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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 126939 times)
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« Reply #120 on: Jul 17th, 2010, 07:50am »

Wired. I missed this earlier, sorry it's late.

CIA & Blackwater: Who’s Playing Who?
By Spencer Ackerman July 7, 2010 | 2:54 pm | Categories: Mercs

Sure, the CIA might have hired the world’s most controversial mercenary army to do a few highly-classified favors for them. But according to one of the agency’s former top counterterrorism agents, Blackwater might not have even known what the CIA’s real missions actually were.

That’s what Robert Grenier suggested to Jeremy Scahill. They’re an unlikely pair. Grenier is a decades-deep spymaster whose career peaked with a 2005-6 stint leading the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. Scahill is Blackwater’s foremost journalistic pursuer. They joined forces late last month for an evening program at the International Spy Museum in Washington. And one of the subjects up for a rare public discussion was the agency’s ongoing relationship with Blackwater.

In January, company founder Erik Prince, gave an extraordinary interview to Vanity Fair portraying Blackwater as what the magazine called the CIA’s “Mr. Fix-It in the war on terror.” Reportedly, that included a never-quite-launched assassination program. Or, as Prince put it, “I put myself and my company at the C.I.A.’s disposal for some very risky missions.” But Grenier thinks Prince has it twisted.

Scahill recounts their conversation on his blog for The Nation. Yes, the agency relied heavily on contractors in the years after 9/11, Grenier said, owing to onerous federal hiring restrictions. But that doesn’t mean the agency clued its contract employees into everything it was up to.

“It may well be that you’re dealing with an individual and let’s just say for the sake of discussion that he’s a Blackwater employee and perhaps that individual knows some other individual–perhaps foreigners with whom he or she has dealt in the past — that you want to gain access to and bring in on the team,” Grenier told Scahill. “And maybe you want them to know what they’re supposed to be doing and maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re going to have them only partially aware of what they’re doing and not aware of what the ultimate purpose for it.”

Uh, like for what? “If, let us say, that one wanted to find individuals, probably foreign nationals who can go out and mount an effective surveillance against a particular target for whatever purpose — intelligence collection or whatever — then you are going to be looking for the right group of individuals who provide you with the right combination of skills that you are seeking.”

In English: there’s a set of skills that Blackwater has that CIA needs but doesn’t possess. Maybe it’s a technological fix. Maybe it’s a set of connections to individuals of ill repute. Maybe it’s the right kind of identity-protecting cover. Who knows. But if the CIA goes to Blackwater to purchase that assistance, the company isn’t going to know the whole story about about the mission CIA needs accomplished. Or, as Ted Leo once sang: CIA, only you know what you’ve done.

Who knows who’s telling the truth here. But it would be yet another strange twist in the CIA’s history with Blackwater if the company was unaware of what the agency was actually hiring it to do. Or Grenier could be obfuscating. Either way, Blackwater will just have to content itself with another $100 million in CIA money to guard operatives in dicey parts of the world.



Read More http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/07/cia-blackwater-whos-playing-who/#ixzz0twYSwDxk

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« Reply #121 on: Jul 17th, 2010, 07:56am »

Wired

Alt Text: Enter the Brave New World of Internet Psychology
By Lore Sjöberg July 15, 2010 | 8:00 pm | Categories: internet

The internet is full of crazies, which is to say people crazier than you are, which is to say everyone. Swing a mouse and you’ll hit dozens of people exhibiting symptoms of severe mental illness, such as unwarranted hostility, being a complete jackass all the time, and liking stupid movies that only stupid people like.

The question is, how can you help these people? More specifically, how can you help them shut the hell up? Obviously, the same way you help anyone else: You tell them what’s wrong with them.

However, you’re caught in something of a Catch-22. The main symptom of a severely damaged person is that they don’t agree with you, so how can you convince them you’re right?

Clearly, you need the weight of authority behind you. People might be able to ignore the fact that you were a guild leader until those jerks all left, or that you helped port NetHack to Windows CE, but they can’t ignore the diagnosis of an actual psychologist!

The two problems with traditional psychology are that it takes years to get a degree, and that the powers that be expect you to actually listen to people and ask them questions before you diagnose them. Given that you already know what’s wrong with that guy who keeps saying third edition was the best version of Shadowrun, talking is a waste of time (never mind the whole school thing).

That’s why I’m starting the Westbester University College of Internet Studies, the only degree-granting university that exists entirely in my office. You can get a Ph.D in internet psychology in little more than the amount of time it takes to send me $200 using PayPal.


Best of all, the brand-new science of internet psychology disposes with the rigorously boring standards of the DSM-IV in favor of a method of diagnosis that can be performed entirely over the internet without the voluntary participation or even knowledge of the patient. Simply order a copy of my Internet Pathology Diagnosis Manual ($70), and you can perform easy, quick diagnoses like the following:

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Forum-Stalking Axis
Patient exhibits two or more of the following symptoms for a period of more than two postings:

* Keeps replying to you on a public forum even though you’ve told them you’re not going to respond to them.

* Brings up something you said months ago, as if it has anything to do with anything.

* E-mails you after you e-mailed them telling them not to e-mail you.

* Is a complete jerk.

Narcissistic Disorder
Patient exhibits two or more of the following symptoms:

* Thinks they’re right all the time.

* Doesn’t shut up even though they’re obviously wrong and you proved it.

* Is a complete jerk.

Furthermore, your internet psychology degree entitles you to present a diagnosis of Aspberger syndrome without any formal analysis because you can just tell, OK? You’ve got a degree!

Best of all, an interent psychology degree allows you to think up and register entirely new disorders for the completely reasonable price of $100 (plus a $20-a-year renewal fee). Tired of listening to people saying how cool Firefly was when Stargate: Atlantis was much better and also it didn’t get cancelled after one season, just saying? Just diagnose them with Whedon Derangement Syndrome and you can dismiss anything they say as the product of a diseased mind.

