June 29, 2009

Bernie Madoff Sentenced to 150 Years

U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin sentenced Bernard Madoff, 71, to 150 years in prison on Monday for perpetrating Wall Street's biggest and most brazen investment fraud. Judge Chin called the the scope of Bernard Madoff's fraud "staggering" and handed down the most severe sentence allowed by law, ensuring that Madoff will pay for his crimes by spending the rest of his life behind bars. Sadly, the sentence cannot reimburse those he robbed.

Madoff Pleads Guilty to Fraud, Money Laundering, Theft Another Bank Robber Strikes: Madoff Scandal Ripples Through Europe and United States

June 25, 2009

Health Firms Underpay Claims...At Your Expense

Have you ever wondered what health insurance "usual and customary" costs are? The actual wording varies from one company to another, but for years health insurers have not paid a percentage of actual medical costs, but rather a percentage of what they pretend the bill ought to be, a number that is usually lower than the real bill. So where do they get those low numbers? A federal investigation has solved the mystery!

United States Congressional investigators have discovered that health insurers in every region of the country are relying on faulty databases to underpay millions of valid insurance claims from patients. In a report released yesterday, the Senate Commerce Committee confirmed what many patients have complained about: that insurance companies nationwide have failed to provide consumers with accurate or understandable information about how they calculate reasonable or customary charges for out-of-network care.

June 24, 2009

The Case of Too Much Packaging


After years of faithful service, my laptop mouse finally called it quits and is now fated to be recycled at the next local electronic waste event. After considering the options, I ordered a shiny, new, cordless, laser mouse through Amazon. It's a Logitech VX Nano. The name Nano refers to the size, and the mouse is indeed small and portable. In fact, the small size is precisely what makes my only complaint about this peripheral so ironic: It came with a HUGE amount of packaging.

Everything inside the box, including the totally non-breakable fabric pouch and thin user's manual, were contained in their own little boxes. I was able to recycle Amazon's cardboard shipping container, but all of the Logitech packaging is laminated paper, some of which has an additional layer of plastic fused to it, making it non-recyclable in my area. Moreover, none of the packaging is made from recycled materials. I've taken a photo of the mouse and the array of shiny paper to illustrate my point. Near the bottom of the image, you can see the mouse itself sitting on top of the user's manual. The rest is instant landfill fodder. This kind of packaging is outdated and wasteful. Logitech and many other tech companies, please don't burden future generations with piles of trash. There is already too much. It's time to switch to environmentally friendly packaging!

San Francisco Adopts Tough Recycling Law
Swapping Instead of Shopping

June 22, 2009

A Question of Capitalism, Greed, and Fish

Surf Perch, Monterey Bay Aquarium
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
~Ancient Chinese Proverb

"Sell a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, you ruin a wonderful business opportunity."
~Karl Marx

The quotes above represent two opposing points of view regarding not only what to do with fish, but also fundamental principles of how to live together on a planet with finite resources. The first quote may be said to represent a sustainable approach to improving the lives of all, while the second is greedy, and greed tends to lead to short-sighted and unsustainable choices. Greed has doomed many a civilization. In the end, we sink or swim together. Now it's your turn. If you had to choose a policy that applied to everyone, would it be the first quote, the second, or some unknown third option?

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June 20, 2009

Air France 447 Debris Found, Compensation Paid

After the most extensive search ever, some debris from Air France flight 447, which crashed off the coast of Brazil, have been found. The bulk of the aircraft has not been found, though search teams have found dozens of pieces of debris in the water and think they know the general location of the wreck. The head of the French accident investigation board, Paul-Louis Arslanian, said this week that there is a chance the entire aircraft may never be found. Parts of the plane, some passenger luggage, and about 50 bodies have been retrieved by the Brazilian navy. Story continued below...

Related Articles:
Update on the Search for Air France Flight 447
Air France Jet, 228 People Feared Lost Over Atlantic

Everyone on board perished when the Airbus A330 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after leaving Rio de Janeiro on June 1st, 2009. There were 216 passengers and 12 crew members on board. Air France will pay families about €17,500 (US$24,500) in initial compensation for each victim of the crash of Flight 447 this month, the company's CEO Paul-Henri Gourgeon said in a statement yesterday. Air France has been in touch with about 1,800 relatives of the crash victims, Gourgeon told France's RTL radio on Friday.

