Monday, December 31, 2012

The Top Ten Weirdest Stories from National Geographic in 2012

               Good Day World!

Here we are. The last day of the year. There’s a lot of topics with the usual Top 10 lists floating around. I settled upon the following one because it’s about animals and other living things in the natural world.

It’s my way of saying I’m tired of documenting people’s stupidity and triumphs every New Year’s Eve.

Animals are more interesting. They don’t take partisan views on subjects and tend to get along – interspecies - fairly well. Unless, of course one is a predator, and the other is natural prey. Then all bets are off. At least there’s no surprised involved in that relationship.

But I’ve seen elephants and dogs become great friends. Cats and dogs get along – under the right conditions. I had a goat whose best buddy was an old chicken named “Stupid Ludmilla.”

So I’m winding up this year with a tribute to all animals and living things like Slime Mold!). Enjoy:

World’s Smallest Frog Found

“Coming in as tenth weirdest is the housefly-size frog Paedophryne amauensis (below), the world’s smallest known vertebrate.At an average of 7.7 millimeters long, the frog is a hair smaller than the previous record holder, the Southeast Asian fish species Paedocypris progenetica, whose females measure about 7.9 millimeters, scientists said in January. Full story>>

Two-Faced Cat a Mystery

In August, Venus the two-faced cat became a feline hit: The three-year-old tortoiseshell debuted her own Facebook page, was featured in a YouTube video, and appeared on the Today Show. (Watch National Geographic cat videos.)

One look at this cat and you can understand why: One half is solid black with a green eye, and the other half has typical orange tabby stripes and a blue eye. The coloration may be a genetic mashup that one scientist called “absolute luck.” Full story>>

See the rest here and decide which one you think is the best!

It’s time for me to walk on down the road… for the last time in 2012! Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

AS IT STANDS: Are you ready for New Year’s Eve?

  By Dave Stancliff

For The Times-Standard
  It’s the day before New Year’s Eve, and all though the land alcohol companies are stocking store shelves with visions of obscene profits. Sales for products like Pepto Bismol and aspirin will go through the roof.
Ah! the rites of New Year’s Eve! A firmly entrenched holiday that celebrates booze and partying. What could be better than that? Millions of Americans gleefully get hammered and make New Year pledges they’ll never keep. But that’s okay.
New Year’s Eve parties are for adults and children are not welcome. Thoughtful parents often have New Year’s Eve parties for children, sans the booze, of course. Having never been to one I can’t vouch for what they do for fun.
Some people wait all year long to let their hair down and do the “Funky Chicken,” on this anointed holiday for drunkards. With any luck, other party-goers will be doing the same thing and everything that happens…is forgotten the next day.
Make no bones about it; New Year’s Eve is a rogue holiday that makes the rest of them look like milquetoast. The festive stage is set for a night of revelry drenched in champagne, cocktails, beer, rum, tequila, whiskey, wine, and vodka.

People also celebrate the holiday by getting high in other ways. There’s a slew of other possibilities ranging from cocaine to marijuana. But that’s not what you see on posters outside nightclubs and party places. 
I can see why the cops don’t like New Year’s Eve. Nothing is worse than a drunken moron on the road endangering themselves and others. Despite educational campaigns nationwide against drunk driving, more people will die on this New Year’s Eve from alcohol-related accidents than at any other time of the year, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Two to three times more people die in alcohol-related crashes on New Year’s Eve than during comparable periods the rest of the year. And 40 percent of traffic fatalities involve a driver who is alcohol-impaired, compared to 28 percent the rest of the year.

I’d also like to dispel a myth: Caffeine won’t sober you up! The fact is, caffeine may help with drowsiness, but not with the effects of alcohol on decision-making or coordination.
The body needs time to metabolize (break down) alcohol and then return to normal. There are no quick cures - only time will help. So, if you do plan on go out and get blitzed tomorrow night, make sure you have a sober designated driver with you.
  Now some people have tried to convince me that New Year’s Eve is all about reflections on the past year - that people really want to gather and talk and the booze is only secondary. I wasn’t born yesterday.
You may hear talk about good or bad things that happened last year, but the brunt of the conversations go more along the lines of:
“Wow! Did you see that blond?”
Or, “Look at Howard! That’s 16 bottles of beer and he’s still going!”
Let’s be realistic, a New Year’s Eve party is about the here and now - getting drunk and having fun doing stupid things. There’s nothing highbrow at all when it comes to a New Year’s Eve Party.
New Year’s Day is another animal.
It’s the day after the party and people are sober. Some are cranky with throbbing headaches, swearing all the while they’ll never take another sip of whiskey again. Yes, it’s a day for reflection and planning for the future. A noble day with traditions that are observed worldwide.

A day of new starts. The first day of the year, full of promise for the days and months ahead. A day that represents hope for a better future.
But first we must get through New Year’s Eve, unscathed by our own stupidity if we let our sense of reason soak in alcohol and marinade in regret the next day.
Seeing as how this is my last column for 2012, I’ll take this opportunity to thank you for reading my ramblings. I’m not making any pledges for the New Year, but I will try to continue to offer topics of interest.
  As It Stands, Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Why some older men get the ‘Grumpy Old Man Complex’

                  Good Day World!

When I turned 60 a couple of years ago, nothing earthshaking happened. I did not suddenly become a grouchy old man. I didn’t instantly morph into Archie Bunker. And let me also add that the following article about grumpy old men is malarkey (thanks Joe Biden)!

Talk about a bad rap. My wife actually says I’m nicer now, and less likely to lose my temper than ever before. She tells me I’m aging like a good wine (not whiner) and that the silver in my hair looks distinguished. So, before seizing on the stereotype the author has projected, consider there’s no empirical research out on grumpy men when they hit 60.

The doctor in the article can go on all day about low testosterone, but I don’t think he’s looking at the whole picture. Men can get cranky about a lot of things, at any age. So I bid you consider this when you read the following: 

“The look: A scowling face, a wagging finger, and a shaking head. The targets: The economy. Teenagers. Windmills.

Some informally dub it “grumpy old man complex.” British author Carol Wyer labels it “irritable male syndrome,” a spike in the outward crankiness of guys of a certain age.

As more baby boomers hit 60 — the age when male grumpiness seems to kick in — be ready for a growing chorus of grouchy flare-ups, like a Donald Trumprant set to explode.

The condition isn’t just a stereotype represented by the proverbial fist-waving shout, "Get off my lawn!"Testosterone levels generally fall as men age, according to the Mayo Clinic. Such hormone drops are known to dampen male moods, says Dr. Ridwan Shabsigh, head of the International Society of Men’s Health and a urologist in New York City.

“Testosterone is a hormone that grows muscles, reduces fat in the body, affects energy, and improves sexual desire,” Shabsigh says. “However, it also has neural-psycho effects. And in some men we encounter in our practice, those affects can be mostly visible: low mood and irritability."

Grumpiness is even used as a mood description in screening questionnaires for low testosterone. One form many U.S. male patients are asked to fill out is a test for Androgen Deficiency in Aging Men (ADAM). Androgen is the family of hormones that controls the development of masculine traits. Question No. 6 on that form reads: “Are you sad and/or grumpy?”

