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June 30, 2012

Attorney asks for day off trial to enter Ernest Hemingway look-a-like contest


A Florida attorney representing a man accused in a murder-for-hire plot filed for a trial suspension for an unusual reason: He wanted a day off to participate in an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest.


Frank Louderback, of St. Petersburg, asked U.S. District Court Judge Steven Merryday to suspend the trial on Friday, July 20, so he could drive to Key West to participate in the annual competition.

Louderback represents Jerry Bottorff, who's accused of conspiracy to commit murder for hire in the 2007 killing of 37-year-old Thomas Lee Sehorne.

The Herald reported that Bottorff and his wife, Christie, who is the victim's widow, and alleged gunman Luis Lopez will stand tria starting July 9.

Louderback's plan was to be in Key West on July 21 for the crowning of the winner who most resembled the influential American author who penned "For Whom The Bell Tolls," "The Old Man and the Sea," and other works of fiction.

He has already paid non-refundable deposits for hotel rooms for friends and family members, according to the Herald.

Judges have been known not to hold court on Fridays during lengthy trials. But Judge Merryday wasn't persuaded by Louderback's request.

Louderback told msnbc.com that he thought his motion had a chance of being granted.

"Instead he came with his literary gem," Louderback said.

Merryday wrote: "Between a murder-for-hire trial and an annual look-alike contest, surely Hemingway, a perfervid admirer of grace under pressure, would choose the trial."

He quoted poet Dorothy Parker, who once wrote that Hemingway "works like hell and through it."

After quoting from "The Sun Also Rises," Merryday made his decision: "Best of luck to counsel in next year’s contest. The motion is denied."

In response, Louderback told , "It'll give me another year to get older, fatter and grayer."

The Times reported that Louderback has already competed in the contest three times, which is part of Key West's annual Hemingway Days festival. The festival pays homage to the Nobel Prize winner, who lived and wrote in Key West during the 1930s.

Last year, more than 120 competitors participated in the contest.

Louderback told msnbc.com he was "disappointed" by Merryday's ruling but will still keep his place in the contest in case he can make it.

His son is a pilot and had offered to fly Louderback to Key West in case he gets out of court early.

"I'll ask them (contest officials) to put me in the back somewhere even though it's done alphabetically," Louderback said. "That may buy me an hour or so."

A call to Merryday's office was not immediately returned.

15 Surprising Uses for Bananas

Sure, most of us love to enjoy bananas for breakfast or, perhaps, a snack. But bananas have so much more going for them than just a delicious and nutritious treat. In fact, so many of the reasons bananas are great for other things beside eating has to do with their nutrients! Click through for clever ways to use bananas to tackle everything from insect bites to aphids.

Health & Beauty

1. Treat Damaged Hair.

2. Whiten Teeth. Dying for some pearly whites? Rub banana peel on your teeth for about two minutes every time you brush and you’ll be well on your way to that perfect smile.

3. Prevent Wrinkles.

4. Treat Insect Bites. Rub some banana peels on the bites to alleviate the itch.

5. Treat Warts. Bananas are rich in potassium, which is said to help treat warts.

6. Treat Bruises, Cuts, and Scrapes. Potassium also helps with the healing process for cuts, scrapes, and bruises.

7. Get Rid of Splinters. Can’t get that pesky splinter out of your skin? I feel your pain. Luckily, if you press banana peels onto the splinter, the fruit’s natural enzymes will work to get that sucker out.


Home & Garden

9. Attract Birds & Butterflies. Like humans, birds and butterflies just love the taste of bananas. If you’d like to watch birds, leave a banana out.

10. Fertilize Your Plants. Dried ground banana peels make a fantastic mulch for seedlings and new plants.

11. Polish Leather & Silver. No need to invest in pricey, and often toxic, leather and silver cleaners. Instead, rub banana peels on the surface and buff with a cloth.

12. Combat Aphids. Nobody likes a damaged plant. Bury some cut up banana peels 2-3 inches deep around the base of the plant.


More Fun Ideas & Facts

13. Dog Treat. Bananas are a perfectly safe, and perfectly healthy, treat for your beloved pooch!

14. Purify Water. OK, this is perhaps best left to the professionals, but research has suggested that banana peels can actually absorb toxins in polluted rivers. But, if you ever find yourself lost in the woods with only a banana peel, you’ll be prepared!

15. Make “Ice Cream.” Craving the sweet stuff but don’t have the time, calories, or budget to spare? Simply blend a frozen solid banana in a food processor or blender.

Coffee Might Actually Help Your Heart

If you need an excuse to pour yourself that second cup of coffee, read on. Moderate, daily coffee drinking may be good for your heart -- to a point, a new study suggests.

"We found that moderate consumption may, in fact, be protective," said Elizabeth Mostofsky, study lead author and a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. "There are many factors that can contribute to a person's risk of heart failure, but moderate coffee consumption probably isn't one of them," she added.

The research was published June 26 in the journal Circulation Heart Failure.

In heart failure, the heart has difficulty pumping enough blood to meet the body's needs. It can be caused by such health threats as coronary artery disease or high blood pressure. About five million people in the United States have heart failure, and it contributes to 300,000 deaths annually, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The study authors concluded that about two typical American 8-ounce caffeinated cups of coffee daily (the equivalent of four northern European servings) may prevent heart failure, decreasing risk by up to 11 percent.

But drinking too much coffee -- more than four or five U.S. coffee shop-sized cups a day -- could raise the risk of developing the heart problem.

For their analysis, the researchers reviewed five large studies of coffee consumption and heart failure risk published between 2001 and 2011. The studies included 6,522 heart failure events among 140,220 people in Sweden and Finland.

The study did not distinguish between caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, but caffeinated coffee tends to be the norm in those two northern European countries.

The new research adds to a range of recent studies that have shown that coffee may protect against some illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver, and might improve exercise performance.

While health experts still warn that people who are pregnant, have difficulty controlling their blood pressure or blood sugar, or experience palpitations or jitteriness should drink just a little java or none at all, the researchers behind the new study say most people should feel free to enjoy coffee -- within limits.

The reason for the heart-protective effect is not fully understood, the researchers said. People who regularly drink coffee typically develop tolerance to coffee's caffeine, which may mean they're less likely to feel its effects. That may put them at decreased risk of high blood pressure, Mostofsky said. Also, antioxidants in the beverage may protect cells from damage, she said.

Some experts expressed some caution about the new study.

"The evidence is not strong enough to recommend that people should drink coffee to protect themselves," said Dr. Arthur Klatsky, an adjunct investigator with the Division of Research at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, Calif. Klatsky was not involved in the study.

Klatsky, who has done research on the relationship between heart rhythm and coffee, said coffee drinking is a lifestyle factor. "It could be that people who drink coffee also exercise more or have better diets," he said.

The bottom line, he said, is that "people should not feel they should avoid coffee if they're at risk for heart failure."

The study was supported by grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Chocolate’s Health Benefits: 7 Reasons To Eat More Chocolate

Dark chocolate can make you look younger. Rich in antioxidants that protect all our cells – including our skin cells – from free radical damage, dark chocolate can actually provide anti-aging benefits by protecting our skin from environmental damage (like UV rays) and inflammation.


Dark chocolate lowers blood pressure. While the link between cause and effect is unknown (hey, it could just be that giving yourself a bit of an indulgence merely lowers your stress levels!), the fact remains that studies in both Germany and Australia have found that eating chocolate has noticeable (albeit limited) blood pressure benefits!

