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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Farmers See 'Mark of the Beast' in RFID Livestock Tags

By David Kravets

A group of community farmers, some of them Amish, are challenging rules requiring the tagging of livestock with RFID chips, saying the devices are a "mark of the beast."

Michigan and federal authorities say the radio frequency identification devices (RFID) will help monitor the travels of bovine and other livestock diseases.

"Use of a numbering system for their premises and/or electronic numbering system for their animals constitutes some form of a 'mark of the beast' and/or represents an infringement of their 'dominion over cattle and all living things' in violation of their fundamental religious beliefs," according to the farmers' lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Thisistheend As radio frequency identification devices become a daily part of the electronic age, RFID technology is increasingly coming under fire for allegedly being the mark of Satan. The technology is fast becoming a part of passports and payment cards and is widely expected to replace bar-code labels on consumer goods.

The suit (.pdf) mentions various verses from the Book of Revelation. "He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." Revelation 13:16-17

The farmers' lawsuit, brought by the Virginia-based Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and some of its 1,400 members, seeks to block enforcement of the National Animal Identification System. Some of the group's members so staunchly oppose the program that "they may have to quit farming," according to the lawsuit.

And if they quit, U.S. citizens could be in jeopardy during a terror attack. According to the lawsuit:

"All plaintiffs preserve and protect Americans' agricultural heritage and traditional farming techniques, they maintain and protect heirloom varieties of plants and animals constituting a valuable genetic resource which may help to protect America's food supply in the event of a disease outbreak, and they also provide a national security benefit founded in a diverse system in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster that interrupts the distant transportation of centrally produced food across the country."

They may quit farming and imperil the United States because RFID tagging "forces them to, in part, violate tenets of their Old Order Amish beliefs, i.e., they are forced to use technology they would ordinarily not use," according to the suit.

The lawsuit also claims the program places a financial burden on small farmers and that the U.S Department of Agriculture has failed to show "any rational relationship to or causal link with animal disease control."

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Naughty Nursing Homes

Sexual desire may wane with age, but it doesn't disappear. For Slate's 2007 "Sex issue," Daniel Engber reported on sexual expression in nursing homes—a thorny issue for doctors worried about whether their senile patients are capable of informed consent. His original article is reprinted below.

When 15 elderly residents at a rundown and understaffed nursing home in Tampa, Fla., died over a three-year span that recently ended, their families filed suit in state court. According to Charles Duhigg's damning report in last Sunday's New York Times, these claims of negligence don't have much of a chance. Throughout the industry, financial backers have begun to hide their profits behind elaborate corporate façades, making litigation against nursing homes almost impossible. Not surprisingly, the quality of care is already in decline.

But there is one way in which these venal, cost-cutting schemes might actually improve conditions in the nursing home. As lawsuits become harder to win, families will have less of a say in how their relatives are treated—and that could give administrators the freedom to reverse overcautious policies on intimate contact between residents. If that happens, elderly patients could reap the rewards of more sex.

Old people have plenty of intercourse when they're not in an institutional setting. A survey published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a quarter of those between the ages of 75 and 85 were having sex, and many were doing it at least once every couple of weeks. A third of these sexually active respondents said they had either given or received oral sex in the past year.

There's no reason to think that nursing-home residents would be any less frisky, if left to their own devices. After all, we're talking about a mixed-sex population living in close quarters with almost endless amounts of free time. Already, staffers routinely field patient requests for personal lubricants, pornographic magazines, larger-size beds, and prescriptions for Viagra. And that's with the 1.6 million elderly residents who came of age before the sexual revolution. Within a few decades, nursing homes will be replete with the desires and expectations of almost 7 million liberated baby boomers.

For now, though, never mind what they want: We seem content to let our elders lie in celibate repose as they wait for Oscar, the death-sniffing cat. In most nursing homes, residents are relegated to narrow mattresses with very little privacy. Nurses enter rooms without knocking, and express disgust at masturbation or coupling, and in some cases, residents are even deprived of conjugal visits from their long-term partners. (This 2004 case study [PDF] from Clinical Geriatrics describes a 77-year-old resident who is instructed by his doctor to "take cold showers" when he complains of sexual issues.) Overseas, elderly patients seem to enjoy a bit more open-mindedness; at one home in Denmark, you can even call out for hookers and X-rated movies. But most nursing-home residents in the United States suffer under a regime of tyrannical chastity.

