$9 million in “stolen” jewels found in drawer

Dawn and Roland back in the day…

Five years after their disappearance, jewels thought stolen from the wife of the US ambassador to the Netherlands in 2006 have been found in the Hague.

Dawn Arnall realised her $9.3 million in gems were missing months after staying in a Dutch hotel.

Unknown to her, the jewellery had been found and was held for safekeeping by the hotel, AFP reports, before being given to an employee as unclaimed. The employee, assuming the items were costume jewellery, forgot about them.

Only after she recently found them in a drawer and took them to a jeweller for valuation did their true worth emerge. They were then handed in to police and have since been returned to the US.

Mrs Arnall, whose husband Roland was the US ambassador to the country prior to his death in 2008, had received an insurance payout for her loss.

No one knows if the honest employee who turned in the jewels – has received a reward.

Shall we reflect for a minute or two upon the class of political hacks who are rewarded for their fundraising tasks by appointment to Holland or somewhere else [is there a sliding scale?] as a reward. People so fracking rich it takes them months to notice they mislaid $9 million worth of jewelry!

A virus can evolve new ways to infect cells faster than believed

Justin Meyer, right, with Devin Dobias

Viruses regularly evolve new ways of making people sick, but scientists usually do not become aware of these new strategies until years or centuries after they have evolved. In a new study…however, a team of scientists at Michigan State University describes how viruses evolved a new way of infecting cells in little more than two weeks.

The report is being published in the midst of a controversy over a deadly bird flu virus that researchers manipulated to spread from mammal to mammal. Some critics have questioned whether such a change could have happened on its own. The new research suggests that new traits based on multiple mutations can indeed occur with frightening speed.

The Michigan researchers studied a virus known as lambda. It is harmless to humans, infecting only the gut bacterium Escherichia coli. Justin Meyer, a graduate student in the biology laboratory of Richard Lenski, wondered whether lambda might be able to evolve an entirely new way of getting into its host…

Mr. Meyer set up an experiment in which E. coli made almost none of the molecules that the virus grabs onto. Now few of the viruses could get into the bacteria. Any mutations that allowed a virus to use a different surface molecule to get in would make it much more successful than its fellow viruses. “It would have a feast of E. coli,” Dr. Lenski said.

The scientists found that in just 15 days, there were viruses using a new molecule — a channel in E. coli known as OmpF. Lambda viruses had never been reported to use OmpF before…

To see if this result was just a fluke, Mr. Meyer ran his experiment again, this time with 96 separate lines. The viruses in 24 of the lines evolved to use OmpF…

The new experiment provides a surprising glimpse at how easily viruses can evolve entirely new traits — and thus give rise to new diseases…

…The chances that a single virus would acquire so many mutations at once are certainly small. In the case of lambda viruses, Mr. Meyer estimates the chance of all four mutations arising at once is roughly one in a thousand trillion trillion.

Yet the lambda viruses repeatedly acquired all four mutations in a matter of weeks. “There’s this thinking that it all has to come together at once,” Dr. Lenski said. “But that’s just not how evolution works.”

Ready for a remake of The Andromeda Strain? Only this time it will be a documentary.

A Greek magician made debt disappear before joining the euro

Greece is at the heart of the ongoing eurozone crisis, but is past sleight of hand by Greek statisticians to blame for the country’s current financial meltdown?

“We used to call him the magician, because he could make everything disappear. “He made inflation disappear. And then he made the deficit disappear,” recalls Greek economist Miranda Xafa…

The new fiscal treaty that 25 of the 27 EU member states agreed to…is meant to ensure that in future no country has a budget deficit of greater than 3% of GDP.

That same 3% rule was first enshrined in 1992, in the Maastricht Treaty, which led to the creation of the euro in the first place. But some countries did not respect it. In the case of Greece, not even from the beginning. Greece cooked the books to join the euro in the first place.

“Take the Greek state railway. It was losing a billion euros a year,” Ms Xafa remembers. “The Greek railway had more employees than passengers. A former minister, Stefanos Manos, had said publicly at the time that it would be cheaper to send everyone by taxi…”

“The [railway] company would issue shares that the government would buy. So it was counted not as expenditure, but as a financial transaction.” And it did not appear on the budget balance sheet.

So Greece fulfilled the Maastricht criteria and was admitted to the eurozone on January 1, 2001 – but by 2004 the deception was becoming transparent.”

That year a new, centre-right government was elected. Peter Doukas was appointed budget minister. “I invited the senior staff of the ministry and asked them to give me details of the budget that had been passed the previous December, two-and-a-half months before we took office…

The difference between the published deficit and the real one was huge…The budget said the deficit was 1.5%. The real shortfall was 8.3%.”

So what did Mr Doukas do about it, given the eurozone’s Maastricht treaty rule to keep budget deficits below 3% of GDP…?

“But the answer I got at the time was ‘listen, we are having the Olympic Games in a few months and we cannot upset the whole population and start having strikes and everything just before the Olympic Games’.”