Dark chocolate can raise your HDL (good cholesterol). While chocolate isn’t exactly giving Statins (prescription cholesterol drugs) a run for their money, the cocoa butter in chocolate is rich in oleic acid, the same monounsaturated fat in olive oil, which can help raise your good cholesterol.

Dark chocolate prevents heart disease & stroke. You may think that chocolate is a less than healthy indulgence (although we’re hoping to change that here!), but the fact is that studies have consistently found that people who ate more dark chocolate weekly had more than a 30% lower risk of heart disease than those who ate the least amounts of dark chocolate. Similarly, 2 candy bars per week may lower your risk of stroke by up to 20%.


Dark chocolate reduces the risk of cancer. While Hershey’s is unlikely to declare themselves a cancer cure any time soon, preliminary studies in Europe, Asia and North America have found that people who eat more flavonoids (as found in antioxidant-rich chocolate) develop fewer cancers than those who don’t.

Dark chocolate improves vision. Move over, carrots! Research participants who ate dark chocolate prior to taking a vision test performed better than those who didn’t. It’s likely caused by the flavanols in dark chocolate, which improve blood flow, since white chocolate didn’t have the same effect.

Dark chocolate makes you happy. No wonder women suffering heartbreak sit at home with chocolate! And it’s not just because you enjoy the taste (although that may be part of it!). Rather, studies show that chocolate can chemically make you happier because of the fatty acids in dark chocolate which stimulate the parts of your brain associated with pleasure and reward.

June 29, 2012

Drug Cartel Rivals Behead Zetas on Camera

In the latest example of Mexico's warring drug cartels taunting each other with gruesome on-line videos, footage posted on a popular cartel-tracking blog shows members of the Gulf cartel interrogating and then beheading at least three members of the Zetas cartel.

The grainy three-minute video, which appeared on Mundonarco.com Wednesday, depicts five shirtless men on their knees, their chests painted with large black "Z"s, surrounded by masked members of the Gulf cartel wielding machetes.

Each Zeta prisoner states his name for the camera, at the prompting of an unidentified voice behind the camera. When asked who sent them, each responds "Z-40." "40," as he is known within the Zetas organization, is Miguel Angel Treviño Morales -- the cartel's second-in-command. The U.S. has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of "40," and he and his two brothers are also under federal indictment in Texas for alleged laundering of cocaine profits through a U.S. horseracing venture.

"You find yourselves here because you came to f*** us," says the narrator of the video, after the hostages have finished speaking. "Pay attention, men."

Then the slow and bloody process of hacking off their heads begins. "This is how all your filthy people are going to end," says the narrator as the victims plead for mercy.

Over a minute later, the video ends with masked Gulf members holding up three severed heads for the camera. "Very good, very good," says the narrator. The two other Zetas prisoners are not shown.

According to Mundonarco.com, the video was shot in Río Bravo, Mexico, on the U.S. border just south of McAllen, Texas in the state of Tamaulipas. Río Bravo is six miles from the Donna International Bridge border crossing. No date is given for the creation of the video.

The Gulf cartel has been operating out of Tamaulipas state since the 1970s. In 2010, when the Zetas cartel, which had once worked as the Gulf cartel's security force, went into business for itself, violence in Tamaulipas and the neighboring state of Nuevo Leon soared,with 2,000 dead in 2010 alone . Multiple mass graves have been discovered in the region and beheadings, hangings, and other forms of torture are common.

In January, Los Zetas released a video in which they hanged two members of the Gulf cartel. Last month, another video showed 49 decapitated bodies of migrant workers being dumped on a highway by alleged members of Los Zetas, with warnings to other cartels to expect similar treatment.

A $4.2 Million Tear-Down House in Belvedere, California


In Marin County, California, where people tend to have money, people in Belvedere tend to have more. Even so, a recent decision by Clark and Sharon Winslow of 337 Belvedere Avenue to buy the home next to theirs for $4.2 million — and then tear it down — might seem extraordinary.

It's not, say locals and real estate professionals.

"There are houses being torn down all the time," says Bill Smith, realtor and ex-mayor of Belvedere. In neighboring Tiburon, he says, a buyer not long ago paid $20 million for the home of tennis star Andre Agassi and wife Steffi Graf, then announced his plan to raze it.

"People tear down homes for all kinds of reasons," says Smith, including the two ascribed by Marin's Independent Journal to the Winslows: They want to improve their view, and they want to plant some bushes.

For persons unfamiliar with Marin, a bit of background may help:

What Will Rogers once said about real estate's being a good investment ("They're not making any more of it") may hold truer here than anywhere else in the U.S.

In Belvedere there truly are golden lots. The best, perched atop high cliffs, look out upon San Francisco and its Bay, upon the Golden Gate, and through it, the Pacific. Natives say half-jokingly that on a clear day you can see Japan.

Asked if it is possible, here, for a view to be worth $1 million, Smith scoffs. $1 million? That's nothing. "There are multi-million views."

Thus, the idea that you'd tear down a $4.2 million house to improve your view becomes a simple exercise in property enhancement. (The extra bushes are just so much gravy.)

A call by ABC News to the Winslows asking for their comment went unreturned.

Scott Dingwell, a 20-year resident of Marin, lives in Kentfield, to the north. His lovely 1950s home has extensive gardens, a swimming pool and a commanding view of Tamalpias, the local mountain. Were he to put it on the market, he thinks, its' value would be around $1.3 million.

It's almost certainly a tear-down, Dingwell says.

"If Larry Ellison or Bill Gates wants to buy my house and tear it down," he says, "more power to him -- he'd have a better view. I'm fully supportive of this trend."

June 28, 2012

The remains of a gigantic, three-billion-year-old meteorite impact discovered in Greenland

The remains of a gigantic, three-billion-year-old meteorite impact have been found near the town of Maniitsoq in West Greenland by a geologist at GEUS. The first scientific paper describing the discovery is now being published in the journal 'Earth and Planetary Science Letters'.
If you look at the Moon on a clear night through a pair of ordinary, hand-held binoculars, you'll see a multitude of meteorite craters. Some are larger than 1000 km in diameter and readily visible with the naked eye. Through the first 500 million years of Solar System history, both the Moon and the Earth were constantly bombarded with a multitude of small and large meteorites and comets. Some scientists even think that life was brought to the Earth by comets. The Moon has preserved the remains of thousands of impacts, but on Earth only about 180 such impact structures are known, and most of them are very small, young and repidly decaying.

Contrary to the Moon, the Earth is a dynamic planet with plate tectonics, mountain belts and erosion, which means that most impact structures are eroded away, destroyed by mountain building processes or buried by younger deposits over geological time. Until recently, the 2.02 billion years old and 300 km wide Vredefort crater in South Africa was considered to be both the oldest and largest impact structure on Earth. It is estimated that the impacting meteorite had a diameter of about 15 km. During the development of the final crater structure, a kilometre-thick layer of sedimentary rocks containing the World's largest gold deposits collapsed into the cavity excavated by the meteorite and in this way became protected from erosion and preserved until today. Also the second largest impact structure on Earth, the 1.85 billion years old Sudbury crater in Canada, hosts world-class mineral deposits - in this case nickel-rich minerals that were melted and concentrated by the extreme heating caused by the impact.

