Watch out for snakes on a train!

Vietnamese authorities are on alert for animal smugglers after four bags of deadly snakes were found on a train from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, according to local press reports.

The bags contained an undetermined number of snakes including some king cobras, the on-line news service VnExpress reported.

A guard and a conductor found them while inspecting the train when it made a stop at Quang Ngai railway station on Thursday, the website reported. The guard and conductor were not injured.

Passengers panicked when they heard about the snakesNSS

The snakes, which are protected by law in Vietnam, were handed over to the Quang Ngai forest protection agency on Friday and released into the wild…

The king cobra is the world’s longest venomous snake with a length up to 13 feet according to New York’s Bronx Zoo…

I could tell you how far away to stay from a cobra to be safe – but, I doubt if most of you need that particular information as part of your skill set. 🙂

Pentagon admits good sense of small high-tech weaponry

Raytheon developing 13-lb smart bomb for drone delivery

Under mounting pressure to keep its massive budget in check, the Pentagon is looking to cheaper, smaller weapons to wage war in the 21st century. A new generation of weaponry is being readied in clandestine laboratories across the nation that puts a priority on pintsized technology that would be more precise in warfare and less likely to cause civilian casualties. Increasingly, the Pentagon is being forced to discard expensive, hulking, Cold War-era armaments that exact a heavy toll on property and human lives.

At L-3 Interstate Electronics Corp. in Anaheim, technicians work in secure rooms developing a GPS guidance system for a 13-pound “smart bomb” that would be attached to a small, low-flying drone.

Engineers in Simi Valley at AeroVironment Inc. are developing a mini-cruise missile designed to fit into a soldier’s rucksack, be fired from a mortar and scour the battlefield for enemy targets…

These miniature weapons have one thing in common: They will be delivered with the help of small robotic planes. Drones have grown in importance as the Pentagon has seen them play a vital role in Iraq, Afghanistan and reportedly in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan…

This comes at a time when expensive weapons programs, like Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles and Navy cruisers, are being eyed for trims…

“There are a lot of weapons in the military’s arsenal,” said Lt. Col. Brad Beach, an official who coordinates the Marines’ drone technology. “But what we don’t have is something small.”

The military is flush with multi-ton bunker-busting bombs designed to reduce fortified buildings into smoldering rubble. But Marines on the front lines in Afghanistan say there is an urgent need for a weapon that is small and powerful enough to protect them from insurgents planting roadside bombs.

Marines already have small spy drones with high-powered cameras, but what they need is a way to destroy the enemies that their drones discover.

Looking to fill the need, the 13-pound “smart bomb” has been under development for three years. The 2-foot-long bomb is steered by a GPS-guided system made in Anaheim. The bomb is called Small Tactical Munition, or STM, and is under development by Raytheon…

The idea is that the small bomb could be slung under the spy plane’s wing, dropped to a specific point using GPS coordinates or a laser-guidance system, and blast apart “soft” targets, such as pickup trucks and individuals, located 15,000 feet below.

With budget cuts, how will members of Congress maintain their accustomed scale of kickbacks, lobbying contracts post-retirement and trips to golf courses near manufacturers of death and destruction?

Cripes – if Raytheon is funding research on a baby smart bomb all on their own what might be next?

Warrantless cell phone searches spread throughout the United States

Cell phone handcuffs

Think about all the data — photos, videos, text messages, calendar items, apps, call log, voice mail, and e-mail — on your cell phone right now. If you’re arrested, could the police search your cell phone? And would they need a warrant?

That depends on which state you’re in.

In California, it is legal for police to search an arrestee’s cell phone without a warrant — ever since a January decision by the California Supreme Court. California civil rights advocates are pushing back. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is supporting California Assembly Bill SB 914, which would require police in that state to get a warrant before searching an arrestee’s cell phone…

Meanwhile, in Florida, an appellate court decision upheld warrantless cell phone searches, defining the phone as a kind of “container.” This case may be considered by the Florida Supreme Court.

A similar Georgia appellate court decision upheld a warrantless search of a cell phone found in an arrestee’s car (not on her person).

