Monday, March 31, 2014

Japan's Whaling Program Ruled "Not Scientific"

The UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that Japan's Antarctic whaling program is not for scientific purposes.

Japan catches about 1,000 whales each year for what it calls "scientific research".

Australia filed a case with the ICJ in May 2010, arguing that Japan's scientific research program is commercial whaling in disguise.  The court's decision is considered legally binding.  Japan had said earlier that it would abide by the court's ruling.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Putin Is The New Hitler

Andrei Zubov, a history professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, was fired last week for writing a piece comparing Vladimir Putin’s desire to invade and annex his neighbors in the name of protecting ethnic Russians everywhere, to Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.

Zubov’s op-ed was titled “This Has Already Happened.”  An excerpt from his interview with Radio Free Europe:

Germans formed an ethnic majority in those territories. In all these places, they led perfectly normal lives. In Austria, they were the main ethnic group. In Sudetenland, they enjoyed self-governance, they had the right to use their own language, attend their own schools, publish newspapers. It was the same in Memelland, where they even had an autonomous status and their own parliament. These Germans were not repressed in any way.

But Hitler had a maniacal desire to restore the Reich, destroyed in the wake of World War I. This is precisely why these Anschluss were conducted. In all three cases, the local population did not strive for unification. But thanks to the activities of the secret services and of the Nazi party, public opinion gradually shifted. In the end, these territories were seized through unlawful annexations.

Exactly the same happened in Crimea. People without identification badges emerged, armed to the teeth and carrying brand new weapons. The main buildings, including parliament, were seized. Then the parliament, defended by special forces, chose a new prime minister. Everything was established retroactively and more troops were sent in. It’s exactly the same scenario.

Putin is pursuing different goals that Hitler. Hitler strove to expand [German] territory and chauvinistically brainwash his people. I think the main goal here is to make Ukrainians hateful to Russians, so that the Maidan is not perceived by Russians as their own experience. So that it is seen as the experience of an enemy that needs to be rejected.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bantam Billionnaire Bids to Buy His Way Out Of Bigotry

Most people aren't buying Dan Snyder's attempt to buy his way out of the controversy over his refusal to change the offensive name of his NFL team.

Josh Levin of Slate put it thusly:

If you want my money, Snyder's saying, you’re going to have to choke down my nickname along with it. This is the essence of Dan Snyder: He can’t do good works without shoving his badness in your face.

Arturo GarcĂ­a of is equally unimpressed:

Snyder reached out to 26 tribes over a four-month period before launching the foundation . . . But, as Indian Country Today Media Network noted, there are more than 300 reservations in the U.S. , meaning Snyder is relying on approval from .08 percent of the country’s Native population. As [we have] previously reported, a study released last October by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) showed the team’s name was met with disapproval from 80 percent of Native communities.

Will Bunch of piles on:

I’m not against the concept of philanthropy. . . . But there should be no such thing as billionaires buying a “Get Out Of Doing What’s Right, Free” card. I was struck by what Peter Buffett wrote last year about philanthropy and “what I would call ‘conscience laundering’ – feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.” Now here’s Dan Snyder to take “conscience laundering” to a new ridiculous height.

Just change the name little guy, and it'll go away much faster.  Meanwhile, your (sorry) reputation just keeps on twisting in the wind.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mauled 4-Year-Old Can't Elicit The Kind Of Support His Pit Bull Attacker Does

A Phoenix judge touched off a fresh round of controversy after sparing the life of a pit bull that mauled a 4-year-old boy last month.  Municipal Court Judge Deborah Griffin ruled that the dog named Mickey must be neutered, defanged and microchipped.  She had previously declared the dog vicious, and could have ordered euthanasia.

"There [must] be absolutely no possibility of the animal ever doing this to someone again," Griffin said, saying the dog must remain in a facility for the rest of its life and can't be adopted.  The Lexus Project, a New York-based animal rights group and the dog's trustee, has 30 days to find a rehabilitation center or shelter to take Mickey. An animal advocate in court started to cry when hearing the dog would live.