On 3 September 2009, the remains of an even larger and much older impact structure near Maniitsoq (Sukkertoppen) in Greenland were 'discovered' at an office in Copenhagen, more specifically at the premises of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS). On behalf of his employer, senior research scientist Adam A. Garde was preparing himself for a workshop on nickel and platinum occurrences in the Maniitsoq region of West Greenland. The meeting was organised by the Greenlandic exploration company NunaMinerals A/S and was taking place the following week in Nuuk, Greenland. During his preparations this Thursday morning, Adam suddenly saw a both simple and extreme explanation for several strange geological features in this region. He had worked on these phenomena several times during his career but never really understood them, even though they had constituted the backbone of his dr. scient. thesis in 1997.

Since the idea of the meteorite impact appeared in Septembr 2009, a small group of scientists at GEUS, Lund University in Sweden, Cardiff University in Wales and the Institute of Planetary Science in Moscow has been investigating, documenting and modelling the impact structure, and the first scientific paper has just been published in the journal 'Earth and Planetary Science Letters'. Thanks to support from the Danish 'Carlsbergfondet' and GEUS it was possible to visit the impact structure in both 2010 and 2011, first with helicopter support and then by ship, and carry out a closer study, on site, of the rocks affected by the impact.

There is no obvious surface expression of the crater structure today. The bedrock in this part of Greenland is over 3 billion years old, about two thirds of the age of the Earth, and the impact itself took place exactly 3001 ± 2 million years ago in the middle of a region, where mountain building was actively taking place in a setting that was probably much like the Japanese archipelago today. It is possible or even likely that the meteorite hit the sea, for the preserved rocks have been intensely altered by circulating hot aqueus fluids. These fluids were likely derived from sea water that would have been able to penetrate deep into the Earth's crust through the numerous fissures and crush zones generated by the impact.

In the course of the 3 billion years that have elapsed since the impact, the land has been eroded down to a depth 25 km below the original surface, and has lately also been carved and excavated by the Greenland ice sheet. All external parts of the impact structure have thus long gone, but the effects of the intense impact shock wave penetrated deep into the interior of the Earth and these remain visible today. The unusual size of the impacting extraterrestrial body and the strong gravity of the Earth (compared to e.g. the Moon) meant that much of the crushed and melted material remained at depth instead of being expelled vertically and laterally from the centre during the first seconds of the impact, as is known from all other impact structures on the Earth.

Boris A. Ivanov at the Institute of Planetary Science, Russian Academy of Science, Moscow, has carried out a series of provisional model calculations, which suggest that the impacting meteorite at Maniitsoq may have had a diameter of more than 30 km, i.e., about twice the size of the Vredefort meteorite and with a mass about ten times larger. If this meteorite had hit the Moon, the final crater structure would have had a diameter well above 1000 km and easily visible from Earth. However, due to the much stronger gravity of our planet, the Maniitsoq structure may have had a diameter of 'only some 500-600 km. If an impact of this size hit the Earth today, it would not only be able to pulverise a medium-sized national state but its global effects would also kill all higher life. Then, 3 billion years ago, there was not much life to extinguish, but as yet no depositional rocks of matching age have yet been identified that could enlighten the effects of the Maniitsoq impact such as extreme tsunamis, deposition of re-condensated atmospheric glass particles from the evaporated meteorite or other signs of global atmospheric and marine effects.

Why are ancient meteorite impact structures of interest to mankind at all? There are several obvious reasons. First, because of the rich endowment with minerals, oil and gas or water resources that such structures may provide. The discovery of a giant impact at Maniitsoq has promoted the exploration company North American Nickel to stake an exploration claim at Maniitsoq and the company will continue their exploration for nickel in the summer of 2012. Secondly, insight into the very complex, ultra high-speed cratering processes is important for the understanding of the initial accretion of the Solar System, and small meteorite craters were used for modelling in connection with nuclear tests during the cold war. However, the physical damage of even the largest nuclear bomb is minimal compared with the impact of a modest meteorite in the 100-m class. Finally, meteorite and comet impacing represent contact with the outer space - a subject that will continue to fascinate philosophers, filmmakers and boys of any age alike.

Why did almost three years elapse from the discovery of the Maniitsoq structure to the publication in a scientific journal? There are several explanations. Firstly, the idea was so radical that the research group wanted to carry out more fieldwork to be sure of their findings. Second, the sheer size of the Maniitsoq structure and the great initial crustal depth of its remnants mean that the technical criteria most commonly used to identify hypervelocity impacting cannot be employed directly. The effects of a giant impact on deep-crustal, ductile rocks at an ambient temperature of around 800°C are in some ways qualitatively different from those in cold, upper-crustal rocks - the targets of all other currently known terrestrial impact structures - and it has been difficult to convince reviewers to accept the evidence. It has been a slow process to document the extraordinary features that characterise the Maniitsoq structure and build up the evidence until it became overwhelming, but it has also been very rewarding to follow up on input from curious, knowledgeable and perceptive reviewers.

Scientists Invent Particles That Will Let You Live Without Breathing

This may seem like something out of a science fiction movie: researchers have designed microparticles that can be injected directly into the bloodstream to quickly oxygenate your body, even if you can't breathe anymore. It's one of the best medical breakthroughs in recent years, and one that could save millions of lives every year.

The invention, developed by a team at Boston Children's Hospital, will allow medical teams to keep patients alive and well for 15 to 30 minutes despite major respiratory failure. This is enough time for doctors and emergency personnel to act without risking a heart attack or permanent brain injuries in the patient.

The solution has already been successfully tested on animals under critical lung failure. When the doctors injected this liquid into the patient's veins, it restored oxygen in their blood to near-normal levels, granting them those precious additional minutes of life.

Particles of fat and oxygen

The particles are composed of oxygen gas pocketed in a layer of lipids, a natural molecule that usually stores energy or serves as a component to cell membranes. Lipids can be waxes, some vitamins, monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, phospholipids, or—as in this case—fats.

These fatty oxygen particles are about two to four micrometers in size. They are suspended in a liquid solution that can be easily carried and used by paramedics, emergency crews and intensive care personnel. This seemingly magic elixir carries "three to four times the oxygen content of our own red blood cells."

Similar solutions have failed in the past because they caused gas embolism, rather than oxygenating the cells. According to John Kheir, MD at the Department of Cardiology at Boston Children's Hospital, they solved the problem by using deformable particles, rather than bubbles:

We have engineered around this problem by packaging the gas into small, deformable particles. They dramatically increase the surface area for gas exchange and are able to squeeze through capillaries where free gas would get stuck.

Kheir had the idea of an injected oxygen solution started after he had to treat a little girl in 2006. Because of a lung hemorrhage caused by pneumonia, the girl sustained severe brain injuries which, ultimately, lead to her death before the medical team could place her in a heart-lung machine.

Soon after, Kheir assembled a team of chemical engineers, particle scientists, and medical doctors to work on this idea, which had promising results from the very beginning:

Some of the most convincing experiments were the early ones. We drew each other's blood, mixed it in a test tube with the microparticles, and watched blue blood turn immediately red, right before our eyes.

It sounds like magic, but it was just the start of what, after years of investigation, became this real life-giving liquid in a bottle.

This is what the future is about. And it's a beautiful one indeed, one that is arriving earlier than we ever could have expected.

