Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gunman kills 5 in Finland, then self

By MARIUS TURULA and JARI TANNER, Associated Press Writers December 31, 2009

HELSINKI – A gunman clad in black went on a shooting rampage Thursday, killing his ex-girlfriend then slaying four workers at a suburban shopping mall near Helsinki before apparently turning his gun on himself, police said.

Finnish police said one woman and three men were shot dead Thursday morning at the Sello shopping mall in Espoo, six miles (10 kilometers) west of Helsinki.

The gunman was identified as 43-year-old Ibrahim Shkupolli, an immigrant who had been living for several years in Finland, police superintendent Jukka Kaski said, adding that the weapon used was an unlicensed handgun.

Kaski said Shkupolli killed his ex-girlfriend in a nearby apartment before heading to the mall.

The ex-girlfriend, a Finnish woman born in 1967, also worked at the mall and had taken out a restraining order against Shkupolli, Kaski said.

Witnesses said panic erupted at the mall, one of the Nordic region's largest, when the shots rang out. Hundreds of mall workers were evacuated to a nearby library and firehouse, trains were halted and helicopters brought in as police launched a manhunt for the heavily armed killer.

After several hours, a body was found in Shkupolli's home, which police believed to be the killer himself. Kaski refused to confirm the exact identity immediately, but said the cause of the death appeared to be suicide.

Speaking at a news conference, Kaski also refused to discuss Shkupolli's nationality, but Finnish media reported he was an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo.

He refused to say whether the four killed at the mall had been targeted by Shkupolli.

The midmorning slayings shocked hundreds of people who had gone shopping early on New Year's Eve. One witness told the state broadcaster YLE that a gunman dressed in black began randomly shooting at people on the second floor of the mall.

"There were loads of people who were crying, and many vendors who were completely panicked," the unnamed witness said.

Another female witness told YLE radio news she saw the suspect carrying a long-barrelled pistol and rushing past the cashier line at Sello's Prisma supermarket, where the slayings took place.

Finland, a nation of 5.3 million, has 1.6 million firearms in private hands, a long tradition of hunting and ranks among the top five nations in the world in civilian gun ownership.

Politicians, social workers and religious leaders have all urged tighter gun laws, more vigilance of Internet sites and more social bonding in the small Nordic nation, which is known for its high suicide rates, heavy drinking and domestic violence.

Previous shootings in Finland have been linked to schools. In September 2008, a lone gunman killed nine fellow students and a teacher at a vocational college before shooting himself in the western town of Kauhajoki. In November 2007, an 18-year-old student fatally shot eight people and himself at a high school in southern Finland.

Both young men in those attacks fired guns in YouTube clips posted before the shootings, shot themselves in the head and used .22-caliber handguns bought from the same store.


Man Cuts off Ex-Girlfriend's Fingers in Vicious Attack

Orlando Sentinel
6:29 PM PST, December 29, 2009

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A man accused of beating his former girlfriend several times in the past returned Tuesday to slash her hands while their 4-year-old daughter was inside the woman's Orange County home.

Investigators said 37-year-old John Patrick Crimins went to Moriah Mace's Lockhart home shortly after midnight and severely cut her hands, as well as the hands of a man — possibly severing some of their fingers with a "sharp-edged weapon."

The male victim, whose name was not released, told sheriff's deputies Crimins also struck him with a blunt object, perhaps a baseball bat.

Investigators said the child was not injured, but did not confirm if the little girl witnessed her father's violent attack on her mother.

Crimins, who is on the run, faces charges of aggravated battery, if captured.

Deputies said the scene outside the victims' home Tuesday after the attack was chaotic.

When sheriff's deputies arrived, they found a man stretched out on the front yard of the house. He had severe lacerations on his hands, reports show. Mace also had serious cuts and bruises on her hands. Both victims were transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center. Their wounds were not life-threatening.

Sheriff's deputies located Crimins' vehicle, a red Chevy pickup, outside a nearby 7-Eleven convenience store. Deputies drew their weapons and entered the store, but Crimins was not inside.

Investigators did not say if they have any leads or tips in the case.

Court records show Tuesday's attack on Mace happened while Crimins awaits trial on separate domestic battery charges. He is accused of beating Mace in August at the same home. Reports show an argument escalated when Mace told Crimins that she hated him.

"[Crimins] slammed [Mace] in to the wall by her hair then tackled her to the floor," according to the sheriff's report from that incident. "He grabbed her hair and continued to slam her head on the tile floor."

Although he had bonded out of the Orange County Jail, his conditions of release in that case prevented him from contacting the victim or possessing weapons.

Records show Crimins also was convicted on charges of domestic battery in 2007. He was placed on supervised probation and ordered to stay away from Mace.

In that incident, Crimins had "punched [Mace] in the stomach and kicked her several times in the back," a sheriff's report shows. When deputies arrived at their home, they had witnessed Crimins carrying his daughter out of the bedroom.


Doctor Videotaped Himself Molesting Patients as Young as 6-months-old

Pediatrician's Office Looked Like Playground, Was Allegedly Scene of Abuse

3:22 PM PST, December 28, 2009

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- A Delaware pediatrician may have molested as many as 100 patients, including some who appear to be no more than 6 months old, and police said the doctor used video cameras to record some of the brutal attacks in exam rooms.

Dr. Earl B. Bradley, 56, was being held on $2.9 million bond, said Sgt. Walter Newton, a Delaware State Police spokesman.

Bradley, of Lewes, faces 29 charges, including rape. Police believe there could be more victims.

"Forensic evaluation of seized video files and software has to date discovered 15 more unidentified victims," according to a detective's sworn statement obtained by The News Journal of Wilmington.

While court officials released some records to The Associated Press, the detective's affidavit was not one of them.

An explicit 18-page document released to AP did, however, detail the alleged attacks in exam rooms, which had Disney themes such as Pinocchio, at BayBees Pediatrics, Bradley's solo practice.

A detective who viewed the assaults described in court papers the 6-foot, 225-pound Bradley as having a "violently enraged expression on his face" in one video involving a 2-year-old.

Newton said he did not know if Bradley had an attorney.

A listed home phone number could not be found for Bradley, and prison officials would not allow a call through to him for comment Tuesday night.

The detective, who noted he had viewed thousands of child molestation images, described the video "as one of the most violent and brutal attacks on a child of any age" that he had seen.

"At the end of the tape, the defendant re-dresses, offers the child a treat and tells her they are going in to see 'Mommy,'" according to the documents.

In another video, Bradley abuses a patient who tried twice to run away, the documents said. Some of the video clips were 20 to 30 seconds. Others lasted more than 11 minutes.

Court documents said a Dec. 15 raid of the doctor's office found six hand-held video cameras, but it wasn't clear whether cameras were held or set up for the tapings.

Police also seized a computer and digital and thumb drives.

Authorities later searched the doctor's home in Lewes, a town of 3,100 on the Delaware coast, taking away digital cameras, VHS tapes and numerous photo negatives.

Police claim Bradley abused children in more than one room at his office, noting that he also took children to an outbuilding "where he keeps rides, toys and treats."

The alleged crimes cited in court papers happened between August and this month.

Police said they learned of the alleged abuse when a 2-year-old girl told her mother that the doctor had hurt her during a Dec. 7 appointment.


Chief rabbis wage war on abortions

Rabbis Yona Metzger, Shlomo Amar reinstate special committee meant to fight pregnancy terminations; say it 'impedes coming of redemption'

Kobi Nahshoni Published: 12.29.09, 15:07 / Israel Jewish Scene

Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger and Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Amar announced Tuesday that they plan to renew the struggle against abortions though a special committee set up by the Chief Rabbinate, in hopes of preventing "the killing of fetuses in their mother's womb".

