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To Be or Not to Be?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009
"[I]t is obvious there is nothing in the world a man has more incontestable right to than his own life and person."
--Arthur Shopenhauer on suicide.
As sad and disturbing as the thoughts it may inspire, the legality of suicide is undoubtedly one of the most important moral and civil rights issues of our time and, as we move deeper into this new century, it is only going to become more important. Farah Master's article, while subtly critical of Britain's retrograde laws regarding suicide, is hardly a polemic and treats what is a difficult topic with appropriate tenderness.

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Tedisco Wants Wealthy Inmates to Pay Their Own Way

Monday, July 20, 2009
Jim Tedisco, the New York State assembleyman whose premature decision to bolt Albany for a Congressional position he would never win drew the ire of left-leaning commentators, has recently introduced a bill designed to charge wealthy criminals for their state-provided room and board. The so-called "Madoff Bill" proposes a "sliding scale [to] determine how much convicts would have to pay, based on their assets," with those on the lower end of the spectrum (those folks with net worths below forty grand) paying nothing while the Martha Stewarts and Michael Vicks of the world would be responsible for their respective tabs in their entirety.

I wonder how penologists will take the suggestion.

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A Crack in the Corporatocracy?

Monday, June 15, 2009
According to Reuters's Phil Wahba, "[t]he wave of bankruptcies that has eliminated dozens of U.S. retail chains could force landlords to rethink their traditional aversion to having small, independent retailers as tenants."

I have to admit, the idea of smaller mom-and-pop retailers resuming a more prominent place in American consumer culture is tremendously appealing to me. I understand full well that many of our larger brand name stores have earned their ubiquity through genuine hard work, honest business practices, and the development of desirable products. I also appreciate the convenience large chains bring to our communities, so I am not rubbing my palms together, gleefully heralding the downfall of Corporate America. What I am celebrating is, essentially, the potential renaissance of the small businesses upon which our economic system is built.

With the convenience of enclosed, air-conditioned pedestrian malls came the precipitous decline of Main Street and, with the decline of Main Street, the loss death of many small retailers. As Matther Bordwin explains to Wahba in the Reuters piece, mall "landlords prefer to deal with national chains with proven track records and credit profiles, rather than take a chance on an unknown independent store, or wind up dealing with countless small tenants," so smaller retailers were rarely invited to the party. Thus, with customers skipping on-street parking and exchanging cracked sidewalks for tiled flooring, stores in smaller downtown locations lost business and, without access to the mall crowd, lost money and vanished.

The tragedy in the loss of small businesses, of course, lies in the loss of their potential for idiosyncrasy. Large chain stores such as Barnes & Noble or Borders, for instance, rarely vary their stock beyond a certain pre-determined range of titles. With the exception of a few local interest titles, you are just as likely to see the same books in Albuquerque as in Baltimore, Anchorage, Flint, Topeka, or Slidell, Louisiana. In other words, if Barnes and Noble just doesn't think a book will sell at a certain rate, it won't appear on their shelves, which is a problem when their shelves are the only ones a person can browse in a given region. Smaller stores often offer deeper niche catalogues in lieu of broad popular catalogues and owner-operators tend to be much more knowledgeable about their wares than your average box store retail employee. For this reason, small stores and large chains can coexist nicely, offering convenience on one hand and expertise on the other, as they often do in large cities. I look forward to a bookstore that carries Journey to the End of the Night and William Saroyan and I look forward to more hand-sewn clothing and I welcome custom skateboard shops and a DVD outlet with a great selection of 50s musicals -- not because I necessarily want Saroyan or a new frock or new Habitat deck or some MGM sing-along disk, but because I want the variety, the sprawling, hiccuping, gurgling bouillabaisse of choice to reinvigorate an economy that is both stagnant and stale.

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Just in Time for Spring: A Lethal New Strain of the Flu!

Friday, April 24, 2009
From Reuters:

"A strain of flu never seen before has killed up to 60 people in Mexico and also appeared in the United States, where eight people were infected but recovered, health officials said on Friday."

"The World Health Organization said tests showed the virus from 12 of the Mexican patients was the same genetically as a new strain of swine flu, designated H1N1, seen in eight people in California and Texas."

"Mexico reported 1,004 suspected cases of the new virus, including four possible cases in Mexicali on the border with California.

