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Wednesday, October 10, 2007The Real River Queen
A New Zealand woman with no legs is having a mermaid's tail made to help her swim.
Nadya Vessey, from Auckland, is having the tail made by the company behind the special effects in Lord of the Rings and King Kong.
She was born with a condition that meant her legs would never develop properly, reports the Stuff news website.
She began swimming after she had her first leg amputated at seven. Despite having her other leg amputated at 16, she swam competitively in high school and now swims as often as she can.
The tail will be moulded on to a pair of wetsuit shorts to make it easy to put on and take off. Vessey says it will allow her to propel herself through the water as if she was a mermaid.
Ms Vessey, who is in her 50s, came across Weta Workshop's prosthetic department one night while surfing the internet.
She decided to email them her idea about a tail "just to put the idea out there" and, much to her surprise, their reply was immediate.
Weta was excited about the challenge and offered to donate its staff time and expertise to make the tail if Vessey could cover the costs of the materials, which she did with a grant from a charity.
"I began to feel a bit embarrassed about it. But then everybody else got so excited so I thought: "Oh, I'll just go with it and see what happens"," she said.
Ms Vessey asked Weta to make the tail practical and beautiful. They told her not to worry that they would even put scales on it.
"So I really have no idea what to expect but it's going to be fun," she said.
A man who handed over a counterfeit million-dollar bill to a cashier at a Pittsburgh supermarket and asked for change has been arrested.
Police told the BBC the man became abusive when a manager at the Giant Eagle store confiscated the fake note.
He broke an electronic funds-transfer machine at the counter and reached for a scanner gun, said police.
There is no real US bill worth $1m (£490,000). Since 1969, the $100 note has been the highest in circulation.
The man walked into the store on the north side of Pittsburgh on Saturday evening.
After refusing to give his name to police, the suspect, who was not carrying identification, was charged with forgery and criminal mischief.
Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Diane Richard told the BBC News website: "The John Doe [unidentified male] became irate when staff refused to change his $1m bill and damaged a piece of equipment. Officers arrested him."
He was detained at Allegheny County Jail.
MPs fight for their right to lie
I t would be reasonable to assume our legislators would do all they could to restore their tattered reputation at a time when distrust of politicians is at an all-time high.
But when the BBC commissioned a documentary exploring whether MPs were willing to pass a law that would allow them to be prosecuted for lying to the electorate, it prompted an angry backlash from those who frame Britain's laws.
Former Home Secretary Michael Howard told the programme makers: 'It's the stupidest idea I've ever heard.' Another former Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said the BBC was accusing all MPs of being 'charlatans and liars'. The Tory MP for Bournemouth West, Sir John Valentine Butterfill, said 'anarchy would reign' if ordinary voters were allowed to sue a Parliamentarian
One Tory MP even went as far as to try to get his on-camera interview dropped from the one-hour programme, Why Democracy? The Ministry of Truth, to be broadcast this week on BBC2.
Film-maker Richard Simons, of Spirit Level Films, quizzed 46 MPs to see how many of them would back a private member's bill creating a legal mechanism allowing a member of the public to prosecute an MP for lying. This would be called the Misrepresentation of the People's Act and would leave parliamentarians open to prosecution for lying, much in the same way that the Trade Descriptions Act protects consumers from dishonest claims and statements.
But, while around a quarter said the idea was worth debating, the rest either argued that existing self-regulation was good enough to ensure MPs and Ministers remained honest, or dismissed the idea out of hand.
Only one MP - to be revealed in the programme - volunteered to sponsor a Bill and steer it through Parliament in the face of the likely wrath and obstruction of his colleagues.
Simons, of Spirit Level Films, told The First Post: "In the US it is illegal to lie to Congress, and a law in the state of South Australia makes it a criminal offence to lie in the run-up to an election. Why can't British citizens enjoy the same protection from their elected representatives?"
In his quest to frame a Bill, Simons enlisted the support of Professor Conor Gearty, barrister and director of the LSE's Centre for the Study of Human Rights. "There's a great deal to be said for a regulatory mechanism that makes it unlawful to engage in lying for political gain of the type we frequently see at election time," says Gearty.
During the course of the film, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Philip Mawer, expresses his bewilderment at the current arrangements, which rely solely on the House of Commons regulating itself.
Sir Philip says in the film: "Nobody independent looks at complaints by members of the public about the actions of government ministers." He says the public don't understand why this is the case - "and to be honest, neither do I".
As even the disgraced MP Neil Hamilton points out during the film: "Five years is a long time to wait for the next general election. In the meantime, MPs and political parties get up to all sorts of chicanery and there's no means to call them to account."
Early school success protects against teen and young adult drug use
ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Adolescents who do well in school are less likely to smoke, drink
or do drugs. But which comes first: drug use or school failure?
A new book by researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research
(ISR) provides an answer. Patterns of educational success or failure are well established
for most adolescents by the time they reach the end of eighth grade, while drug use has
only begun to emerge by that time.
When more opportunities for substance use do emerge, students already doing well in
school are less likely to engage in such behaviors, whereas those doing poorly are more
likely to do so, the researchers say.
“Grade point averages at the end of 8th grade are strongly linked to smoking at that time,
and strongly predictive of later smoking,” said ISR social psychologist Jerald G.
Bachman. “For example, practically none of the students with an A average were daily
smokers at age 14, versus more than a quarter of the students with grades of D or lower.
