Daily Archives: January 5, 2011

Bizarre blackbird, fish deaths spread: 500 birds drop dead out of the sky in Louisiana; 100 tons of fish die in Brazil

A dead starling (l.) and red-winged blackbird lay along the side of the highway in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisana. Condo/AP

NY Daily News | Jan 4, 2011

It isn’t 2012, but a rash of animal deaths is making this year look like the End of Days.

Following on the heels of thousands of red-winged blackbirds dying in a small Arkansas town, several hundred more mysteriously died farther south in Louisiana.

Officials are trying to determine what killed an estimated 500 of the small birds, who littered Louisiana Highway 1 near Pointe Coupee Parish when they fell out of the sky, according to Baton Rouge’s The Advocate.

Among this new batch of dead birds were several starlings, the newspaper reported.

“We have sent bird carcasses to two individual labs to obtain toxicology reports,” Bo Boehringer, spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, told the Daily News.


Birds fall from the sky! Thousands of blackbirds mysteriously die over central Arkansas

He said it was not clear what had caused the birds to die off, despite random theories including fireworks or hail, as well as the wrath of God and government conspiracies. Boehringer downplayed any connection between the red-winged blackbird deaths in Louisiana to the ones in Arkansas, several hundred miles away.

“It’s too early to connect the two scenarios,” he said, noting that it could be a week or more before the results come back.

Meanwhile, as officials in Arkansas continue to investigate what may have killed nearly 100,000 fresh water drum in the Arkansas River, wildlife experts in Maryland are looking into their own massive fish kill in the Chesapeake Bay.

“We are seeing small/juvenile menhaden, croaker, spot fish dead, in very large fish kills,” said Dawn Stoltzfus, director of communications for Maryland’s Department of the Environment. “The numbers are estimated in the hundreds of the thousands at this point.”

Officials began receiving reports of the dead fish last week. The species there generally leave for warmer waters during this time of year, but it was not clear why that did not happen, she said.

“The drop in water temperatures has been quite quick in December, and cold stress is the likely cause [of the deaths],” Stoltzfus said.

The last time the Chesapeake saw such a massive fish kill was in 1976, records show, when about 15 million spot died due to the cold.

Mysterious animal deaths so far this year have not been limited to the United States.

Nearly 100 tons of dead fish, consisting mostly of sardines, hit the beaches of Paranagua, Brazil, on Sunday.

According to Paraná Online, a team from the Environmental Institute of Paran?/a>? is conducting tests to determine what killed them. As a precaution, the sale of seafood in Paranagua has been suspended.

The website also reports dead fish have begun to appear along the coasts of Antonina, Guaraquecaba and Pontal do Pontal do Paraná.

“We desperately need a solution to this,” said Edmir Manoel Ferreira, president of the Federation of Fishermen of Paraná.

CBS anchor Katie Couric: America needs a Muslim version of ‘The Cosby Show’

CBS news anchor Katie Couric suggested America could benefit from a Muslim version of ‘The Cosby Show.’ Winn/AP

NY Daily News | Jan 1, 2011

BY Aliyah Shahid

Katie Couric thinks she has part of the solution to bigotry in America: a Muslim version of “The Cosby Show.”

The CBS News anchor made the suggestion on her web show while discussing the biggest news stories of 2010, including the mosque near Ground Zero and the “seething hatred” that has grown against Muslims in America.

“Maybe we need a Muslim version of ‘The Cosby Show’… I know that sounds crazy, I know that sounds crazy,” said Couric. “But ‘The Cosby Show’ did so much to change attitudes about African-Americans in this country, and I think sometimes people are afraid of things they don’t understand.”

The popular 1980s show focused on the Huxtables, an affluent American-African family living in Brooklyn.

Her statement came during a discussion with Politico’s Jonathan Martin, comedian Mo Rocca and Theroot.com’s Sheryl Huggins-Salomon.

Rocca said that he was “pretty smart” and went to “fancy schools” but couldn’t “tell you five things about Islam,” which prompted Couric’s suggestion.

“I think sometimes people are afraid of what they don’t understand Couric added, suggesting Muslims should become “more part of the popular culture.”

Mystery surrounding murder of former Bush aide John Wheeler deepens with clues of his last moves

In this 1994 photo, Wheeler touches the name of a friend engraved in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Tasnadi/AP

NY Daily News | Jan 4, 2011

BY Helen Kennedy

The mystery of the murdered former Pentagon official found in a Delaware landfill on New Year’s Eve deepened on Tuesday as cops zeroed in on his final movements – but failed to locate a crime scene.

