Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Vegans bash Starbucks for beetle coloring in frappuccinos - Stop using bugs to color your strawberry colored drinks -

Vegans bash Starbucks for beetle coloring in frappuccinos - Stop using bugs to color your strawberry colored drinks - 

Starbucks has the vegan community seeing red over what it recently began using to color its Strawberry Frappuccinos: beetles.

That's beetles as in ground up cochineal beetles — mostly found in Mexico and South America.
Gross as that may sound, it's a common, government-approved food coloring used widely throughout the food industry. It's in everything from some Yoplait yogurts to three Kellogg's Pop-Tarts flavors.
How Starbucks has evolved over the last 40 years
A Vegan website, ThisDishIsVeg.com, this month warned its readers that Strawberry Frappuccino was no longer vegan and now is using the beetles for coloring. Starbucks made the switch in January when it aggressively moved away from artificial ingredients.

For Starbucks, which is eager to get artificial ingredients out of its food and drinks, it's an unexpected PR problem. Never mind that Frappuccinos, in total, represent a $2 billion global business for Starbucks. "This is the quintessential modern day PR crisis," says PR expert Katie Delahaye Paine. "You try to be good and green, and someone is going to get you for it."
Daelyn Fortney, co-founder of the vegan website ThisDishIsVeg.com, was informed of the change by an anonymous Starbucks barista. She wants Starbucks to go back to using a vegan coloring like red beet, black carrots or purple sweet potatoes. She's posted a petition from her group on the website Change.org, under the heading, "Starbucks: Stop using bugs to color your strawberry colored drinks." Late Wednesday, it had 779 signatures.
"This was known as a drink that vegans can safely consume," she says. "We're not trying to cause any problems. Our point is, vegans are drinking this and it's not vegan."
But Starbucks says it's simply trying to do the right thing. "At Starbucks, we have the goal to minimize artificial ingredients in our products," spokeswoman Lisa Passe says.
Nutrition experts say it's the right idea, but the wrong execution. "Starbucks should be praised for getting rid of artificial ingredients," says Michael Jacobson, executive director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. But since some folks have allergic reactions to insects, he says, "Strawberry Frapuccinno should be colored with strawberries."

Read more -

A single drug can shrink or cure human breast, ovary, colon, bladder, brain, liver and prostate tumours in mice -

A single drug can shrink or cure human breast, ovary, colon, bladder, brain, liver and prostate tumours in mice - 

A single drug can shrink or cure human breast, ovary, colon, bladder, brain, liver and prostate tumours that have been transplanted into mice, researchers have found. The treatment, an antibody that blocks a “do not eat” signal normally displayed on tumour cells, coaxes the immune system to destroy the cancer cells.

A decade ago, biologist Irving Weissman, of the Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, Calif., discovered that leukemia cells produce higher levels of a protein called CD47 than do healthy cells. CD47, he and other scientists found, is also displayed on healthy blood cells; it’s a marker that blocks the immune system from destroying the cells as they circulate. Cancers take advantage of this flag to trick the immune system into ignoring them. In the past few years, Weissman’s lab showed that blocking CD47 with an antibody cured some cases of lymphomas and leukemias in mice by stimulating the immune system to recognize the cancer cells as invaders. Now, he and colleagues have shown that the CD47-blocking antibody may have a far wider impact than just blood cancers.

“What we’ve shown is that CD47 isn’t just important on leukemias and lymphomas,” says Weissman. “It’s on every single human primary tumour that we tested.” Moreover, Weissman’s lab found that cancer cells always had higher levels of CD47 than did healthy cells. How much CD47 a tumour made could predict the survival odds of a patient.

To determine whether blocking CD47 was beneficial, the scientists exposed tumour cells to macrophages, a type of immune cell, and anti-CD47 molecules in petri dishes. Without the drug, the macrophages ignored the cancerous cells. But when the CD47 was present, the macrophages engulfed and destroyed cancer cells from all tumour types.