In a letter sent out to rabbis throughout Israel, Metzger and Amar wrote: "The vast majority of abortions are unnecessary and forbidden by Halacha," adding the committee was already exploring ways to reduce the number of abortions approved.

The two argue that according to data presented to the Chief Rabbinate, some 50,000 abortions are performed in Israel every year, 20,000 of which are legal. "Adding to the gravity of this transgression is the fact that it impedes the coming of redemption."

The two religious leaders also expressed their horror at the numbers: "What heart doesn’t cringe by these numbers which indicate nothing less that a pandemic… and the loss of tens of thousands of Jewish souls every year."

The letter went on to commend the work of Efrat – an anti-abortion organization "which works tirelessly to save fetuses' lives."

"The public, said the rabbis, "Must be made to understand the gravity of the killing of fetuses, which is equal to the murder of souls," adding that community rabbis must include family planning and the abortion ban in their sermons.


Ottawa cop killed outside hospital, ex-Mountie charged with 1st degree murder

Tue Dec 29, 10:33 PM

By Heather Scoffield, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - A former Mountie faces a first-degree murder charge after a police officer on a routine call was ambushed and stabbed to death outside a hospital in the bitter cold and dark.

Ottawa police said in a release Tuesday night that Kevin Gregson, 43, of Ottawa also is charged with robbery and using an imitation firearm in the commission of an offence. Police said Gregson is to appear in court on Wednesday.

Const. Ireneusz 'Eric' Czapnik, 51, died at 5:30 a.m. ET, shortly after he was attacked while sitting in his cruiser taking notes.

The father of four was described as a "jovial" officer who patrolled the city's east division, and was active in the local Polish community.

Four paramedics, some of them women, interrupted the stabbing and were able to apprehend a suspect outside the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital, in the city's west end.

"There's no rationale, there's no reason," said Ottawa police chief Vern White, recalling the painful meeting he had Tuesday with Czapnik's family and friends.

"I think someone was hell-bent on something occurring, and they ensured that it happened," White told a news conference. "And it cost a very good officer, and man and father, his life."

Czapnik (pronounced zap'-nik) joined the police force in his late 40s after a career in retail. A Polish immigrant, he moved to Canada in 1990 and eventually followed in the footsteps of his father, who was an officer in Poland for 30 years.

His wife, Anna Korutowska, tearfully described her husband as a "very, very good man, and it's so hard to lose a very, very good man."

There was no apparent connection between Czapnik and the suspect, White said.

The constable had answered a routine call to the hospital at around 4:30 a.m. ET, about three hours before the end of his shift. He was writing up some notes in his cruiser when he was taken by surprise by his attacker, White said.

The four paramedics intervened, with difficulty, when they saw the attack in progress - at considerable risk to their own safety, White said.

"They were heroic in the way they handled the situation," he said, adding that they went far beyond any expectations for paramedics.

Officers spent hours investigating the scene, a parking bay near the hospital's emergency entrance, now cordoned off by yellow police tape.

A flashlight, gun, notebook, a single glove, a knife with a 12-centimetre blade and a second knife lay drenched in a large pool of blood near a silver Honda Civic.

Lawyer Israel Gencher said he spoke with Gregson briefly by telephone earlier in the day, but declined to say what they talked about.

Gregson has been before the courts previously. He received a conditional discharge in 2007 for pulling a knife on a Mormon church official in Regina the year before.

Court heard that Gregson, who was off duty at the time, became angry and brandished a knife when a bishop refused to grant him a special card that allows members to enter Mormon temples for certain ceremonies.

"You don't know how many ways I've been taught to kill," Gregson said, according to a Crown prosecutor.

Several months later Gregson had surgery to remove cysts in his brain.

He pleaded guilty in a Regina court in April 2007 to uttering a death threat.

The last time an Ottawa police officer was slain in the line of duty was in October 1983 when Const. David Utman, 38, was shot at a shopping centre during an altercation.

"It's tough. This city, particularly in relation to police officers, has been very, very safe. We haven't lost an officer since the early 80s. Not that it would be easier. But it certainly is not something we're used to dealing with or managing," White said Tuesday morning in an interview in his office.

"My condolences go out to the family and friends of this officer. And the family of the Ottawa police service, because very quickly you become a family member in this organization, as I found out after a couple of years."

In a release Tuesday night, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan expressed sympathies to Czapnik's family.

"We were also saddened and disappointed to learn the individual arrested in Const. Czapnik's murder is a suspended member of the RCMP," Van Loan said. "The RCMP is offering assistance to the Ottawa Police Service in their investigation of this event."

Officers were taking some comfort in an outpouring of support from the community. People were sending emails and messages of condolence, as well as leaving flowers outside the police headquarters, where flags flew at half-mast.


Girl, 11, and boyfriend, 15, try to set mother in bed on fire

Posted: Dec 29, 2009 09:24 PM
Updated: Dec 29, 2009 09:24 PM

CLEARWATER, FL. - Clearwater Police Detectives have arrested and charged two juveniles after an early Tuesday morning fire on the 1500 Huntington Lane in Clearwater.

According to Clearwater Police, the 11-year-old girl plotted with her 15-year-old boyfriend to kill her mother, Nancy Broadhead.

The two suspects poured gasoline on the victim's bedroom floor and bed as she slept in it, then ignited it. They took the victim's vehicle, a 2007 Ford Focus, and fled the scene.

Nancy Broadhead was awakened by a smoke alarm in the home and was able to get out. She sustained serious burns and smoke inhalation.

She was taken to Morton Plant Hospital and has since been transported to Tampa General where she was admitted to the burn unit. Her injuries are serious, but not life threatening.

The girl returned to the scene and agreed to go to police headquarters for questioning. The boy was located and taken into custody at a friend's house.

Detectives charged both juveniles for Attempted Murder and Arson Resulting in Serious Injury. The boy also faces a grand theft charge for stealing the victim's car. He is being transported to the Pinellas County Juvenile Assessment Center. The girl is being placed under the Baker Act for psychiatric assessment. The victim's vehicle was recovered in a church parking lot at 1910 Douglas Avenue in Clearwater.


'Younger generation' film burning car

By Gemma Jones From: The Daily Telegraph December 30, 2009 6:39AM

-Onlookers film girls in burning car

-Girls "appeared alive" until explosion

-Truck "was on two wheels" before crash

AS TWO sisters were dying in their burning car on a stretch of the Princes Hwy in NSW and their mother begged for someone to help them, onlookers filmed the carnage on mobile phones.

Rescuers at the scene of Monday's horror fuel tanker crash that killed the girls and a truck driver told yesterday of their disgust at the behaviour of some onlookers.

"We saw people filming it, it will probably be on YouTube," Emily Harrison - one those who tried to save the trapped girls - told The Daily Telegraph.

"There were a lot of people coming with towels, there were a lot of people coming with water and then there was the younger generation with their mobile phones."

Ms Harrison was one of several people who arrived at the Princes Hwy crash scene at East Lynne, north of Batemans Bay, just after the 4.50pm crash.

She was among those who helped rescue the girls' parents - Dave and Debbie Bridge, 47 and 40 - from their crashed and burning Subaru.

The Ulladulla parents and their daughters - Jordan, 13, and Makeely, 11 - were in the last of three cars to be struck by the runaway fuel tanker which then exploded.

The accident was witnessed by Mrs Bridge's sister Sheree Montgomery and her husband Frank, who were following in a car behind the Bridges.

The rescuers described heartbreaking scenes after the couple were dragged from the car by those first at the scene with the help of Mr Montgomery, who suffered burns to his hands.

Rural Fire Service volunteer Blair McDonald, 26, said that after Mrs Bridge was freed from the wreck of the family's Subaru, she walked to the middle of the highway and cried: "My children, will someone get my children."

"Both the parents were screaming out for their daughters. We went back to get the girls, there was no way we could get in there," Mr McDonald said.