Why settle for being right when you can get a degree in being right? Register with the Westbester University College of Internet Psychology and start the enrichment process.

- – -

Born helpless, nude and unable to provide for himself, Lore Sjöberg eventually overcame these handicaps to obsessively and/or compulsively post comics at Speak With Monsters.

Read More http://www.wired.com/underwire/2010/07/alt-text-internet-psychology/#ixzz0twZhgRFX

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« Reply #122 on: Jul 17th, 2010, 07:59am »

Washington Post

Mexican drug cartels' newest weapon: Cold War-era grenades made in U.S.

By Nick Miroff and William Booth
Saturday, July 17, 2010; A01

MEXICO CITY -- Grenades made in the United States and sent to Central America during the Cold War have resurfaced as terrifying new weapons in almost weekly attacks by Mexican drug cartels.

Sent a generation ago to battle communist revolutionaries in the jungles of Central America, U.S. grenades are being diverted from dusty old armories and sold to criminal mafias, who are using them to destabilize the Mexican government and terrorize civilians, according to U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials.

The redeployment of U.S.-made grenades by Mexican drug lords underscores the increasingly intertwined nature of the conflict, as President Felipe Calderón sends his soldiers out to confront gangs armed with a deadly combination of brand-new military-style assault rifles purchased in the United States and munitions left over from the Cold War.

Grenades have killed a relatively small number of the 25,000 people who have died since Calderón launched his U.S.-backed offensive against the cartels. But the grenades pack a far greater psychological punch than the ubiquitous AK-47s and AR-15 rifles -- they can overwhelm and intimidate outgunned soldiers and police while reminding ordinary Mexicans that the country is literally at war.

There have been more than 72 grenade attacks in Mexico in the last year, including spectacular assaults on police convoys and public officials. Mexican forces have seized more than 5,800 live grenades since 2007, a small fraction of a vast armory maintained by the drug cartels, officials said.

According to the Mexican attorney general's office, there have been 101 grenade attacks against government buildings in the past 3 1/2 years, information now made public for the first time.

To fight back, U.S. experts in grenades and other explosives are now working side by side with Mexican counterparts. On Thursday, assailants detonated a car bomb in downtown Ciudad Juarez, killing two federal police officers and an emergency medical technician and wounding seven.

The majority of grenades have been traced back to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, according to investigations by agents at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and their Mexican counterparts. ATF has also found that almost 90 percent of the grenades confiscated and traced in Mexico are more than 20 years old.

The administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush sent 300,000 hand grenades to friendly regimes in Central America to fight leftist insurgents in the civil wars of the 1980s and early 1990s, according to declassified military data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Federation of American Scientists.

Not all grenades found in Mexico are American-made. Many are of Asian or Soviet and Eastern European manufacture, ATF officials said, probably given to leftist insurgents by Cuba and Nicaragua's Sandinistas.

One of the most common hand grenades found in Mexico is the M67, the workhorse explosive manufactured in the United States for American soldiers and for sale or transfer to foreign militaries. Some 266,000 M67 grenades went to El Salvador alone between 1980 and 1993, during the civil war there.

Now selling for $100 to $500 apiece on the black market, grenades have exploded in practically every region of Mexico in recent years.

In the past year, assailants have rolled grenades into brothels in the border city of Reynosa. They have hurled one at the U.S. consulate in nearby Nuevo Laredo. They have launched them at a military barracks in Tampico and at a television station in Nayarit state.

In the state of Durango, 10 students, most teenagers but some as young as 8, were ripped apart on their way to receive government scholarships in March when attacked with grenades at a cartel checkpoint. The blasts tore a gaping hole in the side of their pickup, peeling back the door panels as if it were a soda can.

"They are a way to spread fear and terror," said Paulino Jiménez Hidalgo, a retired Mexican army general. "And they're a way to gain the upper hand over the authorities."

Grenade attacks began in 2007 in response to the expanded role of the military in anti-narcotics enforcement and the rise of the Zetas, the fearsome cartel founded by former special-forces soldiers, according to Martín Barrón Cruz, an expert in arms and security at Mexico's National Institute of Criminal Sciences, a government agency.

"It's an arms race," Barrón said.

Demand for military hardware is soaring, he said, citing recent seizures of .50-caliber rifles, mortars and anti-personnel mines.

The criminal organizations are demonstrating a growing tactical knowledge about how to use grenades in close-quarters combat.

"They're a good way to cover your retreat or to initiate an attack," said Anna Gilmour, a drug-war expert at IHS Jane's, a global security consulting firm. "You can use them as a means of spreading confusion."

As one senior U.S. law enforcement official in Mexico put it, grenades are "a lazy man's killing weapon" because they don't require good aim.

"You don't have to be able to hit a bull's-eye. You just roll it out," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of security protocols.

Frequently, grenades are left unexploded at attack scenes. U.S. officials attribute this to operator error rather than the age of the munitions, since grenades can last for decades if stored properly. While some seized grenades are covered in rust or dirt, others are in mint condition, suggesting they may have been removed recently from military stores.

ATF and its Mexican counterparts consider information about the source country and specific make of grenades classified. Federal police in Mexico are now offering $200 -- about six weeks' pay at minimum wage in Mexico -- as a reward for every grenade turned over to authorities.

U.S. investigators and independent experts suspect that few military grenades have entered Mexico directly across the northern border from the United States.

"There might be a few thefts from U.S. military bases, but there has been little evidence that grenades in Mexico are being smuggled from the United States," said Colby Goodman, an arms trafficking expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Interviews with military, police and U.S. law enforcement agents in Central America suggest authorities are increasingly concerned about preventing thefts from grenade stockpiles but are virtually powerless to prevent the spread of weapons that are already loose.

"Almost all of the attacks we've seen have been with M67s," said Howard Cotto, a chief investigator with El Salvador's National Civil Police. "There are so many of them floating around here."

Salvadoran police have seized 390 M67s since 2005.