The attack left Kevin Vicente with a broken eye socket and jaw, and he has years of reconstructive surgery ahead of him.  The court did not appoint an advocate for Kevin's interests during the proceedings.

The pit bull who attacked Kevin, however, attracted a team of top death penalty lawyers, who organized candlelight vigils and riled up thousands of animal lovers on social media who blamed with the dog's owners and child's baby sitter.

Floridalma Vicente, Kevin's mother, said she is grateful for the outpouring of public support, but can't understand the support that emerged for the dog.  "It disturbed me at first that they placed more value on an animal than on a child, and that made me feel very bad," Vicente told reporters. "If they don't care about [Kevin], well, I do."

Many of those in court disagreed with the judge's decision.  "Who is going to see to it five years from now that this dog still hasn't been adopted out?" one onlooker said.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Science Vs. Fiction Fantasy

Since its debut, creationist groups have made a lot of noise about Neil deGrasse Tyson's "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey."  While others have shunned the reboot of Carl Sagan's 1980 PBS series altogether, other creationists are now saying they now want equal airtime.

Danny Faulkner of Answers In Genesis voiced his complaints about "Cosmos" and how the 13-episode series has described scientific theories, such as evolution, but has failed to shed light on dissenting creationist viewpoints.
 "I was struck in the first episode where [Tyson] talked about science and how, you know, all ideas are discussed, you know, everything is up for discussion –- it's all on the table -- and I thought to myself, 'No, consideration of special creation is definitely not open for discussion, it would seem."
Earth to Danny:   creationism isn't science!  You don't get equal time to revolution- you can go peddle your fairy tales in religion class. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

More Injustice For Indian Women

A 26-year-old girl has been found murdered in what police say is an "honor killing" in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.   Her parents, who are now in custody, openly admitted they strangled their daughter after she married against their wishes.

In 2010, the young technology worker fell in love with a co-worker, but her parents thought he came from an unsuitable community.   They eventually got engaged, and she tried to convince them to let her marry him-- but they refused.  The couple finally got married last week at the Arya Samaj temple in Hyderabad, after which tragic consequences followed.

Her parents appeared to relent--- and took the newlyweds to the family's native town in Guntur, saying  that they had accepted the marriage and that the couple only needed to perform some rituals at Guntur.  After arriving, the parents asked the groom and his friends to stay at a lodge-- after which the parents spirited their daughter away and returned to their house in Hyderabad.  The husband tried to call his wife on her cellphone  the next morning-- and as there was no response, he alerted police who broke open the door of the parents' house to find the his wife lying dead on her bed. She had been strangulated with her own chunri (scarf).  After confessing to the crime, the parents have made no public comment.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Happy Oil Disaster Anniversary

Just two days short of the 25th anniversary of the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, a barge collided with another ship in the Houston ship channel, resulting in a spill of over 168,000 gallons of a thick, sticky marine fuel called RMG 380, a type of oil that doesn’t evaporate easily.  The channel was immediately closed, leaving at least 80 ships unable to get in or out. 

Two of the six-member barge crew were treated from exposure to fumes containing hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas which can be harmful or fatal if inhaled.  Skimming gear and thousands of feet of absorbent oil booms were set up to protect delicate ecosystems that could be affected by the spill.  Officials called it a "significant" spill though it was a small fraction of the 10 million gallons spilled by the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and the estimated 210 million gallons of the Deepwater Horizon leak by BP in 2010.

The Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound 25 years ago killed more than 250,000 seabirds in nearby Cook Inlet. The spill spread nearly 500 miles south.  Fishing villages along the coast had their livelihoods destroyed. Oil still persists beneath rocks and pebbles in Alaska where the Exxon Valdez split open, and sea otters have only just recovered after 25 years, and some species such as Pacific herring and the fisheries reliant on them are still not recovering at all, despite Exxon’s overtly optimistic prediction of a quick and full recovery of Prince William Sound.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Drudge Caught In Yet Another Lie

"Does this hat make me look more credible?"
Earlier this year, right-wing guttersnipe Matt Drudge announced that he was never going to comply with Obamacare-- but guess what? He announced last week that he had just paid the Obamacare penalty (which he has renamed ”the Liberty Tax”). 

