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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dioxin found in some Italy mozzarella

Italy prizes its buffalo mozzarella and is well loved; so imagine the shock when news started coming in of high levels of dioxin being found in samples of buffalo milk. Dioxin is known as a cancer causing agent, much reviled in public news; not considered in any way safe - the news of food stuffs containing it would be a very scary prospect. As can be expected, this news caused a frenzy of action; the police and health authorities got involved - the association of buffalo mozzarella got involved as well in trying to reassure the public, with ads proclaiming that mozzarella made by their members were safe and all the contaminated products made were made by others:

The tainted products came from a few buffalo dairies in the southern Campania region, whose reputation as a top agricultural producer already has been tarnished by the months-old garbage crisis that has fueled fears of food contamination. Dioxin, a chemical environmental pollutant, can be hazardous even in small amounts. When it accumulates in the body, it can be linked to cancer, birth defects and organ failure.
Over the past week, Italian authorities have searched dozens of buffalo dairies and seized milk samples for tests after higher-than-permitted levels of dioxin were discovered in products from 29 mozzarella makers, news reports said. Prosecutors in Naples have placed 109 people under investigation in connection with the probe, on suspicion of fraud and food poisoning.

Given the wide spread usage of mozzarella in pizzas, as well as eating as it is, it is necessary that this be resolved quickly, and an investigation as to how this has happened; this is the way forward that would reassure consumers.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Golfer kills protected bird in a fury

This is an incident that could have landed this golfer in some hot soup. During a shoot, where golfer Tripp Isenhour was shooting for a television show, he got so irritated by the squawking of a red-shouldered hawk that he started trying to hit it with golf balls. The hawk was disrupting the shooting by its noise, and provoked the golfer. Unfortunately, the hawk was a protected migratory species, and hence the golfer is in some trouble now:

The 39-year-old drove his golf cart to get nearer to the bird and then allegedly said, "I'll get him now." A few shots later, witnesses said that he hit the hawk. The bird, protected as a migratory species, fell to the ground bleeding from both nostrils and was buried by the video crew at the golf course in Florida.
But federal investigators got to learn of his actions and Isenhour was charged on Wednesday with cruelty to animals and killing a migratory bird, misdemeanors which carry a maximum penalty of 14 months in jail and a $1,500 fine.

Apologizing may not get the golfer out of trouble, since technically he has committed a crime; and animal rights organizations are outraged about a person being able to kill a bird so easily and without apparent remorse.

Using your own Robocop for chasing off people

Imagine loitering on a street in Atlanta at night, when suddenly you see something from a science fiction movie, a contraption that can throw icy water at you, or use its infrared camera at you, and then shines a spotlight at you. Further, you can hear what unmistakably sounds like words on a loudspeaker. Enough to scare most drug dealers or other such unsavory characters. And this is exactly what a bar owner in Atlanta does at night = he has built this device to scare people away from a property in the downtown area. And the reason for doing so ? It is a place where children play during the day, but is used for far worse things at night by drug dealers and other criminals:

It's a barbecue smoker mounted on a three-wheeled scooter, and armed with an infrared camera, spotlight, loudspeaker and aluminum water cannon that shoots a stream of icy water about 20 feet. Operated by remote control, the robot spotlights trespassers on property down the street from his bar, O'Terrill's. Using a walkie-talkie, Terrill belts out through the robot's loudspeaker, "That's private property. You guys need to get out of here."
Terrill, an engineer by trade, is also a board member at the day care center. Tired of cleaning up after the shady characters, he decided to take action. That's when he built his downtown Darth Vader of sorts.
"He's a neighborhood vigilante," says Meredith, "and when he came up with this -- you know, I call it Robocop -- I said, 'Praise God.' "
The daycare center is a block from a homeless shelter. Meredith has a security guard at the center who leaves in the early evening. "They know when the guard leaves," she says. "They know when the cleaning crew leaves and then here comes the drug dealers to prey on the homeless people."

The police are not yet opposing this, although if somebody is sprayed with icy water, they could potentially sue and get the police involved.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Brother and sister reunited after 67 years

Now this is a story that warms the heart. After being separated during the second world war (remember how long ago that was?), a brother was reunited with his sister through his niece. Jack Allen was fostered as a baby and then brought up by adopted parents, and for a long time his sisters were trying to find their lost brother; he on the other hand did not know that he had siblings, and it was a chance comment on an accent that helped make the connection:

Born Joseph McIver to unmarried mum Josephine McIver and father Douglas MacDonald, Jack was fostered as a baby, before eventually being adopted at the age of seven by Frank and Christine Allen from Birmingham. Jack's sister Pat Collins, 75, remembers her last few moments with her baby brother in 1940, before losing all contact with him until now. Pat and two of her sisters have always remained curious about their missing brother and have spent years searching for him.
Pat, who lives in Grimsby, was stunned when her daughter phoned her up telling her she had found her long-lost brother. Pat said: "Two of my sisters have been trying to trace Jack and it was Carole who found him. I could not believe it when I took the call from her. "I was the oldest child and I was brought up by Josephine's parents.
"I used to go and see her, but I thought she was my sister. After Jack was taken away I never heard of him any more."