The girls appeared to be still alive at that stage but then a massive explosion rocked the car.

"There was a lot of people around on the northern end of the incident taking photos or filming it. It did piss me off," Mr McDonald said.

Mrs Harrison said Mr Bridge was placed on a fire blanket nearby and cried as he struggled for breath, telling her: "My girls, my girls."

As he lay on the fire blanket on the side of the road, Mr Bridge told Ms Harrison the truck was travelling on "two wheels" and he couldn't get out of its way.

The family had been travelling in a family convoy from Christmas celebrations in Victoria.


Free burial story makes nationwide headlines

by Staff reports

A Rome funeral home’s somewhat macabre pledge to offer a free burial to unlucky and irresponsible New Year’s Eve drivers has made national headlines.

Motorists who plan to drink or use drugs have until noon today to sign a contract at Rome’s McGuire, Jennings, & Miller Funeral Home that would lead to what amounts to a free funeral if the driver is killed in a wreck tonight.

After being posted at earlier this week, the story was also picked up by the New York Times, CNN, The Associated Press, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and others.

It was also the most read story at with more than 7,100 views by late Wednesday.

Barry Miller said that no one has ever signed the contract during the 10 years that the funeral home has offered the deal.

“I use that contract as a tool to make people stop and think,” said Miller.

Miller said he’s been associated with funeral homes across 13 states that have offered the drunk driver awareness campaign, but has never heard of anyone who actually signed the contract.

The funeral home will provide the embalming services, the casket, the vault, a grave, limousine services, facilities and staff for a chapel or church service and a bronze marker, as well as 100 engraved thank you cards.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How Algal Biofuels Lost a Decade in the Race to Replace Oil

By Alexis Madrigal December 29, 2009 | 8:00 pm

For nearly 20 years, a government laboratory built a living, respiring library of carefully collected organisms in search of something that could grow quickly while producing something precious: oil.

But now that collection has largely been lost.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory scientists found and isolated around 3,000 species algae from construction ditches, seasonal desert ponds and briny mashes across the country in a major bioprospecting effort to find the best organisms to convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into fuel for cars.

Despite meager funding, the Aquatic Species Program (.pdf), initiated under President Jimmy Carter, laid the scientific foundation for making diesel-like fuel from the fat that microscopic algae accumulate in their cells. Fifty-one varieties were carefully characterized as potential high-value strains, but fewer than half of those remain.

“Just when they started to succeed is when the plug got pulled,” said phycologist Jeff Johansen of John Carroll University, who collected algal strains for the program in the 1980s. “We were growing them in ponds and we were going to grow enough to have them made into a diesel fuel.”

The program was part of the huge investment that Jimmy Carter made into alternative energy in the late 1970s. All kinds of research avenues were explored, but when the funding shriveled during later years, knowledge, experts and know-how were lost. The setback highlights the problems created by inconsistent funding for energy research. Now, President Obama has trumpeted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus package, as the largest increase in scientific research funding in history. Scientists roundly applauded the billions of dollars that went into energy research, development and deployment. But what about when the stimulus money runs out in two years?

“One caution is that much of this has been funded with the stimulus package,” said Ernie Moniz at a Google-hosted panel on energy in late November. “So, we’re going to have to see what happens after these next two years, because what we need is not a drop, but a further increase in R&D commensurate with the task at hand.”

And that’s exactly what didn’t happen in the last big energy R&D push.

From organism to oil

Turning pond scum into oil isn’t easy, but as a hypothetical energy system, it’s elegant. The theory is that algae will produce more burnable fuel on less land than regular crops, perhaps something like a thousand gallons of oil per acre instead of a few dozen from conventional plants. The food-versus-fuel debates that plague biofuels like corn-based ethanol would disappear. Plus, it’s possible the algae could be engineered to make high-energy fuels suitable even for airplanes. It’s these possibilities that sold the Carter administration’s energy officials.

Phycologists, the people who study algae, discovered that under certain circumstances, some algae start cranking out far more oil than normal. Restrict their nutrients, and for some reason they start producing lots of oil. But they also stop growing. If the scientists could keep the algae multiplying and pull the “lipid trigger” anyway, they’d be in fat city. But their understanding of the biology was incomplete, and the task wasn’t easy. It would take some time and effort to know if and when their the process would become cheap enough to compete with crude.

Another challenge was getting the algae to keep growing without injecting a lot of energy into the system. They installed large open ponds near Roswell, New Mexico, and began trying to produce tiny algae at oil tanker scales. It worked, but there were problems. Again, it would take some time and effort to know if and when everything would work together.

The program did not get time or the money to find out. By the time Bill Clinton took office, funding for the program had dwindled to a trickle, and in 1996, the Department of Energy abandoned the program to focus all its biofuel efforts on ethanol. A dark decade fell upon the field of algal biofuel. There wasn’t even money available to take care of the algal collection that had been so painstakingly created.

In an effort to salvage some of the science, a few hundred strains of algae were sent to the University of Hawaii, but the refuge proved less than ideal. When a National Science Foundation grant ran out in 2004, it became difficult to continue the laborious work of maintaining the collection. The organisms sit in rows of test tubes living and reproducing. Every two months, they have to be transferred, “passaged,” to a new nutrient-rich tube. Random genetic mutations can enter a population and lead to permanent genetic changes. The algae can die.

It’s not exactly clear how it happened, but a review released earlier this year found that more than half the genetic legacy (.pdf) of the program had been lost. Only 23 of the 51 strains that were extensively studied during the program remain alive and extant. The losses to the rest of the algal cultures in the collection have been even worse.

“The really bloody shame is that of those 3,000, there are maybe 100 to 150 strains that remain at the University of Hawaii,” said Al Darzins, who heads up the resurgent algal biofuels research program at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The way R&D funding has been used in the United States has hurt the efficiency of the research. Programs that started during the late ’70s and early ’80s were stopped in the years of low energy prices that followed. Despite the best efforts of cash-strapped researchers, not everything can be preserved and recovered, frozen cryogenically while awaiting fresh funding.

Algae comes back

While the valuable NREL archive of algae biodiversity languished in a Hawaii basement, the world around it changed. Genetic and genomic research and understanding skyrocketed. Oil demand grew, particularly in massive developing countries like China, India and Indonesia. Oil usage outpaced new oil field finds. Interest in algae-based biofuels exploded. Venture capital and corporate money flowed back into the field. On January 2, 2008, oil hit $100 a barrel for the first time. Despite some ups-and-downs, the price of oil remains substantially higher than it was through much of the 1990s. As a result, more than 50 companies are now at work on some aspect of biofuel production from algae.

In the latest move, Exxon Mobil decided to invest $600 million into a joint venture with Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics for research into next-gen algal fuels.

Over the past few years, Darzins has revived the program at NREL. They’ve been hard at work on the biology of microalgae. Graduate student Lee Elliott of the Colorado School of Mines has collected 500 new species in just the last year and a half. To a certain extent, the problems of maintaining a microorganismal library have been solved. Cryogenic freezing techniques were developed at the University of Texas UTEX Culture Collection of Algae. The NREL team has been able to freeze and then revive 91 percent of their microorganisms.

Despite the lost decade, algal oil makers are optimistic that they are about to ride a steep cost curve down to much, much cheaper biofuel. As they apply new biological knowledge and optimize growing algae, the cost will drop. And as they capture economies of scale, the costs will drop again. In the best-case scenario, when all is said and done, algal biofuel could cost $50 per barrel. But that won’t happen anytime soon, and it could take a decade.

Or maybe it will remain expensive for a long, long time. There are some legitimate reasons to be skeptical of algal biofuel’s potential for large-scale oil production.