The main problem with this story is that the penalty for not having insurance isn't being assessed until 2014 returns are filed a year from now.  But some Republican apologists tried to point out that perhaps Drudge had decided to estimated his 2014 income and thus pre-pay both his tax and the penalty a full year in advance.  But those GOPers also failed to do their research-- oops!  The IRS hasn't updated its forms yet for reporting the penalty-- so if Drudge had pre-paid his 2014 taxes and included the penalty, the IRS would have treated the entire amount as pre-paid tax, since there is no place to itemize the penalty amount.

After much public skepticism of his original story, Drudge later tweeted (in two messages, both now deleted) that he had been forced to pay the penalty because of quarterly filings.   But that story doesn't hold water either, since the penalty for businesses with under 100 employees was delayed until 2016.  But wait-- maybe the Drudge Report employs over 100 people (not according to Wikipedia, he doesn't) . . .  hmmm, running out of stories here . . . maybe he's filing quarterly as an individual (really?) and then adding a penalty to his quarterly tax payments---but as we've already established, federal tax forms haven't been updated, so the IRS would treat any prepayments as tax payments.  I'm calling bullshit on this whole thing.

Friday, March 21, 2014

There's A Reason They're Called "Glassholes"

Last month, a Bay Area woman claimed that she was attacked for wearing Google glasses at a bar in San Francisco’s Lower Haight.  But her one-sided version of the events not only destroyed her credibility but led to an even greater wave of antagonism against so-called "Glassholes".

Tech writer Sarah Slocum initially claimed that a patron in a San Francisco bar accosted her by yanking off her Google glasses and physically attacked her.  But the dubious, one-sided account of  the incident quickly blew up in her face, as additional witnesses jumped on social media triggering a negative backlash against the self-described "social media consultant".

Accounts from many other witnesses now paint a much different picture.  As Sarah Slocum was showing off her Google glasses to someone at the bar, others became concerned about the possibility of being recorded without their consent. A patron then made some insulting comments to Slocum, after which a male companion of Slocum's retaliated by throwing a punch.

The bar was closing for the night, so the incident was taken up anew outside on the sidewalk, where Slocum again attempted to record the proceedings.  Another witness took to Slocum's Facebook page with her recollection of the events:
I am the woman who was excited to try on your glasses. I also witnessed what happened outside after the bar shut down. You are fabricating a lot here. You were incredibly drunk and very much instigating the altercation. A whole can of worms might explode in your face. You did not file a crime report and you dropped your purse. Many people witnessed it all.
In the days following the incident, Slocum only succeeded in furthering the scorn being heaped on her by locals when she tried to categorize the hostility against her as a "hate crime".

Naturally, Slocum's friends tried to fight the rising tide with sympathetic and supportive messages.  Another witness named “Brian” said he was not surprised at how the whole thing went down.  “You know, the crowd at Molotov’s is not a tech-oriented crowd for the most part.  It’s probably one of the more punk rock bars in the city.  [Displaying] a level of tact in that type of establishment might have behooved her."

In the weeks following the alleged "attack", reports emerged that Slocum had a restraining order against her for an incident two years ago where she admitted to secretly pointing her smartphone at her neighbors’ open window and recording their conversation.

Slocum’s former neighbor, Jessie Lilley Campbell, told reporters she was going public with her run-in with Slocum “because I wanted people to know that Sarah Slocum is no victim.”  Campbell said she and her husband have since relocated to another town in Santa Cruz County, but don’t want the location made public because, “we moved away to get away from her.”

Thursday, March 20, 2014

SC Gun Owners Lose Their Shit

A pub owner has riled gun enthusiasts by putting up a sign in his window banning firearms from the establishment and calling those who carry them "losers".  The owner of the Backstreets Pub and Deli in Clemson, South Carolina, put up his potentially provocative handmade sign around St Patrick's Day.

Gun advocates in South Carolina freaked out and began flooding the bar with phony negative reviews on Yelp, which resulted in a one-star rating for the establishment.  Previously, the bar and restaurant averaged three out of five stars-- ut also had mainly positive reviews on its Facebook page.