Black-market grenades are so easy to obtain in El Salvador that street gangs routinely use them as tools of extortion, to menace business owners and bus drivers. Concern that grenades could leak out of army garrisons prompted the Salvadoran military to consolidate its abundant supply in two high-security facilities last year, the Salvadoran defense minister, Gen. David Munguía Payés, said in an interview. The U.S. government is planning to send a threat-assessment team to the country to help secure its arsenals.

"Since 2009 we haven't registered any missing grenades," Munguía Payés said. "But we know that there are grenades out there on the black market."

In Guatemala, aging American-, Israeli- and Asian-made grenades have been seeping out of the country's Mariscal Zavala armory for years, according to military officials and security experts.

The military official who oversees the arsenals, Col. Luis Francisco Juárez, said safeguards are now in place to ensure that no weapons are illegally removed. But Guatemalan court records show that when his predecessor, Col. Carlos Toledo, reported to his superiors last year that 500 weapons were missing, he was stripped of his command and subjected to death threats.

more after the jump
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/16/AR2010071606252.html?hpid=topnews

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« Reply #123 on: Jul 17th, 2010, 08:03am »

New York Times

July 16, 2010
Studies Halted at Brain Lab Over Impure Injections
By BENEDICT CAREY

Columbia University has quietly suspended research at a nationally prominent brain-imaging center and reassigned its top managers after federal investigators found that it had routinely injected mental patients with drugs that contained potentially dangerous impurities.

The investigations found that the center — regarded by experts as the nation’s leader in the use of positron emission tomography, or PET, for psychiatric research — repeatedly violated Food and Drug Administration regulations over a four-year period.

“Failure to promptly correct these violations may result in legal action without further notice,” the agency wrote to Columbia in December 2008, citing lax internal quality control and sloppy procedures for formulating drug injections.

F.D.A. investigators returned in January 2010 and found that many of the center’s lab’s practices had not changed, and cited a long list of specific violations, including one instance in which the staff hid impurities from auditors by falsifying documents.

“They raided the place like it was a crime scene, seizing hard drives,” said one former lab worker, who requested anonymity because he feared reprisals from the university.

In a statement, the university said on Friday that it had conducted its own investigation of the lab at the request of the F.D.A. had and reported to the agency on July 6 that it found no evidence of harm to patients. The F.D.A. did not publicize its investigations; The New York Times learned of them from doctors who were familiar with the lab’s problems.

The office under fire, the Kreitchman PET Center, on West 168th Street in Manhattan, has attracted millions of dollars in research funds from the federal government and pharmaceutical companies to study drug actions and the biology of brain disorders, among other things.

Many of its studies focus on patients with disorders like schizophrenia and severe depression, who are especially vulnerable to poorly prepared imaging drugs because the compounds can act on brain receptors involved in their illness.

“We acknowledge serious shortcomings of quality control in the manufacturing process and record-keeping at this lab,” said David I. Hirsh, Columbia’s executive vice president for research. “That is why we are fundamentally reorganizing the lab’s management and operations in response to what the F.D.A. told us.”

To perform a PET scan, doctors must first inject patients with a radiotracer, a drug engineered to accumulate in the area of the body being studied and to emit low-level radiation detectable by a scanner.

The compounds are considered very safe. But because they degrade quickly, many laboratories produce them themselves, under protocols agreed upon with the F.D.A.

The agency regulates the allowable radiation levels and the purity of the drugs. If a drug contains too many impurities — unknown chemicals that may or may not be related to the tracer itself — then its effects in the body are unpredictable.

“There could be a patient safety issue, for one,” said Dr. Barry Siegel, chairman of the radioactive drug research committee at Washington University in St. Louis. “And there could be a scientific validity issue. If you’re exposing people to radiation and getting garbage data, then that becomes an ethical problem.”

That is particularly true when it comes to psychiatric research. Radiotracers that target receptors in the brain, as used in many of the Columbia studies, are more prone than other PET drugs to be biologically active — to affect mood or behavior, especially in those who already suffer from severe depression or other mental problems. “You have to have additional quality-assurance procedures if you’re using agents that bind receptors in brain,” said Dr. Dennis P. Swanson, chairman of the radiation safety commission at the University of Pittsburgh.

The F.D.A.’s latest investigation, which took place from Jan. 5 to Jan. 21, listed six categories of violations. It found that since 2007, “at least 10 batches” of drugs had been “released and injected into human subjects” with impurities that exceeded the level the lab had agreed to set. At least four injections “had impurity masses that more than doubled the maximum limit implemented.”

The report highlighted an equation that the lab routinely used, resulting in injections that exceeded the limit for acceptable impurities. The lab did not adequately check “the identity, strength and purity of each active ingredient prior to release” for injection into patients, the report said.

Agency investigators also found a forged document, a hard copy record that had been altered to hide a drug impurity that showed up clearly in the computer records.

Former employees, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they worked in the imaging field or hoped to, said those practices were not only commonplace but also condoned. They described a center under such pressure to produce studies that it papered over and hid impurities in drugs to stretch its resources and went ahead with business as usual despite F.D.A. warnings.

“These are not the actions of a rogue, but instead are systematic forgeries condoned and approved by the lab director,” wrote one employee in a 2009 resignation letter addressed to Dr. Ronald L. Van Heertum, the PET center’s co-director at the time.

Columbia’s internal audit concluded that this and other charges had “sufficient substance to warrant an investigation,” according to documents obtained by The Times. Among the charges was one that the lab replaced a compound it was testing for the drug maker Eli Lilly with one it was testing for Novartis — and did not mention the switch in its report to Eli Lilly.

more after the jump
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/17/health/17columbia.html?_r=1&hp=&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1279371680-65Q4E0/+7znt0sxk+1d9Lw

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« Reply #124 on: Jul 17th, 2010, 08:06am »

New York Times

From a Gulf Oyster, a Domino Effect
By DAN BARRY
BAYOU GRAND CAILLOU, La.