Top CIA Spy Accused of Being a Mafia Hitman

Enrique “Ricky” Prado’s resume reads like the ultimate CIA officer: veteran of the Central American wars, running the CIA’s operations in Korea, a top spy in America’s espionage programs against China, and deputy to counter-terrorist chief Cofer Black — and then a stint at Blackwater. But he’s also alleged to have started out a career as a hitman for a notorious Miami mobster, and kept working for the mob even after joining the CIA. Finally, he went on to serve as the head of the CIA’s secret assassination squad against Al-Qaida.

That’s according to journalist Evan Wright’s blockbuster story How to Get Away With Murder in America, distributed by Byliner. In it, Wright — who authored Generation Kill, the seminal story of the Iraq invasion — compiles lengthy, years-long investigations by state and federal police into a sector of Miami’s criminal underworld that ended nowhere, were sidelined by higher-ups, or cut short by light sentences. It tracks the history of Prado’s alleged Miami patron and notorious cocaine trafficker, Alberto San Pedro, and suspicions that Prado moved a secret death squad from the CIA to Blackwater.

“In protecting Prado, the CIA arguably allowed a new type of mole — an agent not of a foreign government but of American criminal interests — to penetrate command,” Wright writes.

In this sense, there are two stories that blur into each other: Prado the CIA officer, and Prado the alleged killer. The latter begins when Prado met his alleged future mob patron, Alberto San Pedro, as a high school student in Miami after their families had fled Cuba following the revolution. Prado would later join the Air Force, though he never saw service in Vietnam, and returned to Miami to work as a firefighter. But he kept moonlighting as a hitman for San Pedro, who had emerged into one of Miami’s most formidable cocaine traffickers, according to Wright.

San Pedro hosted parties for the city’s elite, lost a testicle in a drive-by shooting outside of his house, rebuilt his house into a fortress, tortured guard dogs for sport, and imported tens of millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine into the United States per year, Wright adds. His ties reportedly included an aide to former Florida Governor Bob Graham, numerous judges, lobbyists and a state prosecutor. His ties also included a friendship with former CNN anchor Rick Sanchez, then a local TV reporter.

Prado, meanwhile, was dropping bodies, alleges Wright. Investigators from the Miami-Dade Police Department’s organized crime squad suspected him of participating in at least seven murders and one attempted murder. He attempted to join the CIA, but returned to Miami after not completing the background check (due to his apparent concern over his family ties). But was admitted after the Reagan administration opened up a covert offensive against leftist Central American militants, where he reportedly served training the Contras.

More startling, the Miami murders allegedly continued after Prado joined the CIA. One target included a cocaine distributor in Colorado who was killed by a car bomb. Investigators believed he was killed over concerns he would talk to the police.

Years later, in 1996, Prado was a senior manager inside the CIA’s Bin Laden Issue Station, before the Al-Qaida mastermind was a well-known name. Two years later, the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania elevated Prado to become the chief of operations inside the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, headed by then-chief Cofer Black, later an executive for the notorious merc firm Blackwater. “As the title implied, the job made Prado responsible for all the moving pieces at the CTC — supervising field offices on surveillance, rendition, or other missions, and making sure that logistics were in order, that personnel were in place,” according to Wright.

Prado was also reportedly put in charge of a “targeted assassination unit,” that was never put into operation. (The CIA shifted to drones.) But according to Wright, the CIA handed over its hit squad operation to Blackwater, now called Academi, as a way “to kill people with precision, without getting caught.” Prado is said to have negotiated the deal to transfer the unit, which Wright wrote “marked the first time the U.S. government outsourced a covert assassination service to private enterprise.” As to whether the unit was then put into operation, two Blackwater contractors tell Wright the unit began “whacking people like crazy” beginning in 2008. Prado also popped up two years ago in a report by Jeremy Scahill of The Nation, in which the now ex-CIA Prado was discovered to have built up a network of foreign shell companies to hide Blackwater operations, beginning in 2004. The Nation also revealed that Prado pitched an e-mail in 2007 to the DEA, explaining that Blackwater could “do everything from everything from surveillance to ground truth to disruption operations,” carried out by foreign nationals, “so deniability is built in and should be a big plus.”

But it’s hard to say where Prado’s alleged criminal ties end. It’s possibly his ties dried up, or moved on. Even mobsters, like Alberto San Pedro, retire. Another theory has it that Prado wanted to break his ties to the Miami underworld — and San Pedro — all along, and sought out legitimate employment in the military, in firefighting and the CIA as an escape. But, the theory goes, he stayed in because he still owed a debt to his patrons.

The other question involves the CIA itself. It’s no secret the agency has associated with dubious types, but the agency is also “notoriously risk averse,” Wright writes. Yet the agency is also protective. And letting Prado on board wouldn’t be the agency’s first intelligence failure.

Half of German teenagers unable to distinguish between democracy and dictatorship, study shows

About half of young Germans are unsure whether the Nazi state was a dictatorship – and even more are not sure whether the socialist East German regime was one, a new study shows.

The widespread ignorance is described in a study called, “Late Victory of the Dictatorships?” conducted by researchers at Berlin’s Free University.

“This is shocking,” said study author Klaus Schroeder. More than 7,500 school pupils aged around 15 were asked how they viewed the various governments that have ruled Germany.

Only around half were definite that the Nazi government was a dictatorship. Just over a third were certain that the former East German government was also a dictatorship.

And about half said the former West German government was a democracy, while around 60 percent were sure that the current united German government was democratic.

“The low estimation of historical knowledge is clearly having an effect.”

The students most able to tell the difference between dictatorship and democracy were in the former eastern states of Thuringia and Saxony Anhalt, while those with the least idea were from the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

7 Foods a Nutritionist Would Never Eat

The foods on this list may seem harmless, but if a nutritionist won't touch them, you know they're bad! We asked our resident Diet Doctor Mike Roussell, PhD, to list the top foods he wouldn't eat if his life depended on it--and he delivered! Here's what he had to say:

1. Fat-Free Salad Dressing

Skip the fat-free salad dressing and make your own.
Fat-free salad dressings are a perfect example of good food gone bad. Salad dressing is the perfect combination of vinegar (which helps control blood sugar) and plant oils (full of essential fatty acids and sometimes antioxidants). However, an irrational fear of dietary fats has forced food companies to mess around with this perfect blend. The resulting fat-free salad dressings have introduced sugar and high fructose corn syrup, un-pronounceable emulsifying agents, and other food science secrets used to make the unnatural seem natural. It's too easy to make your own healthy salad dressing to ever let this science experiment in a bottle pass your lips.

Rice Cakes

Rice cakes are a nutritional wasteland.
They may have been touted as the ultimate diet food during the low fat/no fat craze of the late 1980s and 1990s, but don't be fooled. Rice cakes can have a glycemic index rating as high as 91 (pure glucose has a rating of 100), making it the kind of carbohydrate that will send your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride. This is bad for weight loss and for your health.

Seitan

If you have a gluten intolerance, avoid seitan.
Seitan, originally from Asia, is a common meat substitute for vegetarian dishes. Unlike many meat substitutes, seitan is not soy derived but made entirely of wheat gluten. Wheat gluten is a highly allergenic protein that is naturally found only in small amounts in wheat-based products. While there is no research linking seitan intake to increased prevalence of gluten allergies or intolerances, I'm wary that eating a lot of this allergenic protein may trigger development of a more severe gluten allergy or intolerance.