“Patients with low testosterone tell me they feel less capable of concentration. And they feel less capable of tolerating the nuances of everyday life – from family, friends, colleagues and customers,” Shabsigh said. “Whatever you do, you have people around you, and you get irritated sometimes. The ability to tolerate or deal with it is reduced when the testosterone is low.”

Certain metabolic and kidney diseases, including diabetes, are known to cause abnormally low testosterone, Shabsigh says, adding the prevalence of those disorders rises with age.

In healthy men, testosterone levels remain within normal limits until about age 60, with a gradual decline after that, studies indicate. According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, up to 30 percent of men beyond the age of 75 have low testosterone levels. The question of whether to treat such cases of low testosterone “remains a matter of debate,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

It's not always hormones or other physical health issues, though. Men aren’t as likely to share worries or concerns about aging which can leave a guy prone to flailing outbursts into the ether. Older-guy grumpiness can also be traced to major life changes like retirement that come with advancing years, Wyer says.

“Women have friends and we talk about our problems and we take medication and all that kind of stuff. But for men, it’s something they suppress. It’s a male thing ,” says Wyer, author of the upcoming humor book “How Not To Murder Your Grumpy."

Feeling that they no longer are useful, especially, if a man has held an important position in employment prior to retirement, "can result in severe depression at worst and general grumpiness at best,” Wyer said.

Wyer's husband of 25 years, John, turned 60 this year and became very grumpy just after his birthday, she says. "I have spoken to other women in the same position who have said exactly the same: Husbands, even those who have looked forward to a big birthday, have become morose soon after,” Wyer says.

John Wyer, who owned his own business and misses "the cut and thrust" of his work, has self-diagnosed his own occasionally gloomy anger as something of a byproduct of Western society’s collective view toward — and value of — people who are 60 or beyond.

“One of the things that really took hold of me was the fact that I was approaching a ripe old age, let’s say, and I felt society can cast you off as a little bit of a no-hoper. I just feel that isn’t right. I feel people in increasing years have a lot to offer.

And they shouldn’t cast off to one side. And I suppose my grumpiness is a little bit of a protest against sliding down that particular route,” he said.

“You think, well, gosh, there’s got to be to be something a little more than this. Being grumpy is just my way of getting through it and laughing at myself.” (Source)

Time for me to walk on down the road…

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fashion Police: Big Brother and Sister may be watching you

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Mannequins give new meaning to Fashion Police.

Good Day World!

I always thought mannequins were on the creepy side.

I’ve seen movies where they come to life. I even remember one movie where this guy fell in love with a mannequin!

Now the creep factor is official. Some guy is designing a new line of mannequins who can spy on you! That’s right. The eyes have a camera in them and they watch your every move! I use to think that, now it’s reality.

As far as I’m concerned there’s too many issues involved with these new mannequins. So far only a few stores have them. Let’s hope it doesn’t catch on with most stores.

Time for me to walk on down the road…

NOTE TO READERS – I’m taking tomorrow (12/28) off, but will be back on the 29th. See ya then…

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Curtain Calls for Entertainers in 2012: We’ll Miss You All

                                                  Good Day World!

 It’s that time of the year when we look back for a moment, and then forward to the New Year. One of my favorite entertainers, Andy Griffith took his final bow this year.

Andy Williams, Donna Summer, Phylliss Diller, and Ray Bradbury, are among the other 58 luminaries who also left us in 2012. Go to the link below for a slideshow of Curtain Calls this year. The most recent (and number 59) is: 

Charles Durning, veteran character actor, dies in New York at 89

Dec.24th - Charles Durning grew up in poverty, lost five of his nine siblings to disease, barely lived through D-Day and was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Bulge.

His hard life and wartime trauma provided the basis for a prolific 50-year career as a consummate Oscar-nominated character actor, playing everyone from a Nazi colonel to the pope to Dustin Hoffman's would-be suitor in "Tootsie."

Durning, who died Monday at age 89 in New York, got his start as an usher at a burlesque theater in Buffalo, N.Y. When one of the comedians showed up too drunk to go on, Durning took his place. He would recall years later that he was hooked as soon as heard the audience laughing. (Read more here)

Here’s a list of stars that passed on to the Great Matinee in 2012:

Slideshow: Curtain calls

Time for me to walk on down the road…

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

AS IT STANDS Wishes You a Very Merry Christmas!

Good Day World!

I want to thank all of my readers for visiting this blog this year. You came in record numbers and I’m truly humbled by your interest.I wish you a happy holiday. Above all I wish for…Peace on Earth! Here’s a Christmas story for you:

From war with love: Christmas letters home span centuries but hit same notes

Across three pages — typed on Christmas Eve 1966 from a village in South Vietnam — the soldier’s words to his wife dance seamlessly from a description of singing carols in the jungle to his latest enemy kills to, finally, a vow of eternal affection.

“Last night we had a candle-lighting ceremony ... Gasoline drums welded together end to end with a white Noel on the side. Electric light on top covered by red cellophane ... Reindeer and Santa Claus at front. It was raining,” Army Gen. Sidney B. Berry wrote to his wife. He next reveals how he recently had perched in a helicopter door, firing his rifle at men below: “We all were shooting. And we killed several ...”

“Lovely Anne, I love thee,” Berry closed. “Perhaps the best aspect of this whole period of separation is our increased appreciation and understanding of each other. I love thee, and I will devote the rest of my life to to thee.” He signs off: “Thy wearied professional, Sid.”

This time of year, communication from combat lines has long provided a poignant piece of Christmas.

Today's troops, for the most part, send their holiday wishes via email or Skype video chat sessions. But life was much different before technology began shadowing  service men and women so far from home.

At the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pa., thousands of notes, authored by service members from conflicts past, are painstakingly stored in acid-free folders, tucked inside protective boxes, and categorized by family, forming numerous narrow rows flanked by shelves 10 feet high. Many of the correspondences, once jammed in attic boxes, have been donated to the archive. Museum directors retrieved several dozen Christmas missives for NBC News to review.

From the Civil War to the Vietnam War, troops ranging from privates to a general struck the same literary chords — no matter the success of their conflict, their era, or the location of their last battle. They often chronicle violence during a moment meant to celebrate peace. They typically express humor, perhaps to put families at ease. And they reveal yearnings to be back with gathered families and friends.

“A lot of people wrote letters to their mothers at Christmas. I guess it’s a time you really to think about home, really start to think about where you come from,” said Conrad Crane, chief of historical services at the Army Heritage and Education Center.

Some of the letters offered to NBC News were were originally mailed to nieces, parents and wives.

On Dec. 28, 1862, five months before the U.S. Army’s siege of Vicksburg, 1st Illinois Light Artillery Capt. John T. Cheney sat at a humid encampment, he wrote, near the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi and scribbled some lines to “My Dear Wife.” Her name was Mary. He also had two children at home at the time, including an 11-year-old son, military archives show. On now-yellowed paper in cursive style, Cheney mentioned to Mary that he was, “waiting to retreat” — revealing, however, he believed his unit “ought not to be compelled to do so.” He told her that he and his men were living off of half bread rations and three-quarter meat rations but he reassured her that he was “not yet out of medicine.” And he acknowledged that on Dec. 24 he had procured three gallons of whiskey for his men: “We had a very pleasant Christmas Eve.”

