Brazilian drug lord caught – hiding in African diplomat’s car boot

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Police captured Rio de Janeiro’s most wanted alleged drug trafficker…as they prepared to occupy the city’s largest slum.

Antonio Bonfim Lopes, alleged drug lord of the teeming Rocinha slum, was found in bizarre circumstances – in the boot of a car belonging to a man who claimed to be a senior diplomat from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

TV images showed the suspect, known as Nem, looking close to tears after his arrest.

There are diplomats with all their “respect” and power, immunity and hypocrisy, who would probably carry a thug like this to safety in their briefcase – if they could fit him inside. Along with the profits from their own crimes.

Silvio Berlusconi sneaks out the side door – in disgrace

Silvio Berlusconi’s scandal-ridden premiership ended in ignominy as he was forced to hide from a jeering crowd in Rome after handing in his resignation at a late-night meeting with President Giorgio Napolitano. His departure followed a historic vote in parliament that paved the way for a new government tasked with shoring up the ailing economy.

Berlusconi was forced to leave the presidential residence through a side entrance, to chants of “buffoon, buffoon” from thousands of demonstrators outside….The protesters, including a choir singing the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah, rejoiced at his departure.

The 75-year-old billionaire brought down the curtain on a government that has become plagued by scandals and seemed increasingly helpless in the face of the economic storm that has taken his country and the euro to the brink of catastrophe. The dramatic end of his 17-year domination of Italian politics came as the lower house of parliament approved a package of savage cuts and stimulus measures demanded by the European Union to trim Italy’s massive €1.9 trillion debt.

After losing his majority in the house, a weakened Berlusconi had pledged to resign as soon as he had pushed the reform package through parliament. The reforms were passed by 380 votes to 26. Opposition parties did not participate…

Italy’s longest serving postwar prime minister raised a toast with ministers at a final cabinet meeting after the vote, only for his car to be chased by protesters shouting “Go, go, thief!” as he left for a second meeting with party officials at his Rome residence…

The questions facing Italy, today, are the natural result of leaving the Clown Prince of Populism in place all these years. Those who vote for nationalism, imperial lies, the histrionics of a Berlu or his counterparts throughout the Western world run the inevitable risk of getting exactly what they vote for.

An incompetent, a paper tiger who buried his nation in debt and disgrace.

Smog-eating compound becoming an environment leader

Iceberg building complex

What material can you find in toothpaste, sunscreen, solar cells, on the baseline at Wimbledon, in a Roman church, and along a tunnel in Brussels?

Full marks if you guessed titanium dioxide, a nearly ubiquitous but wholly unsung material.

Its brilliant white has made it a staple in pigments – hence Wimbledon – but its eco-credentials are still coming to the fore. Titanium dioxide does a couple of clever tricks that mean we may well be seeing a lot of it in the future: it’s self-cleaning, and it breaks down pollutants in the air. And the fact that thin films of it are clear is the reason that a number of manufacturers use it in glass applications such as skylights.

The self-cleaning aspect comes about because one processed form of titanium dioxide is what is called superhydrophilic – literally, “water-loving”, which means that when water hits a dirty titanium dioxide surface, that surface will draw in a whisper-thin sheet of water across its whole surface, displacing grime that then washes neatly away.

But its second trick of removing pollutants is what has made it an increasingly popular choice for environmentally-minded building projects.

A bit of the ultraviolet light in sunlight frees up electrons from the material, creating “free radicals” that actively break down pollutants including so-called NOx gases (molecules of varying proportions of nitrogen and oxygen) or VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

A number of pilot projects around the world have seen the material used in, for example, concrete – hence the Jubilee Church in Rome. In Japan, Mitsubishi markets a brand of titanium dioxide-treated paving stones and Toto makes coated ceramic tiles.

The material hit the news again this week when the aluminium firm Alcoa announced its new product Ecoclean, a titanium dioxide coating on aluminium panels for cladding buildings…

The fact that such a large manufacturer has joined the ranks could mean that the real-world use of the material can finally be assessed on a large scale, says Anne Beeldens of the Catholic University Leuven in Belgium…

Dr Beeldens said: “When I look at it in the last year, a lot of projects are starting where there’s a link between application of the material and real air measurements, and I think once that link is really made, then it will start to be used all over the place.”

