in the very first picture MESSENGER took from orbit around Mercury, taken March 29 and released March 30.

Debussy Crater had been known since before MESSENGER’s arrival, thanks to its brilliant appearance in Earth-based radar images of Mercury. But no spacecraft had seen Debussy in visible light until MESSENGER made a flyby on its way into orbit.

The new shot of the 80-kilometer-wide crater is a composite of three out of eight images taken through different light filters. Combining images taken at multiple wavelengths can reveal changes across Mercury’s surface, since different minerals reflect light in unique ways. A black-and-white version of this Mercury picture was released on March 29.

RTFA – go to the NatGeo site and click through each photo and description. Delightful.

Milestone: TARP bank bailout turns a profit

Tim Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

It isn’t often that the government launches a major program that achieves its main goals at a tiny fraction of its estimated costs. That’s the story of TARP — the Troubled Assets Relief Program. Created in October 2008 at the height of the financial crisis, it helped stabilize the economy, using only $410 billion of its authorized $700 billion. And most of that will be repaid. The Congressional Budget Office, which once projected TARP’s ultimate cost at $356 billion, now says $19 billion. This could go lower…

One lesson of the financial crisis is this: When the entire financial system succumbs to panic, only the government is powerful enough to prevent a complete collapse. Panics signify the triumph of fear. TARP was part of the process by which fear was overcome. It wasn’t the only part, but it was an essential part. Without TARP, we’d be worse off today. No one can say whether unemployment would be 11 percent or 14 percent; it certainly wouldn’t be 8.9 percent.

That benefited all Americans. TARP, says Douglas Elliott of the Brookings Institution, “is the best large federal program to be despised by the public.”

The source of outrage is no secret. Bankers are blamed for the crisis and reviled. The bank bailout — TARP’s first and most important purpose — was instantly unpopular. Most Americans, says Elliott, “believe that taxpayers spent $700 billion and got nothing in return…”

… As it was, TARP invested $245 billion in banks (and about $165 billion into the other programs). The extra capital helped restore trust. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve increased its lending; the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. guaranteed $350 billion of bank borrowings. Banks resumed dealing with each other because they regained confidence that commitments would be honored.

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Is it time for the FDA to revise their food colorings warning?

After staunchly defending the safety of artificial food colorings [for decades], the federal government is for the first time publicly reassessing whether foods like Jell-O, Lucky Charms cereal and Minute Maid Lemonade should carry warnings that the bright artificial colorings in them worsen behavior problems like hyperactivity in some children.

The Food and Drug Administration concluded long ago that there was no definitive link between the colorings and behavior or health problems, and the agency is unlikely to change its mind any time soon. But on Wednesday and Thursday, the F.D.A. will ask a panel of experts to review the evidence and advise on possible policy changes, which could include warning labels on food.

The hearings signal that the growing list of studies suggesting a link between artificial colorings and behavioral changes in children has at least gotten regulators’ attention — and, for consumer advocates, that in itself is a victory…

There is no debate about the safety of natural food colorings, and manufacturers have long defended the safety of artificial ones as well. In a statement, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said, “All of the major safety bodies globally have reviewed the available science and have determined that there is no demonstrable link between artificial food colors and hyperactivity among children…”

The F.D.A. scientists suggest that problems associated with artificial coloring might be akin to a peanut allergy, or “a unique intolerance to these substances and not to any inherent neurotoxic properties” of the dyes themselves. As it does for peanuts and other foods that can cause reactions, the F.D.A. already requires manufacturers to disclose on food labels the presence of artificial colorings…

The panel will almost certainly ask that more research on the subject be conducted, but such calls are routinely ignored. Research on pediatric behaviors can be difficult and expensive to conduct since it often involves regular and subjective assessments of children by parents and teachers who should be kept in the dark about the specifics of the test. And since the patents on the dyes expired long ago, manufacturers have little incentive to finance such research themselves.

… Some grocery chains, including Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s, refuse to sell foods with artificial coloring.

Since we do 99% of our food shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s – I guess this is a moot point in our family. Still, the FDA is missing an important point – one that consumer groups might pursue. How long ago were the tests devised that provided assurance for the FDA? Are they out-of-date?

There is no shortage of ailments previously not tracked to a point source – which have been revised over time as newer and more accurate testing technologies have been discovered. Maybe it’s time for the FDA to update their knowledge base, eh?

Don’t get too bugged over filling in a “captcha” – it’s useful

In the old days, anybody interested in seeing a Mets game during a trip to New York would have to call the team, or write away, or wait to get to the city and visit the box office. No more. Now, all it takes is to find an online ticket distributor. Sign in, click “Mets,” pick the date and pay.

But before taking the money, the Web site might first present the reader with two sets of wavy, distorted letters and ask for a transcription. These things are called Captchas, and only humans can read them. Captchas ensure that robots do not hack secure Web sites.

What Web readers do not know, however, is that they have also been enlisted in a project to transform an old book, magazine, newspaper or pamphlet into an accurate, searchable and easily sortable computer text file.

One of the wavy words quite likely came from a digitized image from an old, musty text, and while the original page has already been scanned into an online database, the scanning programs made a lot of mistakes. Mets fans and other Web site users are correcting them. Buy a ticket to the ballgame, help preserve history.

The set of software tools that accomplishes this feat is called reCaptcha and was developed by a team of researchers led by Luis von Ahn, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University.

Its pilot project was to clean up the digitized archive of The New York Times. Today it has become the principal method used by Google to authenticate text in Google Books, its vast project to digitize and disseminate rare and out-of-print texts on the Internet.

RTFA. Seriously useful. I’ll never feel the same grumpiness over “captcha” requests, again.

Thanks, Mr. Fusion

What might you receive while sentencing someone for forgery?

How about a forged doctor’s note asking for a delay in proceedings?

A 41-year-old woman who was in court this morning to be sentenced for prescription drug forgery allegedly presented a forged doctor’s note in an attempt to delay the proceedings, and then collapsed when the judge ordered her back into custody, according to a prosecutor.

Michelle Elaine Astumian, who had been out of jail after posting $45,000 bail, was scheduled to be sentenced today by Judge Barry LaBarbera to four years and eight months in state prison. She had pleaded no contest in January to two counts of forging a drug prescription and one count of using a fraudulent check. Each count is a felony.

But before the sentencing Deputy District Attorney Dave Pomeroy said that Astumian presented a doctor’s note stating that her sentencing should be postponed.

Pomeroy called the doctor whose name was signed on the note, and the doctor told him that the note was forged.

Pomeroy said that he reported the alleged forgery to LaBarbera, who ordered Astumian into custody. She then fell to the floor, prompting the judge to clear the courtroom for about 30 minutes.

An ambulance arrived and took Astumian to a local hospital…

“I’m trying to approach her reaction with understandable skepticism,” Pomeroy said.