“I am quite well and could I only know that you were well at home I would be thankful,” Cheney wrote. Less than two years later, he would accompany Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous march on Atlanta. “I wish I could step in and stop with you all tonight ... Give my love to all of the friends and kiss the little ones for me a time or two ... Good night.”

Not surprisingly, the intended audience of each letter, Crane said, generally shaped the tone of words from

On Dec. 26, 1917, Adam F. Glatfelter penned some thoughts to his niece, Carrie, from Camp Gordon in Atlanta. The training center was built to prepare men to head to the trenches of Europe to fight during World War I. In cursive hand, using a pencil, he told her of spending Christmas Day playing music with his military orchestra for the local bishop. He joked that his ensemble was quickly becoming “pretty popular” with folks in Atlanta. He listed his holiday meal: two turkey dinners. And he thanked her for sending a spool of thread.

“Do not worry about me,” he wrote, signing as “Uncle Frank.”

Holiday menus — and pleas not to fret — color many Christmas letters home. On Dec. 25, 1944, Navy Pfc. Clark S. Crane dashed off a one-page note to his parents in a V-mail, short for “Victory Mail.” The system offered troops templates bordered by red ink. Their words would be censored by the military — a stamp in one corner validated the content had been approved — then copied to film and printed back to paper before being placed in the U.S. mail.

Crane was anchored near the Philippines at the time, according to the Army Heritage and Education Center, although his letter notes he was “Somewhere at Sea.” He tells his parents how he had “just finished extending season’s greetings ... good natured but well felt” to other men on board via a Christmas poem that he authored with another sailor. He offered one line for his folks.

“‘Shed a tear in your Christmas beer since there ain’t gonna be no egg in it this year.’ Pretty corny, eh?” Crane wrote, noting that was his third Christmas spent at war and away from his parents’ house at 285. N. Maple Ave. in Kingston, Pa.

“Lined up ... for Christmas dinner with tender turkey and cranberries on the menu,” he wrote. “All of it was very good but there was a deficit of brown skin and the savory smell of a Christmas turkey at good old 285 North Maple. Lots of Love, Clark.”

Another poem — albeit a modern, bloody take on the classic “A Visit from St. Nicholas” — formed a Christmas letter home from Douglas G. Anderson, then stationed in Korea. Neatly hand-written on green paper, the note contained no date or location. Records show he was an Army sergeant who would have been about 23 at the time.

“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the tent was the odor of fuel oil. The stovepipe was bent. The shoe pacs were hung by the oil stove with care in hope that they’d issue each man a new pair. The weary GIs were sacked out in their beds. Visions of sugar babes danced through their heads,” Anderson wrote.

“When up on the ridge-line there arose such a clatter, a Chinese machine gun had started to chatter. I rushed to my rifle and threw back the bolt, the rest of my tent mates arose with a jolt.” Staying in rhyme, Anderson described the orders shouted by his platoon sergeant, Kelly.   " 'Get up on that on hilltop and silence that red and don’t you come back till you’re sure that he’s dead.' Then putting his thumb in front of his nose, Sergeant Kelly took leave of us shivering Joes. But we all heard him say in a voice soft and light ‘Merry Christmas to all, may you live through the night."

After the birth of the Internet and as modern service members waged war in Iraq during two conflicts and, now, in Afghanistan, the art of the Christmas letter home has largely been replaced by Skype sessions, said Col. Matt Dawson, director Army Heritage and Education Center.

In historic missives from combat zones, “people bared their souls,” Dawson said. Some of the authors couldn’t be sure that those words wouldn’t be the last their families would receive from them.

Today, such intimate moments are shared during one-one-one cyber chats that rarely, if ever, are saved — unless the troops use a new service called in which they can record, upload and send personal video messages for family or friends, and do so at no cost.

In most cases, however, sweet sentiments shared during Skype sessions from war zones are simply here and gone.

“So in 20, 30 or 40 years," Dawson said, "when we’re looking for this kind of stuff from the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, it will be more difficult to find," — unless a service member takes time to mail a post card home, as Marine Sgt. Brian Snell did this month. He sent the card to his wife Liz and their two daughters. The front shows a red Christmas ornament stamped with an “Operation Enduring Freedom” logo, atop an American flag.

"Hey love, Hope you girls have a Merry Christmas and New Year. I miss you all,” Snell, 30, wrote to his family, who live in the San Diego area. This is his first deployment. He was sent to Afghanistan in autumn.

“There is something about being able to read his handwriting to make the world feel a little smaller, like he isn't on the other side of it,” Liz Snell said. “Unlike a phone call, a letter lingers. You can have a bad day, pick up the card, and he is here.” (Source)


Monday, December 24, 2012

Follow Santa Claus on his Christmas Eve flight…

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Santa seen leaving the North Pole…

  • Santa takes an Astronomical Journey!
  • Dec. 24: International Space Station - Astronauts at the International Space Station were just finishing up a routine space walk when the captain of the group spotted a red blur out of the corner of his eye.
  • "I must say, some of us had wondered if we would miss our visit from Old St. Nick, what with us being way out in space and all. We're thrilled that Santa hasn't forgotten us!"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

AS IT STANDS: ‘Sorry Santa: I’ve got a last minute Christmas list for you’

By Dave Stancliff/For The Times-Standard

Dear Santa;
With only two days to go before Christmas …

I hate to hit you with this long list of wishes but I’ve been too busy to get them to you until now. I know. You’re pretty busy yourself.  If it helps, the wishes aren’t just for me.

They’re also for other people:
I wish some company would buy the now defunct Hostess brand and continue turning out Twinkies and Ding Dongs for future generations of junk food addicts. While you’re at it, could you help American manufacturers provide more good paying jobs next year?
I wish I had a new right ear. Full stereo. As you know, the darn thing quit working years ago after numerous surgeries. Listen, the ear doesn’t even have to match. My ears are already uneven and I wear hats a lot.
I wish you could explain to me why a guy doing a dance number called “Gangnam Style” that looks like someone riding a horse is the most viewed video in YouTube history?

I wish you’d put some coal in Donald Trump’s stocking for being such a moron this year. He’s really outdone himself. Wait a minute! Make that a notice the IRS is investigating him. If he gets coal he’ll think it’s a good sign!
I wish the LA Lakers would finally jell as a team and win a championship this season. At least get them into the Finals.
I wish books weren’t becoming a thing of the past. Would you leave me a few good ones? I like mysteries, biographies, and history. I’ll add them to my collection.
I wish newspapers wouldn’t disappear. The ink is on the wall and printed editions are slipping into journalistic history as I write this column. If there’s some way you can preserve them, I’ll be glad to do you a favor - like help pull your sled if one of the reindeers get’s the flu on Christmas Eve! 
I wish someone would come up with a canned chili that didn’t taste like dog food.
I wish the federal government’s War on Drugs would cease.
I wish some reality show would offer to professionally landscape my backyard for free. I’d gladly promote the series for the rest of my life or the rest of its run. Whichever comes first.
I wish writers would stop churning out top 10 lists on everything from bathroom designs to car elevators because they do well on Twitter feeds.

