Friday, August 31, 2007

GPS-enabled cell phone snags time-card "cheater"

And now we know why groups like the New York city cabbies don't want GPS - OK, that's an oversimplification. But here's an instance where a GPS-enabled phone caught a New York school system employee clocking out early - and according to records, it looks like he bailed early 83 times.

John Halpin didn't know, when he accepted the cellular phone in 2005, that it had GPS capability. Thus, he also didn't know that his whereabouts could be verified.

His shift ends at 3:30 PM. On March 8, Halpin was last in Manhattan at 1:31 PM and was home at 2:40 PM On March 29, Halpin was home at 2:38 PM.

Some have argued that he should have been informed of the phone's GPS capability. But the judge in the case, who recommended his firing, said "The Department of Education is not expected to notify its employees of all the methods it may possibly use to uncover their misconduct. The undisputed intent of issuing the cellphone with GPS was for the department to be able to determine the whereabouts of its supervisors in the field."

I haven't heard of this type of case before, but it does highlight why employees, not just in New York City, but in other locations, including the Bay Area, where I live, are not happy with GPS. On the other hand, there was an incident in the last couple of years in the Bay Area - unfortunately I cannot find it - where a worker was injured and they found him because of his GPS.

Pastor had sex with daughters to teach them to be "good wives"

A fundamentalist pastor in Australia decided (he says) to teach his daughters to be good wives - not by teaching them to cook or clean mind you, but how to have sex - in other words, how to "behave" for their husbands when they married, as dictated by the scriptures.

He was sentenced to eight and a half years jail after pleading guilty to seven counts each of incest and unlawful sexual intercourse. The incest started in 1991 when the daughters were 13 and 15 respectively.

Judge David Lovell didn't believe the man's excuses. "You said the acts were about learning about sex rather than engaging in the acts of sex. I do not accept that. You treated your daughters as your property ... using them to satisfy and gratify your sexual urges."

The man will be eligible for parole in four years, too soon if you ask me.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Barnes & Noble to carry "If I Did It" after all

Earlier, Barnes & Noble said it would not be carrying the O.J. Simpson book, "If I Did It," and I thought it was a great stand to take. It looks like profits have won out over conviction, as they have reversed their decision and will indeed be carrying the book.

Barnes & Noble spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating said: "We've been monitoring the pre-orders and customer requests and have concluded that enough customers have expressed interest in buying the book to warrant stocking it in our stores. We do not intend to promote the book but we will stock it in our stores because our customers are asking for it."

Earlier Borders had said they would carry the book - but not promote it - so it seems they are mirroring this practice.

It's easy to see why they are doing this. Just take a look at the book on - it's currently at #98 at the time of this writing. At the same time Barnes & Noble says the book has been in their top 100 for days.

Honors Students Graded on Ad Revenue

Well, this is a new one on me. When I was a high school honors student, it was all about my grades. Let me take that back, slightly. In terms of certain national honors, like The National Honor Society, certain charitable and community activities I did were taken into account as well. But certainly not how much money I made for the school.

A local TV station has reported that in the Collier County School District in Florida, honors journalism students are not only getting graded on how they write - but also on their ad revenue. Half their grade is determined on how many ads they sell for the yearbook.

Collier County School Board Member Linda Abbot was surprised when she was informed Naples High School are graded based in part on sales. A school volunteer emailed her concerns to the school board.

Here's the breakdown, from the syllabus (amounts in revenue): $600 = A, $500 = B, $400 = C, $300 = D , and you can guess what less than $300 gets.

"I don't think it's such a big deal," said student Courtney Dahl. She says selling ads teaches students to communicate. "It shouldn't be a problem. There's so many people that would buy a page or something, doesn't bother me," said Dahl.

Maybe so, but there are plenty (like me) who would make terrible salespeople. I don't (and apparently many Naples High School parents agree) believe that this is fair to such students.

Chewed-up Vick Cards Sell for $7,400 on eBay

It's interesting. Barry Bonds' 755th and 756th home run balls are having trouble attracting bidders in their auctions. Yet a set of chewed-up football cards sold for $7,400 on eBay. The reasons: they were Michael Vick cards; they were chewed up by dogs; and the proceeds will go to the Humane Society.

Rochelle Steffen, of Cape Girardeau, Mo., thought she might get $100 for a local animal shelter, after giving every card she owned to Monte, her 6-year-old Weimaraner, and Roxie, her Great Dane puppy.

"When I started this I only expected to get $100 for a local shelter," Steffen said. "But it's received so much attention."

It was a great idea. In general, I doubt Vick items will garner much attention or money any longer. There's been a large drop in the value of such items, evidenced by sales and auctions. But the sheer novelty of this struck a chord, and it was a great idea.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"No Liquids on Flights Rule" Enforced on Holy Water

When they say no liquids on flights, they mean no liquids on flights. Even if the liquid is holy water. What's even more hilarious is that it was one of the Vatican's new charter flights for pilgrims.

Security officials barred pilgrims from taking water collected at Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral on a return flight to Rome. Naturally, the pilgrims, who included Italian television personality Paola Saluzzi, were upset after waiting in long lines to fill up their bottles.

''All passengers are obliged to respect the rules and not go over the quantities (of liquid) permitted'' on flights, said Franck Hourcade, an official at the Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees International Airport. For international flights, this is 3 ounces of liquid.