Next, the team transplanted human tumours into the feet of mice, where tumours can be easily monitored. When they treated the rodents with anti-CD47, the tumours shrank and did not spread to the rest of the body. In mice given human bladder cancer tumours, for example, 10 of 10 untreated mice had cancer that spread to their lymph nodes. Only one of 10 mice treated with anti-CD47 had a lymph node with signs of cancer. Moreover, the implanted tumour often got smaller after treatment — colon cancers transplanted into the mice shrank to less than one-third of their original size, on average. And in five mice with breast cancer tumours, anti-CD47 eliminated all signs of the cancer cells, and the animals remained cancer-free four months after the treatment stopped.

“We showed that even after the tumour has taken hold, the antibody can either cure the tumour or slow its growth and prevent metastasis,” says Weissman.

Although macrophages also attacked blood cells expressing CD47 when mice were given the antibody, the researchers found that the decrease in blood cells was short-lived; the animals turned up production of new blood cells to replace those they lost from the treatment, the team reported online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cancer researcher Tyler Jacks, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that although the new study is promising, more research is needed to see whether the results hold true in humans.

Read more -

OnStar Lets You Track Your Spouse for $0.12 a Day -

OnStar Lets You Track Your Spouse for $0.12 a Day - 

Suspicious spouses used to have to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars on private investigators to keep tabs on their significant other, but a new feature from General Motors’ OnStar division can do it for just over a dime a day.

The new service, dubbed Family Link, allows owners of OnStar-equipped vehicles from Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillac to track a family member through the OnStar website and receive email and text alerts when the vehicle arrives at a location or at a specific time.

“We are depending on subscribers to tell other family members that they’ve enabled the service on the vehicle.” –OnStar

OnStar vice president of subscriber services, Joanne Finnom, says Family Link is something subscribers have been asking for, and last year the company responded, enlisting 4,500 OnStar customers to test the service. Family Link was a hit, with Finnom saying the testers “told us it provides them peace of mind by staying connected to their family when they’re on the road.”

Family Link is being pitched to parents who want to keep tabs on their kids – the latest in a long series of products targeting minors with no legal recourse – but it could be used to track anyone driving an OnStar-equipped vehicle enrolled in the service. But with all location tracking services, the privacy and security implications are murky at best.

“It’s troubling,” says Parker Higgins of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Any time a new service like this is introduced you have to think beyond what’s described in the press release.”

OnStar representative Cheryl McCarron concedes that, “We are depending on subscribers to tell other family members that they’ve enabled the service on the vehicle,” but that’s an obvious leap in trust, not to mention the security issues surrounding multiple family members having access to a shared account with one username and password.

Read more -

Rise in Allergies Linked to War on Bacteria -

Rise in Allergies Linked to War on Bacteria - 

“Allergic diseases have reached pandemic levels,” begins David Artis’s new paper in Nature Medicine. Artis goes on to say that, while everyone knows allergies are caused by a combination of factors involving both nature and nurture, that knowledge doesn’t help us identify what is culpable — it is not at all clear exactly what is involved, or how the relevant players promote allergic responses.

There is some evidence that one of the causes lies within our guts. Epidemiological studies have linked changes in the species present in commensal bacteria — the trillions of microorganisms that reside in our colon — to the development of allergic diseases. (Typically, somewhere between 1,000 and 15,000 different bacterial species inhabit our guts.) And immunologists know that signaling molecules produced by some immune cells mediate allergic inflammation.

Animal studies have provided the link between these two, showing that commensal bacteria promote allergic inflammation. But these researchers wanted to know more about how.

To figure it out, Artis and his colleagues at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine treated mice with a broad range of oral antibiotics to diminish or deplete their commensal bacteria and then examined different immunological parameters. They used a combination of five different antibiotics, ranging from ampicillin, which is fairly run of the mill, to vancomycin, which is kind of a nasty one.

They found that mice treated with antibiotics had elevated levels of antibodies known to be important in allergies and asthma (IgE class antibodies). The elevated antibodies in turn increased the levels of basophils, immune cells that play a role in inflammation, both allergic and otherwise.

This connection doesn’t only apply to mice but also to humans who have high levels of IgE for genetic reasons. People with genetically elevated levels of IgE are hypersusceptible to eczema and infections, and antibodies that neutralize IgE are used to treat asthma.