One user posted on the pub's Facebook page claiming she "threw my guts up for three days straight after eating the wings."    Michael Breaux Jnr wrote: "Looks like you don't support the liberties provided by certain aspects of our great constitution. If you don't like it Canada is to the north and Mexico to the south so feel free."  Apparently, that user wasn't aware of the fact that South Carolina law prohibits gun owners from drinking in bars while carrying a concealed weapon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Washington Football Team Looking To Be Sacked

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has rejected another product with the term "Redskin" in its name, the latest sign that it might rule against the Washington NFL franchise in an ongoing trademark case.

The agency ruled this week that the trademark name "Washington Redskin Potatoes" would be considered disparaging.   The government agency's latest ruling first concluded that the product doesn't contain redskin potatoes.  It then went further, saying that because the product doesn't contain redskin potatoes, it would therefore would be associated with the NFL football team.  PTO concluded that current evidence reflects that "a substantial composite of Native American Indians find the current use of "Redskins" in conjunction with football disparaging."

The agency issued a similar ruling in January, rejecting the trademark "Redskins Hog Rinds."  The agency is overdue for a decision on whether to revoke the trademark protection for the name of Daniel Snyder's NFL team, part of a long-running challenge from a group of Native Americans.  A hearing on that matter was held over 12 months ago and it is widely believed to be delayed in anticipation of the controversy expected from a ruling that would go against the team.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Former Playboy Centerfold Gets Schooled

Don't I look smarter with glasses?
Former Playboy centerfold model Jenny McCarthy continues her misguided campaign against vaccinations since she first started suggesting that her son became autistic following a vaccine.

Nevertheless, many years of scientific research have disproved this ridiculous claim. After former doctor Andrew Wakefield first attempted to connect autism to a series of vaccines, The British Medical Journal found Wakefield's paper to be "fraudulent," and his medical license was revoked.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in the 2012-2013 season, 90 percent of children who died from the flu had not been vaccinated.   In 1989, low vaccination rates allowed a measles outbreak to occur in the United States. The outbreak resulted in more than 55,000 cases of measles and 136 measles-associated deaths.

But the most powerful tools against ignorance come from everyday people, as McCarthy recently discovered.  After tweeting the message below, she was deluged with responses similar to those that follow:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

This Chart Explains Everything About Why Paid Sick Leave Laws Are Hard To Pass

As Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos put it so succinctly-- the more money you make, the more likely you are to already have sick leave. The more money you make, the more likely your legislators are to know you or people like you and to be interested in your opinions.

The facts are stark: 61 percent of American workers have access to paid sick days, up from 57 percent in 2009. Just one state and seven cities have laws requiring employers to offer earned sick leave. And some of the occupations in which you'd most want people taking time off if they were sick, for public health reasons, have the lowest rates: Just 24 percent of food preparation and serving workers and 31 percent of personal care and service workers get paid sick days.

But employers insist they need workers sneezing into the food prep line or they'll go bankrupt, or something, and the issue doesn't feel so urgent to legislators whose friends and family all already can take a day off when they need it. And so the U.S. lags behind much of the rest of the world on this as on so many other basic workplace rights.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Unexpected Turn For Missing Malaysian Airliner

The investigation of Flight MH370 has taken an interesting turn. Authorities now believe the missing Malaysian jetliner was deliberately diverted and continued flying for more than six hours after losing contact with the ground, meaning it could have gone as far northwest as Kazakhstan or into the southern Indian Ocean.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's statement confirmed days of mounting speculation that the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 to Beijing more than a week ago was not accidental. It refocused the investigation into the flight's crew and passengers and underlined the massive task for searchers who already have been scouring vast areas of ocean.

Earlier today, another Malaysian official said the plane had been hijacked, though he added that no motive had been established and no demands had been made known.  Police drove into the residential compound where the missing plane's pilot lives in Kuala Lumpur, according to a guard and several local reporters who were barred from entering the complex.

Experts have previously said that whoever disabled the plane's communication systems and then flew the jet must have had a high degree of technical knowledge and flying experience. One possibility they have raised was that one of the pilots wanted to commit suicide.