Why are nursing-home administrators so queasy about sexual expression? They're afraid of getting sued. An estimated 50 percent of elderly residents suffer from some degree of Alzheimer's disease or dementia, which, depending on its severity, can make them confused, forgetful, or unaware of their own behavior. Even in the best cases, many of these patients may not be able to provide clear consent to a sexual advance.

At the same time, certain kinds of cognitive impairment can actually enhance a patient's sex drive. Almost a quarter of dementia sufferers lose interest in sex, but about 14 percent experience a heightened libido—and up to 8 percent become unable to control their sexual behavior. This can manifest as incessant masturbation and repetitive sexual advances. (A patient with memory loss might forget that he's just had sex with his wife or girlfriend, or mistake a stranger for an intimate partner.) Certain psychoactive drugs—especially those prescribed for Parkinson's disease—can also serve as nursing-home love potions.

So what happens when one of these patients with dementia starts sleeping around? According to federal law, nursing-home residents are guaranteed some small degree of privacy, as well as the right to "psychosocial well-being"—which can be taken to include free sexual expression. The administrator must balance these rights with the possibility that the patient isn't able to consent to sex at all, and that his every encounter amounts to an elder version of gray rape.

It's easier to determine if a senior citizen is the victim of outright sexual assault. Even an Alzheimer's patient who has lost the ability to talk can express desire or dismay through sounds, facial expressions, and hand gestures. But caregivers face a dilemma when they find a patient with dementia enjoying a bout of raunchy, goatish sex. Break it up, and they may be depriving a dying man or woman of physical pleasure and companionship. Leave them be, and the nursing home may be exposed to negligence claims from dismayed relatives or a forgotten spouse.

In practice, nursing homes tend to err on the side of prudish caution. After all, most of us aren't expecting our elderly mothers or grandmothers to be having sex in the first place—so we're far more likely to complain if she's getting too much action rather than too little. So, administrators crack down with de facto statutory rape rules that treat elderly patients as if they were teenagers: If they can't be trusted to provide consent, they're automatically treated as the victims of any sexual encounter. The most liberal institutional policies on sexual contact [PDF] call for psychiatrists or social workers to review each situation and decide whether the participants are capable of saying no. Another approach uses a standardized test of mental state, with a minimum score required for consensual sexual activity. As a result, a patient with advanced dementia can summarily lose her right to have any sex whatsoever—even with her own spouse. (In 1996, an Ohio court ruled against a man who sued for the right to spend nights with his mentally incompetent wife. The nursing home had declined his request due to "the complex legal environment in which we exist.")

But rules designed to protect teenagers from sexual exploitation don't make sense when they're applied in a nursing home. For starters, elderly patients have more to gain from sex than their teenage counterparts. A 14-year-old girl kept (or protected) from the arms of an older man can still look forward to a lifetime of fulfilling, consensual relations. An 84-year-old woman who is denied sex has been consigned to lonely chastity for the rest of her days.

Likewise, an Alzheimer's patient has much less to lose from quasi-consensual sex. Statutory rape laws are designed to protect teenagers from a host of problems that aren't relevant to the elderly population. A teenager's coerced or unfortunate dalliance might produce decades of distress as she grows into an adult. But someone with dementia has no dawning awareness after the fact; there's no way for a psychic wound to mangle her developing brain. Nor are unwanted pregnancy and the financial risk it carries at issue. It's not too strong to say that when doctors are too quick to enforce celibacy as a way of protecting their patients from exploitative sex, they replace one form of elder abuse with another.