So far, nobody has been able to make fuel from algae for a cost anywhere close to cheap, let alone competitive. Some researchers question whether any kind of energy-conversion process based on photosynthesis will ever play a major role in our transportation energy system. One life-cycle analysis found algal biofuels would not have a positive energy balance, in other words, you’d have to put more energy in than you would get out. The prominent startup GreenFuel, which grew out of Harvard and MIT research, went bust earlier this year after blowing through $70 million.

We just don’t know how well algal biofuel production might work. It’s true that the 18 years of research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory yielded a lot of knowledge, but it resulted in nothing resembling a commercial product or process.

“The cultivation of microalgae for production of biofuels generally, and algal oils specifically, is not a near-term commercial prospect,” John Benemann, an algae scientist who worked on the final report of the Aquatic Species Program, wrote in an e-mail to “Larger-scale algal biofuels production still requires considerable, long-term R&D.”

So many questions, so little time

Just $25 million was invested over the life of the Aquatic Species Program, which is just 5.5 percent of the total money the DOE dedicated to biofuels over that time. Adjusted for inflation, the program’s total budget in today’s dollars was less than $100 million. To put this tiny number in oil industry context, Exxon Mobil made $142 million in profit each day of 2008.

“They came up with this idea and in four years, they almost demonstrated the technological feasibility, and then the funding fell out,” said Johansen, the phycologist who collected algae for the program. “The maximum of funding was about $4 million a year. When I left, it was $800,000 a year. Now, there is all this biofuel work going on, and they are all going back to that public domain research. It kind of drives me crazy.”

The neglect of the Aquatic Species Program and subsequent resurgence of algal biofuel interest is one of many examples that show that the lack of coherent, consistent energy policy has left the world’s most oil-dependent nation scrambling in times of crisis.

Johansen even went so far as to say that “if the Reagan and Bush administrations had not ended” the growth of the algal biofuels program, our country would have algal biofuels now.

Even under far less optimistic scenarios, if the Aquatic Species Program had been fully funded from its start until now, there is no question that we’d know a lot more about the potential, and limitations, of algal biofuels.

Instead, we’re left with some lessons learned, a partially missing library of microorganisms, and a lot of questions that investors and entrepreneurs want answered before the next oil price spike.


China, where you can be shot for tax evasion

China executes four times as many people as the rest of the world put together, writes GEOFFREY WANSELL.

The exact toll is a closely-guarded 'state secret', but estimates range from more than 1,700 to as high as 10,000 a year. At least 60 per cent of public executions are carried out with a single gunshot to the back of the head.

No fewer than 68 crimes are punishable by death in China, including tax evasion, fraud and bribery.

An estimated 90 per cent of the Chinese population support the death penalty, despite the brutality involved.

Authorities also go to great lengths to ensure the killing goes smoothly, with no danger of a doomed prisoner suddenly haranguing the crowd about the unfairness of his trial.

One female prisoner is known to have had her vocal cords cut before she was led out to be killed. But the horror of a Chinese execution does not end with death.

The relatives of the victim may well be offered the bullet that killed their loved one, and then charged the 30p it cost.

They will be also refused access to the corpse. The gruesome explanation for this is that many execution victims have their organs 'harvested' by hospital staff on the orders of police and judges supervising the executions.

The Chinese Government insists officially that such harvesting is entirely illegal, but it is still big business. A heart or liver can fetch as much as £30,000 on the black market.

There are also persistent reports that high-ranking officials who may be in need of an organ transplant make their needs known to the executing officials in their area, who make sure their demands are satisfied.

It is one reason why the Chinese still prefer to use a gunshot to the head – for the damage to the body is far less than it would be from a conventional firing squad. Indeed China's refusal to give outsiders access to the bodies of executed prisoners has increased the suspicion that this is why they are not given to the relatives.

After the 'harvesting', the corpses are usually driven to a crematorium and burned before anyone can view them.

Amnesty International said in a report in 2006 that the huge profits from the sale of prisoners' organs could be part of the reason China refuses to consider doing away with the death penalty.

But author and China expert Jonathan Mirsky says: 'The Chinese do not like to be told what to do by anyone in the outside world. They don't like outside interference – and they show that by not yielding to international pressure, no matter how intense'.

Amnesty also told the Daily Mail yesterday: 'We have serious concerns about whether anyone who has been convicted and sentenced to death has had a fair trial.'

What is not in doubt is that there is a brutal tradition of execution in China – notably in the notorious 'death by a thousand cuts', a form of torture that was finally outlawed only in 1905.

The condemned person was killed by using a knife to methodically remove parts of the body over an extended period.

The horrific process sometimes began with the gouging of the eyes – so the victim could not see what would happen next.

From: (at the bottom)

Educators suspended over freezing death of student

By Wang Yan (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-12-25 08:03

Two school principals were suspended from duty after being held responsible for a student's death, suspected to have been caused by severe punishment.

Yang Guangsheng, principal of Wujing Junior Middle School in Linqu county of Shandong province, and vice-principal Wang Dongping, were relieved of their posts on Tuesday night for poor school management, local media reported yesterday.

The suspension was based on the findings of a government investigation team probing the controversial student death last Friday.

Student Zhang Jixin, 14, was found dead in the gutter near his dormitory building on the morning of Dec 18.

Local media quoted insiders as saying that Zhang was made to stand out in the cold all night as a punishment and froze to death.

Zhang was caught by one of the teachers on the evening of Dec 17, trying to climb the dormitory wall, the Wuhan Evening News reported.

The teacher who punished him allegedly went drinking and forgot about Zhang.

The next morning Zhang was found dead. The temperature was -10 C the previous night, the report said.

Another teacher from the school reportedly said the student had "died comfortably".

"He looked comfortable, without any pain on the face," the teacher was quoted as saying.

The remark soon triggered enormous criticism from members of the Chinese online community.

The teacher is reported to have temporarily left his job because of the mounting pressure on him.

However, Linqu police said Zhang's death was accidental.

"We tend to believe Zhang's death was caused primarily by unknown health problems. But there's still a possibility that the freezing contributed to his death," police said in a statement.

Police said Zhang was found lying in the gutter, wearing dark jackets and sports pants with cotton-padded underwear.

He was carrying two packs of instant noodles and some candies in his pockets.

Zhang was widely known to be honest and quiet in his home village.

In an interview with local television on Sunday, Zhang's father was crying hard over his son's death.

An insider told the local media that the family would negotiate a compensation with the school rather than go to court.


Shroud of Turin Not Jesus', Tomb Discovery Suggests

Mati Milstein in Jerusalem
for National Geographic News

Updated December 17, 2009

From a long-sealed cave tomb, archaeologists have excavated the only known Jesus-era burial shroud in Jerusalem, a new study says.

The discovery adds to evidence that the controversial Shroud of Turin did not wrap the body of Christ, researchers say.

What's more, the remains of the man wrapped in the shroud are said to hold DNA evidence of leprosy—the earliest known case of the disease.

"In all of the approximately 1,000 tombs from the first century A.D. which have been excavated around Jerusalem, not one fragment of a shroud had been found" until now, said archaeologist Shimon Gibson, who excavated the site for the Israel Antiquities Authority.

"We really hit the jackpot."

Found in a first-century cemetery filled with priestly and aristocratic burials, the tomb was initially opened by looters, who left the shroud behind, apparently thinking it has no market value. Experts were able to retrieve the artifact before it began to disintegrate.

The so-called Tomb of the Shroud is a rarity among Jerusalem tombs from the time of Jesus.

For starters, the Tomb of the Shroud appears to have been sealed shut with plaster for 2,000 years, perhaps as a precaution against the spread of leprosy or tuberculosis, which was also detected in DNA extracted from the man's bones.

The tight seal apparently allowed the shroud—radiocarbon-dated to between A.D. 1 and 50—to survive the high humidity levels characteristic of Jerusalem-area caves.

Archaeologists were surprised to even find remains inside the tomb. Traditionally corpses were removed from such tombs after a year or so and placed in ossuaries, or bone boxes.