Bravo. Bravo for Anne Beeldens and her dedication. And Bravo to the contractors and builders who expand the range of Green building experiments – who appear to be proving one more compound and many processing is beneficial to our environment.

Dumb crooks of the day

Police Constables Andy Clare and Steve Browett with boxes of bait for dumb fish

Police arrested 19 wanted criminals after pretending they had won free beer to trick them into coming forward.

Undercover officers with Derbyshire police sent letters to dozens of people who had evaded arrest asking them to ring a marketing company to collect a free crate of beer.

A total of 19 suspects fell for the hoax and called the number which put them through to police officers based at Chesterfield Police Station.

A time and date was arranged for the free alcohol to be dropped off at an agreed address. But instead of being handed free ale the wanted men found themselves confronted by police, handcuffed and under arrest.

Chief Inspector Graham McLaughlin, who is leading the sting known as Operation Rocky, said: “These suspects are people who have managed to evade arrest for some time so we have used different tactics to find them…It has been very cost effective as it can take a lot of time and money to track people down…

Alleged offences committed by some of those arrested range from burglary and robbery to a serious sexual assault.

None of which obviously required a whole boatload of brains.

Re-programmable cells core tech in creation of new life forms

Scientists at The University of Nottingham are leading an ambitious research project to develop an in vivo biological cell-equivalent of a computer operating system. The success of the project to create a ‘re-programmable cell’ could revolutionise synthetic biology and would pave the way for scientists to create completely new and useful forms of life using a relatively hassle-free approach.

Professor Natalio Krasnogor…who leads the Interdisciplinary Computing and Complex Systems Research Group, said: “We are looking at creating a cell’s equivalent to a computer operating system in such a way that a given group of cells could be seamlessly re-programmed to perform any function without needing to modifying its hardware…”

The game-changing technology could substantially accelerate Synthetic Biology research and development, which has been linked to myriad applications — from the creation of new sources of food and environmental solutions to a host of new medical breakthroughs such as drugs tailored to individual patients and the growth of new organs for transplant patients…

Among the most fundamental challenges facing the scientists will be developing new computer models that more accurately predict the behaviour of cells in the laboratory…

The technology could be used in a whole range of applications where being able to modify the behaviour of organisms could be advantageous. In the long run, this includes the creation of new microorganisms that could help to clean the environment for example by capturing carbon from the burning of fossil fuel or removing contaminants, e.g. arsenic from water sources. Alternatively, the efficacy of medicine could be improved by tailoring it to specific patients to maximise the effect of the drugs and to reduce any harmful side effects.

Exciting stuff. Worth tracking as one more wing of synthetic biology with great potential.

Beancounter bureaucrat sacks Santa to save $660

Faced with the difficult task of balancing a budget in austere times, officials in New York’s Suffolk County said on Friday they had no choice: they had to sack Santa Claus. The county executive said he could not justify carving out $660 from his $2.7 billion budget to pay David McKell, 83, a World War II veteran and former homicide detective, to don his Santa suit for the tenth year running and greet children on Long Island…

He said that some 750 county employees were facing layoffs as a result of budget restraints, including what he described as a $20 million cut in state aid to the county’s health system…

Steve Levy was quickly called a Grinch by his opponents.

Do we really have to hold Santa Claus hostage to balance the budget?” said Bill Lindsay, a Democrat and the presiding officer of the county legislature.

“I mean, $600? Give me a break,” Joseph Sawicki, a Republican who as county comptroller is charged with overseeing the county government’s fiscal prudence, said in an interview. “There comes a point where you go overboard in terms of penny-pinching…”

In the end, Steve Bellone, the current town supervisor of nearby Babylon, who is running as the Democratic candidate to succeed Levy, said he would pay for Santa.

Levy, who is not running for reelection, dismissed Bellone’s gesture as “pure grandstanding”, and said his office was investigating whether the check breached rules governing gifts to county agencies.

Exactly the kind of response I’d expect from a Scrooge getting caught out at being a cheapskate at managing somebody else’s money. He hates like hell to admit he’s a lousy money manager; so, he blames the people who point out his distorted values.