Photo above of the recovery of Flight 447's vertical-stabilizer and rudder assembly by the Brazilian military. Photo from Wikipedia.)

June 15, 2009

The Plight of Working Uninsured Americans Continues

The United States might get a working health care system soon, and health care reform may be on the way, but meanwhile many hard-working people remain uninsured.

Larry Harbour is a model entrepreneur, but the 33-year-old owner of LB Custom Chrome and Detail in rural Broken Bow, Neb., is just an illness or injury away from losing everything. "If anything were to happen to my wife and I, the business is sunk," Harbour said, standing in the shop he built from scratch. "It's like playing Russian roulette. Every day, we wonder when it's going to happen — if something's going to happen, are we able to afford it?"

Are You Tired of "Greenwash"?

Greenwash--A combination of the words "green" and "whitewash". The dissemination of misleading information by an organization to conceal its abuse of the environment in order to present a positive public image. It is a term used to describe the practice of companies deceptively marketing their products and policies as environmentally friendly.

Sadly, many companies think that instead of going green, it's enough to merely appear green, hence the new term "greenwash." Greenwashing was coined by NY environmentalist Jay Westerveld in an essay about the hotel industry's practice of placing little cards in each room, promoting reuse of guest-towels, ostensibly to "save the environment." Westerveld noted that, in most cases, little or no effort toward conservation was actually being made by the hotels.

Image from Greenpeace.org, creative commons license

June 13, 2009

Volvo S40 DRIVe Voted 2009 Green Car of the Year

We have just been informed that the new Volvo S40 1.6D DRIVe has won What Car's Green Car of the Year award! With many car companies talking about developing greener cars, Volvo has put its money where its mouth is. With low CO2 emissions of just 104g/km and returning up to 72.4 miles per gallon, it's an impressive family sedan. Steve Fowler, What Car’s editor, said, “Volvo’s S40 DRIVe is one seriously appealing eco-friendly car. Its low emissions don’t come at the expense of quality, safety or driver enjoyment and it’s great value, too. It’s everything we look for in a Green Car of the Year.” Read on for the press release, photos, and video.
The Volvo S40 1.6D DRIVe featuring the new Start/Stop technology has scooped the top honour and been named Green Car of the Year at the prestigious 2009 What Car? Green Car Awards.

June 10, 2009

In Memory of Luke Cole

Friends, family, and proponents of environmental justice around the world are shocked and dismayed by the sudden death of Luke Cole, attorney and founder of the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment.

Luke Cole was a pioneer in the field of environmental justice, filing lawsuits for poor plaintiffs or people of color whose communities were being ravaged by corporate polluters. He died in a head-on car crash early Saturday morning in Uganda. He was 46. Mr. Cole and his wife, Nancy Shelby, were on vacation and traveling on a rural road in western Uganda about 7:30 a.m. when "a truck veered to Luke's side of the road," said Mr. Cole's father, Herbert "Skip" Cole. Mr. Cole died, and his wife was seriously injured. She was flown to Amsterdam, where she underwent surgery the following Monday and is recovering.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "It was a sudden end to the life of a man who, early on, figured out that what he wanted to do as a lawyer had little to do with representing moneyed interests. Instead, Mr. Cole was intent on helping people who needed the kind of legal muscle that could be brought to bear by a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School."

June 9, 2009

Tree-Climbing Goats

Goats in a tree in Morocco,
By Marco Arcangeli via Wikimedia Commons
Goats are some of the best lawn-mowers on the planet. Goats are also highly skilled mountain climbers, but did you know that they can climb trees? It seems to be something they do frequently in Morocco. The goats climb Argan trees to munch the tasty fruit that grow in the higher branches. This image is authentic.

June 6, 2009

Where Do Modern Cows Come From?

Modern Hereford Bull
I was watching Cosmos (Carl Sagan) on Netflix last night. During the discussion of natural and artificial selection of genetic traits, Dr. Sagan used modern cattle as an example. There are no "wild cows" because humans domesticated and began breeding them for desired traits so long ago. Naturally, I began to wonder, "Hey, where did domestic cows come from in the first place? What is the ancestor of the cow?" It took a bit of searching to find reliable sources, but I finally found out what the ancestors of domestic cattle were, where they lived, and when they became extinct.