The plane was carrying 239 people when it departed for an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing at 12:40 a.m. on March 8. Its communications with civilian air controllers were severed at about 1:20 a.m., and the jet went missing.  Investigators now have a high degree of certainty that one of the plane's communications systems — the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System — was disabled before the aircraft reached the east coast of Malaysia. Shortly afterward, someone on board then switched off the aircraft's transponder, which communicates with civilian air traffic controllers.

Najib is now confirming that Malaysian air force defense radar picked up traces of the plane turning back westward, crossing over Peninsular Malaysia into the northern stretches of the Strait of Malacca. Authorities previously had said this radar data could not be verified.  Although the aircraft was flying virtually blind to air traffic controllers at this point, onboard equipment continued to send pings to satellites.

The prime minister said the last confirmed signal between the plane and a satellite came at 8:11 a.m. — 7 hours and 31 minutes after takeoff.   Airline officials have said the plane had enough fuel to fly for up to about eight hours.  Searching in the South China Sea, where the plane first lost contact, has ended, Najib said.

Two-thirds of the plane's 227 passengers were Chinese, and China's government has been under pressure to give relatives firm news of the plane's fate.  In a stinging commentary, the Chinese government's Xinhua News Agency accused Malaysia of dragging its feet in releasing information. Information released by the Malaysian leader is "painfully belated," the commentary said. It said delays had resulted in wasted efforts and strained the nerves of relatives.

"Given today's technology, the delay smacks of either dereliction of duty or reluctance to share information in a full and timely manner," Xinhua said. "That would be intolerable."

Getty Is The Image Of Sneakiness

Getty Images has made some waves with its recent announcement that it will allow free use of 35 million (out of 80 million total) Getty images for non-commercial use without a watermark (it appears that Getty does not consider use on blogs containing ads to be commercial use). 

Many folks are lauding Getty for the move, and others have interpreted it as an admission by the media giant of how ineffectual watermarking really had become.   Apparently, people were either removing the watermark before using Getty's images anyway, or turning to a different source for a stock image that wasn’t encumbered by restrictive licensing and watermarks (such as Flickr).

But there's more behind the move, according to Pat David of PetaPixel.  It’s a sneaky play by Getty to significantly increase their footprint on the web in general, and to enable a massive amount of monetization if it works for them.

First of all, the tool that Getty requires bloggers to use in order to captures the images generates an

Friday, March 14, 2014

Hindus Guilty In Rape Of Indian Nun

A court in India has found three people guilty in connection with the rape of a Catholic nun in Orissa state in 2008.  One was sentenced to 11 years in prison, while the other two received 26-month sentences.  Six others were acquitted due to lack of evidence.

The nun was raped by a Hindu mob in Kandhamal district, days after riots between Hindus and Christian there.   More than 30 people were killed in the violence and dozens of churches and Christian institutions were vandalized.  The riots began after a Hindu religious leader was shot dead.  Even though left-wing Maoist rebels claimed responsibility for the killing, hard-line Hindu groups blamed the minority Christian community for the death.

The Catholic nun was dragged out of a Hindu man's house where she had taken shelter along with a 55-year-old priest.  She was then taken to an abandoned house where she was raped by a mob. She was then paraded naked through the streets.

Lower-caste Hindus often convert willingly to Christianity to escape the Hindu caste system.  However, Hindu groups have accused Christian priests of offering bribes to entire poor Hindus into conversion.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Time To Find Yourself A New Messaging App

Facebook's purchase of mobile messaging service WhatsApp is now being challenged by privacy groups.  Mark Zuckerberg's firm is planning to buy the company for around $18 billion.  Facebook said it will operate WhatsApp as a separate company and honor existing privacy agreements, which include not collecting user data for advertising.

But opponents want the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to stop the deal until Facebook provides more information on what it plans to do with the personal data of WhatsApp's users.  "WhatsApp built a user-base based on its commitment not to collect user data for advertising revenue," says a complaint filed with the FTC by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy.

They added: "Users provided detailed personal information to the company including private text to close friends. Facebook routinely makes use of user information for advertising purposes and has made clear that it intends to incorporate the data of WhatsApp users into the user profiling business model."