I wish you would find homes for all the people who lost their homes when Hurricane Sandy struck. While you’re finding homes, could you just go ahead and include all the people in this country who don’t have a home?
I wish my five year-old granddaughter would get whatever she asked you for this year. She’s really been a good girl and believes in you. That goes for my four older grandsons. They might be past believing in Santa Claus, but they’ve been good this year.
I wish you’d bring me a steering wheel cover that doesn’t smell like rubber. My wife hates the smell so we’re using the factory steering wheel unadorned. The dang thing is cold in the morning. There must be some alternative and I trust you’ll find it.
I wish you’d whisper some sense into the ears of drivers who text or use hand-held phones. It doesn’t look like any amount of laws and fines are makes a difference and the death tolls keeps going up. It’s especially poignant this time of year.

I wish those Mall Santas weren’t so terrifying to little kids. I’ve watched children throw up, urinate, and scream so loud my one good ear throbbed for hours afterward! These guys are your representatives, so if there’s anything they can do to be less scary, would you tell them?  
  I wish every man, woman, and child in America would have the opportunity to enjoy a great Christmas dinner and family gathering.
I wish I’d wake up Christmas morning and hear an announcement on the radio, “All Americans troops are coming home before next Christmas. That’s all American troops. No support troops are being left behind.”
I wish every member of Congress would be visited by ghosts of Christmas past, who’d take them on tours of prior Congresses that worked together and actually served the American people.
I wish for Peace on earth!
 As It Stands, may you have a Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

R.I.P: Iron Butterfly bassist, Lee Dorman, dies at 70

Lee Dorman, bassist for Iron Butterfly, gone at 70-years old. R.I.P.

 Good Day World!

Anybody who knew me in 1969 has to remember my 1963 Chevy’s sound system – I had a Craig Pioneer Eight-Track with eight 10- inch speakers – and anywhere I went you could hear rock music blaring.

One of my favorite eight-tracks was “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” by Iron Butterfly. I cranked those speakers up so loud my ears practically bled, but boy was I cool!

Good memories. Thanks Lee Dorman, you rocked! Peace out Brother! 

“Another great soundmaker has been silenced. Lee Dorman, bassist for proto-metal rockers Iron Butterfly, died today at his home in Orange County, Calif.. He was 70. The county coroner's office tells E! News that Dorman, who had a history of heart trouble, was found in his car at around 9 a.m., dead of what appeared to be natural causes.

Iron Butterfly's biggest hit was the 1968 jamfest " In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," off the album of the same name, and Dorman's booming bass figures prominently in the classic tune. Buoyed by its 17-minute title track, more than 30 million copies of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" have been sold over the years.

The St. Louis, Mo., native, born Douglas Lee Dorman, joined Iron Butterfly in 1967 and played with multiple incarnations of the original lineup on and off over the years. Drummer Ron Bushy, onboard since 1966, has had the longest tenure overall.

Though the acid-rockers' last studio album, "Sun and Steel," came out in 1975 (Dorman didn't play on that or "Scorching Beauty," also released in 1975), the group continued to tour and "Light and Heavy: The Best of Iron Butterfly" was released in 1993.

Also in the 1970s, Dorman formed Captain Beyond with guitarist Larry "Rhino" Reinhardt, British singer Rod Evans and drummer Bobby Caldwell.” (Source)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Study: Booze Damages the Brain, Pot Does Not

December 21, 2012 - Some new science demonstrates that marijuana may not have the harmful effects critics claim. In fact, while pot had no measured impact in a new study, the very legal and very lucratively-marketed substance alcohol actually has a worse health impact on young users.
Specifically, a new study of substance-using teenagers' brains shows that the regular use of alcohol had a harmful effect on the boozing group, while the toking-up group's brains suffered little alteration.
From Medical Daily, emphasis ours:
The researchers, from the University of California, San Diego and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, performed the study on 92 16- to 20-year-olds. The scientists scanned their brains both before and after an 18-month period. Over the course of the 18 months, half of the teens, who already had an extensive track record with alcohol and marijuana, continued their vices as they had before. The other half continued to abstain or drink a minimal amount, like they too had done before the study.
In addition to the brain scans, the study also required a detailed toxicology report and substance use assessment. The teens also were interviewed every six months. Researchers did not check the teens' cognitive ability, but simply took brain scans.
The researchers found that, after the year and a half was over, kids who had drank five or more alcoholic beverages twice a week had lost white brain matter. That means that they could have impaired memory, attention, and decision-making into adulthood. The teens that smoked marijuana on a regular basis had no such reduction.
While other studies have had less clear results, this study is important for a few reasons.
First, it shows that early alcohol abuse can be dangerous because it damages the tissues that influence judgement and self-control. "If teens decrease their tissue health and cognitive ability to inhibit themselves, they might become more likely to engage in risky behavior like excessive substance use," the Huffington Post quotes study co-author Joanna Jacobus, postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Diego, as saying.
The study authors also said that marijuana strains vary widely, so it's harder to determine which if any ingredients in a typical joint have positive or negative effects. The study will be published in the journal  Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
(Article Source)

More Guns, More Mass Shootings—Coincidence?

America now has 300 million firearms, a barrage of NRA-backed gun laws—
and record casualties from mass killers.

Update, December 15: Click here for our coverage of the Newtown school massacre. This story has been updated to include data from that event.

In the fierce debate that always follows the latest mass shooting, it's an argument you hear frequently from gun rights promoters: If only more people were armed, there would be a better chance of stopping these terrible events. This has plausibility problems—what are the odds that, say, a moviegoer with a pack of Twizzlers in one pocket and a Glock in the other would be mentally prepared, properly positioned, and skilled enough to take out a body-armored assailant in a smoke- and panic-filled theater? But whether you believe that would happen is ultimately a matter of theory and speculation. Instead, let's look at some facts gathered in a two-month investigation by Mother Jones.

In the wake of the slaughters this summer at a Colorado movie theater and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, we set out to track mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years. We identified and analyzed 62 of them, and one striking pattern in the data is this: In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. Moreover, we found that the rate of mass shootings has increased in recent years—at a time when America has been flooded with millions of additional firearms and a barrage of new laws has made it easier than ever to carry them in public. And in other recent rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, they not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed.

America has long been heavily armed relative to other societies, and our arsenal keeps growing. A precise count isn't possible because most guns in the United States aren't registered and the government has scant ability to track them, thanks to a legislative landscape shaped by powerful pro-gun groups such as the National Rifle Association. But through a combination of national surveys and manufacturing and sales data, we know that the increase in firearms has far outpaced population growth. In 1995 there were an estimated 200 million guns in private hands. Today, there are around 300 million—about a 50 percent jump. The US population, now over 314 million, grew by about 20 percent in that period. At this rate, there will be a gun for every man, woman, and child before the decade ends.

There is no evidence indicating that arming Americans further will help prevent mass shootings or reduce the carnage, says Dr. Stephen Hargarten, a leading expert on emergency medicine and gun violence at the Medical College of Wisconsin. To the contrary, there appears to be a relationship between the proliferation of firearms and a rise in mass shootings: By our count, there have been two per year on average since 1982. Yet 25 of the 62 cases we examined have occurred since 2006. This year alone there have already been seven mass shootings—and a record number of casualties, with more than 140 people injured and killed.

Armed civilians attempting to intervene are actually more likely to increase the bloodshed, says Hargarten, "given that civilian shooters are less likely to hit their targets than police in these circumstances." A chaotic scene in August at the Empire State Building put this starkly into perspective when New York City police officers confronting a gunman wounded nine innocent bystanders.

