Tuesday Reads: A Mixed Bag of Odds and Ends

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I thought I’d go light on politics in today’s post. I’ve got a collection of interesting links on varied topics. I hope you’ll find something to your taste.

I’ll begin with some true crime stories.

LA County’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran has completed a review of actress Natalie Wood’s autopsy report and has concluded that she was very likely assaulted before her death and was probably unconscious when she went into the water, indicating that her death is now considered “suspicious.” CBS News reports:

The Los Angeles Coroner’s Office released a new report (pdf) Monday. Sources tell CBS News the review of the original coroner’s report in 1981 raises questions about every major finding that led investigators to originally conclude Natalie Wood’s death an accident. Sources say the report concludes that the bruising on the actress’ wrists, knees, and ankles could be more consistent with injuries from an assault than they were from struggling to climb back on a boat.

Wood died on November 28, 1981, when according to her husband, actor Robert Wagner, she fell off their yacht, the 60-foot-long Splendour, possibly while trying to re-tie a dinghy that had been banging against the side of the boat, disturbing her sleep.

Her body was found hours later floating in the waters off Catalina Island.

Wood’s death was ruled an accidental drowning. But in 2011, Los Angeles Sheriff’s detectives re-opened the case after the skipper of the boat, Dennis Davern, co-authored a book in which he gave a very different account of what happened that night. Davern said, “I believe Robert Wagner was with her right up until the moment she was in the water.”

According to Davern, Wagner asked him not to tell investigators what had happened, but years later he regrets contributing to a “cover-up.”

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood

However, according to CNN the county Sheriff says that Wagner is not a suspect. CNN provides two alternative descriptions of the events leading up to Wood’s disappearance from the yacht.

Davern offered a previously unreported account of how Wood’s death was reported, saying that Wagner waited hours to call the Coast Guard after Wood went missing off Catalina Island following an argument between the couple….

Wood and Wagner married in 1957, divorced in 1962, then remarried in 1972. They invited Wood’s “Brainstorm” co-star, Christopher Walken, to join them on the Thanksgiving weekend sail that preceded her death….

After Wagner then argued with Walken and broke a wine bottle, Wood left in disgust and went to her stateroom, Davern told CNN. Walken also retired to a guest room, Davern added, and Wagner followed his wife to their room. A few minutes later, Davern said, he could hear the couple fighting.

Embarrassed, Davern said, he turned up the volume on his stereo. At one point, Davern recalled, he glanced out of the pilot house window and saw Wagner and Wood on the yacht’s aft deck. “They’d moved their fight outside … you could tell from their animated gestures they were still arguing,” he said.

A short time later, Wagner, appearing to be distraught, told Davern he couldn’t find Wood. Davern searched the boat but couldn’t find her. He noticed the rubber dinghy also was missing.

Wagner claims that Wood went to her room and he didn’t follow her, but sat on deck having drinks with Walken before noticing that his wife was missing.

I’m sure you remember the story of the 10-year-old boy who shot his Neo-Nazi father, Jeff Hall, after years of abuse. I’ve written a couple of posts about it. Well, today the boy was “found responsible” for the death.

Neo-Nazi leader Jeff Hall and friends

Neo-Nazi leader Jeff Hall and friends

A Riverside County judge on Monday found a 12-year-old boy guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting and killing of his father, neo-Nazi activist Jeffrey Hall, as he slept on the family’s living room couch.

He also was found guilty of a weapons charge, with the judge determining he knew right from wrong.

This kid was 10 years old! Children that young simply cannot understand the consequences of their actions in the same sense as adults can. Yet he was found guilty of second degree murder.

Public Defender Matthew Hardy focused on the boy’s abusive home life, where gunplay and neo-Nazi gatherings were commonplace. Witnesses testified that Hall beat his son repeatedly, often in drunken or drug-addled rages.

Social workers responded to the Hall household more than 20 times. At the time of the shooting, the boy was a dependent of the court, an effort designed in part to shield him from further abuse, Hardy said.

Clinical psychologist Anna Salter, a mental health expert called by the prosecution, testified that the boy’s birth mother used heroin, LSD and other drugs while she was pregnant, which she called
“devastating” to the boy’s development. The boy also has an extensive history of violence dating to when he was 3. In school, he once tried to strangle a teacher with a telephone cord, she said.

The judge acknowledged that years of abuse and exposure to hate-filled Neo-Nazi philosophy had led to the child killing his father. Yet at the same time the judge used the child’s exposure to violence and hate to claim that this boy was mentally more mature than other 10-year-olds.

The youngster, who was 10 when he put a gun to his sleeping father’s head and pulled the trigger, was charged as a juvenile. He could be held in juvenile detention until he is 23.