Shark

Skip the shark and pick salmon instead.
The risk/benefit ratio of eating fish (the benefits of omega-3 fats vs. the risk of mercury) typically falls in favor of the omega-3 fats and their incredible health effects. Shark is one of the exceptions. Despite having an omega-3 fat content similar to tuna, shark contains almost three times the amount of mercury. Tilefish is another high mercury/low omega-3 fish that should be avoided.

Your best bet for maximizing omega-3 fats while minimizing mercury levels? Salmon

Refined and Re-Fortified Grains

Opt for whole-grains over refined and re-fortified ones.
Unfortunately this rules out a majority of the carbohydrates found on supermarket shelves. Refined and re-fortified grains are grain-based foods like certain breakfast cereals, pastas, and rice products that have been refined such that the naturally occurring fiber, vitamins, and minerals have been removed. Companies then replace the fiber and synthetic versions of the vitamins and minerals that were initially removed. Sometimes (and this is really sneaky) they put everything back in naturally occurring ratios so that they can still claim the food contains 'whole grains'. My suggestion: Just eat the real unfortified stuff in the first place.

Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

If there's only one thing on this list to give up, it's sugary beverages.
If you stop eating only one thing on this list, it should be sugar-sweetened beverages. The empty calories help pad your waistline without offering any sense of satiety or fullness. What's more, simple sugars do an excellent job of lowering your good cholesterol and increasing your triglyceride levels (two risk factors for heart disease). Drinking sugary beverages also promotes disturbances in your body's inflammatory balance, making it harder to recover from exercise and increasing your risk of numerous chronic diseases.

Instead reaching for a can of soda or sweetened tea, opt for water or a calorie-free infused drink like HINT (watermelon is my favorite).

Grits

Avoid grits if you can.
Another hyper-refined carbohydrate, grits are the small leftover pieces from corn processing. Nutritionally speaking, grits lack significant amounts of vitamins or minerals. They contain a minute amount of fiber and no essential fats. Their flavor is lacking and thus butter or heavy cream is used to make them palatable, bringing together the blood-vessel-destroying, unholy marriage of simple carbohydrates and saturated fat.

13 Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are the only seed that is alkaline-forming; in this world of highly acidic diets, that is a very good thing.

Did You Know? History and Interesting Trivia

  • Pumpkin seeds were discovered by archaeologists in caves in Mexico that date back to 7,000 B.C.
  • North American tribes were the very first to observe the particular miracle in pumpkin seeds. Pumpkins and their seeds were an important Native American Indian food used for their dietary and medicinal properties.
  • Pumpkin seeds are called pepitas in Mexico and they are a trademark of Mexican cuisine.
  • Pumpkin seeds were very popular in ancient Greece.
  • The nutrition in pumpkin seeds improves with age; they are among the few foods that increase in nutritive value as they decompose. According to tests made at the Massachusetts Experimental Station, squash and pumpkin seeds stored for more than five months show a marked increase in protein content.
  • Pumpkin seeds are high in calories, about 559 calories per 100 g.

Nutritional Facts & Health Benefits
Pumpkin seeds:

  • Are filled with lots of minerals including phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, iron and copper.
  • Are a good source of vitamin K.
  • Contain phytosterols, compounds that that have been shown to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol.
  • Contain L-tryptophan, which helps with good sleep and lowering depression. Tryptophan is converted into serotonin and niacin. Serotonin is also very helpful in helping us to have a good night’s sleep.
  • Are high in zinc, making them a natural protector against osteoporosis. Low intake of zinc is linked to higher rates of osteoporosis. In a study of almost 400 men (age from 45-92) published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition they found a correlation between low dietary intake of zinc, low blood levels of the trace mineral and osteoporosis at the hip and spine.
  • Are a good source vitamin E; they contain about 35.10 mg of tocopherol per 100 g.
  • Are the most alkaline-forming seed.
  • Are an excellent source of vitamin B group (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) and folates).
  • Contain good quality protein. 100 g seeds provide 30 g.
  • According to studies, pumpkin seeds prevent calcium oxalate kidney stone formation.
  • Reduce inflammation for arthritis without the side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Are used in many cultures as a natural treatment for tapeworms and other parasites.
  • Are good for prostate health! The oil in pumpkin seeds alleviates difficult urination that happens with an enlarged prostate.

7 Negative Effects of Refined Flour

Flour is hard to sidestep come mealtime. Breakfast brims with toast, bagels, cereal, pancakes. Lunch is built around sandwiches, wraps, pasta, pizza. And dinner may come with its very own breadbasket.

Flours are produced by crushing grains into fine powders. And those powders form the basis not just for breads and buns, but for a huge variety of processed foods, from cereals, crackers and pizza dough to cookies, cakes and ice cream cones. As a result, the average American now eats 10 servings of refined grains each day.

As our national appetite for flour has inched up, so has the incidence of diet-related ills, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Coincidence? Many nutrition experts don’t think so. When they weigh the evidence linking food choices and disease, they see the white, dusty fingerprints of flour everywhere.

“Now that trans fats are largely out of the food supply,” says David Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Children’s Hospital Boston, “refined carbohydrates, including refined grain products, are the single most harmful influence in the American diet today.”

Flour started out as an ingenious fix to a vexing problem. Grass seeds were plentiful, but the tough outer shell (the husk) made the seeds difficult to chew and digest. Early humans outsmarted the seeds by grinding them between stones, crushing the outer layers to get at the goodness inside. The result — a coarse powder — was the first whole-grain flour.

The downside was spoilage. Crushing the germ released its oils, which quickly turned rancid when exposed to air. With the advent of industrial milling in the late 1800s, machines began filtering out the germ and pulverized the remaining endosperm into a fine, white powder that lasted on the shelf for months. And so all-purpose white flour was born — along with a host of health problems.

Beneath their rigid architecture, whole-kernel grains conceal an array of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber. But when machines pulverize kernels into flour, even whole-grain flour, what’s left behind is a starchy powder capable of wreaking havoc on the body.



The White Menace

Flour, as opposed to whole-kernel grains, is easy to overconsume because most flour-based foods require little chewing and go down rather quickly. “It is so much easier to overconsume any food where the work of chewing or digesting or separating fiber from starch has been done for us,” says functional nutritionist Julie Starkel, MS, MBA, RD.

Overconsuming flour can lead to a number of problems in the body, including:

Blood-Sugar Blues. Smashing a whole-kernel grain to smithereens means it digests faster. Rapid-fire digestion causes blood sugar to spike, which causes a rise in insulin. The result? Not only are you hungry two hours later, but you are also paving the way for insulin resistance and diabetes. “The difference between a whole-kernel grain and a processed grain all boils down to the glycemic index, which is how quickly the body turns food into fuel, or glucose,” says Gerard Mullin, MD, FACN, director of integrative gastroenterology nutrition at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., and coauthor of The Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health (Rodale, 2011). Foods made with wheat flour are particularly damaging. A carbohydrate in wheat, called amylopectin A, is more easily converted to blood sugar than just about any other carbohydrate. Two slices of bread made with whole-wheat flour raise blood sugar higher than six teaspoons of table sugar and higher than many candy bars.

“If we were evil scientists and we said, ‘Let’s make the most perfect poison,’ it would be wheat,” says preventive cardiologist William Davis, MD. (For more on why Davis advises against eating any kind of wheat — including even whole-kernel grains — check out his book, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health (Rodale, 2011).)

