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Friday, June 8, 2007Car With Wooden Wheels
This car takes being eco-friendly to the next level. It's got wheels that are merely slices of a tree trunk, sure to provide a horribly bumpy ride and what I can only imagine would be pure pain to the shocks and struts.
Is this car actually drivable? Who knows. Why would anyone do this to a perfectly good car in the first place? The world is a mysterious, confusing place.
If money could buy happiness, how much would it take to bring it back after the death of a partner, child or spouse? Most of us would be loathe to assign such a value, if not offended by the question, but two economists have attached such dollar values to deaths by comparing the way that lost loved ones lower scores on happiness surveys with the way that greater incomes boost scores. More than just a gruesome exercise, they say they hope it will provide courts with a way to more fairly award damages.
"It's a very black thing to talk about," says economist Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in England, but courts regularly award damages to bereaved survivors after the death of a loved one. Such awards, however, are not necessarily based on well considered rules. In the U.K., the 1976 Fatal Accidents Act provides for a lump sum of $20,000 to a surviving spouse or the parents of a minor. Recent U.S. court cases have valued life at as much as $18 million or as little as $10,000, according to a 2005 study.
Looking for a more equitable way to assign damages, Oswald and Nattavudh Powdthavee of the University of London reviewed data collected from 10,000 Britons tracked by the British Household Panel Survey, begun in 1991, which records major life events and includes questions designed to gauge overall mental health. They identified the amount of money, on average, that raised a person's mental health score by the same amount that a loved one's death lowered it.
They calculated that it would take $220,000 annually to raise someone's happiness to pre-death levels after a spouse dies, $118,000 for a child, $28,000 for a parent, $16,000 for a friend and only $2,000 for a sibling. Taking into account that some people might be harder hit than others could as much as double those amounts, Oswald and Powdthavee wrote in paper reported at a conference held last week on happiness research, law and policy at the University of Chicago (UC).
Eric Posner, a UC law professor and co-organizer of the conference, says it is too early for courts to adopt Oswald and Powdthavee's method but notes that it may be less arbitrary than the existing way of assigning damages. "The courts ask juries to pick a number and they don't give juries a specific rule or principle for guiding their deliberations," he says. As a result, "it's either nothing or a very high number."
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia says there is "so much more at stake when people suffer loss than simply the hit to their happiness." Actual suffering should factor into damage awards, he says, but so should other things such as feelings of outrage or injustice.
Oswald agrees that more research is needed before the findings should influence policy, but he stands by the concept. "Just because it's hard to value this subtle thing is no reason not to try to do the best in being fair to victim," he says. "We're trying to make it logical instead of random."
What do you think — meat grows on trees? Maybe not, but how about in Petri dishes? Scientists in the Netherlands and the United States are working (separately) to create edible meat in the lab from animal stem cells. The U.S. is focusing on developing the technology for astronauts, while the Dutch are more ambitious: They'd like to replace the animals raised in farms with flesh that can be grown without any of the environmental downsides and ethical dilemmas that arise from keeping livestock. Think of all the vegans who could start eating meat again without any guilt! True, if we stop raising cows and pigs, Vermonters won't be able to power their homes on cow dung, but that seems a small price to pay if the synthetic meat can benefit the environment on a larger scale.
The scientists working on the project have grown only thin layers of meat cells so far, so Easter hams will be some years away. But the success of the project would bring up a thornier question: Which would you rather eat — meat grown in a lab, or Spam?
Paris Hilton's release from jail may be short lived. Hours after she was sent home under house arrest Thursday for an undisclosed medical condition, the judge who put her in jail for violating her reckless-driving probation ordered her into court to decide if she should go back behind bars.
Hilton must report to court at 9 a.m. Friday, Superior Court spokesman Allan Parachini told The Associated Press.
"My understanding is she will be brought in in a sheriff's vehicle from her home," Parachini said.
The celebrity inmate was sent home from the Los Angeles County jail's Lynwood lockup shortly after 2 a.m. in a stunning reduction to her original 45-day sentence. She had reported to jail Sunday night after attending the MTV Movie Awards in a strapless designer dress.
She was ordered to finish her sentence under house arrest, meaning she could not leave her four-bedroom, three-bath home in the Hollywood Hills until next month.
City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo complained that he learned of her release the same way as almost everyone else — through news reports.
Then, late Thursday, he filed a petition questioning whether Sheriff Lee Baca should be held in contempt of court for releasing Hilton — and demanding that she be held in custody. Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer's decision to haul Hilton back to the courtroom came shortly after.
"It is the city attorney's position that the decision on whether or not Ms. Hilton should be released early and placed on electronic monitoring should be made by Judge Sauer and not the Sheriff's Department," said Jeffrey Isaacs of the city attorney's office.
Sauer himself had expressed his unhappiness with Hilton's release before Delgadillo asked him to return her to court. When he sentenced Hilton to jail last month, he ruled specifically that she could not serve her sentence at home under electronic monitoring.
Delgadillo's office indicated that it would argue that the Sheriff's Department violated Sauer's May 4 sentencing order.
As word spread earlier Thursday that the 26-year-old poster child for bad celebrity behavior was back home, radio helicopter pilots who normally report on traffic conditions were dispatched to hover over her house and describe it to morning commuters. Paparazzi photographers on the ground quickly assembled outside its gates.
Here’s the story behind one of the most peculiar (and most popular) grave sites in the entire United States. More than 60 years after it was completed, it still attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year.
In the mid-1870s, a college student named John Davis was forced to drop out of Urania College in Kentucky after his parents died and he was unable to pay tuition. He became an itinerant laborer, taking work wherever he could find it, and in 1879 he signed on as a farmhand for Tom Hart, a wealthy landowner in tiny Hiawatha, Kansas. Davis was a good worker, but that didn’t count for much when the penniless lad fell in love with Sarah Hart, the boss’s daughter. When the two announced their plans to marry, Mr. and Mrs. Hart, furious that Sarah would marry so far beneath her station, disowned her.
Ever heard the expression "living well is the best revenge"? John and Sarah got back at the Harts by becoming one of the most prosperous couples in Hiawatha, though it took them a lifetime to do it. After scraping together enough money to buy a 260-acre farm, they managed it so wisely that they were able to use the profits to buy a second farm, which also did well. Then, after 35 years of living in the country, the childless couple moved to a stately mansion on one of Hiawatha’s best streets. They were still living there in 1930, after more than 50 years of marriage, when Sarah died from a stroke.
At first John commissioned a modest headstone for Sarah in Hiawatha’s Mount Hope Cemetery, but soon decided it wasn’t enough. He’d never forgotten how Sarah’s family had spurned them when they had nothing; now that they were more prosperous than the Hart clan, he decided that he and Sarah should be laid to rest in the nicest, most expensive memorial in town.
Davis was friends with a local tombstone salesman named Horace England, and together the two men designed a memorial consisting of life-size marble statues of John and Sarah as they looked on their 50th wedding anniversary. The statues would stand at the foot of the graves and face the headstones; the cemetery plot would also be protected from the elements by a 50-ton marble canopy supported by six massive columns.
England stood to make a small fortune on such a grandiose memorial. Even so, he suggested that it might be a little much, especially considering that the country was in the depths of the Great Depression and folks in Midwestern towns like Hiawatha had been hit especially hard. Davis thanked him for his opinion and then offered to give the business to another tombstone salesman. England assured Davis that that would not be necessary and committed himself wholeheartedly to the task at hand. As far as anyone knows, he never raised another objection.