In Gulf of Mexico waters deemed safe, at least for now, the two metal claws of a weather-beaten flatboat rake the muck below for those prehistoric chunks of desire, oysters. Then the captain and his two deckhands, their shirts flecked with the pewter mud of the sea, dump the dripping haul onto metal tables and begin the culling.

They hammer apart the clumps of attached oysters and toss back the empty shells and stray bits of Hurricane Katrina debris. They work quickly but carefully; a jagged oyster will slice your hand for not respecting its beautiful ugliness.

The men sweep their catch onto the boat’s floor, not far from a pile of burlap sacks. Their day will be measured by the number of full sacks their boat, the Miss Allison, carries to shore. Each 100-pound sack means $14 for the captain and $3 apiece for the deckhands.

The rocklike oyster and the burlap sack. As basic as it gets in the gulf, yet both are integral to a complex system of recycling and ingenuity, a system now threatened, along with most everything else, by the continuing oil-spill catastrophe in the gulf.

The disaster’s economic fallout has had a sneaky domino effect, touching the lives of everyone from the French Quarter shuckers who turn oyster-opening into theater to the Minnesota businessman who grinds the shells for chicken-feed supplement. Some victims were unaware that they were even tiles in the game, so removed were they from the damaged waters.

Take the burlap sacks on this oyster boat, for example, bearing the markings of Brazilian, Costa Rican and Mexican coffee companies. They come from a simple business, Steve’s Burlap Sacks, run out of a hot warehouse in Waveland, Miss., 120 miles away. And if you were to go there today, you would find the warehouse quiet, and the work-hardened owner trying very hard to keep it together.

“I don’t think the Lord’s looking this way no more,” he says.

Before a distant and fatal oil-rig explosion nearly three months ago, here is how the symbiotic sack-and-oyster system worked:

Coffee companies in Florida, Louisiana and Texas would unload the raw beans shipped from around the world, then sell their sacks in bulk to just about the only person who wanted them, a callused former oysterman from Louisiana named Steve Airhart.

Burlap sacks have long seemed almost divinely designed to hold oysters. Resilient, ventilated, able to handle the wet, and when past their use, they even burn well enough to keep the docks free of the pesky bugs called no-see-ums. But two decades ago, when Mr. Airhart was still raking for oysters, he could never find enough sacks.

After a friend’s relative helped him get some sacks from a large coffee importer, Mr. Airhart sensed opportunity. Within a year, he was harvesting sacks rather than oysters, sorting and stacking them in his driveway and then reselling them to oyster operations. From Bayou La Batre, Ala., to Galveston, Tex., he became known as the burlap-sack guy.

He had to start all over after Hurricane Katrina, living in a tent for several months while building a new warehouse in Waveland. But soon his employees were unloading truckloads of sacks, then laying the undamaged ones into a baler, 500 to a bale, each a ragged postcard from some faraway place.

“Produce of Indonesia.”

“Produce de Cote D’Ivoire.”

“Cafes do Brasil.”

Mr. Airhart’s six employees — Ben, Clyde, Jessica, Paula, Tommy and Tyler — would work from 7 a.m. until whenever, breathing in the fine coffee dust, sweeping up the stray green beans, taking in the smell that was like wet dog, earning $13 a bale. Then a trucker would deliver the baled sacks to Misho’s Oyster Company, in San Leon, Tex., or to Crystal Seas Seafood, in Pass Christian, Miss., or to Motivatit Seafoods, in Houma, La.

Motivatit is owned by two brothers, Mike and Steve Voisin, whose family has dedicated several generations to the pursuit of a living thing in a forbidding shell; a thing that poses a faint risk when consumed raw, yet evokes the wildness of the ocean.

“You’re getting a real bite of the sea,” Mike Voisin says.

Motivatit is one of the gulf’s dominant oyster operations. Before the spill, it managed 10,000 acres of oyster beds and processed 60,000 pounds of oysters a day. But to collect these craggy surprises of nature, the company hires boats like the Miss Allison.

Several times a week, the Miss Allison pulls away from a dock near a small place called Theriot, La., bound for where porpoises sometimes provide escort. Its captain, Santos Rodriguez, sun-baked and 44, has churned these waters for 26 years, long enough to wonder whether he’s raking up the same shells and bottles; long enough to measure a bag’s weight by hand rather than by scale.

And yes, the captain eats oysters. Using a short knife, he pops the seal of a just-harvested oyster with safecracker élan, makes a cut, and slurps the wild goop down.

But with the oil spill forcing the shutdown of oyster beds throughout the gulf — including about 60 percent of Motivatit’s acreage — he has never seen the catch so low. Yes, the price for a sack is up, but the total number of sacks is down. Normally, he and his crew will return to shore with about 60 sacks; now, a good day is 35.

His two muck-spattered deckhands, Luis Gomez, 24, and Cesar Badillo, 23, reflect the changed life, having recently moved to Houma after oyster beds elsewhere in Louisiana shut down. Mr. Gomez wears a cross around his neck, Mr. Badillo wears a burlap sack for an apron, and both wear gloves over their shell-scarred hands.

After a piece of machinery breaks, the Miss Allison turns around. By the time it reaches shore, to a dock paved with crushed oyster shells, the crew has 30 sacks filled and knotted — about $90 each for the deckhands, and about $420 for the captain, who has paid for the gas and food and must now fix the broken equipment.

Early the next morning, amid the din of the Motivatit plant in Houma, a stocky woman in a blue construction hat weighs these bags and others by hook. She then dumps their contents, which look like bits of construction debris, onto a conveyor belt to begin a process that involves tumblers, washers and dozens of employees. Wearing hairnets and aprons adorned with their first names and hand-drawn hearts, they shuck and shuck.

But because the oil spill has forced the shutdown of so many of Motivatit’s oyster beds — most of them out of precaution, some of them because of the presence of oil — these workers are processing about half the normal number of oysters. “With the lower amount of product, we’re having to cut most of the orders,” Mike Voisin says. “We’ve had to minimize.”