Inflammation. A diet high in grains stokes inflammation. When blood sugar spikes, glucose builds up in the blood like so many standby passengers on a flight. When glucose loiters in the blood, it gets into trouble by attaching itself to nearby proteins. The result is a chemical reaction called glycation, a pro-inflammatory process that plays a role in a host of inflammatory diseases — everything from cataracts to arthritis to heart disease.

Food Cravings. Over the past 50 years, the amber waves of grain our grandparents enjoyed have been replaced with modern, high-yield dwarf strains of wheat that produce more seeds and grow faster. The result is a dietary wild card, says Davis: “Agricultural geneticists never asked if these new strains of wheat were suitable for human consumption. Their safety has never been tested.” One of the biggest changes in modern wheat is that it contains a modified form of gliadin, a protein found in wheat gluten. Gliadin unleashes a feel-good effect in the brain by morphing into a substance that crosses the blood-brain barrier and binds onto the brain’s opiate receptors. “Gliadin is a very mind-active compound that increases people’s appetites,” says Davis. “People on average eat 400 more calories a day when eating wheat, thanks to the appetite-stimulating effects of gliadin.”

Metabolic Slowdown. Research shows that the body may shift nutrients into fat storage and away from muscle burning in the presence of high-glycemic-index foods. In 2004, Ludwig and his colleagues at Harvard conducted a study, published in the journal Lancet, in which they fed rats diets with identical nutrients, except for the type of starch. By the end of the study, rats in both groups weighed roughly the same, but those eating a high-glycemic diet had 71 percent more fat than the low-glycemic-index group.

GI Disorders. Studies show that the lectins in grains inflame the lining of the gut and create fissures between cells. Also, when whole-kernel grains are refined, 80 percent of the fiber is lost, and gut health suffers. “Without the fiber, you end up with rapid-release carbs in these grains, which is a bad thing for the gut,” says Kathie Swift, MS, RD, coauthor (with Mullin) of The Inside Tract. Plus, fiber helps sweep the gut of debris and supports the body’s critically important elimination and detoxification processes, which also play a role in keeping high cholesterol and inflammation at bay.

Food Allergies/Intolerances. Wheat, in particular, is one of the biggest dietary triggers of food allergies and intolerances. While the exact reason is unclear, many experts blame the higher gluten content of modern wheat varieties. A type of protein found in many grains, including wheat, gluten gives dough elasticity, trapping air bubbles and creating a soft texture. Because soft is considered desirable, wheat today is bred to have more gluten than ever before.

Acid-Alkaline Imbalance. The body has an elaborate system of checks and balances to keep its pH level at a steady 7.4. A diet high in acidic foods, such as grains, forces the body to pull calcium from the bones to keep things on an even keel. When researchers looked at how the diets of more than 500 women affected their bone density, they found that a diet high in refined grains, among other nutrient-poor foods, was linked to bone loss. A highly acidic diet also chips away at our cellular vitality and immunity in ways that can make us vulnerable to chronic disease. “Grains are the only plant foods that generate acidic byproducts,” says Davis. “Wheat, in particular, is among the most potent sources of sulfuric acid, a powerful substance that quickly overcomes the neutralizing effects of alkaline bases.”

9 Surprising Items Made With Animal Ingredients

If you thought that by quitting meat or at least going weekday vegetarian you were doing your part to avoid the horrors of factory farming, think again.

Even though animal products might not be in as many places as some claim (most tennis rackets are made with synthetic materials now), they spread far beyond just those hidden in food: everywhere from your car to the bathroom and the sky in the 4th of July.

As the Ontario Farm Animal Council clearly puts it, “on average, 98 percent of an animal is used. From that 98 percent, about 55 percent (on average) of the animal is used for edible products and the remaining 45 percent for inedible by-products.”


1. Plastic Bags

Many plastics, including shopping bags, contain ‘slip agents’, which reduce the friction in the material. What are those made of? Animal fat.

In a more technical explanation from Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News: “Although polymers are manufactured from petroleum feedstock, plastics manufacturers often use additives of animal origin to improve material properties and/or to aid in processing of raw polymers” — which blogger Beth Terry proved first-hand.

Also, watch out for new plastics coming out: Companies like Tyson Foods are experimenting with keratin protein found in chicken feathers to produce plastics, adhesives and non-woven materials.

“Someday disposable diapers or hospital gowns could be made from the materials,” said Jeff Webster, the group vice president of the renewable products division to USA Today.



2. Car And Bike Tires

Even when food can have hidden animal ingredients, you can still take the time to look at the label to see it. With your car or bike tires, it’s a little more difficult. But here’s the trick: check with the manufacturer if they use animal-based stearic acid, which helps the rubber in tires hold shape under steady surface friction.

The guys at Vegan Fitness forums took the time to call some brands and made a handy list of companies that use plant-based alternatives of the component.



3. Glue in Wood Work and Musical Instruments

Animal glue (made from boiling animal connective tissue and bones) is apparently the best adhesive for fixing musical instruments made from wood such as violins and pianos. Even though other synthetic glues are used too, hide glue is also readily available and widely used for furniture fixes and wood work.


4. Biofuels

Sugar cane and corn are what come to mind at first when we think about biofuels, but over the past years the use of animal fats to produce these has extended.

There’s actually beef biodiesel (which Matthew called a “bone-headed idea” last year) and chicken biodiesel to choose from.


5. Fireworks

It’s no news that fireworks suck real badly in terms of pollution, but bits of animals in them? Apparently so.

The same component used in the tire industry, stearic acid, is present in the production of fireworks. The book The Chemistry of Fireworks lists this as an ingredient and an article in Wikipedia explains that “in fireworks, stearic acid is often used to coat metal powders such as aluminum and iron. This prevents oxidation, allowing compositions to be stored for a longer period of time.”


6. Fabric Softener

It was big news on TreeHugger some time ago: Downy fabric softener contains Dihydrogenated tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride, which comes from the cattle, sheep and horse industry. They sure won’t put that in the usual “all-so-soft” advertising.


7. Shampoo & Conditioner

Annie Leonard warned us about the hazardous chemicals in the cosmetics industry, but didn’t necessarily emphasize the animal ingredients.

According to PETA, there are more than 20 components from animals that could be in your shampoo and conditioner. The tricky part is when you read “Panthenol”, “Amino acids”, or “Vitamin B” in a bottle (just to name a few), it can be either from animal or plant source — making it hard to tell. Companies have even removed the word “animal” from some ingredients to avoid putting off consumers.


8. Toothpaste

Glycerin is found in animal and vegetable fats, which have a chemical composition containing from 7 percent to 13 percent glycerin. When separated from it, it’s used in a wide variety of products, including toothpaste.

As I mentioned with other ingredients, when you read “Glycerin” on shampoo and conditioner, it can be either animal or plant based, which is a pain.

But many products from commercial brands like Colgate claim to be animal-free and suited for vegetarians (though the vegetarian product guide is not currently functional on their website).

9. White and Brown Sugar

What about hidden products in the manufacture process? Among vegetarians and vegans, it’s known that purified ash from animal bones is used in filters to refine sugar by some brands, though there are other companies that use filters with granular carbon or ion exchange systems. What not all may know is that brown sugar is also refined, only to have molasses added after.


It’s important to note that getting to know where animal products go is not just for vegetarians or vegans: These byproducts are very likely not sourced from responsible organic farmers, but from the very frightening and extremely polluting factory farms. So even if you’re a conscious omnivore, watch out.