Evidence Against Jesus Link to Shroud of Turin?

Housed since 1578 in a Turin, Italy, cathedral, the Shroud of Turin is believed by many to have wrapped the body of Jesus Christ after his death in Jerusalem—but the cloth has been decried as a hoax by many others. Several studies have attempted to settle the debate.

Carbon-dating studies by three different laboratories in the late 1980s, for example, suggested the shroud was made between A.D. 1260 and 1390, long after the time of Jesus. In 2005 another study asserted that the 1980s test had been based on a patch added in the Middle Ages and that the shroud is actually 1,300 to 3,000 years old.

The weave of the Tomb of the Shroud fabric, the new study says, casts further doubt on the Shroud of Turin as Jesus' burial cloth.

The newfound shroud was something of a patchwork of simply woven linen and wool textiles, the study found. The Shroud of Turin, by contrast, is made of a single textile woven in a complex twill pattern, a type of cloth not known to have been available in the region until medieval times, Gibson said.

Both the tomb's location and the textile offer evidence for the apparently elite status of the corpse, he added. The way the wool in the shroud was spun indicates it had been imported from elsewhere in the Mediterranean—something a wealthy Jerusalem family from this period would likely have done.

First Such Shroud, Second Such Textile

Assuming the new shroud typifies those used in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus, the researchers maintain that the Shroud of Turin could not have originated in the city.

That's perhaps a big assumption, given that there are no other known shrouds from the same place and time for comparison—though in one case clothing had been found in a Jerusalem tomb.

"There have now been only two cases of textiles discovered in Jewish burials from this period," said archaeologist Amos Kloner of Bar Ilan University. And both appear to contradict the idea that the Shroud of Turin is from Jesus-era Jerusalem.

As for the analysis of the newfound shroud, the researchers "checked their findings with the best experts, and this textile was found to be different [from the Shroud of Turin]," said Kloner, who was not involved in the new study, published today in the journal PLoS ONE.

To Kloner, the most important aspect of the new find is that the shroud could be carbon-dated. Examples of Jerusalem textiles from this period—never mind burial shrouds—are so rare that their main importance is in providing organic material for such tests.

The opportunity to compare the weave of this shroud to the weave of the Shroud of Turin is simply an added bonus, he said. "It is wonderful that they found this niche with the remains of a person, and even remains of hair," Kloner said.

Shroud Is a Picture of Health

In addition to adding to the Shroud of Turin debate, the newfound shroud could help paint a clearer picture of the public health situation in the biblical era.

Experts don't know much about the origins of leprosy, and biblical references may well have referred to various skin conditions. The disease is believed to have originated in India and to have arrived in the Mediterranean region sometime between the fourth and second centuries B.C. These most recent findings in Jerusalem may be able to fill critical gaps in knowledge of the disease.

The deceased's apparently high status, right up to the end, indicates leprosy and tuberculosis crossed socio-economic lines at the time in Jerusalem—and that perhaps not all lepers were ostracized, as historical accounts often suggest, the study says.

The origins of leprosy remain hazy, but the researchers are hopeful that, as with the new study, a combination of archaeology and molecular pathology will help trace the evolution and distribution of this and other ancient diseases.

"The medical research has been quite extensive and has shed enormous light on the inhabitants of Jerusalem," study leader Gibson said. "This is the first time that DNA research has been done on the skeletal remains of human beings from the period of Jesus around Jerusalem."


Most cocaine diluted with unsafe livestock drug

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Most cocaine coming into the United States has been diluted with a veterinary drug that is used to deworm horses and other animals but can cause severe illness and death in humans, public health experts say.

So far, eight cases of illness caused by the drug levamisole have been identified in San Francisco, one of a handful of cities in the country where pockets of sickness caused by the drug have been found.

All of the cases in San Francisco involved women who used either crack or powder cocaine. At San Francisco General Hospital, where the first cases of the illness were diagnosed, 90 percent of 200 patients who recently tested positive for cocaine also tested positive for levamisole. Most of them did not become ill.

Levamisole can significantly reduce the number of white blood cells in the body, a condition called agranulocytosis. Symptoms include fever, swollen glands, painful sores in the mouth and anus, and an infection that won't go away. In San Francisco, patients with levamisole poisoning also are getting serious skin conditions that make their skin look black.

Doctors and lab specialists at S.F. General are leading state and national efforts to diagnose and treat patients.

"The big question we have right now is, if 90 percent of cocaine users in San Francisco are positive for levamisole and are being exposed to this compound, then why aren't 90 percent of them in the emergency room with these side effects?" said Kara Lynch, associate chief of the chemistry and toxicology lab at S.F. General.

Cocaine often is diluted with other drugs or chemicals both to increase its weight - dealers can stretch out the amount of powder they sell - and to add to or reduce its potency. Public health experts don't know exactly why levamisole has been added to cocaine, but one theory is that the drug has been shown in animal studies to augment the effects of cocaine.

U.S. public health officials first warned of the risk of illness from levamisole in cocaine in September. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month released a report noting that 69 percent of cocaine recently seized in the United States had been tainted with levamisole, and illness from exposure to the drug has been found in at least four states.

So far the illness seems to be more common in women than in men, and most of those affected have been in their 40s and smoked the cocaine in crack form. The eight people in San Francisco who were sickened by levamisole survived, but at least one person died in New Mexico, according to the CDC.

"We need people to know that you're not getting pure cocaine anymore. You're exposing yourself to the effects of an anti-parasite drug instead of cocaine," said Dr. H. Westley Clark, director of substance abuse treatment with the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "You're not getting high off of cocaine, you're getting sick off of levamisole."

Because many of the symptoms of the illness are the same as the flu, Clark said health care providers need to be aware that more testing may be necessary to make sure cocaine users aren't sick with something more serious than influenza.

Dr. Jonathan Graf, an assistant professor in rheumatology at S.F. General who works with the Rosalind Russell Arthritis Research Center at UCSF, said doctors are mystified as to why San Francisco patients are getting the condition that blackens their skin and makes it appear to be "sloughing" off, while patients in other areas are not.

It may be that the illness is still being identified, and as more doctors and public health officials become aware of the problem, more cases - and more symptoms - will be discovered, he said.

"I have a feeling this is out there a lot more than we're giving it credit for," Graf said. "There are probably many cases of this going on around the Bay Area and elsewhere. There are probably a lot of people not coming in to emergency rooms or doctors."

The illness was discovered at S.F. General when dermatologists saw two patients with the serious skin condition. They suspected the skin problems were related to an autoimmune disorder and called in Graf. At the same time, doctors at UCSF had discovered similar symptoms in another couple of patients, and reports were starting to come in from other states about the unusual illness.

When doctors realized that all of those patients at the two hospitals were cocaine users, Lynch offered to test other cocaine-positive patients for levamisole and found in October that about 180 out of 200 of them also had levamisole in their system.

The question then became why the levamisole was affecting some patients, but not others. One theory of Graf's is that the levamisole may be triggering an autoimmune reaction in patients who are already susceptible to autoimmune disorders.

"Maybe these patients are predisposed to getting an autoimmune disease, but there's nothing that set them off before," Graf said. "Maybe the levamisole increases to a certain level and suddenly you start seeing cases."


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Grandmother Gave 3-Year-Old Grandson Pot Cookies

Boy Rushed To Hospital After Grandmother Couldn't Wake Him Up

Alan Gathright, 7NEWS Content Producer

POSTED: 11:59 am MST December 23, 2009
UPDATED: 4:29 pm MST December 23, 2009

DENVER -- A Denver medical marijuana activist was under investigation after she gave her 3-year-old grandson at least one peanut butter cookie laced with pot and the boy couldn't wake up the next morning.

The toddler was rushed to the hospital Dec. 5. where he was treated in intensive care and fully recovered, according to a police report. Medical tests determined the child had THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in his system.