Mistral Air is providing this service for the Vatican, and Francesco Pizzo, Mistral Air's president, said ''There are international rules that state that liquids cannot be carried on board. These have to be respected.''

My question is: why not just put the holy water into checked luggage? Unless (and this could be the reason) the pilgrims didn't want to let the water out of their sight, because of the value?

43-Year-Old Woman to Serve 31st Prison Sentence

She's only 43, yet she's served 30 prison terms and is in the process of serving her 31st? This leads me to the following questions:
  • There's no "Three strikes law" in Northern Ireland? Too bad, it would have saved them all some time.

  • Assuming she started committing crimes at birth (which, of course, is unrealistic), that means for every 1.39 years of her life she's spent 1 year in prison. Does she get out and commit a crime the same day (figuring in the time for the trial)?
Strangely enough, she's only the fourth most prolific prisoner in Northern Ireland: the other three are male though, and between 28 and 35 - meaning their lifetime average is much better - or worse, depending how you look at it - than hers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Chinese Children's Watering Cans Recalled Over Lead Paint

Here we go again, another Chinese product recalled. It's become so bad I troll the CPSC website looking for them. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission announced today a voluntary recall by Jo-Ann stores of
the Robbie Ducky™ Kids Watering Cans (pictured). These products are exclusive to Jo-Ann stores, and the beaks in them apparently have lead paint.

The CPSC says the recall involves 6,000 cans; you can find the full text of the recall at the CPSC website.

Larry Craig's Incident Report Uncovered

I'm sure you've heard by now about Senator Larry Craig's June 11th arrest for disorderly conduct, which was revealed yesterday. We have obtained a copy of the police report. Aside from the normal "fill-in-the-blanks" part of the report, we've looked at the section that summarizes the actual incident.

According to the report from Sgt. Dave Karsnia,
At 1216 hours Craig tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. Craig tapped his toes several times and moved his foot closer to my foot. I moved my foot up and down slowly. While this was occurring, the male in the stall to my right was still present. I could hear several unknown persons in the restroom that appeared to use the restroom for its intended use. The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area.
There's more, but a few minutes later,
At about 1219 hours I held my Police Identification in my right hand down by the floor so that Craig could see it. With my left hand, I pointed towards the exit. Craig responded, "No!" I again pointed towards the exit.
At this point things deteriorated rapidly for Craig.

You can read the two pages of the detailed summary here and here.

Monday, August 27, 2007

100-year-old celebrates with her 170,000 cigarette

Winnie Langley started smoking only days after WWI began in June 1914 - when she was just 7-years-old - and she has smoked five a day ever since. Do the math - 93 years (approx.), 5 a day, 365 days a year (not including leap years) and you get nearly 170,000 cigarettes.

She lit up a cigarette from the candle on her 100th birthday cake. Speaking at the birthday party Winnie said: "I have smoked ever since infant school and I have never thought about quitting. There were not all the the health warnings like there are today when I started. It was the done thing."

She said that she hasn't suffered as a result of the habit, because she "has never inhaled." Much like Bill Clinton and pot, eh?

Michael Vick Pleads Guilty; Sentencing on Dec. 10

Today Michael Vick entered a guilty plea in his dogfighting case. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this, since obviously this will be all over the mainstream media sources. However, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson said he would not sentence Vick until December 10.

Why so long? The good thing is the guy is suspended indefinitely by the NFL, so at least he's not raking in huge sums of cash while polluting our NFL games, but still ... it's a long time to wait to see what his punishment will be.

As Clotheslines Resurface, Legislation Enacted to Overcome Bans

Our house has a clothesline that stretches from our wood fence to our deck. It's retractable, and there's a hoop we attach a loop on the line onto when we want to use it. I've always thought the original owner had a great idea when he put it in - it was a nice, homey touch.

Clotheslines are making a comeback around the country, as people look for a way to make little changes to help the environment. Unfortunately, many homeowner's associations look askance on them, and have bans against them.

States are starting to introduce legislation to overrule these bans. In fact, the activist group Project Laundry List is running a campaign called "The Right to Dry," encouraging legislators and their constituents to work against these bans. Vermont is the latest state to introduce a bill that would override clothesline bans.

Of course, homeowner's associations say that the environment has to be balanced against the desires of those who find their neighbors' laundry to be unseemly, unsightly or both. This is why I will never buy a condo or a house in such a community. It's my house, and as long as I'm not making it an eyesore, if I want to put up an satellite dish or some such, I want to be able to.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Car Burns After Cigarette Lighter Explodes

Another reason cigarette smoking is hazardous to your health - leaving a lighter on your dash in hot weather can result in a fire.

Shane Reas, of Fort Worth, Texas, said his lighter had been sitting in his car all day, and it it exploded in his hand when he picked it up.

That's the actual car pictured above.

Lt. Kent Worley of the Fort Worth Fire Department said this type of accident isn't unheard of. "It's plastic -- very light aluminum at the top and very easy for this to malfunction, as apparently it did in this case," he said.

Reas said he has learned his lesson. "You keep one in your car, but you never really think to put it in the glove box or put it in your pocket. It just sits in the direct sun and heats up to the point where it can combust."

I've seen something similar to this before. At a flea market, a vendor was selling those butane fireplace / BBQ lighters. It was a hot day, and they were in direct sunlight. One of them exploded, though it didn't start a fire.