The boy’s father, Jeffrey Hall, was a West Coast leader for the neo-Nazi organization known as the National Socialist Movement. He was asleep on a couch in the early morning hours of May 1, 2011, when his son crept downstairs with Hall’s .357 magnum revolver and shot his father point-blank in the head.

The judge said Hall’s attempts to indoctrinate his son into the hate group corrupted the thought process of a disturbed boy who already had displayed violent tendencies.

“It’s clear that this minor knows more than the average child about guns, hate and violence,’’ Leonard said.

Still, she added, “this is not a naive little boy unaware of the ways of the world.’’

It’s outrageous. Putting a 12-year-old boy in a facility with older boys who are already hardened criminals will erase any chance this boy has for a decent future.

One more crime story…another person is claiming to know where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.

An aging mobster who was once a high-ranking member of Detroit’s La Cosa Nostra organized crime family reportedly knows where labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa is buried.

NBC 4 New York reports that Tony Zerilli, 85, said Hoffa was buried in a field in suburban Detroit, about 20 miles north of the restaurant where he was last seen in July 1975.
“All this speculation about where he is and he’s not,” Zerilli told the station. “They say he was in a meat grinder. It’s all baloney.”

Zerilli said Hoffa’s final resting place is in a field in Michigan’s northern Oakland County. He was buried in a shallow grave and the plan was to move the body at another time, but Hoffa’s remains were never moved from the first spot where they were buried, he said.

I suppose the police will have to go dig up the field and try to find poor old Jimmy Hoffa’s bones…

Since I’ve been struggling with a horrible cold plus a case of norovirus, I decided to check out the health news. I’ll bet you didn’t know that a bad cough will last around 18 days no matter what you do to treat it. According to Mark Ebell, associate professor at the University of Georgia College of Public Health, recently did a study to compare public attitudes with actual facts about viral illnesses.

A new study shows that although most people think a cough ought to last no more than a week or so, the duration of the most annoying symptom of winter illness is about 18 days — and could be more than three weeks.

Taking antibiotics in the interim is not only ineffective, it could also prompt dangerous side effects — and contribute to the country’s growing problem with bugs becoming resistant to the drugs used to treat them.

Ebell:

“A lot of times patients will come to me and they’ve been coughing for four or five days and they’re not getting any better, so they ask for an antibiotic,” he said. “After eight or nine days, they’re still not feeling better, so they ask for an even stronger antibiotic. Then they’ll say, ‘The only thing that really works for me is this really strong antibiotic.’”

The trouble is, antibiotics aren’t actually the solution for most of the 3 million outpatient cases in the U.S. each year in which cough is the chief complaint, or for the more than 4.5 million outpatient cases diagnosed as acute bronchitis or bronchiolitis. More than 90 percent of such cases are viral, not bacterial, which means they won’t respond to the drugs most folks request, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I love berries, so I found this story interesting: Berries Ward Off MI in Women. MI stands for Myocardial infarction, basically a heart attack.

Young and middle-age women whose diet included high levels of anthocyanins — the flavonoids present in red and blue fruits such as strawberries and blueberries — had a significantly reduced risk for myocardial infarction (MI), a large prospective study found.

Women whose anthocyanin intake was in the highest quintile had a 32% decrease in risk of MI during 18 years of follow-up (HR 0.68, 95% CI 0.49 to 0.96, P=0.03), according to Eric B. Rimm, ScD, of Harvard University, and colleagues.

And in a food-based analysis, women who consumed more than three servings of strawberries or blueberries each week showed a trend towards a lower MI risk, with a 34% decrease (HR 0.66, 95% CI 0.40 to 1.08, P=0.09) compared with women who rarely included these fruits in their diet, the researchers reported online in Circulation.

“Growing evidence supports the beneficial effects of dietary flavonoids on endothelial function and blood pressure, suggesting that flavonoids might be more likely than other dietary factors to lower the risk of [coronary heart disease] in predominantly young women,” they observed.

For years, researchers didn’t bother to study heart disease in women; but in recent years it has become clear that women and men differ in how heart attacks are experienced. Perhaps what we need to do for prevention differs from men too.

Here’s a science story that Dakinikat may find interesting in relation to her fascination with ancient graves and burial rites: DNA Test Sheds Light on Mystery Deaths.

A new DNA test can restore at least part of the identity of long-dead people who left no trace of their image, scientists reported on Monday.

The technique has revealed the hair and eye colours of unknown individuals slaughtered as sub-humans by the Nazis and of a mystery woman buried alongside monks in a mediaeval crypt, they said.

“This system can be used to solve historical controversies where colour photographs or other records are missing,” said Wojciech Branicki from Poland’s Institute of Forensic Research in Krakow.

Here’s one example:

Reporting in the journal Investigative Genetics, the researchers first tested it on a tooth taken from the remains of General Wladyslaw Sikorski, who led Poland’s government-in-exile in Britain in World War II before dying in a plane crash in 1943.