In a tragic twist, the 44-year-old grandmother, Erin Marcove, took her own life Dec. 12, a week after the incident.

A relative told TheDenverChannel that Marcove "mentally had some issues for a long time in her life. She got in trouble (for giving the grandson the marijuana cookie) and maybe that's what pushed her over the edge."

Marcove described herself as an accredited Cannabis Medical Therapist Consultant on a Web site for her business, Cannabis Medical Therapeutics. She said she'd used medical marijuana for a variety of illnesses, including chronic back pain, for most of her life.

She had become an activist for the budding medical marijuana community in Colorado and wrote about educating law enforcement, social services, legislators, city leaders, dispensaries and patients on the issue.

"There is so much information on cannabis; we all need the right education that guides the public in the truth of cannabis," Marcove wrote on "Embrace cannabis as medicine. Compassionate medicine, Compassionate dispensaries!"

The boy's mother told police Marcove picked the toddler up on Friday, Dec. 4, to watch him at her house over the weekend, which was routine.

Marcove told police that she had a medical marijuana license and she made a batch of peanut butter cookies with a jar of "cannabis butter" that Friday night and gave one cookie to her grandson with a glass of milk about 10:30 p.m.

When police asked where the remaining cookies were, "Mrs. Marcove said all the cookies were gone," according to a detective's statement supporting a search warrant for the grandmother's home. Marcove lived with her husband and their three sons, including the 3-year-old's father.

The grandmother said when she woke up at noon on Saturday the boy "was still sleeping, which was odd and she couldn't get him to wake him up," according to the search warrant affidavit.

By 3 p.m., the boy was still in a stupor and the grandmother even tried putting him in the shower, but couldn't wake the child. Marcove then called the child's mother who summoned an ambulance.

During the search of the home, police seized a green jar of "suspected cannabis butter" in the refrigerator.

"Mrs. Marcove said she didn't call for the paramedics or take (the boy) to the hospital herself, because she doesn't have his Medicaid card," according to court records.

On a Web site for medical marijuana support groups, Marcove was mourned as a compassionate caregiver who created a special program for indigent medical marijuana patients.

"I am deeply saddened by Erin's death, yet her inspiration is amazing and uplifting," an Englewood activist called "Queen Sativa" wrote on "Her compassionate care for patients was remarkable. She has accomplished SO MUCH for our medical cannabis movement."


Pit Bull Pack Attacks Herd Of Sheep

Reported by: Roosevelt Leftwich
Last Update: 12/24 9:32 am

They really can't defend themselves.

Nine sheep and goats were in a fenced off pen Monday....when authorities say five dogs, at least three of them large pit bulls jumped a fence and attacked.

They never stood a chance.

Armando Infante who works at the farm didn't know the dogs were in the pen when he came out to feed the chickens.

‘I came out here to get some chicken feed and that's when one o the dogs came and hit that door right there good thing there's a door there he would have got me....was he parking was he growling...he actually growled and hit the door.' Infante says.

Infante says he grabbed a hoe and tried to go after what he thought was just one dog.

When he went to the fence he saw five dogs ripping though the herd.

Three animals were dead, their blood staining the snow....two others were ripped apart and still alive.

They were later euthanized.

Infante called authorities who couldn't stop the dogs.

'They were unable to go into the area where the dogs were because of the aggressive violent nature that these animals were acting in and at that point the officers fearing for their safety as well as the safety of the other animals there discharged the weapon and put these animals down.' Anne Arundel County Police Spokesman Justin Mculhey told ABC 2 News.

Anne Arundel county animal control says they're going to go through the area today to see if they can find the remaining two dogs, to find out if they're strays or if they belong to someone.

The herd's owner, Deborah Campbell says she's heartbroken by this.

One of the animals was pregnant...and the friendly herd now just huddles in the center of the field.

‘They seem very stressed they're very stressed the one older sheep that was the companion of the one that was pregnant she doesn’t want to eat she doesn't want to do anything they don't want to come up to us like they did they seem very upset." Campbell says.

The owner of at least three of the dogs has been identified as 51 year old Richard Watts....who lives about a half a mile away.

He's facing six civil citations for failing to control his dogs and for allowing them to become a public safety threat.


Study blames two genes for aggressive brain cancer

Last updated at 00:00 GMT, Sunday, 27 December 2009

Scientists have discovered two genes that appear responsible for one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer.

Glioblastoma multiforme rapidly invades the normal brain, producing inoperable tumours, but scientists have not understood why it is so aggressive.

The latest study, by a Columbia University team, published in Nature, pinpoints two genes.

The researchers say that the findings raise hopes of developing a treatment for the cancer.

The genes - C/EPB and Stat3 - are active in about 60% of glioblastoma patients.

They appear to work in tandem to turn on many other genes that make brain cells cancerous.

Patients in the study whose tumours showed evidence of both genes being active died within 140 weeks of diagnosis.

In contrast, half of patients without activity from these genes were alive after that time.

Master controls

Lead researcher Dr Antonio Iavarone described the two genes as the disease's master control knobs.

He said: "When simultaneously activated, they work together to turn on hundreds of other genes that transform brain cells into highly aggressive, migratory cells.

"The finding means that suppressing both genes simultaneously, using a combination of drugs, may be a powerful therapeutic approach for these patients, for whom no satisfactory treatment exists."

When the researchers silenced both genes in human glioblastoma cells, it completely blocked their ability to form tumours when injected in a mouse.

The Columbia team is now attempting to develop drugs they hope will achieve the same effect.

Using state-of-the-art techniques, they effectively mapped out the comprehensive and highly complex network of molecular interactions driving the behaviour of glioblastoma cells.

Dr Iavarone said: "The identification of C/EPB and Stat3 came as a complete surprise to us, since these genes had never been implicated before in brain cancer

"From a therapeutic perspective, it means we are no longer wasting time developing drugs against minor actors in brain cancer - we can now attack the major players."

Nell Barrie, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "This research is exciting, as it sheds light on the key changes that drive cells in the brain to become glioblastoma cells.

"By finding out exactly how healthy cells turn into cancer cells, scientists hope to find clues for preventing or reversing the process.

"The technique used in this study should help scientists to understand these changes in other types of cancer, leading to new and more personalised treatment approaches in the future."


'Peacemaker' dies after trying to break up street fight

Last updated at 15:58 GMT, Monday, 28 December 2009

A man has died after being badly injured trying to break up a fight between two groups as he walked past them, police have said.

David Joslin, 23, was attacked in the early hours of Sunday 20 December in Chingford Mount Road, east London.

The passer-by got involved after a row broke out by a jewellers' shop nearby.

Mr Joslin, who had been at a work Christmas party, was not thought to have been with either of the groups, The Metropolitan Police (Met) said.

'Knocked unconscious'

A group had been in the nearby Obelisk pub before getting into a fight in the street with three men and a woman.

Mr Joslin was hurt when he tried to intervene.

He was firstly taken to Whipps Cross Hospital and then to National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Queen Square, central London.

He never regained consciousness and died on 27 December.

"Witnesses have said that David tried to intervene as a peacemaker, however he was punched to the floor and knocked unconscious," a Met spokesman said.

CCTV collected

An incident room has been set up but no arrests have been made and a post-mortem examination was being held on Monday at East Ham mortuary.

Det Insp John MacDonald, who is leading the inquiry, said police had spoken to several people who had been in the pub, but no-one from the second group had come forward yet.

"I'm sure they are local people, and with the CCTV that we are now collecting from shops in the area I am confident we will identify them," he said.

"It's very obvious from the flowers left at the scene that David has died and this other group will know that now," he added.


Waitress sues over alleged strip search

By Kimball Perry • December 28, 2009

A waitress who alleges she was accused of being a thief and strip-searched by her boss has sued.