This means that Motivatit now employs about 80 workers, two dozen fewer than usual. The entire night shift has been suspended.

This means that the weekly deliveries to Los Angeles, by way of El Paso, Tucson and Phoenix, have stopped, as have the deliveries to Las Vegas, where clients prefer smaller oysters from beds that are now off limits.

This means that Warehouse Shell Sales, in Newport, Minn., may have to adjust. Several times a year, it has 1,500 tons of gulf oyster shells, including many from Motivatit, barged up the Mississippi River to be crushed and sold as poultry feed mix; chickens draw calcium from the oyster-shell bits sitting in their gizzards, hardening the shells of the eggs they produce.

But the oil spill has the shell company’s owner, Gary Lund, worried about supply. He says he is now exploring other options.

Finally, this means disaster for the burlap-sack guy, Steve Airhart.

Four months ago, his hot and dusty warehouse in Waveland was humming, with loose sacks coming in and baled sacks going out: 135,000 sold in March, 139,000 in April, and the busy summer season coming up. Then it stopped.

Mr. Airhart, 49, did what he could for a few weeks, but finally he had to lay off Paula, Jessica and the others. “One of the hardest days of my life,” he says. “But they knew it was coming. They heard me on the phone, begging to make sales.”

Now the warehouse is mostly empty, save for the few stacks of bales no one wants, and a boat that Mr. Airhart suddenly had the time to finish. He says that BP, the oil company responsible for the spill, has paid him $20,000 so far for lost business, but that is nowhere near enough to cover the $320,000, plus sweat equity, that he has invested in the company.

more after the jump
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/16/us/16land.html?ref=science

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« Reply #125 on: Jul 17th, 2010, 08:09am »

Military Times

Army: Record number of suicides for June

By Gregg Zoroya - USA Today
Posted : Friday Jul 16, 2010 14:05:32 EDT

Soldiers killed themselves at the rate of one per day in June, making it the worst month on record for Army suicides, the service said Thursday.

There were 32 confirmed or suspected suicides among soldiers in June, including 21 among active-duty troops and 11 among National Guard or Reserve forces, according to Army statistics.

Seven soldiers killed themselves while in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan in June, according to the statistics. Of the total suicides, 22 soldiers had been in combat, including 10 who had deployed two to four times.

“The hypothesis is the same that many have heard me say before: continued stress on the force,” said Army Col. Christopher Philbrick, director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force. He pointed out that the Army has been fighting for nine years in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last year was the Army’s worst for suicides, with 244 confirmed or suspected cases.

The increase was a setback for the service, which has been pushing troops to seek counseling. Through May of this year, the Army had seen a decline in suicides among active-duty soldiers compared with the same period in 2009.

Philbrick expressed frustration over the June deaths. “Because we believe that the programs, policies, procedures are having a positive impact across the entire force. The help is there.”

A leading military suicide researcher said changing a culture that views psychological illness as a weakness takes time.

“I would expect it to be years,” said David Rudd, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

The mounting stress on an Army facing renewed deployments and combat in Afghanistan is also a factor, Rudd said. “That’s not a challenge they [Army leaders] control. It’s a challenge that the president and Congress controls,” he said.

The Army also unveiled Thursday a training video designed to combat suicides. It contains testimonials by soldiers who struggled with self-destructive impulses before seeking help. It is titled “Shoulder to Shoulder: I Will Never Quit on Life.”

Philbrick said this was an improved video that he hoped would reach troubled soldiers. The previous video did not resonate with average soldiers, he said. During a showing in Baghdad, soldiers laughed at it, Philbrick said. “In grunt language, it sucked,” he said.

The Army’s current suicide rate is about 22 deaths per 100,000, which is above a civilian rate that has been adjusted to match the demographics of the Army. That rate is 18-per-100,000. Only the Marine Corps has a higher suicide rate, at 24-per-100,000. Although Marine Corps suicides had been tracking similarly to last year’s record pace, the service reported only one suicide in June.

Just among Guard and Reserve soldiers, suicides have occurred at a higher rate this year than last year, according to Army figures. There have been 65 confirmed or suspected cases this year, compared with 42 for the same period last year.

link:
http://www.militarytimes.com/news/2010/07/ap_army_suicides_071610/

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« Reply #126 on: Jul 17th, 2010, 08:13am »

Military Times

Service Members of the year announced. See link.

http://www.militarytimes.com/smoy/

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« Reply #127 on: Jul 17th, 2010, 08:18am »

Hollywood Reporter

IFC takes 'Tetsuo the Bullet Man' for U.S.
Also takes second installment: 'Body Hammer'
By Rebecca Leffler
July 16, 2010, 06:24 AM ET

PARIS -- IFC has taken aim at Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto's "Tetsuo the Bullet Man" with the U.S. distributor snagging all North American rights plus TV, VOD and digital rights for the Middle East, the film's sales agent Coproduction Office said Friday.

The film, which is the third installment in Tsukamoto's "Tetsuo" series, held its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival after a different version screened at the 2009 Venice Film Festival.

Tsukamoto wasn't happy with the Venice version of the film so went back to the studio to produce the final version. "Now, I'm very much satisfied with how it has come out," he said, adding, "This project started as 'Tetsuo America' 17 years ago, so I am very glad that it will be released in the United States."

The film follows a half-American, half-Japanese office worker whose life changes when his son is killed in front of him in a hit-and-run accident and mutates into a rage-filled human weapon. IFC also bought North American distribution rights for 1992 title "Tetsuo the Body Hammer."

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/film/news/e3i4e5fe86c8a88e96b4ec5aa6d35e933db

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« Reply #128 on: Jul 17th, 2010, 1:56pm »

on Jul 17th, 2010, 08:09am, WingsofCrystal wrote:
Military Times

Army: Record number of suicides for June

Oh, my...! sad

@Swamprat
Thanks for the rabbit-vid. grin

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« Reply #129 on: Jul 17th, 2010, 2:19pm »

Hey Phil!!! laugh

Thanks for that picture. Hope you are having a good Saturday. We are around here. Weather is beautiful, husband, dogs and bird are all smiling. Me too. grin Can't ask for more!