How can doctors make it easier for their patients to have safe, fulfilling sex in their twilight years? To begin with, they might allow sex between two seemingly willing residents with dementia, in the same way that "age gap" laws allow for consensual sex between age-matched teenagers. Nursing homes might also consider formal exceptions to the consent rules for spouses or long-term partners. Perhaps the safest solution would be to encourage residents to designate a "sexual guardian" in advance of their cognitive decline. That person—whether a spouse, a friend, or a close relative—could serve as the elder-sex cop, or elder-sex partner, for their loved one.

As it stands, nursing-home residents are going to have more sex only when their doctors can stop worrying about legal liability. We shouldn't have to rely on a bunch of sleazy Wall Street investors to give them the opportunity.

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A table that's made to order



LONDON—You want to eat out. You want good food, nice wine, a convivial ambience. Why let a waiter stand in the way?

This is the premise of Inamo, a restaurant in Soho, central London, where diners use their table to order.

Each table turns it into a giant computer screen. With a few clicks, diners can order from an illustrated menu, pay their bill, summon a taxi, play interactive games with fellow diners and even change the look of the table itself.

Analysts say automation is one of the key trends in the restaurant industry, varying from kiosk-based ordering in fast-food outlets to the conveyor-belt experience offered in sushi joints.

"Oddly, despite the lower level of human engagement, such innovation can foster a greater sense of fun and interactivity for diners and has the added bonus for restaurateurs of reducing labor costs," said Bryan Roberts, a research manager at Planet Retail, a consulting firm in London.

"As with self-checkout in supermarkets, such innovations provide a greater perception of convenience and efficiency and have strong appeal for today's legion of tech-savvy consumers," Roberts said.

In the U.S., the uWink franchise allows diners to order food and drink via touch screens, as well as play games and watch movie previews. There's a place on the table for swiping your credit card when you're ready to pay the bill.

The brainchild of Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari Inc., the first franchise opened in Woodland Hills, Calif., in 2006, with restaurants also in Hollywood and Mountain View.

"UWink is the only touch-screen restaurant in the United States," said Alissa Tappan, a spokeswoman for the Van Nuys, Calif.-based company. "On our touch-screen terminals are short games, word puzzles, trivia quizzes, horoscopes and a wide variety of activities.

"You can play with one other person, or even compete against other tables or the whole room," she said.

As you enter Inamo, which serves Asian fusion fare, the white, sculpted pods above each table immediately catch your eye. These pods house projectors that beam information onto the black composite-surface tabletops. A sunken circle in the corner or the tabletop acts as a mouse, allowing you to scroll through menu options and view photos of those choices before double-clicking on the meal of your choice.

A Bluetooth signal is sent to the kitchen. With "chef cam," you can view your food being prepared on the tabletop screen. Then, a real human delivers the food.

Inamo is the brainchild of two Oxford graduates, Danny Potter and Noel Hunwick, neither of whom boast a high-tech background. The idea behind the restaurant was born three years ago from the pair's frustration at struggling for 20 minutes to get a waiter's attention at a local eatery.

A physics graduate, Potter and some friends were able to adapt existing Bluetooth and projection technologies for the restaurant market.

"We are using projectors and a custom-built panel that no one else is using," he said. "The client can't break the machine or crash the system."

Potter predicted that increased automation is the wave of the future in the restaurant business.

The one downside, at least at Inamo, is that an abundance of interactivity doesn't come cheap, with lunch running as much as $40 a person.

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308 - The Pop Vs Soda Map


When on a hot summer’s day you buy a carbonated beverage to quench your thirst, how do you order it? Do you ask for a soda, a pop or something else? That question lay at the basis of an article in the Journal of English Linguistics (Soda or Pop?, #24, 1996) and of a map, showing the regional variation in American English of the names given to that type of drink.

The article was written by Luanne von Schneidemesser, PhD in German linguistics and philology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and senior editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English. And although there might be weightier issues in life (or even in linguistics) than the preferred terminology for a can of soft drink, there’s nothing trivial about this part of the beverage industry.