Angie Carter filed the suit Monday in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court against her boss, Lucy Gabbard, and Lucy's Diner.

Carter alleges she was a waitress at the Reading Road restaurant Sept. 20 when Gabbard accused her of stealing between $100-$150. Carter denied it and allowed Gabbard to go through her purse, pockets and apron and, when no money was found, insisted Gabbard call police.

Instead, the suit alleges, Gabbard demanded Carter accompany her to the bathroom where Gabbard insisted Carter raise her bra to see if money was hidden there.

"(Carter) was humiliated and didn't want to expose herself this way, but Defendant Lucy angrily insisted, telling (Carter) that she would lose her job if she refused," the suit alleges.

Gabbard also told Carter to unbutton her pants and belt and take her shoes off, according to the suit.

Finding nothing, Gabbard went back to the cash register to again count the till. She insisted Carter stole money, the suit alleges.

Carter again asked that police be called. Gabbard refused, instead taking Carter to the bathroom again when she instructed Carter to strip naked.

That's when, the suit alleges, Gabbard lifted Carter's breasts to check for money.

"Defendant Lucy then squatted down and moved (Carter's) legs apart with her hands and closely examined her private parts between her legs and looked closely at her posterior," the suit notes.

She found no money.

Carter once again insisted that police be called. When they arrived they didn't charge her. Two days later, Carter was fired resulting, the suit alleges, in her losing all of her belongings and becoming homeless.

Carter's suit seeks in excess of $25,000, alleging defamation, civil assault, invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress. It also accuses the restaurant, which was supposed to pay her $4 per hour plus tips, of never paying her a salary.

Neither Gabbard nor the restaurant could be reached for comment.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Medical Treatments from the Middle Ages

By David Morton

Surgery: Crude, blunt and horribly painful

Surgery in the Middle Ages was crude and blunt and … PAINFUL! Surgeons had a very poor understanding of human anatomy, anesthetics and antiseptic techniques to keep wounds and incisions from infection. It was not a pleasant time to be a patient, but if you valued your life, there was no choice. To relieve the pain, you submitted to more pain, and with any luck, you might get better. Surgeons in the early part of the Middle Ages were often monks because they had access to the best medical literature – often written by Arab scholars. But in 1215, the Pope said monks had to stop practicing surgery, so they instructed peasants to perform various forms of surgery. Farmers, who had little experience other than castrating animals, came into demand to perform anything from removing painful tooth abscesses to performing eye cataract surgery.

But there were some great successes. Archeologists in England found the skull of a peasant man from about 1100 who had been struck in the head by a heavy, blunt object. Close examination shows the man had been given life-saving surgery called trepanning, where a hole was drilled and a section of the skull was lifted, allowing smashed bone segments to be removed. The surgery alleviated pressure on the brain and the man recovered. We can only guess how painful it must have been! (Photo by: Wikipedia)

Dwale: A crude anesthetic that could cause death in itself

Surgery in the Middle Ages was really only used in life/death circumstances. One reason is that there was no reliable anesthetic to dull the excruciating pain caused by the rough cutting and procedures. Some potions used to relieve pain or induce sleep during surgery were potentially lethal. An example was a concoction of lettuce juice, gall from a castrated boar, briony, opium, henbane, hemlock juice and vinegar. This was mixed with wine before being given to the patient.

The Middle English word used to describe an anesthetic potion was "dwale" (pronounced dwaluh).

The hemlock juice alone could easily have caused death. While the anesthetic might induce a profound sleep, allowing a surgery to take place, it might be so strong that the patient would stop breathing.

Paracelsus, a medieval Swiss physician, was the first to use ether for its anesthetic qualities. Ether did not gain wide acceptance and its use declined. It was rediscovered in America some 300 years later. Paracelsus also used laudanum, a tincture of opium, to alleviate pain. (Photo by: pubmedcentral)

Spells: Pagan rituals and religious penance as a form of cure

Early medieval medicine was often a mix of the pagan, religious and scientific. As the church gained more control, pagan “rituals” were made punishable offences. One such punishable offence might have been the following:

"When [the healer] approaches the house where the sick person lies, if [the healer] finds a stone lying nearby, [he turns] the stone over and looks in the place where the stone was lying [to see] if there anything living under it, and if [the healer] finds there a worm or a fly or an ant or anything that moves, they [the healer] avers that the sick person will recover." (From The Corrector & Physician).

Patients who had contracted the bubonic plague were told to perform penance – the practice of confessing one’s sins, then performing a religious devotion prescribed by a priest – a common “treatment.” They were told they might be spared death if they correctly confessed their sins. (Photo by: motv)

Eye Cataract Surgery: Painful procedure that rarely saved patients’ sight

An early operation for removal of a cataract included inserting a sharp instrument, such a knife or large needle, through the cornea and forcing the lens of the eye out of its capsule and down to the bottom of the eye.

Once Islamic medicine became more widely followed in medieval Europe, cataract surgery improved. The syringe was used for the extraction of cataracts by suction. A hollow metallic hypodermic syringe was inserted through the white part of the eye and successfully extracted the cataracts through suction.

Blocked Bladders: Metallic catheters inserted into the bladder

Blockage of urine in the bladder, due to syphilis and other venereal diseases, was fairly common at a time when antibiotics were not available. The urinary catheter – a metal tube inserted through the urethra into the bladder – was first used in the mid-1300s. When a tube could not easily be passed into the bladder to relieve the obstruction, other procedures to enter the bladder were devised, some quite novel, though all probably as painful and dangerous as the condition itself.

Here is a description of the treatment of kidney stones: "If there is a stone in the bladder make sure of it as follows: have a strong person sit on a bench, his feet on a stool; the patient sits on his lap, legs bound to his neck with a bandage, or steadied on the shoulders of the assistants. The physician stands before the patient and inserts two fingers of his right hand into the anus, pressing with his left fist over the patient's pubes. With his fingers engaging the bladder from above, let him work over all of it. If he finds a hard, firm pellet it is a stone in the bladder... If you want to extract the stone, precede it with light diet and fasting for two days beforehand. On the third day, ... locate the stone, bring it to the neck of the bladder; there, at the entrance, with two fingers above the anus incise lengthwise with an instrument and extract the stone." (Photo by: McKinney Collection)

Surgeons on the Battlefield: Pulling of arrows was a nasty business

Use of the longbow – a large powerful bow that could shoot arrows great distances – flourished in the Middle Ages. This created a real problem for battlefield surgeons: how to remove arrows from the bodies of soldiers.

The heads of war arrows weren’t necessarily glued onto the shafts, but attached with warm beeswax. After the wax set, they could be handled normally, but once shot into something if the shaft was pulled, the head would come off inside the body.

One answer was the arrow spoon, based on a design by an Arab physician, named Albucasis. The spoon is inserted into the wound and attaches itself around the arrowhead to be drawn from a wound without causing further damage as the barbs rip out.

Wounds such as these were also treated with cautery, where red hot irons were applied to the wound so that the tissue and veins sealed over, preventing blood loss and infection. Cautery was especially used in amputations.

A famous illustration for surgeons was called, “The Wound Man,” which showed the various kinds of wounds a battlefield surgeon might expect to see. (Photo by: FM)

Bloodletting: A cure-all for almost any ailment

Physicians in the Middle Ages believed that most human illnesses were the result of excess fluid in the body (called humour). The cure was removing excess fluid by taking large amounts of blood out of the body. Two of the main methods of bloodletting were leeching and venesection.

In leeching, the physician attached a leech, a blood-sucking worm, to the patient, probably on that part of the body most severely affected by the patient's condition. The worms would suck off a quantity of blood before falling off.

Venesection was the direct opening of a vein, generally on the inside of the arm, for the draining of a substantial quantity of blood. The tool used for venesection was the fleam, a narrow half-inch long blade, which penetrates the vein, and leaves a small wound. The blood ran into a bowl, which was used to measure the amount of blood taken.