Lap Dancers Help Police Catch Counterfeiter

This'll teach you - never tick off a lap dancer. Lap dancers at the Deja Vu club in Nashville were suspicious of the bills given out by Damon Armagost - and called police. He had used his home computer to make the bills, after downloading the image from the Internet.

U.S. Secret Service agents later determined that counterfeit bills with the same serial number had been passed in other parts of the country - but I doubt Armagost was the person to do that. He's simply not bright enough for a large-scale operation.

In a press release, prosecutors said, "Secret Service agents went to Armagost's home in Smyrna to interview him, and a family member informed the agents that they had recently observed the image of a $100 bill on their computer."

As I said, not too bright. I mean, he used a home printer, I'm sure he didn't use special paper to try to reproduce the feel of the bills. And I'm sure he didn't try to adjust the serial numbers - or if he did it most likely wouldn't have matched the rest of the bill too well.

What was he thinking? Oh yeah, he wasn't, and that's why this story is on this site.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Camper Wakes to Slug Chewing on His Head

I kid you not. It wasn't quite as bad as the B or even C movie "Slugs," but it's pretty disgusting nonetheless. John Wilson was on a fishing trip to Papercourt Lake near Esher, Surrey, Great Britain. He thought he had been stung and screamed when he realized it was something rather slimy on his forehead.

His head was bloody as despite what you may think, a slug does have teeth - about 27,000 tiny ones.

Jackie Smithson, who lectures for The Plant Society, said: “It maybe travelled here on some fruit and managed to make its way to the lake.”

My guess is a dose of flesh-eating slug repellent, as in Harry Potter, would do the trick.

Denied adoption, man has gastric bypass surgery

A man who says he was denied adoption because of his obesity has undergone gastric bypass surgery in an attempt to gain custody of the child.

Gary Stocklaufer, 34, and his wife claim a judge unfairly discriminated against them because of his weight. At the time of the decision, Stocklaufer, pictured, weighed 558 pounds. The baby, Max, who is related to the Stocklaufers, had lived with them since he was a week old.

Officials would not comment on the reason Max was taken from the Stocklaufers, but it should be noted that this practice, of taking the adoptive parents' health into account during the process, has become increasingly prevalant. And, last December China announced it was tightening its own rules on foreign adoption, based on age, weight, and other health and psychological factors. So none of this should be surprising.

What is interesting is the Stocklaufers have another adopted child, another relative, which they adopted in 2000, and in that case, the same judge approved their adoption. So is there something else at work here?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Ebert: No Contract, No Thumbs

Roger Ebert is a copyright holder for the signature "thumbs up-thumbs down" that's used to judge movies on the show "At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper." And, because he is negotiating a new contract with the syndicated TV show's distributor, Disney-ABC Domestic Television - and that contract has not yet been signed - he's banned the use of "thumbs up-thumbs down" on the show.

Ebert hasn't appeared on the show for over a year, because of a series of surgeries for cancer and related issues. Despite this, the "two thumbs up" grade is almost a gold star for a movie, and the lack of its use would obviously be a major bargaining point in the negotiations.

"We remain hopeful that Roger will return to the show," a Disney company statement said. "We have kept his `seat in the balcony' open for the past 14 months and will continue to do so, utilizing guest critics who have appeared with Richard Roeper."

Update: in a post on his website on Saturday, Roger Ebert said:
Contrary to Disney’s press release, I did not demand the removal of the Thumbs™. They made a first offer on Friday which I considered offensively low. I responded with a counter-offer. They did not reply to this, and on Monday ordered the Thumbs™ removed from the show. This is not something I expected after an association of over 22 years. I had made it clear the Thumbs™ could remain during good-faith negotiations.

Michael Vick suspended indefinitely by the NFL

When Michael Vick agreed to a plea bargain earlier this week, I said that I hoped he would get a lifetime ban from the NFL, but that I thought it was unlikely. What he got wasn't a lifetime ban, but it's pretty darn close. Today NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended the Atlanta Falcons quarterback indefinitely without pay. I'll let Goodell do all the talking.

"You have engaged in conduct detrimental to the welfare of the NFL and have violated the league's personal conduct policy," Goodell told Vick in a letter.

"You are now justifiably facing consequences for the decisions you made and the conduct in which you engaged. Your career, freedom and public standing are now in the most serious jeopardy," Goodell wrote. "I hope that you will be able to learn from this difficult experience and emerge from it better prepared to act responsibly and to make the kinds of choices that are expected of a conscientious and law abiding citizen."

Goodell also freed the Falcons to "assert any claims or remedies" to recover $22 million of Vick's signing bonus from the 10-year, $130 million contract he signed in 2004.

Thief nabbed by engraved iPod

Next time you steal something, take the time to look at it - that's the lesson this thief should learn. All right, all right, he should also learn not to steal in the first place.

Titusville, Florida Police said they stopped Wilford McCloud, 25, at 5 a.m. Monday after seeing him riding a bicycle without proper safety lights. During the conversation, McCloud pulled out an iPod engraved with its owner’s name and the phrase, “Please don’t steal me.”

McCloud told them he bought the iPod for $20, so they released him - but kept the iPod. A day later the iPod was reported stolen by the owner. Needless to say, police tracked down McCloud and arrested him.

Want your kids to get AK-47 Training? Go to Camp Okutta

Camp Okutta is an adventure camp in Canada where your kids can learn the finer points of grenade throwing, shooting an AK-47, crossing a mine field, and more. Check out their promotional video below.