Surveys suggest America's guns may be concentrated in fewer hands today: Approximately 40 percent of households had them in the past decade, versus about 50 percent in the 1980s. But far more relevant is a recent barrage of laws that have rolled back gun restrictions throughout the country. In the past four years, across 37 states, the NRA and its political allies have pushed through 99 laws making guns easier to own, easier to carry in public, and harder for the government to track.

Among the more striking measures: Eight states now allow firearms in bars. Law-abiding Missourians can carry a gun while intoxicated and even fire it if "acting in self-defense." In Kansas, permit holders can carry concealed weapons inside K-12 schools, and Louisiana allows them in houses of worship. Virginia not only repealed a law requiring handgun vendors to submit sales records, but the state also ordered the destruction of all such previous records. More than two-thirds of these laws were passed by Republican-controlled statehouses, though often with bipartisan support.

The laws have caused dramatic changes, including in the two states hit with the recent carnage. Colorado passed its concealed-carry measure in 2003, issuing 9,522 permits that year; by the end of last year the state had handed out a total of just under 120,000, according to data we obtained from the County Sheriffs of Colorado.

In March of this year, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that concealed weapons are legal on the state's college campuses. (It is now the fifth state explicitly allowing them.) If former neuroscience student James Holmes were still attending the University of Colorado today, the movie theater killer—who had no criminal history and obtained his weapons legally—could've gotten a permit to tote his pair of .40 caliber Glocks straight into the student union. Wisconsin's concealed-carry law went into effect just nine months before the Sikh temple shooting in suburban Milwaukee this August. During that time, the state issued a whopping 122,506 permits, according to data from Wisconsin's Department of Justice. The new law authorizes guns on college campuses, as well as in bars, state parks, and some government buildings.

And we're on our way to a situation where the most lax state permitting rules—say, Virginia's, where an online course now qualifies for firearms safety training and has drawn a flood of out-of-state applicants—are in effect national law. Eighty percent of states now recognize handgun permits from at least some other states. And gun rights activists are pushing hard fora federal reciprocity bill—passed in the House late last year, with GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan among its most ardent supporters—that would essentially make any state's permits valid nationwide.

Indeed, the country's vast arsenal of handguns—at least 118 million of them as of 2010—is increasingly mobile, with 69 of the 99 new state laws making them easier to carry. A decade ago, seven states and the District of Columbia still prohibited concealed handguns; today, it's down to just Illinois and DC. (And Illinois recently passed an exception cracking the door open to carrying). In the 62 mass shootings we analyzed, 54 of the killers packed handguns—including in all 15 of the mass shootings since the surge of pro-gun laws began in 2009.

In a certain sense the law was on their side: nearly 80 percent of the killers in our investigation obtained their weapons legally.

We used a conservative set of criteria to build a comprehensive rundown of high-profile attacks in public places—at schools, workplaces, government buildings, shopping malls—though they represent only a small fraction of the nation's overall gun violence.

The FBI defines a mass murderer as someone who kills four or more people in a single incident, usually in one location. (As opposed to spree or serial killers, who strike multiple times.) We excluded cases involving armed robberies or gang violence; dropping the number of fatalities by just one, or including those motives, would add many, many more cases. (More about our criteria here.)

There was one case in our data set in which an armed civilian played a role. Back in 1982, a man opened fire at a welding shop in Miami, killing eight and wounding three others before fleeing on a bicycle. A civilian who worked nearby pursued the assailant in a car, shooting and killing him a few blocks away (in addition to ramming him with the car).

Florida authorities, led by then-state attorney Janet Reno, concluded that the vigilante had used force justifiably, and speculated that he may have prevented additional killings. But even if we were to count that case as a successful armed intervention by a civilian, it would account for just 1.6 percent of the mass shootings in the last 30 years.

More broadly, attempts by armed civilians to stop shooting rampages are rare—and successful ones even rarer. There were two school shootings in the late 1990s, in Mississippi and Pennsylvania, in which bystanders with guns ultimately subdued the teen perpetrators, but in both cases it was after the shooting had subsided. Other cases led to tragic results.

In 2005, as a rampage unfolded inside a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington, a civilian named Brendan McKown confronted the assailant with a licensed handgun he was carrying. The assailant pumped several bullets into McKown and wounded six people before eventually surrendering to police after a hostage standoff.

(A comatose McKown eventually recovered after weeks in the hospital.) In Tyler, Texas, that same year, a civilian named Mark Wilson fired his licensed handgun at a man on a rampage at the county courthouse. Wilson—who was a firearms instructor—was shot dead by the body-armored assailant, who wielded an AK-47. (None of these cases were included in our mass shootings data set because fewer than four victims died in each.)

Appeals to heroism on this subject abound. So does misleading information. Gun rights die-hards frequently credit the end of a rampage in 2002 at the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia to armed "students" who intervened—while failing to disclose that those students were also current and former law enforcement officers, and that the killer, according to police investigators, was out of ammo by the time they got to him.

How do law enforcement authorities view armed civilians getting involved? One week after the slaughter at the Dark Knight screening in July, the city of Houston—hardly a hotbed of gun control—released a new Department of Homeland Security-funded video instructing the public on how to react to such events. The six-minute production foremost advises running away or otherwise hiding, and suggests fighting back only as a last resort. It makes no mention of civilians using firearms.

Law enforcement officials are the first to say that civilians should not be allowed to obtain particularly lethal weaponry, such as the AR-15 assault rifle and ultra-high-capacity, drum-style magazine used by Holmes to mow down Batman fans. The expiration of the Federal Assault Weapons Banunder President George W. Bush in 2004 has not helped that cause: Seven killers since then have wielded assault weapons in mass shootings.

But while access to weapons is a crucial consideration for stemming the violence, stricter gun laws are no silver bullet. Another key factor is mental illness. A major New York Timesinvestigation in 2000 examined 100 shooting rampages and found that at least half of the killers showed signs of serious mental health problems. Our own data reveals that the majority of mass shootings are murder-suicides: In the 62 cases we analyzed, 36 of the shooters killed themselves. Others may have committed "suicide by cop"—seven died in police shootouts. Still others simply waited, as Holmes did in the movie theater parking lot, to be apprehended by authorities.

Mental illness among the killers is no surprise, ranging from paranoid schizophrenia to suicidal depression. But while some states have improved their sharing of mental health records with federal authorities, millions of records reportedly are still missing from the FBI's database for criminal background checks.

Hargarten of the Medical College of Wisconsin argues that mass shootings need to be scrutinized as a public health emergency so that policy makers can better focus on controlling the epidemic of violence. It would be no different than if there were an outbreak of Ebola virus, he says—we'd be assembling the nation's foremost experts to stop it.

But real progress will require transcending hardened politics. For decades gun rights promoters have framed measures aimed at public safety—background checks, waiting periods for purchases, tracking of firearms—as dire attacks on constitutional freedom. They've wielded the gun issue so successfully as a political weapon that Democrats hardly dare to touch it, while Republicans have gone to new extremes in their party platform to enshrine gun rights. Political leaders have failed to advance the discussion "in a credible, thoughtful, evidence-driven way," says Hargarten.In the meantime, the gun violence in malls and schools and religious venues continues apace.