Despite assurances by WhatsApp and Facebook that the privacy policies will not change, the groups noted that Mark Zuckerberg's social networking company has in the past amended an acquired-company's privacy policies.  Notably, it did so with the Instagram photo-sharing service that it bought in 2012.

The complaint asks that Facebook be required to "insulate" WhatsApp user information from access by Facebook's data collection practices.  "WhatsApp users could not reasonably have anticipated that by selecting a pro-privacy messaging service, they would subject their data to Facebook's data collection practices."

The FTC will decide whether the acquisition can go ahead and, if so, whether or not conditions should be imposed.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Paul Ryan Now Pretending To Care For Poor People-- But The Numbers Don't Add Up

The man who used social security benefits to help pay his way through college now says that social security is a "ponzi scheme"
Paul Ryan is now attempting to rebrand his public image, adopting a new persona as "The Serious Policy Wonk Who Deeply Empathizes With Poor People." Unfortunately, it hasn't gone according to plan.

In recent days, Ryan has tried to demonstrate a new familiarity with scholarly research on poverty initiatives, giving his recent budget proposal a phony sheen of concern.   According to Jonathan Chait of the New Yorker, basically everything in Ryan’s budget turns out to be wrong.  Reporters from the Fiscal Times contacted a number of researchers cited by the Wisconsin Republican, and they all report that Ryan's conclusions display no understanding of their work whatsoever.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a longer list of the errors, distortions, and omissions in Ryan’s report.  Even libertarian economist Tyler Cowen concludes that Ryan’s report presents “only a marginal command of the scholarly literature, and it is a good example of how the conservative movement is still allowing the poverty issue to defeat it and tie it up in knots.”

Hamstrung by his dystopian politics, Paul Ryan has put himself in a pickle.  He is intent on boosting defense spending, refuses to increase taxes of any kind, and has promised to maintain Social Security and Medicare benefits for all current retirees.  With no other options in his single-minded pursuit of a balanced budget, Ryan’s budget slashes spending for anti-poverty programs – in fact, the vast majority of his spending cuts come from the minority of federal programs aimed at the poor. 

This fact has led to his current predicament: Democrats have painted him as a cruel social Darwinist, causing him to become concerned about his image as an “Ayn Rand miser,” causing him to re-brand himself as a poverty wonk, causing him to dive into scholarly literature. But scholarly literature is never going to show that his plans to impose massive cuts to the anti-poverty budget will help poor people.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Cluster Fuck, Chinese Style

If you plan to see the Terracotta army on a future vacation in China, definitely avoid rush hour in Xi'an.  The capital city of Shaanxi province is often plagued by serpentine traffic jams, with heavy smog often compounding the problem by reducing visibility for motorists.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Washington State Dragging Its Heels Investigating Outbreak Of Birth Defects

In her 30-year career as a nurse, Sara Barron had seen only two babies with anencephaly, a tragic birth defect in which infants are born missing parts of their brain and skull.  But while working at a hospital in rural Washington state in 2012, she saw two cases in two months. To see that many in such a small hospital seemed bizarre to her.

Barron mentioned the unusual spike to an obstetrician friend working at another hospital 30 miles away. That doctor had just seen a case of anencephaly, too.  Wasting now time, Barron called the state Department of Health and made a report.

Barron's phone call spurred epidemiologists into action. They went through hospital and doctors' records in a three-county area and found 23 cases of anencephaly from January 2010 to January 2013. Such a finding meant a rate of 8.4 cases per 10,000 live births -- four times higher than the national average of 2.1 cases per 10,000 live births.

Months later, Andrea Jackman, gave birth to a baby girl in Yakima Valley in south-central Washington.   Her daughter, Olivia, was diagnose with spina bifida, which, like anencephaly, is a neural tube defect that Washington state is also tracking. Unlike anencephaly, however, spina bifida is usually not fatal.

Jackman says she's incredulous and outraged that state researchers haven't called to ask questions: What did she eat while she was pregnant? Did she spend time near farms that sprayed pesticides? Did she take any herbs or supplements? How about Olivia's father? Was he exposed to any toxic chemicals?  But no one has called.