The antibiotic treatments and IgE did not act by promoting the survival of mature basophils, but rather by promoting the proliferation of basophil precursor cells in the bone marrow. Commensal bacteria limit this proliferative capacity.

That discovery is the real insight contributed by this paper. It has been well known for some time that IgE mediates allergies. But no one knew that bacteria living in the gut may use it to check the growth of immune precursor cells in the bone marrow. The finding might have wide-ranging implications and help us make sense of other chronic inflammatory disease states that have also been associated with changes in this bacterial populations. Commensal bacteria might impact these other inflammatory conditions — including cancer, infection, and autoimmune disorders — through this mechanism, as well.

Experts have puzzled over the enormous explosion of asthma and allergies in recent years, and been unable to pinpoint the cause. This paper suggests that perhaps the overuse of antibacterial products could be to blame.

Read more -

FBI Taught Agents They Could ‘Bend or Suspend the Law’ - and can gather information protected under US Constitution -

FBI Taught Agents They Could ‘Bend or Suspend the Law’ - and can gather information protected under US Constitution - 

The FBI taught its agents that they could sometimes “bend or suspend the law” in their hunt for terrorists and criminals. Other FBI instructional material, discovered during a months-long review of FBI counterterrorism training, warned agents against shaking hands with “Asians” and said Arabs were prone to “Jekyll & Hyde temper tantrums.”

These are just some of the disturbing results of the FBI’s six-month review into how the Bureau trained its counterterrorism agents. That review, now complete, did not result in a single disciplinary action for any instructor. Nor did it mandate the retraining of any FBI agent exposed to what the Bureau concedes was inappropriate material. Nor did it look at any intelligence reports that might have been influenced by the training. All that has a powerful senator saying that the review represents a “failure to adequately address” the problem.

“This is not an effective way to protect the United States,” Sen. Richard Durbin, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee overseeing the FBI, tells Danger Room about the inappropriate FBI counterterrorism training. “It’s stunning that these things could be said to members of our FBI in training. It will not make them more effective in their work and won’t make America safer.”

At the least, Durbin adds, “those responsible for some of the worst parts of this should be reassigned. I want FBI agents who were exposed to some of these comments to at least have a chance to be spoken to and given valid, positive information that can help them.”

One FBI PowerPoint — disclosed in a letter Durbin sent to FBI Director Robert Mueller on Tuesday (.PDF) and shared with Danger Room — stated: “Under certain circumstances, the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others.” An incredulous Durbin told Danger Room, “Time and time again when that is done, it has not made us safer.” Like other excerpts from FBI documents Danger Room reviewed for this story, it was not dated and did not include additional context explaining what those “circumstances” might be.

FBI spokesman Christopher Allen did not dispute the documents’ authenticity. He said he would not share the full documents with Danger Room, and was “unable to provide” additional information about their context, including any indication of how many FBI agents were exposed to them.

Read more -

Tacocopter would deliver tacos via unmanned drone -

Tacocopter would deliver tacos via unmanned drone - 

The ability to have tacos delivered at their feet is an idea many people wouldn't hesitate to get behind — especially when the tacos are being delivered by a robot.

The Tacocopter — an unmanned drone helicopter that gives customers tacos on demand — would without a doubt be wildly popular were it to exist throughout the nation.

Taco-hungry Americans could order and pay for tacos on their smartphones, which would supply GPS coordinates to the drone. Once ordered, the tacos would be delivered as long as the customer remained in the ordering location.

It exists in the Bay Area — in concept, at least. For now, the Tacocopter, which has existed since July 2011, has been grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration, as would be any unmanned commercial drone. According to FAA regulations, "unmanned aerial vehicles" cannot currently be used for commercial purposes.

There are other minor problems with the project, such as its ability to navigate dangerous terrain or to keep the food it carries warm.

That hasn't stopped the Tacocopter's creators from dreaming big, though. They hope the Tacocopter website will serve as fodder for discussion of the future of food delivery — think of the implications for tailgating or outdoor barbecuing, for example.

