Congress — sort of — bans insider trading

Here’s where Congress’ principled motivation came from

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill on Thursday to ban insider trading by members of Congress and to impose new ethics requirements on lawmakers and federal agency officials. Doesn’t that look meaningful? Look further for the reality.

The 417-to-2 vote came less than three weeks after President Obama demanded such action in his State of the Union address. The Senate approved a similar bill by a vote of 96 to 3 on Feb. 2, but the lopsided votes concealed deep disagreements over the details of the legislation.

The swift response and the debate in both chambers showed lawmakers defensive and anxious about the low esteem in which Congress is held. The public approval rating of Congress has sunk below 15 percent…

Democrats said that House Republican leaders had weakened the Senate-passed bill by stripping out a provision that would, for the first time, regulate firms that collect “political intelligence” for hedge funds, mutual funds and other investors. Under the Senate bill, such firms would have to register and report their activities, as lobbyists do.

In place of this requirement, the House version of the bill calls for a study…blah, blah, blah.

Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York, who has been pushing ethics legislation since 2006, said that House Republican leaders apparently “could not stomach pressure from the political intelligence community, which is unregulated and unseen and operates in the dark…”

In the Senate, the bill — the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or Stock Act — was written by members of both parties. In the House, it was revised by Republican leaders, without consulting Democrats, and it was considered on the House floor in a way that precluded amendments…

Please, don’t expect too much bona fide work on ethics from a Congress dedicated to achieving little or nothing. Given the lack of concern for the life and economics of ordinary citizens by our elected elite – I wouldn’t expect much more than the odd sound bite’s worth of useful lawmaking to spill from the Congressional maw.

Even this halfway useful bill resulted from media pressure. Congress members who have been introducing such legislation for years have gotten nowhere. Only election year publicity on a couple of TV shows lit a fire under political butts.

Recovering usable fingerprints from old evidence

Australian researchers have developed a new way of recovering usable fingerprints from old evidence.

The scientists, at the University of Technology in Sydney, believe it is a world first, that could help police reopen unsolved cases. They used nanotechnology to detect dry and weak fingerprints, which are not revealed by traditional techniques.

Nanotechnology reveals much sharper detail of amino acid traces from old fingerprints than existing methods…

Specimens that previously went unseen are now being revealed using new chemical treatments that target amino acids. These are molecules commonly found in sweat and are therefore present in most fingerprints.

While the targeting of amino acids in this area has been used for decades, the researchers in Sydney are employing nanotechnology to give degraded samples sharper detail.

“If we get something that does work really well and is able to enhance prints on old evidence there is always that potential to use it for cold cases and things like that and for older evidence that may have been laying around for quite a while,” says Dr Xanthe Spindler…

The research is continuing and Dr Spindler says it is an important step forward in efforts to conquer one of the great goals of forensic science – to recover fingerprints from human skin.

We will see this on CSI next season no doubt.

Kids in UK growing weaker as computers replace outdoor activity

Kids video games

Children are becoming weaker, less muscular and unable to do physical tasks that previous generations found simple, research has revealed. As a generation dedicated to online pursuits grows up, 10-year-olds can do fewer sit-ups and are less able to hang from wall bars in a gym. Arm strength has declined in that age group, as has their ability to grip an object firmly.

The findings, published in the child health journal Acta Paediatrica, have led to fresh concern about the impact on children’s health caused by the shift away from outdoor activities.

Academics led by Dr Gavin Sandercock, a children’s fitness expert at Essex University, studied how strong a group of 315 Essex 10-year-olds in 2008 were compared with 309 children the same age in 1998. They found that:

■ The number of sit-ups 10-year-olds can do declined by 27.1% between 1998 and 2008

■ Arm strength fell by 26% and grip strength by 7%

■ While one in 20 children in 1998 could not hold their own weight when hanging from wall bars, one in 10 could not do so in 2008…

Previous research has already shown that children are becoming more unfit, less active and more sedentary and, in many cases, heavier than before.

But the new study also found that children in 2008 had the same body mass index (BMI) as those a decade earlier. Lead author Daniel Cohen, of London Metropolitan University, said this meant that, given their declining strength, the bodies of the recent test group are likely to contain more fat and less muscle then their predecessors. “That’s really worrying from a health point of view. It’s good news that their BMI hasn’t risen, but worrying that pound for pound they’re weaker and probably carrying more fat,” said Sandercock…

“Climbing trees and ropes used to be standard practice for children, but school authorities and ‘health and safety’ have contrived to knock the sap out of our children,” said Tam Fry of the Child Growth Foundation.

Falling off a branch used to be a good lesson in picking yourself up and learning to climb better. Now fear of litigation stops the child climbing in the first place.”

I doubt if the situation among some working class kids in the US is much different. I do feel that folks a bit further up the income scale – and/or those with the perception and education associated with that lifestyle – are less likely to be failing this way. And that understanding often is acquired outside the education factories grounded in the fear of litigation that Tam Fry notes.

Active lifestyles have sufficient advocates over recent decades to have motivated plenty of American families to bring their children into active exercising patterns. Running, hiking, cycling, skating, soccer, lifetime sports have become a movement that touches many families in the United States – even if it isn’t considered acceptable by either end of our economic extremes, e.g., layabout trust funders or redneck fans of watching almost any sport rather than participating in one.