Most of the dead were aged between 25 and 45, a health official said. It was a worrying sign as seasonal flu can be more deadly among the very young and the very old but a hallmark of pandemics is that they affect healthy young adults."
[Full Story]

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The Newest Stalkers on MySpace? Collection Agencies

Wednesday, April 22, 2009
From Reuters:

"With record defaults on consumer loans, collection agencies in the United States are going to extra lengths to recover the money. Illinois resident and Mercedes driver James Ricobene says an agency hired by JP Morgan Chase left a post on his daughter's MySpace page threatening action that could lead to prison, unless she contacted the agency within five days about its efforts to repossess her father's car. Ricobene has sued the collection agency and JP Morgan for libel, fraud and invasion of privacy."

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Hospitals Learn Not to Reuse "Disinfectant" Wipes Infected With Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Wednesday, June 4, 2008
From Reuters:

"Disinfectant wipes routinely used in hospitals may actually spread drug-resistant bacteria rather than kill the dangerous infections, British researchers said on Tuesday.

While the wipes killed some bacteria, a study of two hospitals showed they did not get them all and could transfer the so-called superbugs to other surfaces, Gareth Williams, a microbiologist at Cardiff University, said."

and

"MRSA infections can range from boils to more severe infections of the bloodstream, lungs and surgical sites. Most cases are associated with hospitals, nursing homes or other health care facilities.

The superbug can cause life-threatening and disfiguring infections and can often only be treated with expensive, intravenous antibiotics."

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Like Everything Else, the Internet Will Fall Into the Hands of the Few, Report Says

From Reuters:

"An Internet analyst for a major Wall Street firm argues in a new report that Google Inc and Amazon.com Inc will be long-term winners, while Yahoo and IAC InterActiveCorp fall by the wayside and eBay Inc becomes a merger target.

Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Jeffrey Lindsay argues in a 310-page report entitled "U.S. Internet: The End of the Beginning" to be published on Tuesday that Google and Amazon are best placed to withstand the current economic downturn."

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With Wind Power, Norway Could Become "Europe's Battery"

Monday, May 26, 2008
From Reuters:

"Norway could become 'Europe's battery' by developing huge sea-based wind parks costing up to $44 billion by 2025, Norway's Oil and Energy Minister said on Monday."

"Norway's Energy Council, comprising business leaders and officials, said green exports could help the European Union reach a goal of getting 20 percent of its electricity by 2020 from renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydro or wave power."

This could be wonderful if the windmills are far enough offshore or restricted to certain regions of the coastline. . . but, if we're talking about ruining the fjord vistas, this is a terrible development. Let's hope for the former.

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Congolese Penises Vanish, Panic Ensues

Wednesday, April 23, 2008
From Reuters:

"Police in Congo have arrested 13 suspected sorcerers accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men's penises after a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by the alleged witchcraft."

"Rumors of penis theft began circulating last week in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo's sprawling capital of some 8 million inhabitants. They quickly dominated radio call-in shows, with listeners advised to beware of fellow passengers in communal taxis wearing gold rings."

According to Kinshasa's police chief, Jean-Dieudonne Oleko, "when you try to tell the victims that their penises are still there, they tell you that it's become tiny or that they've become impotent. To that I tell them, 'How do you know if you haven't gone home and tried it?'"
[Full Story]

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Grandma Needs a Bath; Call the Robot!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008
From Reuters:

"Robots could fill the jobs of 3.5 million people in graying Japan by 2025, a thinktank says, helping to avert worker shortages as the country's population shrinks."

"Caregivers would save more than an hour a day if robots helped look after children, older people and did some housework, it added. Robotic duties could include reading books out loud or helping bathe the elderly."
[Full Story]

Yeah, so this promises to scare the bejeezus out of the "science has gone too far" crowd. At least until the Raelians finally produce that clone they promised us...

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Scheisse

Sunday, April 6, 2008
From Reuters:

"A court in Germany sentenced a law professor to three years in prison for giving students better marks in exchange for sex and money.

The 53-year-old from the central city of Hanover admitted accepting 156,000 euros ($244,000) in total for awarding doctorates to students who failed to make the grade."

And here I am working for my degree...sheesh.

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News Briefs

Tuesday, March 18, 2008
From The Guardian:
"Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA database if they exhibit behaviour indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain's most senior police forensics expert."
[Full story]

Well, England did produce 1984 and Brave New World...

From Reuters:
"The thickest, oldest and toughest sea ice around the North Pole is melting, a bad sign for the future of the Arctic ice cap, NASA satellite data showed on Tuesday."
[Full story]

More evidence of global warming to share with your doubting friends, if you're so inclined.

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