Read more -

Student Loans on Rise -- for Kindergarten - more parents are turning to loans years before children start college -

Student Loans on Rise -- for Kindergarten - more parents are turning to loans years before children start college - 

Instead of saving up for their sons' college education, Bill Dunham and his wife are taking out loans for high school. Their eldest son will begin ninth grade at a school in Boston where annual tuition runs around $10,000 -- and they already pay $5,000 a year for their younger child. A project manager for a mechanical construction company, Dunham says the schools referred him to lenders who specialize in pre-college education loans. He's taking a loan to cover his son's full high school tuition, which he plans to repay over two years. "If we had the money, we'd pay it now," he says.


Why College Aid Makes College More Expensive
Endowments Grow, but Tuition Stays High
A New Challenge for College-Aid Seekers
It used to be that families first signed up for education loans when their child enrolled in college, but a growing number of parents are seeking tuition assistance as soon as kindergarten. Though data is scarce, private school experts and the small number of lenders who provide loans for kindergarten through 12th grade say pre-college loans are becoming more popular. Your Tuition Solution, one of the largest lenders in this space, says demand for the upcoming year is already up: This month, the total dollar amount of loans families requested rose 10% compared to a year ago; at that pace, the company expects its total funding to rise to $20 million for 2012-13. Separately, First Marblehead, which exited the market in 2008, reentered last year as demand for loans began to rise.

Much of this demand is coming from high-income families. Roughly 20% of families that applied for aid to pay for their children's kindergarten through 12th grade private school education had incomes of $150,000 or more, according to 2010-11 data, the latest from the National Association of Independent Schools. That's up from just 6% in 2002-03. Those who don't get approved for free aid, like grants, increasingly turn to loans, experts say.

For parents who sign up for pre-college loans the risks can be significant. To begin with, they could be repaying the loans for a long time. Sallie Mae's and Your Tuition Solution's pre-college loans have repayment periods of up to three and seven years, respectively. Loans at the Hawken School in Chesterland, Ohio, don't have to be repaid until after the child graduates college. That means parents could be on the hook to repay K-12 and college loans simultaneously. Already, about one in six parents of college graduates have loans, and they're projected to owe nearly $34,000 on average this year, according to FinAid.org. Taking on loans before college leaves parents at risk of owing larger sums of debt, experts say.

Read more -

Millions of dollars worth of loonies and toonies spilled onto Highway -

Millions of dollars worth of loonies and toonies spilled onto Highway - 

Provincial police and Brinks employees are on the scene of a serious multiple-vehicle accident north of Kirkland Lake guarding millions of dollars worth of loonies and toonies spilled onto Highway 11.

OPP Inspector Mark Andrews told the Toronto Star Wednesday the load of coins is unofficially reported to be worth at least $3 million and added there were unconfirmed reports of some passersby helping themselves.

“There is lots of security there now,” he said.

Andrews said two occupants of the large Brinks truck are in serious condition in hospital after it went out of control and struck a rock face shortly before 4 a.m. The Brinks truck was then struck by a van and a tractor trailer, which spilled its cargo of candies on the roadway as well.

“We weren’t able to get the second person out the Brinks vehicle until well after 8 a.m. It took quite a bit of time to cut them out,” he said.

Andrews, the OPP’s traffic and marine manager for northeastern region, said the two vehicles tried to avoid the wrecked Brinks truck but ended up smashing into it just south of Ramore, between Kirkland Lake and South Porcupine.

“Armoured vehicles have been involved in collisions before but they are usually not compromised so that may give you an indication of the severity of the impact,” said Andrews, a 28-year veteran of the OPP.

“We have never had a high value load like this spilled … we have never had a Brinks truck of any nature ever split open on us before.”

Andrews noted that because the highway is only two lanes and the accident in a remote area there was no opportunity for a detour, adding that northbound traffic was being rerouted to Highway 17. In addition, police also called the provincial environment ministry because the truck’s saddle tanks ruptured spilling diesel fuel.

Andrews told the Star “we told anecdotally that there may have been some people when things initially started to unfold” help themselves to the coins “but I am hoping that it was more speculation than it was fact.”

“I am really hopeful that proves to be a falsehood that people weren’t jamming stuff into their pockets while there were people screaming for help,” he said.

Brinks could not be reached for comment.

Read more -