Now for the truth: it's not real. It's War Child Canada's provocative new ad campaign on child soldiers, meant to highlight the fact that in some countries, there are actual camps like this.

"The goal is to provoke a reaction," said Samantha Nutt, War Child Canada's founder and executive director. "Why is it that we're so profoundly shocked and upset to see this in the Canadian context and yet when it happens in other parts of the world, we take it for granted as part of normal life?"

However, some Canadians became enraged when seeing the posters that were also plastered up and ripped them down. War Child Canada's director of marketing, James Topham, said he thought the website made it obvious that the camp was a fake. My question is: if you only saw the poster and not the site, how would you know this?

On the other hand, the rage this brought on in Canadians shows it made it got its point across - and isn't that the idea behind advertising?

Gun swap missile launcher actually just a case

I think the person who turned it in needs to return the sneakers he got in exchange for it. You may recall my earlier post, in which Orlando police thought they had received a shoulder-fired missile launcher.

Turns out what they actually received was a casing for a TOW anti-tank missile system. It's fiberglass, and in addition to an alert reader (thanks!), an investigator for Raytheon came to the same conclusion.

John McGrath, an investigator for Raytheon Corp., used a serial number to identify the 4-foot-long tube as a 32-year-old fiberglass carrying case for a TOW missile and its launcher. What gets me is what McGrath said: "They're pretty available on the Internet," he said. "We run into a lot of this, actually."

What, you run into a lot of people turning them in for sneakers?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cyclist shoots himself in groin, gets arrested as well

Well, this guy is perhaps the ultimate loser. He not only shot himself in the groin with his own weapon, he was charged with unlawful use of a weapon for doing so.

Patrick Jefferson, 19, of Chicago, was riding his bike with the gun tucked into his waistband. Jefferson was shot while riding just after midnight Tuesday, prosecutors said. Bail was set at $60,000.

Lohan gets 1 day in jail for DUI

"She's getting what everyone else would get," Deputy District Attorney Danette Meyers said. She is? One day? In addition, she has to complete 10 days of community service and a drug treatment program. Whoopee.

Earlier today she was charged in the day with seven misdemeanors - based on two drunken-driving arrests in the last four months. Prosecutors said they didn't file felony drug charges because they only found .04 grams of cocaine in her purse. Luckily (?) for her the amount of cocaine necessary for felony charges is .05 grams.

"It is clear to me that my life has become completely unmanageable because I am addicted to alcohol and drugs," Lohan said in a statement released by publicist Leslie Sloane Zelnik.

I'm still not convinced that this isn't special treatment. I still think Jane Q. Public would get a more severe sentence. How about a fine at least, considering her bank balance is so huge? Teach her a real lesson. I mean, let's not forget the money quote from her during that last drunken driving incident:
"I can't get in trouble. I'm a celebrity. I can do whatever the f**k I want."

Ari Fleischer can't name wounded vet used in his own pro-Iraq war ad

Ari Fleischer, despite no longer being Bush's press secretary, is still working for him. Yesterday he was on MSNBC's Hardball, promoting his new organization, Freedom's Watch, which has started a multi-million dollar pro-Iraq war ad campaign.

During the interview, which you can watch here, about 1:27 into it, they show one of the ads. In it, there's a wounded vet, one who has lost his both his legs. Despite using the vet's impassioned message, he doesn't know his name. From the transcript (note that Mike Barnicle was guest host yesterday):
BARNICLE: What is that soldier‘s name, Ari?

FLEISCHER: Mike, I don‘t have his name in front of me. There are four people, soldiers and their parents who have lost children in battle, as well, who...

Later on the show, Fleischer says:

FLEISCHER: No, Mike. You‘re missing the point about this military is all of our military, both the people who oppose the war and the people who are for winning this war. And every time a life is lost, we all lose. We all have made a sacrifice, some more than others. And what you‘re hearing in these ads are the messages of the people who‘ve lost their children but still want to win this war, and that‘s why this is so important.
Yes, some more than others, but apparently he can't remember his name.

Later, in rebuttal, Hardball had on Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He said:
BARNICLE: Paul, I don‘t know whether you have a monitor in the studio where you are, but did you get a chance to see the ad that we just showed when Ari Fleischer was on?

RIECKHOFF: Yes. And it really bothered me. What bothered me the most is that Ari Fleischer didn‘t even know the guy‘s name. He‘s willing to run a multi-million-dollar campaign utilizing the personal story of a soldier, and he couldn‘t tell you on national TV what that soldier‘s name is. It‘s a problematic trend. People on both sides of the aisle, but especially the president and this administration, have continued to use troops as a political prop, as a backdrop for political rhetoric. It‘s why the president gave such an impassioned speech today in front of the VFW. It‘s why this ad carries so much weight at a visceral level. And it really bothers me because our troops are not political props and they‘re not chew toys.

By the way, the vet's name is Sgt. John Kriesel.

Doodle of Gun Gets Teen Suspended

Many have said that things like warrantless wiretapping, using spy satellites on Americans, and suspension of habeas corpus are overkill. What about this? And yes, that is the actual doodle that I have posted. Looks really threatening, right?

The student, a 13-year old at Payne Junior High School in Maricopa County, Arizona, was suspended for five days - though the punishment was eventually reduced to three days.

"The school made him feel like he committed a crime. They are doing more damage than good," said the boy's mother, Paula Mosteller.

When Ben Mosteller, the boy's father, went to talk to school officials, they brought up Columbine - which (and I don't blame him) offended Mosteller.