This is a good story, and displays an incredible amount of luck.

Flying unsafe planes

In a report that could scare passengers traveling on the budget carrier, Southwest Airlines, an investigation has revealed that the airline carried thousands of people on aircraft that were technically unsafe, on which mandatory safety checks had not been carried out. This carried on for some planes that were flown for 30 months after mandated Government inspection deadlines had passed; in such cases planes are normally grounded till the inspections have been carried out so that passenger safety is never in threat. And what is even more worrisome is that FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) officials knew about this, and yet did not do anything as this could have affected the flight schedules of the airline:

Documents submitted by Federal Aviation Administration inspectors to congressional investigators allege the airline flew at least 117 of its planes in violation of mandatory safety checks. In some cases, the documents say, the planes flew for 30 months after government inspection deadlines had passed and should have been grounded until the inspections could be completed. The planes were "not airworthy," according to congressional air safety investigators.
"The FAA is taking action against Southwest Airlines for a failing to follow rules that are designed to protect passengers and crew," Nicholas A. Sabatini, the FAA's associate administrator for aviation safety, said in a written statement. Calling it "one of the worst safety violations" he has ever seen, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, is expected to call a hearing as soon as possible to ask why the airline put its passengers in danger.

The airline in its response did not seem too bothered at these violations, and stated that this did not seem a flight safety issue. One would have thought that an airline carrying passengers would deem passenger safety the utmost, but maybe thinking that a corporate would put profit second is not realistic.

Carrying 5 passengers on a modern flight

Imagine the lap of luxury; you are one of only 5 passengers traveling on a modern fully equipped airliner, with 2 crew members per passenger. Sounds like having your own luxury private jet, does it not ? Well, as it turned out, this was a regular commercial flight across the Atlantic where American Airlines carried 5 passengers (and in their defence, a full cargo load). In a time when there is worry about the environmental impact of the modern jet passengers and the amount of fuel that they burn and pollute the atmosphere with, carrying only 5 passengers means that each passengers is roughly responsible for a footprint of 35.77 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the same as driving a car for 100,000 miles:

"Flying virtually empty planes is an obscene waste of fuel. Through no fault of their own, each passenger's carbon footprint for this flight is about 45 times what it would have been if the plane had been full," Friends of the Earth's transport campaigner Richard Dyer said. Because of a mechanical malfunction, AA flight 90 was 14 hours late leaving Chicago's O'Hare airport on February 8. Though most passengers made other arrangements to London, five lucky passengers unable to be rebooked made the 6,400 kilometer (4,000 mile) flight in business class, with two crew members per passenger.
"With such a small passenger load we did consider whether we could cancel the flight and re-accommodate the five remaining passengers on other flights," says American Airlines' European spokesperson Anneliese Morris. "However, this would have left a plane load of west-bound passengers stranded in London Heathrow who were due to fly to the U.S. on the same aircraft." Morris was quick to point out that despite the staggeringly low passenger count, the flight did carry a full cargo load.

The answer from the airline was expected, but one wonders as to how seriously does the airline business consider the environmental impact of their business ?

Outlawing using swear words

Imagine being able to outlaw swear words ? At times of anxiety or anger or exultation, people do end up using words that they would not use in normal conversation; and of course there are the people who feel that their words will not have an impact unless there is a good mix of swear words. It always feel good to have a normal conversation without a mix of bad words, and if that can happen through peer pressure or by a good amount of moral conditioning rather than by law, all the better. In the case of this small town in the US, it happened due to a 14 year old:

South Pasadena, a tranquil city of tree-shaded cottages at the base of a mountain range eight miles north of downtown Los Angeles, isn't the first to try to rein in potty mouths. Earlier this year, the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles, Missouri, proposed banning swearing in bars. Last year, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons called for an industrywide ban on racially and sexually charged epithets. But what's different about the latest push to stop public cussing is that it was proposed by a 14-year-old boy.
"I finally told my friends, `I don't cuss.' And I said, `If you want to hang out with me, you don't cuss."' It took a couple of years, but enough friends finally came around that Hatch formed a 50-member club, handed out fliers and called the group's first meeting, held June 1. Nine months later, the No Cussing Club has a Web site, claims a membership of 10,000 and boasts chapters in several states and countries. Hatch considers his greatest achievement, though, to be getting his hometown of 25,000 to become a cuss-free zone.

It sounds a bit strange, but who would not want a neighborhood where the language is more civil, and polite ?

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