Sikorski’s body was disinterred from a cemetery in Newark, England, in 1993 for reburial in pomp in Krakow, but was exhumed once more in 2008 for further examination to sound out a theory that he had been poisoned, shot or strangled.

Analysis of the genetic code from the tooth gave a 99-percent likelihood that Sikorski had blue eyes, and an 85-percent likelihood that he had blond hair.

Both tallied with contemporary descriptions of Sikorski and with paintings of him made many years after his death (no colour photographs of him are known to exist).

I’m running out of space, but I have a few political reads for you that I’ll post link dump style.

Allyssa Rosenberg at The New Republic: FX is Feminism for Men. Seriously, take a look at this one!

Politico: Biden: W.H. readies 19 executive actions on guns

Alternet: Noam Chomsky Slams America’s Selfish Ayn Randian Elites – Chomsky explains how elites’ obsession with short-term personal gain threatens humanity.

Alternet: 10 Awful Crimes That Get You Less Prison Time Than What Aaron Swartz Faced

Bloomberg: Geithner Says Debt Limit Steps May Run Out by Mid-February

Those are my offerings for today. What’s on your reading and blogging list?


The Political Plate

A little over a week ago, I emailed bostonboomer that I wanted to do a post about Monsanto.  She was kind enough to share older posts done by Sima about Monsanto.  After reading Sima’s posts I have to admit that I was intimidated by her detailed, informative and brilliant commentaries.  Her knowledge of Monsanto’s business and political dealings, stemming from her experience as an organic farmer, is incredible.  I highly recommend going back and reading or re-reading them.  I’m going to try to bring you up to date on what has been happening since her last post.  I just hope that I can do both Sima and the subject justice.

Once I became involved in the animal rights movement in 1990, a formerly unseen world opened up to me.  It was akin to looking behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz.  Learning about how the animals we call food are raised, what they are fed and the chemicals that are put into their bodies, was disturbing to say the least.  Since that time, the major media outlets, along with independent filmmakers, have covered issues such as factory farming, the overuse of antibiotics and the rise of antibiotic resistance,  along with other issues that affect the food supply.  A good place to get started is with the film Food Inc. and its website.

Monsanto popped up on my radar around 1993 with the introduction of rBGH, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone.  Although there was an overabundance of milk on the market, this chemical was being introduced to increase the supply of milk available for consumption.  Why?  One of the reasons was to drop the price of milk.  That would be good for the consumer, right?  Well, corporations are not in the business of making their products more affordable for their customers, as we all know.  The ploy was to drive prices low enough so that family dairy farmers could not afford to stay in business, leaving the business to Monsanto’s real customers, giant dairies who would use their product(s).  With family dairy farms bankrupt, Monsanto could better control the market and prices.  From a study by the Economic Research Service/USDA.

Between 1970 and 2006, the number of farms with dairy cows fell steadily and sharply, from 648,000 operations in 1970 to 75,000 in 2006, or 88 percent (fig. 1). Total dairy cows fell from 12 million in 1970 to 9.1 million in 2006, so the average herd size rose from just 19 cows per farm in 1970 to 120 cows in 2006.1 Moreover, because milk production per cow doubled between 1970 and 2006 (from 9,751 to 19,951 pounds per year), total milk production rose, and average milk production per farm increased twelvefold.

Monsanto has since sold its posilac (rGBH) business to the Big Pharma company, Eli Lilly.  If you still believe that advertising slogan, “Milk, it does a body good”, you might want to read this.

Let me start off with yesterday’s article by Jim Hightower,  although it’s mostly about Dow Chemical, Monsanto gets some space as well.  And there are some great comments.  For more on 2, 4-D check out these links:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57423245-10391704/genetically-modified-crops-resistant-to-24-d-spur-debate-calls-for-labeling/ , and

http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/2,4-DTech.pdf

Monsanto is a multi-tentacled corporation attached to all aspects of our lives.  At their facilities in Dayton, OH during WWII they were involved with the development of the first nuclear bomb.  One of their early successful inventions was Astroturf.  They have manufactured Agent Orange (the defoliant/herbicide used during the Viet Nam war), and PCBs (banned in the U.S. in 1979 but still found in the environment since PCBs don’t break down easily).  For more information, you can download the free E-book, A Small Dose of Toxicology.  In recent years, Monsanto has focused on the world food supply, whether it’s chemicals to kill weeds, like Roundup, or creating genetically modified (GM) seeds for which they hold patents.   Natural News began a July, 2010 post with this unsettling paragraph:

At a biotech industry conference in January 1999, a representative from Arthur Anderson, LLP explained how they had helped Monsanto design their strategic plan. First, his team asked Monsanto executives what their ideal future looked like in 15 to 20 years. The executives described a world with 100 percent of all commercial seeds genetically modified and patented. Anderson consultants then worked backwards from that goal, and developed the strategy and tactics to achieve it. They presented Monsanto with the steps and procedures needed to obtain a place of industry dominance in a world in which natural seeds were virtually extinct.

