Tuesday, December 30, 2008

'Al Capone's Home' For Sale

CHICAGO (AP) ― An inconspicuous brick home that once belonged to the gangster Al Capone is expected to go up for sale this spring.

The house has had only two owners since Capone's mother died in 1952.

The current resident, 71-year-old Barbara Hogsette, has lived in the South Side Chicago home since 1963.

Records show the Capones bought the home for $5,500 in August 1923. Al Capone's mother, Teresa, and wife, Mae, signed the original deed.

The new owners should be prepared for the bus tours and, from time to time, a tourist who is brave enough to knock on the door.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Arsenic levels too high in Kern Valley State Prison's drinking water

From the tap

NO CHOICE: Kern Valley State Prison inmates drink tap water. Officials made filtration plans, then scrapped them.
Three years past deadline, California has no solid plan to reduce the arsenic, which has been linked to cancer. Officials spent money to design a filtration plant and then decided not to build it.
By Michael Rothfeld

Reporting from Delano -- Beside a field of rolling tumbleweed in this remote Central Valley town, the state opened its newest prison in 2005 with a modern design, cutting-edge security features and a serious environmental problem.

The drinking water pumped from two wells at Kern Valley State Prison contained arsenic, a known cause of cancer, in amounts far higher than a federal safety standard soon to take effect.

Yet today, nearly three years after missing the government's deadline to reduce the arsenic levels, the state has no concrete plans or funding to do so. Officials spent $629,000 to design a filtration system and then decided not to build it, while neglecting to inform staff and inmates that they were consuming contaminated water.

After the prison finally posted notices last April on orders from the state Department of Public Health, the inmates continued drinking the water, under protest.

"We have no choice," said Larry Tillman, 38, who was serving time for burglary. "We should at the very least receive bottled water, or truck in water from another city."

Most correctional officers at Kern Valley State Prison take bottled water to work -- some say they prefer it anyway -- but administrators created a form letter to reject requests for alternative water from some of the 4,800 inmates. The administrators say the health hazard from arsenic, a chemical used in industry and farming, is insignificant, and they promise to filter the water some time in the next few years.

"It's not that major of an issue," said Kelly Harrington, the prison's new warden.

But long-term exposure to arsenic, common in Central Valley communities, has been linked to cancer of the lungs, skin, kidneys, liver and bladder and to other maladies.

The situation, critics say, is emblematic of the short-sighted planning and creeping pace of the mammoth prison bureaucracy as it struggles to house 170,000 of California's most undesired residents.

The state has placed many of its lockups far from major cities, in rural areas with nothing as far as the eye can see, where they are embraced by residents desperate for jobs and commerce. But officials have sometimes ignored health threats endemic to these regions.

Between 1987 and 1994, the state built four prisons in a part of the Central Valley known as a hotbed of valley fever, a sometimes severe infection that usually affects the lungs. Health experts estimate that the state has spent millions to treat inmates for the disease, spawned by a fungus in desert soil.

In 2007, the year after five inmates died from valley fever, the state proposed expanding five prisons in the Central Valley but later backed off on two of the sites. One proposed expansion site, Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, had an outbreak that sickened 520 prisoners in 2006. A Fresno County grand jury concluded last year that the prison, built in 1994, should not have been put there.

At the California Institution for Women in Chino, the state has been buying bottled water for prisoners for five years -- at a current annual cost of $480,000 -- because of nitrate levels that violate federal standards in the water supply to the facility and to the nearby California Institution for Men. Nitrates, which are chemical compounds that often get into soil from fertilizer and manure, can cause a blood disorder in fetuses and infants.

Chino-area municipalities have built systems to filter their own water, and the state hopes to complete a similar project a year from now for both the women's and men's prisons. But Chino Mayor Dennis Yates, who says sewage from the men's prison has long polluted the Santa Ana River, is skeptical of state officials' competence.

"Even if you do give them money, they don't do anything," Yates said. "It's just a huge, bloated bureaucracy."

In 2001, four years before Kern Valley prison opened, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered a reduction in the maximum level of arsenic in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10. Water suppliers had until Jan. 23, 2006, to meet the new standard. Recent testing has shown the arsenic level in one prison well at 23 parts per billion and the other at 15.

