Feds send civil rights monitors to 5 states for elections

Federal civil rights officials announced…they have sent election observers to locations in five states to keep an eye out for potential trouble at the polls Tuesday.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division dispatched 11 staff attorneys along with 85 trained election observers from the Office of Personnel Management to watch activities at the polls and report any irregularities…

In Mississippi, monitors are being dispatched to four counties, as voters go to the polls in a gubernatorial election to replace Haley Barbour, who is term-limited from running again. The campaign features the white Republican Lieutenant Gov. Phil Bryant and African-American Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, a Democrat. Mississippi political observers say Bryant is a strong favorite to win the election…

The Justice Department has also assigned monitors to Lorain County, Ohio, to protect the rights of Spanish-speaking voters. Last month, the federal government signed an agreement with Lorain County to resolve concerns that limited-English Hispanic voters were being denied their full voting rights because the county failed to provide language assistance as required by law.

In Alameda County, California, the U.S. will monitor voting following an agreement between federal officials and the county in July. The agreement requires Alameda County to provide election materials and information in Spanish and Chinese. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said the agreement “ensures that Alameda County’s Spanish- and Chinese-speaking citizens will be able to cast an effective ballot and successfully participate in the electoral process.”

In Jasper, Texas, racial tensions have run high over the recall election for three African-American city council members responsible for the hiring of the city’s first black police chief.

In Springfield, Massachusetts, activists claim minorities were turned away at the polls in the September primary, and said there was no Spanish-language assistance for voters. Hispanic leaders, the NAACP and ACLU had all urged the Justice Department to travel to Springfield to protect voting rights of all minorities.

Republicans around the country continue to mobilize to deny the franchise to citizens on the basis of ethnicity and language. Nothing new about the practice. Nothing less than bigotry is expected – after all – since the so-called Southern Strategy has never been limited to the South. Or to Black folks alone.

White House says no alien visits — to this administration

Dick Cheney’s baby picture

The White House has responded to two petitions asking the US government to formally acknowledge that aliens have visited Earth and to disclose to any intentional withholding of government interactions with extraterrestrial beings.

“The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race,” said Phil Larson from the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, on the WhiteHouse.gov website. “In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye.”

5,387 people had signed the petition for immediately disclosing the government’s knowledge of and communications with extraterrestrial beings, and 12,078 signed the request for a formal acknowledgement from the White House that extraterrestrials have been engaging the human race…

These petitions come from an Obama Administration initiative called ‘We the People’ which has White House staffers respond and consider taking action on any issue that receives at least 25,000 online signatures. Regarding these two petitions, the White House promised to respond if the petitions got 17,000 more signatures by Oct. 22.

Larson stressed that the facts show that there is no credible evidence of extraterrestrial presence here on Earth. He pointed out that even though many scientists have come to the conclusion that the odds of life somewhere else in the Universe are fairly high, the chance that any of them are making contact with humans are extremely small, given the distances involved…

Regarding any evidence for alien life, all anyone has now is “statistics and speculation,” said Larson. “The fact is we have no credible evidence of extraterrestrial presence here on Earth.”

Whether or not this will appease or satisfy any conspiracy theorists or UFO believers is yet to be seen, but it is gratifying to see the White House respond in such a no-nonsense manner.

Well, sort of gratifying. They picked a couple of the easier petitions to answer.

Take a look at some of the tougher petitions – those actually demanding political change.

One room + experimental sensor = 63 different dust particles

Researchers recently isolated 63 unique dust particles from their laboratory – and that’s just the beginning.

The chemists were testing a new kind of sensor when dust got stuck inside it, and they discovered that they could measure the composition of single dust particles…

Most dust is natural in origin, explained James Coe, professor of chemistry at Ohio State University. The 63 particles they identified were mainly irregular blobs containing bits of many different ingredients.

The most common ingredient of the dust particles was organic matter, Coe said. “Organic” indicates some kind of plant or animal material, though the researchers can’t yet say precisely what kinds of organic matter they found. They are about to do an in-depth analysis to find out.

Quartz was the second-most common ingredient. Both quartz and organic matter were found in more than half of the dust particles the researchers classified. Man-made chemicals from air pollution, fertilizers, and construction materials were also present in small amounts.

“In that way, a single dust particle is like a snapshot of mankind’s impact on the environment,” Coe said…

The patented sensor that Coe’s team was testing – a type of metal mesh that transmits infrared light through materials caught in the holes – is ideal for picking up minute details in the composition of single dust grains.

“We can separate particles by size to isolate the ones that are small enough to get into people’s lungs, and look at them in detail,” he added…

Eventually, researchers in public health could use the sensor as a laboratory tool to analyze dust particles. It could also enable studies in astronomy, geology, environmental science, and atmospheric science.

Love it. Time and again scientists set off to investigate a single phenomenon and find they’ve access to a broad reservoir of information – capable of aiding knowledge in many more fields than originally posited.

Christian preacher advocates beating your children into submission

After services at the Church at Cane Creek on a recent Sunday, a few dozen families held a potluck picnic and giggling children played pin the tail on the donkey.

The white-bearded preacher, Michael Pearl, who delivered his sermon in stained work pants, and his wife, Debi, mixed warmly with the families drawn to their evangelical ministry, including some of their own grandchildren.

The pastoral mood in the hills of Tennessee offered a stark contrast to the storm raging around the country over the Pearls’ teachings on child discipline, which advocate systematic use of “the rod” to teach toddlers to submit to authority. The methods, seen as common sense by some grateful parents and as horrific by others, are modeled, Mr. Pearl is fond of saying, on “the same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules.”