June 27, 2012

This robot will beat you at rock-paper-scissors 100 percent of the time



When someone claims they're good at rock-paper-scissors, they're usually just trying to psyche you out so they can predict your next move. But this robot, created by the Ishikawa Oku Laboratory in Japan, doesn't need to psyche you out, because it knows it will beat you every single time.

How can it do it? One thing it certainly doesn't do is any kind of high-level analysis of the game. It doesn't put your last sequence of moves through a complex semantic analysis and try to predict the move. It doesn't use anti-random tactics like "five scissors in a row" to throw you off. All it needs is a high-speed camera and quick reflexes.

Yes, the robot cheats. By watching the image from a camera that can determine the position of your hand every millisecond, it is aware of your move the very moment you make it. And as soon as your hand starts to form that rock, the robot is giving you some paper to wrap it up. At the very end of the video, you can see the tiny delay between the human making a move and the robot reacting — but it happens so fast that you wouldn't notice except when shown in slow-motion.

Janken


Doesn't seem fair, does it? But since humans can't see or react on a millisecond timescale, such a tactic would never even be considered. It's precisely because reaction time doesn't come into it that rock-paper-scissors becomes a game of psychology or dumb luck. Similarly, our vision isn't good enough to read a person's cards in the reflection of their eyes, and we're not skillful enough with our hands to control the outcome of dice.

Robots, on the other hand, could be fast enough, far-sighted enough, or precise enough that they could do any of those things. In this case, the robot can think and react in the time it takes you to make your play. Sure it's cheating — but it's still quite a trick.

The lab built the setup to show how quickly a robot arm and vision system could accommodate human input; that hand could just as easily be remotely operating in a hostile area or amplifying those movements to pick up construction materials.

Of course, what everyone wants to know is: What happens if they build a second one and have them play each other?

Revenge gone wrong: Teens throw milkshake, woman throws $2,000 back

A woman lost $2,000 in Palo Alto after she threw her purse at a passing car filled with teenagers who allegedly threw a milkshake in her face.

The woman was walking across University Avenue near Rudy's Pub Sunday when a white Range Rover full of teenagers drove by and allegedly threw a milkshake in her face.

Authorities said the woman tried to get revenge by throwing her alligator skin purse at the passing vehicle.

A window was open on the Range Rover and the purse landed in the car. The purse had several of the woman's personal items and $2,000 in cash.

Police are looking for the stylish purse and the teenagers, who are facing charges ranging from battery to possession of stolen property or misappropriation of property.

Insulting 'Elmo' removed from NYC's Central Park Zoo

A man impersonating the "Sesame Street" character Elmo, who for years has hassled tourists for money in New York City's Central Park Zoo, was taken away in an ambulance on Sunday after security guards were called, the Daily News reported.

The man, said to be emotionally disturbed, reportedly yelled racial insults and other obscenities when he was kicked out of the park.

The man, whose identity was not reported, had pestered tourists to pose for pictures with him.

Police: Man bites, and kills, dog while high on drugs


Police say a man was high on drugs when he killed a neighbor's dog in Waco, Texas.

Michael Terron Daniel, 22, is charged with cruelty to a non-livestock animal, a felony because the dog died.

KCEN reported that Daniel is accused of going to a home on June 14 while high on the synthetic marijuana drug K-2, assaulting several people and chasing a neighbor on his hands and knees while growling like a dog.

Witnesses told police that Daniel then grabbed a medium-sized black dog and took it to the front porch, where he started beating and strangling it.

The paper reported he began biting and ripping pieces of the animal's flesh.

KCEN reported that when police arrived, Daniel was sitting on the front porch with the dead dog on his lap. Officers told the station he was incoherent and covered in the dog's blood and fur.

The Tribune-Herald reported Daniel told police he was on a "bad trip" because of the drug. He was taken to a hospital, then arrested on Monday.

Casablanca Oscar could fetch record $3million

Oscar statuette won by director Michael Curtiz for the 1942 classic Casablanca is being sold at auction in Los Angeles.


Filming Casablanca


Humphrey Bogart on the set of Casablanca


Ingrid Bergman on the set of Casablanca


Michael Curtiz's best director Oscar 


Publicity shots for Casablanca made Humphrey Bogart appear taller than his co-star Ingrid Bergman even though she was one inch taller 

An Oscar statuette could sell for a record $3million (£1,925,000) tomorrow when the Best Director Academy Award handed to Michael Curtiz for the 1942 classic Casablanca is due to be sold.

Casablanca, which celebrated its 70th anniversary in February, starred Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, and the film also won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. Casablanca, set during World War Two, has been named by the American Film Institute as the third best film of the past 100 years.

Hungarian-born director Curtiz died in April 1962 aged 75. His Oscar was previously sold in 2003 by Christie’s for $231,500 to magician David Copperfield but bosses at Los Angeles auctioneers Nate D. Sanders are refusing to name the latest seller. At the start of the week, 21 bidders had already registered their interest in the Casablanca gold-plated statuette.


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loathes the auctioning of Oscars, believing it lessens the prestige of the prize. After an online sale in February of 15 statuettes raised $3m, the Academy issued a statement saying: "Oscars should be won, not purchased,” adding that it had no “legal means of stopping the commoditisation of these particular statuettes.”

The Academy can stop the sale of trophies awarded after 1950, because that year organisers made winners sign a legal agreement stating that should they wish to sell their statuettes, they must first offer them back to the Academy, for $1.

Last December, Nate D. Sanders sold Orson Welles' Oscar for his screenplay of Citizen Kane for $861,000, and in 1999 the best picture Oscar for Gone With the Wind was bought by singer Michael Jackson for a record $1.54 million.

FBI sting operation nets 24 in global fraud ring

Two dozen people on four continents have been arrested in an elaborate sting targeting a black market for online financial fraud, the FBI said.


The officials claimed the two-year FBI sting protected more than 400,000 potential victims and prevented losses of around $205 million.

US officials called the crackdown in the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia the largest enforcement effort ever against computer crooks who specialize in stealing and trafficking credit card, bank and other personal identification information on the Internet - a practice known as "carding".

The officials claimed the two-year FBI sting protected more than 400,000 potential victims and prevented losses of around $205 million.

The arrests "cause significant disruption to the underground economy and are a stark reminder that masked (Internet protocol) addresses and private forums are no sanctuary for criminals and are not beyond the reach of the FBI," Janice Fedarcyk, head of the FBI's New York office, said in a statement.

US Attorney Preet Bharara called the international investigation an unprecedented demonstration that "fraudsters cannot count on being able to prowl the Internet in anonymity and with impunity, even across national boundaries".

According to a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan, the suspects bought and sold hacking programs and stolen information via secure websites.

In June 2010, undercover investigators set up their own website "as an online meeting place where the FBI could locate cybercriminals, investigate and identify them and disrupt their activities," the complaint said. The site - called "Carder Profit" - was rigged to allow agents to monitor and record private messages and identify the computers of registered users.

The complaints charged two alleged "carders" from New York, Joshua Hicks and Mir Islam, with fraud. Both were released on bail following brief appearances in federal court in Manhattan. Neither entered a plea.

Undercover agents say they bought stolen data related to 15 American Express, MasterCard and Discover accounts from Hicks, a 19-year who lives with his mother and goes by the name "OxideDox" on the Internet.