John Parsons Wheeler, 66, best known for helping to get the Vietnam Veterans Memorial built in Washington, was last seen publicly the day before his body tumbled into a Wilmington landfill on Friday.

A passerby spotted Wheeler, who lived six miles away in New Castle, Del., at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in downtown Wilmington.

Sometime after that, his body was put into a commercial Dumpster in Newark, Del. – about 12 miles from his home and 15 miles from Wilmington. It fell into the landfill from a truck that picked up trash in Newark on Friday morning.

Police won’t say how he died.

* In Harlem, cops – with Wheeler’s distraught wife, Katherine Klyce, in tow – searched their W. 124th St. condo Monday night but left empty-handed, according to staff at the luxury building. Klyce, who runs a Cambodian textile business from the ninth-floor apartment, was traveling when her husband went missing.

This is the second time Klyce has been hit by a high-profile murder mystery. Her sister, Emily Klyce Fisher, a wealthy society woman in Memphis, was stabbed 50 times in her home in 1995. The killing was unsolved until 2003, when a TV show led to a friend of Fisher’s druggie son.

The family issued a statement asking for privacy.

* At Klyce and Wheeler’s New Castle home, reporters saw kitchen floorboards pried up while cops were searching. It wasn’t clear who pried them up – or why.

Cops said the house was not the murder scene. “We don’t have a crime scene,” said Newark Police Lt. Mark Farrall.

* Neighbor Ron Roark told The (Wilmington) News Journal that for four days over Christmas, he heard a TV blaring night and day inside Wheeler’s house, even though no one seemed to be home.

“It was so loud, we could hear it through the walls, and we found that strange,” Roark told the newspaper.

* Wheeler had an ongoing lawsuit against another neighbor, Frank Marini, who is building a home that would block Wheeler’s view.

On Tuesday, Dec. 28, a smoke bomb was thrown into the Marinis’ unfinished house. Cops say they don’t know if it is connected to Wheeler’s murder.

Wheeler, a defense contractor, was special assistant to the secretary of the Air Force from 2005 to 2008.

Proposed new rules may label more people as problem drinkers, study shows

Reuters | Jan 3, 2011

by Megan Brooks

Proposed revisions to formal criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence would label significantly more people as problem drinkers, a new study from Australia shows.

“Our analyses show that the proposed changes would lead to about a 60% increase in the diagnosis of alcohol use disorders in Australia, from 6.0% to 9.7%,” Louise Mewton, from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Center, University of New South Wales in Sydney, told Reuters Health by email.

The number of people falling into the alcohol use disorders category under proposed revisions to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), currently in its fourth edition, would undoubtedly increase in other countries as well.

Whether this would be helpful or not is unclear. “Our analyses cannot be used to determine whether this increase is good or bad,” Mewton said.

Further study, she added, is needed to figure out whether or not those who land in the alcohol use disorder category suffer clinically meaningful alcohol-related problems as well as whether they get help as a result of qualifying for this new category and receiving a formal diagnosis.

If people diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder under the new criteria do experience substantial disability and impairment, “then diagnosis, early intervention and further treatment would be appropriate,” she said.

The DSM-IV is the “bible” for mental health doctors because it provides definitions, symptoms and characteristics for mental disorders, including alcohol disorders.

Publication of the fifth edition of the book, the DSM-5, in May 2013 “will mark one the most anticipated events in the mental health field,” according to the DSM5.org project website.

There have been four major revisions to the DSM-IV alcohol use disorder criteria proposed for the new manual. First, two separate disorders under DSM-IV, “alcohol abuse” and “alcohol dependence,” would be combined into a single “alcohol use disorder” in the DSM-5.

Second, in order to be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder of moderate severity in DSM-5 a person needs to report two or three of the proposed criteria. In order to be diagnosed with a highly severe alcohol use disorder, a person needs to report four or more of the proposed criteria.

Third, the DSM-IV criterion of alcohol-related legal problems — that is, reporting repeated legal problems as a result of alcohol use — is gone from the DSM-5.

Fourth, a new criterion representing “craving” has been added to the DSM-5. “The craving criterion was included due to evidence indicating it is a key clinical feature of problematic alcohol use,” Mewton explained.

Scotland shivered through coldest December on record

Coldest December ever recorded

Parts of Scotland experienced the coldest December last month since records began 100 years ago.

stornowaygazette.co.uk | Jan 5, 2011

An Arctic blast swept the UK, causing travel misery for thousands on the roads and at airports throughout the month.

The manager of the Met Office at Eskdalemuir Observatory, Dumfriesshire, said December had a mean temperature of minus 2.3C in that area, beating the previous record of minus 2.25C in 1981.