“According to an article last year in the Isthmus, Madison’s weekly newspaper, Americans drink so much of the carbonated beverages sold under such brand names as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Sprite, Mountain Dew, and 7-Up that consumption averages 43 gallons per year for every man, woman, and child in the United States,” Von Schneidemesser begins her article. “The Statistical Abstract of the United States (1994) confirms this: 44.1 gallons per person in 1992, compared to the next most consumed beverages: beer (32.7 gallons), coffee (27.8 gallons), and milk (25.3 gallons).”

It must be that ubiquity of soft drinks that has made this pop vs soda map the single-most submitted map to this blog, sent in by over 100 contributors. The map details the areas where certain usages predominate.

  • coke: this generic term for soft drinks predominates throughout the South, New Mexico, central Indiana and in a few other single counties in Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. ‘Coke’ obviously derives from Coca-Cola, the brand-name of the soft drink originally manufactured in Atlanta (which explains its use as a generic term for all soft drinks in the South).
  • pop: dominates the Northwest, Great Plains and Midwest. The world ‘pop’ was introduced by Robert Southey, the British Poet Laureate (1774-1843), to whom we also owe the word ‘autobiography’, among others. In 1812, he wrote: A new manufactory of a nectar, between soda-water and ginger-beer, and called pop, because ‘pop goes the cork’ when it is drawn. Even though it was introduced by a Poet Laureate, the term ‘pop’ is considered unsophisticated by some, because it is onomatopaeic.
  • soda: prevalent in the Northeast, greater Miami, the area in Missouri and Illinois surrounding St Louis and parts of northern California. ‘Soda’ derives from ‘soda-water’ (also called club soda, carbonated or sparkling water or seltzer). It’s produced by dissolving carbon dioxide gas in plain water, a procedure developed by Joseph Priestly in the latter half of the 18th century. The fizziness of soda-water caused the term ‘soda’ to be associated with later, similarly carbonated soft drinks.
  • Other, lesser-used terms include ‘dope’ in the Carolinas and ‘tonic’ in and around Boston, both fading in popularity. Other generic terms for soft drinks outside the US include ‘pop’ (Canada), ‘mineral’ (Ireland), ‘soft drink’ (New Zealand and Australia). The term ‘soft drink’, finally, arose to contrast said beverages with hard (i.e. alcoholic) drinks.
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Hidden College Costs: Rising Fees

By KATE PICKERT

Faced with rising costs, decreased funding and laws in many states designed to keep public universities from hiking up tuition, many state school systems are making up for budget shortfalls by tacking on fees for everything from "technology" to "energy." In some cases, these fees amount to several times a school's base tuition. Meanwhile, the average cost to attend a public school increased 47% between 2000 and 2007 (adjusted for inflation) according to the College Board, a non-profit that studies education costs and owns the SAT. State politicians are so eager to tout low-cost higher education that "tuition" has become a dirty word. The F-word, on the other hand — fees — has become a go-to charge for public universities strapped for cash.

The 2006-07 school year marked the first time fee increases outpaced tuition hikes, according to the College Board. Fees were up 8% and tuition 6% in 2007-08 compared to the previous year. Why the fee frenzy? State legislatures across the country have instituted strict limits on tuition increases and require arduous bureaucratic and political procedures to change them. With financing for public universities on the decline since the 1980s, "everybody got very interested in what they could do to affect revenues, and fees undoubtedly turned out to be one of the measures they could control," says David Brenaman, an economics professor at the University of Virginia who studies college financing. "There is a kind of circumvention of what was intended here."

In Oregon, so many extras had been tacked on over the years that in 2007, fees added as much as 40% to the cost of tuition. When campuses saw their energy bills go up, students were charged a fee. When classrooms had to be wired for new technologies, students were charged a fee. "There were some that were one-time things that ended up staying a little bit longer," concedes Diane Saunders, director of communications for the Oregon University System. These covert tuition hikes did not go unnoticed. The Oregon Student Association, which represents pupils at the state's seven public colleges, protested the hefty fees, arguing that they decreased transparency in the system and penalized students whose financial aid packages only covered tuition. In June, the system announced that mandatory fees would be rolled into tuition "so families know what they're facing up front and so students know what they're facing up front," says Saunders, who credits the students for being "co-advocates" with the Oregon University System that is constantly lobbying the state legislature for more funding.