Monks in various monasteries had regular bloodletting treatments – whether they were sick or not – as a means of keeping good health. They had to be excused from regular duties for several days while they recovered. (Photo by: McKinney Collection and FM)

Childbirth: Women told to prepare for their death

Childbirth in the Middle Ages was considered so deadly that the Church told pregnant women to prepare their shrouds and confess their sins in case of death.

Midwives were important to the Church due to their role in emergency baptisms and were regulated by Roman Catholic law. A popular medieval saying was, "The better the witch; the better the midwife"; to guard against witchcraft, the Church required midwives to be licensed by a bishop and swear an oath not to use magic when assisting women through labour.

In situations where a baby's abnormal birth position slowed its delivery, the birth attendant turned the infant inutero or shook the bed to attempt to reposition the fetus externally. A dead baby who failed to be delivered would be dismembered in the womb with sharp instruments and removed with a "squeezer." A retained placenta was delivered by means of counterweights, which pulled it out by force. (Photo by: Wikipedia)

Clysters: A medieval method of injecting medicines into the anus

The medieval version of the enema was known as the clyster, which is really an instrument for injecting fluids into the body through the anus. The clyster was a long metallic tube with a cupped end, into which the medicinal fluid was poured. The other end, a dull point, which was drilled with several small holes, was inserted into the anus. Fluids were poured in and a plunger was used to inject the fluids into the colon area, using a pumping action.

The most common fluid used was lukewarm water, though occasionally medical concoctions, such as thinned boar’s bile or vinegar, were used.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the medieval clyster was replaced by the more common bulb syringe. In France, the treatment became quite fashionable. King Louis XIV had over 2,000 enemas during his reign, sometimes holding court while the ceremony progressed. (Photo by: CMA)

Hemorrhoids: Agony of the anus treated with hot irons

Treatment of many diseases in the Middle Ages included prayers to patron saints for possible divine intervention. A seventh century Irish monk, St. Fiacre, was the patron saint for hemorrhoid sufferers. He developed hemorrhoids from digging in his garden, one day, and sat on a stone which gave him a miraculous cure. The stone survives to this day with the imprint of his hemorrhoids and is visited by many hoping for a similar cure. The disease was often called “St. Fiacre’s curse” in the Middle Ages.

In more extreme cases of hemorrhoids, medieval physicians used their cautery irons to treat the problem. Others believed that simply pulling them out with their fingernails was a solution, a solution that the Greek physician, Hippocrates suggested.

The 12th century Jewish physician Moses Maimonides wrote a seven-chapter treatise on hemorrhoids and disagreed with the use of surgery, instead prescribing the most common treatment used to this day: the sitz bath. (Photo by: McKinney Collection)

David Morton is a Vancouver-based blogger and writer, who is working on a novel about monasteries in the Middle Ages. He is also a teacher of English as a second language. You can read his blog at


Misanthropic Obituary

Assigned to most people out there...


DOLORES Aguilar has passed away. This, her obituary, appears in the Times-Herald Napa/Sonoma paper: Dolores had no hobbies, made no contribution to society and rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life. I speak for the majority of her family when I say her presence will not be missed by many, very few tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing… There will be no service, no prayers and no closure for the family she spent a lifetime tearing apart.

It's really nice to feel loved.


'Sexist' Vintage Ads

Don't leave boy, she just doesn't know!
This ad for Zonite, a feminine hygiene solution, impresses on good wives the humiliation and loathing they'll experience if hubbies have to deal with their natural aromas. But that's okay - the text considerately reads, "Is a wife to blame if she doesn't know these intimate physical facts?"

Don't you dare get fat and start slacking on your household chores!
Found on a 1970 Family Circle Mag.

"Demure deodorizes. Deodorizes so thoroughly, so pleasantly, you know you're the woman your husband wants you to be."
A 1969 Demure douche ad.

We all know women ruin the evenings. A 1942 Ivory Soap ad, published on the Saturday Evening Post.


Axed Up Body



Birth Control

Idiots swim into baited croc trap


December 27th, 2009

THE reckless idiots pictured have taken croc trap surfing to a dangerous new level - swimming into the cage.

The image of the three drongos risking their lives and limbs surfaced yesterday after they were posted on Facebook.

It is believed the picture was taken at Manton Dam - about 75km south of Darwin. The photo shows one man atop the floating metal cage - designed to capture 4m long salties.

His two mates are pulling faces from inside the baited trap.

It follows a series of photos - published in the Northern Territory News - which show wannabe thrillseekers captured on top of crocodile traps in the Territory.

Darwin girls Ally Pettifor and Bonnie Keogh became the laugh of the nation when they were photographed dancing on top of a croc trap - wearing nothing but bikinis and using champagne bottles as microphones.

The photo, published last month, went around the world and attracted hundreds of reader comments.

"From my understanding, crocodiles like to eat brain - so these two are safe," one reader said in a text message to the editor.

That photo came only a few months after three young men were pictured with their thumbs up while standing on a floating cage.

Territory Parks and Wildlife rangers have labelled the latest act as "absolute stupidity".

"It won't be tolerated any more," senior ranger Peter Phillips said.

"We will investigate this case and if we find out who they are, they will be fined.

"The agency has zero tolerance with people interfering with croc traps.

"It's totally irresponsible.

"The traps are there for a very important safety reason."

Offenders could be fined up to $55,000 or jailed for five years for the reckless act, the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act states.


Aurora man arrested for trying to steal meat in pants

December 26, 2009


A man was charged with retail theft after allegedly trying to steal more than $60 worth of meat by putting packages down his pants at an Aurora store, police said.
Anthony Collman, 47, 100 block of North East Avenue, Aurora, was charged with retail theft at 1 p.m. Wednesday at a store on the 1200 block of North Lake Street, Aurora police said.

Police said Collman tried to steal more than $60 worth of meat by putting the packages down his pants.

According to police, Collman was reported to have taken meat from the store on at least two different occasions in November.


Miracle or hoax?

Russians puzzled as phrases from the Koran start appearing 'spontaneously' on baby's skin

By Mail Foreign Service
Last updated at 10:17 PM on 19th October 2009

A baby is sparking a wave of speculation in Russia after phrases from the Koran allegedly began appearing on his skin.

Sayings from the Muslim holy book are said to appear on nine-month-old Ali Yakubov's back, arms, legs and stomach - before apparently fading away and being replaced with new sayings.

Russian medics claimed they are puzzled over the cause of the marks on a baby's skin, which started when the word Allah apparently appeared on his chin within weeks of his birth.

One of the markings on the child's skin, which medics and his family say are genuine apparitions

Medics deny that the marks are from someone writing on the child's skin.
His mother, Madina, said that she and her husband were not religious until the writings started appearing on his skin.

Initially they did not show anyone the unexplained writings, she said, until revealing them to their doctor and the imam in their village of Red October which is in a strongly Muslim region.

Now the boy has become a focus of Muslim homage in his troubled home province of Dagestan, close to war-ravaged Chechnya in the south of Russia.

Local MP Akhmedpasha Amiralaev said: 'This boy is a pure sign of God. Allah sent him to Dagestan in order to stop revolts and tension in our republic.'

The boy's mother claimed: 'Normally those signs appear twice a week - on Mondays and on the nights between Thursdays and Fridays.

'Ali always feels bad when it is happening. He cries and his temperature goes up. It's impossible to hold him when it's happening, his body is actively moving, so we put him into his cradle. It's so hard to watch him suffering.'

The phrases regularly replace each other on the baby's skin, she said.

Local imam Abdulla has told locals that the Koran forecasts that before the end of the world, there may be people with its sayings on their bodies.

He said that one sign read: 'Don't hide these signs from the people.'

The story has attracted considerable attention from the Russian media and online.