Debate over the Pearls’ teachings, first seen on Christian Web sites, gained new intensity after the death of a third child, all allegedly at the hands of parents who kept the Pearls’ book, “To Train Up a Child,” in their homes. On Sept. 29, the parents were charged with homicide by abuse.

More than 670,000 copies of the Pearls’ self-published book are in circulation, and it is especially popular among Christian home-schoolers, who praise it in their magazines and on their Web sites. The Pearls provide instructions on using a switch from as early as six months to discourage misbehavior and describe how to make use of implements for hitting on the arms, legs or back, including a quarter-inch flexible plumbing line that, Mr. Pearl notes, “can be rolled up and carried in your pocket.”

The furor in part reflects societal disagreements over corporal punishment, which conservative Christians say is called for in the Bible and which many Americans consider reasonable up to a point, even as many parents and pediatricians reject it.

Few, if any, pediatricians would support the medieval ideology of the Pearls. I’m not surprised that many Christians adopt their practices. Everything else they believe in is equally out-of-date, divorced from modernity derived from science and civility.

That a few take punishment to the extreme of murder is no surprise. Is it? Fundamentalists Christians exceed even Republicans at hypocrisy – prattling about opposing abortion because it kills a collection of protein cells while endorsing every murderous crusade throughout the world in the name of God and Country. Fundamentalists stand up in outrage over human beings who love and care sufficiently for each other to wish to live in wedlock – but, they don’t meet the regulations of a 14th Century rulebook leftover to tell the ignorant how to run their own lives.

RTFA for detail after detail of one more backwards facet of fundamentalists who would sing away while shutting down what freedoms we have remaining.

Champion lobbying crook says our politics are worse than ever

Jack Abramoff and Dickhead

Ethics reforms put in place since the influence-peddling scandal surrounding high-rolling lobbyist Jack Abramoff haven’t cleaned up the system “at all,” a now-free Abramoff says.

Abramoff served three and a half years in prison for conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion before his release last December. In an interview…he said the reforms imposed after his guilty plea have little effect while campaign finance remains untouched.

“You can’t take a congressman to lunch for $25 and buy him a hamburger or a steak or something like that,” he said. “But you can take him to a fund-raising lunch and not only buy him that steak, but give him $25,000 extra and call it a fund-raiser — and have all the same access and all the same interactions with that congressman…”

“There’s an arrogance on the part of lobbyists, and certainly there was on the part of me and my team, that no matter what they come up with, we’re smarter than them — we’ll just find another way through,” he said.

The high-flying Republican lobbyist pleaded guilty to a raft of federal corruption charges in 2006 and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors investigating Washington influence-peddling. He admitted illegally showering gifts on officials who provided favors for his clients in a probe that led to convictions or guilty pleas for 20 lobbyists and public officials — including Ohio GOP congressman Bob Ney and Stephen Griles, the Bush administration’s deputy interior secretary.

Between the two phony political parties – and a Supreme Court packed with rightwing political appointees – democratic processes in legislation and regulation continue to be removed as quickly as they were the day Newt Gingrich rolled out his contract on the American people in 1994.

Lobbyists still have greater access – legal and upright they say – than they did before that fateful time. The Supreme Court says “Corporations are people, too” and their dollars pour into political chamberpots like so much greenback diarrhea.

Abramoff was the champion of gaming the system designed by corrupt corporate ideologues, agreed to nowadays by both Democrats and Republicans. He ought to know how it works.

Purging human senescent cells may bring healthier aging

Old Mister Chubby on the right had his senescent cells purged

In a potentially fundamental advance, researchers have opened up a novel approach to combating the effects of aging with the discovery that a special category of cells, known as senescent cells, are bad actors that promote the aging of the tissues. Cleansing the body of the cells, they hope, could postpone many of the diseases of aging…

Senescent cells accumulate in aging tissues, like arthritic knees, cataracts and the plaque that may line elderly arteries. The cells secrete agents that stimulate the immune system and cause low-level inflammation. Until now, there has been no way to tell if the presence of the cells is good, bad or indifferent.

The answer turns out to be that the cells hasten aging in the tissues in which they accumulate. In a delicate feat of genetic engineering, a research team led by Darren J. Baker and Jan M. van Deursen at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., has generated a strain of mouse in which all the senescent cells can be purged by giving the mice a drug that forces the cells to self-destruct.

Rid of the senescent cells, the Mayo Clinic researchers reported online Wednesday in the journal Nature, the mice’s tissues showed a major improvement in the usual burden of age-related disorders. They did not develop cataracts, avoided the usual wasting of muscle with age, and could exercise much longer on a mouse treadmill. They retained the fat layers in the skin that usually thin out with age and, in people, cause wrinkling…

In both mice and people, senescent cells are few in number but have major effects on the body’s tissues. Killing the cells should therefore have large benefits with little downside. The gene-altering approach used on the mice cannot be tried in people, but now that senescent cells appear to be harmful, researchers can devise ways of targeting them…

The Mayo Clinic finding “is a really important step forward for the field,” said Dr. Judith Campisi of the Buck Institute.

The purpose of research on aging, she said, is not to let people live a thousand years, as portrayed in science fiction, but to increase health span, the proportion of people’s natural lives that they live in good health.

Bravo! There’s always a new turn in scientific research. Many lead nowhere; but, it only takes the odd success to validate the essential process.

Ray Kurzweil should send these folks a bottle of champagne. This parallels the directions of his Singularity.