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« Reply #130 on: Jul 17th, 2010, 4:10pm »

Thanks, Crystal! Wish you a nice saturday too! smiley
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« Reply #131 on: Jul 18th, 2010, 07:07am »

Washington Post. Vacation? uh......he doesn't work, why would he need a vacation? And yes, I voted for the idiot! Kick me! I need a boot in the brain. tongue

An active first family is on the move in Maine

By Felicia Sonmez
Sunday, July 18, 2010; A04

BAR HARBOR, MAINE -- President Obama and his family aren't just getting outside the Beltway on their brief vacation here -- they're getting outside, period.

Since their arrival Friday afternoon, the Obamas have been biking, hiking and boating their way around Mount Desert Island, the third-largest island on the Eastern Seaboard and home to the 47,000-acre Acadia National Park.

The first stop Friday was a 90-minute bike ride on the lushly wooded trails around Witch Hole Pond at the northern end of the island. Then came a family hike on Cadillac Mountain, at 1,530 feet the highest peak on the East Coast.

The Obamas rounded out their first day with a National Park Service boat ride on Frenchman Bay and a waterfront dinner at Stewman's Lobster Pound. Even dinner was outdoors: The first family, who arrived at the restaurant via boat, sat at a table on a pier overlooking the bay. The president and the first lady dined on lobster, while their daughters shared a shrimp basket, according to restaurant manager Jeff Buffington.

Diners on the pier may have been pleasantly surprised, but back in Washington and elsewhere some saw hypocrisy in the first family's two-day trip. On a recent trip to the Gulf of Mexico, Michelle Obama encouraged other Americans to visit the oil-fouled region.

Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin took a shot last week in a column titled, "Michelle Obama: Take Your Vacation in the Gulf, America -- If You Need Us, We'll Be in Maine." And Scott Stanzel, a deputy press secretary during the administration of George W. Bush, said on Fox News that the president could be "setting an example" but "has chosen not to do that."

White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton defended Obama's mini-vacation. "I don't think that there's a person in this country [who] doesn't think that their president ought to have a little time to clear his mind," Burton told the Associated Press ahead of the trip.

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The optics of presidential vacations are always an issue -- and this one is no different. Ronald Reagan spent time at his beloved Rancho del Cielo near Santa Barbara, Calif., much of it on horseback. Bush retreated to his ranch in Crawford, Tex., where he was fond of clearing brush.

more after the jump
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/17/AR2010071702806.html

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« Reply #132 on: Jul 18th, 2010, 07:12am »

New York Times

July 17, 2010
After Oil Spills, Hidden Damage Can Last for Years
By JUSTIN GILLIS and LESLIE KAUFMAN

On the rocky beaches of Alaska, scientists plunged shovels and picks into the ground and dug 6,775 holes, repeatedly striking oil — still pungent and dangerous a dozen years after the Exxon Valdez infamously spilled its cargo.

More than an ocean away, on the Breton coast of France, scientists surveying the damage after another huge oil spill found that disturbances in the food chain persisted for more than a decade.

And on the southern gulf coast in Mexico, an American researcher peering into a mangrove swamp spotted lingering damage 30 years after that shore was struck by an enormous spill.

These far-flung shorelines hit by oil in the past offer clues to what people living along the Gulf Coast can expect now that the great oil calamity of 2010 may be nearing an end.

Every oil spill is different, but the thread that unites these disparate scenes is a growing scientific awareness of the persistent damage that spills can do — and of just how long oil can linger in the environment, hidden in out-of-the-way spots.

At the same time, scientists who have worked to survey and counteract the damage from spills say the picture in the gulf is far from hopeless.

“Thoughts that this is going to kill the Gulf of Mexico are just wild overreactions,” said Jeffrey W. Short, a scientist who led some of the most important research after the Exxon Valdez spill and now works for an environmental advocacy group called Oceana. “It’s going to go away, the oil is. It’s not going to last forever.”

But how long will it last?

Only 20 years ago, the conventional wisdom was that oil spills did almost all their damage in the first weeks, as fresh oil loaded with toxic substances hit wildlife and marsh grasses, washed onto beaches and killed fish and turtles in the deep sea.

But disasters like the Valdez in 1989, the Ixtoc 1 in Mexico in 1979, the Amoco Cadiz in France in 1978 and two Cape Cod spills, including the Bouchard 65 barge in 1974 — all studied over decades with the improved techniques of modern chemistry and biology — have allowed scientists to paint a more complex portrait of what happens after a spill.

It is still clear that the bulk of the damage happens quickly, and that nature then begins to recuperate. After a few years, a casual observer visiting a hard-hit location might see nothing amiss. Birds and fish are likely to have rebounded, and the oil will seem to be gone.

But often, as Dr. Short and his team found in Alaska, some of it has merely gone underground, hiding in pockets where it can still do low-level damage to wildlife over many years. And the human response to a spill can mitigate — or intensify — its long-term effects. Oddly enough, some of the worst damage to occur from spills in recent decades has come from people trying too hard to clean them up.

It is hard for scientists to offer predictions about the present spill, for two reasons.

The ecology of the Gulf of Mexico is specially adapted to break down oil, more so than any other body of water in the world — though how rapidly and completely it can break down an amount this size is essentially unknown.

And because this spill is emerging a mile under the surface and many of the toxic components of the oil are dissolving into deep water and spreading far and wide, scientists simply do not know what the effects in the deep ocean are likely to be.

Still, many aspects of the spill resemble spills past, especially at the shoreline, and that gives researchers some confidence in predicting how events will unfold.

Remarkable Persistence

In 1969, a barge hit the rocks off the coast of West Falmouth, Mass., spilling 189,000 gallons of fuel oil into Buzzards Bay. Today, the fiddler crabs at nearby Wild Harbor still act drunk, moving erratically and reacting slowly to predators.