The coldest months on record are February 1947, which had a mean temperature of minus 2.8C, and January 1940, when it reached minus 2.75C. Station manager Ian Dawson, 59, who has worked at the Eskdalemuir site for 10 years, explained how mean temperature is calculated.

“For each day you take the maximum temperature recorded and the minimum temperature recorded and add them together and halve them. You then add all these averages for each day together and divide them by the number of days in the month to get the mean monthly temperature.

“For a while it looked like it would be the coldest for any month, colder than any January or February, but those last three days of December were a bit milder. The mean temperature for 2010, recorded here, came in at 6.67C, just short of the 100-year average of 7.17C. However, because we’ve experienced such a prolonged warm period since the 1990s, this was the coldest year since 1986. The coldest year on record was 1919, with 5.95C.

The first recordings at the station were made in 1911 when it was being built. First Minister Alex Salmond also paid tribute to people who have helped keep Scotland moving during the winter.

He said: “As most of Scotland returns to work and pupils and teachers go back to school, I would like to pay tribute to the thousands of individuals – gritter drivers, Scottish Water engineers, medical staff and many, many others – who have kept spirits up and the nation moving over the past six weeks.”

He said although the cold weather, snow and ice had brought “misery” it also brought out the “best in our community spirit”. He continued: “And our efforts extended beyond looking after our own in recent weeks, assisting our neighbours in Northern Ireland in their hour of need, while our decision to run the seasonal flu adverts has been vindicated with improving vaccination take-up rates in recent weeks.”

Throughout the severe weather the Ministerial Resilience Committee met 43 times, including on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. In the daily meetings, the First Minister and cabinet colleagues were joined by key organisations responsible for responding to severe weather such as the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Transport Scotland, the Met Office, Scottish Water, the Army and ScotRail.

Mobsters, Bankers, Popes Jostle in Paris Show on Medicis

Bloomberg | Jan 4, 2011

By Jorg von Uthmann

"Raphael" by Tommaso Inghirami (1510), is part of the exhibition "Treasures of the Medici" running through Feb. 13. Source: Musee Maillol via Bloomberg

They started out like the Sopranos. They ended up like the Morgans.

Before the Medicis became the most powerful family in Florence, they were little more than a clan of gangsters. Between 1343 and 1360, five of them were sentenced to death for capital crimes.

In 1397, Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici decided to clean up the family act. He founded the bank that became the source of their immense wealth.

“Treasures of the Medici,” a Paris show, celebrates the family’s patronage of the arts and sciences. Proteges included Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael and Galileo.

The exhibition originally was planned for the Musee du Luxembourg where it was to open in 2008. Because of quarrels between the two curators, the French Senate, which runs that museum, canceled the show.

When Patrizia Nitti, one of the two squabblers, became director of the Musee Maillol, she took the show with her, although the tiny townhouse is hardly an ideal venue.

Some also may object to the arbitrary selection. No wonder, given the Medicis’ long and much ramified reign. Not only did they rule over Florence and Tuscany — with intervals of disgrace and exile — for three centuries; several became popes and others were queens of France.

Wise Men

One of the most remarkable items is Botticelli’s “Adoration of the Magi,” which could more aptly be named “The Adoration of the Medici”: The three wise men are Cosimo the Elder (1389-1464), who was the first to establish the family’s predominance in Florence, and his sons Piero and Giovanni. Lorenzo and Giuliano, Piero’s sons, are looking on.

Under Lorenzo (1449-92), dubbed “the Magnificent,” Florence enjoyed the most splendid period of its Renaissance. Not everybody was won over. In 1478, the Pazzi clan attempted a putsch: During Mass in the cathedral, Lorenzo was wounded, and his brother Giuliano was stabbed to death.

While his predecessors had respected the facade of the republican constitution, Cosimo I (1519-74) adopted the title of Grand Duke. There’s a wonderful portrait of his wife, Leonor de Toledo, by Bronzino in the exhibition.

The even more famous portrayal of his uncle Leo X by Raphael didn’t travel to Paris. Instead, there’s the fat pope on a cameo as well as Raphael’s portrait of the papal librarian, Tommaso Inghirami, nicknamed Fedra, because he was particularly good at performing as Seneca’s Queen Phaedra who lusts after her stepson Hippolytus.

Medici Satellites

Cosimo’s grandson, Cosimo II (1590-1621), studied with Galileo and invited him to settle in Florence. When the great man discovered the satellites of Jupiter, he politely named them Sidera Medicea in honor of his employer.