In contrast, the Ohio Supreme Court has barred warrantless cell phone searches…

The pattern appears to be that around the U.S., some state and local police officers are taking the initiative to search arrestees’ cell phones. In some cases this yields information relevant to the alleged crime, which has contributed to indictments and convictions.

Only then do some of these cases wind up in appellate or state supreme courts in a process that often takes years.

If you’re concerned about police or anyone else getting into your cell phone, a basic precaution is to configure your phone’s security settings to always require a passcode or pattern to access any of the phone’s data or functions.

According to Catherine Crump of the American Civil Liberties Union, “The police can ask you to unlock the phone — which many people will do — but they almost certainly cannot compel you to unlock your phone without the involvement of a judge.”

Police are supposed to protect and serve within the definitions of law and Constitution. Snooping without oversight from a court – as gutless as many judges may be – is outside the mandate of American law and order.

Yes, this isn’t the first time that fear and whimpering leads to police-state solutions. Cops have been portable gangs used to suppress unions from organizing, people from protest and dissent. But, the eventual reaction from the people of this land is rejection of Big Brother as judge and jury on the street.

Teacher sings to her schoolchildren during shoot-out in Mexico

Teacher Martha Rivera Alanis was awarded a certificate for showing “outstanding civic courage” for her steady performance during a gunfight in the northern industrial hub of Monterrey.

As Miss Rivera Alanis proudly held up the framed certificate outside the local Governor’s office she said she was not concerned with fame – only the safety of her 5- and 6-year-old pupils. “Of course, I was afraid, but I tell you, my kids get me through it,” she said following the private ceremony.

Miss Rivera Alanis used her cell phone to tape the video, in which she is heard coaxing her 15 pupils to lie flat on the floor…

Then, loud bursts of gunfire break out, which local paramedics later confirmed were the sound of gunmen killing five people at a taxi stand a block from the school…

In the video, the teacher tries to take the children’s minds off the gunfire, leading them in a song from television show Barney & Friends.

If the rain drops were chocolate, I would love to be there, opening my mouth to taste them,” the class sang as they hugged the floor at the Alfonso Reyes school.

“My only thought was to take their minds off that noise,” she told reporters Monday. “So I thought of that song…”

A mother of two children, she said her young students had set an example for the rest of the city. “I’m going to carry on, of course it is possible,” she said. “If my 5- and 6-year-olds can do it, it is up to the rest of us to carry on.”

What a terrible life. What courage and love.

Wind farms making money for rural Sherman County, Oregon

wind farms, Oregon, NY Times

It pays to live in Sherman County: $590 a year.

“Now you wake up and the wind is blowing and it’s like, yes!” said one Sherman County resident who is making money from wind turbines on her farm.

In this sparsely populated landscape south of the Columbia River Gorge, annual checks for that amount are local residents’ share of a windfall brought by the growing wind energy industry. In an area otherwise dominated by wheat farms, hundreds of 300-foot wind turbines now generate electricity and cash.

“Wind is the only thing that is going to save rural Oregon,” said Judge Gary Thompson of Sherman County Court, “especially since all the timber is gone and the sawmills and all that are closing down. I think what it is is a breath of fresh air.”

The Columbia Gorge has been like an expressway for hard-blowing wind since long before the turbines arrived. Trees here lean to the east from the gusts that rip across the plateau.

Sherman County, which earned $315,000 in property taxes from the first wind farm in 2002, raked in $3 million from wind farms in 2010. The bounty, while mostly flowing to the farmers who lease their land for the turbines, also benefits the public. Taxes, fees and assessments on more than 1,000 megawatts of wind turbine capacity have brought $17.5 million in nine years to a county with just 1,735 residents.

The county’s four towns — Wasco, Moro, Rufus and Grass Valley — are prospering. At Sherman Junior/Senior High School in Moro, wind money paid for new computers, musical instruments, robotics equipment, portions of a greenhouse and a new teacher to instruct the most gifted of its 124 students last year…

Judge Thompson said the payments were intended to reward residents who have made no financial gains from wind energy development, but whose views of Mount Adams and the county’s stunning landscape now include a panorama of turbines. The checks are also intended to soothe any unease about the influx of corporations, occasional turbine noise and the risks posed to bats and birds by turbines.