In addition to getting around tuition caps, fees are also a way for universities to keep money they collect from being absorbed into overall state budgets. (Tuition is often treated like tax revenue and goes directly into state coffers.) This is the case at the University of Massachusetts, where fees across the four-campus system have increased so consistently that they are now about four times the cost of tuition, which has remained at the same level since 1999. This semester, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in-state undergraduates are paying $857 in tuition, plus a $675 "service fee," $47 in "activities fees," a $327 "basic health fee," and a whopping $3,209.50 "curriculum fee." Other fees that can be charged include an "undergraduate entering fee" of $185, a "freshman counseling fee" of $175 and a $102 "telecommunications fee." Eileen O'Connor, communications and external affairs director for the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, says the massive fee charges "are really a result of the colleges being underfunded over time." This is the case in scores of states where deficits, overdue budgets and cuts to education spending have become the norm. "When the college don't receive funds sufficient to operate at a certain level of quality, they have to raise fees," says O'Connor.

In a striking acknowledgment of just how much state schools are getting squeezed, the Florida legislature last year passed a bill allowing its biggest research universities to charge what it calls "differential tuition," which is not covered by the state's Bright Futures scholarships. The incredibly generous scholarship program, funded by the Florida lottery, offers awards covering between 75% and 100% of an in-state public education to about 40% of Florida's high school graduates. (Yep, that's right. Now pick your jaw up and keep reading.) This means any increase in fees and tuition gobbles up more lottery revenues. This is part of the reason why, for the first time since Bright Futures was implemented in 1997, students entering five of Florida's public colleges this fall will be charged a different amount than the base tuition set by the state. For example, at the University of Central Florida, the largest in the state's system, Bright Futures students this year have to pay 3% more — roughly $250 — to help bridge the school's $11 million budget shortfall.

"Students are going to have to come up with more funding," admits the program's administrator, Theresa Antworth, noting that Bright Futures disbursements have grown substantially over the years — from $70 million in the program's first year to $347 million in the 2006-07 year, the most recent data available. But Antworth declines to speculate on whether the idea of differential tuition is a good one. "Those are the decisions that our lawmakers make," she says.

With no state politician likely to campaign on a platform of dramatically increasing school tuitions, fees will continue to fill in the gaps. And as high oil prices continue to drive up the cost of energy and transportation — to name just two big-ticket items in any university budget — students are advised to read their bills carefully. And don't forget to factor in the F-word. (To see the evolution of the college dorm room click here.)

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Star Wars X-Wing Automobile [PIC]

“America, Please Don’t Buy a Harley Because it Gets 50 MPG”


It seems Harley-Davidson doesn’t want to be associated with good fuel economy. They’re certainly not eco-friendly, so they don’t have that to worry about, and as far as motorcycles go they don’t really get the best gas mileage, but I guess if too many people start riding them they will lose that “Bad Ass Mid-Life Crisis” image they’ve worked so hard to build up.

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Can Diesel Ever Become Fashionable In The U.S.?

Posted by: David Kiley

diesel%20pump.jpg

There has been overwhelming response to my story this week, “The 65 MPG Ford The U.S. Can’t Have.”The fact that the story has gotten picked up on so many news aggregators, blogs and other sites tells me there is a huge appetite for fuel efficient cars despite the recent drop in oil and gasoline prices.

When we do a three column story, there are always nuances and information that get cut for space. So, I wanted to use this blog entry to add some of them to the discussion.

