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NewsDog will be permanently retired to on 1 March 2011. Thanks for all the memories!
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Looting Main Street
Posted by: AJ 6:50pm, Sunday, 18 April 2010
How the nation's biggest banks are ripping off American cities with the same predatory deals that brought down Greece
On a sewer project that was originally supposed to cost $250 million, the county now owed a total of $1.28 billion just in interest and fees on the debt.;kw=[3351,53763]
Art of the Steal: On the Trail of World’s Most Ingenious Thief
Posted by: AJ 3:04pm, Wednesday, 31 March 2010
A couple of days earlier, Blanchard had appeared to be just another twentysomething on vacation with his wife and her wealthy father. The three of them were taking a six-month grand European tour: London, Rome, Barcelona, the French Riviera, Vienna. When they stopped at the Schloss Schönbrunn, the Austrian equivalent of Versailles, his father-in-law’s VIP status granted them a special preview peek at a highly prized piece from a private collection. And there it was: In a cavernous room, in an alarmed case, behind bulletproof glass, on a weight-sensitive pedestal — a delicate but dazzling 10-pointed star of diamonds fanned around one monstrous pearl. Five seconds after laying eyes on it, Blanchard knew he would try to take it.
He began to work immediately, videotaping every detail of the star’s chamber. (He even coyly shot the “No Cameras” sign near the jewel case.) He surreptitiously used a key to loosen the screws when the staff moved on to the next room, unlocked the windows, and determined that the motion sensors would allow him to move — albeit very slowly — inside the castle. He stopped at the souvenir shop and bought a replica of the Sisi Star to get a feel for its size. He also noted the armed guards stationed at every entrance and patrolling the halls.

But the roof was unguarded, and it so happened that one of the skills Blanchard had picked up in his already long criminal career was skydiving. He had also recently befriended a German pilot who was game for a mercenary sortie and would help Blanchard procure a parachute. Just one night after his visit to the star, Blanchard was making his descent to the roof.

AJ says: Another entertaining heist story from Wired.
Minor Drug Cases, Major Trouble for Immigrants
Posted by: AJ 11:15am, Tuesday, 30 March 2010
When a police officer in this Long Island suburb found a marijuana cigarette in Jerry Lemaine’s pocket one night in January 2007, a Legal Aid lawyer counseled him to plead guilty. Under state statutes, the penalty was only a $100 fine, and though Mr. Lemaine had been caught with a small amount of marijuana years earlier as a teenager, that case had been dismissed.

But Mr. Lemaine, a legal permanent resident, soon discovered that his quick guilty plea had dire consequences. Immigration authorities flew him in shackles to Texas, where he spent three years behind bars, including 10 months in solitary confinement, as he fought deportation to Haiti, the country he had left at age 3.

Under federal rulings that prevailed in Texas, Mr. Lemaine had lost the legal opportunity that rulings in New York would have allowed: to have an immigration judge weigh his offenses, including earlier misdemeanors resolved without jail time, against other aspects of his life, like his nursing studies at Hunter Business School; his care for his little sister, a United States citizen with a brain disorder; and the help he gave his divorced mother, who had worked double shifts to move the family out of a dangerous Brooklyn neighborhood.
Aaron D. Simowitz, 31, who shouldered part of the legal work, said the case often seemed surreal. For example, the New York criminal court refused to vacate, or erase, Mr. Lemaine’s first marijuana conviction, reasoning that there was nothing to vacate because the conviction did not exist; the case had been dismissed, as planned, after a six-month adjournment. But in Texas, the federal government still counted that as a conviction.
How Fantasies Affect Focus
Posted by: Jonathan 2:28pm, Sunday, 28 February 2010
Fantasizing about sex gets more than just your juices flowing—it also boosts your analytical thinking skills. Daydreaming about love, on the other hand, makes you more creative, according to a study published in the November 2009 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
The researchers asked 30 subjects to imagine a long, loving walk with their partners and asked 30 others to think of casual sex with someone they did not love. Then they gave the subjects cognitive tests. As predicted, the love-primed ones per­formed much better on creative tasks and scored worse on analytical ques­tions, whereas the reverse was true of those who thought about sex.
Jonathan says: Not much detail, but interesting. I wonder if Princeton Review knows about this.
Oh, No: It's a Girl!
Posted by: AJ 4:39pm, Sunday, 21 February 2010
Do daughters cause divorce?
If you want to stay married, three of the most ominous words you'll ever hear are "It's a girl." All over the world, boys hold marriages together, and girls break them up.