The Payne Student Handbook states that "possession or threatening use of any weapon, real or simulated, is strictly prohibited" and warns that punishment can include "conference, expulsion or mandatory police report."

I'm guessing the punishment was applied because of the "simulation" clause, but honestly - I think that clause was meant to refer to toy guns, which are 3D, as opposed to a 2D image. I strongly suspect most people won't be afraid of a sketch on a piece of paper - though I do admit it was was a disturbing image of murder, killing, or mayhem, I could see at least counseling being required.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Redheads Going Extinct, Say Scientists

Less than 2% of the world's population has natural red hair, which was created by a mutation in northern Europe thousands of years ago.

Because of this, it's possible, say some experts, that redheads could be gone as early as 2060. On the other hand, if they want to save themselves, they should all move to Scotland. 40% of Scottish people are carriers of the gene while 13% of them have red hair.

Wow, I'd really hate to think there would be no more redheads. My favorite redhead is to the left. Yes, it's the HughesNet actress, Margaret Easley, and for some reason, my wife understands when I pause to look at those commercials.

Teen tries to cool overheating Xbox 360; nearly kills himself

It's no secret that there have been plenty of overheating issues with Xbox 360s. These issues been prevalent since almost the beginning. The results of these problems include crashes as well as the "red ring of death." Some mods were even creating to resolve this problem, including water cooling.

A teenager from Brevard, North Carolina had overheating problems on Sunday, and because of it his system was resetting every 5 minutes. He decided to take water cooling into his own hands. I guess he'd heard about water cooling, but didn't realize it didn't mean just using a pan of water.

He'd read that one of the ways to correct overheating was to cool the power supply. So he dropped the power supply - still plugged in - into a pan of water. This resulted in a near-electrocution. He was taken to the Transylvania Community Hospital in Brevard (I kid you not - see the pic!) where he spent the night.

Now, I know some say our kids are not getting the educations they need in school any longer, but come on. At 14 this teenager didn't know better than to stick something electrical into water like that?

Mattel Sues Porn Star Over "Barbie" Site

As if Mattel doesn't have enough on its hands with the recent Chinese toy recalls, it's now embroiled in a lawsuit with a porn star who happens to have the name China Barbie, as well as the website

A little WHOIS research shows the domain is owned by Global China Networks, PO Box 1133, New York, NY 10163. It's been registered since 2004 and the technical contact is Terri Gibson. An email to the email address of record was not responded to.

Seems like a pretty cut-and-dried case, doesn't it? One would think so. I'm pretty sure Mattel will win this one, and poor China Barbie will have to change her name to China Midge or China Skipper.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

China's Guidelines for Chinese Travelers: "no extortion, avoid nuclear waste and strip clubs"

Generally I don't need someone to tell me to avoid nuclear waste, but apparently China is playing it safe. These were just a few of the guidelines listed for Chinese travelers at the website of the Foreign Ministry.

''Keep peaceful in public places, don't talk loud and avoid sticking out,'' the guidelines said.

''Don't get involved in other people's quarrels in public places,'' it added. And, here's the best part, "When your legal rights are violated, avoid making things worse and resolve the problem through upright channels, not through extortion or other illegal methods."

Yeah, whenever I have problems, I also look to extortion as my first option. My guess is with all the flak over product safety, the upcoming Olympics, censorship, human rights violations - need I go on - China wants to make sure its citizens are pure and pristine.

Don't Look for O.J.'s "If I Did It" at Barnes & Noble

I doubt that "If I Did It" will have the same draw for book buyers as "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" - despite this, I would expect plenty of curious, or perhaps the word is morbid, readers to purchase copies. However, today Barnes and Noble indicated it would not carry the book, except as a special order item or via their website - and they said it was due to lack of interest.

Meanwhile, today, Borders said it would stock the book - but would not promote it in any way.

You may recall this was scheduled to be published last November by ReganBooks, an imprint of HarperCollins, with a first printing of 400,000 copies. But a firestorm erupted around the book, and it was dropped in response - and ReganBooks founder Judith Regan was fired by HarperCollins and her imprint disbanded.

Last month, a federal bankruptcy judge awarded rights to the book to Ron Goldman's family to help satisfy the $38 million wrongful death judgment against Simpson. The book is now being published by Beaufort Books, a small New York-based publisher. The Goldmans are calling the book Simpson's "confession."

On the other side of the coin with respect to the book's publication is Denise Brown, Nicole Brown Simpson's sister. She's labeled the publication of the book "hypocritical."

Personally, it seems like retailers are being forced to sell the book - because they don't want to miss out on potential sales - but they are still distancing themselves from it.
Barnes & Noble's move still allows sales on the website, so they could still garner plenty of sales.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Michael Vick Agrees to Plea Bargain

Lead defense attorney Billy Martin today said that Michael Vick has plead guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges. Prosecutors were seeking a prison term of 12 - 18 months, and at the time of this writing, no details were available on the length of the agreed-to sentence. However, the offense is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

"After consulting with his family over the weekend, Michael Vick asked that I announce today that he has reached an agreement with federal prosecutors regarding the charges pending against him," lead defense attorney Billy Martin said in a statement.

My big concern is that this guy is pretty young - he is young enough to serve his time and come out and make millions more. The only hope I see is that since allegations include running a gambling operation, it's possible he could get a lifetime ban from the NFL. Possible, but unlikely.