Instead of reforming public finances, Greece borrowed and borrowed to meet the deficit. Banks queued up to lend. The markets did not believe there was a risk of default because Greece’s currency, the euro, was locked into that of Germany…

Suddenly, in this one very narrow respect, every country was Germany…The markets failed to see the debt mountains that were accumulating. And they underestimated the risk…

In fact the Stability and Growth Pact was as good as dead by the time Mr Doukas took office in 2004.

The big nations of the EU, the predominant economic forces of France and Germany were as willing as the little guys to bend the laws, stifle the accounting, because it made the overall books look bigger. The whole of Europe was becoming one big happy family and just one bank, the European Central Bank, was needed to keep track of everything. Even if the rules weren’t lived up to in the first place.

And all the work that’s been put into turning around the train wreck that was the Great Recession started by our local crooks in the United States still can be undone by another recession spinning out of control from Greece and Europe — courtesy of a magician who made the cost of running the Greek train wreck disappear into economic limbo.

Patent troll claimed to own the interactive Web — jury says “NO”

After threatening web companies for more than a decade, Michael Doyle and his patent-holding company Eolas Technologies…may be finished.

An eight-member federal jury in East Texas deliberated Thursday for just a few hours before concluding that all of Eolas’ asserted claims of ownership to technology allowing access to the interactive web were invalid. That means the three upcoming trials that were scheduled to rule on infringement and damages, for Google, Yahoo and other companies, have been canceled. The eight defendant companies who resisted the lawsuits won’t pay anything to Eolas or its partner, the University of California, for using the web.

Eolas maintained its patents entitled the company to royalty payments from just about anyone running a website with “interactive” features, like rotating pictures or streaming video. The chief issue in the case was whether the first computer program that allowed access to an “interactive web” was created by the little-known Chicago biologist Doyle, who runs Eolas out of Chicago. Or was it one of the web pioneers put on the stand by the defendant companies — such as Pei-Yuan Wei and his Viola browser, or Dave Raggett and his “embed” tag?

The Eolas patents were denounced for years before this week’s landmark trial, but managed to survive repeated re-exams at the United States Patent and Trade Office.

However, Thursday’s verdict is likely a setback Eolas can’t overcome. It may well be appealed, but that will be a long process, and in the meantime Eolas won’t be able to go after new targets…

Kate Coultas, a spokeswoman for JCPenney – the only primarily bricks-and-mortar retailer who continued fighting the patent, added: “JCPenney is very pleased about the jury’s decision and thank all of them for their service. We also want to thank the true inventors who traveled from all over the world to testify in this matter and tell the real story about who invented the technology…”

As for the many companies that settled with Eolas, they might be regretting that pragmatic decision in light of the verdict.

Those companies include: Apple, Argosy Publishing, Blockbuster, Citigroup, eBay, Frito-Lay, JP Morgan Chase, New Frontier Media, Office Depot, Perot Systems, Playboy Enterprises International, Rent-A-Center, Sun Microsystems (bought by Oracle while this litigation was underway), and Texas Instruments.

I truly resent the context built over over time from the policy pushed by insurance companies and lawyers that says — settle with these schmucks even though their case sucks. It will cost less over time.

The cost to integrity is never worth it.

Landmark diesel exhaust study stalled by congress-punks

Publication of a landmark government study probing whether diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in miners — already 20 years in the making — has been delayed by industry and congressional insistence on seeing study data and documents before the public does.

A federal judge has affirmed the right of an industry group and a House committee to review the materials and has held the Department of Health and Human Services in contempt for not producing all of them.

The much-anticipated study of 12,000 miners exposed to diesel fumes carries broad implications. If the research suggests a strong link between the fumes and cancer, regulation and litigation could ramp up — with consequences not only for underground mining, but also for industries such as trucking, rail and shipping.

Exposure isn’t limited to workers; people who live near ports, rail yards and highways also are subjected to diesel exhaust laced with carcinogens such as benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde.

But for the time being, at least, the results of an $11.5 million investigation by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are under lock and key.

Richard Clapp, emeritus professor of environmental health at Boston University, is among several public health experts who called the situation unusual. “I’ve never heard of an industry group demanding manuscripts from a government agency before a study has been accepted for publication,” Clapp said. “My guess is it would give the industry a chance to prepare their rejoinder early. They want to delay anything that’s going to implicate them in liability for lung cancer.”

RTFA for all the anecdotal testimony. Yes, the “experts” are right in saying the point is moot from here forward – especially for highway transport. The diesel used over-the-road nowadays is qualitatively different from what was in use even 5 years ago.

That doesn’t limit liability for the creeps who’ve been aware of the risks of the crap they used to burn – especially in enclosed mines and semi-closed open cast mines and seaports with walls of containers stacked everywhere. The collusion of Congress with industry groups is about as criminal as it ever managed to be. Different administration. Same hedge.