1. A few motor-head blogs challenge whether the ECOnetic Fiesta will really get 65 mpg. Ford says it has tested at 63-65 miles per U.S. gallons. If Ford were to have the car put through the EPA’s paces, it would not likely earn a government certification as high as that on www.fueleconomy.gov. But “real-world” fuel economy, especially for small cars, runs considerably higher than EPA’s official ratings.
2. Two of the biggest enemies of diesel cars catching on are the state taxes on diesel that make it so much more expensive than gasoline these days, and the lack of enough refining capacity, which keeps it in short supply. A national energy policy that specifically addressed those two issues could unleash new interest in clean low-sulfur diesel cars.
3. California, especially keen to regulate CO2 emissions, only recently approved some low-sulfur diesel cars for sale in the state. The Volkswagen Jetta TDI and Mercedes-Benz Bluetec cars are among them. Those cars have pollution traps that have to be maintained. One of the worries of California regulators is that people won’t maintain the traps as they should. The supply of urea in the Mercedes system, for example, required to clean the nitrogen dioxide from the exhaust, is said to be good for 10,000 miles, so it only needs to be refilled at the vehicle’s normal service intervals. Maintaining the system, so owners wouldn’t be lax, can be achieved through a trip switch that won’t allow the car to start if the urea tank is empty. Volkswagen’s Jetta TDI will manages without a urea injection system by using a NOx-storage catalyst. Like the particulate filters in place on this car as well as other diesels, this catalyst is basically a trap that temporarily holds the offensive emissions. Periodically, the engine will switch to an air-fuel mixture that will burn off the material in the traps.

Also, the EPA or Congress could mandate that all 50-states, like New Jersey (to name one state), conduct annual vehicle inspections to keep all cars whose emissions systems are compromised or in disrepair off the road. This also keeps unsafe cars off the road.
4. Critics of diesel say the fuel isn’t offered everywhere, so people won’t buy it. I think that’s hogwash. Every community has stations that pump diesel. Owners of diesel cars and trucks come to know where they are and go to those stations. People aren’t that stupid. On the highways, stations are equipped with diesel pumps to service trucks.

But Kiley!, people don’t want to cue up behind tractor trailers to fill their tanks! Also, nonsense. VW has a waiting list for its Jetta TDIs. I’ve done it lots of times. It’s no big deal. And if we put enough crs on the road, the oil companies and gas station owners will follow by installing more diesel pumps that are away from the truck pump.
6. Why won’t Ford make the investment in an engine plant and lead the market? Aside from the fact that Ford is fighting for its life financially, I don’t see other companies building a small-block diesel engine plant in the U.S. either. To make sense financially, my story says that a new engine plant would have to be able to sell 250,000 to 300,000 a year. Ford just can’t make the numbers work to operate such a plant profitably. The diesel engines that go into cars are not the same as those that go into pickups. The best chance for a diesel car engine plant being built for U.S. consumption is if three companies combine on a joint venture plant the way GM, DaimlerChrysler and BMW collaborated on the hybrid technology that is going into vehicles from all three companies.
7. When you hear the Bush Administration, the Obama or McCain campaign talk about energy policy and future transportation, you really never hear them talk about diesel. It’s always hybrids and bio fuels. "Diesel" is about as popular a name as Frances Ethel Gumm (Judy Garland’s real name). That’s why VW calls their engine TDI, and Mercedes calls their engine Bluetec. As my story says, “diesel” just sounds low-tech to most people who aren’t familiar with it. It makes you wonder what the Diesel jeans people were thinking.
8. If Honda, Nissan and Hyundai are making moves to try diesel cars out on America, that is a sign that those companies see potential for the technology to catch on. Honda for years resisted making a diesel engine until it came up with a design that met its high green standards.

Check out this Honda diesel engine ad from the U.K. If this ad ran in the U.S., it would get a lot of people's attention.

9. In my years of covering the auto industry, I see no actual conspiracy against clean diesel in the U.S., but rather a kind of inertia. Selling it to the American public and resistant regulators will require an effort that involves cooperation among automakers to source engines and pollution control devices in North America and market he benefits of low-sulfur diesel and help by the Federal government to provide more generous tax credits to get the attention of consumers. It would also help if the winner of this year’s election was a gear-head and diesel booster, and used the bully pulpit to drive attention to it. But I’m not holding out much hope of that. Hybrids, electrics and plug-ins are the darlings of the green consumer…except those on the waiting list for VW Jetta TDIs.

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