China Begins TV Campaign Defending Product Safety as a New Allegation Emerges

The campaign, called "Believe in Made in China," follows months of product safety concerns over Chinese products, including (but not limited to!) toothpaste, toys, tires, fish, and bibs. In some cases, there has been more than one recall of a type of product.

In fact, even today, new allegations of unsafe Chinese goods emerged: New Zealand said it was investigating children's clothing found to contain dangerous levels of formaldehyde.

The first show in a weeklong series aired Sunday. It's interesting to note that rather than devoting the show to indicating how safety is being improved, the show seems to focus on the demonization of Chinese products, as a sort of protectionism.

"Personally, I believe it is new trend in trade protectionism. Although recalls are necessary, it is unfair to decide that all products made in China are unqualified," Li Changjiang, director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said on the first 90-minute segment.

Hmm, can I ask if this series is a documentary, an infomercial, or plain fiction?

APA Votes Down Ban on Participation in Interrogations

This weekend, the American Psychological Association met in San Francisco for its annual convention. As a psychologist, my wife was there. She, and many colleagues, felt the highly-anticipated vote on a ban on continued participation in detainee interrogations would be a formality, a rubber stamp. They were wrong.

The policy-making council of the APA voted against a proposal to ban psychologists from taking part in any interrogations at U.S. military prisons "in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights." Instead, they approved a resolution that reaffirmed the association's opposition to torture. But even without the word "reaffirmed," it's clear this stance is no different than before.

Arguments in favor of continued participation in interrogations were given by those who said that the presence of psychologists at interrogations would prevent them from going "over the top," resulting in deaths. For example,
Army Col. Larry James, who serves as a psychologist at Guantanamo Bay, said "If we remove psychologists from these facilities, people are going to die."

This has been the standard argument of the APA. Why then do other organizations take differing positions? While organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association,
the American Nursing Association. and the American Ethnomusicological Association have all taken strong stances against participation in interrogations, the APA continues to stand alone.

Many psychologists have withheld dues over this issue. Publications such as Vanity Fair have exposed the participation of psychologists in torture. It's even been revealed that the Presidential Task Force created by the APA to form ethics policy was dominated by psychologists from military and intelligence circles, some of whom were involved in the very interrogation chains of command now shown to have been involved in such abuse.

Despite these revelations, the APA continues to give tacit approval to torture. Why? The military was the first to endorse psychology as a real science, instead of voodoo. Some (the ones in power at the APA) see continued allegiance with military as a positive. Psychologists, or at least some, want to be able to prescribe
psychotropic medications, and they see the military as a way to force that into effect in more states (currently only New Mexico and Louisiana allow this).

Following the vote by the council, there was a Town Hall, in which the top item in the agenda was the "new" resolution. It's interesting to note that 10 minutes into the discussion, media members were told to turn off their recorders or security would be called. When this was brought to the attention of rank-and-file members, a vote was taken and media was allowed to continue taping. But as one member later said in his time at the microphone, "what does the APA have to hide?"

What now? It looks like, for the APA itself, the status quo, while for many members, and groups such as the Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice and Psychologists for an Ethical APA, the fight to change the official position of the APA will continue. We have not heard the last of this.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Pet Camel Kills Australian Woman While Attempting to Mate with Her

A pet camel has killed its owner while apparently attempting mating behavior, police said. The camel had been given to the woman, who had a love for exotic pets, in March, for her 60th birthday.

The unidentified woman was killed Saturday at her family sheep and cattle ranch near Mitchell, 350 miles west of the Queensland state capital Brisbane. The 10-month-old male, which weighed about 330 pounds, knocked her to the ground then lay on top of her. Both police and a camel expert believe this to be mating behavior.

Obviously, and unfortunately for her, the camel had apparently become fairly attached to her.

Genetic discrimination: banned everywhere else; alive and well in the U.S. military

The Los Angeles Times has an excellent piece on genetic discrimination. While in most cases, this type of discrimination is banned in the United States, the military is able to use it to deny disability and medical benefits to veterans.
For more than 20 years, the armed forces have held a policy that specifically denies disability benefits to servicemen and women with congenital or hereditary conditions. The practice would be illegal in almost any other workplace.

There is one exception, instituted in 1999, that grants benefits to personnel who have served eight years.

"You could be in the military and be a six-pack-a-day smoker, and if you come down with emphysema, 'That's OK. We've got you covered,' " said Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University."But if you happen to have a disease where there is an identified genetic contribution, you are screwed."
Yet another example of how poorly the administration treats its military servicemen and women. The scandal at Walter Reed Army hospital, the extended tours of duty, ignoring PTSD and mental illness in returning soldiers - after all they experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, they deserve better than this.

Matt Cooper: Rove's Lying about the Plame Affair

Today, Karl Rove appeared on "Meet the Press." (I thought I felt a disturbance in the force.) At any rate, after Rove's appearance, there was a round table including Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, Matt Cooper of Conde Nast Portfolio, John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal and CNBC, and Kate O’Beirne of the National Review. Note that David Gregory guest-hosted today.

During the round table, Cooper called Rove a liar (though he didn't use that term) with regards to Rove's statements on the Valerie Plame affair during the broadcast. From today's MTP transcript:

GREGORY: Matt Cooper, let’s pick up on an aspect of the interview with, with Karl Rove having to do with the leak case, the CIA leak case, that you were part of as well. And something’s that’s very interesting, he, he went out of his way to say, “I would not have been a confirming source on this kind of information” and taking issue with, with Novak’s testimony in his column that he knew who Valerie Plame was. He said he would never confirm that information. That’s different from your experience with him.