One day this month, in a low-slung white building with blue doors known as Facility C, prisoners bunking in a crowded gymnasium drank from the water fountain and used water from the sinks to make their soup. Some newcomers said they had not been told about the contamination upon arrival at the prison.

"I just came from an institution where the water was just atrocious, definitely foul," said Ramon Diaz, 25, who had three years remaining on a sentence for drug dealing. "This to me is like spring water here, and you come to find out that it's not the way it should be, either."

Corrections Department officials said they could not explain why a filtration system was not included in the prison's design because most of the employees who worked on it had since left. Later, the agency developed plans to add a filtration plant. It obtained $2.5 million from lawmakers for that purpose in 2006.

But planners abandoned the idea, electing instead to incorporate the project into an overall prison expansion approved by lawmakers. Flaws in the legislation have postponed the expansion indefinitely.

State project manager Gary Lewis said the filtration plant is in the "conceptual study phase."

This year the EPA has ordered 11 California water systems to reduce excessive arsenic levels. One was the city of Delano, which serves the North Kern State Prison, a few miles from Kern Valley prison. On Dec. 12, after inquiries by The Times, the state public health department ordered Kern Valley State Prison to come up with a plan by February to comply with the arsenic law.

The prison's chief medical officer, Dr. Sherry Lopez, said there was no immediate danger from the lockup's water, based on an e-mail she received in April from a poison-control expert who said arsenic is "much more a regulatory problem than a public health problem."

"It kind of reassured me and everybody else here that everything is OK," Lopez said.

But Dr. Gina Solomon, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, said that the law is important and that disempowered populations, such as prisoners and poor rural workers, often suffer because of lax enforcement.

"The standard was set for a reason, and the reason is that arsenic is known to cause cancer in humans," she said. "So the clock is ticking. The longer that people are drinking the water, the higher the risk."

Many of Kern Valley's prisoners are serving life terms, but even those with shorter stints are worried.

"It's definitely a concern for us if there's an abundance of arsenic in the water and we're ingesting that," said Dylan Littlefield, 36, an inmate from Hollywood with five years remaining for attempted robbery and drug dealing. "Who knows if we're going to be treated properly?"

The healthcare system in the state's prisons has been turned over to a federal receiver by a judge who said substandard treatment has caused many needless deaths behind bars. The receiver, J. Clark Kelso, was not alerted to the arsenic problem by the state, his top aide said.

"We're concerned about the potential health risks and we have to look into it," said John Hagar, the receiver's chief of staff. "Constructing facilities that are inadequate from the beginning is unfortunately part of a long-standing trend with the Department of Corrections, so I'm not surprised."

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#864 Mastering the art of the all-you-can-eat buffet

Munch lunch at a Chinese restaurant, brunch at a Holiday Inn, or dinner at a wedding reception, and chances are good you will come face to face with the The All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.

If you’re a Buffet Amateur like me, your pupils dilate and your mouth starts watering as soon as you spot the long table full of steam trays and criss-crossed table cloths. Soon it’s game on, and you grab a plate and pile it high with some bread, a few salads, and a couple rolled-up salamis or a bowl of Won Ton soup. For plate number two you tackle the entrees, scooping up sticky heaps of Kung Pao chicken, soggy French Toast, or paper-thin slices of roast beef soaking in dark mushroom gravy. Then you go back for a third plate, this one featuring a tipsy mountain of desserts — maybe some assorted squares, a thick, gummy slice of cheesecake, or some fluorescent pink, freezer-burned ice cream sliding around your plate.

It begins

Then as you lay bloated on your chair, your buttons bursting, your eyelids drooping, you face a final decision: Do you go back for The Fourth Plate?

The Fourth Plate is almost always a good idea before you do it and a bad idea afterwards. It’s the helping after the helping after. It’s the Greatest Hits Plate, a star-studded collection featuring the most popular items from Plate 1, 2, and 3, coming together for the reunion tour, the last hurrah, the final dance at the dinner table.