The odd behavior is consistent with a growing body of research showing how oil spills of many types have remarkably persistent effects, often at levels low enough to escape routine notice.

Jennifer Culbertson was a graduate student at Boston University in 2005 when she made plaster casts of crab burrows. She discovered that instead of drilling straight down, like normal crabs, the ones at Wild Harbor were going only a few inches deep and then turning sideways, repelled by an oily layer still lingering below the surface.

Other researchers established that the crabs were suffering from a kind of narcosis induced by hydrocarbon poisoning. Their troubles had serious implications for the marsh.

“Fiddler crabs normally play a crucial role in tilling the salt marsh, which helps provide oxygen to the roots of salt marsh grasses,” Dr. Culbertson said about her study.

In Alaska, the Exxon Valdez spill dumped nearly 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, and it spread down the Alaska coast, ultimately oiling 1,200 miles of shoreline. By the late 1990s, the oil seemed to be largely gone, but liver tests on ducks and sea otters showed that they were still being exposed to hydrocarbons, chemical compounds contained in crude.

Dr. Short, then working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, mounted a series of excavations to figure out what had happened, with his team ultimately digging thousands of holes in Alaska’s beaches. Oil was found in about 8 percent of them, usually in places with too little oxygen for microbes to break it down.

Exactly how much damage continues from the oil is a matter of dispute, with Exxon commissioning its own studies that challenge the government’s findings on the extent of the impact. But it is clear that otters dig for food in areas containing oil, and that they, like nearly a dozen other species of animals, have still not entirely recovered from the 1989 spill.

At the rate the oil is breaking down, Dr. Short estimates that some of it could still be there a century from now.

Increasing the Stress

Perhaps the greatest single hazard from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the gulf is the long-term erosion of delicate coastal wetlands it could cause. At another spill site on the Massachusetts coast, not far from the West Falmouth spill, the legacy of oil contamination is evident in the difference between two marshes on either side of a pebbly shoreline road.

On one side, where the marshes were suffused in 1974 when the grounded Bouchard 65 barge dumped 11,000 to 37,000 gallons of fuel oil into the sea, the grasses are stunted and sparse. They cling tentatively to the edge of the sandy beach. But the grasses on the other side, untouched by oil, rise tall and thick.

Louisiana’s coastline contains some of the most productive marshes in the world, delivering an abundance of shrimp and oysters and providing critical habitat and breeding ground for birds and fish.

But even before the spill, the land was under enormous environmental stress, largely due to human activity. Dams on the Mississippi River and its tributaries have slowed the flow of sediment to the marshes, and global warming has caused sea level to rise.

The Louisiana marshes are eroding at an extraordinary rate — a football field’s worth sinks into the Gulf of Mexico every 38 minutes, according to the Louisiana Office of Coastal Management — and the worry now is that the oil spill will accelerate that erosion.

The Bouchard shows how that could happen. When the barge ran aground, thousands of gallons of a particularly toxic fuel oil spilled into the icy water and were swept to shore by the strong tides.

The oil made landfall just two miles north of where the West Falmouth oil spill had washed up only five years earlier. Winsor Cove, a classic New England bay surrounded by bluffs and stately homes, bore the brunt. Razor clams suffocated and rose to the surface by the hundreds to die.

But the lasting damage of the spill, severe erosion of the shoreline, took months longer to unfold.

George Hampson, now retired, was on the scientific team at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution that studied a series of spills in the area. He recalled that after the 1974 spill the beach grasses, called spartina, which had grown like luxuriant matting along the shore, died.

“The first year it was just like a moonscape,” Mr. Hampson said.

more after the jump
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/18/science/earth/18enviro.html?hp

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« Reply #133 on: Jul 18th, 2010, 07:14am »

New York Times

July 17, 2010
Insurers Push Plans Limiting Patient Choice of Doctors
By REED ABELSON

As the Obama administration begins to enact the new national health care law, the country’s biggest insurers are promoting affordable plans with reduced premiums that require participants to use a narrower selection of doctors or hospitals.

The plans, being tested in places like San Diego, New York and Chicago, are likely to appeal especially to small businesses that already provide insurance to their employees, but are concerned about the ever-spiraling cost of coverage.

But large employers, as well, are starting to show some interest, and insurers and consultants expect that, over time, businesses of all sizes will gravitate toward these plans in an effort to cut costs.

The tradeoff, they say, is that more Americans will be asked to pay higher prices for the privilege of choosing or keeping their own doctors if they are outside the new networks. That could come as a surprise to many who remember the repeated assurances from President Obama and other officials that consumers would retain a variety of health-care choices.

But companies may be able to reduce their premiums by as much as 15 percent, the insurers say, by offering the more limited plans.

“What we’re seeing is a definite uptick in interest because, quite frankly, affordability is the most pressing agenda item,” said Dr. Sam Ho, the chief medical officer for UnitedHealth’s health-care plans.

Many insurers also expect the plans to be popular with individuals and small businesses who will purchase coverage in the insurance exchanges, or marketplaces that are mandated under the new health care law and scheduled to take effect in 2014.

Tens of millions of everyday Americans will buy their coverage through those exchanges, a vast pool of new customers, including many of the previously uninsured, whom insurers expect will be willing to accept restrictions to get a better deal.

“What this does is eliminate the Gucci doctors,” said Peter Skoda, the controller of the Haro Bicycle Corporation, a Vista, Calif., business that employs 30 people. Facing a possible 35 percent increase in its rates, Haro switched to an Aetna plan that prevents employees from seeing doctors at two medical groups affiliated with the Scripps Health system in San Diego. If employees go to one of the excluded doctors, they are responsible for paying the whole bill.

“There wasn’t any pushback,” Mr. Skoda said. Haro’s employees are generally young and healthy, he said, and they rarely go to the doctor. Instead, they want to make sure they have adequate coverage if they go to the emergency room.