Artist's depiction of a wild (now extinct) Aurochs
Cattle (bos primigenius taurus) have been domesticated for so long that they are considered to be an entirely separate species from their wild ancestor. Cattle recently became the first farm animals to have their genome mapped. The word cattle did not originate as the term for bovine animals. It was borrowed from Old French catel, itself from Latin caput, head, and originally meant movable property, or livestock of any kind. The word is closely related to chattel (a unit of personal property) and economic capital. In some parts of the world, personal wealth is still measured in head of cattle.

Skeleton of the last Aurochs
The ancestor of the domestic cattle that we see grazing in fields was called the Aurochs. It lived in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, but is now extinct. An adult stood about 2 meters (6.6 feet) tall at the shoulder and weighed in at 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lbs), so it was much bigger than a modern bull. Domestication of this mighty animal began in several different places at approximately the same time: about 8,000 years ago in the 6th millenium B.C. Drawings of Aurochs are featured in many ancient cave drawings. The demise of the great Aurochs came about through sport hunting, poaching, and loss of territory to humans. The last Aurochs was a female who died in Poland in the year 1627. It's skeleton (3rd image) can now be found in the Swedish Royal Armory (Swedish: Livrustkammaren) in Stockholm.

In the 1920s, two German zoo directors, brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck attempted to "breed back" the Aurochs. They managed to create an animal that looks similar to what is known of the Aurochs. The result is called Heck Cattle. Heck Cattle are somewhat like miniature Aurochs, but in appearance only. They are not actually the extinct Aurochs.
Heck Cattle

June 5, 2009

Two Young Falcons Fledge, One Visits San Jose Mayor

Along with people around the world, we here at Earthly Happenings are keeping a close eye on the now-famous falcon family nesting on top of San Jose City Hall, in California's Silicone Valley. Two of the young falcons have fledged, meaning that they flew for the first time. At about 3:20 p.m. on Monday, one of the young female falcons named Ilahay ("angel" in Persian) hopped out of the nest and took flight. Accompanied by her mother, Clara, the 6-week-old flew over the Martin Luther King Jr. library with ease, but had a bumpy first landing. Meanwhile, her brother Veer fledged too. According to the San Jose Mercury News, he "flew around City Hall, over downtown, and finally, showing an early knack for political hobnobbing, landed in sight of Mayor Chuck Reed's office on the top floor." The other two youngsters are expected to fly soon, and a crowd of eager falcon-watchers is camped near city hall to wait for the big moment. 

June 1, 2009

Air France Jet, 228 People Feared Lost Over Atlantic

According to an Air France official, Air France flight AF447 carrying 228 people from Rio de Janeiro to Paris lost contact with air traffic controllers over the Atlantic Ocean Sunday night. The passenger jet disappeared after its electrical systems malfunctioned during a thunderstorm with heavy turbulence.

LATEST UPDATE: Air France 447 Debris Found, Compensation Paid

The plane, an Airbus 330-200, was carrying 216 passengers, nine cabin crew members and three pilots, an airline spokesperson said. Eighty Brazilians and 73 French people were on board. The chief Air France spokesman, Francois Brousse, told the Associated Press “it is possible” that the plane was hit by lightning. Experts say that lightening alone could not have brought down the jet, and that it was more likely a combination of lightening, turbulence, and other factors.

Brazil immediately began a search mission off its northeastern coast, but thus far has found nothing. According to the New York Times, "Brazilian officials said the plane disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean between the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, 186 miles northeast of the coastal Brazilian city of Natal, and Ilha do Sal, one of the Cape Verde islands off the coast of Africa." That is a huge area of ocean-- about three times the size of Europe. Relatives and friends are waiting at GaleĆ£o - Antonio Carlos Jobim airport in Rio de Janeiro to receive information about flight AF 447.

Relatives and friends of the missing passengers can call the following numbers for information: 0800 800 812 for calls from France, 0800 881 20 20 for calls from Brazil, and + 33 1 57 02 10 55 for calls from all other countries.

LATEST UPDATE: Air France 447 Debris Found, Compensation Paid