In the United States, the parents of a girl are nearly 5 percent more likely to divorce than the parents of a boy. The more daughters, the bigger the effect: The parents of three girls are almost 10 percent more likely to divorce than the parents of three boys. In Mexico and Colombia the gap is wider; in Kenya it's wider still. In Vietnam, it's huge: Parents of a girl are 25 percent more likely to divorce than parents of a boy.

AJ says: Here's a followup article by the same author.
Judge Keeps His Word to Immigrant Who Kept His
Posted by: AJ 7:46am, Friday, 19 February 2010
Now Judge Corriero, 67, retired from the bench, is trying to keep his side of the bargain.

“Mr. Wu earned his second chance,” the judge wrote in a letter supporting a petition to Gov. David A. Paterson for a pardon that would erase Mr. Wu’s criminal record and stop the deportation proceedings. “He should have the opportunity to remain in this country.”

The letter is one of dozens of testimonials, including appeals from Mr. Wu’s fiancée, mother and sisters, who are all citizens; from the Police Benevolent Association, where Mr. Wu used to work; and from his employers at the Centerline Capital Group, a real estate financial and management company, where his boss, Tom Pope, calls Mr. Wu “a shining star.”

But under laws enacted in 1996, the same year Mr. Wu was sentenced, the immigration judge hearing the deportation case has no discretion to consider any of it. For Mr. Wu, who remains in a cell in the Monmouth County Correctional Institute in Freehold, N.J., the best hope may be that the Manhattan district attorney will retroactively allow him the “youthful offender” status that would scrub his record clean.
Tale of a Would-Be Spy, Buried Treasure, and Uncrackable Code
Posted by: AJ 10:13am, Thursday, 18 February 2010
AJ says: A pretty interesting story of a government intelligence specialist who tried to defect. He buried secret documents in several state parks, and encoded their locations with various schemes. By the time he was caught and tried, he had forgotten how to decode the locations.
Police and prosecutors won't give up their license to steal.
Posted by: AJ 2:11pm, Wednesday, 17 February 2010
The officer who pulled him over, Lt. Dwight Simmons of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department, said that Smelley had made an unsafe lane change and was driving with an obscured license plate. When Simmons asked for a driver’s license, Smelley told him he had lost it after the accident. Simmons called in Smelley’s name and discovered that his license had actually expired. The policeman asked Smelley to come out of the car, patted him down, and discovered a large roll of cash in his front pocket, in direct contradiction to Smelley’s alleged statement in initial questioning that he wasn’t, in fact, carrying much money.

A record check indicated that Smelley had previously been arrested (though not charged) for drug possession as a teenager, so the officer called in a K-9 unit to sniff the car for drugs. According to the police report, the dog gave two indications that narcotics might be present. So Smelley and his passengers were detained and the police seized Smelley’s $17,500 cash under Indiana’s asset forfeiture law.

But a subsequent hand search of the car turned up nothing except an empty glass pipe containing no drug residue in the purse of Smelley’s girlfriend. Lacking any other evidence, police never charged anybody in the car with a drug-related crime. Yet not only did Putnam County continue to hold onto Smelley’s money, but the authorities initiated legal proceedings to confiscate it permanently.
Horizontal and vertical: The evolution of evolution
Posted by: AJ 10:17pm, Monday, 15 February 2010
JUST suppose that Darwin's ideas were only a part of the story of evolution. Suppose that a process he never wrote about, and never even imagined, has been controlling the evolution of life throughout most of the Earth's history. It may sound preposterous, but this is exactly what microbiologist Carl Woese and physicist Nigel Goldenfeld, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believe. Darwin's explanation of evolution, they argue, even in its sophisticated modern form, applies only to a recent phase of life on Earth.