The company’s premiums average $433 a month, Mr. Skoda said, with employees paying one-fourth of the expense. A few employees opted for more traditional coverage, enabling them to go where they please. But they are paying significantly higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs that could add thousands of dollars to their medical bills.

The last time health insurers and employers sought to sharply limit patients’ choice was back in the early 1990s, when insurers tried to reinvent themselves by embracing managed care. Instead of just paying doctor and hospital bills, insurers also assumed a greater role in their customers’ medical care by restricting what specialists they could see or which hospitals they could go to.

“Back in the H.M.O. days, it was tight networks, and it did save money,” said Ken Goulet, an executive vice president at WellPoint, one of the nation’s largest private health insurers, which is experimenting with re-introducing the idea in California.

The concept was largely abandoned after the consumer backlash persuaded both employers and health plans that Americans were simply not willing to sacrifice choice. Prominent officials like Mr. Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton learned to utter the word “choice” at every turn as advocates of overhauling the system.

But choice — or at least choice that will not cost you — is likely to be increasingly scarce as health insurers and employers scramble to find ways of keep premiums from becoming unaffordable. Aetna, Cigna, the UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint are all trying out plans with limited networks.

The size of these networks is typically much smaller than traditional plans. In New York, for example, Aetna offers a narrow-network plan that has about half the doctors and two-thirds of the hospitals the insurer typically offers. People enrolled in this plan are covered only if they go to a doctor or hospital within the network, but insurers are also experimenting with plans that allow a patient to see someone outside the network but pay much more than they would in a traditional plan offering out-of-network benefits.

The insurers are betting these plans will have widespread appeal in the insurance exchanges as individuals gravitate toward the least expensive options. “We think it’s going to grow to be quite a hit over the next few years,” said Mr. Goulet of WellPoint.

The new health care law offers some protection against plans offering overly restrictive networks, said Nancy-Ann DeParle, head of the office of health reform for the White House. Any plan sold in the exchanges will have to meet standards developed to make sure patients have enough choice of doctors and hospitals, she said.

Ms. DeParle said the goal of health reform was to make sure people retained a choice of doctors and hospitals, but also to create an environment where insurers would offer coverage that was both high quality and affordable. “What the Congress and the president tried to accomplish through reform is to transform the marketplace by building on the existing system,” she said.

But most of these efforts have been limited to a small number of markets. How widespread these plans will become is anybody’s guess, and some benefits consultants wonder if these plans represent any real solution to high medical costs. The narrow network, if it is based on the insurers’ ability to demand low prices, may be “just another short-term fix,” warned Barry Schilmeister, a consultant at Mercer.

What’s more, no one is predicting a wholesale return of the classic H.M.O. as an employee’s only option of health plan. “We went through the choice battle with the managed care wars,” said Andrew Webber, the chief executive of the National Business Coalition on Health, which represents employer groups that purchase health care.

A lot has also changed in the last 15 years. The average premium for family coverage is now more than $13,000 a year, and many businesses have already asked their employees to pay a much greater share of their premiums and more of their overall medical bills.

UnitedHealth is experimenting with a more limited plan in California and Chicago and plans to expand to four or five other markets next year. Patients are allowed to see a doctor who is not in the network the insurer established, but they pay much higher out-of-pocket costs than they would in a traditional plan offering out-of-network benefits.

UnitedHealth is also starting a new plan in San Diego, which was developed for a collection of school districts, representing some 80,000 people. The plan creates tiers of doctors, and employees who use physicians deemed to offer high-quality care at low price will pay the least for their medical care.

Even large employers, worried that the new law will result in higher prices for care as government programs pay less, are reconsidering their earlier stance.

more after the jump
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/18/business/18choice.html?hp

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« Reply #134 on: Jul 18th, 2010, 07:21am »

Telegraph

'Duck Man' catches five ducklings before they crash to earth
A bank worker has earned the nickname "Duck Man" for his ability to catch ducklings as they leap from a 15 foot high nest outside his office.

By Robert Mendick
Published: 10:30AM BST 18 Jul 2010

To the mother duck, positioning her nest 15 feet above street level must have seemed like an ideal way of protecting her brood from predators.

The only problem was how to get the ducklings back to the (very hard) ground and on to water in one piece once they were hatched.

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Enter Joel Armstrong, a bank official also known as 'Duck Man'. With skills an England goalkeeper could only dream of, Mr Armstrong caught all five ducklings in quick succession as they tumbled from their nest high above the concrete pavement.

Saved from injury and possible death, the ducklings were placed on the ground next to mum and then guided by Mr Armstrong the quarter of a mile through busy traffic to the nearest river.

The ducklings' remarkable journey of survival was captured last week by a Sunday Telegraph photographer, who followed their progress from the nest to their first swim in the water.

The series of photographs show the ducklings, still unable to fly, tumbling from a building ledge and being caught by Mr Armstrong before they hit the concrete.

As crowds gather, they walk along the pavement, cross three roads and then jump into the water. In the final shot they swim into the distance to live (hopefully) happily ever after.

Mother duck laid her eggs in the middle of June in a nest overlooked by Mr Armstrong from his office window.

Each day, Mr Armstrong would go to work at Sterling Savings bank in the American town of Spokane in Washington State and wait patiently for the eggs to hatch.

"Once the last one hatches, I know I have about 24 hours before it's time for them to leave the nest," explained Mr Armstrong, 44.

"When mother duck starts looking down, I run out of the office and wait for the ducklings to jump. The mother jumps first, quacks at the ducklings above and they follow.

"The tricky part this time was when two jumped at pretty much the same time. Luckily I am ambidextrous and I caught one in one hand and one in the other."

Mr Armstrong, a father-of-two who admits to better than average hand-eye co-ordination, has had practice at duckling-catching, having performed his heroics twice before in 2008 and again last year.

He's not sure if it's the same duck laying eggs each time, admitting: "They all look the same."

To date he has caught 26 ducklings in three years. And no, he hasn't dropped one yet.

link:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/7896407/Duck-Man-catches-five-ducklings-before-they-crash-to-earth.html

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