The Fourth Plate is also a famous mark of a Buffet Amateur, because it can be the sign of someone who realizes that Plate 2 was the best plate and they really just want more of Plate 2. For years, I scarfed down The Fourth Plate at the Indian buffet near my college. Buttery, pillowy-soft naans piled high, thick and creamy Butter Chicken, and spicy, simmering lamb in a hearty broth. It was just too much. I caved in every time and walked away with a curry-busting gut and a samosa hangover.

Since then I’ve been tutored on the art of mastering the all-you-can-eat buffet. Everybody’s got their own techniques, but here’s what I’ve learned over the years:

Be a Sherlock and do a walk through

1. The Walk-Through. Don’t do what I used to do and blindly take a spoonful of everything. No, you’ve got to do your Walk-Through First. You’re a detective, popping open steam tray after steam tray, looking for recent fill-ups, traffic around popular items, and sure winners like omelet stations or a guy in a chef’s hat slicing big slabs of meat. Now’s also time for some Belly Space Analysis, where every item’s Tasty Deliciousness is weighed against it’s Projected Stomach Volume. Bread, soup, and salad rarely pass the Belly Space Analysis test. Skipping those means you just gained an extra plate and are on your way.

2. Drink Later. Sugary drinks just fill you up with carbs and cost extra. If you can postpone your Pepsi, then you’ll save belly space for the hot goods.

The Sampler takes willpower and strength

3. The Sampler. My dad is famous for the sampler plate. Within minutes of arriving he’ll dot a big white plate with small portions of every entree and proceed to say “Hmmm,” a lot while scooping up tiny forkfuls of each to see what will make the cut. You have to have willpower to pull off The Sampler, but it can be very rewarding. You know you aced it when your next plate is just piles of your two favorites. Good on ya.

4. Staggered Trips. If you’re with friends, don’t wait until everybody is done their first plate before uniformly filing up for a second trip together. No, go separately and act as each others eyes and ears out there — whats new, what’s hot, what’s fresh, what’s not. Your friends are doing their job when you see them running back to table to scream “They just brought out more coconut shrimp!” Also, be sure to designate someone at your table to be The Lookout. They should be seated with a clear view of the buffet and raise alarm whenever they see someone coming from the back with a new steam tray.

the-lookout-doing-his-job5. Big Plates Always. Be watchful of the small salad and dessert plates lurking about. Find your secret stash of full-size dinner plates and use them, know them, love them lots. The big plates will let you spread your meal around, and avoid piling things high, which generally results in meat gravy getting all over your salad.

One more egg roll

6. One More Egg Roll. When the check arrives, take your time. Slow it right down now and see who still has room. Since you’ve been so busy scarfing your food and staggering trips, now really is the best chance to catch up with your friends. Then after ten or fifteen minutes, someone will likely cave in and say “Okay, one more egg roll.” This is buffet victory.

With these tips plus your personal experiences, you too can master the art of the all-you-can-eat buffet. After that, there’s really no stopping you. So eat all you can, my friend.

Eat all you can.



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Panasonic to Show Powerline Network Prototypes at CES

Martyn Williams, IDG News Service

Panasonic plans to unveil a networking system that can connect an electric car to home devices via electrical wiring at January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The electric car networking prototype allows people and devices inside the home to check on an electric vehicle while it is being recharged. It will be one of several research developments on show at the HD-PLC Alliance stand in the Las Vegas Convention Center's South Hall, Panasonic said Friday. Other prototypes will include an HD-PLC adapter for a security camera and an electrical monitoring system.

HD-PLC (High-Definition Powerline Communications) is a Panasonic-developed technology that utilizes the electricity cabling already present inside a home or building to send and receive data. It's competing in the market with the HomePlug Powerline Alliance and Universal Powerline Association to become the dominant standard for data connections over such cabling. All three systems have the advantage of not requiring dedicated Ethernet cabling, but all three are largely incompatible.

The technology made its first appearance at CES in 2004 when the company unveiled it as a prototype system during a keynote speech. At the time it had been proposed to the HomePlug Powerline Alliance to become their standard. A rival system was later chosen and Panasonic decided to continue development on its own.

An HD-PLC Alliance has since been formed but membership is limited. In addition to several Panasonic group companies, the main members include just three other companies: peripherals vendor IO Data and networking companies Icron and ACN Advanced Communications Networks.

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