Mandy Stahre, the state epidemiologist who's investigating the cluster of birth defects, tries to deflect criticism, saying it might be upsetting for mothers to get a call with such questions. 

Jackman says Stahre's attitude is paternalistic and condescending.  She says she would do anything to help prevent another family from having a baby with a severe birth defect. State epidemiologists should have made those phone calls a long time ago, she says, since every day that passes, her memory, and those of other mothers, start to fade about what their habits were during pregnancy.  "What are you researching if you haven't physically called the families to find out?" she asks.

Stahre has an answer to Jackman's question, claiming that the state examined the mothers' medical records.  "(Medical records) give us a lot of information about all of the known risk factors," according to the epidemiologist.

But  Dr. Beate Ritz, vice chair of the epidemiology department at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, says medical records are notoriously unreliable: One doctor, for example, might note whether a woman smokes, but another doctor might not.  "From a research point of view, this is very bad research.  The data quality on medical records is so low that it's not really research," says Ritz.

Stahr sticks to her guns, saying "We're still investigating this.  This is nowhere near finished."  In the meantime, she says pregnant women in the area should not be nervous.

But Sara Barron, the nurse who found the original cases of birth defects, isn't so sure.  "I think it's very scary. I think there's absolutely something going on that needs to be investigated more thoroughly," she says. "I wish they would take it more seriously."

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Paranoia Will Destroy-ya!

Teachers in St. Francois County, Missouri, have complained after they were told part of their duties include being shot at with pellet guns during “active shooter” drills. Officials told the teachers they would also be required to wear goggles to protect their eyes.

Fear, paranoia, infatuation with gun culture, and an increase in militarism at the local level have resulted in active shooter drills being conducted routinely by police across the country-- many of them with needless levels of realism and some which unintentionally raise the level of risk of injury to participants and those conducting the drills.

Less than a week after Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, an elementary school in East Harlem, New York, conducted an unannounced exercise. The school was locked down and a woman’s voice repeatedly shouted “shooter” and “intruder” over the school’s public address system. Police (who apparently weren't informed of the drill) responded after a frightened woman in the school called 911. The incident was particularly troublesome due to the fact the school serves 300 students with special needs, including those with severe emotional disabilities, autism, cerebral palsy and other disorders.

Also in late 2012, students at the North Lake College in Irving, Texas, were subjected to an unannounced shooter drill.  Following complaints about the exercise, the college insisted it sent out email notifications.  After an investigation by a local TV station, the school was forced to admit that school faculty were not informed in advance about the active shooter drill.

In rural Oregon last year, teachers were traumatized when masked men appeared unannounced at a high school in Baker County and burst into a teachers’ lounge and opened fire with blanks.  Oregon allows residents to carry concealed weapons-- luckily, none of the teachers or school personnel were armed and/or reacted with deadly force.

In January of 2013, Illinois students in classrooms at the Cary-Grove High School endured police firing blanks in school hallways “in an effort to provide our teachers and students some familiarity with the sound of gunfire,” according to principal Jay Sargeant.   A number of parents said they were not informed prior to the drill, although the school district claimed it had sent out email notifying them. It said the uninformed parents did not receive the email due to a technical problem.

Also last year, the parents of students at a El Paso high school were outraged when officials conducted an unannounced drill. Parents received panicked text messages from their children as the drill unfolded. “I’m not kidding,” one student texted his mother. “There’s gunshots and people screaming and we were locked in a storage closet.”

Police and school districts are also going so far as to introduce political overtones to the drills in order to heighten the realism.  During a terror drill at a public school in Muskegon County, Michigan, students and teachers were told that “home-schoolers” were the perpetrators of the fictional attack, saying, “The exercise will simulate an attack by a fictitious radical group called Wackos Against Schools and Education who believe everyone should be home-schooled."  In another case in New Jersey, students were told that the imaginary attackers were gunmen from a group of “fundamentalist Christians” called “The New Crusaders."

People are now questioning the tactics being used in these drills, wondering if students can be prepared without unnecessarily traumatizing young children.  In addition to blanks, fake blood and actors in costume, some districts are going so far as to bus children to off-site locations to further the terror induced by the drills.  One county in Missouri has conducted over a dozen of these drills in the past year alone.