In one instance, an undercover investigator delivered a digital camera as payment to Hicks for one of the stolen information "dumps," the complaint added. When the agent later asked the defendant in a chat if he liked the camera, the defendant responded, "A different model ... would have been better, but hey, a free camera is a free camera."

Using the name "JoshTheGod", the 18-year-old Islam advised another website user to keep fraudulent purchases from Apple under $350 to avoid detection, the court papers said. He also provided an undercover investigator with credit card numbers and Card Verification Value numbers and corresponding names and addresses, they said.

After Islam's arrest, authorities say Islam admitted that he also used the site to advertise his "doxing" service - a term referring to the sharing of an "individual's name, address, phone number, date of birth, Social Security number, email address in order to embarrass, harass or retaliate against such individual."

Another defendant from Tucson, Arizona, was accused of trying to sell viruses on the FBI site that was designed to take over and remotely control a victim's computer. The malware programs allowed buyers to turn on the web camera of an infected computer and spy on the users, and to record user names and passwords on bank and other accounts, authorities said.

The registration process for the bogus website required unwitting users "to agree to terms and conditions, including that their activities on the site were subject to monitoring for any purpose," the complaint said.

Investigators made 11 arrests in various states, including New York, Florida, Wisconsin and California. Thirteen others were picked up in the United Kingdom, Bosnia, Norway, Italy, Japan and elsewhere overseas. In addition, search warrants were executed in Australia and Canada.

If convicted, the US defendants face five to 20 years in prison.

The Junky Truth About Frozen Yogurt

As the temperatures rise, so does our desire for a refreshing, tasty treat. If you're trying to be health-conscious and opt for a serving of frozen yogurt instead of a scoop of ice cream, you may be surprised to learn the surprising truth about the health benefits of frozen yogurt.

The frozen yogurt craze has taken America by storm, fueling a billion-dollar industry. One reason for the dessert's rise in popularity is the common belief that frozen yogurt is healthier than ice cream. Sharecare nutrition expert andDr. Oz Show guest Samantha Heller sets the record straight:

1. Serving size matters. The American Diabetes Association recommends choosing a frozen dessert that contains 3 grams or less of fat per 4-ounce serving (1/2 cup). Some popular frozen yogurt shops offer cups in only one size -- large -- and charge by the ounce. Left to their own devices (and cravings), many people dish up a portion that easily equals the sugar contained in a candy bar.

2. Think of toppings like candy. Piling candy on anything loads on the calories. And yes, those sprinkles, chocolate shavings, gummy bears, and marshmallows count as candy. If you want to top off your frozen treat, opt for fruit and nut selections (in moderation).

3. Don't bank on probiotics. Whatever its faults, frozen yogurt is redeemed by a healthy dose of probiotics, right? Not so fast, says Heller. The freezing process affects the amount of probiotics in the finished product. Yogurt found in grocery stores must contain a minimum of 100 million probiotic bacteria per gram to use the term "live active cultures" on labels. But frozen yogurt must contain only 10 million bacteria per gram. If you really want a probiotic boost, take probiotic supplements, which boast more than a billion bacteria per gram.

Don't Just Go for the Whites: 4 Reasons to Eat Whole Eggs

After a couple of decades of being considered not so good for you, eggs have definitely made a healthy comeback. If you skip the scrambled eggs breakfast because you're worried about the fat or cholesterol affecting your heart health, here are some reasons you shouldn't avoid eating whole eggs.

  • One whole egg contains 185 milligrams of cholesterol (egg whites contain none). The daily recommended cholesterol limit is less than 300 milligrams for people with normal LDL (bad) cholestero levels, so you can enjoy a whole egg each day, as long as you don't go overboard on other cholesterol-filled foods such as meat and dairy products.
  • The white part of the egg may contain most of the protein, but the yolk contains most of the egg's nutrients. One yolk has 21.9 mg of calcium, 245 IU of vitamin A, 18 IU of vitamin D, 66.3 mg of phosphorus, and 24.8 mcg of folate.
  • Having eggs for breakfast can help you lose weight.One egg is only 92 calories but offers 6.3 g of protein to give you sustained energy all morning long, so you're less likely to hit a midmorning slump and feel the need to reach for a not-so-healthy pick-me-up.
  • Healthy fats are essential to our bodies and if you choose eggs fortified with omega-3 fatty acids, it's an easy way to increase your intake of these polyunsaturated fatty acids in your diet.

June 26, 2012

6 Foods You Should Never Buy at Whole Foods

"GLUTEN-FREE" GOODIES

If you have a gluten intolerance, that little "gluten-free" label can be a literal lifesaver. But if you don't have a gluten intolerance, you're really not doing yourself any favors by avoiding the ingredient. "Gluten-free does not equal healthier," says Metsovas. "These products just replace wheat flour with brown rice flour, which isn't much better for you." She adds that many gluten-free products can be loaded with sugar and starch. "You're getting tons of carbs, and very few nutrients, with these packaged foods," says Metsovas. ("Clinical nutritionist Stella Metsovas, BS")


BOTTLED TEA

What could be bad about tea? If it doesn't come from your own teapot, be warned: "Bottled teas are often sweetened with sugar, and many of them are essentially just uncarbonated soda," says Giancoli. Need proof? Honest Tea Honey Green Tea has a whopping 18 grams of sugar. And even the Classic Green Tea has 9 g of organic cane sugar. 



GRAB-N-GO SALADS

In general, the convenient pre-made salads are healthy. The dressings, however, are another story. 

"Salad dressings can be filled with sugar," says Metsovas. She's spotted ones with up to 50 g in one serving! That's bad as it is, but there's another problem with a skimpy salad and sugary dressing. "Dressings with high sugar cause your blood sugar to spike, so you'll be hungry and craving more sugar soon after you finish," she says. 

If your only options are dressings with a lot of sugar in them (and you can't eat your salad dry), Metsovas says you're better off skipping the salad and grabbing a sandwich instead, since it'll keep you feeling full for longer.


"MULTI-GRAIN" BREAD

Shouldn't six grains be better than one? Not if those six grains had all their nutrients stripped out of them, which is often the case with foods labeled "multi-grain." The real term you want to look for is "whole grain," says Giancoli. Whole grain means the product hasn't been refined. 

What's so wrong with refining? Essentially, refining grains chemically bleaches the flour, removing the natural vitamins and minerals at the same time, says Elaine Wilkes, PhD. After the bleaching process, the flour is "enriched" with synthetic nutrients, but it's really not the same as the original whole grain nutrients. Wilkes describes it as "dead bread."


ALL-NATURAL SODAS

You'd never consider a can of Coke to be healthy, but the promises of "natural flavor" and "organic sugar" on bottles of sodas like Izze and Jones Soda make them almost seem OK, right? 

First of all, Wilkes says "natural flavors" are a joke. "If a label contains 'natural flavors' it doesn't mean that it's natural or healthy," she says. "Artificial and natural flavors are manufactured at the same chemical plants as other flavors. They have nothing to do with nature."


VEGAN DESSERTS

OK, maybe this one shouldn't be too shocking, but Giancoli says, "a cookie can be vegan, but it's still a cookie." Translation: While that cookie may not have any butter or lard in it, it can still have plenty of fat (via vegetable oil) and sugar. Metsovas does concede that vegan or organic desserts are "technically healthier, since they typically contain fewer refined ingredients." But, she adds, "you'll still put on weight even if it's natural fat and sugar."