As a superintendent told his community in suburban Cleveland this February, after a shooter at Chardon High School snuffed out the lives of three students and injured three others, "We're not just any old place, Chardon. This is every place. As you've seen in the past, this can happen anywhere."

Mark Follman is a senior editor at Mother Jones. Read more of his stories, follow him on Twitter, or contact him with tips or feedback at mfollman (at) motherjones (dot) com. RSS | TWITTER

New doom-free future for Mayans and the rest of us…

Aren’t you relieved that the world didn’t end today? It’s amazing how many people thought it would. The story has been trending for months and then it comes to today… a fizzle for fanatics, a disappointment for doomsayers, and just another day.

That’s good. It would have screwed up Christmas and New Year’s. Seriously though, schools were canceled today in Michigan and Connecticut because of concerns that crazies might attack schools as a way to usher out humanity.

What a crazy world we live in. It’s the only one we have, so let’s quit talking about it ending because some lunatics like that conversation. It’s the holidays folks! Let’s have fun and forget about those doomsayers. here’s an update on what’s happening around the world today:

“The sun has arisen today at Maya monuments in Mexico and Guatemala, heralding the completion of a 144,000-day calendar cycle — but not the end of the world.

Most archaeologists say the ancient Maya regarded sunrise as the signal for the turnover, much as we regard midnight on New Year's Eve as the time to party. And sure enough, tourists as well as modern-day Maya in traditional garb gathered at Chichen Itza's El Castillo pyramid in Mexico to greet the day. Josh Gates, host of the Syfy TV show "Destination Truth," is live-tweeting the activities. (Syfy is owned by NBC Universal, which also owns NBC News Digital.)

The ancient Maya calendar marks Dec. 21 as the end of a cycle known as a baktun, which lasts 144,000 days or nearly 400 years. This finishes up the 13th baktun since Year Zero for the Maya, and taken together, all that time represents an even longer 5,125-year cycle of creation. That led to speculation that the Maya expected the gods to reset the cosmos on Dec. 21. Somehow that speculation was taken seriously enough to whip up this whole end-of-the-world hype.

Along the way, all sorts of claims were made about unseen planets, solar disturbances and other supposed earth changes that would make today a very bad day. But judging from the pictures coming from Chichen Itza and other Maya monuments, people are having a good time today.

In the longer term, Maya community leaders hope all the attention they're getting this week will translate into a wider awareness of their ancient culture and their modern-day challenges. They're not worried about doomsday; they're worried about poverty. Check out this PhotoBlog posting for more about the real concerns being voiced by the indigenous people of Guatemala. (Source)

Related Stories

Happiness Economics: Where the happiest people in the world live

    Good Day World!

I have to admit I was surprised by the results of the following poll. I figured the richest countries would have the most happy people, if for no other reason they offered more food and shelter. Not so, according to the United Nations’ Human Development Index.

It just goes to show that we should never assume anything. The happiest people in the world go without a lot of basic things in life that you and I take for granted. Even after you read the rationale behind this poll and the factors it’s based upon, you might still question the results like I do. Personally I think the methodology is flawed.

The happiness index is based upon cultural bias. The poll suggests some cultures respond positively to any question, but as for proving where the happiest people live…I think more research is in order. See what you think:

 “The world’s happiest people aren’t in Qatar, the richest country by most measures. They aren’t in Japan, the nation with the highest life expectancy. Canada, with its chart-topping percentage of college graduates, doesn’t make the top 10.

A poll released Wednesday of nearly 150,000 people around the world says seven of the world’s 10 countries with the most upbeat attitudes are in Latin America.

Many of the seven do poorly in traditional measures of well-being, like Guatemala, a country torn by decades of civil war followed by waves of gang-driven criminality that give it one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Guatemala sits just above Iraq on the United Nations’ Human Development Index, a composite of life expectancy, education and per capita income. But it ranks seventh in positive emotions.

“In Guatemala, it’s a culture of friendly people who are always smiling,” said Luz Castillo, a 30-year-old surfing instructor. “Despite all the problems that we’re facing, we’re surrounded by natural beauty that lets us get away from it all.”

Gallup Inc. asked about 1,000 people in each of 148 countries last year if they were well-rested, had been treated with respect, smiled or laughed a lot, learned or did something interesting and felt feelings of enjoyment the previous day.

In Panama and Paraguay, 85 percent of those polled said yes to all five, putting those countries at the top of the list. They were followed closely by El Salvador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Guatemala, the Philippines, Ecuador and Costa Rica.

The people least likely to report positive emotions lived in Singapore, the wealthy and orderly city-state that ranks among the most developed in the world. Other wealthy countries also sat surprisingly low on the list. Germany and France tied with the poor African state of Somaliland for 47th place.

Prosperous nations can be deeply unhappy ones. And poverty-stricken ones are often awash in positivity, or at least a close approximation of it.

It’s a paradox with serious implications for a relatively new and controversial field called happiness economics that seeks to improve government performance by adding people’s perceptions of their satisfaction to traditional metrics such as life expectancy, per capita income and graduation rates.

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan famously measures policies by their impact on a concept called Gross National Happiness.

British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a national well-being program in 2010 as part of a pledge to improve Britons’ lives in the wake of the global recession. A household survey sent to 200,000 Britons asks questions like “How satisfied are you with your life nowadays?”

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which unites 34 of the world’s most advanced countries, recently created a Better Life Index allowing the public to compare countries based on quality of life in addition to material well-being.

Some experts say that’s a dangerous path that could allow governments to use positive public perceptions as an excuse to ignore problems. As an example of the risks, some said, the Gallup poll may have been skewed by a Latin American cultural proclivity to avoid negative statements regardless of how one actually feels.

“My immediate reaction is that this influenced by cultural biases,” said Eduardo Lora, who studied the statistical measurement of happiness as the former chief economist of the Inter-American Development Bank

“What the empirical literature says is that some cultures tend to respond to any type of question in a more positive way,” said Lora, a native of Colombia, the 11th most-positive country.

For the nine least positive countries, some were not surprising, like Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Haiti. For others at the bottom, Armenia at the second lowest spot, Georgia and Lithuania, misery is something a little more ephemeral.

“Feeling unhappy is part of the national mentality here,” said Agaron Adibekian, a sociologist in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. “Armenians like being mournful; there have been so many upheavals in the nation’s history. The Americans keep their smiles on and avoid sharing their problems with others. And the Armenians feel ashamed about being successful.”

The United States was No. 33 in positive outlook. Latin America’s biggest economies, Mexico and Brazil, sat more than 20 places further down the list.

Jon Clifton, a partner at Gallup, acknowledged the poll partly measured cultures’ overall tendency to express emotions, positive or negative. But he said skeptics shouldn’t undervalue the expression of positive emotion as an important phenomenon in and of itself.

“Those expressions are a reality, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to quantify,” he said. “I think there is higher positive emotionality in these countries.”

Some Latin Americans said the poll hit something fundamental about their countries: a habit of focusing on posivites such as friends, family and religion despite daily lives that can be grindingly difficult.

Carlos Martinez sat around a table with 11 fellow construction workers in a Panama City restaurant sharing a breakfast of corn empanadas, fried chicken and coffee before heading to work on one of the hundreds of new buildings that have sprouted during a yearslong economic boom driven in large part by the success of the Panama Canal. The boom has sent unemployment plunging, but also increased traffic and crime.