COOPER: Yeah, I, I think he was dissembling, to put it charitably. Look, Karl Rove told me about Valerie Plame’s identity on July 11th, 2003. I called him because Ambassador Wilson was in the news that week. I didn’t know Ambassador Wilson even had a wife until I talked to Karl Rove and he said that she worked at the agency and she worked on WMD. I mean, to imply that he didn’t know about it or that this was all the leak...

GREGORY: Or that he had heard it from somebody else...

COOPER: someone else, or he heard it as some rumor out in the hallway is, is nonsense.

For those who don't know, dissembling (from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary) means "to put on a false appearance : conceal facts, intentions, or feelings under some pretense." In other words, lie.

The podcast for today's MTP episode can be found here.

Church uses iPhone as "Door Prize" to gain worshippers

Churches are making my life far too easy these last couple of days. Not only did the Rev. Wiley S. Drake ask followers to pray for the death of critics who "outed" him to the IRS, now we have an enterprising pastor in Coral Gables, Florida using an iPhone as a door prize to attract new worshippers - or at least looky-loos. This is the same church, Church of the Glades, that in January drew 50,000 hits to its website with a billboard proclaiming "The Bare Naked Truth on Sex."

For those who happen to be in Coral Gables, anyone who comes to services for the first time (darn, members are out) during the next three weekends can get a $15 iTunes gift card by filling out a "connection card." For the big, prize, that's only available today, so hurry in - one new attendee will win that iPhone.

The sermons over the next three weeks will be focused on gadgetry and its influence on our lives. The series will be called "
i: Successful Living in a Self-Absorbed World."

Sermon or no, it's an interesting topic: are we, as iPod-toting, cell phone carrying, IM-entranced humans are so self-absorbed that we are losing touch with how to speak to others, face-to-face. Psychologists have even written papers about this subject.

There's a related piece here called "Are We Too Connected With Our Gadgets and Not With Each Other?"

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Salad: Giger's Alien in Vegetable Form

Till Nowak has worked as a freelance media artist since 1999 in his own studio in Mainz, Germany. He has created a 3D digital model of H.R. Giger's Alien, using digital models of vegetables. Note, it's not physically created with vegetables, but by using photographs of vegetables for the texturing process.

From a .PDF file on the artist's website:

Till Nowak modelled twelve digital vegetables in 3ds Max using classical polygon modelling techniques. Photographs of fresh vegetables were used for the texturing process. Most of the vegetables started with a cylinder primitive and needed around 30 minutes of work. The modelling was easy – it was much more difficult to find the right places and orientations to build a monster with it.


The final image was done by rendering several passes, such as diffuse, specular and ambient occlusion using 3ds Max Scanline renderer and Mental ray. The rendering was done in a few minutes thanks to my lowtech-lighting-methods.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the vegetable garden, right?

California Minister prays for 'death for his tax critics'

The Rev. Wiley S. Drake of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., who has endorsed former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee for president, has asked his followers to pray for the deaths of those who lodged a complaint against him with the IRS.

Drake used both church stationary and his Internet radio show for the endorsement. Based on this, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State asked the IRS to investigate. Churches that endorse candidates may be subject to losing their tax-exempt status.

Drake responded to this via email, his radio show, and a press release on ChristianNewsWire which said, in part:
Now that all efforts have been exhausted, we must begin our Imprecatory Prayer, at the key points of the parliamentary role in the earth where we live.

David as our Old Testament shepherd gives us many Imprecatory prayers, and can be found to be in best focus in Psalm 109. Also chapters 55, 58, 68, 69, and 83.
Psalm 109 is noted for containing some of the most frighteningly severe curses in the Bible, such as (from the New American Bible):
"May his days be few; may another take his office."

"May his children be fatherless, his wife, a widow."

"May his children be vagrant beggars, driven from their hovels."

This is so compassionately Christian of him. Naturally he tried to do damage control, later saying that he wasn't personally asking for the deaths of those who reported him to the IRS, rather that "It doesn't matter what I want – it matters what God wants. It's time Americans United was put in their place. We're asking God to do that." In other words, God needs to take action against these blasphemers, and we should pray to entreat Him to do so.

Uh, huh. In a statement, Alice Stewart, a campaign spokeswoman for Huckabee, said they had not coordinated with Drake in any way and "We certainly don't condone the evil comments he's made."

Goof in Arkansas Law Allows Marriage at Any Age

One added "not" in a law and - with parental consent - people of any age can marry in Arkansas. The law reads "In order for a person who is younger than eighteen (18) years of age and who is not pregnant to obtain a marriage license, the person must provide the county clerk with evidence of parental consent to the marriage."

Bill sponsor Rep. Will Bond said "It's clearly not the intent to allow 10-year-olds or 11-year-olds to get married. The legislation was screwed up."

"We need a special session to fix this," Sen. Sue Madison said. "I am concerned about pedophiles coming to Arkansas to find parents who are willing to sign a very young child's consent."