Friday, March 7, 2014

QB A Quarter Shy Of A Full Deck

“There are a lot of teammates in my locker room right now who may not have a homosexual lifestyle, but they have sins, too. So I don’t say they can’t help us win. Nobody’s perfect."

 -- Washington Redskins Quarterback Kirk Cousins

What an ignoramus. To begin with, being gay isn't a lifestyle . . . and being gay is not a sin (although causing hurt and shame in others by mis-characterizing Christian beliefs may be).   But implying that you're perfect by saying that gay people are imperfect is unquestionably wrong.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Response To Ukraine Crisis Deserves Mockery

"Is Seymour there?  Last name: Butts"

"Caught me just before bedtime-- but I'm here"

"I'm now patched in as well.  Sorry for the delay"

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Mass Turtle Death In India

More than 900 Olive Ridley turtles have been found dead along the coast of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, according to reports.  Wildlife groups said trawlers fishing illegally had failed to use devices to prevent turtles from getting entangled in nets. 

Experts say such a large number of turtles has not been found dead on the southern Indian coast for 10 years.  Olive Ridleys are endangered in India. They are one of five species of marine turtle to mate and nest on its shores.

Tens of thousands of Olive Ridley turtles come to the shores of eastern and southern India to lay eggs every year between January and April.  In 2003, more than 3,000 Olive Ridleys were found dead on the eastern coast of Orissa state.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Spiteful Chinese Editorial On U.S. Ambassador Condemned Within China

A major Chinese government news service used a racist slur to describe the departing American ambassador in a mean-spirited editorial that drew widespread public condemnation even within China.

The editorial, titled "Farewell, Gary Locke," took direct aim at Locke's identity as a third-generation Chinese-American, calling him a "banana" — a racial term for Asians identifying with Western values despite their skin color.

"But when a banana sits out for long, its yellow peels will always rot, not only revealing its white core but also turning into the stomach-churning color of black."

In his 2½ years in Beijing, Locke was instrumental in defusing tensions when the persecuted blind activist Chen Guangcheng sought shelter in the U.S. embassy. The Chinese public also credit Locke with raising awareness of the harm of the tiny pollutant PM2.5 and the severity of China's foul air by posting the embassy's hourly readings of air quality.

Wang Ping, the author of editorial, slammed Locke's portrayal as a someone judicious with public funds-- criticizing him as hypocritical, because he lived in a multimillion-dollar official residence and used a bullet-proof luxury vehicle, which is used by most U.S. ambassadors.  Wang belittled Locke's inability to speak his ancestral language and accused him of failing to understand China's law but fanning "evil winds" in the ethnically sensitive regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.  He also compared Locke to a dog and implied that civil rights activist Guangcheng was lying about being blind:

"Not only did [Locke] run around by himself, he even served as a guide dog when he took in the so-called blind rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng and led him running."

The editorial made a malicious Chinese curse at Locke, suggesting Locke's Chinese ancestors would expel him from the family clan should they become aware of his actions.  Wang also made the innuendo that Locke should be blamed for the smog that plagues the Chinese capital.

"When he arrived, so did Beijing's smog," Wang wrote. "With his departure, Beijing's sky suddenly turned blue. Let's bid goodbye to the smog, and let's bid goodbye to the plague. Farewell, Gary Locke."

"I think it shows the unfriendliness and impoliteness by the Chinese government toward Gary Locke, and it is without the manners and dignity of a major power," legal scholar Hao Jinsong said. "It is unfitting of China's status as a diplomatic power. As a Chinese, I am very angry and feel ashamed of it."

"This article by China News Service is the most shameless I have ever seen — not one of them but the most shameless," popular online commentator Yao Bo said. "Without him, we probably still would not have known what PM2.5 is, and how did he bring the smog? You have played the snake in the Farmer and the Viper."

Another commentator Fastop Liu, said the piece is ungraceful. "When you call him a plague, you become a national shame as you lack diplomatic etiquette, damage the manner of a great power, and lose the face of all Chinese," Liu wrote.


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