Martinez pronounced himself unhappy with rising crime but “happy about my family.”

“Overall, I’m happy because this is a country with many natural resources, a country that plays an important role in the world,” he said. “We’re Caribbean people, we’re people who like to celebrate, to eat well and live as well as we can. There are a lot of possibilities here, you just have to sacrifice a little more.”

Singapore sits 32 places higher than Panama on the Human Development Index, but at the opposite end of the happiness list. And things weren’t looking good Wednesday to Richard Low, a 33-year-old businessman in the prosperous Asian metropolis.

“We work like dogs and get paid peanuts. There’s hardly any time for holidays or just to relax in general because you’re always thinking ahead: when the next deadline or meeting is. There is hardly a fair sense of work-life balance here,” he said.

In Paraguay, tied with Panama as the most-positive country while doing far worse than Panama by objective measures, street vendor Maria Solis said tough economic conditions were no reason to despair.

“Life is short and there are no reasons to be sad because even if we were rich, there would still be problems,” she said while selling herbs used for making tea. “We have to laugh at ourselves.”


Time for me to walk on down the road…

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Michigan officials to close 33 schools due to end of world prediction by Mayans

Okay…how crazy is it? Now schools are being closed. I figured there would be a last minute push by the world’s nuts predicting the end times because they thought that’s what the Mayan Calendar said.

As usual, these doomsayers seem to be worldwide. What cracks me up is that the whole thing is based on a false interpretation. But in the world of cyberspace, things become muddled and false prophecies are propagated like like maggots on a dead animal.

You’d think the word would have gotten out to more people that the whole thing is a mistake, but apparently that’s not the case:

“More than 30 Michigan schools closed for the holidays two days early, in part because the Mayan calendar predicts the world will end on Friday, an official said.

Matt Wandrie, superintendent for Lapeer Community Schools, said doomsday "rumors" are running rampant in several districts, adding to fears raised by last week's school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

"Given the recent events in Connecticut, there have been numerous rumors circulating in our district, and in neighboring districts, about potential threats of violence against students," Wandrie wrote on his website.

"Additionally, rumors connected to the Mayan calendar predicted end of the world on Friday have also surfaced," he added. He noted that Twitter was up with posts with sentiments like: "Friday would be a great day to go out w/ a bang."

The ancient predictions of apocalypse were a "secondary concern," with rumblings about violent threats against schoolchildren a bigger issue, he said.

Wandrie said all rumors of threats had been "investigated and determined to be false" but were still a "serious distraction" for students heading into the holiday break, and parents were vowing to keep children home.

So officials from five districts in Lapeer County covering 33 schools decided to just scrap the last two days of, extracurricular activities and athletic events. "Although we in the county are reluctant to cancel school because the rumors are unsubstantiated, we feel it is the most appropriate decision given the gravity of recent events and our present circumstances," he wrote.” (Source)

Stand Your Ground Law Case Files: Man shot in pizza parlor for complaining about show service

     Good Day World!

It’s bad enough that we have crazed mass murderers mowing people down with assault rifles without passing out concealed gun permits to “head cases” who shoot people and then try to use stupid laws like Florida’s, “Stand Your Ground” law, to justify what they did.

There’s stories every day about how this law gets abused. Here’s the most recent one:

“Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law has been cited in hundreds of cases. People have used it to justify shooting, stabbing, killing and maiming would-be intruders, romantic competitors and rival gang members.

And on Sunday, at a pizza joint in St. Petersburg, a man tried to use it as justification for shooting another customer who was yelling at workers because he wasn't getting his order fast enough.

Police said the incident unfolded about 4 p.m. inside the Little Caesars, 3463 Fourth St. N, after Randall White, 49, got mad about his service. Another man in line, Michael Jock, 52, of St. Petersburg admonished White.

That "prompted them to exchange words and it became a shoving match," said police spokesman Mike Puetz. White raised a fist. Jock, a concealed-weapons permit holder, pulled out a .38 Taurus Ultralight Special Revolver.

He fired one round, hitting White in the lower torso. The men grappled and the gun fired again, hitting White in roughly the same spot, police said.

One bullet lodged in a wall in the restaurant, which was occupied by at least two other people. After the shooting, both men went outside and waited for police. Jock told officers the shooting was justified under "stand your ground," Puetz said.

"He felt he was in his rights," Puetz said. "He brought it up specifically and cited it to the officer."

He told officers he feared for his life. He mentioned that he thought White had an object in his hand, then backed off that when officers pressed him. Florida's "stand your ground law" says people are not required to retreat before using deadly force.

"We determined it did not reach a level where deadly force was required," Puetz said.

Police arrested Jock on charges of aggravated battery with a weapon and shooting within a building. He was released from jail on $20,000 bail.

Jock told the Tampa Bay Times he was meeting with a lawyer today, but declined further comment. White was treated at Bayfront Medical Center and released. Reached by phone Monday night, he said he felt lucky to be alive. He was also angry.

"There are arguments every day, but how many people pull out a gun? When you pull a gun out and shoot somebody, your life better be in danger," White said. "He was in my face and I pushed him. His life was not being threatened."

White said he got mad because his thin-crust vegetable pie was taking longer than the 10 minutes he was promised. "Twenty minutes later, I'm like, 'Where's my pizza?' " White said.

White, who admitted he was tired and agitated, started talking about the service. That's when he said Jock "started chewing me out."

Time for me to walk on down the road…

White said the gun came out quickly. A shot rang out. The two men wrestled for the gun before the second shot was fired. White said he still has a bullet fragment in his back.

"I got lucky," he said. "To me, that stand your ground rule … people are twisting it. He's twisting it. I walked in to get a pizza and I got shot … I'm hoping the law prevails. We'll see." (Source)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It took cooperation to keep newsman's disappearance secret

Good Day World!

Not too many journalists can do what Richard Engel does. Operating in war zones takes a person with steady nerves and no fear.

Few newsmen know more about the Middle East. Engel loves what he does. As a journalist myself, I have tremendous respect for his dedication to the profession.

Getting the story often calls for sacrifice. Engel was lucky this time, he got away from his captors. Let’s hope he doesn’t have to make the ultimate sacrifice for a story some day.

  “NBC was able to keep the abduction of chief Middle East correspondent Richard Engel in Syria largely a secret until he escaped late Monday because it persuaded some of this country's most prominent news organizations to hold back on the story.

Otherwise, the disappearance of Engel — probably the most high-profile international television reporter on a U.S. network — would have been big news.

Photo: In this image made from video, NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, right, shakes hands with an unidentified person after crossing back into Turkey, after they were freed unharmed following a firefight at a checkpoint after five days of captivity inside Syria, in Cilvegozu, Turkey, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. Engel told the Turkish news agency Anadolu that he and his colleagues are "very happy to be out" and they are "very tired." (AP Photo/Anadolu via AP TV) TURKEY OUT, TV OUT

Engel and three colleagues, producers Ghazi Balkiz and Aziz Akyavas and photographer John Kooistra, escaped during a firefight between rebels and their captors, forces sympathetic to the Syrian government. The journalists were dragged from their , kept bound and blindfolded and threatened with death.