I doubt it would be that easy for pedophiles to find parents willing to sign a consent form, however, in today's world, anything is possible. The law went into effect on July 31st. Because the Arkansas legislature has adjourned for the year, the only way to remedy this would be if Gov. Mike Beebe calls a special session.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Two 19¢ Washers = 38¢; Shipping = $998,798

As if you really trusted the judgment of the military before this, this really ought to make you think they are - well, fools. C&D Distributors in Lexington, South Carolina collected about $20 million in fraudulent shipping costs over six years from the Pentagon, including the aforementioned $998,798 for two washers they shipped to Texas.

In all the parts shipped reached about $68,000 while the shipping reached $20.5 million. How did this happen? The company exploited a flaw in an automated Defense Department purchasing system: anything marked 'priority' had its shipping paid automatically.

The Pentagon finally noticed when an "alert" purchasing agent noticed a bill for shipping two more 19¢ washers for $969,000. That order was rejected and a review turned up the prior order, and started the ball rolling.

The owners of the company were twin sisters - one died recently, and the other, Charlene Corley, plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to launder money, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin McDonald said. Corley, 46, was fined $750,000. She faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years on each count and will be sentenced soon.

Police hold gun exchange, receive missile launcher

Orlando police held a gun exchange at the Citrus Bowl Friday. Besides the run-of-the-mill shotguns, pistols, zip guns and assault rifles, they also received a shoulder-fired missile launcher.

The exchange, typical of these events, was no questions asked, so they asked ... no questions. But the man indicated he found the missile in a shed he tore down last week. "I didn't know what to do with it, so I brought it here. I took it to three dumps to try to get rid of it and they told me to get lost."

He exchanged it for size-3 Reebok sneakers for his daughter.

Toys "R" Us halts sales of vinyl bibs from - guess where

You guessed it, China. Toys "R" Us said today that it was halting sales of all vinyl bibs after laboratory tests showed evidence that at least some of the bibs were contaminated with lead. The bibs were were imported from China for Toys "R" Us by Hamco Baby Products.

According to a press release, " In recent days, Toys “R” Us asked Bureau Veritas, a world leader in independent testing, to re-test samples of all Hamco-manufactured bibs sold by the company. Among its findings, the Bureau Veritas tests found two samples of Hamco bibs that contained lead over the strict Toys “R” Us testing requirements. As a result of inconsistent results between the company’s May 2007 and August 2007 tests, Toys “R” Us has immediately stopped sale of these items in its stores. These bibs were sold to Toys “R” Us by Hamco and marketed under the Koala Baby, Especially for Baby and Disney Baby labels."

Suspect bibs can be returned for a full refund, according to the press release.

It's interesting that earlier this year, Wal-Mart also had a recall of vinyl bibs for traces of lead - the vendor: Hamco
Baby Products.

Besides the trend here with Hamco, there is also the obvious trend with Chinese products of any type, it seems.

Vick's Co-Defendents accuse him of executing dogs

All of Michael Vick's co-defendents have agreed to plea bargains, and on Friday two of them - Purnell Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach and Quanis Phillips, 28, of Atlanta - entered guilty pleas. At the same time one of them today accused Vick of executing dogs that did not perform to his liking.

Peace and Phillips join co-defendant Tony Taylor of Hampton, who struck a similar deal last month. The agreements require the three to cooperate in Vick's prosecution.

In a statement signed by Phillips, he said Vick participated in the execution of about eight dogs, some by drowning and hanging.

Additionally, statements by Peace and Phillips say "The 'Bad Newz Kennels' operation and gambling monies were almost exclusively funded by Vick."

As a result of his co-defendent's plea bargains, rumors have been rampant that Vick will pursue his own plea agreement, with some saying the deal will require him to serve one year in prison.

With our skewed priorities on sports, who wants to bet that one year later he will be back in the NFL?

Litvinenko poison found at London lap-dancing bar

Nine months after the murder of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, new details have emerged. Forty-seven additional sites were checked for radiation, including five buses, eight aircraft, eight hotels and seven restaurants. Radioactive traces were found at four new locations, including the Hey Jo nightclub, a lap dancing bar. It was also on a shisha pipe in the West End restaurant Dar Marakesh, in a taxi and in Litvinenko’s Mercedes.

It's amazing how pervasive something like this is - and it shows what might happen in the case of a "dirty bomb." It also shows a new way you could track someone's whereabouts, but for some reason I doubt it will catch on.

Navy "out of stock" on Purple Hearts: "Buy Your Own"

What does it say about our administration and the military when they have this sort of attitude? I get better treatment at a retail store. At least there I can get a rain check.

Korean War veteran Nyles Reed, 75, opened an envelope last week to learn a Purple Heart had been approved for injuries he sustained as a Marine on June 22, 1952. Originally, when he first sustained the injury, he felt it was unnecessary to apply for the medal, but three years ago he decided he wanted something to hand down to his grandchildren. Still, even three years is a long time, and the delay alone speaks volumes.

There was no medal in the envelope, just a certificate and a letter stating that the medal was "out of stock." The letter from the Navy Personnel Command told Reed he could wait 90 days and resubmit - or buy his own.

Since he had waited over 50 years, he decided to wait no longer, and bought his own for $42 at a military surplus store.

Maj. J. DeLaRosa, a media affairs officer for the Marines at the Pentagon, couldn't believe Reed received only the certificate.

"That's unacceptable. 'Out of stock'? That's like saying, 'We're out of ammo.' That's like saying 'The Marines are going to close tomorrow.' It just seems a bit weird," DeLaRosa said. "There have been a lot of guys wounded, but not to the point that we're out of medals."

Sounds a lot like damage control to me.