Some of the crops grown with Monsanto’s GM seeds include corn, soy, sugar beets, alfalfa and cotton.  Monsanto also produces and sells Stevia and Aspartame.  To preserve their ownership of these patented seeds, farmers using them cannot save seeds produced from the crops they grow.  The farmers must buy new seeds each year for their annual crops.  Monsanto has sued farmers suspected of harvesting seeds along with their crops.

One of the most recent areas Monsanto wants to exploit are public lands.  In November, several groups filed a lawsuit to prevent the planting of GM crops on refuges.

The Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its director, in Federal Court.

Fish and Wildlife signed agreements allowing farmers to plant crops, including genetically modified soybeans and corn, on refuges and wetlands in eight Midwestern states, according to the complaint.

And planting on public lands isn’t just limited to U.S. lands.  World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one of the most respected conservation groups worldwide has ties to many multinational corporations, including Monsanto.  They are helping to promote GM crops in other countries.

On the federal tax front, Monsanto paid an average of 22% in taxes for years 2008 – 2010.  This report lists the 2008 – 2010 period detailing the profits, taxes and rates for 280 of U.S. corporations.

ALEC Exposed has a page dedicated to Monsanto, detailing much of their history and activities.  As with most multinational corporations, Monsanto is heavily invested in lobbying.  Interestingly, the years they spent the least money on lobbying were during the reign of King George II, otherwise known as GW Bush. Monsanto’s highest expenditures were in 1999, 2000 and 2008 – 2011.  Open Secrets has an overview of Monsanto’s lobbying expenditures, the lobbyists, the issues in which their lobbying efforts were focused along with the agencies and the associated bills before Congress.  Open Secrets is quite an informative site, also covering PAC contributions and campaign contributions to specific elected officials.

In our current political climate, campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures aren’t a surprise.  After all, it is how the system is fueled.  Open Secrets has a recent blog post detailing Monsanto’s activities so far this year.  The Monsanto/government connections go even deeper though.  During Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing, he worked as a counsel for Monsanto.  When a recent case involving Monsanto came before the Supreme Court, not surprisingly, Thomas did not recuse himself.   The Organic Consumers’ Union’s site, Millions Against Monsanto, has a list of both elected officials and agency appointments of former Monsanto employees from Bush Sr. to Obama.  Sadly, Bill Clinton appointed more than any other president listed.  Unfortunately, they don’t list U.S.  diplomats who also once worked for Monsanto.  What a wonderful way to help promote the products of their former employer in countries all around the world.

Wikileaks posted documents showing connections between Monsanto and U.S. Ambassadors.  Several EU countries have rejected the use of Monsanto’s GM seeds.  Fearing loss of export income, the possibility of pressuring or even retaliating against these countries were discussed in the diplomatic cables Wikileaks obtained.  You can read Sima’s post here:  http://skydancingblog.com/2010/12/28/wikileaks-and-gmogm-food-more-cables-more-fun/

Monsanto’s reach extends around the world.  GM cotton was promoted as a boon to small farmers, but the reality is different.   This story details the results in one village and the collaboration between Monsanto and The Times of India.  Stories from Africa aren’t any better.  The Gates Foundation is investing millions to promote and encourage the use of GM crops.  I find it disturbing with a number of NGOs, researchers and politicians who are working hand in hand with Monsanto and other GM companies seemingly without concerns for the possibilities of the damage to the world food supply, public health and the environment.  Alternet has posted a story about Kenya and the support from The Gates Foundation for Monsanto’s GM crops.  For another opinion on The Gates Foundation/Monsanto/Africa issue, check out this Opinion piece in the Seattle Times  written by Glenn Ashton.

The one beacon of hope has been some EU countries.  The people have loudly spoken out against GM foods.  However, the picture may not be as rosy as it has been portrayed.  Gaia Health digs deeper into the announcement in February, 2012 that both Monsanto and BASF are pulling out of Europe.

Let’s not forget about the stock market either.  Monsanto has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Marina, a bio-tech company.  I especially liked (not really!) this from the post:

Time and again, the company’s collaborations with agri-business research firms and molecular-bred hybrid technologies have proved effective. Although instances of societal resistance to new technology and poor acceptance of new products by farmers continue to raise anxiety, continuous increase in production led by technology upgradation helps balance such unease.

The personal is the political, and what is more personal than the food you eat and the food that you feed your families?  If you are interested in digging deeper, here is the documentary The World According to Monsanto

You can also get more information about the many issues and areas of concern about food at the Center for Food Safety site.  I hope I didn’t give you too much to “chew” on.