“It’s modeled after a lot of Alaska compensation,” Judge Thompson said. “There are a lot of people who live in the county who are not necessarily going to benefit from the renewable energy, and we felt we needed to share it with all the county residents.”

The judge is the kind of politician liable to be indicted – or lynched – by the Kool Aid Party and the Oil Addicts they cohabit with in the Republican Party.

Meanwhile, it’s just a heckuva nice story about folks who band together and distribute a little bit of their new-found environmental wealth among those who surely can use it. Especially schoolchildren.

Berlusconi humiliated by voters in Milan and Naples

Voters in Milan say goodbye to Berlusconi’s candidate, Letizia Moratti
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, suffered a humiliating and politically ominous defeat in his home city of Milan on Monday when his party’s choice for mayor, Letizia Moratti, was ousted in a runoff by a local leftwing lawyer, Giuliano Pisapia.

There was yet more bad news for the right in Naples where the candidate of the fiercely anti-Berlusconi Italy of Principles party, Luigi De Magistris, stormed home with more than 65% of the votes…

Milan was one of 90 towns and cities where runoffs were held after clear winners failed to emerge from the first round of voting on 15 and 16 May.

The contest there was by far the most important. Milan is the city from which Italy’s flamboyant prime minister launched his political career, 17 years ago. It is also the city in which he is on trial for a range of alleged financial and sex-related offences. And, not least, it is the stronghold of his key allies in the populist, Islamophobic Northern League…

Berlusconi tried to turn the ballot into a vote of confidence on his private life and his government. The results suggested that was a disastrous error of judgment…

The left’s victory was all the more remarkable, since its candidate was not the choice of the mainstream Democratic party but one whose past is tinged with radicalism. Pisapia, who once defended the Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan, was elected to parliament in the 1990s as an independent on the slate of the hardline Communist Refoundation party.

His initial sponsor in the mayoral race was the Left, Ecology and Freedom party, which is led by the gay, formerly communist governor of Puglia, Nichi Vendola.

All the people Berlusconi loved to hate + ordinary citizens of Italy = kick this sleazy, corrupt, baronet of right-wing politics out on his wrinkly butt.

Bangladesh woman cut off attacker’s penis – aids in identification!

Monju Begum, 40, a married mother of three, was allegedly attacked as she slept in her shanty in Mirzapur village, Jhalakathi, about 125 miles south of Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka.

Mrs Begum told police that her neighbour Mozammel Haq Mazi, forced his way into her home and began attacking her. During the alleged assault, Mrs Begum said she was able to cut off Mr Mazi’s penis.

“As he tried to rape her, the lady cut his penis off with a knife. She then wrapped up the penis in a piece of polythene and brought it to the Jhalakathi police station as evidence of the crime,” said Abul Khaer, the local police chief.

“It is quite an unusual incident. As far as I am aware, this is the first time that a woman has brought a severed penis to the police station as evidence.”

Mr Mazi, who denies the accusation, has been admitted to a nearby hospital. A surgeon said it had not been possible to reattach the organ…

The severed penis has been kept at the police station.

As a souvenir? Evidence? A public warning, eh?

What can he say? “It’s not mine.”

Doctors turning Left on universal healthcare

Ryan, Boehner, Cantor
Republican Congressional Troika

With Republicans in complete control of Maine’s state government for the first time since 1962, State Senator Lois A. Snowe-Mello offered a bill in February to limit doctors’ liability that she was sure the powerful doctors’ lobby would cheer. Instead, it asked her to shelve the measure.

“It was like a slap in the face,” said Ms. Snowe-Mello, who describes herself as a conservative Republican. “The doctors in this state are increasingly going left.”

Doctors were once overwhelmingly male and usually owned their own practices. They generally favored lower taxes and regularly fought lawyers to restrict patient lawsuits. Ronald Reagan came to national political prominence in part by railing against “socialized medicine” on doctors’ behalf.

But doctors are changing. They are abandoning their own practices and taking salaried jobs in hospitals, particularly in the North, but increasingly in the South as well. Half of all younger doctors are women, and that share is likely to grow.