At the root of this idea is overwhelming recent evidence for horizontal gene transfer - in which organisms acquire genetic material "horizontally" from other organisms around them, rather than vertically from their parents or ancestors. The donor organisms may not even be the same species. This mechanism is already known to play a huge role in the evolution of microbial genomes, but its consequences have hardly been explored. According to Woese and Goldenfeld, they are profound, and horizontal gene transfer alters the evolutionary process itself. Since micro-organisms represented most of life on Earth for most of the time that life has existed - billions of years, in fact - the most ancient and prevalent form of evolution probably wasn't Darwinian at all, Woese and Goldenfeld say.
Cultivating Failure
Posted by: manu_s 11:53am, Monday, 8 February 2010
It’s rare for an im­mi­grant ex­pe­ri­ence to go the whole 360 in a sin­gle gen­er­a­tion—one imag­ines the novel of as­sim­i­la­tion, The White Man Calls It Ro­maine. The cruel trick has been pulled on this be­night­ed child by an ag­glom­er­a­tion of food­ies and ed­u­ca­tion­al re­form­ers who are pro­pelled by a vac­u­ous if well-mean­ing ide­ol­o­gy that is re­spon­si­ble for rob­bing an in­creas­ing num­ber of Amer­i­can schoolchil­dren of hours they might other wise have spent read­ing im­por­tant books or learn­ing high­er math (at­tain­ing the cul­tur­al achieve­ments, in other words, that have lift­ed un­count­ed gen­er­a­tions of human be­ings out of the des­per­ate daily scrab­ble to wrest sus­te­nance from dirt). The gal­va­niz­ing force be­hind this ide­ol­o­gy is Alice Wa­ters, the dowa­ger queen of the grown-lo­cal­ly move­ment. Her goal is that chil­dren might be­come “eco-gas­tronomes” and dis­cov­er “how food grows”—a les­son, if ever there was one, that our farm work­er’s son might have learned at his fa­ther’s knee—leav­ing the Emer­son and Eu­clid to the pro­fes­sion­als over at the school­house. Wa­ters’s enor­mous celebri­ty, com­bined with her de­ci­sion in the 1990s to ex­pand her hori­zons into the field of pub­lic-school ed­u­ca­tion, has helped thrust thou­sands of schoolchil­dren into the grip of a giant ex­per­i­ment, one that is pred­i­cat­ed on a set of as­sump­tions that are large­ly un­proved, even un­ex­am­ined. That no one is call­ing foul on this is only one man­i­fes­ta­tion of the way the new Food Hys­te­ria has come to dom­i­nate and di­min­ish our shared cul­tur­al life, and to make an ed­u­ca­tion­al re­former out of some­one whose bril­liant cook­ery and laud­able goals may not be the best qual­i­fi­ca­tions for de­sign­ing aca­dem­ic cur­ric­u­la for the pub­lic schools.
manu_s says: Thought the NewsDog crowd (is there still a NewsDog crowd?) would like this one.
Brutality charged as Pittsburgh police defend 'fist strikes' on teen
Posted by: AJ 8:39pm, Sunday, 24 January 2010
Terez Miles said her son, Jordan Miles, who is black, thought his life was in jeopardy when three white men jumped out of a car on the night of January 11 as he walked not far from his home. "My son tried to run thinking his life was in jeopardy," Terez Miles said. "He made three steps before he slipped and fell." After that, she said, the police used a stun gun and beat him, pulling out a chunk of his hair.

The criminal complaint says the officers, considering Jordan Miles' appearance suspicious, got out of the car and identified themselves as police. He tried to flee, fell, and then struggled to escape.

The officers "delivered 2-3 closed fist strikes to Miles' head/face with still no effect," and then a "knee strike to Miles' head causing him to momentarily stop resisting," so that he could be handcuffed, the document says. Miles' mother said the officers did not identify themselves as police to her son, a viola player and student at the city's Creative and Performing Arts High School.

The complaint says the police officers believed Miles was engaged in criminal activity and possibly armed with a "large heavy object." The object turned out to be a bottle of Mountain Dew.

Miles was charged with aggravated assault, loitering, resisting arrest and escape.

AJ says: Keep in mind that the officers apparently were in plainclothes at the time. If the article text doesn't infuriate you enough, make sure to view the second picture in the top-left picture widget.
Magic wand bomb detector deemed fraudulent, inventor imprisoned
Posted by: AJ 8:31pm, Sunday, 24 January 2010
Remember back a few months when news broke about a little device that claimed to detect different sorts of bombs? The ones that the Iraqi government spent $85 million on over the last few years even though American military commanders and the FBI stated that they simply don’t work. Well, as we all assumed, the ADE-651 is a sham. It’s just a dirty racket. Good thing that the British government finally caught on, banned the device and threw the inventor in jail. (He’s out on bail as of writing)

It seems that the heart of the device is ID badge-sized cards that are supposed to be used for detecting different items. There are different cards for everything from TNT, plastique, to even money and elephants. However, as the Cambridge Computer Laboratory found out, these cards contain nothing more than a dumb RFID tag. Seriously, watch the BBC investigation video after the jump.

AJ says: Definitely read the NYTimes article about this first. Hard to believe.
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