By age 22, half of those who had been D students had become daily smokers, compared
with about a quarter of those who had been A students in eighth grade.”
The researchers tracked a national sample of more than 3,000 young people over an
eight-year interval extending from mid-adolescence—average age 14—to young
adulthood—average age 22. This is a period when some young people drop out of high
school, others graduate and many go on to college. It is also a period when many
experiment with cigarettes, alcohol, and illicit drugs, and some become regular users.
“The beauty of tracking individuals through this crucial period of maturation is that we
can see which events come first, and thus gain important evidence about what causes
what,” Bachman said.
Bachman is the lead author of “The Education–Drug Use Connection: How Successes
and Failures in School Relate to Adolescent Smoking, Drinking, Drug Use, and
Delinquency,” published in September by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates/Taylor &
Francis. His coauthors are U-M social scientists Patrick M. O’Malley, John E.
Schulenberg, Lloyd D. Johnston, Peter Freedman-Doan, and Emily E. Messersmith.
The book reports a new set of findings from the ISR Monitoring the Future project,
which has been studying drug use among youth and young adults for more than 30 years.
The new findings are based on a special nationwide sample of adolescents who were first
surveyed as eighth graders in 1991, 1992, and 1993, and who then completed a series of
follow-up surveys at two-year intervals.
The researchers found that the strongest and most long-lasting effects of early educational
success or failure are not on drinking or illicit drug use, but on cigarette use.
Smoking rates are also strongly linked with later educational attainment. By age 22, half
of all high school dropouts were daily smokers, compared with only one in five of those
with three or more years of college. Other long-term research from the Monitoring the
Future project shows that even as late as age 40, adults with three or more years of
college were about one third as likely to be daily smokers as those with only a high
The researchers also found that earlier educational experiences such as poor grades,
suspension or expulsion from school predicted the use of illegal drugs such as marijuana
But the effects of educational setbacks on marijuana or cocaine use were less and not as
long-lasting as the impact on cigarette use.
“By the time adults reached age 40, for example, fewer than 10 percent reported any
marijuana use in the past 30 days, cocaine use was far lower, and neither substance
showed much difference related to educational attainment,” Bachman said.
The findings for alcohol use, and occasional heavy drinking, showed yet another pattern.
Like cigarette use, alcohol use emerges fairly early. It involves larger proportions of
adolescents, but usually far less intensive use.
“At ages 14 and 16, drinking is most likely among students not doing well in school. But
by age 20 the college students surpass their less-educated age-mates in their use of
alcohol—especially in occasions of heavy drinking,” the authors report.
Earlier Monitoring the Future research showed that heavy drinking by college students is
clearly linked to their lifestyle while in college. College students are more likely to live
away from their parents’ homes, and they are also more likely to delay getting married
and having children than those the same age who are not in college.
“But by the time they reach their 30s, college-educated adults are actually a little less
likely than average to drink heavily,” Bachman said.
Summarizing their full range of findings, the authors report that “adolescents who have
not made a very good adjustment to school are disposed to become involved in a variety
of problem behaviors including delinquency, smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use.”
But of all these adolescent problem behaviors, cigarette use is by far the most stubbornly
resistant to change.
Bachman does not find that surprising.
“By the end of high school, the typical smoker engages in the behavior multiple times
during each day—a level of involvement far exceeding what is typical for the other forms
of substance use—and that helps set the stage for what often becomes a lifetime of
dependence,” he said. “Unfortunately, smoking can substantially shorten that lifetime.”
The researchers examined a range of other factors that could affect both educational
success and substance use. Among the most important are parents’ level of education,
parents’ involvement in homework, and the presence of two parents in the home. These
factors all influence how well a student does in school, and they also influence—both
directly and indirectly —whether a student uses drugs.
The researchers also looked at background factors such as race and ethnicity, as well as
whether students came from rural or urban areas. Although these factors showed some
relationships with substance use and educational attainment, those relationships seemed
largely separate from the education–drug use connections reported in the book.
In addition, the authors examined delinquency reported at average ages 14, 16, and 18,
and found that it was part of “a syndrome of problem behavior or general deviance.”
They thus included the delinquency measures as key factors in their analysis of the
education–drug use connection.
The authors outlined the policy implications of their research in these terms: “There are
many good reasons for encouraging adolescents and preadolescents to do well in school,
and to help them to do well. The long-term economic and cultural benefits of a good
education are widely recognized and appreciated. The findings of this research suggest an
additional class of benefits: Early educational success provides considerable protection
against a wide range of problem behaviors, including delinquency, smoking, drinking,
and illicit drug use.”
As for whether most adolescent substance use has much impact on educational success
and eventual educational attainment, the authors say instead that, “…educational failures
tend to come early in the sequence of problem behaviors, followed by adolescent
delinquency, smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use. In general, substance use appears to
be largely a symptom, rather than a cause, of poor academic adjustment, though one can
easily imagine specific examples to the contrary.”
“It is probably wishful thinking to suppose that reducing adolescent substance use will
lead to substantial increases in educational success. Rather, whatever can be done to
improve the educational successes of children and adolescents will likely have a very
valuable additional benefit—reducing their substance abuse.”
The authors are careful to add that “we do not view these findings as any reason for
slackening efforts to reduce adolescent substance use. There are already more than
enough good reasons for discouraging such use, even if we look no further than the
potential health consequences. What our findings do suggest is this: One particularly