NBC said it did not know what had happened to the men until after their escape. The first sign of trouble came last Thursday, when Engel did not check back with his office at an agreed-upon time.

The learned of Engel's disappearance independently and was asked to keep the news quiet upon contacting NBC, said John Daniszewski, the AP's vice president and senior managing editor.

"A general principle of our reporting is that we don't want to write stories that are going to endanger the lives of the people that we are writing about," Daniszewski said. The first few days after an abduction are often crucial to securing the captive's release.

In any case, he said, the AP never had enough information to report to its standards. "The fragmentary information we did receive was not solid or sourced in a way we could use. We had no actual news to report until they got out on Tuesday and NBC went public with the story," he said.

CBS News also said that it had honored NBC's request, but a spokeswoman declined to discuss it. ABC, Fox News and CNN were also contacted by NBC.

CNN, in an editor's note affixed to a website story on Engel's escape, noted NBC's request. CNN said it complied to allow fact-finding and negotiations to free the captors before it became a worldwide story.

"Hostage negotiators say that once the global spotlight is on the missing, the hostages' value soars, making it much harder to negotiate their freedom," CNN said.

For similar reasons, the AP did not report its own news several years ago when a photographer was kidnapped in the Gaza Strip, securing his release within a day. In one celebrated case of secrecy, The New York Times withheld news that reporter David Rohde was kidnapped while trying to make contact with a Taliban commander in Afghanistan. Rohde escaped after seven months in captivity.

It wasn't clear whether Engel's abductors knew what they had at the time. That knowledge, CNN argued, could have greatly complicated any negotiations. In this case, the captors did not make any ransom demands during the time he was missing.

This isn't simply a professional courtesy; the AP has withheld news involving overseas contractors in the past, Daniszewski said. For similar reasons, the organization does not reveal details of military or police actions it learns about beforehand if the news will put people at risk, and doesn't write about leaders heading into war zones until they are safely there.

Still, it's not a decision lightly taken by news organizations. "The obligation of journalists is to report information, not withhold it, except in exceptional circumstances," said Robert Steele, a journalism ethics professor at DePauw University.

The news that Engel was missing was first reported Monday by Turkish journalists who had heard about Akyavas' involvement, and was picked up by the U.S. website In explaining why the news was reported, Gawker's John Cook wrote that no one had told him of a specific or even general threat to Engel's safety.

"I would not have written a post if someone had told me that there was a reasonable or even remote suspicion that anything specific would happen if I wrote the post," Cook wrote.

He also noted that China's Xinhua News Agency and the Breitbart website had also reported on Engel's disappearance. Breitbart's John Nolte attached a note to his report saying that he wasn't even aware of any news embargo until after hearing that Engel had been released.

The news was also tweeted by a small number of journalists, apparently unaware of the embargo request.

Whether a disappearance has become widely known could influence a decision by AP on whether to withhold the news, Daniszewski said. In this case, it wasn't clear that it had been widely circulated, he said.” (Source)

Time for me to walk on down the road…

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Toys From Hell: Another firetrap just waiting to happen

The tragic fire that raged out of control on Saturday evening of November 24 at the Tazreen Fashion garment factory in Bangladesh resulted in the needless and horrible deaths of at least 112 workers.

Fifty-three workers, and possibly more, were burned beyond recognition and their parents had to bury their children in a common grave.  Wal-Mart and Disney garments were being sewn at Tazreen where the fire burned for 12 hours.

  Tazreen was a deathtrap, a tragedy waiting to happen — with no exterior fire escapes, no sprinkler system, with fire extinguishers that did not work, and locked windows at gates that trapped the workers.  The only stairways led down to the inferno — the ground-floor warehouse piled to the ceiling with fabric, yarn, garments and accessories.

Now, just three weeks later, on December 17, 2012, the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights is releasing a new report that places Wal-Mart and Disney smack in the middle of another factory where emergency exits and fire extinguishers are blocked, while piles of flammable fabric, cotton, wool, yarns, thread and shipping materials reach to the ceiling.

At the Dream International Toy Factory in Shenzhen, China, the workers we spoke with told us that there had never been a fire drill in their crowded dorms.  In addition to being a fire trap that could endanger the lives of over 2,000 workers, everything about Dream International is illegal.  It is a sweatshop where every single labor law in China is violated, not to mention the International Labour Organization’s internationally recognized worker rights standards.

Is this how Wal-Mart and Disney are beefing up their fire safety standards, fair wages and respect for worker rights after the tragedy at Tazreen?  If so, they are failing miserably.

This year, and especially during the holiday season, China will ship over $23 billion worth of toys and sporting goods to the U.S., which were made by an estimated three million workers, mostly women, who toil shifts of 12-plus hours in some 8,000 sweatshop factories across China.  And this has been going on for well over 20 years.

Every year, the American people buy these toys and sporting goods.  But isn’t it a little odd that we have never, not even once, had the chance to meet with even a handful of the workers in China who make the goods we buy?  We know nothing about their lives — how many hours they work, what they are paid, if their human rights are respected....and what their hopes and dreams are.

It is not by chance that we know nothing about the Chinese workers and the Chinese workers know nothing about us.  This is how Wal-Mart, Disney and the other corporations want it to be.  We are not supposed to know about the grueling overtime hours in China, the dollar-an-hour wages, the miserable and primitive dorm conditions, and the lack of worker rights, religious and political freedoms.

There is one way we can stand up for ourselves, and for the workers in China and across the world.  You know that corporations like Wal-Mart and Disney enjoy the benefit of all sorts of enforceable laws — intellectual property and copyright laws to protect their trademarks and designs.  If anyone tries to make a knock-off of Mickey Mouse, that person will face some very serious jail time.

But if Mickey Mouse is protected, by enforceable laws backed up by sanctions, why is it that the worker who makes Mickey Mouse has no legal rights.

The answer is simple, while the corporations have all sorts of enforceable laws to protect their trademarks and products, these same corporations, including Wal-Mart and Disney, refuse to extend these legal protections to workers.

Please check out the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act, which was supported in 2007-2008 by 175 members of the House of Representatives and 26 Senators including then-Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.  This legislation would prohibit the import, export and sale of sweatshop products in the United States.

his would be a wake-up call to Wal-Mart, Disney and the other multinationals.  Their sweatshop joyride may be coming to an end.  It is up to the American people to decide.  In fact, a Harris Poll showed that over 75 percent of Americans supported this legislation!

We, the American people, need to take back our economy and remake it with a human face.

Read the Institute’s new report on Dream International in China:

Wal-Mart and Disney, Toys from Hell - Html

There are no laws of gravity for Spider Kitty!

Look! It’s Spider Kitty!
Whoa there! Whoa there, buddy. There are certain laws regarding gravity and you not having wings that need to be addressed. We're sure you get super excited chasing the Mysterious Red Dot but that doesn't mean you can turn our minds inside out running straight up a wall and practically all the way to the ceiling. Do you hear your owner laughing? That's the shocked yet fearful laugh of someone who is never going to be late with your can of cat food again because you just showed her you basically have superpowers. Don't abuse them, Spider cat. With great power comes great responsibility. (Source)

Blog Break Until Presidential Election is Over

I finally hit the wall today. I can't think of what to say about all of the madness going on in this country right now. I'm a writer...