There are no national surveys that track doctors’ political leanings, but as more doctors move from business owner to shift worker, their historic alliance with the Republican Party is weakening from Maine as well as South Dakota, Arizona and Oregon, according to doctors’ advocates in those and other states.

That change could have a profound effect on the nation’s health care debate. Indeed, after opposing almost every major health overhaul proposal for nearly a century, the American Medical Association supported President Obama’s legislation last year because the new law would provide health insurance to the vast majority of the nation’s uninsured, improve competition and choice in insurance, and promote prevention and wellness, the group said.

No surprise to me. RTFA for details – for, more often than not, enlightened self-interest is re-entering American politics.

Continue reading

E.coli outbreak in Germany reaches 1200 cases, 13 dead – UPDATED

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Germans have been warned not to eat cucumbers until tests identify the source of a deadly E.coli outbreak which local officials say has killed 13 people. It is thought contaminated cucumbers were imported from Spain, but further tests are being carried out.

Germany has registered 1,200 confirmed or suspected E.coli cases so far. With cases reported in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK, Germany is set to hold crisis talks later.

In many of the reported cases, the gastrointestinal infection has led to Hemolytic-uremic Syndrome (HUS), which causes kidney problems and is potentially fatal.

One woman was taken to hospital in Poland on Monday. She was said to be in a serious condition after returning from a trip to the northern German city of Hamburg, which has seen the majority of infections.

Authorities in the Czech Republic, Austria and France have taken some Spanish-grown cucumbers off shop shelves amid contamination fears. Czech officials said contaminated cucumbers may also have been exported to Hungary and Luxembourg.

Suspicion has fallen on organic cucumbers from Spain imported by Germany but then re-exported to other European countries, or exported directly by Spain.

Austria has banned the sale of cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines imported via Germany, while Russia has banned the import of some vegetables from Germany and Spain…

Two Spanish greenhouses identified as sources for the outbreak have been closed and are currently under investigation to see whether the outbreak originated there or elsewhere, said an EU spokesman…

The Sweden-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has called the outbreak “one of the largest described of HUS worldwide and the largest ever reported in Germany”…

The head of Hamburg University’s Eppendorf Clinic, Joerg Debatin, said more deaths were expected, as 30 people infected with HUS had lost kidney function.

Wow! Sounds a lot worse than any e.coli outbreaks we’ve suffered through here in the States. Though, the fact that we seem to have outbreaks with some regularity may have people already conscious of food-borne illness and responding more quickly. Including the bureaucrats.

UPDATE: German scientists say they’re now confident after extensive testing the source was not Spanish cucumbers.

Obama vows national aid for Joplin – Republicans say NO!

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

President Barack Obama promised victims of the deadliest U.S. tornado in 65 years that the federal government would help them rebuild, saying on Sunday it was a national tragedy.

“The cameras may leave. The spotlight may shift,” he told a memorial service for the 139 known victims of the May 22 twister. But the federal government “will be with you every step of the way until Joplin is restored and this community is back on its feet,” Obama said to a standing ovation from survivors.

Before the service in an auditorium at Missouri Southern State University, Obama rolled up his sleeves and toured a disaster scene where crushed cars, piles of wood, clothing and a broken dishwasher lay helter-skelter amid the debris on lots where houses once stood.

The president, who returned on Saturday night from a six-day trip to Europe, vowed to cut through any federal red tape to help with rebuilding that he predicted would be “a tough, long slog.”

This is just not your tragedy,” he said after meeting survivors. “This is a national tragedy and that means there’s going to be a national response.”

Meanwhile –

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor assured the people of Joplin, Mo., Sunday that Congress will help them recover, but said the funds must be offset elsewhere. That means they won’t get a penny until after negotiations in Congress to cut other programs designed for working folks.

Cantor also said House Republicans “absolutely” stand by the Medicare plan of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., despite losing a special election in New York last week.

So, he didn’t miss a chance to back privatizing Social Security and turning Medicare over to our “friends” in the Insurance Business.

Republicans will not participate in any “negotiations” if proposals include removing subsidies to oil companies, corporations actually paying their fair share of taxes and removal of the Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.

That’s what Republican aid for folks in Tuscaloosa and Joplin looks like.