The show includes a contemporary copy of Galileo’s portrait by Justus Sustermans along with “Sidereus Nuncius.” That’s the first treatise based on observations made through a telescope in which Galileo explained that the surface of the moon is mountainous and irregular, not smooth as had been supposed until then.

Don’t expect a clearly focused, didactic exhibition. It’s more like an antique fair with a wildly varied collection of paintings, sculptures, violins, jewelry, astronomical instruments, manuscripts and knickknacks of all sorts.

The way the 150 or so items have been assembled may be debatable, yet each of them is worth your attention.

German Unemployment Unexpectedly Climbs in Coldest December for 40 Years

bloomberg.com | Jan 4, 2011

By Brian Parkin and Christian Vits

German unemployment unexpectedly rose in December for the first time since June 2009 as the coldest weather in more than 40 years led companies to shed staff.

The number of people out of work rose a seasonally adjusted 3,000 to 3.15 million, the Nuremberg-based Federal Labor Agency said today. Economists forecast a decrease of 15,000, according to the median of 21 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. The adjusted jobless rate was unchanged at 7.5 percent.

Germany suffered its coldest December since 1969, the DWD weather service said, disrupting freight and air-passenger travel at transport hubs such as Frankfurt Airport. Still, with business confidence at a record that month as the recovery in Europe’s biggest economy spreads from exports to domestic spending, the jobless setback may be temporary.

“Last month was bitterly cold and it would be no surprise if some transport and construction companies laid off staff,” Holger Bahr, chief macro-economist at DekaBank in Frankfurt, said in an interview. “The positive underlying trend for unemployment remains intact.”

The euro was up 0.2 percent at $1.3401 as of 11:37 a.m. in Berlin.

The German economy probably expanded 3.7 percent in 2010, the fastest pace since records for a reunited Germany began in 1992, the European Commission and four institutes that advise the government forecast. It will grow as much as 2.5 percent this year, according to the institutes and the commission, the European Union’s executive body.

‘Weather-Related Blip’

Growth prospects for Germany “remain very positive” and are probably underestimated by most forecasters, Ken Wattret, chief euro-area economist at BNP Paribas SA in London, said in a note. Unemployment is at the lowest level for almost two decades, “pointing to an increased contribution to growth from consumer spending from 2011,” he said. The rise in unemployment last month “looks like a cold weather-related blip.”

Volkswagen AG’s Audi unit aims to add 1,200 new positions in 2011 and invest 11.6 billion euros ($15.6 billion) by 2015 in what it described in a Dec. 27 statement as the biggest investment program in the company’s history.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Europe’s second-largest airline after Air France-KLM Group, said yesterday that it aims to hire about 4,000 employees in Germany this year.

All except two of 46 trade and industry associations polled last month by the IW Institute in Cologne said their members expect to increase or maintain investment levels through 2011. Twenty-three of the groups said they see companies in their sector boosting employment.

Plowing In Cash

“Companies are plowing cash into investments to meet exports and — increasingly — consumer demand, which are signs that economic growth has broadened,” Rolf Kroker, an economist at the IW Institute, said in an interview.

Jobs are even rolling in to Berlin, which struggled to overcome the loss of subsidies after reunification of East and West Germany in 1990 and is still not home to one of the 30 companies listed on the benchmark DAX index.

Pfizer Inc.’s Wyeth unit plans to open a branch in the German capital this year, creating 200 jobs, the city administration said Dec. 12. Mercedes Benz Bank may add 700 positions in the capital, the company said on Nov. 19.

With the German economy showing few signs of cooling, companies are increasingly in competition for skilled staff. Pay increases for workers in Bavaria’s electrical and metalworking sectors are being brought forward to this month from April 1, the Bayme and VBM employers groups said yesterday.

‘Small Dent’

“Demand for workers is strong,” Frank-Juergen Weise, chairman of the Federal Labor Agency, said today. He said the “early and severe onset of winter” caused more layoffs in the construction industry than in 2009, forecasting further rises in January and February before joblessness recedes again in March.

December’s increase “may put a small dent in hopes that the German recovery will spread to the consumer sector in 2011,” said Ben May, an economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London. “Past experience suggests that it will be a very long time before wage growth begins to pick up from its current low rate, implying that it is still too soon to bank on a strong and sustained consumer revival.”

According to OECD data, Germany’s jobless rate remained unchanged at 6.7 percent in October compared with 9.8 percent in the U.S. The equivalent rate in Spain was 20.7 percent and 9.8 percent in France, while the average rate for the then 16 states of the euro region was 10.1 percent. Estonia joined the euro on Jan. 1, bringing the number of states using the euro to 17.